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The Beauty of Thestrals and Other Unseen Things

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“At last you'll know with surpassing certainty that only one thing
is more frightening than speaking your truth.
And that is not speaking.”

Audre Lorde

There are few things more likely to ruin Harry’s nice cup of tea and half-eaten chocolate biscuit than a picture of Draco Malfoy being hauled off to Azkaban.

Malfoy’s sharp, pale face stares up at Harry from the front page of the paper. Despite the fury behind his eyes he has an air of smugness about him, his thin lips twisted in an insolent, defiant smile. A hot flush of anger pulses through Harry, and he flings the copy of the Prophet across his desk so he doesn’t have to look at it anymore. The whole sorry debacle is so enraging, Harry wants to burn the fucking thing. Bloody Malfoy. Harry worked hard to keep him out of prison after the war. He spent long, sweltering days with the Wizengamot, testifying on behalf of the entire Malfoy family. He can’t believe that Draco couldn’t manage to keep his nose clean after everything they all went through.

“Is it so hard to fuck indoors, like normal people?” Harry sits back, closing his eyes as he tries to steady his breathing. This shouldn’t be happening.

Harry’s anger quells, replaced with something altogether less comfortable. His stomach squirms as it always does when this topic of conversation comes up in official briefings. Wizards and wizards. Two men, together. It just isn’t Harry’s battle. He threw his name behind Kingsley’s bills on Ministry reform and purging Azkaban of Dementors once and for all. He led the team that stopped trading in artefacts formerly owned by Death Eaters. As he rose through the ranks of the DMLE, he started a new programme for trainee Aurors, specialising in Defence. Before Kingsley stepped down to a Wizengamot role and Robards became Minister a couple of years ago, Harry was heavily involved in putting an end to Ministry corruption. It’s not like he’s been sitting on his arse, colour-coding files and sending Howlers to people. He’s been out there, fighting. He has an Order of Merlin, First Class. He’s done good things. Great things.

He’s not done a fat lot for decriminalising homosexuality, admittedly. As much as he might bristle at any suggestion he hasn’t done enough, an uneasy weight settles heavy in Harry’s belly, an unwelcome guilt crawling through him. He can’t fight every battle, but he knows he left this issue to other people, because it suited him not to think about it too closely. He made excuses for most of the debates, signed where he needed to, made some vague noises about supporting the draft legislation when pushed to do so and, whenever he had a vote, he voted on Hermione’s recommendations.

He takes his glasses off, rubbing his eyes. The revelation that Draco Malfoy is one of the people Harry’s been avoiding thinking about has left him unsettled, and more than a little angry about the way his own team are clearly not observing the strides made by Hermione and others. With a sigh he casts the spell Hermione devised so they could contact one another easily at work. As he waits for her to arrive, he glances at the paper again, the text blurry without his glasses, and the memory of Malfoy’s mutinous expression sending another wave of guilt crashing over him. He should have been there on the night of the arrest. He never would have allowed someone to be arrested for an intimate moment in a Muggle area the general public never frequent at night.

Wouldn’t you? The words whisper and twist in his head, slithering like Parseltongue. You allow it every time you send Pritchard and the other Junior Aurors off to investigate illegal activity knowing full well the first place they’ll go is the cruising spots like Clapham Common or Hampstead Heath. You allow it, because you don’t want to think about it. You’re so terrified of seeing what two wizards get up to, you turn a blind eye.

Harry shakes the niggling thoughts away and scowls when Hermione opens the door to his office, closing it behind her with a sharp flick of his wand and a huff of aggravation.

“The law has changed. It changed over a year ago. Why the fuck are people still being arrested?”

Hermione winces, her expression harried. “You heard about the arrest?”

“It’s all over the blasted Prophet, of course I bloody heard,” Harry growls.

“Now you care?” Hermione’s lips tighten, her eyes flashing as she approaches Harry’s desk. “I’ve been trying to tell you how unfair this new legislation is for months, and this is what makes you pay attention at last?”

Harry swallows, his initial irritation replaced with confusion. “I thought you wanted the new legislation. I voted for it, on your recommendation.”

“Because there wasn’t a better alternative. Anything more progressive would have been impossible.” Hermione takes a seat and glares at Harry. “If you had listened—”

“Clearly I didn’t!” Harry steadies himself, clutching his hands together and hoping Hermione doesn’t notice them shaking. He lowers his voice, contrite. “I don’t know why I’m so angry. I shouldn’t shout at you.”

“No,” Hermione says tightly. “You shouldn’t.”

“I’m sorry.” Harry sighs, picking up a paperweight and turning it over in his hands. “I don’t like to get bogged down in legalese, you know that.”

“I know.” Hermione rolls her eyes. “If you’re supposed to be enforcing the law, don’t you think you should make an effort to understand it? Ron’s just as bad. I don’t think he’s read a piece of legislation properly since he took his exams. You’d think the Co-Head Aurors would at least read their own laws.” She tuts under her breath and mutters something that sounds suspiciously like men. “As you would know, if you listened in the first place—”

“—I get it.” Harry holds up his hand. He hates the guilty sensation that makes his chest tight and he doesn’t want any more pointed recriminations, even if he deserves them. “I’m listening now.”

“About time,” Hermione mutters. With a sigh, she shakes herself, all business again in her element as the dedicated Ministry lawyer she’s become over the years. “The legislation that passed last year was based on the Muggle Sexual Offences Act 1967, with few amendments. We’re decades past that, Harry. Decades. It’s 2013, the Muggles have overhauled that act completely, and repealed the worst parts nearly ten years ago. If you hadn’t been so busy charging off and waving your wand around—”

“—Looks like I’m not the only one doing that,” Harry replies, with a glance at the overturned copy of the Prophet.

“Harry.” Hermione’s tone is clipped. “Are you ever going to take this seriously?”

“Yes.” Harry gives Hermione a sheepish smile. “I’m sorry. Carry on.”

“I advocated for using the more recent Muggle legislation as a template and worked with lobby groups to create a fuss, but it wasn’t enough. It was a step too far for the majority of voters.”

Harry’s not stupid, he can read legislation. He just gets bored trying to work out the cross-references and the heavy, dry, language that takes him hours to digest. He likes to do things, not sit around reading boring statutes and arranging his filing cabinet. Anything that involves sitting at a desk too long leaves his skin itching, an unpleasant thrum of restlessness creeping through him.

“I don’t understand.” Harry tries to gather his scattered thoughts. “Even if we’re behind the times, isn’t the point that it’s not illegal anymore? Two wizards can—” Harry stops, not trusting himself to fill in the blanks. His stomach churns, his throat dry.

“In private, if both are over the age of twenty-one. Witches and wizards are considered old enough to consent to sex at sixteen. They can marry one another. There are no restrictions on public displays of affection between them, and even a public misdemeanour would rarely result in an Azkaban sentence. Surely you see how ridiculously unbalanced this is?”

“I’m starting to.” Harry grimaces. “Malfoy’s well over twenty-one. We all are.”

“Yes, but he wasn’t in private.” Hermione shakes her head. “Which makes him even worse off than before, because the new legislation increased the prison sentence for acts of gross indecency between two men. Honestly Harry, I’m convinced the Aurors are cracking down even harder on gay wizards since the new laws were passed. Last week alone Roger Davies was arrested for soliciting, and Dennis Creevey was thrown into Azkaban overnight for kissing another wizard in public.”

Harry stares at Hermione. “You can’t send people to Azkaban for kissing.”

“I’m not sending people to Azkaban for kissing,” Hermione replies, tartly. “You are.”

“I’m not sending anyone to prison.” Harry glares at Hermione. “You know I wouldn’t do that.”

“Maybe you’re not putting the cuffs on their wrists, but you and Ron are Head Aurors. With Ron in America, the London team are your responsibility.” Hermione studies Harry with a disappointed frown. “Of course Draco attracts more of a fuss and a lengthier sentence because of his past.”

“I can’t be with my team all the time,” Harry points out. “They have jobs to do. Laws to enforce.”

“I’m not suggesting you be there at all.” Hermione purses her lips. “But you can brief them, set some boundaries. Get your Aurors in line. I know this isn’t something you want to get involved with, for reasons I’m not sure I understand.” She trails off, her voice laced with disappointment. “I never thought for one minute you of all people would believe that there’s anything wrong with—”

“I don’t.” Harry knows he sounds hollow and unconvincing, but it’s not that. It isn’t that. He’s not a bigot. He just hates the way the conversation makes the itch under his skin intensify, hates the hot discomfort that rolls within him when he thinks about two men together. Hermione would get it if she were a wizard too, he’s sure of it. Harry makes sure his voice is firm, authoritative, steady. “I’ve got nothing against two wizards—or witches—being together. Live and let live.”

“If you say so.” Hermione doesn’t sound convinced and the hot flush of shame returns, pricking at Harry’s skin.

“I do.” Harry shifts uncomfortably in his chair and concentrates on Hermione.

“I can’t do this alone,” Hermione continues. “Ron’s still in America, Kingsley’s getting ready for retirement, two of my team are on maternity leave and Bradley Dorkins is the worst hire anybody has ever made. Not to mention the amount of people that dodge the issue entirely, Minister Robards included. I have more than enough on my desk. This is just one piece of legislation that impacts one group of people. There are countless others. I’ll tell you about those too, when one of our other peers gets arrested.”

“There’s no need to be sarcastic,” Harry mutters. “You’ve got my attention. I’ll do better.”

“Good.” Hermione stands, adjusting her robes. “I’ll do what I can, but I can’t be expected to manage every aspect of social reform on my own.”

Harry looks at his friend, his chest clenching. Hermione does look more frazzled than usual, a quill stuck in her hair and her fingers stained with ink. He knows how late she works, how tirelessly she gives the Ministry so much of her time. Ron’s been away for three months working with the Magical Congress on dangerous potions infiltrating American cities, an area he specialised in after the war, eradicating many of the illegal brewing activities in England. Harry doesn’t have the foggiest how Hermione manages to work round the clock and raise Hugo and Rosie single-handedly too. Harry decided a Crup was too much like hard work last week. He resolves to do whatever she asks.

“Of course not,” Harry agrees. “What can I do?”

Hermione picks up the Prophet and throws it across the desk in Harry’s direction.

“You can get Draco Malfoy out of prison,” she replies. “That will do for a start. They’re talking about five years. I don’t want him to spend more than five weeks in that place. Find a loophole, throw your weight around, do whatever it takes.”

Ever since Hermione worked with Astoria Greengrass on identifying some of the more arcane aspects of legislation implemented by the old pure-blood families, she’s been convinced that Draco Malfoy is a completely reformed character. Harry stares at the paper as Draco smirks at him from the picture, his chin tilted in silent challenge.

Harry pulls a face. “I’m sure he’ll be thrilled to see me.”

“Harry,” Hermione warns. She’s already poised to leave as if she’s spent more than enough time on this matter for one day.

Fine.” Harry sends the paper to the fire with a flick of his wand. “I’ll see what I can do.”

*

“Well, well.” Draco gives Harry a tight smile as he watches him carefully from across the small table. He looks as pale and sharp as ever, his body stiff like a tightly coiled spring. His lips curl into a sneer. “To what do I owe this pleasure?”

“I’m here to get you out of Azkaban.” Harry glares at Draco. “Again.”

Draco huffs. “Don’t do me any favours, Potter.”

“Whether or not you believe it, I want to help.” Harry puts Draco’s papers down with more force than necessary, opening the file. “Although I suppose your parents have already thrown around oodles of money trying to get you out of here.”

“Your naivety is almost charming.” Draco laughs without humour. “My parents and I are estranged, Potter. Not that it matters. I have plenty of money of my own.”

“I’m sure you do. I hear Gringotts has made you a fortune.” Harry masks his surprise at the information that Draco isn’t on speaking terms with his parents. As far as he was aware, Draco has been living the good life at the Manor since the end of the war. Lucius and Narcissa haven’t been on British soil in years, but Harry always assumed Draco maintained a good relationship with them.

“I think you’ll find I’ve made my own fortune, and Gringotts has benefited substantially from my expertise,” Draco snaps.

Harry rolls his eyes. “I’m not here to talk about interest rates or whatever the fuck it is you do. Are you going to let me help, or aren’t you?”

“I suppose I have precious little choice in the matter,” Draco replies.

“You’re welcome.” Harry glares at Draco. He’s so bloody infuriating, the ungrateful arsehole.

“I’m sorry did you expect me to thank you?” Draco laughs and mutters unbelievable under his breath. “You do know it was your team Head Auror Potter that arrested me? Perhaps that fact escaped your notice when you came here demanding gratitude.”

“I’m fully aware of the circumstances of your arrest,” Harry replies, tightly. “My team arrested you because you broke the law—”

“I did, didn’t I?” Draco leans forward, his eyes glinting. “It felt rather good.”

“Shut up.” Harry tries to fight back the heat rising in his cheeks. “You’re not helping anything. I’m not interested in hearing about that.”

“But you are interested,” Draco replies. “The Ministry takes a personal interest in all kinds of private matters. Don’t you think it’s ironic that of all the opinions I’ve espoused, the Ministry finally manages to throw me in prison for having another man’s prick in my mouth?”

An unexpected bolt of heat passes through Harry’s veins and he thumbs more vigorously through Draco’s papers, refusing to meet his gaze. The discomfort of being confronted with this topic of conversation resurfaces with force.

“I said I don’t want to hear about your sex life.” Harry shoves the papers towards Draco, sitting back in his seat and hoping he looks less flustered than he is. “You’ve got about ten million rooms in the Manor, Malfoy. Was it too simple to just fuck someone in one of those? Not risqué enough, I bet.”

“Sod off, you don’t know a damn thing about it.” Draco rifles through the papers, his forehead etched in a frown. “Don’t try to compare my life to what you have with that pretty Weasley of yours. You couldn’t begin to understand what it’s like to try to meet someone when the law forces you to live in the shadows.”

“Try me.” Harry studies Draco, the hot curl of anger mercifully fading a little. “I’m here to help. Honestly.”

“I don’t see how you’re going to be any use to me at all.” Draco gives Harry a suspicious look. “We’re not sharing tea and biscuits and talking about how difficult it is to be a queer in the world you’ve created with that oafish army of yours, if that’s what you expect.”

“I expect nothing of the sort.” Harry keeps his voice level, despite the fury gathering inside him. Draco Malfoy is the most annoying, pompous prat Harry has ever met. “How did Voldemort feel about two wizards fucking? Just out of curiosity.”

Draco’s jaw works. “Shut up, Potter. That’s completely different.”

“Is it?” Harry raises his eyebrows. “Hermione’s been burning herself into the ground lobbying for social reform—she’s the main reason homosexuality isn’t illegal anymore. Didn’t you used to call her names because her parents are Muggles? You probably think your precious Dark Lord would approve of your lifestyle. Perhaps you hoped he would have a personal interest in the matter. Handsome bloke, Tom Riddle…”

“Don’t be disgusting,” Draco mutters.

“I reckon you’d be in Azkaban, or worse,” Harry continues, ignoring Draco. “I’d love to know what Umbridge thinks about it. She’s here too, isn’t she? We should ask her.”

“Fuck you,” Draco snarls.

“No thanks.” Harry gains momentum. “There’d be Dementors in Azkaban. They’d still be using Crucio as punishment. I can’t imagine being gay is all that popular with Voldemort’s lot, if your own parents can’t get their heads around it. Don’t talk to me about my army. Things would be a lot worse if you’d had your way.”

“It wasn’t my way, not in the end. I didn’t want him to win,” Draco hisses. He glances around as if he’s worried someone will overhear him, and Harry resists the urge to roll his eyes. In Azkaban with Death Eater sympathisers, Malfoy’s probably playing the political game and pretending he’s been arrested for trying to resurrect Voldemort or something. Typical.

“Worried one of your pals is going to overhear you?” Harry leans forward, nudging the papers towards Draco. “Just bloody well look at these, will you? Stop being a twat. I’m not your enemy.”

“I knew you didn’t believe it,” Draco mutters. He flicks through the papers, pink spots blooming in his cheeks. “You told the Wizengamot all about how young and foolish I was, but it was all lies, wasn’t it? You can’t imagine someone like me could be capable of change.”

Harry grits his teeth. Even if Draco is playing a political game in Azkaban for self-preservation, Harry’s certain any regime spearheaded by one of Voldemort’s followers would be just as dangerous for Draco as it would for Harry, after the latest round of publicity and scathing remarks about the ‘morally repugnant’ lifestyle of the sole Malfoy heir.

Self-preservation aside, Harry’s been privy to murmurings about Draco over the years. He knows all about the unexpected friendship Draco struck up with Astoria Greengrass after the war. She publicly denounced her family’s views, something that created a real stink due to the Greengrass name and its long associations with pure-blood supremacy. By all accounts Draco and Astoria were thick as thieves and their close friendship was taken by many as a sign of Draco’s changing loyalties. Harry can’t imagine the grief Draco suffered after Astoria’s untimely death two years ago. Despite his wealth, his pompous attitude and his clear distrust in the Ministry, if the rumours are to be believed, Draco Malfoy has become a good man.

“I know you’ve changed,” Harry says at last. “I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t believe it, so stop being such a self-righteous arse and let me help you. You don’t have to tell me the legislation’s shit, Hermione’s already gone through all its flaws. Several times.”

“The legislation you enforce,” Draco points out.

Harry snorts. “I get it, Malfoy, and I’m sympathetic. But don’t try to pretend you’re better than me just because you give blowjobs to strangers in public parks.”

“I hate you.” Draco shoves his papers back towards Harry. His eyes are stormy, his lips downturned in a grimace. “You’re so fucking sanctimonious I’d almost prefer to stay here.”

Harry grins, the tension between them dissipating as Draco slumps back in his chair with an irritated cluck of his tongue. “Almost.”

“When I get out, I’m going to send Howlers to you every day, you cretin.” Draco scowls at Harry. “I hope you have a decent plan.”

“Not yet.” Harry shrugs. “We’ll work it out together.”

Draco lets out an ugh of disgust, but he stays where he is.

It’s not exactly a truce, but it will do for now.

*

“Hello mate.” Ron engulfs Harry in a warm hug, laughing and clapping him on the back. When he pulls back his cheeks are flushed, his eyes shining with happiness. “How’s old Blighty been treating you?”

“Good.” Harry grins, taking in Ron’s appearance. “You look very—”

“American?” Ron glances across the room, his expression turning fond. “’Mione said the same thing. It’s so I blend in.”

“Harvard?” Harry raises an eyebrow, laughing at Ron’s burgundy jumper with HARVARD written across the top in light grey lettering.

“If I can be anyone I want, might as well have gone to a fancy Muggle university. Besides, I like the colours. Quite Gryffindor, really. Just needs a splash of gold.” Ron beams. “It’s good to be back.”

“It’s good to have you back. I wish you were in London for good, I miss my best mate and Co-Head Auror at the Ministry.”

Harry glances at Rosie and Hugo chattering excitedly, clearly thrilled to have their dad back. Hermione looks happier than she has in weeks, her smile broad as she chats to Molly. The sight of them makes Harry’s heart clench, and not for the first time he feels left behind. People are moving on without him, his friends are building families of their own. Harry’s stuck arguing with Malfoy in Azkaban and suffering a crisis of confidence at the Ministry. Not to mention his girlfriend seems less eager to spend time with Harry by the day.

The weird thing is, Harry isn’t even jealous of the lives his friends have. He doesn’t look at Ron and Hermione’s happy family unit and think I want that. He used to crave it desperately, but somewhere along the way things shifted around and now the idea makes him want to go flying over crashing waves, diving headfirst into the oncoming rain, until the wind pulls all the breath from his aching lungs. He’s been with Ginny since the war and he can’t imagine a life without her, but over the years their lives have become increasingly separate: Ginny living in Wales, focusing on her career with the Harpies with determined enthusiasm, Harry throwing himself into his work at the Ministry. Spending every weekend together soon dwindled into seeing one another once a month or less, filling the gaps with rushed Fire-Calls.

It’s all so out of sync, so wonky. Harry doesn’t really know himself yet and everything has a restless, agitated quality, like he’s overturning boxes and emptying cupboards just to find something that’s always out of reach. As much as he loves being around the Weasleys, he can’t picture himself with the family set-up so many of them have. From the few awkward conversations he’s had with Ginny about taking the next step in their relationship, she seems equally unenthused. We’re so young, she said when the dreaded marriage conversation came up in their twenties. She still says the same now Harry’s in his thirties and the relief when Ginny makes it clear she doesn’t want that sort of commitment niggles at him. It’s not normal, his brain whispers. You’re not normal. It’s as though time’s moving differently for Harry than it does for other people and he’s like a clock that refuses to move forward. On some days he wonders if he’s still stuck in his seventeen-year-old shoes, trying to work out what the hell happens next as people grow old around him.

Harry shakes his strange mood away and focuses on Ron. “How long are you home for?”

“A month, then I’m back in Boston for a few days before I go to New York for a while. We’re going to the Costa Del Sol for a week to get some sunshine. Hermione needs a break. She’s been flat out.”

“She’s doing the work of a full team single-handedly,” Harry agrees. “I had to ask her if she was using a Time-Turner again. It’ll be good to have a break.”

Ron opens two bottles of beer, handing Harry one. They walk away from the noise of the gathered Weasleys crammed into the small space of Shell Cottage to find a quiet spot to sit outside. “I hear you’ve been helping Malfoy.”

“Yeah.” Harry glances at Ron, guilt making his cheeks hot. After a month of visiting Azkaban, Harry’s starting to look forward to his trips to see Draco, not that he’d ever admit it. At least it’s more interesting than shuffling papers. Flying out to the prison gives Harry the freedom to swoop close to the salty seas and spin through the sky unburdened. It’s miles better than carefully negotiating London’s busy skies and getting into a boring conversation with Robards when he’s trying to make a coffee. “Do you care?”

“’Course not. I’m happy with anything that gives Hermione a break.” Ron tips his head back into the wintery sun, closing his eyes. “Not exactly normal doing that sort of thing with other wizards, but I don’t think a bloke should be put in prison for it.”

Harry’s stomach twists and he glances at Ron, his voice thick. “You don’t reckon it’s normal?”

“Dunno.” Ron shrugs. “It’s not my normal, that’s for sure. I don’t tend to think about it much. Hermione gave me a right rollicking when I called Malfoy a poof. I tried to tell her it’s not because he’s gay, it’s because he’s a pillock. It’s just a word, isn’t it? She wasn’t having any of it.”

Harry clears his throat, a flush of heat creeping up his neck and into his cheeks. Not my normal. He swallows back his sudden nausea with a gulp of beer.

“I think Malfoy’s changed. I’d say it’s been difficult for him, since the war.”

“Some would argue he deserves it,” Ron murmurs. He opens his eyes and looks at Harry. “Still, I reckon you’re doing the right thing. Bet my arse he doesn’t appreciate it, though.”

“No.” Harry laughs under his breath. “He doesn’t appreciate it one bit.”

“I thought Gin might show up today.” Ron gives Harry a careful look. “Not having any problems are you, mate?”

“None at all,” Harry replies. He takes another long gulp of his beer, chasing away thoughts of Draco, Ginny and the peculiar itch settling beneath his skin that seems to be getting worse by the day. “None at all.”

*

“It’s been nearly five weeks. You said I’d be out by now.” Draco looks paler than usual, if such a thing is possible. He scowls at Harry, tugging at the collar of his prison uniform. “I think my bed has fleas.”

“It does not.” Harry rolls his eyes. “Azkaban has been completely refurbished and there are strict regulations in place to protect the prisoners.”

“You sound like a manual for the benefits of the prison system,” Draco snaps. “I don’t care how many coats of paint you use, you can’t just wash the horror off a place like this. It’s in the walls. In every brick, every cell. You should hear some of them at night. Come back when it’s dark, Potter. See how clean and clinical this hellhole is then.”

Harry sits back with a frown, contemplating Draco. He has dark shadows under his eyes, and he looks jumpy and on-edge. “Has something happened?”

“I’m in Azkaban.” Draco huffs and folds his arms over his chest. “Isn’t that enough?”

“We think there’s a loophole.” Harry changes the topic, pleased to be bringing good news at last. He hands Draco the notes he and Hermione put together and watches as he reads them carefully. “The Aurors shouldn’t be policing Muggle parks, the cruising spots, the Muggle gay bars. It’s not their jurisdiction, unless there’s magic involved. That’s for the Muggle police to deal with and if you get in any trouble with them, I can’t help you.”

“I’m not going to get in trouble with the Muggle police though, am I? Not these days.” Draco looks up from the papers. “It’s only our world that’s completely backwards.”

“Pretty sure the Muggles don’t like you getting your cock out in public either,” Harry points out.

“You’re so fucking sanctimonious.” Draco scowls at Harry before returning to the papers. “You know that’s not what I’m referring to.”

“I know. We’re working on it.” By we Harry means Hermione and her team, but Draco doesn’t have to know that. “I’ve briefed the Aurors about the grounds they can police and told them unless the activity is magical—which this isn’t—”

“Oh, I don’t know about that,” Draco murmurs. His lips curve into an insolent smile.

“Which it isn’t,” Harry repeats. Heat rises in his cheeks and he fights it back. “Our laws on this particular issue can only be enforced in magical spaces. Diagon, Hogsmeade, Hogwarts and so on. There’s something of a grey area around places that are predominantly magical with some Muggle inhabitants, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”

“They’ll be crawling all over the bars in Knockturn.” Draco narrows his eyes at Harry. “Do you even know we have those?”

“Of course I do,” Harry lies. He didn’t have a clue there were any gay bars in wizarding spaces, but then he doesn’t have much cause to go to Knockturn nowadays. It’s a security risk, and his face is so familiar it puts people on high alert. The lesser known Aurors and Unspeakables that can monitor the area inconspicuously are responsible for policing illegal activities there. “I’m afraid I can’t change that. You’ll have to exercise caution if you go anywhere the Aurors have jurisdiction.”

“I’ll try to get the word out.” Draco’s expression is pinched, and he pushes the papers back towards Harry. “I suppose at the very least this gives us a way to overturn my conviction.”

Harry nods. “We’re saying there was no authority to arrest you because you were in a Muggle park. The conviction should be completely quashed, and you’ll be released as soon as the papers are processed.”

“Thank fuck for that.” Draco drums his long, pale fingers on the table, clearly agitated. “Let’s hope this works.”

An unfamiliar ball of protectiveness swells in Harry’s chest, and he wonders what the Ministry would do if he swept Draco away on his broom and took him to safety. He shakes himself. Draco isn’t a damsel in distress and Harry is here to help him get out legally, not to make them both fugitives. Besides, knowing Malfoy, he’d probably push Harry off the broom and fly away to one of his gay bars.

“Fingers crossed.” Harry checks the time on the large prison clock. They’ve covered a lot of ground, and quickly. They usually spend visiting time dealing with the case, but this week there’s time left to talk about other things. You could just leave, his brain niggles. He ignores it, searching for a nice, neutral question that doesn’t involve Malfoy’s stupid sex life. “Do you have any other visitors?”

“Thankfully, yes. I’d go mad in here if it was just me, the actual criminals and your ugly mug.”

“I’m sure you would.” Harry grins at Draco. “I don’t know who you’re friendly with now. Still Parkinson, Zabini and that lot?”

“Not quite. I lost touch with a lot of people from Hogwarts.” Draco frowns, picking at the table and not looking at Harry. “It’s not easy living two lives and managing both successfully. Most of my straight friends got sick of me disappearing at weekends. I think a couple of them had their suspicions. I didn’t miss them much, when Astoria was around. Afterwards…” Draco trails off.

“I was sorry to hear about that,” Harry says, quietly. “Ginny’s close to Daphne and I know she’s had a rough time. Hermione worked with Astoria and always spoke very highly of her.”

“Of course she did, Astoria was an angel.” Draco sighs. He leans back in his chair and meets Harry’s gaze again. “After she died, I started to rebuild bridges with one or two people. Greg, mostly. A few others.” He contemplates Harry, his jaw working.

“Not so many of the old crowd, then?” Harry watches Draco curiously, as he shakes his head.

“No. It’s a funny thing, splitting yourself in two. The people who know the lie, the people who know the truth, the people who know something in between. I’ve always been drawn towards people who are the same as me. You learn to develop an inkling, a sixth sense. Survival instinct, I suppose. Like the Aurors learn to sniff out a Dark wizard.”

“It’s not really the same.” Harry’s voice takes on an unexpected roughness. The thought of Draco’s sixth sense makes his stomach roll.

“Whatever.” Draco waves a hand. “I’m closer with Dennis Creevey and Roger Davies now than Pansy, Blaise and Theodore. Daphne and I write to one another when we can, but she’s busy travelling the world. I have other friends of course, but it’s probably wise not to give away their secrets. Our mutual acquaintances probably wouldn’t thank me for sharing their names and inclinations with the Head Auror.”

Harry frowns as he recalls Hermione’s remark about Roger and Dennis being arrested too, pushing aside the guilt gnawing at him. He remembers Roger Davies swooping around the Quidditch pitch, laughing and dancing with Fleur at the Yule Ball, Colin Creevey with his camera and Dennis clutching onto his small, lifeless body in the Great Hall. They’re good people. Good men. They don’t deserve this bollocks. Harry really needs to speak to his team. There must be some way to stop the way they’re aggressively policing people like Draco, Dennis and Roger who just want to go about their lives. There must be.

“I’m glad there are other people around you,” Harry says at last.

“There are,” Draco replies. His eyes rake over Harry’s body with such hunger, the path they trace seems as intimate as fingers stroking against Harry’s skin. It sends heat into Harry’s cheeks and he rubs his jaw, clearing his throat and hoping he doesn’t look half as flustered as he feels. “Then there’s you,” Draco murmurs.

“I’m here on official business,” Harry reminds Draco. The words seem snooty and out-of-character, the tongue-tied sensation he sometimes gets around Draco returning with force. Harry glances at the clock, relieved to see the minute hand creeping towards the hour. “Time’s up.”

“Story of my life. I’m always out of time.” Draco gives Harry a strange smile. He extends a long, pale hand in Harry’s direction. “Until the next visit.”

“Yeah.” Harry takes Draco’s hand in his own, the touch of his fingers sending an unexpected thrill down Harry’s spine. He yanks his hand away as Draco readjusts his prison top to cover his bony wrist. “See you then.”

“Potter?” Draco’s amused voice makes Harry turn back towards him before he leaves. “I’ve always been drawn to you too,” Draco says. “Isn’t that peculiar?”

Without another word, Draco returns to his cell. Harry stares after him, his heart beating like drums.

*

Harry doesn’t manage to deliver Hermione’s five-week plan, largely because the department responsible for administering Draco’s release seem eager to drag their heels deliberately. It’s two months, three weeks and four days before Draco Malfoy is released from Azkaban and firm guidelines are put in place restricting any further Auror policing of Muggle cruising sites or gay bars in the absence of magical activity.

“Finally.” Hermione collapses on the sofa in Harry’s office with a sigh of relief. “I thought we’d never get there.”

“We did in the end.” Harry sits on the armchair facing Hermione. “I’m almost going to miss the flight out to Azkaban. It’s loads better than flying in London.”

“I’m sure there’ll be other people you can help, I wouldn’t worry.” Hermione stretches her legs out. “I just hope Malfoy manages to keep himself out of trouble for a while.”

“Me too,” Harry says, sincerely. “I don’t think he’ll be in any rush to go back to Azkaban, that’s for sure.”

“I imagine not, but people have needs. It can’t be easy, always being on your guard when it comes to something as simple as holding hands in the street.”

“No.” Harry’s chest tightens, and he changes the topic of conversation quickly. “You had a nice holiday?”

“It was wonderful. Too short, of course. But wonderful. Have you been up to anything exciting?”

“Not a lot. My social life’s been rubbish since I took on Malfoy’s case. At least I’ll be able to go out and have a few beers now I’m not traipsing over to Azkaban to be insulted.”

Hermione laughs. “It would be good for you to go out and let your hair down. I can’t remember the last time you had a proper night out. Didn’t you always do that pub quiz at the Leaky with Lee and George?”

“I stopped going when work got busy.” Harry shrugs. “I’ll Fire-Call George, see if he’s up for it.”

“You do that.” Hermione glances at Harry. “I wanted to let you know I’ve applied for a secondment to the Magical Congress. It’s a six-month placement. After that, me and Ron should be able to settle back here for good.”

“Six months?” Harry stares at Hermione. He wants her to be happy, but he can’t imagine being at the Ministry without her. As successful as he’s been since the war, he doesn’t exactly have many friends at work. Certainly no one he can rely upon as unflinchingly as Hermione and Ron. “I’ll support you, of course. But I’ll miss you.”

“I’ll miss you too, but it’s not for long.” Hermione gives Harry a soft smile. “You and Ginny might have all sorts of news for us by the time we get back.”

“Yeah, perhaps.” Harry clears his throat. “We’ll have to have a party,” he decides, quickly deflecting from the topic of Ginny. “Get all the old crowd together.”

“I haven’t got the job yet.” Hermione laughs.

“They’d be mad if they turned you down and you know it. When does it start?”

“Soon. In a couple of weeks. They’re fast-tracking the application. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you sooner, it only came up in the last couple of days and it’s an opportunity too good to turn down. The children are young enough to be adaptable in terms of schooling and the Magical Congress has wonderful facilities.”

“Blimey. I’d better get cracking on that party.” Harry swallows. Ron and Hermione are just two more things slipping through his fingers. They’ll be back, he tells himself sternly. Be happy for your friend.

“I’m not sure there’ll be time for that. There’s so much to arrange. Perhaps we can have a party when we get back?” Hermione stands and makes them a cup of tea with a few deft flicks of her wand. She hands Harry his mug, thoughtfully. “A lot can change in six months. You might even become friends with Draco.”

“Not if we kill each other first,” Harry mutters.

“I’d appreciate it if you both try to keep out of trouble while I’m gone.” Hermione settles back in her seat, raising her mug to Harry. “Cheers to a job well done.”

Harry raises his mug in response and forces a smile. The thought of ever being friendly enough with Draco to bring him into his cosy—and far too astute—group of friends leaves him more than a little apprehensive. His thoughts flash back to Draco smiling as if he knew something Harry didn’t.

I’ve always been drawn to you too. Isn’t that peculiar?

Harry swallows his tea so quickly he nearly scalds himself.

*

Despite Harry’s protests that his social life has been rubbish thanks to Malfoy, a strange compulsion to see him again brings Harry to Malfoy Manor shortly after Draco’s release, clutching a pile of papers.

“I’m here to help you with your paperwork.” Harry hands Draco a stack of official documents when he opens the door.

“I’m perfectly capable of doing my own paperwork.” Draco lets Harry in, nevertheless. He looks different, dressed in his own clothes. His hair is perfectly styled, lacking the soft wispiness it had in Azkaban. His smart blazer and fitted trousers are paired with a striped shirt open at the collar, his midnight blue velvet slippers bearing the Malfoy insignia. It’s all Harry can do not to roll his eyes.

“A little much for a Wednesday afternoon, wouldn’t you say?” Harry looks pointedly at Draco’s outfit.

“You never know who could arrive on your doorstep. I like to be prepared.” Draco flicks his eyes over Harry, watching him kick off his boots before leading him through the house. The Manor is nothing like Harry remembers. The dark walls and huge oil paintings have been replaced by white splashes of paint and contemporary art. He tries not to get too wide-eyed at the pictures, his cheeks heating as they pass a particularly provocative photograph.

“Do you like it?” Draco stops, clearly aware of Harry’s gawking. He taps his finger to his lips, studying the picture. “It’s Muggle. Not usually my taste, of course.”

“Of course.” Harry tries to keep his voice level. The two men in the huge, black and white photograph are entwined together. He tries not to linger on the curve of the men's arses, or the way they clutch onto one another, suspended in an intimate dance. “It’s…nice.”

“I’m glad you approve. You might like the Mapplethorpe too.” Draco sounds amused and points towards an open door just ahead of them. “After you.”

“Thanks.” Harry makes his way into what he assumes is Draco’s study. In contrast to the rest of the house, it’s much more in keeping with the Manor Harry remembers of old. There’s a large mahogany desk at the end of the room and a large sofa next to a crackling fire. For such an opulent room it’s surprisingly cosy.

Draco settles in a chair behind the desk, tidying a sprawl of papers into a neat pile. When he finishes, he looks up at Harry and gestures to the chair opposite. “Why are you really here?”

“Like I said. Paperwork.” Harry drops a file onto the desk, eventually settling in the chair Draco suggested. “You need a witness for these.”

“I told you I still have some friends left, shocking as that probably is to you,” Draco points out.

Harry frowns. “Well, I’m here now.”

“Yes, I suppose you are. Do you expect me to prostrate myself at your feet in thanks?”

Heat rises in Harry’s cheeks, but he keeps his expression smooth. “Don’t be a prick. I’m here to help.”

“I don’t want your help.” Draco rifles through the papers Harry brought with him, scanning the text quickly. He signs them with an extravagant flourish before sending them lazily in Harry’s direction with a flick of his wand. “There. As you’ve turned up on my doorstep uninvited, you may as well make yourself useful.”

Harry reaches across the desk and helps himself to a quill, countersigning the documents. When he’s finished, he puts the file on Draco’s desk. “Don’t forget to send those to the Ministry.”

“I’m not an imbecile.” Draco puts the papers in an envelope and lights the taper of his waxing candle, watching the blob of red ooze onto the parchment. It looks like blood. He presses the Malfoy stamp into it quickly, pushing the papers to one side. “I suppose you want a drink?”

“If you’re offering.” Harry shrugs. He glances at a large, ornate clock ticking past the minutes on the wall. It’s four o’clock in the afternoon. He supposes he could have a glass of something. He has an inkling Draco isn’t going to offer him tea.

“Here.” Draco proves Harry’s assumptions to be correct, pouring amber liquid into two glasses. “I assume you’re not flying?”

“Nope.” Harry shakes his head. He takes a sip of the alcohol and tries not to cough at the burn of it in his throat. “Delicious.”

“Liar.” Draco smirks. “How’s your wife?”

“Her name’s Ginny and she’s not my wife, as you well know.” Harry narrows his eyes, instantly suspicious. “Why?”

Draco rolls his eyes. “I’m trying to make conversation. As entertaining as it might be to sit here glaring at one another, I’m afraid it could get boring after a while.”

Harry stares out of the window. “She’s fine. Brilliant, really. Off playing Quidditch with the Harpies. It’s great. I’m lucky.”

“Oh dear.” Draco swirls his brandy in his glass, his face expressionless. “Trouble in paradise?”

“Not in the slightest.” Harry’s jaw works and he meets Draco’s gaze at last. “What makes you say that?”

“People rarely insist how happy they are if it’s truly the case.” Draco shrugs. “What do I know?”

“Not a lot,” Harry grouses. He has another sip of his brandy. It’s not bad, if you drink it in very small doses. “I’m thinking of proposing.”

“Good lord.” Draco stifles a yawn. “Thank fuck I’m still single and attractive, or at least I will be once the stench of Azkaban has been scrubbed from my skin.”

Harry bristles. “What’s wrong with proposing?”

“I’m not the marrying kind.” Draco gives Harry a tight smile. “Although some of us don’t have the luxury of choice.”

There’s something about Draco that makes Harry unsettled. He doesn’t know what to say, or how to behave. It was easier in Azkaban, when they had a purpose of sorts. It’s harder here, on Draco’s turf. Harry’s never been concerned about saying the wrong thing—least of all to Malfoy—but he finds himself oddly tongue-tied.

