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On the Couch

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On the Couch

“Your couch smells like the cow it came from.”

My newest patient stands in the middle of my office, looking around with an expression of disdain. I have to swallow my irritation. I know it’s silly, but criticism of my office is my Achilles’ heel. It’s the one place on earth that is wholly my own.

“I like that painting. Is it an original?”

“Yes,” I say tersely. In my notebook, I write: Apparently enjoys subtly insulting people. An original? Not only is it an original, but it was given to me as a gift by the artist himself who’s been a patient of mine for years. I saw him through three marriages and at least a dozen affairs.

He walks to one of the windows and draws his wand so that he can spell the mahogany blinds up and down. Several times.

“Humph,” he says noncommittally and strolls over to a bookshelf. He picks up the marble carvings I use as bookends and examines them.

“I have work by the same sculptor at home, except the marble is Rosa Aurora. What is this? I don’t believe I’ve ever seen it before.”

I clear my throat. “I have no idea to be honest.”

Draco Malfoy turns his head and regards me with an arched eyebrow. This is the first time he’s looked at me since he walked in.

As I’d been told, he is handsome, but nothing I’d heard prepared me for his eyes. Please excuse the cliché, but they are as cold as ice. The thought comes to me unbidden: his are the eyes one might expect to see on a sociopath.

“I will not sit on that couch,” he says. “It smells of the abattoir.”

I give him my blandest expression and gesture to the upholstered chair. Like all the furnishings in my office, it’s white with two pillows: one is burnt orange, and the other is a rich chocolate brown. One of the first things we learn as apprentice Mind Healers is to avoid Hogwarts house colours at all cost. They often provoke anxiety.

With seeming reluctance, he sits in the chair and makes an extravagant show of adjusting the pillows. He finally settles back with a look that exudes discomfort.

“I thought you lot want your patients to be comfortable. This chair clearly was not intended to be sat on.”

“You are free to remove the pillows,” I tell him.

He pointedly ignores me and pulls a packet of cigarettes from his coat pocket. He taps it against his palm and then leisurely withdraws a cigarette. He rests it on his bottom lip and lights it with a snap of his fingers. He takes a deep drag and leans back. His legs are crossed and the leather of his expensive shoes gleams in the late afternoon light. He releases the smoke and Transfigures one of my clay Buddhas into an ashtray.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” he says with feigned chagrin. “I didn’t ask if you minded that I smoke.”

The comment does not invite an actual answer.

We sit in silence for a minute or two while he smokes. His body looks relaxed, but his eyes are still surveying his surroundings.

“Lovely view,” he says and takes another drag.

Of course it is. My windows look out on Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament.

I clear my throat again. “So, Mr. Malfoy. Would you like to tell me why you’re here today?”

He looks me straight in the eyes and holds my gaze until it’s distinctly uncomfortable. I do not look away. To do so would be to lose his respect and thereby any chance of a meaningful relationship. It’s easy to screw things up at this early stage.

He smiles a humourless smile and stubs out his cigarette. I’ve passed his first test – or rather his second. The contemptuous perusal of my office had been the first.

“I’m here because my wife thinks there’s . . . now let me see if I can get this right . . . ah yes. My wife believes there is something in my subconscious that hinders our quote/unquote ‘marital intimacy’.”

“So you’re here at your wife’s behest.”

He snorts derisively. “Do you think I would do something like this voluntarily?”

“Well, I don’t know. I don’t know you well enough yet to know what you would or would not voluntarily do.”

There’s that mocking half-smile again.

“I rarely do anything that’s truly voluntary,” he says. “My life doesn’t permit it.”

“Are you saying that you’re often made to do things against your will?”

He lights another cigarette and banishes the ashes of the first one from the Buddha-cum-ashtray.

“No,” he says. “I never do anything against my will – including coming here. What I meant is that I rarely do things I actually like to do.”

My quill starts taking notes.

“Such as . . . ?”

Another unpleasant little smile.

“Such as go flying for an afternoon, for instance.”

“You like to fly.”

He takes a drag on his cigarette and turns his gaze to the window so that all I can see of his face is his profile. Seen from this vantage point, he not only looks handsome, he looks cruel. His mouth is his only feature that one could describe as looking “vulnerable.”

“Obviously,” he says with a hint of derision in his voice. “How else could you have interpreted my admission that I miss flying? Don’t repeat my answers back at me. I find it very irritating.”

Oops. Alright. No cognitive behavioural therapy then.

“Would you prefer it if I say nothing at all?”

He thinks for a moment. He’s still not looking at me. I get the sense that he’s deciding whether to take this seriously . . . take us seriously.

“No,” he says at last. “I’m not paying you to listen to me babble.”

I nod. “Okay.” I have to smile at his use of the word ‘babble.’ He looks like a young man who’s never babbled in his life.

“Who else do you have as patients?”

Another test. A huge one, although it’s far from uncommon. Nearly all of my patients ask similar questions, although most not so forthrightly and not so soon.

“I do not and will not disclose the identities of my other patients. You may rest assured that your identity is just as safe as theirs.”

He looks disappointed.

“Damn,” he says. “I was hoping for some scandal. You cost enough that I can’t imagine any of your patients not being millionaires who are, by definition, my peers and thus, also by definition, ideal candidates for gossip.”

“I take pro bono cases as well,” I say.

“You mean charity cases.”

“If that’s what you prefer.”

“Well, I’m clearly not a charity case, and,” he pauses to take another drag for dramatic effect, “neither is the patient who came before me.”

I frown. “I arrange my appointments so that they will never overlap,” I say. “There’re forty-five minutes between each one.”

This time the smile is full, but just as mocking. He points to the couch.

“Someone left behind his Hermes tie.”

I have a brief moment of panic. How could I have let that happen? I stand and walk over to the couch to retrieve the tie and hang it on the coat rack so it will look like one of my own.

“You are correct,” I say carefully. “I have some very wealthy clients, but then again there are a great number of wealthy wizards and witches in England.”

“You don’t have to tell me,” he says, stubbing out his cigarette. “I have to invite them all to dinner parties once a season. Do you know what that means? That’s right: dinner parties Friday and Saturday nights and brunches every Sunday. It’s bloody exhausting.”

“I can imagine.”

“Actually, no you can’t. You may have very wealthy patients, but you yourself are not wealthy.”

I frown and try to keep it questioning rather than disconcerted.

“How do you know?” I ask in as disinterested a tone as I can muster given how uncomfortable he’s making me feel with every glance of those eyes.

“You went to Hogwarts on a scholarship,” he says. “You’re Muggle-born and have no family money or ancestral land.”

I take a deep calming breath.

“That is true. May I ask how you know that?”

This time I can see a grin. His teeth are very white, and his canines very pointed. I wonder for a second whether he has Vampire blood. I know he doesn’t, but there’s something about him that reminds one of the Undead.

“Certainly. I asked my personal secretary to find out as much about you as possible. I also know that your mother died in the War, which I suppose affects your ability to be objective with your former Death Eater patients – that’s if you have any at all.”

He undoes his cufflink and rolls up his left sleeve very slowly. I find myself holding my breath.

“Ta-da!” He flourishes his hand like a magician.

His arm is unmarked. I exhale.

“I’m right,” he says. “You can’t ethically treat former Death Eaters. You’re still mourning mummy.”

He thinks he’s getting under my skin, and he’s right, but I don’t give him the satisfaction of knowing it.

“You were sorted – predictably – into Ravenclaw. You did well and didn’t get into any trouble. You didn’t play Quidditch or take part in a duelling club. There is nothing in your school file of any real note. In fact, you seem to have been rather dull.”

I have to laugh at that because it’s true. I was very dull.

“You studied in Germany and apprenticed at a hospital in the States. One could ask why you chose not to live in your native country for ten years.”

“I was avoiding the War and having to fight in it. I knew it would scar me too deeply for me to be able to work as a Mind-Healer.”

“True, true. But you were also fleeing love. An older woman. A married woman.”

“You do realise that we’re here to discuss you, not me.”

“Does it make you uncomfortable,” he asks with feigned surprise, “that I know more about you than your own wife probably does?”

“No,” I lie. “I just think it’s a waste of our hour.”

“Shouldn’t I be the one who decides what is, and what is not, a waste of the hour I paid handsomely for?”

“I believe,” I say carefully, “that you are doing this to try to make me uncomfortable. Let me ask you, Mr. Malfoy: why do you want to make people uncomfortable in your presence?”

Not only is it an important question, but I’m actively curious to hear the answer.

He thinks for a moment, clearly weighing the pros and cons of answering me honestly.

“I generally don’t like people,” he says, his voice flat. “And I certainly don’t trust them. Letting them know I have dirt on them is one of the many ways I keep people on the defensive. Don’t think you’re alone. I have dirt on all witches and wizards of any consequence, while they . . .” he pauses and lights another cigarette “. . . know nothing that matters about me.”

“You sound very sure of that.”

“Because I am.”

He exhales the smoke from his first drag. “I do believe, Dr. Freud, that our hour is up.”

“My name is Nichols,” I say.

He rolls his eyes with an expression that almost looks like fond irritation. “I know that,” he says. He stands with a practised elegance and puts on his jacket. He’s almost out the door when he stops.

“My apologies,” he says, drawing his wand. “You probably want your Buddha back.” He flicks his wand at the ashtray. “Good evening, Healer.”

He was my last patient of the day. I loosen my tie and unbutton my collar. Outside, people are getting out of work, and the streets far below are full of honking and shouting. I cast Muffliato, and sit down at my desk. I always write my patients’ reports before I go home. Having four children is not conducive to doing work that requires concentration.

I chew on my quill for a moment and then start writing.

September 24, 2010

Draco Malfoy – 30 yrs. old, Caucasian – possibly of Nordic descent, male, married, father deceased, mother still living, no children, wealthy, pure-blood.

A young man who acts and appears far older than he is (defence against what?). On the surface arrogant and unapproachable; underneath? It’s not yet clear if there is an underneath – at least one that he’ll ever give me access to. No outward sign of mental or physical illness. Other than smoking and some initial pacing, there are no signs of agitation. His affect portrays lassitude, boredom, contempt. Reports he’s here at the request of his wife, something about “marital intimacy” (sex? Communication? Both?) Things of note: He likes to fly but doesn’t anymore (why?); says he doesn’t like other people; implies he’s forced to deal with people more than he would like; reports he enjoys making others uncomfortable (why?). Implies there is “dirt” that could be found on him, but he’s certain no one will ever find it (what is it? why so sure it’ll never be discovered?)

Give file to Miles for more research.

 

“Malfoy, eh? Bastards the lot. Lucius should’ve died in Azkaban. The man was a murderer, plain and simple, but clearly he bought somebody’s vote. I’m surprised you’re taking on a Death Eater, Nick.”

Andrew Miles is lying on the couch as though he’s one of my patients. As always, he’s dressed in black and grey. He likes it when I refer to him as “Captain Shadow.”

“Your boots had better be clean.”

“Unlikely.”

“That’s what I was afraid of.”

“So, back to the subject at hand: Draco Malfoy.”

“He’s not Marked. I wouldn’t take him if he was Marked.”

“He may as well be. His sympathies were clear enough.”

“Before the War really started. He’s thirty. He was just a kid then . . .”

“A kid who let Death Eaters into Hogwarts.”

“I haven’t forgotten any of that, but I’ve decided to take him on anyway. He intrigues me.”

“Well, if you find arrogant little shits intriguing then I guess he’s your man. Why the Ministry didn’t confiscate the Malfoys’ entire estate is beyond me. Like I said: somebody must’ve bought someone off. Paying out restitutions barely made a dent in their wealth.”

“Draco has taken his father’s place on the boards of numerous charities, all of which relate to the War in some way. Rumour has it that he gives generously – more generously than his father did.”

Andy yawns a cavernous yawn. “Sorry, up most of the night. This bloody couch is putting me to sleep. Do your patients ever fall asleep in the middle of psychoanalysis?”

I straighten some papers on my desk and brush away illusionary dust. My mentor once told me I might be a tad bit obsessive compulsive.

“Sometimes. Find out about his wife. I believe it was an arranged marriage . . .”

“Wouldn’t surprise me. Bloody pure-bloods and their fucked up traditions. You wanna smack ‘em and tell ‘em to catch up with the times. This isn’t the fourteenth century.”

“I believe he married immediately after his father died. Should be easy for you to confirm given it was all over the papers at the time. You’d think it was a royal wedding or something.”

“I heard it cost more than the entire GDP of Luxembourg.”

“I wouldn’t be surprised.”

He yawns again, and I stand to put on my coat.

“I guess it’s time for us to go home to our respective abodes,” I say. “Thank you as always.”

“You thank me every time you pay me, mate.” He pockets the cheque I hand him. “You know you’re one of my favourite clients, Nick. Your assignments are rarely dull.” He stands from my couch and pulls on his cloak. “I’ll have something for you before his next appointment. ‘Night.”

 

“So, doc, what have you found out about me?”

Draco is making the tour of my office again, picking things up and putting them back down as though he’s investigating a crime scene. He’s wearing jeans and a dark grey jumper.

“You didn’t have to work today?” I ask amiably in an effort to start a conversation.

He laughs but with no real mirth. “I don’t have to work any day.”

“Well, nonetheless, I know that you do. In fact you’re known as a bit of a workaholic . . .”

“Here it comes,” he says as though talking to an invisible third party. “Alright, what has your snooping little assistant found out about me?”

“Andrew Miles was merely gathering information that I should know about as part of our therapeutic relationship.”

I try to keep my voice even. Andy investigates all of my patients, but none of them has ever found out. Either Andy was less discreet than usual, or Draco is observant to the point of paranoia.

“So what did he discover about me?”

He hasn’t taken a seat yet. He stands looking out the window with his back to me. He lights a cigarette. I can see the reflection of its glow in the glass.

“I know that you are the president of Wand Logistics, Ltd., a consulting firm owned by your father-in-law. I know you were married to Astoria Greengrass in June 2009.”

He turns from the window with the most unpleasant sneer I’ve ever encountered, which is saying a lot. My patients are rich, and sneering seems to be a social requirement. But Draco’s sneer puts all the others to shame.

“How dull,” he says. “How much do you pay this Miles bloke? Hopefully not a lot. You could’ve figured out everything you’ve just mentioned by looking me up in the Social Register.”

He goes back to looking out the window.

“Well,” I say slowly, “I know you sided with Voldemort during the War, but you never took the Mark. Apparently that was because Voldemort did not find you worthy . . . which, by the way, I view as a tremendous compliment considering the source.”

He Transfigures my Faberge egg into an ashtray and stubs out his cigarette as though the ashtray is somebody’s eye. I can’t hold back the shiver that crawls up my spine.

“Shall I continue?” I ask.

“Why not?” he says. ‘Let’s see what else our worthy Miles has unearthed.”

“You finished Hogwarts after the War and then moved to Dublin where your family owns a house. It appears you travelled often back and forth to England, for what, I don’t know. While in Ireland, you tried and failed to start your own company. It appears you weren’t successful because you had difficulty raising capital funding due to the cloud that remains over your family name because of your father’s allegiances during the War.”

“You did not date anyone, at least publicly, during the last decade. You and your wife host the annual Solstice Ball and give to numerous charities. You have season tickets to the ballet, and you never permit yourself to get inebriated in front of other people.”

He relaxes and sits down with a genuine laugh. “I especially like the ballet part,” he says. “Except your Miles failed to find out that Astoria and I also have season tickets to the theatre.”

“Do you prefer dance over acting?”

He settles back into the chair and crosses his legs. “I prefer the ballet, especially the tights,” he says and quirks an eyebrow at me in a sort of challenge. Suddenly it clicks . . . Miles’s report that once in awhile Draco goes to The Wooden Wand had completely baffled me; now everything makes sense.

