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It's Not Living (If It's Not With You)

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Part One: These Connecting Stars

 
One.

 

A heavy silence blankets the cottage as the last of the mother’s anguished screams fades. Then: the baby’s piercing cry. In the sitting room downstairs, James Potter leaps to his feet, a half-crazed expression of fear, excitement and apprehension on his face. He glances quickly at the white-haired wizard in the armchair next to him.

‘Do you think –’ James makes a sharp gesture towards the stairs.

Albus Dumbledore tilts his head, listening, and soon enough, they hear Lily Potter’s laughter and the midwife’s soft murmuring response. Albus nods, and James flies across the small room and thunders up the stairs. The sound of the young father’s joyful and effusive greeting echoes throughout the house, joined by his wife’s teasing admonishment to keep it down, James!

After a while, Albus hears footsteps on the stairs. He looks from the cold cup of tea he has been rotating in his hands. The look of Poppy Pomfrey’s face confirms the fear curdling bitter and sour as wormwood in his stomach. The portly woman sits down heavily on the armchair across from him, taking off her white cap.

‘You have sensed it,’ she says, her brown eyes dark with worry, absently casting a Cleaning Spell over her bloodied robes.

Albus nods, Vanishing the cup of tea with a flick of his fingers.

‘Thought you might, being an alpha,’ she continues and shakes her head in dismay, spreading her hands open in a helpless gesture. ‘Oh sweet Helga, I do hate it when I have to break it to the parents, and it’s upsetting to think the life little baby Potter will have to live as an omega. It will –’

There is only the suggestion of movement and the merest pressure on her temples, but it does not matter what else Poppy Pomfrey remembers, because soon, she will not be able to recall anything of what she did or where she went on the night of 31 July 1980. She stares into Albus’ bright blue eyes, her face slack and empty.

It takes Albus a few more minutes to thoroughly Obliviate her, and when he is finished, he lets her go to sleep with a sigh. ‘I’m sorry I had to do that, Poppy,’ he says sombrely, standing over her unconscious form sprawled over the armchair. ‘But this child could be important, and I will leave nothing to chance. I will undertake this unfortunate duty of informing Lily and James.’

He looks towards the stairs, and sighs once more. He shakes his head, straightens his robes, and makes his way upstairs.

 


 

 

Narcissa Malfoy has never been so deep into a forest, where the trees grows so closely together even the summer afternoon sunlight is filtered dark green. She keeps tripping over thick roots twisting all over the forest floor like forgotten, tangled ropes. Lucius has to keep pulling her back up. She looks at him, flashing a quick smile of thank-you, which he returns rather distractedly before looking ahead at their guide.

The Veela Alena moves with effortless grace and strength, turning around occasionally to check that the Malfoys are still following her. They are, as they have been doing for the past three hours. They trail after her like foolish children lured in to the witch’s oven with the promise of candy. It takes another two hours before they come to the meeting point: a circle of enormous heaventrees arranged so perfectly no human hands – or wands – could have achieved it.

Narcissa, exhausted by the journey, sinks to her knees on the edge of the grove. Lucius immediately drops to the ground next to her, wrapping his arm around her shoulders, his pale face pinched with similar fatigue and anxiety. They cannot fly in this part of the forest, where the trees and their branches are too close; the Fae would not allow them so easy a journey for the bequeath they are seeking here.

Alena flits towards the two Veela waiting in the middle of the clearing. Lit by the soft, golden light spilling through the gap in the canopy, the Veelas are ethereal: tall, slender figures, luminous skin, long blonde hair, and bright sparkling eyes. Their smiles glitter like thin ice on a warm winter’s day. The woman next to Alena is holding a bundle of rough-spun cloth.

Clutching each other, Narcissa and Lucius stagger to their feet and venture into the circle.

‘Welcome, Mr and Mrs Malfoy,’ the male Veela greets them, his voice a deep melodious baritone that makes Narcissa blush.

Narcissa wants to close her eyes, so that she will not be so dazzled by their supernatural beauty, so that her heart will not be stirring with such primal desire. She feels Lucius’ digging his fingernails into her arm, and she knows that he is struggling as much as she is to defend their poor human minds from succumbing to the Veelas’ innate attraction. Keeping up their defences is the very least they should be capable of – that is what Alena had warned them from the very start when they contacted her five months ago.

Narcissa keeps her eyes on the bundle in the woman’s arms. Remember why you are here, she tells herself fiercely. The bundle squirms, the brown cloth shifts, and a baby’s plump fist appears from amongst the folds. Narcissa’s heart jumps, and just like that, the Veelas’ spell snaps, and she feels that she can breathe again without choking on lust. Lucius exhales, a gloatingly triumphant grin spreading across his face.

‘Impressive.’ It is the woman who spoke this time. ‘You have taught them well, Alena.’

Alena shakes her head, grinning broadly. ‘I take no credit for their determination.’

‘So you want our child,’ the man says, examining them carefully.

‘We want a child,’ Narcissa retorts.

The mother smirks. ‘Well then, you will have this one. Come forward.’

Narcissa and Lucius exchange quick glances; she looks at Alena, who gives them an encouraging nod and smile. Narcissa walks forward, closely shadowed by Lucius. The mother moves the folds of the cloth aside to reveal a sleeping baby boy. Narcissa nearly weeps at the sight of such a perfect baby: his cherubic face, long eyelashes, and tiny little nose.

The baby stirs when the Veela gives him over to Narcissa. He turns his face towards Narcissa’s breast, bringing his little fists up to his chest, and sleeps on. Lucius reaches out to stroke the child’s soft cheek reverently. She looks up at him, her eyes brimming with tears.

‘Our son,’ she whispers.

‘Our son,’ he echoes.

Laughter causes the two of them to look over. ‘Oh heavens, you will make quite a spoiled brat out of him, won’t you?’ the male Veela exclaims.

‘It is well and good that you wizards are so eager to raise our children. This child will not be easy to raise,’ the female warns. ‘He is an alpha who bears the mark of a soul-bond; he has a soulmate. Alphas like this are terribly powerful, but also unstable. Bear this in mind, especially if he must be around omegas.’

Narcissa and Lucius are barely listening. They are cooing over their new little boy. Adopting a Veela child was not their first choice – even if Lucius’ grandfather was himself an adopted Veela baby – and they took this alternative only after trying for years and years for a baby to no avail.

But looking down now at the child in her arms, Narcissa wonders dazedly how she could have wanted any other child. This boy is perfect; she cannot bear to take her eyes off him for a second. Tears spill down her cheeks, her chest tight with immense amazement and bewilderment. This is her boy. Her son.

Her Draco.

 

Two.

 

‘Harry!’ Minnie’s voice cracks across the empty field, echoing off the rolling hills.

Harry stops in mid-air, looking down. She is the size of his thumb, but he doesn’t need to see her face to know that she is absolutely furious. He swallows, and turns his broom around. It is Minnie’s old broom really: an ancient Cleansweep Four that takes ten minutes to get ten metres off the ground and at a speed no faster than a running boy. He thinks of going as slowly as he can, but the longer Minnie has to stew, the worse his punishment will be.

So Harry zips through the air, his blood singing with exhilaration, despite the pinpricks of shame needling into him. It’s when he is flying, the world flat and green and grey and brown beneath him, the wind cold and harsh around him – that’s when he thinks he really might have magic. That Dumbledore didn’t make a mistake.

He was trying to be good for Minnie. She has been so pinched and silent since Elphie left them three months ago. Harry feels a little lonely without Elphie’s plants in every corner of the manse, and he still keeps wandering into the greenhouse. He always expects to see the stout, old wizard pottering away amongst the greenery, a streak of dirt on his face. Harry wants to cry sometimes, missing Elphie, but he mustn’t, because Minnie is hurting more than him, and he mustn’t be a bother.

He lands a distance in front of her, gripping the broom hard in his hand, staring down. The grass is tufty between his sneakers, and it makes him think of the dead grass on Privet Drive when summer is hottest. Of the taste of scratchy grass and dirt in his mouth, when Dudley and his friends shove him down on the ground. And he is filled with icy-cold fear and certainty that Minnie will send him back now, because Elphie is gone, and she is sad, and Harry has done nothing, but make her angry. His knees nearly buckle beneath him, and he holds on tighter to the broom to remain standing.

‘I told you that you are not to fly without me,’ Minnie says harshly. ‘You disobeyed me. I have told you how dangerous flying can be. Many witches and wizards far older than you have suffered bad accidents. Do you want to get hurt, Harry?’

‘I’m sorry,’ he mumbles, sweating beneath his clothes. ‘I’m sorry, I won’t do it again. I’m really sorry. Please – please don’t send me back. Please.’

Minnie inhales sharply. She stands before him, a towering, silent figure. He keeps his eyes to the ground, the hairs on the back of his neck prickling. His eyes are burning, but he mustn’t blink. She finally speaks, her voice taut.

‘I’ve been neglecting you, my boy,’ she says. ‘I will never send you back to your aunt. I’m sorry that I made you think that way.’

Harry looks up cautiously, and blinks at the sight of Minnie’s face. She is crying, her tears pouring down her cheeks. She kneels, so that they are eye-level, and places her warm, heavy hands on his shoulders.

‘You have been such a good and obedient boy, I forget that you are only six,’ she says, her voice wavering. ‘I’m sorry, Harry. I will do better from now on. You will never have to fear ever going back to those monsters. I will protect you.’

She cups his face between her hands, brushing his tears away with her thumbs. Harry sniffs, dropping his broom to grab onto her sleeves. Minnie leans in, and envelops him in her arms. He buries his damp face in her shoulder, relieved and grateful. It’s okay; he won’t be going back to the Dursleys. Minnie said she would protect him. He will be good; he will work harder at being good from now on.

He wants Minnie to be happy, he really does. Does she know how the Dursleys shoved him into the dark, spider-infested cupboard beneath the stairs? Does she know the days he were sick and lay coughing and sobbing on a hard mattress, thinking he was going to die? Does she know what she has done by bringing him here a year ago, to these green windswept hills, where if he flies high enough, he can see the ocean glinting on sunny days?

Yes, for her, Harry will be good.

‘Shall we have dinner?’ Minnie asks gently, pulling away a little. ‘I’m making your favourite pudding.’

Harry lights up. ‘Treacle tart?’

She grins down at him, picking the broom up and holding his hand with the other. ‘Do you have another favourite pudding you haven’t told me?’

He returns her grin, rubbing the wetness from his face. ‘Brilliant! I’m starving. Let’s go!’ He tugs on her hand, urging her to walk faster. Her grumbles about being an old woman disappear when Harry goads her. Soon, the two of them are racing across the field, Minnie yelling, ‘Cheater,’ and both breathless with laughter.

 


 

Draco studies the closed double doors in front of him. The dark wood is carved with magical creatures: a dragon roaring fire above stony cliffs; Ashwinder and sea serpents slithering along the edge; Hippogriffs and Hippocampi cavorting in hills and lakes. He begins to look for Veelas, but the doors open before he could find one. His father stands in the doorway, looking down at him in surprise.

‘Here you are!’ he says with a smile. ‘I was just about to look for you.’

‘Draco?’ his mother calls from inside the room. ‘Come here!’

Mother is lying on the fainting couch, looking a little pale, cradling her right arm to her chest. She sits up, as Draco comes in, and beckons him, smiling at him as brightly as usual.

‘It’s all right, dear child,’ she says gently. ‘I’m fine. There is no need to be so scared. See?’ She moves her arm up and down. ‘There was no harm done.’

She takes him into her arms, holding him tightly. Draco squeezes his eyes shut briefly, clinging to the warmth of his mother’s embrace, but he keeps his hands tightly clasped behind his back. He doesn’t reach out for her. She pulls back, her brows creased.

‘Draco, it’s fine. You didn’t hurt me, you know.’

But Draco can still hear the crack of his mother’s bones and the jagged pain that flashed across her face when he hugged her too tightly just now; he always greets her with a hug in the morning. His father had come around the table, shouting in panic, ‘Narcissa!’, and took her into his arms, telling Draco to stay and finish his breakfast. Draco could only stare after his parents, his mother whimpering with Father’s arms around her, frozen to his seat at the empty table.

‘Your mother is stronger than you think,’ Father says lightly, coming up from behind and placing a large warm hand on Draco’s head. ‘You can embrace as you usually do, my boy.’

Draco nods mutely, biting the insides of his cheeks. Mother glances up at Father, his parents having an inscrutable conversation, before she pulls back, keeping her hands on his shoulders and a wide smile on her face. ‘Well then, shall we go back to breakfast?’ she asks merrily. ‘Mittsy prepared pancakes today.’

Draco can’t remember when he first realised he is different from his parents, but the truth is impossible to avoid when it stares him in the face whenever he looks in a mirror. Yes, he is pale and blonde and thin like his parents, but their skin doesn’t have that odd, unnatural glow like his; their teeth aren’t sharp and jagged like his; and their embraces don’t break bones. His parents tell him that he is a Veela – a special child they wanted so much, they scoured a dark, tangled forest for him, and he has given them such wonderful six years of their lives so far.

He stares across the breakfast table at them, wondering what it means to be a Veela. How can it be that he looks just like them, but he can’t do what any of what they do so naturally? Should he be carved onto that door full of monsters? He runs his tongue over his pointed teeth, his fists clenched on his lap.

‘Mother, Father,’ he says quietly, consideringly.

‘Yes, Draco?’ Mother asks a little too eagerly.

‘I want new teeth. I want human teeth.’

 

Three.

 

‘You are such a quick learner, Harry,’ Moony says, beaming at him proudly.

He ruffles the top of Harry’s mop, adding: ‘You certainly have your mother’s brains.’

Harry grins, looking down at his worksheet of different plants he has labelled correctly. Minnie is having tea with a friend today, so Harry is spending the night at his godfathers’ house. Moony, who works from home, is helping him with the homework Minnie set. Sirius is on his way home from work, and when he’s back, they will have dinner, and after dinner, Sirius will take him out on his flying motorcycle, just like he has promised.

Harry smoothens out the paper; it’s a little crinkled from how hard he pressed in to keep his handwriting neat. He can’t wait to show Sirius what he has done. It was hard, memorising the plants in the textbook Minnie and he are working through, but worth it when Minnie and his godfathers are so pleased with him – even if Sirius teases him for being the most prepared-for-school eight-year-old in Britain.

