The office bathroom smelled of lavender and cleansing potions. Harry was trying to button his jacket with trembling fingers, face still damp and cold from the washing.
It was difficult to focus since the nightmares had resumed; James Sirius’ accident had triggered a spiralling of his post-traumatic stress disorder that threatened to leave him helpless once again. He kept thinking about his son going on solitary patrol, getting Crucio’d and wounded by criminals, suffering alone without any help. Without his help …
Harry took a calming breath, as he was told to do every time an intrusive thought invaded his mind. Anxiety was a coloniser that started with small steps. This time, he was fairly prepared for the blow, going to therapy and confessing his fears to Hermione and Ron and to Ginny. She deserved to understand the state of mind of her children’s father, that much Harry knew.
Taking another, deeper breath, Harry forced the thoughts away despite the shaking of his hands.
Thirty years in the force. Being fifty wasn’t considered an advanced age in the Wizarding World, and early retirement wasn’t an option for such a young Head Auror.
Harry vaguely recalled Vernon’s outraged gasps about politics, money and whatnot. He knew that his uncle’s dream was an anaesthetised, quiet, suburban life, devoid of purpose and comfortable enough to not care about others. Sometimes Harry questioned himself as to whether his desires were similar, until a rush of self-loathing squeezed his throat, making further reflection impossible.
“Boss?” the voice of a young wizard called him. “The daily work is done; we’re … ready to go.”
Harry looked up and nodded.
“Sure. See you tomorrow, Glenn.”
“There’s … Mr. Malfoy is out in the atrium. I think he’s waiting for you, sir.”
There was a familiar bubble of excitement, like a rush of adrenaline coming from Harry’s core and spreading to his chest, arms and fingers, every time Draco was near.
It started a couple of months ago, when they met at a group therapy session - by chance! Harry was over his stalking days - and lately it was growing stronger, like a flower blossoming under the sun.
It was ridiculous and unexpected. Joyful.
Harry felt as if he were sixteen once again - without all the death and the horror, and the constant anxiety of seeing his loved ones hurt. Strolling through the atrium, Harry spotted his reflection in the glossy panels and tried to pull back his untameable hair, without any success.
Draco was sitting on one of the visitors chairs, his long legs crossed with casual elegance, arguing amiably with the portraits on the wall, thumb and forefinger holding up his chin.
Harry took a step forward to make himself visible, then stood on the spot awkwardly.
“Hi,” was all Harry managed to utter, a nervous hand already back on his hair.
“Good evening.” Draco got up and walked towards him, smiling brightly. “Nice talking to you, Faris,” he said to the portrait before turning to Harry once again. “Sorry, hello!”
Harry was still standing on his spot, but the hilarity of the situation was not lost on him, and Draco’s smile was contagious. He opened his mouth, but the other wizard spoke first.
“I came here to propose something, and I’m ready for a refusal if you consider my request too inconsiderate, but I was very much hoping you would consider this proposal honest and coming from a man who wants nothing more than to please you ....” It was Draco’s turn to suddenly shut his mouth. He took a step closer and asked calmly, “Would you like to come to dinner with me, Harry?”
Draco’s right arm appeared in the space between them, and with it, a bouquet of red roses and fresh sunflowers.
“I acted impulsively,” he said as if in justification.
Harry was still stunned by the rushed proposal and the loveliness of the flowers.
“Now?” he stuttered.
“As I said, it was a rushed idea. I should have sent an owl before -”
Draco blinked twice.
“Yes,” Harry repeated more clearly. “The flowers are lovely, and I reckon you’ve booked the restaurant.”
“That’s … really nice of you,” Harry replied, his bearded cheeks suffused with pink. “Nobody takes me to dinner anymore,” he half-joked. “It’s a nice surprise.”
Draco’s expression was somehow uncertain.
“I thought that, perhaps, the occasion was too solemn for you,” he whispered.
“What’s the occasion?”
“Don’t you know what day it is?”
“It’s Valentine’s Day, Harry.”
The restaurant was on the thirty-seventh floor of a modern building; Draco and Harry sat down in a corner, facing the skyline. The lights shining outside were brightening their features at regular intervals.
Draco bore the signs of age more visibly than Harry; his pale skin was wrinkled around his eyes and lips, white already mingled in the light blond of his hair. Yet his eyes were shining with joy as if he were drinking in the sight in front of him. It made Harry’s heart beat faster.
“This is so nice, this place,” Harry uttered, trusting his voice not to fail him. “It looks …”
“Magical?” Draco grinned. “I thought you could use a nice view.”
Harry looked at the London night sky; it was strangely clear, flying weather. Above the clouds a couple of tenacious stars were shining, and even the cold wind felt like an embrace.
A waiter brought up Draco’s flowers and arranged them by the table before lighting some candles. Draco fidgeted in his seat.
“If that’s too much for you … I’m sorry; they know me, and they must think that I--”
Harry stopped the upcoming stream of words with a smile.
“It’s okay, really. Let’s enjoy the evening without worrying too much.”
“I can do that,” Draco replied, smiling back.
They talked about their sons. Draco asked about James Sirius’ condition after the accident at work, and Harry took the chance to gather more information about Scorpius and Albus’ domestic life.
“Surely they told you about their new dog; Scorpius tells literally everyone,” Draco said, dipping a morsel of meat into the sauce before eating it.
“He did, yes. I just … sometimes I wonder if you know more than I,” Harry shrugged.
“More than you?”
“About them, I mean,” he explained. “You have a nice relationship with your son.”
