Actions

Work Header

All I Want For Christmas (Is For You To Stop Talking)

Chapter Text

The first of December blows into Islington on an awful, blustery Tuesday morning, heralding the coming of winter with a cold gust of rain that taps icy fingers at the windowpanes and rattles the eaves of Number Twelve Grimmauld Place. It's barely seven, and Harry's already managed to cut himself shaving. He's still trying to staunch the trickle of blood from his jaw with a bit of tissue as he flips on the lights in the boys' bedroom, the warm glow of the lamp floating overhead reflecting in the tall, paned windows.

"Up you go, lads," Harry says to the small lumps beneath the Cannons orange coverlets wadded across the two twin beds. The only answer he gets is the faint wriggle of a little bottom from Al's corner of the room. Jamie's still snoring soundly, one bare foot stuck out from the rumpled sheet. Harry crumples the blood-spotted tissue between his fingers, then tosses it into the small bin beside the door, half-filled with brightly coloured scraps of torn paper, bits of glitter and glue still caught along their edges. Kreacher hasn't yet managed to empty the remnants of Sunday night's craft project, it seems. Harry doesn't blame him. Kreacher's old and tired, and his magic's beginning to glitch a bit. And that's the last thing Harry wants to think about, really. He's no idea how they'll go on when Kreacher's gone. The crotchety elf's part of his family now.

Something hard, plastic, and pointed pierces through the thin wool of Harry's sock on his next step, and Harry swears. Toys are scattered across the bedroom floor: Lego blocks Hermione'd given them for birthdays this past year, cushions that have been pulled from the small sofa beside the window to make a decrepit fort, silver-painted wooden swords that Harry'd charmed not to inflict harm, tiny Quidditch figures that have fallen off the minuscule brooms still hovering inches above the braided rag rug that's been knocked askew. With a sigh, Harry straightens the rug with one stockinged foot, then bends down to pick up the cushions, plumping them back up again before he tosses them back on the sofa. A flick of his wand sends the Quidditch players back to their brooms and the swords and Legos into the toy boxes beneath the two windows. The room hadn't been in this much disarray last night when he'd tucked Al and Jamie into bed, which can only mean the both of them had faked sleeping long enough for Harry to close his own bedroom door in relief.

"Bastards," Harry murmurs under his breath, but a faint smile tugs at the corner of his mouth. It's not easy raising a five-year-old and a three-year-old by one's self, but Harry's managed to do it for the most part. It'd been a hard decision for both him and Ginny to end their marriage. Harder still for Ginny to give Harry primary custody of Albus and James. But in the end, it'd been good for them all. Gin had been able to keep her Quidditch career--and look at her now, coaching the English national team and her barely twenty-eight. Harry's proud of his ex-wife, and when the season slows down in the new year, she'll have the boys at her flat until spring training starts up again, then on the weekends she hasn't a match on the books. It's an odd schedule, but it works for them, at least for now. It'll be different once the boys head off to Hogwarts, but that's ages away, isn't it?

Harry pulls the coverlet off Al. "I know you're awake."

Al's face is pressed into his pillow, and his pyjamed bum is stuck up in the air, printed Crups in pyjamas of their own stretched across his night nappy. Harry's learnt the hard way that Al still struggles with not drenching the bed at night, so, despite Al's protests, it's nappies until he makes it through a whole week without wetting them. Jamie'd managed that at two, but Al's not on the same schedule as his brother, and that's perfectly fine. Harry and Ginny had been so much more anxious about Jamie's developmental progress. Now on their thrice-weekly firecalls they laugh about how terrified they'd been that they'd get him sick, drop him on his head, or just fuck him up in general. It's easier with the second kid, they both agree. There's no need to Floo to St Mungo's for a fever or a bit of colic. They know what potions to dose the boys with, and the usual bumps and scrapes of raising toddlers don't panic either of them any longer.

The pyjamed bum shifts again. There's a muffled giggle into the pillow, and Harry shakes his head ruefully. It's like this every morning. Al likes to think that if he can't see Harry, then Harry can't see him. Harry sits on the edge of the bed, his back to Al. He waits for a beat, giving Al just enough time to relax, and then he turns, reaching to scoop up his youngest son in one smooth sweep, pulling Al across the bed and into Harry's lap.

Al shrieks in laughter, his legs and arms flailing. "Let me go. Daddy! Let me go!"

"I think not." Harry tickles his son, and Al kicks out harder, his heels hitting the edge of the mattress as he squeals and wriggles. His head falls backwards over Harry's thighs; he arches his spine as only a bendy toddler or a world-class gymnast can manage.

"No!" Al tries to twist away from his father. "Jamie, help!"

Jamie just rolls over in his bed, pulling his coverlet up over his head. No assistance from that quarter is forthcoming, but then there never is. Jamie could sleep through a Hippogriff stampede if he wanted to. He's a grand ability to ignore anything that doesn't interest him, which is more of his little brother's antics than Al would like.

When Harry stops the tickling, Al beams up at him, his face flushed, his dark hair rumpled and tangled. That'll be a nightmare to brush through, won't it? Harry sighs as he smoothes Al's fringe back from his forehead. He'll leave that for Kreacher, if the elf's magic is up to it today.

"Good morning," Harry says. Al's draped across his thighs, loose and melted and toddler-limp. His pyjama top's pulled up, and he's scratching idly at his puffy belly button. Harry wants to laugh, but instead he asks, as solemnly as he can, "Did you pee yourself?"

Al looks up at Harry, his brow wrinkling. "Don't know." He pulls at the waistband of his pyjama bottoms, peering down into their depths. It doesn't seem to help, so Al shoves his fingers down into his nappy, his frown deepening, his tiny baby teeth biting into his bottom lip. Harry just watches him, amused, as Al rolls his hips from side to side. "No," Al says after a moment, and he pulls his hand out of his pyjamas. He holds it up for Harry to see. "No wet!"

"Brilliant." Harry tries to right Al, but instead of standing up properly, Al just sinks to the floor, rolling onto his back, his legs cocked and spread. Harry eyes him. "You have to go pee now." There'll be a problem if he doesn't, and Harry doesn't want to scrub down the shower again after Al decides to spray the door once the warm water hits him.

"Don't want to." Al lifts his heels, pushes them against the side of his bed. He's not looking at Harry, and he has that stubborn tilt to his chin that lets Harry know it's going to be one of those mornings. He runs his hand through his hair, reminding himself that he can't actually smother his son, as much as he might want to.

"Toilet," Harry says, as firmly as he can. He points towards the hallway. "Now."

Al scowls. "Don't want--"

"Not negotiable." Harry pulls Al to his feet. "Go pee." He meets Al's glare evenly, refusing to break his gaze. Five years of fatherhood have taught him never to blink first. The moment you do, you lose the battle and the war. It takes a moment, and then Al's shoulders drop and his bottom lip pushes out in an all too familiar sulk. Harry raises an eyebrow as Al's fists clench at his sides. "Don't even start."

For a moment he thinks Al's going to throw the tantrum anyway. Harry steels himself for the tears, but all he gets is a deeper sulk. "Mean," Al says, but he shuffles towards the door, stopping only to pull at his pyjama bottoms, his thumb hooking into one side, pushing them down just enough to reveal one pink-splotched arsecheek.

Harry snorts as his son disappears through the door. A moment later he hears the clatter of the stepstool being dragged across the bathroom tile to the toilet, and he prays that Al actually manages to hit the bowl this time. Kreacher'd been beside himself when he'd had to wash down the whole wall yesterday.

Outside, the rain comes down harder, the soft clink of sleet against the window glass growing stronger. It's going to be a proper stormy winter day, it seems, which means wrangling the boys not only into their school uniforms but also into puffy coats, scarfs, galoshes and pom beanies. Harry pushes himself up off the low bed; he winces as his hip twinges. He's getting older, and his body's starting to feel it. By next summer he'll be a proper thirty-year-old dad, and Kingsley's been making noises about moving Harry up from Deputy Head once John Dawlish retires. Not that John'll do that any time soon--or at least Harry hopes he doesn't. He's not ready for that sort of responsibility, no matter what Kingsley says.

Harry catches sight of a cushion, shoved beneath the end of Al's bed, one he'd missed earlier. He pulls it out, dusts it off. It's a new one, big and soft and creamy white with Cuddle Weather scrawled across the front in thick black script. Molly'd brought it over when she'd been by this weekend to see the boys. She'd meant for it to go on the worn leather sofa in the library, but Al had fallen in love with its soft squishiness and had absconded upstairs with it before Harry could stop him, and nothing Harry could say later could counter his insistence that Nan had brought it for him.

Al's always had that streak of his mother's stubbornness in him. Harry smiles a bit as he plumps the cushion back up, sets it on the sofa with the others. His fingers skim the blue-striped cotton of the sofa arm. He and Gin had bought it back when they'd found out she was pregnant with Al. Back when they were trying to make a go of it all. A twinge of an old grief goes through Harry. He's used to being on his own now. He likes it even. But there are times he misses waking up next to someone, misses having someone waiting for him after he's put the boys to bed, misses sharing his life with another person. It's not that he wants Ginny back. They're better off friends and co-parents. Harry knows that. But on mornings like this, when it's cold outside and he's not slept well, Harry'll admit he wishes he could find someone who'll fit against his imperfections, who'd understand those hidden parts of him again.

But Harry doesn't believe in soulmates, and between his job and looking after the boys, he hasn't the energy to go out to the bars and the clubs and the single-parent meetings where he might find someone who might be interested in taking on not only him but also a ramshackle old house and two rambunctious boys. Not to mention dealing with the constant scrutiny of the press.

And then there's the other issue, the one Harry doesn't like to think about all that much. The secret no one else knows, except Ginny, who'd guessed just before they'd split, when Harry hadn't been interested in sex. At least not sex with her.

He'd thought he just didn't care about shagging, really. Thought he was the kind of bloke who could have a good fuck every few months and be fine with it. He'd thought even, perhaps, that's what Gin wanted, a husband who didn't press her for sex, the way other husbands did.

Merlin, but he'd been wrong.

About everything, really. What Ginny wanted. What he wanted. And it'd been in the middle of yet another fight about it all, when Ginny'd shouted at him that maybe it was just he didn't want her, that maybe he'd like to fuck someone else. Luna, perhaps, or Hermione, or that perky blonde Auror who'd just come out of training and whose name Harry can never remember. And all Harry'd been able to do was look at Gin and say no.

It'd come out brokenly, ripped raw from his throat because he'd known then, in that moment. Known without a shadow of a doubt that it wasn't another woman he wanted. That as much as he loved Ginny--and he still does, even two years later--Harry needed something different. Something that wasn't smooth curves and rose-scented skin. He'd seen it then, looking at Gin, at the boyishness of her figure, at her muscled shoulders and strong thighs. When he'd slept with her, it hadn't been the swell of her breasts that had excited him. It'd been the smooth expanse of her back, the narrow plane of her hips--the same narrowness that had made birthing Jamie and Al so hard for her.

I like men, Harry'd said, and it'd been the first time he'd said those words out loud. To himself. To anyone else. He can still remember the heart-pounding horror of it, the sudden thrill of relief that'd spread through him at the rightness of the admission, the realisation that as much as he loved his wife, he could never love her the way she wanted him to.

They'd cried, the both of them, but Harry thinks that it'd been a relief for Ginny too, knowing that it wasn't her, that she'd done nothing wrong. They'd lain together in their bed that night, wrapped around each other, worn out, emotionally drained, and when Ginny had asked Harry quietly if he'd married her to be part of her family, Harry'd been able to draw a slow, deep breath and nod. He'd wanted that so badly, wanted to be a Weasley, wanted to have a mum and a dad and brothers galore. And when Ron and Hermione had married, it'd seemed the right thing to buy a ring for Ginny. To get everything he'd wanted. Everything he'd dreamed of all those years ago in the Mirror of Erised. To belong to someone else. To be part of real family. To be loved.

Harry doesn't regret his marriage. It'd given him Jamie and Al, and Ginny will always be his best friend in a way that Ron and Hermione can never be. They shared their lives, their bodies, their love. Being divorced hasn't erased any of that. They're stronger now, the two of them, and they're better parents. Even Molly's admitted that in the end.

The toilet flushes.

"Wash your hands," Harry calls out, and he hears the stepstool being dragged back across the bathroom tiles. He walks over to Jamie's bed, tugs the coverlet down from Jamie's head. Sleepy brown eyes blink up at him, and Harry ruffles Jamie's chestnut curls. "Time to get dressed for school," Harry says, his voice soft. Jamie's never at his best in the mornings, unlike his brother.

Jamie yawns, then tries to pull the coverlet back over his head. "Not going," he mumbles.

Harry pulls the coverlet back down again. "You are." He sits on the edge of Jamie's bed. "Mr Zhang’ll miss you terribly."

"Unh-unh." Jamie tries to burrow back under the coverlet again, but Harry tosses it down to the end of the bed. Jamie frowns. "I'm staying in bed."

"Not on my watch, I'm afraid." Harry reaches for his eldest, hefting Jamie up and standing. Jamie's a dead weight against his hip, and he tries to flop backwards, out of Harry's grasp. Harry's ready for that manoeuvre, though. Jamie tries it every weekday morning. Harry catches Jamie, sets him onto the floor, holding him up beneath his armpits so he doesn't sink onto the rug. "Walk."

Jamie lets his leg kick out. Harry holds him upright.

"Properly," Harry says, pushing Jamie forward a bit.

With great reluctance, Jamie lets Harry walk him out of the bedroom and into the bath. It's like herding a cranky Kneazle; Harry expects Jamie to hiss at him any moment. Still, he manages to wrangle his son into the bath just in time to find a half-naked Al trying to climb up on the sink; Harry rescues the bottle of Penhaligion's 33 Hermione'd given him for his last birthday before it crashes to the floor. He wonders sometimes if he ought to make use of his own en-suite instead of sharing this bath with the boys, but it's just easier in the end. Given Kreacher's advancing age, there are only so many rooms in this house he can keep up with. Despite Kreacher's grumblings, Harry's already had him shut off the top floor, as well as the other two bedrooms down the hall. They don't need that much space, anyway. Harry's fine with his bedroom, and the boys do better when they're together.

"No," Harry says firmly, setting the glass bottle back on the counter as he hooks one arm around Al's waist and deposits him back on the floor beside his wadded up pyjama bottoms and crumpled nappy. "You know better."

"Want--" Al starts to say, and Harry gives him an even look. Al frowns and scratches his bare arse. "Mean," he mumbles again, and Jamie snorts.

"You're going to get a time out." Jamie pokes at his little brother, and Al swats his hand away.

Before Jamie can retaliate, Harry pushes him towards the toilet. "Pee." He turns back to Al, pulling Al's half-buttoned pyjama top off and setting him in the tub just long enough to rinse off the sweat and any potentially unnoticed pee from the night. Harry's sceptical about Al's testing techniques. Behind him Jamie flushes the toilet, then a moment later joins Al in the tub, turning to let Harry rinse off his bum as well. Al shrieks and splashes water at his brother; Harry pulls him out before Jamie can hit him back and dries Al off in one of the fluffy blue towels folded neatly on a shelf.

A Summoning spell whips two school uniforms from their place in the boys' closets, sending them tumbling into the bath; they land in a rumpled heap on the tiled floor.

Harry helps Al into his Martin Miggs pants. He eyes Al sceptically. "Sure you don't need a nappy cover?" There'd been an incident last week during naptime at school, but Iona McKinsey, Al's teacher, had assured Harry it'd been a random accident due to drinking a bit too much squash at lunch.

The look Al gives him is scathing. "I'm not a baby." He rests his hand on Harry's arm as Harry helps him into his dark blue school trousers.

"Says you." Jamie hops out of the tub, water dripping everywhere. Harry hands him a towel; he scrubs it across his face, completely missing the truly wet bits of him. "You're still little."

Al's face screws up. "Am not."

Before the row can go mental, Harry tugs Al's white polo shirt over his head, followed by the dark blue jumper with the tiny Niffler's Garden insignia embroidered in white and silver. Al's head pops through, his cheeks flushed and hair rumpled as he wriggles his arms into the jumper sleeves.

Harry tries to smooth Al's hair down. It's a lost cause; the cowlick on the back of his head springs back up again. Al might have inherited Gin's obstinacy, but his messy hair and utter unconcern about it comes straight from Harry. "Go on downstairs," Harry says with a sigh. "Kreacher'll have breakfast waiting." Al's halfway out the door when Harry leans back and shouts after him, "See if he can find your trainers."

"They're under the library sofa," Jamie says. He's half-bent over, trying to keep his balance on one foot whilst he shoves the other through his pants. Harry steadies him, helps Jamie pull the pants up over his narrow hips. He rubs his palm over the knobs of Jamie's spine, and he remembers how small Jamie'd been when he and Gin brought him home.

Jamie'd been born early, a month too soon, and he'd been tiny and pale in St Mungo's nursery. He'd had to stay in hospital for over a fortnight, and it'd been awful for Ginny to be separated from him. She'd spent her days sat in a rocker, watching the monitoring charms pulse faintly over Jamie's crib, and Harry'd felt so lost, so useless, so incapable of doing anything to help his son, his wife. Sometimes he wonders if that'd been the start of their falling apart, his inability to do anything in those first days of Jamie's life, but he knows that's ridiculous. The problems in their marriage had been there long before Jamie came around. Before they'd even said their vows, really.

Before Harry'd been willing to admit to himself what some of his more unsettling dreams might mean.

"Ow," Jamie says, his voice muffled by the white cotton polo. His hands flail from the sleeves; his hair's caught on one of the buttons. "Dad!"

Harry untangles him, pulling the polo down, smoothing it out. "Better?"

Jamie's trying to scramble into his trousers. "If I don't get downstairs, Al'll eat all the toast."

And really, that's not half-wrong. For a three-year-old, Al has a voracious appetite for the buttered toast soldiers Kreacher makes for him each morning.

"You know, there's plenty of bread in the pantry," Harry says, but Jamie's already tearing down the hallway, his jumper wadded up in his fist. Harry shakes his head, sits down on the closed toilet seat. He can hear Jamie's bare feet thumping down the staircase, and he closes his eyes. Breathes out. He needs a moment to gather himself, to revel in the silence of a moment alone before he goes downstairs to wrangle the boys into their shoes and coats, before he has to try to find backpacks and lunches and his own work satchel.

The house settles around him, warm and comfortable and safe. Harry's always felt as if the house could be another member of the family; there's something almost alive about it, as if it's listening, watching, protecting them all.

Harry presses a palm against the wall. The white tiles are cool against his skin, and he can almost imagine he feels a ripple of sympathy coming from them.

"They'll be all right today, yeah?" Harry asks, and he knows any of his friends who found out he was talking to his house, asking it for comfort, would think him half-mad. But he doesn't care, not when a calmness settles over him, a certainty that whatever amorphous fears he might have about his sons are ridiculous, something he doesn't even need to worry about. They'll be fine. Happy. That's all that matters to Harry these days.

With a heavy exhale, Harry stands. He's a long day of meetings ahead of him, and he's at least two investigations to close out and another three to check in on, not to mention having to tear strips off one of his Auror's arse for improper investigatory techniques that the Wizengamot Prosecution Service has complained about. That's really not something he's looking forward to. Denholm's a prick at the best of times; he'll only be more cantankerous after Harry goes after him. It's always the older Aurors who are the worst. Set in their ways and resentful of having an upstart half their age supervising them, Chosen One or not.

Harry rinses his hands off in the sink, then runs them through his hair, trying to smooth it down. Like his attempt with Al's locks, it doesn't work. He eyes his reflection in the mirror, frowning at the dark circles beneath his eyes, the bits of silver-grey already starting to show at his temples. Hermione tells him it's not there, but when Harry turns his head in the harsh light above the mirror, he can see the grey hairs glinting amongst his messy black curls. Maybe he ought to use a charm to hide them, but Harry's hesitant to admit he might be that vain. So instead he smoothes down his wine-red tie, straightens his pristine sleeve cuffs. His charcoal wool Auror jacket's downstairs on the armchair where he'd thrown it the night before; Harry hopes to hell he'd left his satchel along with it.

A turn of his head, a lift of his jaw, and his reflection mimics him.

"Could be worse," Harry murmurs, and his reflection yawns, stretches, then shrugs in agreement. Harry frowns at it. "Don't get cheeky."

The reflection winks at him, then disappears as Harry steps away.

He's a day to get started, after all.

***

The Niffler's Garden is the most prestigious wizarding nursery school in England and has been for the last century or more. Rumour has it that the one of the Queen's cousins attended, although Harry's sceptical of that. Most of the royals who turn out to have magical abilities are taught at home by tutors vetted through the DMLE. Harry's seen the files on William's education; the Deputy Head Auror at the time had been in charge of the process, and Harry'd found the reports tucked in the back of one of the cabinets in his office one lazy summer afternoon when work had been slow and half the Ministry had been gone on holiday.

Al's already trying to squirm away when they land in the school Floo. Harry grabs him by the back of his coat before he can tear off down the hall towards his classroom. Jamie's a bit more subdued. This is his last year at nursery school; he'll be switching over to one of the wizarding primary schools next year, and Harry's not certain any of them are ready for that.

He ruffles Jamie's hair. "All right there?" he asks.

Jamie nods. His expression brightens when he sees his cousin Fred hovering down the hall, his hands shoved in his pockets, his wiry hair a dark halo around his chubby brown face. "Dad, can I--"

"Go on." Harry smiles down at his son. "Just don't get into any trouble before Mr Zhang starts class."

But Jamie's not listening to him. He's halfway down the hall, shouting for Fred to wait up, as if Fred wasn't already looking for Jamie's arrival.

Al twists against Harry's grip. "Lemme go," he whines, and Harry raises an eyebrow at him.

"Not until I hand you over to Mrs McKinsey." The last time Harry'd set Al free at school he'd hidden in the boys' toilets for the first hour. Poor Iona McKinsey had rung Harry up in a panic, asking if Al had stayed home ill without Harry calling him in.

Harry marches Al over to the large and airy corner room that Mrs McKinsey has enchanted to look like a country meadow today. Only the cubicles lining one wall and the desks shoved up against the rain-streaked windows ruin the illusion.

"I thought we could use a bit of nature this morning," Mrs McKinsey's saying to a group of mothers as Harry and Al come in. "With all the sleet that's coming down, I'm certain we won't actually make it outside to play."

"Merlin, help us all," Pansy Parkinson-Goldstein drawls from the back of the group. "The very thought of Ava and Uri coming home this afternoon without wearing themselves out today terrifies me." She looks over at McKinsey, and Harry recognises the weariness on her face, as much as she's tried to hide her dark circles with makeup and a bright red lipstick. It's the exhaustion brought on by parenting toddlers--not to mention twins. To be honest, Harry doesn't know how she does it. Al and Jamie are enough for him and he's grateful they're two years apart in age. Pansy might have elves at home to help, but Harry knows she's a hands-on mum as well, which had surprised him at first. It's not what he would have expected from the girl he'd known in Hogwarts, but perhaps they've all grown into their better selves after the war. Pansy reaches over and squeezes McKinsey's shoulder. "Bless you for all you do."

A muffled laugh ripples around the room. Harry smiles a bit ruefully himself. He wouldn't wish twenty rambunctious three-year-olds on his worst enemy, but Mrs McKinsey seems to thrive on their energy.

"Wellies, please," Harry says, and Al sticks out a foot, wobbling only slightly. Harry pulls off one rubber boot, then the other; he holds Al steady, his fingers cupped beneath Al's armpit.

Harry unwinds Al's scarf and peels his coat off before plucking off Al's purple and gold beanie, knit by Molly to resemble dragon's scales. His hair's still an ungodly mess; even Kreacher hadn't been able to tame it this morning. Al's bouncing from stockinged foot to stockinged foot, his eyes wide and shining as he studies the expanse of green grass McKinsey's conjured across the previously tiled floor. He's practically vibrating with the need to go throw himself onto it, Harry can tell.

"Trainers first." Harry digs Al's shoes out of his satchel and hands them over.

"Dad--"

Harry quells Al's protest with a look, and Al heaves an irritated sigh, dropping down on his arse and sticking his socked feet up in the air. Harry bends over and slides the trainers on, tying them tightly with a knotting charm before Al scrambles to his feet, his jumper ruching up at his back to reveal a stretch of pale golden skin. Harry pulls it back down; his hand lingers on Al's jumper, in a vain attempt to hold him still.

"You're going to behave, yes?" Harry asks, and Al just nods, barely paying attention. Really, Harry could probably extract an Unbreakable Vow from Al right now without much trouble, but that seems a bit inappropriate to do to a three-year-old. "Go on then." Harry releases his grip on Al's jumper, and Al darts off with a shout of glee.

Harry just shakes his head as he folds Al's outerwear and tucks it and the galoshes into the cubicle labelled Potter, along with with Al's lunch bag. The school serves a hot meal in the cafeteria every day, but both Al and Jamie are notoriously picky about what they eat, so Harry's found himself in the habit of making sure the boys have a sandwich and a bit of fruit with them just in case. For some reason Al's been demanding liverwurst on his for the past week; given his former father-in-law's obsession with the stuff, Harry suspects Arthur's had something to do with this new insistence. He wouldn't mind it if Al would actually eat the damned stuff instead of just taking a bite or two, then peeling the bread away and noshing on just that.

The door opens and a small blond boy barrels in, throwing his puffy grey goose-down coat towards the cubicles. The hood lands on Harry's boot, and he watches in amusement as the boy tackles Al, sending them both sprawling across the grass in laughter.

"Oh, my God, Scorpius." Astoria Malfoy's there, her pale blond hair twisted into a tight knot at the nape of her neck, her pink mouth pursed in annoyance. She looks over at Harry with a sigh. "I apologise for my son's reckless disregard for Albus's personal space."

Harry just laughs and picks up Scorpius's coat, tucking it into the cubicle above the Parkinson-Goldsteins'. "It's been over twelve hours since they've seen each other," he says, his voice a bit dry. "I wouldn't expect anything less."

Astoria wrinkles her nose. "Thanks for taking him to yours last night. Sorry I was a bit late picking him up. My surgery was a bit more complicated than I expected." She leans over Harry, tucks Scorpius's satchel and scarf next to his coat. Her own swings open just a bit, and Harry catches a glimpse of her Healer's scrubs beneath.

"Not a problem," he says. "Do you have another scheduled today?"

"At half-eight," Astoria says, and she glances down at her pale green scrub trousers, then up at the clock on the wall. It's ten to eight now. She grimaces. "Or whenever I make it over, I suppose."

Harry buttons his coat back up. "Should I plan on retrieving Scorp today too?" It's a routine he and Astoria have fallen into over the past few months; he'll take Scorpius for an hour or so after school or she'll take Al and Jamie, depending on which one of them might have to work late. Single parents helping each other out, they've dubbed it, and Harry's never wanted to ask why Scorpius's dad doesn't come get him. Or drop him off at school for that matter. Astoria doesn't really talk about Malfoy; the closest she's come to it was one of the rare days when they'd both had time to grab a coffee from Pret before going to work. Even then all she'd said was that her divorce had been complicated, but that they were doing their best to raise Scorpius togetehr, and it'd been ace of Malfoy to let her have primary custody, given the fact that his family might have made a claim due to Scorpius being the sole Malfoy heir. It sounded like a load of bollocks to Harry, and he doesn't understand their whole arrangement. Still, Scorpius seems well-adjusted enough, and, with Ron and Hermione's Rose at their side, Scorpius is Al's best mate at school.

Speaking of Rose, Harry lets his gaze slide over the kids already gathering on Mrs McKinsey's charmed grass. Rose isn't among them, and that worries Harry a bit. She hadn't been feeling well yesterday, and he makes a note to check in with Hermione when he gets to the Ministry, see if they'd kept her home. Ron'll be the one to stay with her if they had; it's easier for him to leave the shop in George's hands than for Hermione to rearrange her meeting schedule.

"I ought to be fine with retrieving my terror of a son by afternoon." Astoria looks over at Harry. "Off to the Ministry then?"

Harry shrugs. "I'd ask if you had a moment for coffee, but if you've a surgery to get to…"

"I'd rather have a latte and a good chat with you." Astoria gives him a regretful smile. "But Mr Nibley's foot is Splinched into his shoulder, and he's rather cross that we haven't managed to make it right yet." She rolls her eyes. "Mind, it's his fault that it's there to begin with, and he didn't particularly care for me telling him that at a hundred and three, he might want to deactivate his Apparition license."

"Edgar Nibley?" Harry asks, and at Astoria's nod, he snorts. "Might be out of his control, anyway. If I'm right, he's Splinched himself four times in the past two years, so once your end files paperwork with our lot, a representative from the Apparition office will be by to see him."

Astoria shakes her head, starts to button the grey wool buttons on her coat. "He won't be best pleased."

They never are. It doesn't matter; removing Apparition abilities is for the individual's own good. No one wants a liver Splinched with a heart, after all. There's no coming back from something like that.

"Maybe we could get a coffee later this week." Harry doesn't know why he asks. He hopes he's not leading Astoria on, making her think that he might be interested in her. At least romantically. He's not, but he's fallen into that trap before with one or two of the other single mums when all he'd wanted was a play date for Al or Jamie. Ginny thinks it's hysterically funny, but Harry's grown a lot more careful about that sort of thing in the past year or so. He doesn't have the time or interest to date anyone. Male or female. The most he can manage is the occasional shag in one of the toilets of the Muggle gay bar he goes to every six months or so; even on the weekends Gin has the boys Harry's too tired to do more than collapse on the sofa with a beer and a Tottenham match on the telly. He clears his throat and adds, just to be clear, "I'd like to pick your parenting brain."

What he doesn't want to admit is that he's lonely, even with the support of a large family like the Weasleys and a swathe of friends who are starting to pop out kids of their own. It's just none of them really know what it's like to be doing this alone sometimes, or what it feels like to go back to an empty house once you hand your kids off to your ex for the weekend or hols. Maybe it's good prep for when the boys go off to Hogwarts, but it doesn't mean Harry likes it. As much as Jamie and Al drive him mental some days, when they're gone nothing at Grimmauld feels quite right.

For him, for Kreacher, or for the whole bloody house.

Astoria touches Harry's arm. It's nothing much, the barest squeeze, and there's nothing terribly intimate about it. Harry's left feeling oddly comforted, and that's what he likes about Astoria, the way she seems to know what her friends need. And Harry is her friend, he realises. Maybe just through their sons, but perhaps that's enough, knowing that she understands how hard this can be, knows that sometimes you need someone besides your ex to talk to about the kids, that another perspective, from someone who isn't dragging along all that familial or martial baggage.

"Perhaps Thursday." Astoria's smile is warm. "Does that work for you?"

"I'll schedule it in my diary," Harry promises, and then Astoria's gone in a rush of grey wool and fluttering hands.

A familiar, musky perfume makes Harry's nostrils flare. He looks around; Pansy's come up behind him with Uri and Ava's satchels. He steps back as she leans in to slip them in the cubicle. Her gaze flicks his way.

"Looking for the next Mrs Potter?" Pansy asks, her voice low. "Because I'll warn you, Stori's far more stubborn than she seems."

"No." Harry frowns at her, his annoyance rising. He's tired of everyone assuming if he talks to a woman he must be interested in dating her. Christ, if they only knew. Harry supposes Astoria's pretty enough, but it's her ex-husband who'd be more likely to stiffen his prick. Not that Harry would admit he's had thoughts like that about Malfoy to anyone. Especially not Pansy Parkinson-Goldstein, for fuck's sake. "It's nothing like that."

Pansy raises an eyebrow. "Really."

Harry gives her an even look. "Don't start with me, Parkinson."

That makes Pansy's red lips curve up. "And there's the Potter I remember." She steps back from the cubicles. Her dark hair's no longer bobbed the way it'd been in their school days. It falls in loose curls around her face, perfectly tousled around her shoulders. Four-inch heels put her on eye-level with Harry, even though they're sinking a bit into the charmed grass of the classroom, and he's no idea how she walks in them, particularly in the weather outside. Her sharp brown eyes sweep over him, almost as if she's considering something, and then she crosses her arms across her chest, the oversize folds of her coat pleating around her small frame.

She lifts her pointed chin. "Has McKinsey wrangled you into helping with the holiday pageant yet?"

Harry eyes her suspiciously. "No. I brought cupcakes for Hallowe'en."

Pansy's smile grows more fierce. "Oh, Potter, you idiot. Don't you know that's nothing when it comes to parental involvement?" She glances over at the other mums, still crowded around McKinsey. "I read twice a week at story time, Millicent and Rabia bring snacks every Friday, then stay to clean them up, and even Astoria manages to swing by at lunches to give poor Iona and Claudia a break, hopefully for a fag and a tipple, which is what I'd need after wrangling this lot for half the day."

"Claudia?" Harry asks blankly.

"McKinsey's aide." Pansy tucks a lock of hair behind her ear. "You didn't think Iona could handle all our children on her own, did you?"

Well, actually, Harry had. "Oh."

"Claudia comes in from ten to two, but you wouldn't know that, since like all the fathers, you never seem to make it to anything but dropoff and pickup." Pansy's tone is pointed, and Harry feels his face heat.

"I have to work," he points out. "I'm Deputy Head--"

Pansy snorts and flicks her fingers dismissively. "We all know what you are, Potter. But most of the mothers work too. Millicent and Rabia are solicitors; Astoria's a Healer; I've my Prophet column to write. We still make time to support Iona."

And that puts Harry's back up. "I'm quite involved in my sons' education, thank you very much."

"But are you?" Pansy looks amused. "I'd never know."

Harry scowls at her; Pansy doesn't look away. "I'm always willing to help whenever I'm needed."

"Well, then." Pansy's eyes narrow at Harry for a brief moment, and then she calls out, "Iona, darling, the loveliest thing just happened. Harry here has volunteered to assist with the pageant this year. Isn't that kind of him?"

McKinsey looks over at them, her face lighting up. "Really? That's wonderful news. Thank you so much, Mr Potter. The children will be thrilled to have you here."

Harry glances between McKinsey and Pansy, half-horrified. But everyone else is watching him, and he can't bear to embarrass Al's teacher, so he just nods and says, "Happy to be on board." He turns back to Pansy and murmurs, "You utter bitch."

Pansy just laughs. "Well, there's no way I'm going to be involved in this particular pageantry clusterfuck. Besides, both my mother and Tony's would have a complete wobbly if I had to arrange a manger scene, even one with Father Christmas and a crustacean or two in it." She plays with her wedding ring, spinning it around beneath the enormous diamond on her left hand, her nails blood red against her pale skin. "I claim exemption on religious grounds."

"You're awful," Harry says, his shoulders sagging. "I ought to run your family's financials through the Auror system."

"That's illegal." Pansy laughs again. "Besides, the Goldsteins are as clean as pink, and the Parkinsons are smart enough to have hidden anything we'd rather not have your department aware of." She winks at Harry, looking rather pleased with herself.

All Harry can do is glower at her.

"Oh, do cheer up." Pansy's horribly cheerful now. "Isn't it Christmas? Consider me your angel. Maybe in the course of wrangling two dozen toddlers you'll find your heart's desire or whatever it is that happens in those awful heartwarming films your sort watches this time of year."

Harry glares at her. "I've heard you discussing Love Actually yourself, Parkinson."

Pansy shrugs. "But is that really a Christmas film? I'd say it's more about the human condition than a mere holiday celebration."

That does it. Harry flips two fingers her way. Discreetly, though, and in no way visible by the children. "I have to go to work." He turns on his heel, fully aware of Pansy's husky laugh following him as he slips through the last minute Floo-rush of parents dropping children off.

"Better schedule rehearsal times in your diary," Pansy calls out after him. "Iona's a perfectionist, you know." When Harry looks back over his shoulder, she waves at him, more cheekily than he likes.

Harry hates her. He really, truly does.

And yet, it's nearing Christmas, and it's for Al, and maybe Parkinson has a point. Maybe he's been coasting a bit when it comes to his involvement in the school. Maybe he ought to take the time to help out.

Besides, it's only a Yule pageant for three-year-olds, not a West End production. How difficult can it be?

On that thought, Harry pushes his way to the Floo, feeling rather smug with himself. Perhaps he might not be Father of the Year, but he's miles ahead of the other dads in Al's class.

That's for bloody certain.

Chapter Text

Rain strikes the windows set high in the tiled wall of the basement laboratory. The weather's been awful for days now, grim and grey and gusty. A proper start for the beginning of December, in Draco's opinion, and gloomy enough for a Wednesday. Still, the radiators are on full-strength in the bowels of the British Museum, and Draco's had to shuck off his charcoal overcheck suit jacket in favour of his heather grey jumper and crisp white shirt. If it stays this warm, he might even have to peel away the wool jumper, though he'd rather not. He smoothes his hair back, twists it up into a small knot high on his head and secures it with a thick, black hair tie. For close work it's easier to have it up, away from his face.

Draco pulls the overhead magnifying light a bit nearer to the heavily jewelled box he's peering at, illuminating the finely hammered gold surface typical of late medieval Slavic metalwork. Emeralds and garnets gleam in their intricate settings, and the detailed miniature of a scowling man in furs glares back at Draco, arm raised almost as if he's shunning the light. Or threatening him, Draco supposes. It's not as if that hasn't happened a time or two. The portrait of Herpo the Foul he'd restored two years back had managed to wrangle up enough lingering magic to zap Draco with a Stinging Hex. He still has the scar on the back of his knuckles to prove it. Not that it'd helped sodding Herpo in the slightest. He'd been deemed too dangerous to be displayed to the public, and now the twat's locked away in a warded vault on his own, unable to even leave his splintering frame. Serves the vicious bastard right, in Draco's opinion.

"Come on now, Evgeni." Draco runs a gloved thumb over the edge of the painting where the picture meets the gold scalloped edge. He sighs and leans back before reaching for his wand at the side of the neatly organized desk. "Open up." He casts a prefatory set of spells to protect from curse damage. Six years of experience appraising and curating historical wizarding artefacts have made him wary; the forefathers--and mothers--of wizarding society were all too often maliciously paranoid about protecting their charmed possessions. "I won't hurt you."

The magnified image of the man in furs and a heavily embroidered fifteenth-century robe looks dubious at best and, to be honest, Draco doesn't blame him. It's not exacting comforting to have an unknown wizard waving a wand at you, after all, and Evgeni Zhuravlyov had been rather a suspicious arsehole when he was alive. Which only makes sense, really, once one realises his father had tried to poison him before he was twenty-five, his wife attempted to stab him in his sleep when she'd learned about one of his myriad affairs, but the knife hit the pillow beside him--Olga was blind in one eye and had no depth perception, it seems--and he'd finally been done in by an Entomorph Hex cast by his half-brother which turned poor Evgeni into a beetle that Egor then stepped on. Horrible way to die, really, but the Zhuravlyovs were rather vicious about murdering one another when they felt like it.

Draco repositions the box on the stand with his left hand, his fingers still searching for a clasp or a hasp, the tips of his nitrile gloves bunching up over his skin. He leans closer; the warmth of his breath fogs the magnifying lamp before fading away. Evgeni shouts something at him, but it's nothing more than a silent twist of the portrait's mouth. The speaking charms wore off years ago, Draco suspects. Whoever had been paid to create this box had been a talented artist, but his charmwork had been complete shit.

"Right," Draco murmurs. He turns the box clockwise. The red Cyrillic writing on the labelled base gives the details of the former collection it'd once been in at the Hermitage, as well as a few unusual handwritten black-inked scribbles that Draco's yet to decipher. His Russian's decent enough, particularly when enhanced with a basic translation charm, but Russian cursive's far more difficult for him to read than the blocky printed Cyrillic. He'll need a stronger charm when he gets to that part of his task. And really, the most recent provenance of the box and how it arrived in the Wizarding Collections of the British Museum is frustratingly unclear. Draco's been able to find one paper in the ridiculously antiquated filing system old Berrycloth insists on keeping that lists the early twentieth-century auction the box had been a part of a lot from the Winter Palace in Petersburg. However, he half suspects that the trail has been falsified, given how little information's on the invoice, not to mention how vague. In fact, Draco's not entirely certain the invoice is for Evgeni's box, but it's the closest match he can find that seems plausible. It's not as if the Museum has a surplus of gold filigree jewelled boxes with paranoid Russians painted on the lids, after all. Besides, the faded, flaking collection label looks too convincingly nineteenth century not to be real. It could have come from another object, Draco supposes, but somehow it doesn't feel that way to him. It matches what he's seen before, and there's nothing to suggest forgery.

Yet.

Draco makes a note of the time and then sets up a scrying spell in the air above the small treasure, one of the more obscure tools in the list of acceptable antiquities research instruments. He's cast several of the more obvious exploratory charms in the past week with no luck. He crosses off a line on his spell checklist to the side. He's already three-quarters of the way down the list. If this little box doesn't want to divulge its secrets, Draco's genuinely unsure he's going to be the one to convince it. He usually comes up with an answer to such mysteries from the European and West Asian collection, but there's always the odd object with charm decay too severe to open or wards too dangerous to work with. Still, he doesn't have that sense about this miniature box, which makes this all the more frustrating.

"Such a shame, too," Draco says to the small, resistant figure. "I'd wanted to ask you about Sophia Palaiologina."

Draco may be going mad, but he swears Evgeni looks up hopefully for a moment, then nothing. The box is still, inert.

"Bastard," Draco mutters. He checks the scrying charm. It's still a clear, gleaming black oval hovering in midair. Draco's heart sinks, and he swears beneath his breath. This bloody box is going to be a nightmare of a project it seems.

The thud of bootheels on stone echoes from the far entrance to the laboratory, heralding a visitor Draco's certain he won't enjoy. It's not that he hates his colleagues, but even after working here for nearly a decade, first in reception, then as an apprentice, and finally as a full-fledged curator, most of his co-workers are still highly suspicious of him. It'd taken a direct order from Berrycloth himself before they'd give him even the slightest Dark artefact to handle, despite the fact that a good portion of Draco's apprenticeship under Berrycloth had been working with exactly those sorts of objects. It's almost as if they expect him to break out in a recitation of an ode glorifying the Dark Lord or something just as stupidly foolish.

Not that Draco doesn't see their point, though. His father remains locked up Azkaban, eleven years after the war, and Draco himself still bears the evidence of his youthful folly in the faded grey serpent and skull marring his arm. He keeps the Mark hidden when he's at work and, really, most anywhere else he finds himself in the wizarding world. Long sleeves and suit coats are his uniform now, and even on the hottest days of summer when the laboratory is sweltering and Draco's cooling charms barely stir the air, he refuses to roll up his shirtsleeves. Best not to give anyone else something to remark on, to remember how idiotic Draco had been in his salad days.

Ironically, however, he leaves the Mark visible when he goes to the Muggle bars around Islington and Soho, to the bright, loud drinking dens where he chats up a stranger and convinces him to take him home and shag him senseless. Muggle men are fascinated by the Mark, by the puckered, pink scarring around it from the time Draco had tried to hex it off his skin, to no avail. To them, the Mark's dangerous, reckless, sexy, and Draco takes a perverse delight in feeling the lips of those men skim across the serpent's curves, over the twisted scar tissue, knowing how much his father and that megalomaniac bastard he'd invited into their home would loathe not only what Draco was doing, in bed with a thick prick stretching his arse wide, but also the type of men Draco was letting fuck him until his body writhes and arches in a shuddering pleasure.

Circe, but he needs that right now. His body feels taut and tense, the way it gets when he's been thinking too much, remembering things he'd rather leave in the past. It's his mother's fault. She's been asking him to go see his father again. That's the last thing Draco wants; he hasn't been to Azkaban in a year or so. Perhaps more. He hates visiting Lucius, hates the mad blankness in his father's eyes, the matted hair and ratty beard that he's grown, the stink of his father's breath, the vitriol that comes from his father's lips when he sees Draco. A failure, he'd called him last time. A wastrel, a disgrace to the family name. And that'd only been because Draco had told his father that he and Astoria had separated, that he was giving her custody of Scorpius.

Lucius had been furious at that, threatening to destroy the Greengrasses, to smear their names, to ruin Draco himself in every way possible, to disinherit the lot of them, Scorpius included. As if he could do anything from where he is.

That afternoon, Draco had walked out of Azkaban vowing never to go back. He doesn't want Scorpius exposed to Lucius, doesn't want his son to be smothered by the dysfunction of the Malfoy family. The Greengrasses are different. Less caught up in pureblood ideology. Less certain they're better than the rest of wizarding society. Draco wants Scorpius to grow up as normally as he can, surrounded by people who care about him, who can make Scorpius into a better man than his father and his grandfather had been. The last thing he wants is for Scorpius to follow in his path, to believe the rubbish with which his own father had indoctrinated him. And now Draco resents his mother for pushing him to make amends with Lucius, for asking him to face the brutal man his once-beloved father has become. To love him still, despite everything.

As if Draco could ever stop.

"Malfoy!" Carruthers from reception's striding into the laboratory, all gawky limbs and tie askew. He's thin and tall, and young and his trousers are a bit too short, his threadbare suit coat a bit too snug across the shoulders. Draco remembers those days, working his way up from reception and into his apprenticeship, earning barely enough to buy food and pay for his share of the flat he'd taken with Blaise and Pansy and Mills. The Malfoy Gringotts accounts had been frozen back then, the Manor locked up by the Ministry. It and half the Malfoy assets are still under Auror control even now, and Draco's certain neither he nor Scorpius will see any of it returned to the family coffers, at least not in their lifetimes.

Sins of the fathers, after all.

With the greatest care, Draco sets the jewelled box back down and replaces the protective covering to shield it from light and air. Perhaps he really should call the Gringotts cursebreakers on this one. It might require more than his skills to untangle these charms. He rubs his hands together reflexively to shake off any lingering particles, then strips his gloves off. One snags on the edge of his ring, heavy, silver and engraved with the Malfoy crest. It'd been his father's; his mother had given it to Draco on his twenty-first birthday, marking him as head of the family now. He loosens the glove from the ring, then folds both gloves together, setting them aside on a pleated white towel.

"What is it?" he asks, unable to keep the annoyance from his voice. "You can tell Berrycloth I'm not in the mood for one of his mind-numbing meetings if that's what I'm late for."

Carruthers stops at the side of Draco's desk, holding up a small scroll. "You've an urgent owl from St Mungo's."

Draco startles reflexively, taking the tiny furled parchment. For a moment, he has visions of something awful having happened, his mother taken to hospital, attacked, perhaps, or afflicted by a wayward curse. Worse, even, Scorpius injuring himself at school or being found by one of those mad fools whose raving letters Draco sometimes receives through owl post, the ones that threaten to curse him in the street or to harm his family, hurt his child. Draco's taken them to the Aurors time after time, but no one seems to care that much. Nutters, the Aurors call them, and they promise to keep the letters on file in case anything happens. The problem is that Draco suspects they hope something does, that they want Draco to get the comeuppance he and his mother sidestepped thanks to fucking Potter's testimony all those years ago. Sometimes Draco wonders what would have happened if Potter hadn't spoken up for them, if he'd gone to Azkaban with his father.

Part of him thinks he ought to have, that he deserved to be punished for what he'd done during the war. People had died because of Draco, been hurt by his actions. Perhaps he'd been foolish and young, but now that he's older, has a son of his own, Draco can understand exactly how responsible he was for clinging to his father's bigoted beliefs.

When he sees Astoria's compact but messy Healer's scrawl, Draco relaxes. If it'd been about Scorpius she would have rung the mobile he keeps in his satchel, the one she'd handed to him one Sunday evening last spring when he'd dropped Scorpius back off at Arlington Square, instructing him to keep it charged in case she needed to speak with him. The heavy thud of his heart slows, and he rolls the scroll between his fingertips, wondering if he should open it here. His divorce hasn't been finalised for very long, and Draco's still very private about anything to do with Astoria Malfoy née Greengrass. It's not as if his heart's broken about the end of their relationship, though. For all intents and purposes, he and Stori had lived apart since Scorpius was one, sharing custody and parenting duties but socialising and working quite separately. No one had really known at first, not even their friends, although Pansy'd asked pointed questions of Draco after a few months. Astoria had taken the lower levels of the townhouse, and Draco had moved his things into the top floor. It'd worked for a modicum of time, whilst Stori was finishing her residency in magical surgery at St Mungo's, and then it'd become more difficult on nights that either one of them wanted to bring someone home. Explaining to one's shag that one lived with one's not-quite-wife was a bit of an erection killer, Draco'd discovered.

So not long after Scorpius turned two, Draco'd moved into his flat on Little Russell Street, just past the organic botanist. It's a heavily touristed area, to be sure, but Draco loves his little slice of Victorian London, and the proximity to the Museum is unmatchable. The divorce papers had followed soon after, Astoria informing him that whilst they'd both known from the beginning that their marriage wouldn't be a romantic match, still, she thought she had a right to a more complete and honest form of happiness than their current living situation involved. She'd been right, as she always is.

Through it all, their relationship has remained somewhat amicable, if frosty at times. Draco still can't entirely forgive her for exposing him to the scrutiny of their social set though divorce, even as he has no doubt about her motives or ultimate care for him and more importantly for Scorpius. But it would have been so much easier in the end if she'd just allowed them to retain the illusion of happy families whilst keeping their extramarital dalliances on the side. Then again, it was mostly Draco dallying with the men he'd brought home, even during their marriage--although always with Astoria's permission. They'd opened up their relationship a year or two after their wildly lavish wedding--the Greengrasses had money to burn and a social standing to maintain--but only Draco had indulged. Astoria had waited until they'd separated, and even then her occasional romances had been low-key, short-lived.

"Everything all right, Mr Malfoy?" Carruthers stands close by, lingering to hear the contents. It must be a slow day at the front desk, Draco thinks a bit bitterly, but he knows those dull mornings himself, the ones in which one would do anything just to have a bit of drama cross one's path. It's midweek, and Wednesdays are notoriously boring at the Museum. But this isn't the moment to dance to Carruthers' tune, Draco's afraid. He's bloody well not offering himself up for anyone's entertainment.

"Nothing grave," Draco informs Carruthers and then decides to lie. "It's only my ex-wife. We're meeting for lunch later, and she's always a bit dramatic about restaurant choice."

Carruthers looks unconvinced, but Draco doesn't give way. He meets Carruther's gaze evenly, one eyebrow quirked.

"Do you require a reply?" Carruthers gives Draco a measured look of his own, and Draco admires his determination. "I could send one of the Museum owls--"

"No." Draco's voice is sharper than he intends, and Carruthers' scowl deepens. Draco exhales softly, tries to smile. No use in alienating the man if he can help it. "But thank you." There's no way in hell he's letting Carruthers send a return owl for him, the nosy git.

Carruthers just gives him a stiff nod. "As you wish." And at that, he retreats with a faint cough and a clack of boots. Draco tries not to roll his eyes. He's certain the entire wizarding wing will hear how rude he was, and they'll all believe it, regardless of fact or Carruthers proven lack of honesty in matters like this. The boy's a terrible gossip; he's just intelligent enough not to direct it towards anyone who might be powerful enough to care.

When the laboratory door slams shut behind Carruthers, Draco unrolls the scroll. Even with his expertise in decoding historically terrible penmanship, it takes him a moment to decipher Astoria's handwriting.

For the love of Merlin, Draco, answer your bloody mobile.

And that twist of terror rises up again from the pit of Draco's belly. He fishes the sleek Muggle smartphone out of his leather satchel; there are seven missed calls and a string of increasingly furious texts on the shiny glass screen demanding in one way or another that he call Astoria back before she amputates various body parts he'd rather keep. His ex-wife has a vicious streak when she's irritated; it's one of the parts of her personality she tries to keep in check, but Draco's always been able to set her off, one way or another.

"Fuck," he says to himself. If Scorpius is hurt, Draco'll never forgive himself.

Draco thumbs through his mobile contacts, searching for Astoria's number. He hates the silver technological tyrant and only uses it to keep up with Astoria. The Healers have been pioneering the use of cell service for remote assignments, and Draco supposes the Aurors must use duty phones as well. Patronus messaging's slowly becoming a relic of the past, and there's a part of Draco saddened by that and worried that firecalls might disappear in the not too distant future as well. Still, the shiny little mobile fits quite compactly in Draco's hand, and he loves the heft and feel of it, despite his misgivings about the secrets it holds that he can't see. He doesn't trust it, no matter how often Astoria laughs and tells him he's being a wanker. When one grows up around Dark artefacts, one learns rather quickly not to trust most enchanted objects, even if they're created by Muggles.

The corridor's empty when Draco steps into it, thank Circe. He smoothes a hand over his grey wool jumper and makes a beeline to the Keeper's Courtyard, the only place in the Museum where he can get stable reception without the wards' interference. He's already ringing Astoria in the echoing hallway as the heels of his black suede oxfords strike in a restrained fashion across the floor.

She answers almost immediately.

"Draco, where the fuck have you been?" Astoria's voice is terse, fierce, dispensing with all formality. Draco still hates the entire Muggle telephone system, the mobile even more for altering all of the polite rituals of communication, allowing his ex-wife to intrude into his day without notice. Not to mention making him feel horribly old-fashioned. His mother would be horrified by all of it, he's certain, so he's never mentioned to her that he owns a mobile. Not that he thinks she'd understand how it works. His mother disdains the convenience of a firecall, after all. Owls are her preferred method of communication, even in an emergency.

Astoria heaves a sigh across the line, and Draco can almost see her there, twisting a lock of hair around her finger, her mouth pursed in irritation. "I've been ringing you for hours."

"Hello, Stori. It's nice to hear your voice as well," Draco says as mildly as he can, determined to hear her out. They've been doing their best, he and Astoria, even if they're both still a bit raw from the divorce negotiations. His solicitor had told him that would fade, but Draco's not so certain. One trait both he and Astoria share is the ability to hold a grudge against the other for quite some time. "Sorry I missed your calls. Is Scorpius all right?" He tries to keep his tone light; he knows he doesn't manage.

"Oh." Astoria's voice softens. "He's fine, Draco. Nothing to worry about on that score."

A rush of relief goes through Draco. He'd move heaven and earth for Scorpius, whatever Astoria might think. Draco knows he might not be the most hands-on father out of his set; Pansy's husband Tony has him to rights on that. But Draco loves his son madly, and he'd known from the moment Astoria had mentioned separating that Scorpius needed to live with her. For his own good. Astoria's kind and generous, and she didn't grow up with the bigotry he'd been raised in. If Draco wants his son to have a better life than he does, to live past the shame of the Malfoy name, he needs to give Astoria free rein in raising Scorpius. It's a decision his mother hadn't understood. She'd seen it instead as a means for the Greengrasses to have one up on their family, to usurp the Malfoy heir.

But Astoria's parents aren't like that. They're traditional, but not close-minded, and Draco trusts them. Perhaps more than he trusts his own parents, as much as he may still love them.

"I'm glad," Draco says finally. He leans a hip against the stone wall, looking through a large window to the small oasis beyond. It's bare in winter, the rain-soaked benches oddly Spartan without their customary greenery-filled pots. The fountain has been drained--cold weather has been forecast by the Met for the next week at least, and clearly the groundskeepers are taking no chances. Draco can't believe it's already the second of December. He's still loads of Christmas shopping to get done, although there won't be proper Christmas this year since his mother's been threatening to decamp to the Caribbean of all places for the hols. His mother seems to think it would be good for a lingering bronchitis that Aunt Andromeda's been nursing since August or so. He's glad they've managed to repair their relationship in recent years, but it terrifies him as well. The two Black sisters are terribly devious and scheming when they want to be, and Draco's rather certain, now that his mother's adjusted to his divorce, that she's been lining up women she considers good prospects for her son's next marriage.

If only she knew that he'd far rather be riding a thick cock.

Not that he's any intention of informing his mother of his sexual proclivities, of course. She'd have a complete breakdown if she suspected he was anything but the proper straight boy she thought she'd raised. There's no sense in pointing out that the only way Scorpius had been conceived involved rather a lot of wine and some creative visualisation of Draco's favourite Quidditch player--Luc Dupuis of Puddlemere. Tall, broad-shouldered, thick-thighed, with messy, dark hair and a Seeker's reflexes. Everything Draco fantasises about in a man.

He shifts against the stone wall. "If it's not Scorpius, then why the myriad texts? I know you're not desperate to see me, and we're not scheduled to talk until tomorrow evening." Through the lead-paned window, Draco watches the rain fall into the courtyard, drops splashing into puddles that stretch across the concrete pavers. "Unless you truly do miss me that much."

"So amusing." Astoria hesitates, that faint hitch coming into her voice that means she's uncertain about something. She's probably biting her bottom lip right now, worrying it between her teeth, and a twist of regret goes through Draco. He misses Astoria sometimes. Not the rows they'd had or the silences after. But she knows him better than anyone else. She's kept his secrets, never told a soul that he likes to fuck men, that he'd fucked them during their marriage. She'd said it'd been for Scorpius' sake, but Draco knows that's not true. Not entirely. As much as they might drive each other around the twist, they'd lived together for years. They'd been companions. Friends, even, and that's what Draco misses most.

When Astoria left, he lost his best friend. No one else, not Pansy, not Blaise, not Greg or Millicent, has been able to fill her place. Draco's certain no one ever will.

"Look," Astoria says quickly. "Daphne's really not able to manage on her own right now--she's poorly, and I think being away from home is making it worse. She's lonely and homesick, and other than Theo, there's no one else she knows in Los Angeles. He's worried about her, and so am I. Of course, I know the medical care where they are in Los Angeles is perhaps more on the cutting edge than here, but still, I'd like to be there to help."

Draco frowns. This is sounding more and more like Astoria's going to ask him to do something. "Why can't she come home?" He doesn't really care much about Daphne's pregnancy. Since before his and Stori's wedding, Draco and his sister-in-law haven't been on the best of terms. Daphne'd been against it from the start; she'd told Astoria she'd regret marrying Draco, and to her credit, she'd been right. Draco loathes the smug cow.

"At eight and a half months in? Are you mad?" Astoria never has had patience with Draco's complete inability to understand the female body, much less its childbearing state. "She couldn't possibly, even with a normal pregnancy. And this is much higher risk because of the placenta's position now."

Draco grimaces reflexively, more out of disgust than empathy. He immediately feels guilty. He loves his son, but he knows now that the divorce is through that he should have been more present for Astoria during her own pregnancy. He's failed a lot of things in his short life, more than he really thinks a twenty-nine year old should have done. For now, he focuses on doing his job well at the Museum and being the best father he can manage--not that Astoria thinks he's doing well at the later, he's certain. His residual regret where Astoria is concerned is perhaps what leads him to agree to the next part of the conversation.

"I need you to take Scorpius full-time for several weeks." Astoria's voice is clipped and matter-of-fact. "They'll probably induce Daph soon, so I expect to be back by Christmas, but if not, I'll need you to cover until I return. I've arranged emergency leave from Anish to go to L.A., and he and Ruth are covering my surgery schedule--I've even managed a Portkey for tomorrow."

And that surprises Draco. Head Healer Choudhury's notoriously reluctant to let Astoria take a day of leave, much less weeks, so something must be truly wrong with Daphne for him to agree to such a long period of absence at this time. Then again, Astoria rarely uses her leave, so she should have a significant number of days banked in her HR account. Also, with the holidays coming, the number of emergency surgeries--Choudhury's speciality--should go up as families gather and drive each other mad, and the number of elective or planned surgeries that Astoria covers will down over the next weeks for the same reason.

"I see," Draco says, even though he doesn't entirely. He knows he can't refuse. He's not that foolish. "I haven't really got my flat ready for all of Scorpius' things, but I'll try to make it comfortable." His mind's already racing ahead, trying to figure out where he might store the multitude of clothes, toys, and other equipment required to keep his son happy, hearty and hale.

Astoria huffs out another sigh of frustration. "That's just it, Draco. You only usually have him at the weekend. There's no room for him there. Not for the length of time you might have him."

Draco tries not to grind his teeth. "Then what do you suggest? I'm not taking him to Mother's. I won't have her cancelling her plans for us." Whilst Narcissa might be thrilled to have her grandson for the duration of Astoria's absence, Draco'd never be able to last through living with his mother again. Their relationship is best at a slight distance, and there's enough from Russell Square to Kensington Park Gardens, with Hyde Park between them.

"Well, of course not." Astoria's voice is tight. Her relationship with Draco's mother has always been a bit chilly. "I'd like you both to stay in my flat whilst I'm gone. It has everything Scorpius needs for his daily routine. You can use the guest room, and he'll be at home with as little disruption as possible. Plus it's convenient to the school."

Draco shivers as a cold gust of air from the courtyard gets under the warm cashmere of his jumper. "What do you mean?"

He can't imagine having to live in the townhouse in Islington again, even if it's a terrace house on the loveliest square in the area and quite near the Canal. He's immensely attached to his own space in Russell Square near the Museum--his daily walk is an enjoyable part of his own routine, and Draco really, really hates varying said routine.

And to be honest, Draco also isn't quite sure whether he can manage Scorpius for that length of time. Even a weekend exhausts him, and--not that he'll ever admit it--he's relieved to be able to hand his son back over to Astoria on Sunday nights. Draco doesn't know if he can even keep track of Scorpius' weekday schedule; weekends are usually comprised of naps and telly and walks in the park. Fun things, not the day-to-day minutiae of Scorpius's life. When Draco'd moved out of the townhouse, Astoria'd taken over the lion's share of parenting. It'd seemed only natural whilst Astoria was nursing Scorpius and when he was very young, and that's what Astoria had wanted. Draco hadn't felt he could refuse her. Before the divorce was finalised, they agreed to split custody a bit more evenly, with Draco having most weekends and the occasional holiday, but Draco still defers to Astoria on daily decisions and routines. They'd spoken in recent days about finding a better balance, but Draco's hoped he could gradually shoulder more responsibility. Perhaps once Scorpius has moved past his stubborn toddler phase. But now it looks as if he'll have to take that particular plunge all at once, and he's not best pleased. A moment of panic seizes him. What if he's not really prepared for it? Who will help then?

"I know you're nervous, Draco," Astoria says, and her voice is soft, gentle. He looks out over the rainy courtyard, tries to swallow past the tightness in his throat. Right now he hates that she knows him so well. "But it'll be better for Scorpius to be at home. You'll be fine with him. I'm certain of that. Whatever you might think, you're a good father."

And that seals it, doesn't it? Draco tries hard to be a better father than his own father was, perhaps succeeding at times, perhaps failing for more frequently than he'd like to admit. But he'll do simply anything for his little towheaded boy, and his ex-wife has just called him out on his own anxiety getting in his way.

She's right, of course.

Draco twists his Malfoy crest ring absently on his finger, watching as the grey light from the window glints off the engraved silver. He looks out the window again. "Fine. I'll try to work something out. When should I come by?"

"Fabulous," Astoria says a bit flatly, and the moment of understanding between them slips away. "I'll see you at seven, and perhaps you can bring a house elf as well? Mummy needs Prossy to help her for the holidays, and I told her that'd be fine. I just don't want to leave you and Scorpius without help."

"Of course," Draco agrees. "I'll Owl Mother. She and Aunt Andy are likely travelling for Christmas, if you can imagine."

"Merlin help wherever they end up," Astoria says with that laugh of hers, throaty and contagious, and Draco smiles before the warm sound fades. They're silent a moment, and it's awkward in a way Draco can't quite explain. It's his own damned fault, and he knows it. Perhaps their marriage could have lasted if he'd managed to keep his trousers done up. If there hadn't been that one last time, that pointed anonymous rumour in the Prophet's society pages about a certain disgraced pureblood scion being seen stepping out on his Healer wife. They hadn't mentioned the fact that it'd been a man Draco'd been with, but it'd been enough for Astoria. He understands why. She'd been willing to overlook his proclivities, as long as she hadn't been embarrassed. But once that happened...well. None of it was healthy for either of them, Astoria had said, and perhaps she's not wrong.

Draco just doesn't have any intention of letting his secret come out. His mother's gone through enough; his son already has the Malfoy reputation to live down. It's not fair to either of them for Draco to proclaim he's bent to the world.

Or to anyone at all, for that matter.

"I should go." Astoria's voice is quiet. "I've a thousand things to get done before I pick up Scorpius."

Draco hesitates, then he says, "Do you want me to?" His heart thuds against his chest. He doesn't want to go by Scorpius' school, doesn't want to face the stony faces and sideways glares of the other parents, doesn't want to remind them of his son's lineage.

"No," Astoria says quickly, and Draco's nearly put out by that. Until she says, her voice catching in the back of her throat, "I'd like one last night with him, if you don't mind."

"Of course." Draco hates the relief that floods through him. He knows he has to face the others in the morning, but at least he'll have this evening and a bottle of whisky after Scorpius goes to bed to build up his courage. What little he has.

"You'll be fine, Draco," Astoria says again, as if perhaps by repeating that mantra, she'll make it true. Still, Draco's glad to hear it. He needs to believe it himself. "I'll see you tonight?" She sounds a bit distracted, and Draco can hear someone in the background talking to her.

"Seven it is. À bientôt, Stori." And with that, Draco rings off, his thumb pressing down on the red circle on the mobile screen. He stares out the long windows, watching the rain fall, wondering what the hell he's just agreed to.

But then again, he reminds himself, toddler or not, how hard can two weeks in Islington be?

He takes a deep breath, pushes himself off the cold wall. Behind him, the rain falls harder, cold and wet against the stones of the courtyard.

Astoria's right. He'll be fine with Scorpius. What choice does he have? He's Scorpius's father after all.

Circe help the poor sprog.

Chapter Text

"You're certain you've everything under control?" Astoria asks, and Draco can tell by the way she bites her lip when she looks over at him that she's having second thoughts about leaving him alone with Scorpius.

All things considered, Draco likes to think he'd done relatively well so far. When he'd landed in their old townhouse last night at five minutes past seven, a satchel of clothes and necessities in hand, Astoria'd been madly dashing around the bath, trying to bathe Scorpius whilst flinging cosmetics and face creams into a small sack. Draco'd taken over scrubbing their son down and had found himself soaked with pale green, soapy water in the process before he'd wrapped Scorpius in a towel and carried him into his bedroom. A half-hour and two storybooks later, Scorpius had been curled up, sound asleep, in the small ebony bed Astoria's mother had ordered from Paris when he'd outgrown his crib. Draco'd spent the rest of the evening helping Astoria pack her bag for L.A., and they'd capped off their night sharing a bottle of wine in front of the hearth, Draco in the wide leather chair, Astoria curled up in the corner of the sofa like she used to, her cream silk pyjamas bunching at her hips, her knees pulled to her chest, her long, pale toes pressed into the soft navy velvet of the cushions. She'd looked young and beautiful in the firelight, the way Draco remembers her from the start of their marriage.

When she'd smiled at him, it'd almost felt as if Draco had come home.

But when Draco'd said that, watching Astoria over the rim of his wine glass, she'd looked away, told him she needed to go to bed. She'd stood, her glass cupped between her fingers, the last swallow of wine still pooled in the bottom, and she'd walked over, kissed Draco's cheek, her hand light against his jaw. He could smell her perfume--the violets and lilies she prefers, the one he'd bought her when they'd gone to Paris that first time together before their wedding. It'll always be Astoria's fragrance to him, no matter if he catches a whiff of it in the street.

Good night, Draco, Astoria had whispered, and then she'd drawn away, left him sitting alone in the shadowed room until the flames in the hearth finally burned down to embers.

He'd woken Astoria up for the Portkey at six o'clock. It'd been odd to spend the night under the same roof again; he'd slept rather poorly in Astoria's guest room. Perhaps it was the wine, perhaps it was the quiet ache in his heart when he'd slid beneath the sheets, perhaps it was the dislocation of being in her space instead of his own now. All of the spatial markers, scents, and even the small noises of the house had thrown him off. It was hard to imagine he'd lived here just over a year ago.

The one improvement had been the coffee--this morning whilst Astoria was showering, Draco'd made himself a double espresso from her giant Italian monster machine, which he must admit is far better than his nostalgic Moka pot that sits on the back of his hob. When Draco wants a real espresso--or at least a better brew than what he can make--he just hies himself around the corner from his flat to Syrup of Soot down Museum Street and indulges in the delightful bitterness of fresh-ground coffee mixed with the richness of the coffee shop's historical ambience. He's managed not to shag most of the baristas so far, out of sheer self-preservation and fear for the integrity of his morning ritual, but he has his eye on the devilishly handsome new Wednesday counter boy with eyes as green as the Wiltshire countryside and a wicked smile to boot.

"Draco," Astoria says, and Draco looks up from the toast he's buttering for Scorpius. Astoria's stood beside the wide, marble-topped island in the kitchen, watching him, her bags at her feet. "If you need help--"

"Mother's sending over Imsy this afternoon." Draco cuts the toast into soldiers, then carries the plate over to the kitchen table where Scorpius is sat, fully dressed, the heels of his socked feet beating against the chair legs, an oversized napkin tied around his neck to protect his jumper. Draco pierces the soft belly of the egg he'd poached for his son, and the thick yellow yolk runs over the plate. He looks up at Astoria. "Stop worrying. We'll be fine."

At least he bloody well hopes so. Draco smoothes a palm over Scorpius' wavy fringe, ignoring his ex-wife's dubious look. Scorpius drags a toast soldier through the runny egg yolk, then pops it into his mouth, one cheek puffed out as he chews.

"Right." Astoria turns the flat, circular Portkey disk between her fingers. She nods, then she says, "Oh, you'll need to speak with Mrs McKinsey this morning. I volunteered to help with the Yule pageant before all this came up. I don't know what she'll want to do now." She glances up at Draco, her eyebrows rising ever so slightly. "Unless you wanted…" Astoria shakes her head. "But I'm asking too much."

Something about the way she says it ruffles Draco's sensibilities. "I'm not incompetent, you know."

"I never said you were." Astoria looks over at Scorpius, her face wistful. "But he's a handful, and I've dumped all of this on you so suddenly--"

"We'll be perfectly all right, Scorpius and I," Draco says, and he can't keep back the sharpness in his tone. He hates it when Astoria acts as if he's useless, as if only she can care for their son. "And I'm fairly certain I could handle a nursery school pageant."

Astoria gives him a dubious look. "There are costumes and rehearsals and all manner of schedules to plan with parents and their children. The details alone--"

"I work for the British Museum, Stori." Draco frowns at his ex-wife. "I rather think I'm detail oriented enough to arrange a pageant schedule."

That doesn't seem to convince Astoria. "Just give Mrs McKinsey my regrets. She'll work something out."

"Whatever." Draco doesn't bother to keep the bitterness from his voice. This is one of the reasons he's glad they've separated. Sometimes Astoria can make him feel bungling and brainless when it comes to his parenting duties. As if only she can properly raise their son. Maybe she's right, but that doesn't mean Draco can't resent her. He glances at the clock on the wall. The Portkey's set to activate any minute now. "Unless you're about to drop that Portkey and not go to Los Angeles, you can stop worrying about us."

Astoria sighs, then says, "It's just I haven't really been away from him this long--"

That makes Draco feel like a bit of a tit. He knows this isn't easy for Astoria either. If it weren't for her worry about Daphne, she'd be here to take care of all of this. To carry on with the pageant, to look after their son. And Draco would just have a few weekends to worry about, perhaps a day or three over the hols. He'd do his slight part, but the bulk of Yule and Christmas and New Year's would rest on Astoria's sloped shoulders.

Perhaps that's not fair to her, really.

"You'll be fine too." Draco rubs his fingertips across Scorpius's small back. He can feel his son's shoulder blades through the knit of his jumper. It terrifies Draco how fragile they seem. Scorpius is such an inferno of energy whenever he has him that Draco forgets that he's barely out of his infancy. He looks over at Astoria. "Daph needs you, and we'll be here waiting for you when you get back, won't we, Scor?"

Scorpius nods as he shoves another egg-drenched bit of toast into his mouth. "Yah, yah, yah, yah," he says, making sing-song sounds more than an actual answer to Draco's question, and Draco snorts. Their son's not paying either of them the slightest attention.

Astoria picks up her satchel, settling it on her shoulder before she reaches for her overnight bag. Her fingers curl tightly around the Portkey. "I know I'm being mad," she says. "I'm just going to miss him."

"Tell Mummy goodbye." Draco nudges Scorpius who looks up, blinking those wide, grey eyes of his. He focuses on Astoria, and it's then that the Sickle drops.

"No," Scorpius shouts. He pushes his plate away, his fingers sticky-yellow with egg yolk. "No, Mummy! No bye--"

"I'll be home soon." Astoria's voice cracks. "I promise, lovey. And I'll bring you something wonderful back with me; I just have to go help Aunt Daphne unwrap your new little cousin--"

"No!" Scorpius is frantic now, and Draco tries to catch him as he squirms out of his chair, but Scorpius is quicker than Draco anticipates. "No cousin!" Scorpius sidesteps Draco, running for his mother, the napkin flapping from his collar, his hands outstretched. "Mummy!"

Astoria meets Draco's gaze, her face anguished. "I shouldn't go--"

"We'll be fine," Draco says, just as he hears the click of the Portkey activating. He reaches for Scorpius, misses again as his son darts around the island. "Ring us up tonight before bath time if you can."

"I love you, darling." Astoria bends down to Scorpius's level as he runs towards her. She blinks away the wetness on her eyelashes. "I'll be home as quickly as I can--"

And then she's gone, and Draco's grabbing Scorpius before he tumbles into the emptiness left behind.

"Mummy," Scorpius screams, and he arches against Draco's grasp. His tears are fierce and quick, his flushed face screwed up in the overwhelming grief of a toddler. When Draco picks him up, Scorpius kicks his feet out, barely missing Draco's groin and landing instead on his hipbone, sending pain shooting through Draco's side. "Not you! Mummy!" Scorpius reaches for the space Astoria had filled. "Mummy!"

"She'll be back," Draco says, but his son's too lost in his misery to listen. Scorpius sobs, heavy, deep cries that wrack his tiny body, that echo through the quiet of the kitchen. Draco rubs circles across Scorpius' back, and his son collapses against his shoulder still crying, wetting Draco's shirt with tears and snot. Draco feels useless against the onslaught of his son's unhappiness. It's never been like this before. Scorpius has been unhappy a time or two when Draco's taken him for the weekend, but he's always been quickly distracted. This morning's different. It's never been Astoria leaving him, Draco realises. It's always been Draco taking Scorpius away from here, with Scorpius knowing that he'd be back to his room and his toys and his mother.

And now it's Astoria who's gone away.

Scorpius's tears finally slow into soft, hiccupping gasps. He lays quietly on Draco's shoulder, his thumb in his mouth, his whole body limp against Draco's chest.

"Do you want to finish breakfast?" Draco asks, and Scorpius shakes his head. Another raspy snuffle dampens Draco's shoulder. Draco carries his son back over to the table. "Are you certain?" He picks up a toast soldier. "Because this little lieutenant might want his head bitten off." Draco drags the toast through the remnants of the yolk. Scorpius lifts his head as Draco raises the eggy toast up to his own mouth. "I might have to eat him myself."

"That's mine," Scorpius protests, and he pulls at Draco's hand. "My efftenan."

Draco lets Scorpius lean in and take a bite off the end of toast. "Oh,no," he says in a ridiculously high voice. "You ate my hat!"

Scorpius starts laughing. He leans in and takes another bite, a bigger one this time. "I ated his head!"

"And so you did," Draco agrees. He lets Scorpius take the toast from him, shoving half of it into his mouth in one go. Scorpius chews, his mouth open, tiny white teeth macerating the brown bread in the most disgusting manner possible. Draco tries not to wretch as he puts Scorpius back down in his seat. "Think you can finish?"

In answer, Scorpius finishes off his toast, then reaches for another slice. "It's school time," he shouts before he licks eggs off his fingers. His tears are drying, although he blows a snot bubble out of one nostril. Draco uses the corner of the napkin to clean it away.

He looks down at himself. His shirt's creased; there's yellow egg smeared across his tie from where Scorpius had grabbed it. Snot and tears stain his shoulders, and there's no way he can go into work like this.

With a sigh, Draco loosens his tie, starts to unbutton his shirt.

One morning nearly down. Draco doesn't want to think of how many more he's left to get through.

He looks down at Scorpius, at eggy fingers and a butter-smeared mouth. A warmth suffuses through him, deep and full, and Draco knows whatever the next few weeks through his way, he can make it through.

That's just part of being a father, after all.

***

As he lands in the school Floo, Scorpius's warm and slightly sticky little hand clenched tightly in his own, Draco's stomach swoops with a rush of nerves. It's been months since he's been at the Niffler's Garden, and that last time had been before the start of term, when he and Astoria had signed the parental forms agreeing to enrol Scorpius for the year. The chatter and shouts of children is the very first thing he registers, followed by the punctuation of cheerful adult voices, shouting greetings to one another or calling their offspring to slow down. It's jarring to his senses, accustomed to one or perhaps two children at a time, and then only in small doses. Now the crashing noise of a myriad sprogs settles around him, and Draco knows he's in a new world.

Upon stepping out of the wide hearth in the entrance corridor, Draco's greeted by the school crest, painted into the wall opposite the Floo. A Niffler in a side pose, his paw outstretched towards the tree of learning, as the headmistress had explained during their initial tour. Draco's rather certain a Niffler would be more interested in a pile of gold and diamonds than the stylised tree that's bent towards him, branches spread wide, but perhaps that's a more cynical view than most parents might take. Astoria had pinched him hard before he'd said anything; she knows him far too well.

Now Draco frowns absently at the Niffler, as he brushes soot off his sleeve. He's going to have to have someone come look at Astoria's Floo. Modern fireplaces just don't hold their magic the way older ones do.

Still, soot aside, they've made a proper appearance at school, and that's what matters, Draco thinks. Scorpius is rather dashing in his little uniform: his white polo shirt's crisp, his jumper is properly lined up on his wiggly little body, and his trousers look reasonably well-pressed. Scorpius had asked to wear a pair of dark blue trainers, but Draco had insisted on his wearing proper leather shoes, buffed and gleaming and buckled over Scorpius's white socks. As he looks around the crowded hallway, Draco regrets his formality. All of the other children seem to be wearing the puffy, springy Muggle shoes. He makes a mental note to adapt for tomorrow.

"Papa, I can play with Al?" Scorpius is tugging at his hand. "He's there."

And Draco remembers Astoria had mentioned to him a month or two ago in one of their weekly calls that Scorpius appeared to have become rather friendly with one of the other pupils with that particular name. Al or Albert or Alfred or some name like that. To be honest, his full attention hadn't been on their conversation at the time; he'd been dressing to go out to a gay club that night, and his thoughts had been more drawn to deciding what outfit might better help him pull. Still, his son's delight charms him. Draco's thrilled that Scorpius isn't being shunned by the other children. He smiles, looking down at his son. "Why don't you introduce me to your teacher first? What's her name again?"

"Mrs. 'Kinsey," Scorpius says, his face falling. He sticks his bottom lip out. "Wanna play," he mutters, but he doesn't try to pull his hand from Draco's.

Right. Astoria'd mentioned a Mrs McKinsey. Draco scans the crowd for an indicator of who that might be. He imagines her as older, plump, with neatly curled white hair. Then again, he might just be conflating her with his own governess at Scorpius's age. Mrs. Selwyn, a proper pureblood widow, genteel and polite and in need of an income after her husband's death. He'd adored her, and she him. It'd nearly broken his heart five years back when he'd found out she'd died. Mrs Selwyn had made his childhood less lonely in so many ways.

And then Draco stills, his body tensing. His fingers grip Scorpius's so tighty that his son looks up at him in surprise.

The years have done more than justice to Harry Potter. He looks fucking edible in Draco's opinion. His shoulders are broader, his jaw sharper. There's a slight dusting of early silver at his temples that makes Draco's knees a bit weak, and Potter's holding a dark-haired boy on his hip not much older than Scorpius. The boy lays his head on Potter's shoulder, only a dark mass of curls visible; Potter smoothes a hand across his back, tugging at the jumper that's already riding up as he laughs at whatever the woman beside him has said. He leans in to answer, and then, with a smile, he turns away, with a fucking aura of command about him that sends shivers up Draco spine.

Merlin, but Draco still loathes him. Completely.

"Scorp'us!" a boy shouts. Al, Draco assumes, and he looks about for the ankle-biter with whom his son has become enamoured. And then he catches sight of Potter again through the crowd of parents, the boy in his arms now upright and looking their way. He's a carbon copy of Potter and he seems to be wiggling at the rate of Draco's own son. The boy--Al, it must be--waves at Scorpius, and Draco knows he's right when Scorpius starts bouncing up and down on the balls of his feet.

"Al!" Scorpius tries to tug away from Draco's grasp, but Draco won't let him.

"Stop," Draco says sharply, but his heart softens as Scorpius looks up, imploring him with big grey eyes to let him go. Draco heaves an unhappy sigh. Astoria should have warned him about this. She knows his opinion of Potter, how arrogant and awful Potter can be. And now his son's apparently best mates with Potter's spawn. Could Draco's life get any worse? Perhaps that's a question best left unanswered. He loosens his grip on Scorpius's hand. "Go on, then."

Oh, how Draco hopes he doesn't regret this choice.

He takes a deep breath as his son dashes over to his friend, then he follows Scorpius's path with what he hopes is a measured, confident stride. He falters only once when he sees Potter's face light up into a wide smile at seeing Scorpius. Potter lets his own son slide down out of his arms, the boy's trainers thudding against the tiled floor. Al races towards Scorpius, throwing his arm around him gleefully.

And then Potter looks up, sees Draco. He straightens up, and the smile fades from his face.

Draco squares his shoulders. He won't let Potter see how his reaction daunts Draco. "Hello, Potter," he says evenly, meeting the bright green eyes of his former school rival and bitterest enemy.

"Malfoy." The look on Potter's face is dismissive, and his voice is flat.

Draco's anger swells hot in his chest. He doesn't know how Potter can get a rise out of him with one word, but he's done it already, the way he had all those years ago, back in Hogwarts. And now they're here, grown men with sons of their own, and Potter can still get beneath Draco's skin, still make Draco want to slam his fist into that perfectly formed nose, wants to knock those stupid glasses of his askew. He hates Potter for making him feel this way, hates him for seeming completely at ease with their surroundings, whilst Draco couldn't feel more out of place.

He tries to tamp that fury down. For Scorpius' sake if nothing more. "It's good to see you," Draco manages to say, but Potter doesn't respond. Draco clears his throat. Refuses to look away. "It seems our boys get along." He's all too aware of Scorpius and Al nearby, their giggles muffled behind scarves and mittened fists.

"Scorpius is a good lad," Potter says. His mouth's a thin line. Draco's no fool; he knows what Potter's leaving unsaid. Unlike his father.

And yet Draco won't let Potter push him into losing his temper publicly. He stands straighter, not giving a damn if there's still a bit of egg yolk on the edge of his tie. "I like to think he is." Tension roils between him and Potter, between the wizarding world's golden boy and the dishonoured Death Eater who's hidden himself away in the depths of the British Musuem just to avoid moments like this.

The mothers around them turn their heads, begin to whisper. Poor little Scorpius, they say. Or whatever must Astoria be thinking, let him come? Draco can feel their stares; his cheeks begin to burn, but he won't give them the satisfaction of knowing that he cares what they might think. He's a Malfoy, for Circe's sake. As battered and bruised as his family's reputation might be, Draco still has pride in his lineage, in the generations of Malfoys who've come before him, left their mark, for better or worse, on British soil.

Luckily, Pansy swoops in, surrounded by a musky floral cloud of Joy by Jean Patou--her perfume of choice since her sixteenth birthday--and a refreshing attitude of cynicism. "Darling, there you are." She tucks her arm in Draco's, as though they were back at Hogwarts, and he feels better immediately. "I didn't know you were doing dropoff today."

"I've Scorpius for a bit." Draco leans to brush his lips near Pansy's cheek. "You're my Saviour," he whispers.

She laughs softly, her head bent to his. "Jewish, darling, remember. But I'll take the compliment." Her fingers tap lightly against his arm. "Speaking of Saviours, exactly what have you done to irritate society's favourite over there?"

Potter's expression is still icy when Draco looks again, his green eyes impassive as he studies Draco, his muscular arms crossed across his chest, pulling the line of his wool Auror jacket tight across his wide shoulders. Potter's definitely grown up, and Draco knows he's looking at the Deputy Head Auror of Magical Britain rather the gawky, uncertain boy he'd once known at school.

Unfortunately, Potter's dislike of him doesn't seem to have abated at all. Not that Draco can blame him, given how his urge to swing his balled fist is growing.

"Where's James?" Pansy asks Potter. "He's usually tearing up the hallways with that cousin of his."

"In the toilets," Potter says, his gaze still fixed on Draco. "Mr Zhang took a queue of them." His eyes narrow, his mouth thins. "But I'm curious as to what do we deserve the honour today?" Potter's intonation is even flatter than before. Draco hadn't known that was even possible. But the look Potter's giving him is filled with disdain at best, utter hatred at worst. It surprises Draco how much that realisation stings.

He blinks for a moment, struggling for context. "Sorry?"

Pansy's grip on Draco's arm tightens as Potter says, "It's just, we haven't really ever seen you here at the Garden." Potter's quick flick of his hand is a bit insolent. The mothers look between them, eyes wide, mouths slightly open, hidden behind hands adorned with sparkling rings. The whispers grow again, a muffled rush of displeasure that makes Draco's stomach twist. He wants to walk away, knows that he ought to. But he won't give any of them that. He's here for his son. No one else.

Still, Draco knows his nostrils are flaring, and his face must show how furious he is. His cheeks grow hotter, and he hates himself for it, for the fiery pink that he knows is blossoming across his pale skin. Fuck Potter and his self-righteousness.

"If you must know," Draco says, his tone as forbidding and frosty as he can make it, "Astoria was called away to help her sister. As I understand it, she's in quite a bit of medical danger, and they're worried about her baby." Draco thrusts his chin out, daring Potter to say something about a family misfortune. But even Potter doesn't have the bollocks to do that. Instead, he looks away.

"Oh, Draco," Pansy's voice cracks. "That's awful."

Draco nods, turning to look into the warm face of his old friend. She and Daphne were always good friends at school, but they'd grown apart in recent years. Having children will do that sometimes, take away the time you'd spent with old chums, especially ones who don't have kids of their own yet. He can tell how tired Pansy is by the wrinkles at the corners of her mouth, by the puffiness of her eyes, but her core of strength is undimmed. Motherhood looks fabulous on Pansy Parkinson, and her twins are lucky to be raised by such a mother serpent, so quick to protect and defend and love.

"Will Daph be all right?" Pansy asks, her brows drawn together. "I really ought to give her a ring."

"The Head Healer gave Astoria leave for three weeks initially, which is unheard of in the surgery." Draco's still furious with Potter for his cattiness, but he can't figure out how to turn the script better than this. No matter that Astoria will be furious with him for airing her family emergency in public like this. Still, Draco's willing to use it to deflect criticism of himself--for Scorpius's sake, he tells himself, but that's not entirely true, is it? Besides, Astoria's concern for her sister had been so intense last night that Draco'd absorbed the atmosphere of solemnity. He's sending his own heathen prayers for Daphne's well-being and the health of the baby to whatever force in the universe might be listening, although he'd damned well deny it if anyone asked.

Potter coughs awkwardly and runs his hand through his hair. "I didn't know. Please send Astoria my regards." He actually sounds apologetic, which makes Draco's eyes narrow. He wonders if Potter has designs on his ex-wife. Wouldn't that make for the most awkward family blending ever? Their sons might be thrilled, but Draco can't bear the thought of Potter bedding Astoria. The very idea puts a tightness in his chest, a heaviness in his gut. He knows Astoria deserves happiness with someone other than himself, but if Potter's the one, Draco'll go mad in a way he doesn't want to consider.

"Have you met Mrs McKinsey yet?" Pansy asks, interrupting Draco's paranoid musings. "She's usually here by now."

"No." Draco is grateful for the rescue. He looks over at Pansy, his hand settling over hers. "I haven't seen her yet. I was hoping Scorpius might introduce me."

Pansy pulls away. "Let me go find her." Draco misses the warmth of her arm against his. "Scorpius'll be useless in that regard."

At the mention of his name, Scorpius reappears, his face solemn. He tugs on Draco's trousers, and Draco squats down to face his son. "What?" he asks, and he smoothes back a stray lock of Scorpius's hair?

"Can Al come a play date?" The words tumble together, not quite easily, and it takes a moment for Draco to decipher them. Scorpius is looking up at him with wide eyes. "Mummy does."

Draco bites off his first, inappropriate response. Potter is looking over, his expression wary. Draco hesitates, then says, "Perhaps not today, Scorpius. After all, we're still getting Mummy's house in order."

Scorpius looks as if he might howl. Please don't, Draco thinks. Not here. Not now. Not in front of all these people.

To his relief, all that happens is Scorpius's bottom lip trembles. "You mean," he whispers, and he rubs a fist over one eye. It's a manipulative technique Scorpius uses frequently to get what he wants. Draco's afraid it works more than he'd like to admit.

"For Merlin's sake, Malfoy." Potter sounds exasperated. "If it's that complicated, I'll host. The boys see each other several times a week during term." Potter steps closer, his attention is back on Draco, his green eyes piercing. If Draco concentrates, he thinks he can smell a whiff of Penhaligon 33. It suits Potter, as much as it pains Draco to admit it, even to himself. "I'd say Scorpius knows Grimmauld Place nearly as well as his own house by now, don't you, lad?"

Scorpius beams up at Harry. "Kreacher," he yells, and then Al's beside him, draping his arm almost possessively around Scorpius's shoulder. There's more to this friendship than Draco's been told, he realises.

The frequency of the play dates surprises Draco as well. He'd known one of the other parents was helping out sometimes, of course, but Astoria hadn't told him the extent of Scorpius' contact with his best friend Al, much less mentioned it was Potter's house Scorpius was going to for these after-school sessions. The house that technically ought to belong to his mother, given her Black family connections, but there's no sense in bringing that up. Still, it bothers him that Astoria's kept this secret from him. Perhaps she's actually is interested in Potter? Circe, that would be unbearable.

Draco looks the man in front of him up and down, noting the breadth of his shoulders, the narrowness of his hips, the coiled attitude of strength that hints at a more vigourous activity beyond a desk job. Honestly, he can't fault her if so. If it weren't Potter, Draco might even be intrigued himself, perish the thought. He bets Potter is devastatingly thorough in bed, merciless even, and tolerable as long as he doesn't open his mouth. Draco's horrified to find that his prick takes rather more of an interest in that thought than it really should. Draco immediately brings to mind his ex-mother in law and the upcoming holiday dinners with the Greengrasses he'll still be expected to attend as Scorpius's father, no matter how uncomfortable they might be, which ices his libido in a trice.

Potter's clearly waiting for an answer, impatient. The children are beginning to queue up for their classrooms, some of them alone, others with parents in hand.

"Oh." Draco hesitates, then says, a bit awkwardly, "If it helps him maintain his daily routine--"

"Which you might know if you were ever around," Potter says. His hand settles on Al's head, his fingers ruffling his hair lightly.

At that, Draco's just about to bite back and tell Potter to fuck himself, but he catches himself. Tries to be the better man. "As I was saying, I'm not opposed to it; however, it might be best to arrange for another day, given that Stori's just left this morning." It's not the most elegant of concessions. Draco sees it more as a tactical retreat.

He thinks Potter's going to argue with him, but to his surprise, Potter nods. "I suppose that's fair enough." He looks down at the boys. "Maybe tomorrow, lads."

Scorpius's face puckers, turns into a thundercloud. Draco reaches for him and swings him up to settle on his hip. "Tomorrow, I promise," he says. "Al can come over to Mummy's right after school--"

"That's half-three, you know," Potter says, and Draco gives him a scathing look.

"I'm aware." Only because Astoria had written out the schedule for him and posted it on the refrigerator, but Potter doesn't need to know that. "I'm happy to pick up both boys, if you don't mind."

Potter shrugs, but he looks uneasy. "As long as you don't kill them. I usually pick Al up by half-six. Astoria likes to feed them together."

Brilliant. Now he's two toddler suppers to worry about. "We can manage that," Draco says, and he looks over at his son, who's stuffed half his fingers in his mouth. "All right?"

Scorpius nods, but he still doesn't look happy. Draco's pondering what else to bribe him with when Pansy returns with a smiling thirtysomething witch in tow who must be Mrs McKinsey. Draco likes her calm manner at once, and Scorpius clearly is over the moon about her judging by the way his face lights up when he sees her.

"Hello, Mr Malfoy!" Mrs McKinsey shakes Draco's free hand. "It's wonderful to see you here. And I'm glad you're talking with Mr Potter already--has he mentioned we'll start rehearsals early next week?"

"What?" they both say in unison, and Draco gives Potter an uneasy glance. Potter seems appalled.

"I thought Healer Malfoy might have mentioned?" Mrs McKinsey gives Draco a thoughtful look, one which she then turns on Potter. "Surely you remember, Mr Potter. The Yule pageant? You volunteered on Tuesday."

Potter mumbles something under his breath that sounds decidedly like fuck. "I haven't forgotten," Potter says finally. "I didn't realise Malfoy would be part of it as well."

And that annoys Draco. "Would you rather my ex-wife be here?"

"Honestly?" Potter looks over at him. "Yes."

Draco's mouth tightens, and he turns back to Mrs McKInsey. "Astoria mentioned I should speak to you about it." He'll be damned if he's going to ask to be removed from the pageant now. Fuck if he'll give Potter what he wants, not after he's made it clear how little he wants to do with Draco. He'd have been better off keeping that quiet, in Draco's opinion. All Potter's managed to do is get Draco's stubbornness up. "What exactly is expected of us?"

Mrs McKinsey eyes him curiously, and Draco thinks she sees far more than he'd like her to. "You and Mr Potter are the parental leads for the Yule pageant. In fact, your families are the only ones who signed up, and it's so gracious of you to help out during this season. The children and I will very much need your support."

Bloody fucking hell. Draco wishes he'd never got out of bed this morning. He can feel Pansy's on guard next to him--she's always been good at telepathically reading his moods, especially when he's falling into a strop. She rests a hand on his back, and he knows she'll be supportive if he needs her to be.

"Scared, Malfoy?" Potter frowns. "Perhaps you should be, given your record of participation in Scorpius's school events."

Oh, and that does it. If Draco'd had any hesitations about doing this, they're gone now. He turns back to Scorpius' teacher and does his best Narcissa Malfoy impersonation. "How lovely! I'm sure we're going to have loads of fun. I did always love a good fancy dress play as a child."

And if that was in his mother's lipstick, heels, and pearls, reciting lines he'd made up himself into her vanity mirror, well that's no one else's business, now is it?

Pansy snorts softly next to him, but he ignores her. How she's managed to get out of all of this, he intends to find out. Knowing her she's claimed religious exemptions, the lucky cow. He wonders if he could point out his agnosticism and be removed on those grounds, but to the best of his knowledge the Niffler's Garden isn't a Church of England school, so what good would that do?

McKinsey's smile is genuine as she shakes Draco's hand again. "Thank you. It's beyond generous. I'll see you both on Monday afternoon around two for the planning meeting?"

"Happy to be there, certainly." Draco's going to have to speak to Berrycloth to get the time off, but he'll do anything now to spite Potter and prove that he, too, can be a hands-on parental volunteer. Lead, even. If it's a competition, he's going to be the best pageant volunteer they've ever seen at the Niffler's Garden. He looks over at Potter. "Does that work for you?"

"Brilliantly," Potter says through clenched teeth, just as a bell rings through the hallway, loud and bright. Potter looks over at McKinsey. "Reckon we should get them in the room now, yeah?"

"It might be a good idea." McKinsey's smile is warm as she holds out her hands. "Scorpius? Al? Would you care to join me in class?"

"Yes," the boys chorus happily, and they each grab a hand, bouncing up and down on either side of their teacher.

Potter clears his throat. "If I could walk and have a word?" He gives McKinsey an apologetic look. "I've a question about Al and his nappy problem here at school, if you don't mind."

"Of course." McKinsey looks back at Draco. "Lovely to meet you, Mr Malfoy. I'll look forward to talking to you this afternoon when you pick Scorpius up again."

They move off, leaving Pansy and Draco standing in the middle of the hallway, alone. Even the other yummy mummys have lost interest in them, all caught up in making sure their sons and daughters make it into the classroom.

"What in the bowels of Salazar have I got myself into, Pansy?" Draco asks sotto voce, watching the energetic figures of his son and Potter's talking animatedly as they bounce beside McKinsey. For all he can tell, Scorpius has forgotten he's here.

"Welcome to the special hell of nursery school." Pansy sighs. "We have apple juice and, on good days, there are cookies."

"Noted," Draco says, a bit grimly. He studies Potter as he ducks through the classroom doorway, his thick, dark hair rumpled and mussed as if he'd just rolled out of bed. And Merlin, that's not a thought Draco wants to have in his head. Not now, at least, when he has to go to the Museum, has to sit through one of Berrycloth's excruciatingly dull financial meetings. The last thing he needs is to be imagining Harry fucking Potter sprawled across a wide bed, chest bare, sheets crumpled around those narrow hips of his.

And yet that's exactly what he's going to do. Fantasise about Potter, his fist wrapped tight around his prick, his breath rough and laboured. The same way he'd done in Hogwarts sixth year when these feelings were just beginning to stir deep within his groin. It'd been Potter then. And it's going to sodding be Potter now, isn't it?

Because Draco is just that self-destructive.

He swears beneath his breath. Pansy gives him a knowing look, one he doesn't want to address.

"I have to go to work," Draco says before she can suggest a coffee and a pain au chocolat. He kisses her cheek. "I'll see you at pickup, I suppose."

He leaves Pansy standing alone in the quiet of the hallway, watching him step into the Floo, a thoughtful, considering expression on her face.

And as the Floo whirls him away, Draco's increasingly not sure if he's equal to this challenge.

Chapter Text

At ten past six on Friday evening, Harry sets his last file jacket back into its pile and checks that nothing's left too out of place on his wide oak desk. He really ought to do another hour or two of paperwork, if he could, but he's promised to pick Al up from his play date with Scorpius, and, really, he's got to stop somewhere. The matters that still need to be resolved can be completed Monday morning--or perhaps he'll bring the boys in with him on Saturday to finish up. They rather enjoy running through the near-empty Ministry halls, at turns amusing and terrorising the skeleton crew of Aurors on the weekend shift. He casts a reluctant eye over the bulging stack of file jackets, then sighs and turns to go. At least he's had a bit of a chance to go through them this evening; the rest of his day's been taken up by horribly dull meetings with Ministry officials and the occasional briefing in one or another of the incident rooms by a squad who's actually made progress on its case.

