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All the Earnest Young Men

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DECEMBER 1ST 

Harry starts running. 

He doesn’t know how far behind Draco is but the chain isn’t pulling yet, so it can’t be that far and, Draco must be running too, slip-sliding over the surface of the ice. In the distance, the flat, shadowy figures reach the lake’s edge and begin climbing up to the frozen banks towards the darkened woods beyond. Harry isn’t sure what makes them notice that he and Draco are starting to catch up—whether it’s the squeak of his shoes on the ice, their ragged breaths, or the sound of the chain clattering—but notice they do, all of them at once. Their heads turn in a synchronised movement, slow and vague in their understanding. 

One of the things, shaped like a horse, bristles in the cold night air. Its whinny sounds an edge off unreal, like the caw of a magpie, like a thin sheet of metal that’s been given a shake. 

It sets Harry’s hair on end, makes him want to turn and run back with the same speed he’s been running ahead. He puffs clouds of air into the night, speeds up his run toward the crowded embankment and then the chain pulls his wrist at a sharp angle. He’s yanked a stumbling step backwards and growls. Draco’s come to a standstill, out of breath, two hands on his knees. 

“Come on!” Harry calls over, using the end of the chain to pull Draco back into movement. It trips him up, one of his arms shooting out, and he’s shaking his head, out of breath, telling Harry that he—

“Can’t—I can’t—I—”

Harry grunts out his frustration, glancing toward the shore twice in quick succession then back at Draco, who’s standing straight now, hand to his spleen, his face a grimace. By the water's edge, several of the figures have trudged their way up onto solid ground, helping each other up. The horsemen have turned their animals towards Harry and Draco, have settled their strange, gleaming eyes on the both of them. Watching, waiting. 

Harry pulls a second time, then simply starts running again. Draco has no choice but to follow slowly, and Harry can hear his shallow, raspy breath behind him. A cold wind chases yesterday’s snowfall across the ice, cutting as it passes them. Clouds pass overhead, obscuring the moon and then revealing it again, right over the edge of the treetops. 

“Harry,” Draco gasps at a yard’s distance, barely a word, and that’s when one of the horses puts its hoof down. The sound is hollow. It repeats immediately, this time one of the other horses join in—thump. 

“Harry,” Draco says again and stops running. He tugs Harry to a stop. 

Thump. Three horses, all at once. A thin line cracks the ice outward from the shore, ticking to a stop at Draco’s feet. Harry halts all movement. Stops breathing. For a few long, heart-stopping seconds, the only sounds are the wind, Draco’s ragged breaths, and that of a branch creaking under the weight of the snow somewhere in the distance. 

The hairline crack splits with a sharp break, veers off, splits again. There’s a gasp, a small fraction of a second for Harry to see what’s about to happen before it happens and then it’s too late: the ice has given way under Draco’s feet. He holds Harry’s gaze, eyes wide, and then he’s gone. The black water has swallowed him whole. 

Harry shouts something that might be Draco’s name, or might be just a cry of fear, before he’s pushed to his knees by the force of Draco’s end of the chain, pulling. He’s dragged forward as Draco sinks further into the deep, and Harry attempts to wildly grab at their link, at the thin golden connection that will not let up. The ice is too slippery under him, and at first he has nothing to give him purchase, nothing to dig his feet into—nothing to keep him from sliding towards the ice’s sharp edge and the waters below. It’s still oddly quiet out on the lake for the violence of what’s just happened, and Harry hears only his own frantic breathing, his struggling, as he reaches out for a branch that’s frozen upwards out of the lake. He wooshes by, chest against ice, and manages to grab hold of the branch. He's hurtled to a shocking stop, Draco’s weight still pulling at him: his wrist, his arm, his joints. 

“Fuck,” he grunts, panting against the ice for a moment. Thinking. The hole in the lake is a few feet away from him, a gaping black wound under the moon-lit winter’s night. Harry uses the branch for leverage, hoists himself backwards, upwards, trying to sit. It’s a Herculean task like this—cold, wet, his magic dormant at his core and inaccessible—but he manages, just about. 

And when he’s sat, foot braced against the branch, he twists the chain twice around his wrist and grabs it with his gloved hand. He pulls, grabs the chain with his other hand, and pulls some more. He can feel the weight of Draco underwater, can feel gravity resisting.

“Not today, you arsehole,” Harry grits and sweats, and shivers, and pulls, pulls, pulls. 

- * -

JULY

Harry was pulled back into the office when it all started. He wasn’t even supposed to be there—just happened to have been milling about his desk on the Friday that Meredith Love’s case took a fast turn. He was supposed to be somewhere along the edge of London, checking out a glitching Apparition Point and possibly having lunch on a bench but had come back when he’d realised he’d forgotten his pastrami sandwich. 

It was, after all, a very good sandwich. 

So there he was, one foot out the door, paper-wrapped sandwich tucked safely in the inner pocket of his robes, when the hubbub began. Love had cracked the pattern, had traced her perp to a cottage in Surrey, and had sent out the call: all Aurors on call in the 4th department were to report. Back-up was needed. 

Harry had left his sandwich on the table with an air of sad goodbye. He hadn’t been invested in the case as much, was vague on the details. It was something with the illegal transportation of explosive vanishing powders, or illegal powders, or unregistered powders. It didn’t matter when it came down to it. He Apparated along with Mullard and Binyon, scanned the overgrown lawn, the overturned log, and pressed himself back against the cottage’s outer wall. When he got the sign, he ran inside with his wand drawn out. There was shouting, movement, Love saying, Wand down! Hands up!, and the popping force of a Stunning Charm when the perp tried to get away. 

The back-up team was a crowded group of ten in the small front room, with one man struggling against his restraints on the ground. They were weaving protection wards and Stasis Charms on potential evidence, trying to act quickly, and then Mullard—the broadest set of shoulders the department had ever seen—gently knocked into Binyon. Binyon wavered, hustling Harry in his attempt to gain balance, and Harry, in turn, knocked a hip against a table. A large ring of keys fell from a book and sent a glass phial tumbling, spilling what looked like little balls of yellow dust across the worktop. 

“Ah fuck sorry,” said Mullard and helped Harry spell them back into the phial, one by one.

By the time he’d made it back to the office, someone had eaten most of his sandwich and had only left behind a charitable mouthful of a bite. Harry kicked up a storm over it. He held the leftover sandwich under his colleagues’ noses and said, Is this you? Is this your idea of a joke?, the answer to which was mostly something along the lines of ‘no’ and ‘take that away from me, thanks’. Eventually, gravely, he announced to the space that he would launch an official investigation if the culprit hadn’t declared themselves by lunch tomorrow.

This was met with silence. Silence and the sound of Kim Kaboli, holding back laughter as she ticked away on her typewriter. 

At home, he spent the evening catching up on correspondence: replying to Charlie about the matter of last year’s Christmas treacle tart, replying to Luna on the matter of a lost unicorn horn, replying to Hagrid on the matter of a jacket Harry had left on his last visit. He heated up one of the dinners that Ron had—secretly, an unspoken judgement on the state of his diet—left in his freezer. He ate it while he listened to a funny interview on the wireless and rummaged about with the landline he kept on meaning to install. He was still doing that when the smoke started spreading: was still holding a screwdriver in one hand and a fork in the other, as the room turned a slow and worrying yellow. It smelled of iron, of dry ice. 

He sat up straight, put down the fork and put down the screwdriver. A plume of thick smoke curled over the edge of his chair. “Uh oh,” he said, and messily Apparated himself out onto the street. 

“So they’ll be fumigating the place for a few days,” is what he told Neville later that evening, still shaking the yellow dust from his hair. “Apparently one of the—the—” He gestured vaguely, and imitated holding a small ball between his fingers, “things from the scene got stuck to my jumper, or something. Ugh.” He tousled his hair again. Cross-eyed, he watched as the dust kept on descending. 

“Well, you can stay as long as you like,” Neville said, a little muffled, chewing on a muffin. He looked up from marking a stack of re-sits to give Harry a smile. His quill was bleeding ink onto one of the essays. He noticed this, muttered a quick, “Oh rats,” and distractedly used the muffin to dab the ink—then realised what he’d done and deflated, sadly considering his inked muffin. 

“You say this now,” Harry said, grinned, and gave him a soft fist to the shoulder on passing, moving to stand by the arched window overlooking the Hogwarts grounds. It was a high summer’s night and the castle was hot and mostly deserted. Neville was staying a few weeks to oversee the blooming of a very specific flower and so had the empty guest quarters at his disposal. 

It had been years since Harry had spent the night at the castle. Years since he stayed longer than the time it took to give a short talk or to join one of the professors for tea. Outside, a soft breeze rustled the branches at the edge of the forest. The lights were on inside Hagrid’s hut, and one of his new dogs was sniffing around the dried up pumpkin patch, digging. 

Harry slept deeply that night. He dreamt of a bowl of porridge that kept on overrunning. The next morning they had breakfast in Neville’s small living room, quiet and not fully awake until Neville hummed and—apropos of nothing—said, “So Malfoy’ll be around this weekend, too.”

“Oh, goodie,” Harry said, scratching butter onto his toast. 

“Think he’ll be doing the Fat Lady this time ‘round,” Neville continued, waking up now, having had a cup of coffee. “Which is nice. She’s been complaining about a patch of loose paint on her arm since—oh, winter, for sure. And of course I’m the general spokesperson when it comes to all things Gryffindor—and like, why? I’m not even head of house. I’m not even in the castle, most of the time, for the love of Merlin. Anyway, yeah. Malfoy. Thought it’d be good for you to know.” 

Harry slanted him a quick smile, nodding. “No, yeah. Good to know.” 

But Neville was well into his rant now, had launched himself into it, had deserted his yoghurt and was pointing the round end of his spoon at Harry. “Did I tell you about last year, when he came for the portrait of the Smiling Duchess? You know, the one right by—”

“—Transfiguration classroom, opposite, yeah, the one who looks like she’s—”

“—Holding a melon, yeah! So last year, they had him over to work on her, well, melon thing, and Merlin. By the end of the week I think even McGonagall was avoiding him. Did I tell you about it?” 

“Might’ve, yeah, I think during—”

“—And so he’s there breakfast, lunch, dinner, and Merlin, the man does not stop talking. The state of the castle this, the quality of the food that, have we done something to change the menu? Has the Great Hall always smelled like that, have we heard of his latest achievements, have we heard his invention had been stolen by a nemesis, had I heard of the latest paper on the detriments of using metals in harvesting Shrivelfigs? And this last one he says—having stalked me all the way down to the greenhouse—he says as I’m about to harvest the Shrivelfigs. With my metal pincher. Merlin.” He exhaled, loudly, shaking his head at himself. “Well. Apparently I wasn’t done talking about that. Anyway!” 

Harry laughed, shaking his head along with Neville. “Anyway.” 

“At least now there’ll be you to distract him.” 

“Oh, will I, now!” 

Neville shrugged, gesturing vaguely with his spoon again. “He’s always asking about you, you know.” 

Harry hmm ’d, as if he knew about this all along. “Asking about me how?” 

“Oh, I don’t know. He just—” Neville geared up for an impression, scrunching up his nose. “‘So how’s our dear lord and saviour lately, anyway? Accidentally set himself on fire? Inadvertently rescued a horde of orphans, perchance?’ Like that.”

“You know,” Harry started, fighting laughter, “You know, I want to respond, but I’m just—bowled over by this hidden talent of yours. Truly, like Draco Malfoy himself was in the room for a moment. Ten points to Gryffindor, Neville, really, I’m—”

Neville threw a crumpet at him, which Harry hunched away from. It thudded off his shoulder and fell to the floor. Harry was still laughing a good minute later when Neville, grumbling, returned to his yoghurt, waving Harry off—telling him to go on a long walk “or something” if he was going to be “like that.” 

“Like what!” Harry said, picking the crumpet off of the floor, setting it on the edge of the table. 

“Like what,” Neville mimicked, huffing, shoving a good spoonful into his mouth. 

Harry ended up spending a total of three nights at the castle: the weekend and then some. During that time, he had dinner with Hagrid, helped Neville sort his wicker baskets, and sat in awkward silence in McGonagall’s quarters after having been invited for a spot of gin—an encounter that had helped them both realise how little they had to discuss beyond a shared dislike for celery soup. Which, incidentally, had been on the menu that very night. 

“Well,” McGonagall said once they had both declared they cared not for the vegetable in general. 

“Well,” Harry said, and sipped his gin. 

On Sunday morning Harry woke up later than he’d expected. Groggy, he took to the grounds, looking for Neville. The day was bright and hot and Harry held his coffee to his chest as he made his way to the greenhouse. He’d gone out barefoot, hair up every which way, wearing a borrowed t-shirt that boasted the lineup of a 2001 International Magical Herbology Conference. Neville, when he found him, was busy with his blooming flower, and Harry thought he’d try and see how long he could stand there asking pointless questions before he got sent away again. The answer was: ten long minutes. 

“Go bug your fanclub,” Neville said eventually, all affection, all annoyance. 

“You mean Malfoy?” Harry answered, cheeky, already walking away. 

“Who else?” Neville laughed. Then, as though to soothe, “See you at lunch!” 

Malfoy, news had it, had arrived the previous evening via Portkey. This information was quickly followed by an announcement that McGonagall had been summoned for a “surprise emergency meeting” in London. Nearly-Headless Nick told Harry as much, floating next to him as they wandered down from the Great Hall into the castle. 

“I do believe, if I may be so bold, that there is, in fact, no such surprise emergency meeting,” Nick confided, whispering loudly. “He kept her up, you know. Last night. Outside of her offices. Talked and talked at her—for a good two hours or so, if the grand clock is to be believed.”

“Bloody hell,” Harry huffed, laughing, only a little entertained by the thought. 

“Indeed,” Nick said, his head wobbling as he nodded. “Indeed.” 

He found Malfoy, as promised, outside the old Gryffindor doorway, working on the portrait of the Fat Lady. He sat on his knees on a pillowed surface, with three progressively larger magnifying glasses hanging before him, hooked on a copper contraption perched atop his head. At his feet was an accordion box full of bottles, paints and brushes. Malfoy had two brushes stuck between his teeth and a third aimed at the painting alongside his wand. He was focused on a spotlight he’d shined on the Lady’s arm. She, in turn, seemed vaguely nervous and would tut and comment on his work. 

A curious smell hung in the air. Oils and acetones and something else, something familiar. A little sweet, a little like iron. 

They usually ran into each other a few times a year, Malfoy and him: mostly at events, occasionally at a social gathering. Malfoy would glare at him, would say something that Harry was sure was mean or mocking—even if the words themselves were benign enough—and that was that. Harry knew Malfoy had gone to study abroad, years ago. He knew that it had something to do with restoration and art, and in all honesty he didn’t care quite enough to recall the details. 

He found he cared a fraction of a percent more standing there, his cooling coffee in hand, still feeling like he’d only just rolled out of bed—watching Malfoy try and shush the anxious Lady through a mouthful of paint brushes, saying, “I beg of you, Madam, really, this’ll be far easier if you’d just—”

“Hello,” Harry said, and Malfoy dropped all the brushes, got his magnifying glasses tangled up in his hair when he turned too quickly, and then tangled them up even more trying to wrench them off his head. 

“Oh good lord,” Malfoy huffed. He seemed flustered and instantly angry. “Harry Potter. You gave me a near heart attack.”

Harry smiled, leaned back against the wall. “Only near?”

“Good lord,” Malfoy said again, this time to himself. He wrangled the magnifying glasses from his hair, trying to comb it back into shape. He wore it short in the back these days, his fringe floppy over a side-parting. 

“Wotcha, Madam,” Harry added, cheering his mug at the Lady. She harrumphed, fussing over her arm, checking for a smudge. 

“What on earth are you—!” Malfoy started, huffed, got to his feet, knees creaking as he dusted himself off, continuing, “Why are you here? And lord, why are you . . .” He trailed off, taking in Harry’s state of dress. “Have you slept in the hallway?!” 

“Yes,” Harry said. “Yes, I have slept in the hallway. I was so excited for your arrival that I have slept in the hallway.” 

Malfoy blinked at him, mouth working like he wanted to say something but was at a loss for what. 

“Nah. I’m at Neville’s.” Harry took pity, nodding his head towards a distant window. “They’re fumigating my place.” 

“They’re what?” he enunciated, pronouncing the H as well as the W. 

“Fumigating. Anyway. What are you up to? How’s—” He indicated the mess of oils and brushes on the floor. “How’s that going?” 

“I beg your pardon, are you—?” Malfoy was still so very flustered, his stance awkwardly straight. He was still holding on to the copper contraption. “Are you here to make idle conversation?” 

Harry shrugged a shoulder. “Neville said you’d asked about me. Thought I’d drop by, save him the trouble of—”

“He—Longbottom said what?” Again, the H. 

“You’re so earnest. So upset,” Harry observed, as amused as he was taken aback. “I was only saying hello.” 

“Upse—! I’m not upset! What I am is in the middle of my workday, Harry Potter. Work which, I might add, requires my utmost concentration, which you have robbed from me, while—”

“—Robbed!” Harry repeated, laughing. 

“—of us can afford to go faffing about in—in, sleepwear, in the middle of the day, in the middle of the week, I say!” 

“It’s ten thirty!” Harry was still laughing his words, startled into it. “On a Sunday!” 

“Well!” was Malfoy’s flushed response. “Sunday is a workday somewhere in the world!” 

Harry frowned over his smile, shaking his head, confused. “Okay,” he said, stretching it out. “Shall I just leave you to it, then?” 

“That’d be much appreciated, yes.” Malfoy followed this statement with a puff of a frustrated breath.

“Sure. Yeah. Just—are there open office hours I can keep in mind, perhaps, for next time?” 

“Oh, for—!” Malfoy turned away from him and back to the Lady, fumbling with the glasses, trying to get them back onto his head. Harry watched him for a moment, tickled and annoyed and fascinated all at once. He didn’t quite want to go. The sun slanted in sharply from the east, through the coloured windows of lions in reds. It lit the Gryffindor landing in an orangey hue, a nostalgic shade. He took a breath to add something, comment on something, anything, and Malfoy cut him off from his perch on his knees, without looking up, a quick—

“Goodbye! Harry Potter!” 

Harry’s answering huff was startled out of him, amused. When he left, pushing off the wall, it was with a dramatic mirroring of, “Goodbye! Draco Malfoy!” And then, a few steps further down the corridor, a muttered, “Ya’ weirdo.” 