“I’m sorry,” Harry says at last.

“Don’t be.” Draco waves a hand. “I don’t care about marriage. It’s not a priority of mine.”

“Oh.” Harry isn’t sure he’s ever met anyone that doesn’t care about marriage, apart from Ginny who flinches at the mention of it. Molly’s always on at him to pop the question and even Hermione dropped hints the other day about how nice a ruby ring would look with Ginny’s hair. “Even if you were allowed to?”

“Even then,” Draco replies.

It’s weirdly refreshing, speaking to someone who isn’t fixated on all the things that have been making Harry so out of sorts lately. His head’s been all over the place, the niggling idea he’s living life all wrong growing at a rapid pace. He’s so fearful of time moving on without him, it’s all he can think about some days. Even his favourite Sunday roasts at The Burrow have lost something of their shine. It’s as though he’s dragging his heels when everybody around him is so eager to see him do the right thing, as Molly puts it. It’s nice to meet someone who thinks Harry’s unenthusiastic proposal plans are rubbish.

“I need to choose a ring first, anyway.” Harry shrugs and looks around the room for a way to change the subject before Malfoy starts interrogating him about his relationship. His gaze lands on two small, unmoving portraits of Draco’s parents. He meets Lucius Malfoy’s unflinching stare and resists the urge to stick his tongue out. He wonders why Draco keeps them here, imperiously watching him work. “If you’re not on speaking terms with your mum and dad, how come you’re still at the Manor?”

“I’m enough of an embarrassment to them as it is.” Draco replies. His voice is tight and clipped. “They found out about my proclivities long ago, but they would never throw me out of the house or inform the authorities. They disapprove, but they prefer discretion to making a public spectacle. I think they’re both secretly hoping I’ll change my mind.”

“It’s all over the Prophet now,” Harry says. “That doesn’t seem very discreet.”

“Thankfully I was able to purchase the Manor after a few years at Gringotts. I paid far more than anyone else would, with all its unsavoury associations. The house is mine, and mother and father have alternative accommodation abroad. They have no interest in coming back to Britain and they also no longer have the ability to use the Manor as leverage to keep me quiet.”

“It must be difficult,” Harry replies. He glances at the portraits again, a shiver travelling down his spine. He envies that Draco has parents who are alive, the chance to reconcile, but he also can’t imagine the pain of being rejected, like Sirius, for following your own path. “Sirius was kicked out when he was sixteen because of the things he believed. He lived with my dad for a while.”

“Mother’s cousin.” Draco rolls his eyes. “I’m sure Orion and Walburga would be thrilled to see their niece continuing a legacy of intolerance. It’s what old families like the Blacks and Malfoys are famous for, after all.” Draco tips his glass sarcastically towards the portraits of his parents. “The irony is that even as a straight man, I was making romantic choices that disappointed them. Our first argument was about Astoria’s suitability as a wife, and from there things spiralled.”

“Did you and Astoria ever have a relationship?” Harry glances at a picture of Astoria on Draco’s desk. She’s laughing and holding her hand out as if she’s trying to grab the camera back from the person taking the photograph. It reminds him of a moment with Ginny, right at the start of their relationship, when Harry tried to take a photograph of her flying and nearly fell off his broom in the process. They laughed until their feet touched the ground and then kissed as the sun set, turning the clouds red, orange and purple. The memory of it makes his heart clench, a flicker of guilt making him question if his visit to Draco is as innocent as he wants to pretend.

“Not really.” Draco’s reply pulls Harry from his thoughts. “I knew who I was long before I met Astoria. I was living as a gay man, albeit secretly. It was still illegal in our world then, of course.”

“Two lives,” Harry murmurs. “Like you said in Azkaban.”

“Yes.” Draco’s lips curve. “It really wasn’t all bad, Potter. I had a tremendous amount of fun. I worked at Gringotts and kept my head down during the week, then I went to Manchester during the weekends. The Aurors weren’t half as interested in trying to weed us out as they have been since the law changed, so they never bothered with any of the bars outside of London.”

“What’s in Manchester?” Harry asks, curiously. He can’t imagine Draco anywhere other than the posh parts of Kensington or shooting pheasant on a sprawling country estate, surrounded by green belt.

“Bars, clubs, drag nights, music, saunas. All sorts. It’s all much more open in the Muggle world. I imagine it was far harder when it was illegal in the Muggle world, too, but even then people managed, wizards and Muggles alike. We’ve been here all the time.”

“Like Thestrals.” Harry grins. “They’re always around too, but not everyone can see them.”

“Vile creatures.” Draco looks scandalised. “Are you comparing me to them?”

“Stop it.” Harry laughs under his breath. “They’re not vile at all. I think Thestrals are beautiful.”

“You would.” Draco rolls his eyes, before his expression softens. “Although if that’s your opinion, I suppose I should take the compliment.”

“Take it however you want.” Harry refuses to let Draco see how much he unsettles him. He tries to imagine Draco’s life after the war, taking another tiny sip of his drink. “I can’t imagine living like that. To be split down the middle, constantly watching your words and making up stories about places you went, things you did and people you met.”

“Astoria made things easier,” Draco replies. His voice is low and thick with emotion. “She was the only person in our world I was truly open with before the law changed. My parents don’t count, because they dragged me kicking and screaming out of the closet and then tried to shove me straight back into it. Astoria was different. There was no laughter, no judgment. She never once looked at me oddly. Some people do, you know. When they find out.”

“They do?” Harry swallows, hoping Draco hasn’t picked up on his weird behaviour. He sits back, considering his own reactions over the last few months, and the things that have driven them. “Maybe people don’t want to say the wrong thing.”

“Hmm.” Draco makes a non-committal sound. “That’s a generous way of putting it.”

“You’ve got to be careful.” Harry speaks abruptly, the words spilling from his lips. “If they catch you again it might not be so easy to get you out of Azkaban.”

“I know.” Draco’s jaw works. He narrows his eyes at Harry. “I hope you’re not going to start poking your nose into my sex life now, too.”

“As if I’d want to know anything about your sex life.” Harry snorts, the tension crackling between them dissipating in a moment of light relief. “I’d rather stick my head up a Hippogriff’s arse.”

“Interesting point of reference.” Draco licks his lips before speaking quietly. “Do I disgust you, Potter?”

Harry sits back in surprise, taking in Draco’s expression. For all the blasé moments and cool disinterest, Harry knows it’s a load of bollocks. Draco isn’t half as standoffish and icy as he pretends to be, with his pointed comments and feigned boredom. Harry remembers the Draco of old and he knows an act when he sees one. Draco’s clearly put up about a hundred protective layers, but cracks always start to show. There’s no way someone stiff and uptight could make Astoria look as happy and relaxed as she does in the photograph on Draco's desk, her laughter clearly caused by the invisible photographer.

Harry can tell from the pink spots blooming in Draco’s cheeks and the way his hand tightens on his brandy glass that for some godforsaken reason Harry’s opinion matters to him. The question forces Harry to consider why things always get so weird around Draco. His discomfort has nothing to do with disgust. Curiosity, perhaps. The niggling desire to find out more, the fear that Draco can see through some of the lies Harry tells himself. That’s what makes him uncomfortable. Not disgust, or judgment. Harry knocks back the remainder of his brandy and replies as honestly as he can.

“No. Of course you don’t. I wouldn’t be here drinking with you at four in the afternoon if you did.”

A flicker of surprise crosses Draco’s features before his face relaxes into a warm, genuine smile. It looks good on him, Harry decides. Really good.

Draco holds up the decanter. “Another drink?”

“No thanks. I’d best be off.” Harry stands and shakes his head when Draco moves to get up. “I’ll see myself out. Don’t forget to send those papers.”

“I won’t.” Draco picks up a quill. Without looking up, he begins to write something on a piece of parchment already crowded with long, sprawling sentences and complicated Arithmancy. “If you have any other official business you need me to attend to, I work from home on Thursday afternoons.”

The tacit invitation makes Harry warm all over and with a smile he leaves Draco’s office. He makes his way quickly through the Manor, avoiding lingering too long over any of the artwork. The last thing he needs is Malfoy checking to see if Harry’s lost his way and finding him staring at a picture of some bloke’s arse.

Harry pulls on his boots and closes the door to the Manor behind him. He makes his way down the drive, the stones crunching beneath his feet.

When he glances back a shadowy figure moves across the study window, before disappearing entirely.

*

Wales is wet and chilly, but there’s a relief in flying his broom uninhibited that Harry doesn’t get when he’s at home. Flying for pleasure in London requires negotiating Muggle flight paths and observing endless Ministry protocols. Visiting Ginny is like being back at Hogwarts with the vast hills of Snowdonia National Park and the empty beaches on the South Coast. Harry dives down towards the little village of Betws-y-Coed, thankful for his invisibility cloak as he lands with a skid next to Ginny.

“I said enjoy yourself, not Wronski feint into my feet, you prat.” Ginny grins, giving Harry a light punch on the arm. She glances over her shoulder. “There’s no one around. Take off that cloak, it’s weird not being able to see you.”

“Better?” Harry pulls the cloak off his head. He shrinks it, together with his broom, and puts them in the pocket of his jacket. “It’s brilliant here.”

“Isn’t it?” Ginny’s cheeks are ruddy, her eyes shining. She looks different to the last time he saw her, her hair cropped close at one side and cut shorter than before. “Even in the rain, it’s beautiful. I don’t understand how you can live somewhere you can’t fly properly.”

“I get by,” Harry says, easily. “I might have to find somewhere to go flying like this, though. I’d forgotten how good it is, not worrying about planes.”

Ginny links arms with Harry, walking through the narrow, ambling streets. Her touch doesn’t send the same thrill through Harry that it used to, even after all their time apart. There’s something comfortable about it, though. A sunny warmth that comes from just being close to Ginny. They might not share the same kind of intimacy they did in the early days, but Harry is quite content with the way things are.

“I thought we could go for a cream tea,” Ginny suggests. “I love hot scones with jam and clotted cream. It’s worth all the extra training to work off the cream.”

“Then that’s what we’ll have.” Harry grins. There’s a lightness that comes from flying, the heavy weight and the thoughts that have been niggling at him over the last few months dissipating. “I’m sorry I haven’t been around much.”

“Doesn’t matter. I haven’t been around much either.” Ginny takes a seat in the small café and orders for them both, before giving Harry her full attention. “How’s Malfoy?”

“Fine, I think.” Harry raises an eyebrow at Ginny. “Why do you care?”

“I dunno.” Ginny shrugs. She waits for their food to be placed down in front of them, before smearing one of her scones with lashings of clotted cream and jam. “They’re so fusty, those laws of yours.”

Harry tries not to bristle at the remark. “They’re not my laws.”

“No.” Ginny speaks around a mouthful of scone. “But your lot enforce them. They’re stupid. Two of the Harpies are lesbians and one’s bisexual. That means she likes wizards and witches,” Ginny clarifies, as if Harry doesn’t know a thing about it, which he pretty much doesn’t.

Harry really doesn’t want to have this conversation in a small, cosy tearoom. He just wants to find out if Ginny’s going to dump him for not proposing. He couldn’t care less about Draco with his fancy slippers and strange art when he’s out here in the middle of nowhere, still buzzing from a brilliant flight.

“Doesn’t the coach care?” Harry asks.

“Morgana’s a lesbian and a Muggle-born.” Ginny gives Harry a sharp look. “Who the girls sleep with doesn’t impact their flying abilities. She doesn’t take kindly to people trying to spout pure-blood politics during practice.”

“It’s not difficult for any of them?” Harry doesn’t mean to be obtuse but Ginny’s experiences are so different from his own. The whispers, the gossip, the eagerness to go into Knockturn and make arrests. He can’t imagine a gay witch or wizard having an easy time at the Ministry.

“Sometimes, I think. For some more than others, particularly those whose parents didn’t accept them at first. At least the laws that put Malfoy in Azkaban don’t apply to witches, because the old wizards who wrote them never bothered to consider the possibility that two witches could be happy together without a man involved.” Ginny rolls her eyes and chews thoughtfully on her scone. “I can’t stand Malfoy, you know I think he’s an entitled prat that needs to go easy on the hair waxing spells. Still, he didn’t deserve that. He should have gone to Azkaban for letting Death Eaters into Hogwarts, not for getting tossed off or whatever he was doing in that park.

Harry laughs. “You sound like Hermione.”

“Do I?” Ginny gives Harry a broad smile. “Does she talk about lesbians a lot too? My brother should buck up his game. Stranger things have happened.”

“That’s not what I—” Harry breaks off, a strange heat crawling through him. He doesn’t know why he hates talking about this so much. He’s starting to worry he’s a bit of a dickhead after all. Homophobe, his brain whispers. He tugs at the collar of his t-shirt and clears his throat, eager to change the subject. “You mum wants you to come back next weekend.”

“Oh.” Ginny pulls a face, taking another bite of her scone. “I suppose I could. There’s a practice at three, but I could fly back Saturday evening.”

“For the whole weekend?” Harry hopes Ginny can make it back. There’s something so freeing about being with her. She makes him less out of sorts, and he misses when she’s not around to deflect all the attention from Harry being a rubbish boyfriend.

Ginny narrows her eyes. “I hope you haven’t been in cahoots with mum over this daft marriage idea. I’m too young.”

“Not that young,” Harry points out, reluctantly. “It’s been fifteen years since the war and I’m in my thirties now. There are people like our parents—”

“We’re not our parents, Harry.” Ginny glares at him, her eyes flashing. “I’ve already told you, I don’t want a ring, I don’t want a wedding and I swear to Merlin if you get down on one knee when I’m coming back to enjoy some home-cooked roast potatoes, I’m going to say no. No, no, no.”

Harry breathes out, relief flooding through him. He’s not sure that’s how a doting boyfriend in his thirties should react, but if Ginny doesn’t care, Harry’s not going to worry too much about it.

“If you’re sure…” He trails off.

“Quite sure.” Ginny gives Harry a soft smile, pushing her hair off her face with a swipe of her hand. “Don’t waste your money, Harry. Not on diamonds and engagement rings. I’d sooner have a better broom or some new gloves. The old ones aren’t half getting threadbare.”

“I’ll see what I can do.” Harry laughs, reaching across the table to take Ginny’s hand. She squeezes it quickly, before shaking him off.

“I’m all sticky.” Ginny gestures at Harry’s plate. “Your scones are going cold.”

Harry slices one in half and puts the cream and jam on just as Ginny tells him to. He smiles at her, before taking a bite.

She’s right. They really are delicious.

*

It’s a misty Thursday evening when Harry finds himself back at Malfoy Manor, debating whether to knock on the door.

The door opens before Harry can so much as lift his hand. Draco glares at him. “I could feel you hovering around through the wards as soon as you opened the garden gate.”

“If that’s supposed to impress me, it doesn’t.” Harry slips off his outer robes and steps inside. He watches as Draco sends his robes off to Merlin knows where. Harry is suddenly awkward in his jeans, comfortable jumper and tattered Muggle trainers. Draco always looks so polished.

“Why didn’t you Apparate straight to the door?” Draco narrows his eyes, taking in Harry’s trainers with a scathing glance. “You can leave those at the door too, if you’re going to insist on coming inside.”

Harry rolls his eyes and kicks off his trainers, leaving them in an untidy pile. He refuses to be embarrassed about the fact his socks are burgundy and gold. Malfoy should be grateful he didn’t wear the Slytherin Sucks pair that George gave him last Christmas.

“I fancied the walk.” Harry pads after Draco, noticing they take a swift detour into the living room instead of the study. “It’s lucky I didn’t risk Apparating. With those brilliant wards of yours, I might have gone up in flames.”

“I wish,” Draco mutters. He glances at Harry. “Did it ever occur to you I might have plans this evening?”

“Nope. I’d planned to come in the afternoon like you suggested, but I had work of my own to do.”

“Busy arresting more deviants, I suppose.” Draco rolls his eyes.

“Something like that.” Harry keeps cheerful, refusing to be baited. “Rescued a few Kneazles from trees, apprehended a wizard smuggling ring and used a Time-Turner to go back and kill Voldemort again, just to make sure I finished him off the first time. How are interest rates doing?”

Draco purses his lips, a flicker of amusement in his gaze that Harry can tell he’s just dying to keep hidden. “Terribly exciting. Weasley will be thrilled to hear the Galleon is performing well against the Dollar.”

“I’ll be sure to tell him.” Harry grins, following Draco into the living room. “How does it feel to be a free man again?”

“Splendid, thanks so much for asking.” Draco definitely sounds like he’s smiling now, and it gives Harry a little thrill to know he’s lightened the mood between them.

He takes in the vast, clean, white space that looks nothing like the Manor of old. Like the long corridors leading to Draco’s study, the living room is decorated with a painstaking eye for detail. Huge, colourful prints add interest to the blank walls and a large, opulently padded Chesterfield coffee table sits in the centre of the room, covered in arty-looking books. Harry picks up a small bronze. He nearly drops it when he realises it’s a sculpture of a naked man. Putting it gingerly back on the nearest surface, he shoves his hands into his pockets.

“Is all your art like that?”

“A fair amount. Stop being such a judgmental prick.”

“I’ll do my best.” Harry glances at the bronze again, taking in the angular features of the model and the slicked back hair styled in a very familiar manner. His gaze lingers on the heavy bulge around the crotch area, his mouth getting dry. Surely even Malfoy isn’t that arrogant? “Is that you?”

“I appreciate the compliment, but no.” Draco laughs under his breath. “Attractive though, isn’t he?”

“If you say so,” Harry replies.

He tears his gaze away from the bronze, watching Draco instead. He looks like he’s on his way out, but then, Draco always looks like he’s going somewhere fancy. His shirt is rolled up at the sleeves, downy hair on his arms visible as he lights nearby candles to fight off the gloom caused by the grey weather and the night drawing in. His feet are bare, his trousers skimming the top of them. Harry’s mouth waters as he takes in the smooth, pale lines of Draco’s feet. There’s something intimate about Draco Malfoy, barefoot in the candlelight. Harry can’t stop staring at the way his shirt creases above his trousers as he stretches upwards, the white, carefully styled cut of his hair, the curve of his arse and the long, lean legs hidden by expensively tailored trousers that fit sinfully well.

Draco finishes lighting the candles and gestures to one of the large sofas, mercifully oblivious to Harry’s staring. “Lucky for you I don’t have any plans, so I suppose I can entertain you for a while. Unless you’re here on official business?”

“Not this time.” Harry settles on the sofa, pushing his toes into the huge, shaggy rug that occupies most of the floor space. If he ever gets around to making Grimmauld Place less depressing, he might have to call on Draco for some tips. “You could make a living out of this.”

“The house?” Draco looks around with a critical eye. “I do. The artwork, at least. Most of the pieces were investments.”

“I wouldn’t know the first thing about art,” Harry confesses. “It’s more modern than I expected.”

Draco shrugs. “I started choosing pieces that I knew father would find obnoxious, then I grew to like the style.”

“Oh.” Harry gives Draco a careful look. “How are you getting on, really?”

“After your henchmen put me in Azkaban?” Draco raises an eyebrow and pours a glass of wine for them both, handing one to Harry before taking a seat. “I’ve finally got the stink of damp out of my hair, if that’s what you mean.”

“Pleased to hear it.” Harry takes a sip of the wine. He doesn’t really like wine, he’s more of a lager and ale sort of man, but it’s drinkable. “I’ve been in Wales.”

“I thought things had been blissfully peaceful.” Draco gives Harry the hint of a smile. “Should I open the champagne?”

“No.” Harry shakes his head. “We’re not engaged. Ginny isn’t interested in all that. She says she’s too young, and it would spoil her roast potatoes.” He laughs. “I think she was joking about the last part.”

“I see.” Draco mulls the information over. “You’re fine with that?”

“Yeah.” Harry shrugs. “Why wouldn’t I be?”

“Because you seem like the marrying type.” Draco turns his wine in his glass, watching it slide over the sides. The candles in the room cast shadows over his face, making him seem more angular than usual. “At least you got some of that pent-up aggression out of your system after spending some quality time with your girlfriend.”

Harry scowls. “I don’t have any pent-up aggression, thanks.”

“You didn’t, then?” Draco’s lips tilt into a strange smile, his eyes trailing over Harry. “How curious.”

Harry huffs, sitting back on the sofa and folding his arms. It might not have been the most intimate of visits Harry’s ever had with Ginny, but it’s not like Harry needs sex every week—or even every month. He’s not that fussed about sex—despite what his wanking habits may suggest. It’s another reason he and Ginny are compatible. They laughed loads and went flying every day. Malfoy doesn’t know what the fuck he’s talking about.

“How’s your pent-up aggression now you can’t go around shagging people in public?”

“I find ways to handle it.” Draco sips his wine and shudders. “Azkaban was a bore, though. The aftertaste of Dementors doesn’t exactly do much for me.”

“I imagine not,” Harry mutters. He tries not to think too closely about the implication behind Draco’s suggestion that he handles it, the image of him lying back in bed with his hand wrapped around himself taking up residence in Harry’s brain. “Why do you work from home on Thursdays?”

“Changing the subject so soon?” Draco laughs. “Because I get more done when I’m not being pulled into meetings every five minutes or trying to explain futures to trainees. Why do you make jokes about work? Is the current day job not exciting enough for you?”

“I do best when I’m active.” Harry shrugs. “The problem is when things are exciting it generally means there’s some big evil looming, and we all know how that turns out. I’ll take a few more years without excitement.”

“Why are you really here?” Draco looks at Harry curiously. “It’s Thursday night, you have plenty of friends and I imagine there are countless people angling for a post-work pint with you. Yet here you are. Drinking wine with a criminal.”

“Give over.” Harry nearly spits out his wine, laughing as Draco glares at him. “You were horny. It’s hardly like you’re a criminal mastermind.”

“I might as well have been, the way your lot treated me,” Draco replies. He stands, holding out his hand to take Harry’s wine from him. “Supper should be ready by now. I tend to eat late. Care to join me?”

Harry supposes it would be rude to say no.

*

Harry has never been the sort to linger over food. He can’t stand the pretension that comes with pushing peanut-sized pieces of cucumber around on a plate, oohing and ahhing over a bit of foam. He has simple tastes, he supposes. Warm, hearty, home-cooked fare over a cramped table at The Burrow, where the conversation moves as quickly as the generous pile of Molly’s famous Yorkshire Puddings. He loves the delicious iced buns that he gets from his local bakery and the trusty kebab shop that serves him chips with lashings of gravy after a big night out.

It comes as absolutely no surprise to Harry that Draco’s supper is more tasting menu at a Michelin Star restaurant than kebab and chips after a boozy night out. The dining table is ridiculous, for a start. It’s big enough to seat twenty people, although Draco mercifully casts a few quick Transfiguration charms to make it suitable for two, rather than forcing Harry to sit at the head of the table and yell across the room about the weather.

“Don’t you bother doing this when it’s just you?” Harry glances at the food he’s certain he’s not going to be able to pronounce, his stomach grumbling at the delicious scent. “It’s a bit weird eating at a table for twenty by yourself.”

“There are weirder things.” Draco seems unhurried, carefully unfolding his napkin and placing it in his lap before topping up his wine. Harry’s is still half full. “I’m assuming you’ve had tapas before?”

“Obviously,” Harry lies. He helps himself to a couple of the dishes, getting the gist of it quickly. He takes a bite and tries not to groan at the delicious taste. He makes a mental note to look up tapas restaurants when he gets an opportunity to do so. “It’s good.”

“I know.” Draco tears off some of the piping hot bread in a basket next to Harry and uses it to gather some of the juices on his plate. “I don’t eat like this every night, before you start making assumptions.”

“As if I would.” Harry grins, despite himself. “I can’t imagine you with a cheese and onion toastie, watching a film. Not that they’d even work, here.”

“They do.” Draco rolls his eyes. “I suppose you think you invented spells that allow Muggle items to function in a wizarding home?”

“No, I don’t think that.” Harry glances around. “But it’s not like you’ve got a telly in your living room. You still use candles. You stamp your letters with a wax seal. Nobody does that.”

“Some people do. Including the Ministry.” Draco helps himself to some soup, sipping it off his spoon. “You can’t make a magical house of this age and size compatible with Muggle technology. It would take years. I’ve conducted the necessary filters and spells required to have a functioning television in one of the bedrooms upstairs. That’s where I watch films.”

“I bet it is.” Harry winks at Draco.

“How typical that your mind would go straight to pornography.” Draco gathers his excess soup on another piece of bread. “I suppose you won’t believe me if I tell you I like arthouse cinema?”

“Nope. It sounds like the kind of thing someone pretends to like when they’re a stuck-up twat. I’m betting it’s all porn and Rom-Coms. Do your house-elves make you dinner every night?”

“Only once a week, or if I’m entertaining.” Draco sniffs. “Don’t judge me for liking nice food. It’s Thursday, you can think of this as my new routine.”

Harry thinks back to Draco’s case, chewing his food thoughtfully. “You were arrested on a Thursday.”

“Thanks for reminding me.” Draco spears his fork into a prawn, aggressively. “Thursday used to be for other things. If that can’t happen without Pilchards—”

“—I think you mean Pritchard.” Harry hides his smile behind a napkin. Pritchard does look a bit like a pilchard, now Draco mentions it.

“Whatever his name is.” Draco finishes his prawn and puts a meatball on his plate, with a frown. “If I can’t enjoy Thursday’s without Auror Pritchard insinuating himself into my personal business, I might as well find other ways to entertain myself.” He lifts his napkin to his lips and dabs them. “To take the edge off.”

“Oh.” Harry helps himself to the last prawn before Malfoy eats them all. They really are delicious. Plump, succulent and garlicky. He never wants the meal to end. “One night I’ll have to get you pissed on lager and take you for a kebab.”

Draco arches an eyebrow. “Are you asking me on a date?”

Harry shakes his head, his body warming at the suggestion. “Hardly. I just want to see it. I can’t believe you ever let loose.”

“I was thrown into prison for having sex with a Muggle in the middle of a park in London.” Draco gives Harry a pointed look. “When was the last time you let that loose?”

“That doesn’t count.” Harry carefully evades Draco’s question, fighting the heat rising in his cheeks. “I’m not as strait laced as you think I am.”

“No?” Draco sits back in his seat, contemplating Harry. “Tell me something scandalous.”

“No thanks.” Harry shakes his head with a laugh. “I’m not stupid enough to give you blackmail fodder.”

Draco keeps his eyes on the food, not looking at Harry as his voice takes on a serious, uncertain note. “Those Aurors of yours came to one of our bars in Knockturn when you were in Wales. Did you know that?”

Harry shakes his head. He’s ashamed to admit he didn’t even know there were bars in Knockturn until Draco told him. “Was there anything dodgy going on?”

“It depends what you consider to be dodgy. There’s nothing illegal about serving drinks to queers.” Draco presses his lips in a tight line. “Try not to be hideously judgmental.”

“I’m not.” Harry tears off some bread, chewing thoughtfully. “Are those bars the sort of place anyone can go?”

A strange expression crosses Draco’s face. “Why, Potter? Are you curious?”

“For work.” Harry rubs the back of his neck, finding it damp with perspiration. It must be the spicy chorizo. “It might help if I know what we’re dealing with.”

“You know exactly what you’re dealing with. Queens, dykes, men who fuck other men.” Draco’s voice is low. He leans forward, a glint of amusement in his eyes. “Unless you want a more hands-on education, Harry?”

“I’m not—” Harry stops, drawing a breath and glaring at Draco. “I have a girlfriend. Keep your hands to yourself, Malfoy.”

“I’ll try to contain myself.” Draco finishes his food and puts his napkin on the table, taking a sip of his wine. “Don’t start snooping around our bars, just because I’ve piqued your curiosity. They’re the few places left in the world that wouldn’t welcome Head Auror Potter with a fanfare. If you want to see what it’s like, you can ask me. I’ll take you. I’d suggest you use a Glamour, for your sake as well as mine.”

“Why do you think I’d want to go somewhere like that?” Harry’s heart thuds in his chest, his stomach churning.

“For work, apparently.” Draco rolls his eyes. “And because you’re a nosy fucker.”

Despite himself, Harry laughs. “I can’t do anything illegal.”

“It’s not illegal to be there.” Draco flicks his gaze over Harry. “It’s just music, dancing and appalling wine. It’s illegal to do anything with another wizard of course, but I can’t imagine that happening to a practically married man. Can you?”

“Obviously not,” Harry replies, tightly. There’s something so illicit about the idea of going to a gay bar. A gay bar in Knockturn Alley, of all places. Confusion and guilt mingle with an unmistakable thrum of excitement he hasn’t felt in a very long time. “We do my thing first. Beer and kebabs.”

Draco pulls a face. “If you insist.”

“Next Thursday?” Harry asks, hopefully. “If you’re at a loose end.”

Draco nods, topping up their wine. “Next Thursday it is.”

*

“I can’t come back this weekend. There’s a trip out to the Brecon Beacons and we’re going to learn some new moves before the season starts.” Ginny’s hair looks even redder in the fire, her voice crackly like the burning logs. “I’m sorry.”

“It doesn’t matter.” Harry is surprised to find he really doesn’t mind. He’s spent all day dwelling on his plans with Draco for next Thursday, and his rash decision to go to Knockturn. He’s hardly had time to think about the weekend plans he made with Ginny. Wales seems like ages ago. “The Brecon Beacons sounds fun.”

“I can’t wait.” The enthusiasm in Ginny’s voice is clear, her excitement evident from her beaming smile. “I love Wales so much, Harry! You don’t get fresh air or flying space like this in London.”

Harry swallows. It’s the second time in as many weeks that Ginny’s mentioned how rubbish London is. No matter how hard he tries he can’t picture Ginny holed up in the shadowy rooms of Grimmauld Place, helping Harry entertain their friends in the way Molly and Arthur do with such generosity. Like marriage, the conversation about living together—and where—is one they both seem content to put off.

Harry loves visiting Ginny, but he can’t picture himself living in Wales. His social life revolves around London and you can’t fly a broom after a couple of beers. Not to mention security breaches on the Floo Network several years ago led to a complete overhaul of the system. Shortly after the war, security concerns forced Harry to disconnect Grimmauld Place from the Floo Network, allowing Fire-Calls but no full body transportation. The Ministry Floos can only be used for official business, and it’s made his life with Ginny harder than ever, thanks to the time and administration required to arrange a Portkey and the physical strain of too much long-distance Apparition. Spontaneous visits dwindled and eventually stopped altogether. It’s just another thing between them they’re both putting off discussing, hoping things will just resolve themselves when the time comes.

“George said you’re doing the pub quiz with him and Lee next week. You’d better not embarrass me by getting the Quidditch questions wrong.”

“As if. They’re my specialty.” Harry’s already looking forward to seeing George and Lee again. It really has been too long since he’s gone out and had fun. Draco doesn’t count. Eating tapas and having weird, uncomfortable conversations in the huge dining room in Malfoy Manor probably isn’t what Hermione had in mind when she told Harry to let his hair down.

“How’s Malfoy?” Ginny’s question pulls Harry from his thoughts, guilt making him instantly defensive.

“Fine. What makes you ask about him?”

Ginny shrugs, the movement sending ash into the room. “I thought you were checking in on him, to make sure he’s okay after Azkaban.”

“Yeah.” Harry nods, a strange sensation making his stomach clench. He doesn’t mention tapas, Knockturn or his impulsive offer to take Draco out for beers. “You don’t mind?”

Ginny frowns. “Why would I mind?”

“I don’t know.” Because Draco Malfoy is gay and stupidly attractive, Harry’s brain niggles. He pulls a face and avoids saying as much. “Because Malfoy’s a prat?”

Ginny laughs, shaking her head which turns her hair to flames. “He’s stinking rich, though. Millie tells me he’s got a fancy art collection shipped in from New York. You could get him to take you for champagne at The Ritz, to thank you for getting him out of prison.”

“I don’t think he’s going to thank me for anything,” Harry replies quickly. The thought of going somewhere like that with Draco sends his heart racing. “He blames me for being in prison in the first place.” He pauses, his brow furrowing. “Who’s Millie?”

“Millicent Bulstrode, you remember her.” Ginny turns, yelling something at one of her teammates that Harry doesn’t quite catch. “She lives in Cardiff and the Harpies go there sometimes on Saturday night. It’s much nicer than Hollyhead. We bumped into one another at a—in a bar. We’ve been spending time together ever since.”

“Wasn’t she, umm—?” Harry stops, unable to phrase a wanker politely.

“She’s changed a lot since school. I don’t think you’d even recognise Millie now.” Ginny sounds oddly sheepish, which is ridiculous. It’s not as if Harry in any position to judge peculiar friendships after becoming pals with Draco Malfoy.

A strange, sinking feeling settles in the pit of Harry’s stomach. He doesn’t care about Ginny making new friends, but it’s just a reminder of how far apart they are in more ways than one. Ginny seems so happy with people Harry barely knows. He hasn’t met half of her teammates, and Millie and Cardiff are just two new things that Harry knows nothing about. It’s not like you’re inviting her to go to Knockturn with you and Malfoy, his brain unhelpfully supplies. At least she’s telling you about Millie.

“I’ll have to meet her when I next visit,” Harry suggests, quickly. He wishes his stupid brain would shut the fuck up. He’s not doing anything wrong. He’s doing what everybody from Ginny to Hermione wants him to do. Checking Malfoy’s okay is his job. Sort of.

“Yeah, of course.” Ginny doesn’t make any move to suggest a date, yelling at her teammate again. “I’ve got to go. I’ll call you in a couple of days.”

“Okay. Have fun in the Brecon Beacons,” Harry adds. The light in the room dims and he finds himself speaking to a cold, empty fire.

He gets up, brushes the ash off his trousers and goes to make himself a tea. He hopes the hot, sugary drink will fill the aching loneliness that suddenly overwhelms him.

Talking to Ginny lately is like clutching a fistful of sand and watching the grains slowly slip through his fingers. The tighter he holds on, the more he loses.

Harry takes a soothing sip of his tea and tries not to imagine a world where he’s left with nothing at all.

*

“Wotcha, Harry.” George gives Harry a big hug and claps him on the back before pulling away. “I hope you’ve been studying.”

“For a pub quiz?” Harry laughs. “Hardly, mate.”

“We nearly won last week.” George nods at a table in the corner giving them snooty looks. “Beaten by Slytherins. Can’t let that happen again.”

“Absolutely not,” Harry agrees. He grins when Lee comes back from the bar with three pints, shaking his hand and settling into his seat after they all take the obligatory first glug of foamy ale. “Good to see you again, Lee.”

“You too.” Lee gives Harry a brittle smile. It makes Harry wonder if he’s pissed off that it’s been so long since Harry last came out with them. Lee’s usually affable, funny and as laid back as George. It’s not like him to be on edge, and his peculiar mood takes Harry by surprise. “How’s the Ministry?”

“Great.” Harry musters as much enthusiasm as he can. “There’s loads happening. Busy, busy. You know what it’s like.”

“Not really,” Lee says. He shrugs, exchanging a look with George that Harry can’t quite decipher. “News on the grapevine is and you and Malfoy are friends now.”

Harry nearly chokes on his beer, swallowing quickly. That explains the odd looks and furtive glances. Lee isn’t the first person who’s been weird around Harry since he took on Draco’s case. Pritchard didn’t pass the biscuits to Harry at the last Auror meeting, which is as pointed a snub as a Junior Auror would be comfortable making. There’s been a strange air in briefings and lots of whispered conversations that stop when he enters a room. Harry’s starting to worry his authority is on shaky grounds. They don’t even know the half of it, his brain supplies. What would it be like if they did?

“I’d hardly say we’re friends,” Harry replies. He keeps his voice level. “I helped with his case. Does it bother you?”

“No.” Lee narrows his eyes, watching Harry carefully. “Don’t you care about what he did?”

“None of my business, is it?” Harry thinks of Ron’s comment at Shell Cottage, and tries to sound unphased, keeping his tone placid. “It’s not exactly normal behaviour, but not something a bloke should go to prison for.”

He feels like shit as soon as the words leave his mouth, the memory of Draco’s warm smile sending a rush of guilt through him. Do I disgust you, Potter? Harry has never been one for skirting around the truth. He’s never scared of being honest, even if his opinion makes him unpopular. He’s not sure why he’s so eager to spout things he doesn’t believe in when it comes to Draco and the way the Aurors are handling the new legislation. It’s a betrayal, as if everything he told Draco was a lie. I think Thestrals are beautiful.

“Come on lads, let’s leave the shop talk at home.” George breaks the strange, crackling tension with a forced laugh. For some reason Harry has the sense his answer has pissed Lee off even more than the possibility he and Draco might be friends. “We’ve already got enough Slytherins causing problems for us, better not bring another one into it.”

Harry takes a quick gulp of his beer and looks at Lee, whose jaw works. If he was annoyed before, he’s even more unhappy now.

“I don’t want you to think I’m more interested in him than you two.” The break in the conversation starts to become uncomfortable and Harry’s desperate to recover the situation. “Wouldn’t make me a very good mate, would it?”

Lee rolls his eyes. “We don’t think you’re more interested in him, you pillock. As if. Malfoy’s a tosspot.”

Harry clears his throat, glancing at George who gives him an odd look. Harry takes a breath and shoves aside the feeling that he’s treading on eggshells. He stops trying to second-guess what Lee and George want him to say and decides to be frank. This isn’t a meeting with Robards or the Aurors. Lee and George are his friends.

“I suppose we are friends, me and Malfoy. I doubt he’d agree, mind. He hates my lot as he puts it, but he’s alright. He probably shouldn’t shag anyone—witch or wizard—in the middle of a Muggle park, but I don’t care that he’s gay. Not at all. It’s not for me to say what’s normal and what isn’t. Not doing anyone else any harm, is it?”

His confession leaves Harry’s heart pounding, his palms clammy and his cheeks hot. He pushes a hand through his hair and meets Lee’s gaze again, relieved to see the stony expression soften. Lee smiles broadly and the strange tension in the air fades away.

“Malfoy’s a prize prat but we’re no homophobes, are we Earless?” Lee says, cheerfully.

“No we’re not.” George shakes his head. “We’re not your chums at the Ministry. We know looking out for Malfoy doesn’t mean you’re in cahoots with Death Eaters. You don’t have to be Mr Ministry here, unless you reckon flashing your card around could wangle us free shots.”

“Doubt it.” Harry laughs, relief flooding through him. He’s become so on edge about Ministry politics and the half-truths he’s been telling Ginny about his tentative friendship with Draco, he’s almost forgotten what it’s like to be unfiltered. “I don’t think Robards likes it when his Aurors go out late on a school night.”

“I’ve seen Robards snogging Rosmerta after one Ogden’s too many, before he got all hoity-toity.” George winks. “Your secret’s safe with us.”

“You could always remind them you saved the world. I reckon that should get us at least a couple of flaming sambucas.” Lee flicks his wand, turning the tip of it into a quill. “It’s time for a team name. Any ideas, Harry?”

“Dunno.” Harry shrugs, glancing at the table of Slytherins. “How about Salazar Slytherin Was Pants?”

Lee writes quickly before sitting back with a contented sigh. “We’re going to win this week. I’ve got a good feeling about it.”

They come third, but it’s still the best night out Harry’s had in ages.

*

When Harry finally gets to his favourite Muggle pub—a hidden gem off a cobbled street in the Square Mile, mercifully free from bankers, lawyers and traders—Draco is already there. He looks as elegant as ever, his striped shirt crisply ironed and open at the collar.

