The armchair at Harry’s side was feeling far too much like home, Hermione thought. It had gradually, over the last six weeks, become accustomed to her precise way of sitting, the way she tended to hold a book open on one arm, and as a result it looked very strange when she wasn’t sitting in it. And it wasn’t comfortable for anyone else, either. In fact, it had developed such a high opinion of itself that Hermione had heard more than one person confide that they thought it had kicked them, right in the seat of their pants, when they attempted to requisition it for a short visit.
She watched the even rise and fall of Harry’s chest, and returned her attention to the book open on her lap. Research, of course. The book was propped on the arm of the chair because it was heavy enough to be causing discomfort. Hermione glanced at the clock and asked herself how long she could realistically keep taking in any kind of information. She raised her wand, and tapped her watch. It opened out a schedule for the next two days. She had a briefing with… oh, and the Department of…
Where on earth was that Healer?
The moment she saw the woman enter the room, Hermione stood up, slipping a bookmark between the heavy vellum pages and setting the tome on the side table.
“Minister Granger,” the Healer said.
“Healer Thistlewish. Do you have news?”
The Healer crossed the room to Harry’s bedside, cast a couple of quick diagnostic spells that Hermione was coming to recognise instantly (Harry’s stasis was holding, for now; his vitals were normal. He was just… asleep).
“I’ve spoken to Professor Piedamonte at the Ospedale degli Incurabili in Naples. He has a candidate. The candidate, really, I should —”
Hermione bristled at the name of the hospital, and reminded herself not that it had been named in the 16 th century, long before modern Magical medicine. Or, for that matter, the Muggle equivalent.
“He’s considered an expert on sleep disorders. I’ve read his work. He studied in Rome, and began as a Healer in the largest hospital in the city — which is to say, of course, nothing like the size of St. Mungo’s, but significant nonetheless. He followed a calling, they say, into psychiatry, where he developed many new treatment protocols, combining his mastery in potions-making with what I’m told is a remarkably empathetic approach to talk therapies.”
“Sounds promising,” Hermione said. “Which leads me to wonder why this is the first time I’m hearing about him.”
“I’m not done. His research and clinical interest in sleep disorders began much later. He’s only been working in the area for five years.”
Hermione turned to the bed, again. Harry didn’t offer up an opinion. He only breathed, and slept, and Hermione could only hope what she’d been hoping for the last six weeks: that he was sleeping softly and gently, comfortably, and that the nightmares that had plagued him for most of his life were banished. But she couldn’t know.
“So — brilliant psychiatrist, brilliant potions-maker, highly empathetic, and deeply involved with sleep disorder research, and the downside is that he’s only been working in this specific, minute area of specialty for five years?”
“And the fact that he is in Italy, Minister.”
“I think you’re not telling me something.” Hermione narrowed her eyes.
Healer Thistlewish moved closer to the edge of the bed, and slipped her fingers around Harry’s wrist. Not as accurate as her diagnostic spells for taking a pulse but Hermione understood all too well the need to feel, physically, what the spells could only infer. “Did I tell you — my husband. He fought at the battle of Hogwarts.”
“No,” Hermione said. She wanted to ask why this was relevant, but had long since learned to let people speak, when they needed to be heard. Politics.
“He arrived as part of the mobile Healing corps, but they fought for almost three hours before they were able to start helping. Harry — Auror Potter,” she corrected, flushing slightly, “he brought dozens of children out to the medi-tents. Didn’t matter who they were. The children of Death Eaters, alongside their classmates. Adults who were cursing his name even as the Dark Marks burned on their arms. A Goblin. Harry was beyond tired. Beyond exhausted. At the limits of his capacity… I heard later that he had actually died. Or at least that he had once again survived AK.” She paused for a long beat. “And he was still fighting. We’ve asked too much of him, Minister Granger.”
Hermione ignored the twist of guilt in her stomach. Healer Thistlewish went on.
“He’s a good man. And he’s done so much good since. I hate to see him like this. He deserves more.”
Hermione sighed deeply. “Yes.” Yes to all of it.
“If this doesn’t work — if this Healer can’t help — then I’m afraid all hope is lost. And I can’t bear it.”
Hermione felt her eyes burn.
Healer Thistlewish passed her a scrap of parchment with the time and location of the meeting. Hermione nodded. She lifted the book she had been reading to tuck under her arm, and leaned to kiss Harry’s cheek.
“Sleep well, Harry,” she murmured. “I’ll see you tomorrow.” And then, to Healer Thistlewish, “May I make use of your Floo?”
“Please do, Minister,” she said, bowing deeply.
Hermione stepped out into the Weasley’s living quarters, upstairs from Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes, only a few minutes later, brushing ash from her robes. She and Ron shared a tight embrace and she thanked the gods once more that the breakup all of those years ago had been amicable. Gabrielle Delacour… no, Weasley, swept majestically across the room and kissed her on both cheeks.
“I keep hoping you’ll come through the Floo with a huge smile on your face,” Ron admitted. “So there’s nothing?”
Hermione shook her head, and dropped onto the couch, very un-Minister-like.
“One more expert. I can’t bring myself to get my hopes up. But it’s far too soon to lose hope.”
“D’you…” Ron said, reaching for Hermione’s hand, while Gabrielle fetched the Firewhiskey — bless that woman, she really knew how to read a room — “D’you think he’s resting, at least?”
“Of course, Ron,” she lied, squeezing his hand once and then reaching for the glass Gabrielle brought. Their fingers brushed. Hermione felt a flush of desire, but after so many years, she knew how to ignore it. Repeated and regular exposure to a couple of stunning half-Veelas had done wonders for her ability to resist influence. “His heart rate and blood pressure are steady. He doesn’t toss and turn, or call out. He’s asleep. That’s all. He’s unlikely to be dreaming much at all, or we’d see…”
She flushed, bringing the glass to her lips. That was not a conversation she was willing to have, but by the way Ron’s expression shifted from worried, to curious, and then to mortified, she decided that he had to be getting there on his own.
“So the day after tomorrow, I leave for Italy. I’ll let you know what happens. I may be out of touch for a few days, and you know we have to keep behaving as though you know nothing about what is going on — but I’ll tell you what I can, when I can. In the meantime, keep up what you’ve been doing, will you?”
“‘Course, ‘Mione,” Ron said, taking her empty glass. His expression was clear. He was more than happy to pretend that he knew nothing; knowing things was hard, for Ron, these days. “Sleep tight, Minister.”
“I hate it when you call me that,” she said, with a small smile.
“That’s why I do it.” Ron grinned, and winked, and draped his arm over his wife’s shoulders.
“Take care, ‘Ermione,” Gabrielle said. “Tell ‘Arry we miss him.”
“I do so every day,” Hermione said, offering Gabrielle one last smile before she stepped into the Floo again.
“Warmer than I expected,” Hermione said, as she stepped from the gazebo that was the apparition point. The Unspeakable walking beside her was dressed from head to toe in black, with a hood covering his face, but she knew the brush of his magic. On the other side was Auror Patil, one of the very few who knew of Harry’s condition, there as protection. Parvati said nothing; she was too focused on the possibility of any threat to pay much attention to pleasantries.
“Oh, Parvati,” Hermione said. “I’m not aware of a conspiracy against the British Government with a headquarters in Naples, are you?”
“You should have let me bring a proper guard, Hermione,” Parvati snapped. “I don’t like this at all.” She followed Hermione across the paved garden to the door of the hospital. Not the front entry, bustling with visitors and staff; the entry to the office area in the psychiatric wing.
“You’ve made it known repeatedly,” Hermione answered, and turned as the man beside her raised his hand to test for hostile wards, or anything else of danger.
Hermione could have done it herself, of course. But not without revealing her own status as a former Unspeakable. These were delicate lines and not to be crossed. She did, however, watch with interest as she noted the flare in the wards that suggested she had been made welcome in advance, though her cheer waned at the presence of an elf at the door when it opened at last.
“No,” Parvati said sternly. “If you dare give that elf anything but your cloak, we’ll be tossed off the continent, and there’s… himself sleeping until he expires. You don’t know, Minister.”
“Rubino will to be taking your cloaks,” the elf promised, with a low bow and a thick Neapolitan accent. He did so, and with a flick of his wrist, sent them flying into a closet discreetly situated in the foyer. “Rubino takes you to Master’s Professor’s Office, now,” he said, and the trio followed him through the ancient corridors.
Professor Piedamonte turned out to be a more effusive man than Hermione had expected, tossing compliments like confetti and welcoming them to the country, to the city, his hospital, his office. He spoke with his hands as much as his words, and Hermione found herself warming to him. The head of the Janus Thickey Ward at St. Mungo’s had never seemed this pleasant.
“As much as I do appreciate your hospitality,” Hermione said, as she accepted a cup of tea from Rubino, “I had hoped we might be able to meet your…”
“My colleague, sì. Well, I am the head of his Department, but he is better than me — so colleague is a term that is kindest to both of us.”
“Better than the head of the department?” Hermione asked, with her eyebrows arched. “Then why isn’t he doing your job?”
“He has no interest in bureaucracy,” the Professor said, and murmured something in Italian to Rubino, who disapparated with a crack.
Several long minutes later, Rubino opened the door in the regular way, and led the mysterious Healer into the room.
He was younger than she had imagined — probably around her own age, perhaps a few years older. Tall and strong, and very good-looking, with dark blond hair that curled mischievously over his ears and was otherwise tied with a strip of leather at the base of his skull. He didn’t wear the long, grey Healers’ robes that she was accustomed to, but a soft, dusty blue cashmere sweater over very nicely fitting grey trousers. His eyes were a remarkable shade of blue, his features patrician.
If Hermione had not worked her way up from the Auror Office to the Department of Mysteries before becoming the Minister of Magic at the grand old age of thirty-seven, she might have missed the momentary widening of his eyes, the surprise which was gone as quickly as it had come. She felt a brush of magic that said her Unspeakable escort had seen it as well, but he didn’t so much as curl a toe in acknowledgement.
“May I present Guaritore Christopher Black?” Professor Piedamonte said, as the man stepped into the room. “Guaritore Black,” he said. “May I present to you Minister Hermione Granger, Minister for Magic in Great Britain.”
Hermione stepped forward to shake the Healer’s hand, and he nodded seriously. “A pleasure to meet you, Minister,” he said, expression neutral.
“The pleasure is all mine, I assure you,” she said. “Black. Any relation to the London Blacks?”
“Almost certainly,” the Healer said, formally. “We are to Europe as ants are to a picnic, I’m afraid.”
“Your accent —”
“I grew up in England. I’ve been here many years. Won’t you take a seat, and tell me what this is all about? I have patients,” he reminded them, not unkindly.
Hermione handed over the thick file she’d tucked into one of the expanding pockets in her robes. She was very rarely caught without something she needed.
“We have an Auror affected by a sleep condition. He hasn’t woken in six weeks. We would like you to come and assess him, please. I understand you do work in a consultative role, from time to time.”
“I do. Here, in my own hospital.”
“We can’t move him.”
“That’s fine. I’ll look over the case, put together some thoughts for you. There are accommodations for visiting scholars here in the hospital — I’ll give you my findings in the morning, and I’d be happy to make arrangements to discuss the case with your Healers by Floo-call, or owl, as required.”
Hermione blinked rapidly, trying to parse the gentle brush-off. “Healer Black,” Hermione said. “Am I to take it that you are refusing to assess our Auror?”
“I am telling you that I am unable to set foot on British soil.”
“I am the Minister of Magic, and if there is some kind of a problem…”
“It’s not as simple as that,” Healer Black said, his expression hard, but no less attractive for all of that. “And I don’t think our time would be best served discussing it. Would you like to take the notes with you, and leave, or would you like me to look over them?”
There was something rather familiar about his body language, and the way he spoke.
Hermione sighed. “Please, take them. Will you send for us in the morning?”
“I will, Minister,” Healer Black said. He bowed to Hermione, nodded to Professor Piedamonte and turned to sweep out the door.
The accommodation was beautifully appointed, not that Hermione was surprised. She looked out over the grounds of the hospital — there was another, close by, distinctly Muggle, and she wondered if anyone there knew that this much older part of the hospital was still bustling with Healers and patients, and not the ruin she assumed they saw when they glanced across the grounds.
“I’ll check over your quarters,” Parvati said.
“Thank you,” Hermione said absently. “I’m sure everything is fine. You know I’m still entirely qualified for field work.”
“If you’re not going to listen to what I say, why do you bring me to these things?”
“I’m sorry, Auror Patil,” Hermione said, with an apologetic wave. “Please, be my guest.”
When Parvati was satisfied that the rooms were safe, she locked the door behind her and took up her place in the corridor. Miserable work — Hermione had long since lost count of the number of hours she had spent in silent watch outside a room where one dignitary or another sat doing goodness-knew-what — but Parvati never complained. Hermione slipped her robe off her shoulders and tossed it in the general direction of the bed. It was caught in mid-air, and Hermione startled, until the shape of a tall figure in a long black cloak resolved in the air in front of her, and took the robe to hang in the closet.
“I thought you must have left,” she complained softly. No one, of course, had noticed him, not in the meeting, not sneaking around to do whatever came next, certainly not in the private chambers of the Minister for Magic herself. “Blaise?”
He slipped the hood over his head, but didn’t look at Hermione. Having been lovers for over fifteen years, and partners even longer, there was very little that Blaise could get by Hermione. “What is it?”
“This might not be a good idea, love,” he said, and angled his face down for a kiss. Supposed to be a token, a hello, but that never worked with them, never had. Another moment and they were pressed together from chest to knee, Hermione’s mouth opening softly beneath Blaise’s. He tangled his fingers in her curls a moment, and they crossed the room without the need to speak, sitting together on the settee.
“Did you notice anything? Something strange? About our new friend Healer Black?”
“Guaritore,” Hermione corrected absently. “He seemed — familiar. Do you know him? Only I wondered if he might have been at Hogwarts with us. Perhaps in an upper grade.”
“Hermione,” Blaise said, inching closer, taking Hermione’s hands in his own, resting on the knee of her dress. He never could keep his hands off her for very long, and every touch made Hermione warm to the core. “Guaritore Black is Draco Malfoy.”
Draco sat alone in his office, the fire roaring, his Glamour absent for now. He never bothered with it when he was alone. It was a drain on his magic, if only a small one. His hair was his own, and he found he always had time to turn away for the moment it took to return the disguise, should someone creep up on him. He held a cup of tea in his left hand, and was yet to notice that it had gone cold.
He could go to Switzerland, perhaps. Or somewhere further north; he could change his identity again and show up in a hospital in Reykjavik or something. Or perhaps Australia? So much space, so few people.
He sipped the tea, and made a face, and cast a warming spell over it. He drained the cup for the simple reason that he needed a little caffeine, and he rubbed his eyes. He’d gotten greedy, that was all. Shouldn’t have fallen into the publicity trap. How embarrassingly Gryffindor of him. What had happened to self-preservation?
He could at least have kept his name off those papers. He could have got the results out to the medical community without needing his name attached. He still would have been doing good work, just…
Oh, Merlin’s bollocks. Merlin’s eminently saggy bollocks.
And what was Hermione sodding Granger thinking? Identity redacted, his pale arse. Taking the name and birth date off a patient’s file wasn’t redacting their identity by any stretch of the imagination, not when that patient was as singular as Harry tossing Potter.
Oh, Draco was terribly out of practice with name-calling. Funny how a handful of hours alone with a medical file, being reminded of the past, and ignoring the creeping certainty that the tension headache he had been nursing for several days now was about to make his entire skull implode… explode? Whatever. Draco was angry, upset, tired, and his head hurt, and he felt more than anything else truly terrible for the man described in these pages. He didn’t want to, but he did. Harry was rich, famous, and influential, everything Draco had ever wanted to be.
And he was so fucking miserable that he had wished himself into a magical coma.
It was difficult reconciling the desire to help with a lifetime of envy.
Draco’s dinner was cold as his tea. He Vanished it with a flick of his wrist. He wasn’t hungry anyway.
“Rubino,” he called, and the elf apparated by Draco’s hearth. “Would you please contact our distinguished guest and ask her if she would be willing to join me for a nightcap? Say, in an hour? I would prefer to speak to her alone, if she is willing, though if her… entourage needs to join us, I shan’t fuss.”
Rubino slanted his head in a very distinguished manner, and disappeared again. Italian elves really did have an edge.
Draco wasn’t surprised when there was a knock on the door precisely one hour later. Nor was he surprised that Patil was there acting as bodyguard. Who might be planning to attack the British Minister for Magic in a psychiatric hospital in Italy, Draco didn’t know, but Patil looked up to the job of protecting her well enough.
“Thank you, Auror Patil,” Hermione said, stepping into Draco’s rooms as Parvati closed the door, stepping in front of it.
“Thank you for joining me, Minister,” Draco said.
“Thank you for the invitation. Could I ask you to cast a silencing spell, Guaritore Black?”
“Certainly.” He cast a non-verbal, wandless Muffliato and waved Granger to the settee, while he poured two glasses of an especially fine Tuscan wine, and brought them to the small coffee table in front of Granger. She nodded her thanks.
“And have you looked over the file?”
“I have. I do have some ideas about reaching your Auror, and I can recommend several colleagues to assist you.” Draco sat in the armchair opposite, crossing his knees elegantly. “I myself won’t be able to —”
“Colleagues,” Granger said, disbelieving.
“Yes. Very skilled.”
“As skilled as you?”
Draco felt his jaw stiffen, and Hermione got to her feet. “As skilled as you?” she asked again, and Draco met her eyes coolly.
“There is more to this than the simple application of skill,” he said. “There are many considerations that I would not expect you to —”
“Help! Parvati?” Granger called loudly; for a moment, Draco was alarmed, but there was no reply. “Good. Strong spell. That,” Granger said, pointing emphatically at the pile of papers on Draco’s table, “Is Harry Potter, you numbskull. Without whom most of us would be dead. Including you.”
Draco felt his skin prickle.
“Yes, he is quite famous. I had wondered. Still. I am not the right Healer for this job.”
“Because you can’t set foot on British soil? No such order exists.”
“I don’t need to explain —”
“Don’t be a wanker, Draco,” came a second voice, and Draco flinched, reaching for his wand as he whirled around to see who was behind him. He hardly expected to find Blaise Zabini helping himself to a glass of wine.
“Malfoy,” Zabini replied. “Sorry. Wouldn’t usually have dobbed you in like that, but it’s been twenty years since I laid eyes on you, and all.” He sipped the wine. Draco turned back to Granger, who looked for the most part like she was very annoyed at Blaise for having revealed both his identity and his job in one fell swoop but also quite exasperated and fond, in a troubling way.
“Well, Granger, since we’re dispensing with the formalities,” Draco said, dropping the Glamour again. Something about seeing the two of them here together in his sanctuary made Draco feel a prickle of pettiness rise up in his gullet.
He wanted to say something cruel. But he hadn’t been that man for a very, very long time, and it didn’t matter how badly his head hurt, he refused to be that man again now. He looked from Blaise to Granger and back again, noting how close Blaise sat. Very informal for a bodyguard. Or whatever.
Not his business. He took a deep breath.
“I cannot be away from the hospital for that length of time, for a start,” he said, trying to sound a little kinder. “I have other patients. The sort of treatment we’re talking about would almost certainly require us to spend a great deal of time together, a few hours a day to begin with.”
Draco shook his head. “I know. You already have five different solutions to that problem. But it’s minor in comparison to the next one.” He waved his wand in the direction of a thick folder of notes on the desk, and sent it into Granger’s lap, opening to the relevant page. He crossed his hands over his knee to wait.
There was quite some waiting to do. Draco closed his eyes, slipping into the meditative state that helped to refresh him and enable him the mental space required to do his work. Not asleep. Entirely aware of what was going on in the room, the turning of the pages and the quiet sniff Hermione let out from time to time. Blaise’s hand on her back, fingertips moving almost silently over the woven wool of her robe.
At last, he heard them both shift against the upholstery and opened his eyes.
“That’s only step one. And highly invasive, as you can see.”
“Yes. I see.”
“There are other steps after that one. Now, a test of ethics, and a test of friendship,” he said, coolly. Granger met his eyes. She looked tired. She looked defiant, though, and she looked… well, there was grief in there as well. Draco couldn’t help with that, under the current circumstances. He could refer her, though. “And be honest, Minister. With yourself. With Auror Potter, and with me. If you don’t think you can…”
“I suggest you bite your tongue,” Granger said. Good, more defiant than weary.
“I shall take that under consideration,” Draco said, and he may have smiled a little. “Over a period of… weeks, at a minimum, months more likely —
“It would be weeks. Harry is strong.”
“Yes, very strong. Which suggests to me that it would be more like months. If he has built a wall in his mind that he doesn’t wish to be disturbed, he will have built it to be very strong indeed. Over that period, I spend a few hours a day in his mind, mapping it all out — every fear, every memory, good and bad. The first time he touched his wand at Gringott’s and knew what magic really meant, and the first time he made a feather float. Watching Dumbledore fall from the Astronomy tower. Walking into the forest to die at the hands of Tom Riddle.”
“I see, but —”
“You don’t, not yet. Those are the things that are real, Minister. What about the rest of it? Everything he has every wanted for himself. Every crushed hope. Every sexual fantasy.” That was intended to make Granger flinch, and it worked. “I map all of that out, and I find where he is hiding. And then why. I dismantle the walls in his mind. And then I drag him out. And don’t make the mistake of assuming he’s in there waiting to be rescued, Minister. One look at me, and the knowledge that I, Draco Malfoy, can see what’s in that fucked-up head of his and he might disappear completely.”
She held his gaze, determined, but her eyes were bright with tears. Hermione Granger was about as good at keeping a poker face up as Draco was himself.
“If he was a perfect stranger, the ethics would be… complicated,” he said. “I’ve done it, of course. Afterwards, the patient need never see me again and all’s well that ends well, if we’re lucky. But for Potter, having me in his mind would be the most appalling breach of his privacy; it would be a kind of violence. Even if he didn’t close his mind down completely to get rid of me, the chances are good that he’d never speak to you again. Perhaps it’s worth the risk to you, but would it be worth the risk to him?”
Granger’s eyes shone, and she swallowed hard. Blaise squeezed her shoulder.
“He’s hated me since we were children, Minister Granger. Who is the worst person you could possibly imagine poking around in your head? Aunt Bella, perhaps. How would you feel, if someone sent her into your head?”
“We’re not children anymore. Nobody hates you, Malfoy.”
“And he’s said that to you, has he? Over a glass of wine the the Three Broomsticks? ‘Gosh, I don’t hate Malfoy anymore, isn’t that the thing’? If you want me to do this — if you ask me to do this — that’s the risk you’re taking.”
Granger sat silently for a long time.
“Is there any other way?”
“Perhaps. But you’d need to ask someone else about them, and I assume your Healers have already tried. I can help someone to understand their dreams and their nightmares, and get free of them. That’s what I can do. And under the circumstances, I think it’s only right that you should consider me the absolute last resort.”
The room was silent for two minutes, perhaps three, and Draco had to avert his eyes so he didn’t have to watch Granger and Blaise doing whatever psychic communication that was. How bizarre.
“Thank you for your time, Guaritore Black,” Granger said as she climbed unsteadily to her feet. “I need to give careful consideration to this information. What time shall we call tomorrow?”
“Eleven,” Draco said.
“Eleven, then.” Draco felt an odd pressure in his head, and then Granger seemed to be alone again. “We know your secret, Guaritore Black. And you know ours. I trust that won’t be a problem.”
“No, Minister,” Draco said, settling his Glamour over his face once again. He stood as well. “I have no interest in breaking any kind of confidence. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Would you like me to make arrangements for somewhere for you to stay, or will you go to the Manor?” Hermione asked, after their conversation the following morning. Only time would tell if she would regret this decision. And perhaps Harry would hate her forever. But she could not — and would not — leave him in there.
“There is no Manor,” Draco said dismissively, signing a confidentiality agreement. Hermione resolved to find out what that meant. “A hotel will be fine. Booked under the name of Christopher Black. I will wear my Glamour, no need to complicate things further. You might have warned me I was signing in my own blood,” he finished, drily, patting the back of his hand with a handkerchief.
“I’m sorry,” Hermione replied, though she knew she didn’t sound it. “I’ll have a Portkey to London arranged for this evening.”
Malfoy handed her a roll of parchment. “I’ll need you to think about all of these questions. After I see Potter at the hospital tomorrow and get a sense of what might be happening in there I’ll need to discuss this with you. Who are his friends? Other than you. Weasley? Or Weasleys?”
Hermione tried not to bristle. “Harry has a lot of friends,” she said. “And yes, he’s still close with Ron. We don’t see much of Ginny, she travels so much with the team.” Malfoy was standing, waiting. “Oh, for… alright. Luna and Neville, of course. And he still has lunch on Sundays at the Burrow. He’s friends with many of the higher-ranking Ministry officials…”
“Of course. He’s a superb politician, Guaritore Black,” she said.
“Ah, My father was also a superb politician, for all that he was wrong about everything all the time. I don’t believe he ever referred to any of those connections as friends.”
Hermione felt her cheeks redden. “Alright.” Friends. She bit her lip. “Me, and Ron. We’re still the closest. He’s very busy,” she said, defensively.
“I have no doubt.”
“And I’m his medical proxy. You should be aware of that. I am able to make decisions for him. And with the number of times he’s been hurt over his career…”
It was funny — now that Hermione knew what lay under that Glamour, she could see Malfoy’s facial expressions, the way he moved, the barest twitch of his lip, always so expressive. Right now, he was as cool and impenetrable as ice; and yet he almost looked angry.
“Talk everything over with Ron, then,” Malfoy said. “I need as much information as you can give me. And of course, I’ll need to speak with those he works most closely with, especially his partner. I’ll see you tomorrow.” He nodded, and turned away in the direction of the patient wards.
Hermione watched him go, anxiety twisting in her stomach. This was ridiculous, insane.
“Professor Piedamonte,” she said, turning on her heel, as soon as they were alone again. “I was assured that in addition to his achievements on paper, Guaritore Black is superbly empathetic and kind, and I must confess I see no evidence that at all. He is cold, he is…” He is Draco fucking Malfoy, she wanted to say. Ex Death Eater. Bastard. “What assurance can you give me that he is anything but…”
Professor Piedamonte shushed her, and led her back in the direction of his office. “This Auror must be of great importance,” he said, with a rich accent. “Come, follow. I can show you something. What he does right now.”
“How will I know anything if they’re all asleep?”
“They are not all asleep. Your Auror’s problem is an unusual one, grazie Carmenta. Come, come.”
Once again, the Professor failed to notice Blaise’s presence; and once more, Parvati stood outside the door, waiting.
“Is it a Pensieve?” Hermione asked, when the Professor drew a bowl of shimmering light out of his large, round table.
“No,” he said. “But it is similar. We use them to observe patients from a distance, when needed, and for the purposes of clinical supervision. You understand that patient confidentiality requires this to be silent.”
Hermione nodded, and after the Professor had murmured his incantation, the surface of the fluid in the bowl began to resolve into a scene. A young woman lying on her side, curled up slightly, shoulders hunched. And beside her, Malfoy, or… well, Christopher Black. His expression was softer than anything she’d ever imagined was possible, on that face, his eyes bright and interested and damnably affectionate, his hands grasping one of hers tightly.
“What is wrong with her?”
“Trauma,” Professor Piedamonte said, simply. “She suffers from terrible nightmares. It’s improving. Some potions, some talking. One day she will stop blaming herself for the things that happened to her.”
He moved his wand over the fluid in the bowl until the angle changed and Hermione could see the woman’s face. She looked tired, but she looked relieved to see Draco, she looked… she looked happy to see him, the corners of her mouth curling up. She laughed, and so did Draco, his face lighting up in such a genuine way that Hermione felt suddenly certain that he could help Harry, if he’d only try. And then his face became more serious, and he handed her a tiny cup of something. Some potion, no doubt. She nodded, and pushed herself up on her elbow to drink it.
Draco squeezed her shoulder, and said something else, something that made her smile and relax against the mattress as he moved on.
Hermione closed her eyes, and pressed the heel of her hand against her forehead.
“Alright,” she said. “Alright. I understand. Thank you. And for the rest, as well. I’m sure we’ll speak soon.”
“You are most welcome, Minister Granger.”
Later, at home, after a light supper, Hermione tucked herself against Blaise on the couch.
“What happened to the Manor?” she asked.
“But where is it gone?”
Blaise hesitated. “Not my story to tell, love,” he said, brushing his lips over Hermione’s hair.
“Do you think he’s really changed?”
This time, Blaise was quiet for a long time, and the quality of his breathing changed. He wasn’t going to answer as her lover, but as an Unspeakable. Maybe that was right. “I think he was never quite who people saw, when they saw him at all. I’m not sure people really do change. I think they just look different depending on which way the light bends.” And then Blaise’s voice went softer. “I know there are good reasons why we agreed not to talk about these things, love, but he was a good friend, to his friends.”
Hermione didn’t know how to respond to that, so she focused on the dance of the flames in the hearth.
“Can you stay tonight?” she asked, and when she felt Blaise smile against her hair, she smiled as well.
Draco took a copy of the Daily Prophet downstairs to the restaurant. He was curious to see whether the old rag had adopted anything approximating journalistic standards in the years since he’d left, but apparently that had been an unwarranted burst of optimism. He ordered Shepherd’s Pie and brussels sprouts, as it was colder in London than it had been in Naples, and plain water. He would need good sleep tonight, unaided by alcohol or anything beyond his own meditative practice.
It was reliably reported on page five that Auror Potter was still on assignment overseas somewhere, risking life and limb for the Wizarding World, and Draco tried not to feel a familiar old bristle of irritation. Fast asleep, costing the Ministry some absurd amount of money, still all heroic and newsworthy. So, some things hadn’t changed. Harry Potter was still a wanker. But he was an important wanker, and he did seem to be doing some rather useful work, and also… well, he was human, and Draco was a professional. And no doubt that by the end of the day tomorrow he would be able to explain to Minister Granger that he was definitely unable to help, and he could get back to patients he didn’t share such a complicated history with.
He ate, quietly, asked that the meal be billed to his room, and then changed into silk pyjamas.
He meditated for an hour, emptying his mind of all things, and slept dreamlessly.
The following morning, Draco did forty-five minutes of yoga, keeping his mind clear. Thoughts came, and feelings; he acknowledged them, and returned to his focus each time. He acknowledged that he was anxious, that the drizzle outside cooled his temper. He acknowledged that he was more than a little fearful of finding out what might be going on in Harry Potter’s head, and of the conversation he would be having with Granger and probably the Weasel later on. He gently turned his thoughts away from the resentment towards the Golden Trio which seemed to have reared its ugly head from the moment he had laid eyes on Granger two days earlier.
He acknowledged each of these thoughts, and returned his focus to his breathing.
Potter’s hospital room was ideal. The light was low and the sound muffled by spells. Potter lay stretched out beneath a single sheet, but Draco could tell right away that the sheet was enchanted to maintain the ideal body temperature.
Harry looked older. Well. He was older. He wasn’t going to seed, though; Draco could see the muscle definition in his arms (… nice, really) and shoulders. His hair was flecked with grey, as was the stubble on his chin, such as it was. Apparently someone was going to the effort of keeping him photograph-worthy. Good plan.
“I’ll need the room empty,” he said to the Healer who had met him at the hospital doors and led him to Harry’s bedside. “Please. And we are not to be disturbed until I open the door. It may take some time. Probably several hours.”
“Yes, Healer Black,” she said. “There will be Aurors at the door. I’m afraid that’s not negotiable, but they won’t come inside unless… well, we’ve kept his location a secret so far, but we’re all very aware that in this weakened state — he probably wouldn’t live much longer, without significant protection.”
Draco nodded. He did appreciate a straight talker. “Thank you, I agree. Leave, please.”
Healer Thistlewish looked as though she might want to argue. She knew she couldn’t stay; Draco had been very clear on that. He let a slip of empathy reach out to her. She was concerned. Protective. She wasn’t there hoping to get some sort of a prize for rescuing the Chosen One. Draco was glad.
“I promise you I will take care of him,” he said, gently, and she nodded, and left, the door locking almost silently behind her.
Draco did several diagnostic spells to ensure everything was normal: respiration, heart beat, blood pressure. Harry was as healthy at thirty-seven as he had been at eighteen. No, healthier. Just asleep, fast asleep.
Draco sat by the bed, and spent a few moments centring himself.
“Hello, Potter,” he said, quietly, when he was ready. “I don’t know, maybe you’d prefer Harry. I’ll skip all the superlatives they use in the papers, though, I imagine they’re a bit much for even you to take. It’s Draco. Well, I think you only ever called me Malfoy, but I don’t imagine you know a lot of people called Draco.”
He cast a gentle Lumos, and checked that Potter’s pupils were responsive. They were.
“Where did you go?” he asked, quietly.
He withdrew a potion bottle from his pocket and carefully placed it, open, on the table beside Harry’s bed. He searched around the pillow for a loose hair of Harry’s, and plucked one from his own head, before dropping them together into the bottle. He murmured an incantation which changed the colour from a pearly white to a warm green.
“This doesn’t taste very good, but you probably won’t notice. And I don’t think you can hear me, Auror Potter, but I don’t assume these things, and I wish to speak to you before we start.”
He took Potter’s hand in his own, fingers gently resting against his pulse point.
“I’m coming in there to find you. Which is very, very far from alright, by my estimation, but your friend the Minister has insisted. I promise you, I’m very good at what I do, Auror Potter. But if you can hear me — you need to know that you have every right to ask me to leave, when you see me. I shall do so without delay, and Minister Granger can make other arrangements. My life is busy enough without dozens of angry Gryff…”
No. No pettiness.
Draco carefully opened Harry’s mouth, and placed three drops on his tongue. He got settled on his own chair, then, laying it out as flat as it would go, before he put the drops on his own tongue.
Thoughts came, and emotions.
He acknowledged them, and then he sent them away.
And then he was falling.
Merlin, he was falling. He fell, and he fell, through fear and heat and cold and aching dread; he saw the claws of a dragon and felt certain they were going to sink into his belly. He felt himself dragged out of some place safe and comfortable by one arm, felt the shoulder dislocate, felt an angry smack across the back of his thigh.
He saw the faces of people he loved. He thought so, anyway; it was the green tinge to the light, and the feeling, mostly. He wanted to go with them. He didn’t want — whatever this was. He felt eyes on him, burning hate, the weight of a thousand responsibilities. Faster and faster. He realised he was rushing, running, running even as he fell — trying to avoid the grabbing hands and dangers all around, pushing himself faster and faster. It was almost impossible to slow down enough to observe, let alone understand. Next time, he needed to come here with a shield. With armour. He needed not to come down again. Draco felt himself curling inwards, trying to protect himself, and then he landed on a carpeted floor.
For a moment, he expected to be on the floor in Potter’s hospital room, but that, of course, was not carpet. And the hospital didn’t smell like home. And cooking. Night-blooming jasmine that had been coaxed to stay fragrant by a moon that dangled, enchanted, from the ceiling above.
It was sunny outside; Draco could see it, through the flimsy curtains. He wondered where he was, looking around for clues, but in the way of dreams, he couldn’t read the titles on the spines of the books, and nothing else seemed to provide him with a lot of clues. He opened a curtain to look for a landmark of some kind.
… a brick wall.
The window was bricked up, and there was no light.
Draco let the curtain fall again, and again, it glowed with late summer sun. A breeze disturbed the hem. As he walked around the living room he found that all of the windows were like that. Very strange.
There was something vaguely familiar about the layout of the house, but Draco couldn’t place it, and besides, that often happened when invading someone else’s dream. Blurry lines. It was familiar to Potter, so for now, it was familiar to Draco. Bright, though. A happy place, a place to be happy. A home, in the truest sense of the word.
Near the kitchen, there was a door to the basement. It had been boarded up. This, like the windows, was clearly significant but Draco didn’t have time for that sort of analysis, not then.
He climbed the stairs, looking around. There were photographs on the wall, but beyond knowing that they were photographs of people he loved (or, more likely, people Potter loved), he couldn’t see any of them clearly enough to work out who they were. He came upon a landing. The corridor seemed much too long for the house, but such was the way with magical homes. They could accommodate anachronisms of that sort.
There were several more doors. Two were boarded up (one with a sign that read KEEP OUT in a child’s clumsy hand). One had no doorknob, another sported about a dozen Muggle padlocks. One that looked as if it had been simply drawn onto the wall with a crayon. A door in the ceiling which presumably led to an attic of some kind was barred with wrought iron, which, on closer inspection, appeared to involve a large number of snakes which were almost certainly waiting to strike.
At the end of the landing, a door stood slightly ajar. Draco moved closer and pushed it open. A bedroom. Occupied. Occupied, by Potter, and by —
“Salazar,” he murmured.
Draco felt his heart race. This made no sense at all. He had to have fucked something up, along the way.
The two men in the bed lay with their backs pressed together. On the left, a headful of scruffy hair, almost black, peeked out from above the edge of the sheet, and on the other side, just as scruffy if closer to curly, dark blond.
“What the ever-loving fuck is this, Potter?” he asked, feeling goosebumps break out all over his skin. When he began to examine the room, though, it was quite clear. Extremely clear. Frighteningly clear. The wardrobe, separated neatly into clothing that looked like it had been rescued from a Hippogriff’s nest and, well, Draco’s clothing. Shoes and ties, robes and cloaks. Quidditch gear on a high shelf, a red set and a green set.
“Salazar,” Draco murmured again. It was entirely possible his vocabulary had shrunk down to a handful of profanities of varying degrees. He wondered how much time had passed. It was always so difficult to tell, in dreamspace. He had questions. Was this a projection? If Hermione Granger had popped into his head instead would the bedroom be full of books and… well, Blaise being here might be odd. Still. Was it Draco, in the bed? Actually Draco? Or was it just —
He was here. This appalling violation of privacy was already underway. In for a sickle, as they said. Draco sat on the edge of the bed. Overlapping with this slightly younger version of himself. He lay down, and settled into the body. It was surprisingly comfortable and remarkably accurate. Draco closed his eyes, waiting.
Harry woke. Hungry. Not just hungry — starving, he thought, and ready for a full English with extra bacon. He opened his eyes, and listened to the sound of his house settling around him. And the spring in the mattress shift.
He rolled onto his back, grinning.
“You got in late last night. I didn’t hear you at all.”
Draco’s eyes got very wide, the grey in them shifting as he adjusted to the light.
“You’re adorable when you wake up disoriented,” Harry said, laughing. He rolled over properly, and threw an arm across Draco’s body, a leg over his hip. He leaned in for a kiss, morning breath be damned, nudging Draco’s mouth open with his own.
Draco seemed startled, but he returned the kiss eagerly enough.
“Your breath tastes as bad as mine.”
Harry nuzzled into Draco’s neck, letting his eyes close again. “You’re quiet this morning.”
“Am I?” Draco asked.
“And not nearly as handsy as usual. Are you alright, Draco?”
“You called me Draco.”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” Harry said, grinning, buzzing, combing up to straddle Draco’s thighs. “I meant Malfoy, of course.” He closed his hand around Draco’s cock. “Now, that’s what I call a good morning. Any special requests? Suck it, ride it, or should I just wank you? We’ve got all day.”
“We do?” Draco asked. His expression was inscrutable, but then, he was Draco.
“We don’t have to work today.”
“And why is that?”
“Your dirty talk is a little off the mark this morning.” Harry’s voice was light, and teasing, but he couldn’t ignore the stab of anxiety he suddenly felt. “Are you alright?”
Draco held his gaze for a long time.
“Draco? Sweetheart? What’s the matter?”
Draco reached out, and dragged his fingers over Harry’s stomach, slow and sensual. Harry shivered.
“Think I’m just hungry,” Draco said.
“Get up, then. There’s bacon in the fridge.” Harry climbed off the bed, and looked around for a pair of boxers. Draco sat up slowly, looking around.
“Harry? Where are we?”
“Godric wept, Draco, did you tie one on last night or what? We’re at home.” Harry brushed his nose over Draco’s, and shivered. “Where we belong. Go on, get up. You know I can’t poach an egg to save myself.”
Draco almost threw himself out of the chair as he woke, gasping for air. He cast a quick Tempus — it was almost eight o’clock, and he’d been in Harry’s head for over ten hours. He was exhausted, and he couldn’t pretend he couldn’t hear the hushed, angry voices outside the room.
He smoothed his hair down, checked his Glamour, and limped to the door, opening it.
“Minister,” he said. “Perhaps you’d like to see the patient. And then we need somewhere private to talk, if that can be arranged.”
Granger eyed him suspiciously, but stepped into the room. Harry was lying angelically on his back, just as he had been. Not a hair out of place. Or rather more accurately, all of his hair out of place, exactly as scheduled. Granger stood by as Healer Thistlewish ran her usual diagnostics.
“He seems fine,” she said. “I have some work to do, here. Minister, if you would like to come back later, that’s fine. And you can use my Floo. You don’t need to ask every time.”