He didn’t see much of Malfoy for the rest of that Sunday. He spent most of the day lounging by the lake, playing fetch with the giant squid, skidding pebbles across the surface of the lake and waiting for a tentacle to rise up from the depths—catch it halfway, skid it back. 

“How’s the fanclub?” Neville asked over lunch, a loaf of bread and some good cheese shared by the waterside. 

“Very strange,” Harry said through a mouthful, frowning. “Very angry.” 

Neville made a noise in question and asked, “What’d you do?” 

“Said hello.” Harry paused, chewed, thought. “And then he shouted at me and told me to leave.” 

Neville nodded, either in sympathy or as though to say, yeah, sounds about right. “Fans,” was his eventual answer, exasperated like he knew all about it.

“Fans,” Harry agreed and took another bite of cheese in mid-chew. The sun was coming in through the leaves, warm and dappled, playing shadows on his arm, on the back of his hand.

- * - 

DECEMBER 1ST

First he latches on to a hand. Then a wrist, then an elbow. His fingers claw—frozen numb around the limb. Then, scrabbling at Draco’s heavy robes, panting so hard his breaths become groans, he hoists him up above water. He looks dead in that moment: a limp and cold weight in Harry’s arms. His lips are blue and there’s water spilling from his mouth. Harry clutches, finds a way to wedge his arm under an armpit and pulls Draco to him—dragging him onto the ice by falling back himself, by rolling them onto the surface. 

There he lays for a heartbeat, huffing clouds into the night’s sky. Draco’s weight is like an anvil draped across him. He has a hand on the cold back of Draco’s head, on the nape of his neck. The chain around his wrist has snapped back to the short length between them. 

“Don’t be dead,” he mutters, teeth chattering. He pushes himself up, his hands careful on Draco, and scans him, looking for signs. Frustration takes over for a split second and he shakes Draco by the shoulders, kneeling over him now, begging a furious litany of— “Don’t be dead don’t be dead don’t be—”

Draco’s hair is flattened over his forehead. He looks so white he’s almost green. His eyes are shut. His pointy nose is tinged purple, his ears are tinged purple too. Harry lets go of his shoulders, takes a shaky, pins-and-needles cold breath, then tips Draco’s head back. He pinches Draco’s nose closed and with careful fingertips under his chin, puts his mouth to Draco’s, breathing for him, five times in a row. He pulls back, scans for signs of life, is about to start compressions when Draco starts coughing up water. Harry sobs, curses, rolls him on his side so he can spit it all out. Draco’s body moves like he’s about to retch at first, and then he’s all shakes: eyes barely open, lungs working fast, confused and about to pass out. 

“Oh God,” Harry says, puts his face to Draco’s for a brief second—pure relief—before— “Okay. Okay, here we go. Let’s just . . .” He glances back at the banks of the lake and sees the shapes slinking out of sight, into the shadowed woods, silent in their movements. And then they are gone: the human-like things, the horse-like things, all of them. There’s only a thorny looking edge of winter shrub, the fall of snow from branches. 

“Right,” Harry says, turning back to Draco. His hands are trembling when he searches for purchase, hooking an arm under Draco’s neck, the other hooked under his knees. It’s a struggle, getting up, getting his creaky knees to lift them off the ice. It doesn’t quite work on the first try and he falls back down, knee-first, cussing, saying, “Fuck fuck fuck— ”, while Draco’s head lolls against his chest, his arm. 

Fuck,” is his final statement. He manages to get a good footing and stands up with an armful of a heavy and delirious Draco Malfoy. Draco coughs weakly, and then his breathing starts to slow again. On the side of the lake they had come from, the cottage is still lit from within, its panelled windows glowing orange. Its roof is white with snow, the low stone wall as well, and in the light of the full moon, it looks like something from a picture book: something warm and safe and inviting. This, Harry knows, is a lie, and also their one and only option. 

Draco groans and Harry walks them, achingly slow—stumbling a little, shoes sliding on the ice—back towards the cottage. 

“Almost there,” Harry says, as much to himself as to Draco. Then, when Draco suddenly looks up at him—unfocused and bleary, frightened, his hands clutching at the front of Harry’s robes—“Shh I got you, I got you, we’re almost there, Draco, just—”

He can see where the chain digs into Draco’s thigh, taut between their wrists. A cloud passes over the moon and soon it starts snowing again. Flakes get stuck in Harry’s lashes behind his glasses. They land on Draco’s blue lips and do not melt. 

“Harry,” he croaks, voice barely there. He sounds scared. 

“You’re okay, you’re gonna be okay,” Harry tells him. He doesn’t look down as he huddles Draco closer to his chest, gaze sharp on the cottage, on each step that brings it closer. He sees the promise of its warmth, a distant flickering, glowing in yellow. 

- * - 

AUGUST 

The yellow powder had been more or less scrubbed from most surfaces. The fumigation team did a good enough job of it: managed to scrub the powder from the walls, to blow the dust from the crannies it’d settled into, to vanish the ashy residue from the knick-knacks on Harry’s bookshelves. A fine enough job, they did, and yet there was something of a smell that hadn’t been there before. Something that lingered until the moment Harry tried to look for it, tried to single it out, and then it became impossible to pinpoint. He had friends over and tried to get them to name it, would wait until they were there in his kitchen for a while and then ask, 

“So anyway d’you—d’you smell that?” 

“Smell what?” they’d say, and Harry didn’t know how to answer. The thing that smells different, was as much as his mind provided him with, which was of no help at all. It was on an occasion like this, a neat month after the fumigation, that the first letter arrived. Parvati was visiting, had stopped by for an afternoon with a bagful of bottles from the shop for Harry to try. The two of them were sharing her latest invention: an orange concoction she called Butternut Bitter Beer. It was just as Harry’d asked his question about the smell that was and wasn’t there, and just as Parvati had answered with an amused, You mean like worse than usual?, that the owl swooped in through the open window. 

“What’s this, now,” Harry muttered to himself, and accepted the note from the bird’s outstretched little claw. It was a rattled wee thing, its down feathers still floating about the room. Parvati blew at one that threatened to land on her shoulder. 

“Is it terribly exciting?” she asked a moment later, when Harry simply stared at the parchment. The script, an exaggerated cursive, suggested a lunch, or a tea, or a chance to catch up; for they hadn’t the chance upon their brief run-in at Hogwarts. Then came a suggestion of three dates in the near future, each with two possible times of the day. 

“It’s terribly something, alright,” Harry said, and let the paper roll back into itself. The owl suddenly and frantically mouthed at its wing, cleaning an itch from a feather. 

The second letter arrived a week later, the first one having gone unanswered. Perhaps you are catching up on your correspondence still, the note said, which Harry read in his office, bewildered and over lunch, mustard-fingers smudging the edge of the paper. Once again, feathers were everywhere. 

“My correspondence?” Harry repeated, a baffled whisper, then added a short, “Blugh,” and scrunched the paper into a ball. Tossed it at the bin. Gave the owl a piece of his pastrami and waited for it to leave. 

“Who’s owling you all the time?” asked Hermione, a short month later, when one of Malfoy’s off-timed letters came for him during dinner. It was that same owl every time: big-eyed and itchy, scratching at itself and shedding everywhere. Hermione plucked a fallen feather from her mashed potatoes as Harry scanned over yet another brazen invitation for a high tea over at the Dancing Doxy, asking him if Next Wednesday, perhaps? was a good day, because he had this Thursday off and so could potentially extend the rendezvous to an early dinner, should the allotted time frame be deemed insufficient to cover the topics of conversation that may— 

“—off your bloody rocker, really,” Harry muttered at the paper, rereading it for the third time in quick succession. Hermione, no longer expecting an answer, redirected the question to Ron, asking him if he knew who the newly appointed president of Harry’s fan club was? Ron shrugged, and used his wand to aim a puff of air at a floating feather, sending it twirling. Then, with the same casual movement, he Accio’d Harry’s note from his hands. 

“Oi!” was Harry’s response, instantly parroted by Ron when Hermione then snatched it from his hands. There was a quick scuffle where Ron made to grab for her and she jumped out of the chair, where Harry tried to climb over the table and only managed to get a hold of the back of her shirt. This did nothing to slow her down. It only ensured that he got swatted at a few times as she unrolled the little scroll one-handed, laughing, beginning to read out loud, Dear Harry Potter! I can only assume my previous letters have . . . She then trailed off, humour thinning into silence as her eyes scanned the words. 

Harry let her go. He slumped back into his chair, all dramatics, letting his head fall back with a groan. 

“Goodness me,” she said, the laughter returning to her words. 

“What?” Ron wanted to know, trying to move, to read it with her. “Who is it? What is it?” 

She gave Ron the parchment, distracted now, eyes on Harry as she asked, laughing still, “So why is Draco Malfoy sending you—”

“I don’t know!” Harry exclaimed, shrugging his arms out. He put his hands in his hair, scratching through it as he continued, “I have no idea. I ran into him when I was staying with Nev, when they were fumigating the—” He nodded at the room, vaguely and folded his hands over the back of his neck. “And he was working on a painting, because he does the—”

“—Restorations, hmmhm.” 

“—Right, and he then was rude, as to be expected, and I was like, okay then, goodbye, and then he started with these . . .” He exhaled, motioned at the letter, the owl. “I don’t know. I genuinely don’t know.” 

“Hmm,” Hermione said, like it meant something. Ron turned over the scroll a few times—looking for clues on the back of it, confused. 

“It’s a trick,” he concluded, giving Harry back the letter. 

“I’m not replying,” Harry said.

“Hmmm,” Hermione added, again. She made it sound like she meant something new altogether this time, something which flustered Harry, despite himself, and made him cluck his tongue at her in annoyance. Made him get up from the table and fuss over getting the owl to leave, herding it towards the window. 

The owl cawed and flapped about, ungainly, sending the room into a new cloud of feathers. 

“Maybe you should reply,” Hermione said, sitting back down, one foot up on the chair. 

“Maybe you should,” Harry muttered back, chasing the owl as he hopped from the counter to the stove.

She snorted. “Maybe I will.” 

“Please don’t,” Ron requested, and Hermione replied with a fond look and a funny scrunch of her nose, pushing Ron’s fringe back off his forehead. 

“Ugh,” Harry said. He caught the owl in the midst of a flapping and feathery struggle and was now carrying it over to the window. In his hold, the owl cawed and screeched and bit at his fingers. “Be gone!” Harry announced and threw the owl out into the garden. 

The conversation still replayed in his mind the next day at the office, supplied with his own furious inner dialogue, chopped up into half-thoughts. Reply to him! And, To him! And, I don’t owe him anything, do I! He huffed to himself, paging through an inventory of case-related evidence and registering nothing of it. He paused, trying to will his focus back into existence, selected a few folders from a stack, and set them aside, shaking his head to himself. I'm not responsible for his nutty behaviour anymore, he argued at himself, and we’re grown men, damn it!—not in Hogwarts, Merlin’s sake, why should I—! — 

An interdepartmental memo that had been trying to get Harry’s attention by softly tapping against his shoulder, gave up on subtleties and zoomed around to fling itself at Harry’s face. Harry sputtered and peeled it off, saying, “Okay! Okay! I’m . . .” 

He trailed off, eyes moving quickly over the page. He got up half out the chair, still reading. “Oh no,” he whispered, licking his lips. He put the memo down, staring ahead of him blankly for a moment. “No no.” 

- * - 

DECEMBER 1ST

“No,” Harry whispers and again, “no,” glancing down and then up, then down again. Draco’s gone very, very still in his arms and he’s only just reached the riverbank. The mud is hard and icy and the dead grasses crunch under his slow, heavy steps. His breath is needles in his throat, and somehow he is sweating under his robes, under his jacket, his jumper. He tries to go faster. 

The cottage is silhouetted by the long fingers of wintertime trees. The pebbled path up the entrance has a slight incline to it, and at one point Harry has to fall to one knee, to catch up with himself, to close his eyes and count the seconds between one inhale—one exhale. Draco’s head lolls dangerously over the crook of his elbow and his body seizes up, shivering. The chain between their wrists tightens in response.

Harry puffs and pushes himself back into movement. He struggles past the dead skeleton of a hedge, past stones that mark a vegetable patch, past the log where earlier today Draco had sat in the dying light, slicing an apple and eating its wedges off the pointy end of his knife. He’d been rambling through a mouthful while Harry had fumbled with the door. 

It’s open this time; they hadn’t thought to close it behind them when they raced out onto the lake. Harry uses his shoulder to push at it and it goes easily, swinging on its creaky hinges. The front room is as they left it: parchments are strewn across the carpet and piled up in armchairs, half-cast Tracing Charms still hover over bowls and bowls of powders. The bad lamp on the writing desk is still flickering. The drawers that they pulled at in their frantic search for the key are still open. 

On his last legs, Harry stumbles them across the room and towards the old bed tucked into a corner. He deposits Draco onto the patchwork quilt with as much care as he can manage, out of breath, aching, half going down himself, the chain pulling at him. Draco is wet and heavy and it’s seeped through Harry’s robes, has soaked his sleeves and the collar of his shirt. 

“Okay,” Harry says, the word a puff of cold in the air. “Okay, okay, what do we do? How do we do this?” He looks to the walls, to the patches of damp plaster; from the low beams, to the blackened hearth; from the old ashy embers, to the pans hanging above the stove and the browning apple core by the window sill. Everything smells wet and cold, and Draco seems to have nearly stopped breathing. Harry has to put his icy hand to Draco’s lips to feel that the soft huff of a shallow exhale is still there, barely so. 

“Shit,” he whispers, swallows around his chattering teeth. Then, “Okay. Warm, get you warm, okay.” He nods to himself, several times in a row, fingers slow and clumsy on Draco’s heavy robes. They won’t move, are a weighted tweed with a bulky lining that clings to Draco’s woolen clothes. All of it feels frozen stiff under Harry’s hands, and even though they’re all alone, even though they’re hiding in an empty cottage on the dead edge of Surrey and there’s no one on their heels, the process still feels like a race. Like Harry is too slow, like something or someone will catch up before he manages to unbuckle the bulky cuffs at Draco’s wrists. Before he manages to peel away the first layer of water-leaden cloth. 

“You kn-know what’d come in handy r-right about now?” he asks Draco, stuttering with the cold seeping in, now that he’s not walking, not hauling a dead weight in his arms. “W-wand. A wand.” He pulls and tugs a second sleeve of a robe from Draco’s arm, and now the full weight of the wet thing pulls on the chain between them, hauls Harry closer. He catches himself on the mattress and it squeaks and bounces under him, springy. 

“A working wand,” he affirms, pushing himself off. “One of those would’b grand,” he says and begins to rummage about the room with wooden limbs, one arm stretched behind him, pulled back by the soaked tweed robe on the chain. He shoves at some papers on the table, peers into a drawer, and finally finds a massive set of poultry scissors hanging from a hook above the stove. “Ha!” He coughs out the sound, fumbles with the hook, and gets it off eventually, stumbling back to the bed and falling to his knees at its side. He struggles to push his fingers through the handles, and sets to work immediately: cutting up the side of Draco’s woolen jumper, holding the soaking fabric away from his skin with his other hand. At some point, he gives up on the scissors and rips at the rest, unravelling the thread. When it’s done he hoists Draco’s arms up, pushes what’s left of his jumper up over his head, and Draco’s nose gets caught on the collar. Harry gentles his touch. Draco’s cheek is a bitterly thin thing under his fingers. His hair is frozen in clumps. His chest is purple, mottled. Barely moving. 

Harry dumps the ruined jumper on the floor. It goes with a wet splash of a sound. He starts on Draco’s trousers, trying not to think, not to linger, not to reflect the frightening intimacy of it as his knuckles brush the hard bones of Draco’s hips. As he pushes them down, wrangles Draco’s feet from his shoes. When he’s got him out of his wet clothes, Draco’s naked and shivering so hard that the bed squeaks for it. Harry wraps him in the quilt, rubs some quick heat into him and swears under his breath as he picks the scissors back up and starts cutting at his own robes, his jumper. 

“T’was a damn g-good jumper, too,” he stutters, and grimaces a shaky smile, trying to make it light. He tries not to linger, not to panic at the fact that Draco Malfoy is currently freezing to death at his hand. He tries to act like they aren’t stranded, aren’t in danger, aren’t without magic—without any means of calling for help. 

Some sort of a small sound comes from Draco. A soft moan, barely there. Pain. Harry responds, “Right?” and sits down on the bed to take off his shoes, his trousers. 

“Unbelievable,” he adds for good measure, then tugs the bed linens from under Draco, untucks the quilt from around him and shudders as he bustles them both under the musty sheets, finally covering them with the quilt. He pulls Draco’s icicle of a body against him, back to chest. The arm he loops around Draco’s frame is weighed down by the chain around his wrist and by the wet winter robe pulling it off the side of the bed. He’ll deal with that later, he thinks, every inch of Draco’s skin a gelid plane, like the surface of the lake itself. 

Draco trembles against the cage of Harry’s arms, and Harry wonders if he’ll ever warm again. He rubs a hand down and over Draco’s sternum as though he were a foal, a newborn animal whose life needs to be kneaded into its body. He breathes hot against a shoulder, against the back of his neck. 

Draco shivers and quakes and does not warm. 

“C’mon,” Harry says, shaking along with him, wondering how the world might react if this is how he finally dies: of a common spot of hypothermia, naked in a bed with Draco Malfoy.

C’mon,” he repeats and pulls closer, then closer still. 

- * - 

SEPTEMBER 

Still, Harry tried everyone else first. There was a magical art-theory expert in Brussels who replied to his owl quickly and kindly, but who then stopped responding altogether, until Harry resorted to sending a Howler, at which point he got in answer a short but weepy message about a marriage that was falling apart. Someone who had caught someone with someone in the guest bedroom. The letter ended with a request for Harry to explain why love was so awful, which Harry could not. Instead, he contacted a lesser-known expert in Swansea, who unfortunately didn’t have the time, but who knew someone who could aid in the case. 

Excellent, Harry wrote back. Do forward me the details! 

The details came in the form of Draco Malfoy’s full name and address, somewhere north of London. 