Sometimes Harry wishes he were still in the field, doing proper policing, not this ridiculous glad-handing he's stuck with now, signing off on other Auror's casework and, in general, dancing to the Wizengamot's every whim. Before he'd risen up in the ranks to Deputy Head, he'd actually felt as if he was doing something, making a difference in the communities he was assigned to on his beat. Now he's nothing to deal with but headaches and paperwork and Aurors jealous of how quickly he's advanced. Honestly, every other day Harry wonders if he should follow Ron's lead and bin this nightmare of a job. Find something else to do--not that Harry knows what that might be. He's wanted to join the Aurors since he was fifteen; he's not certain what other careers he'd be qualified to take on.

With a tired sigh, Harry pushes himself to his feet. His chair squeaks, then rolls back, one wheel catching on the edge of the threadbare rug beneath his desk. One might think the Deputy Head Auror's office would be grand, and Harry supposes it is compared to the cubicle he'd been sat at for years in the Auror bullpen. But the walls are plain white, lined only with the flatpack black-brown bookshelves he'd bought himself from the Ikea out in Wembley and hauled into the Ministry with Ron's help one August weekend. His law codes fill most of them, along with binders filled with the most recent Wizengamot acts and orders pertaining to magical law enforcement in Britain. There's a commendation or two from Kingsley hanging on the stretch of plaster between the two narrow windows charmed to look out over Hyde Park, and Harry's Order of Merlin's displayed in the black-rimmed shadowbox that Hermione had fixed up for him. Other than his desk and the two worn, hand-me-down leather armchairs in front of it that Harry'd snagged from Dawlish when he'd redone the Head Auror's suite. Harry's office as a whole is spare and functional, mostly adorned with stacks of paperwork and the photo frames on his desk that contain pictures of his sons and the Weasley clan, rather than the mahogany panelling and thick carpeting John had put into his.

As he gets his coat, Harry reviews his evening plans in his head. Stop by Arlington Square Garden, retrieve Al, then on to Primrose Hill to meet Hermione and Ron who took James home to play with Rose and Hugo. Easy, really, Harry thinks to himself, and he yawns. He hopes the boys have worn themselves out playing; he's looking forward to a beer with Ron, maybe some dinner leftovers if Hermione's remembered to put some away for him, then tucking his sons and himself in bed for an early night. It's been a long week, and Harry'd like a bit of rest and relaxation before he has to face the Ministry again on Monday.

The bullpen's mostly empty when Harry walks through. A few of the more dedicated Aurors are still bent over their files, but they're mostly young and fresh out of training, with no significant others or kids waiting at home for them. Those had been the days, Harry thinks wryly. Being able to throw himself into a case like that, staying at the Ministry all hours of the night, feeling that thrill pounding through his bloodstream when he realised he was close to catching his witch or wizard.

Really, Harry doesn't think he's meant for management. Middle or otherwise. He'd liked his job a hell of a lot more when he was at the bottom of the heap, scrabbling for decent cases with the rest of them.

"Night, Harry," Octavia Burke calls from across the room, and he raises a hand in greeting.

"Don't stay too late." Harry smiles at her. "Work-life balance and all that." He knows his admonition falls on deaf ears. It would have for him too when he was her age. Not that he's more than seven or eight years ahead of her, mind. But somehow that feels like an eternity now that he's facing down thirty.

The queue for the Ministry hearths is longer than he expects at this time on a Friday evening--evidently more people than usual had decided to finish up their work before the weekend--but the walk from the public Floo in the back room of Islington's Hanbury Arms to Astoria Malfoy's townhouse in Arlington Square is quite short. The December air is wet and cold, causing Harry to pull his coat more tightly around him as he wishes he'd thought to bring a scarf along. Above, the sky's an inky, starless blue, lit up by the streetlamps and the neon signs. In the square's garden park, the trees are leafless, bare branches stretching up over Harry's head, spindly and black against the evening's darkness.

Harry finds it odd to stand on Astoria's steps, ringing the bell beside the deep emerald door like a random Muggle. He usually Floos directly in, but with Astoria away, it seems better not to be presumptuous. Malfoy'd be the sort to take offence at that, Harry's certain. Besides, Harry also suspects Malfoy wouldn't care for the fact that, since September, Harry and Astoria have developed an easy friendship through their children, passing Al and Scorpius back and forth between their houses and supporting each other through the ins and outs of parenting toddlers. Still, Harry's rather surprised to find that he's unsettled by her sudden trip to Los Angeles. He knows she's been worrying about her sister and wanting to be able to help; she's mentioned it in passing, and he's heard her fretting about the situation with the other mums at the Garden, not to mention the occasional dad who happens to be hovering nearby. But it feels odd not to have seen her around school yesterday and today, and Harry's a bit petulant about that, as much as he understands Astoria's choice. Harry supposes it's all childish on his part, the force of habit, but Astoria's always been a saving grace in Harry's weekly routine--and she's wonderful with Al and Jamie.

Malfoy, on the other hand, barely seems interested in his own son, what with the amount of parenting he lets Astoria take over. And Harry feels a twinge of guilt at that thought. It's not as if Ginny's at the Garden every day right now, but that's different. Gin spends a lot of time travelling, between coaching the English team and playing herself with the Harpies from time to time. And when the season winds down, she's right there on the Garden's doorstep, taking care of the boys and volunteering with their classes. She'd done that all last spring, and she's already talking about popping by to speak with McKinsey and Zhang about what they both need from her next term.

Yesterday'd been the first time Harry'd ever seen Malfoy cross the school hearth. And that's something Harry can't fathom.

And yet he's stood here on the doorstep, the winter wind ruffling his hair, chilling his skin, about to gather his son from Malfoy's care. Harry doesn't know exactly how to parse that.

Harry raps on the green door, then shoves his hands in his pockets as he waits. When the door opens, for a moment, it's as though Astoria is there, but then the details focus and it's Malfoy. "Potter, there you are."

It's all Harry can do not to bristle. "Here I am," he says, his teeth gritted. Perhaps Malfoy doesn't mean that condescending implication that Harry's derelict in his duty of retrieving his son.

Malfoy just raises an eyebrow. "Yes, well. Come in for a moment. It's cold out, and the boys are still extracting themselves from a pillow fort." He pulls the door wider, lets Harry step into the black-and-white tiled foyer before he closes it behind them both. A spray of pink roses and peonies tumbles over the rim of what looks like an incredibly expensive silver vase sat on a narrow-legged, dark-stained table. The kind of table useless for anything but holding an arrangement of flowers--not the sort of thing that Harry could ever justify having in Grimmauld Place. Not with two toddlers running wild through the hallways. He wonders if Astoria's charmed it to keep Scorpius away.

Harry trails behind Malfoy as he strides into the sitting room near the kitchen. This part of the house Harry's far more familiar with. He studies Malfoy, takes in Malfoy's touseled chin-length blond hair, the slim line of his back beneath the pale blue cashmere jumper, the narrowness of his hips in grey flannel trousers. He looks delightfully rumpled, long and lean and lovely.

"All right," Malfoy says, his voice cheerful. "I'm afraid it's time to deconstruct the pillow fort."

Two small faces peer out from beneath a lopsided tent made of sofa cushions and chenille throw blankets. "But, Papa," Scorpius starts to say, and Malfoy clucks softly, giving him an even look. Scorpius sighs, but he clambers out of the fort with Al behind him.

"Good lad," Malfoy says, and he pats Scorpius's back. "Now give me a hand, yes? Perhaps Mr Potter will help?" Malfoy looks back at Harry with those luminous grey eyes of his, one eyebrow quirked, and Harry's breath catches.

Christ, but Harry always forgets how fucking beautiful Draco Malfoy is. Every time Harry sees him, it's like a punch to the chest, and then he gets over it and can function like a normal human being. Luckily, Malfoy's general manner is so sodding snotty, his behaviour so selfish, Harry's usually immune to his charms after a few moments of interacting with him. But now, here in the house Malfoy once shared with his ex-wife, with Malfoy off guard and laughing and working with the children and Harry to put the sofa cushions back in place, Harry wants to bury his nose in that small dip between Malfoy's elegant collarbones and his long neck, wants to smell the sweetness of Malfoy's skin, wants to feel the warmth of Malfoy's pulse against his lips. Fuck. What the hell's the matter with him? This is Malfoy after all. It doesn't matter that Harry's had fucking wet dreams about Malfoy since he was sixteen. He's a bloke. He'd fantasise about a fucking pillow if he needed to--and he has before. Harry shakes his head, trying to clear it before Malfoy realises that he's ogling him. Because that'd go brilliantly. Harry might be thick as a Flobberworm, but even he knows better than let Malfoy see any sort of vulnerability in that regard. He'd never live it down.

Malfoy squats down, retrieves a blue trainer from beneath the sofa. Al frowns at Malfoy as he holds it out.

"I think this is yours." There's a small smile curving the corners of Malfoy's mouth, and oh, Merlin, Harry did not want to know what Draco Malfoy looked like when he smiled, especially not at his son.

Harry tries to recall all of the bitterness, the sense of abandonment and heartache that he'd thought he'd felt in Astoria's brief mentions of Malfoy. Except now Harry's not so certain he hasn't put some of his own feelings, some of his own grief over his divorce into Astoria's story. Some of his own worries about being left behind. Being caught by parenthood in a way that terrifies him. Perhaps she hadn't been as angry at Malfoy as he'd been. Perhaps he's placed on Malfoy his own annoyance at Ginny's absence, even as he understands the demands her career puts on her. And Harry hasn't admitted that to himself for a long time.

Al takes the trainer from Malfoy, tries to shove it on his foot. It doesn't go on, not at first, and Malfoy takes Al's small foot in hand, helping to slide it into the trainer properly. "Better?" he asks, and Al nods, then smiles brightly at Malfoy.

"Fank you," he says, more politely than Harry's ever seen his son be, but it's Malfoy's quick wink at Al that does Harry in.

He doesn't want to be disloyal to Astoria--he really does think that Malfoy should be more of a presence, if only for both Astoria and Scorpius's well-being--but he can't help this terrible sense of doom around Malfoy, this sensation of almost, almost being swept away.

And Harry, at the wise old age of twenty-nine, with a failed marriage beneath his belt and a few fumbled encounters in pub loos--knows now that what he's feeling is desire. He knows that Malfoy has embodied and--if Harry's honest--formed an archetype of what Harry finds attractive in men, in the fact that almost every sodding man Harry has shagged has been blond and lanky, with a sly mouth Harry'd been desperate to fill. Maybe it was those early years, in between the horrible events at Hogwarts, even with Malfoy's atrocious behaviour, that Harry first realised he liked men with those awful, torturous dreams of long legs and soft lips and a body that was decidedly more male than female.

But that's par for the course with most men, isn't it? It's not Harry's fault he finds Malfoy attractive. His body just reacts to being near Malfoy, the way it is now, with his heart speeding up, his trousers growing tight. And Harry knows he has to leave, that he has to put space between him and Malfoy now, before he embarrasses himself, makes it awkward for all of them.

So he shifts his satchel just discreetly enough to keep the swelling of his prick from being noticed, and he reaches for Al's hand. "We should go," he says, a bit more abruptly than he'd planned, and when Malfoy's mouth tightens ever so slightly, Harry tells himself that's better. "Thanks for looking after him." Harry's voice is rough; he can't really look at Malfoy. "I'm happy to repay the favour when you'd like."

"Of course." Malfoy's softness is gone, replaced by a stiffness in his voice and his shoulders. "Albus is welcome here any time."

All Harry can manage is a nod. He clears his throat, curls his fingers around Al's smaller ones. "Coat and bag?"

"I'll get them." Malfoy steps out into the hallway, and Harry looks down at his son and Scorpius. He can see Malfoy in Scorpius's fair hair and grey eyes, but there's a bit of Astoria there too. Her rounded chin, her ever-so-slightly turned-up nose.

"Did you have fun?" Harry squeezes Al's hand. The rush of blood in his ears is fading now with Malfoy gone. "Should we make a fort of our own?"

Al nods vigorously. "An' Scorp'us dad gived us insects to eat!"

That makes Harry's eyebrows go up. "Did he?"

"Sultanas and currants, actually," Malfoy says from the doorway. He holds out Al's coat; Al's scarf is tucked in the bag Malfoy hands Harry a moment later. "It's the only way I've found to get Scorpius to eat them. He seems far more thrilled by the grossness than anything else."

"Boys," Harry says, and Malfoy shrugs.

"Do you need help wrangling him into his coat?" Malfoy looks over at Al, who's trying to climb up on the sofa whilst clinging still to Harry's hand.

Harry shakes his head. "Not if I can borrow your Floo."

Malfoy flicks a hand towards the hearth. "Be my guest. We had all the fireplaces here connected to the Floo network when we moved in." A curious expression--Harry thinks it's almost sad--twists across his face before Malfoy catches himself. He looks away, swallows. "Al's eaten, of course. I had Imsy make some tomato soup for the boys, along with a bit of bread and the sultanas." He smiles ever so faintly, then brushes a lock of hair back behind his ear. "Proper fort food."

"Thanks," Harry says again. "Al obviously had fun." There's part of Harry that resents that fact. He'd half-hoped that Malfoy would be awful with the boys, that Al would complain and not want to come back until Astoria returned. He doesn't think that's going to be the case.

He and Malfoy stand awkwardly for a moment, looking at each other as if neither one of them knows what to say. Which is probably true, Harry has to admit. He lets his gaze drift down Malfoy's body, almost without thought, until it stops on Malfoy's left forearm. He's pushed up his sleeves, not much, but enough for Harry to see a greyed curve of ink against Malfoy's pale skin.

The Mark.

Harry knows he should stare, but he can't help himself. He hasn't seen one in so long, and Malfoy's usually so good at keeping his covered. Something twists, deep in his belly, something old and furious and terrified.

Malfoy frowns, and it's just when Harry looks up again that Malfoy realises what Harry's seen. He jerks the sleeve of his jumper down again, folds his arms across his chest. His fists are clenched, his whole body held taut and tense. "The Floo powder's in the box on the chimneypiece," he says, and the warmth in his face is gone, replaced by a cold formality that breaks whatever hold Malfoy's had on Harry since he walked in.

A curious relief washes through Harry. This Malfoy Harry knows. All too well. He can manage Malfoy the arrogant prick. He's far more comfortable with that than with Malfoy the not-horrible father.

"Right then." Harry looks down at Al. "We'd best go collect your brother. Say thank you and good-bye. You'll see Scorp on Monday at school."

"Bye and fank you," Al shouts, and he's already pulling Harry towards the hearth, waving to Scorpius as he goes. That's a relief to Harry; as much as Al might be friends with Scorpius, no one is more important to him than his big brother.

Still, as Harry steps into the Floo, silvery powder dripping from his fingers into the flames, he looks back at Malfoy, who's stood in the middle of the room, Scorpius by his side. Malfoy's palm is pressed against his forearm, and despite his guarded, almost blank expression, Harry can feel Malfoy's anguish. His pain.

And when their gazes meet once more, Harry wonders if there's really that much separating the two of them. If maybe they're both far more alike than they'd think.

"Number Eight Fitzroy Road," Harry says, tightening his grip on Al's hand, and the Floo spins them away.

***

"Oi, Harry. Fetch us another beer, will you?"

Ron's teetering at the top of the tree, seven feet in the air on a high ladder in the middle of his and Hermione's large sitting room, his t-shirt pulling up as he stretches his wand higher, a swathe of taut skin showing above his low-slung jeans. He Levitates the star to the top branch, the lights of the tree reflected in the tall, paned bay window behind it. A thick wreath's hung over the white-painted mantel, dark green and fragrant against the stark white wall, and bright red and tartan cushions have been tossed across the grey tweed sofa and chairs. Harry's sat on the ottoman in the middle of the room watching Al and Jamie chase Rose through the legs of the ladder; he catches Al before he knocks against the wobbly wood. The ladder's charmed to stay in place--or so Ron claims--but Harry's a bit dubious about whether or not said charm is actually going to hold.

From the kitchen, the soft cadence of jazz music drifts out into the sitting room. Hermione's hidden herself back there with Hugo, supposedly preparing dessert, but Harry actually thinks she wants to avoid watching Ron's haphazard tree decorating skills. Now as ever Harry wonders at the opposite qualities they both show--Hermione always perfectly placed, Ron always on the spur of the moment. And yet, they work together far better than Harry and Gin ever did. The tree looks great. They have two lovely children and a charming home in Primrose Hill thanks to the success of the Zonko's buyout and Ron's sharp business acumen. Really, Harry thinks, what more can you ask?

"Harry." Ron's looking down at him, a frown on his face. "Beer?"

"Right." Harry's face heats up. He hates the little curl of jealousy that works its way through him whenever he thinks of his best mates' good fortune. Harry knows they've worked hard for it, and their lives haven't always been easy. "One beer on its way."

Each year, Harry's prime decorating job is beer fetcher and ornament unpacker. He's rubbish at anything else. Kreacher decorates the tree at Grimmauld every year, gnashing his teeth terribly if Harry tries to help. It's quite touching, Harry thinks, to watch the elderly elf hang the clay handprints and paper photo wreaths made by the boys at school as though they were ancient wizarding relics. And perhaps for Kreacher they are. If nothing else, the boys' contributions are part of the family tradition now, and Kreacher's expanded his understanding of the Black family tree to include the Potters. Still, he always sneaks a few of Walpurga Black's ornaments onto the tree, and Harry pretends not to notice. He figures Kreacher has his Christmas memories as well and Harry has no right to censor them at the holidays.

Harry stands up, still pleasantly warm and happy, the way he always feels when he's with his friends. Somehow, even when he was married to Gin, they'd always made space in their hearts for him. After the divorce, it'd been difficult. Ron had been furious at Harry for a good six months, barely speaking to him when Harry'd tried to explain. Hermione hadn't been happy with him either, and there'd been a time when Harry hadn't gone to any of the family events at the Burrow. But then Ginny had told her whole family they were being idiots and insisted Harry come to Christmas that year with the boys. It'd been the kick in the arse they'd all needed, and he, Ron and Hermione had restored their relationship gradually not only through their children but also through their deep ties to each other from their own youth.

After all, you can't defeat a troll together in first year without becoming lifelong friends in the process.

Now Harry can't imagine his life without his best friends. In many ways, Ron and Hermione aren't only anchors for each other but for Harry as well. In an hour or two, all four of their children will be bunked in the back bedrooms, Al and James on the special cots Hermione ordered for them that pull out from under her children's beds. If Harry wants, he could stay over as well, and Harry's half thinking about it. Whilst he likes the boys to wake up with him at home, sleepovers at Auntie Hermione's and Uncle Ron's are a treasured ritual. In the summer, all the children pitch a tent in the tiny back garden plot and sleep under the stars, a little slice of idyllic country life in the middle of the bustle of London.

When Harry comes into the kitchen, Hermione's clutching a glass of wine at the counter, barefoot and in faded jeans, her wiry dark hair pulled back with a bright pink scarf that matches her jumper. From the radio on the sideboard Dean Martin's singing to some unknown woman, entreating her to stay with him because, as he puts it, baby, it's cold outside.

And really, even though he knows better, Harry can't help but sing along.

"You know, really," Hermione says, looking over at Harry, one eyebrow raised, "the amount of problems this song has is ridiculous. The consent issues alone--"

"It's a catchy Christmas song," Harry says with a groan. They've had this argument for the past two holiday seasons. "That's all." He leans over the playpen beside the table to wave at Hugo who's lying on his back, kicking his feet up in the air. "How's my favourite nephew?"

Hermione's brown eyes narrow at him. "Well, when some arsehole's using those lines on your niece in another fifteen years or so, I'm going to remind you it's just a song." She lifts her glass to her lips, watching him over the rim, her polished pink fingernails bright against her brown skin.

It's the argument Harry really has no answer for. Particularly since he knows the way teenage boys think. He tickles Hugo's toes, delighting in Hugo's squealing laugh. He'll be one in another six weeks. "I can't believe how big this one is now."

"Oh, lovely change of topic," Hermione says, a bit dryly, and Harry just gives her a look. She holds up one hand. "All right, all right. I'll stop ruining your Christmas cheer with reality." She takes another sip of wine, then asks, "Has my idiot husband fallen yet?" Her smile belies the seriousness of her concern, Harry knows.

"No," Harry heads for the pantry, opening the door to look for the local ale Ron favours, Wicked Badger. He finds another bottle hiding behind a jar of chutney. "And I know for a fact you've enchanted the floor beneath the tree. I bounced a glass ornament off of it by mistake. Gave me quite a surprise when I dropped it and it came back at me."

Hermione looks completely unfazed. "Well, what did you think I would do? Between Ron on a ladder, those electric lights he finds so modern because they're Muggle--and don't even tell me he's becoming his father because I already know, God help us all--and the fragile glass of those antique ornaments Ron found on Portobello Road last year, I put so many safety charms on the sitting room I'd be surprised if anyone could break wind."

That makes Harry laugh in surprise at her uncharacteristic frankness. "How much of that bottle have you had?" He looks over to the Chilean Merlot she'd opened after dinner.

"Enough." The brightness in her eyes gives her away. Hermione always looks a bit shinier when she's tipsy. "You know it's the only way I survive tree-trimming."

Harry sets Ron's ale on the counter. "He's really not that clumsy, you know."

"Yes, well, you're not the one who has to take him to casualty if he takes a tumble." Hermione sets her wineglass aside. "Did Ginny talk to you about Sunday?"

Harry's caught off guard. "No, actually." He frowns. "We haven't had a chance to talk this week. What's Sunday?"

"Gin just firecalled this afternoon, so maybe she hasn't had a chance to ring you up yet." Hermione leans her elbows against the island countertop. She slides her fingers along the stem of her glass, but she's not really looking at Harry. They're still a bit awkward sometimes, him and her, when it comes to talking about Ginny. Harry understands it in a way; Hermione's always been close to Ginny. "She wanted to ask if she could stay over with us tomorrow night. There's some sort of Quidditch breakfast for Britain and Wales Sunday morning, and she'd like to see the boys after. I'm sure she'll ring you up tomorrow. You know Ginny. Someone most likely distracted her before she could get hold of you today."

"Oh, of course." That'd been the story of their marriage, really. Ginny'd always been preoccupied when it came to Quidditch. Although Harry hadn't been much better about his work. He hesitates, then says, "She could stay at Grimmauld."

The look Hermione gives him makes him falter. "Harry, you know that playing happy families isn't the same as having a happy family."

Harry sighs. This is the part of his divorce that he hates, the way everything's had to change. Where he and Ginny have to be different with one another. "She's still the boys' mum."

"But she's not your wife any longer." Hermione's voice is gentle. "You can't ask her to act like she is, love. It's not fair to any of you. Especially not her."

"I know." Harry swallows past the thickness in his throat. "It's just hard this time of year. I wish…" He trails off. He's not certain he can explain what it is he wants. Mostly because he's not certain he knows himself.

Hermione reaches across the island, squeezes his hand lightly. "Just let her live her own life now, Harry." She gives him a small smile. "You ought to get on with yours as well, you know."

"I've the boys." Harry looks away. He knows what she's going to say. What she always says at times like this. "I'm not interested in anything else right now."

Neither of them say anything.The WWN switches to Celestina Warbeck warbling "My Baby Gave Me A Hippogriff for Christmas," and Hugo cackles and squeals from his playpen, kicking his feet against the mesh side.

"That's Molly's doing," Hermione says with a sigh. "She's indoctrinated him already with her Celestina fanaticism." She grimaces and picks up her wineglass again. "We inoculated Rosie against it, but it seems Hugo has terrible taste."

Harry just laughs, and Hermione turns a rueful smile on him. "It could be worse," Harry points out. "Jamie went through that whole Wiggles stage."

"You've only yourself to blame," Hermione says over the rim of her wine glass. "Ron and I warned you not to give him that album."

And so they had, but neither Ginny or he had listened. To this day Harry has nightmares about those five fucking joeys jumping on the goddamned bed.

"Say." Hermione has a new glint in her eye, one that makes Harry wary. "I saw Draco Malfoy of all people at the Garden pick up this afternoon. I was so surprised, I had to look twice to make sure. You said Al had a play date with Scorpius, and I was assuming Astoria'd have them, of course."

Harry rubs the back of his neck, oddly unsettled by the way Hermione's studying him. "Malfoy's staying at Astoria's--well--he's at their former townhouse, I suppose." He tries to keep his voice light, but he's afraid it's gone a bit high and flustered. "Astoria's away helping Daphne. Something that sounded medically iffy about her last month."

"Oh." Hermione winces. "Poor thing." Hermione might not have a great love for Daphne Greengrass, but she'd had a few scares of her own with Hugo, the most frightening landing her in St Mungo's to manage gestational hypertension. She and Ron had agreed not to have any further children, although Harry knows Hermione would love to have at least one more. Ron's just too afraid right now of something going seriously wrong.

"Well, that's quite generous of Malfoy to stay at Astoria's place," Hermione says after a moment. "I'm glad she could go off to help." Hermione watches Harry's face.

That annoys Harry. "Honestly, it's about bloody time he stepped up. I mean, Astoria's been managing everything for Scorpius since he started school, all by herself."

"You can't judge Malfoy for that." Hermione sets her glass on the counter. She frowns at Harry, her displeasure with him evident. "You know that everyone parents differently. He may be trying to leave her space, to share custody properly."

Harry knows she's right. He just doesn't always want to give Malfoy any leeway, and he doesn't want to explain his reasons for that to Hermione. Not right now. Maybe not ever. He looks down, shakes his head ruefully. "I suppose," he admits finally. "I've only heard Astoria's side, and, well, I guess I also have my own thoughts."

About how fathers ought to be more present in their sons lives. About how he couldn't imagine not taking his boys to school or picking them up or arranging play dates for them with their friends. He wonders what it must be like for Malfoy, to only see his son on weekends, to be alone with him, without the support of other parents who're dealing with the same tantrums, with the same milestones, the same worries about whether or not their child measures up developmentally.

"It just must be a very lonely way to parent," Harry says, his voice quiet.

Hermione leans in, rubs Harry's cheek with her thumb affectionately. "You haven't always had an easy time with the boys, Harry. You're terribly stubborn, and you've managed a lot alone."

"But it's not the same," Harry says. "I've never been alone, really. I've had you and Ron to help, along with most of the Weasleys. And Gin does see the boys as much as she can. She hasn't just disappeared."

"Neither has Malfoy." Hermione gives Harry an even look. "His son seems to adore him from what I saw today. You don't have that sort of relationship if you haven't been around."

Harry bites his lip, glances away. He knows she's right. He'd seen Malfoy with both Scorpius and Al, and Harry's certain none of that was for his benefit. Malfoy's a good dad. Whether or not Malfoy thinks he is might be a different matter. He sighs again. "I know."

There's a soft silence between them. Hermione brushes her knuckles across the back of Harry's hand, and he smiles at her, even if it's a bit weak. He doesn't like the way his stomach flips when he thinks about Malfoy or the way he wants to just lash out for some inexplicable reason each time he sees the fucking git. Except it's not entirely inexplicable. Harry just doesn't want to think about it. At all.

Hermione pulls her hand back. "Do you want us to come over as well on Sunday? We could make a little family party."

"I'd like that," Harry admits. It's always easier between him and Ginny if other people are there to breach the awkwardness that always seems to settle over them when they see each other now. "Kreacher would roast a joint if I asked, even if he'll grumble about finding one on a Saturday--"

"Make sure he has vegetables on the side," Hermione says. "Victoire's managed to convince Rose that meat's dead baby animals, and she's horrified that we'd force that on her."

"Christ." Harry frowns at her. "Don't let her anywhere near Al then. I've already had to stock up on liverwurst that he won't actually eat just because Arthur's convinced him it's good."

Hermione rolls her eyes and lifts her glass again. "All I can say is that Victoire's Victoire." They exchange a pointed look. At ten years old Victoire's already driving her mother mental; Harry can only imagine what it'll be like when she's a full-fledged teenager. "Poor Fleur."

"Indeed." Harry shakes his head. "Well, our tree is up, and the Cannons match will be on the WWN Sunday."

"Brilliant." Hermione's smile is wide and amused. "You and Ron can drink and listen whilst Gin and I talk."

Harry smiles back at her. "Sounds like a plan."

"Jesus, Harry!" Ron shouts from the sitting room. "Don't make me climb down to get my beer, for fuck's sake!"

That's quickly followed by Jamie yelling, "Uncle Ron said a bad word," after which Rose and Al can be heard sing-songing bad word, bad word over and over again until they're caught up in giggles.

"Oh, God help us." Hermione pinches the bridge of her nose. "Language, Ron," she calls out, then she looks over at Harry. "Sorry about him."

"I'd best go water the monster," Harry says with a smile, and he picks up the bottle of beer. As he's halfway out the kitchen doorway, he looks back over his shoulder. "Thanks, Hermione." He means it. He's glad to have her on his side.

"Whatever for?" She's regarding him with a bemused look on her face.

"I don't say it often enough, I suppose." Harry bites his lip, then shrugs. "I reckon I just mean, thanks for being amazing."

"Oh, Harry," Hermione says, her face softening. "We'll always be here for you. I hope you know that."

Harry nods, his heart swelling with gratitude. "I do."

The door swings shut behind him.

Chapter Text

December shopping in Diagon Alley is a pleasure Draco hasn't properly indulged in for years. When he does make it to the shops, he tries to get in and out with as little fuss or notice as possible--a habit he'd fallen into just after the war when he'd been persona non grata to the great majority of wizarding society. He's still hesitant to wander the streets of magical London openly; there are plenty of witches and wizards who still give him sideways glares or cross the street if they see him coming. His mother's stopped coming entirely; two years ago another woman, widowed in the Battle of Hogwarts, spat in Narcissa's face. To his mother's credit, she'd only wiped the spittle away before apologising to the woman, telling her she was truly sorry for her loss. His Aunt Andromeda had been fiercer in defending her sister, but Narcissa had been too shaken to step foot in Diagon since.

To be honest, Draco doesn't blame her. He feels the sharp looks that dart his way as he passes through the busy thoroughfare, crowded with shoppers on the first Saturday of Advent. Still, he won't deny his son the thrill of Diagon decked out in lights and greenery, and with Scorpius in tow, Draco gives himself license to enjoy all of the sights, sounds, and magic that the season brings. He's missed this, he realises. Muggle shopping isn't quite the same, and whilst Draco's been known to dart down Diagon to pick up a gift or two, it's different to watch his son's face light up when he sees the giant tree in front of Gringotts, decked with shimmering fairies and brightly coloured glass baubles.

With the day as busy as it is, Draco holds Scorpius firmly on his hip in the main part of the alley. The grey, cloudy gloom had lifted just after lunch, or at least shifted enough to let the sun through, along with the occasional stretch of blue sky, so half of wizarding London's out in full force, taking advantage of the lovely weather before it disappears again in an hour or two. Draco digs his fingers into Scorpius's side; he doesn't want Scorpius to get jostled, much less trod upon by the heavy foot traffic. Or worse. There are enough people who resent the Malfoy family still about; the last thing Draco wants is for one of them to decide to go after him by snatching his son. So he twists his fingers further into Scorpius's puffy down jacket, making certain the shielding charm he'd set in place on his son before they left stays stable. Draco doesn't bother with one for himself; he needs all his focus to go on protecting Scorpius. Just in case.

And Scorpius is delighted by the cacophony of colours and sounds and smells around them. The windows are glorious-colourful and bright with toys and moving displays, and the buildings are festooned with Yule greenery. Eeylops Owl Emporium has mostly moved their owls inside, out of the cold wind that whips down Diagon, ruffling the wisps of Draco's hair that have slipped out of the loose knot at his nape and negating the faint warmth of the midday sun, but there's holly festooning the door, not to mention a charming nest of snowy owlets inside the window that makes Scorpius clap and shout in delight. Perhaps it's time for his son to have one, Draco thinks, but he knows better than to promise that without speaking with Astoria first. He highly doubts she'd care for owl pellets across her floor and dead mice on her doorstep. It might be best to start Scorpius off with a simpler pet. A tortoise, perhaps, or a fish. Still, he sympathises with Scorpius's dismay at leaving the owlets behind, and he wonders if he's room in his own flat for a smaller owl. He'd lost his own childhood owl just before Scorpius had been born, and he'd not had it in him to replace Athena. She'd been his since he was four, a lovely, affectionate eagle owl that Draco had adored. When she'd gone, he'd mourned her for days. He still does in some ways, but perhaps he might make room for another owl now. One that Scorpius might enjoy on their weekends.

They move on, despite both Draco and Scorpius glancing longingly back at the tiny owlets hopping about the window, preening themselves. Ollivander's Wands has a charming display of exploding crackers that reform themselves like phoenixes and miniature wand-core ornaments that are charmed to dance around the central display, and Weasley's Wheezes has an entire throng of small children pressed up against the window, watching a shopboy crouched inside, setting off minor explosions every few minutes that rock the street just enough to send the shop signs hanging off the building swinging in the air and the children shouting in viciously destructive joy. Draco thanks whatever deity might be listening that Scorpius isn't old enough for those particular delights yet, but he's a terrible suspicion that if his son remains friends with Albus Potter, both boys might end up with their hair singed off more than once in the upcoming years.

At Madam Malkin's there's an enormous, elegant European silver menorah in the window waiting for the first night of Hanukkah, engraved vines and flowers twisted about its base, curling up the stem to its branches. It's candleless for the nonce, but the Malkins have arranged silver and crystal dreidels around the menorah; they sparkle in the bright sun. Draco reminds himself to ask Pansy when Hanukkah begins this year. She and Tony usually invite him to come by to watch them light the first night's candles and eat himself sick on the scrumptious latkes Pansy fries up in the kitchen--no elves are allowed for this particular task, and the recipe's the same one her great-grandmother had taught her grandmother who'd taught her mother, who'd taught Pansy and her sister as well. Last year Astoria had let him bring Scorpius along with him; he'd tried to eat one of the dreidels Tony'd tried to teach the kids to spin. This year will hopefully go better, although Uri's started to put everything in his mouth lately as well, according to Pansy. At least Ava's better sense than either of the two boys. And with any luck, they won't end up in St Mungo's for an emergency dreidel removal.

By the time they reach Flourish and Blotts, Scorpius has stuffed himself on roasted chestnuts bought from a street vendor, and he's rubbing at his eyes, a sure sign that he needs a nap and is about to get cranky. He's only started to whinge when he catches sight of the window display at the booksellers, full of moving toy creatures and stars. Unicorns, narwhals, and Snorcacks gambol about a train circling amidst towering trees made of holiday wizarding books, draped with shimmering fairies that lounge across the spines and corners. Clever little lights blink on and off along the top of the window, each one shaped like little books or pens. The sight is spectacular, and Draco lets Scorpius watch the train for a good two or three rotations before he worries about the time. The children's reading Pans had told him about is supposed to begin at three, promptly, and it's already five til.

When he opens the heavy door, the shop is packed to rafters, or at least so it seems. Draco struggles through the queue at the till with Scorpius on his hip, apologising continually for Scorpius's terrible habit of thumping his mittened hands against people's backs. But even the most cantankerous shopper can't resist Scorpius's round face, their scowls at Draco turning into reluctant smiles when they see his son flailing about. To his surprise, he finds a path opening to him when an elderly wizard nudges a few other tired-looking witches aside.

"Let the boy through," he says, with a poke of his cane at a wizard who's not paying attention, and Draco gives him a faint smile when the other man moves out of the way.

"Thank you."

The wizard winks at him. "Had four of my own back in the day, and I remember what it was like when they were that age." He taps a finger against Scorpius's nose, and Scorpius bats it away with a scowl. Draco worries that the old wizard will take offence, but he just laughs. "Happy Christmas to you too, sproglet."

And with a wave of his hand, he disappears back into the queue.

"The reading?" Draco asks one of the harried clerks passing by, her arms filled with a stack of heavy books.

She nods towards the back of the shop, barely slowing down. "That way, but it's filling up."

Right. Draco thinks he remembers that from his own childhood. Funny how some things never change. He shifts Scorpius on his hip, reaching into the satchel bouncing against his other side, and pulling out the raggedy rabbit that's been his son's favourite sleeping companion since he could first wail for it.

Scorpius snatches it from him. "My 'Abbity!" It's not exactly a Babbity Rabbity doll, but Scorpius had decided to make that connection after he'd heard the story a time or two. Draco supposes it makes sense, although he's not exactly certain Scorpius knows that Babbity was only a rabbit in her Animagus form. That bit of magical theory can wait until he's older.

"That's right." Draco tries to keep Scorpius from squirming but fails. He settles for his son staying upright at least. We're going to hear a new story about Babbity Rabbity. Would you like that?"

Scorpius clutches the well-worn rabbit doll in his tiny fist. "I want see 'abbit. Want stump." He kicks his heels against Draco's thigh, bouncing slightly. "'Abbity 'Abbity!" He throws his head back and cackles the way Astoria always has done when she reads the story to him; Draco can't help but smile.

"There's no stump in this one," Draco warns him, shifting his son on his hip to avoid a witch with arms full of books whilst trying to undo the buttons of Scorpius' coat. "It's a new story about Christmas, and I think she'll have a whole tree." At least that's what Pansy had told him; as his godmother, she's fully aware of Scorpius's odd attachment to the cackling stump. Draco hopes that won't be a problem. The reading section is already crowded with kids, from toddlers up to their bored-looking older siblings nearly Hogwarts age. It'll be terribly public if Scorpius decides to have a meltdown about a sodding piece of wood.

Scorpius frowns. "No stump?" He lets Draco pull his coat free, but he looks dubious about this whole no-stump plotline, and Draco can't blame him. He's not certain himself that the classics should be fucked about with, at least like this. In his opinion, the new story's just a grab for Yuletide dosh, but his son loves Babbity Rabbity, and to be honest, Draco doubts a three-year-old is going to be jaded enough to understand the capitalistic underpinnings of a Babbity Christmas tale or the literary pillaging that's being done to the original text by this new addition.

He's just going to be bloody furious about the lack of a stump.

"You'll like it." Draco sets Scorpius down in the front section in front of a kindly looking bearded wizard with a bookstand and a large smile. Scorpius pulls back a bit, looking warily up at Draco as he shoves Babbity's floppy ear in his mouth. Draco knows better to pull it away; the last time he'd tried that, Scorpius had ended up sprawled across the floor, kicking his trainers into the rug whilst screaming loud enough for his neighbours across the hall to hear. Instead, Draco squats down beside his son. He smoothes Scorpius's hair back from his furrowed forehead. "Here, why don't you go sit right on the end here?"

"Papa," Scorpius says plaintively as he grabs at Draco's hand. "No."

Draco glances around. There's no room for him to sit with Scorpius, and he knows once the story starts, his son will be fine. "I'll stand right behind you, I promise." He pats the end of wide cushion; a dark-haired girl a year or two older than Scorpius is sat on the other side of it. She eyes them for a moment, then budges over a little.

"You can sit here," she says to Scorpius. "I like Babbity too."

That's all Scorpius needs. He climbs up onto the thick cushion, his stuffed rabbit dangling from his mouth, his denim-clad arse high in the air. Utterly undignified, of course, but Draco shan't complain. Not as long as Scorpius isn't crying. When Scorpius settles, his bum hitting the cushion with a solid thump, he holds the rabbit out towards the girl. "'S 'Abbity," he proclaims happily. The ear he's been chewing on flops forward wetly.

The girl gives him a sceptical look, but whatever she might say is cut off by the bearded wizard.

"Let's start, shall we?" he says, opening up a brightly illustrated book. The children all shift excitedly in front of him.

Draco retreats, standing between two tall bookcases. He has a clear line of sight, and if Scorpius wants to find him, all he has to do is look around, but Draco doesn't have to be down on his hands and knees with the children, which just wouldn't do. Some of the other parents have taken up strategic posts nearby as well; others are off doing a bit of shopping whilst their offspring are preoccupied. Scorpius checks Draco's position once or twice, but for the most part, he's distracted by the other children around him, at least a few of whom Draco suspects he knows from school, and the bustle of the handful of parents who'd arrived early enough to find a seat behind the children in folding chairs. Draco crosses his arms over his chest, Scorpius's coat draped over them, and leans back.

And then the story begins.

Scorpius is completely still, his mouth open, Babbity clutched tight to him as he listens to the wizard spin the tale. On the stand beside the wizard, the book turns its pages by itself. The pictures are lovely, much like the older illustrations from Draco's era and before. Given Scorpius's spell-struck expression, Draco's sure that they're going to have to leave with a copy of the book today, if only he can catch the queue in a less-populated moment.

Suddenly there's a warm puff of breath on Draco's neck, startling him. "Hey, handsome. Come here often?"

Draco recognises the voice immediately. He turns around, eyeing the dark-haired wizard smiling at him. "Adrian, you slapper," Draco hisses as he takes a half-step away. "This is a children's reading hour." He looks around quickly, but he's positioned himself between the alchemical texts and political biographies, neither of which appear to be popular, so no one's around to notice them.

Adrian Pucey and Draco have been friends with benefits on and off since just after the war. It'd been Adrian who'd introduced Draco to the joys of sex with men, Adrian who'd kept Draco afloat emotionally in that awful first year after his father had been sentenced to Azkaban. It was never a relationship, per se, but Draco's never allowed himself anything like that, not with a man. He likes sex, rather a lot, and it's easier to keep his proclivities quiet if he restricts them to just a sexual encounter.

But it'd been close with Adrian.

Draco's grateful they'd broken up when they did, even if he'd been furious with Adrian for days afterwards. Still, they've remained friends--or friendly, at least--and they've gone in and out of each others' beds as time and other relationships allow. It's a relief to have someone who knows the necessity of discretion, after all, and who has just as much to lose as Draco if even their friends discover what they've been up to. Whilst Draco's marriage had been open towards the end, Adrian's just tied the knot with Gemma Farley, who'd throw a proper strop if she thought he was stepping out on her.

But it's not as if Astoria's fond of Adrian. She loathes him--she knows he's the partner that'd been with Draco when he was written up on page six of the Prophet. Draco and Adrian had been a bit too risky, a bit too pissed, after a kinky Halloween party thrown by one of the bars they'd frequented down Knockturn back then, and they'd fucked each other in an alley late that night. Thank Circe Adrian had been in drag. They'd been noticed, evidently, by the wrong witch or wizard, but whoever had passed the info on to the Prophet had assumed a woman had been on her knees sucking Draco off, not Adrian. It'd been this blind item had led to the Malfoy divorce, but Adrian had remained a fixture in Draco's life. At least until he'd proposed to Gemma. He's not the very best sex Draco's ever had, but he's certainly been the most reliable at times, often agreeable to popping over to Draco's on a whim. And then there's the fact that
he's well-fit and profoundly eager in bed.

"I could read you something more adult in a more appropriate venue." Adrian's lips brush his ear, and Draco shivers. It's been longer than he'd like since he's been shagged senseless. "There's a party at the Cockatrice tonight. Half-price holiday drinks in the lounge, full dungeon in the back, I'm told, with viewing options for those who'd like a bit of a looky-loo." Adrian runs a fingertip down the back of Draco's wool peacoat, resting it lightly above Draco's arse.

Draco almost considers the offer. He and Adrian have had some rather satisfying voyeuristic adventures together at the Cock, as it's affectionately if rather unsurprisingly known. Mostly watching, although Draco knows Adrian's eager to go a bit further into the scene, as he's rather fond of pain. Draco has some lovely images flash in front of his mind from their last visit, tempting him further. "I thought Gemma was keeping you on a leash."

Adrian frowns. "She's in Cardiff for a girl's weekend with Tracey Davis. What she doesn't know won't hurt me." He gives Draco a charming smile. "Since when did you care, anyway?"

"Since I told you I wouldn't shag you if you didn't get her permission?" Draco gives Adrian an even look. He's not a fool. Gemma would have his bollocks if she knew he was fucking her husband's arse, and the last thing Draco wants is the Farley family coming after him. Her father's one of the higher-ups in the Floo Network Authority, and Draco would rather not have his hearth be tapped. Again. It'd taken two years for the Aurors to lift that restriction after the war hearings.

He gets a petulant look from Adrian. "You could at least come watch with me. Or let me watch someone play with your delightful arse."

And doesn't that make Draco's spine tingle? It technically wouldn't be breaking his moral line if Adrian just watches. And Draco could use a good buggering. Perhaps a bit of toy play. Still, Draco has responsibilities right now, and there's something else holding him back. Something that he's not certain he wants to look at directly. Something that might or might not have involved him waking up sweating and aroused in the middle of last night, his heart pounding and dreams of deep green eyes fading from his sleep.

A shudder of something deep and unspoken goes through him; Draco tries to wish it away.

"I'm afraid I've got Scorpius this evening," Draco reluctantly declines, although he idly wonders whom he might be able to call in for childminding. He doesn't want to consider right now the three more weeks of not getting a proper shag that's stretching out ahead of him--the very idea makes his bollocks shrink in horror.

"Oh, I see." Adrian presses his lips to the nape of Draco's neck, and Draco's trousers tighten. Fuck, he hates himself right now. In a bit of a panic, Draco glances about again to see if anyone could be watching them. Most everyone's attention is on holiday shopping or on the wizard at the front reading from Babbity Rabbit's Holiday Tree Party.

"Stop it, Adrian," Draco says sharply. He knows this sort of thing gets Adrian off, the public displays that might just get them both caught. It's not as if he's immune to the thrill racing through his blood. But Draco can see Scorpius' little form paying rapt attention. He's on his hands and knees, his hair falling into his eyes as he hangs off the reader's words. A momentary wave of fatherly affection surprises Draco. They're supposed to go for hot chocolate after this at Fortescue's. "Really, I can't." Still, Draco wavers between obligation and impending arousal, and Adrian must hear it in his voice.

Adrian's hand gently rests on his hip, straying lower to brush Draco's arse cheek. "I could make it worth your while tonight," he murmurs. "And I wager that Vance Cheverton will be there, if you want a threesome. He did seem rather eager for your delightfully pert arse last time."

The hair on Draco's neck stands up, his body taut. He does need release. It's been building up in him since this whole bloody mess started. Except he knows that's not entirely correct. It's Potter's fault, and this ridiculous attraction Draco has to the spectacled fool. "I simply can't get anyone to cover."

Truth be told, he also has a modicum of curious shame in admitting to Adrian that time with his son is far more valuable than a pull, as necessary as the latter might feel at the moment. But, then again, he does so enjoy a good threesome, and the dark-haired devil on his shoulder's terribly tempting.

"No," Draco says, determinedly, and it's as much to himself as Adrian. "I'm afraid I just can't."

"Surely Astoria would take him." Adrian's voice is a wicked purr in Draco's ear, as his finger traces the outline of Draco's arsecheek. Draco bats his hand away, and Adrian chuckles. "I could show you what a bad boy I've been, and how good I can be to make it up to you."

"That's just it, you menace." Draco mutters back. He steps away from Adrian's touch, and he can breathe again. "Astoria's in L.A. with Daphne." He tries to focus on the story in front of them. The wizard down front is saying something terribly dramatic about birds in the tree and Babbity Rabbity trying to fly with a broomstick to put the ornaments up, but just as she makes it to the top--poof!--she's a rabbit again. Honestly, the plot's a bit thin, Draco thinks, although he's willing to admit he might have missed an important point or two, thanks to Adrian.

"Ask Pansy." Adrian's lips brush Draco's neck again, raising gooseflesh across Draco's skin. "She's got sprogs of her own."

Draco imagines the look Pansy would give him if he asked her to take Scorpius so he could fuck Pucey and another rando with a hard body, not to mention the shaming he would be in for at preschool on Monday drop-off. Or the shouting about him not coming out to her before about any of this, even though Draco sometimes worries Pansy half-suspects already.

Unbidden, images of Harry bloody Potter crop up, telling Draco what a wretched parent he is, how hands-off, that he's never there for his son, that he even went to shag the notorious man-about-town Adrian Pucey at some sort of gay sex party instead of watching after Scorpius. Shame floods through Draco, and he frowns, bitterly. Potter does look like he needs a cock up his arse, Draco thinks, even if he's as straight as they come. The bastard's more tightly wound than anyone Draco's met, and given that he'd spent years with Theo Nott in his dormitory, that's saying something.

"Can't." Draco's terse, moody even. He's starting to get annoyed. At Adrian's insistence, and at his own body's reaction. Were things different, Draco'd love to go to Cockatrice tonight if he could. He's been so damned tense this week, and there's nothing to clear the mind faster than proper tumble in the sheets. Or the bar--he's not picky.

"Well, perhaps Vance and I could come over afterwards, wrapped in red and green fairy lights to get you in the holiday spirit." Adrian's low voice is sinful, and Draco hates that his face heats.

"I'm staying at Astoria's." Draco pulls away from Adrian, pretending to watch the children but really, his pants are uncomfortably tight and he's rather certain that being aroused this close to a throng of children--including his own--is not going to win him father of the year at all. Plus he's not about to take his eyes off his son, no matter how safe the venue appears.

"Kinky." Adrian says, not helping a bit. He knows Draco's response cycle so well--it's part of what's kept them exciting off and on over the years, even if Draco finds Adrian somewhat dull otherwise.

But still, Draco's done with this. He glances at Adrian quickly, before looking back over at Scorpius. "I'm sorry, Adrian. It's not really an option with my son." The Babbity Rabbity story's winding down, and Draco's not certain Scorpius will want to stay for the next one. He prepares himself to rush over and scoop Scorpius up if his son looks like he's about to pitch a wobbly.

Adrian's hand gives Draco's arse a last squeeze. "Pity."

Sodding bastard.

And then the children and parents are clapping, and Draco's left alone, furious at himself and wishing desperately that his life were a bit less complex at the moment.

"Next," the wizard at the front says cheerfully, "we'll have the story of Derwyn the Dragon and the Mistletoe Gnome."

Draco knows he's lost his moment. Scorpius loves that bloody Welsh dragon; he's the whole series on his bookcase at home and doubles at Draco's flat, just in case. His son bounces up and down and wiggles with glee. He catches sight of Draco stepping from his spot between the bookshelves.

"No, Papa," Scorpius howls over the clamour of the other children. "We stay for 'Erwyn, okay?" He only settles back down, his battered Babbity in hand, when Draco nods. Another book he'll have to purchase before they leave, Draco thinks. Say what you will about Flourish and Blotts, they're rather canny when it comes to making certain parents shell out money. And really, Draco might as well find them whilst Scorpius is preoccupied. He's rather certain he'd seen a display just inside the children's reading area.

He turns, half to see if he's right, half to make certain Adrian's gone away. Draco stills, his fingers twisting into Scorpius's coat.

Potter's standing at the end of the row of shelves, two books tucked beneath his arm, his hair wind-rumpled, his cheeks reddened by cold, an inscrutable look on his face, and Draco's heart jumps into his throat. Potter's not smiling. Instead, he's studying Draco, looking as if he wants to turn away, but can't. He shifts from foot to foot, his jeans creased and crumpled over the tops of his boots, his unbuttoned black coat hanging open, his red tartan scarf draped loosely around his neck.

Draco's speechless with something akin to horror, remembering Adrian's hands on him, his lips brushing the nape of Draco's neck. He recovers himself.

"How long have you been standing there, Potter?" He's surprised that the question comes out strong, not wavery and uneasy the way he expects it to be.

Potter's silent. His eyes dart sideways, towards the direction Adrian had gone, then back. He licks his bottom lip, then says, his voice raspy, "Long enough."

Draco doesn't know what to say. His throat tightens, his pulse thuds through his body. He feels unbearably light and yet heavy at the same time. He knows his secret is out, and with Potter of all people. He waits, refusing to admit to what Potter must have seen, but every moment that slips by feels like a hundred. A thousand. Perhaps more.

They just look at each other. Potter's fingers tighten around his books, then relax. He shifts them over to his other arm. One's a thick photo book on the Chudley Cannons, the other's a history of Yorkshire mining magic.

"I'm buying Christmas presents," Potter says, as if Draco cares. "The boys are with Ron and Hermione."

Draco leans back against the bookshelf. His hands tremble beneath the folds of Scorpius's coat; he uses it to hide the way he twists them together. He doesn't speak. He just looks at Potter, uncertain as to what the hell he's on about.

"Every year I put it off to the last minute," Potter says. "Present buying. I thought I'd get a start on it this weekend. Maybe be a bit more on top of it this Christmas."

Honestly, Draco doesn't know what to say. "Good," he manages finally. Perhaps Potter will leave him alone if he's polite. "I brought Scorpius to the reading. He likes that sort of thing."

Potter nods. His coat swings open a bit more; Draco gets a glimpse of a brown jumper, the same burnished colour as his worn boots. It looks good on him, and that thought makes Draco want to throw his head back and laugh wildly at the idiocy of this all. But he keeps himself together as behind him, the wizard at the stand reads about Derwyn's difficulties with the gnomes that steal the mistletoe from his oak tree. It's all ridiculous, really, this entire moment, and Draco wants to find Adrian and hex him, except he's rather certain the fucker would get off on that, which just defeats the bloody purpose, doesn't it?

Draco's stomach flips a little. He's not certain if he should address what Potter'd seen or not. Perhaps it'd been nothing, perhaps Potter's just acting odd because he hadn't expected to see Draco here.

And then Potter says, a bit bluntly, "I didn't know you were gay."

The words hang there between them. Potter looks away, chewing on his bottom lip, obviously uncomfortable.

So it's going to be that sort of confrontation, is it? Draco presses his lips together, raises his chin. "Would there be a problem if I were?" His voice is icy; he wants to make perfectly clear to Potter what he thinks of his bigotry.

Potter doesn't answer at first. He rubs a thumb along the spine of the Cannons book. "No," he says, but he doesn't meet Draco's gaze, which can't be a good sign. Draco suddenly has visions of his secrets splashed across the front page of the Prophet. Of his mother finding out that way, all his friends. Astoria would be horrified and embarrassed, and it'd be worse than it'd been when the whole of their set were gossipping about their divorce.

"You're certain?" Draco doesn't know what's come over him, but he takes a step closer to Potter, his gaze fixed on Potter's averted eyes, on his flushed cheeks. All Draco knows is that he's furious at Potter's discomfort, at the bigotry of it all. If Potter had caught him between the shelves with a woman, he'd have just walked away. It wouldn't have been this shocking reveal, and Draco hates that. He hates that it would make a difference to anyone in this fucking shop that he's had his prick up Adrian's arse, and Adrian's up his. And the hypocrisy! There've been times his straight friends have anal sex more than Draco, sometimes as a ridiculously stupid form of birth control, sometimes because it just fucking feels good. But if said prick and said arse belong to two men, it suddenly becomes a disgusting act, worth turning one's nose up at.

Potter just licks his bottom lip. His gaze flicks towards Draco, then back away. "Yes," he says, and his voice sounds rough. Raw. He clears his throat. "I mean, why would I care what you do with an arsehole like Pucey?"

"Sex is sex, Potter," Draco says, a bit hotly, and he moves even closer, his body shaking with fury. "What does it bother you if I like to ride a thick prick?" He knows he's being horribly crass, but his anger only flares hotter when Potter takes a step back, stumbling into the shelves behind him, his eyes widening behind his round glasses.

Draco looks at Potter, at that pained grimace Potter gives him, the one Draco imagines he'd see mirrored on his father's face if Lucius knew that Draco fucked other men. Draco hates the way Potter stares at him in surprise and what Draco's certain is disgust, the way Potter has to scramble backwards to get away from him, as if Draco might infect him--or worse yet, want to bugger him. And in that moment, something deep inside of Draco cracks open, spilling an acrid bitterness through his soul.

"So it is a problem," Draco says, his voice flat. He lets his gaze sweep over Potter, as viciously as he can manage.

Potter stares at him, swallows. "It's not," he starts to say, and then he breaks off. Clears his throat. "I don't care who you fuck, Malfoy."

But there's an uneven catch in his voice, something that doesn't quite ring true. Potter's gaze slides away from Draco's, and Draco knows he's lying.

And Draco's so fucking tired of this all. Of the hiding. Of trying to fit himself into the happy families mould that everyone seems to want him to embody. It'll never be a wife and two children for him, all gathered together happily at holidays and other important family occasions. Draco's always been different. He knows this. Being with Astoria, whilst it'd given him Scorpius, had been a mistake. He'd been a terrible husband to her, and she'd tolerated his rubbish, given him as much free rein as she possibly could. What had he done in return? Embarrassed her. Tried to hold her back, been angry with her for exposing the fault lines in their marriage, ones for which he himself had been responsible.

Merlin, he's been an arsehole.

He wants to stop. Wants to be a better father. A better ex-husband. A better friend. And perhaps the only way he can be is to tell the truth. To be who he is, whatever a tosser like Harry Potter might think.

And if he wakes up in the morning, and his secrets are splashed across the inner pages of the Prophet, then that's not on him.

Because Draco won't hide. Not any longer.

"Yes, I'm a poof," Draco says bluntly, his jaw thrust forward, his voice low. He won't look away from Potter, whose mouth is gaping like a fucking trout's. He won't give Potter the satisfaction of thinking he's bested Draco, that he's made him feel less than who he is. "I like cock, and I damned well enjoy a good fuck with a fit man. And I really don't give a bloody damn what you think of me, Potter, because none of that makes me a bad father. It doesn't make me a bad man. And if I want to shag a bastard like Adrian Pucey raw, then I will, and there's not a fucking thing an uptight straight wanker like you can do to stop me."

Blood beats in his ears; Draco's exhilarated, amazed that his secrets are spilling out like this, that he's stood here in the middle of Flourish and Blotts admitting to a stunned Harry Potter that he fucks men.

One of Potter's books slides out of his grasp. It hits the floor with a solid thud, causing heads to turn their way. Draco doesn't care. He clenches his hands, nearly tearing the arm off Scorpius's coat.

"Malfoy," Potter manages to get out, but Draco's not having it.

"You can gladly fuck off," Draco says, and then he turns on his heel, leaving Potter staring after him. It doesn't matter that there's still a page or two left in Derwyn's adventures with the gnome in his oak tree. Draco walks over, picks his son up from the cushion, carries him off to the side.

Scorpius is too startled to complain. "Papa," he manages to get out whilst Draco's bundling him back into his coat, but Draco shushes him. "'Erwyn--"

"We'll have some hot cocoa at Fortescue's," Draco says as he buttons Scorpius's coat. "With extra peppermint sticks and loads of whipped cream. Does that sound good?"

It's a hand well-played. The one thing Scorpius can't resist is anything chocolate. His eyes shine up at Draco as he nods. "Meppermint!" He claps his mittened palms together, then holds his hands up. "Carry me!"

Draco lifts his son up, settles him on his hip. His heart's still thudding, his adrenaline's still high. He can't believe he's just done this, just come out to Potter. It feels momentous, as if his whole life's about to change, and Draco doesn't know whether he wants to laugh or sick up or both. He settles for brushing his lips across his son's cheek.

He stills when Potter steps around the bookcases.

Their eyes meet, and for a moment. Draco's afraid Potter's going to come over, going to humiliate him right here, right now.

Draco's mouth tightens. The glare he gives Potter is vicious. A warning. Should he try anything, Draco's ready to strike.

Potter drags his tongue along the curve of his mouth. Swallows, his gaze fixed on Draco. At any other time, Draco's knees would have buckled, but here he's too angry, too protective of his son. His hands grip Scorpius tightly. Potter's lips open, as if he wants to say something. He hesitates.

And then Potter looks away, back over the throng of children and parents. None of them seem to be aware that anything's going on, that there's a silent, pitched battle being fought over their heads.

Potter's shoulders slump. He turns away, disappears between the bookshelves again.

Scorpius's mitten pats against Draco's cheek. "Papa. We have cocoa now, right?"

"Right," Draco says, almost absently. He glances back at where Potter'd stood. "Cocoa."

As Draco makes his way through the crowd, Scorpius clinging to his side, the fight seeps out of him, leaving him strangely empty. Uncertain. He doesn't know what he'd expected, but it's not this roiling twist of anger and fear deep within his belly. Perhaps he's made a mistake. Perhaps he ought to find Potter. Obliviate him.

Because, of course, that's what one should do to the Deputy Head Auror. If nothing else, it'd buy him a long-term stay in Azkaban. If it weren't for Scorpius, Draco'd be half-tempted to try it.

Draco steps out into the grey gloom of twilight, the air cold and brisk against his heated cheeks. Scorpius laughs, arches backwards. Draco catches him just in time. The world around them feels different. Surreal. Nothing after this, Draco realises, will ever be the same.

Whether or not he's wanted it, Draco's reality has shifted. He's not hiding himself. He can't. He doesn't want to any longer.

And perhaps, in the end, that might just be a good thing.

Chapter Text

Saturday's brief glimpse of sun is replaced by a cold gloominess on Sunday afternoon. Rain pours down the windows of the library in Grimmauld Place, thin rivulets of water that blur the branches on the trees in the back garden and diffuse what little light seeps through the heavy clouds.

Harry doesn't mind. The weather suits his mood, grim and miserable even though he's doing his best not to show it. Inside, the house creaks happily beneath the stomping of tiny, trainered feet, its quiet shifts and sighs muffled by the slam of doors and children's laughter. Harry's never understood how kids as small as Jamie, Al and Rose can make so much bloody noise. At least Hugo's still confined to crawling about the library floor and attempting to chew on the corner of the coffee table.

"No, you don't," Hermione says firmly, retrieving her son and handing him over to Ron before Hugo starts to wail. "Wood's not a solid food for you yet."

"I appreciate your qualifying that with the yet." Ginny's sprawled across one of the wide leather chairs, her socked feet hooked over one of its curved arms, her loose ginger hair spread across the other. She flexes her toes, takes another sip from the mug cupped between her hands. Harry's made the adult version of hot cocoa for the four of them, adding a generous splash of firewhisky to each mug before Al and Jamie had poured marshmallows over the tops. The kids' smaller mugs have been discarded across the coffee table in a sugary, chocolatey mess of sticky white pottery and Ice Mice wrappers.

Ron bounces a fussy Hugo on his knee. "How many chunks did your kids take out of it?" He lifts Hugo up and blows a wet raspberry across the puffy stretch of baby belly revealed as Hugo's tiny Cannons t-shirt rides up. Hugo kicks his heels and laughs, reaching out to pat his father's face with one brown hand.

"More than I'd like to admit." Harry gives Ginny a wry smile. "Jamie nearly gnawed through the side when he was teething."

"Jamie's always had an oral fixation." Ginny looks down at her breasts, hidden beneath an oversized cream Aran jumper that comes halfway down her denim-clad thighs. She wrinkles her nose. "I'm a bit afraid for him when he gets older."

Hermione laughs. "Therapy. We're already tucking some Galleons aside to pay for Rosie's. I'm sure we entirely fucked up her first two years before we were accustomed to this whole parenting thing."

"I'd say Hugo's a breeze compared to her." Ron sets Hugo back down on the floor; Hugo takes a few wobbly steps back to the coffee table and grabs the edge, bouncing up and down whilst cackling and looking around at the adults.

"Yes, I see you," his mum says. Hermione gives him a stern look. "No more coffee table chewing, do you understand?"

Hugo just babbles, then sits with a thud, reaching for the stuffed Hippogriff he'd discarded a few moments before.

"We're trying to break him of his dummy." Hermione watches her son as he shoves the Hippogriff wing in his mouth. "At least before his next tooth starts to come in." She looks over at Ginny. "The first time he bit my nipple…" She winces. "Rose never did that."

Ginny presses her hand to her own breast. "I cried. Harry had to feed Jamie with a bottle for a full day because I was so traumatised." Harry remembers that day--Ginny'd been beside herself, claiming she was an awful mother because she couldn't bear to have Jamie on her breast again. He'd spent all day calming her down. Gin laughs, shakes her head. "Ice a teething ring before you feed him if you need to. It helped a lot with both Jamie and Al."

Ron leans forward, smoothes the bit of dark fuzz that tops Hugo's round head. "Did Harry tell you Parkinson tricked him into helping with Al's Yule pageant at school?"

"No!" Ginny swings her legs off the arm of the chair and sits up, her eyes wide and sparkling. She sets her mug on the coffee table, then tosses her hair back behind one shoulder. Her fingers are nearly swallowed by the thick knit of her jumper; there's a rip in the knee of her jeans. "He always gets out of that sort of thing. Respect to Pansy for trapping him in it."

Harry flips two fingers towards his ex-wife. "I took cupcakes for Hallowe'en. They had mummies on them."

Ginny rolls her eyes. "I had to cater and clean up for the Jamie's Valentine's party last year, and you did nothing at all. Don't go throwing your bakery-bought cupcakes at me, Potter. If I showed up with baked goods that I hadn't baked in my own bloody oven, a handful of those mums at the Garden--you know which ones--" She looks over at Hermione, who nods and frowns. "Would be talking behind my back about how awful I am as a mother. They did that to Luna and me both last year." She points her finger at him. "You get a pass because you've a prick, and it's 'so wonderful'--" Here she crooks her fingers into air quotes. "That you're involved in your boys' lives whilst I'm off doing Merlin only knows what." Ginny sits back, her nostrils flared. "Pure bias from my own gender. So lovely and so very unfair."

"Don't I know!" Hermione makes a face. She waves a hand at Ron. "If that one does a pick up or a drop off, then he's an absolute dear, despite the fact that the bloody shop doesn't open until half-eight anyway whilst I'm usually in meetings by then." She shakes her head. "You boys don't know how good you have it."

Ron looks over at Harry. "Is this the part where we apologise for systemic sexism and assert our objections to patriarchal notions of marriage and motherhood?"

"Pretty much," Harry says, his mouth quirking up on one side. "It might be good to acknowledge that we didn't actually bear the children as well."

Ginny gives Hermione an amused glance. "Well-trained, the both of them."

"Yes, well." Hermione primly lifts her mug of cocoa to her mouth. "Sometimes they're a lost cause, but I do try."

There's a crash from the hallway, then a howling cry. All of them sit up, their heads turned towards the door.

Harry stands. "That's definitely Al." He looks over at Ginny. "You or me?"

Ginny hesitates, then says, "If he's bleeding, shout."

"Fuck that," Harry says, walking past the glimmering Christmas tree in the corner of the room, "If he's bleeding, Kreacher's staunching it."

"You're a good dad," Ginny calls out after him, and Harry snorts a laugh.

In the hallway, Al's sprawled across the floor with Jamie and Rose bent over him. Both of them jump guiltily when Harry says, "What's the problem here?"

Jamie looks up at his dad, his lip caught between his teeth. "Nothing," he says, but he's shifting from foot to foot, his hands clasped behind his back.

"Doesn't look like 'nothing.'" Harry squats beside Al. The loud cries have settled into snuffling sobs now, and Al has his hand pressed to his forehead, just above his eye. "What happened?"

None of the kids says anything. Al hiccups softly. Rose doesn't meet Harry's eye. He watches her for a moment, observes the way she squirms. She'll be the one to break; Jamie's far too stubborn and Al can be terribly sneaky, even at three.

"Rosie." Harry reaches over and brushes her thick, tightly-coiled curls back from her forehead. Big brown eyes so reminiscent of Hermione's look up at him from beneath long eyelashes; she's sucking on her bottom lip. Harry pokes at her button nose. "What did you all do?"

"Don't say," Jamie hisses, and Harry has to bite the inside of his cheek not to laugh. He keeps his gaze fixed on Rose, who's rocking back on her heels.

It takes another moment of silence before Rose cracks. "Jamie took a wand and made Al fly off the thing."

"What thing?" Harry asks, and Rose points toward the greenery-draped bannister of the staircase. Harry's eyes narrow; he looks over at Jamie, his hand held out. "Wand, please."

Jamie gives Rose a sour glare, but he pulls Harry's wand from the back of his jeans and hands it over. The shaft's warm and damp with what Harry's afraid is arse sweat. He holds the hilt gingerly between his fingers. "It didn't work," Jamie says. "Al just fell."

"Because you don't know how to use magic properly," Harry says, cross. "You're lucky he didn't kill himself." He helps Al up. There's a knot above his eyebrow that's starting to purple a bit. "Let's get you to the kitchen. Maybe Kreacher has a salve that'll bring this down." Harry stands, lifting Al to his hip before turning his attention back to Jamie and Rose. "Back in the library, thank you very much. I think Aunt Hermione'll have a word or two for you."

Rose's eyes widen. "But I didn't! Al climbed up there!"

Of course he did. Harry pushes his niece towards the library door. "On with you." Another nudge sends Jamie stomping after her, both of them in a full sulk.

Al's sucking on his thumb, watching them go, his cheeks still wet with tears. He hiccups again, and a snot bubble pops in one of his nostrils.

"What to do with you?" Harry sighs and shakes his head. He pulls up the hem of Al's t-shirt and tries to wipe the crusties away from the corners of his eyes, but Al pulls back, batting at Harry's hand.

"No, Daddy."

"Don't no me, you little monster," Harry says, carrying Al towards the kitchen. "You're the one in trouble. What were you thinking of, climbing up on the bannister like that? You know that's not allowed."

Al chews on the corner of his lip, looking at Harry sideways. He's trying to be cute; Harry knows that trick.

"It's a miracle you only bumped that noggin of yours." Harry walks into the kitchen, sets Al down on the counter, dropping his wand beside Al. He examines the knot; it looks as if the bruising's spread a little more. "You might have bashed it in."

To be honest, Harry surprised that he's this calm. With Jamie an accident like this would have sent him and Ginny running to St Mungo's. Now Harry just turns Al's head from side to side, studying it. He peers at Al's pupils; neither of them seem dilated or blown to him. He holds up three fingers. "Count with me." He wiggles the first one. "One." The second finger circles towards Al's nose. "What's next?"

"Two." Al looks at Harry as if he's lost his mind. But when Harry wiggles his last finger, Al screeches, "Free!" He grabs at Harry's finger, laughing loudly.

"I'd say you don't have a concussion." Harry smiles down at his son.

"We should probably keep an eye on him for a while, though."

Harry looks back over his shoulder.

Ginny's just come in the doorway, three empty cocoa mugs in her hands. She sets them on the sink, then comes over, kisses Al on the temple. She smells fruity-sweet, like a lemon tart and sunshine. Harry likes it. Ginny smoothes Al's fringe back, frowning down at the bump. "That's a nasty knock there, isn't it?"

Al nods, giving Ginny his most pathetic look. "It hurts."

"I bet it does." Ginny looks over at Harry. "Salve?"

"Kreacher should have some." Harry leaves her with Al and goes over to the pantry, knocking softly against the door. A moment later it swings open, and Kreacher's head pops out, his watery eyes blinking up at Harry.

"Harry Potter is wanting something?"

"Keecha!" Al tries to scramble off the counter, but Ginny catches him. "Keecha, I bump my head!"

Kreacher's mouth purses. He looks between Al and Harry, his bushy grey eyebrows furrowing. His ears flap once, then twice. "Master Albus is being hurt?" The way he says it makes it seem as if it's Harry's fault.

"We're fine." Harry hates that he sounds defensive. "We're just looking for some salve--"

He's cut off by a disapproving sniff, and then the pantry door swings open and Kreacher pads out into the kitchen, his long toes tapping against the stone floor. "Kreacher is thinking not. Kreacher is fixing Master Albus."

As if only he can heal Al's bumped forehead.

Harry and Ginny exchange a long look. Ginny shrugs. "He's your elf," she says after a moment, and she lets Kreacher lift a delighted Al from the counter, set him on the floor. They both watch the elderly elf lead Al out of the kitchen.

"You know," Ginny says as they disappear around the door jamb, "sometimes Kreacher makes me feel as if I'm the worst parent in existence."

"Try living with him." Harry gives her a weary look. "At least he loves the boys."

Ginny shrugs. "And he means well. I'll admit I was worried about that when I was pregnant with Jamie, but the moment that boy was born, Kreacher couldn't be separated from him." And it'd been true. Kreacher'd adored Jamie as soon as they'd brought him home from St Mungo's. It'd been a relief, back when they were sharing middle of the night rocking duty, to have Kreacher come in and take over. Harry'd slept more than once with his face pressed to the nursery rug whilst Kreacher walked back and forth in front of the crib with a crying Jamie until he'd finally settled.

"I don't know what we'll do without him," Harry says quietly. "Sometimes I wonder if it's fair, making him work like this at his age."

"He'd hate it more if you took his duties away." Ginny leans her back against the counter, legs crossed, her palms bent over the edge. She studies Harry for a long moment. "How're you doing, babe? You look like you haven't slept."

And he hadn't. At least not last night when every time he closed his eyes he thought of Malfoy in the middle of Flourish and Blotts, telling that he liked to ride a thick prick. Harry'd tossed and turned in his wide bed, the image of Malfoy straddling him, all silver-gilt hair and pale skin, burned into his mind. He wonders if Malfoy's cock is thick or long or both, if it's ruddy and pink, curved or not. Harry'd wanked twice last night and once in the shower this morning, but he could do it again, he's certain, if he had enough privacy. And that's a valuable commodity at Grimmauld.

"It's been a long weekend," Harry manages to say. He gives Ginny a half-smile, one he's sure she can see past. Ginny's known him long enough to recognise when he's evading.

She just raises an eyebrow at him. "You're full of shit, Potter." But she doesn't push the matter. Instead, she turns to the sink, rinsing the glasses out. Harry watches her. It feels strange to see her in the kitchen like this again. Familiar, yet odd, as if he's fallen a bit out of time. As if the past two years or so have just dissipated. All the anger. All the bitterness. All the fighting that drove them apart. Brought on their divorce.

Harry wonders if they could have done it differently. If they might have stayed together. But he can't imagine it. They were both too unhappy; they wanted different things. Different lives.

Ginny turns off the sink faucet. Flicks the remnants of water from her fingertips. "We should talk about the switchover," she says, not looking at Harry yet. "The season will be done on the sixteenth of January."

"I assume you'll want the boys in Holyhead after that." Harry hops up on the sturdy kitchen table. He rests his bare feet on one of the wooden chairs, leans his elbows on his knees. His jeans are frayed at the hem, and there's a small hole in the inseam. He'll have to give them up soon or later, but they're comfortable and soft, and he hates breaking in new pairs.

"They can come back on weekends." Ginny turns around. She drys her hands on a tea towel with the Queen's face printed on it before folding it and setting it aside. "If you want."

"Maybe." Harry'd rather them spend as much time as they can with Ginny. "Or I could come over on a Saturday afternoon. Take them out to the park or something." He shrugs. "We'll figure it out. I'll put the sixteenth on the diary though, so we remember it."

Ginny just nods. She runs her hands through her hair, lifting it up off her shoulders before letting it fall back again. She sighs. "We need to start thinking about Jamie's school for next year, too. Ophelia Carson's already setting up interviews for her Fiona, and she'll be going out of reception and into year one, just like Jamie."

"Mr Zhang thinks Jamie needs an intellectually challenging school," Harry says. He's already been thinking along these lines. "Wildsmith Primary was his recommendation, but they've a waiting list already three scrolls long."

"As if Jamie wouldn't get in with the last name Potter." Ginny gives Harry a pointed look. "But Wildsmith's in London, and I was thinking we might want a school closer to Wales."

Harry frowns at her. "Whatever for? All the best schools are here--"

"It'd make it easier for me, you plonker." Ginny glares back at him. "It's not easy getting them from Holyhead to London every day, and if we're adding a new school stop, it'd be better to drop Jamie off on my way in, then pop Al in at the Garden."

"But you only do the winter term," Harry points out. "I have them all fall, then after Easter hols, and I have to work and drop them off. You have them when you're on holiday--"

"I'm still training," Ginny says sharply.

Harry breathes out, tries to keep the annoyance that's building up in him pushed back down. "I'm just saying that I have them most school terms, and I'm never off work the way you are, so I'd rather not be dashing out to Wales for one kid's dropoff and pickup."

Ginny looks away. "I really hate having to give in to everything you want when it comes to the kids," she says, her voice soft. "I know you have primary custody, but I'm their mum, Harry."

Harry doesn't answer. He hates it when she says things like that. It's not fair, making him feel guilty because he's the one they chose to be the lynchpin for the boys' care. Gin knows it'd been her idea, and it irritates him when she acts as if he's done something to her, ruined her relationship with the boys.

They're both silent for a long moment, and then Ginny sighs. "I'm sorry," she says. "It's just hard sometimes to be the one away."

"We talked about this," Harry says. He looks over at her. "You know I never asked you--"

"I know." Ginny's voice is raw. "It's for the best, sure. That doesn't mean it's always easy for me. A weekend here and there, until the season ends, and then that goes by so quickly, and they're in school most of the day--" She breaks off, looks down at her hands, twisted in the cables of her jumper.

Harry doesn't know what to say. He turns his head, stares blankly at the two-tiered china hutch across the room, heavy and dark-stained, the bright white dishes gleaming through the clear glass panes in the upper doors.

Outside the wind whistles past the house, sending tree branches scratching against the rain-streaked panes. Ginny shivers, wraps her arms around herself.

"It's just hard some days," she says.

"I know."

Ginny gives him a long look, then she nods. "You try." Her voice is gentle now. She scrubs her palms across her face. "Merlin, I'm just mental right now. Too fucking tired for my own good." She drops her hands, leans back against the sink. "I need to tell you something before it hits the press."

Harry straightens up. "What?" He's on high alert now, studying her freckled face. "Is something wrong?"

"No." Ginny's laugh is rueful. "More like it's right for the first time since we split." She bites her lip, watching him, then she lets out her breath in a quick rush. "Right then. Plaster off." She presses her lips together, inhales. "I'm seeing someone. Rather seriously."

"Oh," Harry says.

"We've been going out for two months or so." Ginny watches him, as if she's oddly shy. "I really like him, Harry, and he's going to be around when I have the boys, so…"

Harry doesn't entirely like the way that makes him feel. "Right."

Ginny pushes herself off the counter, walks over to Harry. She reaches out, takes his hands in hers. "His name's Paul, and he's a trainer for the England team. A sport mediwizard, really. And he's no interest in being Jamie or Al's dad. That's you, babe. He's already done the family thing, has three kids, two in Hogwarts, one just out."

"So he's older, then," Harry manages to say. He doesn't know why this surprises him so much. But he's not angry, he realises. In fact, there's a bit of relief rising up in him. He doesn't understand that either.

"Thirty-eight." Ginny's thumb traces a small circle on the back of Harry's hand. "He knows Bill through mutual friends--Paul was a Ravenclaw in Bill's year."

Harry doesn't know what to make of that. "Have you told anyone else about this Paul?"

Ginny's cheeks flush. "Hermione. And Bill confronted me about it last week. Seems some friend of theirs asked him about it. He was pretty narked off that neither Paul nor I had told him."

They both fall silent again. Ginny's still watching Harry though, and he can tell she's nervous.

"You know you shouldn't care what I think," Harry says finally. "If you like this bloke and he's good to you…" He squeezes her hand. "I just want you to be happy, Gin."

"I am." Ginny's smile is warm and quick. "But it does matter to me whether or not you're all right with this, Harry. Paul's the first guy I've been interested in since…." She looks down at their hands, their fingers curled around each other's. The pale line from his wedding ring's faded now, blended back into the rest of his skin. Ginny glances up at Harry. "It makes it real, you know? You and me and.." She trails off, exhales.

Harry brushes her hair back on one side, tucks it behind her ear. He remembers those early days in their relationship when it was them against the world and Harry'd rush home every night just to be with Gin. That hadn't lasted, but Harry still misses those moments, those nights sat on the sofa in the library with his arms around Ginny, his nose buried in the sweetness of her hair, the two of them alone and in love.

Their only crime, he realises, was in not knowing when to let go. They'd held on to each other too long; they'd been too frightened, to war-weary to stand on their own. They'd thought their lives were bound together, but they'd been picking those ties apart for years before they'd broken free. Of each other. Of themselves.

"It's been real," Harry says, his voice soft, "for a very long time."

"Yeah." The smile Ginny gives him is watery now. She swallows, turns her head away. She's beautiful, Harry thinks. But she'd never been his. Or he hers. They'd been meant to share a moment, and now it's time to let it go. Completely.

He leans in and kisses Ginny's cheek. "You'll always be my kids' mum. No matter what happens with this Paul bloke."

Ginny laughs, and it's a half-sob. She wipes her palm across her eyes. "He's terribly fit, you know."

"Now you're just trying to make me jealous." Harry leans back, smiling, and Ginny laughs again.

"What about you?" she asks. "Anyone you're dating?"

Harry shakes his head. "As if I've time. All I do is work and ferry the boys through Floos."

"Exciting life." Ginny reaches up, straightens his glasses. Her fingers smooth across his temple, before dropping down to Harry's shoulder. "You're still young, Harry. You can't tell me there's not another girl--or a guy--out there waiting for you."

"Maybe." Harry thinks of Malfoy again, and he tries not to shiver with want. This is awful. There's no bloody way he's going to be able to go into the Garden tomorrow and face Malfoy down. Not without his prick tenting his pants. Or worse. He closes his eyes for a moment, lets himself indulge in thinking about kissing those pink lips of Malfoys, so warm and so soft. He wonders what Malfoy's skin would feel like, how Harry's thick fingers would look running through Malfoy's pale hair. He draws in a shuddery breath. He wishes he'd never found out Malfoy preferred men. It was easier seeing him as an unattainable fantasy, as nothing more than fodder for his wanking. But now he knows Malfoy's bent...Merlin. Harry doesn't know what to do with that information, doesn't know how to process the fact that his dream of sucking Malfoy's prick isn't impossible.

When he opens his eyes again, Ginny's studying him. "Harry. What aren't you saying?"

Harry groans. He's never been able to keep anything from her. Except, he supposes, the fact that he likes fucking men, and look how that'd gone. "It's just…" He breaks off, unsure as to what to say.

"What?" Ginny's tone is sharper. Harry winces a bit. Ginny sighs. "Just tell me."

And really, why shouldn't he? At least part of it. "I found out someone I know is gay," he says finally. "I didn't expect it, and…" He shrugs.

"Oh." Ginny pulls back, looking at him. "Should I ask who?"

Harry shakes his head. "I don't feel right in saying. It's not my secret to tell."

"Right." Ginny's quiet, then she shifts, hopping up on the kitchen table beside Harry. Her legs swing free, her toes barely brushing the floor. "But you feel things."

Merlin, does he ever. "Sexual, yes," Harry admits, and his cheeks warm. He doesn't know why. It's not as if Ginny hasn't endured his sexual fantasies before. It's just they used to revolve around her. Or an idealised version of her, he supposes. With flatter tits and a brilliant arse. He looks over at her. "This is awkward."

"Without a doubt." Ginny nudges his shoulder. "But you need someone to talk to, and you haven't told Ron or Hermione about the whole being a giant poof yet, have you?"

Harry flips two fingers at her. "It's not that easy. They've only just forgiven me for driving you off."

"As they should." Ginny smiles over at him. "Babe, you really ought to stop hiding yourself. My family loves you for being you--they're not going to care who you bring to family gatherings, as long as you're happy."

"Only your family keeps divorced members in the fold," Harry says.

Ginny rolls her eyes. "Not true. Paul's ex is still around."

Really, Harry's going to have to run a few background checks on this bloke. Improper use of Auror resources or not. "What's his last name again?"

"Stroulger," Ginny says, almost without thought, and then she catches herself. Her eyes narrow at Harry. "Harry Potter, if you run his name through the Auror system--"

Harry holds his hands up. "I won't!" He will, but he won't tell her. Harry assuages his conscience by telling himself he needs to know any man who's going to be around his sons, but he knows that's a bit rubbish.

Ginny glares at him. "You're a tosser." Her face softens though. "So you want to shag this mystery bloke?"

Fuck, does Harry ever. Not that Malfoy'd be up for that. The man loathes Harry on the best of days; Harry's not idiot enough to think that's going to change just because they're both queer. He recalls the look on Malfoy's face when he'd proclaimed himself bent. He'd been horrified and yet thrilled, Harry could tell, and he envies Malfoy the latter. Harry's starting to feel as if his soul's dying, crushed beneath the weight of this secret he's keeping.

He glances at Ginny. "I wouldn't be opposed to an encounter of that sort," he says carefully. "But it's not going to happen. Besides, he told me he was gay. I was too fucking scared to admit it myself." A twist of self-revulsion goes through him. "What does that say about me?"

"That you're human." Ginny lays her hand on his thigh. Her palm's warm through Harry's jeans. "Maybe you're not ready to tell anyone." She rests her head on his shoulder. "I promise I'll be your Secret Keeper until you're ready."

And that's why Harry'd loved her. The way she understands him, better than anyone else ever has. He kisses her hair. "I wish you'd been a bloke," he murmurs. "It would have made everything so much easier."

"Would it have, though?" Ginny looks at him through a ginger curtain. She sits up, pushes her hair back. "Six brothers, and you didn't go after a single one of them. Not even Ron."

"Hermione would have Diffindo'd my throat."

Ginny considers. "Point taken." She hesitates, then says, "You fancy him then, this guy?"

"Yeah." Harry rubs a thumb along the seam of his jeans. "A bit." That's a fucking understatement.

"Then tell him you like boffing blokes." Ginny pokes a bony finger into Harry's thigh, and he winces. "How the hell else is he going to know? You were married with kids, Harry, and there's nothing about you that screams I like a good prick from time to time. He's not going to just guess. I certainly didn't." And if there's a bit of bitterness in that last statement, Harry can forgive her. He knows he fucked up. Hurt her. He hopes someday it'll sting Ginny a bit less.

Harry draws in a deep breath. Lets it out. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to drop this on you."

"Don't be a git." Ginny rocks against his side. "I only want you to be happy, Harry. You know that."

And he does. Even if it's still difficult between them sometimes. Even if they still step on each other's toes, each other's boundaries, each other's grief. At one time, Harry'd loved Ginny and she'd loved him. You can't lose those feelings entirely. No matter how much one might try.

"Thanks," Harry says, with a small smile. "You're a pretty decent partner to be divorced from."

"I bloody well am." Ginny slides off the table. Her socked feet slip when she hits the stone floor. Harry steadies her. Ginny looks up at him. "You coming to see what other trouble our spawn have managed to get into? It's awfully quiet out there. They might have Stunned Ron and Hermione and escaped."

Harry rolls his eyes. "Merlin help all of London if they have." He waves her off. "I'll be in there shortly." He needs a moment alone, he thinks. Just to pull himself together.

Ginny leans in, brushes her lips across Harry's cheek. "You'll be all right," she whispers. "You're Harry James Potter, after all."

If only she were right.

She's gone in a waft of fruity perfume, a familiar scent that makes Harry's heart clench for a moment. And then he thinks of Malfoy, wonders what he smells like. Harry tries to remember. All that comes to mind is warmth, musk. A hint of cloves.

Harry's prick stirs. He sighs, his head falling back. It's not right, this effect Malfoy has on him now, but his mind's filled with broad, pale shoulders and coltish legs, and all Harry wants to do is pull his cock from his jeans and pump himself raw.

Except he's three toddlers running about in the hallways, an infant crawling around his library floor, not to mention his best mates and his ex-wife lounging on his sofas. Harry's not fool enough to wank himself now. With his luck, Jamie'd walk in and demand to know why Dad was playing with himself in the kitchen, and once that cat was out of the bag, Harry'd never live any of it down.

So he takes a deep breath. Stands.

Whatever this is, it'll fade soon enough. Most of Harry's fantasies do, dying in the reality of life with toddlers.

Harry walks over to the sink, hangs the teatowel up on the hook beneath the cabinets. Picks up the wand he'd set aside. At least the suspected arse sweat has dried.

Ginny's right. He'll be fine.

A flick of his wand and a Nox falls over the kitchen, the only light coming from the rain-streaked window.

Harry pauses in the doorway for a moment, gathering himself before he has to face his family. It's going to be all right. The intensity of his infatuation will Malfoy will pass.

After all, it always has before.

Chapter Text

Draco steps through the Niffler's Garden Floo precisely at five minutes before two o'clock on Monday afternoon. Berrycloth hadn't been thrilled at his need to leave early, but Draco'd held his ground. It's not as if he's doing anything terribly groundbreaking at the moment, anyway. Evgeni Zhuravlyov's jewelled box still hasn't opened for him, no matter how many bribes he's tried to throw the painted bastard's way, but even if Evgeni won't give up his secrets, Draco doubts the world will come to an end around them. As far as Draco can tell from his research Evgeni spent most of his time shagging women and baiting their husbands and, in general, spending the Zhuravlyov fortune on idiotic artefacts like this damned box of his.

Then again, Draco's a few of those nutters hanging off his family tree. Great-uncle Octavius, for one. Grandfather Abraxas had to banish him from the Malfoy teat when Draco's father was barely older than Scorpius. The last Draco's heard, Uncle Octie's living out his days in the warmth of a Greek island, doing Merlin knows what with the last bits of the money he'd been paid to go away.

Lucky bastard.

Draco's footsteps echo against the tiled floor. The school hallways are much quieter than they'd been this morning when he'd dropped Scorpius off. They'd almost been late, partially due to the tantrum Scorpius had thrown over wearing his school jumper--it was evidently too scratchy today--and partially because Draco had wanted to avoid seeing Potter. Perhaps the arsehole had the same goal; when Draco'd shoved Scorpius into Mrs McKinsey's room, the only Potter to be seen was Al, already playing in the corner with a set of blocks.

He turns the corner, stepping quietly past the closed, half-glass door of McKinsey's classroom. Out of the corner of his eye, Draco catches a glimpse of a Malfoy-blond head near the window, but he doesn't dare stop to watch. It's too close to nap time, and if Scorpius sees him, they'll never get him down. Other rooms are as closed off--the sound of drums and flutes spills out of the large classroom at the end, and when Draco glances in, he sees a class of older children dancing around a circle of chairs. When the music stops, there's a cacophony of laughter and shouts as the children dash to sit in one of the chairs.

"Can I help you?"

Draco looks over his shoulder. A petite, sandy-haired witch a few years younger than him is standing in the middle of the hallway, a stack of stapled papers tucked into the crook of one arm, a suspicious frown on her face.

"Oh, sorry," Draco says. "I have a meeting with Iona McKinsey about the Yule pageant?" He tries to look properly apologetic. "I'm not sure where to go. She mentioned a conference room this morning?"

The witch's entire demeanour shifts. "You poor thing," she says, her face softening. "How'd you get roped into the pageant?"

Draco's slightly alarmed by her sympathy. It doesn't bode well if the staff feels pity for him. "My ex-wife?"

"That's usually how it happens." The witch holds out her free hand, and Draco takes it, shaking it firmly. "Alys Lloyd. I'm taking these copies back to Iona, if you want to follow me." She starts down the hall; Draco follows a bit mystified. "You're not Harry Potter," Alys says cheerfully, "so I'm assuming you're the other one--Scorpius's dad?"

"Yes." Draco clears his throat. "Draco Malfoy. Scorpius's mother was originally supposed to be involved, but she was called out of town on an emergen--"

"With Daphne's baby, yeah." Alys turns a corner, starts up a wide flight of steps. "Astoria let us know when she found out she had to leave." Alys looks over her shoulder at him. "She's brilliant, you know. Always ready to lend a hand whenever she can. We adore her here." She hesitates, then adds, "It's lovely to finally meet you as well."

Draco's face heats up at Alys's unspoken criticism of his absence at the school. "Stori likes to be involved." He doesn't know what else to say. There's no way in Hades he's going to explain to this slip of a girl barely out of Hogwarts herself the complicated dance he does with Astoria over Scorpius's arrangements. Not that it's any of her damned business in the first place. Draco's becoming a bit tired of being judged by people who haven't the faintest clue what works for his family, who just automatically assume he's a horrible father.

He's not, for fuck's sake. Would a horrible father spend twenty minutes on the floor of the kitchen this morning, calming his distraught son whose issue was less the scratchiness of his jumper and more the fact that he misses his mother being around? Draco's grateful that Astoria'd insisted he stay at the townhouse. At least that's been constant for their son these past few days.

Alys knocks on a wide door at the end of the hall, frosted glass panels set into the heavy wood, before she pushes it open. "Iona? I found one of your dads wandering about."

"Mr Malfoy, of course." Iona McKinsey stands up, giving Draco a warm smile. Her dark auburn hair's knotted messily at the nape of her neck, and she's neatly dressed in a black turtleneck and a pair of houndstooth check trousers. "Thank you for coming in." She motions him to join her at a green-topped table, welcoming Draco into a small room with one narrow window looking out over the side playground. "I expect Mr Potter will join us presently." She glances over at Alys. "Are those our copies of last year's script?"

"In triplicate." Alys sets the papers on the table, pushing them towards McKinsey. "Anything else you need? Coffee, tea?" Alys's smile is sly. "Biscuits with a bit of squash? The kids always enjoy that."

Draco shakes his head. "I'm fine, thanks." He slips out of his coat, hanging it on the coat rack beside the door, then takes a seat at the far side of the table, near the window, taking time to settle himself.

"Then I think we're fine," McKinsey says to Alys. "Claudia's all right settling the little ones for their nap?"

Alys nods. "She's happy to stay until you're finished up here."

"Brilliant." McKinsey sits again. She slides a pair of black-rimmed reading glasses on her nose, then shuffles through a few papers. "If you find Mr Potter wandering through our halls, let him know we're up here. He should know where to find us; he and Mrs Potter had a few meetings up here last year about Jamie's progress."

"Will do." Alys closes the door behind her, and McKinsey picks up the stack of scripts, flipping through them with a frown.

Draco sees why Scorpius likes his head teacher; she's cheerful without being bubbly and can hold a comfortable silence. He tries as best he can, but his unease wins out. Draco's never been good at being quiet, from his school days to now. His son gets his fidgetiness from him, Draco's afraid. He clears his throat. "Scorpius is really enjoying the section on dinosaurs," he says, shifting in his seat. "On Friday, he wanted to be an allosaurus all night. Luckily, allosauri do eventually fall asleep."

Oh, God. He's babbling, the way he always does when he's nervous. His cheeks heat up again, and he's certain his son's teacher is going to find him an utter fool. Which is ridiculous, really. He's a bloody curator for the British Museum for Merlin's sake.

Mrs. McKinsey looks up at him. Her smile's warm. "Perhaps we should be thinking about a dinosaur Yule pageant." She rests her elbows on the table, her hands folded over the papers. "Mix a bit of palaeontology with the festive season?"

Draco laughs, picturing a field of small dinosaurs, decked in red and green and holly sprigs, running across the stage. "I think you'd have Scorpius' vote with that one."

"As long as the Tyrannosaurus rex doesn't eat the Christ child," McKinsey says with a laugh of her own.

"That might bring the mood down," Draco agrees. "Perhaps next year."

McKinsey quirks an eyebrow at him as the door creaks open. "Exactly. As I say every year, we have to survive this year before we can make grand plans for the next. Merlin help us." She shakes her head, clearly recalling something, and the momentarily grim expression on her generally pleasant face makes Draco wonder anew what he's signed on for. She looks up. "Ah, we're all here."

"What might we do next year?" Potter's stood in the doorway, somehow occupying the space more fully than Draco thinks should be possible. His shoulders are broad, and the stern look on his face hasn't shifted from Auror headquarters to nursery school yet. He slips out of his coat and hangs it beside Draco's. And really, that small gesture shouldn't send butterflies twisting through Draco's belly. Potter's a bastard, after all. Draco can't believe he has to remind himself of that.

"Mr Potter, hello." McKinsey greets Potter warmly, and if Draco looks carefully, he thinks he can see a touch of starstruckness about her. Nothing too obvious--she hides it very well--but McKinsey's definitely aware of Potter in a way that singles him out. "Mr Malfoy suggested dinosaurs."

"Ah." Potter takes the seat across from Draco. To Draco's relief, he doesn't really look at him. Draco doesn't know what to do about his fit of madness in Flourish and Blotts on Saturday. He'd regretted it all of Sunday. At least with Scorpius around, Draco hadn't had the opportunity to drink himself into a humiliated stupor over his stupidity.

"I'm sure Al would be extremely pleased if we went the dinosaur route." Potter brushes a bit of London dirt off his Auror jacket. "We had an evening of prime dinosaur entertainment last night." He leans back in his chair, looking amused. "Did you know dinosaurs do not have to clean their teeth? We had a rather intense debate about that last night."

Draco smiles despite himself. Al sounds remarkably like Scorpius, to be honest. "Scorpius suggested they don't take baths."

Potter looks over, and his green gaze is piercing as he studies Draco's face, but then his face is creased in a smile of his own. "Exactly. Al wouldn't stop trying to eat the soap." His eyes crinkle at the corners, and Draco's breath catches, his face heats. No one has the right to look that good on a Monday, but here's Potter, breaking all the bloody rules again.

Terrible pity he's a homophobic git, Draco thinks bitterly, tearing his gaze from Potter. He stares out of the window onto the playground. There'd been a frost overnight, and nothing's really warmed very much in the pale winter sun. The ground is hard and brown, and the branches of the trees beyond the swings are stark against the greying sky.

"Well, it'd be a better world if all parents understood the importance of dinosaurs in Yule pageant." Mrs McKinsey sighs, then shuffles the papers in front of her. "Sadly, the script we have is much the same as last year."

"There's a script?" Potter asks incredulously. "Last year it seemed like they were all making it up on the spot."

McKinsey gives him a quelling look. She hands them each a stapled booklet. "Half the time they are--especially the boys who haven't paid attention in rehearsals the way they should. Your son, for one."

Draco smirks to himself. Potter always looks impressive until he starts talking and one realises he doesn't have the social graces of a gnat.

Except Potter then defuses his awkward observation. "Oh, Jamie's absolutely awful at these sorts of things, and I expect Al will be worse. But I thought the others last year managed rather good improv, all things considered." He opens the booklet, studies the first page. "You've given them a great base to build on."

And this gives Draco pause. Perhaps dealing with Potter isn't quite as straightforward as Draco expected. Draco makes a note to watch out for new social adroitness.

McKinsey snorts, but she seems pleased. "We generally manage two scenes amongst the students. This year we're adding a third at the request of our infant class heads. We'll begin the program with a forest dance; the class heads will Levitate the non-walkers, and those stable enough on their feet will participate by dancing themselves--"

"We won't be expected to teach them that, will we?" Potter doesn't even seem to care that he's interrupted McKinsey; his face is a textbook definition of horrified. To be honest, Draco doesn't blame him; the last thing he wants is to have to choreograph babies.