Granger nodded, and held Draco’s gaze for a long moment.
“Come on, then,” she said. “Do you like Thai food?”
Draco shrugged, aiming for nonchalance. “I’m easy. I mean.” He rubbed his eyes. “I like Thai food just fine. Nothing too spicy.”
And so, twenty minutes later, they were inside Granger’s office at the Ministry. It wasn’t what one would call tidy, but Draco would have bet the contents of his vault that Granger knew exactly where everything was. Off to the side of her desk was a meeting table. Draco took a seat, grateful for the respite, and the chance to wrap his head around what he’d just seen. To try to understand it better. And he could, he was sure, he just… needed to understand Potter better. More than anything, he needed to understand what in Carmenta’s name would make someone like Harry Potter create an alternate reality for himself inside his head.
There were clues, certainly. But the answer was still well out of reach. If Harry had been misusing alcohol or other drugs, if he was a sex addict, if he… collected Fabergé eggs, Draco would have been able to talk to him about it. But he wasn’t doing anything like that. He’d simply turned the lights out on his life.
“So? Are you going to tell me what you found?”
“Soon. I need to know more about Potter’s life, first.”
“Alright.” She opened a box of noodles. “Would you mind taking that face off? Only it feels very odd, seeing you like that.”
Draco dropped the Glamour, and reached for another box. He transfigured the plastic fork into chopsticks. “So. Potter’s life.”
“He works,” Granger said. “He’s been very dedicated to the Aurors’ office, from the moment he graduated NEWTs. Beyond that, though. There was so much work to do, when the war was over. Reconstruction — Hogwarts, St. Mungo’s, everything. He became a focal point, I suppose. He told everyone they needed to pull together and so they pulled together.”
“Alright, he works. And?”
“And of course, he has a very active social life.” Granger stuck a forkful of noodle into her mouth. She had to be as hungry as Draco.
“Indeed. How so?”
“Well, he gets invited to all the big events. Always has done. Never turns any of them down.”
“Jolly good fun,” Draco said, rolling his eyes and sneering ike it was 1995. “And does his social life entail anything at all that doesn’t require formal robes?”
“Of course it does! Pub nights, with me, and Ron, and Ron’s wife Gabrielle, and Blaise.” She flushed. “Perhaps less often than before. Ron has kids, now, and I… well. Minister, and all. But he comes to my house, all the time, of course.”
“Of course,” Draco said. Was Granger trying to convince herself, he wondered, or Draco? “And romantically?”
Granger shifted her weight on her chair and began chewing more slowly. Draco waited patiently.
“You only need to ask anyone about the society pages,” she said, at last, falsely bright. “Really. Always has someone lovely on his arm. D’you know Gisella Warbeck? They went to a dozen events together last year. She’s a lovely woman. Beautiful singing voice. Much less warbly than her grandmother. Modern, you know.”
“He was dating Gisella Warbeck?”
Granger deflated. “No, not really. He could have. She was mad about him, and it was certainly good for donations that year. I suppose he’s never shown much interest.”
“In dating. In dating women.” Granger met his eyes for a half-second, long enough so that Draco knew she suspected that women really didn’t hold a lot of interest for him, rather than dating in the broader sense. “I don’t know. He keeps it all pretty close to his chest, of course. He’s always just done the right thing. You know what he’s like, you remember. He’s driven. He’s passionate. He wants to make the world a better place than the one he was born into. There’s nothing wrong with that.” She sounded defensive. She looked as though she had something more to say, but she elected not to.
Draco sat quietly for a while. His teeth ached. He swallowed, hard.
“Have you a pensieve?”
Hermione frowned. “Yes. Why?”
“I have something I’d like to show you,” he said. “I want you to look at it, and consider it. Very carefully. I have made no assumptions about the meaning of what I saw. You are Potter’s best friend, and his medical proxy, and for that matter, you’re the fucking Minister of Magic. And I don’t envy your task, here.”
Draco took a phial from one of his pockets, and focused on the memory of the house in Harry’s dream. He tapped his forehead with his wand and drew out the silvery thread of the memory, carefully siphoning it into the phial.
“Minister Granger,” he started.
“You could call me Hermione,” she interrupted, miserably. She accepted the phial.
“Not today. When you see that memory, you will know that I am either the worst imaginable person for this task, or the only possible candidate. I leave it to you to make that decision. If you want me to treat Auror Potter, I will need to have him brought to my hospital. I have not the time, the magical energy, or the inclination to come back and forth to London every day, and I have dozens of other patients. You must accept that this will take weeks, possibly months.”
“Malfoy, you’re frightening me,” she said, though she didn’t sound the least bit frightened. When had she? Ever?
“If you wish me to take on the case, I will need to see Potter’s home before we leave. You can arrange for that, certainly?”
“I — yes,” she said. “But I don’t know what you’ll find there. He doesn’t stay there often. I don’t know how long it’s been since he even visited.”
Draco didn’t grind his teeth. “Regardless.” He stood woodenly, and drew a piece of parchment from the inside pocket of his robe.
Hermione opened, and closed, her mouth.
“Merlin and Morgana,” Draco growled.
“Ron…” she swallowed and looked away. “He doesn’t talk about the war. Or even think about it. He’s made the life he wants. Please don’t make it difficult for him.”
Draco barely acknowledge the request with a nod.
“Please arrange for me to interview the people on this list. I need to go. I have work to do, and I should like at least a reasonable night’s sleep.”
“There is an apparition point in the alcove down the hall. Or if you’d prefer to use the Floo…”
Draco nodded, and approached the fireplace. He took a pinch of Floo powder between his fingers.
“Draco,” Granger blurted, and he turned around. “Do you think you can help him?”
He wanted to say no. He wanted to rattle off the names of a dozen other psychiatrists and sleep specialists who could find Harry and bring him home. Draco closed his eyes, and all he could see was bright green eyes, deliriously happy to see him. A beautiful home with missing doors and bricked up windows. He was a long way from being able to see the whole picture, but he had enough experience to have a road map, at least, somewhere to start.
“Yes,” he said, and with a nod, he stepped into the Floo.
The following morning, having had no word from Granger, Draco headed for the hospital. There was no change, and he wasn’t surprised. He spoke at length with Healer Thistlewish, about the stasis spells and Potter’s hygiene. Took copies of the rest of his records. He liked her. She had an even competence about her that suggested she was an excellent Healer, if woefully under-qualified for anything as complicated as this particular case.
There was a knock on the door.
“Come in,” Healer Thistlewish said, with a smile. “Ron, good to see you.”
“You, too, Jenna. And this must be the great Gua… Guitar… Healer Black,” Ron said, shaking Draco’s hand vigorously. “Thanks, mate. Really, thanks — you don’t know what he means to us. Herm— the Minister said you might want to speak to me. And that you want to see the house.”
It might have been disorienting even three days ago to have Ronald Weasley beaming in his face like that but Draco had since accepted that the world was entirely upside down.
“Quite,” Draco replied. Apparently Granger had been as good as her word; Weasley had no idea who he was. Draco eventually extricated himself from the handshake — and the hug that followed — and stepped back a little.
“Ah, sorry mate. Got a lot of brothers, bit of a hugger, me. Jen, c’n we use the Floo? Only it’s drizzling out. Again.”
Healer Thistlewish tucked Draco’s papers into a file folder, and tapped her wand to them to shrink them down. “Of course, Ron. Say hello to Molly for me, won’t you?”
“I won’t,” Ron said. “She’ll ask what I was doing here. Still thinks Harry’s off on assignment. Well, see you later!” He tossed a pinch of powder into the fire, and said “Twelve Grimmauld Place!”
Apparently the Weasel was no more tolerable now than he had been at eleven. But Draco bit his lip, and followed him into the Floo.
The moment they stumbled out into the most miserable sitting room Draco had seen in his life, the room filled with shrieking.
“BLOOD TRAITOR!” the voice cried out. “MUGGLE-LOVING SCUM! BEFOULING THE HOUSE OF—”
“Fuck me blind,” Ron said, racing to the hallway to cover up a portrait. “She’s a handful, that one. Not a big fan of mine. Or Harry’s,” he said, and Draco decided to be very cautious; if she recognised him as Narcissa’s son, this would be very awkward indeed. “Anyway, this is it. Harry’s house. He doesn’t really live here, though.”
“I should hope not,” Draco murmured. And yet, this was the house. The layout was correct. The thick layer of dust everywhere was less than welcoming. Where was Kreacher?
“Doesn’t he have a house-elf, or something?”
“Used to,” Ron said. “Only Harry convinced him to move to the Ministry. He was getting too old to be hanging around here by himself. Got a bit strange, and he didn’t want to be freed. Seems happy enough at the Ministry, as long as he’s allowed to see to Harry, and no one else is. Still very protective. So there’s the kitchen. And the door to the basement.”
Draco raised his wand. “Lumos,” he murmured. The door to the basement was a door, nothing more. He opened it, and from below, a soft light began to glow. A larder and a wine cellar. He could feel the stasis charms. Nothing that needed to be boarded in. “Curious.”
He followed Ron up the stairs. “Is Auror Potter seeing anyone?” he asked, innocently.
“Nah,” Ron said. “Reckon he’s a bit busy for that. He used to date my sister, did you know that? Him and me, we’re like brothers, you know.”
Draco ignored the flicker of irritation. “Your sister is the Seeker for the Holyhead Harpies, I hear.”
“That’s her. Harry never goes without a date when he wants one, but I don’t think he’s really been interested in anyone for — well, since Ginny.”
At the top of the stairs was the expected landing. And a number of doors. Perhaps not the same number that Draco had seen in Harry’s dream, though. Behind one was a bedroom done up in Gryffindor colours, but looking as if it had been untouched in decades. There were a number of large feathers on the floor.
“That was his Godfather’s room. Sirius Black. You any relation?”
“Almost certainly,” Draco said.
“His Godfather died, left him the house.” Ron opened another door. It was full of junk. “Wrong door. Sorry, he doesn’t really use the place much. This is the bedroom.”
Draco stepped inside.
The layout was correct, but it wasn’t the bright, comfortable room he remembered. Lived-in, though. Clean, or at least tidy. He pushed the curtain aside and saw only the grey sky. “Does Auror Potter have any enemies?”
“Ugh,” Ron said, rolling his eyes. “Hundreds, probably. But they’d be mostly in Azkaban. He’s bloody good at his job, you know. You know he defeated…”
Ron’s expression went a little cloudy. Draco recognised it; he’d seen that expression thousands of times when patients were reluctant to acknowledge an especially painful memory.
“Of course,” Draco said, interrupting the recollection. “And what about you — I see your wedding ring. Children?”
“Oh — yeah!” Ron’s eyes focused again, and he began to talk about his children, pulling him away from a memory he clearly didn’t cope well with. He chattered away as Draco examined the room, now entirely in the present. “And the eldest starts Hogwarts, this year. Don’t know how parents do it, really. I’ll miss her. I never really thought about how mum most’ve missed us — but there are a lot of us, and except for my brother Percy, holy terrors all. ‘Spect she might have appreciated the break.”
Draco nodded curtly and opened the bedside drawer. There were a handful of personal effects. Nothing that said very much about Harry’s life. Nothing to suggest this bed had seen any kind of action outside of Harry’s imagination in a good number of years.
“Anyway, about the enemies. I meant more personally,” Draco said, when Ron didn’t look to be in danger of dissociation anymore. “Perhaps someone he works with. Someone who may resent him.”
“I don’t think so. But you wouldn’t say, would you? Harry’s the Golden Boy.” Ron sighed. “He had a couple of good feuds in school, but… he’s not the type to hold a grudge.”
“Nah. There was this one bloke — the two of them loathed each other all through school, and then the… well, it doesn’t matter about the details. But they saved each other’s lives, in the end. Barmy how things go. And then he spoke for the bloke’s family during the trials.”
Draco swallowed hard. He’d thought… but he hadn’t been allowed to be there, for witness statements. And his mother had refused to discuss it at all. He clenched his teeth, and crouched to look under the bed.
“Can you help him, Healer Black?”
Draco stood up. The thought of Harry living here, like this… what was he doing, trying to be the underprivileged romantic hero? What did any of it mean? He had his job, his status, his fame, bank vaults full of Galleons — Draco took a deep breath.
He cleared his mind.
He noticed his thoughts, and his feelings, and he acknowledged them and sent them on their way. And then he returned to focus on what mattered.
“I believe I can, Mr Weasley,” he said. “I need something from you. I need to you help me draw a map of this house, and mark down every location where something significant happened. Something significant to Auror Potter, of course. Can you do that?”
Ron raised his wand. “Accio parchment and quill,” he said, and one of each slipped out of a desk drawer, zipping to his hand. “Yeah, I can. You might want to get Hermione to look over it and add whatever she remembers. But I can make a fist of it. Listen, thanks. He’s my best mate, you know? Our lives went down very different paths, in the end. But he’s still my best mate.”
The Weasel’s apparent cheer had been annoying from the moment Draco had laid eyes on him at the hospital. He had shown Draco around the house as though Potter was on holidays somewhere. But for a moment, now, he seemed to waver. His mouth turned down, and the strain in his eyes was evident. He was far more upset than he was letting himself be. Pushing those emotions away so that he could get through each day.
Merlin, did Draco not want to empathise with Ronald Weasley.
“And what do you do, Mr Weasley?”
“Ron, please. I run a joke shop with my brother.”
Lazy shit, Draco thought murderously, effectively shooing that empathy away. Sitting on his arse while his friends took all the risks.
“That sounds lovely,” he said. “I’m going to have a poke around the attic. Sing out when you’re done.”
As uncomfortable as it was to be back in the Ministry after all of these years, Draco appreciated the privilege that being Granger’s ‘consultant’ afforded him. He spent most of the afternoon in a meeting room, interviewing Potter’s colleagues about the weeks before he’d fallen asleep, and something told him that the way the room was set up made them less inclined toward subterfuge.
Each needed handling a little differently, but they generally told him everything he needed to know about that within moments of stepping into the room. A heavy hand, a light touch, some gentle prodding or firms demands of information — they were not his patients, and he wasn’t above using his superb observational skills to make sure he got exactly what he needed out of them.
It was interesting that Granger hadn’t come out and told him that Potter didn’t even have a partner, though.
“And is that usual?”
Julian Flint shook his head. He was about as pleasant as his older brother was, if significantly more intelligent.
“Nah, but he’s Harry Potter, isn’t he? They need him available to trot out whenever there’s a camera in the street. Or something flashy to be done. That’s not what Auror work is about, you know. It’s not all duelling, and breaking up illegal potions rings. I’m an investigator, right?”
“That does sound important,” Draco said, setting his quill down and widening his eyes. “And Auror Potter?”
“Nah, he’s a show pony. Taking all the fancy risks, stepping in to save the day last minute — my brother went to school with him, and I heard he was a right wanker. Always showing off one way or another.”
“I know the type,” Draco said, with a conspiratorial roll of the eyes. “So, no partner.”
“Nah. He’s worked with most of us at some point or another. Probably hard to get anyone to put up with him in the long term.”
“Sounds like it,” Draco said, with a sigh, making a note. “What about you? Have you ever worked with him on a case?”
Julian was silent for a few moments, and Draco looked up. Julian looked embarrassed.
“Yeah, on a few things.”
Draco had long since learned that if you wanted someone to say something they didn’t want to, the best way to ensure it happened was to give them enough time so that they had to fill the silence with sound. To that end, he took a few more notes, and then waited patiently.
“It was stupid.” Julian shook his head, and stared at the window — at, not out, because every man and his Crup knew they were underground and the windows were enchanted to look like real weather. “He just can’t mind his own, you know? I had everything under control, and he steps out in front of me and throws up a Shield Charm, like I couldn’t’ve done it myself. Tosses a few body-binds about the place like there were cameras on him.”
Draco felt a now-familiar flare of irritation, and he stayed quite a while longer.
“So he saved your life,” he said.
“Didn’t need saving,” Julian said. “Are we done? I have more important things to do. Anyway, when’s he getting back from Budapest, or wherever?”
“I’m sure I don’t know,” Draco said. “You can go. Please tell Auror Lisbon to join me in twenty minutes.”
Julian didn’t move. Draco sat back in his chair. “Auror Flint. Did you hear?”
“I didn’t need saving,” Julian said, through his teeth.
“I’ve written that down. Thank you. Goodbye,” he said, and he didn’t look away until the door was slammed closed.
He didn’t turn to address Blaise directly, but he was quite certain the man was there, tacked away behind a disillusionment charm, or perhaps a simple notice-me-not. “Do you know anything about that case?”
Blaise removed his hood. “Yeah. Two Aurors got turned into werewolves that day. Another four ended up in St Mungo’s for a week or more. Someone messed with Potter’s portkey, never did figure out who. He got there late, but he still made sure no one was killed. Including the… well, ‘Mione called them a terrorist cell at the time but it sounds so… Muggle-ish,” Blaise said.
“I know you don’t want to hear it, mate, but he is exactly as good as they say he is. Probably better.”
“I know where to find you if I need more of that sort of colour commentary, Zabini. Much appreciated, et cetera. I don’t particularly care how good an Auror Potter is. My job is to figure out why he’s playing possum in the middle of his own psyche. But thank you for your pearls of wisdom. Who do I have to shag to get a decent cup of tea around here?”
Blaise smirked. “I’ll make it a freebie. I’m spoken for these days,” he said.
Draco tried not to blush, and a few minutes later, a cup of tea appeared on the table. Thank fuck for small mercies.
“Everything was… everything was normal,” Auror Lisbon was saying. She looked confused by the questions. “I’m new, you know, only been an Auror three years. He’s so good to me. My partner’s been off work, her wife had a baby and for a few weeks there, if I was needed for fieldwork, Harry — Auror Potter — was joining me. Until he went to… wherever he is now. You’re not — he’s not under investigation, is he?”
“Not at all. I’m to be his biographer.” Draco gave her a warm smile.
“Another book? Well, I suppose they all sell, don’t they. But this is private. Like, you won’t use my name, right?” She looked anxious, and a little sly.
“Slytherin, are you?” Draco said, conspiratorially. She smiled. “Go on, then. I need a little colour.”
Auror Lisbon leaned closer. “So, the week before he left, we were on a stakeout. For days, mind you; we were supposed to be swapping out, but they put up new wards, no one could get in. And me, I couldn’t stay awake. But Potter — I suppose it’s the practice, isn’t it? Still as could be and still awake. Told me he knew a spell. When you’re about to fall asleep, it zaps you awake. Sounds fucking horrible, but he said it helped. Said he’d teach it to me sometime.”
Draco let out a shiver. “He sounds mental.”
“I think he probably is. D’you know, We were out in the field once, a big raid, maybe a dozen Aurors. This group takes Muggle drugs, right, treats ‘em with spells, charms, all that malarkey, sells them to Muggles and Wizards alike. The place blew up. Bunch of us were hurt, course, can’t avoid that, but no one died, thank Salazar. Anyway the mobile mediwizards came to patch us up in the field and I saw him without his shirt on — never seen so many scars on a Wizard before! Can’t pretend we weren’t all having a good look. He’s handsome, isn’t he?”
Draco pretended to be embarrassed, and nodded, and Auror Lisbon laughed. “Can’t blame you, mate. No one could.”
Draco chuckled amiably. “What a sight that must have been. You know, I’ve heard things about being an Auror. Close quarters, high stress… romance blooms… or not romance, as the case may be…”
“And you can’t tell my boss, right?”
Draco help out his pinky. “Promise.”
“It’s all true. Well, but can you blame us? Young, fit, no time for a proper social life, or not much of one, anyway.”
“Oh, not him. Fuck, probably gets a marriage proposal once a week, but he always says he’s married to the job, laughs it off. And he only dates models and movie stars, innit?”
“Knew I should have been a model or a movie star,” Draco said with a dramatic sigh.
“He’s well fit, for an older guy, you know. Improving with age, my ma says.”
Draco forced another chuckle. “Naughty woman. Alright. Go on, then, off with you, anonymous source close to Potter.”
He waited until the door closed, and turned back to Blaise.
“I think I just threw up in my mouth a little bit.”
“You’re a much better actor than you were in school,” Blaise answered, lifting his hood. “More tea?”
“Think I might need something a little more distilled,” Draco drawled. “So. Bed-hopping Auror twits. Is that how you and Granger tumbled into this… whatever it is? To be perfectly honest, I thought you preferred cock, Zabini.”
“Liked yours well enough. Me, I’m all about brains, though. She’s the smartest woman I’ve ever known. Should’ve been in Ravenclaw. Should’ve been in Slytherin. I wish I’d known her then. Might have bollocksed things up a little less.” He sighed.
Draco stared at his notes for a while. “So, about that drink?”
“Meet you at the Grey Goose in an hour. Try to dress like you don’t have a broomstick up your arse, Malfoy? You might get lucky. Look like you could use it.”
He wasn’t expecting Granger to join them, but there she was. They’d booked a snug. By the time Granger arrived, briefly wearing a Glamour so she could get across the room without being jumped by her constituency, Draco was on his third Firewhiskey and feeling no pain.
“So,” she said, with no preamble. “Will you do it?”
Draco folded his arms. He glanced at Blaise, but had to assume there were no secrets here. He shrugged. “I’ll do it.”
Granger let out a sigh of relief, and immediately made as if to leave. “Thank you. I shouldn’t stay, I need to make arrangements.”
“Not so fast. I’m missing one piece of information.” Well, that was far from true; there were so many holes in this story that Potter might have actually fallen through one. “How was he found?”
“I asked,” Draco said, as Blaise poured him another drink. “How he was found. That’s all it says, in the file. He was found. Not where, not why, not by who. Was he at Grimmauld Place?”
“I told you, he doesn’t go there, much. You’ve seen it. No. There was a break in a case. He was in his office. He has a terrible habit of sleeping up there when he’s worked late and he’s too tired to apparate.”
“So there was a break in a case. Who went to fetch him? And why? Was it his case?”
“I believe they were hoping he would be backup. It was business hours,” she said, defensively.
“And why was he asleep in his office during business hours?”
Granger sniffed. “I believe it was his day off.”
“He was asleep in his office, on his day off. He was summoned to be backup on a case that wasn’t his, at which point he was found asleep and unable to be woken.”
Granger’s jaw set hard again, and she met his eyes. Her own were rimmed in red.
“I’ll wait to hear about the arrangements, then, Minister,” he said, and with a nod to Blaise, he took his leave, anger thrumming behind his breastbone.
It took two days to make the arrangements for Potter’s hospital room to be attached to Draco’s office. This sort of work would mean long days, even if he did spend a significant portion of them sleeping, in between treating his other patients and no doubt responding to more enquiries than anyone should have to as regards Harry’s condition.
A Healer and a nurse spent time seeing to his physical needs, and making sure he wasn’t developing pressure sores, while Draco sat in his office, meditating. He was still struggling with some anger, and it was making it very difficult to keep his mind clear. But eventually, he found his way to that tranquility he needed.
The anger presented itself. He acknowledged it, and let it go. He knew it had something important to tell him, but it wasn’t the time for him to listen to it. Not then.
He cast a locking spell on the door to his rooms, and brought out a new phial of his potion. A little of his own hair, a little of Potter’s — he hoped that he might be allowed to skip the whole ‘dropping through a nightmare realm’ part of the experience, but there was no such luck.
The dragon, the enormous snake — Draco forced himself to look, this time, and it was so much worse. Dementors rushing at him. It seemed a little excessive, if it was intended to keep someone out, but Draco hadn’t ever experienced anything like it. He felt the sharp pain of the dislocated shoulder and the smack to the back of the head, and he felt himself go entirely numb.
He landed, and pushed himself up onto his feet, at Twelve Grimmauld Place.
And there was Potter. Not pushing forty, as they both were. Perhaps thirty. Stretched out on the sofa, asleep, in this beautiful home that was nothing like the reality. Potter opened his eyes, and smiled, and stretched, with an expression on his face that was so fond that Draco felt something inside him break.
“Draco,” Harry said, yawning and stretching. He was careful to shift on the couch in just the way that would make his jumper ride up at his hip, exposing a little skin. “There you are. Missed you.”
Draco’s expression was odd. Fond, but bemused. Still he couldn’t resist looking at that flash of pale skin.
“What are you doing?”
Draco smiled, and crossed the sitting room, gesturing at the fireplace to fan the flames before he sat down on the edge of the couch. But he didn’t touch Harry, and he didn’t lean to kiss him, either, and Harry’s entire body ached for it. “How are you?” he asked Harry, and took Harry’s hand.
“I’m perfect,” Harry said. “I’m here with you. Day off. Nowhere to go, nothing to do… just us.”
“We work so hard,” Draco said, and Harry felt uncomfortable. This was his first day off in so long. He didn’t want to think about work.
“Hence the day off.”
“I thought we might go out to dinner,” Draco said.
Harry shook his head. “No.”
“Because most restaurants frown upon people eating naked, and as soon as you talk me out of my clothes I’m going nude for the rest of the day. You can start any time, you know. I’m in the mood. Want me to beg? You know how pretty I can beg. Draco, what’s the matter? You look…”
There was something wrong with this picture.
Draco looked sad, and there was no sad in this house. No thinking about work. Just love, every kind.
“There’s nothing the matter. You look nice in green,” Draco said.
“I know. That’s why you keep buying me green clothes. I should never have told you I was almost sorted into Slytherin.”
Draco smiled widely. “You were?”
Harry sat up. “Are you sure you’re alright? You haven’t been Obliviated? Not getting sick or anything? Day off, Draco. Day off! You’re not allowed to feel like shite on our day off.”
“I think I slept strangely,” Draco said.
Harry threw his arms around Draco’s neck.
“You’re a very strange person, so that tracks,” he said, and let his bones melt as he leaned into a thorough kiss. He almost groaned out loud when Draco broke it prematurely.
“I’d still like to do something nice for dinner. I’ll cook. Let’s go down to the larder, see what looks good. Perhaps we could pull up a couple of bottles of wine.”
“Plenty of leftovers,” he said. “I’d rather waste our afternoon on more carnal pursuits.”
“I’d like to cook you something fancy.” Draco climbed to his feet, pulling Harry along to the kitchen.
“You can’t cook.”
“As it happens, I am an excellent cook,” Draco said. He pulled Harry across the kitchen to the cellar door, and settled in behind him, hands on his hips, breath in his ear. “Open the door, Harry. Let me cook you something good. Let me spoil you.” His voice got lower, seductive. “You can eat dessert off my stomach.”
“That door doesn’t open, Draco. It hasn’t opened for years.” Harry pulled away.
“It does, though,” Draco said, letting Harry escape, and stepping closer. “There’s probably some lovely things down there. Just think. Cheeses, and cured meats…”
“No,” Harry said, smiling, but his skin felt like it might just fly away and leave the rest of him behind. “We have plenty of food in the kitchen.”
Draco woke clutching at his throat, struggling to breathe, on his hands and knees on the floor. He felt rather like he’d been hit by the Hogwarts Express. He rolled onto his back, coughing and wheezing.
“Harry Potter,” he said out loud. “You are a pain in the arse, do you know that?”
He sat up, a few minutes later, when his breathing had returned to normal, and he dropped into the armchair by Harry’s bedside. Harry, of course, hadn’t moved. Not a twitch. Nothing but the rapid movement of his eyes under those pale lids, shot through with pale blue veins. He reached for Harry’s hand, and held it, gently running his thumb over the inside of Harry’s wrist.
“Psychiatry is very difficult with people who talk. It’s a damn sight harder when they won’t even wake up. I think I understand some of this, you know. You’ve constructed this life, and this house, hidden everything away in it that you don’t want to think about. We have to open every last one of those doors, Potter, or I’m never going to be able to wake you up.”
He cast a quick Tempus.
“I have other patients to get to,” he said. “I’ll be back this evening. I have an idea. But if you could just wake up and be all indignant, I think it would be better for both of us. You think?”
He smoothed Potter’s hair off his forehead, taking a moment to glance at the old lightning-shaped scar. He let his fingers linger over Potter’s smooth cheek. He did look good. That didn’t make any of this more tragic, but Draco had eyes, he couldn’t pretend he couldn’t see it.
“If you wake up,” he said, quietly, “I think I’d like to get to know you, Potter. We grew up. I’d like to see who you grew up into. Please, don’t die like this.”
Tosser or not, Potter had led a pretty sodding miserable life. This didn’t seem like a very fair way for it to end.
Later that evening, Draco brought a small desk into Potter’s room. He opened out the map that Granger and —
No. Scratch that. Empathy. Empathy. People said it couldn’t be taught, but it had taken time for Draco to trust it. A different sort of magic. Harmonising with another person’s thoughts, figuring out the best way to reach them. And the fact that this was Harry Potter, whom Draco had hated and adored all through school — through a war that he didn’t think either one of them would ever recover from — didn’t change it. Calling him Potter, using the old names he’d used for his friends, it was all old, ugly habits designed to keep distance between them.
Draco opened out the map that Hermione and Ron had drawn for him, Ron’s untidy lines and appalling handwriting corrected or enhanced by Hermione’s immaculate script, and sat down to study it, quill in his hand so that he could make some notes, and start another version of the map. He had barely started, ands considering a pot of tea, when he heard swearing in the Floo.
Annoyed, Draco climbed out of his chair and left Harry’s room, locking it behind him. A gesture at the Floo and a familiar shape toppled out.
Luc. Luc, dressed like… that. Feeling neglected, perhaps.
“Topher,” said Luc, brushing ash from his leather pants. “I cannot believe you locked me out of your Floo.” He pouted for a moment, but his attention span was as short as his t-shirt was tight and soon he was stepping uncomfortably close. “We’re going dancing in Rome. Come with.”
Draco shook his head. “I’m working. A lot, at the moment. I don’t think I’ll have a lot of time for a social life for the next few weeks.”
This was partially true. But mostly a load of horse shite. Few knew better than Draco how important it was to take proper rest, to recover and recharge. But somewhere between his brain and his tongue, his essential self had seen the opportunity to make an excuse for the rest he really needed.
“Weeks?” Luc pouted again. He was wearing eyeliner, a little mascara, as if he needed anything to make him look prettier than he already was, with his messy black hair and his green eyes. “Tant pis. You know I can come by when you have some time in the evenings, help you relax…”
Draco closed his hand over Luc’s wrist, stopping him before his fingertips could curl into the waistband of Draco’s trousers.
“I’ll be in touch when things are quieter,” he said, all business. “If not with you, I’ll call Aditi. For now, I need to close the wards on my Floo. You understand.”
Luc’s eyes flashed. He did understand. He’d always known their deal. No strings, no sleepovers and no attachments. Partly because Luc worked elsewhere in the hospital but mostly because Draco had never had much interest in strings, sleepovers or attachments. And when they did go out, he preferred not to plan who to go home with until the absolute last minute.
“Have fun,” he said brightly, gesturing at the Floo. “Say hello to everyone.”
Luc narrowed his eyes.
“Fuck you, Black,” he said, in a tone that straddled the line between playful and righteously pissed off. But he was gone in a flash of green flames, and Draco re-set his wards. For the foreseeable future, no one would be coming through without a specific invitation. He returned to Harry’s bedside.
“I hope you didn’t have to listen to all of that. He’s not that bad, really. Just persistent. I don’t know when I realised my late twenties had become my… very, very late twenties. But he hasn’t got the memo yet. I mean, fair play to him, and all. He can stick his knob wherever he likes. Might be about time I encouraged him to stop pointing it at me, is all.”
He brought his wand down close to Harry’s face and checked that his pupils were still responsive to the soft Lumos.
“You’re still in there, then,” Draco said. “Good. I’m not thrilled with the idea of doing another swan-dive through hell, but I’ll do it, as long as you’re prepared for a chat at the end. Definitely time we made some progress here, though. I wish I had some idea of why you’ve got me in there with you. If it’s just because I’m the one visiting, or…”
Not prepared to finish that sentence. He took a tub of a moisturising potion. Harry’s skin was dry, and skin contact was good for patients who had experienced trauma. Draco began with his hands, and his arms. His hands were calloused and his arms bore a thousand small scars. Why? Most spell-damage could be healed completely. How much damage did it take to leave this kind of a mess?
“Maybe I should try to bring Hermione down with you, but your menagerie of horrors might put the dear Minister’s knickers in something of a twist, d’you think? Maybe one of your actress girlfriends. Or Gisella Warbeck. Would you be trying to talk them out of their clothes? You know Gran- Hermione is the only one of your so-called friends who so much as hinted that the reason these fairy-tale romances of yours don’t end in… a fairy-tale romance is that you might prefer dating Gisella Warbeck’s brother. Though I’ve heard he’s a dreadful flirt who never puts out. Maybe you’ve got that in common. Cheeky bastard,” he added under his breath. He unbuttoned Harry’s shirt.
“Perhaps that can wait,” he said gently. “Fuck, Pot- Harry,” he said. “What happened to you?”
Maybe he was just prone to scarring. The one the back of his hand that read I must not tell lies didn’t seem to have faded much since school. But in almost twenty years working as a Healer Draco had never seen anyone with so many scars.
He began to rub the potion into Harry’s skin, trying not to think about the knotted scars beneath his fingers. “It doesn’t matter. I suppose it’s a numbers game, in the end. We might talk about your tendency t throw yourself into the line of fire, some day.”
He carefully buttoned up Harry’s pyjama shirt again, and adjusted the blanket.
Task completed, Draco sat in front of his desk for a few more minutes. He had a new journal for his findings, and at the top of the page, he wrote the date. He had two aims, for this session; to try to buy some more time, and to convince Harry to open one of the doors.
He looked over the map for a few more minutes. No way to know if he could choose one just yet, but he wanted to remember as much as he could about the rooms in the real house, so that he might be able to anticipate what the house in Harry’s mind might be concealing.
“Alright, Harry. Four drops. I’ve set an alarm so I can’t get lost, but I’d appreciate you not pushing me out, this time, if you can help it, alright?”
Harry opened his eyes. The sun was warm on his face — it was later than he’d expected. He’d slept in. He smiled into the pillow as he felt Draco move behind him. He pretended he was still asleep, and after a moment, he felt Draco’s chest press against his back, Draco’s arms moving around him, warm breath on the back of his neck.
He had to get up. He had to go to work. He…
He brought Draco’s hand to his lips, and kissed his palm, pulled a finger between his lips.
“I just remembered,” he said.
“Day off,” Draco murmured into his warm shoulder.
“We should celebrate.” He rolled over in Draco’s arms. He didn’t move, for a long time, just memorising all over again every line on his face, the pale grey of his irises, those impossibly long eyelashes, golden where the light caught.
“What did you have in mind?”
No one else ever got to see Draco like this, with all his corners buffed out. This was only for Harry.
“Well, do we start with sex, or breakfast? Are you hungry?”
Draco smiled indulgently. “Not hungry. I just want to look at you. Can I look at you, Harry?”
Harry sighed, and moved closer, brushing a warm kiss over Draco’s mouth.
“Only if I can look at you.”
Draco pushed his hair away from his eyes. “Tell me a story.”
“I don’t know any good stories.”
“Tell me about our first kiss,” Draco said, and Harry didn’t really feel like it but there was nothing quite like being the sole focus of Draco Malfoy’s affection.
“I could re-create it, if you like,” Harry said, in a voice as slutty as he could manage.
Draco snickered, and shook his head. “Tell me.”
Harry sighed dramatically. “Well, you remember. Sixth year. Remember how I followed you around. Fucking pathetic, really. And I followed you out of the Great Hall, and I found you in the bathroom.”
For a moment, Draco looked panicked, and Harry could have sworn his body tensed. Well, sappy as he could be himself, he couldn’t always deal with Harry’s sap.
“And you were upset. You’d been crying. I can’t remember for the life of me why it was, can you?” He chewed on his lip; it really didn’t matter. Funny thing to forget, though. “You told me to fuck off, but I didn’t. We talked a while, and you said something unconscionably rude about me staring at your mouth — maybe you asked me if there was something between your teeth. So I kissed you. The end,” he said, tightening his arm across Draco’s back.
“Happily ever after?”
“So far, you git, but am I going to get a blowjob this morning, or do I have to make you breakfast first?”
“You can’t poach an egg to save yourself. We can do it together, though.”
Harry felt a touch of unease as he climbed reluctantly out of bed. He pulled on a pair of old sweatpants that he knew Draco hated (“Muggle rags”) but that he also knew made Draco stare at his arse, and he was going to get a shag after breakfast if he had to strip naked and wiggle said arse in Draco’s face.
“D’you ever think it’s funny, how these doors don’t open, Harry?”
Harry shook his head, and sped down the corridor. “I’m sure it’s for a good reason. When Sirius comes back from his holidays I’ll ask him.” Down the stairs. Away from the strange hint of something being very wrong upstairs, Draco’s strange questions. It was his day off. He didn’t want to think about doors and things. He wanted to argue about the crossword and eat breakfast and get a shag and stretch out on the couch with his head on Draco’s thigh while Draco read out loud.
“We should get Ron and Hermione around for lunch,” Draco said, as he Summoned a couple of pans from the cupboard.
“Not today. They’re proper grownups, remember, kids and all.”
He ignored the curious expression on Draco’s face and busied himself with the bacon instead.
“Have we got sausages?”
“No,” Harry said. “Bacon’s better anyway.”
“I fancy a sausage, though. Maybe down in the larder.”
“If you want a sausage, I’ve got one for you,” Harry said. “There’s nothing in the larder. Not for years. That door won’t open. You know that.”
“Mmm. I could check.”
“You don’t need to,” Harry said, his teeth beginning to buzz. “Please, Draco. It’s my day off. I don’t want to argue about sausages when we’ve enough bacon to sink a small battleship.”
He felt Draco come in behind him, soothing, hands on his waist. “I’m sorry, darling. Bacon.”
Harry dropped his head back onto Draco’s shoulder. “I love it when you call me darling. I love you, you know. Do I say it often enough?”
He felt an answering smile against his throat. “You’re an appalling sap. You sound like a second-year Hufflepuff. No arguing, then.”
Harry relaxed. They made breakfast and read the paper. No real news, there never really was, but eventually, Harry found the crossword, and that was enough to stay occupied for a while.
“Think I’ll go and have a shower,” Draco said, eventually. “Want to join me?”
“You don’t need a shower,” Harry said, shaking his head. “I’m just going to get you all sweaty again.”
“No, I think I’ll have a shower. And you should come with me. I’ll make it worth your while,” Draco said. “Just think. All slippery…”
“No,” Harry said, alarmed. Draco was already halfway up the stairs. “Draco. No! Malfoy, no, don’t,” and he was running up the stairs behind Draco but it was like one of those terrible dreams where you can’t move fast enough, and Draco was already up on the landing. “Draco!”
“Bet you I’ll drop the soap!” Draco called down the stairs. “Here I go! Whoops, there go my pyjama pants.”
“It’s not safe in there!” Harry shouted, but his voice was as thick and slow and useless as his feet. He heard the click of the door opening, the terrible hiss of the basilisk, and then Draco’s screams. “Draco! No!”
Please note the update to the warnings; this chapter includes previous abuse at the hands of the Dursleys.
Hermione checked the clock approximately every six seconds, which did absolutely nothing to make the time pass any faster. Draco was due at noon, and it was already eleven minutes past, and she was fretting. All she ever really seemed to do was fret, these days. It didn’t matter that Harry was getting the best possible care. He was so far away. She couldn’t sit at his bedside in the evenings and talk to him, and she still wasn’t sure she could trust Malfoy to do that. Talk to him. Be kind.
Tell him how important it was that he come home.
Finally, the door opened, and Hermione stood up.
“Healer Black,” she said, as Parvati let him into her office. “Was there a problem with the Portkey?”
“Breathe, Minister Granger,” he said, sounding bored. “I do try to be punctual, but I’ll remind you if I must that I have dozens of patients. I was forced to delay a few minutes.”
“No, I… I apologise. You look pale.”
Draco nodded brusquely. “I’m quite alright. You’ll remember that pale does tend to run in the family, Minister. May I assume you received my owl?”
“I did. Auror Patil will show you Harry’s office, and then —”
“I will also need to collect some things from the house. And there are questions.”
“I will have some rather invasive personal questions. Which will need to be answered.”
“I — yes,” Hermione said. “Anything. Of course. Send a Patronus when you’re ready and I can meet you anywhere you like.”
“I’ll need to speak to Mr Weasley, as well. Ron, specifically, I know there are a lot of them. Separately. I know the three of you are close, but if there is any chance at all that there are answers that might differ if you are together I need to keep you apart. This isn’t negotiable, I’m afraid. I’m sure you understand. Perhaps it would be easier if Ron took me to the house again.”
Draco couldn’t possibly know that there was nothing the three of them didn’t share, but she nodded. Let him double up on answers. Ron would be happy to show him through the house again, as long as he was wearing this face, and not the other one.