The front door above slams open, and Harry perks up, expecting to hear Sirius’ footsteps thumping down the stairs into the kitchen, but there is only silence, and after a beat, Moony frowns, slowly rising to his feet and reaching for his wand on the table. A wretched scream tears through the house: ‘REMUS!

Moony is already running towards the stairs, shouting over his shoulder: ‘Harry, stay here!’

Harry sits tensed and still in his chair, listening hard to the sound of Moony’s thumping footsteps on the floor above. They stop, and a howl, terrible in its despair and fury, reverberates through the ceiling, sending chills shuddering down Harry’s spine. He hears Moony moan: ‘Sirius. No.

Harry is on his feet, running across the smooth kitchen tiles and up the uneven, squeaky stairs. Moony and Sirius are at the front of the house, huddled just inside the front door in the entryway. Harry goes down the narrow hallways, squinting through the dimness.

Sirius is sprawled across the floor, his head in Moony’s lap. Moony has a hand on Sirius’s forehead, his back straight and stiff, as he runs his wand up and down Sirius’ body, murmuring a steady stream of spells. Harry stops by the grandfather clock, uncertain. Sirius is groaning. Moony moves a little to the left, and Harry has a clear view of how Sirius looks.

Sirius’s clothes – his usual Muggle attire of T-shirt and jeans – are ripped in places, the tears revealing raw, bloodied skin. His long hair is matted and dark with blood, redness dripping down his swollen face. His right leg is bent at an unnatural angle, and there is a whole scoop of flesh in his right arm that is gone, revealing grey-red gristle and shining, white bone. Sirius’s dark eyes – usually lively with laughter and gaiety – land on Harry; Harry sees that his right eye has been hurt, redness spreading all over the white of his eyeball.

‘Harry,’ he sputters, blood dribbling down his chin.

Lupin turns, his face grey and hard. ‘Harry, go get Dumbledore. Use the Floo,’ he snaps, the command clear in his voice.

Harry runs to obey. He has seen Minnie and his godfathers Floo-call hundreds of times; he knows how to do this. But his hand is cold and shaking, and he spills Floo powder down his front and all across the kitchen floor. When he finally manages to hurl Floo powder into the smouldering fire, he says the name wrong – D-D-Dumble-do-dore – and the green fire fizzles, dying away. It takes him another three times, before he finally gets through to Dumbledore, half in tears with frustration.

The elderly wizard is in his office at Hogwarts. He is at first surprised, then alarmed by Harry’s incoherent, panicked shouting for him to come, come quickly! Sirius! Sirius is hurt; please come, Moony told me – Dumbledore! Come quickly! He looks at Harry with those piercing, blue eyes, and nods calmly. ‘Wait for me. I will be there in a minute.’

Harry sits down hard on the cold stone floor, the sound of crumpling paper causing him to look down. His homework is balled up in his fist, ripped and singed in places. He stares at it blankly. Something hard and jagged is lodged in his chest, and he can’t breathe. Every gasp he sucks in tastes of ash and salt. In the silence, he can hear the rapid drumming of his heart and Moony’s murmurs echoing through the house.

The fireplace blazes, the flames vividly green, and Dumbledore steps through, followed by a stout witch carrying a large doctor’s bag. After a brief scan of the empty kitchen, Dumbledore nods at the stairs, saying tersely to the witch: ‘They’re upstairs.’ She disappears without a word, sparing Harry a curious glance.

‘Are you all right, Harry?’ the white-haired wizard asks, stooping down next to Harry on the floor. ‘You have seen something terrible.’

Harry nods, unable to speak. He rubs the wetness from his face. He won’t cry, because Sirius is hurt, and if there is anything Harry can do to help him, he must be strong enough to do it.

‘You are a strong boy, Harry,’ Dumbledore says gravely, as if he has heard Harry’s thoughts. ‘I’ve brought Madam Pomfrey – she’s the school nurse, and a very talented Healer. You have done well, fetching me like Remus told you to.’

‘I was too slow,’ Harry mumbles, looking down at the powder glittering on the floor.

‘But you persisted, and you brought us here,’ the old wizard replies. ‘You have done very well – do not forget that. Come. Sirius is in Madam Pomfrey’s hands now. There is nothing else we can do here. Let us have dinner in Hogsmeade – you can meet my brother.’

Harry hesitates, looking at the stairs. He hears Moony and the school nurse talking, and there is movement. He tenses, his shoulders drawing up to his ears, thinking that they are bringing Sirius down to the kitchen, but he hears them moving up the stairs instead. He exhales, glancing askance at Dumbledore, wondering if the old man sees how much of a coward Harry is being, because the very thought of seeing Sirius, bloodied and broken, makes Harry nauseous.

Dumbledore merely blinks those clear blue eyes at him, and gestures to the Floo powder bag. ‘Shall we?’

It is three days later, after Minnie takes him flying and they are sitting down to lunch, that Harry feels just that bit lighter than he has since Sirius got hurt. Madam Pomfrey has managed to patch Sirius up all right without taking him to the wizarding hospital, St. Mungo’s, so he is resting at home for now, as Moony told Minnie and Harry over Floo last night. Moony looked so gaunt and pale, but he managed a smile for Harry. So when Minnie asks him if he might like to hear what happened to his godfather, Harry thinks that he must be strong like Moony, and he nods.

Sirius was attacked by killers sent by his family – or what remains of it after the war. Harry knows that Sirius’s family, the Blacks, were bad people: Dark wizards who supported Voldemort, the man who killed Harry’s parents and waged a war on the wizarding world that lasted eleven years. This, he heard in little by little, whenever Minnie or Moony mentioned it in the passing. They don’t talk about it, because Sirius doesn’t like to.

Sirius’s parents threw him out when he was fourteen and decided he was no longer going to take the omega suppressant potion they forced him to take; it was a humiliation for the Black family to have an omega son. It was Harry’s dad’s family who took Sirius in. When the war came, Sirius didn’t show any mercy in fighting against his own family, and when his side won, he delivered those still hiding out in 12 Grimmauld Place to the Aurors himself, including his own father. But his mother escaped, and it was her who sent the assassins after Sirius.

Harry munches on his sandwich, his mind cast back to Sirius bleeding out in the entryway. He feels the sharp edges of something darker and far greater than he can understand within him. The adults don’t tell him, but he gets the idea that being omega is something to be ashamed about, to be hidden. He wonders if the reason they don’t bring him anywhere is because he is omega. He wonders if being omega is the reason the Dursleys hated him so much.

Before he came to live with Minnie, he had only the vaguest understanding that there is something different about him: Aunt Petunia had once commented on the unnaturalness of his unmentionables, her face puckered in utter disgust. Minnie had explained that there are three genders in the world: alpha, beta and omega. While the majority of living creatures is beta, ten per cent of people are alpha, and an even smaller proportion – five per cent – is omega. You are omega, Harry, which means there will be things you do differently from alphas or betas, but that doesn’t mean that is wrong. It’s only different.

If it is not wrong, why does Sirius’s family want to kill him?

‘Harry. Harry? Are you all right?’ Minnie asks with uncharacteristic gentleness.

He swallows his mouthful of dry bread and salty ham, and nods and smiles. He’s fine. Sirius calls him the most prepared eight-year-old in Britain, and he will be. He must be stronger, smarter, less of a cry-baby, so that – like Dumbledore tells him – nobody must ever find out that he is omega.

 


 

Draco is bored. He sits next to his mother, kicking his foot against the table leg, ignoring her warning looks. They are at Mrs Parkinson’s tea party, sitting at dainty round tables in the middle of perfectly manicured gardens. The ladies are making mind-numbingly dull conversation over tasteless tea and bland cakes. He has eaten at least seven of those little cakes, and watched the dragon shrub cavort around them for the tenth time already.

Mrs Parkinson’s daughter, Pansy, who is the same age Draco, sits across from him, her eyes glazed over, as she jabs at the half-eaten pastry on her plate. She is a pasty, snub-nosed little brat, who gave Draco a bored look she must have practised for hours in front of a mirror to exact its most dramatic effect. He is intrigued, because she is the first person he has ever met who is eight like him. Adults he has met so far are so dull; they are always falling over themselves fawning over him – Such a precious child! Merlin, look at those eyes. Narcissa, he will be a heartbreaker when he’s older.

Mother grabs his knee, stilling his leg, and gives him a slow, glittering smile that means trouble when they are at home. He looks at her sheepishly, tilting his head; if he looks adorable enough, Mother might just forget his transgression by the time they are home. Besides, this is her fault for dragging him along: she thought it was time for him to meet someone his age. It’s unfortunate Pansy Parkinson turns out to be such an obstinate child.

‘I’m afraid our conversation does not interest the children,’ Mother says to the other ladies, nodding at Draco and Pansy with a benevolent smile. ‘Rose, what do you say to Pansy taking Draco on a tour of your lovely gardens? I think there would be enough there to entertain the children and keep them out of our hair.’

Draco straightens hopefully, and beams at Mrs Parkinson when she glances at him. She agrees immediately, a little dazzled, and tells her sulky daughter to be a good host to Draco. Draco jumps to his feet, smirking at his mother, who tells him to behave yourself rather too forcefully, because Draco is always good. As Pansy and he walk away, he hears a lady squeal: ‘Ooh, they will make a lovely pair when they are older!’

The gardens are pretty enough: fat-petaled roses shimmering red, white and champagne against dark green leaves, Flutterby bushes charmed to quiver with pinpricks of gold light, Obcinina flowers humming cheerfully. Draco compliments the gardens, thinking to please Pansy and draw her into a conversation, but she walks silently next to him, her face turned away.

‘But I fear I must confess I like the gardens at home better,’ Draco says with a light laugh. ‘After all, Mother takes care of their gardens herself. I help her sometimes.’

Pansy glances at him askance, her brows furrowed. ‘You talk like an adult. It’s weird.’

He blinks, his hand flying to his mouth. ‘Do I? I – I didn’t notice.’

She nods, turning to look at him properly. ‘Mother told me that your family is odd, and I must be kinder to you. You are odd – why do the adults give you everything that you want? They give you the best cakes! They serve you tea first!’ She glares at him accusatorily.

‘My family is odd?’ Draco repeats, affronted. ‘How so?’

It is inconceivable that his family could be thought odd by the people around them. It doesn’t make sense – does his father not go out for numerous meetings with this and that committee? Are owls not arriving with dinner and party invites every other day? Pansy has made a mistake, calling his family odd. He isn’t so sure he so eager to make her acquaintance now.

‘Mother said your parents could not have babies, but one day, they came home from a holiday with you. Nobody knows where you came from, and nobody has really seen you until you were five - Mother said everybody thought you didn’t really exist!’ Pansy sniggers, her face more pug-like than ever. ‘Blaise was so jealous to hear that I would be meeting you first, and Daphne says she will force her mother to have tea with your mother so she could meet you.’

Draco’s head is spinning. He has never experienced such a thing, the sensation as if the very earth is sliding beneath his feet. People are saying such things about him and his family? He clasps his hands together to steady himself, focussing his mind on the heat between his palms. ‘Of course I’m real,’ he blurts unthinkingly.

‘Yes, I know that now, of course,’ she rolls her eyes. ‘But like I said, it’s weird that you talk like an adult. Are you sure you are eight?’

Before Draco can reply indignantly that yes, I am eight, they hear a rustle in the bushes behind them. They look around to see an unkempt wizard two rows over in the midst of shearing a bush. He is frozen, staring at them with wide, goggling eyes, his wand raised in mid-air.

‘Ugh, him,’ Pansy mutters, screwing her face up in distaste. ‘He’s just a temporary gardener. I don’t like him. Let’s walk faster.’

She catches Draco’s arm, and starts walking quickly, but they hear footsteps hurrying after them, and he looks over his shoulder to see the man walking parallel to them, a fevered expression on his face.

‘What?’ Pansy gasps, bewildered. ‘Is he following us?’

Draco swallows, his stomach clenching, his skin prickling with unease. ‘I think so.’

‘How can he? I’m telling Mother about this,’ Pansy scowls darkly, her fingers digging into Draco’s flesh. ‘We aren’t doing anything wrong. We are walking in my gardens. Come on, let’s run – he can’t catch us then!’

She lets go of him, and begins running down the path, her footsteps thudding in the abrupt silence that falls in their part of the gardens. Draco should be able to catch up to her in no time, because he can run faster – and is stronger – than any human child can hope to be, but he hears the words, Petrificus Totalus, behind him, and feels something small, hard and hot strike him on his back. He topples to the ground, unable to move a single muscle.

As he falls, he sees Pansy spinning around, her face slack with shock. There is a rustle of leaves showering down on him on the ground, and a hand seizes his upper arm.

‘Such a pretty little boy,’ a man’s guttural whisper pushes against his ear, his breath carrying the stench of onions. ‘I’m going to take you.’

Draco cannot move, not even his mouth. His blood is cold in his veins, and his lungs are straining with screams that cannot be heard. The man’s hand tightens on Draco, and as he feels the sickening squeeze of Apparition, he hears Pansy scream. When the darkness releases him, he is in a new place. Draco smells the closeness of the dim room, the smell of rotting food, and the reek of rotting food.

He is thrown onto his side on a hard, wooden floor. Frozen, he can only watch as the big man crouches down before him. The man is sweating, a great dirty leer stretched across his face.

‘Pretty,’ he breathes, reaching out a dirt-encrusted hand and cups Draco’s cheek.

He smells of damp earth and rotting plants, and his hand leaves moist black streaks on Draco’s face. His eyes – wide and unblinking – are scouring Draco from head to toe, desire piercing into Draco like needles under his fingernails. Draco’s skin is crawling with the fire ants of revulsion, his insides squirming with Flobberworms. He wants to throw up, his mouth watering with saliva, his throat convulsing.

This cannot happen. It cannot. It cannot. He wishes he can close his eyes, but he cannot, because the man has Petrified him, and he has to watch as the man pushes his robes aside, exposing his dirty, ripped pants. Draco is screaming. He is screaming; why does his parents not hear him? Where are they? Don’t they know where he is? This cannot happen! He is Draco Malfoy. He is a Veela, better, faster, stronger than any wizard. Not to him, this cannot happen to him. He is alpha.

