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Grounds for Divorce

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Draco Malfoy’s father died at the end of 8th year. Hermione mumbled as much over breakfast, holding the paper half-folded. “Lucius has passed,” she said, like she was reading out a flat fact. The German goblin stocks have plummeted. Tomorrow there’ll be a 40% chance rainfall in East Anglia.

“Jesus,” is what Harry had to say to that. It was his answer to most everything these days. The war was over and still people kept dying. In Azkaban, in their homes, in their gardens. Earlier that week an undetonated curse had exploded, at random, on Bellywog Street, Kent, taking out fifteen people in the blink of an eye.

Jesus, had been Harry’s response then, too.

“Well,” Hermione said, and put down the paper. Ron was sat sideways on the bench, leaning into her, and slid the paper closer to himself — turning it a quarter so that he, too, could read.

Harry licked a smudge of butter off his thumb and looked over to the Slytherin table. It looked empty. Two young girls were playing a card game that had them shrieking, laughing, pushing at each other. Malfoy wasn’t there.

Harry huffed a dry laugh. He pushed his glasses up into his hair and rubbed his eyes.

They hadn’t seen much of each other that year. Once, Malfoy’s quill had fallen off his desk during a Transfiguration lecture and Harry — who’d been sitting right behind him — had picked it up, given it back. Malfoy had responded by thinning his lips, a vague enough acknowledgement.

Once, Harry had passed a hallway on the third floor and found Malfoy sitting against a wall, knees drawn up, head down. He’d been breathing unsteadily, shaking. Harry had turned right around and walked away. Once, Malfoy had asked Harry to pass him the shredded root during Potions. Harry had complied, casual enough, though his heart had beat up a storm for a good minute afterwards.

Once, Malfoy had marched over to the Gryffindor table and dropped a letter next to Harry’s dinner — flippant, almost, before he marched off, not waiting for Harry to read it. It had been from Narcissa Malfoy. It was short, the penmanship pretty. Should there be anything my family can do for you in terms of compensation, was the closing sentence, I am certain arrangements can be made.

Malfoy’s eyes had seemed to have sunk into his sockets, that month. His face had turned grey under a curtain of long, dull hair.

“Don’t suppose he’ll come back for his NEWTs,” Ron said, muffled  — his mouth close to Hermione’s shoulder.

Hermione shrugged. “He might. Others have.”

They all went quiet at that. The laughter of the Slytherin girls peaked, echoed across the hall. Harry had another bite of his toast and dropped it back onto his plate, licking his thumb again. It was a Tuesday, just any old day of the week. Would the weekend be better, he wondered idly, picking the thought apart as it came.

No, he concluded. Probably not.

***

Almost a year after graduation Harry received a formal calling card from the Malfoys’ townhouse. The family crest was heavily embossed onto the front, and on the back, someone had written:

Master D. L. Malfoy requests your presence at the above residence this coming Wednesday between the hours 13:15 and 13:30. Kindly respond with availability.

“Jesus,” Harry laughed, turning it over three more times in disbelief. He laughed out loud again, louder, standing in his hallway. “What,” he said to himself. Then again, “What!”

That night, he brought the card to dinner at Ron and Hermione’s, both of whom inspected it closely and offered theories as to what Malfoy could possibly want.

“A plan to recover his family’s reputation,” Hermione put in her bet, knocking on the table with conviction. “A thirty-step plan involving you two shaking hands and cutting a ribbon. And a joint interview with The Prophet. No! Wait! A Malfoy-funded Quidditch pitch named after you!”

“You can’t—! You can’t put in like, five bets,” Ron said, sounding blurry, happy. His wine glass was still mostly full, lips stained. Ron was always a fast drunk, a sweet one, kissing people on the cheek and telling them they were brilliant like it was imperative they knew.

That night, back at Grimmauld Place, Harry thumped softly between the walls of the hallway, unable to keep a straight line as he stumbled to his bedroom. He took off one sock, left the other one on, and managed as much as getting his jeans off before calling it a night and crawling under the sheets. He was smiling to himself, full of his friends’ jokes and the warmth of their small apartment — full of unpacked boxes, still — Hermione’s books piled high on the floor, serving as makeshift tables.

He’s gonna make a bid for your hand in marriage, had been Ron’s final guess, dead serious before he’d picked the doily off the dinner table and dramatically draped it over his face like a veil. Harry had teared up laughing at that, and chuckled at the memory still.

The night was quiet, his bed was safe, and sleep claimed him like a wave.

***

The Malfoys’ townhouse was a tall and lofty thing. Harry was to be received in the drawing room, which had high ceilings and dark wallpaper patterned with golden spades. The hearth was burning up a new fire, hot and fast, young logs crackling. There were shiny cherry-wood side tables, heavy drapes framing the windows. There was the pointed ticking of a grandfather clock in a corner.

Malfoy had him wait for ten minutes before showing up, busily and loudly coming in through a second door, hidden in one of the panels. He had his gloves in hand, was dressed in black for mourning, starched collar high against his throat.

“Sit, please,” he said, as in a greeting, motioning at an armchair by the fire. Harry didn’t sit. He watched Malfoy instead, watched him take off his robe, throw his gloves onto a table — and quickly make for the wet bar, clanking glasses, bottles.

“Or remain standing, whichever you prefer,” Malfoy added, quietly. Then, “Drink?”

Harry saw the gin being measured. “Isn’t it a bit early?”

Malfoy made a noise like they were both in on a joke. Harry didn’t know what it meant. He got a crystal tumbler handed to him all the same, and then Malfoy sank down into an armchair, grandly crossing his legs. He sipped his drink, closed his eyes and sighed. Said, “Lord, I needed that.”

The fire was too hot for the room, for the season. The grandfather clock ticked-tocked away.

Harry slowly sat down in the chair opposite. He put his drink down on the hardwood floor. “Malfoy,” he said. “Why am I here?”

Malfoy kept his eyes closed for a moment. Harry could see his heartbeat steady in his throat. Then—

“Yes. Right. Very well.” Malfoy took another short sip, put his drink away. He reached into the breast pocket of his jacket and pulled out a packet. It was small, the size of his palm, wrapped in brown paper and twine. “So,” he said, holding it out for Harry to take. “I found this.”

Harry looked at the packet. At Malfoy.

“I believe it is yours,” Malfoy added, unwavering. “Your family’s.”

Harry’s heart jumped. He took the packet. It was still warm from being held closely at Malfoy’s chest.

“I have recently come into ownership of my family’s country estate,” Malfoy explained as Harry tore at the twine, at the paper. “And while clearing out some of the old, shall we say, memorabilia, I came across this, ah . . . well, you see.”

It was a coin. Bigger than any currency he’d seen, heavier, golden. There was a depiction of a tree in the middle of it — a lemon tree, as though seen through a window. It was moving to a non-existent breeze. Around it, the letters A. Z. and S. I. P. were engraved, followed by a date, 05-05-1915. Harry frowned, not understanding. Below it, the writing said,

All hearts are fools in love.

“Amsu Zahar,” Malfoy said. He’d moved to the edge of his seat, leaned over to indicate the first of the initials with a long index finger. Harry could smell the gin on his breath. “Egyptian-born. Then, see — Samuel Icarus Potter. Your great-grandfather, if I’m not mistaken. Father’s side, obviously.” He sat back in his chair, rewarded himself with a sip of his drink. “It was a custom, you see. To give these away at weddings.”

Harry’s tongue felt thick in his mouth. He swallowed once, twice. The coin was warming in his hand.

“It's a trinket of sorts,” Malfoy continued when Harry didn’t respond. “I believe my great-great-aunt Cecilia attended.” Another sip. “Hm? Yes?”

“You . . .” Harry watched the lemon tree branches waver, its leaves fluttering. He ran his thumb over it, over the lettering. He looked up at Malfoy. “You just found this?”

“I didn’t just find it,” Malfoy said. A splotch of colour had bloomed up his neck. “I didn’t just find it. As I said, I have recently come into ownership of my family estate, and as I was clearing out some old family heirlooms, I happened upon—”

He sounded like he’d rehearsed the phrasing. Harry cut him off by standing, abruptly. “Right,” he said. He looked around the room, at the neat little things, the silver gleaming and velvet surfaces. He cleared his throat. “I can keep this?”

Malfoy blinked up at him, opening his mouth as if to say something, then stopping himself. He seemed to settle for chargined, “Well, yes. It is yours.”

“Right,” Harry said. He pocketed the coin, felt it heavy in his coat. “Thank you. I have to go.”

The colour had spread up and over Malfoy’s jaw. “I see,” he said, not moving.

“Thanks,” Harry repeated, then left the room without waiting to see whether Malfoy would rise from his seat. He made for the door with a quick pace, was out and then down the stairs and away — already halfway along the quiet street before he slowed down at all.

Then he stood for a moment, waited until a man walking his corgi had passed. He took a breath — released it. Took out the coin, looked at it for a blank moment — then put it back in his pocket.

He turned on his spot and Disapparated with a theatrically loud crack, the sound of it echoing down the quiet street.

***

The opening sentence of Harry’s belated response to Narcissa read,

Thank you for your offer. There is, in fact, one request I would like to make.

“You went through my mother,” Malfoy said, voice jammed and hollow through the Floo. He sounded like he wanted to shout and was holding himself back.

“Yes, she was the one who offered.”

“She’s the—!” Malfoy’s head moved wildly in the fire as he leaned forward. “I’m the—” He took a breath. “I’m the master of the manor. I’m in charge of—”

“I don’t care, why would I care? Jesus.” Harry huffed a laugh, then, “Are you going to be difficult, Malfoy, or are you going to let me do what I need to do?”

The Floo connection went fuzzy for a moment, Malfoy’s face blinking in and out of the fire. Only snatches of his rant got through. “—nd dangerous, Potter, half the west wing is still covered in curses, the other half is crumbling in, and I will not have the death of the saviour of our known world on my bloody—”

In the end, Malfoy agreed to supervise Harry’s visit to Wiltshire that coming weekend. Harry told Neville as much later that evening, when he dropped by his cottage, having promised to help out with setting up the new greenhouse. The old one had come with the plot of land, as did the darling English garden — all fruit-trees and wildflower beds. Beyond, the ground sloped into a cobbled path that led to a small pond. There Neville had made a start on a French garden, which he grudgingly admitted to having pushed to the back of the plot in the hope that Sprout — who did not approve of the French school of landscaping — wouldn’t notice it on her next visit. So much grass, and for what! Was Neville’s pitched imitation of the professor’s argument. A sordid waste of good earth if you ask me!

But Harry liked it, he said, brushing the flat of his hand over a rosemary bush. He liked how it smelled when the wind played up.

After a few hours’ work they ended up in the kitchen, hands scrubbed pink, knees caked in mud. Harry gave him the coin for inspection and in return Neville handed him a beer. Harry remained standing, leaning against the countertop.

“It’s not like I didn’t know I had grandparents, or great-grandparents or whatever,” he explained. “Like, I knew. Of course I knew.”

“Of course you knew,” Neville agreed. He put down the coin on the table.

“It’s just . . .”

“It’s just?”

“They were alive,” Harry said, nail against the lip of his beer bottle. “And people knew them. They did things. They . . . left things behind. Things that are . . .”

“Tangible,” Neville supplied, and Harry hummed.

“Tangible,” he repeated.

***

Saturday morning was shrouded and bright, the sky lit up yellow behind a blanket of clouds. A storm was predicted for the afternoon. Outside Malfoy Manor, a family of crows migrated from the one tree to the other and back again, hopping along the iron gate in between. Again, Malfoy had him wait for a good quarter of an hour before he appeared, fussy and loud, taking off his gloves finger by finger and rummaging with the locks of the gate, insisting that he wouldn’t be—

“—in the habit of giving up my weekends to provide the public with tours around my death mansion, just to be absolutely clear.” He said weekends like it was two separate words. Week ends. His hair was shorter than the last time Harry had seen him, a neat straight cut along his jaw. He was wearing a strong cologne. It itched at Harry, made him want to retreat — move away from the cloud of it.

“I didn’t insist you come with,” Harry said. “I’d be perfectly happy to rummage around by myself.”

“And get buried under six layers of rubble? You’ll do no such thing,” Malfoy sneered, finally unlocking the gates. He pushed them open, arms wide and grand. “Allons-y,” he added, setting in a clipped pace toward the manor. Harry stuffed his hands in his coat pockets, shoulders high up by his ears. He grumbled vaguely to himself, then dropped his shoulders — followed Malfoy to the house, five steps behind.

***

The broad staircase at the entrance had once led up to a broad landing where, once upon a time, three arched windows had towered. Each had depicted various scenes in multi-coloured glass — a knight kneeling at the foot of a dame, two snakes wrapped around the trunk of a fruit-bearing tree, and a woman casting a light from the end of a luminous wand. Harry found he remembered them with shocking detail. They were gone, now — blown to pieces. Colourful shards still littered the landing.

“Watch your feet,” Malfoy said, pushing aside a piece of green glass with the toe of his shoe.

His words echoed in the empty gloom of the house. Hexing marks still dotted the walls. Furniture that had been upended during a battle had not yet been righted. Malfoy guided them up a further staircase and down a dark corridor. They passed by an axe embedded in the wall, and further down, by the corresponding suit of armour.

“Like so.” Malfoy moved around a hole in the floor with a little skip of a step, holding on to a torch handle. Through the shattered beams, a glimpse of a room below could be seen.

“How long has it been empty?” Harry asked, though he knew the answer. It was just something to say.

“Oh, a day or two,” Malfoy said, lightly, flopped his gloves at the air. “Lovely, isn’t it? I call this ‘battle chic’. I could put you in touch with the decorator if you’d like, though you might be familiar with his previous works at—”

“Okay, okay. Alright.”

Malfoy shot him a quick glance, brows raised. He guided them to the right, up another staircase — narrow and close to an outer wall. Harry felt a draft coming in through the stone.

“Where are we going?”

“East wing. Attic.”

“Attic?”

“Storage.” Malfoy paused halfway up the stairs — halted Harry with a hand. He took out his wand, tapped it to what seemed like a wall but soon glowed with the outline of a small door. They had to duck to pass through, ending up in a bare-looking hallway — no carpets or furnishing, just wood panels and simple doors. A servant’s passage, he thought.

Malfoy waved his gloves about to clear the dust in front of him. They were walking again. “Cecilia never married, you see,” he began, apropos nothing. “Never moved out of the manor. She took care of her mother for most of her life, and after that — well.” Malfoy took them up another staircase, even narrower, steeper. The railing creaked when Harry held on to it.

Malfoy did not so much walk up the stairs as jogged up, his steps light. “Most of her belongings, I believe, have been preserved. If not only for the fact that she had a lovely habit of charming all that she owned to be confined to the manor.”

Harry nearly crashed into him when they reached the top floor, the stairs ending in a door rather than a platform. Malfoy took out the key-ring and began fiddling with several of the larger skeleton keys.

“Had she charmed the coin you gave me?”

Malfoy hummed, not an answer at all. Harry watched his narrow shoulders moving under his large cloak.

“Malfoy. How did you get the coin off the grounds?”

“Oh, I’m simply very talented with charms, you see.” He found the right key, opened the door, ushered them through. There was a forced edge to his voice when he added, “Barely a minute’s work, if that.”

The attic was massive. It seemed to span half the manor’s footage, divided into sections with thin, wooden walls. It smelled like history and mildew, like dust itself. Dim rays of sun slanted in, throwing the space into stark shadows. Malfoy showed him to a walled section with a plaque on the wood, a simple engraving indicating that the pile of trunks and old lace had once belonged to Cecilia Adrianna Malfoy.

The disarray of opened cases and scattered pieces of parchment — along with the disturbance in the dust on the floor — hinted at Malfoy’s own research, the time he’d spent rummaging through an old aunt’s treasury.

“In case it’s not obvious,” Malfoy said, clasping his hands behind his back, holding on to his gloves, “don’t touch anything — it might be cursed. Levitate it, check for traces, you should be able to detect a cursed item. Emphasis on should ,” he drawled. “But who am I to dictate the bar of magical competency? If you’re not sure, ask me. I’ll—”

“You’re staying?” While I—”

“Of course I’m staying, Potter, why else would I have come with you? Surely not to visit the portrait of great-aunt Xanthippe and her ten dachshunds. I say.” He cleared his throat, and again sounded like he was repeating a practised phrasing when he added, “I’d rather not be held responsible if — no, when you, with all your brash mindlessness, get yourself hexed or cursed on Malfoy grounds. Lord knows the Ministry would have an absolute—”

“Fine. Whatever. Fine. Are you just gonna stand there, though, or are you gonna help me?”

Malfoy waited for a beat before answering. “I will continue conducting my own research.”

“Okay.”

“Which will be into Cecilia Malfoy’s heritage.”

“Okay. So you will be helping.”

“It’s not called helping if you actively request to join in doing what I’ve been doing for a while now, Potter, so no, I certainly will not be helping.”

“Jesus,” Harry muttered, turning away, taking out his wand. He faced Cecilia’s pile of stuff. “I’d forgotten how exhausting you were.”

Malfoy tried to argue with a quick, “Beg pardon? I am not—!” but Harry waved the words away with an annoyed little gesture, one which surprisingly stopped Malfoy mid-sentence. He made a sound like he was going to say more, push back more, but fell entirely still when Harry ignored him and began levitating balls of yarn from the basket teetering on top of the pile.

For a good while, they worked in relative silence. Every now and then Malfoy would pipe up with a, “I’ve already looked through that one,” or a, “You won’t find anything there,” which Harry wouldn't respond to or acknowledge.

He took piles and cases apart, sent them out of the partition to make space, leafed through pages and pages, and inspected nicknacks that might hold a trace of his family’s history. A little box of pins had him hopeful, but it was nothing much — just some awards of a special society he didn’t know. He found a photo album that he spent an excitable two minutes paging through, but it turned out to contain nothing other than sepia pictures of a single Saint Bernard, dressed in various costumes. As a sailor, a wizard, a milkmaid.

“She must’ve known them, right?” Harry said, an hour or so in. Malfoy was investigating a long scroll of receipts, apparently regarding the purchasing of ribbons. He replied with a hmm sound. Not an answer.

“The Potters,” Harry continued. “If she went to their wedding, surely their lives were . . . They must’ve . . .”

Malfoy didn’t look up from the receipts. Harry passed his wand over a jewellery box and felt the ugly twinge of a curse wrapped around it. He avoided it and called forward a hat box tucked further back. Five other boxes tumbled down in its place.

“Old families, Potter,” Malfoy murmured, still looking at his receipts. “Cecilia probably knew them, or, well, knew of them, see, but . . . especially in those days, a wedding invitation didn’t mean much more than a—”

“Hold on . . .” Harry was holding a letter, fished out of a hat box. It was full of them, all still in their envelopes, their destination address crossed through and replaced with a hasty stamp announcing: RETURN TO SENDER.

Harry was skimming over Cecilia’s cursive handwriting, heart in his throat. “Oh. Jesus. I think — oh.”

“What?” Malfoy dropped his scroll and shuffled over in the small space, coming to stand next to Harry. His chest almost touched Harry’s arm. His cologne still clung to him, heavy.

Harry passed him the letter and reached for the next envelope. He took out the letter, scanned it, passed it on, reached for the next — read half, then changed his mind, dropped it again. He began rummaging for a date. “May,” he whispered to himself. “May, May, May . . .”

He found one dated May 4th, 1915. His throat felt tight when unfolding it.

“Dearest darling,” he began, reading out loud. “Tomorrow promises to be a lovely day. Scattered clouds, not too warm. I am happy for you, dearest one, though the . . .” He struggled with the handwriting for a moment. “Weight. Though the weight of the mistake you are about to make tolls heavy on my heart. Will you ever see reason, my darling? Will you wake up one day, and reali . . .” Harry took a breath, exhaled. “Realise that she is not right for you, and never will be? When you do, my Samuel, I will be here. I will always be here.”

Malfoy cursed, softly. Harry continued,

“Remember that summer in Bath? The brightest memory I have is of that summer. We were on the beach, and you kissed the inside of my wrist. You said you tasted the salt of the sea on my skin. Come . . . Jesus.” Harry blew out his cheeks.

“Come back to me, my Samuel,” Malfoy finished, voice flat. He moved closer, tilting his head to read. Harry could feel the heat of his body, this close, could feel his breath on his neck when he added: “Stay with me. Love, your Cece.”

Malfoy reached to tug the letter from Harry’s hand. When his fingers touched the parchment, the world around Harry warped and the floor fell out beneath them. The attic was collapsing, Harry thought for a split second, but he wasn’t falling and his feet were still planted firm. He wasn’t moving at all, in fact, his body locked and confused. And then it came: pain as bright as light shooting straight to the core of him, blinding him, fuzzing his hearing, his thinking — everything. It knocked a shout out of him — knocked him into the body doubling over next to him — then knocked him out altogether.

***

He woke up in St Mungo’s wanting to cry, wanting to kill. He’d lost something and he needed it back. He was talking before he knew what he was saying, before his eyes were fully open — struggling against whatever was binding him to the bed. His voice was hoarse, unrecognisable. “I n— I need . . .” he panted. “Where’s . . .”

There were lights, sounds, people. Someone put a hand on his forehead, pushed back his hair, wiped away his sweat. He didn’t want it — he moved his head to avoid the touch, groaning. He was hurting, inside and out. His very skin felt burnt, stretched too tight. He felt thirsty and dry.

Someone said his name, and a pair of hands pushed him back down as he tried to hoist his chest up off the bed. He recognised the face, or so he thought — he wasn’t sure. The only thing he was sure about was that he needed something and he didn’t know where it was and it was burning up a hole in him. He tried to lift off the bed again, got pushed back again, panted at the ceiling. Someone called for him once more, angry this time.

He tried to focus but couldn’t. He closed his eyes, sobbing. “Where . . .” He trailed off when a gasp cut through the noise, a knife through butter. His attention fizzled, snapped, focused.

Strapped to a bed on the other side of the room was Malfoy, writhing against his own restraints. His hair was matted to his face, dirty and sweaty. His eyes were wild until they found Harry’s, and the burn in the pit of his stomach licked up, demanded, shook through him. There it is, the pull said, mindless and raw. There it is, there it is.

Malfoy groaned, pulling his arm into an unnatural angle with a cry, trying to get out of bed, to go to Harry. Two blurry-faced people struggled to get him flat. Harry shouted — no words, just a cry of frustration. Then a cry, another sob.

“What is this?” someone asked loudly, voice trembling. “What is this?

Then there was a wand close to Harry’s face, the tip of it to his temple. A flash, and the room was sinking into cotton balls, the smell of burnt sugar choking him. And then nothingness, again.

***

When he regained consciousness, it was under the familiar drowsiness of calming potions. The restraints were gone. He wasn’t burning up anymore. He was sick. His bones ached, his stomach roiled. Neville was at his bedside, awake. Hermione was sleeping in a chair nearby. The room was quiet, dim.

“Hey buddy,” Neville murmured.

Harry made a sound. He tried to move, but to no avail.

“Hurts?” Neville asked, reaching for him. Harry nodded, swallowing. Neville nodded with him. “Yeah. Yeah. It’ll . . . you’ll sleep it off. They said it’ll get better. If you — sleep. For now.”

Harry turned his head. The bed on the other side of the room was empty. The sight of it made him gasp, pain peaking and pooling under his sternum. His vision blurred until the flash of a wand put him under again.

He didn’t remember much of what followed — whether it had been hours or days, what he had dreamt or what was real. He remembered Hermione washing him with a cool cloth, and he was almost certain he’d asked her something. Her answer could be heard as though it was spoken underwater, her voice muffled.

He thought he remembered Molly talking at the foot of his bed, too, but the memory morphed into the Burrow, into him in Ron’s old bed, which couldn’t be right.

Sometimes he’d wake up and it was nighttime but the room would be bright, still, buzzing with activity. At other times it’d be empty, quiet. Something of an afternoon. The few times he’d woken up in darkness Harry had shouted and shouted until someone had come to his bedside with a drink, a potion — a foul-tasting mouthful that had dragged him under in a second.

I’m dying, he had thought at one point, half awake. I’m dying.

That’s when Malfoy came for him.

It woke Harry up from the depths of his sick sleep like smelling salts. He jolted with a gasp, confused in the pre-dawn haze of his empty room. It took him a moment to see it — to understand it — but then, there it was: Malfoy, in his hospital gown, leaning heavily against the doorframe. His breathing was harsh, like his throat had closed up. His nose was bleeding over his mouth and down his throat.

There, the pull under his sternum thrummed, licking up, demanding. Needing. There, there, there.

Malfoy pushed himself off the doorframe and stumbled in, catching himself on the back of an empty bed — on a chair — making his slow journey to Harry. He looked barely there in the grey of the room, barely a silhouette against the dim walls.

Harry keened, eyelids heavy as he watched and reached out a leaden hand. Malfoy was almost close enough to take it, and when he did — cold fingers curling around Harry’s in a vice grip — it was immediate: a relief so sharp it was also a pain in its own right, like using ice to soothe a burn.

Malfoy groaned, knees buckling, and Harry held him up with a hand, tugging, saying, “Come, god, Jesus, come — here, fuck—”

It was a muddled fumbling of limbs, of Malfoy falling forward, his sweaty, bloody face sliding against Harry’s cheek – into his neck. Harry scrambled for him, hands in Malfoy’s hair, pulling on his gown, getting him into the bed with him, pushing off the sheet, groaning, sobbing. The pain was ebbing, ebbing. He needed skin — it was the skin that did it. His skin needed more skin. With his mouth open against Malfoy’s hot shoulder he felt blood rushing up and down his spine — alive.

He laughed wetly, his thigh between Malfoy’s legs. They were moving, uncoordinated, just to feel. The pull in his sternum was telling him everything was right now — would be as long as he had this. This, his clammy hand to the sweaty small of Malfoy’s back. Malfoy was mouthing at his shoulder, his neck, the line of his jaw. He rubbed their cheeks together, the rasp of his breath loud in Harry’s ear.

Eventually, they slowed, breathing heavily. Their embrace held, close and vital.

“What is this?” Malfoy whispered. He sounded wrecked. “What is this . . .”

The feel of his lips on Harry’s cheek sent a happy shiver through the pull between them. “Fuck,” Harry said. “I don’t—” He moved closer, tucking himself under Malfoy’s ear, feeling his heartbeat through the skin. “Fuck.”

“No,” Malfoy said, quiet. “No.

Harry, blissful and dazed as the hum of sickness abated, said nothing in return. He breathed in the smell of sweat and iron and that of a body after illness. He breathed in, held Malfoy closer, giving the pull what it wanted in exchange for relief. Yes, it said. Yes, here. Here.

***

Cecilia Malfoy had put a binding curse on her letters to Samuel Potter. She'd done so in hopes he’d open them, touch them — anything. But he’d sent them all back unopened and unread, and the curse had sat in the hat box, dormant. Waiting.

Very curious magic, was what the curse-breaker at St Mungo’s had called it, sitting at Harry’s bedside and sounding altogether too entertained. The fact it has held for nearly a century! A century! And it recognised you — I mean, the both of you! What were the chances? I tell you, Mr Potter, it’s very rare that a case like this comes by, let alone that it would be made available to us in such a . . .

The man’s words were hard to focus on. Harry’s attention was a short-lived thing, right now, and everything sounded too loud — their voices rough, grating. Outside, a bumblebee was knocking itself against the window, trying to get in with soft thuds against the glass.

The next day Harry was sat down for what they called a review meeting but felt more like a panic room. There were too many people in the office and not enough chairs. Harry sat in one, with Malfoy beside him and Malfoy’s solicitor beside him with three manila folders open on the table. Narcissa stood, hands tight on the back of her son’s chair. Molly paced in the cramped space as best she could. Ron lingered against a wall, Bill crowded close to the desk, and three healers stood rigid and silent next to the fast-talking head of St Mungo’s PR department, who seemed to only take cues from the chief of St Mungo’s, Dr Y. U. Muriel.

“Yuri, please,” was how he’d introduced himself to the room, taking his seat behind the desk with a wide gesture.

It took ten minutes of clipped tones and nods for the whole thing to escalate. An hour in, and Bill was red in the face and tapping a hard finger on the table to underline his words, insisting that there was, “No. Conclusive. Proof. That Mr Malfoy isn't in fact actively responsible — hasn't orchestrated the whole—”

“—I beg your pardon? My son would not willingly put himself through this—!” Narcissa, overcome with rage, struggled for words. “Self-denigration! Who would willingly bind themselves to—”

“—a whole lot of people, is who,” Molly cut her off, stopping in her pacing, “if not half the wizarding world! And you’re a fool if you pretend otherwise, Narcissa! For goodness’ sake, to have the life of Harry Potter in the palm of one’s hand—”

One of the healers attempted to come between them. “There is no evidence as of yet to confirm the lethal effects of the—”

But Narcissa ignored the healer, shooting back at Molly with a, “And what about Draco’s life in this equation, would you say? What is he, a common garden gnome? It’s a mutual bond, in Circe’s good name!”

Harry closed his eyes as the spike of a headache shot up his spine. He felt nauseous, the pull at the pit of his stomach making him confused and unsteady. It was like being at the sea — like being unable to discern the rhythm of the waves — like getting knocked down over and again with each come, each go.

His steady horizon was Malfoy’s left hand, gripping on to the arm of the chair. His fingers were long, longer than anyone’s. His skin looked dry and cracked and his knuckles looked red, irritated.

“The point is,” the head of PR interrupted the discussion. “Will the boy need to be persuaded to keep to Mr Potter’s side, or can we come to a short-term agreement that will be acceptable for all parties involved?”

“I’ll trust you’ll find that every party will have a wholly different idea of what an acceptable agreement looks like,” said Malfoy’s solicitor, sounding very calm, at the same time as Narcissa shot back with a—

Boy? My son is the boy but this little upstart is Mr Potter?”

Harry closed his eyes.

“Please answer the question, Mrs Malfoy, or we’ll be forced to—”

“I demand a Disentanglement.”

The three healers, as well as Bill, began talking over one another, saying, “—serious magical damage, absolutely not to be tampered with—” “—age limit, as has been established, and will not—” “—no previous data or procedures to support a positive—”

Harry’s hearing came and went. His focus came and went. Someone said something about the press, someone else added something about the ethics of the war, and when Harry opened his eyes again all he could look at was Malfoy’s hand, now hanging by the side of his chair. Like he didn’t know what to do with it.

Harry’s nauseated heart pulled at him, sickly.

“Give me one good reason,” Narcissa was saying. “Our townhouse has room enough, as well as plenty of provisions, and unlike my mad aunt’s home, isn’t cursed by centuries of—”

“Ha! As if your family is in any position to boast protection against curses—”

“Look, it's simply unethical to take young Mr Potter away from his home given what he has gone through in the past—”

“What we have all gone through, Mr Gibbons, if you’ll be kind enough to remember.”

Harry reached out to touch the pads of Malfoy’s fingers. No one noticed. It felt like touching a live wire, only there was no pain — just warmth all up his arm, and a sense of ease spreading up to his shoulders, his back.

Malfoy pressed back, let their fingers slip together. He traced a thumb to the back of Harry’s hand. The room blurred. The discussion continued somewhere miles away.

“Most unfortunate,” were Dr Muriel’s final words of the day, when a tentative plan of attack had been drawn up and grudgingly agreed upon, “but not impossible.”

Ron’s hand was heavy on Harry’s shoulder as they all shuffled out of the room. Malfoy lingered behind with his mother. Harry’s own hand, the one that had touched Malfoy’s, felt empty at his side, uneasy.

Ron squeezed his neck, pulled him into a half hug. “It’ll be okay, mate,” he said, keeping his voice low. “We’re here, okay? We’re here.”

“I’ll catch right up,” was Harry’s answer, clapping Ron’s shoulder in return. He walked a few paces back along the hallway, toward a washroom, then lingered by the doorway — watched Malfoy and his mother where they stood, a little while away. Whispering quickly between one another, all in French.

Harry waited until Malfoy noticed him, a quick glance, before pushing at the bathroom door and going inside.

He waited for a good few minutes, leaning back against the tiled wall, body aching in a vague, distant way. When Malfoy came in, he hesitated only for a moment, unsteady on his feet at the entrance. Then he strode forward, hapless, bracing his hands on either side of Harry’s head. Harry felt Malfoy’s body heat first, then all of him as he leaned into Harry — pressed himself closer, his chest a solid weight against Harry’s.

The pull hummed and then — relaxed . Malfoy groaned and Harry laughed, riding the waves of relief. Harry grabbed at Malfoy’s back, at the wool of his jumper. Malfoy mumbled a quiet Lord and rubbed his cheek to Harry’s, their stubble catching — scratching.

Malfoy smelled like hospital and sweat. They both did.

And there, still, under the roiling waves of the pull there was a dim sort of panic, a wild need to push Malfoy off, to not have the clammy weight of him pushing him against the wall. Somewhere inside of him there was a small corner of clarity that observed the sight of them — wrapped up in one another, embraced against the tiled wall — with bewilderment, with fear. Danger, it said, but the sound of it was just a whisper compared to the pull’s thundering chant of, Yes, and, here, and, yes.

“This was supposed to be over,” Malfoy said, his voice close, scratchy — hoarse. Like he’d been shouting for days.

“What was?” Harry asked, throat clicking as he swallowed.

“This,” Malfoy said. His lips moved against Harry’s cheekbone. “War. Curses. Being . . . cursed.”

“Yeah,” Harry agreed. He let Malfoy’s jumper slip from his grip, let his arms hang by his sides. “It was.”

 

Chapter Text

Strange, how everything should stay the same. Strange how the hallway of 12 Grimmauld Place was still a mess of shoes heaped in a corner, coats hung over a walking stick left in the troll-foot umbrella stand. Strange how the portraits still grumbled when someone passed them by — how the cup Harry had left on the table last week was still there, a pale film growing over the leftover coffee at its bottom.

Molly sent it to the sink along with other forgotten dishes. A soapy brush joined them, hovering over the faucet, setting to work. Ron put on the wireless, and Neville began rummaging through the cupboards, muttering potatoes, potatoes, potatoes to himself.

Hermione sat next to Harry at the kitchen table, speaking softly, trying to make him smile.

“At least you’ll never have to wonder whether Malfoy’s up to something,” she said, pushing his hair back from his splotchy face. “You’ll know right away if he is.”

Harry chuckled wetly. He grunted, held the crook of his arm to his eyes, groaned in frustration. Laughed again.

Narcissa and Malfoy were in the living room, both sitting upright on the couch, trying not to touch the house too much. They were speaking in French again. Harry noticed Hermione’s attention being drawn by their words, eyes darting.

“What are they talking about?” he asked.

Hermione looked down at the table, eyes unfocussed, her attention elsewhere. Her hand was still on Harry’s shoulder. When she spoke it was softly, just above a whisper. “It’s his mum’s first time back in the house since — in a long time. He’s worried about her. He’s telling her she doesn’t have to stay.”

“I didn’t invite her to stay.”

Hermione frowned at that. “Harry . . .”

“I’ve missed a week of training,” he quickly added. “Exams are in two months. How will I — How—”

“You missed more than a week when you were down with the flu, Harry.”

“They won’t let me on the team like this. Jesus. I’m a liability. He’s a liability, the department can’t afford that kind of—”

“All of this will be over by then,” Hermione said. She wasn’t whispering anymore. “That’s months, Harry. They will — we will — have found an answer by then. I’m sure of it.” She squeezed his shoulder, his arm. “I’m positive.”

Harry nodded silently. He pressed the crook of his arm to his eyes again, dabbing. Any odd thing made him weep these days. A picture of Sirius. A picture of Ron, aged seven. A particularly long ballad on the radio. Post-war tears, he’d call them, making fun of it. Here’s your post-war tissues, Hermione would reply, handing him a box. For your post-war issues, Ron would quip from the other room.

Sitting in the kitchen of 12 Grimmauld Place, the atmosphere heavy with the Malfoys in the next room and an undefined sense of doom looming over it all — none of it felt ‘post’ at all. It just felt like war, all over again, only with different house guests.

Neville had made dinner: mashed potatoes, peas, and fried sausage. They ate in silence, the Malfoys pushing the food around with the very tips of their forks. Molly thanked Neville five times for cooking, then got upset when Narcissa didn’t say a word — but the argument was forestalled when Malfoy interrupted with a,

“Thank you, Longbottom. That was . . .” he paused. “Nutritional.”

It was Saturday — Ron and Hermione would stay the night. Neville had to go, but he wrapped Harry into a big, solid hug, holding on to him for a few moments longer than comfortable. “A single Floo away,” he said, stern, and made Harry repeat it with a, “Say it. Where am I?”

“A single Floo away,” Harry said with a half laugh.

“Exactly.” Neville nodded , making his way to the fireplace. He pointed back at Harry. “Don’t you forget it!”

Molly took him aside to the pantry and gave him a twenty-minute speech on how very dear he was to her, how she would come by the next day, how if Malfoy tried anything — anything, you hear me — Harry was to call for her instantly. “We know who that boy is, after all, don’t we?” she asked him, one hand on his arm. She pushed his fringe from his forehead.

“Yeah,” Harry mumbled, throat dry.

She kissed his forehead five times in quick succession before leaving. Ron got two on the cheek, which made him laugh and tell her to calm down, and Hermione got a long hug with some words whispered into her hair. Hermione nodded, serious.

Narcissa was the last to leave. Harry tried not to see it happen, but still caught sight of her kissing the back of her son’s hand, holding it to her face. Chéri, she said, and that much Harry understood.

“Shall I show him to the guest room?” Hermione asked when the three of them had crowded back into the kitchen. Ron was bringing out the firewhiskey with some tumblers.

“No,” Harry said, letting Ron pour him a finger. “I’ll do it, it’s my . . . I’ll do it. Later.”

They drank three glasses each while Ron told Harry the story of what the previous week had been like from their end — how Harry’s hand on their Whereabouts Clock had gone wild on the ¼ Past Danger, how Auror Tilly had found him and Malfoy at the Manor. The long days at the hospital, the not knowing, the fearing for his life. The finding out. The relief of him being out of danger, tampered by the reality of the implications that made them rethink what danger even was.

Hermione supplied with little details like, “This one Healer came to tell us, and he — God. Bless him, but I don’t think he’d been working there for very long?” Ron smiled, shook his head, and Hermione continued, “He’d put on this voice, which I guess was supposed to be comforting, but he pitched it real low, like” — She mimicked, voice as low as it’d go — “Ms Granger, Mr Weasley, I’m afraid Mr Potter has suffered a severe . . .” The voice she’d put on made her cough, which then made Ron laugh and pat her back.

“So weird,” Ron said.

So weird,” Hermione agreed, and Harry smiled at them, warmed. He held the crook of his arm to his eyes again. The two of them laughed at that, too, a shaky laugh that ended with Hermione’s, “no, but if you cry I will cry, stop it, stop—”

Harry left his friends between the third and fourth glass, telling them he’d be right back. Malfoy was in the living room, still on the same end of the couch he’d occupied with his mother. He was staring into middle distance. He looked gaunt, dry-eyed. The sickly pull whined and Harry ignored it, annoyed. He was happy to be able to do that. The food did him good. The company did him good.

“Come,” Harry said, announcing it into the room. “I’ll show you to your room.”

Malfoy looked up. He glanced at the fireplace, then away. He bent to take his bag with him, stood to follow Harry without a word.

They walked up the stairs in silence. Molly and Ron had made up Regulus’ old room earlier that night. The bed looked inviting, the sheets folded back neatly, pillows piled up at the head. Harry felt a wave of tiredness crash over him just looking at it.

The two of them stood in the doorway, quiet, peering into the room.

Malfoy broke the silence. “So how do you suggest we—”

“I’m tired,” Harry said. “The bathroom is the fourth door on the left. Goodnight.”

He made to walk away, but Malfoy reached for him. The movement was sudden and Harry stepped back from it. He turned and kept walking, as though it hadn’t happened.

The pull churned, ugly and displeased, spreading a dull ache down his spine. He had to pause at the top of the stairs, breathe through it. Wait for it to ebb.

Downstairs, he downed his whiskey in one go. He didn't look up to see his friends’ reaction. He poured himself another and turned up the radio. “I like this song,” he said, leaning back in his chair, tumbler in hand. He spread his legs, mimicking comfort. “I like this song.”

***

He slept badly.

His bed was perfect, the scent of home was perfect, and he was tired enough to want to sleep for a year, and yet. Each time he kicked into sleep something pulled him back to the surface, half lucid. At three he showered and had a neat swig from an old bottle of Dreamless Sleep, and eventually passed out for a few good hours before waking again with a start and a pounding heart. He read textbooks in bed until the scent of coffee and Ron’s distant baritone drifted up the stairs.

He wobbled downstairs feeling groggy, hungover.

“He—llo, oh. You good?” Ron asked at seeing Harry walk into the kitchen. He was scrambling the eggs, pushing at the sausages.

Harry grumbled. He’d brought a jumper with him, was putting it on as he sat at the table. Hermione gave him a coffee, and he grunted in reply.

“Your body is recovering,” she told him, pressing the back of her hand to his cheek, to his forehead. Checking. “It’ll take a while.”

Harry kept his face close to the rim of his cup. “Has he been down yet?”

“No,” Ron said, and sent the plates to the table with a pretty wave. He was good at that. Hermione glanced at him, clearly enjoying his magic.

Harry closed his eyes. He missed last night’s warmth. The house was still cold in the mornings, April bringing the last of the frosts along with it even though the crocuses had begun pushing through the rubble at the backyard.

Ron and Hermione lingered until midday, until they had nothing left to tinker with — not the dishes in the sink, not the Floo ashes in the grate, not the state of Harry’s pantry. Ron couldn’t beg off any more shifts at the store, and Hermione muttered a vague horror story about how her colleague had trouble getting the door to their joint office open due to the exponential multiplication of Hermione’s unfinished paperwork. The files, apparently, got annoyed when left unattended for long and had various ways of getting attention. Multiplication was one of them. Setting themselves on fire was another. When Harry tried to ask about it, confused, Hermione waved about a hand like he shouldn’t even bother. “The Law Department is bonkers, Harry,” she said, not sounding bothered by it at all. “Actually bonkers.”

By the time they Floo’d home — all worried faces and promises to check in later that day, to come by after work on Tuesday, or sooner, really, if Harry needed anything at all — Malfoy still hadn’t been downstairs.

The fire roared green and blue and the familiar Floo-ash smell of people leaving filled the room. Harry stood at the mantelpiece for a few moments, mind blank, then collapsed onto the couch. Legs spread wide, he let his head fall back with a sound. He stayed like that, breath tight at his throat, until the creaking of stairs snapped him back into attention.

Malfoy appeared in the doorway in his buttoned-up pyjamas. Navy, silk, patterned with little golden sorting hats. He looked impossibly young, standing barefoot in the doorway, holding himself carefully, eyes sunken like he hadn't slept a wink.

“Are they gone?”

Harry’s heart thumped heavily. He should’ve asked Ron and Hermione to stay, he thought wildly, wondering why he hadn’t — why he hadn’t realised the danger. He glanced at the fireplace, calculating, and Malfoy took that as a yes.

“Malfoy—” Harry started, but Malfoy was moving, still uneven on his feet. He skirted a chair and the coffee table and Harry was hit with the image of him in the darkness of St Mungo’s, stumbling toward Harry’s bed. The Bond responded by clamping down on his lungs, making it hard to breathe, and by sending a pulse of need down his spine. His vision blurred just as Malfoy clambered over him — knees on the couch, on each side of Harry’s thighs, straddling him.

The first touch of Malfoy’s hands to Harry’s neck had them both gasping. There it was, as sweet as the first time: relief, the retreating tide of an ache leaving only pleasure in its wake, only a deeper cavern of desire.

“Merlin,” Malfoy said, digging his hands into Harry’s hair. Harry put his hands to Malfoy’s hips, lifted his knees, and Malfoy fell closer, his chest pressing against Harry’s, and if it there had been any doubt before — if there had been any ambiguity as to what this Bond was, what it wanted — there was no way around it now.

Malfoy ground down, forehead against Harry’s temple, slack-jawed and panting against his jaw. He’d showered and he smelled like Harry’s soap. His hair was still damp at the tips where it brushed against Harry’s neck.

“Jesus,” Harry whispered. His hands moved under Malfoy’s silk pyjamas, clutching at his hot skin. He palmed his ribs and the Bond roared. They both felt it, they both groaned with it — Malfoy pushing down into Harry’s lap, Harry tilting his head back. He was hard in his track bottoms, grinding up against Malfoy’s arse. He wanted to pause what they were doing, had no idea how. The room was familiar and unfamiliar all at once — Malfoy’s weight on him a strange new thing. Harry’s mind cottoned over with it, a cold sweat breaking out over his shoulders, down his spine.

Malfoy held the nape of his neck, thumbs to the jut of his jaw. He mouthed at Harry’s throat, running his teeth over his Adam’s apple. He tilted Harry back to face him and tried to kiss him, hot and open-mouthed, but Harry turned his head. Malfoy’s lips were messy against his cheek.

“Do we have to—” Harry started the question, strained, but couldn't finish. Malfoy was picking up the pace, grinding down and pushing forward, rutting his own erection against Harry’s stomach through his silken bottoms — through Harry’s jumper.

“Dunno, Lord,” Malfoy said, breath hitching as Harry palmed his hips, guiding them to move in rhythm with his. “Let me,” Malfoy urged, opening his mouth against Harry’s jaw, up to the corner of his mouth. “I need . . .”

When Malfoy tried to kiss him again, Harry didn’t stop him — let him kiss his upper lip, his bottom lip; let him tilt his head so their tongues could slide together. It was hot, and wet, and the Bond swelled, heated between them. The roll of their hips picked up in pace, and everything turned heady, just a shade off of unreal.

Malfoy half broke the kiss, his mouth still open against Harry’s, gasping faster now — his ah, ah, ahs puffing close to Harry’s lips. Something in Harry gave in at the sound of it, at the breathy pitch of it. He was half aware of his movements as he made them, lifting Malfoy just enough to flip them both over — to get Malfoy flat on his back on the couch and settle between his legs.

Malfoy groaned, back arching, knees falling open. Harry dug one hand under his shirt again and circled his ribs, then brought it to Malfoy’s lower back to urge him faster. Malfoy needed little encouragement — he rutted up wildly, pulling Harry down for an open-mouthed kiss. The Bond liked that — liked their mouths together.

Harry bit Malfoy’s lip, then bit at his jaw. He could feel Malfoy’s cock twitch through the layers of cloth. He buried his face in Malfoy’s neck to nip and suck at the spot where Malfoy’s pulse raced under his skin. Malfoy jerked upwards and came, just like that, with a sob and a cry. Harry’s hips snapped in answer, and still — still, heady and confused in his arousal, he was reluctant to let go. Was holding back somehow, and managed to hold back for all of a few short moments before his orgasm tumbled out of him, unbidden. He gasped, panting against Malfoy’s skin.

“Lord,” Malfoy whispered, almost a laugh. He sounded panicked. His hands were still fists in Harry’s hair. “Merlin. God.

Harry’s body buzzed. All the pain was gone. He felt good — better than ever. The Bond thrummed contentedly through his bloodstream. His heart, in contrast, had shrunk in on itself, was wrapping itself in something vile.

He picked himself up off of Malfoy and sat, rubbed his face with both hands. His glasses had fallen off at some point, or perhaps they had been taken off — he didn’t remember. “Fuck,” he whispered, looking down at his bottoms. They were riding low, were wet. He looked at Malfoy and then quickly away, patting around the couch for his glasses. When he found them, wedged between two cushions, he got up and shakily made his way to the bathroom.

Under the hot water, he thought back to the last few times he’d been that close to someone. The last few times someone had touched him, had seen him come. Ginny, the month they broke up. The summer before 8th year. They’d both been very quiet and she’d cried afterwards, and he had too. They’d ended up making fun of each other in the small and loving space between the sheets. They’d kissed, had fallen asleep like that.

Then there had been a Muggle girl, Georgie, who he’d met at a bar. It had been at the end of the first week of Auror training, and Harry had been euphoric and endlessly confident. They’d gone out on two dates, the second of which had ended with an enthusiastic bout of kissing, with heavy hands under clothes. I have to go, though, she’d said, smiling against his mouth.

Okay, he’d panted back, smiling as well. Will I see you again?

And she’d said, Yeah, yes, call me.

But Harry hadn’t. They hadn’t seen each other again.

Harry was suddenly angry with himself for not calling her even though he’d meant to. If he had, perhaps they would’ve gone out on more dates. To the movies, to the park. They would’ve made out on the street and she would’ve made fun of the fact that he always looked unshaven, even seconds after shaving. He would’ve called her floppy for the way her hair always flopped behind her ear.

She would’ve been downstairs right now, making tea for lunch, reading a paperback as she waited for the water to boil.

That’s what would’ve happened. That would be my life right now, he thought, throat tight, watching the shower fog up around him.

***

“The bottom line,” said Professor Bildebaum over the wireless, “is that it is ethically unacceptable that he, of all people, should be bound to a Death Eater — who, I might add, is walking free on what grounds? — and the Ministry is doing nothing about—”

“Why and the Ministry is, Professor, I assure we’re doing all we can to—”

“‘All you can’ is clearly not enough if it isn’t actually making any—”

Harry walked into the kitchen and turned the wireless off with a snap of his fingers. Malfoy lifted off the hand that had supported his cheek and held it out as though to say, Excuse me?

“I was listening to that,” he said.

“I don’t want to hear it.” Harry turned his back to Malfoy. He put the kettle on the fire, picking out a mug.

It had been two weeks. The first one they’d spent mostly in and out of St Mungo’s, running through more tests, more check-ups. Bill had demanded to be put on their case, and had ended up spending long hours in a windowless room with the both of them, prodding and tugging at their magical cores while a young Healer took notes. He’d had a hard time keeping the grim set of his frown from showing. Harry had cornered him a few times — in the hallway and out of Malfoy’s hearing range — to ask something along the lines of, “Well? How bad is it?”

Bill would force a smile, would put his hand to Harry’s shoulder. “We’ll get there, kid. No worries.”

For one of their visits, Bill had invited a Belgian Curse Breaker whose magic had made Harry shiver, and who, after much work, had managed to single out the thread of the Bond. He had plucked at it, gently, and Harry had ended up on his knees, heaving up his breakfast. Malfoy’s nosebleed had dripped down his collar. They hadn’t tried that again.

The papers were still full of it. There were pages upon pages of op-eds on the ethics of Bonds and deep-dives into their history in the Wizarding world. People wrote in to give their take on the matter, (If you ask me, we should all stop treating Harry Potter with kid gloves when it comes to the reality of magic - B.B.K; Maybe some unexpected unity is exactly what this splintered society needs, how about that! - Conrad; Well if one of them has to die for it to be broken, the answer is pretty obvious. Everyone’s thinking it, I’m just saying it. You’re welcome. - Janice), people owled the hospital in droves with ideas on the Bond, clever takes on how to break it, and all the while Draco and Harry were, well—

“So what am I allowed to listen to?” Draco snapped. “Kindly make a list so I can better anticipate. Is there any literature you’d like to restrict, while you’re at it? Please, be my guest, it’s not like I’m a person with likes and wants. Clearly, I’m just decoration.”

Harry left the kitchen with his mug in hand, not responding. He heard the wireless turn on again as he was halfway up the stairs. Anger, a wide emotion, made him pause in his stride. He wanted to march down, throw the wireless against the wall, push Malfoy out of his house and lock the doors.

He breathed in. Breathed out.

The Bond, selfish and needy, wanted something else altogether.

He’d started training again that week, and the joy he’d felt at entering the DMLE was almost enough to override the sick cloud behind his heart. He’d missed enough days that he was behind — behind on theory work, spell work, his agility gone down, no longer that of a senior trainee and after weeks of convalescence almost no better than he’d been at the start of the year — but he was thrilled to throw himself into catching up. He would come in early and stay late, and to their credit most trainees in his year didn’t ask about the situation, Malfoy, about Malfoy in his home. The first day, though, Robards had taken him aside to run his own set of tests and asked him some serious questions that Harry didn’t want to think about, and had yet the answer to. Questions about a future where they couldn’t break the curse. Questions about the exact perimeters of their connection. Questions about how this pervasive tethering might limit Harry's efficacy.

He’d have another check-in in a month. We’ll see how it goes, Robards had said, his mouth a thin line. Yeah?

Harry breathed sharply through his nose, replied with a short — Yeah.

He would have dinner at Ron and Hermione’s most days and takeaway at the office on others. He didn’t know how Malfoy made do, how he spent his days. He wasn’t even sure Draco stayed at Grimmauld when Harry was gone. At some point, at St Mungo’s, someone had mentioned something about the Ministry restricting Malfoy’s freedom to travel. Harry hadn’t been listening at the time, and did not want to ask now.

One evening, when Harry came home, Malfoy was on a Floo call, closing off a conversation with his mother. Harry made a beeline to the kitchen, rummaged in the cooled pantry for a beer.

“I use my own Floo powder,” Malfoy came after him to tell him. He stood at the door, arms loosely crossed. “I don’t use yours, see. I brought my own. Don’t think I’m using yours.”

Harry glanced at him, mid-swig. Shrugged. He didn’t care. Malfoy stood there for a while, and eventually uncrossed his arms. When Harry made to leave, Malfoy stopped him with a hand to his elbow. Harry tugged it from his grip, annoyed. He walked out, then walked back in, put his beer down and crowded Malfoy against the wall. Malfoy’s breath hitched, and Harry’s attention was again called to the hollow of his throat. To the wild pulse, visibly jumping in his neck. When Harry pressed in, Malfoy’s hands came up to clutch at his jumper, pulling. Harry disentangled them and grabbed his wrists, pinned them above his head, and made them both come like that, rutting in the kitchen, Harry still in his jeans — Malfoy in his pressed trousers, with his back arched. Malfoy tried to kiss him, always did, and Harry pulled away from it — as he did — until he couldn’t, until the Bond whined and demanded and he sank into that hot mouth like a blessing.

That was how the days went, for the most part. The nights were more confusing. Now that Harry was back in training, he made sure to leave before Malfoy was up and come back when he’d already disappeared into his room. Harry would have a drink in the study where he’d finish up on some assigned reading, diligently highlighting relevant tracts. He’d shower, brush his teeth, let Ron and Hermione know he’d got home safe. He’d open his bedroom window and change for bed. He’d read for a while, a thriller novel with curled pages and a faded cover, which he’d then set aside face-down on his bedside table before turning off the lights, lying back with one arm curled under his head. Waiting.

Malfoy would show up sooner or later. He was quiet on his feet, though there was no need. He’d be shaking in his sorting hat pyjamas, the pull of the Bond stretched tight over the course of the day, and crawl into Harry’s bed with short breaths. Harry would let him touch first, closing his eyes and allowing the Bond to ease at the feel of Malfoy’s hesitant hands under his shirt, on his chest, trailing up and down. Eventually, though, the pull would get insistent, hungrier, and Malfoy’s mouth on his collarbones wouldn’t be enough, so Harry would grab for more skin with a muttered, Jesus, yes. He’d flip Malfoy over on his side, his chest flat against Malfoy’s back, and rut against the swell of his arse until that, too, felt insufficient. Malfoy would be incoherent by this point, arm reaching back to clutch a fist in Harry’s hair. Then Harry would shimmy both their bottoms down, their pants, just enough to grind his cock between Malfoy’s cheeks until everything was slick with sweat and precome. Malfoy would moan and jerk his own cock, panting little else but Lord, and, yes, and, ah, ah, ah

That’s as far as they went. They never talked about what happened at night or what they wanted from these encounters — what they would have wanted from them, if they had wanted them at all. Harry never made any move to escalate it beyond their fevered rutting. He was terrified of the thought of what that would mean and avoided it altogether. They’d fall asleep in Harry’s bed, with the Bond — satisfied — leaving them tired and slow. But inevitably, Harry would wake in the darkness of the night, usually from a distant nightmare and with his heart pounding, usually unable to make out the weight draped over his chest, and usually — usually — grabbing for his wand before he knew where he was or who was with him.

Malfoy would stare at him, startled from his sleep, Harry’s wand pointed right between his eyes.

Harry would take a moment, then disentangle himself from the bed. Shaky and covered in a cold sweat, he’d go to the bathroom to wash his face. Then he’d trail further down the hall, to Regulus’ room instead of his own, and fall back asleep in the cold, empty bed.

***

But he couldn’t ignore Malfoy’s presence in his house forever.

It started in earnest with the jackets in the hallway, the ones draped over the old walking stick. When Harry came home one evening toward the end of that first month, they were hanging from newly mounted hooks — golden things with eagle heads. Above them was a hat rack that Harry would’ve sworn wasn’t there before. On top of it sat Harry’s woollen cap, drooped on itself.

Next came the papers, the pile that had been relegated to a small table in the back of the kitchen since the summer of 1998. One morning, quite unannounced, most of them were gone. The issues that were only several weeks old had been folded neatly and put into some sort of order in the paper basket by the big reading chair in the living room.

This was followed by a reordering of the cupboards: the glass to the left, the china to the right. Then a refolding of the linen closet, and then, impressively, a reshelving of the pantry.

“What do you think he does during the day?” Harry asked Ron and Hermione over dinner one evening, tilting his beer to see how much was left in it.

“He’s with his mother, mostly. Helping her with the estate,” Hermione said. “He can’t go much further, of course. He’s still under restrictions.”

Harry tilted the beer away. “You know this?”

“Of course.”

“How do you know?”

“I spoke to him.” She said this shortly, like she knew some sort of hell was coming. Like she was already gearing up to defend herself. She took a fortifying sip of her own drink.

“What do you mean, you spoke to him? When did you speak to him?”

Ron licked his lips, nervous, leaning back in his chair. He was sat between them, was trying to physically edge out of their conversation.

“We’ve been Owling. He’s helping me.” Then, as if she didn’t quite plan on saying it but couldn’t help it, “I’ve been by your place once when you were at training.”

Harry put his bottle down, a little too quickly. “What do you mean you’ve been—! Helping you! With what!”

“What do you think, Harry?” She stared back at him. The colour rose to her cheeks very quickly. It could’ve been the topic as well as the drink. “I’m trying to figure this out — what it is, to begin with, and how to fix it. We all are. And Malfoy has a good library at the townhouse, not to mention inside knowledge of how this Bond demands that—”

“You’ve been discussing the Bond. With him.”

“You’ve been overwhelmed lately, you know you have. You’re hard to talk to when you . . .” Then, with a tight sigh, “You’re upset with me. For wanting to help.”

“I’m not—” He cut himself off. Exhaled, then deflated. “He’s just — in my house. All the time. And I just don’t — want him in any . . . other parts of my life. I guess.”

All three of them were quiet for a moment. Ron squeezed his shoulder.

“It’s not like we’re fast friends, Harry,” Hermione said. “I’m just trying to help.”

“I know. And thank you.” He finished off the last of his beer, and Ron went to get him another. “I know,” he repeated, reaching across the table for Hermione’s hand.

Not a week later, Malfoy cooked dinner. Harry arrived home late, later even than usual. The Auror exams were coming up fast and his attention span was frazzled, his sleeping pattern off. That night the light in the kitchen had been left on. The sink was empty of dishes, the table clean. Towels had been folded over the oven handles, and the room felt warm. Like someone had used the stove.

A plate had been left on the counter: a bed of potatoes, braised carrots and half of a small quail. The food was still steaming under a charmed little dome. A note accompanied it, paper torn from a notebook and written in Malfoy’s expansive cursive. If you’re hungry, have at it.

“If I’m . . .” Harry muttered to himself, confused. The itch that he’d felt when he’d first seen Malfoy appear outside Malfoy Manor, hair freshly cut and smelling heavily of his cologne — that itch to leave, to run — rushed over him again. The Bond, begging to differ, thrilled at the sight of it all.

He ended up eating the food in the study, one hand on a fork and the other on a pen, finishing up a mock exam to test himself. The parchment ended up smudged with grease.

Later that night, Harry had Malfoy on his back, pinned to the mattress. He hovered over him — over his mouth, brushing their lips together. “Did you cook that?” he whispered, and Malfoy nipped at his bottom lip as he spoke.

“Yeah.” Malfoy breathed hotly, grinding up, his bare cock sliding against Harry’s, up — skidding over his stomach.

“It was good,” Harry told him, moving his hand down to Malfoy’s thigh, lifting it up, over his leg.

Malfoy gasped, squirming. He was always moving under Harry’s touch. “Yeah?” he breathed, barely a voice at all.

“Yeah,” Harry said, then let the press of lips fall into a kiss, into tongues and teeth.

When he woke up that night, scrambling for his wand, Malfoy hushed him, hands on the sides of his face, thumbs under his eyes. It’s okay, he whispered in the dark, pulling Harry back down. It’s okay, it’s okay.

***

Summer came slowly that year, the walls of 12 Grimmauld Place holding the cold well into May. But as the season rose and the heat thickened, the house began to stretch, to creak, the wood of the beams expanding, shrinking. The window at the end of the hallway was now permanently open, and when Harry came downstairs in the mornings, Malfoy would be there already, making toast. He would’ve opened the French doors to the weedy mess of the back garden. A neighbour’s cat, a little tabby with a low-hanging belly, would sometimes clean itself on an overturned log. It would come in, meow, and receive a small portion of fish from an old, chipped saucer. Harry would watch the cat eat, drowsy, accepting a coffee from Malfoy. He could sit in a t-shirt and shorts now and not be cold. He would shiver at the heat of the morning sun filtering in through the coloured-glass transom.

His exams were on the first of July. They were gruelling. Two hours of physical tests — hexing, agility, wand speed — followed by another hour to complete a written exam. Harry was exhausted by the end of it, although thrilled too at having finished, pacing up and down the department’s hallway all jumpy and laughing. Hannah, who’d finished as well, was sagged against the wall, moaning a fake cry into her hands.

“I fucked it up,” she groaned, then laughed at herself. “I fucked it uuuup.”

“I don’t even know how I did!” Harry shook out his hands to get the energy out.

“We’re drinking tonight,” Hannah announced. “We. Are. Drinking.”

“Oh yes.” Harry shook out his legs, too, then jumped up and down a few times.

He dropped by home in the evening, wanting to change out of his sweaty training clothes before heading to the pub, and found Malfoy in the kitchen. He was cooking again, a towel slung over his shoulder, only one of his sleeves rolled to his elbow. He never wore anything that showed his mark.

He looked like he’d flipped his long hair over to one side and messily tucked it behind his ear. There was a pot on the stove. He was cutting something very finely. The table was already set. A stumpy old candle, fished out of God knew where, stuck out from the neck of an old bottle that stood in the middle of the table. The wireless was on, softly playing scratchy old tunes.

“Oh,” Malfoy said, noticing Harry. He halted a little, seemingly unsettled. “Hello. How did your exams go?”

Harry frowned at him. At the kitchen, the candle. “Fine,” he said. “Good, maybe. I don’t know. What’s this?”

Malfoy put down the knife, wiping his hands on the towel. “What’s what?”

“This,” Harry said, gesturing around him.

“Well. Dinner.” Malfoy turned to stir at the pot as he added, talking fast, “I thought you’d want to celebrate, you see. And I was bored, and I’d gotten these lovely mushrooms and it was a good excuse to clear out the kitchen for once, and for. . .”

“I’m—” Harry frowned, blinking quickly. “I’m having drinks with the others. At a pub.” He licked his lips. “I can’t have dinner.”

“Oh, well, then,” Malfoy peered into the pot. He gave Harry a short wave of a gesture, as though dismissing the topic altogether.

Harry wanted to add something. He took a breath like he would, but he had nothing to say. The sharp urge to run tugged at him. He went upstairs slowly, confused. He changed clothes and popped his head into the kitchen before leaving, saying a quick bye. The candle had been blown out, one plate removed. Malfoy was pouring himself a glass of wine. He didn’t look up, only hummed in acknowledgement.

The night was lovely, though, and the strange memory of Malfoy drinking wine alone in the kitchen only nagged at him for the first round of drinks — by the second it had dissolved, and by the third he’d forgotten it altogether. It was the first time he’d gone out, properly, since the curse had hit them, skittered his life to a halt. It was the first time he’d gone out, ever, with a group that didn’t include Ron or Hermione. It was nice that these people only knew him as far as their year together had allowed, that they knew what his casting speed was and his strengths in transfiguration — but didn’t know what he’d sounded like at thirteen. What he’d cried about at fifteen.

By the fourth round, Benjamin Wits — the American transfer — threw a coin into the jukebox and shouted at them, all of them, one by one — Harry! Hannah! Fester! Yu! Manny! — until they joined him in the corner, now Christened the Dance Floor.

It was only when he’d stumbled back through the front door of Grimmauld Place, drunk and stupid at four in the morning, that he realised that the Bond hadn’t yet pulled. It had been well over twenty-four hours and he was fine, not itchy or aching. Just conscious of a knot of magic locked in his sternum. It was there, but it was quiet. He put a hand to it, laughing quietly.

He didn’t make it up to his room. He tumbled onto the couch, having drunk half a glass of water and taken one sock off.

***

He woke up because the room was too bright and his mouth too dry. Nausea hit him before anything else. He groaned, covering his face with his hands. He smacked his lips. Awful. Awful.

A glass full of some deep green potion appeared out of nowhere. No, not nowhere — Malfoy was holding it, standing next to the couch. He waited until Harry took the glass, then dropped himself into a recliner with all the grace in the world, all long legs crossing, long arms and clasped hands.

“Go on, then,” Malfoy said, nodding once, curtly. “Hangover potion.”

Harry downed it and, feeling like it would come up again, steadied himself for it. He breathed as he felt his stomach settle, his headache recede. “Ugh,” he grumbled, scratching a hand through his mess of a hair. “Thanks.”

“You’re welcome. Do you believe I did it on purpose?”

Harry pushed himself into a sitting position, smacking his lips again. “Hmm?”

“The curse. The Bond. The letters. This.” Malfoy gestured between them, at the house. “Do you believe I did it on purpose?”

“Jesus, Malfoy.”

“Do you? Do you think I wanted this for myself?”

“What? I—” Harry blinked under a frown, then closed his eyes for a second. “I don’t know. I don’t know what you — why are we having this conversation now?”

“This is the worst life I can imagine, you see,” Malfoy said. He didn’t move — he still sat perfectly at ease. He didn’t sound very upset. “Being stuck here with you. Being stuck to you. To your—” His jaw worked. “Touch. It is the worst life I can imagine. It is torture. I would give an arm and a leg to make it stop, in a heartbeat. A heartbeat, Potter. Do you understand?”

Harry stared at him, stomach roiling again. “Do you have a point, or . . .”

Malfoy held his gaze for a moment. Two. His nostrils flared. “No,” he said, then stood. “No point. I just felt you should know.”

And with that, he left. Out the room, then out the hallway and out the front door, letting it fall shut behind him with a soft click.

***

When Malfoy came back, it was with a contract.

He walked back into the house around evening and spent a good half hour walking around, closing doors, stomping up and down stairs. Eventually, he called Harry to the study with a short knock on the doorframe and a, “We need to talk. Follow me.”

And Harry did. He watched the muscles of Malfoy’s straight back work under his starched shirt, how the fabric clung to him in the heat of summer. He watched the little back buckle of the grey waistcoat as they walked down the hallway.

Malfoy let the scroll roll out over the table between them. It went with the ease of oft-used parchment. It was filled with Malfoy’s crowded handwriting: all lists, lines jumping in to indicate clauses, sub-clauses, exceptions, rules.

“Granger and I have been—” Malfoy cut himself off, cleared his throat. “We’ve been exchanging notes. Researching, you see, the finer details of . . .” He made a small motion with two fingers. “And, well. Now that the, well, Bond, if you will, has settled and we are more in control of our . . . capacities. Anyway.” He spoke with his breath high in his chest, and seemed annoyed with himself for it. He breathed out forcefully and cleared his throat again. “I’ll be returning to the townhouse, tonight. I’ve drawn up a contract, feel free to add to it, or edit, or . . .” he made that same little gesture again, now with all his fingers. Then he sat back in his chair and nodded at the parchment on the table.

When Harry did nothing, he added a curt, “Have a look.”

Harry pulled the paper to himself, glancing up at Malfoy. He already felt annoyed, and wasn’t sure why precisely — whether it was the conversation at large, the way they were having it, or something about the way Malfoy was behaving in particular.

There were seventeen clauses. Connective Exchange was the first one, and it took Harry a good few times of reading over the — sustained contact with exposed tissue, for the duration of — jargon to realise Malfoy had meant touch. Their need to touch. Per this agreement, the second paragraph announced, D. L. Malfoy, hereafter referred to as Party A, and H. J. Potter, hereafter referred to as Party B, will communicate to schedule ONE (1) interaction every FORTY-EIGHT (48) hours which will include a minimum of TWENTY (20) minutes of sustained contact.

Harry skipped over the words, bewildered, pausing and then stumbling over phrasing, over sub-clause 1.2, In case of circumstance resulting in the delay of the execution of clause 1.1, both subjects will— Sub-clause 1.4, In case of not having communicated hindrances as per 1.3, then — Clause 2, Details pertaining to Connective Exchange (1.1 — 1.4), 2.2, the connection as described per clause 1.1 may not extend beyond the inner carpus, 2.3 in case of injury on the given carpus, preventing the subjects from—

“What.” Harry licked his lips, pushed the paper away from him. “What does it say?”

Malfoy opened his mouth to reply and stopped himself immediately — clearly biting down an insult. “It says a lot of things,” he enunciated, calm. “Could you ask a more specific question?”

“What does — forty-eight hours? Carpus?” He touched his nail to the second clause. “What?”

Malfoy looked at him, frowning a little. He was considering something, then sighed, lifted his right arm, and began unbuttoning the three mother-of-pearl cufflinks that held the stiff cuff together. “The mechanics of the Bond aren’t complicated. Which is one of the reasons it’s so hard to undo: there is no deeper mechanism, a secret button, something to undo it from the inside. It is what it is. A clock, you see.” He folded the cuff up, making it neat and square. “A clock that now sits inside of you, at the base of your core magic. And inside of mine, too. It counts down. Forty-eight hours, more or less. Tick, tock, tick, tock.” He gave an unkind smile at this, more like a scowl, as he pushed his rolled-up sleeve up to his elbow. “And every time it reaches the end of its little countdown, it tries to self-destruct. Which, in this case, means it tries to destroy us. Our magical core. Wonderful, no? Unless it is reset. And now, how do we reset it?”

Malfoy rested his arm on the table, palm up. His skin was pale, his veins showing through like bruises. He had two dark moles near the inner dip of his elbow. Harry distantly thought that was what Malfoy’s other arm must’ve looked like, too, before the tattoo. Maybe it had had a few lost freckles, under that ink. A little scar from an accidental cut.

“Give me your arm,” Malfoy said, and when Harry just looked at him, Malfoy reached out and took Harry’s hand from the table. He jostled it, grabbing Harry’s lower arm. Harry’s fingers closed around Malfoy’s skin instinctively, the Bond clicking, unspooling. Malfoy’s hand was cold, but his arm was warm, the skin soft. Harry’s own arm stood in sharp contrast — bigger, darker, muscles closer to the surface. He had dark, thick hair everywhere — his wrist, the back of his hand. A dusting on his fingers. Malfoy’s pale fingers were so long they nearly wrapped around him.

“It just needs skin, see,” Malfoy said. His speech was a little deeper now, less clipped. “Not — other things.” When Harry was about to protest, Malfoy added, “Obviously it wants other things. Obviously.” He swallowed. “But it doesn’t need them. The clock resets through skin contact. Twenty minutes should suffice.”

Something unknotted in Harry’s chest at the words. “So we — don’t have to—?”

No.” It came out odd, stuck halfway, and Malfoy added a quick, “No, we don’t. And I believe you’d agree that’ll be a much better arrangement for everyone involved.”

Harry laughed, distracted, thinking through it. “Every two days?” He asked. “Twenty minutes, like this?” He nodded at their linked arms.

Malfoy gave him one nod, one raised brow.

“Oh.” Harry smiled, a nervous gesture that shrank down immediately. “I can do that. I can . . . I can do that.”

Malfoy’s fingers tightened for a moment, but he was looking away, reaching for his wand. He shook it rather than waved it, and a sliver of smoke puffed out of its tip, shaping itself into a countdown clock. It ticked down from nineteen minutes and fifty-nine seconds. Malfoy put the wand down, sighing. Then he looked up at the ceiling.

“You should read the contract closely,” he said. “I added everything I could think of, but — we’ll have to add things as we go. I’m sure there’s something you’d like to—”

“Is it necessary?” Harry looked at the clock. 18:44. “The contract? It seems a bit . . .”

“It absolutely is. There need to be guidelines. Rules.” Malfoy glanced at him. “I need there to be rules.” Then, “You could have Granger go over it with you. She . . . She’s seen it. She knows.”

Harry tightened his jaw. 17:53.

“She’s not your friend, you know. She’s not going to be. She’s just helping me.”

“Lord.” Malfoy smiled that wry smile again. “What is this? Jealousy? How quaint.” Harry instinctively made to take his arm away, but Malfoy’s grip tightened and held him there. “Easy, Potter. Never you fear, I’m not after you or what’s yours. Friendship is a lie anyway, and I have gone off it, I believe, so thank you, but no thank you, either way.”

Harry licked his lips, pulled his top lip between his teeth. He felt a flush spread down his neck and didn’t know why. He turned in his chair to face away from Malfoy, draping his other arm over the back of his seat. He scratched at the back of his head, pushed his fingers into his mop of curls and leaned into it.

The Bond glowed out from where their arms touched. Now that it had stilled, had quieted down for once, Harry could feel the movement of its magic — the golden hum of it running up to his shoulder, down his spine, to the pit of his stomach. It wanted more — wanted him to wander his touch up, to lean in and put his mouth to the soft folds in the dip of Malfoy’s inner arm, his tongue to the two lonely moles, their shallow relief.

13:29.

Harry swallowed, closing his eyes. Breathed in. Breathed out.

