“I heard a lot of good things about this place.”
Malfoy’s voice suggested he was reconsidering those things in the light of Harry’s office. Harry leaned back in his chair, feet hooked beneath the edge of the desk, and grinned. He’d had a good few months of successful matches and lots of gifts from grateful clients, in addition to what he normally got paid. If Malfoy walked out of A Choice of Wings because he wasn’t impressed by the décor, Harry wouldn’t miss him.
But Malfoy turned back towards him and leaned aggressively forwards in the huge chair that was the usual client one, with a low back and no arms. Harry had had lots of Veela in his office in bird form, and wings and a feathered tail didn’t settle comfortably into seats designed only for humans. “Well? Can you help me?”
“Are you staying, then?” Harry picked up the first stack of forms he needed Malfoy to fill out, and met Malfoy’s furious glance with an amused one. “You don’t have to stay, you know. If you find it too agitating for me to be the one running this place…”
“I don’t find it too agitating for that.” Malfoy’s back rippled weirdly, but he didn’t sprout wings the way Harry thought he might. Even his face became blank. “I merely don’t think that you’ll be successful in matching me. You don’t know enough about me.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure of that,” Harry said mildly. Malfoy’s increasingly desperate search for a mate had filled the papers for the last six months, with interviews, gossip, interviews with Malfoy’s friends, and historical research about the years since Hogwarts and what Malfoy had been doing in them. “But anyway, I’m not who does the matching.”
Malfoy stared at him. “Who else works here?”
“You’ll meet them when you fill out the forms.” Harry slid the paperwork to him. “As you pointed out, I don’t know nearly enough about you. If you have physical or personality specifications for your mate, if you want a particular sex, if you want someone who has Muggle ancestry or not, if you want someone who would date you casually for a few months to soothe the loneliness while you look for a more permanent partner—”
“I have to write down all of that?” Malfoy stared at the papers on the edge of the desk.
“Oh, yes.” Harry let his chair clatter down and smiled at Malfoy. “The process of matching is magical, but it runs on knowledge. If I don’t have that about you, I can’t help you.” Malfoy still looked as if he’d like to rip the papers to confetti and march out the door, so Harry added, “Let me put it this way. You came to me only after trying all your other options. What are you going to do if you leave? And is filling out some forms all that arduous?”
Malfoy grunted and took out a gold-tipped quill from his satchel to write with. Apparently the ones Harry had on his desk were too dirty or common for him. He did use Harry’s ink, though.
While he was doing that, Harry lounged back in his chair and let himself consider Malfoy. Some knowledge he could gain from looking, no matter how much Malfoy would deprecate that route to understanding. And Harry could see a Veela who had, indeed, crashed against a dead end on every other road he’d tried.
Malfoy had grown sharper. He didn’t look as though he’d lost weight, exactly, but Harry could see all the bones of his face, in a way that he hadn’t been able to even when they were children and he’d thought Malfoy always looked pointy. His chin and his nose extended in odd new directions. His hair hung thin and oily around his face. There were a few flaps of loose skin on his neck, as though he’d aged before his time.
Harry then considered his hands, busy on the quill and parchments. The skin was thin and translucent, and hung around his fingers the way that the skin on his neck did. Harry nodded. Whether or not Malfoy wanted a temporary partner to date before he settled on his permanent one, Harry needed to get him matched with someone who would pay him close attention and give him all the strength and urgency of their heart. That wouldn’t be a forever solution, but Veela needed that focus from someone, and Malfoy hadn’t received any in the past six months, from the look of it.
“What are you staring at me for?” Malfoy’s shoulders hunched, and his hands had stopped moving.
Harry looked pointedly elsewhere, and waited until he heard the scratching of the quill again before he responded. “I was looking to see how far your loneliness had affected you physically. I know that you might not want to hear this, but—”
“I look awful,” Malfoy interrupted bitterly.
“No,” Harry said in puzzlement, turning back to him. Why had Malfoy come here if he’d thought Harry was going to make fun of him?
Then he saw those eyes, the grey color gone grainy, like bad film, and he knew. This really is the last option.
Harry made his voice gentle. “I think you need someone right away, someone who will be willing to pamper and spoil you for a bit, just so that you can regain some health and sleep better. It doesn’t mean you have to settle down with them, but it tells me how I should approach my choosers.”
Malfoy closed his eyes, battling a tension that might have a lot of different sources. Harry reminded himself of that, that it probably wasn’t happening just because he was the one who had suggested it, and patiently folded his hands, and awaited developments.
Malfoy finally jerked his head down as though he was pecking seed up from Harry’s desk, and handed the filled-out forms to him. “I want to meet the people who will choose me a mate,” he said, and stood up.
“All right.” Harry scanned the forms quickly, absorbing the essential information: Malfoy didn’t care if his partner was Muggleborn or not, female or male, short-term or long-term for the next few months. He wanted someone permanent after that, but most of all, he wanted someone who would be with him and help him feel better.
A hand slammed into the desk, making Harry lift his head and regard Malfoy with calm irritation. Malfoy blinked at him. “I thought that would make you jump,” he muttered.
“I got over a lot of my jumpiness once I got out of the Aurors,” Harry said, and stood up. “Life seems peaceful when no one is constantly trying to kill you. Shall we go?”
“If this is some kind of commentary on the bird-like nature of Veela, Potter…”
Harry kept his face averted as he unlocked the door in the big wire aviary behind his office. “No, Malfoy. This is the best way I’ve come up with of finding the right mate for Veela. These are specially bred birds.” He looked back when he was sure he could control his expression. “But there’s some sympathetic magic at work between them and the fact that Veela have bird-like natures, I’m sure.”
“You’re sure,” Malfoy muttered under his breath, mocking. But he stepped through the door after Harry.
The aviary was huge, with a floor of gleaming blue tiles that Harry found easy to clean. Because he also liked the way he looked, the blue tiles were ornamented with little wisps of white, like clouds. The wire stretched gently up and all around, to a roof so high that the aviary’s inhabitants could fly quite a distance. The birds hatched and raised here never seemed to pine for more freedom than they had.
The birds were doves, cooing and crooning and shedding soft white feathers as they soared back and forth from perches to feeding stations—which held all sorts of nuts and shredded fruit and seeds and dead insects and bits of bread and other kinds of food, depending on what kind of Veela mate they were bred to choose—and small shelves, built into carefully protected, cupboard-like appliances, where the doves had their nests. Several of the birds, all glowing with ivory color, focused on Harry the moment he appeared, and came over and flew around his head. Two landed near his feet, one on his shoulder, and one on his hand.
“I fail to see how tame doves can help you do anything.”
Harry stroked the back of the dove under his hand, which was warm and fit into his hold like a heated ball, and smiled at Malfoy. “But tame owls deliver our post, and they can accomplish remarkable things. I got interested in how my magic reacted with birds during a few of the Auror cases I had that concerned smuggling magical creatures. And when I realized that I could make birds magical with just a few years’ worth of training and that I could offer a service for Veela…” He shrugged. “This kind of job is what I wanted.”
“I suppose you decided right away that there was some kind of resonance between Veela and bloody doves,” Malfoy drawled. His arms were tightly folded, and he looked around the aviary with an expression of distaste on his face. Harry supposed it might be the smell. After a while, he’d got used to it and didn’t notice anymore.
“Oh, no,” Harry said. “The color of the feathers helps, and that doves have been symbols of romance for a long time, but it still took several trials until I realized that they were the best birds.” The dove on his shoulder billed at his ear, and Harry swatted it gently off. It landed on the floor and stalked back and forth, head bobbing in time to its bright red feet. “After all, the first time I managed to connect a Veela with their mate through a bird was an accident.”
“That sounds like a story worth hearing.”
Harry glanced at Malfoy, but he looked sincere, so Harry shrugged and took Malfoy’s forms out of his pocket. “All right. Do you mind following me while I walk? You need a partner as soon as we can get you one, and I need to do this.” He started to tear the first sheet of paper he held.
Harry snorted. “It needs to be mixed with their food, and they need to consume it. That’s part of how the magic works.”
Malfoy frowned, but nodded, and he did indeed follow Harry as Harry headed for the largest feeding station. The doves that crowded around this one were a bit nearer ivory and off-white than pure white. Their eyes were all big and bright and dark, and they whirled up into a gentle cloud when they saw Harry coming, then landed back on the perches near the feeding stations, their wings spread.
“We’d rescued an Augurey that one of the smugglers had stolen from a sanctuary,” Harry said over his shoulder, as he began to scatter the crumbs and flakes of paper into the doves’ dishes. A large bird with incredibly soft breast feathers whom Harry called Busy was the first to land and take a bite of the mixed seed and paper. Harry nodded approvingly to her. She’d helped him find several mates in the past. “There was an Auror on the case with me who had a bit of Veela blood. He’d never been inconvenienced by it, so he’d never thought he would need a mate.”
“That’s a nice way to refer to it, as an inconvenience.”
“I think it’s more than that for you,” Harry agreed easily, and started tearing up another sheet of paper. “Anything that threatens your life is.”
Malfoy seemed silenced, but he stood there and continued to listen, so Harry reckoned he hadn’t offended Malfoy enough to make him walk away. He began to toss some of the paper flakes into other bowls that stood nearby, and went on with his story as he watched the clouds of doves whirl around him.
“But one of the traps the smuggler had set injured him, so much that he lost a lot of blood. His magic, trying to save his life, kicked his Veela heritage into action, because a Veela could survive that kind of wound. So he woke up screaming and calling for his mate, and no one who knew him had any idea what that meant. We didn’t know what was going on until we got in touch with his family.
“It turned out there was another Auror who was working with the Augurey and keeping it quiet and under control. She didn’t go near the Auror who had Veela heritage because she was too busy, and besides, he’d been moved to St. Mungo’s. But I noticed that whenever I saw her, she had an Augurey feather clinging to her somewhere, and some of those feathers got loose and got attached to me. When I walked into the hospital room where they had the Auror who was part Veela, he grabbed a feather and spent a long time sniffing it.”
“Bizarre behavior,” Malfoy whispered, his voice hardly audible.
“Well, for a while I thought I was his mate.” Harry snorted, remembering that day now, and shook his head. It seemed so obvious that Sarah and Ares were meant for each other in hindsight, but he hadn’t had the least idea what was going on then. “Then I thought there might be some possibility the Augurey was. Ron was the one who explained that the feathers being in contact with his mate could have produced that reaction.
“So we got the Auror who was working with the Augurey into the hospital room, and it was love at first sight. And although I think the connection with the Augurey was mostly accidental, I started thinking about how much of a chance there was that a Veela couldn’t find their mate, and how birds could help. It wasn’t any clothes or skin that had been in contact with his mate that made him pay attention, or even other people who spent a lot more time with her than I did. It was feathers.”