He’s bisexual . . . or maybe even gay.

I don’t indicate I suspect, however. He’s laying down the clues, but there’s been no invitation to discuss it openly.

I wonder if there ever will be.

 

October 22, 2010
Have met with Draco Malfoy four times. He seems to be opening up, but slowly and cautiously. We still haven’t discussed the reason he’s in therapy. His hands are never still even when the rest of him is – he smokes, plays with his wedding band or picks up one of my possessions and examines it for long silent intervals. He seems to be debating something in his mind. Can’t tell if he’s nervous or bored. Never speaks of his family. Rarely makes eye contact unless he’s trying to make me uncomfortable (which he seems to enjoy). I’m surprised he’s still coming to our sessions, but he’s always on time. Is this trust or just a sense of duty?

 

“So.”

“So?”

“Ask me a question?”

“What do you want to talk about?”

“I don’t care. Ask me a question, and I’ll answer it.”

“Alright then, why are you a workaholic, especially since you don’t need to be?”

“Because leisure time and I are dangerous company.”

“So working long periods of time keeps you away from other things you consider dangerous? Like what?”

“Sex.”

“With your wife?”

“God, no.”

“Then who do you have sex with?”

“Hhhmm, so you think I’m having an affair.”

“I don’t think anything. It seemed like a reasonable follow-up question. Perhaps I should have asked whether you have sex with a person or whether you masturbate.”

“Oh, God! You Mind Healers love masturbation.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Because don’t the fantasies people have while getting themselves off tell you a lot about them as a person?”

“Yes, sometimes. Do you want to discuss what you fantasise about while you’re masturbating?”

“I think about someone licking my arsehole, I mean really licking it, inside and out. I think about having my cock sucked by an eager mouth. . . . I think about being taken, you know, fucked senseless. Am I making you uncomfortable, Healer?”

“Such fantasies aren’t uncommon . . .”

“Well, maybe this is: I think about being taken against my will in a public place. I think about being surrounded by a crowd of people with a wand at my throat. I think about being forced to do really really dirty things while people watch. It makes me come so hard, I’ve nearly put an eye out with my spunk.”

“Okay.”

“Joke, Nichols. But I did hit my chin once. I come so fucking hard I feel like I’m going to turn inside out. Just talking about it is making me stiff. Have you ever had someone wank in your office?”

“Yes, a few times.

“All the way to orgasm?”

“Yes. Is that what you want to do?”

“No.”

“Why?”

“I might give away my secrets. You might learn more than I want you to. I always call out a particular name when I shoot my load. I can’t help it. It’s part of the whole experience. I’m being taken against my will, but I still get hard and come anyway because it’s him doing the taking. It’s that fucking good.”

“In other words, you lose control, and that scares you.”

“Hell, yes, it scares me.”

 

I’m running late for Draco’s appointment.

I’d been having tea with my mentor and lost track of the time. I jog down the street, leaping over puddles. I’m almost back to my building when I see a large crowd of people. There’s no way to get around it so I slow to a walk. It’s started raining again, but the crowd shows no sign of breaking up.

Expelliarmus!!” a voice shouts. “Up against the wall and show me your hands! Don’t try to cast an unspoken spell because I’ll know it and make you wish to God you hadn’t!”

My curiosity trumps my haste. I push forward as far as I can.

There’re two plain clothes Aurors hand-cuffing a man. One I immediately recognise as Harry Potter. There’s no way not to recognise him. He and his scar are iconic. You’d have to have lived under a rock for the past thirty years not to know him at a glance despite all the efforts to make himself less conspicuous. He may no longer wear glasses, but anyone with one eye and half a brain can still recognise his jet black hair and, if they’re close enough, his striking eyes.

“Where is the hostage?” Harry growls, his face within inches of the suspect’s. From the smell, it’s evident that the man has pissed himself. Frankly, I would too if I had Harry Potter’s wand pointed at my chest. “You have ten seconds to tell me . . . one, two, three . . .”

I have to turn away. I can’t handle the sight of blood. I began pushing my way out of the crowd, and then I see him; Draco is in the midst of the throng, standing on his tiptoes like a boy trying to glimpse a parade. His attention is riveted to the scene playing out before him. I breathe a sigh of relief. I’d been dreading his response to my tardiness.

I jab at the lift buttons impatiently. I’m sweating slightly, so I Transfigure one of my gloves into a handkerchief. Once I’m in my office, I take off my coat and sit down in my chair as quickly as possible. I summon my notebook and make a note: Draco is late for first time. Stopped to watch Aurors make an arrest. Seemed riveted (why? Does he wish he went into law enforcement instead of business?)

There’s a knock on the door.

“Come in,” I call.

Draco comes in. His cheeks are flushed and damp from the rain, and his eyes are bright. I’m surprised he hadn’t cast an Impervius.

“I apologise for being late,” he says. “I had a matter at work that needed attending to.”

He doesn’t mention the Aurors.

“That’s quite all right,” I say. “I was delayed as well by the crowd in the street. Everyone was watching a couple of Aurors make an arrest. Sounded like it may have involved a kidnapping.”

“Really?” He leans back in the chair and pulls a cigarette from its packet. “How interesting.”

He certainly doesn’t sound interested.

He’s also lying through his teeth.

“Did you ever consider going into law enforcement?” I ask.

He gives me a look that’s got “you must be mad” written all over it.

“Do you really think the Ministry would let someone like me have anything to do with law enforcement? I seriously doubt it. Plus, I wouldn’t want to be an Auror. They’re brutish and stupid, most of them.”

“Have you had bad experiences with the Aurors?”

He takes a long drag on his cigarette. “What do you think?”

“I think that I would not be surprised if you had. They must have . . .”

“. . . gone up my family’s arse with a pair of Omnioculars?”

“Something like that.”

“Like I said, the Aurors are a bunch of stupid Neanderthals.”

I want so much to ask him why he lied to me, but I sense he’d close up on me like a clam – a hostile clam. Clearly, a nerve had been struck. Instead, I change the subject abruptly. It’s a tried and tested method.

“Have you always smoked?”

He gives me a confused frown. “No, actually. Why did you just ask me that? I thought we were talking about how boorish Aurors are.”

“When did you start?”

“Would you believe on my wedding night?” he says with a trace of amusement in his voice. “Astoria hates smoking.”

“So why did you start?”

“Precisely because she hates it.”

I jot down his answer in my notebook.

“Do you think you were trying to avoid being intimate with her?”

He laughs. “Do you mean was I trying to avoid fucking her? Of course I was!”

“Why?” I ask.

“Because my prick was limper than a leaf of old lettuce.”

“You doubted you’d be able to become aroused?”

“I didn’t ‘doubt.’ I knew I wouldn’t be able to get it up. Now what little treasure of yours can I turn into an ashtray this evening? Ah! How about this?” He picks up a crystal ball. “I bloody hate these things. My mother is obsessed with them, but I think they’re useless pieces of glass.” With a bare flick of his wand, he Transfigures it.

He’s trying to change the subject. I won’t let him.

“Did you find your new bride unattractive?”

He shrugs and stubs out his cigarette. “She’s attractive enough if you’re into pretty petite feminine blondes.”

“I take it you’re not.”

“You would be correct.”

I decided to move on to a hypothetical. “Why do you think a man might not be ‘into’ pretty petite feminine blondes?”

“Because he doesn’t know her. Because her voice gets on his nerves . . .”

He’s counting the reasons on his fingers. “Because she’s too sweet and perfect. Because he’s not into women at all. Because he doesn’t like the way she touches him. . . Because he’s in love with someone else. I can keep going if you wish,” he says with a bored voice.

“Were you in love with someone else?” I ask.

He makes a big to-do about lighting another cigarette. He sits for a couple of minutes regarding me.

“Perhaps.”

“Perhaps?”

“Yes, perhaps.

I see I’m going to get no further than that, but I’m surprised I’ve got this far.

“Can we go back to the subject of Aurors and how much I loathe them?”

I look at my watch. We’ve already gone over our allotted time.

“Hold that thought for next time,” I say amiably.

He stubs out his half-smoked cigarette and turns his ashtray back into my crystal ball. He seems annoyed for some reason, but I don’t have time to explore why. Tonight is my wife’s night off from taking care of the kids, and she’ll kill me if I don’t get home on time.

 

“I’ve got the task of a lifetime for you, Andy.”

As usual, he’s lying on my couch, but this time he’s covered his face with his arm.

“I’m shagged,” he says. “It had better be bloody interesting.”

“Ah, but it is,” I say. Sometimes Andy needs to be tempted. “I think our Draco Malfoy is in love with someone other than his wife.”

“And that’s supposed to shock me?”

I feel deflated.

“All the richies are fucking around. I’m sure he’s among the worst offenders. He’s both wealthy and good looking. I bet she’s an ‘actress’ or a ‘dancer’ or something, and he pays for her flat and fancy clothes – at least until he gets sick of her and kicks her to the curb.”

“Ah,” I say. “But what if I tell you that ‘she’ is a ‘he’?”

Andy purses his lip and thinks for a moment.

“Well, a gay relationship does make it a little more intriguing. Any idea who?”

“Nope.”

Andy stands and brushes off the couch where his boots have been.

“I’ll see what I can come up with,” he says.

 

November 19, 2010

Draco has threatened to invite me to the Solstice Ball. I stated my case why he should not, but he was unshakeable. Will perhaps have to use the dreaded “I’m sick” line. Andy has had no luck, which is saying something. Nothing’s ever stumped him before. Draco seems more comfortable and willing to open up. Nothing more about a love affair, though. Expresses dislike toward his wife, but I don’t think he hates her. Talks sometimes of feeling trapped, but never says why. Reports work is exhausting. Reports his father-in-law is a slave driver. Is this one reason he dislikes his marriage?

 

The invitation arrives at my house exactly a month before the Solstice. The owl that brings it is so aloof it doesn’t even accept the treat I offer it.

“What’s that?” my wife asks, looking over my shoulder. “It looks very fancy.”

I unroll the fine parchment and wave my wand over it.

You and Mrs. Nichols are cordially invited to the Annual Solstice Ball on Solstice Eve at 8:00 p.m. Children are also invited; three babysitters have been employed for the occasion. Formal attire a must. NO exceptions. RSVP no later than December 3rd.

Eileen laughs. “Clearly they’ve had problems in the past with inappropriately dressed guests. Are we going? I’ve always been curious about the Malfoys’ ball.”

I frown and reroll the parchment. “I’m not sure I should accept,” I say. “It doesn’t seem very professional . . .”

“Oh, come on,” she says. “I don’t see any harm in going just for a little while. There’ll be so many people, he probably won’t even know you’re there.”

“Actually,” I reply between sips of tea and bites of toast (I’m running late as usual), “I’d be willing to bet that the Malfoys are acutely aware of everyone who enters their house. Or at least, their house-elves are. I mean, Draco Malfoy has to have at least a few skeletons in his closet. Lately, he’s been very secretive. Our last couple of sessions have basically consisted of him just talking about his business. He’s boring me to tears – on purpose, I’m sure.”

“I’ve never seen him up close. Is he as handsome as they say he is?”

I gulp down the rest of my tea and put my tie on.

“Depends on what you consider handsome. He’s got all the right physical attributes, but he’s too . . . too closed off to be beautiful.”

“Well, I guess I’ll have to make my own determination when I meet him.”

I grab my robe and shake a couple of Pygmy Puffs out of the pockets.

“I’ve told them a hundred times to put the Puffs back in their cages when they’re finished playing with them. I swear if I have Puff poo in my pockets again . . .”

Our second youngest breaks into a gale of giggles. “Daddy has puff poo in his pocket!” she says in a singsong voice.

“Now look what you’ve done,” Eileen says, kissing me and straightening my collar. “I’ll hear that a thousand times before ten o’clock.”

“Well, just think of me listening to rich people complain about how awful their lives are, and we’ll see who got the better half of the bargain. See you tonight.”

I give her a lingering kiss. I don’t need the example of my patients to remind me how important love is.

 

“I hope you received your invitation.”

Draco blows his smoke in the direction of the window. He’s dressed in a robe today for the first time since I met him.

“I did,” I reply, “although I’m not sure if it would be a professional breach to attend a patient’s social function.”

He waves his hand in front of his face as though he’s being bothered by a cloud of gnats. “Pish,” he says. “Nonsense.” He takes a drag and then laughs. “Although I daresay I won’t be your only patient in attendance.”

I grimace. “Probably not.”

“Come on,” he wheedles. “Don’t be so dull and serious all the time.”

“Mind Healers are supposed to be dull and serious.”

“Says who?”

“You’re certainly in a good mood today,” I say. “What’s the reason?”

“No reason,” he says almost playfully.

It’s amazing what even the faintest smile does to his face. His eyes actually come alive, and there’s colour in his cheeks.

“I see you’re dressed up. Did you have a successful afternoon?”

“Depends on how you define ‘successful’.”

He stubs out his cigarette in what used to be a jade tiger. I’ve noticed that he never Transfigures the same object twice. I jot down a note:Afraid(?) Careful(?) not to leave ‘traces’ or make himself predictable.

“If you mean business success, then I can’t say it’s been a remarkable day in that regard.”

“Alright,” I say, taking the bait. “What do you mean by ‘successful’?”

“I mean successful. Successful about something that really matters.”

I can tell he’s going to make me work for the underlying kernel of information.

“What really matters?” I ask.

He seems pleased by my response. “You could have asked what the ‘something’ is. That would have been sloppy, and I would’ve never given you the answer, but this one . . . ‘what really matters?’ . . .”

He takes a minute to smooth the wrinkles out of his robe before he leans back and crosses his legs. His boots are traditionally styled.

“Finding out who’s been trying to get at my Gringotts vault really matters.”

The disappointment must be obvious in my expression no matter how hard I try to keep it hidden.

“So, you found out who’s been trying to get into your Gringotts vault? . . . Mr. Malfoy, we’ve spent the last four sessions discussing your business and finances. I get the impression you’re trying to divert my attention from something.”

The playful look leaves his face instantaneously. “Maybe that’s because you haven’t earned the right to hear about that ‘something,’ whatever it is.”

I sigh and scrub my face with my palms. “This is not a game,” I reply. “This is therapy. I’m trying to help you.”

“You mean ‘help my wife.’ There’s a big difference between helping me and helping my wife.”

“I’m not treating your wife; I’m treating you.”

“But I’m only here because she insisted on it. I don’t actually need my mind healed.”

“She seems to think you do.”

“I know that, but that’s her problem, not mine. I’m happy just the way I am.”

His smile returns, although this time it’s one hundred percent fake.

“No, you’re not,” I blurt out. “You’re about as far from happy as a person can be!”

As soon as the words leave my mouth, I want to reel them back in. Talk about unprofessional! I take a deep breath.

“I apologise,” I say. “That was way out of line.”

He lights another cigarette. “Don’t apologise,” he says. “That’s the first useful thing you’ve told me in over a month. So, you don’t think I’m ‘fine.’ Well, aren’t you going to ask me why finding out who’s been messing with my vault was such a ‘success’?”

I’d forgotten about the vault. We’re going around in circles. Not only is it a waste of his time, it’s a waste of mine as well. I became a Mind Healer because I wanted to actually heal.

“Alright then: why was finding out who’s been messing with your vault such a ‘success’ that it brought you to my office with the first genuine smile I’ve ever seen on your face?”

The genuine smile returns. “Ah, there we go. Okay, I’ll answer. To find out who was messing with my vault, I had to go to the Department of Law Enforcement. The Auror who was working on my case was off sick today, so another Auror had to assist me. That’s it.”

I give him an incredulous look. “That’s it?”

“That’s it.”