He did little else but that for the remaining ten minutes.

The clock made a soft whistling sound when it reached 0:00. The smoke puffed out as though under pressure, then dissolved altogether. Malfoy edged his arm from under Harry’s, and his fingers brushed Harry’s wrist for a moment — thumb to the pulse point. Harry’s heart jumped, jittery, but then the touch was gone and Malfoy was busily folding his sleeve down.

“Well, that is that. Wonderful,” he said, buttoning back up again. “I’ve packed, I’ll be leaving within an hour.” He stood, adjusting his shirt. “Thank you for your . . .” A glance around the library. “Accommodations. I will see you at the townhouse in two days. That is a Monday. What time will be good for you?”

Harry blinked. His arm still felt hot.

“I don’t know,” he said. His voice was gruffier than he’d expected. “Evening? Six? I don’t know.”

“Eight o’clock it is,” Malfoy announced, clapping his hands together. He nodded at the parchment on the table. “And read it. Bring it with you, we can sign it together.” He huffed out a breath, made a clicking sound with his tongue. “Goodbye.”

“Bye,” Harry said at his retreating back, sounding unsure — half a question. Then, softly and to himself, looking down at his arm — at the red marks where Malfoy had held him for long minutes, “Christ.

Chapter Text

Hannah happened all too quickly and entirely unexpectedly. Harry had been paired up with Benjamin, who insisted everyone call him Benji, which Hannah hated and so she took to calling him BJ — which made Benjamin flush and laugh and protest, though not too much. Benjamin would talk about her a lot, at random over lunch or at their office, would pipe up with, “You know what it is about her, though, I just can’t—” as though they’d been having that conversation all along. As though Harry had asked him.

But there was something about seeing someone fall in love. Seeing the haplessness, their inability to stop thinking about it, talking about it. How they searched a room, any room, then seemed upset with themselves for doing it.

There was something about watching a person through the eyes of those who loved them. You could fall yourself, just like that. Harry hadn’t meant to, hadn’t even wanted to, but Hannah didn’t seem to like Benjamin very much, and she seemed to like Harry very much, and whenever they talked — or went for drinks, or shared a sandwich by the food cart outside the department — Harry could imagine how excited Benjamin would’ve been in his place. How he would’ve been nervous, and thrilled to have her hand clutch his arm when she laughed. How he’d be over the moon to have her wink at him, three drinks in, from across the bar.

They ended up making out, hot and heavy behind the pub, exactly one month after their exams. She had Harry up against a wall, hands under his shirt, roaming.

“Okay,” Harry breathed against her mouth. “Okay. Okay. You can’t tell Benji. You can’t tell—”

“Oh my god.” Her mouth slipped wetly against his cheek. “Why would you talk about him right now? Oh my god.”

“He likes you. Don’t tell him I said. Fuck.” She’d sucked at his neck, the spot under his ear.

“I don’t care,” she muttered, fingers hot over his jeans. “Take me home.”

“The thing is,” is what he ended up telling Benjamin, two months into his and Hannah’s secret affair, “The thing is — I like her. Like, I really like her, Benji. And . . . I’m sorry. But I like her.”

Fuck you,” is what Benjamin had to say to that, accidentally lacing it with magic, accidentally shoving Harry when he passed by. They both got in trouble for the skirmish that followed, and had both been booked into a two-week HR course about communication and inter-office relationships.

***

During an afternoon at Andromeda’s, Ron inspected the bruise on Harry’s cheek with a hiss of sympathy. Harry cradled a sleeping Teddy against his shoulder, rocking him softly, walking up and down the small living room and saying — quietly, as to not rouse the toddler — that, “I’m an asshole. I’m a horrible person. What happened to me? I used to be good, right? Why did I—?”

Hermione snorted. “You’ve always done this.”

“What?”

“You’ve always liked people more once you saw others liking them,” she said, smiling, breaking the back of her paperback as she turned the page, reaching the exact middle.

“Pardon me!” he mock-whispered, nodding at the sleeping toddler on his shoulder. “I do no such thing! Name one, name once that I’ve—”

“Ginny,” Ron cut in.

“Cho,” Hermione said. “Blaise.”

Blaise,” Ron confirmed.

“Blaise is hilarious,” Harry countered, ignoring the other examples.

“Which you only started saying after seeing him buddying up to Neville at Luna’s party.”

“I hadn’t met him before then!”

“We went to school with him.”

“Oh, you know what I mean.” Then, with a hand to Teddy’s soft head, thumb stroking. “Don’t you, Teddy? Yes you do. You’re the only one who gets me. My only true friend.”

“Usurped by a baby,” Ron said, gravely. “Tragic.”

And when Malfoy asked him — bored, 15 minutes into their silent arm-holding across the townhouse kitchen table, eyes sliding over Harry’s bruised cheek — if anything was new in his life, Harry said, simply,

“Nope.”

Malfoy’s potions textbooks and drafted essays were all pushed to the far end of the long table to make room for the two of them. He had three draughts bubbling on low fire, one of which puffed steadily, a misty, dark-blue smoke. Two boxes of ingredients were open, the little vials and bottles half in, half out. The kitchen itself was high-ceilinged, all copper pans hanging from racks, drying bundles of sage, links of sausages, and a single pheasant tied upside down by its feet. The wireless was on perpetually, usually on one of the old music channels — sometimes on a radio play, a show Malfoy appeared to listen to habitually. Something about world travels. Something about dragons. Malfoy, as far as Harry could see, spent most of his life in the kitchen, with his leftover lunches and dinners and letters and homework spilt over the black-wood table that took up most of the room.

Hermione had said that he had a private tutor come over to the house to train him toward his potions mastery because no institution would take him. Harry had responded to that information with a bewildered, Why are you still talking to him?

He’s part of your life now, of your health, she’d said, shaking her head at him, smiling like she could barely understand him. Why aren’t you?

I have nothing to say to him, Harry had said, breezy. And he has nothing to say to me.

“And you?” Harry asked, stretching his fingers, adjusting his grip on Malfoy’s arm. The Bond sent sparks up his spine. Harry checked the time. 09:03.

“No,” Malfoy said a beat too late, looking haughty about it. “Nothing.”

***

Bonds had been considered Dark Magic since the act of 1766, when the well-off beast-smuggler Beau Bas Bastion had Bound a higher up in the ministry to him through the passing of a lace handkerchief. This had resulted in a series of legislations being passed on the owning, keeping and selling of Magical Beasts in Britain, which in turn had resulted in the Great Hippogriff Plague of 1768.

In the legal battle that followed, Beau Bas Bastion — who had spent most of his time in court responding to every accusation with a mock-shocked gasp and a, “No, really?” — had been sentenced to a Disentanglement. The mechanics of it weren’t well known at the time, as Bonds had usually been considered old fashioned magic, a hag’s magic, used mostly by cunning matchmakers in the process of arranging marriages. Beau Bas Bastion, on hearing his sentence, had grandly spread his arms, dressed all in silk, in greens and blues and yellows and had said,

“Do your best, gentlemen.”

He’d died not a few moments later, gasping on the courtroom floor. His magical core had burnt a hole straight through his chest. The man he’d been bound to had survived, only barely, and had come out of his comatose state a year later — a squib.

From that point on Bonds were labelled Dark Magic and highly illegal. Disentanglements, included in the legislation that accompanied the banning of Bonds, were thereafter only allowed in the case that the witch or wizard in question were young enough to not have had a stabilized magical core. Research differed on when a magical core came into its own: before the 19th century, the consensus was that a child of the age of 7 was considered a full-fledged witch or wizard. After the educational reforms of the early 20th century and the Magical Pedagogy Movement of the 1930s, that age-limit went up: 11 years, when they began their magical education.

“But!” Hermione said, index finger in the air. “But!” She shoved a few books across the table, looking for one, finding it, spreading her hand over a thin-papered page — tapping it. “See, so, there are theories — right, there’s this theory — and it’s fascinating. Quantum Magic is now officially my new favourite branch of research. Did you know that certain spells react differently depending on how many bodies are in the room? Anyway! Okay! There’s a theory!” She made to sit back in her chair, but instead got up on it with her feet on the seat, crouching, too excited to remain still. “That says everyone’s magical core is in constant flux, that it’s never truly stabilised. And that there are ways to destabilize it — situations in which you can encourage magical core movement, like, I don’t know. Outer space.”

Harry laughed, amazed at her. At her mind, her friendship. “You want to send me to the moon?”

“No,” she said. Her smile was a tad too broad. “Maybe.”

“Maybe Malfoy’s interested in the moon,” he said. “Have you asked him?”

“He was here when I found it.” She nodded at the book, sat properly on the chair. “He does not feel strongly about the moon, I can tell you that.”

“He was here? In your — in your and Ron’s apartment? Jesus, Hermione, are you really—”

She held up a hand, waving it. “Not having this discussion again. Nope. Nu-uh.”

“Did you know he doesn’t believe in friendship?”

“Oh yes, I got the speech. Have you ever heard him go on about the ethics of favours?”

“What? No, we don’t—”

“Oh, you’re in for a treat, then. Half an hour. Half an hour he lectured me.” She shook her head, but seemed too amused for Harry’s liking, not nearly annoyed enough.

He said as much to Hannah that night, the two of them curled close in his bed, one of his hands on the soft of her belly.

“Hermione will do whatever she wants to do,” Hannah said, a statement. She was playing with his hair, his curls. “You can choose to either go with it, or you choose to stay bitter about it.”

He made a face. “Those are my options?”

“Yes, Harry,” she smiled, two deep dimples pulling at her cheeks. “Those are your options.”

***

Malfoy handed him a mug of tea but Harry had nowhere to put it. On the table in front of him was a small pile of rejected drafts, as well as a handful of small plants that seemed to be gently waving their young stalks in a shy hello. There were plates of half-eaten biscuits, a few old tissues, books, a bundle of lavender, thread, some empty vials, and two bottles of Jolly Jack Juice — which Harry understood to be some kind of magical energy drink.

He still recalled the way Malfoy had quietly tidied up Grimmauld during his stay there — how he’d done it whenever Harry wasn’t around.

“You know,” Harry said, hand hovering over the table with the cup — unsure what to do, where to put it. “I’d always taken you to be the organised type.”

“Oh, for fuck’s—” Malfoy shoved the papers to the one side, the plants to the other. A small square of table appeared between them. “There. Organisation.”

Harry huffed a dry laugh and put the mug down, keeping his hands around it still, warming his fingers. Even with the stove on, the kitchen of the townhouse was a chilly room, the wide tile holding on to the cold. Ever since the summer, they only ever met at Malfoy’s, never at Grimmauld. Harry didn’t offer, feeling muddled and conflicted about the idea of having Malfoy back in his home. And Malfoy, to his credit, never seemed to mind.

Off the side of the kitchen there was a set of doors that led to a narrow garden, and that day they’d fogged over almost entirely. Only a vague blur of a snow-covered shrub was visible through the glass. Winter birds were flitting about, shadowy outlines through the glass, flying in and out of the snowy undergrowth, busily chatting.

Malfoy was blowing on his own mug. He distractedly nudged the wand he’d left on the table with a pinky finger, and the smoke-clock stuttered, faltered. He nudged it again, annoyed, this time with a knuckle, and a full clock puffed into life in the air between them.

Malfoy laid out his arm. Harry covered it with his. The Bond lurched, and they both breathed in sharply — exhaled, sat a little lower in their chairs. Malfoy sighed, tipping his head back for a moment. When he came back, he grabbed one of the biscuits from the plate.

“So, has Granger told you we’re going to the moon?” he said, still chewing — a modest finger to his lips.

“Yeah. She also said you’re thrilled about it.”

“Oh, absolutely. This planet’s been so good to me, you see, I figured I’d try my luck on another one.”

Harry, who’d been considering the biscuits for a moment, took one too. “The moon is not a planet.”

“Whatever. Do you like them?”

“Like what?”

“The biscuits.”

Harry paused in his chewing. He shrugged, moving both their arms. “I guess.”

“You guess? Is that how you consume most food, Potter? By estimating its taste with a shrug?”

“Okay, Jesus. Did you make these or something?”

Malfoy took a sip of his tea. “Perhaps,” he said into his mug.

“They’re fine. Nice.” Then, a breath later, “Lemon?”

Malfoy looked at him, one eyebrow up. His mouth moved, like he was working over some flavour. “Orange.”

Harry shrugged as if to say, close enough. A silence fell between them. Outside the birds were still chatting away.

Malfoy’s heartbeat was steady under Harry’s hold, a solid rhythm that underlined the track of Malfoy’s fingers as they moved, stroking little paths across his skin. He’d done that ever since the beginning, and Harry paid no mind to it. He knew how the Bond liked it — felt how it rewarded them with a hot little spike whenever he did the same.

The smoke clock puffed in and out of seconds. 10:11, 10:10, 10:09 . . .

“Do you think Hermione’s onto something, with that — core-in-flux theory?”

Malfoy hmm’d, clucked his tongue. “Who knows. The country’s top Breakers couldn’t come up with anything better, see, so who’s to say. It wouldn’t be the first time Granger saved the world as we know it, would it.”

Harry couldn’t figure out if Malfoy was serious. He sipped his tea instead of answering, then waited a moment. “‘Cause I’d love to take Hannah somewhere. Like . . . on vacation. A proper one, not two days. Not — having to Apparate back. I want us to really just . . . be gone, together. For a while.” Then, perhaps more to himself, “I’ve never really gone on vacation before.”

“How sad,” Malfoy said flatly. Harry glared at him, and Malfoy sipped his tea again, adding, “I presume Hannah is your . . .?”

“Yeah. She is.”

“I see. Well.” Malfoy put his mug down. “Perhaps. Who knows,” he repeated, then cleared his throat. He looked out toward the murky windows. His fingers had stalled on Harry’s skin.

***

The thing with Hannah was that she was exactly what Harry liked. It wasn’t just that he liked her, but rather that he’d taken her to dinner at Ron and Hermione’s and she’d ended up talking with Ron about Quidditch for a good hour or two. She’d made Neville blush with a comment, then hugged him close and tipsy to apologise, laughing all the while. She and Hermione had played a game of cards and roared and clapped at some joke. She’d suggested they go dancing, then had been the first to claim she was tired and wanted to go home, tipsy, saying, Sorry! Sorry! I know! My idea! It was my idea! Sorry!

“So,” Harry asked into a Firecall the day after that. He felt giddy with it, with Hannah, with what they had. “What d’you think?”

“She is . . .” Ron started, and Hermione finished with a fast,

“Ginny. She is Ginny. She is exactly like Ginny.”

“She’s a brunette!”

“Yep,” Ron said. “And that’s about where the dissimilarities end.”

“Okay, so I have a type. I have a type, sue me!” He laughed. But he still wanted to know, still wondered: “Do you like her, though?”

“Of course,” Hermione said. “We love Ginny.”

The thing about Hannah was, he liked her — liked what she was like, and her laugh, and her mouth, and her mouth on his. He wanted to be close to her, nearly always, nearly constantly. She was warm — she never seemed to have a cold finger or foot, no matter how freezing the weather. She was fun and loose in bed, nothing like he’d ever known before: she’d smile into his kisses, giggle at his slack-jawed breaths, would remind him of something he mustn’t forget to buy the next day while he was inside her, about to come.

But the thing was that even with her arms and legs around him, with all of his sentiments flowing over and her freckled neck tipped back — even then, the hunger for an absent touch itched at him. He’d lie next to her in bed, sweaty and wrung out, and his skin would feel uneasy on his bones, wanting for something to ease the jitters of the Bond below. It wasn’t a horrible feeling, not distracting enough, not enough of a deal-breaker, just . . . like having eaten a meal in a dream and waking up with an empty stomach, still hungry. Confused.

“You touch a lot,” she said once after they’d had sex — when he ran his hands over her back, down her arms. She sounded pleased.

He’d been chasing something, not realising it.

“Yeah,” he replied, hiding the downturn of his mouth in the crook of her shoulder. “You’re so warm,” was his explanation. “You feel nice.”

Hmm, was her reply, right before she fell asleep.

***

Winter came to an abrupt end that year. The snow had melted from the mess of his yard in one single morning, revealing an old towel that had fallen from a window. A broken garden broom, a cardboard box. Dead plants, old pots, the bones of weeds. It felt like it was just the next day that the crocuses were pushing back up, the weeds were crawling back in, the shrubs budding shyly. The tabby cat was back, meowing at the french doors, pawing at the glass, wanting to be let in.

Harry kept the coin from his great-grandparents’ wedding in a drawer in the kitchen, next to the dull knives and the mushroom brush. He’d take it out sometimes, watch the lemon tree come to bloom in the golden surface, watch the non-existent wind blowing through its branches.

“I want a lemon tree,” he said one morning, staring at his garden with a cup of coffee in hand. Watching the cat lick at the shallow plate of water he’d given it.

Hannah hugged him from behind, kissing his neck. “Then get a lemon tree,” she said.

“I shall.” He held on to the heat of his cup. “I will.”

“Then you will,” she said, and playfully nipped his shoulder before heading back upstairs. A moment later, the groan of the pipes told him she’d turned on the shower.

***

They’d revised the contract a grand total of 21 times that first year in the Bond.

The first time came when Malfoy burned both his palms after having a potion explode on him. The dittany hadn’t yet worked its magic when Harry showed up that evening, and Malfoy stood with both his hands wrapped in gauze. Harry laughed haplessly, taking in the pitiful sight of him, wanting to know— What! What did you do!

The clause had stipulated that, should either of their hands, arms, or relevant limbs be injured, the other arm was to be used. That clause had to be changed to a list of acceptable forms of touch in the case of both hands being incapacitated. The list had been agreed upon after a horrible misjudgment on both their ends, when Harry jovially untucked Malfoy’s shirt from his trousers and spread his hands over the naked expanse of his taut stomach. He’d done it casually, having — perhaps — forgotten the effects of the Bond when it was given a wider range, when it was given the chance to barrel further than the length of an arm.

Five minutes into the stance found Malfoy back against the kitchen table with his gauzed hands tight at his sides, and Harry stepping in between his legs, letting his touch wander. The Bond bubbled low in his stomach, urging him forward. He suddenly felt woozy with it, drunk, and Malfoy had to stop him with a strangled, Potter, when his open mouth brushed Malfoy’s shoulder and his fingers skimmed up, up, brushing over a nipple.

Harry had groaned a low Jesus and taken an unsteady step back. His hands were still on Malfoy’s hips, shaky, moving to the fast rise and drop of his breathing. He focused on that for the rest of the long remaining minutes, and on nothing else. Breathe in, breathe out.

Breathe in, breathe out.

The second clause to demand edits was 5.2, Cancellation, after Harry had been late in letting Malfoy know that he wanted to move their appointment from 6 to 8 and Malfoy refused, claiming that Harry could not simply assume he could drop his life and change it to his whims. “What life!” Harry had said, bitter and mean. He’d wanted to take Hannah out for dinner.

The new clause stipulated a full day’s advanced notice for any changes in times, dates, or location of the appointment.

The third edit came after Harry showed up half drunk to an appointment, Flooing in after departmental drinks. That went under clause 16.3, Presentation and Interaction. The fourth edit came not too long after that, under the same clause, when Malfoy came down with the flu. The fifth was petty revenge, the sixth was for Narcissa’s sake, the seventh and eighth were Hermione’s brilliant input.

The ninth was Hannah’s suggestion and was shot down immediately, having made Malfoy go quiet and red in the neck.

“Absolutely not,” he’d said. “No guests. I’m not running a show here.”

“She just wants to come with me once,” Harry’d complained, confused by Draco’s reaction. “She wants to be a part of my—”

“No. That’s my final word on this. No.”

The next few edits were seasonal. The fourteenth came when Malfoy passed his Applied Potions exam and Harry, not even knowing what Applied Potions was, had accidentally asked about it. He'd been lectured for an hour about the value of chemical compositions and theoretical compositions, and had made Malfoy bring out the contract and demanded he write, Will announce any big life changes in advance, not in a retroactive lecture. The actual clause Malfoy had agreed to write down was, Will communicate significant life events. Then he’d added, after the ensuing argument: 13.3.b, ‘significant life events’ constitute any change that may affect the continuation of the appointments as stipulated in clauses 1.1 — 1.2.

Fifteen to twenty were, in one way or another, all related to the state of Malfoy’s kitchen and how it exasperated Harry, how he always ended up with his elbow in a surprise spill of a potion.

Twenty-one came the day after Harry’s 21st birthday, under clause 17, Miscellaneous Information.

Ron and Hermione had thrown him a surprise party that wasn’t a surprise, because Hermione had thought he wouldn’t react well to a room full of people screaming at him as he walked in. So he’d known it would happen, and he hadn’t expected to be surprised, only to enjoy the company of his drunk friends.

What he hadn’t been expecting was for Malfoy to be lingering by the snacks table, eating cheese from the very tip of a sharp knife. He’d looked uneasy and out of place, haughty about it all. His eyes had been everywhere at once, quick to glance away. But his back had been straight, his wine loose in his hand.

“I invited him,” Hermione had said when she’d noticed his gaze. “And I don’t want to hear about it,” she’d shut him down before he’d even started to complain.

The party had devolved in exactly the ways Harry had thought it would: with Dean demanding the music be turned up every five minutes, with Ginny and Hannah getting along at first only to realise who they were to each other, and then trying to drink through the awkwardness that followed, laughing too loudly at one another’s jokes. With Ron draped half over Harry, insisting that he listen, no listen, mate, you’re — just, so good, you’re such a good friend, and I jus’ really—

And throughout it all, through each beer he’d drank, each shot he’d been goaded into downing, each round of his drunken band of friends singing an off-tune happy birthday to you — he’d found his eyes darting to find Malfoy.

Malfoy had been alone at first. Then, at some point, Luna had wandered over to talk to him, had ended up nodding with a distant smile at what had seemed to be another one of his lectures. Then Hermione and him had gotten into a heated argument in the kitchen, and then he’d disappeared for a while, which had unsettled Harry, made it hard for him to focus through the haze of the alcohol.

Malfoy had come back eventually, looking a bit winded.

“Where did he go?” Harry had asked Hermione, but Hermione hadn’t known what he was talking about, could not hear him very well over the loud music.

Malfoy had left a little before midnight, appearing in the living room with his coat and scarf already on. He’d flipped on a woollen shepherd’s cap with a quick gesture and adjusted his hair under it.

“I’m off,” he’d told Harry, coming closer so he could hear him. The smell of him, of the townhouse, had followed a second later. The scent of soap and potions and lavender. The inside of Malfoy’s lips had been stained purple from the wine.

“All right,” Harry had said, nodding. He’d been holding a beer bottle. Hannah’d been right behind him, in conversation with someone else, a distracted hand in Harry’s shirt, holding on to its hem.

“Happy birthday,” Malfoy had said, and had reached out with a small gesture, two fingers to Harry’s bare wrist. And with that, he’d been gone.

The next day, under Harry’s watchful eye, Malfoy had added clause 17.5: Each party will inform the other when attending a social occasion where both Party A and Party B will be expected.

***

During one of the more frustrating cases in his second year as an Auror, Harry got locked in a box.

There had been reports of unregistered magical beasts appearing through the grates of the Muggle London Underground, and after a month and a half of tracking down vague hints, of muddled eye-witness reports and of always Apparating just a moment too late to catch anything out of the ordinary — they had gotten a lead. It turned out that an old professor of Magical Bestiary had decided to see to what degree she could breed non-magical beasts with magical beasts, and had decided to use the empty caverns of deserted tube tunnels as her laboratory.

It was a sight to behold, the potions and cages and aquariums all lit up with industrial lamps, chains creaking from the concrete beams. The professor wasn’t there when Harry and Yu found her lab, and perhaps they let their guard down — fascinated by a tank swimming with animals that looked like half-sharks, half-rats.

“Fuck me,” Yu said, a whisper. A pipe was dripping somewhere nearby, echoing through the underground.

Harry lowered his wand when inspecting an empty glass box. He wondered, distantly, what kind of magic kept it from breaking, what kind of magic kept the sound inside. He touched the frame, barely, and with a soft pop he was inside the box, cramped to his knees, locked.

It took five hours, three senior Aurors, and one very annoyed Breaker to get him out.

It was funny at first — a story he told Hannah that night when he got home, laughing at himself, at his own brashness. He also told Ron and Hermione the story over dinner the next week, then Neville over drinks, and Andromeda while holding Teddy on the jut of his hip, while she prepared the garden set for an afternoon tea. He even told Malfoy, gesticulating with their arms locked, getting crumbs everywhere through a mouthful of biscotti.

Malfoy didn’t think it was funny and didn’t laugh when he was supposed to. He just took the plate of biscuits away from Harry, shaking his head.

But then, not even a week later, the box showed up in a dream. He was in it again, and the box was on a boat, and the boat was sinking. Hermione was on the deck, frozen, going down into the water as well. Harry shouted and punched the glass walls — or he tried to, but his limbs were slow and heavy. The water didn’t seep in, but the box tumbled into the depths of the sea and there was nothing he could do about it. Only watch as the dark got darker, the cold colder, the surface disappearing further and further from view.

He woke up heaving and coughing and reaching for his wand — a reflex he hadn’t had in a while. Hannah tried to calm him, hush him, put hands on his sweaty face — but he pushed her touch away, ambled to the bathroom to wash his face. There, he caught his breath. When he left, he took a few muddled steps toward Regulus’ old room before realising what he was doing, and paused. Went back to his own.

The next week, Benjamin got hit by a nasty hex while they were chasing magic-firework smugglers down a street in Newcastle. Harry had been right behind him. He’d wanted to counter it, wanted to stop it, but had only watched, frozen, as it hit Benji in the shoulder and took him down.

“I don’t know what’s wrong with me,” Harry told Yu, face in his hands.

They were in the waiting room of St Mungo’s, waiting to hear whether Benjamin had stabilised. In the silence that followed, Harry didn’t explain what he meant. He wasn’t sure he knew himself.

“What’s wrong with any of us,” Yu replied at length, in that dry way he usually talked — like perhaps there was a joke hiding under the surface.

Harry groaned into his hands. He mumbled something that may have been too right, but came out sounding like nothing much at all. Yu left him to get some tea, touched the top of Harry’s head on passing — a pat, a brief comfort.

Benjamin was back at the department by Monday, and Harry did not want to go to work. He stood in the kitchen until the last possible moment before he had to sign in, watched the garden in its autumn drab. It still looked a mess. He hadn’t even weeded, last year. The tabby cat hadn’t been by in a while.

Hannah seemed puzzled, frustrated. She was already in her coat and scarf. “Okay,” she said. “But why don’t you want to go?”

Harry thought about Benjamin, gasping on the ground. He thought about the box, and Hermione in the sea. Hermione in the lake during the Triwizard Tournament. He thought about Ron leaving them in the forest. He thought about when Ron had come back. He thought about waking up in St Mungo’s two years ago, thinking he was dying.

He thought about his desk at the department, with the little cactus he’d gotten from Neville. About the framed picture of Ron, Hermione and him in the summer after their 8th year. It was by the pond behind the Burrow. In the picture Ron cannonballed into the water, swam to the edge, climbed back out — jumped back in again. Hermione laughed, startled, at the wave of water it sent over her each time. Harry stood by the side, skipping out of the way of the splash, face stuck in a cycle of surprise and delight.

He thought about the paperwork. Thought about walking down a dark alleyway with his wand out, letting a Lumos lead the way. His heart in his throat, in his temples.

“I don’t know,” he said. Swallowed. “I don’t know, Hannah.”

“Okay, then,” she said, then left him with a frown — a squeeze to his arm. “But I’m going in. Let Robards know. I’m at the office if you need me.”

The smell of the Floo filled the house for a while, all coals and burnt hair. Then it ebbed, and Harry sat down in a chair, still looking out into the garden.

When his coffee got cold and the house got quiet, he put the coin on the table and timed the seconds between each non-existent breeze, ruffling the raised lines of the lemon tree.

***

Hannah broke up with him the day Ron and Hermione got engaged. Harry ended up on their couch, head tilted back, laughing — then weeping a little, laughing still.

“I’m very happy for you,” he said. Then, at the sound of his own voice, “I am! Damn it!”

Ron gave him another beer even though the one he had in hand was still half full. Harry gestured as much and Ron just shook his head and told him to drink. Hermione was all thin sympathy smiles for a minute, twisting her garnet ring round and round her finger. And then, as though she couldn’t help herself,

“But you didn’t see it coming? At all?”

“What? No! Did you? What—” He looked to Ron, asking, and Ron took a breath, puffed out his cheeks.

Hermione quickly explained that, “Well, I guess — I don’t know, but for us, it sort of looked like . . . Well you didn’t really seem, how to say this. Invested. In her life, that is.” She took in the look on his face, and added, “Am I being too harsh? Ron says I’m too harsh sometimes.”

Ron made a protesting sound, but Harry cut him off with a, “What do you mean, not invested! I was with her every other day, every weekend — I took her here, to Neville’s, I was absolutely—”

“She was at yours, Harry. She came to your place. She hung out with your friends. How often did you go to hers? Did you even know her friends? This is not” — She cut off Harry when he sat upright, two bottles still in hand, starting a counter-argument — “This is not a criticism. I’m just saying that . . . How invested were you, really?”

Harry stared at her, then beyond her, at the full wall of a bookcase over her shoulder. His jaw worked for a moment, running through answers. He deflated with an exhale, put one of the bottles on the table. “It’s not easy,” he said, voice smaller now. “Not everyone has what . . .” he gestured vaguely. “What you have.”

It was quiet for a beat. Then Ron said, a little hurt, “Hey, now.”

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry,” Harry’s eyes began to weep again, as they were in the habit of doing. He laughed at himself, pressed his arm to his eyes, grunted. “I’m happy for you! I am!” He huffed a breath, half laugh, half sob. “Damn it.”

The next day, quiet in the dim five o’clock light of Malfoy’s kitchen, Harry didn’t say much at first. Malfoy’s fingers, warm from having hovered over potions all day, stroked over a small scar by Harry’s elbow. Malfoy didn’t even seem to notice he was doing it, reading a scroll of his own notes while the clock was puffing. 13:34, 13:33, 13:32 . . .

Malfoy scratched out a few numbers on his paper, replaced them with a new calculation. He was wearing a pair of reading glasses low on his nose, and Harry wondered how long he’d had those. How come he hadn’t noticed before. The tips of his hair were wet from the steam of his concoctions, and several strands were stuck to his jaw. His neck. He tucked them behind his right ear. Somewhere in the distance, a church bell chimed the hour.

“Hermione and Ron got engaged,” Harry said.

Malfoy hummed his assent. “Yes,” he said, not looking up, following a paragraph with the tip of his quill. “I received an owl this morning.”

Harry gently put the edge of a nail to Malfoy’s skin. “Hannah and I broke up.”

Malfoy nodded, murmured, “Yes. I see.”

Harry suddenly suspected that piece of information, too, might have been included in the owl. Over on the stove, one of the potions burbled loudly. A bright pink bubble escaped, lifted up and then blinked out of existence.

“What are you brewing, anyway? What’s all of . . .” Harry nodded at the forever messy table, the cauldrons on the stove.

Malfoy did glance up at him this time, over the rim of his glasses. “Orders,” he said, and turned back to his work.

“What kind of orders?”

“Various kinds.”

“Okay. Well. What’s the pink one? What’s it do?”

Malfoy put down his quill and sat up straight. He looked like he might snap, but he held it back, whatever it was. He sighed shortly. “A client has requested a potion that might help with the scarring of a mis-healed splinching. The pink one,” he said the word with emphasis, folding it in irony, “is a first draft.”

“Right. Okay.” He sagged back in his chair, his grip on Malfoy’s arm sliding lower. “I didn’t know.”

Malfoy thinned his lips. “Know what?”

“That you — That that’s what you do. Make new potions. That don’t exist yet.” Then, “That’s what you do, right?”

Malfoy looked at him, a smile that had nothing to do with humour folding his cheeks. He had the kind of face that folded into itself, that etched lines into the cheeks. “Every time,” he said, “I think you’ve—” But he stopped himself, huffed, shook his head again — a private gesture. Instead, he said, “Yes, Harry Potter. That is what I do. That is my job.”

“Right,” Harry stretched out the word a little. “You might’ve mentioned it. I’m not sure. Sometimes you’re—” He raised his eyebrows, gave a slow nod, thinking of the right phrasing. “Wordy.”

Malfoy’s gaze followed the movement of Harry’s chin. “Ah,” he said. “I see. Well.”

The clock whistled the time, startling them both. When Malfoy pulled his arm away, Harry stopped him, catching his fingers on retreat. Malfoy looked down at his grip. He tugged, and said, “Let go.”

With a wry smile, Harry let go.

***

A week before Christmas that year, Malfoy announced to him — as stipulated per clause 17.5 — that he was to attend Andromeda’s holiday dinner, and that Harry mustn’t, “to quote Granger, throw a tantrum.” He said as much while showing Harry to the door of the townhouse, standing in the chilly hallway with its checkered flagstones.

“I didn’t know you were on speaking terms with your aunt,” Harry said, wrapping his scarf around his neck and face, not showing any other reaction.

“It is . . .” Malfoy swallowed. “A recent development.”

“I see,” Harry said, mimicking Malfoy’s voice. He smiled to himself when Malfoy wasn’t amused. “Well. Will your mother also be attending?”

Malfoy put his hands in his pockets, leaned against the doorpost. He struck quite a figure like that, in his suspenders and one rolled up sleeve, his grey pressed trousers. Potion goggles around his neck. “No. She’ll be staying in France.”

“Okay. Well, okay.” Harry zipped his jacket all the way up, pulled his hat down over his forehead. He left like that, out the front door and into the snow. He liked the walk. He liked the quiet of the weather, the pit-pat of the snow falling on snow. He liked the hush that fell over the city, a baffled kind of silence.

***

Andromeda’s cabin was bigger on the inside than it was on the outside. Literally, the construction was more expansion charms than it was wood, more magic than it was stone. What seemed like a two-room shack on the outside — a ramshackle roof holding up a fragile-looking chimney — was a maze of stairs and corridors and rooms on the inside, privy to constant change depending on the weather, the humidity levels, or how much Teddy liked the person who’d walked through the door.

When Malfoy joined the party — in his shepherd’s cap, brushing snow off his thick coat with fur-lined gloves — two staircases zipped into nothingness with a loud pop and three doors appeared on the second floor that hadn’t been there before.

The party stilled at the noise, and Malfoy paused mid-movement, scarf draped over his arm.

“Ah,” Andromeda said, watching Teddy watch Malfoy. Only a minute before, the child had cried to be held by Bill, who’d been in mid-conversation with a distant relative (on the Tonks side) when picking Teddy up, distracted. Teddy had kept on crying in Bill’s arms, and that was where he was still, tears drying on his face as he stared at Malfoy.

“He likes you,” Andromeda added. “Maybe. Hello, nephew. Do come in. Drinks are over there.”

Conversation was slow to pick up after that, but a good pot of mulled wine later and Molly had managed to stop glancing over to where Malfoy had situated himself — by the drinks table, guarding the plate of baked goods he’d brought with him. The tightness in Bill’s jaw seemed to soften, too, even if just a little bit. Hermione took Teddy from Bill and balanced him on her hip, then brought him over to Malfoy, who awkwardly shook the toddler’s hand. Teddy babbled a few sentences at him, said something about his pet rat, and that he liked the colour blue. Malfoy, clearing his throat, answered,

“I see. Right. Wonderful.”

And then, on being asked for his own choice, he faltered — said, “I — I’m not sure. Emerald is appealing. Certain shades of eggplant are too.”

Teddy laughed like Malfoy had told him a joke.

Harry had surveyed the interaction from an armchair by the fire, half his mind on the game of chess he was playing with Ron. Ron, for all his dedication, seemed equally intrigued, twisting in his seat every now and then to see who would walk up to Malfoy next.

Oh, interesting,” Ron said when Fleur went to refill her glass and asked Malfoy about the biscuits he’d brought. The two of them together looked entirely out of place in a house full of jumpers and freckles and curls. They could’ve been siblings, with their fair hair neatly cut, those bright eyes. Those full lips that seemed annoyed at something at all times.

They started up what seemed like a quick conversation in French that kept on for a good hour. Harry wasn’t sure whether they were arguing or agreeing or discussing the weather. Then a third round of mulled wine passed among the guests. Ron won his third game of chess for the night, and the house got warmer, blurred around the edges. The lights had been dimmed, the tree lit, and the whole congregation was invited to join in in a somewhat tipsy chanting of carols. Teddy had fallen asleep in Molly’s arms, had been taken upstairs, and Malfoy had at some point left his station guarding the biscuits — had taken a leaning seat against the back of a couch, talking to Charlie. Malfoy seemed to be holding one of his lectures again, only slower this time. There were two spots of colour high on his cheeks, down the side of his face. He was glancing away from Charlie every now and then. He looked bashful, nervous.

Charlie listened, frowning, interested. Nodding, asking questions.

Hermione came to lean against Harry’s side, and he welcomed her familiarly, an easy arm around her waist. With her head to his shoulder, she followed his gaze across the room, then made a soft noise. Asked, “D’you think?”

“Do I think what?”

Hermione gestured with a nod, her hair tickling Harry’s neck. She meant the way Charlie reached out to touch Malfoy’s arm, the way Malfoy leaned into it, looking up at him then quickly away, not knowing where to settle his eyes.

Low in his stomach, the Bond surged up ugly and loud — an acidic lash up his spine, demanding he move, that he stride, that he break and destroy whatever was happening between Malfoy and Charlie. Harry had to close his eyes at it, breathe. Hermione noticed when his hand tightened on the back of her dress.

“Hey,” she said, steadying him with a hand to his chest, concerned. “Hey, Harry.”

He said it was the wine. He said not to worry, he would Floo home, sleep it off. He made his round of goodbyes with ease at first — a handful of kisses, hugs — then couldn’t quite help it, couldn’t quite keep from it. He shook Charlie’s firm hand in farewell, then turned to Malfoy, reaching out and taking hold of his wrist, leaning in. “Merry Christmas,” he said, and brushed his lips to Malfoy’s warm cheek.

He could still feel the heat of him, the roaring of the Bond between them, when he stumbled out of the Floo and into Grimmauld Place — dizzy and aching, unsteady on his feet.

***

Harry had gotten into the habit of bringing in a book — or even leftover paperwork — to busy himself with on days when Malfoy was absent-minded, taking notes while scanning a scroll or feverishly revising one. On some days, the whole twenty minutes would be spent in silence. Both of them reading, scribbling, holding on to each other’s arms with a gentle grip.

And then, on other days, all they’d do was distract each other, annoy each other, tug and push so that when Harry left he did so with barely a goodbye — just a grunt and a mumbled, Jesus, you’re insufferable, followed by Malfoy’s melodramatic, Be gone, be gone from my life!

Their first meeting after Christmas was just like that. Harry had Floo’d into the drawing room, shouting a word of hello into the house.

“In here!” came the reply from the kitchen, as though Malfoy was ever anywhere else. Harry walked into the room rubbing his hands at the chill, already halfway into a rant about getting the house fixed up to a proper heating system, charmed even — anything, really, to keep the drafts out. Malfoy hummed, clearly not listening, and Harry took it to himself to put on the kettle, rummage in the cupboards for biscuits.

He found a tin of digestives under stasis. He deposited it on top of a stack of books about dragon hide and asked, “So how’s your mother?”

Malfoy glanced up at him from under a frown. “Well. Why?”

“Did you tell her about the Christmas party?”

“What’s it to you?”

The kettle whistled. Harry poured water into two mugs. “Just asking,” he said, handing one mug to Malfoy, setting the other at his regular seat opposite. “D’you enjoy the party?”

“You’re in a mood,” Malfoy concluded, a heartbeat later. He brushed a palm over the wand on the table, and the clock floated out. He laid out his arm, sleeve already rolled up. Harry pushed his jumper up over his elbow and locked into the hold. Today, despite the cold of the room, it felt clammy and warm.

Harry nodded at Malfoy’s scrolls, the books open all around him. “Is that for Mrs Poll’s account?”

“No. I’m actually looking into something—” He ran his hand through his hair, something he rarely did, flipping half of it to the side. “Did you know that dragon hide retains its properties and ability to grow for over a week after its removal from the—”

“Dragon hide?”

“Yes. You see, the rate of deterioration when it comes to dragons is far slower than—”

“Did Charlie tell you that?”

Malfoy frowned at him. “Not exactly. He mentioned dragons life-span numbers, which got me wondering, so I owled him and — Hey!” Malfoy yanked his arm from Harry’s grip, which had suddenly turned harsh. “What is the matter with you?”

Harry opened and closed his fist. His knuckles made a sound. He breathed in, out. Deflated. He wondered whether the Bond had done the same to Malfoy when he’d been with Hannah. He recalled, suddenly, the time when Harry had mentioned Hannah joining in on a session — remembered Malfoy’s curt, No. That’s my final word on this. No.

“Sorry,” he said. “Sorry, it’s the . . .” he trailed off, closed his eyes, shook his head. He laid out his arm again, tentative, and it took a moment for Malfoy to settle into it again. To wrap his fingers around Harry’s arm. The Bond, upset at having been severed before, hummed pleasantly up his arm, his neck, jaw. The effect of it was always like downing a drink on an empty stomach: dizzying, leaving him off-kilter but thrilled.

“It’s the Bond,” Harry finished, watching the clock tick off with little puffs of smoke. “It plays up, I guess. And when you were talking to Charlie, and I—”

Malfoy was quick to pick up on what Harry meant, cutting him off. “That’s ridiculous, I have no intention of courting Charlie Weasley, I was merely enquiring after strictly work-related issues, there’s absolutely no reason . . .” he trailed off. He’d started loud, gotten soft toward the end. His eyes were on the spot where Harry’s hand encircled the circumference of his arm.

“It does that, sometimes,” Malfoy said, after a beat. “The Bond. It — gets like that. You mustn’t pay it any mind. I’ve found that the best way forward is to just not pay it any mind.”

“Was it like that for you?” Harry swallowed. He looked down at the table. He hadn’t touched his tea. “When — With Hannah?”

Harry felt Malfoy’s shrug in the movement of his arm. “It was fine,” he said. And then again, unprompted, a moment later, “It was fine.”

When Harry left that evening, he did so with a flush high up his neck, his heart thudding in the low of his belly. Malfoy and he stood by the fireplace for a few long, stretched-out minutes, an inch too close for comfort. The Bond pulsed, needy and irritated, and Harry swung on his feet as though drunk, leaning close to Malfoy’s chest.

“Go,” Malfoy said, voice cracking. “You need to go.”

“Yeah,” Harry breathed. His eyes were on the quick heartbeat at Malfoy’s neck — the blush along his jaw. Malfoy was holding on to the marble of the mantelpiece with a harsh grip.

Leave, for Merlin’s sake,” Malfoy ground out, and Harry threw in a pinch of Floo powder, announcing his destination through a dry throat, feeling altogether slow, feeling stupid.

He showered before heading to bed, touched himself under the hot water to the memory of Malfoy’s breath close to his. He shook off the thought, forcefully, consciously wandered elsewhere — but when he came it was to a fragmented image of Charlie, of Malfoy, of long fingers and a roughened voice saying go, you need to go.

***

After Harry’s fallout with Benjamin, after his breakup with Hannah, after the months-long tension between Yu and Manny over a stolen sandwich from the break room — after two and a half years of living with and on top of each other, the Junior Aurors began to settle. The fast friendships they’d started out with loosened into something quieter, less restrained. It made life easier when he came in late, having lingered in the kitchen again on the Monday morning. It made it easier when a friendly shout from the hallway set his heart racing for no reason, sent him to the bathroom to wash his face — to calm his nerves. It was easier now that Hannah didn’t notice as much, when Manny didn’t follow him in and ask if he was all right, didn’t put his heavy hand on Harry’s shoulder when the last thing Harry wanted was to be touched.

Harry was paired with a Senior Auror now, Lester, who reminded him of Arthur, if Arthur had a moustache and unbound creativity when it came to cussing. It then quickly turned out that the association wasn’t without reason: Lester was one of Arthur’s cousins.

Dirty uncle Lester?” was Ron’s reaction when Harry told him over drinks. “You’re working with dirty uncle Lester?”

Harry made a face. “Why dirty?”

“It’s what mum always calls him. One year he came to Christmas right after working a case, without showering, and he was covered in this—”

“I like him! He’s nice, he isn’t bothered by things. I like him.”

“Like who?” Blaise asked, turning into their conversation as though summoned, leaving Neville and Hermione’s discussion at the other side of the table.

“My uncle,” Ron said.

Blaise nodded. “Plot twist, but sure.”

In response, Harry changed the topic the way one does three beers in: abruptly. “Blaise!” he announced, “Question!”

“Yes! Ask!”

“You’re friends with Malfoy, right?”

“Ah. Draco doesn’t believe in friendship.”

“Right, yes, so I’ve heard. So.” Harry drummed on the table a bit, perhaps forcing a lightness he didn’t quite feel at the topic. “Do you know — does he—? He doesn’t date, does he?”

“Other than you?”

Harry just gave him a flat look in reply. Ron, instead, looked to Harry curiously, glancing from him to Hermione and back. Draco Malfoy, they’d unofficially agreed, fell under Hermione’s topical jurisdiction.

Blaise’s smile turned into a laugh and he shrugged, took a swig of his drink. “Really, mate, your guess is as good as mine. I don’t think I’ve ever even heard him use the word dating. I think — God,” he laughed, remembering. “He used to call it courting. ‘Who is Pansy courting now?’ ‘Have you heard Potter has begun courting Chang?’ Ah,” he sighed. “Bless.”

“Bless who?” Neville wanted to know, tipsily leaning into Blaise. Neville, too, was a quick drunk, a loving one. Blaise’s smile turned soft as he said, quieter,

“You, babe.”

The sight of it stilled Harry. Until that moment he hadn’t understood he’d sat at a table with two couples, and the realisation sent hot embarrassment up his neck. He wasn’t sure why. Neville tilted his face up, nose almost brushing Blaise’s. Harry swallowed, looked down at his drink.

The end of the night found Ron and him outside of the pub, tucking in their scarves, waiting for the rest of the group who were still inside — talking to the bartender, going to the loo, arguing over who was going to cover the tab.

Harry watched their breaths puffing in the cold. Further down the street, a drunk crowd was laughing.

“How long have they been together?”

Ron rubbed his hands, blew on them. “Blaise and Neville? A while. A few months?”

Harry nodded. “Wow.”

“You didn’t know?”

“No. God.” He laughed at himself, mirthless. “Am I a bad friend? I don’t ask many questions. I should, I should ask more. God. Why didn’t he tell me?”

“Mate, he probably assumed you’d noticed.” Ron smiled through chattering teeth, shoved at him lightly. “Hey. You’re not a bad friend. Just . . . you have your own stuff going on, y’know. But yeah. Asking questions is good. Probably.”

Harry nodded like he was taking a mental note. He’d started shivering too, jumped up and down a few times to keep warm.

“And I know this isn’t my department,” Ron continued, talking in a rush now. “But if you want to know something about Malfoy’s life you should probably ask him. I know it’s hard and I know you don’t like it, but if you’d ask he might — he’s not who we think — who we thought he was, I promise, he’s—”

“Yeah alright. Alright. Yes.” Harry let go of a breath he was holding. It fogged up his glasses. “So how are you? How are things? How’s Hermione?”

Ron chuckled after a moment, taking the shift in stride. He shoved at Harry again. “This you asking questions?”

“Yes.” Harry laughed, a single cloud of a breath. “How am I doing?”

“Awful,” Ron said as the rest of the group stumbled out of the pub, loud and talking over each other. The night was bright and clear, no clouds overhead, and Hermione wrapped an arm around his waist when she noticed him looking up — taking in the stars.

“Pretty,” she said, sounding half asleep. Harry hugged her close, a little less cold, and hummed in agreement.

***

The frosts were just breaking, the season on the cusp of change, when Malfoy told him he had a gift.

“Sort of,” he explained, excitedly rummaging about the kitchen, looking for a specifically sized cauldron. His potions goggles were hanging from a wire around his neck again, his reading glasses hanging from his shirt pocket. “Kind of. See it as a—” A little dismissive wave. “Belated birthday present. Christmas. Easter. Whatever.”

The house seemed lighter that day, the light coming from the garden spilling in with a yellow hue. The snow had melted and someone had removed most of the shrubbery, had set out a little table. That, too, was covered with Malfoy’s potion-making trinkets — a small burner, some large tweezers, a few bowls of smoking draughts.

Malfoy sank to his knees, pulled open a cupboard, mumbling, “For Merlin’s sake, where is that damned — ah! Here we go.” He took out a cauldron the size of a Snitch and got to his feet. He set it on the counter, on a burner that was only a little bit bigger.

“All right.” He clapped his hands, rubbed them, turned to Harry. “Tea?”

Harry, who’d watched him dance about the room with confusion, took a moment to respond. He nodded, slowly, said, “Full disclosure? I’m a little frightened right now.”

“Oh, don’t be dramatic.” The statement lingered when Malfoy turned on the kettle with a grand gesture of his wand, beckoned over a pot and two cups with three taps to the edge of the counter. When he sat at the table he did so with the chair pulled sideways, making room so he could cross his legs, rest an ankle on his knee.

“You’d mentioned wanting to go on vacation,” he said. Colour was high on his cheeks, and his lips seemed bitten raw, dry. Harry’s heart drummed a little faster in his chest.

“Sure,” he said, careful.

“I’ve found something. I think. It’s early stages, and it won’t last long, but!” He smiled, pleased with himself, eyes bright. The kettle whistled and took itself off the fire, poured itself into the pot. “But, if I’m right, and I’m usually right, it’ll extend the — well—” He gestured vaguely between them, accepting the pot as it floated over to him, settled it on the table. The two cups followed in their own time.

Harry’s throat closed up. The drumming of his heart picked up still. “Extend? How? How much?”

“A week,” Malfoy said, and his colour darkened at seeing Harry’s response, his smile turned bashful. “Not permanent, but. One week.”

The pot poured out the tea. This time, Harry spelled the clock to float above them. His smoke had little bits of thunder in it, always did. He couldn’t figure out why. He pushed his sleeve up, and when Malfoy’s arm settled into his hold he could feel his pulse thrumming. He was warm today, warmer than usual.

Harry smiled in return, a tentative thing. “Is it a potion?”

“No. Well, yes, but no. Sort of. A little.”

“Is it to do with Hermione’s theory? Did you get moon rock or—?”

“No, no, nothing of the — no. This is . . . different. Quite different.” Malfoy licked his cracked lips, worried his bottom one with his teeth. He didn’t offer any further explanation. Harry thought it would follow quickly — it usually did — but only a silence settled between them. A silence and Malfoy’s hesitant, folding smile. His crooked canines hooked over his lip.

Harry ignored the heat running up his spine. “Are you planning to go on vacation, too?”

“No. Well, yes, but,” he squeezed Harry’s arm gently. “We’ll try with you first. I’ll be staying here.”

“Wait, so — wait. Am I the experiment?”

“Experiment, gift.” He shrugged, took a sip of his tea. “Semantics.”

Harry narrowed his eyes. “Is it dangerous?”

Malfoy’s smile twitched. “Absolutely not.”

“See, doesn’t quite feel like the truth, that.”

“Well.” Malfoy lifted his cup at him in a mock-cheer. “You’ll just have to trust me, then,” he said off-handedly, as though it would be the easiest of all the steps.

***

Harry managed to get a week off at the end of April. He’d hovered by Robards’ desk when they pencilled it in, and putting a little cross off the side of seven days — two whole pages of his planner — gave him a thrill. Robards asked if he had any grand plans, any destinations, and Harry realised he didn’t — hadn’t even gotten to that part.

He spent a good afternoon at his desk making a list of places he knew of. Not even wanted to go to, just — knew of, knew they existed. He then made another list, of people he knew who might want to come with him, who could come with him, who weren’t bound in one way or another. Both were surprisingly short. Both ended up in the fireplace with an annoyed flick of his wand.

“Where would you go?” he asked Malfoy that evening. The room smelled like fireworks. Malfoy’s hair was pulled back from his face, tied with a short ribbon. There were flecks of ash on his cheeks.

He considered the question for a moment. Harry thought his answer would be mocking, but when Malfoy spoke he sounded thoughtful, earnest. “I would probably pay a visit to an acquaintance. A family friend. They’d show me around, I’d explore the countryside. A bit of a dinner, a drink. A walk.” He held Harry’s gaze for a moment, then looked away. “Something like that.”

“Right.” Harry took in Malfoy’s profile, the dip of his cheekbone. “That sounds . . . nice.”

Malfoy hummed in response, not a confirmation nor a denial. Harry drummed the countdown of the seconds on the spots of his two moles. He didn’t seem to notice.

That night Harry wrote Charlie in Romania. Just a few days, he scratched onto a parchment. Won’t be much of a bother, just need some time off and would love to see the dragons. Do let me know! He paused, quickly rereading his letter, deciding he was pleased with it. He signed it:

All best, Harry.

***

He arrived by way of a snow globe portkey. It left, as per schedule, from the designated departure hall on the 1st floor of the Ministry.

The London he left behind was gloomy, blanketed by a sheet of insistent rain that had held on for several days. He landed on a sunny hillside and nearly got swept up by a harsh gale. He hiked his bag up his shoulder and gathered himself as the wind blew into his open coat and puffed it up, tousled his hair. Below lay a small town, blue and orange roofs dotting the hilly descent, and in the cradle of the valley was a small castle, all turrets and pikes. Two figures were picking their way up the hill, waving their arms, shouting hellos. One of them was Charlie.

“Hello!” Harry shouted back, and waved his arms about just as madly, walking down toward them.

They met halfway, the wild winds stealing Harry’s laughter as Charlie wrapped him in an exaggerated hug, shaking him back and forth, shouting, “Harry Potter! Harry Potter has come to visit me!” Harry’s face was pressed against Charlie’s warm neck, and he couldn’t stop smiling. Not when Charlie let him go, not when he introduced him to his colleague — Lowe, bright-eyed and Welsh — not when Charlie led the way down toward the town, his arm slung over Harry’s shoulder. Not when the three of them sat in a small café for lunch — to settle Harry’s portkey nausea — and Charlie dug into the package Molly had given Harry, had insisted he pass on.

“Oh, jackpot,” Charlie said, opening a battered tin box. “Fudge.

Lowe sat expansively in his seat, one arm over the back of Charlie’s chair, the other wide on the table. The backs of his hands were covered in tattoos that trailed up his arms, disappeared under his sleeves. He’d nicked Charlie’s new scarf — Molly had chosen purple, this time — and had flipped it loosely around his neck.

“So what is it you’d like to do?” Lowe asked. His grin was lazy.

Harry was having an oniony soup out of a bread bowl. He was still fighting to settle his smile, in between spoons. “See the dragons. Definitely the dragons. And,” he let a breath go, excited, “Maybe you could show me around? I’d like to see the countryside, here. Go out for drinks. Walks. I don’t know.” He laughed. “Does that sound right?”

“Sounds perfect,” Lowe said, and Charlie nodded, trying to talk but still working on a sticky piece of fudge.

“We can do dragons tomorrow,” he managed, chewing, swallowing. “I have to be on the fields most days, but Lowe can show you around. He works nights.”

“Sure do,” Lowe added, and something about that made Harry flush, made the giddiness bloom low in his stomach.

Charlie laughed, exasperated, and asked his friend to stop, asked if he could make it through two minutes without flirting with anything that looked vaguely animate. To this Harry wondered aloud if Charlie thought him to be only vaguely animate, and Charlie said, Just about, and Harry couldn’t help the laughter — the belly laughter, head thrown back, relaxed.

When they’d finished with lunch, Lowe drove them around in his small battered car. It smelled like dogs and the back seat was littered with empty bottles and variously sized camping knives. Harry rolled down the window and watched the countryside flash by. Hills, trees, green as far as he could see. The air smelled like the very peak of spring. Happiness washed through him with intensity, starting and ending in the dip of his chest where the pendant — hung from its leather necklace — rested against his skin.

Malfoy had given it to him that morning. The two weeks leading up to the vacation he’d been absent-minded, deep in his notes, occasionally shutting down Harry’s inane chatter with a, For Christ’s sake, Potter, I’m trying to focus.

The townhouse kitchen had smelled sickly with potions during those days. The mess of Malfoy’s table had exploded, expanded and grown to reach the kitchen counter, the floor. Malfoy himself had been excitable but gaunt-looking, and the few times he’d bothered to get up to make them tea — it was mostly Harry’s task, these days — he’d seemed to limp a little, to favour his left leg over his right.

But when Harry had shown up that morning, the townhouse kitchen had been cleaner than he’d ever seen it. The table had been empty save for the few potted plants, gently waving their stalks. The stove had been clear, no bubbling potions, no blue goo dripping down the cupboards. The doors to the garden had been open and the room had smelled like lemons.

Malfoy had been drinking coffee as he stood leaning against the table. He’d been waiting for Harry.

“All set to go?” he’d asked. His voice had sounded raw. He’d looked exhausted.

Harry himself had been nervous, had been restless all night, but in the kitchen he’d just chuckled and ignored his anxiety. Malfoy hadn’t given him much in the way of an explanation when he’d reached into his pocket, taken out a box. Tossed it to Harry. It had looked like a small jewellery box. It had held a long, rough leather thread with a small, round glass pendant hanging from it.

“A token,” Draco had said. “For a while, it should mimic the effects of . . .” He’d almost trailed off, but had seemed too tired to filter his words. “Our touch.”

It had. Harry’d put it on almost immediately, tucking it under the neck of his shirt, letting it rest against his skin. It had warmed instantly, a little glowing dot against his sternum, spreading out across his chest. The Bond had relaxed, purred, like a cat finding a spot in the sun. Harry had put his hand over the pendant, over his heart, and had closed his eyes — laughed. He’d felt calm. Perfect. Perfect.

“It works,” was what Malfoy had said, voice small. He’d been watching him.

“Yeah.” Harry had smiled, hapless. “Yeah,” he’d repeated, barely a breath. He’d come to stand next to Malfoy, leaning back against the table. “Wow.”

Malfoy had huffed. “You can’t take it off. You have to keep it on at all times. Sleep, shower, whatever.”

Their shoulders had touched, the backs of their hands had brushed, but it hadn’t mattered. It had felt like Malfoy’s touch was all over him, anyway. Inside of him, in his bloodstream. In his heartbeat, heavy in his ears. “Wow,” he’d said, again. “You did well.”

Casually, without preamble, Malfoy had turned his hand and loosely laced his fingers with Harry’s. The Bond had already been coursing wildly through him, so satisfied that he could barely single out the effects of Malfoy’s dry palm against his. But when those long fingers hooked against his, his heart had skidded under the pendant.

Malfoy had let his head loll sideways, fall onto Harry’s shoulder. “Just to be sure,” he’d muttered, sounding sleep-addled.

Harry had swallowed. “Did you sleep at all?”

“Pff.” From his angle, Harry could just about see Malfoy’s eyelids droop. “Sleep,” he’d said, derogative.

“Draco,” Harry had whispered, soft with the warmth of the Bond. “Go to sleep, yeah?”

“Yeah,” he’d muttered back, heavy against Harry’s side.

That’s how Harry had left him that morning: a sleepy wreck, unsteady on his feet as he watched Harry Floo from the fireplace in the drawing room. Their gaze had held when Harry announced his destination, The Ministry for Magic, heavy in a curious way. For a small moment, he’d desperately wanted to stay. The Bond had dizzied him, confused at being satisfied, at watching him leave Malfoy behind. Draco, the soft pull at his core had supplied, just a second later.

The soft sentiment had kept him off-kilter and warm throughout the day. Through queueing at the Ministry, through the portkey travels. It had flared again when Charlie had hugged him, when Lowe had grinned at him, his sharp corner teeth showing. It was still there when Harry sat in the back of the car, the wind coming in from the open window, and at that moment he thought: that was what his life would be like if it weren’t for the Bond — simple, free. Joyous. The ache gone from the small of his back, from the pit of his stomach.

A small, quieter part of him piped up to say that without the Bond, this particular bliss wouldn’t have been there either — that warmth he felt pulsing from the weight of the pendant, the way it clouded his mind with satisfaction. This, that part of him whispered. This, this, this.

***

Charlie and Lowe lived in a good-sized cabin together with two other dragon trainers. It was hidden behind a tall stand of pines which opened up into a clearing — a patch of moss and grass spotted with small scorch-marks. Charlie thought it a good laugh to bring one of the young’uns home one time, Lowe had explained, sounding like it hadn’t been just Charlie who’d helped execute that plan.

Their home was warm and messy. There were dishes and socks and dragon gadgets everywhere. Harry’s bed was a pull-out bed in the living room, though that first night he barely slept a wink: he was heavy with drink and thrummed with energy, happy, listening to the bugs croak loudly outside. He fiddled with the necklace, couldn’t keep from touching it. Every brush of his fingers to the leather sent a warm rush through him — a summer breeze, that first sip of morning coffee. The press of lips of a loved one.

He eventually nodded off just as the sky began to brighten outside, just as the morning choir started up their soft calls. Charlie woke him up eventually with a few shakes to the shoulder, handing him a mug of steaming coffee. Harry was groggy, but the rush was still there, flooding his system. He smiled into his drink, closing his eyes.

“Sleep well?” Charlie asked him, amused at Harry’s good mood.

Harry hmm’d, nodded. His grin widened. He couldn’t help it.

They went to see the dragons that day. Lowe took them in his car; Apparation was too loud, shifted too much magic around the grounds and spooked the newer dragons. Charlie twisted himself in the front seat to still talk to Harry as they drove, explaining their procedures, the kind of injured dragons the sanctuary usually took in — the kind of injuries they ran into, why they happened. Abandoned electricity plants were a big issue, Charlie told him. They liked to nest there, liked the quiet and the heat, but they tended to get tangled in the rusty wiring — would panic and hurt themselves. They’d be brought to the sanctuary with deep, festering slices down their flanks, their claws a mess of wiring and cloth.

“That’s horrible,” Harry said, and Charlie agreed.

The sanctuary was massive. Harry could smell it before he saw it: sulphur, wood, and mud. The smell of dragons. The grounds stretched around the foot of a hill, all small stone buildings and low metal fences. Beyond, magical boundaries demarcated each dragon’s den. The sight was enough to steal his breath, halt his heartbeat: dozens of dragons, as far as he could see, all running and flying and looping around under their own dome of magic. Nearby, in a smaller den, a young Firebolt blew a ring of fire out for himself and flew right through it. He cackled at his own achievement, sounding like a giant magpie.

“Wow,” Harry said, and couldn’t think of much else to add.

“Yep.” Charlie clapped his shoulder, laughing, urging him along. “Welcome to heaven.”

It was a sunny day, and the wind had died down somewhat. Harry soon had to leave his jacket behind, hung on a fence, working up a sweat as he shadowed Charlie in his tasks. Checking up on the dragons under his care — a two-month-old Antipodean Opaleye who coughed a pretty scarlet cloud, a Peruvian Vipertooth who was missing a leg, a grumpy Hebridean Black, and a curious Shortsnout who huffed loudly into Harry’s ear — cleaning out their dens, making sure no infections had started up under their scales, in their ears.

At one point, Charlie was taken away for a brief consultation and Harry lingered back, walked around the grounds, squinting at the sun. It was a beautiful spring day. There was a hubbub of languages, of action, but all of it was done with the calm of having just one objective: keep the dragons alive. There was no danger that came from beyond the walls of the magical keep, of the valley of the dragons. No bottomless pit of potential crimes, no mysteries to be solved. Nothing but the woods, the earth, and the sight of an excitable dragon rolling itself in the mud.

Harry ended up with the small Antipodean Opaleye. Ofelia, a passing trainer told him. He sat cross-legged on the grass, charming a small ball of fire from the tip of his wand, waving it around for her to chase — try and catch, swallow, bite at. Every now and then she’d get tired of the game and flop, belly-up, into his lap. He’d scratch it and she’d cough her scarlet smoke up at him, making him choke and laugh.

“Someone’s in love,” was Charlie’s comment when he found Harry again. Ofelia was draped over his shoulders, chewing on his hair.

“I’m taking her home,” Harry said, dead serious. “I’m taking her home and raising her in my garden. Aren’t I?” he directed the question at the little dragon. She tried to gnaw on his arm. “That’s a yes,” he informed Charlie.

Charlie laughed and helped extricate Harry from Ofelia’s tight grip. Harry acted dramatic about leaving her, groaning, reaching back when Charlie dragged him out of under the dome of magic — crying out, I’ll be back, my love!

Ofelia blinked a reptilian sideways blink, cocked her head at him. Then she got distracted by a passing dragonfly, and immediately hopped off on a hunt.

That evening, Charlie took him out for dinner in a pub in town. Lowe was working the night and didn’t come with them. It was a small establishment, warm and stuffy with a blazing fire in the hearth. The walls were panelled with wood. The beer they served tasted like bread and rose to Harry’s head faster than he expected.

They talked about Charlie’s work, about the dragons. They talked about Lowe, who Harry said seemed like a nice bloke, and Charlie knew exactly what Harry meant and told him with a lopsided grin that no, they weren’t together. Oh I — I didn’t think you were, Harry lied, feigning innocence. Charlie just laughed and said, Sure, sure you didn’t.

Then Charlie asked him about his own work and Harry’s throat went tight. The conversation turned quiet at that.

“Are you happy?” Charlie asked, quite out of nowhere. “Harry?”

Harry just stared at his beer. His empty plate. The play of light from the fireplace on their table. “Could be better,” he said eventually.

In the periphery of his vision, Harry could see Charlie nod. “And Malfoy?”

Harry snorted. “If he’s happy?”

Charlie smiled. “Not what I meant, but sure.”

Harry shrugged. He didn’t know. The beer had made him heavy and blurry, and the happy rush was still strong under his skin despite the fact that the mention of work weighed heavy on his chest. Was Malfoy happy? Was that something for him to know?

Charlie sidealonged him home. Harry leaned against him as they walked to the cabin, pushing closer at the feel of Charlie’s hand on his hip steadying him. The touch felt so good, so close, and he wanted more. But Charlie just chuckled at Harry’s clumsy attempt to move closer, told him he was drunk, told him goodnight. He deposited Harry on the pull-out bed, and Harry was only vaguely aware of a glass of water being set down on the floor next to him. Of a back of a hand to his cheek. Sleepy and intoxicated, he moved into it, fingers automatically curling around the necklace. He moaned softly at the combination, then fell quickly and fully into a dream.

***

The next day Lowe took him for a ride around the region while Charlie was out at work. Harry was distracted as they got into the car, quiet. He vaguely remembered the night before and had a sense he’d made a fool of himself with Charlie. He worried over it, turning thoughts over pointlessly. Lowe noticed his mood and began to chatter with him, constantly and inanely, telling some story about his auntie Tieneke, her two boyfriends, and an unfortunate glamour charm gone wrong. It worked, and soon had Harry laughing. This spurred Lowe on, it seemed, and a half hour into their trip Harry knew more about his family’s constellation that he knew about most people’s.

Lowe had a Muggle dad and a witch for a mum, was half Dutch but had grown up in Wales. He’d been a Slytherin, the kind that — in his own words — always looked for adventures in other common rooms. He confessed to having been hopelessly in love with Bill Weasley for most of his time at school (“But then again who wasn’t. Christ, that body,”) which was how he’d befriended Charlie: as a strategic move, at first, and then — reluctantly — as a consolation prize.

“Does Charlie know he’s a consolation prize?” Harry asked, laughing. They’d parked the car near a thatch of woods, and Lowe was showing him a stand of trees that had grown into a tangle with one another.

“Oh, I remind him every day,” Lowe said, hand on a moss-covered trunk. “Lest he forgets.”

Harry huffed, grinning and trying not to. He shook his head. Lowe winked at him, a quick thing he’d seen him do before to show he was jesting. But now, in the quiet of the woods, something about it — about Lowe’s smile, the way his sharp teeth hooked on his lower lip — felt different. Anticipatory.

Harry wondered at it. He glanced at Lowe a few times when they were back in the car, and Lowe seemed to sense it every time — to glance back, amusement tugging at the corners of his mouth.

He didn’t have to wonder long. At one point Lowe asked him to get his sunglasses from the glove compartment, but Harry couldn’t find them. Still driving, Lowe leaned over, rummaging and cursing softly when he couldn’t find them either. But leaning away again the heat of his arm brushed Harry’s leg and lingered, barely a touch. Instinctively, Harry chased it — opening his legs just a bit. A beat, and Lowe’s gaze snapping between the road and Harry’s eyes, his crotch. A beat and then his hand was back: on Harry’s knee, gentle, and when Harry inched his legs wider the touch moved up. Lowe’s hand was hot and heavy, high on his thigh.

He kept it there as they sped down the windy roads flanked on both sides by tall pines. The underbrush was a blur of bright green. Lowe’s eyes were firm on the road as Harry put his hand over Lowe’s and moved it up until it covered Harry’s half-hard cock, strained against his jeans. He squeezed his hand over Lowe’s, and Lowe cursed low in his throat.

“Shit. Christ.” Lowe pulled over to the soft shoulder of the road. He stopped the car. “I want to suck you,” he told Harry, moving already, unlocking the safety belt.

Harry could only say, “Yeah, yes,” fumbling with his own belt and then his jeans. His hands were shaking and Lowe joined him in unbuttoning them, muttering a rushed come on come on come on and then pushing the flaps aside. He rubbed Harry once through his pants before taking out Harry’s cock. He was fully hard now, and he only had a second to admire the way he looked — ruddy and twitching in Lowe’s tattooed hand — before Lowe sank down on him, leaning sideways from his driver’s seat.

It didn’t last long, the necklace made sure of it: Lowe sucked him fast and good and hot and Harry had one hand in his hair, another around the leather band, and the Bond keened and pulsed like it hadn’t ever before. Harry moaned, rolling up into Lowe’s mouth, and Lowe hummed appreciatively. Harry cussed, focused on the sounds around him — the cicadas, the wind through the trees, the wet slurp of Lowe folding his tongue around him — and came harder than he had in years. Than he had, ever.

Jesus,” he panted, still coming down from it a good several minutes later. Lowe clambered up and over him, kissed him open and wet, his own cock in hand — jerking off in the cradle of Harry’s lap, breathing into his mouth.

When they got back to the cabin that evening, Charlie was already home from the grounds. He handed them both a cold drink as they sat in the living room, Harry and Lowe over Harry’s makeshift bed. Over the rumpled sheets.

“Good day?” Charlie asked, holding his own bottle askance.

Harry blushed despite himself. He said, “Sure, yes,” and swallowed. Lowe had slung his arm over the back of the couch. Harry could feel the heat of it.

The next day Harry went with Charlie to the dragons again. He spent the morning hours playing with Ofelia, trying to get her to unfold her wings. She would not. She did, however, sweep her tail quite impressively into Harry’s face, which left him with an angry red mark high on his cheek. Then, at around midday — as agreed — Harry begged off, saying he’d promised Ron and Hermione a Firecall. Charlie, who came out of one of the dens with leather gloves all the way up to his shoulders, was a little bit too distracted to pay attention to Harry’s detailed reasoning and told him to catch a ride up the valley with one of the other trainers. He could Apparate from there.

Harry did. He Apparated to the cabin, a little shaky, heart high. Lowe was waiting for him shirtless in the doorway to his bedroom. He greeted him with a, “Fuck yes,” and a hand to the back of his neck, pulling him into a kiss, the kiss pulling him into his room. Harry still had the presence of mind to kick the door closed behind them.

Lowe had him on his back, on the bed, riding him fast and hard, hips snapping in tight little circles. He felt amazing around Harry’s cock, felt amazing on top of him. His tattoos snaked up his arms, down his chest. Harry traced them with one hand, the other hand unable to let go of the necklace, pressing it closer to his sweaty chest.

Lowe was incredibly attractive, all lean muscles, bright eyes and a smile that looked like the embodiment of danger. There was something about their interaction that made it feel like it was a game, a dance. Harry wanted to flip them over, wanted to drive Lowe to the edge and then hold back, see what it would do to him. See if it could make the man’s smile falter, if it could make him beg. Lowe bent down to kiss Harry and Harry snapped his hips up faster, harder, and in the fog of his arousal — and with his glasses lost to the nightstand — Lowe blurred, and an unbidden memory crashed through Harry like a storm. Draco, crawling into his lap in the living room of 12 Grimmauld Place and winding his hands into Harry’s hair. Panting against his cheek, saying, Lord. God. Please.

That’s how Harry came, one hand a vice on Lowe’s hip — the other pushing the leather band into his skin.

They went at it twice again before Charlie came home. Once while Harry tried to make sandwiches for the both of them and Lowe came up behind him, pressed close, and snuck his hand down into Harry’s boxers, his mouth to Harry’s neck.

“All this Auror buff,” he whispered, a smile in his voice. The hand that wasn’t on Harry’s cock was scratching at his chest, his pecs. They ended up with Lowe bent over the kitchen table and Harry rocking into him, slow, their soft laughs soon turning into short breaths, pants.

The other time was in the shower, when Lowe said he needed to clean himself of the filth and Harry joined without much of a question. Fully defeating the purpose, Lowe said, smiling into Harry’s mouth.

When Harry left the shower — jeans on but shirt off, drying his head with the towel — leaving Lowe to wash in proper, Charlie was in the living room, in one of the armchairs. He had his feet up on the coffee table, a beer in hand. He smiled up at Harry, a little wry.

“Um,” Harry said. In the other room, the shower was still running. “Charlie,” he started, but didn’t know how to finish the sentence. Charlie shook his head, wry smile still in place. He opened his mouth to speak, then stopped himself — did it twice. Harry dropped the towel on the couch, sat in the chair next to Charlie. “You said . . .” He swallowed. He was having a hard time remembering why he’d thought this would be a good idea, now. “When you said that you, that you two weren’t — I really didn’t—”

“We aren’t. No, God, we—” Charlie puffed out a laugh, nervous, giving a conclusive shake of his head. “It’s fine! It’s fine. We’re not. I just didn’t . . .” He shrugged, grinning uncomfortably. “Expect this. Anyway. Anyway!” He sighed, glanced away, glanced back. His eyes passed over Harry’s flushed chest.