“You found it okay, then?” Harry sits opposite Draco after grabbing a pint of lager for them both.

“Gringotts have a relationship with the Bank of England. I’m familiar with the City,” Draco points out. He takes in the little pub, haughtily. “We usually drink elsewhere.”

“Shocking.” Harry resists the urge to roll his eyes. “We could have used you on the pub quiz at the Leaky the other night. There were loads of stupid questions about potions and some weird old coins.”

“How rude not to ask about Harry Potter’s greatest achievements or the length of Godric Gryffindor’s sword.” Draco’s lips tilt into a smile. “Good night?”

“The best.” Harry sits back with a sigh of satisfaction. “I haven’t seen Lee and George in ages.”

“George Weasley and Lee…Jordan?” Draco frowns as if he’s trying to place him.

“Yeah, that’s the one. Had a thing for Angelina Johnson. Best mates with the Weasley twins.”

“Of course.” Draco nods, but doesn’t offer anything further. “Speaking of the twins, don’t you have a stake in their joke shop? The shares have been doing well.”

“Yeah. Don’t tell me you’re going to give me financial advice. I thought this was your night off.”

“It is.” Draco pulls a face. “And here I am, drinking flat lager in a pub that smells like old frying pans.”

“It’s not that bad.” Harry glances at Draco. “Lee and George asked about you.”

“I’m sure they did. Are they worried I’m going to convert you to my deviant lifestyle?”

Harry turns his eyes heavenward. “Hardly. I told them we’re friends.”

“I think we’re a few drinks away from friends, Potter.” Draco doesn’t sound at all shocked by the bold assumption, but Harry doesn’t miss the note of pleasure in his tone. He adjusts the collar of his shirt and points at the bar. “I suggest shots. If you’re attempting to get me to let loose, a pint and a packet of salt and vinegar crisps isn’t going to cut the mustard.”

“Fine.” Harry rubs his hands together, eyeing something green and toxic behind the bar. Trusty old Apple Sours. “I’ll see what I can do.”

*

Despite the fact it’s supposed to be Harry’s night, Draco complaining about the smell of chip fat is annoying enough that Harry agrees to move on to a bland Pitcher and Piano, full of Muggles in suits taking business calls on their mobile phones. They settle in a seat outside with their white wine perched in a bucket of ice and manage to keep away from a particularly rowdy group having post-work drinks. It’s a cool evening, but the outdoor heaters make it pleasant enough, and it’s much better than the busy bar inside.

“Thursday’s the new Friday.” Draco pours them both a generous glass of wine and puts the bottle back in the bucket. “I thought you hated wine.”

“I hate red wine.” Harry has a sip of the cool, dry liquid which wouldn’t have been his choice, but it’s drinkable. “This isn’t bad.”

“I’m glad it meets with your approval.” Draco glances at a Muggle who pops open a bottle of champagne, holding it aloft with a cheer. He pulls a face. “I can’t believe this is your stomping ground. I don’t even like coming here, and I actually work in finance.”

“I don’t like this place.” Harry rolls his eyes. “I like my pub, but you kept complaining about it.”

“I have to live up to expectations.” The crowds around them head back inside after finishing their cigarettes, and the area quietens. “Thank fuck we’re going to Knockturn next week.”

“Are you sure it’s a good idea?” Harry’s mouth goes dry and he turns his glass, watching the wine instead of looking at Draco. “I’ll probably end up getting arrested knowing my luck.”

“You won’t. Not if you’re with me. I know an Auror in a Glamour by now.”

Harry stares at Draco. “I’m going to be an Auror in a Glamour.”

“You’re different.” Draco waves a hand. “You’re not sniffing around trying to make an arrest. At least I hope you won’t be. I wouldn’t want to compromise your position as the world’s most insufferable do-gooder, but I expect you to turn a blind eye for one night. Consider it your evening off.”

“I’m not going to start arresting people,” Harry scoffs. The last thing he wants to do is call attention to himself. Not to mention he’s never been fond of adhering to rules when they’re rubbish ones.

“Does the idea of going to Knockturn make you uncomfortable?” Draco’s expression is unreadable, his gaze steady.

“Yeah.” Harry takes a sip of his wine, the light booziness making him more relaxed than usual. “But not for the reasons you think.”

“What other reason could there possibly be?” Draco’s careful mask slips momentarily, replaced with open curiosity.

“Nothing. Doesn’t matter.” It’s a confession too far and Harry’s beginning to regret the beer, the shots and the wine. He stands abruptly, grabbing a menu from the table. “Chips?”

“If you want.” Draco shrugs. “As long as you’re buying.”

Harry makes his way quickly inside, orders a pint of water, chips and some bread. He knows he’s dangerously close to saying something to Draco he’s likely to regret, and he resolves to take it easy on the wine. It’s one thing being open around George and Lee, it’s a totally different thing being open around Draco.

There are too many questions Harry isn’t ready to answer, too many things he doesn’t want to say.

Water and carbohydrates. That should do the trick.

*

The food isn’t exactly tapas at the Manor, but it hits the spot. It sobers Harry up enough to have several energetic debates with Draco, discussing everything from Quidditch to Robards’ recent appointment as Minister. Draco is different when he relaxes, his cool demeanour slipping as he tells Harry about a recent trip to New York to purchase some more of his fancy art. He’s interesting, Harry realises. Funny, too, in his Malfoy-like way. The barbs are less pointed and mean than the ones of old, and Harry is well able to match Draco point for point when it comes to verbal sparring. The night flies by and a barman starts cleaning impatiently around them, pointedly stacking nearby chairs. It’s a clear sign they’ve overstayed their welcome.

“We could go somewhere else if you like.” Draco puts his hands in his pockets and looks up at the round dome of St Paul’s that towers above them. The busy square is quiet, with only a handful of stragglers left in the various bars that all seem to be shutting up shop for the evening. “Although I do have an early meeting tomorrow.”

“Me too.” Harry’s reluctant for the night to end but he needs to brief the Aurors on a new case in the morning. It’s important he’s alert, not drowning himself in coffee. “I’m not close enough to walk. We’ll need to find somewhere quiet so we can Apparate.”

“I know a spot that should be dead at this time.” Draco begins walking, and Harry falls into step beside him. “At least I’ve escaped the threat of a kebab.”

“Next time,” Harry promises.

“There’s going to be a next time?” Draco ushers Harry down a quiet cobbled street, stopping under a small arch away from the hum of traffic and the chatter of late-night bars and clubs. “Careful, Potter. People will start to talk.”

“Don’t.” Harry’s good mood fades and he frowns at Draco. “Why do you always do that?”

“Do what?” Draco’s cool demeanour returns, his eyebrows raised in question.

“Make it sound like we’re—” Harry stops, unable to finish the sentence. “You know what you’re doing. I’m not interested in men and I’m certainly not interested in you.”

“Oh relax,” Draco drawls. “You’re really not my type. Your idea of letting loose is a quiet pint in one of the dullest pubs in London.”

“I know how to let loose.” Harry’s voice wavers, his heart quickening. No, no. Walk away. Don’t start this. He pushes his thoughts to one side and glares at Draco. “You have no idea.”

“I have some idea.” Draco stops, a smug look on his face. “I bet you can’t even remember what bad sex feels like, let alone what good sex feels like. Funny. I remember a time when Harry Potter used to break the rules instead of making them.”

Harry hates how peculiar Draco makes him feel, and he’s determined not to let him have the upper hand. He knows Draco isn’t half as unflappable as he would like Harry to imagine. He moves closer to Draco, a pulse of anger flaring.

“I’m not sure why you’re thinking about my sex life, Malfoy. You really must be hard up.”

“Not that hard up.” Harry doesn’t miss the flash of pink that colours Draco’s pale cheeks. “Just go home, Potter. Go back to your Weasleys and have a nice life. You’re not made for any of this.”

“Are you always so bloody patronising?” Harry can’t stand Draco’s taunting, the way he just assumes.

“No, but somehow you always manage to bring out the best in me,” Draco replies, his voice layered with sarcasm.

Harry presses closer, close enough that Draco’s breath warms his cheeks. They’re almost the same height, and Draco’s lips are just there, damp and inviting.

“You’re all mouth, Malfoy.” Harry lets his gaze trail over Draco’s face. “I don’t reckon you’d know what to do with yourself if I let loose.”

“Try me.” Draco’s voice is rough, his eyes dark and challenging. “You wouldn’t be the first. Let’s see how scandalous Harry Potter can be. Not very, I bet. With your boring—”

Harry yanks off his glasses and shuts Draco up by kissing him firmly. His hands shake as heat pulses through his body. His sudden arousal overwhelms him, sharp and intense. He wants to show Draco, wants to prove something. If he thinks it’s going to solve any of his problems, he’s wrong. Draco tastes blissfully good, sweet like wine. He surges into Harry with all the fight, fire and passion that’s absent from the cool, bored demeanour he puts on most of the time.

Harry barely recognises the sound that leaves his lips as his own. He slides his tongue into Draco’s mouth, the kiss hotter and heavier than any Harry’s had in a long time. There’s a strangeness in kissing Draco, as if Harry’s floating out of his own body and this is all just a weird, fucked up dream. He’s not sure if it’s the booze, the fact he hasn’t kissed anyone other than Ginny in years, the fact it’s a man, or the fact it’s Draco Malfoy. All he knows is that the unfamiliar lips against his own and the grasp of Draco’s hands on his jacket make his head spin.

Harry shoves Draco back against the wall and Draco goes easily, his back landing with a thud on the damp bricks and his breath leaving him in a huff. Harry never wants the kiss to end, never wants to break this moment where the rest of the world fades away into oblivion. He chases away the voices that crescendo in his head—wrong, wrong, wrong—and traces his hands over Draco’s body, sliding his hands up Draco’s back, taking in the heat of his skin through the thin cotton shirt. It’s peculiar how a kiss can be far less terrifying than Harry imagined—because you did imagine it, over, and over—and still scarier than confronting Voldemort. When Draco moans into Harry’s mouth it’s too much to handle. Harry’s desire floods through him, all his racing thoughts jumbling together until it’s just Harry, Draco and pure, white-hot pleasure.

Harry is blindingly hard, and in that one, desperate moment, he gets it. He gets the urge to sink to his knees, to take Draco into his mouth, consequences be damned. He doesn’t think he’s felt this turned on—this ready to give someone every part of himself—in years, if ever. He breaks the kiss at last and blinks at Draco, taking in his ragged breathing, his dishevelled appearance and the way his lips part as if he’s going to say something Harry already knows he doesn’t want to hear. In that one, fragile moment, Harry comes crashing back to earth and his stomach rolls. Ginny. The muddled, dreamlike confusion during the hottest spike of pleasure ebbs away entirely until there’s nothing left but bitter remorse, self-hatred and a futile, desperate anger Harry hasn’t experienced in a very long time.

“Potter.” Draco’s voice is gruff, his hands dropping from Harry’s jacket. “Don’t do anything stupid.”

Harry tries to reply but he can’t. He wants to say something, wants to yell, cry, shove Malfoy back against that wall and start kissing—or hitting—him until everything else fades away. He swallows and forces himself to step back, putting much needed distance between himself and Draco. With a crack, Harry Apparates on the spot, lucky he doesn’t splinch himself.

He lands in Grimmauld Place and walks heavily up the stairs and strips off his clothes. He turns on the shower, standing beneath it. He trembles as he lets the water sluice over the aching parts of his body that he can’t bring himself to touch. Gay, the voices in his head whisper. You can’t fly away from this one; caught in a storm; eyes like rainclouds; heart louder than thunder; lightning scars don’t hurt as much as this does; you know who you are. Sibilant sounds, scattered thoughts, a rush of hot water over his face and Harry knows. He knows. With a choked-off cry, he slides his hand down his stomach and grips himself in his fist, jerking himself off with quick, rough strokes. His release splashes against the tiles and he drops his head against them, bile rising in his throat as his tears finally start to fall.

The next day, with a stinking hangover, Harry goes directly to the shop Hermione’s been on about for months and browses through the items on display, until he finally settles on one.

Potter. Don’t do anything stupid.

Shut up, Malfoy, Harry thinks. He pushes those voices to one side, tells himself firmly be the man you’ve always wanted to be, gives the salesman a weak smile and points at a ring with a shaking hand.

“That one.” Harry’s heart is in his throat. “The one with rubies.”

“Excellent choice.” The shopkeeper shakes Harry’s hand. “Excellent choice.”

*

It’s odd arriving in Wales without an invitation. It tells Harry two things. First, Portkeys are far easier to arrange than he and Ginny have been claiming and second, he knows absolutely nothing about Ginny’s life with the Harpies. Walking through the corridors of the training centre, he comes face to face with multiple women that may as well be strangers. A few say polite hullos and others give him curious looks, but there’s not a single person there that Harry’s had more than a quick conversation with during one of his visits. He can’t help but wonder why he never insisted on being more integrated in Ginny’s life or why she never invited him to any of the official bashes he knows the Quidditch teams have on occasion. There’s always been some reason. Harry, too busy with work; Ginny, wanting to enjoy a night with the girls—none of them are bringing partners, Harry.

Eventually he finds Ginny chatting animatedly to one of her teammates. “Millie said there’s this bar in Cardiff, three floors high with drag and—”

“Ginny?” Harry approaches awkwardly, heat blooming in his cheeks when she spins around with a look of shock on her face. “I wanted to surprise you.”

“You’ve certainly done that.” Ginny gives her teammate a quick smile then drags Harry outside, leading him to a couple of empty seats in the stand overlooking the training pitch. Her face pales. “What’s happened to Ron?”

“Nothing!” Harry shakes his head quickly, taking Ginny’s hand. “Nothing’s wrong, I promise.”

“Thank Merlin.” Ginny slumps back in her seat with a sigh of relief. “You almost gave me a heart attack.”

“Well.” Harry clears his throat, rooting around in his pocket. Part of him wants to Apparate away, panic welling in his chest. It’s not too late, it’s not too late his brain urges. Draco’s face swims before his eyes, his flushed cheeks and well-kissed lips. He can almost hear Draco’s snide voice asking him what the ever-loving fuck are you doing, Potter? but he pushes it firmly to one side, focusing on Ginny. She’s the one who makes him safe, and happy. She doesn’t get herself arrested for giving people blowjobs on Clapham Common. She’s so bloody beautiful she takes his breath away, a warm, happy energy that Harry wants to cling onto forever. “At the risk of giving you another heart attack…”

Harry trails off, sinking to his knee. Ginny’s mouth opens and her face gets even paler than it did when she thought Harry was bringing bad news about Ron, which isn’t a great sign. Ploughing on, Harry presents the box to her, flicking it open at the lid and giving her a questioning smile. The silence that stretches between them is the only thing more painfully awkward than the concrete beneath Harry’s knee and the weird way his back is squished against the seats on the row in front. Ginny opens and closes her mouth, her cheeks flushing hot red, the colour finally coming back into her face. She looks miserable. Really, really miserable.

“That went well.” Harry’s starting to feel like a right prat, so he gets to his feet and slumps into the chair next to Ginny. He shoves the ring in his pocket and stares gloomily ahead. “I take it that’s a no?”

“I’m sorry.” Ginny’s voice wavers, her body deathly still beside Harry. “I—I never wanted to hurt you.”

“You haven’t.” Harry is a little hurt, truth be told, but he also knew Ginny didn’t want to get married. He knew in his heart, but he blundered on anyway to try to stop his whole world from crashing down around him because of Draco fucking Malfoy. “Marriage just isn’t for us. Loads of couples are happy without getting married. You’ll have to tell your mum, though. She’s been on at me for years and—”

Harry,” Ginny pleads. “Oh Merlin, Harry.” She speaks around a hiccup, her voice quiet. “I don’t think I like wizards very much,” she says in a rush. “Or I like them well enough, but not like you’re meant to. Not like you deserve.”

Harry’s heart nearly stops in his chest and his stomach churns as he tries to process that. He frowns, staring into the distance. There are two girls on the Quidditch pitch, looping around one another on their brooms. The sun dips behind a cloud and he shivers, trying to find the right words.

“You like witches.” Harry’s voice sounds faint and foreign to his own ears, as if his words might be caught on a gust of wind and chased away in a heartbeat. It’s more of a statement than a question; he already knows the answer. He wants to go back to the place before this conversation—before Thursday night—so everything can be normal again. Normal. It’s all he’s ever wanted. All he’s ever craved. No more celebrity, no more Dark Lords, no more stupid scar. It’s dangerous to want something as much as Harry wants to be normal, because when it’s pulled away from you, it’s like your whole body starts to tear apart at the seams.

“You can’t tell anyone.” Ginny’s face is flushed, tears running down her cheeks. She clutches Harry’s arm tight enough to bruise. “I know you think it’s awful—I’m awful—but you can’t tell anyone. Mum and Dad would—” she breaks into a sob, dropping her head into her hands as her shoulders shake.

Emotions crash over Harry and he stays still as he tries to digest Ginny’s words. His head spins and there’s a dull note of anger, at Ginny, at himself. He should have known. There’s a futile rage that pulses through him because nothing will ever be right again. Everything will always be wonky, off-centre, topsy-turvy and upside down. The last bit of normalcy Harry was able to cling to slips from his fingers like sand until there’s nothing left but grit and air. He doesn’t want to live in the shadows, like Draco said. He doesn’t want to be scared of love. His eyes prick with tears and a deep sadness that wells furiously within him, because Ginny has always been his constant. She was there for him in ways nobody else has been since the war, and she understands him. Better than anyone. He rubs his jaw, his hand shaking and the touch of his fingers against his skin like someone else’s hand, someone else’s face. He would Apparate away if he could, but he’d probably splinch himself and he refuses to leave Ginny—brave, wonderful Ginny—thinking Harry can’t love her just as she is. If only she knew.

“I kissed Malfoy,” Harry blurts out. He means to say of course you’re not awful or make a stupid joke about lesbians, if he had any jokes about lesbians. Something to lighten the mood.

“Don’t make fun of me.” Ginny sits up, wiping her eyes with the back of her hand, her body humming with quiet fury. She meets Harry’s gaze, her voice tight, loaded like a tightly coiled spring. “Don’t you dare make fun of me, Harry Potter.”

“I’m not making fun of you.” Harry holds Ginny’s gaze, heat flaring in his cheeks. “I’m telling the truth.”

Ginny sniffles and scrubs her eyes with her hands. Her shoulders get tight and she stares at Harry. “When?”

“Thursday night,” Harry answers. “We were pissed. Not that it’s any excuse.”

“Has it happened before?” Ginny asks, low and dangerous. Harry shakes his head, not trusting himself to speak. The very real possibility that after all this Ginny might turn her back on him leaves him more frightened than he’s been in years. It’s the kind of hollow, desperate fear that makes him want to look at the picture of his parents, curled up in bed with the duvet tightly cocooned around him.

“That’s why you proposed isn’t it?” Ginny’s voice raises and she shoves Harry none too gently. “You proposed because you got off with Malfoy. Oh my god, you’re the stupidest bloody idiot I’ve ever met in my life.”

“I didn’t mean to,” Harry insists. “I’ve got no idea how it happened, one minute he was—”

“—I don’t want to know the details, fucking hell. Gross, Harry.” Ginny gives Harry a watery smile and the tension snaps out of his body, leaving him aching with relief. He’s so tired. So tired of fighting the desperate itch beneath his skin, of pushing back the questions in his mind.

“He’s not so bad.”

“You like him,” Ginny whispers. She stares at Harry, wide-eyed. “Do you think you’re—?”

“I think…maybe.” Harry flashes Ginny an awkward smile, a strange weightlessness leaving him unburdened for the first time in months. He can’t say I’m gay out loud, not yet, but he finds he can admit it in so many words. He can say I think and maybe to Ginny. He can say it properly to himself, with the sun setting on the horizon. He takes a breath and hopes one day he can say it without everything spinning away from him. “If I can’t make it work with you, I’m not sure I’m going to make it work with any other witch.”

“Same,” Ginny says. She leans in and kisses Harry softly on the lips. It’s the first proper kiss they’ve had in as long as Harry can remember. She pulls back, giving him a soft smile. “We’re a right pair of Golden Snidgets. You’re my best friend, Harry.”

“You’re mine, too.” Harry’s voice trembles.

“I love you more than catching the Snitch,” Ginny whispers. It’s their thing. The stupid little phrase that they used to say to one another, when they went flying, when the stars were out, and the moon hung low in the sky. They were so young. So young, so full of grief and a hundred impossible dreams.

“I love you too.” Harry clears his throat, his voice rough. He rubs his eyes and sits forward, watching the sunset. “What happens now?”

“No idea.” Ginny swallows. “You’ve got to be careful, Harry. I’m in a little bubble here. Morgana and half the team are into other witches. It’s different for you. The Ministry, the Aurors. I can’t imagine they’d be sympathetic.”

“I know,” Harry says, quietly. He can only imagine the Ministry being even more hostile once Hermione joins Ron in America, a move that’s due to happen in a few weeks since her application was unsurprisingly successful. He glances at Ginny. “What about your mum and dad?”

“I’m not telling anyone. I can’t, not yet.” Ginny runs her tongue over her lips. “I can talk to you though. Would that be weird?”

“No. It wouldn’t be weird.” Harry fishes around in his pocket and hands Ginny the ring, taking a breath. “Sell it and get a new broom, or those gloves you wanted. It’s yours.”

“I can’t—”

“Please.” Harry laughs, his breath catching. “I was a rubbish boyfriend. I never took you on holiday, never did half the things I probably should have. It’s the least you deserve.”

“We’ll always be family,” Ginny replies, fiercely. “Even if it’s not the kind of family people expected us to be.”

“You can count on it.” Harry leans back, a resigned quiet settling over him. This is it. No more hiding. Not from Ginny or from himself, at least. It’s like welcoming in a new, uncertain dawn.

“I’m scared for you,” Ginny says after a long moment of quiet. She slips her warm hand into Harry’s and squeezes, tightly. “I’m scared for us both.”

“Yeah.” Harry swallows around the lump in his throat. He slips his hand from Ginny’s and wraps her in his arms, nuzzling her head and breathing in the warm, comforting scent of her. “I’m scared for us too.”

*

“For future reference consider any invitation you thought you had rescinded.” Draco glares at Harry as he yanks open the door to the Manor. He leans in the doorway, folding his arms and pointedly not making any effort to move to one side.

“Do we have to do this on the doorstep?” Harry pushes a hand through his damp hair. “It’s pissing it down.”

“I’m not letting you into my house, so you’re just going to have to deal with it.”

Harry casts a charm that leaves him dry and impervious to rainwater, resisting the urge to roll his eyes at Draco’s dramatics. He supposes he deserves it, after fucking off and not contacting Draco again for a week.

“I proposed to Ginny,” Harry begins.

“Are you fucking serious?” Draco lets out a splutter of indignation. His eyes flash and his cheeks flush with anger. “Did you come here expecting me to crack open the champagne?” His lips curve into a sneer, and he leans forward with a furious hiss. “Or perhaps you wanted to warn me off, threaten me with Azkaban again. Go on then, Potter. Call me whatever names you want. I’ve heard all of them, countless times.”

“Do you think I’d do that?” Harry stares at Draco, disappointment flooding through him. He didn’t expect to be welcomed with open arms, but he thought Draco trusted him—at least more than he did a few months ago.

“I don’t know what the fuck you’re planning to do.” Draco snorts. “I didn’t think you’d try to get yourself off against my thigh, for a start. That was unexpected.”

“Not that unexpected, surely?” Harry raises an eyebrow at Draco. “Just let me in, dickhead. This is stupid. I’m not here to tell you to back off or to give you a wedding invitation. Ginny broke up with me.”

A flicker of surprise crosses Draco’s face. “I’m not interested in Weasley’s sloppy seconds.” He stands to the side, nevertheless, giving Harry a suspicious look as he pulls off his jacket and kicks off his shoes.

“I’m not—” Harry swallows back a curt response. It’s difficult to be authoritative when you feel like someone kicked you in the chest and your glasses are steaming up. “Just shut the fuck up and listen.”

“Fine.” Draco slams the door with a flick of his wand and leads Harry into the living room. He sits on the edge of the padded coffee table, facing the sofa. He puts his arms on his legs and leans forward, clearly trying his level best not to make a snide comment. “Go on, then.”

“I’m gay,” Harry says at last. It’s the first time he’s spoken the words out loud—saying them to the mirror doesn’t count—and they settle thick and strange on his tongue. At the same time, the crushing weight and the stomach-churning fear that’s been building since he left Wales eases just a little. It’s good to finally admit it to somebody else without making them fill in the blanks, like Ginny had to. He’s not even sure if it’s for Draco’s benefit, or his own. “I don’t expect anything from you, for the record. I just want you to know.”

Draco’s mouth opens and closes again. “Your pretty girlfriend dumped you and now you’re suddenly gay?” He stares at Harry, incredulously. “Don’t be such a foolish idiot.”

“I’m not being foolish,” Harry says tightly. “Do you think I’d lie about this?”

“I have no idea.” Draco’s voice is faint. He stands and turns his back to Harry, lighting a candle in the corner of the room, an unfamiliar tension in his shoulders. “You can’t joke about something like this. You’re no more impervious than I am. Your name might afford you some leniency, but not enough. Not when it comes to being gay.”

“I’m not joking.” Harry tries to sound firm and convincing, but he’s not sure how to convince someone you’re gay. He didn’t know what to expect, but he thought Draco would believe him at least. The way he’s acting has Harry doubting himself. “Why won’t you believe me?”

“Because I don’t want to believe you,” Draco says. He sounds resigned. “For your sake, rather than mine.”

“Thanks, Malfoy.” Harry sits back on the sofa, rolling his eyes. “You’re really reassuring. So glad I came to you. Remind me to give you a call next time someone dies, or when someone runs over my Crup.”

“You don’t have a Crup.”

“I’m considering it.” Harry looks away from Draco, his jaw set. “Go on, then. Ask me whatever you want. You’ve clearly got a Snidget in your shoe about something.”

“Getting aroused when somebody kisses you—particularly somebody who’s as good at it as me—doesn’t make you gay.” Draco sits down again, staring at Harry with suspicion. “That’s just biology.”

Harry sorts with laughter. “Wow. You really do love yourself, don’t you?”

“It’s important,” Draco snaps. “You can’t just hump a wizard against a wall and then decide you’re gay.”

“First, I didn’t hump you against a wall.” Harry shakes his head, muttering dickhead under his breath. “Second, get over yourself.”

“You’re being ridiculous,” Draco huffs. “You’re in your thirties, you’d have known by now.”

Harry glares at Draco, a sudden anger igniting in him. “You don’t get to tell me who or what I am. Years, Malfoy. I’ve been trying to shove this down, pretend it wasn’t there, hide it away from myself—not to mention everybody else—for years.”

“You’re over thirty fucking years of age, I don’t believe for a second—”

“I don’t care what you believe.” Harry is so furious with Draco, he wants to throw something. His hand twitches towards his wand, anger overwhelming him. “It’s the truth. You might think it’s stupid, pathetic probably, have a good old laugh if you like, but don’t make the mistake of thinking you know me better than I know myself. You reckon you’re so perceptive, just because you’ve been around the block a bit but you don’t know anything, you—”

Harry.” Draco cuts Harry off in his tracks. “I believe you. Stop.”

“Do you think I want this?” Harry’s voice breaks and he gulps in a breath. “I don’t want it. Not one bit of it.”

Draco’s throat bobs as he stares at Harry. When he speaks again, his voice is gruff. “What do you want?”

“To be normal.” Harry lets out a humourless laugh. “It’s all I’ve ever wanted. A quiet life. A quiet, normal bloody life.”

“I see.” Draco’s voice is low and surprisingly comforting. “If you want a bit of advice, stop trying to fight it. It’s better when you do.”

“I don’t know how.” Harry sags back against the sofa, unable to look at Draco. The courage of Harry’s newfound conviction ebbs away from him and he tries to put his tattered thoughts back together. “Maybe you’re right. I’ve got this all wrong, it was a full moon or something.”

“Mmm.” Draco makes a noncommittal sound. “I had my suspicions you know. No idea why. Wishful thinking, perhaps.”

Harry looks up, his heart pounding. “Wishful thinking?”

“If anyone has the power to change things it’s Harry Potter.” Draco shrugs, looking away. “That’s all.”

“Oh.” Harry refuses to let Draco see the way that stings. “I thought maybe—”

“You thought what?” Draco narrows his eyes at Harry.

“Wishful thinking,” Harry replies. He gives Draco a small smile. “That’s all.”

“Did this have anything to do with me?” Draco’s voice is level, but he has a strange, twisted expression on his face. Sadness, perhaps. A spark of hopefulness. Maybe that too is wishful thinking.

Harry supposes there’s no point in denying it. It wasn’t as though Draco Malfoy appeared like a blinding light and Harry suddenly decided he didn’t like witches anymore, thanks to Malfoy’s irresistible charm. The arrest was a catalyst, though. It forced Harry to think about why he kept avoiding political discussions relating to homosexuality with such tenacity. It meant he couldn’t avoid it anymore. The gnawing guilt, lying by omission, the growing fear and the itch beneath his skin all spiralled from that one pivotal moment. Malfoy’s stupid moment of recklessness kickstarted something into action. The desire to spend more time around Draco is just a small part of a much bigger mess, another thing that scares Harry shitless, another question he doesn’t know how to answer.

“Your arrest forced me to confront things.” Harry says eventually. “In a way I’d been able to avoid until then.”

“How’s that going for you?” Draco asks. “Confronting things.”

“Brilliant, thanks for asking.” Harry pulls a face. “I’ve cried in the shower, proposed, been dumped by my girlfriend and then ended up here, Merlin knows why. You made me stand in the rain, bragged about what a great kisser you are and refused to believe I’m actually gay, which is a miserable state of affairs considering you’re the only person I’m planning on telling for the time being. I’d say it’s been a roaring success.”

“For the time being?” Draco’s uncertain expression turns serious. “You can’t tell anyone else at all.”

“Unless you tell the press, I won’t have to.” Harry gives Draco a wry smile. “There’s that blackmail fodder you were after. Scandalous enough for you, Malfoy?”

“I’ll wait until your own team arrest you for cruising in Knockturn. Now that’s a scandal.” Draco stands abruptly, turning his back to Harry again as if he can’t look at him. He presses his palm against the wall and leans against it, seemingly lost in thought. When he speaks again his voice is rough. “You could lose everything. Your Weasleys, your job, your friends. Everything.”

“You still have your job,” Harry says, with more confidence than he feels. “It’ll work itself out.”

“You haven’t even read it, have you?” Draco turns around, his face pinched and furious. “You don’t even know.”

“Read what?” Nerves grip at Harry, fear building within him as he looks around, half expecting to see the Prophet with a picture of his kiss with Draco on the front page.

“Circe, you’re so infuriating sometimes.” Draco sits heavily on the coffee table, his head in his hands. At last, he looks up. “They used Muggle legislation to implement this decriminalisation rot. I’m sure Granger told you that much.”

“Yeah.” Harry swallows. “I’ve read the bits that matter. I know about keeping things private, how strict it is. I’m not daft. I’ll be careful.”

“It doesn’t apply to you,” Draco replies. His voice is heavy, his expression serious and as open as Harry’s ever seen him. “The law doesn’t apply to you.”

“Of course it does.” Harry swallows, staring at Draco. “Why on earth wouldn’t it?”

“The Muggle legislation excluded men serving in the armed forces and merchant navy.” Draco winces, his face twisting into a grim smile. “Guess which jobs they decided that applied to in our world?”

“Aurors,” Harry whispers. A wave of nausea rolls through him, his skin hot.

“Ten points to Gryffindor.” Draco flicks his wand and Summons a bottle of booze. He uncorks it with a pop and drinks it straight from the bottle, handing it to Harry as he swipes the back of his hand across his mouth. “It’s illegal to be an openly gay Auror. As long as you’re in that job it’s a crime, whether you’re in public or private.”

Harry takes a long gulp of the booze Draco offered, his head spinning. Panic rolls through him. Ginny knows. Ginny knows and she could mention it to anyone, to Millie, to her friends. He needs to contact her as soon as he can. He kissed Draco in the middle of London, made a spectacle of them both out there where anyone could have seen them. Stupid, reckless, his brain taunts. Always so reckless.

“You kissed me,” Harry says. His voice is quiet and furious as panic builds. “Outside, where anyone could see. You knew, and you let me do it anyway.”

“I didn’t let you do anything,” Draco snaps. “I assumed you’d read your own legislation and you kissed me first. Doing something wrong is a thrill for lots of people. You wouldn’t be the first to get off on an illicit moment of pleasure, trust me. It’s how I ended up in Azkaban. Don’t turn this around as if I’m to blame.”

“What if somebody saw?” Harry’s voice shakes and he takes another long drink of the booze. It burns as it slides down his throat.

“They didn’t.” Draco sighs. “I know the area we were in like the back of my hand. I’ve got no idea how you found that dreadful pub of yours, I can’t think of a single witch or wizard that would choose to spend time in that area unless they had business there. The only people that do business in the City are Gringotts employees and I’d have recognised them. It was dark, nobody was around.”

Harry rubs his chin, swallowing back another wave of fear as he tries to think rationally. He’s worked as an Auror for long enough that he would have known if anybody was nearby, lurking in the shadows. He would have sensed it.

“You’re right,” Harry says at last. “Nobody was around. It’s why I like the pub you were so rude about. There’s never anybody gawking at me.”

“That explains a lot,” Draco replies. “I’m not as stupid as you clearly think I am. I don’t want you to lose your job either. You’re one of the few people at the Ministry that would bother trying to get me out of prison if I end up there again.”

“It’d make my life easier if you didn’t,” Harry mutters. His mind wanders and he sits back on the sofa, taking in the shadows that flicker and dance over the pristine white walls.

The evening has a strange, surreal quality to it. Harry didn’t expect coming out to be like this. The initial weightlessness was freeing, but he never expected it to be so fleeting. He wasn’t prepared for Draco’s revelation or the crushing panic that followed. It dawns on Harry how irrevocably his whole world has changed. Anything he does from here—all those things he wanted to explore—are crimes, in the wizarding world. His whole career has been based around preventing crime and now he’s committing one simply by existing. He’s not even able to be gay like everyone else, his position a footnote, an overlooked clause. He just wants it all to go away, to find space to breathe.

“This is why some of us work for organisations that only care about how much money we can make for them.” Draco interrupts Harry’s thoughts, getting to his feet and putting one of his paintings level. “Stop panicking. It’s not as if you’re going to do anything about it anyway. Nobody will ever find out.”

“What makes you think I’m not going to do anything about it?” Harry’s desperation to quell the twisted knots forming in his stomach intensifies. He supposes being irritated with Draco is as good a distraction as any.

“Because it’s wrong, Potter.” Draco turns and gives him a brittle smile. “You can hardly cope with the consequences of a simple kiss, let alone anything else. You’re not made for the saunas, the shadows. You’ll go on living the same nice, safe celibate life and enforce laws you disagree with, waiting patiently for Granger to change things.”

Harry snorts with laughter. “Yeah, right. We’ll see how that goes. I’m not going to live like a monk, Malfoy.”

Draco rolls his eyes. “Just keep your head down, your cock to yourself and stop being ridiculous. You don’t strike me as somebody who’s particularly interested in fucking anyway.”

“Don’t I?” Harry’s voice is calm but there’s a hum of tension in the air. He’s worked in interrogation for long enough to know when he’s being goaded. He stands and moves close to Draco, until he’s backed against the wall. He puts his palm flat beside Draco’s head, taking in the flash of his eyes and the way his breath becomes unsteady. “You’re so full of shit. I’m not sure what you think you’re going to achieve by riling me up.”

“I’m not trying to achieve anything,” Draco snaps. “Just making an observation.”

“An incorrect observation, for what it’s worth.” Harry presses close to Draco, whose arousal is evident. He brings his lips to Draco’s ear, keeping his voice steady. “You have so many opinions on my sex life. Why is that?”

“I couldn’t give a fuck about your boring sex life,” Draco bites back. “I try not to think about it at all.”

Liar.” Harry moves his lips over Draco’s ear, down his warm neck. He murmurs against Draco’s skin. “I reckon you think about it a lot. I think it gets you hard.”

With a snarl, Draco switches their positions pinning Harry against the wall. “You think you’ve got it all worked out don’t you, Potter? I’m not the nice girlfriend you’ve had since you were seventeen. You couldn’t possibly imagine the things wizards like to do together.”

“I’m not a child,” Harry growls. His anger at Draco trying to educate him on sex of all things would be laughable if it wasn’t so pompous and infuriating. “I don’t need you to explain the mechanics of fucking to me. I think I can work out how it goes.”

“Can you?” Draco’s breath is harsh and ragged. “You can’t be in charge of this like everything else in your life. Did it ever occur to you I might have precious little interest in being fucked by you? Perhaps I want to do the fucking.”

Harry bites back a groan at the thought. He’s so hard he doesn’t give a fuck who does what as long as someone does something. “Did it ever occur to you that I might be into that?”

Draco laughs. “First you tell me you’re gay, now you’re trying to pretend Head Auror Potter likes the idea of being taken by someone like me. I hardly think so.”

“I’m not pretending anything.” Harry pulls open Draco’s belt, his breathing heavy. His knuckles brush against the hard line of Draco’s cock and his mouth waters. “Come on, then. You’re in charge, you obnoxious arsehole. Why don’t you show me the things I couldn’t possibly understand?”

“So brave,” Draco taunts. Despite his tone a flicker of surprise and uncertainty crosses his face, his lips twisting as if he’s fighting a battle within himself. “So heroic pretending being fucked doesn’t scare you.”

“Yeah, dead brave. Really takes a lot of courage to be horny.” Harry rolls his eyes. He takes Draco’s hand and meets no resistance when he presses it against the front of his own trousers. He holds Draco’s gaze, his voice low but firm. “Do I feel scared, Malfoy?”

“You’re enjoying this,” Draco murmurs. He opens Harry’s jeans and pushes his hand down his pants, circling his fingers around him. “You want this.”

“Ten points to fucking Slytherin. Is this gay enough for you, or do I need to turn around so you can fuck me properly?”

When Draco doesn’t respond, Harry opens his trousers and shoves them down. He wraps his hand around Draco and falls back against the wall with a thud, sucking in a breath when Draco strokes him just so. He rubs his thumb over the thick, blunt head of Draco’s cock and arousal pulses through him at the thought of taking it inside his body. He doesn’t have much experience with cocks, but he knows he likes the way Draco’s feels in his hand.

“If it’s not too nice for you, you could always kiss me, you prick.” Harry barely recognises his own voice, the words falling from his lips in a shudder of pleasure.

In a heartbeat, Draco’s lips are on Harry’s. There’s nothing warm, nothing gentle about it, and it’s absolutely perfect. The searching, searing kisses leave Harry breathless. He’s dizzyingly hard, and the sure stroke of Draco’s hand pulls him closer and closer. He allows Draco to shift their positions for better access, letting out a deep, throaty moan when Draco brings their cocks together, his hand cold and slick after biting out a familiar spell. Harry clutches on to Draco, yanking at his shirt and touching every part of him he can reach. Draco releases them both and quickly circles his hand around Harry once more, wanking him roughly until his knees get weak. Harry puts his hand back on Draco’s cock, moving it quickly over him. It’s not so difficult, he thinks. It’s bloody brilliant.