“Before I begin, I want to ask a question of you.” Draco indicated the small meeting table, and Hermione stepped out from behind her desk, stepping carefully past piles of books to sit in the chair that Draco had pulled out for her.
“The year after the war, Hogwarts was closed for repairs.”
Hermione nodded. “Yes. It took some time. The castle herself helped, of course, but there was a lot of work to do. Harry and Ron and I were there for months, helping, until Ron and I went to Australia, to —”
Draco waited patiently. If only he’d worn his old expression of revulsion, she might have kept her composure better.
“I went to try to correct my parents’ memories. But it didn’t work. We came back. Ron and I did our seventh year when the school re-opened, but Harry had received dispensation to begin Auror training.”
“We were surprised he took it, really.”
“He’s never liked feeling like he got anything he didn’t earn.” She fiddled with a quill on her desk. “We thought he’d want to get his NEWTs.”
“Did he say why?”
Hermione sighed. “I think he just couldn’t bear to be at Hogwarts anymore. Knowing what he’d lost. Those memories. Is there anything else?”
Draco jotted a couple of lines in a small journal. “So you and Ron graduated, and then?”
“Well. We got into Auror training, but at the last minute Ron decided against it.”
“And you broke up.”
Hermione sighed. “It was a formality, by then. Is this really relevant?”
“Yes, it is. And after Ron left training and started working at his brother’s shop. Did you see much of Harry?”
“When did you start calling him by his first name?”
Draco was still collected, but he didn’t answer, just waited.
“You don’t know what it was like,” Hermione said.
“I’ll take that as a ‘no’.”
“You don’t know what it was like,” Hermione said, again. “The three of us… every time we looked at each other, we were back in the thick of it. You can’t know how many times we nearly died. How frightened we were, all the time.”
“Of course I don’t,” Draco said, raising an eyebrow. “I spent the war eating bonbons and going to Pureblood courting dances.”
“I didn’t say that,” Hermione said, raising her voice. She cast Muffliato, afraid she wouldn’t be able to keep her voice low. “I didn’t. I’m sure it was hard for you. But Harry… what he went through… and Ron was a wreck, half destroyed. He worked at the shop for a while and then he went to stay with Bill and Fleur at Shell Cottage, so he could recover properly. That’s where he got to know Gabrielle. I got a training position in the investigative division, and Harry was working in the field. So no. For a little while there we didn’t see very much of each other at all.”
Hermione felt bitter tears blur her eyes.
“I couldn’t look at him, Draco. You know, he never once asked us to help. He didn’t. And he planned to go by himself and we said he was an idiot for thinking we wouldn’t follow anyway. And then, in the end… I loved him, I did, but I hated what we went through because we were his friends. And there were days when I hated him for it.”
Hermione dropped her face into her hands, and sobbed.
It was probably almost twenty years overdue, really, and the almost hilarious thought struck her that Draco really had to be a very good psychiatrist. She was not, however, expecting to hear his chair move closer, or expecting him to slip his arms around her body so that she could cry into his shoulder.
“I left him, Draco. Harry was my best friend and we survived the war together, and I left him all alone. We didn’t say a word to each other for almost two years, and I told myself it was because we were both so busy. He was always in the papers. Winning an award. Going to a party with some famous Witch on his arm. Making speeches and donations and then… winning another fucking award, and sometimes I resented that Ron and I — we were just the other two.”
He didn’t tell her not to cry. He didn’t tell her it wasn’t her fault. He didn’t try to tell her what he’d been through, though she was suddenly desperate to know. He just let her cry. And when she was done, and her eyes were burning, and she was so embarrassed that she thought she might die, Draco carefully pulled away.
“I shouldn’t have been sarcastic,” he said, quietly. “There’s something about being back here that brings out the nasty little shithead I was back in school. I’m actually rather nice, these days, not that I’d expect anyone to believe me.”
Hermione conjured a handkerchief to wipe her eyes, and her nose.
“I think I’d believe it, actually,” she said. “What’s your secret?”
“Honestly?” Draco said. “Five years of therapy, along with another fifteen of providing therapy. Not one single person in this generation can ever hope to spend a day unaffected by the war. Not your fault, and not mine. Our choices play such a small part in it.”
Hermione frowned, trying to parse that. “Do you really believe that?”
Draco nodded. “I know that. When someone hands you two different types of poison, and tells you that you can choose which one to take, it’s not much of a choice at all, is it?”
Alright. He had a point. “But Harry —”
“Harry Potter, cursed as he was with a conscience, a destiny, and far too much responsibility for any one person to bear, had less choice than any of us.”
Hermione felt chastened. And she still wasn’t sure she agreed; but there was definitely something there to think about. Draco sat back in his chair, with a contemplative expression on his face. He reached for his quill, and made a few more notes.
“Please just tell me you’re making progress.”
Draco gave her a half-smile, and even with that unfamiliar face pasted over his own it was a distinctly Malfoy half-smile.
“I am a genius, Granger,” he said, conjuring his boyhood spite over their competitions for the highest marks. “And if I hadn’t made any progress at all, I can assure you I wouldn’t be here looking for even more clues. Do try not to spend the afternoon beating yourself up. If it wouldn’t offend, I’d like to suggest a couple of therapists in London who might be able to help you.”
It took a couple of moments her Hermione to realise he wasn’t just tossing her an insult. Of course he wasn’t. He was a psychiatrist himself; he would hardly belittle his own occupation, not with his ego.
“Thank you,” she said, wiping her nose. “It’s not necessary.”
He didn’t respond to that.
“Ron liked you,” Hermione said, suddenly. Changing the subject, maybe, but more to the point she wanted Draco to know. “I saw him after you visited Twelve Grimmauld Place. He was very enthusiastic. He— he left us, you know. During the war. When we were hunting the Horcruxes. He left.”
Draco waited patiently for an explanation.
“Just for a few weeks. But I don’t think he’s ever forgiven himself for that. I don’t even know if I have ever forgiven him, quite. But Harry wasn’t even angry. All he remembers is that Ron came back.”
After a long silence, Draco nodded, and climbed to his feet. “No need to get up, Minister,” he said. “I’m sure Auror Patil can show me to Harry’s office. I’ll talk to you later today.”
She nodded, slumping in her chair, as he walked gracefully to the door.
“Wait,” she said, hurriedly rushing for her desk. She pulled out a small leather satchel. “I made you this. You said you wanted to take some things from the house. And maybe from his office. I’m rather good with Undetectable Extension Charms. This will make it easier to get everything back.”
“Thank you, Minister,” he said, taking the gift, and he was gone, and Hermione was left with guilt and shame and wishing that Blaise could come and hold her while she cried the other half of her tears.
Parvati stood by the door, her face impassive.
“Did you work with him much?”
She shook her head.
Draco shrugged. “I heard you were friends, that’s all.” He pulled a drawer open, and flipped through the files. He didn’t really care about any of them. This wasn’t a potion gone wrong or a misfired hex. Harry had decided to get down low and stay there, but Draco needed the time to poke around in his office.
“We were at school together,” was all she said, but Draco flicked his eyes up and Parvati looked sad.
“Oh,” Draco said, pulling out a pile of files and pretending to look through them.
“We went to a dance together in fourth year. You must have heard about the Tri-wizard Tournament?”
“Or the… Four-wizard Tournament,” Draco said, feigning disinterest.
“That would be the one. There was a ball that Christmas. He took me, but he ignored me all night. Still, he’s a good man. I hope you… Well, you know what I hope. We’d all be dead without him.”
Draco looked up, and Parvati met his eyes.
“D’you know anything about the case he was supposed to get pulled into the day they found him up here?”
Draco had already seen the thin mattress than had been shrunk down to the size of a novel and placed on a shelf. He wondered who had done that. Maybe they didn’t like the idea of anyone knowing that this was where he’d gone to sleep, on his day off, and never returned.
“I only know it wasn’t his,” Parvati muttered in reply. “I’ll wait in the corridor. Let me know if you need help.”
“Hallo,” Ron said in a stage whisper, opening the door, as the strange guest stepped over the threshold. “Listen, I don’t want to use your last name in case the old bat hears. Can I call you Chris?”
The Healer raised his eyebrows. “Most people call me Topher.”
“Topher. Right, then.” Ron stepped carefully past the portrait of Walburga Black and directed Topher into the sitting room. “Hermione — the Minister — said I should help you find anything you need, and that you could take anything you need away with you. So…?”
Topher looked around the room. He looked less like he was trying to find something than like he was taking measure of this and that, but what Ron didn’t know about psychiatrists… he didn’t want to ask, or disturb. He just wanted Harry back.
“I understand there are some photograph albums,” Topher said.
“Oh — yeah!” Ron replied, turning toward the over-stuffed bookcase. The bottom shelf held several photograph albums, all enormous. He lifted two, and dangled them awkwardly, unsure where to put them. Topher took a satchel from his shoulder and held it open.
“Hermione’s a bloody genius, isn’t she,” he said, turning away, because the satchel reminded him of the tiny beaded purse they’d all lived out of for so many months.
Topher set the bag on the sofa. “Looks like you cleaned up.”
“Well, a bit,” Ron admitted, uncomfortably. He’d hated the way the house looked before. Hadn’t realised how bad it was, outside of Harry’s bedroom… not that the bedroom was much better.
“It looks lovely,” Topher said, and even though it was an obvious lie, Ron seized on it.
“It’s a nice old house. Feels like it’s been asleep a while. It used to communicate a lot better.”
“They do that, when there’s been no one home for a while.” Topher paused. “She. Not it.”
Ron didn’t know how to respond to that, so he just followed Topher to the kitchen, where he was opening all the cupboards and drawers.
“Something you’re looking for, mate?”
Topher frowned. “Yes. No!” He pulled a bottle of Firewhiskey from the pantry, and Summoned a couple of mugs. He seemed a bit more real, suddenly, and Ron felt himself relaxing. “Honestly, it’s been a rough few weeks and I fancy a drink. You’ll join me, right?”
“I’m a posh git by profession, not preference,” Topher said, and Ron laughed, dropping into a chair by the small kitchen table. Seemed barking mad that the thing could fit thirty people when it needed to, but it was being small, for now. He took the mug, and bumped it against Topher’s.
“He’s an interesting fellow, your Harry Potter,” Topher said.
“You don’t know the half of it. Harry’s brilliant.”
“Oh!” Topher said, swinging in his chair and crossing his arms on the table. “I heard a rumour about you, Ronald.”
“Call me Ron. What’s the rumour?”
“Ron, then. That suits you better.” Topher winked. “Heard that once upon a time, you and the Minister were… smoochy.”
Ron flushed. “Long time ago now, mate. We’re still friends, and all. Just didn’t work out.”
“Funny,” Topher said. “Figured the Hero of the Wizarding World would have been the one to get the girl. Cheers, on behalf of the little guys. Well played.”
Ron laughed. “You’re not nearly as stuck-up as I thought you might be. Nah, Harry and Hermione never… I mean, I don’t think Harry ever really…”
He felt something prickle the back of his neck.
“Oh,” Topher said. “Say no more.”
“I didn’t say anything, though.”
Ron’s eyebrows shot up.
“I mean,” he said. “I told you, he always has some girl on his arm for events, you know.”
“But that’s all PR nonsense. I used to be friends with one of the most famous opera singers in Italy, you know. She was a total pussy hound. Her manager always trotted out some good-looking bloke for her to take to functions, but I knew her better. She stopped that nonsense. Stopped performing, too, she was bored to tears. Got married to this terrific girl in Tuscany and they bought a vineyard. She still teaches, though.”
Ron watched Topher’s face for a few moments.
“It’s not like he ever dated a bloke,” he said carefully. “But I wondered.”
“Not even in school?” Topher took a sip, and laughed. “Oh, you don’t have to tell me. It doesn’t make any difference to the treatment. I’m curious, that’s all. Not like I can share anything with the press, thanks to your ex-girlfriend’s magical blood quill.”
Ron relaxed a little more, and Topher topped up their mugs.
“Well, if it’s just between us,” he said.
“I don’t think he ever dated a bloke. Not like he’d have found the time, really, and if he had I don’t think he could’ve kept it a secret, and really, why would he? It’s not the 19th century. No one cares. But he’s never talked about it, you know?” Ron had wondered, though. Harry spent most of his holidays with Charlie, and…
Topher nodded, but didn’t say anything. He didn’t look like he was about to dissolve into some sort of Muggle-appropriate fit about it, or anything.
“But there was this… I mean, at school. I told you he had an enemy, right? Only they were sort of obsessed with each other. Sometimes it seemed like…”
Ron thought about how many times Harry had tried to talk about Draco Malfoy when he just wanted to play Quidditch or talk about girls or, Godric forgive him, even do his homework. And in sixth year, when Harry had stalked Malfoy like an obsessed fan. But he’d hated Malfoy. And what did Ron know?
“I don’t know.”
“People,” Topher said. “Sometimes I wish they’d just say what was on their mind.”
“Yeah,” Ron agreed, enthusiastically.
“Listen, before I forget. Part of my process is a little mind-reading. No, not… well, it’s like that, but really, I take a dip into someone’s dream. And last week a strange thing happened with Auror… with Harry,” he corrected. “There was a bathroom, in the dream. At least I think it was a bathroom. It was enormous, though. And there was a snake. Huge! D’you have any idea what that might have been about? Is he afraid of snakes?”
Ron felt his skin crawl.
“I know someone you could talk to about that,” he said, far too quickly. “I’ll get her to Floo you or something. Now, what else do you want to look at? Only I have to get back to the shop.”
Topher looked at him in a way that made Ron feel seen all over, and then he smiled.
“I’m in no rush. The Minister said if I want to waste a little time poking in corners, you could go home. Or back to work in that marvellous shop of yours. She showed me a photograph of your daughters — they are a lovely pair. Congratulations.”
Ron stood up, blushing. “They’re great, they are,” he said. “Floo me if you need me.”
He had never been so glad to leave Grimmauld Place in his life.
Draco could not have felt less comfortable stepping out of Hermione’s Floo.
“I’ve never seen a man so direly in need of a drink,” Blaise said, shaking his hand. It as almost strange to see him in Muggle jeans and a t-shirt with a sweater over the top; but probably, having to spend all day every day at work in those robes and with a hood he needed to feel as distant from that as possible.
“That’s quite possible,” Draco said, pretending he wasn’t stifling a yawn.
He realised as he followed Blaise into the sitting room that he missed Potter. No matter how bizarre their moments together were, he missed the man. Draco missed who he was in those dreams. No sarcasm, or at least, nothing starkly mean. He was playing a part, yes.
But that didn’t make it less real.
Hermione was sitting at a desk in the corner, apparently responding to a few last-minute owls. She shot Draco a grateful smile and continued her scribbling, and a few minutes later, Blaise responded to a knock on the door and went to accept a couple of pizzas.
Weird. Draco raised an eyebrow.
After they had eaten, in near-silence, Harry crossed his arms over his lap.
“May I be blunt?” he asked.
“Of course,” Hermione replied. “I think you need to be.”
“Alright. I have some personal information to share. I’m not sure it’s appropriate for Blaise to be here. However, I do recognise that he has some skills, and may be able to help. I also recognise that this… whatever this is,” he said, waving in their general direction, “may well mean that anything I tell you, Minist… Hermione, you will share with him. So I ask you as Harry’s medical proxy — should I ask Blaise to leave?”
“Go ahead,” she said. Draco turned to Blaise.
“How do you feel about Harry?” he asked.
Blaise didn’t waver.
“He saved my life just as sure as anyone else’s. We’ve worked closely together at times, and Draco, he’s as good as they say and then some.”
Draco felt that now-familiar wave of anger threaten to peak again. He ignored it. He had a job to do, and if he had more than one set of interests to deal with then he would deal with them. “You want him back. In the professional sense.”
“Yes. But not at the expense of everything else. We’re not heartless. Harry’s my friend. Auror or not, he’s my friend.” Blaise’s expression was severe and serious and Draco believed him.
“My first and only concern is the well-being of my patient,” he said, sitting up stiffly.
“Good,” Hermione said. “Go on.”
“Harry has constructed a world in his mind. It is very consistent. It is very secure. And he doesn’t want to leave. Every attempt that I have made to work against his wishes has resulted in some catastrophe or another. I am pushed out of his head, I am attacked by a basilisk. He has doors in the house which he has sealed closed in various ways and until I can find a way to get him to talk about them I am completely stuck. It’s been a month since you brought him to Naples, Hermione, and the only real progress I’ve made is figuring out some of the reasons he doesn’t want me to make any progress.”
Hermione nodded dumbly.
“What happens,” she said at last, “when he sees you?”
Draco steeled himself. “In this world, we appear to be involved in a relationship. Both romantic and sexual in nature. It appears to have begun in Sixth Year at Hogwarts. He doesn’t speak of the war. He believes that his Godfather is on some kind of holiday. He has said on numerous occasions that we can’t have you and Ron to the house because you have two small children to care for. The reality inside his mind bears little similarity to the real world.”
“You’re shagging Harry Potter in his dreams?” Blaise said, at long last.
“Oh for — Zabini, I am a mental health professional. Harry Potter is trying very hard to shag me in his dreams. I assume that when I am not there, he is enjoying a very vigorous sex life with a figment of his imagination, but I have been rather too preoccupied with attempts to open some of the doors around the house and keep him talking to take him up on his repeated and passionate offers. Are we clear?”
Blaise and Hermione shared a long look. Draco sipped his wine and tried not to hate them both. Hating them both would serve no real purpose, of course. He scratched his forehead.
“What does he do in his spare time?” Draco asked, deliberately softening his voice.
Hermione cleared her throat. “Well,” she said. “He likes to get out into the community. There has been a lot of building, of course. There are three new orphanages since the war and Harry is very passionate about that.”
“Well, that sounds like a lovely break from work,” Draco deadpanned. “What about holidays?”
“He’s behind, of course,” Hermione admitted. “But he loves to go to Romania and spend time with Charlie Weasley, and the dragons. There’s always so much to do. And he enjoys it,” she almost shouted, afterwards.
Draco nodded slowly. He shifted his body language and leaned back in his chair. “Merlin. Dragons. That does sound like fun.”
Hermione frowned as if it was only now dawning on her that it might not be an especially restful way to spend a holiday.
Hermione Granger was a good person and en excellent Minister of Magic.
Ronald Weasley was a good person and apparently a kind father, too, a good husband.
Blaise Zabini was a dedicated professional who managed to holiday with his famous girlfriend every year.
And despite all of that, Harry Potter was buried a thousand kilometres underground in the only reality he could manage.
How obscene would it be to let him live there? Apparently Draco wasn’t even needed for it to work. Perhaps the dream Draco did a better job than he ever could. It was a thought that Draco couldn’t examine too closely. The last thing he wanted to have to confront was a conflict of interest borne from a twenty-five year old crush.
“Thank you for your help,” Draco said, standing and reaching for his satchel. “I think I’ve been away from Auror Potter for long enough.”
He sat by Harry’s bedside for at least three or four hours after he arrived back in Naples, thinking. And then, following no other protocol but instinct, Draco crept up onto the bed. He stretched out, his head on Harry’s shoulder and his arm draped happily over his stomach.
“I want you to wake up, but I won’t blame you if you decide not to, Harry,” he murmured, as the sun began to peek over the horizon, pinking up the window.
Draco’s worst mistake — or perhaps his most fortuitous one — happened less than two weeks later.
The nursery — which, Draco had realised very late, he himself had slept in sometimes as a child — was the room behind the door that had been drawn on in crayon, with no clear way to open it.
But Draco had been transported to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry many, many times. And the other secret platforms as well. And he knew that sometimes, a solid was not a solid, and that all he needed to step through was that knowledge.
Which was why, with Harry downstairs making breakfast without sausages or anything else that might be found in the larder, he stepped through the wall.
In the moments he had for reflection, he was glad that every time he stepped into Harry Potter’s spectacularly fucked-up head he had experienced the same shoulder dislocation, because even though it wasn’t real, and wasn’t his own memory, it hurt like fuck and Draco’s belief that responding would hurt Harry more than it hurt him meant that he was able to keep himself silent. Through the dislocated shoulder, the smack to the back of the head that made him see stars, the slaps to the back of the thighs. And he was being tossed into what he had first thought was a nursery, but turned out to be something significantly smaller.
Actually, it seemed like a cupboard. Under a set of stairs. How strange.
He thought he was alone, but when he sank down onto the end of the tiny, thin, lumpy mattress to give himself time to figure things out he realised that Harry Potter, aged perhaps six or seven years old, was sitting at his side.
Harry didn’t respond.
“Harry? Are you alright?”
But he wasn’t, of course. He held his arm to his chest, bright bruises already blooming on his shoulder. I was no longer dislocated; Draco knew well enough that the joint had been pulled out and then slipped back in moments. But it obviously still hurt, and badly. Harry was breathing strangely, and tears poured from his green eyes, but he was determined not to make a sound. Draco imagined himself, at this age; whatever age it was. Harry looked like he might be small for his age. He’d have screamed until the paint started peeling off the walls.
“Can you show me, Harry?” he asked, and reached across to take Harry’s arm. Perhaps he could heal it. He knew enough wandless healing spells. He’d even created some.
But no, it seemed he couldn’t interact, here. His hand went through Harry’s shoulder and Harry didn’t so much as flinch.
Draco heard a burst of nervous laughter outside the cupboard, and frowned. He climbed to his feet, and in the spirit of experimentation stepped out of the cupboard, through the closed door. But it didn’t lead his back to the landing; he was in a hideously decorated house. At a kitchen table sat a little boy — well. Young, anyway — a tall, highly-strung woman with a hairstyle that looked like it might have been set in concrete and an immensely large man who had a napkin tucked into the top of his shirt.
“Leave him be, Petunia,” the man said, sounding annoyed. “That little freak has to learn one way or another, and he doesn’t learn when we tell him! Can’t be pushing Dudley over when he doesn’t get his own way.”
The woman, Petunia, looked disinclined to argue, but glanced at the door of the cupboard. No one saw Draco. Which was a pity, since it meant he probably couldn’t transfigure them all into shoes.
“I’ll bring him a potato or two,” the woman said, but her husband shouted.
“He doesn’t need any bloody potatoes, Petunia, he needs to learn a lesson. And people learn lessons when there are consequences. We need to train him like a dog. He’s too stupid to take anything else in. There are worrying defects in your genetic line, Petunia. Worrying defects.”
Draco didn’t need to hear any more. He stepped through the wall again. Harry had carefully arranged himself so he was lying down without putting too much pressure on his shoulder. Light seeped through the slats and patterned his face.
It looked to Draco like the bars of a cage.
“One day,” he said, knowing that there was nothing he could do to help a memory, but needing to speak nonetheless, “you’ll be loved, Harry. You’ll be so loved.”
He wished he could offer a reassuring touch of some kind. Brush Harry’s hair away from his face the way his mother would have done it, once. Held him, perhaps, until he fell asleep.
But this little boy hadn’t existed for a very long time.
He stayed by Harry’s side until the sounds of life in the house disappeared. The boy was coaxed to bed, despite wanting to watch the television for ‘five more minutes’, over and over again. The man had to be drinking. His voice got more slurred as the evening went on and the woman eventually coaxed him up the stairs as well.
Harry was still awake, listening.
Eventually, when all the sounds had died out, he sat up, got to his feet and pushed the cupboard door open. His shoulder was still in place, but it was swollen and bruised and Draco hoped that perhaps he was about to run away from home — from the house, really, this was not a home, and apparently never had been. The idea that Harry Potter had been raised to know how special and important he was, showered with gifts and praise, was gone. Draco hated that he’d ever made such an assumption.
Harry dragged a folded-up footstool out of his cupboard and pulled it into the kitchen, in front of the sink. And he began to run the water to wash the dishes, favouring his left arm but refusing to make a sound.
And Draco couldn’t watch for another moment.
When Draco stepped back into the house, it was all different.
Or rather — it was Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place the way it was now, in the real present — every surface thick with dust and the gaslights struggling to illuminate the corridor, the landing. The door to Harry’s bedroom was open a fraction and the light in there was stronger, but still weak and watery.
Draco pushed the door open. Harry was sitting on the bed. Older, but no less handsome — in fact Auror Lisbon might have been right, Harry was ageing rather gorgeously with the grey shot through his hair — but somehow defeated-looking, his hands resting on his lap, staring at the fireplace.
“I can’t believe you’d go in there,” Harry said.
“Harry, please —”
Draco stepped closer. Harry didn’t seem to respond. Not with anger, not even with the tell-tale tension that usually seized his shoulders when he was distressed. Draco sat tentatively on the edge of the bed and reached for Harry’s hand, but Harry drew into himself and Draco stopped trying.
“We can talk about it,” Draco said, his voice velvety and soothing. There were magic words. He’d stumbled on them before. “Harry. Darling. You can talk to me about things.”
Harry closed his eyes. “Not today. I don’t want to talk about things today.”
“Why not today?”
He opened his eyes again, and met Draco’s gaze. He looked… fucking exhausted, is what, drained and pale and uncomfortable, fingers hiding in the sleeves of what Draco suddenly recognised as an old hoodie that Harry had worn as a child, too big for him but comfortable, despite the chewed edges of the neckband. He looked like he was grieving. Perhaps he was.
“It’s my day off,” Harry said, and looked away again.
Hermione sat at Harry’s bedside. It was something of a relief. After weeks of sitting with him every night, every chance she had to see him, and watch the rise and fall of his chest, felt like a privilege. A glance at home.
She turned when she heard the door open, and felt a rush of gratefulness when Draco stepped through, dropping his Glamour when he saw who it was.
“Minister,” he said, with a nod and a little bow.
“I wish you could find your way to calling me Hermione,” she said. She watched as Draco cast his diagnostic charms. And cringed as Draco gently pinched the skin on Harry’s arm. “What was that for?”
“The stasis spells can only do so much,” Draco said, quietly. He folded the sheet down and cast a quick spell over Harry’s pyjama top, exposing his chest. Hermione felt herself tense, but Draco seemed to ignore it, reaching for a pot of some sort of potion for Harry’s skin. He was gentle, almost fond, taking his time, massaging it into Harry’s chest and neck carefully before moving to his arms and hands. Hermione only watched.
“I forgot how… he has a lot of scars,” she said quietly. “I suppose these days I don’t see him without a shirt on all that often.”
“I doubt anyone does.”
Harry used to be such a scrawny boy, and as a teenager, wasn’t much less scrawny, really, but now he is all thick, ropy muscle. Draco’s hands were steady and practiced but only perhaps nine-tenths clinical, as his hands moved over Harry’s skin. “Physical contact is important,” Draco said. “Especially magical physical contact. He’s getting a little dehydrated, at times. Mostly I focus on the problem at hand and two other Healers take care of the rest of his physical needs, but…”
“I wasn’t going to say anything.”
Draco grunted, and gestured over the pyjama shirt, which obediently closed. He took Harry’s hand between both of his own, his expression serious, worried, and… Hermione didn’t like to look, but she couldn’t look away, especially when Draco seemed to have forgotten she was there entirely for a moment or two and gently brushed Harry’s hair from his eyes. His hand rested on Harry’s cheek for a few moments, and he murmured something Hermione didn’t believe was a spell.
Hermione cleared her throat and Draco startled, rearranging the sheet over Harry’s body and straightening his spine. “I don’t mean to push, Draco,” she said. “But have you made any progress?”
He nodded jerkily. “I’m not discussing it in here. Some patients wake up and repeat entire conversations that they heard while seemingly unconscious. When you’ve finished sitting with Harry, come and find me. I’ll have an elf deliver you tea.”
Hermione was about to object.
“No. Rubino has been very offended that you continually refuse his hospitality, and I won’t have him taking his bad mood out on anyone else.” Draco nodded once more and closed the door behind him.
Hermione moved her chair closer to the bed, thoroughly chastised. She took Harry’s hand in her own and watched his chest rise and fall.
When she emerged from the room a while later, Draco was sitting at his desk, writing notes in a journal in his beautiful script. He gave her a small smile.
“Did he miraculously wake up and ask for a cup of tea?”
“Did you hear me screaming and crying?” Hermione replied, with her own smile, raising an eyebrow.
“I did not. Another cup?”
“Only if you don’t have anything stronger.”
Draco nodded and crossed to the tiny kitchenette — just a couple of cupboards, space for a kettle, and running water. He opened the cupboard to retrieve a bottle of Firewhiskey and two beautiful old crystal tumblers.
“That’s… is that Pansy Parkinson’s Firewhiskey?”
Draco nodded. “Have you tried it?”
“It’s very good,” Hermione said, reaching for the glass.
“Pansy is the only person in the world who knows where I am. At least, she was, up until… what is it, now. Two months?”
Hermione nodded. Dumbstruck. “Two months. Why Pansy?”
“She was my best friend, Minister. Hermione,” he corrected, taking a seat. He was as graceful as he had ever been. Very attractive, really, now that he wasn’t a complete git. “Greg didn’t cope too well with… well.” Hermione nodded. The Fiendfyre. She knew. Vincent Crabbe screaming as he disappeared into the flames that Gregory Goyle had created. “It’s one of the reasons I got interested in… all of this,” he said, gesturing elegantly around the room. “He didn’t use magic for years, but he had a Squib uncle who had a distillery in Galway. They stayed there for years, and she and Greg learned the trade. They’re back in Scotland now, of course.”
Of course. Draco sounded like he was reporting society gossip and Hermione felt a brief ripple of irritation. They didn’t have a rather more urgent conversation to be getting on with — though she supposed she had been the one to raise the topic.
“I always thought you and she…”
Draco snorted a laugh. “When have I ever shown the slightest bit of interest in girls, Min— Hermione?” he asked.
She flushed. It had taken years of living outside the Muggle world to really understand that there was no kind of stigma. And still, she found herself assuming that everyone was straight until proved otherwise.
“Right,” she said. “I — Blaise told me you…”
“Don’t get your knickers in a knot,” Draco said, but when she looked up Draco was actually smiling. “Just a bit of boyhood fun. He seems to be rather settled. Can’t believe he… well.” Draco sipped his whiskey.
“That does bring me to a more salient topic, though. Harry’s head.”
Hermione nodded and leaned forward. Progress?” she asked.
“Of a sort. I understand what he’s done, now, at least, although I don’t believe he did it on purpose. But I’ll get to that. We’ve touched on this before, but I’m asking you directly, now. Do you think Harry is gay?”
Hermione shrugged uncomfortably. “To tell you the truth, he’s never shown much interest in sex at all,” she said.
“Oh, he’s interested in sex, alright,” Draco said. His expression was inscrutable. Amused, sad. Something else, too. “Do you think he might have some kind of secret life that you’re not aware of? A lover?”
Hermione wished that she could say she thought it might be true, but she didn’t. “He… doesn’t have time,” she said. As the weeks went by, she was beginning to see how complicated and ugly this was. How wretched. And she was beginning to see how it was not just possible, but likely, that almost everyone in Harry’s life had some culpability in what had happened here, even if she still didn’t understand quite what was happening. “I don’t think he has time.”
Draco was quiet. Hermione wished he would ask more questions; she could feel the way a realisation she had been trying to avoid was beginning to well up in her chest.
“He laughs it off,” she said, staring at Draco’s bookshelves. “I swear, I’ve tried. He’ll tell me he’s planning to spend the day resting, and then I’ll find out he’s spent the day visiting children at St. Mungo’s, or helping Ron in the shop. I ask him if he’s sleeping well and he puts this big, blinding, Harry Potter smile on his face and he tells me he is. He doesn’t complain. He never looks sad, or angry, or…”
“Sounds like someone who is always ready for someone to stick a camera in his face.”
Hermione nodded again. The smell of the books was comforting. She kept staring at them, letting them anchor her in the room.
“I’ve been so fucking blind. How could I have missed that things were this bad?”
Draco shrugged. “Some people don’t like to ask for help. It sounds like he has been keeping a great deal inside for a very long fucking time. I don’t think it’s entirely fair for you to blame yourself, Hermione.”
But it was. “No. I should have known.”
“Oh, good. You blame yourself, Harry doubtless blames himself, I’m sure even Ron has found a way to make it all his fault. A little self-centred, I think.”
“If you’re trying to make me feel better, Draco, it’s not working.”
“I’m not your Mind Healer. I’m Harry’s.” He picked absently at a stray bit of lint on his trousers, although Hermione was certain he was just giving her a break from that relentlessly calm grey gaze. “And I’m not making any judgement,” he lied, like a lying liar. “I’m merely trying to understand what is happening here. Do you know if he ever sought any kind of help to recover from the abuse?”
Hermione blinked hard.
“As a child.”
“Oh. No,” she said. “They were unkind, but it wasn’t — like that,” she said, relaxing slightly. Though only for a moment. “Oh, Draco. No.”
Draco paled. “It might be better we leave this topic.”
“How do you — I mean. Are you sure?”
“There is a wide world of difference between me sharing information about his present state with you, as his medical proxy and friend. It is another thing entirely for me to share details of things that occurred three decades ago without his permission, when he has clearly chosen not to share them with you for a reason. I’ve said far too much. It was unprofessional of me.”
Hermione rested her face in her hands. What had he said? They were pretty crap. Dudley was a spoiled arse. But he’d never once allowed himself to be drawn on any details.
“Would you like to hear about my findings?”
Hermione nodded, tears burning her eyes. Draco stood and crossed the room to fetch her a handkerchief, smiling kindly before he eased himself onto the settee beside her.
“I can’t believe I didn’t know. I wondered… he only ever brushed those questions away, or… and Dumbledore gave him to them, and…”
She sobbed into the handkerchief for several minutes, trying not to shrug away Draco’s gentle hand on her shoulder. The implications were horrendous. Either Dumbledore hadn’t known what was happening at the Dursleys’ house, because he had never checked in, which made him neglectful himself. Or he knew and did nothing, which made him complicit. And after all of that, Dumbledore had used him as a weapon.
Knowing, or at least believing, that his life would be cut short at seventeen years old, when he’d scarcely had a chance to live.
“What have I done?” Hermione asked.
Draco poured her another drink.
“Something I learned, in the years I was struggling to find my own way again,” he said, passing her the glass, “is that you can’t do any better than you’ve learned to do. And you can’t work on information you don’t have. All that matters is that when you have a chance to do better, you do it. I think about that every day. A Muggleborn Witch or Wizard comes to me in need of help and there is a part of me that knows that if they knew who I was, they’d be afraid that I would hurt them. I tried to be exactly like my father for so long that I never once questioned whether he was right about — anything, really. I was the dutiful little Death Eater as soon as I knew what the words meant, and then by the time I realised it was a load of bollocks and I needed to find a way to escape, or die trying, he was back. Tom Riddle. Offering me the Dark Mark and making it clear that I would accept, and do what he told me to do, or my parents would be eaten alive by his charming pet snake.”
He stared at the fire, the light dancing across his pale features, and sipped the whiskey. Hermione wondered if he even remembered she was there. They were supposed to be talking about Harry, and yet, she wanted — needed to hear this, every word of it. She needed to hear it all and then examine it in a pensieve until she could figure out how it fit in with everything she knew, or thought she knew, about Draco Malfoy, the littlest Death Eater.
“I wanted to be dead. I wished that something terrible would happen to me at school, that I’d be accidentally killed, because I thought that would be the only way I could escape without my parents paying the price. Do you know… in Sixth Year, I got so desperate that I almost went to Harry for help. But I convinced myself Harry would think I was weak. Throw me to the Ministry. Something.”
“We would have helped,” Hermione said, impassioned.
“Really?” Draco’s expression was challenging.
“He would have,” she amended meekly. “He’s never turned anyone away who needed his help.”
“Quite.” Draco shook himself. “That took a turn. I didn’t plan to say any of that. Accio map.”
A sheet of parchment slipped elegantly under the door to Harry’s room and neatly into Draco’s grasp.
“Harry is trapped in a world he has constructed for himself. The general layout is Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place. Not as it is now — usually — but a home, light and airy and full of memories and lies. Most of the doors are locked or boarded up in some way, though I have managed to find my way into several of them, now. These are the memories. Things he can’t escape from but won’t examine, either. Things I doubt he has ever really spoken of. Including his childhood in Little Whingeing.” He pointed to a room on the map that Hermione knew had once been a nursery. “A bathroom I have come to understand is probably the Chamber of Secrets at Hogwarts, here. Complete with large, angry snake, and more green smoke than I generally prefer to breathe in. Descending into the larder in the basement, I found myself trapped in a memory of Harry appearing before the entire Wizengamot after conjuring a fully corporeal Patronus charm to save himself and that awful fucking cousin of his. In the memory, he is about the size of a Kneazle kitten and his feet don’t touch the floor, while everyone on the Wizengamot… well, they look like Dementors themselves, if I’m honest.”
“He said that went fine.”
“He’s protecting you, Hermione. It’s all he’s ever done, protect everyone around him. It’s what he was trained to do, and you all let him do it. The first time any adult in his life showed him any kind of affection they began immediately to mould him into a weapon against Tom Riddle. Dumbledore made him believe that his entire purpose was to defeat a Dark wizard — I shan’t say lord — and that if that ended in his death it would be the greatest thing he could possibly achieve. With no thought to what he might do afterwards.”
Hermione drained her glass, which entirely shattered the impression she was trying to project — that of being utterly calm and collected and of course, right.
“Dumbledore loved Harry,” she said.
“My father loved me,” Draco reminded her bluntly. “That didn’t make him any less of a bastard, in the end, did it? Yes, Dumbledore was thinking of the whole world instead of just Harry, and perhaps he didn’t even have a choice. It’s not one I think I could ever trust myself to make. But when in his life has anyone put Harry first? Ever? He doesn’t even do that for himself, the sodding Gryffindor git.”
“Don’t talk about him that way.”
“Oh, I mean it with the greatest affection. He did save my life repeatedly, Hermione, despite what an utter shit I was to him. If he wasn’t so painfully selfless I wouldn’t be here to bitch about it, but the point remains. He was treated like a tool, and he’s still acting like one.” He glanced sideways. “I could have phrased that differently.”
“To be honest, I’m glad you said it that way. I was starting to think there was nothing left of the boy I knew in there,” Hermione said, with a feeble smile.
“Don’t worry. I’m still as ambitious, sneaky and self-serving as ever,” Draco had, his voice velvety and mellifluous. Hermione didn’t call him on it. “I think that’s enough for now. You look as if you might need some sleep. Rubino will take you to your quarters. Is Blaise with you?”
Hermione sniffed, and nodded.
“If he can ditch the creepy cloak for an hour, I’d be happy to host you here for breakfast. Seven-thirty, if you please. I have a lot of work tomorrow. And you and I need to discuss something else before you leave. Something I think Harry would prefer Blaise wasn’t present for.”
Hermione climbed unsteadily to her feet as the elf apparated before the hearth.
“Mistress,” he said, bowing deeply.
“Thank you, Rubino. And you, Draco,” she said, and followed the swaggering elf toward the guest rooms on the upper floor.
Parvati took the rear, silent, watchful, competent.
After a good breakfast, Blaise shook Draco’s hand and left the suite of rooms to wait with Parvati.
“Blaise Zabini and Hermione Granger,” Draco mused, as he took his seat and reached for his tea. “I wouldn’t have believed it, but you do seem to be remarkably well matched.”
Hermione studied his face, apparently looking for any sign of mockery. She wouldn’t find any.
“It works,” she said, with a fond smile on her face. “In another year or two he’ll leave the department and we can go public. Not yet. Too much is fragile, right now, and people are starting to talk about Harry. His… mission.”
Draco wasn’t going to express an opinion about anything that was so very, very far from his business, so he waited silently.
“You wanted to ask me something,” Hermione said. She looked tired. Draco would have wagered that the revelations of the night before had robbed her of her sleep, but he didn’t ask.
“Yes,” he said. “I told you that the stasis spells can only do so much. It’s getting harder to stay on top of the dehydration, and I am concerned about the potential for atrophy. Of his muscles and his magic. It seems too soon for any of that, but… Harry is an exceptionally strong Wizard, as you know all too well. I hadn’t considered the potential impact of being cut off from his magic for so long. I assumed that with his great strength that we’d have more time, but I think it means we may have less.”
“I need to take steps to get him out of there. I have perhaps two or three courses of action, but only one which I think is… safe. Or near safe.”
“Then you’ll do that,” Hermione said.
Draco reached for a strawberry, and carefully twisted out the stem.
“It could backfire very badly when he wakes up.”
“Draco, whatever it is that you need to ask me — please, I am begging you. Just ask me.”
“Alright.” He ate the strawberry. Procrastinating, if only for a few seconds. “Do you think that there is any chance that this — this home that Harry has built in his head for the two of us is there because he has feelings for me? Or once did?”
“If you think it more likely that this… very sweet, but twisted little domestic arrangement has transpired this way simply because I am the one who showed up in his head, then tell me.”
“Does it really make a difference?”
Draco fought the urge to roll his eyes — after the honesty they’d survived the night before he might have imagined that Hermione could find her way to trusting him, but apparently his optimism was unfounded.