I felt like I’d been led down a garden path only to find a wall at the end. I glance at my watch. We still have a whole half an hour.

“So this other Auror told you who’s been messing with you Gringotts vault.”

“He did indeed. One could mistake him for stupid, but he’s actually quite astute, certainly for an Auror. He’s just very very bad at communicating.”

I nod. This is so boring that I’m only listening with half of my brain. The other half is trying to remember all the errands I have to do before I go home.

“Is this Auror a friend of yours?” I ask with a tiny yawn. “Sorry, it’s been a long day.”

“I’m sorry,” he says nastily. “Am I boring you? We can talk about something else. What the fuck else do you want me to talk about?”

I’m suddenly very much awake. I’ve never heard him use that tone of voice before. It serves to shake me out of my complacency. I’d almost allowed myself to forget that this patient might actually be quite troubled.

“No, you are not boring me. Like I said, it’s been a long day. I’m here to listen to you, but I’m afraid you’re confusing me. We’ve talked about ‘success’ and ‘fine’ and ‘things that really matter,’ but here you are talking to me about some random Auror. Your evasiveness is becoming a serious obstacle in the therapeutic process.”

His lip curls ever so slightly. “I’m just lucky you’re such a bloody moron or you might actually learn something real about me. I’m not talking about any old ‘random Auror’.” I’m talking about the Assistant Head Auror.”

I nod carefully. Somehow, somewhere, I’d managed to step in quicksand. “Yes,” I say tentatively. “So you met with Harry Potter?”

He summons a cigarette from the packet he’d put back in his pocket and lights it. He takes a long time to respond. All I can think is that somewhere, somehow, I’d blown perhaps the only chance I’d get to see inside this man’s mind.

He takes an even longer drag than usual and holds the smoke in for several moments. Finally, he lets it all out with a rush.

“Yes,” he says. “I met with Harry Potter.”

I’m scrambling to make sense of the situation. He obviously thinks he’s just said something of vital importance. I’ve seen this before in other patients – their body language gives them away.

Draco cannot look at me. He’s never been unable to look at me before.

It must have something to do with the War.

“And how did this meeting with him make you feel? Did it bring back memories of the War?”

He bursts out laughing. “Of course,” he says, wiping the tears of laughter from the corners of eyes. “Of course! How could I have been so stupid? Of course you’d think it’s all about the War.”

I frown. “It’s not?”

“No, it’s not.”

I search my brain for any other context I could put Harry Potter in other than the War, but I come up with nothing. Harry Potter killed Voldemort and then disappeared. He later emerged from his seeming self-imposed exile and became an Auror. If anyone had expected anything more exotic, they’d been disappointed. In a way, all of Wizarding Britain had been disappointed. The hero had turned out to be, well, no more than an ordinary man.

“Well,” I say, foundering around the wreckage of what had seemed to be a meaningful exchange. “I take it the meeting went well. You said it was a success.”

He gives me an impish grin. “Yes, it was very much a success. Auror Potter agreed to come to the Solstice Ball this year.” He glances at his watch. “Oops, got to go. Our hour’s over.”

Actually it isn’t. We still have fifteen minutes, but I decide not to call this fact to his attention. He obviously wants to leave.

“See you at the Ball,” he says as he fastens his cloak. I open my mouth, but he shakes his head. “You can’t convince me that you’re not curious to see your patients drunk.”

I have to admit to myself that it’s true. I really am curious. “All right,” I say. “My wife and I will be there.”

 

“So we’re going after all?”

Eileen is excited. “I’ll have to buy something to wear. I don’t suppose I can show up in my gardening jeans and a jumper covered with slobber and marmalade.”

I smile at the thought. “Probably not.”

“Do you think the dress code will be robes or Muggle clothes or a mixture of both?”

I frown. I should’ve asked. “Maybe we should go on the safe side and dress in robes.”

“I agree. I’d hate to walk in and have everyone looking at me.” She shudders.

I want to tell her that is very unlikely to happen, but as I think on it, the more I’m convinced that that’s exactly what would happen.

“We need to remember to be as inconspicuous as possible. I don’t want to alarm any of my patients who might be attending.”

“Do you know who’ll probably be there?”

“Well, I know the Minister and her husband attend, so I’m assuming most high level government officials will be there. I don’t know. Draco seems to have a degree of interest in the arts, so maybe there’ll be artists and performers there. The only person he’s actually mentioned by name is Harry Potter.”

Her eyes widen. “Harry Potter, eh? I thought he didn’t attend public events. Isn’t he something of a recluse?”

“I thought so. I was surprised, but Draco seemed quite pleased with himself for extracting a commitment from him.”

“I suppose it’s very socially advantageous to be seen hob-nobbing with the Assistant Head of law enforcement. I wonder if he’ll bring a date. There’s been endless speculation about his love life.”

“Yes, I know. It seems not a week goes by without some article or another. He was seen with a woman once at a cafe. Remember all the kerfuffle? Turned out she was his partner, and they were discussing a case.”

“Poor man. Why can’t they just leave him alone?”

I shrug. “He’s a celebrity. By definition he’s a public possession.”

“Well, he doesn’t seem to like it.”

“I know, which is what surprises me about his decision to attend the social event of the year.”

Eileen laughs and nudges me playfully in the ribs. “Are you sure you didn’t choose the wrong career? Seems to me you should’ve been a detective.”

 

“Hahaha! Eileen thinks you should’ve been a detective?”

For some reason Andy finds the prospect hilarious. I’m almost offended.

“Let me ask you: who was it who told you Draco Malfoy may be having an affair?”

“You only knew because he told you. Real detectives have to unearth corroborating evidence and witnesses.”

“Be that as it may, how far have you got with Draco’s case?”

Suddenly Andy isn’t so jovial anymore.

“Virtually nowhere,” he grumbles. “It seems to involve a Secret Keeper or something. Maybe even an Unbreakable Vow.”

I stand up and walk over to the window. It’s almost the Solstice. It’s dark outside and it’s not even 4:30! In random moments like these, I like to imagine what my patients are doing. It’s Friday, so I’m sure the Malfoys are holding one of their famous dinner parties, although it’s too early for the guests to have arrived yet. Is he bathing and getting dressed? Is he in the kitchen instructing the house-elves? Is he sitting in a dark panelled study drinking a glass of sherry? Is he writing an owl to his mystery lover?

“The closest I’ve come to a lead came from an Auror. He said he and a couple of other Aurors were on duty at the Fine Arts Museum. Remember when that cat burglar was going around stealing stuff? Anyway, he was stationed there, and he told me he went to use the gents and heard a couple having sex in the other stall.”

“People shagging in loos is hardly anything to write home about.”

“What if one of the shagees is Draco Malfoy?”

I frown. It’s impossible for me to imagine the fastidious Draco Malfoy having sex in a public toilet.

“How did this Auror of yours know?”

“Because Malfoy was the only one to walk out of the gents. Looking quite snogged and dishevelled apparently.”

“Where was the other bloke? What happened? Did he turn himself invisible or something?”

“My source couldn’t say.”

I roll my eyes. “Sounds like someone was having you on. I hope you didn’t have to do anything more for that nugget of information than buy the bloke a pint.”

“Blimey, I thought you’d be pleased that I found anything.”

“Could’ve been a one-off . . .”

“Or it could’ve been someone he’s so hot for he couldn’t wait for a more gentile venue.”

“Well, let’s pretend for a moment that Draco Malfoy really was having sex with someone in a loo, I guess that says something about the man he had sex with . . .”

“He’s not a business associate . . .”

“Or someone wealthy and titled.”

“In other words, no one who’s a member of the Wizengamot.”

“Sounds like we’re talking about someone relatively down-to-earth.”

“The kind of bloke that spends his Friday evenings having a few pints with a group of his mates.”

“Did your source say what happened after Draco left the gents?”

“Only that he left the museum immediately.”

“Hhhhmmm. I can’t just come out and ask him if he’s shagging random men in loos.”

Andy laughs. “Look, I gotta go. Another client’s waiting for me.”

I smile and turn away from the window. “And there I was thinking I was your one true client.”

Andy’s still laughing when he opens the door. “You’re the biggest sap I know,” he says.

 

Eileen and I stumble out of the Floo and brush ourselves off. I’d been expecting a fireplace in the front hall with people milling around, but I’d been wrong. Instead, we find ourselves in a large room with mahogany panelling from floor to ceiling and a beautiful flagstone floor. There are no windows and four enormous stone fireplaces covered with intricate carvings.

“Wow,” Eileen breathes as she looks around. “A separate Floo room! I’ve never been in one although I’ve heard they exist.”

A valet emerges from a corner so quietly that he reminds me of a Hogwarts ghost. Eileen actually jumps when he speaks.

“Good evening and welcome,” he says. “May I take your cloaks?”

We nod and hand them over. I’d considered not wearing one, but the night is brutally cold.

“Mippsy will show you to the powder room,” he says to Eileen.

“I don’t need to visit the ‘powder room,’” she whispers in my ear.

“Pretend you do,” I say, barely able to suppress my nervous grin.

There’s a group of extremely well-dressed wizards standing in groups outside the powder room door; clearly they’re waiting for their wives. I see two of my patients right away. One looks away abruptly, and the other strolls over.

“Healer Nichols,” he says. “How lovely to see you without your ubiquitous notepad.” He shakes my hand with gusto. “Here, let me introduce you to everyone.” I let him lead me around, and one by one I shake the wizards’ hands until I get to my other patient who clearly does not want to interact with me. When we reach him, I shake his hand and greet him as though I’m meeting for the first time. I catch a thankful look in his eyes.

Mercifully, Eileen emerges from the powder room and gives me an excuse to take my leave.

“Very nice to have met you all,” I say, taking Eileen’s arm as though it’s a lifeline.

It’s a long pleasant stroll to the ballroom. Everywhere I lay my eyes is pleasing and Solstice themed. In what looks like a sun room, is a large tree decorated with fairy lights that catch on the windows and fragment into what looks like hundreds of stars.

Finally, we reach the ballroom, and both of us gasp at the same time.

“My God,” Eileen whispers with awe. “I’d expected something fancy, but I’d never imagined in a million years just how fancy. This is amazing!”

I heartily agree. The wood floor gleams like ice, and everywhere are enormous crystal chandeliers hung with gold-glided lilies and bright red poinsettias. On every wall are floor-to-ceiling windows spelled to show snow falling in a forest of conifers. Impeccably dressed waiting staff move inconspicuously among the guests bearing trays laden with delicious looking hors-d’oeuvres.

And then there’s the guests themselves. I’ve never seen more beautiful and festive attire in my whole life.

“I’m feeling distinctly out of place,” Eileen whispers, looking down at her pretty but rather unremarkable robe.

“You’re fine,” I tell her. “You look lovely.”

We move away from the doors so we won’t be an obstacle to other people trying to get in. Even the briefest perusal of the room confirms that, yes, indeed, the place is full of old patients, current patients, spouses of patients and even secret paramours of patients. It’s rather disconcerting. I do my best to keep my eyes moving so that none of them think I’m looking at them.

Eileen nudges me in the ribs and gestures with her chin at a beautiful woman dressed in a stunning golden gown. Beside her is a tall handsome man dressed in dark blue formal robes. Astoria and Draco. They’re moving slowly around the room shaking hands and kissing cheeks. He looks even more closed-off than usual. He’s perfectly groomed and attired, but none of his smiles actually reach his eyes.

“Are those the Malfoys?”

I nod. “Yup.”

“They’re coming this way!”

I laugh. “Of course they are. They’re greeting their guests.”

“I don’t want to be greeted,” Eileen says. “I want to go back to the powder room.”

I kiss her. I’ve always found her social shyness adorable.

“It’ll be just fine. I’m sure they’re absolute professionals at gauging people’s comfort levels and responding appropriately. Just you watch.”

I stand with my arm around Eileen’s waist as the Malfoys and their glittering entourage come closer.

“Just don’t giggle,” I say. “You know you giggle when you’re nervous.”

“I’m not nervous,” she says with a giggle, and I roll my eyes fondly.

“Healer and Missus Nichols,” says Draco, taking my hand and shaking it quickly but firmly. Eileen holds her hand out for a shake as well, but Draco catches it deftly and raises it to his lips.

She giggles, and he smiles with genuine kindness. I feel a moment of relieved gratitude.

“Please let me introduce you to my wife, Astoria.” He puts an arm around her waist. Eileen immediately shakes her hand, but I’m completely flummoxed. Should I shake her hand as well, or kiss it like Draco had done with my wife . . .

She smiles and shakes my hand, and I breathe a sigh of relief.

“I am very pleased to meet you.”

Eileen and I both stammer out something about “thank you” and “lovely” and “beautiful” and “delicious.”

“I’m glad you could make it,” Draco says to me smoothly. “I hope you’re finding some guests that you know.” He winks at me.

“Is it terribly cold outside?” Astoria asks Eileen, and Eileen nods. “I’ve been concerned about our guests who arrive in carriages. I’m sure they will be very much in need of the warm mulled wine. Speaking of which, have you been served with drinks yet? Heavens!”

She claps her hands, and a house-elf appears. “Please fetch the Healer and his wife something to drink. Would you like some mulled wine?” she asks my wife, and poor Eileen nods again.

“So,” Draco says. “This is my home sweet home. Cosy, isn’t it.”

“It’s stunning,” I tell him. “How long has it been in your family?”

“Since the beginning of the seventeenth century. Of course, every generation made its mark by adding a wing or an arboretum or the like.”

I smile and am about to say something when suddenly he looks past my shoulder towards the door. His expression changes completely, and I reflexively turn to see what has distracted him so quickly and utterly. I expect to see the Minister, but it’s only Harry Potter with a pretty ginger-haired witch on his arm.

“Excuse me,” Draco says, suddenly flustered. Before I can respond, he’s walking toward the door with remarkable swiftness, leaving his wife behind.

“I do hope you have a good time,” she says. Her eyes have lost their light. I watch her pityingly as she continues making the rounds without her husband.

“Hhhhmmmm, now that was interesting,” Eileen says. “I wonder if he’s got nefarious dealings and is trying to woo law enforcement into dropping an investigation.”

“Now who’s the detective?” I say playfully even though I’m feeling immensely curious as well. I’ve never seen an expression on Draco’s face even remotely similar during our sessions.

I want more than anything to get within hearing distance, but I’m waylaid by another patient who clearly has no compunction about talking to me about his latest row with his wife, who, quite distressingly, is standing right beside him.

“Shall we dance?” Eileen asks after I’m able to extract myself.

“Of course,” I say. Dancing will hopefully permit me to watch the guests without seeming suspicious. I’m dying to see where Draco is and what he’s doing.

We dance three waltzes, but I’m unable to spot him. I spot his wife, but not him. Annoyingly another patient demands my attention, but I’m quickly pleased to discover that she’s one of my favourite long time patients. She gives me a polite hug, complete with air kisses. I introduce her to Eileen, who seems to instantly take a shine to her. After a few minutes, I tell Eileen that I’m going to find a bathroom and will be right back. She waves me off distractedly. My patient is telling her about her recent meditation retreat in Tibet.

I have no idea where I’m going or why. The house is enormous, and I could easily get lost which would be very embarrassing. I wander into the sun room with the beautiful tree and stand gazing at it. And then I hear voices. One is clearly Draco’s; the other I don’t recognize. They’re coming from somewhere outside. I shiver involuntarily. It’s freezing out there. As cautiously as I can, I crack open a door and see Draco and Harry Potter. Neither of them have cloaks on.

“Why did you bring her?” Draco demands. His voice is completely different from the voice he uses in my office. He sounds desperate . . . almost viciously so.

“Why’d you invite me?” Harry replies. “You demanded I be here. Did you think I’d come alone and attract even more gossip than I will by bringing Ginny?”