The jagged edges of his shattered mind click into place. He is alpha. He is a Veela. And he is Draco Malfoy, named for the fearsome, fire-breathing beast, and he cannot be taken like this by such a creature. His rage is hot and molten in his belly, heating his skin, searing his mind. Not me, not me, not me, not me! He is still screaming, yes, but he is screaming in protest, in fury, in defiance. The man is lowering his pants, and Draco is so repulsed, he feels his disgust exploding out of him in an uncontrollable wave.

He can hear his screaming now, his throat burning with fire. His wings beat the air around him, the air smelling of feathers and metal. He is leaping forwards, the man now falling away from him, his face in a rictus of fear. Draco lands on his prey, and hooks his iron-grey claws into the man’s chest, and rips apart.

The man shrieks, thrashing beneath Draco’s claws. Draco yanks – skin tears – bones crack – and he is staring at a raw pulsing heart, blood spraying in all directions. The man is gurgling, awful wet sounds. Draco snaps his beak around that beating heart, and tears it out of the chest. The man stops moving, the sound of his thumping feet dying away. Dead – he's dead.

Crouched on the chest of his dead prey, red, pulsing flesh in his beak and blood dripping from his claws, Draco throws back his head and crows triumphantly, his body warm with heat and his veins flowing with liquid joy. He is victorious.

 

Four.

 

Harry has never seen Dumbledore look so uncomfortable – or abashed. The old wizard stands in the doorway to the kitchen, his face deeply creased with worry lines. Harry, Sirius and Moony turn as one to look at Minnie, who has paused in the midst of putting a piece of potato in her mouth.

‘Good evening,’ Dumbledore says pleasantly, holding up a box wrapped in glittering, red paper. ‘Happy birthday, Harry. I do apologise for being late.’

‘Thank you!’ Harry says, taking the present gleefully.

He adds it to the small pile on the chair next to him – his godfathers and Minnie gave their presents to him at the start of dinner. It’s Harry’s rule that he will only open his presents at the end of his birthday; after years of watching Dudley tear apart presents the moment he lays his grubby hands on them, Harry would rather savour the moment. Besides, half of the excitement of getting presents is not knowing what’s in them yet.

Dumbledore walks into the kitchen, but hesitates, peering at Minnie, who is watching him with narrowed eyes and pursed lips. Harry, who has received that examination on more occasions than he cares for, winces on Dumbledore’s behalf. Sirius and Moony exchange looks, and Sirius breaks the tensed silence by asking Dumbledore take a seat and grab a plate.

‘Harry was starving, so we started dinner earlier,’ Sirius explains, raising his eyebrows at Harry, who is on his second helping. ‘You’re lucky he left some roast for you.’

‘I wouldn’t finish it all,’ Harry protests. ‘We haven’t started on pudding yet, sir! So, you are just in time.’

Minnie snorts, and says irritably: ‘Oh, sit down, Albus,’ before continuing to eat. Harry grins at Dumbledore, who looks visibly relieved and the empty seat next to Moony. As they pass the old wizard the dishes, the kitchen settles in the easy, cheerful atmosphere there was before Dumbledore arrived.

Minnie has been angry with Dumbledore for two whole months when Dumbledore told Harry it was time for him to start taking the omega suppressant pills. ‘You will be going to Hogwarts next year, Harry. You will need to get used to taking them now.’

‘Are you not going to tell him why he must hide the fact that he is omega?’ Minnie asked in a freezing tone.

Harry looked up in alarm at her words, more struck by her tone – which usually meant he was in trouble – than what she was saying.

Dumbledore pretended not to notice, demurring. ‘He is far too young, Minerva.’

‘As you’ve said yourself, Albus, he is going to Hogwarts. He will hear something of it. Would you rather he loathes us for hiding the truth from him?’ Minnie snapped. ‘If you will not tell him, know that I will simply have to tell him myself. Your folly, Albus, is always failing to see how much children is capable for understanding.’

Dumbledore stood no chance against Minnie, when she was on such a rampage. You would obey her, even if you don’t understand how you have come to do it. That was how Harry learned why Voldemort killed his parents.

‘They died protecting you, Harry,’ Dumbledore said sombrely, his eyes keen on Harry’s face. ‘Voldemort wanted to kill you.’

‘Why?’ Harry asked blankly. ‘Wasn’t I just a baby?’

‘Yes, but he thought you were the baby of a prophecy concerning him – a prophecy that foretold the person who would end his reign of terror. I will share the prophecy with you when you are older – I am still deciphering it myself – but it essentially foretold his death, and Voldemort sought to destroy an enemy before the enemy could truly become a threat.’

‘Me?’ Harry blurted. ‘Voldemort’s enemy?’

He shook his head, bewildered. He looked down at his short, skinny frame, all elbows and knees despite having at least two servings every meal. He has read the histories of the greatest wizarding heroes: Merlin, the four founders of Hogwarts, Hengist of Woodcroft, and Newt Scamander. Even Dumbledore himself, who defeated the Dark wizard Grindelwald. Harry wanted to laugh at the idea of him going up against Voldemort, a man whose name even Minnie is afraid to speak.

‘But he is gone now,’ she said, leaning forwards to put a comforting hand on his shoulder. ‘We are only concerned that his followers – they call themselves Death Eaters – will try to hurt you, especially if they know you are omega. There are still quite a number of them roaming free.’

‘Like Sirius’s family,’ Harry said, grimacing at the memory.

Minnie nodded, her face hardening with anger. ‘We will not let them hurt you, and we will prepare you if they should ever dare come after you.’

Harry was looking at Dumbledore, studying the old man’s still face. ‘You don’t think Voldemort is gone, do you?’ he asked.

Dumbledore blinked, and smiled in assent. ‘I believe he has been weakened when he tried to kill you, but yes, I do think he is in hiding and in some form or another, very much alive.’

Minnie gasped, the colour draining from her face. ‘What? Albus! What is this?’

‘I didn’t want to tell the Order what was only a suspicion,’ he said. ‘But I am afraid that after my years of research … I must conclude that Voldemort is still alive in some form somewhere.’

She gripped the table’s edge, staring at the wizard with bright, green eyes. ‘Albus …’ she whispered hoarsely, and stopped, shaking her head. Without another word, she swept out of the kitchen, all the glasses in the room shattering in her wake. Harry ducked, throwing his arms around his head. When the clinking stopped, he lowered his arms and stared wide-eyed at Dumbledore, who was looking after Minnie.

‘Oh dear, do you think she is very angry?’ he asked Harry rather helplessly.

Minnie wasn’t just very angry; she was incandescent with rage, and she would not allow Harry, Sirius or Moony to speak his name in the house for the past week. Harry had heard Sirius whisper to Moony that he thought it was fine for Dumbledore to hide the fact that he thought You-Know-Who was live, since he didn’t know for sure, but of course, he mustn’t say so in front of Minnie.

Harry still finds it stupid that he would be the one to destroy Voldemort, out of the many talented and powerful wizards there are in this world. But the prophecy and Voldemort feel distant, like the sight of the stormy ocean from a broomstick in a grey, cloudy sky. They must be real, because the adults around him look so worried, but Harry, who has not lived through a war, doesn’t know any better.

He is struggling more with the suppressant potion he must take every month: a black, viscous liquid that tastes of oil and milk. He has to choke it down, eyes watering, under the eyes of Professor Severus Snape, the greasy-haired man who teaches Potions at Hogwarts. Harry didn’t think he could dislike someone as much as the Dursleys, but Snape comes close. The man has the nerve to speak to Minnie with such derision about the desperate state of Gryffindor House, which she used to be Head of before she left Hogwarts to take care of Harry.

Snape seems to detest Harry too.

Sirius had explained with amused disdain: ‘He used to fancy your mum. Wasn’t very happy when she fell for your dad. It’s idiotic that he has decided he must hate you too. Don’t worry, Harry, it’s not your fault.’ Moony sighed and added with caution: ‘Snape and us – we weren’t on good terms when we were at Hogwarts. It’s a lot more complicated that Sirius makes it out to be, I promise. We did him wrong too.’

But Harry loathes the suppressant potion more than anything else he must suffer in Snape’s presence. It makes him feel weak, the energy draining from his limbs. It is bad enough that the strongest manifestation of his magic is his ability to fly, but he does not show the spontaneous spurts of magic he knows from his books that children his age should be playing with. The day after he took the potion for the first time, he could not even get the broom off the ground, and Sirius had to hold him for hours before he calmed down.

‘It will be difficult, Harry,’ his godfather said, wiping the tears from Harry’s cheeks with his thumbs, his voice quiet and soothing. ‘But I know that you are strong enough to get through this, and the day will come when Voldemort is gone, and you will be free to live the way you are meant to.’ He strokes Harry’s hair back, pressing his lips to Harry’s forehead. ‘One day, you will not be afraid to be omega. That is the world Moony and I will fight for you.’

Harry doesn’t want to see such anxiety in his godfathers’ eyes, so after that first month, he does his best to take the potion without flinching; to force himself to be patient because while he is weak the first few days, he does recover his strength. There are days he cannot sleep, kept awake by nightmares of his magic disappearing and having to go back to the Muggle world, but he hides those days from Minnie, Sirius and Moony. They won’t know how he has cried.

He knows now what it means to be omega: to be omega is to be weak. That is why they must hide it from Voldemort and his followers. Minnie and the rest will deny it, but he knows it, and he understands why Dumbledore wants him to hide it: it is a flaw in Harry their enemies won’t hesitate to exploit. Harry has learned as much in his readings – even if he doesn’t understand much of the dense text – that sometimes, people will pound at the cracks to destroy anything to get what they want.

Harry sits at the dinner table with Minnie, Sirius, Moony and Dumbledore, laughing at the silly stories Sirius tells about the Muggles he meets at his job as a bartender in a Muggle pub. A pile of presents sits next to him, waiting to be opened. The kitchen is warm and smells of the cake Minnie baked for his birthday. There is a light, warm and soft, deep in Harry’s chest; this – this at least, Harry will not let anyone destroy.

 


 

 

Draco’s parents don’t know this, but their soundproofing charm doesn’t work very well against Veela ears. If Draco presses his ears against the door and listens very carefully, he can hear their conversation rather well. They have set an alarm spell on the door now, so Draco has to be quite creative with his eavesdropping techniques.

It’s a good thing he has taken the trouble to learn how to transform at will. With a few powerful down-strokes of his white wings, the top of his head is level with the windowsill. He grunts, catching onto the very edge of the sill with his claws. He brings himself close to the cold, rough stones, digging his claws in.

The window to his father’s study is closed against the cold, but there is no Anti-Eavesdropper Jinx on the window at least. Draco, bringing his head a little above the sill, could listen well enough. He looks ridiculous, of course; an overgrown pigeon-boy clinging on the outside walls of Malfoy Manor. But since hardly anybody has paid them a visit in the past two years, he reckons his chances of getting caught are close to none – except by his parents or the house elves.

His father is talking about a man he has gone to see today, an old schoolmate from Hogwarts. ‘I should have known Snape wouldn’t do anything for us,’ Father grumbles. ‘Greasy prick. He has always been so quick to wriggle his way in to those with power. Good of him to cast us aside now that we have none.’

‘He won’t intercede with Dumbledore on our behalf?’ Mother asks, and sighs. ‘Oh, perhaps I should have gone. He has always liked me better than you or Bella.’

‘I doubt it would have made much of a difference,’ Father retorts dryly. ‘Don’t you remember how much he pined for Lily Potter? I have always suspected she is the reason Dumbledore has accepted Snape so closely into his fold, even though he was a Death Eater.’

‘Yes, dear, you’ve said, but what does it matter now?’ she says irritably. ‘The woman’s dead; her son killed the Dark Lord. Her son wouldn’t have any trouble getting accepted into Hogwarts – our son will. If Snape won’t help us …’ She groans, and Draco hears footsteps run across the room, and back again; his mother paces when she is upset. ‘Salazar, will we have to send him to Beauxbatons? I don’t want him so far from us, Lucius!’

‘The French are more likely to accept him – they should be, since their Headmistress is half-giant,’ Father says. ‘No, I agree with you, Cissy, I’m only saying what’s true. I do wish Draco could attend Hogwarts like we did.’

‘What shall we do?’ Mother’s voice is faint, like she is whispering.

They fall silent, and in the silence, Draco hears his heartbeat pulsing at his temples. His muscles are trembling at the effort of keeping him in place, and he is frozen to the bone; there is only so long even his Veela body is capable of bearing the strain.

‘Let’s write to Dumbledore ourselves,’ Father blurts. ‘The Headmaster loves his causes and campaigns, doesn’t he? The old man will give us a listen at the very least – you know how Gryffindors love their fair play.’

Draco releases his hold on the sill, and drops into the bushes two storeys below, branches snapping beneath his weight. He rolls as he lands, spitting out leaves and twigs. Returned to his human form, he lies in the bushes, his arms and legs spread-eagled around him. He stares up at the grey, cloudy sky, his skin covered in goose pimples as the wind ripples through the quiet grounds of Malfoy Manor.

After they found him in the dead man’s house two years ago, his parents’ friends sent less dinner and party invites and in turn, accepted less of the Malfoys’ invitations. Father is rather sanguine about it.

‘I’m surprised it took so long,’ he said with a shrug. ‘I have been expecting it since my parents tried to disown me – and society had always taken their cue from the Malfoys,’ he interposed with an ironic smirk. ‘They couldn’t, of course, because the Manor always likes me better than it liked them.’

‘Why did they want to disown you?’ Draco asked, remembering his grandparents only as a croaking disapproving voice through a scarlet-red Howler sent when he was five.

‘I disagreed with them. So, my boy, don’t you dare disagree with me!’ Father said, smiling to show that he is only joking, and they both knew that Draco often got what he wanted anyway.

And what he wants is for his parents to believe that their son could be accepted by the wizarding community – even if Draco doubts it is really anything of an honour. He hates seeing the way his mother’s face pinches with worry, or the way his father attempts to smile. He has to be accepted by Hogwarts. He gets up, brushing off the leaves, and goes off in search of robes.

The house elves are rather alarmed at Draco’s naked state in this chilly weather, and they hurry to dress him. Once he is dressed, Draco asks for parchment and pen – he’s going to write a letter. Dumbledore is the man who holds the power now, and Malfoys have never been above appealing to those in power.