"No." McKinsey's mouth twitches. "The class heads are already incorporating that into their playtime. We just need you to help us charm up a stage set."

Potter relaxes in his chair. "That I can do."

Draco just rolls his eyes. He pulls a fountain pen from the inside pocket of his suit jacket and uncaps it. "How many children will be included in the forest scene?"

"We've three classes of fifteen each," McKinsey says. "So forty-five, with the youngest being six months right now, and the oldest having just turned three."

In thick black strokes of ink, Draco scrawls the numbers along the margin of the script. "And the next scene?" He wants this meeting done as quickly as possible; he can't bear the way Potter keeps darting glances his way.

"That would be the candle scene," McKinsey says. "Less music and dancing, more talking, I'm afraid, which brings dangers of its own. Your sons will be in this section, so you can expect two classes of twenty or so three and four-year-olds--I think we've forty-one total enroled in our nursery school."

Draco looks up from his note-taking. "When you say candles, you don't actually expect the children to be aflame, do you?" McKinsey just blinks at him, and Draco feels the need to explain. "Most of my experience with these sorts of events was at Hogwarts. Child safety wasn't one of Dumbledore's priorities."

He almost expects Potter to protest, but Potter just shrugs and says, "Fair point."

"No one will be on fire, Mr Malfoy." McKinsey shakes her head. "I'm pleased to say even Hogwarts has to obey Ministry safety standards these days." She flips a few pages in the script. "We've tried to keep the lines simple, but it'll be your responsibility to make certain children advanced enough in their speech development are given the more difficult ones."

"Which means no pushing them all off on Scorpius," Potter says lightly, but there's something about his tone that irks Draco even more than usual.

Draco presses the nib of his pen against the cheap paper. An ink stain spreads across the surface before he pulls it away. "I've no intention of making a spectacle of my son, thank you ever so much."

Potter has the grace to flush. "I didn't mean--"

"You did," Draco says tartly, "but I'm choosing not to dwell upon it. The third scene is?"

McKinsey clears her throat. She rubs at a non-existent spot on the table's green top. "The Reception classes will be involved in the gift-giving scene. We usually spend the majority of our time on this one; it's a wonderful opportunity to teach the children the importance of kindness and generosity, both in spirit and in practice."

Honestly, it sounds like utter rubbish, but Draco scribbles it down. "Forty-odd children in Reception classes?"

"Roughly, yes." McKinsey glance over at Potter. "It might be a good idea to put Jamie in the back this year."

Potter grimaces. "Last year he did spend half the pageant trying to whack Fred with his candleholder."

Draco looks between them. "And you think Albus is going to be worse than that?"

"Merlin, yes," Potter says whilst McKinsey nods, albeit a bit reluctantly.

"Al is rather high-spirited," McKinsey says, and Draco can tell she's being diplomatic. Then she goes and ruins it all by adding, "Particularly when Scorpius is around."

It's not as if Draco hadn't experienced the same on Friday afternoon's play date. Scorpius and Al egg each other on, much the way Draco and Blaise had with one another in their younger days. Still, he feels as if he has to defend his son. "Scorpius is perfectly calm when he's on his own." He gives Potter a pointed glare.

Potter just looks at him, with that strange expression on his face again, as if he can't bear to even bother with Draco, before turning away. "The script's still the Yule-related stories then?" There's a huskiness to his voice that goes straight to Draco's prick, and he hates himself for the way his body responds to a bigot like Potter. Perhaps Astoria's right. Perhaps he's self-hating after all.

McKinsey nods. "Feel free to edit it them, if you'd like; as long as they stay close to the story arc, we're fine." She pulls out another two sheets of papers, pushing one towards Potter and the other Draco's way. "Regulations you should be aware of, and communicate to parents as necessary. The headmistress will have Alys send a copy out by owl to all parents this evening, so you should receive a copy at home, but the primary thrust of the missive is to remind parents about the rehearsals and our need to make certain the children are supervised the whole time. Staying through pickup is essential, based on the rehearsal rotation, but we'll provide a space for parents to wait." She gives them a look over the rims of her glasses. "There's no sense in them hounding you whilst you're wrangling rehearsals."

"What about snacks?" Potter asks. "I seem to remember a sign-up list going around last year."

"That will go out in Alys's packet today." McKinsey looks over at Draco. "The other parents should let you know what snacks they'll be bringing, but if someone forgets, we can raid the school cupboard. We'll also have a list for parents who'd rather bring food on the pageant day for the afterparty."

And really, Draco can't really deal with the idea of toddlers at an afterparty. He's never been to one that's been sprog-friendly before, so that will be a new experience, won't it? He darts a quick glance Potter's way. With any luck, Astoria will be back soon. Perhaps if he whinges enough at her via mobile, she'll take pity on him and relieve him of this wretched duty. Besides, Draco's rather certain Potter'd prefer her to be at his side. Perhaps in more ways than the present one.

Draco's nostrils flare. It'll be a cold day in hell before he lets that tosser get anywhere near his son and ex-wife. Potter can have any woman in the wizarding world--and probably beyond. Draco refuses to sit by and let him charm the knickers off Stori. He pushes the part of his conscience away that reminds him Astoria's a grown woman capable of making her own decisions, however inconvenient they might be. Draco doesn't want to be adult about this. Not when it comes to sodding Potter.

"Tomorrow'll be our first rehearsal," McKinsey's saying, and Draco realises he's missed whatever question it is that Potter's asked. He sits up, pretends that he's still taking notes. Neither of the others seem to notice. "I'd plan on twice this week, and then whatever you think best going forward. Just remember we'll need to keep it to no more than an hour at most at the end of the school day."

"Sounds brilliant," Potter says. He sits forward in his chair. "Anything else we ought to be thinking of?"

McKinsey considers. "Just having fun, really," she says. "And not killing someone else's child."

"Only our own?" Potter's smile is cheeky, and McKinsey's cheeks pinken. Draco tries not to sick up on the conference table. Potter's attempts at flirting are ham-handed at best and utterly nauseating at worst. How the twat ever married Ginny Weasley, Draco's not the faintest idea. Still, McKinsey seems flattered, and Draco's afraid he has to start revising his previously positive opinion of her.

"If we're done," Draco says, his voice sharp, "I'd like to pick up my son whilst I'm here. I realise it's a bit early--"

"That's perfectly understandable, Mr Malfoy." McKinsey pushes her chair back and stands. "Mr Potter, will you be collecting Al and Jamie?"

Potter shakes his head. "They're going home with Rosie this afternoon; Ron'll be picking all three of them up. I've a meeting with the Minister that I couldn't reschedule."

Of course he couldn't, Draco thinks. He supposes he should be impressed by how neatly Potter tucked the reference to Shacklebolt in there, but he really can't be arsed to care right now. Precious Potter with his mostly perfect sons and his political aspirations. If he hadn't been on the opposite side of that ridiculous war, Draco's certain Potter would have been the son Lucius Malfoy would have wanted. Powerful, respected, and straight as the horns on a Hungarian Horntail.

Nothing like Draco at all.

"Gentlemen, thank you." McKinsey's gathering her papers together. "I have a good feeling about this year's pageant."

Draco wishes he did. He caps his fountain pen and slides it back into his pocket. "Happy to help." He's not, but there's no chance he'll admit that to McKinsey. Merlin knows Scorpius, as a Malfoy, needs every bit of help he can find along the way. No sense in bollocksing that up in the beginning by alienating his nursery school teacher.

Potter watches him as he walks around the table towards the coat rack. "Malfoy, do you have a moment?"

Slowly, Draco stops, looks his way. "Why?" He tries to keep his tone even.

"I'd like a word." For the first time all afternoon, Potter doesn't look away from him. Draco finds it entirely disconcerting.

McKinsey's already at the door. "I need to go back downstairs," she says, "but feel free to use this space, if you'd like."

Draco doesn't like, but he also isn't certain how to refuse Potter, at least with McKinsey still here. So he stops, waits for McKinsey to step out into the hallway. A moment later, there's the soft tap of her footsteps against the wooden floor, and Draco glances at Potter.

"Well?" Draco demands.

Potter shifts in his seat, then leans back, his arms folded across his chest as he studies Draco. It's uncomfortable, and Draco feels as if he's some criminal about to be put under interrogation, just for the hell of it. His shoulders tense; he tries to relax them, tries not to give anything away.

But Potter notices anyway.

"You're not happy about doing this with me," Potter says.

"Auror Obvious." Draco clenches his fists at his sides. He presses a thumbnail into his skin, trying to ground himself, keep his temper. "You can't tell me you're thrilled yourself."

Potter doesn't answer. He runs his hand through his hair, his gaze still fixed on Draco.

Draco hates it. He looks away.

"Look," Potter says, and his voice is a bit strangely rough. "Our kids are friends. We have to do this together, so we might as well get over ourselves. Start out fresh." He stands up, holds his hand out towards Draco. "What do you say?"

Draco scowls at Potter's outstretched hand. "I'd say you're a wanker."

"Probably." Potter doesn't drop his hand. "And you're a right tit, so we're even."

"That's not an enticement," Draco says, and Potter's smile widens.

"Just shut the fuck up, Malfoy, and shake my fucking hand." Potter stands up. "It's Christmas."

Draco frowns. "I celebrate Yule." Technically, the Malfoys celebrate both, but Draco mostly wants to be difficult right now.

Potter just looks at him. His hand still hovers in the space between them.

Fuck it. Draco knows he's going to regret this. Nothing ever goes right between Potter and himself. But perhaps he can keep it civil. For their kids' sake, and maybe in the spirit of the season. Hesitantly, he reaches out, curls his long fingers around Potter's stubbier ones.

They shake hands. Potter's skin is warm against Draco's, his grip firm. Draco's breath stutters ever so slightly before settling out again. He clears his throat. "This doesn't mean you're not a bastard. Let's make that clear."

"It's just for holiday cheer," Potter says. "One of those bad decisions one makes this time of year. You know, terrible Christmas jumpers, drinking at office parties, getting caught wearing a reindeer thong--"

Draco gives him an appalled look. "A reindeer thong."

A wash of red floods Potter's cheek, but it's not enough to stop him. "It was a gag gift from Gin last year. You know." He gestures towards his hips. "Bit of brown velveteen reindeer head to cover your bits, and a pair of antlers--"

"You stick your prick in a reindeer head." Sometimes Draco doesn't understand straight people. He shakes his head."No. Absolutely not. I'd never walk around in anything like that. No matter who thought it'd be amusing." He can't imagine lowering himself to that. He'd feel a fool, instead of thinking himself sexy. "You wore this for your ex-wife?"

Potter's flush is fading. "No." He looks supremely uncomfortable; his gaze slides away. "Gin thought it'd be funny. It's not my fault you've no sense of humour."

Draco tells himself he can't hex the Deputy Head Auror. "I've a fully adult delight in comedy. I'd still never be caught dead in anything like that."

"I'm not suggesting it. I'm just saying, it's Christmas. But I shouldn't mind if you did," Potter says with a laugh, then stops. His eyes widen, and the flush rushes back over his cheeks. "I mean, if you were caught dead in…" He trails off, swallows hard.

A terribly awkward moment of silence stretches between them.

Draco is almost unable to breathe for a moment. "Potter, do you even hear yourself talk? Or do you just say whatever comes to mind?" He knows Potter didn't mean what he just said. On any count.

Potter's cheeks grow pinker, but there's a firm set to his jaw. "Look, we need to talk about Saturday--"

"We don't need to talk about anything," Draco says firmly. He needs to get out of this room before he hyperventilates. He can feel the throb of his pulse at the base of his throat. He hates that Potter does this to him, makes him feel things, think things he shouldn't. He reaches for his coat, drapes it over his arm. "I'll go over the script packet tonight and send any notes I make your way--"

"Malfoy." Potter's hand catches Draco's elbow. Draco jerks away. Potter stands there in front of him, looking lost, uncertain. "I'm sorry I was a tit in Flourish and Blotts. You need to know I have no interest in exposing you."

Draco doesn't believe him. "They all say that, Potter, but ta ever so for your enlightened, progressive guilt." He turns away, pulls his coat on. His hands shake as he buttons it up. This is the last thing he wanted today, and he knew it'd be coming because Potter's a sodding Gryffindor who can't stand for anyone to think him the bigot he is. "It's fine. You're straight. I'm gay. You've no idea how anyone could ever want to shag another man, can we think of the children, and so on and so forth. I get it. Let's just say I won't indoctrinate your boys, and leave it at that."

"Malfoy, it's not just--" Potter groans, and before Draco can react, Potter's beside him, inches away. Draco can smell his Penhaligon's 33, and he has to close his eyes, exhale. "Malfoy," Potter says, his voice quiet, "I'm gay too."

Draco's eyes fly open. "The fuck you are." It's one thing to mock Draco, but it's entirely another to lie straight to his face. The nerve of Potter--the lie makes it all so much worse.

"No, really." Potter chews on his lip. Draco suddenly realises that Potter's tense, his body rocking back and forth on the balls of his feet, the way Scorpius does when he's frightened. "I'm gay." And it's the way he says those words again, as if he's terrified and exhilarated too that makes Draco start to believe him. He remembers how it'd felt to say it out loud, to someone like Potter. Someone he didn't trust. Someone who wasn't his family, wasn't his friend. It'd felt as if he'd untangled a bit of himself, and as miserable as Draco had been on Sunday, he'd never go back and take those words away.

"Oh," Draco says. He doesn't know what to do with this information about Potter. He knows Potter's only telling him because of what Draco had done in Flourish and Blotts, but Draco's starting to see that moment in an entirely different light. It never would have occurred to him that Potter could be bent too.

"It's why Gin and I broke up." Potter blinks myopically at Draco, his face suddenly open. "She's the only one who knows. I haven't even told Hermione."

"Presumably the men you fuck know as well." Draco's voice is sharper than he means it to be. He's covering for his utter astonishment. He can't even process what Potter is telling him. His body is certainly standing up and taking notice, but he's too bloody shocked to care right now. Potter's spilling something he hasn't even told Granger? Draco thinks he must be having him on. "Merlin only knows how you've managed to keep this out of the Prophet."

"That's just it." Potter pushes his glasses up on the bridge of his nose. He shifts from foot to foot, and he suddenly looks unbearably young. "I don't fuck wizards as a rule."

Draco stares at him, suddenly terribly, neurotically suspicious. "Potter, you kinky sod. Please, please tell me you don't bring Muggles to Grimmauld Place and then Obliviate them. You could be pilloried in the press and have to step down. You know that's not safe, not to mention the consent and mind trauma issues." According to Adrian, there'd been rumours about that happening in the shadowed fringes of the circles he runs in, but nothing had ever been proven, and even Adrian, cheerful slag that he is, had been horrified by the possibility.

"Jesus, Malfoy." Potter glares at him. "One, I'm the Deputy Head Auror. I'm not about to be that unethical. Two, what the fuck, really? You'd think I'd be so stupid? Not to mention disgusting?" He sounds a bit hurt beneath the anger, and Draco can't help but feel ashamed.

"No," Draco admits. That's not the sort of thing anyone Draco knows would do, much less St Potter. Still, his curiosity gets the better of him. "So whom do you shag then? Prostitutes? Uni students? Not freshers, I hope. You're getting a bit long in the tooth for them."

"Fuck off." Potter's flush deepens. He lifts his chin. "Men in bars. You know. When I can."

Draco's almost outraged on Potter's behalf. "Wait just a moment. You, being who you are, you know, and rather lush besides, could shag anyone you pretty much bloody wanted. In the world. Male or female or both together if that's what you're into." Draco half-hopes he's not. The other half isn't so certain he wouldn't be turned on by that as well. To be honest, Draco thinks Potter in that sodding reindeer thong would arouse him, which is saying rather a lot. "And you're pulling Muggles in bars?" That's the sort of circumstances Draco's reduced to if Adrian's not in town.

"You think I'm lush?" Potter's eyes glint green behind his glasses.

Draco won't rise to that particular bait. "Answer the bloody question, Potter." He waves his hand, refusing to get sidetracked on thoughts he can't come back from. He can't even imagine the waste of opportunity that Potter's displaying in his private life. What Draco wouldn't do to have Potter's luck, and here's Potter just throwing it away, the twat.

"Yes." Potter sighs. "I pull blokes in bars."

"Merlin's tits." Draco shakes his head. He doesn't know what to think about any of this.

"I keep it all there. I don't bring them home." Potter pauses, almost as though he's crossing a line. "I can't really explain Grimmauld to them since they're Muggle, and if they were wizards they'd be too intimidated. Or sell the information to the broadsheets. And there's really not much opportunity for that sort of activity being a custodial parent. I'm sure you know what it's like."

Potter stops then, clearly having said too much, and looks nervously at Draco.

A knife of hurt twists in Draco's chest and he throws up all the walls he can between himself and Potter, refusing to let his childhood nemesis have access to what little self-worth he still has remaining.

Draco's surprised that his voice doesn't waver when he says, "I don't actually, as you're so fond of pointing out. Nor do I know what it is to be celebrated, or particularly successful, in case you were wondering. I'm barely well off any longer, so you can just give up humiliating me. There've been plenty before you who've done it better." Draco pauses, thinks. "Although you could perhaps tell your revenue division to stop freezing my assets. It's beyond petty."

"What?" Potter looks confused.

"Forget it." Draco doesn't have it in him to argue with Potter, and he's not entirely certain what he's feeling right now. He doesn't know why discovering that Potter's a poof makes him want to slam his fist into the nearest wall.

Potter looks at him, his hands shoved in his pockets. "You won't tell anyone." It's not a request. Draco knows that. Potter's making it clear: if Draco spills his secrets, he'll face retribution. Draco knows Potter would survive; he always does. But Draco would be ruined. Possibly even have what little custody he's been granted with Scorpius taken away. Not that Astoria would try, but Draco wouldn't put it past her parents. Especially if they thought Draco had humiliated their daughter.

"Mutually assured destruction then," Draco says dryly. "How familiar."

Potter doesn't answer.

"Well." Draco's chest throbs. "Whatever you may think of me, I'm not a bloody arsehole. Besides, I believe my mother and I owe you a debt of gratitude from the hearings." His mouth twists bitterly. "Can we assume that to be forgiven?"

"Malfoy." Potter takes a step forward. "You know you don't have to--"

Draco holds his hand up. "Save the lies for your admirers, Potter. Or those random men in your Muggle bars."

With that, Draco turns on his heel and strides off to collect his son.

He feels Potter's gaze on him the entire length of the hallway.

Chapter Text

"Calm down, Malachi," Harry says, trying to keep his exasperation tamped down. "Your mum's coming now."

To his dismay, Malachi's sobs grow louder. This is not how Harry had wanted this afternoon to go. But here he is, off to the side of the Garden's assembly stage, awkwardly squatting in front of a hysterical five-year-old whose mother is making her way to the front, her mouth pursed tight, her handbag held in front of her like a weapon as she pushes through the gathering of other parents, none of whom are supposed to actually be in the assembly hall. Harry glares across the stage at his own son. Jamie doesn't seem concerned at all about hitting Malachi in the mouth with a badly placed elbow, but that's par for the course with Harry's sons. It's not that they're not apologetic, but if they've not meant to cause mischief, they don't understand how it's their fault, no matter how many times Harry might explain it to them. In Jamie's mind, Malachi just got in his way whilst he was trying to catch the toy quaffle ball Fred had thrown his way--and Harry still hasn't figured out how his nephew had managed to sneak that in. To be fair, the whole incident's nothing but a toddler's accident, but Mrs Pepple doesn't look pleased, and, really, Harry's mortified that his son drew first blood in the pageant. That doesn't bode well at all. He grips the confiscated quaffle between his hands, squeezing it between his palms.

Mrs Pepple's made it to the stage. Her heels clack loudly on the worn wooden boards; Her bright green skirt swirls around her brown legs. "Mr Potter, your boy hit my Malachi." Her voice lilts with a faint Nigerian accent; the look she gives Harry is unhappy. She bends down to check Malachi carefully, lifting his chin and clucking softly. Malachi's sobs deepen now that his mother's arrived. Blood seeps from the corner of his nose, and his mother pulls tissues out of her handbag to help staunch the flow whilst Harry looks on helplessly. Mrs Peebles glances back up at Harry, her brow furrowed. "This is supposed to be a season of peace."

"I'm so sorry, Mrs Pepple." Harry crooks his finger at Jamie. "James Sirius, come here right now and apologise."

Jamie sidles over, a shifty look on his face. Staring at his feet, he mumbles, "Sorry, Malachi. I didn't see you." He drags the toe of his trainer over a paint stain on the wooden floor.

Malachi calms somewhat in his mother's arms, his sobs slowing to soft hiccups as he clings to her, and Mrs Pepple strokes his cropped, dark hair. "I'd like to take him early," she says, and her tone brooks no opposition.

"Yes, of course." Harry's not a fool. He tucks the quaffle beneath his arm. "Would you like me to walk you to the Floo?"

"I think we can manage, Mr Potter." Mrs Peebles lifts her son up, settles him on her hip. She hesitates, then says, her face softening, "I know it was an accident." She turns on her heel and strides away.

Harry just watches her go before he looks back at his son, stood beside him uncertainly, as if he doesn't know whether or not to run away. To be honest, Harry's not so sure himself. He sighs and settles a hand on Jamie's hair. "You have to be more careful, sprog. You know that."

Jamie ducks his head. "Didn't mean--"

"But it happened anyway." Harry holds up the quaffle. "Both you and Fred know better than to throw this around inside. A quaffle's an outside toy only."

"I know." Jamie's shoulders sink lower. He looks miserable. "I'm sorry, Daddy."

"All right then." Harry'd like to think his son's suffered enough, but he knows Jamie. Ten minutes from now this'll all be out of his head, and he'll be getting into trouble again. Harry sighs and pushes Jamie back towards the middle of the stage where the nursery school classes are wiggling whilst Malfoy puts them into formation with Alys Lloyd's help. Jamie's year is standing in the back, and Harry can see Fred trying to hide behind Maureen Spencer, who's a good inch taller than him.

"Behave, or Santa's going to leave coal in your stocking," Harry says firmly to his son, but he knows Jamie's not going to listen. Harry's jealous of Malfoy's little one; Scorpius has been quiet as churchmouse the whole rehearsal, watching his father with wide eyes. Thank Merlin he's been a good influence on Al. That's not something Harry'd expected.

Harry rolls his shoulders as he strides towards the back of the stage. He's only been here for forty-five minutes, but he already feels like he's aged five years. He'd been late to practice due to a meeting on the misappropriation of Auror funds running long, and Malfoy wasn't best pleased with him when he did arrive. He's barely spoken two words to Harry. Not that Harry gives a damn. He hates to tell Malfoy, but potential corruption in the force overrides the minutiae of a bloody school pageant. It's his job, for fuck's sake.

But then, Malfoy's deliberately being a tit right now. Harry hasn't forgotten the conversation they'd had yesterday afternoon--how could he? Malfoy's only the second person he's come out to, unless you count the handful of men Harry's fucked in the loos of London, and Harry doesn't really consider letting some bloke he's just met suck him off a proper coming out. But he would have at least have thought Malfoy might have been kinder. More understanding.

It's not like Malfoy doesn't know what it feels like to come out, after all.

Then again, Harry hadn't exactly handled Malfoy's revelation all that well on Saturday either. But at least that'd just been because he'd been so taken aback that Malfoy was bent. He still is, if he's honest with himself. There's part of him that hasn't quite come to terms with the idea, hasn't entirely accepted that he's so bloody turned on by it all. His gaze slides over to Malfoy, crouched between two small boys who are watching him intently as he tells them how they're supposed to turn, turn, turn along with the rhythm of the song.

Fuck, but Harry wishes he didn't find Draco Malfoy so bloody attractive, with his air of competence, the sleeves of his green jumper pushed up just enough for Harry to catch a glimpse of his bony wrists, and his blond forelock flopping into his face fetchingly. Not to mention the way his black trousers stretch across his spectacular arse. But Harry does, Merlin help him. And the fact that Malfoy knows his secret and he Malfoy's isn't making it easy at all.

Thank Christ the little crawlers weren't onstage today, Harry thinks. It's bad enough that the nursery children wouldn't--and, with the exception of Scorpius, still won't--settle. Alys keeps retrieving one boy, a diminutive ginger named Malcolm, from all corners of the assembly room. Harry half expects her put a sticking charm on the poor boy to keep him onstage. Merlin knows Harry's tempted. He doesn't know how the teachers keep their calm.

And when the reception classes joined the performance at the half-hour, not long after Harry himself had arrived, the mayhem truly started. Jamie and Fred had been the instigators of most of the problems--honestly, they'd been utter terrors since they first walked in the room--culminating with the catch of the toy quaffle that managed to give Malachi Pepple a bloody nose.

Harry drops the quaffle into a box of pageant costumes McKinsey had pulled out for them. He recognises a battered candle headdress, of the type Jamie had worn last year, and he picks it up, turning it between his hands. Last Yule's pageant had been hysterically bad. He'd sat in the back row with Ginny, Al on his lap, and he'd tried so hard not to laugh. Particularly when Jamie--after whacking Fred and half his class with his candleholder--had decided he was done with it all and had sat down in the middle of the stage, throwing his headdress out towards the front row.

Perhaps this is his payback for that night. After all, he'd not realised how much work Iona McKinsey and Alys Lloyd had put into the program. And how bloody awful the parents are--even this early into the process.

He glances towards the back of the room. Alys had tried to corral them into one of the classrooms, promising coffee and pastries, but most of them have escaped and are now lurking around the doors to the assembly room, gossiping with each other or stepping out with their mobiles in hand. Only when someone screams or cries or something falls to the floor with a loud crash--usually due to Jamie's assistance--do they pay attention. A very few are up front, despite repeated requests to move away from the stage. They're almost on top of their children, making them nervous and whispering stage directions at them.

Not that any of the children are listening to them. They're too busy wandering off, or picking their noses, or lying down in the middle of the stage because they're tired and it's all too much for them.

Through it all, though, Malfoy has been a bloody marvel. Harry may have difficulties at the moment, being this close to Malfoy, but to Harry's surprise there's no denying that Malfoy's good with small children. He's managed to keep some of the peace, and even coax the little ones into practicing a bit of the candle scene. Harry'd been a bit taken aback when Malfoy'd given Al a rather long set of lines to recite whilst overlooking his own son. Harry would have thought Malfoy might have wanted Scorpius to have a more prominent role. Instead, Malfoy'd kept Scorpius near Al during the short candle dance, and he'd helped Al belt the lines out loudly enough to make the parents in the back chuckle a bit at Al's enthusiasm.

"Reception, come forward," Malfoy calls out, and there's a shuffling across the stage as Alys leads the nursery students down the shallow steps--all except two of them.

"Daddy!" Al's running across the stage, towards Harry, Scorpius a step or two behind. "You hear me?"

Harry swings Al up on one hip. "I did." He catches Scorpius by the hand and leads him out of the way of the reception girls skipping by. "You were brilliant, both of you."

Scorpius has a finger up his nose. "I singed," he says, absolutely cheerful in his lack of a distinguished part, and Harry understands then why Malfoy hadn't pushed his son into the spotlight. Unlike Al, Scorpius is happy to be in the shadows. He'd be terrified to be the one reciting the lines; he's most comfortable quiet and at Al's side. It's not about Malfoy's pride. It's about what makes his son feel good about himself.

Harry glances Malfoy's way, a new warmth spreading through him. Malfoy's a good father. Probably better than he thinks himself to be, Harry guesses. At least given how insecure Malfoy seemed to be last week. And look at him now, the reception classes crowded about him as he flips through the script, frowning down at the pages, his lip caught between his teeth.

Malfoy's a natural at this.

And now he's giving out lines for Gift Giving now, and Harry wagers that the other parents will start complaining soon that there's unequal treatment in regards to their precious sprogs. True to expectation, Athena O'Nuallain, perched right by the edge of the stage, begins to whinge to Malfoy when her Persephone is not given a large enough part.

"I say," Athena barks out in a clipped, nasal voice that definitely doesn't improve with volume. "I think there's been a mistake. Persephone usually has a much larger part than this."

Rubbish, Harry wants to say. Persephone--a little girl as shy and soft-spoken as her mother is brash--barely managed to speak her line last year. She'd been terrified by the audience, but Athena seems to be under the impression that her daughter's bound for the West End boards.

"Look at her," Athena says, pointing towards a tiny dark-haired girl who shrinks back behind Jamie, her eyes wide. "She was brilliant at the dance; she deserves a better speaking role."

Harry watches as Malfoy glances over at Persephone, his face shifting from annoyance into something softer as he sees her hiding from her mum. Malfoy looks back at Athena, the script rolled between his hands. He takes a moment to study her before he says, "Mrs O'Nuallain, yes?" When Athena nods, Malfoy goes on. "You're obviously rather proud of your daughter, with good cause, of course. But for now, let's hold off for a bit. We can work on improving this young lady's part once we're a little further into our work, and we can see how things are taking shape." He turns to little Persephone, bending down to address her closer to her level. "Will you help me come up with something more? I bet we'll find another line or two for you to say, but only if you want to."

Persephone nods, glancing shyly at Malfoy and pulling at her long black curls.

Malfoy glances back at Athena. "Is that all right?" His gaze flicks towards Harry for the briefest second, as if Harry hadn't noticed the way Malfoy'd manoeuvred that last bit, making certain Persephone had the final choice in it all.

"Of course," Athena says, her eyes a bit starry, which should surprise Harry more. But Malfoy's a curious knack for flattering people in a way they don't seem to catch. Harry's half-jealous of that; Malfoy's never been that sycophantically kind to him. All Harry seems to get is Malfoy's prickles and lashes. Still, he shouldn't complain. The other parents are responding rather well to Malfoy too, now that they've seen him in action with their kids.

Since Malfoy's been giving Harry the cold shoulder since he arrived, Harry can't do much other than try to control the overflow of kids and help Alys keep the parents in line. Harry doesn't mind, in a way. He's never been theatrically inclined, unlike Malfoy, who'd been the most melodramatic prat of their year at Hogwarts. It's no huge surprise that he'd be able to take over a production like this.

"Enjoying the view?" Parkinson asks, her voice throaty. Harry startles--he'd been looking at Malfoy, of course, but he hopes that wasn't obvious. Al wriggles in his arms; Harry lets him slide down, landing on the stage with a thump of his trainers against the wood, quickly followed by arse hitting the floor. Beside Harry, Scorpius giggles.

"You felled," Scorpius says, as Al falls backwards, across Harry's boots.

Harry looks down at Pansy, who's leaning against the side of the stage. "I'm just hoping that we'll be out of here without another injury," Harry presses his lips together. "Particularly one caused by my son." He shifts his foot beneath Al. "Get up."

Al just goes limper.

"That looked bad--I was a bit worried." Pansy frowns. She hops up to sit on the edge of the stage, her legs swinging against the side of it. She scoops Al up with one arm and pulls him into her lap. He laughs and kicks his feet out; Pansy just tickles him and he giggles more. She looks up at Harry. "Of course, Uri and Ava do worse to each other on a regular basis. But it's different with the mums watching, isn't it?" She pats the edge of the stage beside her. "Scorpius, come sit with us, love."

Scorpius drops to his knees and crawls over to her. "'Lo, Aun' Pansy." He kisses her cheek as he plops down.

Harry coughs, a bit embarrassed. He sits down on Pansy's other side, lifting Al off of her. His son howls until he catches Harry's frown, at which he starts to settle down, even whilst squirming against Harry's arm. "I wish Jamie were a bit more careful. He and Fred have their uncles' rough-and-tumble attitude." Al kicks out, and Harry grabs his leg, holding it back down. "Stop it."

Al gives him a sullen look. "I play."

"You stay right here," Harry says firmly, and Al slumps against his side.

"Mean," Al mutters into Harry's shirt. Harry just rolls his eyes.

Pansy hands Scorpius her black patent leather handbag. "If there's gum in there," she says, "your father will never know it's from me."

Scorpius gives her a wide grin as he digs through the handbag. "'Ank you," he says, politely, and Harry wonders how he's managed to fail to teach either of his boys proper manners. Although, really, that's probably from Astoria and not Malfoy. Except Harry's not so certain. Scorpius has been on his best behaviour today, and his mum's not been around for days.

"Want gum," Al whinges. "Daddy--"

"No," Harry says. The last time Al'd had gum, it'd ended up in his hair, and Harry's not dealing with that catastrophe again. Not tonight when all he wants to do is go home, feed the boys, put them in bed and then have at least two, maybe three, fingers of firewhisky in front of the hearth.

Al kicks his heels against the stage edge. "Mean," he says again. Harry slides his arm around him, tugs him up against his side.

"So Potter," Pansy says after a moment. "You agree that we should represent all wizarding groups favourably, yes?" She gives him a piercing look.

"Of course," Harry stammers. Pansy always makes him a bit nervous. Not that he'd admit it to her or anyone else. "I'm a big believer in the power of representation." For a moment, he wonders if Malfoy's told her about Harry being queer, but Harry doesn't think Malfoy would have. He might despise Harry, but Harry believes Malfoy when he says he'll keep Harry's secret. Mutually assured destruction, after all. Harry's mouth twists at that thought. He hates the truth of it.

Besides, Harry's fairly certain, Parkinson would have been a lot more direct if that's what she's getting at.

He gives her a sideways look. "Why do you care?"

"Just curious," Pansy says, "as to why are my children having to sing to a Christmas tree at school." She raises an eyebrow.

"Because it's a Yule pageant, Pans." Malfoy comes up behind them. He squats behind Harry, leaning between the two of them, Harry shifts, brushing his shoulder against Malfoy accidentally. Their eyes meet, and Harry's throat is suddenly dry.

"Don't give me that bollocks, Draco" Pansy's eyes are bright with irritation. "It's a fucking Christmas tree, and you know it."

"Language, woman," Malfoy says, his voice lower. He looks around, but none of the other parents are paying attention to them. They're all watching Alys line up the reception children around the broom with a green paper cutout pasted to it that's standing in for the giant Yule tree. "It isn't meant to be anything but a Yule tree, but would you like me to put a menorah in the candle scene?"

"Yes." Pansy seems somewhat mollified. "If I have to hear Junia Avebury tell me one more time that "everyone celebrates Yule, Pansy, this is non-religious" I'm going to hex myself. Or her, the cow." She turns to look at Malfoy. "A giant Christmas tree in the background is not non-religious, and whatever Junia might think, my family doesn't celebrate Yule, as you bloody well know."

"Well, to be fair," Harry starts, and they both turn on him. He shrugs. "There's a good bit of pagan imagery that predates Christmas. I believe the druids were involved with greenery around the solstice, and the Romans definitely did something for Saturnalia. You can even go to Saturnalia parties now--they're all the rage." All those lectures Hermione's given him and Ron every year around this time about the pagan elements of Christmas decorating have finally paid off. He's rather pleased with himself.

"I'm not going to start serving my house elves dinner or let the children have control for a day." Pansy's face is pinched. "Can you even imagine the ruckus? It's hard enough with candles and presents for Hanukkah--I don't have the energy for seven days of pagan feasting on top of that!" She glances over at Malfoy. "Speaking of which, the first night's on Friday, and I'm making latkes. I assume you and Scorpius will come over?"

Malfoy nods. "Wouldn't miss it for the world. We'll bring presents for the twins."

"You spoil them." But Pansy's smiling now, and she reaches back, squeezes Malfoy's hand.

Rabia Khan, Millicent Bulstrode's partner, walks up, sliding her mobile into her distressed leather satchel. Her dark brown suit's perfectly tailored and terribly expensive looking, and her beaded silk hijab matches her pale pink shirt. "Did I just hear Potter mention Saturnalia? Millie wants to host a Saturnalia-themed party, but I'm trying to talk her out of it. Next week's al-Hijra, after all." She looks around, just as a dark-haired toddler runs up to her with a shouted Mumsy. Rabia picks her up and gives her daughter a big hug before letting her slide back down. "What else have I missed? I had to take a call about a client I'm meeting tomorrow. Custody battle." She grimaces. "Not a terribly pleasant one at that." Rabia's a family law solicitor, and a good one at that; she'd helped Harry and Ginny write up the custody arrangements for their divorce.

"Not much," Pansy says. "Just my usual whinge about the oppressiveness of Christmas."

Rabia gives her a small smile. "One I understand quite well." She smoothes her daughter's hair back from her forehead. "Although Millie and I compromise for this one, don't we, Bea?"

Bea pulls away. "Mumsy, I play with 'Pius, okay?"

"Don't go far," her mother warns her. "We have to meet Mum for dinner."

She might as well be talking to the wind. Bea's already pulling Scorpius's leg. "Come on," she begs, and Scorpius glances over at his father.

"Go on," Malfoy says, and when he does, Scorpius slides off the edge of the stage. It only takes a moment for Al to follow; to Harry's annoyance, he doesn't even ask.

"Yes," Harry calls after him. "You can play too, you little tosser."

Malfoy just gives him an amused look. He nudges Pansy over, sitting in the space she leaves between herself and Harry. When his thigh bumps Harry's, Harry tries not to shiver. He doesn't manage. An unsteady breath later, Harry shifts, giving himself another inch or two's distance from Malfoy.

Pansy looks over at Malfoy. "Draco, you remember Rabia, right?"

That earns her an irritated look from Malfoy. "Yes, Pans. It's not like they've been together for the past five years. Our paths have crossed from time to time."

Pansy just flicks two fingers Malfoy's way. He rolls his eyes.

Rabia gives Malfoy a warm smile. "We last saw each other at Pucey's engagement party."

The look on Malfoy's face is a study in blandness, and Harry has trouble not poking him with his elbow. Only the uncomfortable stillness Harry can feel radiating from Malfoy keeps him from doing so. Harry has a pang of pity for the bride-to-be and reminds himself to ask Malfoy if he shouldn't perhaps find a way of letting the poor woman know what's in store. Harry's not one to judge, but he'd save anyone the pain that he and Gin went through. Then again, as everyone knows, Slytherins are different.

Malfoy returns Rabia's smile pleasantly. "It's lovely to see you again. Beatrice is doing a fine job in the nursery section."

Rabia snorts and looks the direction her daughter's disappeared in, Scorpius and Al on her heels. "Kind of you to say. Bea can be a handful these days." She glances back at Malfoy, then Harry. It's gracious of both of you to be working with them--I know the pageant's never easy."

"Thanks," Harry says, a bit awkwardly. He never knows how to respond to things like that. He grips the edge of the stage, his fingers splayed against the worn wood, his shoulders high around his ears, and he looks around the room. McKinsey's releasing the nursery school students to their parents now, which means they'd best start winding rehearsal up.

Malfoy just shrugs. "I haven't done as much volunteer work as Astoria has. It's only fair to catch up a bit."

"How is Daphne?" Rabia's face furrows in concern. "Millicent told me the news."

"As far as I know," Malfoy says, "everything's stable. Astoria's glad to be able to help supervise her care and spend time with her before the birth."

"Mr Malfoy," Alys calls, and Malfoy looks over to the stage. The reception children are in small groups, each one of them holding a box. "I've written down the order here."

Harry's glad to see that she's wisely put Jamie and Fred in different groups. They're both sulking at the moment, but that's still much better than having them plotting together. And at least Rose is with Jamie. She'll be a calming influence on him. Or at least Harry hopes. Sometimes Rose is worse than both his boys combined.

"I'd better get back to the children--we need to wrap up this last bit," Malfoy says, apologetically, and he glances Harry's way as he clambers to his feet. "You could always help."

"Probably," Harry agrees, but he waits until Malfoy strides off before he pulls his feet back onto the stage. "He really hates me, doesn't he?"

"You are useless," Pansy points out, and Harry really doesn't have it in him to argue with her. "As far as I can tell you've just stood about trying to keep your son from beaning all the other pupils."

Harry rolls to his knees. "To be honest with you, that's often a full-time job." He eyes Pansy. "And where are your little treasures, anyway?"

Pansy points towards the corner of the room. Uri and Ava are wrestling each other. "Being their usual adorable selves." She winces as Ava pushes Uri into the wall. "Although I should probably stop them."

She pushes onto her feet and then turns, looking at Harry. She hesitates, then says, "He doesn't hate you, you know. Draco's just difficult, and he'll make you work to get through that thick skin of his."

Harry blinks, completely taken off guard. Warmth suffuses his face. "Feels like he hates me."

"Do you really care if he does?" Pansy's watching him closely, her face inscrutable.

And that's the question, isn't it? Harry stills, one knee raised, the other still pressed to the stage. He can feel Rabia's gaze on him, her own curiosity piqued. Harry sucks his bottom lip between his teeth and considers.

"Yes," he says finally, and something uncomfortable flutters inside him at the realisation that he does care what Malfoy thinks of him.

His answer seems to take Pansy by surprise. "Oh," she says. She studies him, her mouth pursed a bit, her gaze sharp. "In that case, Potter, chin up and don't mope." She smoothes the front of her blue cashmere jumper, settles her handbag over her arm. "After all, he's been watching you all afternoon. He should be civil soon."

She turns on her heel and walks away.

Harry just watches her, a bit flabbergasted, until Rabia laughs softly. When he looks at her, she gives him a small smile. "Slytherins," Rabia says. "You'll get used to them soon enough."

"I doubt that," Harry says, almost absently. He stands, his gaze swinging towards Malfoy and the throng of children swirling about him. He catches sight of Jamie in between Fred and Rose; the three of them are actually quiet, their attention caught by whatever Malfoy's saying to them. "Merlin, he's good with them, isn't he?"

"Yes." Rabia's voice is quiet. "So how long have you been mad for him?"

Harry jerks, his head turning towards her. Rabia's watching him with wide brown eyes, her lips curved in a faint smile. "I don't know what you mean," Harry tries to say, but Rabia shakes her head.

"I'm not an idiot, Harry," Rabia says. The look she gives him is sympathetic. "And sometimes queer recognises queer." She doesn't look away, but she steps closer to the stage. "And I'll eat my brief for tomorrow's meeting if you're entirely straight. Especially where Malfoy is concerned."

And Harry doesn't know what to say. He can barely breathe; he can't tear his gaze away from hers.

Rabia reaches out, touches his hand. "I know it's frightening," she says. "When I realised, I was afraid I was going to lose everything. My family, my faith, the woman I'd always imagined I'd be with the husband and the kids, and everything my own mother and father wanted for me. But it turned out all right in the end. Mum and Dad came around. I found Millie. We had Bea together." Her fingers curl around Harry's; they're soft and warm. "You don't have to be afraid. You're not alone."

Harry's chest hurts. His heart's pounding. "I'm not afraid." The words stick in his throat, raw and aching. Because he is. He's bloody terrified about all of this, and he doesn't know what to do, how to feel any more. It was much simpler when he could just go to a pub, find a bloke, get sucked off in the loo, and then forget himself in work and caring for the boys. Now, since Malfoy talked to him in Flourish and Blotts, it's a constant itch under his skin.

Now he's having feelings. Ones he doesn't understand. Ones that other people can see, apparently.

Rabia looks up at him. Her face is solemn. Sober. "It's okay to be scared. It's okay to say you are. But don't let fear keep you from acting. If you do, they've won."

Harry doesn't have to ask who. He knows. "Does it ever go away?" he whispers.

"Sometimes." Rabia lets his hand slip from hers. "And sometimes it comes back no matter what you do. And sometimes you find someone who'll walk this path with you, and then it's not so bad in the end."

That's what Harry's not so sure about. He doesn't think he deserves to find someone. Not after what he'd done to Ginny. To their marriage. Maybe it's better for him to be alone. He swallows past the tightness in his throat, admits the fear that's been flooding him for days. "I don't know if I have it in me to be brave again."

Rabia's smile is brilliant. "You do. You will. You have to."

"I don't want to," Harry says, and he feels as if something inside of him's broken.

"Love," Rabia says, her voice light and sweet, "you already are."

Deep inside him, a chord strikes, and Harry knows she's right beyond a shadow of a doubt.

"Potter!" Malfoy's voice is sharp, impatient. "If you don't mind tearing yourself from chatting up Millie's girl?"

Harry looks over then, at the splendid arrogance of Malfoy's sharp-nosed profile, at his rumpled silver-gold hair, hanging into that angular face, at the long-boned beauty of him. His heart shifts, fragments, and Harry knowns then that it's always been Malfoy.

It always will be.

"On my way, your Highness," Harry says, and somehow, miraculously, his voice doesn't break.

Malfoy glares at him, and Harry's heart shivers and twists. This is going to go spectacularly badly, Harry realises, but he can't be arsed to care. He'll do anything to be near Malfoy, even face down a school's worth of toddlers, as mad as that might be.

"Be brave," Rabia whispers from behind him, and Harry gives her a smile of wordless thanks, and then turns to face the boy who's become the man who stole his heart so many years before and never gave it back.

Chapter Text

The Christmas tree in the corner of the library at Grimmauld glitters against the dark-paned windows, its boughs heavy with glass baubles that gleam in the fairy lights. Tucked in amongst them are the small clay ornaments that Al and Jamie have made at school, as well as the paper chains that Kreacher's helped the boys put together. It's not the most beautiful tree, or the grandest, but it's theirs, and Harry loves the way Al stands in front of it in his stockinged feet, his school jumper crumpled on the floor behind him, his little belly puffed out from beneath his polo shirt. His eyes are wide and full of delight as he watches the fairies flit from branch to branch, bright and white and twinkling.

"Pretty." Al reaches out to grab a fairy, but Rose smacks his hand down.

"No, Al." She frowns at him. "They bite."

Just as Al's face crumples, Harry steps in and picks him up. "They just like to play in the tree," he says, rubbing Al's back. McKinsey had warned him when he'd picked the boys up that Al hadn't napped this afternoon; most of the kids hadn't, she'd said, looking worn-out. They'd all wanted to practice their song for the pageant, it seems, but that'd left most of the class cranky and whingey at the end of the day.

Al lays his head on Harry's shoulder, kicks his toes against Harry's hip. "Hungry," he says pathetically.

"Kreacher's cooking dinner." Harry sometimes can't believe how much Al weighs when he goes limp like this against him. "Uncle Ron and Rose and Hugo are eating with us, remember?"

"No." Al twists his fingers in Harry's shirt. "They go home."

Rose frowns up at him. "You go home!"

Harry hasn't the energy to argue the logic of that with her.

"Al's being a baby." Jamie turns around on the ottoman he's pushed up to one of the windows. His bum is up in the air, and he wriggles it towards his brother. "Baby, baby, baby--"

"Unh unh!" Al raises his head. "I not! Daddy!"

Harry sighs. "Jamie, stop tormenting your brother." He nearly trips over Rose, who's sprawled on the floor, her knees spread wide, her school trousers sliding up her scrawny brown calves. "Merlin, Rosie--"

"Everything all right in here?" Ron comes through the open door, Hugo perched on his hip, babbling loudly.

"Just the usual." Harry tosses Al on the sofa; he giggles as he lands with a soft thud on the leather. "How's the nappy?"

Ron makes a face. "Horrible. Merlin only knows what's coming out of this boy's bum." He sets Hugo down on the rug, then leans over to tickle his daughter. Rose squeals and kicks out in the air, just barely missing her father's nose. Ron rights himself, looking over at Jamie. "What has your attention, laddo?"

Jamie's nose is pressed to the window pane. "I'm wishing for snow," he says. His breath makes tiny little clouds on the glass before they fade away. "Mr Zhang read us a story about a boy who made it snow, and I'm him!"

Harry exchanges a long glance with Ron. "Are you, then?" he asks, trying not to smile.

"Yes." Jamie sounds determined. "If I wish hard then maybe it will."

"Not sure it works that way, mate." Ron ruffles Jamie's hair. "But you do you." He looks over at Harry. "Is that bottle of firewhisky still in your cabinet?"

Harry nods. "Glasses too." He looks over at Rose and Al, who are now wrestling with each other, far too dangerously close to the hearth. "Oi. Spawn." They both look up at him, blinking. Harry pulls his wand out and casts a cushioning charm on the other side of the library, far from anything breakable. "Take it over there."

With a shout of delight, Al runs towards the shimmering charm, throwing himself on the floor. He bounces up a bit, his heels pedalling at air. A moment later Rose lands on top of him with a squeal.

Ron just shakes his head. "God help us all." He walks over to Harry's liquor cabinet and unwards it. "Lucky Hermione, having to work late." He pulls out the bottle of firewhisky, uncaps it. "Sometimes I think she makes up meetings just to have a break from our two."

Hugo rolls over onto his back, stretching and cooing. Harry looks down at him. "This one's not so bad."

"That's what you think." Ron pours two fingers of firewhisky into a glass, then sends it soaring over to Harry, who catches it mid-air. Only a bit sloshes over the sides onto his knuckle; Harry licks it clean. Ron pours another glass, then caps the firewhisky and carries the bottle over to the sofa. He sits, sets the bottle on the low, heavy coffee table. He eyes his babbling son. "That little bastard's the worst of them."

But his faint smile belies the harshness of his words. Harry knows Ron's mad about both his children, whatever he might say.

The fire in the hearth crackles and sparks, sending a flickering light up over the mantel to illuminate the draped greenery and the thick bayberry-scented candles that Kreacher's set in the antique silver candlesticks he'd pulled down from the attic. They burn brightly for three hours a night, their timing charm dousing them just before Harry himself heads up to bed. Lovely smells of roast and potatoes are wafting across the hall from the kitchen, tantalising Harry. His stomach growls; lunch feels like it's been an eternity away.

"You wouldn't give up either of these kids," Harry says as he sits in the wide leather chair across from Ron.

Ron watches his daughter jump through the air across the room from them, her dark curls bouncing around her round face. "Probably not," he admits. "Except when that one over there's throwing a tantrum." He lifts his glass. "She's more like her mum than Hermione might like to admit."

Harry glances down at Hugo, who's sat up, staring unblinkingly at something Harry can't see. There are moments like this when Hugo unsettles Harry, not that he'll admit it to Ron or Hermione. And then Hugo laughs and shakes himself, looking up at Harry with a wide smile. "At least Hugo hasn't hit his tantrum stage."

"I hope he never does." Ron leans back against the sofa, his firewhisky cupped between his palms. There's a rip in the knee of his jeans, and his jumper is a comfortably worn brown and black stripe that's been washed perhaps one too many times, judging by the way it rides up over Ron's hips. His hair's rumpled, his freckled face broad and kind. "We've been talking, Hermione and I."

"About?" Harry takes a sip of his firewhisky. It's warm and peaty against his tongue; he swallows, and the rush of heat that goes through him makes him grateful that he's stripped down to his shirtsleeves already. He sets his glass between his thighs, unbuttons his cuffs and rolls his sleeves up to his elbows.

Ron doesn't answer. He glances over his shoulder at Jamie, still perched by the windowsill. "How's that snow-making going, Jame?"

"I'm wishing hard," Jamie calls back, and he presses his cheek to the windowpane. Harry can hear him whispering snow, snow, snow, snow over and over again.

"That boy," Ron says, looking back at Harry. His mouth quirks up at the corners. "I'm still not certain if he's more you or Gin."

Harry considers. "Gin, I think. She'd be certain she could control the weather herself."

Ron laughs and raises his glass again. "True." He's quiet, the fire popping and snapping across from them, then he says. "We've been talking again about whether or not we want more kids."

"Oh." Harry takes a sip of firewhisky. This isn't something he'd expected; the last he knew they'd tabled the discussion for a bit. He breathes out a warm stream of steam. Looks over to where Al and Rose are rolling about on what seems like empty air. Their faces are pressed into the Cushioning Charm; their laughter is muffled. "What are you thinking?"

"It's complicated." Ron reaches down, pulls Hugo up onto the sofa beside him. Hugo's nappy is hanging out of his trousers; he holds on to the back of the sofa and pulls himself up.

Harry just waits, watching as Ron shifts, frowns down into the glass he's gripping between his palms.

Ron exhales. "The way I'm thinking, it's easier if I snip the tube. You know, it's a quick visit to the Healer, and then bob's your uncle." He catches Hugo before he tumbles, pulls his son into his lap. He holds his firewhisky out of Hugo's reach, much to Hugo's annoyance. "Cap things off with these two."

Harry blinks. He knows Ron's been worried about having another kid, after what Hermione'd gone through with Hugo. "So how does Hermione feel about that idea?

"She doesn't quite know." Ron lets Hugo crawl across him to get to the arm of the sofa where he proceeds to press his mouth to the leather and gnaw on it. Harry doesn't bother complaining. His own kids have done the same; sometimes Al still tries to teethe on it. "She wants another child, but it's pretty high risk for her, you know that." Ron takes a large gulp of his firewhisky, grimacing, then shaking his head as the steam spews out of his ears. "And I'm really happy with two. I don't want another." He looks over at Harry, his lip caught between his teeth. He sighs. "You know, big families are great from the outside, and I do love everyone in mine, even Perce as much of a twat as he can be, but it's a lot. I don't want to see Hermione have to make raising this lot a full-time job, like my mum did, and, if I'm honest, I don't think I have nearly the capacity to handle three, much less five." He shrugs. "So I'm trying to talk her into agreeing to a vasectomy."

"Ron, that's permanent," Harry says. He's not so sure Hermione'll go for that.

"But, that's just it." Ron leans forward as Hugo shifts beside him, pushing his way between Ron's back and the sofa. "I've already talked to my Healer. The way he does the charm, it'd be totally reversible if we change our minds in a few years. He puts a block on the vas deferens, so when I..." He makes a exploding motion with his hands. "You know. It's like I'm shooting blanks."

"And you're not worried about spell damage to your willie," Harry gives Ron a careful look. If it were him, he wouldn't touch that procedure with a ten-foot pole.

Over in the corner, Al yells, "I ha' a willie!"

"Yes, you do." Harry doesn't even look over at his son. All of his attention is fixed on his best mate, who settles back against the corner of the sofa after Hugo stumbles free. Ron picks Hugo up and puts him back on the floor. "Seriously, Ron. You can't tell me you haven't worried about what would happen if the charm went wrong."

Ron gives him an even look. "Am I a man, Har? Of course, I have. But Roberts told me they do this all the time and the risk that anything back will happen is minimal. And it doesn't affect anything important, so…" He shrugs. "It's like I've told Hermione: I don't want to take the chance with the Weasley sperm, you know? Dad's family was large, then he had all of us, and we've all talked about it, me and George and Percy and Bill. Even Charlie's said he'd consider the charm if he ever wanted to have sex, just in case." Ron eyes Harry. "You think I'm mad."

"I think it's your body, so it's your choice." Harry thinks for a moment. "But Hermione best be on board too."

"Hence the discussions. Communication, mate. Only way to have a happy marriage." Ron stretches out across the oxblood leather of the once-new, now worn chesterfield Harry and Ginny had bought after the previous library sofa had been wrecked at Jamie's first birthday party--too much squash in chintz cushions really can't be spelled away, not even by a determined house elf. "So what about you? Do you want any more ankle-biters?"

To be honest, Harry's a bit taken aback by the question. Especially with everything else that's been whirling through his head the past few days. He looks over at Jamie, then across the room at Al. "I hadn't really thought about it, although maybe." This feels odd to consider, much less talk about. Still, he finds himself saying, "I'd like a girl. I always wanted to name a girl after my Mum."

But the thing is, Harry has thought about the possibility once or twice since he and Ginny split up, he just hasn't thought it would be possible given the circumstances. He's become used to the idea that it'll be him and Jamie and Al from now on. But now, something's fluttering inside of him, and madly, ridiculously he thinks about Malfoy, about what it might be to share a life with someone like him, about whether or not there might be the chance his family could get larger. Somehow. Some way.

It's impossible, of course. The same way it's impossible for Jamie to wish a snowstorm into existence.

Ron gives Harry a lazy grin. "Well, I'm sure there are tons of witches standing in line to be the next Mrs Potter. You just need to let Witch's Weekly know. I bet they'll even run a contest for you if you like, do some of the vetting and all." And it says something about how far he and Harry have come since Harry's divorce that Ron can even joke about that. The idea of Harry dating had been a topic they hadn't even been able to touch for the first year or so.

But Harry owes Ron the truth. He knows that. He can still hear Rabia's words from yesterday echoing in the back of his mind. Be brave. His heart thuds against his chest, and he thinks about not saying the words, about letting Ron believe Harry's still normal. Still straight. Still the brother Ron wants him to be.

"Actually." Harry drains the last drops of firewhisky from his glass, then gathers his courage. "About that." He tries to sound casual, but his throat is tight, raw.

Ron looks over at him, his eyes narrowed. "No. Don't tell me you've found someone too?"

It takes Harry a moment, but he realises Ron is talking about Ginny and the news she'd told Harry on Sunday. "No. Nothing like that." But his face heats, and he thinks of Malfoy and all the deliciously filthy things Harry'd like to do to him.

Not that Malfoy'd agree to any of them. From Harry, at least.

Ron sits back. "Good." He turns his glass between his hands. "You know, Bill's pretty narked about Paul and Ginny not telling him. Also it's a bit hard for him, his schoolmate with his little sister and all, and everyone in their year from Hogwarts taking the piss. But he'll get over it." He hesitates, glances over at Harry. "How're you doing with it all?"

"Fine." Harry sets his glass aside. "I'm happy for Gin, really." And he is. He hopes this works out for her. "I checked him out though, in the system at work. Nothing popped any red flags. No arrests or citations of any sort. Even his Gringotts account seems steady."

"She's going to throttle you when she finds out." Ron's mouth twitches up a bit. "You know that."

Harry shrugs. "They're my kids too. I'd rather do a scan of the bloke ahead of time, then find something out later."

"Fair point."

They sit quietly, staring into the fire for a bit whilst their children play around them. Harry settles back into his chair, brooding. He knows he could just walk away now, not say anything, bottle all of this up again. But he can't. He can't live with this secret separating him from his best friend. It's been too long. He has to say it.

Be brave, Harry.

He takes a deep breath, leans forward, his elbows on his knees. "It's just…" The words catch in the back of Harry's throat. He coughs, looks away.

"What?" Ron's studying him curiously.

Fuck it. Plaster off, as Ginny would say. "My point was, it won't be a Mrs. Potter, you see." Harry doesn't dare look over at Ron. His heart's a staccato beat; he rubs his palms over his thighs, creasing the wool of his trousers. On the other side of the room, Rose shouts Al's name; Harry doesn't have it in him to even glance their way.

"That's okay with me, mate." Ron says confidently.

"It is?" Harry looks up at him, surprised with how quickly this is all going. How the hell can Ron just be okay with something that has tortured Harry for years? Decades, if he's honest with himself.

Ron shrugs. "Yeah." He leans across the space between them, his heavy hand settling against Harry's shoulder. "Look, mate. I get that not everyone gets married these days, and as long as you're both committed, I really don't have an issue with it, whatever Mum and Dad might think."

Oh, for fuck's sake. Harry sits up in frustration. "No, Ron. That's not it."

A furrow forms between Ron's brows. "I don't get it then." He sets his glass on the coffee table. "You're not making sense."

Harry bites his lip. He wonders if it was this awful for Rabia with her parents. Probably worse, he imagines. He half-wishes he'd asked her how it'd gone for Millicent. He exhales. Wonders if he's about to lose his best mate. "I might get married again. But if I do," he takes another deep breath, his shoulders tensing. "If I do, it will be to a man."

And, oh. There's the reaction Harry was waiting for. Ron's mouth falls open in shock, his blue eyes going round. Harry can see Ron thinking, almost hear the mental energy of him getting his head around this development, and it's a very long couple of breaths. Ron's gaze darts over to Al and Rose, and Harry's heart clenches.

Don't say anything about the children, he thinks, and he can feel his whole body tingling, tight and tense with terror. Please.

"Bloody hell," Ron says finally, almost in an undertone. "Bloody, bollocksing hell."

"Careful, Ron." Harry hopes the children aren't listening. A quick look around eases that worry; Jamie's still staring out the window, and Rosie's pinned Al against the cushioning charm and is singing their pageant song with him. Still, Harry's afraid he might have to punch his best friend in the fucking mouth if he says anything too homophobic, and that'll just fuck everything up, he knows that full well. Christ. He needs another firewhisky just to get through this.

Ron huffs out a frustrated noise. "I knew there was something wrong." He points a finger at Harry. "I knew it! Except you and Gin were acting so friendly through everything, and yet so bloody wounded, the both of you."

"We were trying to do the right thing," Harry starts to say, but Ron cuts him off with a sharp look. Harry reaches for the firewhisky bottle and pours another drink. His hand shakes a bit as he lifts the steaming glass to his mouth.

"Jesus, Harry." Ron stands up and starts pacing in front of the hearth. Harry's following him with rapt attention, entirely unsure what is going to come of his revelation but oddly relieved to finally be heard.

Hugo crawls up to Harry, uses his trouser leg to pull himself up. He babbles something Harry can't begin to make out, then holds his arms up. Harry lifts Hugo into his lap, hold him against his chest. There's something soothing about having the baby pressed against him, almost like a shield. Harry's a horrible uncle, he knows that. At the moment, he couldn't give a damn.

Ron turns at the hearth, leans his shoulder against the mantel. "You know, I hated you for six months because I was sure you cheated." Ron stares Harry down, his mouth a thin line. "I thought you cheated on my little sister. With a girl. And you had two little ones with her. Hermione said you wouldn't, but I couldn't believe her. Not when I found Ginny in tears and she wouldn't tell me what you'd done. I didn't know how to forgive you, Harry. But Ginny begged me to, said that it was okay. That you'd both decided it was best."

"It was," Harry manages to get out in a whisper. He presses his cheek against Hugo's hair, feels his nephew's steady, precious breath. He feels as if he's bleeding from the inside, all those old wounds opening up again, those early days of his separation, when all Ginny could do was ask him why.

Ron's mouth tightens again. He doesn't look away from Harry. "Did you cheat on her with a bloke?"

"No!"

Harry's denial echoes in the room. All the children fall silent, their faces turned towards him, their eyes wide and frightened. Harry tries to calm himself down. He breathes in, then out, and he lets Hugo squirm out from his grasp. Hugo lands on the floor with a soft thud, sitting down only long enough for him to roll onto his knees and start to scoot away. Harry feels a right shit. Even his infant nephew wants to get away from him. What does that have to say about what he's become?
"Daddy?" Al's voice is plaintive. Unhappy.

"It's all right," Harry says. He tries to keep his voice soothing. "Just play."

Al slides off the Cushioning Charm, his bum hitting the floor softly. He's watching Harry, as is Rose. Jamie's still at the window, whispering up a snowfall. His mantra's louder now, and there's a tinge of worry to his voice that Harry knows he's caused.

Harry stands up. He turns to face Ron, his mouth set. He tries to stare Ron down even though Ron's always had the height advantage.

"I would never," Harry says finally, his voice even. Soft. He takes a step towards Ron. "We broke up because I realised."

They're almost chin to chin.

Ron swallows, meets his gaze. "Why should I believe you?" There's an anguish to his voice Harry doesn't entirely understand.

"Because I'm Harry." And it's all Harry can do not to fall apart. He presses his lips together, studies Ron's stony face. "I didn't do anything wrong. All that happened was that I realised I was gay." Harry looks away. A wash of shame suffuses him, warming his cheeks. He hates being like this. Hates that there's always been something about himself that isn't right. That's always felt different from all his friends. That's set him apart from his best mate.

He remembers the showers after Quidditch matches, how the others romped through the locker room naked, unconcerned, how Harry'd done everything he could not to look, not to see, not to feel things he knew he shouldn't. He thinks of his first kiss with Cho, how it'd felt strange and wet, and how he'd wondered late at night if it would have felt different if his first kiss had been Cedric instead.

And then there's Malfoy. The obsession Harry'd had with him, the one Hermione had told him was mad, was strange, was wrong. Harry knows now he hadn't followed Malfoy to catch him in wrongdoing. He'd followed him because Malfoy never left Harry's mind. Even that last year, when he'd been so far from school, hidden away in the Forest of Dean, Harry'd thought of Malfoy. Wondered where he was. What he was doing. And when Harry'd found himself at the Manor that last time, with his face swollen and his heart thudding with fear, it'd been Malfoy who'd lied for him. Who'd told them he couldn't recognise him, that Harry wasn't who he was.

Harry'd known even then. Perhaps not consciously. But he'd known there was a reason he spoke up for Malfoy at the hearings. As much as he told himself it'd been to pay a life debt, there was no need for Harry to let his generosity extend past Narcissa. But he hadn't been able to look away from Malfoy during those days when Malfoy was stood before the Wizengamot. He hadn't been able to let Malfoy be thrown aside for his crimes. He'd known there was something better inside of Malfoy. Harry'd been able to feel it with his heart.

He raises his chin. Forces himself to look at Ron. "I fought what I knew was true as long as I could. I told myself I loved her. That she loved me. But when I realised that what I felt wasn't enough for either of us, that I couldn't really give Ginny what she wanted, we had to make decisions together." He blinks a wetness away from his lashes. His voice feels raw in his throat. "It wasn't fair to her."

An unhappy silence stretches between him and Ron. Behind them, Hugo squeals and cackles. It's an oddly soothing balm to Harry's heart.

Ron turns his head away. His hair gleams red-gold in the firelight; he pushes it back away from his temple and sighs. "I love you more than I ever thought possible," he says, his voice low. "And Merlin, Harry, I hate you right now too. Why the hell didn't you tell me?"

That's easier than Harry expects to answer. He reaches out, lets his fingertips brush Ron's elbow before dropping his hand. "Ron, it's really bloody difficult to figure something out about yourself that you know nothing about and have no real role model for."

"But I'm your best mate, right?" Ron glances back at him. His face is impassive.

Harry nods. He doesn't know what else to say.

"And your brother-in-law, at least at the time."

"You're family, Ron." Harry says, his voice rough. "The only family I have."

Ron just looks at Harry. His jaw tightens, then releases. He pushes himself off the mantel, folds his arms across his chest. "So why the fuck wouldn't you share with me what must have been an awful time for you? Didn't you trust me?"

Harry hadn't expected the pain in Ron's eyes. "Ron," he says, but he can't get any further. Not when he's facing the consequences of his secrets, the realisation that his own fears, his own shame have hurt his friends. His family. A deep grief opens up inside of him--for himself, for Ginny, for Ron and Hermione, for them all, really.

"Daddy's angry," Rosie whispers from across the room, and Ron's face softens. Changes ever so slightly.

"Sometimes it's okay to be, pumpkin," Ron says. He looks back at Harry, and there's a sadness in his eyes. "Even if you'd rather not."

And Harry knows then what he needs to say. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to hurt you. I just wanted to protect Ginny from embarrassment." Harry stops. "And I was ashamed. If anything, I didn't trust myself."

"Forget Ginny." Ron's brow furrows deeper. "I mean, I love her. She's tough--she's a professional Quidditch player, for Merlin's sake." He reaches out, grabs Harry's arm before Harry can even flinch. " But what about you, Harry? Who did you talk to?"

Harry's surprised. It seems he can tell his best friend his darkest secret and still not get the horror or shock that he's expecting. "You're angry with me. Why do you care?"

"Don't be a complete git." Ron pulls Harry into a rough hug. "I'm furious with you that you didn't give me the chance to help. You didn't let any of us, really." He leans back, looks at Harry. "You just kept this all inside?"

"I made do, you know." Harry doesn't know why he's so defensive. It just feels as if he's been spun about on an emotional helter skelter. He eyes Ron uncertainly. "I focused on the boys and on my job, really."

"This explains so much!" Ron grabs both of Harry's biceps, shakes him a bit roughly. "You idiot. You weren't dating, and we were all worried that you were still in love with Ginny and that she wouldn't take you back because you cheated. Except she was so protective of you, it didn't make any sense." He lets Harry go. "Jesus, Har." He shakes his head. "And now you're telling me this is all it was?"

All it was? Harry gives Ron an incredulous look. "Yeah, it's just my being a poof, sadly." Harry sighs, dropping down heavily onto the sofa. "Anything else would have been so much easier." He considers. "Except the cheating. Gin would have had my bollocks for that."

Ron sits down next to him. "As well she should." They both stare into the fire. Hugo waddles over to his father, slamming his hand against Ron's knee. Ron pulls him up again, then looks over at Harry. "Well, we can do it, mate."

"What do you mean?" Harry asks. Al and Rosie are sidling over; Harry reaches an arm out to pull Al close to him. It's a sign of Al's worry that he lets Harry. Rosie climbs up beside her father, laying her head against his side.

"You fight?" Rose asks Ron and he smoothes her hair back from her forehead.

"Not anymore, baby." Ron glances over at Harry. "What I mean, you i-d-i-o-t, is we'll find you a bloke. You deserve a happy ever after, mate. Everyone does."

Harry stops, thinking for a moment, as he settles Al between his knees. His son leans back against him, his dark hair mussed and sweaty. The idea of having something more than this seems an impossibility still. "I just never thought I did. I have the boys...." He trails off. He wants more. He knows that.

Merlin help him. He wants Malfoy.

"Rubbish," Ron says, and there's a stubborn set to his face. "There's a lid for every pot, my grandma said, and a hook for every cauldron. So you're bent. Between me and my brothers, we ought to be able to find you a proper bloke." He eyes Harry. "Are we talking a shag or two, or are you looking for long-term?"

Warmth blossoms through Harry's chest. "I don't know." He's feeling a bit exposed now, a bit oddly vulnerable.

Ron shrugs. "We'll work it out." He leans over and kisses the top of Rose's head. "Won't we, girl?"

His daughter frowns up at him. "Stop, Daddy." She pushes Ron away.

"You wound me, child." Ron looks over at Harry. "You all right?"

To be honest, Harry's not certain. He wonders what Ron would say if Harry told him whom he wanted. Harry doesn't think Ron would take that too well; Ron's already suspicious that Astoria's managed to sway Harry her way. Merlin only knows what he'd think of Harry admitting he dreamt about shagging Draco Malfoy.

So Harry just nods. "Well, that's my big gay revelation. Rainbows and sparkles, I suppose."

Ron tilts his head, considers Harry. "You're not really that flamboyant, you know. More like, quiet and halting."

"Maybe that's more my style," Harry says wryly.

"Whatever." Ron waves a hand his way. "You'll always be family, Harry. I just want you to be happy too."

Before Harry can say anything, Jamie turns on the ottoman. "Daddy!" His face is alight. "Look!" He points to the darkened window.

Puzzled, Harry pushes Al away, then struggles to his feet. "What's going on?" He walks over to the window, Al trailing behind him. Ron turns on the sofa, and both Rose and Hugo's faces peer over the curve of leather.

"Look," Jamie says, his eyes shining. "I did it!"

Outside, in the light of the street lamps, a faint glimmer falls, white and bright against the darkness.

Snow.

It's light, barely a dusting covering the ground, and it'll be gone by morning, Harry's certain of that.

But as he stands here in the warmth of his house, the lights of the Christmas tree shining in the window, his sons flanking his sides, their awed faces reflected in the shadowed glass, Harry lets himself feel the magic Jamie's certain he produced.

Perhaps he's right, Harry thinks.

The snow twists in the wintry breeze, dancing past the window panes in a gust of icy white, and for the first time in years, Harry believes.

Chapter Text

It's quarter til five on Thursday afternoon, and Draco is about to throw in the towel and call it a day. He pulls at his already loosened collar, having shucked off his jumper and tie a good half hour ago, and he takes a deep breath. Counts to ten. Exhales.

He closes his eyes. Thinks of the warm, sandy beaches his mother and aunt are off to, once Teddy's out on hols. Draco envies them their escape; he'd woken up this morning to a dusting of snow on the ground which had thrilled Scorpius and made Draco curse the complexity of squeezing Scorpius's feet into proper wellies for recess.

"Malfoy?" Potter's voice carries across the room. "Everything okay?"

Draco lets go of his visions of warm sand and crystal blue waters, his soul crashing back down into the reality of twenty-seven children in a state of complete disarray across his stage. Several of them are wrestling, and only little Persephone O'Nuallain is standing quietly to the side, holding her blue and green wrapped gift prop and trying not to get kicked by the flailing children next to her.

"Brilliant," Draco manages to say. He doesn't even bother looking over at Potter. He'll be doing something useless, of course, as he always is. Honestly, how the man survives in a Ministerial administrative position, Draco's no idea. As far as Draco can tell, Potter can't plan his way out of a paper bag. Jamie and Al's birthday parties must be atrocious--although perhaps that judgment's a bit uncharitable.

He puts his fists on his hips, and surveys the chaos that can be wrought only by overtired toddlers. His own son's lying on the stage on his back, in the position Draco recognises as Scorpius Decompensating. As he judges it, there's perhaps another ten minutes before full meltdown commences; right now Scorpius is only at the softly snivelling stage, with Al standing over him, demanding he get up and play, whilst Rose Weasley kneels between them and chews on the collar of her school jumper.

Surely the waiting parents would be willing to take their children home, Draco muses, although he can see the lot of them still lingering in the back, not paying attention. Rehearsal has become the new social gathering, it seems, and a good third of the parents hang back with mugs of tea and coffee in their hands, happy to chat with one another whilst Draco and Potter attempt to keep their little darlings from concussing one another with props. Draco loathes them all. The parents, that is, not the children. It's not the ankle-biters' fault they were birthed to complete idiots.

Well, most of them, at least.

Still, it's been a late practice today, and even Alys Lloyd and Iona McKinsey are looking a bit worn. Draco's rather certain he caught a rare McKinsey scowl a few moments ago, when Arun Patil-Mukherjee hit Genevieve Hastings in the mouth with one of the oversized stage gifts wrapped in sparkling gold wrapping paper--which Draco's had to secure to the fake boxes with Sticking Charms since the kids keep trying to unwrap the blasted things. Parvati had, of course, been very apologetic, scolding Arun for what amounted to nothing more than Arun being his usual clumsy self, and Genevieve's mother had been mollified. Still, Draco knows he's on thin ice here, should one of other the parents decide to actually pay attention to what their brats are up to, and of course, now that he's looking about for him, Potter's nowhere to be found. Then again, Potter'd spent a good ten minutes chatting with Rabia Khan in the back when he'd come in--late again. Something about their heads bent together, Potter's messy hair brushing against Rabia's tidy hijab, makes Draco's blood boil.

At least Potter had deigned to help somewhat during the infant classes' forest dance, when several of the two-year-olds practising managed to fall sideways into a domino pile, one on top of the other. One boy even fell from the stage, but Potter caught him with a quick bit of wandwork. The little one hovered in the air, blinking and having a great time, as the Deputy Head Auror of Britain sent him safely back onto solid ground.

Draco's not even certain the poor tyke's mother had looked up from her tea.

And thinking of Potter's wandwork makes Draco's skin feel flushed, prickly. Really, Draco shouldn't find anything Potter does sexy. He shouldn't. Just because Potter likes men doesn't mean anything. That's as idiotic as thinking all straight men and women should be attracted to one another. Potter's Potter and Draco's Draco, and there's an entire difficult history stretching out between them that makes it obvious that nothing will ever happen between them.

Whatever Draco's dreams might say.

Still, at that moment, with the squirming little one hanging in mid-air, laughing as Potter'd Levitated him back to the stage, Draco'd had to think about his Great Aunt Walburga's sharp tongue for a long time to keep from having a physical reaction to the potency of Potter's magic. He's never felt anyone's magic like that, sensed it rippling through the air, sliding across his skin as it'd raced towards the boy. If Draco thinks about it, he can feel it even now.

Merlin, but he's never going to sleep tonight.

Then again, he tells himself it helps to remember that, whenever Potter's not busy being Britain's Most Devastatingly Handsome Dad-- also known as whenever the prat opens his mouth--Draco just wants to hex him. He supposes that's not allowed either; McKinsey would definitely frown upon such actions in front of the children. But the urge is there whether it's appropriate or not.

Fred Weasley uses one of the wrapped gifts to try to bowl down Uri Goldstein, and really, that's enough, Draco thinks. He steps forward, claps his hands loudly.

"All right," Draco uses his best, confident stage voice, and the children look up. You can never let them see you panic or look tired; they start to swarm then, knowing that they've the power combined to overcome one. He crooks his finger towards the older pupils. "One more practice with the gift pass, Reception, and then we can all go home to a warm supper." One which Draco hopes Imsy will have waiting for him and Scorpius. He'd left instructions this morning for salmon and new potatoes, but Imsy generally does whatever the hell she wants, his wishes be damned. To be honest, Draco suspects that's why his mother had been so willing to let him bring the elf over. He catches sight of Jamie hiding behind one of the trees decorated for the forest scene. "James. Out here now."

To his surprise, Jamie slinks out, his shoulders slumped. Draco eyes him carefully, then walks over, squats down beside him. "What's wrong with you?" He keeps his tone light.

Fred's right beside Jamie, seemingly unconcerned about his attack on Uri. His dark curls are a mess, the wiry coils framing his chubby brown face, a green wax crayon stuck behind his ear. He leans over Jamie to whisper, "He keeps dropping his present."

Jamie gives Fred a scowl. "Am not."

Except Draco knows that Jamie is. It'd nearly caused a whole line of students to stumble last time. He gives Jamie a small smile. "Is it because you're having trouble moving your arms and your legs opposite?" Draco stands up and demonstrates the motion, a step to the left and a pass of the box to the right.

"My legs don't work right," Jamie admits. "They get all confused." He tries to do the dance, and he's terrible at it. The look he gives Draco is tragic. "See?"

Draco considers for a moment. "Would it be better if I put you in the back for this part?" When Jamie starts to protest, Draco holds up his hand. "You can come up at the end and take Persephone's gift so she can go to the back." Persephone'd rather be there anyway; Draco only has her towards the front for this part so her mother won't complain again.

Jamie gives him a look that's all too reminiscent of Potter's suspicious glances. "Okay."

With that settled, Draco manages to manoeuvre the rest of Reception into some semblance formation, moving each group smoothly into their allotted place on the stage as he steps over his own son, sprawled at the edge between Al and Rose Weasley. And if the group's not standing up straight whilst they dance, well, there's always the next rehearsal, Draco supposes. And perhaps, with a bit of luck and a prayer to Berrycloth's sympathy, he can suddenly get called away to France before Monday's practice.

It's about time Potter has to do some of this, after all.

Alys plays the tune again from behind the boxy piano she's sat at, and the song is mumbled by little voices--Jamie Potter's being the loudest and most off-key--as the gifts pass along the stage, with only a few fumbles, and the ornaments go the other way toward the Yule tree. It's honestly a complete shambles, but Draco's just happy to have all of the Reception children on their feet and mostly trying to pay attention. Jamie's now rough-housing with Fred at the back, but Draco doesn't dare say anything. He keeps nodding with the time of the music and trying to coach the children who have key roles. Persephone comes forward to speak her line, and if it's at the frequency bats can hear, well, there's still time to improve, Draco tells himself. He tries doesn't panic. After dinner he's going to get Scorpius a bath and into bed early, then perhaps drink a few glasses of wine to recover from this theatrical travesty. Astoria'd always told him how stressful children's events were, and he never believed her. He's paying for that ignorance now.

The thought of Astoria reminds him that he should check in with her about the schedule and how everything's going with Daphne. She'd sent a brief text asking him to firecall at the weekend so she can see Scorpius for a bit, but perhaps he should also ring her up beforel, or something of the sort to inquire. He wants her to know that he and Scorpius are all right, but he'd also like to hear more of the adult version of what's going on. Draco supposes it is a private, family affair, but he is still, in an odd sort of way, family and will be for the rest of his life. He couldn't have predicted it before getting married, or divorced, much less before becoming a father, but Scorpius ties them all together. Even him to Daphne, as much as they might despise one another.

"Malfoy, I think it's time to let them go." Potter's stepping up onto the stage, his hands shoved in his trouser pockets. His sleeves are rolled up against the heat of the room, and there's something about the way he moves that reminds Draco of their school days.

Draco just blinks at him. "We've still so much of the script left."

"Mr Potter's right." Iona McKinsey's face is kind as she moves out of the wings. Some of the kids gravitate towards her, and even Scorpius sits up, his face pink, his hair sweaty. He always did hate being too warm, just like his father. "You're done rather a lot for a second practice."

"Have I?" Draco's honestly surprised. He still thinks he's complete pants at this, and everyone else is just too distracted to tell him the truth of it. He runs his hand through his hair, pushing it off his forehead. Potter's watching him intently, and Draco has to look away "We barely got through the beginning of gift giving set."

McKinsey smiles. Two boys cling to her long skirt, and she rests her hands on their shoulders. "You're actually making progress. That's a lot for a first week." She glances over at Alys. "Wouldn't you say?"

"Oh, definitely." Alys pushes the piano bench back; the legs scrape across the wooden floor. "Last year at this time, we'd barely managed to stop them from crawling into the gift boxes." She gives Draco a wide smile. "Nice touch on the sticking charms by the way."

"That really was brill." Potter's managed to corral Jamie; he's plucked one of the gifts from Jamie's fists and tucked it beneath his arm. "Especially with this one."

"I wanted to see what it was," Jamie whinges, and his father frowns down at him.

Al laughs at his brother. "You bad."

Rose and Scorpius nod beside him. "Bad, bad," they chorus, and fuck if that's not bloody well creepy of them. Draco looks askance at his son, who just shoves the point of polo collar in his mouth and sucks. When he looks up, Potter's side-eyeing them.

"Was that creepy?" Potter asks. "Because I definitely felt as if that might have been a little possessed-child creepy."

"Definitely creepy," Alys and Draco say at the same time, and then they look at each other and laugh.

Potter shakes his head. "That was worse." But he's smiling a bit, and there's something warm in his eyes that makes Draco's heart stutter just enough that he has to turn away. The things Potter makes Draco feel are terrifying. Uncertain. Draco truly hates the tremble that goes through him when Potter smiles his way. It's a weakness that Draco can't afford to have. Not now. Not ever.

And not, for fuck's sake, with Potter.

McKinsey walks to the edge of the stage. "A moment of your time, if you will," she calls out, and heads across the room turn her way. When Iona McKinsey speaks, the hall is silent, parents and children alike. It's a powerful form of magic, and Draco wishes he knew her technique. "We'll stop here for today. Our next practice begins at 3:30 on Monday. Please have your children practice their lines over the weekend. Thank you all for being here--and so many thanks to Mr Malfoy and Mr Potter for donating their valuable time to helping Alys and me out." She claps her hands, looking back at Draco and Potter, and a faint, hesitant ripple of applause runs through the back of the room before the parents start to move forward.

And just like that, the magic ends, and the assembly room is a bustle of activity and toddler voices. Alys Lloyd gets the children into lines; Potter finally steps up and helps her whilst Draco makes sure they can retrieve all of the props from the stage, with none of them walking off with sticky fingers gripped around them. He checks Jamie and Fred twice before he lets them run off; they don't seem surprised, so Draco can only imagine what they get up to in Mr Zhang's classroom. Once the stage starts to empty, Draco gathers up scripts and odd bits of rubbish that have gathered along the sides.

"Hello, darling." Pansy comes up, kisses his cheek. Ava's on her hip, and she leans over and bats a small palm against Draco's face. He catches it, nips at Ava's fingers as she giggles, then hides her face against her mother's chest. "You did brilliantly."

Draco snorts. "I didn't kill any of them."

"Proving my point." Pansy looks over at Scorpius and Al, who are now trying to coax Rose to throw herself off the side of the stage. Uri's skipping their way, his dark hair bouncing across his forehead, so there's no telling how any of that might end. "Shall I take the sprogs whilst you're finishing up? "

And really, Draco didn't realise how much he needs a moment alone, where he doesn't have to keep a constant eye on Scorpius. Honestly, he doesn't know how Astoria does this all the time, all alone. The longer Draco's been with his son, the more he feels as if he's constantly on guard, listening for Scorpius's laughter, for his wails. It's bloody fucking exhausting after a while. Even a brief respite where he doesn't have to worry is worth it. He shoots a grateful look Pansy's way. "Thank you. You're an angel."

She laughs. "So serious you are. I like this side of you."

Draco blows her a kiss and she flips him two fingers, then looks around to make sure no one else saw. Honestly, as taxing as all of this is, Draco's glad that he was forced to come to the Garden, that he's had to get involved in the day-to-day. As much as it pains him, he sees now what an idiot he's been in not being a hands-on parent. He'd thought he was helping Astoria, giving her the space she needed to be Scorpius's mother without the Malfoy legacy and heritage hanging over her, but he'd just been helping himself, mostly. Stepping away from daily parenting had allowed Draco to make a new life for himself and have a modicum of freedom, but parenting is a process, not a single event, and he'd thought he could drop in and out of it whenever was convenient for him. What a fool, he'd been. Now Draco knows parenting gets easier with practice, not with the controlled stages in which he'd indulged, expecting Astoria to be the one who carried most of the responsibility.

And when Draco looks over at his son, a wave of fierce love crashing over him, he catches Scorpius picking his nose at the front of the stage and holding the boogie out for Al and Rose to see. Draco sighs. Shakes his head. Just when it was going so well. Draco'll have to have a talk with his son again about being visible in public and proper decorum in regards to nose-picking and scratching one's bum beneath one's underpants.

"So proud," he murmurs, and Pansy laughs.

"He's three," she points out. "This morning I found Uri and Ava in the bath examining his poop in the toilet." She heaves a sigh. "There was once a time when I had a glamorous life. Parties at Blaise's lovely club, dresses that showed my tits off to their best, bra not required." Her face is wistful. "Now my nipples point towards the floor, and the only wild nights Tony and I have are when the kids fall asleep early and we can watch QI on the telly." She looks over at Draco. "If I'm lucky we have sex afterwards, but I think that's mostly because I suspect my husband gets aroused by Stephen Fry's intellect."

To be honest, Draco wouldn't be surprised. "That's a Ravenclaw for you."

"Ah well." Pansy shrugs, then puts a hand over Ava's ear, pressing Ava's other one against her own chest. "It's a mitzvah to shtup your husband, so who'm I to argue with Hashem? Or Stephen Fry?" Ava pulls away, scowling at her mother, who just kisses her, then lets her down. Ava runs after her brother, as Pansy watches her fondly.

"Oh, the sacrifices you make," Draco says, his voice dry.

"Go on with you." Pansy waves him off and heads towards the kids. Draco's not fool enough not to make his escape; he gathers an armful of the prop gifts and heads to the backstage area where Mrs McKinsey had said they should be put away. There's woefully little space in the props cupboard, but he does the best he can to organise what's there and make space for the Yule materials.

"There you are," Potter's voice is low and rough behind him. "Pansy said you came this way."

Draco looks up from where he's stacking what he thinks might be angel tutus on the side of the props area to make more space for boxes. "Hello, Potter."

Potter sets down his pile of ornament boxes, then brushes his hands on his trousers. Glitter streaks across the wool, and Draco tries not to wince. That'll be impossible to get out, he wants to say, but it's not his place. Potter seems to realise it, though; he frowns down at his trousers, then tries to brush the glitter away with the folded-up sleeves of his shirt. It still doesn't work, not entirely. Potter gives up, looks over at Draco. "I'll bring more of these to you."

And Draco wants to say something sarcastic, wants to point out how little Potter's done so far, but he can't. Potter's mouth is pink and soft, and his loosened collar is showing a lovely bit of golden skin at his neck. Draco loses his breath for a moment. Looks away. Regains the next breath.

"Thank you," Draco says, turning to sort the remaining bits and bobs. He piles the boxes and the ornaments into the bit of space he's created, satisfied with the sense of doing something to create order. He likes the tidiness of it, the calmness that comes over him as he fits boxes together, stacking them just so.

Potter returns with a few more loads of props, and Draco sorts everything into its proper place whilst Potter watches him, hands him boxes without Draco even needing to ask. They work together smoothly, easily, much to Draco's surprise. Without speaking, everything is fine between the two of them. Without speaking, Draco's actually enjoying stealing glances at Potter when he's not watching, enjoying the line of Potter's back as he stretches for another box, studying the way Potter's muscles move beneath the thin cotton of his dress shirt, the shift of Potter's arse under the wool of his trousers. As fetching as Potter's face is--as long as he's not saying something incredibly stupid--the view from the back is even better. Potter has an Auror's body, long and lean, even after years of being sat behind a desk. Draco wonders how he keeps so fit, if he goes down to the gym Draco's heard is hidden away in the Ministry bowels. Potter's broad shoulders look as if he lifts weights, and Draco envies him, wants to touch them to see if they feel as firm as he expects they are. Draco runs himself, or he did before he took on Scorpius's care full-time. Now his five-mile runs every morning before work have been subsumed by the time it takes to coax Scorpius into putting on his underpants before breakfast.

"McKinsey's right, you know."

Draco looks back at Potter, takes the ornaments Potter hands him. "About what?" He doesn't want to talk to Potter; he wants the illusion that comes with their silence, the belief that he can appreciate Potter's attractiveness, even if the rest of the man drives him bloody mad.

Potter gives him a half-smile. "You're good at this." He gestures with a small box towards the front of the stage. Draco can hear a loud laugh. Not Scorpius's, thank Merlin. "The kids. You know how to manage them."

"It's not that difficult." Except Draco knows that it is. He's not certain why he can capture their attention, even if only for ten minutes at a time. He tucks his hair behind both ears, doesn't look over at Potter as he contemplates where to slot the box into. "They're just toddlers."

"That's the point of it." Potter leans against a hip-high table that's tucked up beside the prop cupboard. "I've only two of them, and they can be a handful."

Draco puts the box onto the top shelf of the cupboard. "Well, they're Potters, so there's that you have to manage. Two Gryffindors in nursery school can't be easy."

"Yeah, well." Potter hands over a heavier box; Draco's not quite prepared for it, and it nearly slips from his grasp. He catches himself just in time, though. "Jamie's probably all Gryffindor, but I suspect Al might end up in your House."

The box barely fits into the last spot on the bottom shelf. Draco glances back at Potter, his eyebrow raised. "How absolutely scandalous," he says. "Not to mention surprising."

"Not so much." Potter pushes his dark curls back from his forehead; there's a faint sheen of sweat on his brow from the warmth of the stage. Whoever's set the warming charms in the assembly hall has a heavy hand with them. "I almost went into Slytherin, you know. The Sorting Hat went back and forth on that one."

Draco blinks, his gaze sliding towards Potter's forehead scar. "Oh," he says, and Potter gives him the faintest smile.

"It's not just because of this." Potter's fingers tap his scar. "I'm man enough to admit I'm not entirely Gryffindor."

"You might have fooled me." Draco's gaze slides down to another scar on Potter's face, a thin, pale line that crosses his cheek, so small one might not notice it. Except Draco has. It's newer; Draco doesn't remember it from school. "What happened there?"

Potter looks confused. "What?"

And Draco can't help himself. He reaches out, brushes a fingertip just barely across the scar. Potter's eyes go wide, and Draco drops his hand, his face burning. He looks away. "Nevermind."

There's a silence, barely more than a breath, a heartbeat, and then Potter says, "A year after Auror training, We were going after a group of undermarket potioneers. The kind that don't even sell their stuff through Knockturn shops. Nasty lot."

Draco's gaze is pulled back to Potter's face. In the shadows of backstage, the scar looks deeper. "You were hit by a hex."

"A Sectumsempra," Potter says, and there's an odd note in his voice. He's looking down at Draco's chest, at the buttons on Draco's shirt. It takes everything Draco has not to flatten his palm across the cotton, to feel the twisted scars that are still scored across his pale flesh. They're fainter now, and they've sunk into his skin a bit more, but they spider over his torso, a constant reminder of his youthful stupidity, just as his Mark.

But more than that, they're a memory of Potter. Of the hate Potter had towards him. Of the fury.

They're another Mark, one just as powerful bound to him as the Dark Lord's, but this one Draco knows he deserves. Knows he asked for. And they're a reminder that there had been a moment in his life that he had been so broken, so damaged, that he had done anything he could to goad Potter into hurting him, into destroying him.

Potter'd failed. Just as the Dark Lord had. And Draco's stood here today, so glad that Potter hadn't taken his life. So glad that he hadn't forced Potter into that horror. That tragedy. They'd been young and senseless and arrogant, both of them. Each one so certain he was right. So certain he knew best.

Circe, they'd been such fools.

"I'm sorry," Potter says, and Draco knows what he's apologising for. He also knows he doesn't want Potter to do that, to acknowledge that bond between them.

And so he shakes his head. "Don't."

Potter falls silent. They look at each other for a moment, and then Draco turns away.

"Just finish this," Draco says. He stares at the potion cupboard. He's no idea how anything else might fit in, no idea if there's space for one more box.

For a moment, he thinks Potter might protest. But then Potter exhales, slow and heavy, and then he shifts behind Draco, the floorboards creaking beneath his boats. It smells musty and dank back here behind the curtains, and Draco catches a whiff of old paint and wood polish and the faintest scent of lemon cleaner.

"Last one," Potter says, and he hands the final box to Draco. Their fingers brush, warm and rough against one another, and Draco's breath catches. They're all alone back here, Draco realises, the clamour of the assembly hall muffled by the heavy velvet stage curtains that hide them away from everyone else.

Draco slides the box into the very last available space. He has to wriggle it deeper, but it finally pushes in enough for him to close the door to the prop cupboard. When he turns around, Potter's looking at him.

"What?" Draco hates how defensive he sounds.

Potter just reaches over, brushes a bit of something out from Draco's head. "Sorry. You had fake fir needles in your hair." Potter mimics touching his own head. "Thought you might not want to walk about with them tonight."

They stare at each other, their bodies still, tense. Draco breathes in at the same moment Potter does, and it's as if the world has shifted, shrunk to the foot between them. Less, even, Draco realises. He can see the stubble on Potter's jaw, the way Potter's throat moves when he swallows. There's a smudge on the bottom of Potter's glasses, and behind the smooth lenses Potter's eyelashes are dark and unbearably long. And then Potter's lips part, and there's a soft huff, warm and gentle that crosses between them, and Draco inhales, breathes in Potter's breath, letting it waft across his mouth.

He stills. Potter does too.

And just when Draco thinks it will finally end, thinks this spell holding him will break, will shatter, will fall away, Potter leans in and kisses him.

It's not at all what Draco was expecting, and it takes him a moment to figure out what's happening. His mouth moves against Potter's, ever so slowly, opening up to Potter's kiss, and Potter's hands cup his face, heavy and hot against Draco's cheeks, and oh, Potter smells brilliant, like cloves and juniper, and he tastes even better, a faint sweetness that slides across Draco's tongue.

Draco's body responds to Potter's touch. Arches against Potter, and Draco's hands settle against Potter's hips. This is everything he's wanted. Everything he's dreamed. Potter's lips are soft and warm, and Draco can't think of anything except the feel of Potter against him, heavy and hot and perfect in every way.

Until his common sense kicks in.

He's kissing Harry Potter. In their children's nursery school. With teachers and parents outside. With his child waiting. Potter's boys stood outside.

What the bloody hell is he doing?

Draco breaks the kiss and steps back. His breath is coming a bit unevenly. Potter's face is unguarded, his mouth slightly open. Draco drags his fingers across his swollen mouth, his anxiety rising in his chest, clawing at him. No. He can't do this. Not with Potter. Not here.

"Malfoy--"

Draco shakes his head, pushes Potter's hands away. "No," he manages to say, and how that word rips at his heart. He draws in a ragged breath. Stares at Potter, at the stunned look on Potter's face. "Just. No. I can't. Not with you."

And he turns away. Behind him, he hears Potter say, "Wait. I'm sorry. I should have asked--"

Draco's hand shakes; he presses it against his chest. His heart gallops, so loudly that Draco's certain the entire assembly room must hear it, like that tell-tale heart in Poe's story, giving him away.

He wants Potter. He wants that kiss. He wants to turn back to Potter, to go to him, to let Potter have him in any way Potter wishes. Because Draco is that pathetic. Slag, he says to himself, and when Potter reaches out for him, Draco pulls away. He can't be held responsible if Potter got the wrong idea. And trust the Gryffindor idiot to just lean in and kiss him, with never a by-you-mind or thought for what could happen if anyone saw.

Draco's furious with Potter. Utterly. He's angry with him for not asking, he's angry with him for being too bold, too brash. He's angry with him for assuming that just because they're both gay, Draco wants him.

And if he's very honest, Draco's angry with Potter for being right.

"Don't," he says to Potter, from the shadows of the stage. His voice shakes, and he hates himself for that. "Please don't."

Without waiting for a reply, Draco strides from the room. He doesn't trust himself, and he can't afford to be made a laughingstock. Not when everything is apparently going so well.

His breaths come quickly, sharply as he walks across the stage into the light. He blinks when it hits his eyes, and they sting with the brightness. His heart is racing, and his chest feels hollow. He's running entirely on adrenaline, on fear really. He feels a bit numb, and very, very confused.

Draco can't afford confusion right now.

His son is waiting for him, sitting quietly between Ava and Al in the assembly room seats, Uri and Jamie on the floor in front of them, putting on their trainers, as Uri babbles about the candles and about a beetle and about Hanukkah tomorrow and playing, Jamie just nods and holds his trainered foot up for Pansy to tie his laces.

Pansy looks up at Draco. Takes in his flushed face, his shaking hands. "Draco, is everything quite all right?"

Draco can't look at her, can't lie to her face. "Yes. I'm just tired." He hears Potter come out behind him, catches the quick glimpse Pansy throws Potter's way, the soft intake of her breath as the Knut drops, as Draco's deepest secret becomes so painfully obvious.

"Tomorrow," Draco says, before she can ask. Pansy reaches for his arm, squeezes it lightly, and then Draco pulls away. He puts on his coat, takes Scorpius by the hand, and walks to the Floo like a puppet controlled by someone else.

And around him, his carefully constructed world crashes into a thousand tiny pieces.

Chapter Text

The enormous sterling silver menorah stands in Pansy's kitchen window, the furthest candle to the right alight with a cheerful blue and white candle, the shamash burning brightly in the centre. The two flames flicker, their reflections dancing in the darkening window panes. The squat, white Shabbat candles burn on a small table off to the side, closer to the table in the eat-in kitchen, their silver candlesticks decorated with vines and pomegranates curling around the thick stems. Although most of Pansy's North London flat is very much upper-middle class, at least by Draco's standards, the menorah and her grandmother's holiday silver service point to the history of wealth in her mother's family. As Draco understands it, Pansy's grandmother had lived in Switzerland as a girl and her mother's family held homes in Odessa, Hamburg, and Paris. It'd evidently caused quite a stir when Pansy's mother had married outside her faith--and to an agnostic English wizard at that. They'd calmed down when Reggie Parkinson converted--for the peace of it all, he'd once told Draco over a Shabbat dinner. Reggie hadn't much cared one way or the other, as long as it made his wife Bina happy.