“I thought you’d stopped seeing her.”

Harry turns his face away.

“Not here, Draco. Not now. You wanted to rub your life in my face. You’ve succeeded. I’m going home.”

“No, don’t!” Draco cries. “Don’t leave! For God’s sake, Harry!” He grabs Harry’s sleeve when Harry turns back to the house and starts to walk away. Harry spins around to face him again.

“You hurt me,” he hisses angrily. “You will never know how much. I trusted you . . .”

Draco grabs his other arm and pulls Harry closer to him. They’re standing no more than a foot apart.

“You can still trust me!” he says. He casts his glance at his house but doesn’t let Harry go. “This is why I wanted you to come tonight – to see exactly why it’s so hard to leave her! It would be a media firestorm that would sweep you up as well. Harry, I don’t want that to happen.”

“So, we’re just going to cheat on our respective spouses and fuck in random hotel rooms and public loos a few times a month? . . . I thought you said you couldn’t take it anymore.”

“I tried, Harry. I tried to leave her – I tried to leave this,” he says with another nod in the direction of the house. “You’ve got to understand! I can’t just walk away!”

“So you said in that letter you owled. A letter, Draco? Is that all I mean to you? Someone so inconsequential that you can just dispose of me – of us – with a fucking letter?”

Draco drops his head. “I couldn’t bear to tell you face-to-face.”

Harry wrenches himself free, but Draco grabs him again . . .

. . . and kisses him.

Harry struggles to get away, but Draco holds him tightly. After a little while, Harry seems to give up and his body relaxes – no ‘melts’ is the better word – into Draco’s arms. They turn so that all I can see is Harry’s back. Pale hands clutch his black robe in big fistfuls.

Harry pulls back.

“Good-bye, Draco,” he says. “You were the one who wanted to end the ‘sneaking.’ You were the one who sent me that letter, so thoughtfully delivered to my office . . .”

“God, Harry. I was wrong! I take back every word! I can’t live without you!”

“That clearly wasn’t how you felt when you married her.”

“I didn’t think I’d have to give you – give us – up. Christ, Harry! It was an arranged marriage! I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve had sex with her, and every time I did, I thought of you. It was the only way I could get through it.”

“We’ve been over this a thousand times, and I’m bloody freezing.”

“Are you just going to walk away?”

“Yup.”

“Please . . . please don’t do this . . . I’m begging you.”

Harry is just feet from the door when he turns. “I can’t let you keep doing this to me,” he says. “I can’t let you pull me close only to push me away again and again. I’m done, Draco. I’m exhausted. Enjoy the rest of your party.”

I Disillusion myself and crouch back against the tree, my mind reeling. A thousand little things suddenly make sense. There’s a burst of frigid air as Harry opens the door. I can smell the coming snow on his robes as he brushes past me.

* * * *

I conjure a damp cloth to wipe my face. My heart is pounding uncomfortably. It has been for much of the day the closer I get to Draco’s appointment. I take a couple of deep calming breaths. By the time Draco walks in, I feel in control, but only barely. Never would I have guessed his secret. Not in a million years.

“Good evening,” I say as blandly as possible.

He doesn’t answer. Instead he goes to the bookshelves and pulls out a random book.

Fantastical Fantasies,” he reads from the cover. “The Stubborn Power of Delusional Thinking.

He Transfigures it into an ashtray. He goes to the window and lights a cigarette. His back is to me as he looks out at the skyline and the setting sun beyond.

“Are many of your patients delusional, doc?”

“Some are.”

“What are their delusions?”

He’s offering me an opportunity. I seize it and run.

“Some people have delusions about being God or being rich and famous. Some even think they’ve returned from the dead or are being stalked by the Aurors. Some people think someone they’re in love with loves them back.”

He says nothing for what feels like forever.

“So you treat people who are deluded about love. How do you treat them?”

“I treat different people differently,” I say. “Very often the person needs some kind of active intervention. I bring people who care about my patient together and have them talk gently and respectfully to him or her. If that has no effect, then there are spells . . .”

“You can spell someone to fall out of love?”

He turns from the window and walks slowly to his chair. He’s dressed handsomely in a dark suit with a green tie. He sits and assumes his customary indolent posture. I notice the dark smudges under his eyes.

I shake my head. “There are no spells for unrequited love . . . or any kind of love for that matter. But there are spells to ease the pain and make life bearable.”

He takes a long drag before stubbing out his cigarette. “Poor weak bastards,” he says sounding both bored and contemptuous. “What they need is a swift kick in the arse.” He laughs as if he’s just told a joke.

I smile. “Being in love is a weakness?”

“Of course it is.”

I notice his foot swinging restlessly. “That’s one of the reasons pure-blood families arrange marriages for their children as soon as they’re born. The thinking is that if children know they’re not romantically ‘available’ from an early age, there’s little chance they’ll fall in love with someone . . . ‘unsuitable’.” He uses his fingers as quotation marks around the word to display his disdain for the whole concept.

“So you’ve known you were intended to wed your wife pretty much all your life.”

“Yup.”

“You don’t think that’s rather . . . unnatural? For example: what if a person does fall in love with someone who’s so-called ‘unsuitable’? What if the person’s gay?”

He looks at me with disinterest. His eyes are even colder than usual.

“So, you figured that one out. Bravo, doc.” He claps his hands lazily and without conviction.

I’m silent because I’m not sure what he means exactly.

“Yes, I’m gay. Does that surprise you?”

“Nothing my patients say ever surprises me. For one to be surprised, it’s necessary to first have an opinion. My job is to have opinions about your mental health, not your personalities or habits or life circumstances.”

“How dull. Judging people is half the fun of knowing them in the first place. In fact, it’s one of my favourite pastimes. Tell me: do you love your wife?”

I’m trying to stay ahead of his thought process, but it’s difficult when he changes subjects with such lightning speed.

“Yes,” I reply. “Yes, I do.”

“How did you meet her?” He lights another cigarette.

“I knew her a little bit from school, but we didn’t start dating until I came back from the States.”

“No regrets?”

“No regrets.”

I let a long silence pass.

“Do you wish you had not married your wife?”

He snorts derisively. “I didn’t marry Astoria; I got married to her. It’s a big difference.”

“Okay, then do you wish you had not been married to her?”

He inhales deeply, holds the smoke, and then lets it go.

“Every day of my fucking life.”

His voice is alarmingly nonchalant as though he’d just told me he’d had toast with marmalade for breakfast.

I let another long silence pass.

“Why is that?”

“Well, obviously I’m not thrilled about the situation because I’m gay. That shouldn’t be a big revelation. Plus . . .”

He stubs out his cigarette.

“. . . I’m in love with someone else. Isn’t that absolutely boring and clichéd? You may start to be getting an idea why she sent me to you. I haven’t fucked her in months. That’s what she means when she talks of ‘marital intimacy’.”

“I see.” It’s going to take some effort to hide the fact that I already know who he’s in love with.

“Does this person . . .”

“. . . man . . .”

“Does this man know you love him?”

“Oh yes.”

“Does he love you in return?”

He’s silent for a while. It’s not just his foot that’s jiggling now; it’s his entire leg.

“Yes,” he says.

“But you can’t be together?”

He glares at me. “Of course not! I’m bloody married or did you forget that inconvenient little fact?”

“Have you ever considered divorcing your wife for this man?”

“Only every minute of every day.”

“Why can’t you? Divorce is legal now, even among pure-bloods.”

He covers his face with his hands in what looks like frustration or exhaustion. Most likely it’s both.

“You don’t understand,” he says. “Neither can he.”

“Try me,” I say.

He stands up suddenly and picks up an ebony whale. Eileen gave it to me. I panic for a moment. What if he breaks it?

“I am the heir to one of the most important families in Britain. So is she. We’ve merged our considerable estates. If I left her, my mother would probably kill herself, and Astoria’s family would strip me of everything. The whole thing would be cataclysmic.”

“But isn’t love worth it?”

He draws back his arm as if he’s going to throw the whale. I can’t hold back my gasp of alarm. At the last minute, he sets it back down.

“Scared you, didn’t I?”

I don’t respond. It’s a rhetorical question.

He returns to the window and stands looking out, his arms wrapped tightly around himself as though he’s trying to keep warm – or keep himself from flying apart in a million pieces.

“One of these days, he really will end things for good. He’s not the kind of man you can play with indefinitely. And when he does end things, he’ll marry that woman. That perfect wholesome girl, and they’ll buy a fucking cute perfect house, and pump out cute perfect babies and name them after his dead parents.”

“So then you’ll both be married. What about an affair?”

“You don’t know him,” he spits angrily. “If he marries her, he will never cheat on her. I know this as a fact. He’s never cheated on me. No matter how many times I pushed him away.”

He drops his head and in doing so reveals the back of his neck. It looks so vulnerable, so unlike the rest of him.

“I think I succeeded this time,” he says softly as though he’s talking to himself.

“You succeeded in pushing him away?”

He nods. “Which doesn’t mean I won’t still put up a fight.” He lifts his head. “Believe me. God, why am I telling you all of this?”

“Because you’re lonely,” I say gently. “And you have no one else to talk to.”

He takes a deep breath.

“So how’re you going to heal me, doc? What kind of arrows have you got in that Freudian quiver of yours?”

“Do you think you need healing? Do you think you’re ill?”

He shakes his head. “No,” he replies. “But I may be delusional if I think for one second that I can go on living without him.”

 

February 5, 2011,

Draco Malfoy is getting increasingly agitated. He can’t sit still for our whole hour. Mentioned anti-anxiety spells to him today, but he claimed he didn’t need them. He looks like he rarely sleeps. Reports he’s been working even longer hours than usual. Oddly, he comes to our meetings more and more immaculately dressed, and he never repeats the same suit, not even his shoes. I would be worried except I know he can well afford it, and if tailored suits make him feel better, then so be it. He talks about H. at every meeting now, but still hasn’t told me H.’s name. All he’ll say is that he’s known H. since Hogwarts and became his lover sometime after the War ended.

 

My mentor shakes her head causing her long earrings to jingle. She draws her wand and pours me another cup of tea.

“Do you think your patient may be suicidal? Or is this a cry for help to you – the only person, other than his lover, who seems to know him?”

I take a sip of tea and then sit for a while gazing into my cup.

“I don’t think he’s suicidal. When he says he can’t live without his lover, I think it’s no more than rhetoric. I don’t take it literally.”

“Well, maybe you should.” She sits down in the chair across from mine, and her Kneazle jumps into her lap, purring loudly and rubbing his head under her chin. “Now, now, Rufus,” she says. “I’m going to have a cup of tea and a conversation that – God forbid – doesn’t include you.” She picks Rufus up and puts him on the rug. “But you’ve made a note of it.”

“Of course. My most immediate concern is that he seems not to be sleeping – at least not without the aid of sleeping potions, which I’m very concerned he could become addicted to.”

“Have you managed to get him on the couch yet?”

I laugh ruefully. “He says my couch smells like a tannery.”

“Then get a different one.”

I look at her expecting to see one of her contagious smiles, but what I see is absolute seriousness and concern.

“He’s calling the shots, Nick,” she says, setting down her teacup. “You can’t let him dictate his own healing process.”

“Maybe I’m not the right Healer for him . . .”

“Nonsense. It sounds quite the opposite. You’ve got him to open up more than anyone else it seems.”

“He’s rather intimidating.”

“It sounds like bullying people has served him well.”

I sigh and scratch Rufus behind the ear. “I imagine he hasn’t made himself many friends over the years.”

“No, but I imagine he’s made a lot of enemies who would probably be more than happy to see him humiliated.”

“Why me? Why do you think he’s let me in?”

“Clearly he trusts you on some level, but, Nick, you really do have to get him onto the couch. Maybe it’s time to turn the tables and bully him.”

I frown. “That doesn’t seem like a tactic I should be taking with any of my patients . . .”

My mentor is suddenly very serious and formidable – just as she’d been during my apprenticeship.

“Perhaps you don’t think of this as a house on fire. Different patients require different approaches. You should know that by now. This patient sounds on the verge of being desperate, and you never know what a desperate man might do.”

 

The pub is crowded for a Thursday night, and I’m having difficulty hearing my colleagues, although I can bet they’re grousing about their patients. We’re always grousing about our patients.

“Dear God, you should have been there! He quite literally pulled down his trousers and crapped on my carpet. The new one, too! The one I got on my trip to Turkey!”

We all laugh. Gus always has the best stories of all of us. He takes more pro bono cases than the rest of us, which means many of his patients are truly patently insane. His independent wealth gives him the luxury of public service. The rest of us would starve if we took patients for free.

“You think that’s bad?” asks Stella. “One of my patients stripped naked and went shrieking out the door and into the street. I had to call the Aurors.”

I’m feeling pleasantly tipsy. I only have three patients tomorrow, and one of my patients today said he was doing well enough to end therapy. Nothing makes me happier than hearing that I’ve managed to heal someone.

“How about I get the next round?” I say, and predictably everyone agrees.

There’s a long line of people far pushier than I am, so I have a chance to look around while I’m waiting for the bartender to serve me. And that’s when I see him. Draco. He’s just come indoors; there is rain in his hair.

The Troll’s Cavern is pretty much the last place I would’ve expected to see him. He looks painfully out of place. I watch him survey the crowd. He’s obviously searching for someone, and it only takes me a moment to figure out whom.

Harry Potter is sitting at one of the booths at the back with what looks like four other Aurors. He’s the only one with the robe on, and its brilliant scarlet seems to glow in the gloom.

I watch Draco pull a pygmy owl from under his cloak and give it a tiny piece of parchment. The bird swerves around heads and under rafters until it alights on Harry’s pint glass. He quickly takes the parchment and shoos it away. Miraculously it appears that none of his companions have noticed anything out of the ordinary. I watch as Harry unfolds the note and then Incendios it. He immediately stands and walks – or perhaps the better word would be “stalks” – toward the front of the bar. Without pausing to think about whether it’s a good idea, I Disillusion myself.

“What’s the meaning of this?” Harry says pointing at the little owl on Draco’s shoulder. “That was hardly subtle.”

Draco’s cheeks are flushed. If I didn’t know better, I’d think he looks like he’s also been drinking – although probably not lager.

“You’ve been returning my letters unopened,” he says.

Harry rubs his face with his hands. “Because I don’t want to see you, Draco. I told you: I’m done with this.” He gestures between their chests. “And it’s about time too! Go back to your genteel life; let me have a few bloody pints with the commoners.”

“Harry, you can’t not talk to me!”

“Try me.”

Harry turns to walk away, but Draco grabs his sleeve.

“I need you,” he says, his voice rough and not at all like the voice he uses with me. “God, I need you.”

“You always say that,” Harry says, his frustration obvious. “And then we go away for a week at the end of which you wring your hands about everything.”

“I know, I know. I swear to you I won’t this time. Please, Harry.”

My eyes nearly pop out of my head when Draco takes Harry’s hand and places it between his legs. Harry yanks it back.

“Outside. Now,” he says hoarsely. “Fucking hell, Draco!”

Feeling slightly dirty, I follow them out of the bar and down a narrow cobblestone street. There’s no one about. After the noisiness of the pub, the quiet is eerie. Their footsteps echo. As soon as they’re far enough away from the pub, Draco leans against the wall and grabs Harry by his collar, bringing Harry’s face within inches of his own.

I expect their kiss to be violent, but it’s not. It’s the exact opposite. Draco cups Harry’s face and kisses his mouth lingeringly and with obvious care. It’s no longer raining, but there is still drizzle that dampens their faces and causes their fringes to cling to their foreheads and their combined breath to smoke in the cold. Someone moans, and Harry tilts his head to deepen the kiss. In the stillness, I hear the wet sound of their mouths and their shallow breathing. Harry lifts his hands and slides his fingers into Draco’s hair. Still leaning against the wall, Draco spreads his legs and pulls Harry between them.

