Harry shoulders open the door to his apartment, shuffling his bags of groceries and trying not to let the one with the wine in it slip from his grasp. He drops his keys on the little table by the door, eases the paper bags carefully onto the kitchen counter, and unwraps his scarf with one hand while tugging the glove off the other with his teeth.
Every year, New York in December manages to trick him into thinking winter is magical, with fairy lights wrapped in the trees, cinnamon-spiced lattes, and carols drifting out from churches and department stores alike. By February he always realises he’s been scammed: it’s colder than balls, he’s sick to death of shuffling behind slow-moving tourists on the only shoveled part of the sidewalk, and there are still dead Christmas trees lying around on the curb. Harry’s fourth-floor walkup has radiators that are cranky and overheated, and even though the short dash from the store left his cheeks flushed and freezing, he’s already sweating as he shrugs his coat off and shoves his knitted hat in the pocket.
His glasses are fogged up, his nose is cold, and the owled letter from Gringotts is burning a hole in his pocket hotter than the rattling steam pipe under the window.
He pulls the bottle of Syrah from its bag and uncorks it, pouring himself a generous glass before sinking onto his well-worn sofa. Above the television is one of those balsa wood stag’s heads, a ridiculous, stylised thing that his colleague Elsa gave him for Secret Santa two years ago because she’d seen his tattoo when they were swimming. Harry finds himself staring at it as he fingers the roll of parchment. He’s overthinking it. It’s from Gringotts so it will be something stupidly dull—some statement of his vaults or tedious audit requirement, probably. But he hasn’t received an owl from Britain in so long it feels strange. The wax seal looks formal, archaic.
He takes a swig of the wine and opens the letter.
It’s written in the sort of institutional doublespeak that drives Harry up the wall. He’s used to it from MACUSA’s Department of Education, which always takes seventeen pages to say something that could be expressed in a sentence. This letter seems to be about renovations and repairs to Gringotts’ lower vault levels and every care being taken, and at first Harry wonders if they’ve managed to destroy his vaults and are trying to tell him in the most oblique way possible. But when he turns the page he realises they’ve found a vault. A vault in the name of Lily and James Potter.
The parchment trembles a little in Harry’s hand. He takes another gulp of wine.
The rest of the letter isn’t really any easier to follow. A full page of requirements for account identity verification and evidence of magical lineage, as if the entirety of wizarding Britain doesn’t know who Harry’s parents are. The account claimant must present these requirements to Gringotts Wizarding Bank in person on or before 31 March 2008 or the contents of the unclaimed vault will be forfeit.
His first instinct is to crumple the parchment, lob it into the bin, and forget about it. He doesn’t need any more money—he barely touches the Galleons he has now. And there’s no way he wants to present himself in person. Not because of some goblin administrative balls-up. His cat, Cassie, wanders out of the bedroom and winds her way through Harry’s legs, looking for attention. Harry scratches her head distractedly, turning the page over again.
Vault contents: Personal effects of James and Lily Potter deposited by Professor Albus Dumbledore – 1 November 1981.
Harry’s stomach turns and the wine tastes sour in his mouth. Not his parents’ vault, then. Their personal effects, stored for them—for Harry—after they died. He’s never had anything of his parents other than his father’s cloak and the album of photos Hagrid lovingly assembled for him when he was a child. Just the idea that their things are sitting in some vault gathering dust, that Dumbledore never told him, is overwhelming.
His neighbours could feed Cassie, he reasons. It’s only going to take him a day or two at most to Portkey back to London and sort this out. And Elsa won’t miss him. They’re doing lesson planning at the moment, mostly, and the next intake doesn’t start until March. He could go.
In reality, it feels almost impossible.
He’d been so broken when he left Britain. Eighteen years old and the worst kind of gathering storm of messed-up kid and traumatised war vet. He held it together through the funerals. Through that long ugly summer at the Burrow as Molly wept, Ginny drifted away from him, and Ron and Hermione wrapped themselves up in each other. He stomached the cloying adulation every time he went out in public and the invasive stories about his life all over the press. He thought that if he just kept putting one foot in front of the other, it would be fine. He would start Auror training, move out of the house that had once felt like a sanctuary and now felt like a mausoleum, and get on with his life. He kept repeating it to himself like a mantra.
But then the letters came from Hogwarts, and while Hermione started to enthuse about eighth year and new textbooks and cauldrons, Harry felt his tenuous grip on reality start to slip. I don’t need to go back, though, do I? he’d asked Kingsley, tense and wide-eyed. Kingsley had always said the Aurors would be glad to have him. But Kingsley had just given him one of those indulgent smiles he’d been getting a lot of back then. One that showed Harry he’d somehow transformed from war hero back to a teenager again. No training without your N.E.W.T.s, young man.
But Harry couldn’t go back, that much he knew. Couldn’t walk the halls of the castle as if nothing had happened. As if a single summer of cleaning and repairs and strengthened wards was enough to make Hogwarts anything other than a graveyard.
December 1998 was the last time he visited. He hasn’t been back since.
Personal effects, he reads again.
Cassie rubs against his knee. She’s hungry, he thinks. He’ll buy extra food to leave with the neighbours in the morning.
The International Portkey Station in London is crowded, and for a moment Harry feels uneasy, as if someone is going to recognise him and start pointing and shouting and tugging at his clothes the way they did in the very early days after the final battle. Or worse, spread the news that he’s here. Like that new television show Elsa makes him watch.
“Spotted at the IPS, bags in hand: Harry Potter. Was it only ten years ago our Chosen One mysteriously disappeared for “boarding school”? And just as suddenly, he’s back. Don’t believe me? See for yourselves. Lucky for us, PansyP81 sent proof. Thanks for the photo, Pans. xoxo, ProphetGirl”
Then he laughs. As if anyone here watches television. Wizards on this side of the pond were perpetually stuck somewhere in the 1940s. He weaves through the crowds, his beanie tugged low over his brow, but no one pays him any attention. It’s a relief as he reaches the front of the queue for the local Apparition point and thinks clearly about the Leaky Cauldron for the first time in a decade.
When he arrives, Harry’s almost surprised his Apparition worked, given the vast difference between the destination he’d held in his mind and where he’s landed. He expected it to feel the same as it did in third year, when he’d tumbled off the Knight Bus and right into Cornelius Fudge. The physical space is the same but the Leaky looks almost unrecognisable, the formerly dingy interior lit with modern lamps. The wooden floors have been stripped back and polished, the booths upholstered with a rich, creamy leather. The whole place has transformed from a grimy wayfarer’s tavern to something approximating a gastropub. He’s pretty sure that’s Sufjan Stevens playing in the background.
Harry checks in with the bartender and goes upstairs to dump his duffle at the foot of a pillowy-looking bed in a clean, brightly-lit room. The old-fashioned oak furniture is gone. It’s unsettling. He’d assumed the Leaky was a constant. Part of him wants to take a nap, but he knows the time difference will wipe him out if he sleeps now, so he decides to go and see Andromeda.
Andromeda is the only one he keeps in anything like regular contact with, and even that’s every couple of months at best. Teddy, at age nine, is utterly disinterested in a fire-call with a godfather he doesn’t remember, and while Andromeda will occasionally make him kneel down and say hello, it’s always stilted and Harry can never think of anything much to say in response.
He’d probably have lost touch with her, too, if she hadn’t been the one to send him to America in the first place.
The afternoon the Hogwarts letters had arrived, he’d left the Burrow with the excuse that he was overdue to visit Teddy. Which wasn’t untrue, exactly, but what he really needed was a chance to breathe. To get a lungful of air in his chest for the first time since May. Maybe even since before then.
Andromeda made him dinner as he bounced the baby on his knee, talking nonsense and letting Teddy grab at his spectacles. She gave him a glass of wine with dinner, and then he helped himself to another, and then somehow it all came pouring out of him in a rush. It didn’t make any sense. He didn’t even know her that well, but somehow her grief was easier to be around, as she poured all her love and affection into taking care of this improbably tiny human. Harry’s godson.
“I can’t be who they want me to be. They don’t even know who they want me to be. Ministry figurehead one minute, schoolboy sent back to sit for exams the next. Everyone wants something from me.”
She listened, patted his hand encouragingly when he faltered, and when he’d tired himself out completely, led him upstairs to Sirius’s old bedroom and spelled clean sheets onto the bed.
In the morning he felt sheepish, slinking down to the kitchen with a headache and an apology, but she just fed him breakfast and then showed him photos of her third cousin Nigel, who wore a bowtie and had very neat hair and lived in the East Village. In New York.
“Nymphadora needed some time, too,” she said quietly, her finger tracing her daughter’s waving hand in a photo where Nigel was giving her a fond look as they sat side by side in Central Park. “When she finished Hogwarts. She wasn’t sure what she wanted to do for a job and she was always such a… free spirit.”
Harry gently clasped Andromeda’s hand as a tear slid down her cheek, and she swept it away with the sleeve of her robe.
“I spoke to Nigel this morning,” she said, when she’d composed herself again. “He’s expecting you this weekend.”
And so Harry didn’t give himself a chance to think about it. He went back to the Burrow and packed what few things he had into his school trunk. He assured Hermione that he’d be back in a couple of weeks. And he deftly avoided any and all questions about why he was going or whether he’d be finishing school at all.
Now, his arrival at Grimmauld Place has him even more confounded than he was at the all-new Leaky. The house is freshly painted, with a shiny red front door and an ornate brass knocker. Harry’s suddenly unsure. Should he knock? Should he have called first? He last spoke to Andromeda a month ago, but it didn’t seem important to trouble her about this trip once he made plans. He’s only going to be here a day or two, at most. He lifts his hand, but almost immediately he feels the wards flex in welcome as the door swings open.
The menacing hallway of his childhood has completely disappeared, and for a second Harry’s confused enough to wonder if he’s in the wrong house. A lush pale carpet covers the floors and the walls are adorned with colourful art and photos moving happily in their frames.
“Hello?” he calls out, hearing a distant sound of music but not much else.
“Oh, Harry!” Andromeda’s voice comes up from the kitchen below, and he bounds down the stairs to meet her, sweeping her up in a hug. When he pulls back, hands on her shoulders, her eyes are bright with joy, showing the tiny crow’s feet that are the only real sign ten years have passed. Fire-calls don’t give so much detail away. “What are you doing here? Why didn’t you say you were coming?”
It’s a lot, to be here in this house. To see Andromeda up close. He reaches past her to snag an apple out of a bowl on the table, needing a distraction. She raps his wrist fondly. “Let me get you something more substantial than that to eat. Are you staying?”
“Just a day or two, at most. I’m at the Leaky,” he manages, around a mouthful of crisp apple. “Something with Gringotts.”
Andromeda pauses at the counter, where she’s wanding various sandwich ingredients together as they dance out of the pantry. She frowns slightly. “Is everything alright? You know, if you want me to sign the Black vault back over to you, you only need say the word. I mean, this house is more than generous enough…”
Harry waves a hand impatiently with a smile. “No, no. Of course not. The vault is yours, the house is yours. And, I mean, look at it!” The kitchen positively gleams in the late winter sun coming through the high windows to the garden. All of the bad memories of Harry’s past have been banished. “How did you get it like this? It’s a miracle.”
Andromeda toys with her necklace as she flushes with pride. “I’m glad you’re getting to see it. I’ve certainly asked you to visit often enough.”
It doesn’t sound like she’s criticising, exactly, but it makes Harry feel guilty all the same. He takes the proffered sandwich and sits with her at the kitchen table, wolfing it down once he realises just how hungry he is. Andromeda is happy to natter away, talking about the house’s magical alterations, and her work volunteering at St Mungo’s and the war orphanage. It’s nice to sit and listen, Harry thinks, and not have to remember the darker, bleaker moments that took place in this very room.
“Is Teddy here?” he asks, finally, as she clears away his plate. “I should say hi before I—”
“Glued to the TV, I expect,” Andromeda says, rolling her eyes. “I know, I know. It will rot his brain,” she goes on, mistaking Harry’s surprise that modern conveniences have made their way to Grimmauld Place for some sort of criticism. “But as soon as the Post-War Integration Committee signed off on the magical conversion of electrical appliances, you could not have shut him up about it. Once the house magic here was restored, I really didn’t have an excuse.” She gives Harry a rueful smile and leads the way back up to the front room.
Sure enough, Teddy is sprawled on a thick rug in front of a large flat-screen, watching a cartoon.
“Say hello to your godfather, Teddy.”
He rolls onto his back long enough to mumble a welcome in Harry’s general direction before turning immediately back to the screen. Harry can feel Andromeda tense for a scolding beside him, but he catches her arm and shakes his head. “It’s okay,” he says softly, as they step back into the entrance hall. “I have to be going anyway. I’ll visit for longer next time, I promise.”
She gives him a small smile that reveals exactly how little she believes him, but pairs it with a warm hug before he heads back out into the cold.
When he collapses into his bed at the Leaky, he feels exhausted, tightly wound, and suddenly very glad that this trip will be so short. It will be good to get back home where he belongs.
Monday dawns bright and clear. Harry eats a giant pile of scrambled eggs at the Leaky and decides to get to the bank as soon as it opens. He feels a bit like he’s on borrowed time, before he sees someone he knows. Best to just get on with it as quickly as he can.
Diagon has changed such a lot. He knew, on some level, that it would have needed to be completely rebuilt after the war, but seeing it is something else. Everywhere he looks there are little touches of the Muggle world. Wizards talking on cell phones (or mobiles, he supposes, staring at the awning for a shop called Alohomobile). A teenager wearing a Metallica t-shirt. There’s even a neon sign outside Fortescue’s. None of it is what Harry expected. He’ll have to ask Andromeda more about it next time he calls.
Gringotts looks just the same, though, and Harry can’t quite shake a childish sort of guilt. The goblins treated him like he was something on the bottom of their shoe after the war, and while he understands that “sorry I destroyed a lot of your bank and made off with your dragon” is not really an apology you can include in a greeting card, he’s made a point of only dealing with them by owl until now.
The first teller he speaks to sends him to a cramped, untidy little office, where a goblin called Gasnard peers over his spectacles at Harry with a blank expression that morphs into something like disgust as he looks down at the slightly crumpled letter Harry passes over. The parchment spent a couple of days in Harry’s pocket, sure, but he doesn’t think it warrants that level of disdain.
“Very well, Mister Potter, and have you brought with you—”
“Yes,” Harry cuts him off. He wants to be in and out of here swiftly. He tugs the clutch of paperwork the bank has asked for out of his bag and slides it across the desk. Gasnard turns each individual page between pinched fingers as if it might infect him with something, and scrawls long unreadable notes on a yellowing pad of parchment beside him.
Harry fidgets, waiting impatiently in the endless silence broken only by the ticking of the huge antique clock on the wall and the scratching of Gasnard’s quill.
It goes on for so long that Harry’s finally about to say something when the goblin nudges his glasses up his nose, shuffles the papers into a neat pile, and clasps his hands together as he looks at Harry. “Thank you, Mister Potter. That will be all.”
Harry feels himself scowling in confusion. “All? What do you mean all? Will someone take me to the vault now?”
Gasnard gives him a supercilious smile, revealing an ugly and misshapen row of sharp teeth. “Oh, no, Mister Potter. Now that we have received your account opening identity and magical lineage verification requirements, we will need to process your application. You can return tomorrow at this time.”
“Tomorrow?! What are you talking about? You know who I am. I just want access to the vault.”
Gasnard doesn’t even look at him as he tucks the paperwork into a vellum folder and ties it closed with a green string. “Tomorrow, Mister Potter.” He tugs another file off a teetering stack in front of him and opens it, lifting his quill again and completely ignoring Harry, who fumes in silence for a few moments before storming out of the room.
He considers trying to find one of Gasnard’s superiors to demand more prompt attention, but when he looks at the queue of witches and wizards waiting for the tellers, he feels a fresh wave of discomfort about drawing attention to himself. He decides that waiting one more day can’t hurt that much. He’s probably tempted fate long enough, being out here in the open like this. He’ll get some lunch sent up to his room at the Leaky and finish the lesson plan he promised Elsa.
As he bounds down the bank steps, back into the sunshine of Diagon, something catches his eye. He swings around to see none other than Draco Malfoy standing outside Madame Malkin’s, chatting with a witch he doesn’t recognise. Malfoy is tall, dressed in Muggle clothes with sunglasses pushed up in his bright blond hair. He says something that makes the witch laugh, gesturing animatedly while he tells his story with pale hands. He looks relaxed and happy, two things Harry can’t ever remember associating with his childhood rival.
Harry is struck by a weird realisation that this grown version of Malfoy looks a little like the fitness instructor he was sleeping with on and off last year. Who looked a little like the lawyer he was sleeping with on and off the year before that. Harry shakes off the coincidence and heads in the other direction, back to the inn. He has a plan: keep his head down, sort out the bank, get home. He just needs to stick to it.
On Tuesday, Harry feels optimistic. Yesterday, the goblins flexed their administrative muscles and pushed him around, but they’ve made their point. They got to exert a little power over him, which is presumably what they wanted. All he has to do now is pack up the contents of the vault and go.
“Absolutely not, Mister Potter.”
Harry stares at Gasnard in disbelief.
“Now that we have the account records in order,” Gasnard gives an imperious little cough, “a Gringotts Curse-Breaker will need to enter the vault, examine every item for unregistered Dark Magic, and provide the required certification that every item is safe to be removed by the account holder.”
“You can’t be serious.” Harry slumps in his seat, the uncomfortable wooden back of the chair digging into his spine.
“Mister Potter, the Dark Magic Registration and Eradication Act of 1999 is extremely clear. Any vault opened prior to the establishment of that Act cannot have its contents removed or transferred, or indeed any further contents deposited in it, until such certification occurs. We here at Gringotts Wizarding Bank take our legal compliance obligations extremely seriously.”
Harry glances around the tiny office, wondering for a wild moment if someone is watching him and he’s being pranked in some unspecified way. He thinks about just leaving: the office, the bank, the entire country. But then he thinks about the words Personal Effects again. Somewhere in the vaults below him are things that belonged to his parents. Gasnard gives another dry little cough, which reminds Harry bizarrely of Umbridge. A sudden flare of rage makes him clench his fists. He’s not going to let this autocratic, high-handed little bureaucrat win.
“A Curse-Breaker, then,” he manages, his jaw tight.
“Yes. Mister William Weasley has an appointment available tomorrow at ten. We will see you then.”
Bill. A strange flood of emotions passes through Harry. He can’t decide if seeing Ron’s older brother is great news or the worst possible outcome.
“And he’s the only…”
“Mister William Weasley is the Curse-Breaker assigned to this file. Tomorrow, Mister Potter.”
Harry finds himself once again summarily dismissed.
He stalks out onto the street and into Quality Quidditch Supplies as he tries to get his thoughts in order. If he has to see Bill tomorrow, he should really call Ron. And probably Molly.
He never meant for things to end up like this when he left all those years ago.
New York that first summer was overwhelming in the best way possible. Loud and crowded, filled to bursting with people who had no idea who he was and didn’t care. In those pre-recession years it was a city focussed entirely on making things bigger and better and shinier and new, even in the wizarding sections, where he spent as little time as possible.
Nigel and his partner, Thomas, had an apartment in a gorgeous brownstone on a street lined with trees, and their friends were magical and Muggle alike. The British obsession with the Statute of Secrecy had melted away in Manhattan. Wizards were careful, but they hadn’t taken themselves completely out of the world like some sort of misplaced aristocratic elite. It was exactly what Harry needed.
Those first weeks, he tried to explain all this to Ron and Hermione. Endless fire-calls in which he gushed about how great it was, how they should come, too. How tall the buildings were, how amazing Central Park was—if you didn’t go at night—and how much food everyone ate.
But then the calls started to become repetitive. Ron and Hermione were so focussed on going back to school, and Hermione kept needling him about booking his return Portkey, and Ron kept reading to him from an Auror trainee handbook that he’d managed to get somewhere. And as the days shifted into weeks and the leaves started to turn, Harry’s anxiety grew and the calls became less frequent.
In the final week of August, Hermione caught him just as Nigel and Thomas were about to take him to his first Broadway show. He steeled himself for her regular lecture about when he’d be returning, but she was bright-eyed and smiling as she showed off her ring. Harry’s heart sank through the floor.
It was all so rushed, was all he could think. Why didn’t any of them want to take some time? Why this insistence on ticking off life’s accomplishments as quickly as they could? School, career, marriage. Wasn’t the whole point of ending the war that they were no longer on a clock? Harry sat back on his heels and congratulated them both as effusively as he could manage, before begging off with the show’s curtain as an excuse. To this day, he couldn’t say what Phantom of the Opera was about. When he got home that night, he wrote them both a long owl, telling them he loved them very much and he was very happy for them. And that he’d be back for the wedding but not before.
Hermione was hurt and furious. Ron was mostly confused. Harry couldn’t make them understand. There wasn’t a way to explain that the job Nigel helped him find waiting tables made him happier than he’d been since his earliest days at Hogwarts. That sometimes he went days without using his wand at all. That even when he did venture into wizarding stores, for sweets and parchment and broom polish, no one batted an eye at wizards wearing Muggle clothes. No one stared at his scar, or whispered behind their hands, or pressed babies into his arms. He ate like it was going out of fashion. Thomas helped him buy proper running shoes and they took to jogging along the river each morning. By the time Christmas rolled around, Harry felt healthy and happy. Almost whole. He was looking forward to seeing everyone, delighted by the idea of a Weasley winter wedding.
But nothing about that trip went right. The brittle way Molly still held herself, fragile with suppressed grief. The slightly puffed-up tone Ron would use when he said things like “as a married man.” The involuntary disapproving twitch of Hermione’s nose whenever someone asked Harry what he did in New York and he told them he waited tables. It had only been a few months, but the distance between them felt impossibly wide. Worst of all, everyone seemed to assume that Harry’s absence was only temporary. He lost count of the patronising claps on the shoulder, the knowing smiles about “gap years,” the insistence on talking about his inevitable return and his future as an Auror and defeater of Dark Wizards “once he’d gotten all this out of his system.” And then there was the nightmare of the family dinner.
He made it through the wedding, and when Ron and Hermione left for their honeymoon in Majorca, Harry packed his bag, Portkeyed to New York, and never returned.
The smell of broom polish at Quality Quidditch, which still looks exactly like it did the day Harry saw the Nimbus 2000 for the first time, is sort of soothing. Calling the Weasleys now is pointless, he decides finally. It’s not like he can give the explanations and apologies they deserve in a fire-call from a pub. Besides, he’s seeing Bill in his professional capacity, not as some long lost quasi-brother figure. And Bill won’t mess him around the way that stupid goblin has been. He’ll be back at the Portkey Station in no time. No sense in scratching open old wounds for no reason.
Harry buys a box of training Snitches to take home. His students will love them.
Bill’s office is much more spacious than Gasnard’s, filled with a lot less paper and a lot more personality. Harry’s heart clenches when he sees the big black-and-white photo of the entire Weasley clan waving at him from the wall.
Bill looks so much more grown up than Harry remembers. His hair is thinning and his scars have faded substantially. There’s a lot more of Arthur in his features. And he has a warm smile for Harry, who is suddenly able to relax a little for the first time that morning.
“Sit, sit,” he insists, waving at a pair of mismatched chairs on the other side of his desk. “Gasnard, you don’t need to stick around for this.”
Harry’s goblin nemesis gives a little sniff, but says nothing and leaves immediately, which is a relief.
“So this is a surprise, isn’t it?” Bill says, as he unwraps the string around Harry’s file and spreads some of the papers out across the desk. “There was so much confusion when these vaults were uncovered. You can imagine how annoyed the Powers That Be here were to discover that their records were incomplete. They think that whole section was blocked off when the Muggles started on their Jubilee Line extension.”
Harry nods, chewing at a hangnail. He feels as if he should say something personal but he has no idea what, and Bill seems content to proceed as if they meet all the time.
“So I’ve been through the file, and I’ve taken a cursory glance at the vault itself. There’s not a lot there, Harry. A few boxes of things I imagine Dumbledore just packed up to keep safe for you. It should be a very straightforward job.”
Harry smiles with relief. Just as he’d hoped.
“I can get started tomorrow morning. I should be done within a week.”
“A week?!” Harry blurts out, exasperated and unable to stop himself. “What the fuck am I supposed to do here for a week?”
Bill levels a stare at him, and it’s the first time his shiny, professional veneer slips, just for a moment.
“Right, of course,” Harry mumbles awkwardly, feeling about a foot tall. “I mean, it’s unexpected, is all. I thought this would be a quick trip so I didn’t want to impose on anyone.”
Bill’s expression remains unreadable. “I’m not sure if you know, but Hermione has just had a baby. Their second, Hugo. She’s at home on maternity leave, and Ron’s away at the moment. She might be grateful for some company.”
Bill probably thinks this is an olive branch. A way for Harry to ease himself back in by catching up with one of his oldest friends one-on-one. It only goes to show that he doesn’t really know Hermione at all. Although, to be fair, Harry supposes he’s the one who doesn’t know her anymore.
“Thanks,” Harry says, although he’s not sure whether he means for the work Bill’s about to do or the suggestion. “You’ll be in touch about the vault?”
Bill nods and shakes his hand.
Harry walks back to the Leaky and extends his booking for a week. He knows that if he mentioned it, Andromeda would insist on him staying at Grimmauld Place, but the thought of it has Harry feeling trapped. Claustrophobic. His in-and-out flying visit is slipping out of his control. What would he even say to Hermione if he saw her now?
Running is the only sure way Harry’s ever found to clear his head. He puts on his shoes and heads out into Muggle London, dropping down past Charing Cross to jog alongside the Thames. It’s nearing lunchtime and the Embankment is a mix of tourists and government types in suits. Harry ducks and weaves through them, his breath fogging in the crisp air. He runs until his legs and his lungs burn in equal measure, and then he Apparates back to the Leaky for a hot shower and a steak sandwich. As he showers, he accepts that he's already been here too long to not do anything at all. He might as well make it count.
When Hermione opens the door to the cottage in Ottery St Catchpole, the first thing that Harry notices is the look of blind panic on her face. Clearly, Bill didn’t warn her about his meddling. “What’s happened, is Ron okay?”
He takes a startled step back. “I don’t know? I—”
“Oh gods. He’s away on assignment, and for one awful moment I thought some Ministry cretin had decided to send you to break some bad news.” She looks him up and down, and her panic is replaced with confusion. “What’s going on? Why are you here?”
She looks the same. Softer around the edges, her hair shorter than he’s seen it before. Dark shadows under her eyes, the same as any new mother. Still beautiful. He shouldn’t have come.
“I shouldn’t have—”
They speak at the same time.
There’s an awkward pause before Harry gives up and nods, shoving his hands deep in his pockets and stepping past her into the house.
“I wish you’d called,” she says, and from anyone else it would sound like an apology for the state of the cosy little house, with buckets of baby clothes washing themselves on the kitchen bench and piles of tedious-looking books stacked all over the dining table.
But from her, it feels heavier. Deserved. It’s been a long time.
“Ron’s on assignment, he’ll be away for another week or so. Rose is staying at the Burrow for a bit so I don’t have my hands too full looking after Hugo.”
She clears a pile of clean laundry off a chair so that Harry can sit. So many little onesies and towels and impossibly tiny socks. Harry didn’t even know they made socks that small.
“So are you still—” he gestures at the pile of legal-looking books and parchment.
“I’ve taken six months’ leave from the Wizengamot. But policy waits for no one, so I try to keep on top of things even when I’m not technically working. Do you want tea?”
He doesn’t, really, but if the alternative is the two of them sitting here in awkward silence, he’ll take it. He nods.
Hermione seems equally grateful for the distraction, busying herself in the kitchen.
“And Ron’s still enjoying it?”
“He needs to take on less fieldwork,” she shrugs. ”Particularly now, with Hugo. But he’s on track for promotion to Deputy Head this year, so it’s all a balancing act.”
“That’s impressive,” Harry says, and finds he means it.
“And you? Last time I spoke to Dromeda she said you were coaching something…” she trails off and waves her hand dismissively. It rankles.
“That was a while ago. I spent some time coaching kids’ Quodpot. I’m working with an educational programme now for… Muggle-born kids. Getting them ready for school at much younger ages.” Unlike here, he doesn’t say. So that people like me don’t grow up feeling like freaks and outcasts.
She passes him a mug. “That sounds a bit like—” She’s cut off by a sudden wail from upstairs. She pauses for a second, listening to see if Hugo will settle himself, and he does. “What brings you back?”
“Some nonsense at Gringotts,” Harry huffs, freshly irritated by Gasnard and the endless delays. “They found some things of my parents that Dumbledore stashed after they died. Books and letters, sounds like.”
“Oh, Harry.” Hermione’s expression softens. She’s one of the few people who would understand how important this is to him, but he still feels uncomfortable talking about it.
“It might be nothing, I don’t know. There’s a whole bunch of hoops to jump through before I can get it sorted and go home. Bill needs to sign the whole thing off.”
“So you’re still loving New York?”
“Yeah, it’s amazing!” He feels his face break into a wide grin. “You should come visit. I’d love to show you around. It’s a lot less stifling than here.”
Hermione’s lips purse, but she takes a sip of her tea and says nothing. He didn’t mean here here, like, specifically her house. He just meant wizarding Britain in general. Either way, he seems to have broken their truce. He casts about for a more neutral topic of conversation.
“You’ll never guess who I saw in Diagon yesterday. Draco Malfoy.” If there’s one thing he and Hermione will always agree on, it will be their general disdain for the Prince of Slytherin.
But then the most unexpected thing happens. Hermione’s whole face lights up, with a smile that reaches her eyes for the first time. “How is he? Is he over his cold? He hasn’t been able to visit Hugo for a week.”
Harry’s mouth falls open in shock, but before he can work out how to wrap his mind around Hermione’s words, they’re interrupted again by a much more insistent cry from upstairs that doesn’t die down. Hermione looks at the clock. “I need to feed him, I’m sorry.”
Harry shakes his head at once. “No, of course. I shouldn’t have just shown up like this.” He gets to his feet and puts his mug in the sink. “It was nice to see you.” He realises that it’s almost the truth.
Hermione gives him a small smile as she walks him to the front door, Hugo’s cries increasing in volume. “Go,” he insists, “I’ll see myself out.”
He’s almost closed the front door when he hears her call from the foot of the stairs.
“He goes down for a decent stretch at lunch time, if you want to come back tomorrow.”
Harry figures he’ll grab a couple of sandwiches and take them with him. It seems rude to turn up empty-handed a second time. If Hermione doesn’t want one now, she can keep it for a snack.
There’s a new café on the corner that has long family-style tables with piles of magazines on them and big vases stuffed full of flowers. He pushes the glass door to enter, and it swings away from him softly under a wave of magic. He’s reminded again of how little time he spends in the wizarding quarter in New York, unused to being surrounded by the pulse and energy of magic all the time.
While he waits near the till for the people in front of him to order, he glances around, startling when he sees Malfoy is sitting at a small table near the back having lunch with a woman who looks suspiciously like Pansy Parkinson.
Malfoy has his back to him, long legs extended out under the table. He’s wearing slim dark denim jeans, and it’s not a look Harry would ever have imagined on him, but it definitely works.
“Want another?” Maybe-Parkinson asks, waving a wine bottle over Malfoy’s empty glass.
“Can’t,” he says, glancing at his watch. “School pickup.”
She smiles widely. “You’re so very dedicated.” She tops up her own glass.
Harry rolls his eyes. At least Malfoy hasn’t married her. He supposes that’s something to be grateful for. Though the idea of Malfoy having school-aged children of his own is a lot for Harry to process.
“What’ll it be?” The witch behind the counter interrupts his train of thought, and he orders quickly so he can leave before Malfoy sees him. Not for any particular reason. Just that then they’d probably have to make awkward small talk and Harry can’t think of a single thing he’d want to say to Draco Malfoy that isn’t, “I guess I’m glad you were too young to face trial.”
It doesn’t really seem like café conversation.
Hermione’s grateful for the sandwiches. “Molly keeps sending meals over, but they’re always so heavy,” she says ruefully. “I have more lasagne under stasis charms in the pantry than anyone can eat in a lifetime. This is perfect.”
Harry helps Hermione make tea this time, and they take their plates into the sitting room, where Hugo is sleeping in a Moses basket. Harry makes all the right noises about how cute he is, but in reality he looks a bit like any other newborn he’s ever seen: scrunchy and red and slightly undercooked.
They talk more about Hermione’s job, and Ron’s. About Rose’s schooling, and how successful George’s shops have been. It’s not exactly comfortable, but it doesn’t feel as strained as yesterday. And it’s nice to start to fill in the blanks about what everyone has been doing in his absence.
“So how is it you’re friends with Malfoy?” he asks eventually. He intends the question to be curious, but it turns out he still can’t say Malfoy’s name without it turning into a bit of a sneer. Hermione looks puzzled for a moment, as if Harry’s asked her something bizarre.
“Oh, right. I suppose all that happened after the wedding,” she says after a beat, as if it’s taken her a moment to piece the timeline together. “Draco helped Ron and me with a patrician bonding ceremony. It’s an ancient kind of marriage bond.”
“Like a pureblood thing?” Harry asks, his brow furrowing automatically.
“Traditionally, yes. But—”
“Why on earth would you want something like that? And from Malfoy.” He knows he sounds incredulous. Scathing, almost. But this is Hermione Granger. Just the idea of her letting a Malfoy of all people cast some sort of pureblood nonsense over her is laughable.
Hermione’s jaw tightens. “You’ve been gone a long time, Harry. Draco has done more than enough to not only make amends, but also to establish himself as one of my dearest friends.”
And that certainly wasn’t the response Harry was expecting. He turns his mug around in his hands, staring at his lap.
“You’re right, I’m out of line,” he apologises immediately. It drives him batshit when anyone assumes he’s the same person he was at school. There’s no reason for him to do it to other people. Even—though it pains him to think about it—Draco Malfoy.
