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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.

Potter.

Malfoy.

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.

Chapter Text

Kreacher brought him breakfast in bed. Brought him lunch, brought him dinner. Harry ate and slept, woke to eat, slept some more. He regretted taking Hermione's advice after the war to clean Sirius' room and box up most of his things. It'll make you feel better, moving on, she'd reasoned, which made a certain sort of sense at the time. He'd stored everything in the attic, but even if he brought them back out, it wouldn't be the same — Sirius was gone. Everyone was.

Just one of the many reasons Harry so despised Grimmauld place; he’d never wanted to live in it again.

On its own, it was just a shell haunted by too many ghosts, and none the sort Harry found to be good company. Beyond that, it was too dingy, too cold, had too many memories. There was a flat dampness about it even into the reaches of the warmer seasons, and it smelled of mildew, and seemed impossible to keep clean. The parlour doors were determined to mock him by drifting open to display the scorched image of Sirius' name on the Black family tapestry. There was nothing he could do to make it a home.

Instead of trying any longer, Harry had warded the parlour doors in a fit of temper and left Kreacher to manage things, finding a flat with Ron and Hermione in Highgate near the woods. He spent most of his days walking through them, or sitting on the private terrace of their flat that overlooked a communal garden, which got noisy with children in the afternoons. Hermione worried about him, silently at first — fluttering about him whenever he came indoors — and then openly, bringing home pamphlets for different careers or courses of study. Hogwarts needs teaching fellows if you’re really not going to train for the Aurors, how does that sound? she would ask. You have all those letters from Quidditch talent scouts, what about athletics? You could do anything you want, Harry! she would say.

He hadn’t known how to explain that all he wanted was to walk through the woods and to sit on their terrace, that he enjoyed the novelty of peace too much to look for anything he wanted to do more, yet.

He’d assumed he would have the freedom to make choices, eventually.

Harry spent his day between naps thinking about that — stuck in a house he hated, down the hall from a distinct lack of choice.

On the second night, Harry showed up early. He opened the window to trail crumbs of bread along the outside of the sill, a small hop from the nearest high branch of the hawthorn tree. He didn’t stop when Malfoy came in, not until his palm was empty, a cluster of greedy sparrows already covering the ledge. He turned to find Malfoy watching him, eyes wide and lips parted.

Malfoy quickly recovered, and asked again: “What do you like?”

“When you shut up,” Harry said. “When you don't touch me.”

Malfoy glanced at the birds and gave a stilted nod as he removed his towel. Harry averted his eyes. That he couldn’t find a way to blame Malfoy directly for the mess they were in didn’t make it okay that he enjoyed any aspect of it. He wanted to like it less, wanted to be the Harry he’d been a few months prior, his own man for the first time in his life. He got onto his hands and knees on the squeaky bed, and waited.

“Whatever you say, Potter,” Malfoy said, the mattress shifting as he got behind Harry. "It's not as if I want your bumbling attentions, anyway. Understand, I'm willing enough to cope with them if it saves my family, but honestly, whoever taught you really ought to pay penance to me for what I'm left with."

Harry’s cheeks burned, his own penance for the shiver streaking through him at the fall of Malfoy's hands on his hips. For forgetting himself. He muttered, “It’s not like I’m going to waste the effort on someone I can't even consider a sexual convenience, am I?”

But he'd left the silence too long, and Malfoy's sharply-indrawn breath, the squeeze of his hands, felt a warning. "Potter--"

"I want to go. Just do it"

Malfoy did, keeping his grip on Harry's hips throughout. But he still muttered obscene things into Harry's ear, still pulled back to watch and describe what he saw, and the absence of his hand didn’t stop Harry from trembling for longer than he should have, helpless against the aftershocks of his climax.

On the third night, Malfoy buried his face in the mattress and didn’t even try to guide Harry’s hand over him, fisting his own cock as Harry had and coming just as hard, only softly groaned instructions or commands passing between them.

By the fourth night of their marriage, they had a routine down: they fucked after dinner, after showering — before showering again. They had more leeway after Consummation; one and done, Bill had said, for the first two weeks. Harry fed the birds and grew familiar with the shape of Malfoy’s back under his hands, the near-delicate knobs of his spine, the look of a tiny dented scar he had: a crescent moon carved just under his hairline, next to that single dark spot, more a freckle than a mole, which became Harry’s focal point on more than one occasion. He fed the birds and grew familiar with the feel of Malfoy pushing into him, with the flex of Malfoy’s fingers against his waist — with the sounds Malfoy made when he came.

When they were through, they left at the same time, almost a competition of who could get to his respective room faster. In his sterile, stodgy room, Harry left one lamp burning and slept hard -- every night for two weeks.

It shouldn't have been long enough to form a habit, but on the fifteenth night, Harry tossed in bed, restless, achingly hard. He turned twenty-one hating himself for being tempted to see if Malfoy had forgotten the timeline. If he'd gone to the bedroom, regardless.

At a loose end without the expectation of something to do, Grimmauld Place closed like a tomb around him. The creak of the floorboards under his feet were jarring; the groan of the pipes across the hall when Malfoy showered had him gasping; the rasp of a parchment being unfolded sounded like a scream. He felt gutted, unable to take comfort even in the post he got every day. It was too full of apologies, of pity and guilt and concern. Harry tried to write back that he was fine, but what came out were ugly thoughts he hadn’t known existed until he put quill to parchment, unforgivable as any Dark spell: Stop pretending you know what it’s like. You’ve never had to know, because of me.

Harry incinerated his letters and stopped opening theirs, too muddled to pay attention to anything, anyway. He oftentimes found himself startling and needing to sit down at the heavy gong of the grandfather clock at the end of the hall or the soft hoot of an owl flying in, only realising later that he’d been in that spot for hours, unmoving. His sense of lagging bewilderment increased with the stubborn lingering of summer, and a resurgence of humidity that pressed on him and left him feeling tired and drugged. He tried to assess: if he was able to shake off his daze when Kreacher announced dinner, he was okay; if he was able to eat and go to bed, if not sleep, he couldn't be doing too badly.

For all intents and purposes, he could have been living alone. Malfoy existed only in the liminal space between a bare kitchen counter and one with a used teacup resting on it. Harry was only too happy to return the favour, both of them sneaking around, light-footed as thieves.

And then, Malfoy showed up to supper.

Harry faltered upon seeing him and Malfoy did too, perhaps due to the expression on Harry’s face. He'd got used to eating alone and hadn’t even wondered where Malfoy took his meals. His bedroom, Harry supposed, wishing he’d stayed there — distressed at his physical response to Malfoy’s presence.

Malfoy stood in the archway of the dining room uneasily, shoulders spiky under a floaty white shirt, the sort a swashbuckler might wear — long-sleeved, with even longer cuffs that were subtly ruffled over the backs of his hands. Buttonless, the shirt covered him almost to his collar, where untied laces revealed the tension in the cords of his neck. It was tucked into tight tan trousers, which in turn were tucked into black boots that came near up to his knee and were polished to a high shine.

Harry flushed, robbed of words. Not only had he never seen anyone in clothing like that outside an old film, it occurred to him that he wasn’t accustomed to seeing Malfoy clothed at all anymore.

“Going to a costume party?” he asked, in a harder tone than he meant to. He cleared his throat when Malfoy didn’t answer. “What do you want?”

Malfoy’s throat worked, and he looked over Harry’s shoulder. Harry followed his gaze to Kreacher, whose ears had lifted from their perpetually flattened position against skull. Malfoy said, “Set me a place at the table.”

Hackles rising, Harry held out a hand to forestall Kreacher. “You don’t have to do what he says.”

“Of course he does.” Malfoy sniffed and rounded the table. He selected a chair two down from where Harry was sitting at the head and dropped into it, leaning back and crossing his legs — stretching them out — without pulling closer to the table. He raised an imperious eyebrow at Harry, then directed it at Kreacher. “What’s more, he likes doing what I say. Don’t you?”

 

Kreacher quivered in place, darting Harry a nervous glance that made him grit his teeth, then bowed. “Kreacher is being very eager to be a pleasing elf to Master Black.”

“It’s Master Malfoy,” he said with a negligent wave of his hand, the ruffles of his cuffs falling back. The bones of his wrist were elegant, his skin so pale Harry could make out the trails of his veins underneath. “But that’s quite all right, Kreacher. And whatever you’ve ready for dinner is fine as well, though I’d like something real to drink with mine.”

Hesitantly, Kreacher edged closer, still tilting Harry those wary looks. Grip tightening around his fork, Harry forced a reassuring smile. He watched as Kreacher snapped his fingers and a setting appeared in front of Malfoy: gold-and-white china that matched Harry’s, and shining golden cutlery, far in excess of what Malfoy could conceivably need to eat. Kreacher snapped his fingers again and produced a heavy-looking decanter, half-filled with a shimmery pink liquid. He unstoppered it, a fine, sweet-smelling mist lacing out, then fading. He filled Malfoy’s goblet and stepped back from the table. “Kreacher will be bringing Master— Malfoy’s dinner very quickly, sir, yes,” he muttered, his hunched posture smoothing. His huge, dulled eyes seemed to brighten briefly, and then he nodded and Disapparated, a dusty crack disturbing the air.

Malfoy lifted his goblet and took a sip, flicking Harry’s glass of pumpkin juice a derisive glance over the rim. His lashes fluttered. With an approving murmur that sounded too much like the one Harry had got used to hearing against the back of his ear, Malfoy lowered the goblet and ran his tongue over his lips. Kreacher reappeared and served him, and Malfoy tucked in without another word.

Harry directed his eyes on his filet of sole. He forced himself to take a few more bites before his throat closed, the remnants of the dish's lemony brightness souring on his taste buds.

Eating placidly beside him, Malfoy quirked a pale brow when Harry threw down his napkin, then rose languidly when Harry stood — the polite host, tolerating an ill-mannered guest.

“Don’t talk to Kreacher that way. He’s not a thing you can just go ordering around,” Harry said, vibrating with tension. His voice was rusty. “I won’t have you treating him like Dobby just because you think he’s less than you are.”

“Dobby,” Malfoy echoed with a blink. His voice was flat. He slowly took his seat once more but didn’t pick up his fork. He narrowed his eyes. “Think what you want about that, but at least I’ve never abandoned an elf to die of boredom and loneliness.”

“Right, you just tormented them for fun,” Harry said.

He stalked from the dining room, Malfoy’s implied accusation buzzing like a hornet in his ear. It was downright offensive, not that Harry expected Malfoy to ever be anything else. Harry had never treated an elf the way the Malfoys had — could never. He didn’t have that sort of cruelty bred into him, that sense of entitlement. Kreacher had turned down Harry’s offer to bring him to Highgate; Harry had visited him at least twice a month; he’d been given access to Harry’s vault for anything he’d needed.

Harry went to bed and didn't sleep at all, more adrenaline coursing through him than he’d felt in the last two weeks of lonely nights, combined.

* * *

.

 

Evasive truce over, Malfoy was suddenly, constantly underfoot, seeming to, if possible, have even fewer qualms about entertaining himself at Harry’s expense. He knew too many of Harry’s pressure points, could trigger them with minimal effort and devastating accuracy, using nothing more than a well-timed smirk and a lifted brow. Like a virus, he encroached on Harry’s space, swallowing the numb inertia of Harry’s days, transforming it into something else.

Shuffling into the kitchen in the morning, puffy-eyed and in shockingly humble blue cotton pyjamas, to request coffee from Kreacher. Calmly sitting down in the armchair next to Harry’s after dinner and licking his fingertip each time he turned the page of his book. Splayed out on the chaise lounge in the library when Harry went in search of something to read, his face a picture of disinterest. And worst of all, showing up to dinner every night, each time clothed in the same bizarre manner.

When Kreacher served linguini with scallops, Malfoy arrived in stark black. Another night it was roast, and Malfoy’s blousy shirt was turquoise with intricate embellishments around the collar, his breeches clean and white. They didn’t speak; Malfoy sat down, and Harry got up and left.

Shepherd’s pie and an emerald green and grey. Royal blue over navy on veg night. And finally, a deep green shirt and black breeches, silver hieroglyphics marking the outside length, from hip to boot. Harry forced himself to keep eating.

Stomach churning, he made it halfway through his potatoes before slamming his fork down. “Are you just here to put me off my meals, or did you want me for something specific?”

Malfoy's silence made him feel off-kilter, the words lingering between them like a dirty offer made on a dark street corner. Harry's face prickled with heat.

“I’ve never wanted you for anything,” Malfoy said after a beat. Harry looked up to find him staring expressionlessly at his drink, at rest on the table in front of him. He twisted the stem of his goblet between his forefinger and thumb. Its delicately-cut crystal caught the glow of the candles Kreacher insisted upon lighting every night, throwing prisms over the tablecloth. Then he sighed and took something from his pocket, flicking it like someone might skip a stone across the surface of a lake. It came to rest next to Harry’s plate — a letter addressed to Malfoy, its seal broken. “I’d start reading your post, if I were you.”

“How do you know I’m not?” Harry asked. But Malfoy only shrugged, frowning as Harry lifted the parchment. Embedded in the wax seal was the solicitor’s crest, and he looked at Malfoy again, who ignored him. Harry unfolded the letter, flattened it against the table. He scanned it, heart sinking. “What the bloody—? How are we not complying? We’re allowed to— We don’t have to, to do it every day anymore.”

Predictably, Malfoy’s utensils didn’t even scrape the china as he cut into his chicken. “Yes, that’s what I said. I haven’t heard back, but I’ve got some theories.” He popped a bite into his mouth, chewed slowly. Took a swallow of his drink; took another bite. When it became clear that he wasn’t going to volunteer anything further, Harry huffed and shoved his own plate away.

“What are they?”

Malfoy smirked around his next bite. He swallowed and patted his lips with a napkin. “Best to wait until we hear from the solicitor, don’t you think? In case I’m wrong,” he added, pointy face so smug Harry’s hands curled into fists. Harry pushed up from his chair and stormed out.

In his own room, breathing hard against the door, it took him a minute to remember where he’d been putting his post, and then he fumbled through the pile of letters gathering dust in his desk until he found one from the solicitor, an exact match to the one Malfoy received. Harry’s stomach curdled, what little dinner he’d eaten threatening a recall. He searched for his duplicate of the contract. The parchment was dry with age and looked as though it would burn to a crisp if someone left it out in the sun, but it felt smooth in his hands, indestructible. He banged back down the stairs, blindly seeking air beyond the only threshold to the outside world they were allowed to cross, suffocating in the wave of confusion crashing over him — sucking him under, like the summer he turned five.

Vernon had travelled a lot that year, and had made a game of throwing Harry into the deep end of the hotel pools, irritated whenever he had to bring him along on a trip. Harry could still remember Dudley’s screeches of laughter, could remember the grimace on Petunia’s face when she had to wade in to get him. He remembered Vernon’s gruff voice in the background, the very last time: Sink or swim, boy.

He’d sunk at the time, too far away for Petunia to reach him quickly, only to find himself on the hot cement moments later, coughing water from his lungs, his body wracked with a sensation he wouldn’t recognise until he turned eleven. He spent the rest of his summer avoiding Vernon around water. Spent the whole following year learning how to navigate it, first in the bath, and then in the pool of a vacant house down the street.

But this… This, Harry didn’t know how to navigate. Not his own savage desire to lay waste to someone, not how good the sudden caution in Malfoy’s eyes had felt when he'd got out of his chair.

Sink, or swim.

Harry breathed and sat down, the swirl of the garden filling him with a strange sense of vertigo. It had changed since the last time he'd come outside, had expanded from the proportions it shrank to when Sirius toppled through the Veil. It had returned in full, and looked almost nothing like he remembered.

Previously tamed to the point of morbidity — a museum of flowers and hedges too frightened to flourish — it now tumbled wild and overgrown, purple foxglove twining amongst the thickets of thorny red roses that climbed the stone boundary wall, bowtruckles scampering along the shoots of the hawthorn tree in the quiet. Stars of jasmine bloomed around the slats of the portico, and honeysuckle up the trellises in the dwindling sunlight, turning the periwinkle air lush with floral spices. It was otherworldly in its beauty, in a way Sirius would have loved.

It was where Sirius had sat with him atop the grassy, sloping hill in the centre, to teach him firefly charms.

Not the best use of our time, I’ll grant you, but I’ve always found them cheering — your mum taught them to me — and Molly’s going to have my head if she catches me teaching you defence again. We’ll get back to it when she goes to bed. Here, no, hold your wand with your middle finger and thumb, leave the rest of them loose — yes, that’s it, good man. Remember it’s a friendly spell, they’re not native here, so you’ve got to be in a welcoming frame of—

“No.” Harry dropped his hand. The light of one firefly blinked out, then two, three, the whole cloud disappearing, and his calming pulse with them, leaving only the hazy purple glow of young twilight. “I can't deal with you. Not here. Go away.

Malfoy sank onto one of the stone benches at the grass’ edge, settling a bowl in his lap. It was half-filled with cherries, bright, waxy reds striated with cool spring greens, the kind Kreacher spelled stoneless. Coolly, he said, “Whither thou goest, my darling,” and lifted a cherry by the stem to his mouth, plucking it off with his teeth. He bit down, splitting the skin, and chewed slowly, licking away the juice glossing his lips.

“Stop.”

“Having cherries?” Malfoy gave him an arch look. He lifted another one and dangled it over his mouth, eyes on Harry, then curled his tongue around it to detach it from the stem. Tucking it into his cheek, he grinned. “But I missed dinner and have recently discovered that I have quite a taste for them. Even if they’re not quite ripe.”

Harry got to his feet and flicked his wand, grimly pleased by the shatter of porcelain against the flagstones and the dull, scattering thump of the cherries a scant second later. Malfoy’s grin disappeared, his eyes shuttering, and Harry pointed his wand at the open French doors. “Find somewhere else to eat.”

“Because that’s something I’m allowed to do, is it?” Malfoy said, the shiver of a clench to his jawline. He lifted his gaze from the cherries strewn across the ground and stood, a hard cast to his face as he prowled up to Harry, every apex predator Harry had learned about in primary school, all of those he’d fought growing up at Hogwarts. He stopped a hair’s breadth away — jabbed Harry’s chest with one finger. “No, it isn’t. I’m stuck here, drowning with you, aren’t I, and you’re— I’m—”

“What?” Harry said, watching the irregular throb of Malfoy’s pulse in his throat — all of those faint blue lines like the ones in his wrists, a conflux of tributaries rushing under the surface, sucking him into their flow. He looked up, saw Malfoy’s eyes were on his mouth. Desperately, Harry thought Not here, and then, helplessly, Drowning, drowning,. His voice cracked, a concession before his mind could admit to one. “What? What are you?”

Malfoy’s grey eyes glinted. “Bored,” he said, a vicious hiss, a lie. Harry could see it was a lie; he felt it in the twist of Malfoy’s long fingers through his hair; he felt it the jerk of his head back as Malfoy’s mouth covered his own.

It was a lie, like so many of the ones Harry had to hold onto so tightly, or lose his mind: It’s not a kiss,, and It doesn’t count, and, “No,” he said, pushing Malfoy away with one hand, his other fastened in the laces strung loose at Malfoy’s collar, not letting him go. “Not here.”

“Here,” Malfoy said into his mouth. The word tasted like cherries. He pulled Harry down.

Sink, then.

It felt simple during, for the first time, Harry’s mind a clean slate, his heart held apart — both of them drowning together. Malfoy didn’t leave right away when they were done, taking Harry’s mouth over and over with hungry kisses, working the length of his prick in and out of Harry until he’d gone fully soft. Their palms and knees were stained with grass, clumps of it clutched in Harry’s fists by the time Malfoy pulled out and rolled to his back, ruining his fine shirt.

He stared at the dark sky, the stars lost behind cloud cover, and said, “Here. Yes,” almost to himself as Harry wheezed beside him, and, “Wherever we want, in this godforsaken place,” then gathered his discarded boots and trousers, and went into the house.

Harry didn’t follow for a long time.

* * *

Soup and sandwiches. Lighter fare, Kreacher said, because Harry was looking peaked. Malfoy was too, by Harry’s estimation, but that didn’t stop Kreacher from offering to make him something more decadent. Malfoy waved him away, and Harry waited until Kreacher had Disapparated before getting up and walking over. It was a scarlet shirt tonight, lavish with gold curlicues threaded around his long cuffs and the eyelets for his laces — Gryffindor colours.

They were years out of school and Malfoy couldn’t stop behaving like a jeering child. Harry’s irritation at that had him slapping the contract onto the table rather harder than necessary, rattling Malfoy’s plate.

Explain.” Harry hovered behind him for a beat, but Malfoy had gone stiff, stubbornly locked into place, so Harry moved away and hooked his foot around the leg of the chair beside his, dragging it from the table. He sat down and folded his arms. “You said you had theories.”

Malfoy let out a long breath through his nose. He pushed back from the table, angling his chair towards Harry and stretching out in the same fashion as he first had when he’d joined Harry for dinner, this time with his feet between Harry’s parted legs, the toe of one boot grazing the inside of Harry’s calf through his jeans. It was a challenge, but Harry refused to yield, not moving away. Malfoy tipped him an inscrutable smile, the vibrant colour of his shirt lending warm tones to his cool complexion.

“We’ve complied with the letter of the contract,” he said, “but not the spirit of it.”

Blood simmering, Harry pushed down the immediate inclination to argue and tried to consider that as if Hermione had been the one to say it. They were in the phase Bill had referred to as marital transition. A honeymoon. Those, as far as he knew, consisted mostly of things they weren’t allowed to do, and the one thing they’d done sixteen times so far.

“It’s only been…” Harry thought about it — realised they’d been stuck together for over six weeks. He felt like he’d been sleep-walking through most of the month, his life stolen in more ways than one. The world bent around him, righted. He straightened his shoulders. “A few weeks. After last night, we should be able to avoid—”

Malfoy scoffed. “That’s exactly what I mean; the letter versus the spirit. Constantly trying to get away from each other isn’t what… people in this position do. Spending time with one another, learning how to—” Pink tipping his ears, Malfoy glanced away. “—how to fit into each other’s lives, copulating like rabbits, that’s what this time is for. Historically, anyway.”

“And you know so much about people imprisoned in a...”

“I’d wager I know more about marriage than you,” Malfoy said with a withering look. “At least I’ve got a frame of reference; I got to see my parents. You—” Malfoy broke off even as the explosion sounded in Harry’s brain, even before Harry stood. He blanched, curling his feet under his own chair and leaning away. The knot of his Adam’s apple bobbed under the tip of Harry’s wand like a target, and Harry pressed his wand harder against it.

“I only meant—” Malfoy licked his lips. Changed tacks. “If you hurt me, you’ll be hurting your people.”

Harry’s palm was hot, sweaty, his wand slick in his grip. He held it tighter. “I’m supposed to believe you care?”

“You could try showing enough common sense to know I care about mine,” Malfoy said, eyes dark and unflinching on Harry’s face. “I’m not risking anything happening to my mother.” His fingers crept up, feather-light on the back of Harry’s hand. “You should know that by now.”

Harry let Malfoy move his wand hand away, because — he did. He’d had front row seating for that show, knew precisely what Malfoy was prepared to do to protect her. It was probably the most decent thing about him. And the worst.

Malfoy scooted his chair further back and stood. Temporarily paralysed, Harry watched Malfoy walk away down the length of the dining table, his breath a gentle rise and fall under his ridiculous shirt. He stopped at the end of it, three fingers of one hand splayed over the corner drape of the tablecloth, his head bowed. His hair had grown a bit, but Harry’s eyes immediately sought Malfoy’s crescent scar, his dark freckle.

“I suspect,” Malfoy said, low, “that when I hear back, the solicitor and my mother will say the same thing. That the problem could exist in the lack of willingness from each party to— to indulge this farce through to the finish.”

“There is no finishing it.” Harry cleared his throat, conscious of the way Malfoy made it sound as though he was talking in hypotheticals, or about proxies — a method of distancing that had the room around Harry narrowing dizzily, the nape of Malfoy’s neck compelling as the light at the end of a tunnel. “We've indulged it enough.”

Malfoy lifted his head, turned to face him. Dragging air into his lungs, Harry wondered how they’d got so close when Malfoy was in the same spot at the end of the table and Harry had no memory of pushing into the space that separated them. Malfoy’s gaze flicked over him assessingly, looking less surprised to find Harry near than Harry felt.

“No,” Malfoy said — sneering it. “No, we haven’t.”

“How, then?” Harry asked. His breath had turned ragged, resentment spilling through him at the bitterness on Malfoy’s face. At his gall. As though Malfoy were the injured party in all of this. Harry’s hands caught the billow of Malfoy’s shirt at the waist; he fisted them, jerking the excess of material from his trousers. Sliding his palms under it when it was loose, then up over Malfoy’s back, over smooth skin and a tensing twist of muscle. “We go weeks and then have to shag before a whole day has passed, is that what I’m supposed to take from this?”

His body was pulsing with disjointed arousal, a pocket of rage living in every other breath he took. He wanted Malfoy to follow through on that sneer, to give him an excuse to make it hurt in a way neither of them would like. But Malfoy merely grunted, his fingers nimble on the laces at the front of his own trousers, then moving to Harry’s flies. His breath was hot and fast on Harry’s face, his eyes veiled, his slender lips reddened as though he’d been biting them. Their thighs fit between one another’s and Malfoy shoved his hand into Harry’s pants, curled his fingers around Harry’s cock. He gave it a pull and Harry shuddered.

“You’d like to think so, wouldn’t you?” Malfoy muttered, letting Harry yank his trousers down his hips, letting him turn them to press Malfoy’s tailbone to the edge of the table, the dishware clattering at the other end. “Better than admitting you, uhhh, just want to.”

Shaking his head, Harry pushed his jeans down, cool air washing over his arse. Malfoy’s cock was hard against his pelvis, warm and leaking. “I don’t,” he said, closing his eyes when Malfoy pressed their cocks together in his grip. “Fuck, I don’t.”

“If that’s what you need to tell yourself to sleep at night, Potter.”

Harry opened his eyes, his heartbeat a racket of noise in his head. He didn’t know which was the truth anymore, his own words or the way he pushed into Malfoy’s fist to fuck against his cock. His mind had splintered gratefully along the way, and he couldn’t reconcile his own desire with the man squirming against him, or the fact that he’d slept well, after the garden, for the first time in weeks.

“Get my shirt up,” Malfoy said. Mindlessly, Harry did, spreading the laces at his throat and wrestling the material to hook over Malfoy’s head, tousling the neat quiff of his hair.

“It’s stupid,” Harry said, hiking his own t-shirt up to his armpits, his hips matching Malfoy’s stroke. “You look—” hot, he thought, hating it, choking it back, “—so bloody stupid, why do you keep wearing—”

“Merlin forbid I’m comfortable in my own home,” Malfoy said, eyes flashing to Harry’s when he growled, then dropping again to focus on his hand working over them. Harry looked too, a rush of shame and pleasure wrenching a groan from him when the sight made his prick dribble and jerk. Malfoy huffed a laugh, twisting his fist over their cockheads, the long, silky cuff of his sleeve brushing Harry’s stomach. The top of his head knocked into Harry’s as Harry stared, and he said, “You like looking, too. Did you watch yourself when you put it in me?”

“Shut up,” Harry said — panting, unable to deny it. He had looked, always during that first long thrust. He cupped Malfoy’s arse, plastering them together so neither of them could watch. It slowed Malfoy’s hand but was good on its own, the rub of Malfoy’s pebbled nipples against Harry’s chest, the flutter of Malfoy’s stomach against his cock. Malfoy let go completely, wiggling his arm out from between them and planting it on the table, leaning back like prey for Harry to chase. “Don’t you ever just shut up?” Harry asked, chasing him. Flattening onto him.

Malfoy rutted upwards, his cock a slippery, heated slide, dampening Harry’s own. His fingers dug into Harry’s clenching buttocks, broken, humid breaths gusting against Harry’s jaw. Malfoy’s hip bones were sharp under his thumbs, rocking, and Harry wanted to fuck him into stillness, into silence, Malfoy’s tight little whine tweaking all of his nerves.

“Where’s the fun in—?” Malfoy broke off, gasping. “Oh, oh. Potter, I’m going to—” He bit Harry’s neck, sucked on it, stifling his own moan. Warm wet spread between them, his cock pulsing hard as he came. The table legs thumped on the floor, skidding as Harry rode him. Malfoy’s teeth turned gentle on his neck, his suck against Harry’s skin soft and smacking, his body melting pliant.

Harry shivered and gathered him tighter, fucking himself against Malfoy’s still-firm cock. “Do I— Do I—?” Words gone, Harry slid his fingers between Malfoy’s buttocks, brushed them impatiently over his hole. Malfoy’s trousers were too tight for him to spread his legs, but Harry could turn him over, could have him that way. Could use the slick of Malfoy’s come to push inside.

Malfoy tightened his grip on Harry’s arse. “You want to see it, don’t you?” he asked, the roughness of his voice racing chills up Harry’s tensing thighs. “Want to watch yourself put your cock up in me,” he said, and Harry came with a shuddering groan, pressing his cheek to Malfoy’s shoulder and imagining it, miserably excited — spurting between them as he remembered what it looked like, how it felt.

Instinct tempted him to slump over Malfoy when it was over; the return of clarity made him push away and pull his pants and jeans up. His glimpse of Malfoy was mortifying, fascinating, Malfoy’s shirt shoved ‘round the back of his neck, his trousers unlaced and down around his thighs. His cock was pretty, even sticky and softening, long and pink and left immodestly out, his stomach smeared with the shiny mess of their climaxes. He levered himself upright, spine straightening. The positioning of his shirt should have made its removal difficult, but Malfoy made even that graceful: a small hook of his fingers, a tug over his head, the material slithering down his arms. He caught Harry’s eyes and bunched up the shirt, then used it to wipe off his stomach, his prick.

Harry snorted, abruptly too weary to take offense. It was a stupid thing to get upset over, as though school Houses still mattered — as though they ever should have.

Malfoy tilted his head and blinked at him, confusion pinching a groove between his eyebrows. He pulled his trousers up with an inelegant little hop and tucked his cock away, frowning when Harry dropped into a chair. Deftly tightening and tying the laces without even looking down, he said, “Something amusing?”

Harry lifted one shoulder. “You. This.”

“So, no, then.”

“Yeah.” Harry pushed his glasses up and scrubbed a hand over his face, stifling a manic laugh with his palm. “No. Nothing’s funny about any of it. Do we have to do it again?” Malfoy made a small sound of surprise and Harry uncovered his face, flicking his glasses into place. Malfoy was staring at him, propped once more against the table. Harry took a deep breath and said it flatly, without regard for his own self-consciousness: “We didn’t finish things the way we normally do. Like last night.”

Malfoy swallowed, his gaze darting away. It was oddly, immensely reassuring, for no reason Harry could figure out. “Not all people in our position — do that every time. It can be other ways. I mean, I don’t want it to be any way, mind you,” he said quickly, “only, the contract will know when… we don’t.” Malfoy cleared his throat. “But I think proximity matters more, or at least as much—”

“I don’t know how big you think your cock is, but we can’t really do it from opposite sides of the room, can we?”

A curious blush lit Malfoy’s cheeks, even as he scoffed. “For,” his fingers twitched dismissively, “standard activities.”

Harry followed the direction of his gesture down to where they had been sitting. The lacy tablecloth was askew now, a stain of pumpkin juice sloshed onto it from Harry’s glass, and two of the candles had gone out. But their plates were where they left them, if a little nearer to the middle of the table.

“Like eating,” Harry said blankly. His jaw hardened, a rush of embarrassment transfiguring itself into anger. Malfoy’s visits and attire, his attitude, had all seemed designed to provoke a specific reaction from him — the one Harry had finally started giving into. “Right.”

“Don’t tell me.” Malfoy’s voice dripped with false sympathy. The uncertainty had fled his face, a sly smile curling his mouth. "You really thought I’d been joining you because I wanted this. Oh, no. Oh, dear, how humiliating,” he said, looking delighted by the prospect.

Harry stood, his chair tipping backwards in his haste. He jammed his hands into his pockets. “I’ve got to go shower this off me. I’ll write up a schedule for the, the rest, and give it to you tomorrow.”

Something faltered in Malfoy’s expression. He straightened away from the table, a leisurely unfolding of his height. Uncovered, his shoulders took on a glow from the lit sconces around the dining room; his nipples were small and pink; the skinny trail of hair below his belly-button looked more golden than his distinctive shade of blond. His Dark Mark blurred, pale and shrunken, on the inside of his forearm. Harry turned away and picked up his wand from where he’d dropped it on the table, and he spelled everything to proper order.

“A schedule isn’t necessary,” Malfoy said, clearing his throat. Harry chanced a look at his face; Malfoy’s gaze was riveted on the wide landscape hanging on the long wall of the dining room, fog rolling over the painted tombstones on a loop. “Fucking me whenever you want to kill me ought to serve both our purposes well enough.”

Harry stepped around him. “Yeah, you’re the authority on a good marriage.”

* * *

“Sleep well?” Malfoy asked, strolling nonchalantly into the kitchen in the morning. He nodded at Kreacher to fetch him a cup of coffee and leaned against the counter once it was in hand. He was wearing nothing but a pair of tight black boxer-briefs that outlined the bulge of his cock and proudly displayed the marks Harry’d left on him, marks he could have Healed since the garden, but hadn’t: a brilliant purpling hickey just under his jaw, reddened stripes on the outsides of his thighs, stubble-burn along his throat.

Harry tapped at the table with the folded Owl, debating. “Not really.”

“Shame. I slept like the dead,” Malfoy said.

“If wishes were horses,” Harry muttered, glancing up when Malfoy chuckled. Ignoring his stare, Malfoy blew on his coffee and looked around. The curtains still refused to part more than a few centimetres, and the ancient, rusted set of knives displayed blade-up near the sink still came to frantic life whenever anyone got too close, everything so different from the warm liveliness of Molly’s kitchen. It probably suited Malfoy’s aesthetic perfectly.

“So then,” he said. He took a sip of his coffee. Licked a droplet from his lip. “Feel like killing me today, Potter?”

Yes. The answer was always going to be yes.

But Harry was more concerned with keeping his head above water. He took a breath and held out the missive. “Here.”

Malfoy pulled his gaze from the knives — they hammered at the counter, trying to get a fly that zipped past — to look at Harry distrustfully. “What is it?” He set down his coffee and reached out slowly to take the letter, then jerked it out of Harry’s grip when their fingertips brushed, clearing his throat and asking again as he unfolded it. “What is it?”

“It’s from Hermione,” Harry said pointlessly; Malfoy was already reading.

Hermione’s letter was as brief as Harry’s enquiry to her, making no mention of any previously-unanswered post — graciously dancing around the subject of Harry’s well-being:

Harry,

As far as I can tell, Malfoy hasn’t got it wrong, historically speaking. Perpetuating the magical population aside, the whole point of a marital contract was to strengthen ties between two families. Practicality dictated that there be a vested interest, particularly as Potter/Malfoy relations became more contentious over the generations; if the the wedded parties couldn’t learn to care about one another’s well-being, an alliance would serve no purpose. From what I can gather, that’s the primary reason for the enforced confinement—the time is supposed to foster a sense of friendship and loyalty as you get to know one another. So yes, proximity is certainly a factor, and I suppose making an attempt at more cordial relations with him might satisfy the contract to some degree, though I hope you know no one expects it of you. You’ve done quite enough—more than—and we’re still working on every angle we can think of to get you out. None of us are clear on what might get the contract to admit guests, that part is all rather ambiguous, but I can certainly check into it for you.

If all else fails, remember that marria unions like these were often lived differently when they were in fashion, than they are now. Once the contract considers the union stable, there’s nothing to prohibit you from living your lives apart from one another.

Everyone sends their love, write when you can.

Hermione

“Right, yes,” Malfoy said, the edges of the letter trembling in his grip. He set it down as though it might explode. “Cordial relations. Did I fuck you a bit too hard in the garden? Or not hard enough?”

“I’m more interested in the ‘living apart’ bit,” Harry said.

“Is that really only occurring to you now? A lot of wedded people live apart… if they’re physically capable.” He threw Harry a smug look. “You’re physically capable of more than I gave you credit for, but—”

“You’ll have to stop that sort of shit,” Harry said plainly, gripping the balls of his knees. They shifted under his palms, and he loosened his hold.

Malfoy blinked a flinch, a crease vanishing on his forehead almost as soon as it formed. “Sex is part of it, Potter.” Inhaling slowly, he slanted Harry a cocky smile and touched one of the mottled marks on his throat in a way that looked idle but that he’d probably practiced in front of a mirror, then let the brush of his fingers drop — to his collarbone, down his bare chest, his fingers curling to a loose fist as he went. He rubbed his knuckles against the line of hair leading into his pants and smirked. “After all, you are my h—”

Provoking me.” Harry breathed out, chills rising along his arms, the back of his neck a flash of hot and cold. He looked up, met Malfoy’s gaze squarely. “You’ll have to stop. No, it didn’t occur to me that wedded people could and do live apart, but that’s irrelevant. We’ll never have any hope of getting to a place where we can… if you can’t—”

Something complicated passed over Malfoy’s face. He wrapped his arms around his bare ribcage like he was cold, looking defensively out of place, something Harry abruptly realised he’d never seen before. Malfoy’s bravado was such that he automatically seemed to own any room he walked into.

"I’ve always known what a little hypocrite you were, but this is really extraordinary, even by your standards,” Malfoy murmured. He let go of himself and clung to the formica counter at his back, its drab olive-green drawing focus to his whitened knuckles, in blatant opposition to the appeal of his pose, the lazy drawl of his voice. “You couldn’t possibly still think you’re the only victim in all of this.”

Harry recoiled, accusations on the tip of his tongue: You may not like it now, but when we get out of here, which of us will have what he needs to move on? Which of our reputations will benefit from this blasted excuse for a marriage when the news gets out? Which one of us will go back to the world unscathed, the way your sort always somehow manages, and which of us will be left with the cleanup?

But Harry found he couldn’t say them, not even with his control worn so thin — not even to the likes of Malfoy. He settled on, “The day I think of you as a victim of anything—”

There,” Malfoy said, pointing at him. An angry sort of triumph twisted his features. “You’re no more capable of it than I am. In fact, this is the first time...” He blinked, his voice dropping away, his gaze going distant. He gave a tiny shake of his head, as if coming back to himself. “If you think you’ve been any more cordial than I have, you’re completely mad — so mad, I might have grounds for an annulment. Something to hope for, I suppose,” he said dryly, holding up two crossed fingers, “so do be sure to let me know if that’s the case.”

Stomach jittering, Harry looked to his own cup. Whether Harry didn’t know how to be polite to Malfoy, or simply hadn’t wanted to try, didn’t change the accuracy of Malfoy’s assessment. It was made all the more distressing by Malfoy’s matter-of-fact tone, and that, point made, he hadn’t belaboured it.

Harry spooned some more sugar into his tea and drizzled in a bit more milk. He stirred it, keeping his eyes on the fragrant curl of its steam wafting out. Kreacher grumbled about serving Earl Grey; he said the way Harry drank it was common, and maybe it was. But for ten years it hadn’t stopped feeling like a luxury, being able to add whatever he wanted, making the tang of the bergamot sweet. He warmed his hands with the cup and finally looked up.

“You’re right.”

If he’d held any hope Malfoy’s reaction would equal how big it felt to say, Malfoy dashed it immediately; he gave Harry a small nod and said, “I know.”

“Humble, too.”

One corner of Malfoy’s mouth ticked up. “Humility is for people who don’t know their own—” His smile faded. “Who don't know when they’re right,” he finished, subdued.

Harry examined him, some little wire inside himself tripped at the evasion. But Malfoy had got better at closing himself off since school — everything flaunted, then, a constant show of dramatics — and the wall that he was able to put up left Harry a little wrong-footed. That Malfoy had deemed it necessary was some sort of a clue, but Harry was too bothered by his own curiosity to pull on the string yet; he could think on it later, in private. He took a sip of his tea and moved on.

“I wrote to Bill, too, about a… an optimal schedule for things.” The steam of Harry’s tea misted his face, warm and damp, and he set it down. “Even if you don’t think we need one, I don’t want—” Harry faltered, Malfoy’s gaze suddenly intense on him, glittering hard as diamonds. “I don’t want anyone to get hurt,” he said, as true as the other reasons he couldn’t admit. “He wrote back that he’d look into it.”

"Bill," Malfoy said flatly. “Weasley. Well, by all means, we should wait to hear back before doing it again, in case he thinks we’ve done it enough. Honestly, Potter."

Harry rubbed at his face, a scorch of heat against his palm. “That’s not— That wasn’t what I was saying. I was just letting you know. In the interest of… being cordial. I don’t,” he took a breath, “think we should wait. In case.”

“Then…” Malfoy pushed away from the counter, a slow kindle of interest flaring in his eyes. They widened, a lick of anticipation darkening in them, that trace of his smile returning. “You’re done fighting it?”

Done fighting. Harry found the term funnier than he perhaps should have. If it had been a fight at all — and Harry was abruptly unsure of that — then Malfoy had undoubtedly won the round. He thought of saying That doesn’t seem to be something I’m allowed to do; he thought of saying, You’re not the only thing I’m fighting. He added more sugar to his cooling tea and nodded. Voice low, he said, “Don’t ask me that. But I’ll— get along.”

"We strike a bargain, then," Malfoy said. Harry continued the slow-stirring of his tea, unmelted sugar grating against the inside of the cup, and warily watched Malfoy's approach. "To…" Malfoy's lips twitched. "...get along."

"Yeah."

"However we can," Malfoy added, somewhat unnecessarily, in Harry's opinion. But he nodded anyway.

"Yeah."

Malfoy studied him a moment, then held out his hand. Harry reached for it, looking up in confusion, breath caught in his throat when Malfoy pulled back, just far enough to forestall the clasp of their palms. He said, "No conditions to add?"