Without breaking the kiss, Draco takes Harry’s hand again and presses it against his crotch. I hear a gasp, but again it’s impossible to tell who it’s from. Harry rubs him for a moment before unbuckling his belt and undoing his trousers. He slips his hand inside Draco’s pants, and Draco’s head falls back against the wall.

“You’re so hard,” Harry murmurs into their kiss. “Is this why you came searching for me? How long have you been like this?”

“Too long.”

“Why do you keep doing this to me? How do you expect me to build a life without you?”

“I don’t want you to build a life without me,” Draco growls. He’s thrusting into Harry’s hand now. “Touch me,” he groans. “Put your fingers in me. Fuck me with them. Remember that time in Brighton . . .?”

“How could I forget?”

“Like that, Harry. Like that.”

Harry removes his hand and sucks one of his fingers into his mouth. When he removes it, a strand of saliva stretches until it breaks. He reaches back into Draco’s trousers. His arm strains to reach all the way down between Draco’s legs, and Draco stands straighter to help him.

“Oh God,” Harry moans brokenly. “You’re already loose.”

“I was fingering myself at my bloody desk.”

“Tell me,” Harry says huskily. “Did you think about me?”

“I’m always thinking about you. You know that.”

“Were you imagining my cock inside you?”

Draco’s breathing sounds shallow and fast. “Yes.”

“Were you imagining me filling you?”

Draco responds with a less gentle kiss.

“Were you imagining me fucking you? Your gorgeous arse . . . was I stuffing you? Pounding you?”

Draco groans. “Yes. That’s why I came to find you. Wanking doesn’t come close to comparing with you, what you do to me – what you’ve always done to me.”

“Are you going to come, Malfoy?”

“Deeper . . . ! There, rub it. Harder . . .”

Harry abruptly withdraws his hand and turns Draco to face the wall. He kneels on the ground and tugs Draco’s trousers down to the middle of his thighs. Draco spreads his legs as much as possible. Harry pries his arse cheeks apart and Draco holds them, opening himself wide. Harry resumes fingering him deeply.

“I want to watch your hole as you come. I want it to squeeze my finger so tight that I can hardly fucking move it. I know you can. You’ve done it before. You’ve fucked yourself senseless like this . . . just like this.” He starts sliding his finger in and out.

“Touch yourself,” he commands, and Draco immediately complies. Now not only can I hear the wet sounds of Harry fingering Draco’s anus, but I can hear the distinct sound of wanking.

“Harry,” he moans. “I can’t . . . I can’t hold back. Deeper. . . Right there . . . right. . .oh fuck . . . It’s not enough – I need your whole hand again . . .”

“You loved that, didn’t you?” The words slip into a hissing slithering soothing sound. It’s a language I can’t understand, but Draco clearly does. He responds as if Harry had slapped his arse hard enough to bruise.

“. . . how can you forget this?. . . You’ll fuck her and all you’ll see is my face . . . Harry!” Draco’s whole body is pressing back onto Harry’s finger, and his hand stills as he ejaculates.

“God,” is all Harry seems to be able to say. He pulls his finger free and stands. Quickly, he strips his robe off and throws it on the ground. Draco presses back into the cradle of his pelvis as Harry fumbles with his belt. When he finally has his jeans open, he shoves them down and grabs his cock. With an expression of concentration he rubs the head up and down Draco’s crack until he finds what’s he’s looking for and shoves in with a grunt and a low helpless-sounding groan. He pumps in and out with a slow but steady pace.

“This is the last time,” he rasps. “No more. You can’t keep doing this to me. You’re driving me . . . oh fuck! It’s too soon . . .” He slams against Draco’s arse over and over. “. . . can’t stop it. You drive me mad. Draco!” His voice breaks. “Oh fuck, oh God, I’m coming. I’m going to come inside you. . . not ready. . . don’t want this to end . . . oh God, Draco. Take it as deep as you can. Fuck my cock, Draco, fuck yourself on me . . . Give me it all . . . Give me everything!”

Despite having been rather noisy up till that moment, Harry goes absolutely silent as his hips snap back and forth. He presses his cheek against Draco’s back, his eyes squeezed tightly closed. After a moment, his erratic thrusts give way to whole-body shudders.

Draco moans and pushes back, obviously trying to keep Harry inside him for as long as possible.

“Come with me,” he says shakily. “I got us a room.”

Harry is quiet as his body slowly relaxes. He steps back, pulls up his jeans and retrieves his discarded robe, but Draco doesn’t move. His trousers are still at the middle of his thighs. He rests his forehead against the wall. After a moment, Harry kneels behind him and spreads his arse cheeks again. He leans forward and buries his face. I can hear the sound of his muffled groans as he licks and sucks Draco clean, hungrily swallowing his own come. His chin is shiny in the light of the one streetlamp illuminating the alley. I’ve moved close enough that I can see his tongue. His eyes are closed in ecstasy.

They’ve crossed over into a kind of sexual intimacy I’ve never experienced – not even with my wife. I’m suddenly vividly aware of my situation. I turn and walk away as quietly as possible, feeling aroused and uncomfortable and very much like I’ve seen something I hadn’t any right to see.

 

I can barely hear the scratching over the sound of Eileen’s ‘Ocean Waves Sweet Dreams’ spell. For a while I think it’s part of a dream, but as I slowly rise to the surface of consciousness, I realise it’s an owl at my window. I get up and pull on my robe. The moon is so bright I don’t need to cast a Lumos to see my way.

It’s a tiny owl, and I recognise it immediately as the one Draco had used at the pub earlier. I open the window and let it in. It’s carrying a piece of parchment in its beak. It drops it in my hand and flies off. I open the note as quickly as possible.

Your office. One hour.

Harry must not have taken him up on his invitation to share the night.

I glance at the clock on the nightstand. Who knows how long the little owl had been scratching at the window? I may only have a few minutes! I get dressed in jeans and a jumper, not bothering with my customary shirt and tie. I go downstairs as quietly as I can so as not to wake any of the kids and once there, I step into the fireplace.

Our building’s fireplace is in the basement (bloody stupid idea!), and my office is on the 12th floor. I run up the stairs as quickly as I can, taking the steps two at a time. Once I’m on the right floor, I trot to my office, panting for breath.

He’s sitting on the floor leaning against the door with his head tilted back and his throat exposed. He lifts his head when he hears me. I gasp. His eyes are completely utterly dead.

“I thought you weren’t coming,” he says in a monotone.

I stammer about ocean waves and miniature owls and light-sleeping children, but he doesn’t seem to be listening. He covers his face with his hands and tilts his head back again.

“Draco,” I say softly. “I need to open the door.”

He stands without speaking, and I turn my key in the lock. As soon as we’re inside, he drops into his usual chair and lights a cigarette with shaking hands. I Transfigure my Buddha into an ashtray. He laughs weakly.

“I’ve got you trained.”

“I prefer to think that I’m not so much trained as you are predictable.”

He laughs again. I figure that can’t be a bad thing.

“I’m sorry I got you out of bed.”

“No need to apologise.”

We’re silent for a long time.

“Your wife is lovely. I wonder what it’d be like to share a home and a bed and a life with someone you actually like,” he says. “It must be nice.”

I nod. “It is. I think it’s one of life’s great blessings.”

He swallows hard and looks toward the window.

“Draco,” I say gently. “Why are we here?”

He turns back to me and takes a deep long drag on his cigarette.

“I was wandering around trying to get myself lost. I thought it would probably be a good idea to contact you.”

“Were . . . do you think you were going to hurt yourself?”

He shrugs. “I’ve already hurt myself. My life is a fucking razor that I keep cutting myself on over and over again.”

I can tell he’s in crisis. I’ve seen it before, and sadly I’ll see it again. The best thing to do when patients are in this state is be quiet but make it as clear as possible that you’re receptive to whatever it is they have to say. This is not the time to be asking probing questions.

“Do you want to talk about that?”

He takes another drag. He seems less agitated than when I first saw him. That’s always a good sign.

“Not really.”

“Okay.”

He’s silent as he smokes the last of his cigarette. The only sounds come from outside: the occasional car and every now and again people walk by singing drunkenly, no doubt after a long night at a club somewhere.

“Can I lie down?” he asks suddenly. “On the couch, I mean.”

I’m surprised but I don’t let it show.

“Of course,” I say quietly. “It’s all yours. That’s what it’s there for. Would you like me to cast a scent-masking spell?”

He laughs as he stands up slowly and shakily. “No. I was only trying to get up your nose. It doesn’t actually smell.”

“I’m relieved,” I say with a smile.

He sits down on the edge of the couch and unlaces his shoes. “How should I lie down? Do you want my head here?”

“I don’t want anything except for you to be at ease. Lie down however you like. Make yourself comfortable.” I cast a gentle warming charm and dim the lights slightly.

After a moment, he lies on his back with his arms crossed behind his head.

“What now?” he asks.

“What do you mean ‘what now’?”

“I mean, how does this work? Do you want me to talk about my childhood or something?”

“Do you want to talk about your childhood?”

“No, not particularly.”

“Okay, then we won’t talk about your childhood.”

“Then the War perhaps? Everybody was scarred by the War.”

“Unfortunately, I believe you’re right. Would you like to talk about the War?”

“No.”

He’s silent for a while.

“Can I take off my shoes? My feet hurt from all the walking. Don’t worry; I have socks on.”

“I wouldn’t mind if you didn’t,” I assure him. “Draco, you don’t have to talk about anything specific; in fact, you don’t have to talk about anything at all if you don’t want to. There’s no right or wrong to psychoanalysis.”

He turns over onto his side, away from me, and then pulls himself in like a hermit crab. He’s almost in a foetal position. He’s silent for a long time, and then he starts talking.

“I never planned it. I never thought I even wanted it. I really did hate him when we were at school. I was so envious. Everything always turned out right for him – or so I thought at the time. I’d grown up hearing about him, and then when I met him, he was a complete prick. We got into a couple of serious fights. I cast an Unforgiveable at him once, and he almost killed me in response. So, how did it happen? How did I fall so hard for him – so far? We worked together, if that’s what you want to call it, when the restitution was being calculated. I think he thought I’d be an evil little shit, but I wasn’t. I truly did want our family to pay for our role in the War. I wanted to be able to hold my head up and if writing cheques would help, I was more than willing to do it. That’s why I insisted on working with the Aurors instead of Father. He’d never have been so . . . easy to work with. Anyway, he and I worked together almost every day for weeks . . . Fuck this, this is stupid.”

“It’s okay,” I assure him. “You don’t have to talk to me in narrative form. You can say what you say in any way you want to.”

He’s silent. And then he starts talking again, very softly and slowly at first.

“I lie in bed beside her, and my heart pounds and pounds and pounds. I feel like I’m having a panic attack or something. I hate her for being where she is – beside me – even though she has every right to be there. Then I hate myself for hating her. She’s just an innocent party. Collateral. She’s never done anything to hurt me, but her very existence hurts me! The day after Father died, my Mother was already making plans for the wedding. I was the head of the family now, and a head of a family has to be married. I know you can’t understand that, just . . . just believe me, okay? He told me it would be over between us if I married her. He told me he wasn’t going to be the person I came to only when I needed a cock up my arse. He’d wanted a real relationship. For two years, he’d been talking about it, and then I marry her. Why? Because I’m a fucking weak coward. I don’t even know why he loves me. If I were him, I wouldn’t love me. I . . . I need a cigarette.”

He sits up and summons the packet of cigarettes from his coat pocket and then goes through the whole ritual of tamping down the tobacco. He lights it and inhales deeply, his head back and his eyes closed.

“I can’t begin to tell you, I can’t find the fucking words. I love him. I need him. He refuses to be with me . . . except for a quick fuck up against a wall. He’s going to do it. I know he is. He’s going to marry his fucking school sweetheart, and then it’ll really be over. He’s not the kind of man who cheats. He’ll drift off into a quiet cul-de-sac life, and I’ll host endless dinner parties. God, I burn for him. He has no idea. I can’t live without him. I can’t let her have him. I can’t let her take the place that should be mine! How’s he going to fuck her? Is he going to close his eyes and think of me like I do with Astoria? Or is he going to shove me out of his head, the way he’s shoving me out of his life? I know I’ve made it difficult. I know I’ve tried to leave him. I don’t have any right to ask anything from him after the fucking drunken fire calls and owls and what-have-you. I’ve hurt him. I know I have. My fucking stupid wedding nearly killed him. I don’t know how I convinced him to keep seeing me. God. I’ve fucked up my whole life, and I’m only thirty. I’m going to have to live decades like this. I think I’d rather die.”

He stubs out his cigarette and lies down, this time on his back.

“I just realised you have no idea who I’m talking about. I have never told anyone. Not because I’m embarrassed, but because it would cost him so much. He said he didn’t care, but what does he know? He’s all love-will-find-a-way. Harry, I’m talking about Harry Potter. Yes, the Harry Potter. There, I said it. Now you’re the only one besides Harry and I that knows about this. God, I can’t let her have him! I can’t face the rest of my life with photographs of him with her on his arm in every fucking paper. I can’t face the inevitable birth announcements. It’ll be the wedding of the century. Everyone will gush about how beautiful it is, how cute it is that he’s marrying his school sweetheart. Harry and Ginny – even their names sound cute together. God help me, I don’t know what I’ll do. He’s mine . . . I don’t know what I’ll do.”

He dissolves into tears. Actually, I’m surprised that it’s taken this long considering how emotional he is. I stand up and fetch a box of tissues (a Mind Healer’s one indispensable staple). He seems not to notice. I put them on the floor beside the couch.

He’s not talking now, but that’s okay. This needed to happen. The couch is like lancing a boil.

At last, his sobs turn into sniffles. He takes a tissue and blows his nose. He looks like a little boy.

“I’m so tired,” he whispers. “Can I stay?”

I think for a moment.

“It’s not my usual practise,” I say. “But I think it sounds like a good idea. I don’t think you should just walk out onto the street at three in the morning. I’m going home, but you can stay here.”

“Thank you,” he says quietly. “I promise not to Transfigure your things.”

I laugh. “I’m not worried about that. I just want to be sure that you’re okay to be left alone.”

“I’m okay,” he says. “Just very very tired. I didn’t tell you, but we – I mean Harry and I – had sex earlier tonight. I haven’t slept properly in days. He wore me out.” He smiles somewhat sheepishly.

I Transfigure a tissue into a blanket and drape it over him.

“Are you going to be alright?”

He nods.

“My first appointment isn’t until noon, so take your time tomorrow morning.”

He nods again.

I have the urge to smooth the hair away from his face as though he’s one of my children. He seems so vulnerable – so young.

“Good night,” I say quietly. “I’ll see you at your next appointment. You know how to reach me if you need me in the meantime.”

 

“Where were you?”

I’ve finally got home, undressed and back into bed.

“One of my patients.”

“Is he or she going to be alright?”

“Yeah, I think so. I let him spend the rest of the night in my office.”

“I hope he doesn’t steal anything.”

I kiss Eileen’s cheek and roll onto my back. I’m feeling unsettled and hope I can fall back to sleep.

“I don’t have any concerns about that.”

“He’s wealthy then?”

I don’t answer. She knows I can’t tell her anything.

“Draco Malfoy,” she says. “I bet that’s who he is. Be careful about getting too swept up in his case, love. That family has made people disappear, if you know what I’m saying.”

I don’t respond, but I find her hand and squeeze it, letting her know that everything’s okay and I’ve got it under control.