Hermione gives a startled nod of acknowledgement, as if she wasn’t expecting him to acquiesce so quickly, and the tension seems to leave her. He supposes none of them are the same people they once were.
“His work is so interesting, Harry. Honestly. The magic he deals with is tied to ancestry and wizarding houses. I have a book on it somewhere you should read.” She gets up, setting her plate on a side table and studying her overstuffed bookcases.
“Really, that’s fine,” Harry mumbles, though he’s pretty sure he’s not getting out of this conversation without homework. He refrains from pointing out that ancestral magic makes it sound like Malfoy hasn’t changed that much.
“Draco helped Neville,” Hermione carries on, pulling a couple of books off of a shelf in such a way that the whole precarious stack starts to quiver, but she just sighs at the covers and stuffs them back in again. “Because of what happened with Nev’s parents. Their family magic was… undirected, I suppose, is the simplest way to explain it.” She tugs out a couple of rolls of parchment and the resulting cloud of dust makes her sneeze.
“And it turned out he was able to do that because he’d worked out how to help several of the families…” she trails off, stepping back from the bookcase with a scowl. “It’s not here. I must have left it at the office. I’ll get it for you.”
“Really, that’s okay,” Harry assures her. He’s not one hundred percent convinced she doesn’t intend to Floo to her office immediately to locate a book on pureblood magic Harry will never read. And in any event, they’re off topic. This isn’t what he came here to talk to her about. “Hermione, I want to say I’m sorry.”
She sinks back to the sofa heavily, giving him a guarded look. He didn’t really have a plan for doing this, and he wishes he’d thought it through a little more, but it feels imperative, like it’s the first truly useful thing he’s done since getting back.
“I know it’s long overdue. Maybe it’s too late, I don’t know.” He runs a hand through his hair and leans forward on his knees, looking down at the carpet. “All I can say is that back then, I was young, stupid, and not in a good place. I’d had six months in New York and it was such a welcome relief to feel anonymous and free of expectations. And Nigel and Thomas had been so supportive, and I finally felt like I was starting to understand who I was.” He glances up. Hermione is frowning, but she’s listening.
“And I came back here for the wedding, and it was like going back in time. Everyone wanted to talk to me about the same stuff, and they seemed to presume all the same things about who I was, and who I would be in the future.”
Hermione opens her mouth to protest, and Harry raises a hand in acknowledgement. “I know, I know. It’s probably not what was going on. It’s just what it felt like to me. I wanted to show everyone that they didn’t know who I was anymore. That I wasn’t their Chosen One. I wasn’t going to become an Auror and marry a nice witch and pop out 2.5 children. And suddenly it felt like the perfect time to let everyone know who I really was, just, all at once, you know? I… I didn't expect some people to react the way they did.”
Hermione exhales heavily. “Harry, you’re allowed to come out however you like, to whomever you like, whenever you like. You know I believe that.”
Harry’s grateful for the sentiment, but he shakes his head. “No, I know. I’m not apologising for that, exactly. But that was your weekend, and all it did was cause drama and upset some people.”
Hermione’s expression softens, and she gives him a small, sad smile. “Harry, you know that—” but before she can finish her thought, Hugo takes the opportunity to announce loudly that he is both awake and presumably starving.
“That’s my cue,” Harry says with a smile, a gentle hand on Hermione’s arm as she starts to protest. “We can talk more later, I promise.”
It’s such a small step, but he feels much lighter on his feet as he heads back to the Leaky.
On Saturday, Harry wakes to the sound of two owls tapping on the window of his rented room. One holds the Leaky’s complimentary copy of the Daily Prophet, tied with a shiny red ribbon instead of its customary twine. When he takes the paper back to bed and unrolls it, the entire front page is covered in dancing cherubs and bouncing hearts. Valentine’s Day, he realises with a start.
Harry’s never been one for manufactured ideas about romance. His love life has consisted of a string of failed relationships with wizards who wanted too much from him, and the eventual conclusion that he’s really more cut out for keeping things casual. It’s not that he’s given up on love. Not exactly. But it’s just easier not to have attachments.
The second owl brings a note from Hermione.
Neville and Luna are coming over to meet Hugo this afternoon. Why don’t you join us?
His instinct, even a day ago, would have been to say no. He’s still planning to be back in New York by the end of the week, and making awkward small talk with people he hasn’t seen in so long is perhaps the very last way he wants to spend an afternoon. But speaking with Hermione the day before loosened something inside him. He knows Neville is a professor at Hogwarts but that’s about it, and he has no idea what Luna is up to. And suddenly the idea of finding out is far more appealing than trying to fill in the rest of the day surrounded by mooning couples in Diagon Alley clutching flowers and balloon arrangements.
Luna greets him at the door to Hermione’s cottage with a box of Sugarplum’s chocolate hearts. “Harry,” she says, kissing him on the cheek as if she had only seen him yesterday. “Ginny gave me these and they’re meant to make you feel warmly towards your true love all day long. But then she left to play Quidditch, so I think you should eat them.”
She’s wearing a daffodil yellow dress and a necklace made of seashells threaded on red twine, and her hair is fastened up with what looks like matching coloured pencils. It’s a lot for Harry to take in all at once.
“Ginny is your true love?” he asks, feeling like that’s probably the most relevant thing to lead with, though really, he has a lot of questions.
“Of course she is,” Luna laughs, drawing him into the house and closing the door, pushing the chocolate box into his hands. “But there’s no point in me feeling warm about it if she’s not here, is there?”
Harry can’t really argue with that, and it’s not as if he has a true love to worry about, so he stuffs a couple of the raspberry-flavoured chocolate hearts into his mouth as he follows Luna into the front room. Neville is sitting on the couch cradling Hugo, slightly awkwardly for someone who has grown into an absolute tree-trunk of a man. The baby practically fits in one of his palms. “Good to see you, Harry,” he says, shrugging a little as if to indicate that he’d get up or offer a hand to shake if it wasn’t currently full of tiny Granger-Weasley.
Neville has written him letters over the years. Always a little formal. Not cold, exactly, but as if Neville is expecting a poor reaction from Harry. In the intervening decade, as far as Harry’s been able to tell from scattered conversations with Andromeda, Neville’s been the one who stepped into the void Harry had unwittingly created. Giving humble speeches at war memorial ceremonies and attending the opening of public buildings. He looks the part, Harry thinks, seeing him now. Tall and strapping, like a celebrated war hero should be. More than Harry ever did, anyway. Neville’s letters were always carefully-worded invitations for Harry to come back, each May, for the Victory Day celebrations. As if Neville felt he was somehow intruding on a space that was more rightfully Harry’s. He declined every one. Sometimes more politely than others, depending on how much he’d had to drink at the time, a thought that makes him wince a little now when he’s confronted with the man himself.
Hermione comes in with a tea tray and a plate of homemade biscuits, and it should be awkward but somehow it’s not. Luna chats happily about writing for the Quibbler, and her magizoologist friend Rolf, and how they plan their trips overseas together to coincide with Ginny’s Quidditch team’s touring schedule. “They’re playing an invitational against the Reykjavik Riptide next month and I cannot wait. Arctic foxes,” she says knowingly to Harry, and he nods as if he understands her meaning. He wants to ask her what it was like, in the beginning. For her and Ginny. How Molly reacted. If Percy was okay with it. But they’re all questions that fizz and dance under the surface of his skin and he’s not really ready to let them out yet.
The room feels warm and cosy, in contrast to the grey skies outside, and Harry feels transported back to the Gryffindor common room. As if no time at all has passed and the four of them sitting around chatting in front of the fire is something they do all the time.
Hermione tells Harry all about Neville’s achievements, which just causes Nev to flush a bright red, as if being appointed full professor at Hogwarts at his age is something undeserved or that happened by accident. “I was just in the right place at the right time, when Pomona and Wilhelmina wanted to retire to somewhere warm,” he says. But teaching is something Harry feels increasingly passionate about, and they soon get lost in a discussion about Neville’s hands-on methods in the school greenhouses while Luna plays with the baby, and before Harry realises, several hours have passed.
“Take the chocolates with you,” Hermione insists, as she retrieves a giggling Hugo from Luna. “I don’t need to be feeling warmly about Ron while he’s away either.” Harry opens his mouth to crack a dirty joke in response but stops himself. There’s something delicate about this relaxed afternoon with his old friends that he doesn’t want to spoil.
“Thank you,” he says, sincerely, as he hugs each of them in turn.
On Monday, Bill owls Harry to say he’s making good progress and that it will be another day or two at most before he’s finished with the vault.
An icy drizzle is falling from bleak grey skies, and the florist barrow on Diagon is trying to get rid of its Valentines overstock at cut-rate prices. Harry impulsively decides to buy up several large bunches and take them to Hermione.
She looks a little overwhelmed by the floral riot in his arms, and he mumbles out an explanation about them being cheap and probably half-dead, which provokes a genuine laugh. “Come in, I found the book.”
“Which book?” Harry asks, wiping his shoes on the mat and following her into the kitchen.
“The one on patrician bonds!” she says, as if that should have been obvious, and with what Harry considers a really unnecessary amount of excitement. She produces a thin, ancient-looking leatherbound volume from the top of a teetering pile.
“Uh, thank you,” Harry says, and tries not to make it sound like a sigh. He puts the book on the chair beside him and wonders if he can just “forget” it and leave it there when he goes home.
Hermione fusses with the flowers, transfiguring a small glass vase into several matching larger ones and filling them with water. “Ron fire-called last night. He’d love to see you when he’s back.”
Harry tugs at his lower lip with his teeth. He wants to, of course, but his relationship with Ron feels mangled in a way that doesn’t feel as straightforward to fix. “Yeah, of course.” He’ll cross that bridge when he comes to it.
Today, as they talk, it starts to feel natural again. Like there’s space to tease one another a little. Room to be a little more honest with each other.
When he leaves a couple of hours later, the weather has improved. Hermione presses one of Molly’s lasagnes and the book he’d conveniently overlooked into his hands as he goes. He leaves them both on the little end-table in his room at the inn and heads out for a run. The pavements are slick and the wind whipping up off the river is just on the wrong side of unpleasant. He runs a giant loop, crossing over the Millennium Bridge and back along the south side of the river to the Eye. The queue of Muggles waiting for the attraction look miserable and hunched in their brightly coloured rain jackets.
Whitehall is more or less empty, so Harry puts on a final burst of speed as he heads towards Charing Cross and the Muggle side of the Leaky. He’s really pushing himself in the final stretch, his heart pounding and his breath ragged, and in retrospect it’s hardly surprising that he isn’t concentrating enough on his surroundings and manages to slam bodily into someone emerging from the disillusioned storefront, knocking them both to the ground.
Harry picks himself up, apologising repeatedly. “Christ, sorry. I’m so sorry. I wasn’t paying any attention at all. Entirely my fault.”
“Salazar,” the answering voice is uncomfortably familiar. “Might be the first time I’ve ever heard those words cross your lips.” A twist in the smile makes it seem like it might be a joke.
Draco Malfoy is a compelling sight up close, even making an exaggerated show of dusting off his expensive-looking coat as he stands, straightening his hair. Harry is suddenly acutely aware of the sweat plastering his own hair to his forehead, and he takes an abrupt step backwards, hoping wildly that it’s too cold out for him to reek too badly.
Harry’s startled silence goes on for too long, and Malfoy’s mouth thins, the little glint of amusement disappearing from his face. Harry can’t decide if he wants to chase it down and bring it back, or lean into this much more familiar expression.
“Well, step aside, Potter,” Malfoy sighs. “Not all of us have nowhere to be in the middle of the afternoon.”
Harry can’t really help the overwhelmingly nostalgic surge of irritation. “Oh really? Well, some of us have actual jobs and aren’t just pissing the family money away mucking about with jewellery and outdated spells.”
He expects righteous indignation, a hex, or possibly a punch to the face. He doesn’t expect Malfoy to laugh and say, “I’ll see you ’round, Potter,” as he walks away.
Harry has no idea what to do with the odd reaction. Or rather lack of a reaction. He keeps turning it over in his mind as he showers and heats Molly’s lasagne for his dinner. Like a sore tooth he can’t stop prodding with his tongue. For the first time in years, he thinks about the Marauders’ Map, tucked away in a box in his closet at home.
The tiny animated dot marked Draco Malfoy, and the way he used to follow it around the castle.
The next day, a weak late-winter sun appears for what feels like the first time since Harry arrived in London.
Hermione decides that they need to take full advantage of it before it disappears again, and so she sits on a colourful quilt under a tree in their back garden with Hugo beside her, kicking his fat little legs in the air and making gurgling noises. Harry asked for a chore to help with and is now wanding clean laundry out of endless baskets to dance and flap on the line in the light breeze.
“I ran into Malfoy again, yesterday. Like, physically. Ran into him full-tilt coming back from a jog outside the Leaky. Bowled him right over.”
Hermione giggles, as Harry kneels beside her on the quilt. “On purpose?”
Harry laughs. “No, of course not.”
She pushes a plate of muffins towards him, and he breaks off a chunk of one.
“Who did he marry?” Harry asks, thinking about Parkinson. The way Draco’s hands, brushing himself off yesterday, were unadorned by rings.
“He’s not married,” Hermione answers, letting Hugo clutch at her finger, dragging it towards his mouth.
“Really? He always seemed the type to be married to some prim little witch who knows how to entertain properly. You know, the sort who’s really good at parties and small talk and never forgets anyone’s name.” Harry can just picture them both at society functions, glasses of champagne in hand. Malfoy looking down his aristocratic nose at everyone.
“That’s funny,” Hermione snorts, clearly delighted by something he’s said.
She gives him a strange look. “Harry, Draco is as gay as a maypole.”
Harry manages to inhale a crumb the wrong way and immediately sets to choking. It causes Hermione to laugh even harder. “You really didn’t know?” she asks, patting his back ineffectually. ”He dated Dean Thomas for over a year!”
And that is really not an image Harry needs in his head, all of Malfoy’s long limbs wrapped around… He shakes his head vigorously.
“No. How would I have known? I heard him talking about picking a kid up from school and I just assumed—”
Hermione’s laughter dies suddenly and the happiness slides from her face. “Teddy, Harry. He would have been talking about Teddy.”
“Why would Malfoy be picking Teddy up from school?” He tries not to make it sound scathing, but it doesn’t really make any sense. The two of them are related, sure, but in the “burnt off the family tree” kind of way. He can’t imagine even a post-war Malfoy being that interested in a Metamorphmagus from the wrong side of the Blacks.
Hermione sighs and gently tugs her finger back from Hugo, picking the baby up as he starts to fuss. She frowns at Harry, a sign he’s coming to recognise means he’s freshly disappointed her in some way.
“Draco looks after Teddy two days a week. He has done for years. Draco’s basically the father figure in Teddy’s life.”
If she doesn’t mean for it to sound like an accusation, Harry thinks, she’s fallen pretty short of the mark. Hugo starts to cry, and Harry decides to take the excuse.
“Time for Hugo’s nap—I’ll leave you to it.”
“You should go catch up with him, Harry. You’ve changed a lot and so has he. It’s Wednesday, he’ll be at the Bent Wand tonight.”
Harry waves absently at her as he leaves. He doesn’t have any intention of catching up with Malfoy.
Except that her suggestion keeps gnawing at him as he heads back to the Leaky, and it won’t leave him alone as he eats a bowl of bland soup at the bar. He asks Kim, the waitress, about the Bent Wand and she gives him directions to a new street opened up after the war. He has no interest at all in seeing what Malfoy’s up to, but the idea that British wizards have caught up with the modern world enough to have gay bars out in the open is sort of intriguing. He could just go have a drink there. It doesn’t mean he has to talk to Malfoy. In fact the thought of not talking to Malfoy and finding an attractive wizard to work out the week’s frustrations with is sort of appealing. And so before he can reconsider he’s wandering past a new Wheezes branch and round the corner into a charming little street he’s never seen before called Equal Alley.
The Bent Wand looks like more of a pub than a bar, and there’s a foreboding-looking bouncer standing at the door. “Tap your wand,” he says, indicating a brick in the wall. Harry does so, and a blue plastic wristband appears on his arm.
“All Ages night tonight,” the bouncer says, by way of explanation, and steps to one side to let Harry in.
The pub is warm and busy, with groups of people clustered around tables and around the bar. The crowd is younger than Harry was expecting. Two boys who look like they’re still Hogwarts-age walk past him holding hands. The taller one is wearing a t-shirt that reads I Like Wizards / It’s None of Your Business. Harry waits behind them at the bar.
“Where’s the sign up sheet?” one of them asks.
The bartender points over their shoulders. “Draco has it over by the stage.”
Harry turns to catch a glimpse of Malfoy’s blond hair, surrounded by young people over by a large amp sitting on a low stage.
Harry orders a pint, and while the bartender is pulling it, he asks, “Sign up sheet?”
“Shout Out. It’s an open mic night for youth. Happens here every Wednesday.”
Harry is reluctantly impressed. It’s more or less the last thing he expected when Hermione mentioned it. He assumed the Wand would be some snooty wine bar with an overpriced cocktail menu and Malfoy holding court in a booth being rude to people who weren’t as attractive or wealthy as him.
“Some of these kids look like they’re still in school,” Harry says, anxious to derail that train of thought as quickly as possible.
The bartender nods. “Hogwarts lets them Floo down for the evening. It’s an approved extracurricular. Draco over there takes responsibility for getting them back afterwards.”
Harry tries to imagine anything like this being possible during his school days and can’t. It took him leaving the country to even understand that the confused knot of feelings he had about his own attraction to wizards was fine and normal and nothing he needed to hide. It certainly wasn’t something they ever discussed in school. Though to be fair to Hogwarts, he supposes, they had quite a lot else on their minds at the time.
He takes his drink and perches on a stool at the corner of the bar with a view of the stage. When Malfoy stands up, clipboard in hand, Harry’s forced to admit to himself that he looks really good. Which is a preposterous sort of thought, because Malfoy’s only wearing jeans and a white t-shirt. But there’s something about the way the dark skinnies hug his legs, the form-fitting tee, even the faded grey lines of his Dark Mark. Harry finds that he can’t look away.
Malfoy greets everyone there like old friends and invites a blue-haired witch in her twenties up on stage as the evening’s emcee, before taking a seat at one of the front tables. The talent on display is mixed at best, but the enthusiasm is contagious. Passable cover songs delivered on guitar, overwrought poetry, a slightly ill-considered rap. Harry finds himself clapping wildly, beaming at the thought of these young people having the space to express themselves. He’s ordering another pint when Malfoy pulls up the stool next to him as if they’re old friends. He hadn’t even seen him come over.
“Didn’t expect to see you here.” Draco sounds curious, rather than mean. Harry realises his hair is cut much shorter than it had been in school. It suits him.
“What, you thought you were the only queer wizard in our year?”
Malfoy laughs, reaching for a drink the bartender has made for him without asking. It looks like a gin and tonic. “Please. That cat’s long out of the bag. Ever since the Weasley wedding guests flapped their traps and the Prophet dedicated a full week of issues to The Boy Who Lived a Lie.”
Harry folds in on himself a little at that. It’s not that he hadn’t known it made the press here at the time, of course; he just hadn’t seen any of it. He’s pretty sure it was ugly. Andromeda always made a face when the subject came up.
As if he can read the dark turn Harry’s thoughts have taken, Malfoy leans in conspiratorially and says, “I may or may not have kept a few newspaper clippings for my personal collection. Some of the photos were very inspirational.”
It startles a laugh out of Harry, and Malfoy gives him a pleased smile. His ears pink up a little and Harry finds himself fixated on the smooth skin over his clavicle. Harry straightens up. Clearly, the pints are going to his head and he should leave. Flirting with Draco Malfoy is an objectively terrible idea. Draco’s tall and lithe and gives the impression of being all coiled power. Like a snake, but probably twice as dangerous. Harry can easily find far less menacing opportunities to pull, with a lot less emotional baggage.
“What brings you to London? Other than knocking people over in the street and lurking around queer youth nights in bars?”
Harry snaps his gaze back up to meet Malfoy’s. He doesn’t seem to have noticed Harry’s inner turmoil, or if he has, he isn’t letting on. “Gringotts found some things belonging to my parents so I needed to sort that out. I’m only here for another day or two.” He doesn’t say any more. Harry knows Malfoy’s father was sentenced to be Kissed. Talking about their parents or the past in general seems like a no-go. In fact, just the two of them sitting side by side in a bar having a conversation seems like something that should bend the universe in on itself and cause it to implode.
“This is impressive,” he manages, taking a deep breath and reaching for a change of subject, gesturing around at the pub night. “Creating an environment like this.”
“Thank you,” Malfoy nods. “Times have changed a lot since we were their age, but not so much that it’s not important to give them all the support we can.” He knocks his drink back in several swallows that leave Harry staring at the long, pale column of his throat. Harry desperately wants to mark it up.
“Go easy,” he manages, aiming for teasing. “You’ll be on the floor at that rate.”
“It’s soda, Potter,” Malfoy smirks. “Someone has to get the children back to Hogwarts in one piece.”
Harry is just wrestling with why that idea seems disappointing when Malfoy gives him a long, considering look. It’s as if he’s weighing every aspect of Harry, and it’s ridiculous, but Harry suddenly doesn’t want to be found wanting. Draco seems to reach some sort of decision as he stands and leans right into Harry’s personal space, his lips warm against Harry’s ear. “Though if you want me on the floor, I don’t have to get the students back to school for an hour or so.”
Just the words alone have Harry letting out a small groan and adjusting himself in his jeans. Malfoy pulls back, grinning wickedly at him. This whole moment is absurd. Unthinkable. Harry can’t possibly go through with it. But Draco is the brightest spot in the room and he can’t look away.
“Where?” he breathes, thinking about just tugging Malfoy to him and Apparating them right back to his room at the Leaky, although that seems a bit obvious. And really who can wait that long, there’s got to be a perfectly good toilet somewhere in this pub. But Malfoy just smirks and walks away, toward a door at the back of the bar marked Emergency Exit. Harry hastens after him.
He finds himself in a service lane behind the building, immediately pressed against a brick wall. If Malfoy’s jeans looked tight from across the bar, now he’s close enough for Harry to feel it. “Someone will see,” Harry bites out, as Malfoy makes quick work of his belt buckle.
Malfoy laughs. “You think gay wizards built Equal Alley and didn’t disillusion the hell out of every dark corner?” And then Malfoy sinks to his knees and Harry can’t find himself able to care anymore.
Harry wakes up feeling boneless and well-rested, and it takes a moment for the night before to come back to him. The unexpected and extremely welcome revelation that Draco Malfoy gives head like a pro left him with a smile on his face and a pang of disappointment they hadn’t had time to take things further.
Draco Malfoy. He certainly hadn’t seen that one coming. It ought to make him feel uncomfortable, he’s sure. But it’s not like Harry has to see him again. Ever. It was just a very good orgasm. A chance to let out all the frustration he’s been carrying around all week. And, if he’s honest, a chance to live out a fantasy he’s been carrying around for most of a decade. One that turned out to be even better in real life than he’d frequently imagined.
He’s still thinking about it when the Gringotts owl arrives, requesting Harry attend a meeting at his earliest convenience. He showers and dresses and heads to the bank, hopeful that if he can sign the paperwork off with Bill that morning, he can get a Portkey home later in the day.
That hope starts to fade as he takes a seat in Bill’s office. Bill looks tired and not at all like someone who is about to give him good news. Harry wonders absently if the lunar cycle is affecting him.
“Look, I’m really sorry, Harry. I’ve been at it all week, but I can’t clear it.”
Harry straightens up in his seat. “There’s something cursed in there? I thought it was just… my parents’ stuff?” His mind races at the possibilities. Awful things Voldemort could have done in their final moments. Dark Magic he could have left behind.
“No, it is. It looks like Dumbledore sent along anything that might have had personal value to you. There’s some photo albums, a box of old letters. Some of your toys, looks like.” He gives Harry a small, sad smile, before consulting the list on the parchment in front of him again. “A jewellery box of your mother’s. A portrait, but the frame is empty. I expect the occupant would prefer not to spend any time they don’t have to in an abandoned vault.”
Harry nods. There’s a tight knot of emotion in his belly that he’s not sure he wants to try and untangle, even hearing Bill describe these things.
“The problem isn’t with any of that. It’s with your parents’ wedding rings. They were in a small velvet pouch, and I managed to get them out of that to examine them, but that’s all that I could do, unfortunately. You need an expert in affinal magic.”
Harry doesn’t even know what that is.
“And they’re… cursed?” It’s an ugly thought. How would that have happened? What had Voldemort done?
“No, they’re not cursed. That’s why I’m not able to safely handle them. Their magic is badly damaged, likely because of the way your parents died. Over time, the rings have become horribly unstable. I’ve spent the last three days working under shield charms so heavy I feel like my back may never recover.”
Harry starts to apologise, but Bill waves it away with a smile. “It’s my job.”
“Can’t you just, I don’t know, take the other things out of the vault and then destroy the rings? I mean, I don’t need them. I didn’t even know they existed until just now. If it’s a choice between them and being able to take the other things away?”
Bill’s horrified expression suggests that maybe Harry hasn’t quite understood what he’s been told.
“They’re just wedding rings, right? I mean, they have sentimental value, of course, but…” Harry trails off. Bill looks like he’s in pain.
“They’re Confarreatio rings, Harry. They have incredible power. They’re tied to your ancestral magic, and to your family home.”
Harry shrugs. “If you mean that ruin in Godric’s Hollow, then it’s sort of academic, isn’t it? Not like I’m going to be living there again.”
Bill makes a strangled sort of sound. “That’s not the… Look, Harry, regardless of whether you want the rings or not, they’re immensely powerful magical artefacts and they’re currently desperately volatile. They pose an actual risk, and not an insignificant one. So, I can’t clear the vault, the goblins are unhappy, and you need to hire an expert in affinal magic.”
Harry slumps back in his chair, thinking ruefully that two weeks ago he’d envisaged this whole thing as a straightforward day trip.
“Look, between you and me,” Bill says, leaning in as if someone might overhear them, though they’re alone in his office, “the goblins are the ones who’ve made a mistake here. These items should all have been added to the Potter vault and catalogued decades ago. If you spoke to Hermione, I’m sure she could help you get a solicitor, threaten Gringotts about it, and make it their problem. But the truth is, it will take you forever and cost you a fortune. If you want this wrapped up quickly, then your best bet is just to pay someone to fix the rings for you.”
“One of these… finial people?” Harry asks with a sigh. “Who do you suggest?”
“Affinal,” Bill corrects. “And there’s only one person I’d recommend.”
With a sinking feeling in his stomach, Harry somehow knows what Bill’s going to say before he even opens his mouth.
A decade in the Land of the Free has been good for Harry Potter, Draco thinks, as he sinks into the chair beside him in Bill Weasley’s office.
He’d thought so on Tuesday, when the idiot bowled him over outside the Leaky, looking all sweaty and athletic. He’d certainly thought so on Wednesday, as he saw him perched at the bar at the Bent Wand. He’d definitely thought so a little later in the alley out the back.
Potter’s hair is still all over the place, but it manages to somehow look deliberate now, or at least as if fashion has caught up with him. And vice versa, it seems, if the thick cashmere pea coat and smart leather shoes are anything to go by. Draco always judges a person first by their shoes. He is, however, wearing a mismatched pair of socks.
It doesn’t make this whole coincidence any less catastrophic.
Draco doesn’t do casual. Propositioning Potter at the pub had been an absolutely out of character one-off. He’d just sort of lost his mind when confronted with the warm, hard reality of him, vivid and out-of-place in Draco’s space, bringing every single one of his teenage fantasies to life. Promising he was only there for a “day or two.” If only that had been true. Instead, just as Draco was thinking about taking that memory out of his head and tucking it away for rainy days, he received Bill’s owl.
Draco puts his takeaway coffee cup on the corner of the desk as he unwraps his scarf. He shuffles his chair around a little so that he can look at Potter’s profile while he’s listening to the elder Weasley. It seems to make Potter gratifyingly uncomfortable, and he pushes his own chair back, forming a strangely awkward little triangle. Draco smirks at him, pleased to see he’s not the only one ruffled by this whole nightmare, and wraps both his hands back around his coffee cup before turning his attention to Bill. “How can I help?”
It’s sort of distracting, having Potter sitting here. He obviously only understands about every third word Bill is saying, and radiates a kind of prickly energy that comes off him in waves. Draco wonders if he’s regretting their encounter, now that he has to sit beside him at the bank and behave like a grownup.
Draco finds it funny, really. Only he would find himself in this sort of ridiculous situation. Breaking his own rules for the first time in forever and immediately having it all blow up in his face. But he manages to keep a neutral expression as he takes Bill’s file and pores over his notes. Bill’s work has been impeccable, but limited.
“Can you do it or not?” Potter blurts impatiently, still clearly lacking in any courtesy or manners.
Draco doesn’t even look up. “Yes.”
He puts his cup down again, balancing the file on one knee and taking a notebook and pen out of his coat pocket. Ignoring Potter entirely, he peppers Bill with questions.
“Could you tell if both rings were unstable, or if it was just one or the other?”
Bill shakes his head. “I couldn’t get anywhere near close enough, even using a bespoke version of Protego maxima.”
“Any colour to the instability?”
“It pulses, but I’d say a similar teal to what you see under diagnosis with consanguinal curses.”
“What, you’re a Curse-Breaker as well?” Disbelief colours Potter’s tone, and Draco realises he’d almost forgotten he was there, caught up in Bill’s notes and the intriguing mystery the Potters’ rings represent.
“Not a qualified one, no.” He taps his pen against his lip, still thinking about the rings. “But there’s some overlap with my work, so it helps to understand the basics. I’ve done some training.”
A brief war of expressions breaks out across Potter’s face. Draco can’t decide if he’s about to be petty or grateful, and he suspects Potter can’t decide either. In the end, he says nothing. Draco smiles again, and Potter looks away, still clearly uncomfortable.
“I’ll need to take a look to confirm, of course. But I’m happy to take the job on. I estimate it will take about six weeks, at my usual rate.” Awkwardness with Potter be damned. This job is spectacular, and there’s no way he’s going to turn it down.
He addresses this to Bill, but it’s Potter who lets out a strange snort of indignation in response. “Six weeks. You can’t be serious. To lift a bloody curse?”
Draco rolls his eyes. “Pay attention for once in your life. The rings aren’t cursed, Potter. If they were, Bill would have lifted the curse, and you’d be on your way back to the New World. They’re damaged. And they’re damaged in a very specific and very dangerous way. I can repair them. It will take me about six weeks.” He gets to his feet, tossing his now-empty cup into the bin beside Bill’s desk and offering his hand to the older man to shake. He turns to Potter as he re-buttons his coat. “You can let me know what you decide,” he says, and leaves before the flush rising on Potter’s cheeks can turn into words he doesn’t want to hear.
He stops at Fortescue’s for ice cream. It’s Monday, and he’s sure Teddy will have done absolutely nothing to deserve it, but Draco feels like he’s at least earned a treat.
Potter’s owl arrives late that evening, after Teddy’s gone to bed in his room in Draco’s flat.
I’d like to retain your services. Can we meet to discuss what will be involved?
Draco sends the owl back with instructions to meet him for lunch at the Leaky the next day. When he arrives, Potter’s already seated at a table, fidgeting with a menu. He looks good, despite being clearly ill at ease. Clean-shaven; younger than he is. The perpetually broken spectacles of his childhood replaced by modern rectangular frames. His jeans are frayed at the knees in a way that seems deliberate, rather than a function of poverty or lack of care. When he looks up at Draco, his face is a vibrant canvas of emotions. Like yesterday, Potter doesn’t seem to know how to react to him. He pulls out a chair and sits down.
“I’m sorry for being snotty yesterday,” Potter surprises him by apologising immediately. “Lunch is on me.”
“It’s a business lunch, Potter, it’s on you either way.”
Potter doesn’t react to the jibe. “The thing is, this whole trip has been one delay after another. I thought I could get everything wrapped up in a day or two. I’ve been here a week already, and when you told me it would be six more…”
Draco nods. He’s dealt with the goblins often enough to know how those conversations have probably gone. He finds he’s relieved that the awkwardness didn’t have more to do with him. It increases the chances they can more or less pretend Wednesday didn’t happen at all and get on with things professionally.
“Anyway, I’m in a bind now. I’m not interested in a legal fight with Gringotts—I can’t even imagine what a shitshow that would turn into. I’ve taken some leave from my job and I want to get this sorted. Whatever’s in that vault is all I have left from my mum and dad, and that’s worth more to me than anything. So, I’d like to hire you to,” he waves a hand over the table, “do whatever it is you do.”
“What do you know about the rings?” Draco asks, getting out his notebook. A waitress comes over, and he orders a chicken pot pie and a pint of ale. Potter glances at the menu and asks for fish and chips.
“Nothing, really. Bill said they’re my parents’ wedding rings, but he used another word for them. Con-something.”
“Confarreatio. A traditional pureblood bonding ceremony. Muggles even imitated it in ancient Rome. In front of ten witnesses, the bride was passed from her father, the head of her household, to the groom, who was the head of his.”
“I know, dreadfully old-fashioned,” Draco replies with a chuckle. “At the centre of the ritual are the rings. The magic imbued in the rings through the ceremony, and successive ceremonies down through the generations, are at the heart of pureblood ancestral magic.”
Harry’s mouth is still a thin, disapproving line. As if just the idea of pureblood anything is something antiquated and evil. “Bill said something about house magic.”
Draco sighs, but decides to press on.
“Right. How much do you know about house magic? You’re familiar with Hogwarts, of course, which is a kind of house magic, on a grander scale. And you understand wizarding space, the way things can be bigger on the inside than the out. Tents; the garden at Grimmauld Place.”
Potter nods cautiously, as if he’s waiting for Draco to trip him up or mock him for his lack of understanding. As if Draco could be bothered, after all this time. After everything that’s happened.
