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That Old Black Magic

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Their first wedding was marked by rain, as if conjured by the storm cloud of Malfoy’s face. Keeping his eyes resolutely locked to the dull grey beyond the drizzle clinging to the window of the solicitor's office, Harry listened with half an ear as the man droned on.

“Now,” the solicitor said, clearing his throat. Twice. “If you will stand and join hands, please?”

Harry stood, jaw aching. He held out his left hand and felt the press of another palm against his, the bite of short, blunt nails digging into his knuckles. The solicitor waved his wand and a length of silk appeared, wrapping their wrists together. Harry could hear Molly’s discreet sniffling in the background.

“No,” he said, halfway through the incantation. Just that, No, as if it might stop anything. But to his surprise, it did: the ribbon tying his wrist to Malfoy’s dissolved; Malfoy fled to the shelter of his mother’s arms. Harry ground his teeth together, his hand dangling, numb and useless, by his side. He dragged his gaze from the window in time to be herded out by Ron and Hermione, by Molly and Arthur and Bill — their hands on his shoulders, his waist, his arms. Luna stayed behind, her big blue eyes following them.

In the waiting room, Harry stooped over a rubbish bin and sicked up.

“I’m sorry,” he said.

Arthur, voice rough, shushed him. “No. No, Harry. No, it was right. We can’t even be sure if… No, none of us wanted—” He sounded curiously distant to Harry’s ears. Everything did — blotted out by the roar of blood in his head.

Their second wedding took place at the Manor. The sunny day outside rendered its old-world beauty a shadow, highlighting the war-scars it still donned: Curse marks scorched over white marble, dark patches of blood the Malfoys’ elves hadn't been able to scrub or Scourgify clean lingered on the grey walls. The fetid smell of death clung to everything. Even the paintings looked traumatised, watching the proceedings with wide, haunted eyes. That last gave Harry a flicker of bitter amusement — until the solicitor broke the awkward silence by slurping the rest of his tea and uncomfortably proclaiming, “No time like the present, gentlemen. If you’ll rise, please.”

The Malfoys and Luna sat across from Harry and the Weasleys, Hermione and the solicitor in the two side chairs bracketing the sofas. It made it impossible not to see Malfoy unless Harry wanted to twist his head to stare out the window behind him. Malfoy’s mouth was closed tight, his lips white around the edges. He straightened his shoulders — stood up tall — and extended his wrist across the table between them.

“I’m going to make you fucking miserable,” he muttered.

Harry placed his wrist atop Malfoy’s. “Dare to be predictable, Malfoy.”

It was one of the longest exchanges they’d shared since having been informed of the contract.

Hermione was the one who stopped the ceremony, then.

“Wait,” she said. Her face had gone ashen in the last week, her lips dry and cracking, and red between the cracks. Her voice was faint as dust, but everyone paused. “Wait. I’m close to figuring out… I just need a little longer, I know it.”

“You don’t have much longer,” Malfoy said, a poisonous sneer pulling his upper lip back. But the swift glance he cast at Narcissa was worried, tense. Harry, oddly removed, took in the dull luster of Narcissa’s hair, her greyed complexion, the stiff way she was holding herself — her chipped fingernails digging into her palms.

Hermione seemed to notice as well, because she turned to Narcissa and, through her teeth, said, “Please. This is barbaric.

Lucius scowled and started to shake his head, but Narcissa cut off his gesture with a gracefully lifted hand, a nod. Her shoulders slumped, and Malfoy tore his hand out of Harry’s grip before he could weigh in, heading to Narcissa to prop her up. Sending a scowl of his own to Hermione.

But as it turned out, Hermione wasn’t close to any sort of solution at all. Within two days, Malfoy Apparated to Grimmauld Place, Narcissa clamped to his side.

“My father has fallen,” he said, standing in front of Harry’s door. He didn’t bother to explain whether that meant Lucius was dead or writhing in pain — not that it would have mattered to Harry, in either case. But then Malfoy said, “My mother is holding on, for now. Yours will all start dropping soon, too, if they’re not already,” and Harry held the door all the way open and stepped aside to let them enter.

The solicitor was Summoned via Floo call; Harry’s attempt at a Patronus had barely wisped out from his wand — ghostly, unformed. Ron trudged upstairs like an old man, one hand on his lower back, to fetch his father and Bill. Luna arrived moments later, pale and windswept and more serious than Harry had ever seen her; Harry could only suppose Malfoy had sent an Owl before leaving the Manor.

This time, it was Hermione sniffling in the background. Molly, too weak to come down from the guest room she and Arthur had stayed the night in, had already lost her voice.

Before the fireplace, they let the solicitor read the incantation. Malfoy, for once, was silent, maybe for the same reason Harry couldn’t speak. There was too much anger boiling in his chest, a thunder of disbelief in his head. Then Malfoy’s hand slid into his. He laced their fingers together and lifted their hands before the solicitor, wrists pressed tight. The conjured length of silk wound around them, itchy and tingling. It was edged with tiny lettering that glowed brighter the longer it stayed in place: PotterMalfoyPotterMalfoyPotterMalfoy.



No, Harry thought. He looked at Ron and Hermione, wavering as they tried to remain standing, and kept his teeth clenched, in hopes the word wouldn’t accidentally fall out.

Malfoy cut off a small, pained sound when the ribbon around their wrists suddenly sizzled. Harry didn’t make any noise at all, dispassionate as it burned their names into his skin, then faded to near-invisibility. What was one more everlasting scar, anyway?

The silk vanished, and a small plume of smoke rose between them. Hermione coughed at Harry’s side, gasped, and Ron did too. And Bill, and Luna, Arthur and Narcissa, all of their faces taking on hints of colour again. The solicitor clapped his hands together, once, then took out a handkerchief from his pocket and dabbed at his shiny forehead.

“Well,” he said. “Well. I assume you’re aware of the next—”

“We’re aware,” Malfoy said grimly, and Harry realised they were still holding hands, Malfoy’s palm hot and damp against his. Harry tried to let go, but Malfoy tightened his grip. “Give them another minute,” he said, jerking his chin in the direction of Narcissa, who had at least stopped swaying where she stood.

“It will have to be completed,” the solicitor hesitated, “ah… soon. If you’d prefer not to have to repeat the ceremony tomorrow.”

“We’re aware,” Malfoy spat. “Get out.

Harry shook his hand off, wheeling around to glare at him. “Don’t think, because I agreed to this, that I’m going to let you get away with that sort of shit in—”

“In what?” Malfoy said, a nasty smile twisting his mouth. “Your house? Well it’s my house too now, isn’t it, Potter. So I can toss out any manner of person I want, just try to stop me.” He narrowed his eyes to glittering strips of silver and black, looking over Harry’s shoulder — at Hermione, at Ron. Harry’s wand found its way into his grip, the tip poking just under Malfoy’s pointy chin.