Any other options, perchance? Harry wrote back, and was redirected to a magical art-history expert, which—everyone insisted—was not the same thing, but could, in a pinch, provide the necessary help. Better yet, this expert lived in the city, had retired several years prior, and so would surely have the time. Harry went by in person, decked out in his Ministry robes, only to frighten a very nervous wife who was convinced Harry Potter had come to her door to ask about her retired—and recently disappeared—husband’s business. The one he ran out of his basement.

“I swear I didn’t know what any of that was!” she told him for the fifth time in a row, standing on the staircase as Harry reluctantly took stock of the underground chamber, of the mess of canvasses and paint and neat replicas of famous Muggle paintings. “I just thought, oh, he likes painting the sky all loopy-like! A bit of a cheeky tree, you know? How do I know who Gan Fof is, I mean, really! Doesn’t sound like a name at all, does it!” 

“Van Gogh,” Harry said, distractedly. He put in a call for the investigative branch, and sighed. 

His next line of approach went by way of Hermione, who hadn’t had time to help him with a case since 2003 and immediately asked him why he didn’t try Draco. This devolved into a conversation that derailed entirely and they somehow ended up discussing the time she’d had Pomfrey shrink her teeth smaller than they’d been before and ended with Harry shouting, “Well, what’d your parents have to say about that!”, and Hermione shouting back, “That they didn’t know I hated my teeth and that they were sorry I felt that way and that they thought I was pretty no matter what!” 

“Oh!” Harry half-shouted to that, deflating, still angry and frowning. “Well! That’s very supportive.” 

“I know!” Hermione said, like it was still an argument. “They’re very nice people!” 

“I know!” Harry shot back, and that was that. She gave him a name, someone French who didn’t have the license to work overseas and recommended a friend, who recommended a professor from the Magical Art Theory Institute, who recommended his best student who’d graduated some years prior, who again turned out to be Draco Malfoy. 

“Merlin fucking wept,” is how Harry closed off that fire-call, hair full of ash and on his knees on the department-issued carpet. 

“How’s the missing portraits case going?” Love asked just then, passing by with an air of purpose and a handful of folders rolled up in her hand. 

Harry grunted in reply, to which she said, “Excellent!”, and took a sharp left towards her cubicle. Behind her typewriter, Kim Kaboli snorted. 

“You’re always typing,” Harry shot back, annoyed, starting to get up and shaking the ash from his hair. “What are you always typing about?”

“Murder,” she said, calm enough, and Harry paused, catching her steely gaze over the rim of her glasses. 

“Brilliant,” he said, and walked away a little faster than necessary. 

Draco Malfoy lived in a modest red-brick house on a small estate that was mostly fruit trees and neat flower beds and a long, expansive stretch of a lawn. A weeping wisteria was growing up and around the entrance, and kempt roses lined the portico. Autumn had painted the landscape in oranges and yellows, and a season’s wreath had been hung upon the door, decorated with tiny carved pumpkins that cackled when Harry pulled the levy for the doorbell. 

“Yeah yeah,” he told the little monsters. “Laugh it up.” 

The door flew open not a second later, accompanied with a booming, “Welcome!” and the flutter of a robe being flapped open over a shoulder. Malfoy had dressed up: had done his fringe in a puffy flop, was wearing a dramatic combination of velvet and silk and a loose ascot tied over his collar. There were pockets and waistcoats and possibly a cummerbund, Harry wasn’t sure. It was all a bit much and before he could take it in proper, Malfoy had moved again, had turned with a flourish and a wave of his robes and stalked into the house with a loud, “This way! And close the door behind you!”

“Circe’s pants,” Harry muttered, a baffled moment later and followed as instructed. Malfoy started up a steady ramble as they walked through a portrait-filled hallway towards the back of the house: something about how inconvenient the day had been, or the hour, how he’d had to cancel another meeting, how he’d been very busy of late, what with the case of his nemesis, a stolen thing, and how Harry mustn’t touch anything unless instructed otherwise—how the curation of Draco’s home had been procured with—

“—great hardship. It is all very expensive and very fragile, I’ll have you know.” 

Harry muttered a soft, “Like your ego?” in reply, and Draco shot Harry an over-the-shoulder glance and a clipped, 

“Pardon me?” 

“Hmm?” 

“What did you just say?” 

Harry shrugged, shaking his head, mouth downturned. “Nothing? I was just admiring your, uh . . .” He gestured at the long wall of paintings, pointing randomly at a portrait of a young woman in the nude. She had long hair that obscured most of her body, and she was eating something out of a shell. “Paintings.”

“Hmm,” is what Malfoy had to say to that. Then, continuing down into a larger sitting room, “We may discuss my collection over tea.” 

“Over tea?” Harry noticed, with a slight panic, that the coffee table had been decked out for a high tea with a tower of petit fours, sandwiches, sweets, and a bowl of gleaming fruit. “Listen, Malfoy, I—”

Malfoy took a seat, draping himself into an armchair. He crossed his long legs, ankle over knee. He unclasped his robe at his throat and threw it open. Its lining was a bright mint green, patterned with golden Snitches. 

“Merlin wept,” Harry whispered, ran a rough hand over his cheek. This room, too, was a wild collection of paintings that were hung every which way or placed on the floor, leaning against the wall in their heavy frames. There were landscapes and still lifes and abstracted cityscapes, colours and portraits and movement all around. “Look,” Harry continued. “I don’t have much time, really, and there’s kind of a time pressure on this thing, so if there’s maybe like an office where we could—”

“Time pressure?” Malfoy said, smoothing out the fabric of his trouser leg. “Hmm. So, just so that I’m entirely clear on this: what you would like is to ask me a, ah, let’s say, a question, and you would then appreciate it if I replied in a swift and comprehensible manner?” 

Harry exhaled, a shallow puff of air. “Right.” 

“Hmm. Yes. That does sound like good manners, doesn’t it?” He cocked his head and scratched, one long finger at his hair. 

“Look,” Harry started, and Malfoy glanced around the room, asked, 

“Look where?”

“Okay, listen, so about the letters you—”

“What letters?” 

“So I haven’t replied to—”

“Oh, so you did get them!” He softly clapped his hands together. “What a relief,” he said, not sounding relieved at all. “I had feared perhaps I had the wrong address. That you’d moved to the underworld. Or that they had disappeared, had been intercepted by,” he left a pause, lip curling as he added, over-enunciating the word: “Goblins.” 

Harry shrugged, sighed, shook his head—didn’t know what else to say. “What is it that you even want, Malfoy? Like, what could you possibly—”

“Surely!” Malfoy started, then stopped, continued at a softer tone: “Surely, my correspondence would have made that clear. Merely a moment of your time, Potter, simply a chance to sit down and enjoy one another’s company over a cup of tea. Catch up, if you will.”

Harry frowned. “Catch up on what?” 

Life,” Malfoy said this with the same snarling impatience as he’d said Goblins. “Gossip. I don’t know, Potter. What do you talk about when you bother Longbottom for a week?” 

“Yeah, but Neville’s a friend.” 

“Well, there you go.” Malfoy somewhat spread out his arms at this, indicating, it seemed, himself. 

“We’re not . . .” Harry’s frown deepened, his lips working around a word, working through the thought before he could voice it: “We’re not friends, Malfoy.” 

“We could be,” he answered, shrugging. “That is, if you’re vested in solving this case of yours. What was it about, you said? Dissolving portraits?” 

“Disappearing,” Harry corrected, still half in thought. “Are you . . . are you blackmailing me into having tea with you?” 

“Lord, no. Look at you, so earnest. No, blackmailing would imply I had sensitive information to hold against you.” He uncrossed his legs, leaned forward to pick up the fine china pot by its handle and pour tea into a cup. “And if I’d had that, it certainly wouldn’t have taken this long to get you here. No, this is merely persuasion. With added motivation. Sugar?”

Harry shook his head, huffed a humourless laugh. 

“Is that a no to the sugar?” Malfoy asked. “Or a no to solving the case?” 

Harry stood there for a moment. He thought of the last month, of the case, of the slow anxiety that had been spreading across the department each day a new report of a disappearance was called in. Of how little sense it made. Of the time in third year when Malfoy called him Pisspot Pothead for two months straight. Of the departmental gala, some years back, when Malfoy—clearly drunk—had asked him to dance in what Harry assumed was a jest. A mockery. He thought of Hermione, sitting in his kitchen, tongue in her cheek, holding Malfoy’s letter and saying, 

Hmmm.

Harry tsk’d, annoyed. “The sugar,” he said, already put-upon, and sat himself down. 

- * - 

DECEMBER 2ND 

Down in the deep of the night, somewhere between the hoot of an owl and the muffled sound of snow falling off branches, Draco’s temperature begins to stabilise, or at least warms a little. He warms enough that the long line of his spine isn’t an icy dig against Harry’s sternum, and the dip of his waist isn’t so frighteningly cold against the crook of Harry’s arm. Somewhere along the night, Harry’s warmth begins to etch and seep through, to calm Draco’s shivers. The sheets catch the heat of their tangled bodies and keep it encased. Draco’s hair has defrosted, dried, and Harry’s so close he can smell the soap on it. Draco moves in his sickly sleep, rolls his shoulders, arches, moans. He tries to get closer to Harry, to his heat. Occasionally Harry’s lips brush the cropped stubble on the back of Draco’s neck, and his mouth is dry, and he is thirsty, and the night is so very, very quiet. 

The light on the writing table still flickers, the filament ticking. The house has sounds: a creak here, there, the wind knocking something against a window. A shiver runs through Draco and he clutches at Harry’s arm, fingers tightening before letting go. Tightening again.

The room is orange and grey, and lifting up a little Harry can see a bit of colour has returned to Draco’s cheeks. There’s a sheen of sweat on his forehead and his lips look swollen—his skin pulled taut. 

What now? was Draco’s quiet question, not even a day ago, though it seems a different lifetime, now. He was so close in that moment. His breath on Harry’s cheek. It was easier to see the cracks in his veneer, like that. To hear the shake in the foundation of his words when he delivered them like a blow.

Sometimes, Harry, Hermione’s words rumble about his memory. Sometimes people aren’t riddles. Sometimes when they tell us what they want, they’re just telling us what they want. 

Yeah yeah, was Harry’s answer at the time, annoyed and out of sorts over Draco leaving and unsure of why. He mistook the emotion for hunger and ate himself a little nauseous over lunch: two sandwiches and a boiled egg to boot. 

Draco shudders again, lets go of Harry’s arm and reaches back—clutches at Harry’s thigh, pulls him closer. He turns his head, his dark mouth open and messy against Harry’s jaw, his neck. Draco is asleep, very much still asleep, and Harry swears under his breath and inches back, putting some distance between them. He takes Draco’s hand off his thigh and places it back on the bed. Draco goes with a soft moan of loss, frowning, sweating still. 

Careful to keep the heat under the blankets, Harry moves out from under the sheets and sits on the edge of the bed, his arm angled awkwardly behind him. 

The cottage is freezing cold but Harry is running hot, his thoughts muddled. His skin breaks out in goosebumps at the clash. With his free hand he scrubs at his face, a thumb and finger under his glasses, rubbing his closed eyes.

With a sigh he gets up and walks around the bed. He rummages through his wet and ruined robes for his wand, finding it in its holster. He tries a spell for propriety’s sake, but it’s still the same: the magic sputters to a halt, zinging like electricity down the length of the chain attached to his wrist. On his end, Draco’s hand twitches. 

Harry puts his wand down on the low stool beside the bed. The cold is starting to seep in now, and he shivers. He starts rummaging through their discarded clothes for his pants, for anything dry. It’s all frozen stiff. Instead, in a chest of drawers, he finds a mildew-smelling sheet, patterned with faded blue flowers. He wraps it around himself. His breath fogs up around him. 

There’s a bucket of old coal on the other side of the room, next to the stove, and in between the lumps he finds a striker, a fire starter. Shaking in his makeshift toga he tries to kneel down in front of the open grate to get some heat going, but the weighted chain tugs at him, makes it hard to use his hands. He gives up for a moment to spend a frustrated ten minutes huffing on his knees by the bed, cutting Draco’s heavy tweed robes off the chain. Looking up, he sees the shadows over Draco’s sleeping face, flickering in time with the ticking of the lamp. Eventually, when the robes are in tattered pieces on the floor and the chain expands easily again, Harry sets out to get the fire going. 

He hasn’t done it in years, not without magic, and it takes forever. It gives him bad memories of the forest, the smell of flint and the ear-popping pressure of heavy protection wards. He swallows around the thought, tightens his jaw to keep his teeth from chattering, and strikes until the tinder catches.

The fire is slow to start but the instant heat is marvellous. Harry watches the flames lick and grow, face close to the grate. Then he collects a few good embers and lights the hearth by the bed too. He stretches the chain further, and it’s nearly at its last link when he’s outside, halfway so, scooping some snow into a pan. He melts it over the stove and drinks the shallow and stale-tasting bottom of it, quick and greedy. He repeats this several times over—snow, pan, melt, drink—and runs himself a little breathless. The last time he melts the snow, he packs it as full as he can and pours the water into a bowl. 

The warmth from the fire rises to the beams first, leaving the floor cold, but eventually the room does heat, does grow smaller and safer with the feel of it. It isn’t easy, but he manages to push an unconscious Draco up into a sitting position—half up against the headboard, the chain snapping short between them. It isn’t easy but he manages, holding Draco by the back of his clammy neck, tilting his head back, carefully holding the bowl of water to his lips, whispering—

“Can you drink this? Draco? Can you . . . Here, just . . .” 

Some of the water spills down the side of Draco’s cheek, down his neck, but his throat works and he drinks, slowly. Harry almost laughs in relief. But then Draco gasps and starts coughing and Harry sets the bowl aside. He helps him to calm down, helps him settle back into the sheets. His eyes open for a second, unfocused and blurry. They roll unsteadily, eyelids heavy, before seeming to take in Harry—to see him. 

“Hey,” Harry breathes. “Hello, hi, are you—”

Draco groans, grimacing. He starts moving then, the springs of the bed groaning as he tries to push Harry away, tries to push the sheets off of him, saying with a voice so gravelly Harry barely recognises it. That he’s— “Hot, ah, hot, get . . . off . . .”

“No, Draco, you’re—” Harry is quick to push the sheets back on him, to keep him in place with as gentle a touch as he can manage. Draco struggles and sobs, panting against Harry’s arm. Harry’s holding him down with a hand to his shoulder, and Draco twists, sweaty. 

“‘M hot,” he says, miserably, hands weak against Harry’s chest. The toga Harry made of the sheet slips off his shoulder, and Draco’s fingers are freezing on his skin. 

“It’s a fever,” Harry tells him, quiet. And then, “You fell. Into the lake.” 

Draco frowns, confused and squirming, his fingers restless. He moans again, says, “What?”, tries to push the sheets off again. 

“You fell into the lake,” Harry repeats, tugging the quilt up higher to cover Draco’s bruised chest.

Draco huffs. “Harry?” 

“Yeah, hi, yes, can you—?” 

“Harry,” Draco says and sobs once more. This time, when his hands come up to Harry’s shoulders, they’re not pushing but pulling. They're not hard or urgent but pulling all the same, and Draco’s wide-eyed and babbling, saying, “Harry, I— It’s me, my fault, Harry, I’m—”

“Shh, no, hey—” Harry tries to take Draco’s hands from his shoulders and manages to pin one wrist down before the other is around his neck, tugging, Draco whispering, 

“I just wanted—I just wanted to—”

“It’s a fever,” Harry says, perhaps to himself, Draco’s fingers sliding into his hair and his face close, his breath on Harry’s chin when he says, 

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m—”

“It’s okay, Draco, just—” 

Draco kisses him, his hand a fist in Harry’s hair. His mouth is too hot, puffy with the fever, and insistent on Harry’s bottom lip. The fire in the hearth has just begun to come to life: a log crackles, breaking. It sends sparks past the grate and into the room, bright and startling. 

- * - 

OCTOBER 

The startling tale of Draco Malfoy’s early adulthood was relayed as follows: in 2002, after much toiling and defeating the odds and being put on endless waiting lists, the ever-so-talented Draco Malfoy was finally admitted to KISMAT: the prestigious Kraan Institute for the Studies of Magical Art and Theory, situated in Brussels. No one wanted him there, naturally, and his teachers and fellow students were all awfully prejudiced against him. That is, of course, until they got to know him and realised that despite his family’s involvement in the, ah, well, war or whatnot, that despite that, he was in fact a genius and terribly charming too. It took all but a month for everyone at the Institute to realise his potential, and immediately he rose to unprecedented levels of popularity, becoming not only the most liked young man of his year, but certainly the most promising student of Magical Art Theory. 

And so it went. All was well. He had the loveliest apartment in the city’s best wizarding street (De Simpelweg weg), was racing through his studies, was conducting some truly cutting-edge research into the magical engine found in animative paint which—did Harry know?—was invented in 1751 by Johannes Wannes Kraan, after which the institute was named and—did Harry know ?—that before that time the only way portraits could be animated was by catching the soul of a departing person and locking it in the portraiture, truly a barbaric practice, as far as Draco was concerned and—did Harry know ?—there was in fact a petition making the rounds arguing for the release of all portraiture animated before the 18th—

Anyway. So there he was, in the final year of his studies, beloved and envied by all but one: his nemesis, whose name wasn’t even worth a mention, for he was so very jealous of Draco and so very unworthy of his time. And of course the reason for his jealousy was that his own family history was similar to Draco’s, and yet where were his accolades? Where were his hordes of friends and adoring professors? None of that was Draco’s responsibility, of course. He could hardly be held accountable, really, for outshining his fellow student, for having risen above the rest, for having broken through the shackles of history, for—

Anyway. So there he was, on the day of his graduation, having presented his final project to his esteemed professors, and so Harry could only imagine—could only imagine— Draco’s mortification when he was called in to the Dean’s office to discuss the issue of plagiarism in his work. Plagiarism! In his work! Never in his life! And who would he even plagiarise? Who? Everyone else’s projects were child’s play in comparison to his, and it was innovative stuff, some truly unexplored territory, how would that even work? Well, he told them as much, them as in the Institute, them as in the Dean and the professors and did Harry know what they said? Did he know what they said? 

How could they be certain, they said, when Draco’s nemesis handed in his project a day earlier than Draco himself? 

“Stolen!” Malfoy concluded the worn story for the fifth time in as many days. He was sitting in a chair he’d dragged from Binyon’s desk, opposite Harry, feet up on the table as he rambled and absently folded important memos into animal shapes. “Stolen from right—!”