“Traditional wizarding houses can have a similar magic to what you saw at Hogwarts. They can expand and contract to provide for the family that lives there, have pantries that supply all their needs. Wards that protect and defend against outside threats. The house lives and breathes with the family line.”
“The Manor was like that?” Harry sounds curious now, rather than full of judgement.
“It was,” Draco bites at his lip, trying to decide how much of this to explain. “When I was a child, whole ballrooms would open up for the entertaining season and be gone again when the hunting lodge sprung up in August.”
A small laugh escapes Potter’s lips. Draco quirks an eyebrow in question.
“It’s just… God, you and I had such different childhoods,” he snorts.
Draco chuckles. If only a fraction of what the tabloids have intimated about Potter’s childhood over the years is true, then he’s not wrong.
“So house magic is connected to these rings?”
“Yes. Confarreatio rings are the… emotional core, for want of a better phrase.”
“And all wizarding houses are like this?”
“No. In fact, a vanishingly small number are. For one, historically, Confarreatio ceremonies could only be performed in pureblood families.”
“Naturally,” Potter’s sneer is derisive. “Mustn’t tarnish the line.”
Draco doesn’t react. It’s been a long time since this sort of rhetoric has had any effect on him. Potter can think what he likes. He doesn’t know anything about what Draco does.
“Where there is no Confarreatio, no rings, a wizarding house reverts to its natural state. It’s just a house. Wizards can live there, of course. Make magical alterations themselves and so on. But there is no life in the house itself.”
“How did you learn all this?”
It feels a little bit like a trap, but one that Draco wants to spring now, rather than wait. It’s one thing to have a quickie out the back of a pub. It’s another to put years of animosity behind them. If Potter is going to get high and mighty about Draco’s past, he’d rather get it all out in the open, so he can politely decline this job and get on with his life. He doesn’t need this job, no matter how much he wants it.
“When my father was Kissed, the magic in my mother’s ring became unstable.”
Harry sucks in a breath and leans back in his chair. The waitress takes that moment to arrive with their food, and it’s a welcome distraction. Draco doesn’t like thinking about that desperate period of trials and retribution in the immediate aftermath of the war, before the reformers won out and the Dementors were removed from Azkaban. He busies himself with seasoning his chicken and fetching a napkin, while Harry just stares at him in a slightly stricken way.
“It turns out, no one had given much thought to the effect of the removal of a soul on a Confarreatio bond,” he continues, when the silence starts to feel uncomfortable. “Mother began to notice the effects immediately, of course. Problems with the Manor; bursts of wild magic of her own. But no one had ever made a comprehensive study of the breakdown of these bonds.
“I was… obviously unemployable at that time,” he gestures with his fork at where the faded Mark is covered by his shirtsleeve. “And fixing the Cabinet in sixth year had given me a certain skill set for this kind of complicated, interrelated spellwork.” At this he looks up at Potter, daring him to be horrified, but he mostly just seems speechless.
“Lacking anything else to do, I set to studying the rings. With the help of a lot of very expensive solicitors, we were able to get the Ministry to return Father’s ring. Eventually I worked out how to stabilise the magic, and sort of… equalise the power in the bond. Mother wears Father’s ring on a chain around her neck. And the house magic is satisfied.”
“Just like that?” Potter asks.
Draco snorts in response. “Definitely not just like that. It took about eight months of research, spells unused since the fourth century, and incredibly complicated and dangerous ritual magic. But it worked.”
Draco can’t be sure, but it seems like Potter might actually be impressed by that. He begins to devour his food as if someone has just told him it’s his final meal.
“My mother obviously wasn’t the only one in her situation. Once I was sure it had worked, I offered to help the families of other Death Eaters. Those Kissed deserved everything they got and more. But often they’d left behind wives and children who were powerless to stop them in their ascendancy, and powerless to provide for themselves now their husbands were gone.
“And then, one day, I got an owl from Celebrated War Hero, Neville Longbottom.” Draco says it with a fond tone and a smile, but a wave of tension still hunches Potter’s shoulders and tightens his hand on his fork. Draco presses on. “He’d heard about the work I was doing, and he wanted to know if I could look at his parents’ rings. Their situation was different, of course. Alice and Frank Longbottom hadn’t lost their souls, but they had lost their grip on this world, and the bond was damaged as a result.”
“You fixed them? Their rings?”
“I did, and I presided over Neville and Hannah’s Confarreatio ceremony a year later.”
Potter shovels another mouthful of food in while he absorbs this information. Draco is staggered that he still eats like the starving orphan he literally was as a child. He hasn’t even completely swallowed when he starts talking again, which Draco is horrified to discover he finds repulsive and bizarrely attractive in equal measure. There’s something captivating about the passion with which Potter still throws himself at everything. Devouring the world around him.
“Okay I get you and your lot, and all that pureblood nonsense. Nev, even, I can understand, given his family. But, like, Ron’s never adhered to a single pureblood tradition in his life as far as I can tell. And Hermione is Muggle-born. And there’s no way in hell you can convince me she signed up for some ancient ceremony that had her handed over to Ron like property.”
Draco laughs at the very thought.
“You’re right about that. At first, Hermione was simply very interested in the way the ceremony worked and what it meant for a couple’s magic. But you know her. Once she could see that there was a whole branch of magic she couldn’t have access to, she was determined to change that.”
“Forgive me for being a little surprised that she worked with you on that.” Harry arches one skeptical eyebrow.
Draco sighed. “Potter, I was raised with an entirely flawed set of beliefs. I didn’t carry any of them with me after the war.”
There’s a long pause while they just sit, appraising one another. It’s Draco who breaks the silence. “Do you want to do that? The apologies and the explanations? We can, if you like.”
Draco’s had plenty of practice, after all.
Potter seems to be considering it for a second, but then he shakes his head slowly and turns his attention back to spearing his chips with a fork. “Hermione…” he says, inviting Draco to continue.
“As I started to understand more about affinal magic, it occurred to me that the patriarchal history of it was artificial. There’s nothing inherently different about a witch’s magic, and no reason why a Confarreatio bond should only be available to pureblood wizards and their wives. The presence of a paterfamilias, a male head of the household, was an anchoring part of the ceremony. So I started to think about whether it was possible to change that. And after a lot of research and experimentation, it turned out that it was.”
“So the bond Ron and Hermione have is different?”
“In the sense that it didn’t require the same unequal match as prior generations, yes. But in all other respects, the magic is the same. It gives both Ron and Hermione the same access to their affinal magic and allows them to create a wizarding house together.”
Potter scrapes his plate clean. “I don’t really care about the house stuff. My home is in New York, and Godric’s Hollow is destroyed,” he concludes, and Draco thinks for a horrifying moment that he might actually lick his knife, but he eventually just deposits his cutlery on the table. “But I really want the things out of the vault, so. The sooner you can sort it, the better, I guess.”
Draco nods and wandlessly summons the bill. He catches Potter’s surprised expression, which morphs quickly into something heated and a lot more dangerous to Draco’s equilibrium. “I’ve spent years immersed in really ancient magic,” he says by way of explanation. “It’s altered my focus and abilities quite a lot.”
He digs in his pocket for the Galleons and puts them on the table.
“I’m sorry to cut things short, but I need to run a couple of errands before I pick Teddy up from school.”
Potter’s still staring at him, sharp and attentive, and it seems as though there are a thousand questions he wants to ask. But he just fidgets with the edge of the bill. “I thought we agreed lunch was on me,” he manages finally.
“Don’t worry, Potter. It’ll be added to your final invoice. I’ll begin work on Thursday. We’ll keep in touch.”
“You’re not trying to take that all through the Floo.” Draco stares at Teddy in horror, pointing at a growing pile of toy dinosaurs, a trainee broom, and a stack of comic books that comes up to his knee. Both his bedroom at home and his one at Draco’s are practically full to overflowing, and yet the boy seems to persist in always wanting something that’s at the other house. One day, Draco’s going to build him his own vanishing cabinet so he can just dumbwaiter the stuff back and forth.
“But I need these! I’m playing at Marcus’s tomorrow and he doesn’t have any of these Saurexes and I am lending him Adventure Wizard one through thirteen and he’s going to lend me…”
“Then I’ll Side-Along you,” Draco says with a laugh. “Get a bag from the pantry to put them in.”
Draco smiles fondly at the boy as he dashes out of the room, his hair a violet riot around his head. When Teddy was a baby and Draco had been carefully trying to restore his relationship with the little family he had left, he’d offered to babysit for Andromeda—to give her a break, to let her spend some time with his mother, and so on. It had been a disaster, at first. Draco’s view that raising children must be easy if house-elves could do it had proven to be about as accurate as “cooking must be easy if house-elves can do it” and “dry-clean only can’t possibly mean that.” But Draco was nothing if not stubborn. In the years after the war, whenever he discovered that something he’d been brought up believing was false, he would absolutely immerse himself in learning all about it. And that included babies.
As Teddy grew, his regular days with Draco became part of his routine. Andromeda was grateful for the help. And so it was Draco who took him to football practise at the local Muggle club, and Draco who braved the giant Decathlon sporting goods store to find Teddy his first bike. But it was also Draco who helped him tame his accidental magic and find ways to make sure his hair stayed a perfectly natural blond whenever they were out together in public. It wasn’t even really a discussion: when Teddy outgrew his travel cot, Draco expanded the spare bedroom at his flat in Islington. And years later, to celebrate Teddy starting school, they picked out the paint colours to redecorate it together.
Andromeda says it’s good for Teddy to have a father figure in his life. Draco thinks that’s outdated bollocks, really. If Luna and Ginny have kids, they’ll do just fine without a wizard around. But the more time he spends understanding how magic informs and empowers family, the more important his own relationships have become. And he loves Teddy sideways, so that’s all that really matters.
Teddy reemerges with a Tesco reusable bag and crams his toys inside. When they arrive at Grimmauld Place, he gives Draco a quick hug, kicks off his shoes, and takes off up the stairs, bellowing out to Andromeda about wanting spaghetti for dinner, unconcerned about where in the house she might be at the moment.
Draco picks up Teddy’s shoes with a sigh and sets them on the rack by the door, leaning the small broom against the wall. He heads for the kitchen stairs to say a quick hello, but as Teddy’s noisy footsteps die away, he stops short at the sound of Andromeda talking to someone.
Talking to Potter.
“Walburga never passed her rings to Sirius, obviously. So even though he inherited the house and passed it to you, the magic was never going to respond. It’s why you couldn’t remove her portrait from the wall. And why the place always felt so awful and dreary.”
“How did you find the rings?” Potter asks. They’re talking about her Confarreatio, Draco realises.
“Kreacher. After everything that happened, he seemed relieved that a Black was going to take ownership of the house, even an ostracised one like me. We’d only been here a few months when he brought them out.”
He should go down and announce himself. Or leave. He’s not an eavesdropping child.
“And you gave them to Malfoy?”
Draco freezes on the staircase.
“Not at first. It didn’t occur to me that the rings would ever be of any use. I wasn’t an heir of Walburga’s, and I’d been blasted off the family tree the same as Sirius. Even if I ever intended to remarry, the rings weren’t available to me to use. But as Narcissa and I began to get to know one another again, she told me about the work Draco was doing. She was so very proud of him. And I began to wonder if perhaps he could help me.”
Draco’s heart beats loudly. He knows this about his mother, of course, on some level, but it’s still nice to hear it said. Narcissa Malfoy is never exactly effusive in her praise.
“And so Malfoy fixed the rings and the house responded?” Potter asks.
It’s all Draco can do not to scoff out loud at this oversimplification, but fortunately Andromeda more or less does it for him, laughing gently as she says, “There was a little more to it than that, but yes.”
There’s a silence. Draco wishes he could see their facial expressions, but if he goes down now they’ll obviously stop talking about him.
“I should go,” Potter says finally. “Ron is back, and I’m braving dinner at their place.”
Draco slips back up the stairs quickly and lets himself out the front door, Apparating away before he can be seen.
He’s making himself a bowl of pasta when a Hogwarts owl arrives. At first he’s worried that McGonagall has had to hold the students back for some reason, but it’s just Hannah saying that she has the evening off and will bring the students down herself.
When he arrives at the bar, everyone is in high spirits. Draco asks Mei, a soft-spoken Ravenclaw who sometimes plays guitar, to be the emcee for the evening. He likes to share that role around, so that the evening is entirely about the young people and not about him. He doesn’t do anything now, really, except pay for their soft drinks and adjudicate the occasional dispute about who gets to perform when.
He orders himself a gin and tonic, settling in at a table with Hannah to catch up. She’s been the matron at Hogwarts for a couple of years now, and always makes him laugh with her tales about the idiotic situations her students get themselves into. She manages to get Draco nostalgic for a simpler time, when the worst thing that could happen to any of them was to be turned into a ferret, or to vomit up slugs.
Hannah’s just telling him a particularly wonderful story about one young man’s adventures with transfiguring a carrot into something more outré, when Potter walks through the door.
Hannah rolls her eyes. “Really, Draco? Even after all these years?”
Draco’s about to protest, but she’s having none of it. “If a carrot-dildo can’t even hold your attention when he walks into the room, there’s no hope for you. Go on…” She shoves his arm playfully.
When Draco joins him at the bar, it seems that Potter is delightfully already several drinks ahead of him.
“Draco Malfoy!” he crows with a smug grin, looking unbearably pleased with himself. “Imagine seeing you here, on a Wednesday at this bar, where you apparently always are on Wednesday evenings.” His eyes are an unreasonably vivid green behind his glasses. Draco hates himself a little bit for noticing.
“Dinner went well, then,” Draco chuckles, before realising abruptly that there’s no way he should know that Potter was out for dinner with his friends. Fortunately, Potter is a little wine-dulled and doesn’t notice.
“It went very well,” he says, gesturing too broadly with a glass of pinot. Draco signals Jason for another glass and helps himself without asking from the bottle Potter has ordered, which is predictably awful. “It turns out that my best friend and I have basically spent ten years being not-best-friends over a succession of stupid misunderstandings.”
Ron and Hermione don’t often talk about the Saviour’s abrupt departure from their shores, but over the years Draco has pieced a little of it together.
Potter’s expression sobers. “It was so awful, back then. Ron seemed so dismissive when I came out, like, so….” He reaches for a word that’s out of his grasp. “So… whatever, mate. And I’d thought it was this monumental thing, like it was the centre of my whole identity, you know?”
Draco does know. He just doesn’t understand why Potter is confiding in him like this.
“And it seemed like he didn’t give a fuck. Like it had been this massive thing for me, to decide to tell them all, and he didn’t care.”
Potter gives off this slightly manic energy, as if he’s had all this bottled up inside him for too long and now he’s finally getting the opportunity to let it out. It pulses off him, more intoxicating than the wine.
“But it turns out he did care. He was trying to so hard to show me he was cool with it, that he loved me, and it wasn’t a big deal and wasn’t going to be a thing. That he just went… overboard with it, I guess.”
Draco nods. If there’s one thing Ron is capable of, it’s a truly idiotic overreaction.
“But I didn’t realise that. And between him and Hermione, I just left, you know? I just left, and I didn’t come back. And that made everything worse.”
“Hermione was hurt, I think,” Draco muses, taking another sip of wine. “That you hadn’t trusted her enough to confide in her before then.” If Potter is surprised that he knows this, he doesn’t let on.
“She said as much this evening,” Potter agrees, topping up his own glass. “And she said that you were the one who set her straight on that. And don’t think for a second that the two of you, of all people, being BFFs isn’t a complete headfuck.”
Draco can’t stop a smile at that. How unexpected it must have been for Potter after all this time.
“She's an incredible woman, with questionable taste in men.”
Potter snorts, but he’s grinning as well.
“I only told her what it was like for me,” Draco continues, more seriously. “Telling strangers was comparatively easy. Telling the people I loved most was hard.”
Potter gives him a look that is far too piercing. Draco glances away at the stage. “So you’re all sorted now? The air’s all cleared. The Golden Trio restored.”
“Yes,” Potter says, sounding pleased. “Well, not the bullshit golden part. But we said all the things we needed to say, for now.”
“Congratulations,” Draco says, inclining his glass to clink against Potter’s.
Potter looks around the bar, taking it in. “I guess it must be nice to be somewhere long enough to have a local.” He says nice as if he means quaint. Provincial.
“You’ve been in New York for ten years, Potter. I’m sure you could have frequented the same bar long enough for them to let up a cheer when you arrive.”
He gives a careless shrug. “I move around a lot. Manhattan to begin with. Queens for a while. I’ve had three different places in Brooklyn.”
This news is somehow unsurprising, coming from a man who'd told him he didn't really care about wizarding house stuff.
He looks back at Draco and gives him a scorching expression. “So, what do you do on Wednesdays after you make sure the kids are safely back at school?”
The thing is, Draco really doesn’t do casual. He used to, in the immediate aftermath of the war. Lost in a complicated sea of grief about his father, dealing with his own culpability, mostly scorned by a community that felt he’d escaped the punishment he deserved. He spent a lot of time in Muggle London, hell-bent on discovering how wrong Lucius Malfoy had been about everything. And time in Muggle London lead to time in Muggle bars and clubs, drinking to forget and experimenting with anyone and everything. But it was a soulless, empty time, and it made him no happier than he had been before he started. So he found himself a Mind Healer, moved out of the Manor, and began to exclusively date Maxwell Eaton, a wizard whose family had been in France for the previous ten years and had no interest in anything Draco had done or not done during the war. That lasted six months. After Maxwell, there was Francis. And after Francis, there was Dean.
Blaise gives him stick about it now and again, claiming Draco’s serial monogamy makes him a traitor to our people. But he knows Blaise actually understands. Draco needs certainty in his life. He needs to know the people around him are people he can count on. People he can trust. People who will stay.
So a repeat performance with Potter is completely off the table. It would be a disaster.
But then again.
Potter’s only in the country for a matter of weeks, and Draco knows it. He can go into this with both eyes open. And it’s Potter. Even years of work with his Mind Healer hasn’t given Draco the tools to explain what they are to each other. And he’s right here. Wine-flushed and radiant and inexplicably interested in Draco. It’s a calamitous idea. Ruinous.
Draco cannot stop himself.
“Well, it so happens you’re in luck.” Draco gives him a conspiratorial smile, pointing at the front near the stage where Hannah is tapping her foot to a truly execrable cover of “Bleeding Love.” Draco’s considering putting it on the banned list. To do this, he’d have to create a banned list, but it seems worth it this year. “Madame Longbottom over there accompanied them this evening. It seems the Hogwarts infirmary is blessedly empty tonight.”
Harry takes far too long to process this information.
“Catch up, Potter. Hannah can take the students back to school,” he explains with a sigh.
At this, Harry spins back to him, his mouth a surprised and delighted little O shape. Draco very much wants to snog him senseless, but the Hogwarts regulars have long memories and he will never live it down.
“Do you need to stay ’til the end?” Harry asks.
The witch on stage is winding up into a tuneless wail. You cut me open and I… keep bleeding…
They walk back to the Leaky, a little too close to each other, the backs of their hands knocking together. Potter takes the stairs up to his room two at a time, and Draco takes a moment to appreciate the power in his legs as he follows him. He unlocks the end door and drags Draco inside by the wrist, kissing him hot and fast and enthusiastic.
Draco pulls back for a second and carelessly throws an industrial-strength silencing charm around the room. He reaches for Potter again, to find him staring at him, his eyes dark.
“Show off. Was that really necessary? It’s an inn.”
“It’s not a rent-by-the-hour, Potter. And I don’t intend to be quiet.”
The whole thing is a cataclysm. Potter’s groan makes it completely worthwhile.
When Potter mumbled into his pillow, “This was fun, Malfoy, we should do this again,” as Draco dressed the night before, he silently agreed with him. And then he kicked himself, and then he tried to bargain with himself that it was an excellent idea that made a great deal of sense. But now, feeling sleep-deprived and a little achy, he’s rethinking that conclusion. Post-coital Draco was an idiot.
He takes a swig of the relaxat potion his trainer gave him to help with recovery from a heavy workout, and decides that will have to do. He’s due at Gringotts at nine, and feeling shagged-out isn’t really a solid excuse to delay starting.
Draco buys two coffees from the cart outside Flourish & Blotts, and gets the second poured into a charmed KeepHot Cup for later. It feels like it will be that sort of day. He regrets it moments later when he has to clutch the pair of drinks and lacks a hand to keep himself steady on the preposterous cart ride to the vault. Thank Merlin for lids.
The goblin leaves him there without so much as a word. Draco’s worked in the vaults before, but he still has to shake off the creeping sense of unease about being this far below ground in the dark and cold on his own. He casts a series of floating orbs of light to illuminate the space, followed by a range of protective spells of his own devising, before he unlocks the door.
The vault is small, about the size of his bathroom. Bill has neatly stacked the contents, a handful of goblin boxes and a portrait, over to the left. In the centre of the room, sitting by themselves where Bill had presumably managed to finally get them out of their pouch, are the rings.
Draco’s been doing this work for a long time, and his senses are very attuned to affinal magic. But he’s never seen anything quite like this. These rings are almost violently unstable. It’s staggering to him that nothing terrible has happened before now. He begins casting methodically. Safety first, always. And he can’t work if he has to worry about thirteen levels of rock and Galleons collapsing above him and burying him forever below Diagon Alley. His wards wrap the vault inside and out, strengthening the space to the point it could probably withstand a nuclear explosion.
Then he begins casting on himself. He knows that Curse-Breakers favour shield charms, but to him they feel like working inside one of those Muggle bomb-disposal suits. Fat and heavy and clumsy, dulling his reactions and his magic.
Draco prefers to work from the inside out, strengthening himself rather than erecting a barrier between him and the danger. The spells draw heavily on his magical core and are extremely tiring, meaning he needs to take regular breaks. But he once had a ring literally implode in his hand and all that happened was a slight surface burn on his palm, so he’s confident this is the better approach.
The Potter rings pulse angrily in the presence of the spells he’s casting.
Reasonably confident, he amends.
Finally, as protected as he can be, Draco starts with his suite of diagnostic charms. He sets his wand to one side, flexing his fingers. Affinal magic is visceral. It’s easier to understand when he can feel it, and the wand is a layer of abstraction that makes that harder.
Draco sinks to the floor, resting his back against the vault door, watching as the illuminated, sparking lines of diagnostic magic dance out from the rings.
James Potter’s ring responds the way he’s come to expect from a broken Confarreatio bond. Its magic feels untethered. Unbalanced. Unstable. Like half of something is missing that it needs to be whole. The magic of the ring reaches out constantly, and unable to find its match, teeters. Like a seesaw.
Lily Potter’s ring is a completely different story. The ring’s magic is wounded. The diagnostic threads are ragged and frayed, and Bill was right. The pulsing teal-coloured feedback looks similar to the results of a consanguinal curse, the worst kind of dark blood magic.
Similar, Draco thinks, but not the same. He takes his notebook out of his pocket, uncaps his pen, and begins to write furiously.
When he finally finishes his notes, he’s exhausted from maintaining his protective magic and both of his coffees have gone cold, undrunk, in spite of the charmed cup. His arms ache and he carefully seals an enchantment around the rings so he can safely lower the remaining wards.
He needs a hot bath, desperately, and twelve hours of uninterrupted sleep. But even as shattered as he feels, as he rides back to the surface and emerges into the daylight, his brain is racing. The Potter rings are an entirely new mystery, and Draco has always loved a challenge.
On Saturday, he takes his notebook to the Manor and has breakfast with his mother before disappearing into the Library for the day. His mother has said several times that he’s welcome to move any of the books he needs to his own flat, but the Library is one of the few spaces in his family home where he still feels comfortable, and it gives him a reason to see her regularly. Plus—and this reason he keeps to himself—sitting at his father’s ornate hand-carved desk, surrounded by the smell of leather and parchment, Draco can almost imagine a life in which Lucius Malfoy hadn’t made such appalling decisions. A life in which Draco still had his father around.
He buries himself in the volumes he’s familiar with and a pile of new ones on consanguinal magic, and the hours slide by, broken only by Tilly occasionally popping in to the room and bringing him sandwiches and fruit and tea. By the end of the day, he’s got a long list of things he wants to explore and the cursory beginnings of a theory, but not much more.
Sundays are when Teddy comes to stay, and some weeks, Andromeda just sends him through the Floo on his own after dinner, his backpack for school on and usually midway through a long tale about the cartoon he’s been watching or the latest level on the video game he’s obsessed with. Other times, Draco goes to Grimmauld Place to have dinner with them both first. When he examines the contents of his pantry that afternoon, he decides today is one of those days.
For some reason, it doesn’t occur to him until he’s dusting himself off, saying, “I brought red wine, but if you prefer white I can go to the store,” that the person chopping vegetables in the kitchen will be Potter.
“Red will be fine,” Potter laughs, seeming just as surprised as Draco.
“You’re not at the Leaky,” Draco manages, stating the blindingly obvious.
“Someone tells me I’ll be here at least six weeks, and while that bed at the Leaky was pretty good,” he arches an eyebrow at Draco, “no one wants to stay in a hotel that long.”
It unravels a confusing set of emotions inside Draco. Of course Harry bloody Potter can slide into Grimmauld Place for a couple of months without batting an eyelid. Presumably, Andromeda is delighted to have him home. Potter’s probably never felt socially uncomfortable a day in his life. Draco just wishes he’d given this whole thing more thought before he let Potter fuck him spectacularly into the headboard at the Leaky on Wednesday. If he’d known he’d turn up at family dinner, he would never have said yes.
Teddy comes barrelling down the stairs and gives Draco a hug, his hair automatically settling from a muddy red to the colour of Draco’s own. “You missed the best episode!” he complains dramatically. “Zuko confronted his father and told Ozai that Azula struck down the Avatar, who survived the attack, and that the Fire Nation only spreads fear and hatred, and that to restore peace he will join forces with the Avatar. But then Ozai told him what happened the night Fire-Lord Azulon died.”
“Teddy, is there anything you don’t want in a stir-fry? I'm doing zucchini and bell pepper, but I can see what's in the pantry,” Potter asks, from where he’s working at the kitchen counter. Draco realises he’s doing everything by hand, which seems odd, even as it’s sort of soothing to watching him slice vegetables into thin, even strips with a sharp knife.
Teddy looks at Harry like he's speaking Gobbledegook, continuing to retell the latest Airbender episode to Draco in enthusiastic and excruciating detail. Draco notices the suddenly tighter set of Harry’s shoulders and the slightly lost expression on his face. "I'm doing courgette and red peppers, but I can see what's in the pantry," he repeats.
"Oh! Sounds good," shrugs Teddy.
Andromeda calls out from somewhere above them. “Teddy, come and get cleaned up before dinner.”
Teddy opens his mouth to yell back, but Draco nudges him gently towards the stairs.
“Go on. Wash your hands. You can tell me all about Azulon later.”
When Teddy’s raced off up the stairs, complaining loudly that his hands are clean and that washing them again is a waste of water and bad for the environment, Draco turns back to find Potter staring at him.
“Do you understand half of those words?”
“More than half, Potter. We watch a lot of Airbender in this house.” He laughs as he says it, but Potter’s hand still clenches slightly around the knife. He’s about to ask, but Andromeda joins them, and Harry turns back to the stove, throwing diced beef into a sizzling wok. Draco busies himself opening the wine.
Potter doesn’t say much during dinner, focussing on eating more food than seems plausible for a man his size and letting the conversation wash over him. The dinner is delicious. Simple and comforting, yet full of flavour. But when Draco says as much, Harry just seems to draw further into himself.
Andromeda and Draco discuss her plans for a fundraiser later in the year for the war orphanage, and when that becomes too boring, Teddy interrupts to chatter excitedly about his school trip later in the week where he will get to be a Junior Zookeeper.
“We don’t get to feed the big cats, because only adult zookeepers get to do that, but we get to feed baby turtles! Have you been to the zoo?”
Harry looks up in surprise when he realises Teddy’s addressing the question to him.
“Once. I lost control of my magic and a snake escaped.”
Teddy gives him a startled look, and Andromeda frowns at Harry as she reassures Teddy that there’s no way that will happen to him. Harry looks embarrassed and uncomfortable.
After dinner, Andromeda sets the dishes to washing and goes upstairs to watch one of her murder mysteries. She always swears she bought the television at Teddy’s insistence, but Draco knows better.
He unzips Teddy’s backpack, checking the contents while the boy laces up his shoes. “Do you have your homework? Where’s your reading book?”
“Oops, it’s upstairs, hang on.” Teddy goes to get it as Draco rummages around in the bag some more, making sure his pencil case and P.E. gear are there. He looks up to find Potter staring at him again, with an appraising smile.
“You’re good with him.” He doesn’t sound surprised, exactly. But commenting on it at all suggests that Draco’s relationship with Teddy was unexpected. It makes him feel unaccountably defensive.
“He’s family, Potter. I don’t have a lot of that left.”
Harry gives an odd, lopsided shrug. “More than me.”
Draco suddenly wants Teddy to hurry up, so he can extract himself from this whole situation. “I’ve looked at the rings,” he says, trying to shift the conversation to a more professional footing. “They’re in bad shape, but I have some ideas.”
Potter just nods, and then Teddy is back and Draco helps him with his backpack and takes his hand as they head to the Floo.
Draco tries to get into a routine with the rings. First thing in the mornings he goes to the gym, before working in the vault until he tires his core too much to continue safely. In the early afternoons, he Floos to the Manor to rest and research until it’s time to collect Teddy from school. It’s painstaking work but he has, at least, managed to separate the two rings from one another. James Potter’s ring can wait, he knows how to mend it. So he focuses all his time and attention on the ornate silver band that had been Lily’s.
On Wednesday night he gets to the Wand early and sits at the bar chatting to Jason, the sign-up sheet at his elbow. Kyle Travers nudges him as he scrawls his name into a slot. “Hey D, is it true?”
“Don’t call me that,” Draco mutters, catching the pencil he tosses down before it rolls off the bar. Kyle is a year out of Hogwarts, and as far as he can tell, little more than a socialite—spending the Travers family fortune and leading younger boys astray. He reminds Draco uncomfortably of an earlier version of himself. But with poorer manners.
“Is it though? Only pictures anyone has of him now are in textbooks, and he looked like a scrawny kid back then. Definitely not like that trade you’ve been entertaining.”
“What are you on about,” Draco sighs. He’s pretty sure he’s not going to enjoy where this is going.
“The kids say you’re banging the Vanished Vanquisher. Harry Potter.”
“If you’re hoping for a career with the Prophet, I think you’ll find I’m not the place to start,” Draco’s tone is ice-cold, and he immediately picks up the clipboard and pencil and walks away.
The encounter sits uneasily in his stomach. The young people who come here like and respect Draco. They loved Dean when he came along, and they were sad when the two of them broke up. And after a suitable amount of time had passed, they’d started to tease Draco about “getting back in the game”. But all of it is gentle; well-meaning. None of them would breathe a word of it outside these walls. They’re all too acutely aware that social progress has been slow and hard-won.
All of them except Travers.
He’s still thinking about it an hour later when Potter, predictably, arrives out of nowhere.
“When you said you wanted a local, Potter, I assumed you meant one near where you lived.”
“It’s all the Leona Lewis,” he retorts with a mischievous grin, and sure enough, someone is murdering “Bleeding Love” again on stage. “I can’t keep away, I’m such a fan.”
“This is a bad idea. The students here all know who you are.”
“You’re ashamed to be seen with me?” Potter smirks. And it is sort of funny. But it’s also not funny at all, because Potter’s just vacationing in this world. He’ll go home and Draco will be the one who has to live with the fallout.
“The press will have a field day.”
“About two grown adults having consensual sex? They can’t have much to write about, then.”
“You’re being wilfully obtuse.”
“I like it when you talk like a lawyer,” Potter smirks, hooking a finger in Draco’s belt loop.
“Well that’s an odd little kink. Perhaps you could find an actual barrister to shag.”
“I don’t understand why this has to be complicated. I’m only here a few weeks. You’re fit as hell and great in the sack. Why can’t we just enjoy it? No strings attached. If Skeeter’s crew want to write some bitchy little articles about us, so what.”
Draco wants to explain exactly why that’s a problem, but his mind blanks around the words fit as hell and great in the sack, and now he’s just left with Harry bloody Potter tugging him forwards by his waistband and his body responding like a wretched sodding traitor.
“Unhand me, you great pillock. I have to get the students back to school in half an hour.”
Jason hands Potter a shot of whatever he’d ordered before Draco walked over. Potter downs it in one, and winks at Draco. “I’ll wait.”
It’s only as he’s seen the last of the school students through the Floo and ticked them all off as present and accounted for with Hannah that he starts to have second thoughts. Potter is leaning against the bar, chatting with Jason, and Draco takes a moment to really look at him. To see the familiar shadows of the boy he knew so long ago inside the outline of this grown, unfairly good-looking man. Lean, and young, and untroubled. Potter had been able to turn his back on their shared past and carve a new path for himself. Draco wonders for a moment what he’d be like now if he’d been able to do the same.
Potter laughs at something Jason says and Draco aches to feel that carefree. To lose the weight of the expectations he’s placed on himself over the years. The all-consuming need to do better. To be better.
Potter turns around suddenly, as if he’s felt Draco’s stare. His relaxed smile turns positively wicked when he catches sight of Draco. Harry Potter always stampeded through Draco’s life like a wild animal. Why should now be any different? Draco joins him at the bar.
“I don’t have a room at the Leaky anymore and no offence, but there’s no way I’m going to be able to get it up at Malfoy Manor.”
Draco rolls his eyes, but inside his heart is hammering in his chest. He should say that they can get another room somewhere. That they’re in a city with a thousand hotels. He definitely should not take Potter home to his flat. But however this thing with he and Potter ends, it might be worth it to see Potter's eyes sliding shut in ecstasy against his Slytherin-green bed linen. The sight of it alone would make his teenage self turn the same colour.
“I don’t live at the Manor,” he hears himself saying instead. “I live in Islington. Let’s go.”