Harry stopped, the tips of Malfoy's fingers barely brushing his. "I can't think of any," he said. Then, surprising himself with his honesty, "I'd rather not think of what we're doing at all."

The air seemed to still for the duration of a heartbeat — neither of them breathing. And then Malfoy's palm slid against Harry's, those long fingers tightening around the back of his hand for two brisk, efficient pumps. Malfoy let go, and Harry looked back to his tea.

Malfoy came closer, drifting cool fingertips over Harry's nape. They slid under his t-shirt to spread between his shoulder-blades like when they were on the grass.

“I see,” Malfoy said, an insidious whisper against the shell of Harry’s ear. “Neither would I.”

Harry took another sip, wincing at its sweetness, and another breath. He set the cup aside, then pushed his chair out from the table, thighs parting slightly for Malfoy to comfortably straddle. Malfoy’s weight was warm on him, pleasing, his arousal already evident, pushing against the waistband of his pants. His breath was cinnamon-y, the curve of his arse firm in Harry’s hands.

Harry wished, fleetingly, that Malfoy was anyone one else, and let Malfoy kiss him. He kissed Malfoy back, and closed his eyes.

* * *

Might take some getting used to, the calm after the storm, Sirius once said, apropos of nothing. When Harry looked to him for an explanation, Sirius picked his head up from where it was resting against one arm of the sofa, and threw him a charming half-smile. We’re more in the eye of it, aren’t we? I know. And different circumstances, and all that— he’d waved a hand, dropping his head back, —but there’s a stillness that no one prepares you for, an emptiness. I think you ought to be prepared, Harry. For everything to stop. Including the feeling of purpose. That’s a tiresome one, having nothing to do. I used to think...

But Remus had rushed in with an Owl from Dumbledore, and Harry never heard the rest. Never asked to. At the time, he thought Sirius had been talking about life after Azkaban, about his concerns for Harry after the war; but, later, he stewed on it. On all of the unfinished and interrupted conversations. On everything Sirius had been trying to impart, and why.

Whatever concerns Sirius had regarding his life turned out to be unfounded, Harry’d thought. Hermione had been the only one to echo them in any way, easy enough to brush off. Harry had loved the stillness Sirius so disliked, and when he needed more, there was always something or someone to occupy him.

On weekends when Ginny was in town, they would go out or stay in bed; on Sunday nights, he had dinner at the Burrow; on Wednesdays, he and Ron worked out at the duelling gym before grabbing drinks at the Muggle pub down the road from their flat. Mondays were for ordering takeaway Thai, because it was the only night Hermione always came home early enough to eat with them, and — returned home from a year-long internship in Brazil — Neville had taken one of those teaching fellow spots Hermione went on about. He was always pleased when Harry took the train to see him.

In the humid calm of Greenhouse Four, Neville could talk for days about plants and what he’d learned overseas, and never seemed to expect anything more from Harry than a nod and a smile; he even seemed surprised by Harry’s offers to help. Harry tilled the potted soil for him without complaint, spent time gathering ingredients from the edge of the forest — knotgrass and the like, simple things he was unlikely to misidentify. If it got late, McGonagall would ready a room for him, and Hagrid always invited him for tea in the mornings, always had rock cakes on the table, and usually something more edible. When Hagrid had to cut things short for an early class and there was a lag before the train arrived, Harry skipped stones over the undisturbed surface of the Great Lake to test how long it took before the Giant Squid got annoyed enough to slap at the water with a tentacle.

He’d never felt in want of things to do, or people to see.

Now there was only one thing to do. Only one person to do that with.

Harry often found himself wondering whether the post-war calm had been lived in the eye of the storm, rather than its aftermath. Wondering whether perhaps he was the storm, or if it was Malfoy, or if it was them together. His memories from the last three years seemed to have come from a dream — the sort that starts unassumingly enough, only to fill itself with ambiguous metaphors. And now he felt awake, caught in the gale force of it all, his wand willingly laid aside for the chance to find respite in the wreckage.

He didn’t know what it meant that he had, that he could.

Malfoy didn’t make it easy. Simply being around him so frequently forced Harry to observe more about him than Harry ever cared to know: that his manners were so impeccable as to thank even house-elves, that he kept his fingers pristinely manicured but liked his wand calluses enough that he never spelled them away.

He talked a lot too, even to Harry; just one more thing in a line of them Harry felt like he shouldn’t be surprised by, and yet was. Either because he’d been without an audience for too long or because he was determined to delude the contract into letting them receive guests, it didn’t matter. Malfoy rambled about anything that came to mind when they were in the same room, a habit that left Harry wishing he’d thought to include occasional silences as a condition in their agreement. He simply noticed too much, cataloguing the multitude of Harry’s tells that only a real lover should be privy to, once Harry gave into the relief of him.

“You get so hard when I kiss you,” he whispered, husky against Harry’s lips, grinding atop Harry on the sofa in the parlour and thwarting Harry’s reply by slotting their mouths back together. “Your neck is sensitive,” he murmured, a gleeful light to his eyes as he skimmed down the cords of it with the blunt tips of his nails, and twisting them so it was Harry’s back to the wall on the staircase. “You couldn’t possibly be about to come again already,” he’d groaned, tightening his fist around Harry’s thrusting cock and pumping faster as they writhed together on the rug in the study.

They didn’t have sex — not in the technical sense since that night in the garden; not in any sense, as claimed by some protected corner of Harry’s mind. In his more generous moments, Harry was able to think of the two of them as travelling a forgotten road together, along the easiest path they could find. Alone in his room at night, thinking of the other things Malfoy noticed, he was less charitable.

“Potter doesn’t like cauliflower, Kreacher, please remove that,” he said, with a dismissive glance at Harry’s plate. “Merlin, I miss flying, too,” he said, breathing heavy after his spend when he caught Harry looking out at the sky. “Not avoiding me, are you?” he asked with a smirk — when they both knew damned well Harry had been — before pushing Harry to the library chaise and necking with him for an hour.

Harry struggled with how to respond, too disoriented from hearing fragments of his thoughts spoken in Malfoy’s crisp accent. He tried to come up with the polite topics one might discuss with a stranger, but their conversations were mostly comprised of Malfoy’s suppositions and Harry’s confused denials over their accuracy. And then at some point, the faint, wicked dimple in Malfoy’s right cheek would make an appearance, signalling a storm about to break — signalling a rest to Harry’s thoughts, at least for a while. He wouldn’t have to think about what he was doing, or about the fact that he felt more and more distant from himself each day; not about the fact that he couldn’t look in the mirror without his stomach pitching, the marks Malfoy left on him too reminiscent of the smudge permanently branded on the soft inside of Malfoy’s forearm.

Sometimes Malfoy would stay in his room for the majority of a day, for two, only coming down to dinner. Then, Harry thought he could tell — that Harry’s conflict wasn’t appeased by the things they were doing, and had done. Other times, it seemed like he didn’t care; Malfoy sought him out, slipping two fingers in the belt loops of Harry’s jeans and drawing him closer in the hallway when Harry was on his way to his room, snagging a handful of Harry’s t-shirt after dinner and bending him back over the table.

For Harry, the things they did had none of the giddiness of when he and Ginny first got together, were accompanied by none of the fierce curiosity Harry’d felt about others. Rather, it was just… intense, obliterating, a tempest that had come over them both, an escape: Malfoy’s hands running over Harry’s body, his tongue sinking into Harry’s mouth, the satin strands of Malfoy’s hair dishevelled by Harry’s grip.

Whenever, wherever, just like Malfoy had said — and still not enough.

Chapter Text

Harry found the first one by accident, a wrong turn that turned out not to be — a turn taken where there shouldn’t have been one to take, the corridor unravelling before him.

You never know what will show itself, Sirius said when Harry was fifteen, disgust in his voice. He hadn’t opened the door that had appeared, instead throwing an arm over Harry’s shoulder and giving a comforting squeeze, as though Harry was the one who’d been unnerved. You get used to ignoring the new ones, he’d said, and the door had winked out of sight. It’ll never change, this dastardly old place.

Kreacher, peering down the corridor when Harry called him, only said houses kept secrets even house-elves could not know. Harry considered that for a while, Sirius’ words in his ear as he tried to pick out details from the shadows in the distance, then walked away.

It was harder than it should have been, after the last several weeks: the lift of his hand, the knock on Malfoy’s door. He heard a thump, a shuffle, and then a dubious, “What is it?”

Harry took a breath and let himself in. Malfoy was sat on the edge of his bed, a book with crinkled pages open next to him. He watched Harry, expression carefully blank. One of the unspoken clauses to their arrangement was that bedrooms were off-limits for the things they did; at least, Malfoy had never come looking for Harry in his, so he thought they were of the same mind about it.

“Hi,” he said, when Malfoy didn’t.

Malfoy inclined his head. “Hello.”

Awkwardly, Harry looked around Malfoy’s room. He’d never been in it before and it… did not match his assumptions. Rather than the chilly conditions and fusty ornamentation Harry’d imagined, it was cluttered, and cosier than his own. Strange objects covered the surfaces of his bureau and trunks, and some sort of terrarium was set on a long bookshelf near the loo; photographs lined the mantelpiece. The rug covering half the floor was well-tread but in good shape, patterned in geometric leaves made up of warm greens and golds, something right out of the twenties, modern and old-fashioned all at once, and a set of matching side chairs were placed at its edge before the cold fireplace, a small, circular table between them stacked high with letters.

“Your room is, uh, nice,” Harry said, shifting.

Malfoy sighed. “What do you want?”

Harry let Malfoy’s tone roll off him. He gestured to one of the chairs. “I had a question.”

Another sigh, a hesitant nod. Harry Summoned one of the chairs as Malfoy eased back to sit against the headboard. He was still in his white shirt and black breeches, but he’d discarded his ever-present boots after dinner, and for the first time Harry realised that the breeches stopped well above his ankles, right at the swell of his calf; he’d only ever seen them on or off, before. Malfoy’s legs were dusted with golden hair, his ankles sculpted and bony. It made him look younger, being barefoot but fully dressed on his bed, a hickey visible just above his collarbone. Like the teenaged version of himself, stripped of calculation.

“Well?” Malfoy drawled. “Unless your question was whether I’d care to join you downstairs for a—”

Harry flushed. “I found a thing,” he said. “A— No, not a room. A hallway. I think there was a room at the end of it.”

“As opposed to the hallways that lead to alternate dimensions.”

“Yeah. Right. Ha.” Harry’s hands were clammy. He rubbed them over the tops of his thighs. “Except this hallway wasn’t there yesterday.”

Malfoy paused. Frowned. “Wasn’t there?”

“Wasn’t,” Harry confirmed. “I thought, maybe… Kreacher didn’t know where it led, and I thought… Hogwarts has places like that. I thought maybe—” Harry cleared his throat, keeping his voice level. “—maybe the Manor did, too. Maybe you knew about this sort of thing.”

“Then you really—” Malfoy cut himself off, blinking. Slowly, he said, “The Manor has been occupied since it was first built, so there’d be no reason for it to Vanish any of its contents, whereas Grimmauld Place might simply have been conserving its magic until such a time as it was needed. Or, I don’t know, someone spelled it smaller a few generations ago, for reasons of their own.”

“Oh.” Harry’s shoulders came down, a dwindling of that blistering rush of curiosity that sent him to Malfoy’s door. He sagged back in the chair, not quite sure what to do with that information. “So it’s normal. Or, normal for magical houses.”

Malfoy paused again, his eyes running over Harry’s face. He pushed his fingers through his hair with a loud exhale. “Well, how am I supposed to know that?” he asked, a bit of bite to his tone. “Grimmauld Place is over four-hundred years old at the foundation, isn’t it? I couldn’t possibly begin to guess what sort of magic has been festering within its walls.”

It was a phrase Malfoy was apparently fond of, Harry’d learned, couldn’t possibly; he said it about all manner of possible things, the more feasible, the better. Startling Harry from behind in the library when Harry dropped a book, his fingers insinuating their way into Harry’s front pockets: You couldn’t possibly have expected me to see you on all fours and not take it as an invitation…. Kissing Harry’s lips swollen under the drizzling shelter of the hawthorn tree’s boughs, and slipping Harry’s dressing robe open with one hand: I couldn’t possibly have known you were out here in that, but I can’t see why I should pass up such an opportunity…. Voice low and breathless against Harry’s mouth, his body pressed flat against the padded piano bench after Harry went in search of haunting strains of music drifting throughout the house, his fingers flying as fast on Harry’s flies as they’d flown over the ivory keys: You couldn’t possibly have waited until I finished the coda, I suppose…

Except this time, Harry thought he meant it. There was something guarded to Malfoy’s tone, as though he disliked not being able to posit a guess to what Grimmauld Place might have in store for them.

“Festering?” Harry asked.

Malfoy twitched his shoulders, settled them, like a bird ruffling its wings. “This branch of the Black family line was—” He glanced at Harry, then to his window. “—notoriously unstable. For the most part, you know. There were outliers, obviously.”

Harry scoffed. “Obviously.”

“I’d be incredibly cautious about investigating it further,” Malfoy added after a beat. “At least to the point of having Kreacher check for you before you wander down any new corridors. House-elves can’t be hurt by the home they’re loyal to, and… Potter? Are you even listening?”

Harry stood, moving deeper into Malfoy’s room, a restless buzz in his head. “Your room really is nice,” he said to distract himself. “Comfortable. What’s… all that?” He gestured helplessly at the items littering the surface of Malfoy’s trunk. There were two desk clocks and a pocket watch, crowded amongst a curved metal statuette, a wooden box with a strangely-shaped lock, a miniature diorama of pixies, and— “Are those my elf heads?” Harry blurted.

Malfoy glared at him. “Yours?”

One of the clocks was familiar, too. Harry was almost sure it came from the mantlepiece in the library. He sputtered, trying to rein in his temper. “Is all of this— from the house?”

“Most, not all,” Malfoy said, the barest hint of a cool smirk pulling the corner of his mouth.

Harry went back to the chair, unable to pinpoint why he even cared. “What are you doing with them?”

Malfoy snorted. He pushed his book aside and shifted, coming to his knees, then down onto his stomach. Head at the foot of the bed near his trunk, he lifted the watch up — held it to his ear and shook it gently. “I needed something to occupy my mind.”

“So you’ve chosen theft,” Harry said uncomprehendingly.

“You can’t steal something that belongs to you,” Malfoy said, nettled. The look he slanted at Harry was equal parts cagey and defiant. “And it’s none of your business what I do with my things.”

“It is if they belong to me, too,” Harry said.

Putting down the pocket watch, Malfoy reached a hand behind him and murmured. His wand flew obligingly into his hand and he slithered closer to the trunk, still on his stomach, a rippling flex of his arse under those tight breeches, of his toes against the mattress. He came up on one elbow and touched his wand to the diorama of pixies, flicked it over the wings of one with a smooth little twirl. Pursing his lips, a knit of irritation forming on his brow, he did it again. The taxidermied pixie trembled, its wings extending and then freezing in place. Malfoy looked up and smiled — an uncomplicated smile, teeth and dimple flashing, proud and astonishingly sweet. Harry’s breath stuttered.

He knew, better than most, that there was nothing sweet about Malfoy. Everything that seemed so was just decoration — a trick, same as the ones in the book of fairy tales Harry used to store under the loose floorboards of his cupboard to read when he couldn’t sleep. Malfoy was the shiny apple dipped in poison, the glowing spindle that lured your outstretched hand, glittering riches surrounding a dulled lamp. He was the temptation you didn’t know you wanted until you’d already been hypnotised by it, only to be led to your doom.

Harry knew it, and he still stared, until Malfoy’s smile faded.

“I restore things,” Malfoy said, abruptly terse. He pushed himself up with a small grunt and righted his shirt on his shoulders; it had slipped to the side as he’d squirmed on that grand bed of his. “I like to— I’m good at it. You couldn’t possibly have a problem with that.”

“No,” Harry said, voice hollow to his own ears. Then, at Malfoy’s scowl, added, “I mean, I don’t. Have a problem.”

“The windows won’t even open for an owl if it’s carrying an invitation,” Malfoy spat, still on the defensive. “Or was I supposed to simply sit and contemplate the walls when I wasn’t—”

“Malfoy. Fix the whole bloody place if you want,” Harry said hastily, heart knocking hard. Malfoy assessed him narrowly and finally seemed to relax, the tension in his face easing. Harry locked his knees against their sudden urge to bend, gulping in a bit of oxygen. The atmosphere in the room had changed, somehow, gotten weird. Determined to get back to the matter at hand, Harry shook it off — it was no matter to him what Malfoy did. “So you think the magic in the house could be dangerous.”

“Do you think I’d suggest being shadowed by a house-elf, otherwise?” Malfoy asked with a click of his tongue.

“I’m not going to bother Kreacher with this,” Harry said, directing a frown at Malfoy when he opened his mouth to object. “I’m a fair hand at taking care of myself. Or so I’ve been told.”

“Potter, it’s a risk, investigating unknown magic.” Malfoy crossed his arms, his shirt slipping to the side again, trailing laces spread. “Especially being cut off from all outside help,” he said pointedly. He sniffed. “It’s far too reckless. No one is that stupid, not even you.”

The insult flowed through Harry, sharp as Firewhiskey, and he found himself grinning. Malfoy’s scorn jumped about in his mind in the exact way necessary to help him come to a decision, a long-buried sense of excitement burrowing up to the surface. “Tell me, Malfoy,” he said, “what’s the most cordial way to say ‘fuck off’?”

Malfoy’s lips tightened. He inhaled through his nose and said, “‘I’ll take that under advisement, thank you.’”

“Do I have to say the ‘thank you’ part?”

“Potter—”

“Drop it,” Harry said, getting up. “I’m doing it.”

“Of course you are,” Malfoy said, an exasperated set to his jaw. “At least keep me apprised, if you insist on this nonsense. When you walk into a room filled with slumbering curses, I want to be able to point you in the direction of the one likely to kill you the fastest, and win my freedom.”

Harry smirked. “That sounds fair,” he said, and lingered by the door instead of leaving. His blood felt hot, his interest piqued. He looked Malfoy over, met his eyes briefly. Looked him over again. “I’m going down to the library for a bit,” he said. Malfoy’s breath caught and resumed, shallowly, fast, his expanding pupils the perfect reminder that Harry had a way to expend his surplus of energy before bed. “Are you coming?”

Malfoy’s lips parted, just barely. He was going to say no, of course; they’d used each other twice already over the course of the day. But Harry waited, a surge of something powerful ripping through his system at— at having asked, and, at length, Malfoy raised an eyebrow. He said, “Think you can make me?”

They only got to the stairs.

* * *

Exploring the house was… rather fun.

The passages that might admit guests stayed stubbornly sealed, but there seemed no shortage of doors that Grimmauld Place was prepared to let Harry open. With a quivering sense of atonement, as if aware of how cloistered Harry’d been feeling, long-hidden spaces would blink into visibility with no rhyme or reason, and the added element of danger kept Harry’s wits sharp. He didn’t find any, but there was an abundance of new staircases and winding corridors, and of untouched rooms to find within them: a hall filled with mirrors, a massive cupboard dedicated to storing sets of china, a tea parlour that looked like it had been decorated in the eighteenth century.

Harry spelled a blank mapping scroll to life and began filling it with locations. A whole floor comprised of luxuriously-appointed bedrooms appeared, stamped by a single loo at the end of the row with only a toilet inside, and above it, a floor of posh bathrooms, marked by the tiniest single bedroom he’d ever seen, barring his cupboard; he spent an entire day conjuring individual sets of stairs attaching each of them. A musty owlery sprang up where a small, covered balcony had been, outfitted for a half-dozen owls; and then a wardrobe the size of a studio flat revealed itself around the corner from their rooms. It was filled with moth-eaten clothing from every imaginable era, many of them boasting a peculiar similarity to the sort Malfoy wore.

Wandering in the sprawling catacombs of the cellars, Harry got lost amidst rowed shelves of dry food stores and remarkably fresh produce that Kreacher denied having procured, and for four days was obsessed with uncovering an almost-inaccessible door in the attic, barely visible behind mountains of furniture and covered portraits that moaned under their sheets at the touch of his magic. But the room itself was arresting, a small workshop that pulsed a wave of tranquility at him once he got the door open.

In the centre of the space was a sturdy flat table, mysterious tools scattered atop it — menacing things with curved or flat bladed edges and handles that felt nearly as good in Harry’s hand as the hilt of his wand, and were hung in excess on the half-rusted hooks on the walls. Wood flour floated in the air, perpetually lit by the weak sunlight filtering in through a new window, as though whomever had worked in the room had merely paused and might return any moment. Carefully, Harry put the tools back where he’d found them and knelt to investigate the stacks of miniature trunks in the corners, some roughly the size of a bread box, others no larger than his hand. Their locks came undone with a simple Alohomora, but the trunks wouldn’t open. Wary of damaging them, Harry left them alone and sat on the stool at the table, running his hand over the sawdust on its surface, the powder of more-finely pulverised wood, until Kreacher Apparated in to announce supper.

Something was happening to Grimmauld place. It felt like a portent — but of what, Harry couldn’t decide.

The only places Harry could find no difference were the marital chambers, the wane of generations of sinister magic making itself known everywhere else; even the main floors were subtly changing. The grand staircase had widened, its mahogany treads gleaming and, as the drench of autumn finally swept away the wilting heat of summer, Harry discovered that genuine heat radiated from the fireplaces when they were lit. Malfoy contributed, in his way, managing to wrangle Walburga’s shredded portrait from the wall and transfigure the stubbornly grisly bronze statue of a butchered pig from the kitchen into one of a cooked ham. A cabinet appeared near Kreacher’s tiny quarters, new plaques already inside and each of them bearing labels: Flompy, Sminkus, Doodle, Bip. A high honour, Kreacher choked out, watching with damp eyes as Malfoy floated the restored elf-heads to their new resting place.

It gave Harry something to talk about with Malfoy over dinner — not exactly a common interest, but at least a topic they could both focus on for the duration of their meal that didn’t leave Harry feeling angry and flustered, one that wasn’t accompanied by Malfoy’s imperious little smirk. Sometimes their conversations were merely bizarre:

“But why did you shred the thing?”

“Did you not hear the part about the permanent Sticking charm and the constant screaming insults she would hurl at anyone who walked past?”

“It couldn’t possibly have been a permanent charm, which should be obvious now that it’s down, and have you never heard of a Muffliato?”

“Why am I not surprised you’re defending her?”

“Don’t be ridiculous, the woman was a nightmare — but portrait magic is delicate, and should be studied.”

And others, both informative, and bizarre:

“You can’t mend most of these, the fabric has been consumed.”

“I’m not looking to mend them, I want to understand them.”

“You’re finally admitting you don’t understand clothing? To me?”

“The whole place!”

“It’s a closet.”

“But why are the clothes like that?”

“Moths got to them.”

“Malfoy, I swear to god…”

“Oh, Merlin, what do you want from me? It’s casual wizarding attire. Particulars have gone out of style — see the lace on these cuffs? Oh, wait, that’s from the moths; over there, then — but they last for centuries if made and kept right. They’re incredibly comfortable, fit like a glove, and are usually only worn in the privacy of one’s home.”

“I’ve never seen any of the Weasleys in them.”

“They’re… costly. You know, a few of these look about your size and might not be too far gone to—”

“No.”

The matters they discussed seemed less important to Harry than the fact that meals no longer seemed a thousand hours long, that they could learn to survive each other’s company. The better they could, the better chance there was that one of the Floos might open to admit guests. Malfoy wasn’t sweet, but he was animated and skillful and shrewd, and Harry supposed having an established routine with him couldn’t hurt.

He tried not to think about what did. For the most part, he was successful.

* * *

“Is there anything you’d like to discuss?”

Harry looked up from the hypnotic leap of the fire. Malfoy stared at him from his position on the sofa, one arm stretched over the back of it, one leg draped over the other. Harry wondered why he’d come back; he vaguely remembered Malfoy saying he was going to take a shower and go to bed. “When did you come in?”

Malfoy gestured, a glass of brandy in his hand that he wouldn’t drink. He never drank them, though he poured himself one almost every night after dinner. He didn’t seem to like any of the alcohol in the house but the posh shimmery-pink stuff Kreacher poured for him at dinner, the occasional wine. Harry suspected the drinks he held in the study were because he liked the aesthetic.

“Yes, precisely,” Malfoy said. “You’ve been distracted tonight.”

“Not all night.” Harry smirked, glancing pointedly at the rug between them.

“Yes,” Malfoy said evenly. “All night.”

Harry blinked, disturbed without cause. What did he care if Malfoy wasn’t shaken by every stupid tumble they had?

“Fine,” Malfoy qualified, rolling his eyes. “Not for— part of that. But is there something I should know?”

“Are we friends now, Malfoy?” Harry asked, blowing out an aggravated breath. “Should we be sharing secrets just because we’re not so disgusted by the look of each other that we can’t do what’s required of us? Because a random piece of paper says we’re married?”

Malfoy drew back, his cheeks paling in the warm firelight, and a funny pit formed in Harry’s stomach. Malfoy looked to the fire, gave a slow nod. “Of course not,” he said smoothly, before Harry could speak. “Nor do I want to. But we are, as you so eloquently pointed out, partners of a sort, at least for the duration, and—”

“God.” Harry pulled off his glasses and scrubbed a hand over his face. Even knowing what a bastard Malfoy could be didn’t excuse him. “Look, what I said was—”

“True.” Malfoy gave him a flat look, and the pit in Harry’s stomach grew. Lurched.

“Maybe,” Harry said. “Maybe it is.” Merlin knew he wanted it to be. He wanted them to be nothing, the way they were when Malfoy had been safely under house arrest, and Harry could spend his afternoons tramping through the woods and resting on his balcony. He couldn’t mistake Malfoy as a friend, despite how well they got on during certain activities — but they’d never be nothing again.

The back of Harry’s neck hurt, the beginning of a tension headache. He replaced his glasses and said, “Partners, yeah. I suppose that’s about right.” Harry sighed. “Come on, I’ve got to show you something.”

Malfoy was holding himself carefully on the sofa, not looking at him. He was already in his pyjamas, that plain blue set Harry hadn’t seen since before the night in the garden, and Harry half-expected him to make an excuse. But the other half of him proved justified; Malfoy got up without comment and followed, silent up each flight of stairs.

The room was as he’d left it — as its original master had. Malfoy wandered in, darting a bemused glance at Harry, and from the doorway Harry said, “I found it… a few days ago. I’ve been back every day.” He pointed to the parchment resting on the centre table and Malfoy frowned and picked it up. “I— I made an inventory.”

It wasn’t the best, as inventories went. Too many of the items were unspecified, because Harry couldn’t be sure what they were, or what significance they had. Sixty-four trunks, each with a different casing — various leathers soft as sealskin, exotic woods, polished to a reflective shine — and about half decorated with a king’s ransom in jewels. Emeralds, rubies, diamonds, and so many others; Harry had only recognised the lapis because it looked so much like a set of earrings Petunia had once blamed him for losing. On his second visit, Harry had noticed two cupboards set against one of the walls, their doors so seamless as to be invisible, except at a certain angle, in a certain light. Inside the first was a row of heavy aprons made of dragon-hide, matching gloves in their front pouches. Inside the second was a lone shelf, years of dust clearly delineating where books had once rested.

“I don’t know what any of the tools are called, so I just wrote their descriptions…” Harry trailed off when Malfoy looked up at him, and set the parchment back down.

Malfoy ran his fingers over the fine powder on the table, smearing Harry’s hand prints there, then rubbed his fingers against his thumb thoughtfully. “This is what—?”

Harry exhaled. “Have you ever heard of the Mirror of Erised?”

Malfoy’s eyebrows came in. “Of course. There was a rumour you could find it at Hogwarts if you looked hard enough, so—” He stopped, a troubled look creasing his face.

Harry smiled faintly. “So you went looking?” Malfoy nodded. “And found it?”

“In the Room of Hidden Things,” Malfoy said.

“That’s where I found it, too,” Harry said. “Dumbledore moved it so I wouldn’t be tempted to keep going back, but I— I suppose if you want it badly enough, the room will find a way to supply it. It does most things.”

“Did.”

“Right.” Harry swallowed. “Right.”

“I didn’t find it ‘til seventh year,” Malfoy murmured — a story told to himself. He looked around. “First day of term. I went every day for a week, but then I couldn’t get in anymore. Not until…”

“Yeah. What did you see?”

“What did you see?” Malfoy shot back. But there was no heat to it, and he turned his back on Harry and slipped his wand from his sleeve, as though he didn’t even care for an answer — or as though he knew Harry would give him one anyway.

He did. “My parents.”

Malfoy levitated a black trunk from the top of one of the stacks. It was free of stones, but the wood — ebony, Harry thought — was decorated with elaborate carvings. Malfoy tapped it a few times with his wand. “I saw— that thing gone, dead. No longer in my house.” He swished his wand differently and the hinge of the trunk popped open with a fragile little click. Malfoy moved to the side to let Harry see the confetti of multi-coloured specks inside, glittery as stars, all smaller than Harry’s pinky-nail. Malfoy sifted them through his fingers. “Mermaid scales.” Harry must’ve made a sound, because Malfoy glanced at him again. “They would have been gathered. You can’t harvest mermaid scales from their tails without express permission, and no one ever gets that. But you can gather ones that have been shed; on the shore; in the water. They’re really rare. I’ve only ever seen them in pictures, couldn’t even go looking for them near the edge of the Black Lake because the water gave me hives. Why?”

Harry followed the shift in topic with surprising ease. “Because being here feels like that. To me. Like the mirror did. Except I don’t know why. I don’t care much for mysteries, or jewels or rare things, whatever’s hidden in all of those trunks. But the second I came in here, I felt like—” He hesitated, struggling to put it into words. “I felt like it belonged to me, like I belonged here. Is that— Could that be a curse of some kind? Like the ones you mentioned?”

Malfoy dusted the mermaid scales from his fingertips and closed the trunk. “No,” he said, taking the question more seriously than Harry likely deserved, after having been such a dick to him downstairs. “There’s no dark magic here, not in this room, I think anyone would be able to feel that. I can see the appeal.”

“Then you sense it?”

“No…” Malfoy drew it out, questioningly. He tilted his head, a swath of pale hair falling over his forehead. He brushed it back. “But I can feel the lack of malicious intent. There’s a lot of calm in here.”

Harry let go a breath. “I think so, too. Thanks.” He paused, taken off-guard by the urge to apologise. If Malfoy was merely pretending decency, it was a good act on his part. “About what I said downstairs, I’ve been—”

“It’s fine,” Malfoy said. “I couldn’t possibly care less about your secrets, Potter, except how they might affect me.” He shot Harry a reserved smile, as though to take some of the venom from his statement — a sting that didn’t have any right to pierce Harry at all, but for some reason did. “I just thought…”

“What?”

Malfoy tucked his wand away and shrugged. “It’s getting late,” he said. “We should go to bed.”

The room spiralled unsteadily around Harry, Malfoy’s words echoing in his head from far away and against the back of Harry’s ear. Harry looked at Malfoy and thought about what it might be like to have Malfoy again, in a bed with room to roll, to reposition, no rush in their give-and-take, Malfoy’s long limbs wrapped around Harry, clinging to him, his mouth hot and open. Not sweet, never that, but… different.

Harry licked his lips and swallowed past the dryness in his throat. Malfoy had gone still again like he had downstairs, his face impassive but for the muscles that were taut around his eyes, a surprised sort of tension, the grey of them softer than Harry had ever seen.

“Yeah,” Harry said. His return smile felt a little shaky; so did his hands. “Bed sounds good.”

Malfoy hesitated a beat, then lifted his chin and walked past Harry. But he stopped just outside the room and waited for Harry to close the door. They walked down together, the backs of their hands touching and moving away, touching again, shoulders brushing in the narrow stairwell — still brushing when it expanded, each flight wider than the one before it. Harry’s breath seemed very loud by the time they got to their landing, and Malfoy could have been holding his for all Harry could hear it.

He escorted Malfoy to his door without quite intending to, and Malfoy turned to him, one hand on the doorknob. “Well.”

“Well.”

“Goodnight, then,” Malfoy said. Harry tried to recall if they’d ever wished each other goodnight before. It certainly didn’t sound like them.

“G’night,” he said.

Malfoy nodded, dropping his chin, his eyelids lowering but not closing. Taller than Harry, he managed, somehow, to look up at him through the sweep of his lashes. His dimple flashed, disappeared, and though he didn’t smile, there was a breathless sort of amusement in his voice as he said, “Was there something else?”

“Maybe.” Harry was breathless, too. They were closer than they ever got when they weren’t in the middle of messing about, Malfoy’s breath gusting soft against Harry’s face. Harry felt like he was looking at the world sideways, or like maybe he had been until now, everything off-kilter but pleasing, the smell of Malfoy’s warm, clean skin so near, the heightened colour over the sharp angles of his cheeks so bright. Their hips almost touched, and neither of them moved. Malfoy was hard, as hard as Harry was, and the garden felt like so very long ago. Maybe they couldn’t be friends, but it could be different, this time, if Malfoy let it. If Harry did. “Hey, Malfoy.”

“Yes?”

“What did you think?” Harry asked. He reached between them, paused when Malfoy caught his breath, then found the drawstrings of Malfoy’s bottoms. He plucked at them — curled them around his fingers. Malfoy glanced down, then up, and this time he did smile, just a touch, so subtle as to almost be a smirk. Harry huffed a laugh. “In the attic. Why you thought I was distracted tonight.”

Making the comparison, Harry could see that he had been. He hadn’t felt half so excited on the rug of the study as he did now, the slow pulse of heat between them daringly good.

“B-because—” Malfoy closed his eyes, his throat working silently. He canted his hips towards Harry, pressing the solid line of his cock against Harry’s pelvis, and they drew in simultaneously sharp breaths. He turned his doorknob and pushed the door open, but didn’t move from his spot, leaned against the door jam. A far less comfortable a spot to fuck than his posh bed, glowing from the light of the fire in Malfoy’s room, right in Harry’s line of sight. He looked back to Malfoy’s face, saw Malfoy’s eyes on his mouth with the same sort of fascination Harry felt every time Grimmauld place revealed one of her treasures. “Because of the date,” Malfoy got out. He rotated his hips, ever-so-slightly. “Potter, do you want to—?”

“We had a date?” Harry asked, willing to play along. His confusion was a distant thing to the steady rouse of desire between them. The only thing he really knew was that for all that they’d done, he hadn’t allowed himself to want Malfoy this much until now. Not in such a personal way. “Tonight? Another one?”

“Tomorrow,” Malfoy breathed, hips juddering briefly when Harry gripped one, then stilling. Harry pulled on the drawstring of his bottoms, untied it. Malfoy inhaled. “Halloween. Potter, do you—?”

Halloween.

The word sank in, blinding and overwhelming, and when Harry’s vision cleared, he was several feet away, looking at Malfoy still sagging back against the door jam, but slowly straightening. Malfoy made to take a step and Harry held out a hand, pushing him back into place — holding him there with the force of magic rolling in him, bleakly, the rage of a storm.

“How—” Harry’s voice cracked. “—how can you still be such a bastard?”

No, that was wrong; Harry knew it as soon as the words left his mouth. The question wasn’t how Malfoy could be cruel, the question was how Harry could so easily turn traitor to everything he’d lived and died for.

He lowered his hand and Malfoy sagged again, watching Harry with eyes that seemed too large for his face. Malfoy slid his spine upwards against the frame to regain his full height and directed his gaze at the floor.

“If you don’t demand an answer in the morning about a schedule for us, I will. And I’ll be writing the Prophet, in case someone in the general public can figure it out faster,” Malfoy said remotely. Then, in a truly awful voice: “I went downstairs to check on you, you unbelievable shit.”

He stepped into his room and shut the door with a measured click.

* * *

The hours before the sun came up felt elastic, interminable. Harry spent them needing to destroy all of the furniture in his bedroom.

He needed to, and so he didn’t. He sat with the impulse instead, because it felt as wretched as Malfoy’s voice had sounded. He sat with his wand out, ready to do it and holding himself back, because he’d already blasted enough things to splinters for one night. Twenty-one years old, and half the time he still felt like he had at fifteen, relishing the destruction of Dumbledore’s office. Half the time, that was still his first response, the only way he knew to feel better when he was faced with any feeling he didn’t like.

When the craving grew too heavy, Harry got up and paced until the unpleasant crackle of magic around him receded, then sat down again, breathing as though he’d run a marathon.

Strike out. Hurt something before it hurts you, worse if it already has. Leave a wasteland in the path of your footsteps.

He’d been doing it for weeks, months: taking cold consolation from the pleasure of rubbing bodies and hands. Never once bothering to ask himself if there was more to Malfoy than there’d been before — of course there wasn’t, Harry knew him too well. Malfoy had taken a Dark Mark; Malfoy stomped on his nose; Malfoy let Death Eaters into Hogwarts. Malfoy was petty and spoiled and horrible, so what did it matter if he was clever and cared for his parents? He’d obviously never cared about anyone else, save himself.

Harry wanted to stride across the hall say so. Show me your arm, he could say, to make it all go away. Show me the mark of the man who murdered my parents. Malfoy had never begged for Harry’s forgiveness, had never even apologised. He could bust down Malfoy’s door and make it Malfoy’s fault with no effort.

He sat with that, too. Made himself feel it.

I went downstairs to check on you.

Maybe it was part of Malfoy’s plan to make his life miserable.

Eyes grainy and hot, Harry waited until the sun was sufficiently up, and then moved from his chair to the secretary desk he’d been favouring all night as the first thing to aim his wand at. He laboured over the composition of an urgent request to Bill, vanished it and wrote another — vanished that as well. Every line was too intimate, or grief-stricken, or desperate, or somehow undermined what he was asking.

Harry set down the quill and rubbed at his face. “Kreacher, are you up?”

Kreacher popped in quietly. He looked as weary as Harry felt, and stood there with stooped shoulders, the bags under his eyes swollen. “Master Harry requires something, sir?”

“Mal— Master Malfoy said something that—” Harry drew a breath, then said it bluntly. “Did I abandon you? When I left?”

Kreacher’s eyes widened. His croaky voice thin from fatigue, he said, “Master Harry is being very kind to Kreacher, he is visiting and visiting.”

“Right.” Harry nodded. Paused. “But could leaving have hurt you? Please tell me the truth. Only, you didn’t want to come, and I couldn’t stay here.”

“Master Harry was not meaning his abandonment of Kreacher, Kreacher is being very old and was being willing to die with no one to take care of and nothings to do, for his good and kind Master,” Kreacher said guilelessly. He glanced over his shoulder, the droop of heavy wrinkles on his forehead multiplying momentarily.

Harry ground the heels of his palms to his eyes until light flowered in the darkness from the pressure. “I didn’t know,” he said, feeling helpless. “I didn’t know.”

“It is being Kreacher’s privilege to die in the House of Black, for Master Harry.”

“No, I just—” Harry dropped his hands. “I don’t want you to die, Kreacher.”

“Dying is the way for all house-elves, when they is getting too old,” Kreacher muttered, eyes rounding intently at him, “and for all masters too, even if sometimes they is not being—” He broke off into a pained little squeal, both hands flying up to clutch at his ears, and Harry came to his feet.

“What is it? What’s wrong?”

Trembling, Kreacher pulled on his ears and shook his head. He looked over his shoulder again, then back up to Harry.

“Malfoy?” Harry asked, following Kreacher’s eyes to the door. “Is he okay?”

Kreacher stared up at him imploringly.

Harry cursed and ran for Malfoy’s room, almost blasting the door off the hinges when Malfoy’s wards didn’t drop immediately. Just inside, he stopped, overwhelmed by the foul odour lingering in the air under freshening charms — infection or illness, the killing kind, the kind normal people died from — and then he saw Malfoy, was scrambling onto the bed with him, where Malfoy laid unmoving, beyond the shadow of a lift and sag to the blankets over his chest.

He didn’t look like himself, his flush unnaturally red over one side of his face, his hair greasy and lifeless. Harry hovered over him, afraid to touch him and afraid not to, Malfoy’s shallow panting a faint, thready whine.

“What happened?” Harry asked, looking up. Kreacher was wringing his hands, shaking so hard his knees knocked. Gritting his teeth, Harry looked back at Malfoy and said, “He’s incapacitated, whatever order he gave you will not countermand mine, now tell me what the bloody fuck happened!”

Kreacher’s breath hitched. “Master Malfoy is calling Kreacher last night and saying he is not feeling proper, he is asking Kreacher for some Pepper-Up and saying it be helping, but then calling later for stronger potions, he is saying ‘that should do it’, when he is drinking them and smiling at Kreacher, but he is not looking right,” he said, information tumbling fast and froggy from his throat. “He is wanting Master Harry not to know, ‘Don’t mention me to Master Potter, do you understand me, Kreacher, I am fine,’ he is saying to me, ‘It is nothing,’ he is saying, and telling Kreacher that Harry Potter cannot know because he would be loving Master Malfoy being sick, but then still is saying no when Kreacher tells him Master Harry is the defender of even house-elves and would take care of him, he is saying we cannots be troubling you at all, ‘I am forbidding it, Kreacher, I refuse to give him the satisfaction,’ but when Kreacher is checking on him again he is writing letters for help that do not be leaving the house, and—”

Harry held up a hand to cut off his rambling. “Then he didn’t know what was wrong?” He touched Malfoy’s face; it was burning up. “Fuck. It’s a hotbox in here. Open a window and lower the fire. Turn up the lamps,” he said, carefully peeling down Malfoy’s covers as Kreacher scurried to obey. Malfoy was shirtless but clean, that same strange flush bleeding down his throat, keeping mostly to one side over his torso and one arm, and then the lamps glared bright and— “Oh, god.”

It wasn’t a flush, it was sores. Some raised, others spreading flat over his skin, a deeper red, weeping sticky fluid from their centres onto Harry’s palm as he pressed it to Malfoy’s chest and found his heartbeat — too fast, erratic. He touched Malfoy’s face and leaned close. “Malfoy. Can you hear me? Malfoy?” Malfoy’s eyelashes fluttered but his eyes didn’t open. Harry turned back to Kreacher. “How long has he been unconscious?”