He finished tearing up the last form and tossed all the flakes as widely as possible into bowls, even some frequented by the black doves, who usually didn’t connect Veela this far gone with potential partners. Several swarmed over to eat, and Harry nodded. He wanted to make sure that Malfoy had every chance.
When he turned around, Malfoy was standing behind him. Harry blinked, but shook his head. He just hadn’t heard Malfoy move nearer, that was all, and no wonder, with the coos and the claps of wings all over the place. And Malfoy didn’t threaten him. He just stood there staring down at Harry with his eyes all wide and his body trembling a little.
“What is it?” Harry asked him, as gently as he could. He knew loud noises could sometimes startle a Veela into aggressive action, and he didn’t want to do that for Malfoy’s sake as much as his own. An accusation of violence against Harry Potter wouldn’t do his reputation any good.
“I just don’t see how it works,” Malfoy whispered back.
“I give my doves these forms in their food, and I let them see you.” Harry had noticed that many of his birds were watching Malfoy, the way they did any Veela who came into their enclosure. They cocked their heads to the side, and twisted their sleek necks, and chirruped, and then fluttered to other perches and went on observing. “They then start matching you with people who are either potential partners, or very like them. It doesn’t take long.”
“How long?” Malfoy whispered it through parched lips.
“The longest time it’s ever been is three days,” Harry said, and watched as Malfoy bowed his head, his arms wreathing together around his middle.
“I know you’ll think I’m stupid, when I’ve waited years for my mate, and it’s only a few more days,” Malfoy hissed. “But—”
“No,” Harry said, and patted his arm. “I know that when you think you have a real chance to achieve something, you can get more angry and disappointed by its lack than you were in all the time that you didn’t have it before.”
Malfoy stared at him, stunned. Harry cocked an eyebrow back and moved over to stroke the back of a downy little fledgling who had only left the nest yesterday. Harry was thinking of calling him Cling, from the tight hold he had on the perch. “When I realized that I was going to retire from the Aurors, the day I could do it seemed to take forever to arrive. Even though before then I’d been unhappy and thought I might be unhappy for the rest of my life.”
“Why did you decide to retire and open this sort of business?” Malfoy’s hand took in the aviary, but Harry knew he meant more than that.
“I like to see people being happy,” Harry said simply. “I didn’t get to see that very often in my Auror job, no matter how much I was helping them in other ways.”
Malfoy nodded and rubbed his arms. Harry started to say they should go back to his office. He could cast Warming Charms on the chair that Malfoy would sit in without making the rest of the space oppressively hot for himself.
But one of the black doves that had eaten from the bowl began abruptly to quiver and flutter in odd, spasming motions, and Harry turned around and extended his hands. The bird half-flew to him, half-fell into his grasp. Harry held it close to his face and stroked its feathers, and the bird relaxed. A second later, the soft coo came from its beak, formed into words. “Sandra Lowen.”
Harry smiled, relieved that the doves’ first choice would at least be noncontroversial for Malfoy. She was a pure-blood for at least the last three generations, calm and quiet, who had put her name in because she had thought that the steadiness of a Veela’s commitment would content her. She had smiled at Harry the last time he saw her, asking playfully if the doves really hadn’t chosen her for anyone yet.
Harry looked up at Malfoy. “Sandra Lowen. Do you know her?”
“No.” Malfoy frowned in what seemed to be an effort at recollection.
“Pure-blood witch, parents from Wales,” Harry said briskly, releasing that dove to fly back to the others and gesturing Malfoy towards his office. He kept a sharp eye on Malfoy, just in case he fell. Veela at this stage of exhaustion sometimes did. “She wants commitment, stability. A Veela who’s mated to her would give her that.”
Malfoy nodded, but he seemed to be thinking of something else. “And it’s not going to disappoint her if this doesn’t work out?”
Harry shrugged. “It might, but that’s the risk she knew she was taking. People who put their names in might never be chosen, or chosen only as temporary partners. I think you’ll at least benefit from her attention. She can really focus when she wants.”
Malfoy nodded and shut his eyes. Harry put a hand under his arm to brace him. Perhaps he would firecall Sandra the minute they were back inside his office. She might need to come over right away.
“It didn’t work, Potter.”
Harry’s mind had been entirely on the letter from a new Veela client that he’d received this morning, one from France who didn’t want the arranged marriage his parents were trying to make for him and was pleading for Harry’s help in matching him to his mate. Harry was wondering if he could legally do that for a French Veela—the laws about age of majority were stricter in France than in Britain—and he blinked several times at Malfoy who had taken his seat.
“It worked somewhat,” Harry suggested. “You look stronger.”
“Yeah.” Malfoy leaned forwards. He had more flesh on the bones of his face, Harry noted approvingly. “But she thinks of it as an exchange. Every time she gave me some attention, she wanted some back.” He shook his head. “I can’t live like that. I need someone who’s more devoted purely to me, not someone I need to coddle every five minutes.”
Harry kept from rolling his eyes, and only nodded and stood up. “All right. Then would you describe yourself as looking for a mate who’s not interested in much of a return, or not interested in a return right away?”
“You’re on her side?”
“No,” Harry said peacefully, although personally he felt that Lowen wasn’t unreasonable in asking for some attention and that Malfoy was going to have a hard time finding a mate if he wanted one that self-sacrificing. “What I mean is that you want someone who’s interested in spending time with you, doing what you want, giving you—I don’t know, gifts or food when you want it? And not interested in sex yet.”
Malfoy, incredibly, turned a rosy color and stared at the floor. “She was going too fast,” he mumbled. “I wanted to be the one to make the choice about when…”
Harry bit his tongue and nodded. “Then that’s all right. Fill out this other form, and we’ll go and ask the doves about potential mates who abide by more formal customs of dating and expect to do most of the work.”
“It sounds so bad when you put it that way,” Malfoy complained, even as he bent over the form. He used one of Harry’s quills this time, Harry noticed. Maybe he was less resistant to Harry’s office now that he knew some of the things Harry did worked. “Like I’m only wanting to meet someone to use and leave behind.”
“You’ll probably leave them behind them when you find your permanent mate,” Harry said to remind him as he picked up the form. “The chances of finding more than a temporary mate like this are fairly low.”
Malfoy glanced up at him with a frown. “Then show me the forms that would find me a permanent one.”
“Maybe I should phrase that better,” Harry said, turning towards the aviary. Malfoy took a minute to follow him. He must be more pissed than Harry had thought. “I meant that I’m using these temporary mates to work more towards your type, to learn what you like. I think that you’ll be better able to judge for yourself after you’ve recovered more. For example, you didn’t think to mention the sex aspect the first time, but now you have, because of the experience with Sandra. Once we get you through a few other mates, we’ll know even better.”
“So I’m doomed to a string of bad experiences?” Malfoy demanded, following him so closely that Harry thought he felt a brush of a feather against his back. When he looked back, though, Malfoy didn’t have his wings spread. “Why not just say that right out? I wouldn’t have paid you if I knew what—”
“You haven’t paid me yet,” Harry pointed out. “And won’t until you find someone you stay with for at least a month. Besides, you’re paying me for the process, the chance. Not the delivery of a perfect mate to your doorstep right away.”
Malfoy’s mouth snapped shut.
Harry nodded and led the way, satisfied. He did want Malfoy to find a mate, but he didn’t want to listen to Malfoy’s rantings for months, or however long it would take. The doves would spit a name out this time, and it would be one that would be closer to Malfoy’s true desires than Sandra had been, because Harry and the doves both knew more about what he wanted now. Harry could only hope that this lover wouldn’t also be an instant failure, that Malfoy would stay with him or her for a few weeks and learn enough to make the next match the successful one.
Harry yawned and banked the fire. He’d spent most of the evening in his study, reading up on experimental breeding in other countries that was producing magical birds wildly different from his doves. Harry thought that he had only got permission from the British Ministry to breed his doves because they remained harmless birds in form, but other countries had both more daring vision and less laziness about destroying any magical creatures that did become dangerous, while allowing the harmless ones to thrive.
Hearing about what they were doing with eagles in Austria and owls in Australia was both fascinating and frustrating, but Harry reminded himself that he could always emigrate, if he wanted. He had already switched careers once, and it might happen again.
He hadn’t made it out of the room when something tapped on one of the large windows that stood between the bookshelves. Harry turned towards it, frowning. He had covered the windows with dark red curtains, drawn this late at night, and so he couldn’t immediately see what owl waited there.
He’d barely drawn his wand to gesture the curtains back when the window shattered, shards of glass flying around him.
Harry hit the floor, rolling behind the chair he’d used earlier, and creating a shield that stretched like a tent from one side of the chair over his body. Auror training might not have been the path for him, but it had left him with some useful skills.
Malfoy. It didn’t explain why the git had crashed through his window like a crazed bat, but at least it made Harry suspect he wasn’t about to be murdered. He stood up slowly, making the fire flare so that he could see Malfoy. The dimness in here at night got intense; Harry liked the dark paneled wood walls, but sometimes he wished he had chosen a few brighter colors.
Malfoy stood in the center of the glass he had broken, staring at Harry expectantly. His arms and hands were extensively cut, and there was a collection of bleeding scratches down the center of his chest, too. But Harry couldn’t even open his mouth to suggest healing charms. His attention was too taken by Malfoy’s wings.
They were longer than Harry was used to seeing; most of the Veela who came into his office in bird form had wings about twice as long as their bodies. It was magic and not feathers that kept them aloft. But Malfoy’s widened and spread up and up and up, out and down, in a lovely sweep that made them look like the curved blades of scimitars.
And their color. Veela wings were usually pale, of course, but these were a shining ivory that the firelight made gleam from behind. Harry didn’t think even Busy or any of the other white doves he had bred had wings like that.
Malfoy didn’t sound as irritated as Harry would have expected with Harry distracted and gaping at him. That probably had something to do with how he’d been gaping in admiration, Harry thought. Harry turned back in time to see Malfoy turn his head and rub his cheek gently against the feathers, as though he was preening them, like a bird, into place.
“Malfoy,” Harry said, with an inclination of his head that he did his best to keep civil. “I hadn’t expected you to show up like this.” He couldn’t keep from glancing at the wings again. They had ice-colored feathers that turned into grey ones, but instead of reminding Harry of dirty slush, the way they might have ordinarily, all it made him think, again, was that it was like looking at a blade, at folded and tempered steel. “It’s good that you have enough strength to summon your wings and fly, though.”
He meant the announcement to be an encouraging one, but instead Malfoy’s face turned dark and he stalked a little further into the room, glancing around as if he wished he had a bird’s ability to shit on the chairs. “No thanks to your little match for me.”