 

When I get to my office around ten, there’s no sign of Draco except for a note that simply reads: “Thanks.” I put it in my desk and start writing up my notes from last night. I’m just about finished when an imperious looking owl scratches at my window. I let it in, and it flies off again without the treat I offer it.

“Well, screw you too,” I say under my breath and unroll the parchment it left me.

Dear Healer Nichols,

I regret to inform you that I will need to suspend our relationship. Astoria and I are leaving to spend the rest of the winter on Crete. I will be in touch with you when I return. Thank you for your help and kindness. I am in your debt.

Yours Truly,

D. Malfoy

I stare at the note, my mind completely blank. The first thing that occurs to me is that someone other than Draco had written it, and his family was going to “lock him away” for awhile, but when I wave my wand over the parchment, it is clear the handwriting is Draco’s.

What the fuck?

None of it makes sense. Last night, he’d sworn he was going to keep fighting for Harry, but now it looks like he’s running away again. Did he send a similar note to Harry, or did he plan to leave without even telling him he’s going?

My mind is spinning as I try to think of options. Perhaps I could go to the Manor and try to ascertain whether this is voluntary on Draco’s part and, if it is, whether he’d considered all the consequences. But there is no way I could go to his house and demand explanations. It would be an unforgivable breach of trust.

I could write to him and try to make my case on paper. He needs to be in therapy! I’m the only person in the world who knows how dangerous this whole situation is . . . .

Or am I?

 

The Department of Magical Law Enforcement’s floor is chaotic to say the least. Memos are flying around like a flock of sparrows, and people are charging here and there. I’m nearly hit by three of them by the time I reach the head secretary’s desk.

“Can I help you?” she asks without looking up from the paperwork on her desk.

“I’d like to see Harry Potter,” I say.

She snorts but still doesn’t look up. “Good luck with that.”

I frown. Is she being funny or is that going to be her only response? I decide to keep standing right where I am. At last she looks up with an exasperated look on her face.

“Harry Potter, I need to see him.”

“You can’t be serious.”

My frown deepens. “Well, yes, I am. Is there a problem?”

“Auror Potter doesn’t talk to reporters. Don’t even bother trying to bribe me.”

I laugh. “No, no, you misunderstand. I’m not a reporter, I’m a Healer.”

She glares at my notebook. It’s clear she doesn’t believe me.

“I’ll try to get him, but I swear to Circe, if you’re fucking with me, I will have your press pass as quick as a flea farts.”

I goggle at her. “Uhm.”

“Wait here.”

I stand waiting for what seems like ages. Finally, I see Harry Potter striding down a hallway lined with office doors. He does not look pleased to make my acquaintance.

“Yes?” he says without asking my name.

“Hello, Auror Potter . . .”

“Today, please.”

Wow. What an arsehole.

“My name is Healer Nicholas Nichols. I have something I urgently need to speak with you about.”

He scowls at me, and his eyes flash. They’re equally as unnerving as Draco’s but for the opposite reason: Whereas Draco’s eyes are cold, Harry’s are on fire.

“I don’t take initial complaints,” he says. “Talk to one of the Aurors up front. Now excuse me, I have things to do.”

He turns to walk back down the hall. Without thinking, I grab his robe. He wheels around with his wand in his hand before I can even get a syllable out of my mouth.

I see that I am about to be stunned or petrified or worse. I say the only thing I can think of . . .

“I know Draco.”

He freezes as though he’s been petrified. But if I thought he’d look less angry than he had before, I was colossally mistaken.

“What?” he hisses furiously, seizing my collar.

I swallow. He really is quite intimidating.

“Draco,” I say. “I’m . . . I’m his Healer.”

I am not just breaching my ethical obligations, I am tearing them up and stomping on them and probably spitting on them for good measure.

“What do you mean you’re his ‘healer’? Is he alright?”

He’s still holding my collar.

“I don’t know.”

“What do you mean you don’t know?”

“Can we talk about this somewhere more private?”

He releases my collar and stands regarding me from head to toe. He looks like someone who smiles maybe once or twice a year. Seeing him up close, it’s clear why he’s considered the one of the most powerful wizards in the world. He’s formidable to say the least.

“Follow me,” he growls.

His office is at the end of the hall and is an unbelievable mess. There are papers and folders and half-empty mugs of coffee on every surface. There are two large windows: One has its blind down and the other’s blind looks like it’s been torn off.

“Sit,” he says, pointing his wand at one of his chairs and blasting the folders right off it. Papers smoulder and drift sadly to the floor. I find I’m staring at him.

He goes behind his desk and sits like a king on his throne. For a fleeting instant I remember him on his knees hungrily sucking his own come out of Draco’s rectum. I almost get vertigo. It’s hard to imagine the man in front of me kneeling for anyone, let alone anything more.

“Speak.”

I clear my throat, starting to feel a wee bit put out. I can’t believe I thought coming here was a good idea.

“As I said, I’m Draco’s Mind Healer. He’s told me about the two of you. He owled me this morning to tell me he’s going out of the country for the rest of the winter. I’m worried about him. He’s very unhappy and unstable at the moment. I’m worried he might try to hurt himself.”

Harry stares at me. He clearly doesn’t know where to start.

“He’s leaving the country?”

“That’s what he wrote.”

“Where’s he going?”

“Apparently Crete. I take it this is news to you.”

His mouth moves as if he’s going to say something. Instead, he stands up and walks around his desk until I find his wand in my face yet again.

“You lie,” he says flatly.

I reach into my coat pocket and pull out Draco’s note. I hold it out to him feeling as though I’m holding out a treat to an unfriendly owl. He snatches it, opens it, and waves his wand over it.

And then he just stands there. Stunned. I’m pretty sure I could start dancing nude around his office and he wouldn’t notice.

He’s still for a long time.

“You received this today?” he asks hoarsely and then clears his throat.

I nod.

“You’re his Healer, and supposedly you know about . . . about Draco and me, perhaps you can shed some fucking light on this!”

He throws the note back at me.

I start to think that I don’t like him. At all. No wonder they say don’t look too closely at your heroes if you want them to remain your heroes.

“I don’t think I should betray Draco’s confidence like that.”

His jaw is working. “You can’t just march in here, tell me Draco’s leaving – or probably has already left – the country and then refuse to tell me anything about it.”

Watch me, I want to say, but of course do not.

“He woke me up last night,” I say. “Told me he needed to talk to me. I met him at my office. He said he’d been out ‘wandering around, trying to get lost.’ I encouraged him to talk to me . . .”

“And what the fuck did you say in return that made him run off to Crete?”

“Nothing,” I snap. “I’m as shocked as you are. I thought you might know something useful or could talk to him . . . I don’t know. Unlike you apparently, I’m worried about him!”

His eyes flash dangerously, and I regret my words immediately. Eileen was right. I definitely should not be meddling in this situation.

He walks over to the window and stands looking out. I realise with a jolt that he’s wearing the same clothes he’d been wearing last night. He clearly hadn’t gone home either.

“Why didn’t you just stay with him?” I say quietly . . . stupidly. “He told you he had a room.”

He doesn’t turn around, but he leans on the window frame as if it’s the only thing holding him up.

“I don’t owe you an answer,” he says roughly.

“You drove him away.”

He turns abruptly, and I can’t stop myself from flinching.

“I did not drive him away! He walked away of his own free will. Pleasing daddy-in-law is so much more important than . . . Fuck it, why am I telling you all of this?”

I take a deep breath and try to remember that I’m dealing with a fallible human being who’s clearly been pushed past the point of breaking.

“Maybe you’re telling me because it’s safe to tell me. And because we both care about the same person.”

“‘Care about him’? Is that how to describe it? You care about your workmate or your cat or your nice old auntie. I don’t care about Draco, Healer Nichols, I love him. For four years . . . for four fucking years . . .”

His voice breaks. He’s no longer angry at me, if in fact he ever really was. He’s like a wounded wolf caught in a trap striking out at anyone who comes near him.

“For four years I have done nothing but love him. I would’ve done anything. I would’ve crawled over broken glass if I had to and begged at his fucking feet. But that wasn’t enough.”

“He loves you too.”

He doesn’t respond. All he does is walk back behind his desk and slump into his chair, rubbing his face with his hands.

“I simply can’t do this any longer,” he says wearily. “I’ve had enough drama to last me a lifetime and then some. All I want is a normal life. Quiet, normal, maybe even boring. I was a fool to think I could have it with Draco.”

I decide I no longer dislike him. More than anything I feel sorry for him. His whole life has been filled with loss and tears. No wonder he’s exhausted and touchy. No wonder he fantasises about “being normal.”

“He wants that too,” I say gently. “He told me so just last night . . .”

“And then this morning, he Portkeys off to Crete. This is what it’s been like since he got married. I’m done. I simply can’t do this anymore. Now what does he expect me to do? Enough time will pass, and then he’ll be back here having lied to his wife that he’s going to Paris or someplace. He’ll be back here, and he’ll hunt me down like a hare. Wear me down, work me up. Make me crazy. And then when I can’t take it anymore and give in, he’ll run away again. We’ll fuck, and he’ll leave. You don’t understand; I couldn’t stay with him last night. When he sleeps in my arms . . . when I watch him sleep . . . Fuck!”

I look away as he wipes tears from his eyes.

“I can’t do this anymore. He doesn’t understand. I can’t take it. Let him stay on Crete for all I care. I’m sure the Greengrass estate there is simply lovely this time of year.”

He snorts and reaches into a drawer.

“Scotch?”

He doesn’t wait for a reply and instead fills me a glass and levitates it over to me with an unspoken spell.

“Sorry to have dragged you into the middle of all of this, doc.”

I give him a half smile. “Draco calls me that too.”

Harry throws back his glass and pours himself another.

“I’m glad you came to see me,” he says. “I’m sorry I was a prick. I wouldn’t have known until I read it in the fucking social pages. That’s happened before. It’s a special kind of hell learning about your lover’s life from a newspaper gossip column.”

I finish my drink and set the glass on his desk.

“I’ve got to go,” I say. “I’ve a patient at noon.”

“Thanks,” he says, finishing his Scotch with one swallow. He’s quiet, and I figure we’re done. I stand up.

“I’m glad he has you,” he says hoarsely without looking at me when I open the door. “Take good care of him. If he’ll let you, that is.”

I want to ask him if he has anyone to take care of him, but then he looks up. He’s pushed his fringe back from his face, and suddenly all I can see is that livid scar. He’s Harry Potter. Of course he has someone to take care of him.

I close the door softly behind me.

 

Even though I know he won’t come, I still keep the time slot for Draco’s session open. Every time, I expect him to walk through the door. I sit for the hour at my desk writing my patients’ reports hoping that he’ll come strolling in and transform one of my treasures into an ashtray, but he never does.

It isn’t until March that I hear from him and even then it’s merely a one-sentence note written with what looked like great haste and little care for penmanship.

Astoria’s pregnant.

 

“Perhaps this as far as you can – or even want to – get involved.”

It’s one of those brilliantly bright winter mornings – the kind that hurts your eyes and makes them water. I squint at my mentor where she sits in the chair in my office. She’s shielding her own eyes with her hand.

“Here,” I say, drawing my wand. “Let’s close these blinds, shall we?”

“A lovely idea. I was worried I’d get sunburn.”

I chuckle and lower the blinds. Some of the light is still showing through but it’s been converted from piercing to honey-mellow.

I’d asked her to come and see me as soon as she could, which turned out to be the morning after I received Draco’s missive.

“Tea?”

“Would be lovely.”

We sit quietly as the tea steeps in its pot. I let myself slowly relax into my chair. It isn’t until that moment that I realise how tense I am.

“Why do you think he contacted you and in this odd manner?”

“I’ve been wondering the same thing,” I say. “I get the impression that he may have been drunk when he wrote it, but that seems unlikely. He’s told me on several occasions that he almost never allows himself to get inebriated . . .”

“Lots of secrets, this patient of yours.”

I haven’t told her Draco’s name. That’s our agreement. All I’ve told her is that a potentially suicidal patient wrote to me from out of the country rather suddenly, and that all he said is that his wife is pregnant.

“Yes, lots,” I say. “Lots and lots.”

“Maybe he’d been resisting the urge to write to you and finally gave in at a weak moment.”

“That was my interpretation.” I pour her a cup of tea.

“So this patient of yours has a long time lover who he’d been with before he was married.”

“Yes, and it is . . . was – I don’t know which is the right verb – very serious.”

“Do you know that other party? Did your patient give you his or her name?”

“His name and yes.”

“Ah, so you’re patient is gay – or at least bisexual.”

“Gay. He doesn’t appear to be attracted to women at all. Milk?”

She shakes her head causing rainbows to skitter around the room when the light hits her earrings. “No thanks. The calories. Just black please. Arranged marriage?”

I nod.

“So pure-blood.” She gives a little rueful snort. “If it weren’t for the pure-bloods, we’d have no patients. Those people start screwing up their children the minute they leave the womb.”

I laugh because it’s true. Considering the fact that the number of pure-bloods is declining, they still make up a high percentage of my practise.

“Is his lover a pure-blood?”

“No, but he is . . . well, how I should I put it? He is well known, let’s just leave it there.”

“You mean ‘well known’ by the public?”

I nod.

“I see. So there’s much at stake here – wealthy powerful pure-blood and someone with a name people would recognise.”

It’s my turn to give the snort. “That pretty much sums it up. More tea?”

“Yes, thank you. So, it sounds as though you’re not certain they’re still having an affair.”

“Let’s put it this way: They’re both still in love with each other, but it appears they’re both trying to end things, but neither of them can bear to make the break official and permanent.”

“Has your patient expressed a desire to leave the relationship?”

“Not exactly. All my patient really wants is to be rid of his marriage and family obligations so he can be with his lover. But he’s caught. I don’t know if it’s an issue of ‘courage’ precisely; I think it’s the sheer enormity of centuries of family obligations and rules – both spoken and unspoken.”

“One of which would of course be fathering a son.” She rolls her eyes at the sexism of her statement. “Bloody nonsense, if you ask me. The Minister herself is a woman! Well, be that as it may, do you think your patient is pleased or not by his wife’s – I take it surprise – pregnancy?”

“I really can’t say. We never discussed the prospect of children.”

“Maybe this will be the thing that finally severs him from his affair.”

“God, that’s what I’m afraid of!”

She sweeps back her long hair and casts a charm to keep it pinned up. She always fiddles with her hair when she’s thinking.

“Dare I ask why you’re so afraid of this being a final end to a relationship that both parties seem to be trying to escape? Don’t you think that’s one of the reasons your patient comes to see you? To help him ‘steel his nerve’ so to speak?”

I take a deep breath and let it out slowly. “I’m worried the pregnancy will force his hand in one way or another.”

“Do you mean the pregnancy could possibly cause him to end his marriage rather than end his affair?”

I stand up from my desk and go over to the couch. I lie down.

“My,” she says. “This seems ominous. Healers don’t usually get on their own couches.”

I scrub my face with my hands and then cross my arms behind my head.

“I’m worried that things aren’t going to end well. I’m worried my patient may try to kill himself. I’ve never felt this worried about a patient before, Karina. I’m worried the note he sent me is as good as a suicide note. I really do. I’m completely lost as to what to do. I know our place to look for help is to a patient’s family, but that’s probably the last thing I can do in this case.”

“He sounds very much alone.”

“He is. Despite his wealth and status, he’s alone and slowly suffocating.”

“Do you think he’s told his lover about his wife’s pregnancy?”

“I doubt it. He didn’t even tell his lover he was leaving the country for three months. I had the lovely experience of telling his lover myself. That was fun.”

“So, you’ve been in contact with your patient’s lover? Nick, I have to say that I am shocked you could have done such a thing! That is a terrible, unethical breach of confidentiality.”