“He is not waking up when Kreacher came back to tell him that his letter is not posting,” Kreacher said, “and when the clock is striking six, he is having new marks all over, and Kreacher is not being ables to ask Master Harry for helps, Master Malfoy has said, and—”

“His letter wouldn’t leave the house?” Harry asked. “Where is it?” Kreacher produced two with an anxious snap of his fingers and handed them over. Harry read:

Mother, I seem to have contracted something that does not want to be remedied by any of the potions we have in stock. There’s no need to worry, but I believe it’s time I seek diagnosis from a Healer — if you could please engage one on my behalf, I would appreciate it.

Much love,
Draco

The second letter was nearly identical, except that Malfoy had abstained from writing the tacit invitation in the first, and Malfoy’s precise, flowing script wobbled drunkenly on the word “love”, the o not connecting in the middle, the v arcing off the parchment with a skipping streak of ink. It was unsigned.

Harry gnawed on his lip. What could Malfoy have done?

What had he done, not coming to talk to Malfoy hours ago?

“Kreacher,” Harry pushed it out around the knot in his throat, “he got the marks after he passed out?” At Kreacher’s nod, Harry said, “Do we have any salves or draughts that you apply directly to—” The marks looked like burns, raw skin showing under them. They got darker along his arm, thicker and more widespread, to his hand, which was bloated, and positively covered by them; his fingertips were cracked. Bleeding. Harry’s stomach dropped like a stone. “Oh. Oh, Jesus. Do we have anything we can apply to hives?”

Yes,” Kreacher croaked, and Disapparated.

Harry touched Malfoy’s face again — jerking back when he flinched. “I’m sorry,” he said, swallowing the sick that tried to rise. “I’m so sorry.”

He Summoned a fresh quill from Malfoy’s desk, fresh parchment, and began writing.

* * *

Malfoy thrashed, coughing out a splatter of the potion Harry poured down his throat — choking on it. His hives started breaking open when Harry attempted a Body-Bind on him to prevent him from hurting himself, too restrictive against his skin. Harry was forced to sit over his hips and hold him down, morbidly aware of the reversal in their positions from a few days ago, Malfoy grinding down in Harry’s lap on the kitchen island. He’d gasped then, too, his muscles locking tight before his climax but not seizing the way they were now, driven by an instinct to protect himself by driving Harry off. On the third dose, Harry grimly realised that Malfoy probably thought he was trying to drown him. Harry funnelled the third dose down his throat regardless, adding more with each cough until he was reasonably certain Malfoy had consumed enough.

Gouged through in places by the nub of a quill, the letter Malfoy’s mother sent along with his allergy potions indicated that administering them would be the hardest part. Expect him to fight, it said, he blackened my eye when he was barely six years old because I did not. Let him lash out and make him drink each full dose no matter what he does to you. There will be a restful period after the third, the length of which will be based upon his level of exposure to the allergen, but it will be easier to manage.

She was wrong. The waiting was worse by far, Malfoy so quiet and unresponsive after the last of his tremors subsided, Harry haunted by the hollow rattle of Malfoy’s breathing and his own regret. Malfoy looked like a disaster victim, his creamy complexion violated by sores, his utter repose a gross underscore that, wherever his mind was, it could not be reached.

Narcissa Malfoy hadn’t mentioned what else Harry would have to manage while Malfoy slept, so Harry took things as they came. He told Kreacher to get some rest, and closed the windows at around one when the skies burst open outside, and made sure the low burn of the fire didn’t peter out; he treated the sullen ooze of Malfoy’s hives when Malfoy stopped whimpering at his touch, daubing on the ointment Kreacher had brought; he tended to Malfoy’s basic functions when the sharp scent of ammonia filled the air around sundown, changing the sheets and cleaning him, stripping Malfoy of his pyjama bottoms, far more cautiously than he’d considered doing in Malfoy’s doorway last night. Then Harry sat at Malfoy’s bedside and watched, thinking of his own tendency to overreact, to shut himself off, to blame without consideration for consequence.

The hours slipped by: seven o’clock, eight, nine. At ten-forty-four, Harry held Malfoy’s bandaged hand in his and murmured, “I’ve been an orphan for twenty years and twelve minutes, and I swear if you turn me into a widower on Halloween too, I’ll follow your pasty arse to hell and make you pay for it.”

He didn’t know why he said it. However mad their ancestors had been, and whatever his and Malfoy’s legal status was, Harry didn’t think of Malfoy as his husband. Not even the amount of guilt he felt could make him imagine love where there was none.

He didn’t think of Malfoy as his husband — but he found he could think of himself far too easily as Malfoy’s widower, and he didn’t like it. There’d been far too much death already.

“Water,” Malfoy breathed.

Harry jumped up, loosening his hold on Malfoy’s hand when his face creased with pain. “Malfoy?”

“Thirsty,” he said, his eyes opening into slits of silver and black. Harry knocked over a picture frame in his haste to fetch and fill the empty cup on Malfoy’s bedside table, then conjured a straw and slipped a hand under Malfoy’s head, the weight of it heavy in his palm, to help him drink. Malfoy took a few weak sips, then a breath, and a longer swallow, his gaze flicking over Harry’s face. He pulled away with a cough and wet his lips. “Scales?”

“Yes,” Harry said eagerly, guiding Malfoy’s head back to the pillow — leaving his hand under it, cradling. Malfoy’s hair was damp and soft. His fever had broken. “Yeah, I think it must’ve been. Your mum sent a potion.”

“Always thought it was the water,” Malfoy said. “Realised too late why. I can swim in the lake on our lands.”

“How are you feeling?”

Malfoy’s lips quirked with a subtle moue of displeasure. “Knackered,” he said. “Revolting. Like thestral shit worked over. But how do I look?”

Harry gurgled an astonished laugh. “Probably better than thestral shit. I’ve been applying a salve to the hives — and Dittany, just in case of scarring. They’ll likely scab, but it won’t take long for those to fall off.”

“Mm. I know Dittany.” He peered up at Harry until Harry’s smile slipped. Malfoy said, “Could’ve let me die.”

No.” Harry curled his fingers into Malfoy’s hair, gentling his touch when they brushed against some raised welts on his scalp. He met Malfoy’s eyes. “No, I couldn’t.”

“Mm,” Malfoy said again, drawing it out as if doubting the veracity of that, but then continued in a slur, “No. S’pose not. Too ingrained. Ev’ryone’s hero. ‘m tired. Go ‘way now.”

“I’m sorry,” Harry blurted, as Malfoy’s eyes drifted shut. “I’m sorry about last night.”

Malfoy was quiet. But his breath was even and deep, and Harry carefully pulled his hand away, and settled into his chair to wait.

* * *

He woke up confused, neck and bladder smarting. Groggily, he thought, The rain’s stopped,, and it’s still dark outside, and then memories of the last day flooded back. He gave Malfoy a cursory once-over before stumbling to use the loo, then rushed back into the bedroom in case he’d woken up in Harry’s absence. He hadn’t.

Harry idled in the middle of the room, suddenly at a loss. He’d already sent an Owl to Narcissa to let her know Malfoy had woken up — let me know immediately when he awakens. No matter how briefly, it means he is out of danger, she’d written — and there really wasn’t anything more Harry could do for him. He should probably leave; Malfoy had even said to.

But the idea left him uncomfortable. It wasn’t how they should start things, and Harry had too much experience being yanked from sleep, alone and in pain, to make the mistake of retiring to his own room.

He returned to the loo to wash his face, then Summoned Kreacher from the hallway and requested food to be prepared and brought up — something hot and filling. Looking pathetically grateful, Kreacher muttered several ideas under his breath. Harry left him to it, chagrined that Kreacher would have a better idea of Malfoy’s meal preferences.

He went back in and checked Malfoy over more thoroughly. Malfoy was still resting easy, his hives already crusting. He looked atrocious, but peaceful. Harry tweaked the sheets covering him up a bit higher and cast a gentle cleaning spell over him, then turned to stoke the fire a bit; the room had cooled in the night. The pictures on the mantelpiece drew his eye: Malfoy’s mother holding him as a child, his Slytherin friends grouped together and faffing about on camera sometime around fifth year, Professor Snape dressed down in a black jumper and black trousers, glaring at the picture-taker. Somewhat incongruously, there was a photo of Luna as well, smiling at two butterflies fluttering just over her head. Harry made a mental note to ask about that. He’d never thought to before, hadn’t even wondered why she’d been in attendance whenever they’d discussed the contract, supposing distantly it had something to do with the interrelations between pureblood families.

How much else about Malfoy did he not know?

Gaze drifting to the bookshelf, Harry set down the fireplace poker and perused the titles. Latin script decorated several thick, leather-bound tomes, and there was a whole row dedicated to theory — functional elements, magical repair, developmental spells. The shelf below had a mix of magical and Muggle novels squashed together, spines so creased, some of them seemed on the verge of falling apart: Unspeakable Quest, How to Kill a Mockingbird, The Dragons of Bastian Court, Frankenstein, The Vanishing of Hogwarts, Fahrenheit 451, Cursemongers, The Diary of a Young Girl…

Harry swallowed and turned to inspect the terrarium on the lower shelf. A light glowed unsteadily from the lid, and it was filled with an assortment of rocks and bushy sticks, a shallow pond-like pool covering the floor of one side. Curled up next to it was a slender snake, grey with black smudges down along its sides to its tail. It lifted its head from the cradle made in the centre of its coil and flicked out its tongue, scenting the air.

Who is looking at me?

Stunned, Harry stepped away. He glanced over his shoulder, then stepped back and crouched down. “Harry, I’m Harry,” he whispered. He licked his lips. “What’s— What’s your name?

Name?” The little snake uncoiled and slithered up to the glass.

Who is looking at me?” Harry tried. “What are you called?

I am Fearful,” it said.

Perplexed, Harry said, “Malfoy calls you Fearful? What are you afraid of?

Malfoy?

The, uh, man over there, sleeping. He’s Malfoy. Draco Malfoy” Harry explained with a discreet gesture. He hesitated. “Draco,” he said, then again, familiarising himself with it: “His name is Draco.

Names,” Fearful said sagely. “He does not speak as you do. Perhaps he knows my name but says it in his own tongue. He makes sounds, some louder than others.

Sounds?

He speaks,” Fearful said, “at times. Other times he is a bird, other times he is an animal in its death throes.

Death throes; pain. Crying? Harry didn’t want to ask. “A bird,” he said instead. “Draco sings?” A disturbing thought occurred to him. “Or does he actually change into a bird?

He is no bird,” Fearful said. Its scales rippled, down to its pointed tail. “He is—

“I forgot you could do that,” a voice rasped.

“Draco!” Harry yelped it, undignified in his startle as he whipped around and straightened. He found Draco’s gaze on him; the half of his face not covered in hives had gone deathly pale. Harry glanced at the tank only to see Fearful disappearing into the brush, and his shoulders came in. “I didn’t know I still could.”

Draco frowned, a careful thing with one side of his lips. Making automatic adjustments for his pain. “No one just stops being a Parselmouth.” He cleared his throat, then pointedly added, “Harry.

The fire leapt — bright, crackling. Harry flushed and picked up the poker. He gave the fire a few gratifying jabs, until the blue-green flare of heat at the centre had been broken into glowing chunks of charcoal. Bits of papery, flaming ash rose around them. Settled. “I just thought…” He put the poker down, unsure how to finish that.

“Did you now,” Draco said flatly, then waved his bandaged hand. “Well, what did he say?”

“He told me his name,” Harry said, going back to his chair.

“Hydrus?”

“Uh, no. Fearful.” Harry examined him. Let himself feel cautiously relieved by colour returning to Malfoy's face. “How are you feeling? Do you want some more salve?”

“I’m sore and in desperate need of a shower,” Draco said. “But I’m sure I can apply my own salve, so if you’re waiting for a ‘thank you’ before you leave—”

“No, I wasn’t. And I don’t mind, I want to.” Harry moved from the chair to the edge of the mattress, resolutely ignoring Draco’s sharp inhale, and reached for the jar resting on the bedside table. Unscrewing the lid and dipping his fingers in, he shifted to get comfortable and caught the look on Draco’s face — stiff, suspicious. Harry held up his fingers, coated with sticky ointment. He smiled his most trustworthy smile.

Draco studied his face, then made a move like a shrug. Harry bowed over him, breathing in the scent of salve, pungent with herbs and vinegar, sweet with hints of coconut. He dabbed at the scabbing hives at Draco’s hairline, mindful of Draco’s gaze moving over his face.

“What I’d like to know is why,” Draco said. “Not letting me die is one thing — and I’ll confess I’m shocked you’d even bother — but your image couldn’t possibly need the additional bolstering that tending to such a bastard would give it.” He hissed and pulled back as Harry swept over a tender spot on his temple, then glared up at him.

Harry swiped some more ointment on his fingers and sighed. He concentrated on the blotches on Draco’s face as he went from one to another. He’d had hours and hours to stew on the matter, and hadn’t come to any sort of satisfying conclusion. He bit his lip, rubbing small circles against a welt on Draco’s cheek, over where his dimple would be, and said, “Sirius — my godfather, Sirius Black—”

“I know who Sirius Black was,” Draco muttered.

“Yeah. Anyway,” Harry moved along Draco’s jaw, surprised to feel some stubble there, “he drank after Azkaban. Too much sometimes, probably. And sometimes I think he loved me because he thought I was my dad. I mean, I know that’s not true, but— maybe it also was, a little. And, god, I still loved him so much.” He blew out a breath and nudged Draco’s chin with a crooked knuckle. Draco silently turned his head, and Harry bent over the hives laddering the side of his neck. “Snape was horrible to me and even though he, you know, was helping the whole time, I think he meant it.”

“He did,” Draco said.

“He never liked me, yeah,” Harry agreed, huffing a tired laugh and pulling Draco’s sheet a little lower to apply the salve to his collarbone, his throat. “He might not have anyway. But I’m, um, grateful, for everything he did. I understand better. Dumbledore used me for six years, and I practically worshipped him. I still do, a bit, sort of. And Ron left me, once,” he said, moving down Draco’s chest and onto a topic he felt less conflicted about, “that winter before the Battle. We had a fight, the worst we ever had, said unforgivable things to each other, and he left.” He scooped out a bit more salve. “I don’t know what I’d do without him in my life.”

“What’s your point?” Draco asked, shifting a little when Harry started on his chest. Snidely, he continued, “That no one will ever measure up to Saint Potter’s standards?”

“Hold still,” Harry told him. Draco’s body was so lean, it was a wonder he didn’t look like a skeleton after having missed a day’s worth of meals. But he didn’t. Other than the hives, he was perfectly fit, athletic even, though his frame lent itself to skinny, indistinct shadows under each bumping curve that made up his ribcage. His chest was almost hairless; his nipples were pebbled, peaked. I’ve been inside him Harry thought. He swallowed hard and looked back to his hand, coating the last big welt in the fluttering hollow under Draco’s breastbone, then lifted Draco’s arm to unwind the bandages wrapped around it.

“I don’t think that,” he said quietly, relieved to find the grotesque swelling of Draco’s hand had disappeared. It still looked excruciating, his long fingers blister-red, but at least he wasn’t bleeding any longer. “I don’t think I’m better.”

Harry worked the ointment into Draco’s skin pausing when he caught the flicker of Draco’s wince, resuming with extreme delicacy. He smoothed the salve over the knobs of Draco’s knuckles — his palm and the back of his hand — the join of his thumb — the private dip between each finger — the inside of his wrist, pink with allergy, vivid blue veins showing underneath.

He said, “I think I get stuck seeing something a certain way, and then never bother to reevaluate unless I have to.”

“Maybe there’s no point to it,” Draco said, and Harry risked a glance at his face. Draco’s eyes were trained on his coverlet, folded down to the foot of his bed. “Maybe nothing really changes.”

“Do you honestly think so?” Harry held his breath. Draco’s gaze shifted, slowly, to meet his. He pressed his lips together and shook his head. Harry exhaled, and reached for a towel to wipe off his hands, then a roll of clean gauze. “Me neither,” he said, looping the gauze around Draco’s hand, loop, pull, around his wrist, loop, pull, up the length of his forearm and over his Mark, loop, loop, loop, pull. He sliced it with his wand and tied it off.

Draco was staring at him, jaw bunched. “So what, precisely, are you saying?”

“I guess— thank you,” Harry said. “For, you know, checking on me the other night. I appreciate it.” A painful-looking groove appeared between Draco’s eyebrows. Harry cleared his throat. “And that, um,” decision made, he didn’t know why this was so difficult, “I thought maybe we could try to, you know, get on.”

“We were getting on,” Draco pointed out. “Granted, in some ways better than others.”

“I didn’t— know that,” Harry admitted. “I mean, yes to the—” he gestured between them, “—but you—” What. Said you’d make me miserable? Harry’d already been miserable. “I didn’t even know you had allergies like this,” he said. “That’s something I ought to have known, isn’t it?”

“Is it?” Draco asked lightly. “Should we be sharing secrets because we’re not so disgusted by the look of each other that we can’t do what’s required of us?”

Harry stood, pushing a hand through his hair. The fact that he had no right to be angry stung worse than his anger did. Everyone else seemed to have the innate ability to think before speaking; he was more than a little tired of his own clumsiness in that area. “It was a rotten thing to say, okay, you were right, all of it, me being shit. But I haven’t been the only one. I look at you at your hearing, and have a stray thought that you’re looking better than when I saw you last—”

“What? That was what you thought?”

“Because it matters?” Harry asked. “It wasn’t a wish to land here with you. I didn’t want this. And yes, some of that was about you, and how we were, and the things you did, but a lot of it wasn’t, and—”

“You didn’t want to come here.” Draco shot him a withering look, his unbandaged hand fisted in his topsheet. “I spent the last three years under house arrest,” he said, an edge to his voice. “I spent the last three years under house arrest. In the Manor, confronted by— Every single day, while all of my friends were able to move away and move on. And the very minute I was released— the contract, and you… out of everyone…”

“Yeah,” Harry said. “Okay. Fine.” He hadn’t thought of that. Didn’t want to think on it now — how Draco had essentially been moved from one prison to another. How he’d been handed over, as much a sacrificial lamb as Harry felt, having to make the choice between a life sentence and the death of...

Harry stared at him and Draco stared back, pained and stubbornly proud. The fire spat, fizzling, such a mundane sort of sound, like the whistle of a kettle — out of place in the wake of everything they’d said, and couldn’t say. And then Kreacher popped in, a covered silver tray balanced aloft in each hand, and their gaze broke. Draco looked at Kreacher, and Harry looked at the window to see it was getting light outside. The rich, fatty salt scent of sausage teased Harry’s nose, the earthy smell of coffee. He took the opportunity to collect his scattered thoughts and helped Draco into a sitting position. Draco accepted his aid without comment and settled his tray on his lap.

Harry moved to his chair and did the same. “Thanks, Kreacher.”

“Yes, thank you,” Draco said.

Bowing, Kreacher said, “Kreacher is being bold enough to says he is very happy Master Malfoy is not dead.”

Draco snorted softly. “Yes, well. That’s very kind of you.”

“Kreacher was not being able to be kind,” he opined. “Kreacher is not knowing what to do when Master Malfoy is falling ill, Master should not have made him into a useless elf by not trusting his husband, the Defender of—”

“The House-Elves,” Draco finished. A small smile touched his lips. “Yes, I know. I apologise.”

“Master Harry was being very worried for Master Draco,” Kreacher continued critically, not missing a beat. “He is caring for him in his ugliness and cleaning him when he stank of urine, he is panicked and crying when he sees Master Draco, and saying he is sorry, sorry, and please won’t his love find a way to live, he cannot be left a widower—”

“Kreacher!” Harry barked. He wanted to sink into the floor. “You weren’t even supposed to be in here.” Draco turned to him, the unmarked side of his face decidedly amused, his good eyebrow lifted. Harry shook his head. “And I didn’t cry, or, or call you my love.”

“I see,” Draco murmured, lips twitching. “Of course not.”

Harry turned to harangue Kreacher further, but he’d made a slippery escape, leaving him alone once more with Draco. “I didn’t,” he said. “Why would I?”

“Well, you were just explaining to me why we should try harder in our marriage…”

It was an olive branch, of sorts, if a bit perverse. Reluctantly amused, Harry rolled his eyes. “Also not what I was saying.”

“Ah, yes.” The humour on Draco’s face cloaked something sceptical but keen. “Pardon me, I’m still having trouble following. What were you saying?”

Frankly, Harry had no idea. “I’m— I just—”

“You want to get on.”

“Yeah.”

“Better,” Draco said.

“Yeah.”

“How?”

Harry breathed out a growl. “I think you were right—”

“I very often am.”

“—about getting an answer about the schedule,” Harry went on determinedly. Draco shut his mouth on another comeback, and Harry nodded. “I— I like it, you know I do. But I don’t feel good about it. In that it confuses things,” he said with heavy emphasis when Draco’s lips parted. “I mean, wouldn’t it be better to, er, not dislike each other for— that?” Wrong, it was all coming out wrong, the flint in Draco’s stare intensifying with every word Harry spoke. He thought for a moment, dropping his gaze. “Look, sorry. I’m tired. I just think… When we’re released from here, we’re going to go our separate ways, aren’t we, but we’ll have to see each other from time to time, and I guess I’d prefer to do that as— as friends.”

“Friends,” Draco repeated sarcastically.

“If it’s possible.” Harry looked up. The disbelief on Draco’s half-damaged face was so extraordinary, Harry didn’t know why he wasn’t tempted to laugh, why it made him ache — suddenly, and all over. “I’d rather know what sort of things to watch out for, on your behalf, than go through another day like yesterday,” he said, then dropped his voice low. “And, we’d still be— but it’d complicate things less. And then when we can go…”

“We go,” Draco said in a funny voice. Harry looked at him, curious, but Draco’s expression was bland, and when he spoke again he sounded perfectly normal. “Yes, right. All right.”

“All right?”

“Move away, move on,” Draco said, lifting the cloche from his tray and setting it aside. “Without enmity, so it doesn’t have to be unpleasant when we meet however many times a year the contract dictates, preferably once. I’m pragmatic.” His lashes fluttered, face partially obscured by the rise of steam from Kreacher’s quiche until it dissipated. “And famished. God, this is marvelous.” He sighed and glanced at Harry. “What?”

Harry wasn’t certain. It was a good goal to reach for, and Draco was saying all the right things, but something still felt… off. They argued; that was what they did. “You agree with me?”

“You’re making sense, for once,” Draco said. “I told you, I was bored. Now I’m… not quite as bored, and it’s not as if we’re talking about extreme sexual deprivation, not like I what I had to endure at the Manor, and what you endured out of choice for Merlin-knows what reason—”

“I wasn’t a virgin,” Harry said, feeling like he ought to say so at least once. Glad for the change in topic.

“Close enough, I’d wager.”

“Because you were out there with your ankles in the air for every able-bodied student in school?”

“If they could get hard-ons, I considered it,” Draco said, cutting into his quiche with the side of his fork. He took a bite, groaning softly as he chewed and swallowed. “I had more experience than you, regardless.”

“Fine.” Harry huffed, irritated with himself for even wanting to pursue that line of questioning. He lifted the cover from his own tray to find Kreacher had personalised their meals; his plate was loaded with runny eggs, sausages, toast, a cuppa off to the side — next to post. Lifting it, he said, “You can win at being the tartiest tart to ever walk the halls of Hogwarts, if it means so much to you.”

“I enjoy winning things, yes, though I’m fairly certain that title still belongs to Flitwick,” Draco said, looking Confunded when Harry let himself laugh. Why not. Harry broke the seal on the scroll, and Draco gave a little cough, the flicker of his smile dying. “Well,” he said, sounding more subdued. “Perhaps that’s your answer, already.”

“I didn’t write to Bill yet,” Harry said, distracted by the solicitor’s lengthy titles at the top. Harry found his name among them: Barnaby X. Ecuton. He committed it to memory and read lower.

“You— didn’t?” Draco asked, and Harry looked up, heart pounding. “What is it?”

“It’s from our solicitor.” Harry pointed at the one on Draco’s tray, which had rolled under the edge of his plate. “You’ve got one, too.”

Draco found it, but didn’t open it, curling bone-china white fingers around darker, creamy vellum. “What is it?” he said again.

“The contract alerted him, just before dawn,” Harry said, reading it again. He sounded odd, his throat constricted. “We can invite guests at our discretion.”

What!” Draco tore open his own scroll and scanned the notification. “How?”

Numbly, Harry shrugged, though Draco wasn’t looking at him. He should be feeling glad. Relieved. As the events of the last twenty-four hours had proven, their isolation could have dangerous results. At least now they could Summon a Healer if one of them got hurt; that was good. But it all felt a bit too much like it had when he’d been told of the contract, like when his name had flown out of the Goblet of Fire — like something that could happen, only to someone else.

Maybe it was nerves, Harry’s historical lack of luck on the third task.

“The fire,” Draco said. Harry shook his head, twisting to look at it, a question on the tip of his tongue — remembering the blue-green swirl in the centre of the fire before he could ask. The long-shuttered Floo, opening its gates. Draco blew out a breath, the swoop of his fringe flying up, and laughed, quietly. Without humour. “We didn’t even have to put on the rings.”

“What?”

“It was my next idea.” Draco jerked his chin at his bureau. It took Harry a moment, cluttered as the top of it was with trinkets, to see what Draco was referring to, and when he did, he didn’t know how he could have avoided seeing them at all. The wedding bands Bill had left them sat next to each other, each glinting, blindingly bright, in the morning sun. “I’ve been studying them; they’re made of leprechaun gold,” Draco said. “I thought if we put them on, we might— but it was unnecessary.”

Harry had forgotten them entirely. Deliberately. “Doesn’t leprechaun gold vanish?”

Draco made an irritated sound, as though Harry ought to be aware there were distinctions. “Real leprechaun gold never vanishes. Nor does it fade, or stain, or scratch. There’s an old cautionary tale in my mother’s family of someone in our line who ran away with a leprechaun,” he mused. Then, under his breath: “I can’t believe I’m going to see her, soon.”

Because Draco could invite her to visit, along with whoever else he wanted: his Slytherin friends, his horrible father. Anyone from Hogwarts.

Harry dragged his gaze from the wedding bands to his plate. He’d been hungry only moments ago, he was sure of it. He lifted the cover back onto his tray. “Hey— are you okay?”

Draco coughed a little and swallowed the bite he was chewing. “What?”

“You.” Harry gestured abstractly around them, like Draco himself was simply made up of the items in his room: fireplace, bed, rug and books and chairs. Half-ruined, magical trinkets and shiny, magical rings. Individual parts of a whole. He cleared his throat. “Are you okay? To be on your own for a bit.”

“I’m fine.” Draco shot him a quizzical look, a quirk of his good eyebrow. “Yes.”

“Good.” Harry exhaled and Vanished his tray to the kitchen, the appetising salty-fat smell suddenly over-saturated with grease, turning his stomach. He didn’t meet Draco’s eyes, and hoisted himself from his chair. “I haven’t slept much, and I’m— I think I need to— But call me, if you need something.”

“I’ll ask Kreacher.”

“No, no,” Harry said, and thought Yes,, and didn’t understand it — his need to get away, his near-panic to be alone. He made for the door. “I’m good, I can help, I just—”

“Po— Harry,” Draco said, and Harry stopped, nearly out. So close to privacy, and the reprieve of sleep. He waited, the brass knob cold in his palm, and Draco said, “Violet-honey apples.”

“What?” Harry looked over. I profile, Draco looked normal. Better than. Sitting up tall in bed, the relaxed curve of his bicep and narrow line of his waist exposed, the jut of his shoulder, flax hair glossy and tumbled, the way it looked after—

“Violet-honey apples,” Draco said. “I’m allergic to them. Kreacher knows, he won’t make the mistake of serving them in anything.”

“Oh.” Harry had never even heard of violet-honey apples, but the world jolted around him with that same, disconcerting, sideways click he’d experienced two nights prior. “Okay,” he said, feeling thick. “I’m— I don’t have any allergies.”

Draco nodded, turning to face him — only enough to give Harry a glimpse of his rapidly-healing sores. Soberly, he said, “And I meant to tell you: The room you showed me? I think it’s a wandmaker’s cabinet. If that’s something worth knowing.”

“It… Yeah, it is,” Harry said. “Maybe.” He gripped the doorknob, warm now against his palm. “Thanks.”

“Sleep well,” Draco said.

It sounded, oddly enough, like he meant it.

Harry took another look around — at the collection of things that could never make up a man — and let himself out.

* * *

A science, Hermione had told him once, about wandmaking. An art, Ollivander had claimed. Draco paused for only a moment when Harry ventured back to his room after a fourteen-hour sleep, then said, “A bit of both, I believe, like most magic,” and, “Bit of a ridiculous endeavor, but the library should have some resources. If you collect them, I might be able to help. I can’t do much else, anyway.”

That was true enough. Harry had woken to the unforgiving tattoo of rain, a saturation of deafening white-noise and the scent of wet earth and decay when he opened his window to look outside. The Wireless service was spotty, only playing scratchy forties ballads that kept getting interrupted by cautionary weather updates: Due to the forecasted flooding in London, the Ministry has issued a statement warning flyers from using their brooms tonight, and for the next several days out. Unspeakables are working overtime to prevent the closing of Diagon Alley for any early holiday shoppers, but advise the Floo Network as the preferred means of travel, as Apparition can be less reliable in extreme weather. The water levels of the Thames are rising, so be mindful and make sure to Impervius your footwear…

“I’ve written to Bill,” Harry said awkwardly, “but I don’t want to send the owls out in this.”

“Don’t. Kreacher can deliver invitations now, via the Floo,” Draco said, gaze on the letter folded in Harry’s hand. “He took one to the Manor for me, earlier. I thought you would have invited Granger and Weasley first.”

“Bill’s a Cursebreaker, and he’s been looking into the, ah, issue for me,” Harry said, bewildered by the flicker of distaste on Draco’s face, by the curl of his upper lip. “We should get that in order as soon as possible, shouldn’t we?”

“He’s a paper-pusher at Gringotts,” Draco said coolly, colour rising in his cheeks and seeping down his chest — hot, inconsistent blotches, a skitter of pink from the taut tendons above his clavicle to below his belly-button, reminiscent enough of his hives to give Harry a moment of concern, until Draco took a deep breath. “Wouldn’t Granger be more well-versed? As I was given to understand, she’s embroiled herself deeply in our little saga.”

“Well, yeah, but Bill’s a contracts Cursebreaker,” Harry said, feeling as though he’d stepped from one dream into another rather than waking up, as he’d originally thought. “He’ll know what he’s talking about. Do you—” Were-Weasley, Harry remembered him saying, and hardened his voice, “—have a problem with him?”

Draco made a strange sound, a vibration of words he closed his mouth against, and then the rigidity of his body loosened, like a puppet whose strings had abruptly been sliced through. “No. But please set the invitation for Saturday. We have to receive guests together, and I’d prefer not to be seen like… this.”

Harry made the adjustment. Draco’s vanity notwithstanding, it was a simple compromise. Five extra days, and plenty to preoccupy themselves with in the meantime.

As Kreacher muttered about setting the house to rights for their company, Harry compiled books on wandlore from the library and brought them upstairs. It took the two of them hours to organise everything into the most relevant and easy-to-understand texts, and once they had, Harry spent the majority of his days ensconced in the warmth of Draco’s room where he could keep watch while Draco recovered. He was shaky as a fawn when he walked, and bitter about being unable to proceed as he normally did, not shy about sharing his unhappiness — he pulled faces, and complained under his breath, and snapped at Harry whenever he reached to scratch a healing welt and Harry reminded him not to: What do you think you’re looking at, with that scar?

I’ll let you know if I figure it out, Harry deadpanned once, then laughed and dodged the book Draco threw at him.

But Draco was also determined to be of some use, or at least entertained. With materials Harry procured for him, he crafted a house for the family of sparrows Harry still fed every morning, drifting delicate charms in the pocket under its thatched roof to keep them warm, and interrupted Harry’s reading every afternoon to have him act as an interpreter with Fearful. The little snake had lived, Harry gleaned, in the marshes at the southernmost boundary of the Malfoy lands, and was still new when a bird had flown off with his Source. This had proved troubling to him and had led to many hungry nights in the nest as the rest of his Den went in search for food. But one morning, he’d woken up in his new nest, and there was warmth, though not too much, and an abundance to eat, though he did prefer frogs to the worms he was fed.

Do not relate about the worms,” Fearful said, as earnest as a snake could be. “They are very well, and I am indebted for the care he has shown. He has Meaning to me, as my Source did. It would not do for him to consider otherwise.”

“What is it?” Draco asked from his bed, the first time. He sounded uninterested but stretched his neck, leaning, to see Fearful around Harry’s body. “What’s he telling you?”

“That you saved him,” Harry said, flustered. “That he likes you. That he’s grateful.”

“I had nothing else to do,” Draco said, sniffing and cracking the spine of a book. “I was permitted to walk the grounds once a month, and I found him on my second outing. He was a pathetic little thing, barely alive. I thought he might keep me occupied.”

“Should I tell him that?”

“Ask him if he likes the shrubbery, or if he wants a different sort.”

They devoted the rest of each day to research, and Harry woke up in the morning excited, and confused about his excitement. Wandmaking demanded an intricate knowledge of histories and basic principles, of component interactions and star charts, things he’d never taxed himself to learn beyond what was useful in a fight. But he sat half-curled in Draco’s leaf-patterned chair and studied theory until his eyes hurt, reading about accessories and woods and cores and astronomy, absently asking himself questions about things he didn’t understand, and looking up in surprise because Draco would always posit an answer. He sat in Draco’s leaf-patterned chair and felt indulged, as though the extra days Draco had requested were really a gift meant for him.

Occasionally, Harry glanced up to see Draco looking at him, as if puzzled by his presence, and they both looked away; occasionally, Harry glanced up to see Draco had fallen asleep, and kept looking — at the book open on Draco’s lap, at the roll of Draco’s head onto his mound of pillows, at the snowy splay of his hair. Wanting to wake him, to touch him, wanting more than a lonely wank under the spray of the shower. Wanting more from Draco, and alarmed by how much he wanted, by how aroused he was. The lack of contact between them felt worse than it had been during those long weeks before their arrangement, Harry’s body now conditioned to respond to a lilting tone, a veiled glance. To the mesmerising wink of Draco’s dimple.

It was smart, to stay away, a good decision, but the cracks showed through: the curses that fell from Harry’s lips, the frantic pace with which he fucked into the tight circle of his fist, the water running cold on his shoulders, because he couldn’t stop at one after they’d been around each other all day. Because Draco always fell asleep first, and Harry couldn’t help looking at him, wanting to wake him up and ruin everything.

The rain was aggressive outside, a cacophony, a roar. The waters of the Thames breached the banks. Overflowing.

And then, a hush fell. On the last night of Draco’s convalescence, the storm quieted to howling winds, to the graze of branches against a window, to a bated breath. As though the throb of the rain had sought a warmer place to live, next to a beating heart. They spoke quietly, in murmurs: Turn down the Wireless, please, and Do you have the text on wand grips? Draco was well enough that they could have gone down to the dining room, but neither of them suggested it. They ate in silence, turned back to their reading. Harry scanned the same lines over and over, strings of words he couldn’t understand, like the ending of a story that belonged to a different book.

The sleepy shift of Draco’s body brought Harry’s eyes up. He thought, I’ve been waiting, so I could look, and looked regardless. Draco had an open book face-down on his chest and he’d kicked his coverlet away. He wore nothing but his pants, and as Harry watched, the flat of his stomach rose a touch, slowly, then scooped inward — the bones of his hips shadowing, the trail of hair on his stomach like spun-gold in the firelight.

Draco shifted again. A bend of his knee outwards; a twist of his opposite foot, pulling his coverlet lower. It revealed a strip of skin on one thigh below the hemline of his boxer-briefs, and everything above it: the soft bulge of his balls under well-fit fabric, the outline of his cock, the twitch of it, its slow swell. Awake, he was awake, and Harry didn’t stop looking, but couldn’t bring himself to look at Draco’s face.

They hadn’t touched in a week, not in any way that might satisfy the contract. Time was running short on that account, and they both knew it. It would be the perfect excuse.

“Harry.” An invitation lurked in the rough notes of Draco’s voice. In the hitch of his breath. The lamps had burned down low, more puddled wax than anything else, but the fire was hot at Harry’s back. It didn’t make sense that the trickle of sweat down his spine should be cold — or why he should experience it as a terror he hadn’t felt in years.

“Tomorrow,” Harry said. His voice was rough. “We’ll know more tomorrow.”

There was a pause, and then Draco’s hand slid into view, down his stomach, fingers teasing at his waistband, slipping inside. He cupped his cock, fingers extended around its length, and simply held it under the cover of his pants. “Then you should go, now.”

Harry, somehow, went.

Chapter Text

They got into an argument, ten minutes before Bill was due to arrive.

It wasn’t unexpected. Draco had woken Harry up early with four sharp raps to his door, the kind accomplished using only the vertex of knuckles and powered by pent-up tension, and then he’d come into Harry’s room without leave as Harry was struggling to lift his head from the pillow.

“You’re dressed,” Harry croaked dumbly, blinking at the realisation Draco had never come to his room, but unable to process it yet. And Draco was dressed, as he hadn’t been in months, in richly-sheened, high-collared, navy robes, which had a multitude of tiny buttons snaking around his body, from the right side of his Adam’s apple down to his left calf. He’d brushed his hair back, had cufflinks at his wrists; he looked austere, dignified. Untouchable.

“Yes,” Draco said, striding right to Harry’s wardrobe. He’d opened it and flicked through Harry’s clothing, then drawn out a smart set of robes in black that Harry’d never had cause to wear, and flung them over the chair to the side on the way out. “Put those on.”

Things didn’t improve as the morning wore on; Draco was waspish, irritable, his posture upright and stiff, his responses terse and unfriendly. The day had dawned clear and auspiciously spring-like, sweet with the chatter of birds outdoors, but it felt as though the gloom of the previous week had manifested inside, halo-ing Draco — trailing in his wake. Lingering, even when he removed himself to his room after breakfast.

Harry tempered his frustration — it wasn’t as though he’d wanted to say no, and Bill was expected within the hour; the Malfoys two hours later. But then Draco stalked back into the study and stood by the fireplace, arms folded, his pale fingers tapping out a rolling beat on one bicep. Right where Harry would have no choice but to see him and the challenge in every line of his body, the burning need for confrontation.

“We need to keep the meeting with Weasley brief,” Draco said.

“I wasn’t planning on subjecting him to your parents,” Harry said. “I’ll just get whatever information he has, then invite him for another time.”

You’ll get?” Draco asked. “Where am I supposed to be?”

“Wherever the bloody hell you like, after you greet him,” Harry said, with a snap of his wand to send the book he hadn’t been reading back to the shelf. “He’s my friend, my family, isn’t he? I’d like to see him alone.”

“I’ll bet you would,” Draco muttered.

“What?” Harry stood, fed up.

“I’m not having the two of you discussing something that involves me without my presence,” Draco said. His eyes were dark as slate, unwavering on Harry’s face.

“What’s wrong with you? You’re acting—”

“Like a Malfoy?” Draco asked, smile cold, the precision of his features looking as if they’d been cut from stone. But over the clench of his jaw, there was the wispy, pink splotch of a fading hive, and Harry faltered.

 

“Not like yourself,” he said evenly. “Is this making you feel better?”

“I’m not—” Draco pinched the bridge of his nose, then moved to the window, looking out. “No,” he said, back to Harry. “Yes. I don’t know.”

He was limned in sunlight; in the glare of the morning’s frame, the architecture of his body barely resembled more than a pleasing configuration of long lines and tense angles. The jut of his elbows had a strangely adolescent feel as he drew them close to his sides.

Harry swallowed. “Then could we talk about it later?” he asked. “Stay and talk to Bill, I don’t care. I can’t stomach doing it with your parents, but—”

“No.” Draco turned, shaking his head. Rueful. “I hadn’t planned for you to.”

“Alright.” Harry studied him — missing something, and for once aware of it. “Draco—”

The spit of the Floo interrupted him. Draco hurried over from the window, this time fitting himself to Harry’s side, and Bill appeared — ducking out, dusting himself off. He looked good, his hair cut a bit shorter than he’d had it a few months ago, blue eyes kind as ever. Seeing them, he stopped with a blink and straightened; Harry felt Draco beside him, pulling to his full height as well, and did the same, all of them standing absurdly tall, like children at a physician’s office, about to be measured.

Draco dipped his chin and broke the silence. “You are welcome, Bill Weasley.”

“Thank you,” Bill said, gravely returning his nod, his gaze moving back and forth between them, “for the invitation.”

“Hi,” said Harry.

Formalities taken care of, Bill’s face creased in a wide smile and he stepped forward. Harry met him in the middle, Bill’s hug a relief, something normal, something he knew, his nose squishing against the warm curve of Bill’s neck, his glasses tilting precariously. Bill held him tight for a few seconds, breathing in deep, then gripped him by the waist and gently moved him away. He searched Harry’s eyes, then slid his gaze over Harry’s shoulder. Something in his face changed, his fingers loosening, letting go.

Harry twisted and discovered that Draco had backed up; he stood under the vaulted arch of the study’s entrance, eyes on the floor between them. He moved away from Bill, took a step closer to Draco. “We should sit. Draco?”

Bill shot a swift glance to Harry and nodded, but Draco lifted his eyes and said, “No, I’ll send Kreacher in with some tea and leave you two to catch up. I have something to attend to upstairs.”

“It was good seeing you,” Bill called as Draco walked out. He looked at Harry again, a wry tilt to his mouth Harry didn’t know how to interpret, and gusted out a chuckle. He clapped Harry on the back. “I suppose we have some things to talk about.”

* * *

“Well?” Draco asked without looking up. “What did he say?”