“He must have done some good, if he gave you back your wings. I doubt you could have called them when you came back from your date with Sandra.” Harry refused to rise to the bait. Peter Grandison had been a perfectly acceptable choice on the doves’ part, a young pure-blood wizard so reserved that he had blushed continually in Harry’s office when all Harry had done was ask him some necessary questions. “What was wrong with him?”
Malfoy swept out his wings again and battered them at Harry as if he wanted to create a wind that would knock him over. Harry stood his ground, and Malfoy abruptly grunted, furled his wings, and turned to pace into a circle, his attention on the fire. “He agreed to everything I asked of him. I want someone with a little more fire.”
Harry rolled his eyes towards the ceiling and silently prayed for patience. “I thought that was what you wanted. Someone who would focus entirely on you, do what you wanted them to, and await your pleasure.”
“I don’t want someone who’s as limp as a dead fish.” Malfoy mimed spitting and shook his head. “You have to admit, it’s not my style.”
“I don’t know,” Harry muttered, and then snapped his mouth shut. He was probably a little disoriented from having a client in his home, he thought. He’d been about to say something about the way Malfoy had looked a few days ago, and how dead fish had more vitality than that.
He never did that. He was never so unprofessional. Of course, most of the time he didn’t have a client who had rejected two potential partners in two days, either.
He sighed and said, “Well. I don’t have the right forms in my house, but if you want to write down what you want, then you can leave the list with me, and I’ll transfer the answers to the right form tomorrow.”
“I thought I had to be the one to fill it out.”
“No,” Harry answered, turning back to Malfoy. “It only matters that the answers be true ones, and this time, you can tell me more about what you want in a partner.”
Malfoy had spread his wings again. Harry wondered if he was going to fly back through the broken window, and grimaced. He didn’t know why Malfoy hadn’t yet cast the correct Healing Charms on him now, but Harry moved close to do it, starting with Episkey.
Malfoy’s hand shot out and tried to grab Harry’s wrist. Harry stepped out of the way before he thought about it, and if he had gone with the rest of the instincts clamoring in his brain, he would have dropped to one knee and severely impaired Malfoy’s ability to walk the next instant. What did the git need to walk for anyway? He had those wings.
Harry reeled himself back in with a gasp. “What the fuck, Malfoy?” he asked instead, staying safely out of grabbing distance. “I was going to heal you, since you seem too dim to do that yourself.”
Malfoy stared at him. “I don’t like people aiming wands at me,” he said. “Just a little phobia left over from the war. And why were you going to heal me? The sight of this much blood bothers you?”
“No, I just don’t want you ruining the carpet,” Harry snapped back.
That made Malfoy begin quaking with laughter, for some reason, his wings shivering next to him as he chuckled, his head bent. Harry eyed him in silence, and then shrugged and healed the wounds. Then he cast the Reparo charm on the window and turned to the door. “I trust that you can find your way to the front door on your own. Unless you want to tell me in more detail about what you want from a partner before you leave?”
“I need to tell you about it, yes,” Malfoy said, and took a quick step towards him. “And I was planning on flying.”
“I don’t care, as long as you take off from outside.”
That just led to Malfoy following him in such quiet that Harry wanted to hiss at him, but at least they got out of the study and into a room that was more like Harry’s office and more suitable for writing. He’d had vague ideas of using it as a secondary office, but then he’d decided that he wanted to leave all work at the office and keep all the comforts and pleasures of home here.
So much for that good intention, he thought, as he seated Malfoy at the desk with paper and ink.
“Think about what you mean when you talk of a combination of fire and passivity,” he instructed Malfoy, and turned around. “The house-elves will let you out when you’re done.”
“I’m not sure that I have enough strength in my wings to fly back home,” Malfoy said. “Aren’t you going to offer me a bed for the night?”
Harry wanted to slam his head into the wall. There was a wall handy, he thought. Why hadn’t he raised the wards around the house tightly enough to make sure that they kept out even people with wings, who had probably felt safe to the wards because Harry had so many bloody doves around? Or even had the wards renewed recently? Some kind of flaw in the wards, maybe decay due to age, had to have happened to have let Malfoy through in the first bloody place.
“I’m not going to offer you a bed for the night,” Harry said, staring straight ahead. “Even if you can’t fly, you can Apparate.”
“No, I can’t,” Malfoy said. “Why do you think I didn’t heal myself? I left my wand at home after I kicked that idiot Grandison out.”
Why me? Harry asked the same force that hadn’t answered his prayers yet. The new business that he could move somewhere else and start was looking better and better all the time.
“You can take my Floo.”
“With these?” A creaking sound as Malfoy stretched his wings.
“Fine,” Harry said. He called the head house-elf, Mittsy, and asked her to strip most of the pillows off one of the beds and make sure that the mattress wasn’t raised high, so that Malfoy’s wings wouldn’t droop down painfully.
“I could have done that much, but thank you. You’re most accommodating, Potter.”
Harry left the pseudo-office without answering. He wasn’t sure how much further he could have got without strangling Malfoy.
He wondered as he wandered down the corridor whether Malfoy ever intended to pay him, or if he was just relying on the succession of temporary partners that Harry could provide him to get him back to health, while taking the chance to annoy Harry in the meantime.
Then Harry shook his head. No, he knew it was more than that. Harry had no doubt that Malfoy wanted a true partner, a real one, if only to keep himself in good health.
Now if only he would bloody well decide what he wanted and then stick to it.
Malfoy examined the name that Harry had written down for him with a faint frown. Harry rolled his eyes to the ceiling and kept them there, partially because it saved time and partially because that way, he didn’t have to see all the other silly changes Malfoy’s expression would go through.
“You’re sure that your doves recommended Blaise Zabini to you as my partner?”
“Yes,” Harry said. He had concentrated while Malfoy was acting like a git, and that meant he didn’t sound exasperated, all the emotion lurking in the back of his voice instead. “He put his name down a long time ago to be considered. He said he wanted a Veela to focus on him totally on some days, and other days, he would like to be the one doing the focusing.”
“Ordinary humans would give him that, too.” From the sound of things, Malfoy was tapping the piece of paper against his leg.
Harry gave in and looked at him. Malfoy still hadn’t retracted his wings from last night. Harry would have thought that would be exhausting, but at least it proved that Malfoy, little though he would value the reminder, was getting enough nourishment from his partners to stay in Veela form longer.
“I know, but he says it would be a more regular pattern with a Veela.” Harry shrugged. “His name hasn’t come up in a long time, but he’s never asked me to remove him from the lists.”
Malfoy stared at the paper again, as though those two words in Harry’s handwriting would tell him something that Harry himself couldn’t. “I wouldn’t be surprised if he decided that I had Veela heritage and waited to see if they would choose him for me,” he muttered.
Harry was startled into a laugh. “Don’t you think that’s a little paranoid?”
Malfoy looked up at him, a faintly dangerous smile on his face. “You have no idea, Potter,” he whispered. “You have no idea what kind of paranoia was needed to survive the war, and then again in Slytherin House.”
Harry shrugged. “Not Slytherin, but I think I have as good an idea of what went on during the war as you did.”
For a moment, it seemed as though Malfoy would retreat to his serious and puffed-up posture; he arched his neck and sucked in a long breath of air that made his cheeks inflate. Harry winced and waited for the explosion.
But then the knife-wound of his smile darted across Malfoy’s face again, and he fluttered his eyelashes at Harry. “For shame’s sake, Potter,” he murmured. “Don’t you want to treat your impressionable Veela clients with lace gloves?”
“Clients are the ones who pay me.” Harry folded his hands on his knees and smiled back at Malfoy. “And I know that you won’t be driven away. You’re committed to making this work. I admire that, you know,” he added, because Malfoy looked as if he wanted to scream and flee. “It can’t have been easy for you to decide that my agency was a preferable option to not dying.”
Malfoy looked at his hands for a second. Then he looked up and around the office. “Why do you have all these bookshelves in here and not photos of your successfully matched Veela clients and their partners?” he asked abruptly. “I’d brag about that, if I was running this place.”
Surprised, Harry looked around. He supposed he hadn’t thought about it, but he found the darkly-paneled walls and the dusty leather tomes comforting. He shrugged. “I could have the photographs if I wanted them, I suppose.”
“But you don’t.” Once again, Malfoy was leaning forwards as if he was going to swoop from his chair and down on a helpless Harry. “Why not?”
“I wouldn’t want all of them staring at me,” Harry said briskly, and leaned forwards to rap his wand against the paper. The letters started moving, calling Malfoy’s attention back. “Now. Are you at least going to give Zabini a try?”
Malfoy looked at the paper again, cocking his head to the side. He didn’t have a beak, so Harry wondered about the bird-like motion. Maybe just having his wings out was giving Malfoy a few more avian traits.
“It’s not paranoia to say that he was obsessed with me at one point in the past,” Malfoy muttered. “And never more so than when he found out that I had Veela heritage.”
Harry sighed. “You don’t have to try him. But you’ll need to fill out some more forms and let me give the papers back to the doves if you want another name. This is the best they could come up with right now.”
Malfoy clucked his tongue at him. “You don’t sound that approving of your own system, Potter.”
“I trust it for most people,” Harry said. “But most people don’t want as many different character traits as you do.”
“Why should I settle for less than the best?” Malfoy managed to make even the way he stood up from the chair look demanding. It probably didn’t help that he still had those stupid wings out and swirling around him, Harry decided. “I do wish that you would change your mind about the photographs on the walls, Potter. It would make me feel better, at least.”
Harry stared at him, but Malfoy seemed not to notice anything off. “Time to see if Zabini has changed after all,” he murmured, and moved towards the window.
Harry collapsed back into his chair the moment Malfoy was gone, and this time, when he stared at the ceiling, it wasn’t because he wanted to avoid Malfoy’s eyes. Instead, he was recalling another Veela, successfully matched, who had sent him a gushing letter about how she knew she was in love when she wanted to completely redecorate her new lover’s drawing room.
If Harry was right and Malfoy was so interested in Harry’s surroundings because he was considering Harry as a potential mate…
Harry brought his head down and drummed it gently on the edge of the desk, once.
“I didn’t know you would be here, Potter.”
That was Zabini’s voice, low and dangerous-sounding, but as far as Harry knew, he hadn’t done anything to deserve that menace. He turned around from the display of newt eyes and slug tails in front of him, blinking.
Part of the puzzle was explained when he saw Malfoy standing next to Zabini. His wings were tucked in, and he wore normal human clothes, and his hair was pulled behind his ears. Most people wouldn’t have guessed he was anything but a normal human.