Tony's family, on the other hand, are of both more modest means and a more traditional bent. Draco sits on a tall stool at the centre island, sipping at his wine. He glances around the familiar, cheerful kitchen--there's nary a house elf in sight. Black cabinets are striking against stark white walls, and the countertops are a beautiful white marble delicately veined in grey. The upper cupboards have paned glass doors, through which Draco catches a glimpse of neatly stacked white pottery dishes and everyday glassware. Wine goblets hang upside down beneath the cupboards, their belled sides catching glints of light. It's a cosy place, currently bedecked with blue and white Hanukkah tea towels hanging on hooks on the wall and over the oven handle. The house has two kitchens, but Pansy cooks mostly vegetarian here in the dairy kitchen unless her in-laws are coming over. Shortly after they moved in, she explained to Draco when he asked that even though she and Anthony chose to raise Ava and Uri in a Reform shul, which means they're less strict than her in-laws and her mother's family, Tony's wanted to keep kosher still. It'd taken them ages to find a house with two kitchens that she'd liked; with newborn twins, she'd refused to undertake too extensive of a renovation.

Draco marvels that it's been a whole four years since he'd attended Pansy's wedding to Anthony Goldstein. Although he'd known about Pansy's Jewish heritage for ages--she'd lit Shabbat candles and said prayers every Friday night in the Slytherin common room since their first year--he'd not been prepared for the unfamiliarity of the wedding service beneath the chuppah and the gleeful gaiety of the banquet afterwards. The year before, he and Astoria had endured a terribly proper, terribly dull Anglican affair at Astoria's home chapel. Draco's mother had sat quietly on Draco's side--his father hadn't been granted leave from Azkaban--and whilst there were a number of loyal friends, flanking her, the Malfoy pews had been decidedly far less populated in comparison with the Greengrasses'. To be honest, Draco hadn't known how much it bothered his mother still not to have access to the Malfoy chapel until Scorpius was christened. His mother had cried for days, although she'd put up a brave face in public when they'd gone back to the Greengrasses' parish.

"Is it me or is it frighteningly quiet out in the sitting room?" Draco sets his wine glass down on the marble countertop. It's his second, he thinks, or perhaps his third. He picks up a carrot stick from the platter of starters and drags it through the well-oiled hummus filling a small, shallow bowl.

"Don't look gift Hippogriffs in the mouth." Pansy moves between the island and the hob, her feet bare, a cream linen chef's apron covering her pale blue jumper and black ponte trousers. Her hair's twisted up in a messy knot on top of her head. "At least Tony's keeping the little bastards out of my way." She reaches for a large mixing bowl. "Last Hanukkah Uri nearly sent me headfirst into my latke pan by getting underfoot."

Two large pans of oil are heating on the hob and she's alternating placing rounds of potato batter in each of them, sizzling and popping with each plop. It takes a surprisingly long time to brown the latkes, but Pansy's a daub hand with the spatula. Draco feels awful that he's not helping, but Pansy refuses to let him. So he's sat alongside her, drinking wine and enjoying the smell of onion, potato, and oil that he's come to enjoy since the first time Pansy made latkes in the tiny bedsit she shared with Millie right after Hogwarts. He's grateful that Pans includes him and Scorpius both in her family meal of the first night; it's like a bit of their friendship has carried through their marriages and Draco's subsequent divorce.

And thank Merlin it's just them tonight. Tony's parents are over with his sister's family--they'll spend the second night here with Uri and Ava, and then Pansy and Tony will pack the twins up on the third night to spend time with her parents. It's complicated, but Pansy's resisted fusing the family holidays, mainly because she enjoys the autonomy of her own kitchen and the small, close family ritual.

Draco watches the snowflakes falling outside the windows. Yesterday morning's dusting of snow had turned into a proper storm last night, and they'd woken to several inches on the ground before school. Scorpius had loved putting on his wellies, molded into green dragons, complete with thrashing tails on the heels, and he'd desperately wanted to wear them again tonight. Draco'd had a hard time convincing him that they were only going by Floo to Aunt Pansy's house, and even then Scorpius had sulked terribly. But now the snow's coming down harder, with the promise of more accumulations, and Draco's wondering if perhaps he ought to have let Scorpius bring them anyway, just in case the children wanted to go out in the back garden to play.

But it's snug and comfortable, tucked away inside the kitchen, and Draco cups his hands around the swell of his wineglass, feeling oddly safe here in a way he hasn't all day. The lights of the candles look lovely against the deep misty grey of the sky and the windowpanes fogged by the warmth and steam of the kitchen. And yet, as much as he might not want to admit it, Draco's thoughts are swirling, somewhere out beneath the snow-thick sky.

Wherever Potter might be, he's afraid.

"Those smell delicious," Draco says, watching as Pansy deftly pops the latkes out of the oil and onto a towel-lined plate.

Pansy looks over at him, gives him a small smile. "If they're not, my grandmother'll haunt me."

"Your grandmother's still alive," Draco points out.

"So?" Pansy opens the oven door. She slides the drained latkes from their plate to the platter inside where the rest of the latkes are being kept warm. "The woman has a preternatural ability to know exactly when I've fucked up one of her recipes, trust me. Two seders ago, she firecalled me before we even started the haggadah because somehow she knew my brisket was dry."

"Are we talking about your bubbe?" Tony comes into the kitchen with the twins and Scorpius trailing behind him. He's a pleasantly agreeable sort, not the type of man that Draco, a decade back, would have thought Pansy would be interested in. There's nothing special about Tony with his small, round glasses, slight paunch, and dark hair that curls over his ears, but Pansy adores him, and Draco couldn't be happier for the two of them. Tony's been good for Pans, and her for him, which Draco thinks is the ideal for marriage. He and Astoria had never come close to that mark during the years they'd stayed together.

Pansy points the oily spatula at Tony, then over at Draco. "Tell this one about Passover the year before last."

"I don't know how she does it," Tony says to Draco, shaking his head. "Maybe she's a Seer, or something, but the woman genuinely knew Pansy'd undercooked the brisket."

"Which I'd only done, thank you ever so, because I had those two attached to my tits all the time." Pansy's spatula dips towards Uri and Ava, who blink up at her innocently. "You try to make a bloody seder come out under those circumstances."

Her husband leans in and kisses her cheek. "Your price is above rubies."

Pansy side-eyes him, then glances down at her children. "I thought you were trying to keep the kids out of my way?"

Tony looks a bit shifty. "The dreidels weren't working properly on the sitting room floor. I thought we could try here."

Scorpius is already attempting climb up Draco's leg. His mouth is smeared with chocolate, as are his fingertips. Draco Summons a tea towel from one of the hooks above the sink, and tries to clean him up a bit. This is the first year Tony's deemed the children old enough to play dreidel without actually trying to eat the wooden tops. "They're all awful at it, aren't they?" Draco asks, and Tony turns a mournful face his way.

"Horrible," he says. "But at least they're enjoying the gelt."

"Gelt," Uri yells. "Daddy, more." Ava joins in the clamour, and even Scorpius bounces against Draco's leg.

Draco wipes away a smear of chocolate from beneath Scorpius's chin. "I see."

Tony sits down on the floor, near the wall, well away from Pansy's hob. "Want to play with us?" he asks Draco, and when he glances up, a blue and white dreidel in his hand, he looks exactly like an older version of his son.

"I'll pass for now," Draco says, but Ava and Uri are already pulling at Tony's arm, and even Scorpius abandons Draco once Tony reaches into his pocket and pulls out a handful of gelt, sorting it into four small piles. He gently bats Ava's hand away when she reaches for a piece.

"Let's play first." Tony grunts softly as Uri climbs into his lap, his socked foot landing precisely in his groin. "Careful, son, if you want any siblings."

"Which he doesn't any time soon," Pansy calls from across the kitchen. The oil hisses and pops beneath another batch of latkes. "At least not if I have anything to say about it."

Tony helps Uri spin the shaft of the dreidel. It lands on gimmel, and Tony cheers.

"Which one'is that, Daddy?" Uri asks, as Ava takes the opportunity to lift a coin from her brother's pile. Uri glares at her."No! Give it back."

"Unh-unh." Ava rolls back on her knees. "You took mines before." Ava holds the contested coin tightly in her fist as Scorpius looks at her in awe. Draco sometimes wonders if it's cruel to keep him an only child; he remembers how difficult that had been for him at times.

"Here." Tony scoops the rest of the pile and pulls it closer to Uri. "You get everything. Gimmel means everything." He frowns at his daughter, who reluctantly gives up her stolen coin.

Uri crows in triumph. "I wins!"

"Only until the next spin, little man." Tony pulls out a few more gelt coins and lays them down in front of the children. "Scorpius, you're next."

Scorpius doesn't even bother to spin the dreidel; he just holds it up high, then drops it onto the ground. It bounces twice before landing on Nun. Scorpius shouts with glee--until he realises he's not getting anyone else's gelt. He sits down with a thump of his bum against the dark wooden floor and scowls.

"Knut for your thoughts," Pansy says, as Draco watches the children, almost blankly. She leans against the island counter, loose wisps of her hair sliding from her tousled bun, sticking to her damp cheeks and temples.

Draco blinks, recalling himself. "Oh, I'm just a little faraway. It's nothing important." He's been like this all day. Unable to focus. Unable to think.

Pansy gives him a searching look; she doesn't seem to like what she sees. "You're walking around in a daze, darling." She hesitates, then says, her voice light, "I was worried you were Stunned last night."

One of Pansy's worst gifts is her ability to hit horribly close to the mark on the most painful emotions. At least when it comes to Draco. "Afraid not," he says, determined to keep his guard up. He doesn't want to talk about this. As much as he's known it's coming. He's been grateful for her distraction with the latkes; it's kept her focus off of him up until now. All he has to do is keep her at bay a bit longer. At least until he can bundle Scorpius back into the Floo. So he keeps his voice light, steady as he adds, "Cheerfully unStunned. Just dealing with toddlers."

Draco makes an excuse of filling his wine glass again, but this time he stops at a half-glass. He's trying to ration himself, but the hopelessness of the situation with Potter makes him want to lose himself, if not in wine than in something. Unfortunately, nothing's really coming to mind.

Except the softness of Potter's mouth, the warmth of his breath, and Merlin, Draco knows he's fucked. Well and truly, he thinks grimly as he lifts his glass to his mouth, takes a deep drink.

Pansy watches him, her brow furrowed. She wipes her hands on a tea towel, then sets it aside. "You're not yourself, Draco. I've seen this before, usually when you're having some sort of personal issue. Honestly, you're so emotionally constipated sometimes." She lifts an eyebrow, daring him to protest.

"I am not," Draco says with indignance. "I have regular talks about my feelings." That's a complete lie, but he feels obligated to spin it out, claim it as his truth.

"With a plant?" Pansy asks, her voice thick with scepticism. She plucks Draco's wine glass from his hand and takes a sip. Her fingers are blood-red against the clear crystal. She eyes him over the rim. "Because I've never heard you be anything but avoidant on certain matters."

"And what might those matters be?" Draco arches an eyebrow, daring her to call his bluff in front of their children and Tony, who's listening furtively from his cross-legged seat on the floor. Draco takes his wine glass back from Pansy. "You thief."

"Oh, I don't know." Pansy leans against the counter, folding her arms. "Perhaps a certain famous Gryffindor with whom you seem to have had a falling out." Her look is pointed. "Yet again, you idiot."

Draco almost splutters the sip of wine he was taking. "Who said anything about a falling out? Potter and I are fine."

"Potter, Potter, Potter." Scorpius chants, letting Tony guide his hands. Somehow, this time, he makes a good spin, the dreidel whirling across the kitchen floor, and the four-sided top lands on Shin, right beneath Draco's foot.

"Rough luck, Scor," Tony says. "You've got to put one in." He picks up a piece of gelt from Scorpius's small collection and tosses it into the larger pile between his legs.

Scorpius falls backwards on the floor with a wail, his jumper riding up to show his bellybutton. Ava pats him, whilst Uri looks delighted.

"I wins!" Uri crows again, jumping up to twist his small body in a bouncy dance and his father gives him an exasperated look.

"No, you didn't." Tony reaches out for the dreidel; Draco pushes it towards him with the toe of his boot. "And it's your sister's turn."

Ava plucks the dreidel from her father's fingers and drops it perfectly, sending it spinning towards the hoard of gelt. She looks terribly pleased with herself as she chews on a lock of her dark hair.

Draco turns back to Pansy, who is just watching him, her eyes narrowed. It makes him uncomfortable, if he's honest; he always underestimates how well she can read him. "I'm fine," he says, but he knows she doesn't believe him.

"You're not." Pansy's voice is gentle. She slides her arm beneath his elbow, presses her cheek to his shoulder. "Just tell me so I don't worry."

A long silence stretches between them, broken only by Uri's dismayed shout when his father gets a Gimmel and takes the gelt.

Fuck it. Draco knows there's no chance of him getting out of this house without wspinning some sort of tale that Pansy will believe. "How did you figure it out?" he asks after a few moments, and Pansy pulls away from him with a sigh.

"Oh, I don't know." Pansy's voice is arch. She turns back to the hob, flips the last batch of latkes onto the teatoweled plate. "Perhaps it was the utter terror with which you begged me to cover Scorpius's pickup from the Garden this afternoon. Or maybe it was the look of horror on your face last night as we were leaving, or the terribly abrupt way you dashed in this morning to drop Scorpius and run." She looks over at him. "Take your pick, really."

"You do seem off, Draco," Tony says from the floor, where he's helping Ava spin next. He looks up at Draco, his dark eyes as sharp as his wife's. "What's Potter done now?"

"It's not--" Draco breaks off. He turns to Pansy, glares at her. "You've talked to him."

Pansy transfers the latkes to the oven. "He's my husband. Yes, I occasionally spill your deepest, darkest secrets to him--the ones you never actually tell me but I have to guess." She turns off the hob, sets the bubbling pans of oil aside, then wipes her hands on her apron. She glances over at him. "So Tony's right. Tell us what Potter did."

And really, that's the hardest to admit. That moment alone in the back of the stage, just him and Potter, the musty smell of the curtains, the muffled sounds of the children around them. It'd felt as if Draco'd stepped out of time, as if he'd entered a moment meant not for him but for a future version of him. A better version.

One who deserved to know the feel of Potter's lips, the taste of Potter's tongue.

Draco looks away, his throat tight. He huffs a soft breath through his nose, willing himself to calm down. It doesn't help.

Pansy settles her hand over his. "Did he hurt you?" There's a viciousness to her voice that takes Draco aback.

"No," Draco says before he can think. His face warms; he can't look her way. "It's nothing. The usual rivalry and all that." He tries to keep his tone light.

"Rivalry?" Pansy's gaze flicks towards Tony, who just snorts and shakes his head. Draco's slightly offended by their disbelief. Pansy turns back to Draco. "Because it seemed to be getting better there earlier this week. In fact, for most of yesterday I thought you were both getting along swimmingly." She hesitates, then adds with a shrug, "For the two of you, at least."

"Potter's an arse," Draco says without thinking. The children look up, their eyes wide. Uri's mouth opens; Draco clears his throat before he can say anything, and adds, "-enal. I meant he's an Arsenal supporter. They're terrible."

"Completely," Tony says with a grimace. He's a Tottenham man all the way; Draco knows better than to say anything positive about Arsenal or Chelsea anywhere near him.

When there's no other dramatic adult reaction, the children look down again, utterly unconcerned.

Sorry, Draco mouths at Tony, and he snorts.

"They've heard worse from that one," Tony says, pointing a finger Pansy's way. "It won't kill them." He spins the dreidel again, as Uri leans over his knee, watching in fascination.

"Right, well." Pansy motions Draco towards a large cupboard. "You and I need to have a word, I think." She looks over at Tony as she takes off her apron, draping it over the edge of the island. "The latkes are spelled for another ten minutes. We'll start then."

Her husband just nods, handing Scorpius the dreidel as he watches them walk away.

Pansy opens the door to the cupboard. "In."

Draco walks ahead of her, his wineglass still in his hand, noting the glass doors on the shelves and the general tidiness of Pansy's dry goods. She keeps an excellent house, he thinks idly. Particularly without the help of house elves on a daily basis.

Pansy closes the door behind her, then turns to Draco, her arms folded across her chest. "Now spill, you arsehole. I know you have trouble speaking about important things in public. This is a safe space, just you and me."

And again, Draco marvels at how well his best friend knows him. Their most important conversations have always been in enclosed spaces, from the time they were in school. They'd broken up in a broom closet in the middle of sixth year. Pansy'd told him she was marrying Anthony in the bathroom at one of Millie's parties. Draco'd told her about his father being sentenced to Azkaban and Harry bloody Potter getting him and his mother pardoned in an airing closet at his Aunt Andromeda's flat.

Draco takes the last swallow of wine from his glass, then sets it down on an open shelf. He's stands silently whilst Pansy watches him, trying to dredge together the last bits of his courage. This isn't how he wanted to do this. Not with Pansy. But then again, he'd never wanted to admit any of this to anyone. It feels private. His.

The moment he says the words, he can't hide any longer.

Draco's not certain he wants to.

Pansy leans against the door jamb. "If my latkes get cold because of you, I'm sending my grandmother your way." She eyes him balefully. "Just so we're clear."

And it's the right thing to say. Draco's mouth twitches, and her bluntness calms him, settles the roil that's building in his belly. He takes a deep breath. Exhales.

"There's so much I have to tell you to explain." Draco rests his shoulders against one of the shelves. It feels solid and firm through his shirt. Grounding.

Pansy shrugs, giving him no chance to wriggle out of this. "So start."

Right then. He needs to do this. It's time, whatever he might think. He'd been foolish to think he could keep any of this a secret. Astoria'd told him that when she'd signed the divorce papers. She'd just wanted him to be happy, she'd said. To live the life he deserved to have. But Draco's not so certain she's right about that. Not so certain he deserves to be happy. Not after everything he's done. There's still more penance to pay.

"Draco." Pansy's voice softens. "Just tell me."

But if he does, it changes everything between them. Forever. A flutter goes through Draco's stomach, and for a moment he thinks he might sick up. He rubs a nervous hand down the seam of his pants, then reaches up, pushes his hair out of his face. He closes his eyes, then says, "Pansy, I like men."

There's an empty silence.

Draco's eyes open. He meets Pansy's gaze. Her face is inscrutable, and he doesn't know what she's thinking, doesn't know if she might walk away.

And then Pansy's mouth curves up into a wry smile. "Oh, Draco," she says gently. "I've known for ages. But congratulations on being ready to tell."

"Wait, what?" To be honest, Draco's a bit offended at the anticlimactic nature of this. He'd expected tears. Recrimination. Shouting. Perhaps some sort of bloody surprise, or at least a jar or two thrown at his head.

This calm acceptance of hers takes him aback.

Pansy shakes her head. "Oh, darling. Remember, it's me." Her smile widens a bit. "We dated sixth year. I know you, and I rather recall how awkward you were when we were fumbling about. It's not that difficult for a girl to figure it out when her sixteen-year-old boyfriend isn't that interested in touching her and has his head turned by any bloke that walks by in Quidditch leathers."

"I didn't know about this sixth year," Draco lies. He did. He'd been obsessed with Potter all of the year before, dreaming about him, waking up hard and aching with thoughts of Potter slipping from his mind. He'd just tried so desperately to wish it away. And when they'd come back for that awful year, the one in which the Dark Lord had amused himself by telling Draco every hols exactly how he was going to kill him and his parents when he inevitably failed in his quest to kill Dumbledore, Draco had still been so very aware of Potter's movements around him, of the way Potter followed him, watched him with suspicious eyes.

Draco'd been pathetic enough to take some small comfort in that, certain that whatever happened, Potter would be there to stop him before he had to carry through.

He swallows against the bitter bile that rises up in his throat at the memory of that night on the Astronomy Tower. His moment of failure, of cowardice. Weakness, even. And yet Draco's so grateful he'd faltered. So grateful Snape had been there, that he'd taken on Draco's crime, kept that one stain off Draco's soul. There are so many other deaths in Draco's ledger, and that's awful enough to haunt his dreams late at night, but at least, whilst he may have been responsible for the circumstances in which they happened, they were never directly his. He'd never had to take a life with his own wand.

That had been Snape's gift to him.

"Oh, darling." Pansy moves closer; Draco's heart beats erratically. He doesn't like this; it makes it all too real, this strange feeling he's having. Her hand cup Draco's cheeks. "I know you knew about these feelings." She presses her forehead to Draco's, and he can feel the warm softness of her breath against his cheek. "But it's okay," she whispers. "It's hard to be different."

"You can't imagine," Draco says flatly.

"Actually, I can." Pansy drops her hands, pulls back a bit. She crosses her arms over her chest again. She doesn't say anything, and then she laughs, raw and soft before she looks away. A wisp of dark hair slips loose, curls against her cheek. She brushes it away. "Millie and I had a thing for most of seventh year and then after, for a bit. When we were sharing a bedsit." She glances back over at Draco, the faintest furrow on her brow. "We thought you were just being polite about not pointing our relationship out. You really didn't know?"

Well. Draco blinks. That's not anything he'd been expecting. Although perhaps he ought to have realised. He thinks back to that year, when he'd been so lost in his own hurt, in his own fear. He'd known Pansy was spending more time with Millie. But he hadn't considered how. Or why. And afterwards, when the war was over, and they were stitching their lives back together, he'd known they were leaning on one another. Sharing the bedsit with room enough for just one bed--and oh. Merlin. Draco really could be a fool.

"I really didn't know," he admits. He remembers one time he'd walked into their flat, caught them curled up together on the tiny sofa, a blanket pulled over them both. He hadn't even thought about what they might have been doing a moment or two before he'd Floo'd in. "You only had one bed. I thought you were just embracing genteel poverty after the war."

"Millie was certain you were just keeping our secret." Pansy gives him a wry smile. "I was always wondering whether you were being polite or obtuse." She laughs. "I suppose I have my answer."

And really, Draco feels a right tit now. "I'm sorry," he says finally. "I should have seen."

"Yes, you really ought to have." Pansy's look is fond. "It's not as if we were hiding it terribly well around people towards the end. Even Tony figured it out." Her face softens. "He's the one who helped me get over our breakup--and stay friends with Millie in the process."

"Does it bother him?" Draco can't help but ask. This all feels a bit fragile and oddly new, despite all the years Draco's spent shagging Adrian and other men, anonymous or not. But talking about it here, sharing it with Pansy--this feels different. Strange. As if he's walking in a forest thick with trees and no visible path to follow.

Pansy considers. "Not particularly. It's just part of who I am, and he loves me. Besides, Millie's completely mad about Emma, so there's nothing there for Tony to be jealous of, and he knows it. I married him because I love him, and nothing I've done with anyone else in the past matters." Her eyes crinkle in amusement. "Not even with you."

And Draco doesn't want to think about that. "I was an awful boyfriend."

"The worst," Pansy says cheerfully. "But then, you've never been particularly keen on girls, hence your blind spot to me and Mills." Her smile widens. "Now if Potter'd been involved, you would have been able to report every detail to the finest degree of observation."

"Well." Draco's genuinely nonplussed. He wraps a bit of his hair around his finger, tugging on it gently, the way he has since he as a child when he feels out of place and unhappy. Pansy's gaze flicks towards his hand, and he lets the hair slide free again before she points it out. It's bloody difficult having friends who've known him since he was eleven, who know all his faults and all his tics. He sighs. "I guess that's fair."

Pansy gives him a small, faint smile. "More than."

Draco just looks away.

"So, speaking of Potter, what happened with him last night?" Pansy sits on a stepstool and looks up at Draco. "You both disappeared, and then you came out flying out, looking as if you'd been stung by a Billywig."

It's an apt description, really. Not that Draco's ever been stung by a Billywig, but if he can imagine it, he's certain it must have felt exactly like Potter's kiss. Draco chews on his bottom lip. He doesn't want to say, but he knows he won't get out of here if he doesn't admit to what happened. Besides, perhaps the worst of his confession is over. He sighs, then says, "He kissed me."

There's a deafening silence within the cupboard. Pansy stills, staring at Draco. He's shocked her, he realises, and he feels a bit self-destructively pleased by that fact.

Pansy's mouth opens, then closes. She blinks, as if she doesn't truly understand. "I'm sorry," she says finally. "But he did what?"

Draco clears his throat. Licks his lip. "Potter kissed me." His voice sounds strangled, too thin, too high. It hurts the back of his throat to even say the words, but as he does, he can almost feel the warm pressure of Potter's lips on his, and his body responds. A flush heats his face, and he knows his cheeks must be splotchy and red. He shifts against the shelves, trying to will down the swell of his prick in his trousers at the memory of Potter pressed against him, broad-shouldered and muscular.

"Oh," is all Pansy says. She presses her lips together, looking at him. "It's just…" She stops, taps a knuckle against her mouth. "Potter's more obtuse than you," she says finally. "Why would he just--" She flaps her hand through the air, her long fingers fluttering towards Draco. "Kiss you? How did he even know--" She breaks off again, her eyes narrowing. "Draco, if you came out to him before you even told me, I'll…" Pansy swallows, lifts her chin. "I won't be happy with you."

Draco sighs. And this is where it might be difficult. "I may have admitted to him I'm gay a few days ago." He winces at the hurt that flares in Pansy's eyes. "Come on, you just told me you already knew."

"You utter shit." And oh, that's a deeper pain from Pansy than Draco expected. "That's different. I was waiting for you to be ready. To trust me." She blinks hard, and Draco sees the wetness that gathers in the corners of her eyes, and a rush of sadness washes through him, leaving him tired, lonely.

"I didn't mean to," Draco says. He looks away, the constriction in his chest pulling tighter. The neatly labelled glass jars of buckwheat groats and flour and porridge oats on the shelf across from him blend together into a beige blur. "He was being a judgmental arsehole earlier, and he figured it out, and I was angry, so I didn't deny it." It's a simplified version of what happened in Flourish and Blotts last weekend, but Draco doesn't want to dig deeper into it. Not right now, anyway.

Pansy smoothes her fingertips across the thick knit of her trousers. She doesn't say anything for a long moment, and then she sighs, and Draco knows she's trying to forgive him.

"I'm sorry," Draco says, his voice quiet, and Pansy hesitates, then nods. She reaches out, curls her fingertips around his. Draco squeezes them lightly. "In my defence, though, you didn't tell me about you and Mills either."

That earns him a sharp look, but it fades into a small smile. "Fair point," Pansy says. She exhales, pulls her hand from Draco's. "So, this kiss from Potter." She eyes Draco curiously. "Was he trying it on?"

And Draco doesn't know what to say. He shrugs, runs his fingers through his hair again. "Something like that."

Pansy's eyes narrow at him. "Rubbish," she says bluntly. "Potter's not the type. He's far too earnest and Gryffindor to toy about with you like that." She studies Draco's face, a furrow deepening between her perfectly groomed eyebrows. "Which can only mean Potter's gay. Or having some sort of crisis." Her eyes widen. "Oh. Well, that explains so much about why his marriage fell apart."

Draco feels as if this is spinning out around him. "Pans, you can't tell a soul. He's even more closeted than I am." And Draco doesn't know why he cares so much. Perhaps it's just because he and Potter are teetering together on the knife edge of their own mutually assured destruction. Or perhaps it's more that Draco doesn't want to anger Potter, doesn't want Potter to walk away.

Oh, he thinks, a realisation hitting him. He pushes that feeling away, burying it as deep as he possibly can. There's no sense even entertaining that particular thought. Former Death Eaters don't deserve the Boy Who Lived, after all.

Pansy frowns at him. "That's hard to believe, given where we're having this discussion."
She gestures around the pantry. "But fine. It's not as if I'm desperate to shove either one of you out of your cocoons. "

"You know what I mean," Draco doesn't bother to hide his annoyance. Pansy's too good a friend to even try. She'd suss that out in a heartbeat.

"I think the main question we should ask," Pansy says, "is whether or not you wanted Potter to kiss you." Pansy's eyes are large, curious. She's like a bloody cat with a mouse, Draco thinks, and he damned well resents being played with like this.

"No." Draco frowns. He knows that's a double-edge sword. Because he had wanted Potter to kiss him. Standing there, in that moment, with the way Potter had looked at him…. Draco knows he could have stopped it before Potter's lips brushed his. But he hadn't wanted to. He'd needed Potter to kiss him. And he's only just realising that fact.

Pansy just looks at him, one eyebrow quirked.

The cupboard suddenly feels suffocating. Too small. Draco tries to breathe, but his lungs catch, and then his blood's rushing through his ears, loud and harsh, a roaring thud that makes his legs wobble.

Pansy stands up, catches him before he stumbles. She manoeuvres him towards the step stool she's just been sitting on. "Breathe," she says, and it feels as if her voice is miles away.

Draco tries, but the panic's digging its claws deeper into him. What little breath he can draw in isn't enough. He feels Pansy's hands on his shoulders, pushing him forward until his head's between his knees. He stares down at his fingers, dangling between his thighs, and it seems to help. The clawing, desperate feeling's starting to ease.

"It's all right, darling." Pansy's fingers stroke the back of Draco's head, featherlight. Back during the war, she'd done this for him, never asking what was making him panic, just giving him the gentle touch of her affection for him. "Breathe. In and out." When Draco manages a full breath, she squats beside him, her fingers still moving lightly along the nape of his neck. "Better?"

The tightness in Draco's throat eases. He manages to nod, draw in another breath, this one deeper, almost filling his lungs.

Pansy stays with him, a careful constant presence by his side. Draco doesn't know how long it takes before the thudding inside his body recedes, lets him breathe normally. As it sleeps away, though, he feels so bloody exhausted. Embarrassed, even. He hasn't had a spell like this in a while. Not since Astoria had told him she wanted a divorce.

He runs his hands over his face. "I'm sorry." He's silent for a long moment. Pansy doesn't say anything; she just slides her hand down to rest between his shoulder blades. The warmth and weight of her palm is calming, soothing Draco's jangled nerves. "I'm wondering if I overreacted."

"This is just a panic attack," Pansy starts to say but Draco shakes his head.

"Not this." He drops his hands, rests his elbows on his thighs. "With Potter." He clears his throat. "Afterwards."

"Oh." Pansy sighs. She presses her fingertips against the knobs along his back. "Did you push Potter away and flee like a Regency virgin?"

Draco gives her a baleful look. "You need better reading material." Pansy's joy in trashy Mills and Boons historical romances is legend. It's all Daphne's fault--she'd smuggled the Muggle novels into the Slytherin common room during sixth year. Pansy'd started reading them to mock the trite plots and Muggle settings, and the next thing Draco knew, she was blackmailing the Hufflepuff Muggleborns to have new titles delivered in their owl post.

"Probably." Pansy doesn't look ashamed. "But you're avoiding the question."

"Cow." But oddly, Draco's feeling better. He sits up, his back twingeing. He's getting old, with odd aches and pains popping up at the worst times. "My general concern at that moment seemed to be in the vein of, fuck, this is my child's school, what if someone sees?"

"Not an invalid concern, given the way some of those parents gossip." Pansy says. She brushes Draco's hair back, tucking it behind one ear. Her face is softer than usual; it's the same expression he's seen when she's trying to comfort one of the twins. For all her prickiness at times, Pansy truly is a good mother. "So how did he react?"

Draco hesitates, then he reaches into his trouser pocket, pulling out a small bit of parchment that he's folded and refolded far too many times since he'd received it this morning by owl an hour or so after he'd arrived at the Museum. "He sent me an apology." He hands the parchment over to Pansy; she unfolds it, frowning down at the spiky, nearly illegible script. Her lips barely move as she reads it; Draco knows it by heart already.

Malfoy, I really need to apologise for last night. I should never have done that, especially not without your consent. I won't lie and say that I hated it, because I didn't, but I was definitely out of line, and I'm sorry. I hope I haven't fucked things up too much. All best, HJP.

Pansy folds the parchment along the crease lines. "Have you replied?" She hands it back over, her gaze searching Draco's face.

"No." To be honest, Draco doesn't know what to say. He slides the parchment back into his pocket. "Perhaps I should just leave it be."

"Perhaps."

There's a knock on the cupboard door, and then Tony's head pops in. "Have all the secrets been divulged yet? It's just I've three hungry toddlers out here who are bored with playing dreidel and might resort to eating me if we don't serve the latkes soon."

"Potter kissed Draco," Pansy says, before Draco can say anything. He gives her a horrified look, but Tony doesn't seem terribly surprised. "We need a few more minutes."

"I see." Tony glances over at Draco. "Have you panicked yet?"

Draco glares at him. "Yes, thank you."

Tony nods. "Do you want more wine then?"

And Draco thinks about refusing, but what good would that do? He picks up his wine glass from the shelf he'd set it on and hands it over to Tony. "Thanks." He's reminded again how much he likes Pansy's husband. Tony's a good man, even if he's a bit odd at times. It's the Ravenclaw in him, Draco suspects.

"So." Tony glances over at his wife. "What if I get ready to serve and you come in when you're both ready? I think I can keep the kids in line--although I make no assurances about Uri not throwing applesauce at the wall like he did last Hanukkah."

Pansy leans in and kisses him. "Perfect. We'll be there in a trice."

The door closes behind Tony, and Draco turns on Pansy. "Did you have to be so obvious in front of me? Couldn't you at least have had the decency to wait and talk behind my back?"

"But, darling, we have been," Pansy's smile is genuine. "Some sort of tiff between you and Potter was the most likely turn of events. I was worried about a duel going down at dawn this morning, but that seemed less probable, as Tony pointed out. We weren't expecting a snog, but really, I suppose there's a fine line between wanting to fuck someone and wanting to strangle them as well."

"I hate you," Draco observes, furious that he's so obvious to his best friend. And her husband, evidently. "I really bloody hate you both." He scowls. "You know, I feel horribly judged right now."

Pansy snorts. "Tony's a Ravenclaw. You know they don't criticise anything unless they find it horribly illogical, so perhaps that should say something about you and Potter." She stands closer, then reaches to embrace him. He makes a show of pulling away, then lets her.

"You're horrible," Draco says against the softness of Pansy's jumper. She smells like frying oil and floral perfume, and there's something warm and comforting about it. He buries his nose against her shoulder and breathes in.

Pansy holds him tightly. "I'm here for you." Her hands settle against Draco's back. "And I'm sorry Potter's such a wanker. At the very least he should have asked before he went and snogged you."

"Yes, he bloody well should have," Draco agrees.

They stand awkwardly for a few moments. Draco feels his body relax as Pansy strokes his hair. He closes his eyes and exhales.

"So, Pansy asks finally, "what're you going to do about Potter?"

"I've no bloody idea." And really, Draco doesn't have a single good one. He's entertained all sorts of wild schemes in the past twenty-four hours, and none of them fit. "I think I'm just going to have to go back to practice on Monday and pretend it never happened."

Pansy pulls back and looks at him, her face sober. "That only works so long. You know that."

Draco does. "But it'll give me time to figure it all out." Or maybe it won't. He's not certain of anything at the moment. He just knows he can't let Potter see how much that bloody kiss has rattled him. How much it's made him wish for more.

There's a crash outside the door, as if a chair's fallen to the floor, and then a loud wail rises up. Draco can hear Tony's voice, quick and anxious beneath the sobs. He looks over at Pansy. "That's either Uri or Scorpius."

Pansy looks resigned. "Uri. I recognise the hiccups. I should probably rescue Tony before Ava gets involved." She kisses Draco's cheek. "Be strong, darling. Whatever happens with Potter, you're wise enough to make it through."

And then she throws open the door, letting in the bright light and oily, oniony smell of the kitchen flood into the cupboard. Uri's in Tony's arms, sobbing still against his father's shoulder. The moment he sees Pansy, Uri holds his arms out to her, fat tears rolling down his face.

"Sweetheart," Pansy says, sweeping him out of Tony's grasp. "Did you fall?"

"Trying to get the gelt I put on the counter," Tony says, his voice dry. He nods towards the stool Draco'd been sat at earlier; it's now lying across the floor on its side. Scorpius straddles one of the legs, a half-wrapped piece of gelt in his fist, and there's chocolate smeared across his face again. Draco doesn't even bother to clean it off. There's no sense in it now.

Uri settles against Pansy's shoulder, pitifully, and his sister tries to climb up Tony's trousers, wanting attention of her own.

Draco picks up the platter of latkes that Tony'd set on the counter, presumably just before Uri had climbed up the stool. "Food?" he asks, holding the platter up, and Ava and Scorpius cheer. Even Uri looks a bit perkier at the idea of a latke, his eyes following Draco as he carries the platter to the table.

"That's the point of all our holidays," Tony says with a laugh. "They tried to kill us, they failed, now let's eat." He and Pansy follow Draco, each carrying a child. Scorpius trails behind them, stuffing the last of his gelt in his mouth.

And here, gathered around the table in Pansy's kitchen, the candles burning bright, the snow falling faster outside the darkened windows, a peace settles across Draco's shoulders. He doesn't know what will happen with Potter. He's not even certain it matters.

Right now, right here, with Tony spinning the dreidel between Scorpius and Uri, making them laugh, and Pansy leaning across the table to put a latke or two on each empty plate whilst her daughter reaches for the tub of sour cream, Draco doesn't feel so alone. This is his family too, in a different sort of way.

And family's all that matters on a dark winter day.

Chapter Text

It's half past ten on Saturday night, and Harry's slouched across the library sofa with his socked feet pressed into the cushions and his annual Christmas bottle of whisky from McGonagall on the coffee table. The lights are off, save for one small lamp on a side table, and the room's shadowed. A fire's still flickering in the hearth, but the flames are starting to die down a bit, and a chill's beginning to settle across the room.

But the fairies are still shimmering in the branches of the tree, and a small colony of them have flown over to the greenery on the mantel, settling in there amongst the thick fir boughs. Celestina Warbeck's on the WWN, singing soft and low, and Harry lifts his glass to his lips and sips.

The whisky's warm and aromatic, and it goes down smoothly. Minerva'd sent a good bottle this year, but, really, she always does. It's odd, perhaps, that he keeps in touch with his old Head, but even at nearly-thirty, Harry still misses Hogwarts some days. It's the first place he'd truly felt at home. Number Four Privet had never been that place. He's been back a few times over the years. Once for Dudley's wedding, when Harry'd spent the night in his old room, then again for Uncle Vernon's funeral. His aunt had moved out after that. Found herself a flat that didn't require as much upkeep. Harry goes to see her every so often for Sunday dinner. Brings the boys with him on days he knows Dudley will be over with his three kids. Sometimes Ron asks him why he bothers, particularly when Harry's annoyed by something judgmental his aunt's let slip over the roast and pudding. All Harry can say is that they're his family. The only connection he has left to his own mum, and he wants Jamie and Al to have that.

Besides, Petunia's not so terrible now, without Vernon talking over her. She's even started an herbalism course to brew her own cough syrups and pain tinctures, and Harry's seen her soften. There's a bit of the witch in Petunia, he thinks. Not like his mum had been. But she's not a usual Muggle. If she hadn't bottled it all up inside of her, hadn't turned it on her sister, on the magical world Harry's certain she wanted to explore herself, perhaps she might have been able to feel a magical spark in her earlier. Still, Harry's glad she's letting some of her talents out, even in this small way, and he's almost positive Dudley's eldest will be on her way to Hogwarts in a few years. Last time they'd been at the dinner table together, Harry'd caught her making her fork and knife dance without touching them.

Dudley'll be pleased about that, Harry thinks.

Harry holds his glass up, watches the whisky gleam amber in the faint light from the lamp. He'd tried to drink the first glass with ice, tried to make it last, but he'd poured the second neat from the bottle. Now he's decided to compromise on an ice chip or two--the best part about being a wizard is being able to get the ice exactly the way you want it with a spell. Harry'd learnt a few ways to cast them during a whisky heritage tour he and Ron'd taken with George two summers ago when Ginny'd had the boys in Holyhead for a fortnight. They'd toured the major Scottish distilleries, magical and Muggle alike, getting soused elegantly for days, making their way through the Lowlands, Campbeltown and Islay, then various regions of the Highlands including the Isle of Skye, ending up with three marvellous days in Speyside which Harry remembers warmly, if hazily, through a fog of single malts and sherry barrels.

Minerva had joined them for part of the trip through the Highlands. She'd drunk all of them under the table, even George, asking the shocked distillery tour agents for "a wee dram more" when the rest of them had been barely able to walk. Then she'd refused to Apparate at the distillery, insisting that they hike through the glens to the next point, telling them that whisky and exercise clean the blood. Harry remembers wandering through a scrubby forest, half-pissed and stumbling behind the eighty-four-year-old McGonagall. And then the path turned and the forest disappeared, and they'd been standing on a hillside overlooking one of the most gorgeous lochs Harry's ever seen, banked by heather, the faint beginnings of a late Scottish summer sunset beginning to stretch out across the sky, oranges and pinks reflected in the still surface of the water. Harry hadn't been able to breathe from the beauty of it. Even George had been gobsmacked, and they'd stood there, the four of them, watching as red deer galloped past, shadowed against the coming dusk. It'd been a memorable trip, and one Harry recalls fondly as he pours another glass of thick amber and casts the gravel ice spell Minerva'd taught him--glacies minima--to add just the merest hint of iced water to his glass.

And really, Harry knows he shouldn't be drinking alone. The children are finally asleep, after a difficult day. The snow's kept them from going out much, to the park or to Diagon which would have been Harry's preferred way of entertaining them both. Ron and Hermione have been off at her parents, so there was no chance of taking the boys over there, and Harry's not bloody stupid enough to have owled Malfoy to see if Scorpius was available. That would have been sheer idiocy, and whilst Harry might be thick, he's not that self-destructive. So it'd been down to bundling the boys in wellies and puffy coats to start their own snowball fight in the back garden, which, a half-hour in, had lost its thrill once Al decided he was too cold and too wet to continue. Al'd been cranky after that--he never likes being in physical discomfort of any sort--and Jamie hadn't made things better, lamenting about wanting to go back outside. Harry'd lost his patience with the both of them just after dinner, and he'd made Al cry. Not in the tantrum way, which Harry would have justified. But in the wide-eyed, shocked, tears-rolling-down-his-face-because-Daddy's-so-cruel way which had made Harry feel a right bastard.

God. Harry takes another sip of whisky. He's been a shit father all together today--short-tempered, gruff, and then too hard on Al. Harry does feel wretched that he can't protect his boys from being out of sorts, but as a single parent, unfortunately, it's him and Kreacher against the wolves of boredom and the doldrums. And to be bloody honest, Harry just hadn't had it in him today.

He misses Astoria, Harry tells himself. If she were back in town, everything would be running smoothly. His life had had a predictable routine with her assistance, a mixture of playdates and pick-up help, advice on the boys and commiseration about single-parenting duties. It hadn't been this uproar, this chaos caused by Malfoy's fucking inability to follow the rules--or stay out of Harry's way. Nothing's right any more. Harry feels as if his life's turned upside down, as if everything's up-ended. Pushing him to do things, say things he'd never intended.

Like coming out to Ron.

Or kissing Malfoy.

Merlin. What's he been thinking? Harry takes another swallow of whisky. It's still not enough to dull the humiliation of what he'd done Thursday night. He doesn't know why he kissed Malfoy. Except he'd wanted to. And Malfoy had been standing there, looking at him. And Harry hadn't been able to get past the thought that Malfoy's lips looked like they needed to be kissed. Terribly.

So he had. Without thinking. Without letting the rational side of his brain have any say in the matter at all. Harry hadn't even been certain of what he was going to do, until he found his mouth pressed to Malfoy's. And then Malfoy had almost softened beneath Harry's touch, that rigid stiffness melting just enough for him to open up to Harry's kiss.

Nothing had ever felt like that.

Not with Gin. Not with Cho. Not with any of the men Harry's kissed perfunctorily in pub toilets.

Harry had felt as if he were dancing. Floating. His whole body had been on fire, and when Malfoy had pulled back it'd been bloody agony. As if some part of him had been ripped away.

It still feels that way.

Harry hasn't slept, really. Not since that moment. He's tossed and turned, but every time he starts to drift off, he's jolted awake with the memory of Malfoy's lips against his, of Malfoy's shocked face, of Malfoy turning away from him, horrified and angry.

Not even apologising has helped. Harry'd thought about showing up at the British Museum. Demanding to see Malfoy. But that wouldn't have gone well, he thinks. Malfoy would have found it presumptuous of him, and he wouldn't be wrong. So Harry'd written a note instead. Sent it by Ministry owl so it couldn't be turned away.

Malfoy'd probably just balled the note up. Thrown it away. Harry wouldn't blame him, really. He'd known better. He's not a stupid boy, after all. He should have asked, should have given Malfoy the chance to tell him no. Harry'd been a reckless, thoughtless idiot, and, like usual, it'd probably ruined everything for him.

And perhaps that thought ought to startle Harry, but he's just pissed enough not to censor himself. Why bother now? Harry's fully aware that he desperately wants to see Malfoy. To apologise properly, he tells himself, but he knows that's not it. Harry wants things from Malfoy that he know he can't have. Things he shouldn't ask for. Things that Malfoy will never give him, and perhaps that's the point. Maybe this is all a fantasy. A chance for Harry to imagine what it might be like not to skulk about in the filthy toilets at gay pubs, hearing men the next stall over groaning and gasping, the way he is. It's been all Harry's been able to have up until now, but that kiss--Merlin, it'd made Harry want more.

He wants to make out with Malfoy properly, not just in a grotty school props cupboard which, in some ways, is worse than the toilets. It's certainly a damned sight more inappropriate, even Harry knows that. But it's not just a physical release Harry wants from Malfoy. He wants to take Malfoy to dinner, to get to know Malfoy's adult self better. Harry's drawn to the bite of Malfoy's tongue, particularly in juxtaposition to the gentleness with which Malfoy treats the children. It's mental of him. He knows that. But when Malfoy snaps at him, Harry feels a jolt. Malfoy doesn't coddle him, doesn't fawn over him because he's Harry bloody Potter. Malfoy hates all the rubbish that comes with Harry's standing in the wizarding world, and Harry likes that about him. He needs someone to be rude to him, to tell him what he thinks. And every time Malfoy does that, it makes Harry's prick leap.

Merlin, Harry thinks as he lifts his glass to his mouth again. Maybe he has a domination kink.

And that brings up thoughts of Malfoy spread beneath him, gasping and arching up against him, telling Harry exactly what he thinks about Harry's fucking technique. And in a proper bed, Harry thinks, not just a fumble in a bar, or a blowjob in an alley that smells like piss and sick. Harry wants two nights in Paris at a five-star hotel. Champagne and oysters in between bouts of ridiculous, vigorous shagging requiring all quantities of lube and perhaps a fair amount of agility and dexterity.

Christ, but Harry wouldn't mind breaking a bed with Draco Malfoy, not at all.

Fuck. Harry shifts against the sofa, his hips pushing into the cushions. He's half-hard already, and he wants to push his joggers down. Wants to feel the heft of his prick in his hand. Wants to think about kissing Malfoy, about covering that long, coltish body with his own, about nudging Malfoy's pale thighs open so Harry can nestle his prick closer to Malfoy's own.

Harry bites his lip. Takes another sip of whisky. His hand drifts down, his palm settles on the swell of his cock against the thick grey cotton. He presses down. Rolls his prick to the right. To the left. Thinks about the softness of Malfoy's lips. What would they look like spread around Harry's prick, so pink, so wide. Malfoy has a mouth for fucking, and Harry wonders where Malfoy's blown Adrian Pucey. If they've done it in the back of a filthy little club. Harry closes his eyes. Sets his whisky glass aside. He shifts against the cushions, sliding down the length of the sofa.

What would it be like to watch? Harry's fingertips slide beneath the elastic waistband of his joggers. His breath quickens in anticipation, and he thinks of Malfoy on his knees, his back to the wall whilst Pucey bends towards him, hands splayed against crumbling brick, his shirt open, his flies undone, his cock bobbing between them, ruddy and swollen. Harry's thumb circles across the crisp curls at the base of his own prick. He licks his lips, presses them together.

From the radio, Celestina croons softly about a lost Christmas love.

Harry's fingers toy with his shaft, barely brushing it as his cock swells. He imagines watching Malfoy lean forward, take the head of Pucey's prick in his mouth. A shudder goes through Harry, and he can almost feel the warmth of Malfoy's lips around his own head. He shifts again, spreads his thighs wider as he pushes his joggers and pants over the swell of his cock, down past his hips.

The cool air on his prick slows him. Harry's grateful for the moment's pause. His heart's beating heavily in his chest, and he exhales. Traces the vein beneath his cock.

And then he thinks of Malfoy sucking ever so softly at Pucey's head, and Harry's fingers start to pull at his own foreskin, tugging it over the slick head of his prick, twisting it just slightly at the edges. His breath quickens. He imagines Malfoy's tongue, the way it flicks across Pucey's slit, tasting him, and Harry arches into his own touch, his thumb pressing into his own slick slit, pushing deeper until Harry's body is throbbing with the thrill of it all.

Pucey's head is bent forward, his dark hair falling across his forehead. Harry can tell he's holding back, can tell he wants to shove his prick into Malfoy's mouth, wants to fuck that long, pale throat. Harry groans, and he wants to shout at his own fantasy, wants to tell them to get on with it, for Christ's sake. He fingers his slit again. Thinks about tasting himself, but he can't bear to move his hand away. He holds his prick still with one hand at the base, his other hand playing with his foreskin, tugging, twisting, rubbing it across Harry's slick, swollen hole. It feels amazing, incredible. Harry's breath grows more ragged, more raw; his bollocks tighten against his thighs. He wants this, wants Malfoy.

And then Pucey turns his head. Looks at Harry.

Except it's not Pucey at all.

Harry stares into his own face. Sees the look of pure want in his eyes. Watches as Malfoy slides his hands up, over Harry's hips, across the flat planes of Harry's belly. And then Malfoy sucks him in whole.

It's more than Harry can take. He cries out, and his fingers twist down his shaft, curling tightly into a fist. He strokes himself harder, keeping in time with his imagination, matching the rhythm of his prick pressing into Malfoy's mouth. He's gasping, swearing, his heels pushing into the cushions, and he doesn't even bother to keep quiet.

"Malfoy," Harry chokes out, and then he's looking down at Malfoy's mouth, watching his cock fuck it, and it's everything Harry wants, everything he needs. He wants this. Wants Malfoy.

And then the image slides away, and Harry's too far gone to hold the fantasy any longer. He jerks himself, harder, faster, and he doesn't care about anything but the tightness building inside of him, that furious curl of need spreading out through his belly, lifting him up, pushing him higher and higher until he crashes with a shout.

Spunk spills across Harry's hand, warm and slick and sticky. He collapses against the sofa, his breath coming in hard gasps, the skin across his chest still prickling, hot and sharp and deep.

He lies there for a long moment, his prick still cupped in his fingers. Spasms of pleasure jolt through him if he moves his hand. He keeps it steady, letting himself come back to the present.

It's only when his heart stops racing that the shame settles in. Harry wipes his fingers across his joggers, casts a quick, wandless cleaning charm. He tucks his prick away, pulls his waistband back up. He stares up at the ceiling, feeling oddly pathetic. Shadows dance across it, and Harry half-thinks the house is watching him in disapproval.

"Oh, fuck off," he says, and the eaves creak.

Harry doesn't know why a hopelessness settles over him. A strange blanket of guilt that weighs his heart down. It's just a fucking wank, for Christ's sake. Harry's wanked about plenty of people over the years--including Malfoy himself. He doesn't know why this time feels so unnerving.

Except, perhaps, that he already feels awful about kissing Malfoy. This feels weirdly intimate now after that. As if Harry's done something else to cross a line. To make things uncomfortable between them--even if this time Malfoy'll never know. Harry will, though.

Harry rolls to his side. Pushes himself up. His body feels limp, unsteady. He reaches for his glass of whisky. Downs it in a swallow. He lowers the glass. Rolls it between his palms as he considers the bottle. Four glasses in an evening would be too much, he tells himself. He should be a responsible father. Not drink himself into a bloody stupor over Draco sodding Malfoy. He starts to set the glass aside, but he stops. Swears.

Pours another two fingers, neat.

The boys are asleep. Kreacher's nearby. One more glass won't hurt him, Harry thinks.

He sips the whisky. Refuses to let himself knock it back the way he wants to do. He wonders where Malfoy is tonight. If he's curled up in Astoria's sitting room with a bottle of wine and a book. That seems the sort of thing Malfoy'd do. He's not the kind who'd go out for a beer with his mates. Malfoy's all fine cheese and expensive wine tastings and French cologne.

Entirely out of Harry's league.

"Fuck," Harry says again, this time to himself. He sets his glass down. Buries his face in his hands, his glasses pushed up on his forehead, his elbows digging into his thighs. He has to stop thinking about it because it all makes him feel so desolate. Lonely. Malfoy won't even speak to him. He'd run away from Harry Friday morning at drop-off, and he'd sent Pansy to pick up Scorpius that afternoon. And when Harry'd finally sent the owl after him at the British Museum, he'd spent half the morning writing and rewriting a simple note until he'd given up hope of expressing anything other than mortification. Really, Harry is fucking sorry that he approached the kiss so awkwardly and without warning. He should have asked, he shouldn't have presumed and really, it wasn't the best time or place either.

And yet, Harry wants. He wants to kiss Malfoy again with his permission. He wants to taste his skin, feel the smile against his mouth as Malfoy lets Harry pin him against a wall, lets Harry ravage his mouth and rut against him until they're both breathless and half mad with want. Harry wants to leave Malfoy gagging for him, wants Malfoy to do the things with him that he's done with that fucking bastard Pucey. Any of them. All of them. However depraved they might be.

Jealousy's never been something Harry's comfortable with. He hates the ripple of anger that he feels when he thinks of Malfoy with Pucey--even as he knows how hypocritical that is of him, given he's just wanked off to thoughts of watching them both. But something about Malfoy makes Harry mental, turns him upside down, makes him say one thing and do another. Harry reaches for his whisky, takes another swig of it. He has to calm down. He simply must. He can't be horrible and jealous and seething and this sodding randy for the rest of the weekend.

Although, perhaps he can. He closes his eyes. Breathes out. Tries to focus on the way the whisky glass feels against his palms. Cool and smooth. Hefty. The prickling across his skin fades away. He thinks about Malfoy. Imagines being inside of him, imagines those long legs wrapped around his hips, that pale blond hair spread across his pillow. Harry shivers. Grips his glass tighter. That's ridiculous, he thinks. He doesn't even know if Malfoy fucks or likes to be fucked. He doesn't know anything about the man, other than he's gay and closeted and has a son Al's age. Everything else Harry thinks he knows about Malfoy comes from their childhood. Or Harry's fantasies.

Then again, Harry doesn't entirely know which way he swings either when it comes to sex. Most of his encounters have been hand jobs or blow jobs or the occasional quick fuck with blokes a bit younger than him who're eager for his prick to be inside of them. Harry hasn't had much opportunity to do anything else, but he realises, with a pulse of surprise that makes him open his eyes that he'd definitely be willing to upend his arse for Malfoy. The thought makes him a bit nervous but also curiously excited too. Harry's had a couple offers over the past two years, but never a proper chance, or if he's honest, a proper bloke he felt like being that vulnerable with, someone he could trust. Strangely, despite all of their shared past, or perhaps because of it, Harry knows he can trust Malfoy. He knows he wants to feel Malfoy moving inside him, wants to let Malfoy pound him into the mattress, wants to give himself to him. He bets Malfoy would be very experienced, given his obviously slaggy ways. A thrill goes through Harry, making his toes curl. Harry wants to be Malfoy's slag. Wants Malfoy to take him apart and put him back together like no one else has ever been able to do.

Somehow, deep inside, Harry knows Malfoy could.

"Daddy?" A little voice comes from the door. Harry looks over; Al's stood there in his pyjamas, his favourite stuffed Erumpent wadded up in his hand. He rubs at one eye with the ball of his palm. "I thirsty. I 'ave a water?"

Harry's heart warms at the sight of his sleepy son. "Yeah. Go back up. I'll bring you a glass in a minute, okay?"

Al just nods. "'Kay." He turns around, waddles back towards the staircase.

Harry stands up. Carries his whisky glass across the room. He passes the tree, catches sight of a bright red and gold ornament hanging from a branch, shimmering in the fairy lights. It's small, a red-sequined heart trimmed with gold, and Harry reaches out. Brushes a fingertip against it. He'd almost forgotten it; Kreacher must have put it up with the other family ornaments. He and Ginny had bought it their first Christmas together, before they were married, when they'd just moved in with one another. Ginny'd laughed when she'd found it in a store down Islington High Street. I give you my heart, she'd said, handing it to Harry. Promise me you'll keep it?

A lump forms in Harry's throat. He hadn't kept that promise. He shouldn't have made it in the first place. And now it's Christmas again, and Harry's horribly, terribly, achingly alone.

Harry looks out of the window at the fallen snow and the crisp, blue-black sky. He thinks of Jamie, and how certain he'd been that he'd wished the snowfall into existence. Perhaps he had, Harry thinks. Stranger things have happened than a five-year-old's snowmancy. He sees a star twinkle deep in the darkness of the winter sky, and suddenly, he's gripped with a mad desire to make a wish. He tries to resist it. Tries to tell himself he's being a fool.

But Harry's lonely. And tired. And more than a little bit drunk on fine whisky.

So he dips a finger in his glass, then traces it across the cool slickness of the window pane, curving it up, then down, then back up again. Leaving behind a whisky heart.

"I wish for a boyfriend," Harry whispers. "For Christmas, and maybe more. To share my life and my bed, as best as we can." He pauses, feeling like an idiot in one of those ridiculous Muggle films Hermione pretends not to watch at the holidays and Ron pretends not to like. But he's come this far, and what the hell. No one can hear him except the bloody house, and what does it care? He draws in a deep breath. "And if at all possible, if he agrees, could you please send me Draco Malfoy? Especially if he doesn't loathe me. Or at least if he doesn't tell me about how much he loathes me too often."

That last bit feels particularly important. This past week Malfoy seemed to love tearing strips off Harry for his incompetence, when he's not busy ordering toddlers around. But Harry would take all of the haranguing for Malfoy to talk to him again.

Another quick swallow of whisky, and Harry sets his glass on the windowsill. There's still a mouthful left, but it feels right to leave it behind. The heart on the window pane still shines in the light of the Christmas tree. Harry sighs. This isn't a holiday film, after all. He can't really expect his wish to be heard. Although he does have a sense that the house is now shifting and sighing around him, the corners growing a little bit more dim. He shakes his head. It's probably the damned whisky. For now, though, he's a glass of water to procure, and an Al to tuck back into bed.

Harry stops at the doorway, looking back at the warmth of the library lights. "Nox," he murmurs, and the lights dim, then fade away, only the embers in the hearth remaining.

"Daddy," Harry hears from the top of the landing, and when he looks up, Al's leaning against the bannister. "Firsty."

"I'll get it right now," Harry says, and with one last glance at the darkened window, Harry turns away.

In the shadows, Grimmauld Place stirs, and the ancient magic of its founding responds to the command of its master and the name of a distant family heir. A powerful, yet obscure force takes hold, and a shining wish full of the house's energy is sent into the dark of the London night. Whether it finds its target, the house has yet to see.

But it's Christmas soon, and the house believes.

Chapter Text

The dining room in his mother's Kensington townhouse is half the size of the Manor's, but somehow Draco finds it less cosy. He's not entirely certain why. Perhaps it has to do with familiarity; even after all these years, this house doesn't feel like home to Draco. He misses the grandeur of the Manor's wide hallways and long parlours, the gallery of family portraits he'd have to walk past whenever he left his room, all of them letting him know exactly how appropriate they found his appearance that day. It'd been infuriating, but Draco misses the old biddies and bastards that dangle from various branches of his family tree. Particularly Great-Great-Great-Uncle Arturus, who was mad as the proverbial hatter, but who'd often snuck into the landscapes that were hung in Draco's room, just to ask him how his day was, or sing an off-tune song, or tell him some ridiculous, highly unlikely to be true tale about his relatives. Draco wonders what's happened to Uncle Artie, whether the Ministry's left him hanging in the empty Manor hall or if he's been packed up and hidden away in some Auror storeroom, forgotten and forlorn.

Perhaps Draco should demand Potter search for him. It's the least the bastard could do, all things considered.

But that's not something Draco wants to think about at the moment. He doesn't care for the way his stomach flutters every time his mind drifts Potter's way. Not to mention how his prick had stiffened in the shower this morning when he'd remembered the feel of Potter's mouth against his. It'd barely taken a tug or two before he'd spattered spunk against the tiled shower wall, and he'd felt a complete fool as he'd watched the water wash it away. He'd spent a good twenty minutes just standing beneath the hot spray, trying to breathe, fighting the panic that had tightened his chest, made him feel as if he were imploding with the weight of his shame.

Potter. Draco doesn't understand why he can't get the man out of his head. Why his heart speeds up at the thought of the prat. Why he's anxious and excited all at the same time about seeing him tomorrow at rehearsal. It's foolish of him. Draco knows that full well. He'd do best to ring Adrian up, have a good shag once Scorpius was fast asleep, then send Adrian packing. No one would know, and perhaps it'd take the edge off this skittering feeling that prickles his skin, makes his cock swell, takes his bloody breath away.

If nothing else, Draco'd at least get a full night's sleep--something he's not had since Potter had decided kissing Draco would be an ace decision to make. The arsehole.

And yet, Draco's fingers brush against his trouser pocket. The note Potter had sent him Friday morning is still there, crinkling softly beneath his touch. Draco ought to throw it away, but he can't. Doesn't want to. So he keeps it, and if he pulls it out every so often to examine the way Potter scribbles his Ps and curliques his Ms, then no one will know except Draco, after all.

The door to the dining room clangs open, and Draco jumps a bit. His mother's aged elf, Vesper, comes out, Levitating several steaming platters from the kitchen. They've already had a soup course--Draco loves the cream of chicken, as Vesper knows full well--and a fish course and now there's a roast with potatoes and peas. His mother usually sticks to the standards for Sunday dinner, although she occasionally throws in a bouillabaisse or lamb with couscous now that his father's not around to complain about garlic and spice.

His father. Draco hasn't thought of him in the past few days. This brouhaha with Potter's driven back Draco's usual self-flagellating angst about his family's poor choices. But Lucius is still mouldering away in Azkaban, and as much as Draco hates to admit it, he's going to have to go visit him before long to make his peace with his father's fury about his divorce from Astoria. As much as Draco would prefer it, he knows it's not humane to let Lucius sit in that sodding rock in the North Sea, half-mad, without some sort of tie to family. He'd called Draco by the wrong name last time--Draco's still not over that, although his anger at his father's condemnation of him for the failure of his marriage upsets him more. But it's his own cowardice, Draco knows, that keeps him from going back to Azkaban. That, and his discomfort with what his father has become. He's angry, of course, at his father for his crimes and for enlisting them all in a futile dance with a madman bent on death and destruction that's tarred their reputation for life. But Lucius is still Draco's father.

Now that he has Scorpius, Draco understands a bit better what that's like.

"Scorpius, dear, don't play with the flowers." His mother's voice is firm but kind.

Draco snaps to attention. His errant sprog is pulling at a branch of berries, perhaps trying to eat it, knowing him. Even at three, Scorpius is terrible about putting the strangest things in his mouth. Astoria had sworn he would outgrow it, but Draco's seen no sign of that yet. Draco's hackles go up--the branch looks poisonous and Mother's still a bit vague about how to childproof properly. She must have had more help from the Manor elves, Draco thinks, when he was younger, or perhaps--and he's not so certain this is unlikely--he's just lucky to have survived toddlerhood. His parents had loved him terribly; Draco knows that. They'd just been utterly horrible at parenting him. It's curious how he sees that now as an adult. He'd never wanted for anything, and his mother had sent weekly packages filled with sweets and treats to Hogwarts. But as much as Draco'd known he was loved, neither Lucius nor Narcissa had seemed to have the slightest clue about disciplining him. Draco'd merely run wild throughout most of his childhood, hardly ever having been told no. There's not a child in the world who doesn't need boundaries set for him or her. Draco just wishes his parents had been able to do that for him.

Or themselves, for that matter.

Fortunately, Teddy's already distracting Scorpius, changing his hair from brown to turquoise and then back again, making Scorpius giggle with delight. Aunt Andromeda deftly tucks the branch further back into the trailing arrangement, removing it from Scorpius's reach. Draco shoots her a grateful look, and she winks at him.

"So, tell us about this Yule pageant." His mother quirks an eyebrow at Draco. "I don't remember one from last year. Did Scorpius not participate or did Astoria forget to inform us?"

And really, Draco should have expected that. His mother's constantly assuming Astoria's snubbing her, keeping her from her grandson in favour of Antigone Greengrass. It's ridiculous, of course. Astoria goes out of her way to include Narcissa and Andromeda both in all of Scorpius's big events, as well as encouraging Draco to make certain Scorpius has time with his grandmother on his weekends. And if Draco sometimes can't bear to face down his mother with Scorpius in tow, well, that's certainly not Astoria's fault.

Draco leans back as Vesper serves him his plate. He tries to keep his annoyance tamped down, at least enough that his mother doesn't notice. "This is the first year the infants have been included, Merlin help us. So no, Scorpius wouldn't have been part of it before."

"Oh, I think having the younger ones included will be lovely." Aunt Andromeda eats a delicate morsel of fish, then wipes her mouth with the edge of a white damask napkin. "It gives such a warm impression of the school." She folds the napkin, sets it aside.

Draco's secretly glad that his mother kept the heavy woven linens from the Manor. Everything else doesn't seem quite right. He fingers his own napkin, finding the weight of it comfortingly familiar in the midst of change. "You might not think that if you had to rehearse with them," he points out. "Our last practice was a nightmare. Parents everywhere, two-year-olds toppling from the stage…" He shudders, then points his fork towards Scorpius. "It's bad enough keeping this one's class in line, much less the year ahead of him."

Better not to mention that Potter's eldest was one of the worst of that lot. He'd forgotten Potter was Teddy's godfather, and his cousin seems to think Potter hung the bloody moon. Then again, Teddy's no bloody taste, judging from the Hufflepuff Quidditch jersey and ripped jeans he'd decided were proper attire for lunch with Draco's mother. Scorpius, on the other hand, is dressed in wool trousers and a green knit vest over a pristine white shirt and green bowtie. And if his hair's a bit rumpled, well, at least Draco's tried.

"Do you like the pageant, Scorpius?" Narcissa directs the next question to her grandson. She cuts a bit of potato in half and lifts it to her mouth, chewing carefully.

Scorpius is busy pushing his tiny spoon through a pile of peas, mushing them against the side of his plate. He loses one, and it rolls off his plate's edge, disappearing beneath. Scorpius digs it out with his chubby fingers and examines the half-smushed smear before sticking it in his mouth. Draco tries not to worry about the mess, but his mother doesn't seem to be worried about Scorpius's manners.

"Hey," Draco says to his son. "Grandmother asked you a question about the pageant."

Scorpius looks up, his grey ideas steady. "I like trees." He picks up another pea and shoves it into his mouth before laughing. "Trees, trees, TREES!" He slaps his spoon against the edge of the bone china plate, and Draco winces, certain it will chip, but the plate holds steady. There must be some sort of charm on the plate.

"There's a forest scene in the beginning," Draco says, explaining to his perplexed mother. He looks back over at his son. "You like the candles too."

"No." Scorpius pushes a spoon with peas into his mouth, managing to capture about half of them. "Candles boring." He chews, showing half the mushy peas to them all before he swallows. "Gif's are fun to throw."

"We don't through the gifts," Draco says with a sigh. This had been half the problem on Thursday afternoon. "We hand them nicely to the person next to us." He leans over with his fork and knife in hand and starts cutting Scorpius's roast into smaller pieces. "Remember?"

Scorpius looks at him as if he's a fool. "T'row them. More fun." He picks up a piece of roast beef and shoves it into his mouth, smacking his lips loudly. Teddy does the same, and Scorpius laughs and wriggles in his seat. "El'phant nose, Teddy!" His cousin complies and Scorpius howls with laughter as if it's the funniest thing he's seen. "Papa!" He tugs at Draco's arm. "Teddy el'phant, see?"

"I do." Draco looks over at Teddy, who flushes as his nose shrinks back to its normal size. "Rather impressive, I must say." He gives Teddy a small smile, and Teddy's cheeks grow pinker. Draco doesn't quite understand why; Teddy's always a bit awkward and tongue-tied around him, no matter how careful Draco tries to be with him.

"Well, I'm terribly sorry we can't see Scorpius perform ourselves," Narcissa says, even though Draco's sure she's not really. She's been looking forward to this trip to the Caribbean for quite some time, although he suspects if Astoria were here, his mother would rearrange everything just to prove a point. He's no intention of letting her know the Greengrasses will likely be in the front row next week. "We'll have to come next year."

"Teddy, have you got any of your things packed?" Aunt Andromeda changes the line of conversation. "I know you just got off the Hogwarts train Friday night, but you're going to have to be ready by tomorrow at the latest."

"No, Gran." Teddy's turquoise hair shifts to a deep, dark blue. "I haven't even thought about it yet. Why so early? We're not going until Tuesday."

Andromeda sighs. "We need to send our trunks ahead with the representative. We'll leave by Portkey on Tuesday night for St. Maarten." She gives her grandson a pointed look. "Which means any washing you need done had better be in my basket this evening, am I clear?"

Teddy just dips his head, his hair falling over his forehead. "Okay." He sounds a bit put out. "I just thought I'd have time to firecall Victoire tonight."

Andromeda exchanges a look with Draco's mother, and that's curious, Draco thinks. There must be something going on with this Victoire, but Andromeda doesn't seem all that happy about it. Then again, Teddy's only a first year. "Twenty minutes," Andromeda says. "But I'll want you off the hearth after that."

Draco's almost certain Teddy's going to argue the point, but his little cousin just sighs, his shoulders slumping. To be honest, Draco doesn't blame him. He knows full well what it's like to argue with one of the Black sisters. He gives Teddy a sympathetic look, and Teddy turn a mournful face his way.

"Chin up, Teddy," Draco whispers across the table, knowing full well his mother and aunt can hear him. "At least you've something out the deal."

Teddy drags the tines of his fork across his plate. "Maybe," he says, and Merlin, Draco hopes Scorpius isn't this gloomy when he's nearing his adolescence.

"Draco, are you coming to see us off?" Narcissa looks hopeful, and Draco almost hates to break her heart. Particularly the way her gaze slides to Scorpius, whose face is now entirely smeared with smushed peas and gravy. Draco knows she's going to miss spending Yule and Christmas with them, but he actually thinks her decision to run away with her sister is a good one this year. His mother needs some time to herself, not to mention a bit of warm sun and self-care.

"Sorry," Draco can't even imagine what another Portkey might do to Scorpius right now. He eats his roast beef, enjoying the familiar flavours and brilliant texture. His never comes out like this, and he doesn't know why. He points a finger above Scorpius's head. "I'm afraid it won't be easy for us to watch another departure, if you know what I'm getting at."

"Ah. Quite." Narcissa nods sagely. It's the one excuse she won't sulk over; she adores Scorpius enough to take his well-being into account, even if it goes against what she'd prefer. It's a situation takes advantage of whenever he can, and always for his own benefit. He's no qualms about it either; there are so few perks of parenting that he feels obligated to use the ones he knows will work. His mother sets her fork and knife down. "Well, I'm glad we could see you now."

And that's a bit of a pointed knife twist, Draco's completely aware. He hasn't really even spoken properly to his mother since Astoria had asked him to take on Scorpius's care full-time. And it's not just the fact that his mother on her best days can drive him mad. Handling his work and Scorpius's schedule, not to mention pageant rehearsals and whatever the hell this is going on between him and Potter--all of it's just worn Draco out. He'd slept in yesterday morning, and he'd been so damned grateful for Imsy being at the townhouse. She'd taken care of Scorpius so he could rest, and when he'd come downstairs, still yawning at half-ten, she'd been sat on the floor of the sitting room, playing blocks with Scorpius.

Draco promises himself he'll do something lovely for the little elf this Yule. Maybe even convince his mother to give her a sock if Imsy would take it. Maybe a hundred socks for all her family. Draco's that bloody grateful.

Vesper comes in to take their plates, then charms the crumbs off of the table. With a snap of Vesper's long fingers, the wine glasses shift to small cordial glasses. Draco's glad he'd finished off the port he'd been drinking. Vesper doesn't tolerate any sort of nonsense with lingering over a course. He's an elf with very particular ideas about how humans should behave, and Draco'd learned early on in his life not to argue with Vesper lest his bedsheets shrink a size or two.

For pudding, an enormous platter floats in with a full snowing Christmas scene of icing sugar drifting down over a tiny high street. Scorpius claps his hands in delight, and proceeds to shift to his knees to lean over the table and stick his fingers in the sifting sugar before anyone can catch him. Draco pulls his son back down with an apology, but his mother laughs it off.

"I've watched you do the same dozens of times," Narcissa says, and she beams at her grandson, who's sucking the sugar off his fingertips. "Is it good?"

Scorpius nods. "Bery!" He looks up at Draco. "More, p'ease?"

"Give Vesper a moment." Draco watches as Vesper cuts slices of the pudding, wisely keeping the brandy butter to a minimum for the under 12 set, and begins sending the plates gently 'round the table.

Draco doesn't much like Christmas pudding in theory--something about the idea of suet, fruit, and spice doesn't exactly inspire his appetite--and he'd never eat it otherwise, but he recognises this tradition as a link to the past, and the taste is one of Christmas. Even though they're in a townhouse instead of the Manor, and it's twelve days shy of actual Christmas, the taste itself reminds Draco of family, of childhood, of warmth in winter, and of a sense of rootedness he seldom feels outside of Wiltshire.

It's strange, but a simply mouthful is a message that recalls entire years of celebration. He supposes now that that is why foods are important in ritual--the same foods recall the past in an unbroken line, just like Pansy's Hanukkah latkes or the chicken biryani served at Millie and Emma's wedding. It's a promise and a fulfilment in one, a link to a chain of people who've all eaten and done as Draco is doing right now. Almost, for a moment, he can pretend that he is truly home and that nothing has gone wrong in the world, that his father is home and all is safe and well. Draco also knows that traditions are kept by people who need them when all else fails, and this is a truth he never would have imagined as a child.

"Is it true," Andromeda asks some short time later, as they're sipping small glasses of schnapps, and Scorpius is dragging his fingers across the remnants of pudding on his plate and popping them in his mouth, "that Harry's helping you with this pageant at the school?"

Draco pauses, surprised that his aunt has such information. He looks over at his mother, who shrugs, a curious look on her face, then back at Andromeda. "I didn't know news travelled so quickly."

Andromeda gives him a small smile. "It's only, he and the boys came to the train to see Teddy Friday, and we all went to an early dinner afterwards."

"He bought me a new broom," Teddy says, eyes glowing, and it's the most animated Draco's seen him at the table outside of trying to amuse Scorpius. "It was wicked."

"I was going to send your presents ahead, if that's all right?" Something about the reference to Potter gets under his skin. The fact that Potter saw his family members first, the easy familiarity of his aunt and nephew with Potter. It doesn't feel quite right to Draco. It's as if Potter's encroaching once again on Draco's life, pushing boundaries that Draco's not willing to loosen. He knows that's foolish of him. Potter has every right to see his godson. To bring him presents.

But Draco doesn't bloody well have to like it.

"Papa fight 'ister Potter." Scorpius proclaims loudly, and the whole table looks his way. He sucks a bit of wrinkled fruit from his fingertip.

"Whyever would you do that?" Narcissa asks, and she gives Draco a horrified look. "Darling, you know what he's done for us--for you--"

He's a sodding arrogant prat, Draco wants to say, but he knows better. Teddy's watching him with wide eyes, and even Andromeda's gaze is fixed on him as she reaches for her glass of schnapps.

"I'm not fighting with Potter," Draco says.

"Uh-huh." Scorpius beats his heels against the rungs of his chair. He looks up from smearing icing sugar across the floral edging of his plate. "Al and I have fun. Papa yells."

"And that's enough sugar for you," Draco says, reaching to take the plate away. His face feels horribly hot, and his hand trembles. He doesn't like that his son's seen his tension with Potter. It's not fair to any of their sons, Draco thinks.

Scorpius looks at him in stubborn indignance.

Draco removes his offending hand. "Fine, but you are taking a nap afterwards." He knows Scorpius is going to be beastly on a sugar high, and then tired. It'll be a roller coaster of emotional outrage on both their sides, and Draco's grateful it's Sunday so he'll have an evening at least to recover before he has to throw himself into work yet again. Not to mention he'll have to beg off more time from Berrycloth to cover the final few rehearsals this week. That'll be a conversation he doesn't really want to have in the morning.

"It's okay, Uncle Draco," Teddy says. "I'll show him the Quidditch figures I brought over."

"Thanks, Teddy." Draco's not sure about the small pieces, but he knows Scorpius is growing out of the swallowing risk, plus Teddy's proven to be a competent baby minder over the years. He watches as Teddy convinces Scorpius to come with him. It takes a moment, but the promise of toys he's normally not allowed to play with is enough to convince Scorpius to clamber down from his chair and toddle after his cousin towards the kitchen. Vesper'll probably feed them both more sweets, of course, and Draco resigns himself to a mad afternoon of hyperactivity and toddler fury.

"Perhaps we should move into the drawing room." Narcissa pushes her chair back, laying her napkin down next to her plate. "Would you both care for a coffee?"

Andromeda smiles at her sister. "That'd be lovely, Cissy. Thank you."

Draco prays he's escaped notice for now, despite Scorpius' moment of indiscretion. Whatever gods might have been listening obviously don't care, given the fact that his aunt catches his arm as he passes.

"A moment of your time, Draco, dear?" Andromeda asks. "I could use your help." She looks over at her sister. "We'll be there in a moment."

Narcissa doesn't question the curiousness of her sister holding her son back, but that'd been Draco's mother's modus operandi for years. Draco's quite certain it's the only way she'd survived her marriage; she'd just ignored everything she could possibly ignore that was unpleasant. Perhaps not the most healthy way to deal with one's life and crumbling marriage, but it seems to have worked well enough for his mother.

Andromeda waits until Narcissa's out of the room before she turns on Draco. "You weren't really fighting with Harry, were you?" The look she gives him is piercing and fierce. "He seemed rather uncertain about you when he mentioned the two of you were working together. I didn't mention that part to your mother."

Draco has no idea how to demur. He wants to lie, but he knows his aunt can see through all that. "Perhaps just a bit." Even in his own family, he can't escape Potter's influence it seems. But there's no sense in admitting to Andromeda how conflicted his feelings are, no sense in telling her that he's been dreaming about Potter, wanting desperately, despite his common sense, to kiss Potter again. To feel the heat of Potter's body against his.

None of that's anything he wants his aunt to know.

She just looks at him, and there's a sharpness in her gaze that worries Draco. His aunt's no fool. She never has been, and right now he's certain she sees right through him. She tilts her head. Studies him, and then her eyes narrow.

"There's something different," Andromeda says slowly. "Something you're not saying."

Draco lets his mind go blank. He's forgotten how talented his mother and her sisters are at neuromancy. It's a skill that comes easily to all of them, even if his Aunt Bella had been the most powerful of the three. Still, Draco knows that his mother's Occlumency abilities had helped keep her alive during the war. He can't imagine Andromeda wouldn't have finely honed skills as well.

Andromeda doesn't look away. Draco can feel his cheeks warm. He turns his head, and when he does, he hears her soft, quick breath.

"Oh," his aunt says. And when Draco looks back at her, her face softens. "I didn't realise."

Draco's mouth goes dry. "There's nothing to realise," he says, and his voice is stiff. Frightened. He takes a step forward, his heart pounding. "Aunt Andromeda--

"I won't say anything." Andromeda reaches out, touches his face. "Your mother doesn't know about…" She trails off. They look at each other, Draco and his aunt, so very different from his mother with her dark curls twisted up on the back of her head, held in place with two ebony sticks. Her cheeks are high, her eyes the same bright blue of his mother's, but she's the dark to his mother's light, the optimism to his mother's pessimism, the tolerance to his mother's bigotry.

And Draco doesn't want to admit it to Andromeda. Doesn't want to say the words out loud. But they come out anyway. Slowly. Rawly. "About her son being a perversion? No. She doesn't."

"That's not what I'd call it," Andromeda says, her voice quiet. "There's nothing wrong--"

Draco laughs, a bit more harshly than he intends. "Let's not pretend." He folds his arms across his chest, twists his fingers in the crisp white cotton of his shirtsleeves. "Mother's terribly traditional. She hated it when I got divorced--"

"Because you're gay."

The words hang between them. Heavy. Horribly real.

Draco meets his aunt's gaze. She doesn't look away. And then Draco nods. "Yes." His throat aches. His heart hurts. He wonders if it will ever get easier, saying this out loud. "Because I'm gay."

It doesn't make him feel better. He doesn't really feel much at all, if he's honest. Just tired. Worn out. Wondering why it has to be a process, telling everyone. Why they all feel they've a right to know his innermost being, that part of him he's kept hidden for so long. He wishes he could believe it'll get better, easier, whatever. But right now, he's not certain what difference it makes, other than pushing him away from his friends and family into something new, some identity that Draco's not yet certain he wants to publicly claim.

Andromeda breathes out. Her thumb strokes along Draco's cheek, ever so lightly, before she drops it, takes a step away. "You've feelings for Harry."

Draco looks away. "I don't know." It's the truth. He's not sure what he's feeling, whether it's anything more than his cock taking notice of Potter's own arousal. Which in and of itself is flattering. Still, that's not enough to make even one night off of, not really.

His aunt gives him a small smile. "You'll figure it out," she says. "But you should know he talked about you the entire time we had lunch. Malfoy this and Malfoy that. As if I wouldn't notice." She laughs, a bit softly. "I'm not a fool, Draco. Perhaps you won't believe me, but whatever feelings you might have for Harry I'd say are not one-sided." She leans in, kisses his cheek. "Let that be my Yule gift to you."

And then she's gone, following her sister out the door, and Draco's left alone in the too-small dining room, something hot and tight and not entirely awful unfurling in his stomach.

Potter, he thinks, and he presses his hand to his chest, as if he can hold in this rush of emotion, this trembling that threatens to buckle his knees.

He sits.

The dining room's silent, save for the beating of Draco's heart.

And he wishes he could believe.

Chapter Text

It's twenty past two on Monday afternoon when there's a polite knock on Harry's office door. Harry blinks and pinches the bridge of his nose as he looks up from a damnably small-print parchment on procedures around potential Auror splinching accidents. He's been asked to review a new policy by Kingsley, and it's giving him bloody fits. Not to mention blurred vision and the beginnings of a migraine.

"What?" he asks sharply as he slides his glasses back on, and Iris, the assistant he shares with Dawlish, frowns at him from over her own rectangular spectacles. She's at least twice Harry's age, if not more, short and plump with tidy grey curls, and she favours brightly coloured jumpers to which she pins silver cat brooches. Most of the Aurors think she out to be out on her pension already. But she's been through five Head Aurors and countless Deputy Heads, outlasting them all. Harry's fairly certain the only person who truly knows the intricacies of running the Auror Department is Iris, and he firmly expects her ghost to be employed when she finally passes.

He shifts in his chair. "Sorry, Iris."

Iris's mouth thins ever so quickly. She never likes it when Harry gets shirty with her. Sometimes he thinks she's more his boss than he's hers."There's a gentleman here to see you. Shall I tell him to fuck off?"

And that's another thing Harry's still not used to. Iris swears like a bloody sailor, which perhaps shouldn't be surprising given the whole department likes a good four-letter word or three, but it's a bit disconcerting to have someone who looks like somebody's nan give one a proper bollocking.

"Who is it?" Harry doesn't think he has a meeting in his diary, but he's been known to forget to write things like that down if he's not focussing properly.

Iris's frown deepens. "A Mr Malfoy, he said." Harry starts, nearly overbalancing in his chair. That's not what Harry was expecting. But the way Iris says Malfoy's name is disdainful at best, and the look she gives Harry along with it is pointed, disapproving. He can read the message clearly. A Malfoy's not welcome in Auror headquarters. At least not of his own free will.

And that irritates Harry. He sets his papers aside, takes a deep breath. "I'm more than happy to see Mr Malfoy. Please send him in, Iris." He's no idea how he gets the words out so calmly. A strange form of shakiness has taken hold of his limbs. He's enthusiastic and terrified all at once.

"You're sure?" Iris seems a bit dubious.

"Absolutely." Harry frowns at her. If this is the sort of bollocks Malfoy faces on a daily basis, Harry doesn't blame him for retreating from wizarding spaces. Fuck it. Might as well give Iris something to truly gossip about in the bullpen. "Our children are friends. I'm sure it's something to do with that.

Iris's face is utterly scandalised. "I'll send him back, then." As she steps away from Harry's door, he wonders what Iris would think if she knew Harry's been wanking to thoughts of Malfoy. She'd probably be horrified on multiple accounts. Iris isn't the most understanding and tolerant on her best days.

Harry tries to tidy up the papers and quills and file jackets scattered across his desk. He can't do much about the tea and grease stains on his blotter; he has a terrible habit of eating lunch at his desk, and even now the faint odour of samosas still lingers.

But before Harry can cast a freshening charm, Draco Malfoy stands in his doorway, his grey wool overcoat draped over his arm. His hair falls loose to his shoulders today, a bit wind-touseled and soft, and Harry quite likes the way it frames his angular face. He's wearing a trim black jacket with a black turtleneck beneath and charcoal grey trousers that look far more expensive than any Harry owns. Harry could stare at him for days.

"I'm sorry to disturb you. I had a meeting here today, and, well." Malfoy stops, looks around Harry's sparse office. His gaze lands on the Order of Merlin and then pauses. Harry feels oddly uncomfortable. He represses the urge to walk over and take the damned thing off the wall.

"I'm very glad you did." Harry pushes himself out of his chair. He's not quite sure why, he just wants to get closer to Malfoy if he can. "Is something wrong with the kids?"

Malfoy tears his gaze away from the shadowbox. "What? No, nothing like that." He glances uneasily over his shoulder at the open door. He's not wrong to be worried. Iris is probably eavesdropping from her desk. "Can we talk? Perhaps somewhere else? Somewhere that's not in the heart of the Ministry?" He shifts from one foot to the other, and he suddenly seems so very like Scorpius to Harry. It's strangely endearing.

Or perhaps that's just Harry being idiotically sentimental.

"Sure." Harry steps around the corner of his desk. "Would you like to take a walk?" It's cold outside, and Harry's a million things to do this afternoon, but they can all wait if Malfoy wants them to. He feels a bit nervous, waiting for Malfoy to reply.

And then Malfoy nods. "Yes. I'd quite like that." Malfoy's voice is formal, almost hesitant. Harry doesn't know what to make of this. Everything is brittle between them, uncertain, and he's frightened by the fragility, knowing his own Gryffindorish tendency to run roughshod over things. It'd been too much sometimes even for another Gryffindor like Ginny. Harry doesn't know how to even approach someone like Malfoy, the most Slytherin of all the Slytherins he knows.

Harry gathers his own overcoat from the chair he'd dumped it over after coming back from getting his samosas. He pulls it on, suddenly aware of the wornness of it, the button that he'd inexpertly charmed back on when the thread holding it to the coat unravelled. It needs a good cleaning too; everything in Grimmauld gets dirty so fast with Jamie and Al about.

Malfoy follows Harry out of his office, sliding his arms into his coat. Harry pauses by Iris's desk. She's trying not to look Malfoy's way, trying to focus on sorting the Auror reports into piles for Harry and Dawlish to go over, but Harry knows she's entirely aware of their presence. "Iris," he says. "I'll be back shortly. If anything desperate comes up, you know to reach me by my mobile."

He knows she won't. Iris loathes using the Auror mobile system unless she's forced to. She'd been one of the primary objectors to Dawlish insisting they needed to step down from the Patronus method of communication.

"When shall I expect you back?" Iris asks, and the force with which she slaps a report into the stack Harry's certain is his lets him know exactly how unhappy she is with him at the moment.

Harry doesn't really give a fuck. "I'll be back when I'm back," he says evenly, and Iris just scowls at him. Harry knows her concern's mostly for his benefit. She's as fond of Harry as she is of anyone else. More so, perhaps. But she's been in this job so long she sometimes forgets she doesn't run the department herself, and that drives Harry completely mental. He glances back at Malfoy, whose cheeks are pink. He's not looking at either Harry or Iris, and Harry can tell by the set of Malfoy's jaw that he knows what's going on here.

"Come on," Harry says. "We can use the back stairwell." Less chance of Malfoy being seen by people like Iris, he thinks.

It's a climb up to street level, but Malfoy doesn't seem fazed, or out of breath as he takes the steps behind Harry. They're nearly at the top when Malfoy says, "Your assistant doesn't care for me."

Harry doesn't know quite how to answer that. He knows he can't deny it, though. He wants Malfoy to trust him, not think he's a thick fool. "Iris can be difficult," he says.

Malfoy snorts. "And my father left our reputation in tatters." He hesitates, then adds, "I didn't help matters."

Again, Harry's not certain what to say. He looks back at Malfoy, a stair or two below him. They're almost eye-to-eye, with Harry only a bit taller this way. "You might have made some stupid decisions," Harry says. "But that doesn't mean anyone gets to dwell on them this long."

There's a flare of something in Malfoy's gaze, but then he turns his head. Swallows. "You're a fucking idealist, Potter. Life doesn't work that way."

Malfoy brushes past Harry, climbs the half-staircase to the plain white door at the top. He pushes it open, and a greyish light spills in, countering the starkness of the Ministry's industrial Lumos charms. Malfoy looks back at Harry. "Coming?"

Harry jogs up the last few stairs. He follows Malfoy out onto the street; this staircase leads out onto the Westminster side of the Ministry. Crossing the street, they take Parliament Street in a southerly direction, towards the high, pointed tower housing Big Ben.

It always amazes Harry that all the departments and ministries of the Muggle government are built on top of the Ministry of Magic, with hardly any of them knowing that there's an entire government system bustling about beneath them, hidden away under sewer grates and Tube tunnels. Even now, Harry's a bit stunned to be walking side by side with Malfoy past the palaces of government and Westminster Abbey, down to the river. Neither one of them speak. It's rather cold outside, and Malfoy has his head bent, his hair falling forward to help break some of the wind that whips past Portcullis House. Harry just waits, holds his tongue as much as it kills him to do so. Whatever Malfoy wants to say to him--and Harry's heart thuds anxiously at the swathe of what those possibilities might be--Harry wants to give him space and time to do so, without Harry pressuring him.

Malfoy stops on Westminster Bridge, overlooking the Thames. The river is a leaden grey today, the remnants of snow still visible on the banks. Tourists are posing for selfies, and traffic is sluggish. Malfoy leans against the railing, looking out over the choppy river waters. A barge is sailing their way, moving slowly. The wind ruffles Malfoy's hair; he reaches up, tucks it behind his ear. His fingers are long and slim, his nails neatly trimmed, unlike Harry's that are mostly bitten to the quick.

They're both silent still, and then Malfoy sighs. He fumbles with something in his coat pocket. When he pulls out a scrap of parchment, wrinkled and creased, Harry's a bit surprised. Even more so when Malfoy hands it to him silently, and Harry unfolds it.

"My apology," Harry says. He looks up at Malfoy, not entirely certain what this means. "Why--"

"I've been carrying it with me since it arrived," Malfoy admits. He glances over at Harry. "I don't know why."

Harry's heart beats faster. He folds the parchment again, hands it back to Malfoy. "It's not my best writing."

Malfoy's mouth twitches to one side. "It's not your worst, either, I'm certain."

"No." Harry leans on the railing, looks out over the Thames. He studies the waves in the wake of the barge, watches them curl over each other in crisp white caps. "Look, I meant it though. I'm sorry for what I did--" Harry begins, then stops when Malfoy throws him a quelling glare. "What?"

"I was just surprised." Malfoy licks his lips, and Harry can't help but stare at them. Remember how they'd felt against his. He tries to hide the shiver that goes through him, but Malfoy's sharp enough to catch it. Malfoy's cheeks flood with colour again, and he looks away. "Under other circumstances, I might have been flattered."

"But?" Harry prompts, hearing an unspoken point somewhere. It makes his heart sink in a way that he doesn't want to consider.

Malfoy shrugs, looks out over the Thames. "But I'm trying hard to be a proper father." The wind catches a lock of his hair, dances with it in the air.

Harry turns, faces Malfoy. "What the hell, you tit. You're a brilliant father. I've never seen the kids at the Garden take to someone the way they have to you. And Scorpius is so well-behaved."

"Well, you've changed your tune." Malfoy gives him a pointed look. "Haven't you?"

And now it's Harry's turn to feel terribly awkward again. He slouches a bit into his coat against the wind, turns back towards the river. He stares out over the water again before he sighs and says, "Yeah. I suppose I have." His gaze slides back over towards Malfoy. "But in my defence, I didn't know you very well then."

"Then being just last week," Malfoy reminds him. He rolls his eyes, and Harry feels a complete idiot. "So very much has changed."

But it has, though. Harry's whole bloody world has been upturned around him by this arrogant, snotty prick standing beside him, and Harry doesn't know if he's thrilled or terrified or just angry as fucking hell about it all. The one thing Harry does know is that Malfoy's not going to make it easy for him to right this wrong. He wouldn't be Malfoy if he did.

"To be honest, it seems longer ago," Harry says, trying to focus on what to say, how to get through to Malfoy. How to make him believe Harry isn't out to hurt him, to mock him, or whatever it is Malfoy's certain Harry's up to.

Malfoy laughs, taking Harry by surprise. "Do you feel like you know me better now?" Malfoy's look is searching, his curiosity evident. Harry's note is still in his hand; his thumb strokes lightly across the worn parchment.

Harry pauses a moment before answering truthfully. "Not nearly as well as I'd like."

Malfoy huffs another smaller laugh, then turns back to the river spread out before them. He shakes his head, slides Harry's note back into his pocket. "Potter, I honestly don't know what I'm ready for. I mean, I'm damaged goods, to begin with. No one in your position should be caught near me."

"That's not bloody true!" Harry truly is furious now, with Malfoy for his self-rejection, with the wizarding world as a whole for its unkindness and bloody-minded desire to simplify every narrative after the war. He runs a hand through his hair, pushing his unruly curls back from his forehead. "It's far more complex than that, and you know it."

"Is it though?" Malfoy's grey eyes match the sky over Westminster, and the effect takes Harry's breath away. "I thought it was rather simple. Dismiss the former Death Eater, and it's happy families all the way forward."

"Malfoy, you weren't a proper Death Eater--"

"Wasn't I?" Something about Malfoy's tone shifts, gets uglier. "You want me to be some poor, abused victim, Potter, but I did what I did. I chose to take this--" He pushes his coat sleeve up, just enough for Harry to see the very edge of the Mark, a sickly grey against Malfoy's pale skin. "I wasn't forced into it." Malfoy's face twists, vicious and sharp, and Harry sees the boy he'd once been, the Malfoy he'd known so well. "I did this to myself. Don't you ever forget that." His voice cracks; he looks away from Harry. "Because I don't."

A heavy silence settles between them, broken only by the sound of traffic behind them and the laughter of tourists passing by. Malfoy's head is bent, his shoulders hunched. He crosses his arms over his chest, and as much as Harry wishes Malfoy would look back at him, he doesn't.

"Jesus," Harry says, his voice soft. He knows he has to be cautious here. Knows he has to say the right things. Malfoy's skittish, and he is broken. He's not wrong about that. But so's Harry. So are all of them who'd been little more than child pawns in Dumbledore and Voldemort's war. Just as Harry's parents had been before him. They'd all been too young to fight the battles they'd been asked to fight. Harry knows that now that he has children of his own. He would do anything to keep them safe. He'd fight anyone--even Dumbledore himself--to make certain they weren't placed in harm's way.

Harry draws in a slow breath. "Look, you idiot." He rests his hand on Malfoy's shoulder. Malfoy doesn't pull away. "You were underage, to begin with, and I don't care what you say, you can't tell me that having Voldemort living in your house wasn't an abusive environment. Or that your father didn't fuck with your head." Harry stops, worrying he's gone too far.

Malfoy doesn't say anything, but his jaw tightens, his mouth trembles for the briefest instant before he presses his lips together.

"You made mistakes," Harry says, and his voice softens. His hand drops away from Malfoy's shoulder. "We all did--"

"Not the bloody Saviour of the Wizarding World," Malfoy says, and there's a bitterness to his words that doesn't surprise Harry in the least.

"I've made a million of them." Harry turns towards Malfoy, one hip still pressed against the bridge railing. The wind stings his cheeks, but he doesn't care. "Both in the war and afterwards. I haven't led a charmed life, Malfoy. Look at me. Divorced. Taking care of two toddlers. Hiding my true self away from everyone because I'm afraid they'll look at me differently if they know I'm gay. That they'll judge me. Hate me even."

Malfoy's quiet. His fingers twist in the grey wool of his overcoat. "At least you're not a Malfoy."

"Not much better being a Potter," Harry says, and a heaviness settles across his heart. "If you're not perfect, if you don't meet everyone's ideals…" He shrugs. "And my boys are going to have to live up to my surname. One foot out of line, and they're already hearing people cluck at them about being Harry Potter's boys, about needing to be an example for their peers." Harry hates that. He'd even caught Percy saying it once, at a family dinner at the Burrow, and he'd lost his temper so badly that he'd just packed up the boys and left. He knows other parents at the school have tried it, too. Astoria had told him that. He looks over at Malfoy. "They're bloody toddlers, for fuck's sake."

"I know." Malfoy chews on his lip. Sighs. "I can live with what they say about me. But it's Scorpius I worry most about. How he won't live Father's choices down. Or mine." And then Malfoy looks back over at Harry. "And I did fuck up, Potter."

"Yeah." Harry knows he has to be truthful here. "You did. But that doesn't mean you have to spend your whole life punishing yourself for that. Do you regret it now."

Malfoy nods. "With every part of my being. I don't want my son growing up believing what I was taught."

"He doesn't have to," Harry says. "You and Astoria are raising him. Not your father."