He sat bowed over his desk, quill in hand, and was back in his casual wizarding clothes, tawny breeches and a loose, cream shirt, cinched around his middle with a sash. Harry looked from the curved line of Draco’s back to the robes he’d been wearing, discarded in a heap near the foot of his bed. Draco shook some excess ink from the quill’s tip, the white shock of its feather quivering through the air, and Harry eased into the room.

“You could have stayed,” he said. “I told you it was fine.”

“Yes, I know.”

“Your parents are going to be here soon,” Harry said.

“No, they won’t.” Draco dipped the nub of his quill into his inkpot, gave it another tapping shake. “I got an Owl from them, cancelling. Postponing.”

“That’s—” Harry looked at Draco’s robes again, a crumple of heavy, expensive fabric, like they’d been torn off and thrown down. “Is what happened this morning about last night?”

Draco tightened his fingers around the quill, then dropped it and spun his chair around to face Harry. Witheringly, he said, “Because it couldn’t possibly not be about—”

You, his face read, and Harry flushed. It honestly hadn’t occurred to him that Draco’s behaviour could be about anything else. He felt slow, stunted; he wanted to help, to understand, but didn’t know the right questions to ask. “I’m— sorry,” he said, clumsy with sincerity. His own robes were too tight around the collar, around the chest. He used his wand to unbutton them and slid them off, breathing easier in his t-shirt and jeans. “You can talk to me, you know.”

Draco looked at him for a beat — and then started laughing, a wheezy, helpless sound. He covered his face with his hands, his elbows pressing into his thighs, shoulders rounded and shaking, his head along with them. Laughing, like someone who belonged in the Janus Thickey ward.

Harry rounded the bed, his first thought an urgent, What would I do for Ron?, no help at all, and then, What would Ron do for me?, marginally better. But still not a solution, because Draco wasn’t Ron, and if they were starting to be friends, it was a friendship Harry didn’t know how to negotiate, yet. He dropped to his knees at Draco’s feet, his connect with the floor a slice of sensation that made him think of those dark nights in the Forest of Dean — the crackle of dead leaves near their tent; a footstep, carefully taken, and far too close — and tried to see something of Draco’s expression under his hands, and couldn’t. His hands fell to the outside of Draco’s thighs to rub, and he waited, for it to be over.

Eventually, it was, the laughter slowing into gasps and then nothing. Draco sat with his face in his hands a bit longer, breathing quietly, then raised his head. His eyes were red, but dry; if he’d shed any tears, he didn’t want Harry to see them.

"If my parents had come today—” He broke off with a grimace and shook his head, gaze dropping. A tinge of pink coloured his cheeks, his thighs tensing under Harry’s hands. Self-conscious, Harry started to pull away, but Draco moved too fast, snapping the coil of his fingers around each of Harry’s wrists to keep his hands where they were. He took a long, unsteady breath, then lifted his eyes back to Harry — intent, sharp. “What did Bill say?"

“He’s, ah—” The room went soft-edged around Harry. He licked his lips, trying to remember. “The contract begins in a general state, but customises itself to the— to whoever it’s binding, over time, in preparation for the assumed modifications in lifestyle, going out separately and such. Apparition hadn’t been invented when it was written, and people used to have to travel to see—”

Draco’s fingers tightened; under them, the invisible brand around Harry’s right wrist tingled. “Harry. About our timeline.”

“Two weeks at the outside,” Harry managed. “Still. Before the contract reacts negatively.”

“At the outside.”

“Yeah.”

“Ideally more often, then,” Draco said. “And activity?”

“The— same. What we’ve been doing works, we don’t have to... As long as we both…” Harry shuddered; he should insist on pulling his hands away, should stand up and have this conversation with some distance between them. He curled his fingers, digging them into the soft suede of Draco’s breeches. “Every ten days?”

“Once a week,” Draco said decisively. He scanned Harry’s face, then nodded to himself. “Yes. Easier to remember, a specific day.” His fingers tightened again, relaxed. They skimmed up the backs of Harry’s hands, an asking touch, then further — over Draco’s hips, over his makeshift belt. Draco tugged that higher on his waist, and then the excess material of his shirt, until the hem was hidden under his sash and the buttons at the crotch of his breeches were bared. There were seven: a vertical row of three on either side of the straining fabric flap, and one at his waist, in the middle. “Saturdays,” he said, and Harry looked up.

Draco’s eyes, still bloodshot around the grey, were fixed on his face, and a twist of tousled hair curled against the outside of his brow bone, the tip wisping over his cheek. His lips were downturned, immobile.

“Saturdays,” Harry said, jaw flexing. It shouldn’t feel like this, not now. There should be a place they could agree to land, a pin set in between where they’d started and how far they’d come. Only there wasn’t; if anything, it felt like they were in entirely new territory. “Once every Saturday.”

“Yes,” Draco said again, a catch to his voice. “Once.” Then: “Undo them.”

Harry sucked in a breath. He reached for Draco’s buttons, careful not to touch the push of fabric over his erection. There was a tremor in his fingers that seemed to come from the floor beneath him, a jarring quake that rippled up through his bones, out to every extremity. The buttons were wooden, smooth, polished. Harry pushed the first through its buttonhole, the second, the third, and moved to the parallel row.

“You’ve never sucked cock before,” Draco said. Harry fumbled the fifth button, shocked by the hard twitch of precome from his own prick. He hesitated.

They’d fucked, they’d touched. Harry wasn’t sure why they hadn’t done that, why neither of them had ever initiated it; he liked getting blowjobs, had wondered about giving them.

“You’ll suck me,” Draco said. It came out too shaky to be a demand, too sure to be a request; rather, it sounded like a confession. That’s what I really need, his voice said, underneath. That’s what I need right now. He reached for Harry’s hand and guided it to the next button, then lifted his fingers to Harry’s glasses, sliding them off. “Today, you’ll suck me.”

Harry swallowed, and slipped the button free. “Today,” he agreed, inching his fingers to the last one. The material collapsed forward and Draco’s cock sprang free, pink and full and risen upward. Harry smoothed his hands down the tops of Draco’s thighs; they flexed, parting. “Once.”

“All right,” Draco said. He nestled the outer edge of his hand in the curls at his pelvis and ringed two fingers and his thumb around the base of his cock, tight, familiarly — the same way he’d held Harry’s wrists. He sighed, the tension bleeding from the muscles under Harry’s hands. “All right.”

He didn’t give any further prompting, merely sat holding himself exposed to Harry’s view, the gentle current of his breath hypnotic in the lift of his pale stomach, in its fall. Harry tried to match his breaths, to control the wild beat of his own heart. He slipped his thumbs to the insides of Draco’s covered thighs and they parted; he shuffled closer on his knees. He’d seen Draco’s cock before but never like this, so near, shiny at the slit, the slenderness of Draco’s fingers offsetting the size, the length. His foreskin looked thinner than Harry’s and had retracted to hug the ridge of his cockhead, swollen and almost red. A flood of saliva filled Harry’s mouth, an odd crackle of uncertainty pitting in his belly.

It just seemed— intimate. Extraordinarily so. Putting your mouth on someone, allowing their mouth on you, like kissing. Yet they kissed all the time, or had, hungry, hard, deep kisses, sometimes for hours until they could no longer resist the temptation to finish things, kisses that had left Harry’s mouth raw and sensitive, what he always imagined first when touching himself, what he thought of too often when he was about to come. He glanced up at Draco; the clench of his jaw was visible all the way down the taut cords of his neck; his eyes were unblinking, his pupils swallowing the grey.

Dropping his gaze, Harry leaned in. He darted a lick over the pearl of moisture clinging to the tip, felt Draco inhale, hold, exhale, one of Draco’s hands creeping out to slide over Harry’s shoulders, the spread of his legs widening. He smelled warm, his scent softer here than the crisp notes of the aftershave he wore under his jaw. Harry licked him again, slower, a flat stripe from where Draco’s fingers covered to the tip, rolling his gaze up in time to see the flare of heat on Draco’s face, identical to the one he felt streaking through him. And then he opened his mouth and lowered, descending to take his cock in, inch by inch.

Draco hissed through gritted teeth, his fingers clenching over Harry’s shoulders. “Fuck. Harry, yes—” Harry heard, his mouth full, Draco’s cockhead bumping the entrance of his throat. The skin over his shaft was silky, the length of it plump and twitching. Harry swallowed and covered Draco’s fingers with his own, gripping his cock with him. Lifting up, he curled his tongue along the length and licked into the bunched folds of his foreskin until the press of Draco’s fingers was painful enough to distract. Then Harry hollowed out his cheeks, sucking a twist around the head with a jolt of euphoric pride at the fresh slick of salt that burst over his taste buds, and at Draco’s groan, a ragged, half-laughed sob for more. Harry did it again, lips stretching as he lowered his head, and again, pulling hard with his mouth when he rose, and again, and again, and again.

He found a rhythm and brushed Draco’s stemming fingers away, stroking him in the way he’d done dozens of times as he bobbed his head, and it was intimate, yes, the slide of his spit over Draco’s cock, the helpless jerks of Draco’s hips, pushing him deeper. But it was arousing too, in an entirely new way Harry hadn’t expected, his moan wrenching a “Merlin! Please!” from Draco’s throat and a tangle of Draco’s fingers in his hair. Harry pulled off, gasping, Draco’s cock smearing saliva and precome against his cheek as he rested his damp forehead against Draco’s thigh.

“Harry—” Draco panted, gulping audibly. “Harry, don’t, can I— I’m so, I—”

“I was going to come.” Harry’s throat ached, and his admission came out gruff and foreign and far too revealing. But his own cock was painfully hard, trapped in his jeans, the head sopping wet; the command he had over his body was tenuous at best, images of what he wanted to do to Draco, what he could do, dancing before his eyes when he closed them. Draco’s fingers fisted in his hair and Harry found his flies with one hand and tore them open. He shoved them down far enough to get rid of the pressure on his prick, then did what Draco had done and encircled the base with his fingers.

“Can I—? Are you—?” Draco’s voice was desperate and Harry groaned, biting Draco’s thigh through his breeches, liking the way Draco’s cock pulled up from that. He lifted his head and took him again. Draco cried out, hips flying from the chair with the beginnings of an instinctive hump upward, then stuttering, a struggle to force himself to stop. So Harry followed him down, burying his nose in Draco’s pubic hair, letting his throat hurt from it and not caring, no, wanting it as a rolling throb started on his tongue, a spill filling his mouth, a sharper flavour that he swallowed, as much of it as he could. It seeped warm from the corners of his lips, and the sound of Draco’s cry softened, reedy with a whistle of air; he tugged on Harry’s hair, feebly, the shaky tension of his thighs easing.

Harry drew off with a small cough, eyes watering, and leaned back, hand moving with swift tight pulls over his own cock.

“No,” Draco rasped. “Stop. Harry.”

The chair cracked against the desk as he pushed from it, his loose, lithe frame sliding down the front of Harry’s body, interrupting Harry’s strokes, his knees coming down on either side of Harry’s with a thump. Draco scooted towards him in a light straddle and placed a hand on Harry’s wrist as Harry resumed, shaking his head because he couldn’t wait, not even another second, his balls prickling with heat as pleasure swelled in him. Draco gave him a hard look, then pressed his palm to the back of Harry’s neck and pulled him in, kissed him, licking the salt of his own spend from Harry’s lips before slipping his tongue in. Harry shuddered, bucking into his touch when Draco’s free hand slipped low to cup his balls and tug, to roll them and run the pad of his finger behind them. He kissed Draco back hard, sealing their mouths together with a moan, and started coming, and felt speared through. Overwhelmed, with taste and touch and scent, with Draco’s tongue rubbing slow against his own, slower, over the inside of his lower lip, his breath sweet in Harry’s mouth as Harry shook from the force of his climax, and then gone.

The world came back to Harry in fragments: the hazy glow of sunlight, the tenderness of his throat, the dig of Draco’s pointy chin on his shoulder. Draco murmured something indistinct, toying with the hair on the nape of Harry’s neck. Harry’s heart flipped, and then Draco turned his face slightly. His lips grazed Harry’s temple, firmed there, moved. Disoriented, Harry leaned into it for a beat before jerking away.

Draco blinked at him, eyes wide and startled, cheeks still pink from his orgasm. He smiled crookedly, flashing his dimple, then rose with a small, frothy laugh, and turned to hunt for his wand. Finding it, he cast a casual cleaning charm over himself and another one at Harry, pleasant and mild, even as he tucked his prick away. He lifted the fall of his breeches, buttoning them one-handed and setting his shirt to rights, then dropped back into his chair. Harry fumbled his boxers up, his jeans, and stood, a reversal of their positions.

“I do think you should invite Granger next,” Draco said, picking up a conversation in the middle — one that they hadn’t been having. “Weasley if you must, and I suppose you do. I’m going to have a few guests over, myself,” he waved at the parchment on his desk, “and we can coordinate at dinner, if that works for you.”

“I— yes,” Harry said. Draco’s bedside clock ticked, steady and predictable as they looked at each other, a mind-numbing contradiction to what they’d just done. But Draco clearly didn’t want to be asked what that was, and Harry didn’t know how to put a name to it, or what it meant — which could be a hundred different things, a dozen, or one — and he wasn’t sure he was ready to find out. “Dinner’s fine.”

* * *

On Harry’s fifth night in Grimmauld Place, he’d found Sirius in the kitchens, brooding sullenly at the fire. Never gets warm, does it, love. Dunno why it never gets warm. Your mum’s house was always warm, Sirius had mumbled, blinking owlishly at Harry when he’d sat down. How’d she do that, James?

It’s Harry, Remus said, walking in. He’d sighed and flicked his wand to remove the half-empty bottle of Firewhiskey on the table, but left Sirius his half-empty glass. Harry, James’ son.

Right, right. Sirius had cupped Harry’s cheek, patted it, his fingers icy. Would’ve been so proud of you, Harry. Him ‘n Lily, both. Make sure you stay warm, m’boy.

He just missed them, Remus explained, escorting Harry back to his room, the stairs creaking ominously beneath their feet. He doesn’t usually… I imagine, for him, being here is only a few steps better than Azkaban. Your dad’s house was the place he felt at home; his entire life changed when he met James.

I know what that’s like, Harry’d said, foolishly. It was like that for me and Ron. Hermione, too. Everything changed.

Love can do that, I suppose, Remus said, change everything. A blessing or a curse, depending on what you do with it. There’d been a funny, pained note in his voice, but the look he turned on Harry had been fond. Go on to bed, now.

You’ll take care of him, won’t you?

I always do try, Remus had told him, an oblique promise, before departing.

As far as Harry knew, Remus kept that promise, as well as he’d known how — none of them had ever made reference to that night, and Harry had never seen Sirius as deep in his cups again. But he’d thought about it from time to time, and frequently of late: the touch of Sirius’ palm against his cheek, the chilly heat emanating from the hearth, the expression on Remus’ face, a sadness he’d long-ago got used to. Tiptoe memories, slinking in to catch him off guard.

The kitchen was never cold anymore; more often than not, Kreacher had to open one of the street-level windows to let some of the heat escape, copper pots bubbling on the hob, the oven wafting out shimmering waves of warmth and delicious smells. Some quirk of serendipity had transformed the room, and Harry found he liked being in it, the ambient clatter of cooking in the background a restful sort of thing he could study to.

He hadn’t ventured back into the wandmaker’s cabinet, but spent most of his free time learning theory: why flexibility mattered, the significance of lengths and types of grip, what the alignment of stars suggested about which sort of witch or wizard would be drawn to a certain wood. It made sense, in that context, that Ron’s wand would be willow, for harmony and stability, that Hermione’s would vine, for consciousness and development. That Harry’s was holly, for luck and protection. Wand cores were more related to the potential temperament and, though Harry had only ever heard of the three Ollivander favoured, there were so many more: Veela feathers worked well for those with a propensity for charm and with Charms; mermaid scales, for those who were fiercely guarded and independent; hair from an abraxon’s tail for people light in spirit; cobwebbed sheddings from a thestral’s mane, for those who were naturally somber. The list of options seemed infinite, each with its own strengths and drawbacks, their pairings contingent upon particular advantages and limitations. Harry wanted to talk about them all, and so he didn’t object when Draco joined him in the kitchen. Rather, he was glad for the company and someone to throw ideas at, despite Draco’s habit of pretending annoyance when he lost a debate.

“I used to think you were a horrible student,” he said peevishly one afternoon, after Harry spent thirty minutes arguing the significance of regional climates for matching components, “but when you’re genuinely interested in something, you’re—” He shook his head and got up from the table in a huff to filch a taste of the stew Kreacher was making on the hob, then absently hummed and stripped a stalk of thyme, sprinkling its leaves into the pot.

They ended up taking most of their meals in the kitchen unless someone was coming over; every three or four days, they’d decided, until having visitors was a matter of course. When the Malfoys postponed, Draco picked Andromeda and Teddy as his first guests, to Harry’s surprise and Andromeda’s confusion. Harry was unaccountably nervous when they arrived, and even Teddy’s excited shriek as he bounced into Harry’s arms didn’t do much to relax him. He spent most of the day trying to make a good impression as though meeting them for the first time, striding ahead to hold open doors and refilling Andromeda’s tea whenever she took so much as a sip. Draco, for his part, demonstrated his discomfort with uncharacteristic reticence, answering her questions cautiously, only speaking up to change the subject when it came ‘round to anything remotely connected to magic — Grimmauld Place, the contract, Harry’s curiosity about wandmaking.

“He does know I’m an actual witch, doesn’t he?” Andromeda asked, sotto voce, when Draco turned his attention to Teddy. “They didn’t feed him some nonsense about me being a Squib?”

“I don’t think so,” Harry said, uncertain — babbling. “I think he knows that— I’m sure he just wants to, to make you comfortable, and since he’s been— Well—”

“Yes, yes,” Andromeda said, giving Harry a speculative look. “I know what he’s been.” Then, her eyes drifting back to Draco, “And your excuse for behaving as though I’m going to take away House Points?”

“I don’t know,” Harry said, refusing to follow her gaze until his heart had stopped beating so fast. “I don’t know.”

Draco was marginally better with Teddy, seeming to decide that treating him as a miniature adult was the best course of action. Teddy, of course, enjoyed that for its sheer novelty, and took full advantage, chubby fingers wound tight around Draco’s index finger as he marched them around the room and pointed at everything that caught his eye.

“That is our great Uncle Orion’s urn,” Draco was explaining when Harry could bring himself to look over. “He was ultimately interred in the family tomb, but it is indeed filled with ash, and I suppose that no one in our family has ever wanted to ask where it— Ah. That is a pendulum orchid, it only blooms when it’s exposed to very hot or very cold weather, but as you can see is lovely even when— Yes. Um, that is a linen serviette, I don’t know where we got it, but— My hair? Yes, I do know it’s uncommonly fair, but it’s not especially difficult to take care of…”

“He’s a rather brilliant child, isn’t he?” Draco asked later, flopping down on the sofa with an exhausted sigh. He rolled his head to look at Harry. “I don’t think they’re all that inquisitive.”

“No, he’s brilliant,” Harry confirmed, though Draco had done most of the talking; Teddy was still a bit behind the curve in speech, often the case for children with advanced magic.

Giving an idle Mmm-hmm of agreement, Draco rolled his head back to face the fire, one long leg stretched across the cushions and the other bent, foot flat on the floor. As Harry watched, he lifted his foot to toe off his Oxfords, one after the other, and then undid the top several buttons of his robes. He crossed his socked feet at the ankle, trousers hiking up a little.

Harry cleared his throat. “Why Andromeda and Teddy, though? You didn’t even know them, really.”

Draco fiddled with his cufflink, laced his fingers together over his stomach, and said, “That’s not reason enough? You don’t think she’ll tell anyone.”

The general public didn’t know about the contract yet. There’d been some conjecture on Harry’s disappearance — which Ron and Hermione had handled by dropping the name of a random country anytime they were asked — and none at all on Draco’s, who everyone had assumed, or hoped, would disappear as soon as he was given the chance.

“No,” Harry said, though Draco had stated Harry’s trust in Andromeda as a fact. “She won’t.”

He was less worried about anything Andromeda would do than he was about Ron and Hermione; their response to Harry’s invitation included such a surplus of underlined words and exclamation points it bordered on threatening, but Harry hoped for the best until the night before. Draco came upon him in the kitchens at half-two in the morning and tripped on the bottom stair when he glimpsed Harry at the kitchen table, then turned to glower at it for a beat before looking at Harry.

“Can’t sleep? We do have potions for that, you know,” he said. Harry, tired and not-altogether-there, was struck by tone, his phrasing — not The house has or There are, but We have, thoughtlessly, as though they were two people who had things together. He couldn’t even protest, because they were, and he knew he must have said the same thing at some point, and Draco obviously didn’t mean anything by it. But he couldn’t find his voice until Draco was already rummaging through the cabinets for a small pot.

“I don’t like them,” Harry said. He looked at Draco, at the mole on the back of his neck, his scar — little, tender things, in such a tender place — and ran his tongue over his teeth, thinking. “Or… I liked them too much, for the first few months. After.”

Draco threw him a wary, sidelong glance as he drew the milk from the cooler, then poured some into the pot on the hob. “Me too,” he said, adding cinnamon. He found a whisk, stirred it in with brisk, efficient movements. He blew out a breath, voice going distant. “Me too.”

They drank their milk in silence, sitting side-by-side. Draco wore a flannel dressing gown over his pyjamas — in deference to the changing weather, Harry supposed — and the brush of his sleeve against the back of Harry’s forearm should have had the same lulling quality as the milk, but didn’t. Draco shifted, the side of his foot touching Harry’s under the table, settling there, a bit of skin contact that pulled all of Harry’s focus.

“They’re your friends,” Draco said through a yawn when they went up together, going immediately to Harry’s soft underbelly, the way he somehow always could. On the landing between their rooms, he touched Harry’s wrist. “They’re not going to hate you for not writing as much as you think you should’ve. Extreme circumstances, these.”

Harry thought of it in the morning, when Ron stepped through the Floo, and then Hermione, both of them smiling — thought of the wand calluses on Draco’s index and middle fingers sliding over the sensitive inside of his wrist, and how Draco had known what to say, and how he’d been right. Thought of how he hadn’t even thanked Draco for the milk or the company, or the reassurance he hadn’t known he’d needed.

“What’s with Malfoy?” Ron asked, dragging Harry in for another pounding hug after Draco excused himself.

“What d’you mean?” Harry glanced at the empty space where Draco had stood as though he might materialise again, his face warming at the contemplative arch of Hermione’s eyebrow. “He was polite.”

“What do you mean, what do I mean?” Ron snorted. “That’s what I mean. Malfoy’s never been polite to me a day in his life. He didn’t even make fun of my name. Did you hex him or something?”

Harry forced a laugh. “It’s the formal greeting for first-time guests,” he said. “We have to— you know, greet people that way.”

“I’m just happy you can fight off Imperius,” Ron said, grinning. “Haven’t let your guard down, yeah?”

“Right, of course not.” Harry clenched his jaw, staring at Ron in disbelief. “I cast an Impervius over myself whenever we fuck.” Ron’s mouth dropped open, his cheeks flooding red; he shot a swift, panicked glance at Hermione, but she looked taken aback as well. Harry rolled his shoulders against the tension spiking them high, his own face scalding hot with shame and the muted anger that had rushed up from nowhere. He looked at the floor, a jumble of platitudes sloshing around in his head. Then Hermione lifted his hand, running her fingers over the back of it. She patted him and led him over to the sofa.

“I’m sorry,” Harry said. He pulled off his glasses, pressed his fingers to his eyes. “I’m so sorry. It’s just— it’s been—”

Horrible. Not horrible. And I don’t know which is worse.

“No need to apologise,” she said smoothly, and Ron nodded, eager to agree. Too eager, too forgiving of him. Hermione bit her lip and ventured, “So what have you been doing, otherwise?”

“Other than…?” Harry turned incredulous eyes on her, poised on the cusp of amusement and mortification. But after a beat of bleak silence, Ron snickered; amusement won out. Harry started laughing and Ron dissolved as well, Hermione’s blush making a matched set of the three of them. Preciously, she tried for a disapproving frown but couldn’t stop her lips from twitching, and when she finally allowed her smile to break free, the cold stone of pain chiselled next to Harry’s heart turned soft, malleable, the way he’d forgotten it could when they were all together, when he let them in.

He and Ron wound down, and they had breakfast tea in the study, their conversation an ebb and flow, but with none of the other landmines Harry had tortured himself stewing on: What’s it like? How are you and Malfoy getting on? How could you not write to us, and let us be there for you? Afterward, he showed them around Grimmauld Place — the expansive kitchens, the sets of stairs that went nowhere, the new doors that wouldn’t open yet — and was able to field Hermione’s multitude of questions about the wheres and whens he first noticed something different. But he had no answers for the whys.

“These sorts of places have to be looked after, I expect,” Ron said, peeking into a cupboard that contained nothing but deactivated Quaffles from the nineteenth century.

“Draco said something about how it might have been conserving energy, when it started,” Harry said.

“Maybe,” Ron said, “but I meant, uh.” He exchanged a swift glance with Hermione. “Well, there’s a difference between adding onto a home, or keeping it tidy, and caring for it. I thought that the first time I came here, everything so expensive but run down, falling apart, you know, how it was. Mum and Dad haven’t ever been able to afford materials or furnishings half so nice, but the Burrow holds together because… because they make an effort to keep it together. To fix things that break, instead of ignoring them, to keep it feeling like a home.”

“But Kreacher’s been living here for generations,” Hermione said. Her eyes had gone bright with interest, her lips pulling into an inquisitive frown. “To hear him tell it, his sole purpose is to take care of Grimmauld Place and its inhabitants.”

“Sure,” Ron said. He grimaced at Harry, then looked at her and said, somewhat apologetically, “But in a servant’s capacity. It’s his home as long as there’s an owner to serve, and if the owner doesn’t give a toss about it, nothing he says or does is going to be enough.” He pointed to a painting on the wall that depicted a band of centaurs running together through a field at night. “Didn’t this used to feature the bloody aftermath of a centaur war?”

Harry nodded; barring the portraits, most of the paintings in Grimmauld Place had undergone the same transition, from depictions of ominous violence to scenes that were inoffensive, if not downright heartening. “The Dark magic, though,” he pointed out. “So much of it, for so long. Wouldn’t that have had a bigger effect? Something damaging and, and dangerous?”

Ron shrugged, looking doubtful. “Well, I s’pose the same could be said of you, of all of us, couldn’t it. Maybe we’re all a bit damaged, and a bit more dangerous for it. But we do what we can to… I dunno. Move on from it, be better. Don’t see why a sentient house wouldn’t do the same, given a chance.”

Harry glanced at Hermione to see if she’d argue the point, but she was gazing at Ron, transfixed. She blinked a glittery sheen of wetness from her eyes and slipped her hand into his, leaning her weight against his side. Ron dropped a kiss onto the cloud of her curls and shot Harry a sheepish smile. Harry cleared his throat, looking away, then self-consciously shuffled them into what Draco insisted on calling the grand ballroom, as much for its gold-leafed panels and dripping chandeliers, as for the constellations chalked over the waxed mahogany floors. They were still smeared, patterned with the powdery soles of dancing shoes, two centuries after its last event.

“I’d like to say goodbye to Malfoy, too,” Hermione said when it was time to leave. She deflected the identical looks of shock Harry and Ron gave her with a serene smile, and after a prolonged, flustered moment, Harry sent a Patronus asking him to come down.

A crash sounded upstairs, followed by the slam of the door and footsteps pounding down the stairs. “I thought I told you I’d be working, Harry,” Draco snarled from the hallway, “why on earth would you send your ridiculously ostentatious stag to blunder in and—” Turning the corner, he came to a hard stop, his cutoff sentence continuing without sound: Interrupt me. Glancing from Ron and Hermione to Harry, he said, artlessly, “I thought they’d gone.”

Hermione stepped forward. “That was my fault,” she said. “I wanted to thank you for having us.” She held out her hand.

Draco blanched, and clasped it, ticking Harry another little befuddled look as they shook. He said, “Potter’s the one who invited you.”

“But you’d have had to agree to it, wouldn’t you?” Hermione asked in a matter-of-fact way. “Perhaps we can talk, the next time.” She narrowed her eyes at him, not unkindly, and broke their handshake, then said, “We’d best be on our way.”

“Granger wants to talk,” Draco said blankly, after they’d gone. “I couldn’t possibly have heard that right. She...”

Harry wanted an answer to give him, any but the one he suspected. Guilt, maybe, he could say, for not knowing how to stop this from happening, or perhaps simply, She’s my friend, except that one would never do, because Draco would want to know why it was relevant. He lifted a shoulder and said, “I’ve never been able to figure out Hermione’s reasons for doing things,” blood rushing a thunder in his ears, as loud as the night the Thames overflowed. "Maybe she's decided to…" He couldn't finish, but Draco seemed to read his mind.

"Yes, how realistic to already expect trust or respect from… From your people. I think what we have here is a keen watch on me." Draco scoffed, a dry sound in the back of his throat. "At least she's got nothing to pin on me lately."

"Hermione's not like that." She was, and more than a little, but not the way Draco thought. Hermione would give him a fair shake, if for no other reason than for Harry's sake.

The tip of of Draco’s tongue appeared, swiping over the centre of his upper lip. “Ah,” he said at length. “Yes. Well. I should get back to…”

“Yeah. Sorry about the Patronus. I only got a few hours of sleep,” Harry said. “I’d have gone up myself, if I’d been thinking.”

“It’s fine,” Draco said. He pushed his fingers into his hair, turning away with a quiet laugh. “I know it’s not something you have a lot of practice doing.”

“I guess not,” Harry said, smiling tiredly, and Draco paused at the entrance to the study to look over his shoulder — a few seconds longer than someone might, if they weren’t waiting for something. In his fatigue, Harry imagined Draco’s steady grey gaze as having gone soft, an impossibly tender thing like the back of his neck; he imagined himself stepping forward and pressing Draco to the wall, getting close to see if he was right. His thighs tensed with a push forward that he didn’t take, the conviction of single step looming in the space between them, the threat of chasm opening under his feet if he breached it.

And then Draco disappeared around the corner, making the decision for him.

Harry pulled in some air and thought of the smile Ron hadn’t been able to repress when Hermione had stepped into him. Don’t know what I did, it had said, but I know better than to question my good fortune. His knees went weak, and he sat, remembering Ron’s uncomplicated happiness — coveting it, more than he had anything before.

* * *

“My parents postponed again,” Draco said.

He didn’t comment further. Harry looked at his face, and didn’t ask.

Luna came over instead, invited last minute but cheerful as she pulled off her cloak. We’re second cousins, Draco told him when Harry had got around to asking, then hesitated before adding, We corresponded a bit, after the war, a rather dry explanation for why they were close enough that the perils of the contract would affect her. Luna’s gaze moved over Harry’s face, perceptive and unguarded about what she saw there, and it took the pointy jab of Draco’s elbow to his ribs for Harry to remember that, as the host who had not sent the invitation, it was his job to give a formal welcome. She accepted his greeting, then his hug, and Harry’s relief when she suggested going to Draco’s room to catch up was nearly indistinguishable from his confusion over not being included. They took tea in Draco’s room and Harry took a pain potion and lay down, headachy and a little heartsore — wondering.

He woke up groggy and found Luna curled next to him, softly singing an off-key lullaby about a travelling wizard finding his true love. She smiled at seeing him awake and drifted a hand to his hair, stroking through it, scritching at his scalp as though Harry were a housepet in need of soothing. Harry let himself drift through to the end of the song.

“Did I hurt your feelings?” Luna asked, the dreamy cadence of her voice taking on a momentarily forthright quality.

“No,” Harry said. There was no reason to make her feel bad, and it wasn’t as if he had any claim on her time simply because they were friends.

“Are you lying?”

Harry sighed. “A little.”

“I assumed Draco might need some individual attention,” she said. “And I wanted to check on Hy— Fearful. Oh, I do like that name; it suits him much better.”

Propping his head on his arm, Harry rolled to study her. She’d unbound her hair from the ribboned plait she’d been wearing upon her arrival; it trailed over her shoulder and arm, curling into the dip of her waist, and made her look about fourteen again. Harry smiled. “You knew about Fearful?”

“Since Draco found him,” Luna said. “He asked for my help in nurturing Fearful back to health. He’d already written about what to feed the birds that flocked on the shorelines of his lake — mostly herons, you know, but some egrets too, though they’re fairly good hunters on their own, and he knew how much I liked birds because I cried when he told me that Voldemort had ordered his peacocks to be served for dinner, though not as much as I suspect he did, oh, his face was simply terrible that ni—”

“Luna.” Harry closed his eyes, his exhale a shudder. When he opened them, she was looking at him with concern.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t realise he hadn’t told you that part.”

Harry swallowed. “Is that when you—? How you—?”

“Became friends?” she asked. Harry nodded, though it wasn’t what he’d been about to say. “No, that came later, with the letters. It’s very hard to be friends with someone who’s holding you captive,” she said seriously, “even when you have the sense he’d prefer not to.”

Molly and Arthur were next. “I’m sorry,” Harry told Draco after they’d gone. “I would have asked you to eat with us, but Molly— after Bill and, and Fred—”

“It’s perfectly fine,” Draco said, hunched over a weathered music box that rested on his desk. “I had things to do.” He carefully drew out a slender pin from the inside with his wand, then another, and murmured a spell under his breath at the first; the low, melancholy notes of a cello rang out. Draco nodded to himself and cast at the second, which produced the higher strains of a violin that, when paired with the first, played a dreamy piece Harry recognised but couldn’t name. Satisfied, Draco fit the pins back into the box and spelled it silent, and then looked at Harry as though surprised he was still there. “My parents won’t be here on Wednesday, so I may or may not have other visitors, and Andromeda agreed to bring Teddy back on the eighth, and on the thirteenth.”

“I’ve got—” Harry scratched at his jaw. “I’ve got Neville on Sunday. Hermione for lunch next Friday.” He never thought to look on the calendar for dates. “And Ron’s at training seminars for a bit, but he sent me an Owl asking about dinner with Hermione, I think— two weeks from Friday? I’ll double-check.”

“Mmm.” Draco pursed his lips, calculating everything. “None of it conflicts. I’ll find some things to attend to on your days.”

“No,” Harry said. “I mean, Hermione asked if you wouldn’t mind joining us, and Neville…” Neville’s return letter had been bewildered, appalled, full of anxiety-ridden enquiries and assurances: You really haven’t been travelling? Are you alright? Has Malfoy Of course I’ll come. Is there anything I should bring you the two of you? I won’t tell anyone, I promise.

“I’d like it if you didn’t.” Harry glanced away when Draco’s eyes widened, struggling to explain that, mostly to himself. He settled on saying, “I think it’ll be good,” and, fortunately, turned out to be right.

Draco was stiff at first, overcompensating the way he had a tendency to do, and Neville didn’t bother to hide his doubt, as wary of Impeccably-Mannered Draco as he’d ever been about Arsehole Malfoy — “It’s like being at my gran’s house, only with someone who I keep expecting to criticise everything I… It’s like being at my gran’s house,” he muttered as Draco was pontificating on the importance of Herbology. When Neville removed himself to the loo after lunch, Harry told Draco he was giving them both the creeps; Draco huffed but stopped sitting like he had a broom shoved up his arse, and turned the conversation to Quidditch.

“I… I don’t play Quidditch,” Neville said as he sat back down, tentatively, but with a hard, narrow glint to his eye. “You know that.”

“So?” Draco rolled his eyes. His robes hiked up, pulling against his hip as he crossed one knee over the other, the pleat of his trousers draping perfect along the line of his shin. “You’ve got to have an opinion; I used to see you in the stands at all the games, and obviously I haven’t been able to attend a match in a while. Who do you think looks good as starting Seeker next year, say, for the Falcons?”

Neville cleared his throat and raked his fingers through the ruffle of his wheat-gold hair. “McSweeney. She’s only been playing one season and a lot of the press on her says she won’t have a shot against Day from the Wasps, but I saw her fly last year, and the only other person I’ve ever seen fly so fast,” he lifted his chin and raised a pointed eyebrow, “is Harry.”

Draco let the pause draw out, his gaze moving from Neville to Harry — resting on him, until Harry’s skin felt tight. He looked back to Neville and said, evenly, “I’ll know to put my Galleons on her, then. Thank you.”

“Good Merlin—” Draco said before bed that night, lifting his head from his book to blink into the middle-distance. Harry glanced up from his own with a mild sense of curiosity, but grew alert at the look on Draco’s face, stunned enough that he could have said he’d been walloped by an invisible Bludger and Harry might have believed it. He let his feet thump to the floor from where they’d been resting on the edge of Draco’s mattress.

“What? What is it?”

“When did Longbottom start looking that way?” Draco asked, swinging ‘round to stare at Harry accusingly, as though he’d only just processed it and thought Harry might hold some of the responsibility for how striking Neville was. Harry laughed, helplessly — harder, when Draco persisted over the sound of it, annoyed and perplexed; I didn’t sense any Glamours on him, but— Harry. Harry! He couldn’t possibly be as tall as me, and no one in his line has that perfect bone structure, Harry, he must’ve done something— shut it, you wanker, or I’ll shut it for you!

Draco didn’t speak to him for the rest of the night, except to snort and smirk and finally kick Harry from his room after another hour of Harry bursting into random chortles whenever he remembered Draco’s shock. It was cheering, and erased the unease clinging to him ever since Neville’s departure from the considering look he’d given them, and the words he whispered into Harry’s ear during their hug — Okay, he said, patting Harry’s back. Okay. If you’re happy, I’ll always be happy for you.

Harry thought ‘happy’ to be a relative term. Yet he wasn’t unhappy nearly as often, which was a bit of a revelation on its own. To be able to go to bed smiling, to see his friends and be interested in something, to make someone laugh even when they were irritated at you… they weren’t the things Harry had envisioned hanging his hat on, but they weren’t bad ones, either.

Winter had set in, frosting the window panes and skimming over Harry’s skin as he threw off his covers in the mornings, and bringing with it new routines for Harry to establish. When they weren’t expecting company, he wound up toting coffee up to Draco’s room. Sipping his own tea warm by the crackling fire while Draco burrowed under his piles of blankets, his rusty, muffled voice cursing Harry to Hades and back. Harry didn’t mind; the smell of breakfast being served usually tempted Draco out, and then their day could begin: study and repair littered with idle exchanges, silences that were more comfortable than not.

Sometimes, Harry looked up to find Draco scowling at some object that was stubbornly ignoring the increasingly testy flicks of Draco’s wand, and thought, Friends, and thought, Yes, and was able to return to his book. Others, he looked up in time to see the moment before Draco’s spell worked, the pleasure and anticipation on Draco’s face like a glow, wand twirling with confident skill — and Harry had to leave the room entirely, mind determinedly blank.

* * *

“You are welcome, Blaise Zabini,” Harry said. “You are welcome, Theodore Nott.”

He felt slightly ridiculous, in a way he hadn’t with Andromeda and Luna, perhaps because he’d known their reactions would never be unkind. All he knew of their new guests was that they were Slytherins, Draco’s friends, though he recognised Blaise, tall and handsome with richly dark skin and almond eyes, better than he did Theo, who reminded him a bit of Percy: attractive enough but somehow persnickety, despite the blond stubble over his jaw and the loose hang of his tie. Or perhaps because of it; combined with his overly-correct posture, every detail about him seemed deliberate, down to the subtle shine of his clipped, buffed fingernails.

Every detail, except for how he was looking at Draco.

“Thank you for the invitation,” Blaise said.

Belatedly, Theo echoed the sentiment. Then he stepped in — against protocol, before Draco had responded — to pull Draco into a hug. Draco returned it with a small, affectionate scoff that had the tendons in Harry’s forearms flexing tight. Blaise hesitated and then held out a hand, forcing Harry to pull his from the pockets of his robes to grasp it.

“It’s good of you to have us,” Blaise said. “We’d wondered where Draco had disappeared to.”

“Sure,” Harry said. His tongue felt thick. “I— Sure.”

Harry’s gaze moved back to Theo and Draco; Theo was murmuring something in his ear, eliciting a chuckle from Draco, a shake of his head.

If they had a cock, I considered it, Draco had said.

For all Harry knew, he’d never stopped.

Harry heard Blaise clear his throat, and Theo and Draco broke away from one another. Blaise slanted Harry a swift glance, and gathered Draco into another embrace, this one blessedly shorter. He pulled back and Harry looked at Theo with a sense of crawling dislike, only to see Theo returning the look in spades. Harry’s jaw hardened, and he turned to Draco to keep from doing something stupid.

“I’ll be in the library today if you need me for any—” He closed his mouth, noticing Draco’s casual choice of clothing in a new way. He’d eschewed robes for visitors for the first time, and the laces on his shirt were spread and messy, the elegant hollow of his clavicle on display — so Blaise could see it, so Theo could.

Magic sparked in Harry’s fingers, persistent, itchy. It wouldn’t even take an incantation to close the gap of Draco’s collar, he knew; he could do it with the smallest of gestures, the vaguest of thoughts. Then Draco glanced at him, raising a brow in question at Harry’s silence. There was a sudden vacuum of noise in Harry’s head, of energy that didn’t belong to the two of them, in the single second it took for Draco’s gaze to flick to Harry’s clenched hand and back up to his face. Draco sniffed, turning back to Theo and Blaise, even as he reached up to centre the lopsided fall of his shirt. Even as he drew his laces closed and tied them off.

“All right,” Draco said. “And we’ll be in my room.”

“Aren’t you going to ask me if I fucked him?” he said later from the doorway of Harry’s room. He was leaned against the frame, arms folded, and Harry paused for only a second before continuing on to his wardrobe.

“I don’t have to,” Harry said. Finding his pyjamas, he took his towel off and sent it flying back to the loo. “I know you did.”

“Well, not today,” Draco drawled. Harry ticked him a glance. Flushed. Draco’s gaze was moving up and down his body. Harry pulled on his pants, then his bottoms, and Draco clicked his tongue. “In school, yes. A few times.”