“Either I am a stranger who will begin working to bring him out of this fantasy with hard work and logic, or I am a lover who can teach him he’s safe outside of it. I’m sure you’ll agree that the two approaches are necessarily quite different.”
Hermione was lost in thought for a long time.
“In the dream. Does he call you Malfoy? Or Draco?”
It was an interesting question. Draco tilted his head; he couldn’t quite remember.
“Draco,” he said, wondering. “Always Draco. Even when he’s angry.” He elected not to add that Harry sometimes called him ‘Malfoy’ when he was trying to talk him out of his clothes.
“Then I think it’s you,” she said, climbing to her feet, a little flushed. “It must be you. You’ll keep me updated, Guaritore Black?”
“I will, Minister Granger,” he said, with a warm, professional smile.
Draco spent the morning with patients, listening and talking and helping to rebuild themselves from fragile shards. At noon, having managed to scoff down a pastry and some sparkling water to keep the hunger pangs at bay, he joined his graduate students in the potions lab, checking their work, talking through failed experiments and clinical notes and reassuring the occasional disheartened Witch or Wizard that persistence would always pay off in the end — that failure was a result all of its own, and that nothing extraordinary was achieved by keeping to the rules, only by knowing them inside out and back to front. He had a two-hour lecture at four in the afternoon, and by the time that was finished the world had fallen into darkness.
The weekend was upon him.
It was unusual for Draco to make himself unavailable for an entire weekend, but it was necessary, right now, he thought. He needed time and space and enough calm to maintain his hard-won tranquility. A simple diet of fruit, herbal teas, and water, as he expected to spend most of his working hours asleep, and didn’t want the heaviness of more substantial meals to hold him in place.
He ate a hearty meal on Friday night, though. No alcohol, no stimulants, and with the light down low. He spent an hour sitting in the armchair by Harry’s bed, deeply relaxed but quite alert.
Anger came, and he acknowledged it, and sent it away.
Lust came. It had something to teach him too, he thought, but not today. He acknowledged it and sent it away.
Sadness pricked at his consciousness as well. He thanked his sadness for bringing him to where he needed to be and assured it that he had no need for it at that moment, and he sent it away.
Holding that essential tranquility in his head, Draco reached for the potion for Harry’s skin. That human connection was essential, and now, it was more important than ever. He murmured quietly as he smoothed his hands over Harry’s scarred flesh, gentle and intimate as sunlight.
What did he murmur? Safety, affection. He wouldn’t admit to more. Quite difficult enough to accept that one has spent one's entire life being completely wrong about someone. He smoothed the potion over Harry’s face, brushed his hair from his eyes. Harry looked so lost without his glasses. Draco carefully worked the potion into his dry lips, and then, on impulse, leaned to kiss his forehead. Not just a peck; he let his lips press into Harry’s skin, felt the warmth there, how real he was.
“If she’s wrong,” he murmured, “I hope you can forgive us both.”
A few minutes later, Draco put several drops of the dream potion on Harry’s tongue. He sat on the edge of the bed and took the same number of drops for himself. He had already transfigured the bed to be a little wider, and now he swung his legs up and stretched out alongside Harry.
He was getting sleepy very rapidly, but he spent those last few moments watching Harry’s face. His eyes twitching rapidly beneath his eyelids, his long eyelashes quivering. The way his lips moved when his breath escaped.
Draco took Harry’s hand, and fell asleep.
Harry really didn’t know why, but it had been difficult to be in the bedroom. He wanted to go there. He thought Draco was probably in there waiting for him, but there was something different, something wrong, and he found himself fretting in the kitchen, glancing nervously at the bright curtains, the door, the Floo, even that wretched cellar door, as if any one of them might be hiding something he didn’t want to think about.
“Hello,” came Draco’s voice. Almost a purr.
Harry felt a smile threaten, but he kept his expression neutral.
“Hello, Draco,” he said.
“I woke up and you weren’t there.”
“Well, I was here.”
Draco moved closer, and reached for Harry’s hand. And that felt right, that felt familiar. That was all he really needed. To be here and safe with Draco’s hand wrapped around his own. And to have Draco easing himself closer, in their bright kitchen, crowding Harry against the kitchen cupboards. Harry was losing his battle with this smile.
“Indeed,” Draco purred, licking his lips, letting that intense gaze move from Harry’s eyes to his lips again. “Do you know what I was just thinking?”
“I fucking hope so,” Harry complained. He tried to cross his arms across his chest, but Draco stopped him. He closed his hand around Harry’s wrists and anchored them on the kitchen table. Even closer, now. Not hard, but getting there. “It had better be what I was just thinking, or I shall have to pout.”
“Oh,” Draco said. “Would you pout anyway? I have a mind to sink my teeth into that bottom lip of yours. But I was thinking of more than one thing. I know that’s more than your tiny Gryffindor brain can handle, Harry, but I am rather good at it. You see…”
“You tosser,” Harry said. “You are unbelievable, do you know that?”
“Oh, you love me like that,” Draco said, and he pressed his lips to Harry’s neck, just beneath his ear.
“I do, you… manipulative bastard,” Harry agreed. He pulled his hands out of Draco’s grasp and settled them on his hips, instead, watching as Draco’s eyes darkened. “I love you. What were you thinking?”
“Day off,” Draco murmured.
Harry laughed again. Not for long; Draco had kept his promise, and Harry’s body was awash with desire the moment he felt those sharp little teeth close over his bottom lip. Even better; Draco’s hands were running over Harry’s arse in that possessive way he’d loved since… fuck, what was it. Late in Sixth Year, when they’d progressed beyond stolen kisses and love bites, and realised how much they could actually do with a pair of fine, strong bodies.
“Day off,” Harry agreed, as Draco pushed his pyjama pants down over his hips.
“You know these pyjama pants are obscene,” Draco said distastefully. “Chudley fucking Cannons —”
“Snob,” Harry said. “Fuck, are we going to stand around talking all morning, you tit, or are you going to get me off?”
“I can’t do both?”
Harry growled, and whined, as Draco closed his hand over Harry’s cock. Exactly the way he liked it. Firm and sure and grounding. “It’s just, I think there’s probably something more productive you could be doing with that mouth.”
“Oh, that does sound intriguing, darling,” Draco purred, thumbing the tip of Harry’s cock until he was smearing pre-come over the head. Already everything sounded wonderfully wet and messy and Harry felts toes curling. “Care to get a little bit more specific? You know I don’t have much of an imagination. Too busy plotting plots and scheming schemes to —”
“Oh, fuck,” Harry said, fucking into Draco’s hand. “Do you need an engraved invitation or are you going to get on your knees and suck me?”
He didn’t realise he’d closed his eyes until he forced them open again, and then there was Draco, looking hungry and desperately fond. “Actually, an engraved invitation would be very nice. Next time,” he said. He didn’t break eye contact with Harry until he was on his knees, and then only to make a careful study of Harry’s cock. Harry was going to lose his mind.
“Malfoy,” he growled, and Draco licked him from shaft to tip.
“Darling,” Draco replied. “Is this annoying?”
“Only a little bit,” Harry complained, his knees getting weak as Draco tasted him again, careful kisses when he should have been sucking.
“I shall accept whatever punishment you think is fitting,” Draco said, in that posh fucking voice that made Harry’s heart race. He met Harry’s eyes again, and then angled his throat to take Harry all the way to the root. He looked… well, on the one hand, completely docile, and on the other, completely fucking debauched, with his lips red and shiny and saliva dripping from the corner. He moaned so hard when Harry gripped his hair that it was almost game over right then, but Harry wasn’t done. Refused to be done, not yet, not when he wanted to fuck Draco’s face for a while. The sight of his prick slipping in and out of that mouth had him bewitched.
Draco, docile as he might have been, still mixed thing up; taking Harry deep, and then swirling his tongue around the head, and then something in between that had Harry starting to think he wouldn’t be able to stand for much longer. When he looked down to realise Draco was wanking himself at the same time as he sucked Harry down, Harry knew it was over. He pulled Draco’s head back just far enough to make sure he came in Draco’s mouth and not down his throat. He reached back for the kitchen counter, holding himself upright against it as his body twitched and threatened to tumble and then he finally rested, eyes on Draco as he finished himself off.
“Merlin, you look good,” Harry murmured, and Draco smirked at him, licking his lips.
“I know,” he said. “Now, feed me breakfast? I think I have the most smashing idea about how we can waste the rest of the morning.”
Harry grinned, and snickered, pulled Draco to his feet. He linked his hands behind Draco’s neck and pulled him close. A kiss; the salt-bitter flavour of come on Draco’s tongue. Perfect. More perfect was the way Draco’s arms closed tighter around him and pulled him in, and nuzzled against his throat.
Harry felt dizzyingly safe.
Draco woke as the run was beginning to pink up the windows; woke up to hair that would have given a bird’s nest a bad name, the most impressive morning wood he could remember for a good long while and his fingers still tangled in Harry’s. He climbed off the bed and staggered to the sitting room, and then beyond, to the bathroom, where he stripped off his clothes into a messy pile he’d surely be annoyed about later.
The hot water was a revelation, but his hand was a rather better one. He was furiously turned on, and hard as diamonds, and he couldn’t keep the moan in his throat as he fucked furiously into his fist, eventually spilling over his hand, hitting the wall of the shower in ropy splatters.
It had been a long time since he’d last been laid. Other than… well, he really wasn’t sure if that counted, though the memory of Harry’s eyes on him in the kitchen was enough to make Draco’s cock stir again. Already, like he was a fucking teenager.
Once he was presentable, he summoned the Healers that would take care of Harry’s physical needs and spoke to them for a few minutes about the dehydration, Harry’s weakening muscles, and ordered some more of the potion for his skin. Legs, this afternoon, he thought, before he slipped back into Harry’s dream. But for now, he had notes to take and a light meal to linger over. He needed time to think, and time to meditate, and time to plan.
Draco wasn’t surprised when he opened his eyes to find himself with Harry looking at him intently. There was a challenge, there; he’d made rather a mess of things several times in a row, and getting it right last time had earned him some good grace, but not much.
“You’re staring at me,” he said, closing his eyes. “It’s very creepy, Potter.”
“I can’t help it,” Harry said. “You look like you’re cooking up some kind of dreadful scheme, and I have to pay attention so I don’t miss when you start.”
“Hmph.” Draco opened an eye, and closed it again. “You’ll know.”
“Are you sure? I know you’re very clever and sneaky.”
“Do you want a hint?”
“Might be safest,” Harry agreed.
“Well,” Draco said, “pay attention, then, Potter. I know how easily distracted you are. First thing is, you’ll notice I do this.” He pulled the sheet down off of them both. No stupid orange pyjama pants. No anything, actually, except an impressive erection Draco didn’t mind admitting he was looking forward to getting his mouth on again, even if it was only in a dream. Harry grinned, and linked his fingers behind his head.
Draco straddled Harry’s hips, and leaned down until their faces were close. Close enough to kiss, but he didn’t, not yet, even when Harry licked his lips in anticipation.
“And then, I’ll do this,” Draco said, more seriously, He angled his head just so, and leaned the last couple of inches until he could taste Harry’s mouth. Warm and wet and pliant, willing and needy. Draco felt Harry’s hips roll beneath him. “Do you need a parchment? So you can take notes?”
“I need a wand, so I can hex that shit-eating grin off your face. What will you do next?”
“You’re beautiful, you know,” Draco said, and Harry murmured some sort of objection, the skin around his eyes going tight. “No, don’t argue. You’re beautiful. It makes me — it makes me want to take care of you.” Draco felt his throat tighten. That hadn’t been exactly what he intended to say, but there it was. He tipped Harry’s face away so he could get at his neck, that pale skin, unscarred. Harry as he wanted to be. How had he not thought about that before?
Draco moved lower, biting gently at Harry’s clavicle, and soothing it with his tongue; landing teasing kisses on his hard nipples until Harry started making some sort of demanding noise, low in his throat.
“How do you want me to take care of you, Harry?”
Draco closed his hand around Harry’s cock, and his own, rubbing slowly and torturously — no way in the seven hells was he going to hasten this.
“You know,” Harry replied.
“I do. But you know how I love you to say it, darling. Please. Tell me what you want me to do.”
Perhaps Draco didn’t have Harry’s memories of… however long he’d been imagining this. Of daytime fantasies in the shower, or particularly enjoyable dreams (and what a mindfuck that was, the thought of Harry waking with his hand closed tight around that enormous prick of his and thinking about Draco, before he put on his ugly Auror’s uniform like a proper adult and heading to work), but he knew men. He knew men’s bodies, and desire, and he knew that Harry sodding Potter wanted to be held down and fucked until he was seeing stars.
“I love you to ask me for the things you want,” he murmured, with his lips brushing over the shell of Harry’s ear. “I love to give you the things you want. I promise I’ll make it so good, Harry, darling. Please.”
“I love it when you call me darling,” Harry replied, his pupils so wide and black that Draco had to wonder at it.
Maybe he would learn, here, too. What if — if that night… no.
“I want you to fuck me, Draco. Hard. I want you... I want you to hold me down and make me feel it. I want you to bite my shoulder, and whisper in my ear. Take me out of my head, Draco,” Harry begged, even as Draco pulled back, to kneel on the bed, hooking Harry’s legs over his thighs, exposing that hungry little hole of his.
“I think I can manage all of that,” he said, sounding remarkably prudish, enough so that Harry had to laugh. “But I need you to do me a favour, too, Harry.”
“Er,” Harry said.
“I’m going to open you up on my fingers, now. I’m going to take my time, make you so open and wet for me… so that I can slide in and out of you fast, hard, make you scream for me.” He slipped his finger into Harry’s mouth. “Suck it like I suck your cock, Harry, get it nice and wet for me.”
There would be time for proper lube in a little while. Not yet. Harry’s pupils got even wider and darker as he fellated Draco’s finger.
“Very good. Thought you were rubbish at following directions, but you do alright.”
“Fuck you,” Harry said, panting, and his eyes rolled back in his head as Draco slipped the finger into his tight hole.
“I think we’ve established who is fucking who, right now, Harry. And now, my favour, if you please. While I open you up, you’re going to look at me. Don’t close your eyes, Harry. Trust me to take care of you the way you want me to. I promise it will be so good, so, so good.”
A tear fell from the corner of Harry’s eye, but when he looked up and met Draco’s eyes again, the expression was one of guarded hope.
“That’s it. Watch me. I’m going to take such good care of you, Harry.”
Harry lay on the couch in front of the fire, his head in Draco’s lap. Draco had a book in his hand, but he was playing with Harry’s hair, too, and he hadn’t complained once that it looked like he had an especially cranky hedgehog curled up on his head.
“Harry,” Draco said, just as Harry thought he might drift off to sleep again. “There’s something I’d like to try, if you’re up for it.”
“My arse is sore,” Harry complained, but he was grinning.
“No, something else, although after dessert tonight…”
“I’m dessert tonight,” Harry said, and he pulled two of Draco’s fingers into his mouth. Draco snickered at him, but then, very annoyingly, he wrestled Harry to his feet. Standing there in front of the fire, in his home, with Draco’s hands cupping his face, Harry should only have felt safe and happy, but something stirred deep in his stomach.
“You know you’re safe here with me.”
Draco didn’t phrase it like a question, but Harry nodded anyway. He felt slightly better when Draco pressed a warm kiss against his mouth.
“You know I won’t let any harm come to you.”
“That’s very sweet, Draco, but the world doesn’t work like that.”
“It does on your day off.”
Strangely, Harry wasn’t sure he could argue with that. He couldn’t figure out why, but there was something about it that sounded true.
“I want you to show me Sirius’s room,” Draco said.
“No. He doesn’t like it to be disturbed. You’ve seen the sign on the door. He’s on holidays. You can ask him to show you when he gets back.” Harry gave Draco what felt like a very shaky smile and tried to pull away.
“Alright,” Draco said, drawing him back with soft touches, smoothing his hair. “It’s alright, Harry. But I want you to show me something.”
“The doors don’t open.”
“But they do. There’s nothing about you that I don’t want to know. You must know that.”
“They don’t open, Draco. Stop it.” He tried to pull away.
“Please, Harry.” Draco stepped closer. He seemed taller, suddenly, or else Harry was shorter. Something. No, he was shorter — shorter, and skinny, and his glasses seemed to be doing their best to fall off his face. He pushed them further up the bridge of his nose, and pulled away again.
“No,” Harry said, forcing a smile, and he escaped to the kitchen. Maybe some hot chocolate. He hadn’t had hot chocolate in a long time. Yes, hot chocolate. Except he also wanted to climb under the dining room table and imagine it was his old bed at Hogwarts, curtains keeping him in and everything else out.
So he did that.
Draco’s footsteps paused in the kitchen, and Harry held his breath. Maybe Draco wouldn’t notice. But of course, he did. He pushed aside the curtains.
He looked younger, too, his hair paler, his face thinner.
Harry glared murderously at him. “Get out of my room, Malfoy, or I’ll hex your balls off.” But Malfoy, stupid git, rolled his eyes and sat down on the end of the bed. “How did you get into Gryffindor Tower?”
“Wouldn’t you like to know,” Draco replied, sneering. “I won’t explain it, you’re altogether too stupid to understand the intricacies of a Slytherin plan.”
Harry reached for his wand.
“Do you remember the Tri-Wizard Tournament?” Draco asked.
“Of course not. It’s been over for all of two days, and I’m too stupid to remember anything from that long ago.”
“Who won, Harry?”
“Why are you being dense?”
“Viktor Krum, Fleur Delacour, and Cedric Diggory. And Cedric won, of course, he’s brilliant.”
“Only three, then.”
“That’s implied by the prefix ‘tri’. Now fuck off out of my room or I’ll throw you out the window.”
“I’ll go,” Malfoy said, and he pulled the curtain back.
Draco spent several seconds staring out into a crevasse of rocks and burning shrubs in absolute horror, wishing that he had considered literally any other branch of Healing — indeed, any other career — and staring in abject terror at the dragon in front of him. Pain shot through his skull. No, worse than pain — a rush of memories, each more hideous than the last, running backwards until the moment when Harry Potter’s named had appeared from the Goblet of Fire.
Over Draco’s life, he’d often heard people describe therapy — particularly those rare and terrible moments of clarity — as painful. Yes, this was it. A moment of clarity forced into his psyche. Harry Potter wasn’t the only man who would be changed by this.
Harry hadn’t wanted to compete in the Tri-Wizard Tournament. He’d begged to be excused, on account of his being fourteen fucking years old. He’d been told that his name on that stupid scrap of parchment was a binding contract, and he had no choice.
Draco realised rather late that he was still staring down the dragon — and that he had raised his arm, and called for his broom, and then he was in the air, with his eyes on the golden egg down deep in the treacherous rocks below.
He had no control. His only hope was that Harry’s memory would be followed faithfully and that he would escape with the egg — but Draco had seen this. He had been there. He knew how high Harry had flown to escape the dragon after she had snapped her chain in anger. He had no control, none whatsoever, and it was only when his landing on safe ground once more immediately became a descent into the Black Lake that Harry — Harry Potter, the Boy Who Lived, the Saviour, every other fucking name they’d ever given him…
He hadn’t had any control either.
The Chosen One. And he’d never had the chance to choose, not really. And never, never for himself. Plunging into the dark water and trying to remember that he was breathing through gills, and not drowning. Dodging Grindylows and worse as he swam — and he wasn’t very good at that, either, the buoyancy of his limbs fighting him every step of the way —
Fuck. Hermione, Ron — and Fleur’s little sister, it had to be, they looked so alike —
Draco tried to scream because there was no one to beg for help, and because he was utterly trapped. Until —
A hedge, a maze. Krum’s vacant eyes. And then the cup.
It was almost a relief, when Draco felt the tug of it, somewhere there behind his bellybutton. Just to be away from that overwhelming fear. He didn’t even care if he was going to something worse. He’d have welcomed death like an old friend, but knew he would wake up, instead.
The cemetery was cold and damp, but silent. Draco pushed himself to his feet and rubbed at his knee, where he had landed on a sharp stone or something. Apparently he’d drawn blood. Good thing it was a dream.
The moon was out and bright, the gentle cloud cover distributing the light. It was a frightening place nonetheless. The graves were overgrown, the statues damaged and inhuman looking. Draco refused to look at a statue of an angel with its nose broken off, for fear it would turn into the ghost of Lord—
He intended to call out, but his voice seemed to drop just an inch from his lips, and the name disappeared into the night. Draco was trembling, his head aching. How he had envied Harry. How they had all resented him. He saw Ron’s betrayed expression in his brand new memory and wanted to slap it from his stupid face, before he remembered that he’d been so much fucking worse, so full of resentment that he’d spent hours making those stupid pins that read ‘Potter Stinks’.
“Harry?” he called, louder this time. He stepped around an ancient-looking mausoleum and into a sort of clearing, with an enormous cauldron in the centre. Wisps of smoke from a long-dead fire vanished into the breeze.
“Harry,” he said, a final time. “Are you here?”
“Here,” Harry said. His voice sounded tired, and hollow, and disappointed.
He was sitting on the edge of a grave. It was very wide, the concrete cover, presumably a family plot. Probably three people wide. Draco wondered what it would say on the headstone, if he could read it; but this, of course, was a dream, and you can’t read in dreams, and also, Draco didn’t want to take his eyes off Harry. Older again, now, with stubble over his jaw and grey flecks in his hair, a scar peeking from the neck of his sweatshirt.
Draco sat beside him. Not too close, not close enough to touch, perhaps make Harry run away, but he sat close.
“I don’t know why you’d do that,” Harry said. His voice sounded very, very distant, and very tired. “I thought we were having a good day.”
“We were,” Draco replied.
“I don’t like to think about things like this,” Harry said. “I don’t know why you’d force me to. Did I do something wrong?”
“No,” Draco said. “You didn’t do anything wrong.”
Draco sighed, and closed his eyes, trying to feel his way to an answer that might make some kind of sense, but seven bloody hells, was that hard to do — he thought that on balance he might have fucked with Harry’s worldview quiet enough for one day. He also wondered if it was enough to blow these memories apart, or if Harry had to keep poking in them until he’d had enough of it. He wondered, too, whether Harry had much hope of living for long enough to do whatever it was he needed to do.
“You want one day,” Draco said, simply. “And I want a lifetime of them.”
He held Harry’s gaze for a minute, for two. Harry searched his face for something — Draco couldn’t guess what. A sneer, a sprinkle of mockery, a pinch of cruelty.
Draco turned his body until he was facing Harry properly. He reached out to trace the curve of his jaw.
“This — this shouldn’t have happened,” he said. “You weren’t of age. No matter what the fucking Goblet of Fire said, you shouldn’t have been made to do this. You shouldn’t have come here or seen this. You shouldn’t have had to watch Cedric Diggory die for nothing.”
Harry tried to pull away. “No, it’s fine.”
“It’s far from fine! It’s so fucking far from fine that it makes me want to tear tongues from heads. But it happened, Harry. It happened, twenty-five years ao, and you survived. And hiding it behind a curtain or a door, or tossing it in the cellar or the attic, none of those things can stop it from ever having happened. Do you hear me?”
Harry nodded briskly and tried to pull away. As if he was trying to get to his feet. Draco took his wrist and pulled him back down.
“Say it. Say it happened, Harry.”
“No, thank you. I don’t want to.”
“Say it. Say you survived it. Say you want a lifetime, Harry.” Draco gritted his teeth. “Say you want a lifetime with me.”
“I’m fine on my own. All I wanted was a day off.” Harry smiled, an unsure, frankly pitiful smile. “I need to get back to work now.”
“No you fucking don’t, you self-sacrificing Gryffindor martyr, you utter numpty. You utter twat. You’d never let anyone else treat themselves this way. Why do you deserve less?”
They were on their feet, now, and Draco gripped Harry’s arms, just above the elbows.
“Please, Harry. We can throw all of those doors open and let in the light. You just have to help me. And then you can have all the days off that you want.”
Harry nodded with a professional distance that Draco hated. He looked like he was having a conversation with one of his actress escorts at a Ministry function. Attempting to reach a carriage unmolested, perhaps.
“I’ll certainly give that some thought. Thank you,” he said, and there was another tug behind Draco’s bellybutton. He was folded through time and space, sleep an wakefulness, across years and continents, landing in a hospital bed alongside his very vulnerable and very unconscious patient.
Draco couldn’t remember the last time he’d had a proper cry. One of those good, painful, drawn-out snotfests that left one feeling scrubbed raw inside. But he sat up now, legs over the edge of the bed, and he cried. For himself. For Harry. For everyone who’d lived through the war and everyone who hadn’t. He cried for that fourteen year-old in the cemetery, too, and for the little fuckwit Draco had been until he’d looked up one day to find that his father wasn’t just mistaken, wasn’t just wrong, but knew it — and had made a conscious decision not to change, regardless.
There was a scuffle in the hallway, and Hermione looked up. Really, she didn’t have time for nonsense today; she had barely slept, and poorly at that, and she had a pile of work to do that was taller than her head. She stormed across her office and opened the door, already shouting for everyone please calm the fuck down and get on with the day.
She didn’t expect to see Malfoy — Draco — Healer Black being strong-armed by a pair of unfamiliar Aurors.
“What is the meaning of this?” she asked, stomping her foot.
Draco pulled away from the two men and glared.
“Healer Black,” she said. “I wasn’t expecting you.”
“Perhaps in the future a standing invitation might be in order, Minister Granger,” he said, taking out his wand to rinse down the crease in his robe, and then smoothing down his hair. “I’m not accustomed to being treated like a criminal.”
Hermione came very close to giving a very snippy — and highly revealing — retort, but she bit her tongue.
“Come in,” she said, holding the door open. And then, to the guards, “Healer Black is to be treated as a valued guest at all times. Ensure that message is received across the entire division. Now, as you were.”
She closed the door behind her, and turned to Draco.
“Has something happened?”
He was pacing, scrubbing his hand through his hair. More agitated than she had ever seen him.
“Draco. I haven’t seen you in a month. What’s happening?”
He pursed his lips and shook his head.
“I’m missing something,” he said. “I don’t know what it is. I’m missing something, and it’s huge, and important, and I — I can’t figure it… there’s something I don’t know. I’ve tried pushing deeper. I’ve tried legilimency —”
“Harry is a superb Occlumens.”
“I’d heard the opposite.”
“You heard the opposite when he was, what — fifteen? He’s been an Auror for almost twenty years, Draco, you don’t think he learned anything in all of that time?”
“He shouldn’t be closed to me,” Draco amended, gritting his teeth. “Not with everything…”
Draco dropped into a chair, all spindly-legged and frustrated, and Hermione Summoned a pot of tea and two cups.
“Because tea fixes everything.”
Hermione shrugged, and poured, and pushed a cup across the table. “As far as I have been able to figure out,” she said. “What happened to that tranquility of yours? Your meditation? I haven’t seen you this agitated since we were in school.”
Draco seemed to bristle at that. He closed his eyes, and took a deep breath. And another, and another. When he opened his eyes, he looked relatively peaceful again. Calmer, at least.
“Are you Secret-Keeper for Harry’s house? Twelve Grimmauld Place, I mean.”
“Yes. Do you need to go back?”
Draco nodded. “I’d like to arrange for some work to be done there. I want it clean, repainted, and fit to live in by the time I wake Harry up.”
Hermione sat up straighter. “You’re close?”
Draco hesitated, and shook his head. And then nodded, and then shook his head again. He drew two rolls of parchment from the pocket of his robes.
“I need your help,” he said. “Do you have time right now?”
She didn’t. It was a terrible week. Too much work to do, too many meetings, too much interdepartmental whining. Blaise was away doing something he couldn’t talk about, and she missed him terribly, and the only person she wanted to talk to about it was Harry.
“I’ll make time right now,” Hermione answered. “Give me five minutes.”
When they stepped out of the Floo at Twelve Grimmauld Place, Hermione’s mouth dropped open in horror.
“But — what happened to it?” she asked. She took a cautious step into the room. The dim light made her nervous and nauseous, and the smell of mildew and dust didn’t help at all.
“He only uses his bedroom,” Draco said. “I don’t think he’s set foot in the rest of the house in years.”
“But Kreacher —”
“He brought Kreacher to the Ministry — did you not know that?”
Hermione shook her head. “I didn’t. I… oh, I feel as if I should ask him back, but his little heart will break. What should I do?”
“Ask him back, and tell him to bring a couple of friends. Make him the boss. That elf might be a thousand years old and quite possible demented but he knows this house better than any Witch or Wizard that has ever lived here could hope to. I can’t imagine he’s been happy being sent away.”
Hermione held her wand out in front of her. “Lumos. Oh, Draco. I don’t want to see this.”
“You need to,” he said. “Because I’m missing something, and I don’t know what it is.” Hermione shivered, crossing her arms over her chest. Draco cast a warming charm, seemingly without really noticing. He probably hadn’t; just making sure they could do what needed to be done. Immensely practical. But then, in many ways, he’d always been that way.
“Every door in this house, every window, and a few… extra spots — they contain something that Harry doesn’t want to think about anymore. He’s locked them up, and now he’s pretending that they’re just not there. His life is precisely as he wishes it, so long as he doesn’t have to think about the things that he’s hidden away.”
“Yes, you’ve explained that.” Hermione cast a quick Scourgify over the gaslights and the room looked brighter immediately. Of course, that meant the utter filth of the place was now impossible to ignore. “Sort of.”
“We need a table,” Draco said, and he marched to the kitchen without looking up, unrolling the map as he went. He Scourgified the table while Hermione did the lights, and they bent over the map.
“I’m afraid, Hermione,” Draco said, and that was the most startling thing she had ever heard him say. “He’s getting physically weaker, and it’s getting harder to reach him. I push, we find a way through a memory, and then I start rebuilding his trust again — until I fucking betray him, again, and break his fucking heart, and I have to start all over again.” Draco dragged his fingers through his hair repeatedly. He pasted the map to the table with a temporary sticking charm, and lit his wand again.
“I told you about the Dementors, and the Wizengamot. And this… Sirius’s room, obviously. It’s a doorway into what I can only assume is the Death Room in the Department of Mysteries — I was an idiot, I thought that would prove to be his worst memory of that time. And it was fucking awful. I don’t know how long we spent there, watching Sirius disappear through the veil, over and over again.”
Draco sat heavily on a chair that was furred with dust. It was the least dignified thing Hermione had seen him do in decades, and something inside her softened a little at the sight of it. She followed suit.
“The attic has a labyrinth of some sort in it — human sized wizard’s chess, a three-headed dog…”
“First year,” Hermione said. “The Philosopher’s Stone. The first time Harry saw Voldemort.”
Draco nodded. “We talked for a while, afterward. Or I did. But he listened, I think. And eventually, he relaxed enough to let me hold him for a while.”
Hermione wanted to look at the map, she did. The lines moved, showing the different versions of the house, the two layers, as it were.
“Did you see the mirror?” she asked.
“Bit hard to miss a mirror that size.”
“What did you see in it?”
Draco shrugged. “My own inimitably handsome self. And one very scruffy half-mad Auror.”
Hermione bit her lip.
“But what were you doing? In the mirror?”
“Fuck’s sake, Hermione,” Draco said. “It was a mirror. We were sitting in front of it. Mirrors have reflections, so it stands to reason that I was sitting there like an idiot with my arms around my ex-nemesis while he sobbed through his childhood trauma and then found some fucking peace. I wasn’t staring at it every second, but I think I would have noticed if it made a rude gesture or something. What?”
Hermione felt something small and sure flutter in her chest.
Dream or not — Draco had seen himself exactly as he was. With Harry. Helping Harry.
“Alright, so — oof,” Draco said, suddenly alarmed to have Hermione’s arms around him. Hermione’s arms? The Minister for Magic’s arms? A Gryffindor’s arms? “Granger? Hermione? I’m not sure this is the time. You can give me a hug when you’ve paid my bill,” Draco said.
“Just a minute,” Hermione said, and at long last Draco relented, patting her shoulder briefly. “Thank you. You’ll never know how much… thank you.”
“I look forward to having input on the design of my statue in the Ministry,” Draco said drily. “Next, the windows.”
When they had gone over every door and window in the place, Hermione could see the problem. If each was a riddle then each had been solved.
“Show me the other parchment, then,” she said.
“It’s a timeline. The black is the true timeline.” He waved his wand elegantly over the page and murmured Revelio under his breath. “The green is the things he’s talked about that never happened, or that happened differently.” Draco tapped his finger. “You and Ron getting married and having children. Cedric winning the cup. Graduation.”
“No war,” Draco repeated, quietly. “I might have missed a few things, but this is most of it. The big things. Right back to here.” He pointed to the day that Harry’s parents died. “The day he killed Voldemort forever. And was sent to live with Sirius and Remus, who doted on him for the rest of his life and dote on him still.”
Hermione nodded. Marrying Ron. She’d always imagined — but then it just hadn’t worked, and the three of them had fallen apart, after the war, and it had taken so long to find their way back to each other. She didn’t blame herself for that. Ron and Gabrielle were happy, she and Blaise were happy, and… and Harry had created an entirely new reality, all because…
“Why did he do this, Draco?”
Draco snorted. “Because, Minister Granger — he wanted a fucking day off.”
He pulled an envelope from his pocket. “This is the specifications for the renovations, once the house is clean. Paint colours, carpet, everything. Just give it to Kreacher. He’ll take care of the rest, and he’ll make sure it’s done perfectly. And for the love of all that is Harry, Granger — Kreacher is too old to be alone. I know it hurts your sensibilities to hear this but this is an ancient Wizarding house, and it needs at least three house-elves to keep it in state. They like having the responsibility of a home. Stop inflicting your ghastly white human feminist cultural world-view on other species. It’s insulting.”
Hermione gritted her teeth, but nodded. For Harry, she’d do it.
“I have to go,” Draco said. “Walk around. See if there’s anything I might have missed. Or rather, anything Harry might have. A hidden passageway, a concealed trap-door. A sodding wardrobe.”
“I will,” she promised.
“And I need you to think about what I might have missed. A trauma. Something truly scarring. The worst memory he might have of the time before the war. I’ve walked in the Forbidden Forest with Harry, and watched him die. There’s something in his mind which is, for him, worse than that.”
“Worse than dying?”
“This is Harry Potter we’re talking about. Dying for the people he loves was probably one of his better days. Sodding martyr,” Draco finished, grumbling, and climbing to his feet. “I have to get back to him.”
“You care for him, don’t you?” Hermione asked.
Draco hesitated. “He’s my patient,” he answered primly. “I care for all of them. Goodbye, Minister.”
He pulled an old, broken teacup from his pocket. A Portkey, apparently. A whirl of light and shadow, and he was gone.
Ron and Hermione ate greasy hamburgers at the table at Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place, for the first time in over two decades. Ron looked over the parchments and puzzled over what hidden rooms there might be in the house.
“But I mean,” he said, “if he can turn the underside of this table into his bed in Gryffindor Tower, then the sky’s the limit, innit?” He shook his head. “Maybe Kreacher could help. Are you really getting Harry more elves?”
Hermione nodded tightly.
“You trust this Healer bloke, don’t you, ‘Mione? He’s not just got Galleons in his eyes, right?”
“I trust him,” she said. “Look at this, Ron. The things we went through — and then the things Harry went through on his own.” She recognised the discomfort on Ron’s face. He didn’t like thinking about these things. He never had. What he’d done with his entire life wasn’t dissimilar to what Harry had done in his head. He hadn’t come through unscathed, but he wasn’t drowning in it, either.
“There’s a memory Healer Black can’t get to,” Hermione said, pushing her plate aside. The burgers had sounded like a top idea, in the beginning, but now, she was remembering why she didn’t eat them very often. “I need your help, Ron. Something is missing from the list. The timeline.” She pointed gently at it, and didn’t miss the way Ron tore his eyes away from the sight as quickly as he could.
“Dunno what beats getting murdered,” he said. “Also, this list is bloody terrifying.”
“I know.” Hermione ran her finger along the timeline again. “The troll in the dungeon, in First Year?”
“Nah. That was fun. He was never upset about that.” Hermione felt Ron… sort of spike, emotionally, and then shut himself back off again. It wasn’t the first time she’d felt something like that from him. “We should look for a trap door.”
“Ron,” Hermione said, taking his hand. “You know what it is.”
Ron looked genuinely baffled. “I don’t. But I’ll help you look.”
Whether he was lying, or genuinely couldn’t tell when he was keeping things from himself, Hermione didn’t know. But she smiled weakly at him, and they set about searching the house.
Standing at the Floo, well after midnight, Ron stuck his hands in his pockets.
“There’s one idea,” he said. “It’s mental, but… remember the Chamber of Secrets? When we went down there. There were passages in the back. Where the Basilisk hid. You remember?”
Hermione frowned, and nodded.
“And I thought… well, I dunno where Kreacher used to live.”
“Oh,” Hermione said. “Yes. Well, I’ll have him brought here in the morning.”
“And I thought you might ask Ginny. If there’s something terrible. Something she remembers. Maybe something he never told us.”
Hermione nodded slowly. The thought of Harry having kept something from them hurt her physically, but it was possible.
“I’m sorry, ‘Mione. For everything. For — I know I must look like a coward to you.”
“You don’t, Ron. You don’t!”
But he held up his hand. “All I ever wanted was a simple life like my parents had. Family. I think maybe I used up all my courage in the war. I wanted to be there for you.”
“You were. You are,” Hermione said, and they spent a long time clinging tight to each other, before Ron pulled away with a shy smile and disappeared into the green flames. After a final look around Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place, Hermione followed suit.
The morning was fucking horrible, too, and Hermione was missing Blaise like an internal organ. She felt sick at the thought of summoning Kreacher, so Parvati led her down into the bowels of the ministry, to the kitchen, where he was resentfully rolling out pastry and muttering about his Master.
“Hello, Kreacher,” Hermione said.
He leapt from his stool, and stood before her, wringing his hands.
“Is Master Potter being back from his mission? Can Kreacher fetch tea?”
Hermione turned to Parvati. “Can you wait outside, please?”
Parvati seemed to take several seconds to decide that Hermione wasn’t in danger from any of the elves, and nodded curtly, stepping outside and closing the door.
“Kreacher, I need to talk to you about something,” she said. “Perhaps we could share a pot of tea. Sit together and talk.”
Hermione did her best to keep the conversation light, but Kreacher went from wringing his hands to pacing on the tabletop to beating his fists against it in less than twenty minutes. “Master needs Kreacher,” he muttered, pulling at his ears. “Master needs his Kreacher, yes he does — Master’s house needs Kreacher, and Kreacher…”
Hermione cut him off. “You’re right. About all of that.” She placed Draco’s envelope on the table.
“It’s not clothes, that Mistress is hiding in here?” he asked, suspiciously. Hermione opened the envelope instead and passed him the letter.
“It’s a big house. I think you might need help. Perhaps there are two elves who would like to come and live with you there? There’s a lot to be done, and perhaps it would be better if you — if you had a staff.”
Hermione had been pretending not to notice the two elves who had been creeping closer, listening to her every word. They came closer still, now; one wore a dirty dishtowel and the other, a hat and socks. Young, determined.
“You can be free elves,” Hermione said. “You can earn money.”
“I like money,” came a high-pitched voice.
“I don’t,” came another, shivering fearfully.
“Kreacher has a staff,” Kreacher said. He climbed down off the table, and stood between the two elves. Their eyes were as large as his were small. “Kreacher will go, now. Kreacher has work to do.”
They disapparated with a crack, and Hermione was left with a pot of cooling tea.
When she arrived back in her office, her eagle owl Persephone was perched on the back of her chair. She untied the parchment from Persephone’s leg and fed her a strip of dried meat.
“Good girl,” Hermione said, scratching the back of her neck. Persephone was a beautiful owl. She closed her eyes and hooted softly, nibbled gently at Hermione’s finger, and flew to her perch to eat in peace.
Ginny would Floo in at eleven o’clock.
When she arrived, they embraced hard. “It’s been too long,” Hermione said, and Ginny agreed.
“I’m sorry I missed Christmas. Mum might never speak to me again, but I just —”
“I know. It’s too strange without Harry.”
“Is he getting better?”
“I hope so. I think so,” Hermione said, and she indicated a chair at her little meeting table, before casting Muffliato around the office. “I wanted to ask you something. I can’t tell you about Harry’s treatment.”
“I don’t want you to,” Ginny promised.
“But I need your opinion on something.” Ginny nodded. “There’s a memory. Something Harry can’t bear to think about.”
“And dying in the Forbidden Forest doesn’t cut it?” Ginny snorted. “No, wait, it’s Harry. Dying for all mankind was probably the best day of his life.”
“That’s what —” Hermione bit her lip, heart racing. Hadn’t Draco used almost those precise words? “No, I know. And when we get him back, things are going to be different, Gin.”
“I don’t know who you’re trying to convince of that, but alright.”
“I just thought — well, Ron thought. Wondered. If there was something you knew about that we didn’t. Something he told you, something terrible. The worst memory Harry has.”