“Why don’t we try each other?” Harry suggested in a low, harsh voice he didn’t recognise, an eager surge of malevolent magic pooling in the wrist that now declared them joined. It was a pointless confrontation, the solicitor having cleared out through the Floo on Malfoy’s order, but with a rush of hatred Harry had only felt a few times in his life, he wanted to let the curse fly. Wanted to see Malfoy bleed again.

“Harry,” Bill said, low and quiet. A large hand came to settle on his shoulder and applied pressure, as if Bill knew how close Harry was to losing control. “It doesn’t work like that. You can’t.”

Malfoy assessed them both, looking comfortable with his chin held at such a haughty angle, even if it was Harry’s wand doing the holding. His gaze slid sideways.

“Mother,” he said. “Please collect my belongings from the Manor. Everything you think I’ll need.”

Harry swallowed the bile rising in his throat and forced his wand down.

“But, Draco,” Narcissa said. She took a measured breath. “You need an—”

Attestation, was what she couldn’t bring herself to say. They needed an attestation for the— Oh, god. Harry closed his eyes.

“It can’t come from you,” Malfoy continued after a beat. “I’ll need my things. Lovegood will take them from you and set me up— wherever, before she leaves. I’ll Owl as soon as I can.”

“Tomorrow,” Hermione murmured. “You simply won’t be able to receive anyone until…”

“Yes, how simple it is,” Malfoy said, directing a glare her way. Harry stepped to block Malfoy’s line of sight to her, staring at him, and Malfoy scoffed. Rolled his eyes. His gaze flicked over the remaining people in the parlour, and then he turned to Narcissa. “The Were-Weasley will do it.”

Bill snorted softly behind Harry, tempering the automatic rise of Harry’s wand, and Harry glanced at him. His face warmed. He hadn’t asked yet, because — how do you ask something like that? But Bill only nodded and shrugged. “I assumed it would come from me.”

“I can,” Luna said softly. She’d sat down at some point, had pulled a pillow into her lap. Her fingers were folded together atop it.

“If you want—” Arthur began.

“No.” Harry shook his head, revolted at the thought of either of them being a party to what was about to happen. Ron and Hermione stayed blessedly silent.

“Right. No,” Malfoy said. Startled, Harry glanced at him. Found his cheeks as red as Harry’s felt to be. Malfoy sniffed and strode to Narcissa, tossing a clipped, “Best say your farewells,” over his shoulder before gathering her in his arms. He murmured quietly in her ear.

Harry blinked, the flood of adrenaline abating and resurging — dizzily, the room swam around him. He was turned by the grip of Bill’s hand, was wrapped in one hug, another and another. Ron said, “I’m sorry, mate,” and Arthur shook his head against Harry’s shoulder. The scent of Luna’s hair brought to mind freshly turned earth and lakewater — her hands were soft on the back of his neck — and when it was Hermione’s turn, she locked her arms around him and, in a wet, wobbly voice, said, “I’ll keep looking, Harry, I swear I’ll keep looking.” She pressed a fierce kiss to his cheek. “We love you.”

“I love you too,” Harry said. It came out hollow, fairly fitting. Malfoy was still talking to Narcissa, rubbing her hands between his own. The graceful clasp of his fingers and rounded slope of his shoulders drew Harry’s eye. “Malfoy,” Harry said, looking away. “We’ve got to—”

Malfoy stilled but didn’t look up, his pause barely long enough to say, “I’ll meet you upstairs.”

Bill’s hands settled again, heavy, on Harry’s shoulders. “Come on,” he said. “I want to talk to you.”

* * *

“So,” Malfoy said, snottily, superior even before he could be sure they were alone. There was a long beat of silence before Harry heard the door shut, a sturdy, terse thunk. Malfoy cleared his throat. “What did you and the Were-Weasley get up to without me? I know you didn’t have time to cheat already, darling.”

Harry didn’t turn from the glow of the streetlamps outside the window, beyond the high wall of the yard. Didn’t want to, wasn’t sure if he could. His muscles felt locked into position, Bill’s words lingering in his mind. It wasn’t raining anymore, but sometime earlier in the day it had, and the pavement reflected a wet sheen — shimmering, hypnotic.

“Not that I’d care, mind you,” Malfoy said when Harry didn’t respond. Harry heard the rustle of clothing, a whistle of fabric cutting the air as it was thrown aside. The clink and thwap of a belt coming undone. He stayed where he was, and Malfoy airily continued, “Tell me, does he knot? That might make things interesting enough that it'd be worth it to overlook the colour of his hair and all those scars.”

Harry tightened his grip on the window frame. “The scars you gave him.”

“Well, not me, personally,” Malfoy said over the sound of a zipper sliding down, a current of hard laughter in his voice. “Where is he, by the way? Don’t tell me you scared off our only witness; knowing he’d be watching as I defiled you was the only reason this was remotely palatable.”

“He doesn’t have to watch anything,” Harry muttered. The window fogged and demisted with each breath he took. Small, puffing things, his lungs too constricted to allow for anything more. “He charmed the bed, he’ll return in the morning to gather the— proof.”

“Pity,” Malfoy said. “Well, then, what? Was he explaining the mechanics to you?” The tip of his wand touched Harry’s back through his flannel dressing gown. Slid down the dent of his spine. Harry hadn’t known it was possible to tense further but his body did, regardless. Malfoy snickered.

“Poor Little Potty doesn’t even know how to— Oh, sorry. I suppose I should call you Malfoy, now,” he said, and the rigidity of Harry’s muscles snapped. Spinning on the ball of his foot, Harry knocked Malfoy’s arm away, Malfoy’s wand clattering to the floor.

They stared at each other for the length of two heartbeats before Malfoy struck first; Harry heard the dull thud of Malfoy’s fist meeting his jaw a bare second before the pain flared, and Harry let his own fists fly. He caught Malfoy under the chin, in the stomach, revelled in the blow he took to the ribcage. And then they were on the ground somehow, a hard shoving wrestle, all of the fury Harry had stored in his magic and his chest unleashed against the Malfoy’s squirming, bony frame, the best he’d felt in a bloody month. Malfoy hooked a leg around him, using his heel to kick at Harry’s back, and Harry absorbed the sensation with a gratified grunt. He gripped Malfoy’s knee with bruising fingers to prevent him from doing it again, and shoved Malfoy to the floor. Panting, he pinned him there with a hand to his throat.

“Don’t ever call—” The words died in Harry’s throat. Rather than the smug glee Harry expected to see, Malfoy’s expression was… flat. His eyes were red-rimmed, a purpling bruise already swelling around one of them; his mouth was a bleak, tight line splattered with blood from a busted lip. His pulse fluttered furiously under Harry’s thumb.