Hogsmeade is unreasonably cold, and Draco gets irritated all over again that Neville and Hannah somehow won the argument to have the monthly pub night in bloody Scotland for once. They’re all going to wind up drinking too much and someone will be sick on the Portkey home. Probably Finnegan, he just knows it.
He’s late, because he’d managed to unknit a really intricate layer of the spellwork on Lily’s ring around four. Working with Harry’s mother’s magic is surprisingly enjoyable, reminding him of Harry in ways that are difficult to explain. There’s a strong sense of devotion and a light, dynamic spirit to it that feels vital. Alive. But Draco was so tired when he finished up it took longer than it should have to stabilise each of the frayed ends of the magic before he could seal the vault for the night. Now he has a crick in his neck and would really rather be in a hot bath than traipsing through the snow to the Broomsticks out of some misplaced sense of loyalty. He figures if he only stays for a pint or two he can probably safely Apparate home early.
For some reason it hadn’t occurred to him that Potter would be here. A warm and hazy feeling passes over Draco at the sight of him, a rare combination of a very vivid memory of Potter’s tongue against his skin the night before mixing with a full day spent in a vault surrounded by traces of his parents’ magic. It wraps around him like an embrace, and he orders a cold cider instead of Madame Rosmerta’s mulled mead to try and keep it at bay.
Dean gets up to make space for Draco to sit and they kiss each other on the cheek in greeting. They met years before at Neville and Hannah’s wedding, and Dean—who had never cared a jot what anyone else thought about anything—simply ignored the way his friends were treating Draco with kid gloves. Everyone was pleased that he’d helped the happy couple, of course, but they were all cautiously avoiding anything more than basic civility. Dean, on the other hand, walked straight up to Draco at the reception, handed him a drink, and told him that he’d always thought he was the fittest wizard at Hogwarts. Draco blushed violently and gaped like a fish, completely unable to respond. They were together for over a year, and in that time Dean’s friends gradually absorbed him into their tight-knit little circle as if he’d been there all along. And when they parted ways, amicably, Dean was the one to insist that they were Draco’s friends now too, and he shouldn’t give them up.
And Draco found that he hadn’t wanted to.
Dean squeezes his arm fondly and pulls out a chair, and when Draco looks across the table he sees Potter eyeing them both with something that on anyone else would look like jealousy. On the No Strings Attached Saviour it’s probably just indigestion.
Luna and Ginny are the last to arrive, and Potter gets up to greet them both. He has a large smile plastered on his face, but Draco can tell that there’s a nervous edge underneath. Ginny just grins and punches him on the arm as she says, “I heard you snuck back into town and didn’t tell anyone. Rude, that.” And Potter seems to relax, complimenting her on the Witches catch Snitches t-shirt she’s wearing.
Someone, Hermione probably, must have told Potter the girls were a couple, but not that they were married. When Potter catches sight of their matching rings, he seems delighted and demands all the details.
“It was beautiful, Harry,” Luna says dreamily. “Nev made a whole field of lavender flower at once for us, even though it wasn’t in season, and my dress matched.”
Ginny digs a picture out of her wallet to show him, and Draco remembers how stunning they’d both looked, Ginny’s red hair fastened up in a chignon and her lean, Quidditch-toned figure perfectly suited to her cream tuxedo. And Luna was a summer cloud, surrounded with tulle and tiny butterflies that were charmed to dance around the edges of her dress.
“It was a good day,” Draco agrees.
“And it never would have happened without you,” Luna says with a grateful smile, and tilts her glass to clink against his. Potter looks up in surprise.
“What do you mean?” he asks, glancing back at the photo of the happy couple waving among the purple flowers.
“What, he didn’t tell you?! Draco was the one who made it possible for us to have a Confarreatio ceremony. We were the very first same-sex couple to have one.”
Draco feels his cheeks heating a little. It’s not that he’s embarrassed, really. It’s just that he feels like everyone is staring at him all of a sudden. Or specifically that Potter is staring at him.
“What did you do?” Potter asks, quietly, as if there isn’t anyone else at the table.
“Nothing, really,” he demurs. “Once I’d worked out how to make it possible for the magic to bind equally between a pureblood wizard and a Muggle-born, it was relatively straightforward.”
“It was anything but,” snorts Ginny, an incredulous expression on her face. “Not only was the magic incredibly complicated, and I know it was because even Hermione was in awe, but you also literally changed wizarding history.” She turns to Harry, who is still staring at Draco. “For the first time, same-sex couples are able to inherit fully, to take up their family magic, to build their own wizarding homes, to pass them on to their children. Don’t let him play it down. He did something monumental.”
Luna takes her hand and squeezes it, nodding in agreement. “And he did it for us.”
Draco breaks eye contact with Harry, fiddling with the coaster under his pint glass and at a loss for words.
Thankfully, the conversation moves on around them, but Draco’s plans for leaving early seem to dissolve. Every time there’s a gap in conversation that he thinks about taking advantage of, someone comes back with another round and plonks a drink down in front of him. He makes noise about going when Ron and Hermione beg off to relieve their babysitter, but Potter gives him a deliberate and unfairly attractive pout and he finds himself ordering another round instead and wishing he wasn’t so very weak.
As predicted, Finnegan is the one who throws up when the Portkey lands. Draco manages to avoid getting it all over his shoes.
“Come back to mine,” Potter whispers in his ear, as the others argue too loudly about who is going into the Floo at the Leaky first to get home.
“You don’t have a yours,” he retorts, “and I’m not waking Andromeda up at this hour clattering into her Floo.” He can’t possibly hook up with Potter two nights in a row. He needs some distance before the wheels fall off this whole thing.
“Then we’ll go back to yours. Just for a bit of fun,” Harry says, plastering himself against Draco’s back and running a freezing fingertip underneath the hem of Draco’s sweater, just above his belt buckle. He should be wearing gloves, Draco thinks. It’s far too cold out.
He’s bone-tired from working too hard and fuzzy with cider, and he should go home and sleep. Potter’s stupid finger is teasing around his navel and tracing lower, dipping beneath his jeans. He’s an inferno against Draco’s back, wiry and strong. His magic, which becomes all too hauntingly familiar to Draco as each day goes by, rolls around them both.
“Just a bit of fun,” Draco finds himself repeating.
Their friends have all tumbled away and the green flames are empty, leaving them alone. He reaches for the Floo powder and says his address.
Later, lying tangled in sweat-damp sheets, he watches Potter wriggle back into his jeans. He runs out of energy about half-way through and flops back onto the bed beside Draco.
“You created gay marriage,” he says, wonderingly, out of nowhere, pressing a kiss to Draco’s bicep.
“I did not,” Draco sighs, a tired tone creeping into his voice. “Gay marriage was legalised by the Wizengamot in 1982. Much sooner than most people give them credit for.”
“But it was just a civil ceremony. You made it mean something.” Harry rights himself again and manages to get the jeans up over his arse, leaning over to dig around on the floor for his shirt. He emerges triumphant, tugging it over his head. Draco’s disappointed to see the stag tattoo disappear beneath his sleeve.
“It always means something, Potter,” he says sleepily, his eyes starting to drift closed.
“Can I borrow some socks? These ones have holes.”
Draco mumbles something that might be words. He feels Harry push his hair back from his forehead and leave a glancing kiss against his skin. He’s asleep before he hears the door close.
Saturday, Draco wakes to an owl from Teddy asking if they can go flying. It’s certainly a gorgeous day for it. Clear and crisp, with Muggle planes leaving contrails across the blue sky far overhead.
He gets to Grimmauld Place to find Teddy in a strop because “Grandma says we have to take Harry.” His hair is a thunderous charcoal colour, and his face is pinched up in a mean little scowl.
Draco gives Andromeda a questioning look, but her arms are firmly crossed and it’s clear there’s nothing to be gained by wading into this one.
“Well, we should take Harry,” Draco says crouching in front of the furious little boy, as Potter comes down the stairs, looking about as sullen as Teddy. “Your godfather’s always been pants on a broom. Maybe you can teach him something. I certainly never could.”
Potter’s face twists into something that might be on the way to a smile. “It’s fine, you two go ahead—”
“No, Potter, I insist.” Draco straightens up, taking Teddy’s hand and squeezing it. “We can’t have a terrible flyer in the family, it will be embarrassing for both Teddy and me. You’ll need to come with us and practice. Won’t he?” He looks down at the boy, whose hair is gradually softening into a pale turquoise, like the ocean after a storm.
“I can show you how to do fast turns,” Teddy mumbles. “Draco taught me.”
Potter lights up like a Christmas tree. “I’d like that,” he says quietly. “Let me go see if I can find another broom in the shed.”
They Apparate to the wizarding section of Hampstead Heath, which appears to Muggles like it’s a heavily wooded area near Kenwood House, but opens out onto a broad expanse of park protected by high charms, where there’s plenty of space for a couple of recreational Quidditch pitches and room for children to play and people to run their Crups.
They find a clear spot and Draco drops his duffle, helping Teddy out of his backpack. “Now remember,” he says, crouching before the boy as he mounts the half-size broom. “You have to warm up first. Just like your Aunt Ginny does with the Harpies. Do you remember the drills she showed you?”
Teddy nods enthusiastically, his hair cycling through a vivid series of forest shades before settling into dark Holyhead Green.
“Figures of eight, then, off you go.”
Teddy hovers about three feet off the ground and flies briskly away. Draco puts his sunglasses on against the glare of the day.
“You just let him go?” Potter asks, curious.
“That broom’s got more charms on it than those Valentines you used to get in school.”
“It can’t fly higher than five feet, and it can’t get more than a few hundred feet away from us. And if he slips, it basically suspends him upside down. I imagine it’s technically possible to hit the ground but I’m honestly not sure how. Besides, he’ll get bored in a few moments and come back here demanding we fly with him.”
“You, maybe,” Potter replies, wistfully. “He doesn’t like me.”
“He doesn’t know you,” Draco responds carefully. “You’ve been back five minutes, and you expect to have a relationship with him? Even though you’ll be gone again five minutes from now?”
Potter bristles, opening his mouth to object.
“No, I’m serious, Potter. Teddy is an amazing, bright, capable child. But he’s had to deal with a hell of a lot in his short life. Losing both his parents before he remembers is an experience you, at least, should be able to connect with. He loves his grandmother, of course, but he’s old enough now to have people blunder into telling him stories about his parents and the war. He’s grown up loved and surrounded by people who care about him deeply. But he’s also grown up knowing that he’s different from other children. And not just because he’s a wizard. He’s a Metamorphmagus. His father was a werewolf.”
Potter’s eyes flash, as if he’s about to snap at Draco, who raises his hands placatingly.
“All I’m saying is that Teddy is cautious when it comes to new people in his life. You’d do well to have a little patience.”
Before Potter can respond, the child in question is looping swift circles around the pair of them, cackling like a mad thing.
“Alright,” Draco laughs, mounting his own broom and getting a training Snitch out of his pocket, “let’s try and teach your godfather a thing or two.”
They spend a half hour flying low to the ground, at Teddy’s height. The training Snitch is charmed to follow slow patterns to make it possible for a child to predict where it might go and chase it down. They both do a passable job of pretending that they have no idea where it might head next, narrowly missing it on several occasions so that Teddy can snatch it triumphantly out of the air. To Draco’s surprise, Potter turns out to be a patient, encouraging teacher, gently correcting Teddy’s technique and showing him new things to try that improve his stability and centre of gravity. When the score is five-nil, Teddy pulls up and lands.
“Can we double?” he shouts at Draco.
“Only if you wear all the charms,” Draco replies, swooping in to land alongside him. Teddy scrunches his nose in frustration. He absolutely loves it when Draco takes him up, but he hates the safety charms with a passion.
“They make me feel like I’m in a bubble suit. Like I’m the Marshmallow Man from Ghostbusters.”
“Up to you,” Draco shrugs, watching where Potter has taken off several hundred feet in the air, his technique still sleek and effective. Teddy follows his stare.
“Whoa,” he murmurs, as Potter goes into an elaborate dive. “I think Harry can already do fast turns.”
Draco laughs. “Come on then, are we going up to show him how we Blacks do things?” The family name is one they use with each other sometimes at home. Teddy had been so delighted when the Grimmauld house magic repaired the embroidery on the family tapestry, and both of their names appeared, stitched together in gold.
Teddy nods rapidly, eyes still glued to the figure rocketing around above them. He holds his arms out from his sides, fidgeting impatiently while Draco casts the rubbery layers of protective magic over him. His hair turns bright white, like a marshmallow, as if to prove a point.
He climbs on the broom handle in front of Draco, who wraps his arms around him and wishes for the hundredth time there was a more reliable way to fasten the child safely to the wood. But Teddy’s grip is sure, and he’s already yelling and pointing to where Potter is looping the trees above, and so Draco sweeps into the air.
Flying with Potter again takes Draco right back to when they were young. He has a power and a recklessness on a broom that Draco has never been able to imitate, even without a child clutching the handle in front of him. It’s as if the broom is an extension of Potter, who throws himself around the sky like he owns it. Teddy squeals and laughs as they dodge and feint, whipping past each other. They race each other up, then plummet alongside one another on the way down. It’s exhilarating.
When they finally coast back down for a break, Teddy’s frostiness toward Potter has completely vanished. “Did you play Quidditch like Aunt Ginny?”
“Not for a long time. I’ve been playing Quodpot mostly. More people play that in America.”
Teddy’s only vaguely aware of the differences, but has already inherited a healthy British disdain for the sport and immediately pulls a face. Potter laughs at his reaction.
“The thing about Quodpot is that you have to be much faster. Quidditch is more strategic, sure, but in Quodpot you need raw speed and agility. Or the Quod is literally going to blow up in your face. Here, let me show you.”
Draco dismounts, and lets Teddy run to grab his own broom.
Draco watches as Potter hovers low alongside Teddy, correcting his grip and his lean. Then he shows him how to put more weight into his footrests to shift his balance. Teddy listens, rapt.
“Off you go, give it a try,” he encourages, and Teddy shoots off across the park like a skyrocket.
“You work with kids?” Draco asks. He’s sure Potter’s mumbled something about it before now, but he hasn’t paid attention to the details. He tries not to think about the life Potter is going to return to any day now.
“Yes. A No-Maj Integration School on Long Island. It’s to help Muggle-born kids before they reach middle school—Hogwarts age. We work on their accidental magic. A bit of history. That sort of thing.”
Draco nods. “Nev’s been talking about something similar here for a while.”
Potter seems surprised. He drops to sit on the grass beside Draco.
“Oh, don’t give me that look. Of course wizards shouldn’t turn up to school with no understanding of the world they’ve been born into. Any more than Teddy should be wandering around not knowing what a Playstation is. Why do you think he goes to a Muggle primary?”
“Neville called me this week,” Harry says, sinking back on his elbows. “I guess he’s helping plan all this anniversary stuff.”
The Victory Day memorial in May will mark the tenth anniversary since the Battle of Hogwarts. A bigger commemoration than usual is being organised, held at the school for the first time. Neville is on the Trust Board. He’s pleaded with Draco several times to join as well, but Draco’s realistic. It’s one thing for a Malfoy to attend the ceremonies and appear appropriately contrite; it’s quite another to be involved in organising them. So he just gives Neville ad hoc advice and helps behind the scenes. He has no idea why Neville keeps reaching out to Potter to try to get him involved. He’s seen some of his less eloquent responses over the years.
“It’s like a bigger deal this time, over a couple of days?”
“It seemed appropriate to do something more significant to mark the tenth. The school is putting various things on with the students on the Friday. The ceremonies will be on the Saturday.”
“They’re putting everyone up at the school?”
“The dignitaries, invited guests, whatnot. The rest of us will stay in tents on the grounds. Bit like the World Cup.”
Potter nods, distracted, still watching Teddy. “Nev wants me to go, give a speech, whatever.”
It’s strange to think Potter’s never been to a single one. He doesn’t even really loom large as an absence any more. People have come to expect Neville’s stoic expression through the reading of the names.
“And will you?”
He looks over at Draco, confused.
“No, it’s two months away. I’ll be gone by then.”
Right. Of course. The breeze in the park suddenly feels chilly. Draco rubs at his arms.
Teddy loops back around, screeching to a stop a few feet away. “Did you see how much faster I was that time?” His cheeks are bright and his hair is now a shiny black.
Potter laughs and gets up to walk over to him, chatting quietly about the effect of different hand placements. The movement is a blur out of the corner of Draco’s eye, and before he can really work out what’s happening, the photographer is right there in their faces snapping pictures of a startled Teddy, a Quick Quotes Quill dancing venomously over his shoulder.
“Mr Potter! How long are you in town for, then? Are you and your Death Eater boyfriend here planning to adopt more kids? What do you say to law-abiding wizards who think this is an appalling way to mark the ten years that have passed since the war?”
Draco’s on his feet and closing the distance before he can even think about it, rage roaring in his ears at the panic-stricken look on Potter’s face and the terrified way Teddy’s hair has become the same colour as Draco’s—the first thing he does to protect himself when they’re away from home.
“What the fuck do you think you’re doing?!” he yells, inserting himself between the photographer and Potter, snatching the quill out of the air and snapping it in half.
“Hey!” the odious little man shouts back. “That’s a crime, that is. Going to report you for criminal damage.”
“Oh really,” Draco leans right into his sweaty little face. “I think you should do that. In fact, I think I’ll come with you. It will be more efficient if I file my Fleming complaint at the same time.”
The man takes a startled step backwards, clutching his camera.
“That’s right. I’m sure you’re familiar with the landmark decision in Witch Weekly v Fleming. You have absolutely no right to photograph children where there’s a reasonable expectation of privacy and you don’t have the guardian’s consent. And believe me, you do not have consent.”
“Public park, this,” he mutters, but his face is flushing red, his knuckles gone white against his camera as if Draco might be about to smash that too.
“If you think I haven’t defeated far loftier publications than whatever little rag you hope to sell those to in the interests of protecting this child, then you’re delusional. My vaults are bottomless when it comes to his well-being. How are yours?”
“Forget it,” the man spits finally, cowed. “Disgusting, the pair of you.” And then he scuttles away like a bug before Draco can react and hex him straight into a tree like he deserves.
He spins around, still fuming, to find Teddy laughing so hard his eyes are watering. “That was even better than that woman who was pretending to be a seagull the day we went to the beach!” he giggles. “You made this one way more scared.”
Draco lets the last of his anger dissipate, Teddy’s good humour forcing a smile out of him. Then he catches sight of Potter, who is still standing frozen, his mouth is hanging open.
“Are you alright, Potter?” Draco asks quietly. It seems to snap him out of his daze, and he nods.
“You should call him Harry, Draco. It’s weird to use his last name. Okay, now that creep’s gone, let me show you how fast I am,” Teddy calls over his shoulder, shooting away again on his broom.
“Seriously,” Draco says, putting a hand on Potter’s arm. “You’re okay?”
“He’s right. You should call me Harry. That was amazing,” Potter croaks out, his expression awed. “How long do we have to stand here pretending to be interested in his flying before we can take him home and I can show you how impressed I am?”
Draco figures half an hour should do it.
On second thought, maybe twenty minutes will be fine.
He manages to stick to his work routine and well away from Harry for the rest of the week.
Working in the vault becomes second nature. He’s managed to get Lily’s ring up onto a small table now, illuminated under bright lights, and it makes the whole environment a little less unpleasant. His warming charms hold better during the day and he’s transfigured a slightly more comfortable chair.
His research is also progressing, and he’s beginning to realise that the truly unspeakable damage to her ring is directly connected to the way she died. That aspect of it makes him uneasy. Draco’s managed to dig a pretty wide moat between himself and anything connected to Voldemort. It’s hard to be face-to-face each day with tangible evidence of his evil all over again.
The work is exacting and strenuous. He tries to explain it to Harry as being like unsnarling hair when it gets knotted up, a metaphor he feels certain Harry should understand. Each day he carefully combs out the damaged strands of magic so he can work out how to repair them.
It’s so much more complicated than he’d first assumed. By the end of the week, he’s exhausted and very much in need of a break.
The Mariner is unusually crowded for a Thursday night, but Pansy and Blaise have managed to snag a table in a back corner near the fireplace.
“You’re working far too hard, darling,” Pansy complains immediately. “I haven’t seen you in weeks, trapped in that bloody vault. You’ll turn into a goblin at this rate.”
“I’m not sure it’s the goblins who have been keeping him occupied.” Blaise winks at him as he brings their drinks back from the bar. “Rumour has it you’ve been leaving the Wand every week with the Boy Wonder.”
Pansy clutches at her necklace and drops her mouth open in feigned surprise. Draco wants to hex both of them into next week. “Say it isn’t so, Draco. He’s barely back in the country and you’re already bending over?”
Draco flicks a mild stinging hex at her leg under the table, but she barely flinches for laughing.
Blaise leans forward conspiratorially. “Tell me, old man. Have you done it in the family vault yet?”
“You’re both appalling. I don’t know why we’re friends.”
Blaise chuckles, his hands up in surrender. “Look, Pans and I know you went gaga for Gryffindor when you dated Dean.”
“And really,” Pansy interjects, “who wouldn’t have? He was delectable…” She gets a faraway, slightly predatory look in her eye, as if she’s wondering whether it might be possible to track Dean down and straighten him out.
“But Potter,” Blaise continues, as if he hasn’t even been interrupted, “is a whole other barrel of Boomslang.”
Draco fidgets with the menu. He should order something to eat. With these two he always winds up drinking too much. “It’s nothing. The work is interesting. The sex is…” he pauses, wary as ever of giving them anything in the way of ammunition, “…good. I’ll be finished in a couple of weeks, and Harry will be back across the Atlantic where he belongs.”
“Harry?” Pansy whispers, incredulous. He sighs at his own mistake and flips her off.
He doesn’t like the look Blaise is giving him either, which is piercing and far too perceptive. “Just as long as you’re careful. This isn’t like you, Draco. You’re not one for a holiday fling, even when you are on holiday. And we all know how Potter had you in his thrall at school.”
Draco won’t even dignify that with a response, changing the subject immediately to the photo shoot for Pansy’s new fashion line and whether she’s managed to discover if the ferociously hot model she hired for the shoot is queer or not. His friends are easily distracted, and the wine flows freely as they catch up. They order olives and pita and hummus. Blaise complains about his job even though neither Draco nor Pansy have any idea what he does. Something involving hedge funds and foreign exchange that has them both faking exaggerated yawns within minutes. Now and again Draco wonders if Blaise is actually an Unspeakable. No one could actually do something so boring for a living; it must be a cover.
Harry’s owl arrives around eleven, and is filthy enough that Draco casts an Incendio before Pansy can snatch it out of his grasp.
“A booty owl!” She claps her hands delightedly. “Well, that is delicious.”
Draco ignores her while he scribbles a response on the back of a napkin and sends it off.
At the Drunken Mariner with Pansy and Blaise. If you want to see me you can come here, instead of expecting me to turn up at your door like a two-Knut whore.
He gives Blaise a smug look. “See? I’m not in his thrall.”
He figures it’s probably good to draw some boundaries, though. He can’t be available literally every time Harry suggests a shag. Even if all he wants, after the week he’s had, is the palm of Harry’s hand against his back, pressing him down. Draco’s feeling pretty pleased with himself and his own personal restraint when someone drags the chair out next to him and sits down.
“Zabini, Parkinson.” Harry deposits another round of drinks in front of each of them. Blaise looks like someone has told him a particularly ridiculous joke and he’s trying not to laugh. Pansy is just gobsmacked, staring at him like he’s grown an extra head.
Harry slides a tumbler of Firewhisky in front of Draco and leans in to stage whisper loud enough for the other two to hear, “For the record, I think you could charge a lot more.”
Blaise loses his internal struggle at that point, laughing so hard he almost falls off his chair. Even Pansy has managed to close her mouth and is eyeing Harry with a surprised and delighted smile.
Draco tries to regain control of the situation by ignoring Harry completely and retelling Hannah’s story about the Hogwarts student and his carrot.
“Well, at least we know which of them was the top,” Blaise winks.
“It's like there's nothing you can do about that joke,” Pansy sighs. “It's coming, and you just have to stand there.”
Harry bursts out laughing. Ice broken, they enjoy another round. It’s not the strangest evening Draco’s ever sat through, but it’s probably in the top ten. It only gets more surreal when Harry abruptly slams his empty glass down on the table and takes Draco’s hand. “This has been fun, Slytherins,” he announces, “but Malfoy and I are going somewhere else now. To do other more fun things.”
Blaise wolf whistles as Harry drags him to his feet, looking very pleased with himself, and really, it’s probably fine if Draco never looks either of his friends in the eye ever again.
It’ll be worth it.
The first time Harry stays over, it’s mostly an accident. They tumbled into bed late and had the sort of slow, intense, sleepy sex that left them both waving lazy cleaning charms and passing out almost immediately. But Draco’s body-clock is well trained, and his eyes open at a few moments before six as usual. He swings his legs over the edge of the bed, testing the ache in his muscles. Harry stirs, flopping an arm out to grasp at Draco’s hip. “S’too early,” he mumbles into the pillow, and Draco thinks he must still be mostly asleep or he’d have one leg in his trousers on the way out the door already.
“I’m going to the gym.”
“Gym memberships are scams,” Harry sighs, rolling onto his back and covering his eyes with his forearm. “They make you pay for long contracts, no one goes. You should just run, like me.”
Draco looks down at his lean chest, the sheet tangled around his legs, the stag tattoo prancing around on his arm. His heart clenches. He can’t let himself get used to this.
“I’ve been to the gym three mornings a week for the last five years,” he argues, standing up and tugging on a pair of briefs.
Harry mumbles something that might be a protest but doesn’t uncover his eyes. Draco grabs his gym gear from a drawer, scoops up his trainers, and leaves him there.
The very last thing he expects is to come home an hour later to find Harry sitting at his kitchen island eating breakfast and reading his copy of the Prophet.
“Eggs if you want them,” Harry says, pointing at a laden plate under a warming charm. The scrambled eggs look fluffy and light, and there’s a pile of golden toasted sourdough that Draco’s pretty sure wasn’t even in his pantry.
“Was this you?” Harry asks, pushing the paper towards him and tapping an article, oblivious to Draco’s startled expression.
It’s a lifestyle piece about three single mothers who moved in together. The witches decided to share child-rearing responsibilities and were financially supporting one another, and the whole thing was entirely practical but just salacious enough for Skeeter to find it interesting.
Part of what makes the arrangement so fascinating is that the three have set up together in a wizarding home, forming an unconventional Confarreatio bond, magic until recently only available to a pureblood wizard and his wife.
Draco nods slowly, suddenly feeling sweaty and self-conscious. He never showers at the gym, preferring to Apparate home to his own bathroom rather than carting clean clothes and toiletries around. But now he’s left standing here, acutely aware of all the places his workout gear is sticking to his skin and the hungry look Harry is giving him.
“I should shower.” He’s proud that his tone sounds nonchalant.
Harry reaches out a hand and fingers the hem of Draco’s running shorts. “Or you could let me mess you up a little more.”
“You’re disgusting, Potter. Leave me alone.” He stalks from the room before he can change his mind, Harry’s chuckle following him out.
"It's Harry, remember?" he calls after him.
Draco’s pale complexion is always red after he’s worked out, but when he looks at his reflection in the bathroom mirror, he’s a vivid tomato shade that he’s forced to admit doesn’t have much to do with lifting weights.
When he’s showered and collected his thoughts, he ventures back to his kitchen and devours his breakfast while Harry reads him things that are amusing him from the Prophet, which he seems to find unbearably quaint and parochial. The whole thing is very confusing for Draco, who wants it both to stop immediately and to never end in about equal measure.
“Has Andromeda talked to you about Teddy’s birthday?”
Harry looks up, confused. “It’s in… April, right?”
Draco nods. “He’s turning ten. She wants to make it a whole thing.”
“You should tell me what he’d like. I’ll leave a present with you.”
Draco accidentally bites the inside of his cheek. He tongues at the sting. “Why would you—”
“Well, that’s weeks away. You’ll be finished by then, I’ll be back home. You can give him something from me.”
Draco puts his cutlery down neatly on his plate. “Right. Of course.”
Harry takes both their plates to the sink and casts a spell to set them washing. He’s using magic more often, Draco’s noticed. For small things.
“I mean, if you ever go to work,” he laughs, nudging Draco with an elbow. “You’re just dragging your heels, I reckon. Trying to get me to stick around a little longer.”
It feels like someone has poured ice water down Draco’s spine. He gets up and immediately starts gathering his things for work, putting his notebook and pen in his satchel and reaching for his wand. He doesn’t look at Harry. “There’s something you can do to make things go a little faster, if you want to help.”
“Draco—” Harry’s grinning at his sudden cold, business-like tone and reaches for him, but Draco just steps out of the way and unplugs his mobile from its charmed charger. “I was only joking!”
“Regardless. I need to go to your house.”
“Yes. I want to cast some diagnostic spells on the house’s magic, and it would make things much simpler if you were there.”
Harry’s levity disappears. Draco can see him struggling with the idea.
“I can go without you,” Draco clarifies. “I just wouldn’t want you to think that I wasn’t doing everything I can to complete the job as quickly as possible. You know, that I was dragging my heels.”
Harry frowns at him. “We can go tomorrow.”
Draco nods. “I need to get to work. Lock the door on your way out.”
It’s clear that the trip to Potter Cottage is making Harry uneasy, even though he’s pretending it isn’t. He’s fidgety. Tugs repeatedly at the buttons on the cuffs of his jacket. Cracks too many jokes.
They Apparate together to the graveyard, reckoning on it being empty in the middle of the day. Draco’s been here once before. The Victory Day ceremony for the fifth anniversary was held here, at the monument. Draco pauses for a second as Harry glances in the direction of the graves. But then he exhales deeply and turns quickly on his heel, striding out into the village and making Draco take a few jogging steps to catch up.
At the very end of a row of houses, Harry stops. Draco can feel the slippery magic that disguises the Potter house from Muggles ease over him like a veil as he steps closer. Harry opens his mouth as if he’s about to say something but then just closes it and swallows hard. Draco looks at the ruined cottage and the overrun front garden. He tries to imagine what it must have looked like when it was whole. Harry’s not even concentrating on the house, though, he realises. He’s transfixed instead by the sign that has risen out of the ground in front of them. Draco can see it was once a small memorial notice, but over time it’s been magically expanded. People have nailed on extra planks of wood, attached banners, pinned impervious parchment. The whole thing is now a few yards across and it’s absolutely crammed, every available inch covered in Everlasting Ink, carvings, drawings, spelled flowers. Messages of support, and grief, and thanks. A heartbreaking expression of love for this family and what their son was able to achieve.
“Hermione and I came here, that year,” Harry says in a voice barely above a whisper. He doesn’t need to explain to Draco which year he means. “It was Christmas. Everything was covered in snow.”
Draco has an overwhelming urge to take his hand, but he manages to quell it.
“Did you go inside?”
Harry shakes his head.
“I’m sorry to bring you back here,” Draco says sincerely. “I could have come on my own.”
Harry looks away from the sign and rubs his upper arms as if he’s gotten cold, though the day is mild. He gives Draco a wry smile. “It’s alright, this is nothing. I nearly got eaten by a giant snake a few doors down.”
It startles a laugh out of Draco, even though he isn’t fooled by Harry’s abrupt change in mood.
“Do you still want to go inside?”
Harry nods and leads the way, waving his wand to send the memorial sign back to wherever it came from and opening the gate. They force their way through the overgrown garden to the front door, which is still in one piece.
The inside of the cottage is cold and damp. Unsurprising, given half the roof has been blasted off, Draco thinks. Ivy has curled its way in around the window frames, and it seems as though small animals have made their homes in most of the soft furnishings. Through a sagging door he can see into the kitchen, where a tarnished, empty portrait frame hangs askew above a blackened fireplace. The house feels lifeless. A ruin.
Harry doesn’t look maudlin, but Draco decides to keep him distracted anyway. “Place your hand on a wall, Potter. And incant this for me.” He demonstrates the wand movements and hands Harry a slip of paper with the spell.
“Cor est domi,” Harry says, his wand movements careful and precise.
Draco’s diagnostic spells flare out around him at the same time, and he watches them carefully. Sees the way Harry’s magic expands from the flat of his palm through the walls. Feels the way the long-dormant house magic responds with a tired sigh.
“One more time, please,” he says.
“I like it when you’re like this,” Harry responds with a smirk.
“All… official. Demonstrating your expertise.”
“Cast the spell, Potter,” Draco mutters with exasperation, hoping he isn’t blushing too visibly.
Harry raises his wand obediently. On the second attempt, something becomes clearer. A silver thread wending its way through the rest of the results.
Draco stares at it in disbelief.
“Were you born here?”
Harry shrugs and nods.
“In this house, Harry. Were you born in this house?”
Harry looks confused. “Apparently, yeah. I mean, it’s not like I remember it or anything.”
Draco leans heavily against the wall, rubbing hard at his eyes with the heel of one hand. “Your absolute lack of understanding of even basic magical theory will never not astound me.”
“Yeah, well, I had a few other things to focus on when I was at school.” He tries to make it sound like a joke, but it has a bitter edge.
Draco straightens up, looking around again at the damp, mouldy carpet and the peeling wallpaper. “You’re right, I’m sorry.” Harry looks startled. It’s so easy to unsettle him by just behaving like a human being, and that feels devastating to Draco.
“The place of your birth has magical significance,” he explains gently, “and if you’re born in your ancestral home, the weave between your magic and the house magic is very strong. It amplifies the power of both in certain ways. It’s why purebloods would never consider anything other than a homebirth.”
Harry chuckles distractedly, running his hand back and forth over the swollen wood of the water-damaged stair rail. “’Course not. Why would you want to be in a hospital with the best possible medical care? But this isn’t a wizarding house, is it? I mean, it doesn’t feel magical, the way Grimmauld does.”
“Not now, no. It’s so badly damaged. But the diagnostic charms show that it once was.”