Ginny closed her eyes, and sighed. “I can’t believe you thought you needed me for this.”
Hermione frowned. “Gin?”
“Harry’s worst memory. It’s not a secret, Hermione. We were all there. All four of us. You remember. I know you remember.”
Hermione felt a powerful flash of anger. “Ginevra Weasley — I am exhausted, I am wrung out, I’ve been racing back and forth between London and Naples for weeks, now; I have probably slept six hours in the last three nights and my best friend, to whom we all owe our lives over and over again, is trapped in a dream he constructed because he — because… because he needed a fucking day off.”
“Harry’s worst memory. Worse than the people he’s lost, the people he saw die. Worse than dying himself. Something he did that made him see himself in a completely different light. Something he has so much shame about that he’s never spoken of it again.”
Hermione felt… almost as if everything inside her had crumpled, suddenly and finally. As if she might never find a way to stand straight again. Something she hadn’t thought about in so many years. Something that made Harry… human, perhaps. A terrible mistake, a moment of horror.
In retrospect, she realised he had probably spent most of his life trying to prove he wasn’t the person he had been in that moment.
“Oh, god,” Hermione said.
“Let me know when there’s news,” Ginny said. She squeezed Hermione’s shoulder. “And stop fucking blaming yourself. That’s all any of us do, isn’t it? Blame ourselves, instead of putting it where it belongs. When Harry gets back he’s going to need you. Just as you are. Not crying on him and blubbering a thousand apologies.”
Hermione nodded dumbly. She didn’t move until long after she had heard the roar of the Floo.
Draco spent a long morning with his patients. He was grateful for the Glamour; he was beyond exhausted and beyond worried. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d slept without slipping into Harry’s head. And Harry’s health was fading.
“Penelope,” he said, with a broad smile. He was in the day room, taking a seat beside a young woman who had been brought into the hospital the day before New Year’s. Almost three months, now. She gave him a weak smile; she had only begun talking a month ago, and her conversation was still scattered and difficult to follow. “How are you feeling today?”
“Better than you,” she said.
“Flattery will get you nowhere. I know we don’t have our appointment until late this afternoon, but I wanted you to think about something before then.”
“Oh,” Penelope said. “What a beautiful owl.”
For a moment, Draco froze in place. His mother’s owl? But no, that was impossible, because Narcissa had been gone for five years, almost, and her owl had disappeared as soon as she was in the ground. Still, the resemblance was uncanny.
“Does anyone have a snack an owl might like?” Draco called. All over the day room, patients stood, approaching the owl that was gripping tightly to Draco’s wrist. He was busily untying the message with his free hand, and the owl, in the meantime, was enjoying a great deal of attention, several pieces of fruit and lots of gentle neck scratching.
“Do you need a reply?” he asked.
The owl hooted gently, and then took off, disappearing through a window that Draco would have sworn had been closed.
It was hours before he had time to read the parchment.
Dear Guaritore Black,
I hope Persephone finds you well.
The restoration of the house has begun, and I will update you on the possible completion date as soon as I have that information from the house’s new head of staff.
On long and careful consideration, there is a very short list of possible additional locations in the house.
In the downstairs larder, behind the wine shelves, there is a short passageway that leads into one of the kitchen pantries. It is not hidden, but has been used only by elves in as long as anyone can remember.
There is a second entry to the attic. It may have been painted over, but it is very likely above the old master bedroom, which I believe is now a junk room, in the other wing; not the junk room by Snuffles’ room. The larger one.
Finally; there is a half-bath under the stairs. The plumbing is utterly wrecked, and it hasn’t been used in decades. I’d encourage you to watch for ghouls.
Draco nodded, mentally noting the locations in his head, and snickering quietly at Hermione’s cautious tone.The next line was significantly more difficult to decipher.
The snake lives behind the chamber. If the chamber still exists, that is worth exploring. You never know where something may be hidden.
Draco frowned. Snake? Chamber? And what the actual fuck was Granger tossing stupid platitudes into her letters for? And why the fuck had she not suggested one single fucking memory that Draco could seek out? Harry’s life, so far as Draco could figure, was one fucking nightmare after another with very little rest in between, unless one chose to count his rapidly approaching demise. There had to be something else.
Draco stared at the letter for a moment longer.
“Revelio,” he murmured, waving his wand over the page, anxious and frustrated at once.
The black script faded, and in its place in a green script that betrayed a wavering hand:
Draco poured himself a glass of Firewhiskey. He wasn’t in any sort of state to slip into Harry’s dreams tonight anyway. He spent a long time rubbing the potion into Harry’s skin, and speaking soothing nonsense. This weekend. This weekend, Harry would wake up. Draco would draw him out of his self-imposed prison and he would at last have the chance to start to rebuild himself.
What would happen next — well, fuck. No one could really predict these things. Draco brushed Harry’s hair away from his forehead, and kissed it. And then he pressed his own forehead against Harry’s, so he could taste Harry’s breath, feel the weakening hum of his magic.
“Please don’t hate me when you wake up,” he begged, quietly. “You’re so much a part of me now that I couldn’t bear it.”
Another secluded weekend.
Draco spent a long time — much too long — writing in the journal he had begun to think of as Grimmauld Place. He had begged off his afternoon and eaten a large meal, so that the weekend’s berries and grains wouldn’t sap him too badly. He read over Hermione’s latest missive. There were photographs, this time, photographs of the house, with the walls the right colours and the floors freshly carpeted — better than that, the rooms that had been abandoned and walled off in Harry’s head were now fresh and clean and new. Sirius’s room would be indistinguishable from the way it had been when he was a surly, rebellious teenager. The horrible tapestry, full of burned holes were the faces of unsatisfactory family members had been scorched away, was fuller than ever; Harry was there, linked to Sirius, and Teddy’s young adult face was patrician and kind. There was also a photograph of Kreacher, Binks and Malinda, standing tall and proud. Binks and Malinda looked at each other every few moments, unable to believe they were employed in such an important house, and Kreacher gazed proudly at the camera.
Draco sat with quill in hand for a very long time.
And then he tossed the parchment aside, rolling his eyes at himself.
He wrote, this time.
Thank you for sending the photographs. It means a great deal to me that you have followed my instructions to the letter, and I believe that when in the very near future I entrust our friend into your arms once more he will appreciate the effort doubly so. Please also send my regards to Kreacher. He has done his house proud.
Draco hesitated with his quill over the parchment.
I grant Blaise permission to take you to the Manor, if you still wish to see what has become of it. I haven’t seen it in many years myself but I imagine it often. I know you must find it hard to believe, but I have many years of good memories tucked away there. Perhaps if you see it you will find your way to some peace of your own. I cannot apologise to you on behalf of my depraved aunt. But I am nevertheless sorry about what happened to you in that house, and for the powerlessness — or perhaps only a lack of courage — that prevented me from trying to help you.
I hope that the next time we speak, I will bring you the news you wish to hear.
Yours most sincerely
Guaritore Christopher Black
Was that all he needed to say?
Sometimes, when Draco Owled his mother, he found himself writing the same kind of delicate prose and then leaving the most important things for the postscript. Perhaps he thought it took the sting out. He paused another moment and set quill to parchment once more.
P.S. You need to know that he will not be healed. But he will be ready to begin healing.
With that, Draco closed the Floo, warded his door, and made his way to Harry’s room. He took a very long time preparing. He used almost half a tub of potion on Harry’s skin, beginning with his feet, moving up his legs, spending extra time on the scars that were tightening over the weeks and months. His stomach, his chest. Again, the scars, working the potion in to soften them.
“You need to know, Harry. We’re in Last Gasp territory.”
A careful spell rolled Harry onto his side, and he rubbed the potion into his back. Every one of Harry’s ribs was prominent. There had been no change to the nutrition he was being provided, but with his magic waning, he wasn’t taking as much in.
“I don’t know if you can hear me. I don’t even know if you want to hear me. But if you can — I need you to focus. This is going to be fucking horrible, but we need to do it. I forgive you, you know. I do. I only hope I’ll know what to do, when… I hope I’ll know what to say. Fuck, I don’t even know if I can find you. This. This memory. But I’m going to try.”
He sat on the edge of the bed, and rubbed the potion into Harry’s arms. And then his hands. Especially his hands. Rough and calloused and scarred and so fucking capable. The fingernails broad and certain.
He closed his eyes, and began his meditative practice.
Anger came. Anger was always important. Anger always had something in it that needed to be seen, but this was not the time. Draco acknowledged it. And then he let it float away.
Fear came. That was fine. Fear, he thought, was better than grief, and more instructive. Harry was still alive. Fear could help Draco keep him that way, and grief could wait for decades.
Love came. Lust followed behind but knew to bide its time.
Sadness settled on the back of Draco’s hand like a butterfly, but was chased away by hope. Hope didn’t really need to stay either. This was the real world.
Hope stayed, anyway.
“There’s something I need to tell you,” Draco said, when he was done. Sitting by Harry’s side on the freshly transfigured bed, wide enough once more for the two of them. His face burned. His voice was weak. “You’re not alone in this. I wanted you so desperately at school. I didn’t even know where to put that much need, and I… I’m like a cat, in a lot of ways, I suppose. I scratch when I want to be petted. And the more you hated me the worse I scratched. I didn’t know how else to be, with you. That day in Madame Malkins’ — I decided that you would be my best friend, and then you rejected me. I don’t blame you, of course, fuck, I wanted to be all impressive and imposing and instead I was a little gobshite. But I wanted you. And I still do.” He rubbed his forehead. “Merlin, I don’t know if I hope you remember this or I hope you don’t.”
It was so painfully self-indulgent, sharing that. But Draco couldn’t find it in him to regret it. He had been pulled back into the world of Harry sodding Potter and he didn’t intend to leave unless he was asked to. Told to. He dropped the potion onto Harry’s tongue, and then his own. He stretched out on the bed, and slipped his fingers, vibrant and wanting, into Harry’s fingers, cool and slack. And then he closed his eyes.
It was to be one of those days.
Draco woke up in an empty bed. He dragged himself out of it, reluctantly, knowing that Harry would be as skittish as a Cornish pixie. He dressed in neat, dark grey wool trousers, spent a long time considering his shirts and sweaters, and scratched his fingernails over his scalp.
One of Harry’s t-shirts caught his eye. It had somehow made its way into Draco’s side of the wardrobe, and it fit like… a clue, really.
It was, of course, a singularly dreadful item of clothing. Draco didn’t know why one might smash a pumpkin or why the commemoration of such might be worth a t-shirt, but he dragged it over his head. He gazed at himself in the mirror for a long moment. Respectable trousers, travesty of a shirt; seemed appropriate.
He made his way downstairs, to find Harry frozen in front of a smoking frying pan. Draco flicked his wand at the flame beneath it, reducing it to a slower cook. Harry looked at it, and blinked helplessly.
“Harry,” Draco said, soothing. Harry looked up at him, surprised.
He looked different.
All of these months he had shifted between ages; inside his memories, of course, he could be as young as a year old, but when he was at Twelve Grimmauld Place in what passed for the present, he tended to range from his early twenties to his mid thirties, saving his real age for those horrifying moments of clarity when he took in some memory that had long been locked away.
Now, Draco didn’t know who he was looking at.
Harry’s hair curled at the nape of his neck, thick and dark, but his eyes tightened into crows’ feet in the corners and his mouth was set in a tight line.
“Hullo,” Harry said. “I’m sorry about the smoke. I think —”
Draco edged nearer. An inch, two, five. A foot. And then close enough to brush his fingers over Harry’s side and make him shiver.
“I think I’m lost,” Harry admitted.
“Darling,” Draco said, stepping in front of him, bolder now. “You are lost. But I found you. And I can take you home, if you’ll just let me.”
“I don’t think I’m ready,” Harry said, staring into the middle distance. He didn’t respond to Draco’s touch, his eyes, the kiss to the hinge of his jaw. He just stared at nothing.
“If you’re not ready very soon, it will be too late,” Draco said, pressing in close. “You need to trust me. I know that’s hard. I know I was an utter shit, to you, to all of your friends. But we grew up. Right, Harry? My love? We grew up. We’re not those boys anymore.”
“I’m tired,” Harry said, and he rested his forehead on Draco’s shoulder. “That’s why I sleep so much. Isn’t that okay? You told me. You said I needed to take better care of myself.”
Draco trailed kisses over Harry’s cheek, up to his ear, pulling Harry closer as he shivered.
“We can go home, Harry. We can. There’s just one thing left to do.”
“No,” Harry said.
“Yes,” Draco replied. “Just one thing more. And then you can wake up. You don’t need this place. You don’t ned to pretend. You’re so fucking strong. You know you are.”
“I don’t think I really want to be, though. I think I just want to sleep. I don’t think it’s so bad, sleeping. Sirius said it, you know. He said it was faster than falling asleep.” Harry closed his eyes. “Thank you, though. I think I’ll sleep better than I would have before. But I really do think I’m done.”
Draco’s heart raced.
There was a part of him that had known this might happen. Harry’s magical signature had been getting weaker much faster than his physical strength, and it felt like he was giving up. But they were so fucking close, and all that Draco could think was that Harry might never get a chance for a real day off. Or a week, or a month. Or to decide he was done, and spend the rest of his life making decisions that didn’t leave him scarred and in need of escape.
No. That was a lie.
Or rather, here was another part of Draco that was afraid — much more afraid — that they’d never get a chance to figure out if this thing, this mad, passionate thing that had been almost thirty years in the making might work in the real world. Draco could be selfish. He knew that, and it didn’t bother him. He wanted this, wanted Harry, wanted to make love the way they had in the pretty bedroom upstairs and make plans and tease each other until they were old men.
“You’re not,” Draco insisted. You can’t be. There’s one thing left. Please, Harry. Darling. Please. Do you love me?”
Harry startled, and his body was suddenly responsive. He pulled Draco near.
“I love you,” he promised. “And in here, I think you love me, too. That’s why I can let go. I don’t need anything else. After all of this… I got you.”
He angled his head up for a kiss, and Draco gave him one. Strong and biting and utterly determined. “So you love me enough to die,” he said.
Harry nodded, leaning into him.
“Do you love me enough to live?”
Draco pulled away.
“You’re just a man, Harry. You’ve achieved extraordinary things, but you’re just a man. Nothing more should be expected of you than of anyone else. It’s time this was over.”
Harry pulled away. “Stop.”
“No,” Draco said, and in a rush, he knew exactly where he needed to go. “Please. One more. If you want to go, after that — fine, we’ll rest on the couch until you’re dead and I’m sobbing. Wondering what might have been.”
“No. Stop it. No.”
“There’s only one way to make me stop,” Draco snarled. “Fucking… Gryffindor idiot. You’re so fucking brave — show me. Show me how brave you are. One more time, Harry, and then you can stop, and you never have to be brave again.”
He had a hand on the collar of Harry’s shirt and felt the fabric tear as he reached behind him. Draco knew — knew — that if he reached behind him, he’d find the door handle. And he did.
“No, Draco. I don’t want —”
It was a little like using a Portkey. The pressure behind his navel, the sickening pull, and he was just — elsewhere. There were no limits of time and space, not in here.
The bathroom was unpleasant. No one used this one, which was precisely why Draco did; when he had started confiding to Moaning Myrtle he wasn’t sure, but at this point in his miserable life she was the only person in the world who understood him. Who knew what was happening.
He was sixteen years old. He was terrified; for himself, for his friends, and for his family. His mother. He was supposed to kill Dumbledore, who had only ever been kind and patient with him, however complicated his more adult feelings were about the man, and he was going to fail.
He kept thinking about that bird. Chirping away one day and the next, a broken ball of feathers and bones. It had still been warm. It seemed to Draco as if a thing that warm had to still be alive, but then, wasn’t that worse? You couldn’t wish on any living thing that it might be alive in that sort of a state. Poor fucking bird.
But it was only a fucking bird, and Draco Malfoy was a Death Eater, and soon he’d be hunting down Muggles and Muggleborns and he’d be doing so much worse to them. He had a soft shell. He needed to do something about that. Couldn’t run crying to a bathroom over a bird. Or over Katie Bell. She was an idiot. She deserved all that she got.
Draco felt his stomach heave.
All of these things needed to be true. They had to be, because his father was infallible. And if his father wasn’t infallible, then Draco was in much worse trouble than he’d feared. He leaned over the sink, and draped his tie over his shoulder; he was going to throw up what little there was in his stomach. Katie Bell was a twit, but she hadn’t deserved…
She wasn’t really a twit.
Draco forced himself to look in the mirror. He looked terrible, his usually pale skin almost grey and his hair limp. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d got even six hours of sleep, let alone the eight or nine that he’d enjoyed for his entire life. And he was trembling. His father would have been disgusted. Malfoy’s didn’t tremble. Blacks, neither; the madness running in that line was the type that heated the blood, not the kind that blunted one’s nerves. But Draco was trembling.
He saw the bird, in his mind’s eye, broken and twisted.
He saw Katie Bell, heard the way she’d screamed. The dazed expression on her face when Draco had used the Imperius curse on her.
“No one can help me,” he murmured at the mirror, and then forced himself to look away. His whole body was shaking, and it felt like he might just fall apart. “I can’t do it... I can’t… it won’t work... and unless I do it soon... he says he'll kill me… them.”
He pressed his hands against the porcelain sink, and let the tears fall from his eyes.
He heard a sound behind him.
No, worse; Draco heard a sound, and he registered the faint scent of coffee and sweat, treacle and roasted garlic and he — he turned on his heel, and he raised his wand, because who did Harry fucking Potter think he was, following him into the bathroom?
Harry raised his wand as well.
Draco found himself feeling both versions of the world, quite suddenly. And fuck, but it hurt. It hurt so badly that he thought he might be torn apart on a cellular level, wondered if some horrible variation of the space-time continuum Muggle physicists were so fond of was actually breaking, right here. He felt sick again. He was Draco Malfoy, Sixth Year Slytherin at Hogwarts, youngest Death Eater ever, and soon to be famous for the murder of Albus Dumbledore. He was Guaritore Christopher Black, who had had one final vow in his life, to do no harm, and to help anyone who needed his help, regardless of class, character or malady.
And he was both of these men, standing before Harry Potter. Afraid for him in a way he could never have been afraid of him. And so in love that he didn’t even know how he might contain it all.
Harry’s memory of this moment, in his dream; how could Draco have forgotten it? It was months ago, now, when Draco had just started figuring all of this out, and it sounded like one of any number of meetings, any one of the lies Harry had populated his head with when this reality had begun to take root.
It didn’t matter what he did, here; this was only happening in his mind, and Harry’s. It wouldn’t change the war. But if this was Harry’s last secret, the thing he was so ashamed of that he preferred walking to his death in the Forbidden Forest over and over again rather than examining it — this was probably the last chance Draco had to get him out.
He lowered his wand. Hermione Granger was whispering into his head. Smartest person he’d ever known, sod her. He would have helped.
Draco lowered his wand, an inch at a time, the Crucio disappearing from his tongue.
“I know what you did, Malfoy,” Harry said. “You hexed her, didn’t you.”
Draco looked at Harry’s wand, raised, ready. He could still attack; but would he have? All of those years ago — would Harry have struck first? Or had he only been defending himself?
He tossed his own wand to the ground, startled by the hollow, wooden sound it made as it clattered on the tiles.
“I asked you a question,” Harry said, but he looked very surprised that Draco had elected to leave himself defenceless this way. His shoulders stiffened, but he lowered his wand.
“Harry,” Draco muttered, his voice breaking on each syllable. “Help.”
Harry was cautious, a moment, and then he slipped his wand into his robes.
“Why would I help you?”
Draco’s arse met the cool tile of the bathroom wall, and he slid all the way down, landing in an inelegant pile, tears streaming down his cheeks. “Because I’m asking you to. Because I’ll beg, if you want me to.”
Harry stepped closer still. His face was wary, but he had slipped his wand back into his robes seemingly without thought.
“I’m — supposed to kill Dumbledore.” Draco wanted to tear his eyes from Harry’s, but he couldn’t and he didn’t. “And if I don’t — he’ll kill my parents, and he’ll make me watch. And then he’ll kill me.”
Harry frowned. “Dumbledore wouldn’t —”
“Not him.” Draco rested his head on his knees. “Him.”
Nothing happened, for several long moments. Probably, wars were fought and lost in that time. Continents shifted. Hearts broke and were mended and then broke again. Draco let himself sob. Trying to stop it would be a waste of effort, he reasoned, and then he sensed Harry closer. Crouching directly in front of him.
Pressing a hand over Draco’s hands, atop his knees.
“I can help,” Harry promised. No, he didn’t just say; he promised, and the promise was evident in every syllable. “I swear, Malfoy. If you mean it — I’ll help. But it’s going to be hard. You’re going to be scared.”
“I’m scared now,” Draco said, his breath hitching. “Please. Please, Potter. Please just help me.”
Harry stared for a few moments.
“Has your sarcasm become much more convincing, or can I trust you?”
Draco wanted to take Harry’s face between his hands. He wanted so much. His consciousness seemed to flit between now and then; he’d never slipped into his own head in any of these memories, he realised with a start. Only ever feeling Harry. Harry’s feelings, Harry’s memories.
“Please trust me.” Draco turned his wrist, and held Harry’s hand tightly. “I’ll do an unbreakable vow, if you want.”
Harry seemed to take a long time considering it. “No. I trust you. About this, at least.” But he didn’t pull his hand away, and somehow that simple point of contact became the centre of the universe, for a little while. It seemed like an excellent moment for a very distasteful joke, or to tell Harry he was an idiot for trusting a Slytherin. But instead, Draco nodded serenely, unwilling to break the spell.
Neither Draco. The young, terrified Draco in the bathroom with tears burning his face, or the now-Draco. The stakes had never been this high. He’d win or fail here tonight.
“You know we’ll need to go to Dumbledore,” Harry said. His voice echoed unpleasantly around the bathroom, like some portent of doom. The acoustics in here were frankly terrifying; Draco had always thought so. He might have chosen somewhere slightly less dreadful to have a nervous breakdown and prostrate himself at Harry Potter’s feet.
“I know.” Draco hands shook and shook. He wondered when it had started. The end of fourth year, maybe, when he’d seen the crumpled body of Cedric Diggory on the ground outside the labyrinth and Harry screaming. Maybe later that night, seeing his ashen father clutch his arm. “Do you think he’ll protect my parents? My mother, at least. If I asked him. Would he help?”
“Of course he will,” Harry promised, squeezing his hand again. “If they’ll let him.”
Draco snorted. “Just Mother, then. I’m fucked, Potter. I’m dead either way. There’s nowhere he can’t find me.”
Draco leaned forward until his forehead rested on Harry’s shoulder. He rested. He waited for Harry’s arms to encircle his shoulders, and they did. Young, and small, and then older, and stronger, and they were tangled together impossibly.
“But this…” Harry’s voice was lower, and scratchy, and exhausted. “This didn’t happen, did it. It didn’t happen and it can’t happen. The worst thing I ever did. I can’t take it back.”
“You could let me forgive you,” Draco murmured, with his lips brushing against Harry’s ear. “You could remember that I was about to cast an Unforgivable curse on you, and that you — against all laws of rational behaviour, forgave me.”
“It’s not the same.”
“Because you’re better than me.” Draco wanted to spit the words, but they were true, so he said them instead, cradling them on the edge of his lip for as long as he could manage.
“No,” Harry said. The fire was gone. He just sounded hollowed out. “I was only ever for one thing, Draco, and I did it when I was seventeen years old. D’you know that?”
“It’s not true.”
“Feels true. Things happened. I’m done with things happening, I think. I sacrificed myself. They shouldn’t have made me take that back.”
“You don’t have to belong to anyone but yourself anymore, Harry,” Draco murmured, into Harry’s robe, his skin. “Please. I don’t know the words that will get through to you. Please, Harry. Darling.” He had the feeling that their surroundings had changed, but he didn’t want to open his eyes to check; he could rely, he thought, on the shift from damp tile grout and cold night air to the smell of thick dust and carpet mildew. They were, he suspected, in the sitting room at Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place. He felt Harry moving; his arms slipping around Draco’s waist, his head resting on Draco’s stomach. Draco reached down, his fingers carding through Harry’s hair.
“Please don’t go,” Draco murmured. “After all of this — I keep imagining what it might be like if you wake up. If you wake up with me. What it might be like. Fuck, Harry, you complete tosser. I know you don’t like having anything nice for yourself but perhaps you could see this as a gift to me. Not a gift. Something I need like Neville Longbottom needs plants. Don’t forget. Please, don’t forget, what it was like. What we were like. What we are like.”
“You’re a Healer,” Harry replied flatly, his voice weary and adult. "If I wake up — we’re done.”
“No,” Draco replied, his lip curling viciously. “If you wake up — we can start, at last.”
“This never happened. It didn’t make a difference. Dumbledore died. So many people died. Some fucking hero. I’m tired, Draco. I’m just…”
“But you are, you idiot. You are the most Gryffindor person to ever walk this earth, Harry Potter, and I need you to summon up the last of your courage and wake up. Just a little bit more, Harry. And then I’ll lock the doors. I’ll tell Hermione you need a year off. Or a decade. Or that I don’t want you ever working again, and you can mooch around in your pyjamas all day and… I don’t know. Paint. Design brooms. Read your way through the Western canon, if you like, though I’ve never taken you for much of a reader. You can wrap your ridiculous octopus arms around me and refuse to let me get out of bed in the mornings, and I’ll let you. I’ll grumble about it, though. You’ll know… you’ll know I don’t mean it.”
He scratched through Harry’s hair.
“If you let yourself die,” he said, pretending his voice wasn’t weak and watery, “I swear by Merlin and Morgana that I will raise your ghost and make you haunt me for the rest of my life.”
It was several days later when Blaise finally re-appeared from his mission. He was as straight-backed as always in his Unspeakable robes and as affectionate as ever once he’d been carefully relieved of them. He didn’t talk about his mission, but only because their time was sacred, not because Hermione wasn’t to know.
When they were aching and exhausted and energised, Hermione stretched and slung her arm across Blaise’s stomach.
“Draco said you can take me to the Manor,” she said.
“Then I will,” he replied. “Early tomorrow. It’s at its most beautiful at sunrise.”
So it was at sunrise that Hermione and Blaise apparated a mile from the wards of Malfoy Manor. Hermione frowned.
“I can’t see it,” she said.
“Well, it’s gone,” Blaise said. He took two impossibly fluid steps and settled himself behind Hermione, one arm around her chest and the other, her hips.
“But — there’s nothing to see,” she said. “You said it was beautiful.”
“And anyway, have you heard me announce us? I’m Secret-Keeper.” And then in a voice that was something decidedly posh-adjacent, he said “Malfoy Mansion, Wiltshire.” His voice was as rich and smooth as velvet.
Hermione peered across the empty land. Nothing.
“Come on,” Blaise said, taking her hand as they walked down the hill and through the scattered trees. “We’re nearly there, love. Just keep your eyes open.”
And there it was, quite suddenly. Here in the clearing, there were dark stones and about a million flowers budding and ready to bloom. It was pretty — actually, it was very pretty. It was…
Hermione strained against Blaise’s grip and gaped into the wide-open space.
There were parts of the manor that were still grimly clinging to life. The beginnings of a couple of staircases that now ascended to nowhere and a fireplace along with a significant part of its chimney still somewhat intact. But for the most part, the manor had been razed. There was nothing about it that felt dead, though.
Hermione made her way to the stones that once made a grand path to the door. Even here, tiny purple buds peered curiously into the warming air. They seemed to strain towards her, too, but Hermione had long since come to the conclusion that it was best to assume all plants were at least mildly sentient and be as nice to them as possible.
“I don’t know if he knows about the flowers,” Blaise said quietly, holding Hermione’s elbow as she picked her way across the space. “But the Malfoys never really got rid of anything, and there were old food stores and mattresses in one of the cellars. Far as I can tell, the mattresses were stuffed with grasses and seeds and once the enchantments were gone and everything started to fall apart, the seeds struck.”
Hermione watched as a gentle breeze ripple across the dark rocks, making the flowers bob and dance. She would bring Malfoy back here when the Spring was in full swing and let him see what he had created.
“Why did he do it, Blaise? It was a house, a… I know it was alive. How could he kill it? All those Pureblood things…”
“You know as well as anyone… better than most,” Blaise said, letting her slip from his grip. “There was nothing but evil, the last year that Malfoy Manor existed. Pansy tried to talk him into selling the land. She thought Muggles might not be able to feel it. That ugliness. And he needed the money — he didn’t inherit the Black fortune until years after he’d disappeared,” Blaise said.
“And,” Hermione said. “It’s not — spoiled earth?”
Blaise shook his head, and took a few steps forward. “No. But the house was sick. Draco wasn’t sure she even wanted to recover, and he sure as shit wasn’t going to force her to survive. She stood for almost a thousand years. Growing, evolving — she was tired.”
Hermione kneeled to examine the buds, the early flowers. To enjoy the scent of warm, moist earth. It didn’t feel like a place that had seen that much evil. Not anymore.
“There’s something I’ve been meaning to ask you,” Blaise said.
“What’s that?” Hermione asked him, brushing her fingertips over the petals of a flower she couldn’t hope to identify. Neville needed to know about this place. She sat back on her ankles, feeling younger and stronger than she had in… well.
A long time.
“Marry me,” Blaise said. He had a box in his hand, Hermione saw, as she turned around. The ring inside resembled a tight coil of ivy with wide, healthy leaves, the dewdrops thereupon tiny pearls of light. “I know there’s a part of you that wants to tell me to wait, and ask again when Harry is alright. And that’s why I’m asking now. Because I hope he’ll wake up, I swear I do, I know you love him, and I know Draco fucking Malfoy loves him even worse; but you and me, Hermione: none of that is about us. And this can’t be about them.”
Hermione felt her smile widen.
“I’ll marry you, then,” she said. “Since you asked so nicely. Just don’t imagine I’ll be changing my name.” She settled between Blaise’s knees and he took her hand, carefully sliding the ring over her finger until it settled like a promise.
There was laughter in Blaise’s voice, but his eyes were warm and sincere, when he looked up from Hermione’s hand to her face. “Blaise Granger has a ring to it.”
It didn’t, though.
“It does,” Hermione said, and she leaned in for a warm, familiar kiss.
When Draco woke that final morning he was, for a moment, as disoriented as it is possible to be in completely familiar surroundings, and in the company of someone with whom one has spent most of ones time for months on end. Draco was getting used to waking on the transfigured bed, held down by mystical sleep, with his fingers tangled up with Harry’s. And Harry never moved. Never took his hand back. The sheets were never rumpled and nor were the soft flannel pyjamas Harry wore.
This time, though.
Draco woke to find Harry half-sprawled over his side. Head on Draco’s shoulder, arm across his chest, hand tucked securely under Draco’s body, just above the jagged cut of his hip.
“Harry,” Draco murmured. He had to get up. He had to run diagnostic spells, and make sure that this was true sleep and that Harry was ready to come home. If he decided to wait, selfishly, to enjoy the puff of breath against his jaw and watch the jump of the pulse in Harry’s neck… well, this had been exhausting for Draco, too.
Daring, he raised a hand to press against Harry’s shoulder, and run it down over his spine. He’d lost some weight. Not as much as he might have without the stasis spells but it would be a little while before he was at fighting weight. Time. Only time, good food, exercise — the fun kind, ideally, chasing a Crup by the ocean, pointless and excessively competitive broomstick flying (preferably with a superbly skilled rival Seeker, and a practice snitch), rather than chasing Dark Wizards down dark alleys and getting hexed in the face.
Harry’s scent had shifted slightly, as if escaping from the dream had brought something of his usual self back to the surface.
Draco didn’t know when he started to notice the tears burning his cheeks, but burn they did. Still Harry didn’t wake up. As odd as it seemed that someone might need to sleep off a five-month nap, it made a sort of sense, too. Draco was content to watch.
Eventually — an hour, maybe two, Draco wasn’t counting, just enjoying himself — Harry rolled over onto his other side and away from Draco. Probably getting too warm. Draco let him. He needed to get up. He had things to do. Not all of them had to do with Harry but most of them did. He wasn’t going to give in to the urge to wake him and shake him and demand to know if he remembered everything and if it had all been real; to kiss Harry from the top of his stupid birds-nest head of hair, still mostly black but shot through with grey, to the toes on his ugly feet, which had done more work than they should ever have had to by the time he had turned eighteen.
Draco let the tips of his fingers kiss Harry’s shoulder, and then he silently climbed off the bed.
He carefully cast the diagnostic spells. On waking, Harry had thrown off the last of the stasis spells, and everything else was returning to normal. His heart rate wasn’t what Draco would have liked. A little thready. But some food, plenty of fluids, and getting up on his feet soon would all help with that. There was damnably little research on the recovery process for people who had managed to wish themselves into a magical coma, though Draco was already planning to write Harry’s case up for publication — with his permission, of course, and carefully distorted so that no one would ever gasp into their freshly delivered Magical Malady Monthly to exclaim “THE BOY WHO LIVED?”
And then, because he was selfish, and because hope had stayed, and because Draco had no idea how long it would be before he knew what might happen next, he kissed Harry’s forehead, before leaving him to rest and closing the door silently behind him.
Draco spent the day catching up on other things, and occasionally checking to see if Harry had made any further progress towards waking up. He Owled Hermione Granger to tell her that Harry was awake while politely swearing to break both of her legs if she came to see him before Draco had given his permission. He notified essential hospital staff of Harry’s condition and since he was on a roll with the threats, he promised to break all of their legs if anyone so much as breathed on him wrong, or let slip to any of the much younger and stupider staff around the hospital that the famous Harry Potter was under their roof. He gave Rubino a long list of instructions, so long in fact that Rubino had gazed at Draco with hearts in his eyes for a full five seconds before he disappeared into the fireplace looking as much vindicated as cheered. Perhaps he had been bored.
He received a highly agitated return Owl from Hermione insisting that he let her come right away or she would break something else that no Minister for Magic should ever have threatened.
Rolling his eyes, Draco replied in beautiful script that he was not above Obliviating Harry until he thought he was twenty again and then persuading him to join a professional Quidditch team.
He knew he had won when Hermione’s final Owl was nothing but a scrawled, angry face and a demand that Persephone (who was a stunning creature and welcome to grace Draco’s rooms at the hospital anytime) only be returned when Draco was satisfied that Harry was ready for a visitor.
In the late afternoon Draco resolved that if Harry didn’t wake soon, Draco would wake him. At least to see that he could stand on his own, and walk, and to find out how much he remembered. To eat, and to have a cup of tea, the almighty British healer of all things. But fretting, he kept putting it off, until a shuffling step and a click of the door startled him, and Draco turned around.
“Hullo,” Harry said. He was much more beautiful awake than asleep and much more beautiful in real life than he was in his dreams. Still in his pyjamas and now also wearing the robe and slippers that Draco had left him. Hands in his pockets, slightly stiff-looking, holding himself as straight as he could.
Draco smiled warmly, standing up from his desk. “Hullo,” he replied. “Are you hungry?”
It wouldn’t have been accurate to say that Harry had hoped he wouldn’t wake up. But that didn’t change the fact that now he was awake he had no idea what to do with himself. He had sat in the armchair in the bedroom for at least an hour when he woke again, wondering what he should do; every time he heard Draco move around in the rooms beyond his own he felt a rush of anxiety. Back in the world, but not ready to be back in the world. He was in limbo. Staring out of the window at the spring afternoon and wondering if he could actually put himself back into that safe, comfortable place in his mind, all alone with his thoughts.
Except that he hadn’t been on his own. He was sure of it, now.
He was relieved to find Draco quiet and reserved. It meant that for a little while at least he could pretend he didn’t remember anything of the last few months; and he didn’t know the date but the flowers outside the window told him in no uncertain terms that it had, indeed, been months.
He sat at the small round table and watched as Draco fussed over a pot of tea.
“Milk and sugar,” he said, meeting Harry’s eyes for a moment. “I know you prefer a slice of lemon, but we need to get a little of something into you in case your stomach isn’t ready for food.”
Harry gave him a tired smile and nodded. “Milk and sugar is fine.”
Draco set the cup on the table. Not a teacup, actually, it was a mug, and it wasn’t full, which could only mean that Draco had seen how his hands shook. It was very strange, seeing Draco Malfoy behaving in a way that was so acutely considerate and careful. Or perhaps not. Perhaps it was only that Harry hadn’t seen that gentle care turned on himself in this way. Not outside of…
Fuck, he’d been out only a few hours, and as much as he knew it was time to go home, he missed it. The good days, anyway, days when Draco wouldn’t let him out of bed, or when they cooked side by side in the kitchen or talked in the sitting room with their bare feet stretched out toward the fire.
“I don’t want to interrogate you,” Draco said delicately, sitting across the small table with his own mug of tea.
“I imagine you need to anyway.”
“Well, I think I can keep it brief.” Draco tipped his head on that beautiful long neck and his eyes, which had darkened a little since he was young, sparkled warmly. “How are you feeling?”
“Very well, thank you,” Harry lied automatically.
Draco raised an eyebrow and looked pointedly at his shaking hands. “So I see.” He sighed. “Alright, let’s try something more specific. Any muscle weakness?”
“Perhaps a little.” He shrugged. "Yes."
“Headache? Stomachache? Are your eyes adjusting?”
He shook his head. “No. I know it sounds strange, but… I’m tired.”
“I’m not surprised at all. You haven’t done any magic in several months, and you need to start again soon, or it will get harder and harder to start again. You can start small. Accio Harry’s wand.”
The wand flew gracefully across the room from where it had been tucked away on the bookcase and Draco directed it to Harry’s hand.
“I can’t think of…”
With a crack, dinner plates appeared on the table and Harry, in his alarm, spilled tea.
“Well, then,” he said. “Scourgify. I guess that will do.” It wasn’t very thorough and Harry’s sleeve was soon sticky where his arm had been resting but he thought it was probably a reasonable go for the first time in several months.
“This looks good,” Harry said, uneasy. The food looked tasty — a pile of very fresh looking salad and some warm risotto, but the thought of eating anything was uncomfortable. “I don’t know if —”
“You only need to try,” Draco said gently. “You need to start somewhere. If you feel ill, don’t finish. But you need to get your strength up, since, you know, you are feeling very well thank you. Despite the tiredness and the shaking hands.” Harry wanted to say something sharp in response but Draco’s expression suggested that this was familiar territory for him — a Healer, who would ever have imagined that — and that he wasn’t being scolded like a mortal enemy but jostled along like any other pig-headed patient.
Any other pig-headed patient who had put themselves into a months-long magical coma, anyway.
“If I throw up, I shall try to do so on the robe, which will be easier to clean than the carpet.”
“Much obliged,” Draco replied drily. “The elf does bitch and moan.”
They ate in silence for a while, and Harry found that once he had a little food in his stomach he was actually quite hungry. He took his time, though, unwilling to press his luck. The cold hum of humiliation needed to remain a hum, and not become a roar.
“I suppose they’re all furious with me.”
Draco frowned. “Furious? Worried. I was hardly the first Healer summoned.”
“How did they find you? Why?”
Draco shrugged. “I’ve made quite a name for myself. The name, of course, is Guaritore Christopher Black, since Draco Malfoy’s name is Death Eater mud, but beyond that… it was a coincidence, I promise. One I meant to keep secret and would have, without Minister Granger’s mysterious companion. Rather immune to Glamours.”
That all sounded improbable but it wasn’t something Harry had the mental capacity to consider at that point. Of course Blaise had seen through the Glamour; even Harry had little difficulty with that.
“Hermione,” Harry said, rubbing his eyes. “Does she know I…?”
“Yes, but she knows to stay away until I say she can come.”
“She can come. I don’t want to worry —”
“Did I stutter? She can come when I say she can. Not you. You are the patient, Ha— Pot… Auror Potter?” Draco gave him an assessing look.
“Harry. If you don’t mind.”
“Harry, then. I know you are ready to mount a dragon and fly back to the office to work yourself into another coma but I am the Healer, here, and I insist that you spend some time recovering. I’ll send for Hermione in a day or two.”
Harry nodded gravely. “I can see how important rest might be.”
Draco snorted. “You’re as good a liar at 37 as you were at 17. Which is to say not at all.”
“I was just thinking that I’ve imposed for a long time, here.” He glanced at the window. The sun was beginning to set, but Draco surely caught his meaning. “Perhaps I should return to London, let you get back to… your life,” he said, choking a little on nothing at all. He knew that all that time spent with Draco had been in his head. That did nothing to make it feel less real.
Draco regarded him coolly. “I see.”
“I could be available to consult for the Department while I malinger.”
“I think you meant ‘convalesce’.”
“Of course.” Harry looked away sharply. “I meant convalesce.”
“Of course. And no.”
“You are free to act against medical advice, of course, but I recommend you remain here in Naples where I can assist and observe your recovery. I will inform Minister Granger of this, as your medical proxy, of course.”
Harry narrowed his eyes. “You’re going to go telling tales on me to the Minister of Magic?”