 

Five.

 

Harry feels a piece of driftwood pushed about by the sea of people crowding Diagon Alley. Before today, his idea of a crowd was the Tesco’s off Privet Drive during sales. He clamps his hand tight around Moony’s hand, certain that he lets go, he will get lost – a thought that makes his stomach flip.

They are in Diagon Alley with Sirius and Minnie to get Harry’s school supplies, his Hogwarts letter tucked safely in his pocket. It seems like the rest of wizarding Britain has the same idea. Harassed parents are herding overly excited children along, often failing to rein them in. The street is lined on both sides by many shops with marvellously magical windows. Harry’s eyes are jumping from shop front to shop front, as he gawps in awe at everything.

There is a candy shop with cages of all sorts of sweet confections in the form of animals, barking and roaring and bellowing. There is a pet shop right next to it with actual animals in the window: cats with luxurious fur that glows red one second, and blue the next. There is a broom shop with a single golden broom in the window, accompanied by a sign that reads: ‘Nimbus 2000’.

Harry immediately swivels around to look at Minnie, his hand flying to his pocket heavy with coin. They have just left Gringotts – he was absolutely fascinated to meet goblins for the first time in real life. He has read so much about the amazing feats their people have accomplished throughout history, despite the strained relationship between goblin and wizard.

But goblins are forgotten the moment the vault door opened and Harry saw the fortune his parents have left him. Minnie told him he needn’t take out too much, since she or his godfathers are more than capable and willing to buy his school supplies for him. So he took enough for treats and presents he can get for his guardians now that he has some money – or he could buy a broomstick of his own.

Minnie ignores his pleading look, turning away to smile at a middle-aged couple that greeted her excitedly in the middle of the street.

‘Don’t pout,’ Sirius laughs, ruffling the top of his head. ‘You won’t be flying at school anyway. What about this – you show what you can do for the end-of-year exams, and maybe Moony and I might get you a little reward?’

‘Would you?’ Harry brightens up, looking from him to Moony, who is wearing a slightly aggrieved expression.

‘Of course, hard work should be rewarded,’ Moony relents.

‘Brilliant!’ Harry grins. ‘I’ll get straight Os, you’ll see.’

They are standing to the side, waiting for Minnie to finish her conversation, when Harry catches people taking double takes and staring as they pass by. He nervously flattens his fringe over his scar, keeping his eyes on the shop windows. Minnie has warned him that people might stare – or even try to talk to him. It feels weird, people knowing who he is just because of something he did accidentally as a baby.

It is slow going down the street to their next stop, Ollivander’s, to get Harry’s wand, because Minnie is constantly getting stopped by former students and acquaintances. We haven’t seen you in so long, Professor! Minnie is gratified by the attention. She was excited when she announced at dinner a few months ago that she shall be returning to Hogwarts to teach, but she had added, rather cynically: ‘Ah, but it has been six years. I wonder if my teaching techniques are still up to scratch.’

Harry thinks that she has nothing to fear, and he likes seeing how many of her former students still clearly remember and admire her. It’ll be nice having Minnie at Hogwarts, even if he has to remember to call her Professor in class.

Harry has also realised that Sirius and Moony are drawing attention of their own. He supposes that their lives must be unusual enough even within the wizarding community to attract gossip, especially since Sirius is a Black. After all, how many alphas out there are also werewolves? And how many of them are soul-bonded to an omega disowned by his bigoted pureblood family? They are pretending not to notice the occasional whisper, asking Harry instead where he might like to go for tea.

They do reach Ollivander’s eventually. For a shop with such a hallowed history – many great wizards in Harry’s books have gotten wands from Ollivander’s – it is rather underwhelming; a narrow, dark shop sandwiched between a robes boutique and a parchment maker. A single wand lying on a purple cushion in the dusty window, and peeling gold letters above the door that reads Ollivanders: Makers of Fine Wands since 382 B.C. are the only indications to what this shop sells.

Harry pushes the heavy door open, the bell chiming above his head loudly. Ollivander’s is dusty and silent as a tomb, its walls cramped with countless cubbyholes and shelves. Harry gawps, tilting his head back to see the crowded walls reaching out to a stamp-sized skylight; the shop is much taller than it appears on the outside.

‘Mr Ollivander?’ Sirius calls, as they walk up to the counter in the middle, glancing around for the salesperson.

Harry stands on his tiptoes, peering behind the counter shelves at a dark narrow walkway. The shop seems abandoned.

‘Hullo,’ a voice says from above him. ‘A first year?’

He jumps, his head snapping backwards. An old wizard is stepping out onto a ladder from the paper-thin gap between two shelves. He peers down at the group of them, blinking owlishly from behind thick glasses.

‘Ah, how nice. All three of you have bought wands from me, haven’t you? And you bring me your progeny now,’ Ollivander says in a peculiarly dreamy manner. ‘Lovely, lovely.’

The white-haired shopkeeper descends the ladder rather rapidly, his grey robes flapping around his pink trousers-clad legs. He jumps the last three steps, landing with a neat hop in front of Harry. His gaze sweeps Harry from head to toe – he feels Ollivander’s eyes on his scar as clearly as he might if the old man has pushed his fringe back to take a good look at it.

‘Mr Harry Potter,’ he pronounces. ‘Ahh … I remember when your parents first came in here for their wands. Eleven inches, mahogany, deer heartstring core for your father – a loyal, steadfast wand. And your mother’s was ten and a quarter inches, willow, unicorn hair – a powerful wand, very good for delicate charm and potion work, which I heard were her special skills. I wonder … what wand will choose you?’

Harry can only blink, taken aback. Chuckling, Sirius steps forward, saying: ‘Hullo, Mr Ollivander. It is good to see that you haven’t changed a bit.’

‘Mr Sirius Black!’ Ollivander says enthusiastically. ‘Your wand is twelve inches, maple, Thestral hair. A most unusual wand, very suitable for your creative brand of magic. Still serving you well, I’m certain.’

‘Of course,’ Sirius smirks, patting his chest pocket. ‘Never failed me once. Brought me through the war.’

‘Good afternoon, Mr Ollivander,’ Moony says.

‘Mr Remus Lupin – your wand is ten-and-a-quarter inches, cypress, unicorn hair. It is, of course, a close mate to Mr Black’s. Yes, soulmates would have complementary magic signatures, and we see that in the wands that chose you. Yes, yes, your case has given profound first-hand insight into wandlore regarding soulmates,’ Ollivander says, very pleased, and turns to Minnie. ‘And Miss Minerva McGonagall – nine-and-a-half inches, fir, dragon heartstring. The survivor’s wand, of course, of course …’

‘You are looking well, Mr Ollivander,’ she says.

He chuckles. ‘I am doing my best to keep the wood lice at bay, my dear.’ He returns his bright, sharp gaze to Harry. ‘And now … young Harry Potter will receive his first wand, eh? Yes, yes, this will be interesting …’

He shakes out his right sleeve, and a wand slips out into his palm. Without another word, he begins waving his wand at random at the surrounding shelves, causing narrow, flat boxes to come flying out. Harry exchanges nervous glances with his guardians. They smile at him reassuringly, Sirius giving him an enthusiastic thumbs-up.

Harry is not sure how much time has passed in the flurry of wands Ollivander thrusts into his hand – and in some cases, snatches away before he can even give it a wave – but when he looks up in a moment of stillness, he realises that Sirius has gone, and Minnie and Moony are sitting in the corner, drinking tea. They look like they have been sitting there for a while.

As time goes on, Ollivander gets more and more excited, dancing around his shop and rummaging deep into his shelves to yank out boxes coated in a thick layer of dust. Abruptly, he gives a wordless yell and disappears down the dark hallway behind the counter. Harry looks over his shoulder at Minnie and Moony, baffled and worried. He flexes his sore fingers, surrounded by little mountains of discarded boxes. What if, he wonders, this is a mistake? Maybe the potion has drained all his magic, and he is a Muggle now, and must return to the Muggle world.

The wandmaker reappears with two wand boxes. He hesitates for a moment, glancing between the two boxes, before handing Harry the left one. ‘Go on. Try that one. Give it a wave,’ he urges.

The wand is holly and eleven inches long, with a phoenix tail feather core. Warmth shoots up Harry’s fingers the moment he picks it up, and the wand’s tip glows red. He exclaims in delight, relieved that finally, a wand is working for him. Ollivander looks greatly surprised.

‘Curious,’ the old man says. ‘Very curious. The phoenix that gave this wand its core gave just one other feather. The wand I made with that feather – thirteen-and-a-half inches, yew – is the one that gave you that scar.’

The air inside the shop is still and tight. Chairs scrape against the floor as Minnie and Moony rise to their feet, white-faced and tensed. Harry takes a step back, dropping the holly wand with a loud clatter. ‘Voldemort’s wand?’

‘No, no, this is a brother wand to the Dark Lord’s – it is not the same as the one the Dark Lord wielded. It is a powerful wand, and will aid you greatly in the difficult path that must lie ahead of you. Are you certain you do not want this? No?’ Ollivander reverently replaces the wand in its box. ‘Ah, well, I fear I may never find a suitable owner for this one then … All right, go on, try the other wand.’

Harry picks up the second wand reluctantly. Heat scorches his fingertips, forcing him to drop it immediately. A wave of energy pulses through the shop, shaking the wand boxes on the shelves and the dust from the rafters. He cries out, clutching his right hand to his chest and staggering backwards.

‘Harry!’ Minnie is next to him, her strong hands on his shoulders. ‘Are you all right?’

‘What happened?’ Moony asks, glancing worriedly between Harry and Ollivander.

The shopkeeper crows triumphantly, clapping his hands in almost obscene glee. ‘I am right after all! I knew it – Veela hair is the wand core for you. You responded fairly well to the other wands with cores from Fae creatures, after all, and I thought perhaps … Veela, eh?’

He shakes his head, thrilled. ‘Most curious – far more interesting than that phoenix wand, I would say! I hardly work with Veela hair – this is a very new wand. I only made it a month ago – it almost feels as if it was made for you, eh? Well, well, well!’

‘This is the wand for me?’ Harry asks anxiously, staring at the wand on the counter, its tip smoking slightly.

‘I often say that the wand chooses the wizard, but in your case, Mr Potter, it appears that you have the choice.’ Ollivander gestures to the two wands on the counter. ‘Which will it be, dear boy? Choose wisely, for I have a feeling it will determine the course of your future.’

Harry shudders. He looks from Minnie to Moony, but they are helpless in making the decision for him.

‘I’m afraid you must make the choice, Harry,’ he says gently. ‘But it will be the right choice, no matter what.’

Harry swallows, looking back at the two long, smooth sticks. The course of my future; the words echo in his head. He clenches his fist, the heat from the Veela wand still tingling on his fingertips. Inhaling sharply, he picks it up, and this time, when the wand sears against his palm, he doesn’t drop it. The heat dissipates into gentle warmth that feels almost like a handshake. Harry releases a shaky breath. He could use this wand.

‘Very good,’ Ollivander says quietly. ‘I am very excited to see the magic you will create with that wand, Mr Potter. This will certainly be an interesting journey.’

They leave the shop to find Sirius waiting outside with enormous ice cream cones.

‘How did it go?’ he asks curiously, looking from face to face.

‘A little more curious than your standard Ollivander’s visit,’ Moony says, a hand on Harry’s head. ‘But don’t mind what he said, Harry. You have a good wand, and that’s what matters.’

‘One is bound to be a little strange after so many years in deep scholarship of wands,’ Minnie says. ‘Well, now that you have your wand, shall we look at robes before tea?’

It’s different, walking down Diagon Alley, now that he has a wand in his pocket. The hard little ball of worry in his chest has loosened – just a little bit – and he enjoys his dark-chocolate-and-caramel ice cream happily.

The robe shop, Madam Malkin’s, is bustling with customers when they walk in. Harry looks around the warmly lit shop curiously. People are standing in front of mirrors, measuring tapes flitting through mid-air, as assistants dictated measurements to floating parchment and pens. He doesn’t realise the others have stopped in their tracks until he walks into Sirius. He stumbles, looking up in surprise.

All three of them are looking towards the back of the shop, where it’s a little quieter. A man and woman, both pale and blonde, are standing there, watching as a stout little witch takes the measurements of a blonde child on the pedestal. Harry can’t tell if it’s a boy or girl from this distance. He looks up at Sirius, and his eyes widen.

Sirius’ teeth are gritted, a muscle jumping on his jaw, his nostrils flaring. His right hand is in his pocket, no doubt reaching for his wand. Moony has his hand on Sirius’ arm, his expression an emphatic warning. Minnie looks as discomposed, and she exchanges a glance with Moony. Before they can move, however, someone recognises her and greets her enthusiastically, and while they are stalled, the stout witch from the back of the shop comes hurrying up to them.

‘Hullo! Another first year? You’ll be wanting the standard set of robes, I suppose?’ she asks energetically, her eyes already taking Harry’s measurements. ‘Well, come along then. I’ll get you sorted out. Don’t have any siblings, I suppose? No hand-me-downs to take advantage of?’

As Harry listens to her easy prattle, trailing behind her with the others on tow, he is increasingly aware that someone is staring at him. He feels it on his skin as real as the touch of the wind. His stomach is in knots, and he doesn’t understand why. He looks down, his fists clenched against his sides, uncertain if he wants to see who is staring at him.

The witch leads them to the back. Harry hears Sirius mutter a curse beneath his breath, and Moony’s subsequent hushing. The blonde couple has seen them as well, their faces looking as if they have smelled something foul. The man turns away, murmuring something to the blonde child still on the pedestal, but the woman steps forwards, blocking her family from view.

‘Good afternoon,’ she says in the most posh voice Harry has heard outside of the telly. ‘It has been a while since we last met, cousin.’

She is speaking to Sirius. Harry whips his head around to stare at Sirius, astounded. Cousin? Didn’t Moony say that nearly all of the Blacks are Death Eaters? This woman is a Death Eater? She doesn’t quite fit Harry’s idea of an evil henchmen – she’s too … clean and neatly dressed. Sirius grimaces, and looks down. At the sight of Harry, he exhales, some of the raw anger in his eyes fading away.