His discomfort shifted. He frowned. “Harry, what’s that?”

Harry needed a moment to understand what Charlie meant. The necklace. His hand shot up to it, almost protectively. “Oh, um. Well. It’s a—” He thought back to Malfoy, what he’d said earlier that week, tossing him the box. Leaning into him. Holding his hand. He said, weakly, “A token.”

Charlie looked back at him, all earnest. He put his drink down on the table, put his feet down. “That’s dragon hide. Did Malfoy give that to you?”

Harry swallowed. “Yes?”

“Fuck,” Charlie breathed. “I didn’t think he’d . . . Hermione knows, right? Did she help you test it?”

Panic, the old familiar, quickly cut through the blur of his underskin satisfaction. “Test what?”

Charlie held his gaze as though he was trying to figure out whether Harry was serious. His heartbeat thudded loud in his ears. “Charlie. Test what?”

“Oh boy,” was Charlie’s answer to that, getting up out of his seat. Harry wanted to ask, again, but then Charlie’s wand was out — pointed at the fireplace, calling up a flame, setting up the connection for an international Firecall.

***

He couldn’t Apparate across borders, which meant he had to use an inter-Floo network of several public addresses that Charlie had hurriedly written for him on a piece of paper — torn from the corner of a newspaper. From Sinaia he Floo’d to the Ministry in Bucharest, from there to Budapest, from there to Vienna, from there to Frankfurt. There he had a delay of about two hours due to a leak on the second floor of their department, and in Brussels they gave him trouble for his travel paperwork — setting him back another hour or so.

By the time he crossed the border and Apparated to the townhouse, he was relieved to find that the wards let him in. Hermione had tried several times earlier that night to no avail.

He found Malfoy in his chair in the drawing room. He was ghostly pale, lips looking blue. There was a red stain under his nose like he’d wiped at blood. His eyes were sunken and wild, unfocused. The collar of his dress shirt looked dirty, the hem of his grey jumper too.

He took in a ragged breath at Harry’s appearance. His gaze stilled.

“Oh, good,” he said. He sounded wrecked, a sandpaper voice. “You’re back,” he added, quieter, and with that his eyes rolled back — closed, body slumping in his seat.

 

Chapter Text

Harry was at Draco’s feet in a heartbeat, shaking his shoulders — shouting his name, trying to wake him up, to get him to respond. He opened his eyes, barely, when Harry palmed his cheek, but it was a small second before he sank into unconsciousness again. Harry’s heart had been in his throat since before he’d left Charlie’s cabin, panic making it hard for him to move his hands, to think quickly. Sitting on his knees, his hands on Malfoy’s hot neck, he willed his breathing to a calmer pace. Then, remembering the plan, he turned the fireplace back onto the Floo network. A call came in immediately: Hermione. He let her through, and she barreled into the room with a flurry of ash and fire.

“Where is it,” was her first question, bending down by Harry’s side — checking Malfoy’s vitals with quick fingers. Harry fumbled with the necklace, hesitated only for a split second before taking it off, handing it over. The loss was immediate, and it sent a wave of nausea through him. He had to hold on to the armchair to steady himself when handing over the necklace. Hermione had her fingers on the inside of Malfoy’s wrist, timing his pulse. She held the necklace in her free hand, inspecting it.

“What did he call this?” she asked, voice clipped. Harry knew this voice. It meant no good.

“A — a token, I think. What does that mean?”

She huffed. “That he’s an idiot. That you both are.” She palmed the leather, pocketed it. She took the hem of Draco’s jumper in hand and held the tip of her wand to it — cut into the fabric. She pulled to tear it up, said, “Here, help me,” and let Harry do the rest. A bloody stain bloomed through the fabric of his shirt, over his ribs.

“What?” Harry whispered, clumsy with the buttons at first — then just snapping them off to get the fabric aside.

“God damn it, Draco,” Hermione hissed next to him. The wound on his ribs was covered in gauze and the blood was wet. Fresh. Hermione tugged it off, as gently as she could, and made quick work of inspecting the damage: a neat cut, not deep but not healing.

“Hermione?” Harry swallowed through a dry mouth. “What—?”

Hermione stood abruptly. “Get your hands on him,” she ordered, getting the necklace back out of her pocket. Harry just stared, frozen, and so she had to repeat it, louder, adding a, “Quick!”

Harry put his shaky hands on Draco’s abdomen, and the muscles reacted to his touch, a startled twitch. Harry’s fingers felt cold against the warm skin. 

“No such thing as a bloody token,” she said, holding the leather with its pendant in the dip of her palm. She aimed her wand at it, scanning. “Damn it!” She was trying to open the glass pendant and it wasn’t responding. She aimed a tougher spell at it, and still — nothing. “Dragon hide has preserving properties, it helps retain—” She shook her wand, annoyed, grunting. Her sentences, as they followed, were half-formed. “—his skin, he kept his skin alive, in this stupid — transferred it to the hide, held it all together with a god damn—”

She levitated the necklace, sending it over to the mantelpiece and, with a final burst of frustration, cast a strong explosive its way. It burst into flames immediately, warped in on itself, turned to flakes. The pendant melted, went up with a loud crack. Draco gasped in the chair, arching, and Harry held on to his sides, to his stomach — keeping him in place. He sank back down, still unconscious. With a small papery sound and the whoosh of magic released, the wound on his ribs knitted itself closed, leaving behind only a shiny crescent moon of a pink scar.

Hermione released a hard breath, balanced herself on the arm of the seat behind her.

“Okay,” she exhaled. “Okay.”

Draco’s breathing was shallow under Harry’s hands, his heartbeat distant. Through the buzz of panic and confusion a memory was forming, of Draco, just several months before, sitting at the kitchen table and talking about dragons, asking Harry if he knew that dragon hide retains its properties and ability to grow for over a week after removal from the—

“But it worked,” Harry said, quiet and hapless. He looked up at Hermione.

She closed her eyes, still leaning against the chair. “Only one way. It can only work one way.” She frowned, and after a moment looked at Harry. “Idiots. What were you thinking?”

And Harry, in all his honesty, could only say: “I . . . didn’t. I didn’t know.”

The fire crackled in the hearth. Harry looked at his hands, at Draco’s bare chest. It was covered in faint scars. He looked asleep, perhaps a little sick. Unwell. The colour had come back to his lips, purple. He looked achingly fragile.

“He’ll be fine,” Hermione said, watching Harry watch Draco. “We got here on time. Keep the contact.”

Harry nodded, taking in a shaky breath. He was still on his knees. They ached, distantly. He moved his hands down to Draco’s hips, and Draco exhaled softly.

“He’ll need rest. He probably didn’t get much sleep during—” She stopped herself with a humourless puff of a laugh. “I cannot believe this man. You and him both, you deserve each other.”

“I didn’t know, Hermione.”

She ignored him. “Deciding on your own what’s good for you and others, hurtling off into danger, not bothering to even ask if it’s—” She halted. Sighed. Looked to Harry, to his position. His hands, and Draco’s torn clothes. She looked away again. “You should take him upstairs. He’ll need rest. And—” She gestured, looking for a word. She looked too tired to find the right one, though, and settled for, “Touch.”

Harry flushed. It felt like an inappropriate reaction, considering everything — considering the leftover panic that was still pulsing through him. He willed it away, frowned over it, nodded. She made to help him when he bent to lift Draco out of the chair, but there was nothing to help with. Harry hooked one arm under Draco’s knees, one around his bare back, hoisted him up into his hold. That’s how he walked out of the room, with Draco’s unconscious head lolling onto his shoulder.

Hermione was one step behind him as he walked up the stairs of the townhouse. She talked quietly, saying that she was going to pop back home to let Ron know what had happened — but that she’d be back, that she’d probably sleep downstairs. That it’d be okay. That they’d figure it out in the morning.

Standing at the top of the landing, turning with an armful of Draco in the carpeted hallway, Harry realised he’d never been this far into Draco’s home. That he didn’t know where the bedrooms were.

“To the right,” Hermione told him, seeing his confusion. She sounded resigned. “Second door.”

“Right,” Harry said, and turned to the right. It was dark. Draco was heavy in his arms, surreal. He wondered, vaguely, what time it was. How far into the night they were. As if summoned, the grandfather clock downstairs chimed the hour. It was two in the morning.

Hermione held the door open for them with her wand. “I’ll be back,” she said, and Harry nodded as she walked away, quiet footsteps down the hallway. Inside the room, he cast a soft Lumos, and his wand — kept in his back pocket, against all good advice — lit up in a soft glow.

The bed was a four-poster in the middle of the room and Harry put Draco down as carefully as he could, arms shaking with effort. Bleary-eyed and a little numb, he tugged Draco’s torn clothes from his torso. He took off Draco’s shoes, too, then stripped off his own jacket and shirt — toed off his boots.

He pulled the sheets from under Draco, a little roughly, and climbed into the bed himself, pulling the sheet over the both of them. He tucked close, fitting his chest to Draco’s bare back, and huffed at the feel of it. And still, still, the Bond thrummed at their contact — bloomed hot and sleepy between them.

Draco breathed in deeply and moved back into Harry’s hold.

Harry, exhausted and softened by his own tiredness, gathered Draco’s hair from his neck and smoothed it away, over his shoulder, so that he could fit closer still. He curled his arm tightly around Draco — held his hand over Draco’s chest, over his heart, making sure the beat was there. That it was steady.

That’s how sleep claimed him: with a sure hand on Draco and his forehead to the hot back of his neck — his mouth to the jut at the top of his spine.

***

It wasn’t just the morning that woke Harry up. He was hungry — famished — and his body ached, trapped under a weight. He came round slowly, then altogether with a pounding heart — startling awake with a little kick. But a hand to his chest held him down, a body’s weight draped over his chest.

Draco was awake, head pillowed on Harry’s breast. His breathing was steady. His hand moved from Harry’s heart to his ribs, palming his side. The Bond liked the small affectionate touch and surged, had them both taking in a sharp breath.

Harry looked down at him, and from his angle could only see the sharp partition of his hair. The arch of his nose, the fan of his lashes. A cheekbone.

Harry let his hand drift under the sheets, brush a thumb to the line of Draco’s ribs. He asked, “How’re you feeling?”

There was a rumble in Draco’s chest that might’ve been a laugh. “Like death,” he said, voice like gravel. His breath fanned over Harry’s skin as he spoke and Harry’s stomach gave a low lurch.

He swallowed. “What did you do?”

“Oh, you know. Something stupid.”

“Yeah. Yeah you did.” Harry’s hand settled more surely on his back. Down the dip of his spine. “Why did you . . .”

“I thought it would work. And it did, just — not like it was supposed to.” He shifted a little, pressing back into Harry’s touch. The Bond rewarded them with a warm pulse of a hum. When Draco continued, he was a little breathless. “And when I realised, I was angry, at first. Such a stupid miscalculation, really, and . . . and then I figured — what’s another day or two? I thought I’d be fine, you see. I’d forgotten, I’d forgotten how it — how sick it makes you, and then I was too out of it to . . . even send out a simple . . .”

He trailed off as Harry’s hand drifted over his waist, down the dip of it. Harry held him like that, close and warm, and Draco’s soft breath puffed against his skin, the hair on his chest. He was hungry and felt unwell, felt like he should get up and walk around, drink water, go for a run. Another part of him just wanted, pure and simple.

“Are you hungry?” he asked, voice gruff.

Draco looked up at him, then. His eyes were red-rimmed, his mouth swollen, lips cracked. His skin looked shiny, pulled taut. “Starving,” he said in a rumble. His gaze dropped to Harry’s mouth.

They were so close.

Harry let his head fall back on the pillow with a grunt. He took his hand from Draco’s waist, pressed it flat to the mattress. “Are you good to walk? Hermione’s downstairs.”

“Oh, fuck.” Draco rolled over on his back, trapping Harry’s arm. “She’s going to kill me.”

“Yeah. Probably.” Harry gently pushed a knuckle to Draco’s back, reminding him of the question — repeating, “You good to walk?”

Draco pulled his bottom lip between his teeth. Licked it. “I think so,” he said. He lifted himself up on his elbows, his unwashed hair falling in a messy curtain around him. He groaned, seemed woozy for a moment. “Maybe not,” he mumbled, dropping one elbow.

The sheet had slipped from his chest. The scars Harry had noticed the previous night were clearer now: white lines across and over his skin, some short, some long. They looked old, long healed. Harry recognised them with a shock to the system and the word Sectumsempra whispered in the back of his mind. He’d never noticed them before. How had he never noticed them before?

“I’ll get you some food,” he said, quiet. He got out of bed avoiding Draco’s gaze, grabbing his shirt off the floor on his way out the room.

***

Hermione had to explain it to him three times. Once while helping him put together a breakfast, turning down the fire under the sausages when he got too foggy and distracted as she talked. Again after he’d brought Draco the food — standing at the foot of the bed watching as Draco wolfed it down, eyes flitting between his mouth, his red-rimmed eyes — and then again, in immediate repetition, Harry still not fully understanding.

“So the — the dragon hide took on the properties of his skin,” he repeated, frowning, scratching a rough hand through his hair. He was sitting with Hermione in the drawing room. They were keeping an eye on the fire in case Charlie called back again.

“Yes,” she stretched out the word, exasperated. “A piece of which was in the pendant, which he kept alive by—”

“—by keeping the source wound from healing, yes. Okay. Right.” Harry took off his glasses, letting the room blur. He closed his eyes. “Jesus.”

Hermione gave him a moment of silence. A log crackled and fell apart, making the fire hiss. Hermione’s hair seemed to disappear into the pattern of the chair, into the curtains behind her.

“This could’ve ended very badly, Harry,” she said, as Harry expected she would. “If it wasn’t for Charlie . . .”

“I know.”

“You need to do better. The both of you. I can’t be — I can’t keep on worrying every time—”

“I didn’t know, though, did I, Hermione? How am I supposed to do better when he doesn’t—”

Oh! ” She said the word like there was danger in it. Laughed, incredulous, said it again, “Oh.” And, “You have blame in this, Harry. You are not so oblivious, so detached to claim ignorance in — in situations that concern your life. His life. Our lives, for crying out loud. You—” She stopped, took a breath. “You don’t talk. You don’t ask him anything, you don’t—”

“Hey! I ask him things, we don’t sit in total silence every—”

“I don’t mean about the weather! You two don’t talk, I know you don’t. And you don’t talk to us either, to Ron and me, not about what happens between him and you.”

“Between—! Nothing, nothing happens, and how is that important? It’s not—”

“It’s vital, Harry. Clearly. Clearly it’s vital.” She motioned tiredly at the ceiling, at the general direction of Draco’s room, where — when Harry last checked — he was fast asleep in a mess of sheets. “He wounded himself, Harry. Nearly killed himself so you could — what? Go off and—”

“All right!” He stopped her with two hands up, a small gesture that immediately quieted her rant. “All right.” He sighed, put his glasses back on. Sat back in his chair, cracked his neck. “You’re right,” he said. This didn’t seem to please her any more or any less.

Before she left, Hermione spent a good hour up in Draco’s room. Harry lingered downstairs, aimlessly rearranging the mess on the table to make it look somewhat more ordered: the papers with the papers, the potions with the potions. Every now and then Hermione’s voice would rise and he could almost hear words, phrases, but it was too distant — too dampened to make out the exact conversation. It had been so long since he’d felt this chastened. He had thought himself an adult, in control of his life — his decisions. Walking around Draco’s kitchen, a hollow worry at the pit of his stomach — still smelling dragon smoke on his clothes from the previous day — he felt like a child again, lost and confused by his own existence.

“Should I stay here?” he asked her, right as she collected a pinch of Floo powder from the vase on the mantelpiece.

She gave him a quick kiss on the cheek in goodbye. She looked tired. It had been a long night for her, too. “Why are you asking me?” she said. She didn’t sound upset anymore. “It’s not my house, is it.”

“Right.” Harry nodded, looking at his feet. He smiled wryly to himself.

“Just talk to him,” were Hermione’s parting words, followed by a loud announcement of her address as she threw the powder into the fire. She disappeared with a whirl of a green flame, the ashes blowing onto the carpeted floor.

Harry cleaned the dirt with a half-hearted wave of his wand. Perhaps it was the day he’d had, the panic of the night, the spotty sleep — but he felt nauseated and off-kilter, like the room had been turned about within the span of a few days. Like everything that had stood on the right before now stood to the left — exactly the same, only wrong. The bowl of bonbons the same, only an inch to the side. The grandfather clock still ticking, all familiar, just an octave lower.

Different.

And a half hour later, Draco — shuffling into the room with difficulty, holding on to his ribs, asking if Hermione had left — odd. The same, only not. Changed and unchanged, all at once.

***

Something Hermione had said to Draco must’ve rattled him. He said very little over the course of the evening, sitting silently at the kitchen table in a shirt messily done up, slouching in a housecoat. Harry cooked up something that barely passed for edible and served it up with an apologetic grimace.

Draco stared at his food for a long moment, then took a few bites. When he put down his fork with an air of finality Harry expected a cutting comment, perhaps an insult. Instead, Draco said,

“When I was about six I received a music box for my birthday. It was from one of my father’s cousins, the French side. It had these . . .” He was looking at the table, remembering. “Little horses, that would prance around in a field whenever you wound it up. They’d go ‘round and ‘round in a circle, fast at first, but as the clockwork wound down they’d slow. And then they’d still, and just . . . stand there, grazing. Flicking their tails. It was my favourite thing in the world. Absolutely my favourite. For a year all I could talk about was horses, how I wanted a horse, wanted to ride a horse. Every day: Father, I must have a horse. Father, I must have a horse.” He huffed a laugh, smiled to himself.

Harry stopped eating. His heart had begun beating heavily. He wasn’t sure why.

“And so for my seventh birthday, lo and behold. A horse. It quickly turned out, however, that I had not actually ever seen a horse up close. All I had to go on was my music box — tiny things, barely the size of a nail. I’d thought they’d be only a little bit bigger. The size of a large goat, perhaps. But now I had a horse, and a father and a mother who were very insistent that I should learn how to ride it. And so a tutor was enlisted, and every Monday and Wednesday I was to go out riding. Perfect my form.” He sighed. “I was terrified of it. Terrified. I loathed it, I was shaking in my boots every time I had to mount, and of course the animal sensed it — thought it incredibly funny to try and shake me off whenever I held on too tightly.” Draco’s smile turned deprecating. He sat back a little, crossed his legs. He artfully arranged the folds of his house coat around him. “So one day I decided to just let it happen. Just — let the stupid thing shake me off. I let go of the reigns and fell. It hurt, I got badly bruised, but nothing broke, nothing bled. Which of course wasn’t enough if I wanted to be done with the lessons altogether, and so — I began to cry. To wail, really. Oh, the pain! Oh, I can’t bear it! I was bed-bound for days. Doctors came by, all looking for the source of my pain, which — of course, didn’t exist. I’d tired myself with crying by then, but I’d gone on for too long to explain, to . . . Well. Eventually, mother came into my room and said, Draco, you don’t have to ride a horse if you don’t want to. Now enough with the weeping, up, up out of bed with you.”

The lights were low in the room, casting shadows. Harry watched Draco carefully. His hair hung heavily around his face — he was in good need of a shower.

“Well,” Draco added, a long moment later. “That’s it.”

“It?” Harry frowned. “What’s what?”

“My story.”

“What story?”

“Just — a story, Potter. About me. Something you didn’t know.” He scowled at his plate, pushed it just half an inch away from him. “Granger mentioned and — perhaps was not entirely wrong, that we have, well. In the past, endangered one another by not divulging certain parts of our lives. So this is me.” He gave a flourishing gesture with a few fingers. “Divulging.”

“Okay. Right.” Harry blinked down at the table a few times. “Thank you, I guess?”

“You’re very welcome,” Draco answered, a firm statement announcing the end of the conversation.

Harry took a few more bites of the food, not tasting much. A wet tomato and some lentils fell off his fork. He put the fork back down. Draco turned on the wireless with a snap of his fingers. It was set to his favourite channel, the static-filled one with the old songs crooning from what sounded like a great distance.

“So how are you with horses these days?” Harry asked.

“I’m fine with their existence. At a distance.”

“Right. And why didn’t you tell me about the dragon hide?”

“Why didn’t you ask?”

Harry exhaled harshly. “I guess I didn’t want to know.”

“I see. Well, I suppose I didn’t want you to know. So.” He pushed the plate another half an inch away. “This is inedible and I will not touch it.”

Harry made a face as though he himself hadn’t given up on the food as well. “You need to eat. You’re far from recovered, you need some sustenance.”

“Agreed,” Draco said, and with an unnecessarily dramatic blur of movement pushed back his chair, took both his and Harry’s plates, and deposited them in the sink on his way to the counter. He took out his wand and summoned ingredients from the cupboards with short flicks, calling on the pots and pans to the rhythm of the waltz on the radio.

A courgette began cutting itself, julienne style, over a bowl of eggs and flour. Some pea pods were shelling themselves out of a paper bag, the beans bobbing into a pot of boiling water. Draco stood in the middle of the whirl of vegetables and magic, favouring his left side over his right.

Harry watched him in mild wonder for a while. He huffed, shaking his head, and Draco glanced at him — a small smile on his lips. His cheeks dipped, folding lines. He looked away quickly, made to reach for something from a high cupboard and overstretched. A clear pulse of pain shot through him and he folded with a grunt, stumbling. Harry was out of his chair and walking within a breath, catching Draco with a sure arm around his waist — holding him up.

“Got you,” Harry said. Draco gave a small pained ah, adjusting, holding himself. Then, with a puff of air, he leaned back into the embrace — resting his weight against Harry’s chest.

Damn it,” he hissed. He was still catching his breath.

“Easy.” Harry could sense from Draco’s tense movements how the pain was still there, ebbing. “Easy,” he repeated. He waited with him, breathing. The pan with peas was bubbling on the fire. The waltz was coming to an end. Harry gently pushed Draco’s shirt up with his other hand, only a little, only to put his warm palm over the healing wound — the new scar. Draco gasped, first with alarm — then relaxing, his shoulders dropping. The Bond flared up hot and healing, buzzing, coursing through their blood.

Draco laughed breathlessly. He dropped his head back on Harry’s shoulder. Harry was pulled to the heat of his neck, helpless. He closed his eyes, cheek against the jut of Draco’s jaw. He could feel Draco’s heartbeat through his skin, through his palm. He traced his thumb over the scar. Around it.

“You’re a fool,” Harry told him, voice low.

Draco’s chest moved in a noiseless laugh. “That,” he said, “I am.”

Harry licked his lips. He turned slightly, nose brushing Draco’s pulse point. Even now he smelled like Harry had come to expect — potions and herbs. Sage, lavender.

“Should I stay the night?” he asked, and for a moment his mind swam with the words. He’d meant to ask it earlier, in a different way. Now it sounded like a new question, one he hadn’t known how to ask before.

Draco shuddered, a full-body shiver. He whispered a quiet fuck, turned his head, lips ghosting Harry’s for a split second before he moved away, leaning out of Harry’s hold. “No,” he ground out. “No, I’m fine.” He held himself with two hands to the edge of the kitchen counter.

Harry looked at his back. The curve of it. Took a step back, then another.

The waltz had ended. The new tune, a slow two-step, started up in the silence between them. What do I know, the woman sang, voice trembling in that early-century way. When it comes to you, you, you.

***

On the day of his birthday, Draco went to visit his mother in France. She had arranged a small party now that his travel restrictions had been lowered. It was a rambling piece of information, divulged in between the many frazzled 20-minute conversations they’d had in the month since Harry’s trip to Romania. Each had been had reluctantly, often under the guidance of Hermione, who these days took to sitting with them in the kitchen — eating Draco’s biscuits and asking needlessly simple questions.

In the process, however, Harry found out that Draco’s mother strongly disapproved of his cooking, which he had apparently taught himself and took great pride in. He had been raised speaking mostly French; he hadn’t been to the Manor since the curse; as a teen, he’d been forced to take ballroom dancing classes over the summer; his favourite sweets were almond cookies; he still dreamt of dying in a fire; his father had died of a heart attack in the upstairs study of the townhouse. Narcissa had found him. Draco had been notified by letter because his mother hadn’t been able to produce a Patronus. Draco, in all his years, had never been able to produce one either.

On the day after Draco’s birthday, before his return, Neville and Blaise came over to the townhouse to help Harry clear out the garden. They cleaned the seasons off the small iron-wrought table, brought out some chairs from the kitchen. Blaise trapped little light bubbles inside drinking glasses and floated them up the tree, and Ron borrowed some bunting from his mother. Luna brought some homemade liquor — which terrified everyone, pulsing inside the bottle in bright shades of purples — and Hermione settled for buying the snacks on the grounds that nothing we can make will be to his tastes anyway.

When Draco arrived, walking into the kitchen with a small suitcase in hand — checking for mail, chewing on an apple — he took one look at the small party in his garden, put down his suitcase and his apple, and walked right back out. Harry put down his beer to chase him, laughing as he called after him, stopping him in the hallway with a hand to his elbow.

“Absolutely not,” Draco answered to a question that hadn’t been asked, whirling around to face Harry. “Whose ridiculous idea was this? Granger’s? This has Granger written all over it. Bunting! Never in the history of the Malfoy name has bunting been a—”

“It’s literally just six people eating crisps in your garden. Breathe.” Unexpectedly, Draco did as told and exhaled. He was nervous. Colour was high on his cheeks. His eyes were unfocused.

“No one got you presents,” Harry added, reaching out again. He circled Draco’s wrist with a loose finger and thumb, tugged. “It’s barely even a party. Come.”

Draco let himself be tugged, and Harry let him go — leading the way back into the garden to the sound of Draco muttering about invasion of bloody privacy and crisps in bowls, kill me now. The group cheered to his arrival, a little tipsy already, and he glared at them and sat himself down in one of the chairs. He accepted a drink with a grumble.

It was a warm June evening, the air still smelling like spring — the bulbs on the bushes just a day away from full bloom. Someone charmed the wireless to echo across the garden, and they all forgot about dinner, talking and laughing under the lit tree as the sun went down. Blaise was telling the story of the first date he’d ever been on, how he’d only understood it was a date on the date itself, how he’d tried to overcompensate for his confusion by trying to immediately kiss the poor girl over their table at Madam Puddifoot’s. Neville laughed at this with the affectionate softness of someone who’d heard the story before — who enjoyed watching others hearing it for the first time. Ron then responded by sharing stories of teens who come to the shop looking for love potions and how he scares them off with horror stories of what happens when you take one of those — which brought back the story of Lavender, which then Hermione retold while laughing so much she could barely finish it, tears in her eyes.

“You weren’t laughing back then,” Ron said, a little chastened.

“No,” she said, still laughing, wiping at her eyes. “No I wasn’t. Oh, god. Such a good story. Such a good story.”

Draco listened to it all from a small distance, sitting in his chair. Harry brought him a fresh drink, sat down next to him. “How was your mum’s?” he asked, watching Draco watch the people in his garden.

“Grand.” Draco didn’t look at him. He was in a mood.

“That’s nice.” Harry sipped his own drink, looked to the crowd, where Luna was explaining something with a lot of hand gestures — then looked back to Draco. “Happy birthday.”

“Are you going to kiss me again,” Draco said, flat and bored. Harry wasn’t sure what he meant, at first, then remembered a drunken Christmas eve, a hot room full of people and Draco’s cheek, warm under his lips. He flushed, swallowed.

Draco glanced at Harry, then, out of the corner of his eye, and saw Harry staring at his mouth. “I was jesting,” he said, blushing, turning his face away. “Merlin,” he murmured.

“You’re in a mood,” Harry told him, pointing with his bottle.

“Am I not allowed to be? Would you like guardianship over my general disposition as well? Anything else you’d like to control — my sleep pattern, perhaps? Diet?”

“Fun.” Harry smiled thinly at him. “You’re a fun guy.”

“So I’m often told,” Draco drawled, turning his profile away again — inspecting a bush of daphne with great interest. Rubbing a leaf between two fingers.

The evening ended with Draco thanking them all with an enthusiasm that could’ve been mean as well as genuine — there was little way of telling. Stay as long as you’d like, he announced from the kitchen doorway, words a little slow with drink. Let yourself out the same way I assume you let yourself in.

“Always a surprise,” is how Blaise described Draco’s moods, standing by the fireplace — leaning heavily on Neville as they were about to leave.

“Could’ve been worse,” was Hermione’s reasoning, helping Harry clean the garden, the kitchen.

“Just — so much work,” was Ron’s admonishing, back at Grimmauld Place, said over a nightcap. “So much work and then so much attitude. You know what I mean?”

“Yep,” Harry said to that, raising his glass in agreement. “Yep.”

But then Harry’s birthday came quick around the corner and found him well on his way to drunk, in an alleyway behind a pub, Draco wrestling a cigarette from his hands and telling him to not—

“—be ridiculous, Potter, you are not a smoker and now is absolutely not the time to start, you will look a fool.”

He’d bummed the smoke from a lovely girl who he’d hoped to get into conversation with, but who’d just given him the cigarette with a smile and a curt goodbye. Now Draco had crumbled it and was flicking leftover bits of tobacco from his fingers.

“You don’t know shit, Draco,” Harry said, leaning back against the wall. Draco seemed amused by this, not nearly as intoxicated as Harry.

“Lord, what an accusation. And from such an upstanding member of the community, how will I survive? Come now.” He tried to lift Harry off the wall by the lapels of his Auror robes. They’d all met up at the pub straight after work — which left Harry on edge and a little gloomy. It was a hot night and he was wearing too many layers. He was feeling too big and antsy for his own skin. He let Draco pull him into standing proper, but then just swung on his feet, making no move to walk.

“I hate my job,” he confessed. It was the first time he said it out loud.

“Yes,” Draco agreed. It was a statement, not a question. His hands were still on Harry’s robes

“Yes?”

“Obviously. Yes. You should quit. Very soon, probably.”

Harry pushed him off with a messy swipe and fell back against the wall. “What d’you know, anyway.”

“Well,” Draco sighed, entertained. “I know that you’re miserable. That you never want to go to work or talk about it or look forward to it. The very mention of it makes you a sour conversational partner, which is why no one asks about it anymore.” He fell quiet for a moment. From inside the pub the drum of a beat could be heard, the throng of people talking. “I also know it’s not making your nightmares any better.”

Harry swallowed, momentarily closing his eyes. “Hermione told you?”

Draco huffed quietly. “No one told me.”

Harry looked at him, at the height of him in the dim light of the street. In a rare display, the top two buttons of his shirt were undone. There was a sheen of sweat on his collar, at the dip of his throat. His mouth drew Harry’s attention. It often did, these days. It seemed plumper than before. Bitten.

Harry recalled in loose fragments the times Draco had slept next to him in bed. The times he’d woken up with Harry’s wand aimed at him, terror in his eyes.

Harry shifted against the wall. He felt heavy. “You haven’t said happy birthday yet.”

Draco took him in. He tensed. It was a minute shift. “Happy birthday,” he said, a long moment later.

Harry pushed himself off the wall and took a step, coming to stand right before Draco. Draco, who held him in place with a steady hand to Harry’s hip. Who was taller than him, whose breath smelled like wine. Whose body seemed to burn up like an oven this close up. Whose nearness shot a thrill down to the core of their Bond, making him a different kind of drunk.

“Are you going to kiss me again,” Harry said, low. He tilted his chin up a little, mouth close to the corner of Draco’s.

He could feel Draco swallow. When he said, “Bad idea, Harry,” the words were a rush of air against his lips.

“Why?”

“You know why.” Draco pulled away for a moment — then leaned back in, seemingly helpless. He put his forehead to Harry’s, the hand on his hip travelling up, palming his ribs. He opened his mouth, a breath away, and Harry tried to angle for it — to get him closer. A kiss was close and then it was gone with a groan, Draco letting him go altogether, walking back into the pub without a word. The door opened, letting the music drift out, the hubbub of conversation — then slammed shut again, leaving Harry confused, aching and hungry.

Hungry, he thought, remembering the word.

Starving.

***

Ron and Hermione got married in the first week of August. On the grounds of the Burrow, just like they’d always wanted to. A massive affair of a tent had been set up right by the pond, and several of the children attending the party took no time before jumping into the water — clothes and all — sending the dragonflies scattering, disrupting the dip and dive of the swallows. The adults in charge tried to get the children out, get them to settle down, before giving up entirely and casting buoyancy charms on the lot of them — reaching for the flutes of champagne being passed around.

It was a gorgeous day, and from the very start Harry felt woozy with it. He lingered close to the house in case Molly needed him for anything, but was soon sent away on the claim that he was getting underfoot. Walking the grounds with a hand in his suit pocket, listening to the sounds of summer and happy people at a distance, he couldn’t help the rising of his heart — the swelling of it. He saw people he hadn’t seen in years — spotted Hermione’s parents nervously eating canapes at a table, saw Luna’s father, saw McGonagall with her hair looser than he’d ever seen before, dressed in a pantsuit.

Andromeda found him by the willow a while before the ceremony and asked him to keep an eye on Teddy for a while. He did so, gladly, walked with the kid on his shoulders, pretending to almost drop him every now and then — which made Teddy shriek with laughter.

They played a game called, ‘Who’s that?’, in which Harry would point out a person in the crowd and Teddy would come up with a name for them. That’s how one of Arthur’s cousins was christened Mister Foofaff, Seamus became Sir Sugarhat, and Padma turned into Cake Cake Cake.

“Is Cake-Cake her first name?” Harry asked, serious. “Or is the second Cake her maiden name which she chose to keep upon marriage? To Mr Cake?”

Teddy cackled, not understanding but delighted with himself. When Teddy saw Draco walk out of the house and onto the grounds, his peal of laughter turned into excitement, and Harry took him down from his shoulders — set him on the ground.

“Go say hi to your uncle,” he told Teddy, letting him run the short distance. Harry followed a few steps behind, his breath turning shallow.

Draco’s suit was a three-piece occasion, light blue trousers and jacket that he’d slung over one shoulder in the heat. The waistcoat was the same colour, and had the golden chain of a watch hanging from the pocket to one of the buttons. His hair he wore in a neat and complicated plait, tucked in at the back of his neck. A few short locks had escaped, though, and Harry could not stop staring.

His eyes seemed three shades lighter than usual. Everything about him looked too bright under the August sun.

He received Teddy with one knee to the ground, opening his arms for a hug. Teddy demanded to be picked up and Draco complied. The boy was closely inspecting Draco’s pocket watch by the time Harry caught up.

“Uncle Draco,” Harry greeted.

Draco glanced at him, quick and away, and said, “Uncle Harry,” to Teddy rather than Harry himself.

Desire surged up in him, unbidden and unlike anything he could remember. He didn’t know what for exactly, what he wanted precisely other than to reach out, to move wildly, to get closer. To get at Draco’s maddening mouth, somehow. He felt it like the sun on the back of his neck. A heat under his skin.

“Draco,” he said, voice rough — and Draco’s attention snapped to him, eyes sharp. He didn’t know how he’d wanted to finish his sentence, what words would come next, but a flurry of noise from the house cut him off. The wedding group was on the move — Molly and Arthur flanked by friends and family, talking animatedly, laughing, herding everyone toward the tent.

The ceremony was about to begin.

Draco was already putting Teddy down, keeping hold of his little hand. He cleared his throat. Looked around. Harry got swept up by the passing group, pulled along by Fleur’s strong hand on his arm.

The wedding was everything that Ron and Hermione were: beautiful and warm and funny. Harry wept through most of it, laughed through the rest. He was asked to say a word, and had to clear his throat several times, coughing, laughing — and the crowd laughed in return. He spoke of how the three of them had met. How they’d saved his life for a majority of his life. How they were the first people he’d learned to love, the first people who had felt like home to him. And how it was only right that they should find that love in one another, a home in one another.

“Horrible speech,” was Ron’s weepy response, addressing the crowd. “I don’t know why we ask him to do these things, I barely even know him.”

Hermione locked eyes with Harry, put her hand over her heart. Pointed a finger at him.

Harry pretended to catch it in the air and put it in his pocket. Hermione laughed. Harry sat down, a little shaky. His heart felt too big for his chest.

The reception spilt back out onto the grass, the tables scattered across the lawn. A few happy souls took to dancing, though mostly everyone lined up for the food or began walking around with drinks. Harry joined the party after a quick trip to the kitchen, splashing his face with water — holding a wet hand to the back of his neck. He found Blaise at one of the standing tables, a glass loose in hand. He was watching someone, smiling, and Harry followed his gaze — saw that it was Draco. He was sitting as far from the dancing and noise as possible. Teddy stood straight as a rod in front of him, his back to Draco, talking animatedly as Draco braided his hair for him. The same style of a plait as Draco’s.

“Fucking weddings,” Blaise said, shaking his head. “So saccharine.”

Harry smiled. Draco was clearly telling Teddy to stay still, putting a hand to his shoulder to still his antsy movements.

“So what’s the update?” Blaise asked him, clinking his glass to Harry’s to get his attention.

Harry turned to Blaise, eyes a fraction slower than his face, still caught by the sight across the field. “Hm?”

“The update,” Blaise repeated, gesturing. “What are you two now, exactly? Friends? Reluctant prisoners of fate?”

“Aren’t we all.” Harry couldn’t help but look away again to where Draco was now tucking in Teddy’s plucky hair that was escaping the plait. “We’re . . .” He trailed off for a moment, returning to his thoughts a beat too late. “Making do.”

“Making do,” Blaise echoed him, emphasising the words like they were hiding a meaning. “Making do. Hmm.”

“He’s . . .” Harry licked his lips. “He’s very smart.”

“Smart? Harry, darling. I’m smart. Draco Malfoy is not smart, he’s . . . brilliant.” He huffed a small laugh. “He’d bend the laws of magic for those he loves.” Then, with a smile in his voice and muttered half into his glass, “Never tell him I said that.”

Across the grass, Teddy turned around and Draco inspected his handiwork. He nodded, pleased, and gave Teddy the back of a spoon for him to see. A memory of the cabinet in the Room of Requirement came to Harry, full of the weight of the past. An Imperius’d Madam Rosmerta, a cursed necklace. The sight of Draco, bloody on the floor of the girl’s bathroom. The sight of him, slumped and wild-eyed in the chair in his drawing room, bleeding from an open wound. The fact he still couldn’t conjure a Patronus.

The way he’d sounded when Harry had walked into the room to find him. Oh good, you’re back.

Harry took a confused hour to have a brisk walk around the pond — light-headed with the weather and the champagne and the storm in his chest — before making his way back to the crowd, searching. He couldn’t find Draco, began asking who’d last seen him — did so with a hand small to Luna’s shoulder, on passing Neville and Dean in conversation. A while ago, maybe, they said. By the drinks table? The tree?

Try the kitchen, said Charlie, smiling a little.

That’s where he found Draco. Alone in the kitchen. The mess of the wedding preparations was still spilt over the counters, the table — bits of fabric from adjusted dresses, boxes, dishes. Plates and cutlery. Draco seemed fascinated by the stove range, letting his long fingers run over the surface. His other hand was in his pocket. Inside, away from the glare of the sun, his suit took on a greyer shade. His jacket had been abandoned somewhere, and his plait had been redone — was now tight at his neck.

“I’ve been looking for you,” Harry said by way of hello.

Draco didn’t startle. He cast him a look over his shoulder, a once-over. He turned back to the stove, rubbing his fingers together like they were dirty from touching it. “I’d always wondered what this place looked like.”

“And?”

“Yes. Well.” He shrugged one shoulder. “Much as I expected.”

“You like it.”

“I beg your pardon?” Draco turned slowly.

“You like it here. You like this family.” Harry was walking toward him, unhurried. He smiled. “You like that you’re a part of it now.”

“I do, do I? Kind of you to inform me, Potter. What would I do without you, really, to tell me of all my likes and dislikes? Anything else I need to know about—”

“I like your hair like this,” Harry cut him off. “You look good.”

This tripped Draco up, halted him mid-word. He flushed immediately, from under the high collar of his shirt, splotchy over his jaw.

“I see,” he said, a little puzzled. Harry crowded in on him, getting closer. Draco took a small step back, bumping against the worktop.

“Did you enjoy the ceremony?” Harry asked, just words to say. His head was syrupy slow, his heart beating fast in his neck.

“It was very sentimental.”

“Right.” A ghost of a smile passed over Harry’s lips. He could reach out and put a hand to Draco’s chest now, if he wanted. He could fit his fingers to those lips, see how they felt. He could palm Draco’s hip, his arm. He could reach for his hand, even.

The scattered laughter of children could be heard from outside. The music picked up speed and some people whooped, clapping. A breeze passed through the kitchen, sending some scraps of paper flying. Harry could smell Draco’s soap from where he stood. Clean sheets and sage.

Harry said, “God, you smell good,” and wasn’t sure how he moved from there — how the seconds followed each other — but he must’ve stepped in closer, must’ve pressed his chest up against Draco’s, must’ve cupped Draco’s face with one hand and fisted the fabric at his waist with the other because that’s where he was just a moment later: heady and aroused and wanting. His mouth was a messy wet line to Draco’s jaw, and it took him a few tries to understand — Draco was avoiding his kiss. He was panting, moaned softly when Harry mouthed at the spot just under his jaw, but he turned his head when Harry tilted up to align their mouths.

Harry huffed. He dropped his forehead to Draco’s shoulder. “Why?” he asked, letting the words brush the skin of Draco’s neck.

Draco shuddered, arching up into it. “Bad idea,” he said, but his resolve seemed to flicker for a beat and his hand came to the waistband of Harry’s trousers, his mouth — close to Harry’s ear — brushing over Harry’s earlobe, teeth tugging at it. Harry’s hips stuttered forward at this, and he angled up again, seeking.

Draco held him at bay with a fast hand on the side of his neck, half in his hair. Pushing him away.

“It’s the Bond. It’s the Bond that wants this.”

Harry struggled to gain back the lost inches between them. “So?”

“You’ll regret this. Today you want it, tomorrow you won’t, and I—”

“And you?” Harry caught his eye, held it. Draco already looked dishevelled, his shirt a little ruffled. His tie a little crooked. A strand of hair tucked from his plait. “Do you know what you want?”

Something hot flared behind Draco’s expression. His nostrils wide, he opened his mouth to reply when a clatter broke them off — something falling down the stairs, followed by giggling, shushing. Then the sound of people stumbling about the other room.

They broke apart just as two people stumbled into the kitchen. A boy and a girl — perhaps one of Ron’s cousins and a friend of the family, teens, really, probably in their seventh year. They were drunk, their clothes done up wrong. The girl giggled when she realised there were people in the kitchen, holding on to the hand of the boy one step behind her. She marched across the kitchen to the garden, calling out a cheerful “Hello!” to Draco and Harry. The boy followed her close behind, a dumb, wide smile on his face.

“I have to go,” Draco said, and made to brush past Harry — who quickly caught his hand as he passed. Two fingers around two of Draco’s.

Draco paused, held back for a moment. He glanced down at their hands. His fingers twitched against Harry’s, and then he tugged free.

He left without looking back.

Later, Harry would find that Draco had left the party without saying goodbye to anyone.

“Oh, shame!” is what Hermione had to say about that, much later, after she asked Harry if he’d seen Draco. Even then she was too distracted and happy to pay any mind to it.

“Ah well,” Harry said, waving it away. The evening had fallen and small fires had been lit. The heat was still oppressive, but it seemed not to bother the dancing couples on the grass, the uproarious laughter. There were little whisper lights in Hermione’s hair, which bounced — fairy-like — each time she moved her head.

She looked magical. Harry supposed she was.

He told her so, and in a rare moment of bare affection, she accepted the compliment. “Thank you, love,” she said, a hand to his cheek.

He closed his eyes, leaned into her touch. His chest felt tight, his throat dry.

The wedding was on a Saturday. On Sunday, Hermione and Ron left for their honeymoon and Harry slept through the day, fitful and restless, a sickly ache in his chest. On Monday he went to work, got sent out to check up on a disturbance near King’s Cross, and was received on location with the bright sparks of hexes being sent across an alleyway. He’d barely landed, barely shoved his way to where Lester was holding up a shield, not quite behind it, when a neon-blue jet of light barreled straight at him.

At him, then through him, then punched a hole in the wall behind him. He registered as much with an edge of shock, a foggy distance. As though someone else had been hit, and he was simply watching, appalled but otherwise fine.

Then there was shouting. Shouting, and time moving again, and the ground coming up to meet him — fast.

Chapter Text

He wasn’t sure when he’d learned the smell of St Mungo’s. If it had been during his visits as a teen, or in the months following the war — sitting at bedsides and bedsides, holding people’s hands, waiting in the waiting rooms, heart dry and hollow in his throat every time a Healer came out with a clipboard and some news to deliver.

Perhaps it had been during that week, that deathly week after the curse, sweating and dying swathed in the hospital’s bedsheets.

But all the same, recognition hit him before he was even fully conscious, before he opened his eyes: a full breath in and that smell, that smell, of industrial-strength Scourgify — that sweet-potion smell with a sharp undertone of lemon.

Alive, then, was his first thought, followed by the world whooshing in: his body hot under the heavy blankets, the bruising pain in his ribs with every inhale, every exhale. The dull slowness of painkillers, the hum of a lamp somewhere nearby. The squeak of rubber shoes on the hospital floor. Someone holding his hand. Someone’s breath on his knuckles. The fuzzy hum at the touch, meaning he knew. He knew.

His eyes were heavy and took a moment to open, to adjust, to take in the room. They’d put him in a small one, this time around. The door was on one side, the window was on the other side. And Draco was sat by his bed, slouched over — Harry’s hand in both of his. He was resting his forehead to Harry’s wrist, his face obscured. His shoulders seemed so broad from this angle, and tense, and his breathing was deep. He was letting the Bond thrum between them, sleepy and satisfied.

Dim with whatever potion was working through his system, Harry couldn’t find it in him to say a word. His mouth wouldn’t cooperate. Instead, he turned his hand in Draco’s grip and put his aching fingers to his cheek, his jaw.

Draco looked up. Even in the darkness of the room, his face looked streaked with dirt. There were tracks down his cheeks. His hair was a greasy mess, his eyes were sunken, his lips dry and cracked. Swollen. The look he gave Harry was undecipherable, something that could’ve been anger as much as it could’ve been bare and simple terror. Harry wanted it gone, and slid his hand further, cupping Draco’s face.

With a small hitch of a breath, Draco closed his eyes. He turned into the touch, hiding his face in Harry’s palm. There he stayed, breathing hard, his own hand coming up to keep Harry’s in place — keeping it close.

***

The hex had been meant to bring down hedges, small walls, and loose wooden constructions. It was most often used by contractors and gardeners. It had been meant for the wall Harry had stood in front of, shot out by the frightened perp who’d thought he could make for a quick escape by blowing a hole in the bricks.

Instead, it had blown Harry’s ribs to bits, and only made for a minor dent in the wall.

By the time Harry came to in the hospital, the Skele-Gro had done a lovely job of rebuilding him from the inside out. Apparently, Lester had kept him alive until the Emergency Apparition team arrived on scene by magically pumping his lungs, keeping them from collapsing. The spell had left greyish streaks across his chest, like an ink bottle had been spilt onto his sternum and had bled out to his neck, shoulders, stomach.

The Healers assured him it would fade and gave him a salve for it that smelled like ashes. One of his assigned Healers, a man not much older than Harry himself, told Harry during one of his last check-ups that there had been a good few seconds back there that Harry had been technically dead. He seemed altogether too entertained by this fact. Harry, for his part, smiled flatly in reply. If I had a penny, he thought.

Ron and Hermione took an emergency portkey back from Ischia. Harry could sit up straight in bed by the time they arrived, and all of them had to wait a good ten minutes for Harry’s weepy eyes to stop their crying before he could start explaining what had happened. It’s your honeymoon, he kept on saying, using the edge of his blanket to wipe at his eyes. God damn honeymoon! In a hospital! Because your friend keeps dying!

Well, we only have one of you, Hermione had said matter-of-factly, leaning back against the edge of his bed. And honeymoons we can have several of. So it’s just a bit of math, really, don’t get too excited.

Neville and Ginny came by the day he was being discharged. Ginny brought a bunch of chocolate frogs and the three of them sat on Harry’s bed, unwrapping, eating. Neville read the text on the cards in a different accent each time. His Scottish one for the Grand Wizard Lachlan Lewyn was particularly convincing. Out in the hallway, Ron, Hermione and Draco were having a far too loud an argument about who would help Harry until he was fully recovered. Ron was suggesting Molly might come by to help, Hermione said that Molly had taken care of enough sickly children to last her a lifetime and that perhaps they could reschedule their return Portkey for another week — to which Draco, exasperated and mean, wondered aloud which of his qualities as a person apparently disqualified him from aiding altogether.

I just don’t think it’s a good idea, Draco! Hermione told him, and Draco huffed, spluttered, said, Good idea! Good idea, she says! Hermione Granger, we bypassed the ‘good idea’ territory about five days ago when your friend in there decided to go off and walk head-first into a bloody wrecking curse, so you’d excuse me if I—!

“Considered by many to be the greatest wizard of modern times,” Neville read the card he’d just unwrapped in a heavy Texan accent. “Dumbledore is particularly famous for his defeat of the Dark wizard Grindelwald in 1945, for the discovery of the twelve uses of Dragon's blood, and his work on alchemy with . . .”

Harry was sent home with a good dose of a pain-numbing potion sitting lovely and warm in his stomach. His bones were still too fragile for him to travel by Apparition or Floo, and so Dean was called in to drive him home in his car. Harry sat dopey in the back seat, apologising for the inconvenience the one moment, asking, What do you think monkeys think? the next. Draco, who had come with them — who sat in the passenger’s seat looking absolutely terrified, holding on to the door handle with a white-knuckled grip — ignored Harry’s questions, staring straight ahead. Dean, on the other hand, laughed low and warm and said,

“Dunno, Harry. What d’you reckon?”

“Maybe . . . maybe that they’re cold. Are you cold? Draco, are you cold?”

“I am perfectly fine.”

“Good,” Harry said. “Good good good good good good.”

Dean laughed that laugh again, shifted the gears, and took a soft turn to the left, indicators ticking.

Arriving at 12 Grimmauld Place, Harry felt perfectly fine, batting away both Dean and Draco’s concerned attempts at supporting him as he walked. This feeling disappeared by step number three, and suddenly he was tired and sad and about to fall. The two men caught him, quickly, and hoisted him up the rest of the way.

Inside, the house was already full of everyone who’d Apparated from the hospital: Ron, Hermione, Neville and Ginny. Blaise had joined the group, too, and was talking animatedly about nothing in particular when Harry was gently deposited on the couch. The room felt blurry and hot, confusing, and when Draco made to lean away after working his arm from under Harry’s back, Harry held on to him and mumbled, “No, don’t go.”

Draco lingered a second, huffed. “I’ll be right back,” he said, and disappeared into the indecipherable shapes and colours of the house. Harry closed his eyes for a second to clear his head and immediately fell asleep.

When he woke up again, Neville was at his side. He was holding a steaming bowl of food. The smell of it turned his stomach over, nauseous, but god he was hungry. And hurting, and not nearly as pleased as he’d been before. His mouth felt dry and thick, and when he tried to speak all that came out was a croak. He tried to sit up straighter, groaned, settled back down.

Neville stopped him with a quick hand, saying, “Hey now — hey. Easy does it, buddy.”

“Ugh,” Harry said, definitive. His head throbbed. Through the doorway to the kitchen he could hear several people talking all at once, voices soft — cutlery clanging together, chairs moving. They were having dinner. He could see half of Hermione’s back and a glimpse of Blaise, holding a glass of wine in hand, nodding to something someone was saying.

“Here,” Neville said, holding out a spoonful of soup. “It’s good. You should have some, it’ll do you good.”

Harry sipped, feeling small and a bit like a child, being fed. The broth was good and salty, comforting. It settled his stomach immediately, made him even hungrier. Neville fed him like that for a few quiet minutes, and then Harry asked,

“Who cooked?”

“Draco,” Neville said, putting the spoon back in the bowl. “He’s a good cook.”

“Yeah,” Harry croaked, settling further back into the pillow that propped up his head. He knew Draco was a good cook, and it took him a second to recall how he knew this. A quail on a bed of roasted vegetables. A note saying, If you’re hungry, have at it. A confused feeling gripped at him, suddenly, a mixing of moments, and he tried to push himself up again, asking—

“He’s still here, right? He’s not left, right, he’s not—”

“He’s here, he’s in the kitchen.” Neville held up a hand over Harry’s chest, as though to make sure he wouldn’t go any further. “Easy, now. Yes?”

Harry nodded, swallowing. He relaxed back into the couch again.

“He’ll be staying.” Neville put the bowl on the coffee table, pushed it into Harry’s reach. “To help out. I’ll come by tomorrow, to check up, but Draco could take off work more easily and—”

“It’s fine,” Harry said. He swallowed again. His chest felt constricted, bruised. Weighed down by something invisible. From the kitchen, Ginny’s voice rose over the rest, and Harry recognised her tone — she was joking, pretending to be serious about something. Draco then replied with something flat and most probably mean, and the table laughed in response. Another chair dragged over the tiles. Someone filled another glass.

“Just a few days,” Neville said, quickly glancing toward the kitchen — to the noise, the people — then back at Harry. “Just a few days, and you’ll be right as rain.”

“Right.” Harry huffed a laugh, which turned into a grunt. He put a hand to his chest. “Right as rain.”

***

That night, when the house cleared of guests, Draco helped Harry up the stairs with a strong shoulder and an arm around his waist. Harry had been allowed a small sip of the pain potion after he’d eaten, which had left him woozy and slow, having a hard time putting one foot in front of the other on their way up to the landing. Draco was holding a low, muttered rant about the quality of the potion, about how the cutting of greenroot must have been sloppy if it made Harry this much of a noodle. Harry snorted at the word noodle out of Draco’s mouth and leaned into his hold, letting his weight be held.

Merlin you’re heavy,” Draco puffed, his hand tightening at Harry’s waist. It hurt for a second and they paused, letting Harry breathe. And then the pain passed, and the last few steps were traversed, and Draco led Harry to his bedroom.

“Bed,” Harry said on a breath, an exhausted statement and a lover’s greeting all at once. Draco bent with him, lowering him to sit on the mattress, then took a step back. Through the fog of the potion, Harry noted Draco seemed tense. His eyes darted around the dimly lit room as though checking for something.

“Where,” Harry started, and it took a moment for the rest of the sentence to materialise into words. “Will you sleep?”

“The other room. We’ve set it up, all’s well. How are you for magic? Can you cast if you need anything in the—” He paused. “During the night?”

“P’robly.” Harry shrugged, then hissed, hand shooting up to the centre of his chest. Draco didn’t say anything, just went to his wardrobe and began rummaging. Harry flitted in and out of being properly conscious. He came to when Draco helped him out of his shirt, gently tugging his arms out of the sleeves. The world blurred a little, then sharpened marginally when Harry was pulled to his feet for a moment, asked to step out of his trousers by a soft voice to his ear. He did as asked, swinging slightly on his feet, then leaned forward onto Draco’s chest with a tired sigh.

There was a hand at the nape of his neck, stroking. There were words being pressed to the line of his hair, words he couldn’t quite catch but that echoed in his mind in the quiet before he drifted off to sleep. You’re all right, love, they said. You’re all right.

***

The day that followed felt less like a day and more like a series of moments where he was awake, groggy and a bit at a loss for time. Draco brought him food at some point, a few slices of toast with cheese and eggs. Harry asked for coffee, which wasn’t allowed — a piece of information that was received with a scowl, followed by a keen sense of guilt for making people take care of him and then acting spoilt about it. It didn’t matter much either way: he soon drifted off again, sitting up in bed, half his breakfast still in his lap.

Next time he woke up, no one was in his room. The food was gone. A cold cup of tea sat on his bedside table. He drank it all at once in several long gulps. Then he simply sat for a while, breathing. He lifted the shirt Draco had put him in — he only vaguely recalled this — and inspected the ink stain across his belly, his heart. The lines were curious, like tattoos of his veins. The salve he’d gotten from St Mungo’s had been left on his bedside, too, and so he spent several pained minutes rubbing it over the marks — following their squiggly paths with his fingers. Some ends hurt, making him hiss, cuss out with a whispered, “Oh fuck me.”

At some point, Neville came by and Harry showed him the ink marks, a little chuffed by how cool they looked. At another point, Lester dropped by for a gruff five minutes, standing at a respectable distance from Harry’s bed and saying, “Good sport, Potter. You’re a good sport,” on a nervous little loop.

At some point, Draco sat at his bedside with a washbasin, pouring warm water into the bowl and soaking a cloth in it. The both of them were silent as he washed a shirtless Harry, rubbing the warm cloth down his arms, his hands. Passing it over his shoulders, his neck, and then with more care over Harry’s chest — eyes fixed on the inky marks. He dipped the cloth back in the water, squeezed it out. Returned to Harry’s chest. Harry wanted to say that he could do this himself, but his heartbeat was a loud thrum in his ears, in his blood, and the Bond glowed warm and lovely at every brush of skin — drowning out the pain. So he just sat back against the pillows and watched Draco as he worked, jaw set and a furious blush down his neck.

He fell asleep with Draco’s hands on his skin. He woke up again and it was dark. He decided he wanted to try and get out of bed for a walk, and within one foot out of the bed decided that no, he could not. He rummaged in the drawer of the side table for his paperback thriller, read two pages, fell back asleep. Draco woke him up again for dinner. Mashed potatoes and steak. Draco ate with him, sitting in an armchair, his plate in his lap. He held a quick-paced lecture on his latest client and their demand for a potion that treated a certain plant-related rash — the plant in question was a bit of an illegal one, certainly could not be purchased at your run-of-the-mill market — and this time Harry fell asleep to the sound of his voice, babbling on, a low and comforting drone.

***

The next day he awoke in the morning, took a deep breath, and almost laughed with relief when it nearly didn’t hurt. He took another breath, feeling his lungs expand, his ribs against them — bruised but still good, still secure. He stretched, gingerly, and while his muscles pulled a little it was still better — so much better than the day before.

All small movements and care, he edged his way out of bed. He stepped into his slippers, held his midsection with a secure hand, and shuffled one inch at a time toward the door, collecting his house robe on his way out. The journey down the stairs was heavier, and his own speed made him laugh to himself — shaking his head. He could hear the wireless on in the living room, Draco’s channel, and timed his steps to the rhythm of the song.

Arriving at the bottom and shuffling into the room, Harry had planned on saying something triumphant about his achievement, but was immediately distracted by the sight of Draco in his living room: slumped low in an armchair, reading the morning paper with his reading glasses on. His pyjamas no longer had sorting hats on them — they were just sleeping trousers and a shirt, which had rucked up a little when he’d slid down in the chair. Harry could see a patch of his hip, his stomach. He was holding a cup of coffee to the side and was bringing it close to sip every now and then. His mostly-eaten breakfast plate was on the coffee table, cutlery crossed in finality.

Harry had never seen anyone make such an easy home of his living room. He took another step forward, held on to the doorpost.

Draco noticed him, then, jumped up — put the coffee down, the paper — and began to fuss with an annoyed, “What are you — you can’t walk about yet, they said to wait at least two — excuse me?”

Harry had flipped him off with a V, smiling. “I’m going to get myself coffee,” he declared, shaking off Draco’s barely-there touch on his elbow.

“That is a very bad idea.”

“Yes, I have a few of those,” Harry said, agreeable enough, shuffling into the kitchen. It was a warm August day, a properly sunny one, the light coming in through the coloured transom and throwing blocks of red and blue across the kitchen table. The doors to the garden were wide open and Harry noticed the empty can of tuna by the door. The cat must’ve visited. Draco must’ve fed it.

When he made his way back into the living room, Draco had returned to his paper, to his chair. He was sitting up straight now, though, was glancing at Harry every other moment over the rim of his glasses — as Harry carefully sat himself on the couch, as he sipped his coffee, as he settled into the cushions with a relaxed exhale.

He closed his eyes. His body was sore, but it was all right. He was all right.

He could feel Draco’s nervous gaze on him. He smiled, said, “Stop it. I shan’t expire the moment you look away. You have my word.”

Draco grumbled a reply that may have been yes, your word, how incredibly reliable, but was said just a tad too low — too far away — for Harry to be certain.

They sat in silence for a while, the wireless filling the space for them. Harry sipped his coffee, rested the heat of it against his chest. Let it warm his sore recovering muscles. Three songs had passed before Harry felt tiredness settle over him — strange for so early in the morning — and put his mug on the table. Lowered himself down on the couch.

Draco’s eyes snapped to him, folding the paper back over his fingers.

“Oh, relax.” Harry shifted, made himself comfortable. “I’m just . . . lying down. For a second.”

“Right,” Draco said, cleared his throat. Folded his paper back up to read.

The light that filtered in through the open kitchen doorway caught the edge of the couch, where Harry had propped his feet. He could see dust motes floating about in the patch of sun, could also hear the house creak every now and then — the beams expanding in the heat of the day. Somewhere there was the buzz of an insect, getting louder and then soft again.

He didn’t need to be at work. He didn’t need to be anywhere. Even Draco was there, and the Bond hummed soft and distant at their proximity. Satisfaction settled like a heavy blanket over Harry. He was sore and bruised, and yet somehow — quiet. Better.

“Read me the missed connections,” Harry said, smiling. “I like those.”

Draco peered at him, first sharp, then questioning. Whatever he saw in Harry’s expression — in his languid stance, melted out onto the couch — made him pause. Harry didn’t know what he expected in response, though it certainly wasn’t acquiescence. And yet—

Draco turned a few pages, cleared his throat. “Last week in line for a vault inspection at Gringotts,” he read. “You in green velvet, me in a flower-patterned suit. We talked about the weather, you said it was hot. I had meant to ask you for your name but forgot. If you’d like, perhaps we could speak some more. Drop a note, will you?”

Harry hummed. Draco read another:

“Before the war. You worked behind the counter at Flourish and Blotts. I would come in on Tuesdays and always buy one of the short, extra-sharp quills. Every time, our fingers would brush over the till. I hope you are well. I hope you are alive. I think about you, often. Do you think about me?”

Harry took a deep breath, released it. Closed his eyes.

“We met at the Quidditch World Cup,” Draco continued. “Years ago. I was sixteen, you seventeen. We made out behind the pretzel tent. You told me I was probably your soulmate, but I forgot to ask your name. A little late, but all the same: what’s your name?”

The next one started with, “A few months ago at the Leaky Cauldron. You bought me a drink . . .” and didn’t end, not quite, only sleep came over Harry once again — claimed him soft and lovely and blurred Draco’s words into sounds, then into abstract sentiments, then into nothing at all.

When Draco woke him up again the sun had left the room. Draco sat at his side as Neville had done several days before, and started feeding him orange slices from a small plate. Harry accepted them, silent, glancing up when his lips brushed Draco’s fingers. Draco was blushing furiously again. He’d changed out of his pyjamas but kept his reading glasses on, and he’d shaved, it seemed. His cologne smelled of myrrh, like summer itself. Harry knew what myrrh smelled like now, thanks to Draco’s annoyed lectures, his habit of crushing leaves and powders between his fingers and making Harry guess what they were.

He vaguely recalled how that scent had once made him want to run, to leave the room, to stand in the furthest corner.

Now, all it did was make him want, full stop. It upended him, muddled his thoughts. He took another offered slice and kept Draco’s wrist in place, close to his mouth, as he chewed, swallowed. Draco allowed it, watching, lips parted and breathing shallow.

Harry licked the bitter tang from two of Draco’s fingers. He kissed the nail beds. Opened his lips, breathed heavily, and Draco — looking mesmerised and glassy-eyed — pushed into his mouth. He felt Harry’s tongue, fingers first light and then heavy on its surface. Draco traced a path and then retraced it. The Bond hummed loud in Harry’s ears, making it hard to think, and so why should he? Instead, he closed his lips around Draco’s knuckles and sucked.

Draco made a strangled noise, slumping forward — a stuttering movement, like he wanted to fall but was held back by something outside of himself. His mouth was open, his pupils blown wide. Harry released the suction and Draco’s fingers slipped out, wet. Draco traced the pads of them to the shape of Harry’s mouth — his bottom lip, upper lip, marking a path with Harry’s spit.

Harry shuddered, wondering, distantly, if he’d ever been more aroused in his life. If he’d ever wanted more — simply wanted, with no reason nor goal nor rational thought to precede it.

Draco’s touch slipped and he let it fall, resting his wet fingers on Harry’s collar. He closed his eyes and breathed in and out three times, pointed and controlled.

“Draco,” Harry said, a plea. He sounded wrecked.

Draco swallowed, opened his eyes. He looked down at Harry for a heartbeat, all rough desire. It spiked Harry’s arousal even further, made him want to give himself over, to surrender — he wasn’t sure how, in what way, but fractured images flitted through his addled mind of Draco over him, dressed or naked but certainly holding him down, images of his mouth hungry and hot and teeth, nails, skin, of moaning and—

Draco was up and walking before Harry fully processed it. He left the room and headed to the hallway, then up the stairs. Harry could hear his quick stride down the landing, then the closing of one of the doors.

The wetness on his lips and collarbone was cooling down. His trackie bottoms were tented obscenely. He gave himself a short, comforting squeeze — hoping to ease the worst of it — but that only made it worse. “Jesus,” he muttered. He still sounded raw. He breathed through his nose a few times, holding his twitching erection through his trousers. “Calm down,” he whispered to himself. “Calm down, calm down, calm down.”

He did not, in fact, calm down.

Instead, he pushed a hand down his pants, hotly embarrassed, half hoping Draco would come back down — half hoping he wouldn’t. The movement hurt, the rapid breathing hurt, straining his chest muscles hurt, but he still came within a minute flat, pain and confusion and delirious arousal mixing, mixing, mixing.

***

Draco avoided him for the rest of the day, marching out of rooms full of purpose the moment Harry entered them. When evening came around, he marched with that same purpose into Harry’s room — only to find him with his shirt off, spreading the salve onto the fading grey lines. Draco opened his mouth, on the verge of saying something, then closed it. Walked back out.

He returned a neat five minutes later, tense and a little flushed, hands behind his back. He finished his sentence, voice clipped and short, “Dinner’s in an hour. I assume you’re well enough to take it downstairs?”

“Yeah. Yes,” Harry replied quickly. A little breathless. “Yes.”

“Grand,” Draco said, and left for a second time.

He really was a very, very good cook. He’d made something French, something with endives and pears and blue cheese, and Harry wished he could focus on the food more, and less on Draco’s fingers — around his glass, his fork, his knife. But it wasn’t to be helped. Every time Draco reached for the canister at the centre of the table, each time he got up to get a forgotten bowl from the counter, Harry’s heart gave a startled jump — thinking maybe Draco would be reaching for him this time, standing up to walk toward him. His mind was scrambled with it, the uncertainty, the possibility, as they sat together at the quiet kitchen table.

When did this happen? he asked himself through an edge of panic, blood pulsing as he watched Draco wipe at the corner of his mouth with a thumb. The evening had kept its warmth, and the garden doors were still open. A solitary bee flew into the room and right back out.

Draco took his napkin from his lap and put it on the table, scraping his chair back — getting up to close the doors. Harry stared at his back. His shoulders were so broad, when had they gotten like that? His button-down shirt was thin and white and Harry could see the muscles move under the fabric. His hair had gotten mussed while he cooked, flipped over to one side.

Harry had to close his eyes, overwhelmed.

“Harry?”

Draco was standing back at the table. He looked concerned, as though he thought that Harry’s pained frown was something else, and Harry could do little else but look up at him, huff a small laugh. Let his eyes roam over Draco’s body, up to his face, his mouth.

Draco’s breath caught silently. “Stop it,” he said, strict, then took their plates from the table and deposited them in the sink. Harry hadn’t been done with dinner. He didn’t think he could eat anyway.

When Harry went to bed he could hear the sound of the shower running down the hall and thought he’d stay awake for hours thinking about it. Instead, he found that he was absolutely exhausted, and fell asleep quickly — heavily, stumbling into confusing dreams that were half in reality, half out. There was one where Draco was showering next to his bed, under a spray that came straight down from the ceiling. One where he was the one showering and Draco was in his bed, watching him languidly, a slow smirk on his lips. Then another where he was in the box again, and the box was in that room, and Draco was still on the bed — unbothered and bored as Harry shouted and banged on the glass walls. That one woke him up with a start and a strangled sound, his wand in hand, a half-formed spell on his lips.

He stopped himself, put his wand down. It took a while to catch his breath, and even longer to put the wand on his bedside table. He struggled out of his sweaty sheets and padded to the bathroom for a piss and to wash his face.

He caught sight of himself in the mirror with his face still wet. His perpetual five ‘o clock shadow had darkened into something like a beard. His tangled curls were flattened on the one side of his head, a frizzy mess on the other. His glasses sat crookedly on the bridge of his nose. In the mirror, he looked to the hallway behind him, hollowly hoping to see Draco there. He waited a moment or two, but the house was silent. Nothing but the hum of the light bulb above him.

The next day Harry could get out of bed and walk downstairs at twice the speed as before. Draco wasn’t in his pyjamas and wasn’t in the living room. Harry found him in the kitchen, crouched by the garden doors, talking softly to the tabby cat — petting it as the cat licked fish out of a can.

He looked fresh and showered. Myrrh. Soap.

The day was already too hot for comfort.

“Morning,” Draco said, not looking up. He was smiling at a flick of the cat’s tail. “Sausages and eggs on the stove. And coffee, if you must.”

Harry was hungry and wasn’t, his stomach a knotted mess. “Thank you,” he said, and meant something else by it.

De rien.” Draco appeared to be talking to the cat.

Harry had his breakfast in silence and Draco left rather quickly. Harry lingered, washing his plate, hoping Draco would come back — would find him standing at the counter, would come up behind him, would press close to Harry’s back. This didn’t happen, and so Harry retired to the garden, where he sent cutting spells aimlessly, hacking away at an unruly bush. Digging up tufts of grass. There were a lot of bees about, most of them hovering by the apple tree in the far end of the garden.

The tabby cat lounged in the sun on top of a rotting old wooden coal box, purring, its tail-end flicking languidly.

In the afternoon, Neville and Blaise came by, bringing with them a pie. Neville’s creation, Blaise insisted, either with pride or as a disclaimer. Draco was called down from the guest room to join them for tea and pud, and the four of them dragged chairs from the kitchen out onto the paved stones right outside the garden doors. The pie and tea hovered between them, since Harry didn’t have a garden table.

“What about your lemon tree?” Neville asked in the middle of a mild conversation about Harry’s recovery.

“Hmm? What about it?”

“Well. Where is it?”

“I haven’t gotten around to it,” Harry said, sipping his tea.

“Lemon tree?” Draco sounded dubious, and Harry — who had been glancing over every now at then, attention caught by a freckle that had appeared high on Draco’s cheekbone, a faint little thing — shrugged, said,

“What? I want one. Right there,” he pointed to the far corner of the garden, opposite the overgrown apple tree.

“Good place,” Neville said. “Loads of sun. Corners collect heat. It’ll stand a good chance, there.”

“Yeah,” Harry nodded, as though he’d given it thought. He hadn’t.

The bees were flocking around the pie and the sugar pot, bouncing up with a buzz against the small shield Blaise had thrown up.

After the tea, Harry excused himself for a moment and ambled his way up the stairs to his room. The sun had warmed him and made him feel a little drunk, a humming feeling on his skin that echoed in time with the strings of the Bond. With a bit of grunting and effort, he managed to get his t-shirt off and sat on the edge of his bed to rub in the ashy salve. The inky stripes had nearly faded, blending into the brown of his skin. He traced them for a few minutes, distracted by his thoughts. One line squiggled from the centre of his chest to his ribs, looking like it wanted to escape, to wrap itself around Harry.

“Everything all right?”

Harry looked up. Draco was leaning against the doorway, hands in his pockets. His nose had a pink blush to it.

Harry nodded.

Draco seemed to be staring at the space just above Harry’s shoulder, avoiding his gaze. “Tweedle-dee and tweedle-dum have decided to stay for dinner. I said I refused to cook for yet another unannounced party, so they’ve taken the task onto themselves. Now I would like to disclaim that I cannot be held accountable for whatever concoction they—”

“I want you.” The words came out fast and unbidden. His voice broke on the second word.

Draco stood very still for a long moment. His breath was high in his chest. He closed his eyes briefly. He said, “I see.”

Harry licked his lips. He was almost shaking with nerves. Anticipation. “Do you?”

“Yes.” It was Draco’s turn to sound broken. He turned to the doorpost, held himself against it — giving Harry his profile, the cant of his jaw. Harry didn’t say anything to that, didn’t know what to say. He wanted to get up, lie down, shout, disappear.

Draco swallowed, Adam’s apple bobbing. “I’ll see you downstairs,” he said, and left.

Dinner was excruciating. For Harry, mostly, not in general — Neville and Blaise were in good spirits, having started on a bottle of wine while cooking, taking it to the table while dinner continued. Draco, too, put on a good show, offering his usual barbs that passed for a rapport, the ones that Blaise, in particular, seemed to greatly enjoy. The wireless, for once, was switched to a more popular channel, filling the room with soft synths and bass. A French pop song came on at one point, which had Blaise laughing — turning it up, saying,

“Do you remember, Draco? My god, that time,” and then he started singing along, pretty much in tune. Draco, flushed with drink, joined in the refrain, quieter than Blaise. They seemed to have a shared memory in the song.

“Third year,” a smiling Blaise explained to Neville, putting a hand to his leg — casually moving it to his thigh. “Summer in France.”

Neville smiled in reply, swayed toward Blaise, the way he always seemed to do. “Well, la di da.”

“We could go. Do you want to go? Let’s go.”

“Let’s go!” Neville lifted his glass, joking, taking a drink.