“Some of that experience you mentioned.”

“Yes.”

“He wants you.”

“Merlin, I hadn’t realised,” Draco said. He put a dramatic hand to his chest. “I shall Owl him to offer the use of my body immediately. As I’m sure you’ve done for every admiring bit of post you’ve received over the years.”

Harry snorted. The constant churn in his stomach relented, for the first time in hours. He drew out his dressing robe and darted another cautious look to Draco. His lips were pulled up in a half smile, his expression wry.

“And Blaise?” Harry asked.

“Just once.” Draco held out his hand, flat, wavering it from side to side. “It was a bit like how I’d imagine you’d feel getting sucked off by Weasley.” He dropped his hand, voice cooling. “That is, Granger’s Weasley.”

“What—” Harry cursed, arm tangling in the sleeve of his robe. “What does that mean?”

“You know what it means.”

“I’ve never—” Harry hunched his shoulders a bit, a posture far more defensive than he was accustomed to, and one he didn’t like, but couldn’t seem to change. He met Draco’s eyes. “Not with any other man,” he said. “Ron—”

“Bill,” Draco said flatly.

“He’s married.”

“So are we.”

Harry exhaled. “Not in the same way. They chose it. They love each other.”

The ball of Draco’s throat moved in a hard swallow. He used his elbow to push off from the door frame. “Be that as it may,” he said, “he wants you. They might have an arrangement, like we’ll have an arrangement.” He walked up to Harry, smooth, loping strides that ate up the expanse of floor between them. “You could always ask, when we’re out of here. If that’s what you want.”

As though Harry knew what that was, anymore. “Planning for your own future with Theo?” he asked, voice rough. Draco had loosened the laces of his collar again, and it was only Wednesday, but Harry wanted to—

“I wouldn’t have to ask Theo so much as crook my finger for him to come running,” Draco said. “But I don’t—” He blinked, a small groove appearing between his eyes. In a slightly strained voice, he continued, “I wouldn’t. Not until I’m in my own life. If that’s something that needs to be said.”

It shouldn’t be. For either of them. Fidelity wasn’t a thing they owed one another, not like this, and perhaps neither was faith. But what Draco wasn’t saying felt more profound than the coil of their names etched on Harry’s wrist: I’ll trust you with this, if you trust me. Because they were friends, he waited on Harry’s faith — but was asking him to choose it.

The tingle of unpleasant magic, so close to the surface of Harry’s skin all day, receded, and the curve of his spine unlocked. Harry straightened, feeling the gust of Draco’s breath on his mouth, his cheek. “I wouldn’t, either.”

Draco nodded, then stepped away, turning his back. “Come to mine, if you like,” he said. “I asked Kreacher to prepare some chocolate, and you know he always makes too much of everything.”

* * *

The days grew shorter. Went by faster. Harry caught glimpses of them like one did from a high-speed broom, a blurry skip onward, and then a few clear images to sit with, until the next: bowing over the curls of shredded silver in the wandmaker’s cabinet; Draco’s thumb trapping Harry’s during the passing of a book. Skip. Teddy’s soft warm weight on Harry’s shoulders and the grip of his little hands in his hair; an unexpected shower springing up on a milder afternoon. Skip. The huddle of Draco’s body in the mornings under his covers, smaller than anyone so tall should be able to look; Hermione tipping towards Harry at the waist, brown eyes huge as he rambled about the importance of wandhilts. Skip. The arch of Draco’s smirk; the arch of his eyebrow; the arch of his bare foot.

And others, that should have blurred in Harry’s mind, fast and furtive and dangerous, but that he remembered with perfect, painful clarity, alone in his bed at night. Memories that were a bridge from one Saturday to the next.

Skip, skip, skip.

* * *

On Andromeda’s third visit, Draco brought Fearful down to meet them. Teddy’s pupils rounded, implausibly large and dark, and a gleeful ripple of grey scales shimmered across his cheeks, then faded. Andromeda kept her gaze steady on Draco while she cautioned Teddy to be careful with the snake, but Fearful took a liking to him and coiled neatly around his plump little wrist.

Joyful sounds, he told Harry, of Teddy’s delighted exclamations. “It speaks well of him, to be so New and so warm. He smells of Predator under his skin, but he will not hunt Snakes, this one.

“Look at how Teddy’s taken to him,” Draco murmured, his dimple gracing his cheek. “Perhaps he’ll be in Slytherin.” Then he glanced up guiltily — at Andromeda, at Harry, a stab of a look that made Harry’s heart clench — and dropped his eyes to Fearful again.

Andromeda made a thoughtful noise in the back of her throat. “Perhaps,” she said. “I was.”

“What did she mean by that?” Draco asked at dessert, not specifying as he dolloped his custard atop itself with his spoon.

“That she was a Slytherin, I think,” Harry said, eyes on the creamy, precarious tilt towering above the rim of Draco’s crystal serving dish. “That maybe Teddy will be, too.”

Draco pushed it down absently, and Harry glanced at his face — pensive, distant. “I loved being in Slytherin,” he said, sounding bewildered. “There was a green cast over everything in the Common Room, and a story attached to everything from the skulls to the tapestries. The Bloody Baron used to tell them to first years on Saturday nights.” His voice grew softer; he swished the head of his spoon over his custard. “I’d grown up with everyone in my year, knew everyone else, knew what to expect, and then…”

Harry watched him carefully. Draco’s expectations had likely been grandiose, full of the bowing and scraping that befit his status, spoiled little shit that he’d been. But with a disconcerting flash of insight, Harry could see why, beyond that, knowing what to expect would appeal to him. Draco was drawn to the uniformity of things, their order, their virtue; it was why he liked magical repair, why he was so good at it. Things should be this way, not that. This should work, as it was meant to.

Looking up, Draco caught him staring and schooled his expression. It left Harry feeling as though he’d been on the verge of knowing something new, something important, and had lost it. Draco dipped his spoon into his custard, brought it up. He said, “Merlin was in Slytherin,” then gave a small, nonchalant shrug, and slipped his spoon between his lips.

“I know.” Harry moved his foot sideways, a bump of his trainers against the edge of Draco’s boot, a knock of their knees together. Quiet, Draco shifted his leg away — then allowed it to fall back. He took another bite of his custard, and Harry said, “What kinds of stories did the Bloody Baron tell?”

Draco grinned around his spoon, drew it from his mouth. “Wouldn’t you love to know.”

“Yes,” Harry said unthinkingly, voice low, gazing at the streak of custard on Draco’s upper lip. Harry took a breath and looked down at the clink of his spoon against his bowl. Hand trembling, he set his spoon down.

“I have a book,” Draco said — offered. He took a last bite of his custard, then patted his mouth with a napkin and rose.

It had begun snowing outside, unusual in London until later in December — like the storms before it and the persistent heat of the summer had been. More unusual was the way it seemed to be sticking, swirls of fat white flakes coming to rest against the high, ground-level kitchen window ledges, building there, a spread something clean hiding the grime layered over the city. Harry’s eyes wandered to it on every floor as he ascended through the house with Draco, wondering what all of it meant.

In Draco’s room, he sat in his chair watching the drift of snow around the garden, while Draco rifled through one of his trunks. Draco came up behind him and slid a hand over the back of the chair, his knuckles brushing Harry’s shoulder. Harry didn’t move.

“It will be Christmas, in a few weeks,” Draco said.

“Yeah, I—” Harry glanced over his shoulder. Draco’s eyes were on the window, the book in his free hand. Harry turned back to the snow, leaning a little deeper into his chair. “I gave a list to Kreacher, for shopping. He has access to my vault, if you want to give him a list, too. I mean, I guess it’s both of ours, now.”

Draco sounded amused at the presumption, but not displeased. “I have my own vault. It’s not what it once was, granted, but it’s enough to purchase—” He pressed the backs of his fingers against Harry’s shoulder. “—an indulgence or two.” His voice softened, wistful as a secret. “I should hope.”

A memory surfaced from the recesses of Harry’s mind: getting shushed and impatiently tugged along in a modest cathedral, being sat on the hard wooden bench of a pew as Petunia pulled a small fold of cash and a note from her handbag. Officially, the Dursleys had been Anglican, and not the sort who went to church. But in the cabinet with her mixing bowls, Petunia had saved money in a jar for indulgences, next to small lists of her perceived sins — his name never on any of them.

Though your sins are like scarlet...

Harry’s heart was running at a sprint, that small point of contact with Draco through the material of his shirt so tantalising he could barely draw a breath, the words, Do you? rising in him, only to get trapped in his throat. And then Draco’s voice in his head, an echo from months ago: Why not?

There were so many reasons. But Harry’s pulse slowed, regardless; everything did. They watched the snowfall, and he let himself live in how good it was — the knowledge that Draco could stand at his shoulder, and Harry wouldn’t have to protect his back. After a while, Draco said, “Come on,” and moved away.

When Harry woke in the morning, he wasn’t surprised to find himself on Draco’s bed, though he’d had no memory of falling asleep. A chenille throw the colour of goblin wine had been draped over him, his trainers removed, his glasses. Beside him, Draco’s angles looked less cutting, but Harry saw his eyes open. “Sorry,” he said.

Draco drew his blankets higher over his shoulders and let his eyes fall shut again. He muttered huskily — to Harry, to himself, Harry couldn’t be sure. “Christmas,” his mouth was half-pressed to the pillow, “Coffee. Tree.”

In less time than it took Harry to procure the coffee, Kreacher had furnished them with a suitable tree. Snow was thick in the garden over the hedges and on the grass, the sky above it the shade of a robin’s egg. They left the curtains open to it and dressed the tree with ribbons and strings of berries, with tiny, exquisitely carved and bejeweled wooden ornaments from a trunk Kreacher brought down from the attic: a dragon with glowing ruby eyes, a wizard with an obsidian cloak, a unicorn with a luminescent opal horn. Kreacher, humming like an elf a hundred years younger, decorated the parlour’s mantelpiece with boughs of holly and evergreen, and with fat white candles charmed to burn for days without losing any of their wicks.

It was an intermission, an indulgence Harry gave himself. Two days, before it all melted; two days away from the loop of questions in his head, from wishing he could be anywhere else. The blinding bright snow outside, covering all manner of things.

* * *

It was bound to end.

Everything ends, Sirius had told him. Every glad mood, every bit of magic, no matter how old or strong. Nothing Voldemort does will change that, you can content yourself knowing that, but nothing you do will, either. Then, with a low laugh at the look on Harry’s face, It’s not as cynical as it sounds, Harry. There can be renewal to an ending, growth. Think of it like Vanishing an object, or Transfiguration. Ah, there’s a Muggle phrase your mum said once. About doors…

One door closes, another opens?

Yes, that’s it. Relationships, people, nature, magic. Full of doors. Summer into autumn, winter into spring. Sirius’ grey eyes upon him, evaluating, understanding. And then summer once more. We’ve found each other, Harry. It may take a while, but we’ll see each other again. Are your trunks packed?

It was their last conversation before the day Harry had gone off to fifth year. Sometimes, Harry thought Sirius had known he wouldn’t live through the war, had been trying to prepare him for the inevitability of his absence. His heart so stupidly, recklessly loyal, his losses so close to the surface.

Everything ends.

Quicker and easier than falling asleep.

The night Ron and Hermione were to come to dinner, Harry caught Draco tossing through his wardrobe with a stoic sort of indignation, and let him be. He waited in the study, at first reading a book on wandlore and legends, and then glancing to the staircase every five minutes, every three, every thirty seconds. Draco walked in at two minutes of six; he’d ultimately decided on a set of casual teal robes that set off the colour of his hair and flared from the hip to his knees, black boots and breeks underneath. He left the top buttons of his collar undone, a flap of material that drew Harry’s gaze, just to the right of his jaw, Draco’s entire presentation either a testament to how much he’d learned, or a point he was trying to make.

“Are you okay?” Harry asked.

Draco made a sharp gesture, jaw firming as he stared at the Floo crackling green. “I’m fine.”

He wasn’t, but he seemed to relax at dinner, answering questions when asked, volunteering small asides that didn’t shift the conversation, which Harry and Hermione carried. Ron eyed him narrowly, with suspicion, and interjected with small, probing barbs that Draco either took as his due or had decided not to respond to. And then, midway through the meal, Harry growing more and more tense, Ron simply… stopped. He squinted at Draco, continued squinting through to the trifle Kreacher served, and muttered later to Harry, “Did you do that to him, or did he?” And, grudgingly following Hermione’s example, held out a hand to shake.

Draco took it briefly, soberly. His shoulders had gone so straight under his robes Harry wanted to curve his palms over them, wanted to press his thumbs to the knotted muscles under the sweet spot on Draco’s nape, and ease that strain.

“Where did you get your scar?” he asked Draco before bed — touching it without thinking, pulling away — because he couldn’t ask what was wrong.

Draco, stretched out next to him under his covers, stopped reading mid-sentence and held himself very still for a moment. Then he set down Horrific Relics and Tales of the Esteemable Slytherin House and rolled over to face Harry, a tug of the blankets Harry was lying on top of, and said, simply, “I fell, when I was four.”

“Really?” Harry asked. His hand seemed to lift on its own; Draco watched it but didn’t stop him, and the side of his neck was warm under Harry’s fingers. Harry found the scar with ease, blindly, and rubbed it with the pad of his index finger, the throb of Draco’s pulse fast under his thumb. Draco swallowed, and Harry said, “How do you get a scar so small there, from a fall?”

“I—” Draco took a breath, shifting, pulling back a little, enough to leave Harry’s hand empty. “I tried to fly my father’s broom,” he said. The pink in his cheeks looked like spring, and Harry balled up his hand and pressed it to his side to keep from touching that, too. “I fell onto the gravel in the drive of the Manor and broke my leg in two places. Everyone was so busy tending to that, no one noticed the cut. By the time they had, it was too late to fix.”

Harry thought of that, of Draco young and arrogant enough to mount a full-sized broom, to think he could control it. Thought of his pointy face, rounder, fuller, like a toddler's. He smiled. “It, uh. It looks like a crescent moon.”

“Does it?”

“Right next to that little mole.”

“We all have one,” Draco said. His lashes swept low. Under them, Harry saw Draco’s eyes move to his mouth, move away. “Everyone in my mother’s line. Hers is behind her left ear, here.” He pushed his hair back, touched the spot. The tip of his ear had turned as pink as the warm, inviting flush on his face, like he knew that Harry suddenly wanted to kiss him there, and in the spot he’d touched, and on the back of his neck. Like it had just occurred to him, as well, that they were bare hours until Saturday; until they’d be able to touch, and breathe into each other, and find release — though never for too long, and never very deep, and always more restrained than Harry wanted, since the day Harry had gone to his knees for him.

That had been the point, after all, in holding to the schedule: to reserve something of himself, of both of them, so they could both leave intact.

Now, Harry didn’t know which parts of himself to fear losing. If he pulled Draco’s hips tight to his, if he kissed him, if it no longer felt tainted by obligation. He let the thought settle in his mind, and put his fingers to the soft cotton over Draco’s hip. Draco drew a breath — pulling further away.

“I—” Draco exhaled, a shaky thing that sent a thrill shivering through Harry’s bloodstream. He looked at Harry a moment longer, then rolled to his back and put a hand over his eyes. He laughed just once, like he had that morning weeks ago, and cut himself off. He removed his hand, and said, “I got a letter from my mother this afternoon. She’ll be here tomorrow.”

“She?”

Draco’s lips thinned. “They,” he said curtly. “They’ll both be here.”

Harry heard it like the swift clip of the playing card Dudley had affixed to the spokes of his third bicycle — an insidious sound he’d learnt to identify for the few extra seconds of warning it gave him, whenever he’d been stupid enough to nearly get caught on the playground by himself: Run, you still have time to run.

He sat up, slowly. Swung his legs off the side of the bed. “You couldn’t put them off anymore?”

“How—?” There was a rustling of the blankets behind Harry. Then, flat: “No, I couldn’t. They’re my parents.”

“I know.”

Fearful was fast asleep in his terrarium, but lifted his head from the coil of his body with a flicker of his tongue, as if sensing trouble. He set his head down again, and Harry blew out a breath.

“Do you think I’ve liked it?” Draco asked scathingly. “Having to greet people who hate me, having to welcome them, knowing I’d not even have a seat at my own table—”

Harry turned sharply; Draco was sat up in bed, the sheets clenched in his fists, hectic colour ablaze in his face. “Are you saying they don’t have a right to feel that way?”

Draco’s eyes shuttered. Rigidly, he drew back against the headboard. “If I’d been saying that, I would have said that,” he bit out.

“Then what?” Harry demanded, sympathising with Draco’s mad laughter from before; the urge to copy it nearly overwhelmed him. “That I should be fine doing the same? Feeling unwelcome at my table, having to put up with someone who’s never earned the right to hate me, but who’s wanted me dead since I was a child?”

“No. I don’t want you there,” Draco said, voice abruptly weary, bitterness drained away. His expression had shifted like a faultline; or at least Harry felt it that way — running jagged across his heart. “I never wanted you there. I’ll keep them to the study, you’ll have full run of your house. I don’t want you there. Greet them tomorrow and go.”

Harry’s hairline had broken out in a sweat. He rubbed a hand over it, over his face for good measure, then reached for his glasses. Everything ends, Sirius had told him; he supposed that included denial.

“I’ll greet them,” he said, standing. He picked up his trainers from the side of the bed. “I— Yeah. Draco.”

“What.”

“Your timing is rubbish,” Harry said, not looking at his face. “I’ll see you in the morning.”

Chapter Text

I’ve figured it out, Harry, the reason the Blacks name their descendants after constellations. It's because they burn so hot, stars, and some of them so much brighter than the rest of us, all they can do is burn themselves out.

After the fact, Harry could never be sure when the conversation had taken place. A day following Sirius’ death, three, a week perhaps, and only once; at times, he convinced himself it was a dream. But he did remember two things: the staggering grief in Remus' broken voice as he'd said that, and the photograph he'd been holding. In it, Sirius had either climbed or Apparated to the top of a glowing cinema sign and was standing on one foot, arms thrown out wide — laughing. His smile was carefree, a dashing sort of fuck you, and more dazzling than the one fading on his face as he’d fallen through the Veil, but achingly similar. Remus had traced the shape of it while Harry watched.

That smile was the first thing Harry thought of when Draco joined him downstairs in the morning.

“Where did you get that?” Harry asked.

“Get what?” Draco’s strides didn’t even falter for a second, a tiny, baffled check on his forehead. The perfect fit of his trousers drew Harry’s eye to the length of his legs as he walked, to the flexing curve of his arse.

Harry frowned, declining to play along. He’d put on the same robes Draco had chosen for him the first time the Malfoys had intended to call, but Draco wore neither robes, nor his swashbuckling wizard attire. Instead, he’d chosen a Muggle suit in black. He’d left off the jacket, and the severe tailoring of his waistcoat hugged the line of his ribcage; his tie was crimson, his watch fob and collar-studs, gold; his shirt a snowy white

“You cut your hair,” Harry said. The glossy, pale curtain that had grown out near to his jaw was gone. He’d cropped it high on his neck but had parted it to one side and kept it relaxed, rather than slicking it back.

“Kreacher did. You didn’t shave,” Draco said. From the drinks cabinet, he eyed Harry over his shoulder. “Excuse me, I thought we were stating the obvious about one another.”

“Isn’t it a bit early to be so thirsty?” Harry asked.

Draco turned, a bottle of Perrier in one hand. “Is it?” He finished topping off his glass, then lounged against the bar of the open cabinet, pushing one hand deep into his pocket. The ring he wore on the pinky of his right hand winked gold and red as he sipped his water. “I know you’re preoccupied with schedules, but I didn’t realise you had such strong opinions over them regarding hydration, too.”

“I’m sensible that way,” Harry said evenly. “Hydration is important.”

“It can be,” Draco agreed. He smirked. “And aren’t you looking fit today. Having some of your people over later?”

“No.” Harry’s jaw was starting to hurt. “I don’t invite my people on Saturdays,” he said, and then winced. He hadn’t meant for it to come out quite so pointed — not that Draco seemed troubled by his tone.

“Neither do I.” Draco shrugged. “I suppose it’s a good thing we have a week’s cushion.” He waved the hand holding his glass, then raised it in a toast.

“Draco—”

“Ah, ah,” Draco said, a warning lilt to his voice. He nodded at the spurt of flame forming in the Floo, his glass scraping as he set it down. Harry levered himself from the sofa and Draco came to stand on his left. He murmured, “Close the doors on your way out, please,” and then laced their fingers together. He didn’t acknowledge Harry’s look except to squeeze Harry’s hand tighter. He stared ahead, unreadable in profile as his parents stepped from the fireplace.

They’d made the same remarkable recovery as everyone else, since Harry laid eyes on them. Narcissa’s pale cheeks bloomed with health, and Lucius was as tall and unpleasant as ever, a sneer of distaste pulling at his upper lip. Both of them wore the same kind of semi-formal robes that Draco insisted upon with Harry’s family and friends. Lucius was stark in solid black robes, colour only hinted at in the muted emerald of his buttons, the silver trimmings of his cane. Beside him, Narcissa was more welcoming to look at, her robes silver-grey and covered in lace as delicate as spider silk, the gathered material fitted close around her bust and then falling like a dress to the tops of her shoes. Arm-in-arm, they presented as a unified front, haughty and forbidding, perhaps even frightening — to anyone who wasn’t Harry.

He squeezed Draco’s hand back. “You are welcome, Narcissa Malfoy,” he said. He let his pause fill the room, cuttingly, the one weapon at his disposal if he couldn’t draw his wand. Lucius’ face grew, if possible, even colder, and Harry smiled and looked back to his wife. “You are welcome, Narcissa Malfoy’s guest.”

Draco made a sound suspiciously close to a snort over his father’s quickly-indrawn hiss, but when Harry glanced at him, he was still perfectly composed. Narcissa cleared her throat, and Harry felt Draco straighten a bit next to him.

“Thank you for the invitation,” she said to Harry, then immediately turned her gaze to Draco. The line of her brow softened.

“Indeed,” Lucius said curtly, tossing his ponytail back. His gloved hand tightened on the handle of his cane.

No one moved. Then Draco dipped his chin and, in the same tone Lucius had used, said, “Dad,” before turning to look at his mother. His Adam’s apple worked for a moment. “Mum.” The clutch of his hand was desperate in Harry’s own, bordering on painful — and then Draco unlinked their fingers and took a deep breath. “Harry has something to attend to upstairs, but I thought we could take lunch in here.”

Narcissa gave a halting nod and stepped forward, and Draco’s shoulders rounded as he gathered her close. Harry remembered a time when she had seemed so tall, imposing, but Draco’s height, even stooped as it was, dwarfed hers. Narcissa let out a small, muffled sob and turned her face into his neck. “Darling,” she said, her hands flat on his trembling back. “Oh, my darling boy.”

Her hair was up in a wispy coil at the nape of her neck. Harry’s heart clenched as he spotted the freckle behind her ear Draco had mentioned. And Draco’s, partially hidden by his starched shirt collar but visible enough, calling attention to the rest of the similarities between them — the distinctive shade of their hair, with more golden undertones than Lucius’; the dimple that appeared in her cheek when she pulled away, smiling, to inspect Draco’s face. The shape of their eyes, wide-set and faintly upturned.

Harry took a step back as Draco pulled her in for another hug, then hesitated. Draco’s left arm had hooked around her back, his hand cupping the outside of her right shoulder. A tight clasp, familiar, warm. Harry blinked and excused himself, taking care he didn’t look to be in a hurry. He closed the arched doors behind him and sagged against them, mind racing. Catching his breath, he headed to Draco’s room, then called Kreacher.

“Will Master Harry be wanting more stomach potions, sir?” Kreacher asked, glassy eyes narrowing. “Or does he be having his tea now?”

“Uh. Neither. Thank you.” Harry massaged above the bridge of his glasses. “Kreacher, can you… Can…?” It was possible he was making something out of nothing. Probable, really. And it wasn’t his business. And Draco didn’t want him to get involved. And Harry didn’t want to get involved, not where those two were concerned.

“Kreacher will be doing whatever Master Harry is asking of him,” Kreacher said, gaze locked on him.

Harry glanced at the items scattered on Draco’s bureau and sucked his lips in. Bit down on them. “Please prepare our meals for four today. Thank you.”

Kreacher’s slow nod gave a weight to Harry’s request he hadn’t anticipated, and Harry exhaled. He looked at himself in the bevelled mirror floating above the bureau, at the lightning scar that had marked him as the enemy of Draco’s family for nineteen years, and the shaggy black hair he’d got from his dad. He met his eyes, but couldn’t see the conflict he felt in them. They were just green, how they’d always been, same as his mother’s — the way Draco’s eyes were grey, like his father’s. A genetic inheritance that signified little, far less than he’d once thought.

Draco’s parents weren’t going to hurt him, Harry knew that. Narcissa had risked her life to find out if he was alive; she’d whispered Darling in his ear. But Harry shed his robes, regardless, and took a second to transfigure the Gryffindor t-shirt Hermione had given him for Christmas last year into something more appropriate, then started on preparations for the rest.

He was back downstairs in under thirty minutes, the clash of voices growing more apparent as he got closer to the study. None of them were loud, but each were shaded by the same aggressively polite tone.

“—are happy. I think I’ve made that clear,” Draco was saying. “Have I not?”

A low, masculine scoff sounded. “How, precisely?” Lucius asked. “By wearing that?”

“I was actually referring to my letters,” Draco said. “Mother can attest to them. This is incidental.”

Diplomatically, Narcissa said, “While I’m proud of your extraordinary ability to adapt, I cannot help but wonder whether your… experience here might not have…” Harry pushed the doors open and went in. The Malfoys were sitting on the sofa, Draco standing near the fire with an elbow on the mantelpiece, his face planted in his hand. No one seemed to notice Harry at first, Narcissa still struggling to phrase her thought in a way Draco might listen to. “...influenced you to—”

“Hello.” Harry slipped an arm around Draco’s waist and felt him freeze — could practically hear the terrifying speed of his thoughts. But when Draco lifted his head, whatever shock he’d felt at Harry’s presence had rearranged on his face to better resemble the frustration that matched his tone. Harry said, “I didn’t have as much to do as we thought. I hope it’s okay if I join you for lunch.”

“That’s not necessary,” Draco said, even as he moved into Harry’s space. “In fact, I think—”

“It’s fine,” Harry said. He caught Draco’s eyes and tried to transmit the sentiment with his own: It’s fine. I promise. He took Draco’s left hand in his and rubbed the wedding band Draco had put on with his thumb. It fit him perfectly, sliding in a twirl around his finger but leaving no space between flesh and metal. Harry’s did too, peculiarly well, charmed to adhere to the most comfortable size for the wearer. He looked to Narcissa. “If I’m not interrupting.”

“You are, in matter of fact,” Lucius said. He tapped the small table in front of the sofa with his wand, and an unbound scroll resting there snapped closed and shot into his grip. Smoothly, he tucked it into an inner pocket of his robes.

Harry raised his eyebrows. “I wasn’t asking you, but I can make that more obvious if there’s any confusion.”

“That would be lovely,” Narcissa interjected, giving her husband a small, cautionary shake of the head, which Harry interpreted to mean Later — an opportunity Harry was no longer inclined to give them. Narcissa settled her hands in her lap and turned a reserved smile on Harry, blue eyes shrewd. “If you’re sure your elf can accommodate a last minute addition.”

“I already checked with Kreacher; he said there will be plenty of cassoulet,” Harry said, pronouncing it with a hard ‘t’ just for the satisfaction of seeing the Malfoys twitch with disapproval. “And, you know, whatever befores and afters he’s got cooking. I keep asking if he can make an Every Flavour cake out of the beans, but he insists on things like soufflés, so that’s probably what you’ll get.” The muscles at Draco’s waist tensed under Harry’s hand and his expression took on the slightly wild-eyed look of someone trying not to laugh. Harry grinned and pulled him in, tilting his face up as if to press a kiss to Draco’s temple.

“What are you doing?” Draco breathed. Harry shrugged, moving away.

“I see.” Narcissa pursed her lips. “Well, I’m certainly glad he hasn’t proven to be a disappointment in other ways,” she said, gesturing to the trimmed tree. It sparkled off-centre of the window, glamoured with a finish of fairy lights.

Harry pointed at the mantelpiece, beautiful with its sprigs of holly and flickering candles — no small feat, in Harry’s opinion. Nothing that brought brightness and merriment to Grimmauld Place was. “That was his contribution, actually. Draco and I did the tree on our own.”

“How proletarian of you, Draco,” Lucius said with a sniff. He thumped the tip of his cane against the rug and gave Harry a flat stare. “I don’t suppose this elf of yours will have our meal ready any time soon?”

“Do you need some advice on making pleasantries while we wait, Lucius?” Harry asked, lifting Draco’s hand to kiss his ring.

He meant to convey the same disdain coming off Lucius in waves, meant for it to make the point he thought Draco’s Muggle clothing did, and Sirius’ smile. But the metal was warm from Draco’s skin, and the muscles at Draco’s waist tightened again, a fevered ripple Harry recognised and caught.

And then, it was no longer about the Malfoys — was no longer about anything but Draco’s long fingers pressing into his palm like a signal, and how infinitely precious that felt: I’ll trust you know what you’re doing. Without thinking, Harry drifted his lips to the knuckle below Draco's ring. To the tiny valley between his ring and middle fingers, parting his lips enough to dampen the spot with his tongue, and again over the bone of Draco’s middle knuckle, and into the next dip, and back up. Continuing, when Draco tilted his hand, arrested, the balance of his held breath loud between them as Harry followed the line of his hand down to his thumb, each kiss saturated with a gentleness Harry hadn’t known he still possessed, rising from some place inside him he’d secreted away. He kissed the jut of Draco’s thumb knuckle, and moved along to the bone of his wrist, then turned Draco’s hand and nosed the cuff of his sleeve higher to press his lips to the pattern of veins Harry knew by heart.

Draco released his breath, inhaling before it was out. Harry raised his head. The meeting of their eyes felt like a collision in him, a suspension of disbelief so huge that the blur of the room around them sharpened audibly, with a loud crack. Draco blinked, once at first and then several times, colour spilling across his cheeks, his upper lip red as though he’d been biting it. He slipped his hand from Harry’s and turned his face away.

Lunch is being served,” Harry heard Kreacher say and, adrift, looked over to find him standing in the middle of the study. Of course; the cracking noise had been him. Narcissa was still sitting on the sofa, studying the tree with contrived disinterest, but sometime in the last minute or two, Lucius had made his way to the drinks cabinet and was sipping from the generous amount of whiskey he’d poured into a snifter.

Harry eased subtly back from Draco and cleared his throat. “After you.”

Draco’s parents exchanged a look. Then Narcissa rose from the sofa and arched an expectant brow at her husband. Lucius tossed back the rest of his drink before moving to her side and offering his arm. They followed Kreacher, a straight-backed flow of steps out of the room, apparently unaware the entire world had shifted under everyone’s feet.

“What—” Draco gulped and shook his head. He darted a glance at Harry from the corner of his eye, and then did a double-take at his shirt. “Slytherin?”

“I figured they needed to know I was on your side.” Harry’s voice cracked — youthful, self-conscious. The burn in Draco’s cheeks matched the one Harry felt all over.

“I told you—”

“I heard it.” Harry nodded to Draco’s left hand, curled into a loose fist. “And I saw what you didn’t say,” he said. Draco sucked a whistle of air in through his teeth. “We should t—”

“Get in there,” Draco said, avoiding his eyes. He tucked his hand back into his pocket. “Yes, we should.”

Harry thought, We have things to say. But it wasn’t the time, so he simply slipped his hand into the crook of Draco’s elbow and stepped close once more — thumbing the slender curvature of Draco’s bicep, feeling it flex as Draco escorted him out.

* * *

After lunch, Harry suggested the Malfoys stay for tea. After tea, he invited them to dinner. Narcissa accepted on their behalf time and again.

The day was an exercise in sharp-eyed patience, a meticulously strategic duel, two areas in which it seemed the Malfoys had forgotten Harry’s experience. When Narcissa requested that Draco show her their room, Harry cut off Draco’s objection with two fingers pressed to the small of his back and went up with them; when Lucius flung his napkin onto the table and announced he and Draco needed privacy for an official discussion on their business holdings, Harry offered him the use of an owl to send for a solicitor. Moves made, and countered — by Harry’s clothing hanging in Draco’s wardrobe and two dented pillows on Draco’s bed, by an appointment with a solicitor a month out. Draco’s aplomb proved as essential as Harry’s determination in their roles as… whatever roles they’d assigned themselves for this pretense.

A thing far less complicated than whatever they actually were, certainly. Mundane moments of their real life lived under a watchful eye: Draco’s gaze a flutter against the side of Harry’s face, his lips upturned at a wry comment, the thoughtless pull of his wand to Vanish the beets from Harry’s salad. And on and on, the world bending around Harry each time, only to form anew, a little further away from any sort of pretense at all.

The sky was fully dark by the time Draco’s parents took their leave, and Harry’s amusement at Lucius’ accumulating rage over being thwarted had worn as thin as Lucius’ control over it.

“I’m sure Draco will send you an invitation again, soon,” Harry told him grimly at the Floo. “Narcissa, we appreciate your coming.”

Another caned thump landed against the floors. Harry suspected he’d find hundreds of divots in the wood, if he cared to look in the morning. Lucius gave Harry a look he’d have expected from a snake in the grass, his loathing palpable. “You think you’ve accomplished something here. You’re merely a—”

“Dad.” Draco returned the full measure of his father’s glare, his tone uncompromising. “No.”

Harry hesitated. But before he could make up his mind whether to respond on his own, Narcissa said, “Lucius, please go ensure the elves have lit the fires in our parlour and bedroom.” She pulled her wand from the miniscule handbag dangling from her wrist and touched her robes with a murmur, the gossamer material unfurling to drape around her shoulders in a makeshift cape. Glancing up to find her husband still there, she adopted a tone of surprise. “I’ll be right along, my dear.”

Lucius gritted his teeth and nodded stiffly to her, his only goodbye. The puff of green smoke from his departure left an acidic taste on Harry’s tongue.

“Well, then.” Narcissa paused. “Today has been enlightening. Mr Potter, if I may have a moment to say farewell to my son in private? You have nothing to fear from me, I assure you.”

“I have nothing to fear from either of you,” Harry said, “and I’m perfectly fine where I am.”

“Harry,” Draco said. He tightened his hand on Harry’s forearm. “I’d like to speak with my mother alone.”

Harry looked from one to the other, their striking similarities and multitude of differences. Genetic inheritance versus environmental influence; one less complicated to change than the other, but achievable with the right sort of effort. Harry didn’t want to leave them. But then Draco squeezed his forearm again, and leaned in to brush a kiss over the corner of his mouth.

“Thank you,” Draco said, as if Harry’d agreed already. “I’ll be up shortly.”

The hallway felt desolate, despite the seasonal decorations Kreacher had applied with a liberal hand. Harry sat on the top stair of the third floor landing and looked at them — wreaths of greenery and berries hung on the wall panels, pomander balls of orange and clove lining the steps of the staircase. The mistletoe he and Draco both carefully avoided finding each other under, a fracture between desire and maintenance of the status quo.

The doors to the study opened, and Harry stood as Draco stepped out and spotted him. He was holding a small parcel wrapped in brown paper, and he set it on the ornate pillar at the bottom of the staircase as he passed, legging up the stairs two at a time. His gaze narrow but mesmerising, and Harry’s body pulsed with a craving so deep he was hit with a devastating surge of vertigo. He clutched at the railing desperately. I would have done that for anyone, he thought at the intent he saw on Draco’s face as he advanced. Nothing has changed, he thought, and felt like a liar.

Draco stopped on the step below him, blocked by Harry’s body from proceeding further. Harry swallowed and said, “What was that about? The ring, the scroll. The— act? Why—?” Draco gripped the front of his shirt and moved him, taking the landing. He continued to propel Harry backwards, and Harry breathlessly got out, “I want an explanation,” just before his shoulders were pressed to a wall.

“Yes.” Draco released his shirt and cupped Harry’s jaw from under his chin. He spread his fingers on one side, his thumb digging painfully into the other, and raised Harry’s face a touch as if about to kiss him. There was no time to be disappointed when he didn’t; Draco held him there and ran his free hand down Harry’s chest and stomach. He lifted Harry’s shirt and paused to crook his finger into the waistband of Harry’s jeans, tugging, then let go and continued — past Harry’s belt, down to the bulge of his erection. “An explanation, is that what you want?”

“Y-yeah.” Harry groaned it, rolling his hips into Draco’s massaging palm. An answer to both questions. He let his head fall back to the wall, hands rising to the silk of Draco’s waistcoat. “Draco—”

“Harry,” Draco mocked. His eyes were dark and knowing. He traced the outline of Harry’s cock with firm fingers, slipped them down the inseam of Harry’s jeans. Harry gulped, throat moving against Draco’s steady hand there, and widened his stance. Draco smirked and stroked his balls through denim, then abruptly let go of Harry’s jaw and jerked the tail of his belt loose from Harry’s jean loops. He tightened the length of leather unnecessarily hard, pinching Harry’s hips as he released the belt prong from its hole, and muttered, “It is Saturday, after all. Isn’t it.”

His words hollowed out Harry's anticipation, his daze. He flattened one hand against Draco’s ribcage, tailbone thudding against the wall. “Stop.”

The two sides of Harry’s belt went lax, jangling as they were dropped. Draco thrust himself back and whirled to face away with such immediacy, Harry could only assume he’d been expecting a rejection. Shoulders heaving, Draco said, “Right. Yes. Of course. I shouldn’t have presumed—”

“Oh, shut it,” Harry snapped. He reached out, gripped the outside of Draco’s arm. Felt him flinch. “Presume what you like. Just don’t…”

“No,” Draco said, voice constricted, and Harry’s hand fell away from him. “I won’t.” There was another beat of silence, and then he pulled his wand from his sleeve and flicked it. The parcel he’d set at the bottom of the stairs shot into his outstretched hand. “An explanation, then. Well, come on.”

Bewildered, Harry re-buckled his belt and followed him, the tension in his body a reminder of what he’d just turned down. Draco went to the end of the corridor and turned down one of the new corners rather than heading up to the next level. He opened the third door on the left, the eighteenth-century tea parlour Harry had only ever been in to add to the House map.

Draco had clearly been back since. No longer filmed by a layer of dust, the wood shone, reflecting their movements across the cosy space the house had allotted; the torn linens over the tea table had been cleaned and repaired; the design of the tarnished, twisted bit of metal that screened the fireplace was now obvious — a brass peacock, feathers spread. Draco led him to the plushly-cushioned settee and dropped onto one side as if he’d run out of energy. Harry gingerly took a seat across from him. A clock chimed on the mantelpiece.

“It looks good in here,” Harry said.

Draco shrugged — nodding, distant. “Didn’t need a lot of work.”

“What’s—” Harry cleared his throat and pointed to the parcel Draco held. It was small, round, the size of a grapefruit. “Is that part of whatever’s going on?”

“Oh. No.” Draco let it fall from his fingers. It bounced on the cushion, and they both watched it roll between them. Not a fragile thing, then. “Something I asked my mother to find.” He leaned against the arm of the settee, stretching his legs out, shoes scraping the floor. The fabric of his trousers pulled tight across his crotch. He’d gone soft; Harry was still getting there. Draco gave him a veiled look. “She’d bring me anything I asked.”

It didn’t sound boastful. Harry said, “She loves you.”

“You think my father doesn’t.”

Harry grimaced. But he remembered Lucius pleading with Voldemort for Draco’s life, remembered him and Narcissa screaming for their son as they’d torn through the castle on that last, chaotic night. “I never said that. What were they trying to talk to you into doing?”

“Signing a marriage contract.” A faint smile curled his lips. Vanished.

A laugh burbled from Harry’s throat. But Draco’s eyes remained on him, steady, unamused, and Harry cut himself off with a thoughtless blurt. “Wait, really?”

“My mother sent me a letter about it,” Draco said dryly. “Early in September. You didn’t think Granger and Bill Weasley have been the only ones doing research, did you?” He didn’t wait for Harry to respond. “My father found… precedent. In the family histories. Written into a contract that predated ours. It allows the sole Malfoy heir to take on additional spouses if the first proves infertile with him.”

“Additional spouses,” Harry said numbly. “To produce a legitimate heir.”

“Yes. We had an appointment, you know, set for the day after my release,” Draco said, “to meet with the Greengrasses.” He raised an eyebrow and Harry shook his head. The name was vaguely familiar, but he couldn’t place it. Draco shrugged. “They’re a pureblood family. Well-respected, but their fortune has taken some hits in the last century. Both daughters were in my House. It was the younger who’d been offered to me, Astoria. Very pretty, calm. My father had been negotiating via Owl with their family for months. I refused the match.” That same ironic smile flickered over his mouth. “Neither of my parents believed I was serious. Or they thought I could be persuaded into it. Maybe I could have been, who knows.”

Reeling, Harry asked, “What would happen if you signed? Would you be able to get out?”

Draco pushed up from the settee and walked to the fireplace, a burst of restless movement. He stilled the pendulum on the clock with his forefinger, set it to swinging again. “It doesn’t particularly matter,” he said. “Endure a determined length of imprisonment here, or a lifetime of it elsewhere.”

“It sounded like— Like your mother—”

“Was trying to convince me?” Draco asked. He turned, crossing his arms defensively. “Yes. She—” He huffed softly, shook his head. “Queerness isn’t something she can relate to, but arranged marriage is. She had a suitor she cared for before her match with my father; she did her duty and found happiness. She expects it would work the same for me.”

“But…” Harry’s cheeks heated. “Why? Just for the heir? There are lots of ways to, um. If that was so important. Muggle ways, adoption. And I’m—”

“Wealthy, desired, worshipped by the world at large?”

Harry hesitated. Nodded.