‘Hullo,’ he says with a terse nod. ‘You look well.’ He turns away abruptly, addressing the shopkeeper. ‘Yes, we would like the standard set of robes for Harry, please.’

‘Ah – yes –’ the little witch says, startled.

Sirius, Moony and Minnie step out of the way, Minnie drawn into a conversation by the same person who hailed her earlier, a grandfather accompanying a sulky teenaged girl. As Harry steps up onto the pedestal next to the blonde kid, he realises several things in rapid succession.

One, he sees in the mirror that the woman, Sirius’ cousin, is not offended by his rudeness; in fact, she’s smiling. She’s pleased to have been even addressed by Sirius.

Two, the blonde kid is a boy: the most beautiful boy Harry has ever seen, so pretty it’s ridiculous, and Harry has to rub his eyes behind his glasses, because the boy seems to be glowing.

Three, the boy is glaring at Harry. It’s his gaze Harry has been sensing, one so full of animosity and resentment that Harry feels it like a punch to his guts.

He quickly looks away in the mirror, keeping his eyes down. He raises his arms as he is told, shaking a little as he does so, because he can still feel the waves of fury emanating from the other boy. It’s a little like a terrifying, out-of-control flight straight into the eye of a crashing storm, knowing that a perfect stranger absolutely loathes him. Harry guesses that it might have to do with the fact that he is Harry Potter, but no, that is far too conceited to think – isn’t it?

His elation from getting a wand has gone, and his heart is sinking rapidly. From the school robes on the other boy, he knows that this is a fellow first-year. He bites his bottom lip, somehow certain that the schooldays he has imagined of making new friends and doing homework in the library and playing Quidditch might not go the way he wants.

Bollocks.

 


 

Draco doesn’t mind the stares. The more people gawk and whisper behind their hands, the taller he walks with his parents. The trolley laden with his school things trails in their wake, as they stroll down Platform 9 ¾, searching for a compartment for Draco. His mother’s face is inscrutable, and his father wears his customary haughty expression. A Malfoy is used to people looking at them in awe, or envy – or resentment.

His parents are worried, sending him into a castle full of people who would either shun him or deride him for being a Malfoy. ‘That is a burden you must bear for being my son,’ Father said last night, his eyes full of sorrow. ‘I am so sorry, love.’

‘Don’t be ridiculous,’ Draco retorted immediately. ‘It will never be a burden being your son – both of you.’

Father laughed, and sighed, smiling mistily. ‘What a poor choice I made during the war.’

‘What poor choices we made,’ Mother corrected him.

Poor choices that are impossible to forgive, because so many people have died. Draco has an idea of how devastating the war must have been: asking the house elves drew dark tales of terrifying wizards occupying the Manor and Father covered in blood, while he was given what he is certain is a heavily sanitised timeline of the war from his parents. Once he is in Hogwarts, he must find out more about this horrendous event that has so shaped his parents’ lives.

And there is the boy at the very heart of the war: the Boy Who Lived, Harry Potter.

The boy Draco met at Madam Malkin’s.

His fists clench involuntarily at the thought of the scrawny dark-haired boy. He knows he will have to meet him again at Hogwarts, but Draco hopes to delay it for as long as possible. At the very least, he is prepared for it now. He will not be caught unawares like he was in the shop.

It was an assault that began as the whiff of an aroma like decadent chocolate cake baking in the oven, orange blossom trees, and storm winds rippling across the downs. It made Draco think of home. His chest was tight, and he could hear his pulse thrumming in his ears. He looked up in the mirror to see the people his parents were talking to, and there he was.

Draco missed everything that transpired between his parents and his mother’s cousin, because the rest of the world had disappeared. He was only aware of the small, dark-haired boy standing behind him. He felt his wings unfurling, struggling to tear through his human skin, and it took all of his consciousness to cling on to control. For a truly incomprehensible moment, he wanted to reveal himself as Veela to this boy.

And he felt it: a connection as tangible as iron chains. Even now, he feels the awareness of another soul other than his own, weighing heavily on Draco’s wrists. He doesn’t know how he looked to the other boy, who doesn’t seem aware of Draco in the slightest, but he was clearly shaken enough for his parents to question him with concern. He couldn’t explain it to them, not how something like a crystal bell has chimed in Draco’s chest at the sight of another boy, and it is a sound that continues to echo in his ears.

Harry Potter isn’t here yet, but Draco hears his name being spoken up and down the platform. Harry Potter is eleven this year, isn’t he? Why, he will be your classmate, Ernie! What does he look like? I hear he wears glasses, poor duck. He’ll be in Gryffindor for sure – his parents were Gryffindors, and his godfathers are Gryffindors. Let us know what he’s like, dearie – such a brave, strong little boy, he must be. Any attention Draco will get for his family’s poor reputation pales in comparison to the maelstrom awaiting Harry Potter’s re-entry into the wizarding world – Draco supposes he should thank Harry Potter for that.

They find an empty compartment for Draco towards the end of the train. They had passed a few relatively empty compartments occupied by students from the families that have shunned the Malfoys after Draco’s kidnapping. Mrs Parkinson didn’t deign to look at them when they walked past, something that caused Mother to smile wryly.

It is a simple matter for them to settle Draco’s trunk and owl cage in the compartment, leaving his parents with enough time to worry and fret over the small details. In the midst of Draco’s exasperated reply of yes, for the fourth time, Mother, I have my lunch – you can see that it’s right here, Harry Potter arrives at Platform 9 ¾. Draco feels a tug just beneath his breastbone, and his head snaps up.

Across the platform, the other boy emerges out of a seemingly solid brick wall, pushing a laden trolley at a run. He stops after a distance, and turns around, laughing with exhilaration, watching as his godfathers come out of the hidden entrance. Draco clenches his fists, gritting his teeth. Now, the connection pulses more strongly, akin to a second heart beating in tandem to his. He swallows, fighting back his nausea.

‘Ah, Harry Potter is here,’ his mother observes; his parents, seated across from him, are looking to see what Draco is staring so intently at. ‘Remember what I said, Draco. Be careful with that boy. You don’t have to like him, and if you don’t, stay out of his way. I don’t want to see you get hurt.’

He smirks. ‘I doubt he can hurt me.’

‘We don’t know how he defeated the Dark Lord,’ Father points out. ‘He was only a baby then – imagine what he could be capable now.’

Draco looks back out of the window at Harry Potter; the other boy is now walking down the platform with his godfathers, looking around with a wide grin brilliant against his dark skin, seemingly unaware of the looks and whispers he is attracting. His black hair is an absolute mess of curls, and the laces of one of his trainers are coming undone. Draco cannot imagine a more unlikely candidate as the bearer of dark powers greater than the Dark Lord’s that his parents are inventing.

Harry Potter’s group draws closer to Draco’s compartment. Draco catches the distaste that flashes across Sirius Black’s face at the sight of the Malfoys. Still, his mother’s cousin raises a hand in greeting. Mother waves in response, her face bland. She was so surprised the man did not snub her at Madam Malkin’s, and – Draco suspects – a little pleased.

Draco is watching Harry Potter’s face, his fingernails digging into his palms. His arms are trembling with the effort of holding himself together, but things are a little easier to bear when he knows what to expect. The other boy is watching him as well, but besides the wariness in his green eyes, there is no sign that he feels the same baffling link that Draco does. Draco swallows a growl of frustration: is he the only one feeling this way then?

‘What are they –’ Father begins to say, but Harry Potter has pushed his trolley right up to Draco’s compartment, his godfathers trailing after him with confused expressions.

‘Good afternoon,’ Harry Potter says in a loud, clear voice. ‘Is it all right if I share your compartment? The others are full.’

Sirius Black and his partner, Remus Lupin, exchange startled looks over their charge’s head, and there is a moment of stillness as the four adults look at each other. Draco is frozen in his seat, caught by Harry Potter’s clear-eyed gaze. His mind is swept utterly clean, and he is grasping for an intelligent thought beyond a panicked he wants to sit with me?

His mother is first to recover. ‘Of course,’ she says with a gracious smile, rising to her feet. ‘There is plenty of space.’

The Boy Who Lived gives her a smile that is almost shy, and glances at Draco. ‘You’re okay with it?’

‘Of course,’ Draco echoes his mother, thanking Merlin that his voice did not come out as a croak.

Somehow, between stilted conversations and tight smiles, they put Harry Potter’s things on board, next to Draco’s. He stands next to the other boy on the platform, watching in silence as the adults manage. He is acutely aware of the boy’s proximity (the way his fists are white on the straps of his rucksack), and of the stares burning into his back.

‘I’m Harry Potter, by the way,’ Harry Potter says abruptly, sticking his hand out. ‘It’s nice to meet you.’

Draco stares at his outstretched hand, flummoxed. Harry Potter is introducing himself to Draco. Once again, he is scrambling for a coherent thought, and he takes long enough for the boy to frown uncertainly and to withdraw his hand. Draco, you utter pillock!

‘I know,’ Draco blurts unthinkingly. ‘I know who you are, of course.’

Potter’s face shutters. ‘Do you?’ he asks coolly. ‘So that is why you were such a berk to me at Madam Malkin’s.’

‘What?’ Draco says blankly; Merlin, was that how he came across? ‘I mean no offence, Potter. I only mean to say that yes, I am aware that you are Harry Potter. My name is –’

‘Draco Malfoy,’ Potter interrupts. ‘Yes, I’m aware of who you are too. Sirius has told me all about your parents.’

Draco bristles, but before he can reply, Black and Lupin step down to the platform. Lupin is looking at him consideringly, a slight frown between his brows. Draco raises his chin, meeting Lupin’s gaze unflinchingly, and gasps when something sharp scrapes against his mind. In that moment, both he and Lupin recognise each other as alpha.

Lupin’s eyes immediately darken, jumping from Draco to Potter. He opens his mouth, but the conductor is striding down the platform, bellowing for all abroad! Draco pushes past them on to the train, his mother pulling him into a tight hug.

‘Be careful,’ she murmurs, her blue eyes bright with tears. ‘I know you are my smart, strong boy, and you will do well at Hogwarts. Write to you about the adventures you will have. I am so proud of you.’

‘The both of us are,’ Father says.

‘I know,’ Draco says stiffly, feeling Potter’s eyes on them. ‘I will write everyday if I can – you don’t have to miss me so much. It will be Christmas before you know it!’

He didn’t think it would be this difficult, saying good-bye to his parents, the sound of his heartbeat drowning out the thuds of the doors slamming shut by magic; the scream of the train’s horn; and the screech of wheels against the track. He waves at them furiously through the window, as the train starts moving. Potter is sticking his head out of the window, yelling his goodbyes at his godfathers, who are jogging alongside the train, waving to him.

But the train is picking up speed, chugging along rapidly, and when it rounds a bend, the station and their parents disappear from sight. Potter drops back into his seat across from Draco, looking slightly shell-shocked. Draco keeps looking out of the window, his fists clenched in his lap. Now that they are alone, a rather tensed silence settles in their compartment.

Why did Potter even ask to share in the first place? Draco thinks, irritated. He leans back in his seat, folding his arms across his chest. They can hear movement and laughter in the other compartments. Other students are moving down the corridor outside, a few looking in curiously.

‘This is stupid,’ Potter blurts, scowling. ‘Look, I’m sorry that you dislike me. I don’t know what I have done to offend you – I don’t even know you!’

Harry Potter is clearly one of those people who are unafraid of confronting strangers.

‘I don’t dislike you,’ Draco says slowly. ‘I – I simply find you … odd, but I do not dislike you. As you have said so yourself, I don’t know you enough to hate you.’

Potter purses his lips, narrowing his eyes. ‘Okay …’ he says reluctantly. ‘Well, you are odd yourself. The way you speak. But anyway, okay, I believe what you said then.’

‘Although you needn’t have said that about my parents,’ Draco says pointedly. ‘That would have been a good enough reason for me to feel offended.’

‘Ah … you’re right,’ the other boy says, having at least the decency to look chagrined. ‘I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said that.’

‘Apology accepted,’ Draco replies with a sniff, appeased despite himself.

They lapse into silence for a while, and Draco, unable to bear looking Potter in the eye for too long, returns his attention to the passing landscape. After a few moments, Potter sniggers.

‘That wasn’t as hard as I was afraid. I don’t have friends our age, so I’m sorry for being odd. I guess I must be,’ he says frankly, shrugging. ‘Have you heard anything about Hogwarts from your parents then? Is there a House you’re hoping to get into? I’m a little scared about the Ceremony – Sirius says it involves a test of bravery, but I think he must be joking.’

Draco looks at him, taking in Potter’s open, curious gaze, an invisible string tying Draco’s wrist as firmly to Potter’s as would have a rope. He relents with a sigh, knowing that it is futile to struggle – at least for now. Their conversation flows more naturally and enjoyably than Draco could have imagined; Potter clearly has much insider knowledge into Hogwarts, since he was raised by a Hogwarts professor, and he is excited to share.

Halfway through their journey, they are joined by a Muggle-born first-year with bushy brown hair and an overbearing bossy demeanour. She is dragging two boys – an apologetic-looking plump boy and a bewildered redhead – with her, saying that they are looking for Neville’s – the plump boy’s – lost toad. Draco is inclined to ignore her, but Potter is absurdly kind.

Like Draco, he has seen that the girl is only nervous, which is why she is attempting to cover it up with bluster. Potter invites the three of them to have lunch first, and promises that Draco and he would help search for the toad later. Draco stares at him, astounded that he should be included and a little impressed by easily Potter persuades all of them to do things his way.

Between a noisy lunch – the girl, Hermione Granger, redeems herself by being a font of knowledge on the intriguing history of Hogwarts; and the two boys, Ron Weasley and Neville Longbottom, come from wizarding families, leading to fascinated questions from Potter and Granger – and a tiresome search for Longbottom’s silly toad, they arrive at Hogwarts Station.

At the lake, Draco finds himself inexplicably in the same boat as Potter, Granger, Longbottom and Weasley – this, despite the fact that since Longbottom and Weasley come from wizarding families (and ancient pureblood lines at that), they must have heard something about the Malfoys. Draco pretends not to notice the way Pansy Parkinson is pointing at him from the other boat, whispering to the people around her.