“When we came here, the first time. Before Hermione and I saw the sign. I wondered if maybe it hadn’t been repaired because it couldn’t be fixed. If it was like, injuries from Dark Magic. But then I saw the sign and that they’d chosen not to, as… as a memorial.”
Draco nods, understanding the point Harry’s wrestling with. “They could have fixed it in the conventional sense. Replaced the roof and so on. But you were right as well. The house can’t be whole until the Confarreatio rings are restored. It will just be a house, in the way that my flat is just a flat.”
“Do you miss it?”
Draco’s become accustomed to to the way Harry changes topic without preamble. “The Manor? Yes and no. I couldn’t ever reconcile myself to living there again, but I was glad to see the power of it restored to my mother.”
“What will happen when—” he trails off, embarrassed. Draco would make a joke about how morbid it is to be planning for the death of a parent, but the setting they’re in makes it more than a little inappropriate.
“Mother plans to gift it to charity. One of my side projects is working out how to preserve the house magic in those circumstances. Something akin to Hogwarts. A house without a paterfamilias. It’s sort of complicated.”
He worries for a second that Harry will find that patronising, but instead he seems a little misty-eyed. “I did always like your mother.”
“Yes, well. I’ll let her know she’s your favourite Malfoy. I’m sure it will make her day.”
Harry’s expression darkens into something far more provocative. “Definitely not my favourite.”
Draco rolls his eyes. “I swear you could get it up in a mortuary. Cast for me one more time.”
“It’s your wandless magic. I don’t think you have any idea how hot it is that you can do that.”
Draco feels his face heat. The very idea that a wizard as powerful as Harry can find Draco’s displays of magic arousing is more than he can cope with. But he also knows that Harry’s only flirting with him to distract himself from their surroundings.
He finishes taking the notes he needs quickly, conscious of the way Harry’s eyes keep darting around the decaying house. Draco feels a bit guilty for having brought him here. He forgets, sometimes, that still waters run deep.
“Right, all done. Do you want to get something to eat in the village?”
Harry looks distracted and restless. “Nah, I think I’m going to go home and go for a run.”
They close the door carefully behind them. It sags a little on its hinges. Harry doesn’t look back.
Over the years, Draco, Ron, and Hermione have often commiserated about how much work it is to keep primary-aged children occupied when they’re not at school over the holidays. Draco’s very proud of himself for never once saying “that’s what house-elves are for,” and really, seeing the happy, confident little boy that Teddy’s become, he wouldn’t trade his upbringing for the kind of stiff formal life he’d lived at the Manor anyway. But every time half-term rolls around, he’s freshly reminded just how exhausting it is.
Years ago, Ron suggested a group strategy using Quidditch metaphors about zone defence that had Hermione rolling her eyes but made a certain amount of sense to Draco. So now they pool their resources, getting Teddy and Rose to spend their breaks together and bringing in a rotating cast of friends and extended family to keep them entertained. This Easter is no exception.
Neville spends time with the children in the garden at Grimmauld Place, showing them how to plant herbs and vegetables, and with one disastrous exception involving Honking Daffodils, manages to keep their Herbology experiments safely non-magical.
Ginny takes them to a Harpies training practice and they come back with a full set of charmed souvenir figures that they immediately set to flying around the flat. The second time a tiny Seeker flies into Draco’s kneecap, he threatens to confiscate the whole team unless they can keep them in Teddy’s bedroom.
Even Draco’s mother contributes. Narcissa has never really warmed to Teddy the way Draco might have wished her to, but she’s always pleased to see him. She lets him and Rose spend an afternoon in the stables with the Abraxans under the watchful eye of Mipsy the elf, and then feeds them both a truly outrageous array of tiny cakes so that they’re practically thrumming with sugar by the time they get home.
This Easter holiday, of course, they also have Harry in the mix—at a loose end and with a boundless supply of energy. It’s a relief, in some ways. Draco’s work on the rings is becoming unbearably complex, and having Harry around means he can keep at it.
“It’s going to take me a little longer,” he concedes one evening, as Harry and Draco levitate the children up the stairs to Teddy’s bedroom. The pair of them had fallen asleep in front of a movie that they’d sworn they were absolutely not too tired to watch.
Harry doesn’t seem annoyed as he tucks the covers around Rose and waves his wand to sweep away a particularly spiky plastic dinosaur before Draco steps on it.
“How much longer?”
“Two or three weeks, I’d say. I thought I’d be able to work under less protection by now—that’s what slows me down—but I’m not there yet.”
Harry nods, turning out the light and softly shutting the door as they leave Teddy’s room. He pauses on the landing and gently catches Draco’s arm. “Is it too dangerous?”
“Of course not,” Draco scoffs and pulls away before he’s forced to confront the way Harry even asking that question makes him feel. “I’m sorry your plans will be further delayed. Let me know if you want some help picking out a birthday present for Teddy.”
Harry gives him an inscrutable look. “No, that’s okay. I know what I want to give him.”
The Easter break seems to afford Harry an opportunity, or an excuse, to continue to repair the relationships he’d left behind after school. He doesn’t talk to Draco about it, but Draco can see the softening of Hermione’s expression when she’s around him and the increasing ease with which Ron carries himself. On Monday, Draco Floos to the Burrow to collect Teddy and finds Harry and Molly sitting at the kitchen table, Harry’s arms wrapped tightly around her and tears in her eyes. They both startle as Draco comes through, and seconds later Molly has busied herself at the counter, packing up boxes of leftovers for Draco and Teddy to take home. Harry just gives him a small wistful smile.
Both Teddy and Rose seem completely enamoured with Harry now, particularly when he uncovers an old motorcycle that belonged to Sirius Black in a garden shed at Grimmauld and announces that he and the kids are going to fix it.
“What on earth do you know about Muggle motor mechanics?” Draco scorns, incredulous.
“Nothing,” Harry responds with a shrug. “That’s what the internet is for.”
It seems like a recipe for disaster, but Draco decides it’s Andromeda’s problem and leaves for work. He feels like he’s on the verge of a breakthrough with Lily’s ring, but it’s disorienting. Harry’s mother’s magic is getting under his skin in ways he can’t fully articulate. He finds himself thinking about Harry all the time. And not just in a physical way that could be accounted for by all the shagging.
A few days later, Draco comes out of Gringotts and stops at the coffee cart for a latte. Two witches on the street opposite do a double-take when they see him, murmuring to each other as they hasten away. Years ago, he had to put up with this whenever he went out. Muttered hexes, rude names. And he’d borne it, head held high, because there will always be some part of him that feels it’s what he deserves, regardless of what his Mind Healer has to say on the subject. But gradually it became less and less frequent. The press coverage swung slowly from scathing to suspicious to grudgingly complimentary. So when the barista hands him his coffee and he turns to find someone else in the queue literally pointing him out to her friend, he’s pretty sure his day is about to take an unpleasant turn.
Most people have the Prophet home-delivered, but there are Knut-boxes full of them outside Madame Malkin’s and Flourish & Blotts. Well, usually there are, but today Draco finds both of them inexplicably empty. He tries not to panic as he heads into Caper, the lunch spot Pansy loves on the corner, and finally finds a rumpled copy stuffed under a couple of magazines. Sure enough, there above the fold is a picture of him and Harry. That slimy little git in the park had taken it, but he’d been careful to sell one of just the two of them, reclining back on their elbows in the grass, Teddy nowhere to be seen. The giant headline screams HE WHO MUST HAVE NO SHAME.
The article is just as prurient as you’d expect from Skeeter. He swears that Kyle sodding Travers is the “source close to the couple” who has described their “heated embraces” at the Bent Wand. He’ll hex his ballsack to the floor the next time he sees him. The innuendo is terrible, and it does everything but call them a pair of deviants spitting in the face of the Victory Day celebrations. Draco’s furious. And hurt. He’s spent years carefully rebuilding his name and jealously guarding his privacy. Then Harry shows up, and overnight it’s all blown up in his face.
He throws the paper in the bin and goes straight to Ottery St Catchpole, planning to collect Teddy and head home. Hermione is in the kitchen, kneading what looks like bread dough. He gives her a questioning look.
“Camp bread,” she says, sneezing a little as flour gets up her nose. “My bread always goes weird if I use magic to knead it. I don’t know how Molly does it.”
“Planning to go camping?” he asks, confused. Teddy and Rose were supposed to be looking for wrackspurts in a nearby wood with Luna this afternoon, but he was pretty sure there were no tents involved.
“Ron came home early.” She gives Draco a strange look. “He’s outside. Decided we needed a campfire.” She puts the dough in a bowl and passes it to Draco, then balances a couple of bags of giant marshmallows on top.
“Nutritious,” he scoffs.
She reaches up on tiptoe and fetches a bottle of Firewhisky and three glasses. Suddenly, it clicks.
“Ah, you’ve seen the paper then.”
“Don’t. It’s fine. Gods know there’s been a lot worse said about me in that rag. It’s not fit to line an owl cage.” He turns quickly before she can interrogate him and heads out into the garden.
Ron has quite a blaze going in the firepit. It’s going to take ages to die down enough to cook on without magic. Draco’s about to open his mouth and tell him as much when he realises what Ron is actually burning. Copies of the Prophet. Hundreds of them, by the looks.
“What the fuck?!”
“Language, mate,” Ron chides, nodding in the direction of Teddy and Rose, who are sitting with Luna stripping twigs off long spindly branches to make good toasting sticks.
“What did you do?”
Ron looks a little sheepish, even as he scrunches another Prophet into a ball and lobs it into the flames. “Confiscated them.”
“On what possible grounds?”
“Still working on that bit,” Ron admits, as the fire lets off a whoosh of sparks. “Just saw the Knut-boxes full of this trash and sort of… grabbed them and Apparated home before I really thought about it.”
Draco doesn’t know what to say to that, his throat thick with emotion.
Hermione emerges from the house with her liquid first aid and pours glasses for Draco and Ron. Luna takes the bowl of bread and shows the children how to roll long worms of dough around the sticks they’ve prepared. She produces a bag of currants from somewhere, and they stick eyes in the top so that their creations look a little like snakes.
“Christ, mate. You’ll need to get those flames down if we’re cooking,” Harry calls, coming around the side of the house. He kisses Hermione on the top of the head and accepts a drink. “Wait, what are we burning?”
Draco watches as he bends to scoop up a copy of the Prophet off the top of Ron’s dwindling stack, scans the ugly headline, and then, incredibly, tips his head back and roars with laughter. The whisky turns to ash on Draco’s tongue.
“You’re not fucked off?” Ron demands, presumably forgetting to moderate his own language around the children, and casting another wad of pages at the fire. “I’m mad as hell and it’s not even about me.”
“Nah, they’ve only ever printed trash about me, haven’t they?” He keeps scanning the page. He still hasn’t even looked at Draco. “The infamous pair flaunted their questionable relationship before a traumatised war orphan… What a pile of shit.” He tosses the paper back on the stack.
Draco feels Hermione sit beside him on the bench, her knee pressing gently against his.
“You should still complain,” Ron grouses, digging out his wand and waving it at the firepit, watching as the magic causes the flames to die back down to angrily glowing embers.
“No point,” Harry shrugs, straightening up. “I’ll be gone in a couple of weeks. They can write whatever they like.”
Hermione’s knee knocks against Draco’s.
“Teddy!” Harry calls. “Show me your bread worms.”
“They’re not worms, Harry! They’re snakes!” Teddy, Rose, and Luna bring their sticks over to the fire and Draco takes the opportunity to go inside. He shuts himself in the bathroom and splashes cold water on his face.
It shouldn’t matter.
It doesn’t matter.
Harry told him he didn’t care about this when Draco warned him it would happen that night back at the Wand. If Skeeter’s crew want to write some bitchy little articles about us, so what.
It’s just one story. Harry will leave. Skeeter will find something else to catch her fancy. And in a few weeks, people will stop pointing at him in the street again. Probably. He takes a deep breath. He’s just tired. He’s spent too long with the rings this week and his core is overextended. He needs to finish this wretched job and then take a holiday. Somewhere warm, where he can sleep on a sun lounger all day.
He finds his satchel where he dropped it in the kitchen. Harry can see Teddy home. He doesn’t need to stick around.
Draco opens the back door. “I’ll leave you to it,” he calls. “I have some reading I need to get on with.”
Teddy waves a charred and smoking stick of bread in his general direction. Hermione gives him an all-too penetrating stare that he immediately looks away from. He’s gone before Harry can even turn around from the fire.
Andromeda insisted weeks ago that Teddy could choose five friends, and no more than five friends, for his birthday party.
“Chessington is expensive,” she explained to him, though afterwards when Draco offered to pay for more children to attend she rolled her eyes at him. “It’s not the money, trust me. You do not want to be in charge of more than six of them at a theme park.”
Draco wasn’t sure he wanted to be at a theme park at all, but he’d offered Teddy several more suitable wizarding party ideas and they were all rebuffed. Teddy wanted his Muggle school friends to come. And so that meant something called laser tag or rollercoasters, apparently. At least the rollercoasters were outdoors. Draco’s learned the hard way that large groups of children at indoor venues like bowling alleys and skating rinks are a lot more noise than he can handle. Thankfully, because Rose was obviously invited, Hermione gallantly offered to come along. And when it turned out Harry would still be in town, he volunteered at once after hearing about the rollercoasters. Andromeda looked quietly relieved.
Draco had originally intended to take the whole group on the train, but Hermione gave him a look that suggested the idea was ridiculous and told him that she would drive. Draco had never bothered to learn, still finding Muggle motor vehicles unnecessary and frankly terrifying. Hermione was unbearably smug about her driving license. Any time it came up, Draco found himself exchanging a loaded look with Ron.
“Where on earth did you get that?” he yelps as she pulls in and parks in front of Draco’s building in a ludicrous oversized van. She practically needs a step ladder to exit her seat. She helps Rose down, who calls an abrupt hello to Draco as she tears past him to join Teddy and the others.
“I hired it,” she says, as if that should have been completely obvious.
“It’s enormous,” he complains. “How do you even drive something like that?”
“Think very carefully before you make a joke about my feet reaching the pedals, Draco,” she warns, walking past him up the steps. “Did you think we were going to transport six children and three adults in that beat-up old Anglia?”
Draco’s embarrassed to realise he hadn’t given it much thought. He’s never sat inside the Weasley car and assumed it worked a bit like the Knight Bus. Plenty of room for everyone.
In the front room of Draco’s flat, Harry is helping the children lace shoes and shrug back into jackets that had been discarded when their parents dropped them off earlier with sympathetic expressions. “I really admire you for doing this,” Keith’s mother whispered to Draco, in a way that suggested Chessington World of Adventures was going to be exactly that. Teddy’s Muggle friends always visit at Draco’s decidedly normal flat. It’s complicated enough disillusioning Teddy’s magical toys and books before a playdate without having to try to explain away the sorts of things Grimmauld Place can do on occasion.
Draco steels himself as he accepts a backpack from Andromeda that has an expanding charm on it and literally everything they could possibly need inside: snacks, clean clothes, a first aid kit. The children are vibrating with excitement.
“Let’s go!” he says, with considerably more confidence than he feels.
The drive is uneventful, despite Draco clinging to his seat belt any time Hermione so much as taps the brakes. The theme park itself is as enormous and garish as Draco expected, but the sheer joy on Teddy’s face makes it worthwhile.
Hermione makes a half-hearted attempt at interesting the children in the zoo animals but is immediately drowned out with a chorus of “Rides! Rides! Rides!” And so that’s what they spend the rest of the day doing. Harry has as much enthusiasm as all of the children put together, so Draco and Hermione largely leave him to it, sitting together at benches and picnic tables around the park while Harry queues and screams and then queues again.
“He really loves it, doesn’t he?” Hermione laughs, as Harry and the children wave at them frantically on their way to rejoin the line for the Runaway Train. Harry’s hair is a chaotic halo around his head and his eyes are shining. He looks exhilarated in a way Draco’s becoming all too familiar with from their after-hours activities.
Draco hums noncommittally. “Just don’t get him started on how the only true rollercoasters are wooden and at Coney Island. It’s considerably less interesting than I’m making it sound.”
The Rattlesnake meets with average reviews from Teddy when he runs over, demanding a snack. “The ride to our vault at Gringotts is better,” he complains, grabbing a packet of string cheese that Draco swears is not actually food and causing Draco to wandlessly throw up a silencing charm just in case there are Muggles closer than he realises. Teddy is pretty good about code-switching and knows when he can and can’t talk about magic, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry. Hermione valiantly subs in for Harry for a spell, who sinks to the park bench alongside Draco, digging in his bag for an apple.
“That fast drop at the end was pretty good,” Harry muses.
"I bet I could dive faster than that on my broom, but Draco won't let me." How high Teddy is allowed to fly is a constant source of disagreement between them.
"He's keeping you safe,” Harry says around a mouthful of apple. Draco is no less appalled by the way he eats now than he was fifteen years ago. “I can tell you, it's a lot less exciting diving from that height when you've fallen off your broom!"
"You fell off your broom?!" Teddy looks horrified and impressed at the same time.
"He did,” Draco confirms. “Several times. Told you he was a rubbish flyer." Harry elbows him in the ribs.
After a lunch of overboiled hotdogs and sickly blue fizzy drink, Hermione spreads out the park map on the picnic table. “Where to next?”
Teddy’s friend Keith points. “Dragon’s Fury!”
Hermione and Harry wear identical expressions, bursting with not being able to laugh out loud.
“Dragon’s Fury it is,” Draco agrees, with a smirk at the pair of them, stacking their food trays.
When they get to the ride, Hermione takes one look at the spinning coaster and her face turns a little green. “Rock, paper?” she asks, turning to Draco.
“There’s little to no chance of emerging from that ride without being covered in regurgitated hot dog,” he scowls, wishing he’d agreed to laser tag instead.
“Let me. I’m great with dragons,” Harry says with a wink, corralling the children off to the line.
And with kids, Draco thinks, watching Harry crouch to help Marcus retie a shoe.
“Are you sure you know what you’re doing?”
He turns to find Hermione eyeing him speculatively.
“Avoiding getting vomited on? It will be blue, you know. He’ll never get the stains out.”
“I get it. He’s unlike anyone else. Magnetic. You can’t help but be drawn in.”
“But he won’t stay, Draco. He doesn’t settle anywhere. With anyone.”
He drums his fingers on his knee. “It’s just a bit of fun,” he lies, looking up at the woosh of the carriage rocketing past them, all of the occupants screaming bloody murder. “People can shag without it meaning anything.”
“People can,” Hermione says quietly. “I’m not sure you can. I don’t want to see you get hurt.”
Draco stands, unwilling to carry on the conversation. “It’s fine. I’m a big boy, Hermione. The Chosen Prick isn’t so remarkable that it’s ruined me for other men.” He tugs the park map out before she can say anything else. “Look, there’s a Haunted House. That ought to be hilarious.”
Another two hours and the children are exhausted, so it’s easy for Draco to bribe them back to the minivan with ice creams. Once Teddy’s Muggle friends have all been collected by their parents, they head to Grimmauld Place and collapse around the kitchen table. Ron brings Hugo through the Floo, and Andromeda makes chicken soup. Teddy and Rose have rallied enough to keep up a constant running commentary filling her in on their day.
“They strap you in your seat! They don’t even trust you to hold on!” Rose says, as if that’s preposterous.
"And there was a Haunted House! And there wasn’t a single real ghost! It wasn’t scary at all," Teddy chimes in. Draco refrains from pointing out that the animatronic ghosts had caused both children to shriek all the same.
Teddy’s eaten far too much junk food all day to warrant a birthday cake, but Andromeda brings one out of the pantry anyway. Rose gives Teddy her family’s gift, the new Saurex dinosaur Teddy’s been hinting at for weeks.
Draco gives him a large wrapped box. Teddy tears it open to reveal a Nintendo Wii and whoops with delight.
Draco laughs. “You’ll have to be careful with it around your Muggle friends. It’s the charmed version, so next year you’ll be able to use a wand with it instead of the—” he waves his hand helplessly, forgetting the word.
“Wiimote!” cries Teddy, eyeing the box. “Draco, this is so cool.”
“Whoa,” agrees Rose, clearly green with envy.
Teddy is delighted, hugging Draco tightly, and immediately launching into a lengthy explanation of the game console to Ron.
“It’s too generous,” Andromeda chides, but Draco just shrugs.
“You only turn ten once. Besides, next year he’s off to school, and we won’t get as much time together. It’s nice to have something to do with him before then.”
“And one last one from me,” Harry interrupts Teddy’s running commentary, patting a grateful Ron on the arm as he passes over a small wrapped gift.
Teddy pulls off the paper to reveal a square hand mirror. It’s old and filthy-looking. Teddy turns it in confusion. Across the table, Hermione sucks in a sharp breath.
“It’s a mirror?” Teddy looks as puzzled as Draco feels.
Harry pulls out a small Mokeskin bag from which he digs out a broken shard of glass. “It’s part of a pair. I broke mine, unfortunately, but it still works. You just say my name into yours, and we’ll be able to talk to each other.”
“Like walkie talkies!” Teddy enthuses, looking at the dirty glass with renewed appreciation.
“Exactly,” Harry laughs. “That one belonged to my godfather, Sirius Black, and mine used to belong to my father. This way, when I go home to America soon, you’ll still be able to talk to me.”
Even Ron seems awed by the gift, in a way that suggests there’s a lot more to the story than Draco knows. Ron murmurs, “Mate, when did you…”
“I went to see Aberforth last week to get the other mirror back,” Harry mumbles, waving him away as if it isn’t important, though he’s flushing a little in embarrassment and reaching for his drink.
Teddy wraps the mirror carefully back in its paper and puts it on top of the stack of DVDs Andromeda gave him. “Can Rose and I go and play now?”
“Half an hour,” Andromeda says, “while we finish our dessert. Then you need to get cleaned up for bed.”
Later, when Andromeda’s gone to bed and the Granger-Weasleys have all stepped through the Floo, Draco comes out of the pantry to find Harry leaning in the doorframe, watching him clean up.
“Will you stay?”
Draco shakes his head. “It’s confusing for Teddy,” he says, when what he means is, It’s confusing for me.
Draco spends all weekend at the Manor, buried in his research. He feels like he’s in the home straight now, like the answers he needs are so close. He was planning a quiet Sunday night in the tub when Harry unexpectedly bangs on his door with a bottle of Firewhisky and a filthy smile. It turns out Draco’s tub is plenty big enough for two.
“Want to get dinner tonight?” Harry asks, as he rolls out of Draco’s bed the next morning. “I can get Teddy from school and take him home. Meet you when you finish work.”
“Can’t. I have to meet Neville to finalise things for Friday. Order of ceremonies. And some crisis with the seating plan for the VIP dinner.”
“So dumb,” Harry teases, digging around in Draco’s drawer for a pair of socks. “You don’t mind, do you?” he asks, waving a pair over his shoulder. It ramps up Draco’s irritation.
“It’s not dumb,” he mutters icily, buttoning his shirt cuffs. “Neville’s put a great deal of work into this.” As have I, he doesn’t say. As have all of your friends.
Harry just shrugs dismissively. “Stuffy formal dinners always seem pretty pointless to me. I’ll still get Teddy today if you like, give you a bit longer at work.”
Of course, Draco thinks, feeling sour. The sooner I finish, the sooner you can go. That’s all this is about, after all.
He spends the morning seething and frustrated, getting very little actual work done. He meets Pansy for lunch, relishing the sunshine warming Diagon, and they choose an outdoor table at Caper.
“Wine, darling? Or are you casting again this afternoon?”
Still annoyed about Harry’s attitude, Draco orders a bottle. “I’ve done enough for the day,” he says with a scowl.
“That’s the spirit,” Pansy says with an approving smile. “Trouble in paradise?”
It flows out of him in a rush. “He’s just so bloody selfish, Pans. Completely unable to appreciate the hard work of others. Inserting himself in Teddy’s life when he’s just planning to leave again. Stealing bloody socks he won’t ever return. House-elves have more extensive wardrobes.”
The look Pansy gives him is awful. Draco wants the ground to open up and swallow him. “Oh, darling,” she whispers, her eyes wide and filled with pity.
“Don’t.” Draco shakes his head, swallowing hard. “Don’t. It’s not…it’s fine. I’m just a bit muddled up at the moment. His mother’s magic is very strong, and I spend all day surrounded by it, and so of course I end up feeling out of sorts. It’s nothing.”
“It’s not nothing, Draco. It’s never been nothing between the two of you.”
“It doesn’t matter,” he manages, taking a large sip of wine, the rosé sharp and floral on his tongue. “I’m almost there. I’m going to have the rings stabilised in a few days, and he’ll be on a Portkey home straight after.”
“And then what?” she asks gently. He hates it. Her whole demeanor makes him feel fragile, like he’s going to fly apart at any moment.
“And then nothing.” He straightens up a little as he says it, trying to imbue the words with a confidence he doesn’t feel. “I had a whole life here before Harry sodding Potter came along. And it will continue after he’s gone.”
He figures if he says it confidently enough, he’ll eventually come to believe it.
His tent is packed neatly in a canvas backpack, his clothes and toiletries in his dragonhide overnight bag. Harry, as ever, is being petulant about the whole thing.
“It’s a waste of time.”
Draco doesn’t want to get drawn into it again. They’re not going to convince each other; there’s no point in continuing to discuss it.
“You’ve made your feelings on the subject clear,” he says evenly, zipping a small bottle of hangover potion into a side pocket. He’s made the mistake of not taking any before and regretted it deeply. Finnegan, in particular, likes a lot to drink when the formalities are over.
He’s not even really sure why Harry is here, sitting on the end of his bed, watching him pack a bag. They’d talked about going to the Wand, but Draco has an early Portkey and he’s not really in the mood, and Harry seems distracted and out of sorts. Like he’s spoiling for an argument.
“I don’t know why everyone expects that just because I’m here, I’d want to go back to Hogwarts.” Out of sorts is perhaps being charitable. Teddy as a toddler was better on his worst days.
“Perhaps they believe,” Draco says calmly, “wrongly, as it turns out, that your previous absences were merely as a result of you being out of the country. And that as you’re here this year, you might like to be involved.”
“If I go, then the whole thing is suddenly about me, isn’t it.” He doesn’t really express it as a question. “They want me to give a speech, to relive the whole thing, and I don’t want to. I don’t know why anyone would want to.”
Draco hums noncommittally and wonders if he needs another pair of socks. “I’m sure Neville will do a fine job of the speech.” And then, more quietly as he rummages in a drawer wondering how many pairs Harry has made off with, “He has done every other year.”
“I don’t even understand why you’d want to go. It’s not like you can possibly have any good memories associated with that day.”
All at once Draco’s had enough, and he shoves the drawer closed with a bang, wheeling on Harry, blood rushing in his veins.
“Good memories? For the love of Merlin, who has good memories about it?! You really think your Gryffindor friends go there every year to clap each other on the back and congratulate one another? That’s disgusting! We go to mourn the dead. We go to remember their sacrifice. We go to commemorate the victory, so that we don’t forget! So that it never happens again.”
He’s shouting now, but he can’t help himself. And Harry, it seems, is more than ready for a fight, launching himself up to his full height and crowding into Draco’s space. It takes Draco straight back to Hogwarts, the two of them, toe to toe, rounding on each other. Full of venom and righteousness.
“It wasn’t a victory,” Harry seethes. “Calling it a victory is… It wasn’t… We didn’t win anything. It was just an ending. All I did was make it stop!”
Draco doesn’t give an inch. “Can you really believe, even for a second, that I of all people feel like anything was won that day?”
Harry looks stricken for a moment, and then like a puppet with its strings cut, collapses back down to sit on the bed.
Draco is still teeming with rage. “You can choose to deal with your grief and your trauma any way you damn well please, Harry! Or, as is clear in your case, not deal with it. But don’t you dare presume to tell anyone else the right way to deal with theirs.”
“I think you should leave.” Draco’s furious. With Harry. With himself for getting into this situation. All twisted up with someone who is leaving. Who was supposed to be a casual fuck, and instead is getting deeper and deeper under his skin every day in ways he’s absolutely refusing to examine too closely.
Harry’s head jerks up, and he looks shocked and disappointed, but Draco needs him out of his bedroom. Out of his life, before he says things that can’t be unsaid.
“I’m serious. I have an early Portkey. You need to go.”
Draco turns back to fiddle with the socks in his drawer and waits until he hears the woosh of the Floo before letting out a shaky breath.
The weather on Friday is beautiful. Draco Portkeys to Hogwarts with Teddy and Andromeda, who are both staying in the castle. The school puts on tours and performances throughout the day, ending with an exhibition Quidditch match, and they wander together around the school grounds. For Teddy, who turns eleven in a year, it’s unbearably thrilling, even given the serious circumstances. He squirms with excitement, trying very hard to sit still while the History of Magic students present their assignments on the war, and he’s absolutely entranced by the moving staircases and the ghosts. Draco is proud of the work the Memorial Trust has done over the years. It’s nice, he thinks, that Teddy will be able to start school here knowing his family's place in the history of Hogwarts. His parents’ legacy is properly honoured, left neither raw and unspoken, nor as mere stories in a textbook.
Hermione is still disappointed with Draco for insisting on staying out on the grounds. “You’ve worked as hard as Neville on this,” she says with a frown. “You’re just as important a guest as any of us. You should be at the dinner tonight.”
Draco waves away her protests for the dozenth time. “We both know not everyone feels that way. Besides, I’m very happy out there with the hoi polloi. And I guarantee that the meal I’ve had delivered from Epicure is better than whatever slop you’ll be getting in the Great Hall with the VIPs.”
It offends Hermione’s sense of fairness and her fundamental belief in redemption and second chances. He loves her very much for it, but it doesn’t change anything.
“I’ll see you for breakfast in the morning,” he assures her, giving her a hug as he heads outside.
The Hogwarts house-elves have set the wizarding tents up in neat orderly rows on the north field, like a small canvas town. He uses a locating charm to find his own and enjoys a really extraordinary Côtes du Rhône with his dinner before taking a book to bed.
He’s in that hazy state before sleeping when his magic surges over his skin and he’s suddenly wide awake, feeling the angry bend of the wards. He reaches for his wand as he hears a scuffling noise and a curse outside.
“Draco, let me in.”
Of course it’s Harry. He gets out of bed as he waves his hand at the canvas door. It’s as if Harry was leaning on it, because he practically falls into the tent.
“Are you drunk?”
“No. A little. I tripped. Why didn’t your wards let me in?”
“Because I didn’t expect you? Remember last night and the whole, I don’t want to, you can’t make me?” Draco sing-songs it like a child, in a not very veiled attempt to ease the hurt he’s still carrying about their row.
“I didn’t sound like that,” Harry laughs, oblivious, looking around the tent. “Anyway, you might have been right. About some things. Not all the things.” He pauses. “This place is amazing. It’s nicer than your flat.”
“No, it’s not.” Draco scowls, appalled. “It’s a tent.” He wants to know which things Harry thinks he was right about. He doesn’t want to ask.
“I know tents. I spent a year in a tent. This is something else.” Harry wanders around the open plan living area, running a hand along the sleek polished wood of the small dining table and pausing in front of the bookcase. Whenever he jokes about seventh year, it sets Draco’s teeth on edge. A fresh reminder of the blasé way Harry covers his pain. He spins around to face Draco again. “It has a staircase to nowhere!” he says, clearly delighted, pointing to the corner where an oak spiral staircase winds up to meet the canvas roof.
“It goes to the second floor, you idiot,” Draco sighs. “Which obviously I don’t bother opening up if I’m staying here alone.”
Harry’s grin is intoxicating. “I like your jim jams.”
Draco’s about to defend his Liberty Tana lawn cotton sleepwear, but Harry’s already waving a lazy wand at him to slide the buttons from their holes.
“Swear to Merlin, if you make a joke about liking them better on the floor I’m throwing you right through the wall of this tent.” Draco tugs his pyjama jacket closed, crossing his arms across his chest. “This isn’t really the time or the place for a quickie, Potter. What are you even doing here?”
“Still mad, huh?” Harry says, and steps even further into his personal space. “Come on, you know you’ve always wanted to fuck me at Hogwarts.”
Which is true, of course, but it doesn’t make it any less infuriating. Tomorrow is important to Draco, and he’s irritated beyond the telling that Harry can just turn up here to live out a teenage wank fantasy. But not irritated enough, apparently, to tell Harry to leave.
“Come on,” Harry wheedles again, and in the near-darkness Harry’s hand reaches his hip, fingers tracing intriguing patterns on the skin above his pyjama waistband. “I can see a giant bed through there. Why don’t you fuck me through it?”
And, really, Draco’s definitely not strong enough to object to that suggestion.
Draco wakes to the sound of Harry in the shower. A glance at the clock shows it’s still early. He has more than enough time to dress and prepare himself for breakfast in the Great Hall before the more formal ceremonies.
“All yours,” Harry says, emerging in a cloud of fragrant steam, naked and towelling his hair. “Water pressure in there is definitely better than your flat.”
“It’s a tent,” Draco retorts reflexively, trying not to get distracted by Harry’s stag tattoo having pranced across his back as he heads into the bathroom. With any luck, by the time he gets out, Harry will be dressed and gone.
But when he comes out he’s startled to discover that Harry is still there, thankfully in his underwear and a t-shirt now, rummaging around in a bag he must have had shrunken in a pocket the night before. Draco pauses, watching silently as he drags out a rumpled set of dress robes.
“Could you charm these for me?” Harry asks without turning around. “I’m rubbish at ironing.”
Draco’s throat is clogged with all the things he wants to say, all the questions he wants to ask. But the moment feels impossibly fragile and he thinks if he lets any words escape at all, he’ll destroy something important. So he tugs the towel around his waist a little tighter and takes the robes from Harry in silence, suspending them on a hanger against the wardrobe door beside his own and spelling them clean and crisply pressed.