Well, unless they saw the Dark Mark, Harry told himself conscientiously, and nodded to Zabini. It seemed the other man had picked Harry out as a rival. Veela did tend to reveal themselves when they were coming close to a mate. They would talk about them obsessively, buy gifts for them, and go into long periods of silence, staring off into the distance. All it would take was a few of those silences, coupled with Malfoy mentioning Harry’s name, for Zabini to pick up on it.
Harry wanted to defuse the situation, especially since Malfoy was giving him a weird gaze from hooded eyes. Harry supposed it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, to be mated to Malfoy, but Harry still found him annoying, and anyway, there were plenty of potential people out there for Malfoy to bond to, as evidenced by the names that the doves kept coming up with. He didn’t have to have Harry.
“Zabini,” Harry said, tipping his head a little to the side. “Are you here to pick up Potions ingredients?” He stepped away from the shelves. He had what he wanted in the form of the small glass jar tucked to his side.
“What else does one do in an apothecary?” Zabini turned to track him. His voice was low, only pleasant if you weren’t concentrating, and, when combined with the almost murderous narrowing of his eyes, unnerving. Harry half-raised his hands, but dropped them again when he saw how intensely Malfoy was watching him.
“Quite true,” Harry said. “Unless you’re picking up ingredients to add to dove food, the way I am.” He patted the glass jar and tried to look as nonthreatening as possible. Zabini seemed to consider letting it go. At least, he stepped back so Harry could get past him and out of the shop.
“I was unaware that you fed your doves on anything special beyond the papers,” Malfoy said. He, in contrast, had moved forwards so he was blocking Harry’s escape again. His attention was so entirely on Harry that Harry blinked a little. No, he hadn’t been mistaken, more was the pity. Those questions Malfoy had asked him about the photographs on the walls in his office had indicated something, if the soft glow in his eyes was any indication.
“I don’t, most of the time,” Harry said. “A lot of what I do is artificial breeding. But I have a nest right now that I think might be good at picking out female partners for female Veela. Feeding them different kinds of animals changes their sensitivity. I’m trying different combinations.” He winced a little when he looked at Zabini this time. Right, this wasn’t supposed to be interesting Malfoy, but he leaned near and swayed a little, as if sniffing the glass jar of ingredients Harry was going to buy.
Anyway, that was the most innocent explanation Harry could come up with for the deep sniff of air Malfoy drew in a second later.
“I had no idea that you would care about that kind of thing,” Malfoy said.
Good. Even if he wants me for a mate, as long as I keep not being interested, he doesn’t have a chance of getting me. Harry glared back at Malfoy. “Really?” he snapped. “Would that be because you’re not a female Veela and can’t envision yourself being interested in something that can’t benefit you?”
Malfoy stared at him, as shocked as if Harry had broken open the glass jar and dumped the newts at his feet. “What? Of course not. I had simply assumed that most of your clients wanted someone of the opposite sex.” He raised his hand as if he would touch Harry’s cheek and soothe him somehow. That made Harry dodge. Malfoy would have a harder time missing that he and Harry were compatible if he managed to lay a hand on Harry, bare skin to bare skin.
“You’re doing fine with someone who’s not,” Harry said, and nodded at Zabini. That didn’t make Zabini relax in any way, but at least he didn’t draw his wand. “The doves choose partners based on someone’s preferences, as I’ve explained to you more than once, Malfoy. You said that you wouldn’t mind either a male or a female partner, so that’s what they chose. If you wanted a woman, I would have matched you only to women.”
“And there are women who only want women?” Malfoy was so obviously trying to prolong the conversation, edging closer to him and taking deep breaths as if to fill his lungs with Harry’s scent, that Harry wanted to laugh.
But not more than he wanted to get away, and so he sighed and said, “You’re not going to tell me that you’re ignorant as a grown wizard, Malfoy,” and turned briskly towards the front of the shop.
“I didn’t mean to offend you.”
Harry wanted to keep walking, how he wanted to. But there was a sharp undercurrent of hurt in Malfoy’s voice, and so he turned around and shook his head. “You didn’t. But I know that you know about lesbians, and the preference forms are fairly explicit in asking whether you want men or women or both, or if you don’t care. So I don’t understand why you’re talking about this. And I’m interrupting your date. I hope it goes well.”
He nodded to Zabini, who had relaxed a bit at the idea that Harry just seeing them somewhere could still be interpreted as a date. Then Harry eased his way up to the front of the shop and paid for his newt eyes and slug tails, and left the apothecary.
But he could feel Malfoy’s eyes on him all the way, hungry as foxes.
“I need to know something.”
Of course you do, Harry thought, managing to keep from rolling his eyes because he had a lot of experience with Veela. They could be impatient and temperamental and attracted to things that they hadn’t told him about before demanding that he “fix” one of the recommendations that his doves had made, but God forbid he mention any of them, or that impatience and temper and nonsense would be turned on him.
But none of his clients had ever decided the three in the morning was the perfect time to call on his home Floo and interrupt him.
Harry sighed and settled back on the cushion he’d conjured near the hearth. He’d had a long conversation with Hermione that afternoon about creature rights, and he supposed that he had forgotten to lock and ward the Floo after her call. Which meant this was his fault, in a way. “Malfoy. What did you want?”
Malfoy paused at the tone and glared at him. Harry found it heartening. Malfoy might come to suspect they were matched, but Veela could still choose their mates, in the end, or Harry’s business wouldn’t exist. And Malfoy wouldn’t want a mate who annoyed him all the time.
“No need to take that tone with me,” Malfoy said.
Harry stared at him for long enough that Malfoy’s eye twitched. “You woke me up in the middle of the bloody night,” Harry said. “Yes, I think that’s plenty enough to make me take that tone, actually.”
Malfoy huffed, but nodded. “Fine. I apologize. Is that enough?”
Alarm bells, like the kind on the Floo that had made Harry sit straight up in bed, started ringing in the back of his mind, but Harry bit back his next insult. Malfoy couldn’t touch him through the Floo, which meant that he didn’t have the best method for knowing Harry might be his mate.
Not his mate. A mate.
“Yes, thank you,” Harry said. “It’s just that almost no one firecalls me in the middle of the night anymore, not since I retired from the Ministry. I was really concerned about what it might be.”
Malfoy sniffed again. “You could decide that it was someone who really needed you. And now, I do.” He paused, and the silence between them was filled with Harry’s heartbeat, though Harry doubted Malfoy knew that. “What happens when you identify your mate?”
“You’re the Veela,” Harry said, when he had ceased to choke on surprise. “You should be the one who knows better.”
“But I’ve never actually accomplished this act of finding a mate.” Malfoy leaned forwards intently. “I know that you must have seen multiple people go through the process. Tell me. I want to know.”
“All right,” Harry said slowly. Was he starting to recognize Zabini as his mate and wasn’t sure about his own reactions? That could happen, of course. Harry’s doves had put Zabini and Malfoy together, and there was no reason to doubt the system that had paired so many happy people.
It didn’t mean that Malfoy had to be matched with Harry simply because Harry knew they were potential mates. No, that didn’t need to mean anything at all. And Harry knew it never could, because he and Malfoy would do nothing but bicker. They didn’t have the underlying respect and friendship that Ron and Hermione did to hold on to warmth through all the fighting.
In the meantime, Malfoy, ignorant of all the explanations that Harry was offering himself, was waiting for an answer. Harry nodded to him. “I’ve seen a few Veela in their first moments of recognition of their mates,” he said. “One time, I had a nervous client who wanted to meet her potential mate in front of me. She’d had a few bad experiences with people being overwhelmed by the first sight of her and trying to touch her when she didn’t want them to.”
“And she thought that you were immune to her allure?” Malfoy’s eyebrows were trying to crawl off his forehead.
Harry grinned back at him, glad that something about Malfoy could make him grin. “She knew I was resistant to the Imperius Curse. She thought that might mean I was resistant to her allure. And really, if I couldn’t do that, I never would have opened this business. I couldn’t attack every client who walked through my doors.”
“Maybe you would have found yourself matched with someone before now.”
Malfoy’s voice was guttural, and Harry felt a flicker deep in his stomach. He shook his head to get his mind off it, and said, “Please don’t turn into Hermione. She wants to talk to me all the time about my lack of a suitable partner, too.”
Malfoy looked appropriately revolted at being compared to Hermione. That would be another reason, Harry thought, and the reason weighed with him more than all the flickers of warmth could. Malfoy would never accept my friends.
“So,” Harry continued, “it turned out that the man the doves had chosen for her actually was the right one. And she knew it. The minute he walked through the door into my office, her wings spread out from her back. That had never happened for her before. She was so depressed that she couldn’t call her wings.”
“Like me when I first came to you.”
Harry nodded. “It’s not only the desperate who use my service, but it’s a lot of them.” Malfoy looked appropriately offended, this time. “She was surprised, I could see that, and she grabbed the back of the chair she’d been sitting in as if it was going to drift away. Then she went towards him, and her body was shining. It was a faint light, but it was coming through her skin. I could see it. And she held out her hands, and he took them, and she shut her eyes. I knew that touch had done more for her than any kiss could.”
“Kisses are nice.”
Malfoy sounded as if he was talking to himself. Harry gave him another professional, sympathetic smile. “I know. But she was with him, then, and they could talk about kisses and dates and what was going to happen later. They did, and they were married after, I think, three dates.”
He fell silent, thinking about it. Not all of his success stories were like that; some took months, in the way that Malfoy was doing. But enough of them were that he could remember that one fondly, as a common rather than unique occurrence.
This time, Malfoy didn’t sound impatient. Harry turned back to him. “Have you felt anything like that with Zabini?” he added, to forestall the question he thought he could see gathering in Malfoy’s eyes.
It worked. Malfoy shook his head. “But you think I might? You think it’s too early yet?”
Harry relaxed. Malfoy might feel a bit of a draw to Harry, enough to worry if something was possible between them, but he sounded hopeful for something with Zabini, too. It made sense. Zabini was someone he had already known, someone who didn’t want to be with Malfoy just for the Veela side of him or the sick fascination of dating a former Death Eater, and someone who shared a lot of his same values.
Another reason for us not to be together, Harry thought, considering what Malfoy would do if he knew where Harry donated a lot of the money from his business.
“I think you might,” Harry said. “Some of the partners I found for Veela were instant recognitions, but not always. One of them firecalled me after dating the same person for almost a year and told me that he looked over and realized she was the one just that morning. And he sounded as happy and content about it as that couple I was telling you I saw bond.”
Malfoy grunted a little. “I just wondered if there was something that was supposed to be happening already, and if I might have got it wrong,” he muttered.
That sort of shakiness, Harry could understand. He smiled at Malfoy. “No. Give it time. And in the meanwhile…” He let his voice trail off suggestively.
Malfoy looked at him blankly, and then laughed. “Oh. Your payment.” Harry nodded. “I have to be with Blaise for another month before I’ll consider paying you.”