They stroke one another faster and firmer until Harry comes with a grunt of pleasure and Draco follows shortly after. Sticky and sweaty, Harry hauls Draco close and kisses him hard enough to hurt. Draco responds with equal ferocity until eventually the kisses calm and gentle. Even the soft kisses are good, the sting of the biting kisses from before making Harry’s lips tingle pleasantly.

Draco steps back from Harry and reaches for his wand to cast a quick Cleaning Charm over them both. His jaw tightens as he tucks himself back into his trousers, his cheeks pink, his hair perfectly messy and everything about him deliciously rumpled. Harry tries not to stare, tidying himself up and clearing his throat when the silence becomes awkward.

It hits Harry with sudden force that he’s had sex with another man. All those years of pushing his desires down, trying to keep them buried. He’s broken the law by coming out and in the same day he’s done things he barely even allowed himself to fantasise about. The magazines Ron and Neville used to pass around at Hogwarts full of smiling witches, the posters he put up in his late teens and early twenties of the same kind of Hollywood starlets favoured by Sirius. He’s always copied people, gone through the motions and done what’s expected of him when it comes to sex. His long, ostensibly happy relationship with Ginny was just part of that. It suited them both for all the wrong reasons and allowed them to lie to themselves.

Harry’s spent so long trying to pretend to everyone—including himself—that he’s straight, the sudden, sharp pleasure and the desperate craving for more is a terrifying affirmation that brings everything crashing into place. The realisation that he’s unequivocally interested in wizards comes as no real surprise at this point, but the ease with which he fell into the physical side of his explorations leaves Harry’s heart hammering in his chest. It felt so good, part of him wants to do it all over again and the rest of him wants to run away and never come back.

Harry tries to busy himself doing something, anything, as panic wells within him. Draco gives Harry a sharp look, an indecipherable emotion flickering across his face.

“I should be getting off—err—home. I should be getting home.” Harry speaks quickly, heat rising in his cheeks.

“You do that.” Draco’s cool tone suggests that any opportunity for further conversation is over.

“Fine.” Harry needs fresh air and quickly. He leaves the room in a hurry, pausing only to say his goodbyes. “I’ll see you around, Malfoy.”

“Yes.” Draco sounds quiet and resigned. “See you around.”

*

The couple of weeks before Hermione leaves for America pass in a whirlwind of activity. Half the time Harry might as well be walking in his sleep, his nights broken and disturbed as the shadows of Grimmauld Place gather force around him. He used to struggle to sleep after the war, but for the last few years he’s been able to rest relatively easily. Now it’s like he’s back there again, nightmares of a different sort plaguing him. They leave him tossing and turning, grabbing a few hours when he can.

Hermione collars Harry at a fancy champagne send-off organised by her department. “Are you sure everything’s okay with Ginny? You look like you haven’t been sleeping.”

“Everything’s fine,” Harry lies. By tacit agreement, he and Ginny decided to let people believe they’re still together, for now. The upside is, Harry doesn’t have to deal with any well-meaning bystanders, flocking like vultures over the carcass of his ruined relationship. The downside is, he has to adopt a false cheer when he talks about conversations he never had, trips he never made. The last few weekends he’s been mooching around Grimmauld Place in his boxers, keeping the outside world—Draco and Ginny included—at bay. “I’m going to visit her next weekend.”

“You are?” Hermione frowns at Harry, her eyes narrowing. “I thought Ginny had plans with a friend. She told Ron she was going away.”

Harry swallows, taking a quick gulp of his champagne. “Yeah. I’m going with her.”

“That’ll be nice.” Hermione relaxes, seemingly satisfied with Harry’s response. “I never thought I would miss this office, but I really think I’m going to.”

“I know it’s going to miss you,” Harry replies. “We all are.”

“I’ll be back soon enough.” Hermione gives Harry a reassuring smile. “Ron too.”

“I can’t wait.” Harry’s throat is dry, his voice thick with emotion. He doesn’t know where he’ll be when they get back. Would you still be my friend if you knew all my secrets? Six months stretches before him, long, bleak and uncertain. The Ministry in the absence of Hermione seems colder than ever.

Life might not have been perfect, but it was stable. There were niggling questions, the ever-present sense of something unresolved, but he was able to sleep, function, get up in the morning, laugh and talk with friends and colleagues. He was content with his lot. He might have complained about the paperwork, the grind of administration, and joked about the boring task of organising his files, but he spent his years since the war working tirelessly to be part of the system. He’s good at his job. He’s Head Auror for fuck’s sake.

The last couple of weeks have forced Harry to stop prevaricating. He knows what he is and no amount of fighting, crying and railing against it will change anything. He’s gay. He’s gay and the legislation that makes saying that out loud a crime isn’t going to change anytime soon. His life feels like a pile of overturned boxes and empty cupboards, but all his soul-searching has finally revealed the thing Harry’s been looking for. The whole mess of his life is upturned and on display, but finally unearthing the truths he's been trying to bury doesn’t make it easier. The realisation that everything has changed irrevocably has hit him with full, devastating force. He can go back to before, but he’ll know. He can’t imagine trying to perform for the crowds with a sham of a relationship just because it’s what he ought to do. He won’t be able to start a relationship with another witch knowing with absolute certainty everything about it will be a lie. He spends the nights tossing and turning, caught between nightmares and reality, until the two become one dark and terrifying whole.

“Harry?” Hermione nudges Harry gently, and he turns to find everyone in the room staring expectantly at him. “I think it’s time for the speech.”

“Right, of course.” Harry clears his throat and gives Hermione a wink, plastering a smile on his face. “I was miles away, thinking about seeing Ginny.”

“I’m sure you were.” Hermione laughs, pushing Harry forwards. “Get your mind off romance and get up there.”

Harry stands and faces his Ministry colleagues. He makes a speech about Hermione’s work and friendship that comes straight from the heart, and it’s a wonder he doesn’t break down in the middle of it.

Everybody claps and Harry gazes into the smiling faces. The applause is hollow, the crowds suddenly untrustworthy. Everything is different and as Harry raises his glass—to Hermione Granger!—he’s lonelier than ever.

If only you knew, he thinks, as people congratulate him on his speech and tell him what a wonderful asset he is to the Ministry.

If only you knew.

By the time the sun comes up the day after Hermione leaves for America, Harry is still awake.

He stands at the window, tears pricking behind his eyes as the sky turns to flames.

*

“I thought I’d check to see how you’re doing.” Kingsley settles into a seat opposite Harry after handing him a cup of coffee. Now he’s no longer Minister he’s been less busy, and he often comes to see Harry to talk about the trickiest cases or to chat about mutual acquaintances. “Hermione had a good send off.”

“It’s what she deserved. I’d hoped we could have a party for friends outside of the Ministry, but there wasn’t time to organise anything. It happened in such a rush.”

“Is she settling in all right?”

Harry laughs. “She’s taking the Magical Congress by storm already. It’s only been two weeks.”

“I wouldn’t expect anything less.” Kingsley chuckles, picking up the paper on Harry’s desk and skimming through it. “I’ve been trying to encourage her to consider running for Minister. I don’t expect Robards to want to do the job for much more than another couple of years. The Ministry needs somebody progressive with a clear vision for the future. Robards isn’t the man for the job.”

“Hermione would be brilliant.” Harry honestly can’t think of a better candidate for Minister, his friendship with Hermione aside.

“Well you’ll have to help me encourage her to run, in that case.” Kingsley gives Harry a warm smile. “You’ve been doing well too, by all accounts. Your work with the young graduates has been exemplary and the new Defence programme you established has been a tremendous success.”

“I enjoy it.” A warm flush of pride courses through Harry. The longer he’s worked at the Ministry, the closer he’s become to Kingsley. He’s been a firm ally and mentor since Harry took his first wide-eyed steps as a fledgling Auror. Kingsley was instrumental in insisting both Ron and Harry had enough experience to lead the Aurors, despite only being in their mid-twenties at the time. “I always liked teaching defensive spells, even during the war when I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. The new hires are a good bunch.”

“They’re very enthusiastic.” Kingsley laughs under his breath. He clears his throat, something obviously on his mind. “There was one thing I wanted to raise with you.”

“Oh?” Harry’s mouth gets dry and he takes another sip of his coffee as his heart pounds more quickly. He knows, his brain sing-songs. He knows what you are. “It sounds serious,” he says, lightly.

“Don’t worry, it’s not.” Kingsley looks apologetic. “It is, however, a little delicate.”

“I’m not very good at delicate,” Harry replies. His hands are clammy, and he puts his coffee down before he spills it all over himself. “I’m like a bull in a china shop most of the time.”

Kingsley sighs, putting down the paper and contemplating Harry. “I wanted to talk about Draco Malfoy.”

“What about him?” Still on edge, Harry braces himself for whatever might follow. “He’s keeping out of trouble, as far as I know. His paperwork has been processed.”

“Yes, I’m sure he’ll keep his nose clean for now.” Kingsley rubs his jaw. “I need to caution you against taking a personal interest in cases such as Malfoy’s. Dawlish tells me you disciplined his sub-team for using unorthodox methods in Knockturn, and Minister Robards made a pointed comment about your newfound politics the other day. For the most part the Aurors are doing a fine job, Harry. The last thing I want is for people to start spreading malicious rumours for their own political gain.”

“There’s nothing for people to spread rumours about.” Harry swallows.

“I know that, and you know that.” Kingsley laughs as if the very idea is ridiculous. “Nevertheless, unsubstantiated rumours can have devastating consequences for one’s career. You’re aware of the rumours that plagued Albus Dumbledore to his death, of course.”

“No,” Harry replies weakly. “I never knew there were rumours about Dumbledore.”

“It became difficult for him at times, a single man living the life of a confirmed bachelor with connections to known homosexuals.” Kingsley waves a hand. “It was never anything more than hearsay but when people sought to remove Albus from his office, they offered a highly persuasive argument that he wasn’t fit to hold his position as a guardian of young children on account of his rumoured preference for other wizards.”

Harry’s head spins, the implication behind Kingsley’s words making him question everything. Dumbledore? Kingsley’s comments are strangely settling, the revelation sending a burst of hope through Harry that clamours uneasily with his fear and shame. It makes him think about his conversation with Draco about the Thestrals. It offers him a strange sort of comfort as he recalls Dumbledore’s kind smile and the way he always encouraged Harry to forge his own path and have faith in his convictions. Harry shakes himself from his thoughts, aware Kingsley is waiting for a response.

“Hermione works on social reform all the time, and you reckon she’s a shoo-in for Minister.” Harry tries to keep his voice level. The last thing he needs is to give Kingsley any doubts. “She asked me to help, she can’t do everything on her own. I don’t believe in the law as it currently stands, should I pretend I do just to keep the peace?”

Even saying that is bold, but Harry keeps his tone bland enough so as not to raise any suspicions.

“Hermione’s a very different case,” Kingsley replies. “She’s a witch with a young family and a husband who also occupies one of the top positions at the Ministry. If your circumstances were similar, I highly doubt these rumours would continue to persist.”

“Are you serious?” Harry sits back in his chair, staring at Kingsley. “You’re telling me I should get married and have kids to help my career?”

“I’m not telling you anything of the sort,” Kingsley scoffs. “Your personal life is none of my business. However, I don’t think making a formal commitment to Ginevra would do you any harm at all. You two seem happy and you said yourself, you’re not the sort of man to overthink things. Why delay the inevitable?”

Harry shuffles his papers on his desk, pointedly not looking at Kingsley. He’s in one part grateful that he and Ginny have kept up their masquerade, on the other, the fact that a superior would presume to offer advice on something so personal leaves him shaking with fury. “I’ll see what I can do,” he says tightly.

“You do that.” Kingsley stands, and Harry gets up from his desk, walking around it to see Kingsley out. “Any plans for the weekend?”

“I’m going away with Ginny and her friends,” Harry replies. He plasters a forced smile on his face. “I thought I might get off early so I can fly. I usually arrange a Portkey, but I fancy some fresh air and exercise.”

“A splendid plan.” Kingsley sounds enthusiastic. “I’m sure you’ve worked hard enough for one week. Take the afternoon off and enjoy your weekend.” He pauses. “Have I offended you?”

“No,” Harry lies. He rubs his chin and pulls a face, deciding to be as honest as he can be. This is Kingsley. He’s fought alongside Harry countless times. “I’m just not sure I appreciate being told how to run my life.”

“I’m not telling you how to do anything,” Kingsley says, quietly. “But I am urging you to quash any rumours, and fast. I speak from experience and not only due to my friendship with Albus. There were a number of times in my career when my suitability to lead high-profile cases was called into question. There were some who thought my role would have been better handled by someone white.”

“I didn’t know that.” Harry stares at Kingsley.

“I rarely discuss it.” Kingsley flicks his wand, so the door closes with a soft snick. He begins to speak urgently. “I agree with you, Harry. About the legislation, about the unfairness of it all. It’s one of the reasons I’m so keen to see someone like Hermione become Minister. But she’s not there yet, and until she is it is imperative that you choose your battles wisely.”

“I will.” Hot tears prick at the back of Harry’s eyes as he imagines everything falling apart. He wonders how he looks to Kingsley, hot-cheeked and on the verge of tears.

Kingsley stares at Harry, his expression grim. “If there is any truth to the rumours—any truth at all—it will ruin you professionally. You can’t be so inclined and remain an Auror. It’s a criminal offence and that can’t be overlooked, not even for you. Even if the law itself is desperately unfair, it is still the law.”

“I just—Kingsley, I—” Harry stops, unable to continue. Not for the first time he feels like a house of cards about to come tumbling down.

“Don’t tell me anything I would be forced to disclose.” Kingsley approaches Harry swiftly, looking at him with concern. “I’m not telling you this because I’m trying to be cruel. Merlin knows if the Ministry ever lost you it would be much worse for it. But you know the position. If it ever came out exceptions had been made, the press would say the Ministry are unwilling to enforce the law against their own. It would undo everything you worked alongside me to implement, the work we put in to ensure Ministry officials don’t believe they’re above the law.”

“I know.” Harry swallows thickly. “I understand. I wouldn’t want anybody to make any exceptions for me, you know that, Kingsley. I never have. I expect to be treated like anyone else.”

“I just want you to be happy,” Kingsley replies. His voice is gruff. “It’s the very least you deserve after everything you’ve done for the rest of us. Don’t choose a path that’s going to make things difficult for you.”

It’s not a choice, Harry wants to scream. He meets Kingsley’s eyes and he knows in that moment Kingsley sees everything. It’s as though he’s using Legilimency and Harry’s mind is an open book. Harry’s shutters fall, and he’s quite sure the expression on his face gives him away as Kingsley’s shoulders slump and his mouth sets in a grim line.

“Dear Merlin.” Kingsley squeezes Harry’s arm tightly. His voice lowers to almost a whisper. “I would never, ever think any less of you. I have nothing but the utmost respect for you as a man, a friend and a trusted colleague.”

Harry rubs his eyes and sighs. Eventually he looks up and sets his jaw, meeting Kingsley’s gaze head on. “The rumours are false. You have my word.” He keeps his voice dispassionate and knows Kingsley doesn’t believe him for one minute.

“As I thought,” Kingsley replies. His own voice is smooth and equally dispassionate. He holds his hand out for shaking and squeezes Harry’s hand firmly. “Constant vigilance, Harry.”

“Yeah,” Harry whispers. His voice cracks. “Constant vigilance.”

Harry watches Kingsley leave before returning to his desk to pack up his things for the weekend. Rummaging through his desk he finds an old, stale packet of cigarettes he discovered when he was cleaning out Sirius’ room. He rarely smokes, but on particularly long nights he sometimes goes outside when the sky is still dark and the first flushes of morning start to break through wispy clouds. He finds there’s something soothing about the scent. Like leather jackets, freshly cut grass on a Quidditch pitch and walking into his favourite bakery in the morning. It reminds him of home and the only family he’s ever fleetingly known.

He stuffs the cigarettes in his pocket and makes his way out of the Ministry. Every step through the opulent corridors is louder and heavier than the last. He feels like a marked man, taking his last steps towards the hangman’s noose.

For one desperate, cloying moment, Harry thinks of the Department of Mysteries, of Sirius and the voices that whisper and sing to him when he’s on that floor. It would be so easy, to go and find Sirius. So easy to make it look like an accident. Harry’s stomach rolls as the lift shoots up and people jostle for space, eager to get their weekends started. They talk about their families, their friends, children, husbands and wives.

The shoulders of Harry’s colleagues begin to press against him, elbows digging into his belly, arms digging into his chest. A dizziness overcomes him as one, singular thought stands louder than all others.

I could end it all and never come back.

The lift pings and Harry is pushed out of the open doors of the telephone box. It’s like thrusting his head above water and with a gasp he gulps in the air. His heart races and he breathes in London. The cool breeze, the fumes from car exhausts and the faint scent of bins left out too long. He takes in another lungful of it, straightens himself out and begins his long walk back to Grimmauld Place.

His footsteps don’t land so heavily anymore. The voice in his head turns to a whisper and then fades away.

*

Harry has no weekend plans, despite what he told everyone. Molly and Arthur are enjoying a trip to the Lake District, Ron and Hermione are away in America, Neville’s wife has just given birth, Luna’s off with Rolf looking for a rare breed of Nargle and it seems peculiar to contact George or Lee outside of the pub quiz. He considered contacting Ginny but remembered at the last minute that she’s going away with an unknown friend. In a moment of madness, he almost went to the Manor, flying out to Wiltshire’s borders before turning around and coming straight back home again. Harry doesn’t want to make a pest of himself skulking around the Manor with a sad look on his face. Besides, Draco’s probably got plans with his own friends, getting ready for a night out at one of the Knockturn bars. It’s what people do on a Friday night. People that aren’t Harry, that is.

After a jog through Regent’s Park, the night sets in and Harry returns to a dark and gloomy Grimmauld Place. He’s already dreading the long weekend that stretches ahead of him. Barrelling around the house with all its ghosts seems lonelier than ever. His skin crawls and fresh waves of nausea and panic catch him off-guard. He’s always been so bullish about breaking the rules, with a courage of conviction that enabled him to win wars and battles, reliant on his intuition. This is totally different. The war waging within himself is the hardest he’s ever had to fight. He doesn’t care about breaking stupid rules but this isn’t even a rule he meant to break. He didn’t even know there was a rule to break. All he wants is a quiet, normal life with a Crup and the warm arms of someone he loves—whatever the law thinks of it—wrapped around him.

By eight o’clock in the evening, Harry is bouncing off the walls. He’s showered—twice—eaten half a ham sandwich he nearly threw up, had two whiskeys and he’s toying with whether he should risk going for a fly, despite the fact he knows he’s had too much booze. He’s so distracted he’d probably end up getting his head knocked off by a jumbo jet, just to really top the week off. As he miserably pours himself another drink, the sound of loud knocking on the door pulls him from his thoughts. He checks himself quickly in the mirror—jogging bottoms, t-shirt that doesn’t have stains on it and bare feet—and decides it’ll have to do. He sincerely hopes it isn’t Pritchard come to take him to Azkaban for being a pervert. With a scowl, Harry yanks open the door and prepares to tell Pritchard to do one.

“Hullo, Harry.” Ginny beams up at him. She’s flanked by a large, snappily dressed girl with cropped hair on one side, and an irritated, expensive-looking Draco Malfoy on the other. “We’re here to stage an intervention.”

*

“I’m not surprised you’re wallowing in self-pity. Your house is more depressing than Azkaban.” Draco looks around the hall with a frown, his disdain apparent.

“We’re not here to criticise his home, you tosspot.” The unfamiliar girl extends her hand to Harry, a broad grin on her face. The fact she called Malfoy a tosspot reminds Harry of Lee, and he’s instantly endeared. “I’m Millicent Bulstrode. I look a bit different to the last time you saw me, I bet. I prefer Millie, if it’s all the same to you.”

“Err, hi.” Harry shakes her hand, the half-familiar features clicking into place. She does look different. Brighter, happier and more colourfully dressed in a patterned shirt, bowtie and smart trousers. “Nice to see you again.”

“Hello.” Ginny gives Harry a big hug, clinging to him tightly. She pulls back, her cheeks flushed and her eyes shining. “Now listen here. You’re not to be cross with me about filling Millie in on the details. I want to help, and she’s got some experience in these matters—”

“Fired from Madam Malkin’s for being a dyke,” Millie interrupts. She lets out a gruff laugh. “I don’t put that on my CV, obviously.”

“I trust her,” Ginny says, earnestly. “I promise you can too. You trust me, don’t you?”

“Always.” Harry smiles at Ginny, lighter and happier already. “I thought you had plans with a friend this weekend?”

“I do. I have plans with you, for tonight and tomorrow morning at least.” Ginny takes off her coat and hangs it, pulling a face. “I don’t like to agree with Malfoy, but it really does look gloomy. We need candles and music.”

“You’re staying over?” The house is warmer than ever, the heavy weight in Harry’s heart easing. “Malfoy, too?”

“If he can put up with us all for long enough.” Ginny retrieves a couple of packets from her rucksack. “He’s certainly not flying back to Wiltshire or trying to Apparate after one of my Hungarian Horntail cocktails. We brought eggs and bacon for breakfast. We got them from a farm in Abercynllaith, the bread and butter too.”

“The rooms aren’t very tidy.” Harry hasn’t dusted properly for the last couple of weeks. He keeps his home nice as a rule, but cleaning’s been the last thing on his mind lately.

“Well go on, then.” Ginny gives Harry a nudge, her voice low. “Go and have a quick whizz round. I’ll put the food away, sort out the lighting down here and get everyone settled.”

“I can’t believe Malfoy’s here for a sleepover.” Harry laughs under his breath, catching Draco muttering something rude about the wallpaper.

“He pretended to be very inconvenienced by it all but he wasn’t a bit convincing.” Ginny winks at Harry. “It evens out the numbers. Besides, he knows a bit more about the lay of the land in London and boys’ stuff. He could be helpful.”

“I can hear you both.” Draco turns and wrinkles his nose as he takes in Harry’s attire. Despite his unimpressed expression, Harry doesn’t miss the places his eyes linger and the memory of Draco’s hard, searching kisses comes flooding back. “You insinuated your way into my life to enjoy my recent misfortune. It seems only fair I should return the favour.”

“I’m glad you’re here.” Harry pushes a hand through his hair, a flush of pleasure as he meets Draco’s gaze making his body hot. “All of you. I was going mad by myself.”

“We thought you might be,” Ginny replies, cheerfully. “With Hermione gone and the fact you’ve been avoiding me. That’s why we came.”

With another quick smile at Ginny, Harry races upstairs. One of the best things about being a wizard is that household chores take no time at all. He doesn’t know what the arrangement is between Ginny and Millie, so to avoid any awkwardness he cleans three rooms. With all the dust and cobwebs lifted, the upstairs looks brighter than before. The rooms that used to belong to Sirius, Regulus, and Orion and Walburga are sparkling clean, the beds neatly made and the bed linen fresh and crisp. The bathrooms have a new glossiness, the various cleaning products all tidied away neatly. Harry tidies his own bedroom too, his cheeks heating as he does so. It’s not that he expects anyone to sleep there with him, but he wouldn’t put it past Malfoy to have a nose around. That’s all.

When he’s finished, Harry strips out of his t-shirt to put on a fresh one. Cleaning is a lot of work when you’re racing around the place. Harry hasn’t used this much magic so quickly since his last training duel.

Harry’s spraying on some deodorant and cologne when a sound at the bedroom door makes him turn. Draco rests against the doorframe, watching Harry. Silence stretches between them as Draco’s eyes slide over Harry’s naked torso. When Draco meets Harry’s gaze at last, his expression is dark and hungry.

“Weasley told me to come and find you.” Draco runs his tongue over his lips, his eyes on Harry’s chest. “She’s making drinks and wants to know what you…fancy.”

“Anything.” Harry’s hand tightens around the t-shirt clutched uselessly in his hand. The memory of Draco pressing him against the wall comes flooding back. Perhaps I want to do the fucking. He swallows. “I was tidying.”

“I can see that.” Draco’s lips quirk into a smile and he pushes himself off the doorframe, wandering around Harry’s room. “Considering the rest of the house is so awful, this room isn’t too bad. Yours, I assume?”

There’s something so odd about having Draco in the same room Harry sleeps in. It’s the room he gets himself off in, the private, personal space he never thought he would be sharing with Draco Malfoy.

“Yeah, it’s my room.” Harry watches Draco poke around, the nosy fucker. “I told you I needed some interior design tips. Maybe you can recommend some fancy art, so I can take old Walburga down. I put her in the room at the back that never gets used, but I still know she’s there. She doesn’t half give me the creeps.”

Draco laughs. “A lick of paint might be the best place to start. I’ll think of some ideas.”

Harry watches Draco study a photograph of Harry, Ron and Hermione with a strange expression on his face. He clears his throat. “I should get dressed and come downstairs.”

“Don’t get dressed on my account,” Draco murmurs. He puts the photograph down and moves close. For one heart-stopping minute, Harry thinks Draco is going to kiss him. Instead, he reaches around Harry to pick up the cologne. “Is this Muggle?”

“Yeah.” Harry’s body responds to Draco’s proximity, the closeness making him dizzy. He itches to put his hands on Draco’s slim hips, to pull him close and enjoy the burn of his kisses again. He wonders what Draco would say if he asked to be taken, right here, right now. “Ginny gave me some fancy gifts when she got her first payment from the Harpies. It’s from Liberty’s. I liked it so much I’ve used it ever since.”

“Weasley has good taste. In more ways than one.” Draco sniffs the bottle before putting it back down. When he pulls back, he’s close enough that Harry can feel the heat of his body and he knows with absolute certainty that Draco can’t be oblivious to Harry’s reactions. “Cologne smells different on everyone. It’s the way it reacts with the skin. What suits one person might not suit another.”

“I suppose it’s trial and error,” Harry says. He slides his fingers over the crisp cotton of Draco’s shirt, his skin warm through the thin material. Harry breathes in, his fingers tightening in the shirt, his breathing as ragged as Draco’s. “Trying different things until you find something that suits you.”

“And when you find something that suits you, you keep it?” Draco gives Harry a slow, questioning smile.

“Yeah.” Harry slides his hand up Draco’s arm, his voice rough. “That’s what I do.”

“Come on, boys! It can’t take you that long to clean a couple of rooms.” Ginny’s voice travels upstairs, and Harry pulls back with a quick, giddy burst of laughter.

“I think we’re wanted.”

“Yes,” Draco agrees. He gives Harry one last, long look, and then moves away entirely. “I think you are.”

Harry yanks on his t-shirt and follows Draco downstairs. Ginny hands him a drink and gives him a knowing look, which he ignores. The living room has been transformed, the whole space now bathed in light, with poppy, upbeat music filtering around the room. He supposes it’s a trick she must have learned from her parties with the Harpies, and he’s definitely not complaining.

Instead of feeling like time is racing on without him, Harry’s reminded how young he is, how young they all are. Thirty-two is nothing, not for a wizard, not even for a Muggle. He’s got friends, magic, the tentative flushes of whatever’s going on with Draco, and he’s not nearly as alone as he thought he was when he returned home to Grimmauld Place earlier that evening. The chill in the house ebbs away and everything already seems bright and alive with possibility.

Millie and Draco begin a heated debate about whether or not Pansy Parkinson is the Prophet’s anonymous Agony Aunt, and Ginny takes a seat next to Harry on the sofa, talking excitedly about the upcoming Quidditch season and her plan to go and visit Ron and Hermione in New York.

“Thank you for this.” Harry reaches for Ginny’s hand and squeezes it. “I was in a spot of bother at the Ministry earlier. I needed company.”

“Anything you want to talk about?” Ginny looks worried, her brow furrowing.

“No, not really. Things just built up, I started thinking about Sirius.” Harry shrugs. “It’s okay. It’s better, now you lot are here.”

“It’s what family does.” Ginny gives Harry a soft smile and he notices the shine of a necklace fashioned into a H around her neck. The rubies and diamonds glimmer in the soft candlelight. Hermione was right. It really does look beautiful with her hair.

“You didn’t get new gloves,” Harry murmurs. He touches the necklace, the surface smooth beneath his fingers.

“It didn’t seem right, hocking it for something I’ll only need to replace again in a couple of months.” Ginny leans in to press a quick kiss to Harry’s cheek, before sitting back with a grin. “You can get me new gloves for Christmas.”

“I’ll see what I can do.” Harry laughs. The conversation lulls and he takes a breath, deciding it’s better to be unburdened than to let his thoughts fester for too long. “Kingsley came to see me today. He wanted to warn me that people are talking about me taking a personal interest in Malfoy’s case.”

Draco raises an eyebrow and gives Harry a careful look. Eventually he frowns and looks away, clearly deep in thought.

“I can’t believe it.” Ginny’s cheeks turn red and she shakes her head. “How on earth does Hermione get away with it and not you?”

“I asked that.” Harry gives Ginny a lopsided smile. “It’s different when you’re married with kids. Less chance of the rumour mill going into overdrive. He seemed to think the rumours would soon go away if I proposed.”

“How romantic.” Ginny rolls her eyes. “It’s the love story of every young girl’s dreams. A nice, handsome man proposing because it’s going to be good for his career.”

Harry laughs, the weight of the conversation with Kingsley easing just a little bit more. He doesn’t plan to tell anyone the full story because it could potentially compromise Kingsley’s reputation if people felt he had any inkling about Harry’s preferences.

“Can’t be much worse than someone proposing because they’re panicking about being gay,” Harry points out.

“No.” Ginny grins. “But it can’t be brilliant proposing to a lesbian. Like I said, we’re a right pair of Golden Snidgets.”

“That we are.” Harry looks up to find Draco watching him intently. “Kingsley made it pretty clear I’ll lose my job if it turns out the rumours are right.”

“I can’t say I’m surprised.” Draco pulls a face. “I don’t see how it’s possible to make an exception, even for you. Unless the law changes, it is what it is.”

“Can’t you change the law?” Millie asks. “Remind them you saved the bleedin’ world and tell them to shove their stupid homophobic legislation up their arseholes.”

“I wish.” Harry shakes his head. “I can’t just make laws by myself. I’d have to lobby for the law to be changed and that wouldn’t exactly be discreet.”

“I thought the Ministry was all about reform these days.” Millie pulls a face. “They’re pretty behind the times if you ask me.”

“A lot’s changed.” Harry shrugs. “There’s still the odd archaic law like this one where we’re miles behind the Muggles, but they wouldn’t have dreamed of firing me back in the day whatever the law said. They would have hushed everything up, probably one or two people would have tried to blackmail me to keep it out of the press. The fact they’d have to let me go shows the Ministry’s reformed, as unfair as the reasons might be. Nobody’s above the law.”

“Not even Harry Potter,” Draco says.

“Or Albus Dumbledore,” Harry replies. “Kingsley mentioned his job was at risk because people spread rumours about him.”

“I remember.” Draco gives Harry a grim smile. “It was an early indication of my father’s views on homosexuals. I probably cheered them on at the time, ignorant little brat that I was, but I remember the school governors took a great personal interest in trying to unearth details about his private life. They never had any success. If there was any truth in the matter, he covered his tracks.”

“I never had any idea.” Harry frowns. It never occurred to him that Dumbledore would have any kind of private life. “Perhaps he was living two lives. Split down the middle, like you said. The person he was and the person he was allowed to be.”

Draco nods, his expression grim. “Do you even care about this job of yours? With this house and the Black inheritance, I can’t imagine you need the money.”

Harry’s jaw works because he knows he’s lucky. It’s highly unlikely he’ll get sent to prison. He’d be able to live for a while at least on his inheritance, and his share in Weasleys’ Wizards Wheezes brings in money every month. He’s sure someone would hire him eventually.

“It’s not about money,” Harry says at last. “It’s always been more than a job for me. I don’t know who I am if I’m not an Auror.”

“You’re Harry Potter,” Ginny says fiercely. “That’s who you are. Not the Ministry, not some government department. They didn’t help you much when you needed them. They let a young boy fight their wars. They’d be wise to remember that.”

“I actually like the Ministry,” Harry replies. “If I hated being there I’d tell them to stuff their poxy laws, but I’ve wanted to be an Auror for as long as I can remember. You know that.”

“I remember.” Ginny squeezes Harry’s hand, and the room gets quiet enough to hear a pin drop, only the background music humming and drumming around them.

“It’s a good place to be,” Harry continues. “I work with my best mates, I get to help the kids just starting out. I can change things working there, I already have. I don’t know what would happen if I couldn’t do this. There’s nothing else I want to do.”

Everybody looks miserable, and Draco’s frown returns. Harry isn’t sure if they’re unhappy because they were hoping he would leave and take up this new fight, or if they all suspect he’s going to be kicked out on his ear whatever he does. From the way Millie looks at him, open and sympathetic, he suspects it’s the latter. They think it’s all going to come out in the end, his brain whispers. You think so, too. It’s just a matter of time.

“In that case, you need to be careful.” Draco’s firm, authoritative voice breaks the mood as he studies Harry, a strange heat behind his eyes. “You need to brush up on the art of subterfuge. I can’t imagine that’s where your magical strengths lie.”

“Subtlety isn’t my strong point.” Harry winces.

“Gryffindors do tend to wear their bleeding hearts on their sleeves,” Draco agrees. “Just be very choosy about the people you trust. You know the Aurors use Glamours to flirt with men in Knockturn only to arrest them as soon as their interest is reciprocated. That’s how Roger was caught soliciting. They tried to claim he was resisting arrest, when it was three against one and all he wanted to do was get them off him.”

“I hauled Dawlish in to reprimand him about that, not that it did much good.” Once again, a hot fury curls within Harry. He’s part of the actions taken against people like Roger. Directly or not, it’s his team policing Knockturn, on his watch. “They usually listen to me or come to me directly if they disagree with my approach, but not on this. I haven’t been involved with Knockturn in years. I was attacked shortly after the war and the Ministry felt it was a security risk to have me working in that area, not to mention my face is too familiar. Dawlish has always run stuff over there. It doesn’t help that Robards keeps overruling me.”

“Just keep your head down, for Merlin’s sake.” Draco’s lips press into a thin line. “You don’t have to fight every battle.”

“I’d avoid the bars in Knockturn if I were you, at least for the time being.” Ginny gives Harry an encouraging smile. “You can come to Cardiff and spend time with me and Millie. Nobody from the Ministry ever bothers with Wales.”

“Knockturn’s definitely out,” Harry agrees. The whole sorry mess is much bigger than not being able to go to a bar, but he’s so curious. He wants to go to the places he never knew existed, to be somewhere with people who are just like him—wizards like him. Despite the frustration that grips him, he knows it’s a risk he can’t take. “Even the Muggle bars in London won’t be safe. Too many Aurors patrolling or drinking nearby.”

“Chin up,” Millie says. “There’ll be plenty of bars, plenty of parties. Our lot are good at them, if you like that sort of thing. You’re not going to get caught out, either. You’re Harry Potter. If anyone can spot a shit Glamour on a Ministry employee, it’s you.”

“There’s Manchester too,” Draco comments. “I suppose I could come with you, if you’re desperate to see the inside of a gay bar.”

“Sounds like you’re asking Potter here on a date,” Millie says, cheerfully. “Well done, Malfoy. You almost had us fooled into thinking you’re just trying to be helpful, doing your bit for the cause. It’s a tricky old way to go about asking someone out, but whatever works for you.”

Ginny snorts with laughter and Harry’s cheeks heat. Draco avoids Harry’s eyes and he sends a light hex in Millie’s direction that makes her yelp. The room descends into laughter, the music pulses and twists around them and Harry settles back on the sofa as his head spins. The idea of building such a secretive life when he’s always lived so unapologetically sits uneasily with him, but he supposes he should get used to the new normal.

“Don’t look so glum, Potter. You’re putting me off my booze.” Draco rolls his eyes. “You’re not the first person from the DMLE who’s been in this position, and others seem to manage. Think of that Headmaster of yours, or the Thestrals.”

Draco’s comment catches Harry off-guard. “I thought you hated that analogy.”

Draco shrugs. “Much like the art I purchased to piss off my father, it’s grown on me.”

Harry tries to cheer up, but his mind keeps returning to his conversation with Kingsley and the claustrophobia that comes with trying to breathe underwater. As much as he appreciates the new, buoyant quality the night has taken on, he hates the idea of leaving one lie behind to dive straight into another. He’s always prided himself on being forthright with people. He closes his eyes and swallows, the oppressive weight of staring into an uncertain future pulling him down once more. The options clamour together in his head, each one screaming out for attention. Part of him thinks he should get out of the Ministry and fight for what’s right, but he’s always believed that change is best accomplished from the inside.

He needs Ron and Hermione in his life, Molly and Arthur. He has no idea how any of them would react if he told them the truth. He loves having a job that keeps him interested and active, loves being somewhere he can make a change. He likes to get involved in battle strategy, fighting and teaching new Aurors about Defence. Not to mention if anything came out about his private life, the papers would never shut up about it. He’s used to having confidence in his judgment when he makes difficult decisions, but he doesn’t have a clue what to do about this mess. He just wants to pull everything back, to yell for time to stop while he works out what to do next.

He gets up abruptly, mumbling something about needing a top-up, and makes his way outside. With a shaking hand, he fishes out Sirius’ old cigarettes and lights one, promising himself this isn’t a habit he’s going to take up. He flicks his wand to Summon the old, battered leather jacket that Sirius used to wear and slips it on, taking a seat and staring out at the small garden, overgrown with weeds. He takes in the way they strangle the flowers, running a hand over his neck and having another long puff on his cigarette.

“What would you do, Sirius?” Harry asks the stars. “Would you think I’m all wrong?”

The door clicks and the rustle of somebody moving close to Harry pulls him out of his thoughts.

“Ginny said you’d be out here.” Millie leans against the wall at Harry’s side, her hands in her pockets. “She told me to check you weren’t smoking.”

“How the hell does she know I’m smoking? I’ve barely had a cigarette in my life before.” Harry huffs. “Not since I got off with Malfoy, at least.”

“Getting off with Malfoy seems as good a reason as any to take up a vice that could possibly kill you,” Millie replies.

It makes Harry laugh out loud, the sheer act of doing so easing some of the tension steadily building between his shoulders.

“It’s not going to be a habit,” Harry says. He glances up at Millie. “You and Ginny seem…close.”

“I don’t want there to be any funny business between us, Harry,” Millie says, gruffly. She meets Harry’s gaze head on. “I like her and for some daft reason I think she likes me. It’s only fair you know.”

“I guessed.” Harry gives Millie a smile. His heart aches for the lost future he might have had with Ginny, but he knows this way is better, whatever happens next. “It’s none of my business and neither of you need my approval, but you’ve got it, if it helps. Just don’t mess her around.”

“I won’t.” Millie’s voice is fond. “She keeps me on my toes.”

Harry laughs, softly. “Yeah, she does that.”

“There’s someone for you too,” Millie says, quietly. “Even Malfoy’s got to be better than living a lie. At least you fancy him.”

“I don’t—” Harry stops. There’s really no point in denying it anymore. “How did you guess?”

“I don’t think either of you are half as subtle as you think you are.” Millie laughs.

“Either of us?” Pleasure worms through Harry, a flicker of anticipation and hope chasing away the dark thoughts from before.

“Merlin, yes. He’d be barmy not to be interested. I’d be interested myself, if I wasn’t a lesbian.”