A throng of students pass by them, heading for Parliament, Harry's certain. They're in secondary school, judging by their uniforms, and they're long and lanky and so very damned young as they horse about behind their teachers' backs.

"Look at them." Harry nudges Malfoy, points towards the students. "Would you blame those kids for life, if they did something stupid?"

"Probably," Malfoy says, and when Harry gives him an exasperated look, he sighs, then says, "Fine. No."

Harry nods. "Then stop beating up on yourself. You fucked up. You've changed. You're trying to raise your kid to be better than you were. That's all any of us can do. Just try to be better. I was an arsehole in school. Ron and I'd fight over the stupidest things because I was too thick to see what mattered to him. Or to anyone." This is something Harry's had to learn about himself, mostly through watching the way his kids interact. Jamie and Al have Harry's own self-centred streak. The one that had kept him from noticing most of the other Hogwarts students outside his own circle of friends. Or enemies, he thinks, ironically, looking at the man in front of him. "None of us are perfect, and you were born into a soup of fucked-up bigotry."

Malfoy stares out over the river again. "It wasn't easy," he says finally, and there's a raw thickness in his voice that makes Harry want to pull him closer, wrap his arms around Malfoy's thin frame. He doesn't. He knows that's not what Malfoy needs right now. "The shit of it is, that I desperately wanted my father's approval. I wanted him to see me, to love me the way my mother did. But I don't know that he ever could. At least how I needed him to. It's not that he hated me, but.." Malfoy's voice cracks. "I think he knew even back then I was not the son he wanted. That I wasn't the virile, masculine heterosexual he'd hoped for at my birth. I heard the things he'd say to Mother, blaming her for what he saw as my weaknesses. I half-think I married Astoria just to get him to shut up, even though he was locked away in Azkaban, so why the hell should I have cared?"

And doesn't Harry understand that, in his own way. "You wanted to be normal," he says, and Malfoy exhales, then nods. Harry chews on his lip, then says, "It's why I married Gin. I wanted a family. Everything I didn't have growing up. I was never normal, and I wanted to see what that felt like."

"I suppose that didn't work," Malfoy says, heavily.

"Not really." Harry leans against the railing again. "Gin told me it wasn't fair to her, and she was right." He hesitates, then says, Your parents must have been furious about your divorce."

Malfoy's mouth thins. He looks into the wind; his hair ripples out behind him, and he looks glorious. Fierce. "My mother's come to understand. Father's another matter." Malfoy clenches his fists, turns away. "All I've wanted to do--in my marriage and in my divorce--is protect Astoria and Scorpius. I didn't want them sucked into the same Malfoy shite I'd been brainwashed with. I didn't want Scorpius to act the proper little lordling and for Astoria to be held captive by custody rights and treated like chattel. I wanted to do better than the generations preceding me. I wanted them to have more opportunities, and I thought perhaps they would be safer if I wasn't around. Especially given..." He trails off, then waves a hand between him and Harry. "The whole not being straight bit."

"Oh." Harry's never thought of that. He feels a fool for all the vicious things he'd said about Malfoy's supposed absence from his son's life. Astoria must have thought him a bastard when he'd ranted to her about it, but she'd kept Malfoy's privacy. His secrets even. "So you stayed away to protect them."

"I didn't want them to have to be ashamed. Of my family or of me." Malfoy's nostrils flare. "It's enough to go through it myself."

Harry shakes his head then, caught by the wrongness of it all, even as much as he understands. "You're a human being. You're complex. No one should be ashamed of being who they are, especially if they try to be decent, and if they haven't been decent, they try to change. You've changed, and your son loves being around you."

I might love being around you, Harry thinks, but he doesn't dare voice that aloud. He's reckless and idiotic, but even he has his limits.

Malfoy studies Harry for a long moment, and Harry's so frightened he's going to call his bluff. Then Malfoy gives him a small, quick smile. "My son is a little beast at times, but he's also proof that even wrongheaded notions can sometimes have wonderful consequences. I don't regret marrying Astoria. I only wish I could have made her happy."

"She'll move on," Harry says. "She'll find someone new. Ginny already has. It's like life is just looking for the cracks and crevices to grow new things. Better things, maybe, for all of us."

"I don't want to share Scorpius with someone else." Malfoy's look is fierce, protective.

And Harry understands that too. He's jealous of Ginny's Paul, of the idea that some other man will be spending time with his boys. Loving them. Convincing them to love him back. And he knows how rubbish that jealousy is. His boys would be lucky to have another adult love them like that. But knowing that doesn't make it easier for Harry.

"The thing is," Harry says, "you'll always be his dad." It's what he tells himself when he gets jealous. When he wonders if there'll be a day when his boys go to someone else, someone like Paul, for advice. Or comfort. No matter what happens, Harry's still their father. And he loves them enough to want what's best for them.

Malfoy looks into Harry's face for a moment, open, thoughtful, and then he frowns as the bells of Elizabeth Tower chime the quarter-hour. "Is that the time? We're almost late for pick-up."

Which means they're almost late for rehearsal. McKinsey will have their bollocks. Harry'd completely forgotten about that today; his mind's been so fixated on the last time he and Malfoy had shared the assembly hall stage.

"Fuck," Harry says, perhaps a bit too loudly. A passing older woman with a small dog on a leash frowns at him. Harry grimaces. "Sorry."

Malfoy's already hurrying across the bridge. "There's a Floo in the Aquarium," he tells Harry. "Scorpius loves tortoises, so we go rather frequently on my weekends."

And that's something Harry never considered, back when he was being so bloody judgemental. Of course Malfoy'd had his son at times. Astoria'd even told Harry that. But Harry'd been so blinded by his own stupidity. Christ, he's been a fool.

He can barely keep up with Malfoy's long legs, especially when Malfoy breaks into a slight jog. Harry watches the line of Malfoy's back, the grace with which he moves. Perhaps it's not the best of times for his prick to show interest, but there it is, and Harry winces as his trousers grow a bit snugger than usual. Merlin, this is ridiculous. No one should be as attracted to someone as Harry is to Draco bloody Malfoy. There's something seriously wrong with him, he thinks.

Then again, maybe Harry just doesn't care.

Malfoy skids to a stop in front of the custodian's gate. "Floo access," he gasps, and the custodian frowns at him through the bars.

"Go through the front like everyone else," he says, his annoyance more than evident.

Harry pulls out his warrant card, holding it up. "Official Auror business," he says. If Dawlish--or Iris--hears about this, he'll be in a bloody ocean of hot water.

The custodian scowls at him, but he unlocks the gate, holding it open for them. "To the right," he says, but they're already halfway there, Harry trailing Malfoy's heels.

Malfoy glances over his shoulder at Harry. "That was both the most brilliant and disturbing misuse of Auror authority I've ever seen."

Harry just laughs at him. "Who's more terrifying, John Dawlish or Iona McKinsey when we're late?"

"Oh, there's no choice there." Malfoy grabs a pinch of Floo powder from the obsidian box on the hearth's mantel. "I'd go up against a horde of Aurors before I'd take on Iona on a rehearsal day a week from Yule." He tosses the powder onto the embers, and bright green flames shoot up. "Shall we start with the gift scene today? I feel as if your Jamie needs a bit more practice in the art of not hitting other pupils over the head with his box."

"He needs a bit more something," Harry admits. "By the way, will you watch them for twenty minutes or so after rehearsal? I need to fetch my things from the office."

"Of course." Malfoy gives him a sharp-edged smile. "Being the superior father, I'm pleased to."

"Tosser," Harry says as Malfoy steps into the Floo, but he's laughing, and as Malfoy disappears in a swirl of flames, he is too.

And with Malfoy's laugh echoing in Harry's ears as the Floo twists Harry away from the chill of the Aquarium towards the warmth of his son's nursery school, Harry feels as though he's dancing on air.

Chapter Text

Draco's only just sent Scorpius toddling confidently into his classroom when there's a slight cough behind him. He turns, and he's looking into the mossy green eyes of Harry Potter. Like usual, Potter's dark curls are a wild mess, and his overcoat could use a bit of mending, Draco notices, but his cheeks are pink from the cold, and the smile he gives Draco makes Draco weak in the knees.

"Morning, Malfoy," Potter says, and Al dashes past Draco, immediately heading for Scorpius. The two of them crash to the floor in a cacophony of howling shrieks of laughter. Potter winces. "Sorry about that."

There aren't any tears as far as Draco can tell, and no bounced noggins. "They'll live," Draco says as McKinsey helps the boys to their feet, scolding them already for rough play. Neither Scorpius nor Al looks terribly chastised. Draco turns back to Potter. "And good morning to you."

It's a bit of a struggle to stand still, he has to admit. Draco's first urge is to bolt, to do anything he can to protect himself from Potter, but he's trying to have more trust in the man. After their conversation yesterday, Draco'd been strangely uplifted. It hadn't been at all what he expected--and Draco still can't believe that he'd been bold enough to drop by the Deputy Head Auror's Office unannounced. Merlin only knows what'd caused him to turn his steps back towards the Auror Department after he'd finished his meeting with Dorsey and Silberry. Still, it had been worth it for the feeling of calm this morning, a sense of not having to look over his shoulder or make himself scarce.

Around them, the other parents and children mill, taking no notice of Draco and Potter as they make their ways to their classrooms. It's oddly calming, a newly familiar routine that Draco's beginning to like. He'd even told Astoria when she'd rung him up last night for a bit of a check-in that he'd like to keep a toe in here at the Garden when she returned. She'd been thrilled, of course, and then had ruined it all by asking some rather probing questions about the bloody Yule pageant. And Potter.

The latter of which Draco'd been more than evasive about. He knows she can't know anything about what's happened. Pansy wouldn't have owled her. Draco's certain of that. But Astoria's always had a preternatural ability to know when something--or someone--is on Draco's mind. Her great-aunt on her mother's side had been a Seer; sometimes Draco thinks Astoria's inherited a bit of that ability. If nothing else, her intuition makes her a damned good Healer.

Potter runs a hand through his unruly curls, making them even wilder. "So, I was wondering if you'd like to go for coffee." He rubs the back of his neck, almost as if in embarrassment. "I mean, we could talk about the pageant. Or something."

"Oh." Draco's a bit taken aback. Still, his heart leaps at the chance to spend time alone with Potter, and how pathetic is that? He's like a bloody teenager with a ridiculous pash. He really ought to say no; he's an enormous amount of work on his desk waiting for him. Instead, he finds himself saying, "Yes. I would." Draco's surprised by his own concession, but he lifts his chin. He wants to trust Potter. He doesn't know why, exactly, but he does. "When were you thinking?"

"Now." Potter's face is serious, although he hesitates when Draco blinks at him. "Unless you've other plans for the morning?"

Just a boss who isn't best pleased that I'm leaving early three days a week, but has insisted on being given a ticket to the pageant anyway, Draco thinks. Which might not be a bad thing in the end. Berrycloth's gruff and unconventional, but Draco rather suspects the old boy likes him. At least a bit.

"No." Draco doesn't think about the stack of file jackets he'd left on his desk yesterday. "Unless you count the Russian box waiting for me that's not really a good conversational partner." And really, Draco thinks he's going to have to pack the suspicious Evgeni up. Whatever spell's locked the box up isn't budging in the slightest, and Evgeni's silent as the proverbial bloody church mouse.

"I'm glad the bar is low," Potter laughs, a bit nervously. He gives Draco a sideways glance as he leans against the wall. His hands are in his overcoat pockets; he looks terribly attractive slouched like that, and Draco knows full well he's not the only person in the hallway watching. That should probably annoy him, but for some reason, it doesn't. Perhaps because Potter's already kissed him. It's not as if Draco isn't aware of Potter's interest in him. He just doesn't really know what to do with it.

But Potter's small smile coaxes one out of Draco. "I won't use any sort of Revelio on you," he says lightly. "I promise."

"That's probably for the best." Potter's licks his lip, and Draco's horribly distracted by the quick sweep of Potter's tongue, the barest tip of it showing. And then Potter chuckles, and his eyes crinkle at the corners behind his glasses. "I might have to Obliviate you afterwards."

Draco blinks at him, not entirely certain he follows. "Beg pardon?"

"Because of the state secrets, of course," Potter says, his face pinkening. "You know. Deputy Head Auror and all."

And really, it's an awkward moment for them both.

Draco tries to lighten it. "At least your biggest secret is common knowledge." A mum and her twin daughters push past them; Draco shifts out of the way, moving closer to Potter.

"Is it?" Potter's quiet now. His eyes are fixed on Draco's face. "And what might that be?"

Draco doesn't know what to make of Potter's look of alarm. He clears his throat. "Your atrocious taste in Quidditch teams, of course."

Oh, Merlin, he's terrible at flirting. If that's even what he's doing with Potter. Draco's not certain. It's been so long since he's needed to do anything of this sort; Astoria had never really cared, and once he and Adrian were past a certain stage of cocksucking, it hadn't really been necessary. Even his one-night stands seldom require more than a minute or two of banter before he makes it clear he's up for a good fucking.

But with Potter, it's different. Strangely blundering and unrefined. And yet Draco's as flustered and bothered as if he's a bloody virgin, just by the way Potter's looking at him right now.

"I've never made a secret of my love of orange," Potter says, and his smile widens. Becomes more natural, more relaxed. "And the Cannons might actually not finish at the bottom of the league tables this year!" He makes a big show of crossing his fingers.

Draco laughs despite himself. "That's only because Portree have been suspended."

"Harry!"

Potter looks up; Draco's gaze follows his. Ronald Weasley's walking down the corridor towards them, his daughter Rose by his side, his youngest--Draco can never remember the boy's name--perched on his hip. Weasley's looking between Potter and Draco, and Draco really does want to run away this time. Only his stubborn pride keeps him in place. He won't turn tail in front of a Weasley, for fuck's sake.

"Hi, Ron," Potter says, and he sounds relaxed, but Draco can tell by the set of Potter's shoulders that he's not. "Hermione must have an early meeting."

"Breakfast." Weasley grabs his daughter by the scruff of her jumper just before she runs off. "Oi, girl of mine. Say hello to your Uncle Harry first."

"Hi, hi, hi," Rose says as fast as she can, then she looks up at Draco. "Is Scorpius--"

"In the classroom," Draco says dryly as Rose wriggles her way out of her father's grasp. She tears into the classroom, her halo of dark curls bouncing against her shoulders.

Weasley shakes his head. "That kid." His gaze turns towards Draco. "Malfoy. Would say it's good to see you finally at drop-off, but given I'm not here half the time…" He shrugs, but he doesn't look away.

Draco feels his face heat. "One does one's best," he manages to say. He feels uncertain around Weasley, almost as if he doesn't deserve to be standing here next to Potter. And perhaps he doesn't. It's one thing to ignore the glances some of the other parents throw his way, indignant that he's even having a conversation with Potter. It's different when they come from Potter's closest friend. He hesitates, then he says to Potter. "Perhaps another time for our discussion. I'm certain Weasley here requires your presence--"

"Ron's fine," Potter says. He looks over at Weasley. Crosses his arms in front of his chest almost defiantly. "Malfoy and I are going for a coffee and a chat."

Weasley's expression doesn't change, but his gaze swings from Draco to Potter then back again. "Are you?" He doesn't sound terribly surprised. "Huh."

To Draco's surprise, Potter's cheeks flush. "We need to talk about the pageant."

"Sure." And there's almost a tinge of amusement to Weasley's voice. "You do that."

"Ron," Potter says, his brows drawing together. "Don't."

Weasley just looks at Potter, his eyes wide. "I'm not." He shifts his son on his hip; the boy's staring at Draco whilst pushing his fist into his mouth and chewing wetly on his fingers. Draco recognises the universal teething sign. Weasley and Granger must not be getting much sleep lately. "I need to drop Hugo off anyway." He takes a couple of steps, then glances back at Potter. "But you and I are going to have a talk later, Har."

Potter's face grows even redder. "Go on," he says, and Weasley snorts, shakes his head.

Draco watches Weasley walk on down the hallway. "What was that about?"

"Nothing," Potter says, but Draco knows full well he's lying. He thinks it wiser not to press the point, however, particularly when Potter pushes himself off the wall. "Are you ready?"

Absolutely not, Draco wants to say, but instead, he nods, following Potter out of the double wooden doors of the school, and down the steps to the pavement beyond.

"Where are we going?" Draco asks, suddenly realising he's been so wrapped up in Potter, he's forgotten to ask.

"There's a little coffee shop around the corner," Potter slips his hands into his pockets as the wind gusts past them, ruffles his hair attractively whilst blowing Draco's straight into his face. "I really like their mochas."

Draco tries to disentangle his hair from his nose and mouth. He must look a complete fright; he's vain enough to be annoyed by that as he spits fine strands of hair from between his lips. He should have worn it up today. He's no idea what he was thinking. Obviously not that he was going to be going out with Harry Potter for coffee. Or whatever this is they're doing. Draco's still not entirely certain.

They wend their way through the crush of Muggles streaming out of the Tube stop to the Green Frog Coffee sign. The smell emanating from the little shop as they open the door is delightful. Draco's pleasantly surprised. He'd not had the time to make espresso this morning, so he's glad for the caffeination.

"What're you having?" Potter asks as they hesitate along the edge of the queue. "It's my shout."

"Oh." Draco is a bit surprised by that. There's something about Potter's offer that makes this feel oddly date-like. Or so Draco thinks. He's never really done the dating thing. Not like this at least. He and Astoria were more of an arranged betrothal than anything else. The few dates they'd gone on before the engagement was official had been dinners either with their families or out on the town. Draco realises suddenly that Potter's looking at him, waiting, and that only flusters him more. "I'd like a doppio espresso," Draco manages to get out, more to make Potter stop eyeing him like that than for something to say.

"Anything else?" Potter waves towards the bakery case. "They do a nice cheese toastie, and their carrot cake's great."

Draco shrugs. His stomach flutters; he doesn't think he could possibly keep anything down. Maybe not even the coffee, if he's honest. "If you see something nice, perhaps. I'll leave it up to you."

"Right then," Potter says cheerfully as he joins the queue. It's a long one, and two more people have come in behind them whilst Draco's been having his minor breakdown about what exactly this coffee-drinking experience is between him and Potter. "Find us a table?"

"Sure." It's a relief to step away. There's an open table next to the fogged up shop window, and Draco makes his way over to it. He can still see outside to the row of parked cars and small street beyond. His stomach's still tying itself in knots with the idea that's he's here with bloody Harry Potter in a coffee shop. Then again, he'd faced down the Ministry and the Head Auror's secretary yesterday, so a bustling café can't be that difficult. At least the chance of them running into anyone else here they know is slimmer than if they'd gone to a shop in Diagon.

Draco takes his phone and wallet from his pockets and hangs his coat on the provided hooks on the wall. He slides into a seat back at the table, taking the chance to look around a bit at their surroundings. The shop's small but tidy, with brick walls and brown tile floors and baskets stacked with various bagged coffees--ground and whole bean--as well as crisps and nut bars and other snacks, healthy and otherwise. The queue's shifted up and Potter's chatting to the young woman behind the counter who has multiple piercings and purple fingernails that match her short purple hair. Potter seems quite at ease, his overcoat now draped over his arm, and Draco suspects he must come here often. Draco catches himself looking Potter up and down. Even in dad trousers, Potter's arse is rather delightful. If Draco could give him a discreet tailoring charm to make the fit better, he suspects Potter would get more attention from men like them.

Gay, Draco makes himself say, if only in his mind. Draco's trying to be better about being open regarding his sexuality. At least with himself because how can he expect anyone else to respect his identity as a gay man if he doesn't himself? Which of course doesn't make it any easier. He still feels a bit awkward about it all, even as he's coming to terms with the possibility of being out of the bloody closet.

It's a process, Pansy had told him. One step forward, two steps back, and there will always be people he'll keep it a secret from. His mother, he's certain. It'd break her heart, to begin with, and Draco can't have that on his conscience. Besides, she's his mother, and the last thing Draco wants is to have any sort of discussion about his sexual proclivities with her. That's just utterly terrifying, really.

Draco sits up in his chair when Potter turns around, then comes back to their small glass-topped metal table.

Potter slides into the seat across from Draco. He drapes his overcoat over the back of the chair. "Vi's going to bring things out for us."

"Oh. I see." Draco doesn't. At all. He's never had table service at a café. "Does Vi make a habit of this?"

"She said she had fresh baked lemon drizzle cake in the back, and I thought it might be tempting." Potter leans his elbows on the table and smiles at Draco.

Draco bloody loves lemon drizzle cake. He has since he was a child. "That's my favourite," he blurts out, then stops. He eyes Potter suspiciously. "How'd you know?"

"The whole of the Great Hall knew whenever it was in the packages your mother sent from home," Potter says, his voice more than a bit sardonic. "You were terribly excited about it, as I recall. Shall I get her to bring two?"

"No, I'm happy to share." Draco shifts in his narrow chair. It's strange to him that Potter should remember that from their school days. Draco hadn't even recalled that himself, and he'd been the one to receive the cakes. He doesn't know what to do with the thought that Potter was watching him that closely back then. "Should we get the coffee from the counter?"

"She'll bring it." Potter sits back.

They're quiet for a few moments, the only sounds the buzz of the coffee bean grinder, the rumble of conversation from the customers, and the faint hum of the cooling case. Draco's starting to feel uncomfortable again, and that worries him. His tongue's always sharper when he's nervous and self-conscious like this. And as much as he hates to admit it, Draco wants to make a good impression on Potter.

Which only annoys him more.

"So," Draco says. He doesn't know what to say. He flattens his hands on the table in front of him, watches the people walking past the window, hurrying to whatever dull job they've taken to pay the bills. Draco wonders how long he has until Berrycloth sends a tart owl his way about his tardiness. He envies Potter his position as Deputy Head Auror. It seems like Dawlish doesn't give a damn when Potter comes in or what he has to do.

Silence stretches out between them again. It's horribly awkward.

Potter clears his throat. "So we should get to know each other a bit better, don't you think? For two people at loggerheads with each other for years, I'd say I don't actually know much about the real you."

"There's not a lot to know." Draco's not certain about this. He half wishes he'd taken his coffee to go. "You already know the broad brush strokes of my life." And more, Draco's certain. Which isn't something he wants to examine too closely.

"Let's play ten questions," Potter suggests, and Draco's eyes narrow at him.

Draco doesn't like games as a rule, especially not ones involving answering questions. "How does that go?"

"It's like Truth or Dare with no dare." Potter slides his glasses off and wipes the steamed up lenses on his sleeve. His eyelashes are much longer than Draco would have guessed. "Didn't you ever play that before?"

"Many times," Draco says stiffly. He doesn't bother to add that it was Slytherin House's favourite activity. Draco'd chose dares far more often than truth; he'd rather have thrown himself from the Astronomy Tower itself than to expose his deepest, darkest secrets even to his friends.

"So?" Potter looks a bit too eager for Draco's liking. He slides his glasses back on the bridge of his nose. "You're not scared, are you, Malfoy?"

And fuck if those aren't fighting words. "Fine" Draco spits out, "although I think we should limit it to our days at Hogwarts and to other things that don't relate to…" He trails off because he knows Potter understands. Draco doesn't need to spell it out.

"Yeah," Potter says, his face sober. "Happy to keep it light."

"Well, in that case." Draco considers. "Favourite breakfast at Hogwarts?" Draco thinks it's probably eggs, like everyone else. The elves really did know how to make them fluffy and light and buttery warm.

"Sausage rolls." Potter rests his hands on the table. "What was your favourite time of year?"

"September," Draco says, without pause. At Potter's raised eyebrow, Draco feels the need to explain. "I loved how new everything was: new quills and parchment and inkwells. Even those last two years of school...." Draco bites his lip. He's not sure how to explain it. "The world might have been falling apart around us all, but there was a hope at the beginning of each new school term that it might not completely go to shit, you know." Draco doesn't point out that September also meant getting away from the Manor and his father's awful friends. He shrugs. "All I have to do is walk into the textbooks aisles in Flourish and Blotts and it's as good as a calming potion for me."

Potter eyes him sceptically."Certain you're not a Ravenclaw at heart?"

And that's the rub, isn't it? "That was the first House Sorting Hat mentioned when it landed on my head," Draco admits. He doesn't know why he's telling Potter this. He hadn't even told his parents before. Then again, his father would have disowned him if he'd been anything but Slytherin. "But I asked for Slytherin the moment it started pondering. Mother told me I could that morning before we even left the Manor."

His mother hadn't been a fool; she'd known the strop that Lucius would have thrown should Draco owl back, letting him know he'd been Sorted into any house other than the one the Malfoy family had been part of for generations. Unless you count Great-great-great Aunt Honoria, who'd somehow ended up in Hufflepuff, but no one really spoke of her much. Even her portrait had been tucked away in a hall seldom used, and the few times a year she left her frame to go visiting, none of the other portraits really knew what to do with her. Honoria never really seemed to mind. She had her knitting and her cats, and, as she'd once told Draco when he'd asked how she spent her days, she liked to take little jaunts to the portraits of her old friends now scattered about various country homes and London townhouses that'd been passed down to their descendants. It'd actually sounded like a rather pleasant afterlife to Draco.

"Wow." Potter blinks at Draco from behind his glasses. "I can't imagine you as a Ravenclaw."

Draco shrugs. "I don't know why. Your Granger and I battled for top spot in every class we shared during school. I'm not thick, you know."

"I didn't say you were," Potter points out. "It's just...you're incredibly Slytherin." At Draco's sharp look, Potter adds, "That's not a bad thing, mind."

"And I don't remember you holding such liberal views in school." Draco leans back in his chair, smoothes down the front of his suit jacket. He's starting to feel a bit more comfortable with Potter, and he's not sure why.

Potter ducks his head. "Yeah, well, I wasn't exactly the best at critical thinking back then. I believed what adults said to me--it took me making it through Auror training to trust my own judgement about people and situations. You start seeing the different shades of grey when you're out in the field." He pauses, and just when Draco's starting to get uneasy about the silence that's beginning to stretch out between them, Potter says, "It's not as if I've a leg to stand on, anyway. I almost ended up in Slytherin myself. I just begged the Hat for Gryffindor." He gives Draco a faint smile. "We're not so different, me and you."

Draco's not entirely certain that's true. "You would have been a horrible Slytherin," he says. "You're far too reckless."

"Really." Potter just gives him a pointed look. "Because you were so measured and calm? You and Crabbe and Goyle tried to scare me off my fucking broom one Quidditch match."

"Oh. Right. I'd forgotten about that." Draco laughs, surprised by the memory.There's still the faint ache at the thought of Vince, but the intensity of that grief's diminished over the years. It doesn't mean Draco doesn't still miss him though. Vince would have been utterly horrified by the idea of Draco sat here in a coffee shop across from Potter, talking like this. Draco wonders if he should ring Greg up and tell him; Greg would think this whole thing uproariously amusing. That'd been the difference between the two. Draco looks up at Potter. "I don't even know how you thought we were Dementors in the first place."

"You try focussing on the bloody Snitch and seeing that out of the corner of your eye," Potter protests, but then he's laughing too. "Not one of your better moments."

"Oh, it was utter rubbish," Draco says. "It was one of Greg's half-thought-out plans. I don't know why I thought it would work."

"Because you hated me." Potter's smile is easy, but there's a sharpness to it that Draco doesn't quite like.

"I didn't hate you." At Potter's snort, Draco reconsiders. "All right, I did. But only because you snubbed me." And oh, that still stings. Potter turning away from him, refusing his hand. Draco wonders what might have happened if Potter'd taken it instead. If they'd been friends. His father would have been furious in the end, but Draco thinks Potter would have been his salvation. His moral compass. Potter would have kept him from taking the path that he had.

Or perhaps he wouldn't have, and Draco would still have struggled--and would have lost Potter in the end anyway.

Potter's looking at him across the table, so keenly that Draco has to glance away. He stares out the window, watching the traffic rumble past. A red bus stops at the corner; the queue of people waiting for it starts to climb in.

"I'm sorry," Potter says, his voice soft. Draco swallows, keeps his gaze fixed on the bus as it rolls away. Only when it turns the corner does Draco let himself look back Potter's way. Potter leans across the table, his hand extended. "Can I make up for being an arse when I was eleven?"

Draco huffs an exasperated laugh. "I don't know. Can you?" They look at each other, and the intensity of it makes Draco's stomach roil. "Potter," he says softly, unable to tear his gaze away. He stops, uncertain as to what to say.

But Potter just waits, his hand outstretched. And Draco reaches out, lets his fingers meet Potter's ever so cautiously, almost as if Potter's touch might burn him to his very soul. And when Potter's fingers curl around his, Draco's breath catches. He looks down at their entwined hands, and a warmth settles over him. A rightness, he thinks.

"Friends?" Potter's still watching him as if he's not certain Draco won't run away.

And Draco might. He forces himself to sit still, to feel the weight of Potter's hand against his. "Okay," he says finally. "We can try."

That seems to be enough for Potter. He pulls his hand back, and Draco feels strangely unmoored. As if he's floating in rapids that are whisking him away from the steady shore of self-loathing he knows all too well. Potter studies Draco, then he smiles at him, wide and bright. "Your turn to ask a question, I do believe."

Oh, right. That's what they've been doing. Draco slides his hand back into his lap, brushing his other fingers across the palm that had just been pressed to Potter's. Everything's changed now. It feels different, in a way Draco isn't certain he can explain. He's confused and distracted now, and he blurts out the first question that comes to his mind. "Who was your first wet dream? About a boy, I mean."

Draco's face burns when he realises what he's said, and Potter coughs, his eyes widening in surprise. Vi is coming over to their table with a tray, so they suspend play for a moment to let her set things down. Draco tries to smile at her when she hands him his espresso, but it must come out wrong because she gives him a strange look before asking Potter if there's anything else he wants. Potter just shakes his head, then thanks her.

There are two forks with the lemon drizzle cake, and Draco's stomach feels a bit odd. Aren't he and Potter on a date? He comforts himself with the idea that adults can have playdates too, especially when their sons are friends. He holds his small cup of espresso between both hands, looking up at Potter.

"Well?" Draco asks after Vi walks away. "Answer the question." Now that it's asked, Draco wants to know--and he'll admit there's a small part of him that wants Potter's answer to be him. As foolish as that may be.

"Oliver Wood," Potter whispers, taking a sip of his mocha. Draco hates the twist of disappointment that goes through him. "You?"

"Greg Goyle," Draco lies. It was Potter, but he can't tell him that. Especially now. And he did have that stupid pash on Greg for a bit at the end of fourth year. "I do like them big and taciturn."

"Aha," Potter says, and the look he gives Draco is sharp and bright. "Good to know."

Draco's face heats. He lifts his espresso to his mouth. Takes a sip. It's strong and bitter, the way he likes it. "Where was the best snogging spot at school?" It's not really his turn, but he asks anyway. This is moving past the confines of a game and into an actual conversation. Besides, Draco knows quite a few places he'd utilised with various people, but he's curious about Potter's opinion.

Potter sets his mocha down and considers. "Gin and I always liked the third-floor charms classroom."

Not a bad choice, Draco has to admit. It'd mostly been unused after class hours. And Flitwick had preferred the second-floor classroom anyway, so if you could time things right, you could even get in there for a post-lunch rutting session. "The fourth floor back corridor was good too," Draco muses. "Lots of hidden alcoves the professors didn't care to check." Except Snape, when he was forced to do rounds by McGonagall. Draco'd been caught by him once, up there with Pansy the few months they'd dated, and had to endure a long lecture later that evening about contraceptive potions, despite the fact that it'd been Pansy who had her hand down his trousers. When Draco'd pointed out hand jobs don't lead to babies, Snape had just sighed and told him to get the hell out of his quarters.

Merlin, but Draco misses him too.

"Who would you have dated back in school if you could have?" Potter asks, looking up at Draco over the rim of his mug. His glasses are smudged at the bottom of his lenses.

Draco stops, swallows. That's a surprisingly intimate question, and the way Potter's watching him makes Draco nervous. "Probably Adrian," he says finally. "If we'd been closer in age back then. If we're talking about our year?" Draco thinks about the possibilities. He refuses to admit to Potter that he wishes he could have gone out with him. At least a time or two. "Justin Finch-Fletchley, if only to make my father furious about me being queer and attached to a Muggleborn. Besides Justin was terribly fit."

"Was he?" Potter gives Draco a curious look. "I never really noticed."

"Are you sure you're gay?" Draco eyes Potter. "Justin's arse was brilliant."

Potter just shrugs. "I wasn't really paying attention to him that much. I spent most of my time following you around, or so Hermione always pointed out."

"Oh." Draco doesn't really know what to say. "Me?"

Potter nods, and Draco's slightly comforted by the fact that Potter's turning a bit red. "Yes."

The bell on the door jingles and they both startle, looking over to the door, but it's only an older woman coming in, dressed in a turquoise tracksuit, her feet shod in bright red trainers. It's the kind of outfit Scorpius would love to go about in, if either Astoria or Draco would ever let him dress himself.

Potter picks up one of the forks, cuts into the lemon drizzle cake. "Eat," he says, through a mouthful, and Draco takes the other fork, scooping up a bite of the cake and popping it into his mouth. It's delicious, lemony and warm with an amazing crumb. Better even than what the Manor elves had made, and Draco takes another bite immediately.

"Not bad, eh?" Potter's smiling at him.

Draco takes another bite. "It'll do," he says as he swallows, then he looks over at Potter. "Next question: where did you go when you needed to cry? And don't tell me you didn't, because we all bloody ended up somewhere at one time or another." Draco'd spent most of his sobbing time in the second floor girl's loo with bloody Myrtle trying to comfort him, but then Potter ought to remember that, all things considered. Draco's hand brushes his chest almost reflexively, feeling the roped Sectumsempra scars beneath the thin cotton of his shirt.

"Usually my bed," Potter says. "With the hanging drawn. Everyone knew to leave me alone when they came in." He hesitates for a moment, his fork hovering above the cake. Draco slides his in beneath Potter's, scooping up another forkful before Potter can stop him. "Did you ever sneak into Gryffindor common room?"

"No," Draco mumbles through a mouthful of cake. He narrows his eyes as he swallows it down. He licks the remnants of drizzle from his bottom lip, and Potter's gaze dips down to watch. "Did you ever sneak into the Dungeon?"

"Maybe." Potter's smile is quick. "I mean, yes, if I'm honest." He doesn't give Draco a chance to prod him for more details. "Favourite teacher?"

"Snape, of course." Draco's heart still swells with loyalty at the thought of his mentor. Snape had kept him alive that last year of school. Draco owes him everything. "Least favourite teacher?" He raises an eyebrow at Potter.

"Umbridge, of course." Potter rubs the back of his hand, and Draco wonders about the faint line of scars there. He knows Potter'd served detention with Umbridge more than once, and everyone had heard rumours about the sorts of punishments Umbridge had liked to inflict, the mad woman.

Still, Draco's surprised. "Not Snape?"

Potter shakes his head. "Al's middle name is Severus," he says simply, and that shocks Draco to his core.

"Oh," is all Draco can manage to get out. He wonders what Snape would have thought about that, knowing Potter named his son after him. He looks at Potter with new eyes. "Why?"

"He was brave," Potter says. "And as much as he seemed to hate me, he did everything he could to protect me from Voldemort. To keep me alive. He wasn't a saint, but he wasn't a bastard either." He sighs, looks down into his cup of mocha. "Gin wasn't happy when I asked, but she understood when I explained." He glances back up at Draco. "I wanted to honour him. Dumbledore too. They weren't perfect, either of them, but…" He lifts his mocha to his lips. Nothing else needs to be said. Draco knows what he means.

"To Albus and Severus," Draco says quietly, and he raises his mug. Potter clinks his against it, and they both drink.

"So," Potter says after a moment. "Have you ever swum near the Giant Squid?" This was a common dare in their school days, although quite dangerous. There'd been at least three almost-drownings as Draco recalls, and McGonagall had threatened to put a charm on the lake to keep all students out. There'd been a compromise that had roped off a small swimming area near the shore during the end of term when it was--barely--warm enough to take a quick dip in the waters.

Draco shudders. "No." He hates sea creatures--or at least, he does when he's in the water. He finishes off his espresso, then sets his cup down. "Other than that time we served detention with Hagrid, have you ever spent a night in the Forbidden Forest by yourself?"

"The night I died," Potter says, quietly serious. He looks down at his mocha, tilts the mug, swirling the coffee up the sides before he takes another sip.

"Oh, sorry." Draco doesn't know what to say. He only knows what his mother had told him about that night. How she'd kept Potter's secret. Saved his life in the end, all because she'd wanted Potter to save Draco's.

Potter looks up at him. "Don't be. It's okay."

"Did you really die?" Draco asks. He's not certain why, and he knows it's an intrusive question. But he's never met anyone who'd survived a Killing Curse, not once, but twice.

"Yeah." Potter meets his gaze. There's a sadness in Potter's eyes. A grief that pulls at Draco's heart, makes him want to reach out to Potter. He lets himself, and Potter seems flustered when Draco's hand settles over his. They sit there for a moment, together in their silence, and then Potter sighs. "It's weird," he says, his voice a bit rough, and he turns his hand beneath Draco's, his fingers curling up to cover Draco's own. It's an intimate contact, and Draco's breath quickens, his heart pounds. Potter strokes a thumb across Draco's knuckles. "I'm not afraid of dying since then. I know what it's like. It's good, you know? It's just taking another a step into another place, and it doesn't stop for us. We chose where we want to go next."

A shiver goes down Draco's spine. "I couldn't," he whispers. "I'm afraid." He thinks about dying, about all the times he'd seen the light go out of people's eyes at the Dark Lord's whim. He'd been around death; he'd watched it happen. He doesn't want to go--not any time soon.

Potter's fingers tighten around his, and Draco looks up at him. The way Potter's watching him is grounding, settling, and he feels the tightness go out of his chest. "Don't be afraid," Potter says. "When it happens, you won't be by yourself. The people who love you? They gather around."

"I worry about Scorpius." Draco's throat aches. "What life would be without me--" He breaks off, a wave of emotion threatening to crash over him. He breathes through his nose, counting each exhale. "Life's different with a child." It changes one's priorities--or at least it had with Draco.

"Yeah," Potter says. "It is. But Scorpius would be all right." Potter traces a small circle over the back of Draco's hand. "I was."

And Draco wonders what it was like for Potter to grow up without parents. He can't imagine it, even with the distance between himself and his father. He knows Lucius loves him, in his own warped way, and Draco had adored his father for most of his childhood. "I'm sorry," he says again, and he means it. Deeply. He breathes in, then says, "Another question perhaps?" He doesn't want to dwell on this any longer.

Potter just gives him a faint smile, and then he slides his hands away from Draco's. Draco misses the touch terribly. "Lighter subject," Potter says. "What was your worst grade in Charms?"

"Acceptable." Draco fiddles with the spoon lying on the saucer of his espresso cup. He looks up at Potter. "What was your worst N.E.W.T.?"

"I didn't take them." Potter shifts uncomfortably in his chair. He rubs at the back of his head, then gives Draco a sheepish look. "I was accepted into Auror training without them."

"Favouritism!" Draco's surprised. He'd known Potter hadn't come back for the makeup year McGonagall had allowed after the war, but he'd assumed Potter'd at least tried his hand at the exams. Plenty of other people had, whether or not they returned for more coursework. Draco'd tutored himself, then taken his N.E.W.T.s early with Pansy and Blaise. Not taking them at all? That's rich, even for Potter. But then the world has always turned a bit differently around Potter than it has around the rest of them. Not that Draco's bitter about that.

Except he bloody well is.

"Did you ever get to go on the Durmstrang ship?" Potter's face is a bit blank, and Draco knows full well he's trying to distract Draco from the no-N.E.W.T.s reveal. Draco wonders what the Prophet would do with that bit of information--a Deputy Head Auror with no academic certifications would be scandalous to a good portion of wizarding society, Chosen One be damned--but Draco hasn't any intention of sharing it with them. So he lets Potter distract him, or at least think he has.

"It was fantastic!" Draco leans forward, his elbows on the table. "I did almost wish my parents had sent me there, although I heard they take ice water baths in the winter, and that was not an option for me" Draco has a hazy memory of gruff voices echoing through the depths of the ship, and the god-like figure of Viktor Krum. Merlin, but he'd fancied Krum as well that year, although he'd kept that bit from all his friends. Pansy especially, given they were beginning to dance around one another, and Draco even then had been certain that she would have strangled him in his sleep if he'd admitted having a pash on anyone but her. Pans always was a bit possessive in her attachments back then. She's mellowed quite a bit these days, and Draco's certain that's Tony's influence. Bless the man.

Potter looks jealous. "Lucky man. I always wanted to go, but then Krum took Hermione to the Yule Ball, and Ron hated him after that."

Draco snorts. "She ought to have stuck with Krum."

"Watch it," Potter says, with an even look, and Draco hates that he feels a twinge of shame.

"Fine, whatever." Draco knows he's being prickly, but he doesn't care. He narrows his eyes at Potter. "Speaking of that time, did you actually put your own name into the Goblet?" He's always been curious.

"No." Potter's face is serious. "That was Barty Crouch." He hesitates, then adds, "Junior of course."

Draco nods. Barty Junior had been friends with his father, once, many years ago. That's all he knows about him, other than he'd impersonated Moody for a year, and even that had been whispered about, never truly confirmed until Draco had heard the Dark Lord speaking of it once at the Manor.

"Were you ever happy?" Potter's looking at him directly. There's a softness in his gaze that causes Draco's stomach to flip in a not entirely unpleasant way.

"Sometimes." Draco thinks about his childhood, about the joy he'd experienced at the Manor, about the love his mother had showered on him--and which she still does in her own way. School had been different, but he'd enjoyed it at first. Even the intellectual competition with Granger had been exhilarating at times. And then things had changed. A darkness had fallen over the Manor, over Hogwarts itself. Draco knows he bears some responsibility for the latter. He looks down at his hands, folded on the tabletop. The last bits of drizzle cake are scattered across the plate between him and Potter. Draco picks up his fork, presses it into them, mushing them together. He lifts the fork, licks it clean, then he looks over at Potter. "I suppose I was less and less happy as time went on." Draco's voice is quiet. "You?"

Potter swallows. Runs a fingertip over the edge of the table. "The same, I suppose. I mean, there were times that I enjoyed being there, but it became so hard to remember them."

The coffee shop rattles around them, a woman's happy laughter breaking through the soft murmur of conversations rising and falling. Draco doesn't know why sitting here with Potter, having this discussion feels so normal, so familiar. It's almost as if Potter understands him in a way even his friends can't. And Draco can't comprehend how that's possible. They'd been enemies; they'd hated each other. But perhaps it's true that there's a fine line between love and hate, that indifference is worse than despising someone entirely.

And Draco has never felt indifferent about Potter.

"Last question," Draco says. He's feeling oddly light-headed, and he doesn't really want this to end.

Potter's stirring the dregs of his coffee with a plastic straw. "Tell me the truth," he says quietly. "Did you ever wish we'd been friends back then?"

Draco doesn't hesitate. "Yes." He meets Potter's gaze. There's something there that warms him, makes his stomach flutter again.

"Me too," Potter says. Draco's heart lurches. He can't answer. Not right now. Perhaps not ever.

They sit a few moments longer, then Draco realises it's half-nine. If he's not in shortly Berrycloth will be at his desk, asking all manner of uncomfortable questions.

"Potter, thank you." He stands up. "It's been lovely to have coffee, and the cake was delightful."

"I hope the company wasn't too bad." Potter looks up at him, his face a bit hopeful.

"Horrid." Draco smiles as he retrieves his overcoat from the hook. "Joking, of course." He slides his coat on, buttoning it. Potter's still sat at the table, looking a bit lost. Draco rests his hand briefly on Potter's shoulder, half-alarmed by his own daring. But Potter's shoulder is warm and firm, and when Potter glances up at him again, Draco's breath catches. He covers by turning his head to cough into his elbow. When he looks back, he feels steadier. "Perhaps we could do this again one morning."

"That sounds good," Potter says, and Draco nods.

He leaves Potter sitting at the table; when he steps out onto the pavement, a rush of cold wind blowing his hair up, sending the fine strands dancing with the breeze, Potter's watching him through the window, an odd expression on his face. Draco raises his hand; Potter returns the gesture with a faint smile.

Draco turns, walks away, his step lighter than it'd been before.

Perhaps Potter and he can be friends now. For the sake of their sons if nothing else.

And a friend is exactly what Draco needs.

Chapter Text

It's nearly half eight when Harry sits down across the table from Ron and Hermione at Cardamom down Diagon Alley. Piles of shopping bags surround their chairs, a well-earned hoard from their precisely targeted conquest of the shops the past two hours. Outside, shoppers still hurry past, worn-out mums and dads trying to make certain their kids' Christmases are all sorted shuffling past sisters and brothers, aunts and uncles, nans and granddads, all with the same fiercely determined goal of getting their shopping lists sliced down to the absolute outliers as quickly as possible.

Harry thinks he's done his best. He might have a few more gifts to buy, but he's the boys finished off, which is always the hardest part, particularly since Jamie changes his Santa list every half-hour these days. At least Molly and Arthur have the boys for the evening. Harry's grateful that they plan that each year, gathering their grandchildren for dinner and Christmas cookie baking at the Burrow whilst their parents run out to finish off their shopping. With any luck, by the time Harry goes over with Ron and Hermione to collect them, Jamie and Al will be stuffed and sleepy, ready to strip off their clothes and tumble into bed.

Not that Harry will follow them any time soon. He's still wrapping charms to cast and hiding places to find. Last year Al had discovered the stash of gifts two days before Christmas and opened the ends of each present just to see what Harry'd bought. Harry's fucking determined not to let that happen again.

"So how'd you do?" Harry asks Hermione. She's nibbling on a papadum, her head propped up by her fist. They'd split up for the last half hour, with Ron going to Madam Malkin's for a gift for his mum, and Hermione finishing up in the children's section of Flourish and Blotts. Harry's gone to Quality Quidditch as well as the Wheezes, even though Ron'd told him he'd just wrap up whatever Harry wanted and owl it in the morning.

"I think we're done." Hermione sounds worn out. She looks at Ron. "Did you get your mum's shawl?"

Ron pokes a bag across the table from him. "Straight from Paris." He dips a broken bit of papadam into tamarind sauce and pops it into his mouth. He looks over at Harry. "You?"

"I still need Ginny's," Harry says. "And something for Fleur, but she's awful to buy for."

"Don't give her lavender bath salts," Hermione says wearily. "I bought some for her tonight."

Their waiter comes up, a pitcher of water in hand. He pours some for each of them, then takes their order. Harry just goes with palak paneer; Ron orders idlis and a dosa with chicken and Hermione takes her usual aloo gobhi. They both look exhausted; Harry's flagging as well. He's just come off a busy day at work, then a quick rehearsal at the school that'd been cut short because one of the candles in the other nursery class managed to fall up the stage steps and bump her noggin. Arden's howls had been incessant, and her mother had gone into a complete panic, so he and Malfoy had decided to let everyone go. It'd just seemed the better part of valour in the end, and Ron had been waiting anyway to help him take the kids to the Burrow. Harry hadn't really liked having him in the back of the assembly hall, his feet propped up on a chair, watching him and Malfoy interact. He knows Ron's suspicious, that much had been clear yesterday morning when he'd caught Harry talking to Malfoy in the school corridor. Harry'd half-expected Ron to bring it up on their way to the Burrow, but he hadn't. Nor had he said anything about it the whole of this evening. Granted, they've been surrounded by Christmas madness, but still. Ron's not always known for his discretion.

Hermione pushes her hair back from her face. It's loose today, and her curls are falling into her eyes. There's a greyish cast to her brown skin and her dark circles look alarming. Harry wonders if she's getting any sleep at all with Hugo teething. "Ron says the rehearsal's going well." She looks over at Harry. "Rose can't stop talking about her candle dance."

"Well, there's no telling if we'll actually be ready for Yule next Monday," Harry admits, "but the kids seem to be enjoying themselves."

"Except for poor Arden," Ron points out. "That was a nasty knot on her forehead."

Harry winces. "That poor kid." He shakes his head. "She's clumsy as fuck on a good day." Mostly because she's not paying attention to anything around her, and that worries Harry. There's something a bit not-right about Arden and her mother, and Harry thinks he might ask one of the Aurors to pop by their house to check in tomorrow whilst she's home alone. He's heard rumours about the dad, that he drinks a bit too much, shouts a lot. Arden's mum's a quiet type, not one to say much, and Harry has a niggle in the back of his mind about it all. Maybe he's wrong, but he hasn't been before about this sort of thing.

"So, speaking of this rehearsal rubbish." Ron jams an entire half a papadum with onions into his mouth. "Are you ready to tell me about Malfoy?" He looks up at Harry, eyebrow quirked.

And there it is. The question Harry's been anticipating. He sighs, reaches for his glass of water.

"What about Malfoy?" Hermione licks tamarind sauce off of her finger, then wipes her hands on the broad pink napkin in her lap. She frowns at Harry. "Did he do something?

"Did you tell her?" Harry isn't sure. He's too tired for subterfuge, and he never knows what Ron and Hermione have decided to share. To be honest, he just assumes they always do, unless he asks them specifically to keep a secret, which isn't very often.

"Tell me what?" Hermione looks a bit narked, and Harry wonders if they should talk before she eats. Hermione's a complete beast if she's hungry these days; Ron says nursing takes a lot out of her. She glances between the two of them. "What's going on?" That terrifying fierce look of hers crosses her face, the one that Harry never wants to see turned on him. "What's Malfoy done, Harry? Shall I speak to him?"

"No," Ron and Harry say at the same time. Harry'd never set Hermione off on Malfoy without warning, and he's glad her husband seems to agree with him.

Ron clears his throat, glances over at Harry. "I thought it was your secret to tell." He eyes the dwindling pile of papadums, snagging one before his wife swats his hand away.

Hermione leans forward, her elbows on the table, arms crossed in front of her. Behind her halo of hair, fairy lights glitter in the window, casting a soft golden glow over their table, matched by the flickering votive in the heavy iron bowl beside the nearly empty plate of papadam. It's warm in the restaurant, and Harry shrugs out of his Auror jacket, letting it pool on the chair behind him.

"What's going on?" Hermione asks. She looks between Harry and Ron, her eyes narrowing, and Harry feels his face flush. He's known her too long for her not to catch his unease. She points a finger at him. "You're are acting strange, Harry. What haven't you told me? You might as well spill; I haven't the patience to play any of your sodding guessing games tonight."

Harry swallows. What the hell. She'll know soon enough. He half-wishes Ron had done this for him; he scowls Ron's way, and Ron just shrugs.

"Don't ask me to do your job, mate." Ron leans back in his chair, lets his hand rest on his wife's back.

They look up as the waiter approaches with their food, two heavily laden trays floating behind him. He sets the steaming metal bowls and plates and dishes of jasmine rice down on the table in front of them before switching out their pitcher of water for a fresh one. Harry waits until the waiter walks away before he looks back at Hermione. She's just watching him, her hands folded beneath her chin, a stack of thin gold bangles around her wrist catching the dim light, sending it sparkling back at Harry.

Harry draws in a deep breath. He can do this. He's already told Ron, after all, and that scared him more than Hermione. Right. It's just one sentence. He can get it out. His heart pounds; he rubs his palms against his trousers, twisting his fingers in the wool. His mouth's horribly dry, but he doesn't dare pick up his glass of water. One sip and he might sick up right now.

Ron and Hermione just look at him.

"You can do it, mate," Ron whispers across the table. His boot bumps against Harry's, and there's something wonderfully comforting in the slight touch. Harry breathes out. This will all be okay, he tells himself. He hasn't lost Ron. He won't lose Hermione.

He meets Hermione's worried gaze. "I like men." He holds his breath, watches her blink at him, her mouth making a tiny oh.

A small furrow forms between Hermione's perfectly shaped brows. "You like men," she repeats. "As in fancy them?"

Through a mouthful of idli, Ron adds helpfully, "Seems Harry's as queer as Dumbledore."

Harry gives him an incredulous look.

"What?" Ron says, a bit of rice falling out of his mouth. He flicks it back onto his plate. "You are."

"I wouldn't put it that way," Harry snaps, but Ron just rolls his eyes at him.

Hermione's frowning between Harry and Ron. "But what does that have to do with Malfoy--" And then her eyes widen. "Oh. Oh, Harry." She gives him a disappointed look. "Really?"

"There's my girl," Ron says, licking his thumb. "The Knut drops."

Harry gives him a baleful look before he glances back over at Hermione. "Don't judge me."

"Well." Hermione steeples her fingers, presses them to her mouth. "I suppose Malfoy wasn't what I was expecting, But I was wondering when you were going to tell me about...." She waves her hand. "You know. Being gay."

Both Ron and Harry stare at her in befuddlement.

"You knew?" Ron asks, his voice wounded. "Really?"

Harry ignores him. "Did Gin tell you?" He'd like to think Ginny's kept his secret, the way she'd promised him, but knows he never really had the right to ask her not to tell her side of things. Especially not to Hermione.

"It wasn't so much that Ginny said anything." Hermione shifts in her seat, looking a bit uncomfortable. "More that I was able to connect the dots after everything fell apart for the both of you." She leans across the table, lays her hand over Harry's. "I promise, she never broke a confidence. But she was hurt, and we talked about the whole not-having sex thing between the two of you--"

Ron flinches. "I don't want to know that."

Harry's not so happy about having that part of his marriage brought aired in public like this either. "Fine, I get it." And he does. As much as he hates it. "I just wish you'd talked to me too."

"I was waiting," Hermione says, her voice quiet. "I didn't want to you to feel as if you had to come out to me if you weren't ready." Her fingers smooth over Harry's knuckles. "Besides, it was just a guess on my part. A hunch, and I wasn't entirely certain I was right at first. But then you never started dating anyone else, and I thought maybe this might be why."

She's not wrong. Harry knows that. He squeezes her hand before he pulls away. He doesn't really know what to say.

"I still can't believe you've been keeping this a secret from me," Ron says, a hurt scowl on his face as he looks at his wife. "How is that fair?"

"This is my life we're talking about," Harry points out, but neither of them is listening to him.

Hermione points her finger at Ron. "Now the shoe's on the other foot. You thought you were keeping all this a secret from me, so you see how that feels."

Ron shrugs. "I guess you're right." He picks up another idli, then glances over at Harry, who's just watching his two best friends in mostly amused outrage. "So, Har, my question is, do you want to fuck Malfoy?"

"Oh, my God. Language." His wife smacks his arm. "Also, you're an arsehole. Harry doesn't have to answer that question."

Harry looks around them. No one is paying attention, but he wants to bury his face in his hands nevertheless.

"I'm just trying to be supportive of his choices!" Ron protests. "I mean, I'd do the same for Ginny if she weren't my sister. So I can't because that's disgusting, and I don't want to know!"

"Well, that ship has sailed," Hermione says dryly. "She's been fucking Paul for a while."

"You both know I'm right here, right?" Harry doesn't really mind knowing that Ginny's intimate with someone else. In fact, he wishes Gin happiness. He just doesn't know whether he's supposed to be cool with hearing about it.

"What do you care? You're gay." Ron says helpfully. "Aren't you supposed to be over Gin anyway?"

Harry throws up his hands. "You didn't talk to me for six months after my divorce." He doesn't know whether to laugh or lose his temper. Or both. But this is what he wanted when he married into the Weasley clan. A brother who'd support him and give him shit for his life choices at the same time.

"Because I thought you cheated on my sister." Ron shrugs and picks up a section of his dosa, biting into it. "It would have been different if I knew you were gay," he adds through a mouthful of chicken and potatoes.

"Or bi," Hermione points out. She spoons out a bit of aloo gobhi onto her plate from a copper balti. "He did sleep with Ginny, after all." She eyes Harry whilst Ron sputters at her. "But I should ask, if you're coming out of the closet now, how are you identifying these days?"

"Mostly as hungry and confused," Harry counters. "Although I do seem more attracted to men in recent months."

And Draco Malfoy in particular, Harry thinks, but he's not stupid enough to spell that out directly for his friends. He doesn't actually need to. Neither one of them are that thick.

"So, I repeat my question, do you?" Ron asks, wiping away a bit of mashed potato from the corner of his mouth.

"Do I what?" Harry asks, determinedly putting palak paneer on his plate and reaching for a bit of poori that's just been delivered to the table in a basket. It's puffing hot, and steam blows from the middle when he tears it apart. He knows what Ron's asking, but he really doesn't think it's any of Ron's business who he wants to fuck.

Or not.

But he does. Very much so.

Ron leans forward, his eyes flicking from one side to the other. "Do you want to fuck Malfoy?" he spells out in a low voice. His wife snorts in annoyance.

"Honestly, Ron," Hermione murmurs, but Harry can tell she's eyeing him closely. She wants to know the answer just as much as Ron does.

"I saw them together yesterday," Ron says to her. "Harry lounging against the wall talking to Malfoy, and he definitely had that look on his face. You know. The one that says he's ready to get down to business." Ron raises his eyebrows, wiggles his arse in his chair.

Hermione puts her hand on Ron's arm. "Oh, dear God, stop that."

"And if I did," Harry says to Ron, "what difference does it make?" He can tell he's being obstinant, but, to be honest, he's getting a bit testy about this. His friends are going to have to let him fancy whomever he chooses. And if he chooses Malfoy, they'll have to get over themselves. "Neither of you've any right to tell me who I can and can't fuck."

"But it's Malfoy," Ron and Hermione chime in unison.

"Shut it," Harry hisses.

They all look around. Noone appears to be paying them any mind. The staff are in the back, and the few diners here besides them are all lost in their own conversations.

Ron heaves a sigh. "But, Malfoy." He sounds a bit defeated. "Must you?"

"Yes," Harry says, dragging a flaky, still steaming morsel of poori through his curry. "I must." And something unfurls in him, warm and fluttery and ever so excited. He wants Malfoy, he realises. Whatever Ron and Hermione might think. For some strange reason, Malfoy makes him feel alive, makes him feel as if his world is cracking open around him, falling apart in the best of ways. He wants to be with Malfoy, wants to kiss him, wants to fuck him, wants to walk with him through Diagon, hand in hand. And his mouth tugs up into a small, secret smile at the thought of Malfoy's face if Harry said any of this to him. He'd call him bloody mad, and maybe Harry is in a way.

But he doesn't care what anyone thinks. Except, perhaps, Malfoy.

"I don't see it, mate." Ron looks horrified. "I mean, not with someone else's, you know?" When Harry glares at him, Ron holds up his hands. "He's not my type. Also he terrifies me. I can't do Slytherins, mate. Have you seen Pansy Parkinson-Goldstein at pickup?" He shakes his head. "Some days I think she's going to stab someone with one of her stilettos."

"Probably Junia Avebury," Harry says. Pansy's been in pitched battle with poor Junia since the whole everyone celebrates Yule fiasco last week. Harry half feels sorry for Junia, who seems utterly perplexed by how she's managed to get into such trouble. Then again, she brought in on herself, really.

Hermione's watching Harry, chewing on her lip. "Malfoy's not awful," she says after a moment. "Did you know he wrote me an apology note not long after Scorpius was born?"

That surprises Harry. "About what?"

"Calling me a Mudblood when we were in school." Hermione rubs her fingertips absently along her jaw. Right about the area she'd decked Malfoy, if Harry remembers correctly. "He said he wouldn't want his son to use that sort of language, and if he was going to teach him that, he needed to make amends for himself."

Ron frowns at her. "You didn't tell me that."

"Would it have annoyed you?" Hermione asks.

"I don't know." Ron shifts in his seat, looks down at his half-eaten dosa. "Maybe." He hesitates. "Probably. I mean, I'd like to say it wouldn't, but..." He trails off with a sigh and a sideways glance Harry's way. "Sorry, mate."

Harry just shrugs. He doesn't really have anything else to say about that. Malfoy's Malfoy, but still, Harry feels like he has to defend him. "He's changed."

Ron seems a bit dubious about that possibility. "Can he really, though?" He looks over at Harry. "I'm not trying to rain on your parade, mate, and if you fancy him, that's your funeral, not mine. But you can't blame us for being wary. Not after everything Malfoy's done."

"Look, he was just a kid." Harry drags his fork through his paneer. He knows what Ron's saying has merit, but deep down he knows that Malfoy isn't that same scared teenager. "He's changed. Grown up. Just like we all have."

Hermione touches Ron's hand, for the briefest of moments. "I think Harry's right. The note was…" She hesitates. "Nice, I think. I mean, for Malfoy. Maybe he has grown up a bit."

"Maybe," Ron says.

They're all silent. There's a clatter from the kitchen and a sound of crashing plates that makes Harry jump a bit in his seat. His nerves are on high alert, he realises. He tries to calm himself, tries to relax in his seat. This is just dinner with friends, he reminds himself. Not an inquisition.

As much as it might feel like one.

Hermione picks up her water glass, takes a sip, then looks over at Harry as she sets it back down. Her engagement ring shimmers in the candlelight; she twists it and her wedding ring around her finger, the way she does whenever she's nervous about something. "So you flirted with Malfoy at school then?"

"No." Harry can feel his face heating. "All we did was have coffee yesterday morning."

Hermione's eyebrows go up. "You've already had a date?" She looks over at her husband, her mouth pursing. "Ronald, why didn't you say?"

"I was trying to." Ron takes another bite of his dosa. He looks a little queasy, as if he's trying to come to terms with Harry and Malfoy.

"Oh, for fuck's sake." Harry huffs an irritated sigh. "It wasn't a date."

His best friends stop arguing and eye him together. Harry blinks; he hates it when they turn on him as if they're one person. It's bloody creepy is what it is.

"Did you pay?" Hermione asks. Her burgundy-polished fingernails tap a staccato rhythm against the table. She has that sharp look about her, the one that's helped her climb the Wizengamot ladder nearly as quickly as Harry's risen in the Auror force. He thinks she'll be Minister one day--sooner rather than later, he hopes. Still, having that frown turned on him is unsettling, and as much as Harry might want to lie, he can't.

"Yes," Harry admits. "But it wasn't a date." Or at least he thinks it wasn't. Now he's not fucking sure, thanks to his bloody friends. It's been so long since he's actually been on a date, anyway. Harry thinks he remembers what they look like, but hell if he knows these days.

Hermione chews on her lip. "I think it might have been."

"Definitely," Ron says. He looks over at Harry. "Coffee, and you paid? What the hell did you think it was?"

Harry's confused now. He'd truly felt like it wasn't a date, but maybe he's wrong. And if he's wrong, what if Malfoy thinks it was a date? What does that mean for the next time Harry sees him? Does Harry even want to see him again? And really, that's a bloody stupid question. Of course, he does.

Fuck. Getting blown in a pub lav was easier than all this.

Harry runs a hand through his hair. "I was just trying to get to know him. We talked about Hogwarts, for Merlin's sake."

Ron and Hermione look at each other. "Definitely a date," Ron says, and Hermione nods. "Which changes things. It's not just Harry fancying Malfoy. It's Harry fancying Malfoy." He looks over at Harry, an odd expression on his face. "Right, mate?"

"I don't know." Harry's heart sinks. What the hell is he going to do? What if Malfoy was only trying to be polite and Harry's fucked everything up? "I mean, I like him. He's attractive. He makes me laugh, and then infuriates me the next minute…" Harry catches his lip between his teeth. He wonders what they'd say if they knew he'd already kissed Malfoy. Perhaps he should tell them, but something holds him back. Keeps him from admitting it. That's something private between him and Malfoy. He's not certain he wants to share it with his best friends.

Not yet at least. Not when all of this feels so fragile. So new.

"Are you having another date?" Hermione takes a bite of her cauliflower calmly. Harry can see she's a bit ill at ease, and Harry wonders whether this new development is going to put distance between them. He'd hate for that to be the case.

"No. Yes. I don't know." Harry's truly unsure. He doesn't know where he stands with Malfoy right now. They'd been warmer this afternoon at rehearsal. Laughing. Joking even, with one another, although Malfoy had been careful with Ron there. Harry knows that; he'd caught Malfoy's glances back towards Ron, seen the way Malfoy'd toned down his reactions to Harry when he thought Ron was watching them. And yet Malfoy'd still been warm. Open in a way he hadn't really been before. Harry twists his fork between his fingers, staring blankly down at his plate. "I'd like to. But we've got pageant practice tomorrow."

Neither of his friends say anything; they just exchange a long glance, the kind couples do. Harry's shared them with Ginny before. He knows what they mean. We think you're mental, but we can't really tell you.

"Let's be honest, here." Harry puts his fork down, leans forward. He meets their gazes evenly. "You're both my best friends. We're family. But I don't really give a fuck what you think about me and Malfoy. I'm not asking your permission. Or your forgiveness. I like him. I want to see if anything happens between us, and maybe it's mad. Maybe I'll get hurt. Maybe it's the wrong thing for me to do right now." These are all things he's told himself. "But if I don't try, I'll regret it. I don't want to be one of those dads who gives his life away. I don't want to be hiding in the closet any longer." Harry's voice cracks, and Ron reaches across the table, lays his hand on Harry's shoulder.

Harry closes his eyes and breathes out as Ron's hand slips away. "I've been lonely for a really long time. Longer than you two might even realise. Things with me and Gin, they were good and then they weren't, and I started to realise who I was and what I wanted. And what I needed in my life, Gin couldn't ever give me. And vice-versa. We split because we had to, and I've been holding myself back as much as possible, telling myself I don't deserve to be happy, and that's bollocks." He looks over at Ron and Hermione; they're watching him, barely breathing themselves. Harry exhales a heavy sigh.

"I want to be happy," Harry whispers. "For the first time in ages. I look at Draco sodding Malfoy, and I truly want to be happy."

Ron nods, slowly. "All right, mate. If that's what you want, I'll have your back. We both will." He looks over at Hermione. "Yeah?"

It takes a moment, but Hermione sighs, leans forward. "Harry, I don't entirely agree with your choice. It's going to cause trouble for you and him, and I don't want you to have to go through that." She hesitates, then gives him a small smile. "But I love you, and if this is what you want, then yes, both Ron and I support you."

"Thanks." Harry runs a hand through his hair. "I think." He takes a bite of palak paneer. He doesn't like having everyone in his business, and yet, he's strangely glad that his friends still love him. However badly they think he's about to fuck up.

Ron picks up another piece of dosa. "Just don't bring him 'round the Burrow without warning, 'cause I think Mum might have a fit." He pauses, then adds, "Dad too. You know how much he hates Lucius, and if there isn't a nemesis story there that originates in their Hogwarts days, I'll test out one of George's new inventions myself."

Harry blinks. "I honestly wasn't planning on it. I mean, for fuck's sake, we've really only had coffee, and I'm not even certain Malfoy thinks that was what you both seem to believe it was."

"Date, mate," Ron says cheerfully. He seems to have adjusted to the idea of Harry and Malfoy, or he's hiding his discomfort well. Probably the latter, Harry thinks, and that means a lot to Harry. Ron cares enough about him to put Harry's feelings ahead of his own in this. "But seriously, if you want to bring him, let me know. I could probably run some interference for you."

"Jesus," Harry says. The last thing he'd do is expose Malfoy to his ex-wife's family, even if they are related to each other. "I'm not mental enough to show up with him on Christmas Eve, trust me." He eyes Ron, "Also, let me bring up once again the whole not-really-sure-we've-even-had-a-date thing."

Ron just rolls his eyes.

"Well, you have to admit, it might make the holidays a bit interesting," Hermione says with a laugh.

Harry knows she dreads the noise and hubbub of the holidays, particularly at the Burrow. As an only child, Hermione finds it a bit overwhelming to be enveloped in the excitement of any Weasley gathering. Harry thinks it's brilliant. And now he's worried that he's jeopardised one of his favourite things in life because he fancies Draco Malfoy.

"Rather think I'll pass on that." Harry grimaces. "Don't want to nark off the family any more than I already have, yeah?"

The look Hermione gives him is careful, searching. Almost as if she can see the fear bubbling up inside of him. "Oh, Harry," she says softly. "Who you choose is who you choose. We'll all love you no matter what."

Harry knows she means it, and what it costs her to say that about Malfoy.

"Thank you." Harry's sorry he's worried her, he is, but he's an adult and he's got to make choices of his own. His friends have no idea how lonely and exhausting being in the closet has been. It's easy for them. They can walk down the street together, with no one watching, no one judging, no one bloody caring. He's just figuring it out himself.

And if Harry chooses to have a thing with Draco Malfoy--the very thought makes his stomach quiver--well, they'll just have to fucking deal.

Because Harry's not going back into that closet. Not now. Not when he finally feels as if the world is opening up to him. After all these years, Harry can be himself. Completely.

Harry never wants to hide again.

Chapter Text

"Rehearsal wasn't that awful," Harry protests. To his great surprise, he's seated comfortably, a half-drunk glass of red wine in his hand, on one of the stools in Astoria's kitchen. Opposite him, Malfoy has his shirtsleeves rolled up and is cooking over the pristine designer hob. Harry can see the faint grey of the Mark on the inside of his pale forearm, and he marvels that Malfoy seems comfortable enough with him right now not to care about hiding it as he usually does. More than that, though, Harry's a bit nonplussed that he himself doesn't really care. It's just a scar from Malfoy's past now. Nothing more.

At the end of today's rather exhausting practice, Malfoy'd invited the boys to come back with Scorpius, and rather sharply suggested that Harry might as well join them if he'd nothing better to do. Harry knows not to read anything into it, but he's happy just for the chance to be around Malfoy. After the talk with Ron and Hermione last night, he'd been so worried about his own intentions versus Malfoy's. Even if this is just a friendly visit--which Harry's certain it is, he tells himself for the thousandth time since he'd Floo'd in behind the boys--he's eager to show Malfoy they can at least be friends. Perhaps even more, if Malfoy's sideways glances and quick looks away mean anything too. But Harry won't let himself think about that. Malfoy has other people to turn to for that sort of thing. Adrian sodding Pucey, for one. What he doesn't have enough of are people who accept him for who he is. Harry'd like to be one of the few Malfoy might trust.

Besides, it's nice to have another gay dad around. Someone who understands the struggle of raising kids, who knows what it's like to be in the closet--and worrying about whether or not it's time to come out.

Harry's wished for a friend like that since his divorce was finalised. He just never imagined it might be Malfoy. He tilts his glass, watches the wine swish away from him. It's a good vintage--not too posh and nicely drinkable. "Besides, the twins look cute in their dreidel costumes."

"The twins are utter terrors, and practice was horrible." Malfoy doesn't turn around from where he's leaning down to check the cheese toasties he has broiling in the oven. Harry gets a very nice view of Malfoy's long back, lovely neck, and, well, his arse is rather fine as well in those black trousers. Not to mention the bare feet. Harry never knew he had a kink for that sort of thing, but his prick's telling him he most certainly does.

Harry's face warms; he takes another swig of wine, but he doesn't look away. "We didn't have anyone fall from the stage, this time."

Malfoy snorts as he turns off the oven and pulls the tin with the sandwiches to the side to cool.
He wipes his hands on the tea towel hanging from the oven door. "If that's your bar for success, we're doomed." At Harry's laugh, Malfoy turns around, leans against the countertop, his arms folded across his chest. The first few buttons of his shirt are undone, his hair is pulled up in a messy topknot, and he's loose and relaxed. Harry could watch him for hours. "The nursery school could barely make it through the candle song without sitting down and sulking." He reaches for his own wine glass. "Your son being the worst offender, might I add?" He lifts his glass, taking a deep swallow of the inky red wine. His grey eyes are bright and he has a half-smile on his face that dares Harry to challenge him.

"Al's always at his worst on Thursdays," Harry quips. "He likes to get his meltdowns out of the way before the weekend."

The corners of Malfoy's eyes crinkle as he tries not to laugh. "You're an idiot," he says, but his voice is warmer than Harry expects, and it sends a thrill through Harry. Malfoy shakes his head, then sighs, holding his glass up against his chest as if it might ward off the horror of the afternoon's rehearsal. "Come Monday we're doomed, you know. It'll be a complete disaster, and we'll be talk of the parents' association--and not in the laudatory way."

He's not wrong. The rehearsal had been terrible, Harry can admit that. They'd had their final run-through this evening, complete with costuming, and it'd been just short of disastrous. Which might be a generous designation, if Harry's honest. Everyone'd forgotten their lines, the candles had tipped each other over again, the forest scene was a howling mess of sobbing infants and their frazzled teachers and might need to be scrapped--Iona's promised to contact them over the weekend once she'd taken the mood of the classroom heads--and the mood among the children at large had been mutinous and short-tempered.

Jamie and Al had been right in the thick of that, Harry's afraid. Al'd dropped down on his bum halfway through the candle dance, refusing to move even with Scorpius prodding him, and Jamie and Fred had realised they could tear off bits of paper from the gift boxes and make spitballs out of them. Even Harry'd been hit with one, smack on the cheek, courtesy of his hellion of a nephew.

"Everything will be fine on Monday night," Harry says, but he doesn't believe it himself. He'd been to last year's pageant after all. He knows firsthand what a nightmare it can be.

Malfoy just looks at him over the rim of his wineglass. "The children have no idea what the fuck is going on," he says tartly as he lowers the glass. A bit of wine still stains his upper lip, shining in the bright kitchen lights. Malfoy drags his tongue across his mouth, wiping it away, and Harry has to steady himself against the island counter, his breath catching. "Honestly, I don't know why we ever agreed to shepherd a pack of preschool lunatics through scenery in front of a crowd."

"For the same reason we do anything as parents." Harry raises an eyebrow at Malfoy. "Because we have to, and because Astoria and Pansy manipulated us both into it, the cows." He doesn't mention that Ginny still finds it hysterically amusing that Harry's forced to do this. She'd rung him up this morning, both to check his present list for the boys against hers and to find out how the rehearsals were going. And, he suspects, to find out more about his mystery pash, but Harry'd managed to deflect the great majority of her sly, not-quite-as-subtle-as-she-thinks questions.

Malfoy raises his glass toward Harry, and Harry's stomach swoops. "Truer words." He leans back against the counter, frowning a bit in thought. "Pity Blaise hasn't spawned any sprogs yet," he says after a moment. "I'd love to force him into this next year. Pass the torment along and what-not."

"I'm all for shifting it to Pansy," Harry says, leaning his elbows on the smooth, cool marble of the counter. He reaches up, loosens his tie, pulls it free from his collar. He wads the blue silk up and shoves it into the pocket of his jacket that's draped on the stool next to him. "She deserves to suffer."

"Whilst I applaud your bloodthirsty desire for revenge," Malfoy says, his voice dry, "I can assure you that there's no way in hell Pansy'll be caught dead doing this next year." He pauses, considers. "Not unless they take out the Yule bits and let her spin a Hanukkah tale."

Harry raises his glass to his mouth. "I support religious diversity."

"You support tormenting Pans."

Malfoy's smile is wide and genuine. It makes Harry's heart stagger in his chest, and he has to look away. His hand trembles only slightly as he takes a sip of wine, looking out into the sitting room off the kitchen where the boys are playing. It feels weird to be sat here with Malfoy, when he's done this so many times before with Astoria, talking over a glass of wine whilst the children try to bean each other with stuffed animals and toy Quidditch brooms. He expects to turn his head, see Astoria perched on the stool beside him. Instead, when he looks over, he sees a paler blond head, an angular jaw. A mouth that Harry wants to lean over and kiss.

Again.

Not that he's thick enough to do anything that stupid. Once burned, twice shy, and Harry's enjoying the simple comfort of Malfoy's presence, even if looking over at Malfoy sometimes makes his breath catch, his stomach hurt.

Harry exhales, cups his wine glass between his hands. He looks around the familiar kitchen, takes in the pale grey cabinets, the white marble countertops. He's had coffee in here so many times over the past few months. Wine on nights like tonight when either he or Astoria had needed it. He wonders what Astoria would say if she saw him here, if she knew what Harry fantasised about doing to her ex-husband against this very island. Harry's hand smoothes across the counter, his fingers gripping the edge as he thinks about Malfoy walking over to him, standing between Harry's thighs, touching the swell of Harry's prick.

And Harry can't stop the soft breath that comes from the back of his throat, the clench of his fingers around the curved bowl of his wineglass.

Malfoy looks over at him, a small frown wrinkling his forehead. "What?"

As if Harry'd tell him. He swallows, tries to act nonchalant. He's not certain he manages, given the way Malfoy's eyes narrow at him.

"You're being odd."

More than odd, Harry thinks. He lifts his glass, takes a sip. Leans forward so the bulge in his trousers is hidden from Malfoy's gaze. The last thing he needs is Malfoy having a fit because Harry's aroused around him.

Friends, Harry tells himself. He and Malfoy are just going to be friends. That's all.

"Whatever you're making smells amazing," Harry says after a moment. He doesn't exactly want to change the subject, only he's hoping Malfoy doesn't get cross with him, or figure out what effect he's having on Harry.

"Oh, it's just something simple." Malfoy looks away when Harry compliments him, which Harry finds interesting. A faint pink flush rises across his cheeks. "The boys will have the cheese toasties, of course. I'm making us a quick penne alla vodka--you don't mind chilli pepper flakes, do you?"

"Not at all." Harry's quite partial to spicy dishes, and he's not turning down anything Malfoy offers him. "The hotter the better."

Malfoy eyes Harry, but a smile's quirking his mouth again. "Not your typical British sentiment."

Harry doesn't quite know how to tell Malfoy he'd eaten a lifetime of bland, tasteless food at Number Four Privet, and once he'd escaped, once he'd been in charge of his own kitchen, he'd thrown every spice he possibly could into each dish he'd made. There'd been times what he'd cooked had been nearly inedible, times when it'd made both his and Ginny's eyes water, their throats close up. But it'd been thrilling to discover new tastes, new ways of combining ingredients to produce a dish that had burned Harry's taste buds in the most pleasant manner. It'd felt like freedom from Vernon and Petunia and his old life, much the way going to Hogwarts had been an escape of its own.

But that seems to intimate to share right now, here in this careful, cautious truce he and Malfoy have begun to feel out. So Harry just shrugs and says, "I've yet to meet a pepper I didn't like."

Which isn't exactly true. Harry'd nearly cried in pain the first time he'd eaten curried goat flavoured with Scotch bonnet. That'd been a difficult night, but Ginny'd said he'd brought it on himself, telling the restaurant he really did want it extra spicy.

Malfoy looks back at the pot of sauce simmering on the hob. Harry'd thought it was a tomato soup at first. "Maybe I'll add a dash or two more," Malfoy muses. He turns back to the hob, reaches for a small spice jar. Harry watches the shift of muscles beneath Malfoy's shirt, the way small tendrils of hair slip out of his topknot and curl against the pale length of his throat. Harry wonders if Malfoy knows how attractive he looks like this, his head bent over the hob, peering into the pot as he stirs it slowly.

"How'd you learn how to cook like this?" Harry's truly curious. He'd always assumed that Malfoy would rely on house elves, so it'd surprised him when Malfoy'd sent the one that's here with him--a new one Harry doesn't recognise--off to watch over the kids and had reached for the apron hanging on the back of the pantry door.

"Didn't have much of a choice." Malfoy bends down, pulls a bigger pot out of the cabinet below. He fills it with water from the sink, then sets it on another burner. A tap of his wand and a flame lights up beneath it. Malfoy glances back over at Harry. "After the war, the Ministry took most of the Manor elves. Mother's only been allowed a few like Imsy, and only because they threw a complete strop about being taken away from her. And I didn't really care to have one with me." He picks up his wine glass again, takes a sip, then sighs. "It seemed extraneous to the way I wanted to live, and Astoria agreed, at least until Scorpius came along. The Greengrasses asked their Prossy to help out whilst Astoria was nursing, and then when I moved out…" He shrugs.

"The elf stayed?" Harry props his chin on his fist. His fingers stroke along the stem of the wine glass. He's feeling relaxed, watching Malfoy cook like this. Really, he doesn't know why Astoria ever let him go.

Malfoy gives Harry a rueful smile. "Something along those lines, yes." He turns, shakes a bit of salt into the water. "No house elf meant I had to cook, and to be honest, I find it soothing to prepare a meal, particularly when I have time." He looks over at Harry. "I should invite you to one of my four-course dinner parties one day."

"I'd like that." Rather a lot, Harry doesn't add. "Kreacher usually does our dinners. It's hard to find time to cook with two toddlers."

"That would make it difficult." Malfoy stares down into the pot. "I'll admit the weekends I have Scorpius it's usually toasties and jammie dodgers." He laughs, a bit softly. "I've even eaten a bowl of Weetabix over the sink after he's finally fallen asleep."

Harry knows that feeling all too well. "They can be exhausting, can't they?"

Malfoy gives him a weary look. "Excruciatingly. I don't know how you do it all on your own. Or Astoria, for that matter. Merlin, I really ought to pay more in child maintenance just to recompense her for emotional exhaustion."

The pot starts to bubble. Malfoy reaches for a glass jar filled with pasta. He pours a handful in, then adds another for good measure, his fingers flicking lightly in the faint curls of steam rising up around them.

"Are you sure I can't help?" Harry does feel a bit useless--Ginny'd always made him help her in the kitchen, and she'd returned the favour on nights when he'd cooked. Harry doesn't mind watching Malfoy moving about the hob at all; he just wants to make sure he's being a good guest.

"No. But thank you." Malfoy softens the sharpness of his initial refusal. He turns the flame down on the hob with a wave of his wand, then wipes his hands on the tea towel again. "I'm just a bit detail-minded and I get a bit off balance when other people are in the same space when I'm working."

"That must make it tricky at the Museum." Harry knows full well he's fishing for details of Malfoy's life now, and he doesn't care. He'll take whatever little crumbs Malfoy's willing to toss his way, and how utterly pathetic is that?

Malfoy hesitates, then says, "To be honest, being a curator is a perfect introvert's job." He picks up the bottle of wine and tops his glass off. "More?"

"Please." Harry holds out his glass; the wine splashes into the bowl, swirling up the sides. Harry shouldn't have more. Wine goes to his head faster than whisky or any of the other spirits. But it seems right to be sharing a bottle with Malfoy with the sound of their children's laughter drifting from the sitting room.

Harry takes a long drink, enjoying the sharp woodiness of the wine in his mouth. When he sets his glass down again, he looks over at Malfoy. "You're far too good with the children to be a true introvert. Besides, you always wanted to be noticed at school." He flinches a bit at that; the wine's loosening his tongue more than he'd like. He'll need to be more careful if he's going to keep drinking.

Malfoy frowns at him, but he doesn't seem to take too much offence. "You should see me on a Monday. It takes all morning and several coffees before I'm fit for human company."

And, oh, how Harry would very much like to see Malfoy on a Monday morning, or any morning really, as long as he got to spend the night curled up around Malfoy. Even thinking about it makes his stomach clench with desire. He wonders what it would feel like to have those long, graceful limbs wrapped around him, wonders if Malfoy sleeps on his back or his side, wonders how warm Malfoy's skin would be against Harry's.

Harry's hand trembles as he lifts his glass of wine to his lips.

They're quiet, the two of them, listening to the hiss and gurgle of the pot on the hob, Al's uproarious laughter at something Scorpius says to Jamie, Imsy's admonition to the boys to behave. Harry sets his glass back down. Turns the stem between his fingertips.

"You're thinking something," Malfoy says, his voice soft, and Harry hates that Malfoy can see him when he'd rather him not.

He doesn't answer at first, and then at Malfoy's half-exasperated, Potter, Harry looks up at him. "How do you do it?" he asks finally. At Malfoy's raised eyebrow, Harry sighs. He doesn't know how to ask what he wants to ask.

Malfoy just waits patiently, the slight curve of his arse pressed against the kitchen counter, the bright lights catching glints of silver-gilt in his pale hair. He lifts his wineglass to his mouth. Takes a drink.

Harry runs his hand through his own locks, his fingers catching and tangling in his curls. "Being gay," he says. "I mean, I realise you and Pucey…" He trails off, looks away.

"We've had an arrangement in the past," Malfoy says. His voice sounds a bit tight.

"I thought--" Harry glances at him. Malfoy's mouth is a thin line. He's not looking at Harry, and Harry's stomach twists. "I'm sorry."

Malfoy huffs an irritated laugh. "Don't be, Potter." He takes another sip of wine. Longer this time. He licks the remnants from his lips. Twists them to one side. "Adrian's married now, and I'm not idiot enough to risk Gemma's anger, whether or not Adrian is."

And a rush of relief goes through Harry. "Oh." He twists the stem of his wineglass between his fingers again. "So you're not seeing anyone right now."

Two faint blotches of pink spread across Malfoy's cheeks. "No." He clears his throat. "I've thought it best for now to…" He waves a hand carelessly in the air. "Keep to myself."

"Oh." Harry hates that he doesn't seem to be able to say anything else. He looks at Malfoy, who meets his gaze evenly. Harry shifts on his stool, the heels of his socked feet hooked over one rung. He thinks about Malfoy being single--really and truly unattached--and his stomach flutters. He draws in a raspy breath, then says, "Can I ask a personal question?"

"Perhaps." Malfoy lifts his glass once more. His hand might shake a bit, or that might be Harry's wishful thinking. Harry's not certain, but he feels oddly bold.

And then that feeling ebbs away.

Harry chews on his bottom lip. Malfoy's gaze dips down to Harry's mouth, then darts away. Malfoy takes another drink.

"Just ask, Potter," Malfoy says roughly. His fingers tighten around his glass. "Before my pasta goes off."

"It's just…" Harry's chest feels tight. He doesn't know how to ask this, really. "Look, the whole meeting guys when you're a dad…" He rubs his jaw, his fingers scratching lightly across his skin. His stubble's starting to come in; it's always heavier in the winter. "I go to bars sometimes, but…" Christ, this is hard. Especially given his attraction to Malfoy, which, as much as he tries to frame this all as he and Malfoy being gay best mates, just feels odd. Uncomfortable. He exhales, looks away. "Forget it."

Malfoy's watching him, a blank look on his face. And then he sets his glass of wine down and says, "Potter, you absolute dolt," just as the pot of pasta boils over, sending water sizzling across the hob.

"Fuck it," Malfoy swears, and he turns around, grabbing the tea towel and using it to pull the pot to the side. He bends down, takes a colander out of the cabinet and sets it into the sink, draining the pasta into it, his back to Harry. His shoulders are tight, tense, and Harry gets the definite sense that he's done something stupid.

He just doesn't really know what.

Malfoy drops the pot into the other side of the sink. He lifts the colander, shakes it, then stares down at it for a long moment.

"It's not easy," Malfoy says at last. He turns around, looks at Harry. "I don't tell men I fuck that I'm a father."

Oh, how the word fuck goes through Harry, setting his whole body on fire. He stills, watching Malfoy, barely breathing.

"And," Malfoy continues, "I keep my fucking private. As you know, I'm not public with my interest in men." He looks away from Harry; his jaw clenches, releases. He draws in a deep breath. "I don't know if I ever will be. It's a terrifying thought."

"I know," Harry says, his voice quiet. He's frightened of it as well. "But maybe it's worth it. Maybe not hiding any longer--"

Malfoy barks a harsh laugh. "And having everyone you meet thinking immediately about whom you fuck?" He shakes his head. "I think not."

Harry just looks at him. Holds Malfoy's gaze. "Maybe you just haven't met the right guy yet."

Something shifts in Malfoy's expression, raw and unguarded for a beat of Harry's heart before it slips away, becomes hidden, guarded once more. "Perhaps there is no right man for me," Malfoy says. It's barely a whisper, and despite Malfoy's best efforts, Harry can hear the edge of melancholy in his words.

"Everyone has someone right for them," Harry says. He has to believe that. The alternative, the deep and terrible loneliness that fills him at the thought that he's wrong, is too hard to bear.

Malfoy meets Harry's gaze. "You're a idiot idealist, Potter," he says, but the words have no bite. No fury.

Just a heavy unhappiness that twists at Harry's heart.

"You know," Malfoy says, turning away from him. "I think I'll dress a quick salad as well." His voice is too light, too determined. Harry knows better than to push Malfoy, but he wants to. Instead, he watches as Malfoy flicks his wand to the refrigerator, and a head of lettuce appears, followed by a carrot and a cucumber. Malfoy lays them on the worktop, then checks the pans on the stove. "All right, I think we're almost there. Can you sort the boys? Astoria has trays in the sitting room, so we can eat in there, if you'd like." He's not looking at Harry. "Just make certain there are repellent charms on the carpet. Imsy can help you with that."

Harry doesn't want to leave. He wants to grab Malfoy, wants to kiss him until he understands what Harry's trying to say to him. What Harry wants.

But look at how well that went last time.

So Harry slides off his stool. Leaves his wine on the island counter. "You're certain you don't need help?"

The smile Malfoy gives him is strained. It doesn't reach Malfoy's eyes. "Positive."

Harry walks into the sitting room. Toys are scattered from one end to the other, and Imsy's sat on an ottoman, watching blankly as Jamie throws a toy Quidditch player into the air, trying to hit it with a foam beater's bat. Harry recognises that look on the elf's face. He's had it more than once himself when the boys get too wound up.

"Daddy!" Al throws himself at Harry's legs, nearly sending Harry staggering backwards against a very delicate sideboard with fragile china set behind glass doors. Imsy snaps her fingers and a cushioning charm bounces him back a bit. Ah, Harry thinks. An experienced elf.

Scorpius is upside down on the sofa, his head hanging off the side, his feet kicking in the air. Harry picks him up, still dragging Al behind him, Al's arms wrapped around Harry's thigh. Harry sets Scorpius upright, then claps his hands. "Supper's coming, but only if you clean this room right now."

"Not 'ungry!" Al shouts, and he throws himself backwards onto the floor. Harry manages to catch his head before it hits.

"Do not concuss yourself," Harry says. It's a constant refrain around Al. He snaps his fingers at Jamie. "If you hit one more of those figures, Santa will take every single pressie of yours back to the North Pole."

Jamie frowns at him. "How can he take them back if he hasn't delivered them yet?"

And really, Harry's not up for that sort of logic. "Because he can." He points towards the pile of Quidditch figures Jamie's already batted across the room. "Toy box. Now. Or Mr Malfoy won't invite you over again."

"But it's Mrs Malfoy's house," Jamie points out. Still, he starts to gather the figures, and a moment or two later, Scorpius and Al join him. In no time, the room is clean and the small tray tables are set up on the floor for the boys and hovering beside the sofa for Harry and Malfoy, Harry pokes at the fire in the hearth, and the orange-red flames rise higher, taking the faint chill out of the room.

Malfoy comes into the sitting room, a tray of cheese toasties and glasses of milk in his hands. "Sit," he says to Scorpius, and his son's bum smacks solidly against the rug. Al and Jamie follow suit with only the most cursory look from Malfoy. Harry marvels at how neatly Malfoy can deal with Harry's two scoundrels; no one outside of the Weasley clan's ever been able to bring Al and Jamie to heel the way Malfoy can.

"This is a treat, eating in here," Malfoy says as he sets plates of cheese toasties down on each of the boys' small standing trays. "Which means no crumbs everywhere or spilt milk, am I clear?"

"Yes," all three boys chorus, and Al takes the glass of milk Malfoy offers him as carefully as he can, his small hand gripping it tightly.

"'Ank you," Al says, looking like a formal little old man, and Harry bites back a laugh.

Malfoy hears him, though, and he looks at Harry reproachfully--although his mouth twitches as well. "You're very welcome, Al," Malfoy says as he passes the other two glasses to Jamie and Scorpius. "Now I'm afraid it's time to feed your father as well."

He ducks back into the kitchen and returns a moment later with the serving tray refilled. Malfoy hands Harry a plate of pasta and salad, then puts another on his own floating tray. He's also brought in a pot of coffee and two mugs, and when Harry eyes it, Malfoy just says, "I thought we could use something warm." He meets Harry's gaze. "And sobering, given we destroyed almost a whole bottle of wine."

"It's probably not a bad idea," Harry admits. "Even if I'll be up all night from the caffeine." He takes the mug Malfoy hands him. It's just barely milky, the way Harry likes it, and Harry can smell the faint scent of chocolate. "Mocha?" he asks, oddly touched.

"Consider it dessert with your pasta." Malfoy sits down on the sofa beside Harry. "As for the caffeine, there are sleeping potions, you know."

Harry doesn't want to tell Malfoy that he can't use most of them, that if he sleeps too deeply he'll dream of the war again, his mind loosened enough to bring back memories of death and destruction Harry'd rather not face down. Not tonight at least. Besides, he worries about being under the influence of a potion and something happening to the boys. Him not being able to wake up in time. That sort of horrible thing that torments parents in the wee hours of the morning.

The pasta's delicious. Savoury-sweet and spicy and perfectly done. "This is good," Harry says, and Malfoy gives him a small smile.

Harry watches his sons tear into the cheese toasties, losing all sense of manners. He thinks he ought to be embarrassed, but he can't bring himself to care that much. Particularly when Scorpius, his gaze fixed on Al, stops eating carefully and shoves the entire corner of a toastie triangle into his mouth, chewing widely so that Harry can see the mush of toast and cheddar behind his tiny white teeth.

"Barbarians," Malfoy murmurs beside Harry. He picks up his mug of milky coffee and holds it to his nose, inhaling deeply. "This, however, is a joy."

"You're an addict, aren't you?" Harry watches in amusement as Malfoy's eyes flutter at his first sip. "Coffee's your vice."

"Among many other things." Malfoy sets his mug down. He studies the boys, then glances over at Harry. "Tomorrow's the last night of Hanukkah."

Harry picks up his fork again, spears a few penne. He pops them into his mouth, enjoying the spicy, garlicky tomatoey vodka sauce. "All right?" He's no idea what Malfoy's on about.

Malfoy's silent for a moment. His tray bobs slightly in front of him; he pulls it closer, steadies it. On the floor, Al tries to shove a piece of toast up Scorpius' nose.

"Oi, you monster," Harry says, and Al looks up at him innocently. "I can see you, you know."

"But Sco'pus wants to smell toast," Al tries to say, and Harry scowls at him. Al's bottom lip pokes out. "Mean," he whispers, and Harry tries not to roll his eyes.

Scorpius just giggles and pulls cheese from the inside of his toastie, stuffing it into his mouth.

Harry looks back over at Malfoy. "Sorry."

Malfoy just shakes his head. Leans forward to wipe Scorpius' fingers with a tea towel he's brought in from the kitchen. When he settles back against the sofa, he says, "Pansy's shul hosts an ice skating party on the last night of Hanukkah every year. I've gone for ages now, and I brought Scorpius last year. I thought perhaps…" He hesitates, draws in a soft breath before he looks over at Harry. "Perhaps you and the boys might like to come with us tomorrow night." He's holding himself tightly, Harry can tell, as if he's certain Harry'll say no. "I mean, if you can't, that's fine. I know it's rather late notice--"

"We'd love to," Harry says, and Malfoy blinks at him.

"Oh," Malfoy says. "Well. That's brilliant." He brushes a stray lock of hair back from his face. "We usually go over at half-seven." He swallows, then says, "You could meet us here and we could Floo over together, if you like."

Harry nods, feeling strangely elated. As if he's been asked out on a date. By Malfoy.

Which he hasn't. Obviously.

But still. There's a faint thrill that goes through him.

"I'd like that," Harry says. "Definitely."

And when he stretches his socked feet out towards the fire, his mocha cupped in his hands, a plate filled with brilliant pasta perched on his lap, Harry's struck by how comfortable he is here with Malfoy. With their sons.

Maybe that's enough.

For the moment, at least.

Chapter Text

On Friday evening, Draco's feeling surprisingly, shockingly calm as he walks beside Potter to through the streets of North London to an industrial area on the fringes. They'd Flooed from the townhouse to the brightly lit falafel shop Pansy had sent Draco directions to, and the proprietor had been quite kind as they tumbled through his hearth, welcoming Potter and Draco warmly and giving the boys free biscuits. Even though the shop is the assigned Floo point for the skating evening, with a steady stream of families cheerfully popping out of the hearth, Potter'd insisted on buying a parcel of baklava from the case in the front to thank the owner.

It'd been charming, Draco thinks, and perfectly Potter.

To be honest, Draco still can't believe he'd invited Potter to come along tonight. It'd been an impulsive whim, brought on by their conversation last night and the distinct sense of loneliness Draco feels from Potter. When he'd firecalled Pansy after Potter and the boys had left and Draco'd tucked Scorpius up in bed, she'd just sighed heavily and told him she hoped he knew what the hell he was doing.

Draco doesn't. Not in the slightest. But he tells himself they're just friends, taking their sons on an outing. That's all. Because Potter obviously needs gay friends, and Draco thinks he might too.

Adrian doesn't really count.

"Do you know where we're supposed to be going?" Potter asks. He's looking like an Auror at the moment, scanning the shadows as they pass narrow side streets and warehouse-like buildings. Draco's seen Potter's hand go to his wand holster more than once. He knows Potter's watching out for the children and unfamiliar with the area, but Draco wishes he could tell him it's fine. Perfectly safe, even if it seems a bit grotty in places. Jamie and Al are walking to one side, Jamie holding Al's hand tightly, and Potter holding Jamie's.

"It has to be around here somewhere." Draco frowns down at the charmed parchment Pans had owled over earlier this afternoon. Scorpius twists beside him, tugging on Draco's other hand as he leans to the side. "Stop," Draco says absently, but Scorpius just bounces up and down, his bright blue bobble-knit scarf twisting in the breeze, his fine, fair hair sticking out from beneath the matching cap. Draco frowns at the low-slung building beside them, then folds the parchment back up, one-handed, and shoves it in his coat pocket. "We just passed last year's location. They always make it hard to find." It's part of the fun, according to Tony, but Pansy just says it's because the men of the shul want to one-up each other. He suspects that they're both right, in their own ways.

Potter looks around them at the warehouses dubiously. "Are you quite certain?"

"Yes, actually. I am." Draco looks up, sniffs the air; the scent of frying dough wafts their way. "Because I can smell the sufganiyot from over here."

"The doughnuts, right?" Potter gives Draco a small smile. "I've been reading up on Hanukkah."

"Pans will be thrilled," Draco says. But he does mean it, as tart as he might sound to Potter. She's always terribly fond of people who make the effort to understand her family traditions. Like the deliciousness of sufganiyot. Draco's stomach rumbles. He's always enjoyed the jam fried cakes and introducing Scorpius to them last year had been wonderfully amusing. Draco suspects Jamie and Al will gleefully stuff themselves full of sugared dough. As for Draco, right now he's most looking forward to a nip or two of slivovitz to calm his nerves.