Harry rolled his eyes. “Trust you to wait as long as possible.”
“Blaise doesn’t disgust me, but I want to take some more time,” Malfoy said loftily, apparently attempting to look up his own nostrils. “And I can’t imagine that you’ll need the money for much of anything, Potter. The gossips say you’re not exactly hurting for Galleons.”
Harry decided that he could blame both the lateness of the night and his own desire to help Malfoy find a partner that worked for what he said next. “It’s not me that needs the money. It’s this orphanage I’m helping to build. They could open a few months earlier with a large donation.”
He thought for a second that Malfoy’s frozen posture came from disgust, and that he would close the Floo connection any second now and let Harry get back to sleep. Instead, though, Malfoy brought his head down and regarded Harry intently across the distance between them. “You support an orphanage?”
Harry nodded. “For finding Muggleborn children who’ve been abandoned in Muggle orphanages and trying to place them with magical families. If we can’t find someone who wants a child, then we’ll at least see them raised within the wizarding world.” He thought of telling Malfoy about Tom Riddle and his own childhood at the Dursleys and the major reason he was doing this, and then shrugged that notion off. Malfoy didn’t need to know that.
“Why wouldn’t a family want a child?” Malfoy’s voice was distant.
“I won’t let a Muggleborn child go to a pure-blood family who would despise them every day,” Harry said sharply.
Malfoy stirred as if he was coming out of a trance and looked at Harry. “If they were willing to take care of a Muggleborn child, they wouldn’t despise them.”
Harry sneered at him. “There are plenty of ways to do that while telling yourself that you’re being a good parent,” he said. “Telling the child that they should be grateful for the treatment you hand out because it’s not as bad as some, for example.”
“Personal experience, Potter?”
Harry rolled his eyes. “Right,” he said. “Of course. You caught me. I was adopted by a wizarding family after my parents died, and I only pretended to be as clueless about the wizarding world as I was when I came into it. I know that you’re clever. I can’t believe you never caught on before.”
“That’s not what I mean.” Malfoy had edged near the fire, his hand out as if he intended to catch hold of one of the flames and pull himself closer still. “I wanted to know if you had personal experience of being told that you should be grateful for inferior treatment.”
Harry stared into Malfoy’s eyes, and Malfoy stared back. The silence lay between them, so heavy that Harry wanted to slam his head into it the way he had slammed it into the desk yesterday.
Stupid, stupid. Yes, you could have told him what his money would be going towards, because that would probably irritate him, but that’s different from giving him an actual example from your bloody life!
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Harry said, and shook his head, and stood up. His legs were unsteady, but that came from sitting with them curled beneath him so long. Why had he indulged Malfoy with chats in the middle of the night, anyway? He still wasn’t a paying client. “I need to go to bed.”
“You know exactly what I’m talking about, Potter.” Malfoy’s voice was low and compelling enough that Harry turned and looked at him again. “I think that it’s very noble, what you’re doing, but you could have chosen any of a thousand noble things to do after the war. What I wonder is if you chose that one for a reason.”
“I’ve already told you all my reasons,” Harry said coldly. “And they have nothing to do with finding you a desirable partner. So you don’t need to hear them.”
Malfoy’s eyes flared, for some reason, and not with anger. Then he shut down the Floo connection, and left Harry staring at the empty flames.
There was a headache forming beneath his temples. Harry rubbed at them once, cast the spell that would keep the fire burning throughout the night, and went firmly to bed.
Harry turned on his broom and flew left. He could hear the muffled thunder of wings beneath him as the doves tracked his movements, and he laughed and turned to the right. The spiral of birds immediately adjusted itself so that it could come after him.
The doves were out flying for exercise this morning, inside wards that essentially built a bigger, invisible aviary atop the one they lived in most of the time. Harry didn’t want his birds to get unhealthy and lonely, and they enjoyed following him across the sky, he thought, as much as he enjoyed leading them. He dipped and rose and circled, and the doves echoed him in great patterns of grey feathers and gleaming breasts and flapping black wings.
Harry started, and pulled up. Bodies crashed into his back, and Harry drew his wand and cast a hasty spell that would keep the birds from falling to the ground, if any of them had been so unlucky as to break a wing.
“Malfoy,” Harry said, rolling his eyes. By now, he thought he would have known who it was even if he hadn’t recognized that nasal voice. Who else popped up as frequently as Malfoy did, and for no reasons?
“It didn’t work out with Blaise.”
Harry turned his broom so that he could see Malfoy, hovering in the middle of the aviary on those wide wings. He must have broken through the wards, Harry thought, easy to do so because they were designed to stop birds and not people.
He lifted his head to scan the sky, and there were several doves escaping, soaring up in little, uncertain loops. He swore and sent his broom hurtling after them, ignoring Malfoy’s indignant squawk. He would have to remember to tell Malfoy later that he sounded exactly like a brooding mother who’d been disturbed.
It didn’t take him that long to corral the birds, a few of them white and more of them glinting grey, Harry’s personal favorite color, with rings of green around their throats and blue on their heads. They weren’t used to flying around on their own anymore, and he was safety and food to them, and sometimes spells that eased their various aches and pains. He swirled and danced next to them as he herded them back towards the wards, and when they were safely back on their perches, he leaned over his broom and panted.
“I didn’t mean to make you do that, Potter.”
This time, besides the voice, there was a hand in the middle of his back, large and surprisingly warm. Harry straightened up slowly, both to enjoy the heat—which he did more than he wanted to admit to himself—and to make sure that the hand didn’t come close to touching his bare skin. “It’s all right,” he said. “But this isn’t the best place to talk. Let me get the birds back inside their pens, and we’ll go to the office.”
Malfoy pulled his hand away, but fluttered around in front of Harry. He was handling his wings much better than he had weeks ago, when he came to Harry’s house in the middle of the night, Harry had to admit.
“I have a suspicion as to why Blaise and I didn’t suit,” Malfoy said softly. “I don’t know that much about being a Veela, which was why I had to keep asking you, but one of the things I do know is that I won’t bond to a partner if I have a better one still waiting out there somewhere.”
Harry rolled his eyes. “Obviously. The whole point of my forms and birds is to try and give you the right partner. Or at least one that’s equal in compatibility to the perfect one,” he added. He knew that a lot of Veela didn’t find their “ideal” mates, but they could find people who were on the same level of goodness, however their bodies and souls and magic judged that quality.
Malfoy didn’t answer. He reached out of the clamor of his wings, beating strongly up and down to maintain his position in the air, and laid his hand on Harry’s cheek.
Harry closed his eyes. He could feel a warmth trickling out of the touch and through him, much more than the hand on his back had provided.
“You’re suitable for me,” Malfoy whispered, and shifted closer.
Harry shuddered, a ripple of such strength traveling down his body and neck that he shrugged himself away from Malfoy’s touch, and that meant he could think again. He reached out and caught Malfoy’s arm, carefully on the part that was clothed, shaking his head. He was glad that Malfoy had modified his shirts once his wings had appeared rather than simply going naked from the waist up, the way some Veela did. “No. Wait.”
“I don’t want to.” Malfoy’s voice had deepened, and now he sounded like a bird of prey. “I’ve waited long enough, and I want to do all the things I’ve promised myself I would the minute I found my partner.”
He moved closer, and Harry had to flip the broom away and upside-down. “We wouldn’t get along,” he snarled at Malfoy from under his own legs. “We would fight, and you don’t approve of the things I use my money for or the way I live, and you would insult my friends constantly. No.”
“What about the way I can make you feel?” Malfoy’s eyes were huge and his smile dark, the way the flare in his eyes the other night had been. “Doesn’t that matter to you at all? Having a mate isn’t only pleasant for the Veela.”
Harry hesitated. He knew Malfoy wasn’t lying about that much. He’d been witness to too many of the right joinings, either in his office or at the weddings and bondings that his grateful clients had invited him to attend. So it wasn’t as though being a Veela’s mate was some horrible slavery that he didn’t want to go through.
But at the same time, those people had all been more compatible than he and Malfoy had. Harry hadn’t heard them exchange a cross word.
Malfoy was still looking at him with that obsessive glitter in his eyes. Harry decided he might as well push. “What about what you wanted? That mixture of fire and passivity that you say is so hard to find? The person who can sometimes take your attention and sometimes insist on paying you attention?”
Malfoy laughed, rich and deep. That was one thing Harry couldn’t deny to the bastard at least. He was handsome. Attractive. Harry would have been drawn to the way he looked if he hadn’t known all that he did about him.
“That describes us rather well, don’t you think?” Malfoy flew a little nearer, and Harry floated back upright. Hanging like that was starting to make blood rush to his head, and it hurt. “When I wanted your attention, you wouldn’t give it to me. But you were so insistent on finding out what I was doing during sixth year. And you yield to people you like, but you fight back when they make too many demands of you.”
Harry shook his head. “You’re talking about the way we both were in school. We’ve changed since then.”
“I paid attention to the papers,” Malfoy whispered, as if sharing a secret across a meter of air. “I saw it when they said that you threw up your hands and walked away from a promising Auror career, even though the public and the wizarding world insisted that you remain to defend them. And you decided to do this because you like helping people, even if they weren’t good to you. You just kept trying to find the right partner for me. And those others that you mentioned, I suppose,” Malfoy added, as if they were worth less than nothing compared to him. “You didn’t leap out in front of them to defend them from the horror of the wrong mate. You’re more optimistic, less sacrificial, than you used to be. I think that means that you could put up with my demands but prevent me from going too far.”
“All right, say that I’m the right mate for you,” Harry said. He could hardly refuse to consider that when he had been the first one to consider that Malfoy was displaying the behavior of a courting Veela. “But how do I know that you’re the right mate for me?”
Malfoy’s smile flowed across his face like water. “Beyond the way you felt when I touched you?”
“I know this might escape you, being a Veela and all, but we can’t spend all our time in bed.”
Malfoy laughed aloud and bowed low, his hands spread out and his fingers fluttering at the ends of them, matching the sudden fast dance of his wings. “We go out on a date. How many people have you told to do that when they made faces at their potential partners? They should give them a chance.”
Harry thought about that. The more he considered, the less ridiculous it seemed. Yes, all right, Malfoy was drawn to him, and Harry was drawn back, but that wasn’t the basis for a good relationship. Then again, the magic that made his doves give him certain names wasn’t foolproof, either. All the Veela he advised could do was go on those dates and see what clicked for them with a particular person.
“Will you give me permission to date you?”
Malfoy’s voice was low again, and he hovered right in front of Harry now, his tone as serious as though he was asking someone’s parents for an old-fashioned arranged marriage. Harry bit his lip to avoid blurting out laughter that he knew Malfoy wouldn’t understand, and he nodded, holding Malfoy’s gaze.