Draco doesn’t mind the stares, but he has to admit that entering the Great Hall behind Professor McGonagall and having the entire Hall of older students turn to look is terrifying enough to weaken his knees. Granger is staring fixedly ahead, while Longbottom whimpers and Weasleys is white beneath his freckles. Only Potter seems unaffected, striding along in McGonagall’s wake; he was delighted to see her.

The first-years gather in front of the teachers’ table, huddled around a stool topped with a worn, rumpled wizard’s hat. Draco finds himself right next to Potter, close enough for their sleeves to brush, which is why he is the only one who notices when Potter grimaces, his hand flying to his temple. The dark-haired boy looks up sharply, his troubled eyes scanning the teachers’ table and stopping on a skinny man with straggly greasy hair. Draco can guess who that professor is – Snape, the ingrate who turned his back on Draco’s parents.

Potter gasps, his body stiffening, and Draco inadvertently echoes him, his hand flying to his chest, when he feels the heavy ghost of a sharp pain slice across his forehead. Merlin, why is this happening? He’s feeling Potter’s pain – he knows he is. Sweet Salazar. As suddenly as the pain appears, it disappears, and Draco can breathe again, albeit with despairing bewilderment. How can this be happening?

The Sorting Ceremony begins. Granger and Longbottom are Sorted into Gryffindor, although the Sorting Hat took rather a while for both of them. When it comes to Draco’s turn, instead of putting the Hat on, he asks McGonagall if he might go last.

‘Why?’ she asks, peering down at him past her list of names. ‘It doesn’t make much of a difference when you go, since the Sorting Hat only takes into account the individual.’

‘Yes, Professor, but I would like to have a little more time to mentally prepare myself for the experience,’ Draco says very seriously; that is a silly excuse no one will believe, but how can Draco explain his certainty that he must go after Potter, because he must make certain that they are in the same House?

McGonagall pauses, studying Draco keenly. She looks up at the Headmaster, as does Draco. The old man is sitting in the middle, the wizard who visited Malfoy Manor a year ago and agreed that they should take Draco in for school. He gazes at Draco, his expression cryptic. Draco meets his gaze, pleading desperately with his eyes, even if he doesn’t understand why. After a beat, the Headmaster gives McGonagall an imperceptible nod. With a shrug, McGonagall calls the next name, and Draco steps aside.

The Great Hall is buzzing with chatter; nearly the entire Slytherin table is goggling at him. Potter looks at him quizzically, but Draco simply shakes his head. The group of first-years slowly whittles down, and finally, it is Potter’s turn. The Hat takes longer than anybody else – longer than Granger or Longbottom – long enough for McGonagall to frown a little. Until, finally, the Hat announces, ‘Gryffindor,’ and the entire table bursts into cheers.

‘We got Potter!’ someone shouts gleefully.

Red-faced, Potter stumbles to join Granger and Longbottom, glancing apologetically at Draco as he goes. Apologetic? Does he hope for them to be in the same House too? Ah, and like everybody else, Potter expects a Malfoy to be a Slytherin. Draco knows that is what his parents expect as well, all the more because they know him. As he waits for his turn, he wonders how his parents might react when they find out he’s in Gryffindor – because he will be.

Eventually, the Hat slides over his head, blocking out the intrusive stares of the other students. He heard the swell of chatter, until the Hat speaks and drowns everything else out.

‘You want to be in Gryffindor, eh?’ a deep, gravelly voice says, directly into Draco’s mind. ‘Curious … with a mind like yours, I’d have thought you’d choose Ravenclaw or Slytherin. You are difficult.’

I have to be in Gryffindor. I have to be with Harry Potter – I must protect him. There’s danger in this castle, I know it.

‘Ah! Ah, what’s this? Oh my, yes, you are a Veela, aren’t you? Well, your mind isn’t so different from a wizard’s, you know. Ah, and this soul-bond of yours –’

Draco jolts upright, shock shooting down his spine. Soul-bond?

‘Yes, yes, you have heard about the soul-bonds between alpha and omega? You must have, my child, you are alpha after all – and an unreasonably powerful one at that. Yes, I see that you have already met your mate – the bond is active. Oh, dear, dear, yes, I see that I must place you in Gryffindor. Very well, you are not lacking in courage after all. So be it – GRYFFINDOR!’

This last word rings out across the Great Hall, silencing any chatter. When Draco slowly raises the brim of the hat, he sees hundreds of faces slack and gormless with astonishment. Draco himself feels as if he has hit by a Bludger, the sheer force of the Hat’s revelation knocking the wind out of him. Soulmate? This is not something for an eleven-year-old to be concerned about; Draco wants to laugh hysterically. But of course, it is uncommon for an eight-year-old to be a murderer either.

McGonagall strides forwards, taking the Hat from him, and says briskly: ‘Welcome to Gryffindor, Malfoy.’ She gestures him towards the Gryffindor table, smiling.

Draco stumbles on the last step down, his fists clenched in his sleeves. The Gryffindors aren’t cheering as they did for every other first-year. There are frowns and scowls and nudging. But Draco doesn’t mind that – he is looking only at Potter, who is beaming at him and budging over to make space at the table for Draco.

‘Thank you,’ Draco whispers, slipping in between him and Granger, his face flushed with embarrassment not because the Gryffindors didn’t cheer for him, but because of the wide grin on Potter’s face.

‘It’s brilliant that you’re here with us,’ Potter says, glancing at Granger and Weasley and Longbottom on the other side. ‘This will be fun.’

Granger squeezes Draco on the arm, shooting him a half-terrified smile. ‘I’m glad we’re together.’

Weasley and Longbottom are nodding, the latter holding up his toad, which Draco had found in someone’s hat. The Headmaster is now making a few remarks, but people are still chattering about Draco Malfoy’s stunning Sorting. Him? In Gryffindor? Impossible! Comes from a family of Death Eaters, doesn’t he? And he’s not human. How can he be in Gryffindor? Look at him, with Potter – do you think –

Draco looks back at Potter, whose green eyes are gleaming and smile is warm and genuine. It’s fine. Draco will be fine, because now, he sees how his strength can be useful. He leans in and says with a smirk: ‘Not so scared now that I’m here, eh, Potter?’

 

Part Two: These Fraying Ropes

 

One.

Harry is having a terrible day. It is the day right after he’s taken his monthly dosage of the suppression potion, so he is already feeling stupid and sluggish. Something that didn’t help him when his boss told him he would in charge of the Zabini account, one of the most tedious clients they have. At lunch, he spilled spaghetti Bolognese on his jeans, thanks to his potion-induced clumsiness. And now, he’s come home early to lie in bed doing nothing, only to find Draco fucking a stranger in their living room.

Draco has the other man bent over the back of their couch, a hand on the back of the man’s head. Their trousers are pulled to their ankles, and Draco still has his shirt on and his long blonde hair neatly braided. His eyes are closed, his head tilted backwards. If it weren’t for the sounds of slapping flesh and the stranger’s desperate moans and gasps, it would look as if Draco is merely taking a rest, so serene is his expression.

Harry’s view of Draco’s naked, taut arse lasts only about a second, before Draco senses that Harry is back and his eyes snap open. Harry doesn’t meet Draco’s eyes, stomping past the living room to his room at the end of the hallway. He hears the stranger ask in alarm: ‘Is there someone else here? You said we are alone!’ He doesn’t hear Draco’s reply before slamming his door shut.

Stupid fucking horny Veela, Harry thinks viciously, dumping his things on the floor and throwing himself onto his bed. He squeezes his eyes shut, balling his fists. It’s wrong – he knows it’s wrong – for him to be so angry. He’s being unfair. Draco is his best friend, but just because Harry isn’t having any sex himself, he can’t expect Draco to do the same. That’s just bloody mad – and unreasonable, since as a Veela, Draco thrives on sexual energy.

Harry understands this, but it always feels like a Glacius to the chest to think of Draco holding a stranger in his arms. Being splinched hurts less than knowing Draco is being intimate with someone else in a way Harry can only dream about. It hurts as much knowing this now as it did when they were fourteen and Harry first realised that Draco has been having sex.

Back then, it felt like he has been left behind. Amidst the stresses of the Death Eater attack at the Quidditch World Cup and the Triwizard Tournament, Harry couldn’t handle knowing that his best friend was hiding secrets from him. It took Ron and Neville locking them in the dorm together for Harry to start talking to Draco again. Harry decided then that he doesn’t care to hear details about Draco’s sex life – ever.

He curls up on his bed, closing his eyes and pillowing his fists beneath his head. The late afternoon sun shining in through his bedroom window is red against his eyelids. Out in the living room, Draco is pounding into another man, who must surely be writhing in pleasure. Despite the anger roiling in his belly, he feels his cock stir in interest. He groans. For fuck’s sake, Potter.

Harry can only imagine how good it must feel to have sex. At twenty-five, he’s still only ever had his hand for experience. It’s impossible for him to have a relationship, when he cannot reveal his true gender. Voldemort is dead, and Harry is no longer bound by any prophecy. He’s not afraid of his friends’ reactions: it’s unthinkable that they would turn away from him in disgust if they should know what he is, but he remembers snippets of conversations in the Gryffindor dorm and his courage fails.

Draco, you’re alpha – does that mean you’re gagging for an omega?

To which, Draco replied with a smirk: ‘Do you think I need to gag for anyone, Thomas?’

It’s his fear of how Draco might react that holds him back. Will Draco think him a traitor – an omega lurking around him – for keeping it a secret for so long?

Harry flings himself onto his back, removing his glasses and rubbing his fists across his face. He stares up at the blurry ceiling. He should have been prepared for this, when he moved in with Draco two years ago. Maybe he should be surprised that it has taken as long as it has for a situation like this to happen. Draco is, of course, always so careful and considerate about hiding his relationships from Harry.

There is a knock on his room door. ‘Harry,’ Draco calls through the door. ‘You all right with Chinese take-out for dinner?’

Harry covers his tired eyes with his hand. ‘I’m going to Grimmauld Place for dinner. You go ahead.’

Draco is silent. Harry raises his head. He can see Draco’s bare feet from the slit at the bottom of the door; the blonde man is standing facing the door.

‘All right,’ Draco says softly. ‘Will you be home tomorrow? We could make pancakes for breakfast.’

‘Yeah. Yeah, I’ll be home. That sounds brilliant,’ Harry says. ‘I’ll be home late tonight, so I’ll see you tomorrow morning, yeah?’

‘Yeah,’ Draco says, and Harry sees his feet still at the door.

Harry opens his mouth – to tell him to come in? To say sorry for being such a prat? – but Draco turns and walks away. Harry lets his head fall back onto his bed, biting back a groan and swallowing the words he doesn’t think he could say anyway. He was lying, and Draco knows, of course, but Harry doesn’t think he can get through a dinner alone with Draco tonight without the image of Draco’s naked arse popping into his head frequently. It will be very uncomfortable trying to hide his hard-on.

Harry sits up with a sigh. He might as well visit his godfathers; it has been a little over a week since he last saw them. They are happy to see him, Sirius accusing him of neglecting them. Harry grins, glad to be sitting at the dinner table with his godfathers, listening to them talk about their day and telling them about his. There were moments during the war, when he had constant nightmares about losing both Sirius and Moony, but they are here now: scarred, but contented with the life they have rebuilt with the end of the Second Wizarding War.

‘Did you have a fight with Draco?’ Moony asks, ever shrewd.

Harry grimaces, and tells them about walking in on Draco. Sirius hoots with laughter, slapping the table top.

‘Why doesn’t he do it in his bedroom?’ Moony asks, raising his eyebrows.

Harry shrugs, making a face. ‘I don’t know. I think he’s said once before that it feels too … personal, bringing them into his room. He told Ron. I wouldn’t ask him about such things. I don’t want to know.’

His godfathers swap looks. Harry purses his lips. It’s never a good sign when his godfathers have silent conversations like this. There is something difficult that they want to tell him, and they are trying to goad each other to say it.

‘Harry,’ Moony says with absurd gentleness. ‘Why do you think it affects you so much, knowing that Draco has romantic and sexual relationships?’

‘Because –’ Harry stops himself. Because he shouldn’t!

He has asked himself this question before, many times. And the answer – the irrefutable answer – is always the same: because Harry wants Draco for himself. He cannot tell when his feelings crossed the line from friendship to this selfish, warped desperation to possess Draco Malfoy for his own, but it is too late for reversal.

He has tried; Merlin knows that he has tried again and again. Going to France for his Potions Master and living away from everything he knew for two years. Meeting new, interesting, good-looking people and growing his social circle beyond Draco, Ron, Hermione and Neville. Hitting the Muggle gay clubs with Dean and Seamus and finding fit blokes to dance with. Nothing worked. Nothing would, because it is always Draco he goes home to at the end of the night. But Harry cannot reveal anything of what he wants to Draco, because Draco must never find out that he is omega.

When they were seventeen and the four of them – Harry, Draco, Ron and Hermione – were on that frantic journey across Britain, simultaneously fleeing and hunting Voldemort, Hermione asked Draco if he has met any omegas yet on a quiet night in early winter.

‘No,’ Draco said, looking up from their small campfire. He was sitting next to Harry.

‘You must marry an omega, mustn’t you? To have children,’ she said.

‘Yes,’ Draco said with a shudder. ‘Isn’t it scary, how this works? But I would not force it, marrying an omega, just because I’m alpha. I wouldn’t want to force anyone into anything. I’d much rather be beta like the rest of you.’

Harry will take his feelings to his grave. He will not impose them upon Draco. But he knows he hasn’t been doing a very good job of holding them back, if the worry on his godfathers’ faces is any indication. As Hermione says, this isn’t healthy for Draco or him. Harry doesn’t want to avoid his best friend because he’s a sad little virgin who can’t keep his dick under control.

‘Maybe it’ll be good for you to explore yourself as well, Harry,’ Sirius chimes in. ‘We know it’s hard for you to reveal your gender, but … maybe to one person. Someone you trust. That could be good for you.’

To one person? Harry avoids their gaze, stabbing his fork into the sticky date pudding. Merlin’s pants, his godfathers are encouraging him to go have sex. Ron and Neville would find this hysterical. But, all right, there is some sense in what Sirius said. Maybe if he just has sex, he will stop being so affected by what Draco is doing, and he can finally – finally – be a proper friend again.