I cover my face again. “I know. I didn’t know what else to do.”

“You’re too caught up in this. You must immediately transfer this case to someone else. The Healer is never supposed to directly involve himself in his patient’s life . . .”

“Yes,” I say, sitting up. “I know that. I’m not an apprentice any longer, but what am I supposed to do? Just sit back and let my patient kill himself?”

“There are professional ways to handle these situations. You are not the first, nor will you be the last, Healer with a potential suicide. If you are convinced something must be done, have him involuntarily committed to St. Mungo’s.”

I groan. I can’t think of anything I’d rather do less than have Draco Malfoy committed against his will.

“What about his lover?”

“What do you mean ‘what about his lover’? You’re not treating his lover, you’re treating him.”

“Frankly, it’s hard to treat one and not the other. I’m very concerned for my patient, but I’m also concerned for his lover. If he finds out about this pregnancy from some other source than my patient . . . I shudder to think what will happen.”

“You’re not treating him, whoever he is.”

“Whoever he is . . .” I say to myself. “To tell you the truth, I actually wish I didn’t know.”

 

I awake to shrieking and running footsteps and several small bodies hurtling at me like comets. Eileen’s standing in the doorway.

“Good morning, Daddy. Are you awake?”

I laugh and pry clinging sticky hands off me. “I am now. What’s the occasion?”

“Well, nothing special. Just that it’s Saturday and The Prophet’s entire building has been reduced to smouldering rubble. Which I think means today’s paper is the last one we’ll be reading for quite sometime.”

I sit up, suddenly wide awake. What?!

“Come downstairs and listen to the WWN. There’s a crew reporting from on-site.”

I scramble out of bed and pull on the nearest robe I can find.

“Anyone hurt?”

“No injuries. Apparently, they received notice well ahead of time and evacuated everyone.”

“Terrorists?” I ask. I’m running downstairs while still trying to find the armholes of my robe. I almost step on a Pygmy Puff and have to dodge it at the last second. All I can think is ‘oh my God, it’s happening again!’

“Nope.”

“Dark Arts?”

“Nope.”

“Then who, what and why?”

“Harry Potter, blasting spell, and this.” She hands me The Prophet. On the cover is a photograph of Harry kissing a young ginger-haired woman in a Muggle café.

HARRY POTTER AND HIS SCHOOL SWEETHEART ENGAGED TO BE MARRIED!

My mind goes completely blank.

“This is not good,” is all I can say, even after sitting with my mouth open for nearly a whole minute. “This is not good at all.”

 

I’m never in my office at the weekend. Saturday and Sunday are sacrosanct. But today is not a usual Saturday, and something tells me that if anyone should need to reach me immediately, my office would be the first place they’d try.

The brilliant sunny weather has changed to cold and rain, which is fortunate because it kept the fire that destroyed the Prophet building from spreading. Outside my window, pieces of newspapers fly by like birds in a gust of wind. I have the wireless turned up as loud as I can stand.

As of yet, there has not been an arrest even though the suspect turned himself in immediately. Inside sources suggest there may be no prosecution due both to Auror Potter’s status in the community and the extenuating circumstances that exist . . .

“Are you curious as to what those might be?”

I nearly faint from surprise as Harry Potter walks through my door.

“Sorry I didn’t knock,” he says, not sounding sorry at all. “You’re lucky I’ve had my fill today of blowing things up or I’d have blasted your door through one of those lovely windows of yours.”

Harry does not look like a happy man. In fact, he looks the way people look when they’re desperate and capable of anything. He’s wearing a damp t-shirt and ash covered jeans. His muddy boots leave prints that even Andy would be shocked by. His hair is drenched and he’s shaking and his wand is pointed straight at my face.

“You know how to reach him,” he snarls. “I need to talk to him. Don’t give me any bollocks about professional confidentiality. Clearly, I don’t give a shit about niceties at the moment.”

I nod and put my hands up where he can see them. My gesture of submission does nothing to ameliorate the fierceness of his eyes.

“I have never owled or fire called him,” I say slowly.

“Do you mean to tell me that you, his Healer, haven’t heard from him since he left?”

Oh. Crap.

I take a deep breath. “Auror Potter,” I say as calmly as I can with the world’s most powerful wizard’s wand pointed at my head. “Please sit down. I know you won’t agree with me, but I think a nice hot cup of tea would do wonders for you right now.”

He stares at me. I put all my effort into not looking away. At last he lowers his arm.

“You reminded me just now of Dumbledore,” he says. “Which, I should warn you, is not necessarily a good thing.”

“Please,” I say again. “Sit down. Your lips are blue. You’re clearly freezing.” I’d cast a warming charm except I don’t want to reach for my wand to do it. I’ve always been pants at unspoken spells.

He stands there, and I watch with held breath as the adrenaline drains from his body. He collapses into the chair but not without throwing my pillows on the floor. I almost smile. He and Draco really do share certain traits – including an utter disregard for one’s things.

“I’m going to draw my wand,” I say slowly and calmly. “I’m going to make some tea and cast a warming charm, and then I’m going to place it on my desk where you can see it, okay?”

He nods, but his eyes watch my every single smallest move.

“Would you like something to eat?”

He shakes his head. “Tea’s fine,” he says gruffly.

“Sugar? Milk?”

His temper flares again like stirred embers in a fireplace. “Black. Don’t fucking patronise me.”

I nod and float a cup over to him. He grasps it in both hands like a child holding a warm mug of hot chocolate. For an instant, I can almost imagine that child as Harry and Harry as that child.

Slowly, his shivering lessens. I refill his cup once and then again.

“You were parched.”

“That’s what happens when you cast full-intensity blasting hexes,” he growls.

“Dare I . . . Can I . . . ask why?”

“Fucking bastards. I warned them.”

I say nothing. My years of listening to people tell me he will talk if given enough time and space. I cast a warming charm and lay my wand out of reaching distance on my desk.

“I warned them not to print anything about my and Ginny’s engagement. I thought I had been very very clear.”

I wince. There’s no doubt in my mind that he hadn’t left any room for ambiguity. The reporters and editors are lucky to still have his balls or ovaries this morning – if, in fact, they actually do.

“So, you’re getting married.”

He glares at me silently. His eyes are hard to look at, but I hold his gaze. I need to retain some modicum of self-respect in dealing with this man.

“We’re engaged.”

“Since when?”

“Since last week.”

“Does Draco know?”

I should’ve known that such a point-blank question would get a point-blank response.

“What do you fucking think? I haven’t been able to reach him. But this will!” He holds up my copy of The Prophet and shakes it at me as though the photograph on the cover is my fault. “That’s why I’m here pissing away precious time in your cosy little office. You are the only person who can help me. Don’t think for an instant that I’m fond of begging.”

A line from a mafia movie comes to mind: “We have ways of making you talk.”

I put out my hands and turn up my palms in what I hope he can interpret as a kind of plea.

“Please, Auror Potter, please remember that I’m Draco’s Healer, and that he has the right to trust me when I say I will not betray his confidence.”

Wrong answer.

Harry barely flexes the muscles in his hand, and his teacup shatters.

“Do not get in my way,” he says. “If I have to, I will stun you and search every inch of this place.”

He moves to draw his wand again, and I hold up my hands.

“You don’t understand,” he says. “Draco must hear this news from me. Believe me; I know how it bloody feels to learn about something like this from a newspaper.” He snorts sarcastically. “I’m warning you: there is nothing I won’t do. You should’ve been able to figure that out when you heard the news of The Prophet’s headquarters this morning.”

I have not dropped my hands, but I also have not looked away.

“I need to ask you: how do you think Draco will respond when he learns of your engagement?”

Harry blinks and looks away. I stifle a surprised sound at his seeming surrender.

“I . . . I don’t . . . I’m not sure. I don’t know. That’s precisely why I need to do the telling.”

“Do you think he may hurt himself?”

Harry bites his lip until it bleeds. He still can’t look at me.

“Please,” he says brokenly. “Please help me.”

It fleetingly occurs to me: who has ever heard Harry Potter ask them for help? My guess would be very few.

“I’m going to open a drawer now,” I say calmly and steadily. “There’s a note in there from Draco. I received it about two weeks ago. He has not sent any others. This is it. I have to warn you, though; you might not like what it has to say.”

“I will not ask you again,” he says. “Give it to me.”

I wonder if his eyes are the last thing Voldemort ever saw and find myself hoping so. They look capable of damning a soul to hell. I hand him the note.

He stares at it as if it was written in a dead language.

I am suddenly very concerned about my office with all my cherished things that I’ve collected so lovingly over the years. I’m acutely aware of all the presents given to me by my family and friends and patients. There are years of my life on display here. I literally flinch when he lifts his eyes and fixes them on mine.

“So, she’s pregnant.”

I say nothing.

He laughs humourlessly. “Probably had to cast a spell on his prick. Or not. Maybe he’s decided he’s into pure-blood pussy after all.”

I continue to say nothing.

“Oh, Draco, Draco, Draco,” he says with a tsk, obviously to himself and not to me. He shakes his head as though all he feels is some kind of disappointment. For a moment it seems like he doesn’t even remember I’m there.

But then his eyes focus on me again.

“You will write him a letter and Floo it. He’s more likely to take your letters than mine. Tell him that it’s imperative that he visit you immediately. Tell him you’ve disengaged your wards so that he can Apparate straight into your office. Tell him not to go anywhere or do anything until you’ve talked to him.”

I bridle under his orders, but then I remember both who he is and what’s at stake. I’m still for what feels like a dangerously long time before pulling a piece of parchment from my desk and picking up my quill.

 

It’s a special kind of humiliation to be kicked out of one’s own office – even if the person who did the metaphorical kicking is one of the most powerful wizards in the world. I look at my watch. The note from Draco said he would be here in fifteen minutes. I did not ask, and he did not say, whether he’d seen The Prophet.

Harry suggested that perhaps I’d like to be home in the bosom of my family. I took the not-so-subtle hint and left.

And now my curiosity will not leave me in peaceful resignation. As always Eileen is right. I really am more of a detective than a Mind Healer.

Any wizard worth his salt has a secret door in their study. Since my office is essentially my study away from home, I created the smallest means for entry and egress that I possibly could between my two bookshelves. I feel a tad dirty and more than a tad unprofessional, but neither is sufficient to keep me from Disillusioning myself and slipping into my office. I even go to my desk and sit down. I try to convince myself I’m there to keep any kind of confrontation from getting out of hand (which is partly true), but in reality I’m just plain nosey. I try not to think of my beloved mentor and what she’d say.

Draco has not yet arrived, and Harry is standing by the window, looking out, most likely, on the smouldering remains of the Prophet’s offices. I don’t know him well enough to know if he’s experiencing guilt, but he does drop his face into his hand and closes the blinds rather forcefully.

It’s at that moment that Draco appears with a pop.

There’s a copy of this morning’s paper in his hand.

He looks around, no doubt expecting me, and sees Harry.

They stand looking at each other for what feels like an eternity.

“So, you’re going to marry her.”

Draco’s voice sounds half-dead and half-dangerous.

“And you got your wife pregnant. What’d you do, Draco? Think of me while you fucked her?”

Harry’s voice isn’t any less dead and dangerous.

“I didn’t know.”

“Well, perhaps I should explain the birds and the bees to you. A man loves a woman very very much and puts his penis in her vagina and moves it in and out . . .”

“Shut up, Potter!”

Harry smirks. “I love it when you call me ‘Potter.’ It reminds me why I used to hate your guts.”

Draco’s eyes narrow into slits. “You’ve got a lot of nerve giving me shit when you’re going to married the Weasley cow and move your own fucking penis in and out of her vagina until you have a warren full of brats running around with ginger hair and glasses.”

Harry draws his wand, and I instinctively cringe. Here goes my office is all I can think at first. Then I think about blood and nearly faint.

Draco draws his wand as well.

“I should’ve known,” Harry says, his voice rough and low, “that you’d never leave her. What do you expect me to do? Live like a celibate and pine away for you for the rest of my life?”

“No . . .”

“Then what, Draco? What is it that you wanted me to do? Wank myself dry over photographs of you in the paper, walking around with a gentile hand at the base of her spine. Now that’s she pregnant, I’m particularly looking forward to photos of you two bloody beaming your faces off. I wanted a life, Draco. And I wanted it with you.”

Draco’s wand arm is shaking so hard I can’t imagine he’d even have the aim to hit a troll.

“Ginny is kind to me. Her family is kind to me. No one fire calls me at two in the morning and begs me to meet him at such-and-such inn or in some bloody alley somewhere.”

“You’ll never be truly happy with her,” Draco hisses. “Your perfect little life will be just as much of a sham as mine is.”

“You’re wrong . . .”

It happens so fast, I don’t even realise Draco’s pinned Harry against the window until he’s already done it. Harry is clearly just as surprised.

“I don’t think you understand,” Draco says, his voice low and dangerous. “I will not sit back and watch you ‘love’ her. Expelliarmus,” he whispers, and Harry’s wand flies out of his hand. “Oh, now that is particularly sweet. Your own favourite spell used against you.”

Harry laughs ruefully. “If you don’t want to watch me be happy, then there’re only two solutions. Kill yourself or kill me. Whichever it’s going to be, fuck me first.”

If I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes, I would’ve sworn it wasn’t possible, given talk of suicide and homicide, but Draco actually groans and pushes his hips against Harry’s.

“Come on, Malfoy, you heard me. Fuck me. Shove your cock in my arse for a change. Let’s make this last time really count.”

Draco steps back and rips his cloak off without undoing the clasps. I hear the sound of wool tearing. He gives his expensive robe the same treatment, and it drops to the floor, its shimmering blue fabric like a pool at his feet.

Harry clearly wants to hold back his gasp, but he only partially succeeds. Draco stands completely naked before him.

“God,” Harry moans. “Fuck, Draco.” He slips to his knees and kisses the already wet head of Draco’s prick. He’s awarded with a twitch that causes Draco’s whole cock to jump. He kisses it again and gets an even stronger twitch. He sits back on his heels and pulls his t-shirt off.

“Don’t you dare suck me,” Draco snarls. “I want to come in your arse. I want to come so far up inside you that you’ll be able to taste it in the back of your throat.”

Harry responds by leaning forward and sucking the purple head of Draco’s cock into his mouth. Draco steps back quickly.

“I’m not joking,” he growls.

Harry stands and undoes his buckle and opens his jeans.

“Look at you,” Draco says. “Covered in ash. Did you really blow up The Prophet? You are a crazy fucking maniac.” He actually laughs, and a slow grin spreads across Harry’s face.

“Yeah,” he says. “You should’ve seen it.” He kicks off his soot covered jeans and pushes down his pants. Soon he’s just as naked as Draco and just as hard.

“You are so bloody gorgeous,” Draco murmurs. “Come here.”

Their cocks rub together as they devour each other’s mouths. Draco’s not the only one who’s shaking now. Harry moans over and over, and his hands clutch Draco’s arse, spreading him wide open. Draco’s hands are everywhere – scratching at Harry’s back, cupping his face and grabbing his arse.

“I can’t let her have you,” he says fiercely against Harry’s mouth.

“Shut it,” Harry replies and assures Draco won’t say anything further by deepening their kiss.

Their hips are thrusting against each other no doubt involuntarily. Neither of them could stop if he tried. They’re too far gone. Too needy for their own and each other’s orgasms.

“I’m going to go mad if I can’t be inside you,” Draco says, panting. “Get on your knees.”

There must be a powerful rush associated with telling Harry Potter to get on his knees and watching him eagerly comply. He leans forward on his forearms as Draco moves behind him and summons one of my pillows. He lies down and spreads Harry as wide as possible and attacks his arse like a starving man, licking and sucking and groaning. He pulls back only momentarily to catch his breath and tell Harry how perfect he is. Harry lays his cheek against the floor, giving Draco even better access.