“Thanks.” Harry grins. He sobers and considers Millie’s suggestion that Harry’s interest in Draco might not be a one-way thing. “He’s been doing this for so long and I’ve got no idea what’s going to happen. If things go to shit he won’t want another mess when he’s just got over his own. The timing is all fucked up. If I had a year to get used to it—”

“Have you had this conversation with him?” Millie interrupts. “Because you probably should. Maybe the timing is exactly as it should be. Sort of balances things out a bit, doesn’t it? I’d warrant he might like the idea of being able to help, when he’s not done much to help you in the past. Those of us who made bad decisions during the war have a lot of making up to do. Besides, don’t kid yourself Malfoy’s got everything all worked out. Takes more than a fancy art collection and false bravado to heal some of those wounds. Trust me.”

“You think?” Harry puts out his cigarette and sits back, looking at the stars. He wraps the leather jacket around himself, like a hug. “How do you do it? You know exactly who you are, and you’re not ashamed.”

“I was, though.” Millie shifts in place next to Harry. “I fancied Parkinson something rotten at school. But Pansy always collected pretty, shiny things. Like a magpie. I reckon I embarrassed her, following her around like a big lummox. She did my makeup once and laughed herself silly afterwards. I’ve never been much good at pretty.”

“Honestly, I’ve always thought Parkinson was a bit of a twat.” A fierce protectiveness takes up residence in Harry’s chest. “She doesn’t know what she’s missing out on.”

“Don’t be soft.” Millie sounds amused. “You’re a good man. Don’t let anyone tell you different. A hero. Imagine what that’ll do if it does ever come out. Those Ministry arseholes might not think much of it, but think of that young, gay wizard knowing he’s going to be alright because he’s just like Harry Potter.”

“I’d never thought of it like that,” Harry murmurs.

“You should.” Millie claps Harry on the shoulder. “I’m not going to tell you it’s all going to be fine, or any of that rot. But perhaps one day you and Malfoy will be sitting outside—on a yacht or something, knowing Malfoy—a pair of old queens that have seen more of the world than most. You’ll look back on this and say we were there. For the bad bits, the good bits and everything else in between. You’ll remember this. You’ll remember you started fighting for something new the night you came outside just to catch your breath.”

Harry draws a breath, his hands trembling as he swallows around the lump in his throat. He’s strangely close to tears.

“Thanks,” he says, gruffly.

“You might not know me yet, but you’re family now,” Millie replies. “You’re part of this odd little tribe of ours, and there’s more of us out there than stars in the sky.”

Millie squeezes Harry’s shoulder then slips inside and shuts the door quietly behind her. Harry watches her leave before tipping his head back and staring into the starry night.

Dark clouds pass over the moon, moving through the sky like Thestrals.

*

“I thought I’d make myself another drink.” Draco’s in the kitchen when Harry gets back inside. “Give those two a minute.”

“I like Millie,” Harry says. He sits up on the kitchen counter, watching Draco. “Were you friends before all this?”

“No.” Draco turns, his eyes darkening as his gaze sweeps over Harry. “Nice jacket. Perhaps there’s hope for you after all.”

“This?” Harry laughs. “It belonged to Sirius. I wear it, sometimes. It feels like home.”

“Home looks good on you.” Draco pours another glass of wine and hands it to Harry. At some stage Harry should probably remind Draco he prefers beer. “I didn’t even know Bulstrode was queer until her and Weasley stumbled out of my fireplace and demanded I come and save you from your disgusting wallpaper.”

“I’m glad you came,” Harry says, honestly. “I reckon I might have been a third wheel, otherwise.”

“You’re welcome.” Draco puts his wine on the side and moves towards Harry. “I caught some of the things you said outside.”

“Nosy fucker.” Harry slides off the counter, so he and Draco are eye-level again. “What parts?”

“Something about timing. Apparently Bulstrode thinks I can afford a yacht.”

“Can you?” Harry’s voice has a breathless quality to it. He would almost be embarrassed, but Draco doesn’t seem to care.

“Probably.” Draco shrugs. “After another few years at Gringotts.”

“Lucky you.”

“I’ve been thinking a lot about your peculiar ways.” Draco moves closer to Harry, giving him a look that chases Harry’s breath from his lungs.

“I don’t have any peculiar ways.”

“You think Thestrals are beautiful.”

“Yeah, I do.” Boldly, Harry puts his hands on Draco’s waist and pulls him closer. “So what?”

“You’re very strange, Potter,” Draco murmurs. “You and I see the world so differently.”

“Not that differently anymore,” Harry replies. “Do you think I’m right about the timing?”

“I have no idea.” Draco presses Harry against the counter, his breath warm on Harry’s lips. “I’m not sure I can ever imagine living in a time that’s ready for us.”

Despite his words Draco slides off Harry’s glasses and wraps his hand around the back of Harry’s neck, closing the distance between them. The kiss is nothing like their previous ones, full of hot, desperate urgency and futile rage. This kiss isn’t the result of goading or verbal sparring. There’s no confusing guilt, no anger, no panic. Instead it’s like being kissed—or kissing—for the first time. It’s slow, firm and open-mouthed. Draco’s tongue slides against Harry’s and their lips fuse together as Harry pulls Draco closer, sinking into the blissful moment. He doesn’t care that the kitchen counter is hard against his back, or that Ginny and Millie could walk in on them at any time. He just wants to keep kissing Draco until all the noise in his head fades away entirely.

“I thought you said the timing wasn’t right?” A small, euphoric smile tugs at Harry’s lips when they break apart.

“I didn’t say that. It’s probably as good a time as any we’ll have in our lifetimes. It is what it is.” Draco pauses, his jaw working. “I’ve been thinking a lot about the day you came to see me…the things I did.”

“Me too.” Harry slides his hands down Draco’s back, lingering at the base of his spine. He really has been thinking about it a lot. A lot. “Good things?”

“I don’t know,” Draco replies. Harry has the sense he wants to say something else, but instead he gives the lapel of Harry’s jacket a light tug. “Wear this more often. I like it.”

Harry follows Draco into the living room after shrugging off the jacket and sending it upstairs with a flick of his wand. Ginny turns the music up and insists Harry dance with her.

They drink sweet cocktails and the night stretches on, the light from the candles making the shadows dance alongside them.

*

When everyone begins to flag, Harry shows Ginny and Millie to the two rooms he tidied for them, smiling to himself when he sees them putting their bags in just one. He makes his way down the long corridor towards his own bedroom and stops still in the doorway when he finds Draco, sitting on the edge of his bed.

“You lot might have told me I only needed to clean one room.” Harry closes the door and leans back against it, folding his arms. “I could have saved some energy.”

Draco stands and moves towards Harry. “I’ll leave you to it shortly. I’m just here to borrow pyjamas.”

“Sure, Malfoy.” Harry grins and takes off his glasses, sending them to the bedside table with a flick of his wand. He reaches for Draco who comes willingly.

The kiss happens with such speed, it almost catches Harry off-guard. It’s nothing like the slow, exploratory kiss from earlier. It’s the kind of kiss that reminds Harry of their night out in London and being at Malfoy Manor. It goes straight to Harry’s cock, his body surging against Draco’s as he pushes his hands into Draco’s hair and deepens the kiss. He falls back against the nearest wall with a thud, the brilliance of being free to do whatever they want pulsing through him. The anticipation leaves him breathless, Draco’s hot, searching lips making everything warm. He’s a single man. They both are. They’re not outside, they’re miraculously not fighting anymore and there’s nothing stopping either of them.

Somehow the soft kiss from earlier—the fact Draco came to Grimmauld Place at all—changes things. It lets Harry know there’s something more behind Draco’s interest than taunting, fighting and trying to provoke a reaction. With this kiss, Harry feels more confident, more certain, completely uninhibited. Kissing Draco is as natural as breathing and Harry can’t help but push and press closer, desperate for more. It’s been so long since Harry and Ginny were intimate. Before his weird evening with Draco in the Manor he’d almost forgotten how much he enjoys sex, how different and unexpected the touch of another person’s hand can be. Being with someone Harry wants as much as he wants Draco only heightens the sensations. He wants to do it again. He wants Draco to talk to Harry in that posh, filthy drawl of his, to demand Harry let him take charge.

The tension that crackled and sparked between them all night moves from lingering looks and loaded comments to pure, unfiltered physical contact. At least it’s unfiltered for Harry. He can’t help but notice that Draco’s hands stay very firmly in safe territory, despite clutching Harry hard enough to hurt. He’s not entirely sure why Draco’s holding back but he’s not the smug, arrogant tosser he was at the Manor. Harry’s surprised to find he almost misses it. The way Draco carefully avoids pushing things further is driving Harry up the fucking wall—literally

“Is there a reason you’re not touching me?” Harry brushes his lips against Draco’s neck, tracing a path over the firm line of his jaw. His words make Draco’s breath stutter, a sinful groan falling from his lips.

“I’m trying something different.” Draco’s words come out rough and jagged. “I thought you might prefer it.”

“Why on earth would you think that?” Harry leans against the wall, catching his breath with a gulp and Draco studies him, his hair dishevelled and soft and his shirt crumpled. He’s so fucking gorgeous it makes Harry’s head spin.

Harry doesn’t want Draco thinking he needs to handle him carefully, like something breakable. He honestly wants exactly the opposite. Restlessness has been buzzing under his skin for so long, he’s eager for Draco to know it’s okay. Harry’s okay. With this, at least. There’s something about this night and this moment that makes him want Draco to be the same, unapologetic force to be reckoned with he was back in the Manor.

“I shouldn’t have taken advantage of the situation when you came to see me.” Draco folds his arms across his chest and contemplates Harry. “It’s not who I am, not anymore. I suppose I’m trying to be noble, to let you set the pace.”

“How the bloody hell have you decided you took advantage?” Harry snorts. “You didn’t take advantage of anything. I instigated it, you just…turned things around.”

Draco winces. “I shouldn’t have done that.”

“Yeah, you should. I liked it.” Harry gives Draco a lazy smile and reaches for him again. He pulls him close and sucks in a breath, running his fingers over the buckle of Draco’s belt. He slides his fingers lower over the hardness beneath Draco’s trousers. “I don’t much like it when you’re a pompous prat, but I definitely liked the way you stopped my head from spinning for a while.”

“You’re going to be the death of me, Potter.” Draco kisses Harry with restless force, pulling back briefly to tug Harry’s t-shirt over his head.

Draco’s unusually quiet, snapping the waistband of Harry’s joggers to indicate he should take them off. Harry does so and moves off the wall, stretching out on the bed. He laces his fingers together behind his head and watches as Draco unbuttons his shirt and opens his belt buckle with a clink. Draco looks so good. Like Harry, he leaves his boxers on but they’re tight enough that Harry can see every curve and line of him, the thick bulge between his legs making Harry’s mouth dry. That bronze statue had nothing on Draco.

As Draco moves onto the bed, the hot silence gathers between them, and Harry is so ready for something, anything. He pulls Draco over him and kisses him soundly, sliding his hands down Draco’s back and pressing his fingers against Draco’s hot skin.

“Try not to make a racket.” Draco lowers his body in a way that creates the most delicious friction against Harry’s cock. “I don’t want Bulstrode barging in checking I’m not practicing Dark Arts on you.”

Harry grins, even as the solid weight of Draco’s body leaves his breathing ragged. “Pretty confident aren’t you, Malfoy?”

“Usually, yes.” Draco’s expression is unreadable, his eyes dark as he looks at Harry. His voice dips to a murmur. “Tonight, I have no idea.”

Harry wants to say something, but before he can think of a clever reply Draco kisses him again. The new position is maddeningly good and with a groan, Harry bucks up into Draco, fisting a hand in his hair. The kiss quickly becomes hot and messy and their bodies move together with such delicious precision, Harry is quickly fully hard again and Draco responds in kind. Just the knowledge that this turns Draco on makes Harry even more eager. He pushes his hands into the back of Draco’s boxers and grinds into him, his breath leaving him in a hiss.

Harry’s not entirely sure what he’s doing but just like the last time, he gets the gist. He knows what feels good and he can tell from the way Draco scrapes his teeth along Harry’s neck and grinds down in response that it feels good for Draco too. Their bodies get sweaty and slick, the hardness of Draco’s cock against Harry’s driving him closer and closer to the edge. Harry wants to take Draco in the palm of his hand again, wants to roll them over and suck him, to see every inch of him stretched out on the bed. He wants to reach for his wand and get rid of the material separating them, but he also doesn’t want to stop. He’s like a teenager again, frotting and grinding as he chases his pleasure with desperate urgency.

“I’m—” Harry breaks off, his words chased from his mouth by another press of Draco’s body against his own.

“Fuck yes,” Draco replies. His usually haughty voice is gruff and low. Harry doesn’t know if Draco’s close too. He’s almost embarrassed by the ease with which the sound of Draco’s voice in his ear and the grind of their bodies together brings Harry over the edge with a sharp, white-hot pulse. He collapses back onto the bed with a groan and blinks, meeting Draco’s gaze.

Draco rolls onto his back and turns his head to watch Harry. His cheeks are pink, and his hair messed up. Harry dips his head to kiss Draco, sliding his hand down Draco’s chest and into his boxers. It makes Draco hiss and arch up into Harry’s hand. The kiss becomes messier when Harry casts a wandless, non-verbal spell that leaves his hand slick. From the way Draco responds he’s not sure if it’s the lube or the magic, but there’s definitely something that makes it even better than before. Draco seems to come completely undone, his hands everywhere as he drags Harry as close as they can comfortably be, letting Harry bite down on his neck, his collarbone, his shoulder. It doesn’t take long for Draco to reach his climax, spilling over Harry’s fingers. With a sigh of contentment, Harry slides his hand off Draco’s cock and moves his fingers slowly up Draco’s chest.

“I’m disgustingly sticky,” Draco murmurs. “You might as well help me out.”

“If you say so.” Harry casts a Cleaning Charm without a sound and grins when Draco’s breath falters. “Does that turn you on?”

“Go and get ready for bed, Potter.” Draco gives Harry a lazy smile. “And stop showing off.”

Harry goes to the bathroom and cleans his teeth, splashing water on his heated face. When he gets back into the bedroom, Draco is under the duvet, blinking at the ceiling. Harry gets into bed, the quiet in the room both awkward and not. It seems weird cuddling up to Draco the way he would with Ginny, so he props himself up on his elbow and looks down at Draco, whose eyes are closed.

“You’re staying, then?” Harry asks at last, breaking the silence between them.

“I suppose I might as well, now I’ve got comfortable.” Draco opens his eyes. His throat works and his tone becomes less certain. “I have no idea how to be with you, Potter. No idea at all.”

“What does that mean?”

“I don’t know how to do any of the things you probably want.” Draco rubs his eyes, sighing. “Relationships.”

“Relationships?” Harry laughs under his breath. “Hardly anyone knows I’m gay and if the wrong person so much as gets a whiff we’re together, I’m stuffed. I’m not sure what kind of relationship we’re going to have when I’m in Azkaban.”

“They’re not going to put Harry Potter in jail. You know that.” Draco turns on his side, facing Harry. “But I do think Shacklebolt is right about the professional consequences if any of this comes out.”

“I know.” Harry’s jaw works. “Do you think I’m stupid for caring so much about this job?”

“No.” Draco shakes his head. “I can’t imagine you not being an Auror either.” He trails off, the room still but for the sound of their breathing. “I don’t want you to be a fool and risk it all for me.”

Harry considers Draco’s words. “The law doesn’t say it’s a criminal offence to be with someone. Who I am doesn’t change, whether I’m by myself or with someone else.” Harry gives Draco a small smile. “It is what it is.”

“Yes,” Draco agrees. “It is.”

Draco turns his back on Harry and falls asleep at the far end of the bed, but when Harry wakes just before dawn he notices how Draco has made his way nearer to Harry over the course of the night. He watches him sleep, taking in the soft curl of his hair over his forehead and the way he smiles as if he’s having a good dream. Harry’s heart gives a restless kick and he swallows, touching Draco’s shoulder lightly and listening to the rise and fall of his breathing.

Eventually Harry closes and eyes and puts his arm around Draco. In response Draco shifts closer until there’s nothing between them at all.

*

Harry wakes in the morning to an empty bed and the delicious scent of coffee and bacon frying. He rolls over and buries his face in the pillow, breathing in Draco’s cologne with a contented sigh. Eventually he gets out of bed, brushing his teeth and slipping on comfortable tracksuit bottoms and a t-shirt before making his way downstairs.

“Morning, sleepyhead.” Ginny grins at Harry. “Bacon’s done. There’s bread, butter and ketchup. I’ve fried some eggs too if you want one. Malfoy made coffee.”

Seeing Draco sends a pulse of arousal through Harry. It makes him want to drag Draco straight back to bed and start the morning an entirely different way.

“Morning, Potter.” Draco walks past Harry, squeezing his arm briefly before topping up his coffee. It’s not much, but that one, simple gesture makes Harry instantly relaxed. It says no regrets and we’ll do that again.

“Morning.” Harry grabs a mug of coffee and bacon and egg sandwich, sitting at the large table. “What have you got planned for today?”

“Millie and I are going to fly out to Oxford and go for a walk. There’s a little pub Millie found on the river for lunch. If the weather stays nice, we’re thinking of going punting in the afternoon. Then back to Cardiff for the evening. We’ve got plans with friends.”

“Cool.” Harry can’t recall a time when Ginny looked quite so buoyant, and he watches her chatter about Oxford fondly. He wants nothing but good things for her and watching her with Millie gives him confidence in his own path, letting him know there’s nothing wrong with this, nothing shameful. How could there be anything bad about something that makes two good, kind-hearted people that happy?

Ginny breaks off mid-flow and gives Harry an anxious look. “We don’t have to do any of that, of course. We could just stay here.”

“Why on earth would you do that?” Harry shakes his head with a laugh. “Don’t be soft. Go and enjoy the rest of the weekend. I promise not to start moping again. I’m fine.”

“You could get in touch with George. He’s been on about how much he enjoyed seeing you the other week. I think he’s going go-karting with Lee.”

“Lee Jordan?” Draco asks, casually. Harry gives him a sharp look. It’s not the first time Draco’s pretended he doesn’t know who Lee is.

Not noticing anything strange, Ginny nods. “Yes, that’s the one. Harry does the pub quiz with George and Lee, don’t you Harry?”

“Yeah,” Harry replies. He decides quizzing Malfoy about his interest in Lee can wait. “I’m not going to barge in on their weekend plans. I really am fine. I’ll be perfectly happy here doing the garden. I promise.”

“What are you up to today, Malfoy?” Millie asks around a mouthful of bacon sandwich. “Counting your pots of gold?”

“Thank you for asking, but no.” Draco glares at her, and Harry stifles a laugh. “This and that. I haven’t decided yet.”

“There’s an exhibition on at the Tate. You and Harry could—”

“Ginny.” Harry cuts her off with a shake of his head. He doesn’t want Draco babysit Harry. “I’m sure Malfoy’s got his own plans and the last thing I want to do is traipse around an art gallery in Central London. Why are you so determined to stop me from sorting out the garden?”

“I’m not,” Ginny says, sheepishly. “I just want you to have a nice weekend.”

“I will. I already have.” Harry finishes his sandwich and takes his plate to the sink, as Ginny and Millie go to collect their things.

“You seem very invested in this garden of yours.” Draco moves behind Harry, placing his hands on either side of Harry and brushing his lips to Harry’s neck. “Which is a shame, because I was going to ask you if you wanted to come and not watch a film at my house later.”

“Don’t you start.” Harry turns, his mouth dry as his body responds to Draco’s proximity. “You don’t have to keep me entertained.”

“No, but perhaps I want to keep you entertained.” Draco slips his fingers under Harry’s t-shirt, his voice sinfully low. “If I had to choose between spending my Saturday fucking you or not fucking you, I know which one I would prefer. Don’t for one minute assume I’m inviting you over out charity.”

“Put him down, Malfoy.” Millie breaks the moment and Harry pulls back from Draco.

“We’re off.” Ginny waves at Harry and winks. “Have fun gardening.”

They leave in a flurry of laughter.

*

Draco goes home to do a couple of hours work, and Harry manages to tidy the worst of the weeds away from the garden. By the time he’s finished, he’s sweltering and certain he’s caught the sun on his face. He takes a long shower, anticipation building steadily as he imagines the various things not watching a film might involve. He’s almost tempted to take the edge off but decides against it, enjoying the thrum of arousal that ebbs and flows pleasantly through his body. He decides against getting dressed up and slips on some clean, burgundy tracksuit bottoms and a tight, white t-shirt. He decides to fly to the Manor, enjoying the crisp, fresh air, and lands more than a little windswept by Draco’s front door.

“You flew.” Draco gestures to Harry’s hair when he opens the door, before stepping to one side to let Harry in. “I thought you were joking.”

“No. I enjoyed it. I tidied the garden up too. I can’t have you passing comments on that as well as my wallpaper.”

Draco laughs. “I’ve already said I’m happy to help with the interior. It might be rather fun watching you paint, shirtless.”

“Is the shirtless part a requirement?” Harry grins at Draco.

“Naturally.” Draco lets Harry kick off his shoes and then leads the way upstairs, gesturing towards one of the open doors. “That’s my room.”

“It’s nice.” Harry only manages to get a quick glimpse of the room but it’s bright, clean and tidy. Smart dress robes hang next to an expensive-looking Muggle suit and he can picture Draco in it, striding through the Square Mile or sipping an espresso outside one of the bars at Canary Wharf. “How was work?”

“Dull, but I managed to get everything finished with time to spare before you arrived.” Draco pushes open a door, and gestures for Harry to go in first. “After you.”

“No wonder this thing has its own room.” Harry takes in the huge screen, shaking his head. “Nobody has a telly this size.”

“I do.” Draco stretches out on the bed, propping himself up on piles of cushions. He pats the spot next to him. “Are you going to join me?”

Harry takes off his socks and sits next to Draco, stretching his legs out. Draco watches him with a small smile on his face.

“What’s so funny?”

“Nothing. You, being here.”

“It’ll be even funnier when you show me your porn.” Harry grins, resting the back of his head on his hands. “I’ve been dying to know what you watch.”

“I told you—”

“Yeah, yeah. Arthouse.” Harry shakes his head. “Fine, don’t tell me about your secret stash.”

“I’m sure it wouldn’t take you long to find if you put your mind to it.”

“I don’t snoop.” Harry shrugs. “Sorry.”

“You’re an Auror. All you do is snoop.” Draco rolls his eyes and then sighs. “Fine but I just have magazines. I imagine my tastes are more cerebral than yours.”

“You’re such a fucking liar.” Harry crows with laughter, sitting up eagerly when Draco flicks his wand to summon a couple of magazines. He eyes the title. “Yeah, I bet Hot Gay Nudes is dead cerebral. That step-by-step guide to fisting sounds very highbrow.”

“Shut up,” Draco mutters. “Go on then, take a look if you must.”

Harry flicks through the magazines, noticing that one model seems to be Draco’s favourite from the couple of particularly well-thumbed pages. “Wow. Don’t you think he looks like—?”

“He looks nothing like you,” Draco interrupts. Harry stares at Draco, whose mouth is set in a defiant line.

“I was going to say he looks like that new Puddlemere United Seeker.” Harry looks more critically at the pictures. “You think he looks like me?”

“Not in the slightest,” Draco snaps. He yanks the magazines out of Harry’s hands.

“He’s got a nice bum.” Harry grins and watches Draco send the magazines back into a drawer with a lazy curl of his wand and a murmured spell. “You seem to like those too. The arty photograph downstairs, that model of yours…”

Draco rolls his eyes. “Obviously I like certain parts of the male anatomy. I’m gay.”

“I’d say you like one part in particular.” Harry reaches for Draco. “Come here and stop sulking. I don’t care what you like. I just want to know.”

“Hmm.” Draco doesn’t sound so certain. “Don’t worry, I’ll be sure I leave your arse alone.”

“Please don’t.” Harry rolls his eyes. “I don’t know why you’re treating me like I don’t know what I’m doing. I’ve had some sex before, Malfoy. You invited me round to fuck—dead romantic of you by the way—now you’re being noble again.”

“You don’t understand. There are certain ways people expect me to be and—”

Draco stops, his expression stormy and his jaw clenched. Understanding dawns on Harry, and he studies Draco with a frown. Draco obviously thinks Harry’s got some weird hang-up about sex, being fucked in particular. It explains Draco’s restraint, the silent commands in Grimmauld Place, his hesitation to talk about the things he likes and the way he pulled back after demanding Harry let him take charge. It surprises Harry that despite the creep of his own fears and years of denying himself, he isn’t inhibited about sex at all. If anything, he’s spent the day looking forward to seeing Draco, to exploring, trying new things and indulging some of his fantasies.

Harry supposes Draco has had a lot longer to deal with persistent comments about his preferences. He recalls the way the Prophet wrote about Draco’s arrest and the insinuation that he’s been called countless names. That sort of thing must wear on someone. If all people tell you is how wrong you are, no matter how hard you fight against it, there’s bound to be a niggling voice that wonders if they’re right.

“How do people expect you to be?” Harry asks quietly. “You might as well tell me.”

“I’m usually the receptive partner.” Draco takes a breath, his words oddly clinical. “Does that suit?”

Harry frowns. “I don’t know, Malfoy. I’m just working things out. You don’t sound that happy about it, though. What happened to wanting to be in charge? You were pretty specific about that back at the Manor.”

Draco huffs. “I took advantage of a moment of vulnerability. You don’t want that.”

“Stop telling me what I fucking want.” Harry takes a breath, not wanting to argue. He steadies himself and continues. “Tell me what you want. We’ll go from there.”

“I’ve never had a relationship before.” Draco pushes a hand through his hair and pointedly doesn’t meet Harry’s eyes. “I’ve already told you I don’t know how to do any of this. When it’s all one-night stands and anonymous sex, people make assumptions.”

Harry thinks about Draco on his knees in cruising spots. He wonders what sex has really been like for him, if he’s just assumed a role other people decided suited him. From the little Harry can gather, many of Draco’s sexual encounters have taken place in the shadows and cracks of the city. When people disguise themselves as potential partners and then chuck you in prison when you show interest in doing anything sexual, it’s bound to make a person cautious about sharing their desires. He recalls the anger in Draco’s voice when he turned the tables on Harry in the Manor, and wonders if Draco expects him to want to do things a certain way because it’s what he’s always been used to.

“Why would they make those assumptions?” Harry keeps his voice calm despite the fact he’s itching to go and hex the anonymous men that have made Draco feel like he can’t tell them exactly what he needs and wants.

“Because I let them,” Draco replies. “I used to go out looking to get fucked because I knew that would hurt my father more than me fucking other people. Isn’t that vile?”

Harry swallows, taking his time to consider his words instead of diving straight in like he usually does. “It’s not vile,” he says at last. “Not if you enjoyed it.”

“I did, to a point.” Draco shrugs. “I tend to attract men who enjoy topping and it’s not as though I don’t find it pleasurable.”

“It’s not what you get off on when you’re alone though.” Harry watches Draco carefully. “Why wouldn’t you tell people what you really wanted?”

“I don’t like to have long conversations about who I am or what I want. I’d prefer not to talk about it at all, just get on with it.”

It occurs to Harry how little he knows about Draco’s life after Hogwarts and he’s about to cajole Draco into elaborating, when Draco continues unexpectedly.

“I used to think it was a punishment, for all the things I did during the war.” Draco’s jaw works.

“Being gay?” Harry has only ever known Draco to be defiant and open. Watching him now it occurs to Harry life hasn’t always been as easy for Draco as people might imagine.

“Yes.” Draco’s lips twist into a grim smile. “It made things complicated. Nobody should have sex thinking they’re being punished or try to fuck in a way that’s most likely to piss off their father.”

“Did something bad happen?” Harry’s stomach rolls, the thought of someone doing anything to Draco filling him with sadness and rage.

“No, no. Nothing like that.” Draco shakes his head quickly. He gives Harry a small smile. “Put your wand away, Potter.”

“You know me.” Harry would go down fighting for his friends which includes, much to his surprise, Draco Malfoy.

Draco rolls his eyes. “Look, I don’t want your pity. There’s never been anyone serious but that doesn’t mean I haven’t had a good time.”

“Yeah, all that self-flagellation sounds brilliant.” Harry shifts closer to Draco, watching him stare at the blank television screen. It seems like he’s going to clam up once more, but after a momentary pause he carries on talking.

“For one reason or another, I’ve always ended up with a particular kind of man. Not dissimilar to you, in many ways. Men who like to take control. Men who think they’re less gay just because they’re the ones doing the fucking or the ones getting sucked off.”

“That’s not how I think.” Harry glares at Draco, trying not to take offence but not managing it particularly well. “That’s not how I think at all. I know who I am. It might have taken me a while to realise it, but it doesn’t change anything. Whether we fuck or not, how we fuck, I am who I am.”

“You’re so enlightened all of a sudden.” Draco’s tone is teasing and the glum mood in the room lightens. “It probably helps your girlfriend turned out to be a lesbian.”

“Fuck off.” Harry laughs under his breath. “It wouldn’t kill you to ask what I want, you know, instead of just assuming.”

Fine.” Draco lets out a long-suffering sigh. “I’ve been dying to know what Harry Potter thinks about when he’s getting himself off.”

“Someone fucking me,” Harry confesses. He moves his hand down and adjusts himself in his tracksuit bottoms, his cock already half-hard. "I nearly asked Ginny a few times but things ended up going south in that department so I just…never did.”

“Someone?” Draco sounds surprised and intrigued. He seems to have shaken off his earlier malaise and he props himself up on his elbow, watching Harry.

“Lately I think about you.” Harry fights back the heat in his cheeks, holding Draco’s questioning gaze. “Last night I wanted you to take charge. Throw me around a bit, fuck me into the mattress. I didn’t want you to hold back, not for a minute. Is that so difficult to believe?”

“In more ways than you could imagine,” Draco replies.

He presses the heel of his palm against Harry’s cock, rubbing it through his thick joggers. The pressure is maddeningly good, and Harry bucks up with a soft hiss of pleasure.

“Fuck…” Harry curls his hand around the sheets and blinks at Draco. “Are we going to talk all night, or are you going to get me off?”

Draco’s eyes darken. “Stay still. Don’t touch yourself.”

“Anything you say, Malfoy.” Harry grins.

He watches Draco stand, close the door and turn off the lights. Draco flicks on the huge television screen, turning the sound low. It casts a light, warm glow around the room and it makes everything more intimate than before. The harsh electric lights felt so strange after the usual candles in the other rooms of the Manor, and the low light is instantly soothing. The shift in atmosphere makes Harry’s body tingle with anticipation, the sight of Draco carefully unbuttoning his shirt making Harry want to tear his own clothes off. In the end he settles for tugging off his t-shirt and dropping it on the floor.

“That’s not staying still.” Draco gets back onto the bed, still in his trousers, his chest and feet bare like Harry’s.

“I thought you’d be okay with it.” Harry bites back a groan as Draco runs his fingers lightly over his stomach. “You could always punish me if you like,” he offers a little shakily.

“Don’t be so ridiculous.” Draco gives Harry a strange look, his expression fond. “I might enjoy the idea of—how did you put it?—fucking you into the mattress, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to start spanking you.”

Merlin.” The thought makes Harry’s prick twitch with appreciation. He takes his glasses off and looks at Draco, who gets soft and blurry at the edges. “I’m not saying I’m going to be into everything, but if there’s something you want it’s okay with me. It’s all okay with me. Trial and error, like you said with that cologne. I’m not sure I’d be up for that step-by-step guide to fisting yet, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t try it if you—”

“For fucks sake, Potter!” Draco’s cheeks turn red, but he laughs under his breath. “I might have bloody known I’d get this kind of brazen behaviour from a Gryffindor.”

“Am I your first?” Harry grins at Draco and pulls him close. “Good to know.”

“You’re my first in more ways than one.” Draco’s tone turns serious. “As I’ve alluded to, it’s always been quick. Getting someone ready, fucking, being fucked. Stolen moments. Boozy parties. Walls, saunas, blow jobs in parks. Chasing pleasure, taking it where I can find it. I’ve often wondered what it might be like to…take my time.”

“I’ve got time.” Harry wets his lips. “All night, if you want.”

“Circe.” Draco bites back a groan and he pushes his hand under the elasticated waistband of Harry’s joggers. He moves his hand over Harry’s aching prick and then presses his lips to Harry’s ear. “Take these off,” he whispers.

Harry doesn’t need telling twice, taking off his joggers and pants quickly enough that it’s a wonder he doesn’t knee Draco in the stomach. His eagerness seems to amuse Draco, but Harry really doesn’t give a fuck. Maybe someone who’s horny as fuck and quite happy to let Draco take his time or take charge is exactly what he needs. Harry grins at the thought that his obvious interest in sex might be therapeutic. It’s extremely charitable of him, really. He stretches out on the bed as Draco drinks in the sight of him. Despite the uncertainty of what happens next, Harry’s not in the slightest bit worried. He wants it. He wants all of it. He strokes his cock quickly and meets Draco’s gaze.

“I’m all yours,” Harry says.

“You’re impossible.” Draco shakes his head and nudges Harry to roll over. He settles over Harry, pressing his lips to the base of Harry’s neck. “I’ve never met anyone like you.”

“I’ll take that as a compliment.”

“You should.” Draco’s lips smile against Harry’s skin before he makes his way down Harry’s body. He murmurs a quick Cleaning Charm that makes Harry shiver. Even Draco’s magic feels good.

“Are you going to fuck me?” Harry bites back a moan when Draco presses his fingers into Harry’s backside.

“Not exactly.” Draco spreads Harry open and slides his tongue lightly over Harry’s hole. The move takes Harry by surprise and he curls his hand into a fist, tugging at the sheets.

Fuck.”

“Okay?” Draco sounds slightly uncertain and Harry wonders if for all Draco’s posturing, this is something he hasn’t done before. Something that, like Harry, he’s fantasised about but never had the person to try it with.

“Yes, get on with it. I’m dying here. If I don’t like something, I’ll let you know. I killed Voldemort, I’m sure I can get you to fuck off if I need to.”

Draco laughs, low in his throat. “Do shut up.”

It turns out Draco’s methods of getting Harry to be quiet are incredibly successful. Not that Harry’s quiet, exactly. It’s difficult to stop the pleas that fall from his lips as Draco works his tongue over Harry’s most intimate of places. In the end, Harry stops trying to be less obvious about his pleasure. Draco seems to enjoy every sound Harry makes. Each groan and fuck, please intensifies Draco’s actions and it’s not long before he pushes his tongue inside Harry, hauling him into a better position to really get to work.

Draco stops checking in at every second opportunity and licks, sucks and pushes into Harry until his limbs are shaky. When he pulls back, Harry groans at the loss.

“Don’t stop.”

“I won’t.” Draco’s voice is ragged, his breathing heavy. Harry can hear a phial being uncorked and he settles back onto the pillows, his heart thudding.

The first cool press of Draco’s slick finger against his hole makes Harry grip onto the sheets again. He wants Draco to push inside him so badly he’s one step away from begging. He presses up a little towards Draco in silent encouragement, hoping to Merlin it’s as good as he’d always imagined. He’s so relaxed after Draco worked him over with his tongue, his cock blindingly hard and his whole body warm with arousal.

Draco slowly presses a finger inside Harry and the cool lube helps it slide easily into his body. Harry groans, shifting on the bed to try to get some friction against his cock.

“Not yet.” Draco sounds firm and he urges Harry up onto his knees and forearms.

“You’re no fun,” Harry mutters. Draco’s firmness sends another bolt of pleasure through him, despite his words. “No fun at all-ah—”

Harry is effectively cut off by Draco pushing two slick fingers inside him. The sensation is strange at first, but his body adjusts as Draco moves his fingers slowly in and out. His fingers press against a spot inside Harry that nearly makes him fall back onto the bed as he tries to hold himself up. It’s not that Harry isn’t capable of keeping in position, it’s just that everything Draco does makes his body ache with need. It becomes difficult to think clearly; his body perspires and pure, hot pleasure overwhelms him.

When Draco begins fucking Harry properly with his fingers, he thinks he’s going to lose his mind. His desire spirals and twists through him, the heavy sound of their breathing mingling together in the quiet room. He half wants to beg Draco to fuck him harder, to beg for more, hotter, filthier, dirtier. But he knows he’s so close to the edge, he’s not sure he could take Draco’s cock inside his body without coming before they even start. He grips onto the sheets, an nnngh of desperation falling from his lips as he pushes back towards Draco. He twists his hands into the bedding, arching when Draco hits the spot inside him again and again. When Draco finally wraps his other hand around Harry’s cock, it only takes a few quick, hard strokes to bring Harry crashing over the edge.

He collapses on the bed and buries his head in the pillow trying to catch his breath. He’s quite sure he’s never come quite so intensely in his life before, his heart pounding in his chest. He rolls over to find Draco watching him with a stunned look on his face.

“Perhaps you are fun after all,” Harry murmurs. He gives Draco a smile, and shifts their positions so Draco’s lying on his back. “Can I suck you off?”

Yes.” Draco’s hand tangles in Harry’s hair as he makes his way down Draco’s body. He unbuckles Draco’s belt and pushes his trousers and pants down to his thighs, finding Draco hard and leaking.

With a groan of pleasure, Harry wets his lips and takes Draco into his mouth. Up close the fact that Draco’s hung is even more appealing. The width of him makes Harry’s mouth stretch pleasurably and he can’t manage to take the full length. When he tries, Draco tugs lightly on his hair.

“It’s good as it is…fuck, Harry.”

Spurred on by Draco’s encouragement, Harry decides not to try to run before he can walk. Draco doesn’t seem to mind his clumsy first blow job, with Harry’s mouth slick and stretched. To the contrary, he seems to be enjoying everything Harry tries, and with quiet mmms of encouragement he lets Harry know when he does something just right. He pushes Harry back when he gets close and lets Harry bring him off with his hand, without once taking his eyes off him.

“I like it.” Harry squirms happily in the bed and stretches out next to Draco. “I like all of it.”

“Good.” Draco sounds amused. He clears his throat, propping himself on his elbow and looking down at Harry. “Did you enjoy…?”

“Your tongue or your fingers?” Harry helpfully fills in the blanks, enjoying the way it makes the colour in Draco’s cheeks deepen. “I enjoyed both, wasn’t I obvious enough?”

“I have an enormous ego that requires constant reassurance,” Draco replies.

“You’ve got an enormous something, alright.” Harry grins.

“Circe, Potter.” Draco’s cheeks turn even redder.

“Not cerebral enough for you?”

“Are you always this bratty after sex?” Draco gives Harry a lazy smile.

“With you, apparently.” Harry shrugs. He clears his throat, wondering if it would be rude to ask Draco about his suspicions. “Have you done all of that before?”

“No.” Draco shakes his head. “Not all of it. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a while.”

“You’ll have to tell me what else is on that to-do list of yours.” Harry yawns, relaxed and sated. Despite being somewhat wrung out there’s a lingering pulse of pleasure that makes him eager to stay in bed with Draco until they’re ready to go again.

“I’m glad you’re here.” Draco studies the television screen, without looking at Harry. “I haven’t used this room in a long time.”

“You haven’t?” Harry had assumed this was Draco’s place, a bit like putting on mood music or lighting some candles. If he had a massive bed and cinema room, he’d probably use it to have sex in too. “I thought it was somewhere you used. With other blokes.”

Draco laughs softly and shakes his head. “No. Just you.”

“I’m glad,” Harry replies, softly.

“It’s getting late.” Draco reaches to check his watch. It feels like a dismissal, and Harry’s stomach drops. “You should stay,” Draco finishes.

“I should?” Relief courses through Harry and he nods towards the screen. “We could watch another film.”