 


 

Draco is furious with himself. How could he so thoughtless? He should have insisted on going over to the Muggle’s flat, instead of bringing him home. He had been too desperate, living so close to Harry as the effects of the suppression potion wear off over the month and Harry’s innate omega nature emerges. He could hardly focus on his work, growing hard merely from the lingering scent of Harry everywhere in the flat. If he doesn’t go out to fuck someone at least once a day, he is afraid of what he might do if he were alone with Harry.

These are the days when he knows he is an animal, and a slavering beast driven by base instincts alone. Something he needs to keep from Harry.

Harry seemed fine when he came home last night from dinner. Draco remained in his room, but he could feel a peculiar determination thrumming through the connection, which, after all these years, Draco alone seems to feel. Harry has made a decision. Draco doesn’t like to think what this decision could be.

He couldn’t sleep the slightest bit, and got up before Harry. He thinks he will make the pancakes first. Surprise Harry with breakfast in bed. Show him that Draco truly is the perfect roommate, and Harry mustn’t move out.

Draco had only gotten Harry back two years ago. He doesn’t think he can take having Harry so far away, like when he was in France for his Master in Potions. If Harry does want to go away again … Draco wonders how much of himself he will reveal by begging Harry to take him along. Draco will put up with anything for the opportunity to stay by Harry’s side.

Merlin alone knows how Draco has to fight to hold himself together on nights Harry comes home drunk and smelling of other men. But the pain – what feels like searing lacerations across his chest, dug in by claws dripping with poison – is worth it, so long as Draco has the privilege of sitting next to Harry and seeing him smile.

He is in the midst of plating the pancakes, when he feels Harry wake up. It used to annoy Draco, that he must wake up with Harry, but after the two years apart, when the distance tore their connection to shreds, Draco is grateful not to wake up feeling so bereft. He puts the plate at Harry’s usual seat, and starts making the tea.

‘Good morning,’ Harry says, stopping at the doorway and rubbing his eyes. ‘Oh, you’ve already made the pancakes.’

‘Yes, I woke up early today.’ Draco turns, smiling as naturally as he can manage. ‘How was your dinner with Sirius and Remus?’

‘Good,’ the black-haired man says, taking his seat and smiling up at Draco. ‘Thanks, mate. The pancakes look great.’

‘No problem.’

Draco’s heart has skipped a beat. Mate – does that mean Harry is fine with him now? He seems back to normal, scarfing his pancakes down three layers at a time and doused in maple syrup in his usual manner. Draco bites his lip, setting the tea mugs down, and takes his seat from across Harry. He starts eating his pancakes, dipping his cut-up pieces into a saucer of honey.

‘You’re such a posh arsehole,’ Harry says, his face contorted with a mixture of amusement and exasperation. ‘This is why you take forever to finish a meal.’

‘No, I take forever, because I take my time to enjoy my meal,’ Draco retorts, feeling elation soar bright and light in his chest, because Harry isn’t holding Draco’s mistake against him anymore.

He knows that Harry doesn’t like it when Draco sleeps around. He doesn’t blame him, because Harry simply cannot understand why. It has to do with the soul-bond between them – another secret that Draco must keep from Harry. From the first moment they met, Draco knows that no matter how he feels about Harry Potter, the other boy cannot be dominated or won over by excuses like fate and destiny. If this bond between them is to be consummated, it will because Harry wants Draco on his own accord – and nothing to do with we were born for each other.

Draco thinks Harry’s godfathers suspect something, judging from the way Remus’s looks gradually transformed from suspicion to pity over the years. Hermione probably does too. She could hardly miss the way Harry’s strength flags at a particular time of the month, his prodigious knowledge of potion-making and how he shunned any relationships at school, despite him being rather popular. And once she deduced that Harry is omega, it only takes following a logical line to understand why Draco, an alpha, behaves the way he does around Harry.

The rest of their weekend passes pleasantly at home: Draco works on the translation he has been behind of, thanks to the awful past few days he has been having, while Harry does the cooking. Harry has always liked cooking, saying that it’s something like Potion-making, really. Draco enjoys everything Harry cooks – even the odd Muggle-inspired concoctions the Manor house elves could not have come up with.

It is a week later, when Harry comes home from work, marked by the scent of an unknown alpha, that Draco finally cracks.

 

Two.

 

It is all very well and good to decide that he will lose his virginity, but Harry finds himself at quite a loss on how he might go about doing it. He cannot possibly ask his friends or godfathers or Minnie. The very thought of it makes his stomach churn. The topic is far too personal to bring up at work, where the extent of their friendship stops with the end of the workday.

Harry has made up his mind to ask Dean or Seamus, when he meets Blaise Zabini. He is a little surprised to see his former schoolmate in the meeting room; it’s usually his mother who meets them. Harry works for Madam Primpernelle’s, which produces beautifying potions; the Zabinis are one of their exporters to the European market. It isn’t the job he had in mind when he was pursuing his Master in Potions, but it is good enough for now – it allows him to stay in London with Draco.

The meeting with Zabini goes well enough. The tall, dark man proves to be as knowledgeable about their products as his mother, and he is terrifyingly charming. Harry doesn’t know much about Zabini, other than the fact that he’s a Slytherin and a friend of that unpleasant bint Pansy Parkinson. Draco remarked once that if he had been sorted into Slytherin, he would undoubtedly get along with Zabini. Harry can see why: both men have similarly large egos, albeit with enough charisma to convince everyone else of their superiority.

Somehow, Harry finds himself agreeing to lunch with Zabini after the meeting. They go to the pub nearby, continuing their discussion over fish and chips about the benefits of using mallowsweet in skin solutions.

‘I’m pleasantly surprised by you, Potter,’ Zabini says, his smile surprisingly friendly. ‘I thought all Gryffindors, with the exception of Malfoy and Granger, have no patience for the delicacy of Potions work.’

‘Could say the same of you,’ Harry shrugs. ‘I’m shocked you rich Slytherins even bother lifting a finger to work.’

Zabini shakes his head, taking a sip of his wine. ‘Unfair of you to say that – where is your famous Gryffindor sense for justice? Your boyfriend is far wealthier than I am.’

Harry chokes on his beer, spitting it out, and wipes his mouth furiously. ‘Draco’s not my boyfriend! Why do you think that?’

The other man stops, blinking his large, dark eyes. ‘Isn’t he? Salazar, we thought that the two of you have been together since Hogwarts. Aren’t you living together?’

‘Yeah, but we’re just friends!’ Harry yelps, his face suffused with itchy heat. ‘Merlin. Have people been saying this all along?’

‘Pretty much,’ Zabini shrugs. ‘Well, that explains it: I always thought it was rather unsporting of Malfoy to cheat so openly on you, when you have been nothing faithful to him.’

Harry’s heart plummets, his mortification transfigured into despondency. How fucking stupid of rumours to spread about something so ridiculous – Draco and I, together! Zabini must see something on Harry’s face, because he changes the subject, circling back to the topic of effective skin solutions.

‘Draco wouldn’t cheat,’ Harry interrupts. ‘If he’s together with anyone, he wouldn’t cheat. Draco doesn’t lie.’

‘All right … You know him best, of course,’ Zabini says, a little taken aback by the vehemence in Harry’s voice. ‘I must apologise to him when I see him next then.’

Harry has dinner with Ron and Hermione, and when he asks them if they have heard that people think Draco and he are together, Ron blinks at him and says: ‘Yeah, we’ve heard. Everybody in school thought that.’

What?’ Harry hisses. ‘And you didn’t think to tell me? Or Draco?’

‘Draco knows,’ Ron says, spearing a potato on the end of his fork. ‘He doesn’t care. Rather thinks he likes it. Keeps people away, he said.’

‘What Ron means is that Draco doesn’t think there’s any harm in the rumour,’ Hermione hurries to add. ‘It isn’t true, so we didn’t bother telling you about it.’

‘Right …’ Harry says, stabbing a piece of chicken viciously. ‘You’re right, it isn’t true.’

Keeps people away. Draco was extremely popular in school – he has to be, with such breath-taking looks. Harry was always a little proud that Draco chose to be his friend, even if he didn’t like the way some of the other students looked so covetously at Draco. So Draco was okay to pretend that they were in a relationship to keep pesky crushes and infatuations away, eh? Harry doesn’t know whether to be irritated or not. At least he was useful to his friend, he supposes.

Harry meets Zabini everyday at work for the next week – they are rushing out the order the Zabinis have placed for Madam Primpernelle’s newest foot cream, which Harry helped develop. They also have lunch together everyday, when they talk about everything from their days at Hogwarts, the war, and the new villa the Zabinis are building in Italy. It is refreshing talking to a Slytherin – Harry doesn’t have a single Slytherin friend, although they like to joke that Draco is a good stand-in for one.

Zabini isn’t anywhere as beautiful as Draco, of course, but he is good-looking enough that Harry is certain the bloke gets his fair share of attention. That is when he decides that perhaps Zabini could help him with his problem. He doesn’t need to reveal the fact that he’s omega, and a virgin at that, to ask him questions after all.

‘Why are you asking me for such advice?’ Zabini laughs. ‘Bloody hell, Potter, you live with Draco Malfoy. Ask him!’

Harry rolls his eyes. ‘I would have if I could, but –’ he shrugs. ‘It’s different for Draco, compared to us mere mortals. I don’t have his looks. I must rely on some other strategy to pull.’

‘Well, thank you for putting me in the same league as you,’ Zabini says sarcastically. ‘But all right, fine, I’ll admit that the game is rather rigged in Malfoy’s favour – not that I see him taking advantage of it.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘Well, he is not only a Veela, but he is also alpha, isn’t he?’ the other man says matter-of-factly, as if that answers the question.

When he sees that Harry still doesn’t get it, he frowns, puzzled. ‘It’s because people are inherently attracted to alphas … do you mean you don’t feel it, Potter?’

‘Oh. Yes, right, I forgot about that,’ Harry says, belatedly realising what Zabini is talking about.

As if it isn’t unfair enough that alphas are usually more powerful and stronger than betas or omegas, alphas exude pheromones that unwittingly draw people towards them. Voldemort was an alpha who took clear advantage of his powers. Harry doesn’t feel the effects thanks to the suppression potion, which not only masks his omega nature, but also deadens his awareness of other genders.

It’s dangerous, especially when he must be around strangers towards the end of the month. There have been occasions when he didn’t spot the alpha before the alpha started realising there is something about Harry. Just like right now, when he realises that Blaise Zabini is alpha. Before he can make an excuse to leave, Zabini lets Harry’s misstep slide, and instead, returns to the question Harry had asked.

‘How do you pull successfully,’ he says musingly. ‘It’s all about confidence, isn’t it? You’re quite good-looking yourself, Potter, even if you don’t realise it. Why do you think Malfoy didn’t care to deny the rumours of you two being a couple?’

Harry snorts. ‘It stops people from bothering him.’

Zabini levels him with a considering gaze, a finger tapping his chin. Harry looks down at his burger, uneasy with how Zabini is looking him up and down. Does Zabini understand why Harry is so slow to spot alphas? Does he see the secret Harry is keeping?

‘You are rather stupid, aren’t you, Potter?’ he finally says.

‘What –’

‘No, no, I don’t mean you aren’t good at Potions and fighting and all the other things, but you aren’t very aware of the things around you. Come on, I’m sure your friends have called you blind before?’

Harry frowns. ‘So what?’

‘So … I propose a little … experiment, shall we call it?’ Zabini leans forwards, his grin glittering like a dagger. ‘You aren’t asking me about how to get someone to sleep with you because you want an easy fuck. You’re asking me because something in your life is unsatisfactory, and you don’t know how to change it. I’m sure I can help you with that.’

Harry gawps, already regretting having asked Zabini in the first place. He should have remembered the dangers of dealing with Slytherins.

‘I guess you know how alphas can control their release of their pheromones? I have been suppressing mine when I’m with you, out of consideration of the fact that you live with Malfoy. We can’t have you going home dripping in my scent; Malfoy will think I’m trying to seduce you,’ Zabini smirks. ‘I’m releasing my pheromones now.’

Harry doesn’t feel it, but he sees the way other people at the pub are turning around, attracted by the scent of an alpha. They stare at Zabini, eyes devouring him bit by bit. Zabini continues to sit upright on his bar stool, seemingly unfazed.

‘And I’m going to take it a step further,’ Zabini announces, and swiftly licks his thumb before swiping it against Harry’s neck.

Harry cries out in disgust, rubbing at his neck. ‘What the fuck, Zabini!’

‘Marking you,’ the dark man says calmly, looking down at his thumb. ‘Hmm … that was an interesting reaction. You felt that too, didn’t you?’

Harry doesn’t reply, and continues rubbing at his neck. He knows what Zabini means: the abrupt pain that spears him through his chest, his skin crawling with the certainty that this is wrong, so very wrong, and he must go and leave this dangerous man. His heart is palpitating in his chest, his eyes watering. The sensation subsides after a while, and he glares at Zabini.

‘What the fuck?’ he repeats. ‘How is that helping me?’

Zabini grins, rubbing his reddened thumb. ‘We’ll see after this weekend, shall we? And the experiment succeeds, I want you to introduce me to your friend Longbottom.’

‘Neville’s alpha,’ Harry says immediately. ‘And he’s straight.’

Zabini’s grin widens, his eyes glittering like black amethysts. ‘I know.’

Harry’s week ends on nearly as bad a note as it did last week, but at least he wouldn’t be walking in on Draco fucking someone in the living room. Draco said he would cook dinner tonight; they have hardly seen each other all week, what with work and their various dinner appointments.

He opens the front door to the heavenly aroma of frying garlic. ‘I’m home,’ he calls, kicking the door shut and wincing because he knows Draco hates when he does it. He hears rapid footsteps behind him, and turns, an apology on his lips, when he sees Draco striding towards him, his eyes dark with rage, his enormous wings already released on his back and his hands elongating into claws.

Before Harry can move, Draco slams him backwards against the front door, his claws piercing into Harry’s shoulders. ‘WHO IS HE?’ he screams, his face rapidly transforming into an iron-grey beak, his arms sprouting feathers. ‘I SMELL HIM!