“I’ve always wondered how this feels,” he says, panting.

Draco pulls back to reposition his hands. “Good?”

“Better than good. God, I need you to fuck me.”

“Why the sudden switch?”

“Because it’s all I’ve been able to think about. You filling me, taking me, showing me how much you fucking want me. Showing yourself. Do it!”

“Not here, not this way . . . I need to see your face.”

Sometimes life serves up some delicious ironies. The place they finally settle on is my couch – the couch. Harry lies on his back, and Draco grips the back of his thighs, pushing them against his ribs and spreading his legs.

“God, look at you,” Draco groans. “Harry, you should see yourself.”

Indeed, he should. Given his demeanour, I would never – in a million years – have imagined Harry on his back, spread open, being prepared to be fucked. Draco is hovering over him, one hand bracing himself the other holding his cock as he slides it up and down between Harry’s legs.

“Ah! Fuck!” Draco pulls away quickly and rises to his knees again. “I feel like a schoolboy. I’m going to come before I’m even in you.”

“Don’t you dare. Cast a spell if you need to.”

“No, I’ll be okay,” Draco says between fast shallow breaths. He braces himself again, but this time dispenses with the sliding and instead finds Harry’s entrance with the head of his prick. With a heavy agonised groan, he buries himself in one long sure thrust.

“Don’t come yet,” Harry says pleadingly. “I can feel your balls throb. Don’t come yet, Draco.”

They remain still, breathing hard, for several seconds. Draco is clearly trying to stave off his orgasm. Cautiously, he begins to thrust in long fluid movements. I can hear their sex in the brief lulls between breaths. It’s wetter than I would imagine anal sex to sound like; between the lube and precome, it sounds almost as wet as vaginal sex.

Draco pulls out abruptly and grabs his cock, squeezing it mercilessly at the base. The head is so dark and full of blood that it actually looks painful.

“I’ll never want to bottom again after this,” he says, panting, clearly trying to get his arousal under control. “This is amazing.”

“Don’t worry,” Harry growls as he wanks himself. “There will be no ‘after this’.”

Draco responds by driving his cock home once more and rutting like an animal, making the same sounds as an animal might make.

“Yes. There. Will. Be. I’m not letting you go.”

Harry doesn’t respond because suddenly he starts coming. It clearly takes him by surprise, because he yelps and tries to stop himself the way Draco had. But it’s too late. He comes all over his belly.

Draco looks like he loses his mind for a second. His thrusts become savage, moving Harry’s whole body.

“I’ll kill you or myself,” he grinds out. “Maybe both of us. You come for me, Potter. No one else.”

His head drops as his thrusts reach their ultimate strength and speed, and then he comes. It’s obvious from his cries. He almost sounds in pain. He cries out Harry’s name.

There’s little doubt that there’s come and lube all over my couch. Draco falls into Harry’s waiting arms and continues to thrust, as though his body can still wring itself more. They’re kissing frantically when Draco’s softening cock slips out of Harry’s anus.

“Can’t end . . . not yet,” Draco says. “Twenty minutes, Harry, and I’ll fuck you again. Just twenty minutes.”

Harry moans against his mouth and wraps his legs around Draco’s waist, pulling him closer. Their hair is sticking to the sweat on their brows, and their kissing sounds just as wet and desperate as their fucking had.

At last, Harry turns his head to the side.

“There won’t be any twenty minutes,” he says. “Sit up.”

Probably the only reason Draco complies is by a reflexive movement that Harry’s words probably always summon in him. His cock is still half-hard. Perhaps it had starting filling again already.

But Harry squirms out from under him and sits up. He summons his clothes and starts dressing.

“You’re not,” is all Draco says.

“I am,” Harry replies without looking at him. “You’ve had nearly two years to leave her, Draco, and you haven’t. All you’ve managed to do is raise my hopes and then dash them again. If breaking me was what you secretly wanted to do, then you’ve accomplished it. Congratulations.”

His voice is rough and almost vicious sounding. It’s the sound of pure emotional pain. I know. I’ve heard it before in several of my patients. A job like mine brings you face to face with the sheer rawness of human existence.

Draco doesn’t reply. He just shakes his head and keeps on shaking it.

“Harry, I don’t think you understand,” he says with alarming calm. “You marrying her is not an option.”

“And you leaving your pregnant wife doesn’t sound like an option either.”

Harry is fully dressed now. He buttons his jeans.

“Don’t make me do something mad,” Draco’s voice is almost not a voice at all. “You know I can and I will.”

“Bollocks!” Harry shouts at him. “If you were capable of doing something mad you would have left her! There’s no ‘mad’ in you. There’s only cowardice.”

I suddenly can’t bear to watch another second. It’s too much – too raw. Too awful.

 

“Wow, nice digs.”

Andy steps out of my fireplace and looks around. “Probably asking the obvious here, but why did you call me to your house instead of your office?”

I sigh. “Long story. Tea? Coffee?”

“Coffee, milk and sugar.”

I chuckle. “I would never have guessed you’re a milk and sugar kind of bloke.”

“Well, long story or short story, here I am.”

I point to one of my chairs, and he takes a seat.

“This is going to involve the utmost discretion.”

Andy looks momentarily offended. “I always use the utmost discretion. You know that, Nick. Or at least you should.”

“I’m sorry,” I say. “Of course you do. It’s just that the person I need you to follow is not your average person. He’s Harry Potter.”

Andy goggles at me. “You’ve got to be joking.”

I shrug apologetically. “Sorry, but nope.”

“Did you see what he did to The Prophet’s building this morning?”

“I seriously doubt Auror Potter would ever kill someone. He made sure the building was completely empty of people before he blew it up.”

“Hhhmmm, very comforting,” Andy says sarcastically. “So let’s pretend for a moment that I take this job – which I certainly have not indicated – what am I looking for exactly?”

“Anything at all out of the ordinary.”

Andy breaks down laughing. “Care to tell me what ‘ordinary’ even means in Harry Potter’s world?” he asks, wiping his eyes.

I glare at him because all joking aside, the situation really isn’t even remotely funny.

“He . . . he may be in danger,” I say.

“One of The Prophet’s investors is after him? And I’m being completely serious.”

“No,” I say. “I’m sorry, Andy, but I can’t give you anymore than that.”

“I don’t even know where he lives! No one does.”

“Well, you know where he works and you’ve got Aurors that you’re friendly with. Go and hang out at law enforcement and follow him if he leaves.”

“No problem, boss,” he says with mocking confidence. “Right away. I’ll have learned every detail of Harry bloody Potter’s life by tomorrow lunch.”

I give him an exasperated expression. “Please, Andy. I’m actually begging you.”

He must see the depth of my seriousness because he nods. “I’ll do my best,” he says.

 

“Draco!”

I stand up from my desk as he walks through my door and closes it behind him. He’s got his packet of cigarettes out before I can even blink.

“The one and only,” he drawls. He more or less throws himself into his usual chair. I find myself wondering if he’s thinking about making love to Harry here in this very office and then decide that of course he is. How could he not be?

“I’m very glad to see you,” I tell him. “But I’ve got a patient coming in fifteen minutes. Can you come back in an hour and a half? After this patient, I’ve got the rest of the day free.”

Draco turns his head and blows smoke toward the window.

“No need,” he says. “I just wanted to stop by and thank you for giving Harry the note I sent you.”

I turn crimson – or at least it feels that way. “I’m sorry . . .” I stammer. “He has a way . . .”

“Of getting what he wants?”

I release the lungful of breath I’d taken. “Yeah, I suppose you could put it that way. He’s very intimidating.”

Draco laughs humourlessly. “You’re not telling me anything I don’t already know.”

It’s almost like old times when he Transfigures my Buddha into an ashtray.

“I understand if you no longer trust me,” I tell him. “I’ll be more than happy to set you up with one of my colleagues. They’re all very good . . .”

“I’m sure that they are.” Draco’s voice is full of the familiar disdain. “But I’m not here to be psychoanalysed by you or anyone else for that matter. I’ve come to say good bye. And to thank you.”

I swallow. My throat is suddenly dry.

“Draco,” I say as calmly as I can. “Forget what I said about the other patient. I’ll cancel as soon as she arrives . . .”

He puts out his cigarette and stands up. “There’s no need,” he says. “I’ve done what I came to do.”

I stand as well and come out from behind my desk. “Draco,” I say gently, soothingly. “Please don’t go.”

He makes my Buddha a Buddha again.

“I’m afraid I must,” he says blandly. “Good-bye, Healer.”

“Draco!” I shout down the hall as he walks away but before I can say anything further, he’s gone.

 

I’m drunk when my mentor arrives.

“You shouldn’t drink on the job,” she says, but it’s clear her heart isn’t in it. “What’s wrong, Nick?”

“I think I let a suicidal patient walk out of my office this afternoon,” I say. “Wine? Scotch? Beer?”

“None of the above,” she says. “Tell me more. Is this the same client we’ve been discussing? We may still have time to have him committed.”

“I just can’t do that. If you knew who he is, you’d know why.”

“So, you’re just going to sit here and get drunk.”

“Au contraire,” I say. “I don’t have to get drunk. I already am.”

Suddenly there’s pounding on the door. Both Karina and I nearly jump out of our respective chairs.

“Come in!”

Andy enters looking rather grey and very stressed. I’ve never seen him even remotely so upset. I stand up.

“God,” I say. “Please don’t tell me . . .”

“I found out where he lives,” he says breathlessly. “Circe’s pussy, it wasn’t easy. I owe a million favours now. Anyway, I managed to get inside. The place is destroyed. Furniture overturned and broken. The whole show. And there was blood. Fuck you, Nick! Why didn’t you tell me people were going to die?!”

I’m shaking all over and feel suddenly very sober.

“Was there anyone there?”

“Are you fucking joking? I didn’t conduct a search of the premises; I got the hell out as fast as I could!”

“Dear God,” Karina breathed. “This sounds terrible. Who were you tracking?”

“Harry bloody Potter! That’s who!”

Karina turns to me with a stunned expression.

“Is he the patient we’ve been discussing?”

I shake my head. “No, but he’s the other party to my patient’s affair.”

“We need to contact the Aurors this instant! What if your patient killed him?”

I actually – literally – wring my hands.

“I don’t know what to do!”

Karina grabs me and shakes me. “What you need to do is call the Aurors. Now.”

Shaking, I summon my owl and scribble a note. “As fast as you can,” I say, and it flies off.

“How are you going to explain that you know about this?” Andy hisses. “I broke in, don’t you remember? I’m going to be the first suspect!”

My throat is so dry that I can’t swallow. “I’m so sorry,” is the only thing I can say, and I say it again, over and over. “I’m so sorry. I fucked everything up.”

Karina nods. “Sadly, I think you’re right.”

 

Andy glares at me and shakes off my hand when I reach out to touch his shoulder. I don’t blame him. If I’d spent the night in jail because my employer basically screwed me, I’d be pissed off too.

“There’s a letter,” I say. My voice cracks. “You’re no longer a suspect.”

“Good fucking thing,” he growls. “Who’s the bloody letter from?”

I’m worried that I may start crying right there in front of the Aurors. “Can we go to my office?”

Andy shrugs. “Fine,” he says. “But I’m not taking any more assignments from you. Ever.”

I nod resignedly. I don’t blame him.

After all the madness of the night before with all its endless questioning and interrogation, my office feels as quiet and safe as a monastery. I’m grateful. I sit down at my desk and drop my face into my hands.

I don’t look up as I start to speak.

“There was a note. On the bed where clearly one of them had died. There was blood everywhere.” I shudder. I know because I’d gone to see it and fainted dead away. “The note was in Draco’s handwriting. It said that he’d killed Harry.”

I break down in tears, and Andy summons my bottle of scotch and two glasses. He fills them both generously.

“And Malfoy? What happened to him?”

I gulp down the scotch and take a deep breath. “Nobody knows.”

“Do you think he killed himself?”

I’m quiet, thinking about everything. Every session Draco and I had ever had, every time I saw him with Harry. There’s no way he’d going on living in a world that no longer contained Harry. I know this as well as I know my own name.

“Yeah,” I rasp out.

Andy raises his glass. “Well then, here’s to his soul. May it burn in hell where it belongs along with the rest of the Malfoys. He met a better fate than he deserves. Murdering Harry Potter, for God’s sake!”

“The blood. It was everywhere. Harry must have fought back hard.”

The note had been barely legible, but it was clearly Draco’s handwriting. It was as soaked with blood as everything else was. Had he been making love to Harry? Had he killed him at the moment of Harry’s orgasm? I shudder so hard the Scotch sloshes from my glass onto my patients’ notebook.

“I failed him,” I say, more to myself than to Andy. “I failed both of them. Karina said I should’ve had Draco committed. I didn’t listen. I didn’t fucking listen!”

“You can’t beat yourself up,” Andy says, filling his glass again. “He was the one who held the wand, not you. You haven’t killed anyone.”

I lift my head and throw back my shot.

“I’m going to need to take a leave of absence,” I say. “I can’t just go on practising like nothing’s happened. This has been . . . This has shaken me too much. I need to be away. I need to be with my family. You don’t understand: It’s a Mind Healer’s nightmare to have a patient kill themselves. And, well, I can attest to the fact that it’s even worse to have your patient murder someone before killing themselves because I have no doubt that’s what Draco has done.”

Andy fills our glasses. “Here’s to Harry Potter,” he says. “May his soul find peace. He bloody well deserves it after what fate put him through.”

I raise my glass and drink it in one swallow.

 

Months pass. Some days feel longer than others, but being home means I’ve always got something to distract me. The kids are overjoyed to have both me and Eileen to themselves all day everyday, and I’m able to complete some jobs around the house I’d been putting off for ages.

One day I’ll be ready to return to my practise, but I’m not ready yet. After awhile though, I start to go back to my office – sometimes for an hour or two and sometimes only for a few minutes. I walk around touching my things, running my hand along the spines of my books. I decide it’s time for a new couch; the current one will always remind me of Harry and Draco, no many how many months and years go by.

It’s a Friday evening, and I’m in my office. It’s the time slot that had belonged to Draco. I’m almost ready to leave when I hear an owl scratching at my window. I stand slowly, wondering who would think to contact me here. All my colleagues and patients know I’m on leave. I reach the window when I see it.

Draco’s little owl.

It’s holding something in its beak, which is clearly a little too heavy for it. I hold out my hand and it immediately gives it to me with a look of relief – at least that’s how I interpret it. My heart starts pounding. I’m not sure I’m ready yet to really think about what happened. Perhaps I’ll never be ready. I almost throw the note in my bin, but then I take a deep breath:

Dear Healer Nichols,

I hope this letter finds you well. It must be late summer where you are. Where we are it’s a new budding spring. The blood was not Harry’s. Or mine. Or any other person’s. I won’t go into details. All you need to know is that it was a ruse; he’s alive and well, and so am I. So, this is the fairytale ending. It’s far from perfect – Harry broke an engagement and I have a son who I’ll never know. It’s not perfect, but it’s worth it. Which, I hope, tells you something about us. Being apart was never an option.

Well, the sun is setting and Harry just returned from the village with food for our dinner. I can smell the fresh herbs from where I am on the other side of the room. He tells you in his typical eloquent fashion “hello and good-bye,” and so do I. Put your mind at rest, Mind Healer. I don’t need to ask you not to tell anyone you’ve heard from us. I trust you. I always have.

Yours forever in health and happiness,

Draco

P.S. Make sure to give little Cupid a treat. He’s probably quite put out. Make sure it’s not chicken (being a bird and all), but he does enjoy fish. Especially salmon, and smoked if you have it. He’s a choosey little bastard.