“But I want to warn you that it might not go well,” Harry said. “And I’m leaving if you insult me or my friends.”
“Agreed,” Malfoy said. “As long as you won’t deliberately sabotage it because you don’t like me.”
Harry had to smile. “No. I promised you a fair chance. And that’s what you’ll get. A chance,” he added, when Malfoy looked as if he might forget what birds he was supposed to resemble and crow.
Malfoy nodded and leaned in. Harry didn’t realize what he intended until his lips were a few brushes away from Harry’s, and then Harry dodged and dropped, spiraling back down towards the aviary to enclose his birds in the smaller cage again.
“Exactly what was that, if not sabotage?” Malfoy demanded, winging down after him. Most of his feathers, and even some of his hair, seemed to be standing on end.
Harry glanced back at him and raised his eyebrows. “What do you mean? You were going to kiss me before the first date, and I’m not that sort of bloke.”
And then he went into the aviary and shut the door after him, listening to Malfoy’s frustrated hissing. It was a good test. If Malfoy couldn’t put up with this minor amount of aggravation, there was no way that he was going to make good dating material for Harry.
But long after Harry thought Malfoy would have given up and left, he glanced out the wire and saw Malfoy standing in the middle of the path between the aviary and his office. Malfoy bowed with his hand across his breastbone, and murmured, “Will you join me at the Royal Swan?”
Harry nodded, impressed despite himself. The Royal Swan was an exclusive restaurant in Diagon Alley. Harry had only eaten there once, as a member of the wedding party when one of his wealthier clients had invited him to witness her bonding.
“Good,” Malfoy said. “Around seven next Saturday, then. Even for someone as rich as me, it’ll take that long to get a reservation.” He gave Harry a lingering glance and spread his wings, holding them at full extension for a second before he sprang into the air. When he flew off, he did so with a smug look on his face.
When Harry realized why, he sighed to himself. Malfoy knew very well that Harry had been admiring the shimmering colors in his wings, the same pearl-grey that he liked so much when it showed up in his doves’ feathers.
Malfoy was still arrogant and demanding of too much of Harry’s time and attention. He was full of himself and reveled in his wealth. And no matter what he said about them being able to trade the equality of the relationship back and forth, Harry thought it was going to get wearing, sometimes, being the focus of his obsessive gaze on dates.
But it couldn’t hurt to try.
Hermione was leaning against the far wall of Harry’s room, watching him. Harry rolled his eyes and draped the green cloak around his shoulders, turning so that he could look at it critically in the mirror on the wall before him. After a second, he shook his head and took it off. The cloak was too long, and the hem was embroidered with gold, which was something Harry had forgotten; it had been years since he wore it. He returned it to his cupboard and took out another one, in a shade that was more blue than green.
“I don’t understand why you decided to date Malfoy in the first place.”
Hermione’s voice was full of suppressed, bubbling laughter. Harry rolled his eyes at her reflection in the mirror this time. “I’ve told you again and again, and you were the one who told me that I should get out there and try to find someone.”
Hermione gasped out the laughter, then nodded. “I know. But I didn’t know that you would pick a Veela. You’ve said to me more than once that you don’t think you could stand being someone’s mate.”
“Well, none of the Veela that came through A Choice of Wings was my mate.” Harry ran his hand through his hair and studied the effect in the mirror. Picturing the expression on Malfoy’s face made him snicker. And for some reason, the blue-green cloak looked better on him when his hair was ruffled like that. He nodded and fastened the brooch that closed it at the throat. “All of them had someone else. It’s different when it’s you.”
Hermione opened her mouth to continue asking questions, Harry thought, although he’d already told her and Ron all about Malfoy and why Harry had wanted to date him. For that matter, Harry couldn’t make out why she was even here. She had said that someone should watch Harry set off and make sure that he was all right and not a mass of nerves, but all she’d done was ask questions that were designed to set Harry’s nerves jangling.
But then someone knocked on the door, and Harry felt the wards do a little dance. He knew now why they hadn’t reacted to Malfoy’s passage through them that night he crashed into Harry’s window: he was tied closely enough to Harry through being a potential mate that they had welcomed him the way they would someone Harry was already dating.
“That’s him?” Hermione was smiling at him, her eyes bright enough that Harry laughed.
“That’s him,” Harry confirmed, and decided that the cloak was good enough, and went with the blue robes he wore under them better than he would have thought it did. If he didn’t look fancy enough for Malfoy, then Malfoy would just have to deal with it, or perhaps leave him here and go to the Royal Swan alone.
As he opened the door, he wondered what would greet him: Malfoy in expensive robes that Harry could never match, Malfoy with wings spread, or Malfoy with a bunch of white roses. Malfoy seemed serious about the courting aspect of the potential mate thing. Harry wouldn’t put the roses past him.
But it was none of those. Malfoy wore expensive robes, sure, but nothing nicer than some of the robes in Harry’s wardrobe. Well, all right, a few of those robes. Maybe one. But the point was, he wore dark grey robes that accented the glow of his hair and didn’t make Harry feel cast in the shade, and he’d probably judged to a nicety what he could get away with and what he couldn’t.
He smiled at Harry and held out his hands. Harry stepped forwards, not sure whether Malfoy wanted him to shake hands or what, and then felt something cool and smooth snap into place around his wrist.
Harry blinked and looked down. What hung there felt loose and heavy, but not much like a bracelet, which was the only gift Harry could imagine Malfoy wanting to fasten on his arm. He turned it over. A series of large, flat links of silver led up to the face of a watch, glowing with golden numbers.
“Thank you,” Harry murmured, looking up at Malfoy. “Did you take some of your inspiration from Muggle watches?” Most wizards carried watches on chains like the one that Molly had given him.
Malfoy shook his head and leaned forwards, glancing a finger over the clock face. Harry followed the gesture of his hand and saw the numbers shimmer and change, swimming around each other for a few seconds. When the face of the watch cleared again, it was a softly shining silver blank, except for a metallic dot of light off to the side.
“Look,” Malfoy whispered, and moved to the side. The dot at once shifted around the face of the watch to follow him.
“It’s tuned to you?” Harry blinked. He had heard of spells that could do that, but most wizards used them the other way around, to find objects they often misplaced, like wands. To charm a watch so that it reflected Malfoy’s presence was an unusual gift.
“Yes,” Malfoy whispered, leaning forwards so that his breath caressed Harry’s ear. The light slid with him, flaring in the middle of the watch. “It’ll dim and shrink down to a corner when I’m far away, and glow when I’m with you. You can always know where I am.” He reached down and ran his fingers under the back of the watch, lifting it from Harry’s wrist. Harry shivered violently at the touch, and knew that Malfoy didn’t miss it, from his smile. “Not to mention the protection charms.”
Harry laughed a little. “You made me something that functions like the knowledge you have of my location?” He knew that Veela, at least once mated, could know where their mate was, in terms of direction and distance.
Malfoy nodded. “Not to mention something that can defend you when I’m not with you.”
“I do have a wand, you know.”
“But a captor might take your wand from you, and not notice a piece of jewelry.” Malfoy’s eyes were direct and intense and serious, and he moved his fingers so that he was pressing the watch down onto Harry’s wrist instead of holding it up from underneath. “This way, you have a defense with you at all times.”
Harry shook his hand a little, but Malfoy showed no intention of letting go of it. “People don’t really do that kind of thing to me anymore. Not since I stopped being an Auror.”
Malfoy leaned nearer, and his shadow seemed like a warm caress against Harry’s face, along with the lips and the breath against his earlobe. “Indulge me.”
Harry shuddered. If they traded places as the focus of each other’s time and attention, well and good. He thought it would be an even better idea if it happened soon. Being Malfoy’s focus was dizzying.
And then Malfoy stepped back and held out his hand, as if he had heard the thought and wished to indulge Harry. “We should be going. Not even for someone rich is the owner of the Royal Swan understanding when someone makes reservations and then doesn’t show up.” His eyes tilted back behind Harry. “Good evening, Granger.”
Hermione. Harry had honestly forgotten she was there. He started and turned around, but Hermione just pressed her hand to her mouth and shook her head.
“Go,” she said. “Have fun.” She shut the door of his house gently behind him, and Harry blinked and turned back to Malfoy.
“You’re ready, then?” Malfoy was studying the hang of his cloak and robes now as if making sure they were good enough for the Royal Swan. Harry straightened himself up and recovered most of his composure.
“Unless you think I should go back in and change my clothes or something,” he said.
Malfoy caught his hand and pressed a kiss to the inside of his wrist, under the watch he had got Harry. “Indeed not,” he said, voice lingering and soft. “You have everything that I could want.” He extended an arm towards the Apparition point, a motion that seemed as if it should have been accompanied by the movement of a wing. “Shall we?”
Harry took an unsteady breath and nodded. And they walked to the Apparition point with Malfoy’s hand firmly in the small of his back.
“What kind of place has a chandelier at every table?” Harry kept his voice low. Malfoy had told him that shouting was vulgar.
“A restaurant as expensive as this one.” Malfoy was lounging, or so it seemed, even though he was also sitting perfectly upright with a glass of wine held to his lips. His eyes gleamed at Harry. “You look stressed. Is there something I can do to help you relax?” His hand stole across the table, his fingers rubbing gently up and down beneath Harry’s wrist, in the place he had kissed once before.
Harry shook his head and looked around the Royal Swan again. Last time he had been here, he had enjoyed himself. The food had been delicious, and he was celebrating yet another successful bonding that A Choice of Wings had helped establish. He wasn’t sure why he felt so out-of-place this time.
Maybe it was the décor, which really did have a chandelier hanging over every table and snowy white marble walls and little channels in the floor filled with running water. On the channels sailed real swans, their white wings perfectly arched to cover most of the middle of their backs. Now and then a pair passed with necks entwined. Veins of gold coursed through the water, traces of color that Harry was sure were the result of specific spells, and the gold appeared also in the cracks between the flagstones on the floor.
Of course the floor was flagstones, perfectly polished ones fitted together so snugly that Harry wondered if those veins of gold were the result of spells as well. And each table was round and small, so that couples could sit intimately, but with a sort of wing that could be extended out to the side to place food on. At the moment, their table, rich with the glow of mahogany, was piled with plates of what Malfoy said was the first course: meat glazed with honey, what Harry thought were entire small birds stuffed with vegetables and spices, and the carafe of what seemed to be an icy wine, ready to be poured and served.
“This sort of meal isn’t to your taste?” Malfoy stole his attention back by caressing his hand again.
Harry turned to him, then hesitated and shook his head. “No. The food is good, of course. But that wine is too sweet, and I don’t know, Malfoy. I think this place is more to your taste than mine.”