"This way," Draco says, and as he turns to his left, Potter puts his hand on the small of Draco's back. Draco stills, a shudder going through him at Potter's light but sure touch. He knows it was a mistake. A slip of Potter's hand, a means of leading the boys after him. Or something. Anything but the intimate feel of a partner's touch.

"Oh," Potter says when Draco glances back at him. He blinks, then drops his hand. "Sorry about that. I wasn't thinking."

"No worries." Draco's voice rasps more than he'd like it to. He walks on, but he can still feel the warmth of Potter's hand against his back as if the brief touch burned into his skin. Draco keeps seeing different sides of Potter--vulnerable, flirtatious, family-centred, commanding. And, of course, the obvious sides Draco's known for years now. Slightly arrogant, slightly thick, incredibly earnest, beloved by the wizarding world as a whole for doing nothing more than casting an Expelliarmus at the Dark Lord. Which, really, if Draco had known that's all it would take to end that bastard's life, he might have done it himself. Even though he knows, perhaps, that it wasn't entirely that simple. But, all those other bits of Potter aside, it's the man inside the Potter myth who fascinates Draco, even though he knows it's not likely that he and Potter will ever truly agree on anything.

Except, now Draco's unsure of that. A little voice deep inside Draco is telling him that perhaps this could be different between the two of them, that the times have changed and so have he and Potter, that what started as a mad, wild obsession with a boy in his school years, despite their obvious peculiarities or perhaps because of them, could become something else. Something that might have a shot at surviving now.

Draco's shivering beside Potter, despite the warmth of his thick grey wool greatcoat, and he clutches Scorpius's hand more tightly. He has no idea what possessed him to ask Potter to join them, much less any clue how tonight might go, but he's excited about being out with a man for the first time in years. Not that this is a date, Draco reminds himself. He's also having trouble looking directly at Potter, who's unexpectedly elegant beside Draco in a long charcoal coat with his dark hair messy and a red scarf wound loosely around his neck. Al and James are in puffy coats and comfortable jumpers and corduroys, and Draco wonders whether he should have let Scorpius wear something a bit less tailored than his pressed trousers and the peter pan collared shirt beneath his navy Fair Isle jumper.

"Papa," Scorpius whispers, tugging on Draco's hand. Draco looks down at his wide-eyed son, who delightfully has one finger stuck up his nostril. "I smells nut doughs!"

"Doughnuts." Draco reaches down and pulls Scorpius's hand away from his nose. "And remember, Aunt Pansy calls them sufganiyot."

"Suf-suf," Scorpius shouts happily, and really, Draco's certain that's the closest his son will get to the proper pronunciation this year.

They turn the corner, down a forbidding alley that raises even Draco's hackles, so he's rather relieved when Potter's hand settles over his wand hilt again. All of the sudden there are voices and laughter, and they walk into the middle of the perfect winter skating scene. It looks like a fair at first, and Draco hears Potter's soft "oh" at his side as they move closer into the wizarding space tucked between the heavy-walled warehouses surrounding them. Lights glow from hundreds of lanterns hung in bare-branched trees, and groups of skaters swirl across a beautifully smooth rink draped with fairy lights all around the sides. More flickering lanterns hover in the air high above ice, making it sparkle and gleam. Tables and chairs are set up in the cobblestone alleyways branching off around the rink, fire pits scattered between them for warmth, and the bare warehouse walls are lined with stands offering free hot doughnuts and pumpkin juice for the children, plum brandy and coffee for the parents. All ages of witches and wizards are out on the ice, mostly dressed in black, their breath soft white puffs in the cold air. Some of the children are as small as the boys -- Draco sees the shelves of charmed skates for toddlers and is grateful for the cushioning charms being cast on all the little ones by one of the women at the rink entrance.

A beautiful menorah is lit at the front of the rink, enchanting with deep, luminous pools of oil burning bright in its tall arms. The flames of all eight branches plus the central arm set apart look brilliant against the inkiness of the dark night.

"Wow," Potter says, and Draco smiles over at him. Potter's taking it all in, his eyes wide behind his glasses; his sons have the same look of wonder on their faces. "This is incredible."

Draco understands the feeling; he'd been stunned the first time Pansy had invited him. "It's for the whole Jewish wizarding community," he says. "Pansy's shul hosts most of it every year, but some of the others take part as well. I've been coming since after the war." He looks around him, thinks of that first Hanukkah when Pansy'd taken him under her wing, insisted he pull himself from his depression, put on proper clothes, ones that had actually been washed, not freshened with a charm for the thousandth time, and come skating with her. It'd been awkward at first, and everyone had stared at him. Whispered behind his back. But then as Pansy swept him across the rink, with a determined, fuck-if-I-care look on her face, others had joined in, their skates scraping against the ice.

By the end of the night, Draco'd had mothers pushing biscuits and sufganiyot on him, telling him he was far too thin to be out in the cold like this. They hadn't been wrong, really. When he wasn't skating or sitting next to one of the fire pits, he'd been shivering like mad. That's what two months of barely eating will do for one's metabolism.

Many of the men are wearing black velvet yarmulkes--Draco picks some up from one of the tables and passes little ones to all of the boys before handing a larger one to Potter.

"It's not required," Draco says, "since it's not a place of worship, but it's a respectful gesture to the nature of the holiday." He settles one on his head; he can feel the charm catching the strands of his hair, holding the yarmulke fast. He bends down to Scorpius, taking off his cap and replacing it with one of the smaller yarmulkes.

Potter's already swapping Jamie and Al's knit hats out. He glances over at the other men, obviously trying to work out how to place the yarmulkes; Draco takes pity on him and helps him out with the boys, before taking Potter's from him.

"Here," Draco says, and he reaches up, positioning the scrap of black velvet on the back of Potter's head. It nearly blends in with his hair; Draco's surprised by how easily it nestles in amongst Potter's wild curls. And then Draco's looking into Potter's bright green eyes, his breath catching at the intensity of the way Potter's watching him.

"Thanks." Potter's voice is soft, a bit rough and husky, and Draco's pulse pounds in the base of his throat. He can't tear his gaze away from Potter, away from the way Potter's lips part, the way Potter's beautiful eyes are fixed on him.

Draco wants to lean in. Wants to catch Potter's mouth with his. Wants to feel Potter pressed against him, that heavy heat of Potter's muscular body--

And then Draco realises how close he is to Potter. How he can feel the warm heat of Potter's breath between them. Draco pulls back, looks away. He clears his throat. "You'll do," he manages to say. He grabs Scorpius' hand before he toddles away. "No, you don't."

"But Uri and Ava," Scorpius protests, and he points off to a smaller rink where Pansy's twins are wobbling on skates. "I want there, Papa!"

"Skates first," Draco says firmly. "You can't walk on the ice."

Jamie and Al are still staring around, their faces delighted. "Daddy." Jamie pulls on Potter's coat. "Daddy, can we skate too?"

Potter looks down at his son, almost distractedly. "Oh. Right. Yeah." He looks over at Draco, and his cheeks are a bit flushed. Most likely because of the cold, Draco's certain. "Where can we get skates for them?"

"Over here." Draco leads them over to the shelves filled with charmed skates.

A woman perhaps five or ten years older than he and Potter is sat on a stool beside a small bluebell fire charm that flickers at her booted feet. Her dark hair is half-hidden behind a bright pink knit cap that matches the mittens on her small feet. She looks up at them, and her face lights up. "Draco! Pansy said you might be here!"

"Bec." Draco leans down and kisses her cheek. "We just need to pick out some skates." He glances back at Potter, who's watching them a bit bemusedly, his hands shoved in the pockets of his coat. "Potter, this is Becca Goldstein, Tony's cousin. Bec, you know Harry Potter. Everyone does."

"Yes, we do." Becca gives Potter a one-over before raising her eyebrows. "I heard you were bringing a friend," she says to Draco with a pointed look, and he reminds himself to kill Pansy with his bare hands later. "I didn't realise he'd be so illustrious."

Potter's face is definitely flushed now. "I wouldn't say that."

Draco rolls his eyes, more than slightly annoyed with Becca for some inexplicable reason. "Stop flirting with him, Bec. The poor man doesn't need you terrifying him."

"It's fine," Potter protests, but Becca just laughs.

"He's being a tit," she tells Potter as Draco sorts through the shelves of skates for the boys' sizes. Or ones close enough for the fitting charms to kick in. Becca holds her hand out to Potter. "Nice to have you joining us. There aren't as many of us as there usually are given that tonight's the start of Shabbos, so some of the more observant members of our community have decided to stay home." She glances over at Draco. "Which means more available skates this year for Scorpius."

Draco pulls two pairs for the younger boys. "Thank Merlin," he says. "It took me twenty minutes to lace him up last Hanukkah." He squats down to look for Jamie's skates. He finds a pair he thinks will fit almost instantaneously.

Becca eyes Potter. "You're a forty-four Euro shoe, right?"

"Yeah." Potter sounds surprised. "How'd you know?"

"I have my ways." Becca swivels on her stool and plucks a pair out of the adult section, handing them to Potter. She takes a slightly smaller skate out for Draco and hands it to him. "Those should work, if I recall correctly."

"Close enough." Draco holds the skates by their laces. "Thanks, Bec."

Potter looks back at her. "Won't you get a chance to skate?"

And Draco freezes, suddenly realising that Potter doesn't know. He glances at Becca, his face stricken, but she just laughs.

"Not without working legs," Becca says, her voice light as she slaps her thighs. "Or someone to carry me on their back."

Draco sees the moment understanding crosses Potter's face. He waits for Potter to look aghast or horrified, but Potter just gives Becca an even, steady look.

"If I were any good at skating," Potter says with a faint smile, "I'd give you a whirl, but I'm afraid we might spend far more time with our bums skidding across the ice."

Becca's smile widens. "Don't think I wouldn't take you up on that concussion-laden offer." She nods towards the boys who're squirming around Draco, begging for their skates. "But I think they might want a bit more of your attention." She reaches out, ruffles Scorpius' hair. "So get on with you now." She waves them off; Draco lets the boys drag him over to the benches to put on their skates.

"What happened?" Potter asks, his voice low. He kneels in front of Jamie, tightening the laces on his skates.

"The war," Draco says. He taps his wand against Scorpius's skates; they shrink to fit snuggly around Scorpius's ankles. "The Snatchers went after her because her mother's Muggle. Cursed her legs and left her for dead, but her father found her in her flat." Draco's voice is flat. Unhappy. He knows he's not responsible for what happened to Becca Goldstein, but that doesn't make him feel any better. What he'd done during the war had led to her being hurt. Draco has a hard time forgiving himself for that.

Potter just looks over at him. Doesn't say anything.

"She's a good person," Draco says fiercely, and he sits on the bench beside Scorpius, bending over to pull on his own skates. "She didn't deserve any of that."

"No one did," Potter says after a moment. He helps Al with his skates, then he glances up at Draco. "Neither did you."

Draco's mouth thins. "Don't make me argue with you here."

Potter pushes himself up. Sits down beside Draco and picks up his own skates. Draco watches the boys wobble on their skates, only the layers of stabilising and cushioning charms keeping them upright on the narrow blades.

"I'm not arguing with you," Potter says as he takes off his boots, slides his socked feet into the stiff leather skates. "But I'm just going to point out again that you were just a kid." He bends over, ties the laces tightly before looking back over at Draco. "There's being repentant for your actions, Malfoy, and then there's self-flagellation for no bloody reason at all, and I suspect you're far more likely to do the latter."

Draco hates how easily Potter can see him. "Oh, shut up," he says, and he pushes himself to his feet, his ankle only slightly turning.

Potter just laughs softly. "Excellent debate skills there." He stands as well, and nearly loses his balance, flailing out before Draco catches his elbow. "Thanks."

"I ought to have let you fall," Draco says, but he doesn't mean it. Not entirely, at least. He hobbles over towards the ice rink. He can see Pansy and Tony out amongst the couples skating together. "Come on, boys."

"You look like a duck with her ducklings," Potter calls out after him, and Draco flips two fingers Potter's way.

Potter just laughs and follows them all.

"There you all are," Pansy says, skating up to them as they reach the ice. "We were worried you got lost." She leans across the railing, kissing Draco's cheek lightly before she turns to Potter, looking him up and down. "Well, you clean up fairly well."

Potter snorts in amusement. "Thanks." He looks over Pansy's shoulder towards Tony, who's just caught up to his wife. "Hey, Tony."

"Glad you could make it, Potter." Tony reaches out, claps Potter's shoulder in a friendly way that makes Draco slightly jealous. Tony's supposed to be his, after all. Via marriage to Pansy, if nothing else.

Heads turn their way, and Draco hopes he's not doing anything inappropriate. Then he realises it's just the awareness of who he's with as he hears people whisper Harry Potter. across the ice. Well, at least the curiosity's friendly for the moment; Draco resolves not to pay it any further mind.

"Don't worry," Tony says, seeing Potter's discomfort. "They'll get used to you being here soon enough." He nods to Draco. "They're fine with this one."

"It only took ages," Draco mutters, but he knows that's not really true.

Potter rubs the back of his hair, just beneath the yarmulke. "I don't mind. Thank you for inviting us."

"I rather thought Draco did that." Pansy's voice is sweetly poisonous, and Draco glares at her. He has a bone to pick with her later anyway about whatever it was that she told Becca. Pansy raises an eyebrow at him, fully aware of his irritation. "Tony, why don't you and Potter take the boys over to the children's rink?"

Tony glances over at Potter. "That's our cue to bugger off for a moment so those two--" He points between Draco and Pansy. "Can have a little talk."

Potter's mouth twitches. "Slytherin code?"

"One that's terribly obvious, I'm afraid." Tony winks at Draco and holds his hand out to Scorpius. "Ready, little man?"

Scorpius nods vigorously. "Yes!"

Draco watches as Potter and Tony lead the boys off, Potter still staggering a bit on his cushioned blades.

"Stop staring, darling." Pansy pokes a finger into Draco's arm. "You're being watched."

A quick glance around the rink proves the truth of that statement. Half the men and most of the women are looking over at them. Draco tries not to flinch.

"Chin up," Pansy murmurs. "Don't show any fear, particularly around the old biddies or they'll eat you alive. Tony's mother is the worst."

"I thought that was your mother." Draco kisses Pansy on the cheek. "You look lovely. Is that your grandmother's fur collar?" He gives her a disapproving look. "What was that about never letting Ava wear fur?"

"Well, I had to fit in," Pansy says, gesturing to the older women skating in full fur coats. "I only take comfort in the fact that this animal lost its life in Russia well before I was born." She slides an arm through Draco's as he steps onto the ice. "As for mother, she's dropped beneath Leah today, but only because she's been halfway supportive about the row Tony and I are currently having."

Draco raises an eyebrow. "I'd never have known." And he wouldn't have, without Pansy telling him. "You seem perfectly fine, the two of you."

Pansy scowls, then glances towards her husband, ushering Potter's boys onto the smaller rink where a spotty young boy's trying to coax them to skate towards him. Scorpius is already on the ice, trying to knock Uri over. "He wants to have another baby, and I told him he was off his bloody nut if he thought I was going to stop taking my contraceptive potion before the twins turn eight. Or go to Hogwarts. I'm leaning towards the latter." She lets Draco circle around her.

"That's quite a decision." Draco studies his best friend. "What'd Tony say?"

And that makes Pansy's bottom lip wobble ever so slightly. "That it was my choice,"

Draco raises his eyebrow. "What's unreasonable about that?"

"Nothing," Pansy snaps. "Which is entirely the problem." Her eyes narrow at Draco. "You wouldn't understand."

And it's true, Draco doesn't. But he knows that whatever's going on, he'll take Pansy's side. She's been his friend far longer. "So he's a cad? Is that our position?"

Pansy frowns at him, and then she laughs, letting Draco pull her close. "Yes, it is." She leans her head against his chest for a moment. "Thank you for not pressing," she says softly.

"We'll talk when you're ready." Draco kisses the top of her head just as Tony and Potter come back to the ice.

"Hands off my wife, Malfoy," Tony says lightly, but as he reaches for Pansy, Draco can tell he's upset. And worried. Draco doesn't blame him; there's something about Pansy that feels a bit more fragile than usual today. He can't put his finger on it. Not yet, at least.

And then Potter wobbles and flails on the ice, catching himself on the railing before he falls. "Sorry," he says a bit breathlessly. "I'm not really brill at this sort of thing.

"You'll be fine," Pansy says. "It's like riding a broom. Except on ice."

"Yeah, well." Potter grimaces. "It's the ice part I'm not so certain about."

Pansy gives Draco a pointed look as she slips her hand around Tony's elbow. Carefully, they all join the fray circling the rink. Draco loves ice skating--as Pansy pointed out, it's like flying but on ice. Since boyhood, skating first on the frozen pond out behind the Manor gardens, then on proper rinks like this one, Draco's worked on how to make each of his motions cause the maximum effect on the ice. Potter seems to be struggling somewhat, and Draco's a bit guilty at his relief that he's obviously more skilled than Potter at this pursuit. It's all about how he's harnessing his strength, Draco thinks, and he makes a note to tell him once he's past his first fifteen minutes or so adjusting.

Pansy and Tony skate together naturally, weaving in and out of the crowd together. Potter keeps nudging Draco unintentionally as he stabilises himself.

"Here, Potter," Draco says finally, his exasperation with the man only growing. "Take my arm." Draco holds out his elbow, and Potter curls a hand around it. "Now lean into the strokes. It helps if you synchronize your body movements with the force of your blades."

Draco steadies Potter, trying to show him how to lean with him. Honestly, Draco thinks it might be better to show Potter how to skate instead of talking it through. They've always been better without words, and Potter's naturally athletic. Somehow it's easier to pick up this way, and before Draco realises it, Potter's skating more fluidly. Draco enjoys the solidness of him, his grace and the sense of coiled strength. It's almost like they're flying in tandem, easily circling through the crowd, effortlessly.

After several rounds of ice and laughter, with Draco forgetting to be nervous, and Potter forgetting to focus on his feet, and just allowing himself to move smoothly across the ice, Pansy skates up on Draco's side.

"You're looking well-matched now," Pansy observes, her voice dry. She turns, skates backwards, the wretched showoff. Tony's trailing behind them, an older man skating alongside him, their heads bent together, their hands behind their backs.

Draco says, "Potter just needed a little bit of help with the skating." He catches Potter as he stumbles a bit across the ice. "Careful."

"Not all of us had private skating coaches." Pansy turns a teasing gaze Draco's way. "Unlike certain people I could name whose initials include a D, an L and an M."

"You had a private coach?" Potter sounds dumbfounded, and Draco shoots Pansy a bitter glare.

"I hope you fall on your arse," Draco says to her. She just laughs and does a quick spin.

Pansy's eyes are sparkling. "He wanted to be an ice dancer at one point. Only Lucius wouldn't allow it."

"I shan't repeat what he said in public," Draco says drily. "It's not really fit for mixed company." To be honest, the insult still stings, but it was only one in a line of Lucius Malfoy's voiced disapproval with Draco's life. If only Father knew, Draco thinks, that he did actually prefer cock over fanny. Draco still can decide if his father would be horrified or grimly annoyed that he'd been right. He won't look at Potter, who's eyeing him sympathetically. "Don't worry. I'm fine."

"But it was a bit prophetic, no?" Pansy's gaze is kind, ironic even. She's endured enough of his tirades about Lucius that she knows how to make him laugh.

"Cheeky cow," Draco says. "What are we drinking?"

Tony catches up to them. "I rather like the slivovitz. There are enough people watching out for the children, and I believe they have sobering potions available." He wraps his arms around his wife's waist, nuzzles her fur collar. Pansy lets him, and from the faint smile on her face, Draco suspects she's forgiven him their argument, whatever she might think.

"What's slivovitz?" Potter asks, looking between them all, a small furrow between his brow, and really, he's lovely with his hair mussed beneath the yarmulke and his cheeks a soft pink from the wind and the cold.

All eyes turn on Potter.

"Oh, Potter," Pansy crows. "You've no idea what you've signed on for, do you?" She looks over at Draco. "You ought to have warned him. Especially with Tony about."

"She has a point," Tony says, a bit reproachfully.

Draco raises his hands. "I didn't want to scare him off."

"You didn't?" Potter's look is warm, and Draco feels his own cheeks begin to heat.

"I didn't think it'd be fair to the boys." Draco glides away from them, to give himself a moment to settle the fluttering in his belly. When he turns back around, Pansy's eyeing him. He sticks his tongue out at her.

Pansy rolls her eyes. "Mature, Malfoy."

"Utterly." Draco throws himself into a spin, so quickly that it makes him dizzy when he comes back up.

Potter's looking at Draco, his face oddly soft. "So about this slivovitz?" He stumbles over the name of the spirit; Draco shouldn't find that terribly charming.

"It's profoundly alcoholic," Anthony warns Potter. "It's probably the raw alcohol content of firewhisky, but then, well, something happens in distillation." He shakes his head. "Go slowly at first. Right, Draco?"

"Caution would be highly recommended, yes." Draco remembers the first time he tried the spirit at the first seder Pansy and Tony had hosted together after their wedding. He'd had trouble collecting himself and using the Floo, much to Tony's amusement. The brandy'd been potent, with a similar effect to grappa or mezcal. Or, after one too many glasses, a Jelly-Legs Jinx.

They skate over to the little booth next to the ice. Tony holds up four fingers, and a cheerful woman with rosy cheeks asks, "Straight or in a toddy?"

"Oh, straight, for certain," Pansy says over Draco's shoulder. "Potter ought to have the full experience to start off with."

"You're awful." Draco points out.

Potter leans against the rink railing, steadying himself on his skates. "I'm game."

The woman behind the booth laughs as she reaches for a heavy green bottle Her eyes flick towards Potter curiously, but she doesn't say anything other than, "Gryffindor brave, eh?"

"It's our downfall, I'm afraid," Potter says with a wry smile.

"Good luck then." The woman hands them out small plastic shot glasses, half-filled with a pale, almost clear liquid. Potter eyes his suspiciously.

"Should we drink this whilst on the rink?" he asks, looking around them. He's griping the railing tightly, and his skates keep slipping across the ice.

Pansy lifts her plastic cup to her lips. "The first one won't kill you," she says, and then she knocks her drink back, downing the whole shot in one swallow. Even Draco, who's watched her drink slivovitz for years is impressed.

"That was ridiculously attractive," Tony says, raising his eyebrows towards his wife, and Pansy looks rather pleased with herself.

"Drink up, boys," she says. She looks at Potter. "Don't sip it; the whole experience will be better if you try not to enjoy it."

Potter takes a deep breath. "Right then," he murmurs, and he lifts his small cup. He follows Pansy's lead, swallowing the whole shot at once, and his throat is long and lean, stretched out, his head back, and fuck if Draco's trousers aren't a bit too tight as he watches Potter's Adam's apple bob. And then Potter's grimacing, sticking his tongue out at the terrible taste of the slivovitz. "That tastes like petrol," he manages to get out, coughing into his elbow.

Tony laughs. "It's an aquired taste, but after a few shots it's not so bad."

"Don't listen to him, Potter." Draco knocks back his own shot of slivovitz. The fruity-sweet spirit burns as he swallows it down, and his eyes water. He purses his mouth, mimicing Potter's own grimace as he shakes his head. "It never gets better. You just get more pissed and don't care."

"Shall I get the next round?" Potter's hand goes to his pocket, but Tony catches his arm before he pulls out his wallet.

"You don't need money," Tony says, gently. "People aren't carrying it here tonight. It's fine for you to have it, but we try to avoid talking about it."

"I'm so sorry." Potter looks a bit confused. "I didn't know."

Tony shrugs and smiles at him. "It's forbidden on the Sabbath. The shul Pansy and I are part of is technically a reform community, so our rabbi's interpretation of the Talmud isn't as strict as the rabbi's of our parents' shul, but we try to avoid being obvious in case it offends people who are more observant."

"How do you manage the event then?" Potter's apparently baffled by the inner workings of the event. Draco's been coming for long enough that he hardly thinks about it any longer, but he remembers having so many questions himself at first, to the point that Pansy had just thrown up her hands and told him to read a bloody book if he wanted to know more about Jewish wizards; she wasn't a rabbi, for Circe's sake. So he'd gone to Tony instead, who'd been Ravenclaw enough to be thrilled by Draco's curiosity. Potter runs his thumb over the stiff rim of his shot glass. "All this has to be expensive to host. The drinks alone--"

"Slivovitz isn't top-shelf," Pansy murmurs. She slides her arm through Draco's elbow, leans her head against his shoulder. "Tony's never going to shut up, you know."

Even now Tony has that bright gleam in his eye. Honestly, Draco thinks he ought to be a teacher of some sort; he's a natural gift at explaining things that Draco respects. "What we do," he says, shifting closer to Potter and lowering his voice, " is sell tickets ahead of time so money changes hands then, but we never turn anyone away who shows up, whether or not they've bought a ticket. People across our shuls donate for this event, and Pansy and I help organise it. Her parents have been historically generous donors in memory of her grandmother."

Pansy touches the fur collar that's tidy against the deep green of her wool coat. "Bubbe loved skating--and she loved coming here every Hanukkah to show off, to prove to all of us youngsters that she could still look fabulous on the ice." She looks sad; Draco knows she misses her grandmother. Bubbe'd died not long after Pansy and Tony were married; she'd never even met her great-grandchildren, which Draco knows Pansy regrets.

He squeezes her arm, and she looks over at him with a faint smile, her hand settling on his for the briefest touch.

Potter nods, glancing between them and Tony. "Would it be appropriate for me to make a donation to next year's fund?" He looks around the rink, before turning to watch the children in the smaller rink. Draco catches a glimpse of Scorpius's pale hair and the Potter boys' puffy coats as the teenagers cheer the younger kids on. Potter's mouth curves up in a small smile. "My boys seem to be having a wonderful time."

"If you like." Tony returns Potter's smile. He pats Potter's shoulder, and Draco envies Tony the ease of his touch. Even the brush of his fingertips accidentally against Potter's overcoat flusters Draco. Makes him feel like a fifteen-year-old all over again. "You're our guest tonight, obviously." He collects the plastic cups from all of them before glancing over at Potter and adding, "You know that we're related, yes?"

Draco's eyebrow goes up. He, for one, didn't know Tony was related to Potter at all. He looks over at Pansy, who shrugs, obviously as perplexed as Draco is.

"Really?" Potter asks. "I mean, I've only glanced over my father's family tree, but I don't remember any Goldsteins."

"Because there wouldn't be," Tony says with a laugh. "Our grandmothers were cousins; Benisch was their surname." He eyes Potter. "Which means you count, you know."

Potter blinks, looking even more confused than before. "Pardon?"

Tony hands the cups back to the woman at the booth. "Well, since your father was technically Jewish through Cousin Euphemia, most reform communities would accept you even without conversion." He gives Potter a wide smile. "You should come to services sometime. If you like."

"Maybe," Potter says. "You've piqued my curiosity with that." He hesitates, then admits, "I don't know a great deal about my father's family. My mum's sister has told me some about that side, but…" He trails off, looking a bit awkward. "I never thought to see if my grandmother had family still."

"I'm sure my mother would be happy to introduce you around," Tony says. "She's wanted to meet you for years, but thought it best not to be pushy."

"For the first time ever," Pansy says, half under her breath, but her husband still hears her and gives her a pointed look. Pansy holds up her hands. "You know I'm not wrong. She had twenty different suggestions last night about what Uri and Ava should wear." She looks over at Draco. "To skate. They're three. Jeans, jumpers, and coats, I said, but she wanted Ava in a proper dress, as if I'd let her out with bare legs on ice."

"That was a row," Tony says with a sigh. He motions to the woman in the booth, and she reaches for the bottle of slivovitz again. The groups around them are pretending not to be eavesdrop, but they clearly are to Draco's eye. He's fairly certain the story of Potter's relation to the Goldsteins is going to be gossip fodder at every breakfast table in the Jewish wizarding community tomorrow morning. Not that he blames them, really.

"Let's drink to family," Tony suggests, gathering another four small glasses for them and handing them out.

They sip the second ones more slowly. Draco blinks as his eyes water. He'll be right as rain by the third, but it's hard to forget how alcoholic the beverage is when the flame could clearly be ignited with a quick spell. Or a stray spark, really. He eyes the enormous menorah cautiously. It's oil, so it's not likely to be a problem, but he finishes off his slivovitz in one last swallow anyway.

"Sufganiyot, now," Pansy says, handing Tony her plastic cup. "Come on, Potter. Let's introduce you to your grandmother's roots." She holds out a hand, and Potter takes it bemusedly, with a half-panicked glance Draco's way.

"Oh, I"m not rescuing you." Draco sets his cup back on the booth counter. "I want some myself."

Pansy's already pulling Potter towards the jelly doughnut stand. Five minutes later, Potter has icing sugar all over himself and Draco brushes it off, rubbing perhaps a little too vigourously at the wool over Potter's firm chest. Also he can't stop thinking about how Potter looks when he licks his lips, with a smear of apricot on the corner of his mouth that Draco longs to wipe away. Or perhaps kiss.

"These are brilliant," Potter says through a mouthful of fried dough and apricot preserves.

"I told you," Draco says, and he wipes his fingers on a scrap of paper napkin. Tony's tugged Pansy back off into the fray of the rink, and he can hear her laughter echoing back at them. He looks over at Potter. "Ready to hit the ice again?"

Potter swallows, then wipes his mouth clean. "I'm terrible at it."

"I've seen worse." And Draco has. Greg's a complete disaster on skates, even with stabilising charms. Last time he'd come, they'd ended up in St Mungo's after he'd sprained his left hip in a fall. At least he hadn't broken it, which had been Pansy's fear. Draco holds out his hand. "Come on. I'll help you."

To his relief, he barely shudders when Potter's fingers curl around his, heavy and warm. But still, Draco thinks Potter notices the faint tremble in his hand, and Draco looks away, sudddenly embarrassed.

"Let's try this," Potter says, and he pulls Draco away from the railing. He wobbles a little, and Draco steadies him. "Thanks." Potter slides an arm lightly around Draco's waist. "Is this okay?" he asks. "It's just it helps me keep my feet beneath me for now."

"No worries." But Draco can feel the faint pressure of Potter's hand against his hip, and it nearly takes his breath away. If he's not careful, they're going to both end up sprawle across the ice like some utter fools, and Draco knows he'd never live that down. Not with Pansy here.

They resume skating, which is safer to Draco's mind, but now Potter's a bit handsier and a little more reckless with his body pressed closer to Draco's. Still, he's not wrong. Potter's a bit surer on his skates like this, and before Draco realises it, they're flying across the ice, the strokes of their skates in perfect alignment. It's glorious, and his hair flutters around his face, caught by the breeze and their momentum. Potter's laughing, and Draco's heart soars. Until he realises the boards are coming up far too quickly. Draco tries to pull them around, but it's not possible with two. Potter takes the impact, Draco crashing softly into his chest as Potter's arms come up to shield him.

Draco's skates slide out from beneath him, but Potter catches him, keeps him from falling.

They stop there for a moment, breathing hard, Draco finally regaining his balance and managing to disentangle himself. He can smell the warm spice of Potter's cologne and the musky undertone of his skin.

"Sorry," Draco says reflexively, wishing he could hold on to Potter just a bit longer, but really, it's indecent.

"Don't worry, Malfoy," Potter says with a soft laugh. "You can slam into me any time." Potter's eyes widen as he realises what he's said. His face flushes; he swallows. "I mean, it's not really a big deal."

And as Draco's stomach swoops, he resists the urge to laugh to cover his nervousness. Merlin, but he should not be thinking about what Harry Potter would look like naked, spread out beneath him, not with everyone around them and their children skating nearby. But Potter's curls are ridiculous, and his eyes are too green to resist really, and his mouth is so pink and soft that Draco wants to lean in, press his own lips to Potter's again. He draws in a ragged breath, then says, a bit more cheekily than he ought to, "I should hope it's a bigger deal than you claim."

Potter's eyebrows go up. He laughs, then he says, "Malfoy, are you flirting with me?"

Draco shrugs. Perhaps it's the slivovitz. Perhaps it's the closeness of Potter to him. Perhaps it's the darkness of the night pushed back by shimmering lights around them, a recognition of this festival of miracles where anything might be possible. "Perhaps," Draco says, and then he's skating off again, into the thick of the melee.

"Really?" Potter calls out after him, and then he's trying to follow Draco as best he can.

Draco intentionally sets a strenuous pace, makes Potter work to catch him. Laying himself into a curve helps Draco regain his composure. He does a quick crossover, wondering if he should skate backwards to taunt Potter. He could probably manage it, even in this social event, but he doesn't want to take things too far. Plus Pans will mock him if she sees, and she always seems to see things, the dreadful cow.

"You're a tit, you know." Potter's still behind him, and Draco hears him swear beneath his breath as they round the other curve of the rink. "Malfoy--"

"Oh, good grief." Draco finally relents, letting Potter glide to his side. He twists around, skates backwards, Pansy be damned. Potter's face is flushed, his hair rumpled. He looks glorious, and Draco can't tear his gaze away. "It's so nice to be the one in the front for once."

Potter grabs at Draco just before Draco skates into a teenage couple entwined together. "Disaster averted," he says as Draco steadies himself against Potter's shoulder. "Although I ought to have let you fall down since you're so determined to show off."

"I'm not," Draco protests, but he knows Potter's right. "You're just jealous I'm better at this than you."

"Oh, terribly." Potter's voice is dry. "Because I hate watching you from behind."

Draco shakes his head, his cheeks heating again. "Potter, you're hopeless."

"Probably." Potter slides his arm under Draco's. "Skate with me."

And it's so easy to glide along with Potter like this. Draco's warm from the slivovitz and the quick rush of skating. And he's too comfortable with Potter like this, really. How is this his life now, sharing this moment with his friends, Potter on his arm, their sons nearby, all of them skating in the cold winter air with nary a care in the world. It's a true Hanukkah miracle, and Draco sends a silent thank-you to the Maccabees for preserving tradition and helping bring this about, however obliquely.

Draco loses track of how many times they go around the rink. They're not even talking; they're just skating together in perfect rhythm, and nothing's felt like this before. Not even flying's brought him this rush of joy, this thrill that pounds through Draco's body at the brush of Potter's fingertips against his.

He could do this forever, Draco realises, and perhaps it's that thought that makes him stumble, sends him careening into Potter again. They hit the boards, and this time it hurts, the railing striking against Draco's side. He winces, and Potter's looking down at him, his brow furrowed.

"Are you all right?"

Draco's not certain. This pash on Potter's more than that, he realises. He's in danger of falling for Potter.

Perhaps he already has.

"I'm fine," Draco manages to say, but he's shaking, and Potter frowns at him.

"You need to sit down," Potter says. He reaches up, brushes Draco's hair back from his forehead, tucks it behind one ear. Draco can't help himself. He turns his head, presses his cheek to Potter's hand. "Oh," Potter says softly.

They stand there for a moment. Draco can't look at Potter. Can't breathe.

He desperately wants Potter to kiss him, even as he knows what a complete disaster that would be.

And then there's a shout of laughter as a group of friends pass them, and Draco comes to his senses. Realises where they are. How public this is.

"I need a tea," Draco manages to say, and Potter drops his hand, takes a gliding step backwards. People are skating by, and Draco can feel the curious glances being cast their way. He doesn't want to be the next bit of fodder for the gossip mill. "Could you…" He trails off, gestures towards one of booths lining the rink. Draco needs a moment to gather himself, and he can't do that with Potter next to him like this. He's too close, and Draco can't think.

"Oh," Potter says. "Sure." He hesitates, then asks, "Milk and sugar?"

Draco shakes his head. "Just black, thanks. And strong." He needs something to counter the slivovitz.

"Right." Potter studies Draco's face, as if he's worried. At Draco's frown, he sighs. "Back in a moment then. "

He skates off and Draco makes his way out of the rink to a side area with long benches. He sits a bit gingerly, his hand pressed to his ribs. There'll be a bruise there by morning, if not before. Draco's certain of that. But that's of less importance than the wounding of his pride.

And the terrible realisation that he might have feelings for Potter.

Warm ones. Affectionate ones. The type of feelings that make one want to spend lazy Sunday monrings in bed together, having slow, intimate sex whilst the boys are off with their mothers, and oh, Draco did not need that image in his mind. Not now. Not here.

He buries his face in his hands and curses himself for being a fool.

There's a soft touch on his shoulder. Draco looks up quickly, but it's only Pansy, settling down on the bench beside him.

"So, nu," she says, her voice soft. "Tell me what's going on." Her gaze drifts over towards the booth Potter's stood at, waiting for the man staffing it to pour up Draco's tea. "You two seemed cosy out there."

"I'm fucked," Draco says. There's no beating about the bush with this. He doesn't have it in him to pretend. Not with Pans. He looks down at his hands. "Well and truly fucked."

Pansy's quiet for a moment, then she says, "Not in the pleasant way, I take it."

Draco looks over at her. "No."

"Well, that's unfortunate." Pansy's watching Potter. Tony skates up to him, leans in to say something to Potter who nods, then glances back Draco's way. Draco feels the warmth spread across his cheeks again. It worsens when Potter looks awy. Pansy clicks her tongue lightly against her teeth. "You know, for a Gryffindor, he's rather attractive. If I didn't love Tony madly, I might throw myself at Potter."

"The fuck you would." Draco hates the rush of jealousy that rises up in him.

Pansy just turns to look at him, her gaze pointed. "I see."

And Draco knows she does. "It's just a pash," he tries to say. Even he recognises how weak that sounds.

Pansy shakes her head as they both watch Potter collect Draco's tea, then follow Tony over to meet the rabbi. It's on skates, and very social, but it's a charming scene nonetheless.

"I'd always wondered about the hair," Pansy says, almost to herself. "But he'd best watch out. Tony'll have him in shul every week if he's not careful."

Draco smacks her arm lightly, and she turns to look at him.

"I heard you," Pansy says calmly. "I'm just giving you time to remember that you never stopped having a pash on him, Draco." She pauses, then adds, "Although I think this might be more than that now, don't you?" Her voice is careful. Sympathetic.

She's right of course, the bint. Draco sighs heavily, the impossibility of it hitting him as he watches Potter greet some of Tony's acquaintances from the temple. "I really, really hate you."

Pansy links her arm through his. "That's all right. I find your hatred invigourating." She leans against Draco. "It'll be all right," she whispers.

They watch Potter and Tony across the rink, Tony gesticulating wildly as his friends gather around Potter, and Potter cupping Draco's tea between his palms--if Draco squints, he thinks maybe he can see a resemblance between the two. He glances over to Pansy. "Don't tell anyone. Not even Tony."

"I won't," she says loyally, and Draco's grateful for her consolation. "But if he hurts you, I'll kill him. Chosen One or not."

Draco looks over at the children's rink, catching sight of Al and Scorpius sat on the ice, laughing as one of the older girls tries to teach Jamie how to spin. He's failing miserably, but he looks as if he's having the tme of his life.

That's all that's important, Draco tells himself. His son. Potter's boys. The friendship between all three. Draco doesn't want to hurt that. Doesn't want his son to lose Al. Or Jamie. And if that means curbing this attraction to Potter, pushing down these feelings that are bubbling up, then Draco can manage to do that.

He thinks.

Now if only he could stop finding Potter so damnably fit, if only Potter would be spoilt or ungracious or even rude or do something to make Draco like him less. That would be helpful. But no. Potter's looking at him across the rink, holding up Draco's tea and mouthing sorry his way.

"I could go rescue him," Pansy says thoughtfully. "But where's the fun in that?" She looks over at Draco, then sighs. "Oh, darling. Just shag him and get it all out of your system. It'll be better in the long run."

Draco barely hears her. His heart thuds painfully at the sight of Potter's stupid face smiling over at him. Damn that fit-arsed bastard. He's wrecking Draco's life, and he's only just come back into it.

How much worse will this become as time goes on?

Chapter Text

Perhaps the worst time to be stood in a queue at the owl post office down Diagon is on the Saturday before not only Yule but also Christmas, but Draco'd been foolish enough to leave his last few holiday tasks until today. He tells himself it's because he'd been busy with work, but that's not true. He could easily have popped over at some point in the last week, but he's been caught up with the rehearsals for the Yule pageant. And that's not entirely true either. It's because of bloody Potter and the fact that Draco's wanted to spend as much time around the idiot as he possibly can.

And really, Draco thinks, he oughtn't have had as much slivovitz as he'd had last night. It always feels as if his head's been kicked in the next day, whether or not Draco'd actually gotten pissed off the awful stuff. And Scorpius had woken him up at half-seven on a sodding Saturday morning, bouncing on the bed in the spare room Draco's sleeping in and shouting at the top of his lungs for Draco to make him breakfast, when all Draco had wanted was a bit of a lie-in and then a hot shower and maybe a double espresso. None of which he'd managed thanks to his wound-up toddler.

Greg's at home with Scorpius now whilst Draco's stood rumpled and exhausted in this bloody queue, hoping that this time Greg's actually helping Imsy to mind the townhouse and keep Draco's beloved brat from doing anything truly dangerous. Although, really, Draco's certain Imsy's likely doing all the minding of them both. Greg's fond of his godson, but rather notoriously lax with the whole idea of taking care of children under a certain age. The last time Draco'd begged him to watch after Scorpius, he'd come home to both of them on the sofa in his flat, watching a nature docu on telly--Greg had insisted it was educational--with a wide-eyed Scorpius learning about the dangers gazelle face on the savannah whilst drinking Irn-Bru from a sippy cup, the remnants of a Cadbury's Dairy Milk bar smeared across his face.

More disturbing than that had been the way Scorpius had cheered on the lioness as she'd taken down the delicate gazelle. Draco hadn't realised exactly how bloodthirsty his son could be.

All to say, Draco wouldn't have Flooed Greg up this morning if he hadn't been desperate. There's no way he could have wrangled Scorpius through Diagon today, not with this awful headache and Scorpius still manic from last night's excitement from the skating rink. He hopes Imsy has enough magic to deal with both of Greg and Scorpius at once--she certainly won't be happy with him when he returns, but he's bought her a hamper of her favourite jams and he hopes that will mollify her somewhat.

His father would be horrified by him bribing a house elf, Draco's sure. But times have changed, and Imsy's worth the ridiculously expensive price Draco'd paid for the brown wicker basket lined with tiny jars filled with posh preserves and chic conserves.

Draco checks the itinerary his mother had left with him one more time, just to make very sure that he has everything exactly right on the address label. He's checked the ports of call and even had a conversation with the cruise representatives at the trip's terminal destination, Barbados. The ship that's carrying his mother, Aunt Andromeda, and Teddy set sail yesterday from the French side of St Martin. They're currently in Anguilla, according to the timetable in his hand. They'll be sailing from there to St. Barts, St. Kitts and Iles des Saintes, arriving at the island of Dominica on Christmas Day.

And as a gust of cold air blows in when yet another wizard laden with presents stomps into the post office, the door slamming shut behind him as he remarks on how chilly the weather's getting, isn't it, Draco wishes he were on a ship in the middle of the bloody Caribbean, enjoying warm sun and endless blue seas and terrible cocktails drenched in fruit and rum.

Perhaps that might be next year's Yule plan, Draco thinks, as he shifts another foot or two forward when the clerk behind the counter wearily calls next. For fuck's sake, Draco hopes the witch who shuffles forward has completed all her paperwork properly. This queue is bloody interminable. He rolls his head from side to side and sighs into the thick blue muffler wrapped around his neck.

The regulation blue overseas owl pack clutched in Draco's hands is carefully addressed to Mrs Narcissa Malfoy, care of Enchantment Tours, Roseau, Dominica, Windward Islands, Lesser Antilles; Draco'd taken a proper label from the shipping office at the Museum so he wouldn't have to fill it out in Diagon. Anything he can do to minimise his time here is well worth the trouble. He'd miniaturised the Christmas presents at home--a French silk scarf and designer sunglasses for his mother, violet floral water and a finely worked gold and garnet necklace for his aunt, and a Quidditch jersey for Teddy from his favourite Wimbourne Wasps player, Gregory Gladstone, with lots of toffee besides--and prepared a declaration of contents in case the clerk at the owl post office tries to prevent him from sending off an international owl due to enhanced security.

Really, the fucking Americans have made everything so difficult these past few years.

Draco shifts from foot to foot, peering up at the counter from the end of a long queue and getting more nervous by the minute. He frankly hates being out in Diagon at the best of times, what with the sideways looks and whispers he often receives, and Christmas is perhaps the worst season to be caught on a Saturday. He'd rather supervise two pageants than be here today, but he truly hasn't had the time to complete this vital task with rehearsals and everything else, and this is the last day he really can drop this into international post. Any later and the package may not arrive. So he tugs his knit hat down a bit lower, trying to hide his all too distinctive hair, hoping that no one will notice him. He can't bear having to deal with any snide remarks or outright rudeness today.

Slowly, ever so slowly, the line creeps to the front. Several wizards and witches start up conversations. Draco reads the same poster about the owl post responsibilities and waivers for what feels like a hundred times. He's itching to get this parcel posted and return home to whatever disaster Greg and Scorpius are leaving for him. With any luck it won't be the complete destruction of the townhouse. Astoria would, rightly, murder him for that. Draco takes a deep breath, centring himself, and breathes out. The line moves again. Another five minutes and he's one person closer to the efficient witch with long black hair and a fringe that looks to have been cut with a straightedge. She's wearing a red owl post jacket belted at the waist, which Draco finds terribly smart for a regulation item of clothing.

Finally, it's his turn.

"Anything hazardous or in violation of international wizarding law?" The clerk hardly looks at him as she scans the address label. Draco thinks her eyebrows go up when she reads his mother's name, but he can't be certain. She doesn't say anything, however. Her red-inked quill just taps lightly against the label, waiting.

"No." Draco's harnessing his great impatience and trying to act pleasant. One of the things he's learnt since the hearings at the end of the war is that the best way to get through bureaucratic encounters is to be as polite as possible. "Just presents."

The clerk nods, scribbling something on the customs portion of the shipping label. "Would you like a receipt of delivery?" She tilts her head, looking up at him. She doesn't seem hostile, which is a relief.

"No need." Draco figures that if his parcel is lost, it's lost. He's already spending an exorbitant amount to post it to the Caribbean, for Merlin's sake.

"That will be ten Galleons four." The clerk stamps the shipping label lightly, then tosses the parcel into a levitating box behind her that's nearly filled to the brim with international post packages.

Draco takes the coins out of his purse. He's amazed at how costly the package is, but it's within a few sickles of what Maeve from shipping at the Museum had helped him estimate. He'd wanted to make sure to have the appropriate amount of cash on hand to avoid any further fuss. He hands the coins over, and the clerk drops them into the til.

"Next," she calls out, and Draco turns away.

The cold air that hits him as he walks out into Diagon is like a breath of life compared to the warm stuffiness of the post office, and Draco stops for a moment, leans against the rough brick wall beside the paned bay window draped in fairy lights and filled with owls on perches. He's so grateful to have finally escaped, his errand completed. Now he only has to walk a few more metres, and he'll be back in Muggle London and away from anyone who might recognise him or wish to make his life more difficult.

"Malfoy," a voice calls out, and Draco's shoulders stiffen. He looks over, even though he recognises the voice. It's Potter, of course, bearing down on Draco with shopping bags and twine-tied parcels in hand. And Draco doesn't even have it in him to be angry, despite the being singled out in public, and the few curious heads turned his way. Potter's coat is open in the cold air, his hair's rumpled as usual, and he's wearing a green jumper that makes his eyes even brighter.

The bastard looks bloody perfect.

"Hello, Potter," Draco says quietly. His skin prickles as though everyone's looking at him, and he tenses. However, most of the passers-by seem absorbed in their holiday shopping. The handful of people watching them are more interested in Potter than Draco, he realises, and Draco wonders what that must be like for Potter, to be always on display. Draco would hate it; he's certain of that. He's grown accustomed to his anonymity. "What are you doing here?"

"I had to get a last-minute present for Fleur's sister--I'd no idea Gabrielle was spending Christmas in England." Potter holds up his shopping bags a bit ruefully. "And then I saw things for the boys, so…" He shrugs. "Gin says I try too hard to make up for all the awful Christmases I had at their age, but they're good kids, and I don't see the harm in spoiling them a bit this time of year."

"Ah," Draco says, for lack of anything better. He should stop obsessing about the triangle of golden skin between the white points of Potter's collar that poke out over the neckline of his jumper. Besides, he can't judge Potter for indulging his children. Scorpius will wake up on Christmas morning to a toy shop piled beneath the Christmas tree. Mother's already left present for him, and the Greengrasses had sent over a few two days ago, with the promise of more coming. Which reminds Draco, he really should ring up Astoria tonight to make sure he knows what the plans for Christmas are this year. He's fairly certain the Greengrasses will be Portkeying out to Los Angeles soon for the birth of grandchild number two; the last time he and Astoria had spoken, Daphne was about to pop at any moment.

Draco's not so certain what Scorpius will think of having a cousin; he's been the centre of attention his whole life, and a new baby'll be quite a change, particularly after the rough go of it that Daphne's been having.

"How was your head this morning?" Potter smiles, shielding his eyes from a sudden burst of sun that breaks through the usual grey cloud cover. It's gone as quickly as it'd come, though, and Potter drops his hand.

"Fine," Draco lies. He's still furious that he hadn't managed a cup of coffee to ease the headache from one shot too many last night. "Yours?"

Potter winces. "Let's just say, thank Merlin for hangover potion, and whilst I love my children, it's a good thing Ginny took them after the noise they made this morning." Potter swallows, looking suddenly unsure. "And Paul, I suppose." There's a faint sneer Potter gives to the name that makes Draco want to smile. He likes the parts of Potter that aren't the polished, perfect performances he shows to the public.

"Paul's the new boyfriend, right?" Draco remembers Potter telling him about it on the bench toward the end of last night, when they'd both had enough spirits to share confidences whilst watching their boys playing dreidel on one of the tables with the Goldstein clan and a few of the teenagers, wagering sufganiyot instead of gelt.

"Yeah." Potter presses his lips together; he doesn't look happy. "I met him when they came by this morning to get the boys for the day. "He's not terrible." He rubs his arm distractedly. "Gin's bringing him to Christmas at the Burrow on Wednesday evening."

Draco frowns. "Christmas is on Friday."

"Oh," Potter shakes his head. "Arthur and Molly host between Yule and Christmas now. With all the grandkids it's easier; that way we can all have proper Christmases at home on the day itself, then go over to the in-laws if anyone needs to. I just didn't expect Paul to be joining us this year." He frowns. "It seems awfully early days for that, you know?"

Draco nods. He recalls Potter's half-pissed admission last night that he doesn't want to be replaced in his sons' affections by his ex-wife's new partner. "Don't worry. You don't have to like him."

Potter shrugs then. "I suppose I don't." He sighs. "I just have to be civil. Which should be easy enough. Like I said, he's not awful." He gives Draco a half-smile. "Even if there's a horrible part of me that wishes he were."

"I think that's just human nature." Draco shifts from foot to foot. They're starting to get noticed, he realises, and the last thing Draco wants is to end up on the gossip pages of the Prophet. "When Astoria decides to tear herself away from her job and find someone to settle down with, Draco'll probably be livid. He's fully aware of his own hypocrisies; Potter, on the other hand, seems entirely oblivious to his.

He's about to take a step away, about to excuse himself when Potter suddenly says, "Hey. Would you like to come back for a glass at mine? I'd invite you to the Leaky, but it's beastly this time of year."

Draco hesitates. The idea of being alone with Potter makes his pulse pound harder, his stomach flutter. It's true; he'd honestly rather die than go to the Leaky, even in the middle of summer when most of Diagon is on holiday and the pub's practically deserted. However, he's not sure what awaits him at Grimmauld Place. It's so much easier to have the children shaping the conversation between him and Potter; when it's just them, everything is a bit more awkward. Unless, it seems, they're drinking something. Coffee. Wine. Slivovitz. "Sure. I have to be rather quick, though. I've got Greg minding Scorpius--"

"Goyle?" Potter asks, his eyebrows going up. "Is he good with kids? It's just I'm always looking for--"

"Oh, God, no," Draco says, cutting Potter off. "Not unless you want to come home to a wildly hyper child." He loves Greg dearly, but he's not willing to drag any other parent into Greg's nouveau ideas of childrearing. "To be honest, even with Imsy on hand, there's only so long Greg and Scorpius can go well without any major incidents." He sighs. "I dread to see what sort of mischief they'll get up to when Scorpius is older."

Potter snorts. "At least you don't have two of them egging each other on." He tilts his head down Diagon. "Let me at least fortify you before you have to face the damage."

They bustle into a public Floo, waiting in yet another queue for a few minutes, neither of them really talking for fear of being eavesdropped on. When they finally manage to make it to the hearth--dirty and dusty from hundreds of wizarding boots--Potter tosses the silvery Floo powder into the flickering flames. A quick whoosh and a twist later, they land at the Grimmauld grate. Draco steps out after Potter, shaking his boot reflexively to dislodge any lingering ash. The library of Grimmauld is welcoming, and the fire blazes up behind them. Draco glances around him, taking in the dark wood panelling, the heavy leather furniture, the deeply jewelled rugs on the gleaming floor. It smells like beeswax and lemon oil, along with bayberry and fir from the Christmas tree and the decorations hanging from the chimneypiece.

Above the candles and evergreen boughs hangs a gilt-framed painting of rolling countryside, the green hills and valleys dotted with wildflowers and sheep. It's familiar to Draco; a similar one had hung in his mother's sitting room in the Manor for as long as he could remember. It's in the hall of her townhouse now, and the first time Aunt Andromeda had seen it, she'd exclaimed in delight. The paintings had been part of a matched set, split between his grandparents and his great aunt and uncle's house, and seeing it here is a stark reminder that Potter's living in a Black family residence, and the proper master of it, it seems, given the cosy state of the house itself. Old wizarding homes like this one are well-known to descend into gloom and despair if they feel they've been passed down to the wrong member of the family.

Draco lets his fingertips trail across the carved, oiled wood of the chimneypiece. He can almost feel the house responding to his touch, the warmth and happiness of it rising up around him. There's a good aura to the space, Draco thinks, and in that moment, he misses the Manor so damned much he can barely breathe.

"I'll go get the wine and glasses," Potter says. He drops his shopping bags and parcels in front of one of the bookcases, then throws his coat onto the rack in the corner. "Oh, I'm sorry. Should I take your coat?"

"No. That's fine." Draco sets the hamper for Imsy on the floor, then unbuttons the round buttons of his coat slowly as Potter disappears through the half-open doorway. He wonders what he's got himself into. Potter seems nervous, energetic, somehow a bit different than last night. Perhaps even a bit frenetic, although charmingly so. Draco hangs up his coat and scarf on the rack near the hearth, tucking his hat into his coat pocket. He smoothes the staticky strands of his hair before brushing out the wrinkles in his heathered wool trousers. He doesn't quite know where he should sit, but decides that the oxblood leather chesterfield near the fire is as good a place as any. The cushions creak ever so softly beneath his thighs; he relaxes into the soft, tufted leather.

Potter returns, holding two stemmed glasses in his hand with a bottle tucked under his arm and a white pottery bowl of Marcona almonds in the other hand. He sets the nuts down on the small side table nearest Draco's side, then proffers the bottle. "It's this year's Beaujolais--is that all right?"

"More than." Draco smiles. "Would you like me to aerate it?"

Potter opens the bottle with his wand and pours, whilst Draco casts the spell to increase the oxygenation of the wine.

Draco settles back with his glass against the deep arm of the sofa. He shifts, takes a sip. The earthy tang of the wine grounds him. It's a good bottle, and he swirls the bright red wine up the curved sides of the glass, lifting it to his nose to breathe in the floral hints of its scent.

Potter's looking at him from the other side of the chesterfield. It should make Draco uncomfortable, but it doesn't. He feels oddly safe here in Potter's house, sat on Potter's sofa, drinking Potter's wine. In the fairy tales his mother had read to him as a child, this would be a warning, a prickling sensation that he was in danger, about to be marked by a force greater than himself, about to make a deal with a power he ought to be terrified of.

Draco feels none of that. He just feels...happy. Comfortable. As if this is the place he belongs, the place he was meant to be. He lifts his glass again, takes a sip before lowering it, resting the crystal foot against his thigh.

Potter's still watching him, his own glass cupped between his palms.

"Careful--if you keep looking, you might turn to stone," Draco jokes. But he likes the way Potter's looking at him, with those soft, warm eyes of his, so deeply green behind the glint of lamplight on his glasses.

Potter clears his throat, and a pink flush stains his cheeks. "Sorry. Where are my manners?" He shifts against the corner of the chesterfield, the cushion dipping a bit lower beneath his thigh.

Draco shrugs. "It's all right. I find it odd to be here when the sprogs aren't."

"You get used to them being underfoot, don't you?" Potter's smile is wry. "Sometimes I don't know who I am any longer when Gin has them. My life's just all about being Al and Jamie's dad, and when they're not here, it's hard to remember myself as just Harry."

Strangely, Draco understands that now. Caring for Scorpius for the past three weeks has been a full-time job, and Draco can already feel how it's changed him. He's not certain he wants to give that up when Astoria comes home. Which is likely to be an awkward situation, he thinks. He's given her so much custodial supervision of their son that he's not sure how she'll react when he tells her he wants Scorpius more frequently.

"You know," Draco says, waving his wine glass towards the hearth, "my mother has the companion piece to your painting there."

Potter glances up over the chimneypiece. "Really?" He looks back at Draco. "Kreacher says it's been hanging in the house forever. Gin and I found it in one of the upstairs rooms when we first moved in; I liked it, so we brought it down here."

"Family legend has it that my great-great-grandmother painted them back when she was barely out of Hogwarts." Draco studies the painting, takes in the delicate brushwork, the beautiful shades of green that meld into one another to create the lovely patchworked landscape of the English countryside. "Violetta Bulstrode, one of Millie's many-great-aunts, I believe. She might have had quite the career if she hadn't married into the Black family, but there was no way Great-Great Grandfather Cygnus would have tolerated that."

"I don't really know much about the Blacks," Potter admits. "There's a tapestry hanging in the hallway with the family tree on it. Evidently, Walburga burned off all the branches of it that she disapproved of."

Draco sips his wine. "She always was a bit mad. Did you know she married her second cousin?" He shakes his head. "Even for our family that was a bit shocking." The house seems to shift and settle around him with a happy whisper of wind across the eaves. Draco leans back, lets his hand reach out across the arm of the chesterfield to stroke along the polished wood of the bookcases. He can almost feel the shelf shiver beneath his touch. "If you want to see an intact version, Mother has one packed away somewhere. I'm fairly certain it was one of the heirlooms the Ministry let her take from the Manor." He can't help the faint tinge of bitterness in his voice.

Potter's quiet for a moment, then he says, "I'm sorry about that. I didn't have the authority back then to stop it."

"Do you now?" Draco pulls his arm away from the bookcases reluctantly. "Because I'd like my son to actually step foot inside his ancestral home at some point in his life."

"That's Dawlish's call." Potter turns his glass between his hands. He sighs, then lifts it to his mouth, takes a sip. "I'm only Deputy Head."

Draco looks at Potter over the rim of his wineglass. "For the moment."

Potter hesitates, then nods. "True." He sets his glass against his thigh, his thumb rubbing along the stem. "I'll keep that in mind."

It's the closest Draco'll get to a concession, he knows that. So he accepts it, as graciously as he can. "Thank you."

They sit quietly, the fire crackling in the hearth in front of them, and the room is warm, pleasantly so. Draco has an urge to take off his jumper. He sets his glass down on the coffee table, pulls the hem of his jumper up over his head. When his face pops free, his hair rumpled, his cheeks flushed, Potter's watching him again, an odd look on his face.

"Sorry," Draco says. He honestly doesn't know what's come over him. He folds his jumper, rather self-consciously, then lays it on the cushion between him and Potter and picks up his wine glass again. He takes a long drink, swallows, then lowers his glass. "It's a bit warm, don't you think?"

Potter's gaze is bright. Hot. "A bit," he says, and he's looking at the thin cotton of Draco's shirt, at the way the buttons pull just a bit when Draco shifts against the arm of the chesterfield. The shirt's too small, really, at least for proper wear, which is why Draco usually wears it beneath a jumper. The tight line of it against his chest works better than his usual dress shirts when he layers. But it also shows off the muscles of his shoulders, the breadth of his chest, and Draco knows by the way Potter's looking at him that Potter's a bit aroused.

He'd be less than honest if he said that bothered him.

Draco sets his wine down and stands up. Lets Potter get a glimpse of his long torso, of the way the darts along the back of the shirt fit the white cotton to his lean frame. He walks over to the Christmas tree in the corner, decorated with bright fairy lights and handmade ornaments. A glint of silver down near the floor catches his eye, and he looks back at Potter. "May I?" he asks, gesturing towards the tree. He feels oddly drawn to it, in a way he can't quite put into words.

"Of course," Potter says, obviously perplexed.

All too aware of Potter's gaze on him, Draco squats down and looks at the silver-framed photograph hanging from a branch that'd caught his eye. Three young girls stand in front of a sleigh, dressed in winter robes, waving at the camera. The older two are dark-haired, strong-featured. And then there's the youngest, with hair as light as Draco's and a delicately pointed jaw.

Draco's heart clenches. They look so small. So happy.

And then Potter stands up, walks over to him. "What's that?" He crouches beside Draco, his wineglass still in his hand. Draco can smell the spicy scent of him, mixed with the deep, fruity notes of the Beaujolais on his breath.

"This is my mother," Draco says softly. He touches the curve of his mother's face with a fingertip, and she laughs, tries to bat his hand away. "She can't be much older than three or four." He points towards the other two. "There's Andromeda." He hesitates, his throat tight. "And Bellatrix."

He watches as Aunt Bella pulls his mother closer to her, planting a kiss on top of her younger sister's head. His mother smiles up at her, reaches out for Andromeda's hand.

"Merlin, they were so little," Draco whispers. "Look at her, she's barely older than Scorpius now." And he can see his son in his mother, in the way they both turn their heads, in the soft curves of their mouths. Draco'd always thought the Malfoy genes had been strongest in his son, but now he's starting to wonder if he'd been wrong. If it was his mother, not his father, that his son takes after.

Potter's hand settles between his shoulder blades, warm and heavy. The touch feels comforting. Right. Draco doesn't pull away. "Kreacher has a stash of Black family ornaments. He likes to hang them up, along with the ones the boys make at school. He touches a tiny clay handprint hanging from a red velvet ribbon. "Jamie made this one when he was still in the infant room at the Garden."

Draco wonders what it would be like to have ornaments like that on his tree. His mother had never allowed anything like that on the Manor trees; everything had to be perfectly matched, perfectly decorated for the entertaining she and his father would do during Yule. Astoria came from the same sort of stock. The tree in her sitting room is green and white and gold, absolutely lovely, but without a single handmade bauble or ball on it. He catches sight of another ornament, a heavy sterling star is engraved with his grandparents' names. Cygnus and Drusilla. He touches it. "That's her parents' first wedding ornament."

"Would you like to have it?" Potter's breath is warm against Draco's jaw. When Draco turns his head to look at him, their mouths are only inches away. Draco's pulse thuds in his throat; the expression in Potter's eyes is hard to read. Draco glances away again, feeling suddenly overcome with an emotion he can't quite place. Desire, certainly. But there's something warmer to it, something deeper that frightens Draco. Makes his hands tremble. He smoothes his palms across his thighs. Takes a deep breath.

"Thank you." Draco thinks about Potter's offer, then he shakes his head. It wouldn't be right to move them from where they are, where they've been for longer than Draco's been alive, he's certain. At least if Potter's Kreacher has anything to say about it. Draco's never met the elf, but he's heard stories about his Aunt Walburga's house elves and their loyalty to the family. "They belong in the house, I think."

"If you change your mind," Potter begins, but Draco just shakes his head.

"I won't." There's a sadness to his voice that even he doesn't expect. A loneliness that washes over him, presses against his shoulders, his heart. He misses his family. Misses their traditions, misses the way the Manor had shone in the darkest nights of the year, bedecked in candles and fairy lights, the scent of fir filling the hallways, and apples baking deep in the kitchen. Yule and Christmas had always felt like hope, like love, like family to him.

He hasn't had that in a very long time, Draco realises. Not since before the war. Not since his father had disappeared into the bottle after his escape from Azkaban. Not since his parents' relationship fractured beneath the hatred of the Dark Lord.

Even holidays with Astoria hadn't felt the same. There'd been a distance between them because of whom he was. Not the Malfoy relation--Astoria had never really cared about that sort of thing--but because he couldn't give her wholeheartedly what she deserved from him. From her husband.

Draco's never been able to give that to anyone. He's always kept a bit of himself apart. He'd cared about Astoria, but he couldn't give her a full love, deep and physical and promised just to her. At the same time, he'd been able to give his body to Adrian and the other men he'd let fuck him, but they'd never had his heart. Never had that most intimate part of him, that whisper of his soul that would connect him with someone on more than a corporeal level.

But Merlin help Draco, he wants that now. Wants to hand all of himself to Potter. It's an irresistible urge, strong and heavy, pushing against his heart as if it's coming from outsde of him. Which is madness, Draco knows. He looks over then, realising that he's kneeling on the rug next to Potter, and Potter's so close and warm, and there's something fond and full and overwhelming in his heart that Draco's powerless to resist.

"Potter," Draco says softly. When Potter looks over, his lips parted, his eyebrows raised, Draco dredges up all the courage he can find inside of him, and whispers, "I think perhaps I'd like to kiss you again."

"Oh." The word's a soft huff of Potter's breath.

Draco's mind whirls. He doesn't know what he's doing, except he does. He's dreamed of it night after night now. From the first rehearsal he and Potter had organised. And probably longer, if he's honest with himself. He reaches out, lets his fingertips drag lightly across Potter's cheek. Potter's skin is warm; a faint stubble scrapes beneath Draco's touch.

It's almost too much for Draco, the very maleness of Potter. The solidity of Potter's jaw, the thickness of Potter's throat. Draco lets himself trace the length of it, dipping his fingers beneath the loose collar of Potter's shirt. He can feel the hot beat of Potter's pulse against his fingertips, hear Potter's murmured please.

Draco leans in, his hands slipping up to cup Potter's face, and he can feel the warmth of Potter's breath across his lips. "May I?" he asks softly, and Potter nods, swallows.

The first kiss is achingly sweet.

When Potter's mouth meets his, shivers go through Draco. Potter's lips are soft and warm, just a bit chapped in places from the cold, but Draco doesn't mind. His body is thrumming with the thrill of it, with the realisation that he wants Potter so goddamned much, with the knowledge that he'd do anything for this man--any bloody thing at all, and that terrifies him, but Draco doesn't care because Harry Potter is kissing him beneath a Christmas tree in the Black family home, and nothing--nothing--has ever felt as right as this.

"God, Malfoy." Potter's voice is almost a moan. His hand grips Draco's shoulder, pulling him closer, and their second kiss--third, really, if you count the one at the school, and Draco is amazed at what his mind brings up at this moment--is rougher, more teeth nipping at lips, more hands tangled in hair, more urgency in needing to be closer, be pressed together. Somehow, Draco ends up straddling Potter's lap with his fingers twisted in Potter's curls. The sensations in his body are exquisite, leading him closer and closer to a decision he really shouldn't make. Not like this. But oh, fuck, does Draco want to. His prick is hard in his trousers, and he can feel Potter's pressing up through the denim of his jeans, and it would be so easy to give in, to let Potter have him. As many times as he wants.

"Potter," Draco's gasping for breath; Potter stops him from speaking with another kiss, deeper, longer, his tongue flicking so perfectly against Draco's, and oh, Draco wants to know what else that tongue can do. He rolls his hips forwards with a soft whimper, and Potter's hand strokes his hair, his cheek. Draco pulls his mouth away from Potter's. It's raw, tingling. "I should probably go."

He doesn't want to, but he also doesn't want to be this easy. Draco knows there's no going back from this, knows that if they keep rutting up against each other, everything will change. Whatever fragile friendship they've been building will be ruined. For nothing more than a quick orgasm on Potter's library floor.

"We can't--" But Potter's kissing him again, and Draco wants this. Wants him.

It'll be fine, something whispers in the back of his mind, and Draco doesn't think it's him. Which should startle him, he's sure, but Potter's teeth are nipping along the angle of his jaw, and his hands hold Draco's hips loosely, rocking Draco against Potter's prick whilst Draco's arms are wrapped around Potter's neck.

Draco pulls his lips away. He rests a hand on Potter's chest. "This is a terrible idea."

"Awful," Potter manages to get out breathlessly, and then Draco kisses him again, lets Potter pull him down, roll him onto his back. Their kisses grow more desperate, and Draco widens his thighs, lets Potter roll his hips against him, harder and faster, and fuck, the feel of Potter's cock grinding against him is deliciously raw and rough, and Draco wants nothing more than to stay here tangled with Potter like this.

Except perhaps he wants Potter to take him to bed. That's a possibility too. Draco's so fucking hard that it hurts, and he can tell Potter's half-gone as well. He'd like to find out what it feels like to have Potter naked in bed, to have him rising up over Draco like this, their bodies bare, their skin flushed, their pricks slick and sliding against each other.

"Oh, fuck, yes," Draco whispers against Potter's throat, and he can feel something warm and delightful shimmering in his mind, so happy, so thrilled to see the Black family scion back here, back with the master, making him happy, just like the master had wished--

Draco's eyes fly open. The room is sparkling around them, the scent of roses and cloves heavy in the air. Potter's still moving against Draco, still trying to kiss Draco's throat, his jaw, and Draco knows this isn't right, knows that something besides them is pushing them together.

"Potter," Draco says sharply. He pushes at Potter's shoulder, trying to move Potter off of him. "Potter, stop."

And Potter stills, looking down at Draco, his breath coming in sharp gasps, his eyes wide, unfocussed. "What?" He looks a bit drunk, even though they've not had more than a sip or two of wine, but he rolls to the side, the branches of the tree bending beneath his back.

Draco sits up. He's hard still, and it hurts. He looks around at the library, at the glittering air around them, the heart-shaped puffs of smoke coming from the fire. He swallows. "Your house is trying to get us together."

Potter blinks up at him, owlishly, behind his glasses. "What?"

Draco can feel it now, the magic of the house sparking across his skin, teasing him, tempting him to lean down and kiss Potter again.

Except Draco doesn't want it like this. He doesn't want to be compelled by a house, if he's going to fuck Potter. He wants it to be his choice. His decision. "Stop," he says firmly, to the house, not to Potter, who just looks up at him in surprise. "Not like this."

The magic starts to slip away, like a recalcitrant child being chastised in public. There's a sharp sting against Draco's wrist, and he swears, looks down at the faint pink welt rising up against his pale skin. "How very mature of you," Draco snaps, looking up at the ceiling. There's a thunk and a thud from the eaves, then the house falls silent.

Potter's just looking at Draco as if he's lost his mind. "What--"

Draco glares at Potter, because, of course, this has to be his fault. "Did you tell the house you wanted this?"

Potter's face grows still, then stubborn. He looks away from Draco, which is all the answer Draco needs. He doesn't know whether to be flattered or annoyed. He settles for a combination of the two.

"You idiot," Draco says, and he wants to throttle Potter right now. "Don't you know how house magic works? You're the master. It wants to make you happy, and let me tell you, this house has strong magic in it, Potter." Draco can still feel the lingering compulsion, the house's wish to give Potter what he wants.

Draco, it seems, and Draco ought to be thrilled, given that he wants Potter too.

But not like this. Not feeling as if he has to want Potter.

He licks his bottom lip. He can still feel the burn of Potter's bite against it, and Draco wants more. He knows he does. But first he needs to know. "When did you ask it?" His voice is raspy, thin. "For me?"

For a moment, he thinks Potter isn't going to answer, that he doesn't understand and Draco'll have to spell it out from him. But then Potter sighs. "The night it snowed."

Oh. Draco presses his lips together. Breathes out. "Before you kissed me." The first time, he doesn't bother adding.

"Yes." Potter meets his gaze evenly. "But I'd wanted to kiss you before--" He falls silent at Draco's quelling look.

It's as if Draco's world is crumbling around him. He wonders if what he's feeling is real, or if the magic of the house has just been compelling him to want Potter, stirring up those old feelings, pushing them into something Draco couldn't ignore.

Even if he should.

"I'm sorry," Potter says quietly. "I thought it was a harmless wish."

"Wishes are never harmless, Potter." Draco's throat feels tight, raw. He stands, his legs shaking as he does. He looks down at Potter, at his hair mussed by Draco's fingers, at his swollen mouth, at the love bite purpling just beneath Potter's jaw. This is the hardest thing Draco's had to do. But he knows he must. "Had you paid attention in History of Magic, you would have realised that rather quickly."

Potter just looks at him. "Malfoy--" He pushes himself to his feet, reaches for Draco's hand. "This doesn't change what I'm feeling--"

"You don't know that." Draco pulls away from Potter's touch. He feels as if his heart's breaking into shards. "You don't know that mine won't. That's why spells like this are frowned upon, Potter. Whatever this is between us, we don't know what the truth of it is any more." The words catch in the back of his throat. Hurt horribly. He looks away. "I'm going to go home," he says heavily. "I think it's probably best right now."

Potter sits heavily on the sofa. "Okay." He looks up at Draco, his hands hanging between his thighs. He seems lost, young, and for a moment Draco thinks about sitting beside him. Laying his head on Potter's shoulder.

But he can't. He won't.

Gathering his coat and Imsy's hamper, Draco steps into the Floo.

"I'm sorry," Potter says again.

"Me too," Draco whispers, and with a rush of green flames, the Floo pulls him away from Potter and from mortal temptation. His last glimpse of Grimmauld is of Potter reaching for the bottle of wine.

Draco lands with a soft thump in Astoria's Floo, and when he stumbles out, his heart aching and sore, Scorpius is asleep on the sofa, his face pressed into a cushion which he's already drooling on.

Greg looks up from the copy of Quidditch Monthly he's been flipping through. His brows draw together in a furrowed frown. "Is everything all right?" He sets the magazine aside.

"Perfectly fine," Draco lies. He wants to tell Greg the truth, but he can't.

"Huh," Greg says. He looks Draco up and down. "'Cause you look like you've been dragged through a Christmas tree." He gestures towards Draco's hair.

Draco sets Imsy's hamper down, reaches up to pull fir needles from his tangled hair. "Oh," he says, and he can feel his face warm.

"Yeah," Greg says simply. He's silent for a moment, and then he says, "Is it Potter?"

And Draco doesn't know what to say. Greg watches him closely, and Draco thinks about lying, thinks about saying it's Adrian or someone else. But he's tired of this all, tired of feeling so empty. So alone. So distant from his friends. "How'd you know?" he asks after a moment.

Greg shrugs his wide shoulders. "About you being into blokes or Potter?"

"Both." Draco sits on the tufted grey velvet ottoman, his coat in his hands. He looks down at it, realises that he'd left his scarf hanging on Potter's coatrack; he'd been in such a hurry to Floo out. Blast. It'd been his favourite scarf. Well, there's not going back for it now; that'd defeat the point of it all, he thinks.

"Not hard to figure the blokes thing out," Greg says easily. "Especially since I know you fancied me back in school for a bit."

"I did not," Draco says automatically, but Greg just gives him a pointed look. Draco sighs. "Fine. I thought I was being discreet."

Greg snorts. "You've never been discreet. Not to those of us who know you." He reaches out, pats Draco's knee awkwardly. His hand is huge, meaty. "It's fine, you know. I never minded back then, and I figured when you were ready to talk about it, you would. Besides, Adrian's a wanker and likes to run his mouth a bit too much when he's in his cups. Just so you know."

Draco buries his head in hands. "So the whole of wizarding society knows about that then." He's been such a bloody fool.

"Just me." Greg leans back in the delicate chintz chair, his solid, muscular bulk nearly overwhelming the arms. "He got drunk over at mine a few months ago, back when he and Gemma started seeing each other and told me."

"Fucker," Draco says viciously, and Greg gives him a faint smile.

"As for Potter…" Greg trails off, then sighs. "Look, Draco. Of course, you fancy him. You have since school. I was there; I know. I watched you follow him around for years, had to put up with you whinging about what an arsehole he was. It was obvious from the beginning, and then Pansy said you and Potter were working together on the pageant for school, so." Greg shrugs again. "Everyone thinks I'm thick, and I'm not."

The fight goes out of Draco. "I know you're not." He eyes Greg. "Did Pansy say anything else about me and Potter?"

Greg shakes his head. "Not really. Just that she was worried about the two of you strangling each other during practice, but that's a given, seeing how it's the two of you."

So Pansy'd kept his secret. Draco chews on his bottom lip. Watches Scorpius shift in his sleep, his arse scootching up into the air. He reaches over, smoothes his son's hair back from his forehead. Scorpius makes a face in his sleep, flinching away from Draco's touch, and then he's snoring again, softly, his mouth wet with spittle.

Astoria'll be thrilled that he's drooling on her favourite crushed velvet pillow.

Draco looks over at Greg. "I may have fucked things up this afternoon."

"Nothing's fucked up if you don't want it to be," Greg says. He rests his hands on his stomach, tapping his fingers against his dark brown jumper.

Draco just not certain he has that sort of courage. Not now. Not after today.

Greg studies him. "Sometimes," he says quietly, "you have to decide what you want before you can fix it, though."

And maybe Greg's right. Maybe Draco needs to figure out if he wants Potter or not on his own. If he has the strength to put himself through the difficulties that would come with being with Potter.

Because the one thing Draco does know is that this won't be a one-night stand. And it won't be the sort of arrangement he has with Adrian Pucey.

If Draco does this--and that's still a big if in his mind--then he wants Potter fully. Completely.

And maybe he's the house to thank for that. Because Draco knows that whatever it was pushing him to do, to be for Potter--that was only building on feelings that are already there. That have been there for as long as Draco has known the prat.

Draco wants a home again.

With Potter, his mind whispers, and this time, Draco knows that's his own wish. His own desire.

And that frightens him more than he's willing to say.

Chapter Text

With no high-pitched voices demanding he feed them or little feet thundering across his bedroom floor or bony knees landing in his stomach to get him up on Sunday morning, Harry tries to sleep in. It's such a rarity, he feels he has no choice to but to try, so when the faint greyish sun filtering through the half-drawn curtains wakes him at seven, Harry just rolls over, pressing his face into his pillow, his head throbbing from the bottle of wine he'd gone through before falling into bed. It's around here still, he thinks. The last thing he remembers is draining the dregs of it, then setting it down. Where, he's not certain. The floor perhaps. Or the dresser.

It doesn't matter. Nothing does.

The house is oddly silent around him. Harry tells himself it's just the absence of the boys. This sense of foreboding calm will crash around him once Ginny brings Al and Jamie back this afternoon. When Ginny'd rung last night to say she'd like the boys overnight, Harry's first reaction had been one of despair. He'd been counting on the boys coming back to distract him from the agony of thoughts of Malfoy, of the way Malfoy had felt beneath him, of the sweetness of Malfoy's kisses, of the anguish that had been clearly writ on Malfoy's face when he'd Flooed away.

He closes his eyes again. Tries to breathe through the agony of his heart breaking. Tells himself he's being ridiculously melodramatic. His world isn't falling apart around him because Malfoy walked away. This is ridiculous of him. He's a grown man, for fuck's sake. Nearly thirty, with two boys, an important job, the respect of his friends and peers and bloody fucking strangers too.

But the shit of it is that, in between bouts of drinking, Harry's wanked himself raw over the past twelve hours. Thinking about it all. The taste of Malfoy, the heated silk of his skin, the hitch of his breath, how he felt for those few blissful moments in Harry's arms. Harry's never wanted anyone the way he wants Draco Malfoy--not just once, but for keeps, if at all possible. Which is probably isn't, given Malfoy's reaction to Harry. Still, Harry dreams about Malfoy beside him, here in his bed, in his house, in his life, sharing it with him. Harry thinks he's mad to be so certain he wants this, particularly when the only certainty is that Harry always will bollocks something up with Malfoy.

Fuck. He's a goddamned fool.

Harry rolls over. Stares up at the ceiling of his bedroom. Wonders what it would be like to have Malfoy here with him, naked and sleepy in his bed. Wonders if Malfoy would curl around Harry, lay his head on Harry's chest. Listen to Harry's heartbeat the way Ginny had.

With a groan, Harry presses his palms to his eyes. He's torturing himself, and for what? There's no future for him and Malfoy. And if there had been, Harry's fucked it all up with his stupid, thoughtless wish.

"Damn it." Harry flops his hands to his sides. The sheet twists over his naked body, pulling across his prick, and it's enough to make him start to stiffen. Harry doesn't know what the fuck is wrong with him. He's never wanted to get off like this, never had his body respond so quickly to the thought of someone else.

But Malfoy's like a drug for Harry. Some sort of potion that he craves, that he needs, that makes him feel things he hasn't felt in a hell of a long time. He's alive around Malfoy in ways that Harry doesn't quite understand, except that he feels as if he can breathe with Malfoy beside him, full and deep and free.

His nipples are hard in the cool air of the bedroom. Harry touches one, lightly, his fingertips barely brushing across the puckered skin, and his cock jerks. He closes his eyes, hating himself. And yet, he doesn't move his hand away. Instead, he flicks a thumb across the nipple, bites his lip when arousal shudders through him. He thinks of Malfoy, of the way Malfoy's prick had pushed against his, heavy and hot, and Harry'd known by the swell against Malfoy's wool trousers that Malfoy's big. Almost as big as Harry himself, and God, Harry's never been a size queen, but the thought of Malfoy's girth pressing into his mouth makes Harry's hips twist against the rumpled sheets. He presses his feet into the mattress, ruts up against the thin cotton, his finger pinching his nipple now, his mind lost in thoughts of Malfoy sucking at the nub, nipping it, making Harry wild for him.

And fuck, Harry would be. He knows that. Malfoy could do anything to him. Harry'd let him. He thinks about Malfoy slicking him up with two fingers, and Harry groans, arches his shoulders into the bed. Casts the lubricant charm wandlessly, his thighs spreading beneath the sheet as he feels the slickness deep inside. And then Harry's twisting, stretching his arm beneath himself, reaching back to stroke the soft wrinkles of his arsehole, feeling the conjured oil leak out of him. It hurts, but he manages to push a finger into himself, and his cock's jutting up against the sheet, hard and long, and fuck it looks good. Harry imagines pushing it into Malfoy's mouth, feeling Malfoy's fingers penetrating. One, just like that, twisting just a bit deeper into him, then a second one, and oh! Oh. Harry's breath comes hard; his chest is heaving, his belly clenching. He watches the wetness at the tip of his prick spread across the sheet; he can almost see the ruddiness of his head through the damp cotton.

His arse throbs around his fingers. A soft groan and a wince as Harry angles himself backwards, and he's able to get the tip of a third finger into himself. His thighs ache, but fuck, this feels good. Painful, but good. He closes his eyes. Exhales.

Thinks of Malfoy. Of those bright grey eyes, of those swollen pink lips. Of the way Malfoy had rutted up against him, as desperate and wild as Harry himself, and Harry knows Malfoy wants him.

Harry grabs his prick. Wraps his fingers around it, pulls his foreskin back, slides his fingertip across his slick slit as his other hand presses deeper into his arse. He's twisted in the sheets, his body bent at an unnatural angle, and it hurts and it feels spectacular, and Harry wants Malfoy to be here, wants Malfoy to see him masturbating like this, thinking of him, wanting him.

"Fuck," Harry gasps out, and he bites his lip, pulls his pricker harder, faster, feeling his arse clench around his other fingers, those fingertips pressing deeper, quirking up inside of himself to push against that perfect little knot buried in his arse. Harry's hips buck. He groans. Rubs a fingertip against the soft skin of his inner wall. Over and over, matching the quickening strokes of his fist around his prick.

Malfoy, he thinks. Malfoy inside of him, over him, kissing him, demanding he come--

Harry cries out, his whole body jerking. The air around him is heated and heavy, sparking across his skin almost painfully. Another stroke, his foreskin pulled back, the head of his prick rubbing against the sheet, his fingers buried inside of him. It's almost too much.

Blond hair brushing against his face. A wicked laugh in his ear. A punishing kiss that tips him over as his fingers grip his cock tightly, and then he's shouting Malfoy's name, gasping, his body arching up, his feet pressing down as Harry's spunk explodes over his fingers, into the sheet.

His body slams back against the bed. His skin is prickling, tight and hot, every exhausted inch of Harry feeling too exposed. Too oversensitised. His grip loosens around his prick; his fingers slip out of his stretched hole.

Gasping, worn out, Harry lies sprawled across the bed, sticky cotton taut around his flat hips. He strokes a slick fingertip across his chest, watches as the spunk catches the dark hairs there.

Harry closes his eyes. Tries to steady his breath. It's almost impossible. His skin's still sparking with pleasure, his heart's still pounding to the rhythm of Malfoy's imaginary touch.

And imaginary is all it will ever be, it seems. Harry's mouth thins. It's his own damned fault.

With a sigh, Harry rolls out of bed, nearly knocking over the empty bottle of wine in the process. He leaves it where it is and decides he'll also strip the sheets later. He doesn't have it in him right now. Harry manages a hot shower, his head bent beneath the spray, watching blankly as the soap circles down the drain. He idly thinks about wanking again because what the hell else does he have to do at the moment, but his prick's a bit sore. Besides, there's something not done about tossing off in the shower he shares with his sons.

Harry turns off the water. Steps out of the shower. He stands on the mat for a moment, water dripping off of him, and looks at himself in the mirror. Harry knows he's fit enough. Even with his desk job, he's tried to stay active, tried to meet all the physical requirements of being a field Auror and then some. He spars in the Auror gym three times a week, lifts weights the other two days during lunch. He's muscular and strong, and his broad shoulders sloping down to a firm chest, a muscled abdomen. His hips are flat, the muscles cut, pointing towards the crisp dark curls at the base of his prick. And he's large enough there. Perhaps not enormous--Harry's seen larger cocks in the changing room at the gym, but Harry has nothing to be ashamed about. He knows that full well.

Reaching for a towel, Harry dries his hair, then his body. He wishes Malfoy were here, dragging the soft terrycloth over Harry's skin. And fuck, he has to stop this. Has to not bring Malfoy into every action, every thought that crosses through his mind.

But that's easier said than done. Harry's obsessed with Malfoy, and he's half starting to think that the fucking house has put a spell on him as well, because Harry can't stop thinking about Malfoy, can't stop hearing Malfoy's voice in his head, even though it makes his heart ache, his chest tighten.

He dresses himself. Not in anything elaborate. Just a worn pair of jeans and a ratty old Lorcan d'Eath t-shirt from a concert he and Gin had gone to back before they'd married. Harry squeezes the remnants of water out of his hair, leaves it to dry. It'll be a mess of curls that he'll have to brush out, but he doesn't care.

A tooth cleansing charm and a downed hangover potion later, and Harry pads downstairs to make a coffee. The kitchen's silent. Usually Kreacher's puttering around as well, but he must be taking the boys' absence as a chance to sleep in as well. Harry doesn't blame him. He worries about how much Kreacher's still doing. He's seen the way Kreacher's magic has started to slow.

It doesn't take long to whip up a quick filter coffee. Harry downs the first cup in a few quick swallows, hoping the caffeine will help the hangover potion slow the pounding in his head that's returned after his wank. He rubs at the scruffy stubble on his jaw, wincing as his head twinges, and he pours another cup of coffee, wandering barefoot into the empty library.

Perhaps he ought not to have.

A glance towards the Christmas tree brings it all back. The way Malfoy had looked at him when Harry'd squatted down to look at the ornaments with him. The softness of Malfoy's lips, the hardness of his muscled body.

Harry sits on the chesterfield, his coffee cupped between his hands. He takes a drink. The coffee's bitter in the back of his throat, but it settles Harry. Grounds him in a way. Harry breathes in the scent of the fir tree, of the bayberry candles, mixed in with the burnt muskiness of the fire in the hearth. Outside the paned windows, the sky is grey and wet; a faint drizzle rolls down the glass panes, as grim and moody as Harry feels this morning. Really, he has to get out of this funk. At least by the time the boys get back. Harry doesn't want to upset them. Or have Ginny start questioning him about what's wrong. He's afraid he'd tell her, if he'd honest, and that's not a conversation Harry wants to have today.

If ever.

Another sip of the hot coffee. Harry strokes the tufted oxblood leather of the chesterfield absently, fantasising like a pathetic fool about Malfoy splayed out on it. If Harry squints, he can imagine the peculiar little smile Malfoy has on his face when he's thinking about something, can almost see Malfoy's long nose and whisper soft hair, can almost hear the cutting sound of Malfoy's unbearably posh voice as he tears something to ribbons. Harry's no idea when everything that he hated about Malfoy had turned to everything that keeps him up at night wanking over Malfoy. He loathes him. He wants him. They're one and the same.

Harry sinks back against the arm of the chesterfield, pulling his bare feet up on the cushion beside him. He drinks his coffee, tries not to think about Malfoy.

It doesn't work.

Malfoy's all Harry can focus on. He considers going out for a walk, to see if maybe being away from the house would clear his head. But the rain deters him. It's cold outside, and Harry just can't bear to come back drenched and tired and in a sodding worse mood than he'd started off with.

Fuck. This is ridiculous. He scowls up at the ceiling. To think that Grimmauld was trying to put them together! Harry's still not sure quite how that works; it makes no bloody sense to him because this is a house for fuck's sake. And whether or not Harry's suspected the house has a will of its own over the years, meddling with him and Malfoy's just beyond the pale.

"You're a fucker, you know?" Harry doesn't care if the house is listening or not. He leans his head against the arm of the chesterfield and sighs. If there'd been a house magic lesson at Hogwarts, Harry clearly wasn't paying attention. But still, Harry knows it was presumptuous of him to wish for Malfoy. In truth, what he wished for was a boyfriend. Any boyfriend. Even if he'd also asked for Malfoy. But that'd been wishful thinking more than anything else. Besides, he has every right to wish for someone to spend time with. Someone to care for.

Someone to love. It's almost as if the thought comes from outside of him, from high in the eaves.

Harry glares around him. "Shut it, will you?" Merlin, he hates feeling like he's done something wrong. Hates feeling as if he'd tried to trap Malfoy into something he didn't want.

Except perhaps Malfoy did. Harry's seen the way Malfoy's been looking at him for weeks now. As if he thinks Harry might hurt him. As if he wants Harry to hurt him. Which is beyond fucked up, Harry thinks, but he also understands in an odd way.

Really, Harry'd do anything right now to have Malfoy kneeling in front of the tree again, with his face full of wonder as he discovers a childhood portrait of Narcissa. When Malfoy's not busy using that cutting tongue of his, when he lets his guard down the way he has lately, Malfoy's bloody amazing. He's clever and observant, and kind in his own sideways way. Christ, he's even a decent cook, and that's something that turns Harry on terribly. Harry just wishes that he could convince Malfoy to show him that softer side of his more often.

He wishes he hadn't ruined everything with wanting too much.

To be honest, the house has been sulking too since yesterday. The stairs are creaking more; the lights are flickering in odd ways. Sure it's grey morning outside but, despite the fire, the shadows are gathering in the corners rather ominously, in a way that sets Harry's nerves on edge every time he looks over. And even the fire itself is looking rather poorly, Harry thinks, low and flickering faintly amongst the embers and burnt logs.

Harry takes another bitter sip of coffee. Fuck it all. He's tired of this. He sits up, his legs crossed over one another. "All right, arsehole," Harry calls out. "Stop sulking. We both have to get over Malfoy, and you're just as responsible for this as I am."

A door slams somewhere, on the third floor by the sound of it. You asked.

Harry rolls his eyes, lifts his mug to his mouth. "Yeah, well, it's not going to do any bloody good, is it? He's onto us now, and we've narked him off."

There's no wind, but the windows rattle furiously in their panes.

"Don't you dare break those," Harry snaps. "I haven't the budget to replace glass that old this time of year given how much I've just spent on the boys." The rattling stops, almost huffily, and Harry exhales through his nostrils in irritation. "Look," he says after a moment, and he feels a proper idiot having a conversation like this with his house. "I don't like it any more than you do, but we can't force it on him. He's got to want us--or me, I guess--of his own accord."

And how likely is that to happen? Harry wants to curl up against the back of the chesterfield and sulk himself.

The floorboards plink softly, sadly beneath the rugs. Harry rather knows how the house feels, if he's honest. He's just as out of sorts. Just as lost and lonely.

Kreacher's leathery head pops over the sofa's edge. Harry nearly spills his coffee jumping in fright; he really has no idea how Kreacher can move so silently. Kreacher's watery gaze is fixed on Harry. "Master is upsetting the house," he croaks, looking rather displeased with Harry.

"Sorry," Harry says, even though he isn't. Not entirely, at least. He's in a rubbish mood himself, and the house does bear some responsibility in the events of yesterday afternoon. "I'm just trying to keep the bloody thing from bothering Malfoy." He looks around, raises his voice. "Again."

There's a scrabbling noise in the wall, and Kreacher narrows his eyes. It stops.

Kreacher waddles over to the hearth, and stokes the fire, waving his long fingers over it. Reluctantly, the flames flare up in the hearth before sinking back down again, although not as low as before. Kreacher looks back over his shoulder at Harry. "Master cannot be helping that he wants Master Draco." His frown deepens. "House is wanting Master Draco too, because he is being the Black heir."

Not you is Kreacher's unspoken indictment. Harry knows that Kreacher's used to him and the boys being here, and at least there are Potter family ties to the house now. That's mollified Kreacher somewhat. But Harry's not a Black and he never will be, which will always leave him a bit lacking in Kreacher's eyes, no matter how fond of Harry the house elf may be.

Harry's shoulders sag. He twists the coffee mug between his palms. "I know," he says, and then he hesitates. Chews the inside of his cheek before sighing. "It's just that Malfoy was very angry last night. He accused the house of trying to influence things between the two of us. And he was angry with me for starting it."

Kreacher turns a beady eye on Harry. "Master is referring to the events under the Yule tree."

Harry nods.

With a frown, Kreacher sits on the edge of the hearth, looking over at the tree. "This is being a sacred place for the house at this time of year," Kreacher says slowly. "Magic is being stronger when the nights are being longer, and the house is being filled with it. Old wizarding houses is giving wishes at Yule." Kreacher looks over at Harry. "Master was being raised by Muggles--" And here Kreacher's voice is filled with contempt. "But Master Draco should be knowing this."

Harry nods slowly. The rules of magic are so odd, and he forgets how old some of the everyday charms and spells are, much less the holiday traditions. They go back further than Hogwarts, even, back when magic ran free and wild in Britain, suffusing every hill, every rock, every blade of grass with its spark.

Besides, Harry knows full well his elf looks down on him for his middle-class non-magical Surreyfied ways. It's only been the past year or two that Kreacher's stopped complaining about them celebrating Christmas at the house instead of Yule. To be honest, Harry's tired of caring about any of that traditional pureblood bollocks. Kingsley's told him that, with times having changed, it makes Harry relatable, and that he would do well if he ever chose politics over policing.

Harry has no fucking intention of ever trying politics.

Moodily, Harry stares at the Christmas tree, shimmering in the shadows. He finishes off his coffee, then sets his mug aside. From the glance Kreacher gives it, Harry knows it's taking all of Kreacher's restraint not to pick it up immediately. He doesn't, though, and Harry's glad. He's not in the mood to argue with Kreacher about taking a fucking day off whilst the boys are gone. Harry rubs his hands over his face, pushing his glasses up onto his forehead, then letting them slide back down onto the bridge of his nose. "Malfoy liked the ornaments you put up, Kreacher. Particularly the one of his mother."

"Ah yes." Kreacher pads over to the tree then, his too-long toenails clicking lightly against the floor. He finds the silver ornament and brushes his fingertips across the curve of it. "Kreacher is remembering the year this portrait was being made." He looks back over at Harry, the silvery tufts of his eyebrows raised high. "Kreacher was not being head elf yet, but Kreacher was being in charge of ornaments that year." He looks back at the ornament, a small smile creasing his weathered face.

And that makes sense, Harry thinks. It must have been a responsibility that Kreacher cherished, if he's still this intent upon doing the tree up properly every December.

"Well, thank you," Harry says, a bit awkwardly, and Kreacher glances back at him in surprise. Harry knows it's not done, to be grateful to one's elves, and Kreacher always disapproves of his kindness, but Harry doesn't care. Not right now. Not today. "Thank you for taking such good care of the tree, particularly the children's ornaments."

Kreacher gives Harry a sharp frown that slowly fades away whilst he studies Harry's face. He straightens his narrow shoulders. "Will Master be wanting eggs with toast for breakfast?" Kreacher's voice softens. "It is always helping his head after wine."

And yes, Harry might have drunk a bit too much yesterday in his funk, if his house elf's pointing his excesses out. He feels a bit ashamed as he says, "Yes, please."

Harry doesn't know what to think about the bonds of history, family, and magic that overlap here in this antiquated house, tying them all together. He's grateful for Grimmauld, for the memories of Sirius in the past, for the help of Kreacher with the boys in his present. This is Harry's home, and he's leaving his mark on it in one way or another, and either Jamie or Al will take it on after Harry's gone. Make it theirs in a different way. And, well, if Malfoy should choose to join them, which Harry's certain he won't, both Harry and the house would be over the moon.

But that feeble hope doesn't bear thinking about. Malfoy's just about said as much, that he has no intention of letting things go further with Harry. And oh, Harry's so eager to go further with Malfoy himself, but he has to concede to Malfoy's wishes. It's not as if Harry doesn't understand, though. He's fully aware of how mad it would be, him and Malfoy. It makes no sense. It'd cause an uproar. It'd destroy both of their lives, not to mention those of their sons.

Malfoy's refusal makes perfect sense. It's what Harry ought to have done himself.

Harry's never really done what he ought to do, has he? Other than marrying Gin, and look how that had turned out. Breaking both of their hearts and making life more difficult for Al and Jamie because Harry hadn't been able to be honest with himself about who he was. What he wanted.

And yet he'd still been given Jamie and Al in the process. So perhaps even his mistake had been good in the long run.

Kreacher's next to the sofa now. He pats Harry's arm with his long, knobby fingers. "Now Master is telling the house he is sorry, and Kreacher is making breakfast." He gives Harry a pointed look. "House is not understanding, you know. House is only wanting two people who is loving to be together."