Throughout it all, Harry drank his water through a rough throat, mind cloudy with embarrassment and hurt and still, still, desire, hot and churning at the pit of his stomach. He only heard half the conversation, what with the fact Draco was sitting next to him, everything about him distracting — the line of his jaw, his fingers on the cutlery. The way he loosely crossed his legs and sat back. At one point he slung his arm over the back of Harry’s chair, and for the rest of the dinner all Harry could focus on was whether or not he could feel the heat of Draco’s arm against his back.

This was bad, he realised, resigned and honest. He wanted Blaise and Neville gone, wanted them to stay to distract him, wanted them to do a better job at distracting him.

And then Neville and Blaise did leave, announcing that because they had done the cooking, they did not need to do the dishes. This was mostly Blaise’s claim, because after having collected his jacket, Neville threw a sneaky washing charm at the sink, sending the plates and cups bobbing up into the air, cleaning themselves in a cloud of bubbles.

“You okay, buddy?” Neville asked him on his way out, while Blaise and Draco chatted by the fireplace. “You seem a bit . . .”

“Yeah, yeah. Just tired.” Harry scratched a hand through his hair. “That’s all.”

“Good. Good.” He squeezed Harry’s arm, gave him a fond look. “I’ll see you soon.”

The fireplace whirled up, sent a flurry of ashes past the grate, and then they were alone. They were alone and Harry concluded, very quickly, that being alone was far worse than being with others around. Being alone was an almost choking tension, and silence, and staring at the floor with his heart in his ears.

The floorboard creaked. Draco was heading to the hallway. Harry had decided he wouldn’t be the first to speak and yet he was the one to blurt out a quick, “You’re going up?”

Draco paused, looking at Harry over his shoulder. “Yes,” he said, a moment later. Then, “Are you coming?”

Harry’s heart was in his throat. He nodded. Followed behind. The walk up the stairs was a blurry second, a jump in time, but when he got to his bedroom Draco kept on walking — mumbled a small, “Goodnight,” before disappearing into his guest room. Regulus’ old room.

The disappointment was a loaded, foul-tasting thing. It set him even further on edge, had him leaning back against his closed door, banging his head against it once. “Why are you like this,” he asked himself in a mutter. “Calm down. Jesus.”

He got ready for bed with unsteady hands. He left his clothes in a sad pile on the floor, got into boxers and an old shirt, and lowered himself under the sheets with a careful hand to his chest. He tried to read for a while, but couldn’t focus. He kept on listening out for noises, shuffles in the hallway. The bathroom, the shutting of doors.

He heard nothing. This distracted him even more.

Eventually, he turned off the lights and stared at the window on the other end of the room, still sitting up in bed, glasses still on. A streetlight from across the road filtered in, throwing everything into greyish orange shadows.

He stayed like that for a while, running through Quidditch formations in his mind. He’d just about caught his breath, just about calmed his wild heart, when the door opened, a quiet and tentative creak.

Draco stood there, looking in. The light from the hallway silhouetted his frame. There was something off about the way he was holding himself. Something strange. A curdled memory came to him, the image of a different Draco stumbling into a room in St Mungo’s. His nose bloody, his eyes wild.

Harry swallowed. “Draco?”

Draco was about to say something, then didn’t. He took three strides into the room, then stopped. He looked about to turn away again, then didn’t. He started shaking, ever so slightly.

Harry sat up straighter in bed, and the rustle of sheets seemed to set something off, seemed to pull the words from Draco.

“You died,” he said, sounding choked.

“What?”

“For a few seconds. When that hex — You died. And I—” He couldn’t finish, breath hitching. He tried again: “I felt it. Your heart stopped and I felt it.”

Harry had to swallow a few times. Everything felt like syrup again. Slow and terrifying. “What . . .” He breathed. “What did it feel like?”

There was no reply at first. Just silence, the night crickets chirping outside. Then,

“Like I would die, too.”

Harry’s mind swam, his vision blurred. “Jesus, Draco,” he whispered. “Come here.

This time, Draco did as he a was bid. He staggered to the bed and slid under the sheets, shaking, and Harry was on him in a hot second — a hand in his hair, the other around his waist, pulling him closer. Draco made a sound that cut straight through Harry’s gut, a whimper, and buried his face in Harry’s neck. The shaking was getting worse, Draco’s fists tight in Harry’s shirt, and so Harry just held him — kissing his temple, the line of his hair, whispering a soft litany of, “I’m okay, I’m okay, I’m okay.”

Draco let go of Harry’s shirt only to pull and push at him, getting him on his back, tugging his shirt up, high enough so he could see the barely-there ink marks in the dimness of the room. He looked for a moment — just looked, his breath strangled and high in his chest.

When he reached out to touch, Harry’s muscles jumped under his fingers. Draco pulled his hand back for a second, surprised, then changed his mind. He lowered his mouth to the centre of Harry’s chest and kissed the black core where the hex had hit.

Harry gasped. His hand, still tangled in Draco’s hair, tightened its hold. Draco kissed the spot again, wetter now. He moved along a river line of one of the marks, nipping, kissing, licking, panting hot and desperate against Harry’s chest. Harry was burning up a storm under him, groaning at each touch — at each shift, each movement, each puff of Draco’s breath.

The hum of the Bond felt inconsequential, now, drowned out by the roaring madness of his own want — he couldn’t tell where the one ended and the other began. The knowledge of this danced at the edge of his mind, blurry, but was quickly pushed away the moment Draco fisted a hand in Harry’s shirt to lever himself up — to tuck himself back to the crook of Harry’s neck. There he pulled the skin with his teeth, soothed it with his tongue. Sucked heavy kisses. Harry was beside himself, his hand gripping at Draco’s hair — his hips restless, grinding up into the air.

“Draco,” he managed, barely vocal, “Please. I—”

Draco tilted his head up from the crook of Harry’s neck. His lips were wet, glistening in the dark. His eyes were wide and more pupil than iris. His hand was unsteady as it came up to take Harry’s glasses from the bridge of his nose, breaths puffing against Harry’s mouth. Harry, sure the beat of his heart could be heard like an echo in the room, tilted closer — lined up. He sank into a kiss that whittled the rest of the world into nothing but a blur of shapes and colours. Their tongues slid together with a slick sound and Harry’s stomach lurched at the deep heat of it, shaky with desire. Whatever their kisses had been in those first few months of the Bond, Harry couldn’t remember — but he couldn’t imagine they had been this, couldn’t imagine he would’ve ever been able to stop if they had been. Draco moved against him with his whole body, restless and responsive, sucking Harry’s tongue into his mouth, moaning, one hand a hard pressure, tugging, on Harry’s hip. He moved and pulled and rolled them on their sides so they were facing one another on the bed, a tangle of limbs and mouths and urgent cants of hips, seeking each other out.

Harry wanted to disappear into the feeling of Draco’s teeth on his lip. The feeling of his thigh between Harry’s legs, of his rolling thrusts, of Draco’s hip against his cock, of Draco’s own hardness pressing into him through a thin layer of fabric. Can you want something more in the process of having it, he wondered, vaguely, and Draco panted against his wet mouth — chin damp, red from Harry’s stubble — and said in a voice that was more sand than words,

“If— You can’t leave. You can’t die on me, you can’t—”

“I’m not. I won’t. I—”

And then he pushed his hand down into Harry’s boxers, flattened it over his cock, and dragged his palm over the head to wet it with precome. Harry moaned against Draco’s mouth, hips stuttering, and Draco twisted his hand to hold Harry’s shaft properly — started stroking him, a steady and maddening pace.

Harry lost his ability to kiss back for a moment. He let his mouth rest, open and hot on Draco’s, and pushed his hand down past the waistband of Draco’s pyjama bottoms to palm his arse. Draco reacted by moving into the touch, then pushing harder against Harry’s thigh, long fingers slipping messily down and over Harry’s cock.

“Jesus, you’re—” Harry made a valiant effort at kissing again, but ended up just licking into Draco’s mouth, brushing their lips together. “So good, yeah, God, don’t stop — darling, don’t—”

Draco’s fist tightened at that, dragging a broken sound from Harry, and the speed of his strokes doubled in pace. Draco’s own movements were erratic against Harry’s leg, and Harry thought — unfocused and blurry — that he wanted more of Draco’s cock, now. He pushed and shoved at his pyjama bottoms with thick, slow fingers, enough for Draco’s erection to jump out, leaking and ruddy. In the tangle of hands between them, Harry held Draco’s cock against his own hip, shuddering at the heat of him, the wet feel of him against his skin. Draco whimpered and fucked up into the tunnel of Harry’s thigh and his hand, and twisted his hold on his cock. Harry came at that — suddenly, his mouth open against Draco’s chin. His orgasm tore through him like a freight train, pulling him out of reality. For just a moment, all that existed was the heat of Draco’s body, the smell of his skin, his arousal.

When he settled back into himself, Draco was coming, riding Harry’s thigh, two hands twisted up in Harry’s hair, his jaw slack. The sound he made was mostly air, mostly a hitching breath — a soft, surprised moan in the back of his throat.

Harry kissed Draco’s cheekbone with sore lips. The pinprick of a freckle. His brow, his closed eyelids. His cheek, his mouth, which earned him a soft gasp.

“Fuck,” Draco whispered, hands loosening. He settled them on the back of Harry’s neck. “You . . . Fuck.” His next words came out heavy, almost slurred: “I can’t . . .”

Harry was trembling slightly, coming down from the high. He was about to fall asleep, he could feel it. “You’re good,” he replied, barely recognising his own voice. “We’re good. So good. So good, Draco. So . . .”

The last thing he remembered was Draco’s thumb under his eye, his mouth kissing the corner of Harry’s lips. The heat of his body, the wet mess between them. And myrrh, like summer itself, in the hidden crook of Draco’s neck.

***

He woke up to the Bond’s empty confusion, the buzz of it forming around the question of where? He let that thought pull him into consciousness, blearily patting the bed around him. First for Draco, who he half-knew wasn’t there, and then for his glasses, which he found on the floor by the bed. The room blurred in and out of focus as he blinked, as he smacked his mouth at the taste of deep sleep.

The day was slow in taking shape around him, his thoughts still half-formed, half in slumber as he wobbled out of the room in his pyjama bottoms. He didn’t recall cleaning them, pulling them back on. He didn’t recall much at all, until, standing at the top of the stairs, a memory bloomed of the heat of Draco’s body against his. He put a hand on the railing and remembered Draco’s voice, cracking, and by the time he padded his way through the living room the previous night had coalesced in his mind, sending a hot flare of thrill and embarrassment up his spine.

The Bond felt Draco before Harry realised it, before he smelled the coffee or heard the soft murmur of someone talking in the other room. It hummed, loud and excited for a moment, then settled low again — a tired child — when Harry walked into the kitchen.

Allors, chéri!” Draco was addressing the cat, who was curling its body around the frame of the open door. It had one paw in the house, and retreated it a few times, indecisive. “Tu entres ou tu sors?”

Tu entres ou tu sors,” Harry repeated. He over-enunciated each word, exaggerating the French, making a joke of it. He wasn’t sure why. His voice was rough with sleep.

Draco was sitting at the table with a newspaper, his hair done up in that complicated plait again. He hadn’t heard Harry come in, and looked a little startled. It took him a few seconds before replying with a blank, “You’re up.”

His eyes were very bright. The top button of his Henley shirt was unbuttoned. Harry wondered, wildly and unreasonably, at why Draco was dressed at all, why he hadn’t remained in his pyjamas — why he couldn’t mull about Harry’s home in a state of undress at all times. It made Harry want to push at him, make fun of him, pick him up and put him down — rattle him a little, or maybe just pull him close, drag him back to bed. He huffed a laugh at his riot of emotions, rolling his shoulders, walking to the counter to get a glass of water — hoping they would calm down by turning his back to Draco for a moment.

“I’m up,” Harry said, holding his glass under the tap. Then, nonsensically, “Up, up, up.”

Draco cleared his throat. Harry turned, leaning back against the counter as Draco pushed his chair back, starting a quick babble of, “Well good, good, so I see you’re well and I assume you’re—” While picking up his satchel from where it sat against the table leg, putting it on one of the chairs, picking up his coffee, “—good recovery, really, and Longbottom can be notified if—” He folded the newspaper, put it in his satchel, took it out again, moved his coffee mug five inches to the left, turned his back to Harry, looked about, “—nothing to be done, at any rate, I must be off, lots of work, things to do, catch up, people to . . .”

He trailed off, shaky. Harry had taken a few steps, had come to stand behind him as he fussed about with his satchel. A wisp of hair escaped the tuck of his plait at his neck, a little triangle pointing to the jut of his spine. Harry touched it, a palm to the base of Draco’s neck. A thumb to the soft skin at the line of his hair.

Draco moved to the touch, a minute gesture, tilting his chin down with a shiver. Harry stepped closer, heart high in his throat, his teeth. He put a hand to the dip of Draco’s waist and felt the heat of him through his shirt. Harry swayed a little, and anchored himself with a brush of his lips to Draco’s neck, barely more than a breath to the line of his collar.

He could hear Draco swallow. Could hear the wet little sound of his parting lips.

“I’m . . .” Draco started, a whisper, then cleared his throat. He turned in Harry’s loose grip. Harry made to lean in, made for a kiss, but Draco held him at a short distance with a hand to the base of Harry’s throat. The Bond swelled at the touch — at Draco’s warm palm on Harry’s bare chest — and pulled for more, loud and impatient. Harry gasped and Draco made a small sound of distress, fingers curling against Harry’s collarbone.

“I met someone,” Draco said in a breathless rush.

It took Harry a moment to hear the words and connect them to meaning. They seemed without context, at first. Separate words that he knew bore meaning — a meaning he couldn't fathom there, in his kitchen, with Draco this close.

And then, all at once, the words solidified.

Harry’s grip fell from Draco’s waist. He licked his lips, took a step back. Draco’s hand slipped down his chest, lingered for a fraction, then was gone. Draco cleared his throat again.

“I met someone,” he repeated. “Recently.”

“You met someone,” Harry repeated, flat. “Recently.”

“Well. I — maybe. I wasn’t sure. And I wanted to—”

“How long, maybe?”

Draco exhaled a small breath. “Two months.”

“Two—! We’ve—” He breathed a laugh, humourless. “We’ve been over this, no? Clause thirteen-three-B, we wrote this down, we agreed, life changes such as significant—”

“It wasn’t—! It hasn’t been serious. Yet. It’s not serious yet. We are not — he simply—” Draco seemed frustrated with his own words, took a sharp breath, started again: “He’s enquired after me, a while ago, if we might — well. I haven’t accepted the invitation yet.”  

“Yet?”

“I—” Draco looked away toward the garden. He licked his lips. “I wanted to let you know. To ask. Before . . .”

Harry glanced at Draco’s briefcase. Noted, anew, how he’d dressed. Had done up his hair. “Before what?”

He made a noise, an impatient, annoyed puff of a sound. “He wants to be a part of my life and I — he deserves to be treated fairly. Not to be led on, not to—”

“Are you?” It came out fiercer than Harry wanted it to. Hurt flashed through him, strange and unexpected, a lump in his throat. “Leading him on?”

Draco fired back with a frustrated, “I don’t know, Harry, am I?”

Harry held his gaze. The whole conversation was happening a pace too fast for him, like he was lagging behind on what they were saying, what they meant.

“What do I know? Up until three seconds ago I was under the impression we’d — that we had a—”

“A what, Harry?” He swallowed, added, “What was last night to you, Harry? That’s the question here, isn’t it?”

And while Draco said it with such authority, with such certainty that there was a clarity in the question — Harry wasn’t sure what he was being asked. The only answer that came to him was an obvious one: they’d slept together. They’d held each other. They’d wanted to, and so they had. They’d circled each other, had finally collided, Harry thought. But perhaps they hadn’t. Perhaps Harry was living a different story, perhaps Draco was somewhere else altogether.

He clenched his jaw. Asked, “What do you mean, what was it to me?”

“What I mean is,” Draco started, anger now making his voice short — clipped, “Was that us? Or was it just. . .” He glanced between, gestured sharply.

The anger that rose up in Harry was unfamiliar — it had nothing to do with good or bad or fear. It was all mottled, all mixed up at the core of their Bond and further than that, at the very pit of him. It was something that was bare and ugly and jealous, recalcitrant, and utterly, utterly confusing. He’d been acting without thinking and he knew it. He’d reached out once and liked what he’d felt, and had kept reaching out to push that button like a child — without much consideration for what it was, what it meant, what the consequences might be.

It was so easy to let the magic be pulled taut between them lead them to and fro. It was so easy to just fall into it, into the hot bath of bliss that it was. They had no one to report back to, no adult keeping them in check, no one but themselves. Their own thin control, their own sets of rights and wrongs. He'd assumed without thought that Draco felt the same. He'd assumed, in the back of his blurry mind, they might keep on like this. Reaching out for the joy of it. Allow it to feel good.

He was annoyed, suddenly, that he should be held accountable — that he now had to sever something when he’d already held back so much. When he’d had to pull away when all he wanted was to get closer. That he’d had no choice in the matter. That once again he’d found himself at the mercy of someone else’s fancies, tied by the end of a rope to someone else’s life. Someone else’s desires.

Harry breathed through his nose. “Us or the Bond, you mean?” And then, trying to parry back, “Does it matter?”

Draco’s jaw worked. An indecipherable emotion passed over his face. “You know it does.”

The words came out pitched low and seemed to linger in the silence between them, holding layers of possible meanings depending on how Harry chose to look at them. How closely he dared to hold them.

“Well,” Harry said, a little mean. He looked quickly between them as though to indicate the Bond, currently tugging — confused and displeased — between them. “Best to go with certainty, then, isn’t it? Go ahead. Go on your date, and I’ll — what was it you’d said? Ah, yes. Best to pay it no mind. ‘I’ve found that the best way forward is to just pay it no mind.’”

An angry blush had worked its way up Draco’s neck, spreading over his jaw. He swallowed again.

“Well?” Harry spread his arms a little. “There’s your answer. Is that the one you wanted?”

A short breath escaped Draco at that. He nodded, briefly closed his eyes. “I see. Right.” He began to gather himself, reaching for his satchel, looking about for anything else. “Excellent,” he said, then nodded again, once and firm. “Noted. I’m glad you’re feeling well. I will see you the day after next. Regular hours, I’d say, best to pick up where we left, yes? Well.”

Draco stood there, flustered and clamping down on his reaction, satchel held by his thigh. His eyes were everywhere but on Harry. Harry’s sudden well of anger was shrinking, morphing into something else, and now all he felt was confused, lost. He’d taken them somewhere he hadn’t wanted to go and he’d then broken it with all the petulance and speed of a five-year-old. He wanted to apologise, but didn’t know what for. He wanted to reach out, to put his hand to the muscled curve of Draco’s chest — to the heat and pulse and want he knew he’d find there. He wanted it as simply as possible, without having to shape words around it, questions or requests — without having to consider anyone else but the two of them.

Had that ever been an option, he wondered then, a dry and thin emotion.

He wants to be a part of my life, had been Draco’s words. He deserves to be treated fairly.

“Well. Goodbye,” Draco said, using his clipped business tone. He made a jerky movement that was meant to be a parting nod but came out too rough, and instead became Draco’s first step as he walked out the kitchen.

Harry didn’t move. He listened to the whoosh of the Floo, to the hiss of it dying down. The sound of it startled the cat, who ran out into the garden and up the hedge with a sudden burst of speed. The room was hot and would get hotter still, and the harsh smell of departure came in from the living room — sulfur and singed hair. A shiver ran through him, making the hairs stand up on his arms. He felt a chill in the heat.

Through the open doors to the garden, he could hear the hum of the bees as they came out to greet the day.

 

Chapter Text

Draco and Beaumont had met at the birthday gathering Draco’s mother had arranged for him.

Over the course of the autumn of that year, Harry found out bits and pieces of information by way of Hermione, sometimes Blaise. He was careful not to ask questions out-right, careful not to feed the low-grumbling nausea that was always there these days — that seemed to tighten at the sight of Draco, loose-limbed and calm as he got Harry a cup of tea. As he read over his notes, his hand warm and distracted on Harry’s arm, as the clock counted down the minutes between them.

Everyone called the man Monty. He was an old family friend, Harry had gathered. He was French, but was currently working in the UK on something, for something, Harry wasn’t sure — he’d heard as much when Blaise and Neville had had a quiet conversation, thinking Harry wasn’t listening.

Draco, for his part, didn’t mention his man at all. For the first few weeks after their short spat — after that night, that quick coming together and then falling apart that neither of them acknowledged — Draco didn’t talk to him about much at all. Words fell from him as they always had, in a rambling, waterfall sort of way, jumping from this to that. But they meant very little, revealed even less.

Their first twenty-minute sitting together — two days later, as per agreement — was a terse affair that Draco filled with idle chatter about the rise in potion-transportation tax. Harry, miserable and sleepless, didn’t hear a word, focussed on Draco’s hand right below the crook of his elbow. It was a twitchy hold, like he might pull away at any moment. The Bond settled, and as the seconds ticked down Harry waited for the nausea to abate alongside it. It didn’t. Instead what was left behind was the bottom of a drained lake, the murky secrets of it now laid bare: the fact that Harry found he didn’t want to let go. That he didn’t want to leave, that he wanted to know whether the new gloves on the mess of the table were Monty’s, whether Draco’s mouth looked bitten for a reason. Whether Monty was upstairs right now, lingering in the bedroom, waiting for Harry to leave. For Draco to come back up, to crawl into his bed, crawl towards his man, announce with a tired sigh that, God, that took long enough. Thought he’d never leave.

Their second meeting was quieter. Harry had made a half-hearted resolution to apologise for his temper — to thank Draco for staying with him that week — but Draco seemed distracted, in his head about something, and Harry quickly backtracked. They spent the twenty minutes talking in small bursts of conversation that died down quickly. So when are you expected back at the Department? — Whenever I feel up to it. — Ah, right. Right.

Then silence, the puffing of the clock. The whoosh of the little fire pits where Draco’s potions were bubbling away.

The week after was when Harry quit his job at the DMLE.

He’d made the decision over breakfast. He’d been staring out onto the garden, the lemon-tree coin loose and warm in his hand. He’d been watching the dying weeds, the cloud of bees over by the apple tree. The cat had been sniffing out a spot by a bush, had refused to come when Harry’d tried to call him over. He’d put on the wireless, and the channel had still been on the one Blaise had chosen during their dinner. That song had come on again, the synthy French one, and something in Harry’s chest had contracted. Shrunk. He’d thought about leaving the house to escape the feeling. He’d thought about going out to the shop, or to Neville’s greenhouse, or swinging by work again — just to say hello. Just to check in.

The thought had been brief and light and immediately he’d known — simply known, as though it had been settled long ago — that the next time he went to work would be the last.

He went about it in much the way he did a lot of things: all at once. A decision made was a decision executed, and he arrived at the department without his robes, slippers still on. He greeted a few people with a distracted half smile, made a beeline for Robards’ office. It was empty — Robards was downstairs at Owls & Other Communications, apparently chasing down a memo — and Harry had to spend a jittery quarter of an hour walking around, inspecting the neat space. The few framed plaques, a picture of Robards shaking hands with the French Minister for Magic. The lined-up trinkets at the end of the table: a little silver ball that rolled out into a woodlouse when prodded, that would set itself down on a stack of paper. A few miniature dancing Aurors, a couple of bird-like statues that would each produce a different chord of a tune when touched.

When Robards returned, Harry had managed to make them produce the opening notes to Frère Jacques. The sound of the last bird’s chirp was still echoing in the room when Harry said hello and, without much of a preamble, that he was there to quit his job.

Robards didn’t seem to hear him at first, convinced Harry was still suffering from the effects of the hex. He made him sit down, have a glass of water, tell him the year and the name of the minister.

“Gilderoy Lockheart,” Harry said, flat and unamused, and that didn’t seem to make Robards any more inclined to listen to him. The conversation ended on the unsatisfying note of,

“Go home, Harry. You need rest. I just think you need more rest.”

Harry insisted that he’d had two weeks of rest, which to his standards was basically a lifetime, and that he wasn’t going to change his mind. That once decided, he never changed his mind.

“Kid,” Robards said to that, huffing a laugh, “I’ve seen you go back to the canteen to change your lunch order three times in a row. You’re talking nonsense. Go home. Come back when you’re better.”

“I am better,” Harry insisted, putting his glass of water on Robards’ desk.

Robards squeezed his shoulder, a heavy weight that didn’t feel at all like comfort. “You don’t sound better, kid.”

That afternoon, Harry stumbled into his garden with a wand and a makeshift collection of tools — a pair of scissors, a fork, a spoon — and set to work. The weeds were the first to go that day, overgrown and brown, climbing up against the hedges, the sides of the house. Whatever needed more precision than his rudimentary first-year herbology spells could manage was tackled with the spoon, edging the deep roots from under bricks and walls and stones. He worked rhythmically, worked through the dull twinge of the fading hex at his chest, worked without looking up or thinking about much at all. His knees were wet with mud by the time he called it a day, his clothes splattered with dirt and green. His hands were cold but the rest of him was warm. He’d only managed one-fourth of the garden, but already there was a good heap of weeds in a corner by the hedge, and an old pathway of round rocks had been unveiled. It seemed to be winding in an expansive loop toward the apple tree.

The day had folded in on itself. The late September skies blushed and mottled and darkened — clouded over grey at first, then dark.

***

Draco had baked a peach-based tarte tatin the previous night, a slice of which he served along with the tea. He heated it with an off-hand wave of his fingers while setting down a little jug of cream. It was good, and Harry said as much, asked Draco whether he didn’t want a slice of his own, and Draco had said that no, that he’d—

“—already had my fill, thank you.”

Something clattered upstairs, an object falling on a carpeted floor. They both looked up, and Draco smiled at the ceiling — a little private thing. He was wearing his hair in a plait again, as he did most days, lately. It was a somewhat messy one, that Wednesday, like someone had tugged at it, had tried to card their hand through the tight weaving of the braid.

One of the buttons of his shirt was done up wrong, entirely uncharacteristically. There was a red but darkening bruise on the side of Draco’s neck. A love bite.

Harry couldn’t quite swallow the last few bites of the dessert. He sipped at his tea a few times in quick succession. The caramel tasted overly sweet, suddenly, and clung thickly to the roof of his mouth.

Draco was reading over a report for the lazy twenty minutes his hand was on Harry’s arm. His fingers were looser than usual, lighter, a forgetful touch — the way Harry’d seen him dangle the arm of his reading glasses between two fingers while in thought, like they could drop to the floor at any moment.

Harry, his heart wild and on fire, found it was all easier if he kept his eyes trained on the table as he counted down the seconds.

He’d decided to walk home again that day, decided he needed the cool air, needed to calm himself down. Draco held the door open for him, a bit impatient, glancing toward the stairs — up to the landing — while Harry tucked his scarf into his coat.

“I meant to tell you,” Harry said, then, having worked himself up to it — having put it off. “I quit my job.”

Draco froze in his distraction, attention snapping to Harry, and his mouth worked a few times — looking for words, huffing a laugh. “Lord, did you now?”

“Sure did.” Harry gave a half-hearted smile. Tugged his collar up to his ears.

Draco looked at him, arm still up on the doorframe. His gaze turned intense at that moment, scanning Harry’s face, and it seemed like he wanted to say something, like he was fighting a thought of sorts. Whatever it was, however, went unsaid: Draco dropped his gaze, looked at the tiled floor, then quickly up at the ceiling.

“Good for you,” he said, then, nodding.

“Yeah.” Harry shrugged.

“I mean it. You’ve been miserable. It was the right choice.”

Harry nodded, looked out at the leaf-covered autumn street. Kept on nodding. “Right. Miserable.”

Draco cleared his throat. “So what will it be, now? For you?”

Harry shrugged again. “The circus, most probably.”

Draco snorted, seemingly despite himself. “Yes. Of course. A contortionist, I presume?”

“Ah, no, see. I’m working up to being that guy who stands in between two galloping horses. It’s very impressive. You especially would love it.”

Draco barked a laugh, said, “Merlin give me strength,” and shook his head.

Harry was grinning and the Bond thrilled at Draco’s smile, at his laughter, enjoying the ease it allowed between them. The hot curling at his core, though, was quickly chased by a different kind of heat. A churlish, ugly kind.

Harry’s grin faltered, shrank, and the mirth between them fell still. Draco’s expression had turned pinched.

“I should go,” Harry said, grimacing out at the street like the sun was too bright. It was a grey day. “You have company.”

Draco exhaled a breath. Harry knocked twice on the doorframe by way of goodbye, then skipped the four steps down to the street, hands in his pockets. He didn’t look back when Draco closed the door behind him.

***

In Harry’s mind Monty was tall, taller than him. Taller than Draco. He was broad and blonde and had a beard, and he wore billowing linen shirts. He imagined Draco spoke to him in French, and the thought always got stuck in his throat — overlapped with the memory of Draco, on his knees in his kitchen, murmuring to the tabby cat. Bonjour chéri, mon joli.

It took a while, but eventually he told Hermione as much. It was on a weekend when Ron was working at the shop and so she and Harry found themselves with the rare afternoon alone together. They took a walk along the park near Grimmauld Place, arm in arm. The early November weather now called for jackets, for a scarf to be taken with them, just in case. They were discussing how Andromeda’s Christmas would expand that year, how quickly everyone was pairing up these years, and Harry had said something along the lines of, And of course, Draco and his French Viking boyfriend.

To which Hermione laughed for what felt like just a bit too long. They had to pause along the path for a second.

“What?” he said, amused by her laughter, unsure which part had set her off. “What?”

She calmed down, but was still smiling. “You haven’t met him yet, have you?”

Harry shrugged. Hermione pulled them back into a slow walk and said, “He looks like you. A lot. Only” — she made a vague gesture — “French. A little taller, maybe.”

Harry stared at their feet for a good few paces. He waited for his heart to slow, for the burn to cool from the back of his neck. “What’s he like, then?” he asked, quiet.

“Nice. Haven’t spoken to him much.” Then, “He seems to like Draco a lot.”

He breathed a little heavier at that. Nausea set in, the Bond curdling, pulling. Hermione noticed, and put a careful hand to his arm. “Harry?”

It took him a moment to answer. A few slow steps, as a jogger and her dog passed them by. Harry swallowed, his mouth dry. “It’s . . .” he started, but didn’t finish. He tried again. “It’s not easy. The Bond, you know, it’s . . .”

“I don’t, actually.” She looked at him, then, and her eyes had that intensity about them. That narrow set to them like she was gearing up, about to launch into something. Harry avoided the gaze.

“I don’t know much at all,” she continued, “about what it’s like for you. You never talk about it. You never have.”

Harry tracked the slow, continuous fall of leaves from a nearby oak. “D’you know that feeling when you’re just about to cast? When you can feel your magic, where it is? How much of it there is? How deep it goes?”

Hermione nodded.

“It’s like that. Only . . . when he’s around. And then when he’s not, it—” He stopped. Hermione’s hand tightened, just a little, around his bicep. “It wants me to be with him. It doesn’t like it when other people are. It’s not — very loud, usually. In the beginning — when I had training and then when I was with Hannah, I barely even thought about it most of the time. It was just a . . . background noise. A fly in the room. Just like being a little peckish, you know? And not knowing what you want to eat?”

He glanced at her, and she nodded again, urging him on. “Like that. And I never had to — he was never with someone, that I knew. But now — now. Every time I think about it, the Bond, it—” He licked his lips, ran his teeth over his bottom one. “And of course I’m not — with anyone, and so there’s no distraction and it’s — Jesus. It’s difficult. It’s difficult.” He sighed, then added a quiet, “All the time.”

Hermione didn’t respond right away. She looked at him for a long moment, then at the leaf-covered gravel of the path. Her arm was still hooked through his, her hand on his arm. Holding him, or anchoring herself. “Harry,” she said, slowly, as though it was a question. Then, “Have — are you and Draco—?”

“No!” he cut off the thought before it had formed. Chuckled a single laugh, nervous and tight. “God, no, it’s — not like that. No.” He wasn’t sure why he had to lie. Why this part was so impossible to acknowledge. He wondered if the fib was as obvious as it felt.

She glanced up at him again, considering. “I’m sorry, darling,” she said, squeezing his arm.

He gave her a shaky smile. “Sorry for what?”

“That you’re hurting.”

“Oh, well, it’s—” He cleared his throat, eyes cloudy. “It’s fine. I’m fine. It’s just . . .” A short sigh. “Adjusting. We’re adjusting.”

“Does Draco know?”

He confirmed with a hmhmm. “He knows. When I was with Hannah, I’m pretty sure that was — that for him — yeah. He knows.”

“Right. Yes.” She nodded, remembering that year. They walked a little further, following the bend of the path. A little lake appeared behind a few trees. “You know,” she continued, speaking a little louder — slower. She was hedging her bets. Harry recognised her tone. “I have this colleague. Almar. And she’s very smart and funny, and I think maybe, if you’d like, I—”

Harry laughed, and Hermione’s words trailed off into a huff of a sigh. She gave him a look, in equal measure amused and irked, and he just shook his head, said that, “No, thank you. Thank you but no.”

“Fine. Fine! No fun dates for you then.”

“Exactly. Me? Having fun?” He made a face. “Can you imagine?”

“Perish the thought,” she said, leaning her head to Harry’s shoulder for a brief moment, holding him close.

***

There was a beehive behind the apple tree. It was hanging low and precarious off the back of the trunk, heavy with the previous season’s honey, a buzz of activity all around it. Harry discovered it the day he finished with the weeding, pulling away at ivy that had crawled its way up the tree and setting loose a flurry of startled bees. He stumbled away with a quick whoa, whoa!, then laughed at his own reaction.

He stood in the middle of his garden for a while, gloved hands on his back — elbows sticking out — thinking. The cobbled pathway he’d uncovered the first day indeed led to the tree, then split into two paths, the other one leading in yet another curve to the back of the garden, circling in on itself.

Now, with the ground uncovered and the earth smelling fresh and strong after an afternoon’s drizzle, the garden felt expansive, impossibly big. The bees hummed back and forth between the branches, the hedges, flying out into the sky.

“Okay,” Harry said to the empty space around him, making a decision. “Okay.”

Neville, Floo’ing in the following day on Harry’s request, was unsure as to why he’d been enlisted.

“I don’t know anything about bees,” he said, standing at a polite distance as Harry leaned against the tree, proudly showing the hive.

“Yeah, but you know stuff about—” He gestured, vaguely, at the garden. “Nature!”

“Nature is not a unit, buddy.”

“Whatever!” Harry said cheerfully. “Come now! We can do it together! It’ll be fun!”

“Fun,” Neville repeated, sceptical, eyeing the hive.

“Fun!” Harry clapped his hands together, then jogged over to where Neville was standing so they may appreciate the tree together. “It’s my thing now,” he said. “Having fun.”

Neville huffed a silent laugh, bumped his shoulder to Harry’s. “Come,” he said, leading them out of the drizzle, back into the house. “Time for a cuppa.”

***

Robards would send him weekly owls updating him on the goings-on of the department. He’d end it, usually, with a get well soon! Which Harry would answer to with a word of thanks and a firm, Not sick! Still quit! Say hi to Lester!

It was through one of Robards’ telegram-style letters that he found out about Hannah and Benji. He didn’t feel much in response other than a dull annoyance at not having been told earlier, and a distant sort of jealousy — not for either of them in particular but at what they had apparently found in one another. At the fact that in their grand story, Harry, it seemed, was a background character. A tangent, a plot-point that had kept them from getting together in the first place.

And so he wrote Hannah a quick message and sent it before thinking much of it. When she responded the next day with a short, Sure, I’ll do coffee, Harry realised he hadn’t expected her to accept the invitation in the first place.

They met up at a small café near the Ministry, a street off of — he was quickly told — where she was now living with Benjamin. Outside London was bustling, grumpy and loud. It had stopped raining and the sun was peeking in and out of sight, dark clouds moving fast over the city. The sidewalks were wet, the cars were wet. People’s coats were wet.

Hannah looked good. She looked calm, more than anything, flushed with the cold, cradling her drink close to her chest. “So what do you want to know?” was one of the first things she said to him, and Harry played dumb, said he didn’t know what she meant. She laughed and asked him if this wasn’t the one year has passed and now I need to ask my ex why we broke up conversation. Harry laughed in return, nervous, and insisted that no, insisted that he just wanted to catch up. How is Benji? he asked, How’s work, how is your apartment, how was the wedding? and Hannah answered dutifully, saying that yes, wonderful, wonderful, the wedding was small, sorry we didn’t invite you, but, yeah.

Yeah, Harry agreed, a little wry.

And then, in the lull that followed, Harry — never having been a champion at fighting impulses as they came to him — asked the question anyway. To her credit, Hannah didn’t lord it over him much. She just nodded and smiled and said,

“The thing is, Harry.” She put her coffee on the table. “The thing is — and I’ve had a little time to think this over, mind — that you have this . . . focus. And being the subject of that focus is, pff.” She shook her head, clucked her tongue. “Really nice. I swear I was the centre of the universe when you looked at me, when you were in that mood. And it’s not just people, like — anything. A case, a puzzle, anything you focus on, it’s so intense. And being inside that bubble is wonderful. Nothing could touch us, inside that bubble.”

Harry was inspecting his own coffee mug. There was a grain stuck under the glazing of the ceramic, right on the rim. He scratched at it with a nail.

“But then,” she continued, a bit slower, “when your walls went up again, I was on the outside. I couldn’t get to you. Like — nothing I said. I’d touch you and it was like you could barely feel it. You cared about us when we were us. But I don’t think you cared about me.”

He looked up at her, then, not knowing what to say, and she gave him a half shrug. A half smile. “Right?” she asked, then, reaching for her coffee again.

Harry pushed his glasses up to rub at his eyes. He shook his head, hapless, then nodded — hapless.

When they parted it was just past dark, early evening. The streetlights had turned on the moment they’d stepped out onto the street. A drizzle had started up again. They didn’t hug goodbye, but Hannah put a hand to his arm, squeezed it.

“How’s Malfoy, anyway?” she asked, an afterthought, buttoning up her coat.

Harry was grateful for the dimness of the street, for the high collar of his coat hiding his flush. “Fine,” he nodded. The word was a cloud in the air. “He’s seeing someone now.”

“Good for him,” Hannah said, a little distracted, fumbling with the last button. And then again, softer, “Good for him.”

***

He’d somehow roped Neville into building the hive with him. Neville was clearly apprehensive about it, and insisted he was not a good choice, insisted Harry ask anyone else — anyone else, really, I have two left hands and not a lot of time, what with—

“Next weekend at yours, then!” is how Harry cut off the rant, head in the fireplace, grinning at a rumpled-looking Neville. “Wonderful! Will bring everything! Ta!”

They got a good start on the hive on a crisp December morning, standing in the open door of Neville’s work shed. Harry was all enthusiasm and Neville soon followed in spirit, finding it hard not to share in the excitement when Harry showed him his rough sketches, his plans, running a gloved hand over the cedar lumber he’d brought over. Harry couldn’t stop talking about it, saying how the nature of the wood made it so that it wouldn’t warp, how it would be really easy to keep it free of bugs, free of rot, how the grain was lovely, and could Neville smell it? It smelled so good. Smell it, go on! Smell it!

Dean, who’d been due for Sunday tea, came down the path rubbing his hands together and shivering. He’d apparently been told by Blaise that he could find his friend “futzing about in the freezing cold,” and was now asking them what in god’s name they were in the shed for. He was soon roped into the affair as well — was made to pass his approval on Harry’s plan, the lumber, the grain. Feel it, go on! Feel the grain!

“I don’t know how you get people to join in on your mad plans,” is what Blaise told him, later that afternoon, when Harry helped him plate up for tea. “But I feel like I should be taking notes.”

Harry smiled like the answer was a secret, shrugged, and only felt a little guilty, and only for a minute. Neville and Dean were by the fireplace, hands out to the grate, defrosting. They were still talking — rather excitedly — about the bees.

You have this focus, was what Hannah had said, and the words played over in his mind as he put the pudding cake on the table. And again, later, when Neville huddled with him over a piece of paper, roughly sketching out a plan for a flower bed that could go near the hive, rambling off a list of genera that would be good for honey production. And again, that evening back at home, in the quiet of his study.

He thought it once more, determined and chagrined, standing in Draco’s kitchen the next day. He was making them tea, and Draco was on some kind of deadline — was scribbling furiously on a parchment, glancing up to read from one of the two books he had open before him. He was only half listening to what Harry was telling him, about the hive, the bees, the plans for the garden.

Harry kept looking at the line of his shoulders. The way his shirt was pulled tight over the muscle of his back. Harry tried to fix his eyes on the kettle. The two sausages hanging to dry from above the stove smelled strongly of meat.

“So I was wondering,” he said, then, raising his voice in the hope that Draco would see a new topic was being broached.

“Hmm,” was Draco’s answer, flipping his hair over to one side with the end of his quill. Harry felt the sight of it like an ache in his chest.

“I was wondering,” he repeated, taking the whistling kettle off the fire. He poured water into the pot. “How’s Monty doing?”

Draco gave him a look over his shoulder, suspicious from under a frown.

“Not a trick,” Harry said, bringing the pot over to the table. He sat down next to Draco — they rarely did it like this, next to one another — and poured Draco his tea, adding, “A genuine question.”

Draco took a good while to answer. He inspected first Harry, then his tea, then his notes — added a squiggle, a number to an equation. Added a 7, carried the 1.

“Fine,” he said at length. “He’s . . .” He looked up at Harry and then quickly away. “He sprained his ankle running this morning, actually, so he’s currently being a big baby.” He took a small sip of his tea, continued to explain that — “We need to wait for the swelling to go down before a Healer can do anything about it.”

Harry breathed in, out. The roiling in his stomach needed to settle. He began rolling up his sleeve. “He’s a runner, then?”

“He likes to—” Draco held back for a moment, considering his words. His eyes were on Harry’s hands, on the movement of him pushing his sleeve up over his elbow. “Keep fit. We go running together, most mornings.”

Harry smiled despite himself. The image of Draco running, for any possible cause, seemed utterly improbable. “That doesn’t quite sound like . . . you.”

“Ta, Harry,” Draco huffed, then twisted his mouth in something like amusement. “But yes, I absolutely hate it and would rather be doing anything else.” He put his quill between one of the pages to mark it before closing the book, pushing the notes aside. He undid the button of his cuff.

“Then why do you?”

Draco made quick work of rolling up his sleeve. Harry was turned in his chair, arm out on the table. There were a few bruises and scratches from the previous day, from messing around with the woodwork.

“It’s good for my disposition, I’m told. Oh, he’s right, I suppose. I don’t get out much, what with . . .” He gestured vaguely at his work, the potions on the far end of the table. “A little movement is good for body and mind.” He seemed to be quoting, clearly disagreeing.

He put his cold fingers to Harry’s arm. Harry hissed at the contact, muttered a quiet, “You’re always so cold in the winter,” and reached over to where Draco’s wand had been left on the table to shake the smokey clock from its tip.

“What did you do?” Draco wondered, touching a bruise.

“I told you. Neville and I are building a hive.”

Draco hmm’d, then settled his palm over the crook of Harry’s elbow. Harry returned the hold, light. The muscle of Draco’s arm, unlike his hand, was warm.

“So I was thinking,” Harry started again, ignoring Draco’s mumbled retort of oh no. “If you’re fine with it, and he’s — well. I was wondering, if, well, that — if—”

“Out with it, please.”

“—That I meet Monty.”

Draco stared at him. Blushed a little, blinked a rapid few times. “Why?”

“Why? Well, I . . . Well. You’re together, and we’re, well. Perhaps friends, in a warped kind of way, and I’ve been told I haven’t always been the most—”

“I don’t have friends,” Draco interrupted, matter-of-factly, but the blush had spread to his cheeks.

“Right. That’s right. Then I guess I’ll just see him at ‘Meda’s Christmas party, no? That’ll be a great opportunity for that. Everyone’s there, friends, family, an excitable toddler. Really, an excellent environment to introduce the—”

“Oh, fine. Fine. I’ll—” Draco took a breath, exhaled it tightly. Glanced away. “I’ll ask him.” His hand had grown warm on Harry’s arm.

“Great,” Harry said, and tried to smile. He got halfway there, nerves and dread and regret rearing up in waves at the thought of meeting the man. He felt shaky, suddenly, and he held his hot cup of tea in his free hand for the remainder of their minutes together, just for something to do.

***

Draco had cooked too much, which was a sure sign of how nervous he was. It was to be lunch, not dinner. Just an hour, they’d said. And yet the dining room table was set for a party, bowls and dishes and fresh bread. There were at least three cakes, from what Harry could see, and several candy dishes piled with pastel macarons.

“Oh lord,” Hermione whispered at Harry’s side as Draco ushered them in, talking a million miles an hour, explaining what each dish was, what they were to eat now, if they wanted, versus what they were to eat later, once Monty was there, and which end of the table they were allowed to sit at.

No, not there! he called, half panicked, when Hermione pulled out one of the chairs. He led her away by her arm and manhandled her into a chair on the opposite side. Hermione did as bid with a confused smile, giving Harry a private look of entertained shock, a minute shake of her head.

Harry couldn’t quite return it. He felt sick to his stomach. He didn’t reply to any of Draco’s rambling comments, spoke in mostly hmms and uhuhs.

When Monty arrived, sweaty in his work-out clothes, he apologised profusely in an English that was half French. With the help of Draco and Hermione, Harry gathered that he was sorry that he was late, that he’d lost track of time, that he was off to shower quickly, and that he would be right back. Draco was short and annoyed with him, speaking in a fast French, and Monty laughed, made to reach out. Harry didn’t miss the tight shake of Draco’s head, the way he moved out of the touch.

Monty responded with a, ah oui pardon, j’oublié, chéri. He repeated the apology again to Harry, put a hand up as, smiling, saying he’d be right back. Une minute, une minute!

“Right,” Draco said, breathing hard, not looking at Harry. He cleared his throat. “Right.”

Hermione had been right. Monty looked a lot like Harry. Only a little taller, a little older. No glasses. He was brown and broad and had a stubble that would turn into a beard if he didn’t shave the next day. Maybe his eyes were bigger. Maybe his nose more arched.

Harry was sweating throughout the lunch. Draco had arranged it so that he would sit next to Hermione and Harry next to Monty. Though Draco didn’t do much by way of sitting — he kept on flitting back and forth between the kitchen and the dining room, getting more of this or that. He had forgotten the right spoon, the right sauce. Monty seemed amused by this, said to Harry,

Comme un — comment dit-on?” He smiled. “Chicken without a head?” The smile widened, full of charm. “He run,” he nodded at Draco, “With no head.”

Harry smiled thinly, agreed through a tight throat that yes, “Yes he does.”

By the time he and Hermione left, their party of four had barely made a dent in the amount of food on the table. Harry hadn’t been able to hold down more than a few bites, and Draco seemed to have only sipped on a glass of Brut. Hermione, however, had eaten a good two plates’ full while chatting with Monty in easy French. Harry had remained mostly quiet, had caught Draco’s nervous glance every now and then — had looked away quickly.

When Harry and Hermione said goodbye, bundling up in the hallway before braving the snowy streets, Monty clapped a hand on Harry’s shoulder, shaking his hand, saying that it was, “Very nice meet you. Merci for making this one,” he gave a twitch of his head to indicate Draco, still shaking Harry’s hand, “he is très — ah, Draco, comment dit-on, discret?”

“Discreet,” Draco grumbled, unamused.

“Ah, oui, discreet about his friends.”

Harry smiled his wan smile again, nodded, extricated his hand. Hermione received three kisses from Monty, and she laughed and gave Draco three kisses as well, which he received with all the grace of a perturbed monarch.

Hermione held Harry’s arm as they walked down the stairs to the street, snow coming down slow and soft. Harry was determined not to look back, but the moment the thought crossed his mind he was compelled. He timed it so that just as he shot a quick glance back, Monty was swinging the door closed — his hand on the small of Draco’s back, moving to place a kiss on Draco’s neck.

He and Hermione managed a whole block before Harry had to halt them, on the corner between a bar and a city garden, to heave drily into the cold — his hands on his knees, catching his breath, Hermione rubbing slow circles on his back. The city’s traffic was loud around them.

“It’s all right, darling,” she said, matching her breaths to his. “It’s all right.”

***

Christmas was a mess.

Harry hadn’t meant for it to be. No one had meant for it to be, none of it was in any way planned or could have been predicted. It was what it was: a house full of people whose lives were interwoven, whose lives were changing, whose emotions were given momentary reign under the lull of mulled wine and soppy carols.

It all started with Monty. It quickly turned out that his younger sister had been a few years under Fleur at Beauxbatons, that they’d distantly known each other. This cheered the impossibly cheery Monty even more, and the two started up a loud conversation in French — one that Draco joined in quickly, laughing at something that Monty had said in response to a question asked by Fleur. He had to hold on to Monty’s arm, he was laughing so hard, a nearly-empty glass of wine in his hand.

The Bond made Harry nauseous, at that, and he made a stern decision to drink until he wasn’t bothered by the couple across the room. He went to get a drink — for him and for Hermione, who was keeping him company until Ron returned from picking up Charlie at the nearest Portkey Point — but when he gruffly handed her a hot glass of wine she gave it back.

He first thought she’d meant he hold it while she pick something up, or set something down. But she did nothing of the sort. She just remained sitting in her armchair, looking up at him as he looked back, evenly, and said, “Surely you’re not planning on getting through tonight sober.”

“Not by choice, exactly,” she said.

Harry, who was two drinks in, didn’t understand. “What?”

She shrugged a shoulder, laughed a little. She seemed nervous. “I can’t drink,” she said, smiling a jittery kind of smile.

“What? Why?” he asked, but she wouldn’t answer, not exactly. She just let her smile widen, holding his gaze until— “Oh, god. Oh my god. What?” He put his drink down, dropped to his knees, shuffled closer. “Hermione? Hermione, what—?”

She laughed, quiet, palmed the side of his head and said, “Okay, kid, you need to keep it down. We’re telling the rest once Ron’s back, but, I just—”

“Jesus,” Harry said, and he was crying. This set Hermione off, too, though she was still laughing, telling him he needed to keep it together, seriously, come on, put the tears away, I swear Ron will have a fit if the rest finds out before he’s—

So Harry wiped at his face, nodded, cleared his throat, laughed — hapless, impossibly happy and sad all at once. He stood up, a hand on Hermione’s shoulder. She put her a hand over his and squeezed his fingers. Across the room, the French leg of the party was apparently singing a French song they all remembered from when they were kids.

And then Ron came back with Charlie, and Charlie came in with Lowe in tow. From there on the night fell apart in a series of gradually drunker and drunker snapshots, starting with Ron getting up on the coffee table to announce to the room that Hermione was pregnant and that they were having a baby. He said it pretty much exactly like that, arms out wide to convey his own disbelief: A baby! He shouted from his perch on the table. We’re having a baby!

Then, an unidentifiable amount of time later, Harry held Ron in the kitchen while Ron wept into his chest and said he was a baby himself and not in any way fit to have babies of his own. Nonsense, Harry said, tapping a hand to Ron’s back. You’re the most adult baby I know.

Then Lowe, who came to say hello with a smile that felt like a memory, like an itch he’d forgotten he’d had. Then watching Draco congratulate Hermione by the Christmas tree, a pretty blush on his cheeks, his hair pulled back from his face. His breath-taking heart attack of a face. He asked her something and she nodded a vague okay, laughing, and he put his hand to her belly, smiling.

Watching Monty watch Draco. Looking away, looking at Lowe again. Watching Charlie watching Lowe.

A mess. They were all a mess.

“So,” Harry said by way of a tipsy greeting, finding Lowe by the food table.

“So,” Lowe repeated. He sniffed an unidentifiable pastry, inspecting it with suspicion.

“Christmas with the Weasleys?”

“It seems so.” Lowe gave a half-smile, a crooked thing. His sharp corner-teeth peeked from under the stretch of his lips. He put the pasty back down. “Couldn’t go to my mum’s this year. Charlie didn’t want me to be alone. And lo! Here I am.”

Harry leaned his hip against the table, lifted his glass — how many glasses was it, by now? — in a silent cheers. “‘Ve you seen Bill yet?”

“Lord, don’t even.” Lowe mimicked feeling faint, a hand over his heart.

Harry breathed a laugh, looked around the room. Charlie was half in conversation with Ginny, half an eye on Lowe and him. He nodded at what she was saying, although he didn’t seem to be taking in her words at all.

Harry felt the weight of it, the depth of it. He aimed for shallow conversation, aimed to maybe round it up with a simple enough, “So how’ve you been?”

“Oh. You know. Same old. You should come by to visit again. We miss you in Romania.”

Harry turned to him, about to reply, but his words fell still on his lips as Lowe reached out — a lazy movement, brushing two knuckles to the line of Harry’s jaw.

“Don’t you ever shave?” he murmured, amused.

The touch sent arousal skidding down his spine. He didn’t want it to, didn’t want to lean into the touch as he did. Didn’t want to feel the nausea at the pit of his stomach mix with thrill, with desire. Draco was in the room, somewhere, with someone else, and his thoughts were a muddle.

“Why do you do this to him?” he asked. He hadn’t meant to ask.

Lowe sighed. Let his touch fall from Harry’s jaw to his neck. Soft. “I’m sure I don’t know what you mean.”

Harry’s heart was beating fast under Lowe’s fingers on his pulse point. He was drunker than he thought he was, his eyes drooping, fixed on the sharp glint of Lowe’s teeth between the wet parting of his mouth.

“Charlie,” Harry said. “He’s in love with you.”

Lowe barely reacted. He brushed a thumb over the stubble on the side of Harry’s neck. “Everyone’s in love with me.”

“Right. And how about you?”

“What about me?”

“Do you love him?”

“Of course I do.”

“So?”

“So.” Lowe moved in, just a little, let his thumb dip in the soft hollow of Harry’s throat. “So, I love Charlie and he’s my only friend. Do you know how rare that is, Harry? A friend?” And then, his hand dropping lower, coming to rest over Harry’s chest, “Everyone’s a lover. Friends are harder to come by, in my experience.”

Harry licked his lips. His throat felt dry, tight. “Can’t you be both?” he asked, and felt Lowe’s answering laugh like a puff of air.

“I don’t know how,” Lowe said, dropping his hand, smiling. He walked away like that, easy as sin, not adding another word to the conversation. Charlie’s eyes tracked the interaction, followed Lowe as he walked toward the kitchen. Strayed back to Harry where he stood, unsteady on his feet, putting down his wine.

There was an hour — or what felt like an hour — that everyone seemed to be coming in and out of rooms. An hour that everyone was in the kitchen, an hour that everyone was back in the living room, first singing, then telling stories, then falling into a wine-softened silence until someone turned on the wireless.

An hour that Harry couldn’t find Draco — that he went walking about hoping to run into him, knowing he would be with Monty, and hoping he wouldn’t run into him all the same.

Midnight found Harry in the snow-covered garden, sitting on an icy chair, trying to wake himself up — trying to startle himself out of his strange and weepy heartache of a mood. When he came back in, Draco was in the hallway, putting on his coat, his scarf. His cap. Monty was inside saying his goodbyes.

“You’re leaving.”

Draco paused in flipping up the collar of his coat. He took Harry in, the way he wavered on his feet. “You should have some water,” he said, tucking in the ends of his scarf.

Harry huffed. His heart was in his throat. Was this going to be the rest of his life, he wondered, miserably. Aching and falling apart every time Draco said so much as a word.

“Yup,” Harry said, smiling sadly at himself.

Then, as though it was just another sentence — just like any other, Draco said, “I saw you with Lowe.” And, “Be careful, there.”

Harry took a few heartbeats to reply. “What d’you mean?”

“You know exactly what I mean.” He buttoned up his jacket, smoothed himself down. Still, he added, “Charlie. Don’t do that to him.”

“Right.” Harry smiled again, and this time it was a mean thing. A wet and ugly smile. “Charlie. Don’t do that to Charlie.”

Draco looked up at him, then, in the dimness of the hallway. Harry couldn’t see his eyes, exactly, but he could feel the weight of his gaze. The annoyance, the frustration. Draco was tired of this, of Harry’s wryness. Harry could feel it. He was sure of it.

It was Harry’s anger at this — at how easy it was for Draco, now, at how he left a room without a backwards glance, as though he felt nothing, as though he wasn’t leaving half of him behind — that drove Harry to the spectacularly ill-advised and drunken conclusion of the night: in one of Andromeda’s many spare rooms, with Harry back against the closed door and Lowe on his knees before him, sucking Harry fast and deep. Even with the drink slowing the blood in his system, even with his heart sore and high in his throat, he came quickly, eyes closed, the night’s events dancing on the edges of his mind.

He sucked Lowe off in return, with Lowe sitting on the single bed and Harry between his legs, on his knees. He was sloppy, clumsy, but Lowe didn’t seem to mind too much — his hand a vice in Harry’s hair.

“Are you staying at the Burrow?” Harry asked, after, after they’d both caught their breaths. After they’d come down. Lowe had flopped back on the bed, arm over his eyes. Harry was sitting on the ground, back against a bedpost.

“Yep,” Lowe said, voice rough.

Harry grunted. “A mess,” he said. “We’re a mess.”

“Yep,” Lowe repeated, sighed. Fell silent.

Outside it was snowing again. Downstairs the party had wound down, and only a few deep voices could be heard talking. The wireless, turned low, drifted up the stairs.

***

Harry found his breaking point on a Wednesday afternoon mid-January. Found it somewhere halfway between the doorway to Draco’s kitchen and the table.

They’d agreed on half five. Or at least Harry thought they’d agreed on half five, in his memory it was half five, but in his planner he’d scribbled down a hasty five with no thirty to follow it and he was doubting. He hadn’t been focused when he’d left Draco’s earlier that week, a heavy headache at the base of his neck, nausea turning sickly at the core of him. The session had relieved his ache only superficially, only skin-deep, and the rest of him had left with a curt and distracted Yes, yes, when Draco had called the following appointment’s time at his retreating back.

Harry was tired. He wasn’t sleeping well, he’d taken to spending long hours out in the yard under a warming charm, working on the wood for the hive. The bees had gone for the season, had crawled back into the nest for the dormant winter, and Harry missed their quiet buzz in the garden. He woke up later and later each day, pushed his breakfast into lunch, his lunch into dinner. On that particular Wednesday, the late afternoon had him hungry and tetchy and in no mood to call in to make sure he got the time right or wrong. At ten to five, he grabbed a jacket from the back of a chair, headed for the fireplace, and Floo’d to the Malfoy Townhouse with a grumbled announcement of the address.

He was rubbing a tired hand over his face, under his glasses, shuffling down the worn path he always took — out the drawing room across the checker-tiled landing, down the hall behind the stairs and to the kitchen. He’d been scratching the back of his head and not paying attention, not listening out for noises, and he hadn’t heard or was at all prepared for the sight that greeted him from the doorway: Draco, perched on the edge of the table with his shirt undone, Monty standing between his spread legs.

They were kissing.

Draco’s hands were in Monty’s hair, holding his face at an angle, and Harry could see the slide of their tongues. Could hear the wet of it, Draco’s breathy moan at it — the soft laughter that followed. Monty’s hands slipped from low on Draco’s back to the table behind him, leaning over him now — making Draco lean back, arch up against him.

The Bond coiled, tight. Vicious. It pulled and pulled and clawed at the very fabric of him, making him instantly light-headed — instantly and deeply furious. No, it said, in as clear a language as it could convey. No, and no, and no.

“Oh god,” Harry breathed, knowing in an instant — without a doubt — that he was going to be sick. He stumbled away from the kitchen, balancing himself with hands to the walls of the hallway, grappling for the door when he reached the loo. He fell to his knees and heaved. The scene replayed itself on a speedy loop behind his closed eyes and the Bond reacted as though it was happening anew, sending an impatient, burning shot of pain to his gut. He groaned, heaved again, pulling at where his clothes pressed to his midsection, and then there was the sound of a scuffle — the door opening, hands in his hair, on his neck .

“Fuck,” Draco said, somewhere close by. His hand was warm between Harry’s shoulders. “Oh, shit.”

Harry tried to push him away, miserable, but the impulse itself had him groaning again and he immediately pulled Draco back. Draco bundled him close, then, fingers on his face, pushing away his hair, pulling Harry toward him. The embrace was awkward and uncomfortable in the small cubicle of the loo, but the Bond — tetchy child that it was — slowly settled, only somewhat appeased, still throbbing angrily between them.

“That hurt,” Harry grumbled, words muffled into Draco’s neck. “Jesus, that hurt.”

Draco was breathing hard. He scratched his nails to the back of Harry’s neck, sending a shiver down his spine. “I’m sorry. You weren’t supposed to be here yet. You weren’t supposed to—”

He stopped at the tight squeeze of Harry’s hand on his arm, hard enough to hurt. He didn’t say much, after that. Neither of them did. They waited for the worst of the pain to ebb in full. Waited for Harry to catch his breath, for the shaking to stop.

When it did, Draco made him tea. Monty was gone. They sat in the drawing room, which they never did.

“I suggest,” Draco said, slow and quiet, “that . . . for now, perhaps we meet at Grimmauld. Until — until we—”

“Yeah,” Harry cut him off, voice still rough. “Until we figure this out.”

Draco wasn’t looking at him. He was chewing on the inside of his lip, eyes trained on a spot on the carpet. Then he repeated, sighing, “Until we figure this out.”

***

He spent that night at Ron and Hermione’s, on the narrow foldaway bed in their guestroom. He showed up unannounced somewhere around dinner time, still a little unsteady on his feet and silent — not quite replying, not quite responsive. Ron’s reaction was to sit him down on the couch, to check for damage, and Hermione’s was to start on a barrage of unanswered questions which ended on a tight, If you’re hurt tell me right now or I swear to—

“I’m—” Harry startled from his stupor for a moment, frowning. His throat was sore. “Fine. Just . . .”

Ron and Hermione both waited to hear how the sentence would end. Harry realised, distantly, he didn’t know himself. He scrubbed at his face with rough hands, his fingers pressing to his eyes under his glasses. “Can I sleep here,” he said. “Please?”

And of course, was the reply. Of course he could, always, and was he hungry, did he need a shower, and here was a towel, and Ron would make the bed for him, and—

There was a moment, and Harry was hard pressed to recall exactly when, that he was sat at the table. He was pushing around a potato with a fork, no appetite to speak of, and he listened to the hushed conversation the two were having in the hallway. Hermione was insisting that they needed to know what was wrong. Ron, firmly disagreeing, was saying, Give him a second. Merlin, Hermione, you saw his face. Give him a second.

Before Hermione went to bed she pushed her fingers through Harry’s hair, kissed his forehead. “You can wake me up,” she said, and he nodded against her hold, not trusting his voice to speak.

He sat in silence with Ron for another hour, the wireless on, an episode of a drama playing. Harry wondered, for a moment, if it was the one Draco listened to — then quickly emptied his mind. He helped Ron with the washing up, showered, then quietly disappeared into the guest room. He was on the cot, arm over his eyes, when Ron came in. He sat down at the edge of the bed, the springs squeaking under his weight.

“Are you in trouble?” Ron asked, a little crumb of humour in his voice. “You’d tell us if you were in trouble, right?”

Harry made a sound that was half a cough, half a laugh. “Define trouble,” he mumbled, and Ron huffed, said,

“Fair enough.” He knocked a fist to Harry’s leg, light, letting him know he was there.

Harry took a shaky breath. Then—

“I made a mistake,” he said, arm still over his eyes. His voice was deep with the angle of his throat, lying down. “And I don’t know how. And I don’t know how to fix it.”

“Right.” Ron sounded like he was thinking. “Do you want to tell me more?”

Harry laughed at himself, said, “No.”

“Right. Well. Is anyone in danger? Will anyone die if we don’t fix it anytime between now and, let’s say, tomorrow at breakfast?”

Harry’s laugh sounded more like a sob this time. He let his arm fall back over his head and blinked up at the ceiling. It was blurry in the dim light of the room, without his glasses. With his eyes just a little bit wet. “Definitely not.”

“Good. I’m glad.” He knocked his fist to Harry’s leg again, like a door, like reminding him of something. “We love you, you know? It’ll be okay.”

“Oh god,” Harry smiled, sad, not looking up to Ron. “Shut up.”

“Cheers,” Ron said. He squeezed Harry’s ankle and made to get up — bedsprings squeaking again. “G’night, bud. I’ll wake you for breakfast, yeah?”

“Yeah. Yes.” And then, just as Ron was about to leave, “Thank you, Ron.”

Ron paused at the door for a moment, his face in shadows. Harry thought he might say something, something Harry didn’t want to hear, but instead it was just a simple, “Sure. Always.”

Harry nodded at the closing door. Nodded to himself, breathing a silent laugh, wiping at his eyes with a sleeve.

Sleep took a while to come, but when it came — it did so with force: settling over him heavily, a burying weight, a dreamless stretch of night.

***

Hermione woke him up the next morning, brought him coffee and some toast before heading off to work. She was in her department robes already, hair pulled back and stuffed in a hasty bun. She asked if she could have a sip of his coffee, sitting next to him on the bed, and ended up drinking most of it. She stole a bite of his toast, then got annoyed with herself when crumbs got on her pressed trousers.

Harry watched her, amused, and helped her brush the crumbs off. She gave him back the toast, mumbling, “I’m an adult,” mostly to herself. She had to leave quickly, and did so with a grunt at her watch, a kiss to Harry’s forehead, and a command to stay as long as he needed — to let her know, to keep in touch.

Ron had left for the shop already and Harry pattered about the apartment in borrowed pyjamas for an hour or two. He made himself more toast, read the paper. Inspected the framed pictures on the shelves. Family, friends, parties. He was in many of them. Between a plant and a pile of books, he found one from his birthday party several years before, the first one Draco had attended. It was a little dark, the flash had been too bright, and so mostly it was Harry and Ron in the foreground — cheering with a bottle of beer, looking rosy and happy. In the shadowy background, though, he could make out Luna and Draco in conversation — vague shapes, but there all the same. He remembered that night. Remembered Draco bidding him goodnight, two fingers to his wrist.

Harry picked up the framed picture, a little shaky, then put it back down again. He showered, sat out on the balcony in the freezing sun, went back inside, looked at the picture again. Scratched his hands through his hair, grunting at the empty house.

When he left for home he wrote a little note, a torn corner from a bill he’d found on the table, and stuck it to the fridge. Thanks for babysitting, it said. Gone home again, will be in touch! Also, Hermione: what was the name of that colleague of yours? Ta!

Then, in a smaller script — having reached the end of the paper, curving his writing sideways, Love you idiots, - Harry.

***

Harry tidied up before Draco came. He was nervous and annoyed with himself for being nervous, a jumble of jitters as he stacked up old papers and spelled a forgotten cup into the sink. Minutes before their agreed time, he looked around the room and decided, wildly, that it looked too staged after all — and in a panic pushed a few issues of Quidditch Monthly off the coffee table and onto the floor.

It was what Draco noticed first, stepping through the Floo. He frowned at the spill of pages, having offered a quick hello, then seemed to shake himself from whatever thought had crossed his mind. He was holding a briefcase. He looked about, not settling his gaze on anything — not quite looking at Harry at all. “Right,” he said, just as Harry started with a,

“Shall we—?”

They both paused, waited a beat too long. Then Harry repeated the words, no end to his sentence: “Shall we?”

“Yes,” Draco said. “Yes.”

They sat in the study. Draco requested they do when Harry gestured toward the kitchen, and Harry suddenly recalled the last time they’d been in that kitchen together. His stomach bottomed out. The study, he agreed, would be fine.

In the room, they did an awkward little dance — who was to sit first, what side of the table — and every sound that followed seemed exaggerated and loud: the scratch of the chair against the hardwood floor, the clearing of throats. The click of Draco’s briefcase when he opened the lock.

Harry was having trouble shoving up his sleeve and Draco hadn’t even started. Instead, he’d deposited a stack of papers and flat parchments on the table. Most of them were handwritten notes, seemingly letters.

“What?” Harry asked when no explanation followed. “What’s this?”

Draco took a fortifying breath. “Correspondence.”

“Okay,” Harry said, half a question.

“With a Breaker. Based in Bulgaria. He reached out to Hermione a while ago, see. Someone put them in touch after one of her cases — something of the sort, I’m not clear on the details, exactly, but—” He ran out of breath. He put his hands over the papers, tapped them. “He’s been doing research, too, see — there seems to have been a similar case several years ago, in a village near Plovdiv, and he got the—” Draco cut himself off again. He glanced toward the small, square window on the other end of the study. When he spoke again it was aimed at that window. “Point is, he’s the most informed specialist we’ve heard from so far, and I wanted . . . I wanted to let you know.” He looked at Harry. Away. He put the papers aside, on top of a book. “These are copies of our exchange so far, in chronological order. Have a look, see what you think. He has some questions for you, too. Feel free to answer at your leisure.”

Harry looked to the small pile. His eyes kept slipping off it, out-of-focus. He wanted to respond with something akin to relief or a word of thanks, but all he felt was dull and tired. He nodded. It was the best he could do.

“Okay,” he said. And again, “Okay.”

The rest of the session was spent in relative silence. Harry noted, quietly, that he’d bring up the wireless next time. No bother, was Draco’s response to that, and brokered no further conversation. The heat of Draco’s arm burned like an open wound under Harry’s touch. For the first time in years, Harry wanted to recoil from it, to edge away again — to recollect himself in silence. The quiet between them never quite felt like silence. It felt more like the beat before alarm bells are sounded, the tight expectation that hangs in the air.

That night, Hermione Firecalled him. “Almar,” she said, peeling an orange by the fire. “Her name is Almar.”

***

Almar was very, very pretty and altogether out of Harry’s league. She was one of the most talkative people he’d ever met, spoke with a lot of hand gestures, was incapable of finishing a thought, laughed loudly at her own jokes, and was absolutely delightful and it was definitely, most certainly, never going to work out.

Harry gathered as much ten minutes into the dinner at Ron and Hermione’s that they’d both been invited to. Something about the sauce that came with the food had reminded her of something and she’d launched into a story about the two years she’d spent at the Mahoutokoro School of Magic as a teen — her parents were diplomats — and Harry found himself going quiet and sulky in the way he did when around people he knew he couldn’t impress with just his personality.

He only half-listened, retreating into the mutterings of his own mind, worrying the vaguely nauseated core of the Bond with his magic. A habit, a distracted and nervous habit. Hermione and Ron laughed at the punchline of Almar’s story, and Harry smiled, thin and absent-minded, thinking, This is definitely, most certainly, never going to work out.

Hermione did her best to get them to talk. She introduced facts about Almar that had to do with Harry’s interests, and vice versa. Almar joined in happily enough — Harry, not so much. Even Ron shot him a look once or twice, when he replied to a question with a hmm and a really?

At the end of dinner, Harry begged off after a modest glass of wine — claiming tiredness, but thanking his friends and telling Almar it was very nice to meet her. Almar, however, seemed entirely undeterred and plenty happy. She got up along with him and said she’d be heading home, too. Both Ron and Hermione seemed horribly disappointed, and Harry hurried to explain that Almar mustn’t leave on his account, that he was going to walk home anyway. And to this she said—

“Wonderful! I’ll walk you home, then.”

And Harry, entirely too used to being left alone when asked, did not know how to refuse the offer — for as much as it was an offer and not an announcement.

“Okay,” he said, slowly. “Okay, then.”

Ron and Hermione looked a little less disappointed, after that.

They were barely outside, barely a street down from the apartment building, when Almar gave him a conspiratory look and said, “This didn’t go very well, did it?”

Harry stammered. “Well,” he started, then added a few noises, an uh and an um and an ah. Almar waited for the rest of the sentence, patient enough, eyebrows up. “I suppose,” he managed, “I suppose not? I’m very sorry, you’re very lovely, I’m just—”

She waved him off with a gloved hand. It had snowed earlier in the evening and the air felt like it would snow again. Their footsteps crunched a path down the street.

“All’s good,” she said. “I didn’t have the highest of expectations, mind. Hermione might’ve — mentioned you were going through . . .” She gestured and nodded, entirely unclear.

Harry snorted, gave her a look. “Through what?”

“A bit of a crisis?” Almar looked up. A dusting of snow had blown off of a tree and caught in her woollen hat. “I’m not entirely sure I was supposed to say that.”

Harry considered, for a flash, denying the statement. He wondered for a beat how Hermione saw him, if she used that word, that she’d speak of him like that — but the last half year played in his mind on a speedy loop and there was, in all truth, little he could say in his defence. It was shaping up to be a bit of a crisis.

They took a right on a street of tall grey townhouses. It started snowing in earnest again.

“And you still said yes to a date?”

“Of course I did. One doesn’t say no to a date with Harry Potter. Even if he refuses to laugh at all your best stories and up and leaves before nine.”

Harry laughed despite himself. “Jesus, I’m sorry. I am!” he insisted when she made a face as though she didn’t believe him. “I’m just — in a weird place, I suppose. I . . .” Honesty welled up in him, a rare bubble of a feeling, tight in his chest. “I sort of . . . I was in a strange relationship, last, and I sort of always thought it would be there, and I recently found out that — that—”

“That people move on,” Almar finished for him.

Harry took a breath. Nodded.

“So I was dating this guy,” she started. “For a half year, maybe? And at some point — and if I’m really honest probably pretty early on — I knew I was more into him than he was into me. You know, how you just know? And genius that I am, my reaction to this was not to talk to him about it, not to break up, but to convince him he liked me. I figured — I’m cute, I’m smart, who wouldn’t fall for me? Well, this guy. Apparently. And—” She stopped, taking in Harry’s cautious concern. She laughed. “I know, right! Right! In the end he broke up with me, and even though I could’ve known, I was just . . . gosh, a mess. A mess, Harry! We had been dating for a half year, yeah. Do you know how long it took me to get over him?”

Harry umm’d, wanting to guess, but she cut him off with a grand, “Nine months! Nine, Harry! You know what takes nine months?”