“Go on, then,” he choked out, narrowed gaze full of challenge. “Kill me or fuck me, you think it makes a difference?”

“I can’t kill you,” Harry said, though — despite Bill’s warning — he wasn’t sure it was true; even the measure of control it took not to tighten his fingers around Malfoy’s throat felt like too much. His own heartbeat drummed a frenetic crackle in his ears. “I can’t—”

“You’ll do what you have to do, same as me.” Malfoy’s gaze slid down from Harry’s face, pausing on his bare shoulder where his dressing gown had gone askew in their tussle, pausing again on his exposed chest. Harry’s skin felt awash with heat as Malfoy’s eyes roved further downward, the flush of their fight spilling closer to the surface. He reached up and ruthlessly gripped Harry’s forearm when Harry started to pull his hand away, the muscles of his calf growing taut against Harry’s side as he lifted his hips: a press, urging Harry against him. “Won’t you.”

They were both half-hard. Harry didn’t know when that had happened; he hadn’t had the motivation for a decent wank since the contract unfurled, and was sore all over from their scuffle, besides. From their position on the floor, Harry couldn’t see the mirror, but he could only imagine how he looked based on the throb of his jaw and the smoulder of pain spreading over his ribs, intensifying with each second they spent locked together the way they were — and if he had to guess, Malfoy felt even worse.

Yet... they were both half-hard, and getting harder. Harry blinked, the haze of bloodlust not quite receding but, but— shifting, as though the embers of his pain had caught kindling elsewhere in his body. Malfoy’s cock was long and noticeably stiff through the materials of their pants. He’d removed his trousers along with his robes and shirt, and Harry realised that he was only wearing a set of boxers and a thin undershirt that had ridden up over his belly button; it was a socked foot that rested against Harry’s back, so he must have taken off his shoes as well. His stomach was warm and heaving lightly under Harry’s.

Awareness of each detail shot through Harry’s mind like the memory of a dream upon waking — disorienting and nonsensical and bulleted, dissipating before he had a hope of working them out. And then Malfoy rotated his hips, grinding their cocks together. A shocked sound punched its way from Harry’s chest and he pushed against Malfoy on reflex. His gaze dropped to Malfoy’s sullen, bleeding mouth.

“Don’t even think about it,” Malfoy said. He turned his face to the side but didn’t loosen the grip of his leg around Harry, didn’t slow those tiny, rhythmic rolls of his hips.

Harry closed his eyes so he wouldn’t be tempted. Unable to figure out why, even for a moment, he had been. Likely it was Bill’s advice, urging him to remember the kiss if he thought he couldn’t go through with it; magic wasn’t permitted during consummation — an irony that was lost on no one — which meant that arousal potions or preparation spells would render everything null and void. Harry thought he should be glad that it was easier than everyone had feared, but mostly he just felt the distant burn of embarrassment layered into his steadily building arousal — that his traitorous body didn’t need any convincing, that any part of him desired Malfoy on any level. He took his hand from Malfoy’s throat and braced his forearms on the floor, concentrating on the physical sensations washing through him and pushing out Bill’s voice. Willing away the rest.

Trying to.

He wasn’t completely successful, but wasn’t a complete failure either. There was a lot to focus on besides the identity of who was beneath him: the knobbly rug against the skin on his knees, his arms, the slender, toned length of a body moving heatedly against his, the damp patch growing on the inside of his pants. It had been more than six months since that last time with Gin, a mistake, they both agreed, over a year after breaking up. She’d never told him why she’d come over that night, and Harry’d had no good reasons for taking her to bed, either, not love or even the desire they’d shared when things were good. He’d simply missed it, touching someone he trusted, the scent of flowers in her hair; he liked looking at the blaze of it. Malfoy’s tousled hair was pale, an icy colour, but — he did smell good, crisp like costly aftershave, his gusted breaths flavoured like wine. And more, a hint of heat, of salt, tantalising on the back of Harry’s palate with each inhale he took, new and masculine; like the first, clean beads of sweat; like precome. Malfoy started making sounds, low and growly little grunts, which made everything worse and infinitely better — both the sounds themselves, and the angry way Malfoy tried to cut them off each time, only for a new one to escape on his next exhale. Harry rode him harder, his cock pushing out from the slit in his boxers and leaving a wet trail low on Malfoy’s stomach after a particularly hard thrust.

Malfoy made another sound, lighter and more breathless — surprised. Yet when he spoke, his voice was annoyed, if unsteady: “If you’re waiting for an engraved invitation, you’ll end up looking for it on my epitaph. Fucking put it in me.”

Opening his eyes, Harry found Malfoy’s head still turned, his teeth clenched, his brow creased. But a hot blush had covered his cheek too, had tipped the creamy shell of his ear and bled down the side of his neck, and the long, slender fingers of one hand rested on the rug beside his head. Fisting and falling open, closing again, his thumb and forefinger catching the edge of the rug, trying to hold it. Harry stared at them as Malfoy continued his rutting upwards fuck. Thoughtlessly, they’d both begun moving faster, falling into a rhythm that wasn’t unlike weaving through the air on a broom — a swivel, a surge forward and pull back, a twist. A race to the finish.

And then Malfoy wormed his stray hand between them as if he needed to physically reiterate his order. Fumbling, he pushed at his pants, fingers slipping his waistband down and skimming warm over the length of Harry’s cock — lingering there, an almost curious touch, then gone — before his own popped free, hot and hard and pushing wet against Harry’s hip. He dropped his foot to the floor, his thighs still spread as wide as possible, Harry between them, and jerked Harry’s pants down too, over his arse. His palm landing on it and hesitating like his fingers had, but gone even faster. Moving the whole time as though he couldn’t stop anymore than Harry could, cock streaking precome against Harry’s skin, driven by the same consuming goal.

Harry glanced between them, caught a quick glimpse of Malfoy’s lower body: the jut of his narrow hipbones, his leaking, swollen red prick surrounded by a neat, pale thatch of pubic hair. His boxers were caught around his thighs, and Harry closed his eyes again and levered off, yanked them until Malfoy could kick them down, then mounted him once more, hiding his gasp in a rough exhale when his cock slid against Malfoy’s slickened crease — turning his face away.

“Don’t pretend you don’t want it now,” Malfoy breathed snidely. Even the way he rose up against Harry felt contemptuous. But he kept doing it all the same, and he’d obviously gotten himself ready before coming in. Made the assumption he’d go first. Harry hadn’t let himself consider past the word, “consummation,” so oft mentioned in the last few weeks. As though it was nothing more than a quick walk to the nearest Tesco, a means to an end.