“My father loves me,” Draco said. “But he loves me best when I’m of use to him. You’re one of the only people who’d never let him leverage me for his personal gain. You won't be used at all.”

“No, I won’t.” Harry studied the dour crease beside his mouth. “You won’t either.”

“Are you so sure of that?”

“Yes,” Harry said.

Draco flashed him a look, then turned back to the clock. “It’s been a long few years,” he said, as though that explained everything. Maybe it did.

“Can they force you?” Harry stood and Draco tensed as he approached. “Can they?”

“I’m twenty-one.” Draco paused. “‘Force’ isn’t the right term.”

“So you told your mother we were happy,” Harry said. He touched Draco’s elbow, guided him back around. “And you didn’t think I would back you? Draco—”

“Don’t,” Draco said, jerking from Harry’s touch. “I don’t know why you did that. I said you shouldn't be involved."

"You always say that to get me to do things," Harry said unthinkingly.

Draco went motionless, the play of resentment on his face like the fading ripples on the disturbed surface of a pond, and Harry stilled too. It wasn't something he'd consciously realised until he'd said it. But he could see it so clearly in retrospect, he didn't know quite how to feel about the fact that he hadn't, before. Draco's frequent discouragements felt like a glove striking Harry's cheek, a challenge to respond to. It was a strange sort of power to have, and yet Draco hadn't exercised it unkindly; he'd only used it regarding things Harry had ended up enjoying, and never for his own gain.

Stunned, he said it again, as though doing so might explain it to him: "You always tell me not to do things when… When you think I should."

"I…" Draco swallowed several times. "You'll do what you want, nothing I say will change…"

Harry acknowledged the truth of that. But sometimes Draco's resistance made doing things a lot more fun.

Regardless," Draco said, clearing his throat. "This wasn't about you. I didn't ask for your help, and you had no reason to give it.” Bitterness underscored the flat affectation of his tone. “You have none.”

Yes, I do. Harry met Draco’s defiant gaze. It felt like such a small thing to say, but cornered — a triangular statement, each slant leading to a narrow point. Harry thought it might cut his throat to get it out.

“It's not that I don't… appreciate it,” Draco said stiffly. “But your— heroics—”

“That wasn’t me being a hero,” Harry said. “That was me being your— friend.”

“Semantics,” Draco scoffed. He slipped his ring off. It made a soft clink upon the mantelpiece.

Harry’s chest hurt. He rubbed it, grinding the heel of his hand over his heart. “Listen, I’m going to write to Hermione and Bill — don’t say no — to make sure your parents can’t— that there aren’t any other precedents that allow them to make this sort of decision for you. I won’t let them, alright?”

“They can’t, but if it makes you feel better,” Draco said.

“It will.”

“Fine.” Searching his face, Draco took a step back. “I’m going to bed. We can—” he waved a hand, even the graceful swoop of his fingers through the air enticing, “—another time.” He turned and made for the door, but stopped and looked at Harry before stepping out. “I meant it, though. I appreciate what you did. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.”

* * *

Draco quarantined himself in his room, working out whatever he needed worked out. Harry asked Kreacher to come to him if anything was wrong, strangely let down when all Kreacher had to report was that Draco was eating, that he was resting a lot, that he was being productive. But he is telling Kreacher he cannots be revealing how, Kreacher added with a crafty smile.

Harry didn’t ask, as Kreacher seemed to expect. He kept himself busy writing letters, working. But he paused by Draco’s door when he went downstairs in the morning — and on his way up to the wandmaker’s cabinet — and up to his room at night. The strains of music that sometimes accompanied Draco’s spellwork sounded, and the tearing of fabric, and the whoosh of a fire, sucked clean of oxygen. Twinkling colours danced under the crack of his door, around its edges.

Harry watched and listened until they faded, then removed himself to his room, his shower, his bed. Frustrated, wanting him, and wanting to be wanted by him. Twisting his fist around the head of his cock and groaning, imagining his touch was Draco’s. Imagining what might have happened if he hadn’t denied him at the top of the staircase. Lonely for more than that.

“Life didn’t stop in my absence, I see,” Draco said archly, walking into the marital chamber. He was barefoot and had lost his tie but was still wearing his Muggle clothes, decidedly rumpled three days later. He smelled of freshening charms, but hadn’t shaved.

“Was it supposed to?” Harry asked, heart kicking into high gear. His words crystallised in the frigid air with the window open and he turned back to the birds, cosy in their house. “One of them laid eggs,” he explained, tipping some bird seed from his palm into Draco’s outstretched hand.

Draco sprinkled it into their house. His eyes were alight above the purple smudges that gave away his exhaustion, and a smile teased the corners of his mouth. “I’m sorry,” he murmured, dusting his hands when they were empty. “I’ve been… I needed to…” He shook his head. “I’ve been otherwise engaged.”

“As long as everything’s okay.”

“Kreacher hasn’t kept you apprised?”

Harry flushed. “I’m not going to apologise for checking on you after what happened with the mermaid scales.” He went to close the window, and Draco moved — pressing close to his back.

“I’m not here for an apology,” Draco said into his ear. “Harry?”

“Fuck.” Harry felt Draco’s lips twitch against his ear. Felt the stiff line of his erection against his arse, through his dressing robe and boxers. His own cock began to harden, rising from the placket of his pants so swiftly it left him lightheaded. Harry canted his hips, grinding back against him, and Draco wound his arm around Harry’s ribs with a grunt. He rolled his hips lightly, curiously. Harry gasped, “Yes,” and reached back between them for Draco’s flies — Muggle things, a button and a zip, so normal that he fumbled undoing them. Draco stilled as Harry manoeuvred a hand into his trousers, curled his fingers around his shaft.

Harry pumped him, trying to get Draco’s trousers down one-handed, and Draco seemed to regain his bearings. Loosening his hold on Harry’s ribs, he yanked down the waistband of his boxers and shimmied his own hips to aid Harry’s efforts as Harry’s pants puddled around his ankles. Then he wrenched Harry’s hand from his prick and twirled him, his kiss hard against Harry’s mouth, copper-flavoured, hungry. Harry kissed him back and tasted Draco’s low moan, Draco’s tongue licking between his lips.

It was fast when it happened, and not what Harry had wanted. Not in the dark in Draco’s bed, or in the study with his lips against Draco’s ring, or the dozens of times when his only defense had been to tell himself it meant nothing. Those wants were still nameless, waiting, subject to the countless obstacles he hadn't let himself examine too closely yet. But, rocked rhythmically against the floor, Draco’s cock sliding exquisitely against his own, Harry’s head spun, and he held on, and wanted for nothing else. Spinning, with that same sense of vertigo he’d felt at the top of the stairs — of falling from great heights, of being caught.

Afterwards, breathing hard, Harry found the soft, clipped hair above the nape of Draco’s neck. Draco shuddered as he wove his fingers into it, and Harry felt his name more than heard it, murmured into his neck. There and then gone, like everything else they’d done together.

Except: Draco only moved when it was over to lift his head and press a kiss against Harry’s sweat-damp temple. Except: Harry curled his fingers deeper into Draco’s hair, and twisted his head to meet that kiss with his mouth.

It broke every agreement between them, spoken and unspoken. Every one, but for the contract that had brought them there in the first place. Harry took a deep breath and kissed him again, and, for a moment, didn’t let himself care.

A way to hold on to some of the things I’ve loved, Sirius had told him once, in explanation of some of his tattoos: a stag’s antler rung by a wreath of lilies, a glowing moon on the wane. They were inelegant, messy. Magic practice in Azkaban, Sirius said, and unseen at that, worked into his skin under his fur but still there when he took natural form again. He’d squeezed Harry’s hand, then dashed a careless kiss across his knuckles. Harry, still not quite used to physical expressions of affection — and barely fifteen, besides, blushing whenever he had to work out how hard it was okay to hug Ron and Hermione back after summer recess — had flinched. Sirius’ eyes had darkened with an anger Harry didn’t understand, and he’d pressed Harry’s knuckles to his whiskered cheek. We hold on to what we love, do you hear me, Harry? And guard it fiercely.

It took years for Harry to realise Sirius had been making a promise to him — years after the Veil had swallowed him whole, taken him away. He’d tried his hardest not to think of it since, but, stroking through Draco’s hair, Sirius’ voice drifted back to him like a talisman, incorporeal, dear.

Draco finally squirmed. Harry let his legs fall open and propped himself on his elbows, watching Draco pull himself up with a hand on the edge of the mattress.

“Ten days,” Draco said, sitting on the floor beside Harry, rather than standing and walking away: a blatant disregard of their patterns in a way kissing, and lingering to kiss, had not been. “Not too long.”

He dragged the duvet down from the bed, tossed a bit to Harry and draped the rest over his lap. He’d shed his waistcoat and shirt at some point, and they were more naked than they’d been together in months. Draco sat in profile and, glasses smudged, Harry could make out only the barest hint of the dip in Draco’s spine, only one of two divots above the cleft of Draco’s arse. Wider, shallower than the dimple in his cheek. Harry sat up as well and recalled thinking that the pad of his pinky would fit there. He wondered why the strangeness of that desire — to touch Draco there, to see if he was right — hadn’t occurred to him at the time.

Back when it hadn’t been anything he really wanted.

“And only four more days,” Harry said, adding, with an innocent smile at Draco’s raised eyebrows, “until Christmas.” Draco snorted and Harry grinned. There was awkwardness in their exchange, and something softer, too — the sort of thing Harry had once thought Draco not capable of. Maybe he'd even been right, before they landed here and back at Hogwarts. But he wanted to fix what misconceptions he could, and wanted Draco to know that he had. He wanted to do things right; he had the sense they both did. Bumping Draco’s shoulder with his own, he said, “What would you have done?”

“For Christmas?”

“No. For…” Harry rubbed over the slick streaks on his stomach, then sheepishly Summoned his wand when Draco smirked. He cast a quick Tergeo over them and swallowed hard at the small, appreciative noise Draco made in the back of his throat. “For the rest. Your future. What were your plans?”

“Ah.” Draco leaned back against the bed frame, dragging one knee up to his chest. Hooking an arm around his shin, he stared at the half-open window for a minute. A sparrow was peeping at them from the entrance of the bird house, bright-eyed and interested. “I can’t say I planned much beyond shagging every available man in London.”

Harry chuckled, gratified by the quicksilver smile Draco shot him. “Sorry you had to postpone your plans.” Something complex flashed in Draco’s eyes, and Harry hesitated. “Seriously, though. I’d— I’d like to know.”

“I...” Draco shrugged. “It might have been nice to marry at my leisure,” he said, sardonic, "to someone I—” Loved, Harry thought he might say, or didn’t hate, not sure which he’d prefer to hear. But Draco shook his head in place of finishing. “And under the stars, perhaps; it’s a tradition in my mother’s line. As for the rest, I already told you: I have a talent for repair. I spent the majority of my sentence having a go at the damage done to the Manor. It was so extensive I couldn’t manage even half, but it helped me refine my technique.”

“So you’d, um, open a shop?” Harry asked. “Or work with the Ministry?”

“The Ministry wouldn’t have me,” Malfoy said. “And I’d— No. I don’t want to go there. My father still…” He cleared his throat and darted Harry a startlingly shy glance. “But skilled magical restoration is hard to find. I’d open a shop. Not on Diagon Alley, or any Wizarding quarter — and not because I’d be unwelcome there. I’d do it somewhere well-populated, and Muggle. I could help them as well, work with their items for a smaller fee because I’d be using magic. It’s not against the Statute, you know, as long as they’re not aware of my methods. And I like knowing how things work. I’ve read about some of their inventions; I’d build a reputation of my own, as someone who—”

“What?”

“Could fix things,” Draco said tightly. He blew out a breath like a laugh, uncomfortable, fake. Anticipating a laugh from Harry too, over his well-considered plans. Over his aspirations to improve himself.

“I think that’s brilliant,” Harry said around the lump in his throat. He touched Draco’s wrist — let his fingers linger there, above the throb of Draco’s pulse. “You’d be great.”

Draco drew in a halting breath, the tension around his mouth softening. “Well, if it meets with your approval...” He drawled it, an amicable jab. But his tone hid a genuine compliment, of sorts, that Harry wasn’t sure how to process. As though he really did care what Harry thought. He pulled his gaze from the bird house and tilted his head at Harry. “What about you? What did you think you’d be doing? Or did you intend for your boring, wastefully celibate existence to go on and on?”

“Wastefully?” Harry arched an eyebrow, pleased when Draco rolled his eyes and looked away. He pressed his head to the side of the mattress and contemplated the ceiling, the small changes there he hadn’t noticed before — a new lack of watermarks, a brighter finish to the crown mouldings. “I don’t know. I just assumed there’d be time to work out what I wanted to do. I knew it wasn’t what I’d thought back at Hogwarts.”

“Being an Auror?”

“Yeah. But it was mad, after the…” Harry hesitated. “After. I knew there was no way I’d ever be able to expect, well, anything approaching normal with a life like that, not after everything else. The Ministry said it would die down, left the offer open. It’s still open, I suppose. McGonagall said she’d welcome me in a teaching position and I considered that for a while but… I got offers from— you know, Quidditch scouts...”

There was something perverse about describing how many opportunities he had, when Draco’d been so matter-of-fact about his own status in society. And it felt dangerous, as well: working it out aloud, carefully, when he'd been so devoted to avoiding the topic before, even with himself. A sense of panic prowled about Harry, and he wondered at his own perceived contentment before the contract; so much of it had been about evasion.

But Draco was listening intently — head still cocked to one side, his eyes thoughtful on Harry’s face — and Harry was overcome with the urge to just get it out, the thing he’d tried not to think about, the thing he'd been sure he never admit, to anyone. He swallowed. “It was just… all the same. Everyone watching. Waiting for me to do something miraculous and meaningful, or at least fail spectacularly trying. Wanting me to do what they wanted of me again, so they could hold me up to some sort of standard.”

“Mm.” Draco nodded. “So you did nothing."

Harry sighed and hitched the blanket a little more securely around his hips. He felt too bared by Draco's easy comprehension of his heart. “So I did nothing.”

“And now?”

“Fuck, I don’t know. Something meaningful, sure.”

“Whatever that may be.” Draco shifted. The floor was cold under them, but the outside of Draco’s thigh pressed warm against Harry’s under the shared duvet. “Is wandmaking a sufficiently modest occupation for you, then?”

Harry smiled, cheeks heating anew. “Maybe. We’ll see.”

Draco drew a sharp breath in through his nose. “Yes,” he said softly. “I suppose we will.”

* * *

The week before Christmas brought a halt to their influx of visitors. Hermione and Ron were in Australia with her parents and the Weasleys had, at Harry’s insistence, reluctantly followed through on their long-awaited trip to the United States. Even Andromeda had promised the week to her late-husband’s family. Over dinner, Draco said that his parents were retiring to France “for the foreseeable future,” and wouldn’t be among their guests on Christmas day. It came as an aside, a bridge from discussing British and French Quidditch teams — Oh, yes, and by the way… — and so Harry didn’t question his claim, or feel any guilt over his relief.

Harry was relieved by all of it, really. A few more days where he didn’t have to perform, or reassure, or dress up in those ungodly robes. A few days to suspend himself in the new feeling growing inside him and discover it wasn’t precisely new at all, to study Draco more closely without the voice in his head that made him want to look away.

And Harry didn’t think he could, even if that voice had been screaming. He watched Draco at breakfast, and as Draco furtively shared his goals for his shop. Noticing things he'd previously guarded himself against, letting them have an impact: the absent-minded habit Draco had of wetting his thumb with his tongue to flip the pages of the newspaper; the way Draco lowered his voice when talking about his shop, as though worried someone might overhear, and object — taking Harry into his confidences. Harry watched Draco during their long conversations about wandmaking, and athletics, and potions class, and Fearful, and what, beyond their professions, they’d like to do when they could. Draco’s expansive hand gestures were hypnotic, his attention so riveted when Harry spoke, Harry couldn’t name the tide of emotion that swelled in his chest.

Travel, he said, rather than trying to. Feeling oddly bashful when Draco nodded attentively, and swished his hand — an implicit, Go on. Harry watched the slender line of his lips, the relaxed cords of his neck and the turned position of his head on his pillow, and said, Be a tourist, instead of the attraction.

Draco’s answers to the same question were, Find a flat and see what it's like to live on my own for a while, and Meet people who don’t know about… who never had anything to do with it, and, Go dancing, and, Pay for things with nothing but Muggle folding money for a month, and Harry thought, Why can’t that be enough?, and drifted off imagining them on the same holiday.

It was unbearable to Harry, how much someone could change, how he could have been so deliberately blind to it. And unbearably lovely, the quiet acceptance curtaining him — that he was changing, too. A shift was happening inside him, unlikely as the weather had been that year.

Always in the eye of a different storm, perhaps not such a horrible fate as he'd imagined.

“How d’you you think your mum’s family would feel, if they’d known how the house could open up for a half-blood?” Harry asked the night before Christmas. He was tired from the late hour and the day of preparations for their guests, but didn’t want to close his eyes yet. Intermittent flurries of snow drew his gaze outside the window.

Draco rolled over beside him: that gentle tug of the covers, a dip in the mattress Harry recognised, delicious as the best sort of secret. “They’d wish they’d razed it to the foundation.” He snickered, then yawned and said, “Now shut it and go away, or go to sleep already,” and Harry Summoned his own blanket, and went to sleep.

The smell of Draco’s hair roused him, the perfect fit of Draco’s back to his chest. Harry tightened his arm around Draco’s midriff with drowsy pleasure, and tucked himself closer. The ever-present space between them in bed was gone for the first time, without warning, but Harry was unsurprised.

This, he thought. This is how I want you. As if he’d spoken aloud, Draco stirred and pushed the curve of his arse back to meet Harry’s swollen prick. He dragged his hand up and back, slipped his fingers into Harry’s hair and held him.

It seemed natural, then, for Harry kiss the little scar on Draco’s nape, near to his mouth already, like a waiting gift. So he did, parting his lips and tonguing the indentation, appreciating the ragged quality to Draco’s breath as he rolled his hips.

“Harry…” Draco sounded drugged, rough with sleep. They were moving in tandem — slow, rocking. The cleft of Draco’s arse teased Harry’s erection through the thin layers between them, and Harry kissed him again; he slid his hand under Draco’s blanket. Ran his fingers over the jut of Draco’s hip bone, to the drawstring of his bottoms. Draco inhaled sharply, a pained whine escaping his throat. “Harry.

“What?” Harry mumbled, smiling. All of it more simple than he'd given them credit for. He grazed the side of Draco’s neck with another kiss. “It’s Saturday. And Christmas. Happy Christmas.”

“Yes, but—” Draco’s laugh was strangled, strained. The sound streaked through Harry, a current sucking him under, like the undulations of their hips. “God—”

“I want you,” Harry said because he couldn’t not, after that laugh — a truth so big he had to say it again, or choke on it. “Draco, I want you. Can I—?”

“Can—? Ah, Harry!” Draco’s fingernails bit into his scalp at the dig of Harry’s teeth against the bend of his shoulder. He pressed his head to the pillow, baring his neck further for Harry’s exploration and pulled at Harry’s hair, an unpracticed reaction. His shoulder pushed into Harry’s chest with a futile shift of position. Breathlessly, without artifice, he said, “Yes.”

Harry moved away to let him roll to his back and peeled their blankets down. Draco’s thighs parted expectantly for him, his cock tenting his bottoms, a damp patch darkening the faded blue fabric, and Harry’s mouth flooded with saliva. He swallowed and hunched over him, hooking his forearms under Draco’s knees to jerk him closer so they were plastered together. Draco blinked up at him, his eyes hazy. The weight of his arms slipping around Harry’s shoulders secured him in place; with a childish ache, Harry thought he might float away without them. They kissed, and kissed again, a third time, a fourth, Draco’s mouth opening under his without reservation, his moan like a sigh — and then louder, louder, distracting, a break in the spell between them.

Harry tried to recapture it; he stubbornly went after Draco’s mouth again, confused when he twisted away. Realising all at once that Draco was trying to get away, that his hands were no longer clinging, but pushing. Breathing hard, Harry lifted his head and rolled onto his hip. Kreacher’s presence was jarring, out of place in the cocoon of Draco’s bedroom, Draco still half-under him, flushed and turned on. Cleverly, Harry said, “Kggchk?”

Draco shook himself and pushed Harry all the way off. He sat, modestly folding his legs up. There was tension in his voice. “Is someone early?”

Kreacher, apparently less concerned with ruining Harry’s life than a good elf ought to be, nodded. “Mister Longbottoms is being waiting; he is trying to leave when Kreacher is telling him that Masters of the House are not up yet, but Kreacher is checking the clock and saying no, he is on time, Masters Harry and Draco will be upset if he is going, there is celebrations to attend, and so he is waiting with the nog Kreacher is giving him. Make that stronger, can you, Kreacher, if you won’t let me leave? he is asking when Kreacher is reporting to him that you is both being awake but occupied, an unhappy visitor besmirching all of Kreacher’s hard, hard work, Kreacher is being such a very good elf—”

“No one was supposed to show up until ten,” Harry said dumbly.

“Harry.” Draco nudged him, chin jerking toward the clock. 10:24. Dear Christ.

“It is being ten—”

“Yes, god.” Harry met Draco’s eyes, barely pacified by the regret he saw there. He sighed and stretched for his glasses. “Tell him we’re done— that we were showering. Separately! That—”

“Just tell him we’ll be right down,” Draco said smoothly. He turned to Harry as Kreacher Apparated away and swallowed hard, a wry huff of laughter gusting free. “Trust Longbottom to still know how to make things as awkward as possible, even with that face. Everyone else will be here soon, if they haven’t begun showing up already. You said informal, yes?.”

“Yeah. But—” It didn’t seem possible to Harry that he could have got it so wrong, yet again. That his timing could be so, so fucked. He shook his head.

Draco licked his lips, hesitating. Then he bent over Harry — slowly, giving him time to move away. His kiss was light, his eyes open but heavy-lidded, a smoulder that re-kindled the jumbled heat in Harry’s stomach.

“Later," he said, voice low, private. "It'll be Saturday even after they leave.”

* * *

It was a bit like a Weasley Christmas: full, noisy, slightly chaotic. Too many things demanded Harry’s attention and too few of them were Draco — who stood unobtrusively on the fringes of the room, sipping from a steaming mug of brandy-laced mulled cider as people came through the fireplace, until his own guests arrived. And then the room split into factions, each of them greeting their guests, taking their cloaks, exchanging gifts. Kreacher supplied refreshments and the atmosphere relaxed; someone turned on the Wireless, and it relaxed further. Draco went into the hall with a small group — Blaise and Theo, Luna wandering after them — leaving Harry, waylaid time and again, to stretch his neck whenever he wanted to catch a glimpse of Draco’s elbow, or the ruffled cuff of his sleeve.

Teddy and Andromeda were the first to migrate. Waiting as Ron and Hermione opened their presents, Harry watched Teddy wriggle in Andromeda’s arms, then barrel full-tilt for the hall when she set him down. Harry held up a finger and stepped away to see Draco kneel down in time to catch him before he fell over. Draco lifted him up, blinking, his hands curled firmly under Teddy’s armpits. Luna said something to him, and Draco blinked again and fit Teddy against his hip with a cautious smile. Teddy took his fingers from his mouth and poked Draco’s cheek under his dimple, which deepened, shiny with toddler-drool. The corners of Draco’s eyes creased. He shook his head at Andromeda when she held out her arms to Teddy.

“Harry?”

“Yeah. What?” Harry ran his fingers through his hair, heart pounding, and turned back to his friends. His face was hot. “Sorry — I thought Teddy was going to fall.”

“Is he okay?” Hermione twisted to look over her shoulder.

“Yeah, Draco has him,” he said, and made himself concentrate when Ron nearly started crying over his box-seat tickets to the Quidditch World Cup.

Neville was next. In the midst of explaining to Molly that, no, Kreacher had the food well in hand and would be offended if she offered to help, Harry almost missed Bill pulling Charlie away from his conversation with Neville. Neville swept the room, then seemed to brace himself when he saw everyone otherwise engaged, then he drew himself up and marched into the hallway. Harry cut off Molly mid-sentence — “Wait, sorry, wait.” — only to see Draco nod pleasantly to Nev and make room for him their circle. He started making introductions.

“Harry?”

“Yeah?”

“I’d prefer to help,” Molly said firmly. “Even if it’s merely in a supervisory fashion. The sausage rolls are lovely, but I believe Kreacher might be unaware that a bit of mustard added to the mince might brighten—”

“No.”

Harry!” Molly huffed, goggling at him. Harry gulped, unable to believe he’d just done that — resisting the urge to take it back .

“I just mean, well— It’s not just Kreacher,” Harry said awkwardly. It felt indecent, somehow, to explain, as though doing so would make her privy to the warmth that suffused him when he thought of it: Draco’s elegant cuffs folded up to his elbows, the lean muscles in his forearms flexing as he kneaded dough; the ladle of sauce held up to Harry’s mouth for a taste, and the quick smile Draco flashed him when Harry approved. “Draco and I helped him prepare most of the food. Kreacher’s mostly cooking it, but we wanted it to be—” Ours. “—something we, you know, made for um, all of you. So—”

“Of course, of course,” Arthur said heartily. “We can understand that. Can’t we, Molly?” He looked at Molly, eyes widening significantly. Molly’s lower lip wobbled and Harry stomach pitched, but then she squared her shoulders.

“Yes. Of course.” She reached up to pat Harry’s cheek. Went to pull away, and paused, her palm soft and slightly puffy, comforting against his cheek. Her voice softened. “Yes. And you’ve done a perfectly fine job of it, dear… the both of you.”

“We should compliment Draco, too,” Arthur said to her, voice low. “Don’t you think?”

Molly’s hand fell away. She looked at Bill, talking with Hermione and Fleur about something, then took a breath and smiled determinedly. “Yes, I do.”

Harry exhaled and watched them go. Uncertainly, he went to follow, and was pulled aside by Charlie.

Eventually, Kreacher ushered everyone into the dining room. The table began to lengthen after the first eight people entered, duplicate chairs popping into existence. Startled, Harry stopped in the entryway near Draco, who was watching the display with a blandly patient expression. Harry opened his mouth to comment on it, but stopped, overwhelmed by the clean scent of Draco’s aftershave. Woozy from his nearness.

“When did you find time to shower?” Harry murmured. Two more chairs appeared.

Draco flicked him a glance. Immediately looked away. “I showered last night, when you did.” A tiny, warm flush stole over his cheeks. “All I had to do this morning was freshen up..”

“I wanted to join you all in the hall with the others,” Harry said, “but—”

People filed past them, inspiring another two chairs, a longer stretch of the table. The floor creaked, and Harry could have sworn the room lengthened, too. Place settings filled the empty spots.

Draco cleared his throat quietly. “It’s all right. You don’t have to—”

“I wanted to.” Harry touched his elbow, then slipped his fingers to the drape of material at Draco’s waist and fingered the silky fabric of his pirate shirt. Draco’s throat bobbed, his gaze trained on the table as people began seating themselves. In a flourish of Hogwarts-reminiscent magic, platters and serving bowls materialised on the blank canvas of the cream tablecloth.

“Harry!” Ron called from down the length of the table.

Draco’s mouth twitched. “You’re being summoned.” He glanced at Harry again. “It’s not as if we won’t have time, later.”

Harry took in the sharp angles of Draco’s profile. “That’s not why.” He nodded and forced a smile to acknowledge Ron, who was now waving at him like a lunatic with both arms over his head, like he thought Harry hadn’t heard his bellow. Harry swallowed, tired of pretending. “It’s not because it’s Saturday. I’ll want you tomorrow, too,” he said, rending himself stupidly bare, and heard Draco’s breath catch as they went in together to fill the last two seats at the table, one at each end.

Draco’s gaze followed him for the rest of the day. Harry felt it like the same prickle of heat that signified an oncoming climax, only on the back of his neck, his temple, his mouth — looking over each time to find that he was right. Staring back helplessly until Draco lowered his eyes, the fine line of his jaw going taut. Distracted, Harry lost his place in conversation after conversation, Ron’s voice a faint buzz in his head, Hermione’s oddly jumpy laughter forgotten in the length of time it took Harry to wonder about it. He circled Draco, suddenly lost in the house he’d mapped so well as he made excuses to get close: refreshing Draco’s drink for the opportunity to see Draco react to the ghost of their fingers touching, referring Arthur to him during a discussion about Muggle technology so he could listen to Draco’s quietly-assured speech patterns, fetching Fearful at the first mention of him. Almost sick with jealousy when the little snake slithered up Draco’s arm and curled around his bare neck, making Draco laugh, or when anyone else did, or when Draco smiled at anyone who wasn't him. Feeling shaped around Draco’s presence, and blank when he got pulled away, and overheated when Draco’s gaze sought him again.

“Do you even care that he hates you?” Theo asked. Harry had lost track of the drift of people surrounding him; Draco was talking to Fleur in the corner of the study, and Harry kept hearing snatches of his rapid-fire, exquisitely-accented French. Theo’s voice was chafing, a minor irritation, easily ignored until the meaning of his question sank in.

“What?”

“He hates you,” Theo said, enunciating carefully, savouring it. He was drunk — had been drinking since before lunch but, unlike everyone else, had increased his volume of drinks since sundown. His smile was lopsided, cold. “He’s always hated you. D’you want to know what he wrote to me when he found out about the contract?”

Harry found Draco again. Slipping his fingers over Fearful’s scales, Draco was spoiling him with a swooping, luxuriant touch that Harry wanted to feel against his own skin.

Hates,” Theo bit off, apparently infuriated by Harry’s inability to pay attention. He punctuated the word with a stab of his finger into the air, a slosh of his drink over the rim of his glass. Harry thought of how he might feel if he was in Theo’s position, and his dislike twisted into something inconveniently complicated. Theo reached into the breast pocket of his robes, pulled out a folded piece of parchment. He shoved at Harry, into his chest. “Read it, if you don’t believe me.”

“I don’t want to read it,” Harry said, refusing to take it. He stepped back, watched the letter flutter to the floor between them. Felt on his cheek that Draco was looking at them now, and made the effort to keep his voice calm. “I believe you.”

Read it,” Theo said. It came out clogged, the shatter of his glass loud against the hardwood floors. The remains of his drink seeped into the letter, and when Harry looked back up at him, his eyes were red and swollen. “You don’t even know him. He’s just waiting for the second he can get away from you. You don't even— you don't know him.”

“Shh. Hey.” Blaise stepped in, wide shoulders blocking Draco from Harry’s view, and vice versa. “What’s that about, lad?” He slipped an arm around Theo’s waist, and murmured something in his ear. Theo subsided abruptly, slumping against Blaise's strong frame, and Blaise glanced glanced at Harry with a grimace. “He’s just—”

“It’s fine,” Harry said. Because he knew Draco enough, and it was.

Blaise nodded and whispered to Theo again, then pulled his wand and levitated the dripping letter into his grasp. Tucked it away.

At dinner, Draco sat next to him before anyone else could get there. His casual touch to Harry’s wrist deepened Harry’s shameless lean towards him to the point where it probably looked absurd — like he was trying to fold into Draco’s lap, when really it was the opposite. Even the thought sent skitters up Harry's spine, and he had to swallow a moan when Draco subtly insinuated a finger under the woolen cuff of his Weasley jumper.

Draco stroked up his forearm with the same indulgent touch Harry’d watched him give Fearful before, and said, “What was Theo saying to you? Blaise barely had a chance to say goodbye.”

Harry’s gaze lingered on the movement of his mouth. He hooked his foot around Draco’s under the table, tensing all over when Draco’s ankle twisted to keep it in place.

“Nothing,” Harry said. He smiled and shook his head. “It doesn’t matter.”

* * *

Harry’s concentration was in splinters at the end of the evening, farewells made in a distracted fashion, plans with Ron and Hermione and Bill later in the week agreed to even while Harry thought — I won’t be done with him by then. He accepted Neville’s mumbled apology for “interrupting” by saying "anytime" and handed Luna Neville's cloak by accident. He kissed Arthur’s cheek and gave Molly a pounding hug, only realising his mistake when she squeaked. Harry thought he must have said goodbye at some point to Charlie, to Fleur and Victoire, but couldn’t remember it, Draco ever in his periphery, steady and gracious, occasionally stiff with good intentions. Teddy was asleep in Andromeda’s arms, his hair blond as down. Harry brushed it off his forehead and watched Draco register the change: his startled pleasure, his swift concealment of it. Harry made a mental note to take a picture the next time Teddy’s hair went white.

And then he and Draco were alone. Looking at one another, the pause between them strange, new.

“I didn’t give you your gift,” Draco said.

“I— have one for you, too. It’s—”

“We can get to mine later.” Later, Draco said, like he had that morning. The word ran over Harry like an incantation that would lead them to After, and through everything implied in between. “But I want to show you yours before—” Before, circular, meaning the same thing. Draco exhaled. “Just— I’ll show you.”

Harry could claim a keen intimacy with this part of it — fingers curled tight against his own palms in a bid for self-control, following Draco’s body too close, the nearest surface they could fuck upon not satisfactory for some reason. Time measured by the throb of his pulse in his ready cock, waiting for what was about to happen. But the rest was unfamiliar. The nerves, his unwieldy shyness. He’d never felt shy before; never had reason to. He hadn’t cared what Draco had thought, or as good as: he hadn’t recognised it when he started to. All of it had felt like a means to one end or another.

It didn’t anymore.

Harry wrenched his gaze from Draco’s back as they passed the stairs to the kitchens and veered left. This part of the house had gone unused for— for months, since the last time he’d opened the front door. Since Draco had been standing there, sheltering his mother protectively, a look of furious resignation on his pointy face.

The door loomed ahead, heavy with brass fittings, a hostile prison-gate of a thing that Harry didn’t want to try to open. But Draco stopped in advance of the foyer, and Harry realised, a skipped heartbeat before Draco set his hand to the doorknob, where they were.

“Wait, that’s—”

“I know,” Draco said briefly, and swung the door inwards — smoothly, the parlour opening to them as though Harry had never put wards in place to keep them closed.

Speechless, flooded with thirty different types of adrenaline, Harry wanted to leave, and couldn’t — but couldn’t accompany Draco inside, either. From the doorway, he saw Sirius, in his patented indolent lounge, cock a grin at him from the armchair near the fireplace. And standing next to the fireplace, elbow resting on the mantelpiece, having a smiling argument with Remus. He was leaned against the crook of the sofa, an arm scooped around Harry’s waist as Harry’s head lolled onto his shoulder, and whispering affectionately in Harry’s ear: You’re done in, Harry, and I don’t think my bones will let me carry you up the stairs to your room. Up you get, there’s a good man. His shirt smelled like the oakmoss in his cologne, his jacket faintly smoky with the spice of cloves. And the scent of Firewhiskey underneath, just enough to steady the tremors in his warm, calloused hands as he helped Harry up, his chuckle ringing with the strains of a bark.

“Harry,” Draco said, his outstretched hand solid in a tomb filled with phantoms. Harry took it for something to hold onto — letting himself be anchored by it, shadows fading around him. The accusation on his tongue disappeared as Draco tugged him forward. Harry blinked the sting from his eyes and looked looked around.

It was just a room. Cleaner than the last time Harry saw it, the mouldering furniture restored but otherwise unchanged, but… just a room, now.

“Why did you bring me here?”

“I thought…” Draco’s voice thinned. “I— found it. Our third week here. I asked Kreacher… Once I’d got it open. And I closed it back up, but then you told me about him. Black. He was more than a godfather to you, closer to a father. Yes?”

“Yes.” As much as anyone had ever tried to be. “He—”

And then Harry saw it: the tapestry. Sirius had never been able to look at it without wincing, a renouncement from the family he’d so hated, and had deserved so much more from. It still covered the expanse of the far wall, was still stitched with a sprawling Hawthorn tree. But it was no longer damaged, no longer scorched through in places. The drab olive background had brightened to a shade closer to emerald, and the gold threading shimmered — every bough and twig gleaming, and every name on each restored to its rightful place. Harry found the twinkle of Sirius’, and his lungs were relieved of a pinch of breath he felt like he’d been holding inside for years.

“I thought there should be a better record of that,” Draco said. “You as his chosen heir.”

Harry glanced at him, and back, confused until Draco stepped closer to the wall. He touched Sirius’ name, then drew his index finger down, along the dripping curve of pale white flowers over dashed gold threading to—

Harry James Potter b.1980

Draco cleared his throat. “I know it’s a mixed gift, but I had to use the Black family thread, and it wouldn’t let me remove any of the names. But I managed to cover them so they’re not visible, and I'll keep experimenting on—”

"I—' Harry looked at him, throat working silently with the effort it took to get the words out. “I can't believe you did this.”

The set of Draco’s mouth eased a little — softening, inviting. He swallowed and said, “And there was, ah, another… complication.” He traced his way back up the gnarled branches, over Harry and Sirius, Walberga, to her brother Cygnus. Down again, finding Narcissa, linked to Lucius, his name partially hidden by leaves, and then further: Draco Lucius Black Malfoy b. 1980. He drew the blunt edge of his nail along another cluster of flowers from his name to Harry’s, two gold lines beneath. “It did that on its own,” he said, “once the rest was fixed. It’s charmed to make— links, when they occur.”

Their patch of the tapestry was so small, a negligible portion of a tree that spanned centuries of the line — so many interconnected names, spouses and offspring, and on and on, each with stories of their own. Some of them were terrible, Harry was sure, and others good, the way people tried to be when they weren't taught not to be. And Harry didn’t care about any of them. He felt consumed by those few square inches of space, and the work he knew Draco must have put into filling it.

Harry Potter, claimed and declared as having belonged to Sirius Black, and connected by magical decree to Draco Malfoy.

Belonging to him as well, perhaps. Being willing to.

Harry’s breath came out a puff of laughter. He stepped into Draco’s space, brought a hand up to touch each of their names in turn. Draco watched him guardedly, his face flickering like he was unsure which side of himself to reveal. Still, after giving Harry a gift so right, Harry couldn’t even comprehend its enormity in full. After everything.

“You’re— so—”

“What?” Draco sucked his lower lip between his teeth, released it. He darted a look to the tapestry, then quietly inhaled when Harry stepped even closer — not moving back. Waiting.

Sweet.” Harry’s voice cracked with the admission, a single syllable halved in the middle. His chest aching from it, and from the expression that rippled across Draco’s features.

“I’m not.”

“You are.” Harry lifted Draco’s wrist, sweeping the fabric of his long cuff back. “Sometimes, you really are.”

“It’s only a tapestry.”

“It’s not,” Harry said, Draco’s wrist at his mouth, upturned, the criss-cross of sapphire veins, the bracelet of their last names together. Not sure which of them was trembling, Harry tasted his pulse; he counted the beats of Draco’s heart against his tongue and sighed, shakily, over Draco’s dampened skin. It felt impossible, to want something so much.

“Say it again,” Draco breathed. The grandfather clock chimed down the hall.

Draco’s eyes were wide, his pupils inky — expanded. How not to rush this, Harry wondered. It was all they’d ever done. All he knew how to do, his desire so deep from the beginning, even when he'd separated himself from it. He crept a hand up Draco’s arm, pausing at the crease of his elbow and again at his shoulder. There, he caught the material of Draco’s shirt and pulled it sideways. The laces at Draco’s collar were tightened but untied; they spread open, slowly, for him. Draco’s quickening breath lifted the expensive fabric as Harry exposed his chest down the line of his sternum. And it wasn’t difficult at all to recapture the heady spell they’d been shrouded by that morning, Harry found. He leaned in, searching for another pulse point at Draco’s neck with his lips. Biting down there gently when he located it, his nose brushing the bob of Draco’s Adam’s apple.

“I want you,” Harry told him, willingly. He hadn’t meant to trap Draco to the wall, but could only press harder against him once he realised he had, hiding petaled names under Draco’s back. He was so hard it was ludicrous, laughable. Draco hadn’t even done anything but allow his wrist to be kissed, his neck, his shoulders pushed to the wall. “Draco, god — I’ll want you tomorrow, too.”

Draco shuddered and gripped the outsides of Harry’s arms. He fit his thigh between Harry’s legs, lifted it, groaned when it rubbed over Harry’s erection. Rubbed his own against Harry’s pelvis. He was as stiff as he got right before he came, and Harry rocked his hips with tiny thrusts, trying to provoke it, breathless at the mere idea of stickying him up that way. Draco’s fingers sifted through his hair, jerked his head up.

Harry,” he said, face wretched with the same want Harry felt, his eyes wild. He parted his lips to say something else, but Harry covered them with his own before he could — biting at them, pulling one between his teeth and then the other, sucking the slender bows plump, swollen, and running his tongue along the inside of them. Draco’s fingers tightened; he guided Harry’s head into a deeper slant, and met the skim of Harry’s tongue with his own, slick, hot.

The kiss was sloppy at first, Draco’s upper lip above Harry’s, his lower between Harry’s teeth. Then Draco angled his head too, let Harry sink his tongue into his mouth, a blur of endorphins rising between them, potent and cutting. Draco’s body surged against his, and Harry, mindless, rode him against the wall, cock wet in his pants, Draco’s nape held fast in his palm.

“I want you,” Harry said again, into Draco’s mouth — and again, hard against his jaw — and around the shell of his ear, licking into the outer curl of it — the only thing that came to mind, a babble. “I want you, I’ve wanted you, fuck, Draco—” and then Draco’s gasp, the shove of his hand into the back of Harry’s jeans, fingers digging into the clenching muscles of his arse.

“What do you like?” Draco's voice came out a hard, gritted whine, his fingers sliding out from Harry’s jeans. He gripped Harry’s back belt loop and pulled. Lost hold of it when Harry jerked his hips, grabbed it again and yanked — a warning. Panting, Harry finished sucking on the dip behind Draco’s jaw and made himself pay attention. Felt Draco’s nod, his chin against Harry’s neck. Draco jostled him impatiently. “Harry, what do you—”

“You know what I like,” Harry said, recalling he morning after their wedding, Draco’s voice in his ear. And the muddled anger he'd felt, then, because he hadn’t even known the answer, really, and had wished so desperately he could find out with someone else. “You taught me what I like.”