“A b—”

“A baby!” she spoke over him. “I carried that grief around like it was a human baby, Harry. It was horrible. Every song on the radio — about him. Every room I walked into — I thought I saw him. Everything reminded me of him, smelled like him, God. Awful. Awful!”

“Wow,” Harry mumbled, unsure of what else to say.

“Point is, though, that even then — even after that, me and my grief baby — we moved on. I thought I never would, but I did. Some people move on quickly. Others slowly. But we all do.” She smiled at him, a crooked, lovely smile. “We all do.”

Harry blinked against the snow. “Okay.” He said it like perhaps it was a question.

They walked amiably enough in silence — one that Almar managed to maintain for all of a minute before she barged into a series of questions about Harry’s life. He tried to answer and couldn’t, because every other word seemed to set her off on a story of her own. It was especially bad when she asked him what he did with his days and he told her about his plans for the garden. At this, she briefly put her hand to his arm with an expressive, Oh, and explained how she’d always wanted a garden of her own — how she loved reading gardening books even though all she had was a tiny apartment with a French balcony.

Harry, entirely confused by the conversation, ended up asking what her favourite gardening books were.

Magic of Nature, Magic of You,” she answered immediately. “Of course.

“Oh?” Harry shrugged. “Don’t know that one.”

Which, in turn, resulted in a five-minute rant on how it was the greatest piece of magical non-fiction writing she’d ever read — a truly philosophical reflection on the connection between magic, nature, and inner peace. Harry laughed a little, not making fun of her but not entirely convinced, and said,

“I’ll have to read that one, then.”

“Oh yes,” she told him, very serious. “You absolutely must.”

They parted on a street corner, five minutes off of Grimmauld Place. She lived a little further down to the left, she explained, and would have to take this turn. Very well then, Harry said, holding out a hand for her to shake. She took it, making fun of it, pretending he was being overly official. He apologised again and she accepted, telling him she’d see him around and to get home safe.

“You too!” he said, walking backwards, watching her walk away and offer him a wave without looking back.

***

One grey day in mid-February Draco showed up at Harry’s freshly showered. His hair was still a little damp, tucked neatly behind his ears — a shade darker than usual. There were tracked lines from his comb. He’d brought biscuits with him, the lemony kind that Harry liked. The tin sat between them on the study table and Harry held a biscuit in his hand for the whole twenty minutes, not eating it.

“Do you not want it?” Draco asked, looking at Harry’s hand.

“No, I do. I do.” Harry gave him a thin smile. “Just — had a big lunch, earlier.”

He had not. His stomach was a roiling mess. When Draco left, Harry put the biscuit back in the tin, closed it, and put it in the back of the cupboard. He took it with him to Neville’s the next time he visited. And then, the next time Neville visited him — early March, the two of them starting to work the thawing ground in preparation for the season — Hermione dropped by to give him a package.

“Almar asked me to give this to you,” she explained, nodding at the gift she’d left on the table. She was pouring herself tea, warming her hands over the steam of the cup. Her belly was a soft bulge straining against the buttons of her office blouse.

It was a copy of Magic of Nature, Magic of You. Harry snorted, scrunching the brown wrapping paper into a ball. Hermione tried and failed to hide her smile into a sip of her drink, and Neville — washing his hands of mud — wondered aloud who Almar was, though he didn’t wait for an answer, launching instead into a full review of the book.

“Skip chapter 6, is all I’m saying,” was his conclusion. “The rest is really good though. Just — skip chapter 6.”

“I should send her a thank you, right?” Harry asked Hermione, turning the book over in his hands a few times.

Hermione shrugged. She was not good at feigning nonchalance. “Sure. You could.”

“Okay, so — do you have an owling address for me or—? Stop, stop that!” He laughed, pointing at her smug face. “No! None of that.”

The following week Almar replied to his note with a request to keep her updated on his reading progress. The week after that, he owled back on having finished the first chapter — a scribbled little roll of a note that said, so far only marginally better than Hogwarts: A History (don’t tell Hermione) .

The Bulgarian Curse Breaker wanted to know things like: could Harry measure his temperature before and after breakfast? Before and after touching Draco? Could he log his eating patterns, his sleeping patterns, his dreams, as well, and report back on a monthly basis?

Harry wrote back with a bullet-pointed list of numbers, followed by a short admission that he’d been taking Dreamless Sleep for the past month and wasn’t, in fact, dreaming at all.

Many thanks! was the owled response, and nothing else.

The crocuses came up, willy-nilly throughout the garden, and Neville and Harry began to mark prospective flower bed borders. Where the vegetable patch would go, the roses, the hydrangeas. The small greenhouse Neville insisted he get. The lemon tree, too, eventually. The beehive. Neville had taken to keeping a list of the different temperature spells Harry would have to maintain for each section, how often they’d need renewing, to what levels, and Harry’s reaction to this wavered between being excited and altogether too overwhelmed by the prospect of having to take care of something.

Draco brought a tin of biscuits every other visit. Harry always thanked him, then gave most of them away. He kept a few, however, and would occasionally take one out for pudding — eat a thin, chocolate-covered digestive before washing it away with a tall glass of water. He’d then put the tin away again, into the back of the cupboard.

***

In April Harry finished Magic of Nature, Magic of You, and met up with Almar for coffee. She was much the same as before, baffling and quick and a little too much. At the end of the afternoon, she asked, almost as an afterthought, if this had been a—

“—date?”

“Um,” was Harry’s input, unsure of it himself. He didn’t answer the question, in the end, and Almar quickly invited herself for lunch the following week. To see the garden, she explained. And so a chilly but sunny Friday saw Almar trek through the muddy paths behind Grimmauld Place, touching careful fingers to the young pips, the stalks, the early-days shape of a garden. She was very excited about it all, and Harry followed her around, mumbling that it wasn’t that exciting yet — that it was far from done, far from—

“Still!” she exclaimed, looking about with a smile.

She stayed for dinner, that evening, and left soon after. Hermione Firecalled him the next day to ask if they were dating, if this was actually happening, and Harry replied with what must’ve been one of his more impressive sentences to date: “We’re not not dating?”

In May, the bees woke up. The new hive was ready, and the old one needed to be swarmed — an operation Harry was nervous enough about that he had Neville call Sprout to call in two old beekeepers, who drank two gallons of coffee and ate a whole loaf of bread between them — standing and talking in thick brogue in Harry’s kitchen — before setting foot in the garden. Harry closed the French doors when the swarming started, watching from behind the glass — a little worried, a little awed — as the two men cracked jokes, cigarettes in mouth, while surrounded by a confused and lost swarm of bees. The men’s magic, however, was elegant and soft, and it guided the bees to the hive with all the care of a mother tucking a child into bed.

When they were done, they spent another hour in Harry’s kitchen, drinking more coffee, commenting on how lovely his home was. He thanked them about ten times, hoping they’d leave if he did, but the men just accepted his thanks with a wave and a vague no bother, no bother!, wondering at the age of the house. At the wood of the table, the paint of the doorposts.

The cabbage roses grew leaning against the hedges. The ramblers, the climbers, the darling white honeysuckles dwarfed by the quickly-expanding hawthorn bush. The cobbled path that led to the apple tree was lined with violets, pinks and primroses — all which rolled into an even and broad stretch of grass. There was a little patch for the lavender, the rosemary, the thyme.

Early evening was Harry’s favourite time in the garden. The bees would be busy, rounding up their flower visitations for the day, and the hum of them would settle at the core of Harry. Would calm him, almost. Would ease an edge of tension that was always there, just a bit off — just a bit to the right. Harry would drag a chair out from the kitchen and sit on the cobbled porch, listening to the warbles call out from the hedges, the trees. Listening to the swallows that swooped up and then down above the London street.

On nostalgic days, he’d rummage around the kitchen drawer for the lemon-tree coin and take it with him into the garden. He’d run a thumb over the engraved initials, A. Z. and S. I. P., over the embossed shape of the branches and the breeze that passed through them. It would warm in his palm, quickly, and he’d pocket it again. He’d let it sit, a warm, heavy comfort that would accompany him throughout the day.

Harry told Draco he wasn’t not dating Almar. His heart was in his throat as he said as much, and the smile he’d decided to plaster on — for some reason — twitched as he tried to hold it. Draco had baked him little Danish pastries, that day, filled with cream and a solitary blueberry each. Draco’s reaction was stoic, mild enough, though a blush had crawled up over the collar of his shirt.

His hold on Harry’s arm tightened infinitesimally. Harry looked up at him and held his gaze. The Bond pulled, hung heavily between them. Draco licked his bottom lip, and the adrenaline that hit Harry’s system was laced with something else — something tired and sad. He closed his eyes, briefly, his voice deep when he added,

“I’m always rushing into things.” And, by way of explanation, “I’m trying not to rush into things.”

“Yes,” Draco said. He sounded a little strained. “Absolutely. Wise decision. Yes.”

When June came, Harry decided not to go to Draco’s birthday. He hadn’t been invited in as much that he simply knew that it was taking place — that Monty had insisted it needed celebration, had contacted every one of Draco’s friends that he could reach. It had been Hermione who’d gently let Harry know that a luncheon was being organised and that if he wanted, he’d be more than welcome to attend. But to please let Draco know, because he was very worried about the RSVPs correlating to the amount of food to be served.

Harry thought about the townhouse. Thought about that kitchen, that table, the smell of it. Sage and lavender. He imagined their friends mulling between the kitchen and the garden, imagined Monty making a toast — half in French, half in English — and everyone laughing, adoring, at ease. He thought about it all and then contacted Almar to ask her if she felt like going out for dinner that night.

She did. It was a lovely dinner, albeit exhausting. Harry was still getting used to the speed of her, and she, in turn, was still learning to read his silences as thoughtful — not as an invitation to speak even faster. They talked about the garden, about the latest case she’d worked on. They talked about if they had to pick an Animagus, what animal they’d choose. Almar chose a cheetah, saying that it’d be nice to get places fast but also to have people be scared of her. Harry thought about it for a while, but couldn’t come up with anything better than a cat. It just seems nice, you know, he said, half laughing at himself. Sitting in the sun and stuff. Getting fed, getting pet. Yeah.

They parted on the same corner they always did. He kissed her, that night, for the first time. A gentle, chaste thing: a press of lips, sweet enough.

“That was nice,” she said, as though she hadn’t expected it to be.

“Yeah,” he agreed, smiling. “Yeah. It was.”

***

Harry had gotten Draco a gift that year. He hadn’t wanted to get him anything and had desperately wanted to give him something all at once — he’d wanted to get something small and insignificant as much as he’d wanted to show up with excesses, ridiculous tokens, and hand them over as though it wasn’t a bother at all. He’d never been a gift-giver, never picked up on people’s wishes and interests in the in-depth way others did, and he couldn’t quite make the connection between a hobby and an item that might come in handy.

In the end, he gave Draco something that felt in equal parts platonic and hotly embarrassing. He did so at the end of a session a week after Draco’s birthday. They were still in the study, the little window open as far as it would go. A breeze rushed in occasionally, carrying in poplar seeds and setting loose pages of old notes into a flutter.

Draco accepted the wrapped book, shocked into silence at first — then starting up a ramble, unwrapping it, saying,

“What is this? Why do you give me this? We don’t give each other things, surely you know I don’t care for gifts, no one ever knows what’s appropriate and everyone’s taste in anything is just about . . .” he trailed off, holding the notebook. It was a simple, leather-bound affair, a green so dark it was almost black. His initials were embossed into its centre: D. M., pressed in gold.

Draco’s fingers passed over the relief of the betters. His jaw worked. “I—” he started, faltered. “Thank you. It’s—”

“Yeah, yeah. Open it though.”

Draco looked up at him. “Oh no. What’s inside? I knew it couldn’t be nice. I knew it couldn’t just be a nice—”

Harry laughed, shaking his head — incredulous. “Open it! Jesus.”

Suspicious, Draco opened the notebook. Picked up the envelope inside. On it, Harry had written, Draco Malfoy + His Friends.

“Oh, no,” was Draco’s reaction as he looked through the content: four pictures that Harry had managed to unearth. Two were from his own birthday party three years prior — the one with Draco and Luna in the background and another from later that night, Draco watching with a mild look of disdain as a drunken Seamus appeared to serenade Harry. The other two were from the wedding party the previous summer. Draco braiding Teddy’s hair. Draco chatting to Blaise, squinting up against the sun.

“Evidence,” Harry explained.

Evidence? ” Draco over-enunciated, far too posh. He was blushing.

“Of all the friends you don’t have.”

“Right. Wonderful.” He put the pictures back in the envelope, the envelope back in the notebook. “Ta ever so much.”

“You’re welcome ever so much.” Harry was still laughing. He couldn’t stop at the panicked sight of Draco — confused and flushed and clearly wanting to be angry, clearly taken too much by surprise to pull it off.

“You are a horrible person,” Draco informed him, neatly rolling down his sleeve. “No idea why people think you’re good incarnate, clearly you are the devil. Goodbye.”

Harry nodded, amused and agreeing that he was, in fact, the devil. He answered, “Goodbye, Draco,” still smiling as Draco fussed with his things, holding them under his arm as he left the study.

***

Draco’s proposal came a month and a half later.

Harry hadn’t wanted a birthday party, that year, and instead went out of his way to call it a garden-reveal party. Almar helped him get the chairs out, helped him charm lights into the tree and along the winding path. Neville, who had started out so sceptical all those months ago, was more nervous than Harry about the idea that all their friends would come to see their combined handiwork. I invited Sprout! he shouted from the pantry a few hours before the party began, rummaging for the one thing or the other. Why did I invite Sprout! Why did I do that!

Hermione was seven and half months along and under strict orders not to Apparate or use the Floo, which meant that she and Ron showed up a good hour earlier than everyone, on account of, “God help me, I’ve lost the ability to calculate how long it takes to get anywhere by foot.”

Luna showed up soon after and started up a quick and brilliantly bizarre conversation with Almar. Within ten minutes, both declared to have found their soulmates: Luna solemnly, Almar with all the sound and thrill of a newborn pygmy puff. She’d had a wine or two. The rest of the party trickled in by numbers, and the garden began filling up — people milling by the drinks table, taking strolls to see the herb patch, the flower beds. A few curious ones peeked inside the small greenhouse to see what was growing inside: nothing much, yet — a few tomatoes, a Spanish pepper, a watery bed of gillyweeds.

Draco wasn’t supposed to come. He’d been invited, of course, in the same way Harry had been invited the month before: through the general knowledge that seemed to flow between him, Hermione, and Harry himself. Two weeks before, on a day when the study had been too hot for comfort and the two of them had been impatient to get out of the stuffy room — out of each other’s clammy hold — Draco had told him in clipped short sentences that he couldn’t attend the event. Have a thing, that evening, I’m afraid, he’d said, jogging down the stairs of Grimmauld Place — Harry two and a half beats behind him. I’m sure I’ll see your garden another time.

You can come see it now, Harry had answered in a mumble, not exactly intending for Draco to hear — but Draco had, and had shot him a look, nervous suddenly, insisting that, Soon, certainly. Certainly. I’m off then, goodbye!, as he made toward the fireplace, pinching a modest measurement of Floo powder from the bowl by the mantel.

And so Draco wasn’t supposed to come. Harry hadn’t expected him to, had aimed to put him out of his mind for the evening — just for that evening. He’d let himself be carried away by the lightness of his loved ones and the drinks and the sight of his garden full of life, the hum of the bees, the blushing shadows of the evening. The dance of poplar seeds in the air, catching the light of the setting sun.

Draco showed up when the last of the day ebbed away and the crickets started up a song. Harry felt him before he saw him. He was standing with Dean by the apple tree, admiring their hive, when the notion tugged at him — a nearness, something familiar. The Bond lurched, hopeful and giddy, and Harry needed a second to place it — woozy with drink and the summer air. He took a breath, looked up, and saw Draco’s silhouette against the warm light of the kitchen — the tall frame of him, the tucked plait of his hair.

Harry excused himself with a mumble, let his feet carry him. He met Draco halfway down the cobbled path. He realised, with a dull twinge, that he’d missed him. He’d seen him two days prior, a dull twenty-minute stretch filled with small talk, and yet. He’d missed him — horribly, tangibly.

“You’re here,” Harry said, all in a rushed exhale. He reached out to touch Draco’s arm.

“I am.” Draco seemed bewildered by this fact. He returned Harry’s hold, instinctively holding on to his arm — familiar as anything. He was glancing around the dim garden, at the people, at the soft music and conversation. “Listen,” he said, still looking around, “I have to—”

“Wait, no — let me give you a tour of the garden.”

This caught Draco’s attention again, made him look at Harry. Made him look in the frazzled way he rarely did these days: his eyes scanning over Harry’s face, lingering at his mouth. “But it’s dark,” he said.

Over from a chair by the hydrangeas, Hermione noticed them — gave Harry a look. Draco didn’t notice. Harry ignored it, said, “Use your imagination,” and tugged him along. Draco’s sleeves were rolled up three turns up over his wrists, as though he’d just finished work, and Harry’s hold on his wrist sounded loud in his ears — the hum of the Bond flying between and around them. For a flash, it felt as though the bees themselves had woken up and joined them, ambling down the path.

“Greenhouse,” Harry indicated with a nod to the right. “Here, the hive, where the little ones are sleeping. There the apple tree, the herb patch which Neville keeps on calling Provençal, which I swear to Merlin he needs to stop—”

“Harry.” Draco halted them, a gentle tug to Harry’s hold. They were on one of the grass mounds, a shy distance off from the party. “I came to — I have a favour to ask.”

Harry’s heart gave a heavy thud. Dread crept up his spine. “Yeah. What?”

“I—” Draco had been looking down, but now lifted his chin. “I’ve been invited to a — to a very prestigious conference, you see, and it’s — well. It’s a huge honour, really, and especially for my career — I mean the names I’ll — I mean. What I mean to say is.” He cleared his throat, his pulse racing in his wrist, right under Harry’s fingers. “I would like to go. It’s ten days. Now I know it would be boring for you, but I promise tha—”

“Yes.” He felt giddy with drink, with the warmth of the night. “Yes,” he repeated.

“Wait, you don’t even know what—”

“Yes,” Harry cut in, mouth twitching in a nervous smile. “Yes, I’ll come with you. Yes. It’s important to you, I’ll do it. Is Monty coming along?”

Draco glanced at a nearing couple. Molly and Arthur, walking, arms linked, down the cobbled path. They hadn’t noticed them, not yet.

“No,” Draco said. “No, he isn’t.”

The night seemed to close in on them, just that little warmer than before.

“Right,” was all Harry had to say to that. “Okay. When is—?”

“Next week. I — I wasn’t going to go. I changed my mind. It’s also not quite — not quite near. It’s in — there’s a laboratory in Luxor, very innovative, and, well. I understand if it’s too far, too much of a short notice, of course, and if you—”

“That’s — fine. It’s fine. I have nothing planned.” Harry tightened his hold on Draco’s wrist, then loosened it. Let go. “We’ll go. Let’s go.”

Draco took a breath — exhaled it on a huff. A laugh. “Right. Great. Well.” He glanced toward Molly and Arthur again. They lingered by the peonies, Arthur explaining one thing or the other — Molly humming her interest. “It’s a lovely garden,” he added, a lagged comment from a different conversation. “Which one is the lemon?”

“Haven’t gotten the lemon yet,” Harry answered. A cricket started up a tune nearby, followed by a sudden warble of a night bird. Almar laughed at something Luna said. The song that had been playing changed, shifted into something old, something slow.

“You should,” Draco said. “You’ve been talking about it for long enough.”

Harry nodded, feeling slow, catching up to the moment. “Yeah,” he said. “I have.”

Chapter Text

Almar agreed to keep an eye on the garden. Harry had half a mind to tell her she could pick out one of the guest rooms if she wanted, that she was welcome to use the house in those short ten days he’d be gone — he’d meant to tell her this, mean to insist it was fine — but didn’t, in the end. In the end, they had lunch, as they sometimes did, and he promised to lower the wards for her and she told him to have a good time in Egypt, and would they meet up again once he was back?

Of course! he’d said, jittery, and again, of course!, too much coffee in his system, vague expectations and tampered hope crisscrossing.

The day before they were due to leave, Hermione waddled over to Grimmauld Place to join Harry for lemonade in the garden. Her leave had started that week and she was already bored beyond her mind, spending most of her days getting her colleagues to sneak-owl her updates on the latest cases, writing in to the Prophet to point out spelling mistakes and getting anyone — anyone who was near her at the time — to get her a new ice-pack from the freezer, for her to hold to the bottoms of her feet.

“Promise me you will be careful,” she said, suddenly, a beat after a perfectly lovely conversation about the Tempus charms he was using in the greenhouse.

It took Harry a second to catch up. “With — the charms?”

She gave him a look. A little bee hovered by the rim of her lemonade, decided it wasn’t interested and flew away again.

“Ah.” It was a hot day, early August. He flushed in the bright sun and smiled, quickly, playing it off-handedly. “You worried for him or for me?”

“The both of you,” she said, honest. She rested her glass on the peak of her belly.

“We’re fine, Hermione. We’re — come on!” he added with a laugh when she gave him another look, all raised brows this time. “We are! We’ve come a long way, haven’t we? And we . . . It’s ten days. We’ve been stuck together for longer than that before, haven’t we?”

She answered with a flat, “Yes,” that sounded more like a and look where that got you than it did like agreement.

“He really wants this,” Harry said, a long moment later. The crickets swelled in their song, quieted again.

Hermione hmm’d, said, “Monty’s not coming?”

Harry shook his head, not looking at her. Squinting up against the sun. Hermione sipped her lemonade. She was also looking at the Hawthorn when she told him to, “Be careful, darling.”

Harry smiled to himself. “I’m always careful.”

This set Hermione off on a laughing fit — starting off with a slow snort and then turning into a hapless, breathless fit — that went on for an outrageous five minutes, Hermione holding on to her belly, saying, oh, no, I can’t, I can’t!

***

Their Portkey was scheduled for 7 AM because Draco didn’t want to take any risks. Bloody risks, Harry mumbled under his breath, half asleep standing in line for their paper-check at the ministry. They would be arriving a full day before the conference was set to begin. That part of the schedule, too, had been designed by Draco and his oft-mentioned suspicion of said ‘risks’.  

“What risks!” Harry had laughed when Draco handed him over a stiff parchment — spelled against fire and water damage — stipulating their daily activities.

“Oh, I don’t know,” Draco had answered, acidly casual. “You walk into a blasting curse, perhaps. Or you get chased by a troll, you unlock a hidden room full of vipers, you stumble into an old enemy and we end up having to run for our lives over the roofs of the old city. Take your pick, really.”

“Why—” He’d taken a second to fight a smile. “Why would any of that happen?”

“All of those have happened to you. Literally. Literally all of those have happened.”

Harry had mumbled a small, I’ve never run on a roof, at the parchment, going over the daily 30-minute intervals Draco had blocked off for ‘a brisk walk’.

Their Portkey was a small plastic raven with dead eyes. Draco held it and Harry put his hand over it, fingers brushing Draco’s. They stood in the small glass cubicle as a copper plaque overhead counted off the seconds. The Ministry’s halls were chillingly cool, even at the height of summer, and it made for an even starker difference when — a heartbeat later, with the sickening pull of a Portkey turning on — they blinked into existence near the entrance foyer of their hotel, right into a humid little alcove.

“Oh god,” Harry said on the first breath he could manage, still reeling. Dizzy. He was taking off his jacket. It was hot, immediately very hot, nothing he was used to or dressed for in the least.

“Perhaps wait before you strip entirely,” Draco commented, amused when Harry flapped the front of his shirt to get some air under it.

“It’s hot,” Harry said, somewhat dazed.

Draco seemed less bothered as he put the Portkey on the designated shelf right outside the nook. Lined up were previous visitors’ Portkeys: a tennis ball, a can of sardines, a velvet scrunchie.

“Come along,” he told Harry, setting in a quick stride across the marble floor — his dress shoes clacking loudly into the echoing entrance hall. The hotel was bright with the slow morning sun, the yellow — nearly orange — light filtering in through decorated arches. Draco spoke with the young witch at the front desk and Harry wandered across the vestibule, jacket over his arm, wanting to have a better look. Beyond the arches, he caught glimpses of a terrace, a balustrade, of tables and white cloths, of palm trees. Of the glint of water in the distance. Somewhere outside music was playing. The air smelled like coffee.

“Harry.”

Draco was waiting for him, leaning sideways against the front desk — keys hanging from a ring around his finger. He’d dressed in light linen. His hair fell softly around his face, as though it’d been washed that morning. His hip was cocked, and against the backdrop of gold and turquoise he looked like he’d taken a pose to stand for an oil painting. He looked decadent.

Harry swallowed. “Hmm?”

“The suitcases have been sent up. The rooms are ready.” Then, with a small twitch of an expression, “Are you coming or will you be mulling about for the rest of the morning?”

“Right.” Harry glanced behind him again, at the hint of blue skies between the pillars, and nodded. “Yes. Let’s — yeah.”

The hotel was impossibly large and, to Harry’s sense of time, it took them all but a half hour to get to their rooms. Draco insisted in short, quiet tones (so as to not be overheard by the lift operator) that he was being overly dramatic, that having to take three lifts — one of which spun on its spot twice before jerking sideways, upwards — was perfectly normal for an establishment this size.

Their rooms were adjacent, identical, and very clearly picked to match Draco’s specific tastes: large beds with sheets pulled tight, velveteen chairs, ottomans, an arch leading to an ante-room leading to a balcony. It was the most excessive show of wealth Harry had ever let himself participate in. Still tired — still dazedly inspecting the room, touching things with a distracted hand — Harry pushed through the gauzy curtains to the balcony. The Nile gleamed in the distance. On the far bank ships were docked, bobbing gently in the water. A soft, hot breeze passed, shaking through the fanned-out fingers of the palms lining the path down to the river. Full in the sun, Harry leaned onto the railing, locked his elbows, and closed his eyes at the morning light.

“To your satisfaction?”

Harry squinted open an eye, gave Draco a sideways look. He was standing on the other side of the small partition that divided their balconies. He’d leaned forward, elbows on the marble of the balustrade. His smile was careful, tender. Like he was proud of himself.

“Mmm,” Harry sounded in reply, in assent, eyes closing again against the light. He breathed in deeply. He could feel Draco’s gaze on him, could feel it like the sun, like a slow burning.

“I’m going to unpack,” Draco said at length. “Get some rest. I’ll collect you for tea at half one.”

“Mmm,” Harry replied again, and tilted his head back. He let the light dance in reds over the lids of his eyes. Let it warm his neck.

It was another minute, still, before he heard Draco’s footsteps retreating — the quiet closing of his balcony door.

***

Harry messed around with the instructions for the room’s cooling charms for far too long before figuring out the exact combination — as shown in a series of doodles, left on the laminated sheet on top of the cabinet — to get his room to a manageable temperature. He went down to the reception to have a note of good arrivals sent to Ron and Hermione, got lost trying to find his way back to his room, then accidentally mistook Draco’s door for his — though it was locked. He then took a shower, napped for a short hour — still damp and naked on top of the sheets — and was still lounging in a certain state of undress when Draco knocked on his door.

He walked himself into a pair of trousers on his way to the door. He didn’t bother with doing them up, didn’t bother with a shirt. His hair was matted to the side of his face where he’d lied on it, and he tried to undo that while opening the door.

“Lunch,” is what Draco had come to tell him. His gaze dropped to Harry’s chest, lingered for a moment, and then settled — determined — on a spot right over Harry’s shoulder.

“Yeah,” Harry said. The heat from the hallway warred with the barrier of the room’s cooling charms. It made Harry’s skin break out in goosebumps. He wanted Draco’s eyes back on him. He continued, “I just need to . . .” and stepped back into the room, indicating Draco wait just a moment, that he was going to look for a shirt.

Harry felt every second he took to fumble through his suitcase. He felt every metre between himself and the doorway, where Draco stood, hands clasped behind his back. He felt the inching distance between them shrink and then grow as they walked side by side down toward the terraced pavilion where they were to take their afternoon tea.

There were puff pastries and eggs boiled in sauces and mud-bottomed coffee that smelled like cardamom. They sat beneath the awning of a white canvas, right by a quietly humming wall of cooling charms that was blocking the worst of the afternoon sun. Every now and then a sandy wind flapped at the fabric, at the scalloped edge of their tablecloth. A handful of other guests were also dining, chattering, their conversations a mix of Arabic and French. Draco eyed them, curious, wondered quietly at Harry whether they were here for the conference as well — said that he’d heard a delegation of the Moroccan Ministry’s Potioneering branch had been invited. Draco then started in on a low-voiced explanation on the innovations in potion deconstruction that had come from Casablanca in the last decade, and Harry hmm’d and nodded, distracted by Draco’s fingers tearing off a piece of bread. Distracted, too, by the quick flick of his thumb to the corner of his lips, wiping a smudge of sauce into his mouth. He had a few thin lines, these days, like commas marking the places where his cheeks would fold when he smiled.

Harry excused himself to the loo. He leaned on the sink for a while, waiting for his eyes to adjust to the dimmer light of the inside, the sun still whirling in red behind his eyes. It had barely been a day, barely a few hours, and he was already fraying at the edges. He thought toward the long week ahead of them, the days and the nights with just the two of them, and his heart knocked wildly against his collarbones. He gave himself a strict command — sounding vaguely like an echo of Hermione’s voice — to keep it together. To be careful.

Back at the table, Draco seemed newly jittery, pressing his napkin to his mouth, moving his chair — flagging down a waiter for more water. Harry asked him if everything was alright, and Draco replied with a, Yes, yes, absently looking out for the water he’d ordered.

“Look,” Draco said, watching the cool jug arrive — be set down between them. “I have been thinking, and perhaps—” He cut himself off, and took the moment to pour himself water. Pour Harry a glass as well. “You would remember our conversation, years ago, of your great-grandmother. Amsu.”

Conversation. Harry recalled a young Draco, dressed in black for mourning, carrying a brown-paper package in his breast pocket. He recalled holding the coin, being told a name. Recalled, with a remove that felt like he was considering the life of a stranger, how badly he’d wanted to leave that cloying and unfamiliar room. It was strange to think that that had been the drawing room. Strange to think he’d spent such a great deal of the last three years walking in and out of that very room. Lingering at its mantelpiece by the fire, unwilling to leave. Wanting to stay.

“Well,” Draco continued, sipping his glass. “Perhaps this weekend, as I will be less indisposed after having given my lecture — we could, if you’d be inclined, pay a visit to the local archives, see if perhaps — perhaps there’s some information to be found that might be of interest to you. To your . . .”

He trailed off, a flash of uncertainty passing over him, annoying him. He scowled at himself, at his glass of water. Harry reached out and brushed his fingers to the back of his hand — a quick touch to get his attention. The Bond warmed, matched the heat of the day.

“Let’s do that,” Harry said, putting his hand back in his lap. “I’d like to do that.”

“Right.” Draco glanced up at him, then away — that same spot over his shoulder. “Wonderful. So we shall.”

***

Their first day in Luxor went by in a haze, lagged by the slight time difference and the disorienting feel of walking in and out of cooling charms — from a comfortable chill into an overwhelming dry heat. After lunch, Draco retreated to his room, claiming he needed to prepare for his lecture on Thursday. Harry thought he was joking, first — that’s days away! — but Draco reacted with mild disconcertion, and assured him he certainly was not joking, and that one could not be prepared enough, that his knowledge was a precious thing, that he must take great care in what he sold as truth, that he—

Fine, wow, okay! Harry interjected a good minute into the speech — and let Draco disappear behind his door.

Harry spent the late afternoon on the balcony, watching the passing of people down the boulevard, the bobbing of the boats along on the water. Hermione had given him a thin booklet on Wizarding Egypt, and he paged through it, half interested, half asleep in the lounging chair. He dozed off for a while, book on his chest, then was pulled back awake by the evening prayer calling out from two nearby minarets — the song echoing back and forth along the bank of the river. A few stars had appeared in the sky, though the sun wasn’t fully under yet. The moon sat thin above the city skyline, a white bed of a nail.

They took to the old city for dinner. Unlike the stark division between muggle and wizarding life in London, the streets of Luxor weaved in and out of magic — alleyways that for muggles seemed dead-ended, a stairway that would make them remember they’d wanted to take a different route — and so wizards and muggles walked in the same bustling throng down the busy souk.

There was a restaurant someone at the front desk had recommended, a place owned by a brother of a sister-in-law. While making their way according to the instructions, the two of them were stopped several times by upset strangers who were convinced Harry was, in fact, someone called Masudi, who — it appeared — was a dead-ringer for Harry and had spent the last weekend cheating on a card game, forgetting to call his cousin, and ordering drinks that he then never paid for. All of this was communicated across a blurry bridge of translation charms and Draco’s elementary-level Arabic.

“Sounds like a good life,” Harry said when they arrived at the restaurant, where they were sat at one of the tables set out on the walkway.

“We should track him down.” Draco pointed at him with a toothpick. “See if he’d trade.”

Scooters shot by dangerously close. A couple was fighting loudly further down the street, and a large dog was sleeping by the entrance to the establishment. They ate and expanded on the life of Masudi, imagining up a whole story for him and then a plan as to how he might be roped in to do an interview with Skeeter on Harry’s behalf. They talked about Hermione, about the baby — about how this would be the first to be born of their graduating year. Well, Draco said. Your graduating year. I never graduated, did I?

“And look at you now!” Harry replied, gesturing grandly. Draco was trying hard to look stern in answer. They then talked of Draco’s lecture, or rather — Harry asked him one question, and Draco launched into a lengthy answer that Harry nodded to, not following in the least.

“I know you’re not listening,” Draco said, at the same speed of his rant. “Just so you know, it’s not that I’m oblivious to the fact you’re not listening.”

“I’m listening!” Harry said, offended, eyes on Draco’s mouth.

“Poppycock,” Draco said, and sipped his aniseed drink.

Their chatter died down on their walk back. Harry felt heavy with food and drink and woozy with the ease of the night, with Draco’s smiles, the hapless patter of his own heart at the sight of them — the way he couldn’t help his answering grin, each time. The quick companionship of dinner ebbed away and left in its wake the tension that had been simmering close below the surface. Dodging under arches from an alleyway to a street, Harry let the back of his hand brush Draco’s. When a scooter tooted and cut close to the walkway, Harry let his hand linger protectively at the small of Draco’s back — just a fraction. And when they arrived at the hotel, he walked half a step behind Draco, close enough that the heat of Draco’s shoulder was more palpable than that of the night air. Draco bore this all with a soft blush up his neck, avoiding Harry’s hard gaze, frowning.

Once at their rooms, Draco bid him a mumbled goodnight, not looking up, hasty in closing the door behind him. Harry lingered in the hallway for a long few minutes, forehead pressed to Draco’s door — breathing hard, his fist against the wood, ready to knock.

He didn’t. Instead, he sat on his balcony, watching the lights dotting the river. Half of him was lost in a furious conversation with himself, wondering who he’d become, who this person was — so consumed and beside himself with the very presence of another. The other half of him was entirely distracted, only hoping that the door of Draco’s balcony would open.

It didn’t.

He went to bed in a cocoon of dry cooling charms and a bone-deep tiredness dragging him under.

***

The next day’s itinerary stipulated four hours of paper revision for Draco and an extracurricular activity of choice for Harry. In the evening would be the opening dinner and drinks, which Harry was welcome to join if he so desired. Draco announced as much over breakfast, in a tone that indicated he was annoyed with Harry for not having memorised the schedule, and then fell quiet when a grey-haired woman took a seat at the table behind them.

“Oh Lord, that’s Mitali Gusti,” he said in a whisper, then trained his eyes on the table — stared in horror at a basket of bread.

“Who?” Harry asked through a mouthful of aish baladi.

Draco’s eyes, still on the basket, widened — offended. “Only the woman who single-handedly reinvented the entire field of theoretical potionee—”

“Ah, yes. Of course.” Harry washed down the bread with tea. “You should say hello, then.”

Draco’s eyes shot up to him. “I will absolutely not.”

Harry nodded, still drinking, then said, “Right,” and again, “Right.” He got up, approached the woman’s table — ignoring Draco’s hissing commands to stay put — and offered a polite hello, an excuse me, I couldn’t help but — are you—? When she looked up, brows raised in expectancy, he continued to explain that he had a friend here, big fan of your work, would love to have a word, if you might spare a little moment for—

Draco spent the next five minutes apologising for Harry and his complete lack of regard for people’s privacy and/or desire to have breakfast in peace. Mitali Gusti, however, only had a warm smile for him, a hand to shake, and Draco blushingly launched into a rattling confession that he was, in fact, a big fan of her work.

“What work?” she asked, cheekily, accepting the arrival of her coffee with a nod, and Draco turned his chair around fully to explain in detail how one of her papers had shaped his understanding of secondary base cores in matter-centric potions.

Harry sat with them for twenty minutes, listening to the two of them speak in words that made sense individually but lost all meaning in sentence form, before getting to his feet and announcing his leave with a quick hand to Draco’s shoulder.

This roused Draco from the conversation and he paused, mid-sentence, hand automatically coming up to cover Harry’s.

“You’re off?”

Harry jutted his jaw in answer. Said, “Heard there was a pool. Gonna go for a swim.”

“All right. You know where to find me.” Draco noticed his own hand, then, his fingers over Harry’s on his shoulder, and let the hold slip — hand falling to his lap.

“I do,” Harry said, and brushed the knuckles of two fingers to Draco’s cheekbone — a brief touch, thoughtless. Draco turned into the gesture, minutely, lifting up to look at Harry — lips parting.

Harry’s mind clouded. He tried to rush past the moment with a bright smile and a, “Later,” then turning to Gusti with a nod. “A pleasure, Madam.”

“You too,” she answered. “Enjoy your swim.”

“Will do,” Harry said, lifting a hand in goodbye. He only let his smile slip once he’d turned and was a good distance away — shoes clacking on the marble as he walked into the vestibule. He grimaced.

“Selfish,” he whispered to himself, a reminder. His footsteps echoed quietly under the arch of the hallway.

The pool was narrow and long, glistening under a glass dome, and Harry swam the length of it — back and forth and again — for as long as it took to exhaust himself. The sun filtered through the ceiling, and with his face underwater he could almost pretend it was just another summer at the Burrow. That Hermione and Ron, fourteen in their modest swimwear, would be sitting by the edge, waiting for him — arguing over one thing or the other.

Back in his room, he made for the balcony to dry off, shorts still clinging to his thighs. He found Draco on his side of the partition, half under the shadow of the awning, revising his paper — as dictated per itinerary. He noticed Harry with a quick glance, too immersed in his work to vocalise his hello, and Harry let the silence sit between them for a moment — coming to lean over the railing, looking out.

“How goes the revision?” Harry asked.

Draco mumbled, “Accordingly,” looking back and forth between two sheets of writing. “How went the swimming?”

“Splendidly.” Harry turned to survey Draco, head cocked. He had one arm in the sun, one leg. He was barefoot in linen shorts. The blond hair down his thighs, his shins, looked soft and golden in the light. The bend of his knee made the hem of one leg of his shorts fall open, and Harry could look down into that shadow, could almost glimpse at the promise of more skin.

“Won’t you burn?” he asked, looking away — frowning against the sun.

“I sure hope not,” Draco replied, absently, unaware of the havoc he was wreaking. “I’m slathered in screening potions.”

Harry nodded, mostly to himself. He pushed off the railing with a puff of a breath, sat himself on the recliner — fell back into its pillowed surface. He inhaled deeply, smelled the heat in the air, the coffee, the cardamom. He felt the chlorine dry on his skin and exhaled, making as though to relax. No such luck. Not in the least under the weight of Draco’s gaze, which Harry could sense turning to him, then away, then back to him again.

When Harry squinted one eye open, Draco wasn’t writing anymore. His pen was loose in his hand. His gaze was fixed, unreadable, on Harry’s chest.

Harry glanced down at himself. He’d tanned quickly in the short day they’d been there. His chest hair was still wet from the swim, flattened down toward his navel.

He ran a hand over himself, wiping away the water. “What?” he asked.

Draco looked up. “You’ve . . .” He seemed to be searching for a word. “Healed well.”

And true enough, every other word Draco uttered these days seemed to send his heart racing. This, however — this sudden reminder of those precious few days Draco had spent with him, in his house, nearly a year ago now — the reminder of his fingers in Harry’s mouth, of the night spent in Harry’s bed — seemed designed to short circuit him altogether.

Draco remembered, too, apparently. Thought about it.

“Yeah,” Harry said, hand still on the dip of his torso. It had been dark and hot under the sheets, that night. Draco’s lips had been all over him, his hands — all over him. He’d moved against Harry like he was starving, like he’d never get enough of it. He’d kissed a hot mercy into Harry’s mouth. He’d come riding Harry’s leg, shaking, pressing words to Harry’s skin.

What did it feel like? Harry had asked.

Like I would die, too.

Draco broke off eye contact with a quick, “I should go inside.” His voice sounded small. He began to gather his things, piling his papers. “It’s too hot here for — to focus on—”

Harry was half hard in his trunks. He leaned forward, trying to crouch over it, said, “Yeah, yes,” and adjusted his shorts. He plucked at a seam of the cushioning, just for something to do. Once Draco was inside he put his hands to his face, rubbing under his glasses.

“Jesus,” he whispered to himself. He leaned back, opened his legs wider, looking for relief. And again, “Jesus.

***

The dinner went on forever. It was held in one of the sunrooms overlooking the gardens, a long table seating the best minds of potioneering academia. Harry was bored and anxious and crawling out of his skin from the feel of Draco’s knee pressed against his under the table. A speech was given, warm welcomes were handed out, a promise by the organisational team that the week ahead would be full of discovery, discussion, and of course — partnership. The table gave a modest applause. Someone else stood up and insisted they could not continue before pointing out how lucky they were to have one of the greats amongst them this year, Mitali Gusti, and the table gave a more enthusiastic applause. Gusti accepted it with a mild smile. Next to Harry, Draco clapped a tad louder than the rest.

Harry wondered how often he’d spoken to Monty since they’d arrived. How often he’d wandered to the reception to ask for the international connection, if he’d done it each time he’d disappeared into his room — each time he’d told Harry he had to focus on his revision. What did he tell Monty, Harry wondered. Did he tell him about their dinner, how easily they’d talked? How they hadn’t mentioned Monty himself a single time — not once? Did he tell him about the way Harry kept on reaching out, time and again, brushing his fingers to whatever part of Draco was nearest?

“Pretend you’re enjoying it,” Draco leaned in close to murmur, a smile in his voice — his breath on Harry’s neck.

Harry shivered, ran hot. “Enjoying what?” he said, nonsensical. This close up all he could do was stare at a tendon in Draco’s neck.

“The dinner,” Draco said, pulling away — giving Harry a funny look.

Harry looked back, sure his emotions were written — plain as day — all over his face. Draco’s smile wavered a little and he cleared his throat. He swept his gaze over the table. Said, “The faster you eat, the faster we’ll get to the drinks.”

Harry huffed a laugh, fearing he sounded too breathless. “Solid advice,” he said.

Draco raised his glass as a you’re welcome. He turned back to his conversation with the wizard on his right, leaving Harry to fight his own war with his own out-of-control heart. Harry sipped his wine, drank the soup, poked at the stuffed peppers, spooned out the honey-sweet sahlab. He ate and drank and tasted little, swallowing it all past the lump in his throat. With dinner over, the glass doors to the terrace were opened, and the party was welcomed out into the night — out into the gardens, into one another’s company.

The night had cooled a little, but was still warm enough for a stroll in thin linen, a cotton shirt. Summer insects were buzzing all across the lawn. A shallow stream of water ran down the length of the grass and ended in a rounded pool, where brightly coloured birds dipped and dived and shook the drops from their wings.

At the far end of the drinks table, under a large palm, Draco was drawn into a conversation with a young potioneer from Lyon. Harry lingered close, and for his sake, the two men made an effort to keep the interaction in English. There was no point for it: the discussion was on the 1977 legislation surrounding gas-based potions and might as well have been had in French, for all Harry understood of it.

“I’m going to get us some drinks,” he cut into one of Draco’s tangents, and Draco nodded, absent, picking back up his line of thought with a, as I was saying . . .

At the table, Harry got derailed by one of the local potioneers — a short, middle-aged woman who insisted she recognised him from somewhere. When Harry gently offered that it was, perhaps, because he was Harry Potter, she waved off the notion with a no, no, and realised a moment later that it was because he was the spitting image of the son of her third cousin — twice removed.

“Masudi?” Harry asked, still holding both his and Draco’s drink in hand. The ice was melting.

“Yes!” She clapped her hands together. “You know him?”

When Harry turned to make his way back to Draco — excited to share his new information on the life of Masudi — something about the conversation had changed. He wasn’t sure what, at first, watching from a distance — but then the young man reached out, put his hand to Draco’s elbow in agreement with something he’d said, and Harry knew. There was a shift in the distance between the two, in the way the man was leaning, the way he smiled as Draco spoke.

Harry watched, stilled by it for a moment — by the harsh kick of jealousy, the nauseating pull at the core of him. The Bond, he realised, a fraction later, when the pull got stronger. It had been a while since he’d noticed it.

He took a breath and walked to join the conversation again. He handed Draco his drink, and when Draco accepted with a short glance and a thank you, Harry put his hand to Draco’s lower back. He stood close, his chest brushing Draco’s arm. The fabric of Draco’s shirt was cool with the charms he’d kept on it, but below his skin was warm.

Draco faltered mid-sentence. The young man quickly took in their stance and adjusted his posture. Leaned back again, almost imperceptibly.

“All the same,” Draco continued, a loaded moment later. “I should think we’ll find out as much in Rimoni’s keynote. Who’s doing the response for that one, remind me?”

“Jens,” the man said. His eyes were on Harry. Harry moved his thumb, pressing it to the dip of Draco’s spine. Draco took a breath and didn’t release it.

The man inspected his own near-empty glass. “Excuse me,” he said, indicating with a nod he was going to get himself a fresh drink. He left with a tight smile, a hint of a frown.

Draco turned under Harry’s touch, and Harry let his hand stay — shifting his hold to the curve of Draco’s waist.

“He was flirting with you,” Harry said, quickly, before Draco could ask.

“Nonsense,” Draco said. There was a tightness around his mouth. His gaze was restless, jumping from Harry to the party behind them — up to the lit windows of the hotel looming over them.

“He was,” Harry insisted. He was looking at where his own hand sat, pressed against the cotton of Draco’s shirt. “He’s looking over right now. He was flirting.”

“And you?”

Harry’s gaze shot up to Draco. Even in the shadows of the garden, Harry could see the flush on his jaw.

Draco added, “What are you doing?”

Harry was stepping into Draco’s space. He ran his hand from Draco’s waist over to his chest, his heart, and took hold of his collar. “Making sure he doesn’t get the wrong idea.”  His own voice sounded distant to his ears, crooked.

Draco swallowed, said, “Monty’s gone back to France.”

At first, the words didn’t quite make sense. The context was too far away from the moment, from the feel of Draco’s skin under his knuckles. But then — with a tilting feeling — he heard.

His hold on Draco’s collar turned into a grip. Draco put a hand to Harry’s stomach and held on to the opening between two buttons. Pulled. They stood there for a moment, unmoving, anchored into one another — Harry searching for something to say, something to adequately relay what this meant, if it meant. All it meant.

Draco was breathing like he’d been running laps.

They’d waited too long. Across the lawn, Draco’s name was called out — Mitali, wondering aloud where he was and, on spotting him, insisting he come over and retell his interpretation on her paper to the group she’d collected around her.

Draco let go of Harry’s shirt. He took Harry’s hand from his collar and held Harry’s wrist for a beat, then let go. “Excuse me,” he said, voice breaking, and went as he was beckoned.

Harry downed his drink, took a stroll further into the gardens, and stood under a lone palm for a good ten minutes — hand on the bark, eyes closed, frantically trying to collect himself. The air felt thick on each inhale, each exhale. His skin itched, his eyes seemed a fraction too slow. He licked his lips over and over, telling himself to clear his mind, just to clear his mind — but all there was was the whisper of Draco’s name, on a loop.

He was burning up.

Back at the party, he found Draco sitting by one of the garden tables, listening along with a circle of younger potioneers as Mitali explained one of her more recent theories. Draco was all long limbs, legs crossed and held out of the way, arm hooked over the back of his chair.

He noticed Harry approaching. He lifted his face up in greeting when Harry came up close, and Harry’s heart turned itself inside out. He reached out with a touch — a thumb brushed to Draco’s cheek, to his bottom lip. Draco blushed, instantly, and looked away — made to focus on the discussion once more.

Harry turned as though to listen. He rested his hand under the tuck of Draco’s hair, over the warm soft of the back of his neck. He stroked the downy tuft of hair. The jut at the top of Draco’s spine. Draco shivered, swallowed.

Harry couldn’t pick out the trilling thread of the Bond from his own body, humming insistently where they touched. That small connection, barely the width of a palm to the heat of a neck.

That’s when the middle-aged woman from the drinks table found him, all bluster, demanding he come with her — that another distant cousin of Masudi was there and he, too, must see the wonder that was Harry. As such he was pulled from Draco’s side, and a look passed between them — one that Harry tried to make amused but that was darker than that, deeper.

Once he’d shaken hands, confirmed he was — most definitely — not Masudi playing a prank, once he’d wound his way back to the party, he found Draco standing by the drinks table, speaking with an older gentleman. He joined them with a small smile, looping an arm around Draco’s waist, hand at his hip. Harry waited for the conversation to end, for the man to leave, but again Draco had to be taken with — introduced to someone new. Harry had half a drink, feeling in his bones exactly how far away Draco stood — knowing exactly how many steps it would take to reach him. They met again at the side of the pool, where someone was explaining something about the biodiversity of the region — Harry pretending to listen at Draco’s side, his thumb stroking the inside of Draco’s wrist.

And so the night went. Touches, maddening, brief — being pulled apart and navigating their way toward one another, time and time again.

And as the party dwindled to its end — after a picture book of Masudi had been produced and compared to Harry’s face — after they’d sat through half a dozen drunken disagreements on the ethics of potion supervision — Harry found Draco up on the terrace, hands flat on the railing of the balustrade, looking out onto the gardens below.

He could hear Harry approaching. The set of his shoulders said as much. They were alone, up there.

Choking on his heartbeat, Harry came in close. He fit his body to the line of Draco’s back, a hand to Draco’s hip. His forehead to Draco’s neck. He smelled like himself, still, so much like himself, and the memory of him collided with the solid presence of him. Harry puffed out a breath — a short sound from the back of his throat.

Draco leaned back into it, then out — turned, put a hand to Harry’s chest, holding him back.

“You’ve been making love to me,” he said, “all night.”

Harry swallowed, throat ticking. “Yes.”

“I—”

“I’m not with Almar. We’re not—” Harry had to stop himself. Breathe. “It’s you. It’s only you.”

Draco closed his eyes. He tilted his chin up, as though praying to the skies. “I must go say my goodnights,” he said, eventually. His hand was still on Harry’s chest.

Harry nodded, slow and stupid, but quickly caught Draco’s hand when it slipped from his chest — when he made to leave. Two fingers around two of Draco’s. Draco paused, glanced down at their hands. His fingers twitched against Harry’s. “Wait for me,” he said, and tugged free.

***

It took a lifetime for Draco to say his goodbyes. A lifetime for him to shake hands, to reiterate agreements to go over papers, to have coffee, to compare compositions. Harry watched him from the terrace, heard the timbre of his voice but not the words, thinking, nonsensically, There he is. There he is.

Harry was waiting for him at the top of the staircase when Draco began to make his way back up again. Spelled little baubles of light were dancing all the way up the marble rail, throwing Draco’s face in and out of shadow as he took two steps at a time, a leisurely pace, hands in his pockets.

Harry didn’t know what would happen next. He didn’t know if he could pick up where they’d left, if he could fit his body to Draco’s again — could make real the fragments of his desire: crawl close, let his hands wander. Put his mouth to use. It seemed impossible that he could. That Draco would want him to.

But Draco didn’t slow in his pace. He reached the terrace, brushed by with a whoosh of air and made for the deserted dining hall. He turned around and walked backwards three steps, looking at Harry, saying, “Come along. Allons-y.”

A pup on a collar, Harry went. He followed Draco through to the vestibule, to the hallway, to the lifts. Draco calmly watched the doors slide open, calmly stepped inside. He didn’t look at Harry beside him, gaze upon the little chime telling them what floor they had reached.

Harry could hear his own breathing. Could hear his own heartbeat. They got off the first lift and got on the next. Draco pushed the button for their floor, and Harry noticed the slight tremble of his fingers. He took the hand before it could retreat, brought it to his mouth, kissed between two of Draco’s knuckles. He rested his lips there, breathing hot.

“What . . .” Draco whispered, then trailed off. Harry turned his hand, opened it, kissed the heart of his palm. The lift lurched sideways, and Harry fit his mouth to Draco’s wrist. Kissed it, put his tongue to it. His teeth.

Draco gasped. The machinery of the lift sounded as loud as the Bond, as loud as the rush of blood in Harry’s ears. They came to a standstill. The doors pinged, opening up to the hallway of their floor.

Draco was the one who got them to move, turning his hold to Harry’s hand, pulling him along, and at first it was several fast-paced marching steps down the hall — as though angry with it, as though on his way to battle — but then he stopped still. Changed his mind. Backed Harry up against a wall, crowding into him. The calmness was gone, and all there was left was the same fray-edged desperation Harry felt — reflected back at him. Harry clutched at him, rolled up against him, one hand fisted in Draco’s shirt, one hand on the side of his neck, fingers restless. Draco stilled him, pressed him to the wall, face close, cheek to Harry’s — noses brushing. Harry barely recognised the aching sound that left him with the next exhale. Sage and myrrh, all around him. Like summer itself.

“Enough,” Draco said, voice like gravel. “Enough teasing. Kiss me.”

It happened as though they’d done nothing else all along. It happened as though kissing was all they’d been doing that night; that week, all those years. Harry had hungered, had spent long nights and long days in the company of this emptiness, had bored of it and argued with it and promised to lay it to rest time and time again — and could now only open himself up to it, pour himself into it. Into the feel of Draco’s lips open against his, his tongue slick against his, the wet sound of the kiss deepening — the muffled moans between them. Draco was shivering. He held Harry by the sides of his neck and used his thumbs behind Harry’s ears to tilt his head, to get closer. Their legs slotted together, chests pressed, and Harry thought he might expire — might melt against the wall, into Draco’s hot hell of a mouth.

He fisted his hands into Draco’s hair. Nipped at his lips, bit, sucked, let the kiss turn into a wet mess. When he spoke, he could feel the puff of his own words cooling the spit between them. “I’m going mad,” he whispered, a breath like a laugh. Then, “I need—”

Harry’s words disappeared into another kiss. He used his arms around Draco’s neck to lift himself up into it, and Draco’s hands came down to his waist, looped around it, rested with a warm press to the dip of his spine — right above his buttocks. Harry’s mouth faltered at that, his hold slipped, and he blearily wondered how he’d thought he would manage without — how he’d manage this week, this life, without the proud thrill he felt at Draco’s hands on his body. His mouth to Harry’s, cursing softly into a kiss, saying, Merlin, and Fuck, saying—

“Take me to your room,” Harry rushed out the words, half aware he was trying to unbutton Draco’s shirt, mouthing at the skin of his neck.

Draco’s grip on the back of Harry’s shirt tightened. “Harry,” he said, wrecked.  

Harry pulled too hard at a button, sent it flying. He was rubbing his face against Draco’s collarbone. “I’ll fuck you right here, I don’t care, just—”

“Jesus,” Draco said. Harry’s habit in his mouth.

Harry tilted up. He managed half a kiss, his tongue to Draco’s bottom lip, rolling his body to Draco’s, and something snapped — the last chord of restraint between them, the last inch they’d let linger. Draco groaned, hips stuttering, grabbing at Harry — hauling him close, up, stumbling into movement. Trying to pull Harry’s shirt from his trousers and walking them backwards, forwards, an ungainly journey toward the door to his room. It took a while, and Draco got pushed up against the wall twice in the process, Harry pressing his face to the small patch of skin he’d revealed of his chest — Draco burying his hands in Harry’s hair. Biting the shell of his ear.

Once inside the room, they didn’t bother with the lights. The cooling charms settled over them with a chill and set them shivering. Harry had Draco back against the door, seeking out his mouth again. It was puffy and red, the skin around it rough from Harry’s shadow of a beard.

“What do you want?” Harry asked, his forehead to Draco’s. He was fumbling with the rest of the buttons, fingers slow. Thick.

Draco was breathing hard. His eyes were glazed over, fixed on Harry’s mouth.

“My mouth?” Harry asked, fingering the last button open and sinking his hands into that heat, over the expanse of Draco’s midriff. They both moaned, and the Bond flared in perfect tandem, settling, setting them further on edge. “Do you want my mouth?” Harry repeated, voice shaky now. “You can have it. Anything, darling. Anything you—”

Draco’s response was a strangled moan, as though the words themselves were too much. Harry kissed his chin, his Adam’s apple, the dip of his throat. He kissed the centre of his chest, over the fluttering muscles of his belly, and there — on his knees, looking up — he pressed a kiss to the jut of Draco’s hip. He sank his teeth to the soft skin below his navel, the trail of hair leading down.

Draco keened, rutted up, put his fingers to the rise of Harry’s cheekbone. Harry turned into the touch and kissed Draco’s wrist three times in a row, mindless. Draco’s hands sank into his hair, and Harry looked up, taking a moment to catch his breath — to catch up with his wild heart, with the high speed of his own lust. Draco was looking down, mouth shiny with spit, his chest blotchy red with a flush and with the trail of Harry’s sucking kisses. In the blue darkness of the room, the scars stood out, a pale grey. Harry ran his fingers over a line and traced it to its end where it slashed over his belly button, where it had nicked the well sideways. His throat closing up, Harry brushed his lips to the shallow navel. He traced another scar, off to the side — a newer one, a familiar one. A year and a half ago, that had been, that foolish trip to Romania. Harry swallowed, closed his eyes.

Draco’s body was covered in the history of them.

“I’ve missed you,” Harry said, voice thin to the dip of Draco’s hip, as though they hadn’t spent every hour of the past few days together. As though they hadn’t seen each other thrice a week for years now, hadn’t built their lives around one another.

Draco’s fingers moved through his hair. Tightened. Harry glanced up, over the planes of his skin.

“And I you,” Draco said, a whisper.

Harry kept eye contact as he worked open Draco’s belt, as he thumbed open the buttons of Draco’s fly. Draco’s breathing turned laboured, the fall of his eyelids heavy. Harry pushed down the waistband of his trousers and palmed Draco’s heavy erection through his pants — put his face to it, kissed the fabric pulled taut over his balls. Draco moaned, pushing up into the touch, pulling at Harry — his head falling back against the door with a dull thud. The muscles of his legs were trembling, twitching under Harry’s hands.

Harry’s hunger roared, urgent again, and he pushed Draco’s pants down with an impatient grunt. Draco’s cock jumped, twitched up against his belly, leaking, and Harry wasted no time in getting his hand around the base, in squeezing, pulling down, putting his lips to the head in a licking kiss. He sucked, light, then opened his mouth and sank down a little — down over the glans, brushing the tip of his tongue to the slit. He pulled back again, letting a line of spit and precome hang between Draco’s cock and his bottom lip.

He looked up.

Draco had stopped breathing. His mouth was open, his jaw cocked, his face aflame. Harry wanted him. Wanted him desperately, in that moment. Wanted to take him from the world, from its small distractions and pointless conversations. Wanted to give him something better.

“Harry,” Draco managed, voiceless, and Harry swallowed him down — pushed his lips to the ring of his fingers. He hollowed his cheeks on retreat, the wet suction smacking in the quiet of the room, and sank back down, humming. Draco groaned, low and long, and didn’t stop as he ground his hips up into the heat of Harry’s mouth with small, shallow movements, babbling, gasping, cursing throughout it all. Harry had one hand to Draco’s hip to keep himself balanced, and slipped the other from Draco’s cock to his balls, rolling them gently as he flattened his tongue to the mound of Draco’s glans — swallowing down the precome.

He pulled back a little, then, kissed down the shaft, kissed the thin skin of Draco’s hip, the sharp V of it. He kissed his shaking thighs, nipped at them, and Draco rolled his hips, his wet cock bouncing against Harry’s cheek. Draco moaned, at that — beside himself, saying,

“Har — please, fuck, just—”

And Harry put his swollen lips to the head of Draco’s cock and said, low and barely audible,

“What, darling?” He held him, kissed the side of the shaft, glanced up, asked, “Do you want to come? Shall I make you come?”

Draco was now holding Harry’s head with two hands, rutting up, trying to get back into his mouth, panting, “Yeah, yes, please, Harry, I—”

Harry put his lips over his teeth, swallowed him back down, and bobbed up and down at a faster pace than before — closed his eyes, breathing harshly through his nose, mind clear and body blurry in the fog of its own pleasure. The hand holding Draco’s hip moved up over his waist, up to his chest, and Draco caught it, brought the fingers to his mouth. He sucked in a thumb, bit at the pad, and Harry moaned around his cock and snaked his other hand down to his own crotch — meaning to find a small relief, meaning to squeeze himself through his trousers. He ended up coming hot and fast into the first brush of his palm, his fingers in the wet heat of Draco’s mouth, Draco’s cock sliding over his tongue.

Everything skidded sideways, then, his vision and his understanding of the moment — his orgasm roaring loudly in his ears. He wasn’t sure what happened next, how or who, but he was faintly aware of his forehead against the soft of Draco’s belly, of breathing through his nose. Of Draco’s cock against the back of his throat — of his mouth getting soft and sloppy, of Draco coming, Harry’s name a loving chant on his lips. His cock slipped out of Harry’s mouth, come dripping, down over Harry’s chin, onto his chest, his half-unbuttoned shirt. Harry’s glasses were crooked on the bridge of his nose, fogged up.

For a long few minutes there was nothing but their heartbeats — but their heavy breaths, slowing. Nothing but Draco’s cock, twitching, and Harry still brushing his lips over it until Draco gasped, too sensitive.

“Good god,” Draco said, eventually. His voice broke on the second syllable.

Harry hoisted himself up to his feet, using Draco for leverage. His knees creaked, hurt. His trousers clung to him, wet and uncomfortable. Draco’s hands were on him, reverent, seeking out the lines of his stomach, his muscles, the come that had dribbled down. He pushed his fingers through it, gasping. Harry groaned in response, wrung out but still running high — still aroused, still wanting. He swung forward, leaning with his forearms against the door, caging in Draco’s head.

“Hello,” Harry said, a slow smile on his lips. His voice was destroyed, a gravelly rumble, and Draco shuddered under him — then huffed, a small little laugh.

“Hello,” he replied, breath sweet on Harry’s lips. “Will this be the round of introductions?”

Harry’s smile widened, broke into a laugh, and then turned into a groan. “I came in my pants,” he stated, rolling his forehead against Draco’s. “You made me come in my pants. Fuck, Draco, you’re—”

Draco reached up to take his glasses off for him and held them to the side as he shut Harry up with a kiss. Harry’s lips were sore and he let Draco lick them open, let Draco suck on his bottom lip, again and again, tasting himself on Harry’s tongue. He’d started shivering again, one hand restless on the last four buttons of Harry’s shirt, and when Harry broke the kiss to finish his sentence, to say that Draco was—

“—gorgeous, fuck, I — swear every time you walk into a room I—”

Draco ripped the rest of his shirt open, cut him off with another kiss and pushed in his free hand in — frantically running it over Harry’s ribs, his sides, around and up his back. Hauling Harry in, making Harry fall into the hold, into the kiss. Harry’s hands by Draco’s head slid into his soft hair with a muffled, pleased little sound.

They made out for a while, mouths soft and swollen, Draco’s touch restless over Harry’s back — shivering all the while. Harry hummed into each caress, into each shudder of the Bond settling over them, a warm and happy thing, a yes and this and here. He put his fingers to Draco’s lips to feel their kiss, then rubbed his beard to Draco’s cheek. He got distracted by his neck, overwhelmed by dozens of scattered memories of that skin — of wanting to touch, of not being able to. He sucked a rough kiss to the spot below Draco’s ear, pulling at the skin with his teeth, and Draco moaned around two of Harry’s fingers. Harry suddenly felt transported back to school, to secretly making out in dark hallways — up against walls, horny and not knowing what to do next, where to take it.

He laughed against the curve of Draco’s neck, against the blushing bruise he’d sucked into it, helpless, and said, “Can I take you to bed?” And, “Will you let me take you to bed?”

And Draco, with one hand back in Harry’s hair, rumpled and flushed and mostly undressed — nodded, dislodging Harry’s fingers from his mouth. Harry cupped the back of his neck, kissed him once, twice, pulled Draco’s trousers and pants back up for him with a short tug, and leaned down to hook his arms under Draco’s thighs — under his knees.

“Up,” he whispered, and lifted him — Draco’s legs automatically wrapping around his waist, arms around Harry’s neck.

“Couldn’t I have walked?” Draco said as Harry carried him over to the bed — quiet and intimate against Harry’s cheek. He was still holding Harry’s glasses for him, dangled between two fingers against the back of Harry’s neck. Harry kissed his chin in response and gently laid them down on the bed — Draco on his back into the pillows, and Harry cradled between his legs.

“Just an excuse to manhandle me,” Draco added, and gently — dearly — placed Harry’s glasses back on his nose. He tucked the hooks behind Harry’s ears, then smoothed the hair into place.

Harry smiled, his heart heavy in his chest, a hand on the tight muscle of Draco’s belly. He said, voice rough, “Any excuse to manhandle you.”

Harry’s touch moved up, over a nipple, and Draco’s breath hitched. He leaned in, following his hands with his mouth and nipped at the bud. Draco arched, sobbed, seemingly surprised by his own reaction, and lust began to cloud over Harry’s mind again — quick as that. He licked over the edge of a scar, palmed and pulled at Draco’s nipples, worked his way up to his mouth again, and sloppily kissed him into the pillows — Draco’s nails digging into his shoulder blades. Draco was moving up against Harry, seeking more fiction, more anything.

They were out of breath, kissed raw and half-hard again by the time Harry sat back on his heels. He looked down at the both of them — at Draco, at the shirt that was pushed down off his shoulders, at Draco’s tented pants through the flies of his trousers, at his own erection pushing against the wet spot on the fabric — and decided with a frantic immediacy that they were wearing too many clothes. That they needed to come off, now.

Draco watched him, dazed, as he got up from the bed, madly kicked off his shoes, undid his trousers and the cuffs of his shirt — that one took three tries and a mouthful of fuck fuck fuck — and shucked off his torn dress shirt. Pushed down his trousers, his pants. He crawled back onto the bed, naked, and began the slow torture that was taking off Draco’s shoes for him. He kissed his ankle as he did so, the arch of his foot. He threw the shoes off the side of the bed. They met the floor with a dull sound. Harry hooked his hands under Draco’s knees, pulled him down the bed — and Draco slid off the pillows with a soft puff of air. His eyes were frantic on Harry’s naked body, his breathing short.

Harry tugged off his trousers. Dropped them. Took Draco’s right arm, lifted it, undid the cufflinks. Helped Draco take his arm out. He found the two moles near the crook of his elbow and put his mouth to their shallow relief.

“I’ve been thinking about these,” he mumbled, breath hot on the damp skin, and kissed each mark again.

“You’re ridiculous,” Draco told him, breathless, but still moved into each of Harry’s touches — he was always moving, always seeking more. Harry undid the cufflinks of his left wrist, and the shirt came off. He held Draco’s arm in his hand. The tattoo was faded, almost entirely, and the skin was stretched and folded like scar tissue — like a burn.

Harry looked at it. Ran a rough thumb over it.

“I—” Draco started. There was a tremble to his voice. He spoke quietly, a little frightened, explaining that, “Years ago, I — tried . . . a potion. A salve. My own concoction. It was foolish, it didn’t work, I—”

Harry kissed the crook of his elbow, just as he had the other. He kissed Draco’s shoulder, then mumbled a thick, Darling, to Draco’s neck, and again, overwhelmed, to the shell of his ear. Their history, all of it, etched onto Draco’s skin.

Draco held on to him, hands to Harry’s arms, his shivers starting up again. “Kiss me,” he pleaded, a whisper, and, “Harry, kiss me, please, I—”

Harry kissed him, a hard and full press of lips, and Draco opened it up for them — made it deeper, slid in his tongue with a muffled whimper. His arms had wound all the way around Harry’s neck, his legs around Harry’s hips, ankles hooked together over his lower back. Harry was helpless in the cradle of Draco’s body, helpless against his mouth, helpless against the soft rolling motions that pressed his chest to Harry’s — that brought their hips together.

And now that Harry was there, now that he had made it past the walls and the wards and the lifetime of gauntlets thrown, Draco seemed loathe to let him go. He held on tight, barely letting up when Harry inched away to tug off Draco’s pants, to lean over the side of the bed to get his wand — and pulled Harry back in with hard breaths and hard fingers, all impatience. Harry, for his part, was barely keeping it together — could barely manage the words needed for the incantation, letting the lube spool into his palm while Draco sucked on his earlobe, nipped at it, mumbled at Harry to—

“—come on, just — yeah—” while he further opened his legs for Harry, while he wrapped a hand around Harry’s wrist. He let Harry’s wand tumble into the sheets as he guided Harry’s hand to where he wanted it: between them, lower, behind his balls. His breath hitched at the first touch, at the brush of Harry’s wet fingers in the hot crevice of his buttocks — at how Harry’s touch slipped, skidding over the tight furl of muscle.

Draco moaned through lips pressed shut, trying to hold back the sound. His hand was still holding on to Harry’s wrist, and he was controlling the speed, the press of Harry’s fingers. He was rolling up into it, too. His hole twitched under each stroke, each back and forth. Harry’s heart was lodged high in his throat, beating loudly in his ears. He pressed his sweaty face to Draco’s neck. Somewhere in the process his glasses had fallen off — somewhere in the process they’d gone from talking to just breathing, panting, overcome.

Harry bit at the join of Draco’s neck and shoulder, and Draco pushed two fingers over Harry’s index, pushed him in, past the first ring. Draco was hot, and impossibly tight, and he chased away any thought Harry had left the moment he tugged at Harry’s hair — the moment he rocked down onto the slick digit.

“Fuck,” Harry managed, slurred, pulling his finger back a little — pushing back in. Draco’s next moan couldn’t be held back. It ended on a hitching breath, lips close to Harry’s ear.

“Yeah, that’s—” he started, trailing off into short puffs of air as Harry pumped into him, picking up the pace. “Ah, yeah, fuck— ”

Draco rocked down into each stroke, holding on to Harry’s wrist, fucking himself. His cock was flushed and leaking against his belly, jumping with his thrusts, and it twitched when Harry crooked his finger and found that precious bundle of nerves. He pressed against it, massaged it, and Draco sobbed, arching. He wanted more, told Harry as much, asked for—

“—more, Harry, you can — more, I can—”

Harry kissed him, and Draco’s hold on his wrist loosened, then fell away as Harry worked in another finger. His mouth went slack against Harry’s, his kiss turning wet. He had one knee up, one foot braced on the bed, and he was pushing into Harry’s fingers, his thighs trembling. Harry pulled back for a moment to watch him, watch him move easily and beautifully, and Harry’s heart ached at the sight of it. At the sight of Draco, flushed all over — ruddy knees and elbows and a sweaty blush down his neck. At how arresting he was in his surrender. He was saying yes, and please, and soon those words, too, became a jumbled blur. Slurred syllables, halted phrases, telling Harry that he needed him, needed more, that Harry needed to fuck him, now, needed to—

“—get inside me, come on, Jesus, get—”

Harry’s hands felt ungainly when he slipped his fingers out of Draco. His movements felt slow, a little unreal, as he kissed Draco’s face, down his chest and up again. Harry muttered a quick protective charm, to which Draco replied with a soft moan, an encouragement. Harry pushed one of his knees aside — hauling him closer. Slicking himself. Lining up.

His cock was leaking precome before he’d even pushed in. Draco twitched against his cockhead, then opened up, beautiful and hot, pulling him in.

Love,” was Draco’s only sigh of a word, said in wonder, said in welcome, as Harry slid deeper. Draco was breathing hard below him, mouth slack against Harry’s cheekbone. And Harry, for his part, put every fibre of his being into keeping himself together — into keeping still, feeling Draco move around him, adjusting. The Bond had shaved a layer of skin off of him, had left him an exposed nerve, and each of Draco’s inhales was sending goosebumps down his spine — each one had him on the cusp of coming.

“Draco,” Harry ground out, a plea. A request. He’d sneaked a hand under the both of them, was holding Draco by the small of his back. He could feel every slight movement, every twitch.

“Yeah,” he said, lips to Harry’s skin. And then, again, arching up, angling, “Yes.

Harry’s first thrust was a startled one and had them both gasping. His second was slower, more deliberate, and Draco brought one hand to the centre of Harry’s spine, right between his shoulder blades — and another to the dip above of buttocks, moving along to their give and take.

“Oh God,” Draco breathed, and Harry rolled his hips tightly, made his thrust a deep one. It felt amazing. Draco felt amazing, close and perfect and connected, as though every touch made sense. They sped up, together, sending the bed rocking, breathing into each other’s mouths — then Harry’s heart skittered too fast, too quickly, heat pooling in his groin, and he slowed them down again, easing his movements, keeping his cock buried deep inside Draco. Barely moving his hips.

“Oh God,” Draco said, again, whined — rolled up, trying to get Harry to move again, to pull back, push back in. Harry puffed a mad laugh against his mouth, kissed him open and messy for a moment, then pulled away. He sat back on his haunches and held one of Draco’s legs out with a hand hooked under his knee. He pulled out of him, inch by inch, nearly all the way. He left only the swollen head of his cock inside the tight ring of muscle. He watched, head full of cotton, how Draco twitched around him. How the lube and the precome leaked, dripped down into the sheets.