“—under your nose, by your nemesis, who then disappeared, never to clear your name. I know, Malfoy. I basically dreamt this speech last night.” Harry stared down at his report and noticed that he’d written the last sentence twice over. He took off his glasses to rub at his eyes.

“Well,” Malfoy said, unbothered. “You’re very welcome call me Draco, you know. What with us being colleagues now.” 

“How kind.” Harry put his glasses back on, glanced up and added, “And we’re not colleagues. You’re simply the only expert available to the department in helping with a—”

“Best of friends, then,” he interrupted and sent a paper giraffe galloping across Harry’s report. 

“Merlin wept,” Harry muttered, and picked up the giraffe by its papery neck. Deposited it in an empty tea cup. 

“Cute,” was Love’s opinion of the artwork, on passing, always on passing, always walking fast and with purpose.

“Isn’t it just?” Malfoy replied, smiling broad, toothy and dimpled. Harry reached across the table to push Malfoy’s high leather boots off his table with a rough shove and insisted that no one—

“—encourage him, please, it’s bad enough as is.” 

“How goes the case?” asked Kaboli in response, not looking up from her typewriter. Harry answered with a, “Fine!”, at the same time as Draco said, “What case?”, and that had been the final straw, really. The final push at the end of a long day, at the end of a long week, and though Harry had promised himself to play nice until they solved the case—or at least until some advancements had been made—five days in the unending, relentless company of Draco Malfoy was driving him to desperation faster than he thought possible. 

He stormed off, followed by an angry cloud of his magic crackling and thundering dangerously in his wake, boiling hot in his hands. He locked himself up in the bathroom and held his palms under the water until they cooled.

“Oh I absolutely refuse,” had been Malfoy’s words of greeting to their first witness. He and Harry hadn’t even entered the room yet, were still standing in the doorway, when Draco turned around and saw himself out of the house. He’d sat outside on a stone bench, ankles crossed and back straight in his heavy tweed robes. It had taken Harry all of an hour to figure out what had been the problem: the witness, it seemed, had not only framed the portrait in question in a frame not befitting the era of its creation—an Edwardian pattern for a Regency-era piece, has he lost his ever loving mind?—but the painting itself had been hung above the mantelpiece, full in the sun. 

Malfoy would not engage in the investigation until the portrait had been levitated off the wall and placed against the shaded wall opposite. All that’d been left on the painting’s canvas was a dark and blurry landscape: a hill, a distant tree and a faded silhouette where once sat a proud general atop his horse. The man in the painting, along with his horse, had disappeared a week prior. 

Malfoy had run one gloved finger over the top of the frame, brought it close to his face and sniffed. 

The second witness they’d seen that week—a lovely old Madam who seemed to know Malfoy from years before, and whose great-great-grandmother had vanished from her canvas earlier that month—Malfoy had not been able to find fault with. He had, however, grown increasingly jittery and bored as the investigation took a more technical turn (who’d been in the house as of recent, if her children had full access to the wards), and at some point he’d slinked out of the room, sniffing, and remained gone for a blissfully quiet quarter of an hour. He’d returned hastily when the Madam was in the kitchen, fixing the two of them a cup of tea, and insisted they had to leave immediately. 

“What, why?” Harry had asked, fearing danger and Malfoy—already pulling him by the arm—had explained that, 

“I might have broken something that may or may not be of value. Now come we must leave before she—”

“What!” Harry had hissed, looking around as he was dragged into the hallway. “What’d you do? What’d you break?” 

“Oh what does it matter, Harry,” had been Draco’s quick response, hold slipping down to Harry’s wrist. Still tugging, he'd said, “I promise you, you do not want to see her angry. I had the pleasure when I was seven and I remember that screech to this very day, and now if you don’t mind, just hurry up and—”

At the third witness’ place (a small landscape with a crowd of people bathing in a lake, now all gone) he’d ended up insulting her pumpkin biscuits—he’d spat a bite into a napkin with a gurgled, “Oh no”—and got them consequently banned from the house for life. With the fourth witness (a towering painting of an empty room, which once had been a depiction of a Victorian patriarch, hand stuffed in his double-waisted jacket), Malfoy had got into an argument over the merits of Dusting Charms versus manual cleaning, and the fifth (a portrayal of a cook in her kitchen, now empty) had seemed to have upset him merely by virtue of having an odd-smelling vestibule and an interior design which Malfoy had declared gauche. 

“Much like my nemesis,” he’d muttered back at the Ministry, almost to himself. They’d taken their lunch in the inner gardens, and Malfoy had been somewhat quiet, in thought for the first time in what felt like forever. There’d been a Niffler sniffing about in one of the shrubs, and Malfoy had tried to lure it with a bit of an apple. The Niffler hadn’t been much impressed. 

“I thought I was your nemesis,” Harry had said. He’d huffed at his own word, hadn’t known why he’d said it. He’d been exhausted, by the end of that day. 

The Niffler had taken the slice of apple from Malfoy and was nibbling on it at the foot of the bench. Malfoy had looked up at Harry, amused. He could be so sour looking, until he smiled; then he had one dimple, just the one, low on his left cheek. 

He’d offered a slice of apple to Harry, just as he’d had to the Niffler. 

“Jealous?he’d said. 

The enchanted ceiling had let in a low autumn sun. The last of the leaves had been hanging on to the branches and occasionally one would flutter to the ground. Earlier that day, the wind had mussed Malfoy’s hair, and he'd seemed to have forgotten about combing it back into place. His eyes had been terribly bright. 

“Oh, horribly,Harry had gruffed, tetchy, and had snatched the apple wedge from the tip of Draco’s fruit knife, shoving it into his mouth. 

- * - 

DECEMBER 2ND 

Harry shoves him to the mattress with a soft hand, pulls away. Draco tries to follow, tries to tug Harry back down, back into the kiss. This small gesture somehow knocks Harry’s breath from him, makes him lick his lips—close his eyes for a brief second. 

“Please,” Draco says, trying to push up, straining against Harry’s hand on his chest. His voice is still so rough. 

“You’re delirious,” Harry tells him. “You’ve a fever.” 

“Won’t you kiss me?” Draco asks and deflates, the struggle leaving him. His pupils are dilated, and his eyes are reddish around the edges. His gaze is unfocused and yet focused solely on Harry. On his face. On his mouth. Then again, a whisper, a feather-light touch to the inside of Harry’s elbow, “Won’t you?”

 “You’ve a fever,” Harry says, quiet and breathless, and Draco just looks at him, pushing the tips of his fingers against Harry’s skin. 

“Here, you should drink more,” Harry mutters and takes the bowl from the stool. The chain between them lengthens and shortens with his movements, clangs against the iron bed frame. When he brings the bowl to Draco’s mouth, Draco’s hands come to cover his as he drinks. He takes a sip, then a gulp, then goes too fast, and Harry has to slow him down for fear he might retch it right back up. 

“Easy now,” he says, lowering the bowl. Draco’s mouth is wet, water dripping down his chin. His hair is sticking to his sweaty forehead, to his temples, and Harry pushes it back, combing it behind his ear. Draco turns into the touch, his eyes closing shut, breath coming in odd puffs. 

“Oh,” he says, mouth moving against the skin on the inside of Harry’s wrist, against the cold metal of the chain. A shudder overtakes him. “Oh,” he says again, and then, “I’m cold.”

“You’re—cold?” 

Draco shudders again and doesn’t stop. “I’m cold,” he groans, frowns over his shut eyes. The shivers start up, racking through him, and the bed squeaks with it. 

“Fuck.” Harry cups his cheek and the side of his neck. He’s burning up. “Shit,” he says and doesn’t know what to do. He hasn't had many people get this sick around him. Ron did once, while they were in the forest, but Harry wasn’t the only one there; Hermione kept near. She kept a cloth to Ron’s forehead and stayed close when he got the chills. And then a few years ago too, when Teddy got a bad cold. Harry was watching him for a few days and remembers how out of his depth he felt. How he had to have Molly come by and how she brewed up some potions in his kitchen that smelled like pine and licorice. 

Draco’s teeth are chattering now and Harry’s at a loss. Bundled in the mess of sheets Harry has wrapped around himself, he clambers up into the bed, hoisting Draco along with him and pushing him towards the middle. Draco clutches on the moment he gets the chance, shaking all the while. Seeking warmth, pushing himself against Harry’s body. 

Draco’s face is hot and clammy against Harry’s neck as Harry settles the both of them back down. He holds Draco to him with a careful grip to his waist and a quiet, “Hey, shh, hey.” Draco huffs and gasps, trembling and restless all down Harry’s front. 

Harry pushes Draco’s sweaty hair back from his forehead again, cradling the back of it. 

“‘M sorry,” Draco mumbles, muffled against Harry’s collar. “I jus’—I jus’ wanted—”

“I know,” Harry says, not knowing at all what it was that Draco wanted. “I know.” 

Through tangled layers of sheets Draco’s leg wedges between his thighs. Harry’s breath hitches, high in his throat, but Draco only shakes against him, the chain clicking. Links lengthen and shorten as he moves his hand down Harry’s back, clutching, holding. 

“I’m cold,” he says again, the words slurred, half asleep. 

“I know.” Harry licks his lips and wills his wild heart to calm down, to simmer. “I’ve got you,” he says, and again repeats: “I’ve got you.” Draco’s shivers slow down and his hold goes limp against the line of Harry’s spine. His body gives a start, then goes soft, pliant all over. 

- * - 

NOVEMBER 

All over London, the subjects of portraits were disappearing. Meanwhile, Draco Malfoy coordinated his robes to his suits and the lining of his clothes to his pocket squares. On more than one occasion, he pinned to his clasp a brooch that somehow had something to do with the day’s activity, the season, or the weather report: a boo !ing ghost on Halloween, a snowflake on the first day of frost, and a little paintbrush on the day he took Harry to HAMMOCK, the Historical Art Museum of Magical Objects, Culture, and Knowledge. He walked him through it with a fevered sort of anger at how little Harry knew, trying to keep his voice down but being too flustered to do so, half shouting that—

“He knows nothing! Nothing!” He marched out of a room full of manic kitchen supplies in glass cabinets that screeched for their attention. A bored-looking mirror hushed them, and so Malfoy dropped his voice to shout-whisper, “Nothing of the New Potters’ Movement!” 

“The what now?” Harry asked, distracted by a giant sculpture that looked like a hunk of pink jelly that kept on melting but never shrunk. 

“Good grief, Harry. Potters refusing to animate their bowls and cups and whatnot,” Malfoy answered, all gusto, leading them quickly through a room of dancing skeletons. 

“All cups used to be animated?”

Malfoy tutted, curtly waved off a skeleton inviting him to dance and said, “It was, ah, you know, a Renaissance type of trend, anthropomorphising everything. Man is the measure of all things! Took it a bit far, they did, if you ask me, but what do I—Harry? Wh—? Oh for the love of—”

He walked back briskly, pulling Harry from the skeletons’ impromptu conga line.

“And what kind of movement was that?” Harry asked, out of breath and still laughing as Draco hauled him through to the next room by his elbow and did not let go. 

“New post-post-magicks,” he said, sounding derisive. “Supposed to make you consider the hilarity of death in a magical world.” 

“Oh. I don’t know if I’d call it hilarious, but sure, yeah. I had fun.” 

“And a critic is born,” Malfoy sniped, and then let him go. He walked ahead, hands clasped behind his back. “You should start a column, review art for the Prophet. Call it, Sure, Yeah, I Had Fun.” Then, in a dramatic whisper, “By Harry Potter!” 

All across London, living rooms were growing quiet. Aunties and grandmothers and great-great-granduncles, twice removed, were disappearing from canvasses. It happened in the middle of the night, in broad daylight, or even in a short hour between a grocery-haul and a Quidditch practice. They had left without a trace: no footsteps, no hint as to why. All across the city reports were coming in from concerned families, large estates, and the small waiting rooms of Healing practices. All the while, Draco Malfoy was humming to himself and inspecting the state of his hair in the reflection of a rounded paper weight. Asking Harry if his quiff looked deflated today? If he could forward the bill for the cleaning of a muddied hem of a robe—from when they’d had to walk across a witness’ garden on a rainy day—to the Ministry? If Harry had read up on pre-modern portraiture theory, as Malfoy had instructed him to? If Harry had time to consider the fashion tips Malfoy had owled him, along with the clippings? If Harry wanted to go get lunch at the new place down at—

“You have no interest in solving this case, do you?” Harry cut him off. He leaned back in his chair, considering Malfoy, shaking his head in disbelief. 

“Beg your pardon,” Malfoy said, and put down the paperweight. He looked up. “I am every bit as invested as—!” 

“No you’re not.” Harry laughed, short and mirthless. “No you’re not! What are we doing here? Traipsing through museums and discussing and your robes and your hair!” 

Malfoy touched his hair, briefly, as though to assure it that Harry didn’t mean what he said. 

“I do apologise, I was not aware that common cultured smalltalk was against the Ministry’s policy of—!” 

“It’s not just that, it’s—How have you helped, Malfoy? How have you helped at all so far? It’s been weeks, months! I don’t even know how long it’s been, that’s how long it’s been! Every day, reports are coming in and—and what do you do? You sneer at people, upset the witnesses, sniff about the room and—”

“I! I do no such thing, excuse you! Perhaps my methods of taking inventory differ from yours, are less subtle, but that has no reflection on—”

“Fine, sure, then where are your reports? I’ve asked you to write up reports, haven’t I? An analysis of the interviews we’ve conducted, your expert opinion, and so far all I’ve received are, indeed, clippings from Witch Weekly on what pattern you’d think would go best with my—”

“I’ve—!” Malfoy sputtered, a flush all down his neck. He was sitting straight in his chair now, angry but avoiding Harry’s gaze. “I’ve been busy!” he said. “And I’ve almost finished my analysis, for Merlin’s sake, there’s no need to get so—”

“Busy with what! Busy doing what, Malfoy! You’re here every day. All day! Faffing about, making—” He gestured, haplessly, at the small collection of folded zoo animals trapped in an upside-down paper basket. He was working himself up, he knew he was, but he couldn’t stop himself. Like a runaway train, he hurtled forward saying, “With your boots on my table, flirting with everyone—”

“Well I say!” 

“And never mind that, even! Never mind any of that, really. It’d be fine, if you’d make sense. I keep waiting for you to make sense, and you—” Harry smiled, shakily, tapped the bottom of his pen on the table to underline the words. “And I said to myself, 'Oh we’ve all grown up. He’s not who he used to be. He comes so highly recommended. Surely an entire field of study can’t be wrong. Surely!’ And yet. And yet—I still have no running theory, no clue as to what is happening, or better yet, could be happening. No clue as to anything other than the origin of the new bloody potters’ movement of the 17th fucking century!” 

Malfoy was blushing furiously now, staring hard at a single spot on the table. Harry could see his heartbeat flutter wildly on the side of his neck. “Just because,” he started, voice level and quipped. “Just because you speak to your other colleagues in that tone, does no—”

“You are not a colleague,” Harry reminded him, again. “You are not an Auror, Malfoy.” 

“Fine. Very well. Just because you speak to your other friends in this tone of voice, does not m—”

“Oh my god, you insufferable git!” Harry’s laugh, this time, was pure frustration. He dropped his pen and put his hands on the back of his head in his hair, his elbows bracketing his face. “You are not my friend! How many times, how many times do I have to—”

“Right,” Malfoy said. He pushed back his chair and stood up. “Of course, yes,” he added and grabbed his gloves from the table, his robes from the back of his seat. They were a deep charcoal, today, with a soft pink lining. Silk. His brooch was of a little cup, one with a smiling wee face. “Pardon me, it seems I have—forgotten the time. Must be off, now, must be . . .” 

Harry’s anger—born of frustration, born of the puzzle of this damned case, born of his own fear of inadequacy—dissipated with the same speed with which it rose. In its wake he found, to his surprise, a grain of regret, of guilt. He hadn’t meant to explode quite the way he had, to accuse in the way he had. It was just that there something about Malfoy, something about his neat accent and his manner and his damned clothes that needled at him—that set him on edge and made him mean, meaner than he thought he was. It made his magic crackle close to the surface and his palms heat and itch as though he . . . as though he could only . . . 

“Fuck,” he muttered to himself, pushing up from his seat and jogging a few paces—around the cubicles, around scattered wheely chairs—to catch up with Malfoy. He was one foot out the door, setting a fast pace down into the hallway, and Harry walked one pace behind, saying, “Hey, no, look, Malfoy, I—”

“—I can’t stay for your undoubtedly subpar apology,” Malfoy told him, not turning around. He sounded strained. “I have a prior engagement.” 

The corridor was empty save for some deserted portraits on the wall. There was a water fountain, a table with a plant. Their footsteps were dampened by the carpeting. Harry said, “What engagement?” 

“A meeting. A very important meeting. Goodbye.” 

“Malfoy. Draco. Come on, I’m—” Harry tried to reach out, to make him stop with a hand to his elbow, but he wrenched out of Harry’s hold with a roll of his shoulder and a sharp, 

“No.” 

“Look, I’m sorry, I’m . . .” Harry tried again, much in the same way Draco himself had manhandled him over the course of the last few weeks: a hand to his elbow, pulling him back, pulling him to attention. This time, however, Draco did pause in his stride, did turn, quick as lightning, using the gloves in his hands to slap Harry across the cheek. 

It wasn’t hard or extremely painful. It would probably not even leave a mark. It was just a bit of soft leather, really and didn’t hurt much at all. Still Harry cradled his face, shocked. It was only when he looked up, ready to let the anger rise up in him again, that he noticed the colour on Draco’s cheeks. The wet sheen of his eyes. The way he clenched his jaw, the tremor of his chin. 

Harry swallowed, hand still on his cheek. It felt hot under his touch. 

“I’ll send a reference in the morning,” were Draco’s parting words, followed by a quick nod and a puff of breath. He turned on his heel and left, a fast march down the Ministry corridor. 

Back at his cubicle, Harry was still feeling the heat of his cheek with the back of his hand. The silence from Kim’s cubicle was pointed. 

What ,” he asked, not bothering to look up. He knew she was staring at him. 

“Nothing,” came her reply, uninflected as always. “Just . . . Like. He wasn’t that bad.” 

Harry gave her desk a sideways glance. Sure enough, trapped under the dome of an upturned glass, was a small paper beetle, scuttling away. 