“Worse. I’m planning to rat you out to Hermione.”
Harry snorted, despite himself. “Alright. I can sit on my arse a little longer. I could probably stop invading your, uh, home, though.”
“Oh, stop it.” Draco stabbed viciously at his risotto, though it was very nice and hadn’t done him any harm. “This isn’t my home, Potter, for fuck’s sake, it’s my office. I don’t know what you’re doing, but stop it.”
The flash of irritation would once have set off Harry’s temper, but now, he was embarrassed. And frankly, desirous. If they were inside his head he might have sidled up closer and apologised with a kiss, with fingers pressed against Draco’s skin but here, he couldn’t. This was real. Draco should never have had to do what he did.
“Harry — you do remember. Don’t you?”
Harry shrugged. “Some.” He couldn’t meet Draco’s eyes, though, and that was probably more telling. When he glanced up at last Draco’s expression told him as much. His eyes were soft, and he glanced from Harry’s eyes to his mouth and away again.
“Alright.” Draco looked… disappointed, maybe, or perhaps he was just thinking. “I had an idea, actually.”
“I hope it was better than mine.” Harry flushed again. “I mean — better than my unconscious mind’s idea for how to get a day off,” he corrected.
“Much better. Though your unconscious mind had its moments.”
Harry sighed. “Malfoy…”
“Ouch,” Draco replied drily. “Never mind, then.” His smile was brisk, and professional. “I thought you might like to stay at my villa. I have a tower guest room with a view over the water. Plenty of books, access to the hospital via the Floo — I think I need to engage someone else to be your Healer, from now on, but I think it’s a good option.” He raised his hand. “I can hear you, you know, thinking so loudly — oh, Malfoy, I couldn’t possibly impose; oh, Malfoy, I know a Healer in Britain who owes me and will sign off on me going back to work, wouldn’t you prefer I got out from under your feet? Oh, Malfoy — blah blah fucking blah Chosen One needs to get back to work.”
Harry froze, preparing a passionate defence of his motivations, but he shook his head, instead. “Alright,” he said with a laugh. Draco’s mockery didn’t even sound like mockery. “What do you propose?”
Draco flashed an expression that brought to mind a much younger Draco battling his desire to preen. He sipped from his water glass, and dabbed at his mouth with a napkin.
“I told you. A very comfortable guest room. Plenty of time to rest. Good food, the healing powers of the ocean — the air is warm and the water is cool, at this time of year. If it makes any difference to you… I work long hours. You would have the place to yourself, for the most part.”
Harry said nothing, guilt gnawing at his gut.
“At the very least, you could try to wait until you’ve been awake twenty-four hours or so before you attempt to argue for a hasty escape.”
Harry smiled awkwardly. “Er. Yes,” he said. “Yes, of course. I’ll Owl Hermione in the morning.”
The sun was down when Draco took Harry through the Floo.
The house wasn’t at all what Harry would have imagined. It wasn’t icy and clean like the Manor; it felt lived-in, even if Draco did claim not to spend a lot of time there. A pile of books was stacked untidily on the coffee table in front of the fireplace and the large corner couch was overstuffed and rumpled and looked very comfortable indeed. The place was full of oddities he looked forward to exploring when he had a lot more energy and the scent of wintergreen simmering slowly in a cauldron told Harry exactly where Draco’s potions laboratory was.
“It’s… lovely,” Harry said. Fuck, one of these days he was going to need to make a proper home for himself. It was far too late for him to do anything about Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place. He’d neglected her for so long she would probably resist any effort he made to nurse her back to health. But perhaps he could gift her to someone anonymously. Buy a flat, or something. Let Luna Lovegood help him to decorate it, that would make her happy.
Sleeping in his office had always been a very poor reflection on Harry’s life choices but now, it would be humiliating, as well.
“You can explore tomorrow,” Draco said, kindly but firmly, and steered Harry toward a staircase.
Draco followed him up the stairs to the guest room, and though Harry didn’t want to ask if he was anticipating Harry falling, he couldn’t shake the feeling that Draco was bracing himself to catch him if he did. He wondered if that was what it would take for Draco to put his hands on him. He wondered if that was what he wanted.
“It’s lovely,” Harry said again, shuffling across the shiny floorboards to open a window and let the sea air in. The room was circular, the four poster bed piled up with what looked suspiciously like old, comfortable, handmade quilts. Not very Malfoyish, if he was honest.
Not fair, not fair. Harry didn't know Draco. Not the real Draco. Only the one... well only the one who had taken up residence in his head a long time back and never really left, fuelled by... but Harry wasn't ready to think about that. “Beautiful. Really. Are you sure…?”
Draco’s expression was difficult to interpret, but if Harry had to put a galleon on it he might have said that it was the expression of a person who knew he had no right to be hurt, but was nonetheless hurt. He had offered his hospitality. Harry would be a monster to refuse it.
Draco took a breath.
Harry was tired; he rested his hip against the bulky old chest of drawers under the window. It was magical; beautifully carved, with schools of fish dancing in the scrolled corners. He gazed at the slippers on his feet for several long moments, looking up when Draco took a tentative step toward him. Dressed in comfortable flannel pyjamas and a thick, heavy, warm robe, he’d never felt so naked. Not even in that horrifyingly realistic dream place, the inside of his head, with Draco’s lips all over him and Draco’s warm, filthy words in his ear.
It was so fucking humiliating.
“You do remember,” Draco said. “Harry. You do. I can see it on your face.”
Harry’s heart ached, and his head hurt.
“You’re a superb Healer, Draco,” he said, forcing himself to meet Draco’s eyes. “I think… I think I would have died.”
Draco nodded. He paled. His eyes — how had they ever looked cold and calculating? They were warm and blue and much like shallow water at the beach on a warm day. So full of care. If Lucius had survived Azkaban, he wouldn’t have survived seeing his son become such a good and kind man. Harry’s mind ran a film reel: Draco gently coaxing him from some inescapable horror, Draco’s fingertips running over his skin in the morning sun. Curled up against Draco’s body, in front of the fireplace.
Draco calling him Darling. When all of this was done, that was something he would hold tight to his chest and think about. Darling. Harry, Darling.
“You shouldn’t have had to do that. Any of that.” Harry laughed, but the laugh was hollow and humourless. And then, nothing. Harry stood leaning against the beautiful old chest of drawers and Draco’s expression hardened into a mask of professionalism.
“It wasn’t a hardship,” Draco muttered, when he could, glancing at the floorboards. “I’ll leave you to get some sleep. I eat around seven. If you’re awake, you’re welcome to join me. Otherwise, Rubino can make you breakfast in the morning.” Draco nodded tightly. “Sleep well, Auror Potter. Tomorrow we’ll discuss a recovery plan.” And then he turned on his heel, and he was already closing the door and heading down the stairs before Harry could stir himself to reply.
Harry slept poorly and shallowly, but that was hardly a surprise.
Hermione didn’t want to bring Parvati this time. She wanted no secrets, and that meant only Blaise and herself. But Parvati wouldn’t be swayed and Blaise was even more immovable on the subject. Hermione couldn’t deny that she had been running herself ragged, and as much as she found it difficult to believe that anything would happen to her at a tiny Wizard hospital in Naples she wasn’t prepared to spend any more time arguing with either one of them. She had waited two whole days to receive word from Draco that she could come and visit; she wasn’t waiting any longer.
When they arrived at the apparition point outside the hospital Parvati was, of course, immediately on the lookout for anything untoward; Hermione commented sourly that there was every chance someone might leap from the shadows to offer them all wine and olives, but Blaise humphed irritably at her side and Parvati was too professional to rise to the bait.
They were greeted by Rubino, who took another opportunity to practice his English with them, but this time didn’t take their coats. Perhaps because they were lighter; the weather was warm, as could be expected in this part of Italy in the late Spring, and anyway, Hermione was glad not to have to feel guilty about the wizened elf working for them.
Rubino opened the door to Draco’s rooms. It seemed strange that he wouldn’t knock or announce himself, and Hermione wondered for a mad moment if Harry had leapt cheerfully from his coma and insisted that elf subservience was very thirteenth century and had to stop.
“Minister,” Parvati said, turning as the door closed, ready and waiting for the gourmet fiends just waiting for the opportunity to attack. Hermione tried to tamp down the irritation. It really wasn’t anyone’s fault that she was in a funny mood. Lots going on. An engagement she couldn’t announce until after Blaise had resigned from his post, a best friend emerging from his coma, another still pretending that everything was right with the world;
And no Harry. And no Draco.
“Hello, Rubino,” she said. “Where are they?”
“Guaritore Black is taking Master Potter to his Villa,” Rubino said. He produced a slip of parchment and handed it to Hermione before bowing so low his little nose almost touched the ground. “Minister and her friend are to use the Floo.” He disapparated with a crack, and Hermione was left with her mouth hanging open.
“I didn’t know elves could see you,” Hermione said, when the elf apparated. Blaise didn’t reply. Hermione sighed. “Of course they can. They’re difficult to fool, even if they are easily enslaved.”
“Don’t start,” Blaise murmured quietly.
“Should we tell Parvati?”
“The elf will. He knows what he’s doing, love.”
“I suppose he does,” she said, chewing her lip. “But —”
“You’re procrastinating. Have you any idea why?”
Hermione bristled. “Don’t be ridiculous.”
But she had taken a few steps away, toward Draco’s shelves, and was examining the spines of his books. “I’d love to get lost in this library for a few… months,” she said. “I’m not procrastinating.”
“You are. It’s alright; you’re the Minister for Magic, Hermione.” Blaise lowered his hood onto his neck and settled on the arm of an overstuffed chair, which purred disconcertingly. “But I’d be remiss both as your adviser and your future husband if I didn’t give you a minute to figure out exactly why you are procrastinating. It’s hardly your style.”
“This was my fault,” she said, with a sigh. “I worked him too hard. I let others work him too hard. I didn’t see the signs, I… I’ve spent the last several months carefully cataloguing everything that I’ve ever done wrong where Harry is concerned and it is a very long list. I want to tell him to leave the DMLE and, I don’t know, become a baker, or — become nothing, spend his days lazing in the sun or something but the entire Department is a mess without him.”
“You underestimate the DMLE. You'd be surprised at what they've managed without him. And you work very hard yourself, Hermione,” Blaise said, reaching to take her hand, but she wasn’t in the mood to be reassured.
“Yes, I do. But I have you. I rest. We take holidays together, Blaise, and not to a dragon sanctuary in Romania. Harry doesn’t have a home — have you ever really thought about that?”
Time to stop feeling sorry for herself. Hermione climbed to her feet, and opened the scroll of parchment.
“Christopher Black’s Villa, Via Scogliere Scura,” she said, and they stepped into the green flames.
When Hermione and Blaise stepped out of the fireplace and into Draco’s little house things were definitely amiss. Blaise stepped in front of her almost instantly, wand raised and ready; the glass shook in the window frames, the pictures shook on the walls (upsetting some of the residents briefly) and the light wavered dramatically as the flames were tossed from side to side. And then it stopped.
“Sorry,” Harry said, looking mildly embarrassed. “Er… my magic is a little bit… unpredictable.”
“Oh, Harry,” Hermione said, rushing across the room to wrap her arms around him. He felt smaller, having lost a little weight and perhaps some muscle tone, but he held her tight.
“I’m sorry I frightened you,” Harry murmured, against her neck.
“It’s only a bit of magic.”
“That’s not what I meant.”
“I know,” Hermione said. “But you’re awake. And you’re alright? You’re really alright?”
“He will be.”
Hermione and Blaise turned to look at Draco, emerging from the kitchen. He looked tired, Hermione thought. In fact, they both looked a little unhappy, and Hermione fought to keep the smile on her face.
“Draco. Thank you,” she said. She crossed to where he was standing. Awkward. What on earth was one supposed to do with ones arms in these situations? Oh, fuck it; Draco had saved Harry’s life, and they weren’t children any more. Draco was a Healer and a good man and if Blaise was right, he loved Harry. After another moment’s hesitation, she wrapped her arms around his neck and shoulders. Tight, and hard, unwilling to let go until he had some idea of what it meant to her.
For a moment Draco stiffened, surprised and probably uncomfortable. And then she felt his arms move, wrapping around her waist; cautious and polite, until they suddenly weren’t, and he was hanging on for dear life.
Oh, whatever had happened in the two days since Harry had finally woken up… it wasn’t what she’d imagined. Not after seeing the memory of Harry waking happily with Draco in a brightly lit bedroom at Twelve Grimmauld Place. Not after watching Draco change from a caring Healer to a worried friend, seen the anger at Harry’s Muggle relatives and his fear that Harry might never wake up. Draco was clinging to her because he needed to cling to someone, and Harry —
Harry was an Auror again.
“Thank you,” Hermione said again, and if she thought Draco’s breath might have hitched for a moment, she was too considerate to mention it.
“It’s fine.” Draco sounded sad, and Hermione couldn’t help but hear both meanings. It’s fine; you’re very welcome. It’s fine; I’ll survive this like I’ve survived everything else.
She stepped back a little, careful to stand between Draco and the other two, standing by the couch as if they were waiting to be told what to do next, and maybe they were.
“Draco, will you do me a favour? There must be a nice bar somewhere close by. Will you give me a break from my overprotective Unspeakable, take him for a drink while Harry and I catch up?” Hermione turned and fixed Blaise with her Minister Granger look. “I still have Parvati — please, Blaise.”
“Alright,” Blaise said, after a few moments. They’d of course managed an entire conversation with a glance, and Blaise knew that she wouldn’t be swayed, nor appreciate a fuss. “Welcome back, Potter.” He clapped Harry on the shoulder. “See you soon. Draco? What do they drink in Naples? I think one of my dads was from around here… maybe the fourth or fifth one…”
Draco tossed Hermione a grateful look, but didn’t so much as glance at Harry as he led Blaise into the Floo, the Glamour settling over his features as if by habit.
“Limoncello,” he said. “It’ll curl the hair on your balls, see if it doesn’t.”
Harry dropped onto the couch as if he had been waiting to fall over since he’d first stood up. Hermione sat beside him, smoothing down her robes and forcing a smile.
“I was afraid we might have really lost you,” she admitted. “And you’re — you’re healthy?”
“I think I’m still off my rocker,” Harry said drolly. “But I’m not sure that was new. I’m — I shouldn’t be here. Malfoy wants me to stay. A few months, he says, or a few weeks, at the very least. Hermione, I can’t. I —”
“Perhaps you could slow down a little, Harry. Will I make tea?”
Harry reached absently for his wand, but couldn’t find it right away. He gestured in the direction of the kitchen and Hermione’s teeth ached for a moment, until the unmistakable sound of a kitchen obediently making tea filtered through the house. “I’ve got it.”
He let Hermione pull him closer, head on her shoulder. “How much do you know?”
Hermione sighed. “This can wait, Harry. Can’t it?”
“Forever, ideally. I don’t want to think about it. I’m so embarrassed. He never should have known any of it. It was… it was private, and I know that sounds ridiculous under the circumstances, but it was. Private. Just somewhere I went when I didn’t want to be Harry Potter anymore. He never treated me like anything but the skinny speccy git from the train that morning at the beginning of first year. Even when we started to get along a little better, after… I hate seeing that obligation in his eyes, Hermione. I have to get home.”
“I thought you said you didn’t want to talk about it.”
“I don’t. How’s Ron?”
Hermione gave a weak smile, intended to convey that Ron was managing with it as well as he managed with anything; by working hard the shop, refusing to think about unpleasant things and hoping it would all work out. She didn’t begrudge him that. “He’s well. Glad to hear you’ll be coming home.”
“In a few days I’ll show him I’m doing alright, and once my magic is being a bit less… whoops,” he said, leaping to his feet to catch the teapot as it flew at him from the kitchen. “Er. Unpredictable — I’ll make a Portkey.”
“There’s no rush, Harry. I don’t want you to come home and just wish yourself into a mystical coma again.”
“I won’t,” Harry said, catching the cups in midair and easing them down onto the table; they seemed eager to participate, and it took a moment and a gentle stroke to calm them down enough to pour the tea. “I think we can all agree that I’ve had a good long rest. I’m eager to catch up on the progress of the Department.”
“You sound like a fucking press conference.” Hermione got to her feet, frustration written all over her face, in bouncing curls and a square jaw and lips pressed into a thin line. “Can you just be Harry Potter for a couple of hours? Will you listen to Draco, Harry?”
She didn’t want Harry back in the Department. Suddenly, Hermione hoped he’d never come back.
“D’you want to see? What it was like? He didn’t want to do it, you know. When he realised what was happening in your head. He showed me a memory in my pensieve, and told me I had to decide if it was alright for him to… I can show you, Harry. What he was like, when he started to think he couldn’t wake you ever.”
“No, Hermione. I’m not his medical proxy. It’s not the same thing at all.”
Harry’s jaw set fast. Was anyone Hermione knew not stubborn beyond all reason?
“Let’s go back to not talking about it,” Harry said, sitting gingerly as if he was afraid that wild magic of his might tear the lovely old couch to pieces. “You can tell me about that ring of yours.”
And then he smiled, and he looked like Harry Potter; and she smiled, and she felt like Hermione Granger.
Draco favoured a wine bar nearby; it was run by two Wizards, easily a hundred years old and married since they were out of school. Most of the patrons were Wizarding folk as well, but Italy had rather a more relaxed view of Muggle-Wizard relations, and many of the tables were mixed; Muggle friends and partners laughed quietly alongside their more magically inclined loved ones. In the back corner, three vampires sat quietly, minding their business and drinking from pewter goblets, rather than glasses.
“Interesting,” Blaise said.
“I don’t think I know quite what to do with you,” Draco said. He hadn’t expected to say it, though he had been thinking it. “You’re different.”
“Not really,” Blaise said, sauntering to the bar, his Unspeakable robes shrunk down and tucked into his pocket, wearing dark grey trousers with a perfect crease beneath a black t-shirt which drew the ayes of almost everyone in the room, whether desirous or envious. “I was a snooty git in school just like you. I’m not sure either of us have changed. We’ve just got different bits hanging out, now. Metaphorically speaking, of course.”
Draco made a disgusted noise, but didn’t reply, just ordered two glasses of limoncello and a carafe of the house red wine. Dreadful combination but as he was quite certain that Harry would soon disappear from his life, and with him both Blaise and Granger — Hermione — he really did need to sample the local specialty before he left. They found a quiet table, easy when the bar wasn’t very full, and Draco slumped into a chair. Not miserable, though, at all. Perish the actual fucking thought.
“I’m different,” he insisted. There had been such a long break in the conversation that Blaise seemed to take a moment to catch the train of thought. He shook his head, and lifted the limoncello to his lips.
“Blimey,” Blaise said. “Alright. That might not be my cup of tea.” He poured himself a glass of wine instead. “You forget, those of us in Slytherin did know you better than most. We saw you at your best as well as your worst. You were funny, and clever, and you kept an eye on the little ones, even when you called them names. You cared about people. You had a funny way of showing it, but you did.”
“Shut up,” Draco said sweetly.
“This Glamour of yours is a bit of alright,” Blaise said, gesturing at Malfoy’s face. “You really just wear it all the time?”
“Usually. It’s been strange not wearing it as much, the last few months. There are people who know who I am. Professor Piedemonte. A couple of others. He’s not interested in who was on the wrong side of the war. Only in what people do now. It’s refreshing. I still think I’d probably be on the receiving end of an entrails-expelling curse if I showed my face in Diagon Alley anytime in the next century or two.”
“That puts a damper on things.”
“Not really. I like my life here.”
“Which would be fine, if you weren’t absolutely besotted with Harry Potter. Again.”
Draco snorted limoncello out of his nose. It burned like acid, and his eyes watered. “Blaise, please.” He wiped his face with a napkin. “Perhaps you’re happy slumming it with Gryffindors—”
“Here we go.”
“— you know, just shut up, alright? Shut up. Did you know Harry was almost sorted into Slytherin?”
Blaise raised his eyebrows. “Harry, is it?” He shrugged. “I’m not shocked.”
“Potter,” Draco corrected. “And don’t pretend you know things you don’t, Blaise.”
Draco scrubbed his hand through his hair. “Whatever… whatever happened in his head — Harry tossing Potter hasn’t laid eyes on me since we were seventeen years old, and whatever bizarre fantasy world he cooked up in his head… it’s not about me. Fuck, maybe he had some kind of boyhood crush, I don’t know — I was, of course, very very attractive and important.”
Draco raised his eyebrows, daring Blaise to argue with him, but Blaise’s expression only softened into a warm smile.
“It doesn’t matter, is what I’m saying, because whoever he created in his head isn’t me. It never was. Just some weird extrapolation from school, some redemption-seeking version of me that never existed and never will, appealing to his deplorable sense of justice and goodness. So — so my feelings don’t matter, Blaise. I intend to write up his case notes for his next Healer because I know that one day very soon I will return to my house after work or I’ll wake up in the morning and there will be a painfully polite note left thanking me for my hospitality and ensuring I know where to send my bill. And I’ll never lay eyes on him again.”
Blaise held his gaze, waiting for him to continue. Draco was finished, though, mouth set in a firm line until he raised his glass to his lips and almost drained it.
“I do have a life, here, you know. I have friends. I have…” Draco gesticulated. “Sex friends. Friends I have sex with. No strings, no stupid attachments, no garbage childhood resentments, no war — I have people I go out with and eat dinner with and get drunk with and sleep with and they know who I am. They haven’t created some kind of fucking…”
He dabbed at his eyes with his napkin again. “Merlin, why did you make me snort that rubbish out of my nose? Now I…”
Blaise gripped Draco’s shoulder.
“You know,“ Draco said, when he could speak again, when the lump in his throat was gone and he could breathe, and see. “I only ever wanted him to see me. I wanted to be his friend. I wanted us to… have secrets, perhaps, to whisper late at night. I wanted to kiss him. I wanted him to want me. And now I’ve had this ridiculous charade for months… this imaginary version of myself conjured from nothing, and I don’t even know why but I still fucking want it. It’s pathetic. I’m pathetic. And I hope he leaves before I can get any more pathetic.”
They were silent for a long time.
“You know you didn’t just seek redemption. You earned it,” Blaise said quietly.
There was no balancing the scales. Draco knew that.
“What was the best thing?” Blaise asked. Not in that way he had sometimes where he was asking a question to hide the fact that he was making a point. No, this was pure Zabinian curiosity.
Draco thought for a long time. About long lazy afternoons stretched out on the bed. Harry submitting so sweetly to him. Or holding him down, fucking him until Draco could barely speak. Evenings on the couch in front of the fireplace, talking about nothing of any consequence. Playing stupid Muggle board games (snakes and ladders? Was that supposed to be funny) when Harry suddenly remembered where he’d seen one. Beating Harry at chess, over and over and over again because Harry was all flash and strength and no strategy.
He thought about the nightmares they’d unlocked together. Sirius in the Room of Death. The fucking Basilisk. Harry’s cupboard in Little Whingeing.
“Learning all of his secrets,” he said at last, his voice dull and tired.
“And what was the worst thing?”
Draco buried his face in his hands, elbows on the table.
“Learning all of his secrets,” he said again, and knew that both answers were true.
Every night since Harry had moved into the Villa, Draco had heard him walking around at night. So it wasn’t a terrible shock, several days later, to find Harry climbing silently down the stairs at two o’clock in the morning, with his hair sticking out in every direction and blinking owlishly behind his glasses. Draco was stretched out on the couch, warming his toes with a book in his hand.
Harry’s gaze flicked across the room to where Draco lay, and for a moment the look of hunger in his eyes was so raw that Draco thought he might have come down with some fantastically debauched intent, and then he settled the Auror mask back down over his features.
“I haven’t, much.” Harry joined Draco on the couch, sitting near his bare feet, long and pale with a dusting of gold hair. “I suppose I’ve slept enough for about a year.”
No, you haven’t, Draco wanted to say; if anything this proves you need more rest than you’ve ever let yourself get in your entire life, except maybe the first few weeks at Hogwarts, before you found out the world outside your cupboard was no better than the world inside it.
But he didn’t bother; he was about done repeatedly stabbing himself in the heart. Draco was a terrible glutton for punishment, these days, but he did have his limits.
“I think I should probably start making arrangements to head back to London,” Harry said, on a sigh. “I know you’ve said — but I’ve been intruding here for months. I can get back to light duties.”
“Your definition of light duties would probably frighten the hair off most people’s heads, so I won’t ask.” Draco looked at his book again, but he couldn’t even pretend to read, now. He reached for his bookmark, a pretty, embroidered thing that a patient had given him, with a tree on it that changed as the seasons passed. Right now, it was looking rather optimistically summery, ready for the flowers to become fruit. He tossed the book onto the coffee table.
“You’re not going to argue with me, then?”
Draco shrugged, and then shook his head. “I can’t see the point.”
“Oh,” Harry said, and though his tone sounded pleased, his expression was guarded and cautious. “Well.”
“You’re still as pig-headed as ever, and you’ve made up your mind what you’ll do. You’re not interested in my advice, or my rather expert opinion. So why would I argue?”
Although if one was to split hairs, the tone of that statement was somewhat argumentative.
“You’re awake, too,” Harry said, after a long silence.
“I suppose I am.”
“What are you reading?”
“Nothing. I’m talking to you.”
“Alright — what were you reading?”
Draco huffed, and shifted, reaching for the book and passing it to Harry. “I have a five year old patient who won’t speak,” he said, by explanation.
“This is a book of Muggle child psychology.”
“I am a Mind Healer,” Draco said drily. “As you might recall.”
“But — it’s a Muggle book.”
“I’m not proud. I use all sorts of methods. Muggle medications don’t work well on us, but I can sometimes pull together an equivalent potion — and psychology is psychology. We all have the same drives, in the end.” He yawned.
“What’s wrong with her?”
Draco gave Harry a hard look. The little girl, Draco believed, had been abused terribly. Which was something Harry might have some insight into, but she was still a patient, and she still deserved her privacy.
“She’s been through hell and back,” Draco said, in the end. “I’m going to bed.” He sat up, and rubbed his eyes, and forced himself to his feet. What he really wanted to do was lie with his head in Harry’s lap and talk to him the way they’d talked in Harry’s head, but he couldn’t. He had just reached the stairs when Harry called out again.
“You do understand, don’t you?” Harry said, hopefully.
“Precious little,” Draco replied, deadpan. “You’ll need to be a little more specific.”
“I have to get back,” Harry said. He looked younger, by firelight, the grey in his hair lost to the highlights that flickered with the flames. “I have work to do. It’s important.”
Draco took a breath.
“Yes,” he said. He took the first stair, and then the second, his feet getting heavier. He turned around. Harry was still staring at him.
“But Harry — you’re important too,” he said. “Not because you’re Harry Potter, Saviour of the Wizarding World, The Boy Who Lived, and winner of Witch Weekly’s Most Charming Smile Award too many times to count. Not because you’re a skilled Auror, and you have a chocolate frog card in your honour. Just because… because you’re a person. You don’t owe the world anything else.”
Harry looked dumbstruck, and then he smiled, weakly, wide eyes betraying something ridiculous going on in his fat head that Draco didn’t have the energy or inclination to investigate. “That’s very kind.”
“It’s not, though. It’s just… fundamental,” Draco said, sadly. “Goodnight, Harry.”
And there it was, in the morning. The note that Draco had dreaded finding.
Dear Healer Black,
It read. As if Harry was concerned that somebody else might find the note. He didn’t want to read it. He wanted to throw the sodding thing into the fireplace. But he read on.
Thank you again for all that you have done for me. Truly, I can’t thank you enough. And I can’t apologise enough for the disruption to your life for the last several months.
As if it was a fucking burden. Draco felt a familiar rock in his throat.
I have to get back to London, and to work. I hope you understand. Please forward my medical records to Healer Jenna Thistlewish care of St. Mungo’s. I will follow up with her on any rehabilitation I require.
Lying liar. Lying liar spouting lies.
If you are ever in London, please do get in touch.
There was a blotch at the beginning of the next line, as if Harry had spent a long time debating what else he could write, and had ultimately decided to sign off with just a
Arsehole. Complete sodding wanker. Draco crumpled the note into a ball, and moved to toss it into the fire, awful illegible scratchy handwriting and all. And then he smoothed it out, cast a quick ironic charm over it, folded it, and slipped it into a drawer in his private potions lab.
And then, of course, he went to work. Because he also had a lot to do.
Harry looked up, alarmed, deep shadows under his eyes and a guilty expression. “Hullo, ‘Mione… Minister,” he corrected, as she threw herself into his arms.
“What on earth — but Dra… Guaritore Black said you needed…”
“We agreed I could come back. He’s sending my files to St. Mungo’s.” He smiled, but Hermione knew Harry well enough to know when he was lying.
“He understands,” Harry said, still looking guilty. A number of items in his office trembled for a moment. “Whoops. I think I’m still having a little trouble focussing.” He looked at his wand, cast aside on his desk, as if it was the reason Harry’s magic was all over the place. It didn’t respond, but if any wand had ever looked haughty, Harry’s wand did at that moment. In fact, it looked downright miffed.
“Oh, Harry,” Hermione said, dropping into the armchair by the lamp in Harry’s office. She wanted to tear herself into pieces. She wanted him back — the DMLE needed him back. Harry had been refusing to take up the post of Chief Auror for years, because he always said he needed to be in the field, but that didn’t change the fact that he had been running the place for almost a decade. And that his extraordinary success rate had seemed to make pursuing Dark Magic significantly less attractive than throwing oneself into more legal and satisfying pastimes. Auror Robards was a signature, these days, and everyone knew it, including him.
But Harry Potter was her best friend, too. And it was impossible sometimes to know if she was the Minister for Magic, or Hermione Granger, Muggle-born Witch. And it was also hard to know if Harry was… the sum of all of his accolades, or Harry Potter.
“I need all the current case files,” Harry said, evenly. “And I need to know what my cover is, because I know everyone thinks I’ve been in Hungary, but…” he trailed off, and sat down heavily.
“You’re not working today. For the next few days. At least. Don’t you dare imagine that I have forgotten how to tell when you’re lying to me, Harry Potter,” she said, sternly.
“I’m awake, Hermione. Every day that I’m awake and not working, the anxiety about what I’m missing gets worse. Let me have this.”
She stopped wavering.
She wavered a little longer.
And then she came up with a little plan. A stalling plan, but a plan nonetheless.
“Not here.” She sighed. “Come and stay with me, for a little while, please. Blaise and I have a couple of spare bedrooms. I’ll have the files sent over if you’ll rest while you read them.”
Harry sighed in relief. “Fine.” He stood slowly, as if he was still exhausted, and Hermione thought he probably was. “Can I invite Ron around for dinner? I just want him to know I’m alright, and apologise for worrying him.”
“He doesn’t need your apologies. He’ll just be glad to have you back.” Hermione stood as well. “But go ahead and invite him. I’ll have Blaise make arrangements for the food.”
Harry kissed her cheek, and stepped into the Floo.
Dinner was exactly the raucous affair that Hermione had anticipated. She hadn’t yet told Ron that she was engaged to Blaise, and as nervous as Ron still seemed to be around him, he managed a very enthusiastic handshake, an equally enthusiastic hug (to Blaise’s horror and Hermione’s delight) and an assurance that he was well up to the task of arranging a Bachelor’s party. And then a long, awkward moment where Ron apparently remembered that it was generally the job of the best man, and that he didn’t have a clue who Blaise’s friends were; and then, thank goodness, Gabrielle being her usual delightful self, easing everyone into a slightly turned-on stupor for just long enough so that they were abe to gather their wits again.
And then Harry descended the stairs, a little shaky, still very pale, but alive and awake.
“Mate,” Ron said. “Me and George are making you an alarm clock for your birthday. The loudest one you ever heard of.” Mocking. But so relieved to see Harry that he was shaking a little, even as they held each other. At least until the girls started screaming ‘Uncle Harry’ and, still a bit too weak to lift them both the way they were used to Harry crouched on the ground for a very squirmy hug.
Ron’s delight at having Harry back was palpable. It ached, a little, though. Ron wanted to act as if Harry had been gone for a couple of weeks, and wasn’t interested in hearing any kind of details. Harry knew not to try to share them, but the scene made Hermione ache for the days when the three of them had never had a single secret from each other.
Mostly, Harry seemed delighted to have his Goddaughters back. They told a series of ridiculous stories, each tale taller than the last, while everyone ate takeaway Muggle Thai food (everyone present could cook, Harry being the best of them, but no one had seemed to have the time or inclination and Harry still looked incredibly tired. And when had he last cooked?).
It was almost a relief when Ron and Gabrielle took the children home. As much as Hermione loved them, she could see the toll that it was taking on Harry to have to be so alert and responsive to the girls; she knew he wasn’t sleeping well, but that wasn’t the same as being worn out while he was awake, and rest at least was necessary. He curled up in the corner of Hermione’s couch when they were gone, cup of herbal tea in his hand and his eyes fixed on the flames in the fireplace (the fire wasn’t really necessary, the summer almost on them; but the house could get cold, and Hermione knew how much Harry loved the flickering of the flames, and the scent of wood smoke).
She sat beside him, and knowing how much easier Harry found it to give comfort than to take it, she took one of his hands in both of hers and leaned heavily into his side, head on his shoulder.
Harry gave her hands a squeeze.
“When are you going to get married?” he asked.
Hermione sighed. “Two years, perhaps. Blaise will have to resign from the Department of Mysteries and then, after a while, we can come out as a couple — it’s all very complicated.”
Harry nodded. “I can only imagine.”
“I suppose.” Hermione felt ill, suddenly. But Harry didn’t reply. His lack of experience in relationships wasn’t a sore spot.
“I should probably attempt to get some sleep. I barely made a dent in your files.”
But Harry didn’t try to get up and Hermione didn’t, either.
“D’you think we should perhaps discuss the Zouwu in the room?” she murmured, into Harry’s shoulder.
He laughed. “Zouwu?”
“Well, I don’t know,” she said. “I was going to say ‘elephant’ but that sounds so Muggle-ish. We’ve been in this world for so long. It’s hard to think about the old one.”
Harry nodded, and turned to kiss Hermione’s hair.
“I don’t miss it,” he promised. “But there’s nothing wrong with elephants.”
“I miss some things,” Hermione said, carefully.
Harry’s face was a mask, when she looked up.
“You’ve never really talked about your…” Family was the wrong word. “Your Muggle relatives. I know they weren’t kind.”
Harry bristled. “I see Malfoy has been telling tales.”
“Not really. No, I mean it, Harry. He… assumed I knew things that you… why didn’t you ever tell us?”
“Because it wasn’t your problem,” Harry said. “I should probably try to get some sleep.”
“No, I’m sorry. Please, Harry — that wasn’t what I wanted to talk about.” She sat up straighter. Harry looked tense, and ready to run. “I — Draco.”
“It’s just — it seemed — he cares about you, Harry. And I think you care about him, too.”
“He’s my Mind Healer. Was, anyway. That’s all there is to it. All there can be. All there ever should be. He’s come a long way, ‘Mione. He’s a good man doing good work and he doesn’t — he’s good. I don’t —”
Harry looked to have been hypnotised by the flames again, but Hermione knew what it meant when those tiny lines bracketed the corners of his mouth. He was sad, and not just sad; he was, once again, accepting the loss of something he’d never been sure he could really keep anyway. Like when he’d lost Sirius, and then Remus. Even Hedwig. Whenever someone shoved a photograph of his parents under his knows. Like when things hadn’t worked out with Ginny.
“I think I’m going to bed. Goodnight.” And he stood up stiffly and formally, Auror Potter once again, and Hermione’s heart hurt. He was heading for the stairs, but turned around to speak once again.
“Once I was at Hogwarts, I found a new family. I didn’t need you to know about the old one. You knew I didn’t like being there; that was enough.”
Hermione was struggling to find something to say in reply, and then it was too late. Harry was gone.
Blaise had learned very early in his career that there was nothing more important than thinking. Making sure he had the time and space to think. Prioritising time spent in deep thought.
It was an interesting revelation, actually. Certainly nothing he would have ever learned from his mother. She was intelligent, certainly, but she made decisions moment to moment, and Blaise didn’t think he had ever caught her in anything like a contemplative moment.
Probably, almost anyone who had ever known him before the age of twenty would have imagined that his life would be full of colour and splash and ill-advised ideas, and above all, hedonism. And that had actually been the entire plan, before the war. Before he had watched how people had survived the war, or not. Draco getting dragged along with his father’s disasters, the false bravado with which he’d taken the Dark Mark. Pansy volunteering to offer Harry Potter up to the Dark Lord. The way people had fought. He’d even surprised himself. When most of Slytherin House had been marched downstairs to the dungeons he had managed to stay behind. He hadn’t really decided that he was going to take a side, and in fact, there was a part of him that was appalled that he hadn’t just accepted the offer to go and hide in the dungeons where he’d be safe, committed as he was to his own self-interest. Instead he had found himself defending a number of the younger students from the Carrows. And he’d walked out of the battle alive, and feeling genuinely proud of himself for the first time in his entire life.
And then, for two years, he had been utterly fucking aimless.
There wasn’t a potion or drug in this world or the other one that he hadn’t drunk or snorted or smoked. Not a single taste he refused himself. He told himself that he had done one thing and that was enough. Never mind the way he started struggling to look at himself in the mirror. His own fucking reflection staring back at him like he was a profound disappointment, if not great surprise. He numbed himself with sex and sleep and food.
And then he had been sitting in Regent’s Park, late one Sunday night. And even now, he couldn’t remember much of what had happened there, but he vaguely recalled a conversation with a person he hadn’t really noticed. The following day he had gone to the Ministry and been accepted with open arms into the Department of Mysteries, never once stopping to wonder what he was doing there or how he even knew where there was. And he had excelled.
He was thinking about that now because he was thinking about Draco Malfoy, and how finding a calling could bring out the best in a person. He’d meant what he said. Draco had been far nicer than he ever wanted anyone to notice. He had been devoted to his friends. Predictably abrasive and tactile and sweet and funny right up until he’d been forced to take the Mark in the summer before Sixth Year, and shut everything else off, more or less. After that, of course, he’d been unable to think about anything much except how he was going to keep his parents alive.
Blaise closed his eyes, and thought about his studies. The Time Room. The Love Chamber. The Death Room.
Mysteries, all, but it was impossible not to piece the simplest fragments together, given enough time to think.
The bench in Regent’s Park where Blaise was now sitting was the same one he had been sitting on that night that he heard his calling. One he had often returned to when he needed to think. He didn’t expect anyone to join him, and no one did, save a student who sat for an hour with a textbook in her hands. She didn’t notice him. She drank a bottle of something that was a frightening lime colour and couldn’t have been very healthy. She ate an apple, and tossed the core into the lake. And she read, and Blaise thought, and she read, and Blaise kept thinking.
He thought about Hermione a lot.
It seemed so strange now to remember that they had barely shared a single word in six years at school. He loved her. In a way he had never imagined he could love anyone. Every aspect of Hermione was wonderful, to Blaise; her confidence and her uncertainty, her power and her vulnerability, her extraordinary intelligence and her boundless curiosity. She seemed to remember everything she had ever read or heard, but remained skeptical of everything until she had some kind of corroboration or proof. She could command a room or his lap with equal gravitas.
She made him happy. Blaise wasn’t sure that his own mother had ever been happy. As dedicated as she was to hedonism, she had never been happy, and Blaise hadn’t been happy until he turned away from all of that.
He sat. He thought. He was quite certain that all of the thinking was connected in one way or another. He let it stir his mind and ripple across his robes. He felt the sun bake it into his skin.
Blaise Zabini didn’t know Harry Potter very well at all. He genuinely wasn’t sure that anyone really did. But he was certain of one thing:
Harry Potter wouldn’t invent a whole character in his head to satisfy some ridiculous schoolboy crush.
He felt a smile curl his features. He didn’t really need to do anything but watch, now, and be ready to steer when steering was needed. If it was needed. And in the moment he made that decision, he felt everything warm a little more. His robes, his skin, the tattooed marks over the backs of his hands and his shoulders, his ribs, all the marks that helped him to ease into the most curious of conundrums, seeking answers to the deepest mysteries, unraveling labyrinths and seeing into the souls of things.
And then he was gone.
Harry woke before the sun was up. He wasn’t surprised, but he was disappointed. He suspected that he had been having a very pleasant dream. Probably better that he didn’t remember it. His dreams had been about Draco for much too long, and he still burned with humiliation when he thought about the fact that Draco knew it.
Draco had been there, and seen it, and worse, he’d played along with it. Used Harry’s feelings for him to coax him out of his head. Which was probably entirely reasonable from a therapeutic point of view, but that didn’t make Harry’s stomach hurt any less.
He made his way downstairs to the kitchen to make himself a cup of coffee. Harry drank about a thousand cups of tea a day, but he still preferred coffee in the mornings, and the Muggle coffee machine that Hermione had enchanted to work without electricity made an excellent brew. He didn’t bother with sugar or milk, just brought his mug to the dining table and reached for the next folder on the pile.