When he turns back, Harry’s still standing in front of his bag, holding a flat jewellery box in his palm. Lying within, on a bed of red silk, is a medal. His Order of Merlin, First Class, Draco realises with a start. Harry stares at it for what seems like an age, a puzzled expression on his face, before reaching some sort of conclusion and carefully closing the box, stuffing it back deep in his bag. Draco busies himself with putting his own robes on and says nothing.
They join the flow of people leaving their tents and walking up to the castle for breakfast. The mood is respectful, rather than sombre. Conversation around them is quiet. The long tables in the Great Hall have been separated into dozens of smaller settings, and they sit with Ron, Hermione, and Neville. If anyone is surprised to see Harry there, they cover it well. He powers through breakfast with a vaguely haunted cast to his face. Eyes darting up and around, at the charmed ceiling, the house banners. There’s more than one kind of ghost, Draco thinks.
The weather is cooperating, for once, and the memorial ceremony takes place outside on the grounds. Hundreds of white folding chairs sit in bright contrast to the green of the lawn. Draco heads towards a row at the back, as is his habit. He feels Harry hesitate for a second beside him, unsure whether to accompany his friends to the front row or not. Draco doesn’t wait for his decision but feels a warm sort of comfort when Harry takes a seat beside him a moment later. He looks almost nondescript in his plain black robes. Hunched. Very unlike the war heroes at the front with their medals and coloured sashes. Now and again, Draco catches someone recognise Harry with a start, surprised to see him there at all, let alone in the back row. But this isn’t a day for pointing and gossip, so they tend to just murmur and keep walking.
The ceremony itself is spare. Less grief-laden than those held in the early years. No one wails any more, though a few quiet tears still escape.
Hermione is the one to bring proceedings to a close, taking Hugo up to the stage with her, cradled in her arms.
“We have an obligation, to this next generation.” Her voice carries under a gentle Sonorus across the still spring morning. “To remember the things that they will not. The Muggles have a poem that they read at memorials like this as a tribute to their fallen, and I would like to close with those words.
“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.”
Behind Draco, the voice of a soloist lifts up in song as the proceedings end and people begin to file out quietly. Beside him, he feels Harry’s hand trembling a little on his knee. He places his palm over it and gives a soft squeeze.
When they come back to London on Sunday, Harry is distant and thoughtful. Draco leaves him to his own devices, going home to unpack and then curling up in an armchair with his notebook to sketch out the last steps of his plan for the stabilisation spells.
Monday morning, he feels energised. He heads straight to the vault, antsy in the cart beside the goblin as he goes over the incantations again and again in his head. He forces himself to slow down once he gets inside, casting and double-checking the safety wards before drawing out his own protective magic. He doesn’t bother to transfigure a table this time. He’s too keen to get started.
The counterpoise charms he’s using are designed to slide into the gaps in the rings’ magic, almost like a prosthesis. If he’s right, the spells will hold the rings in balance. Not repaired—not whole—but no longer dangerous.
He takes a deep breath, consults his notes again, and begins to cast.
It takes a long time, and when he finishes, he’s sweating and tired. He sits cross-legged on the floor as he fires out his standard set of diagnostics. He could almost cry with relief at the results. Silver, white. Not a negative result threaded among them.
He gets to his knees and reaches tentatively across the stone floor for the rings.
Finally able to be touched, they sit quietly in Draco’s palm. They’re at peace for the first time since he encountered them. The magic thrums, unanswered and unresolved, but no longer restless. They seem smaller than he imagined, having loomed so large in his imagination for the last few weeks.
He tucks the rings back into the little velvet pouch and puts them in his pocket. Technically, he should leave them here for Bill to sign off with the rest of the items, but Bill won’t mind and Draco can sign the paperwork later. He’s too excited to get out of here and show Harry.
He takes down the safety wards for the last time and seals the vault, Flooing straight from Gringotts to Grimmauld Place.
He finds Harry in the kitchen having just finished lunch. Teddy’s at school, and Andromeda is at St Mungo’s volunteering in the Janus Thickey Ward.
Draco pulls the velvet bag from his pocket in triumph.
“You’ve fixed them?!” Harry gasps, glancing from the rings to Draco’s face and back again in quick succession. He doesn’t make any move to take them.
“No, I’ve neutralised them. Stabilised the magic so that Bill can complete the vault clearing requirements and release everything.” Draco is beaming. It’s such a massive accomplishment that he’s still having trouble believing he’s actually managed it.
“What does that mean?” Harry frowns, which is not quite the reaction Draco was expecting.
“Right now the rings are just rings. They’re in a kind of stasis, I guess, is the best way to describe it. They can’t hurt anybody, but they also can’t do anything. They’re about as powerful as a plastic ring from a Christmas cracker.”
“So the magic is still there, just… suppressed?” Harry’s still speaking in this strange, flat tone. It wasn’t as if Draco expected to be swept off his feet with hugs and champagne and congratulations at his great triumph, but maybe a fraction more enthusiasm than this would be nice. He doesn’t understand what’s going on.
“Yes. For them to work again, and for the relationship between the rings and Potter Cottage to be restored, there’s more that would need to be done.”
Harry seems distracted, and Draco’s not sure he’s fully understood what he has achieved, which is, frankly, groundbreaking.
“So, you’ve done… what we agreed?” Harry asks, and Draco nods slowly. He has. The vault is cleared. That was the deal.
Draco waits. The silence in the kitchen becomes thick.
He’s been so stupid.
It’s not like he hasn’t known all along that Harry wanted to get home as soon as possible. Draco had thought—Salazar, what a fucking idiot. He’d thought that he’d come here and show Harry, and that Harry would be delighted and proud. And some naive part of him, somewhere buried deep in his heart, thought that Harry would surprise him. That he’d ask him to complete the work on the rings so they were fully restored. That he’d say he would stay until that was done. He’d thought Harry sitting there beside Draco at the memorial had meant something.
He’s been so very stupid.
He hates that he’s found himself here. That, for every time Harry has clearly said he’s going home to New York, Draco has somehow fooled himself into hearing something different. Blaise was right all along. This was never going to have a happy ending.
“I guess it doesn’t really matter anyway,” Harry is saying, and his voice seems very far away. “I mean I don’t need them fixed properly. I just needed the vault sorted so I can go home.”
Draco opens his mouth and closes it again, bile rising in his throat. It feels like a punch in the chest. Not even a thank you. No hint that Harry even cares.
“You could have gone home any time,” he says carefully, over the sound of blood rushing in his ears. He doesn’t say: You could have gone home before you did this to me. Before you snuck into my life and made me care about you. Before your mother’s magic wrapped around me like a blanket. Before I knew what you looked like when you slept.
Harry gives him a strange look that Draco genuinely can’t decipher and suddenly turns into a small tornado of energy, snatching plates up and setting them in the sink, stacking a pile of paperwork at one end of the table and stuffing it into a folder. As if he means to pack up and leave this instant, this afternoon. Just walk out the door and go.
“Yeah, I mean I could have,” he says, still not paying any attention to Draco or the way he’s frozen rigid in his chair, hands clenched tight in his lap. “But I mean, I guess I thought you still needed me to be here, at the cottage and whatever. And now you don’t. So I can go.”
“What?” Draco is so heartbroken and so confused. His head is pounding, and his shirt is clammy where his sweat has cooled, and his arms ache, and he can’t understand how this day has unravelled so fucking quickly.
“I can go home. I’ll arrange a Portkey in the morning. For, maybe Thursday, yeah. Gives me a day to throw some stuff in a bag and say a proper goodbye to Andromeda and Teddy.”
“Right,” Draco manages, and he tries not to let his voice waver. “Of course.”
“So I’ll see you tomorrow, maybe. Say goodbye to you, too, you know.”
Draco can’t think of a single thing to say that isn’t fuck you.
“You’ll be at the Wand, right?”
He nods, but of course he won’t be. He’s already planning to call Hannah the second he leaves here and tell her he can’t make it. Mother has a collection of Portkeys at the Manor that are already set for the house in Provence. He can be there in a couple of hours, enough time for an elf to open up some of the rooms. There’s no way in fucking hell he’s going to sit around waiting for whatever scraps Harry bloody Potter wants to throw his way.
“So I’ll see you then,” Harry says, inexplicably picking up a rag and wiping at an invisible spot on the kitchen bench. He’s already as good as gone, the distance between them as wide as the Atlantic.
Draco doesn’t even walk to the Floo. He’s in tears before the whirl of Apparition ceases, landing off-balance in his front room. It’s only later he realises he still has the velvet bag containing the Potter rings clutched in his hand.
Harry’s apartment has a musty, closed-in smell, and he throws the windows open to try to get the air moving. He stacks the Gringotts boxes in a line against the wall, propping the empty portrait frame on top. There’s a pile of mail that’s been shoved under his door, but it’s all rubbish. Credit card offers from banks and begging letters from Muggle charities who must have bought his name off some database. He’s tired and can’t bring himself to go out for food, so he orders a pizza and collapses in a heap on the couch. Dust particles whirl up around him. He’d forgotten how annoying his aging refrigerator sounded, humming and clanking away in the kitchenette.
The noise from the traffic outside is constant, interrupted with honks and sirens. The din he used to find comforting now sounds deafening compared with the genteel quiet that surrounds Grimmauld Place. He can’t believe how loud it is. He shuts the windows again in frustration.
He should fire-call Andromeda to let her know he’s home safely, but it feels like too much. For the first time, not having a Floo in his apartment feels annoying. He doesn’t move.
His departure from London had been sudden, in the end. As sudden as his arrival, when he thinks about it. Once it had become clear that Draco didn’t intend to… that he’d done what he’d been paid to do with the rings, there wasn’t a reason for Harry to stick around. He’d packed his things and signed off the vault paperwork with Bill and had a final dinner with Teddy and Andromeda.
He’d thought about going to the Wand the night before he left. But it was too raw. He was so disappointed that Draco hadn’t felt the way Harry wanted him to. Seeing him for another night of clearly meaningless sex after that seemed pointless, no matter how good it would have been.
Harry had been so sure.
His friends and family all told the same story. Draco went above and beyond for each of them with their Confarreatio. By all accounts, he basically invented entirely new branches of magic to restore to them what he felt they were owed. But with Harry? He did the bare minimum and was done. Just enough to complete the work they’d agreed on months earlier. The bloody rings weren’t even fixed, by his own admission. Just put on ice, like burying radioactive waste in the ground. Draco couldn’t have been clearer about how he thought of Harry.
It’s for the best, Harry reasons. He’d been in Britain long enough, really. It was time to come home. Sure, it hadn’t been nearly as outdated and stifling and old-fashioned as he feared, but it wasn’t home. And Harry’s not sure what he was expecting. He’s terrible at relationships, and it’s not as if he could imagine getting better at them with Draco Malfoy, of all people. It had been fun. And that was that.
His first night’s sleep is fitful. His bed feels lumpy and uncomfortable and not at all like he remembers.
The next morning, he knocks on his neighbour’s door. Mrs Russo is apologetic, but Cassie hasn’t been around much lately. “I did try,” she says, her florid face sad. “She didn’t seem to take to me.”
Harry swallows over a lump in his throat. He hasn’t thought much about his stupid cat in the last few weeks, but he feels unaccountably emotional at the idea that she might be gone.
“It’s okay,” he reassures his neighbour. “She was a stray. Always had a pretty big independent streak.”
“Oh.” Mrs Russo seems relieved. “I assumed she was yours.”
It’s too hard for Harry to explain that the idea of actually actively choosing to have a pet had always felt like too much responsibility. And that Cassie had more or less adopted him, rather than the other way around. He hopes she’s doing okay.
Better than he is, in any event. He feels tired and scratchy. Dislocated by being back somewhere familiar and having it not feel very familiar at all.
He texts Elsa to say that he’s home, and they arrange to meet the following day. She’s made do at the school this intake with two student teachers, and Harry’s keen to hear how it’s all gone. He buys an egg and cheese at the deli on the corner and goes back up to his apartment. It feels so small, after Grimmauld Place. Maybe it’s time to look for somewhere with a little more space.
Harry sits cross-legged on the floor and pulls the first of the Gringotts boxes toward him.
When he looks up a little later, two hours have passed and he feels utterly wiped out. He’s not sure what he expected, but not this. Not the banal evidence of a young couple’s domestic life. Framed photos of his parents together at school and in the years after. A postcard from Greece with Love, Moony and Padfoot scrawled across the back. A cookbook with his mother’s notes in the margins. A dog-eared Muggle romance novel. His father’s school scarf. He pulls out a small cloth dragon. Hugo has one just like it. He tries to imagine Dumbledore walking around the devastated cottage. Did he choose these things deliberately? Were they supposed to have meaning or did he scoop them up at random with some sort of spell that packed these boxes? Harry takes out a carved wooden jewellery box, lifting the lid. Inside are a few pieces that must have belonged to his mother. A pair of pearl earrings. A brooch with green stones in it. Tangled at the bottom is a simple silver chain. On impulse, he takes it out and fastens it around his neck.
It’s too much, all of a sudden: this life his parents lived and had snatched from them. This life he was supposed to have had, with toy dragons, and a mother who baked, and a godfather who sent him postcards when he was on holiday.
He stuffs the contents back into the boxes and stacks them back against the wall.
When he comes out of his bedroom the next morning, rubbing sleep out of his eyes and heading straight for the coffee machine, he’s startled to discover the portrait frame is no longer empty. A dapper little wizard with a sleek swooping head of grey hair is waving at him.
“Hello!” the portrait says, beaming. “It’s so very nice to see you!”
“You look such a lot like my son James. No question you’re from the family line! How many generations? I lost track of time a little over the years.”
Harry is astonished to realise this is his grandfather.
“James was my father. I’m Harry.”
“Fleamont Potter, Harry. The last time I saw you, you were a baby!”
The oil-painted figure looks around the edges of his frame, taking in his surroundings. He doesn’t seem that impressed. “It’s better than the vault, I suppose. There is daylight at least. And a little better than the ruin. Not so damp.”
Harry looks around his apartment. It’s small, sure, but it’s sufficed until now. It’s certainly bigger than a Gringotts vault. He’s not sure what the portrait means by a ruin.
“I don’t understand, Harry,” his painted grandfather goes on, with a gentle, diplomatic tone. “Have you fallen on hard times in some way? Is the fortune lost?”
“No!” Harry finds himself indignant. “Your fortune is fine. It’s still in a vault.” Where I probably should have left you, he doesn’t say.
His grandfather nods. “It’s just… forgive me, but you’re living in these squalid Muggle conditions, and you don’t seem to be wearing the family ring. Have you fallen into vice?”
The rings. Harry slumps down on the sofa, running a hand through his hair tiredly. They’d been in a little velvet bag. He remembered Draco holding it as he explained the work he’d done.
“No. No vice. The rings were damaged when James and Lily died. A… friend… of mine is fixing them.” Was fixing them.
Fleamont seems skeptical but nods. “Where are we then?”
“Brooklyn, New York.”
“The Americas,” his grandfather whistles. “Well, be a good lad and get me up on a wall. Somewhere near a window would be nice. Haven’t seen the sun in a while.”
“I’ll get a hook when I’m out.”
He meets Elsa at Tom’s Restaurant, their standby diner, for cheap sandwiches and egg creams.
“You’re a sight for sore eyes,” she says as she hugs him. Her buzzed hair and piercings make her seem much tougher than she is. Elsa is a giant softie. “Was it as awful as you thought?”
“Awful?” Harry tries to think back two months to before he left and it’s hard. He feels like he’s lived an entire lifetime in the intervening weeks.
“You’re always going on about how awful England is. How every wizard there’s got a stick up their ass. How they’re all stuck in the eighteenth century with their pointy hats and their stupid traditions.”
Harry laughs but it rings a little hollow. “It’s changed a bit. Even got a Whole Foods now.”
Elsa rolls her eyes. “What do you call it when the gentry gets gentrified?”
Harry shrugs and snags another chip. Fry, he corrects himself. He’s spent weeks with Teddy teasing him about using the wrong words for things. Now he’s going to have to switch back. He shakes his head. It doesn’t help to think about his godson.
“How’s work? The kids?” he asks, desperate for a change of subject.
Elsa lights up as she fills him in on the programme. The success of the last intake. How one of the trainees managed to introduce a new technique that was reducing wild magic incidents even further.
Harry keeps thinking about Teddy.
“Harry?” Elsa snaps her fingers in front of his face and he glances up, startled. “You were a million miles away.”
“Sorry. Portkey lag. What were you saying?”
“Just asking when you wanted to come back. I’ve got plenty of help with the kids between Mike and Allison. But let me know what you want to do.”
Harry turns the idea over in his mind. He should get back into his routine here at home, but there’s something holding him back.
“Thanks. Soon, I promise. I just want to sort through this stuff I’ve brought back of my mum and dad’s. Get it all squared away.”
He’s not even sure what he means by that. There’s nothing to square away. Boxes full of memories from a life he doesn’t know, packed up for him by a man who died without telling him anything about it. But he doesn’t feel ready to stack them in the closet and get on with his life. He’s honestly not sure why.
Elsa gives him a curious look but doesn’t question him any further. “Well, I’m glad you’re back. Those dusty old English wizards don’t deserve you.” She gestures at the waitress for a coffee refill.
Harry rubs at his eyes tiredly and feels a little lost.
“That’s enough now,” Draco calls to Teddy, who is flying a few feet away, attempting some reckless manoeuvre that looks like it mimics the rollercoasters he went on for his birthday. “We’ve got to go and get cleaned up before dinner.”
Teddy’s whine, all too familiar this week, starts up before Draco even finishes speaking. “But Harry said…”
It takes everything Draco has not to raise his voice. “Harry isn’t here, Teddy,” he bites out. “I am. Let’s go. We’re eating at the Burrow tonight, so we can’t be late.”
Teddy scowls as he dismounts, his hair the colour of a thundercloud. Draco doesn’t take it personally. He knows who Teddy’s really mad at, and he certainly doesn’t blame him.
“Besides,” he says, as he gathers their things, folding up the picnic blanket he’d been sitting on. “You’ve got the new copy of Adventure Wizard you wanted to show Rose.”
It’s enough to distract Teddy, who is mid-sentence about the comic when Draco Side-Alongs him and is remarkably still talking as they land.
Teddy has a shower and manages to clean off most of the grass stains. Draco pulls out clean clothes for him and fetches a bottle of wine from the pantry.
Ron is barbequing when they arrive at the Burrow, a beer in one hand and a Muggle tool he uses to poke at the fire in the other. Rose and Victoire are playing in a tree down the back of the garden and Teddy immediately takes off to join them.
Hermione comes out of the house with two glasses of wine, passing one to Draco. He waves the bottle he brought with him. “Straight from Provence.”
“Stick it in the chiller over there,” she says with a smile. “We have plenty open already.”
“Can I help?”
“No, Molly’s made so many salads that they’re all we’ll be eating for a month. Fleur got herself banished from the kitchen for chopping something wrong and so I decided not to risk it. You’re well-advised to steer clear.” She drops into a patio chair near the barbecue, and Draco joins her.
She looks down at where the children are playing by the hedge.
“How’s Teddy holding up?”
“Grumpy,” Draco admits. “Nothing I do is the way Harry does it, apparently.”
Hermione hums sympathetically. “It will pass. Harry was new and shiny, and Teddy’s just missing him.”
Bill comes out of the house with another beer for Ron, the two of them chatting amiably about work. Draco’s glad they’re not really listening as his simmering frustration threatens to boil over.
“He hasn’t even talked to Teddy on that stupid mirror since he left. I don’t know why I expected better, really. But I’m furious that that rootless layabout’s lack of attachment is affecting Teddy.”
Hermione arches an eyebrow. “Rootless layabout’s lack of attachment?” she repeats with a laugh. “Tell us how you really feel.”
“Well? Am I wrong? He ran away to America after school, and as far as I can see, he has never stopped running. He doesn’t own a house, a car, or even a fucking pair of socks. He hasn’t held down a job or a relationship, with friends or lovers, for any extended period of time. He can’t commit to anything, not even a gym membership.”
“Are you surprised?” she asks.
“Why wouldn't he be like that? Nothing for him has ever lasted. Everyone died, everyone left, every glimmer of hope he had was always snuffed out within hours. He was let down left and right by adults he should have been able to trust. And in the end, he learns that he wasn’t even supposed to survive at all. He was supposed to walk calmly into Death's welcoming arms. So he did.”
It’s suddenly very quiet in the garden. He can hear the fire under the grill crackle and pop.
“I’m sorry he hurt you, Draco. I know he didn’t mean to,” she says softly. “And I also know how hard it is to watch him walk away.”
Draco’s determined not to cry, even as tears burn hot and bright behind his eyes, threatening to spill over. He takes a deep breath and a large gulp of wine.
Ron claps him on the shoulder abruptly. He realises Bill has taken over at the barbecue. “Thought it was time we taught those kids how to throw gnomes!”
Hermione rolls her eyes, but she’s smiling.
“Brilliant,” says Draco, absurdly grateful for the reprieve, wiping at his face with his sleeve. “A Galleon per gnome?”
“Rubbish,” Ron responds, waiting for Draco to deposit his glass and join him. “It’s not about volume, it’s about distance.”
When they get home later that night, Teddy is exhausted and happy, nattering about his gnome-throwing technique to Draco as he gets ready for bed. Hermione is right. Teddy will bounce back.
Draco’s just not sure he will.
He opens the drawer of his nightstand and takes out the velvet pouch, turning the cool silver of Lily’s ring over in his hand.
The rings are what got him into this mess. Maybe the rings can get him out.
When Harry stumbles to the kitchen the following Monday, he’s puzzled to discover Fleamont’s frame is empty. Not that he cares, really, but he’s gotten used to his grandfather’s cheery greeting in the mornings, and it’s strange to be confronted with nothing but his painted wingback chair.
He’s not there on Tuesday, either, and Harry starts to worry a little. He’s never asked Fleamont where his other frames might be. His grandfather’s only ever talked about this frame being in the vault, and then a “ruin.” Still, Harry figures some oil paint can’t have gotten itself into too much trouble.
He decides he needs to snap himself out of the funk he’s been in ever since he got back to New York. The first thing he does is buy a new set of pots and pans. Elsa is dumbfounded.
“You never cook.”
And that had been true, of course. Before he left, he’d subsisted on a steady diet of diner food and takeout. But when he was at Grimmauld Place it felt like a practical way he could contribute. He was more or less useless at looking after Teddy, which Draco kept demonstrating even without meaning to. And Andromeda wouldn’t let him buy anything, claiming Harry giving her the house and the vault meant he’d tipped the scales for life. But he still knew how to cook—he had the Dursleys to thank for that— and so the kitchen became his domain. He was surprised to discover he absolutely loved it, and the idea that he could now go back to living on greasy boxes of kung pao chicken seems preposterous.
“What even is this?” Elsa asks, rummaging in his grocery bags as he tries to unpack around her.
“It’s an eggplant. Aubergine. Whatever.” He’s still tripping over the words he’s supposed to use here, which he hasn’t done since he first moved to New York.
“Really?” she pulls a face. “I think I’ve only ever seen them cooked. They’re weird.”
He waves his wand, and the eggplant and all the other vegetables sail into the crisper drawers in the fridge.
“You’re using magic way more than you used to,” she notes, eyeing him speculatively. It’s not untrue, but it still feels like a criticism.
“Do you want penne arrabiata or not?” he asks irritably, and she holds her hands up in surrender and goes to sit on the sofa. They chat about their students and plans for the coming semester. An Ilvermorny rep wants to visit in a month and so they talk about what they could show her, Elsa taking notes in her giant looping scrawl. It makes him think about Draco’s tiny, neat handwriting.
He always knew Draco was clever. But he hadn’t ever been confronted with the reality of it. The piles of research neatly stacked around his flat that could rival Hermione’s. The rows of neatly labelled notebooks representing years of work. His truly formidable accomplishments. It all conspired to make Harry feel unqualified. Inadequate. Draco needed to be with someone who had a giant brain like his own. No wonder he was happy to see Harry as nothing more than a shag.
Later in the week, Harry finally gets around to unpacking the last of his luggage from the trip, throwing the dirty clothes in a bag to take to the laundrette—laundromat—and suddenly irrationally frustrated that he doesn’t have the space to just set them washing with magic. He tips the duffle upside down and shakes it. A balled-up pair of black socks falls out. Draco’s socks are a mystery to him, soft and high-quality. They always matched, and they never left a pinched mark around his ankles from being too tight. They never made his feet sweat, and they never had holes in them.
Merlin, but Harry’s a fucking mess. Getting maudlin over a pair of socks.
He assures himself it will pass. But literally everything around him seems to be conspiring to remind him of Draco. The sign at his local coffee shop advertising a new open-mic night. A graffitied advertisement at his subway stop with a picture of a rollercoaster. The No-Maj Memorial Day commemorations on the television. Two months in Britain have turned his life upside down and he can’t figure out how to right it.
He goes to Metropolitan Bar, a favourite since he’d started going for drag night with Nigel and Thomas years ago, which is packed with enough men to have already largely defeated the air conditioning. Although that might be on purpose, judging by the number of them on the dance floor with their shirts off. He pushes his way through the crowd to the bar and orders a drink. It doesn’t take long before a tall Latin guy presses up alongside him, suggesting they get to know each other. Harry lets himself be tugged through the crowd, surrounded by hot, sweaty bodies grinding to a thumping bass, and out to the shadowy back patio.
It should be exactly what he needs. The guy is hot; fit without being muscle-bound. Tall, and with a possessive hand on the back of Harry’s neck that telegraphs he can give Harry exactly what he’s chasing. A chance to forget. He leans in, his mouth pressed to Harry’s neck, and Harry desperately wants to lose himself in the sensation. But everything about it is wrong. The bar is wrong: too crowded, too hot, too loud. The guy is wrong: wrong hair colour, wrong height, wrong cologne. He thought he could scratch this itch the way he used to, but instead, he finds himself shaking his head apologetically and fighting his way back through the bar to the street, desperate for a lungful of air.
The temperature outside is humid and the sidewalk is busy. He presses himself back against the cool glass of a shopfront trying to stop his head from spinning. All he can think about is Draco.
Pansy is absolutely laden with shopping bags when she walks in the Champagne Bar at Harrods, handing them off to a beleaguered-looking waiter and kissing Draco on both cheeks.
“New season?” he asks.
“Lord, no. I picked all that up in Paris last month. This is merely recreational.”
He orders them a bottle of Perrier-Jouët and Pansy’s favourite crab and rock-shrimp dumplings, while she launches into a bitchy and hilarious re-telling of some scandal that unfolded at Paris Fashion Week. Draco could care less about the people involved, but Pansy’s tales are always hilarious and just on the right side of mean-spirited.
“And how are you, darling?”
The question sounds innocent enough, but Pansy never really asks how he is. Not flat out like this, anyway. Draco is immediately on edge, trying to think about how to divert her.
“Fine. Good, actually. The crowd at Shout Out is bigger than ever. They’re planning to enter a float in the London Pride parade this year. Though I swear to Merlin if I have to listen to one more witch sing ‘I Kissed a Girl,’ I’ll hex her throat closed. I’m so sick of hearing about cherry chapstick, you have no idea.“
Pansy laughs, but it rings a little false. She’s still staring at him too appraisingly.
“And work? Are you working again?”
He shrugs. “Not yet. That job was draining. I could do with the rest, to be honest.” They both know he means it in more ways than one. “Provence was lovely, but I didn’t stay long enough. You should look at your calendar. Perhaps we could go over together for a week.”
“Have you heard from him?” She’s like a dog with a bone. He’s not escaping this conversation, however much he might want to.
“Of course not,” he sighs. “We were just shagging, Pans. We’re not going to be owl pals.” He wishes it didn’t sound so bitter when he says it, like he’s some jilted teen.
Pansy is quiet for a long moment, and he steels himself for more, but then it’s as if she finally decides to let him off the hook. “Have you heard about Blaise’s threesome with that Wizengamot hack McCarley and his wife?”
Draco pulls an indignant face. “No!”
Pansy claps her hands in delight, and they both settle in for a more familiar and much more comfortable routine of gossip and wine and snacks for the next hour or so.
“Where are you off to now?” she asks as they pay the bill.
“The Manor. I have a couple of books I want to find.”
“I thought you said you weren’t working?” Pansy chides.
“I’m not… I just… I have an idea about the rings.”
“Potter’s rings?” She looks horrified. “Oh darling, no.”
“I’m not… it’s not…” He struggles to explain himself without sounding defensive. “He left them behind, Pans. He doesn’t give a shit about them. But I’ve spent weeks with them, and you know I never like to leave something unfinished.”
Her mouth is a thin, disapproving line. She doesn’t look remotely convinced.
Draco sighs. “I’m serious. This really isn’t about him anymore. He’s gone, and he isn’t coming back. I know that.” He does know that. But thinking about Harry is keeping him awake every night and plaguing him every day. Maybe if he fixes the rings, Lily’s magic will leave him alone.
“I’ve got my eye on you,” Pansy warns, pointing at him with one long, blood-red nail.
“Wouldn’t have it any other way, Pans,” he agrees, kissing her on the cheek.
“Send my love to your mother,” she calls over her shoulder as she stalks away, shopping bags swinging around in her wake.
Narcissa is still in Provence. She insisted on coming with him when he turned up at the Manor, in tears and out of breath, unable to do much other than shake his head and assure her that no one was in mortal danger. She called for an elf to pack them both a bag and retrieved a Portkey from her study. They were at the country house as the sun was setting. It had helped. Her presence was soothing, even as she bossed around the elves to change the linen and reset the table and bring up an entirely different selection of aperitifs from the cellar. She didn’t press him for details over coffee and pastry each morning, didn’t ask him questions as she took his arm in the farmers’ market, and didn’t pass judgement as he opened yet another bottle of wine each night after dinner. When he said he was ready to go home, she hugged him tightly and said she was going to stay on another week.
So he has the Manor to himself for the moment, but he hates it. The halls feel lonely and echoing, and he decides to find the volumes he needs on the role of love in spell and curse casting and take them home to his flat. Amor Omnia Vincit is stamped on the leather covers in gold. Love conquers all. He lets out a humourless laugh and slides them into his satchel. He makes a quick detour to Diagon to pick up the book he’s had Flourish & Blotts order in for him; an academic thesis on Voldemort’s return, with several chapters on the deaths of Lily and James Potter and the competing magical theories about what might have occurred that fateful night.
The champagne with Pansy has made him too relaxed to do any serious work, but he lies on his sofa with the books open around him and lets his mind drift a little, turning Lily’s ring over and over in his hand.
Thinking about the stabilising spells as a prosthesis is useful, he realises. The metaphor is a little clumsy, but he’s worked out that, in order to fix the rings the way he usually would, Lily’s ring first needs a kind of a transplant. If he can replace the missing parts of her ring’s magic, rather than just shoring them up as he’s done so far, he’ll be able to mend the pair of rings as he has done any number of times before. And the gaps, he’s coming to understand, the ruptures in the magic itself, have been caused by the way Lily died. Her ultimate sacrifice, borne out of her great love for Harry, tore the very magic from her line to defend him.
He closes The Rise of Voldemort and shuts his eyes, visualising the diagnostic spell lines, running the pad of his thumb around the edge of the ring.
It hits him suddenly enough that he sits bolt upright like a cartoon character, the book sliding off his chest. He knows exactly how to solve this problem. In fact, he probably knows how to solve two problems at once.
Finally, after almost a week, Harry comes out of his bedroom to a cheery, “Hello!” from his grandfather.
“Where have you been?” he asks, curious and strangely glad to have him back. He flips on the coffee maker and tries to find a clean mug.
“My other frame,” Fleamont replies, as if that should be obvious. “At Potter Cottage.”
“Godric’s Hollow?” Harry asks, surprised. So that’s what he’d meant about a ruin. “Was that where you were when this frame was in the vault?”
“Mostly,” Fleamont replies. “It was a depressing place to be, but better than always sitting in the dark. I slept in the vault, however, particularly in winter.”
One day Harry is going to have to get Hermione to explain portrait magic to him; he understands so little about it. But only when he has some extra time on his hands for all the reading she’ll inevitably assign him on the subject. Maybe the next time he has the flu.
“So why were you there this week?” He digs around in the cupboard for filters. If his grandfather says he still prefers a condemned building to this apartment, Harry’s tempted to take him down and let him spend some time in the closet.
“Just being nosey, really. Seeing what he’s done with the place.”
“What do you—” but before Harry can finish his thought, his phone rings. It’s Neville.
“What a brilliant surprise!” Harry exclaims. “What’s going on?”
“We had a small outbreak of starblight in one of the greenhouses, so I’ve closed them all for a couple of days of quarantine and treatment. Can’t be too careful. I thought I’d take you up on your offer to come see your school, if that’s okay.”
Harry’s delighted. “Of course, of course. Any time! When are you thinking?”
“I’ve landed actually,” Neville sounds a bit sheepish. “I was hoping you could give me your address.”
Harry is so pleased to see him. “You’re welcome to stay as long as you like. I can probably transfigure the couch into a bed,” he says helplessly, looking at the tiny amount of floor space and thinking of Neville’s six-foot frame.
Neville laughs good-naturedly. “It’s fine, Harry. Honestly. Hogwarts is putting me up in a hotel.”
He’s glad to be able to show Neville the school. From the outside it appears small and unassuming. Charmed to look like a slightly grim special education facility when No-Maj drive past, but in reality, brightly decorated with magical murals. It has a giant adventure playground and a half-size Quodpot pitch. The classrooms are plastered with posters depicting basic wand movements and remarkable moments in wizarding history.
“This is marvellous, Harry,” Neville says with real appreciation.
They pause as a bell sounds and knots of chattering students file past them outside for recess. A little girl of about six or seven has her hair up in vividly coloured pigtails that keep changing colour like Teddy’s. Harry feels something clench in his chest. One of her shoelaces is untied, and he stops her and helps her re-tie it, listening attentively while she gushes at him about her new friend who’s just started at the school and didn’t know that mermaids were real. She sounds outraged.