Resentment scorched through Harry even as he shuddered, tingling jolts of pleasure hugging his balls closer to his body as he pumped his hips, his cock sliding through the excessive lube between Malfoy’s cheeks. He did want it — and he didn’t. More and less than he’d ever wanted anything, his limbs trembling with need, his stomach sour and knotted tight. He thumbed himself into position and pushed in, opening his eyes to meet Malfoy’s glare. Keeping them open, even when they wanted to fall shut, because Malfoy was— he was so tight, his rim clamping in resistance upon Harry’s entry, right around the head of his prick. He was wet inside, too, and Harry pushed deeper with a determined grunt, the rival sensations of his body and heart and brain coalescing into a stubbornness to get it over with, and get inside. Then Malfoy gave a small, stifled groan, his throat working even when he fell silent, and lifted against him. Harry sank inside, a long, smooth drive forward to encase himself in Malfoy’s heat until his hips were tight against Malfoy’s buttocks, his heart slamming so hard he thought it might break out of his chest.

Eyes locked, they both stopped moving. Malfoy’s lips were parted, his gaze shocked and wide — and Harry felt that as well, as much as everything else, all of it tangled up inside him, want and pain and disbelief that no, it wasn’t a long-running nightmare after all. They’d actually had a ceremony; they were actually fucking. Harry’s cock throbbed a reminder, and as if he could feel it, Malfoy bit his lip, then let it go as though he didn’t want Harry to see.

“Go on, then,” he said roughly, turning his gaze to the ceiling. “Better make use of the spell before I go soft.”

Harry latched onto the excuse with a desperation he hadn’t felt in years. There was no spell and they both knew it, but… maybe there was. Maybe there was something they didn’t know, something making Harry so hard he felt half-mad with it, that gave him the ability to fuck someone he loathed. That made sure Malfoy’s erection didn’t wilt even a little, though Harry had pushed in with no consideration for hurting him, had needed to, maybe, enough that his conscience didn’t even whimper.

Malfoy flexed around him, another reminder. Harry swallowed the sound that tried to escape, an explosive gasp that was filling his lungs and making them burn as badly as the rest of his body, and trained his own gaze on the wall as he pulled back and nudged back in. As he hiked Malfoy’s bare knee up higher with one hand and did it again, a little deeper. The wallpaper was faded, a greying lavender, the aged edges curling away from the moulding giving texture to the bluish climbing ivy that reached from floor to ceiling. Harry tried to count the leaves spreading out — got to nineteen before the sounds Malfoy was trying to curb distracted him. Got to twenty-four before Maloy’s squirming broke his focus again, a snarl around him like the ivy, able to choke everything else away when left untended.

“I hate you,” he hissed, pumping faster. Everything was so fucking wet, the cling of Malfoy’s inner muscles around him so different than how sex had felt before, in every way he’d barely let himself contemplate. His thighs were trembling with heat, his lower back prickling, Malfoy’s cock pushing up against his stomach from where it was caught between them. He didn’t want it to feel good, but—

“I hate you.” Malfoy’s voice cracked. “I hate this,” he said. But when Harry looked back down, Malfoy’s hand was still clutching the rug, his other splayed over his blushing throat; his lips were parted, his unfocussed gaze still on the ceiling.

Harry shoved his fingers into Malfoy's hair. Fisted them, pulled, Malfoy's white-blond locks feathering between his knuckles. Malfoy’s eyes, black ringed by a narrow strip of grey, fell to him, and Harry fucked him hard, pointedly, the filthy slap of their damp bodies issuing throughout the room with each thrust. “Good,” Harry said, lifting Malfoy’s head up as he lowered his own, and this time Malfoy didn’t protest.

It wasn’t a kiss, in the same way Harry’d never be able to think of what they were doing as just sex; it was more like a fight, Malfoy biting at his lips until Harry wasn’t sure whose blood he was tasting, then sucking at Harry’s tongue, licking over it, pushing his own into Harry’s mouth. His fingers slid into Harry’s hair — a sting against Harry’s scalp when he tightened them — to keep him in place as their mouths met over and over. Coasting off each other, returning, hungry and violent and just the thing Harry needed. And then Malfoy wrenched his mouth away.

“Oh, god. God,” Malfoy groaned. He fucked himself on Harry’s cock, a helpless look crossing his face, and stuffed a hand between them. Harry shivered, hating how the heat of that — Malfoy touching himself, Malfoy about to come all over him — made his toes curl so hard his arches cramped. But even as he gasped and sought Malfoy’s mouth again, Malfoy twisted and pushed weakly at Harry’s shoulder. Clung to him. Pushed. “No, no, the— oh, fuck, the— fuck,” he breathed, “Pott-er, the bed or—”

Unable to make heads or tails of what Malfoy was saying, Harry kept going, nipping at Malfoy’s mouth and, in place of it, his jaw, his neck, fucking into him at a frantic pace. He was so near his orgasm, every part of him shook with need, until Malfoy got out, “Weasley!” and the terror that gripped Harry made him hesitate long enough that Malfoy could push him off.

Malfoy rolled to his side, wheezing high and fast, his fist clamped tight around the base of his prick. The rub of Malfoy’s thigh against Harry’s slicked, aching erection pulled a growl of frustration from his chest, but the consummation had to be completed in the bed Bill had charmed or they’d have to do this all over again. Even the knowledge of that was barely enough to stop him from knocking Malfoy to his back again, from pushing inside again and finishing it. Malfoy got up before Harry’s scrambled mind could settle on a decision; he grabbed Harry’s arm and hauled him to his feet.

Under different circumstances, or even several minutes ago, Harry might have been embarrassed by the way his dick swung and bobbed over his balls, wet and heavy and full, as he followed Malfoy. He might have let his gaze drop to really take in the sculpted, pale lines of Malfoy’s naked body, or the single sock he was still wearing — grey and decorated with what looked to be tiny green snakes — as they stumbled their way to the bed. But like everything else, it all happened too fast: Malfoy scrambled onto the mattress and got into position, sitting on widely-spread knees, and reached behind himself when Harry pressed against him; he took Harry’s cock in his hand, and guided the head against his slippery rim — and canted his hips back.

Harry caught him around the ribs with his forearm and gripped one of Malfoy’s narrow hips, needing something to hold onto as he sank in. The pause of penetration, once he was back inside, seemed inconsequential; he was as near to climax as he’d been before. He rocked his hips, a clumsy, juddering fuck, and Malfoy’s back flexed against his chest, his undershirt bunching as he turned and lifted a hand to grab Harry’s hair, twisting his neck to fit his lips against Harry’s, twice as rough. Malfoy met him thrust for thrust, feeding gravelly, snapped-off grunts into Harry’s mouth, then grabbed Harry’s hand and guided it to his prick. Startled, Harry hesitated only a second before wrapping his fingers around it and stroking. Malfoy’s cock was hot against his palm, almost as wet as he was on the inside, foreskin gliding smoothly over the flare of the crown as Harry wanked him — still fucking him with fast, heavy rolls of his hips, the tension spiralling between them, about to break.