Shortly after dawn, Hermione emerged, her hair a fascinating great mess and her cheeks pink. She kissed Harry’s forehead and made herself a cup of coffee, as well.
“Can I make you some breakfast? I mastered the most wonderful dish called — you’ll like this — son-in-law eggs. It’s brilliant.”
Harry was just relieved that their conversation the night before hadn’t left any awkwardness to float around between them. “Yes, please. Because I am so intrigued, and also, really fucking hungry. You’re up early,” he said.
Hermione raised an eyebrow at him, and Harry laughed.
“Could I convince you to abandon those files? You know I only agreed to give them to you because I thought it was the only way you’d come here to stay,” she said.
“I do know that. But no. I want to read them. I’m impressed, actually.” He gave Hermione a broad smile. “Julian Flint appears to have blossomed, somehow. I’m impressed with this work. It must have taken him weeks to sort through that many procurement ledgers.”
Hermione nodded as she collected ingredients from the fridge. “Yes. You know, he’s much better as an analyst than in the field.” She sounded a little anxious. She had to know she’d been found out.
Harry nodded. “And Fairlie Gothelf —”
“Oh, yes — gosh, Harry. You should have seen that. Have you read the part; she wasn’t even working. She was on her way to meet friends at the Leaky Cauldron, and the next thing we know she’s calling for three stunned and body-bound burglars to be collected.”
“Apparently you’ve been paying close attention to what happens in the DMLE,” Harry said, with a smile. “I would think you had a lot more to concern yourself with, Minister.”
Hermione gave him a wide smile. “Shut up, you.”
Fifteen minutes later Harry was devouring his breakfast; it was absolutely delicious, and also, he had no idea whatsoever why it was called son-in-law eggs, and had decided he didn’t care. It was salty, and spicy, and seemed to warm him from the inside out.
“I have to go,” Hermione said. “I nominate you to do the washing up, and then you’re under orders to spend at least most of the day doing nothing at all. I’m very afraid Draco Malfoy is going to show up at the Ministry and hex me, and I’ll deserve it.”
“He won’t,” Harry said, and if it hurt a little to remind himself that he and Draco would probably never lay eyes on each other again, then that was alright.
It was a deeply uncomfortable feeling, achieving nothing.
He continued to read through the files, but Hermione had only given him closed cases, as he’d begun to realise just before dawn. The team had done excellent work in his absence. In fact, he wondered if his absence had been to their benefit. Without having him to rely on they had all pushed themselves harder, done better. It warmed him to the bones.
His bones, incidentally, were as bored as they were warm. He thought over Draco’s instructions to Healer Thistlewish, and decided to follow at least one of his suggested therapeutic activities; a walk. It sounded simple enough. The strange guilt that he felt about being back in the world and not actually doing any work niggled at the back of his mind, but he did his best to ignore it. It seemed like a good day to see something he’d never seen before. The Botanical Gardens at Kew, perhaps. Or an art gallery. He knew that there were apparition points. He could take in some history, and culture.
But instead he found himself meandering aimlessly down a street in Muggle London. The day was unseasonably warm but there was a nice breeze. Harry found an old black cat with one eye patrolling the front steps of a small house set close to the footpath, and crouched down to pet it. It spent an appropriate amount of time staring at him disdainfully and tolerating his gentle hand, and then curled around Harry’s feet, demanding to be petted. One cat soon became three, all looking for attention.
Harry wanted an owl. It had been twenty years since Hedwig had died, and if there was a part of him that had never wanted to love another creature so much, that part of him was gone, now. He wanted an owl who would close their eyes when he scratched his fingernails through the feathers at their neck, and hoot softly and nip affectionately at his fingers. Maybe he’d get a cat, as well. Or a Kneazle. They were so smart.
When the cats lost interest in him, Harry walked on. He found a sunny park, and sat on an ancient bench carved with hearts and letters, and let the sun warm his face.
He found a friendly little cafe a while after that, and ordered a pot of tea and a slice of lemon meringue pie, which was delicious. There was a shelf of battered paperback books on the back wall. Harry chose one at random and read aimlessly for a while, knowing he would never finish the book, and not minding in the slightest. He’d read enough by the time he finished his tea to know that it was a simple story about people who were looking to be happy. That was more than enough.
He was almost back and Hermione’s house when he found himself in front of a Tesco. Abruptly, he realised that he hadn’t cooked in a very long time; in fact he rarely bothered to make himself anything more complicated than a sandwich. He stood gawking at the produce for about ten minutes. And then, in a flurry of inspiration, he bought the ingredients for a risotto dish that he knew Hermione and Ron had both loved, back in the days when he often cooked at Number Twelve Grimmauld Place, when they were trying to find their feet again as friends.
Back at Hermione’s house he turned on the WWN, humming along tunelessly to songs he didn’t know the lyrics to, and soon the house smelled like onions sautéed in butter. He sang and he chopped a variety of interesting mushrooms, and as he sweated the rice, and it was only when his face began to ache that he realised that he’d been smiling for hours.
Hermione arrived home, and the slow spread of the smile on her face made Harry giddy.
“Can we invite the Weasleys again?” he asked. “If they can come, of course. I don’t know what’s come over me today. I just want to spend time with my friends. Maybe Neville? Or Luna? Is Ginny close enough to come? I went completely overboard. Garlic bread, salad, risotto — like old times.”
He took Hermione into his arms and danced her around the kitchen. Poorly, but with a great deal of enthusiasm and more energy than he’d had the day before. He’d soaked up all the sunshine and it was converting to peace, under his skin.
“I don’t know what’s come over you either,” she said, laughing as he twirled her around. “But I like it. Let me owl our guests some invitations, and I’ll bring some bottles of wine up from the cellar.”
When everyone had eaten their fill, and laughed their fill, and — in all honesty — drunk their fill, they went home, the green flames dancing in the fireplace as people called their goodbyes.
Hermione knew it would probably be a mistake to open another bottle of wine, but she did it anyway, setting it on the coffee table when she’d filled her own glass, and Harry’s. She had changed into comfortable clothes right before their impromptu guests arrived, but now she tossed her shoes aside and tucked her feet up underneath her.
“That was brilliant,” Harry said, happily.
“I don’t know why I don’t do that more often.”
“I think you should,” Hermione said, seriously, but she was still smiling.
“I gave up on the case files, by the way. Don’t pretend you don’t know what you did.”
Hermione opened her eyes wide. “I can’t imagine what you mean.”
“They were all closed files.”
“You wanted to catch up!”
Harry grinned at her. “I wanted to know what the Department was working on now,” he said, but he didn’t actually sound annoyed. “I think… I think perhaps I’ll do as Draco asked, and just… rest for a while.” He was staring into the fireplace, with his mouth curled into a small smile, looking relaxed and happy for the first time in a long time. Hermione reached across to take his hand. “A week or two.”
“Good,” she said. “That’s good, Harry. I know it won’t be easy for you. But I think Draco was right, you know.”
“Perhaps the Ministry doesn’t need to know I’m back just yet. Or you could tell Robards that I need some time off.”
“I will. As much as you need.”
Harry startled briefly as Crookshanks leapt up on the couch alongside him. “Hello, you,” he said, scratching deep into his fur. “I have to tell you about my day, Hermione. I met these cats…”
She listened and listened. All these events in Harry’s day, utterly ordinary and completely wonderful. Tea and cake and cats. No horrors, no responsibilities, no one asking him for anything — she felt a pang, thinking of what his life had been like for the last few years.
“You’ll stay a while, won’t you?” she asked.
“You only love me for my cooking,” Harry teased. “D’you know, I had such fun cooking dinner tonight. Remember how I used to do that all the time?”
“I remember,” Hermione said, and she crawled across the couch to burrow into Harry’s arms and rest her head on his shoulder.
They were silent for a long time.
“Tell me again about the one-eyed cat,” she said, with a yawn. “He lives on this block? I can’t believe I’ve never met him. Perhaps I need to slow down as well.”
Harry had been staying with Hermione for almost three weeks, the day she came home to find Crookshanks tense and flabbergasted by the arrival of a Kneazle kitten of dubious origin and odd colouring, and the house smelling like a rich, peppery stew. Three weeks. He hadn’t yet said anything about going back to work, and she didn’t want to ask. He had spent time with the Weasleys, who still got together on Sundays, as many of them as could gather. He’d talked to strangers in coffee shops. And he’d cooked so much and so well that Hermione was starting to think she’d need to start letting out her robes.
“Hermione! Come and taste this. I can’t decide if it’s too salty or not. I didn’t use a recipe.”
She couldn’t take her eyes off the two of them, the kitten working very hard to chew off Crookshanks’ tail and failing utterly, but she dutifully tasted Harry’s stew. It was unbelievably tasty, and her moan was probably more than enough to tell him that it didn’t need anything extra.
“You know you don’t have to keep cooking like this,” she said.
“No, no,” Harry replied, setting the spoon aside and opening the oven to remove a loaf of bread. “I’d forgotten how much I love cooking. The kitchen at Number Twelve was brilliant, you know. And I…”
He looked suddenly sad.
“I neglected her so badly, Hermione. I know she’ll never accept me again. Not after all this time. Just… sleeping in my office, and when I went back there I used to Floo into the bedroom directly… all the dust, and probably mould… I really fucked up, there, didn’t I?”
“No, don’t try to make me feel better about it.”
Hermione stayed silent while Harry took his stew off the heat.
“I was thinking it might be time to sell her. The house. Or give her away, perhaps, though I would clearly need to get rid of that bloody portrait. D’you know someone who could help me with that?”
Hermione smiled. “Well, I do. But you shouldn’t be hasty.” She tapped her wand against the watch on her wrist, bringing up the following day’s schedule. “I have a deal for you. Tomorrow I’ll come home early. And we’ll go and visit Number Twelve together. And then… then you can make a decision.”
Harry shook his head, smiling.
“You win.” He shrugged. “Did you see my kitten?”
“I did. I don’t think Crookshanks knows quite what to make of… her? Him?”
“Her,” Harry said. “And her name is Dora. For Tonks. Apparently she has already shown an alarming tendency to change colour when she is plotting something. Isn’t that terrific?”
Hermione laughed. “I thought she looked a little more purple than the average. How wonderful.”
“What time is Blaise getting here? I’m dying to taste the steak in this stew. I’m fairly sure it will fall apart on the fork, it’s so tender, and he makes the most wonderfully appreciative noises.”
The following day, Hermione told Auror Robards that Harry had returned to England. It was an idiotic thing to do; within ten minutes, the man was barking orders left and right to arrange a formal dinner at the Ministry to welcome Harry home. By the time Hermione was back at the house, spitting venom left and right and trying to explain to Harry what had happened, he had that faraway look in his eyes again. As if he was ready to curl up into a ball and go back to sleep. He didn’t want to visit the house, anymore; he closed the door to the bedroom he had been sleeping in for almost a month now and Hermione could do nothing but fret and pace and fume.
She would have liked to cancel the fucking thing completely, but Robards had issued invitations and there were dozens of people already vying for seats close to where Harry Potter would be sitting. Asking for a few minutes of personal time with him. When Harry eventually reappeared from his room, with Dora perched protectively on his shoulder (an amazing shade of green which really set his eyes off nicely), Hermione launched herself into an apology which Harry apparently wasn’t interested in hearing.
“It’s alright,” he said. “Really. I’m not going to bury myself in my head again. It’s one night. It was bound to happen eventually. It’s time to go back to work.”
There was so much more that needed to be said, but Harry looked as if he might be balancing on the very edge of something, and Hermione could only nod.
“We were going to visit Number Twelve,” he said. “Yesterday. I think I’m ready. Do you still want to come? I really don’t mind going alone.”
“No,” Hermione said, firmly. She lifted Dora off Harry’s shoulder and kissed her irritable little face, before depositing her on the couch. She turned a bone white which matched the sofa beautifully, apparently preparing to launch herself at Crookshanks. “I want to come.”
They apparated to Grimmauld Place, and Harry immediately thought of Number Twelve. And then there she was, elbowing herself into place between the neighbouring houses.
“Odd,” he said, frowning.
“What’s odd?” Hermione asked, gripping his hand tightly.
“Lights,” he said, drawing his wand.
Hermione pulled him towards the door, and the wards warmed to welcome him, far friendlier than he could remember them. The door opened, and Harry stepped inside, pulled by Hermione and otherwise utterly stunned.
Of course, the first thing that struck him was the fact that the place was clean, and smelled like… like… Harry closed his eyes an inhaled deeply. Like orange rinds. Clean, and fresh, and almost sharp. He hadn’t yet closed the door when he began to stare. The hallway was painted a soft blue-grey colour; the exact colour, he thought, of Draco Malfoy’s eyes.
“Hermione,” he said, with a warning in his voice. “I don’t think it’s safe, here; I don’t think this is real.”
“It’s real,” she replied, quietly. “Hullo, Kreacher.”
Harry startled again, and when he looked down the hallway, there was Kreacher, looking utterly starstruck (or at least as starstruck as it was possible to be, for an elf of Kreacher’s disposition).
“Master is home!”
Kreacher was wringing his hands in some previously undescribed combination of happiness and abject desperation.
“Kreacher,” he said. “Did you do all of this?”
A moment later, two elves appeared behind him. One wore a smart blue dress, and the other, a grimy old pillowcase. Harry smiled at them both, still confused, but deeply grateful. He was grateful. Or hallucinating. One or the other, maybe even both. He crouched down in front of them, and offered Kreacher his hand to shake. Kreacher tugged at his ears briefly and then flung himself into Harry’s arms.
Hermione was probably appalled, but Harry just hugged the tiny, wizened old elf back. He hadn’t realised quite how much he missed him.
“Are you going to introduce me to your friends?” Harry asked, when he was able to pull away.
“Staff,” Kreacher corrected sternly. “Kreacher has a staff. The Ancient and Most Noble House of Black has a staff again.” He put his arm out to press against the shoulder of the elf wearing the pillowcase. “Hennie,” he said. Hennie stood up very straight, trembling slightly. “And Gertie. Gertie is wanting to be paid, Master Potter.”
“No problem,” Harry said, shaking hands with the two new elves in turn. “I’d be very happy to pay you all.” He didn’t argue, though, when Kreacher and Hennie pulled away with appalled expressions. “Did you three do all of this?”
Kreacher nodded. Harry stood up, and stepped into the downstairs sitting room.
He wished he didn’t recognise what he was looking at, but he did. This was not the old Number Twelve Grimmauld Place. This was the version that had only ever existed in his dreams, faithfully plotted out, wallpapered and painted, carpeted the way it had been carpeted in his most private fantasy world. Not just a house, but a home. And how she loved feeling like a home again; Harry felt the way her old resentments had fallen away. The bookcases were dust-free and the books looked as if they had been healing, too. When Harry stepped into the kitchen, he wanted to cry, a little bit; there it was in its glory, the size it had been when Molly Weasley had been feeding the Order of the Phoenix there night after night. He didn’t even notice the tears streaming down his cheeks. It didn’t look like it had even back then; it was exactly the way it had been in his dreams. Just… big. Big enough to host parties, full of friends, full of…
He looked at the place where he had been standing when Draco had fallen to his knees, and he felt a burning in his throat. He stepped quickly out of the kitchen lest his posture betray him.
The stairs didn’t creak; the portraits on the wall alongside them greeted him warmly. Harry wasn’t sure that he could keep looking at it all. Certainly he didn’t think he could keep looking at it while Hermione was looking at him.
He wanted Draco. Not just in this precise moment. He wanted Draco here, all the time, living with him, sleeping with him, bickering with him. He wanted Draco’s morning breath and his snide comments and his sparkling eyes. He wasn’t sure he could even look at his bedroom knowing that it would always be half empty. And knowing that Draco had to have described all of this, in enough detail so that Kreacher could make it happen. As if he’d cared. As if he’d wanted Harry to make his home here again.
But he did; acknowledging the work of Kreacher and his… staff, who had done such an extraordinary job, he pushed open the door to his bedroom.
All around him, the house seemed to radiate her approval.
“Are you alright, Harry?” Hermione said, leaning hesitantly against the door jamb.
Harry smiled, and sighed, and sat on the edge of the bed.
“I think I have a lot of thinking to do,” he said. “Do you mind if — if I just stay here? Instead of coming back to yours — I can Floo in tomorrow and pick up my things.”
Hermione stepped into the room, and took a seat on the armchair by the small desk.
“This is your home,” she said, very simply. “I think it’s good that you want to stay here. And you should come and go from my home as you please.”
Harry smiled, and glanced at the window. It was still light outside and would be, for a while. He knew… he was utterly certain that in his dream, that window had been the pathway to flying up about a mile in the air and being confronted by Dementors. But now, it was only lovely, only the view into some back yards and if he strained his eyes some of the tall buildings in the background.
“Can I collect Dora tomorrow? Only I think I need kitten-proof the place before I bring her home.”
“Of course you can.”
Harry nodded, and stared out the window again.
“I can almost hear the cogs in your mind moving,” Hermione said, leaning forward, elbows on her knees. “Please, talk to me, Harry. You have plans.”
“I have ideas,” he corrected. “I might have the very beginnings of plans.” He smiled to himself. “I’m not ready to share them. I hope that’s okay.”
Hermione smiled, and stood up. “Of course. I think I’ll go, Harry. Blaise gets home tonight. Are you sure you’ll be able to cope with the dinner? I’d like to punch Robards right in the face.”
She looked so careful, and uncertain.
“I have over a week to practice being that version of myself,” Harry said. “I’ll be fine, and you don’t get to ask me again.”
“Alright,” Hermione said, throwing her hands up. “I’ll confirm your attendance, and tighten up the story. And I promise not to ask again.”
She tossed a pinch of powder into the fireplace in Harry’s room, and in a flash of green flames, Hermione was gone.
Harry spent a long time, that night, exploring his own home. He wasn’t sure he really needed to. He knew it — he had designed it, mapped it out, and this was a very faithful reconstruction of the way that it had been in his head. And best of all, the house was happy to see him. He wasn’t sure he would ever get used to the idea of having three house-elves, but he couldn’t deny that they seemed pleased with themselves. He would have to ban them from punishing themselves — no house-elf was going to iron their ears under Harry’s employ — but for now, he was content to be grateful to them.
He stretched out on the bed, and imagined Draco at his side.
He never did get around to changing into pyjamas before he fell asleep.
Draco was struggling to avoid feeling…
Draco was struggling to avoid feeling.
He had very smoothly transitioned back to his work. He had a lot of patients, and he didn’t think he’d ever been so grateful to be so busy in his life. He had his patients. He had his students. He had — awkwardly enough — a course to teach at the nearby Muggle hospital which had been built to replace the one everyone thought was gone, now, but that was actually a hospital full of Witches and Wizards. He even had PhD students. He was busy. He was so very, very busy.
But he’d always been busy, and he’d never failed to make time for himself. Because making time for himself had always been easy; out dancing and drinking with his friends, making quiet bets with himself about whether or not he would end up sleeping with Luc again. Eating rich food and enduring quiet debates with himself about how much he could drink based on how much time he might have to spend in meditation in the days that followed, how much time he might have to spend slipping unobserved into his patients’ dreams (they didn’t all need that, but those who did — they needed it).
Draco had a clinical supervisor. It was only appropriate; he wouldn’t work with anyone who was rash enough not to have one themselves. A clinical supervisor was always an interesting combination of a therapist and a teacher.
In this particular case, he had known Draco — Christopher Black — for long enough so that they were friends, as well.
“You know what I hate about you?” he said to Emrys, as they sat at a beautiful and very tiny table overlooking the cliffs where Draco’s home lay.
“I can’t wait to hear,” Emrys replied, in his thick Welsh accent. He was attractive — tall, and heavy-boned, and utterly comfortable in his skin, a trait Draco had always envied. If he hadn’t been married — and straight — Draco might have found himself crossing that line as well. Apparently these days there were no lines he could claim to hold sacred.
“I hate that you can read everything I don’t want to say on my face. I know I wear my heart on my sleeve. But I swear you can read my thoughts, too.”
Emrys laughed. “Alright. So does that mean I should tell you what’s on your mind, or just call you out on it if you lie to me?”
“Yes, I really do hate you.”
Draco laughed, quietly. “I’m in love with a patient. An ex-patient.”
“Mostly?” Draco raised his eyebrows. “I can assure you he’s no longer my patient, but he’s also no longer within reaching distance, so—”
“But you were in love with him long before he was a patient.” Emrys patted his hand, briefly, and then lifted his teacup, pinkie finger held out straight.
“I hate you.”
“Lie, again. Anyway. You’ve acknowledged it. And he’s gone.”
“And you just assumed this patient was a he.”
“You’ve never in all the years I’ve known you shown a single shred of interest in a woman. It seemed like a fair bet.” Emrys looked over the water. “Relationships that develop out of a therapeutic arrangement… don’t end well,” he said, cautiously. “But they end invariably. They never fail to end. It’s the way of the world.”
“Yes, thank you for reminding me of lessons I learned two decades ago — you’re a prince of a textbook, really you are.”
Emrys shrugged. “Well. Except that it’s not true.”
“Well, I didn’t mean a literal textbook, although you do have a tendency to look a little over-read and dreadfully dog-eared.”
Emrys laughed out loud. “This isn’t a tea conversation. I’m not even sure it’s a supervision session.” He paused, and raised his eyebrows, and looked very deliberately at his teacup. “Topher. I thought the implication was very clear.”
Draco climbed to his feet and headed inside. He was grateful for a few moments to collect his thoughts, actually. He found another bottle of Pansy’s Firewhiskey and a couple of small crystal tumblers. He had saved very little from his family home, but these tumblers had come with him from Wiltshire to Nice, to Rome and then to Naples, and he loved them, quietly and fiercely. He brought them out to the warm porch and poured them each a drink.
“Not at all.” But he drank, and he seemed impressed. “Lovely. And you were mostly right, you know. Well, you do know. It’s a disaster. And I’ve supervised Healers who fell in love with every patient they were ever attracted to — and Topher, it happens, there is no point in denying it — but I’m curious because it’s not something I’ve ever heard you so much as hint at. You have a satisfying sex life, am I right?”
Draco shrugged. “I did. It’s been… months, really.”
“So we’re talking about your comatose patient.” Draco nodded, focusing on the moody water over the cliffs. “I had wondered. You did cancel a few of our sessions.”
“I’ve known him since we were eleven years old and starting school together.” Draco flushed, humiliated, and then he told Emrys… everything.
Well, almost everything. He maintained his own anonymity, but he did describe a famous Wizard who Draco had attended school with, and the terrible and wonderful realisation that his patient’s fantasy life had involved him, and the way he had… there was no other way to say it, but the way he had abused that fantasy to force Harry to recover. To his credit, Emrys’ expression remained utterly neutral from beginning to end, and he didn’t ever hold Draco’s eyes for longer than Draco felt comfortable with.
“Can I remind you that I hate you now?” Draco said, when he was done.
Emrys shrugged. “Still a lie.”
Draco clenched his teeth.
“It is completely unprofessional to fall in love with a patient,” Emrys said. He scratched his nails over his short hair. “But you know that.”
“You are so very charming, if obvious.”
“But,” Emrys said. And he paused. Draco poured more drinks. He poured too much. He wondered suddenly about writing himself off and then begging off sick tomorrow. “But. If you are the cream of the crop, and you are asked to treat someone you care for — can you say no? That’s an entirely different question. Tell me, Topher…” Emrys frowned. His eyebrows were like great fat caterpillars, and his face was so expressive even without them that he looked comical, in deep thought. He had the glass of Firewhiskey in his hand, and he was swirling his glass lazily as he thought. “Imagine you fell in love with a Healer yourself. I don’t know, what sort — let’s say a cardiovascular expert. Imagine that they were the absolute best of the best.”
“As it so happens I know the best Healer in that particular area of medicine. She is about a hundred and twenty years old, and bald as a bat, except for the tufts of grey hair that sprout from her ears. A delight to chat with, though.”
Emrys made a face. “You are hilarious. My point is — if you fell in love with that person, and if years or decades later you suffered a potentially fatal heart attack — would you want them to be the one to take care of you?”
Draco frowned. Or… whatever is slightly meaner than a frown, he did that.
“Perhaps I’m overtired,” Draco said.
“Don’t bother pretending that you haven’t had feelings for this man for most of your life,” Emrys finally said, quietly. “The fact that you barely mentioned a patient who took up most of your time for months had me paying close attention. It’s not like you. I decided to wait, and let you come to me when you were ready, and I suppose that day has come.”
Draco leaned forward, elbows on his knees, and closed his eyes. His glass dangled from his fingertips. “I feel like you’re encouraging me to ignore my professional ethics. I realise I’m not exactly a model of virtue, but that still sounds very problematic to me.”
“Oh, It is, it is,” Emrys agreed.
Draco waited for a long moment for an elaboration, but none was forthcoming. So. “For fuck’s sake, Emrys. What are you trying to say?”
“I’d hoped you might get there on your own,” his mentor said, gently. “But sometimes there is a gap. Between what is ethical — and what is right.”
Draco blanched, and tore his eyes from the water and its unrest. He stared at the knots in the wood instead, and he thought. Harry lived in England; Draco lived in Italy. They had their lives. Their jobs. Draco needed to keep unlocking the secrets of the mind and Harry needed to keep England safe, the wanker. They could never work.
But it was nice to think about. He let a smile play over his lips, but was careful not to look up.
“You may be right,” he agreed, at last. “But that doesn’t make it any more practical. And now I can’t talk about it any more, or think about it, alright? And I need to talk to you about another patient, a little girl.”
Harry dressed in his formal robes.
He didn’t like the way they looked; he never had, really, and he didn’t know why. He wore jeans and t-shirts beneath his practical Auror robes as often as he could, and he always had. Sometimes he wore a suit, if the occasion or job required. He hated formal robes, but for this particular occasion, they did seem appropriate.
He was dressed and ready for the dinner before Hermione arrived, in a rush, already tossing her shoes aside and asking about what colours Harry thought were appropriate. Harry was calm, though. Calmer than he thought he’d been in a very long while. He lowered himself onto the couch, and after a moment’s hesitation, swung his legs over it, stretching out, relaxing. He didn’t care if the robes got creased. He really didn’t. He grinned at the thought, actually.
When Hermione came downstairs a little while later, talking at a mile a minute about his cover story, Harry paid no attention.
“Can you zip me? Blaise can’t exactly join us,” she said, embarrassed. “He’ll be there, of course, but he can’t… until he’s resigned… fuck. I need to stop taking third helpings of everything you cook.” She turned around when Harry had zipped the back of her dress. “Everything is so complicated. With all the fuss that was made of me being elected Minister. A woman, and single…”
“It’s alright,” Harry said. “Everything will be fine.” He felt it. He believed it. Maybe he just needed to. He cupped Hermione’s face in his hands, and kissed her forehead.
“Are you alright, Harry?” she said.
“I’m not sure I’ve ever been so alright,” Harry said. He could feel the smile stretching over his face, and he felt lighter than air. “Now, let’s go. Did I tell you that you look very pretty tonight, Minister Granger?”
“Oh, shut up,” she said, reaching for the Floo powder with a smile on her face. Real and warm, if not as wide as his own. “Let’s just get this over with.”
It was remarkably easy, Harry reflected, as he finally found his seat (mercifully he was next to Hermione, and had Parvati on his other side) to deflect all the thousands of questions that had been aimed at him as he had mingled in the entry, where drinks and canapés were served and the press swarmed like bats. He hated knowing that there would be photographs of him in every Wizarding publication in Europe and possibly the world the following day, but he had a strange sense of ease, as well. No one would really be expecting the events of this night.
Appetisers appeared at the tables, and Harry suddenly realised how hungry he was; he had been so focused on his speech that he had forgotten to eat breakfast or lunch. He wasn’t concerned, but he was glad to have an appetite, because as much as he loathed Robards on a personal level the man knew how to get an event catered. Plus, Hermione was a bully who used her power for god: Ministry events had to be catered by unionised, freed house-elves.
Between courses there was an operatic quartet. Harry hated it, but he couldn’t deny that they were good, and he clapped louder and longer than most.
“This is fucking gorgeous,” he said to Hermione, when he’d swallowed a mouthful of duck. Hermione didn’t answer; she and Blaise, on the other side of the room, were staring at each other in the way they did, communicating in a way that had to involve some far less invasive and more pleasant form of legilimency. “Will I be called up to speak soon?”
“Yes,” Hermione said, flustered. “And you’re clear on your cover story?”
Harry only smiled at her.
And then the plates vanished again, and everyone present turned to the front of the room, ready to listen.
Harry stood slowly, raising a hand to quell the premature spattering of applause.
“Hullo,” he said, with a friendly smile. There were waves, some laughter, and a few soft charms of celebration, sparks and glitter in the air. “It’s so good to be back here with you. I’ve missed my home, and I’ve missed so many of you. I’m happy to be back.” There was a low rumble of laughter.
“I think you are all very aware that my life has been complicated,” he said. He couldn’t force himself to meet anyone’s eyes but he let his glance move over the room so they would have the impression he was doing so anyway. “It really has been. My childhood — you all know very well that I lost my parents. And you know how. I was raised by Muggle relatives for several years and they weren’t… kind,” he said.
That was as honest as he had ever been to anyone outside of his closest friends — and inadvertently, Draco Malfoy. He didn’t miss the sharp intake of breath across the room.
“And then there was… Tom Riddle,” Harry said. “I fought him for the first time when I was eleven years old. No one believed me for years. It’s alright,” he said, raising a hand. “I do understand, and it’s not a problem. But it’s true. And Albus Dumbledore… he took actions that would only ever ensure that I would live long enough to defeat Tom Riddle. He expected that I would die. And I did, as well.”
The mood in the room started to shift. Harry recognised it. There were a lot of people in the room who had put the pieces together, over the years, and others who were shocked by every syllable.
“No, stop,” he said, with a smile. “There is something I want everyone to understand. I did die. As I say; I died. I died, but not for long. I didn’t fake my death. I came back. And because of that death, I was able to conquer Tom Riddle forever. Some of you don’t want to think about this. You don’t want to think about the fact that Dumbledore, who so many of you have loved for so long, could orchestrate a plot that he knew would end in my death. But tell me; what could you have done differently? Do you sacrifice one to save many, or do you risk many to save one? I need you all to hear this,” Harry said, sternly. He leaned into the lectern.
“Dumbledore made the right decision and I do not regret my part in it.”
The mood in the room was shifting. Hermione reached up to brush her fingers over his hand. Everyone was tense. Worse than tense. Harry could feel it; not only the discomfort but the agreement. There were many in the audience who would have killed one person to save others, rather than save one to risk others. They hated themselves for it, a bit, but they still felt that way. And there were others who could not have made that choice. Who would have fought for every life, no matter how many that choice cost them. Hermione sat with tears sparkling in her eyes. Harry reached down to squeeze her shoulder, flashing a smile before he looked up at the rest of the room again.
“I’ve given a lot. My entire life, I’ve given a great deal. As the Boy Who Lived, and then as the Chosen One, and then — well, as an Auror. I’ve given a lot. I feel…”
Harry’s throat caught, and he found himself gazing at nothing at all, for a long moment.
He was ready to do this. He was. But if anyone in the history of Big Decisions ever claimed not to have had a single moment’s pause, they were lying. Being unsure was what made those decisions big.
“I feel that I’ve given enough,” he said, at last, with a smile. It was a good smile. Not his bright ‘camera in my face, better look presentable’ smile, not his ’Teddy’s hair is the most wonderful shade of teal right now’ smile. It was a sure, adult smile. And it brooked no argument, despite the way that Robards’ face was going slowly purple.
“I’d like to thank you all for the trust you have put in me. I resign my position at the DMLE, effective immediately. I have no plans to work for the next while. I want to focus on my health, and spend time with my friends and family. Thank you.”
Part of him thought that the sensible thing to do next was to disapparate home; it wasn’t as if the wards here were especially effective against him. But he didn’t. He sat down, instead, and calmly reached for his glass.
There was a clap in one corner of the room, and the clapper stood up. Bit by bit, confused people clapped their agreement, or at least their understanding, and soon, most of the guests were on their feet; the applause became deafening. Harry was startled. He had assumed that they would be angry, as Robards (still in his chair and still pulsing with fury) so evidently was, or positively thriving on the scandal of it. But instead he saw a dawning comprehension, and respect, gratefulness, and maybe… maybe even pride on many of those faces.
He turned to Hermione, who had tears in her eyes, and threw her arms around Harry’s shoulders, hugging him tightly.
“I’m so glad,” she murmured. “I’m so glad. I couldn’t be happier.”
“Thank you,” Harry replied, embarrassed. “Are you sure, though?”
“I’ve never been so sure. I’m only sorry it had to come to this.” She kissed Harry’s cheek, and leaned into him again, wiping her tears and ignoring the last of the applause. “When will you leave for Naples?”
He smiled into Hermione’s neck.
“I probably have a few things I need to figure out,” Harry said, but what he was thinking was ‘soon’.
Draco was having his own day off — an actual day off, one where he didn’t intend to wake up until every part of himself was good and ready, one where he intended to wander down to the beach for a long swim as soon as the weather had warmed up, one where he intended to take a book to one of his favourite vineyard restaurants and spend an extremely lazy afternoon eating cheese and cured meats and slowly sipping wine.
So he wasn’t exactly impressed when a very insistent owl appeared at his windowsill and wouldn’t fuck off, despite him hollering at it to drop the letter on his doorstep, take it to the hospital or literally drop it in a fucking fireplace. He dragged himself across the room in aubergine sleep pants which hung dangerously from his hips, bare chest luminously white in the early morning gloom.
“Oh, hello, Persephone,” he said, as Hermione’s owl dropped a newspaper in his hands and flew into the room, perching happily on the foot of his bed and waiting expectantly. “Do I want to read this?” he asked the owl, balefully, and Persephone gave a soft hoot before flying down the stairs and into the kitchen. Draco stepped into his slippers, less for warmth and more because there was sometimes a splinter or two to be found on his floorboards and he hated having to dig them out.
He should have opened the paper right away, but a sickly anxiety crushed his stomach, his ribs, his chest, and he was terrified. What had happened? Harry was ill, again; Harry had died. Harry had married Whatshername Warbeck.
Merlin’s frilly knickers, what a terrible thought.
He took a deep breath. Fear came, and it had something to tell him; but he acknowledged it, and thanked it, and sent it on its way. He stood for several minutes by the window, bathed in sunbeams, breathing from his diaphragm until he was solely focused on the sensation of oxygen flooding his bloodstream. He opened his eyes when he heard Persephone fussing, waiting for a snack.
“Do you have to wait for a reply?” Draco asked. She was an extraordinarily expressive owl. Draco shouldn’t have been able to decipher ‘no, but I have to wait for a reaction’, but he did. He found a box of dried mice in the bottom of his pantry and passed her one. She looked unimpressed. He dug out his own supply of dried venison, a good snack for long evenings working, and she was much happier with that. Of course the personal owl of the Minister for Magic had airs and standards. Deplorable.
Draco made himself a cup of jasmine green tea, inhaling the earthy aromas as he studiously ignored the front page of the Prophet. It was folded into quarters but Draco could see familiarly untidy black hair waving in the top centimetre of whatever photograph of Harry Potter was on the front page.
“Ouch,” he shouted, as Persephone bit his earlobe. “Sodding horror. I’ll feed you to a Hippogriff if you’re not a little more respectful. I don’t care who your fancy-pants mistress is.” Persephone hooted again, annoyed, but refusing to move from her spot on the back of a dining chair alongside the one Draco was sitting on, pretending to be all casual and smooth.
He sipped his tea, and opened the paper.
Famed Auror Harry Potter resigns from the DMLE!
Draco’s eyes flew open in shock as he read the first three or four paragraphs, twice, three times, trying to figure out if he was making the entire mess up in his head. Still asleep, perhaps. Dreaming. But according to the front page of the Daily Prophet, Harry Potter had, in full view of most senior ministry officials and of course his best friend the Minister for Magic, resigned from his job after almost 20 years of maintaining his position in the front line of the war against Dark Wizards, the potions and drugs trade, corruption, and probably lost kneazle kittens because he was so appallingly wholesome. Two nights ago; it had to have happened after yesterday’s Prophet was put to bed.
When he opened the paper to page three, he quickly found the continuation.
When contacted for comment, ex-Auror Potter had only this to say:
“I appreciate the concern that everyone has expressed, but I assure you all that I am in my right mind. Better than, perhaps. I look forward to finding out what might happen next, I suppose.”
And when asked what he intended to do with his day;
“I think I might go to the Zoo, or something.”
Draco felt a smile curl the edges of his lip. The Zoo. Harry Potter intended to go to the Zoo. He’d have to be very careful with the reptile house, of course. Draco wondered if he had full control over his magic back yet. If he was being careful when he slept. If anyone was making sure he ate. If anyone was making sure he followed his fucking rehabilitation instructions.
Sadly, Draco didn’t have a lot of confidence about that last one. Although, maybe he needed to prepare to let himself be surprised a little more often. He closed the paper, and looked at Harry’s expression on the front page. Calm. Confident. So fucking handsome that Draco’s chest ached and his cock twitched. Back to page three, and the photograph of Harry and Hermione embracing. She’d come a long way. Draco was impressed, not that he would have admitted it under threat of girl-Weasley’s famous bat-bogey hex.
Determined not to let anyone see him looking quite this frazzled (or turned on) Draco took a long shower, wanked himself to a spectacular conclusion and then spent a good long time doing yoga in his bedroom. He cleared his mind with practised ease, focusing on only the shape of his body, the length of his muscles, the delicious stretch as he moved from position to position.
Anticipation came. He acknowledged it; it was a feeling he didn’t often encounter, and he appreciated its child-like excitement. He sent it away.
Desire came, and hope. They needed to come back another time.
As Draco finished in Mountain pose, and then changed his clothes to start his day.
It appeared that Persephone wasn’t going anywhere and Draco didn’t know what she was after. He fed her again, and offered her a window, and then yelped when he saw Hermione’s face in the Floo.
“Did I startle you?” she asked.
“No, I always let out a good hearty yelp at this time of the morning. I find it to be very cathartic.”
Hermione snickered at Draco, which he liked; it suggested she was a lot more comfortable with him these days and also much more able to tell when he was joking (he had no idea why the Golden Trio had always been so thick about this, but they were).
“I thought you’d call when you read the paper!”
“Did you?” Draco said. “And why would I do that, Minister?”
“Because, Healer,” she replied, “You’re in love with my best friend and you want to know what time to expect him.”
“I see. And?”
“Well, I don’t think he’s ready,” Hermione said.
“This has been a thrill, Hermione. I would have voted for you too. Are you coming through?”
She sighed regretfully. “No International Floo Powder,” she said sadly. “It’s a new rule, needs to be approved in advance so that people don’t — well, abuse it for personal reasons.”
“Sounds like the sort of law only a complete swot would make up,” Draco said with a snort, easing himself down to sit cross-legged on the floor in front of the fireplace with a second mug of tea.
“Well — yes,” Hermione agreed, regretfully. “I have to go. I’ll Owl you if I hear anything.”
“What makes you think I’ll want to hear from you? You paid your bill. Aren’t we finished?” He tried not to smile, but he could feel the sparkling under his eyelids.
“In some ways, Draco, you haven’t changed a bit,” she said, shaking her head. “I’ll tell Blaise you said hello.”
“But I didn’t!” Draco replied as her face disappeared from the Floo.
If he knew Harry sodding Potter, Boy Who Lived, Saviour of the Wizarding World and sole possessor of Draco Malfoy’s miserable, useless heart, he wouldn’t come right away.
But he would come. And Draco would be ready.
The first few days of the rest of Harry’s life were blissfully structureless. That didn’t actually mean they were easy; in fact, Harry was starting to think that the guilt about not working, not being out there, purposeful and productive, might be something he’d need to work on with his Mind Healer, now that he had stopped answering “I’m fine, really good” to every question she asked him.
He was missing Draco. Not ready, but missing Draco, like an internal organ, like a lung. There was a lot of talking to be done. There were lies to uncover, and lies of omission. Harry was fairly confident that there was some selling that needed to be done, and definitely some apologising. And there was every chance that wen all of the smoke had cleared, Draco might ask him to leave, and never return.
But sometimes, when he was just falling asleep, Harry would hear those words over again:
Please don’t hate me when you wake up.
You’re so much a part of me now that I couldn’t bear it.
Surely if Draco could ask that of Harry, Harry could ask it of him, as well.
Anyway: Structureless. The days were structureless. Harry ate when he was hungry, slept when he was tired, and went walking in places where no one would recognise him. He feed bread to ducks in a nearby pond until he was informed by a serious-faced little boy that bread wasn’t good for ducks. Harry apologised profusely, to the boy and the ducks, and Vanished the bread as soon as the boy was gone. After that, he walked until he found someone selling duck food, and tossed that instead.