Harry blinks. "I'm not in love with Malfoy."

Kreacher just looks at him with those wide eyes of his, as if Harry's a complete fool.

"I'm not." Harry's heart is beating faster. He scowls over at Kreacher, suddenly angry at the elf for making him feel things he doesn't want to feel.

And Kreacher says nothing. Just sighs.

Harry wraps his arms around his chest. "I'm not in love with him."

But maybe he is. Maybe this is more than just desire. Harry doesn't just want a good shag. He wants Malfoy beside him, waking up with him, sat here in the library next to Harry, stepping through the Floo after work each day.

Oh, fuck. Harry's throat closes up on him, and Kreacher watches him, as if he knows what Harry's thinking by the expressions that cross his face.

And maybe he does.

Because Harry's starting to think Kreacher might be right. That Harry might actually be falling in love with Draco Malfoy--not just lust but proper butterflies in the stomach, want to go out on a dinner date, let's blend our families together love with the bastard and fuck. What's that going to mean? How's Harry going to handle that?

Malfoy's going to fucking kill him when he realises. Harry knows he will.

Harry runs his hands over his mouth, shakes his head. This is mad. He's sat here in his library with his bloody house throwing a strop about Malfoy walking out on him--on them for fuck's sake--and his elf is looking at him as if he's thicker than a Flobberworm because Harry won't admit that he's in love with Draco Malfoy.

Which he is.

And Harry wants to sick up at that thought.

"Even if I was that stupid," Harry says finally, "Malfoy doesn't care for me. He's made that perfectly clear."

Kreacher all but rolls his eyes. "Master Draco is being a Black. If he were not caring about Mr Potter, he would be saying it to Master's face." And this time Harry's quite certain that Kreacher thinks he's an idiot. Kreacher's eyebrows draw together in a knot of thick hairs. "Because Master Draco is fighting Master means he is being scared." Kreacher shrugs. "Being scared is being feeling other things, too."

Fuck but that makes a certain amount of odd sense, Harry thinks. "Why doesn't he just say?"

"Master Draco is being a Slytherin," Kreacher says as if that explains everything.

And maybe it does. A tendril of hope unfurls deep inside of Harry. "So you think he cares, then?"

"Kreacher is thinking Master Draco is being hiding his feelings." And Kreacher's look towards Harry is more gentle than Harry expects. "Is being easier to fight with Master, after all." He snaps his fingers at Harry. "Now be telling house you is sorry or Kreacher is being not able to cook properly."

"I'm sorry, House," Harry says automatically whilst Kreacher watches, his arms folded across his concave chest. The eaves creak pensively, and Harry looks up at the ceiling, feeling a bit of an arse, really. He thinks of Malfoy, of the way Kreacher thinks Malfoy's hiding how he feels, and Harry thinks maybe Kreacher's right. He certainly knows Slytherins better; he's lived amongst them for generations. Harry sighs, turns his palms up in intercession. "I really am. I know you were only doing what I asked."

And in the corners, the shadows begin to recede; the fairy lights grow brighter in the tree boughs; the fire begins to flicker more cheerfully. Harry doesn't know how his life came this, to snogging Malfoy beneath the Christmas tree, to being lectured on the finer points of love among Slytherins by a house elf, and to having to bloody apologise to his ridiculously sensitive house.

The absurdity of it makes him laugh. Wildly. Inanely.

And the quick burst of joy feels good. Right. Alive.

"Thank you, Kreacher," Harry says quietly. He reaches out, lets his fingers brush the house elf's ear. Kreacher leans into the touch, his eyes closing for a slow breath.

Merlin, but Harry's no idea what he'll do when Kreacher's not with him. He swallows, says, "That toast and eggs sounds brilliant right now."

"Yes, Master Potter." And with the faintest of pops, Kreacher disappears.

Deep inside, in a small, quiet place in Harry's heart, something warm and sweet swells. Maybe he and Malfoy are something that can happen, after all. Harry just has to convince Malfoy he's wrong about them.

Really, that's a challenge Harry's well up to. He glances at the ceiling. "Leave this one to me, yeah?" he whispers. "I know tomorrow's Yule, but I need to know he wants this himself."

And, around him, the magic at the heart of the house hums happily.

Chapter Text

Harry watches nervously from the stage wings as the gift-giving dance begins. Behind him the nursery school classes are milling about, having just been rushed off-stage, their yellow knit caps still smoking a bit from the faux flame charm Malfoy had cast on them ten minutes ago. Alys Lloyd and Iona McKinsey are trying to collect them all, quietly counting off to make certain all forty-one three and four-year-olds have made it off the stage.

A small body crashes into Harry's knees. "Daddy," Al says, a bit too loudly, and some of the Reception kids on stage look over towards them.

"Quiet, there." Harry rests a hand on the back of Al's head. His cap's askew, and his cheeks are flushed. He looks charming in his yellow candle costume, his plastic candlestick still clutched in his fist.

"I dance!" Al wriggles his hips, laughing, and the look on his upturned face is pure joy. Harry can't help but smile down at his son.

And then Alys is there, taking Al by the hand. "Sorry," she whispers. "He ran away from us."

"Not a problem." Harry squats in front of Al, straightens his cap. "You go with Miss Alys, all right? I think she's biscuits for you all if you're quiet."

Al's eyes widen even more. He puts a finger to his lips and makes a terribly loud shushing noise. Harry glances up at Alys, who shrugs.

"Could be worse," she murmurs. She tugs on Al's hand. "Come on, let's go find Scorp--"

"Sco'pus!" Al's shout is terribly loud; Fred falters with his line out on stage, looking over towards Harry, who just flaps his hand at Fred to continue. Malfoy's across the stage in the other wing, his arms crossed over his black turtleneck, his pale hair twisted up into a knot on the back of his head, looking terribly weary with it all.

Harry pushes Al back towards the other kids. "Sorry," he mouths at McKinsey, but she rolls her eyes, shakes her head. All the kids are starting to get louder; Alys casts a quick muffling charm, and the volume drops back down.

On stage, the dance has begun, the recorded music floating from Malfoy's side of the stage. Harry fidgets with his watch and tries not to think about biting his nails. He'd managed to get over that terrible habit several years back, and he's no desire to relapse. Not right now at least. But he's nervous; they just need to get through this dance, and then the final gathering of all the students on stage, and then they'll be done. So far, so good, but Harry doesn't want to jinx any of it too badly.

The forest scene had been abbreviated per McKinsey's decision, and it'd worked quite well, all things considered, with zero incidents of anyone crawling--or falling--off stage. The candles had all remained upright and remembered their lines, and even Scorpius and Al had behaved themselves properly, but Harry thinks part of that's due to Rose watching out over them with a keen and judgmental eye. Even Ava and Uri's Dance of the Dreidels had gone smoothly, for the most part, although Uri had got a bit dizzy after all his spinning and had crashed into one of the smaller candles standing next to the menorah on the side. But they'd both uprighted themselves quickly enough, with only the briefest bit of Uri's legs flailing beneath his dreidel point.

And for now, at least, the gift exchange seems to be happening without major bodily harm. To be honest, Harry's mostly concerned about Jamie and his coordination troubles, even in the back. He's still having a hard time telling his right from his left, despite practising with Harry for a half-hour last night before bed. Still, as the music starts to crescendo, the gift props begin to move across the stage, small and large boxes wrapped in shiny ribbon heading toward the tree in the middle. Harry holds his breath for a moment as the first box moves across the line at the back of the stage. Jamie manages to take and pass it properly without incident. The next boxes arrive, but after a quick hesitation, Jamie falls into the rhythm of the dance, Fred by his side.

Harry'd like to say that he's been holding his breath for the pageant, but in all honesty, it's more than that. His gaze drifts across the stage, towards Malfoy, stood in the shadows watching the children. Malfoy's shifting from foot to foot in time to the music, his hands moving along to the motion of the dancers. To Harry's surprise, Malfoy even twirls around when the kids are supposed to pirouette, and it's the most charming thing Harry's seen, Malfoy dancing along with the students, his mouth moving to the words of the song.

Until he looks up, catches sight of Harry watching him. Malfoy stills, and even with the shadows hiding half his face, Harry can see Malfoy's cheeks pinken. He brushes his fingers lightly across his face, tucking a stray lock of hair back behind his ear, obviously uncomfortable. He doesn't meet Harry's gaze, but Harry can see Malfoy swallow. Lick his lips.

And perhaps Harry's heart breaks a bit. He thinks Kreacher must have been wrong in their conversation yesterday morning. Malfoy doesn't care about him. They've barely spoken tonight; when Harry'd arrived Malfoy had already been in a flurry of activity. He'd barked a few orders Harry's way, putting him in charge of Al and Scorpius's year whilst he took on Jamie's. And, to be fair, there'd been quite a bit of preparation to do. Costumes to put on, lines to rehearse last minute. It'd taken Harry a good ten minutes just to get Ava and Uri properly into their blue velvet and silver embroidered dreidels; they'd kept running to the curtain to see if their parents were sat in the audience yet.

Still, Harry's hoping to have a chance to speak with Malfoy before the end of the evening. He'd realised over breakfast this morning that, with the pageant done and dusted, Malfoy'll have no reason to have to speak to Harry further. Well, beyond pleasantries exchanged at morning drop off and afternoon pickup. And Harry suspects that won't last much longer. He'd thought he'd caught a glimpse of Astoria slipping into the assembly hall just as the lights went down. Even of he's mistaken, Astoria's likely to be back any day, which means Malfoy won't be at the Garden every day. And if he's not, if Malfoy goes back to hiding himself away in the bowels of the British Museum, how will Harry have a chance to tell the prat how he feels, much less find out if Malfoy feels anything like Harry does.

It's all bloody hopeless, Harry realises. That doesn't mean he's going to give up, but he knows that it's not likely to matter in the end. Malfoy's been dodging him since Harry arrived this evening, and now they're almost at the finale. On stage, the children move and sway, raising the gifts up over their heads. One tumbles, crashes to the stage with a loud thump and the faint titter of laughter from the audience, but the boy gamely reaches down, picks it up and continues. Harry catches another glimpse of blond hair from the shadows on the opposite side. A present falls, and Harry sees the wince on Malfoy's face.

The music ends. There's a flurry of movement across the stage as the kids try to make certain they're in their proper places; several of the gifts are hastily handed to whomever's closest to the tree. Or in Fred's case, just thrown towards it like a bloody Quaffle.

Persephone steps out and delivers her last line to great effect. She speaks confidently and remembers to raise her voice. Harry's so proud of her--Malfoy'd been working with her on her on-stage presence for most of last week, and it's finally paid off. She does a magnificent job, and she looks rather pleased with herself. When she glances off towards Malfoy's side of the stage, he raises his arms in triumph, a wide smile curving his thin lips, and fuck, he's gorgeous.

Harry's breath catches. He has to look away.

And then there's the rush of candles past him, being urged on by McKinsey and Alys. They spill onto the stage in a ragtag tumble, some running, some trailing behind, their fists pressed into their mouths. Ava and Uri are fighting with each other, trying to be the first to the front of the stage; Ava makes it, but only because she pushes her brother down and steps over his furious carcass. Harry makes a mental note to keep an eye on her when she and Al get to Hogwarts; Ava Parkinson-Goldstein already takes no prisoners. She's exactly the sort Al will end up being friends with, Harry's certain.

Malfoy flicks his wand again, and the music starts up. The teachers herd the infant classes back on to the stage, the smallest ones floating in white cotton-batting baskets like little clouds. Together the whole school starts singing Here we come a-wassailing, among the leaves so green; here we come a-wandering, So fair to be seen…

The parents join in on the chorus, as is tradition for the Niffler's Garden Yule pageant. Harry catches a glimpse of Ron's ginger hair in the front row, Hermione next to him, Ginny on his other side.

Love and joy come to you, And to you our wassail, too…

Harry looks over at Malfoy. He's surprised to see Malfoy watching him. Surprised even more when Malfoy doesn't look away. The carol echoes through the assembly hall, children's voices mingling with those of their parents and grandparents and older siblings. It's a triumphant moment, one Harry knows he ought to be thrilled by, but he can't tear his gaze from Malfoy. He wants to stride across the stage, wants to push Malfoy up against the stage riggings, wants to kiss Malfoy until he's rutting up against Harry the way he had this weekend.

But Harry knows that's impossible. Knows that Malfoy's skittish. Uncertain. And Harry knows that means he has to be careful now. Let Malfoy move at his own pace. Let Malfoy make the next move in this complicated chess match they seem to have found themselves in.

Harry hates waiting. Hates feeling out of control. Maybe that's what he needs, though. To let go. To let Malfoy have whatever spaces he needs. So he stands still, barely breathing, his gaze caught by Malfoy's, both of them lost in one another.

The room erupts into applause and cheering, and Harry's attention is jerked away from Malfoy, back to the room around them. The children stand bashful and starstruck on the stage--or most of them, that is. Jamie's doing a dance with Fred, and Al's decided to sit down in the middle of everyone. Because, of course, the Potter kids have to misbehave, Harry thinks with a sigh.

Iona McKinsey steps onto the stage, clapping herself. "Well done, children," she calls out happily. "Well done." Alys Lloyd is near her, three of the kids attached to her hips. McKinsey looks back at Harry, then over at Malfoy. She gestures towards them both. "Come out, the two of you."

Harry takes a step forward but Malfoy hesitates, looking horrified.

"Don't be shy, Mr Malfoy," Iona calls out, and there's a high-pitched Papa from Scorpius in the corner.

The laughter from the other parents seems to break Malfoy's uncertainty. He takes a deep breath, sets his shoulders back, and steps out onto the stage with his head held high.

"Our parent volunteers this year," McKinsey says, and Harry follows Malfoy to the centre of the stage. "Mr Harry Potter and Mr Draco Malfoy have been invaluable in organising and directing your children tonight. Let's show them our appreciation, shall we?"

Harry squints into the darkness past the stage lights. The applause starts slowly, and then it grows louder, more insistent, and Harry can hear his name and Malfoy's being shouted out by their friends. He looks over at Malfoy, whose face is terribly flushed, and he holds out his hand, nudging Malfoy with his elbow.

Malfoy looks at him as if he's lost his mind.

"Take a bow, you idiot," Harry says affectionately, and after a hesitation, Malfoy's hand settles over Harry's, their fingers curling together. They bow, awkwardly, but deeply, and as they rise up, Harry pulls their entwined hands up over their heads.

Around them the applause is thunderous. Or as thunderous as it can get for a nursery school pageant. Still, it's gratifying, Harry thinks, and Malfoy's hand is warm and heavy in his, and it's the perfect bloody moment.

Which ends far too soon.

The lights come back up. Malfoy pulls his hand from Harry's, turns towards McKinsey.

"It's been a delight," Malfoy says, and when McKinsey gives him a pointed look, Malfoy laughs, warm and genuine. "No, really." He glances around the stage, the children milling about, looking for their parents. "I'm glad I had the chance to be involved in this. Thank you."

McKinsey seems a bit teary. "You did brilliantly." She lays a hand on Malfoy's arm, then looks over at Harry. "Both of you. If you'd like to be involved in our spring play--"

"I think I'm good," Harry says, whilst Malfoy shakes his head.

McKinsey just laughs. "Perhaps I ought to have waited until the pain of the past few weeks faded into memories of your glory tonight."

"Perhaps." Malfoy's mouth quirks up at the corners again. He's lovely when he smiles, Harry thinks. Especially when he means it, and his eyes light up as well.

And God, Harry's like a sodding adolescent head over heels for the bloke he fancies, isn't he? He shoves his hands in his pockets, his jacket ruched up over his wrists. "We could always get the team together again," Harry says, and when Malfoy glances over at him, Harry feels a proper idiot. "I mean, we're good together, yeah? Wrangling the kids and all?"

Malfoy's just looking at him like he's lost his mind. And maybe Harry has. "Yes, well, I suppose we'll see." He looks over into the throng of parents starting to move towards the stage. He frowns, his eyes narrowing at a flash of pale blonde hair. "If you'll excuse me?"

"Of course," McKinsey says, and Malfoy strides away. Harry can't help but watch him. McKinsey clears her throat, and he glances her way. "I wouldn't mind taking you up on that offer," she says with a small smile. She smoothes a stray wisp of hair back from her temple. "Perhaps next year. You and Mr Malfoy were rather efficient." She looks around the stage. "I'd rank this as one of the best Yule pageants we've had since I've been here."

"Brilliant," Harry says, and he's trying not to look towards Malfoy, to find his topknot in the frenzied melee of parents and children, Alys is already pulling the nursery crowd over to one side of the assembly hall; the infant teachers are gathering their lot opposite them. Harry glances back towards McKinsey. "Just let me know what I can do."

Parents are starting to approach them; Harry makes his apologies and slips away. He might as well collect Jamie and Al. All in all they did rather well tonight. Harry's pleased with them, even if there'd been some bobbles right at the end.

Harry's only just stepped off the stage to call Al and Jamie over to him, when he catches sight of Jamie running towards Ginny. She bends down, scoops him up, hugging him tightly.

"You did wonderfully," Ginny says, and Harry can hear the pride in her voice. "You too," she says to Al as he hops over to her, his yellow jumper pulled up under his armpits. Ginny frowns down at him. "What are you doing?" Jamie slides down her side, his trainers hitting the floor with a soft thump.

Al looks down at his pooched-out belly. "I'm hot."

"Well, you're keeping your clothes on." Ginny shakes her head when Al frowns at her. "You know the rule. No public nudity because mean people take pictures of you to embarrass your daddy."

"Mean!" Al shouts, but he doesn't pull his jumper down.

Ginny ruffles his hair. "Definitely." She reaches down, tugs Al's jumper down over his belly. Al just pulls it right back up. "You're determined to try my patience, aren't you?"

An older man, his brown hair greying at the temples, walks up, two coats draped over his arm. "I've rescued our coats," he says, and Harry stills. Doesn't move closer. The other man leans in, kisses Ginny's cheek. She blushes, but smiles back at him.

"Thanks," she says, and there's a softness in her voice that Harry'd seldom heard those last few years they were together. She looks past him, catches sight of Harry standing a few feet away.

"Oh," Ginny says. "Harry." There's an awkward moment as Paul turns to look over at him. "You remember Paul."

How the fuck can Harry forget? He'd only just met him this weekend when Ginny'd retrieved the boys, then dropped them off again. But Paul has a hand stretched out, a smile on his face, and Harry reaches out slowly to shake it.

"Nice to meet you again," Harry says reflexively. He supposes this is going happen rather a lot, him running into Ginny and Paul at family events, but his nerves are already on edge, and he'd been hoping to avoid this. He's not even certain why Paul's fucking here, to be honest. It seems far too soon for Gin to be inviting him into their kids' lives, but Harry knows it'd be shit of him to point that out. Especially when Ginny looks so happy.

"The boys were great." Ginny's talking fast, which means she's nervous herself. Her hand smoothes back Jamie's hair; he's pressed up against her side, his face buried into her hip. He misses Gin. Harry knows that. Jamie's always the one to ask where Mum is and when he can see her. Harry's just not certain Ginny realises how much Jamie wants to have her around. That's another secret he keeps, for Gin's sake. It'd break her heart to think that her absence was hurting either of her sons.

Ginny's babbling on. "Which is a bloody miracle, really. I thought Fred was going to cause trouble there for a bit. George was ready to swoop up on stage and march him off if he needed to."

"He's certainly done so before." Harry tries to nod pleasantly as Paul chuckles.

"Sounds like George," Paul says, and Harry's gaze swings towards Ginny. How does he know? Harry asks with his eyes, and Ginny's dart away, guiltily. So that's it, Harry thinks with a frown. She's brought him over to see the family this past week, and none of them have told him because they think he'll be upset. If they only fucking knew. Well. Harry supposes Ron and Hermione do know now.

Fuck, this is all complicated.

"Daddy." Al tugs at Harry's trousers; Harry looks down at him. Al holds his hands up in the air. "I hot."

Harry sighs. "You're not taking off your jumper, Al." He flicks his fingers over Al's head, casting a quick cooling charm on his son, wandlessly. He can feel Ginny's glare, sense Paul's surprise. Yeah, maybe it was a shit move, showing what kind of magical power he has, but Harry doesn't really care all that much.

Malfoy probably would have applauded him for it, and that makes Harry's heart ache. He reaches down, picks up Al and settles him on his hip, before he looks over at Ginny, then Paul. "Would you both like to come to the party? Iona tells me there might be orange squash and chocolate biscuits involved."

"Bi'cut!" Al leans backwards, his hair flopping in the air. Harry manages to keep him from flipping off his arm. "I like bi'cuts."

"Do you?" George asks over Harry's shoulder, and whilst Al laughs at the pursed mouth face his uncle gives him, Harry turns and reaches out to pull his former brother-in-law into a quick hug, pounding George's back with the flat of his palm just as George does to him. "How you doing, mate?" George asks. "Managed to work with Malfoy without murdering him, I see."

"George, behave yourself." Angelina comes up, Fred in tow. She leans in and hugs Harry; she smells warm and spicy. "You're still planning to be at the Burrow Wednesday, right?"

Harry nods. "With two boys in tow." He glances over at Ginny, trying to avoid meeting Paul's curious gaze. "You're still planning on having them Christmas Eve?"

"If you don't mind." Ginny's being careful with him. Harry can tell. "I thought I'd bring them back over to Grimmauld on Christmas morning."

To be honest, Harry doesn't really want to spend Christmas Eve by himself, but it's only fair that Ginny has Al and Jamie for part of the holiday. He wonders if Paul will join them, but that's a stupid question. If Paul came to this, then he'll be there with Harry's boys on Thursday evening. And there's nothing Harry can say about it without sounding like an utter selfish prick.

So Harry just nods, says, "That'll be fine." Whether or not it will.

Al's small hand hits Harry's cheek. "Bi'cut!" Al's scowling at him, and Harry grabs Al's wrist.

"No," Harry says firmly, even as Al wriggles in his grasp. "No hitting."

"But bi'cut." Al sounds forlorn. He reaches out, fingers grasping in the direction of the doors the other parents are headed for. Al's bottom lip sticks out. He lays his head on Harry's shoulder, pathetically. "Bi'cut, Daddy."

Angelina laughs. "Oh, you can't deny him, Harry. Look at that sad little face." She reaches out, rubs a fingertip against Al's nose; Al tries to play-bite her, and she pulls her hand back. Al just giggles and stuffs his own hand in his mouth.

They set off in a group to the reception hall, Al still clinging to Harry's hip, Jamie and Fred kept in firm grasp by their respective mothers. There are biscuits and squash and other treats set up on tables against the wall; the rest of the space has been left empty for proper mingling. If there's one thing Harry's learnt about Garden parents over the years, it's that they enjoy their social gatherings like this, however simplistic they may be. It's a time to brag about one's children whilst assessing their competition and putting down other parents' choices in the process. Basically Harry's nightmare, but most of the others seem to enjoy it. At the biscuit table, Harry grabs a chocolate digestive for Al, who shoves it into his mouth immediately and demands to be let down, and a gingernut for himself. And if at the same time, Harry keeps his eyes peeled for Malfoy, well, that's no one's concern but his own, isn't it?

Harry catches Al before he pulls an entire plate of chocolate biscuits off the table. "Stop it," he says, and he marches his son back over to the others. On the way, Harry thinks he sees a glimmer of blond out of the corner of his eye, and he turns his head quickly. But it's only Astoria, her hair loosely piled on top of her head, not unlike her ex-husband's, and surrounded by a group of mothers, all talking to her at once. She must have come in after the lights went down, just as Harry'd thought. Harry waves to her, and she lifts her hand, gives him a wan smile. She looks tired, and she must be just back from L.A., he thinks. It's good of her to come back for Scorpius's sake, and if she's here, that must mean Daphne's all right. Still, Harry's selfish enough to feel a pang of grief, his heart telling him that this is the end of Draco Malfoy's presence in his life. Harry does his best to push that thought away. Now's not the time to be upset by that. Not with Ginny around. She sees things he'd rather her not.

By the time Harry makes it back to Ginny and the others, Ron and Hermione arrive with Hugo and Rose in tow. Ron hugs Ginny whilst Hermione greets Paul, her gaze only sliding towards Harry as she pulls away. It's this that makes Harry truly realise he's the last one to meet Ginny's new boyfriend. He tries not to be angry, although he's getting more tense as the moments go by.

The cousins start running around, chasing each other through the clefts of adult legs. Harry widens his stance enough for Al to crawl through, followed by Rose, who's giggling as her fingers twist in Harry's trousers.

"So, that went well." Ron leans against the edge of the table, looking at Harry. "I mean, I'd imagined something so much worse."

"Hear, hear," George says. He's a clear cup of orange squash in his hand; he raises it to toast Harry. "Last year was a complete nightmare."

Angelina snorts. Her hair's cropped short now, much shorter than Harry remembers it from a month ago; her tight curls lie flat against the elegant curve of her head. Harry rather likes it on her. "Fred didn't push anyone off the stage this time."

"Iona assured me they'd have cushioning charms in place," Hermione says. She sips from a cup of squash herself, making a face at the sweetness of it. "Evidently poor Alys had to Fred-proof everything."

Harry laughs. "Jamie-proof too, I'd say." He shakes his head. "It was so much worse in practice, I have to admit." Harry can't help but smile. "What you saw on stage was a bloody miracle."

Ron shrugs. "I wouldn't have minded the other." He grins at Harry. "Not that this year wasn't great, but it's always a bit more amusing when someone tries to throw one of those gifts at someone else's head."

"Don't let Jamie hear you say that," Harry warns, as the kids race away, towards the small area McKinsey's set up with toys and books for them, and Ron just laughs. Harry catches sight of Pansy and Tony across the room, their own little hyperactive dreidels spinning around them. Pansy deftly manages to stop Uri with a quick hook of her black leather heel around the bottom of his costume. She catches Harry looking at her, and she winks at him as Tony scoops a whinging Uri up underneath his arm.

"Wonderful," Pansy mouths at Harry. "But next year, more menorahs."

Harry raises his gingernut her way in acquiescence.

Rabia Khan comes over with Bea in tow, Millicent on their heels. Rabia kisses Harry on the cheek; the silk of her hijab is soft against his skin. "Harry, thank you. I've already told Draco this, but I wanted you to know as well that what you both just did was brilliant."

When she steps back, Millicent shakes his hand. "Well done." Her grip is firm, her voice even. From the way she's searching his face, Harry thinks Rabia's told her about their earlier conversation. He finds he doesn't really mind. Whatever she might have said, it's only the truth, and Harry really wants to start living his own. Millicent drops his hand, reaches down to pick up Bea, who looks a bit sleepy.

Rabia smoothes her daughter's fringe back from her forehead. "We're leaving early, but we'd like to invite you to dinner soon."

"I'd like that," Harry admits. He wants more friends in his life who aren't straight; he's only just starting to realise how important that might be to him. And his boys down the road. He can feel Hermione and Ron watching him.

"Good." Rabia smiles at Harry, lowers her voice just a bit. "But if you need to talk about anything…" She gives him a steady look, and Harry nods.

"Thanks," Harry says, and he watches the small family leave, Bea falling asleep on Millicent's shoulder, Rabia's hand settling comfortably at the small of Millicent's back. The strings of Harry's heart twang. Merlin, but he wants that or something like it. A relationship with a man he can be public with. A man with whom Harry can share his life, his bed, his children.

Malfoy.

Harry's throat tightens.

"Didn't know you knew Rabia," Ron says after a moment, and Harry looks over at him. Ron's watching him curiously.

"We've gotten better acquainted this year," Harry says, his voice even. Hermione's turned away; she's talking to Ginny and Paul about their plans for Christmas Day with Paul's children; George and Angelina are arguing softly about which one of them needs to go track down Fred.

Ron nods. "It's nice. I'm glad you're making other friends."

Gay friends goes unspoken, hanging heavy and uncertain between them.

Harry bites his lip, looks over. "Ron, you'll always be my best mate. You know that." He doesn't want Ron to think Harry doesn't need him. Because Harry does. He always will. "This doesn't change anything."

"I know." Ron says, and the smile he gives Harry is hesitant. He grips Harry's shoulder, tight and quick, before letting go. "But I also know you need more." He glances over towards the play area, and Harry's gaze follows. His breath catches when he realises Malfoy's stood there, watching Scorpius and Al, his arms folded across his chest. The fond look on his face makes Harry's heart clench.

Ron glances back over at Harry. "I saw you watching him," he says, his voice quiet. "The whole pageant." When Harry looks up sharply, his heart pounding with fear, Ron shakes his head. "No one else would have noticed. I'm not even certain Hermione saw. But I did, and I know you, Harry." He nudges Harry with his elbow. "Go talk to him."

Harry watches Malfoy, watches the way he bends over to say something to his son, his eyes crinkling in amusement. Harry wonders if Malfoy knows how handsome he is, how charming. He hates Adrian Pucey right now, hates all the men who've taken Malfoy to bed. Who've done the things to him Harry wants to do. Who've seen Malfoy come apart at their touch.

"It's not a good idea," Harry says, his voice quiet. But oh, how he wants to.

Ron frowns. "Why?"

And Harry doesn't want to go into it here. Doesn't want to admit what a fool he'd been. He draws in a ragged breath. Exhales. "Let's just say things aren't at their best between us."

"Huh." Ron looks back towards Malfoy. He's silent for a moment, then he says, "You know what I'd do?" He doesn't wait for Harry to answer. "I'd act like I had a bloody pair and go talk to him anyway." He swings his frank gaze over to Harry. "Because you want him. So act like a fucking Gryffindor, will you, Harry?"

That's not what Harry'd expected from Ron. He eyes him. "Why are you being so supportive of this? You know it's going to implode horribly."

"Yeah, well, probably." Ron picks up a cup of squash from the table he's leaning against. "But you're my brother, Harry. However fucked-up you might be. And that means I'm your wingman. So buck the fuck up, and go over there to talk to that pointy-faced shit you want to shag, because if you don't try to fix whatever it is the two of you fucked up, you'll regret it." He meets Harry's gaze. "Won't you?"

And yeah. Harry will.

"Fine," he says with a sigh. "But if he hexes my balls off--"

"I'll get you to St Mungo's," Ron says, far too cheerfully.

Harry wants to flip two fingers his way, but he doesn't dare with this many kids around. So he settles for a solid glare as he walks away.

The room feels interminable. Like every step is dragging him farther and farther from Malfoy.

And then he's there, standing next to Malfoy, smelling the citrusy scent of his cologne. Scorpius and Al are racing around with dinosaurs in hand, roaring at one another; Jamie and Fred are in the corner, playing with toy brooms, luckily ones that don't really float.

"Hey," Harry says, and Malfoy startles. He looks over at Harry, his face closed off, distant.

"Potter," Malfoy says. They stand silently together; Malfoy's arms crossed tightly over his chest, Harry's hands shoved in his pockets. Their children tumble onto the floor together in a laughing heap as Scorpius tries to hit Al in the head with the snout of his dinosaur. Al just shrieks and giggles, rolling over to stand up, his bum high in the air as he pushes himself up.

"Congratulations." Harry has to say something. He rocks forward on the balls of his feet. "You did a great job with all of this."

"Thanks." Malfoy hesitates, then adds, "You were great too."

Neither of them say anything. Al shrieks again as Scorpius comes after him. He runs over to Jamie, shouting for help. Jamie just ignores him.

Harry looks over at Malfoy. "Look," he says, his voice low. "I fucked up--"

"You did." Malfoy's fingers twist in the thin knit of his turtleneck.

"I'm sorry." Harry turns towards him. "I really am. My house and I are both idiots. But it doesn't change the fact I want--"

"Stop." Malfoy's face is pale. When he looks at Harry, his face is pained. "This isn't the time for this, Potter."

"Then when is?" Harry knows he sounds frustrated. He's no intention of hiding that. "I want you, and I'm pretty fucking certain you want me too--"

Malfoy jerks backwards as if he's been slapped. "I'm not talking about this here."

"When will you?" Harry runs his hands through his hair. He's trying to keep from being too loud, but he knows they're getting looks already. He takes a deep breath, huffs it out. His heart's beating in his chest. "I have feelings--"

"Shut up." It's a vicious, sharp hiss. Malfoy's cheeks flush, his eyes are bright. "You don't. You just want a fuck, that's all--"

"Bollocks." Harry leans closer; Malfoy takes a step back. Harry wonders what Malfoy would do if Harry pulled him up against him right now and kissed him senseless. In front of all their friends, in front of the entire school.

He knows Malfoy would hate him for it. So Harry tries to make himself calm down. Tries to be reasonable.

"We can't keep doing this," Harry says.

"I know." Malfoy looks away. He swallows. "I don't want you."

Harry knows that's a lie. "Bollocks," he says again.

Malfoy glances back at him, and the heat in his gaze makes Harry's heart stutter, his breath catch. "I won't want you," Malfoy says after a moment. "I can't let myself."

That's more honest. But Harry doesn't entirely believe him. "And if I kissed you here?" They're so close that Harry could. And God, he wants to.

Something close to anguish twists Malfoy's face. "Please, don't," he whispers. His teeth bite into his lip, faint pale marks against the pink curve.

Harry just looks at him, uncertain. He doesn't know what to say. What to do. "Fuck, Malfoy," he says softly, and then he breaks off, closes his eyes.

There's a movement between them. Harry opens his eyes again; Astoria's there, her hand on Malfoy's arm.

"Sorry to interrupt," Astoria says, and she's watching Harry in a way that makes him uneasy. Until she smiles at him, quick and warm. She leans in and hugs him. "It's so good to see you, Harry. The two of you did an amazing job tonight."

"Thanks," Harry says. His voice sounds strained and rough; it catches painfully in the back of his throat.

Astoria pulls back, "Draco's told me how much you did to help him with Scorpius and the pageant."

Harry blinks. He looks over at Malfoy, who's not meeting his gaze. "He didn't really need much help. He's amazing with the children."

"Yes," Astoria says with a small smile. "He is. Aren't you, darling?" Her fingers brush Malfoy's arm.

Malfoy looks up at her, as if he's slightly stunned. "I don't know. Maybe." He draws in a slow breath. "We should probably get Scorpius home soon or he'll be impossible to wrangle into bed."

Astoria considers for a moment, then nods. "You're right." She touches Harry's cheek. "Thank you for watching after them both," she says half-under her breath. "It helped me not worry."

"Happy to." Harry gives her faint smile. "Daphne's well?"

"She has a baby girl." Astoria beams at him. "Just delivered last night; Mother and Daddy Portkeyed out this morning to be with her, so I thought I'd pop back over for the pageant." Her gaze slides over to her son; her face softens. "I'm glad I did."

Malfoy shifts from foot to foot. Harry's surprised by how much he looks like Astoria, the two of them stood here together. Part of Harry wonders how much that's affected him, both in becoming friends with Astoria, and in the detente he and Malfoy reached. At least until Harry went and destroyed it all.

"We should go," Malfoy says to Astoria. He doesn't look at Harry.

Astoria, on the other hand, does, and Harry thinks she sees more than he'd like her to. "All right," she says finally. "Scorpius, come here."

Scorpius turns, and Harry thinks he's going to protest, until he realises his mother's there. He drops the dinosaur he's been beating Al's shoulders with and runs to her, his arms outstretched. "Mummy!"

"Darling!" Astoria's laughing at her son. She bends down, picks him up, covering his face with kisses. "Did you miss me?"

Scorpius nods, and then he reaches for Malfoy's hair, twisting his fingers in it. "Papa here."

Malfoy winces as he tries to untangle his son's grasp. "Yes, well. We did all right."

Astoria smiles at him, warm and soft, and Harry's stomach flips. He hopes Malfoy doesn't do something stupid like try to win his ex-wife back. Harry wouldn't be able to bear it. She looks back over at Harry. "We should get coffee soon."

"Sure," Harry says, but he doesn't want to. Not really. And he hates that reaction; he'd liked being friends with Astoria. He doesn't want to lose that just because Malfoy's being stubborn.

And you've been a right arse, his mind adds. He looks away, ashamed.

"Stori," Malfoy says sharply. "I'd like to get Scorpius back home before it's too late."

There's an awkward tension between the three of them, and then Astoria says, "Lovely to see you, Harry. We'll talk soon, yes?"

Harry just nods. "See you," he says, his voice faint, and he watches as they turn away, their arms brushing, their blond heads bent over their sons.

"Daddy?"

Harry looks down; Al's stood beside him, his eyes wide and as green as Harry's. "Yeah, sprog?" Harry's voice still sounds rough.

Al chews on his lip. "You sad."

It's not a question. Harry knows that. He swallows past the lump in his throat. "A bit."

His son nods. Holds up the dinosaur in his hand. "Stomp make you happy."

"Will it?" Harry's mouth quirks up. He takes a heavy step towards his son, roars softly. "Like that?"

Al laughs. "Uh-huh." He holds the dinosaur up again. Roars himself. "See?"

"Yeah." Harry smiles down at his son, his heart in tatters. What does Malfoy matter, anyway? Al and Jamie are what's important to Harry. More than anything. Whatever this is--was--between him and Malfoy? It can't hold a candle.

He picks up his son, holding him up to blow a sloppy kiss on his exposed belly. Al twists and squirms and giggles in his grasp, and a modicum of Harry's pain fades. Not much. But enough.

And Malfoy? That doesn't matter, Harry tells himself.

It was all just a silly Christmas wish, anyway.

Chapter Text

When Draco shuffles sleepily into the kitchen on Tuesday morning, fully dressed, Astoria's sat on one of the kitchen stools at the centre island, sipping at a foamy cup of cappuccino, her fluffiest robe wrapped around her and her hair pulled up into a high ponytail. She watches him as he sets his tightly packed satchel down next to the door, and drapes his coat over the end of the island counter. It's nearly half past seven, and without drop-off at the Garden to manage, Draco might even get into the Museum early. He wants a stretch of time to tidy up things with Evgeni's box--he's putting it back into storage after today and picking up a new project after New Year's.

"Good morning, sunshine," Astoria says, lowering her cappuccino mug. Even without makeup, she looks fresh-faced and cheerful. "How'd you sleep?"

"Well enough." Draco hadn't slept at all, really. He'd tossed and turned all night on the firm mattress of the spare room bed, thinking about Potter. Wondering what it would feel like to have Potter lying here with him, naked and aroused. Replaying those last moments after the pageant over and over again. Merlin, he'd been so foolish. But he doesn't know what else he could have done. At least there, in front of everyone. Potter ought to have known better. People'd been watching, for fuck's sake. With not dissimilar expressions to Astoria's now as she regards him over the island. Draco looks away. He doesn't like how perceptive his ex-wife can be, particularly at times when he'd rather slide beneath her notice. "You're up early," Draco knows that Astoria rarely sleeps past five on weekday mornings, but will sleep in when she has the chance. Like today, when she'd told him she'd planned to stay home with Scorpius and spend a bit of time with their son.

Draco's not jealous of that. Not really. And as glad as he'd been to see Astoria come in to the pageant last night unannounced, he'd still wished she'd at least texted him to let him know she'd be there. Coming home together afterwards had been awkward. He'd tried to leave, to go back to his flat that's been closed up for the past three weeks, but she'd insisted that he stay. For Scorpius's sake, and Draco can't resist that.

Not now, at least.

"Portkey lag." Astoria shifts on her stool as Draco walks over the cabinets, takes out a coffee mug. "My body's still certain it should be half-eleven in the evening, I'm afraid. Would you like me to make you a coffee?"

"I can do it, thanks." Draco's old-friends with Astoria's fancy Italian espresso machine after the last weeks. He's going to need to think about whether to get something comparable for his flat. Although he misses the handsome, green-eyed, dark-haired barista from Syrup of Soot, he's had more chance to see the original lately, and that may ruin his morning coffee routine. After all, there are very few people, Muggle or magical, like Harry Potter. He's sui generis, Draco thinks. One might hope that should make it easier to forget him, but Draco's certain that's an impossibility. At least for him. Potter's been part of Draco's narrative for a very long time. The likelihood of Draco escaping the flurry of drama that seems to swirl between him and Potter is minuscule. At best.

He tamps down the grounds into the small metal basket and fits it into the machine. Water goes in, then, with a twist of the knob, he watches as the machine begins to burble softly. A moment later, two shots of beautiful, creamy espresso stream into the small, white cup. After Draco foams the milk, he pours it into the waiting cup with an easy swoop. He can usually get a bit of milk froth art in, but today he settles for a simple pour. He doesn't want to be carving hearts into his coffee, not this morning

"Is Scorpius up yet?" Draco asks, looking back over his shoulder at Astoria.

Astoria gives him a rueful smile. "No. I should wake him in a bit, or he'll be an utter disaster tomorrow." She cups her cappuccino between her hands. "I've been enjoying the quiet of the morning, though. I'm quite certain that'll be gone once he's had breakfast."

Draco nods as he sips through the creamy, frothy head of his coffee, and the blessed jolt of espresso mixed with milk hits his tongue. "Certain you don't want me to stay?" He's half-joking, but there's part of him that means his offer. He'd rather spend his day with Scorpius than lock himself away in his office for the day. The last few weeks with his son have been special, and Draco doesn't want things to change again. He's even reluctant to go back to his own flat. He's been by once or twice in the past weeks to check on things or grab clothes before dashing off to pick up Scorpius from the Garden, but he's not really itching to return, and he can't figure out why.

Except his once-loved flat now feels lonely. Empty in a way that Draco doesn't really like. His sitting room might be pristine, and his kitchen tidy, but Draco knows he'll miss the flurry of Scorpius's messes and the struggle of getting him to bed after dinner and a bath. Draco leans against the counter, lifts his coffee to his mouth again, and lets himself feel melancholic.

He doesn't know what else to do.

Astoria crosses one pale blue silk pyjama clad leg over the other, tucking a loose lock of pale blonde hair back behind her ear. She really is shockingly beautiful, Draco thinks, in the abstract way that beautiful pieces of art are recognisable. And really, if he couldn't be happy married to someone as lovely and kind as Astoria, it was very clear that he wasn't interested in women at all.

He'd known it. But he'd wanted so very much to be seen as normal, to be the man that his mother had wanted him to be, to continue his family lineage for her sake, if not his father's. And with that incredibly selfish act, he'd hurt Astoria. Made her live a lie with him until she couldn't bear it any longer.

"I'm sorry," he says, looking down at the swirled foam in his cup. "I was a shit husband, wasn't I?"

Astoria doesn't say anything.

Draco looks up at her. "You've done everything for us. Scorpius and me. You took care of everything, and I was such a prick that I threw it all away--"

"You didn't," Astoria says, her voice soft. She meets his gaze. Sighs. "Yes, you were an awful husband. Because you weren't meant to be married to me." She turns on her stool to face him more directly. "Darling, you weren't meant for any woman, and you tried to force yourself into this antiquated system that was never going to work for you because you've been too afraid to tell your parents that you like a bit of cock instead of fanny."

Her bluntness makes Draco smile, ever so slightly. "I don't think I'd put it like that."

"Well, you ought to." Astoria reaches out across the space between the island and the counter. Draco lets his fingertips brush hers, in an oddly intimate gesture they'd used during their marriage. It comforts him in a way he can't really express. Astoria hesitates, then she says, "I know it's been hard since the divorce."

It has been. "I've missed being here." Draco's thumb slides over Astoria's knuckles; when she pulls away, he draws in a slow breath. "I've missed you."

"Because I'm brilliant." Astoria's smile is small but warm. She uncrosses her legs, presses her heels into the stool rung. "But it's not really me you miss."

And Draco knows she's right. "It was nice to come home to someone," he says finally. "To be with Scorpius…" He trails off, his throat tightening. "I've been an awful father to him too."

"Stop it." Astoria frowns at him. "An awful father wouldn't have stepped in like this at last minute's notice."

Draco shakes his head. He still feels awful, as if he's spent the past few years fucking his life about. Losing sight of what matters to him. His son. His family. "It's my duty, Astoria." His fingers tighten against the smooth earthenware cup.

"Oh, rubbish." Astoria regards him curiously then, tilting her fine-boned face to peer at him through her fringe. "I know you like to keep out of things, or, at least, you have in the past, but you're a good father to him."

Draco sets down his cup, positioning it perfectly in its saucer. "No, I'm not." He rubs his finger along the rim of the cup, his heart thudding in his chest. "I really wanted to give you the space you needed to raise Scorpius outside of all the Malfoy bollocks, but I've realised I need to spend time with him too." He doesn't look at her whilst he says this. It's too intimate, too hard to say somehow. He feels a terrible idiot to have realised by accident that he has to have more time with his son. Now, when he's younger, before it's too late. Before the distance grows between the two of them, too deeply to be properly bridged.

Really, it's Draco's own fear that's been holding him back. His worry that he'll end up like his father, that Scorpius will hate him as much as he hates Lucius. And it's taken watching Potter with his boys to realise that he shouldn't be afraid of that. If Potter can handle Jamie and Al on his own, shepherding day by day through their lives, then Draco can have more weekends with his son. Maybe even some weeknights, if Astoria'll allow him.

"Oh," Astoria says, and then she stops. Bites her lip.

Draco looks at her directly then. "I'm not trying to take him away from you. That's not my intention." He takes a breath, tries to figure out how to say this part best. So much of what's considered polite conversation is knowing what not to say, especially among Slytherins, knowing how to leave certain things unsaid. But right now, Draco has a deep need to be more than polite, to speak as clearly as he can and say the things that need saying between himself and his ex-wife. "My intention is to be more involved in Scorpius' life." He rubs his hands over his grey-jumpered arms. "I don't know how it's going to be, and I don't want this to be a contentious thing between us, for his sake but also for ours. I'd far prefer not to get solicitors involved."

Astoria shakes her head, and for a moment, Draco's stomach falls, but then she smiles at him, and he realises that she's blinking away tears. She slides off her stool, pads the few steps over to him, reaches up to cup her hands around his angular cheeks. "Draco," she whispers. "I've been waiting for you to say that. I haven't wanted to push you, but I really can't do this by myself. Not with Scorpius a toddler. I need to have more help from you, and I haven't known how to say--I'd hoped you might understand, after being with him this month." Her fingers stroke the sides of his face. "Darling, Scorpius is desperate to see you more often."

And this is news to Draco. He starts, and Astoria's hands drop away. He blinks down at her. "I thought you wanted to do it more by yourself. And I was trying to hold my family off from any threat of Malfoy custody once we separated." He winces a bit. "Father was awful about our split, and Mother was certain you'd walk away from all of us."

"Your mother's always afraid I'm going to whisk Scorpius to my mother's and never let her see him again." Astoria laughs, shakes her head. "Eventually she'll realise I'm not that vindictive, and, anyway, I doubt your father's solicitors can get through mine They were rather good in our divorce after all."

That they had been, Draco thinks a bit ruefully. But he'd been willing to give Astoria anything she wanted. Money, the house, child support. He hadn't fought any of her requests. Not after what he'd done to her.

Astoria's watching him, her lip caught between her teeth. "But I thought you didn't want to have anything to do with the day-to-day, that you wanted to build a life of your own choosing for yourself." She looks small and uncertain when she says that, her arms crossing over her chest. And Draco knows it still hurts her, his betrayal. Not the sex he'd had outside of their marriage. She'd accepted that when he'd asked her to open up their vows. When he'd told her he wanted men. But his cavalierness about it, his being caught in public with Adrian, even if the Prophet believed him to be with a woman--that had stung her, he knows. And it still does. He hadn't considered her feelings back then. He'd only cared about what was right for him. What was easy.

Merlin, he'd been a shit.

"We need to work this out," Draco says after a moment. "In a good way. We need to come up with a plan that makes sense. For all of us."

Astoria's silent, and then she nods. "All right."

Draco reaches for her hand, slips his fingers through hers. He turns them, feels the smoothness of her skin where her engagement ring and wedding band had once been. He looks up at her, his heart full and heavy. "I am so grateful to you, you know."

"Why?" Astoria asks. She's looking at him, her face inscrutable. She pulls her hand away.

"For being the mother of my child." Draco swallows, feeling a bit awkward. A bit too earnest. But still, he has to go on. "For giving me this chance with Scorpius to figure out what I was missing." Draco twists his fingers in the cuffs of his sleeves, pulling them down beneath his jumper. "I'm sorry I made it seem like I didn't want to be part of things. I was selfish, and I hope you'll be able to forgive me."

Astoria gives him a narrowed glare, then spoils it all by laughing. Draco can't help but feel a bit offended.

"What?" he asks, more than a bit huffily.

"Oh Draco," Astoria says, her palm pressed to her chest. "You complete idiot. It's been hard, I'm not going to gloss over that, but of course, I forgive you." She walks back to the island, stirs the remnants of the milk foam in her cup. She takes a moment before she says, not looking over at him, "I love you in my own way, you know, even though I know I can never be with you properly. But I want you to be happy, and I don't think fucking about with someone like Adrian Pucey is making you happy." At that, she looks Draco in the eye, her chin raised. "You deserve to be happy."

Draco's mind blanks for a moment. Oh. He wasn't expecting this at all. What he should do is thank her for the kind sentiment and move on, out of harm's way. What he does instead is, stupidly, say, "I think I'm falling in love with someone." Having the words out, hanging in the air between them is utterly terrifying.

But freeing.

Astoria raises an eyebrow. "Oh."

Draco looks away. He chews on his bottom lip before rubbing his hands over his face. "Don't say that." He feels a complete tit now.

"I'm not saying anything," Astoria points out.

Draco sighs. "It's what you're not saying."

"Which is?" Astoria picks up her coffee cup again. Takes a sip. A bit of foam sticks to her upper lip; she licks it away.

"That it's a wretched idea." Draco feels a bit ill. He glances up at the clock on the wall. He should leave soon, if he wants to drop his satchel off at his flat. But he can't seem to make himself go.

Astoria sighs quietly. "I never said that. I never even thought it. Why would I?" She studies Draco. "I'm thrilled that you might be in love with someone else. You should be. It's a good thing, darling."

"Not for me." It's barely a whisper. Draco can't look at her. Can't explain why being in love with Harry bloody Potter would be the worst thing in the world for Draco. What others would say. What they'd think. How it'd affect Scorpius in the end, when Draco's been dragged through the mud for even daring to look Potter's way. "I just have to get over it. That's all."

His throat nearly closes on the words. Draco doesn't want to walk away from Potter. Not when he knows how close he could be to having the man. Potter'd made it clear he'd take Draco to bed. And perhaps more.

But Draco can't think about that possibility.

Astoria searches Draco's face, and he knows when she realises. He wishes he'd kept his tongue, but there's a relief that slides from his shoulders, too. He can't carry this burden alone, and it's not fair to Pansy to lay it on her doorstep. Not that Astoria deserves it either, he thinks a bit bitterly, but here he is, sat in his ex-wife's kitchen, admitting to her he might be in love with someone he should never have looked twice at. He glances away, his heart aching.

"It's Harry, isn't it?" Astoria asks. "You could have cut the tension between the two of you with a knife last night."

Draco nods, looking at the fine black veins of the white marble countertop, running his thumb along one of the more prominent ones. "I pushed him away, Stori," he admits after an unsteady breath. "And now I'm scared, and I don't know what to do." He looks back up at her. "This isn't easy for me. Adrian's simple. Uncomplicated. Potter's not."

"If you think shagging Adrian Pucey has ever been uncomplicated for you, Draco, then you're a complete fool." Astoria's voice is kind, but merciless in its own way. "Our entire life was upended because of Adrian. What he wanted was more important to you than what I needed." She holds her hand up when Draco starts to protest. "You need to hear this. Fucking Adrian Pucey may have been what you thought you needed in our marriage. And I'm not saying you were wrong." Her gaze is steely. Firm. "I will never regret having Scorpius with you, but I do regret giving in to your request that I turn my head whilst you did whatever you wanted. I did us both a disservice, Draco. If I'd asked for a divorce earlier, when I realised you were, in fact, gay, maybe you wouldn't have this utterly fucked-up idea of what love and sex and belonging are."

Draco can't say anything. His breath is shallow; he can't look away from his ex-wife. From the gentleness on her face.

"Look," Astoria says, reaching out to touch Draco's cheek. "Love's not supposed to be easy. I understand how you feel, and maybe you're not ready for this yet. But if you hear anything I've said right now, I hope it's that you need to stop and examine what you're telling yourself about how you feel and what you want. Harry's a good man. And I can see why you'd fall for him. Merlin knows if I hadn't clocked him for being in the closet as well, I might have thrown myself at him too." Her smile's warm, soft.

"You knew?" Draco's voice sounds hoarse. Rough. He can't quite believe what Astoria's saying.

Astoria nods, laughs a little. "When you've lived with a closeted husband, you recognise the signs."

"I'm sorry." Draco doesn't know what else to say.

"Stop," Astoria says. She rubs a palm across her cheek, looking suddenly tired. She eyes Draco for a long moment; his stomach churns and roils before she sighs again. "It's okay to be scared, darling. We're all scared. But please, don't want to throw your life away by being too scared to live it." The furrows between her brows deepen. "I couldn't bear it if you did."

Draco knows she loves him. He appreciates her caring enough to engage him about all of this. To tell him the truth that she knows is hard for him to hear. But he can feel the tautness tighten in his chest, the anxiety settle on his shoulders, hunching them with each breath he manages to painfully draw in, and he doesn't want to snap at her. Doesn't want to ruin this understanding between them just because she sees him more clearly than he sees himself. But his heart hurts, and his hands tremble, and he's a hair's breadth away from falling apart. Which he doesn't want to do. Not here. Not in front of Astoria. All of this between him and Potter is just too difficult to bear at the moment, and Draco needs to figure out why.

And the way his ex-wife is watching him, her concern so very evident in the way she leans towards him, as if she wants to touch his arm again, it's just too much.

Draco has to flee.

"I'll think about it," he says. It's the most he can promise right now.

Astoria seems to understand.

"Okay," she says quietly. "I'll support you in whatever you decide. You know that."

"Thanks," Draco manages. His heart's racing. He wants to grab his satchel and race for the Floo. He tries to make himself calm down. Breathe, at least a bit.

"Let's talk about care arrangements after Christmas," Astoria says over the rim of her coffee cup. She's not looking directly at him now, which Draco's grateful for. It gives him a chance to pull himself together. "You are planning on coming to dinner with my parents on Christmas Eve?"

"Of course," Draco lies, cursing his bad luck. "Mother and Andromeda are in the Caribbean. I thought your parents were going to stay in LA?" He'd really hoped this year to avoid the usual spectacle of the Greengrass Holiday Spectacular, complete with maiden aunts and uniformed house elves. Last year half the guests had wondered out loud whyever Astoria would have invited her estranged husband to come, which, if he's honest, Draco still asks himself To say it'd been awkward had been an understatement. He's not looking forward to another evening like that. Particularly when he'd rather be sat at home in his flat with a bottle of wine, sulking about the unfairness of his life.

"Are you mad?" Astoria gives Draco an incredulous look. "Aunt Lobelia would never let Mother live it down if they didn't host. They're coming back the morning of Christmas Eve, and Mother's been firecalling the elves since they arrived in L.A., making certain the proper roasts have been purchased." She shakes her head in amusement. "They've even arranged a special direct international Portkey so Daphne and Theo can come with them. Father was able to secure one through his connections."

"Is that safe?" Draco asks. He's surprised that the Healers would let an infant as small as his new niece travel so soon.

"Perfectly," Astoria says with a wave of her hand. "Portkeys are far safer than Floo or Apparition, even over international borders. They'll come directly from their sitting room to Mother's, and the baby's fit to travel. That way Daphne can have everyone helping her here. Theo's mother is over the moon, so it'll be great fun to watch her and Mother snipe at each other about proper infant care." She eyes Draco."Don't you remember me Portkeying back with Scorpius?"

"Yes," Draco says, a bit more tartly than he means. It's only been three years, but he remembers getting everything ready in the townhouse before Astoria came home with Scorpius in her arms, remembers preparing for the next stage of his life. Funny how one thinks that one change will be the last one--that's not how life works, really. His life keeps turning upside down, surprising him in ways he's never expected.

In fact, Draco's amazed at how much has changed in a few short weeks. Daphne's difficult pregnancy has resulted in a healthy birth, he and Astoria are talking like actual parents, and this whatever it is with Potter has had time to take a life of its own. He's not sure what he'll do about that--avoid it, he thinks, until it's not so exhausting. Or he'll go out, drink a lot of gin, and find someone new to fuck. The thing with Adrian has clearly become too obvious.

The clock chimes eight, and Draco swears. "I need to go," he says, gathering his satchel and his coat. "I've left some of my things in the spare room for now, everything I couldn't fit in this." He lifts his satchel up. "I'll come back after work for the rest."

"When will you be back?" Astoria's rummaging around in the breadbox. Draco's stashed some good crumpets in there and half a wholemeal loaf. She picks the crumpets. Good girl, Draco thinks, fondly.

"Four at the latest. I could bring something for supper if you like." Draco knows he can't get used to this, but he does want a chance to see Scorpius tonight if he can. And it's nice to be on common ground with Astoria.

"That would be grand." Astoria's never been much of a cook. "And get wine."

"Naturally." Draco draws on his coat, settles the strap of his satchel over his shoulder.

"Oh, and Draco," Astoria's very busy over the toaster, her back to him.

Draco stills. He can sense something, and he's not sure what it could be. He looks over at Astoria. "What?"

Astoria walks over to the refrigerator. Pulls out the butter, carries it back to the toaster. She exhales, then says, "I'm going to go out with Blaise Zabini, and I'd appreciate it if you're not ridiculous about it." She looks over at Draco, who's just stood in the middle of the room in shock, staring at her, not certain what to say. Astoria lifts her chin. "He's asked me to dinner, and I've said yes. He and I've been dancing around it for months now, and he was lovely when I was in L.A. We talked nearly every day."

Unlike the two of them, Draco thinks. He'd managed to ring Astoria up twice a week at most. "Oh," he says, and he's feeling a bit disgruntled about all of this. Even as he knows he's no bloody right to be.

"Yes." Astoria gives Draco an even look. "Blaise is afraid you're going to kill him, and I'd rather not start the new year with fatalities. Or much blood to speak of." The toaster dings, and Astoria turns back to it, plucking her crumpets from the wide slots. "I mean, I could perform surgery, but I'd rather not."

"Oh," Draco says again. The shock of it all is wearing off, and Draco doesn't think this is the worst of moves for any of them. Blaise and Astoria have always liked one another; Draco used to joke with Blaise that he spent more time talking to Astoria at their dinner parties than Draco did. Which was probably true, really. He considers for a moment, calculating Blaise's duelling ability before he shrugs. "Blaise would be much more likely to wound me, I should think." He looks over at Astoria, takes in the uncertain set of her shoulders, the spark of worry in her gaze. He smiles at her, and she relaxes. "If you fancy him, then you should have what you want."

Still, Draco's going to send a nastily worded owl to Blaise for not telling him first, and perhaps one to Pansy as well for not informing him of what she must have known. But perhaps it'd been better for it to come from Astoria herself, he thinks. To be honest, Draco's rather pleased for her. And, he thinks, Scorpius could do worse than Blaise for a man in Astoria's life.

"Thank you." Astoria's blushing a bit, and the smile she gives him is a bit shaky. Flustered, even, Draco might say, and he wonders how long this has been going on between her and Blaise. If it'd been something they'd flirted with before the end of his marriage. Draco thinks he ought to care, ought to be angry, but he can't be. He wants Astoria to be happy, just as much as she wants that for him. However difficult it'd been for them to end things, Draco can't imagine not loving her. Not wanting her to have everything wonderful she might want.

Even if that's Blaise Zabini.

Draco walks over, kisses Astoria's cheek. "If he hurts you, I'll castrate him. And don't think I won't tell him that straight to his face."

Astoria laughs. Pushes Draco away. "Go to work, you bloodthirsty fool." She catches his arm, though, before he turns. He looks back at her. "Tell Harry," Astoria says, and her voice is urgent, almost furious. "Tell him how you feel, Draco, before you do something stupid and fuck it all up."

And Draco knows he's a coward. Knows that as much as he wants Potter for Christmas, as much as he'd love to drag his naked body across Potter's, make Potter gasp and moan, he can never be brave enough to go to Potter. To tell him what he wants. What he needs from Potter. How he loves him. Draco can't bear to make himself that vulnerable, and he hates himself for that weakness.

And so Draco looks at Astoria, at the way she's watching him, worry etched on her face, and he feels useless. Pathetic. He grips the strap of his satchel. "I might already have fucked it up," he says, and when her fingers slip away from his elbow, he turns, walks towards the Floo.

"You're a stubborn fool, Draco Malfoy," his ex-wife calls after him. "I only hope one day you stop punishing yourself for the boy you used to be." Draco looks back at her, silver Floo powder slipping from his fingers into the fire; Astoria's mouth is set, her brow furrowed. "You deserve better, if you'd only let yourself believe that."

Draco's hand settles over his forearm, where the Mark still throbs faintly beneath his skin. "I don't know that I ever can," he admits quietly, and he steps into the Floo, "I'm sorry."

And he lets the Floo whip him away, his own grief and anguish spiralling around him, pulling him from the warmth of what once had been his life.

Chapter Text

On Wednesday evening, the Burrow is alight with cinnamon and bayberry candles on every surface and fairy lights wrapped around evergreen boughs and strung from the rafters. Rich, clove-studded pomanders hang in the windows, redolent of orange and spice, alongside dried apple slices dangling from red velvet ribbons. The Christmas tree itself is so bright, as Ginny remarked, it could light the house by itself without any of the other sparkling flim-flam. Harry remembers that she doesn't like overdone Christmas decorations, preferring simple silver and cream ornaments to the explosion of colour on her parents' tree. Harry personally finds it magical; the Christmases he'd spent at his aunt and uncle's house had been too pristine, too polished, and Harry'd been pushed into the corner for most of them. Here at the Burrow he's surrounded by family, laughing, shouting, throwing things across the room at one another.

It's brilliant.

They've finally finished the feast that nearly broken the long dining table and have been pushed out of the dining room by Bill and Fleur whilst they tidy up before dessert and presents. Molly really has outdone herself this year: dinner consisted of an enormous ham, a goose, and a roast beef with yorkshire pud as well as an extraordinary amount of vegetables plus breads, savory pies, roasted chestnuts, pigs in blanket, candied lady apples, cranberry sauce, and bread sauce. She's been cooking for days, Fleur'd whispered to Harry from across the table when they'd sat down, and not letting anyone else into the kitchen. Fleur'd rowed with Molly on Sunday about being able to bring a side dish; it'd taken her a good half hour to wear her mother-in-law down enough to take help.

All that work had, in the end, been incredible, in Harry's view. Molly's sat in her chair, knitting in hand, looking well pleased with herself as her children, have nearly been rendered comatose from food, stagger around with glasses of wine or beer in their hands or sprawl on any of the myriad cushioned surfaces in the long sitting room, groaning pathetically. Charlie's slouched on the sofa next to Harry, his legs spread wide, belt buckle undone. Percy's sat on Harry's other side, well into his fourth glass of wine, lecturing Harry on Kingsley's newest proposal to increase trade revenue with the North American markets: "Anglophilia's rather popular these days, you know," he says, only just slurring his words together.

Harry just nods when he needs to, letting the rush of Percy's conversation just roll over him. Across the room, Ginny's snuggled up with Paul in a large easy chair, and Harry tries not to look their way too often. There's an odd awkwardness about having him here that the whole family's trying to adjust to, he realises. Harry and Ginny are the only divorce in the family, after all, and Harry's certain none of them have truly been prepared for the moment one or the other of them might bring someone else to family holidays. At least Harry hadn't surprised them all by showing up with Malfoy, he thinks only slightly bitterly. The only bright side is that Bill's more uncomfortable with Paul being here than Harry is; he's been a bit sharp all night to his sister, and now he's currently in the kitchen getting a talking-to from Fleur in French. Their voices are low, but Harry still recognises the universal signs of a couple's row.

Harry raises his empty beer bottle at Charlie. "I'm going to go get more. Need anything?"

With a shake of his head and a hand to his swollen belly, Charlie grunts and closes his eyes again. He'd Flooed in late for supper with his hair still wet, his horrific green and red talking tie askew, and a pile of presents in a sack over his shoulder for his nieces and nephews, all of whom, with the exception of babies Hugo and Roxanne, had swarmed him with happy shouts for their most beloved of uncles. Charlie'd been up all night at the Dragon Preserve overseeing the difficult birth of twin Ukranian Ironbellies--a birth he'd recounted blow-by-blow over aperitifs to the horror of many of his siblings and the fascination of Victoire, who'd asked all sorts of specific questions about the process. Harry thinks she might want to apprentice with Charlie in a summer or two. In the meantime, Charlie might need to be carried off to bed soon. He's clearly crashing from an adrenaline surge and thirty-six hours without sleep.

The children are racing around, with Molly and Arthur cheering them on and shooting cushioning charms as needed to avoid the destruction of their worldly goods. Al has his paper crown from his cracker hanging off his dark curls, half tattered from him grasping at it when it starts to side off, and he's brandishing a toy wand he's rustled up from somewhere--it's ragged enough to have been used by Bill or Charlie when they were tots. Harry suspects it's one of the old toys Molly and Arthur have pulled down from the attic as their grandchildren have begun to get older. There's a deep wooden box in the corner beneath the diamond-paned windows that has all of the Weasley toys that have been passed down from Bill all the way to Ginny.

Harry's rather glad his sons have the chance to play with their uncles' toys, not to mention the ones that he knows are their mother's. Like the old Snitch Louis is tossing between his hands. Al and Rose are pretending to cast spells on each other, Al cheerfully making his up from jibberish, and Rose invoking proper spells so precisely that Harry's actually glad the wand's inert. Under the tree, Jamie's attached a fake moustache to his nose that Harry knows for a fact belonged to either Fred or George years ago, and he's making whooshing noises with a toy broom he and little Fred have taken turns whacking each other with whilst Louis and Dominique egg them on and little Molly watches worriedly from her grandmother's feet. She always has been a bit more tentative than the rest of her cousins; Bill and Fleur's three have dominated poor Molly since her birth, and all the little ones who've come along after have done the same. She's a sensitive soul--like Audrey, Ginny's always pointed out. Which is probably true. Even now Audrey's tucked herself upstairs with Hermione and Angelina, helping them to settle their babies down for the night. Sometimes the uproar of the Weasley clan is a bit overwhelming for an introvert like her, and she needs a half-hour or so to hide away.

Harry pushes himself up from the sofa with some difficulty; he feels rather like a stuffed pig, and his legs refuse to work properly at first. He sways over Victoire, who's sprawled across the floor, her nose in a book, twisting her blonde curls around her finger.

"Careful, Uncle Harry," she says, not even looking up at him. She turns a page in her book, frowning down at it as her heels kick lazily in the air.

"I've got it." Harry regains his balance, and Gin looks over at him, eyebrow raised. He wiggles the bottle back and forth. "Need anything?"

Ginny shakes her head. "I'm good, thanks," she says, and she settles back against Paul. He smoothes a hand over her shoulder, plays with her hair as he smiles over at her.

Harry tells himself it wouldn't be in the Christmas spirit to smash a beer bottle across the temple of his ex-wife's new boyfriend. But he can admit that seeing them together is harder than he thought it would be. Not because he's wanted to get back together with Gin. No. It's more that she's happy, and as much as he wants that for her, he's envious of the ease with which she's slipped into a new relationship and uncertain of how he feels watching another man take his place. Especially when Al falls to the floor, tripping over his own feet, then uses Paul's leg to heft himself back up, letting Paul steady him before he runs off after Rose.

Gin meets Harry's gaze then, and she's almost apologetic in her faint grimace. Harry just turns away, his heart a bit heavy, and as he does, he catches Gin's head dipping towards Paul as she murmurs something in his ear.

The room feels too tight to Harry. Too full of his family, all of them eyeing him in what they think is a discreet manner. At least Ron's in the loo. He'd probably have told Paul off, Harry thinks, and something about that certainty warms Harry's heart, even as he knows how furious Gin would--rightfully--be.

Harry steps through the carnage of little bodies and sprawled adults, making his way towards the kitchen. He passes Arthur in his comfortable rocking chair, holding Lucy on his lap--she has a cold and has been sniffling all evening. Right now she's curled into her grandfather's chest, her eyes closed as he strokes her ginger hair. Arthur looks up at Harry.

"All right, lad?" Arthur asks, and Harry gives him a small smile.

"We're good." He knows what Arthur's asking, particularly given his former father-in-law's quick glance towards Ginny and Paul. "It's okay."

Arthur nods. "Life's not always easy," he murmurs, looking back up at Harry. "I'd like to see you back out there too, looking for someone."

Harry wonders what Arthur would say if he knew whom Harry wanted to be with tonight. He knows there's been bad blood between Arthur and Lucius Malfoy since their days at Hogwarts together. He also knows that Arthur's cousins somehow to Narcissa Malfoy through his mum, who'd been a Black, albeit one who's been burnt off the family tree, as Kreacher'd pointed out rather tersely the first dozen times Ron had come over to Grimmauld. Telling Arthur that he'd like to bring Draco Malfoy here would gut him, Harry's certain. Of all the things he might want, that would be the most likely to hurt the man he thinks of as a father.

And Harry can't do that. As much as he feels pulled to Malfoy. Can he?

So Harry just nods weakly, reaches out and squeezes the wide hand Arthur holds out to him, quick and fast before stepping away. He doesn't want to disappoint Arthur.

He doesn't want to disappoint any of them.

"Pressies soon, Harry," Molly calls from her armchair. "Don't wander off too far."

Harry holds up his bottle. "Just looking for a bit more refreshment."

So far, the only gifts have been from the Muggle crackers from Tesco that Hermione had brought over. Molly refuses to have George's special Weasley's Wheezes crackers anywhere in her house lest they singe her wallpaper, which is sensible in Harry's experience. When Ron had brought a few over two years back to Grimmauld, one had gone off early, nearly setting the drapes in the dining room on fire and breaking at least three crystal candlesticks in the process. Kreacher'd been furious, given they were Black family heirlooms. Jamie'd been thrilled, of course. Thank Christ Al'd been too little to care. He'd have begged Ron for a repeat performance every Christmas afterwards.

Still, the tree is piled high with gifts from the shop for all of the cousins to compensate for their grandmother's ban, and Harry wonders what horrors will be unleashed this year on the unsuspecting parents of the Weasley clan. Last Christmas, the TrueBubble gum Al had snuck from Victoire's gift bag had levitated him throughout the house--and not come out of his hair, either, to Harry's dismay--so he ended up sleeping at two or three inches above his crib for several nights. Harry hopes he's ready for this year's fun--they may need Bill's cursebreaking skills if George's been too inventive.

When Harry pushes the kitchen door open, Bill and Fleur give him a look, Bill more commiserating, Fleur exasperated.

"Everything all right?" Harry asks, looking between them. He hates that he and Gin are causing a problem like this for them, but then again, he suspects there are more issues involved than just that.

"We'll go into the hallway," Bill says as Fleur's nostrils flare.

"Sorry," Harry says. "I just wanted to get another beer."

Fleur gives him a tight smile that doesn't reach her eyes. "C'est pas grave." Her hand settles on her husband's shoulder as she pushes him towards the door.

To be honest, Harry feels for Bill. He wouldn't want Fleur angry with him; the hissing chill in her voice when her Veela side kicks in always makes Harry a bit jumpy.

As the door closes behind them, Harry walks over to the crate of beer bottles on the counter and picks one up. The label is a deep green with a rather risque picture of a full-bosomed witch on it with the legend Naughty Hildegard written around her in a bright yellow script. Ron always insists on bringing a new bitter for Christmas, and this year's offering is particularly good.

Harry charms the bottle cap off with a flick of his wand, then sends it tumbling over towards the overfilled recycling bin in the corner next to the pantry. He lifts the bottle to his mouth, takes a deep swig, then sighs and leans against the sink.

Every surface of the kitchen is predictably full of crocks and plates and platters. Molly refuses to get a house elf, and everyone's too stuffed to help for the moment. There's a small dent in the pile of dishes at the sink, so evidently Bill and Fleur had managed something before they'd started rowing with one another, but they hadn't made it far. At least Hermione'd managed to talk Molly into puting in a wizarding dishwasher last year, and it's now chugging away in the corner. Harry wants to make sure to help before he and the boys leave; he and Ron will probably take a shift together loading dishes in once the presents are thoroughly revealed and the wrapping paper is removed and burnt outside in the traditional Weasley firepit ritual that's at least eight years old now, started when Victoire and Dominique were the only two Weasley grandchildren. Now there are eleven little beasties who've taken over the Burrow, and Harry thinks Molly and Arthur couldn't be happier.

Harry doesn't want to go back into the stuffy warmth of the sitting room, so on impulse, he opens the side door and walks out into the quiet back garden. Out here it's cold and still. The stars twinkle above, bright and shining in the black velvet of the winter sky, and Harry can see his breath with every exhale.

He shivers in his wool jumper--it's last year's model, with a deep green wool and a gold H on the front. It's comforting, in its own way, a reminder that he belongs here. He wonders how long it will be before Paul gets one of his own from Molly, and Harry hates how that thought makes his skin prickle unhappily.

With a sigh, he leans against the side of the house, trying to get a breath of air and stop the thoughts spinning around his head. He doesn't want to think about Ginny and Paul snuggled up inside. He's known this day was coming, but it's difficult to be living it, especially when deep down, he's afraid he's going to be replaced. Not only with the boys, but here, with the Weasleys. He's not part of them any longer, not in an official way, and he knows it's odd that they welcome him like this after he'd broken Ginny's heart the way he had. His mates at the office just shake their head when he talks about going over the Burrow. Warn him that one day that'll stop, and the way they say it makes it sound like maybe it'd be a good thing for him not to be so wrapped up in his ex-wife's family. But it's different for Harry. It's not just Ginny that he'd belonged to. It'd been Ron as well. And Hermione. And George in his own way. Fred too, and that hurts when Harry thinks about it. He looks up in the sky, wonders if Fred's watching them tonight, wishing he could be here.

"I wish you were too, mate," Harry murmurs, feeling oddly melancholic. He knows he's being ridiculous. Molly and Arthur have been his substitute parents for ages, and he's the boys' father and always will be. But there's some frightened, small part of him that can't believe it's not going to happen. That he won't lose his family once again. A sense of emptiness threatens to overtake Harry, and he beats it back.

Harry exhales, then takes another sip of his bitter, looking over the frosty garden of the burrow to the marshes beyond. He can hear the gnomes huffing in the distance--he wonders if George has carried on the tradition of the evicting of the little bastards to the bottom garden. Harry hasn't been back to the Burrow much this fall. Last summer, he'd brought the boys by often to see their grandparents and cousins, but he hadn't stayed as much as he should have. And now today, with everyone festive and warm and happy inside, Harry realises he needs to appreciate it more. He doesn't want to take his adoptive family for granted, the little rituals they've included him over the years, the memories they've built. It's all really important to him, and he doesn't want anything to change.

But it has to. Harry can't pretend he doesn't know change is inevitable, in some fashion or another. He and Ginny have been living in a fragile stasis, expecting their lives to go on as normal. Or at least Harry has. And now there's someone else in the picture for her, and that's good. It really is. But it complicates things in ways Harry's not certain he's ready for yet.

And then there's Malfoy, and what Harry'd hoped would be something worth changing for. God, he'd been such an idiot. So certain that what he was doing was right. That Malfoy couldn't refuse him because Harry wanted him so much, and how fucking arrogant is that? He shouldn't have forced it. Harry still blames himself for his desperation, for his poor lack of execution, for not waiting, for everything, really. He knows he's gone about it all wrong, but he still desperately wants Malfoy in his life and he has no earthly idea how to make it happen. Not after Malfoy'd walked away from him after the Yule pageant. And hadn't it clenched Harry's heart to see him go, with his son and Astoria, looking like a perfect little family. Harry'd seen the heads turn as they'd walked past. Heard the whispers about whether or not the Malfoys were getting back together.

And as much as Harry knows they aren't, he still wonders. Malfoy wants to be normal, whatever the fuck that might be. Harry knows that. And he understands. He's felt that same strong pull. He still does, even now. It'd be so easy to keep hiding, to stay in the closet where it's safe, where no one will hate him for whom he wants to fuck, for whom he loves.

Malfoy, Harry's heart whispers, and he closes his eyes. Feels the sting of the cold night air against his heated cheeks. He'd hoped that maybe Malfoy would talk to him at drop off or pick up, that they'd have the chance for Harry to coax him out for a coffee at least, to clear the air, for Harry to say the things he so badly wants to say, but Scorpius had been out of school yesterday, and it'd been Astoria today. She'd just looked at him a bit sadly when she'd seen him, and Harry'd known that she knows.

Keep strong, she'd told him beneath her breath in the scrum of parents and children. He'll come around. Except Harry'd heard the doubt in her voice, the echo of his own uncertainty.

God, he'd been such a fucking fool.

The door opens with a soft creak. Harry draws in a rough breath, tries to pull himself together.

"I can hear you moping from over here, mate." Ron's voice is warm. He has a bottle of beer in his long-fingered hands. "Let's go into Dad's shed, yeah? It's too fucking cold out here to drink properly."

Harry tries to return Ron's smile, but he can't quite manage. His heart's a bit broken, at the moment, so it's rather difficult. Still, he follows Ron across the garden, the frozen grass crunching beneath their trainers.

The shed's warm and full of Arthur's discarded Muggle machines and bits of electrical wiring. An old radio with no inner cogs and sprockets sits on the work surface, alongside a hand mixer and a cable junction box. There's a generator out here in the corner, Harry sees to his surprise. He wonders if Arthur's experimenting again in "Muggletricity," and a small smile tugs at the corner of his mouth.

Ron flicks his wand. "Lumos." Various strings of Muggle fairy lights and a few Edison-type bulbs respond. The effect is rather cosy, casting a warm golden glow throughout the cluttered shed. Ron hops up on one of the stools beneath the grimy window and eyes Harry. "So."

Harry leans against the workbench, setting his bottle in between piles of household machinery. He doesn't meet Ron's gaze. "So."

"C'mon, Harry," Ron nudges Harry's hip with his foot. "Spill."

"There's nothing to say, really." Harry takes off his glasses, wipes them on his shirt tail, then puts them back on. He blinks as Ron slides back into focus.

Ron just frowns at him. Takes a long drink from his bottle before lowering it to rest on his thigh. He watches Harry, then sighs. Leans back, his broad shoulders outlined against the window panes, the glow from the fairy lights making his ginger hair gleam.

Harry shifts, reaches back behind him to scratch beneath the neckline of his jumper. There's a fluttering feeling in his abdomen, beneath his heart, as if he's just stepped off a roller coaster. "I'm fine," Harry says finally.

"Bollocks." Ron lifts his beer bottle again.

Harry rubs his thumb across the tip of his nose. Looks away again.

"You talk to Malfoy yet?" Ron asks bluntly, and Harry thinks he might sick up. Molly's Yorkshire pud rolls unhappily in his stomach.

"No." Harry hates how curt and pained his voice sounds. He picks up his beer, takes another sip, letting it slide across his tongue, sour and hoppy.

"Why not?" And there. Ron gets right to the heart of the matter, whether or not Harry wants him to.

"Because he doesn't want to talk to me, Ron." Harry's a bit frustrated now. He sets his beer down again. Folds his arms across his chest. "It's not that easy." He looks past Ron, out the window at the lights of the Burrow, glittering against the dark. He wonders what it would be like to walk in there and have Malfoy waiting for him, smiling up at Harry in a ridiculous Weasley jumper of his own.

If Molly would even knit one for him.

"Listen, mate, I may not know what it's like to date blokes, but I know Malfoy." Ron raises his beer again, but his gaze is focussed on Harry. "As much as I hate to say it, the Ferret's into you. That much was clear at the pageant."

At that, Harry huffs a sigh of exasperation. He's glad Ron's so fucking certain of it all. It's fine to say that sort of thing when you don't have to deal with Malfoy's stone face. And his fucking stubbornness. Harry'd expect that of a Gryffindor, not a Slytherin. Shouldn't Malfoy want to use Harry or something? Because Harry'd be fully happy to be used like that if it gave him a chance to convince Malfoy he was arse over tit for him. He runs his hands through his hair, then drops them to his sides with a groan. "Look, I don't care what you think. Malfoy doesn't really want to have much to do with me, does he?"

He's only just said that when the door to the shed pushes open with a soft groan, and Harry's heart lurches, hoping that they haven't been overheard.

It's a relief when Hermione's face peeks through the door. "Sorry to interrupt. Hugo finally went down, and Molly's already talking about waking him up for presents. I swear to Merlin if she does, she's putting him back down, not me." She steps into the shed, rubbing her arms briskly. Her jumper's thinner, a soft turquoise cashmere with a cream H in a delicate script. She looks around with a faint grimace. "Oh, dear. We're going to have to clear this out again, aren't we?"

"Dad'll hex you if you do." Ron points his beer bottle at Hermione. "He still hasn't forgiven you and Bill for chucking out that tea kettle he found at the Oxfam shop."

"Which didn't work and was never going to, so I don't know why they even sold it to him." Hermione takes Ron's beer from him and hops up onto one of the other stools, lifting the bottle to her mouth. "So what's this about Malfoy?"

Harry flinches. "Nothing."

"Rubbish, don't listen to him," Ron says to his wife. "Harry's not been in touch with him further." He plucks his beer back out of Hermione's grasp. "So yeah, you owe me a tenner."

"Are you both wagering on me?" Harry's half laughing, half furious. He wants to throttle them both, even as he knows they mean well.

"Oh, for a long time now," Hermione says. "Since before you and Gin married."

Ron leans back against the window. "I won that one."

Harry frowns at him.

"Only because you had intel I didn't." Hermione flips two fingers towards her husband. "Having gone out with Harry to pick out a ring." She pokes at one of the piles of appliances on Arthur's workbench. "I wonder if I should ask your father to fix our immersion blender."

"Don't!" Harry and Ron say at the same time.

"It'd probably start turning the neighbour's lights on, or shooting pink sparks when the Floo rings." Ron adds. His father's repair efforts are legendary.

"Best be careful," Harry agrees.

Hermione rolls her eyes at them. "He needs proper projects to work on. Not this rubbish he has out here."

Ron shakes his head. "Nothing my father fixes is coming into our flat, love. Remember the toaster he gave Bill and Fleur?"

As if anyone could forget. Every time you put bread into the slots they shot out almost instantly, burnt to a crisp and shorting out any charms or spells for a good fifty feet. Bill'd had to re-ward Shell Cottage at least twice before Fleur forced him to throw the toaster away.

"Point," Hermione says. She looks over at Harry. "But what were you saying about not owling Malfoy? Surely he's a postal address like everyone else." Hermione considers. "You could also put a letter in his Muggle post box. Or use the Museum address."

"It's not that." Harry rubs his hands over his face, feeling suddenly tired. "It's just that I think he'd prefer to be left alone."

"Hippogriff shit," Ron says, as his wife frowns at him.

"If you say that in front of Rose again we're going to have words," she says.

Ron ignores her. "He's just making it hard. It's Malfoy, Harry, not some random lovestruck Hufflepuff. Five galleons--no, twenty--says he's waiting for you to do something stupidly Gryffindor just because he can."

Harry eyes Ron. "Or he just wants me to fuck off."

"No,' Hermione says thoughtfully. "I'm leaning towards Ron's interpretation of things." She chews her lip for a moment, her curls brushing against one of the strings of fairy lights as she rocks forward on her stool. "I mean, for all of Malfoy's apparent audacity back at school, he's actually rather cautious these days." She looks over at Harry. "He was watching you the other night." She hesitates, then adds, "He looked terribly sad."

Harry doesn't want to believe that. "You're just trying to make me feel better, and it's not working." He doesn't know why he wants to give up. Except he doesn't. And the twisting conflict inside of him's going to give him a bloody ulcer before long. He picks his beer back up and tips it into his mouth, swallowing as much as he can in one gulp.

There's a soft knock on the shed door. Harry wants to groan. All he'd wanted to do was have a bit of fresh air. A moment to clear his head. And he still can't get away from the bloody Weasleys.

"Come in," he says with a sigh.

Ginny slips into the shed. Harry doesn't know why he's surprised. "So this is where the party is." She shuts the door behind her. When she looks back at the rest of them, she frowns. "What's wrong?" Ron and Hermione's gazes flick towards Harry; Ginny swings around. "Are you ill?"

"No," Harry says, annoyed. "Are you mental?"

"Maybe." Ginny leans against the door, long and lithe in her burgundy jumper and the plaid pyjama trousers she'd changed into after dinner. "This isn't about Paul, is it?"

"Not yet." Ron lifts his beer again.

Harry just gives Ginny a level look. "You think I'm that much of a shit?"

Ginny raises her hands. "All I know is that Fleur's been after Bill for the last half hour about being an arse, so…" She trails off, folds her arms over her chest. She looks young in her oversized jumper, her hair loose around her shoulders. Like the girl Harry'd once loved.

He still does, in his own way.

There's a long silence in the shed. Harry picks up his beer bottle, rolls it between his palms. The glass is smooth and slick against his skin, the label rougher, textured.

Ginny looks between them all, at the way they're not meeting her gaze. "Ah," she says after a moment, and the soft sound makes Harry glance up. Ginny's face is soft, sad. "It's one of those things, is it?"

Harry knows what she means. It'd been something they'd fought about throughout their relationship. The way Harry would talk to Ron and Hermione about things he wouldn't share with her. The way they'd shut her out sometimes. The way it'd be them against the world. Them against Ginny.

She'd hated it. Been hurt by their silences. By the way they protected each other, sometimes to her detriment. And they'd all known the pain they'd caused, but they couldn't truly explain how sometimes it was just the three of them, sometimes everything they'd been through in the war meant that they understood one another better than anyone else.

But maybe that's not really true. Maybe that's just something they'd all three thought. Something Harry'd believed because it was easier than letting his wife see who he really was at times.

"Harry," Ron says softly, and when Harry looks over, he understands. Ron'll keep his secret, if Harry wants him to. But he thinks Harry should tell her.

And as Ginny starts to turn, her hand on the door, Harry knows Ron's right. She trusted him with Paul. He can trust Ginny with this.

"Don't go."

Ginny stills, looks over her shoulder at Harry. She doesn't say anything. She just waits.

Harry's chest feels tight. He rubs his thumb against the corner of the label on the beer bottle. It peels away, just a bit. He smoothes it back down against the glass. He takes a deep breath. "We were talking about that bloke."

"Oh." Ginny turns towards him. "The one you might fancy. The one you didn't know was gay."

"Yeah." Harry's heart is beating so fast. He swallows, breathes out again. "It's Draco Malfoy."

Ginny doesn't say anything. She doesn't move. Barely breathes.

Harry looks at her. It feels as if it's only the two of them here, right now. Ron and Hermione fade into the shadows, and Harry grips his beer more tightly between his fists.

"Well." The word's a rush of breath from Ginny's lips. "I suppose that's not surprising, all things considered." She rests one hand on her chest, her fingers splayed just beneath her collarbone. It's a familiar gesture to Harry, a sign that she's trying to regain her composure. To understand. He'd seen it so many times over the course of their marriage. Only then her engagement ring would be sparkling from her finger, just above the golden gleam of her wedding band. Now her freckled hand is bare.

"I'm sorry," Harry says, even though he doesn't know why.

Ginny looks tired, but she gives him a small smile. "Don't be an idiot, Harry." She glances away, then back again. "I wondered the other night. At the Garden. You were so intent on him, and he looked so miserable…" She stops, tilts her head, studying Harry, and then she asks, "Have you fucked him?"

"No!" Harry's face heats. It's mostly the truth. He's never actually had an orgasm with Malfoy present.

"But you want to," Ginny says.

Ron snorts from the window. "He definitely wants to."

"Shut it," Harry hisses. His cheeks burn. He can't look at any of them.

Ginny laughs then, and it might be a little too high and a little too raw, but Harry glances up at her. She's watching him, an odd expression on her face. "Have you asked him out?"

"No." Hermione says, and the bitterness in her voice is thick. "Ron made ten quid of me, thanks, Harry."

And Harry's not certain when his life turned out like this, his best friends wagering on him and his ex-wife asking him about his sex life. "This is awful," he says into the mouth of his beer bottle.

Ginny frowns at him. "So you fancy Malfoy," she says slowly. "Whom you've been working on the pageant with."

All Harry can do is nod. He feels so bloody stupid.

"But you haven't asked him out." Ginny's brows draw together. She taps a fingertip against her collarbone. "Because?"

"Malfoy might tell him no," Ron says dryly, and Harry gives him a dirty look.

The worst of it is, put as baldly as that, Harry realises how ridiculous that sounds. "It's not that cut and dried," he says, but Ginny cuts him off with a sharp click of her tongue, the way she does when she's about to chastise one of the boys.

She walks over to Harry. "You're afraid of Malfoy."

"No." But Harry is. "Malfoy doesn't want me. He's made that clear."

"How?" Ginny gives Harry a perplexed look. "He kept watching you last night when he thought no one was looking."

And oh, that's going to nark Malfoy off when he realises that, Harry thinks. Bloody brilliant.

Fuck it, Harry thinks. Time for the whole truth. "Look. We may have had a bit of moment together at Grimmauld this past weekend--"

"A moment?" Hermione's voice goes high. "Harry James Potter, you haven't said a word about this."

Harry's shoulders hunch. Even Ron's giving him a reproachful look. "That's just it. We made out. On the library floor--"

Hermione's hiss cuts him off, followed quickly by Ron's muffled "Bloody hell, Harry. The floor? Really?"

Oh, this just not how Harry wanted any of this to come out. Not that he wanted to tell any of these arseholes any of this anyway. He scowls at Ron. "Don't tell me you and Hermione haven't fucked in your kitchen--"

"La la la!" Ginny puts her hands over her ears. "Don't want to know about my brother's sex life."

"Just mine," Harry says sourly. He takes a long swig out of his beer bottle, then sets it down on the workbench with a solid thunk.

Ginny drops her hands. "Well, yes, because that's far less horrifying." She eyes Harry. "Although you and Malfoy...hm. To be honest, I half thought it might be Dawlish, the way you were always on about him."

Harry's eyes widen in alarm as Ron sputters his beer out and Hermione thunks her husband soundly on the back. "That would be a definite no. For fuck's sake, Gin."

"And how was I to know?" Ginny shrugs. "Anyway, Malfoy has a certain appeal, I suppose. If you like pointy and arrogant." She eyes Harry. "So this moment you had. Were cocks involved?"

"Oh my God," Harry says. He wants to just disappear right now, particularly as Ron and Hermione turn interested gazes his way. "No. Yes." He rolls his head backwards, stares up at the shed ceiling and the fairy lights twinkling up above him. "Not directly. But…" He's certain his face is going to be permanently heated from now on.

Ginny hmmms. "So rutting then, probably with some kissing involved."

Harry buries his head between his hands, trying to breathe. He just nods. Tries not to die of embarrassment in the middle of Arthur's shed.

"And you think he's not interested?" Ginny sounds disgusted with Harry. "I mean, really, Har."

"My point exactly," Ron says from across the shed.

Harry wants to cry. Or laugh. Or punch something hard. "I hate you all." He draws in a deep breath. "He left angry because I was an idiot, all right? I did something stupid."

None of them say anything for a moment, and then Hermione sighs. "Oh, Harry. What?"

Harry stays silent.

"Come on." Ginny's voice is soft. "It can't be that bad."

When Harry looks up, Ron's watching him, his brow furrowed. Harry inhales, despite the pain in his chest. Ron nods at him, and Harry says, "I wished for him."

"You what?" Ginny blinks at him. Even Hermione looks a bit perplexed.

Harry feels a fool. He rubs the back of his head. "I made a wish." He clears his throat, swallows. "For a boyfriend. For Malfoy in particular." He can't look at any of them. He hates the way this admission makes him feel. So vulnerable. So small.

"Oh," Hermione says quietly, almost as if her heart's breaking.

"Yeah." Harry blinks hard. There's a hot wetness in his eyes; he won't let it spill over. He breathes in. Laughs a little rawly. "Seems if you do something like that in a house like Grimmauld, it wants to help you out. And I didn't know…" His voice catches, hard and hoarse in the back of his throat. It takes a moment for him to continue. "Anyway. I told him. He walked out. I don't blame him. I never meant to coerce him--"

Harry can't go on. He bites his lip, stares down at Arthur's workbench, at the wrenches and screwdrivers scattered about.

"You didn't," Hermione says finally. "That's not how those sorts of spells work."

Harry looks up at her. "I wished for him, Hermione. The house--"

"The bloody house didn't do anything that wasn't already there," Hermione says, her voice sharp. She pushes herself off her stool, walks over to stand in front of Harry. She cups his face in her hands. "You idiot. Malfoy too if he thinks that. House magic is old and powerful, yes. But it can't coerce a relationship out of nothing. And it certainly can't make people who aren't already drawn to each other fall in love." She studies Harry's face, her eyes warm and gentle. "Which you did, yes?"

"Yes." Harry's low, rough voice barely sounds like his.

Hermione presses her forehead to his. She smells sweet, like roses, with the faintest sour tinge of the beer on her breath. "Harry," she whispers. "Harry, Harry, Harry. He cares about you. And he wants you. And it has nothing to do with that bloody house of yours, all right?"

A warmth is starting to twist in Harry's belly, spreading tiny tendrils out, calming him. "He was so angry with me--"

"With himself, most likely," Ron says. There's a squeak of the stool as he stands, and then Harry feels Ron's hand settling on his shoulder.

"Malfoy always thought he was better at magical theory than he is." Hermione's irritated sniff makes Harry want to laugh. A curious joy flutters through him, quick and light. "Really, Harry, I'm happy to send you actual research sources on why all of this just means you both fancied each other before you made the wish. If he hadn't, I can guarantee neither of you would have ended up on the floor doing whatever it is you were doing."

"Yeah," Ron says, as Harry huffs a soft laugh, "on second thought, I really don't want to know."

Harry pulls back from his best friends. "You're both mental, you know." But he's trying not to get all wet about it, and from the smiles on Ron and Hermione's faces, they both know. He looks over at Ginny. "God, I'm sorry, Gin."

"For fuck's sake." Ginny walks over; Ron and Hermione both step back. "I mean, Malfoy, sure, that's weird, but it's not mad. You always were a bit obsessed with him, so it makes an odd sort of sense in a way. But what bothers me more, Harry is, why the bloody hell are you being such a coward about this?" Ginny punches Harry in the arm. Not lightly.

"Ow," Harry says, rubbing his arm.

Ginny just scowls at him. "I've never seen your Gryffindor fail before. You're embarrassing the whole lot of us. For a Slytherin no less." Her nostrils flare in disgust. "Get it together, Potter. Merlin."

Harry frowns back at her, his arm still throbbing. Ginny's stronger than she realises. "He's the one who told me to fuck off. And every time I try to fix things between us, he walks away."

Ginny looks over at Hermione. "Do you want to tell him?"

Hermione rolls her eyes, shaking her head. "He's your ex."

"My thick ex," Ginny mutters, and then she turns back to Harry. "Right. So here's what's happening, you idiot. Malfoy's waiting for you to go after him, Harry." Hermione's nodding vigorously; Ginny spreads her hands wide. "It's classic hard-to-get, but I forget that I'm speaking to the man who genuinely took months to realise we were dating, not just friends."

"You never said," Harry protests.

Ginny throws her hands up in the air. "I practically had my tits out, Harry. There weren't that many more buttons I could undo on my school uniform." She hesitates, her mouth pursing. "Really, I probably should have known you were gay then."

It's not a point Harry can really argue with her.

"But what if he's not playing," Harry asks. "What if he's genuinely feeling harassed by me?" He doesn't want to force Malfoy into something he's not comfortable with. Or ready for.

They shake their heads, all three of them.

"He's not," Hermione says, almost wearily. "He likes you. He's just scared like you are."

Ron drinks the rest of his mug. "All right. Everyone in favour of Harry being bold and finding a date for Christmas, raise your hand. Raise two if you think it should be Malfoy."

Five hands go up in the shed, then Ginny raises her other one. "What the fuck," she says. "If you marry Malfoy, does that make us exes-in-law?"

Harry crosses his arms, tucking his hands beneath his armpits. "I really do hate you all so much."

"By the way," Ginny says, as a loud yell resounds from the house. "Our children are ripping the place apart, so we'd better get back."

Hermione sighs. "It's been such a relief to have a few minutes away."

"Stiff upper lip." Ginny tucks her arm through Hermione's. "With any luck Rose and Al haven't yet figured out how to burn the Burrow down."

"Oh, God," Hermione whimpers. "Just wait until they're at Hogwarts."

"With Scorpius," Ginny says, far too cheerfully. "Harry better make good with Malfoy before then, or we're all doomed, I say."

As they all turn to leave, Ron pulls Harry back by the elbow. "Promise me, mate," he says, his voice low as his sister and wife head out of the shed. "You'll owl Malfoy before Christmas. Even just to tell him you'd like to see him, nothing more."

"That's only two days away," Harry says. It's too soon. Too much to ask. Even with all Hermione's said, Harry's still uncertain. Still worried about laying himself bare in front of Malfoy.

"So?" Ron's gaze holds Harry's, steady and calm. "You ought to be happy, Har. And if that's Malfoy making you happy, as much as I don't get it, then Gin's right. Act like a sodding Gryffindor and owl the bastard. By Christmas." At Harry's glare, Ron grins. "If I don't give you a deadline, you'll push it off. I know you. So come on. Promise me you'll owl him."

Harry's shoulders sag. "Okay, I promise."

"That's my lad." Ron claps Harry on the shoulder. "And if the squirmy little git still tries to tell you to fuck off, then I'll have a word--"

"Oh, no you won't," Harry says, as they step out into the brisk cold air. "Ron…"

Ron chuckles, takes one last drink of his beer. "You ruin all my fun, you know."

And as they walk back towards the Burrow, their shoulders bumping lightly, Harry exhales fully for the first time in days. Maybe his friends are right. Maybe Gin's right. He does need to pull himself together. Act like a proper Gryffindor.

Sparks fly from the Burrow chimney, bright against the night sky.

Maybe, Harry thinks, everything will be all right.

Christmas is coming, after all.