Draco’s cock lay heavy on his belly, weeping against the soft line of hair below his navel. Draco lifted his head to look down, to see what Harry was waiting for, but couldn’t keep his head up like that and fell back against the mattress with a quiet whine, followed by a heartfelt, “Fuck.” He brought a hand up to cover his eyes.

“Yeah,” Harry agreed, his own voice foreign, and began to push back in. Slowly, slowly. Each of Draco’s pants ended on a desperate sound, something from the back of his throat, and it made Harry want to flip him over, to fuck him hard and fast just to hear what that would sound like. It made him want to keep at it like this, this torturous inching in, if only just to stretch the minutes — to not have it end. It made him possessive and wild and furiously turned on. When he had to take a moment, a long moment, to catch his breath.

Draco was trembling under him. He’d pushed his hand into his own hair, and the other was twisted in the sheets, balling them up. “Fuck me,” he whispered when another moment had passed, when Harry remained still. Even without his glasses — and arousal blurring his vision — Harry could still see the way Draco was looking up at him. Could sense, to his very core, the raw hunger in his voice when he repeated, again, “Fuck me, please, just—”

Harry leaned over him and used the hold he had under Draco’s knee to fold him back, to push his cock even deeper. He braced himself, hovering close, his forearm by Draco’s head, and leaned in. He let his hot forehead rest against Draco’s. Let their sore lips brush, chaste, for a fraction of a moment before saying, quietly—

“Want me to fuck you?”

Draco shuddered. Tightened around Harry. “Harry,” he pleaded, leaning up to kiss him — to lick over his lips, lick into his mouth, moan against his tongue that— “please, fuck, I need—”

“What?” Harry whispered back, breathless. “What do you need?”

And Draco, shivering, mindless with it, said, “You. You.” And then he reached down, a restless touch that skittered over the crease below Harry’s buttocks, then down between them — to their joining. “This. I need this,” he said, long fingers wet over the base of Harry’s cock, the stretched rim of his own arsehole. And when he asked for it again, it was voiceless — the words mouthed against Harry’s lips, not said out loud. Fuck me.

Harry pulled out halfway, pushed in, swallowed Draco’s moan. He wound a hand into Draco’s hair, holding him as he pumped in, faster now, and Draco kept his own hand where it was — feeling each of Harry’s thrusts, feeling the drag of his cock, the puffy skin around it. The touch, light though it was, sensitised Harry even further, made the snapping rhythm of his hips falter every few strokes.

“Harder,” Draco said, demanding, and Harry bit at his jaw, sucked at the line of it — fucked him harder. He could feel the sweat running down his back, could hear nothing but Draco’s panting breaths, the wet sound of their sex. The squeaking of the bed.

Draco had him by the back of his thigh, had him with a hand to the back of Harry’s neck. His eyes had rolled back, had closed, and the tilt of his head made his Adam’s apple stand out — the way it moved each time he moaned, each time he spoke Harry’s name, a chant.

“Darling,” Harry said, then babbled, lost. He kissed Draco’s neck. “I’m close,” he said. “I’m — darling, look at me, I’m—”

Draco’s eyes were slow to open, eyelids heavy, mouth slack. “Then come.”

“I want you to—” Harry cut himself off on a breath, rubbed his stubble to Draco’s, shared a messy half-kiss. He slowed for a moment, then lifted off again, a hand braced on the bed. He ground his cock deeply into Draco, and began to set a mad pace, gyrating, working a hand between them — taking Draco in hand to jerk him to the same racing speed.

Ah!” Draco twitched into the touch, pushed into the next thrust, arched, breath caught high in his chest. “God, fuck, ah, ah—”

He reached out to feel at the shape of Harry’s pecs, his tight abdomen, then up again — and held on tight, nails digging. His cock twitched in Harry’s hand and then he was coming with a strangled sob, hard on an upstroke, all over Harry’s fingers, all over the both of them, saying, “Harry, Harry, Ha—”

Harry stroked and stroked and kept fucking him, watching how his cock disappeared into Draco, watching the tremors that shook through him. Draco’s cock kept spurting, jerking, and Harry sobbed, on edge, over-sensitised and desperate. Mad with it, feeling the feedback of the Bond through Draco. He left off Draco’s spent cock, and pushed Draco’s legs wider, hips snapping. Draco choked out a soft yes, telling him to come, telling him to come inside him, telling him he wanted to feel it, and again reached down one hand to put his fingers over the stretch of his hole, skating over Harry’s cock pumping in, out. That’s how Harry came: half into a kiss, his moans broken — an orgasm that claimed him from the very core of his magic. He shook through it, gasping for air, and Draco held him, matching his breaths — moving, rocking, slower and slower until neither could move, until they had stilled. Until they were quiet, both from within, from without.

“Sweet lord,” Draco said, a good while later. The first word in a puff, the second in a whisper. Harry coughed a laugh into his neck. Draco gasped at the sudden movement, and as Harry shifted to get off him — to pull out — Draco paced him with a hiss and a quick, Careful!, one hand to Harry’s chest.

They were sweaty. The bed smelled like sex, the sheets were soaked. Harry stretched out next to Draco, propped up on an elbow, and used the hem of a sheet to wipe at the come on Draco’s stomach. It didn’t help much. Draco had his eyes closed, was calming his breath. His hair was a fanned-out mess on the white cotton. Harry could see his heartbeat rabbit at the hollow of his throat.

“Hey,” Harry said, soft. “You okay?”

I—” Draco didn’t open his eyes. He exhaled and added a croaky, “Recovering.”

Harry let his elbow slide down from under him, tumbling into Draco’s shoulder with a grunt of agreement. After a moment, Draco’s fingers stroked up the back of his neck, into his hair. Harry hummed. He meant to say that they should clean up. He meant to ask if Draco needed anything, if he was thirsty, or hungry, or if he should go get them a towel — he meant to voice each and every one of his thoughts — fighting the edge of sleep and losing, dozing against the warm safety of Draco’s skin.

When he blearily climbed back awake, it was to a fragmented memory of Draco’s mouth to his temple when they’d fucked, his babble, the dear words that had spilt from him. The bed had been cleaned, Harry had been covered in a thin sheet, and Draco wasn’t there. The balcony door had been left open, making the cooling charms fritz — sending them into overdrive, making the room uncomfortably chilly. The gauzy curtains billowed, heavy-bellied, into the room. On their retreat Harry glimpsed Draco, standing out on the balcony.

Harry slipped out of bed, walked across the cold tiles. He was half asleep still, his body slow and dully aching, mind still blurry with the events of the night. He had one eye squinted shut as he lolled against the balcony frame and mumbled, “I fell ‘sleep,” like it was a question. He wanted to say he hadn’t meant to, but Draco glanced at him over his shoulder — then sharply away, eyes wide, muttering a quiet curse. Harry swayed as though to join him on the balcony, but Draco stopped him with a quick gesture, a,

“Don’t—! You’re — indecent. Merlin, what if someone—”

“Wh’?” It took Harry a few tries to squint both his eyes open from under a frown, to understand Draco meant that he was naked and that the balcony overlooked the lit boulevard. Draco — shirtless in his cotton pyjama bottoms — was, apparently, perfectly acceptable. Harry huffed, held out his hand, said,

“Then c’m’ere.”

Draco looked at the hand for a moment that, to Harry’s woozy mind, felt impossibly long. But take it he did, and step toward Harry — he did. Harry swayed again, shuddering at the gust of hot night air, coming to lean against Draco.

“You’re cold,” Draco said, a touch to Harry’s shoulder. “It’s — Merlin, it’s freezing in here, why’s it—”

“Charms,” Harry mumbled. Then helpfully added, “Door.”

Draco called down the charms with a gesture and a whisper, and the room fell into a silence. Harry hadn’t realised there had been a hum of magic until it was gone. Heat enveloped them as quick as rising water, and Harry shuddered again — relaxing. He breathed, his skin warming. His fingers were loosely laced through Draco’s, his eyes shut against Draco’s shoulder.

“What,” Harry tried, paused. He swallowed the sleep from his throat. “What time d’you . . . h’ve to . . .”

“Eight. First lecture.”

“Mm. C’m to bed.”

They didn’t move. Draco’s breath was cool on his neck. Harry thought he could fall right back asleep, right there on his feet. Right there in the lovely heat of the night, leaning against Draco.

“Are you falling asleep?” Draco asked, voice low and warm, and Harry huffed a laugh. He mustered all his strength to lift his head from Draco’s shoulder. He kissed him, a slow and clumsy drag of lips.

Draco kissed him back, holding Harry by the waist.

They went back to bed. Draco crawled in close behind him, mumbled something to his neck that Harry didn’t catch, and Harry reached back to hold him in turn — turned his head for a kiss. He fell asleep like that, with Draco’s soft puff of a laugh to the corner of his mouth.

Harry woke up again right at dawn, the heat of the day creeping in fast and thick. He had every intention of waking Draco up to turn up the cooling charms again, but instead got distracted by Draco’s sleepy confusion. By the soft tilt of his mouth — by how bright the grey of his eyes seemed at this hour, behind the mesh of his lashes. They ended up fucking quiet and slow, Draco cradled back against Harry’s chest — one of Draco’s hands twisted in the sheets, the other in Harry’s hair. Toward the end their movements got frantic, and Harry flipped them down into the mattress, made Draco come rutting into the sheets, Harry’s teeth nipping at the soft of his neck.

“We’re so good at this,” Harry said, later, in the quiet cocoon of early morning. It wasn’t so much of a surprise as a statement, a proud one. He’d cleaned them, this time. Brought a washcloth from the bathroom. Brought Draco a glass of water, from which he’d drank and then given it back to Harry to put on the nightstand.

“Good at what,” Draco said, not asked, muffled against Harry’s chest. The sun was carefully inching its way up into the room, casting a shaft of light through the curtains, through the arch, in a sharp line across the foot of the bed.

“This,” Harry said, dipping his fingers from where they sat — low on Draco’s spine — to the crevice between his buttocks. Stroking. Draco was still slick, puffy. He gasped, hips twitching — then hid his face against the dip between Harry’s armpit and shoulder. He was blushing.

“You’re so embarrassing,” he said, abashed, but still moved into the touch, seeking. He moaned softly, rocking down on the tip of Harry’s finger. And then, when they’d wound themselves up again — when they hissed, breathless, into each other’s mouths and Harry insisted that they were too sore, and Draco insisted that they needed to sleep — when they pulled and rolled close anyway, hungry — when Draco came riding Harry’s thigh, riding three fingers, and then jerked Harry to completion, murmuring endearments to his ear, things that made Harry flush a bright red down his cheeks —

Then, with an exhausted groan, Draco called them both bloody teenagers, foolish ones at that, and said that he hadn’t been this bloody randy since—

“Since?” Harry asked, amused, when Draco trailed off. But Draco didn’t answer. When Harry opened his eyes to look at him, though, Draco’s gaze was elsewhere. Distant. Harry supposed he could figure out where he’d gone. He could recall, all too easily, a nineteen-year-old Draco, frightened in his sorting-hat pyjamas, climbing into Harry’s lap. Unbidden, a thought bubbled to the surface, one that Harry hadn’t let himself consider before. Had he been Draco’s first, he wondered? Had anyone shown him what it meant to be touched, before Harry?

It took long minutes of kissing into Draco’s mouth to settle the heavy beat of his heart. For Draco to open up again, for his frown to lift, for his jaw to go slack and for his hands to clutch — insistent — at the nape of Harry’s neck.

Chapter Text

Harry couldn’t exactly recall Draco leaving. He remembered the bed being empty at some point, remembered waking up for a muddled second when Draco was fumbling with the cooling charms in the anteroom. Remembered the sound of the shower, and then a fraction of a moment when Draco — damp-haired and dressed and smelling dizzyingly good — had leaned in to kiss him on the mouth, three times in a row. He’d said something, laughing, and Harry had held on to his unbuttoned waistcoat, had tried to drag him back into bed. He couldn’t recall the door opening, closing. And when he woke up properly, he didn’t quite know how long ago that had been — for how long he’d slept.

It was near midday, the bedside clock told him. The sun had crawled from the foot of the bed to its head, a warm stroke across Harry’s chest. The sheets had wrapped themselves around his legs. He stretched out, popped his joints, ran a hand over himself. Grunted at the soreness, laughed at how good it felt. He blinked the sleep from his eyes, blinked at the bed, at the scene of their frantic coupling. The rumpled sheets, the pillows that had ended up on the floor. Harry’s clothes had been neatly folded, draped over the back of a chair. Harry wasn’t sure why that, of all things, made something flip at the pit of his stomach — a missed step at the bottom of a staircase — made him blush, deeply, all over.

Instantly and irrationally, he was annoyed that Draco wasn’t there. I’ve missed you, Harry had told him the previous night — had whispered it into the hollow of his hip — and Draco had echoed it. Harry wasn’t sure what they’d meant, only that he felt that now, too, sitting upright in the empty bed — breathing in the hot day, the smell of soap from the open door of the ensuite.

He showered, scrubbed himself down. His cock was still sensitive and this made him laugh, incredulous, under the stream of water, tilting his head back. Randy teenagers, Draco had called them, and he’d been right. He couldn’t remember a night like that, not ever — not with Ginny, not even in the early days with Hannah. And if his brief coming together with Lowe had been a race, then this was something else altogether. More akin to catching up, to slowing down. More akin to thirst, to falling knee-first at the banks of a flooding wadi.

While Harry was having his breakfast at lunchtime his heart started beating fast and wouldn’t stop. He drank two coffees and tore off a little bit of bread, and then couldn’t manage much more. He went for a walk down the boulevard, sweating, and sat on a bench overlooking the river for a while. Cruise ships came by, little sailboats and the occasional motor-powered one, puffing blue smoke over the surface of the water. He replayed the night to himself in fragments. He worried at it, worried that perhaps he’d been too careless — too forceful — or perhaps he’d not said enough, not shown himself enough. He wondered at Draco getting out of bed, at the small moments when Harry had found him in thought or frowning.

Harry wiped his face with the hem of his shirt. He bought a bag of pistachios from a vendor who insisted he still had to pay for last week’s purchase — which Harry did, unfocused and hot in the afternoon sun. He ate them under a tree in a small little park, cracking the nuts and watching two old men play shesh besh nearby.

He’d gotten it in his head that Draco’s lectures ended at three. But back at the hotel, on inspecting the itinerary, he realised he’d been off by an hour and thought he might just about lose it — might just about drive himself round the bend waiting for another hour, thinking and worrying and arguing with himself. He went down to the pool and swam furious laps back and forth — pushing himself off the end of the pool each time he reached the wall, turning, retracing the same path, over and over.

That’s where Draco found him. In his neat outfit, waistcoat buttoned up. His jacket was folded over the crook of his arm. He looked like the hot day hadn't even reached him — not a drop of sweat. Not a hair out of place. Harry wasn’t sure how long he’d stood there, watching Harry from the edge of the pool. The water reflected up at the glass dome and threw wavy light all across the hall.

Draco looked like he wanted to say something clever, his mouth working for a second — but instead, all that came out was an echoing: “There you are.”

Harry bobbed by the water end, pushing his hair from his face. Wiping the water from his eyes. “You’re back,” he said, just as nonsensical, looking up at Draco.

“Yes, well. We had the final lecture at two, but then everyone insisted on lunch, and it took a while to organise the group into movement and pick a place and . . .” he trailed off, watching Harry hoist himself out of the water. His gaze dropped several times over, as though he couldn’t help himself, eyes dark and hungry over Harry’s body.

Harry’s stomach bottomed out in response. Hoarse, trying to talk through the thick trudge of his rising desire, Harry asked, “How was it?”

Draco’s eyes snapped back up. “The—? Fine, lovely. Fascinating. Long-winded, rather, some keynotes, but I—”

“How are you?” Harry interrupted. He didn’t care about the conference. “Are you — okay? Sore?”

“Good Lord,” Draco whispered, looking away quickly — blushing.

Harry stepped closer. “I — just. I really enjoyed last night.” And then, with his brash heart thumping loudly and his brash mouth running away from him, “Did you?”

“Did I—!” Draco’s eyes widened at the spot he was looking at — still to the side, still away from Harry. He glanced up, briefly, then added a forced and quiet, “Must we discuss these matters in public?”

In public. Harry looked around them — the pool was empty. He stepped closer, standing at a hand’s remove, water running from his hair down his shoulders, his chest. “I’ve been thinking about it all day,” he said, low in the small space between them. “Been walking into walls thinking about it.”

Draco turned to him on a sigh — a shuddering breath, high in the throat. Harry tilted up, their noses almost touching.

“I knew you’d be like this,” Draco said.

“Like what?”

“Maddening.” And then, lower, an honest afterthought: “Bare.”

Harry brushed their lips together. Barely a touch, a shared breath. Draco had been drinking aniseed lemonade and smelled sweet with it. “Let’s go upstairs, yeah?” Harry said, the words thick in his throat.

Draco repeated the movement, brushed their lips together. “I—” He stuttered an exhale. “I need to prepare. For tomorrow. My — keynote, it’s . . .”

Harry touched his fingers to the back of Draco’s hand. “I’ll help,” he said.

Draco whispered an admonishing, “You’ll distract,” but when it came down to it didn’t tell Harry to leave when he followed Draco into his room. Didn’t complain when Harry perched himself on the settee, wearing one of Draco’s house robes. He simply sat at the desk, muttering the outline of his lecture to himself, and blushed prettily down the back of his neck.

Harry picked up one of Draco’s newspapers from the coffee table and read, distracted, through the headlines. French Goblin stocks up by 2%. The Bulgarian Ministry on the verge of a shut-down due to a split in the house over new Apparition legislation. An outbreak of skirmishes along the borders of the Latvian mer-regions. Draco had done his hair up in a quick plait. Harry wanted to undo it. Wanted to put his face into the warm nook behind Draco’s ear, inhale.

After about an hour of this — of Harry glancing from his paper to the back of Draco’s head, of fantasising wildly and then trying to calm himself down — Draco got up from his chair and began to read aloud his paper to Harry. He halted his own sentences, reworked them, paced as he talked, and Harry nodded, grinning, understanding little but happy for the chance of getting to listen — getting to watch Draco’s jittery nerves, his babble, his exaggerated manner of introducing an argument.

“Therefore,” he announced, waving about with his papers, “I propose that solid-based potions of the Veerventum school of build could, as per evidence, be introduced into the—”

“Amazing,” Harry said, breathlessly, a good while later — a shirtless Draco in his lap, sucking a hard kiss to the side of Harry’s neck. “Genius. Life-changing. Best — ah — potion I’ve ever heard.”

Draco pulled back, blurry-eyed and frowning, mouth swollen. “Best potion you’ve—?”

“Whatever,” Harry laughed into his mouth, laughed more at Draco’s annoyed nip, and sank his hands into Draco’s hair. He pulled at the pin holding it together, tossed it to the table. Raked his fingers through the loosening plait, holding Draco by a handful of his hair, deepening the kiss.

Draco rode him on the settee. He guided Harry’s cock into him with a sure hand — then set in a maddening pace, rolling his hips down hard and fast.

“Say what you said before,” he panted, on the verge, wet to Harry’s mouth.

“What I said before?” Harry repeated, stupid and overwhelmed.

“Last night,” Draco said, arching into the next roll, keening from the back of his throat. “What you called me.”

Harry licked Draco’s Adam’s apple. Bit at a tendon. “Darling,” he told the hollow of Draco’s throat. “My — ah, darling. Fucking beautiful, fuck, I—”

Draco sobbed, came into Harry’s hand, clenched tight around him. Harry followed quickly, and the distant sounds from the river floated in on a breeze. An argument, a woman’s laughter. A dog, somewhere, barking.

“Amazing,” Harry whispered again, a while later, kissing the line of Draco’s jaw. His cheek, over his closed eyes. “Genius. Life-changing.”

Draco laughed, exhausted, and dropped his forehead to Harry’s shoulder.

***

Harry attended Draco’s lecture the next day. It was in an old government building that had been co-opted by the educational chapter of the Luxor Potioneering Community and rebuilt for that purpose: labs on the first and second floors, and general classrooms on the third. The keynotes were held in a conference room that seemed to have been decorated in the early 80s and not touched since. Harry sat in the back row, next to a nervous undergrad who’d tagged along with a professor. She asked him, while everyone was still rummaging in their seats — mumbling good mornings — which department he was with. Harry gave a single chuckle, a little abashed, and said,

“No department. I—” He faltered, went with, “Garden. I’m with, ah . . .” he pointed at Draco, who was shuffling with his notes up on the dais, talking to himself. “He’s speaking today.”

“Oh my god,” she whispered. “On the solids theory in dermapotions? That’s — that’s the reason I’m here.

“Oh. Okay. That’s . . .” Harry nodded, taken aback. “Nice?”

Harry could tell that Draco was nervous by the fact that he was speaking a hundred miles an hour. Other than that, nothing much gave him away: he rattled off his paper by heart with his usual authority, his removed kind of charm. He kept his reading glasses on for the talk, peered over them at the crowd — let a few moments of silence stretch to glance down at his paper — took a sip of water. There were jokes peppered in there, nothing that Harry understood (“—I would’ve explored the theme further, but in fear of repeating the case of Bills & Madison, I refrained from doing such”), but which received a good smattering of laughter from the audience.

People were taking notes, appeared involved. Although he couldn’t tell a good lecture from a bad one, Harry couldn’t help but feel that Draco must be exceptionally talented at what he did — he was convinced of it, saw it in the way Draco held himself on the small stage, the way a smile played at the corner of his mouth when he talked, the way he put his fingers to the frame of his glasses when pausing. It distracted Harry, too, and he kept on having to pull himself back from the memory of the previous evening — from lingering on the memory of Draco, shirtless against the back of the couch, eating. He’d had food brought up to the room, and had ranted about a speaker he’d disagreed with that day. He’d criticised the consistency of the bread through a mouthful of bread, had complained about the cooling-charm network of the hotel, how it was constantly too hot or too cold and how they were sure to catch their death before the week was out.

Harry had recognised the babbling mood as sheer nerves, had pointed out as much, and in answer had been banished to his own room for the night — though Draco had insisted it was only because Harry was a constant and sore distraction and that he needed to prepare in earnest, for the love of Circe. Harry had sulked in his room for a while, then had taken to the balcony, where he could hear Draco’s rehearsals through the open door, mixing in with the song of the evening prayers.

In the end, however, Draco had been all bluster, and before an hour had passed he’d knocked on Harry’s door — a short and somehow dignified three-beat. Harry had answered, grinning, toothbrush in his mouth.

“Oh, shut up,” Draco had said. He’d waltzed into the room and deposited himself onto Harry’s bed with excessive dramatics — as though Harry had twisted his arm for it, had driven a hard bargain. He had waited, all grace, for Harry to finish his evening routine — to spit into the sink, wash his face — and when Harry had crawled up over him, pushed him further up the bed, Draco had held one pointed finger between them, breaking a kiss, indicating—

“—once! One time. We do this one time and then I must go to sleep, tomorrow will be a very taxing day, I must have my wits about me, and I cannot be—”

He’d ended up on all fours, face pressed to the sheets, moaning one long, uninterrupted note while Harry pounded into him from behind — one hand on Draco’s hip to pull him down onto his cock, one hand splayed over the dip of his spine. Marvelling at the curve of it. The marble beauty of it.

Harry had woken up toward dawn and had found Draco awake in his bed — sitting up against the headboard, reading glasses perched halfway down the arch of his nose, papers in hand, mouthing the lines of his lecture as he read it over once again.

Harry had shuffled over with a half-conscious hmmf, had draped himself over Draco with a possessive arm — had used the soft of Draco’s belly for a pillow.

“Thus, shifting particles in solid-base dermapotions hold much of the same potential,” Draco had told him, had sunk his fingers into Harry’s hair, had pushed it from his face. “As I’m sure you will agree.”

“Mmmm,” had been Harry’s answer, seconds before he’d drifted back to sleep.

The lecture concluded to a good round of applause. A round of questions followed, which Draco answered with determination, taking the next question by pointing at a person and saying, “Yes, off you go.”

He found Harry in the lobby, over by the coffee and tea table. “How was I, how did I do, was it awful,” he rambled in one breath, wide-eyed and a little terrified. He held Harry’s arm in a hard grip.

“What?” Harry said, chewing on a biscuit. “You were brilliant.”

“Oh, I can’t take your word for it, you don’t know what you’re talking about.” Draco let him go, crossed his arms. Leaned back against the table.

“I don’t, now!”

“You spent a full week last month humming the Fizzing Whizbees jingle to yourself. You’re not to be trusted in matters of taste,” Draco said, but there was a smile playing through his words.

“It’s very catchy,” Harry defended. He hooked a finger to the corner of Draco’s trouser pocket, pulled a little. “Hey,” he said. Draco gave him a sidelong glance from under a frown. “You did good. You’re very . . .” Harry searched for the word. For the way to describe how Draco looked, prattling off numbers and facts and analysing potential compositions like it was nothing, like it was as simple as discussing the weather. A word to describe how his eyes went calm while his mind whirred and ticked and worked — a hummingbird, a bumblebee, body still with its wings a blur of movement around it.

“Quick,” is what Harry settled for, and the word did not suffice. It made him want to say more, want to explain, though he was never good at that, could never use his words in the way Draco could. Like an arsenal. Like a touch.

Draco looked at him like Harry might be sitting on a hidden meaning. A scowl at the comma’d edge of his mouth.

“Amazing,” Harry said, in lieu of something better. “Genius. Life-changing.”

Draco huffed a laugh, then laughed properly — once and loud — mouth open to respond just as Mitali found them. She greeted Draco with a quick bundle of words, a yes, and good, good, interesting talk, now—!, and a handful of follow-up questions she hadn’t had the chance to ask.

Harry let their conversation evolve as it would, let it blur out of focus. He poured himself a coffee, poured one for Draco as well, and fit himself to Draco’s side — handing over the steaming cup, face warming when Draco’s hand came to hold him around the waist, distracted but close as he answered Mitali’s questions. His fingers stroked in the absent way they always had. Like touching Harry was an inevitability, something his hands got up to of their own accord.

The break was over. The next lecture would start up soon, and Draco had to return to the conference while Harry was to go about his day. Draco was still half in conversation with Mitali when they said goodbye, and Harry had to get his attention by squeezing his hand, to which Draco responded with a, Hmm? Ah! Yes, I’ll — see you? Yes, at the hotel, yes, sorry, I—

Harry was almost out the door of the building when the fast clacking of dress shoes on marble made him glance back. Draco was flushed and annoyed, catching up to him and saying god damn it, saying god damn it, coming up to Harry and hooking him in with an arm, dragging him to the nearest loo where he bustled them into a cubicle. Where he pushed Harry up against the ramshackle wall and kissed him hard and breathless, sneaking his fingers up under Harry’s shirt, raking over the skin of his stomach.

“Don’t you have to go back?” Harry breathed between kisses, holding Draco close by his collar. Keeping him there with the drag of teeth, pulling at Draco’s lower lip.

“Yeah,” Draco said, as though he hadn’t heard the question at all. Then, processing, “Yes. Fuck. Yes, I do, I—”

After Draco’d left — tearing himself away with a tortured groan and a soft okay, okay, okay — Harry didn’t move from his spot for a long while. He leaned against the partition, head tilted back. He licked his lips, over and over, overcome.

***

Draco stormed into the room, furious in the way that he was — using a display of irritation to mask whatever else he was feeling. He talked fast and clipped, an accusatory finger pointed at Harry, not bothering with unlacing his shoes — kicking them off, shrugging off his jacket, long fingers frantic over his buttons, saying that Harry would, single-handedly, be responsible for ending his academic career before it even began. And to think — to think! — Draco had invited him, out of the kindness of his heart, had arranged for everything, and that Harry only — that he — waltzed around with — not a care in the world and—

“What,” Harry started, confused, eyes flicking over Draco’s quick movements. The room’s cooling charms were off and Harry’d been sitting in his boxers in an armchair, sleepily reading his booklet on Luxor. “What are you—”

Draco cut him off with a sharp, “Shut up.” He pulled off his shirt with a wild gesture, strode over and sank to his knees — pushed Harry’s legs apart.

“Oh god,” Harry managed, just about, when Draco nuzzled him through his pants, letting his breath sink through the fabric, moist and hot and sounding like relief. Sounding like kneeling before Harry was all he’d ever wanted to do. Harry got hard dizzyingly fast, dick twitching, and Draco pushed down the elastic of his boxers — let Harry grow to full hardness in his mouth.

“Oh god,” Harry gasped, one hand in Draco’s hair for purchase — another on the arm of the chair, palm slipping, sweaty. Draco’s mouth was impossibly hot and determined, out to make a point, bobbing, letting the head of Harry’s cock hit the back of his throat, swallowing around it. Harry grunted, surprised, trying not to move too much — not to startle Draco off of him — but Draco hummed, letting his hands slide up over Harry’s thighs, against the grain of his hair.

“Draco,” Harry breathed, awed, and Draco glanced up at him from under his lashes. Coy. Dangerous. He pulled off and held Harry in hand, maintaining eye contact as he licked a flat-tongued stripe up his cock — sucking in the head. He sank back down on him, slow and torturous. One of Draco’s thumbs was on the thin skin where Harry’s hip met his crotch, stroking. Harry came, all too quickly, startled into it — with a strangled noise from the back of his throat. Draco sucked him through it, breathing hard through his nose, and Harry had to swat him away — had to push him off with a voiceless shit, then push him back altogether: onto his heels, then onto his back, on the carpet. He shoved off Draco’s trousers and pants and proceeded to suck him off with the same mad-paced determination Draco had shown him.

Though for all his performed annoyance, for all his furore, Draco held Harry’s head with the softest hands, arching — writhing on the floor, whispering Harry’s name, a sweet litany of, Harry, Harry, ah, Harry, ah, ah, Ha—!

After, Harry caught his breath against the sharp angle of Draco’s hip. He laughed, hoarse and hapless and sort of to himself. He propped up — tapped his hand to Draco’s thigh twice, as though to the flank of a dog, as though to signal a job well done.

“Better?” he asked, voice throaty.

And Draco, with an arm slung miserably over his eyes — his chest heaving — groaned. “No,” he said, ending the word on a huff that might’ve been a laugh, might’ve been a sob.

Harry was nearly forced to hoist him off the floor to get him to the shower. Draco was woeful about it, slow and grudging under Harry’s hands. He rushed through a story about someone having to repeat a question thrice before Draco could comprehend it — did so with excessive gestures while Harry undressed him in the bathroom, the shower already running — and how it was singularly the most embarrassing moment of Draco’s life, by far, more so than the time aunt Penelope had forgotten to lock the door to the loo, and how it was all Harry’s fault.

“My fault, now?” Harry asked, all indulgence, washing Draco’s shoulders with a soapy washcloth. “Enlighten me.”

Draco moved with a voiceless chuckle. “Not enough hours in the day,” he said, solemn. “Not enough days in the week, months in the year, years in—”

Harry pulled him back to lean against his chest, making the spray cascade over them both. He wrapped his arms around Draco’s waist, passed the washcloth over his belly. “Did you distract yourself,” Harry began as Draco relaxed, slumped, “thinking of me?”

Draco’s breath left him in a shudder. He closed his eyes, rested his head to Harry’s cheekbone. Said, quiet enough that Harry might’ve not heard, “I always distract myself thinking of you.”

Harry kissed him, hand stilling on his belly. The kiss tasted of water, of the fog of the shower, and embarrassingly — hotly, still — of their blowjobs, given so hastily and desperately and half on the floor. Draco broke away, eventually, and tucked his face to the shadow under Harry’s jaw.

Harry washed Draco’s arms. Washed his hands, his fingers, one by one, a silly gesture, something he’d never done for anyone. “I mean, there’s just so much of you,” Harry said, wondering aloud, and Draco smiled, slow, said,

“Mmm. I am endless.”

When Draco nudged and turned Harry to soap him in turn, the conversation shifted, shrank a little. Harry didn’t want to know and wanted to know all the same, asked in a small voice that he hoped sounded thoughtful why it was that Monty had gone back to France. Draco took a moment to respond, breathing in deeply, and Harry tilted his head forward — let Draco pass a soapy hand over the back of his neck.

“He was always going to. Eventually. And we had a conversation, you see, where he proposed I come with him, and I, well.” Draco scooped some water, poured it down Harry’s back. “I would not consider.”

Harry hummed, swaying into the touch. Latent jealousy lingered at the edge of his chest, a hollow ache at the very thought of Draco leaving. “Why not?”

“Please,” Draco huffed, derisive, but the bite of it was soothed somewhat by the close press of his hips to the swell of Harry’s buttocks. By his breath on Harry’s shoulder.

“You could’ve,” Harry muttered. “Considered, at least, or asked me, perhaps there could’ve—”

“Oh, it wasn’t just that. It’s—” An annoyed puff of air to Harry’s neck. “He wanted me to — or he would’ve wanted me to — oh, I don’t know. Put up more of a fight, I suppose. Or do it administratively, or—”

More of a fight?” Harry wondered, thinking back to the last year. To standing hunched in a street corner, heaving. To shaking through the nights, to the ugly roil of his stomach each time he watched Draco disappear through the Floo. The tins upon tins of biscuits he’d doled out amongst their friends with an air of mild desperation, unable to hold on. Unable to let himself live with a cupboard full of them. A sad and inadequate apology for something he didn’t have.

Draco rumbled his response to the side of Harry’s throat. His hold tightened, hands slippery on the muscles of Harry’s chest. They ended up rutting together, swaying on their feet, then Harry backed Draco up against a wall — held their cocks together with one hand as they moved, slow as sin. They were in no hurry this time.

The act tugged at one of Harry’s memories. He swallowed down the hitch of Draco’s breath and mumbled to his wet lips, “Ah, just like old times.”

Draco’s reaction to this was strange and frantic and immediate. He pushed Harry away, panted, then pulled him back in, all hands. He kissed him hard and then turned around — pressed his face to the wall, reached back and tugged Harry close, grinding back against him.

“Fuck me,” he said, voice thick, and Harry, confused and aroused and a little worried at the sudden change of pace, held him by his hips and asked if he was—

“—okay? I — did I—?”

“I’m fucking brilliant, Harry, just—” He rolled his hips, gasping when Harry’s erection slipped between his cheeks. “Fuck me. Please, just — ah!

Harry had wrapped a hand around Draco’s cock again and was grinding against him, and it would take another ten minutes of this — of Draco babbling and begging and Harry slowly losing his mind — for Harry to summon the lube. For him to get Draco open and slick for him. His rim was still puffed and irritated from the previous night, and Harry fell to his knees on the hard tile to kiss it first, to lap at it, to soothe it over.

By the time Harry made his way back up, Draco had slipped down the wall, had bent over slightly and was panting into the crook of his arm — babbling, nonsensically, while Harry inched into him. Then he laughed, fucking himself back onto Harry’s cock, a heartfelt relief of, “Yes.” Of, “Fuck. Yes, fuck me, ah, fuck—!”

Harry thought he might go mad for this man. For all this wanting, for all this leaking desire, for all of that and even balls-deep inside him he still ached, still felt each of Draco’s words like a chain of fireworks down his spine. Harry folded himself over Draco, hips snapping hard, and laced their fingers together over the tiled surface. He used his hold on one of Draco’s hands to bring it down to Draco’s own cock, hard and leaking precome in a steady dribble, and together they stroked him until he came. Until he came with a cry, calling Harry love as he had the first time, and Harry flushed all over and came too while Draco was still clenching around him, whimpering, their grinding movements taking a while to come to a slow halt.

The skin of their hands was swollen and wrinkled by the time they got out of the shower. Harry towelled Draco off, dropping small kisses to the curious ends of him: the tip of his shoulder, the peak of his nipple. The handful of scattered moles, secret as they were. Draco bore it all, silent, a hand to the back of Harry’s neck — shivering, shivering in response.

***

The following day was Friday. It meant weekend, it meant no lectures, but — as it so turned out — it also meant that the local Archives were closed for the weekend. They found this out when turning up at the address — standing in front of the closed doors of a small, yellow, sand-blasted government building on the main street of the magical district. Draco rattled the glass doors, annoyed, and a woman on the other side of the glass shook her head at him — tapped her wrist to indicate they were most definitely closed.

“God damn it,” Draco grit out, disproportionally upset, Harry thought, and Harry eased him from the doors — shrugged at the woman, holding a hand up in apology. It was just then when another woman, younger, passed by the entryway and noticed Harry and Draco over the shoulder of her colleague. She threw her hands up in either delight or exasperation, came to the doors, talked to her colleague quickly and animatedly — shaking her head, and eventually unlocked the doors, letting them in. Out of the heat, into the cool.

She started talking quick and lively, ushering them in. Over the static of the translation charms, Harry made out blurry sentences as she slapped his face, friendly, saying, “Ach you look good, you donkey,” and, “Who’s the white friend this time?” And a string of guesses. “Fin? French? Danish?”

“British,” Draco answered for him, one eyebrow up as they walked along with her further into the building.

“Ah, uh, pardon me! Diagon Alley! Uh!” was her impression of a British wizard, but she laughed as she said it, clapping Draco’s arm, then switching to English — seemingly for Draco’s sake, though she was looking at Harry. “What’s it this time, Massy? Ten minutes I give you, ten minutes,” she added, not waiting for an answer. “Ya ‘eini I swear last time you got me in so much trouble, I—” Her colleague called back to her from down the hall, a loud Aisha! She tsk’d, stopped mid-step. Pointed a strong finger at Harry, said, “Ten minutes, Massy . I come get you in ten minutes.”

Harry nodded, flustered. Aisha began walking toward the entrance, then turned mid-step, walked backwards and asked,

“How’s auntie?”

Harry opened his mouth. Didn’t know what to answer. Gave an awkward thumbs-up.

She gave him a weird look, called him a donkey, again, under her breath, then set in a quick jog when her name was shouted once more across the hall.

“Well,” Draco said a moment later, turning to Harry — his face serious over an obvious attempt to hide a smile. “Lead the way, Massy.”

“I—” Harry looked around them, confused, having no idea where to go. Unsure how they’d even got in, why, or what they were looking for.

“I’m jesting, you donkey,” Draco said, and grabbed him by the arm. He dragged him along in a specific direction, down a hallway to the right by a row of tall windows, and Harry spluttered, wondered — all in disbelieving, hushed tones — how Draco could possibly know where to go. Draco just glanced up at the signs they were passing under, arrows pointing the way to different collections.

“Ah,” Harry said, flat.

“Ah!” Draco repeated in mock surprise.

The local genealogies collection was a four-metre shelf in a back room with no windows. Harry couldn’t read Arabic script, and so he left Draco to mumble his way down the aisle, fingers on the spines of books, looking for the zayn for Zahar. Harry kept on the lookout, half hanging out of the room, half leaning against the doorway, twirling his wand between his fingers. Outside, the hall was sun-lit, dancing with dust motes, and something about that — about making sure no one was coming, about glancing and glancing over at Draco in the darkened room, hunched over a book — reminded Harry of Hogwarts. Of sixth year, of long days in the library, of watching the dot of Draco’s name walking in endless circles in the Slytherin common room.

“We’re not having sex in the archives,” Draco said, not even looking up. He must’ve felt Harry’s gaze on him, hot and heavy and unthinking.

“Why not?” Harry meant for it to sound playful, but it came out hoarser than expected. Low.

“Will not dignify that with an answer,” Draco mumbled at the book as he turned page upon page. Harry smiled, feeling slow and languid, feeling muddled in the way he was — these days — around Draco, and kept his gaze on him. He watched Draco’s fingers on the parchment, watched the way his hair fell forward and brushed his jaw. Watched the jut of his lower lip, which Harry had spent a spectacular hour kissing that morning, biting, sucking.

“Oh, hello!” Draco exclaimed at the book, then gestured at Harry, told him to get his brief bag for him — to bring him his notebook. It was the notebook Harry had gotten him for his birthday, and it was already — Harry noticed — one-third full of scribbles.

“I think this is Amsu’s father,” Draco said, as though explaining something to Harry, while copying the script from the book — though in a clunkier, unpracticed hand, awkwardly connecting the letters. “Or her — uncle? It seems — a civil servant, someone was, and . . . Ah! An address — I think it’s not too far, this, if I recall my geography, and I do, surely I do, now is this — I think that’s a—”

He’d managed a full page by the time Aisha came to shoo them away, speaking fast, switching between Arabic and English. Her colleague, it appeared — new girl, ya ‘eini — had called the supervisor — on yom’ah, ya ‘eini! — to tell him that Aisha had let someone in on a Friday.

“As to be expected,” she announced, shoving the two of them out a back-door exit that opened up into an alleyway between the Archival building and the bank, “Massy gets me into trouble. Send my love to auntie, you donkey.”

And with that, she closed the door behind them.

***

Lunch was had in the company of a few of the other potioneers, amongst whom were Mitali and her wife, who’d come from a conference of her own and was joining for the last days. Harry was sat next to her and Draco, and while Draco entertained a conversation with someone to the other side of him — a distracted hand resting lazily over Harry’s thigh — Harry told Mitali and her wife about their earlier adventure.

The two seemed fascinated by it; not so much by the accidental trespassing of a government-owned building, but by the idea of Harry’s forgotten family line — of finding a lost history. Mitali insisted on reading Draco’s notes. This, eventually, dragged Draco out of his conversation as well, and then the four of them huddled over the table as Mitali’s wife — a native speaker as well as a teacher, and therefore trained in deciphering the most garbled of handwritings — read to Harry an odd list of detached footnotes to his family history. Wove them into a narrative.

His great-great-great grandfather — Amsu’s father — had been the mayor of a small wizarding village near Luxor. He and his wife had had Amsu quite late in life. She’d died in childbirth, and he himself had taken ill when Amsu was ten. Amsu had spent her teens taking care of him. He’d passed when she turned nineteen. It was that same year that she’d taken a boat up to Cairo and a Portkey to London. She’d never come back.

Harry sat while the group around him babbled excitedly, trying to figure out the exact timeline of Amsu Zahar’s life — no, you see, she married Samuel in 1915, so that must’ve been — while something about his heart twisted. He glanced over the balustrade of the terrace, looked at the Nile glinting in the distance, and thought, flatly—

Ninety years.

Ninety years since she’d left her home behind, travelling up those same waters. Ninety years since her kin had last set foot on these sands. Had she been here, he wondered vaguely. Had she walked the boulevard with her father as a child? Had she visited the souk? Had she bought warm, warm sunflower seeds in a bag?

He put a hand over Draco’s where it still sat, secure, on his leg. Squeezed. Draco paused mid-sentence, looked up, and understood something Harry hadn’t known how to put into words. His mouth thinned and he took Harry’s hand, laced their fingers together, and excused them from the company quickly and politely and with an air of authority that Harry felt down to his core.

It was only back in Draco’s room that Harry felt foolish. He’d exaggerated, he felt, made a big deal out of — nothing, really. A story, a tale of a person removed from him by a century, the thinnest of connections. He sat on the edge of the bed while Draco poured him a drink from the wet bar, hands feeling empty and clumsy in his lap.

“Back at the Manor,” Draco began, his back to Harry, shaking the gimlet with a clattering of ice cubes, “In the main hall, on the back wall, there was a portrait. French side, Malfoy, of course. Several generations were collected in that frame, only an official member of the house could enter the canvas, and so — you had my grandfather, who in life I mostly remember farting in a gin-induced sleep in the sunroom. His father, and his father, and a few others who . . .” He waved off the rest of the sentence as insignificant. “And whenever there were — say, children, of other — adults, whatnot — visiting the Manor, I would show them around, as father and mother insisted I did, and as we got to the portrait I would pull the levy for the curtains and say, Behold! Sanctimonia Vincet Semper. Purity will always conquer.” He glanced at Harry over his shoulder, a wry smile on his lips, and turned back to pour their drinks through a sieve. “And then, all of six, seven, eight years old, I would announce — and when I come to pass, I too shall be immortalised in the family portrait.” He laughed, a puff of a sound, and walked to the bed with the drinks in hand. Gave one to Harry.

Harry accepted it, throat dry. He asked, “Isn’t it a bit early?” sounding thin, far-away.

Draco made a noise like they were both in on a joke. “Right,” he said, took a sip of his drink, then sat down — not on the bed next to Harry, but on the floor. His back to the edge of the bed, his shoulder to Harry’s leg. “And then, of course, the war happened. And then father passed. He hadn’t — there hadn’t been time, you see. For him to sit for a portrait. No time, then no one to paint it, and, well. You know the story.”

Harry’s heart hammered in his chest. They’d never spoken of Lucius’ life quite this outwardly. Only that once, when Draco had told him how his father had died. Heart attack. Upstairs study. It’d been four years, now.

Draco played with the hem of Harry’s trousers. Folded it up, neatly. Folded it again. “And so father never joined the family portrait. And the portrait, for all I know, has been destroyed or has crumbled or is still there, a handful of old men staring out into nothingness, day in, day out.”

“Draco,” Harry said. And in lieu of following the word with something stupid, he combed his fingers into Draco’s hair, from his temple to his nape.

Draco turned into the touch. His eyes were closed. “I am glad,” he said, sounding fiercely certain. “I am glad not to be bound to that — not to be—” He swallowed. “I am glad to be my own man. But . . . I wonder, sometimes. What was the last thing he saw? Sitting at his desk, writing a letter. Was it the parchment? The quill? Did he look up, out the window? At the portrait of mother and me? He had one hanging over the fireplace. I’d been but a babe when they had it painted. They’d dressed me all in white. I look like a ghost. A doll. I don’t move, you know, in that portrait. Not even as a babe. I just . . . blink. Stare out. Well-behaved, mother used to call it. I . . .” He faltered, losing his train of thought. He cleared his throat, looked down. Took a sip of his drink. “What I mean to say is,” he said. “All I mean to say is — we carry them with us. Family. Whether we like it or not. Lightly, or heavily, but — carry them we do. Sometimes across generations.”

Harry let himself slide off the edge of the bed and came to sit next to Draco. He took a sip, too, then put his drink on the floor. Sighed. “When I first learned to cast a Patronus,” he told Draco, folding down the hems of his trousers again. With his knees up, they’d ended up halfway up his shins. “I used to think of my parents. Just — a fantasy, I suppose, not a memory? I’d just think about what it’d have been like, to have them. To . . . have them. And it worked. For years, that was — yeah. How I . . . every Patronus. But then, after the war, it stopped working.”

Draco leaned back. Looked at him. He seemed hesitant, spots of colour on his cheeks. “How so?”

“After the war, well . . .” Harry shrugged. “Wanting things I couldn’t have became a sadness in its own.”

Draco closed his eyes. His jaw worked, his blush deepened.

Harry looked down, away. He took another fortifying sip of his drink. He felt the alcohol work hot and soothing over his nerves, over the slump of his shoulders. He was an ungainly mix of sentiments, of thoughts that bloomed out of nowhere and made no sense. Of a desire to reach out, as well as a need to crawl into himself and see if sense could be made in the quiet of his own heart. But there was no quiet to be found there, either: just a room turned upside down by a wild-beating storm of sharp memories and an age-old longing, humming away.

“My memory was of mother,” Draco said, a heavy moment later. “When I tried to — conjure. Never managed, mind, but — when I came closest.”

Harry swirled the ice in his glass. It made a sound like laughter. “What was it?” he asked, quiet enough so that Draco could choose not to answer if he didn’t want to.

“She taught me how to dance. I was six. Oh, in jest, of course — not properly. But . . . she had me stand on her shoes. I came up to her waist, barely. She waltzed me around the ballroom so I could feel the steps.” Draco’s smile grew, brief and shaky, before shrinking down again. “One, two, three, one, two, three . . .” He nodded to the imaginary beat, humming a waltz.

Harry dropped his head to Draco’s shoulder. Draco continued humming, shaping the melody into a specific waltz he favoured, and pressed his heated cheek to Harry’s forehead. He turned, brushed his lips to the line of Harry’s hair.

Outside, the early evening prayer sounded, echoing back and forth across the boulevard.

***

On Saturday they Apparated to the small town, the wizarding qarya where the Zahar family had once lived. It looked deserted. The old well that stood in the centre of the square seemed, upon inspection, dried up. There were small, white-bricked homes crumbling in on themselves under the shade of palms, and a few larger buildings that still stood proud — leaning on pillars and arches, walls inlaid with tiles and latticework. A small stream ran down a groove in the cobbled ground, down from an elevated street.

They followed the stream up, the sun bright in their eyes. Harry worried that Draco would burn, and though Draco again insisted that he wouldn’t — slathered in potions, I say! —  though the village didn’t have the same shade as the city, and the skin of his cheeks seemed to be pinking quickly.

Three chickens came running down the narrow alleyway, babbling furiously. Draco jumped out of the way, and Harry was a moment too late, stumbling, laughing. Draco exclaimed a shocked, “Excuse me!” at the birds as they hurtled farther down the street. They clambered on, up and up, and Harry held on to the back of Draco’s shirt for grounding.

The old mayor’s house they found at the top of the hill. It had once been a large, impressive building — that much was clear. There was a low wall surrounding it, and while the left wing had collapsed, the right remained: several stories high, showing the arches of its balconies and glimpses of mosaics that had once marked the pathway into the inner courtyard. Several overgrown olive and palm trees had reached out and through the windows, through the domed roof. There was no way in — the entryway had caved, and palm bushes blocked the entrance.

In a strange, twisted way, it reminded Harry of the first time he’d seen Godric’s Hollow.

“Well,” Draco said, and began strutting about in his regular fashion: hands folded behind his back, prodding at things, inspecting plants, shaking the dust from his fingers like he hadn’t expected them to get dirty.

Harry turned, looking out over the roofs of the village. Was there any magic left here, he wondered. Surely magic didn’t just leave a place. Surely it lingered, if not eroded a little, as would a name carved into stone. As would a heart etched into the bark of a tree.

“Harry,” Draco called, sounding curious. “Come here. See this.”

Harry came, arm up to shield his eyes from the sun. Draco had found something on the wall, a plaster plaque embedded into its surface. He had used the leaf of a frond to wipe away the dust, to show the lettering beneath — an etched drawing. A blurry, worn image, something with wings. A crest, Harry realised, putting his fingers to it.

Magic, faint and old and barely there, marvelled under his touch.

“What . . .” Harry ran his fingers over the words again. “Can you read it?”

“Mm. This, here, is certainly the family’s name, but . . .” Draco bent, frowned, blew away some of the dust. “The crest. Something about — forgotten? Slow? This here, this word — that’s heart, I think, but I—”

“Oh,” Harry said, remembering. He reached for Draco’s arm, and Draco straightened, brow furrowed. Harry offered him a small smile and repeated the words he’d kept close since he’d first read them — a soothing memory, a relic. “All hearts,” he said. “All . . . all hearts are fools.” Then, a little faintly, “In love. Remember?”

Draco’s eyes were squinted half shut in the bright light, but through the low cast of his eyelids his irises were a sharp grey, his gaze flicking back and forth over Harry’s eyes. Above them, the desert birds cawed. Somewhere in the distance the chickens babbled. The crickets marked the bass of the day, and the small stream clattered against the cobbles.

“The coin,” Draco said, low. Harry’s hand was still on his arm.

Harry swallowed. He lowered his hand and took a step to look up at the building — at the nearest balcony ledge. “Here,” he said, walking to stand under it. “Give me a leg up, would you?”

“Oh Lord,” was Draco’s response, but he complied, game enough, lacing his hands together for Harry to balance his foot in — to hoist himself up onto the balcony edge. A bit of it crumbled off, and Harry cussed at the same time as Draco exclaimed a loud, Ho! But Harry managed to pull himself up all the way, grunting, sweating, and then throwing a leg over the hot wrought-iron balustrade.

“I’m good!” he called down, laughing, then ducked his way through the broken trellis leading into a room. His smile froze, then shrank — disappeared. The home had been left untouched: there was furniture there, still. A hull of a chair, the remnants of a table. An armoire with the doors off its hinges. As though someone had walked out one day, mid-breakfast, and then never come back, leaving their possessions to rot and rust and forget who they once served.

Which might as well have been the case, for as far as Harry could gather.

His heart aching, Harry walked through the rooms. There was a large solarium in the middle of the house, with a recess for what must’ve once been a shallow pool. There was a garden, too, which he glimpsed at between arches, between windows.

When he found Amsu’s room, he recognised it immediately. There was a skeleton of a bed, a writing desk, a quill in its holder. A window, overlooking the garden, and through it came the branches of an old lemon tree. It was heavy with fruit, yellow jewels dotting the green.

Harry wasn’t sure how long he stood there, only that it had been some time when Draco found him. He came into the room with bits of leaves stuck in his hair, covered in dust, huffing and grunting and—

There you are! Did you not hear me call? Lord, I had to all but mow down a small forest down there — I was convinced you’d fallen through the floor, not that that would be surprising in the least, what with— Oh.”

It took Harry a few tries, his throat working, before he could speak. “It’s her window,” he said, voice thick. “She took it with her.”

Draco took a breath. Came to stand at Harry’s side. A breeze, hot from the desert, passed through the garden, and the lemon tree shook gently, just as it always did under the brush of Harry’s thumb when he would pass it over the coin. When he’d let the weight of it warm in his hand.

Without a word, Draco stepped towards the window. He plucked a lemon, then unsheathed his wand from its holster, flipped it like a pocket knife and made a small blade appear on its tip. He cut the lemon in two and dug a small handkerchief from one of his pockets. Using the tip of the blade, he twisted a few pips from the heart of the fruit and caught them in the kerchief. He flipped the blade back, holstered his wand. Made a small package of the lemon seeds and stuffed it into his breast pocket.

“There,” he said, walking back to Harry, a stern air about him. “Now you shall have your lemon tree.”

It took Harry a little while to comprehend what Draco had done. It took him the duration of their trudge back through the house, Draco’s hand in his determinedly pulling him through the dust. It took the minute they stood outside again, Draco dusting him off, and the second when Draco made to drag Harry onwards — back down the narrow alleyway.

Harry pulled Draco back. Pulled him back and hauled him in, kissing him with a sudden intensity that seemed to startle Draco for a fraction — Harry holding Draco’s face, kissing his upper lip, his bottom one, all through a frown — before he melted into it. Before he let Harry deepen it, answering with a needy sound from the back of his throat, hands coming up to fist at Harry’s shirt.

“We’re not them,” Harry panted against Draco’s lips, hoping Draco would understand what he meant. You’re not her, he wanted to add, thinking back to a lifetime ago — to the attic of the Malfoy Manor. To a heap of forgotten memories of a woman, sad in her solitary love. The letters. The curse. The hum buzzing back and forth between them, barely noticeable to him these days. You’re not her, he wanted to say. And I’m not him.

“All right?” is what he ended up asking in between kisses, and Draco nodded, angling down for more. Harry wasn’t sure he’d heard him. He kissed him lovingly, his thumb resting to the hill below Draco’s eye.

By the time they got back to the hotel, Harry’s mood had expanded — had gone from fierce and a little sentimental to antsy, to frantic, to then not keeping his hands to himself. The image of Draco plucking the lemon and slicing it in two smouldered and looped and wedged itself behind Harry’s heart as he followed Draco around, holding on to the back of his shirt again. First half a step behind, then closer, and then fitting himself fully to Draco’s back, bubbling over with emotion while Draco tried to courteously ask the front-desk person whether any messages had been left for him. None, sir, was the kind and blank-faced answer, even though Harry was making a fool of himself, laughing into Draco’s neck. Gently biting down on the skin there, holding Draco in a loose embrace from behind.

“What’s the matter with you, can’t you wait a—” was, as to be expected, Draco’s hissing admonishment once they’d entered the lift. Harry didn’t let him finish it, coming in close for a kiss and tugging Draco’s shirttails from his trousers. Seeking skin.

He hummed, feeling Draco’s muscles jump under his touch, and thought of the way he had said he always knew what Harry would be like, infatuated and dumb with it. Maddening, had been Draco’s words. Bare.

“I’ll never,” Harry said to the spot behind Draco’s ear, feeling the shiver it provoked, “tire of this.” He laughed, half at himself, at his half-formed confession.

Draco’s grip was tight in Harry’s hair. “God, do you even know what you’re saying,” he said, but let Harry drag him back to the room — let Harry weave his laughter into their kisses, all the lightness he felt at having Draco near. At having him here, with him, carrying a pouch of lemon seeds in his pocket. Harry exaggerated trying to get the door open, exaggerated their stumbling from the wall to the couch, and Draco affected a great bother at Harry’s antics — but his eyes were brimming with mirth when Harry deposited him on the settee for the sake of taking off his shoes. Just then, a soft wind carried the sounds of a street musician from the boulevard — a drumming beat, a lilting song.

“Ah, right on time!” Harry spread his arms, as though he’d planned it all along. He began to shimmy his shoulders to the music, unbuttoning his shirt, lingering on a middle button, making a face.

Draco, looking flushed and rumpled where Harry had sat him down, laughed despite himself — groaned, looked away. “You’re an embarrassment,” he stated, a conclusion. “Truly, I can’t even look at this.”

“Can’t look at what?” Harry proceeded to shuck off his shirt, still shimmying.

Draco shielded his eyes with a hand and a muttered, “Good god.”

Harry laughed and stepped in closer — stepped so that his legs bracketed Draco’s knees. “What?” he said, climbing up on the settee, straddling him. “You don’t like my dancing?”

Draco’s shielding hand dropped, his head rolling back to look up at Harry. “How dare you call that dancing.”

Harry ran his hands down Draco’s shoulders, down his arms. He took hold of his hands, put them to his own hips. “Then teach me.”

Draco’s reply, a rumbled, “You’re beyond help,” came accompanied with a posessive touch: a firm grip on Harry’s hips, bringing them closer together. Harry let himself slide forward, supporting himself on the low backrest. Draco was unmistakably hard under him.

“Mmm.” Harry arched into it, and with a pointed grinding movement he leaned closer and said, “Then teach me something else.”

Draco’s breath hitched. His hands roved from Harry’s hips, up his back, resting under the wings of his shoulders — pulling Harry down. “You’re . . .” he started, breathless and accusing, but never finished his sentence. Harry leaned his forehead to Draco’s, a small sound falling from his lips on the next roll of hips.

“I’m what?” Harry wanted to know. He felt the sweat on his skin under Draco’s hands. He moved his shoulders, pressing into the touch.

“Merlin,” Draco choked out as Harry rolled over him, pushed down hard. “I — can’t. When you’re — god. What do you—”

“What?” Harry licked his lips, picking up speed. He wondered if he could make Draco come, just like this. “What do I want?”

“Hmm,” Draco managed, a high-throated sound, the most reduced Harry had heard him. Outside the music was still playing, and Harry felt the beat of the drum in his bloodstream. Felt his heartbeat in his lips, his stomach, his cock. They hadn’t done this before. Every time they’d come together in those short few days, Harry’s mind would cloud over quickly, and Draco would put Harry’s hands where he wanted them — would chase that desire down until Harry was deep inside of him, cursing and praising him to the heavens and back — and Harry hadn’t yet had the chance to see how else they might fit together. How else they might move, might feel.

“You,” Harry said, and pressed closer. He settled himself heavily on Draco’s erection. He knew the shape of it, intimately. Knew its flush, its width, its weight. The heat of it, heavy in his hand. In his mouth. “Do you?” he asked. He could feel his own breath on Draco’s lips. “Want me?”

“Yes,” Draco answered, a shudder of a word, one immediately chased by a kiss — as though it had been spoken incidentally. Harry tumbled into it all the same, letting his weight fall onto Draco, letting Draco’s hand slip down his body — down and past the loosened waistband of his trousers. Draco grabbed at muscle, at the swell of Harry’s buttocks and Harry keened into the kiss, momentarily broke away to catch himself — to pant wetly against Draco’s mouth.

“Just to be clear,” Harry said, though it was clear enough — Draco’s long fingers brushing ever closer over the crease of his arse. “You’re gonna fuck me, yeah?”

Draco closed his eyes. “This mouth on you,” he whispered, shakily, and then took that mouth — sucked on Harry’s upper lip, bit at his bottom one. One finger skated, a sure gesture, over Harry’s hole. Back and forth, not pushing, not slowing, just — back and forth. Back and forth.

Harry’s cock twitched, trapped against the zip of his trousers — trapped between him and Draco’s stomach. “Fuck,” he said, arching back against Draco’s hands. Draco’s pad of a middle finger caught on the rim. “Fuck, where, ah — here? Floor? Bed?”

Draco’s response sounded tortured. For a moment their movements turned frantic — Draco rubbing his erection up against Harry’s and Harry pushing forward, dragging back, his mouth slipping down over Draco’s cheek — and Harry thought they weren’t going to make it. That they wouldn’t get as far as getting his trousers down, let alone getting Draco inside him, and that very thought — Draco, inside him — made him stutter, made him whine, made him mumble a quick, Bed, bed, bed, into Draco’s mouth.

It was an ungainly journey. Genuine this time, not exaggerated, as they stumbled into the wet bar, sending a glass tumbling onto the carpet. They stumbled into the armoire, too, into the side of the bed, and wouldn’t part for any of it — Harry shucking off his trousers and pants, walking himself out of them, dropping his glasses on the side table. He left Draco’s mouth to crawl back onto the bed, smiling, thrilled, watching a blurry Draco undo his belt, the buttons of his trousers. Watching him push them down, watching his erection bob out and slap, indecently, against his belly.

“God,” Harry breathed, falling back into the pillows — half on one elbow, his other hand reaching out, saying, “So slow, Jesus, come—”

Draco got up on the bed, one knee at a time, and made his way between the V of Harry’s legs. He settled there, all pink skin and fading love bites from their days and nights and long afternoons together. I won’t ever tire of this, Harry had said in a rush of a moment, overflowing, and now searched to see if he’d meant it. He could only find a resounding affirmation, a deep well of it. He didn’t want those marks to fade. He didn’t want those days, bright and hot and languid between them, to pass, to shift into anything else — for them to be anything other than what they were now: stripped down, within reach.

Harry’s breath was shallow and hitched when Draco hooked his hands under his knees and spread him wider. He kept his legs apart while Draco fumbled for the lube, while he pre-empted it all with an open-mouthed kiss to one of Harry’s nipples. To his belly button.

The muscles of Harry’s stomach jumped and he laughed, breathless, at himself.

“Have you,” Draco started asking, two wet fingers behind Harry’s balls, and Harry arched up toward them, cutting off the question with a—

“No, shit, but—”

Harry wasn’t sure how that sentence would’ve ended. No, but it doesn’t matter. No, but I’ve thought about it. No, but I want you to, I want you, I want

Draco was pumping into him with one finger, one knuckle in, and Harry was hot all over. Over-sensitised. Is this all right?, Draco would ask every now and then, lips to Harry’s temple, keeping himself propped over Harry — hovering — and Harry would just nod, breathless, all flush and turmoil. The bluster and humour of the show Harry had given him before — of the fun Draco had made with Harry in his lap — had shrunk down to a small little world between them: a hushed conversation with Draco whispering if Harry could handle more, and Harry saying yes, he thought he could, and then the both of them gasping, clutching at one another when Draco added a second finger. Harry kissed him clumsily, and Draco crooked his fingers, pressed them against his prostate.

Harry couldn’t hold his knees apart anymore. Draco didn’t stop fingering him, but mumbled, slurred and wet against his chin, “D’you wanna turn? It’ll — be easier if—”

Harry shook his head, stroked the backs of his knuckles to Draco’s cheekbone. “Wanna,” he breathed, panting, rolling his hips, “wanna see . . .”

Draco made a low noise of frustration, of lust, and said, “You can. You — can turn back around when—”

He didn’t say when I fuck you. Harry nodded, bleary, and whimpered when Draco’s fingers left him. He turned, feeling exposed, feeling, for all it was worth, adored. This, too, was a foreign sentiment. It made him weak, made him swell. Harry tucked his knees under him, and Draco draped himself over him. He dripped more lube down the crease of his arse with shaky hands, spread it, then sank back in — two fingers. It stretched until it didn’t, made him whine until it didn’t. Draco was messily pressing his face to the back of Harry’s neck, kissing it, kissing Harry’s shoulders, his spine. He was rubbing his cock against one of Harry’s arse cheeks, distracted.

Harry pressed his face into the sheets. He asked for more, muffled, and it took a moment for Draco to hear him — to understand. The next finger had him clutching at the fabric around him, at Draco’s arm — then had him fucking back against it, climbing up that peak of pleasure, seeking.

“Are you ready?” Draco asked, his voice alien — coming from the back of his throat. “God, Harry, are you—”

Harry wasn’t sure how long it took him to answer, a wobbly but blissful, “Yeah,” and again, “Yes.”

Draco’s hips twitched against him. Harry could feel the precome smear on his skin. The fingers were gone — he whined, then sobbed a laugh at himself — and Draco bundled him close, manoeuvred him to his side, slid up so they were chest to chest. Harry pressed close immediately, wanting more skin, rolling up against Draco, their cocks slipping together between their sweaty bodies.

Draco hitched Harry’s knee up, hooked it over his hip. He moved down and lined himself up, cock rubbing against Harry’s slicked-up hole. Harry had his arms around Draco’s neck, hands twisted solid in his hair, faces pressed together — Harry breathing hard against Draco’s cheek — so when Draco said, “Love, I’m—” like it was a question, all Harry needed to do was nod. To breathe in, to open his eyes as Draco inched into him.

Harry held that breath. The room fell quiet, water in his ears. He could feel Draco’s heartbeat racing under his skin — could hear the bass of his own heart thundering, and the Bond, transformed from a once-petty, whining ache to a sore sweetness. To a thing in bloom. Harry puffed a breath against Draco’s lips. Draco pushed in further, taken once more by the shivers. He moaned quietly, one hand holding Harry’s thigh — the other holding him close by the small of his back.

“There,” Harry whispered, impossibly feeling full. Feeling known.

“There,” Draco said it back, and his hips gave a hapless twitch, making them both moan.

“Move,” Harry said, the quiet inside of him fading — sound rushing back, blood pounding, and suddenly all he wanted was— “Move, Draco, just—”

Draco pulled out halfway, pushed back in, and Harry shuddered and used the leverage of his leg up over Draco’s waist to move into the next stroke. Draco made a strangled sound, kissed the corner of Harry’s mouth, and Harry held on, met each thrust of Draco’s hips, puffing, panting through it.

They were too close for their movements to be frantic. They wouldn’t let up, wouldn’t give an inch, and so every roll of their hips was hitching, a little too slow, just an edge off satisfying. Draco tried for words, got as much as, Good?, mumbled into a kiss, and Harry assented, said, So good, and, yeah, and, uhn, fuck, darling, yes, just — just—

The next thrust was harder than the last. Harry’s response was unrestrained, and they ended up with Draco on his back — Harry riding him, grinding down, leaning back on Draco’s thighs until he bottomed out. Draco took him in hand, then, jerked him in an off beat to the pace he was setting.

“Oh god,” Harry said, looking down at Draco, looking at Draco looking at him. He was going to come, felt the overwhelming edge of it creeping in. He tried to slow it but couldn’t — tried to voice it, but couldn’t — and instead he just leaned forward. He caught Draco’s mouth in a kiss, a jumble of lips and tongue and a cry, cresting, falling apart, shivering. Draco stroked him through it, pumping into him, and Harry could feel him trying to slow down, to ease their fucking. He wouldn’t allow for it. Still coming down from his orgasm, he pulled and tugged and rolled them over — Harry back on the sheets with his legs around Draco, arms loose around his shoulders.

“Come on,” he told Draco, rolling his hips, encouraging him. He kissed Draco’s neck. Sucked on his earlobe. “Come on, darling. Come on, come, I know you wanna come, I know you wanna—”

Draco picked up his pace, and a gasp stole the words from Harry’s mouth. Harry’s spent cock gave a weak twitch. Draco ground into him fast and helpless, whispering Harry’s name, calling him love, calling to the gods, saying, “God,” saying, “ah, Harry, ah, I—!”

Yes,” Harry breathed. He held him as he came, kissing his face, his brow, his hair, and then his mouth, long and languid as Draco shuddered, shuddered, his come dripping out of Harry, soaking the sheets.

This time, Draco was the one who dozed while Harry cast a soft cleaning spell. Dozed while Harry left the room for a moment — walking slowly, dully aching — to go by the restaurant, to get them a bowl of chilled peaches which he then set by the bedside. He waited, stretched out on the bed, for Draco to wake up again. He watched him sleep, his heart swelling of its own accord. He closed his eyes, trying to see if it would tamper the feeling. His throat felt tight, something lodged in the back of it, and when he opened his eyes again, Draco was still asleep — mouth open and soft, a glint of teeth behind the wet inside of his lips, the line that went purple when he drank wine. Harry remembered the times he’d seen Draco drink wine. Remembered the times it had made him sharp and mean, the times it had made him flush, made him clumsy. He remembered the time Draco had cooked for Harry and Harry had been taken by surprise. He had left to drink with his friends.

The freckle from last summer was back, a faint little dot high on Draco’s cheekbone.

Draco stirred when Harry leaned close to kiss it. He turned to his other side, grabbing one of Harry’s hands to take with him — wrapping Harry’s arm around himself, tucking it to his chest.

Harry hid his face to the jut of Draco’s spine, to the messy tangle of his hair, and tried to breathe through the tight squeeze of his heart. Breathe through the terrifying space that had appeared, seemingly out of nowhere, and settled behind his chest as though it had always been there. A room of requirement, waiting for someone to call it by its name.

***

Draco ate the peaches out on the balcony. Harry joined him with a drink, straddling the recliner behind him and settling himself down, his chest to Draco’s back. Draco leaned into it, sucking the flesh from a pit and dropping the stone in the bowl. He smelled freshly showered and sweet from the fruit he’d been eating. He smelled like his cologne. His drying hair was tucked behind his ears. Harry, aching and in love, focused on the small, manageable square of his shoulder so as not to take in the whole of him.

Draco held up a peach for Harry to bite into. Harry leaned, bit. Obedient. The juice ran down Draco’s hand, down his wrist. Draco lifted his arm and licked at it.

“Did you and Monty,” Harry started, a moment later, voice deep. “Had you ever . . .”

Draco understood him quickly enough. Sucking the juice from the peach, he answered, “Mm. No. Not like that.”

Harry, instead of answering, pressed his mouth to the join of Draco’s shoulder and watched him eat the peach. He followed the train of thought that started at how Harry hadn’t done what they’d done with anyone before, and how Draco hadn’t either — and ended with that day, that first day after St Mungo’s. That first time Draco had clambered into his lap, shaking and confused, and how quickly they’d both come, frantically rubbing against one another. Harry had left for a shower rather quickly, after. Hadn’t said a word.

Draco dropped another pit in the bowl. Licked his lips.

Harry asked, mouth still pressed against warm skin, “Was I your very first?”

Draco swallowed. He licked his lips again, shifted against Harry. “Does it matter?”

“Yes.”

“Why should it?”

“Because I—” Harry gently wrapped his fingers in the silky tie of Draco’s house robe, hoping he wouldn’t try and leave. “I didn’t handle things very well.”

Draco’s body jerked with a silent laugh. “Neither of us handled it very well, Harry, it wasn’t exactly an optimal situation for—”

“No. No, you — you tried. I remember you tried.”

Draco sighed. When he spoke again it was quiet and annoyed. “It doesn’t matter.”

“It does,” Harry was quick to counter. “It should’ve— Your first, it should—”

“Oh, come off it, no one’s first is ever quite glamorous. So instead of a tryst in one of Filch’s cupboards on the fifth floor I got a grotty couch in the living room of my uncle’s ancestral home. It’s all the same.”

“It’s not,” Harry said, mild, half in thought. “Wait. Was — had — had you been kissed, before? Was that your—”

“Oh for—!” Draco put the bowl on the ground and extricated himself from Harry’s loose hold. Harry watched him rise, rotten with guilt, watched him step off the balcony and into the room, his silk robe fluttering. He swallowed a few times, the heat of Draco’s back still on his skin, and was a little surprised when Draco returned within the minute — this time with a drink in hand.

“First of all,” he said, standing in the doorway, pointing at Harry with his glass. “No, I hadn’t been kissed, but that was purely out of choice and in no way a reflection on my eligibility, I’ll have you know I’d turned down many a kiss as a young adult. Very wanted, very prized, thank you very much.” He was shirtless under his robes, and a breeze passed, pressing the fabric to his skin. Playing through his hair. “Second of all, there’s no need for theatrics, for I barely recall that day at all, it was all a blur and we were both quite unwell. Third, I have had many lovely kisses since, as well as — well. I am in no need of pity, I am perfectly fine, and you need absolutely not—”

“I’m sorry,” Harry said, at the same time as Draco finished with a weak—

“—apologise.”

“Sorry,” Harry repeated, a flutter of a smile. “But I am. I’m sorry.” And then, reaching for Draco’s hand, loosely linking two of their fingers, “I’m sorry, darling.”

Draco looked away. A blush spread down his chest. “Yes, well,” he said, voice unsteady, and took a drink from his tumbler. Harry tugged him down, gently arranged him as they’d sat before. Draco was a little tense, still bristling from the conversation, but he had eased again by the time he was halfway through the drink. He idly stroked Harry’s arms where they looped around him, having started on a ramble about preservation spells and how they affected foods differently depending on the latitude of the place they were used — on the humidity — and how hard it was to recreate consistent preservation across the globe.

In essence, he liked the peaches. He wanted them as nicely chilled at home.

“So,” Harry said, once all the peaches had been eaten. “Tell me about your many lovely kisses.”

“Oh shut up, you donkey.” But he was smiling, chest moving with laughter.

Harry sniffed and burrowed into Draco’s neck, making sounds as though he was a dog picking up on a scent, and Draco grunted and tried to push him away, but not too hard.

“Another one,” Harry said, grinning, softening, pulling him in — turning his head, tipping his chin, “for your list.” He kissed him, a smiling press of lips, and Draco laughed into it, lips moving as he still talked, muffled, saying,

“—embarrassing, every word that comes out of your mouth, I—”

The rest was lost, melted into the kiss. Into a sigh, a hum, into the tentative warmth of tongues brushing in brief — into the loud silence of Harry’s heart, the fool, falling all over itself.