When he straightens up and sends her on her way, he finds Neville grinning at him.
“You’re good with children.”
In short bursts, he thinks. With kids, he only has to form a connection for the length of a class or a game or a semester. He’s not like Draco, whose parenting skills are amazing. The way Teddy raved about him and cared about him so much. The time and effort Draco poured into that relationship was so unexpected and so intimidating to Harry.
“Not all the students are Muggle-born?” Neville is still talking.
Harry shakes his head. “No, they’re a mix. When the programme started it was pretty experimental. That’s how I was able to be involved without any real qualifications. It was essentially started by a group of parents. We’re now about 60/40 No-Maj-born to wizard-born. The trick is finding the kids so much earlier. MACUSA’s been really helpful with that.”
Neville nods thoughtfully. “Minerva—Headmistress McGonagall—has some ideas about it, too. The Hogwarts rolls only complete themselves each year immediately before the admission letters are to be sent in July. We think that’s so the books aren’t full of the names of children who might never actually attend the school because they move away with their families and so on. Historically children didn’t always survive until schooling.” His face twists into a grimace. “Plagues, dragons, venomous plants and so on. Anyway, she believes she can work back from that roll magic to identify the children earlier, when they’re younger.”
Harry introduces Neville to Elsa, who gives him a broad smile and says, “Ah! The war hero!” which causes Neville to flush and look embarrassed. Harry realised when he was back in Britain that Neville still feels somehow that he’s an impostor who’s assumed Harry’s role in the wizarding world, and he doesn’t seem to be dissuaded no matter how often Harry assures him that’s ridiculous.
“Ignore her,” Harry sighs, jabbing Elsa in the ribs with a sharp elbow, causing her to yelp and smile.
“I’m so sorry, Neville, that was rude. How long are you in town for? Can we take you out tonight?”
After dinner they end up at Montero’s, their favourite dive bar, just under the highway in Brooklyn Heights. Everyone knows that Amethyst, who's run karaoke night there since anyone can remember, is a witch. When they arrive, an emo-looking guy is singing “Bleeding Love.” It makes Harry feel a little depressed.
He snaps out of it by heading to the bar to order drinks for the three of them, and they settle into an easy conversation about their respective students and the differences between their education systems.
Eventually, Neville pulls out his mobile, presumably to text Hannah.
“Fancy,” Elsa says, admiring the sleek new model. “I thought British wizards didn’t know about phones or computers or electrickery.”
Neville gives a confused laugh. “What?”
“Harry here is always bitching about how behind the times Britain is. No television. No idea what a google is.”
Elsa’s teasing is good-natured, but it makes Harry uncomfortable. The truth is he had used to bang on about how backwards everyone in London was.
“Turns out they’ve moved on quite a lot since I was last there,” he mumbles, embarrassed. And then, to Neville, “Tell Hannah I said hi.”
Neville tucks his phone away. “Oh no, I was texting Draco.”
Harry’s stomach sinks. “What? Why?”
“Ooh, who’s Draco?” Elsa asks, with a wicked grin, always able to sense weakness.
Neville seems oblivious to Harry’s clear discomfort. “Something you and I were talking about earlier today, about identifying magical children younger. He’s been doing all this work on consanguinal magic lately, for your rings. I suddenly realised I bet he’d be able to help Minerva with it. Reverse engineering the rolls.”
“What do you mean lately? Since I left?”
“Seriously, who’s Draco?” Elsa asks again, reaching between them for the ketchup and shaking the bottle vigorously over her tater tots.
“He was at the Hogwarts library last week, getting a book. So, yes?” Neville looks puzzled by the question. “Draco is my friend,” he explains to Elsa. “And Harry’s—“ he trails off and waves his beer bottle around vaguely.
Elsa looks way too interested, her smile just this side of a smirk.
“My nothing,” Harry says firmly. “An old school acquaintance and more recently a casual fling, nothing more. Why would he still be working on them?”
Neville laughs. “Are you serious? You know what he gets like.” Then he pauses for a long moment, considering Harry closely. “Or, maybe you don’t. Harry, this research is his life’s work. He absolutely disappears into it. He once burnt a hole in his hand when a ring imploded on him. He had to spend a week in Mungo’s when something went wrong and he exhausted his magical core trying to fix my parents’ ones.”
Just the idea of that makes Harry’s hand clench into a fist.
“But he wasn’t interested in fixing my parents’ rings,” he mumbles petulantly. “He put magical bandaids on them, basically. Ticked the boxes so I could go home.”
Neville gives him a look as if what Harry’s said is utterly ridiculous.
“Whatever you want to tell yourself, mate,” he says finally, shaking his head.
“Back to the fling part of this story,” Elsa interrupts, abruptly changing course when she sees the half-angry, half-pained look on Harry's face. “Or not. So, Neville. Herbology, huh? What could we get the kids working with here that won’t bite their fingers or escape the school grounds?”
Neville lights up at the question, and Harry picks at the label on his beer bottle as the two of them talk animatedly to each other about plants. Nothing about this makes any sense.
“Could you spare him?” he hears Neville asking.
“Right now is actually the perfect time,” Elsa says. “We took on an extra trainee to cover Harry while he was in England, so we’re technically overstaffed.”
“What are you talking about?” Harry interjects, confused.
“I really want to kick this programme off at home, Harry. Set up a feeder school for Hogwarts,” Neville says, an earnest expression on his face. “You don’t need to move or anything. Just consult with me by fire-call to start. Maybe come over and stay in Hogsmeade a couple of days a month. Whatever time you can give us, really.”
An absolute storm of emotion breaks inside Harry. Expanding the programme is something he and Elsa talk about all the time, and being able to set it up as an adjunct to Hogwarts would be amazing. He could see Teddy more regularly. And… everyone else.
It was one thing to go back to Britain with a built-in escape hatch. To tentatively start to mend the things he’d broken with Hermione and Ron, and with Molly. To see Ginny and Luna so happy. To spend time in Grimmauld Place without it being bleak and depressing and haunted. And to do it all knowing he wasn’t trapped there. He didn’t have to stay. That he had a home and a job and a cat to come back to.
What Neville is talking about would be different. More open-ended. This would be making longer-term plans. If he’s going to do this, he’s not going to half-ass it.
“You don’t have to decide now,” Neville says diplomatically. “We can talk about it later.”
The thing is Harry doesn’t really have a cat, any more. And Elsa just pointed out that he’s very replaceable in his job, which he’s not remotely offended by—it’s just a sign of how hard they’ve both worked. And the home isn’t so much a home as an apartment even his grandfather’s portrait prefers a dilapidated ruin over. So.
“I’d love to, Nev,” he says impulsively, and finds he really means it.
The village of Godric’s Hollow is much prettier now that it’s coming into summer, Draco thinks. Even the riot of Potter Cottage’s overgrown garden has a certain amount of charm. That is, until he has to force his way through a particularly vicious patch of scratchy vines to get to the front door.
Some small part of him feels like he should have asked Harry before he started coming here again. That doing this is somehow an invasion of privacy. But Harry’s said enough times that he doesn’t really care about the house or its magic, and Draco doesn’t feel like speaking to him just to hear him dismiss his work yet again. Besides, he has no idea if this plan will even succeed. If it does, and the rings can be repaired, then he can send them to Harry. If it doesn’t, Harry needn’t be any the wiser.
Draco walks past the stairs to the kitchen, the best approximation he has for the heart of the house. He pauses in confusion for a second because he usually has to circumvent an obstacle course of broken furniture, but the path seems clearer today. Maybe he’s misremembering things. There’s a table in the centre of the kitchen. Oak: too solid to have rotted away. Usually, he casts a couple of cleaning charms and transfigures a chair out of a cupboard door that’s fallen off its hinges, but the magic from his last visit must have held somehow because the table is still clear and the chair is waiting.
He takes out his notebook, the rings, the volume on love magic, and what he hopes will be the final piece of the puzzle: his old hawthorn wand, returned to him by some Ministry flunky after the war. He tried to use it and could certainly cast with it, but it felt wrong. Like trying to wear another person’s skin. Its allegiance was still firmly with Harry. Draco went to a French wandmaker and procured a new one, keeping this one in its slim cardboard box at the back of a drawer ever since.
The spell he’s adapting is one that’s designed to help the caster recover from heartbreak: Contritos corde. Pansy claims many a teen witch has used it, hoping to dull the memories of a lost love. In its original form, it’s a very mild form of memory charm, somewhere between a spell to take memories out into a Pensieve and a full Obliviate. Draco’s hoping to take the memories out, alright, but he’s not going to put them in a Pensieve. He’s going to use them to plug the holes in the magic of Lily Potter’s ring. The places where her love for Harry tore itself loose and became unstable.
It’s not the safest thing he’s ever tried, he’ll admit. And as a general rule, Draco stays the hell away from memory magic of any kind. But he feels like this is going to work, and he’s learned to trust his instincts. He goes over the components again: the magic of the house where Harry was born and Lily died, Lily’s ring. His own feelings for Harry, drawn out through the heartbreak spell. And the wand Harry mastered. He figures the absolute worst thing that might happen will be him losing the memories of his time with Harry, and that… that doesn’t feel like it would be the worst thing at all.
He takes a deep breath and begins to cast.
The first steps are quiet, methodical. Safety wards around the house to protect the rest of the neighbourhood, but nothing inside. He needs the house magic to be able to respond, not to be sealed away behind a barrier. And he needs to interact with the spell directly, so there’s no way to protect himself in this, either. Assuming this is successful, Hermione will be very cross with him when he tells her this part. If he tells her this part.
Next, he casts the familiar series of spells on Lily’s ring that he’s been using for weeks, gently unwrapping the damaged magic and exposing its frayed edges, rips, and tears.
Then he casts Contritos corde wandlessly, pulling forth the strands of his time with Harry over the last couple of months. The wild joy on Harry’s face while flying. The soft expression of concentration as he read to Teddy. Harry slicing vegetables in the Grimmauld kitchen. Harry bounding down the steps from a rollercoaster, eyes bright with excitement. Naked, clutching at the bedcovers as Draco presses into him. Laughing at something Luna said to him. Looking down at Draco on his knees behind the Bent Wand. Handing Draco a plate of scrambled eggs. Sliding into the bath. Bouncing his leg anxiously beside Draco at the memorial ceremony.
Draco exhales slowly as he finishes casting and holds the strands of memories in front of him like a glowing ball of yarn. He reaches for Harry’s wand. And gently, carefully, begins to incant each thread into place in the gaps within the ring’s magic.
Immediately, he feels the house magic begin to awaken, flexing around him. Angry, like the bend of intruder wards responding, even though he knows there are currently none standing. He keeps working, knitting the memories with careful, precise wand movements. The house magic seethes.
Draco has a chilling realisation. The last time the house magic was called upon at all, it would have been to fend off Voldemort. The cottage’s dying gasp was the same as Lily’s. Protect Harry at all costs. This is the last thing it remembers doing. And now that life is breathing back into its walls, this is the first thing it’s about to attempt.
He redoubles his efforts, weaving the threads delicately over and under one another, darning the holes closed. Around him, the house magic boils and rages. A door flies off a cupboard behind him, missing his head by an inch. The table rattles and shakes. He has only the smallest of rifts left, and he pushes the memories into them rapidly, feeling the hawthorn wand flex under his fingers. He’s shouting now, trying to cast over the noise of the rotten carpet in the hallway tearing itself apart and a series of floorboards popping loose. The glass in the kitchen window bends unforgivingly toward him. If it breaks, the shards will fly at him and there’s nothing he can do to protect himself. He’s down to the tiniest of stitches now, pulling the mended magic together. The unlit lamps all flare at once. The window frame begins to creak.
“Alea iacta est,” he breathes. “Finite incantatem.”
The sudden silence is absolutely deafening. All he can hear is his own ragged breathing and the thundering of his heartbeat in his ears. He looks around. The window has sunk back into the wall as if it never moved. The lamps have returned to a normal glow.
And there, sitting on the table in front of him, magic humming pleased and whole, is Lily Potter’s ring.
He exhales heavily, slumping back in relief, adrenaline still coursing through his veins. He puts the wand down and raises a trembling hand to cast the diagnostics.
Every single one of them is clear.
He places James’s ring alongside Lily’s and casts the final set of restoration spells. The rings glow a brief, vibrant green, and then settle.
Draco wants to cry. There’s a wellspring of emotion flooding up inside him that he hasn’t felt since the moment he restored his own parents’ rings all those years ago. It’s overwhelming, expanding in his chest. He hears himself let out a tired, choked sob.
He gathers his things. His first thought is that he wants to tell someone. He wants to head straight to the Burrow and share his success with Hermione, or go and show Andromeda what he’s managed to achieve. But as he tucks away the wand and the book and carefully closes the cottage up, the urge drains out of him. The only person he really wants to share this with is Harry. And Harry isn’t here.
With a sinking sensation, he realises that his memories may have worked beautifully for the repair, but they certainly haven’t left him or dulled how he feels.
He goes home alone and toasts his triumph with a full bottle of wine.
It’s only as he’s falling asleep on his sofa that he remembers the lamps at Potter Cottage. The ones that were still lit when he left. He should make a note about it, to return and spell them off, but he’s too drunk and too tired, and his eyes are closed before he can finish the thought.
Harry’s never spent any real time in Scotland in the summer, and he’s struck by how lovely the village of Hogsmeade is. His memories are mostly of it being bleak and covered in snow.
He takes a room at a new inn called the Siren’s Song and throws himself into working with Neville on plans for the new school. Neville’s found a fantastic property for it. A former convent with sandstone buildings, high arched windows, wooden floors, and plenty of land. Because the children will be so young, one of the first things they work on is how to utilise the Floo network effectively so that Muggle parents can take their children to local drop-off points near their homes. “No different than a school bus,” Harry assures him. “And they can always come through, too, if they like. We’ll teach them how.”
Neville gets approval for a team of magical alteration specialists to come and start fitting out the classrooms. It makes Harry think about Draco and the things he told him about the Hogwarts magic. These are Muggle buildings, of course, but as Harry presses a palm against a smooth stone wall one day, all he can think is that Draco would know how to fix that.
As the weeks pass, he spends a couple of days a month in Hogsmeade and an unreasonable amount of time back home in America with his head in a fireplace at the school in Long Island, making plans with Neville. Whenever he’s in Britain, he tries to get down to London to have dinner with Andromeda and Teddy, but he’s always careful to make sure it’s not on a Sunday. Andromeda never mentions Draco, and when Teddy does, she seems to be quick to change the subject. Harry supposes it’s for the best.
Neville is either oblivious or has a lot less tact, constantly mentioning that Draco is up at the castle working with McGonagall on the rolls and suggesting that Harry might want to join them at the school for dinner. Harry always declines.
The only contact he’s had from Draco himself in the months since he left was an invoice sent from his accountant for his work on the rings. Harry, clearly suffering a rush of blood to the head, thought he’d be amusing and sent the payment back with a note saying “You forgot our first business lunch at the Leaky,” adding the extra Galleons to the total. Draco never replied.
He flushes with embarrassment thinking about it even now.
Mostly, he’s fine.
Sometimes when he’s at the school he Floos down to have lunch with Hermione, who is now back at work at the Wizengamot. And other trips he has coffee with Luna and listens to her travel tales. He catches one of Ginny’s home games at the stadium near Manchester, but he skips the opening of Dean’s art exhibition. Teddy takes to using Sirius’s mirror to talk to him, though Harry figures that’s probably at Andromeda’s insistence.
The commuting soon starts to make him feel stretched thin. He never seems to be in the right place when he needs to be, missing Elsa’s birthday drinks because the planning commissioners schedule a meeting in Hogsmeade for that day, and missing Ron’s promotion celebration because it’s the Long Island school’s graduation ceremony. Every story someone tells him is about something he’s not been around for. Elsa has new in-jokes with the trainee teachers. Rose rolls her eyes when Harry tries to talk to her about her favourite comic-book series. “Those are for babies, no one likes those any more.”
He’s never wanted to feel tied down, but this seems like the complete opposite. He feels cut loose, and he doesn’t like it at all.
He’s checking back in at the Siren’s Song one Friday when Malcolm, the innkeeper, reaches under the desk for something. “Package came for you,” he says, passing over a small box.
Harry takes it up to his room, kicking off his boots as he collapses onto the too-soft bed, and opens the box. His heart sinks. Inside is a note and the small pouch he knows contains his parents’ rings. He unfolds the parchment.
Please find enclosed the nuptial rings that belonged to James and Lily Potter. Work has been completed on the restoration and repair and both rings are now able to be safely worn. No additional payment is required. The rings may form the anchor for a Confarreatio ceremony at any time in the future.
Harry feels torn apart inside. Draco has completed the work after all, but he’s done it in the coldest, most business-like way possible. He hasn’t even addressed the damn letter. Harry can’t decide if the absence of a greeting is better or worse than if he’d written Dear Mr. Potter across the top.
He takes out the pouch and slides the rings into his hand. His father’s ring is a warm gold. Plain, with simple lines etched around each edge. He slips it onto his finger and feels the pleasant hum of the magic, familiar and gentle against his skin. The recognition is immediate, like picking up his own wand.
His mother’s ring is more ornate. Twisted interlocking bands of silver. It feels cool to the touch. Without really thinking about it, he unfastens the chain of his mother’s hanging around his neck and threads the ring onto it. This way he can wear them both, the way Andromeda does. The cool weight of the metal against his chest feels heavy. He misses Draco more than he thought possible.
His grandfather notices as soon as he gets back to Brooklyn.
“Oh Harry, I’m so glad!”
“I was gone two days,” Harry says with a laugh, dropping his bag and digging around in the fridge for a Coke.
“I meant about you taking up the entail,” Fleamont says. “No wonder the house is so much better.”
“What are you on about?” Harry asks tiredly, looking around the apartment. It looks the same as ever. Cramped. Desperately in need of repainting. Too fucking hot now the full weight of the New York summer is upon them.
“Not here, lad. Your house. Now that the Potter family ring is back on your finger. I must say, you’re coming to it a little late in life, but it’s wonderful to see you shouldering your responsibilities. I’m sure there’ll be a lady wife and children in no time.”
It’s all Harry can do not to flip him off. He’s bleary from the Portkey and it’s a hundred degrees out and the last thing he needs is a painting of his grandfather reminding him that he hasn’t amounted to much. He’s certainly not coming out to a fucking portrait. So he ignores Fleamont completely, takes a cool shower, and falls into bed naked, asleep before his head even touches the pillow.
But of course, his grandfather is still there in the morning, discreetly looking in the other direction as Harry wanders into the living area without getting dressed, fumbling the air-conditioner on and longing for the spacious cool stone of the Grimmauld kitchen.
“So, we’ll be leaving soon?” Fleamont asks, when Harry’s deigned to shave and put some clothes on.
“We?” he asks, confused, staring at his schedule for the week ahead and trying to work out how he can get the documentation Neville needs for the Ministry ready by Friday. “Sorry, what?”
“To Godric’s Hollow. I assume you’ll need some time to pack your meagre belongings,” he looks around the apartment with a frown. “But not that much time.”
Harry feels exhausted. Draco sending back the rings has exposed a raw nerve, and every part of Harry feels abraded and sore. The last thing he needs is his senile grandfather giving him grief.
“The Cottage is rubble, you daft old fool,” he snaps.
Fleamont doesn’t so much as flinch. He tilts his head to one side, looking Harry up and down. “Obviously I’ve seen it more recently than you.” And then he calmly walks out of the frame.
Harry calls after him, suddenly feeling guilty, but his grandfather doesn’t come back.
He knows Harry’s back, of course. Skulking around Scotland. Sidling in to Grimmauld Place for dinner whenever he can studiously avoid seeing Draco. Just as itinerant and useless as ever, half living in an inn and spending his life on transatlantic Portkeys.
And the worst part is, Draco knows Harry’s making the effort to see everyone but him.
Teddy’s too young to realise the subject might be delicate, rambling on and on about whatever nonsense Harry has fed him lately, turning up at Draco’s sporting a head of messy black hair. Ron seems awkward and uncomfortable whenever he’s recently caught up with Harry for a beer. Hermione just gives Draco these terrible sympathetic looks that make him immediately want to get up and leave whatever room he’s in at the time.
But Draco? Draco’s heard from Harry exactly once since he left.
It was awful. He hadn’t even thought to stop his accountant from sending Harry the bill. Hadn’t even known it had gone, until the payment came back. And Harry, so determined to draw a sodding line under everything that had happened between them, had added on the amount of that first lunch they’d had together. The worst kind of insult to injury. Unwilling to owe Draco a fucking Knut.
Draco immediately gave the money to the Shout Out fund for the Pride float. He didn’t want to keep a single coin.
He knows he’s tempting fate by taking on the Hogwarts job, but he has to risk it. Headmistress McGonagall asked him personally, and when she explained the research she’d carried out so far, the opportunity to get to grips with the magic of the school rolls was too extraordinary to pass up, even on the off-chance he might run into Harry. Everything about the task is momentous, from the complexity of the roll magic itself to the ethics of being able to identify children with magic as soon as they’re born. Even being welcomed into the Headmistress’s office at Hogwarts is something Draco couldn’t have imagined for himself in the years after the war.
So he endures Neville’s running commentary about the amazing effort Harry’s putting in on the new integration school, and he bites his tongue so his venomous asides don’t escape. Minerva, as she’s insisted Draco call her, keeps asking Neville to extend the invitation to Harry to join them at the castle for a meal, but Harry obviously always declines.
Draco falls into a routine, spending the days he has with Teddy in London and the rest of the week at Hogwarts. It’s nice to be able to bring the students down for Shout Out in person, and comforting to be making new memories at the castle. Minerva gives him rooms in the staff wing for when he wants to stay over, and he often finds himself lost in conversation with Professor Vector about some arcane point of arithmancy in the staff lounge until late in the evening. It’s satisfying, and as the days and weeks pass, he finds himself thinking less and less about Godric’s Hollow and the cool press of Lily’s magic. Harry, though. The memories of Harry won’t leave him alone.
Eventually, it’s as if his act of pretending he’s unaffected starts to succeed. His friends don’t seem to dance around the topic any more, and in many ways that’s so much worse. Dinner at Ron and Hermione’s inevitably results in him accidentally complimenting some dish that Harry had given them the recipe for. Teddy’s quick to show off a new feint that Harry taught him. When Harry finally does grace Hogwarts with his presence for dinner—on a Monday, when Draco is in London, naturally—even the sodding portraits want to tell Draco how lovely it was to see him. Harry looms even larger in his absence than he had done when he was part of Draco’s life. Draco has to work so hard to keep his fake smile plastered on that his face begins to ache.
But he’s managing, is the thing. This awkward detente where the two of them seem to have silently divided Britain between them and gone on about their lives is working. Right up until Draco walks in to the Bent Wand one Wednesday night to find Harry sitting at the bar.
He looks good.
Outrageously, unfairly good.
Draco had somehow managed to convince himself that the fantasy version of Harry plaguing his dreams was just an overly flattering figment of his imagination. Confronted with the reality of him, in figure-hugging skinny jeans and a black shirt with the sleeves rolled to reveal an enviable summer tan, Draco realises his fantasy was drastically underselling it.
He experiences a strong fight-or-flight surge of adrenaline and briefly considers Apparating away immediately, but he pauses a second too long. Long enough for Harry to turn and catch him with those brilliant green eyes and the tentative beginnings of a smile.
“What are you doing here?” he asks, striding over to the bar and signalling Jason for a drink.
Harry smirks at him, as if they’ve gone back in time a couple of months, and Draco will simply be won over by his confidence and the glimpse of tattooed antler he can see across Harry’s collarbone.
“I figured this had gone on long enough,” Harry says with a grin.
“What has?” Draco says coolly, accepting the gin and tonic Jason passes him.
“Look, we had a good thing going, Draco. I really enjoyed being with you and I think—”
Somehow, in all his agonising over Harry, Draco hadn’t foreseen this particular horror. That he’d just turn up one day and attempt to smooth things over so they could go back to shagging. But it makes an awful kind of sense. Harry’s used to getting things his own way, and if he’s fashioning himself as some sort of transatlantic playboy these days, he’d obviously assume Draco was on board. And the absolute worst of it is that there’s still part of Draco that wants to say yes. To take him home immediately and tear the buttons off his shirt, shove his jeans out of the way, and kiss that prancing fucking tattoo.
“No,” he says firmly, even though the non-rational parts of him continue to strongly object.
Harry pulls up short, looking confused and almost sad. Which doesn’t seem right. He could do a single circuit of the bar right now and find at least half a dozen wizards gagging to take him home.
“I’m sorry, Potter, it’s my fault.” Harry positively flinches at the use of his last name, but Draco needs the distance, however he can manage it. “I said I could do casual and it turns out I can’t.” No need to tell him that Draco knew from the outset what a giant fucking mistake it was going to be and did it anyway.
Harry opens his mouth to protest, but Draco can’t hear it. He’s too weak, and he knows as soon as Harry makes some sort of filthy suggestion he’ll be tugging him through the Floo himself, all his resolutions to the contrary be damned.
“No, I mean it. What we had was brilliant, but I’m just not wired that way. I can’t have you swanning in and out of my life the way you swan back and forth across the Atlantic. I need someone who has put down roots somewhere. Someone who knows where they belong. Who owns a pair of sodding socks of their own, for Salazar’s sake. I know I can’t tell you where to go or what to do, but I’d sincerely appreciate it if you didn’t come here anymore.”
Harry looks utterly startled, his mouth hanging open in surprise. Draco supposes men don’t tell him no very often, particularly looking like that.
“Please, Harry,” he says softly, wishing it didn’t come out in such a broken whisper.
Finally, Harry gives a small nod, puts his glass down on the bar, and walks out without turning back.
Harry wasn’t sure why he went to the Wand, exactly. Or what he hoped to achieve.
But he’d started to feel like all these different pieces of a puzzle were gradually coming together, and there was a giant space where Draco should be. He wanted to ask Draco about house magic for the new school and have him explain, using far too much Latin and words Harry only understood about a third of, so that he could watch Draco gesture with his hands the way he did when he was animated about something. He wanted to talk to Draco about his work with McGonagall. He wanted to ask him whether buying Teddy Quidditch season tickets was too generous for a ten-year-old. He wanted to make him this chicken pot pie that he’d been practising that he knew Draco would describe as plebeian and pub food but would secretly love.
And instead, Draco thought he was only there for a shag.
Harry wanted to disagree with him, even though seeing Draco again did immediately make him want to sink to his knees right there in the bar. But there was something in the earnest way Draco said he wanted someone who knew where they belonged that made him freeze. It made all the words Harry wanted to say get all caught up inside him until he couldn’t actually say anything at all. And so he just left. He walked out of the bar, bewildered, and went straight back to the Portkey Station.
When he gets back to Brooklyn he’s exasperated to discover that his grandfather still hasn’t returned, and so on his next trip to Scotland he decides to go to Godric’s Hollow to find him. He doesn’t really care about having offended a bunch of charmed paint, but he also doesn’t understand what Fleamont had been going on about, and it seemed to have something to do with the cottage. So when Harry gets off the Portkey, he leaves his luggage at the Siren and Apparates to the village.
He can tell right away that something strange is happening. As soon as he steps through the charms that keep the cottage hidden from the local Muggles, he feels the rings on his finger and on the chain around his neck respond. It’s as if something is clicking into place, like a key turning in a disused lock. The roof of the cottage is still collapsed in on one side, but the path to the front door has been cleared. Harry’s first thought is that someone has been here cleaning up the place. Maybe the Ministry has finally decided that letting it fall apart to its foundations is not the most suitable memorial. He feels a rush of possessiveness, that they’d start to do something like that without consulting him first.
He pushes open the front door and is even more surprised at what he finds inside. The broken furniture stacked in a neat pile in the centre of the front room. The damp, rotten carpets rolled back to the walls, exposing flawless, polished floors. Where wallpaper peeled and sagged the last time he was here, there’s now plain white-washed wood. Someone is renovating.
“There you are,” he hears a familiar voice and follows it into the kitchen. Hanging above the clean, bare stone of the fireplace is his grandfather. “Took you long enough.”
“What’s going on?” Harry asks in confusion, looking at the solid oak table and single chair. Everything in the kitchen feels familiar, even though he knows he hasn’t ever set foot in this room before. “Why are you here?”
“I liked to talk to Lily while she was cooking,” Fleamont replies obtusely. “So she hung me in here.”
“That’s not what I—” Harry runs a hand through his hair in frustration, spinning around slowly. Everything about the room feels comforting. Welcoming. “Who’s been here?”
“No one, since the restoration.”
“Stop speaking in riddles,” Harry snaps. “Who’s fixing up the house?”
It’s his grandfather’s turn to look confused. “You are, my dear boy.”
Harry clutches at the chain around his neck, beginning to comprehend Fleamont’s meaning. All of the conversations he had with Draco about the rings and house magic, and he never made this connection. The cool touch of his mother’s ring feels just as comforting as the embrace of the building around him. He puts a hand against the stone of the mantle and casts the spell Draco taught him.
Cor est domi. Home is where the heart is.
The answering pulse of magic is nothing like the weak, tired exhalation he felt the last time he tried this. Instead, the house feels like it’s leaning toward him, trying to wrap around him. While he watches, two broken cabinet doors fly up and reattach themselves on shiny new hinges.
“See?” Fleamont calls out, delighted.
Harry’s dumbstruck. He walks from room to room, finding the ways—large and small—that the house has started to mend itself. He has so many questions. And only one person he knows who would be able to answer them.
When he gets back to the Siren, he hears his name being called from somewhere and digs out his mirror shard to find Teddy waving one of his charmed Quidditch figures and asking him to explain how a Capabaldi dive works. It’s only after they talk for half an hour and Andromeda calls Teddy away for dinner that he realises it’s the second time this week. Teddy calls regularly now, unprompted. Often to talk about something small and meaningless, but it makes Harry feel like he’s a much bigger part of his life.
That week, he and Neville work tirelessly on the school opening. It seems like every day brings a never-ending succession of meetings with Ministry officials, unexpected crises with the magical construction, and ongoing disasters over school supplies. Their first day looms, and it feels like they’ll never be ready.
“I really didn’t think it would be so bloody difficult,” Neville complains with a groan one evening as they order dinner at the Three Broomsticks.
“Worth it, though,” Harry says, thinking about the meeting he had that morning with a wizard parenting group in Essex, who were absolutely delighted about the idea of their children going to the integration school rather than being taught at home or having to cope with an entirely Muggle education. He and Neville have a stack of personnel files between them, reviewing potential candidates for Head Teacher.
“You know the job is yours, if you want it,” Neville says, not for the first time. “I know you’ve got a whole life in America and you probably don’t want to up sticks for this, but you’d be brilliant at it. You’re great with the children and you’ve got more patience with the administrative bollocks than anyone I’ve ever seen.”
Harry snorts. “That might be the first time anyone’s ever called me patient in my life.”
“S’true,” Neville shrugs.
Harry supposes he has slowed down a little. He wants this project to succeed so desperately that he’s prepared to jump through whatever hoops are required to make it happen. It’s too important not to and after fighting his way through the goblins’ red tape, anything would seem easy. He’s sure any one of the excellent candidates they have in front of them would be better qualified than he is to take on the job, but he isn’t sure any of them would care about it quite as much.
He broaches the subject with Elsa when he’s back in Brooklyn the following week.
“I think you should do it,” she says decisively.
“Quick to get rid of me, aren’t you?” He isn’t really offended, but he’s a little surprised. He expected her to be a bit more circumspect. Or at least defend living in New York as the clearly superior choice.
“We always said the best endorsement we could hope for would be other people implementing our work. You’re being handed an absolutely golden opportunity on a plate, with a beautiful location and funding and government support. Think of all the No-Maj-born kids you’ll be able to help.”
“They’ll get help anyway,” he points out. “Doesn’t mean I need to move to Scotland of all places. The school will open with or without me as Head Teacher.”
“No need to live in Scotland,” she retorts. “People do Floo to work, you know. Just because you’re so fond of the subway. You could live anywhere in the UK.”
He thinks immediately of the thick oak table in the kitchen at Godric’s Hollow.
“Harry, be serious for a second. What’s keeping you here? I mean, apart from me, obviously. I’m pretty compelling. But in Britain you’ve got friends, family, a godson. A chance at a job you will love. And a chance at taking up with that holiday fling again.” She gives him a smug little wink, and he automatically kicks her under the table.
It isn’t that she’s wrong, exactly, but it dawns on him that he can’t work out when all of the important parts of his life crossed the Atlantic, seemingly without him noticing. It feels unsettling. Like he’s the half-repaired bits of Potter Cottage, still with a gaping hole in the roof. Improving incrementally in little fits and starts.
It keeps gnawing at him. Keeps him awake at night even though his sleeping patterns never really settle between the Portkeys and the fire-calls on British time. It makes him feel grimy and tired and like he can’t concentrate on anything properly.
He tells Nigel and Thomas all about it over their next brunch. It’s usually a standing monthly engagement, and Harry feels guilty about having been away for so long. Nigel reassures him with a playful swat on the arm that he has nothing to worry about unless he met someone cute without telling them. Turning away before Nigel sees his face, Harry decides it’s the perfect time to set the table.
Thomas makes shakshuka and Nigel mixes a jug of white sangria that Thomas calls a “foul culinary mismatch” even as he pours himself a large glass. Harry realises how much he’s missed them both, his first friends in New York—his father figures, really. He talks about the job opportunity, and about his friends, and about how wrong he was about everything. He tells them all about Draco.
“If you’re going back full-time,” Nigel warns, “you’re going to have to sort out this mess with Draco.”
Calling it a mess is a bit much, Harry thinks. They’ve just misunderstood each other a bit. Draco wants someone Harry can’t ever really be. He’ll never be settled like Nigel and Thomas, with their season tickets to the theatre and their over-decorated apartment and their friends at the dog park. He pushes a piece of tomato around his plate a little too vigorously and the sauce spatters.