“And you don’t?” Draco inquired. “As far as I’m aware, Albus and Scorpius tell us pretty much the same amount of information. I’m not better than you in my role as a father, Scorpius has always been a sensitive soul, and I too wonder if … well, it was maybe because it was always just the two of us. We tried to protect ourselves.”
“I didn’t mean to upset you.”
“You didn’t. I don’t understand your concern, though; you must know that your son loves you.”
Harry gulped, looking down.
“I know, I do ... but I think it was also hard growing up with someone like me as a parent. I had no reference whatsoever, and I didn’t know how to make him feel … feel like he was everything. And sometimes it hurt. It scared me, because you can lose everything in a second.”
Draco reached out and placed his long fingers upon Harry’s knuckles, gently rubbing them in a circular motion.
“You did your best and you acted out of love. I’ve learned that it makes a great difference in the end,” he said. “And, if it can be of any consolation, I used to resent you when the boys were younger. You’ve always been a good man, and I wasn’t. I wanted Scorpius to admire me just as I knew he admired you.”
Harry’s mouth fell open.
“But I got over it,” Draco specified. “After all, I was incredibly lucky.”
“Me too,” Harry whispered, a little astounded, a little amused. “I was lucky, too.”
The rest of the evening went on well. Draco told Harry about some amusing episodes at work, and Harry did the same, not sparing any embarrassing or gross details. Draco was laughing with tears by the time the desserts were served.
“It’s a tiny pie with a soft, melted core. If you break the crust with your spoon, you’ll see the chocolate flow.”
Harry looked at his plate, bright-eyed. His dessert was embellished with a crown of honey crust and sugar.
“It feels bad to ruin all the work,” he confessed, pointing at it.
“Then let me,” Draco offered. He leaned forward, and with his own spoon picked up a mouthful of cake. As promised, the melted chocolate leaked out on the plate. He fed the bite to Harry, who stared at him intently.
“It’s good,” he said after a moment, lips dark with chocolate. “It tastes better than everything.”
“Would you like to come and take a tea at mine?”
“A tea?” Harry asked. It was Draco’s turn to blush and be at a loss of words like a proper teenager. “I’d love to.”
“Then we can go?”
While Draco was busy making the tea, Harry took the time to stare at the paintings in his living room; they were pieces of contemporary art, settled in a minimalist, modern apartment. It was the most surprising thing about Draco Malfoy that he had learned that evening. Or, perhaps not. After all, the man courting him was an older, wiser version of the boy Harry once superficially knew.
“Here’s your Ginger Infusion,” Draco murmured, entering the room. He made the cup float towards Harry while holding another one in his hands. “You’re admiring Viola’s art, I see. She’s Pansy’s daughter; quite the talent, if you ask me.”
“They are lovely,” Harry replied. “My Lily would love these types of paintings.”
“You must buy her one, or better yet, introduce her to the artist.”
“That’s an idea,” Harry grinned. He took a sip of his tea and moaned. “I needed that.”
Another sip, and Harry placed his cup on a table. Draco did the same, trembling a little.
“Are you nervous?”
“Yes. It’s been a long time … you make me feel like this,” he whispered, seemingly determined to be as honest as he could. “There’s no one else like you, Harry,” he confessed, walking towards him.
Harry put his hands on his chest and took a deep breath.
“You must know something, before we do this.”
“You don’t do casual,” Draco anticipated. “Neither do I.”
“There’s something more,” Harry whispered, his expression growing sadder as he placed a finger upon Draco’s lips. “You must know that I’m … I don’t make these things easier for the other person. I’m hard to love. I’m still trying to figure out how to deal with my nightmares and my past, and I know that I can be pretty intense. It’s not easy to stay with me.”
Draco frowned. “I don’t think you’re right on this,” he said. “And you must know that it’s the same for me-- about nightmares and the past, I mean. It still fucks me up at times.”
“Are you going to tell me that there’s something inherently wrong with you?” Draco retorted. “Because I don’t believe it. I’ve known dark men; I’ve known cruel men … you’re not one, Harry.”
Harry lowered his head, sighing.
“How about a repented Death Eater in love?” Draco whispered, pressing his lips on Harry’s forehead. “Could you deal with that?”
“I believe I could. I know I will.”
Draco lifted Harry’s chin with two fingers before going in for the kiss. He pressed his lips against Harry’s ever so softly, almost imperceptibly, and when Harry opened his mouth, Draco rested his forehead against his, smiling.
“I want to show you how much I care for you.”
Harry kissed him passionately, fingers clenched against his shirt, standing on his tiptoes.
“I’m ready for it.”
The sun was illuminating the corridor when the door opened. Harry took a step out, turned around, and found himself drawn into a hug. He stayed motionless for a moment before returning the embrace with all the affection he could manage.
“Thank you,” he whispered to his Mind Healer.
“Thank you,” she said back. “I’m very proud of all the progress you’ve made, and you should be proud, too. This will be a happy summer for you and your family.”
“I hope so.”
“Just know that there’s no guilt in taking care of yourself, in allowing your loved ones to take care of you. You deserve it.”
“I’ll try to remember.”
The Mind Healer smiled at him, pointing to the blond wizard sitting in the waiting area.
“I’m sure he won’t let you forget,” she said. “Have a nice summer, Harry! See you in three weeks.”
They hugged once more, then Harry walked towards Draco. He was flipping through a magazine, long legs crossed, a single finger pressed against his chin. It was comforting having him there, grounding. A confirmation that he was fully and completely accepted as he was.
Harry chased away the happy tears stinging in his eyes.
“Hey,” he whispered. “We can go home.”
Draco dropped the magazine and stood up, welcoming him with the brightest smile.