***

Sunday the lectures started up again. Harry woke up at seven together with Draco, insisting that if Draco managed, so should he. But ‘managing’ was a strong word indeed: he fell asleep again in the shower, face-first into Draco’s chest. Useless!, Draco pronounced him, and Harry mumbled a vague, I’m a blanket, wrapping his arms around Draco’s waist.

The second Draco had left, though, Harry shuffled his way right back to bed. He napped, on the edge of sleep, unable to shut out the sounds coming in from outside — the hooting cars, the scooters, the vendors shouting at one another. The day got hotter in the way that had become familiar, in the way that wasn’t comfortable but didn’t quite make him long for the uneasy chill of the hotel’s cooling charms.

The morning won out in the end. He dressed, nicking one of Draco’s button-downs and rolling the sleeves way up over his elbows. He went down onto the terrace for breakfast and drank his coffee with his eyes half closed, sitting at a table near the balustrade, the sun on his face — blearily watching the water move and shimmer in the distance. Mitali’s wife, Sara, found him there. She noted that he looked quite peaceful, and would he mind if she joined him? Of course not, Harry said, and together they sat in amiable enough silence — drinking, eating, waking up.

“Do you often accompany her to these things?” he asked, eventually, just for something to say.

She laughed, shook her head as though the question was too much, and said, “If only you knew! Half our lives, I swear, we live in hotel rooms.” She tsk’d, but smiled, dipping her bread in tomato pulp.

After, she told him she was heading down to the souk for some errands — and would he join her? Unless he had exciting plans for the day, in which case to please disregard her offer. He was quick to ensure her that no, and that he’d love to, and then paused — would they be back before two? And she gave him a look, indulgent and a little exasperated. Of course she knew the lectures were out by two, Harry realised, a little abashed — but she didn’t comment on it, and said naturally they’d be back by then. She only had a few things to fetch, nothing complicated, and it was early still — was it not?

But it seemed that no person had ever just ‘gone to the souk’ and made it back home within an allotted time frame. There was, to begin with, too much to see — especially in the morning of the first day of the week, the vendors setting out their bags of candies and beans, of herbs, of crates of dried and salted fish. Several times over they started a conversation that was meant to be a question — how much for this? — but that ended up being a half-hour discussion on the quality of magically woven rugs versus muggle style. Harry would join in, amused, having no opinion of his own but more than willing to claim a controversial statement (I’m more of a high-pile man, myself) for the sake of the game. Then, tired of the conversation and needing a break, tea had to be had. Harry was herded to a small cafe where — they quickly found out— Masudi had been banned for life, and so a new cafe had to be found. This was followed by a lengthy explanation of who Masudi was, as well as Harry and Draco’s fantastical takes on what life he must lead.

“How long have you two been together?” Sara asked, laughter at his stories still weaving through her words.

“Ah—” Harry didn’t quite have an answer and stumbled over his words. On the other side of the dusty street, a man was sitting outside of his small repair shop, absently looking over a broken wand of a customer and declaring a price.

“Depending,” he said eventually, feeling his cheeks heat. “It’s been a . . . while. In the making.”

“Ah!” She said, nodding. She had that look about her again, the indulgent one. “I see. One of those.”

“Yeah,” Harry said, unable to hold back his smile — to hide the infatuation from his voice. “One of those.”

It was a little past two by the time they trudged back to the hotel, Harry with two handfuls of bags — food, mostly, but also random little trinkets he’d somehow been argued into buying. The two of them were midway into a conversation about the pedagogical approach at Hogwarts when they walked up the winding steps toward the entrance, when they entered the vestibule. Harry spotted the by now familiar collective of potioneers, mulling by the arches, debating one thing or the other. Draco was shaking his head in severe disagreement while his conversational partner slapped his own hand down into his other, emphasising a point.

Harry stilled mid-sentence. He started as though to walk faster, then paused, reeled himself — apologised. The response he got from Sara was a laugh, an exasperated, Oh, go to him, and Harry insisted that no, it was fine. Go to him! he was instructed, again, and this time he did as bid. He smiled quickly, thanked her for the wonderful afternoon, then beelined toward the group in a half jog, slowing himself twice in the process. Draco noticed him, then: first with a distracted sidelong glance, followed by realisation, by Draco looking up in earnest. He left the conversation he was in with an absent gesture, and Harry put the bags down. Walked a few steps, met Draco halfway.

Draco had his hair down, flipped sideways. He hadn’t had the time to fix it that morning. His shirt was not as neatly pressed as usual, and there was a love bite — certainly a love bite — peeking from under his collar.

Harry was suddenly unsure of how to greet him. He swayed slightly forward, back, and Draco’s hand halted in reaching for Harry’s arm.

“Hello,” Draco said. “Good day?”

“Yeah,” Harry answered on a breath. “Yeah, I went — we—”

Draco pinched the fabric of Harry’s shirt, tugged, asked, “Is this mine?”

Harry looked down at himself. “Yes,” he said, and then laughed at Draco’s blushing outrage. He asked Draco whether or not it looked good on him, and Draco said that wasn’t the point. That he should’ve asked, surely, and that the tailoring was far too narrow for his shoulders, and that he was straining the buttons, and—

“It just smelled nice,” was Harry’s counter-argument, to which Draco had no rebuttal. Just a sound, a disbelieving huff, and a glance that lingered on Harry’s mouth. His hand tightened its hold on Harry’s shirt and he tugged — leaned in to quickly peck Harry on the lips. It was dry and sweet and gone just as quickly. Draco blushed brightly and talked over it, cleared his throat — looking back at his colleagues, saying that they were going for lunch, and would Harry come with them, and that they hadn’t had anything but coffee and cookies all day, and that the sugar and caffeine made Herman Jens an especially bothersome conversationalist, and, and . . .

Harry joined them for lunch. He sat next to Draco and let the heat of the day make him mellow, make him slow. Draco’s arm was draped over the back of his chair, his fingers twisted in the curls at the nape of his neck. Harry had put his hand to Draco’s thigh at some point — trying to get his attention for a reason — and had just left it there, his thumb stroking along the seam of his trousers.

“I was thinking about going for a swim later,” he said, quiet in the bubble of their private conversation, all in the midst of the group’s hubbub. “Wanna join?”

“Swimming? Merlin, no,” Draco said, but then joined Harry all the same, ended up lounging by the poolside in his swimming trunks while Harry did his laps. Harry wheedled him to come into the water, called for him with his arms crossed over the edge, asking Draco if he was going to melt, if he was made of sugar. Draco grumbled as he stood — first in general disagreement (nonsense, absolute nonsense, all of—), then in disbelief (I can’t believe I am letting you cajole me into—), and then, as Harry howled with laughter when he tucked his hair into a swimming cap, purely abashed (I — how dare you! How absolutely dare you, Harry Potter, never in my life have I been—!)

Harry pushed himself out of the pool to shove Draco in. He splashed in with a yelp and came above water with a gasp just as Harry jumped in after. The swimming cap had come off, was bobbing somewhere nearby.

“Oh,” Draco exhaled, murder in his eyes. “You’re dead.”

Draco came for him. Harry let himself be caught easily — shoved underwater — then grabbed Draco around the waist and pulled him under. They struggled for a while, pushing at one another, coming up for air, Harry shaking the water from his hair and Draco trying to swim away — laughing, calling him a wet dog. Harry chased after him, grinning half below the surface, a shark. It was Draco who let himself be caught, this time. Let himself be pushed up against the wall of the pool, let himself be kissed, all warmth and chlorine. They ended up fooling around, giggling, using the ease of the water to lift up, to lift closer. They calmed, reluctantly so, when an elderly couple came into the pool hall and slowly helped each other into the water.

Back in their room, Draco got into a mood over having to dry his hair — something about it going brittle, something about the chemicals in the water — but cheered up well enough when Harry sat him on the edge of the bed and blew him slow and sweet, his hands twisted in Harry’s wet hair, his breath caught high in his throat, and Harry humming, eyes closed.

They’d worn themselves out like that, and when heading to bed that night they fell asleep quickly despite all better attempts at staying awake. Draco had been half-hard behind him, sleepily rubbing against his lower back, against the crease of his buttocks, and Harry had rolled back into it, mumbling encouragements the one moment, falling asleep right the next.

They rose before the alarm had gone, Draco making wry fun of the state of them and Harry grumbling, a little confused and not quite awake. He watched from the bathroom doorway as Draco braided his hair, caught his gaze in the mirror.

“Hm?” Draco said, tucking in the end of the plait.

Harry gave a woozy smile, speaking on a half formed thought. “When did you start wearing it like that?”

“What?” Draco smoothed down the sides, inspecting the right — the left. “Don’t you like it?”

“I love it,” Harry said, quiet and happily honest. Draco gave him a wide-eyed look in the mirror, then a scowl to cover up a blush.

“Well,” he said, and washed his hands.

They had breakfast together, and a question about Draco’s hair routine evolved into a conversation on Harry’s lack of grooming, the extent to which seemed to make Draco genuinely mad. You know how to take care of things! he nearly shouted in the quietest of voices, napkin in hand. You grew a bloody garden, you know things need care, you—!

Harry laughed, tears in his eyes, and Draco declared he was leaving, that Harry was too infuriating and that he would never express concern for any matter regarding Harry ever again. But when he returned from the lectures that afternoon he stood in the middle of the anteroom and demanded to be given Harry’s arms for consideration. Harry complied, unable to stop smiling, and let Draco rub a soft salve to his elbows, over his arms.

I can’t believe I have to do this for you, Draco mumbled at least three times over, smoothing down the hairs on Harry’s arm with a hot hand of cream. Harry leaned into him in reply, and kissed the line of his jaw, his neck, said, Thank you, darling. Draco tilted his head on a sigh, his hold loose on Harry’s wrists.

“Tell me about this,” Harry said, early in the evening, two fingers to the scarred skin over Draco’s tattoo. Both of them were lounging in bed. Draco had promised to look over one of his colleagues’ papers and was propped up against the headboard, reading glasses on. Harry had been re-reading the same worn detective he always read — the edges of the paperback curled from times it had gotten wet in his pocket — but had gotten distracted by a shirtless Draco. By the play of muscles on his arms, the scars on him, the smell of him.

Draco let Harry turn his arm over, let him stroke the sensitive skin he found there. He put the papers down.

“It looks more dramatic than it was,” Draco said. “I — acted impulsively. I hadn’t been trained well enough. My potion was — not developed enough. It hurt, though, Merlin help me. Near well passed out.” He made a sound of remembering. “Mother found me. Furious, she was, I tell you.”

The skull was a blurry drawing under Harry’s fingers. A child-like doodle, almost. “When did you do this?”

Draco took a deep breath. “A few years ago.”

Harry looked up in question. Draco read it for what it was, glanced at where Harry touched him, and answered, “That summer. After I moved out.”

Harry ached. Did he remember seeing Draco in any sort of pain back then? Could he have noticed, even if Draco had shown any sign of it?

“What did you . . .” Harry swallowed. “What did you want from it?”

Draco shrugged, a minute motion of his body rather than his shoulders. “I just—” He sighed, tightly. “I had decided I needed it gone.”

“And now?”

“And now,” Draco echoed, a statement. Then, a moment later, “It is what it is. I am what I am.”

Harry let the words close the conversation, letting them play on a loop in his mind as his fingers slipped from Draco’s arm. A flock of pigeons flew by the balcony, throwing a quick shadow over the gauzy curtains. Draco had returned to his papers, and Harry settled on the pillow next to him, regarding him through near-shut eyes. Regarding the arch of his nose, the rise and fall of his chest. The fall of his hair, the strands that the sun had kissed a bright yellow, the hidden tuck at his neck where the blond was a darker, sandy shade. There was a pock mark on the back of the hand he used to flip to the next page — from that one potion accident, Harry knew, the one that had gauzed his hands for a good few days. That was the hand that had fed him slices of oranges on the couch in the low light of a summer evening. The hand that had washed him, had grabbed at him, had steadied him — the hand that had lingered right below the crook of his elbow for years now.

Harry put his paperback face-down on the mattress and fit himself to Draco’s side. He shuffled and Draco moved to accommodate, muttering a small and amused, Am I to be slept on, now, when Harry settled with his nose tucked to Draco’s neck, his leg slung over Draco’s. Draco seemed oblivious to the way the moment had expanded in Harry’s chest, to the way Draco’s warmth and the steady rhythm of his breathing — his fingers idle in Harry’s hair — tugged at Harry’s heart as though to wrench the words from him.

“Are you quite alright?” Draco asked a few minutes later, noticing the shortness of Harry’s breath — the dig of his fingers to Draco’s hip.

Harry nodded, not trusting his voice. He placed a kiss, messily open-mouthed, to Draco’s neck. He felt the stutter of a heartbeat below, the movement of Draco’s throat when he swallowed. Harry dragged his teeth over the skin, sucked at it, and Draco gave a rumbled moan — said, God, let me finish reading. Harry hummed and ignored the request altogether: he kept at it, necking, trying to cover the tightness at the core of him with the heady blanket of lust. It worked, at first: Draco got distracted, papers forgotten and scattered by the foot of the bed, his hand clutching Harry’s face to his neck. He liked it when Harry bit at his earlobe, liked it when he breathed hot — then cold — over his skin. Liked it when Harry sucked the skin into his mouth just a little too hard, just on the edge of pain.

But then Draco worked Harry’s thin pyjama bottoms down, took him in hand, and stroked him while Harry lapped and kissed his neck. It was slow and clumsy, and the quiet simmer of Harry’s emotions bubbled hotly to the surface. He blushed, deep, hid his face to Draco’s neck, fucking into his hand — aching to get closer as much as he was frightened and overwhelmed.

“You close, love?” Draco asked, affectionate and low, and Harry came with a sob — kept on coming, trembling, head swimming. Draco’s skin still smelled of the sun they’d sat in, of his soap, of his heat. His nails to the nape of Harry’s neck felt like an endearment. The brush of his lips to Harry’s ear — a confession.

Harry watched, awed, cheek on Draco’s chest, as Draco jerked himself to a climax, Harry’s name on his lips, hand gently cupping the back of Harry’s neck.

“Will you come home with me?” Harry asked, a little later, still muzzy and slow — dazedly kissing Draco. Their lips stuck together on retreat. The next day would be the last day of the conference. Their Portkey wasn’t due until the day after.

“We’re not going home yet,” Draco said.

“But when we do.”

Draco was silent for a moment. He breathed, swallowed. Then nodded, nose brushing against Harry’s.

***

Masudi was altogether unimpressed with Harry.

It had taken five cousins, two uncles, and a distant relative whose friend was friends with someone to track Masudi down — and yet another long conversation with a landlord to convince him to convince Masudi to come out of his apartment. Or so it was explained to Harry, several versions of the story told all at once as he sat out on the terrace surrounded by the small band of enthusiasts who he’d met over the past week. Two of Draco’s colleagues, a handful of people who worked at the hotel, Sara, and the man who sold pistachios out by the river.

Masudi sat opposite him. He took his coffee extra sweet, and drank it in quick, loud sips. He was a loose-limbed and unnervingly cool version of Harry. No glasses. His family talked and talked and he looked bored. He’d checked his wand for the time twice since he’d sat.

When the story of how they’d got him to the hotel ran its course, each person’s tangent tapering off at a different speed, an expectant silence fell over the table. One of his aunts took a breath, said,

“Well!” and gestured between them.

“Well,” Harry said, nodding.

Masudi wore his hair slicked back. He seemed bothered that Harry didn’t. He kept looking at Harry’s hairline. “I don’t see it,” he said after a long pause, and the small crowd groaned in unison, arguing in return. Someone pushed Harry’s hair back to show what he’d look like with it slicked back. Someone else pushed his face a little to the side to show him from a different angle.

“Okay,” Masudi said, shrugging. “Maybe a little.”

They had to have pictures taken. With the river as a backdrop, up against the balustrade, the two of them shoulder to shoulder. Harry grimaced a smile. Masudi slung an arm around his shoulder for one shot, then pretended to be horribly shocked by Harry’s face for the next one.

“So funny!” called one of the aunties. “You’re so funny!”

Toward the end of the afternoon event, Masudi procured a bag of seeds somehow and offered some to Harry. Harry accepted a fistful and began to crack them as he’d seen people do. The rest of the family was busily discussing a recent wedding — they were done paying all too much attention to Masudi and his odd doppelganger.

“Cool scar,” Masudi said, pointing at Harry’s forehead. “Where’d you get it?”

Harry looked at him, unsure of how to answer for a moment, and then Masudi hustled him with a shoulder. “Ha ha!” He cracked a seed, flicked the shell into the ashtray. “It’s a joke. I know. So!” Another seed cracked loudly. “When I come visit, I’ll get one of those? We switch? I pretend to be you for a week?”

Harry smiled, almost laughed, then shook his head. “That . . .” He then nodded instead. “Sounds grand, actually. Why not. Take some of the slack off of me, by all means.”

“Cool,” said Masudi, crookedly grinning. “Deal.”

They shook on it. Masudi then explained to him, in low tones, who each member of the congregation was, adding for every name a story of a time when they’d embarrassed themselves at a family party.

“Don’t tell them I told you,” he added, checking his wand again.

“Oh, I wouldn’t dare.”

“It’s a Sarman tradition,” Masudi explained. “Show up at the party, get into a fight with your cousin, stand on a table, shout at everyone, go home and then tell the story like everyone else was more embarrassing than you.”

Harry laughed, his chest a little tight. Family stories did that to him, sometimes. “Sarman?” he asked as a distraction.

Masudi gestured vaguely. He was packing up his seeds, clearly gearing up to leave. “Yeah, yeah. The family. Sarman means, eh . . .” He was trying to come up with the word, and sucked his teeth. “Dragonfly?”

“Huh,” Harry said, and watched as Masudi said his goodbyes — hugging his aunties, apologising over something he was being accused of, promising that definitely, absolutely he’d come visit next week. There was laugher and annoyance and love in each little link of this odd family he’d been pulled into, all of them so sharp-tongued, so easy with affection.

He walked with Masudi across the vestibule to the exit, a thought pulling at his edges. Dragonfly. He thought of the house Draco and him had visited only a few days prior. Thought of the stone plaque, the crest, the etching of a winged—

“Masudi,” he said, still half in thought as they shook hands. “Has there . . . does the . . .”

Masudi tch’d at him. “Please, quicker.”

“Zahar. Does the name Zahar sound familiar?”

Masudi pulled his head back in thought, the corners of his mouth drawn down. He frowned. Made an annoyed little sound. “Ok, great.” He let go of Harry’s hand. “Now I have to call my mother.”

***

Draco must’ve expected Harry to be in his room when he returned. He must’ve, because when he came out onto the balcony — all in a flurry, satchel still on his shoulder — and found Harry sulking on his own end of the partition, he sounded surprised.

“There he is,” Draco said, as much to himself as to Harry, and then paused when Harry didn’t look up — didn’t smile. “Harry? Is everything—?”

Harry shook his head, and the chuckle that followed came out wetly, caught half in his throat. Draco didn’t ask any further. He disappeared into the room and marched into Harry’s a moment later, walking onto the balcony — folding himself into his knees, onto the tiled floor, trying to catch Harry’s eye.

“Hey, hello.” His voice was so hesitant. He was so careful, kneeling before Harry, his hand on the padding of the chair — not touching. Harry wanted to say that he could, but the words wouldn’t form just yet.

Masudi had made a claim on the reception’s landline to call his mother. He’d had to lean over the front desk, the coiling wire of the phone only reaching so far. From the end that Harry had been able to hear, sweaty-handed and heart pounding, a good part of the conversation had revolved around whether Masudi could pick up some groceries before he came by. The other part of the interaction had been Masudi saying, aiwaa, aih, aiwaa in agreement and then, laa, laa, laa in disagreement.

Zahar, ‘umm, he’d said. Aiwaa. Aih.

Amsu’s mother had been a Sarman. It was such a distant connection, four generations and several removes away. Cousin of a cousin of a cousin, the progression of which wouldn’t even fit on a good page if they were to draw it all out. This didn’t seem to matter — not for the Sarman family, not for Harry himself, who’d watched the crowd out on the terrace receive the news with an enthusiasm he’d only experienced in the Weasley household. There had been clapping, ululating, two aunties had begun dancing, and someone had ordered cake. Pictures had to be taken. Masudi had complained that he had been trying to leave for what felt like two days now, and why were they celebrating another addition to the family? Didn’t he have enough idiot cousins? His comment had been received with a cuff upside down the head, over which he’d muttered, cradling the back of his head — grinning all the same.

They’d given Harry one of the photos, churned out of a noisy, old-looking polaroid: him, taller than nearly everyone save Masudi, surrounded by aunties and a few uncles, everyone waving, smiling. Someone was pinching his cheek. He looked flushed, taken aback but happy. The Nile glinted in the background. Overhead, a plane was drawing a white stripe across the sky.

In lieu of answering Draco, Harry took the picture from his breast pocket and showed it to him. Clever thing that he was, quick as he was, Draco clocked in on what he saw — Masudi, a strange version of Harry, and a collection of proud relatives.

“Amsu’s mother,” Harry said, voice tight. He’d wept, a little, before Draco had found him. “She was from here. A Sarman.”

“Sarman,” Draco repeated, taking the picture from Harry. On his knees still, he passed his long fingers over the small papery square. Then, both of them at once, Draco in a mumble and Harry in a whisper—

“Dragonfly.”

Draco looked up at him. His hair was tousled, as though he’d sat through the last hours of the conference running his hands through it. The day was yellow and grey, the desert sands blowing over and casting a thin film of dust over the sky, over the city.

“You gave me this,” Harry said, the words weighing heavy in his chest.

“Harry.” Draco said it like an argument, like Harry had been too honest. “I didn’t—”

“You did. You — you brought me here. You—” He swallowed. “The coin. The archives. You — gave me my—”

“—I didn’t. Harry. I—” Draco had come up from his sitting position, had reached out, had put his hands to the sides of Harry’s face, the picture still between two knuckles. His eyes were fierce under a frown. “I didn’t give you your family. They’ve always been yours. You’ve—” Draco dropped his hands to Harry’s knees. Sat back again. “You’ve always had them.”

“I have?” His own voice sounded crooked, thin.

“Always,” Draco said. His thumbs were stroking, back and forth. He tried to smile but it wavered, fell. “Always,” he said again, but the word sounded distant the second time around. Stripped, somehow, a shadow passing over Draco’s face. Before Harry could register it in full, before he could ask, Draco put the picture down in favour of taking Harry’s hand in his. Of kissing it, once and then twice over, an odd semblance of a knight before his dame, declaring himself.

***

The closing dinner was much like the opening one, in the sense that the table was set up the same. In the sense that the food was the same, as was the room, the hour. And yet it was nothing at all like the previous week. Seven days in close proximity had made of the group a laughing, bickering family: constantly getting up from chairs to change seats, to demand someone pass a dish, stealing from one another’s plates, shutting down an argument by loudly clapping their hands in disagreement. The organisation tried several times over to thank the speakers, though to no avail: the din was too loud, no one would settle down, and each attempt was met mostly with cheers that drowned out any further comments.

Harry watched the spectacle from what felt like a great distance, vaguely amused. Draco sat next to him and spoke quietly of the dinner itself, asking Harry if he’d tried this, or that, if he’d tried the wine? Harry would answer no to each question — even if he’d certainly tried the baba ghanoush, if he’d certainly tried the wine — willingly accepting Draco’s offer of a pinched piece of bread lifted to his mouth, Draco’s knuckles brushing his cheek. Draco seemed to understand the game Harry was playing and smiled at it, said, And now how about this fig? Have you tried this fig? with exaggerated curiosity. Not that very fig, Harry would answer, and would be fed a fig, grinning as he chewed. As Draco cradled his jaw, gaze low and dark.

They’d had each other not an hour before. In the shower, Harry panting against the tiles, the hotel’s rosewater soap smelling sweet in the fog. He could smell it now, still, when Draco leaned closer. Harry wanted him again. His stomach coiled tight at the very nearness of him. At the gravity of him, at how each of his movements drew Harry’s attention — a cat to a piece of string.

“Will there be drinks after?” Harry asked, sure the drop of his voice made it obvious what he meant. It did, for Draco’s mouth quirked when he answered with a quiet,

“Yes.” Then, dropping his eyes to Harry’s lips, “We won’t have to stay.”

“Good,” he said. The idea of another hour stretching by before they could politely make their leave made him petulant. Childish, almost, in his want. And so he let his hand linger far too high up Draco’s leg, right at the crease of his thigh, while Draco was in mid-conversation with a colleague. And so he leaned in too close, let his wine-wet lips brush the skin of Draco’s neck as he spoke, as he told Draco that if he had to wait another minute he might just lose it — told Draco that he looked gorgeous, that he made it hard for Harry to think straight. Draco shivered, took a long drink from his wine glass, and answered his colleague that yes, of course he was open to the possibility of a collaborative paper.

It was Draco, in the end, who put his napkin down with an air of determination and said, “Right. We’re off.”

There were still a dessert course and a coffee to go, for which they would not stay. Draco’s farewells still took longer than expected, and so Harry lingered by Mitali and Sara, thanking them for their company over the past week — for their kindness. The two of them, smiling with wine themselves, considered him with indulgence. They were leaning into one another and would, Harry guessed, not be staying for much longer themselves.

“Do come for a visit, you two,” said Mitali, briefly holding his hand. “We’d love to have you.”

“We will,” Harry promised, briefly squeezing her fingers. “We will.”

Draco had him up against the wall of the lift before the doors had even closed. He had his hand down the front of Harry’s trousers before the doors had pinged open again. Harry opened into Draco’s kisses with bone-deep ease, knowing — by now — the tilt of his head. Knowing how the tug of lips deepened into the slide of tongue, expecting and then revelling in the taste of him.

The headiness of the night and the drinks made time jump oddly, made the world blur at the edges, and Harry wasn’t sure how they’d gotten from the hallway into the room — only that they had. That the one moment they’d been hot and heavy and breathlessly laughing at each other in the hallway — Harry with his thigh between Draco’s legs, encouraging the roll of his hips, dry humping near a little table with a vase — and the next they were on the floor of Draco’s room. Draco’s trousers were still half on, pushed down only for convenience, only so that Harry could work his hand around and under Draco, could work him open with two messily slicked fingers.

The tiled floor was hard and cold and they were going to make it to the bed, soon, but for now Harry couldn’t think of how. Draco’s calf was curled around his, his high-collared dress shirt still buttoned, collar up, the shirttails covering his swollen cock. He had one hand fisted in Harry’s shirt, the other on the side of Harry’s neck, his arse chasing each push and give of Harry’s fingers. His lips were red, his face blotchy from Harry’s stubble, and he was panting, little whines caught high in his throat each time Harry brushed his prostate.

Harry had never before been so consumed by the sight of someone, so unwilling to let each moment pass. It was their last night in this hotel room, he knew, their last night in the dithering cooling charms, their last night with the prayers echoing in from the open balcony doors. The ache of knowing this was mingled with something new, a half-formed notion of Draco like this — moaning, wrecked — in Harry’s home. The thought had been flitting through his mind all day, snapshots of what they might have upon return: Draco in his kitchen again, Draco reading the paper in an armchair, kissing him in the garden, in the shower, in bed. In Harry’s bed, in their bed, in their

Harry,” Draco breathed with an impatient twitch of his hips, trying to get Harry’s fingers deeper — trying to roll them over, to be on top. Harry wouldn’t let him, pushing back, and Draco whined, his hand slipping to clutch onto Harry’s back. “Will you fuck me anytime this century? Or shall we simply expire on the floor?”

Harry laughed even though the words had a wave of heat rushing down his spine, had his cock twitching against the strain of his briefs. “Easy, darling,” was Harry’s answer, grinding down into the cradle of Draco’s hips, giving him the tip of a third finger. Draco’s annoyance shifted into a slack-jawed frown, his eyes closing. He was gorgeous and flushed and the hot centre of Harry’s universe.

Draco had been on the edge of coming, twice over, by the time Harry dragged them up into the bed, got them out of their clothes. His revenge was had by getting Harry on his back, by pinning Harry’s hands up over his head, by grinding the slicked crease of his arse over Harry’s cock in a slow agony — again and again, back and forth, watching Harry’s face with hunger. The Bond peaked and skittered over his skin, wanting, putting him further on edge. Harry could sob for it, he was so hard. His cock slipped and jumped — wetly tapped Draco’s arse with each of his forward slides.

“How about now,” Draco said, breath hot on Harry’s cheek. Harry laced their fingers together. “Are you ready to fuck me now?”

“Yeah,” Harry said, barely a word, beyond thought.

Draco grinned and gently bit at Harry’s cheek. “Yeah?”

Draco.” It was a plea, desperate, Harry trying to angle his hips.

“Hm?”

Please, c’mon, let me—”

“What? Say it. What do you want.”

God,” Harry groaned, throwing his head back. Draco pushed his weight into their linked hands. Gyrated.

“What?” Draco nudged Harry’s attention back to him with a brush of his nose. Held his gaze. Draco’s eyes were dilated, restless on Harry’s face, dark and glinting in the shadows of the room.

“Wanna fuck you,” Harry whispered. He could feel his breath on Draco’s skin, he was so close. “Be inside you, darling, please, le’me — let—”

“Then fuck me,” Draco said, voice breaking, letting go of one hand to reach behind him — to grab Harry’s cock, to position himself. Harry bucked into it, too high-strung, too on edge — his cockhead slipping, nudging Draco’s balls. Draco’s breath caught, and Harry had to reach down too to help, to hold Draco’s arse as he sank down. As he opened up around Harry, a scorching heat, shaking.

Neither of them moved for a while, after that. Harry was holding his breath, trying not to come, and Draco wasn’t much better off — eyes closed, bracing himself on Harry’s chest, breathing hard through his nose. His cock was red and leaking between them, twitching. On the next heartbeat and with a small noise, his elbows buckled and his hot face pressed to Harry’s collar.

“I want you,” Harry said, his mouth to the shell of Draco’s ear. He had a hand to Draco’s thigh.

“Shut up,” Draco told him, distantly, rubbing his face against Harry’s sternum.  

“I adore you,” Harry continued, and Draco shivered, hid his face in Harry’s neck. Told him, muffled, to—

“Move.”

“I—”

Move, damn it, fuck.” He started to move himself, cutting Harry’s words short with small teasing rolls to his hips — as though to goad Harry into action. Harry fucked up into him, acting in response, surprised by the sudden jerk of his own body.

Unh, yeah.” Draco pushed himself up and sank back down, meeting Harry’s thrust halfway. His hand slipped from Harry’s and he dragged his nails down his arm, settling on the bunched muscles of Harry’s chest. That’s how he fucked himself on Harry’s cock: braced against Harry’s chest, bouncing, his hair a mess, sticking to his sweaty forehead, to his temples. Harry’s hands followed his movements, settling under the crease of his buttocks. Harry helped him up, pulling him down with a grunt on each go. Draco’s eyes were fluttering shut though he wanted to keep them open, though he kept forcing himself to look, to look down at Harry, at his face.

“You want me,” Draco said, so very quiet. He was reminding himself.

“I—” Harry paused. He sat up, his hands on Draco’s legs keeping him close. The change in angle made Draco whimper, clutch at Harry’s shoulders to push down, to not have him slip out.

“You want me,” Draco said, again, his arms winding around Harry’s neck. He was grinding his leaking erection against Harry’s stomach.

“Darling.” Harry’s heart was squeezed tight in the little space between them. “Desperately,” he said. “I — I adore you, I—”

Draco kissed him. He kissed him and kissed him and wouldn’t let a single word be uttered, moving and urging Harry with his hands. Harry laid him down into the sheets and rolled into him with slow strokes until Draco’s kisses became wet gasps against Harry’s mouth, until he arched into his touch and said,

“Make me come. Harry, please, I need to — ah, fuck, please, I—”

Harry nipped at Draco’s lip. His jaw, the side of his neck. He moved back a little, got Draco’s legs up on his shoulders, leaned back down — hands on each side of Draco’s head — and started fucking him in earnest. Draco rolled his head back, holding on for dear life — to Harry’s arm, his shoulder. The bed creaked in rhythm, shaking under them, the room quiet but for the wet sounds of their coupling, but for Harry’s hard breaths and Draco’s moans, his high-throated encouragements, his yes and fuck and harder, Lord, ah, Harry, love, yes, yes, ye—

“Want you,” Harry told him again, lips to the corner of Draco’s mouth. He meant for the words to be something else, wanted to try again, but Draco keened, clenched around him, and came, shaking, fingers digging into Harry’s neck. Harry kissed him, sneaking a hand between them to stroke him through it, and Draco shuddered and spilled again, moaning. His cock was still hard when he pushed Harry’s hand away, lowered his legs to wrap around Harry’s waist, and dug his heels into the small of Harry’s back — urging him on. Move, the touch meant, and Harry moved. He rocked his hips, fucking Draco through his shivers.

“You feel so good,” Draco told him, sounding slurred, sounding small and private. “Merlin. You feel so good.”

Harry came, mind full of the feel of Draco’s skin against his and the soft knowledge that he was in love. Madly so, foolishly, feeling boundless and aching with it. Draco was stroking his hair, kissing his face, and Harry, overcome, returned the touch. Returned the kisses. Hoped that he hadn’t fallen on his own. Knew that even if he had, that it wasn’t to be helped — that there was nothing else for it.

***

Their Portkey was scheduled for the evening, and so the morning was spent lounging and fucking at their leisure. Harry was certain his heart had poured its contents onto the very surface of the room, that he was obvious and excessive, an open book dopily staring at Draco as he left for the bathroom to do his hair. Draco had been in there for all but a minute when Harry called for him, called him back into the bedroom, and Draco came — hair half in its plait, unravelling — annoyed, saying, What? And Harry just laughed, said, Come here.

Draco went, suspicious, asked again — What is it?

Just come here, Harry said, voice thick with affection, and pulled him close with a hand from his perch on the edge of the bed.

What, Draco enunciated, and Harry tilted his head up for him and said,

Come kiss your man.

Draco tried to pull away with an embarrassed groan, but let himself be reeled back in easily, laughing into the kiss. His plait came undone, his hair falling around the both of them, a curtain.

The words jumped around Harry’s mind throughout the day and were felt as strongly and loudly when Draco was near as when he was out of sight: out on the balcony for a moment, or down at reception to confirm their check-out times. And though this love, it seemed, wasn’t anything he’d felt before, Harry still knew himself well enough to know that the words were only biding their time. That anywhere between now and sundown they would find their way out, declared at possibly a most embarrassing moment — in response to being asked to pass the salt, or shouted across the room with no preamble.

If a war of a similar sort was raging in Draco’s heart, too, he did a good job at masking it: packing at ease, prattling on about Mitali’s invitation for a visit, about the idea of a joint paper. He complained about having to pack several of Harry’s trinkets that didn’t fit in Harry’s suitcase, and then switched to criticising Harry’s way of packing. He ended up refolding several of Harry’s shirts and trousers, passing his fingers over the fabric several times over to get it all nice and flat.

“How come you’re so neat,” Harry asked, watching him fold, “but also so messy?”

Draco gave him a scandalised look. “Bite your tongue, I am no such thing.”

“Oh, you are very messy. I think I’ve seen the surface of your kitchen table, what, a total of—” He pretended to be counting. “Two times? In the past four years?”

Draco huffed. “Just because you do not see the order does not make it a mess.”

Harry hummed a vague concession, smiling, watching Draco work the buckles of the suitcase. Tuck his hair behind his ears.

Their plastic garden crow was waiting on the Portkey shelf for them. Draco waited, shoulder against the wall, arms crossed, as Harry bid goodbye to Egypt. He stood under one of the arches and nodded a solid farewell to the things he’d miss the most: the river, the cart of his distant uncle selling pistachios down by the boulevard, the heat of the day lingering into the eve, the smell of coffee and cardamom.

“I’ll be back,” he told Draco, as though prompted by a question when he approached the Portkey alcove.

Draco said, “Of course you will,” and matter-of-factly took Harry’s hand in his. They held the crow between them: Harry by the head, Draco by the tail.

“How long?” Harry asked.

“A minute or so,” Draco said, and Harry leaned the weight of his shoulder against Draco’s. Squeezed Draco’s hand. Draco gave him a quick look. He’d spent part of the early dinner they’d had going over the day’s paper, and had forgotten to take off his reading glasses. Was wearing them still.

Allons-y, chéri,” Draco whispered, leaning back against Harry, right before the rough tug of magic pulled them from the one world and into the other.

Chapter Text

The Ministry coalesced around them. First blurry, then sharp. First oddly dark and then bright, the soft evening light of the hotel a stark contrast to the lamps lighting up the arrival booth and beyond it, the long hallway of the transportation department. It was a quiet evening, only a handful of people walking in and out of the booths, a Ministry worker lazily checking papers. The translation charms that still rang in Harry’s ears took a moment to catch up with the language. A chill ran through him, though it wasn’t quite cold, summer still cresting on the island: it was simply that the heat hadn’t lingered between the walls of the Ministry in the same way, didn’t quite envelop him with the same ease of Luxor. Next to him, Draco took a deep breath.

Out in the hallway, a supervisor urged them out of the booth for what might have been the second or third time. They gave up their Portkey and went to collect their suitcases, somewhat dazed, disoriented.

“We’re back,” Harry said, looking down the familiar vestibule on their way to the Floos. The fires glinted off the dark tiled floors, the space mostly empty, cleared out by the summer season and the early evening. Harry had walked through this very hall nearly every day for years. It seemed like a memory from a different lifetime, now.

Draco didn’t say much at all. There was a small frown between his brows, a dip. Harry anchored himself with a hand to Draco’s forearm, holding on, his step a fraction of a beat slower. The long line of Ministry Floos stretched out before them, the fires burning low. Every now and then one of them would blur into green, would flare up, and a late-night staffer would walk through with a cart or followed by a flurry of memos.

Harry tugged at Draco’s arm, tugged him to a pause as they neared one of the mantels.

“You’ll come with me?” he asked, putting down his suitcase to step closer. “To Grimmauld?” There was a fraction of him that felt odd, a cognitive dissonance of sorts at trying to reach out, trying to hold Draco in his arms at the Ministry. But the thought was small and insignificant under the loud roar of wanting — of wanting Draco’s babble to start up again, of wanting the ease of Luxor to effortlessly bleed into here, into now.

Draco’s smile was rather too tight for Harry’s liking, so he put his hands to Draco’s neck, his thumbs to the line of his jaw. He stroked, leaned up for a kiss. A press of lips.

“Very well,” Draco said on Harry’s retreat. “You go ahead. I’ll swing by the house first.”

Harry gave him a look. Draco took a breath on a smile, charmed — against his will, it seemed — by Harry’s reluctance to let him go. “Fresh clothes,” he explained. “Pick up the mail. It’ll take all but a moment. Lord, can you really not do without me for that long?”

It was said in jest, a half-hearted attempt at lightening the mood, but something about it fell flat. No, Harry thought, immediately feeling foolish for it. It must’ve shown on his face, because Draco’s response was to glance away — to blush, his frown deepening.

“All but a moment?” Harry gamely matched his tone, tugging on Draco’s collar.

Draco looked back at him. He nodded, a short hum of assent, and Harry kissed him again. Twice, three times, sending his heart speeding, cutting their breaths just a little short.

“See you,” Harry said it into the kiss, grinning when Draco chased his mouth for a second. He walked the two steps to the fireplace backwards, suitcase in hand. Draco nodded his jaw out in response, a wordless go on.

Harry stepped into the low fire, heart in his throat, and called out for home.

The curtains of Grimmauld Place were all drawn open. It was one of those summer evenings where a hot shower was looming, where thunder was roiling in the distance, electrifying the air. The evening was warm with an edge of cooler airs, nothing like the perpetual heat of Luxor that could warm and cool, but that always remained molten at its core. Harry stepped into the living room and found that he’d missed home. He’d missed the smell of wood, the way the space held memories. The way silence sounded different in each of the rooms. He was happy to be back, and quickly happy that Draco would return soon, too.

A cabinet opened and shut in the kitchen. Almar came through, eating what appeared to be jam — straight out of a jar — with a spoon. She startled at seeing him, and he startled a little too, and she laughed — came to greet him.

“Oh! Hello!” she said, not knowing where to put the jam, hugging him with sticky hands held away. “I thought you weren’t due until seven!”

Harry squeezed her in reply. “Seven Luxor time,” he explained as she let go, still looking about for a place to put the jam.

“Of course! Of course!” She seemed to decide on heading back to the kitchen. “Sorry, didn’t realise, I would’ve stayed out of your hair, I just thought, you let me stay here, and it’d be nice to—”

She’d decorated the kitchen with a sorry looking banner that said welcome back! as though different letters had been rearranged or spelled on backwards. Two small balloons bobbed about and a Victoria sponge sat on the table under a stasis spell.

“Is it a bit much?” She put the jar on the worktop, glanced at him. “It’s a bit much, isn’t it? I just meant to make cake, but then it felt like a bit of a party, and then, I don’t know. You weren’t due yet! I was probably gonna change my mind on the balloons by then.”

Harry’s grin was part a grimace. “It’s . . . very thoughtful,” he said. Had they talked, before he left? Had Harry promised something he couldn’t deliver on? It was hard to recall now — the days leading up to the trip had been blurry, filled with daydreams of Draco and a devastatingly short attention span.

Almar quickly washed her hands and dried them with a cloth. “You look good, by the way. Very—” She paused, considering him, tea towel in hand. “Sunny.”

“Almar.”

“Oh dear.” She smiled, closed-mouthed and tight. Draped the towel over the handle of the oven. “Off we go, then.”

Harry took a breath. He looked around the kitchen again, at Almar’s darling display of caring. He’d been here so often before, awkward in the face of someone’s affections. He wanted to do it right, this time. “Almar,” he started. “You’re lovely. And funny, and—”

“—and smart, and pretty, blah blah, go on. Out with it, as quickly as you can, please, like a band-aid.”

“It’s been a strange time. I’ve been strange, and — perhaps not very honest. Toward you, or myself, or—”

“Ugh.” She looked up at the ceiling, leaning back against the counter. “I can’t believe I’m sitting through another one of these.”

“I—” He sighed, frustrated with himself. “I’m sorry, I don’t — I haven’t ever—”

“Used your words?” She regretted it the moment she said it, that much was clear, her face twisting. “Sorry. That was mean. I didn’t mean that.”

The garden doors were open. Outside, the tabby cat was trying to catch a bee in its claws. Thunder was rumbling in the far distance. “How do I do this?” Harry asked. “What do I say?”

“You want me to do it for you?”

Yes, Harry wanted to say, but that wouldn’t be the right answer. “I like you,” he said. “I want us to be friends. Just not . . .”

Almar nodded. “Just not.” She was blinking rapidly, up at the ceiling again, eyes wet. “Well. At least . . . I’m not in love with you or anything. That’s a bonus.”

Harry smiled shakily. “Sure.”

“And we’ve only ever just kissed. Only a few dates. But you did let me—” She exhaled, looked at him. “Why did you let me—?”

“Hey, I’m sorry. It’s on me. It is,” he added when she gave him a squinted look. He reached out, offering her his hand to hold. She considered it sceptically for a moment, then huffed, accepted it. Her hand was smaller than his, softer, warm. He squeezed it.

“Ah, right. That’s why,” she said, chuckled sadly. “You’re charming. I forgot about that.”

He tugged her closer, and she went, letting herself be squished against his chest in a half hug.

“I took care of your stupid plants,” she said, muffled. “And your stupid cat.”

“Thank you. Really.” And, “It’s not my cat.”

“Whatever,” she said, at the same time as Draco entered the kitchen with a small, Oh. His gaze was quick in scanning the room — in taking in the cake, the banner, Harry and Almar hugging in the middle of the floor. No, Harry wanted to say, seeing the misunderstanding bloom behind Draco’s eyes and expand within a matter of seconds. And this was Draco’s nature, too: too quick to jump to conclusions, assuming he was often right, and when hurt — too quick to handle, to lash out, to retreat.

“Draco,” Harry said, and Almar pulled away, taking her hand from Harry’s.

“I see,” Draco said. His expression had shuttered, a carefully held indifference. “Should I have given you a moment longer?”

“Oh,” Almar said, and took a step back.

“No,” Harry said, to Draco, to Almar, trying to keep the both of them still — trying to gather his thoughts, to figure out where to start to untangle. “Listen. No, you don’t—”

“So when you said it was on you, you meant,” Almar started, and Harry cut in with a quick,

“No! Look, I—”

Draco laughed: an ugly and torn sound. He wasn’t looking at Harry. He was looking off to the side, to the garden, the indifference folding into something pained. “I knew,” he said, quietly.

Harry took a step, then paused. “Draco. Listen to me. There’s no—”

“I need to leave,” said Almar, but Draco held up a hand, said,

“Please.” He meant he would leave instead, his suitcase still in hand. He turned to walk back to the living room, and Almar was heading to the front door, and Harry could sob with the helplessness of it all — this silly moment, this small and insignificant moment, unravelling before him. Thunder clapped again, this time with rain quick on its heels, heavy drops tapping on the windows, on the roof.

“Could everyone just!” Harry called out, stopping himself in the kitchen doorway. “Stop! For a second!”

The two of them paused and Harry took his chance, starting with, “Draco, don’t go. I’m begging you, I—” He swallowed, the words stuck in his throat. His mouth worked, saying nothing for a moment. Then, “Almar, I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry, but I need to just—”

“Oh, for—” Draco’s fraction of patience snapped at the mention of Almar and he marched to the fireplace, pinched the Floo powder even as Harry called out with a fierce, No, Draco, and declared his destination. The flames licked up, blowing messy ashes past the grate.  

“Fuck,” Harry said. His heart was hammering. He pushed his hands under his glasses, rubbed his face. When he looked up again at Almar she was in the entryway, staring at the floor. One hand on the door handle.

“This feels awful,” she said, then, voice small.

“I know.” He looked to the mantel. The flames had died down. “I’ll explain. Soon, I promise, but I just — need to—”

She nodded. Opened the door. He was walking to the fireplace before she’d closed it behind her. His hands were sweaty, the Floo powder sticking to his palm as he threw it into the flames. For a panicky moment, he thought perhaps Draco had thrown the wards up, that he wouldn’t let him in, but the fire pulled him through as neatly as ever. The townhouse drawing room was cast in the same low stormy light as Grimmauld: rain ticking against the panes, thunder echoing in the distance.

Draco was rummaging in a drawer of his secretary, his back to Harry. His muscles jumped under the fabric of his shirt. Harry had watched him button into that one, just a few hours earlier.

“Draco,” he said, but Draco didn’t turn. He was shuffling through papers, looking for something.

“Draco. Damn it, look at me.”

“There it is,” Draco said, whipping out a sheet of parchment that’d been pressed flat — turned around. He held it out to Harry. “Sign this.”

“Jesus, Draco. No.” He stepped forward, tried to push Draco’s outstretched arm out of the way — tried to get closer, but Draco walked away from him. “Draco, I—! I’m not going to sign whatever exaggerated—!”

“Exaggerated!” Draco barked out a laugh. His every movement was pointed as he put the parchment down on the low coffee table and went to the wetbar. His hands were shaking on the neck of the bottle he took hold of.

“I don’t know what you think you saw,” Harry started, lowering his voice. “But I promise you. I promise, it’s not what—”

“You hadn’t been honest with her before you left,” Draco said. “You didn’t think it an issue when you fucked me.”

“God, Draco. Is that what we’re doing? Making it crass so that it doesn’t seem like we’re actually—”

“Am I wrong?” Draco turned to him, drink in hand. The ice was chattering in the glass.

Harry huffed an incredulous laugh. “I! She and I, we weren’t—! We weren’t anything. We’d barely been on a few dates, barely kissed, it wasn’t like—!”

“Yes, very peculiar. Strange, how that works. People assuming things when you touch them and kiss them and have dinners with them.”

For a brief second, a memory of touching Draco’s hand in a hospital room crossed his mind. A memory of kissing him up against the wall in the hallway, of a dinner, silently shared across a table. But it didn’t feel like it made sense — like it fit into the conversation at all, and was gone quickly.

“I — what are you upset with me for?” Harry asked. “For her? Because no need, I promise you she’s plenty upset with me all by herself.”

Draco laughed, that same empty, horrible laugh. He shook his head. His mirth, though, wry as it was, disappeared quickly. He nodded to the paper on the table between them. “Jovtvev has developed a prototype. He needs your signature for advancing the research.”

“The curse breaker?” It came out softer than he wanted it to.

A muscle jumped in Draco’s jaw.

“He — what? I didn’t receive a letter about that.”

“That’s right,” Draco said. “On my request.”

Harry’s heart was a lump in his throat. “Why?”

“Because I am a deplorable monster.” He said it like it was a joke, humourless.

Draco.”

“Stop—! Stop saying my name and just—” He closed his eyes briefly, fingertips supporting him on the surface of the wetbar. “Sign the godforsaken thing.”

“I — no. You’re — too bloody fast, I can’t even—”

Draco rolled his eyes and turned away from him, giving him his profile.

Harry didn’t stop talking, insisting that he didn’t— “understand. Why would you—? You’re going a million miles an hour, Draco, and I just — I can’t even think when you’re—”

“Exactly. My point exactly.” Draco took a sip of his drink, the first since he’d poured himself. When he spoke again he sounded worse for wear, dragging the words out. “This is — unsustainable. And dangerous. We — put each other in danger. We—”

“Only when we’re apart! Only when—!”

No. No, not only when we’re apart. This past week was — you—” He was flushed, looking at his drink. “To borrow your words — couldn’t even think straight.

“What? You — you think I—? You think I want you because I’m out of my mind? You think it’s just this curse that’s made me—”

“I don’t think it has, Harry.” He swallowed. “I know it has.”

A disbelieving breath left Harry in a rush. “My god, your foolish arrogance. What about you, then? Were you out of your mind this past week, too?” He then added, miserably, “This morning?”

“This morning I had your cock in my mouth and you were calling me darling, so clearly I—”

Do not. Do not make light of it, do not pretend like—”

“I can’t!” His voice broke, and he grimaced, turning his face away altogether for a moment. Harry could only see the shape of his ear, the shadow of his cheek. “I can’t do this,” Draco said, then, looking down at his drink. “Today you want me,” he said. The phrase sounded familiar. “Tomorrow, maybe. But I know you quite well by now and the day after something will change. You’ll wake up and something in the bloody — bloody water will make you pause, or the west winds will blow inland or a magpie will cross your path and you’ll turn around and you won’t want me anymore. Or worse, you’ll be bored of me, of this, and where will that leave me? Where will I be, Harry?” The ice in his drink was melting, cracking softly in the pause Draco left between his words. “I’ll tell you where,” he added, roughly, scowling, looking far too much like his younger self. “At a modest distance, watching you choose someone else over me.”

Harry looked at him, at a loss for what to say. How could love be proven in the span of a sentence? How could he use words, slippery things that they were, when what he needed was to tread carefully, lightly? He only knew how to walk through a wall. He only knew how to fall, how to crash.

“We’re not eleven, Draco,” he said at last, taking a small step forward. “This is not you trying to shake my hand. We’re not those children. So much has changed. I’ve changed, for god’s sake, you’ve—”

This, again, made Draco fierce. “Nothing has changed. You are exactly the same. I am exactly the same. I still want today what I wanted at eleven. What I wanted at sixteen, at nineteen, at every bloody turn, Harry, just—!” A smile, a panicked pull of his lips, flashed over his face. He glanced at Harry. At the table. “Just sign the paper.”

Harry felt hot all over. He wasn’t sure he was breathing right. “What you wanted at—?”

“God!” Draco thumped the bottom of his glass to the wood. Choked a laugh. “Are you truly this blind to the world around you, Harry? I’ve wanted you for — lord help me. So long. I’ve made some of the worst decisions of my life, wanting you. Trying to get you to notice as much. And then this — this cursed bond happened, and there was a part of me, I’ll tell you — a small, twisted part that thought: now he’ll have to want me. Now he won’t have a choice but to want me. But you never did, did you? It was never you. It was — this wretched curse, it wanted me, and you just — you looked at me. And all you saw was a — a scratch to your itch, some sort of relief, not to mention I was a bigot and a fool and—” He was rambling, his voice trembling, and Harry wanted to go to him. Could not. He was rooted to the spot where he stood.

“And I was,” Draco finished, “A fool. I am. So could you, please, for fuck’s sake, sign the bloody paper so I can at least try and be a—”

“No. Stop. I—” Harry took a breath, briefly closed his eyes. “I need a second.”

“What for? So you can decide on whether you want to sacrifice yourself for the burden of—”

“Jesus, would you—!” Harry blinked away for a second, flushing. He licked his lips. “You have this story all plotted out, don’t you? You want me, and I couldn’t possibly want you back, and so it must end miserably and—”

“You don’t love me, Harry.”

“Oh. Okay. All right.”

“You don’t.”

“And why don’t I, exactly? Why would that be so outside of the realm of—”

Draco twitched like he wanted to smash the glass against the wall. He didn’t, letting the urge be suppressed instead, letting the anger tremble through in his voice when he said: “Because that’s the story! Isn’t it! I am who I am, and just like my wretched great-aunt I am destined to remain exactly that.” He made a sound like this was a joke. “Lord, Harry. I didn’t stumble upon that bloody coin, did I? Of course I went searching for it. Of course I knew there had to be one, that she’d had one. I spent days looking for it, spent at least a month undoing those blasted location charms — all that, just so I could—” He gestured at the room. “Lure you in here. It’d been years since we — I just wanted to see you. And then you . . .” He faltered for a moment, brought the shaky fingers of a hand to his mouth. Then: “I knew about the letters. That they existed, not about the curse, but Merlin, I could’ve known — should’ve, what with my family history. I am selfish, Harry. I do bad things motivated by bad thoughts and my love for you is a rotten thing and will you just sign the paper so we can move on with our lives and be rid of this sham of a marriage.”

Harry looked at him for a loaded moment, his own heartbeat and Draco’s heavy breaths the only sounds between them. He still looked so lovely, even in his misery. Even his hurt was dear to Harry. It was a curious chaos of emotions: on the one end it was anger, anger at watching Draco ache; a want to get rid of all that could twist his heart like that, call tears to his eyes like that. On the other end of this odd platform was an upside down sentiment — a pure and blank fury at having played part in a show he hadn’t known was taking place. It was a familiar feeling, that one — one he associated with riddles and tricks and an orchestrated life, one that had nothing to do with him and everything to do with the desires of others. He felt it all at once: love and hurt and anger, the ugly ball of it, lodged high in his chest.

“Sign,” Draco said, wrecked, “the damn. Paper.”

Harry summoned the paper with a flick of his fingers. The parchment twirled once in the air, then shot into his hand with a sharp sound. Harry signed with his wand. The space below Draco’s name was blank, still, though there was the beginning of a line — as though Draco had once put his pen to the paper, then changed his mind.

“Grand,” Draco said, marching to snatch the paper from Harry’s loose grip. He rolled it up as he kept on walking, away and out of the room, out onto the foyer. Harry stood there, listening to the front door open and then close.

“Fuck,” he whispered. The rain had eased up, the thunder had rolled farther down the city. He could still hear it at odd intervals, somewhere far off.

By the time Harry had replayed the conversation in his mind at high speed — by the time the words had crashed into him, morphing and changing colour with each heartbeat — by the time he’d rushed to the door and run out into the summer storm, broken now — Draco was gone. Out on the street were only the leaf-heavy trees, shaking in the wind, and the thick smell of rain on hot tarmac.

***

For the first two hours, Harry sat in an armchair positioned just so as to give him view of both the foyer and the fireplace. He held on to his wand with a tight, clammy hand, twitching at every noise: the hissing of the fire, the ticking of the clock, children shouting on the street. None of them heralded Draco’s return.

Eventually, tired of waiting and sitting on edge, he weaved a warding charm of his own through Draco’s network of protection — a fine thread wrapping itself around Draco’s lingering magic, something to tug at him the moment Draco waltzed back in. And waltz back in he must: he’d left without anything but the clothes on his back, his wand and that wretched piece of paper.

Harry hadn’t even read it. Hadn’t even scanned it. He’d just wanted to lash out in the same way that Draco had — wanted to match the acidic little jabs he’d woven through his rambling speeches. A sham of a marriage, he’d called it. A rotten thing. He saw Harry as volatile and indecisive, prone to whims, mercurial in his wants. It hurt the most in how untrue it felt, in how distant it felt to Harry’s experience of it all. He’d thought he’d given himself honestly and truthfully, and at worst had only been struggling with how to get the words out — not with the emotion itself.

In the kitchen he made himself a cup of tea. His hands didn’t comply, and he dropped a cup. It bounced off the hard tiled floor and the handle broke off. He picked up the pieces, put them on the worktop, and felt his magic unstable and fuzzy inside of him. He’d fix it later. He’d fix it once Draco came back.

Night fell ever so slowly, the mottled skies of the storm fading into a deep blue and then darkening for sundown. The kitchen table looked as though a half-hearted attempt had been made at tidying up. Books were stacked, and cauldrons as well, though some of them still had a residue of a potion in them and had spilt over onto the surface, had dried up like that. A few of the plants Draco had kept in the kitchen over the years had outgrown their pots, and one sat with its roots peeking out the bottom, looking like a petulant child. It waved its little stalks at Harry, and Harry sighed at it and gave a reluctant wave in reply.

Should he call Ron and Hermione, he wondered, finding a new cup for his tea. Then he remembered Hermione’s belly, her swollen ankles, the way she’d said, Be careful, and decided to wait.

He could still smell Luxor on himself, on his clothes, his skin. He went out into the garden, held his tea cradled against the centre of his chest. The wind pushed against him and messed with his hair, making him feel somewhat lighter. They’d sat together, here, for Draco’s birthday last year. Will you kiss me again, Draco had said at the time, and Harry had thought he was being contrary, that he was looking to pester. Now that day rearranged itself, every fraction of it, and Draco’s acerbic words took on a new shape: of fraying, of longing. He’d wanted Harry, even then, and hadn’t known how else to ask for it.

This is a bad idea, Draco had said, time and again, and Harry couldn’t swallow his tea anymore. It cooled down in his hands. He left it on the table on his way back into the house and wandered about, his mind a jumble.

Memories of moments came to him and then went. Hogwarts, and Draco shouting at him from a tree. Draco making a swing for his face outside of Hogsmeade. Draco across the Great Hall, looking away quickly when Harry looked at him. Draco in the girl’s bathroom, eyes frantic on Harry’s face. Draco, so very young, standing on a perch at Madam Malkin’s — drowning in a robe several times his size. Hullo, he’d said, voice high and thin. Hogwarts too?

He made his way up the stairs, hand dragging along the railing. The lights had gone on of their own accord a while ago, softly illuminating the paths of the house. The stairs were carpeted, and Harry couldn’t help but think it a home for a family. It had been, he supposed, once upon a time.

He hadn’t been in Draco’s room since the accident, since that holiday. He’d bend the laws of magic, Blaise had once said, for those he—

Harry hadn’t been paying attention, last time he was in this room. He couldn’t have been, or he would’ve remembered it — a chamber that looked as though a Hogwarts first year and a professor were living in it all at once. The four-poster was made up tidily, the curtains open, the sheets pulled tight and the pillows placed neatly. The loveseat at its end, however, was currently being used as a depository for books and parchments. A self-inking quill had been left carelessly and was bleeding ink into the cushion. There was a bookcase that was organised with care, then a shelving unit with books stuffed into it at every conceivable angle. There was a lovely reading nook and a pile of clothes in a basket. There were young plants hovering at different heights, a writing table that was kept surprisingly clear of rubble — and a worktable covered in cuttings and shavings and powders, all under their own dome of magic. The carpet was a worn Persian, the wallpaper an intricate web of branches and apples, and a bushel of rosemary hung by the open window. It swung in the breeze.

Harry went to close the window. The rain had made its way in, had formed a puddle on the window sill, right around a small china saucer. A bud of cotton had been placed in its centre, and on it was a pip — a little lemon pip with one stalk reaching out from its centre, unfolding into a leaf. Draco must’ve done it the moment he’d arrived, before he’d headed over to Harry’s. He must’ve coaxed it out with a growing charm. Harry knew how precarious those could be, how carefully the caster needed to hold their magic.

Harry dabbed at the water with the edge of the curtain and sat himself down in the cove of the bay window. He looked out onto the street and waited. He eventually fell asleep like that, then nodded himself awake, shuffled his way to Draco’s bed. He took off his shoes, his socks, and tugged the sheets loose — crawled under them. The bed smelled like Draco, as did everything in the room. Harry drowsily conjured a Patronus. It blinked at him, calmly waiting to be sent. Harry watched it through heavy eyes until it eventually dissipated, a slow melting silver. It would be the first night in a week he’d spend alone. His body felt awkward for it, loose in the bed, and he was sure he wouldn’t fall asleep.

He did, though, eventually. It was a fitful and uneasy sleep with dreams that bled into the room itself, dreams where he heard footsteps up the stairs. Dreams where Draco slipped in under the sheets, kissed the back of his neck, held him close — called him love.

***

Draco still wasn’t there in the morning and Harry was angry. Angry and hungry, his body aching from the poor sleep in the previous day’s clothes. He rummaged about the kitchen, and angrily made his way through half a tin of biscuits for breakfast, muttering snatches of an argument he was having with a Draco who wasn’t there.

“Never told me!” he said out loud to the garden doors, opening them to let the morning sun in. He followed it up with a, “How am I—!” while pouring himself a glass of water. Then, “Supposed to—!” in between two large gulps.

“Sure, maybe I wouldn’t’ve reacted very, I don’t know, but—” he confided in a patch of grass outside. He was barefoot, the ground cold under his feet. “—just, exactly what I needed, another thing, person, making a decision entirely outside of—”

A blackbird warbled on a branch, twitching its tail up. Harry could smell himself, the sweat and the misery on his rumpled shirt. He took it off with an annoyed grappling hand to his back, pulling it over his head. He slumped down on a garden chair, cold still with the morning, warm in the sun.

Snatches of the previous evening floated to the surface and then sank. I’ve made some of the worst decisions of my life, Draco had said, wanting you.

Harry closed his eyes. Opened them. “And where was I for—” He shook his head at the potted begonias. “Where was I for all of this?”

The petals fluttered in the wind. Harry was walking through rooms in his mind, through stories where he thought he’d been present, thought he’d lived through, and began questioning if he’d ever understood them at all.

He Firecalled Hermione at noon and made a good production of pretending he was all right. The Floo connection blurred his face enough that she mustn’t have noticed, and Hermione kept him on his knees by the hearth for a good half an hour — bored, it seemed, on the couch in her living room, balancing a plate on her big belly — making him retell each day in great detail. He told her about the conference, the river, the souk. He mentioned Masudi, even, but not the family. Not Amsu. Not Draco, or the lemon tree, or the way Draco’s sure hand had held his when he’d guided him back to their rooms — when he’d sat Harry down and told him about history, and expectations, and those who we carry with us, even when we don’t want to.

How was it with Draco? she asked, using a fork to twirl spaghetti from her plate. You’re calling from his so I’m assuming you’ve both survived well enough. Where is he, anyway? Draco! she called out, as though Draco might be lingering along the edges of the room — might be persuaded to join the conversation.

He’s gone out for a second, was Harry’s answer, throat tight. But good. It was fine. Listen, Hermione, I’ve got to—

Good? Fine? Harry. What—

Harry pretended another Firecall was incoming. Hermione most probably saw through it, used their last seconds of connection to demand to be given more information — full sentences, I’m owed full sentences — next time Harry stopped by. Harry agreed vaguely, hurried through the goodbyes, then let himself fall backwards into the carpet once the call blinked out. He put the heels of his hands to his eyes. Where had Draco stayed the night, he wondered. With a flare of jealousy, he wondered whether he’d gone to someone else’s home, whether he’d ended up on Monty’s doorstep, whether he—

But no. He recalled the look on Draco’s face when he saw Almar in Harry’s kitchen. Saw the cake, the balloons.

Fuck,” he told himself, then got up to write a note. He had to Floo to the nearest Public Owling station, and checked the wards five times over before leaving. He didn’t have an address, just Draco’s name, but they had owls for that. Untraceable ones, fast ones, the kind that wouldn’t leave until they were handed a reply. Harry didn’t care which one, as long as one of them did the job.

His note was sent at two in the afternoon. By the time the owl returned it was evening again. It found Harry in the study on the second floor, nervously wringing his hands in a knitted scarf Draco had left over the back of a chair. It was one of Harry’s, one which Draco must’ve nicked at some point. Harry recalled searching for it, half-heartedly, then giving up.

The owl looked ruffled and tired. It was Harry’s own note that was attached to the bird’s leg when he offered it to Harry. The receiver hadn’t been found.

“Fuck,” Harry said, holding the paper in a shaky hand. The scarf fell to the floor. The owl flew back out into the night with a small warble of a sound.

It took him several tries to produce a Patronus. The sweat was clammy on his back, annoyance and confusion at being left behind morphing into something else. “I’m worried,” Harry told the the fluttering thing, letting it carry the message. “Let me know you’re okay.”

The silvery creature flew out the window just as the owl had. Harry felt the connection for several minutes, then felt it disappear: a tightrope of magic loosening. He tried it three more times, thinking perhaps his casting wasn’t strong enough — perhaps he wasn’t focused, wasn’t trying his hardest. Each time again the Patronus disappeared within minutes, finding no destination to deliver its message.

“Fuck,” Harry said, voice weak. He supported himself on the edge of the office table. “Fuck.”

***

He didn’t sleep that night. He turned the house upside down, looking for something. Anything. He found Draco’s exchange with the Bulgarian curse breaker, the details of which were indecipherable, held in a jargon Harry couldn’t understand. He found the letter where Jovtvev replied to Draco’s request to not inform Harry on a potential development. I will need everyone’s signature! had been the underlined subscript. It was dated May. May, Harry thought, angry again, then sad, then worried, all at once. Four months ago. Four months.

He also found all the pictures he’d given Draco, framed and kept in a drawer. He found recipes, a lot of them, scribbled in Draco’s quick handwriting on the backs of calculation drafts. He’d found a diary, a small thing bound in yellow, in the drawer of the bedside table. He stared at the book — woozy and bleary-eyed — for a good fifteen minutes before opening it on a random entry. His own name jumped out at him and he closed it again quickly, his heart in his throat. He eventually paged, as quickly as possible, to the very last entry. It had been several weeks since Draco had last written, and it was all of one line: Monty left, it said. Have decided — will be going to Luxor after all. Harry will be joining.

“Where are you?” Harry asked the empty room, sitting on the floor with his back against the bed frame. He was surrounded by papers, by trinkets. By scraps of Draco’s life.

There came no reply.

At dawn, he popped by Grimmauld Place just to keep a sense that he was moving — doing something. In the kitchen, he took down the banner, put away the cake. The balloons had shrunk of their own accord and were now on the floor. He said hello to the cat where it was sleeping on a branch of the apple tree. He said hello to the bees, to the garden, and felt quite delirious, quite unwell. He wanted to find a change of clothes, and ended up just grabbing a pair of jeans — was reluctant to get out of the fresh shirt he’d stolen from Draco’s wardrobe. He rummaged about the study, lifting papers, books, and found their old contract rolled up and stuffed into a dusty vase. He took it, pushed it into his back pocket.

There were ways to make oneself untraceable within a country, Harry knew. Though the magic wasn’t easy and did not come cheaply. Was Draco so angry with him, so stubborn that he’d go to such lengths — or was he hurt, or held somewhere against his will? And who would do that? What enemies, new or old, who would — what would—

“Harry?” Neville looked half asleep through the Firecall, his t-shirt haphazardly pulled on over his head — his hair a mess. Harry had waited until seven to make the call. He’d thought it was late enough.

“Hi, hey, sorry, I — did I wake you? I didn’t mean to, I just—”

Blaise appeared over Neville’s shoulder, puffy-eyed. “What time d’you call this,” he said, voice rough, and Harry couldn’t find it in him to respond. Couldn’t find the words to wade into the conversation at a leisurely pace.

“Draco,” he said. “Have you heard from him?”

This seemed to wake them up rather quickly. Blaise had his hand on Neville’s shoulder when he asked, “What d’you mean?”

“He’s — I haven’t — he left. The day before last. When we — after we arrived, and I’m not sure—”

“What happened?”

Harry licked his lips. He’d hoped they might have an immediate response, an easy answer — Draco stopped by two days ago and we promised on our lives not to tell you, sorry! — but now that they hadn’t he wanted to move on to the next action as soon as possible. He didn’t want to explain, because it didn’t matter, all that mattered was—

“So you haven’t heard from him? No owl, message, anything?”

Neville glanced at Blaise, then frowned into the fire. “No. Nothing. Harry, what did you—”

“If he would go anywhere, where would it be? Could he have gone to his mother? Is that . . . would he do that?”

“Harry,” Blaise said, and it sounded awful in the echo of the call — like an appeasement. “Your guess is as good as mine.”

Harry felt the lack of sleep pressing on his eyes. Aching in his back. “Do you have her address? Could you write it down, please?” He put his hand through the call, and Blaise went to scribble a note of information. “I have to go, I — please contact me if you hear anything from him. Even if he tells you not to. Anything, please, yes?”

“Is this dangerous?” Neville asked as Blaise passed the note through the connection. “Are you — are the both of you in danger?”

Harry knew what he was asking. He shook his head, vaguely, and said, “I — there’s enough time. He has time to come back. Plenty. Just . . . He’ll come back.”

“The minute it starts hurting,” Neville said. “The second, Harry, send a message. We’re not having you carted off to St Mungo’s again, all right, you won’t let it get as—”

“Don’t tell Hermione, she’s too pregnant,” were Harry’s last words before he cut off the connection, the sweat hot on the back of his neck.

Back at the townhouse, he added the random papers he’d taken from home to the collection on Draco’s floor. He could feel the Bond, dry and stretched tight, starting to pull again — like the edges of cravings an hour before hunger sets in.

While upstairs, he thought for a moment he’d heard a movement from below. He thundered down the staircase, shouting Draco’s name, but there was no one there. He took a while to catch his breath again. He washed his face under the small tap in the loo, then stood hunched over the sink: eyes closed, water dripping down his throat and soaking his shirt.

Think, he commanded. Calm down and think.

He went to the Ministry. He had to wait a nerve-wracking two hours before he could get on the daily Portkey to Paris — then had to hold a big inflatable banana alongside five other people, one of whom had a monkey perched on her shoulder. Upon arrival, he pushed his way out into the bustling swelter of the city and Apparated to the next public point. He’d have to take several jumps, but was quite tired after two in a row. He sat down on a boulder next to a public payphone booth, around him only wheat fields bending to the winds.

It was late in the afternoon by the time he reached the chateau. He tried to Apparate onto the grounds themselves, but the wards were up and bounced him off to the small dusty road ahead, outside of the wrought gates. He had to push some vines aside to find it, had to cut away at the overgrowth, but there it was: the Malfoy crest, four dragons and a royal M. Below it, written in small letters: Sanctimonia Vincet Semper. Harry held his wand to it. There came no response — not even a telltale pull of a magic current being let through. He paced down and around the property for a while, looking for a hole in the protections — or the fence itself, really — but he found none. He sent several announcement spells at the gates, at the building which he glimpsed between the trees, but with no result.

He ended up frustrated and mad with it, a bad headache at the base of his skull, and rattled at the gates, shouting the Malfoy family name. He gave up, eventually, and leaned his forehead to the cool metal, hands still holding on to the bars.

A small car pulling a trolley passed along the road behind him, kicking up dust. It stopped a few metres ahead, and a man leaned out the window — cigarette in his mouth — and shouted something at Harry.

It took a while for Harry to understand.

Personne! Il n'y a personne!

Empty. The house was empty. The grounds were empty.

Harry turned his back to the gates and sank down to the ground, knees drawn up. The sun was beating down hard on the day, and the swallows were swooping high up, circling in formations of eight. The cicadas were croaking like bare electricity wires. The dust was still up in the air from the car, making the air cloudy.

Harry wasn’t sure how long he sat there, waiting for someone to show up. No one did. The day had cooled down by the time he began his trip back to Paris, jumping tiredly, taking long breaks in between to recover. At the French Ministry, he sat waiting on a marble bench until nightfall, watching the hubbub of people move about the atrium.

His nerves had turned tired. His heart wouldn’t slow in its beating, but he was exhausted and felt like he could sleep for days. He could still walk when the return Portkey left — a frisbee held in a group of three others. And at the British Ministry, he could still make his way to the vestibule, to the fireplaces. By the time he made it back to the townhouse, however, his feet could barely carry him out the hearth and through the drawing room. He held his wand out, looking for a change in the wards he’d secured — nothing. He still called out, at a loss for what else to do:

“Draco.”

It echoed through the foyer.

The house was empty.

It was dark, nightfall, and the clock was ticking.

Where, that magic inside him demanded — pulling, scratching, nails down his spine. Where, where, where.

“I dun’ know,” Harry told it, turning slow with it. He was pulling himself up the stairs, one by one, hand clutched to the railing. He stopped halfway, panting. His core coiled, demanded. “Jesus,” he whispered to himself, grunting, then made up the last few steps — slumping against the wall of the gallery with a loud thump.

Send a message, Neville had said. The minute it starts hurting. You won’t let it get as

Shoulder dragging against the wall panelling, Harry made it to the bedroom. To the bed. His skin hurt. Breathing hurt. The sheets smelled like Draco and it eased it a little, for a fraction of a second, enough for his mind to clear.

A Patronus. He needed to send a Patronus.

“Fuck,” he croaked, barely a breath. He’d slumped sideways onto the bed and his hands were slow and clumsy in reaching for his wand. He couldn’t get a proper grip. It fell from his fingers, got lost in the sheets.