“Draco and I will be fine. We’re both grown ups.”
“Could have fooled me,” Thomas snorts, giving him an exasperated look and passing him a napkin.
“It will be fine,” he repeats, probably more to reassure himself than the two of them. “I mean, other than the part where Draco thinks I’m an insensitive prick who’s incapable of commitment…’
“Wow,” Harry stares at Nigel, wounded.
Nigel sighs with a smile. “Harry, you know how much we love you, but after all these years, how can you still be so fucking clueless?”
Harry is shocked. Nigel only swears when he’s really at the end of his rope.
“Honey, it sounds like you broke his heart!”
“But he didn’t—”
“Harry,” Thomas pats his hand gently. “Decide what you want before you go back. And be sure about it. You deserve to be happy. It sounds like this Draco does too.”
Nigel gets up to make more drinks as Thomas clears their plates and leaves him there to stew in his thoughts.
As soon as he gets back to Britain he Apparates to Godric’s Hollow.
This time, the front garden is positively orderly. The hedgerows are neat and square, and there are flowers under the windows. He pushes gently on the door and feels the rings respond as it opens.
The broken furniture is gone, and Harry puzzles over whether the house has banished it or absorbed it, grinning at the thought of rotten sofas magically turning themselves into new curtains, but the rooms are still bare. The windows gleam now, though, letting in the late afternoon sun. The oak table in the kitchen now has six matching chairs.
The broken steps have been made whole, and Harry’s moved beyond reason to see that there isn’t a cupboard underneath them. The staircase looks positively inviting, the bannister gleaming and smooth. He runs his hand along it as he climbs the steps, and he swears he can feel the wood tense and relax as it comes into contact with his father’s ring.
The master bedroom is spacious. A plain oak bed frame sits in the centre, and skylights in the roof overhead make Harry imagine lying here and being able to look up at the stars. While he’s watching, the room seems to give a pleased sort of hum and the paint on the walls turns a restful shade of soft grey.
He crosses the landing to the most damaged corner of the house, carefully opening the door, and sucks in a startled breath. The roof overhead has completely repaired itself. The sagging beams are standing straight and proud and the charred, cursed wood has disappeared. Any sign that this was ever a nursery is gone. It’s a simple, empty bedroom, with a big picture window overlooking the garden. The walls are a pale lemon colour, which Harry recognizes with a shock as the same colour as the walls in Teddy’s room at Grimmauld Place.
It’s easy to see that the house wants him here. That it wants him to stay. Harry tries to imagine what that would be like. Cooking meals in the bright airy kitchen. Having his friends over for drinks in the garden. Stepping through the Floo to work. A year ago, it would have felt like something out of a child’s fairytale. A life intended for someone else. Nothing he’d ever wanted. But it’s different now. He’s different now. And he finds he wants this with an intensity that catches him by surprise.
He places his palm against the door. The magic feels intimate, flowing under his skin. Calming and natural. Harry realises, all of a sudden, why it feels so familiar. He lifts Lily’s ring on its chain out from under his sweater, clasping it in his hand.
The magic thrumming in the walls of the house feels like Draco.
Now that Draco’s been clear with Harry about how he feels, he figures that will be that. They’ll obviously still have to see each other occasionally. Their paths are bound to cross at family gatherings and so on. But he’s put his cards on the table, and that’s the main thing.
“So it’s all fine,” he concludes confidently.
“Really?” Pansy arches a perfectly manicured eyebrow at him, lifting the olive out of her martini and spending far too long drawing it off the pick into her mouth.
“Really.” He reaches for his own drink, and doesn’t meet her eye. He hates this bar, with its stupid too-high stools that leave him feeling like he’s perched precariously, despite his height. Pansy somehow makes it look effortless, one stiletto hooked daintily over the rail.
“Then you’re available.”
It’s a trap. He senses it immediately, but he’s not sure how to get out of it.
“What? I… yes. Yes, I am,” he says with as much conviction as he can muster as he takes a slug of his old fashioned.
“Good, because it turns out the model from that shoot back in April is queer. And very sweet. And much more well-read than I’d given him credit for. And he’s awaiting your owl.”
Draco runs through a litany of possible excuses in his mind but takes too long, and Pansy’s expression starts to turn smug, so he does the only thing he can think of and agrees to the date.
It’s a disaster, obviously.
Christopher is exactly as Pansy described him. Sweet and clever. Well-travelled, too, as a consequence of his career. He takes Draco to a trendy Muggle restaurant in Shoreditch that’s usually impossible to get a table at, and he knows how to order wine. He engages Draco in wide-ranging conversation about the best time to visit Morocco, the upcoming fall season collections, and the reform of magical creature laws currently before the Wizengamot.
And Draco doesn’t care about any of it. All he can think about is that Christopher’s too tall and his hair is too neat. And that his stubble looks scratchy. Harry would have opted to go home and have him for dessert. Instead, Christopher insists on a nightcap, even though Draco is out of things to say to his handsome, worldly, utterly un-enticing date.
Christopher is lovely. But he isn’t Harry. And the look Pansy gives him when they next catch up for lunch is so astoundingly pleased with herself that Draco hexes all the threads on her buttons loose at once.
“Do something about it, Draco,” she chides. “You’re becoming unbearable. You can’t let this go on.”
But there isn’t anything to be done about it. Other than putting up with the fact that Harry seems determined to be around more than ever. Going with Teddy to Quidditch games and leaving grocery lists pinned to the pantry at Grimmauld Place. And apparently, taking on a full-time job in Hogsmeade. Neville is ecstatic when Harry agrees to accept the role running the integration school. The pair of them gather a small group of witches and wizards who agree to have their children be part of the foundation class. All that’s left is for Draco and Minerva to find the Muggle-born children to join them.
Draco genuinely enjoys working with Minerva. They spend long hours in her office, or surrounded by piles of books in the Hogwarts library. Empty for the summer, the school has a reflective air about it. He enjoys the peace and quiet.
The day they finally complete the incantations, Minerva gathers all the staff for a celebration dinner and opens some very good wine. Draco's not even sure the country it's from still technically exists. A huge new leatherbound book rests on a side table, quill hovering over the slowly turning pages inscribing the names of all the children of magic in Britain. Draco feels so proud and delighted that it’s only hours and several wines later that he thinks to ask Neville where Harry is. Neville pats him on the arm in an oddly misplaced gesture of comfort and says that Harry’s packing up his flat in Brooklyn. Draco swallows hard against the finality of that idea and immediately changes the subject.
The following week, he helps Teddy pack extra clothes in his backpack before he heads off to a Quidditch game with Rose and her family. Teddy’s summer vacation is coming to an end, and Draco thinks about how much he’ll miss him when he’s back at his Muggle primary. It doesn’t do to dwell on it too much, or he’ll start to think about how much more he’ll miss him next year when he heads off to Hogwarts.
“And after the game, Ron and Hermione will Side-Along you to Grimmauld Place.”
“No, I’m staying at Harry’s.”
Draco pulls a face before he can help it. “He got you a room at an inn?”
“No, silly,” Teddy giggles. “At his house.”
Draco realises that Harry must have taken a place in Hogsmeade now he’s decided to accept the job. It makes sense, he supposes, but it leaves Draco feeling unaccountably cold inside.
“Fine,” he says as he zips the bag closed and tries to keep a neutral expression on his face. It’s good for Teddy to spend time with his godfather. Merlin knows it doesn’t happen enough.
As September nears, Hermione agrees to help Draco and Minerva get the final legal sign-offs they need for the registration of the roll magic from the Ministry. He meets her for lunch near her office to give her the paperwork.
She happily chats for a while about how well Hugo is doing in daycare before she bluntly swings the conversation around to Harry.
“He asks about you all the time.”
“Don’t, Hermione,” Draco groans. “There’s no point. I made it clear to Harry I wasn’t interested in picking up where we left off. The fact that he’s working here now doesn’t change things.”
“If that’s still the way you feel.” Hermione’s tone is indifferent as she runs her finger down the wine list. She should just let him order for them both, but she always goes through this pretence of studying the names as if they mean something to her.
“He’s taken a job in Scotland, and he’s gone with Teddy to a few Harpies games. It isn’t enough.”
“Every game,” she says, giving up and passing him the wine list with a shrug. He selects a bottle and returns it to the waiter.
“Season tickets. He’s taken Teddy to every game. Hasn’t missed one, even before he took the job here.”
And that’s genuinely a surprise to Draco, who admittedly tunes Teddy out a little when he talks about Harry, but it doesn’t really alter his point.
“So he likes Quidditch. It’s not a sign that anything fundamental has changed.”
“I think it is, actually,” Hermione says, eyeing Draco seriously. “Harry’s never shown any signs of being particularly good at anything until he just up and does it. He’d never seen a broom before the first time he trounced you flying one.”
Draco scoffs, but Hermione seems to be on a roll and doesn’t let up.
“He spent his school years killing basilisks and winning tournaments he was too young to enter. He went from not knowing what a Horcrux was to destroying Voldemort in a year. While we were growing up, Harry transformed from someone I wouldn’t trust to water a cactus to someone I’d trust with my life. He goes all in, Draco. Once he puts his mind to something it will either happen, or kill him, one or the other. Sometimes both. If Harry’s decided to settle down, I’d prepare for him to be about the most settled person on this planet in pretty short order.”
And isn’t that the most alarming thought.
“Look, Draco, I’m not saying you two are fated to end up together. But I think you have to at least accept that Harry’s around for the long haul. Stop skipping pub nights and avoiding the Burrow and sending Teddy through the Floo by himself just because Harry might be there.”
When she puts it like that, it does make him sound a little pathetic.
“The grand opening for the new school is next month. I know Neville sent you an invite. And I know you’ll have convinced yourself that you have several much more important things to do that day. Be a grown up, Draco Malfoy.”
Draco nods, chastened. He can definitely do that. Neville and Harry have worked hard. And for that matter, so has Draco. It’s right that he goes to the opening to see it all come together.
It will be fine.
“Eat your falafel,” Hermione says with a smile.
The grand opening of the Hogsmeade Magical Integration School is held in the second week of September. Harry decided to wait the extra few days so that the Hogwarts term had started properly and both Minerva and Neville could make time to attend.
Draco takes a Portkey from his flat with Teddy.
“Wow,” Teddy whistles as they land. It’s a sentiment Draco echoes. The buff colour of the sandstone buildings is beautiful against the green of the school fields, and they sit low and cosy in the landscape. Nothing like the grandeur of the Hogwarts Castle, but far more welcoming.
Brightly-coloured bunting hangs across the window frames and a giant Welcome banner sags slightly over the door. Draco lifts a hand and casts a spell to straighten it.
“Show off,” he hears from behind and spins around to find Harry walking towards him, but before he can let the irritation prickle under his skin, Harry gives him a wide smile and Draco’s left feeling out of sorts.
“I’m glad you’re here,” Harry says with genuine feeling, before crouching to give Teddy a hug.
The foundation class is just twenty students, and only seven of them are Muggle-born, but given the short amount of time Harry and Neville had and how confusing the conversations must have been with these courageous Muggle parents, Draco thinks that’s quite the achievement. The children don’t wear uniforms, and their coloured clothing makes such a contrast to the rows of little black robes Draco associates with his own schooling. It’s like a breath of fresh air.
There are a few Ministry bigwigs in attendance, but mostly the crowd is friends and family. Harry ushers everyone into the school hall, a room with high arched windows that must have been a chapel when the school was first built. They sit on new bench seats that have presumably replaced the pews.
Harry’s wearing jeans and a sportcoat, his shirt unbuttoned at the collar. He looks every inch the hot teacher, and it’s doing terrible things to Draco’s composure. He’s unfathomably glad that his Hogwarts professors never looked like this. He only had to suffer through a brief series of fantasies about Lockhart before the man’s sheer stupidity made him impossible to even dream about.
“It’s my very great privilege to welcome you all here today,” Harry says, pushing up his glasses with a smile. “And particularly you, our foundation class.” At this he turns his attention to the children in the first two rows, many of them tightly clutching their parents’ hands.
“You’re being very brave, coming all the way here to a new school. For some of you, it’s the first time you’ve been to Scotland, and for some of you, it’s the first time you’ve come by Floo. We hope that you’ll get to try all sorts of exciting new things while you’re here and that we’ll all have lots of firsts together. For our students who are just learning about magic, we want to show you what being a witch or a wizard will be like. And for those of you who’ve grown up in magical homes, we want you to learn from your new friends all about the Muggle world. It’s important to us that everyone grows up understanding all the good things about one another.”
Draco hitches a breath. How very different both he and Harry would have been with an education like this.
“And for the parents in the room, thank you for taking a chance on us. My years working with this programme in the United States have taught me that the children really benefit from it. It’s our goal to turn out well-adjusted, well-rounded, respectful, enthusiastic young witches and wizards. And I know we can achieve that.”
There’s a smattering of energetic applause.
“We want to show you all around the buildings and the grounds now. Our teachers are here to answer any questions you might have. And then we’d love for you to join us in the staff room for tea and cakes.”
The assembled group filters out into the halls, sticking their heads in the empty classrooms and admiring the work that’s been done. Rows of brand new tables and chairs line up in front of clean whiteboards and coloured walls as-yet undecorated with art.
Teddy and Rose take off outside to explore the half-size Quidditch pitch and an animal area where there are some chickens and piglets for the children to help look after. Draco keeps an eye on them from the driveway.
He feels Harry come alongside him. His cologne is achingly familiar and Draco’s fingers itch to touch him.
“You should be very proud of this, Potter.”
“Don’t call me that, Draco, please. Not after everything.”
Draco looks over at him, standing with his hands shoved deep in his jean pockets. He’s smiling. He doesn’t seem offended. But it is a bit pointless, Draco supposes. Calling him something different now isn’t going to change how Draco feels.
“Well, you should be proud, Harry. It’s a remarkable achievement.”
“So should you. We couldn’t have done it without you. We’d have been reduced to chasing down media reports of kids doing weird things and hoping that wild magic was involved.”
“Snakes escaping the zoo?” he suggests drily, and Harry laughs.
They stand quietly for a moment, side-by-side, watching Teddy and Rose start up a game of tag around the Quidditch hoops.
“About that night at the Wand,” Harry starts.
“Don’t.” If this is going to work, if Harry’s going to be back here and part of Teddy’s life and turning up at the Burrow and just continuing to exist in Draco’s world, then Draco very much needs him to play along with the not talking about anything.
It seems Draco’s not that lucky.
“I didn’t know that’s what you wanted. That you wanted more from me. It seemed like every time I checked in with you that it was all still a bit of fun, casual, that you agreed.”
Draco’s jaw clenches. Harry’s not wrong, but it doesn’t make it any harder to hear.
“It wouldn’t have mattered even if I’d told you the truth, Harry. I knew that you weren’t offering anything more.”
Harry seems to contemplate this for a long moment. Then he takes a deep breath and squares his shoulders as if he’s trying to steel himself for something. Draco would recognise that Gryffindor pose anywhere—as if he’s about to throw himself recklessly into danger. Harry turns fully to face him.
“I’d like to show you something. When this is done. Could you—would you stick around? After the food and whatever? Could I take you somewhere?”
Draco very much wants to say no. He did exactly what Hermione asked of him today. He came here and he supported Harry and Neville’s work, and he praised him appropriately and he behaved like a grownup, and that should be enough.
But Harry’s impossible to refuse, standing there with his facade of self-confidence crumbling the longer it takes for Draco to answer, biting nervously at his lower lip.
“I have Teddy,” Draco says, but it lacks the conviction of actually saying no.
“Hermione can take him,” Harry says with a rush. “It will only—I only need a few minutes, I promise.”
After another endless, awkward moment of silence, Draco finds himself nodding helplessly, and Harry breaks into a blinding smile.
“Thank you,” he says, backing away suddenly, his shoes crunching on the gravel. “I have to—” he gestures at the school over his shoulder, still smiling broadly at Draco. “I’ll find you at the end.”
And then he spins on his heel and jogs back into the building, leaving Draco bewildered and feeling lost.
He encourages Teddy and Rose back inside, spelling dirt off their trainers before they track it all through the new staff room carpet, and then tries to distract himself with a cup of tea. Hermione, here in her official capacity, has brought Hugo with her and sits bouncing him on a comfy sofa under the windows. Draco loads up a plate with scones and extra finger sandwiches and goes to join her.
“Would you be able to—”
“Take Teddy?” she finishes, with a smug little smile. “I’d be delighted. We’re heading home after this; I’m not going back to work.”
“You know what what this is about then,” he grimaces. He thought he’d left the Golden Trio keeping secrets long in his past.
“Just hear him out, Draco,” she says, taking a scone off his plate and ignoring his scowl altogether.
The crowd dwindles, and Teddy seems pleased by the unexpected playdate with Rose, so before Draco can think too much further about it, it’s just him and Harry. The silence in the staff room seems oppressive.
“Can I Side-Along you?” Harry asks. Draco’s not sure what to do with this tentative, polite version of Harry Potter. He’s far more used to the one who pushes him against the wall of a pub and spins them straight back to his bedroom without asking.
He holds out his hand for Harry to grasp.
They land in Godric’s Hollow, just along from the cottage. It takes Draco a moment to work out what’s different in the quiet residential street. When they walk to the end of the row of houses, just as they did once before, there’s nothing there. Not the disillusionment magic meant for Muggles, nothing at all. It’s as if Potter Cottage has vanished completely. He looks at Harry in confusion.
“Harry Potter lives at 22 Primrose Way, Godric’s Hollow,” Harry announces formally.
Fidelius, Draco realises, as the Cottage re-materialises in front of them.
“I couldn’t have people just turning up here anymore,” he says apologetically. “So I moved the memorial sign to the graveyard.”
Only Harry could somehow feel bad about strangers no longer being able to mourn their war dead on his front doorstep, Draco thinks with an exasperated sort of fondness.
He takes a step back in order to really be able to appreciate the cottage in full. Both storeys are now whole, the roof restored and the chimney back in place. The leadlight casement windows gleam, their diamond patterns showing off a beautiful contrast against the clean, painted lines of the house. The heavy wooden front door is polished to a rich sheen. The entire effect is stunning.
“It’s magnificent, Harry,” he manages, sounding breathless.
Harry beams, dragging him inside by the wrist, like a child excited by Christmas. He shows off every room. The soft, worn-looking leather sofa and matching armchairs. The high skylights over a king-sized bed made up with expensive-looking linen. Everything about it is perfect, and perfectly Harry. From the masculine lines of the black and white bathroom tiles to the rack of brooms lined up in the tidy garden shed.
“This is where Teddy stayed,” Draco murmurs, with sudden understanding, as Harry shows him a bedroom that’s the spitting image of Teddy’s one at Grimmauld Place. The bedcovers have Golden Snitches swooping over them and there’s a poster showing all the different Saurex models over the desk. There's even—unbelievably—already a respectable pile of Teddy's toys and comics on the floor.
“I don’t want you to think… That is, I’m not trying to…” Harry blurts out in a hurried rush, tripping over his words. “The house made this room.”
The house has done all of it, Draco wonders in awe, running his hand along the windowsill. The magic flowing through the foundations is absolutely remarkable. He’s seen whole conservatories spring into existence from barren ground in the past, and yet this feels somehow more miraculous and more pure. This perfect home for Harry Potter, the boy who never had one.
“I know Teddy has his whole life, and his routine, and his days with you and with Andromeda. I’m not trying to change any of that.” Harry urges, biting at his lip as if he’s worried his words are coming out all wrong. “It’s just that, I was hoping you both might want to spend a bit more time here. You and Teddy, I mean. With me.”
Draco’s heart stutters.
“I mean, you said—you said that you wanted more than I was offering. And that was fair, back then. I didn’t really know what I wanted. I didn’t know how to be in one place for very long. You were right about that. But that’s not true anymore, I don’t think. I think I’m offering quite a lot now.”
He blinks those extraordinary green eyes rapidly at Draco, and then looks away, around the room.
Draco’s heart plummets through the floor. This is catastrophic. He can’t believe he’s let this happen. If he had any idea Harry had been spending time here at the cottage, he might have been better prepared.
“Oh gods, Harry. I’m so sorry.” The words slip out of him, tired and sad.
Harry looks crestfallen. His shoulders slump, and his hands hang limply at his sides, as if he doesn’t know what to do with them. Draco would give a limb to ensure he never looks this disappointed ever again.
“Harry, you’re confused,” he tries to explain gently. “It’s not your fault, I promise. When I repaired the rings I used… elements of my own magic. My memories of you. The way I felt for you. I even used my old wand, the one you mastered. I’m not sure what’s happened but I’m guessing all of those things have worked their way into the house magic here at the cottage, and it’s left you thinking… you have feelings for me… when you don’t.”
He’s expecting a negative reaction. For Harry to be incensed and accuse him of manipulating him in some way, the ancestral magical equivalent of dosing him with Amortentia. He’s definitely not expecting him to laugh.
“You think I’m saying this because your magic has gotten itself all knotted up in my house?” Harry chuckles.
“Well,” Draco feels wrong-footed all of a sudden, “I can imagine it would be… misleading.”
Harry’s smiling now, wide and genuine. “And what about you? Were your feelings misled while you were fixing my mother’s ring?”
Draco opens his mouth and then closes it again. A lecture on magical theory is probably not going to help matters right now.
“It’s not the rings, Draco. And it’s not the house.”
“Let me finish, please. Let me just get this out. And then you can tell me how wrong I am about everything.” Harry gives him a pleading sort of smile, which Draco finds himself completely unable to refuse.
“When I came back to Britain six months ago, I thought I had my life figured out. I definitely thought I had the life I’d left behind here figured out. But it turns out I was wrong about both. I turned my back on everyone and everything here when I was still a child, and it didn’t occur to me how much things would have changed in the years since. How the people I knew would have grown. How much I’d given up by abandoning my friends and my family. But it also didn’t occur to me how much I was still giving up. I thought I’d cracked it, you know.” He gives a self-pitying smile, running a hand through his mop of hair. “If I didn’t let anyone get too close to me, then I didn’t have to go through the pain of losing anyone ever again.”
Draco’s chest clenches. They’ve both suffered unimaginable loss, he realises. Harry’s just never seemed interested in facing up to that before now.
“And then I met you again. And you just continued to upset every one of my expectations. It wasn’t just that you’d won over my friends, it was that you’d done it by becoming this incredible human being. You’d worked so hard and achieved so much. You took the second chance you were given and you absolutely earned it, and then some.”
Draco feels the hot pricks of tears forming behind his eyes.
“And I mean, I knew you were so much cleverer than me, even when we were kids. So it wasn’t really a surprise that you’d turned into this bloody genius capable of rewriting magical history,” Harry huffs with a smile. “But then on top of that, here you were helping young queer kids find their way in the world and being the best dad Teddy could hope for and helping single mums get on their feet again, and I mean. Fuck, Draco. Like, how could I ever hope to live up to that, you know? I was just glad you found me fit enough to want to keep fucking me.”
Draco barks out a laugh, but it sounds thick. Choked up.
“And towards the end there, I got the wrong idea. Or, I thought I did, anyway. Making scrambled eggs in your kitchen and taking Teddy flying and having you at my side at Hogwarts. I started to think that things might be different. That maybe you might be interested in something more with someone like me.”
God, we’ve really been stupid, Draco thinks. How did we get it so wrong?
“So when I thought that wasn’t what you wanted—that you were done with the rings, and done with me—I figured I’d just go back to the life I had before all this started. Only, everywhere I looked I realised it wasn’t enough. I wanted to take Teddy to Quidditch games, and I wanted to meet Luna for lunch, and I wanted to cook family dinner at Andromeda’s. I’m always petrified that I’ll drop Hugo, but I want to learn how to hold him so I don’t. I’ve never had a back garden to barbecue in, and I want one. And a kitchen of my own to cook in. And a place to call home.”
Even Draco can feel the cottage’s magic surge in approval at that. By the time they make it downstairs it will probably have doubled the size of the bloody hobs and given Harry a new pantry just to make him happy.
“I haven’t done this for you, Draco. I’ve done this for me. And now I’d really like to share it with you. If you’ll have me.”
It’s too much. Harry standing there in front of him, all expectant and hopeful, having just poured his damn heart out at Draco’s feet. As if Draco’s ever done anything in his life to deserve such an offering. He thinks if he opens his mouth nothing but broken sobs will come out, so he just sort of lunges at Harry, wrapping his arms around him and burying his face against his neck.
“Oh, thank God,” he hears Harry whisper, pulling him close and pressing soft kisses to Draco’s cheek, the palm of his hand rubbing comforting circles against the small of his back.
Draco hears a creak and pop from a wall somewhere behind them.
“That better be a walk-in wardrobe,” he mumbles against Harry’s skin, feeling his answering laugh.
Harry draws back, and then leans in again, kissing Draco swiftly. “Come on. I want you to meet my grandfather. You’re going to blow his mind.”
The first of September dawns bright and clear. And Draco knows this for a fact, because Teddy wakes them up well before dawn, practically bouncing off the walls with excitement. Harry groans, mashing his face back into his pillow and complaining about the cosmic unfairness of the first day of school falling on one of their days with Teddy. But he doesn’t mean it—Harry’s own school started term on Monday, and he’s still taking today off to come with Teddy to the platform. “It’s all a lot of fuss about nothing,” Andromeda said at dinner on Sunday night, teasing Teddy gently even as she promised she would meet them there.
Teddy’s school trunk has been packed for a week, sitting neatly against the wall in his bedroom. Maestro, the owl Harry gave him for his eleventh birthday, waits patiently in his gleaming cage.
“I don’t want breakfast,” Teddy complains, as Harry deposits a plate of beans on toast in front of him. “I need to save space for the feast.”
“You’ll regret that about an hour into the train journey,” Draco assures him, bending down to put food in the bowl for their Kneazle, but he slips him an extra Galleon for Pumpkin Pasties all the same.
“You look very smart, lad,” Fleamont Potter says approvingly from above the mantle, as Teddy laces up his shiny new black shoes. “You’re a credit to the family.”
Teddy jumps and slaps his frame as they leave, a strange habit he’s developed that he calls a painted high-five.
They Side-Along to Kings Cross with plenty of time to spare, despite Harry laughingly suggesting that cutting it fine won’t be a problem because they can always take the Weasley car. The station is crowded with Muggles. Draco wishes they’d just taken Teddy to school directly, but Harry has assured him it was a rite of passage. Harry loads Teddy’s trunk onto a trolley and crouches beside him to give him final instructions about the platform barrier.
Draco’s an absolute roiling mess of emotion watching the pair of them. Teddy’s asked every conceivable question about the train and the platform and his first day at school over the last few months, but he still clutches the handle of the trolley nervously as he nods at what Harry’s telling him, and Draco desperately wants to comfort him.
Harry is doing a fine job of appearing like he has it all in hand, but Draco knows better. It was Harry who rolled over in bed a week ago and shook Draco awake demanding they homeschool Teddy because Hogwarts was an absolute fucking disaster of an educational institution that had messed the pair of them up irreparably and there was no way they could let Teddy go. Draco had to be very persuasive to get him to calm down.
Andromeda appears out of nowhere, coming alongside him and placing a gentle hand on his shoulder. The two of them watch Teddy run at the barrier and vanish through to the other side.
“Here we are then,” she says quietly. Draco takes her hand as they follow Harry through to Platform 9 ¾.
Ron has brought Rose along to see Teddy off. They had to have several conversations with Teddy over the summer about not being too smug that he’d soon be at Hogwarts and Rose wouldn’t yet, but Teddy seems grateful now as Rose promises to keep Teddy up to date about Airbender via owl.
“Can you believe it, mate?” Ron says to Harry, looking in awe at the belching red steam train idling at the platform. “Seems like bloody yesterday.”
“Owl us tonight,” Draco says, fiddling with Teddy’s robes to try and get them to lie straight, which only makes him wriggle away from him. “And let us know what house you’re in.”
In August, they took Teddy to Ollivanders to get his wand, and ever since he’s been practicing a basic colour-changing charm that turns all the bedding in his room to whichever house he decides is his favourite at the time. It makes Draco think about his own narrow-minded upbringing. The idea of sorting anything other than Slytherin would have been completely unacceptable. Harry shocked them both one night by telling them he was almost a Hatstall. The idea that Harry might have been a Slytherin caused Draco to cut dinner at Andromeda’s short and drag him immediately home to bed. Draco’s face heats a little now at the memory.
“I’ve decided all the houses are equally good,” Teddy concludes, tugging his robe out of Draco’s grasp. “It doesn’t matter if I’m a Gryffindor like Harry, or a Slytherin like you, or a Ravenclaw like Luna, or a Hufflepuff like my mum.”
Draco was determined to get through the morning without crying, but now he’s not so sure he’s going to make it.
In the year since Harry’s been back, they’ve all gotten used to the extra attention, but he’s still startled to see several parents murmuring to one another and pointing out the Boy Who Lived.
“Ugh, why are they always staring,” Teddy groans and immediately turns his hair a shocking fluorescent pink. “There. I’ll give them something to look at.”
Harry bursts out laughing and gives him a crushing hug.
“You’re squashing me,” Teddy yelps, but he has a smile on his face.
The doors start to slam closed along the line of the train. A conductor’s whistle blows and parents around them give their children final instructions and unwanted kisses.
Andromeda gives Teddy just such a kiss on the forehead, causing him to squirm with embarrassment. “Your mum and dad would be very proud of you today,” she says fondly, and Teddy blushes almost as pink as his hair.
Finally, Teddy turns to Draco.
“Don’t get too good with the Wii while I’m gone,” he warns, pointing an accusing finger. “I’ll know if you’re playing it without me.”
“Don’t let everyone know how good you are on a broom your first day,” Draco replies. “It pays to keep some things up your sleeve.”
Teddy wraps his arms tightly around Draco’s waist for a moment and then turns and bounds up the steps into a carriage.
They wait while he looks for a seat.
“Your parents, Harry, and your father, Draco, would both have been very proud of you today as well,” Andromeda says, standing between them, an arm around each of their shoulders. “Together we’ve managed to raise a remarkable young man.”
Teddy presses his face to the glass, waving wildly at them all as the train begins to move. Rose runs the length of the platform alongside him, cheering and laughing. They watch and wave until the last of the steam dissipates from the station.
Ron claps both Harry and Draco on the back. “Glad it’s not me yet,” he shrugs sympathetically. “I’ll buy you both pints on Friday.” And then he takes Rose’s hand and Apparates away.
Andromeda hugs each of them in turn. “Dinner on Sunday,” she says with a stern expression. “Family dinner is family dinner, with or without Teddy.”
It’s only as she walks back through the barrier that Draco feels the tears on his cheeks.
“He’s going to be okay,” Harry assures him.
“I know he will,” Draco agrees, wiping at his eyes with the sleeve of his sweater.
The platform gradually empties out until it’s just the two of them standing there in the silence. Harry has his head tipped back, craning to look up at the high glass windows in the station roof above them, lost in thought.
“I came here,” Harry whispers, “after I died.”
Draco doesn’t think his heart can take this today. He reaches for Harry’s hand, lacing their fingers together.
“To Kings Cross?” he asks softly. Harry’s never talked about it. Draco’s never asked.
“Yes. No. I don’t know actually. This is what I saw, but Dumbledore seemed surprised when I told him that, so maybe he was somewhere else.”
Draco doesn’t think he has much hope of stopping the tears now. He swipes at his eyes again.
Harry startles, looking at him. “God, Draco, I’m sorry. I don’t mean to be maudlin.” He squeezes Draco’s hand comfortingly.
“It’s just—when I was there, wherever it was, Dumbledore said I had to choose. Whether I came back or not. And it was—I mean the choice wasn’t easy. It was warm and light and peaceful there. And I was pretty sure all I had waiting for me back here was pain and loss.”
Draco wants to hug him and never let go. He wants a Time-Turner so he can go back and prevent it all from happening in the first place. He wants to make sure Harry never experiences another moment of pain or loss as long as he lives.
“And I was sort of right. I mean, coming back wasn’t exactly a picnic,” Harry chuckles. “But it was the right thing to do. And I just assumed that was the trade-off, you know? I’d made that sacrifice, and so I wouldn’t get to be really happy back here. There would be all this unavoidable grief and suffering, but at least I’d have done the right thing.”
Merlin, Draco thinks. His heart aches.
“But it turns out I was wrong about that part,” Harry murmurs, tugging Draco closer to him. “I do get to be really, truly happy here.”
Harry lets go of Draco’s hand and reaches up to unfasten the silver chain he wears around his neck. He looks at Draco cautiously, as if he’s a nervous animal that might be about to bolt. Which is ridiculous, clearly, because Draco’s frozen so rigid right now he doesn’t think he could move even if Dementors descended.
Harry slips Lily’s ring off the chain.
“I believe, when you first told me about these rings, I called them pureblood nonsense.”
Draco laughs, his tears falling freely now.
“In fact, I think I suggested that Bill should blow them up.” He gives Draco a beautiful, rueful smile. “I didn’t have any idea that these rings would bring me back to my grandfather, build me a home that I love, give me the gift of a godson I couldn’t be more proud of, and help me meet the love of my life.”
He takes Draco’s trembling hand in his.
“Draco Malfoy, will you join me in a Confarreatio bond? I’d really like to be your husband.”
Draco is so completely overwhelmed he almost can’t manage to say anything at all, but then, “Yes. Gods, yes,” spills out of him on a ragged breath. Harry slides Lily’s silver ring onto his finger and they both watch in wonder as the magic swiftly resizes it and a breathtaking feeling of rightness passes over Draco. The cool, familiar touch of Harry’s family magic entwines with his own.
He kisses Harry softly, right there beside the train tracks on the empty platform. Presses promises against his skin with his fingertips. Holds him as tightly as he can.
And this time, they choose to leave Kings Cross together.
They choose to go home.
Thank you to the Erised mods for running such a wonderful fest.
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