The heat in Draco’s eyes flared. He gripped Harry’s jaw and kissed him hard, then shouldered his way from between Harry and the wall — voice rough, quavering, fingers still twisted in Harry’s back belt loops. He pulled on them.

“Come upstairs,” he said. “I’ll teach you more.”

Chapter Text

The journey upstairs wasn’t linear.

Once begun, it was halted almost immediately, Harry unable to resist pausing with Draco against the wide-open door of the parlour. Kissing him became a new destination, Draco’s hot breath in Harry’s mouth, against his skin — almost falling when they forgot themselves, their weight swinging the door back to hit the wall, Draco’s breathless laugh like a Tahaitian night. And then, minutes later, after a stumble of a dozen or so steps, Draco finding his own holiday port, near the stairs to the kitchens. Bowing Harry back against the railing dangerously, a hand slid under his jumper to his stomach, fingers splayed and kneading as he devoured Harry’s mouth.

It happened again at the base of the main stairs, and Harry couldn’t tell whose stop it was. Thought perhaps it belonged to the mistletoe that was hanging there, or to the house itself. He couldn’t draw in a single full breath, his lips growing sore and swollen, the taste of Draco’s tongue on his own. Proud of himself, preening, when Draco let him untie the sash around his waist and get two of the buttons on his breeches open. They got up four stairs — Draco’s palm grazing Harry’s cock through his jeans — six — his shaky Oh, god and We’ve got to— Harry, ah! in Harry’s ear. Four more stairs, Draco’s arms wrapped around Harry’s shoulders, his leg curling around Harry’s hip. Like a dream of a marathon where the ribbon gets further away the longer you run and you realise you’ve been walking in place. Like a dream of all sorts of things, the click of Draco’s boots on the landing after the last three stairs, but a continental divide still between them and Draco’s door, and his whined growl vibrating against the slope of Harry’s neck.

But it couldn’t happen there, or in any of the stops on their meandering trip. Draco liked to communicate in a roundabout fashion regarding certain matters, and Harry liked that he knew that about him. He recalled Draco’s insistence that night in the garden and thought about what it meant that he was taking Harry to his bedroom now, that he’d offered himself there time and again. Thought about what the now of it meant, when it might not have been right, before.

Catching Draco's elbow, Harry looped an arm around his ribcage, a few steps from his room. Kissed him, washed full with longing, a high-tide of it from his toes to his throat. The skin around Draco’s mouth was turning pink, and along his jaw, and down the side of his neck, and under his chin. Harry resented his own stubble, and was turned on by it too — by marking Draco as a well-kissed man in that little way, and marking himself on Draco’s skin as someone who couldn’t get enough of him. It was a good look for them both, he thought.

“I— We— Harry—” Draco mumbled between kisses, trying to detach himself, then coming back for more. Hard, aching kisses, Draco’s tongue licking into the seam of Harry’s mouth, his body juddering in Harry’s arms. He wrenched his mouth away, twisted around, maybe expecting Harry to let go but not protesting when he didn’t. Harry breathed in the scent of his hair, kissed his scar, his freckle, then set to work on the lure of Draco’s bare shoulder, his shirt slipped half off. He nipped the outside curve, then inward, Draco’s arse grinding back against his prick. Draco’s head fell sideways; one of his hands came back to clasp Harry’s buttock, the other one covering Harry’s own, on his ribs. He choked out, “Please, we’re— so—”

Close. They were. Harry walked him forward, sucking a bruise to the surface of Draco’s skin. With a stifled moan, Draco scrambled at the doorknob, and there was a spill of light over them from the fire from Draco’s hearth, the warm tones of his room. He lifted his head, turning it to kiss Harry as they moved over his threshold.

“Harry,” he said, a murmur of sound, nearly voiceless. “I want you, too.”

Harry closed his eyes against it, the raw honesty almost painful — something Draco had demonstrated but never admitted to. Harry hadn't known how much he needed to hear it, or how lonely he'd felt, out on the limb by himself. He'd been lonely for so long it had become second nature. A habit, unfair of him when he had so much, and he'd taken worrying the feeling as one might like sore tooth with their tongue, the snap of nerves its own sort of company. And he could feel Draco's loneliness, too, in his confession. That same wound Harry had lived with, watching the people he loved move on with their lives, knowing his differences might preclude him from doing so. He opened his eyes to find Draco watching him, heavy-lidded. Harry tipped his head for another kiss, careful, slow. “Sweet,” he said roughly. “D’you see?”

“Not me,” Draco scoffed. “Never that.” But he was smiling, even as he moved his hips against Harry’s in reminder, and that was sweet too.

“You,” Harry said. “Sweetheart,” the endearment dropping off his tongue like another language he’d woken up knowing. It was Draco’s turn to close his eyes. He shuddered, shook his head, chin trembling and then firming. Harry kissed it and heard him sigh, drifted lower, parting his lips. He pressed his fingers into the v of Draco’s pelvis. Draco wilted against him with an audible gulp, the back of his head resting on Harry’s shoulder. “You’re—”

“Don’t,” Draco said unevenly. “Just—” He gripped Harry’s wrists, led both his hands to the fall of his breeches. “Harry.”

Shaking, Harry worked his remaining buttons open. Felt the fabric shift forwards as Draco’s erection was released. He reached for it, whining into Draco’s skin when Draco tightened his hands. “I— want—”

Setting Harry’s hands firmly on his hips, Draco reached back between them. He cupped Harry’s cock through his jeans and rolled his head on Harry’s shoulder. “What?” he murmured. “Tell me what you want.”

Helplessly, Harry rocked into his touch. “You—” he said. Breaking the sentence off — leaving it there, explanation enough.

How?” Draco asked. And then, as though he knew Harry would never be able to sort out how many ways, “You can bend me over and watch yourself fuck me. Or take me on my back,” his breath sweet and puffing soft against Harry’s jaw, “or I can ride you, I’ve never got to—” He bit at Harry’s earlobe, sucked it. Moaned along with Harry, like he was the one being tortured with sensation. “I’ll eat you, fuck you, fuck, Harry,” the words tumbling over themselves, frantic, aching, Draco’s thumb flicking open the snap of Harry’s jeans, “I’ll fuck you so slow, however you like, suck you, tell me what you want, and I’ll do it. There are things I haven’t tried, either, but we’ll like them, I know we will, I can show—”

“Stop,” Harry said, laughing brokenly, caught up in the same fever. Draco dragged his zip down, palmed his erection through his pants. Over Draco’s shoulder, Harry could see the swollen, rosy jut of Draco’s cock, the jerk of it upwards when Harry groaned against his neck. It felt like something he hadn’t earned, being allowed to view evidence of Draco’s arousal, to hear it so clearly — to be the cause of it. The sweetness of that, whatever Draco claimed, increased a thousandfold because Harry had done nothing to earn the right to see him so bare. Voice thick, he said, “Stop, or I’ll come.”

Draco’s back hitched against his chest. “You can,” he breathed, rolling the heel of his hand up Harry’s shaft through his pants. “We both will, then I’ll—”

Harry shuddered. “I want—” everything “—to see you.” He pushed his cock into Draco’s hand, needing to feel it before he tore himself away. "To fuck you."

“Yes. Yes.” Draco kissed him, wet, messy kisses, pressing them to Harry’s mouth and cheek and chin, then peeled his body from Harry’s. Tugging, when Harry forgot to let go of his hips, and lurching forward when he remembered. Standing beside his bed, he turned to face Harry. He was dishevelled — his shirt slipped from his shoulder, his breeches undone, cock bobbing out from them — and flushed — every scrap of skin Harry could see gold from the fire, pink from everything else — and beautiful.

Draco sat, seemed to think better of it, and stood back up. Swallowed, glancing at Harry’s knotted hands. He began to remove his clothing with quiet efficiency, bending at the waist to release the buckle on the side of each boot, then drawing them off, and his high, stocking-like socks after them. Straightening, he reached over his shoulder to fist a hand in the back of his shirt.

Harry couldn’t stand it, his nails dug deep into his palms with the effort it took not to touch him. For no reason at all. Gasping, Harry stepped forward to help. Head in his shirt already when Harry curled a hand into the material, Draco sucked in a breath and swayed. He let go — giving the unveiling of his body over to Harry, blinking at him as Harry dragged his shirt away. Muttering Fuck, and yes, all right, yes when Harry kissed him, and after, Yours— too—, sinking onto the mattress, Harry’s hands pushing his open breeches down, pulling them off.

Hot with Draco’s gaze on him, Harry jerked his jumper off, his shirt, and was no cooler for their loss. He kicked off his trainers, clumsily toeing off his socks, fighting against Draco’s hands as they wrangled his jeans down, his pants. Draco pressed a kiss to his belly button, another to his hip, and back up, each a constellation of heat; he set a foot in the crotch of Harry’s pants and used it to push them and his jeans to floor. Then he reached up to remove Harry’s glasses, tossed them at the pillows without looking away from Harry’s face, and grinned.

Harry fell onto him, or was pulled, slotting perfect between Draco’s spread thighs with a strangled laugh. Still fighting him — pressing Draco’s wrists to the mattress, releasing them to unwind Draco’s leg from around his waist. “Wait, wait—” His protests were muffled by Draco’s kisses, distracted by the squirm of Draco’s body beneath him, like Draco wanted to climb him, and had decided to try to.

“This way,” Draco said, “fuck me like this.” He tucked his face into the crook of Harry’s neck and rutted against him, his cock skating wet tracks over Harry’s belly. “Merlin, Harry, put it in me.”

“Is that what you want?” Harry was breathless, realising he hadn’t asked. That only Draco ever had. He mouthed at Draco’s jaw, jerking instinctively when Draco bit his neck. “What do, uh, fuck, do you like?” Draco’s hands on his back were hot; his stomach jumped against Harry’s. Rounding his spine, Harry created space between their bodies and looked down at him. Shifted so he wasn’t between Draco’s legs anymore. Draco stared up, dazed, blinking. He lifted his head to get at Harry’s mouth, growled with Harry pulled to the side to lick around the shell of his ear.

“I— Harry, what—” Draco said when Harry slid down to kiss the hollow of his his clavicle. His skin was clean, salty, and Harry investigated it further, down to the crease of his armpit, nosing along it. Draco whimpered at the press of his teeth against the outside of his pectoral muscle, again at the dip of Harry’s tongue over the impressions he’d made there. “I like it,” he said, a little unhinged. “I like all of it, Harry, I—” His fingers carded through Harry’s hair, “—like it—” he said with a tiny hiccup, voice cracking as Harry licked the salty tracks of precome on his stomach, “—everything we do,” and twisted his fingers helplessly, curling Harry’s hair around them.

Harry raised his head and Draco’s breath stuttered at whatever he saw on his face. His lips twitched, a smile breaking over them. He took Harry’s hand, brought it to his nipple. Hips shifting restlessly, cock rising and then slapping back down onto his stomach, he used Harry’s finger to rub the peak. Exhaled with a little hiss, drifting Harry’s finger over it.

“Like— oh." Draco breathed it, shivering, his eyes falling shut. “Oh.”

“Yeah,” Harry said. He felt stupid with lust, having to rely on Draco’s direction to find obvious erogeonous zones. Draco’s nipple was tight, like the rest of his body. Experimentally, Harry tweaked it, gently at first and then harder when Draco shivered and let his hand fall away. Nodding, eyes still shut, hair tousled over the duvet. Toying with Draco’s nipple, Harry bent over the other, took it between his teeth and tongued it. Draco blew out a gasp, and Harry pressed his cock to the mattress, groaning. “I’m, ah—” He swivelled his hips, pulled his mouth off Draco with a final swirl of his tongue, shocks of heat blazing up his thighs. “Draco, I’m, I’m—”

For fuck’s sake,” Draco laughed, high, slightly mad. His hand was pressed over his face, his fingers fanned out. He looked at Harry through them and laughed again. Dragged him up by the hair, and kissed him, twisting them onto their sides, then pulled away to press his face to Harry’s, from forehead to nose. Hoarsely, a smile lurking in his voice, he said, “Let me make you come, Harry, and then we can— do whatever,, I assure you recovery won’t take either of us very long.”

“Yes,” Harry said, in danger of swallowing his own tongue. He nodded, his cock drooling out another generous pearl of precome as Draco draped a thigh over his hip, an arm around his waist. “Let’s— yeah. Okay.”

Okay.” Draco took Harry’s cock in hand, a matter-of-fact touch, squeezing where he needed it. A tiny snicker fell from his lips, a flutter of air over Harry’s collarbone. He groused, loud enough for Harry to hear, “He couldn’t possibly just rub one out with me first, oh no,,” and Harry choked on his own laugh, crashed through with a wave of affection and pleasure so deep it hurt.

Drowning, drowning, and refusing to come up for air — able to breathe, regardless.

“Draco,” he said, “shut up and put me in you.”

Draco shot him a smile, and Harry knew there was no no way he was going to last. That, too, was like a dream — knowing that it didn’t matter. Knowing that he could have Draco again whenever he wished, and not because he had to, or because it was a way to escape the stockade of his own mind, but because he wanted to have Draco, and because Draco wanted to be had by him.

Harry knew he wasn’t going to last, but by some miracle he didn’t come when Draco grabbed his wand and slicked up Harry’s cock with a muttered charm. Or when their legs briefly tangled, Draco’s mouth finding Harry’s as he rolled Draco onto his back. Not when Draco reached between them again and positioned Harry’s cock at his tightly-furled hole, gasping, shoulders pressing into the mattress as he raised his hips to Harry’s instinctive drive in. And not even when the ring of Draco’s sphincter loosened, Harry’s cock sliding home, Draco’s index and middle fingers on either side of it, stroking his own rim as it stretched around Harry’s girth, his face incendiary, the hottest thing Harry had ever seen in his life.

Stars burn so hot…

The world faceted around Harry into impressions, each of them reflecting off the last. Draco’s arse, tight around him, wet, clinging; a drag of his hips back; the sound in Draco’s throat when Harry rocked back in. Draco’s legs pulling up on either side of his torso, the bunched muscle of his calf resting over the small of Harry’s back. His panting yeses, and groaned, oh, god’s, and stumbling Fuck me, oh fuck, do it, you’re so fucking hard, Harry, Harry… The slip of his leg down, his mouth fit under Harry’s own, his heel pressed to Harry’s clenching buttocks. The warm, liquid satisfaction of it, for the first time not a conquer, but a coax.

How long had he been on the cusp? Before, it felt like, that first kiss in the parlour. But Harry was stalled by some grand design, or desire, wanting to live in the feeling, right there but not tipped over. The place where he could plunge into Draco again and again, his cock aching, on the verge, surrounded by so much heat. Where he could touch Draco’s face, and breathe in Draco’s gasps — where he could splay his hand across Draco’s throat to feel his pulse, and get a veiled look, Draco allowing his hand to rest there, unthreatened by its presence. Where Draco was turned on by it, his breath speeding up, hips rising to meet the snap of Harry’s, a timely beat.

Their chests were slick, rubbing together. The slap of their bodies was loud, their gasps. All of it so focused, melting down into something sweating, straining, splendid. Harry slipped his hand down from Draco’s throat, fit it between them. Draco’s cock was slippery, with sweat, with precome, hot in Harry’s palm, rigid as Draco’s body went at his touch. Harry twisted his fist around it, thumbing the silky skin under the exposed head, clumsily, earnest.

Lips finding Draco’s, Harry swallowed Draco’s moan of Potter!, and in the tenderness of that, felt Draco’s shudders start. Draco’s arse convulsed around Harry’s cock as he came, a spread of warm wet spilling between them. First, he was coming first, the rhythmic spasm of his inner-muscles milking Harry’s cock.

A sizzle of heat exploded throughout Harry, and he took Draco's mouth as hard as he was taking his body, frenzied at Draco's immediate surrender to his kiss. Wanting him everywhere, and all the pieces of him too, and only pulling away to breathe — gasping, his forehead to Draco’s temple, his pulsing prick grinding deeper inside. Wanting him and being wanted by him — following Draco over the ledge, coming with him, letting go.

* * *

“You said there were things you hadn’t done, too,” Harry whispered. He watched Draco pet the slender trail of dark hair under his belly button. Draco’s body was slotted to his side, his leg thrown over Harry’s thighs, his half-hard cock pressed against Harry’s hip. Neither of them had gone fully soft, Draco had been right about recovery times. But it felt okay, nice, to wait a little while, to let Draco’s hands explore him, to talk quietly about unimportant things. To be present in the aftermath and see how well they fit together in other ways.

Draco scowled at him, his fingers dancing up and down that line of hair, stroking, stroking. He dropped a kiss onto Harry’s mouth. Pulled back before Harry could respond, the scowl still on his face. “I was seventeen when I was put into the Ministry’s holds; eighteen and one day when I was put under house arrest. If you’re implying that my repertoire isn’t impressive enough—”

“I’m not,” Harry said, helplessly charmed by the irritation on Draco’s face. By his fluster. “I wouldn’t.”

“Anyway, what do you know,” Draco sniffed. But he looked mollified, and kissed Harry again, this time letting it linger enough that Harry could kiss him back. He combed his fingers through Harry’s pubic hair; Harry inhaled, body tightening — relaxing slowly when Draco merely gave it a tug, and avoided touching his cock. Draco’s smile was wicked. “You’ve only been with a woman.”

“Two,” Harry admitted. Draco paused, blinked, then set his chin on Harry’s shoulder expectantly. Harry shrugged. “After Gin and I— She was a Muggle. Beth. I liked her, it, but. It was different than with Ginny, not as,” he struggled with the right word, gave up, “good. I guess? I— I was too nervous I’d say, do, something, give myself away. She was just visiting, anyway, from Canada. I was relieved when she was gone. What about you?”

“I’ve never been to Canada,” Draco said. “Or with a woman.” He smirked when Harry laughed, the expression softening into a smile after a moment. He resumed his slow stroking, this time into the juncture of Harry’s hip and pelvis, dragging the pad of his thumb along the dip. “Are you asking what I haven’t done, or with how many people I didn’t do them?”

“Both, I s’pose. Or neither, if you don’t want to tell me.”

“Mm.” Draco walked his fingers down Harry’s leg, then pushed his hand between the press of Harry’s thighs. Tucked it there, warm, unmoving. He let go a heavy breath, voice distant in a way. “Four. Terry Higgs, for the first half of fifth year. He’d hated me after I replaced him on the Slytherin team, though I wouldn’t have been able to do it if his marks had been up to snuff, he got mostly P’s, a few A’s. But I was assigned tutor to him in fifth year, and… Then Blaise, just the once. Theo in sixth, off and on.”

“He’s in love with you,” Harry said — pushing the words out, not liking them, or the pity they induced.

“He thinks he is,” Draco said. The slender line of his lips was downturned. “But he’s a good friend when he forgets to pine. Is that what he was telling you?”

“No, he didn’t— tell me.” Harry swallowed, the reminder sour in his throat. It was inconceivable that Draco couldn’t see the depth of authenticity to Theo’s feelings, or didn’t know how to believe them. Harry wished he hadn’t said anything. He tensed his thighs around Draco’s hand. “Who was the fourth?”

“Ah.” Draco cleared his throat, the muscles around his eyes going tight. “Seventh year. I got— There was— Anthony Goldstein hexed me in the bathrooms one day, and I hexed him back, and we ended up— But that was just once, too.”

“Anthony,” Harry said. “But he’s—” His surprise lent him a list of reasons why it couldn’t have happened. The steady measure of Draco’s gaze was his only returned argument, but it was a convincing one.

“Just once,” Draco said again. “He made it clear he wasn’t interested in another go, we didn’t speak for the rest of the— But he sent me a book, a few months into my sentence, and… Well.”

Harry wanted to wipe the look off his face, however deserved it was. He sighed, ran his hand over the sturdy, fine-boned push of Draco’s shoulder blades. Seriously, he said, “So what you’re telling me is that you weren’t even half the tart Cormac McLaggen was.”

Draco made a choked sound, a snort, or perhaps a scoff. He eyed Harry narrowly, but then the lines around his eyes disappeared, and his dimple peeked out — suggestive, sweet. He said, “Well, we can’t all be so large as to exude our own gravitational pulls.”

Harry kissed Draco’s dimple, because he’d wanted to, and could. Touched it with the tip of his tongue, and laughed when Draco wiped the damp off against his shoulder. He shifted out from under the sling of Draco’s leg, dislodging his hand from between his thighs and ignoring the disgruntled noise Draco made for it. Rolling to his side, he slid a hand over Draco’s hip. Lifted his cock, and gave it a slow tug. There was still a nice firmness to it, and it lengthened a bit in Harry’s grip. Filling out. Draco’s throat worked, his eyes moving from Harry’s hand to his face.

“I don’t know about that,” Harry murmured — grinning when Draco rolled his eyes and blushed.

“That was—” Draco’s breath caught. “—truly disturbing. Awful. The most vulgar sort of—” his eyelashes fluttered, hips starting to move in time with Harry’s hand, voice turning faint, “—joke.”

“Maybe I just don’t have enough experience to know the difference,” Harry said.

“Don’t be cheeky,” Draco breathed, through barely-parted lips.

“You like me cheeky.” Harry’s own flush spilled hot over his cheeks as he saw Draco process that, and realised what he’d said. The presumption of it, the confidence in his own voice. Unwarranted, maybe; Harry didn’t know what was, anymore. He’d made his own feelings clear enough, thought Draco’s were too, to some extent — that he could be so open like this, with Harry of all people.

But discussions about that sort of thing were harder than this revel in sensation, and Harry had always been better at the illustration than the account. His first year in primary school, he’d brought in two toys for his turn at show and tell, Tommies of Dudley’s that he’d fished from the bin. He’d been stumped when asked to tell the room why they were special to him.

They’re not botched up, was all he could come up with, and They both got heads and legs, things he couldn’t say, and not even the half of why he liked them. So he just sat down and played with them, making them talk to one another, and fight back-to-back against their invisible enemies, until his turn was over. Knowing that they made him feel less alone, and good about himself in some important way, but not knowing how to articulate it.

“I want to finger you,” Harry said. “I want to put my—” He broke off, imagining it. “—my fingers in—”

Not once in those first two weeks had Draco implied he wanted that, or liked it. But his hips stuttered now — because he liked knowing what got Harry going, or because of the words themselves, either way an acceptable outcome. His cock had hardened fully during Harry’s slow wank, grown heavier and thicker in Harry’s hand, and went suddenly slippery at the slit, easing the glide of his delicate foreskin over the head.

Draco put a hand flat on Harry’s chest, clawed into it, pushing him back. His lower lip was caught between his teeth. Harry let go of his cock and scooted, watching Draco’s shift onto his stomach, and the slow grind he made against the sheets. “There’s lube in my drawer,” Draco said, cheek against his pillow. “It’s better than conjured.”

Lube. Harry heard the word like an echo, and then conjured, following it, neither of them making sense for a moment. Draco’s back was pale, his legs long and slightly spread, the mound of his arse soft and relaxed. Those dimples above it, the depressions of them not quite shadowed but darker than the rest of his skin. Like in the dip of his spine, the split between his buttocks.

“Harry,” Draco said. His eyes were on Harry’s face, his lips pulled up to one side. He swivelled his hips again. “Drawer.”

Harry licked his lips, his mouth a wasteland of dry heat. Yeah, he said, soundless, voice gone too. He reached for Draco’s bedside table. There were extra quills scattered in it, parchment with notes, a twine of golden thread the size of an orange — shrunk from the parcel Narcissa had brought, used. And a tube: plastic, mundane. Harry’s hands shook as he took it out and popped the lid. Looking at Draco, he squirted some onto his fingers, an inelegant blob. But it was silky, soft, just the right thing. Harry curled his dry hand around the back of Draco’s thigh, muscled, firm, hair sparser there than it was on his calves; he tugged, encouraging Draco to part his legs further. Settling on his knees between them when Draco did.

Then he stopped, a wheeze exploding from his lungs. Draco twisted his head over his shoulder, curious, and Harry shook his head, his laugh cracking, breathless. There was no appropriate way to explain. I want you didn’t cover it. Not the sweep of giddiness he felt, or the sense of inevitability, Draco laying quiescent, waiting for his touch. It was like the flirt of a Snitch, fluttering against his fingertips, and then briefly struggling in his palm to let Harry know it had only been caught because it wanted to be.

He closed his fingers around his own cock, first. He smoothed the lube over it, tugging, a low gasp torn from his throat.

“Having fun back there?” Draco asked, low. He set his cheek back to the pillow.

“Yes,” Harry said, hearing the smile in his own voice. Draco snorted, then quieted when Harry left off his cock to lean over him, to cover him. He rubbed against Draco’s arse and kissed his scar.

“So easily distracted,” Draco murmured, pushing back against him. Harry kissed his jaw, felt the rasp of invisible stubble against his over-sensitive lips, and the flex of Draco’s grin, the crooked one that hid nothing, ridiculously precious. Draco made a low noise, almost sleepy, and said, “Well, then? Fuck me or finger me, we haven’t got all night.”

“It’s already tomorrow,” Harry said, and felt the change in Draco’s breath over that fact.

Draco’s shoulder blades shifted under his chest; he reached back and touched Harry’s ribs, light, lingering. “But you’ve got to let me sleep, sometime,” he slurred, tipsily.

Harry wasn’t sure he did. But he pushed up with a final nip to Draco’s jaw and got back on his knees. Holding his breath, he cupped Draco’s arse cheeks — massaged them, pushing Draco’s hips to the mattress, a slow fuck downward, liking the small grunt Draco gave. He bent and kissed the dimples on the small of Draco’s back, licked them, dragged his tongue down between his hands, over the crack of Draco’s arse. And then lower, not wanting to stop yet, feeling as drunk as Draco sounded, from the scent of his sweat and the taste of him, and how Harry could scent himself too, under Draco’s freshening charms. Lips trailing along the pull of Draco’s seam, to his balls; they were plump, pressed to the mattress, his sac shiny and responsive to Harry’s tongue. Harry licked over them, sucked them into his mouth as well as he could, his tongue shifting soft, tender skin, lips pulling, mind lost in the heat. His position was awkward, wrong for this sort of thing, but worth it when Draco started shaking, when he cried out, and then muffled his cries with the pillow. They were devastated sounds, nonsensical, but Harry heard a Salazar! between them, and then Potter! God!, and, shaking as well, Harry mouthed at him and wondered when his last name had become an endearment.

He lifted his head, his chin wet with saliva. He rubbed the bristle on his jaw against Draco’s arse cheeks, bit one of them gently. His voice sounded strange to his ears. “D’you want…?” He was hazy with all of the things he wanted to do, to try. Things he’d only read about, or seen once in a blue film that had left him blushing, and terribly turned on. “I can…”

“Fuck.” Draco lifted his face from the pillow, ragged breaths bursting from him. “Fuck, Harry, you— cock. Or. Or fingers. Or— fuck. Fingers? Harry.”

Fingers. Harry’d smeared most of it onto his own cock and Draco’s back, over one side of his arse. He reached for the tube, got more over his fingers. Panting, he spread Draco’s cheeks wide; his arsehole was furrowed, dusky pink, a little swollen from Harry’s hard use. It winked under Harry’s gaze, tightening, releasing, like the grip of Harry’s lungs, Draco’s muscles under his hands going tense. Harry slipped his fingers into Draco’s crevice and fluttered his middle against the spot — wetting it, making it glisten like it had during that glimpse Harry’d got when he’d pulled his cock out, before Draco’s fastidious cleaning charms. He circled it, the delicate folds flexing, needy, under his touch. Draco lifted his hips, needier still, pulling his knees under himself and out in a silent, splaying beg. Pushing against the tip of Harry’s finger, exhaling a shudder as it his body gave to the pressure he’d created and Harry’s finger slid in.

God.” Harry left it there for a moment, barely breaching, and stroked his thumb wetly around Draco’s rim. He gripped Draco’s hip with his free hand, stopping his attempted fuck backwards, gulping when Draco whimpered. With a pet down the back of Draco’s shaking thigh, he said, voice absurd with fondness, “I’ll— I’ll take care of you, baby,” and pushed his finger deeper.

Draco gasped. “Yes, that’s—”

“Good?” It hadn’t been so very long since the last time, but Draco’s arse was tight, sheathing Harry’s finger, rippling as Harry pumped it. Draco reached up and pressed his hand to his headboard, the small of his back dipping inward. Harry fingerfucked him as steadily as he could, drawing out to the middle knuckle, plunging in to the base. Eyes on the smooth shift of Draco’s muscles under his skin, he said, “D’you do this to yourself?”

Nnfffuu— Fu—fuck.” Draco’s head twitched with a weak nod, then dropped to hang down, hair messy and glinting gold at the nape. His shoulders came in, his back creasing in the centre and blushing bright. “Y-yes. Yeah, I— sometimes I—” He inhaled his words, sounding dismantled, “Harry, please, you’re— I—”

Harry knee-walked closer and pressed his cock to the back of Draco’s thigh; he pulled his finger out to the tip and added another. It went in easy with the first, the crinkles of Draco’s rim softening and smoothing around them. Settling his hand over the small of Draco’s back, Harry fucked against his leg and watched his fingers vanish into him, emerge. He was breathing hard, the world spinning around them, a tingle heating around his branded wrist. He twisted his fingers, turning his palm down, and fucked into Draco with short, shallow thrusts — skimming his fingers firmly against the smooth small swell of Draco’s prostate. Wanting to make him feel good, to make him go as mad as he’d sent Harry, humping the back of Draco’s thigh like he’d never fucked before, fumbling for more friction, dying with the need to come. And then coming like a virgin too, so focussed on the swing of Draco’s tightened balls between his thighs and shivering moans, that the first hard pulse of it caught him off guard.

“Oh, fuck, I’m—” Harry gasped out, rutting harder, pushing his prick through the slick of his own come on Draco’s leg. Draco’s moan splintered; his feet lifted and came in, his ankles closed around Harry’s calves. Twisted, tensed, toes pressing there. He took over for the thrust of Harry’s fingers, fucking himself on them, hysteria in his breath, and took a hand from the headboard, shoving it under himself. His shoulder jerked swiftly, once, twice, and then he stiffened, body wracked with shudders, a trembling roll of wet and tight around Harry’s fingers.

They went down together on the bed, Draco’s legs sliding straight against the mattress, Harry slumping half over him. He moved his fingers inside Draco — felt the massage of an aftershock, and kissed away Draco’s overstimulated hiss. His lips were soft, pliant. Chapped from Harry’s mouth, and his own habit of biting them.

“I can’t—” Harry huffed a laugh, undone by the shade of pink over Draco’s cheeks, by the satisfaction in his eyes. “Can’t believe—” Draco lifted a sleepy eyebrow, but Harry couldn’t go on, suddenly cold despite the fire burning high in the hearth, and Draco’s body beside him. He carefully pulled his fingers from Draco and fell silent.

Draco didn’t press. He yawned and turned on his side, keeping close. “Bath.”

“You can’t sleep in the bath,” Harry said, trying for another smile.

“You can, it’s just—” he yawned again, wider, “—not advisable. I won’t sleep in it. But neither will I be able to at all, if I’m sticky. I wouldn’t expect you to know it, but Tergeo will never be a true replacement for water and soap. So, bath. Go draw us one.”

Amusement pushed aside the gnaw of apprehension in Harry’s chest. “What do you think I am?” he joked. “Your—?” Husband. And this time both Draco’s eyebrows flew up, and he pulled his head back on the pillow to study Harry with a disquieting intensity. The unspoken word hovered between them, a punchline bereft of humour.

At length, Draco’s expression shifted. He gave a more deliberate yawn, the arch of his brows lowering to a familiar sort of superiority. “I’d consider myself the unluckiest wizard alive if you were my elf,” he drawled, “but you have shagged me a bit rotten, so go do your chivalrous hero thing and draw a bath while I try to regain use of my legs.” He paired the order with a dismissive flick of his fingers, and clicked his tongue pointedly. “My very sticky legs.”

He closed his eyes and exhaled a waiting sigh, and Harry looked at him, a chaos of new unsaid words clogging his throat. He wanted to turn the compliment back around — to call Draco the chivalrous one, and Sweetheart again, and perhaps try Malfoy to see if he could do to it what Draco had done to Potter. But saying any of that would be an insult to the mercy Draco had just shown, so Harry simply found his glasses in the mess of Draco’s bed, and did as asked.

* * *

They made good use of Draco’s bathtub over the next few days. Given the evidence, Harry might have wagered it was Draco’s favourite thing about the house.

It became one of his, too.

At about a third of the size of the one in the prefects’ baths after the transformation Grimmauld Place had undergone, the baths were still overlarge — roomy enough for both of them to stretch out with barely an overlap of their legs, if they chose to sit on opposite ends. They didn’t.

They took turns bathing one another, the first time. If the act of it felt intimate, it was even more so for how they didn’t discuss it beforehand, or during. Draco only blinked when Harry applied the warm, wet flannel to his chest, then rearranged himself for easier accessibility. So Harry cleaned the back of Draco’s neck, and the hidden creases behind his ears, and his shoulders, and down. Wetting the white-blond hair under each arm gold, and breathing a laugh when Draco squirmed, repressing a ticklish smile. He left a little puddle of water in the hollow of Draco’s throat, and moved down the taut, skittering muscles of his narrow stomach.

Biology only temporarily hindered the resurgence of Harry’s arousal, the potent burn of it sitting heavy in his chest before the slow thickening of his cock. Wanting it to be about more than that, Harry ignored the latter as he worked his way lower on Draco’s body. Perfumed steam rose around them, smelling of waxy-crisp apples and faintly coloured with their same ripe, peachy blush. Draco twisted to accommodate Harry, spread his legs to let Harry run the soapy cloth between them — twitching a little. He tipped his head back and parted his lips, eyes closed, breathing deep as Harry carefully cleaned the crevice of his arse, his balls, his soft cock, and travelling once again to his arsehole: hidden, secret, warm. He pushed the very tip of his finger in, massaging Draco's rim, watching his lashes flutter, then moved to the creases of groin and thigh. There were flower-dark love bites on Draco’s neck, four of them, and one on his chest, a pretty violet bloom of a thing under his left nipple. Draco lifted his dripping arms from the water, stretched them out along the lip of the tub.

The fog of steam blurred his Dark Mark. It was faded, shrivelled in the absence of its master. For the most part, Draco had taken care not to flaunt it in front of him. Harry looked up to find Draco’s hooded gaze on him, his face unreadable.

“Does it hurt?” Harry asked, a small, caught breath tightening his lungs. In Draco’s pause, he was given over to the memory of having asked Sirius that same question, once.

Draco blinked, slowly. A droplet of water sparkled on his eyelashes. “Only when I look at it,” he said.

Harry swallowed, pricked by the same cold point of terror he’d felt before. But fear of a name only ever increased fear of the thing itself, and he knew that better than anyone; it was a lesson that had served him well for ten years. He nodded at Draco and resumed cleaning his legs — letting it sit with him, letting reality sink in. He washed the crooks of Draco’s knees, down along the lean plumping of his calves.

It felt different than being in love with Ginny had, similar only in the initial sensation of impact.

Draco’s feet were long, elegantly boned. Harry felt a little smile claim his lips as he washed them, Draco’s heel, his long, high arch, between his toes. He couldn’t make it go away, a pinch around his mouth as he tried not to grin too broadly.

“What?” Draco asked.

Harry glanced up. “I just thought—” It was silly, embarrassing. He shrugged, enjoying the feel of his own blush, and lifted Draco’s foot out of the water. Cupped his Achilles tendon. “You’ve got very well-turned ankles.”

There was a beat of blank silence. Draco’s smile took on a perplexed slant, then faded abruptly, his foot already drawn from Harry’s hand, his body already stirring the water. He kissed Harry hard, plastering against him, wet shaking hands finding his hair and gripping it. His tongue curled into Harry’s mouth and he groaned, the sound as heated as the room around them, and then softer, turning into a bubble of laughter that had Harry’s heart skipping three beats in a row.

Draco pulled away and pinned him with a look. “You’re unstable,” he said wryly. It sounded like a compliment. Then he pushed Harry’s shoulders to the edge of the tub, Summoned a clean flannel, and set to the task of cleaning Harry in return — briskly, silent. When he was finished, he scooped his hands under Harry’s arse and lifted him with ease in the buoyant water, raising Harry’s hips above the surface, scooting closer between Harry’s legs. Harry’s knees draped firm over his forearms, he said, “Hold onto the tub. I’m going to suck you off like this,” in a rough, hungry voice, eyes fixed on Harry’s erection.

Harry did, and he did. Draco’s mouth was criminal, its own sort of Imperius curse, and the only one Harry had ever let himself yield to. Lips stretching and sliding up and down Harry’s prick, Draco brought Harry to the edge again and again, taking Harry into his throat, hollowing his cheeks with a deep suck on each pull back. He bunched Harry’s foreskin towards the base and lavished attention over his swollen cockhead, the pointed tip of his tongue flicking into Harry’s slit — lifting off with a cruel degree of accuracy whenever he sensed Harry was getting close. Murmuring, Good, and Watch me suck you, and Don’t come yet,. Making soft, delicious sounds that vibrated around Harry’s shaft, his eyes dark and hot.

And Harry loved him for it, through it, tensing in Draco’s hands, under his mouth, his body no longer his own. He kept his eyes open and watched like Draco had told him to, scented water cresting the rim of the tub and splashing the floor; his fingers squeaked over porcelain as he gasped, Draco, and Sweetheart, please, please, so foolishly besotted when Draco urged him to come, he thought he’d pledge himself to a life of crime if it meant he got to keep this for a bit longer.

Wobbly-kneed, Harry shuffled Draco into the shower stall when it was over, a practical measure to address both Draco’s hygienic preferences and raging hard-on. He pressed Draco’s back to the tiles, kissed the tang of his own come from Draco’s lips. Curling his fist around Draco’s cock the way he knew Draco liked, he murmured in his ear: how gorgeous Draco was, and how good it felt in his mouth, and how much Harry had liked it. Delivering all the praise he hadn’t known he’d been storing inside himself for months. Under the spray of water, Draco sobbed out his orgasm against Harry’s cheek and clung to his shoulders, his gaze stark and shocked when he was finally able to open his eyes.

They stumbled drunkenly to Draco’s bed once dry, kissing between yawns, touching. At some point Harry drifted to sleep, and woke up with Draco’s persuasive mouth trailing kisses across his bottom lip. More than half-convinced it was a dream, Harry rolled atop him, and they necked in the dark until Draco started laughing, punchy with exhaustion, his mouth popping open awkwardly mid-kiss to yawn. Harry shifted off him and wound an arm around Draco’s waist, tucking him near. Feeling mad with the need to touch him, to stay close.

He woke up once more before dawn, Draco’s long body curling against his back. Draco’s fingers were already slippery with lube, lightly teasing Harry’s rim. Harry sighed, shifting against him, restless for it already but wanting it to last. He tilted his head on the pillow and Draco dropped an open-mouthed kiss to the hinge of his jaw.

“Yeah?” he whispered, and Harry nodded.

“Yeah.”

He drew the knee of his top leg close to his chest as Draco fingered him. Breathed shallowly and let it happen, too turned on to think straight, the world suspended in the boundary between night and day. Then Draco pulled away — incredible, how stripped he felt as Draco watched himself push in, how clean and good and right — and he let Draco fuck him, slowly as promised.

Harry pushed back to take each pump of his cock and whispered, “More,” and, “God, baby,” clenching around him, moaning at the burr of Draco’s whine into his ear. Stretched, stimulated, his senses flooded, his heart. Everything overfull. Draco took his prick in hand and fucked Harry into it, panting humid breaths over Harry’s neck. And Harry came, shuddering and blinking against the spill of sunlight, and kissed him. Keeping his eyes open for that anticipated, devastating wash of heat — not wanting to forget a thing.

* * *

Kreacher had delivered breakfast by the time they’d finished with their bath — and blown each other in the shower — and bathed again, wrung out and lazy. Lunch arrived late, as though Kreacher had been waiting for them to doze off before sneaking in. But by evening, he either tired of using stealth or decided it didn’t matter, because he popped in with a heavy crack of Apparition to bring dinner.

Narrowly dodging Draco’s startled kick to his chin, Harry left off sucking on his toes and scrambled out from under the wreckage of sheets and blankets, only to encounter one of the most shocking sights he’d ever been faced with:

Kreacher was… smiling.

“Um.” Harry exchanged a glance with Draco, who looked as appalled as he felt. (Though, to be fair, Kreacher’s smile was a rather appalling thing.) He cleared his throat and tried to look less appalled. “Hi, Kreacher. Are you… okay?”

“Kreacher is being a very happy elf to pain his ancient and aching bones in service of meals to his masters,” he croaked cheerfully, setting down one of his serving trays at the foot of the bed near Harry’s face. He put Draco’s up near the headboard, then hummed and moved about the room, Vanishing their discarded clothing and snapping his fingers to repair the lamp they’d knocked over. He took a deep breath and scanned the room once more, then said, happily, “Kreacher will be delivering breakfast when masters is copulating in the bath, if that is being acceptable?”

Harry choked. “Kreacher—”

But, seeming to take that for confirmation, Kreacher only nodded, and popped out of sight.

Draco blinked and, following a short, strange pause, said, “Well—” Then he paused again, opened his mouth to say more, closed it, and turned to his meal. Harry considered it a fitting response and lifted the cover from his own.

“I should be tired, shouldn’t I?” he said after dinner — his only half-finished because he couldn’t stop thinking about Draco’s feet. He was tired, really, just not tired of Draco’s room, or bed, or body. They were still lying in opposite directions, and Harry snuck a hand under the sheets to find slip it around one foot, tugging it towards him. Draco resisted for only a second, then huffed, set aside his tray, and unbent his leg. Pleased, Harry dragged the edge of his thumbnail along Draco’s arch. Watched his toes curl. “We should both be.”