“Yes.” Draco pulls Harry closer and murmurs against his neck. “Or we could find another one to ignore.”

It turns out to be an excellent plan.

*

Harry’s ignoring his filing and trying to get his head around a new case when George Fire-Calls. The last fortnight has been even busier than most, and he worked all weekend on a stakeout in Slough, of all places. He hasn’t seen Draco since their night at the Manor two weeks ago, and he’s barely had time to go home and clean his teeth. Harry’s been looking forward to the pub quiz and hopes George isn’t calling to cancel.

“Are we still on for tonight?” Harry asks.

“Yep. Lee suggest we invite Malfoy tonight. Mix it up a bit.”

“Do we need to?” Instantly flustered, Harry panics at the thought of bringing Draco out with Lee and George. “I’m not sure a quiz in the Leaky’s really his thing. You know what Malfoy’s like. All posh wine bars and fine dining.”

George laughs, spluttering ash onto Harry’s office carpet. He really needs to get a new fire guard. The last one got broken when Pritchard and Dawlish brought a particularly slippery goblin directly to Harry’s office. He looks around for something to Transfigure, before giving up. The fire guard can wait.

“It’s not my idea, mate.” George shrugs, the fire crackles and more ash falls onto the carpet. “Lee reckons it might give us an upper hand. There’s no point having three people mad about Quidditch and not much else on a team. I bet Malfoy’s the sort to read books.

“I read books.” Harry glares at George, folding his arms.

“What did you read last?” George is the picture of innocence.

Quidditch Quarterly and Ten Coolest Aurors in History.” Harry pulls a face. “Fine, I’ll ask him. But don’t hold your breath.”

He sends Draco an Owl and is surprised when a haughty looking owl brings back a roll of parchment. He opens it up and reads the letter which makes his cheeks hot.

Afternoon Potter.

I suppose I can make myself available, but as you’re clearly only inviting me to take advantage of my wealth of knowledge, you owe me. Payment in kind should suffice. I trust you can think of something. You’re surprisingly creative when you put your mind to it.

Speaking of creative, I have something planned for Saturday evening. Come to the Manor at seven, sharp. Bring an overnight bag.

D.M.

Harry puts the letter inside his copy of Quidditch Quarterly and tucks it carefully inside his drawer.

He sits back with a smile, already looking forward to the weekend.

*

George, Lee and Draco are already in situ by the time Harry arrives at the Leaky. As soon as he sees Draco, Harry’s breath leaves him in a punch and a sharp, hot pull of arousal catches him off-guard. Draco looks good enough to eat, his shirt opened at the collar with a knowing smile on his face as he catches sight of Harry. It was definitely a good idea to arrive separately so as not to arouse suspicion, but Harry wishes they could have had time together before the quiz. After far too long apart it’s going to drive him mad sitting opposite Draco all night without touching him.

“I got your usual.” George stands and gives Harry a quick handshake, sliding in next to Lee to give Harry the seat next to Draco.

Harry gives a nod to Lee and Draco, not missing the way Draco’s eyes flash as he takes in Harry’s attire. He’s been told before—by Hermione and Ginny admittedly—that he suits his Auror robes, but he can’t work out if Draco agrees.

“Evening, Head Auror Potter.” Lee winks at Harry. “Very official looking this evening. Not planning to arrest Malfoy again, are you?”

“I’d sooner be a Gryffindor than allow Potter to put me in handcuffs,” Draco replies. The smirk on his face suggests the statement might not be strictly true.

Harry slips off his robes before sitting, thankful he had time to put on nice jeans and a jumper underneath before he left the house.

“Nobody’s being arrested. I had to come straight from work. The Department of Magical Accidents and Catastrophes had a catastrophe.”

“Something they’re prone to I bet.” Lee nods at the table of Slytherins. “We’re going to have to change our team name this week. The Slytherins are giving us some right funny looks. They’re probably wondering how we convinced one of their lot to join us.”

“Potter is a very persuasive man,” Draco replies smoothly. The comment makes Harry think of all sorts of filthy things, and he takes a shaky breath he pushes a hand through his hair. He takes a gulp of his pint before noticing Lee and George are both giving him very strange looks.

“Do I have something on my face?” Harry rubs his jaw, frowning.

“No.” Lee glances at George, who shrugs. Lee clears his throat. “I was just asking Malfoy why he hasn’t been to Knockturn for weeks.”

Draco leans forward, his voice clipped and low. “I haven’t been out because I was arrested. I’m keeping a low profile.”

“I bet.” Lee looks at Harry, a flicker of uncertainty crossing his features. “Look, mate. Malfoy and I know each other better than either of us might have let on. Now you two are friends, I thought you should know.”

Harry tries to mask his surprise, both at Lee’s revelation and the fact Draco didn’t think to tell him. “That’s why you were so interested in Lee. I knew something was up. How well do you two know each other?”

Lee looks confused, then he laughs. “Oh Merlin, not that well. Are you mental?”

“There’s no need to be so fucking rude about it,” Draco snaps.

“Snooty Slytherins really aren’t my type.” Lee grins at Malfoy, before giving Harry a sheepish smile. “Surprised?”

“Just a bit.” Harry checks there’s no one in earshot and speaks quietly. “You’re gay?”

“Bisexual. I go out in Knockturn a lot. It’s how I know Malfoy. Earless knows all about it too, has done for ages.”

“Are you—?” Harry gestures between George and Lee.

“Not me, mate.” George shakes his head. “I’m like you. Straight as a Beater’s bat.”

“I’m going to the bar to buy shots. Merlin knows I’m going to need them.” Draco gets up and goes to the bar, not quickly enough that Harry doesn’t catch his cloudy expression.

“I get on his nerves and he gets on mine, but we’ve been friends for a while now.” Lee watches Draco at the bar with a frown on his face. “You find yourself in the weirdest groups in places like Knockturn. No one’s bothered about their houses or dwelling too much on the past. We’re on the same side in one thing, at least. Usually trying to work out if one of the new blokes is just an Auror in disguise.”

“Sorry about that.” Harry winces. “I’m trying to get them to back off Knockturn but it’s not working.”

“They won’t stop. Not even on your say-so. Part of me thinks they enjoy it.” Lee shrugs and watches Draco at the bar, his expression concerned. “I’m not sure Malfoy’s okay even if he’s pretending to be. It’s why I wanted him to bring him here tonight. I’ve never seen him stay away from Knockturn for this long.”

“He hasn’t been out at all since the arrest?” Harry keeps his tone casual, but the thought that Draco might not have been going out for other reasons makes his heart kick. He resolves to speak to Draco about Knockturn. He doesn’t like the idea of Draco with other wizards, but he doesn’t want him to think he can’t see his friends.

“He’s disappeared off the face of the earth,” Lee replies. “I’ve asked around and he’s not been in any of the usual places. He’s a pompous arse, but we miss him. He didn’t even come out last week when George was working, and he always makes an effort for Gorgeous George.”

“A different gorgeous George,” George clarifies. “Less gorgeous than me, mind.”

“Isn’t everyone, Earless?” Lee winks at George and Harry laughs. Draco returns to the table, sitting next to Harry and putting down a tray of shots.

“I’m learning all about Gorgeous George,” Harry says lightly.

“Circe.” Draco turns his eyes heavenward, before giving everyone a drink and knocking back his shot with a wince. “Pass on my best to him, Jordan. I’m otherwise occupied now.”

Draco presses his thigh against Harry’s and the mild sting of jealousy rolls off him, replaced by another heat entirely. It’s all Harry can do not to reach for Draco. He has a suspicion the night is going to be torture.

“You’ve met someone?” Lee leans forward, his eyes shining. “Let me guess—”

“Please don’t,” Draco replies. There’s a note of panic in his voice. “Potter here doesn’t need to hear about my sex life. He might be forced to put me in Azkaban again.”

“You’re right.” Lee grins wickedly. “Nobody needs to hear about the things you’re into. Probably tossing off to pictures of Salazar Slytherin.”

“And you’ve never once thought about Godric Gryffindor’s sword, I suppose?” Draco drinks another shot. “I suggest we move on from my love life before I throttle you, Jordan.”

“I’d like to see you try.” Lee snorts.

As Harry watches Lee and Draco niggle at one another, he can sense George watching him. He realises he hasn’t said a word about Ginny and wonders if George is starting to wonder what’s going on. If Lee actually knows Draco it’s only going to be a matter of time before Lee and George start wondering why he’s spending so much time with Harry, particularly once it comes out—which it inevitably will—that Harry is a single man. For Draco to avoid his usual pubs and party spots in favour of spending the evening painting Grimmauld Place with Harry doesn’t make a lot of sense. People are bound to talk, and Harry doesn’t want Lee and George left to put together the pieces of idle gossip. Lee trusted Harry with his secret and George has been a constant friend and business partner. Harry owes them the truth.

Harry takes a breath when there’s a lull in the conversation. “About Malfoy’s new bloke,” he starts.

“Don’t be a fool.” Draco shoves a shot towards Harry. “Have your drink and be quiet.”

“Me and Ginny aren’t together,” Harry continues. He pointedly ignores Draco and the offered shot. “We’re just friends. Best friends. She knows everything.”

George looks confused, his eyes travelling between Draco and Harry and it’s clear that the penny drops. Lee’s mouth drops and he gawks at Harry for a moment before closing his mouth again and giving George a questioning look. “Did you know?”

“Not a clue.” George stares at Harry. “Are you saying you’re—”

“Potter isn’t saying anything of the sort,” Draco interrupts. “As usual he’s making a total hash of trying to explain himself.” Draco presses his lips in a tight line. “Helping with my case has led people to speculate about Potter’s inclinations, which could have serious repercussions. He would be fired, without question. If it becomes widely known that he’s single, it will only fuel the rumours.”

“They can’t do that! He’s Harry Potter.” Lee looks like he wants to fight someone. George continues to stare at Harry, stunned into silence.

“They won’t fire him, because the rumours are utter nonsense. No gay man dresses as badly as Potter. As far as our so-called relationship goes, frankly, I have better taste.” Draco gives Harry a sharp look, when Harry begins to protest. “I’m sure Potter is completely disgusted by the idea.”

Harry studies Draco thoughtfully. Eventually he replies, keeping his tone warm. “Yeah, obviously. You really gross me out, Malfoy.”

Draco rolls his eyes, but a tiny smile pulls at his lips. He holds Harry’s gaze and runs his tongue over his lips. It would be so easy just to lean in, to push a hand into Draco’s hair and pull him close—

Draco breaks the moment and glares at George and Lee. “Is everybody clear?”

“Crystal clear.” George sounds like he’s trying not to laugh.

“Got it.” Lee’s eyes are warm and sympathetic when he looks at Harry. “Maybe you can find a way to bring this new bloke of yours out to Knockturn one night, Malfoy. You seem pretty serious about him.”

“I am. This one is…different.” Draco’s admission warms Harry all over.

He understands what Draco’s doing. Lee and George aren’t stupid, and they clearly understand what Draco’s doing too. They know exactly who this mysterious new man of Draco’s is. Even though they seem amused at the idea of Harry and Draco, he can tell by the concerned looks they keep giving him that they see the seriousness of the predicament. Harry knows that Draco doesn’t want to risk any public statement being made, even if the quiet pub seems relatively safe. He’s probably right. Harry knows as well as anyone how easily private conversations can be overheard, how the press can use every tool at their disposal—legal or not—to get a story.

At the same time, it’s an anti-climactic moment. Harry can’t reach across to squeeze Draco’s hand, or thank him for trying to protect Harry from his own unflinching honesty. He can’t slide an arm across the back of the seat and lean close to Draco, whispering something that’s just for them. The realisation that even after sharing his secret with his friends, he still can’t be openly affectionate with Draco settles heavily on Harry.

He’s not one for public displays of affection, but to be so carefully non-tactile doesn’t suit Harry in the slightest. He never realised how much he took for granted with Ginny. He could take her hand across the table when she smiled at him or wrap his arms around her on a cold day. He enjoyed those tiny gestures in a way he only realises with hindsight. The hand on someone’s back, the clutch of gloved hands, the light kisses. Being able to hug someone when they look sad, without caring who’s around. Even looking at Draco fondly or talking too openly within earshot of others could be dangerous.

Harry can never be fully relaxed with Draco in public. Even if he took the enormous step of leaving the Aurors voluntarily, the same would still be true. Any public intimacy whatsoever could lead to either one of them being arrested as long as they’re in the wizarding world. Harry is unlikely to be locked up for long, if at all, but Draco has a very different history. Without Harry at the Ministry his sanctions could be worse.

Harry reaches for a shot, downs it and sits back as the conversation hums around him, lost in thought.

*

“You’ve been quiet all night.” Draco leads Harry into the living room when they get back to the Manor, lighting some candles and pouring them both a drink. “You let Weasley beat you to all the Quidditch questions.”

“I was thinking.” Harry settles on the sofa and reaches for Draco when he looks like he’s going to sit on the armchair. “Do you have to be so far away?”

“Perhaps. Depends what’s on your mind.” Although Draco is clearly attempting to keep his tone off-hand, there’s a brittle note in his voice.

“Just stuff.” Harry reaches across the sofa when Draco sits next to him and twines their fingers together. “It drove me mad not being able to do this tonight. I never realised how much I took that for granted. How do you do it?”

“I’m used to it.” Draco shrugs. He gives Harry a wry smile. “Besides, I haven’t been with many hand-holding types. Just you.”

Harry squeezes Draco’s hand before releasing it. “Does it bother you?”

“The fact you want to hold hands or the fact we can’t?”

“Either. Both.”

“It doesn’t bother me that you want to. The fact you can’t keep your hands to yourself around me is quite flattering.”

Harry laughs. “And the rest of it?”

Draco shrugs. “A lot of things bother me. My relationship with Mother and Father. Astoria’s death. Going back to Azkaban when I swore I’d never see that hellhole again. This.”

Draco turns his hand so it’s palm-up, unbuttoning his shirt cuff and rolling up the sleeve to reveal the now faded Dark Mark. Harry puts his palm over Draco’s and their fingers curl tightly around one another.

Draco’s face twists into a strange smile and he watches Harry in the flickering candlelight. “Do I disgust you, Potter?”

Harry’s taken back to the day in Draco’s study when his insides twisted and rolled, his desire to be close to Draco and his unshakable curiosity leading him back to the Manor. He recalls the way Draco looked at him then, the expectation that Harry would judge him for his personal life. It seems like so long ago. It’s hard to believe how much has changed in such a short space of time.

“No, you don’t. Of course you don’t.” Harry puts his drink down and takes Draco’s glass out of his hand too. He leans in and finally, finally, gets to do what he’s wanted to all night. He gives Draco a slow, searching kiss and pours his heart into it. Eventually, he pulls back. “I wanted to talk to you about Knockturn.”

“Oh?” Draco raises an eyebrow at Harry. “I hope you’re not going to suggest I take you there. It’s far too risky. We have to wait until the rumours about you die down.”

“It’s not about me.” Harry shakes his head. “I wondered why you haven’t been out for a while.”

“Because I don’t need to go out and meet men.” Draco’s cheek works. “Would you like me to start doing so again?”

“Obviously not.” Harry rolls his eyes. Draco’s as prickly as a Spiky Bush sometimes. “I’m not very good at sharing.”

“Oh.” Draco is quiet, but pleased. “Neither am I.”

“I don’t want you to stop seeing your friends,” Harry continues. “They obviously miss you.”

“Perhaps.” Draco pushes a hand through his hair, frowning. “I wouldn’t stay away if I wanted to see people, but everything’s different now.”

“Because of me?”

“In part. Because of Azkaban, too.” Draco looks at Harry, his face pale. “They want me in prison. Me, more than most. You know that as well as I do. It’s not as though I need to be caught in flagrante like last time. They arrest people for the smallest things, looking at someone funny, dancing. I could be curled up on the ground and they’d give me a swift kick then charge me with resisting arrest.”

“I can talk to people and make sure—”

“You can’t and you mustn’t.” Draco glares at Harry. “I don’t want you to lose your job. For some unfathomable reason you seem to enjoy it, and you’re not going to be able to help any of us that end up in Azkaban if you lose all your clout with the Ministry.”

Harry nods in silent agreement. He wishes there was something he could do, but he knows Draco’s right. If he wants to keep his job he has to choose his battles as Kingsley put it. He moves off the sofa and gets on his knees, between Draco’s parted legs. Draco’s breath catches and he reaches out, taking off Harry’s glasses and putting them on the side. There’s something so intimate about it, so careful, it makes Harry’s chest tight.

“Can we stop talking for a while?” Draco asks. His lips curve into a smile and he brushes his fingers across the line of Harry’s jaw.

“Yeah. We can.” Harry opens Draco’s trousers and moves closer between his legs. He takes Draco into his mouth, sucking him slowly to full hardness and luxuriating in the warm, contented mmm of pleasure that leaves Draco’s lips.

With Draco’s hand twisted in his hair and the hard, hot pulse of Draco in his mouth, Harry chases away all the thoughts and worries spinning around his brain.

They can wait until tomorrow.

*

When Harry gets to work the next morning, he avoids his office and makes himself a strong cup of coffee. The shots at the pub and glasses of cognac at the Manor were a terrible idea. Thank Merlin for Draco’s store of Pepper-Up and a disgusting hangover remedy that tasted like cabbage. Not that Harry regrets one minute of it. He stirs a sugar into his coffee and smiles at the memory of his evening with Draco. For the first time he’s really seeing the Draco that Astoria held in such high esteem, the man who made her laugh so openly as she reached for the camera. With every new moment of intimacy Draco’s walls come down a little more, and Harry gets an insight into the countless ways he’s changed.

Harry had always imagined Draco’s reformed character was driven by necessity as much as anything. Being in the Muggle world and finding acceptance there was bound to alter the views he used to hold about the superiority of wizards. Last night Harry realised for the first time that Draco’s reasons for making alterations in his life go far beyond his experience as a gay man. Draco’s grown up, pure and simple. For all the posh clothes, snarky remarks and the way he continues to lord it over people sometimes—he’s not had a complete personality transplant—Draco Malfoy in his thirties is a world away from the spiteful, entitled teenager Harry remembers from Hogwarts.

He’s also stupidly attractive, not that Harry would let that be the determining factor. It certainly doesn’t hurt, though. Harry grins at the memory of the previous night, the slow, searching kisses as they lay in Draco’s bed and used their hands to bring one another off. In one way it wasn’t the most intimate thing they’ve ever done, in other ways it was more intimate than they’ve ever been. For the first time in ages Harry is happy. Really, really happy.

With something of a spring in his step Harry makes his way to his office, frowning when he notices the door is wide open. He was quite sure he locked it before leaving for the evening, just as he always does.

“Harry.” Robards stops Harry in his tracks, striding out of his office with a tight, unhappy expression on his face. “A word.”

“Can I finish my—?”

Now, Auror Potter.”

Frowning, Harry follows Robards into his office. Kingsley and a witch Harry vaguely recognises from Magical Person Resources are already there, grim and serious. Robards shuts the door with a sharp flick of his wand and gestures for Harry to take a seat at the end of the long table.

“Does anyone want to tell me what this is about?” Kingsley pointedly doesn’t meet Harry’s eyes and his stomach rolls. Surely Kingsley wouldn’t have said anything? He wouldn’t betray Harry like that. Not after the years they worked so closely together.

“Pritchards brought something to my attention yesterday evening that I simply cannot ignore.” Robards flicks his wand and several pieces of parchment flutter across the table landing in front of each person in the room.

The witch’s quill moves rapidly in the air, taking detailed notes. Harry knows from his experience disciplining junior Aurors that a note-taking Magical Person Resources employee in a meeting is never a good sign. He looks down at the piece of parchment and swallows thickly at the exact copy of Draco’s letter from the day before. You’re surprisingly creative when you put your mind to it…bring an overnight bag.

“This was in a locked drawer.” Harry’s voice is thick and foggy, his head spinning. “In a locked office. What the hell was Pritchards doing snooping around?”

“That’s not what we’re here to discuss.” Robards’ voice is tight. “I’ve already taken that up with Pritchards. However, had the notes from the Little Sutton case been in their proper filing place instead of in your desk drawer, nobody would have had cause to go into your office at all.”

Harry swallows. He’s shit at filing things away properly. Hermione’s always on at him about that, but it’s just boring paperwork. The main thing about the Little Sutton case is that Harry arrested several witches and wizards who had evaded the Ministry for years. Witches and wizards who were using Unforgivables and trying to build a gruesome magical monster from parts of murdered Muggle bodies. Harry doesn’t give a fuck about paperwork when people like that are in Azkaban for good.

“The case has been closed for over a month. Why would Pritchards need the papers now?”

“Because he was called to consult with the Metropolitan Police after a body of a low-ranking Muggle civil servant was found in the Thames. They were concerned the matters might be related. Apparently the poor man was missing a foot.” Robards waves his hand. “That, however, is not why we’re here.”

“Then why are we here?” Harry doesn’t look at the letter in front of him. He can’t. He’s sure his guilt is etched all over his face. He’s never been particularly good at hiding his emotions, despite his years of Auror training.

“Being close to a man such as Draco Malfoy is a very unwise choice for a Head Auror.” Robards pauses. “I have concerns about the nature of your relationship.”

Harry lets out a hollow laugh, trying to buy himself time. He forces the panic down and tries to think as quickly as he can. He’s made a living out of being able to think on his feet and respond quickly to high-pressure situations but there’s something very different about this. Something that makes him feel seen—and judged—in all the wrong ways. The look on Robards face is one of thinly veiled disgust.

“What’s Kingsley doing here?” Harry looks to Kingsley for support and he raises his head at last, his expression resigned.

“You are entitled to an impartial representative, Head Auror Potter.” The witch looks up from her note taking, speaking as if she’s reading from the book of official Ministry employee protocol. “You are welcome to choose another representative if you wish.”

“No. No, of course not.” Harry nods at Kingsley. “Thanks.”

“Always.” Kingsley folds his hands together and glares at Robards. The two have never been fond of one another. Kingsley told Harry after a couple of Gingerbread Martinis that he thought Robards had all the political nous of a limp flobberworm. “Minister Robards, I suggest you stop speaking in riddles. I’m sure Harry would appreciate a more direct discussion so he can continue about his day.”

“Very well.” Robards sits back in his chair, studying Harry. “Auror Potter, reading between the lines it appears that Draco Malfoy has been harassing you. If you file an official complaint he will be dealt with appropriately. I expect imprisonment and a restraining order that prohibits him from contacting you again should do the trick.”

He sends a piece of paper across the table towards Harry, which appears to be a long, dull form. Harry doesn’t even both picking it up.

“Harassing me?” Harry stares at Robards. “What lines did you read between?”

“Harry,” Kingsley warns.

“No!” Harry shakes his head at Kingsley and turns to Robards. “This is bollocks. Do you really think I’m going to send an innocent man to Azkaban to save my own neck?”

“I would advise you to think very carefully, Auror Potter. This meeting is being recorded and—”

“I don’t need to think about anything. I’m not signing your bloody form. I’m not being harassed. Draco Malfoy is a friend of mine, there’s no law against that.”

Robards purses his lips. “I too have friends. I don’t make plans to stay overnight with them, particularly if they’re known homosexuals.”

“You said he was harassing me a minute ago, now you’re implying we’re doing something else. Make up your mind.” Harry glares at Robards, anger coursing through him. The fogginess from before has left his mind completely and he sees with perfect clarity the choice Robards is offering him, which is no choice at all.

“If you refuse to proceed with making a formal complaint, you leave me with no alternative,” Robards says. “You will be dismissed from the Aurors with immediate effect. You can no longer serve as an Auror, Unspeakable or take any active role in the policing of crime or defence of our country.”

“You’re firing me?” Harry swallows, his chest tight.

“You are being discharged from your role.” Robards reaches for a further set of papers and sends them towards Harry. It’s an official contract, with print tiny enough that Harry would need a Magnifying Charm to read it properly. “However, there is no restriction on you remaining at the Ministry in an alternative capacity. As a gesture of goodwill in recognition of your exemplary service, we are prepared to offer you a contract with the Broom Regulatory Department. A new role has been created and you will oversee a small but enthusiastic team. With your background in Quidditch I believe you would be well-suited to the position.”

“The Broom Regulatory Department?” Harry stares at Kingsley whose expression is furious. “Is he fucking kidding?”

“Auror Potter—!” Robards scowls at Harry.

“Not anymore, apparently.” Fury burns hot and desperate through Harry’s body, a blinding rage settling over him. He knew this was a possibility but the way the Ministry have gone about it has made him angrier than he’s felt in years. His hand twitches, itching to reach for his wand. He’s been in enough combative situations with Robards to be confident about leaving him flat on his arse if it came to a duel. “Tell me why I’m being fired.”

“I think you know—”

Say it!.” Harry slams his hands on the table and stands, his breathing heavy. “You’re going to get rid of me for it, so you might as well say it out loud. Let’s have it on the official minutes. I want people to know why you fired me when they look back on this.”

“Liaising with a person of interest—”

“Oh come on,” Harry growls. “You’re not firing me because of Malfoy, leave him out of it. If he was married and we were off on a fucking holiday to France together with our wives, you wouldn’t have a leg to stand on. He hasn’t been a person of interest for years—not seriously—and you know it as well as I do. I closed the case on the Malfoys myself. You might remember? It happened soon after I killed Voldemort while you lot sat on your arses and—”

“I’m firing you because you’re homosexual.” Robards cuts Harry off, cold and clipped. “Which is a criminal offence. I am well within my rights to have you sent to Azkaban, so I advise you to think very carefully before you speak Mister Potter.”

“A word of advice for you, Minister Robards.” Kingsley stands, his voice laced with fury. The magic in the room crackles and twists and he is as imposing and strong as he’s ever been. “If you put Harry in Azkaban, I will bring together every person I know, and we’ll break him out ourselves. Harry Potter will not spend one night in jail. Not one minute. Not one second.”

“Am I wrong?” Robards sits back in his seat, watching Harry. “If you tell me I’ve made a mistake we can ensure the rumours are quashed and quickly.”

Harry’s anger dissipates, a surge of emotion flooding through him. For one brief moment he thinks of clawing everything back. He could convince Robards to ditch the stupid charges against Malfoy. With Kingsley on his side there’s a slim chance he could still leave the meeting with his job intact. But in his heart, he knows what denying the accusation would mean. Intense scrutiny from the Ministry, having to keep his distance from Draco for a long period of time. It would mean looking Robards in the eye and denying himself. He doesn’t want to live like that anymore. He can’t.

“You’re not wrong,” Harry says at last.

“Very well.” Robards puts his papers together and points to the door. “I assume you have no interest in the alternative position we offered you?”

“Not a lot,” Harry replies. Kingsley looks miserable. “I’ll just get my things and be off.”

“You no longer have the authority to access the Head Auror’s office. Your things will be packed and dispatched to an address of your choosing. You can—”

“Minister Robards.” Kingsley speaks again, his voice calm and firm. “This is not a Ministry accountant caught fiddling the books. This is Harry Potter you’re speaking to. He served as Head Auror for my Ministry and yours and we both know he’s done a great deal more than that. Allow him to pack his things and leave with dignity. You have my word he won’t take any classified material.”

“Very well.” Robards refuses to meet Harry’s eyes. His cheeks are pink, and his throat works as he pretends to study his papers. “You have two hours. Meeting dismissed.”

*

It’s barely midday by the time Harry gets home to Grimmauld Place, but it might as well be the dead of night. He unshrinks his belongings without unpacking them and sits cross-legged by the fire to call Ginny.

“I’m off to training in a minute, Harry.” Ginny’s settles on her haunches as she accepts Harry’s call. “Why aren’t you at work?”

“I’ve been fired,” Harry says. “Robards knows.”

What?” Ginny shushes someone in the background. “Merlin, are you okay? Do you need me to come over?”

“Don’t be daft. I’m fine,” Harry lies. “I’m not calling for sympathy. Kingsley reckons they’ll keep it hush-hush so the press don’t get wind, but Robards is going to have to tell Ron why they got rid of me. He still thinks we’re together. Everyone does,” he finishes miserably.

“Now listen here, Harry.” Ginny speaks quickly and confidently, her voice warm. “This is what you’re going to do. You’re going to tell Ron I ended things because I wanted to focus on Quidditch. Too much distance, too busy, the usual it’s not you it’s me sort of stuff. Tell him this happened ages ago and you were devastated. Make sure he understands I know everything and you’re still my best friend.”

“Are you sure?” Harry swallows around the lump in his throat.

“Absolutely.” Ginny nods vigorously. “Tell him I convinced you to let people think we were still together because I couldn’t handle mum telling me off—you can’t cuddle a broom at night, Ginevra!”

Despite himself, Harry laughs. “You don’t mind?”

“Not a bit of it.” Ginny shouts to someone in the background. “Don’t forget to say if he tells mum I’ll Bat-Bogey Hex him.”

“I’m going to have to tell them, Gin.” Harry wishes he could step through the fire and speak to Ginny face to face. He wishes he could hold her close and breathe in her warm, familiar scent. “Your mum and dad are going to ask all sorts, and who knows what your dad’s going to find out through Ministry gossips. I owe them the truth.”

“Tell them whatever you tell Ron and make sure they know I’m fine with it. They’re going to start worrying otherwise and I don’t want mum turning up dabbing her eyes with a hanky and wailing about not having grandchildren even though she’s already got loads.” Ginny pauses. “I don’t—I’m not ready, Harry. Not yet. Not to tell them about me.”

“You don’t have to, Gin,” Harry promises. “I won’t say a word.” Someone yells Ginny’s name in the background, and he lets out a watery laugh. “Go and play Quidditch. Do some cool moves for me.”

“I always do.” Ginny yells something back then focuses on Harry again. “I can ditch it. It’s just a practice. I could be there soon enough with a Portkey. I don’t want you on your own.”

“I won’t be. I’ve got people here.” Harry doesn’t know who exactly, but he also doesn’t want Ginny to mess up her day just because he’s had a shit morning. He doesn’t want people to come over and pity him while he tries to pick up the pieces of his broken life. He’s going to be fine. He has to be. “Go. I’ll speak to you soon.”

After finishing the call, Harry sits heavily on the sofa and stares at the things he brought back from the Ministry. One box and the broom he treated himself to after being promoted to Head Auror. That’s all he has left from the years he spent there.

He flicks his wand and Summons a photo of Hermione and Ron that he kept on his desk. It’s only a matter of time before Ron’s informed about Harry’s dismissal. Despite Ginny’s reassurances, Harry knows it’s not just Ron being a protective big brother he needs to worry about. I called Malfoy a poof…it’s not my normal. Even if nobody else gets wind of the reason Harry left without so much as a word to anyone, Ron will have to be informed of the truth as Co-Head Auror. There’s no doubt in Harry’s mind that Robards will give him the full story.

The futility of having his biggest secret shared against his will leaves hot tears of anger pricking behind Harry’s eyes. He has half a mind to pre-empt any conversation between Ron and Robards, but he’s too exhausted and shell-shocked to know what to say. He doesn’t even know what time it is in America.

You’re too scared to face him, his brain niggles. You think he might not speak to you again.

Harry puts his head in his hands and sucks in a sharp breath. The euphoria of leaving Wiltshire earlier that morning is like a distant memory. He considers going to see Draco, but he mentioned having a busy day at Gringotts—back to back meetings with the goblins about a new tax break. Besides, Harry doesn’t want to see Draco when he’s moping and miserable. He imagines himself hanging around the Manor like a dark cloud and sobbing on Draco’s shoulder. He’d look like a right twat. He doesn’t want Draco to see him like that. He doesn’t want to show too many of the broken parts, not this early on.

The house is too still, too quiet. Harry smokes one of Sirius’ cigarettes and regrets spending so much time tidying the garden the other weekend. It would have been a good way to keep himself occupied today. In the end, Harry roots around in the cupboard for an old, dusty bottle of Ogden’s. He remembers Sirius sitting at the sprawling table in the kitchen, tipping the bottle in Harry’s direction. He sits on the sofa and swigs down a sharp, strong gulp.

“Cheers, Sirius.” Harry closes his eyes and swallows back the tears that threaten. “What would mum and dad say about all this? I reckon you’d know what to do.” His voice dips into a whisper, falters and breaks. “I wish you were here.”

Somewhere between the first drink and the sixth, Harry falls asleep on the sofa. It’s pitch black when the sound of someone Apparating into the living room wakes him from a fitful sleep. Immediately alert, Harry grabs his wand and stumbles to his feet.

“Hello Harry.” Hermione tucks her wand briskly into her robes. “This is a right old mess, isn’t it?”

“Hermione?” Harry blinks, wondering if the Ogden’s was off. “How the hell did you get here?”

“With difficulty. I’ll tell you another time.” Hermione’s expression softens and in one quick step she’s across the living room and holding Harry in a warm hug. “Oh Harry,” she sniffles. “Harry.”

“Stop, you’re going to set me off too.”

Harry’s voice cracks and he clings to Hermione tight enough that it’s a wonder she doesn’t complain. Hermione. Brilliant, wonderful Hermione is at Grimmauld Place, giving Harry the hug he desperately needs.

“We can get rid of this for a start.” Hermione pulls back from Harry and eyes the Ogden’s critically. She lifts her wand and Harry stops her, putting his hand on her arm.

“Wait. Tip the booze away if you want, but don’t get rid of the bottle. It belonged to Sirius.”

“I see.” Hermione puts the bottle down carefully and shakes her head at Harry, her face etched with concern. “I can’t believe it. Ron’s been speaking with Robards for hours. I was so sick of them being such men about it all, I had to leave. I wanted to see you.”

“Ron knows.” Harry’s words are thick and clumsy. “What did he say?”

“Not a lot, Robards has been commanding most of his attention. He’s cross with them for firing you, of course. I suspect he’s worried about Ginny too. We both are.”

“Ginny’s fine, I promise.” Harry sits on the sofa and Hermione takes a seat alongside him. “I spoke to her today. She’s known for ages. We broke up a while ago, her decision. Long before…”

“Hmm. Well, I’ll have to speak to Ginny myself.” Hermione gives Harry a shrewd look as if she doesn’t believe the story. “I’m not here for her tonight, I’m here for you. As long as she’s okay.”

“She is, I promise. I’ve already spoken to her today. She was the first person I told afterwards. The only person.” Harry puts his head in his hands, nausea making his stomach turn. The tears that have been threatening to fall finally leave him in a burst and his body shakes as Hermione’s warm arms wrap around him. “I don’t—I didn’t mean—”

“It’s fine, Harry. Shush, it’s fine. Oh darling.” Hermione sounds like she’s crying too, her arms tightening around Harry. “It’s going to be okay, we’ll speak to Robards.”

“You know it won’t help. He’s just doing what he has to.”

“Maybe if we kept things quiet—”

“You know I can’t.” Harry pulls back, wiping his eyes with the back of his hands. “I’m gay. I said as much to Robards. I’m lucky he didn’t chuck me in prison.”

Hermione clucks her tongue. “I’d have liked to see him try.”

“Kingsley said the same.” Harry takes off his glasses and pushes a hand through his hair. “I’m going to have to tell Molly and Arthur, if Ron doesn’t do it for me.”

“I’ll make sure he doesn’t,” Hermione soothes. “Don’t worry about that, not now. That can wait.”

“How’s America?” Harry gives Hermione a faltering smile and she laughs softly.

“That can wait too. We have more pressing things to deal with.” Hermione looks down, clearly choosing her words carefully. “I was surprised to hear Draco Malfoy’s name mentioned.”

“Yeah.” Harry takes a shaky breath. Draco. He can’t imagine what he would think seeing Harry sleeping in his clothes on the sofa drinking his godfather’s off whiskey and bawling like a toddler. “It’s…we’ve been…”

Harry can’t bring himself to say it. He doesn’t even know what he and Draco are, only that they’re something. Something exclusive, something that made him happy, something he still can’t put into words. It’s so new and tentative.

“I see.” Hermione sounds thoughtful. “Didn’t he want to be here with you?”

“I haven’t told him.” Harry shakes his head. “I don’t want him to see me like this, I’m a bloody mess.”

“If he cares for you, I doubt he’d mind.”

“He’s been in meetings with the goblins.” Harry doesn’t want Draco to see him like this, pathetic and untethered. “Draco’s had enough on his plate. Me losing my job doesn’t compare. I’ve still got savings, I’m not going to starve.”

“You’re allowed to be upset, Harry.” Hermione’s voice is quiet and reassuring. “It’s your career. You’ve put years into the Ministry. Besides, it’s not just about the job is it?”

“Isn’t it?” Harry looks up and meets Hermione’s gaze.

“It’s the way they make you ashamed, like you have to hide—” Hermione stops, her expression fierce. “It’s more than losing a job, it’s why you lost it. As if it makes you lesser, not equal to the others when you—” her voice breaks and she clutches Harry’s hand tightly. “You, Harry Potter, are wonderful. Don’t ever let them take that from you. Don’t you dare.”

“Give over.” Harry laughs through his tears, wrapping his arms around Hermione and pulling her close. Merlin, he’s missed her. He misses them all. Ron and Hermione, lively conversation at The Burrow and Molly’s roast potatoes. He misses the days when everything was so much less complicated. “I’m so glad you’re here,” he says, gruffly.

“Me too.” Hermione rummages around in her robes and hands Harry a small glass bottle. “I brought a potion I made for Rosie to help her on bad nights—she gets night terrors. I think it might help you sleep, just for tonight.”

“Thanks.” Harry and Hermione make their way upstairs and Hermione busies herself while Harry gets ready for bed. “Are you staying?”

“I can’t. I’m so sorry, Harry.” Hermione shakes her head, concern etched on her face. “I’ll come back as soon as I can, I’ll make arrangements.”

“Don’t worry.” Harry can’t help but feel guilty. Hermione has so much to do, so many things she’s dealing with. The last thing she needs is to try to travel back and forth between America and London. “I’ll be fine, I promise.”

“No more Ogden’s in the day.” Hermione points her wand at the curtains, drawing them to a close. “Be careful with that.”

“I promise.” Harry means it, too. Seeing Hermione and knowing she doesn’t think differently about him has settled him enormously. He knocks back her potion and exhaustion crashes over him. “Love you, ‘Mione.”

“I love you too. We all do.” Hermione tucks the duvet around Harry and the sound of her pottering around the room soothes him. As he drifts to sleep he’s sure he can feel her fingers in his hair, her voice quiet and warm. “It’s going to be okay, Harry. I’ll make sure of it.”

Some time later, not sure if he’s awake or dreaming, Harry hears Hermione’s voice again.

“Thank you for coming so late,” Hermione says. “I think it’s about time you and I had a chat.”

The voices fade away and the room whirls and spins until finally everything is dark and still.

*

The cool rays of the winter sun shining through Harry’s bedroom window wake him up. He stretches in bed, thoroughly well rested. He can hardly remember going to bed or sleeping so soundly on a work night. Work. Harry blinks his eyes open and finds an empty phial on his bedside cabinet. Hermione. The previous night comes back to him in a rush and his stomach rolls. He remains curled on his side for a moment, before turning in the bed pulling the duvet close around his body.

“You’re awake at last.” Draco looks up from his position in the chair next to Harry’s bed. He closes his book and slips off his reading glasses, stretching forward and putting them on the nearest surface. “About time too. There isn’t a single decent book in the house. I’ve been forced to read this.” He holds up Harry’s copy of Quidditch: A History.