Draco didn’t wait until the next morning. It was that very evening, only a few hours after their fallout, when his battered owl swooped into the kitchen of 12, Grimmauld Place. It shed all over Harry’s stove, dropped a heavy looking package on the table, and then hopped and cawed its way out the window. It left a dropping on the floor, too. 

There was no note accompanying it, no expansive cursive writing out a snarky comment. Harry tore at the brown paper, at the twine holding it together. What spilled over the surface of his table was a dozen or so manila folders, each labelled neatly with the name of one of the witnesses: the reports Harry had harangued him for. 

They were extensive. The descriptions of each portrait—painter, year of origin, paints used, magical properties—were extensive. The last folder contained a 10-page analysis of possible patterns found in the disappearances, ranging from each portrait’s position in the home vis-à-vis their owner’s magical zenith, to patterns in compositions, subject matters, etc, etc. The writing was to-the-point and accessible. Formal. 

On the back of the bookwork was a bullet-point list of references, names which Harry was welcome to inquire with, should he need any additional input. 

Best regards, was written at the bottom in clear handwriting, with no signature to follow. Like he hadn’t noticed, or hadn’t wanted to sign his name, or as though he had forgotten his name altogether, in a fit of fevered anger. 

- * -

DECEMBER 2ND 

His fever breaks at the darkest hour of the night. But before that happens, before he stills and sinks into a long and quiet sleep—before that, Draco sweats into the sheets. He gets overly hot and then too cold several times over. He turns and twists and moans, pushes Harry away and then pulls him so close that there’s not a part of him that isn’t touching Draco—isn’t covering him, somehow, Draco’s heartbeat a tangible rhythm on the surface of his skin. 

Harry makes him drink. Draco groans the moment Harry leaves the bed, writhes and weeps in his delirium until Harry returns. Harry cools him with a wet cloth to his forehead, to his neck. Harry has him try and eat a little; he finds a jar of old oats in a cupboard and boils them with the snowy water over the stove. Draco sort of wakes up, sort of manages to chew down a few bites, slow and woozy and staring at Harry through half-lidded eyes. He asks where his mother is, where his book is, asks Harry to bring him his other pillow—the good one from the sofa. Harry tells him there is no sofa, and Draco goes into a bit of a panic until Harry relents and says he’ll go get it. Instead, he hangs their wet clothes by the fire to dry, chain rustling to his steps. Draco falls back asleep. In his short moments of lucidity he tries to apologise, over and over, his babble blurry and indecipherable. He doesn’t ask Harry to kiss him again. 

Draco’s fever breaks and Harry is exhausted. His body is aching and he hasn’t slept. He’s kept at Draco’s bedside, worried and confused. He goes over the last few months in a loop in his mind, trying to understand it, to oversee the whole of it: Draco quietly arguing with the Fat Lady, the Gryffindor corridor in soft orange light, Harry’s apartment in yellow smoke, the cottage, the keys, the portraits, the lake. But his mind keeps on blurring over, his attention thinning at the edges. The flickering lamp gives a short, startling buzz, flickers a few more times, and then fizzes out altogether. The only light that illuminates the cottage now is that of the fire, dancing wildly in its hearth. It’s started snowing again, the sound of it a soft, hushing pat against the widows, on the roof. 

Draco exhales in his sleep, calm now. Harry picks at the chain around his wrist, tries to push it off ineffectively. He climbs onto the bed then and lies on his back, staring at the ceiling. Above him, cobwebs droop low between the dark beams. Draco’s on his side, his back to Harry. Harry glances over, sees the knobs of his spine where the sheet as slipped off his shoulder. He sees the sweaty back of his neck, where his hair, close-cropped, grows in two little whorls. His heart clenches and so he looks back up at the ceiling, then closes his eyes. Sleep creeps in immediately, pulling at him. 

Just for a moment, he thinks, and pushes his elbow out to brush the dip of Draco’s spine, to feel the heat of him through the sheets. To know for certain he is there, within reach. 

- * -

NOVEMBER

News of the sightings reached them within a week. A long week in which Harry contacted one name on the list of references. When his call was met with an automated out-of-office fire-call message he didn’t follow up. A long week in which Harry re-read Draco’s reports so often that the papers curled at the edges and were smudged with whatever he’d had for lunch that day. He highlighted sections, circled them, took them with him when he next went by a witness’ place. He kept on paging through them mid-interview, awkwardly trying to look out for the things Draco had, it seemed, looked out for: composition, colour, year of completion. He noted the information down in the margins and tried to add it to the pattern analysis that Draco had begun. He understood little of what he was doing. It was maddening. 

It was a week in which Harry began dreaming of dancing tea cups and a building with rooms and rooms and Draco marching out every time Harry entered. Harry tried to catch up with him in the dream. But each time, all he saw the moment he walked into a room was the flip at the end of Draco’s robe and a quick flash of hair, disappearing around a doorframe. 

Wait can’t you explain—! dream Harry would call after, and dream Draco’s voice came from a far distance, an echo, saying, No time, no time, a nemesis to defeat, no time! 

It was a week in which Harry owled Draco with a question regarding something he’d said about toxins in yellow pigments and Draco did not owl back. Harry was trying to figure out the properties of yellow in order to work out a theory proposed in Draco’s analysis. The theory stated that perhaps some of the pigments came with an expiration date and had now—now , somehow—begun to erase themselves. This was a crucial part of the investigation, crucial, Harry told himself, and therefore it absolutely warranted a follow-up owl the next day and the day after. Harry insisted that Draco set aside whatever childish, personal conflict had occurred between them. He’d insisted that Draco just answer him and that it was crucial—he underlined the word—for the case. And surely, Harry reasoned, surely Draco had enough sense to see how that should override the matter of an argument, of a small disagreement, of a—

“It’s a game,” Harry told Hermione, a thoughtful conclusion. He was leaning back against her kitchen counter, eating a banana and gesturing with it. “It’s always a game with him. He pushes, I snap. I push, he snaps. This is just another part of that. I tell you, ‘Mione, any day now he’ll show up again and—”

“Harry,” Hermione said, like his name was a statement. She was braiding her hair back, sitting at the table, listening to him ramble. He’d come over for advice on the case, which had yet to be discussed and was currently overshadowed by Harry’s 30-minute lecture on how Draco Malfoy was insufferable. 

“Wha’?” Harry asked, a bite of banana in his cheek. 

“He’s not playing a game.” 

Harry chewed, swallowed. “What?”

“He just wants to be your friend. Obviously.” 

Harry tchk ’d, gave a shrug and said, “That’s just— He was saying that to annoy me. Obviously. It’s just part of his schtick, what with the . . .” Harry gestured vaguely, took another bite of the banana and continued rambling. Addressing the window rather than Hermione’s arched eyebrow he said, “He doesn’t want to—I mean. Why would he? Why would he wanna be my . . .? After everything, what with the . . . Why would he wanna be . . .” 

“Sometimes, Harry,” was Hermione’s answer, spoken slowly and with a smile. “Sometimes people aren’t riddles. Sometimes when they tell us what they want, they’re just telling us what they want.”

Harry thought about it for a moment as he stared out at the cold day, at the snow piled up on top of the streetlamps. He felt his stomach clench for a moment, but then shook himself out of it, dismissing it with a snort and a, ”Naaah.” 

And Harry wasn’t even supposed to be at the office when the call came in. He’d made an appointment to go back to one of the first witness’ places, to try and see if there were any dots to be connected or anything he’d forgotten. He was just on his way out when Meredith Love brisked by with a cheery hello and a wave of her folders, which accidentally toppled the paper basket that had been housing the animal zoo. The giraffe made a run for it, the elephant was quick to follow, and the lion seemed confused, lazing atop the paper weight. 

Harry swore under his breath. As he set to herd the animals back into their keep, the hubbub began. A call had come in reporting panic, a total pandemonium all down Trafalgar Square; under the foggy, overcast sky of that late November day, a handful of odd and flat two-dimensional shapes had stumbled out the front doors of London’s National Gallery. Vermeer’s Young Woman Standing at a Virginal, as though peeled from the canvas, wobbled past the arches, pulling her blue scarf closer over the silk of her dress. Drouais’s Madame de Pompadour shook in the wind, a papery leaf, followed by Holbein’s bearded ambassadors in their heavily painted coats. Gainsborough’s Mr and Mrs Andrews helped along an unsteady portrait of Doge Leonardo Loredan, and Caravaggio’s flower-headed boy hobbled in their wake, a lizard still dangling from his finger. 

All Aurors on call in the 4th department were to report. Back-up was needed. 

- * - 

DECEMBER 2ND 

He needs to wake up but he can’t. He is stuck in a dream and the dream goes like this: he’s at a dinner table with Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia and they’re both flat portraits. Vernon flaps his mouth to speak but there is no sound. The words come a second later, disembodied, like a badly-dubbed movie. The food is horrible! is what he says. The meat is dry! 

And the wine, says Petunia, at her own delay. Practically vinegar! 

In the dream, Harry cooked the dinner and he’s angry with himself for having got it wrong. But then Ron’s there too, a portrait himself, and he’s waving about his papery arms, sending food flying everywhere. I think it’s excellent! he says, and his voice is better synched. He pretends to eat, mushing peas against his flat mouth. Yum yum yum!

Then it’s the portraits of his parents sitting in the place of his aunt and uncle. They look like one of the pictures Hagrid’s given him: his dad in a leather jacket, scarf flapping in the wind. His mom has her hair puffed up 70s style, all her freckles in sepia. His father agrees with Ron, tries to pick up the wine glass but it’s too heavy for his flat hands. 

Mom! Dad! Harry exclaims, tries to get up to go to them. Even in his dreams, still, seeing his parents makes him want to run, to hold them. But the chair is too close to the table, trapping him in, and the space is now Hogwarts and the dinner is in the Great Hall. Ron is gone, or elsewhere, and beside him is Draco. He’s a portrait too. The flap of his fringe looks like a cardboard cutout. He’s smiling, sly and flirtatious, leaning close to Harry. 

Oh, says Harry, and in his dream nothing about this is out of the ordinary. He tilts and tries to kiss Draco hello, but Draco dodges out of the way with a laugh, like it’s a game. Harry says, You fell in the lake. 

I did, I did, Draco nods, humorous somehow. And now I’m a portrait. Would you look at this shading? He holds up his arm for Harry to see the painted details of his sleeve. 

Harry puts his hand on Draco and he’s barely substantial. Thin, just a piece of paper. How do we get you back? he asks, panicking, and Draco shrugs and says, Oh just spell me back. 

Harry tries to spell him back but his magic won’t work. And then he knows why, it’s because of the chain dangling between them. It’s made of paper, too. 

Remember, at the same time, Draco tells him, holding his own wand now, and Harry’s holding his, and they’re both about to cast in tandem. One, two, three—

They cast the same spell at the same time and the magic overflows and works and begins to fill Draco up like a balloon. His limbs pop into 3 dimensions, fingers inflating one by one. He laughs, a deep, throaty laugh, and Harry is so relieved he sobs and puts his face to Draco’s neck. The skin is real and not made of paper. It’s hot and soft and Draco cards a hand through his hair, humming, saying, 

There, there. There, there. 

- * - 

NOVEMBER 29TH 

And there it was, one of the oddest operations Harry had ever been a part of: Muggles fainting on the street, screaming, filming the whole thing with their phones. The DMLE and the sub-section of Incidents & Irregularities were running around trying to bring some order into the chaos. They confiscated phones for clearance, Obliviated the bystanders in groups of five at a time, and put up wards and industrial-strength Confundus Charms to keep away the bustle of the city. They’d captured the paintings under a temporary dome and the paintings were furious for it, trying to scratch at the invisible walls with their papery, two-dimensional hands. Mr Andrews pointed his flat pistol at every passing Auror, the Doge threw his hat down on the ground, and the boy with the lizard screeched at the sky—the sound an edge off unreal. Like the caw of a magpie, like a thin sheet of metal that’s been given a shake.

On the stairs leading up to the National Gallery, a handful of dazed curators were nodding shakily as Lillian from Muggle Liaisons was asking, as gently as she could, about the best ways of transporting the animated portraits without causing additional damage to the pigments. 

The day ended at an ungodly 3AM, standing in front of a series of holding cells that had been transformed into padded rooms set to a steady temperature of 21°C. Kim joined him as he drank the last of his tea, watching one very flat Madame de Pompadour as she flung herself at the door and bounced off, time and again. 

“I think it’s time to go beg your expert for forgiveness,” Kim said as the Madame curled her two-dimensional hands into two-dimensional fists and started pounding on the wall. Her lace bonnet shook with the effort. 

“Merlin wept,” Harry muttered and stared into his mug. 

“That he did,” said Kim. “That he did.” 

Harry walked home. He needed the time to think, to consider, to come up with potential speeches, or apologies, or a catchy one-liner that would goad Draco into responding. It was a windy night, rain cutting through the snow, and he was wet to the bone and annoyed with himself by the time he got home. He hadn’t managed to devise a plan. In fact, he had only got as far as a decision to tackle it all in the morning. What he hadn’t expected was the sight that greeted him upon his arrival: a bedraggled-looking Draco Malfoy was sitting on a bench opposite Number 12, wrapped in shawls and huddled under a little dome of umbrella magic. 

Harry paused for a moment, wondering if he’d somehow magicked him into existence. Hoping he hadn’t. Hoping that perhaps he had. Draco caught sight of him, just then, started to his feet with a waterfall of—

“Oh good grief, you’re here, what took you so long? Your blasted wards wouldn’t let me through and I thought to myself, I thought, surely he’s not at work! Not still! But here you are, wandering the streets of London like a wet dog. Is that what you do when left unsupervised? I am entirely unsurprised, why would I be. Never mind that, now, let me in, I cannot stand to talk in this weather. What a sight you do make, Harry Potter, I say!” 

“What . . .” Harry wiped the rain from his face, the streetlights blurring with the drops on his glasses. “Did Meredith owl you? Binyon? Kim?” 

“I—No? Why would they owl me?” He stepped closer, expanding the dome of his Umbrella Charm to cover Harry. “Did something happen?” 

Harry shivered as the rain fell silent around them and the wind stopped. “You don’t know?” 

“No, I don’t— Harry, what happened? Is it bad? Did someone—?” 

“Why are you here? If you don’t know, then how are you—”

“I—” He was frowning, blinking. He reached into his tweed robes and pulled out a rolled up bundle of papers, tied together with string. Harry could see Draco’s crowded script on it. “I have an idea as to what’s happening.” 

“Oh,” Harry said. Then again, “Oh,” laughing a little, smiling. “Oh, I could kiss you right now,” he said, breathless. He said it without meaning to, giddy and relieved and very, very tired. He blushed immediately and inhaled as though he could take it back, but Draco was already stammering, bustling over it with a, 

“I! Well. No. Well! Alright, then, shall we—” He gestured at the house with his papers, clearing his throat, meaning they should go in. A splotchy flush had spread along his jaw, too.

“Right, yes,” Harry said, nodding, shaking his head and then nodding again. 

Draco took command of the kitchen table. He rolled out his papers, put them in order and held down their corners with an assortment of cups and knick-knacks. Harry scrubbed a towel through his wet hair with one hand and sent a gentle fire into the kitchen hearth with the other. He got some tea brewing on the stove and began his explanation of the day’s events with a deep sigh and a, “Okay. So.” 

Draco listened, humming to indicate as much. He was drinking his tea, taking little sips at a time. Every now and then he’d get distracted by Harry’s gesturing, by his hands, but quickly snapped back with a, “Yes! No. I’m listening. Yes.” 

Then came his turn. He put down his cup, cleared his throat, and began with a, “Very well. So, Harry, what do you recall of the New Potters’ Movement?”

Quite a lot, it seemed. Between Draco’s rambles, his sniping comments and the boring articles he’d made him read, he'd retained quite a lot. The New Potters’ Movement started in reaction to an inflated demand in the 17th century for cups and other ceramic goods that were animated. The potters, sick and tired of the complicated firing techniques involved in the process of three-dimensional animation, as well as the run-on of commentary provided by the recently-animated ware, joined forces in the form of a guild. The guild then put an embargo on the animation powders used in the glazing, and petitioned the Ministry to label them a controlled substance. 

This, of course, led to a surge in alternative methods of animations, which in turn led to the invention of animative paint by Johannes Wannes Kraan in 1751, without whom, of course, the extremely prestigious HAMMOCK would not have been founded, without which, of course, the wizarding world would’ve been a poorer—

“So anyway,” Harry cut in, pulling out a chair at the head of the table and sitting down. “You're thinking, what? That like, this powder thing has somehow, something—”

“I don’t think,” Draco interrupted. He took a breath, flattened a curling piece of parchment. “I know. And I know who did it, too.” 

Harry looked at him. He tried not to sound too sceptical saying, “Okay. Well. Who?”

“My nemesis,” Draco said. 

“Your nemesis.” 

“Yes. My nemesis.” 

The clock in the hallway struck five, chiming out the hour. A long silence hung in the kitchen, and Harry suddenly felt the night: felt how late it was, how long he’d been up, how long they’d been talking. His head ached, his eyes burned. He said, “Why don’t we finish this in the morning?” 

Draco sat back and crossed his arms. “You don’t believe me.” 

“I—! I do. I’m just—very tired. And I want to be able to listen, see, properly listen, and I won’t be able to do that, not now, not like . . .” He shrugged, trailing off. 

Draco looked at him with his arms still crossed. He looked at him for a good while. He took in Harry’s face, his hair, the spot around the collar of his henley where the fabric was still damp from the rain. 

Harry felt a flush creep up the back of his neck. He continued, trying to fill the silence, saying, “And I’m sorry, you know, for the . . . that day. What I said. I was—frustrated, with the case, and it didn’t have anything . . .” He licked his lips. “You’re good at what you do. I know you are.” 

“Of course I am,” Draco said, looking away, feigning indifference. 

“And you don’t faff around. I shouldn’t have said that. Or the thing about—flirting. Which you don’t, of course. Do, that is, I—”

“All right, very well, enough, no need to . . .” He inhaled and shook his head. “Revisit.” 

Harry cleared his throat and scratched at the back of his head. He was about to say something or suggest they adjourn for now and agree on a time tomorrow, when Draco stopped him—hand up, head snapping to attention as though he heard something in the other room. As though he was trying to figure out what it was. 

He sniffed. Once, twice. 

“What’s that smell?” he asked, frowning. 

“What smell?” 