“You couldn’t possibly expect me to agree with that,” Draco said, an exasperated tilt to his mouth. He scooted down a little further, cradled by his mound of pillows, and groped awkwardly under the blanket. “We’re twenty-one.”

“Right, but—” Harry sucked in a breath as Draco’s hand found his flaccid cock. He was more than a little sore but it felt nice, regardless; he supposed there was no help for it. “Of, of—” he managed.

There was a tiny, thoughtful frown concentrated between Draco’s eyebrows. He studied the ceiling and fondled Harry’s prick absently, detached. Like he couldn’t hear the uneven change to Harry’s breath, and was completely unaware that Harry was starting to get hard.

“And again I say, we’re twenty-one,” Draco said. “It seems rather early to start fostering fears about that sort of problem.”

Or like he was determined to make Harry lose his damned mind.

“Draco—” Harry narrowed his eyes.

“Oh, fine.” Draco cupped his testicles, brushed his fingers behind them. He sighed, eyes still on the ceiling. “We can look into virility potions if you’re so concerned.”

Harry glared at him outright. “Draco.

Draco snorted, his dimple flickering in a lopsided grin, and Harry bit the tip of his pinky toe in retribution. Sucked it once more into his mouth.

Out of breath a while later, Draco panted, “I don’t think you need potions yet, but remind me to ask Kreacher to get some specialty salves in the morning.”

“Aren’t those sticky?” Harry gasped back, spent.

“We have the bath.”

And so it went: sex, and sleep, and food, and, eventually, mysteriously pungent salves. They fed the birds together in the mornings; wandered down to the kitchens to deter Kreacher from coming back to the bedroom at inopportune moments. Talking about things as they came up, allowing the rest to flow under the new bridge between them. Harry learned when to wake Draco when he jerked and made a distressed sound in his sleep, when to leave him be, and how to decipher whether he should ask questions. And then in the bath, still sheathed and trembling inside Draco, Draco's long legs locked around Harry's waist, his chest the perfect spot to muffle Harry's groans, learned how deep his own willingness to talk went. Felt shaken to the core when Draco stayed in his lap after and ran hands over him, a certain, specific care to his touch — a skim on Harry’s forehead, and the Basilik fang marks on his forearm, and the silvery sketch of words on the back of his hand. He held his breath as Draco pressed a palm to the oval burnt into Harry’s chest above his racing heartbeat and then faltered, prodding the skin beside it.

Harry let him look, let him piece it together however he wanted. His second lightning bolt was longer and wispier than the one on his forehead, hard to see in most lights. Ultimately, it never mattered much to him. Though he didn’t appreciate being made to talk about any of his scars, he’d at least never associated that one with the misfortune of fame, or the death of loved ones, or pain — even the getting of it hadn’t hurt. It was merely an unpleasant reminder of a night he’d worked to move beyond, something he’d prefer not to think about. But he knew he’d explain unreservedly, if Draco wanted to know. Loving the pull of Draco’s frown so deeply he felt hollowed out by it, Harry knew he’d answer anything Draco wanted to ask.

It’s the period of private union, Bill told him, tall and handsome, his kind eyes soft, that the contract probably expected from the beginning. His touch on Harry’s cheek felt regretful.

A transition, Harry said, a honeymoon, and Bill nodded.

The word woke Harry out of a sound sleep — heart still thudding slow and even, Draco’s quiet snore ruffling his hair. Harry opened his eyes unrealistically wide in the dark and remembered Draco’s gift. He disentangled himself from the heavy cling of Draco’s limbs and lit a subtle Lumos to fetch it from across the hall. Draco stirred when he returned, voice thick with sleep.

“S’there something wrong w’m loo?”

“No,” Harry whispered, climbing back in bed, putting out the light. The box was cool in his palm, trifling, when only moments before, it had felt so important. “Sorry, I just had to get… go back to sleep.” Rethinking things, as Draco yawned and scrubbed at his eyes, silvery even in the shadows.

“What’d you get?”

Harry sighed and told him. Sighed again when Draco came awake and spelled the lamps on, holding out a demanding hand. It seemed such a pathetic offering in comparison to what Draco had done for him. He handed it over; the hinge squeaked as Draco thumbed it open, frowning.

Draco stared into the box for a long time. Then he lifted the ring out and rolled it between his thumb and two fingers, examining it — wordless, unreadable. At length, Harry couldn’t take it any longer. “It’s a—”

“I know what it is,” Draco snapped. He fell silent again, then said, without looking up, “Give me my wand.”

He’d dropped it. Finding it amidst the bedding by touch — that friendly little glow skittering over his fingertips — Harry handed it over. Draco rolled the ring again, lips pursed, then carefully fit it onto the end of his wand hilt without another comment. Without a single question, or apparent doubt. It such an act of faith, Harry went lightheaded. The sizzle of light that flared as the silver bonded to the hawthorn left spots behind his eyes.

“The only ones I’ve ever seen are in two-hundred-year-old portraits at the Manor,” Draco murmured, hefting his wand in his grip. Getting a feel for its new weight and balance.

“Yeah.” Harry nodded. “The wandmaker’s cabinet had a set of books in it… I guess with the changing fashions and— how difficult it became to get some of the materials,” he said, “wand pommels went out of style in favour of the hilt sheath and other accessories. But they seemed dead useful, by all accounts, so I thought maybe you’d… I did modernise it, a little.” Its design in the middle had taken the longest, a delicate filigree mesh that he’d been been terrified making with every miniscule spiral of silver that dropped away, but Harry pointed to the sleeker, solid bands of silver on the edges, and the tiny gemstone studdings. “They usually have bottoms, but with the style of your wand, I thought—”

“It’s beautiful.” Draco cast him a fleeting glance; his eyes were bright. “I’ve never—” He cleared his throat. “I love it, Harry,” he said simply. “I love it.” He fiddled with the wand, long, dextrous fingers stroking over its glossy combination of silver and wood, tripping along the colours embedded in the bands — black, white, shimmering greens. He looked back up. “You’ll have to tell me how you did it.”

I don’t know, Harry thought in that leap between one heartbeat and the next. Throat working, he stared at Draco admiring the wand; he was sat up against the headboard, sleepy and gangling and pale, marked by Harry’s lovemaking, and Harry thought, I don’t know how I’ve ever been as lucky as I have.

“Tomorrow,” Draco said, setting his wand aside. He crawled over Harry, hands hot on his face, eyes twilight-dark. Then Draco kissed him, and deeper, and again. Urgent, hard kisses, until Harry was gasping with appreciation, his lips tingling, the taste of Draco in his mouth. Draco murmured, “Tell me tomorrow,” and pushed him down.

* * *

Harry woke up alone, to an eerie silence. The room was light, and it took him several befuddled moments to realise it wasn’t because they’d left the lamps burning. He put on his glasses to see the loo was empty, its door standing wide open. But Fearful was awake, a third of his torso slid up the front of his terrarium, belly flat to the glass, so Harry rolled out of bed and shuffled over. “Did you see Draco?

Slipping about as Snakes do,” Fearful hissed. His body looped downwards; he slithered to the floor of his enclosure and flicked his tongue out, beady eyes curious. “In the dark, as you did, and returning similarly. A more subtle mating ritual than those you have engaged in thus far.”

Harry snorted. “How, what did he do?

Lofted light above him, and sat near you,” Fearful told him readily. “Studying an object encased in your scent, and then putting his mouth to the back of you before leaving, to mark you with his.

An object encased—?” Harry looked around and spotted the book on the table at Draco’s side of the bed. Harry crossed the room and picked it up; it was bookmarked with a folded sheet of parchment, and Harry opened it to the page, already knowing what he would find.

The original writing was embellished, curlicues dripping like vines from each letter, and Harry’s own scratchy handwriting in the margins only seemed to underscore the effect of their old-world beauty. He’d meant to Vanish his notes, but they glared off the page amongst faded tallies of gemstones and their inlaid charms:

Luck? Emerald, good fortune. Overwhelms hawthorn wands.
Malachite, intention and balance, energy, add alexandrite?? Cross check good fortune charms against wood and core. Alexandrite, but only 1.
Power, strength, passion, certainty=black diamonds. (Wand will read his inborn characteristics better?) Check.Good to go.
4 b diamonds in stock, too much to use all?? Three. Sub 4th for the unicorn tear, protection.

Harry blushed. His notes read like love letters written while staring at someone he fancied from afar, or daydream doodles — names surrounded by lavishly-drawn hearts. He opened the parchment.

Meet me in the duelling room, I’d like to try it out. —D

The words practically had a taste to them, a fold of treacle-sweetness, a bite of lemon. Adrenaline shocked through Harry; he bounced on the balls of his feet and headed across the hall to pull on some joggers and a shirt, his excitement complicated only after he was dressed by the realisation that he had no idea where the duelling room was. He hadn’t even known they’d had one.

“Kreacher?” There was a bewildering pause, and then Kreacher popped in. Harry waved the note in his hand. “Do we have a duelling room?”

“Master Phineas was being having ones,” Kreacher said, frowning, “and it is Vanishing when he is getting married and moving from Grimmauld Place, like many things do. Sir—”

“Where was it?”

“In the cellars, close to the kitchens where Kreacher is able to help when he is injuring himself,” Kreacher said. “But there is no new rooms there now. Sir—”

“What did it look like?” Harry persisted. Half the names for rooms on the map were ones he’d made up, after all.

“It was being long and mirrored, sir, with cushioning charms in the floorings, but— Master Harry Potter,” he said when Harry started to smile; there was a startling edge to his voice.

“What?”

“Master Draco is being receiving your company.” Kreacher glared at him. “And Kreacher is having duties to attend.” He Disapparated with an angry little puff of smoke that smelled of mothballs and, concerningly, brimstone — a sure sign of a house elf in a rare temper.

Worried, Harry went downstairs. He recognised Hermione’s voice in the study, spiking with upset, lowering in a bid for calm. Then a lower tenor, a cautioning voice, and similar voice, overlapping: Ron and Bill. He vaguely remembered making plans with them for this week but was fairly certain they hadn't specified a day. Harry stopped by the cracked doors and listened as Hermione interrupted them.

“This is what he wants,” Hermione said, a steely undercurrent to her voice. “It should be what you want, too. I can’t believe even you’d be so spiteful to—”

“Perhaps it’s merely selfishness,” Draco suggested. “You’ve completely skipped it as one of my many potential motives. He does have quite a bit of gold, and that wonderful reputation. Mine is quite tarnished, you know,” he added, confidingly. “Why, it’s slashed across Bill’s face, there, if you need any sort of reminder.”

Harry eased the door open a little wider and caught a glimpse of Draco lounging on the sofa — felt funnelled by it, sick, as if Apparating a great distance. Draco’s eyes were flat; a cold twist pulled his upper lip. He looked like he had before they’d...

“Now wait just a minute, Malfoy—” Ron stepped forward, hands fisted, and Bill caught his arm.

“Don’t, he’s looking for it.”

“Or how about this, if that’s too troubling?” Draco shook his fine, flowing cuff off his wrist and pulled his sleeve to his elbow with quick, jerky movements. Flipped the inside of his forearm up. Harry gripped the doorframe.

“I tried to give you the benefit of the doubt,” she said. “But now you’re holding Harry hostage.”

“It’s not as if I’ve got him tied to my bed,” Draco said, sounding bored. “Today.”

Harry pushed open the doors. “We only do that Tuesdays.”

It was a scene Harry’d been party to dozens of times: Draco sneering, Ron furious, Hermione passionately holding her own against Draco’s slights. Even Bill, a little older and standing slightly apart from them, a gentle hand on Ron’s arm, seemed familiar — like a professor calming turbulent waters. All of them turned at his entrance.

“Hostage?” he asked.

“Kreacher didn’t wake you, did he?” Draco frowned.

“He told Kreacher not to,” Hermione corrected with a little cry of frustration. She flew across the room, her cloud of hair whipping behind her, and hugged him. Harry patted her and looked at Ron over her shoulder.

Ron stuffed his hands in his back pockets, uneasily. “He, yeah, mate. Sorry, but he wouldn’t let us see you.”

“And he sent the solicitor away. And the way he’s been talking—” Hermione’s voice was muffled into his chest.

“Talking?” Draco demanded — viciously, all trace of his drawl gone. He pushed off the sofa and looked down at his nose at her. “You’ve barely let me get a word in edgewise for the last thirty minutes. In my own home. After I already— said—” Cutting himself off with a muttered curse, he turned away. His back was to Harry — to all of them. The nape of his neck was scarlet, his crescent scar a blaring white.

“It’s Harry’s home,” Ron muttered.

“Ron.” Harry gently set Hermione aside. He wondered if the house knew how to slip its inhabitants into different dimensions. “It’s— it’s his home, too.”

“Only because—”

“No.” Draco turned around, his glare at Ron more of an interruption than his hard denial. He strode to the coffee table and picked up a quill resting atop a sheet of parchment, then scrawled something at the bottom with an angry flourish. He threw the quill back down; it clattered, bounced off the table. Draco’s eyes glinted at him. They looked like the block of knives from the kitchen before Draco had tended to them — blades exposed, a shiver of air away from lethal. “Because nothing,” he said grimly. “If you’ll excuse me.”

“Draco.” Harry tried to catch him as he passed, but Draco swerved to give him a wide berth at the last second, leaving Harry grasping at air. The doors to the study slammed behind him, and Harry, hands distinctly empty, turned to the people who were supposed to be his friends. Trying to curb the fury in his voice, he said, “Someone tell me what the fuck is going on.”

* * *

Precedent. It unlocked a wide variety of previously-unknown loopholes.

“So, yes, this looks to be… ah…” Barnaby hummed and withdrew his handkerchief from the inside pocket of his robes. He mopped at his forehead and glanced up. “This is in order. Mr Weasley, splendid work.”

“Hermione’s the one who cottoned on to it,” Bill said.

“Yes, well— to you, too, Ms Granger.” Barnaby smiled at her warmly. “I can’t tell you how— unpleasant this has been for our offices. The joining of two people who are opposed to a match is not, I think, what my ancestors had in mind when they lent their magics to such unions.” He nodded to the contracts, then reached into the satchel resting at his feet and drew out something else: The original Potter/Malfoy scroll. Harry’s heart skipped a beat, and Barnaby said, “Let me simply go over a few items and we can see about issuing an addendum.”

All of it was Harry’s fault. He’d been the one to ask Hermione to make sure the Malfoys couldn’t force Draco into an additional marriage; the idea of such a standard predating the contract hadn’t occurred to anyone until then, Bill had told him once they’d all stopped talking over one another. And everyone had been over the Malfoy and Potter histories a hundred times, a thousand, so it had taken almost no time to examine the contracts executed before Harry and Draco’s — and then Hermione had thought to look for precedent among the Black family, on a whim. One lineage as good as another, as long as it applied.

It had, in the form of Capricarian Black, married nine years to a man she’d not chosen. Whether preventive magics had been used to bar conception, or their biology had simply been incompatible, no one ever knew; their arranged marriage had not been fruitful, and she’d fallen in love with someone else.

The clause was a small thing, a single note made to her marriage contract, which was preserved in the historical records of Gringotts. It had been written six weeks before Harry and Draco’s marriage contract had been drawn: The declaration of partial nullification may be made in any Black union upon determination of an inability between the espoused to breed and bring forth magical children with one another, wherein: Acknowledgments of union shall not be vanished; however: May no longer be legally considered.

A divorce, for all intents and purposes. Capricarian had apparently known how to protect her interests: No one would be calling her a loose woman, nor would she be expected to be a virgin in her next marriage.

Her parents had probably not expected that to be with a leprechaun, but that seemed beside the point.

“I can’t believe he signed it,” Hermione said again, for the dozenth time. Under her breath, dazed, not listening to Barnaby as he went over the contracts. “He just signed it.”

“Of course he fucking signed it,” Harry said. “That’s what you wanted him to do, wasn't it?” It was an ugly thing to be angry with Hermione; it felt unnatural. His anger at Draco fit into its own slot, was soothing in a way. He thought, We were on our honeymoon, last night.

Hermione leaned towards him, brown eyes pained. “Harry, you don’t— he wouldn’t let us up to see you. He ordered Kreacher not to wake you under any circumstances. He read the contract and ordered Mr Ecutor out! He was trying to— to—”

“To what?” Harry asked. “What could he have done?”

She looked momentarily disconcerted, then said, “He changed, Harry. He was… awful, like how he’d been at the w— joining.”

“He really was,” Ron put in. He sighed, scratched the back of his neck. Gave a hapless, one-shouldered shrug. “Hermione was just—”

“Out of line.” Everyone but Barnaby turned to Bill, who’d mostly been sitting there quietly, watching the proceedings. He took a breath and shook his head at Hermione, apologetically. “I— we all were. We were only able to find the original contract this morning; we’ve spent nearly two weeks working off a theory and an old copy we’d found. We came on a bit strong, too insistently, and then…”

“But— what he said about your face,” Ron said. His hands fisted, a visceral reaction to the memory. “And that thing on his arm.”

“Wait, wait.” Harry ground his teeth together. “Do— Did— Are you saying that was the worst of it? However long you’d been talking to him, and that was the only...”

“It was his attitude,” Hermione said, brows furrowing. “He was— Malfoy again, and all we’d done was— Frankly, I’m not convinced he didn’t know about Capricarian Black’s absolved marriage.”

“Oh my god.” Draco had been right. Harry closed his eyes and reminded himself that he loved her. He could see it so clearly: the gratitude and excitement Hermione must have expected upon coming in, the nudge Draco’s response must have given her back to where they’d been when the contract had taken effect. He looked at Ron. “Is that what you think?”

Ron hesitated, then admitted, “He seemed right shocked at first.”

Harry nodded, unsurprised. Barnaby was reading the bottom of his marriage contract, making swift little check-marks on a legal pad with his quill. Harry breathed in, out. He met Hermione’s eyes. “Did you think he had a way to keep me from you indefinitely? That I’d ever let him? We’ve got, had, two weeks left, before we’d be able to leave.”

We would have had two more weeks. Harry’s throat tightened, and he looked away when Hermione’s breath caught, her eyes growing damp. His fault. Every bit of it.

He got up from the sofa, agitated. Draco hadn’t come back down, and Kreacher had merely shaken his head upon returning from asking him. Harry wanted to leave everyone where they sat and go have it out, but he went to the window instead. It was stark outside, white and grey. The untamed hedges had taken on a blush tint and all of the flowers had gone dormant. Only the hawthorn tree brought any colour to the garden, a wintering bloom of silvery-greens and effusive reds.

“Don’t be too hard on Hermione,” Ron said quietly, joining him. “She’s been… She kept looking, for you. Every spare second, Harry. You asked her to, and so she did. It’s been— And I know it was worse for you, however it is now. I’m not stupid. But she’s driven herself half into the grave trying to figure out a solution. Almost six months of, ‘I need another two minutes to check something,’ turning into four more hours before she slept, and, ‘Harry’s trying his best to get along with Draco, the least we can do is make it easier on him,’ and ‘I promised him, we don’t let each other down.’ She was—” Ron paused. “She was hit harder than anyone from the initial drain, maybe because she’s Muggle-born. Had to recover in Mungo’s. And then she was the first one to feel the symptoms of… noncompliance. And she didn’t tell me. Another week in Mungo’s, when I—” his voice cracked, “—found her on the floor of our flat. She made me promise not to say.”

Harry turned to him, swallowing. Ron stared out the window at his side, nodding a bit to himself.

“Malfoy’s not an easy thing to get over,” he said. “But we’ve been trying. I didn’t— see it, until Christmas. That it was more than… trying your best to get along, making the most out of a shit situation. ‘Mione thought, maybe… Only I think it was hard for her to accept, too. He’s never apologised, not really.”

No. Draco didn’t operate that way; there were some transgressions too big to apologise for, and he knew it. Knew that what mattered was the demonstration of regret, and considered anything said before that frivolity.

Ron and Hermione couldn’t know that about him. They hadn’t been around him enough, not like Harry had.

“I know,” Harry said. “It was, at first. Making the most out of a shit situation.”

“But now?”

“All right, then, Mr Potter!” Harry and Ron turned to see Barnaby beaming at them. “It seems there are no inconsistencies that will prevent me from making the necessary adjustments, and as Mr Malfoy has already given his approval…” He tapped his wand on the hastily-drawn contract Bill had drawn up, Draco’s looping signature on the bottom, “...you’ll be able to start the new year as free men. If you could sign here, please?” He held up a quill.

Standing in the study where he and Draco had been forced to marry, where they’d fucked and argued and talked and watched the fire together, Harry had the bizarre sensation of falling through time — seeing his life as it might have been, without all of that.

Ron reached out and squeezed his arm. Hermione, expression torn between remorse and hope, sat with her fingers laced, her knuckles white. Bill, at her side, simply watched him. He met Harry’s gaze steadily, calmly. He’d pulled his hair back into a low, sloppy bun at his neck, and Harry remembered the look of of Bill’s mouth fitting over Fleur’s, in disguise as him. Thought of Draco saying, Perhaps they have an arrangement, and He wants you, and You could always ask. Thought of what it would be like to kiss the back of Bill’s neck, under the blaze of his hair, and then thought of Draco’s nape — pale, warmer than it looked, sensitive. Scarred.

Harry took the quill.

* * *

Draco’s room was quiet, when everyone was finally gone. He’d put up his wards. Harry disabled them with a flick of his wand and heard the rustling of movement, a Muffialto apparently undone as well. It felt weird to knock after the last few weeks.

There was a pause, and then Draco said, “Harry?”

Harry opened the door. The changes were immediately obvious: one of Draco’s smaller trunks sat open in the middle of the room; the photographs on his mantelpiece were gone; three of his bookshelves sat empty. Harry’s heart dropped into his stomach.

“What are you doing?”

“What does it look like I’m doing?” Draco asked. He floated a few trinkets from atop his bureau to the surface of his window seat and began sorting them into two separate piles. His gaze ticked to Harry. Then, as a simple, unapologetic fact: "I was angry."

At least it wasn't I told you so.

"You had a right to be," Harry said.

Draco made a dry little sound in the back of his throat, as if he doubted the idea that Harry might think he had a right to any sort of anger, ever. He said, "It wasn't a question of me refusing to sign. I'd barely got out that I wasn't going to wake you before they tried to charge upstairs, I hadn't even seen the contract yet, and…" He pursed his lips.

And Draco'd got defensive. He probably called it something else, but Harry's stomach lurched, thinking of it. How cornered he must have suddenly felt, when he'd anticipated an entirely different morning.

"Can I assume from the distance you’re keeping that you signed?” Draco asked, and Harry took a breath.

“Yes.” In a fitting twist, physical contact between them before the addendum came into effect would nullify their signatures.

“When will we be able to leave?”

Harry leaned against the door frame. “He said it takes twelve hours after filing before—” He looked around at the new empty spots in Draco's room. Heart hammering, he said, “But I don’t want you to go.”

“Is that a fact.”

“Draco—”

“I didn’t know,” Draco said. He put the items from the first pile into a different trunk, and the items from the second into an open box, things Harry recognised as having come from around the house, except — repaired, improved. “No matter what Granger thinks. If I had, my parents would have—”

“I know. I know,” Harry said, voice rasping. “And you were right, okay? Hermione was only… She’s— We’re… alike, in a lot of ways. Everyone thinks Ron’s the stubborn one — and Merlin knows he can be — but…” How to explain. Ron was too reasonable; evidence could always sway him, even against his own prejudices. It was Harry and Hermione who proceeded in emotional fits-and-starts. “It takes longer to convince him about things, but that’s because he takes longer to look at everything. But Hermione and I, we always think we’re right about things. It makes it harder to… adjust.” Even after convincing themselves they had. “She didn’t mean to accuse you of… whatever she said. I know it was bad.”

“It wasn’t my favourite exchange, but I’ve been accused of worse.” Draco’s eyes locked to his. “Things I have been guilty of.”

“I know.”

“It’s important you do; that I’m not like you. That they know that, too.” Draco exhaled and flicked his wand at his wardrobe. A travel bag skittered out, promptly followed by a set of formal robes. They danced across the air as if someone was wearing them, then collapsed into the bag, out of sight. Another set danced out after them. “You’re making excuses for your friends where they’re not necessary. Neither are they necessary for signing, if that's next. I know perfectly well why you signed.”

“But that’s not why.” It was desperate, the thing clawing at Harry's chest — the urge to move, to say it right. “I did it because—”

“Because you’re a bloody hero,” Draco said. He shook his head and Harry’s heart contracted — a single, painful beat. Draco abandoned packing his clothing to drop onto his window seat. Two days ago, he’d let Harry fuck him there. He pulled his foot up, heel propped on the edge of the seat, and wrapped an arm around his shin. He’d removed his boots at some point, and Harry could see his foot through the nylon of his sock.

Draco huffed — a light, annoyed sound. “You’ve always been, and I’ve always had to live with knowing it. Hero, hero, hero, like a child’s song in my head. What was so heroic about you? Why were you so special? Your face, that scar? Green eyes? A lot of people have green eyes. Yours weren’t even special enough to see how special I was.” His unpretentious posture was a lie; it was the bleak tension in the cords of his neck that told the truth. Draco frowned. “And then you were my hero, too. I couldn’t even look at you at my trial. I didn’t mean to, when I got released. Those stupid, near-sighted green eyes. But you’d come back for me through Fiendfyre on a stick of kindling disguised as a broom. I hated the way that changed your face, that I could see why everyone— I hated you before, and even more, after. For being beautiful, and making me want you. I knew I would, if I looked — Merlin, I tried not to — and then you were standing right behind my mother, and we were back on that broom with the heat at our heels, and I thought you were beautiful, and you thought,” the laugh he exhaled was wry, “you thought, ‘he looks better since the last time I saw him.’”

It took Harry a moment to realise that what he was feeling wasn’t anger, but pain. That sensation of being slowly gutted. They were so similar, and one a perfect escape from the other — a neat little cave Harry could hide in where someone else was to blame for his feelings.

“It was the worst thing I’d ever felt.” Draco’s voice dropped to just above a whisper. “Wanting you and having you and hating you, all at the same time. But the hating you made it— easier, better. And you couldn’t even let me keep that. So perfect you even stopped to feed starving sparrows. I love birds, I don’t know if I’ve told you that.”

Sweetheart, Harry thought, helplessly.

“You signed,” Draco said, abruptly clipped, “even knowing it would have to be filed publicly, to save our families. Noble fucking Harry Potter. You signed because if you didn’t, there would always be a chance that our noncompliance — that something we did, or didn’t do, would kill them. Tell me I’m wrong.”

“You’re not.”

“But you would have, anyway,” Draco continued. “Because you hate being forced to do anything just as much as I do, and possibly more. Tell me I’m wrong.”

Harry swallowed. “You’re not — about that.”

“And I did it so we could be free two weeks early,” Draco said.

It sucked the air from Harry’s lungs. He shook his head. “You don’t mean that.”

“I mean exactly that.”

“You just said—” Harry thought of Theo’s outburst on Christmas and, over the roar in his ears, doggedly said, “I thought you knew how I felt.”

Draco’s brows drew inward. He paused, then slowly said, “I know that six months ago, you hated me more than anyone else alive—”

“Your dad is still alive.”

Draco scoffed. “Yes, all right, and— let’s talk about him, then.”

“I don’t want to. I want to talk about us.”

“Are you trying to say this—” Draco gestured between them, “—would have ever happened, ever, if we hadn’t been forced into this house? Forced into touching each other?”

“No,” Harry said, wrenched by each thump of his heart. He couldn’t let Draco go on without knowing — couldn’t. “I want to tell you that I thought— when I saw you, I thought, ‘How did I not notice how gorgeous he is?’” He shuddered a breath. “I thought, ‘Was I always too busy looking for him to see him clearly?’ I thought, ‘I want him.’ I don’t… want a lot of people. It’s hard to, to let myself, when you’re always wondering…. And I hated myself, too. I thought if I was any kind of decent person, I wouldn’t want you. Everyone said I was decent, but they didn’t know. That I’d wanted you, regardless, and how much,” he said, ache growing. “Nothing ever would have happened, you’re right, because I never would have come near you again. I wouldn’t have trusted myself to, before I knew who you’d become. But then,” he said raggedly, "I would never have known how much I could love you.”

There, he’d said it. Harry felt a moment of intense satisfaction with himself — and then like he was going to pass out.

“You give your heart too freely,” Draco said — breathing hard, trying to hide it. Face pink, and ruined with everything Harry felt. And then, bowing the shape of the world around Harry, he added, “I know that.”

“What?” Harry’s feet came unglued from the floor. Half a dozen paces into the room, he stopped himself, but couldn’t make himself move back.

Draco was shaking his head. The glassy fever in his eyes had brightened, the hectic colour of his face growing deeper. He said, “Well. You couldn’t possibly think I’d admit to everything I just did if I didn’t have a— a reasonable certainty of…”

“Oh, I couldn’t possibly, could I?” Frustration — or relief — made Harry yell.

“What on—?” Draco glared up at him, brandishing his wand as Harry advanced. “Harry—”

Expelliarmus!” Harry snapped, snatching Draco’s wand from the air when it flew at him. “Then why are you packing? If you feel— and you know I’m—”

“Stop doing that to me,” Draco said through stiff lips.

“Get faster at blocking it,” Harry said.

“Have you gone insane?” Draco stood up, moving further down the wall — creating more space between them. “I was only going to stop you so you— I wasn’t planning on…”

“I don’t care,” Harry said uncharitably. He thought, for one terrifying second, he might sick up onto Draco’s art deco rug, then followed that concern with the petty thought that Draco had it coming. Swallowing several times, Harry tossed his wand back and muttered, “The unicorn tear should prohibit its loyalty from transferring again. Why are you packing?”

“Wh— I—” Distracted, Draco held his wand up, inspecting the pommel. “I thought it was a diamond before I read your notes. You really don’t have to formally relinquish—?”

Draco!

Draco made an exasperated sound. “Because we’ll be divorced, Harry. We won’t be trapped here anymore; I’m twenty-one and I want to live in my own flat. We’ve talked about this,” he said, which Harry thought incredibly unfair: they may have discussed their plans, but always carefully dancing around how the other might be involved. Draco twirled his wand in his hand and jabbed it at the air, tip prudently pointed at the floor. "And I was planning on sleeping here until then and inviting you over once I moved, but now I’m reconsidering.

“Then you’re not— We’re not—”

“Well, I don’t know,” Draco said, sniffing. Intractable as ever. With dawning horror, Harry wanted to touch him all over — wanted to throttle him, wanted to work the buttons of his breeches open with his teeth. Dear god. Draco scowled. “Are you going to Disarm me again?”

“Are you going to get faster at blocking me?”

“You didn’t even use a wand the first time!”

Reeled in by the irritation on Draco’s face, and by how remarkably tender such an expression could be, Harry was getting closer to him — and Draco was no longer moving away. “What if Grimmauld Place wants you to stay?”

“It’s a Black family home, of course it wants me to stay,” Draco said, eyeing him with a wary light to his gaze, a kernal of heat flaring in Harry’s chest, licking its way down to his cock. “It’s not as though I won’t be coming back. There are dozens of things I have left to repair, and Merlin knows Kreacher needs someone like me to tend to; you leave him on his own too much. Besides, the house keeps giving us new places, and we haven’t used half of them.”

Harry, eyes on the throb of Draco’s pulse in his throat, said, “It’s giving them to ‘us’, is it?”

“Well.” Draco licked his lips, a small scowl resting between his eyes for a beat. “Whether or not our names are linked on the tapestry, Grimmauld Place isn’t likely to forget who I am to— it.” The hint of of uncertainty in his voice, of question, tugged at Harry’s heart.

“No.” Harry braced his hands on the wall on either side of him. The throttling would have to come later. “That’s not how love works,” he said, finally understanding it. Love took root in the unlikeliest of places; it held on, even in absentia. If there was a seed and the smallest bit of light, it could thrive into the sort of magic he and Draco had made. Maybe Sirius had known that, deeding Grimmauld Place to Harry. His own resentment towards the house eclipsed his attachment to it, but maybe he’d known what it could mean to Harry, one day — that hawthorn tree, and those thrushes. The wandmaker’s cabinet, and a new path, and someone to share it with, someone the house wanted to be owned by, too.

Harry leaned closer, inhaling, and Draco’s breath caught. Held. His skin was clean and smelled of apples; he’d taken a bath before starting to pack. Harry was so mad for him, he could barely think straight. Draco’d probably lay him out flat the second they got to the duelling room — there was no better technique than being able to successfully distract your opponent.

“You’re going to fuck up our divorce,” Draco said, low. But his eyes gleamed, good as any invitation, and Harry couldn’t help his grin. He could feel the heat of his own breath gusting over Draco’s mouth.

“Then I guess we’ll have to get another one, tomorrow,” Harry said, and fell into his future.

Chapter Text

Their second divorce took place at the solicitor’s office, two weeks after their first. Might as well, Draco gasped, biting Harry on the back of the neck as he’d pounded into him from behind. Might as well, since we’d already planned to stay — ah, fuck, fuck, fuck — stay that… oh, god… long.

The drizzling grey skies had nothing on the colour of Draco’s smirking gaze across from the conference table, and it took everything in Harry not to climb over it and have him right there.

The divorce lasted approximately four steps outside, until Harry took Draco’s hand to share his Impervius. Potter, you fucking idiot, Draco said, acid in his affection, and held Harry’s hand tighter.

Barnaby had Flooed home even as they were being ushered from the office; he’d postponed his family holiday to sign and file the paperwork, and was excited to activate his Portkey for Japan. There was no way they could summon him back, so they had to stay married a bit longer.

Marriage wasn’t so awful, as it turned out, even when you hadn’t chosen it, as long you enjoyed the other person you were married to — and especially when you could take breaks from them. When you could be interested in your ‘husband’ and were allowed outside interests as well. Draco found a shop he liked for his repair business, and Harry discreetly applied for an apprenticeship with a wandmaker in Scotland. Harry's life was busier and more satisfying than it had been to a long time. Perhaps ever.

Their third and fourth divorces were inconsequential — quickly arranged around the juggernaut of their schedules, and failed nearly as fast as the first two: once, when Harry Flooed into Draco’s flat because he’d left some books there, and found Draco in the bath; the next for a reason he’d never really cared to know, Draco slipping into Grimmauld Place after work, jerking Harry’s jeans down, and swallowing his cock. Harry didn’t complain.

Ron did, walking in, but at least remembered to Firecall before inviting himself over from then on.

Their fifth divorce lasted almost the entire twelve hours required. It might have taken, had Harry not already agreed to let Luna helm a New Year’s Eve/Divorce celebration in his grand ballroom — probably not one of the best ideas he'd ever had (though it did result in Neville getting so pissed he went ‘round the room to make out with and declare his love to practically everyone, a sight Draco said he’d treasure to his grave). All of the guests had been instructed not to let Harry and Draco near one another: Hermione flitted back and forth between them to dance, Blaise acted as courier with messages, and Ron forcibly dragged a tipsy Draco across the length of the room when he declared the need to shag Harry, and shag him right then. (Being half-devoured by Neville might have had something to do with it.)

The divorce was only foiled by their kiss at midnight — though their appointment had been at eleven earlier in the day, due to a clerical error, their petition to divorce had not actually been filed until two minutes after noon.

“I’ve been thinking,” Harry said after their sixth attempt. His failure, for not remembering the date Andromeda had picked for Teddy’s fifth birthday party when he’d scheduled the appointment — he was horrible at dates. And at not touching Draco.

“Have you?” Draco drawled. “Very impressive. Should I ask Kreacher to bring you a treat?” His eyes were warm and sly on Harry over his electronics digest. Charging so little to repair Muggle items meant that he always had a backlog, and with the frequent work he volunteered for Hermione, he had to keep constantly up-to-date on technological advances. He wiggled his feet in Harry’s lap.

“Move back in with me,” Harry said, massaging them. He looked at his name on the tapestry when Draco stilled, and then at the first wand he’d made, displayed on the wall near it: hawthorn, the switch taken from the tree outside, and fitted with a phoenix-feather core. A replacement, in honour of the one Sirius had before it had been snapped. Turning back, he said, “I mean it. I want you here.”

“We see each other all the time,” Draco said — flushed already, his magazine facedown on his lap. “I like my flat.”

“Keep it,” Harry said. “Use it to get to work easier. Sleep there when you want to take my head off or don’t want to be bothered while you’re working after-hours, I don’t care. But—" he swallowed, "—live here, with me.”

The magazine fluttered, slithering off Draco’s legs to the floor. “Yes,” Draco said.

They could have found time to divorce. Made an appointment to sign the paperwork right before Harry’s seminar in Spain, or any of the times Draco went to visit his mother in France. Made an effort, asked their friends to keep them occupied, and seperate, for a full day if need be.

And yet, they still didn’t manage to divorce until over two years later — the day Draco, apropo of nothing, leaned over and murmured, “We should get married, sometime.”

Harry choked on a piece of popcorn, and waved off Theo’s hand, pounding against his back. Wheezing, taking deep pulls from his Coke. He waited impatiently for the film to end, half-convinced Draco had spelled it six hours longer, and once Theo had departed with his new boyfriend, said, “Are you serious?”

“Well.” Draco pursed his lips. “It couldn’t possibly be much of a change, but… yes.”

Without really talking about it, they walked the short distance from the cinema to Barnaby’s offices. After having been outed in the papers as Harry and Draco’s solicitor, his sleepy trade had begun to boom, but serendipity was on their side: he’d just had a cancellation. They watched in silence as he drew up the contracts, and once Draco signed, he Flooed to the flat near his shop with a promise to come home the following day. It as two-thirty in the afternoon.

At two-thirty-five in the morning, Harry Firecalled him from the parlour, choking on his own tears.

“What is it?” Draco asked — half-asleep, terrified. “Move away, I’m coming through.”

Harry’s eyes were swollen, hot. He hated crying, but couldn’t staunch it, a well of grief flooding him like he hadn’t felt since those lonely weeks right after they’d first been married. He let Draco hold him and say, You fool, what’s this about, and call him, Harry, in a low, comforting voice, and, Potter, quieter and sweeter as Harry calmed, and then, just once, Love.

Regaining himself in Draco’s arms, Harry gestured. Such a demented thing to fall apart over — the tear of golden threading between their names. Particularly because the brand around their wrists wasn’t going anywhere; it was a divorce, not a nullification of their history together, and surely that had to matter for something. “I just… I came down for a drink, and… hadn’t expected...”

The thick line was ripped in the centre. A slender limb split in half. Draco stared, jaw flexing silently. Colour leached from his face, his body unnaturally still. Then he gave a slow nod. “It’ll repair itself, soon enough.”

“I know, I just—” Harry tried for a laugh, steadier. Feeling a bit daft. “Sorry. Sorry.”

No.” Draco’s voice, like the lash of a whip, then faltering. “Don’t— ever— Not for—”

Harry softened, and then it was his turn to hold Draco. To whisper in his ear with a tenderness Draco liked to pretend himself incapable of giving or receiving: Sweetheart, sweetheart. When should we get married, hmm? Tell me when. Tomorrow? I have two rings upstairs that will probably still fit us perfectly…

Draco didn’t cry. But he was malleable in Harry’s arms, letting himself be soothed — as much for Harry’s sake, Harry suspected, as his own. Harry ran his hands down Draco’s back. Slipped them under his pyjama shirt. He crossed his wrists and pressed his pinkies to the shallow dips at the small of Draco’s back, the span of his hands wide as Draco’s narrow hips. Touching Draco, and finding comfort that the jagged edges of golden thread hadn’t affected his inexhaustible want.

A slow tension gathered between them, like storm clouds, unspent. They were long past the days where the explosive chemistry of their sex felt like a novelty to Harry, but he found he could still be surprised by how deep it all went — his yearning for Draco, the way Draco’s walls crumbled under their shared heat, every tiny, responsive jerk of Draco’s hips. Harry was dizzy with it, with loving him. They sank to the floor, high on their knees, bodies pressed. Draco’s hands on his ribs, his fingers curling in the back of his t-shirt. He turned his face to Harry’s jaw, mouthing there. Mumbling something about how he needed to shave, teeth nipping against the stubble, his hard cock grinding against Harry’s own. He pulled his head back when Harry tried to kiss him, and said, ”Look at me”, lashes lowered, so Harry did: their mouths barely touching, kissing with an exchange of breaths, the smoulder of Draco’s gaze thrilling through him.

They rotated their hips together, a hard, slow frot through dampening cotton, just what Harry needed, and maybe Draco too. Harry’s muttered, “You’re gonna make me come, baby,” against Draco’s mouth sent a shudder through Draco, and he slid tight hands down Harry’s back to push into his bottoms — to massage his buttocks apart. Those fingers Harry never got tired of watching, of feeling on him, slipping into his crack, and the stiff, swollen length of Draco’s cock rubbing against his own. Rocking harder, Draco’s whimper felt more than heard against Harry’s parted lips. And then Draco’s hips juddering, desperate, precipatory.

It made Harry come, Draco wanting him so badly, just knowing he was on the cusp. He groaned, his fingers bruisingly tight on Draco’s lower back, cock spurting everything filthy wet between them; he kissed Draco, forced himself to keep it soft, questing, his body still wracked with shivers as Draco started to come too. Taking back the room that had felt, so preciously, like theirs for these last few years.

They fucked twice more on the floor of the parlour before Draco insisted on having a bath. Laughing into Harry’s kiss, a little grumpily. Blushing, like he’d done when they were twenty-one.

They were engaged, after all.

"Not tomorrow, or, ah… today," Draco mumbled in their bed as the sun came up. The birds, moved to their window, had begun chattering, and Fearful, as he did every morning, slithered up to the glass to watch them. Draco exhaled, words spinning out soft and light as candy floss. "Another day, yes. Here, at home, perhaps," he said, and fell asleep.

He wanted to choose it, an echo of Harry’s thoughts. The biggest thing was having chosen each other, but the little things were important, too, the whens and wheres.

They were easy decisions to make: under the stars, their fourth wedding was in the garden.