“Call me Draco,” Malfoy said, with a quick little shadow-smile that was more enchanting than Harry wanted to admit. “But I see what you mean. I’ll order a different wine.” He raised his hand, and one of the waiters was at his side in seconds. Harry shook his head. This was one of the few restaurants he’d ever been in where humans served him, instead of him going to get the food or it being house-elves’ responsibility.
Then again, he supposed he should have known it didn’t have house-elves, or Hermione would have made more of a stink about this than she had.
And I’m thinking of irrelevant things to try and keep my mind off what’s really bothering me.
Harry tried the new wine that appeared, but said, “All right, Draco. But what about the décor? I feel like I’m in the middle of this huge cold house, and I have to sit absolutely still so that I don’t get my hostess’s furniture dirty.”
“Not the kind of cold that you can dissipate with Warming Charms.” Malfoy—well, Harry could get used to thinking of him as Draco—nodded thoughtfully. “Well. Let me show you one part of the Royal Swan that I hadn’t planned for us to visit. I didn’t think you’d want to go there so soon.” He held out his hand, and pulled Harry to his feet when Harry hesitantly reached back to him.
Harry opened his mouth to say that he didn’t really want to visit a bedroom, but Malfoy had his arm around his shoulders and was escorting him on, and it seemed pointless and rude to try to pull free.
They ended up in the middle of a ballroom that clever use of pillars and screens had shaded entirely from Harry’s view up until that point. He tilted his head back and gaped at the ceiling, which was done in warmer shades of red and blue and seemed to show a unicorn galloping through a field of flowers, although the patterns were so curlicue and abstract that it was hard to be sure.
Draco was waiting for him, holding out his arms and watching Harry with a trust and confidence that Harry hadn’t seen from him since he walked into A Choice of Wings. Harry hesitated again in spite of himself.
Draco shook his head. “You don’t have to dance with me if you don’t want to. But I thought it would warm you up.”
There was a teasing undertone to his words that was what Harry needed to hear just then. He moved forwards, putting a hand in Draco’s. “I should warn you that I haven’t improved much in my dancing since the Yule Ball,” he muttered.
Draco bowed his head so that his nose hovered a short distance above Harry’s neck and began to move, swirling them across the floor so lightly that Harry couldn’t believe he didn’t have his wings out. “Even with all the weddings that you’ve been invited to?”
Harry rolled his eyes. “After they saw me dancing at the first one, word spread, and people usually excuse me from opening the ball or doing anything more strenuous than responding to toasts.”
“Their mistake.” Draco breathed it into his hair this time, and set off a new round of shivers. “How are you ever to learn to dance if no one teaches you?”
Harry opened his mouth to retort, and then became aware that he was moving perfectly nicely around the floor, even though he thought this dance was a simple one. “Well, not everyone is as good as you at it,” he said half-heartedly. He wanted to praise Draco for a job well done, but he thought his head might swell up if he did.
Draco lifted his head and looked him in the eye, and his face had transformed. Harry couldn’t help raising his hand to touch one warm and, yes, slightly glowing cheek. “What did I say?” he asked. “I didn’t know you rated your dancing that highly.”
“You complimented me,” Draco said thickly. “Being praised is an erotic experience for a Veela.”
Harry blinked, then laughed. “Of course it is,” he said. He ought to have known that, from all the blushing and preening he’d seen his clients do when their partners said something sweet to them. “Well. Let’s see what else I can say.”
Draco continued moving, but barely, his hands on Harry’s hips now, and his eyes on Harry’s.
“You’re kind when you want to be,” Harry said. “I thought you would care more about what you wanted than what I did, but you got up and decided to try and warm me up when I said I was cold. That was nice of you.”
With a rustling noise, followed by a larger tearing noise as they made their way through the cloth of his shirt, Draco’s wings unfolded. He didn’t move them forwards and around Harry, but that didn’t matter. Harry could feel their shadow on him like a blessing anyway.
Harry moved closer to Draco and bit his lip, trying to think of what else he could say that Draco would like and that was something he really thought, rather than a soothing compliment offered simply to placate Draco’s Veela nature. “I think that it was brave of you, to admit that you weren’t finding a partner on your own and come looking at A Choice of Wings,” he said, his hand rising to stroke Draco’s cheek. “You knew that I was running it and we hadn’t got along in the past, but you came and tried anyway.”
Draco plucked Harry’s hand off his cheek and turned it to give Harry a kiss on the palm. He was almost shaking from the force of his emotions, and he bent down and kissed Harry on the lips then.
Harry felt himself go still. He wasn’t sure if it was too soon, if maybe he should have waited, but—
This felt bloody fantastic. Kind of like gliding around a dance floor in the arms of someone he knew wouldn’t taunt him.
Harry threw his arms around Draco’s neck and kissed back as hard as he could, almost hard enough to lift Draco off the ground. Draco’s wings flared out and ruffled in surprise, and then settled against his shoulders again. His kiss this time was, Harry thought, both dramatic and heartfelt, softening the moment Harry’s mouth opened to let him in.
He pulled back then, shaking his head a little as he locked eyes with Harry. “Are you sure?”
“What is it?” Harry asked. He felt his head whirling, but compared to the expression on Draco’s face, he was calm and alert. Some of the stillness that had first overtaken him when he kissed Draco was with him now. “Is kissing someone with your tongue in his mouth the secret signal for Veela bonding?”
Draco smiled, but his eyes were desperate. “Not all the time. But for someone like me, someone who waited so long to find his mate…” He shivered. “I think it might make me all the more desperate to do something I shouldn’t.”
“Shouldn’t with someone who’s unwilling,” Harry said, and slipped his arms around Draco’s neck. “Who said that I was unwilling?”
“Merlin,” Draco sighed out, as though he was praising someone, and bent down. His eyes were wide and shimmering silver, and Harry finally let go of his visions of Veela clients in his office and the half-wistful thought that he might not ever get to experience something like that. He couldn’t be unhappy when all that shining light was directed at him. “You have to think about it, though, Harry,” Draco went on, his voice calm, but his fingers tightening hard on Harry’s waist and shoulders. “I don’t think I can bring myself to step away.”
“To step away?” Harry wasn’t sure what that meant.
“To back off and say that I need to find someone else, if you change your mind about being willing later and you don’t want to date me.” Draco’s voice was low, but slow, and Harry knew that he was fully thinking about the consequences of what he was saying.
Harry closed his eyes. He had been exasperated enough with Draco in the past month that he had to admit it was a wise objection. Could he really be with someone who popped up to stare creepily up at him, and complained all the time, and thought it was his right to firecall Harry in the middle of the night and wake him up?
Someone whom the wards on his house had opened to, recognizing him right away? Someone who had brought a gift to Harry like the one that rested on his wrist now?
“I think I’ll take a chance,” Harry said, and leaned forwards and smiled at Draco.
Draco shuddered again, a ripple that flowed up his wings to their tips and made them tremble like flowers in a field, and which Harry couldn’t think was disgust no matter how insecure he was. “What you do to me,” he whispered. “What your attention does to me.”
Harry grinned. “Like standing in the middle of a bonfire, isn’t it?”
Draco cocked his head to the side, the most bird-like movement Harry had seen him perform so far. “How do you know that? Did you see some Veela clients in your office who looked at their mates like that?”
Harry shook his head. “Earlier this evening, when you were looking at me and I thought that it was nice but I wouldn’t like to be looked at like that all the time. I felt the bonfire.”
Draco laughed aloud, a sound that made the rafters ring and the swans start on their artificial pool. “I suppose we have the requirement for my mate that we switch our attentions back and forth pinned down, then,” he muttered.
Harry nodded and extended his hand. “I’d like to take you home. To my house, where you’ve already been. Will you come with me?”
“With pleasure,” Draco whispered, and his hand landed in Harry’s.
Harry stepped into his drawing room and turned around, smiling at Draco. “I could take you to the bedroom, but I thought a fire might be nice.”
“What, you don’t have a fireplace in your bedroom?” Draco was fanning his wings out, though, slowly. He’d headed for the Floo from the restaurant, but Harry had guided him out the front door. Harry knew he’d appreciated that on two levels—so he didn’t have to pull his wings back in trying to spare them from the sides of the fireplace, and so everyone could see them parading out together.
The Chosen One and the Death Eater. Harry already knew the headlines would scream something like that.
But they’d already screamed when Harry retired from the Aurors, and a few times since he had opened A Choice of Wings; there were people who seemed to think that the choice of Veela mates should be entirely a matter of chance, and not a matter of doves matching people’s preferences with a name. Harry was inured to Rita Skeeter and her kind by now.
“I do,” Harry said. “But I thought you’d prefer the chance not to have to try and fit in a bed.” And he lit the fire with one wand movement, while he conjured a thick blanket with the other.
Draco was gaping at him as he shook out the blanket, larger than Draco’s wingspan and a mixture of dim, rough reds and browns, and spread it on the floor. Harry sat down on it, smiling at Draco and holding out a hand.
“What? Don’t you have a romantic bone in your body?”
Draco slid across the room in that way Veela had, fast without looking like it, and knelt down beside him, his hand tightly clasping Harry’s. “It’s beautiful,” Draco breathed. “It’s wonderful.” He lifted Harry’s hand to his lips and kissed it. “Just unexpected. Like so much about you.”
“Sometimes,” Harry said, lying back on the blanket and wriggling his shoulders into its softness, “it’s best to just stop talking about giving and take.”
Draco’s eyes flared, and he hovered over Harry with his wings spread as if actually hanging in the air. Harry caught his breath.
The allure slid over his skin like a warm shadow, from the groin up, covering his chest and creeping towards his face. Harry closed his eyes and moaned softly. It made his skin prickle and his nipples rise and his hair wave in response. It felt so good that he moved a hand down without thinking, and then a delicate, cool hand as strong as iron caught his.
“I think I’d like that to be mine,” Draco breathed out in his face, sending warm breath over Harry’s lips as well. “One of the first things I take. If you don’t mind.”
Harry smiled and pulled his hand back, watching Draco with eagerness that he might have tried to hide if he was with anyone else. Draco shifted his position and reached down to unbutton Harry’s shirt.
The delicate motions of his fingers, combined with the gentle movement of his wings, made Harry close his eyes and squirm, tossing his head restlessly. Draco didn’t bother soothing him. He kept up a flow of sound, sometimes breathing out, sometimes panting.
And then he began to speak.
“Magnificent, the way you look. I can’t even imagine how many people would give anything to be in my place.”
Harry turned his head to the side and smiled a little. Well, yes, he looked very nice, if he did say so himself, and better than he used to when he was run ragged by either the stress of Auror work or the war with Voldemort.
“But no one else can be in my place,” Draco said, and had Harry raise his arms so that he could ease the shirt off over his head. He bent over, and Harry gasped and bucked despite himself as Draco pinched his nipples. “And I like that.”