And the anticipation didn’t prepare him for when it did. Harry felt the pulse of it when Malfoy started to come, in his hand and around his own cock, an undulating ripple that tore Harry’s orgasm from him too. Humid gasps passed back and forth from their mouths with the tenor of sobs, and pleasure rocketed down Harry’s spine, pulling his balls painfully tight. He squeezed his eyes shut, Malfoy’s arse coaxing his cock of each drop as he spilled over Harry’s swiftly-moving hand. Harry didn’t notice when Malfoy pulled his mouth away, his entire body flooded with sensation, his mind blissfully blank. Moving with tiny, instinctive jerks, Harry rode it out until the last twinge had faded, not yet ready to face the rest — how brilliant it felt, or how terrible it was, that something so empty could be so, so good.

They stayed linked for another minute, each of them panting, Harry’s lips resting, open, against Malfoy’s jaw. Then, in a brittle voice, Malfoy said, “Let go of me.”

Harry released him, cock slipping out as he sat back on his heels. He turned his face in the direction of the window, which was blurry. He didn’t know what had happened to his glasses — didn’t know where his dressing robe and pants had gone. Sweat turning cold on the small of his back, he thought they must be on the floor, but didn’t care enough to go look. In his periphery, Malfoy was carefully scooting off the bed. Swaying beside it. Then he disappeared from Harry’s view, and a moment later Harry heard the door to the loo open and slam shut.

He Summoned his wand and cast a Tergeo over himself, and crawled under the covers.

He closed his eyes.

* * *

No Malfoy/Potter pair had managed to stir the dormant contract since Messiena Malfoy and Tedusius Potter had been matched five-hundred and seventy years prior.

It happened on a bright spring day, the sky blue and sweet after a fortnight of rain. Messiena had greeted Tedusius and her father upon their return from battle against a Dark wizard who had cursed the local Squibs into the burning of Muggles as heretics. Though the wizard had been defeated, her father told her wearily, his magic was insidious and would likely mark the land for a great many years to come. Tedusius, taciturn wizard that he’d been, had merely knelt before Messiena as her father spoke, to gallantly lift her trailing, silken robes from a mud puddle, and this was when he caught a glimpse of her well-turned ankle. While he was taking a (less-than-gallant) peek at her delicate bone structure, Messiena had, for the first time, noticed the rather striking way his tousled, raven hair had curled around his furred, grey-fox collar. They had been raised in a near-sibling fashion — Tedusius having first been designated as a page as a young boy, then as a squire for Messiena’s father. But the powerful magic inlaid into the contract cared not; it somehow recognised their mutual moment of admiration, and they were wed by the time the sun set that very day.

The rage swelling in Harry’s lungs upon hearing that stifled his objection into a hard, incredulous wheeze: “I never fucking admired him.”

Malfoy had gone tense, eyes shifting to him, sharp as razors. “If he thinks I admired him—”

“Never a day in your life,” Harry said with disgust, pretty sure Malfoy didn’t know how to admire anything outside his own reflection. But that wasn’t the point and wouldn’t have mattered if it had been; Harry'd only been at Malfoy's release hearing as a courtesy to Narcissa, whose letters had subtly — then not-so-subtly — reminded him that there remained a Life-Debt between them. His presence, she claimed, would deter the Wizengamot from fabricating infractions on Malfoy’s part so they could add to the length of his house-arrest. All Harry had done was grudgingly show up and sit near the back, thinking about what to have for lunch, waiting impatiently for it to be over.

The solicitor paused, forehead going shiny again, a nervous man whose name Harry couldn’t bother himself to recall. He was obsequious, but uncompromising nonetheless — very definitely a Slytherin — and he’d been the one alerted when the contract roused from its slumber. Staring down at his hands, he mumbled, “There, ah, must have been something,” but moved on hastily before it could devolve into the near-duel that had ended their first meeting. He returned to the Reading of the Scrolls, the last of the recorded histories detailing the links in their bloodlines, then turned to explain the stipulations of the contract:

“The magic herein shall call upon only descendants who have been: Birthed of magical parantege, and are: Favoured with vigorous, complementary magics of their own,” his intonation capitalising significant words somehow, “and whose: Ages are complementary to one another, whose: Bodies shall each be fertile and in superior physical condition. Their compatibility for marital relations should require: Neither of them to suffer unduly, as claused by the mutual admiration betwixt them. They: Neither shall have children from prior relations, nor: Be committed to marriage with anyone else, in Word or through promissory contract.”

There, Lucius cursed and stalked away from the table, robes fluttering. If Harry had been able to feel anything other than humiliated wrath in the moment, he might have been curious about why Lucius chose that moment to leave — or wondered about the smirk accompanying the flush on Malfoy’s face. And then Hermione decided to make things even worse by saying, “But there! Compatibility, fertility! Two wizards can’t— um.”

Understanding something before her, for once, wasn’t quite the thrill Harry had assumed it would be. “It only says we have to be fertile,” he said, the back of his skull throbbing. “Not… I don’t think that they thought any of the rest would apply to two wizards.”

“But the other—” Hermione faltered, her gaze a stab against Harry’s burning cheek. He picked at the edge of the luxurious conference table with his thumbnail and heard her draw in a breath. “Oh.”

“Yes, oh,” Malfoy sneered, though the colour of his complexion was still high. His tone ended the meeting, which at least gave Harry time to seek another opinion.

But Bill, cautiously examining each thread of magic holding the contract together, couldn’t find a weak spot anywhere — there was no link he could manipulate.

“It’s not a curse,” he said, giving Harry a hard, searching look as he handed it back. “I’m sorry.”

“But it’s illegal, isn’t it?” Ron asked. “Since—” He looked to Hermione, who shuffled her papers but didn’t bother referring to them.

“1741,” she said. “But the law only prohibited the establishing of new marital contracts for entire bloodlines, it didn’t dispel the ones already drawn up. Even the Wizengamot couldn’t do that, and as far as I’ve found, they didn’t try; everyone thought that if the ones in existence had been unemployed for a few generations, their magic would have faded.”

Ron turned to Bill again as Harry stared into the fire. “Isn’t there any sort of loophole? It’s a thousand-year-old piece of parchment that’s been sitting in a vault for nearly half that time!”

But there wasn’t, and the days dragged onward. Everyone waited to see what would happen, the flurry of Owls between the Burrow and Malfoy Manor lapsing into eerie silence. The perversity of the contract’s existence was only matched by the penalties woven in for refusal to adhere to it — sharp, glowing runes that brightened the parchment and took days to translate when delinquency came into effect. Runes that threatened the leaching of each of their family’s magical cores.

And still, no one wanted to believe them.