No, he thought, amazed at the notion that this would do him in: his wand slipping from his grip, hidden by a piece of cloth. He’d closed his eyes and couldn’t open them again. Something wet was trickling from his nose. His mind blurred, and then offered him nothing better than a loop of the Fizzing Whizbees jingle, several times over, nonsensical and overlapping with wailing thoughts of pain. It was followed by a memory of Draco telling him, You’re not to be trusted in matters of taste. Then a memory of Draco listening to the wireless at Grimmauld Place, then one of him in Luxor, humming a waltz, his lips to the line of Harry’s hair.

The image of a young Draco being led around a ballroom, standing on the feet of a dancing Narcissa, wasn’t his own memory. But it remained, a damp-coloured vision, as Harry slipped away.

Where, he asked of the Bond, and the not-quite-memory of the waltz rose around him, pulled him down.

***

When Draco came for him, it pulled him from the sickly depths of his sleep like smelling salts.

He jolted awake with a sharp inhale through his nose, his eyes snapping open against the ill weight trying to keep them closed. His face felt tight, dry, and the skin of his lips cracked when he moved his mouth. The room was dark, out-of-focus — his glasses had slipped off his nose — but a soft, orange light was streaming in from the hallway.

Harry felt that it was him before he saw him. Draco’s silhouette was framed against the doorpost. His arm was up against the frame, his shoulders slumped. He didn’t seem like he would be holding himself up much longer.

Harry wasn’t sure he was real. He could be imagining this. He felt like he’d imagined it before.

But then Draco stumbled one step into the room, into the sharp line of the shadow. He was breathing heavily, like his throat had closed up.

“Harry?” he said into the dark, his voice a wreck.

There, said the quiet at the core of Harry. There it is.

Harry took a lungful of a breath. He wanted to reach out, but couldn’t. Draco took another step forward before his knees gave way. He caught himself on the back of a chair, pushed off, made the slowest journey to Harry. In the faded shade of the night, he looked barely there, barely a shape moving through the room.

“Harry,” Draco said, again, sinking to his knees by the bedside — a gradual falling movement.

Harry could make out the sweep of his hair, his arms at the edge of the mattress. He uncurled his fingers from where they’d been clutching on to the sheets. It was the last of what he had in him, the final dredges of what he could muster: stretching his hand, reaching out.

Draco met his hold halfway. He curled his fingers around Harry’s and pulled them toward himself, put Harry’s hand over the sharp hill of his own cheek — catching a triangle of light in its angle. Harry took a sharp breath, the sound of it catching in his throat. The relief was so sharp it was also a pain in its own right, like ice dousing a burn.

Draco’s skin was clammy under his touch, wet. His hair fell over the back of Harry’s hand as he held it in place, his fingers a vice at Harry’s wrist, making sure Harry wouldn’t pull back. His breath puffed against the skin inside Harry’s wrist.

“You’re here,” Harry found himself saying, the words speaking themselves. His mouth wasn’t his, he felt. The hum was coming back alive. He was a stripped wire, a jumped battery.

“You’re here,” Draco said back at him, still a vague shape in the night. Solid, shaking under Harry’s touch.

“Come,” Harry told him. His thumb slipped, coming to a rest at Draco’s temple. He couldn’t quite tug, couldn’t pull, but Draco still moved forward — inching up, heavily, and getting up onto the bed without dislodging Harry’s hold. Keeping it in place with that sure hand to Harry’s wrist.

His body knocked against Harry’s and then settled into place. Strength didn’t come back to Harry all at once — it tingled, fuzzy, running through him and drawing a moan from him as he got his arms to move, to clutch at the back of Draco’s neck as Draco buried his face in Harry’s neck.

“‘M here,” Draco mumbled, barely audible, his mouth wet to Harry’s skin.

Harry shivered.

“‘M here,” Draco repeated. Then, his hands scrambling at Harry’s sides, looking for a way to get under — under the fabric, the hem — to get at skin, “I — my love, I—”

His fingers pressed into the dip of Harry’s spine, into his overheated skin, and the both of them gasped, shuddered. Harry dug his hands into Draco’s hair, kept him close. Draco’s mouth felt like a branding mark on his neck. Too hot, but not hot enough.

“You left,” Harry managed, barely.

“I didn’t—” Draco clutched at him, pulled him near, closing whatever hair’s breadth was left between them. “‘M here, I’m — sorry, so sorry, my love, I—”

“Shh.” From the one moment to the other Harry couldn’t bear it. Couldn’t hear a single word, a sound, the world coming into a painful focus around him: the night air of the room was like sandpaper, the thud of Draco’s heartbeat a magnified bass.

Yes, the tattoo of it spelled out, echoing back over Harry’s own faltering heart.

Yes, here. Here.

***

He didn’t dream so much as run through memories. He ran through things that had happened, things that hadn't — things he’d feared, once upon a time. Things he’d thought he wanted. There was Ginny, across the Gryffindor table. There were his parents, cooking dinner at Godric’s Hollow. There was Hannah, falling asleep on his shoulder. There were spells shooting down an alleyway. Someone holding him down, someone kissing him.

Harry couldn’t breathe. His body jerked, struggled, ached.

There was Draco at a table. Draco cooking in Harry’s kitchen. Draco falling asleep on his chest, Draco holding his hand upon waking, face gaunt. Draco holding him down, kissing him — Draco leaving, and Harry wanting to run after him but being locked in place, and it wasn’t real, it wasn’t real, and Harry couldn’t move, couldn’t—

The room was pitch black. It felt like night, like the hour before the edge of dawn began its blush up the far horizon. Harry had, it seemed, scrambled for his wand, half asleep. But he hadn’t found it in the tangle of the bed, and was instead holding his fingers as though around an invisible wand, elbow drawn back, ready to cast. His heart was hammering in his chest.

He was holding Draco down.

Draco was looking up at him, out-of-focus. His eyes glinted in the dark, scanning Harry’s face. Harry had a hand on Draco’s bare chest. His heartbeat was a near hum with the pace at which it raced.

Draco reached up, hesitant. He halted halfway, then finished the movement — cupped Harry’s cheek. His touch was warm. All of him was warm, under Harry — soft with sleep and with the hour of the night.

“It’s me,” he whispered.

Harry remained unmoving for a beat, catching his breath. Draco stroked his thumb over Harry’s cheekbone, back and forth.

Harry’s elbow gave way. He buckled, tumbling down with a strangled sound and a sob, muffled to the crook of Draco’s neck. Draco took a deep breath, held him.

Harry’s hands found their easy way to Draco’s sides, to the curve of his ribs. Such a familiar touch, that was. Such a familiar heat. “Where did you go?”

Draco didn’t answer right away. He tugged at the hem of Harry’s shirt and said, “Off,” quiet and calm. Harry lifted up a bit, let Draco pull off the shirt. Let him gaze up, run a slow hand through the mess of Harry’s hair, and then pull him back down until they were chest to chest. The feel of that much skin was good, calming, humming through Harry — a tired satisfaction. A freshly washed sheet thrown over a bed.

Harry moved into it, not quite of his own accord. His chest hair scratched over Draco’s skin, and Draco made a small sound, clutching at him. It felt odd, memories overlapping.

“Bulgaria,” Draco said, keeping Harry close with a hand to the back of his neck. He turned his head and spoke his next words to the line of Harry’s jaw. “I only meant to — I was angry. Foolish.” He swallowed. “They shut down the border. I realised too late. I . . .”

He seemed to expect Harry to interrupt. Harry didn’t, and so Draco trailed off.

French Goblin stocks up by 2%, his memory supplied. The Bulgarian Ministry on the verge of a shut-down due to a split in the house over new Apparition legislation. An outbreak of skirmishes along the borders of the Latvian mer-regions.

“I’m tired,” Harry said at length.

Draco nodded, his stubble catching Harry’s. His fingers dipped from Harry’s neck down his back, down his spine, then back up again. Into his hair.

Outside, a blackbird called out several times in question, the first of the dawn chorus. Harry counted the seconds before the answering call, as if between thunder and lightning. As if the distance between a question and an answer spoke of the nearness of those in conversation.

He fell asleep before the reply could come, Draco’s heartbeat under his cheek.

***

It was morning and Draco was sitting at the foot of the bed, facing the fireplace. He was speaking to someone over a Firecall. It took a few blinking moments for the scene to come into focus, for Harry to understand the day: to understand the tangle of hair that was the back of Draco’s head, the hunch of his shoulders as he mumbled one thing or the other — nodded. To understand the room around them, the plants floating by the window, the sun casting squares of light through the panes.

His first thought was how odd it was, to consider this space now with Draco in it. To see him sit in it, solid and real — the man who had filled the room with every one of its trinkets. The books, the papers, the messy piles of clothes in a basket. Harry’s stolen scarf, draped over the back of a chair.

His second thought was that his muscles ached. Every single one of them, quite possibly. He grunted, quietly, moved a little. He’d gathered a pillow under his head in his sleep and was holding on to it — sprawled out on his stomach, one leg drawn up, taking up most of the bed.

“No, I don’t — no, it’s fine,” Draco answered a distant question from the Firecall. He glanced over his shoulder at Harry for a second, and acknowledged that he saw Harry was awake by putting his hand over the sheet to where Harry’s foot was, squeezing his ankle.

Draco turned back to the fireplace. He hmhmm’d at another question. Said, “Thank you. Yes. I’ll — yes. We’ll let you know. I — what?”

He stroked the arch of Harry’s foot. Harry’s toes curled.

“No,” Draco said. “Perhaps tomorrow, but — no.”

Harry closed his eyes again for a moment. He foggily recognised Neville’s voice, asking to be kept updated.

“Will do,” Draco told him, and a moment later the connection closed with a hiss of flames. A quiet fell over the space. Harry could hear a passing car outside. The sun must’ve reflected off its windows, because light blinked into the room brightly just as Harry opened his eyes again.

“On the bedside,” Draco started, not looking at him — face half turned, chin at his shoulder. “For the pain.”

A little phial. Harry groaned trying to sit up. It dislodged Draco’s touch from his foot, and he immediately wanted it back. He unstoppered the bottle, downed it quickly, and waited — twisted awkwardly, half up on the bed — for it to work.

It didn’t take long. It washed down his spine, easing the knots of his back as it went. He breathed a laughing huff, relieved, and Draco turned his face back to the fireplace. He leaned forward, elbows on his knees. He had two moles, one under his right shoulder blade and another in the middle of his spine. The edges of his scars peeked around his ribs, like long fingers in mockery of an embrace.

Harry scooted down the bed. He untangled himself from the sheet, still in his jeans. He came to sit behind Draco, his legs bracketing him, knees drawn up.

Draco tensed. A light shiver ran across his shoulders. Harry leaned into him, kissed the jutting top of his spine, and to this Draco’s response was only the small sound of lips parting in surprise. Heat flooded him, the Bond swelling heady between them. Mollified. Harry ducked his head, kissed the mole under Draco’s shoulder blade.

Draco shuddered, muscles working under his skin. Then, all movement, he turned — hooked his hands under Harry’s knees, pulling him close, leaning over him with an arm under Harry’s back. He pushed the both of them further up the bed with one, two, three jerking movements. Harry held on, a hand to Draco’s neck, to his shoulder, his breath knocked out of him.

That’s how they settled: Draco hovering close, held between Harry’s legs, and Harry looking up at him, heart hammering in his throat — tired, its defences worn thin. Draco’s eyes were bright and bloodshot. His hair had fallen around them. His lips were cracked, swollen, and there was a smudge of dirt on his forehead, his chin. The summer freckle hadn’t faded yet. It was still where Harry had last left it, high on his cheek.

“I’m in love with you,” Harry told him. A tremor ran through him, through his voice. “I’m sick without you. How d’you not see that?”

Draco closed his eyes. He leaned down, pressed his face to Harry’s sternum. His breath came in hot puffs, unsteady. Harry swallowed, could feel the bob of his Adam’s apple against the press of Draco’s forehead.

In the small pocket of silence that followed, a bug tapped at the window, trying to get in.

Draco lifted up, slowly, eyes restless on Harry’s face. He put a shaky hand to Harry’s brow, his knuckles to the rise of his cheekbone. “You’re beautiful,” he said. “I let myself forget, sometimes.”

Was that what Harry wanted to hear? His heart swelled at it. His chest felt tight. It could be happiness as well as sadness, he realised. All he knew was that it was pressing at the base of his throat, making his words come out raw when he spoke. “What happened, Draco?”

Draco didn’t stop stroking his face. His ear, the line of his jaw. “I thought — I thought it would be easier. That I could make it easier. That if I could give you something, a way to . . . A solution, anything, any option other than—”

“I don’t want any other option if that means that—”

“I went to Bulgaria,” he cut in. “I knew about the border, vaguely, but didn’t think it would . . . escalate quite so quickly. Or, no, that’s a lie. I wasn’t thinking at all. I simply took the last Portkey available and left. I didn’t have Jovtvev’s address, we’d been communicating through his owls, and it took — Lord. I showed up at his door, one in the morning, looking possibly crazed. Shouting, too, I believe.” He smiled at himself, wry and deprecating. Harry didn’t smile back. It hurt to hear.

Draco sighed. “Of course all he could do for me at that moment was give me some whiskey and a couch to sleep on. And the next day, well. They had a Ministry on the verge of a shut-down and a transportation branch on strike. I was stuck on the third floor of a badly-ventilated Plovdiv municipal building for two days, along with three Americans and one German.”

Draco was pushing Harry’s hair back from his forehead. Was flattening the palm of his hand over Harry’s scar.

“How did you get back?”

“Ah. The German was Muggle-born.” Draco seemed distracted, for a second, by the line of Harry’s hair. “He drove an automobile. It was quite the adventure. We had to be glamoured for most of it. David, one of the Americans, was quite skilled at transfiguring papers, see, though I ended up having to bribe quite a menacing looking—”

“The curse breaker,” Harry said, sharp all of a sudden. Draco was trying to ramble over the truth. “What did he say?”

Draco was caught mid-breath. He released it, looked away, let his hand slip from Harry’s cheek to his collarbone. He shifted to lie down, head on Harry’s chest — ear to his heart. He collected his hair so that it would be out of the way, combing it back with quick fingers. He sighed again, preempting his words. “He showed me his calculations,” Draco said. “His theory, a prototype he’s working on. But I was . . . too angry to listen. I wanted . . . immediacy. He couldn’t give me that.”

Harry’s heart tied itself in a complicated knot. “Do you still want that?”

Draco’s fingers were light under the dip of Harry’s clavicle. He was tracing the path of it. “Are you not angry? About — the coin? Or . . .” Me, went unsaid.

Harry could feel the rumble of Draco’s voice in his own chest. He replied, “Anger would be easier, wouldn’t it? I get angry, you get angry, I say something and you leave or you say something and I leave and — nothing is better. Nothing is fixed.”

Draco’s fingers had paused. Had begun to trace circles.

“In every variation of this scenario,” Draco said, quieter now. “In every way I’d mapped out, I’d thought it might go — this, telling you. How I—” It got stuck in his throat. He tried again. “How I felt. What I’d done. I never imagined, I never thought—”

“I think, in your head” — Harry underlined his words with a palm cupping the back of Draco’s head under the fall of his hair, fingers to the crease of his neck — “there’s a version of me that can only have one emotion at a time. That has to take turns feeling things. That if I’m turned on I can’t also be upset, or — if I’m angry I can’t love you at the same time, or—”

“I — yes, right, very well.” Draco had clearly startled at those words. He flattened his hand to Harry’s chest as he lifted up a little. “Lord,” he said, puffing his breath. He pushed a small distance off of Harry, head angled away. He looked to the window. The door. He was gearing up for something. “I’ve . . .”

He swallowed. Harry breathed, waited.

“The thing is,” Draco said, strained. “I’ve wanted you, in one way or another, for as long as I remember. And I — I don’t mean this facetiously, and I cannot stand that there is no way of saying this without it sounding as such, but—” He licked his lips. Looked down, avoiding Harry’s gaze. “I’ve wanted you when I hated you. When you didn’t see me. No, I — let me say this,” he was quick to add when Harry tried to answer, to argue. “I believe I’ve made you quite miserable, trying to . . . work around my own heart. My wants. But I never meant for this, you know. I would’ve never wanted you tied to me like this. I just . . . I just wanted you near. After the war, I thought, perhaps . . . after the trials, and . . . all of it. I thought perhaps there . . . could be a way. I wasn’t deluding myself, I thought — a grudging friendship. Where I’d have you over for tea and you’d pretend to suffer my company even though you thought my witty remarks quite . . . charming . . .”

He paused, pressing his lips into a line for a moment. Harry had put a hand to his waist. He was so warm under Harry’s touch. So dear. It was strange, to speak in these distant terms when he was cradled between Harry’s legs. When Harry could only try and push at the ache in his own heart as he listened — wanting to deny this image of his old self. Not knowing how truthfully he could.

“And then,” Draco continued. “After. At Grimmauld Place. I thought — perhaps if I did it right, you’d . . . see me. Perhaps I could make you — no, not make. Persuade you to — feel something, anything, and then all of it wouldn’t be as — complicated. I had no idea how to persuade any emotion from anyone, other than annoyance, it seemed, so I just — acted in precisely the opposite way I’d ever done, around you. I kept myself to myself, tidied up when you were gone, and, of course, prepared supper, for what’s a good—”

“Oh, god,” Harry hurried to whisper in between Draco’s words, “I might never forgive myself for that night when you—”

“—No, no. You — Harry. You deserved to have your own life. And I needed . . . I needed to make my own, for once. Build something of my own. Which I did.” The way he said the latter made it sound uncertain, like there was still more of the sentence to come, like a however was to follow and negate it all.

Though nothing followed. The sentence just ended, just like that, and Harry let it linger for a moment — let his thoughts whirr and work, muddled as they felt in response. He realised several things in short order, each of them landing softly. Truths that didn’t appear out of nowhere, but rather had been known in a blurry way, before. That had been glimpsed out of the corner of his eye and were now coming into focus.

Draco’s love was not a rotten thing. It was kind in a way Harry had found only a handful of times: in Molly’s embrace before he got on the train for Hogwarts; in Ron’s return in the forest; in Luna’s painted ceiling that said, friends, friends, friends. It was a love that didn’t grow on the most fertile of grounds, not with the most sunlight or the most care, and yet had bloomed — had born fruit, entirely against all expectations, and had become heavy with it.

And in turn, his own love had not sprung into existence fully formed, all but a week and a half ago. He had spent the last three years watching this man come into his own, and who would not find love in that? In seeing someone learn the steps to a dance, then move across the floor with confidence? In seeing someone try on a garment perfectly made for them, in seeing them discover a good flavour, a soft touch?

You’ve always liked people more once you’ve seen others liking them, Hermione had once told him, and the phrase suddenly rung true in a different way. He wasn’t sure how, exactly, but he felt it had something to do with the way Draco’s kitchen table was a mess of potions and parchments and books. The way he would scribble recipes on the back of formula sheets. The way he got dragged into friendships without ever wanting to, and how everyone he let close to him ended up fiercely devoted to him. Perpetually exasperated with him.

Draco was looking down at his hands, his long fingers curled at the hollow of Harry’s throat. He was holding himself up on his elbows, balanced on Harry’s chest. He was letting his hair hide his face.

“How’re you feeling?” Harry asked, then. He tugged at Draco’s hair, tucked it behind his ear. “Are you hungry, darling?”

Draco looked up at him, taken aback. The laugh he gave in response was short of breath. “Am I hungry?”

“Are you hungry,” Harry repeated, an explanation. “Are you in pain, do you need a shower, is there anything I can—”

Draco leaned down, frowning, and pressed his forehead to Harry’s cheek. He blinked, his lashes tickling against Harry’s skin, and on Draco’s next movement their noses brushed — Draco’s breath puffing over Harry’s lips.

Draco’s kiss was so light it hurt. So careful Harry didn’t dare breathe. Barely a touch, barely any pressure at all. Draco’s fingers danced at the base of Harry’s throat. When Draco pulled away, their lips stuck together a fraction longer.

Harry’s eyes were still cast down, distracted by Draco’s mouth, when he said, “Shall I make us breakfast?”

Draco’s answering, “Will you?” came out low and rough and made Harry lean up to catch his mouth in another kiss. A heavier one, this time, like they couldn’t help it. Like this was the natural progression of them: Harry with no thought to him other than how lovely the bow of Draco’s upper lip was, and Draco with no understanding of the world beyond the drag of Harry’s stubble to the soft skin below his mouth.

Draco ended up on his back with Harry on top of him, both of Harry’s hands fisted in his hair, tilting Draco’s head for a better angle. Draco moaned, shivered, and Harry had to pull back for a moment — to pant hotly to the dip of Draco’s chin. His lips were sore. Draco must have nipped at them, sucked at them, though Harry couldn’t remember when, how.

“Breakfast,” Harry said, a reminder for them both. And when Draco reached up to pick up where they’d left, Harry pushed him back into the bed with a hand and lifted off.

“I’m going to make us breakfast,” he announced again, unsteady on his feet — insisting mostly for himself. He had a point to make. He needed to make breakfast.

Draco stared at him, breathing unsteadily. He was dishevelled, flushed. Beloved. “Won’t you need your glasses?” he asked, an offbeat later. He was holding out Harry’s glasses for him. He had fished them from the depths of the bed.

“Yes,” Harry said, and made sure to put them on only when he was halfway out the door — uncertain if he would’ve been able to leave if he could see the blush down Draco’s chest with clarity. The darkened set of his pupils.

Harry wasn’t quite steady on his feet just yet. He got dizzy going down the stairs, and again rummaging in the kitchen for a pan. But no — he was to make breakfast. He poured himself a glass of water, put on the kettle, and went about in search of eggs. He was unskilled when it came to dinners, to dishes that needed coordination and forethought, but breakfast — breakfast he could do.

Upstairs, he could hear a door opening, closing. The sound of taps being turned on, the hum of a running shower. Harry scrambled the eggs and rolled the sausages around in their pan and sent a quick flick of magic at the French garden doors, pushing them open. Letting in the birds’ chatter, the rush of distant cars. He turned on the wireless, and found that it was still on Draco’s channel — the one with the tin-box tunes from his grandmother’s time.

Harry turned down the fire and went looking for the rest of the necessary items. It was easy enough: Draco, chaotic and finicky all at once, kept a very neat household. The table cloths were kept, folded, in the bottom cupboard of the dresser; the candles were in a tin box in the back of the pantry; the good glasses were behind the glass showcase, free of dust.

Harry cleared the table. He made a half-hearted attempt at picking up the books and putting them elsewhere, then quickly gave up — waved his wand, sent the mess to the corner of the room. He shook out and then brushed flat the prettily embroidered cloth over the table. He put down plates, silverware, the pitcher of lemonade he’d made. He cut a few flowers from the garden and arranged them in an empty potions bottle. He lit the candles, too, even though the flame was as good as invisible in the bright light of day. He tried, very hard, not to feel too foolish.

By the time Draco came downstairs everything was set: a basket of bread rolls, a bowl of fruit. Two cups of coffee sitting by their plates, curling steam into the air. Harry was at the table, antsy about it all.

Draco came to a halt by the doorway, startled. His hair was wet and his skin pinked from his shower. He’d put on a pair of pyjama bottoms, had stepped into the leather slippers he’d bought in Luxor. He was shirtless, wearing his silken house robe. Harry adored him, kept on stumbling into the sentiment like it was a new piece of furniture — forgetting it was there, forgetting to walk around it.

Draco’s mouth worked, seemingly not knowing what to ask. In the end, he settled for, “What . . .”

“You know what I miss?” Harry said, and used his foot to push Draco’s chair out from under the table — inviting him to sit. Draco gave a distracted sound in reply, gingerly sitting down. He was focused on the tablecloth.

“Your sorting-hat pyjamas.”

“My . . .” Draco fingered the hem of the cloth, looked at the flowers. Then, “Pardon me?”

“Your pyjamas.” Harry put a warm roll onto Draco’s plate. “The ones with the sorting hat.” He scooped some scrambled eggs next to the roll.

“How in heaven’s name do you know about my sorting-hat pyjamas?”

“What d’you mean, how do I know?” Harry took an orange from the bowl and began to peel it. “You used to wear them.”

“Lord, did I?” Draco said absent-mindedly, eyes on Harry’s fingers. Then, his gaze snapping back to the table, “What’s the meaning of this?”

“Ah. Breakfast, it’s called, I believe?” Draco was ready with a response, but Harry stopped him with a shake of his head, a quick, “No, I—” He put down the orange. “I wanted to . . . You’re owed this. Not just this, a lot of other things, too, and we’ll get to those, and I’ll do — whatever it takes, I will do it, but I just . . .”

Draco was holding his breath, waiting for the end of Harry’s declaration. Harry fiddled with the orange. He took off the last strip of skin, parted the fruit in half. “When I tell you that I’m in love with you,” he continued, putting Draco’s share of the orange on his plate for him, “do you believe me? Or do you think it’s — magic? That it’s not me speaking?”

Draco looked at his food. He unstuck a wedge of the orange, but didn’t eat it. He put it down on the rim of the plate. His hair was beginning to dry. “I believe you believe it when you say it,” he said at last. “I believe that you feel it so.”

“But not that it’s true?”

“Well, truth can mean a whole host of things, depending on—”

Harry sat back in his chair heavily, cutting in with a, “Jesus, Draco, I’m not talking semantics. I’m just asking, how much more convincing am I going to have to—”

“I say! It’s not semantics, it’s—” Draco put his elbow to the table. Touched his fingers to his lips, briefly, shakily. “‘I’m sick without you’, you said. And it’s true, Harry. You have been forced to associate my absence with—”

“— not how I meant that, at all. At all, Draco, for fuck’s—” Harry took a breath and exhaled it on a laugh. He ran a hand through his hair. He had a point to make. “You tell yourself these stories about us. About you. Me. As though we exist by the laws of your contract, as if the way you touch me can fit into a clause, but. But you forget how — Christ, Draco, by that logic, why did I let you leave last year? By that logic, why would I have asked to meet Monty? Why would I have ever let you leave any room, ever, when all I wanted was—”

“I don’t know! I don’t know why—”

“I’ll tell you why! Because I am a damned fool, too, and I have made foolish decisions. When I let you go, that was me. Me, I did that. Not the Bond, or magic, or . . .”

Harry ran out of steam. Draco looked at him, frightened.

“And I just wanted you to be happy,” Harry finished on an exhale. “I didn’t know whether you could be, with me. What does that sound like to you? Does that sound like my heart was forced? Tampered with?”

Draco’s chin trembled. He was clamping his jaw shut, muscles working.

Harry reached across the table. Held his palm out in request.

“I’m done negotiating the terms of my affection. It’s done. I’ve — I’m in love with you. I’m no good without you. It’s done. Can you see that? Can you believe me when I say that?”

The smell of citrus was strong in the air between them. A soft gust of a breeze pushed into the room and ruffled the flowers in their makeshift vase. Blew out one of the candles.

Draco put a hand to the crook of Harry’s elbow, just as he’d done countless times before. He stroked a thumb to the crease, then smoothed down Harry’s arm hair the way he liked it. Still, after everything, Harry was struck by how long his fingers were. How careful his touch could be. Draco put his fingers to the thin skin at the heel of Harry’s hand, traced them over the valleys of his palm, then secured his hand in Harry’s hold. Turned it to lace their fingers together.

He was blushing fiercely as he lifted Harry’s hand to kiss it. To kiss the inside of his wrist. The Bond, as always, hummed between them, a sleepy sound that bled into the summer’s day — into the hum of insects outside, that of the old piping behind the walls. The hum of the fireplace, the hum between two songs on the wireless.

“Very well,” Draco said, quietly. His gaze flickered up to Harry’s, briefly, though he quickly focused on Harry’s wrist again. The colour had spread down his neck. He kissed Harry’s hand again, a little wetly, and concluded: “You taste like orange.”

Harry’s answer was spoken on half a laugh, half a breath. “Come here,” he said, voice catching.

Keeping Harry’s hand at his lips, Draco went.

 

Chapter Text

EPILOGUE

AUTUMN

A week before Jovtvev came for his official visit, Harry got nervous over Draco’s Patronus.

“Would you very well leave be,” Draco snapped after the fifth time Harry brought it up over dinner — needling, throwing out theories as to why it wasn’t working yet. Talking almost to himself, listing the tricks he still wanted to show Draco, thinking perhaps one of them might work.

Harry went quiet for a second. Then, “Leave be! I fucking well not leave be! Leave be and then what? And then you get stuck again, and I won’t know and you can’t call for help and—”

Draco dropped his cutlery onto the plate, letting it clatter loudly to cut Harry off. “I haven’t learned it in a month and I will certainly not learn it in a week, Harry. And if you could refrain from adopting my failures as your mission statements that would be much appreciated, thank you very much.” He took a deep breath and picked up his knife and fork again. He cut his meat in smaller pieces, then paused, said, “Oh, blast this,” and rose from the table, throwing his napkin onto his plate before storming out of the room — avoiding Harry’s gaze.

Harry found him in the shower, not an hour later. He stripped and joined him under the water, apologising to the heavens and back. I’m just worried, is all, he said, a murmur to the wet skin behind Draco’s ear. Last time was terrifying. He’d wrapped his arms around Draco, was holding him as surely and closely as he could.

I know, my love, Draco said, letting himself be held. Stroking a light hand to the line of Harry’s spine. I know.

***

Jovtvev had a shrugging way of using the word ‘maybe’, as if it was an affirmative. Would you like to sit down? Draco asked him as they led him through to the kitchen at Grimmauld Place.

Maybe, he shrugged, and sat down.

Would you like some tea, perhaps? Harry asked, nervous at the worktop — fiddling with the kettle.

Maybe, he said, and accepted a steaming mug.

He reminded Harry of Remus: tall and greying, dark smudges under his eyes, calm and easy and feeling no need to make any sort of small talk.

“Okay,” he said after Harry and Draco had sat opposite him for a good five minutes — waiting for him to talk while he sipped his tea and looked about the room with distant interest.

“Okay,” Harry repeated, half in question, and Jovtvev reached into his satchel and took out a tattered cloth, all rolled up. As he unfolded it, Draco’s hand was a sure weight on Harry’s leg to stop its anxious jumping.

Two rings, still dirty with polish, looking dull in the low light.

Harry and Draco had been at Jovtvev’s workshop while he worked the metal. It had been the requirement, and so they had made the trip. It had been barely two weeks after they’d returned from Luxor, and the both of them had still been tender from it all, Draco still hesitant in his affections and Harry overly performative — unwilling to leave his sight for too long at a time, getting on both their nerves and pushing Draco into arguments he, himself, didn’t even want to have.

They’d been annoyed over one thing or the other — Harry could barely recall, now — when Jovtvev had asked them to cast. It hadn’t mattered what, as long as it was the same spell. Harry had wanted Alohomora, Draco had wanted Scourgify, and they’d bickered for a good few minutes before Jovtvev had cut in with a, Okay then, I have decided. You will do Lumos.

They’d lit up Jovtvev’s workshop, holding hands as ordered, resting the glowing tips of their wands to the hollow strip of metal. Harry had been able to feel exactly how it worked, at that moment: the Bond and his magic. How he and Draco had intertwined, how it was all wrapped up in the threads that ran between them. It had felt terribly scary, dizzying, a bottomless well of magic — an ouroboros, a room full of mirrors. It had made him want to weep.

They both had been very quiet that night, holed up in their little Plovdiv hotel room. Careful with each other.

It all seemed far less cosmic and awe-inspiring in the kitchen of Grimmauld Place — the wireless they’d forgotten to turn off, the room still smelling of the dinner Draco had cooked. The matching gold bands sitting on the table between them.

“You are waiting for a royal invitation, yes?” Jovtvev said, dryly, when the two of them simply stared at the rings.

It was Draco who reached for them with a small huff. All business, he put one on himself, then took Harry’s hand and slipped the ring on for him.

The effect was like a silencing charm — like descending from a great height at high speed, ears popping. Harry closed his eyes, briefly. Back during those days in Romania, Draco’s attempt at a token — his somewhat amateur experiments with dragon hide — had made it feel like his touch was on Harry, constantly. This was different. This went to the core of it all, to the tight link holding them together: Draco’s magic, mixed up with his, was now rushing through him. Settling him. Easing the perpetual knot of need at the centre of him.

Draco laughed, incredulous, dropping Harry’s hand. Putting his fingers to his own chest, marvelled.

“Five days, we try, see what happens,” Jovtvev said, folding up his square of cloth again. Then, as though quite enough had been said about it, “Another tea, maybe?”

They’d arranged for him to stay at a nice B&B for the duration of his visit. He accepted this information with a shrug and requested a meeting with Bill, maybe. Harry said he would put them in touch, or would contact Bill himself, or give Bill Jovtvev’s contact details — Or something, or whatever, Harry trailed off as they said goodnight by the fireplace. He was distracted and felt strange and a little miserable.

Once the man had gone, he was stubborn and petulant about letting Draco leave.

“For crying out loud, it’s just a few days,” Draco said, amused, but his voice was lower than usual. Harry was keeping him close by his robes. Draco was fixing Harry’s collar, which was peeking from under his jumper.

“One more hour,” Harry tried to bargain. “Come on. An hour. Let’s go upstairs. Let’s — you said you wanted me to suck you, let’s go, come on, I’ll—”

Draco laughed, hands coming to rest on Harry’s neck. “I say, what a charming offer. So much gusto, too.”

Harry narrowed his eyes at him, pulling his head back a little. “Why are you enjoying this?”

“I’m not,” Draco said, his eyes dropping to Harry’s mouth and up again, thrice in quick succession. “I’m enjoying your tantrum.”

“It’s not a — mmn.” Draco kissed him, muffling the words. It was meant as a bit of a joke at first, over-the-top with the lips, Draco smiling against his mouth. But it soon eased, became languid. Harry knew, by now, how to draw Draco’s kisses from him — how to slow just when it seemed it would speed, how to slide his tongue into Draco’s mouth, how make him shiver.

Draco’s hands at his throat tightened, slipped into his hair. Harry tugged on Draco’s robes.

“Just a few days,” Draco repeated, dazed, pulling away before Harry could physically drag him back up to their bedroom.

“I don’t like this,” Harry said quietly.

“I know you don’t,” Draco said, and gently kissed his chin.

***

Harry demanded they keep a Firecall going at all times for the period Draco was at the townhouse. Impossible, Draco said. He had customers, orders, and he needed to make some calls with his suppliers — his Wiggentree guy was being elusive, again, and he was not going to sit about and wait for a response, for Merlin’s—

“Fine! Whatever! Fine,” Harry called out from the kitchen, cutting off Draco’s lecture. He walked back into the living room with a beer and flopped into Draco’s chair — as he’d come to think of it, without ever having made the decision to — with a great air of put-upon drama.

On the other side of the fire, Draco was sitting in the townhouse drawing room, his lap full of parchments and a book. He had a quill tucked behind his ear. It was their second evening apart.

“What’s this? This—” Draco imitated Harry’s great sigh, exaggerating it even further. “I’m the one being reasonable here. Don’t make me out to be unreasonable. And — damn it, where’s my—” He was searching about, lifting a book, a piece of paper.

“Behind your ear, you oaf.”

Draco felt behind his ear. Found his quill. “Lord,” he mumbled, annoyed with himself, looking at the thing in his hand.

On the third evening, Draco put the call through to the hearth in the kitchen. He was talking and cooking at the same time — opening cupboard doors, closing them, adding water to a pan of poaching tomatoes — saying, “—and then I say, well there’s already a thing for that, dear sir, it’s called dittany, look it up, many people swear by it, and he — I tell you, he calls me unprofessional. He says I took an unprofessional tone with him, and that I could kiss his business goodbye, and of course I said, sir, I do believe kissing anything of yours would be far less professional than anything I’ve said in the course of our . . .”

Harry was lying back on the couch. He’d eaten early, had joined Ron and Hermione and darling little baby Rose for supper, and was still full and slow. As he watched a Firecall-blurry Draco move about and ramble, sleep began pulling at him. The ring was warm around his finger, and he played with it, rubbed his thumb over it.

“I’m sorry, am I boring you?”

Draco had come to stand by the hearth. His hair was a mess, his sleeves rolled up. Desire coiled tight at the pit of Harry’s stomach. There was no hum, no tug, no foreign magic.

Harry smiled, slow and tired, and said, “No. I like it when you talk.”

“Yes, I can see. Lulls you right to sleep, doesn’t it.”

“Hmm,” Harry said, grinning. He rubbed his hand low over his belly. Pushed his shirt up a little, up over the V of his hips. He couldn’t hear Draco’s reaction over the low hiss of the fire, but saw the drop of his eyes. Saw the bob of his Adam’s apple.

“Harry,” he said, a faint warning in his voice, but he didn’t follow it up with any concrete thought. Harry moved a slow hand over the zip of his jeans, grinding up against his own touch.

“Harry,” Draco said again, a whisper this time. Harry unbuttoned his fly.

The tomatoes were burnt, in the end, rather than poached, and Draco’s kitchen was blue with smoke.

On the fourth evening, Harry sat cross-legged by the fire, eating pizza out of a box, and said, “You know, I could be your Wiggentree guy.”

“You what?” Draco looked up from his own dinner — made without company to distract him, this time.

“I have a sapling in the back of the greenhouse. It’ll take a while before it’s mature enough, but — I think perhaps by early spring you can start with bark shavings. You dry them, don’t you? Isn’t that what you did for the one for — ah, what’s her face. The other week, the one with the . . . What, Draco?”

Draco was staring at him, his mouth a line.

“You listen,” he said, eventually. He sounded like this was upsetting to him. Like he’d just lost a bet with himself.

Harry snorted. “It’d be hard not to.” He tore a slice of pizza from the pie. “You do talk an awful lot.”

On the fifth night, Draco kept the conversation going far past the point where either of them had anything to say. Harry was drowsy, laid back on the carpet, fingers playing through the cold fire of the call. It was past midnight. They’d been talking for hours.

“Guess it works,” Harry said, his voice a little rough. He was looking at the glinting of the band on his finger.

Draco hummed. He was tracking the movement of Harry’s hand.

“How many more hours?” Harry asked.

“Five,” Draco said.

Harry groaned. Draco huffed a laugh, and Harry could read how tired he was by the way he inhaled. The way he slouched, sitting by the fireplace with his knees drawn, his back against the seat of an armchair.

When Harry woke up, dawn was pale beyond the curtains of the living room. He’d fallen asleep on the floor and his back was hurting. Draco was kneeling by his side, hovering close, softly cupping his cheek.

“Good morning,” Draco said, voice deep with sleep.

“Ah, we’re alive,” was Harry’s dopey reply. “Yay.”

Draco’s smile folded into his cheeks, crinkling his eyes. “You’re so warm.” He’d moved his hand to Harry’s neck. Harry’s eyes drooped. “So sleepy. Such a warm sleepy baby.”

“Y’r a baby,” Harry mumbled. He was having a hard time keeping his eyes open.

“Come on, up. We’re going to bed.” Draco tugged at his arms and laughed when Harry let himself be hoisted into sitting, limbs limp.

Harry wasn’t sure how they’d made it upstairs, or how much he’d contributed to the act of moving at all, but he woke up a bit once they were in their bed again.

Draco was taking off his jeans for him, and his neck was very close to Harry’s mouth. Harry hummed, nipped at the skin, and Draco gasped a laugh, let himself fall onto Harry’s chest.

“Ugh,” he said, and half-heartedly shoved Harry’s jeans down his thighs. “That’s it. That’s all I’ve got for you.”

“C’mere,” Harry told him, pushing a slow hand into Draco’s hair, moving him, seeking out his mouth. Their kiss was messy, uncoordinated. Harry couldn’t quite close his mouth as Draco licked at his bottom lip, sucked at it.

Harry wanted him, had missed him, was suddenly weak with it. He muttered as much into Draco’s mouth, his hands slow at the buttons of Draco’s fly, and their fingers laced together as they tried to push his trousers down.

They ended up rutting together, slow and hazy, breathing into each other’s mouths.

“Sweetheart,” Harry said, his breath hot on Draco’s wet mouth. “Put — ah, darling, put—” He took Draco’s hand to hold the both of them, showed Draco how he wanted him to jerk them off together, then let his own hold slip off again — clutching at the sheets, fucking up against Draco’s hold. Against the pressure of Draco’s hard cock, pushed tightly against his.

“So I’m—” Draco’s voice caught and he tried again, gravelly, saying, “So I’m doing everything now.”

Harry laughed, his stomach muscles jumping against Draco’s knuckles. “Fuck, I’ve missed you,” he said on a huff of breath, and Draco dipped down to lap at his throat, to suck a hard kiss to the spot under his ear. Harry moaned, and came, surprised — he had not realised how close he was.

Draco moaned in response, stroking Harry through it. He murmured sweet things at him, dirty things, holding Harry’s twitching cock in hand — revelling in Harry’s gasped laughs.

“C’mon,” Harry said, tugging him until he was draped over his chest. Draco moved against him, rubbing against the V of Harry’s hips, his face hidden in Harry’s throat. Harry stroked Draco’s back, encouraging him, sleepily mouthing at the shell of his ear.

Draco’s breath hitched, something of a sob, his hips snapping quickly now — cock hot and wet against Harry’s skin.

“C’mon, baby,” Harry whispered, and Draco stilled for a fraction — then rutted frantically, coming with a small and desperate sound.

“Ah,” Harry said when Draco stilled. When he dropped all of his weight onto Harry. “We did it.”

Draco’s chest moved with his answering laugh. “We did it,” he said, voice like sandpaper.

When Harry reached for Draco’s hand, their rings clinked together, as warm to the touch as their very skin.

***

WINTER

Ten minutes before they left for the Burrow, Harry wanted to know whether Draco had seen his ring. Isn’t it in the bowl? Draco called from the bathroom, and Harry didn’t raise his voice to reply, mumbling to himself that no, it wasn’t it the bowl. That if it was in the bowl he wouldn’t have asked, because the ring was always in the bowl.

It wasn’t that he was in the habit of taking it off. Just sometimes, before sleep. Sometimes, when Draco decided to work from Grimmauld for the day and would take shop in the study, Harry could feel precisely where he was in the house, without the ring. Could feel exactly the length to which the Bond stretched, where it ended.

“God damn it,” Harry mumbled, patting his pockets, looking under the bedside table. Perhaps it had rolled off. He wanted to go in search of his wand and Accio the damned thing, but Draco marched out of the bathroom in a cloud of cologne and demanded they leave immediately.

“We’re very late and very rude,” he said, suddenly all action, dragging Harry from his fussing about — from looking under the bed.

“We’re not that late,” Harry said, easily letting himself get carried along as he cast a final glance back at the bedroom.

Though for all his hurry, it was Draco who had Harry wait out in the snowy garden while he secured the cat door open and left a shallow saucer of food on the kitchen tiles. Masudi refused to enter if the little plastic flap hadn’t been Spell-o-taped open. He’d simply stay on the other side of the glass doors, meowing until someone trudged downstairs and opened the garden doors for him.

He never did that before you moved in, Harry had said one night, at three in the morning, slipping back into bed. It had been his turn to let the cat in.

Deepest apologies, Draco had mumbled, half asleep, turning his back to Harry. I’ll move out t’morrow.

Harry had responded by wrapping himself around Draco with a dramatic noooo, draping a leg and an arm over Draco and hustling him close, pretending he was not going to let go.

Ottery St Catchpole was colder than London. The skies were brighter, the snow piled higher, and the both of them shivered all the way from the Apparition point to the Burrow. They entered midway through a carol, bellowed out by a pink-cheeked party made up of Ron, Bill, and Charlie. Bill was trying to hit the high notes, Ron was aiming for the low baritones, and Charlie — tone deaf as he was — swung wildly between the two. Lowe was at his side, hiding his face in Charlie’s chest — straight out laughing at the display. Arthur was trying to entertain a weepy Rose, rocking her about, and Teddy was playing exploding snap with Hermione. Andromeda and Molly were sat by the Christmas tree, slow in conversation. There were fake antlers atop Molly’s head, and her cheeks were a deep red.

“Rosie!” was Harry’s exclamation of hello to the room at large as he made a beeline for the baby, not bothering to take off his coat. He gently took her from Arthur with a long babble of, “Rosie Rosie my cosy dosy hello, my sweet!” while the babe stared up at him, her weepy tantrum slowing to a shocked expression.

Draco found him a good few minutes later, put-upon in his attempt to get Harry to take off his coat. He greeted Rose with a quiet, “Good ‘eve, little one,” tugging one sleeve off of Harry’s arm.

Hermione took Rose from him eventually, kissing him hello, asking him how he was. Rose was grabbing at her hair, and she gently eased her fingers from the tangle — almost absent-mindedly, used to it by now.

“Good,” Harry said, grinning. The room was full of people, a fire was blazing in the hearth, and everything was hot. He was flushed and he hadn’t even had a drink yet.

Hermione’s inspection of his answer was not subtle in the least. “Okay,” she said, grinning herself, sounding suspicious.

“What!” he said, laughing, taking Rosie’s tiny little hand — letting her wrap her fingers around his thumb. “What else am I supposed to answer?”

“Nothing.” Her smile was kind and private, and he felt far too seen by it. “Good is good. Good is a good answer.”

Draco had made a sachertorte, this time, and had taken to guarding it by the food table. Not guarding it, he insisted when Harry wandered over to make fun of him, Just making sure people consume appropriately sized pieces so that there’s be enough for everyone.

Right, Harry said, and tried to distract him with a kiss while cutting off a disproportionately large piece off to the side.

“I know what you’re doing,” Draco said into the kiss, and aimed to twist the knife out of Harry’s grip. Harry pulled his hand away, and they tussled for the knife until Ron had to tipsily shout across the room that there were children around, and could Harry please refrain from waving about sharp objects.

“Yes, could you?” Draco repeated quietly between them, biting down on a smile.

Harry licked a bit of chocolate frosting from his thumb, said, “No promises,” and sauntered off in search of Bill, making a face at Draco over his shoulder as he went.

Bill was even more upset than Harry thought he’d be at the fact that Harry hadn’t brought the ring with him. Harry apologised, said that he knew he’d promised — and he’d meant to, truly! — and that usually he never took it off, only, just. Well. Last night, and, well. And he could ask Draco, if need be, he was certainly—

“Ech,” Bill waved off the suggestion, well into his mulled wine, looking sulky for it.

“Next time, certainly,” Harry told him, a hand to Bill’s shoulder. “Certainly next time.”

Teddy had dragged Draco out into the garden to show him the few spells he was allowed to do with his practice wand. Harry watched them playing about in the snow from the kitchen window, Teddy making a whisk of powder puff up into the air. Draco was watching his performance seriously, nodding, saying something earnest in response that had Teddy blushing proudly.

Then Draco showed him a few spells of his own. He spelled the snow into balls, the balls into a snowman, the snowman into tumbling about the garden and then falling apart in a puff of white dust. He spelled a play of charming lights around them, spelled a butterfly from the end of his wand, then excitedly — a youthful thrill about him — set to show Teddy his Patronus charm.

It hadn’t taken form yet. It hadn’t developed into anything more than a shimmering, warm shield that would surround the both of them whenever they’d practice. And in the safety of their living room, after the fifteenth time in a row when he couldn’t produce anything clearer than that, Draco would often be snappish about it. He would shrug off Harry’s touch, annoyed and embarrassed, would throw his wand onto the coffee table and storm out of the room.

But outside in the snow with Teddy, he was nothing if not proud. The shield sparked and glowed, casting a bright blue hue across the garden. Teddy stood under its umbrella, awed, a hand clutched in Draco’s robes.

That’s when Lowe walked in, a bottle of wine in hand, looking for something to uncork it with. He softened at seeing Harry, softened further still at seeing Harry watching the play unfold out in the garden.

“Very cute,” said Lowe, opening a drawer, closing it. Opening another one.

“Next to the stove,” Harry told him. Then, “I’m under strict instructions to not speak with you of anything other than the weather.”

It wasn’t exactly true. Draco had joked about it when Harry had asked if he would be fine at the party. He’d said something to the effect of, Simply keep it short, yes. You ask him of the weather, he tells you its dreadful, and then that is that.

Lowe snorted. He found the bottle opener in the drawer next to the stove. “How about the weather, then?”

“Dreadful,” Harry said.

Lowe uncorked the bottle with a pop. He walked over to Harry, offered to fill his empty glass. Harry held it out, grateful.

“Charlie pretended he had no idea what I meant. ‘What d’you mean if I’m okay with Harry?’” He affected Charlie’s inflection eerily well, holding out the bottle, pouring Harry his wine.

“Thanks.” Harry drank, slow, watching Teddy as he tried to catch the sparks of the Patronus shield. “So Ron tells me you’re—”

“Yes.”

“So you’re—”

“Yes.”

“You don’t know what I was going to say.”

“Well.” Lowe took a swig straight from the bottle. “It’s probably yes anyway. Yes, we worked it out. Yes, we talked. Yes, we’re fine now. Yes, the weather is dreadful. Yes, I love him stupid. Yes, yes.” He said this with an affected exasperation, gesturing.

Harry looked at him for an amused moment, shaking his head. “Well. Congrats.” He held out his glass for cheers, and Lowe snorted, clanked his bottle to the rim.

Midnight found Teddy fast asleep on the couch. It was around that time that Ron held a drunken speech about love and family and the beauty of it all. Hermione stood next to Harry while Ron pontificated, and at some point mumbled, My god, someone should interrupt him, under her breath, and shoved at Harry when he didn’t do a good enough job at stifling his laughter. George was the one who herded Ron off the coffee table. He then got onto it himself and delivered a very good rendition of Ron’s speech, except with nothing but the words Christmas, wine, and baby on repeat.

When it was time to leave, Harry found Draco in the dim kitchen, rocking a sleeping Rose on his shoulder. He noticed Harry, a warm glance, then made a face to say that Harry should stay quiet. Harry had both their coats in his arms, and put them down over the back of a chair. He went over with a whispered hello to Rose — with a soft kiss to the top of her head — then another whispered hello to Draco, leaning up to kiss him on the mouth.

“We should get going,” he said.

“Would they notice,” Draco began, voice all reason, looking down at the sleeping babe, “if we took the baby?”

“After a day or two, yeah. Probably.”

“She’s just so warm,” he said, and put his cheek to her head.

“You want the baby for heating purposes?”

“Hmm,” Draco affirmed. Rose was drooling on his shoulder.

Back at home, they were still in the foyer — still taking off their coats — when Draco said he had Harry’s Christmas gift. Harry disagreed, said that it had to wait until the next morning, as per tradition, but Draco didn’t listen. He simply hung up his coat, reached for his breast pocket, and took out Harry’s ring.

“Hey!” was Harry’s first reaction, accusatory, but then Draco held it out for him to see. The light was low in the entrance hall, and so the lettering was hard to read, but the inside of the band was now unmistakably engraved.

“What . . .” He took it from Draco, held it up to the orange light. All hearts, it said, in curling, slanted script, are fools.

“Oh, Lord,” Draco said when Harry looked up at him, bleary through wet eyes. “No. Won’t do. I will take it back if you weep. Come, give it back, give it—”

Harry twisted himself out of Draco’s reach, laughing wetly. He put on the ring, chest full and swelling and aching. Draco was still so very careful with his heart, these days. He still blushed when Harry told him he loved him, and only said it back on the rare occasion — and always in response. And I you, he would say, all seriousness, even if Harry had said it as lightly as he could.

Later, in bed, Harry quietly asked if Draco had engraved his own ring as well. He gave a humorous little speech on how strange it would be for just one of the rings to bear the text, and how — if ever lost — no one would know they came as a pair, and Draco cut him off by taking off his ring for Harry to inspect.

Harry turned on the reading lamp.

In love, it read.

“You’re a sap,” Harry said, a long moment later. It wasn’t true — he simply didn’t know what else to say. His throat felt thick.

“Yes, well,” Draco said, taking the ring back, slipping it back on.

“My god,” was all Harry had in response. He then turned and leaned in so he could kiss Draco, and Draco, though blushing, met him halfway, moving into Harry’s touch — into Harry’s hands on his cheeks. It was a deep kiss from the start, Harry tilting his head, open-mouthed and close as he slotted their bodies together. Draco kissed him back breathlessly, hotly, his hands low on Harry’s back — slipping down below the band of his briefs.

And while Draco was hesitant in his spoken affections, there was no reserve in how he reached for Harry each time again. He enjoyed giving pleasure, enjoyed tracking Harry’s slow falling apart at his hand. Enjoyed, most of all, walking the sharp edge of frustration and release — pulling off when Harry was about to come, slowing down, making him wait. Making Harry say whatever Draco needed to hear from him.

How do you want me? he’d ask, right when Harry was beyond words. And when Harry would only moan, would only arch in response, the command would come again: Tell me how you want me.

That night it was deep and fast, Harry with his knees tucked under him and Draco pumping into him, keeping Harry close with an arm looped around his waist. His other hand he’d braced by Harry’s head, and Harry — red-faced and sweaty, turned on beyond belief — mouthed at Draco’s fingers. Sucked them into his mouth. Licked at the band of gold, at the skin under it.

“Tell me.” They were Harry’s words this time. Uttered hoarsely, wetly, as he slanted an angled look at Draco over his shoulder.

Draco didn’t pause in his thrusting. He moaned, slack-jawed, his eyes dark, lashes clumped together.

“Tell me,” Harry told him, again, and Draco breathed an unfocused,

“What?”

“Tell me.”

Draco’s responding noise was something like a groan. Something like a gasp, movements stuttering as he pulled Harry up closer by his hips, lifting his knees a little off the mattress. Harry lost his voice for a while, face mussed in the sheets, and Draco was controlling their trusts with two hands now. One at the crease of Harry’s pelvis, one at the small of his back.

“I love you,” Draco said on a breath, just when Harry’d almost forgotten what he’d asked for.

Harry shuddered, pushed back against a thrust — pushed off the mattress with two hands, coming up on all fours.

“Lord, so much,” Draco said, leaning over Harry. He bit the back of Harry’s neck, then held him as he came, repeating the words thrice more: “I love you, love you, love—”

***

SPRING

Sara came to pick them up by car from the one-platform station. Mitali didn’t want to connect the summer house address to Apparition coordinates, as she had her theories about the Ministry tracking magical travel.

It was a sunny day in early April, a deceptively bright one even though the air was still cold, the winds still cutting. Sara’s car was hot, though, and smelled like sun and old dogs. There were water bottles on the floor, which she insisted they kick out of the way if they bothered them.

Harry had wanted to take the passenger seat, but Draco’s hand had tightened on his arm when he’d opened the front door and Harry had recalled how nervous Draco got in cars. They’d both settled in the back seat, and as the car hobbled over narrow country roads Draco reached out to hold Harry’s hand. His fingers tightened painfully with every bump, every turn.

Sara was rattling off facts about the region, the history of the countryside. Every now and then she’d glance up at them through the rearview mirror, eyes crinkling, and say, Gosh, so nice to have you. So nice to have you!

They had a darling cottage with a pond. Mitali was standing at the door when they arrived, waving, stepping out onto the gravel. Her short salt-and-pepper hair was striking in the bright light of the day.

Draco and Harry were greeted with a hug and were then quickly ushered inside. There were sandwiches, Sara told them, inflecting the word as though it had been a point of contention.

“Everyone likes sandwiches,” Mitali declared, directed at Draco rather than at her wife.

“Certainly,” Draco agreed, shooting Harry a quick look — eyebrows up.

They had lunch in the sun room. They sat opposite one another on plush couches, surrounded by towering palms and ferns. Harry had a few questions about temperature charms, and Mitali quickly redirected him to her wife.

“All Sara’s hand, really,” she said, gesturing at the greenery around them. “Quite something, isn’t it?”

“You should come see Harry’s garden,” Draco said. He’d draped his arm over the back of the couch, was touching the pad of his thumb to Harry’s spine. “It’s rather — beautiful.”

This was the first Harry had heard of his garden being anything else other than a muddy menace. He gave Draco a questioning smile, but Sara wanted to hear of his garden and drew him into a conversation. Mitali and Draco were quick to segue into their own side-conversation — something about a paper she’d been writing, a footnote Draco was going to provide.

It was a lovely afternoon. After they’d finished the sandwiches Sara had brought out a decanter of port and poured them all a shallow glass. Harry, happily woozy in the warm room, hadn’t said anything for a while, and awkwardly interrupted a conversation he hadn’t realised was going by saying: “Such a lovely home.”

There was a beat of silence, then Sara asking if he wanted to be shown around? She could take him around the garden, too. She would like his take on the state of her wisteria.

Draco and Mitali kindly declined an invitation to join. Draco was sat on the edge of the couch, notebook in hand, while Mitali had put on her glasses and was having a look at some of his calculations.

“This is new,” Sara said, a while later, just as they were taking a turn about the pond. She had nodded at Harry’s ring finger, at the gold band.

Harry looked down at his ring, turned it about his finger with a thumb. There was no reason for him to blush, and yet blush he did.

“Congratulations,” she said. Harry smiled, thanked her, and meant it too. Should he have corrected her, he wondered — should he have told her what the ring was? But no, there was nothing to correct. It still meant the same. For him, it still meant the same.

The surface of the pond was green with algae. It had a few big lily pads in its middle, and above the water was a jumping cloud of insects: water striders and early-season mosquitos, flies and mayflies and dragonflies — colourful ones — jerking themselves up and downwards. Their little bodies at a standstill, their wings a blur of movement.

“Have you ever,” Harry started, “taught someone the Patronus charm?”

She didn’t seem taken aback by the question. “I teach Arithmancy,” she said as though to say, no.

“So you don’t know anything about . . .” he trailed off. He turned the band around his finger again. “I’ve been working on it with Draco. Almost a year, now. And it’s not . . . I don’t know. I thought, maybe . . . as a teacher, you’d . . .”

She nodded, thinking. Then, “You know, I wasn’t able to produce one until my late thirties. Ten years into my relationship with Mita. We thought it’d be — good, somehow — for me to be able to do it, once she started travelling a lot and we didn’t see each other as much as we used to, and . . . well.” She waved off the details of the story. “It was difficult for me. So Mita started reading up, as she’s wont to do, trying to figure out why, exactly, and I remember . . .” She took a breath. “She found this article that looked into the sustainability of the core memory and the Patronus itself. I think for me, personally, that is, that — it helped, in the end.”

“Sustainability?” They’d started walking again, slowly back toward the house. “What does that mean?”

She clasped her hands behind her back. Shrugged. “I was a tad insecure at that moment in my life, if you can believe. Patronuses need conviction. Certainty.” She gave him a sidelong look, squinting against the sun. “The caster needs to know their own happiness. Beyond any doubt.”

He hadn’t stopped turning the ring around his finger. It was hot against his skin. “Do you think Draco is . . . that he’s . . .”

“Darling.” She put her hand to his arm, squeezed. “Aren’t we all, from time to time?”

Back at home, Harry didn’t even wait for Draco to hang up his coat, starting the conversation with a—

“You know I’m not leaving you, right?”

It was a testament to their short near year together that Draco didn’t startle at this. He simply made sure the loop of his coat hung from the hook properly, unravelled his scarf and said,

“Perhaps tea first, love?”

And so tea was made, left to draw, then poured, then set on the kitchen table. Harry waited for Draco to sit, opposite him, fingers wrapped around a mug, and then earnestly picked up right where he’d left:

“I’m not leaving you.”

“Very well,” Draco said. “I wasn’t quite aware that it was an imminent danger, but all the same, good to know.”

“Do you have doubts? About us? About me?”

“Good Lord, what’s this, then? Half a glass of port and you’re a—”

“Do you still think I might leave? That I’m not — that I’m not honest in this?”

Draco took a sharp breath, looking up at the ceiling. A shaky smile had been playing at the corner of his mouth, a feigning amusement that died down quickly. “I’m—” He closed his eyes briefly. “Lord, the things you make me say.” He looked back to Harry. Then, “I’m quite — I’m happy, Harry. With us. Quite so.”

“Quite so?”

Draco’s huffed response was all annoyance. His words didn’t seem to do what he wanted them to, which Harry knew was a sure way to get him mad.

“I just mean to say—!” He cut off with a breath. He ticked his ring to the cup, some rhythm, then glanced about the room. He said, “You know, when I left this place I swore to myself I wouldn’t return. Under no circumstances was I to set foot in this house again. Quite dramatic, of course, in retrospect, but at the time . . .” He finished the thought with a wave of a gesture. “It was a pride thing. A hurt thing. But then you got hurt, and someone had to take care of you, and really, it didn’t — matter at all, did it? Not one bit.”

Harry looked at him — looked at him in what was now their kitchen, their home. At their table, Harry’s ring around his finger. The kettle was still quietly puffing on the stove. Harry stayed silent, wanting to hear if there was more to come.

“I don’t have the privilege of your thundering certainty, Harry. I don’t know things the way you know them. With this — clarity. This focus. I hedge my bets, love, I dither, I go through every scenario twelve times before I act and — I doubt. All the time. Not us, just — in general. But . . .” He put down his mug. Shook his head, once, said, “It doesn’t matter.” He smiled, a small, self-deprecating line. “Not when it comes to you, does it?”

Harry reached out, a hand out on the table, palm-up. Draco’s familiar hand slipped into his, his long fingers wrapping around Harry’s wrist, a touch like a memory — new and echoing all at once.

“I’m going to be here,” Harry said, stroking the skin of Draco’s wrist, “until you’re absolutely sick of me. Until you’re bored of me, bored of my face, and—” Draco had tugged at him, reprimanding, and Harry laughed, adding, “And even then, I’ll still be here. And maybe one day you’ll wake up and you won’t worry anymore. But even if you do, I’ll still — I’ll be here. Right here.”

Draco was looking at their hands. “See what I mean? This absolute bloody certainty. Who’s like that? Who’s even—”

“Hey.” He pulled a little, making Draco look up. Harry smiled at him, warm, and said, “I know what I know.”

“Ugh,” Draco looked away, abashed — as per tradition — by Harry’s bare affection. But he was blushing all the same, a ruddy flush down his cheeks. It looked pretty on him, Harry thought. Most things did.

Draco’s hold was growing warm in his. Harry didn’t feel the need to let go. In the garden, Masudi the cat had started pawing at the door, wanting to be let in. The slight shake of the glass made the coin that hung on the wall skitter against the plaster with a soft few ticks. A non-existent breeze blew through a room a world away, a century away, and the gold-set lemon tree shook, its leaves fluttering.

***

SUMMER

Harry’s Patronus had first changed at the end of their 8 th year. The memory of his parents wouldn’t work anymore, just filled him with the aching sadness of only looking back — of ignoring the future. The memory that became the core for his second Patronus was one of a tipsy evening with Ron and Hermione at Grimmauld Place, not too long after the war — the first time in years he’d seen his friends laugh so hard they were crying. The Patronus had shifted from a stag to a bear cub, a sweet and barreling animal, which Harry had come to love dearly for the few years it had stayed with him.

After the curse, after the fallout of that, the memory that kept floating to the forefront of his mind on casting was somehow that of Neville, holding on to him and telling him he was a single Floo away. Of Neville making Harry say it back at him, saying, Say it. Where am I?

And Harry answering, A single Floo away.

Exactly, Neville had agreed, pointing at him. Don’t you forget it!

It was a wolf-looking animal, for a while. Then a stoat, a fox, and for a while it was just a hum. An odd fog, shapeless. A hum.

Somewhere around Ron and Hermione’s wedding, somewhere in the blur of that summer, his Patronus had turned quick and flighty and strange. A hummingbird. It wasn’t a memory that was at its core, not exactly, but rather the tang of an orange. The clean smell of sage, of myrrh.

It liked to perch on Draco’s outstretched hand whenever Harry demonstrated. Sometimes he would send it upstairs to get Draco from the study, and Draco would come down with the silvery thing on his shoulder, cleaning its wings with its long beak.

Draco’s dragonfly did nothing of the sort. It circled Harry’s head, jumping up, down, and wouldn’t leave off its buzzing until Harry got up off his muddy knees by the patch of lilies and began to make his way back to the kitchen, brushing the dirt from his hands as he went.

“You summoned?” Harry asked, taking off his garden boots out on the patio — leaning on the doorframe with one hand.

“Why, yes!” Draco said, mostly to Rose, who he was holding in the cradle of his arm. With his other hand he was regulating one of the hubs, and Rose was babbling, blowing raspberries every now and then. “I know!” Draco said. “I agree, I completely agree, that is an excellent observation, professor.” Then, turning to Harry, he asked—

“Could you?”

Harry came to take Rose from him, and with one sharp look was told off for his mud-dirtied hands. Harry gave a tired Well!, but washed his hands all the same — then held out his arms for Rose, took her from Draco with an exaggerated sigh of relief. She was holding one end of a wooden spoon, gnawing on the other. Harry kissed her head several times over, cradled her close, and asked,

“All’s well?”

Draco hmm’d and stirred at the one pot. Sent an eggplant to the chopping board with a wave of his wand.

Harry gasped. “Look at what uncle Draco can do!” he said to the baby. In response, the baby drooled down her own sleeve.

“They should be back any minute,” Draco said, meaning that he wanted Harry to do something. What, precisely, Harry wasn’t sure — the table was cleared, the room had been tidied. Draco was nervous.

“Smells good,” he said, coming to stand close, looking in over Draco’s shoulder, and Draco gently pushed him away with a sharp,

“Oh, would you—!”

The Floo flared to life in the living room, and Ron’s voice boomed through the house — his dad voice, as Harry called it.

“Child!” he cried out, as though he’d been lost and looking for weeks — as though he had just stumbled into Harry’s living room as a last resort. “Where is my child! Has anyone seen my child!”

Rose started kicking in Harry’s grip, hitting the wooden spoon on Harry’s arm in excitement.

“Oh my god, there she is!” Ron wailed in the doorway, meeting Harry halfway. Rose made noises as Ron took her from Harry, and Hermione — half a step behind him — hugged Harry hello while Ron pretended to eat his daughter’s arm in a babble of nom nom noms.

Draco got a kiss on the cheek from Hermione and a series of questions about dinner, about whether Rose had behaved, about whether they’d managed with the feeding schedule, because I should’ve been clearer, I realised only once we’d left I forgot to mention that she drinks best when you twist the—

“Everything was fine,” Harry told her, coming to stand behind her with two hands on her shoulders — giving her a short shake. They were all surveying Draco’s array of bubbling pots and pans.

“Okay,” Hermione said, a little mollified. “Good.”

Harry could see Draco had invested more than usual in the dinner — that he was more anxious about it than usual — but didn’t quite know why. He tried to keep him at the table for as long as possible, but it wouldn’t do: Draco kept on flitting back between the counter and the table, checking on the sauce, on the second course, on the dessert in the oven. Ron ate it all, gratefully and blindly, his daughter asleep on his chest. He was retelling the story of how, on the first night, they’d Apparated to the wrong hotel, and how it had taken them a good half hour of arguing with the clerk to figure out the error.

“We’re almost out of wine,” Draco mumbled, quietly, and made to get up for the third time in ten minutes. Harry held him back with a hand to his leg, said,

“Everyone’s good, darling.”

Draco was settled back down. Harry kept his hand in place for a good while, but as soon as he left off — reaching for his glass — Draco pushed his chair back and made for the pantry to rummage for a bottle of wine.

They took tea in the living room. Ron was upstairs to put Rose down for now, and Hermione was slow and pink-cheeked on the couch. She wanted to know about Draco’s collaboration with Mitali, as she usually did, and Draco quickly and absently updated her on the status of their research — though kept asking if the cheese was alright, if the jam was good? If she wanted a glass of port, perhaps, or a dessert wine instead, or—

“Is he okay?” Hermione asked, soft-voiced, when Draco went back into the kitchen in search of a dessert wine no one had asked for.

Harry was watching the kitchen doorway, and said, “I’ll go check on him.” Then, with a quick glance to Hermione, “Yeah?”

Hermione waved him off. She was taking off her sandals, put her feet up on the couch, cradling the stem of her wineglass close.

Draco was standing by the worktop, uncorking a bottle. He’d taken out four digestif glasses and had put them upside down on the counter. A wild strand had come loose from his plait. Harry came up to him to tuck it back into place.

“You’ve come for me?” Draco asked, entertained, giving him a quick glance over the shoulder.

Harry wrapped his arms around him, put his mouth to Draco’s shoulder. Hummed in assent. “Thank you for dinner,” he said.

Draco leaned back into the hold. He said, still sounding amused, “You’re very welcome.” Harry’s hands were low on his belly, thumb stroking between two shirt buttons. Draco’s skin was warm under the cotton and he smelled like the dinner he’d prepared, like the soap in their shower, like their bed. Harry pressed a kiss to his neck, and Draco, sensing the shift in how Harry was holding him, huffed — tilted his head, presented more skin.

“Was tonight okay?” Harry asked, nosing behind Draco’s ear.

“Mm?”

“You seemed a little . . .” Harry’s next kiss was to the line of a vein. “Jumpy.”

Draco sighed a pleased sigh, distracted by Harry’s mouth. He covered Harry’s hands with his own, their rings touching. “It’s . . . mmm . . .”

“Yes?”

“Just — wanted . . .” It took him a while to find his words. Harry paused, breathing against the wet trace he’d left on Draco’s skin. Waiting for Draco’s answer.

It came, at length, somewhat strained. “We run a good household,” is how he started. “That’s all, and — it’s important to show.  Make the right impression, especially when children are concerned, it’s important we show we can—”

“Oh, darling. It’s Ron and Hermione.”

“You don’t say.”

“Have you seen their household? They’ll be the last to judge any—”

“That’s not the point. The point is that—”

“I know.” And Harry did know. He knew that Draco had cared, had made himself nervous over it, had attempted to control his nerves the best way he knew how — with a little game plan, a fixed expectation of the evening. I dither, Draco had told him, just a few months ago, in this very kitchen. I go through every scenario twelve times before I act. I doubt.

“You’re right,” Harry said, a whisper to his neck. “And it was lovely. And thank you. Again.”

Draco inched his face to the side, brushing their noses together. Harry could see his eyes move, the drop of his lashes. A quick glance to Harry’s mouth. “I do it gladly,” he said.

Harry kissed him. Once, a chaste, closed-lipped kiss — then again, a little less chaste.

“You know the week you stayed with me,” Harry mumbled, close to Draco’s mouth. “I’d be standing here, exactly here, just waiting for you to . . . come for me. I hoped you’d walk in. See me. Put your hands on me. God, it was bad. Could barely focus around you, those days.”

Draco’s slow smile grew as Harry talked. “Is that right?” he said when the story was done. “What is it that you imagined I’d do, then? Once I came for you?” Then, lower, “Once I put my hands on you?”

Harry whispered, his lips moving over Draco’s, “Fuck me over the counter.”

Draco’s breath hitched. His stomach muscles jumped under Harry’s touch.

Ron cleared his throat by the doorway. He was staring at a point on the floor with an embarrassed but amused smile, his eyebrows up.

“Yup,” he said. “So I was told there was dessert wine.”

Draco took the dessert wine to the living room. Harry held back, saying he’d be right with them — that he was just going to get a glass of water. He needed a moment. He often needed a moment.

Before Ron and Hermione left, Harry said he wanted to show Ron the lemon tree. Neville and Harry had spent the last few months drawing it from a pip to a young sapling. They’d not planted it yet, but it stood proudly in its pot, in the corner Harry had picked for it all those years ago. In a few years it would grow to be a tree, right in view of the guest-room window — the one Rose had occupied for the last few days.

“So how was it?” Harry asked as they made their way down the winding path toward the back of the garden. “First time without Rosie?”

Ron smiled, gave him a look. “Weird. Awful. Great.” He shrugged, laughing. “I really missed the little poop machine, though. As in, really. I didn’t know you could . . . miss a living being like that. Like . . .” He pressed three fingers into the spot above his heart.

They’d arrived at the lemon tree. Even in the dark, its leaves were shiny green. Harry rubbed one of them in his hands, let Ron smell the citrus.

“Lemon,” Ron said, agreeing.

“Lemon,” Harry nodded, smiling.

“And for you? How was it? Brutal truth, please.”

Harry smiled, and Ron jostled him with a shoulder. “Tiring,” he answered. “Very tiring, but . . . good.” He looked at Ron from the corner of his eye. Beyond, the house was lit from within, casting an orange glow down the little paved patio. Inside the kitchen, Draco and Hermione were talking. She was asking him something about his hair, and he was giving an explanation, gesturing, arms up, mimicking how he braided it.

“It’s good,” Harry said, again, heart full.

The look Ron gave him in reply was far too weepy. He’d had a few drinks, that night. They both had. Harry wanted to tell him off for looking at him like that, but before he could Ron had pulled him into a long-limbed hug, one that locked Harry’s arms to his sides. Harry laughed, letting himself be hugged.

“Good,” Ron said, sounding choked up. “Good is good.”

Despite their best attempts, Rose still woke up when they went to get her from her crib. She cried, tired and confused, and everyone had a turn at trying to calm her down.

“She likes you,” Hermione said, taking Rose from Draco. She’d simmered a little, had tired herself out even more.

“He talks potions at her,” Harry said, a hand at the small of Draco’s back. “Puts her right to sleep.”

Ron made a sound like that statement spoke to him deeply. Draco — flushed with drink and calmer now, quite tired-looking himself — just smiled, shook his head. He leaned into Harry.

They said their goodbyes as quietly as possible, Rose dozing off on Hermione’s shoulder. They left through the front door, deciding to take a taxi home: both the Floo and Apparition would startle the babe.

In the first few minutes the silence of the house felt newly strange, empty. They’d gotten used to Rose’s continuous babble, to her cries, to the staticky sound of the charm they’d put on her crib — letting them know when she’d woken up, when she was restless.

But then Draco turned on the wireless, and in a fit of drunken silliness pulled Harry for a spin in the kitchen, humming along to the song. And this was nice too, just the two of them.

Harry would take any version. Any of it. All of it.

He said as much, and Draco kissed him on the mouth, kissed his cheek, hid his face in the crook of Harry’s neck — arms looped around his waist. Harry held him by his nape. Tucked two fingers under the weaving of Draco’s plait.

The garden doors were wide open, and the night’s sounds fell over the kitchen in the lull between two songs: the distant cars, the bark of a dog a street over. The cresting song of crickets, humming.

Humming.