“Why are you here?” Harry can’t help but wonder if he’s in some weird kind of dream. The fact that Draco would be in his bedroom and not actually in the bed with him is unusual for a start. “Why are you so far away?”

“I’m here because Granger told me you were in crisis when I was in the middle of a particularly good dream.” Draco sniffs. “I’m far away because I’m furious with you.”

“Shouldn’t you be at work?” Harry decides to ignore the furious with you comment for the moment. Draco has a tendency to be dramatic.

“I made arrangements to take the day off.” Draco raises an eyebrow at Harry. “Shouldn’t you be at work?”

Harry glares at Draco. “Very funny. I’m guessing Hermione told you everything?”

“She did.” Draco folds his arms with a scowl. “Is there a reason you think I’m going to fuck off the minute things get difficult?”

“I don’t think you’re going to fuck off.” Harry swallows. He feels ridiculous in his pyjamas with Draco as crisp and well-coiffed as ever. “It’s embarrassing.”

“You’re right. It is embarrassing. It’s embarrassing for me that you would sooner pour out your woes to your friend—who’s supposed to be in America incidentally—than your…me…who lives within easy Apparating, flying and Flooing distance.”

“You don’t want me moping around.” Harry scrubs his eyes. A hot, angry flush of tears threatens. It’s so stupid, so frustrating. He doesn’t want to cry over his stupid job in front of Draco. He just wants to be left alone until he’s had time to work things out. “I don’t want to do this. Not with you. I’m fine.”

“Clearly.” Draco’s expression is tight and pinched. “So fine you were drinking your godfather’s fusty old Firewhiskey during the day.”

“I wasn’t reaching for the booze if that’s what you think,” Harry mumbles. “It wasn’t like that. It’s about Sirius, not about alcohol.”

“I see.” Draco’s voice is icy. “I don’t mean to be indelicate Potter, but don’t you think it would be better to find comfort in the living rather than the dead?”

“Fuck you, Malfoy.” Harry tugs the duvet up to his chin and refuses to look at Draco. “You wouldn’t understand what it’s like. Not having any family.”

“Believe me, I understand what it’s like to lose everyone you’ve loved.” Draco’s voice is tense. “You’re not the only one who misses people. My family might not be dead, but they may as well be.”

“I know.” Harry swallows and he looks up at Draco. “Come the fuck here, will you? I know I’m being a prat. I just…”

Fine.” Draco moves to the bed and gets under the duvet with Harry, letting him curl in the crook of his arm. His feet are bare, but he’s otherwise dressed like he’s off for a day in the office. There’s something weirdly comforting about Draco’s crisp shirt and warm body, and Harry burrows closer.

“Hermione told you everything?” Harry plucks at the buttons on Draco’s shirt and closes his eyes, listening to the sound of his breathing.

“I believe so.” Draco brushes his fingers through Harry’s hair, his voice hesitant. “Do you blame me for the letter? I assumed you would set fire to the thing. Perhaps I should have been clear about that, left a postscript.”

Harry sits up, looking at Draco. “Of course not. I didn’t expect someone to snoop through a locked drawer in a locked office. It wasn’t your fault.”

“Fine.” Draco glares at Harry. “Then why wouldn’t you just call me?”

“You had a meeting with the goblins…”

“Fuck the goblins.” Draco’s body is tense and tightly coiled. “Do you think I’m incapable of supporting somebody? I expect you imagine I wouldn’t have the first clue how to handle anything difficult. Draco Malfoy, entitled little brat who doesn’t care for anyone but himself.”

“I don’t think that,” Harry says, uncertain. “I don’t think that at all.”

“I think you do. Perhaps not in precisely those terms, but you don’t want me to see you like this.” Draco leans back against the headboard and stares at the wall. “Go and have a shower, for fuck’s sake. You smell like old booze.”

“Will you still be here after?” Harry realises he wants Draco to stay. He wants him more than anything.

“Do you want me to still be here?” Draco’s voice is quiet and clipped.

“Yeah.” Harry nods, his stomach churning. “I want you here.”

“Then that’s where I’ll be.”

Harry makes his way to the bathroom and lets the hot water soothe away the memory of the previous day. Pulling on clean flannel pyjama bottoms and brushing his teeth leaves him fresher and less unsure of himself. He expects Draco to be downstairs, but he’s still in Harry’s bed, reading the Prophet with his glasses on. Two piping mugs of tea sit on either side of the bed and the delicious scent of freshly buttered toast makes Harry’s stomach rumble. He gets back under the duvet, which tingles with Draco’s magic. The comforting scent of cotton fresh from Cleaning Charms fills the room and Harry settles into bed with a contented sigh. Draco folds that morning’s Prophet in half and puts it on the side, reaching for his mug of tea.

“It’s not my bed, so I don’t care if there’s crumbs in it.” Draco blows on the tea before taking a sip. “I don’t have toast in bed at home. I’m making an exception.”

“Thanks.” Harry gives Draco a small smile and takes a gulp of his tea. It’s perfectly warm and sugary. He has a bite of his toast, glancing at the folded paper. “Has it made it into the Prophet yet?”

“Not yet.” Draco shakes his head. “Granger thinks they’re going to sweep it under the rug. I expect they’ll ask you to sign off on an official story that won’t be the official story but it will sound far less scandalous than the truth.”

“Perhaps.” Harry swallows another delicious bite of toast, contemplating Draco. “I’m sorry. I should have told you as soon as it happened.”

“It doesn’t matter.” Draco looks down at his mug. “Granger told me they offered you a deal. Robards was very put out you didn’t sign off on it, apparently.”

“I wouldn’t.” A wave of fury at the reminder of Robards and his peculiar, tight smile almost makes Harry spill his tea. “I didn’t even look at it.”

“So I hear.” Draco gives Harry a smile and the strange atmosphere between them eases a little. “Thank you.”

“For not putting you in prison?” Harry finishes his toast and puts his plate and mug down, turning on his side so he can see Draco properly. “You don’t have to thank me for that. I can’t believe Robards was allowed to even suggest a false charge against you. Perhaps things haven’t changed as much as I thought.”

“I can believe it.” Draco’s jaw tightens.

“Fuck them.” Harry glowers. “I don’t want to talk about the Ministry.”

“There was something unrelated to the Ministry I wanted to talk to you about,” Draco answers. There’s a note of hesitation in his voice.

“You can tell me, whatever it is.”

“I don’t believe we’ve ever really talked about Astoria’s death.” Draco’s voice is quiet but calm.

Harry shakes his head. “No, not really. I know the circumstances, I know how close you were, but not much else.”

Draco takes a breath. “I don’t talk to many people about it, but perhaps I should have spoken to you. It might have helped you understand certain things.”

“I’m listening,” Harry replies quietly.

“Astoria’s death was a slow and difficult one and I was with her for every single day of it. Her parents had all but disowned her by that point, my parents had stopped all communication with me and it was just us against the world. She lived with me in the Manor. When she couldn’t sleep, I lay in bed and read to her. If she didn’t fancy that, we watched films. Astoria loved Muggle films. Casablanca, Love Story, Ghost.” Draco’s throat bobs. “She always liked the sad ones.”

“Is that why you have the cinema room?” Harry rests his hand on Draco’s chest, watching him as he speaks. “I assumed it was something you made for yourself.”

Draco shakes his head. “It wasn’t. I’d never have bothered to learn how to get Muggle technology to work in a magical property if it hadn’t been for Astoria. I’ve never much cared for Muggle things, you know that. I spent months on the spells, making the space as comfortable as it could be.”

“I didn’t know.” Harry swallows, seeing Draco’s opulent cinema room in a whole new light. He thought it was a vanity project, somewhere for Draco to relax. He never considered it was connected to Astoria.

“There’s a reason I’m telling you all of this.” Draco rubs his temple and for the first time Harry sees how tired he looks. He’s been up all night, Harry thinks. He’s been up all night, so you would have someone there to wake up to.

“I want you to tell me. Whatever the reason.”

Draco swipes his hand over his eyes, before meeting Harry’s gaze. “You need to understand that I’m a very different person to the boy you knew, the one who ran away at the first sign of trouble. I don’t just change allegiances and find an easier alternative when things become difficult. It’s not who I am. Not anymore.”

“I understand,” Harry says. “You can talk about her, you know. I’d like to hear more about the things you two did, your friendship.”

“In time.” Draco swallows the last of his tea. “I don’t want to talk about Astoria anymore. Please.”

“Okay.” Harry runs his fingers over Draco’s chest. “I should have told you everything the minute it happened. I just hate moping around people. It’s embarrassing, losing my job and sitting around in my underpants staring at the wall. It’s hard to let anyone see the fucked-up parts, not just you.”

Draco laughs under his breath. “Potter, I’m built on fucked-up parts. If we can’t show one another those, there’s no hope for us at all.”

“I’ll get better at it, then.” Harry grins at Draco, sitting up and giving him a quick kiss. “I wouldn’t want us to be completely hopeless.”

“Neither would I.” Draco plumps his pillows and settles back with a contented sigh, lifting his arm so Harry can stretch out properly with him. “Have you heard anything from Weasley?”

“Nothing.” Harry shakes his head. “I’m not sure I will, not now. He’s probably going to speak to Hermione and Ginny first. I need to speak to Arthur, Molly too. They’re bound to get wind that something’s up soon, with Arthur working at the Ministry.”

“See if George can go with you. I’d offer myself but I suspect my presence would do more harm than good.”

“I’ll speak to him.” Harry’s mind flickers to the sad box of his things in the living room. “I don’t want to think about that today. I don’t want to think about any of it.”

“I flew here.” Draco runs a hand through Harry’s hair. “In the dead of night, I might add. Bloody freezing it was too. There’s a place I used to go flying when I needed to get away. Miles and miles away from here.”

Harry sits up. “Are we going flying?”

Draco smirks. “If you can keep up.”

*

They take the shortest route out of the smoggy center of London, on a path rarely frequented by planes and other aircraft. The fresh, crisp wind chases the breath from Harry’s lungs, and flying with Draco is exhilarating. Some of their old rivalry returns and they spin and twist through the clouds, soaring over the hills and dipping low into valleys.

Eventually they reach Draco’s spot on the south coast, miles and miles away from London. With unspoiled beaches and cresting waves, flying close to salt-spray and surging headlong into the coastal winds reminds Harry of his trips out to Azkaban. They find an inconspicuous spot to land and walk together into a nearby village where they eat delicious, hot pasties for lunch and have two piping mugs of hot chocolate each. When they get back to a secluded part of the beach, they kick off again and speed through the air. It’s the furthest Harry’s flown in a long time and by the time they get back to Grimmauld Place, they’re both exhausted.

“I haven’t spent that long on a broom in ages.” Harry stretches his aching limbs with a laugh. “Now I know why.”

“You’re still a decent flier I suppose.” Draco shoots Harry a quick smile, unlacing his boots. “Not as good as me, obviously.”

“Obviously.” Harry rolls his eyes. He watches Draco straighten and a warm tug of arousal curls in his belly. Draco in Quidditch leathers is really something. He clears his throat when Draco catches him staring. “I still reckon I’d beat you to the Snitch.”

“We can put it to the test one day.” Draco moves closer to Harry, pressing him against the wall. “Something on your mind, Potter?”

“No.” Harry knows his smile gives him away and Draco pushes a cool, gloved hand under Harry’s jumper. “Maybe. Fancy washing my hair?”

“Mm.” Draco tugs the lobe of Harry’s ear between his teeth. “I can wash more than that, if you ask me nicely.”

“Merlin.” Despite his sore legs, Harry can’t get upstairs and into the bathroom quickly enough. He lets the steam from the hot water gather in the small room and strips off his clothes. He tries not to stare too openly as Draco follows suit, but it’s difficult.

They’ve been naked together before, but Harry’s never really had the chance to look at Draco’s body quite so openly and doing so makes his mouth water. Draco really is gorgeous, from his toned, tight arse to his ridiculously Malfoy-ish hair. It’s not the lithe lines of Draco’s legs and torso Harry’s most focused on, though. His eyes keep flicking beneath the light trail of hair that leads to Draco’s cock. He knows what it looks like. He’s had it in his hand, in his mouth. But seeing it half-hard and heavy between Draco’s legs leads Harry’s mind directly to other things he could do with it. The other things Harry desperately wants him to do.

“I have a personality too, Potter.” Draco smirks. Harry’s ogling mustn’t have been as subtle as he thought. “I think the shower’s warm enough by now.”

Harry steps into the shower and falls back against the tiles when Draco kisses him, their skin slick and slippery. Harry’s heart pounds as he relishes the ability to touch every part of Draco’s body. He slides his hands down Draco’s back and pulls them together so they can kiss until they’re both breathless.

They pull apart to wash quickly and Draco—as promised—shampoos Harry’s hair. When the suds have been rinsed away completely, Draco presses Harry back against the tiles, front first, the hardness of his cock against Harry’s backside a delicious promise. With a groan, Harry puts his hands flat against the tiles and presses back into Draco, sucking in a breath. It makes him so hungry for more, so eager for Draco to just take him and whisper all manner of filthy things in Harry’s ear when he does so.

“Will you fuck me tonight?” Harry turns quickly enough that he almost slips, Draco’s hand on his waist keeping him steady. He circles his fingers around Draco’s cock and meets his questioning gaze. “Please?”

The twitch of Draco’s cock when Harry says please is unmistakable and from the way Draco’s breath hitches, Harry can anticipate his answer.

“As you asked so politely.” Draco kisses Harry before pulling back, a dark look in his eyes. “Let’s get out of here before I fall on my arse.”

Laughing, Harry gets out of the shower and throws Draco a towel which he catches deftly. They towel themselves off and go back into the bedroom, where Draco moves over Harry on the bed and kisses him soundly. His hair is still damp and his skin smells like Harry’s shampoo. It sends a fierce, possessive kick through Harry’s body and he rolls them over, capturing Draco’s lips in another searing kiss.

Draco nudges Harry onto his back and moves down his body. They haven’t been doing this for very long, but it’s been long enough that Harry knows the things Draco can do with his mouth are wickedly good. With a low growl of pleasure, Harry drops his head back on the pillow as Draco takes him into his mouth. He clutches a hand in Draco’s hair and bucks up towards him with a hiss of pleasure.

Draco pulls off Harry for just long enough to murmur a familiar spell, then returns to his task. He pushes two slick fingers into Harry’s relaxed body, sucking him into the back of his throat.

The combined pleasure makes Harry cry out as he twists and bucks on the bed, his whispers and pleas falling into the darkening room around them. Everything else melts away and it’s like they’re flying again, up in the sky where nothing can touch them. Harry pushes Draco back when he gets closer to the edge.

“I’m ready.” Harry turns on his front and wriggles his arse to emphasise exactly how ready he is. “How do you want me?”

“Lift up. Hands and knees.” Draco slides his hand down Harry’s back when he’s in position and squeezes his backside, pressing a light kiss to the base of his spine. “Okay?”

“I will be when you start fucking me,” Harry replies. He bites back a groan at the slick, cool sensation of lube between his buttocks and the thick, blunt pressure of Draco’s cock against his hole. He wets his lips, thinking of the response when he asked politely as Draco put it.

“Please,” Harry says. It makes Draco’s fingers tighten on his hips and he smiles to himself. “Please fuck me.”

He’s pretty sure Draco curses and mutters something about Harry being the death of him under his breath, but in one hard thrust all thoughts are chased away. It’s not pleasurable at first, the stretch and intrusion desperately uncomfortable. It makes Harry want to pull back, which he almost does.

“We can stop,” Draco whispers. His hands are firm on Harry’s body and his breath hot against Harry’s skin as he rests over him. “If it’s not good for you we can stop.”

“No.” Harry shakes his head, his breathing ragged. “It wasn’t—I—”

He stops. His body begins to adjust to the unfamiliar sensation and it’s not quite so uncomfortable anymore. A desperate hunger crawls through him and he wriggles experimentally, pushing his arse back towards Draco.

Move,” he bites out. “Move, ah—”

Draco does as requested, sliding back and then pushing into Harry again. The stretch and burn dulls but there’s still something so intense about being fucked in this way. It’s like nothing Harry’s experienced before but as he gets used to the initially strange sensation he begins focusing on the pleasure. A hot, hungry force gathers and burns within him and his need becomes an ache that goes far deeper than simple desire. Harry is glad it’s Draco, doing this. Glad it’s someone that will stay in the bed with him after, kissing and talking through the night.

“Say something.” Draco’s voice is quiet and he presses into Harry again, another smooth, deep stroke. “Harry?”

Harry finds words chased out of him and instead he lets magic pulse and twist in the room, his breathing shallow. He gulps out a small please and presses up and back, grinding onto Draco’s cock. It seems to be enough reassurance, and Draco clutches Harry’s hips fucking him with hard, targeted strokes.

It’s nothing like Harry thought it would be, the sensations indescribable. He claws at the sheets as Draco fucks him harder still and the whimpers, groans and grunts that fall from his lips seem to spur Draco on. The pure act of feeling strips away the pain of remembering, the panic, loss and sense of becoming untethered that so consumed Harry over the last forty-eight hours. He’s been trying not to focus on how out of control everything is, but in this moment there’s a catharsis in letting go completely. He doesn’t need to be in control, not of this. He can focus solely on sensation and let everything slip away, as he gives himself over to pleasure.

As Draco whispers words Harry never expected to hear—you feel so good, I’ve wanted this for longer than you can imagine, you’re perfect, perfect—the world spins, twists and turns. Harry pulls away when he’s close, so close, forcing himself to turn and drop on his back. He hopes Draco understands what he wants.

Draco seems to get it instinctively. He slides his arms beneath Harry’s legs, hitches them over his shoulders and adds more lubricant. With another sharp thrust Draco pushes inside Harry’s body and the air punches out of his lungs with a sharp cry.

Harry holds Draco’s gaze for as long as he can. When Draco catches his lips in a heart-stopping kiss, Harry closes his eyes, gives into the moment and imagines he’s opening his arms and soaring through the air.

The dark behind his eyelids turns blinding white until all he can see is stars.

*

Much later that night, Draco is fast asleep. Harry watches him for a moment, before getting up. Restless and unable to sleep, he pulls on a comfortable pair of pyjama bottoms. He pads downstairs into the living room, sitting on the floor by the box of things he’s been ignoring all day. With shaking hands, he slowly begins to unpack the personal items he kept with him at work. The medals he threw carelessly into the box, the scroll of parchment appointing Harry and Ron as Head Aurors, the photograph of his parents, dulled by the sunlight and yellowing with age. He takes all his little trinkets, the personal items and accolades until they’re all laid out on the floor.

It seems so small, somehow. So insignificant. There should be more. He doesn’t know why he packed a dying pot plant or why he took the official Ministry paperweight, but they felt like things he should grab before he was escorted off the premises. He turns the paperweight over in his hands, remembering the last time he held it during his conversation with Hermione. He closes his eyes and remembers Draco’s face, insolent and defiant, staring up at Harry from the Prophet.

“I don’t regret you,” Harry whispers. He knows, if offered the choice, there are things he would value above his job. With absolute certainty he also knows that Draco Malfoy is one of them. The knowledge that comes with understanding what it is to be free and to stop living a lie burns fierce and bright inside him, but it doesn’t dull the ache of the things he’s lost. He wishes he could have both. Live as he wants to in every respect. In work, in love.

He brushes his fingers over the photo of his parents and watches as they turn, kiss and beam up at him. He wishes he could ask them if they still love him. He wishes he could talk to his mum, just for a second. He thinks about trying to find the Resurrection Stone again, about sneaking into the Ministry to see if he can hear Sirius behind the Veil.

“Would you be disappointed in me?” Harry looks at the photograph, but his parents stay silent as they turn, kiss and beam, turn, kiss and beam.

He’s about to go upstairs when he catches sight of card at the very bottom of the box. He takes it out carefully, a lump rising in his throat. On the front is a picture of a dragon. Like many magical cards, it swoops and turns, its tail flicking. It breathes a huff of fire and the card turns warm in Harry’s hands.

Dearest Harry. Wishing you a very Happy Birthday. All our love, Molly and Arthur.

He remembers going to The Burrow that year. It was one of his first birthdays as a new Auror. Arthur couldn’t stop shaking his hand and clapping him on the back. Molly was so proud she cried. She sent Harry off with an armful of gifts and a huge pot of stew—we can’t rely on the Ministry to feed you properly!

Fear and sadness crash over Harry. Losing Molly and Arthur is one of the things that terrifies Harry. He doesn’t have a clue what their views are on being gay, only that there’s a reason Ginny’s clearly scared to come out. He looks at Molly’s handwriting and closes the card, staring at the little cartoon dragon as it moves, trips and stumbles around the page. It’s like the magic’s wearing off, as if the small dragon can’t find its feet anymore.

Harry closes his eyes, his grief tearing through him. He puts his head in his hands and sobs, fat, salty tears sliding down his cheeks and gathering on his lips. He wants to pull himself together. He’s not a child anymore, but in adulthood he’s rarely felt so lost, so uncertain, so young. He just wants Molly to hold him and tell him it’s going to be okay, to sit around a warm table at The Burrow with laughter and good food. He wants to know they accept him, unconditionally.

As he sobs, there’s a rustle in the living room and then Draco’s warm arms wrap around him.

“I’ve got you,” Draco promises. His voice is firm, steady and familiar. “I’ve got you, Harry.”

Harry holds on to him tightly and lets everything go.

*

It’s been two weeks since Harry left the Ministry and he knows he can’t put-off seeing Molly and Arthur any longer. They’ve both been trying to reach him, and a catch-up with Kingsley informed Harry that gossip about the real reason for his sudden departure has already begun.

He can’t say he’s surprised. The official story was as flimsy as Harry expected. The news appeared without fanfare, an official Ministry briefing thanking Harry for his service and wishing him luck with the other pursuits he supposedly left to focus on. Considering he hasn’t been seen in public since he stopped working as an Auror and his other pursuits primarily involve too much hot chocolate and trying to change the wallpaper at Grimmauld Place, he can hardly blame people for wondering what the fuck is going on.

The Prophet has been hounding him for an interview and the press are another thorn in Harry’s side, forcing him to go and see Molly and Arthur before the nature of his relationship with Draco becomes front page news. Harry knows he should speak to the press at some point—he’s learned that sometimes interviews are more impactful than allowing untruths to fester—but there are people that deserve to hear the truth from Harry himself before he can even consider making a press announcement of his own. Besides, he’s not sure he could even get through his story at the moment. He feels woefully ill-equipped to answer the questions a Prophet journalist might put to him. Everything is still too raw and fresh. In time, perhaps. When there’s a chance his story might do some good.

For now, Harry’s keeping his head down and trying to focus on mending relationships with those closest to him, which is why he finds himself at The Burrow on a cold Friday evening.

“Afternoon, George.” Harry rubs his hands together trying to warm them, grateful to see a friendly face. He’s surprised when George pulls him into a fierce hug.

“I know about Gin,” George whispers. “Nobody else does, but she told me.” He pulls back. “How are you getting on?”

“You know.” Harry shrugs. “Enjoying other pursuits.”

“It’s a load of bollocks,” George says, fiercely. “Lee said they’re talking about it in Knockturn. People don’t know of course, but some of them have their suspicions. There are folks there that would come out fighting if you wanted them too.”

“I’m not sure it’s going to do much. Not at the minute. The last thing I want is people getting in trouble on my account.” Harry sighs, peering over George’s shoulder. “Can I come inside?”

“Yeah, ‘course. Sorry Harry.” George steps to the side to let him in and he’s immediately engulfed by Molly.

“Oh Harry. We’ve been so worried! Ginevra’s been so busy with her Harpies she keeps ignoring our calls, we thought something dreadful had happened to you. Ronald won’t tell us a thing, classified this and classified that and nobody can reach Hermione. Arthur was starting to suspect you might have been harmed in some way. Let me look at you.” Molly casts a critical eye over Harry, clearly looking for signs of horrible curses. “Far too skinny as always, but we can soon fix that.”

She ushers Harry inside where he’s wrapped in another hug, as Arthur claps him on the back.

“My dear boy. What on earth happened?” Arthur pulls a seat out for Harry and Molly begins piling food onto his plate. “Tell us everything. I couldn’t believe it when I heard. Kingsley’s been walking around the place with a face like thunder, the Aurors keep whispering and Minister Robards looks quite ill. Why didn’t you tell me you were leaving?”

“Because I wasn’t planning to leave.” Harry takes a bite of his food but even Molly’s usually delicious cooking tastes like sawdust. He can see from the way George is hovering warily that he likely has reason to be concerned. “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you both. It’s been…a difficult time.”

“They didn’t fire you?” Arthur looks scandalised and Molly chokes back a sob. “They can’t. What possible grounds would they have? You’re the best Auror they’ve had for years, trustworthy, honest, fair. We can take this up with Magical Persons Resources. Harry Potter, fired! There’ll be riots on the street.”

Harry clears his throat. “I’m not sure there will. They fired me because…”

“Let Harry eat his food, Mum.” George shushes Molly and Arthur. “He’s travelled all the way here, give him a minute to get his head straight…err…sorted.”

Harry gives George a small grin, the slip making him smile. The moment of peace is appreciated, and he takes a couple of forkfuls of food as he tries to remember the speech he’s practiced countless times.

“I’ve got something to tell you both, and for the time being I’d appreciate it’s kept between us.” After eating a little of his food, Harry finally puts his knife and fork down. It’s time. You can do this. “Me and Ginny, we’re not together anymore.”

“What on earth do you mean, not together?” Molly stares at Harry, confusion crossing her face. “Of course you’re still together. You’ll be getting married soon.”

“‘Fraid not.” Harry shakes his head, casting a pleading look at George.

“Let him speak, Mum. I’ve spoken to Ginny, she’s fine. It was all her decision, you know what she’s like. All career, career, career. She’s happy, she loves Harry like a friend. We all do. They’ll be best of mates still.”

“But…” Molly trails off and Arthur grips her hand tightly. A strange expression crosses his face as he looks at Harry. He knows, Harry thinks. He’s heard the rumours and never would have believed them but now…he knows. He doesn’t look angry or sad. Just blank. Harry doesn’t think he’s ever seen Arthur so utterly emotionless. “You can’t just be friends.”

“It’s what we both want.” Harry swallows, his stomach rolling. “Being without Ginny, it’s made me think about some things. I’ve…realised stuff.”

“No!” Arthur stands abruptly, his lips tight. “This is preposterous. Molly, a word.”

“Dad, don’t.” George stands and puts his hand on Arthur’s shoulder. “Please just let him tell you.”

“I don’t want to hear it, son.” Arthur’s face pales as he looks at George. “Great Merlin, is that why you’re here too? Have the two of you been—?”

No, no it’s nothing to do with me.” George shoots Harry a panicked look. “I’m here for moral support. To lend an ear. The good one.” He laughs nervously but nobody else joins in.

“Can somebody please tell me what on earth is going on?” Molly snaps.

“If I’m right…” Arthur shakes his head and sits down, heavily. “Don’t, Harry. I’m asking you not to. You’ll break her heart.”

“Stop talking in riddles.” Molly looks between Arthur, George and Harry. “You’re not telling me there’s any truth in those awful rumours?”

Harry winces. “It depends which rumours you’re on about.”

“Just tell her.” George’s voice is low and soft. He sounds young and frightened.

“I’m gay.” Harry blurts it out in a rush, his heart hammering loud enough that he’s sure it must be audible to everyone.

His chest is tight, his palms clammy. Fear rolls through him and he can’t stop the shame that claws through him. It’s as though he’s putting his sex life on display, something intimate and personal up for judgment.

“You’re not.” Molly begins to cry, her hands shaking as Arthur soothes her. His face is the same, implacable mask. “No, Harry. You can’t be. It’s not right, it’s not proper.”

“It’s a crime,” Arthur says, tightly. “That’s what it is.”

“Not anymore, Dad. The new legislation—”

“I don’t care about the new legislation!” Arthur bellows. “It doesn’t apply to Aurors, and for good reason. Your job is to protect the people you work alongside, to spend time in close quarters with members of your team without becoming distracted. You’re supposed to be protecting people like my son, not thinking about…other things.”

Fury rolls through Harry and he stands. “I’ve protected your son with my life, Arthur. Countless times, just as he’s protected mine. There have been no distractions, no indiscretions.”

“No?” Arthur’s cheeks are red, his face pinched. “Then what of the Malfoy boy? Oh yes, we’ve heard all the rumours about that too, not that we would ever have believed them. Lucius Malfoy’s son, Harry. The cousin of the woman who killed our Fred, the boy who allowed werewolves into Hogwarts to maul my Bill.”

“Malfoy’s a friend of mine, Dad.” George tries to interject, his hand swept away when he puts it on Authur’s arm. “His mum and dad don’t speak to him, he’s not a bad bloke, not anymore. He cares for Harry, he—”

“I can’t listen to this.” Molly sobs again, clutching Arthur’s hand. “Arthur, please.”

“I think you need to leave, Harry.” Arthur’s voice is dull and heavy with resignation. He sits in his chair once again and Harry sees for the first time how old he looks, how worried.

“Please don’t do this to him. It’s Harry. He’s got no other family but us, don’t be such bloody pure-bloods about it all.” George’s face is flushed red as he tries to reason with his parents.

“It’s fine.” Harry’s voice cracks and he clears his throat. “I’ll leave. I…”

“Mum, Dad don’t do this!” George is frantic and he grips Molly’s shoulder. “Don’t let him leave, he’s got nowhere else to go.”

“I have somewhere to go. It’s fine. I won’t be alone.” Harry swallows and gives Molly and Arthur one last look. “Thank you. For everything. I’ve loved…loved being part of your family. I’m…I’m sorry I’m not the man you wanted me to be.”

Without looking back and ignoring George’s shouts, Harry walks out of the house and closes the door behind him. He lets his shaking legs carry him just out of sight, before dropping to the ground and crying like he might never stop.

*

Draco opens the door to the Manor, his robe wrapped tightly around his body. “I thought you were with your Weasleys tonight?”

“I was there earlier.” Harry takes off his robes and closes the door behind him. His throat is scratchy, his voice hoarse. Since leaving the Burrow he’s been wandering around, until eventually he found his way to the Manor. The desperate, rolling anger has faded and now everything is numb and he’s so, so cold.

“Potter?” Draco seems to realise something isn’t quite right and he touches Harry’s arm. “You went out hours ago. I assumed you were talking things through.”

“Nope. I left less than an hour after I arrived. I’ve just been walking ever since.” Harry shakes his head. “Please don’t make me tell you.”

“Okay.” A flash of anger crosses Draco’s face and although Harry appreciates it, he doesn’t want to hear anyone talking shit about Molly and Arthur. He doesn’t want to think or talk about Molly and Arthur at all. “Do you want a drink? Bed?”

“This.” Harry wets his lips and tugs at the knot in Draco’s robe, using it to pull Draco close. “Please fuck me. Just…fuck me.”

“Let me in.” Draco’s voice is crisp and firm and Harry can sense his magic nudging at the edges of his mind. With a gulp, Harry drops his barriers as Draco draws his wand and whispers, “Legilimens.”

Draco doesn’t rummage or rifle. He doesn’t take long and he pulls back from Harry’s mind after no time at all. Without a word, he pushes Harry back against the wall and kisses him fiercely. Harry sinks into it, giving himself over to the moment. He yanks at the knot in Draco’s robe and lets himself be turned to face the wall. With a low groan, he presses his fingers against the stark white walls and Draco flicks his wand to vanish Harry’s clothes.

“Please…”

“I know.” Draco presses close to Harry, his naked body warm and firm against Harry’s. He scrapes his teeth over Harry’s ear. “I’m not going to hurt you. Not in a bad way. Just the way you want.”

The words send shivers travelling through Harry’s body. He nods and drops his head forward against the wall. He can hear Draco slicking himself and the coolness of lube between his arse cheeks makes him groan desperately. He gets himself into position and the head of Draco’s cock nudges against him. Harry sucks in a breath and then relaxes his body, reaching back to urge Draco closer.

With one hard thrust, Draco enters Harry. The stretch and burn makes Harry cry out, but the pain is just the right side of pleasurable. Draco gives Harry a minute to adjust before taking him exactly as Harry wanted. It drives everything else away and lets Harry lose himself in pure sensation. There’s no room for thinking, no room for agonising. There’s just a rush of endorphins and a searing heat, a dull ache that gives way to blinding pleasure as Draco hits the right spot again and again.

It's not the night for tenderness or slow lovemaking. Harry chases his orgasm and knows Draco is doing the same. His fingers drag down the wall as Draco fucks him and with every thrust, he grunts and pushes back for more, deeper, harder, faster. He palms his own cock until Draco pushes his hand away and brings him to a bone-shaking completion.

When they finish, Harry drops his forehead against the wall and gulps in air. He feels Draco nudging at the edges of his mind again and his filters slip down as a wave of exhaustion hits him. He can’t bring himself to speak but he knows Draco can see the things flicking through his mind. Thank you and please take me to bed.

Harry doesn’t remember getting upstairs or falling asleep but when he wakes up everything is soft, warm and clean.

He rests his head on Draco’s chest and listens to him snoring as he watches the sun come up.

*

A couple of weeks after his visit with Molly and Arthur, Harry finally takes Ginny’s call.

“I’m so sorry, Harry.” Ginny can hardly speak through her tears, the flames of the fire flickering and the logs hissing and spitting. “George said it was awful.”

“It wasn’t brilliant.”

He’s been making excuses, not ready to talk through the scene at The Burrow with anyone. At last he feels like he can discuss it without crying. He owes Ginny a conversation after all the time spent on late-night calls since their break-up, both of them trying to help one another find ways to negotiate their new lives. Ginny’s undoubtedly been Harry’s closest friend and confidante for years and it hasn’t felt right pulling back from her, but the situation with Molly and Arthur was too raw and painful. Harry didn’t trust his anger and hurt not to get the better of him, and he couldn’t imagine yelling about Ginny’s parents to her. Now he feels calmer, a deep, heavy sadness settling over him and a hole in his heart. He thinks he can manage a conversation without shouting. It helps that Ginny probably knows the worst of it by now, which means he won’t have to go through the whole sorry mess in detail.

“I can’t believe it.” Ginny chokes back a sob. “I knew they could be set in their ways—mum’s so traditional—but I never thought for one minute they’d throw you out. You’re like a son to them.”

“I’m not so sure about that anymore.” Harry sighs, shaking his head. “It could be better for you.”

“How can I tell them after this?” Ginny’s shoulders shake and she buries her head in her hands, her voice muffled. “I know I have to. If I tell them about me too, it might make things better.”

“I don’t know if it will.” Harry wishes he could hold Ginny, watching uselessly as she scrubs tears from her eyes and gives him a watery smile. “Do you want to tell them, or is it because you think you should?”

Ginny considers the question. “I don’t want to tell them. Not yet. I’m happy here with the Harpies and Millie. Mum’s always so involved. I planned to say something eventually, but it’s nice just having some space to work everything out. I want to be confident enough myself to stand up to the crying and wailing if it doesn’t go well.”

“Then don’t do anything daft on my account.” Harry means it, too. He isn’t alone in this—Draco understands all too well how it feels to be rejected by family. The other night they had a long chat that stretched into the early hours of the morning. The last thing Harry wants is for Ginny to be miserable just so they can all feel sorry for themselves together.

“But if it could help—” Ginny sniffles.

“You can still help without coming out. Have a word, make sure they know I didn’t break your heart.”

“You’re so brave telling them. I hate feeling like a coward.” Ginny twists her hands together miserably. “I’m not scared of many things. Why this?”

“I wasn’t that brave,” Harry replies. “I wasn’t ready to tell your mum and dad either. I wouldn’t have told them at all if I didn’t know the stupid story the Ministry gave people was full of holes. I had to tell them. Just like I had to tell Robards. It wasn’t my choice. I lost the option of keeping it to myself the minute Pritchard went snooping through my desk.”

“I’m sorry,” Ginny says quietly. “I hate that this all happened to you. I’m so angry with them, Harry! I’ve been sending Mum and Dad Howlers, see how they bloody like it. I’m not taking Mum’s Fire-Calls. I can’t look at them without wanting to cry.”

“They just need time.” Harry isn’t sure that’s true, but he wants to reassure Ginny. “Don’t do anything stupid. They probably think you’re avoiding them because I’ve left you broken-hearted. You should speak to your mum and let her know you’re okay. She worries.”

Despite everything Molly and Arthur said to him, Harry can’t help but remember how much older Arthur seemed, how tired Molly looked. Some days he wants to scream and rage, but on his calmer days—like today—he doesn’t hate or judge them. Even now, even after everything, if anything ever happened to Molly or Arthur, Harry’s heart would be broken. He would hunt down anyone that harmed either of them. He loves Molly and Arthur still. That hasn’t changed, even if it would be easier if his affection for them could just go away. He doesn’t want Ginny to lose her relationship with her family. He knows how much it hurts.

“I was wondering about telling the boys,” Ginny says. “George knows of course, but I thought I might tell Ron. Perhaps Charlie and Bill. I don’t know about Percy, he’s a right Snidget about things sometimes.”

“Take your time, Gin. Tell whoever you want, whenever you want. You should feel in control of it. Don’t let anyone take that away from you.”

“Thanks, Harry.” Ginny seems more at ease. She pulls a face when one of her team yells something in the background. “I’ve got to go. Let me know when you fancy coming to Cardiff. We’d love to have you. Anytime.”

“I might take you up on that. Thanks.”

Harry waves goodbye and ends the call. Staring at the empty fire instead of feeling desperately alone, he’s reminded of the things he still has. The people he loves and the ones that love him too, whoever he is.

He picks up his wand and makes his way into the hall where bits of discarded wallpaper are strewn everywhere. Draco looks up as Harry emerges. Aside from the weekend, Harry’s favourite day is Thursday when Draco ‘works from home.’ Lately he’s been working from Grimmauld Place, setting up a study in Sirius’ old room. Draco reckons it’s haunted, because his papers keep ending up in odd places. Harry’s noticed it too. The scent of leather and cigarettes, the way his Gryffindor scarf keeps carefully rearranging itself over Draco’s Slytherin one. He secretly likes the idea that Sirius might be teasing them both. It makes him feel as though Sirius really would be okay with Harry, even if he’d think shacking up with a Slytherin is a rubbish idea. Sometimes Harry swears he hears a motorbike in the sky when he’s watching the stars through the window and struggling to sleep.

Harry knows there’s a danger in believing in ghosts and he breathes in, shaking his thoughts away. He’s trying to do as Draco suggested—to take comfort in the living instead of the dead. Harry wraps his arms around Draco as he steps back from his task of stripping Harry’s wallpaper off the walls.

“How is she?” Draco asks.

“Better, I think.” Harry tightens his hold on Draco and breathes in the scent of fresh paint, clean and white.

“And you?” Draco leans back into Harry’s arms.

“Fine,” Harry says. “I’ll be fine.” He’s surprised to find that despite the ache in his heart, he really means it.

Everything might not be brilliant, but Harry has good things in his life. Good people. He just needs to remind himself of that, to take a moment and remember how to breathe.

*

One Month Later

Returning to Grimmauld Place to find Ron sitting in his living room is an unexpected surprise. It’s the first time Harry’s seen Ron since their conversation at Shell Cottage all those months ago, when Ron made his feelings about two wizards together pretty clear. It’s been playing on Harry’s mind ever since, his doubts intensifying as Ron’s silence stretched into days and then weeks. Although Hermione keeps reassuring Harry that everything’s fine, the lack of communication left Harry in no doubt that everything’s not fine with Ron, whatever Hermione says.