“That smell,” he said again, getting up from his chair. He sniffed around him, as though trying to find the source, and Harry watched him, confused. Then—

“Wait, you mean the—?” He huffed, surprised. “The fumigation smell?” 

Draco’s gaze snapped to his. There was something serious about him, now. Something that wasn’t frivolous, not mocking, not light or careless: serious and focused and a little worrying. “What,” Draco enunciated, clipped, “fumigation?” 

“Uh . . . I mean. It was a while ago. During the summer. A thing got stuck on me during a raid at this cottage, and it went off, and the whole place was smoked up, and a fumigation team had to come in and—”

“What raid? Cottage? What thing? What did it look like? The smoke, what did it . . .” Draco paused, sentence trailing. He went unfocused for a second. He was working something over, and Harry could almost see the moment two ends clicked together. The moment he realised something, his eyes widening and his jaw shutting tight. Then he closed his eyes, tilted his head back, and said, “Shit.” 

“Um,” said Harry, and then Draco was walking. Walking out of the kitchen and out towards the stairs. Harry scrambled to follow, asking him what was happening, what was wrong? Draco muttered to himself, not quite answering and saying he should’ve known, from the first moment, the first moment! Should’ve known, and, Where was it, where—?

Aha!” he exclaimed on the second floor landing, turning to the heavy velvet curtain obscuring old Walburga’s portrait. 

“Uh,” said Harry, and watched Draco march down the darkened corridor, all purpose, towards the curtain. “Wait,” he said. “Wait, I wouldn’t—she’s very—!” 

With a swish of his wand, Draco commanded the curtains aside, and the words died on Harry’s lips. The canvas on the wall was the deep dark green it had always been: the faint outline of a chair, the vaguest suggestion of a wallpaper. Its natural focal point, where Aunt Walburga always sat on her throne, the spot from where she had shouted and screamed and screeched bloody murder at kin and strangers alike, was empty. 

“Do you remember,” Draco began, his voice all contained fury. He stared up at the canvas before looking back at Harry. “The name of the perpetrator from said raid, perchance?” 

Harry’s adrenaline spiked in response. He knew this feeling, that thin moment before danger was afoot—that startling realisation that change, the menace, was near. 

He racked his brain for the memory. He recalled Love and the case, the powders, illegal or unregistered or something, and then the raid, the cottage, the young man—gaunt-looking, hollow cheeks and with dark, shoulder-length hair—refusing to drop his wand, trying to get away. Love had read him his rights. Had said his name, had called him—

“Ernie? Ernest? Something like—”

“—Ernest fucking Edgecombe.” Draco snorted, dry and humourless. He turned around, a smile like murder on his face. 

Harry’s heart thundered about his chest. “Your nemesis?” he asked, only half-joking. 

Draco spread out his arms a little and answered, “The one and only.”

“That cottage,” Harry said, half in thought already, mind whirring, rearranging the months’ events. He met Draco’s gaze, sure and determined, plan forming. 

Draco answered it in kind. “Right,” he said. “Can you take me there?” 

Harry nodded, slowly. Adrenaline pulled at the corners of his lips, a thrill dawning like a smile.

- * - 

DECEMBER 2ND

At dawn Harry dozes and then awakes to the dim light of early winter morning. He finds himself curled around Draco, their legs tangled. Draco is holding on to the arm Harry has slung over his waist. Their breathing has synched. The chain has warmed to their skin, pressed between them. 

Harry takes utmost care not to rouse Draco as he extricates himself from Draco’s hold. He inches away, rolling over to his back. Draco doesn’t let go easily and tries to pull him back, but Harry’s heart is wild and his skin is sensitive and he needs the distance. It’s still so early. He can feel it in the burn of his eyes, in the quiet of the day, in how low the fire is and how distant the birdsong. 

He falls back asleep almost immediately and wakes up again to Draco peering down at him. It can’t be that much later. The room is just as dim as before, with snow piling up against the window panes. Draco’s propped up on an elbow and looks lucid, his eyes clear. They look impossibly bright from this angle, grey and blue and flecks of green. There’s a bruise on his cheekbone and another one on his jaw. His hair is matted here, sticks up there. His lips are cracked. 

He tells Harry, “You should have your portrait taken. You have the face for it.” 

Harry frowns and blinks up at him, not quite awake. He swallows, mouth dry, making a back-of-the-throat sound of confusion. Draco brings his chained hand to Harry’s face, the movement so slow that Harry goes cross-eyed following it. With two fingers, he traces the line of Harry’s brow, the jut of his cheek. Then, thumb swiping over Harry’s scar, he says, “Strong features. Interesting composition. And then, of course, there’s the contrast, the eyes, the . . .” 

Harry’s breath is high, his chest tight. He feels like he has to whisper, like the words aren’t allowed to be spoken much louder, like they might otherwise frighten. “You fell,” he says. “Through the ice.” 

“Yes. It seems I did.” His knuckles are light on the line of Harry’s jaw. “And it seems you rescued me. Sans magic, I presume, all . . .” His gaze drops, quickly, to Harry’s bare chest. “Brute force.” 

“You almost drowned. It was— It’s been—”

“Did they get away?” Draco cuts him off. “Have you found a means of contacting the department about—”

“No, I’ve— No. You’ve been . . . I brought you here, and you had a fever, and I . . .” Harry trails off. Draco’s touch slides down his throat, fingers loose over the bobbing of Harry’s Adam’s apple. 

“And you?” Draco urges, a whisper, flattening his hand over the rise of Harry’s pec. The links of the chain pull on his chest hair. 

“Waited,” Harry says. “I waited, Draco,” he adds and then, “Damn it.” Pushing himself up, he reaches for Draco, for the back of his neck, his fingers sliding into Draco’s hair and bringing his face close, their foreheads touching. It’s that thin moment before a kiss, that startling heat of nearness, of wanting someone, of standing on the steep end of desire—looking down. 

Draco’s lips brush Harry’s when he says, “Well? Will you kiss me now?”

- * - 

DECEMBER 1ST

Twilight kissed the tips of the snow-covered branches pink. Outside of the cottage,  Draco was sitting on an upturned log, slicing an apple and eating its wedges off the pointy end of his fruit knife. Behind him, at the end of the garden, a powdering of snow was being chased across the frozen surface of the lake. 

“So when you say he stole your project,” Harry said, rummaging about with the cottage door—using the end of his wand like a pin in the keyhole, trying to undo the heavier wards left by the clean-up crew. 

“Precisely,” Draco said, and offered a piece of the fruit to Harry, who indicated that he didn’t have a free hand to accept it. So Draco stood, walked over, and held it for Harry to bite, which he did, straight from Draco’s fingers. Harry made a sound of thanks, chewing. Draco sat back down and continued his explanation.

“So the core of my research," Draco said, "was really a proposal. It was ingenious, I—don’t make a face at me, Harry Potter, it was. I know you think I exaggerate, and perhaps I do, at times, a little, but—it was a good proposal. Do you know how tedious it is to repair a portrait while the subject moves about incessantly or, if they’re not moving, listening to them criticise your work as you work? It's dreadful really. Us restorers are saints, I tell you.” He underlined this with a nod. “Saints! But yes, as I was saying: so for my final project, I looked into the de-animation of portraiture, for repair purposes. I proposed several methods of approach: halting magical energy, variations on Petrificus, and, yes, further inquiry into the properties of animation powders. For in order to counteract a property, you need to be able to—”

“—understand its foundation, right,” Harry finished for him. He twisted his wand, and the lock gave a satisfying click. The last of the wards fell, domino-style. Harry took a step back with a hearty, “Ha!” as the door swung open before him. 

“Yes,” Draco said, sounding thoughtful. Taken aback. “Yes, precisely.” 

It had been a whirlwind of a day, the sleepless night having blended into early morning having blended into a blurry afternoon. Harry needed clearance for the cottage. To get the clearance, he needed Love’s report. For Love’s report, he needed to go to Administration, and Administration only opened at seven. This had given the two of them a woozy hour and a half to sit in the dim kitchen, silent with their thoughts and their coffee, watching the snow fall onto the tarp-covered garden furniture. 

It had been quiet between them for that short span of time—thoughtfully and unfamiliarly quiet. It was an experience that lasted right up until the moment they Floo’d into the DMLE. There, between the hubbub of the Atrium and the sight of Harry’s messy desk, their rapport had started up again, quick and somewhat hysterical. Thrilled in a way, as the mystery began—bit by bit—to click together: Ernest Edgecombe had been experimenting with illegal animation powders in his secret cottage by a lake. Ernest Edgecombe had been an art student, not a hardened criminal. Ernest Edgecombe had been leaving behind traces. Ernest Edgecombe had got himself arrested. 

Ernest Edgecombe had spent three days in the department’s holding cell before his bail was paid, in full, by one of the members of the wealthy Edgecombe family. 

“His sister, I think?” Bertie Bagman had said, neat and decked out in full uniform behind her desk. She’d been the one to handle the administrative fall-out of the case. “He had a court date, ah, when, last month, I think? Never showed, of course. We sent a follow-up, but then his sister swears she has no idea where he is, and that his cottage is fully warded, so the moment he shows up anywhere we should be able to . . .”

Draco had taken notes and drawn up a frantic little timeline. He’d then declared Harry’s organisational methods a horror, took over his desk and began to re-arrange the files, case papers, and folders. Draco had pushed everything to one side, then to the other, before relocating the little zoo to the window sill. Afterwards, he’d spent three nervous hours staring at the animated portraits in their cells, a cupped hand over his slack-jawed mouth. 

“What in the name of Nostradamus . . .” he’d muttered, several times, at varying degrees of volume.  He’d walked up and down the narrow corridor, inspecting each painting, locked behind their door. “Fascinating,” he’d said. “I mean, terrible, of course, but . . . fascinating.” 

Draco had rambled through a mouthful of lunch, sitting in the cafeteria, ticking off his theories in regards to the state of the portraits. “So they’re animated, but not lucid,” he’d said, tearing apart a sandwich with his hands, eating it piece for piece. “Most probably it’s linked to his wand. They'll go wherever it is—wherever he is—because they are tied to the source, as it were. So all we need to do is set one loose, follow it around, and it’ll most likely lead us straight to—” 

“—Set one loose, he says! Draco, these paintings are international heritage, each one is valued at millions of pounds, this isn’t a matter of just setting one loo—” 

“—‘nt know the conversion rate for your weird Muggle money! As far as I’m concerned, a million could just as well be . . .”

Halfway through the day, going on no sleep and a steady diet of excitement and snark, Draco had tired himself out. He’d napped on the battered couch in the coffee room, using his heavy robes as a blanket and Harry’s rolled-up jumper for a pillow. Harry had watched him for a little while, drinking his coffee and leaning back against the counter. Draco was constantly in movement when awake. He went at a speed of five facial expressions per second and was always walking, fidgeting or fixing his robes, keeping his fingers busy.

It had been strange then, to see him paused. The skin of his eyelids had looked almost purple. The lines around his mouth had smoothed, his lips parted.

“What’d you do to him?” Kim had asked, appearing out of nowhere and making Harry jump and spill coffee down his shirt. 

“Merlin,” Harry had said, wiping at himself. “I— What?” 

“He looks pretty passed out,” Kim had explained, taking her crackers from the cupboard. 

“I didn’t— I didn’t do anything. We just didn’t get any—sleep, last night, we . . . Oh, bugger off, Kaboli,” he’d added, blushing as she’d widened her eyes at him, mocking, putting the packet of crackers to her heart. 

Draco had been surprisingly quiet, some hours later, when he’d found Harry asleep at his own desk. He’d put a palm to Harry’s back, right between his shoulder blades and had said, voice roughened, “Harry. Harry.” His thumb had been on the hem of Harry’s collar, brushing the skin of his neck. 

Harry had looked up at him, bleary-eyed, and Draco had asked, “Did you manage to get clearance on the cottage?” 

Harry had swallowed, mouth dry with sleep. He’d answered, all professionalism, “Eh. Clearance schmearance,” and then sneaked them out of the office, taking the elevator down to the Apparition Point. 

“So as I was saying,” Draco continued as they entered the cottage, and put his neatly-cut apple core on a window sill on passing. “My nemesis then—”

“Edgecombe, yes,” Harry added, starting to rummage about. The cottage was in the same sorry state the Aurors had left it in all those months ago, the main difference being that the worktable had been cleared of evidence: no jars, no potions, no powders in badly-capped containers. Drawers had been left open, chairs upended, and papers thrown messily across every surface. In the corner, an old bed with a quilt sat collecting dust. 

Dusk was falling fast. He turned on the writing-desk lamp, which buzzed for a moment before it began flickering, filament ticking. They were looking for traces of the powder, or anything that might look like it. Look for yellow, Draco had told him. And a smell like iron. A little sweet. 

“May his name be erased from all living memory, but yes. Him.” Draco was doing a lazier, more absent version of searching, distracted by his own story. “So he was, as you know, dreadfully jealous of me and of course, there was the matter of his own graduation work—something about wizarding art being undervalued or being the highest form of art. Some poppycock about how Muggles stole or plagiarised or—well, I didn’t pay much attention. You know I’m not about that anymore.” He sniffed, importantly, and didn’t look up. 

Harry glanced at him, a once-over out of the corner of his eye. His trousers had a neatly-pressed fold. His back was awfully straight. 

“Anyway,” he said, pulling at a jammed drawer that wouldn’t open. “He was told he couldn’t graduate on that. Against policy. Against, you know . . .” He rattled the drawer. “Ethics.” 

“So he stole your work.” Harry picked up a pencil box and ran a diagnostic spell over it. It was clear. “What’d he do, like, break into your office?” 

The jammed drawer gave way, finally, and Draco stumbled slightly. “Hmm,” he said. “Something like that.” 

“And then what? So he— He ran away with your work, managed to get his hands on some illegal powders, begins to experiment. Trades with his experiments and gets himself arrested, right? Then I come into the picture, accidentally get that stuff on me, it goes off at Grimmauld, frees your aunt’s devil-portrait to roam the streets of London, and then what? How do we get from there to—”

There was a sound like a click and Draco gasped, then quickly tried to cover it up with a cough. Harry looked up just in time to see him scrambling with something, to hide something, then pretend he hadn’t—glancing furtively at Harry.

Harry put down a broken sewing kit. “What is it? What’d you find?” 

“Nothing,” he said, deeply flushed. He was a terrible liar. 

“What’d you find, Draco?” Harry walked towards him, slowly, and Draco turned to face him, hands firm at his sides. 

“Find? What’d I? Why, why would I—?” 

“Show me.” 

Draco laughed, nervous. “It’s—nothing, really. Something I’d misplaced, you see, and he’d— Well it’s nothing to worry about, really, it’s— No!” He tried to dance out of the way as Harry reached for the balled fist of his right hand. They shuffled about for a few steps, Harry trying to grab Draco’s wrist—trapping him against a table and Draco leaning back, out of the way, squirming. 

“This is a crime scene,” said Harry, puffing. “You’re tampering with evidence from an official DMLE crime sce—”

“No!” Draco cried, just as Harry grabbed hold of his wrist, twisting it behind his back. His fist was still closed, hiding something. Draco was breathing hard, arched back a little with Harry’s hold. His chest expanded against Harry’s. The evening was cold and every exhale was a visible puff between them. 

“Show me,” Harry said, his hold tightening on Draco’s wrist. 

Draco made a small sound of protest. He moved, all of his body pressed to Harry’s. “It’s mine,” he said, quiet and petulant, and something about that made Harry’s heart topple over. Made heat flare down his back. His gaze dropped to Draco’s mouth, once, then twice over. Stayed there. 

“What now?” Draco asked, shakily, after a loaded moment. Harry had forgotten to reply. He was still staring at Draco’s lips. Draco’s next words were quiet, barely above a whisper: “Well? Will you arrest me or will you kiss me?” 

The word, the very suggestion of it, made the heat flare lower. It made his throat clench, his heartbeat stutter. He ducked his head, cheek to temple. Hesitated. A small, needy sound came from Draco. He tilted his head, tried to get at Harry’s mouth. Draco’s fist slackened under his hold, and Harry slipped his hand to hold—wanting to twine their fingers together, to pull him closer. 

In Draco’s palm he found something cold. Metal. Within a flash it wound around Harry’s wrist, snake-like, and ticked shut with a satisfying click

- * - 

DECEMBER 2ND

The clicking of the lamp as it flickers sounds loud in the room. The air is cold on his skin everywhere the sheets have slipped off, but Draco’s palms are leaving hot trails, leaving him shaky and wanting more even though he’s already there—this is already more. Draco is holding him down and kissing him. Draco is holding him down and kissing him and his mouth is a scorching heat against Harry’s—all tongue and wet and gentle teeth pulling at his lip and Harry’s stomach drops with every move they make, every small shift to get closer. 

He has one hand in Draco’s hair, restless, and his other hand is twisting in the sheets. He’s frightened to reach out, frightened to startle the moment out of existence. Draco’s sheets have pooled down to his waist, and he’s all goose bumps and bruises. Harry wants to pull him down, cover him, rub against him—make him hot, make them both hot, and his mind is such an overwhelming blur of images and lust that instead he doesn’t do anything at all. Just kisses. Kisses and kisses and tries not to arch too much into it, his tongue sliding alongside Draco’s and his lips slipping—wet—to mouth at Draco’s jaw, at the soft skin below it. 

Draco offers Harry his neck. Harry accepts, kissing his Adam’s apple, nipping at a tendon. Draco whimpers and goes down on one elbow. One of his hands buries itself in Harry’s hair, the other swipes over his chest. He pulls at the short hairs there, soothing with a caress when Harry hisses. He finds a nipple, plays with it, and Harry sucks a bruise onto the marble skin at the join of his shoulder and neck. Harry’s mind is syrup—slow and full of Draco. Draco on his knees, working on a portrait. Draco talking fast. Draco bothering him, needling at him, calling them friends and best of and putting his feet up on Harry’s table. Draco’s handwriting, cursive and cramped, and the mad whirl of words and babble, and the slow drag of his mouth. Then they’re kissing again. Hungry, ungainly, rolling together through layers and sheets and Harry isn’t sure whether he’s angry or infatuated, only that it burns in the same way. 