Until an Owl came from Ginny, training in Australia: She’d taken a fall from her broom, and her broken leg was not only refusing to heal, but was getting worse. Healers can’t figure out the cause, but I won’t be able to play in the semi-finals.

Until Arthur’s hair had started falling out in clumps: Suppose I’m starting to show my age! he claimed, with an unconvincing laugh.

Until Molly retched blood into her sink while trying to spell her dishes clean after Victoire’s birthday party: It’s all right, she said — waving him off. I’m fine; must’ve eaten something that disagreed!

And even then.

Harry hadn’t been able to deconstruct it; if magic-loss was the penalty, why was it affecting them physically? Why them, when Harry had no real magical bloodline anymore?

He went to Bill, who poured him a drink and discreetly tucked a bloody handkerchief into his pocket, unaware that the remains of his nosebleed were still visible above his upper lip. He led Harry to a chair by the open window. The smell of salt drifted in on the sea breeze. Harry could hear Fleur murmuring to Victoire upstairs.

“Magic can be funny,” he said abruptly, eyeing Harry until he took a sip of his drink. Bill sat back in his own chair. Crossed his legs. “The ties that bind families… As much as people like the Malfoys want to believe it’s in the blood, it can also be in something as simple as the sharing of a history or,” his gaze dropped to the watch Harry wore, its stars still circling the seconds, “the sharing of an heirloom. The name given to the hand of a clock.” He’d glanced at the clock on his wall, a similar breed to Molly’s. Harry’s hand was pointing firmly at In Pain, crowded there with everyone else’s — except for Fleur’s, which pointed at Worried, and Victoire’s, caught between Tired and Soiled.

“So take me off the bloody thing!” Harry croaked, setting down his drink with a thunking scrape. He’d fumbled at the clasp of the watch, fingers trembling and throat tight — aching. Bill’s hand covered his, stilling him.

“That’s not the way love works, Harry.” His smile was calm, if exhausted. “Or magic. The primary reason we come of age at seventeen is that it takes that many years for our magic to infiltrate us fully.” He gestured to Harry’s hair with one finger, the others still curled around his glass. “If I plucked a hair from your head and ran tests on it, the tip would likely show significant cellular differences from the root, depending on the last time you let Mum cut it. We don’t live so much longer than Muggles simply because of our potions and spells; our magic gives our bodies longevity. Without it…”

“We deteriorate,” Harry finished for him. The words sounded far away in his head — tunnelled, like his options. “Fast?” he asked, and Bill nodded. “But reversible.”

Bill nodded again, slower.

No one wanted to talk about the fact that Harry’s magic was unaffected. Malfoy’s, too, as far as Harry could tell, always wielding the wand Harry had stupidly returned to him as though it was an extension of his hand. Using it to warm Narcissa’s tea, to Summon tissues for her when she covered a cough with her hand — floating them over to Molly with a sigh when she couldn’t stop crying. Always out, as though it was his family walking amongst serpents, and the visibility of it might deter them from striking.

No one wanted to acknowledge what they all knew: that the biggest threats to unwilling participants would always be to the people they held dear.

"Tell me," Harry had said, licking bitter alcohol from his lips. "Tell me what it will be like if I do. What will happen if I don't."

Bill took a studying pause. Harry felt the assessment with a curl of shame — after everything his life had been, that anyone might wonder if he could cope. That Bill might, though he wasn’t necessarily wrong; Harry had done his best not to listen anytime someone tried to explain it to him. Then Bill had taken a breath and said, "It will be like a marriage, as far as I can tell. It was written to protect both parties—" he let Harry scoff, then continued, "—in the most general sense, so after you've fulfilled the initial requirements, you won’t have to… as often."

"The requirements."

"Marriage. Consummation. Two weeks of consistent… physical contact, as was standard for new marriages back when the contract was written. And still is, I suppose,” Bill said wryly. “You’ll be allowed more liberty afterward, in that regard — though not a lot, because the magic in the contract is… unique, designed to furnish a marriage, and able to distinguish certain things about the descendants tied to it. Then there will be a period of private union, after which time you’ll be able to receive guests into your home."

"A honeymoon," Harry said, grimly amused.

"Of a sort. Longer. A marital transition," Bill said, “traditionally speaking. The contract will keep you sealed alone together until… some part of it, specific to the two of you, has been satisfied, and will prevent you from leaving your premises for six months, regardless.”

Six months. "And if I don't—"

"None of us want you to." Bill’s eyebrows drew together. “Hermione’s looking for a way to get you out of it. I am, Fleur is. I’ve no doubt even the Malfoys are looking. We would never, ever make you.”

They’d never have to. Harry rubbed his damp palms against his thighs, the denim covering them, soft and worn. Comforting, somehow, when so little else was. He lifted his drink again, drained it. Watching the gulls by the shoreline toss sand into the air as they fought over something to eat, he exhaled his question as a statement — as a question, it was humiliating. "No one's asked me about the— stipulations. Not really."

His neck had grown hot in the silence that followed. His ears, his cheeks. His throat felt thick. He finally glanced at Bill, whose smile had ticked up higher on one side. Like a wolf's might, if they could smile.

"I don't know about everyone else, but… The night you turned seventeen," Bill said, blue eyes steady on him in the way that always made Harry— "Fleur Polyjuiced into you."

"Yeah." Harry blushed deeper, knowing what he was about to say. Wanting to hear it anyway.

"I kissed her. When she fussed about it, about being you," Bill said, leaning in a little — lowering his voice to a hush. “I kissed her in your body, pulled her close. Felt her respond how you might have.”

“I saw,” Harry said hoarsely, tasting the beach on his ragged inhale. “I— I would have.”

“I know. I saw you see.” Bill’s fingertips brushed his knee, moved away. “I liked that you saw.” He sat back, at ease even with the flush that made his scars stand out in stark relief. Relaxed as he ever was, smile curving beautifully wider. “For what it’s worth, Harry— it’s not a surprise to me.”

They sat and listened to the wind chimes ringing on the porch over the smooth fizz of shallow waves, nothing more to say once the confession was unrolled between them. The hollow ache in Harry’s chest expanded, the decision that wasn’t a decision at all settling around him like the sand had down at the beach once the gulls had flown off. He watched foamy water washing in, signalling a higher tide. Fleur eventually joined them, silent as she pulled up a chair, her soft hand too heavy a weight against Harry’s shoulder blade — and not heavy enough to keep him grounded. It moved in small circles over his back, and Harry leaned into her touch and looked at her. Looked at Bill. Stared at the flecks of blood above the bow of Bill’s upper lip.

After a while, he’d asked if he could borrow their owl. He wrote a missive to the Malfoys: a location, a date, a time. A paltry invitation to a wedding — as far as such things went.