“Hermione said it was about time I came to see you.” Ron doesn’t sound particularly happy about it, and he refuses to meet Harry’s eyes.

“Well if Hermione said.” Harry tries not to sound angry, but he isn’t sure he manages it. “How’s work?”

Ron shrugs. “It’s okay.”

“Good.” The air in the room thickens, the silence growing more awkward by the minute. “How’s America?”

Ron shrugs again. “Big. Busy.”

“Sounds great.” Harry presses his lips together and stuffs his hands into his pockets. “Not much happening here. It rained on Wednesday, they ran out of satsumas at Tesco on Thursday and I got fired for being gay. Oh, and your parents aren’t talking to me anymore. Because of the gay thing. It’s been pretty quiet really.”

“You can’t blame them.” Ron looks up at Harry, his cheeks flushed with anger. “They don’t know what to make of it, they thought you and Ginny were happy for fuck’s sake. We all did.”

“I didn’t hurt her,” Harry says tightly. “She’s been a better friend to me than you have. Would you prefer us both to be miserable?”

“No.” Ron’s jaw works and he pointedly doesn’t look at Harry. “Ginny told me why she really ended things. I didn’t believe she’d ever have broken up with you over Quidditch. I remember how she used to follow you around as a kid, Harry Potter this and Harry Potter that.”

“What did she tell you?” Harry keeps his voice level. He doesn’t want to say the wrong thing in case Ginny hasn’t told Ron everything.

“You know what.” Ron looks up. “It doesn’t matter, I’m not here to talk about Gin. I can’t believe you’d be stupid enough to risk your job—”

Harry lets out a brittle laugh. “I was stupid to trust people wouldn’t snoop through my locked desk drawer, but the rumours about me started long before that. If you want to blame anything, blame the law. That’s what’s stupid.”

“No, you’re stupid. Draco Malfoy, Harry! Risking it all for him is the stupidest thing you’ve ever done.” Ron gets to his feet, his hands balled into fists. “You’re going soft in the head, saying you’re gay and taking up with that tosser. You could have gone to Azkaban, and I bet he wouldn’t have bothered visiting you.”

“You don’t know him,” Harry snaps. “You don’t know anything about it. Besides, I didn’t lose my job because of Malfoy. I lost my job because I’m gay. It doesn’t matter if I’m by myself, seeing Robards himself or shacking up with Hagrid. It’s not about anyone else. It’s about me.”

“I’d have known.” Ron’s voice is clipped. “We spent time alone together—”

Harry snorts. “Are you kidding me? I wasn’t checking out your arse if that’s what you’re worried about.”

No.” Ron’s cheeks are red with anger, his expression furious. “Don’t put words in my mouth. I just mean you’d have told me. We’re supposed to tell each other everything. We’re best mates, we’ve fought wars together, we’ve worked alongside one another as Aurors for years. Don’t you think I deserved to know?”

“I’m not an Auror anymore,” Harry mutters. He pushes a hand through his hair and steadies himself. “I couldn’t tell you or Hermione. It might have put your positions at the Ministry at risk too if it came out you knew and didn’t disclose it.”

“Did you just wake up one day and decide—?” Ron’s lip curls in distaste when he trails off. It sends pulses of anger through Harry.

“You don’t want the details.” Harry’s voice is low and furious. “I know you think it’s gross.”

“It’s not right,” Ron shouts. “Two wizards together, the stuff they do. It’s not normal, is it?”

“It’s normal for me. As normal as breathing.” Exhaustion sweeps over Harry and he gestures to the door. “Just go back to America, mate. Tell Robards I’m still a poof. Whatever.”

Harry watches as Ron does as Harry asks, turning his back and making his way out of the room. Harry wants to stop him, to pull him back and to make him bloody talk. He misses Ron so much and the thought of losing him as well as Molly and Arthur makes Harry want to crumple to his knees. He keeps himself steady, swallowing when Ron pauses at the door.

“I miss you.” Ron’s shoulders are tight, his back to Harry. All the anger has gone from his voice and he just sounds young, sad and lost. “Life isn’t the same without my best mate around. Work’s going to be rubbish without you.”

“I miss you too,” Harry replies. He really does. He misses Ron, he misses the casual ease of their friendship and Ron’s big, beaming smile through the fire. “There’s a lot I miss. It is what it is.”

“I don’t think you’re gross or abnormal, for what it’s worth.” Ron turns and gives Harry a watery smile. “I don’t like Malfoy much, but I suppose I’ll get used to him eventually.”

“Yeah.” Harry shuffles his feet awkwardly, fighting back the heat in his cheeks. He gets why Ron of all people thinks Harry’s gone mental. If the tables were turned and he found out Ron was getting off with Malfoy, Harry would probably think he was under the Imperius Curse. “I know it’s weird. Everything’s changed.”

“Can’t believe they booted you out, though.” Ron’s clearly angry and a small shoot of hope takes up residence in Harry’s chest. Ron brightens. “If Hermione’s Minister you could come back.”

Harry shakes his head. “That’s a promise you can’t keep. Maybe someone like me will never be allowed to be an Auror in our lifetime. By the time things change, I might not even miss it anymore. I might be too old, too rusty, too out of touch with the way the Ministry works.”

“Don’t you want to show Robards he’s wrong?” Ron asks.

“I’d like for nobody to be going through this in five years, or ten, or twenty, but I can’t waste the rest of my life trying to go back somewhere that doesn’t want me.” Harry’s words catch in his throat and he swallows thickly. “I can’t live with false hope. I’ve got to focus on ways to move forward without the Ministry, at least for now. Build a new life, a new career.”

“Any ideas?” Ron pushes his hands in his pockets, his expression miserable. “Robards told me about the Broom Regulatory stuff. What a twat.”

Harry laughs, the mood between them easing just a little. “I think I’m going to leave the Ministry be for the moment. George said I could work with him at the shop. Just until I work out what’s next.”

“He misses having a partner in crime.” Ron winces, obviously realising crime wasn’t the best choice of words under the circumstances. “Sorry, mate.”

“Don’t be.” Harry extends his hand, awkwardly. “Thanks for coming to see me.”

“Yeah, ‘course.” Ron shakes Harry’s hand firmly. He looks as though he wants to say something else, but in the end, he leaves with a quick wave.

Harry watches him go, his breath making fog on the window.

*

Knockturn is nothing like Harry expected it to be. He’s seen Muggle gay bars before, walking down the streets of Soho with its rainbow flags and the bustling crowds that spill onto the pavements during the summer. In comparison, Knockturn is particularly quiet. It doesn’t help that it’s a dank, cold evening, but the area is almost deserted save for a few stragglers casting suspicious looks at Harry and quickly veering off down dark alleyways or ducking inside one of the other drinking establishments that dominate the area. After much back and forth, Harry insisted on not using a Glamour, despite Draco’s protests. He’s confident he can protect himself from Knockturn’s petty thieves and illegal potions traders, and he doesn’t want to meet a whole group of new people as somebody else. He doesn't have to worry about losing his job anymore and he’s sick of lies and half-truths. If the Prophet catches him, so be it. The rumours about the real reason for his departure from the Ministry are already in overdrive and everybody that matters already knows the truth. He’s tired of hiding away.

The bars are right in the heart of Knockturn, with gloomy pubs and dusty shops selling questionable artefacts flanking them. To the casual observer the two bars are indistinguishable from the other pubs and buildings that surround them. Save for the signs that creak and swing in the light evening breeze, they’re hardly recognisable as places witches and wizards might go drinking at all. The first pub Draco identifies as one of ours is called The Unspeakable. A tiny, ramshackle place, it has dark and cloudy windows, a magical haze protecting those inside from the prying eyes of Knockturn’s patrons. Much to Harry’s surprise, the second is called The Wandering Thestral, something that makes Draco smirk as he points it out.

“You might have told me,” Harry mutters.

“I thought about it.” Draco shrugs. “I wanted you to see for yourself. I thought you of all people would enjoy the reference to those strange creatures you like so much. I didn’t understand it myself until you made that comment of yours.”

Harry smiles, watching the little sign move back and forth in the breeze. “I do like it. Perhaps I’ll fit in here after all?”

“Don’t fit in too well, Potter.” Draco gives Harry a quick smile to show he’s only teasing. “I expect whoever set up this bar liked your analogy too. The place has always had something queer about it, according to father. It’s been around since the eighteen-hundreds, although it went through long periods of closure. It was boarded up at the height of the two wizarding wars. Too risky, I suppose. The Unspeakable is newer. A few years after the second war it sprung up out of nowhere in a spot that used to house an abandoned apothecary.”

“I expected rainbows.” Harry takes in the clouded windows of The Unspeakable and notices thick, heavy curtains obscuring any views of The Wandering Thestral. When they move they almost look like wings, fluttering in the darkness.

“We’re a long way from rainbows.” Draco pulls a face. “The windows have always been covered, to protect the people inside as much as anything. The owners wouldn't want to find themselves charged with conspiracy to corrupt public morals. They tend to be suspicious of strangers on the door and won't let just anybody in. Before the new legislation passed we had to be even more careful. People had their own language of sorts, phrases and words that those in the know would recognise, to keep out anyone wanting to cause trouble.”

Harry studies the bars with their blacked-out windows and a shiver passes down his spine. Even though he's not fastidious about rules and regulations, he's been firmly on the right side of the law since the war. He had unshakable faith in the power of legislation to make a difference. Finding himself in this strange new place in the shadows of Knockturn Alley just by virtue of being gay sits uneasily with him. It heightens the creep of shame that still niggles at him on occasion before he chases it firmly away.

“Did you come here much before the law changed?” Harry tries to imagine Draco skulking around talking in secret codes. He's not sure he can picture it.

“Sometimes. My name and family history made going out here far harder than anything else, at first. The Aurors were around a lot less then. The change in the law put these places on their radar, as you know.”

“It was supposed to help.” Harry swallows back a wave of anger at the futility of the situation. Hermione and her team worked themselves into the ground for this. “All the lobbying, all the work. For what? It sounds as though things are worse than ever.”

“That's not true. At least we can be here and conduct our private affairs without fear of criminal charges. We don't need secret codes just to go inside.” Draco flashes Harry a quick smile. “Don't look so gloomy, Potter. Nobody inside is sitting around moping about a few curtains in the windows, I can promise you that. It's exciting, there's an energy I can't describe.” Draco stops, shaking his head. “You'll just have to see for yourself. Besides, there's always the Muggle bars if you want rainbows. I'll take you out to Manchester's Canal Street.”

Harry smiles at the thought, his mood lifting. Draco's mysterious surprise in the dreaded letter that led to Harry's discharge was a weekend in Manchester. Under the circumstances they cancelled the trip and Harry's pleased to hear Draco hasn't forgotten.

“I expected them to be bigger, too.” Harry looks at the tiny bars nestled together, a thrill of anticipation taking hold as his glum thoughts fade away. “It’s so quiet.”

“Outside it’s always quiet. Inside, not so much.” Draco winks at Harry and leads the way. He pauses at the black painted door before pushing it open. “Welcome to The Wandering Thestral, Harry.”

The door closes behind Harry and he’s plunged into a sensory whirlwind. The room is darkly lit, but there are plenty of people inside and the floor shines and glints with the reflection from a huge mirror ball magically suspended in the air. Disco music hums and twists around them, the songs unrecognisable to Harry. He peers behind Draco who grouses over a small entrance fee which seems to be an unexpected levy—There’s a ball tonight, we’re charging everyone, not just you. Don’t be tight Malfoy, it’s not like you haven’t got the cash. Eventually, they go through the small arch and into the main space where Harry can take in everything properly.

The music falters, the space falls quiet and the hum of voices crescendo into excited chatter.

“They’re not even in disguise now?!”

“Head Auror Potter, folks. Better get yourselves lined up for inspection.”

“Wouldn’t mind being inspected by him if you know what I mean.”

“What the bleedin’ hell is Malfoy doing bringing Potter to the Thestral?”

“Maybe he’s under house arrest.”

“He’s certainly under something, darling.”

It takes Harry a minute to realise that the silence and following clamour has been caused by his appearance. He glances at Draco who winces.

“You might want to reassure them you’re not here to arrest people, Potter. Drink?” Draco makes his way over to the bar, leaving Harry in the middle of the dancefloor with a number of unfamiliar faces staring at him. Some look angry, some scared and others just look sympathetic, or curious.

“I’m here with him.” Harry gestures towards Draco when there’s an expectant lull in conversation. “With, err. Malfoy. I’m not here to cause any trouble. I’m not with the Aurors anymore.”

“It’s really true then?” A person in an enormous wig and glittery gown approaches Harry, looking at him appraisingly. “They had the nerve to fire Harry Potter because he’s one of us? Come and look at him, Mikey. Harry Potter here in the flesh, as I live and breathe. A queer.”

“Let him get a drink, will you?” The familiar voice of Lee Jordan is a welcome intrusion. Harry isn’t usually unsettled or unsure of himself. He’s given countless boring speeches, he’s single-handedly duelled with witches, wizards and the odd group of giants. He isn’t worried exactly, but he also finds himself completely unable to speak. Everything’s so new, so overwhelming. He’s not sure if the jokes he can hear are at his expense or not.

“Come on, you’re fine.” Lee laughs under his breath and urges Harry through the crowd to a table. “Most excitement we’ve had here in ages, people are bound to stare.”

“I wasn’t sure what to buy so I got…lots of alcohol.” Draco gestures at the drinks on the packed table, patting a spare seat he clearly saved for Harry.

“You’re a right arse leaving him to deal with that by himself, Malfoy.” Lee rolls his eyes and helps himself to a bottle of beer.

“I told you he was coming, and I expected some assistance. I thought I’d get the drinks in before George—not Weasley, the other one—sets his sights on Potter here.” Draco gives Harry a quick up and down, a small smile curling the corner of his mouth. “He does have a certain raggedy appeal.”

“Raggedy appeal my arse.” Harry snorts and sits down next to Draco, feeling instantly happier to be around a few familiar faces. He looks around the table, doing a double-take at the gathered group. Roger Davies and Dennis Creevey aren’t entirely unexpected. He already knew Draco was friendly with them, although he can’t help but feel guilty about the way they’ve both been treated by his team. Former team, he corrects himself.

“Did they really fire you, Harry?” Dennis’s eyes are wide. If he does bear Harry any ill-will, he’s very good at hiding it. “We heard the rumours, but we never believed it. I told everyone what you did during the war. Col always said you were the best. ‘He’s amazing, that Harry Potter,’ he’d say. He used to talk about you every Sunday lunch.”

“He did?” Harry rubs his jaw and gives Dennis a sheepish smile. He used to hate being fawned all over and treated like a celebrity, but there’s a warmth in the way Dennis is so open and welcoming, a kindness in the way he talks that makes Harry’s heart ache for little Colin Creevey, the brother Dennis lost far too soon. “He was brilliant too, your brother. Dead good at photography.”

“The best,” Dennis agrees. “So, did they?”

“Fire me? Yeah. They’re calling it discharged but it’s the same thing.” Harry shrugs, helping himself to a beer and taking a long swig. “They couldn’t do much else, with the law the way it is.”

“Well you’re welcome here.” Roger Davies extends his hand for shaking. “You’re one of us now, Harry Potter.”

“Maybe he doesn’t want to be one of us.” A low voice speaks from the shadows. It’s familiar, but Harry can’t quite place it.

“Come, come.” Draco shakes his head. “Stop being such a bore, Flint. You know we don’t bring the past into The Thestral.”

“Marcus Flint?” Harry whispers to Draco.

“That’s my name, don’t wear it out.” Flint emerges from the shadows, his expression tight. “Would you shake my hand too, Potter? Or am I too tainted for you? Rumour has it you’re still not keen on Slytherins.”

Harry looks around the gathered crowd at the table, perched on the edge of their seats clearly eager to see how Harry responds. He clears his throat and stands, extending his hand.

“Rumour has it wrong. Malfoy here can tell you that.” Harry shakes Flint’s hand and winks at him. “A handshake doesn’t mean I won’t enjoy beating you at Quidditch again if an opportunity arises.”

Lee lets out a cheer and everyone laughs. Even Flint looks amused, his gaze sweeping over Harry. He shakes his head and nods at Draco.

“Bloody Gryffindors. I thought you had better taste, Malfoy.”

Draco rolls his eyes and lets out a long-suffering sigh that makes it clear Harry is being teased without any malice. “Apparently not.”

The conversation ebbs and flows around them and the music gets louder, until they have to shout over one another to be heard. Harry sits back and takes it all in, the spinning mirror ball, the dancing in the small space in the centre of the room.

“I organised the ball tonight,” Lee says. “I’m walking in the Butch Queen category, naturally”

Harry swallows his beer, not wanting to appear stupid. “What’s a ball? Like the Yule Ball?”

“Not quite.” Lee shifts into the seat next to Harry and leans in, explaining the origins of the balls. He offers a huge array of information about America, houses, transgender communities and something called Paris is Burning. Harry tries to digest it all carefully, his head spinning as he takes in countless new words and phrases. It’s obvious Lee is passionate about bringing ball culture to the Thestral as he puts it. His whole mood is more energised than usual and he seems in his element, chatting and laughing with people Harry doesn't recognise before going to change his outfit.

“Just watch.” Draco leans back after Lee leaves, stretching his arm over the back of Harry’s seat. “Jordan here loves an opportunity to show off his moves. I think you’ll like it.”

The music stops, a wizard in a flamboyant outfit takes to the stage and Harry sits back to soak everything in as the ball begins.

*

The afterparty is in full flow and Harry’s head spins as he tries to process all the things he’s seen. Discovering The Wandering Thestral has been as immersive and dizzying as discovering magic. There’s a whole new world that exists on the fringes of the magical and Muggle spaces Harry usually frequents. Since discovering magic he’s always felt so immersed in the wizarding world, like he’s been part of things, important things. He can’t help but wonder how many other hidden worlds exist, offering something new and unexpected. It’s been a revelation, watching Lee. Here in Knockturn he has the same theatrical flair he exhibited during Quidditch matches. Their nights doing the quiz seem so tame in comparison. It makes Harry wonder if Lee suppresses this part of himself when he goes to pubs like the Leaky. Despite the buoyant mood of the night, he can't help the sadness he feels at the thought of his friends adopting their behaviour to keep themselves safe, to fit in.

Seeing Draco with his friends has also been illuminating. The smile hasn’t left his face all night, and aside from his early trip to the bar he hasn’t left Harry’s side. The booze thrums pleasantly through Harry’s veins, just enough to be tipsy but not enough to be drunk. It heightens the restless energy of the night, the hazy, unexpected feeling that anything is possible. Draco was right. Despite the blacked-out windows and the shadow of the Auror raids, there's nothing solemn about the place. Being there feels like attempting a Wronski feint for the first time. Nerve-wracking, but thrilling. The atmosphere soon pulls Harry out of his contemplative mood and he soaks everything in, listening to the soaring music and powerful vocals with their air of defiance.

For the first time being treated like a celebrity hasn’t felt as cloying and oppressive as it usually does. In The Wandering Thestral there are people whose celebrity far outweighs Harry’s, and those who come up to speak to him because of his past don’t start dull conversations about Ministry politics. The witches and wizards that approach him seem energised by the fact he’s part of the little community in Knockturn. For every distrustful glance he's received many more handshakes, shots of sweet, glittery liquor and the suggestion that you can really change things. It occurs to Harry that perhaps he can still make a difference after all, with or without the Ministry, by living his life and refusing to hide away.

Late into the night, Harry goes for a piss and washes his hands quickly. He finds Draco waiting for him outside the bathroom, the corridor quiet but for a few people close together in the shadows.

“I want to kiss you so badly.” Harry traces his eyes over Draco's face, his voice a gruff whisper. “You have no idea.”

“I have some.” Draco wets his lips. “I wouldn't do anything rash, however. There's a blond at the bar giving you the eye.”

“So what?” Harry glances across at a young man who gives him a saucy wink. With a jolt, Harry turns away without so much as a second glance. “Auror.”

“Some of them need to work on their Glamours that’s for sure.” Draco sighs. “If you want dancing and kissing, we’ll have to go Muggle at least for the time being. Knockturn’s crawling with your old crowd, itching for an opportunity to have their sport with queers.”

“That’s not how they think.” The fact Harry was in a position of authority when the raids on Knockturn intensified sits uneasily with him. “Some might, but a lot of them are good men.”

“Good men just waiting for you to take one step closer to me,” Draco replies.

Harry steps back and leans against the wall next to Draco. He folds his arms, avoiding meeting the young Auror’s eyes again.

“I wouldn’t do anything to put you in danger,” Harry says quietly. “I know they’d be harder on you than me, even if our crimes are the same. You’re right about that.”

“I’m right about a lot of things.” Draco keeps his eyes carefully trained on their surroundings. “Can we go home? I’m sick of not kissing you too. I’d blow you in the toilets if I thought we’d get away with it, but that Auror twink definitely has his eye on you.”

Harry laughs. “Maybe he’s here because he’s genuinely curious?”

“Doubt it.” Draco guides Harry towards the Floo. “Let’s go to mine, assuming you’ve seen enough for one night.”

“Yeah. I've had fun.” Harry watches Lee on the dancefloor, doing something that he now knows is called vogueing. He’s learning bit by bit, excited to find out more about Knockturn's bars and the secret lives of his friends that spend time in them. “We’ll come back?”

“If you like,” Draco says. “You’ve still got to see The Unspeakable too.”

The effort of not kissing Draco becomes too difficult and they step into the Floo without looking back.

*

“I thought we might do things differently tonight.” Draco folds up his clothes carefully before stretching out on the bed, watching Harry undress. “Do you want to?”

“It depends.” Harry strips off his clothes and shoots Draco a quick smile. “How differently?”

“I don’t know.” Draco shrugs. “I’m feeling like switching things up for a change.”

“Okay.” Harry settles over Draco and captures his lips in a sweet, boozy kiss before pulling back. “How?”

“You know how,” Draco murmurs. His cheeks are pink and he trails his hand down Harry’s chest without meeting his gaze. “Don’t get any ideas about this being a regular occurrence.”

“As if I would.” Harry’s breath hitches, Draco’s implication pretty clear despite his evasiveness. “I thought you didn’t like it?”

“Of course I like it. Just…not all the time.” Draco finally meets Harry’s eyes, his expression mutinous. “I might enjoy it more with you. As long as you don’t fuck it up.”

“No pressure, then.” Harry grins. He reaches into Draco’s bedside drawer, knowing by now exactly where he keeps his lube. “How do you want it?”

“Do I have to do everything around here?” Draco’s cheeks are even redder now. “Use your imagination, I’ll tell you if you’re being a clumsy oaf.”

“Got it.” Anticipation thrums through Harry and he slicks his fingers, pushing Draco’s legs apart and adjusting his position for the best access.

He has a feeling it would be easier if Draco was arse up, but Harry wants to see his face. He still remembers the way Draco talked about being fucked, the way it made him feel, his reasons for doing it, and Harry’s become pretty good at reading Draco’s expressions by now. He doesn’t want to lose that ability, just because it might be easier on his wrists.

They kiss for a long time before Harry finally presses a slick finger slowly inside Draco’s body. To his surprise, Draco seems to welcome it. With a groan he kisses Draco again and adds more lube, fucking him slowly with two fingers. Instead of being tight and resistant, Draco seems completely relaxed.

“You don’t have to prepare me unless you like it.” Draco sounds amused, his mouth at the corner of Harry’s. “I’m surprisingly interested in the idea of being fucked by you, Potter. Use plenty of lube and barge in like you usually do with other things. Don’t presume for one minute I want you to hold back or stroke my hair gently while you tell me how lovely my arse feels.”

Harry snorts with laughter and slides his fingers from Draco’s body, slicking his cock. He overdoes the lube to the point where Draco begins complaining about wet patches on the clean bedsheets and then shuts him up relatively quickly by pushing into him with one hard stroke.

It might not be anything special to Draco, but for Harry the tight, firm clench of Draco’s body is an entirely new and unexpected sensation. The grasp of him around Harry’s cock, the way Draco manages to look pissy and horny all at the same time, the newness of doing this. He’s had good sex with Draco. He’s had great sex. But this is something different, something that makes Harry feel as though Draco wants Harry in every way. He’s quite happy to keep fucking Draco and to be fucked in every possible position, with all the magic or none at all and he wants Draco to know it.

With a grunt of pleasure, Harry pulls back and begins to take Draco, hard and fast. The slap of their bodies together, the messy collision of their lips and the slickness of sweat on skin is overwhelmingly good. They crest and curl together until Harry comes with Draco’s name falling from his lips. He pulls out of Draco and slides down his body, sucking his cock into the back of his throat until everything is salty, sweaty and deliciously good.

“Good?” Draco slides his arm around Harry after the necessary Cleaning Charms are cast and they both nestle together in the warm bed.

“Very.” Harry wets his lips, his hand pressed against Draco’s chest to feel the beating of his heart. It was good. It was so, so good, but Harry can’t help the flicker of envy or the way his cock twitches at the thought of keeping Draco awake for a second round so they can do things their usual way. He likes being fucked, Harry realises. He really likes being fucked.

“Any preference?” Draco sounds hesitant, unsure of himself for the first time that evening.

“You know I have a preference.” Harry yawns. “You and those arses of yours, Malfoy. I know you have one too. One I’m quite happy with, whether you believe it or not.”

“Oh.” Draco sounds surprised. “I like it the way we just did it once in a while. But for the most part…”

“I get it.” Harry pokes Draco in the side. “If I haven’t already been obvious enough, being fucked into the mattress by you is my new favourite thing. I’m more than happy to indulge you.”

“Pleased to hear it.” Draco slides his hand down Harry’s back, squeezing his backside and pulling him close. It makes Harry shiver with pleasure and he bites back a low moan. “Mm. You really do like it, don’t you?”

“Yeah. I really do.” Harry grins at Draco. “You don’t have to switch things up on my account, not unless you fancy it. Seems we agree on something for once.”

“Yes.” Draco sounds amused, his arms circling around Harry. “It seems we do.”

Three Months Later

The party is in full swing and Harry makes a cheerful toast with Lee, watching Hermione and Ron dancing to one of their favourite American bands.

“Thank Merlin for Ginny and her music tricks.” A rush of fondness makes Harry smile as he watches Ginny laugh and chatter with her Harpies teammates. “It’s a good turnout.”

“Is Malfoy coming?” Lee looks around, scanning the crowds.

Harry pulls a face. “No. He didn’t think it would be right, with Molly and Arthur expected. He’s still not sure he would be welcome, plus half the bleeding Ministry are here.”

“He shouldn’t stay away,” Lee says quietly. “How’s anything going to change if nobody sees how disgustingly happy you are?”

Harry snorts. “Some folks would stop at the disgusting.”

“Let them try.” Lee glares at one of the Aurors. Harry's unspeakably grateful for Lee and George's unwavering friendship, spending more time with them than ever now he's discovered Knockturn's bars. “I'll soon give them a piece of my mind.”

“It’s Ron and Hermione’s night, no scenes. I’ve had enough of those for a while. Not that I don’t appreciate the thought.”

Lee sighs. “Fine. I’m off to find Earless, see if he wants to do some shots.”

“You do that.” Harry lingers by the buffet table and helps himself to a sausage roll. He’s definitely had more than the polite share, but he reckons he deserves it. Half of the room keeps gawking at him like he’s got an Erumpent Horn on his head, and he’s the one throwing the bloody party in the first place. If he wants to eat all the sausage rolls, he will.

“Evening.” Ginny stands next to Harry and goes straight for the sausage rolls. He knew there was a reason he loved her. “How’s it going?”

“Rubbish.” Harry grins at her. “It’s not that bad I suppose. Could be worse. People came, although I haven’t seen your mum and dad yet.”

“We’ve been trying to get them to come round.” Ginny’s expression turns miserable. “I keep thinking if they knew about me too, it could make it easier. But I’m even more terrified than I was before.”

“You’ll know when it’s right,” Harry says. “I’ve already said don’t do anything on my account. I honestly don’t know if it would help or make things worse.” He pulls a face. “They might blame me for turning you gay.”

“They’d better not.” Ginny makes sure nobody’s within earshot and leans close to Harry. “Ron’s been weird about it but I think he’s going to be okay. He doesn’t know about Millie yet, mind.”

“I think he’ll be fine, with both of us. We didn’t exactly make things easy for him, going and falling in—well, whatever we’re doing with Slytherins.” Harry tries to keep his tone casual, but he knows Ginny will see right through him. “Have your mum and dad said anything about me?”

“Of course they have. Mum’s been crying more than usual. She gets weepy over silly things. I think George had a long chat with Dad too, told him he’s already lost one son and he shouldn’t let another one go. Percy’s keeping well out of it and Ron hasn’t said a lot to them, but Bill and Charlie have had a few choice words. They think it’s all bollocks.”

“Tell them thanks.” Harry has another sausage roll, eating it miserably. He shakes himself and pushes thoughts of Molly and Arthur to one side. He’s going to have to see them at some point and he doesn’t want them watching him skulk around at the buffet like a sadsack. “Millie looks happy.”

“Yeah.” Ginny smiles, her face lighting up. “Doesn’t she just? She wants to talk to you later. Something about a protest. She made badges.”

“Merlin.” Harry pulls a face. He’s not really the protesting sort. “I suppose if there are badges.”

“Good ones.” The expression on Ginny’s face changes from amusement to stunned surprise as she turns to face the crowd. “Blimey. That’s not something I expected to see.”

“What’s that?” Harry pokes at a mushroom vol-au-vent. He hates mushrooms. “Is Robards snogging Rosmerta again?”

“Not exactly,” Ron replies. Harry turns to find himself confronted with a sheepish looking Ron and a very uncomfortable looking Draco. “I thought it was only right he should be here,” Ron continues. “I invited him myself.”

“He actually told me to get my scrawny arse down here to support you otherwise he’d turn me into a ferret.” Draco scowls. “Charmed, I’m sure.”

A rush of happiness comes over Harry as he takes in the way Draco has clearly dressed carefully for the occasion and the warmth in his eyes as he meets Harry’s gaze with a tentative smile. Harry wants to reach for him and hug him, or kiss him, Ministry be damned, but he can feel Pritchard’s beady eyes on him from across the room. It’s enough that Draco’s here. The rest can wait. Harry’s sure he can control himself for one night.

“Thanks.” Harry extends his hand to Ron, who shakes it. “Good night, isn’t it?”

“Brilliant.” Ron’s smile widens and he points to the dancefloor. “You should get out there instead of moping around here eating all the food.”

“Maybe in a bit.” Harry stands close to Draco, the heat of his body already making Harry feel more tethered. The fact that Ron was the one who invited Draco just makes it even better. He’s not sure Ron’s going to be up for lots of long evenings sitting around sharing war stories with Draco, but it’s a start. A bloody big start. An open, public support of Harry’s choice of partner at a party with plenty of people that would prefer to see Harry start a new life anywhere else but wizarding London.

“Kingsley’s been looking for you,” Ron says. “You might want to catch him before he leaves.”

“I’ll do that.” Harry grins at Ron. “Thanks, mate.”

Ron stares at Harry for one long minute and then pulls him into a tight hug. He doesn’t say another word, pulling back after clutching him tightly. He walks away, swiping the back of his hand across his face and Draco watches him, shaking his hand.

“I’m not sure I’ll ever understand straight people.” Draco gives the buffet a scathing look. “Next time you throw a party, remind me to give you the details of a decent caterer. Nobody wants to eat sausage rolls.”

Ginny bursts out laughing and Harry joins in, as Draco mutters something about not understanding Gryffindors either.

*

The night draws to a close until only the last few stragglers are left, saying their goodbyes. Harry is more content than he’s felt in some time, having drunk just enough to be pleasantly tipsy without having enough to make an arse of himself. He was surprised to find that seeing people from the Ministry wasn’t quite as torturous as expected. The hardest thing was trying to avoid any open displays of affection with Draco, even though he no longer cares about people overhearing their conversations or picking up on the way they look at one another. Draco makes him happy, and Harry doesn’t much care who knows it.

“It’s been alright, hasn’t it?” Harry nudges Draco’s shoulder.

“Not nearly as dreadful as I expected,” Draco agrees. “Do you want to come to the Manor afterwards?”

“Grimmauld Place is closer.” Harry gives Draco a quick up and down. “If you like.”

“I don’t care where it is as long as there’s a decent bed,” Draco murmurs. He presses his leg against Harry’s under the table.

“Thanks for coming.” Harry looks around and because no one’s watching, he gives Draco’s hand a quick squeeze before releasing it. “I know it can’t have been easy.”

“I never liked half of these people anyway.” Draco gives Harry a thoughtful look. “It’s been harder for you, I suspect.”

“Yeah.” Harry swallows, thinking about Molly and Arthur. It was so difficult seeing them from across the room, like strangers. It breaks his heart to be so close to them without speaking to them as he usually would. “It is what it is.”

“It is.” Draco looks up, a flicker of trepidation crossing his features. “Potter. I think you’re wanted.”

Harry looks up to see Molly and Arthur standing awkwardly next to the booth he and Draco settled in towards the end of the night.

“Hullo.” Harry stands, putting his hands in his pockets and giving them both an awkward smile. “It was nice of you both to come tonight. Are you off, then?”

“We’re on our way home but we couldn’t leave without…” Molly’s voice wobbles. She surges towards Harry and wraps her arms around him so suddenly, it makes Harry yelp with surprise. “Come and see us again,” she whispers. “Please come and see us. We all miss you. I still set a place for you and…”

Molly stops and takes a breath, standing back from Harry. She looks tired and Harry’s chest tightens.

“We’ve lost one son,” Arthur says, gruffly. “We neither of us wish to lose another.”

They both leave and Harry watches them go, a glimmer of hope taking up residence in his heart. He sits back down next to Draco with a thud.

“That was unexpected.” Harry notices the way Draco's expression is more downcast than usual. “Do you think I should go?”

“Of course you should.” Draco’s throat bobs. “There are people who would give anything for a chance to reconcile with their family, no matter what’s been said in the past.”

“I know.” Harry stands and wraps his arms around Draco, the pub now completely empty. Not for the first time he’s reminded of the countless different ways families can form. “I’m taking you home,” he whispers.

They Apparate together in a whirl of magic.

*

Six Months Later

“I can’t believe you convinced me to come back here again,” Draco grouses. “I’m starting to think my father was right about Dumbledore. Does the man always talk in riddles?”

“Most of the time.” Harry laughs. He stretches his arms out with a whoop. “I love being back at Hogwarts.”

“You’re so strange.” Draco shakes his head, but he looks fond enough that Harry doesn’t believe him.

Harry dragged Draco to see Dumbledore’s portrait after getting permission from McGonagall to visit the school out of term time. She was a little surprised to see Draco, but she didn’t seem to give two hoots about what the Prophet refers to as Harry’s lifestyle choices. He decided against giving them an interview in the end, but he released an official statement when the press speculation became too outlandish. The Quibbler posted it with rainbows, glitter and a fanfare of excitement. The Prophet was as salacious and uncompromising as ever, suggesting Harry was still suffering from the impact of the war and would be back to ‘normal’ in due course.

“Back to work tomorrow.” Harry pulls a face. He’s enjoyed his week off, spending time with Draco. The busy holiday season at Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes is approaching and Harry’s already dreading the crowds. It’s not all bad, though. He gets to spend time inventing cool things with George, and it keeps him occupied. “I’d work here every day if I could.”

“I know.” Draco’s voice is quiet. “I think McGonagall would give you a chance, if you wanted it.”

“She might, but I don’t think many others would.”

Hogwarts is just one more place like the Ministry, with restrictions on the roles gay men can occupy. Even though there aren’t the same legal issues, there’s an unspoken wariness. With Harry being so high profile, he doesn’t want to put Hogwarts or Professor McGonagall in the position of having to spend their busy school year defending Harry’s authority to teach. The idea of growing to love another career and losing it because of who he is all over again makes Harry cautious about pushing for a place somewhere he’s likely to encounter similar resistance.

As unhappy as he’s been at times without the adrenaline of new cases to keep him occupied, the good times have outweighed the darker moments. Countless visits to The Wandering Thestral and kissing Draco in the middle of a dance floor in Muggle Manchester have been particular highlights. He doesn’t want to lose the way that blissful, heady moment of freedom felt. Not for anything.

“Looking forward to Sunday?” Harry changes the subject with a grin.

He’s excited at the thought of going to The Burrow for lunch with Draco. Things with Molly and Arthur took such a long time to heal, he wondered if he would ever be welcome there again. After a few awkward lunches, and a few less awkward ones, the tensions finally seem to be easing. The fact Molly extended an invitation to Draco—well we can’t have him sitting in that big empty house by himself—is huge. Harry’s starting to believe that things with the people that matter really will be okay.

“Not a lot.” Draco turns his eyes heavenward. “Are you sure they won’t put something in my food so you can marry Ginevra after all?”

“Positive.” Harry finds the part of the grounds he wanted to take Draco to and casts a few warming and cushioning charms so they can stretch out on the ground. “This is the spot. You’ll see them flying when the sun starts to set.”

“Anytime now, then.” Draco settles next to Harry and stretches out. “You know you could do something other than working with Weasley, if you wanted.”

Harry tips his head to the side, contemplating Draco. “Like what? There’s no way I’m going back to the Ministry unless the law changes and that could take years. I’m not sure I’ll want to go back by then.”

“You enjoyed working with trainee Aurors and people always need to brush up on their magic. Even Gringotts constantly turns talented witches and wizards away because they don’t have strong enough spell casting abilities. We’re not like the Muggles with their pens and computers. Have you ever been on the Gringotts trading floor? Currency Conversion and Statistic Charms all over the damn place.”

“My own training center?” The idea gives Harry a small seedling of hope. “What if nobody bothers coming?”

“Then try something else.” Draco shrugs. “I’m sure there would be plenty of people interested in saying Harry Potter helped them with their magic. You don’t need the Ministry or Hogwarts to employ you. Employ yourself.”

“I’ll think about it.” Harry watches the sky turn scarlet as the sun starts to set. “Would I have to do my own accounts?”

Draco laughs. “I can recommend a good goblin. I’d offer my own services, but you can’t afford me.”

“You’re such a twat.” Harry laughs under his breath. He reaches across the grass and takes Draco’s hand.

“Very bold of you, Potter.”

“I’ve never been keen on rules.” Harry casts a quick look around and then leans over Draco, kissing him.

“If you’re going to break the rules you might as well do it properly.” Draco pushes his hand into Harry’s hair and kisses him thoroughly enough that it leaves Harry breathless.

“This is where it all began.” Harry stretches back on the grass when they break apart and watches as the Thestrals stretch their wings and take to the sky.

“Where what began?” Draco sounds amused.

“All of it,” Harry replies. “Some of it. I don’t know yet. There’s something different in the air, can’t you feel it?”

“Maybe. Bulstrode and her protests, Jordan and his obsession with queer Americana and Muggle balls, Granger back at the Ministry. There are people determined to change the world.” Draco shifts closer to Harry, their bodies touching as they watch the clouds. “Maybe Millicent’s right. One day we’ll just be two old queens, saying we were there.”

“I might not show up if you don’t have a yacht.”

“I’m sure I can find other ways to persuade you,” Draco murmurs. He slips his hand into Harry’s again. “It could be our time, by then.”

“Maybe it’s already our time,” Harry says. “Which means we’d better make the most of it.”

They hold hands in the quiet dusk and watch as Thestrals dip and turn through the darkening sky.