Draco is a good kisser. An amazing kisser, really, which only serves to infuriate Harry and make his blood boil hotter. How did he learn this, Harry wonders, blurry. Then Draco makes a sound—makes to pull away, to puff hot breaths over Harry’s sore lips—and Harry’s mind quickly blinks out of operation. He leans up to get the kiss back and has a flash where he sees himself from the outside in: sprawled on his back, glasses off, and mouth swollen. He’s chained to Draco by his wrist and the tangle of sheets around his waist is tented obscenely, cock twitching each time Draco hums, keens, bites at him, pulls away. 

He’ll end up begging, he already knows he will. He can feel it. For all of Draco’s deft speed in life, the speed of his speech and movement and the speed with which he snaps to conclusions, he is a different animal in bed: a predator having caught its prey, lazing with its feast. 

“Mmm,” Draco says, plump against Harry’s bottom lip. “Isn’t this nice?” 

Harry tries to answer, tries to wonder at the degree to which his annoyance is wrapped up in arousal, but then Draco’s tongue strokes along his, and the thought is lost for a good while. That is, until Draco kisses down his chin, bites harshly at the jut of his jaw and says, “Shouldn’t we have done this sooner?” 

Harry shudders. Draco kisses his neck and drapes himself over Harry’s side: knee up, leg over Harry’s, thigh almost brushing Harry’s aching balls, but not quite. Harry makes a strangled sound, and Draco puffs a laugh against the wet skin of his neck, says, “Mmm. I’ve been saying we should.” 

“Draco,” Harry pants, writhes, tries to get friction from the sheets. Draco is awful and his petulance is making Harry harder. His heartbeat is in his temples, throbbing through his cock.

“Yes,” Draco answers, either his own question or Harry’s, mouth to Harry’s collarbone. And then again, quieter, with a kiss to the swell of Harry’s chest, “Yes.”

Not knowing what else to hold on to, Harry turns his wrist, wraps the metal twice over, and holds on to the chain. 

- * - 

DECEMBER 1ST 

They were chained together and it was cutting off their magic and Harry was losing his mind. 

“Not cutting off,” Draco tried to explain desperately, as Harry ran out of the cottage for the second time in order to see how far the links would expand. The answer, apparently, was about six good metres. “Not cutting off, it’s still there, it just— Would you—would you stop—!” 

Harry pulled and it yanked Draco along, sent him stumbling a step. He pulled back and Harry stumbled, gasped, and tried to push the stupid thing from his wrist again. It wasn’t going to work. It was never going to work. He groaned loudly and reached for his thigh-strapped wand—tried to cast again. A simple Lumos, an Accio , a spell that should’ve made a soap bubble appear from his wand. 

Nothing. His magic rose to the surface and immediately—immediately—zinged along the chain, giving Draco what appeared to be a small little shock. He jerked, hissed. “I said stop it!” 

It was fully dark out now, and the moon was inching up over the woods. It seemed like it was snowing softly, but perhaps it was just the wind sending the earlier snowfall into the air. It was hard to tell. 

“Stop it?” Harry repeated, starting to walk back towards the cottage. “Stop it? You stop it! Fucking—this!” He lifted his arm and gestured at the chain. It was getting shorter the closer he got to Draco, links disappearing into nothing with a soft sound, like paperclips falling to the floor. “What the fuck is this! What is this!” He shook the chain between them, coming back in through the doorway. 

“I—Look. There’s no need to yell, really, if we could all just stay calm for a moment, I’m sure we—”

“You know what this is.” Harry stood in front of him now, just over the threshold. He yanked up his wrist and Draco’s went up in the same movement. “You knew. I saw you. You knew exactly what this was and you were going to steal it, so just tell me wh—”

“—Steal it! Steal it! How could I—!” Draco had started off incensed, suddenly so, and trailed off just as quickly—clenching his jaw shut, taking a breath. He hadn’t meant to say that. 

Harry narrowed his eyes. “This is yours,” he concluded, quiet. Then, “This highly illegal, most probably soaked in dark-magic artifact is your—”

“Oh come off it, there’s nothing—!” He jerked both their arms lower. “It’s not dark magic, you dramatic oaf. And it’s not mine, it’s . . . I . . .” He looked down at their wrists, turning his hand to inspect the chain for just a second. “It was a theory. My theory. I’d worked out the calculations, I’d . . . I didn’t think he’d . . .” 

“What would a pair of art students,” Harry said slowly, still furious, “need with a chain that loops a wizard’s magic to whoever he’s attached to? Why would—”

“I don’t know! All right! I—” Draco licked his lips, glanced away. “I worked on de-animation. What’s animation, Harry? What’s movement? Any movement? Magic, all of it, it’s magic but . . . I didn’t design a chain, or a . . . a . . .” He rankled the links a little. “This. I just . . . It was just an idea I had one night at three in the morning and I wrote it down and never thought much of it. It didn’t even make it into the research and I don’t even know how he— How long he . . .”

Harry kept his teeth clenched and his breath even. He let Draco trail off and watched, in the blinking light of the desk lamp, as a dark flush worked its way up Draco’s neck. There was a small frown between his brows, a folding wrinkle.

Draco shut his eyes, then: a realisation. There was a flash of something there. Hurt, or something like it, but when Draco opened his eyes again it was gone and all that was left was determination and his clipped business voice. “Right. Well. The mechanism works, as far as I can see, with a certain energy magnetism. So there should be a key here somewhere.” He turned on his heel, marched to the cabinet he’d been rummaging through before, and pushed through the contents of its drawers. The chain expanded between them, tinkling. “Knowing the bastard it’s probably something dreadfully ironic in shape,  like a key perhaps? Or like a flat looking thing or round? Perhaps he’d made it like a magnet, or a—a—”

“—Key ring.” 

“Yes, precisely, like a key chain, or a—”

“No, I mean it’s a key ring. With keys on it.”

Draco looked up at him, sharp over his shoulder. Harry explained, “I saw it when we raided this place, it . . .”  Fell, he thought, and sent a glass phial tumbling, which had sent little balls of sweet-smelling dust tumbling across the table, one of which ended up on his jumper, which had then—

“It’s at the department,” Harry told him. “We confiscated it. Along with . . .” He glanced at the table. It had been covered with bowls, jars, bottles. 

Draco’s gaze was steady on him. He was thinking, working through something: a calculation, a puzzle, a solution. His gaze was steady and then it wasn’t. It flickered quickly, up and then back with a soft, “Shit.” 

“Yeah,” Harry said, though it might as well have been duh, but Draco shook his head and hissed, 

“No I mean shit,” and moved, basically leaped, dragging Harry with him and flattening them both back against the wall next to the door—out of sight. Harry, two steps behind, tried to peer around the doorpost, but Draco pressed him right back against the wall with a, “Don’t—

But Harry had seen. In the faint light spilling out from the cottage, their shapes were vaguely visible, an unsettling line moving at a sluggish pace. Dragging themselves, flat and flapping over in the wind, across the lake. It was quite the procession: girls in sundresses with balloons, lords and dames in furs, a handful of nudes, several important looking men on horses, and leading it all, mad and signalling directions with her hands, was Walburga. She stood with her protruding button nose up in the air, all in black and lace, complete with her elaborate hat—the one with the two dead and stuffed blackbirds, positioned as though in flight. There she was, the hems of her dress in the wet snow, wordlessly urging her paper army along. 

Harry took a sharp breath, bracing himself. Draco heard and said, “No!” But it mattered little at this point—his legs were already moving. 

Harry started running. 

- * - 

DECEMBER 2ND

Harry dreams that he’s running across a lake of ice. 

He’s not sure whether he’s running away from something or towards something, but he’s sure that it’s urgent and that he has no time to spare. He’s also sure that the ice below him is opening up and that he’s going to plunge into its dark depths. He’s sure of it as his footing wobbles and as the surface cracks with a sickening sound. He’s breathless and falling and waiting for the water, for the icy depths, for a cold so severe it’s like a burn. Like a straight jacket. 

But then there’s a hand. A hand to his arm and to his elbow—a pull. Someone hoisting him back, up onto what he thinks is a bank. It’s dark and all he sees are the blurry shapes of bushes and tree-trunks. When he’s dropped onto the ground it’s alongside the weight of someone near. Someone warm and short-of-breath. There’s a drag of heavy cloth, a distant voice saying, Good grief, you’re heavy. 

Harry laughs and reaches out for Draco, tries to hold him. He can’t find him. You caught me, he says. 

Lord, no, dream Draco says. Maybe to his left, maybe to his right. The ground below him is soft and warm, but it’s supposed to be mud and weeds. Catching would mean I had to drop you first. And if I’d held you I would certainly not have let you go. No, I was chasing you. His voice echoes—warm and close and then far. Harry thinks he can feel it on his neck. Always chasing you, Draco says, and then, Sugar? 

Harry laughs. He laughs and laughs and feels hoarse with it, and then Draco is in his arms. He’s lying beside Harry, his back broad against Harry’s chest, and Harry buries his face in his neck. He remembers, suddenly, what they’d been doing just before Harry had fallen: making out. They’d been making out for so long that the sun came up and they had trouble staying awake. For so long that Harry’s mouth hurt and he wasn’t even sure what his body was for, other than this. What were these hands for, if not for fanning over the ridges of Draco’s chest? What were these lips for, if not for kissing the dip of his cupid’s bow, or the stubbly skin below? 

Harry is hard and Draco, the little spoon, is rubbing back against him. He’s saying something awful and thrilling like, Chop chop, haven’t got all day!, and Harry loves the way he smells. The sweaty back of his neck, the heat of his shoulders, the pert swell of his buttocks, and Harry’s about to say it, to put it into words, to tell Draco how badly he wants them to fuck when he realises that he’s awake and they’re in bed. 

They’re in bed and Harry’s wrapped his arms around Draco. He’s been panting against Draco’s neck, rubbing his erection against him. Harry freezes for a second, mortified, and then tries to shuffle away, not sure if Draco’s awake at all but he still apologises, saying, “Sorry, I—sorry, I didn’t—”

Draco stops Harry from moving with one hand to his thigh. 

Harry doesn’t breathe for a few torturous heartbeats. Draco swallows, and Harry can feel the movement of it—that’s how close he is. Then Draco arches his back with a soft sigh and rolls his hips. Harry moans, pained, and Draco whispers, “Lord, don’t stop.” 

Harry’s not sure what to do. He’s not even sure what day it is, exactly. He’s not sure how long they’ve been in the cabin, how long they’ve been in that bed, when exactly they fell asleep and how, whether he dreamt the kissing—god, that kissing—or whether it had been real. Whether Draco was delirious or not, whether the fever had returned, whether—

“Please,” Draco says, breathes out the word, and his hand clenches Harry’s thigh. Clenching and then letting go, moving a scrambling touch up, up, clutching at Harry’s neck, sinking his hand into Harry’s hair. He’s started moving his hips back restlessly, hot and maddening against Harry’s crotch, babbling, saying, “Please, please—keep—Ah, don’t stop, just—” 

Harry grabs at Draco’s waist, buries his face in Draco’s neck. Breathes in deeply. He ruts up once, a hapless hitching of his hips and Draco moans , pushes back against it. The sheets around Draco slip, making Harry’s hand slide forward until his sweaty fingers are splayed over the tight, twitching muscles of Draco’s abdomen. 

“Draco,” Harry says, sounding broken, wrecked already. He can’t look up from Draco’s neck, he can’t do it. 

Draco groans, touching Harry’s neck. The nape of it, pulling at his hair. “Harry,” he says, a plea, and as though the decision was made in the span of those syllables—in the beat it took to say them—they begin to move. Rolling against one another, Harry’s leg high between Draco’s thighs through the sheets. Harry’s cock is rubbing, raw and leaking, against the cleft of Draco’s cloth-covered arse. Draco is riding his leg, his movements a little frantic, like he’s not sure what he wants more of first. He lets Harry bite at the back of his neck, soothe it wetly and then he turns his head to meet Harry’s mouth in a messy kiss. The taste of him is familiar, already familiar, and Harry’s stomach clenches in desire. With his hold on Draco he pulls him closer, hand to the soft of Draco’s belly, a finger dipping into his belly button. Draco’s hard cock is trapped under the twist of the sheet but the side of Harry’s hand brushes the tip of it through the fabric, the damp heat of it, and Draco whimpers—soft hand turning into a fist in Harry’s hair. 

Harry wants to fuck him. He wants it so bad he think he might go dizzy with it, might pass out from the force it. 

Draco bites the plump of Harry’s bottom lip, then lets go and begins to squirm. It takes a disoriented moment for Harry to understand what’s happening: Draco is trying to push at the sheets, to untangle them. To at least shove them down from Harry’s hips, down lower. 

“I jus’ want—” He pants, wet against Harry’s chin, and Harry helps him. It’s a mess of clumsy fingers and layers of sheets wrapped in strange ways. Draco’s still talking, telling Harry that he just wants— “to feel you, Lord, I want to—let me— Harry, let me feel you, let me—”

It feels like a miracle when they get untangled enough to push the bedding down. For a moment, Harry is breathless; he's unsure of what to do, or how to slot back together. But he doesn’t have to think that far, because Draco is pulling him back with a hungry look over his shoulder, then goes slack-jawed at the feel of Harry against him. Harry, for his part, is biting down on a moan, on his heart, on the edge. 

“Fuck,” he gasps, hips hitching, grinding. Draco nods, mindless. Then he reaches back, takes Harry in a shaky hold and shows him what to do. How to fit between his thighs, pressed together. Harry starts to fuck the tight space between, moving slowly at first, a few tentative pumps that leave them both moaning. Harry’s cock drags along Draco’s perineum, under his balls, and then he starts moving faster, louder, until the bed under them is squeaking madly. It’s heat and friction and Harry was already out of his mind, can barely string together two thoughts. So instead he sucks Draco’s earlobe into his mouth and gives him his fist to fuck into. 

It’s the chained wrist, and the metal drags along Draco’s skin. But he doesn’t seem to mind, spurting precome and babbling, saying, “Ah, ah, good Lord, ah—!” It’s slippery between them now, and Harry’s cock slips out from between Draco’s thighs a few times. Once, Harry thrusts just as it happens and he ends up grinding his ruddy erection between Draco’s arse cheeks. It’s fast and hot and the head of Harry’s cock catches on the furl of his hole, and it makes them both so wild they do it again, and again, and when Harry’s back between Draco’s tight thighs—and Draco’s clenching around him, fucking up into his hand—Draco turns to murmur into Harry’s mouth, 

“Will you fuck me?” 

Harry can hardly breathe, his head light. “Yeah,” he pants, hips snapping faster. Draco keens, rutting back, forward, fingers tight around the muscle of Harry’s arm, repeats, 

“Will you fuck me?”

“Yeah,” Harry says, wanks him faster. “I’ll fuck you. I’ll— fuck—” and then he’s coming on a strangled “Ah!,mouth open against Draco’s. Draco kisses him through it, moans into it. His kisses soften when Harry slows, still hovering somewhere over his body; he brushes his lips over Harry’s chin, his cheek, his closed eyes. 

When he comes to again, he laughs at himself. It’s a dry, baffled laugh, amazed at his own reaction, at the orgasm, at Draco’s body, at Draco’s mouth. Draco smiles against him, wicked, with that singular dimple pulling between his cheek and his chin. 

Harry’s breath catches in his throat. 

He finishes him off by getting him on his stomach on the mattress and letting him rut into Harry’s fist, mattress springs straining. Harry’s mouth is low on Draco’s back, lower still, and Draco comes with Harry’s teeth to the flesh of his buttocks. 

“Good lord,” is the first thing Draco manages to say, a good five minutes later. They’re both still catching their breath. Harry’s on his back, avoiding the wet spot, and Draco is draped across him, all over him, his face hot to Harry’s chest. Though the stove and the hearth are simmering low, the room is sweltering and smells like sweat. Like sex. 

“Yeah,” Harry agrees, one possessive hand over the swell of Draco’s arse. Over the mark of his bite. 

“Will you still fuck me, though?” Draco asks, nonchalant, though his voice breaks. He still sounds wrecked. Harry can’t help but gasp out a laugh. 

“Yeah,” he says, as coherent as he gets. He can already feel the heat thrum low at the thought of it. “Sure.” 

“Excellent,” Draco says. “That’d be . . .” He’s laughing now too, a light bubble of a thing. “That’d be much appreciated.” 

It’s contagious and Harry’s still not sure what’s so funny, but he’s laughing as well. Low in his belly, under Draco’s touch, laughing and saying, “You got it,” meaning himself, meaning he’s what Draco had, could have. Will have. He says it a second time: “You got it.”

- * - 

DECEMBER 2ND 

Harry gets out of bed and Draco, pointedly, does not. Harry gets them water, gets them a washcloth, gets them the clothes dried crisp by the fire. Draco watches him throughout it all. Sex, it seems, makes Draco slow. Or as slow as Draco gets, which is still a rambling trainwreck, but one that lounges in bed and refuses to get up or get dressed. 

Harry worries over him, at first. Worries because of the mottled bruises across Draco’s chest and over his jaw—the ones from the lake, from the fall. He worries because he wasn’t mindful of them during sex and worries he made it worse. He worries that he hurt Draco and Draco hadn’t told him. But then Draco gets bored with the conversation and waves it off with a grand gesture. He clearly thinks he’s being cute when, still sprawled naked in bed, he mimics Harry and says, 

“Eh. Bruises schmuses.” 

Harry gives him a look, nonplussed. He’s sitting on the edge of the bed in his dried trousers, and is pulling on his socks. Putting on his shoes. Draco looks him, is mischievous about it, then wedges an arm under his own head and begins to ramble: 

“This was great,” he tells the ceiling. “Having sex here. In this cabin. In this cabin of my—nemesis. Lord, if he ever found out! Oh to be the one to tell him. That, too, would be great. But yes, the sex—that was great, wasn’t it? You sure seemed to like it. Lord, the sounds you made! I’ve never heard anyone moan like that. Not that I minded, of course. Who minds a spot of positive feedback? Not me. Anyway, you seemed to like the kissing a lot, didn’t you? I am an excellent kisser. Don’t make a face now.” He prods at Harry with a toe. “I am—I am! Besides, there’s no point in pretending you didn’t enjoy it if you did. And if you’d like to do it again, which I’m assuming you do, unless you—” 

Harry grabs the foot that Draco’s shoved at him to pull him further down the bed. Draco’s speech is cut off with a gasp as Harry clambers up onto the mattress. He’s shirtless. His flies are still open, his thigh-holster on. He pins Draco’s wrists down over his head, lets his weight hold Draco down, and hovers close—not leaning in, pulling away each time—until Draco whines and struggles against his hold. Until he’s the one to chase Harry’s mouth into a kiss. 