* * *

Malfoy hadn’t come out of the bathroom by the time Harry managed to fall into a fitful sleep. He dreamed of being held underwater, woke briefly at the dip in the mattress beside him. Woke again later, from a dream of his cupboard, when Malfoy rolled over — the sort of uneasy shift a person makes when they don’t want to disturb the person next to them. Malfoy had doused the lamps, but the bed frame creaked, mattress springs popping. The room was old, and brand new; Grimmauld Place had secreted it away at some point and opened it up that very morning. Like it was aware that Harry wouldn’t be able to do this in his own bed, surrounded by his own things. The sheets were clean, but everything smelled slightly musty from lack of use, stagnant. Harry heard a watery, hitching breath beside him and closed his eyes again.

He woke the final time before the sun, to Malfoy’s long body curling against his back. Two slippery fingers wetted the crevice of his arse, brushed lightly over his hole. Nudged it. Harry rolled further onto his side and bent his knee, hitched his top leg higher — kept his eyes closed and let it happen. It had to, regardless, to be sure the contract recognised their efforts.

Malfoy’s breath gusted hot and shaky, nearly silent, against the back of Harry’s neck upon his movement. He pushed the tips of his fingers in, twisting them in a slow slide deeper. Getting Harry wet, if not ready. Harry tried to live it mechanically, at a distance: the outlandishly gentle fingers working their way in, the stretch of penetration, how connected the ache felt to his morning erection. His chest expanded of its own accord at the skim of those fingers against the bundle of nerves inside him. His cock pulled up against his belly, a weep of fluid already at the tip. Releasing the air from his lungs quietly, Harry pushed back — felt the pause of breath against his back before the spot was rubbed again. The fingers pumped in and out, a taunt of sensation over his prostate on each pass.

Then a narrow chin propped itself on his shoulder; soft hair falling on the side of his jaw. Malfoy slotted their hips together, his prick stiff against Harry’s left buttock. “I’m going to—” His words didn’t sound quite solid, were made of more air than inflection.

“Yeah.” Harry gulped at the removal of his fingers, repeating himself as the round head of Malfoy’s cock prodded him: “Yeah.”

Sliding his arm up, Harry rested his head on his bicep and wrapped his fingers around one of the slats of the headboard. He clung to it in place of his disconnect. One hand falling to Harry’s hip, Malfoy breached him almost delicately, his breath a feathered tickle along Harry’s cheek, tiny rolls of his hips pushing him deeper. Like their first time, it felt better than Harry expected; good enough that it clawed at him, and even more for the way his breath shortened, the way his cock jerked with stimulation at the burn. A foreign fullness, evoking an intimacy worse than Malfoy’s fingers in him. Harry’s skin was hot, his nipples budding into tight points. He heard a sound — his own voice, low and aroused. Pressing his lips together, he arched the small of his back and took more of Malfoy’s cock.

“Do it,” he muttered, an echo of Malfoy last night. “Just do it.”

Malfoy’s hand fluttered on his hip; his fingers tightened with bruising force. He snapped his hips forward, a brutal, filling slide. It hurt, but the pain acted as its own sort of anesthetic, its own sort of turn-on. Nestled against Harry’s back, Harry could feel the racing speed of Malfoy’s heart during the hesitation that followed, the moment like Time-Turner, looping around in Harry’s mind.

Then Malfoy's knee slid to rest on the inside of Harry’s thigh. He began thrusting. Less tentative than before, steady — even, measured strokes of his long prick out to the tip and back in. His head moved away from Harry’s shoulder, his thumb digging into the muscle of Harry’s arse cheek. Pulling him further open as he fucked him. With a start, Harry realised that Malfoy was — was watching himself, watching his cock disappear into Harry, his panting ragged against Harry’s spine. A bolt of heat ran through Harry from head to toe and he gripped his cock with his free hand — tugging it desperately in a tight fist. He groaned, “God. Don’t.”

“Might as well,” Malfoy said, breathlessness breaking up the jeer in his tone. “Might as well, right? If I’ve got to, might as well do what I like, and I like to look.” He shimmied his hips on an inward stroke. Nudged his hips higher and did it again, this time eliciting another groan from Harry, the angle a perfect jab of pressure on Harry’s prostate. His fingers flexed, his snicker falling warm on Harry’s skin. “If we’ve got to, Potter, why, uhhh, why not.”

“I’m not—” Harry broke off with a helpless writhe against him, autonomy obliterated by the potency of his desire. He tucked his head harder against his arm to expose his neck, Malfoy leaning in and nipping at the bend of it. “I don’t—”

“Like being fucked? What do you like?" Malfoy bit him again, skimming his teeth up over Harry’s jaw to catch Harry’s earlobe. His hand slid from Harry’s hip down his arm and his fingers curled around Harry’s wrist. Lightly; another question.

Why not?

There were a thousand reasons. If Harry spent his lifetime counting them, he wouldn’t reach the end of the list.

“I don’t like you,” he said, but took his hand off his prick all the same. Malfoy’s snort puffed into his ear; he grasped Harry’s cock. Fucked Harry into the circle of his fist.

“We don’t have to like each other, do we?” Malfoy said. His thumb danced over Harry’s slit, spread the precome around the head. Harry shuddered in response, blinking in a room blurry with faded colours as the first beams of sunrise spilled through the window. Hating Malfoy for being right.

“Harder. Faster.” Harry pushed the words through his teeth, so distasteful he was glad to get them out of his mouth.

But Malfoy didn’t comment and this time didn’t laugh; he merely tightened his hand to do as Harry bid, clenching around Harry’s glans, twisting his fist with agonising skill over Harry’s shaft and matching the pace with his hips. He mouthed over the curve of Harry’s neck, tongue leaving cool wet trails that broke chills over Harry’s skin, and he murmured, “Yes”, and, “Merlin”, and “Fuck, it feels—”, each muffled word punctuated by the slap of his pelvis against Harry’s arse, by the push of his cock deep.

Harry was as loose as he was wet now, the ache vanishing, his mind swept free of thought. He reached between his thighs and cupped his balls, rolled them, plucked at his sac and trembled at Malfoy’s gasping, pained, “Ah!”, both of them rutting in tandem. Harry craned his neck, found Malfoy’s glittering stare on him. Malfoy's cheeks burned copper, sweat misting his forehead.

And then they couldn't look any longer; their mouths came together, too hard, teeth clicking. Harry thought, It’s not a kiss, and, It’s something else, and Just this once, finally, Why not, why not?, and came, jerking into Malfoy's touch, his muscles contracting with a powerful, rolling shiver as he slicked up Malfoy's grip. His lips throbbed when Malfoy pulled away, and he heard the tortured sound pitching low in Malfoy's throat. A throb of noise, like the loss against Harry's mouth, Malfoy pulling his hips back so he was barely inside and then coming too. Harry squeezed his eyes shut and held on, wishing he could forget. Both of them silent against that devastating wash of heat — something neither of them had planned for in the first place.