Chapter Text

It's been a long Christmas Eve already, and Draco's already fucking exhausted, as he always is after an evening filled with his in-laws. He's fond of them, he truly is, but Hector's joviality can be a bit grating after three courses and a round of brandy and scotch beside the ostentatiously ten-foot-tall Christmas tree covered with crystal baubles and gold ribbons, and Calliope's spent half the night playing Daphne and Astoria against each other without even realising.

Or perhaps she does. Draco's never quite certain with his mother-in-law. She's polite enough to him, and she adores Scorpius, but she's always disapproved of Astoria's work as a Healer. When Daphne'd quit her job halfway through her pregnancy, announcing her intention to stay at home until the baby was ready for nursery school, Calliope'd tried to gently push Astoria into doing the same. And she'd spent half of Christmas dinner pointing out how good Daphne's choice has already been for three-day-old Phoebe, which Draco's certain is nothing but wishful thinking at this point, given Phoebe spends most of her time sleeping right now. There'd been one point Draco'd been half-certain Astoria was going to stab her mother through the throat with a fish knife, but to his great astonishment, his ex-wife had just breathed through her nose, then let her death grip on the silver filigreed cutlery relax.

Now it’s past half nine already. Scorpius has unpacked his plethora of presents, and Daphne's taken herself and little Phoebe off to bed. Not a moment too soon, in Draco’s opinion. Scorpius has been entirely unimpressed by his infant cousin--"she cry and poops," he'd rather accurately informed Draco with a disdainful curl of his lip--but Draco thinks his son's mostly acting out because he's no longer the centre of the Greengrasses' attention, what with Phoebe being passed around from adult to adult whilst Scorpius rather imperiously demanded they watch him rip open the wrapping of yet another present.

The worst of it had been when Scorpius had thrown a plush pygmy puff at Calliope as she'd cooed down at Phoebe, informing her that he missed Grandma Cissa more. Astoria's Aunt Lobelia and Aunt Cassandra had only made things worse by laughing uproariously at Scorpius's strop, infuriating Scorpius and making Calliope weepy and out of sorts herself. Of course, Draco's mother will be delighted beyond measure when she hears about her grandson's loyalty--and Draco fully intends to tell Narcissa in private when she returns--but Astoria was not pleased at all, much less her parents. There's been a sulky standoff since, with Calliope acting as if she's not terribly hurt by her grandson and said chastised and sleepy grandson lying crankily on the sofa beside his mother, his head in her lap as she strokes his hair and the fateful pygmy puff tucked under his arm, his mouth gnawing unhappily at one stuffed ear.

Draco's escaped to the loo, partially for a quick slash after his third glass of wine, and partially because the drawing room's horribly stuffy and warm, and Draco's half certain he'll garrote himself with greenery if he has to hear Hector and Theo drone on about the financial markets and the recent economic discussions between MACUSA and the Ministry any longer.

To be honest, Draco hadn't even know there were economic discussions. Mainly because he doesn't give a shit, and the last thing he wants to do is learn more about it tonight. He's in a mood of his own and has been for days now, thanks to Potter. And perhaps Draco should just take the proverbial bull by the bloody horns and confront Potter in his office after the holidays, the way he had before when relations had been overly strained between them. But then Draco would have to know what he wants from Potter, and that's the damned question that's keeping Draco up at nights.

Even if he knows what he wants. He's just too cowardly to go after it.

Draco flushes the toilet. Zips his trousers back up, and turns to the sink. His reflection is pale in the mirror, and he tells himself it's due to the truly awful amount of black marble Calliope's put into her recent renovation of the loo. It'd be enough to wash anyone out, particularly with the dimness of the wall sconces, which really could be turned up a notch or two.

But it's not just the starkness of the marble reflected behind him in the ornately carved gold mirror. His dark circles are pronounced, more so than he'd like, given it's a daily battle to hide them and the puffiness that goes along with the bastards. It doesn't help that he'd gone through an entire bottle of wine by himself last night, whilst sat morosely in front of his fire in his own flat, feeling oddly lonely and adrift without his son.

Without Potter.

And that's just bloody ridiculous. It's been three weeks, and somehow he's managed to convince himself he's in love. Draco Malfoy does not do love. Especially not with stubborn Gryffindors who think they know what's fucking best for everyone else.

Draco washes his hands, then leans down to splash warm water over his face in the hopes of making himself look less like a Christmas ghoul. He dries himself off with one of the blood-red, silver-snowflake embroidered hand towels Calliope has left rolled up in a basket beside the wide sink. Even that's a deep black porcelain, and in his grey jumper and black trousers, Draco's starting to feel like a floating head in here. He drops the towel into the hamper beside the counter; it disappears before it hits the bottom, whisked away by house-elf magic.

"Right," Draco says to his reflection. "Pull yourself together, Malfoy. Just a bit of dessert and coffee left to go and you can escape this interminable evening." He's stockpiled another bottle of wine, a simple red Côtes du Rhône that he's enjoyed many times before. He smoothes back the few stray wisps of hair that have slid out of the knot on top of his head and fallen loose around his face. He closes his eyes, takes a deep breath. Only an hour more at best, and Scorpius will need to be whisked home for bed very soon. He won't make it much longer before he falls asleep, if he hasn't already in Astoria's lap.

As Draco steps out of the loo, drawing the door closed behind him, he nearly trips over one of the Greengrass house-elves, clad in a green and white poinsettia printed teatowel--Draco thinks their name is Tipsy, Topsy, something like that--carrying a silver salver. He manages to catch himself on the door frame, and the elf steps back smartly.

“Owl post for Master Malfoy!” Tipsy or Topsy or whatever the hell their name is says in a high voice. “Tutsy is bringing it straight from the owlery.” Ah. Tutsy. Draco never would have remembered that, and he feels slightly guilty, but then again, he's not often a guest at the Greengrasses these days, and Draco thinks Tutsy's a newer addition to the household, most likely from one of the posh new house-elf placement services popping up down Diagon. "It is being just arrived."

“Thank you, Tutsy,” Draco says, bending down to lift the tightly rolled scroll off of the small, gleaming tray.

He’s no idea what's in the message. Perhaps it’s a Christmas owl from his mother, or some sort of invitation from Pansy? But the timing's off for the latter; she knows full well he's trapped here at the Greengrasses until whenever Hector decides he's ready for his Christmas pudding. And whilst he's heard once or twice from his mother since she left--having a wonderful time and wish you were here, mostly--that's been through quick firecalls and answerfloo messages at various ports of call, not the expense of an international owl. Draco hopes it’s not a note from Adrian--really, it’s his first Christmas with Gemma as husband and wife, and even a terrible slag like Pucey should know better. It’s bad karma, likely to be paid for with a lifetime of coal and impotence. Or perhaps a hefty divorce settlement if it ever got out. Draco shakes his head.

No, it’s much more likely to be his mother. Which worries him in a way. He hopes no one's been washed overboard. Or she's had a row with Andromeda. The last time they'd fought, they hadn't spoken for two months. Draco'd hated it; he'd ended up being a mouthpiece between the two of them until he'd thrown up his hands and told them to work it out for themselves, for Circe's sake.

However, when Draco unties the bit of string and rolls the parchment out, there’s a thick, black-inked masculine scrawl, so messy that it takes a moment for him to decipher.

Malfoy--dessert? My house, whenever you can get free. HJP

Something about the simplicity of Potter’s invitation makes it terribly commanding, and Draco feels both a deep indignation that Potter would order him about on Christmas bloody Eve, and also a bit of a shiver that starts low in his belly and ends somewhere near his toes. The nerve of the man, asking him around for dessert? Tonight? What the hell does that even mean? Other than Potter’s alone at home. And bored, most likely. And Draco really shouldn’t go on general principle of not wanting to be thought a complete slapper. Whether or not that's what Potter wants. Which he probably doesn't. Or maybe he does. Still, Draco can't go. Won't go. Won't be summoned by Potter in this oafish manner. But he wants to, he desperately does.

But he can’t possibly.

And again, upon reflection, the parchment crumpled tightly in his fist, Draco really can’t believe the sheer audacity of Potter's presumption. Ordered over to Grimmauld? On Christmas Eve! As if he didn’t have anything better to do (he doesn’t) or wasn’t going to go out (he isn’t)!

Honestly!

Draco's ire rises. He'll have to write back, of course. Fuck, no, perhaps, or sod off. He pats his pockets for a quill, but he hasn't one on him because no one in their right mind would expect to engage in correspondence whilst at Christmas dinner with their in-laws. He scowls down at the elf in front of him. "Quill?"

Tutsy snaps his fingers and an elaborate ostrich feather quill, fluffy and light drops onto the silver tray. He holds it up to Draco who takes it with a sigh. Honestly, Hector and Calliope are far too nouveau riche sometimes.

Astoria comes out into the hallway, and Draco jumps slightly, spattering bits of purple ink against his fingers and Potter's parchment. He frowns down at the ink drops. Purple? Really? For fuck's sake, Calliope. Sometimes Draco wonders how Astoria turned out so bloody elegant, given her mother's propensity to be over the top.

“What've you there?” Astoria asks, a wineglass dangling from her fingers. Despite her too-bright eyes, she's not even slurring her words, so Draco thinks she's must have taken a sobering potion already. Smart woman, although Draco would have downed at least another glass or two first. Then again, she does have Scorpius to deal with tonight. She leans against the wall, between a portrait of her great-grandmother who's snoring in an armchair and a side table holding a small, but still ornately decorated and glittering, Christmas tree. Really, Calliope must have spent a small fortune on fairy lights alone this year. "Father Christmas send you a note about being a naughty boy this year?" Her voice is light, but as she lifts her glass to her lips, there's a sharpness to her gaze that makes Draco's skin prickle.

“No.” Draco says, clutching the roll of parchment and the quill.

Astoria just quirks her eyebrow at him. "Oh?" It's almost as if she's teasing him, and Draco frowns at her.

“Just a note from Potter, that’s all.” His voice is stiff; the parchment crinkles beneath his grasp. "Christmas wishes and all." Draco's oddly flustered; he can feel his face warm. His collar seems too tight.

Astoria gives him a dry look. “A note. On Christmas Eve.” She turns her wineglass between her fingers. The lights from the small tree beside her twinkle and shine in the depths of the wine. "How charming."

They just eye each other for a long moment, Draco and his ex-wife. She looks terribly amused, and it irks Draco to no end.

“Well, if you must know,” Draco’s huffy. He hates being huffy. “He invited me for dessert. I was about to decline.”

"No, you won't." Astoria shakes her head.

Draco's scowl deepens. "I beg your pardon?"

Astoria sets her wineglass down on the side table. Pushes herself off the wall. The full skirt of her red taffeta dress swirls around her knees, a glimpse of black net petticoat showing beneath it. The wide boatneck shows off her collarbones brilliantly, as well as the delicate gold necklace Draco'd given her, just after Scorpius was born. Small diamonds linked together with thin gold bars, all in the shape of the constellation their son was named after. Her hair's twisted back into a roll of soft curls at the nape of her neck, and she looks beautiful in the soft light of the hallway. “Draco, you have to go. I’ll cover for you here.”

“I’ll do nothing of the sort,” Draco says, and he knows he's being stubborn, but he doesn't care. “I simply haven’t time tonight.” He eyes his ex-wife suspiciously. "And why do you care so much?"

“Because someone has to keep you from being a complete plonker." Astoria stops in front of him, her hand settling on Draco's arm. "And you’ve loads of time until tomorrow,” she points out, rather unhelpfully in Draco's experience. “You and I aren't doing our unwrapping with Scorpius after breakfast." She gives him a sly look. "Unless you need a lie-in.”

“Stori, what on earth's got into you?” Draco’s a bit alarmed by this turn of conversation. It's true that they'd decided to hold off their own gift exchange until the morning, mostly to make certain their presents for their son didn't get overlooked in the flurry of grandparent spoiling. Draco'd already planned to bring a batch of Stollen spirals Imsy had prepared for them. But he doesn't like the way his ex-wife is eyeing him, as if she knows something he doesn't. He narrows his eyes at her, remembering that she and Potter are far more friendly than he'd like. "What aren't you telling me?"

“I’ve spoken with Harry already,” Astoria says, plucking the quill from his hand. "And arranged for you to leave early.”

“Treachery!” Draco can't believe her. "Why the hell would--"

“It’s for your own good.” Astoria pats his cheek. "And Harry wanted to ask me if it'd be possible to ruin Christmas Eve for my family in favour of asking you over. I, for one, thought it'd be a brilliant idea, given that you're an utterly spineless twit who'd cut off your own nose to spite your face rather than pull yourself together and go after the man you obviously care about."

Draco stares at her, openmouthed. "You're mad," he says finally. "Completely off your nut."

"You'll thank me later." Astoria turns to the house elf, who's hovering near the entrance to the dining room, looking between them with wide eyes. “Tutsy, have Mr Malfoy’s coat brought, please.”

“Yes, Miss Astoria. Is Mr Malfoy liking to use the side Floo?” Tutsy glances at the drawing room, then gives Astoria a pointed look. “For it being less obvious.”

“Absolutely.” Astoria's smile is grateful towards the bright eyed elf. “Much better plan.”

"I'm not going," Draco says stubbornly. His heart's racing, thudding against his chest like a wild beast trying to break free. "Stori, please don't--"

Astoria grips Draco's arms. She's surprisingly strong, but she has taken up going to the gym lately, Draco remembers her saying. "Draco." The look she gives him is exasperated but fond. "Darling, I do love you, but you're going to shut up and go through that Floo, all right? I don't care what you and Harry do afterwards. Fuck him, fight him, I don't care. Just don't kill him, because I'm not coming to visit you in Azkaban with your father, am I clear?"

Draco just nods, unable to say anything. He couldn't, even if he wanted to. His chest hurts so much he can barely draw in a breath. He swallows, but that's painful too. It's as if his whole body's trying to rip itself apart, the anxiety in his stomach twisting and building until Draco wants to sink to the ground, his arms wrapped around his head, his face pressed to his knees.

Only Astoria's keeping him upright.

"Breathe." Astoria smoothes her palms down Draco's biceps. He tries. It's hard at first; all he can manage is a shallow wheeze. "Again," Astoria says softly, and Draco tries to inhale. The next time's easier. As is the next. His heart slows a little. Astoria watches him, waits for his panic to settle, at least slightly. "You're going to be fine."

Draco's not so certain. "I won't," he croaks out.

"You will." Astoria kisses his cheek. "Darling, just let yourself have the hope of happiness. The chance, if nothing else." She pulls back, studies his face. He must look a fright, Draco thinks, based on the way she frowns at him. Astoria smoothes his hair back, cups her hand around his jaw. "You're stronger than you think."

"When'd you become a Gryffindor?" Draco asks, but his mouth quirks up just a little.

"More a Hufflepuff, I'd say." Astoria's smile matches his own. "And there's always been a bit of the badger about me, underneath the snake."

Draco wants to bury his face in the curve of her neck, wants to hold her tight. Have her tell him this fear inside of him will eventually fade away. “Are you sure you don’t need my help with Scorpius?” Tutsy arrives with his coat; Draco drapes it over his arm.

Astoria sighs and pinches the bridge of her nose. “The very fact that you are trying to stay here in a pitched battle between my mother and our spoilt sprog over a new baby tells me how desperately afraid you are of whatever might happen between you and Harry.” She points towards the Floo. “I’ll be fine. Go!”

“But what should I say? To Potter, I mean?” Draco’s grasping at straws. He knows he really does need to go, if only to talk to the man again. To end this once and for all. Or something. His stomach flips again. "Stori--"

“Just tell him how you feel.” Astoria’s brusque manner is oddly comforting. She folds her arms over her chest.

“And if I don’t know how I feel?” Draco counters. It's a weak excuse, and he's fully aware of that. He knows how he feels about Potter. He's just terrified of admitting it to the man. To anyone. He can barely think it to himself without sending himself into a frantic tailspin.

“Well, tell him that.” Astoria says, throwing up her hands. She shoves Draco towards the Floo. "Now go before my mother comes out here. I'm already having to invent a fake emergency with Greg because he's the only one of your friends she doesn't encounter on a regular basis."

“But I was planning on drinking wine and watching telly.”

Astoria shrugs. “You can do that after.”

“After what?” Draco asks suspiciously. His pulse quickens; he doesn't want to think about the possibilities of what might happen between him and Potter. It's just a talk, he tells himself. Nothing more.

However much he might wish differently.

“After dessert, of course.” Astoria gives him another quick kiss on the cheek. “Now go, for the love of Circe. Stop being a giant ninny. Don’t let Gryffindor have all the courage.”

Draco pinches a bit of Floo powder from the silver bowl on the chimneypiece, then stops. “You’re really all right with this?” He swallows. "With whatever happens?" He doesn’t know why, but he needs her approval. Up until this moment, he hasn’t been truly honest with himself about how terrified he is. He's just been coasting along, ignoring half of what he's been feeling beneath the surface of whatever this attraction is between him and Potter.

"Yes." Astoria nods, stepping back from the Floo. “I’m really okay with you having dessert with Harry and watching telly after.”

Her saucy smile stays fixed in Draco's mind as he throws the Floo powder, says “Grimmauld Place," and steps in, relieved as the magic pulls him away from the forced Yuletide joy of his ex-wife's family.

What faint echo of courage Draco has flags the moment he staggers out of the Floo and into Potter’s library. It smells warm, like clove and cinnamon. The tree is lit up, its reflection glittering in the dark, paned windows, but the other lamps are low, casting golden pools of light across the polished wood floors and leather chesterfields. On the wireless, Julie London's singing, “I’d like you for Christmas,” and Draco is at a loss what to do next. He hangs his coat up on the tree near the hearth, almost automatically, then sits on the leather sofa, smoothing his trousers.

“I’d trim trees and deck the hallways if I knew you’d be mine for always,” Julie croons softly.

Draco takes a few breaths, lets the calm seep through him. It’s good to have a moment to settle, to change contexts from the Greengrasses to Grimmauld. He’s about to get up and go looking when Potter’s touselled head appears in the doorway. He’s wearing a pair of faded jeans, slung low on his hips, and a black t-shirt that stretches across his biceps, the deep vee of the collar showing the faintest bit of dark chest hair and wide collarbones. Draco has a moment of desire so pure, it makes him dizzy. Merlin, but he hadn't realised Potter was so muscular. So fit.

"Oh." Potter’s feet are bare as he pads into the room, and there’s a glass of wine in his hand. He combs his other hand through his hair, making his curls even wilder. “You’re early.”

“Sorry,” Draco says. He feels uncomfortable. Uncertain. He sits forward, his hands clasped between his thighs. Wonders if he should leave. “Astoria said I should come.”

"No worries." Potter smiles then. “It’s brilliant. She just wasn’t expecting dessert there to end until half-ten.”

And Draco didn't really need that reminder of his ex-wife's deviousness. He shifts on the cushion, the leather creaking softly beneath him. Licks his lip. "Well." He doesn't know what else to say. "Here I am."

"Here you are," Potter agrees. He stands close to Draco’s end of the chesterfield, leaning down to poke the fire with a poker and revealing a swathe of golden skin above his jeans and an arse fit for a calendar.

Almost as if he's being deliberate about showing himself off.

Draco swallows, stares. He's only human after all. When Potter turns around, Draco reaches for something to say, anything to distract from the vision of Potter’s arse encased in worn, tight denim. “Thanks for getting me out early. Scorpius wasn’t doing well with the new baby.”

"That sounds rough for him.” Potter’s eyebrows scrunch together. “He'll probably need extra attention. Jamie had a hard time when Al arrived--and he wasn’t shy about wanting to send the new baby back to whatever shop we'd bought him from.” He smiles, shakes his head. "Kids."

“That’s exactly what Scorpius said.” Draco laughs quietly. He looks over at Potter, and for a moment they're just dads, commiserating about their sons. “That, and he said little Phoebe looks like a house elf.” He grimaces slightly. "To her mother, no less."

Potter leans against the chimneypiece. "How did Daphne take that?” He cups his glass between his hands, his mouth quirked. “From what Astoria's said, your sister-in-law has a flair for the dramatic”

“Ex sister-in-law,” Draco points out. “Although, I think it’s a lifelong relationship if you have children." He shrugs. "As you can imagine, she wasn’t best pleased.” That was an understatement. Daphne'd spent a good five minutes telling Astoria all the ways in which Scorpius was a rude little boy. Draco can't wait until Phoebe turns three and starts embarrassing her on a regular basis in public.

“Can I get you a glass of wine?” The look in Potter’s eye is warm, and Draco remembers how much he genuinely likes the man, which does nothing for his nerves. He can't believe he's sat here with Potter, exchanging pleasantries like this. He won't look over at the Christmas tree. It brings back memories he'd like to keep tamped down, for the nonce at least.

“Yes,” Draco says finally. Wine is always a good choice. That or whisky, and Draco'd rather have his wits around him. “That would be delightful.”

Potter goes to the sideboard to fetch a fresh glass and pour a generous amount of red wine into it. He walks back, hands it over. "It's nothing special," he says with a shrug, but Draco can tell Potter's deflecting in some way. Their fingers brush lightly, a frisson of warmth that nearly makes Draco drop the glass. He catches himself before he does, thank Merlin.

Draco takes a sip of the wine as Potter drops into the opposite side of the long leather sofa. The fire cracks, and they both look over. It’s nothing but a spark flaring up from the aromatic balsam in the hearth. "This is good," Draco says, holding up the wine. He turns the glass, looking at the glow of the fire through the deep red wine.

"Thanks," Potter says. He runs a thumb over the rim of his own glass, cupped against his belly.

Together they sit quietly. Julie London's faded into Dean Martin cheerfully singing I've got my love to keep me warm. The fire pops and crackles in the hearth, and there's a soft carefulness about the house itself that, combined with the wine, makes Draco relax a bit more into the corner of the chesterfield. He can't feel any magic around him, or at least nothing that shouldn't be there.

Draco gathers his courage. “I’m not really here for dessert, you know." He doesn't look at Potter. He can't.

“Perhaps that’s for the best,” Potter says easily. Draco's gaze flicks up towards him; Potter's sat opposite him, his legs crossed in front of him, bare feet propped up on the coffee table. How he looks so charming, Draco's not certain. “I’ve a Christmas pudding in the kitchen, but if I'm honest I loathe the stuff.”

“Me too.” Draco takes another sip of wine. “The brandy sauce's always too sweet, and I really don't enjoy candied peel or raisins in excess.”

Potter just nods. "The boys like it though."

The air between them grows still, heavy. The very house seems to be waiting on pins and needles for something to happen. Perhaps Draco is as well.

Draco draws in a slow breath. "Where are the little ankle-biters?" he asks lightly. "It's far too quiet for them to be about." Unless Potter's tucked them away in bed and is expecting them to stay there. Which is an impossibility on Christmas Eve. Draco knows that full well.

"Gin and Paul have them." Potter takes a slow sip of his wine. When he lowers his glass his upper lip's wet. Draco wants to kiss it dry. Even more so when Potter drags his tongue along the curve of the bow in his lip. "I'll get them back tomorrow at some point for our present unwrapping." He nods to the stack of gifts beneath the tree. "Draws the holiday out a bit for them."

"Astoria and I are opening with Scorpius in the morning," Draco says, because he doesn't know what else to do. He shifts, presses his back into the arm of the sofa. It's warm in here, and the wine isn't helping. Draco wants to take off his jumper, but he doesn't dare. Instead he reaches up, loosens the top button of his shirt, tugs at his collar.

Potter watches him over the rim of his wine glass. "Hermione told me something interesting yesterday," he says, almost too casually. He sits up, his feet hitting the floor. He twists his glass between his hands, his elbows on his knees. He takes another sip, lowers the glass again. Swallows. He doesn't look over at Draco. "About house magic."

"Oh." Draco frowns at Potter, his heart stuttering, his anxiety falling back around him like a smothering shroud. "So you've told her about…" He waves his hand around him. He's angry, and he knows it's not fair of him. He's talked to Pansy. Astoria. Greg. Hell, he'd probably have even told Blaise if the bastard'd had the balls to face him after asking Draco's ex-wife out behind Draco's back. But Draco's never been known for his sense of fair play. "You've no right to out me--"

"I know," Potter says calmly. He looks over at Draco then, and it takes all the wind out of Draco's sails. Draco bites his lip, turns his head away. Potter sighs. "Look, Malfoy. I don't want to keep secrets from my best friends. I've been doing it too long. It was hard enough to admit to them I was gay--"

Draco's head comes up. "What?" He thought Potter told the Weasel and Granger everything easily, at all times. That was sort of their thing, their schtick if one will. "Surely they were supportive." If they weren't, Draco will kill them both for hurting him.

Potter gives him a wry smile. "They were, but thanks for your concern."

"I hardly care," Draco lies.

"Right." Potter huffs a soft laugh. "Hey, do you want to know what she told me or not?"

Draco eyes Potter sideways. He lifts his glass to his lips. "I really don't know what a Muggleborn like Granger would know about house magic in comparison to someone like me who happened to grow up in a wizarding Manor."

"Yeah, well." Potter sets his glass down on the coffee table. Leans back into the corner of the chesterfield. "She also pointed out that you think you're more knowledgable about magical theory than you actually are--"

"That cow," Draco says sharply. He sits up. "If this is the way your friends are going to treat me--"

Potter laughs. Holds his hands up. "She's not wrong this time, Malfoy. I went and looked it up myself."

Draco's nostrils flare. "I didn't know you could read," he says, and he knows he's fucking everything up, knows he's being nasty.

It doesn't seem to bother Potter. "Surprisingly," he says, his voice dry, "I can manage a tome or two." He looks over at Draco, who's sat as stiffly as possible in the corner of the sofa, his fingers tightly gripping his wine glass. Draco raises it, takes a drink. His heart's beating quickly, and as angry as he is with Granger for her snide comment about his abilities--he is so knowledgable on that subject, thank you very much, although he refuses to admit that he still hasn't managed to unlock that damned Evgeni Zhuravlyov box yet--he still wants to hear what Potter's about to say.

"Well, go on." Draco knows he sounds testy. He hunches his shoulders slightly. Watches Potter.

Potter's mouth twitches. "As much as it seems Grimmauld may have been involved in bringing us together, there's a bit of a hitch." He picks up his wineglass again.

"A hitch." Draco's eyes narrow at him.

"Mmhmm," Potter says into his glass. The foot bobs along with Potter's head as he nods. He lowers the glass, licks his lip again.

Fuck, Draco thinks. Potter's too sodding gorgeous for his own good.

"You see…" Potter clears his throat. Sets his glass back down on the coffee table. Without a coaster, mind, and Draco wants to pick the glass up, at least slide the copy of Quidditch Monthly beneath it, lest the wood be ruined for good. He restrains himself. Drinks his own damned wine. Potter exhales a bit heavily before looking over at Draco. "The thing is, Malfoy, that nothing the house may or may not have done would have had any influence on us if one or both of us didn't want it to. House magic amplifies. It doesn't coerce."

Draco blinks at him. Narrows his eyes again. "I…" He presses his lips together as he parses what Potter's saying to him.

"I checked," Potter says. "There are laws still on the books about house magic. Wizengamot rulings on cases brought before it over the years. And it's very clear according to the magical theorists brought in to testify that Hermione's right. We both have to want the magic to work." He's looking at Draco, his face soft, his eyes warm.

Draco swallows.

Potter moves a bit closer to him. "I have to want it," he whispers. "And you have to want it."

Draco can barely breathe. Can barely move. He can't look away from Potter, even as the implications of what Potter's saying hit him. Over and over.

He can't hide from this. From Potter.

From what they both desire.

They sit there, only half a foot apart. Someone's singing on the WWN, something about love and hope and joy. The fire sparks; its flames shine in the depths of Potter's hair, its shadows dance across Potter's face.

“So," Potter says after a moment, his voice so soft, so careful. "If you're not interested in dessert? What are you here for, then?” Potter’s mouth is stained from the wine, and his movements are loose. He leans forward, and Draco catches a glimpse of golden skin and knobbly spine just above the waistband of Potter's jeans. Potter takes Draco’s breath away, like Russian Imperial jewellery, Persian miniatures, or any other finely crafted, beautifully wrought work of art.

Draco sets his wine glass on the side table on a marble coaster. He leans over, picking up Potter’s glass and setting it on another coaster, just to save his own nerves. He’s so close to Potter, he can smell his cologne, the musky, salty warmth of his skin, the light citrusy scent of his soap. It’s everything good and Draco just wants to close his eyes and inhale.

And Draco stops fighting. Accepts that what he wants--what he needs--is Potter. As much as that thought terrifies him.

He draws in a deep breath. Meets Potter's gaze. “I’d really like to kiss you again.”

There's a soft exhale--Draco's not certain if it's from him or Potter or perhaps both of them together--and then Potter’s mouth quirks upward. “Feel free. That was part of the invitation.”

"Right," Draco murmurs. He's thoughtful for a moment, studying the angle of Potter's stubbled jaw, the tilt of Potter's nose, and then he leans in, letting his lips brush Potter’s softly. Potter’s breath catches in his throat and his chin tilts upward. Potter's glasses press against Draco's cheek.

It's a soft kiss, a wary one, a bit uncomfortable. Neither one of them is willing yet to completely let go; they're both holding back, and Draco's a bit relieved by that.

Still, he wants more. So much more.

Draco pulls back, looking into Potter's green eyes from close up. He licks his lips. "If I kiss you again," he says quietly, "I'm not sure I'll want to stop." It's a chance for Potter to say no. A chance for him to walk away. A warning from Draco because he knows if this goes on, then Potter will be his for good. And for the first time, Draco won't share. Potter'll be his. No one else's.

That's a sobering realisation.

Potter reaches out. Touches Draco's face. His fingers are so light. So gentle. And yet Draco can feel that touch to his very core, pounding, thundering within him.

"I won't want you to stop either," Potter breathes. His palm cups Draco's face. "Kiss me again, Malfoy. Please?"

Really, how could Draco refuse?

His lips brush Potter's, feather soft once more, and then Potter's mouth opens under his, and Draco's tongue is deep in Potter's mouth before he can think about it, and Potter's hands are on his hips, pulling him closer, falling back against the sofa cushions as Draco kisses him, rough and raw and furiously.

Draco all but lies on Potter, the angle awkward and unsure. What they lack in finesse, they make up in raw longing, in grappling, fierce, possessive kissing and the sheer will to bring their bodies in contact. The cotton of Potter's shirt is delightfully worn, and Draco can work his hands under it with very little effort, stroking Potter's skin, reaching to touch the dip of his arse, the flat plane of his stomach.

"Oh, God," Potter says against Draco's mouth, and it sends jolts of pure need through Draco's body.

"Fuck." Draco has to tear his mouth from Potter's. He sits back for a moment to gather his breath and, if he's honest, keep himself from stripping entirely naked on Potter's library sofa. Potter's a fucking sight--lips swollen, pupils blown. Even fully dressed, he looks practically pornographic, really, and, like a greedy child on Christmas morning, Draco wants everything Potter's willing to give him.

"Was that all right?" Potter asks, loose and limp, his breathing shallow. His cheeks are flushed, his eyes unfocused.

Draco laughs a bit incredulously. "So much better than Christmas pudding," he murmurs, and he reaches to trace the line of a muscle in Potter's thigh. He can already see the swell of Potter's prick through his jeans. "Although, perhaps we should take our time." He's half-teasing. Half-serious. He doesn't want this over too quickly. Not if this is his only chance with Potter.

"Right. Time." Potter wets his lips. He swallows. "Sure. If you want." He obviously doesn't.

Then again, neither does Draco. Not really. Whatever his better judgment might be saying. He feels a warmth settling around him, and he knows it's the house. This time he doesn't fight it. He lets the magic blend with his own, anticipating his own wants, fulfilling his own desires. He reaches out again, lets his fingers trail over the hem of Potter's t-shirt, pushing it up until Draco's hand touches Potter's belly. Magic shimmers and sparks around his fingertips, a deep, warm golden glow that lights up Potter's skin.

"Oh." Potter's breath comes out slowly. He looks up at Draco, as if he's afraid Draco might run away.

And perhaps Draco might have. Earlier. But now he gives into the magic, leans in to kiss Potter, to feel the magic swell and build between them with each soft gasp, with each brush of lips and teeth, with each careful touch. Potter's thighs spread wide, and Draco settles between them, letting his body roll against Potter's, his hands tangled in Potter's hair, his kisses hot and breathy, his groans building as Potter's hips push forward. Draco pulls Potter's glasses off, tossing them onto the coffee table so that he can get closer to Potter with each desperate kiss.

Kissing Potter's like nothing Draco's ever experienced. There's a rightness about it, a fullness, a thrill that Draco doesn't think he could ever tire of. Potter's a drug, a potion that Draco never wants to stop imbibing, and Draco knows then, as Potter's tongue slide against his, as his own prick swells, presses into Potter's, that this is forever. Whatever Potter might say, Draco will fight him to stay beside him.. Draco can't give this up.

Why would he ever want to?

Draco pulls back, breathing hard. He looks down at Potter's face. Potter's hands grip Draco's arse, holding him still, and Draco can feel the throb of Potter's prick against his.

"Sure about that taking it slow?" Potter asks breathily, and Draco laughs.

"Actually," he says, leaning down to drag his mouth along Potter's throat. "I'm rather sure I want to fuck you." He nips at Potter's earlobe, whispers, "I'm just being polite."

"Don't bother with that.." Potter turns his head, catches Draco's mouth with his. It's a slow kiss, curling Draco's toes in his boots, a kiss that Draco tries to follow with his mouth as Potter breaks away. Potter gives him a lazy grin. "I'm a generous host."

Draco's not sure his cock can get any harder. Except maybe he can. Fuck. He wants Potter so bloody much. Draco shifts, pretending to consider. "How generous are we talking?"

"As generous as you can imagine," Potter says, biting his already swollen lip. "What do you want, Malfoy?"

To be honest, Draco's brain is threatening to stop working. He can't even imagine the situation he finds himself in. It's like he's stepped into one of his own fantasies, and he's not entirely sure how to act.

"I'd like to see your bed, then." Somehow Draco stands up. He looks down at Potter; he can't help but see his own tented trousers in the process, his cock pressing against the black wool. "With you in it, preferably."

Potter uncoils himself from the sofa and stands. He tilts his head at Draco, smiling over at him. "Is this your idea of slow?"

Draco snorts. His entire body is throbbing, aching. "Just run with it, Potter. I've a distinct feeling I lost control over all of this weeks ago, I've just not admitted it."

Potter moves closer to Draco, brushes his knuckles against Draco's cheek. The touch is terribly intimate, even more so than Draco rutting up against Potter a few moments ago, and Draco turns his head. Potter's thumb strokes the shell of Draco's ear. "You can have whatever control you need," he says quietly. "I won't push you."

And Draco considers it. Thinks about walking to the Floo. Leaving Potter here alone on Christmas Eve.

He couldn't do it, even if he truly wanted to.

"Fuck control," Draco says, and he turns his head, bites at Potter's thumb, then closes his mouth around the very tip, looking at Potter whilst he drags his tongue across Potter's thumbnail. Potter stares with eyes wide at Draco; Draco lets Potter's thumb slide out of his mouth, slick and wet with his spit. He exhales, licks his lips, whispers, "I think it might be overrated."

With a heavy groan, Potter pulls Draco up against him, one arm tight around Draco's waist. They kiss again, Potter nipping at his lips, splaying his hand across the small of Draco's back, pressing Draco tighter against him as Draco wraps his arms around Potter's neck. The thrill of being kissed like this, of being wanted so badly, so completely, so honestly is numbingly incredible. Draco gives over to the feeling, to the warmth and the excitement deep in his bones.

"Glasses," Potter says, and Draco reaches out for them, feeling around on the coffee table as Potter bends him backwards, still kissing Draco as best he can. Draco's fingers finally curl around them; he manages to get them on Potter's nose again, although one leg doesn't quite hook over Potter's left ear.

It doesn't matter. Because Potter's teeth are biting down Draco's throat, and Draco arches up against him with a soft gasp. "God, Potter," he manages to get out. "For fuck's sake, take me to bed."

Somehow--Draco's not coherent enough to quite know how, although at one point he knows his legs are wrapped tight around Potter's hips, his back pressed against wood panelling that digs into his shoulders--they stagger up the flight of stairs, their bodies maintaining contact, their swollen mouths constantly meeting, releasing, meeting again. Draco's shirt's untucked beneath his jumper and Potter's jeans are half-undone by the time they reach the large, masculine bedroom on the second floor. The bed is enormous and made up in a deep navy blue velvet duvet, soft and plush and gleaming in the dim light from the streetlamps coming through the window panes. Potter dumps Draco on it, leaning in for one last, rough kiss before pulling back. When Potter snaps his fingers and whispers "Lumos," several thick candles sputter to life. It creates a soft glow, and Draco positively arches against the bed, if only for the reckless display of wandless magic.

"If that's what you can do without a wand," he murmurs, stretching his arms out above his head.

And Potter, the cad, in all Gryffindor bravado says, "Would you like to see my wand, Malfoy?" and waggles his eyebrows.

Draco laughs, not quite believing that he and Potter are in Potter's bedroom making terrible wand jokes. "I'm sure it's nice and thick."

Potter leans over him and nips at Draco's throat, leaving a lovely stinging bite and Draco reaches down, rubbing the outline of Potter's cock through his jeans. Merlin, but it's hefty, and Draco shivers at the thought of that ramming its way into him.

"Feels like nine inches at least," he whispers into Potter's ear.

Potter just kisses him, his hands on either side of Draco's shoulders, pressing into the mattress. "Want to measure it, Ollivander?"

And Draco bursts out laughing at that. Potter just pulls back a bit, smiling down at him. There's a fondness on his face when he says, "I like you happy, you know." He brushes back a wisp of Draco's hair.

Draco looks up at him. His heart clenches as he takes in Potter's face, the glasses slightly askew on Potter's nose. Draco plucks them off again; Potter takes them from him and sends them floating to the side table with a snap of his fingers. Draco shivers again. He touches Potter's cheek, his breath catching at the warmth of Potter's gaze. "You make me happy," Draco says, and he can't believe himself. "I know it's mad. We've only just met again--"

Potter cuts him off with a kiss. "We've known each other for a hell of a long time."

And they have. Since childhood. Draco draws in a ragged breath, terrified by how well Potter can read him. He closes his eyes.

"Hey." Potter's fingertips skim across Draco's cheekbone. "Look at me."

Draco does.

And he can see what Potter's been hiding from him. What Potter feels. It's there, written across his face, and it takes Draco's breath away.

"Oh," Draco says finally, and he smiles, ever so faintly, something deep inside of him opening up. Blossoming to the possibility that Potter might love him. As he does Potter. "You too."

"Yeah." Potter's voice is husky. "Me too." His eyes are so bright without his glasses, and his eyelashes so long and dark. There are small wrinkles in the corners of his eyes, ones that Draco could spend hours studying, ones that crinkle up when he smiles. His nose is long and straight, his nostrils wide. His lips are pink and chapped from Draco's kisses; Draco wants to kiss them more, wants to leave his mark on Potter.

Draco reaches up, brushes a fingertip across Potter's thick eyebrows. He feels as if he's seeing Potter in an entirely new light. A new way. He's not Potter any longer.

He's…

"Harry," Draco whispers, and he loves the feel of Potter's--Harry's--name against his tongue. "Harry, Harry, Harry."

And Harry laughs. "Draco." He leans in, his weight settling against Draco's body; their feet barely resting on the floor beside the bed. "Draco, Draco, Draco.' He kisses Draco. "I've wanted to call you that for a while now, I think."

Draco trails his fingers through Harry's hair, twisting a curl around one of his fingertips. "I think it's only proper to be on a first name basis now if we're going to shag."

"Sensible." Harry shifts, pushes himself upright again. He's watching Draco with heavy-lidded eyes, his hands smoothing down the fronts of Draco thighs, stretching the thin wool of Draco's trousers tighter against his swollen prick. Harry licks his lip. Exhales. "Speaking of, how do you want to do this?"

Draco's momentarily surprised, then he recovers. He pushes himself up on his elbows. He can feel his hair coming down from the topknot. He blows a wisp out off his forehead. "However you like. I'd be happy to haul out the gay Kama Sutra for reference if you're feeling adventurous. If Ginny has the boys, we've all night, haven't we?" He hooks a booted foot behind Potter's arse and pulls him closer to the edge of the bed.

Harry runs a hand through his hair, then clears his throat, looking a bit uncertain, "Right. So I'm going to be completely honest with you. I've done a lot of sucking off and hand jobs and that sort of quickie thing. I've even fucked a couple of blokes against the stall in a pub loo."

"Kinky," Draco says, as lightly as he can. He watches Harry carefully.

"Yeah, well." Harry's half-smile is a bit apologetic. "The thing is…I've never really done this in a proper bed before--much less my own."

And this takes Draco aback. He sits up, his legs dangling over the edge of the mattress. "You've never had sex in a bed?"

"Well, not with a man." Harry shrugs, and Draco waves away his clarification. Obviously Potter had fucked his wife in a bed. Possibly this very one. "I can't imagine it's much different, it's just never been something that's happened. I don't bring men back here because of the boys, and hotel sex just seems dirty."

"As opposed to fucking in a loo." Draco gives him an even look.

Harry rubs the back of his neck. "It's different. You know that."

Really, Draco does. He chews his lip, looking at Harry, who tries to meet his gaze, but can't hold it. And then Draco understands. "So what you're telling me is you've never bottomed?" Draco needs to be clear about this. He doesn't care one way or another himself; he's fucked and been fucked and come quite happily both ways. Sometimes he's even done both at once, but he thinks he should probably not bring that up now. It's shocking to him to think that he has more experience in this sort of thing than Harry does. You terrible slag, he can hear Astoria whispering cheerfully in the back of his mind. And she wouldn't be half-wrong. Draco's always taken a certain pride in his sexual exploits.

Harry's eyebrows shoot up, then he looks away again and coughs. "No." He adds, rather quickly, "But I've nothing against it."

A rush of pure desire twists through Draco. "Oh." He shifts against the edge of the mattress, thinking of all the times Adrian's fucked him until he could barely stand. Definitely another set of memories he should keep to himself. "I rather enjoy it myself."

"Ah." Harry eyes him. "Then you want me to fuck you?" He looks a little disappointed. Interesting, Draco thinks and he stands up. Shifts so that he and Harry are face-to-face. Harry shifts from foot to foot, his face terribly nervous.

Oh. This is going to be fun.

"Well." Draco pushes Harry backwards; Harry's thighs hit the side of the mattress and he sits. Draco reaches for the hem of Harry's t-shirt, tugging it up over Harry's head. When he gets it off, he throws it aside, and his hands skim across the smooth planes of Harry's chest, his fingers pinching Harry's nipples. "What I want," he says, as Harry hisses, reaches for Draco's hips, "is to suck you off until you're begging for my prick."

Harry's eyes widen as Draco nudges his thighs apart with one knee. "Right," he says a bit breathily. "Then that means you want to fuck me?"

"Shut it, Potter," Draco says, his voice husky and rough, and he slides down to his knees between Harry's wide thighs. He casts a protection spell on his throat, then drops his wand on the floor. From this vantage point, the bulge in Harrys white y-fronts, pushing through the half-buttoned flies of his jeans, is delectably large and demanding Draco unwrap it.

So he does.

"Oh, Christ." Harry helps Draco push his jeans and pants down to pool at his ankles. Draco smoothes his hands over Harry's hips, stretching the elastic slightly. Harry's prick springs free, ruddy and thick and swollen and wonderfully hard, nestled in a base of crisp black curls. Draco looks up at Harry, whose face is wrecked. He seems to be holding his breath, looking down at Draco, his hands gripping the side of the bed. "Go on then," he whispers, his eyes wide.

Draco returns his attention to the matter at hand. Gently, he strokes the silken skin of Harry's prick, tugging at the foreskin, twisting it over the weeping head, then letting it slip back. The heft of Harry's cock in his hand is brilliant, solid and warm, and Draco lets his thumb trail up the underside, along the vein. He curls his fingers around Harry's bollocks; they're heavy and furred in the best ways. Merlin, he loves the indecipherable gasping sounds Harry's making in the back of his throat as his head falls back between his hunched shoulders.

"Please," Harry manages to say, and then he groans as Draco smoothes his thumb along his slick slit.

"Well, since you asked so nicely." Draco licks his lips and then swallows the head of Harry's prick. Harry shudders, his full body clenching, and it reminds Draco of how much he enjoys having this much power over someone. Even during his anonymous encounters it makes his body sing. With Harry bloody Potter, the man Draco's fantasised about since Hogwarts, it's intoxicating. As Draco's mouth slides down Harry's prick, Harry's hands are scrabbling in the navy blue velvet of his duvet. He falls backwards, arches his back, stretches his arms wide. He looks beautiful against the bed, the deep blue setting off the warmth of his golden skin. His brown nipples are hard and pebbled, and Harry rubs a thumb over one of them, biting his lip.

Slowly, carefully, Draco experiments with taking more of Harry into his mouth, and he's rewarded with Harry's hips jerking up. He pins Harry's thigh with his forearm, trying to keep from being either unseated or having Harry's prick halfway down his throat in an unappealing way. He wraps his fingers around the wide girth of Harry's prick, down towards the root, and then begins to bob in Harry's lap, relaxing his jaw, getting back into the rhythm of sucking and relaxing his throat, letting the smell of Harry fill his nostrils. And if Harry's hand grabs his head, his fingers twisted in Draco's half up-do, pulling it painfully, Draco doesn't care. He loves the feeling of a cock in his mouth, stretching his lips wide, hitting the back of his throat until it's almost too much.

Harry's making ridiculously loud noises, his hips twisting beneath Draco's arm, his bare feet catching on the side of the bed, pushing him up into Draco's mouth, and Draco doesn't think he'll last much longer. Draco speeds up, slicking Harry's length with his spit and creating a slick, liquid slide of his lips and throat around Harry. He's massaging the root of Harry's prick with his hand, and Harry's already howling like a Hippogriff in mating season. Draco's a bit chuffed at how easy it is to take Harry apart so completely and utterly.

Harry's hand twists in Draco's hair painfully enough to bring tears to Draco's eyes. "Malfoy. Draco. I'm not-- Fuck. I can't." His voice rises shrilly, cutting off into sharp, quick gasps as his prick pops out of Draco's mouth. His chest is heaving. "I'm going to--"

"Just let me finish," Draco says with a bit of a feral smile, then he opens his mouth to swallow Harry again, whole this time, as far down the length of him as he can manage. His throat constricts around Harry, so tight that Draco can barely breathe, and Draco zens out, just letting it happen. Harry chokes a cry, arches, then goes rigid, his thighs shaking around Draco's shoulders just before his prick pulses, spurting spunk down Draco's throat. Draco usually spits, but he decides for Harry, tonight, he'll swallow.

Salty, bitter, slightly sweet. Burning the back of Draco's throat, making his eyes tear up. Draco's never realise exactly how intimate it is, drinking someone down like this, but oh, Circe. He'd do it again if Harry let him.

Harry's cock slides out of Draco's mouth. Draco's gasping, tasting Harry still, his body tense and tight. Harry raises up on one elbow, looking down at Draco. He runs a thumb along Draco's lips, catching a drop of spunk at the corner of his lips. He wipes it into Draco's cheek, rubbing himself into Draco's skin. Draco tries not to shudder in want.

"Fuck, Draco," Harry murmurs. "You're fucking lethal." He kicks his jeans and pants free from his feet, and then he's naked, stretched out beneath Draco, long and lean and golden, with hipbones that are cut like glass and an abdomen that's taut and muscled and that Draco can't decide whether he envies or wants to rut up against.

Both, probably.

Draco smiles, and he's suddenly at peace, knowing that he wants this, wants Harry. It's going to work out. All of his nerves ahead of time were pointless, really, when it came to the way he and Harry fit together. No one has ever been like Harry. No one ever will be. He lays his head on Harry's bare thigh, feeling oddly sated. Incredibly safe. He traces small circles on Harry's skin, watching the way the dark hairs trail down his inner thigh from his bollocks."You needed that. You were wound tighter than McGonagall's chimneypiece clock."

"Yeah?" Propped up on his elbows, Harry looks down at Draco, all tousled curls, smouldering eyes, and reckless grin. "And what do you need?"

Before Draco can really answer, Harry's hauling him up onto the bed, laying him out and then looking at him. "Too many clothes," he says, and the next thing Draco knows, his jumper's being tugged over his head. It flies across the room--fuck only knows where it lands, which only makes Draco wince a little given that it's pure cashmere--and then Harry's pulling off Draco's boots. They drop to the floor with two quiet thuds, followed in quick succession by his socks, and Harry slides his hands beneath Draco's thighs, jerking him to the edge of the mattress.

"Shirt," Harry says, but Draco's already pulling at the pearlescent buttons, even as Harry's hands are undoing the flies of Draco's trousers. It only takes a moment, and then Harry has Draco's trousers off, his pants down to his knees whilst Draco's still fumbling with the last two shirt buttons.

His pants hit the floor, landing somewhere near his trousers. The last button comes free, and then Harry's pushing Draco back against the duvet, the shirt falling open to either side of his chest. Harry still, staring down at him, his eyes wide and dark in the flickering light of the candles. Draco's prick bobs between them, swollen and long, curved ever so slightly to the right, the tip flushed and wet.

"Fuck," Harry whispers. He looks up at Draco. "You're so beautiful."

"Boys are handsome, girls are beautiful," Draco singsongs, like a group of children from the Garden might. It's what he's heard all his life, and funny, really, when you think about how early these bits of syllables are encoded with binary meaning. He reaches up, pulls the few pins from his topknot, then the hair tie. He raises up onto his elbows, shakes his hair free. It tumbles into his face.

"No, you're really fucking beautiful," Harry says, and Draco believes it as Harry touches Draco's hair, his thick fingers brushing through the fine strands and Draco leans into the touch, his eyes fluttering closed.

Harry leans in, brushes his mouth against Draco's. "Now may I suck that delightful cock of yours?"

"Oh, God, yes." Draco's no longer nervous--he and Harry are so incredibly compatible, he realises, in and out of bed. The way Harry smells is driving him wild, and he's enjoying the absolute awe with which Harry is watching his every move.

Draco reaches off the bed to the floor for his wand, then pantomimes to Harry's throat. "May I?"

Harry looks at the wand curiously, then says, "Oh. Sure."

Draco casts the protective spell, trying to be more careful with where he puts his wand this time.

And when Harry's dark head bends forward, and Harry begins to give him a sloppy, delightfully rough blow job, Draco has no complaints in the world. He doesn't care that Harry's no finesse. It doesn't matter. Draco loves that Harry's sucking him, with such delight and obvious relish that it makes Draco's hips buck up, his back arch. He tangles his hands in Harry's hair, letting Harry take control and letting himself feel. He realises he's groaning, over and over, as Harry sucks him, licking the tip of his prick and then plunging down to envelop him in warm, wet heat, until Draco's poised on the knife edge of fulfilment, the pleasure coursing through him in liquid waves, building to a central point.

"Please, Harry," Draco cries out, and his fingers twist in Harry's curls, his thighs bent wide, his heels pressed into the edge of the bed. He wants this. Wants Harry. Wants to spill himself down Harry's throat, to have Harry destroy him, then put him back together.

And when Harry takes him over the edge, shouting and thrashing, Draco gives in the waves of pleasure crashing over him as he pumps his hips, and Harry holds him down in just the right way until Draco's shuddering and shaking, arching up with a cry as his come seeps out of Harry's mouth, thick and sticky.

Draco falls back against the duvet. He presses his shaking hands to his face, trying to steady his breath as Harry sucks his softening prick softly until Draco's body jerks from the sensations. He bats Harry away. "Enough," Draco manages to get out, and Harry's mouth slips away, leaving Draco limp and sated. Draco can barely move, he can see flashes of light still, and he buries his face in his elbow, his arm draped over his eyes. "Holy shit." He swallows. "Harry."

Harry's body thumps heavily on the mattress next to him. "We should have done that a long time ago."

Draco's breath is still coming in uneven pants. He rubs his hands over his flushed, prickling face. "Nothing like making up for lost time now," he wheezes. When he finally stops shaking he looks over at Harry and asks, "Bath?"

"In the hall," Harry says. "Or I've an ensuite I never use over there." He waves in the general direction of the corner.

"Right." Draco sits up. "I'm not even going to ask about that."

"Best not." Harry's stretched out beside him, gloriously naked, his hands tucked behind his head. He looks brilliant, and it's all Draco can do not to throw himself at him. But Draco's sticky, and he feels grimy, and if he wants anything more to happen tonight, he needs a quick moment in the loo.

Leaving Harry on the bed, Draco grabs his wand from the side table and stumbles to the ensuite to wash off, looking an entire mess and not caring. He's in there for a decent enough time, striping his shirt off, cleaning himself and casting a few necessary charms, given he's not sure exactly what Harry has planned. Although he's an idea what he'd like to do next, and if he needs to teach Harry those specific charms, he will. It's strange to think of Harry as less experienced than him, Draco realises, as he splashes water on his face. But it only makes sense, really. Harry's had the boys to take care of, and not a lot of time to explore gay culture. Which means Draco's so much to introduce Harry to. Although he fully intends to keep him away from Adrian and his lot. Both to keep Adrian from telling tales on Draco and because Draco has no fucking intention of sharing Harry with anyone.

Unless Harry specifically wants to bring someone else into their bed from time to time, and really, that's a discussion for another day. Particularly since Draco's not even really made it into Harry's bed properly yet. So it really can't be theirs, and he's jumping to so many conclusions right now.

Draco looks at himself in the mirror. Takes in his mussed hair, the love bites already purpling on his throat and jaw. The slightly sex-drunk look in his gaze. The puffiness of his pink mouth. Fuck, he has it horribly, he knows. But Draco doesn't care. He's about to walk back into that bedroom and shag Harry Potter senseless. All the rest will come together. Somehow. Some way.

The one thing Draco's certain of is that this won't be his only night in Harry's bed.

He takes a deep breath. "Right." He slaps his face a bit, gently. Nods at his reflection. Straightens his shoulders. Sucks in his slight belly that's not as taut and tight as Harry's. But he's not bad overall. If one doesn't look at the Mark or the Sectumsempra scars cris-crossing his chest. But there's nothing to be done about those. He turns ever so slightly, examines his arse. That's definitely one of his best attributes. That and his prick. He cups it in his hand, gives it a quick squeeze before looking back up at himself in the mirror. "You've got this, Malfoy," he says sternly. "Go out there, and shag that man until he's begging, yeah?"

Draco's reflection nods at him; he runs his hands through his hair, shaking the mussed strands loose. He bites his lips, pinkening them up a bit, then exhales.

"Yeah," he says to himself, his stomach only fluttering a little bit. He can't quite believe he's going to go out there and do this. But he is.

He's going to fuck Harry. Finally.

Merlin.

When Draco steps back into the bedroom, Harry's not there. Draco can hear water rushing down the hall, and Draco realises that Harry must have gone over to the boys' loo to give Draco a bit of privacy and space.

Something in the simple gesture makes Draco's heart contract painfully. He wants to be here with Harry, he realises, wants Harry making these casual, considerate gestures that tear his heart apart. He's not used to anyone watching out for him or even considering his needs, not for a long time. Astoria had, until Scorpius had arrived and she's had, rightly, to focus on him instead of Draco. And then their marriage had fallen apart, and Draco'd moved out, and it'd been just him, fumbling about on his own. Draco'd liked Adrian precisely because he was a selfish prick and there were no entanglements, no questions of feelings or any sort of weakness. Now Draco's on unfamiliar territory, and his body prickles with the newness of it.

He sits on the edge of the bed, naked and raw, feeling as if he's standing on the precipice of something he doesn't quite understand.

But he wants to. Desperately.

He falls backwards with a sigh. Stares up at Harry's ceiling, at the stark white moulding around the darkened centre light, a scalloped and floral plaster circle that fills half the room.

Harry comes back with a towel wrapped around his waist. He's holding a small phial in one hand. "Hey," he says, standing in the doorway, and Draco sits up, his hair tumbling over his forehead.

"Don't you look amazing," Draco says, and he means it. "Positively edible." His prick swells with interest, and he doesn't bother to hide it.

And he does--Harry's chest is beautifully muscled and ever so lightly fuzzed. His biceps are so hard and thick, Draco wants to bite them. The flat plane of his stomach gives way to a beautiful thick trail of dark curls leading under the towel.

"Are you the bad wolf?" Harry asks coyly, shifting the tuck on his towel. He tosses the phial onto the bed next to Draco. It's lube, and Draco's pulse picks up. Right. They're going to do this then.

"Yes, Gryffindor Goldilocks. Now come to bed, for fuck's sake." Draco's laughing with the absurdity of it all, and yet, there's something so delicious, so charming, so real about Harry, Draco does want to devour him.

Harry drops the towel, and Draco's breath catches at the sight of him, naked and lovely, his prick swelling slightly against his thigh. The candlelight shimmers across the angles and planes of his body, and he joins Draco on top of the bed. "What now?" He stretches out beside Draco, looking at him. The phial of lube rolls between them, settling against Draco's hip. It's cool to the touch.

Draco puts his finger on Harry's lips, stroking them. They're so delightfully puffy after the blow job and ridiculously kissable. And so Draco kisses Harry once, then twice, settling in next to Harry on his side. He lays his head on one of Harry's thick pillows. "Well, now's the point where we decide to sleep or continue." They're both half-hard again, so Draco doesn't think they'll be sleeping any time soon.

"Gin's dropping the boys off by ten in the morning," Harry says. "So we've several hours for not-sleeping, don't you think?"

Draco smiles. "My idea precisely." He lets Harry take the lead in kissing as his hands trail across Harry's marvelous body, down the strong ridges of his ribs, around the dip in his back to the swell of his arse. Draco kneads Harry's arsecheeks apart, and Harry moans a little, draws in a tiny, gasping breath.

Harry pulls back. Worries his lip between his teeth. "You're going to fuck me, yeah?"

It's like a siren call to Draco's prick. He can feel himself stiffening at the very thought of being inside Harry. "Is that what you want?" Draco can barely keep his voice even. He doesn't want to push Harry into something he's not ready for, but, fuck, Draco wants to be buried balls deep in this perfect arse of Harry's.

From the way Harry's hips twist as Draco smoothes a finger through his arsecheeks, Draco can already tell Harry's going to be a greedy bottom, but he's happy to wait until Harry's ready, whenever that may be. Draco realises that he doesn't much care what happens with Harry, only that he get to keep touching him on a regular basis. And isn't that a surprise, he thinks wryly. He wonders how horrified his teenaged self would be at him.

Then again, his teenaged self used to wank himself raw thinking about a moment like this, so perhaps it wouldn't matter so much.

"Oh, fuck, yeah." Harry shifts against Draco, rutting his cock against Draco's hip. "I've been thinking about it for a while." The look Harry gives Draco makes Draco's knees weak, and his cock swell even more.

Draco leans on his elbow. "Harry, just to be perfectly clear, I'll come back no matter what. You don't have to--" He licks his lip, not certain how to say this. "We have time is all I mean."

"Thanks," Harry says, his smile a little wary, "but I've also been waiting for eons and I'd like to. I'd like to try it with you." Harry swallows, his Adam's apple bobbing delightfully. He picks up the phial of lube and hands it to Draco. "If you don't mind."

As if Draco ever could.

"Turn over." Draco swats Harry's arse. "On your back."

Whilst Draco's searching for his wand, before realising he'd left it in the ensuite, Harry rolls into a seated position and casts the protection spells for them both, wandlessly. Draco senses the charm gliding across his skin. He isn't quite ready to let Harry know how much his magic affects him, but his prick surges with it. He looks back over his shoulder. "You're an awful showoff."

"I'm just getting impatient," Harry admits. He stretches himself out on the bed, his shoulders pressed into the stack of pillows at the head. "I wanked once thinking about this. Got three fingers inside of me." His face is flushed but he looks pleased with himself. He meets Draco's gaze, spreads his thighs wider. "Imagined they were your cock."

"God, Potter." Draco stares at Harry, his mouth half-open. He doesn't quite know what to do with that information.

Harry toys with his prick, pulling his foreskin up and down over his head. "I came so hard."

Draco closes his eyes for a moment. Tries not to sway. "How very dirty of you." He looks at Harry then opens the phial of lube. He drizzles a bit over his fingertips, slicking them together. The oil's warm and viscous. High-quality stuff.

"Filthy," Harry admits. He's watching Draco. "I bought that last week for it."

"What?" Draco's fingers still.

Harry shifts his hips. Spreads his knees wider. Lets Draco get a good glimpse of his cock and bollocks, the soft pucker of his arsehole. There's already a bit of oil leaking from it, Draco realises. Which can only mean Harry'd been doing a few charms of his own in the bath.

"I rode my fingers," Harry says, not looking away from Draco. "Right here. Sunday morning. After..." He clears his throat. "You know. The Christmas tree."

And Draco can't even respond to that. He can feel his pulse pound in his throat, feel the heat that floods his face, his neck, his chest, prickles across his skin. His cock jerks, and all he can manage to get out is a hoarse, "Harry," before he leans in, presses his mouth to Harry's as roughly as he can.

It's a brutal kiss, filled with want and need and desire, and when Draco pulls back, he grabs Harry's hand, lifts it to his lips, sucks three of his fingers into his mouth, his teeth grazing Harry's knuckles. He can almost taste Harry, and he knows it's a trick of his mind, but he doesn't care because all he can think is that Harry wanted him that much, even after Draco had walked away from him.

Run away, really.

"Draco," Harry breathes out, his eyes wide and dark, and Draco lets Harry's fingers slip from his mouth one by one.

"I'm going to fuck you, Harry Potter." Draco's voice is low. Raw. "And then at some point tonight you're going to fuck me because Merlin, I need you. All right?"

Harry swallows. Nods. Pushes his knees as wide as he can. "Fuck me," he whispers, and Draco shifts on the bed, kneels between Harry's thighs.

He looks up. "This all right?"

"I do yoga," Harry says, bending his knees helpfully, and fuck, Draco really didn't need that image to turn him on any further. "I'm flexible."

"Obviously." Draco positions himself, pouring the lube over his fingers again and slicking himself. Harry's watching him the entire time.

"If this hurts, we'll shift, all right? " Draco reaches down to smooth lube across the soft furl of Harry's arse. "You just have to tell me."

"I want to see you fuck me." Harry gasps as Draco's fingertip strays inside the rim of his arsehole. He stretches his hands up and wraps them around the slats of his headboard, pushing himself toward Draco. "Come on."

Draco wriggles a finger deeper into Harry. He's tight, but if he's been working himself with his own fingers, he should be able to take this easily enough. He can feel Harry relaxing around his finger, opening up to him, and he works another finger in. "Good lad," Draco murmurs, and Harry exhales, his prick fading just a little bit. His throat is stretched, corded, but he breathes out again, then back in, falling into an easy rhythm. Draco drizzles more lube on Harry's hole and the fingers he still has outside of him. "Do you fuck yourself often?" He keeps his tone light, conversational.

"Often enough," Harry says on a rush of breath. He nods towards his chest of drawers. "I've a dildo I fuck myself on sometimes, but I'm just as likely to use fingers."

And fuck, Draco's trying so hard to keep himself under control. His belly tightens; his cock's stiff, nearly at full mast right now. He swallows. "Maybe we'll use that some time." He works a third finger into Harry. "Set a vibrating charm on it."

Harry groans. Digs his heels into the mattress. "Fuck--" He breaks off in a ragged gasp; his prick's nearly flat against his belly. His hips begin to move, just a little, as he tries not to fuck himself on Draco's hand.

"No, go on." Draco crooks his fingers ever so slightly and Harry bites his lip, presses his shoulders into the pillows. "I don't mind."

"I--" Harry grips the bed slats, twists his hips, and Draco watches in absolute delight as he pushes himself further onto Draco's fingers before lifting himself off, ever so slightly. "Fuck."

"Oh, that's lovely," Draco breathes out. He never thought he'd watch Harry Potter fuck himself like this, and it's beautiful, the way Harry's hips are canted out, the way Harry's fingers are tight around the headboard, the way Harry's chest is heaving, the way Harry's cock is ruddy and hard, bouncing lightly against Harry's belly with each shift of his hips. "You're so fucking beautiful like this."

"More," Harry chokes out. "I need--" His arse tightens around Draco's fingers, shaking as Draco finds the tiny little nub up inside of Harry's arse.

Draco knows what Harry needs. He slowly pulls his hand free, one finger at a time. Harry's belly tightens, then releases; Draco lines himself up, his cock already homing in to Harry's body, desperate to be buried inside him. "Just let me know if it's uncomfortable."

Harry laughs a throaty huff. "I'm okay. But thanks."

Draco leans in then, sinking the wet tip of his prick between Potter's cheeks. He can't look away, and Harry's watching him the whole time.

"Oh, God." Harry gasps. "That looks amazing. You look amazing." He slides his hands beneath his knees, holding his thighs up. "Jesus, just fuck me."

Draco pauses, getting a better hold off Harry's calves, hooking Harry's heels over his shoulders. Harry's arse slides up further onto his prick. "Is this okay?"

"Fuck, yes." Harry's eyelids sink down as he nods. He exhales. Bites his lip. "Keep going."

Draco pushes further into Harry, Harry's body bending beneath him. "Merlin, Harry. You feel fantastic," Draco says, rather stupidly. Harry's hot like burning, and his body is yielding perfectly to Draco's thrusts, and Draco genuinely thinks he might come again just from how it looks, much less how it feels, to be balls deep in Harry.

Harry's hands grip just beneath his knees, opening himself further. "Christ, Malfoy. So do you." His head moves against the pillows, his hair catching on the smooth cotton, so dark against the crisp whiteness of the linen. "I--fuck."

Draco experiments with a shallow stroke, pumping into Harry, hearing him gasp as he bottoms out. And Draco does it again, and again, until the bed is shaking with the slam of their bodies together, and the candles are guttering, and his body is tight with the need to get deeper and deeper into Harry, to feel him unravel. Their bodies are slick with sweat, and it's agonisingly good, and Draco just wants more.

At a certain point, when Draco is half past giving a shit if the house burns down around them, Harry puts a hand on his chest. "Don't come yet," Harry gasps out.

"What?" Draco's genuinely lost all capacity to think. He's very close, closer than he thinks he can stop, and Harry seems to be enjoying everything, if the wild look on his face and the openness of his body around Draco are any gauge. Still, Draco quivers with the effort to hold himself off.

"I want to fuck you too." Harry's grin is fierce. "I want to come inside you."

Draco's whole body shivers. "All right." He rolls off of Harry with effort, lying panting on his back. Harry does a quick cleaning spell, and Draco feels the chill on his prick. He doesn't wilt in the least--how could he with Harry stroking him right after, telling him how much he wants to be inside him?

Nothing could be better than this. The world has shrunk around them, to the confines of this bed, the only importance the shift of their bodies together, the press of their mouths, the tightness of Harry's fist around Draco's cock.

This is everything. This is completeness.

And as Harry rises over Draco, his knees pushing Draco's thighs wider, there's nowhere else in this entire fucking world Draco would rather be.

"Do we need to cast new protective spells?" Harry asks, holding his delightfully huge prick--and fuck, how is that going to get inside of Draco? He's glad of the prep charms he'd cast in the ensuite, the cleaning and numbing spells, not to mention the stretching charm. Still, there's a flutter of excitement in Draco's belly. He wants Harry in him, wants to feel Harry come deep inside of his body.

"No, the ones you cast are still active," Draco manages to say. He feels the magic swirling over his skin, the charms and the spells, and the bloody house itself wrapping its magic around them, the faint hum of happiness that he can feel coming from the eaves, the walls, the floors. Draco's so desperate to come now; he doesn't care.

Harry slicks his hand with lube and plays with Draco's arse, fingers dipping in and out, tormenting Draco, stretching him, teasing him until Draco arches beneath Harry's touch, his hips twisting, his cock high in the air.

"Merlin, Potter," Draco chokes out. "Stop faffing about and fuck me already."

Draco buckles beneath Harry--Harry's not the only one who likes a spot of yoga, thanks ever so--and there's a delicious moment of shifting burn until Harry's inside him, his prick throbbing, his breath hot and shuddering against Draco's throat, and Draco feels bent in two, skewered in the best fashion possible.

"Oh, fuck." Potter's voice is wrecked. He's holding back, Draco can tell, and his muscular thighs are quivering. "Draco--"

Draco reaches out, strokes Harry's lovely hip. He's beyond words almost. "Come on, Harry. Time to shut up now." He's breathing hard, and he's stretched so wide, so open around the thick girth of Harry's cock. "Just shag me senseless."

And Harry does.

With a cry, Draco wraps his own hands around the slats of bed, the way Harry had before, his body bent double beneath the Saviour of the Wizarding World.

Happy Christmas to me, he thinks briefly, before his body is clenching around Harry's prick, arching up to meet Harry's next thrust, one hand sliding away from the bed slats to grip Harry's shoulder, holding it tightly as Harry slams into him over and over and over again until Draco's stretched tight and thin, the world shimmering and shattering around him.

Draco shouts.

Falls apart.

He feels like he's rising above the bed, Harry's guttural moan grounds him, and Draco's whole body is shuddering, shaking as his spunk spatters between his body and Harry's.

The onslaught continues. Draco's barely aware of it; he's lost in a haze of gasping breath and prickling skin, of pleasure crashing down on him, nearly drowning him in the joy of it all. Harry's hips slam into him. Draco's still holding on, still moving his body, roiling against Harry, opening himself wide, but it's rote memory now. His body reacting to Harry's, and Harry's saying things in Draco's ear, telling Draco how beautiful he is, how tight. How hot. Telling Draco he wants to fill him, wants to have him, wants to Mark him.

All Draco can do is hold on, wrap his legs around Harry's hips.

Once. Twice. And then Harry cries out, and his prick pulses inside Draco, and Draco's arse is slick with spunk. Draco almost never lets anyone be this intimate, and as Harry sinks onto him for a moment, Draco wonders what he's done, letting Harry get this close, having feelings for him that are this conflicted, this entangled.

Except they aren't. Draco's fully aware he's in love now.

They lie silently for a long moment, the house quiet and still around them. Draco can hear the steady thump of Harry's heart, feel the heat of Harry's body as he comes back to his own. He pushes weakly at Harry's chest.

"Get off me, Harry," he manages to huff, and Harry rolls off immediately, dropping to the bed next to him. They lie side by side, their heads resting on pillows. Draco knows he should get up, clean himself off. He can feel come leaking from his arsehole, but he just can't make himself care at the moment. His body feels wonderfully floaty and free.

"Did I hurt you?" Harry frowns at him. His hand settles on Draco's chest. Across the Sectumsempra scars. Draco tries not to flinch.

"No." Draco says. "Not at all." His body is fine, it's just his heart is hooked on a silver thread that seems to be tied to Harry's every move.

Harry traces one of the scars, across Draco's aureole, down to the centre of his sternum before following another one back up to Draco's collarbone. "I did this." He looks unhappy.

"Yes." Draco doesn't see any need in denying it. "Not your best hour." He pauses, then adds, "Or mine."

"I'm sorry." Harry looks up at Draco. "I was an idiot."

Draco's fingers skim over the Sectumsempra scars. He's had them so long he barely thinks about them now. They're part of him. Part of his history tying him to Potter. To Harry. "It's all right." He gives Harry a faint smile. Holds his left arm up. The Mark's faded but it's still there against his pale skin. "At least you weren't thick enough to do this."

"Maybe." Harry's hand curls around Draco's arm. His thumb traces the curve of the serpent. "But I think we were both pretty stupid at times."

"Taking the Dark Mark is a bit stupider than most anything you did," Draco says dryly. It feels odd to be talking to Potter about this, but right as well. He looks over at Harry. "Does it bother you?"

Harry doesn't answer at first. He just strokes the arcs and swirls of the Mark, studying it, before he turns his head towards Draco. "No."

"Why not?" Draco's genuinely curious. "It'll bother the rest of the wizarding world if they ever found out about this." He pulls his arm away from Harry's grasp, gestures between the two of them.

"Because you made a mistake when you were a kid," Harry says. He shifts, rolls over to face Draco. "I mean, I don't like it, but neither do you, so what difference is it to me if you still have that as a reminder?" He touches the scar on his forehead. "I have one too."

"It's not the same," Draco points out. "Mine was taken willingly."

Harry eyes him. "But was it? With everything going on around you in your family?"

Draco swallows. Looks away. He doesn't answer.

"Look." Harry touches Draco's cheek. Draco glances over at him. "I don't care," Harry says firmly. "And fuck anyone else who does. Do you consider yourself a Death Eater right now?"

"Fuck, no," Draco says vehemently.

Harry shrugs. "There you go." He wraps an arm around Draco, pulls him closer. "Neither do I, and whatever those fuckers out there in Diagon and beyond think doesn't matter. Yeah?"

"Yeah," Draco says softly. He leans his head against Harry's shoulder. Inhales in the musky-sweaty scent of him.

For the first time in a long time, Draco feels at peace.

They lie still for a moment, their breaths settling into a steady rhythm, the room warm and enveloping around them. This is all Draco wanted for Christmas, really. To be here with Harry.

Sometimes Christmas wishes do come true.

Draco looks at the faint light from the candles, frowning. "Harry, is it…" He leans up on his elbow, his eyes narrowed. "Is it sparkling in here?"

Harry laughs softly, pulls Draco back down against him. He presses his lips to Draco's shoulder. "I think the house is happy. I was waiting for you to notice. Should I tell it to stop?"

And Draco feels it in his bones, this pull of family, and house, and home, this ancient sense of safety and warmth. And he's not afraid. Not with Harry lying here by his side.

"No," he says. "Not at all. It shouldn't stop on my account."

After a bit of silence, Harry shifts, leans in to nip at Draco's ear. "So would you like to go again?"

Draco laughs. "My God, you're insatiable." He turns to face Harry. "We've all night, after all."

"Not nearly long enough for all the things I'd like to do," Harry counters. His hand slides down Draco's side, settles low on Draco's hip. His fingers slip over to brush the base of Draco's cock.

Draco snorts and bats Harry's hand away. "Well, we'll have to have more nights, then. I hear Christmas has at least twelve."

"Twelve's a start." Harry pretends to ponder. "I might need more."

And oh, Harry's a wretch, Draco thinks, but he can't help but smile. He's still panting slightly. But they're both clearly fit and, well, they do have all night. Surely Draco can make it through Christmas morning with Scorpius on an hour or two of sleep.

Or less.

Draco rises up on one elbow, his eyebrow quirked. "Harry, are you suggesting we should make the Yuletide gay?"

"Absolutely." Harry laughs, his eyes crinkling. "That's exactly what I'm suggesting."

Draco falls back against the pillows. "It's not really a silent night, is it? Or holy, for that matter."

"It's all I need," Harry says earnestly. He looks at Draco, and his face softens. "You're all I need."

"An entirely mutual sentiment." Draco presses his mouth to Harry's, love swelling through him.

The kiss is quick and soft, but it's all the house seems to need. Draco feels a whoosh of magic around him, sparking across his skin and Harry's, and he knows that Harry's Christmas wish has come true. As has the wish Draco didn't dare to speak himself, the wish that's been buried deep in his heart at least since sixth year.

"Oh," Harry says. "That was unexpected."

"But nice."

Harry kisses Draco again, longer this time, a promise that Draco can feel to the very tips of his toes, which begin to curl just as Harry pulls away. "Very."

"Well." Draco watches the air sparkle around them, shimmering and glittering in the dim light of the candles. "I suppose the only thing left to do is hang a shining star on the highest bough."

As if in acknowledgement, the strains of Judy Garland singing rises from the floor below, and Harry laughs as Draco buries his face in his hands. "Your house is mad," Draco points out through his spread fingers.

"Obviously." Harry's still smiling at him. "But I never knew you were such a romantic." Harry's deep green eyes appear to be lit up with stars. Draco doesn't even know how the house is doing it at this point.

"Nor did I, Harry." Draco says, a bit ruefully. "Nor did I."

Then Draco does the only thing he can think to.

He kisses Harry again, the next in a lifetime of kisses.

A lifetime of love.

A lifetime of Christmas joy.

Chapter Text

Christmas Day, two years later

Harry walks back into the library, a bottle of amontillado in hand that he's been saving in the wine cellar just for today. The room's already considerably full of friends and family, and not everyone's arrived yet. Draco's worked with Kreacher to expand the formal dining room to make up for all of the people coming for Christmas dinner today; it'd taken an entire weekend of work on the antique charms to stretch the space properly without narrowing the kitchen or the hallway, but they'd managed it. This may only be his and Draco's second year celebrating the holidays together as a family, but it's already become a Malfoy-Potter tradition to host a late afternoon meal for parents and sprogs alike.

They'd married a year ago in October, just as the trees back garden went gold and orange, exchanging plain gold rings in front of the very people gathered here with them today, and a few more to boot. It'd been a simple and quiet affair, done up a week after Harry'd proposed, and Draco'd told him he was mad and refused, then Harry'd proposed the next day, pointing out they both knew what they wanted so why wait any longer? Draco hadn't had an answer to that, and somehow, in some magical way, Hermione and Pansy had managed to help them put together a small but lovely ceremony, complete with cake and a vicar willing to handfast them, and the next day they'd filed their paperwork with the Ministry to register their partnership legally. When the news had hit the Prophet, all hell had broken loose, but they'd weathered the storm together, he and Draco, and come out the better for it, Harry thinks.

He looks over at the chesterfield and smiles. Draco's sat there in the corner beside his mother and his aunt, with the newest addition to their household squirming on his lap, soft blonde fuzz poking out beneath her grey knit cap, her fist shoved into her mouth, her little plump pyjamaed legs kicking, trying so desperately to get her socks off her feet. Even at just over four months old, Lily hates feeling confined in any way; whilst Harry'd never had a problem with swaddling Jamie or Al, Lily refuses to let either him or Draco wrap her up in a blanket.

Neither he nor Draco had thought they'd have a baby together. It wasn't something they'd planned on, at least at first. Draco hadn't moved in with Harry until they'd married, and then they'd had to juggle the madness of separate custody plans and the boys going in and out of Grimmauld. With Ginny and Astoria, they'd managed to sync up their arrangements as best they could so that Scorpius was here when Jamie and Al were. It'd been important to blend the boys together, to make them all feel as if they were part of the same family. Harry thinks they've managed, especially with Lily arriving on the very last day of August.

They hadn't expected her that quickly, to be honest. Draco'd brought the idea of adoption up first, late one night whilst they were lying tangled together in bed, naked and sweaty, on one of those rare January weekends when they were alone, the boys being over with their respective mothers. Have you ever thought about having another one? he'd asked Harry, a bit wistfully, and Harry'd just laughed. Told him he was mad.

Except Harry hadn't been able to get the thought out of his mind. And when he'd brought it up again to Draco a few days later, they'd begun to talk about ways they might have another child. Surrogacy. Adoption. Millicent Bulstrode had pointed them towards a wizarding agency that placed children with adoptive parents, and Harry and Draco went the next day to begin the paperwork. They'd been told it might take months, years to be chosen, but it hadn't been difficult for the Deputy Head Auror to be cleared for approval, and when the agency had balked at Draco, Harry had set them straight. Firmly, but politely, and they hadn't had a single bit of trouble since.

Lily had been a surprise. Her mother had been a Muggleborn witch, not long out of Hogwarts, who'd chosen them to be Lily's parents only a few weeks before Lily was born. Harry and Draco have both met Aine, told her she can see Lily any time she wants. But Aine's not certain she's ready, not certain it would be a good idea. So they're waiting, all of them, until she decides. Harry'd like Lily to know her mum, and so would Draco, but it's Aine's decision for now, although she's said that she's open to Lily finding her when she's older if she'd like.

The day they'd gone to St Mungo's, after receiving the call, had been one of the most nervewracking experiences of Harry's life. He hadn't expected to bond to a little human so quickly, without having the months of pregnancy to prepare himself, but he had, the moment they'd placed Lily into his arms. He'd cried, and then Draco had when Harry'd handed her to him. Aine's given them an incredible gift, Harry thinks, watching his daughter stretch her arms, her cosy grey jumper with the white snowflakes knit into it raising up over her round belly. She's allowed Harry to have the joy of raising an infant together with Draco as his partner, both of them far more experienced parents now; she's allowed their sons to have a sister they've grown to adore, even if Al and Scorpius were a bit suspicious of Lily at first.

Draco smiles up at Harry as he reaches the sofa. "Hey," he says softly, and Lily kicks her feet again, blowing spit bubbles as she looks up at Harry. He thinks she's smiling at him too; he doesn't care if Ron says it's just a gas bubble.

Narcissa leans over and plays with her granddaughter's feet. "She's truly lovely," she says to Draco, her eyes shining as she looks up.

"I know." Draco kisses the top of their daughter's head. Lily squeals and squirms more. He glances up at Harry. "We're due for another bottle in about half an hour."

"My turn," Harry says. He rubs a knuckle across Lily's round cheek. She tries to grab his finger and misses. "Can you help Kreacher get everyone seated?"

The look Draco gives him is withering. "Better than you can, I think."

Harry just laughs. Draco is better at these formal occasions than Harry is. Not to mention being able to wrangle the kids more effectively. Jamie and Al are far better-behaved around Draco than anyone else.

Kreacher coughs dryly behind Harry, and Harry glances back at him. He's several glasses on a silver salver, and the look in his eyes brooks no compromise as he stretches a hand out for the amontillado. Harry hands over the bottle with the parchment wizarding label marking it as a small batch from the original Black cellars in Jerez. It's an heirloom wine from the generation of Narcissa and Andromeda's parents, and Andromeda's eyes fill with tears when she sees it.

"I remember Daddy drinking this at Christmas, she says to her sister, and Narcissa nods.

"He and Uncle Orion and Uncle Alphard would go through a whole bottle," Narcissa says with a bit of a wet laugh as she takes the glass Kreacher hands her. "Mostly to drown out Aunt Walburga arguing with Mother."

"Sorry," Harry says, even though he's nothing to be sorry for. "I thought we should really celebrate given that it Lily's first Christmas."

Narcissa looks up at him. "I can't think of a better reason to put the bottle to use than to toast my first granddaughter."

"Only granddaughter," Draco says with a sigh. This is an argument they've been having since Narcissa first set eyes on Lily. She's of the strong opinion that Lily needs a sister to combat the overabundance of male influences she has in her life. Harry thinks she has a point, but Draco's determined that four children shared between them is more than enough.

"We'll see," Narcissa says, and Harry decides it's time for him to step in.

He takes a glass from Kreacher and bends between Narcissa and Andromeda's shoulders. "To Lily," he says, and both Black sisters echo him as they clink their glasses to his. Harry takes a sip of the amontillado; it's nice, a bit nutty, a bit oaky.

Draco mouths thank you as his mother downs the rest of her small glass.

Andromeda wipes at the corner of her eye. "It's lovely to be here again," she says to Harry. "You've done our family proud, I must say." She looks around at the library, at the glittering tree in the corner decorated in fairy lights and glass baubles mixed in with the family heirlooms, both old and new. Scorpius has a few hanging on the branches now, most of them doused in gold glitter and plenty of glue. He's as fond as his father is of sparkle and shine. Andromeda reaches up, grips Harry's hand, squeezing gently. "Sirius would be delighted."

That makes Harry's heart clench. "You think?" He's wondered what his godfather would think of all this, his mixed brood, his marriage to Draco.

"He'd love every moment of it," Andromeda says, and there's a faint crack to her voice before she laughs. "Aunt Walburga would hate it, but she always was an awful cow."

A handkerchief falls from the eaves, Irish linen embroidered with a B. It lands in Andromeda's lap, and she picks the gift from the house up, dabbing at her eyes. "Look at me," she says with a shake of her head. "A maudlin old woman."

"Maudlin, yes," her sister says with a soft laugh and a press of her hand against Andromeda's thigh. "But never old, darling. Never." Narcissa glances back at Lily, then over at Scorpius, whose sprawled beneath the tree with Al and Teddy, who's entertaining them by making a paper aeroplane fly. He's allowed to use unrestricted magic per direct order of the Head Auror within the confines of Grimmauld Place only. Harry hopes he won't rue the day he got Teddy the permission for his last birthday so he could practice at home with him.

The house absolutely loves Andromeda and Narcissa and is at its happiest when the whole family is together. Harry'd had to keep it from floating candles throughout the library this morning, for fear of keeping things child-safe. He's been arguing it down to sparkling light effects this holiday season, although the water always comes out at the right temperature for Lily, and her room smells of roses. Harry's happy the house guards her particularly, and he would never interfere in its overprotectiveness of his daughter. It's created an entire tree in her nursery for mobiles to be hung on, with soft fairy lights shimmering in the evening from the branches and the ceiling. On nights when Lily has trouble sleeping, the house makes it sound like a nighttime forest, and she beds down easily. It helps that she's a much better sleeper in general than James or Albus ever were at this age, thank Christ. Harry's getting too old to be kept up all night with a fussy infant.

"Draco, stop hogging my goddaughter," Astoria says from the other sofa. "Let me hold her for a bit."

"As if you don't have one of your own kicking about inside of you." But Draco hands Lily to Harry. She kicks her tiny feet against Harry's rib cage, tries to bend over backwards. He stops her with a hand to her back as Draco says, "You'll be asking me to take her back when she gets fussy for her bottle."

"Probably." Astoria sits forward, Blaise's hand resting lightly on her back. He's turned towards Hermione, lost in a conversation about something Wizengamot-related. Harry's tuned them out; he doesn't do work talk at family gatherings. Astoria holds her hands out. "Baby, now, darlings." She's starting to show now, Harry thinks, and he does the math again. Scorpius will be getting a new half-sibling in April, and the poor boy's still not quite sure what to think about it. It's one thing to share Lily with Jamie and Al and Draco and Harry, but he's going to have to share his mum with the new baby, and that's entirely different. Draco and Astoria are still splitting the week, with a prearranged rotation for holidays. Scorpius goes back and forth between Grimmauld and Astoria's townhouse a few streets over with little fuss, enjoying the time with James and Albus as well as the time with his mother and Blaise. This may change with the new baby, although Lily hadn't impacted their schedule too much as Draco points out. Still, they've been talking about how to give Scorpius extra care with his second new sister in a year arriving.

Harry walks Lily over to Astoria, bending down to hand his daughter over. "When you're tired of her, let me know."

"I could never get tired of this precious girl," Astoria says, snuggling Lily in her arms. Lily coos and happily blows spit bubbles at her. Astoria looks up at Harry. "Before you know it she's going to be in a Yule pageant of her own."

"God help us all if she's anything like her brothers." Harry shakes his head. Still, it's funny to think of Lily at the Niffler's Garden, much less at Hogwarts, but now that the boys are older, and Teddy's already in his third year, Harry realises that time is passing much more quickly than he'd like. As much as he wants to see the wizards and witches their children will grow up into, there's part of him that wants to keep them small, wants to hold on to these days with them at home as long as he can.

Time, however, has other plans.

As if in evidence to this idea, Hugo's racing around after the plane that Teddy sends swooping through the air. He'd been an infant two years ago when Harry and Draco'd first supervised the pageant. Now he's in the nursery class and his older sister, Rose, is in her first year of primary school along with Al and Scorpius. Rose has just learned to read on her own, and she's sprawled on her belly near the hearth, a book propped in front her, mouthing the words on the page, her brow furrowed, her legs kicking in the air, bare feet barely missing the brass pokers beside the Floo.

"Oi. Spawn. Watch out!" Ron says, as Hugo almost sends a tall pile of presents flying. Hermione shoots a preemptive cushioning spell, almost without looking over from her conversation with Blaise. She's had quite a lot of practice with that charm since Hugo started walking.

"Would you like a squash or something else to drink?" Harry asks Astoria, making sure that she's included as Kreacher brings more glasses of the earthy, dry sherry around.

"A lemon water would be divine," Astoria says. She bounces Lily in her arms. "Wouldn't it, poppet?" Lily waves a hand towards Astoria, her tiny fingers curling and uncurling in the air.

Behind Harry, Kreacher snaps his fingers, and a glass appears from the kitchen. "Here, Mistress Greengrass."

Blaise takes the glass from the air and hands it to Astoria. "Thank you, Kreacher." The look he gives Astoria is full of awe and adoration. Harry knows Blaise wants to marry Astoria, but she's refused him at least twice. She doesn't want to marry again, and Harry wonders if she'll be able to keep that determination in the face of her mother, who's thrown her support behind Blaise now that she knows Astoria's carrying his child. For now, though, Blaise isn't asking. He'd told Harry that when Astoria was ready, she'd tell him, and if she never got to that point, that'd be okay too. After watching his mother's marriages go sour, he understands Astoria's skittishness about the institution.

Perhaps that's what makes them a good match.

Harry watches Kreacher pop a basket of water biscuits into the air for Astoria. He's glad that Kreacher's watching after Astoria and her morning sickness, but as a host, he's not sure how he feels that his house elf is the one person who can outdo his own wandless magic. According to Draco, it puts him in his place, and Harry supposes that's fair. Rumours are swirling about that Dawlish is going to take a European security post, and if that's the case, Harry may be promoted to Head Auror sooner than he expects. He's not sure how being the first married, queer wizard to hold the post will go over, but Draco's assured him that the invisible homophobia of the Wizarding World is much less toxic these days than when Albus Dumbledore was the only wizard strong enough to be visible, and even he was purportedly celibate. Draco poo-poos that last bit as after-the-fact hagiography, saying there were leather bars in Soho he'd been to before he'd met Harry where Dumbledore'd been quite well known.

And really, Harry doesn't want to think about that, as hypocritical as it might make him. But the idea of their old headmaster in leather horrifies him more than most anything else. He can't even consider the shagging part of it all.

The Floo gives a chime, and Ginny's head appears in the hearth. Harry kneels down to speak with her on the firecall. His ex-wife looks worn out but elated. "We're coming over in about an hour with Mum and Dad. The match went long in Caerphilly. We'll make it for dessert."

"Right," Harry says, having expected as much when Gin told him she'd been put on the roster for a Harpies Christmas Day match. Molly and Arthur had gone over to cheer her on.

"Did you win?" Ron calls out from behind Harry.

Ginny's smile is warm and happy. "By a hundred and fifteen points."

"Well done." Draco squats beside Harry, his hand resting on the small of Harry's back. "I'll have Kreacher keep plates warm for you all."

Harry shifts against Draco, bumping his hip against Draco's thigh. "And tell Paul I've laid in his favourite Irish cider."

"Ta, Harry." Paul's head appears in the fire, leaning over Ginny's shoulder, as Draco stands up again. "Much obliged."

"Mum!" Jamie shouts, and he barrels in front of Harry, all squirmy seven-year-old, his chestnut hair a complete Potter mess despite Draco's best attempt at combing charms. "Mum, Gran Narcissa says she'll take me and Teds to the Bulgaria-Ireland match in January if you and Dad say it's okay, and Dad already said it was up to you, so can I go? Please? It's just it's Krum's last match probably, and I really want to see him play--"

"Oh, my God, Jamie." Ginny's laughing. "Take a breath, all right?" Her gaze flicks past Jamie to Harry, and he shakes his head. "Your dad and I will talk about it when I get there, all right?"

Teddy leans over Harry's shoulder. "It'll be brill, Aunt Gin."

Ginny rolls her eyes. "I'm sure it will."

Harry wrangles his son and his godson out of the way. "Just come down to the dining room when you get in," Harry says, and Ginny blows him a kiss and ends the call.

She and Paul are both happy and have recently moved in together properly. Ginny's even been talking to Harry about their wanting to buy a house in the neighbourhood to be closer to the boys. Harry's glad of that. Paul's been good for Jamie in particular, helping Harry's Quidditch-mad son realise that schoolwork's just as important as time spent on a broom. And whilst Jamie's reluctant to hear that from his mum and dad, he'll listen to Paul. His marks have gone up this term, even in history, and Harry's grateful.

All in all, things have gone well since Harry and Draco blended their quirky families more than a year ago. The house loves having larger family gatherings and more children to spoil and entertain. Harry can feel the thrum of life and magic woven through the rooms, echoing in the walls and floors as the boys race through them, shimmering across his skin each night he and Draco make love. Even Kreacher's looking more spry these days as he chases after three boys and helps with the baby. When Lily'd had a frightful colic last month and Astoria made a housecall to check on them, Kreacher'd been the only one who could get Lily to fall asleep. He'd sat up with her for several nights on end, rocking her until she slept, either Harry or Draco dozing on the floor beside her crib.

Harry's profoundly grateful for Kreacher's help. As a thank-you to the elf, he's been trying to get Kreacher to go on holiday to his family on the continent--he has an envelope with details under the tree and an invitation from the Headmaster of Durmstrang and letters from Kreacher's two nephews, Hänsli and Fränzli. And if the entire family has to decamp to the Arctic Circle to help it happen, so be it. Harry's already been invited by Luna to follow the summer migration of the Jyrisevät Punahirvi in Lapland with her, Rolf, and their new twins, and he might be willing to accept if Draco agrees to a fortnight of rustic living with an infant and three boys.

As Harry stands, Draco slips his arm beneath Harry's elbow. "Ready?" he asks, and Harry gives him a small smile, his gaze taking in Draco's heathered grey jumper, a lighter grey D knit into the front. It'd been his first Weasley jumper, the one Molly had knit for him last year, and it's still, secretly, Draco's favourite gift he's ever received. Even the new one he'd been given two days ago at the Burrow hadn't replaced it in Draco's affections, although he had rather proudly pulled the dark green jumper with the cream D over his head the moment he'd unwrapped it. He'd been thrilled it'd matched Harry's green and gold. Gryffindor and Slytherin together, as perfect as the season's holly and ivy.

"Might as well." Harry can't believe how lucky he is, standing here beside the man he loves, their families gathered around them. Pansy and Tony will be by for dessert with Uri and Ava later; Hanukkah's intersecting with Christmas this year and they're spending the day with Tony's parents. Tomorrow Harry and Draco are taking the boys over to theirs for latkes and dreidels and possibly a bit of skating too.

Draco gives Kreacher the nod, and Kreacher clears his throat, announcing, "Lunch is being served in the dining room."

The shift of bodies begins, with Al screaming, "Food!" Scorpius joins in and it becomes a chant that echoes around the library.

"Yours started it," Draco murmurs beneath his breath. "Let's just remember that."

Harry snorts, wraps his arm around Draco's waist. "Just wait until they hit Hogwarts."

Draco shudders.

Narcissa takes Lily from Astoria as Blaise helps her stand, steadying her on her feet when she wobbles a bit. Scorpius runs up to her, takes her other hand whilst Ron helps Teddy shepherd Al and Jamie behind them. Hermione rouses her daughter from the book she's been engrossed in for a good half hour.

"Dinner, darling," Hermione says, and Rose blinks up at her mum. "You can read more later if you like."

Rose sets the book aside carefully. It's a Muggle one, and Harry thinks the Grangers must have given it to her as it's about the tooth fairy. It won't be long until Rose doesn't believe in that sort of thing any longer, he realises, and Harry feels a pang of regret. He really doesn't want them to grow up. Any of them.

But he hasn't a choice, has he?

Draco holds Harry back as the others leave, one hand on Harry's arm. "Are you all right?" He looks over at Harry, his hair pulled up in that wonderful knot on top of his head that Harry adores.

Harry reaches over, brushes his knuckles against his husband's cheek. "Yeah," he says after a moment. "Just wishing we could freeze time a little."

"You wouldn't say that if you'd been up with the boys this morning before dawn," Draco says wryly, and Harry knows that's true. Draco'd let him have a bit of a lie-in since he'd stayed up late trying to get Lily to fall asleep. But Draco's fingers curl around Harry's, squeezing lightly. "Although I've moments myself when I've thought that."

"Jamie'll be at Hogwarts in another four years," Harry says. "And then it'll be Al and Scorpius's turn."

Draco's thumb rubs small circles against the back of Harry's hand. "We'll still have Lily for a while," he points out. "And just think of all the terrible things we can do to each other around the house when she's off as well."

"You're terrible." But Harry smiles. He leans in, kisses Draco lightly. "I hope you left the naughty presents under our bed."

Draco laughs, and a lovely flush spreads across his cheeks. "I think that awful reindeer thong of yours was the worst of it."

Well, that and the luxury eleven-inch stainless steel dildo Draco'd surprised him with last night during their adults-only present exchange in the scant bit of time between getting the boys into bed and before Lily had woken up. They'd tried it out on the library chesterfield, and Harry flushes now, looking at the oxblood leather and recalling being spread out under Draco and worked into an absolute frenzy on this very surface by the heavy slickness of the steel sliding into his stretched, slick hole. Draco'd been busy with the scourging charms last night after and early again this morning to make sure, and they both live in mortal fear that Kreacher'd noticed.

"We'd better get to lunch," Harry says with a sigh. He can hear his sons shouting, telling everyone where to sit at the table. He lifts his husband's hand to his lips. Kisses Draco's wedding ring. "And perhaps revisit this conversation tonight."

"I wouldn't mind a repeat viewing," Draco says softly. "Although that thong was eye-searingly awful."

"Perhaps you'd like to wear it this time?" Harry raises an eyebrow, and Draco laughs.

"Not a chance in Hades, Potter." Draco tugs at Harry's hand, leading him out of the library and towards the dining room and the table set with crystal and china and Christmas crackers, the sideboard laden down with platers of goose and ham and lamb and bowls of potatoes and sprouts and peas and tureens of trifle and pudding and pitchers of gravy.

In the doorway, Harry looks back at the quiet of the library, the shimmering tree, the glittering greenery. It's been a good Christmas, he thinks. Filled with love and warmth and joy. Next year will be better, and the one after that even more so. And on and on, the years stretching out before him. One day their children will bring children of their own to Grimmauld for Christmas, and Harry will wrap presents for them, and Draco will carve the goose at dinner. Their traditions will change. They'll be adapted. The children will bring in traditions from their partners' families, and they'll make new ones of their own.

Because that's how families grow. That's how families embrace their differences, find common ground.

"Hey," Draco says softly, and his fingers are still curled loose around Harry's. When Harry glances back at him, Draco's face is soft, filled with a gentleness Harry never would have imagined in their youth. "Come on, love. We've hungry boys and girls to feed."

Harry can hear the clamour from the dining room, the laughter, the joy.

With a deep, warm happiness settling over him, Harry turns towards his husband. Towards his family.

Behind him, as he walks away, the fire burns warmer, the fairy lights shine brighter. And the house settles happily around a new family, once broken in places, but now beautifully patched together.

They belong to it now, after all.