“So anyway,” Draco says, a good while and a messy blowjob later. His hair is in a state. He’s still naked, still flushed, still in bed, drinking a glass of water. Harry is heating him up some more oats over the re-lit stove. “Shall we talk about how long you’ve desired me? Has it been very long? I bet it has. Oh, that’d be terribly embarrassing for you, wouldn’t it. Wait, has it been all along? Has it been since we were little ickle babies on the Hogwarts Exp—”

“Merlin fucking wept,” Harry mutters, and stirs the thickening oats. 

Draco’s smirk fades a little, shrinks. “I am jesting, you know,” he says after a pause. “When I . . . I mean. I do know you haven’t . . . that you haven’t. I’m not—” He shrugs against the pillows. The bed creaks. “Delusional . It’s just a bit of a joke. Ha ha,” he adds, flat. 

Harry scrapes the porridge into a bowl, tasting it before he brings it over to the bed. It tastes like cardboard but he’s hungry enough to not care. There’s something serious about Draco when he accepts the hot bowl from Harry, sitting up. It steams into the air. 

“That day at Hogwarts,” Draco says, eyebrows high, not looking up at Harry. “This summer. You . . . you took me by surprise. I’d—I’d been thinking for a while, you see, about how to . . . Well.” He pushes the spoon through the oats.  “About how we might, perhaps, reconnect. I’d heard you were doing well, you see, and I’d been doing well, and I thought, why not do well in . . .” He smiles to himself, somewhat sadly. “In tandem?” 

Harry looks at him, really looks. He takes the spoon from the bowl, eats a bite and says, “So what was it you had planned?” 

Draco looks up at him and his eyes are all bashful humour, like he doesn’t want to say but is compelled to, knowing it’ll amuse. “There were several plans,” he says, miserable. “The fan favourite was, of course, the one where we’d both be at the same charity auction, and you’d have no idea about the art, and I’d be so kind to offer my guidance, and you’d say, Oh, Draco, whenever did you become so knowledgeable? Please, do tell me more, perhaps over coffee or dinner or . . .”  

Harry’s laughing, properly laughing, and Draco laughs along with him—though a little more abashed. “Sure, laugh away. And then of course you ruined it all by showing up, out of the blue, in the middle of my workday, in your pyjamas! No, don’t laugh, you were! You were in your py—!”

Those were not my pyjamas,” Harry tells him, smiling. Draco tsk ’s, blushes. 

And I looked a mess. Not the impression I wanted to make at all.” 

Harry gives him a look. “You did not look a mess.” 

“No, you’re right, I never look a mess. But still.” 

“But still.” 

Draco takes a sharp breath, looks away. Keeps talking. “And then I had to gain back control, of course. Get the plan back on track. Which was proving quite difficult, what with you ignoring my perfectly civil correspondence, despite repeated attempts.” He was properly red now, blushing down the sides of his face. 

“Ah,” said Harry. “Is that what that was?” 

Draco glances back quickly. “What did you think it was?” 

“Oh, I had absolutely no idea what was happening. You’d startled me.” 

“Well.” Draco cleared his throat. “You’d startled me, too.” 

“Hmm.” Harry nodded. “A fine pair we make. Are you going to eat that?” He means the oats, which Draco keeps pushing at, and Draco shakes his head no. He seems grossed out and somewhere in thought. “We should get going,” Harry tells him. “Get back to the department, get the ball rolling on this. Get . . .” He holds his hand up, tugs gently at the chain. “Unstuck. Get you checked out by a proper Healer, too,” he says, and reaches out to put his hand to a rough looking bruise on Draco’s collar.  

Draco puts the bowl aside on the stool by the bed. He nods, distracted, and when Harry’s touch trails up, moves to cup his jaw, Draco stops him with a hand to his wrist and a, “I need to tell you something.” 

Harry pauses. His hand is on Draco’s neck, his thumb on the jut of his jaw. His skin is warm under Harry’s palm, his pulse quick. 

“Ernest didn’t get the animation powders himself. He stole them.” Then, his heartbeat jumping in his throat, Draco adds, “He stole them from me.”

“From . . .” Harry begins to pull away. “From you ?” 

“No, listen— listen.” Draco hurries after Harry’s hand, holding on to it with two of his own. He’s launching into it, talking fast, saying, “Remember I told you about the institute and how I—wait, listen. Remember how I said that I was—that once I got in I made great friends and the professors appreciated adored me and—”

Harry tugs free. “And so you handled in illegal substances because you—?” 

“—I exaggerated!” Draco exclaims, holds on to him by the strap of his thigh holster. “I—wasn’t popular, all right? I don’t know why. It wasn’t the family name thing; none of them had any idea who I was. I barely spoke the language, and the other students in my year they just . . . avoided me. No one had a sense of humour or came to any of my dinner parties and—” He runs out of breath. Sighs, starts again. “I wanted . . . I wanted to do something spectacular, you see, for my final project. I thought, if I could just . . . If I went down in history as the student who single-handedly reformed the procedures around animation, surely then they’d all have to—admit it. They’d have to see that they were . . .” He deflates. Lets go of Harry’s leg, sits back against the headrest. The mattress groans with the movement. “Wrong.” 

When Harry speaks it’s slow, weighted. He’s still trying to work through some thoughts. “You broke the law,” is how he starts. “To get people to . . . like you?” 

“You don’t know how lonely it gets,” Draco says, his voice rough and small. “You have all these— friends. You're always surrounded by friends . I went to Brussels thinking I was going to start a new life. A glamorous, new life, with parties and laughter and art, but . . . turns out it was just my old life, only elsewhere.” He fusses with the sheet, neatly arranges it around him. “And with more waffles.” 

It’s quiet for a moment. Harry thinks, being sad doesn’t justify criminality. He thinks, I haven’t always had friends. He thinks, I thought you had friends. 

He doesn’t say any of it though, so Draco continues, his gaze down, smoothing the sheet over his thigh. “Ernest was the only person I could talk to at all, really. I mean, he was really rather dull and no match for me, intellectually. And his grades were embarrassing and all he ever talked about was Muggle art and how it was all plagiarising magical art and ugh.” He rolls his eyes, tilts his head back—resting it against the wall. “Who cares? But yeah. I thought . . . I thought we were friends. And then, after . . . perhaps . . .” He swallows, Adam’s apple bobbing. “Oldest trick in the book, isn’t it? I didn’t see it coming. I got to snog a boy in my bed for the first time in my life. I wasn’t going to keep an eye out for whether or not he was snooping around, stealing things. Or rummaging through my waste basket in the middle of the night, apparently.” He huffs at himself. “Hardly surprising, in retrospect. I never did have a great track record for knowing how to distinguish friends from . . .” He looks down at Harry from his tilted angle, gesturing vaguely with his chained hand. “Nemeses.” 

Harry’s throat is tight when he says, “I’m not your nemesis.” 

“Well. Case in point, I suppose.” 

“I’m not your friend, either.” 

“Right.” Draco nods, looking back up at the ceiling. “Of course. Silly me.”

“I’m your . . .” Harry doesn’t know how to finish the sentence, though he wants to. Draco holds his breath in that second, his eyes travelling back. The pause is far too long, far too loaded. Harry tries again, “I’m your . . .” 

Draco whispers, “Yes?” 

“I’m your,” is Harry’s statement. His mouth is a little dry. He turns his palm up on the bed beside Draco’s leg, a quiet offer. Draco takes it immediately, leaning in, fingers slipping between Harry’s. Harry says, so quiet he can barely hear it himself, “I’m yours.” 

He’s not sure he meant to say it, quite like that or quite right now, but say it he did. He’s also not sure how they end up kissing again, only that it happens in a blurry moment with Draco’s hand in his and his warm body close. Draco’s mouth is sweet and tentative now, wanting, and he’s still a very, very good kisser. Harry’s left breathless for it, even though he meant to only allow it for a moment. He still wanted to have a serious conversation about criminal activity and maybe ask a few follow-up questions about Ernest in his bed. But before he knows it, Draco is in his lap, arms and chain looped around the back of Harry’s neck, sucking on his bottom lip. 

“You’re mine,” Draco pants against his mouth, gasping in between kisses. “Lord, I’m yours. So yours. So, so yours, so—”

  There’s a clattering from outside, a crack, a cry. They freeze, staring at each other. Then they untangle, gently, and Draco is wrapping the sheet around him closely. Harry stalks to the window, ducking beside it to peer outside. The windows are fogged up and the outside world is a blur of white. Heart hammering, Harry uses the side of his palm to wipe a circle on the glass. 

He takes a breath, bends, looks out. 

And looks. 

And looks. 

He huffs, and it's a flat, humourless sound. When he looks back, Draco is standing in the middle of the room, rumpled in his sheet, eyes wide and frightened. His elbows are red. His ears are red. 

“Oh baby,” Harry says, and cracks him a smile. “This should be fun.” 

- * - 

DECEMBER 2ND 

Ernest Edgecombe was no longer having fun. 

Ernest Edgecomb, as far as Harry and Draco were later made to understand, had been hiding in one of the groundskeeper’s sheds on his family’s property—on the other side of the lake—when the portrait of Walburga Black had come for him. She had bowed at his feet, and then proceeded to fulfill his every command. Draco had been right: the magic had been tied to his wand. 

Fetch me some food, is how it started. Fetch me a newspaper. Fetch me clean clothes. Fetch me my lab materials from holding. 

Turns out that there are quite a few door cracks one can slip through when one’s full diameter is 0.05 mm. 

Ernest Edgecombe never was, as Draco had mentioned, quite the brightest Lumos of the bunch. He didn’t have a grand master plan that stretched much further than disrupting the artistic establishment, making them take notice of him, and perhaps making some money on the side so that he wouldn’t be quite so reliant on his sister and her iron grip on the family vault. Once he’d got Walburga to do his bidding, the whole thing snowballed faster than he could keep track of it. He’d ended up with a houseful of animate portraits that followed his every movement. They had kept coming too, what with Walburga slipping into houses and museums and bringing more and more of the paper army to her master. Her master, who was tired and on the run and a little weirded out. Her master, who had just wanted to have people like him, or maybe even worship him a little. But he hadn't wanted to animate shapes of pigment to worship him. He hadn't wanted shapes whose eyes glinted in the night, who sounded like they breathed even though they didn’t. 

Ernest Edgecombe had let it all go too far. Ernest Edgecombe was no longer having fun. Ernest Edgecombe did not know how to turn back, now that he had gotten here. He hadn't understood Draco’s formulas well enough to brew a de-animation potion, although he’d attempted to brew one several times. Only there was no space in the little cramped kitchen, what with several 18th century portraits peering over his shoulder to see what he was doing. 

Ernest Edgecombe had had enough. He’d asked Walburga to go get his de-animation chain. If it wasn’t with the Ministry, it was still back at the cottage. She’d come back empty-handed: the place had been warded shut. And so Ernest Edgecombe had moped. And sulked. And wondered why the world was out to get him. And why his life was always going down the drain due to the incompetence of idiots. Other idiots—not him. He’d wondered this aloud that morning, smoking outside and ranting to a nodding portrait of a warden who seemed to truly understand. 

That’s when he noticed it: the chimney smoke rising over the trees. 

Someone was in the cottage. Someone had got through the wards and had lit the stove in the cottage. If someone had managed that, then surely the wards were down—surely he could get in now too. Surely he could find the damn chain, turn off these bloody portraits and just have a moment to think , for crying out loud. He just needed to think about what his next step was going to be. 

He should have taken a moment to walk through his steps, however. He should have considered, carefully, how he was going to approach it all, and when, and—

“Oh, blast this,” he'd said to the portrait of the warden, flicked his cigarette to the side, and marched down to cross the lake. 

He didn’t notice the disturbance on the surface of the lake. He didn’t see the cracks in the ice or the thinly frozen-over hole in the water.

“But luckily, I was there to rescue you!” is what Draco had to say about that, for the third time in a row, looking very cheerful about it. Ernest was sitting between him and Harry, wet and cold and shivering. The Knight Bus was hustling them every which way, and Harry held on with a hand to the seat in front of them. 

“For what else are friends for?" Draco continued. “Right, Ernest? Am I correct?” 

“Please make him stop,” Ernest asked Harry, looking miserable. Teeth chattering, he held up his hands, bound together at the wrist as though in prayer. “Please.” 

“Oh no, I don’t think I will.” Harry made a face, feigning regret. Over Ernest’s head he looked at Draco and asked, “Will I, Draco?” 

“No, I don’t think you will.” He shook his head, sad. “You see, Ernie, Harry and I are lovers now . In case you were wondering what with all this . . .” He gestured between himself and Harry, across the cramped and wet-hair-smelling space the three of them occupied in the two-person seat. “Sexual tension going on.” 

Harry gave him a flat look.

“What?” Draco wanted to know. “Is it not true? Am I not speaking the truth?” 

“Merlin wept,” Harry said. 

“I just want to be alone,” Ernest said. 

“Oh, you will be,” Draco told him. Then the Knight Bus squeezed itself small to fit between a truck and a wall, took a sharp right turn, fell into a pothole, and came to a screeching, shuddering halt. 

- * -

DECEMBER 25TH 

The conversation screeches to a shuddering to a halt at Draco’s grand, “Have you heard?” 

It’s directed at the table at large: McGonnagall on the far end, Neville seated opposite, the other professors in between and the handful of sulky-looking students who are staying at Hogwarts for the holidays. 

Draco has been working on a series of portraits on the first floor these last couple of days. He invited Harry to join him for the remainder of his stay, claiming he needed the distraction, claiming that he had a strong suspicion that the rest of the staff was avoiding him. 

“Heard what, Mr Malfoy?” asks McGonagall, sounding very far from interested and very close to done. 

Draco’s got one hand in Harry’s hair, stroking. Harry lets it happen, even though he sort of knows what’s happening—what Draco is driving at—and can already feel his skin itch at the prospect of it. Instead of reacting, he focuses on his dinner, on the distant Christmas carols, on the glass of wine that’s emptier than he remembers it being. 

Across from them, Neville is staring, horrified and amused all at once, his dinner forgotten on the plate. 

“Well!” Draco starts. “Just last week my Harry’s rounded up a band of eight—no, ten—darling, was it ten?” 

“Five.”

“—Ten smugglers, one arm basically blown off its socket—”

“—it was a fracture, but sure—”

“—no back-up to speak of, single-handedly—”

“—nope—”

“—brought down the whole operation in under an hour—”

“—ten-hour stakeout, Draco, it was—”

“—youngest Auror to have—!”

“—no one’s ever said that—”

“—talk of promotion, already. He got his last one last year! Well, it’s not to be helped, of course is it, when you’re naturally just so . . . strong.” He scratches his fingers down the back of Harry’s head, through the thick of his hair. “And brave. Aren’t you, love?” 

Harry looks up at him and says in a murmur, “Why are you doing this?” 

“Doing what?” he asks, innocent, then drops his hand, picks up his knife and fork again, and starts cutting the meat. “How about this duck? Is it right? Is it supposed to taste like this? I don’t remember it tasting like this—did it use to taste like this back in our day, Harry? It was a different marinade, surely. Does the menu change often? You know, Minerva, you really should leave these sorts of decisions to professionals. Running a school, while a noble endeavour indeed, does not make one a food critic, or for that matter a . . .”

That night Harry has Draco up against the wall of the guest quarters the moment they’re through the door. He’s annoyed and turned on and Draco’s been impossible tonight, which he does on purpose, Harry knows he does. So he asks him, Draco’s arms pinned up over his head and Harry’s thigh pressed between his legs—asks him, 

“Why’d you—? I thought we were gonna—I thought we were gonna show them how well we’re—”

Ah, you—you get so horny when I bother you,” Draco tells him, mouth wet and messy against Harry’s cheek. Harry presses closer, harder, and Draco’s breath stutters out of him. 

“God that’s bad,” Harry says, though it’s true, embarrassingly so. Harry kisses him deep and drops one hand to fumble with the complicated buttons of his trousers. He says quietly, “You’re insufferable.” 

Draco gasps out a laugh. “And yet,” he says, hips moving, “suffer me you do.”

Suffer him, bear him, enjoy him—thrill in him. It is all a mixed bag, these days. Draco is twenty-seven layers of personality wrapped up in drama and humour, and a wit so sharp it still stings when he doesn’t see it coming. But there is something below that, too. Something that makes Harry ache just looking at him. 

He went to Draco’s place, the weekend after that raid. He showed up at Draco’s door with his arm in a sling, his body bruised and in need of rest. Draco slept restlessly at his side and kept on waking up to make sure Harry was still there. Draco was tetchy and a little mean that morning, which had confused Harry, until he realised that’s what worry looked like on Draco: like he was scared of it, scared of another’s hurt, scared to feel it as his own. 

So earnest, Harry said, trying to lighten the mood when Draco fussed over his bandages, mumbling about lousy healing techniques. His fingers were shaky, and he got flustered, still in his pyjamas on the edge of the bed, seeming somewhat at a loss. Harry pulled him close then, and told him, Hey—look at me. I’m okay. I’m okay, I’m—you’ve got me. Yes? You’ve got me, you’ve—

I’ve got you, Draco said back, so very quiet. And then again, forehead to Harry’s, I’ve got you.

Draco rode him, that morning, careful of Harry’s arm. He went slow, so very slow, and he looked beautiful. The bright winter light filtered through his curtains, lighting up the room in deep ochres, making Draco’s hair look golden and his eyes an unreal shade of silver. His mouth was so soft. He looked down at Harry through his lashes, hips circling at a maddening pace. Arching, leaning back, a hand on Harry’s knee for support. 

There were no portraits in that room. Only a silent mirror, opposite the bed, so that Harry could see the play of muscle down Draco’s back. Could see the possessive splay of his own hand over the dip of his waist.

The snow has returned in earnest, this Christmas. Outside, the Hogwarts grounds are a flat white landscape. A bump here indicates the roof of Hagrid’s hut and a bump there, the pumpkin patch. Harry tries to carry Draco over to the bed, but his arm is still sore and the muscle still aching. He stumbles a little, sending them both down an ungainly path, half onto the mattress. 

Draco’s the one to catch them this time, a hand around Harry’s waist. “Got you,” he says, breathless, and lowers them onto the sheets. “See?” he adds, dimple low on his cheek. “Now I’ve got you.”