* * *

They didn’t talk after. Malfoy removed himself to the opposite side of the bed and fidgeted with the covers, pulling the top sheets they’d kicked down over himself and, incidentally, Harry too. Sticky and tender even after his cleaning charm, Harry pushed his face against his pillow until breathing into it got too hot, then turned onto his cheek. He watched a sparrow land in the hawthorn tree outside the window, the only portion of the garden that remained. Watched it hop along the thorny twist of a branch and peck curiously along a budded shoot. The family of thrushes that had come to roost a few weeks prior had already cleaned it of its haws, but the bird picked over the skirted pink blooms regardless, looking hopeful, and a few of the wilted petals drifted down, out of sight.

The Blacks always had hawthorn trees on their properties, Sirius had told him. They were enchanted, powerful. They protected the land and the wizards that resided upon it. And since, by nature or design, the majority of Blacks were born within certain timeframes, they were usually chosen by hawthorn wands as well, including Sirius — Before mine was snapped, he'd explained. He’d paused to allow Harry time to comment, keeping it a conversation.

Harry had stayed quiet. At fifteen, a back-and-forth had held less appeal for him; he’d been mostly satisfied just to sit on the floor by the fire in the parlour, knees pulled up under his chin, and listen to the lull of Sirius’ voice as Sirius sat in an armchair nearby and talked, his words a winding road with no particular destination in mind. But now Harry wondered — if there was more behind Sirius’ lazy ramblings about horticulture and mythology. If he should have paid more attention to the lesson than he had to the comfort it provided.

The bird took flight, disappeared. Malfoy’s presence beside Harry filtered in again. The bed wasn’t very large, but they still managed a good foot or so between them. Still, Harry could feel the warmth emanating from Malfoy’s side, an unwelcomingly pleasant lie. Summoning the fallen blanket from the floor with a flick of his wand, Harry levitated its weight over him and bunched the excess in the space between them. Malfoy made a disgruntled sound and tugged on it. A pillow got shoved in place of Harry’s makeshift barrier, and seconds ticked on.

The sun was fully up by the time Bill arrived. His knock was soft, but cursory; to Harry’s relief, he opened it without waiting for an invitation. Malfoy shifted, sitting up beside him, so Harry did as well, Summoning his glasses and shoving them on. They didn’t look at each other. Bill was serious, eyes red from a lack of sleep, a small frown caught between his brows as he approached the foot of the bed. His nostrils flared and his jaw flexed. Harry’s blush hit him hard and fast, a blast of heat to his cheeks.

“All right, Harry?” Bill asked. Harry swallowed. Nodded. Bill returned his nod, a definitive jerk of his chin, then looked at Malfoy. “Draco? Are you—”

Malfoy’s knees were bent, a tent under the covers. He picked at their design, an elaborate stitching of the Black family crest. He stared at it and muttered, “Do what you came here for and fuck off.”

Harry stirred. “I swear, Malfoy—”

“It’s fine,” Bill said calmly. “It’s fine, Harry.” He pulled his wand, but hesitated. To Malfoy, he said, “Luna put your things two doors down, across from Harry’s room. It should be comfortable enough.” His gaze slid to Harry, long enough that he shifted — wincing without meaning to. Bill drew a long breath but didn’t comment on that, merely saying, “I’ll have to leave once I do the spell; is there anything I can… I can get for you, anything you want while you’re—”

“No,” Malfoy said, speaking for both of them, whether or not he knew it. Harry’s tongue didn’t seem to want to work. He couldn’t quite meet Bill’s eyes, but couldn’t look away. He shook his head. And then, as if he’d been waiting for Harry, Malfoy cleared his throat — a soft sound, awkward in its attempt at dignity — and said, “No, thank you.”

Bill blinked a little. “Of course. I’m sorry. You’ll be able to reach any of us by owl if you change your minds. So—” He took another deep breath, thumb running over the hilt of his wand, fingers rolling it in a nervous twist. His throat was working, and it occurred to Harry that Bill was… something. Buying time, perhaps. Concerned, almost certainly.

Harry locked eyes with him. “It’s fine, Bill. Don’t worry, you can go ahead.”

“Right.” Bill cracked a quiet laugh and shook his head. Pinched the bridge of his nose and laughed again, humourlessly. “Because you haven’t done enough, you should have to make anyone else feel better about it too. No.”

Shocked, Harry opened his mouth to respond, but before he could think of any sort of reply, Bill shot him a weary smile and touched the mattress with the tip of his wand. Two bright, shining threads rose to curl around his wand, around each other, in an impressive display of silver and gold until his wand had virtually disappeared under their glow. It slowly faded, sinking into the wood — trapped for delivery. He tucked his wand away and pulled two gold rings from his pocket, setting them at the foot of the bed. Bill looked at them once more, to Harry and Malfoy and back, then turned and walked out.

Movement dragged Harry’s gaze from the closed door. Malfoy was rubbing both hands over his face, a sardonic twist to his mouth when he pulled them away. “He said he was sorry,” he said, directing it to the room, “and asked us if there was anything we wanted.

“It’s called consideration,” Harry said, heartbeat a sharp staccato in his throat. “Look it up, it’s a fascinating concept.”

“It’s a frivolous one — empty, when someone has nothing to offer.” Malfoy tossed the blankets off himself and swung his legs over the side of the bed, gripping the edge of the mattress — pausing there for a few breaths. He’d taken off his shirt in the night, and the stretch of his back was exposed, the top of his arse. The shadow at the top of his crease. The length of him was spindly, the dips of his ribcage visible, the sharp jut of his shoulder blades flexed inward. But two dimples lived at the base of his spine, shallow and perfect, the size of the pad of Harry’s pinky, and slender muscle shifted under his skin as he straightened, setting his shoulders. The nape of his neck was pink; it had a tiny, dark mole and a small scar. He stood up, and Harry looked away. Malfoy said, “Nine o’clock.”

“What?” Harry asked, then stopped because Malfoy meant—

“Tonight,” Malfoy said. “Our... duties. Nine.”

“Fine, yeah. I don’t care.” Harry balled up his hands over the dangerous twitch of arousal in his lap, hoping it wouldn’t turn into anything more. Furious that it was anything at all. He kept his eyes on the blue-grey sky. “Here, though. Not—” he swallowed, “—my room. Or yours.”

Malfoy didn’t answer; he padded to the door, footsteps long and quick. A moment later, Harry heard it open and shut. He let out a breath, alone for what felt like the first time in a bloody year.

Except that he was married now, to Malfoy. Two weeks shy of twenty-one, and he could never really call himself alone, again — a realisation that, ironically enough, made Harry feel more alone than ever.