Harry cannot get the front door open, not when he’s pressed against it, so he fires a Stunner straight at Draco’s stomach, which only serves to knock the breath out of him as much as a punch from a boy would, but distracts Draco enough for Harry to slide downwards against the door and pull himself free. Harry scrambles to his feet, throwing himself up, ignoring the blood pouring from the wounds in his shoulders. He ducks into the living room, where there are windows and enough space for Harry to whirl around, pointing his wand warningly at the advancing Veela.

Draco has fully transformed – something he has refused to do in Harry’s presence for years, despite Harry repeatedly telling him he doesn’t mind. Draco in his normal form is stunning enough, but this aspect of Draco is incomprehensibly beautiful. He is taller, his shoulders broad and arms thicker to bear the weight of white wings sweeping from his back, larger than Draco’s entire frame. His arms and feet are clawed, hard and grey as cast-iron, and his entire body is covered in white, downy feathers like baby birds’.

He is naked because he has ripped his clothes to shreds while transforming, so Harry sees the hard muscles hardening and rippling beneath Draco’s pale skin, as his best friend springs forwards, looking half-demented with fury. Harry barely manages to dodge the attack, throwing up a Shield, which Draco’s claws scrape against with a screech.

WHO IS HE?’ Draco screams again.

‘CALM DOWN,’ Harry bellows. ‘Incarcerous!’ Draco merely snaps the ropes with his beak. ‘Bloody hell, Draco, DRACOWILL YOU CALM THE FUCK DOWN?

Harry dodges another tackle, and comes around the other side of the room, his chest heaving with the effort. His shoulders are burning with pain. Fucking hell. He holds his hands up, meeting Draco’s eyes glazed over with blind anger.

‘Draco, Draco, please, it’s me. Calm down. Talk to me. Tell me what’s wrong,’ he says pleadingly. ‘Draco, please.’

Something shifts in Draco’s eyes, and he blinks, coming back a little to himself. He stops, looking around at the living room littered with the broken things his wings have swept to the floor. He looks down at the bloodied tips of his claws. He inhales sharply. The wings recede and the claws shrink, leaving behind nothing but the smell of dusty feathers and burning garlic. Harry quickly extinguishes the stove top in the kitchen behind him with a jab of his wand.

Draco stands before him, naked and shaking. He is staring down at his bloodied hands. ‘I hurt you,’ he whispers. ‘I hurt you.’

Harry strides forwards, catching Draco by his arms. Draco flinches, and keeps his head lowered.

‘It doesn’t hurt much,’ Harry says brusquely. ‘Draco, what happened? What’s wrong? Did something hurt you?’

Draco opens his mouth and shuts it. He doesn’t look up.

‘Will you look at me?’ Harry asks quietly. ‘Please.’

His best friend is silent for a while, his body trembling in Harry’s hold. He looks up, slowly, torturously. His silvery eyes are wet and shining with tears, and when he reaches to grab Harry’s arms, his hands burn against Harry’s skin.

‘You can’t leave me. I’m sorry.’

And he kisses Harry.

 


 

 

Harry is warm and soft against Draco’s lips. He gasps, and Draco slips his tongue in, a hand on the back of Harry’s head, deepening the kiss. Draco feels Harry shudder, feels Harry’s hold on his arms tighten. When Draco presses his tongue against Harry’s, Harry pushes back, his tongue hot and wet, his breath puffing against Draco’s lips. Draco cups Harry’s face, pulling back for a breath.

Harry is staring at him, wide-eyed. There is sheer astonishment on his face. There is no disgust, or rejection – yet. Not until he realises what Draco has done. Draco leans in, pressing his lips against the spot on Harry’s neck where the other alpha has marked him. Mine, he thinks, sucking on the skin. Harry makes a strangled sound, pushing against Draco.

‘Wait,’ he says breathlessly. ‘Wait, Draco, what are you doing?’

How can Draco explain it? It is the scent of the other alpha on Harry’s skin, heavy and acrid, as if Harry had bathed in the other man’s pheromones. Draco couldn’t hold his Veela side back from ripping through his human façade like paper: his wings, his beak, and his claws. There was only madness on his mind, dark, roiling, implacable. It was Harry’s eyes – wide and pleading – and Harry’s pain coursing through Draco that broke the spell of violence.

Now, Draco stands here with his mate’s blood on his hands, faced with the brutal certainty that he is about to lose the most precious thing he has: Harry’s friendship. He has forced the consummation of their bond with that kiss. A consummation Harry has no knowledge of.

‘Draco?’ Harry says again, raising his arm, only to wince.

His shoulders. Draco feels it as well, the sharp pain stabbing his shoulders. He looks down, and realises that the shoulders of Harry’s blue sweater are dark with blood. He has never hated himself more than this moment; he feels as if he may just vomit. He swallows.

‘Don’t move,’ he says hoarsely.

Turning a finger into a claw, he cuts open Harry’s sweater from the front. Harry’s entire chest is covered in blood. Gritting his teeth, Draco pulls open the pieces of sweater, Harry swallowing a whimper as the cloth tugs at his wounds. Without looking up, Draco presses his palms flat against the puncture wounds in Harry’s shoulders. Harry exhales sharply, his body stiffening at the unexpected pressure.

Veelas have the ability to heal without the need for spells or potions. Draco found out about this very early on, because Harry has the unfortunate habit of getting himself hurt – and it was during the war that Draco realised that his healing magic always works best on Harry. For once, this is an effect of their bond that he is grateful for. Harry heals more quickly than Draco expected; perhaps it’s the result of what Draco has set in motion with the kiss.

‘Thank you,’ Harry says, holding his shoulder, peering at the smooth unbroken skin.

‘I was the one who hurt you in the first place,’ Draco says dully.

He turns to walk away. He must get away, and think of how he could reverse what he has done. Harry grabs his shoulder, demanding: ‘Where are you going – oh!’

Draco also gasps, spinning around, his hand flying up to where Harry touched him. Heat spirals underneath his skin, rushing intense and heady to his mind. He shudders, desire trembling across his body. He has felt want tugging at him whenever he touched Harry before, but not like this, not so strong and not so certain.

Harry is staring down at his hand. After a beat, he balls it into a fist and looks up, his eyes sparking with emerald fire. ‘Draco, I’m omega.’

Draco opens his mouth, and sucks in a breath. ‘I know,’ he manages to say. ‘I’ve known since first-year.’

Now, Harry stares at him, mouth agape. His astonishment is great enough to be comical. Draco would have laughed in any other circumstances. But not now, when they have come to the moment when Draco must lay things bare. He must have had hoped that this day would come eventually, because the only emotion coursing through him is one of relief. Every breath he takes seems to dissipate in a vacuum in his chest, and when he raises a hand to push his hair back, he sees that he is trembling.

‘I’ve felt a connection with you since we first met at Madam Malkin’s,’ Draco says quietly. ‘The Sorting Hat told me that I have a soul-bond, and I realised what it was. I knew then that you must be omega.’

‘Soul –’ Harry’s eyes are wide. ‘Do you mean … we … it’s like Sirius and Moony?’

Draco nods.

‘And you’ve known. You’ve known since we were children?’

Draco nods again.

‘Why didn’t you say anything?’ Harry bursts out. ‘Why didn’t you tell me? Or is it’ – his face changes – ‘you find it so repulsive to bonded to me?’

‘No!’ Draco says vehemently. ‘No, it’s not that, Harry. I – I – you were hiding the fact that you are omega. You couldn’t let people know. I can’t – I can’t do anything to jeopardise your efforts during the war.’

‘The war ended seven years ago,’ Harry points out, his jaw clenched. ‘I couldn’t come out, because I was so afraid of losing you. I thought you wouldn’t be my friend if you knew I was omega, one of those pathetic creatures out to entrap an alpha. But you knew – you knew all along that we are soulmates? And you stayed by my side! Why?’

His last question is an entreaty that pulls Draco forward, across the living room. Harry’s eyes are flinty, his lips pulled back into a snarl. He takes half a step back from Draco, and a shard of pain scrapes against Draco’s chest.

‘Harry,’ Draco whispers. ‘I’m sorry. I … I didn’t want to trap you. I have never found omegas disgusting. It’s only my own insecurity. You already left me once for France. It’ll be so pathetic if the only way I can get you to stay is because we are soulmates. I … I wanted to be your choice, not your destiny, not your fate or some stupid prophecy.’

‘Draco,’ Harry says, shaking his head in disbelief. ‘You prat.’ And he reaches out to grab Draco’s arms, closing the distance between them in a single step, and presses his lips against his.

Draco wraps his arms around Harry without hesitation, his eyes fluttering shut, pressing his face as close as he can get, Harry’s glasses cold and hard against his cheek. Harry kisses him just as hungrily, his mouth opening and his tongue darting out. Draco smells it now: Harry’s intoxicating scent of orange blossoms and chocolate cake. Merlin, Draco can taste it on his tongue.

Harry pulls back, laughing a little. ‘Do you realise,’ he gasps, ‘that you are naked?’

‘And you are not,’ Draco growls.

He turns around, his hand clamped around Harry’s wrist, and pulls him along. His heart is drumming in his chest, in his ears, and he dares not look back, for fear of realising that this is only a dream. There is only going forward: pushing his bedroom door open, pulling Harry in after him, propelling his mate into the bed.

Harry laughs, falling with his arms wide open. ‘I’m covered in blood.’

Draco snatches up his wand from the bedside table, and flicks it. The dried blood disappears, and Harry’s skin, dark, smooth and luminous in the soft glow of the light spilling in from the hallway. Merlin, Harry is truly lying on his bed, half-naked, sprawled across Draco’s favourite burgundy bedspread. He raises himself on one elbow, an eyebrow raised.

‘What are you waiting for?’ he asks challengingly.

Draco falls upon him, straddling his legs and pushing him back down against the bed. Harry gives a snort of laughter, swallowed when Draco kisses him. Harry wraps his arms around Draco, his fingernails digging into his back, as they press their bodies against each other. Draco could have wept at the pleasure of feeling Harry’s bare skin against his.

Heat and friction grow between them, gasps and moans breathed softly against skin. At some point, Harry loses his glasses, and Draco is showering kisses upon Harry’s face: his closed eyes, his nose, his cheeks, his chin, causing Harry to chuckle. The laughter turns into a hiss when Draco presses his lips against Harry’s neck and nips at his skin.

‘Draco,’ Harry groans, canting his hips upwards.

Draco feels something hard against his bare thigh. He pulls back for a while, rearing up on his knees. Harry growls, opening his eyes, looking bereft. Draco shivers. He’ll be a lying bastard if he doesn’t admit that he has fantasised about this moment since he was old enough for wet dreams, but not even his wildest dreams could have measured up to the reality of Harry writhing beneath him, his nipples peaking with arousal, his lips wet from kissing.

‘Got to remove your pants, you berk,’ Draco grunts, undoing Harry’s fly, his hand sliding along the shape of Harry’s cock.

‘Faster,’ Harry groans, lifting his arse up obligingly.

Draco pulls Harry’s trousers and pants off in one smooth movement, and he sees for the first time Harry’s cock, fully hard and dripping with precum. His mouth waters. Oh, this doesn’t compare to the flaccid cock Draco has glimpsed in the showers at all. Harry opens his legs willingly, revealing his entrance, wet with arousal. This reminds Draco that he must be careful; he cannot get Harry pregnant during their first time.

‘Well? Aren’t you going to suck my cock?’ Harry demands.

‘Don’t be so vulgar,’ Draco replies, smirking.

He lowers his head and takes Harry’s cock in his mouth. Harry, who has never had a blowjob before, gives a strangled shout, his hips bucking upwards and the head of his cock hitting the back of Draco’s throat. He manages to resist the urge to gag, but holds Harry’s hips down with a hand, shooting him a warning glare. Harry, squinting down at him, whispers an incoherent apology.

Draco hollows his cheeks, sucking in deep, and Harry moans, his body twitching beneath Draco’s hold. Harry’s dick is hot and heavy on Draco’s tongue, musk and salt filling his mouth. With his other hand, Draco works a finger into Harry. Merlin, he’s so tight, and so hot, so wet, so ready for me. He works in a second finger, thrusting them in and out, twisting a little as he goes. The air is filled with the lewd sucking sounds of Harry taking his fingers.

‘Oh, fuck, Draco, fuck – it feels so good!’ Harry gasps, his back arching. ‘Stop, I’m going to cum – not yet. Draco, Draco, let me touch you too.’

Draco pulls away, Harry’s dick leaving his mouth with a pop. ‘No, I don’t think so. I’m so fucking hard, if you touch me, I’m going to cum right on your face. No, I want to cum in you – can I?’

‘Yes, for fuck’s sake, Draco, fuck me – fuck me hard.’ Harry hooks his hands around his knees, opening himself up for Draco. His green eyes are dark and heavy-lidded with lust, his breathing loud and heavy. ‘I want you so fucking bad.’

Draco almost cums right then and there. Even the sensation of his hand unrolling the protection spell over his dick almost tips him over the edge, but not yet, not yet, not when Harry is waiting for him, wet and desperate and begging for his cock.

Draco angles himself, bracing himself over Harry. Harry is staring up at him, his eyes bright with amazement and disbelief and such warm affection. Draco slides into Harry, and Harry gasps, arching his back. He grabs onto Draco, wrapping his arms around his neck.

‘So good,’ he whispers against his skin. ‘Draco, fuck, so good. So right.

Draco starts moving, the sound of their skin slapping against each loud in the dark, still room. He is moaning, his mind blanked out by the sheer pleasure of being in Harry, so deep and so tight. There is nothing else, but Harry – that is his entire mind. All he can smell. All he can feel. All he can taste. And just like that, something crumbles between them, and they gasp in unison, because Draco is feeling everything. He hears Harry’s thoughts clear as day: Draco, so fucking hot. So good. So fucking good. Fuck, I love him.

And Draco is coming. He gasps, burying his face into Harry’s hair, and whispers: ‘I love you. I love you. I love you so much.’

Harry is coming too, his body jerking as his cum spills across his belly, warm and pearly. He whispers back: ‘I know.’ I can hear you now too, Draco. Perfectly well.

Draco moans, and wraps his arms around Harry, rolling onto his back and holding Harry in his arms. ‘Do you mean it?’ he asks.

Yes. Harry smiles at him, that warm, familiar smile that has always taken in everything that Draco is. He touches Draco’s face gently, his heart beating a tattoo Draco matches. I hear you. And he kisses Draco.