Now the allure was steaming like heat directly on his skin. Harry lay still, because it was what Draco seemed to want, and opened his eyes. Draco’s admiring gaze fought the allure for the sheer effect it was having on him, and won.
“Yes, you’re hard now,” Draco breathed, but although he slid his hand down Harry’s body, he never took his gaze from Harry’s face.
Harry shut his eyes again. Draco’s hand was so warm, with the sort of soft heat that didn’t mean a fever, that it was like being caressed by the sun itself. And the heat intensified as Draco bent down towards him and whimpered, “Let’s get you out of these trousers.”
“Do you want me to—undress you?” Harry reached up with one hand, but it fell limp with the surge of pleasure through him.
“Mmm, no. Just lie there and enjoy for me. Can you do that?” Draco leaned over before Harry could reply and nipped at his earlobe. “There is the part where sometimes I want my partner to be passive.”
Harry laughed, but rolled limply to one side. Draco scooped up his hip with casual grace and worked his trousers down his legs. Then he pulled Harry’s pants down, but teasingly, slowly, letting them catch the tip of his cock.
“It’s going to be your fault if I come before you can get anywhere,” Harry said, and gasped only a little when Draco’s skilled fingers closed around him.
“It’s going to be my pleasure,” Draco corrected, and this time he reached out and down, the coolness of his wings on Harry’s body moving. Harry finally had to look again, because he didn’t know what Draco was doing.
Draco smiled at him from between Harry’s legs, and as he shoved the pants out of the way onto Harry’s arse and opened his lips further, Harry mouthed his name in anticipation.
But Draco didn’t suck him. He just kept hovering there, and what touched Harry was his breath and the allure, as before.
Harry parted his legs as best as he could when he was lying on his side, and Draco winked at him and kept his mouth open. Harry arched forwards, and Draco moved with Harry’s motion so that he was the same distance away. Harry growled, and got nothing but a wink for his trouble.
“Trust me,” Draco whispered. “I know what I’m doing.”
Harry rolled his eyes, but shut them again, and let the warmth touch him. Such teasing, fugitive touches, to the side and back and forth, so that Harry felt his cock sway as if stirred by wind. His skin tightened and pebbled with the cold, and still Draco kept his mouth in the exact same place. Harry could appreciate the delicacy, but he didn’t really see how this was going to get him off.
Then Draco released a concentrated blast of allure at him, at the exact same moment as he huffed out.
The pleasure wasn’t as long-lasting as being wrapped in Draco’s tongue would have been, but it was far more intense. Harry bucked and tried to say something, but that was overwhelmed by the way his voice choked off.
He didn’t come, but it was close.
He rolled onto his back, gasping, and Draco flapped his wings once and glided into position over him. He was taking off his trousers, kicking them as if he didn’t know why he had been wearing the bloody things at all. He panted a little, but his eyes burned all the same, with no way to release the heat.
Harry grabbed his neck and yanked him down. Draco squeaked a little, and only barely maintained his position by flapping hard.
“Harry—I need to get these—”
“I know,” Harry muttered, and his hand groped around on the floor until he found his wand. He cast a spell that peeled the cloth neatly back from Draco’s groin, and another that slicked him up. He grinned and ran his fingers over the sticky mess of viscous oil spread around Draco’s groin, liking the way that Draco’s hair grew softer and softer to the sides down there, until it felt like pinfeathers. “There.”
“That’s not enough,” Draco whispered, but he sounded as if he would have liked it to be.
Harry leaned forwards to nudge Draco’s cock with his nose. “I know,” he said, and cast another spell on his hand. Then he braced his heels on the blanket and moved up a little, so he could reach himself.
And so Draco could watch.
Draco was suitably drop-jawed as Harry felt carefully around his hole and finally managed to slide a finger inside. Then Harry slid another two, both at once, and Draco made a sound. It didn’t have a name, but it was a satisfying sound to listen to, just as Draco’s expression was satisfying to look at.
Harry clenched around his fingers, biting his lip. “I almost envy you,” he said, stroking in and out of his own warmth. “To be able to stick your cock in there.”
“I’ll give you something to feel,” Draco panted, and slid Harry’s hand out of the way with one hand on his wrist, and positioned himself at Harry’s entrance at the same time.
And hit him with allure simultaneously, too.
Harry would have liked to make a sarcastic remark about how much better Draco was at accomplishing multiple tasks at the same time now than he had been, but he was gasping and red-faced and rutting on the blanket with his arse, and on Draco, who hadn’t moved yet. So there went that brilliant option. From the way Draco bent over and made the nameless sound again next to his ear, he might have been able to sense what Harry was thinking.
Then he began to move.
It was thick, fast, hard, glorious fucking. Harry rode with it, flexing his hips and bending his legs in a way that Draco seemed to find absolutely delicious, if the way his eyelids drooped was any indication. He kept flapping his wings, so he was lighter than normal and Harry could move faster than normal.
“Is sex—with you—going to be like this all the time?” Harry finally managed to ask around the edge of a gasp.
“If—I have my wings—and you,” Draco said, choking on what sounded like a mouthful of eagerness.
Harry said, “I can only—help you with one thing,” and drove himself down, clenching again. He wanted Draco to come before he did.
Draco resisted for longer than Harry would have thought possible, his eyes shutting so hard that it looked like he’d do himself damage. But at last his hips stiffened, and so did his wings, sticking out to the side with only the most minute flutters in the tips. Harry felt him release heavily a second later.
He should have known that Draco would get his revenge, and he had it in the way Draco opened an eye a second later and waved a hand at his cock.
Heat was around Harry, holding him so tight, so warm, that he was thrusting before he realized what he was doing, jolting and shaking Draco above him, hissing under his breath as the pleasure rode him the way Draco had—
And he came with the same kind of thrusting that he thought Draco had done, although since he hadn’t felt that from the outside it was hard to be sure, and the warmth was kindling him, and when he slumped panting back on the blanket he was already dying to go again. He would have suggested it if his body could have stood up for another round.
“What was that?” he whispered, when he was sure that he had his breath back completely.
Draco bent down to kiss him again, and Harry eagerly reached up and looped his arms around Draco’s neck. Draco nipped carelessly at his lips before drawing back again and smiling at Harry, shaking his wings down around them the way that Harry had sometimes had lovers shake their hair. Harry sighed in contentment.
“That was a side-effect of the allure,” Draco said, and glanced sideways at him. “I wasn’t sure it would work. Not all Veela can do that.”
“Of course you would manage,” Harry said, and reached up to slide one finger behind Draco’s ear, since that part had inexplicably escaped investigation before. “You’re the best.”
Draco caught his hand and kissed it, but his eyes were intense. “Do you mean that? Or do you think that you’ve been changed by becoming my mate?”
Harry tilted his head to the side, listening. He’d certainly had enough Veela clients to know what he was listening for. Yes, there was the faint humming that signified the mating connection, a hum that came more through his bones and blood than anything else.
“I think that becoming your mate clarified things for me,” Harry said. “But it wasn’t that which made me think you were handsome, or not tighten my wards up when you first came through them, or even go through the process of choosing mate after mate for you. I still think we’ll fight sometimes.” He touched Draco’s hair again. “But I still think that this is the best decision I’ve ever made.”
Draco smiled, and bent down, and kissed him again.
“I noticed that you had a new client today.”
Harry nodded and didn’t bother looking up from the papers on his desk. He was currently trying to decide which doves he should feed Samantha Huckster’s forms to; she seemed to want so many contradictory things in her mate that she was actually worse than Draco, something he hadn’t believed was possible until now. “She stayed and talked to me for hours, too. Sometimes she wanted a man, and sometimes a woman, and sometimes a perfect person who could grant her everything she’s been missing. As exasperating as possible.”
Draco took a stride towards the desk, and that was unusual enough to finally make Harry look up. Draco was staring at him with a dark ring around the outside of his grey eyes.
“What’s wrong?” Harry asked. Usually, he only saw that when Draco’s Veela instincts were aroused and angry in some way, but he couldn’t think of anything that would have caused that this time.
With a growl, Draco grabbed the back of Harry’s shirt and hauled him out of his chair. Harry went yelping and flailing. Draco hung Harry in front of him and stared into his face. “She touched you,” he said.
“We shook hands when she came in,” Harry snapped. “Well done, you.”
Draco stared some more. Then he abruptly plopped Harry back in his chair, took a few turns around the office that were so rapid Harry got dizzy watching him, and began to laugh.
“Well, good for you, again,” Harry said, and made a show of dusting himself off. “Are you going to explain what that was all about?”
“No one else I know would dismiss it that way when their Veela mate gets angry,” Draco said, shaking his head. “They would cower sometimes or apologize, or encourage the jealousy because they like it. Or they might get angry back. You did none of those things.” He smiled at Harry, and the dark ring had retreated from his eyes. His wings had come out. “You’re the right mate for me.”
“Because I argue with you?” Harry scowled at him. “And I was angry.”
“Not killingly, not the kind of anger that you once feared would destroy our bond.” Draco settled his hands on Harry’s shoulders and wrapped his wings around them, sweeping them in a way that blew Huckster’s papers from the desk and scattered them all over the floor. Harry didn’t think that was really an accident, and he objected, but Draco just carried on holding him, oblivious. “Just the kind of anger that’s necessary for someone who’s going to stand up to me. Someone like you.”
His voice had deepened towards the end. Harry smiled up at him, and then leaned in and kissed him. Two months after their first date, and that first round of sex, he was still getting used to Draco and some of the strange things he did and said, but he didn’t think he could ever grow tired of him.
Draco kissed him back eagerly, his wings wrapping them in a cloudy cocoon of warmth and silver, and made Harry glad that Huckster had been his last client of the day. He did step away finally, gasping. “I have to feed the doves before I leave,” he explained, to Draco’s slowly demanding look.
Draco snorted and strode to the office door. He rarely wore a shirt now when he was alone with Harry, since his wings would only pop out anyway, and he flexed them hard, making the muscles ripple and drawing Harry’s attention. “I’ll help you.”
“I didn’t think you liked my doves,” Harry protested, as he struggled into the thick clock that Draco was insisting he wear now that it was getting cold outside.
Draco came back and made sure the cloak was settled properly, then looked into Harry’s eyes. “I don’t mind them,” he whispered. “They were useless in my case, but you like looking after them, and that’s enough to win them a place in my regard.”
Harry laughed aloud, because it was do that or throw his hands up in the air, and he didn’t feel like doing that right now. He accompanied Draco out the door.
The cooing in the aviary grew louder as they approached, but although he still cared for his doves, and would as long as he operated the business, Harry had to admit his favorite wings were the ones that Draco continued to keep wrapped around him as they walked.