One day he had been wandering aimlessly through one of the large parks when he found a middle-aged Muggle man teaching another adult how to ride a bicycle. It was interesting; riding a bicycle in the Muggle world was like riding a Broomstick, and it was unusual for an adult never to have learned. Harry loitered, with a notice-me-not charm, and learned that the man wanted to learn so he could teach his own daughter.
And then Harry realised, abruptly, that he’d never learned himself. So he waited, and he asked for a lesson, paid the man some Muggle money (he’d always been proficient across the different systems, despite the ridiculous arithmetic) and gave it a shot.
It was much more difficult than a broom, which was a surprise. A broom wasn’t constrained in space in the same way, allowing one to rebalance in three dimensions instead of just… falling sideways. But Harry set subtle cushioning charms on both sides of the bicycle in case he came close to falling (… after the first few times, anyway), and by the end of the hour, he seemed to have the hang of it. Which was why he then stopped to buy one in a store before he headed back to Grimmauld Place.
He visited Luna Lovegood and her boyfriends Finn and Grayson the following evening for dinner. He didn’t ask, and he didn’t wait to be invited; he dropped by, as if that was one of those normal things to do, and was welcomed with open arms, only to learn that it was dessert-for-dinner night and all three of them were making absurdly complex sundaes. They sat on a perilous-looking balcony high above the forest below with some sort of Muggle music piping through the house.
Finn and Luna had spent a couple of weeks helping to re-home a colony of Striped Copper Moles (previously thought extinct by Luna and imaginary to almost everyone else in the Wizarding World) as their cave system was about to be demolished to make way for the tennis courts at a new seaside resort for Muggles. Grayson had stayed at home, working on his novel in a Muggle overcoat (“terribly smart, but itchy on the bollocks when you’re sitting down”), pretending to be tortured (“because what if that’s why I didn’t finish my first novel? I wasn’t tortured enough? I think the itchy balls are probably important for the torture”).
Harry didn’t once think about explaining to Grayson that usually the overcoat was worn over other things and didn’t get close to the sensitive skin of one’s scrotum.
All four of them laughed as a family of bright pink, yellow and green birds took off from the trees. It looked like fireworks. Luna climbed onto Grayson’s lap and watched while the rest of the ice cream melted, their cooling charms forgotten in the beauty of the spectacle.
Late in the evening, Luna looked up as if startled; at what, Harry didn’t know. The stars, the trees, one of her, er, more imaginary creatures, perhaps. “Oh,” she said. “It’s that time.”
“Oh,” Harry said. “Shall I go?” He was already halfway to his feet.
“No,” Luna said, but she was standing as well. “You should come. It’s a very good time for walking alongside the stream.”
Grayson and Finn looked up then as well, and agreed in earnest. “We’ll stay here and drink,” they promised Harry and Luna. “But if you fall in, send up red sparks so we know when to have a good laugh.”
Harry offered Luna his elbow, and they headed towards the stream in the fading light.
“It’s so good to see you happy, Luna,” he said.
“Oh, I’ve always been happy,” Luna replied, her chin tilted just so. “It’s only a state of mind, you know. You choose it. It’s not a place you arrive at.”
Harry was reasonably sure he’d heard something similar before, but he was feeling peaceful and calm and he didn’t particularly want to try to remember where. “I’m sure you’re right.”
Luna tugged him closer to the stream, and steered him towards a large rock that had apparently been soaking up the sun all day. They sat in silence for a while as the sunset pinked up the water, and Harry was amused to see the way fish, butterflies, and even a couple of birds drew near. Of course, this was Luna.
“I’m glad you and Draco found each other again,” she said, after a long time, and Harry felt his face flush. “Oh, don’t worry, Harry, no one’s been telling secrets. It’s your aura. I’m quite clever at those. When you thought about him at school your aura picked up a little of his colour, some greenish silver in your roaring golden light. Now, you’re positively glowing with it. It’s marvellous, really. I’m pleased.” She leaned against his arm and shoulder. “Maybe that’s why you’re so warm, too. Not sharp and spiky and cold. You’ve lost a lot of your lonely.”
“You’re fucking amazing, Luna. D’you know that?”
“Oh, yes,” she said, confidently. “I do. Partly because people I love and trust have told me that for my whole life — my mother and father, Morgana bless them. And you, and Ginny and Hermione, and Ron, and Lavender Brown — she is positively thriving as a werewolf, did you know? Has a little school for them and everything, and they go to Hogwarts if they have good control. And Finn and Grayson, who are at least as amazing as I am, and perhaps even a little bit more.”
Harry laughed, and Luna smiled benevolently at him. “You have a butterfly on your toe,” he said.
“Usually,” Luna agreed. “You’re amazing too, you know. I’m glad you quit your job. Your aura has looked like a tight golden shell for the last few years. It’s not good to be so closed off. You never know what you might be missing. And look, you have a butterfly on your wrist, now. A butterfly wouldn’t land on a tight golden shell.”
Harry watched, mesmerised, as the butterfly slowly moved its wings, watching him. And he didn’t feel any regret when it flew away.
“It’s time to go back. I miss Finn and Grayson.”
And so, they did. Finn had made cocktails, with no recipe but a lot of decoration, and Harry wondered how precisely people who were supposed to fall into place did so; these three, and Hermione and Blaise, and Pansy and Greg and their whiskey. But he didn’t wonder for long. When they were all a little drunker than was appropriate for a weeknight, Harry made his goodbyes, and reached for the Floo powder.
“Thanks for coming,” Luna said, as if he’d actually been invited and this had been planned. Or at least, as if he’d been expected. Perhaps he had been. “Bye, Harry.”
One evening Harry apparated to Diagon Alley and walked to Weasleys’ Wizarding Wheezes, stopping from time to time to share a very awkward minute or two with stranger after stranger, all of whom had opinions about his health, his decisions, and him in general, and many of whom wanted to take a photograph with him. But he found himself at the shop, in the end. Summer holidays, and the place was full of children dragging exhausted-looking parents around. Ron looked up from the counter, and his whole face lit up.
“Harry!” he said. “Are you… can you…”
Gabrielle was as gracious as ever, and took Harry’s hands in her own. “You have to stay for dinner,” she said, because Ron couldn’t.
“Of course,” He promised Gabrielle, kissing her cheek.
And it was wonderful, as it always was; the girls climbed over Harry like he was a jungle gym and painted his fingernails, the conversation was fun and easy. And then when Gabrielle took the girls to bed, Harry and Ron set up a chess board.
Harry waited for Ron to make the first move. And then he lost, as he always lost to Ron.
But Ron was staring at the board, instead of setting up again.
“Are you alright, Ron?” Harry said, after a long and awkward silence. “If you don’t want another game, I can…”
But Ron’s hand curled into a claw. He stared for a long time at the board.
“You never win,” he said. “Not because you don’t make good moves, because you do. But you’re not willing to sacrifice any of your pieces. I never noticed. But I win while you have more pieces still left on the board. You’ll use a knight to protect a pawn.”
Harry sat back in his armchair and clasped his hands in his lap. Ron was right. He’d never noticed, but Ron was right.
“I miss the way we were, Harry. I don’t know if I can do it anymore, but I’d like to try, if we can.”
Harry reached across the board and closed his hand over Ron’s clenched fists.
“It’s alright,” Harry promised. “You’ll always be my family. Even when it’s hard.”
Hermione poured herself a glass of dandelion wine (Harry knew she didn’t generally enjoy it much but this particular wine was flavoured with raspberries, and she seemed to like it) and fretted around the kitchen counter. Harry, on the other hand, felt supremely calm.
“I mean it, Hermione.”
“I hear you saying you mean it,” she replied, carefully. “But I don’t understand.”
He smiled, and examined his bread, which had proved for a second time and was ready to slip into the oven. “I’m not ready. I’m nearly ready, but I’m not ready. I know what comes next, and I’m — I’m looking forward to it. I’m nearly there. There are things I need to do, first.”
“And you’re sleeping? In a normal way,” she said. “You are?”
“Usually seven hours a night, and it’s good sleep. I’m not perched on a knife edge waiting for a disaster. I’m not waking up with my hand already almost on my wand. I wake up, I stretch, I yawn…”
As if on cue, Dora leapt up onto the table. She looked very interested in the sauce that Harry was stirring, and her coat changed to match it. Creamy mushroom with cracked pepper. “You’re a delight, do you know that?” he asked her, fondly, and she preened. And then to Hermione, he said “I dream about lovely normal garbage that makes no sense and I usually can’t remember more than a snatch of it in the morning.”
She nodded, but still looked worried. “And your Mind Healer…”
“She’s excellent. She was living in Chile during the war and though she knew my name, I was never… I was never famous, to her. She knows what I did. She knows what I do. She’s just much more interested in talking about things that have upset or hurt me. Losing Sirius. Thinking about my parents and wondering what it would have been like if I’d grown up with them. She has some interesting ideas about Dumbledore.”
He set the sauce aside, and raised his glass.
“He cared about me,” Harry said, carefully. “I know he did.”
“Of course he did. But —”
“But Draco had a point. About the way I grew up. You know, he told me… a while after he found out about… well, Little Whingeing. We were in the sitting room at Twelve Grimmauld Place. Every pillow and cushion in the house was piled up in front of the hearth, and so were most of the blankets. He told me that when we’d first met, he expected me to have spent the first decade of my life being reminded how special I was, and how important, how I’d defeated the Dark Lord — his words, not mine — and that I’d be every bit the entitled brat that he was. Also his words.”
He rested his elbows on the counter, and took a deep breath.
Harry reached out to pat Hermione’s hand fondly. “I’m alright, ‘Mione. I’m not going to break. But you know, if I’d grown up with a Wizarding family I might well have grown up like that. And then I would have been that entitled brat. I wouldn’t have had the fortitude I came to Hogwarts with, and I could well have failed. Refused to do what I had to, or…”
Hermione didn’t need to hear this.
Except… well, this was the problem, wasn’t it? For twenty years, when Hermione had asked how he was, he’d always said he was fine, and he’d never been fine. He’d kept his secrets, and protected her from worrying, and protected himself from feeling vulnerable or needing to cheer her up after he’d been honest. And it was bollocks. He never felt burdened when she told him about things being difficult; why would she feel any different?
“I stand by what I said. Dumbledore did his best by me. He knew what I had to do, and what I needed to be, and he let it all happen — he made sure it would all happen. Do you really think a Wizard as powerful as Dumbledore couldn’t have stopped me from competing the Tri-wizard Tournament?”
Hermione looked even more tense.
“I was his sacrifice. He expected my life to be short, and purposeful, and he did what he could when I could to make sure it went the way it needed to and that once I was at Hogwarts I would feel grateful to have found my place, and desperate to want to do the right thing.”
“No, please, Hermione. I wouldn’t change a thing. And in the end, he helped me to come back. He gave me that choice and he let me make it, and I don’t regret that, either. You need to know that with all of this fucking garbage in my life, I’m okay, or at least, I’m getting there. And it wouldn’t have happened without the Mind Healer I’ve been seeing since I pulled my thumb out of my arse and agreed to commit to Draco’s rehabilitation program. And I sure as fuck wouldn’t have been able to do it without him.”
Hermione’s expression was unlike any that he’d ever seen on her face. Honoured, and tired, and grateful, and in pain. The glorious tapestry of being human. He didn’t regret that he’d said things that hurt her to hear and that seemed like an incredible breakthrough all on its own.
She swallowed a sob, and raised her glass. Harry did the same, and the gentle chime felt incredibly important, the bell-like sound shifting the mood from somber to something far more hopeful. She took a deep breath, and let it out, and gave Harry a smile. It wasn’t an easy one, but it was a real one.
“Thank you,” she said. “For telling me all of that.”
And they smiled at each other, and smiled at each other, and smiled some more at each other. Harry hadn’t felt so close to Hermione since Ron had left them alone on their mission to collect Horcruxes.
“Can I ask you something?” Harry nodded. “Your magic. Is it…”
“Behaving? Predictable? Yes. Strong, and… and I’m having fun with it, in a way I don’t think I have since I was about thirteen years old. I love magic. I forgot that, for years — not many people could possibly understand that, but I know you do. Because when we found out we had magic the world changed so fundamentally. So, Hermione…?”
She raised her eyebrows.
“Have I passed? Do you think I’m okay?” He tried to keep his tired amusement off his face, but he failed.
“I… think you’ve passed. No more interrogations. And now,” she said, carefully, “what is it that you’re waiting for? To go — to go back to Draco?”
Harry looked at his glass, still smiling, and then raised it to his lips. He took a deep drink, and rested it back on the sturdy walnut countertop.
“Because going to Draco is the next big adventure. And I need to be the best version of myself if I’m to get there in the shape that he deserves. He can’t be my Healer anymore, Hermione.”
She nodded. “So he will be…?”
Harry laughed. “With luck on my side, sooner or later he’ll be my husband. But we’re old and crotchety and I’m not in a rush any more than he is. Don’t make that face. He’s not going to go running off to find someone else. He knows I’m coming back. He really does know. He’s waiting for me to be ready, and when I am… I’m ready to make the life we both deserve.”
Harry marked days on a calendar, not with crosses but with ticks. He wrote things down, places he’d been, wonderful moments that he had experienced. People he had spoken to, if they said anything that interested him, even for a moment.
On a Wednesday that was only remarkable in that it was precisely typical for a late July day in London, he took a long, aimless stroll in the general direction of things that made him happy. A man stopped him in the street and asked the time.
“I’m sorry,” Harry said. “I just haven’t been paying attention to that, lately.”
It hadn’t been easy in the beginning but when he had forced himself to stop wondering about the time he’d quickly found it was a lovely way to exist.
The man had looked at him like he might be terribly dangerous. Perhaps he looked dangerous. His hair was worryingly long and straggly. He hadn’t made any attempt to do anything but keep it clean since he’d fallen asleep months before. Harry had never known that past a certain length his own hair could begin to curl at the ends. He liked it. It wasn’t practical. It was no less messy than it had ever been but he didn’t feel compelled to make it behave, anymore.
He found himself by the duck pond, and made his way to the little stand where the old Muggle man sold food that was good for ducks.
“There you go again,” the man said, in his lovely Scottish brogue. “Good man.”
“I like the way some of them recognise me,” Harry admitted. He handed over an extra twenty pounds. “Give some to the kids for me, will you?” he asked, and then he stepped away. He knew that every time he did it, some of the money went into the man’s pocket, but he always gave some children duck food, and really, both sides mattered equally, there.
He spent a long time at the edge of the lake, feeding the ducks. There were three or four that always made a point of coming close enough to be petted, their lovely long necks stretching out in the sun. He named them. He never remembered the names. He named them again every time.
When the food was done, Harry found his favourite bench was empty. He sat at one end, looking out over the water, enjoying the warm air, the cool breeze, and his contentment.
“Did you see that?” he said out loud. “I like feeding the ducks.”
“I know you can be hard to see, but I think we both know I’m well trained and remarkably powerful,” Harry said. “I’ve done my best, the last couple of weeks, to be respectful, since I assume you’re here to watch me for Hermione’s sake — or under her orders, though I hope that’s not the case — but I think it’s time we stopped pretending you’re not stalking me.”
On the other end of the bench, Blaise laughed, and tossed his head over the back of his neck. “You’re an odd one, Harry Potter,” he said. “And please don’t tell Hermione about this. She has nothing to do with it, and she’s a hair puller.”
Blaise’s head was shaved almost to the skull, so Harry preferred not to know what he meant.
“So what’s your diagnosis? Am I a danger to myself or others? Because really, Blaise —”
“No,” Blaise said. He stood and removed his Unspeakable robes, shrunk them down and balled them in his hand. “No, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen you so well balanced. It’s marvellous, really. I’m impressed.”
Harry laughed, and handed over his second paper bag full of duck food. Blaise looked pleased. He tossed a handful over the ground and smiled as he watched them all waddle across the grass.
“Alright. So, Blaise Zabini, since I don’t think you’re here to ask me to be your Best Man, or join the Department of Mysteries — what is going on, here?”
At school, though Harry had barely known Blaise except to see him, he had always held a smug expression; one-quarter Veela, as they said, always draped in attractive prospects, generally difficult to pin down by all accounts. But smug is not the same thing as confident, and Harry knew the difference.
“I’ve been thinking about the nature of longing,” Blaise said. “You know, I’m not supposed to talk about my work at all.” He didn’t bother to say that he trusted Harry not to share this. “It’s interesting — longing involves love and time, and that is an unusually complicated relationship. I shan’t bore you.”
Harry snickered. “I can’t imagine being bored, but as I have no idea where you’re going with this, I’ll just pretend I’m sat here waiting for you to say something a humble Auror can understand.”
“Humble,” Blaise exclaimed, glancing Heavenward. “Alright. I wouldn’t even be here, if you’d gone to Naples weeks ago the way you know you should have. You’re not waiting, any more. You haven’t bee for a while. You’re procrastinating. You’re expecting to reach some sort of a point where you’re good enough for Draco, and it makes absolutely no sense — because you’ve come far enough to understand that we don’t love people for overcoming their troubles. We just love them. You’ll never believe that you’re good enough for Draco, any more than he’ll believe he’s good enough for you.”
Harry tensed, but pretended he hadn’t, shifting instead. “Are you trying to reassure me, or something?”
“No,” Blaise replied, simply, and he moved closer to Harry. Which felt strange, but right. “But I’ve been thinking about the nature of longing. And I don’t believe you’re in love with a Draco Malfoy you met at Hogwarts and extrapolated in your head. I believe that you’re in love with Draco Malfoy exactly as he is now, with all the good he has done and all the kindness he can barely contain. And his sharp tongue, and his need to push the people he loves best.”
“That was a lovely speech,” Harry said, after a long moment, pretending his mouth wasn’t dry and his muscles hadn’t tightened across his entire body. “Do you have a point?”
“I do,” Blaise said. “Several of them, and you’re playing clueless just as sure as you’re procrastinating, but it’s alright — I do get it. I’m saying two things. And they are things I’ll never discuss with my extraordinary fiancée, just so you know.
“The first is this. No one thinks you have time for any kind of secret life, because they cannot fathom that you spend any of your spare time not looking for their company. But despite the appalling hours that you work and your general exhaustion, you do have time to yourself that you don’t spend building homes for orphans and campaigning for the rights of Hippogriffs. And when you have time — you travel.”
“And this is the second: you, and I mean you, Harry… fuck the accolades, fuck the stupid titles journalists like to use to sell papers. You, Harry Potter. You wouldn’t fall in love with someone you had made up in your head. You wouldn’t fall in love with the Draco you never saw again after his trial. I don’t believe for a fucking moment that you were optimistic enough to have imagined the man he is today.
“So — I can only come to one conclusion. You know Draco Malfoy, and you have known him for years. So all this sodding procrastination is because you don’t know how to tell him that.”
Harry leaned forward, elbows on his knees. He was silent, his mind churning, almost nauseous. The ducks, though. The ducks were great.
“I can’t see how he could forgive that,” he admitted, quietly.
“You’ve been wrong before,” Blaise said, standing, tossing his Unspeakable robes over his shoulders again. “Love, and time, Harry. Longing. Come by for dinner, I’m making Bouillabaisse.” And then he was gone.
Harry sat on the bench for another hour.
Fear came, and he acknowledged it, and let it go, which wasn’t easy but he was learning.
Excitement came, and he thanked it for its optimism, and then he let it go.
Hope came. And Harry didn’t care, anymore, for equanimity; he let hope settle in his heart like an ember. Blaise was right. It was time.
Healer Thistlewish cast a quick diagnostic spell, and Harry waited patiently.
“Alright. Give me a wandless summoning?” A moment later, a mug flew across the room and into Harry’s hand; good speed, zero splash. “Show-off,” she said, taking the mug and sipping her coffee. “Disillusionment? Alright — apparate outside my door, and then inside again. No. Apparate outside near the trees and bring me something back.”
Moments later Harry handed her a branch with five satisfyingly glossy green leaves, which began to sprout flowers as soon as she took it.
“Fancy,” she said, her tone unimpressed, but her expression fond and her eyes soft. “I would say that you have recovered… probably ninety percent of your magical function, at this point. The rest might return slowly, but if not, you’ll have to deal with only being on the top four or five strongest Witches and Wizards in the world instead of being an insufferably definite number one.”
“I can handle that, Healer,” he said.
“What’s the hurry?” she asked. “Not that I’m complaining, I’ve been asking you to come in for a diagnostic on your magic for weeks, now. But why today?”
“I’m going abroad for a little while,” he said.
She nodded, held Harry’s eyes for a moment and then shook her head. “Fine. Do try not to sleep in too much, will you?”
“I’ll do my best, Healer,” Harry promised, grinning widely at her. The smile felt distinctly boyish, and the way she lifted her eyebrows made Harry feel very young indeed, for a moment.
That night, Harry stretched out in his bed and scratched Dora’s very small, and currently colourful, head. Pretty little thing. She shone when she was happy.
It was time to go to Draco.
Draco glanced at the clock over the Floo; it was probably time to go home, perhaps make himself something to eat. Helpfully, the clock’s hands were at ‘time to go home’ and ‘time to eat’, so he thought he was probably on the right track. The sun had almost set; the long days in the summer always made it easy to lose track of time and work too late. He stretched in his chair and was about to summon Rubino when he heard a knock at his door. He glanced at the clock again, and the hands had both settled at ‘something unusual is happening’.
He felt the warm brush of Harry’s magic before he opened the door, and closed his eyes, letting it warm him. Harry, apparently, was healthier than he had been in some time; the crackle and glow of that singular signature was unmistakable.
Draco opened the door carefully, already beginning to smile.
“I know it’s late, Guaritore Black,” Harry said. His eyes were bright and determined and even if it was disappointing that Harry hadn’t just stepped into Draco’s space and pulled him close, there was something about Harry’s posture that said Draco needed to let this happen at its own pace. As Draco let his Glamour shift, Harry gave a small shake of his head. The Glamour slipped back up as easily as it had slipped down. “I don’t have an appointment, but I was hoping that we could talk.”
“Certainly, Auror —”
“Just Harry, please,” Harry replied, blithely. He stepped inside and looked around, but if he was wondering if anything had changed, it had not; the door to his hospital room was long gone, though, the private ward now only accessible from the main part of the hospital once more.
“Then why don’t you call me Dra—”
Harry shook his head, and took a centring breath. “No, please. I need you to be Healer Black, just for a little while.” His hand flexed, and Draco found himself hoping that Harry was struggling not to reach out just as surely as he was. “And then — later — I’ll want to see Draco. If he wants to see me.”
“Alright,” Draco said, with a smile, his entire body thrumming with need. He glanced at the furniture. “I don’t usually consult up here.”
“If you don’t mind,” Harry said apologetically.
Draco indicated the settee, and took the armchair. “How are you feeling?” he asked, trying to keep calm.
Harry’s smile was small, but sure, and dazzling. “I’m well, thank you. I resigned from my job, you see. Several weeks ago.” His expression carried a mild apology but Draco wasn’t especially interested in an explanation for the long break. He knew Harry needed to be ready. And he knew, from the way he held Draco’s eyes unflinchingly that he was, indeed, ready.
Draco bit back a wider smile. “And what are you doing with your days?”
“I learned to ride a Muggle bicycle,” Harry said, with a laugh. “It’s much more difficult than a broom. And I’ve been feeding the ducks. Marvellous creatures, they are.”
Draco nodded indulgently. He couldn’t deny that he was pleased. He knew it wasn’t as easy as all of that, but it sounded at least like Harry was trying to reclaim his life, and that was a start.
“I don’t… you know I can’t be your Healer again,” Draco said.
“I know. I just have a story to tell you. And some advice I’d like to ask you. And then… I’ll go, or I’ll stay. I’ll leave that up to you.”
Draco settled on his chair, expression neutral, every bit the professional, while his heart raced and his entire body felt overheated.
“After the war,” Harry started, and then he stopped. “No. Honestly, everything starts a lot further back than that. I haven’t had the easiest life, if I’m honest.”
Draco thought about the cupboard under the stairs. He remembered the bruised shoulder, the tiny boy dragging a stepping stool to the kitchen sink, his eyes glazed, ignoring his pain. Basilisk venom and dying in the Forbidden Forest. All of those rooms in the house with no windows; no, Harry hadn’t had the easiest life.
“Do you want to talk about that?” Draco asked, redundantly.
Harry shook his head. “No, I want — I’m probably going to do this all wrong, but I’m going to try, if you can indulge me.” He hesitated. “Actually, I think you should know that I’ve been seeing a Mind Healer for a while, now. And it’s been good.”
Draco nodded, and Harry began his story. It started on his eleventh birthday. It started with hundreds of owls and hundreds of Hogwarts letters and a half-giant with a very strange umbrella. It moved on, in delightfully muted shades of nostalgia and a feeling of adventure. Shopping in Diagon Alley, which Harry had been afraid might be a dream. Meeting Hedwig, who had looked at him with such disdain, as if to indicate she wasn’t sure she wanted to belong to someone she could carry in her talons.
“And then I met this boy. I rejected his friendship, at the time, and d’you know — I could have explained why at the time, but it doesn’t make a lot of sense to me now. Well, we were children.”
Draco nodded. “Children soak up prejudice like tiny sponges, just as easily as they soak up favourite Quidditch teams and poor grammar.”
Harry chuckled. “You might be on to something, there. But this boy — I don’t really know how to say it, but… well, things got complicated, you know? I think by the time I started thinking we should have been friends, so much had happened that I didn’t know what I could do to change any of it. We were… rivals. Enemies, in a way. Though I don’t think either of us knew what that meant, really. We just… fought. I suppose in retrospect the mutual stalking and appalling behaviour should have told me something important but I missed it at the time. For a long time, actually.”
Draco waited, his heart in his throat.
“We hurt each other,” Harry said, holding Draco’s eyes. “I’m not sure I’ve ever found way to express how sorry I am about that.”
Draco swallowed. His voice came out weak and cracked. “I’m sure he knows. And I feel quite sure that he is very sorry as well.”
Harry shook himself out of his stupor.
“When the war was over, and the trials were over, he left England. I didn’t know where. I wanted to know. I made some discreet enquiries. But I was in Auror training and I didn’t have a lot of time. Still, eventually, carefully, I found him. Studying in Nice, at first, where he finished his NEWTs.”
“I started dropping in to see him from time to time. I always kept my distance. And wore a Glamour, just as he did, but there was no mistaking the way he walked and talked. And I got pretty good at seeing past Glamours anyway, when I needed to, as my training progressed. So it was easy to find him, when I wanted to know what was going on.”
So modest. No mention of the stupid amount of power Harry had, and the way it was rolling off him in reassuring warm waves again now. “And what was going on?”
Harry smiled. “He was… studying. He made friends; few friends, but good friends. When he wasn’t studying he worked in one hospital or another. He was good with children and he was kind and smart and funny and mean, and he knew which of those to use and when. I liked seeing him. Sitting near him in a quiet café or the library, just watching him exist. And then he went to Italy, studied in Rome for a couple of years. And then to a hospital in Naples. Eventually, it wasn’t enough to watch him; I had to speak to him. I’m quite good with Glamours myself, thanks to my work. My previous work,” he corrected. He looked ashamed, but determined, and hopeful.
“Oh.” Draco’s mouth and throat were dry. “And what did you talk about?”
“Nothing of any consequence. I would be a friendly stranger, sit with him in a bar and ask about his day. Or a gardener trimming hedges at hospital, offering potions ingredients I had gathered along the way. I don’t know what I was looking for. Maybe at first I told myself I wanted to know if it was an act. But I already knew it wasn’t, I’d seen enough for that. After a while, I went just because… because I wanted to see him, and I wanted to be a part of his life. I wanted feel the way he made me feel. I wanted him to make me feel the way his patients felt when he focused all of that attention on them. But I didn’t think he could ever trust me. Not as me. So…”
Draco felt slightly ill. He had worked so hard not to be suspicious of everyone he ever met. How the fuck had he… but he kept his mouth closed.
“I stopped,” Harry said. “After a few years, I stopped.”
Harry took a deep breath, and looked Draco directly in the eyes. “Because it was a disgusting, unforgivable violation of his privacy, and I knew stopping was the right thing to do.”
Draco blinked at him repeatedly. “I agree,” he said. Not condoning, but he hoped his expression was supportive.
Harry seemed to accept that in the spirit in which it was intended. He looked relieved.
“But I missed him, you see. And those times I managed to scratch out a few hours or a couple of days for myself, without work, without the Ministry, without my charity events — suddenly, I hated those hours. With nothing to do, I… you know, I’ve never had much of an imagination. And I didn’t have much experience with relationships, not really. But sometimes, when I couldn’t sleep, or when I had a couple of hours to myself, I started to imagine what it would be like. If I’d been able to summon up the courage to go to him after the war and offer my hand in friendship, the way he had done so long ago. Or if I had found a way to let him stay in England without fear for his life. I couldn’t do any of that, though; so we became friends in my mind. And I started incorporating all the things I had learned about him, letting us both grow up in my burgeoning imagination. How he looked when he was being so incredibly gentle with a patient, or pausing out the front of the hospital to collect a couple of flowers. How he could be cutting and funny but also tender, and full of love. All of that, I took it, and I imagined…”
Harry’s face was suddenly damp with tears.
“This is humiliating,” he said, as he wiped the tears from his face. “I knew this would be impossibly hard, but I didn’t… I mean, it’s impossibly hard.”
Draco supposed it probably was. Humiliating, and hard. And he knew it would be insulting to offer Harry a chance to bow out. So. “You got this far, though. You might as well finish.”
Harry met his eyes for a moment, and nodded.
“When I was alone, and I had a little time, I’d imagine… what would happen, if we were together, if we were in love, a happy couple sharing a life. What we’d say to each other. If I couldn’t sleep, or in the morning after I’d slept badly, I might lie with my eyes closed and imagine waking up with him. What he’d smell like, how we’d touch each other. I liked it. Sometimes it felt a lot more real than the hours that I spent as an Auror. I’d dream about it, as well. Wake up with a smile on my face, instead of… well.”
Draco’s hands were folded together in his lap. He looked down at them, and realised how tightly they were tangled together. They ached. He released them, and smoothed down his pale grey robes.
“Dra… Guaritore Black?”
“Please, go ahead. I don’t think you were finished.”
Harry leaned forward in his seat. His robes were the sort of semi-formal robes he always looked so good in, and always wore wrong, with just a little too much adventure in his expression and his hair a little too wild. Like he had learned the rules of polite society but still thought they were fucking stupid. He was probably right.
“So then, one day last year as the weather was getting colder, I… I needed a day off. I don’t know how long it had been since I’d really had one. Probably back when I’d been sneaking a Portkey all the way to Italy when I had time. Perhaps sometimes I had a day where I wasn’t as busy and I could finally get around to doing things I’d promised other people I would do, but not… a day off, to do absolutely nothing, to rest. I didn’t even know what I would do with a day like that. But I knew if he… if Draco was there, he’d be demanding, and rude, and affectionate, and he’d make cutting comments about how I poached my eggs, and talk me out of my robes, and make me laugh and argue with him… and I was there, in my office, half asleep and there was a sound and I… I knew I couldn’t do it. I didn’t even care what case it was. I only knew they were going to ask me to help with it and that I couldn’t. And I didn’t want to.”
After a long silence, Draco looked up, with a cool, professional smile on his face. “Do you mind if I ask a question?”
“Please,” Harry said. He looked almost desperate.
“Well, this boy. Man. Draco. He honestly sounds to me like a bit of a shit. At least when he was a boy.”
Harry’s lips curled into a small smile. “I think it’s very fair to say that we both had our moments.”
“Still. I imagine you know lots of lovely people. People who are only funny and kind, instead of funny and kind and mean-spirited and insecure and who have family shrubs full of cruelty and madness. You had…” Draco swallowed hard. “Wonderful friends at school. So why him?”
Harry seemed to take a long few moments to reply.
“The first time I was asked for an autograph, I was eleven years old,” he admitted, eventually. “People treated me as special. It doesn’t matter if I was, or not; it was just very tiring. He never thought I was anything special. It helped.”
Draco felt ill. “Maybe he thought you were special.”
“Well, he never asked me for an autograph or tried to sneak me a love potion.” Harry glanced up, embarrassed, and then looked down at his clasped hands again. “Maybe it was easier to imagine that if we were together, he’d make me feel special for me, instead of… because of the stupid scar on my forehead.” He closed his eyes. He looked younger, for a moment. Unburdened, perhaps. Resolved, certainly.
Draco climbed to his feet, and walked around the small mosaic coffee table that one of his patients had made him. She was an artist, a rather talented one. He took the other end of the settee and settled himself on it, leaning in.
Whoever this man in Harry’s head was, Draco didn’t think he could ever live up to it. “Was I very disappointing?” he asked. “Compared to…”
“God, no, Draco. You’re so much better.” Earnest and raw the way few could ever be.
The light had almost disappeared, now, but what was left of it painted the walls a soft tangerine colour which was rather fetching. Draco had a powerful urge to kiss it off Harry’s face, but they weren’t finished, not yet. Tired, perhaps. Harry let his gaze drift out the window.
“It’s so pretty, here,” he said. “I probably didn’t pay enough attention, in the beginning.”
Draco reached for his wand and wordlessly nudged the curtains the rest of the way open. “It’s beautiful all summer, if you don’t mind the heat. Beautiful all year around, really, but the beaches, and…”
He took a breath. He didn’t like the way his tongue was tripping him up. He acknowledged his irritation with himself, though, and then he let it go. Dwelling wouldn’t help.
“So — what would you say? If you could see him — tell him — this Draco of yours, who by the way sounds very, very handsome. If you confessed this gross violation of his privacy. Assuming he didn’t toss you out on your arse, of course.”
Harry laughed quietly. “I’d like to see him try. I’m an Auror, you know, a rather good one, and he has the upper body strength of a Cornish Pixie.”
“Good with a hex, though,” Draco growled.
“Sneaky,” Harry agreed. And then he leaned in, and took Draco’s hands. He was gentle, but firm; he was certain, and the his power thrummed around him again, so strong and warm and beautiful that it made Draco’s chest ache. Harry held his gaze as his large, calloused hands covered both of Draco’s. He closed his eyes for a moment when he lifted Draco’s hands to his lips, and kissed them. Knuckles, and then fingers, and then the backs of his hands, as if he was something incredibly precious.
“I’d tell him I’m sorry I violated his privacy,” Harry said. “And I’d ask him not to hate me for it — because he’s so much a part of me now that I couldn’t stand it.” Harry’s expression softened just barely and his eyes searched Draco’s face, twice flicking to his mouth.
“Well, he’d be fucked, then,” Draco said, after a long moment, his entire body language shifting. “That was some seriously romantic bollocks, despite all the terrible stalking.”
Harry snickered. “Look, I was already in the habit. We used to stalk each other at school all the time. Usually took turns, but I have to admit I was always better at it than he was. He mostly sprang from corners, desperate for attention.”
“That is not what I was doing!” Draco said, giving up the pretence of the Glamour at last.
“Really? That was what it looked like. For years.”
“How many hours did you spend spelling those flashing badges?” Draco flushed. “And did you make your own Dementor costume, or did you have it made at Madame Malkins’?”
“I cannot believe you almost got sorted into Slytherin.”
“I can’t believe I told you that.” Harry frowned, and then seemed to remember something. “I have a Kneazle kitten. Her name is Dora. I picked her out because she seems to have some very odd abilities for a Kneazle.”
“Why are you telling me that?”
“Because I want to spend the summer here with you. Healing, resting, and showing you exactly how sorry I am at least a couple of times a day.”
Draco stood up, and locked the door to his office with a little swish of his wand. “And why would I let you do that, Potter?”
But Harry didn’t answer; he was on his feet, hands cupping Draco’s face, kissing him so deeply and thoroughly that Draco couldn’t avoid a little mewl of desire. His entire body responded, and despite the difference in their heights, he actually felt small, pressed against Harry. Small and sort of… swooned. It felt quite extraordinary to be the sole focus of all that intensity, and he couldn’t help but take Harry’s hips into his hands and pull him in close.
Harry ended the kiss, but he didn’t pull away very far. “I don’t know why you would, Draco. I just hope you do.”
Draco rolled his eyes, but they were sparkling. “Since you asked so nicely, I suppose I could tolerate your presence for the summer.” He ran his hand down over Harry’s chest. So strong, and broad, and overwhelming. “But I would like to know, Harry. What happens in the autumn?”
“We’ll know what to do next when that time comes, Draco. I love you. The rest is details.” His expression was so tender and so sure that Draco’s throat ached. Their foreheads rested together, and Draco enjoyed the heat of Harry’s body, soaking it up.
“Does Minister Granger know you read her romance novels, Potter? Your lines, Merlin’s bollocks.”
“You love it,” Harry said, laughing. “Come on, Floo time. I want to take you home and keep you awake into the small hours of the morning. Best ask Rubino to pop in with snacks later.”
“Three house-elves and suddenly he’s all bossy,” Draco complained, reaching for a pinch of Floo powder.
When Harry stepped out of the Floo, Draco was dusting the ash from his pale Healer robes. The lights around the sitting room had begun to glow as soon as he passed through the wards, and the house was as beautiful as he remembered it to be.
Draco turned around, something of the old nervous teenager on his face again, biting his lip, unsure what to do, where to put his hands. He slipped the robe off and hung it on a coat-hook next to the fireplace.
“Are you hungry?” he asked Harry, smoothing imaginary creases from his shirt.
“Fuck, yes,” Harry said, stepping closer and reaching out.
“Do you think,” Draco said, his expression torn, “that we should — I don’t know, make a pot of tea? Talk a while?”
“We’ve done rather a lot of talking already,” Harry said, tossing his own robe over a chair. He could almost feel Draco itching to hang it instead but he didn’t. “Do you really want to talk more? We have all the time in the world,” he promised, but Draco was already slipping his shoes off. His pupils were wide and dark and his face was beginning to take on a little bit of pink. “But if you do want to talk… I have a question of my own. An important one.”
“Versatile,” Draco quipped, pulling his shirt free of the waistband of his jeans. Harry did the same, laughing, letting his eyes drift over Draco’s lean figure, taking in a huff of breath when Draco reached up and for a moment there was a strip of skin peeking out and just begging to be kissed.
“I think we’ve firmly established that I… that I’m utterly in love with you.” His voice was rough with desire, almost husky. “But you —”
“I’ve been in love with you since we were fifteen years old,” Draco promised. “It took me a long time to find a way to stop thinking about you.”
“Think about me now,” Harry said. “Think about me always.”
“Romantic tosh,” Draco said happily. “Don’t think for a second you’re shagging me on the couch, Harry Potter. Stairs. Now.”
Once inside Draco’s bedroom Harry realised he was idiotically wearing boots with about fifty holes for laces, which was very fucking inconvenient, but an issue rendered moot when the intense desire to be naked, to be able to look at Draco and touch him everywhere meant that his own magic swirled out and the rest of their clothing fell from their bodies. They didn’t have to pause in their kissing; the kisses got hotter, and dirtier, and hungrier, and Harry couldn’t make his hands stay in one place; he set his thumbs against the sharp grooves of Draco’s hips, gripped his arse hard, ran his palms up over Draco’s back, counting every bump.
“Fuck, that was hot,” Draco said, as Harry backed him into the bed, smiling against his mouth.
“And efficient.” Harry moved to cover Draco’s body with his own, slotting their cocks together beautifully, desperate to just rut against something. “You’re so fucking beautiful, Draco. I just want to look at you.”
And he did; he could have just looked, and looked. But Draco’s pale skin was right there, begging to be tasted, and looking was just going to have to wait a while. He dragged his lips up Draco’s neck and nipped gently at the skin there, making Draco’s head fall back and his lips fall open. Open-mouthed and wet and hot. And then down to his collar bones, just the right size to close his teeth over; he sucked a dark little bruise to the underside, where it would be hidden by Draco’s clothes and he wouldn’t have to heal it.
“I take back what I said about you having the upper body strength of a Cornish pixie,” he murmured against the swell of Draco’s bicep. He was all lean muscle, not like Harry’s own bulk, but confidently strong, and elegant.
“Thank you. It was a good line, though. It’s good to know you’re not out of practice,” Draco promised, and then moaned obscenely when Harry gripped his cock and began a slow stroke. His hips snapped automatically, fucking up into Harry’s hand, his cock hard as diamonds and throbbing. A trickle of pre-come escaped from the tip and Harry brought his hand to his mouth, to taste. “Merlin’s tits, Harry. Do you know what you look like right now?”
“I have a fair idea.”
“Thought about this,” Draco said. “Thought about this for years. Thought about you when I was wanking in the Slytherin dormitories —”
“I’d pay a million Galleons to know you cried my name out when you were done,” Harry growled, smiling wolfishly. “Loud enough so all the other Slytherins wanted to beat themselves unconscious.”
“My silencing charms are second to none. Wait, no, I’ll take those Galleons. I do miss being rich.”
“They’re yours,” Harry said, closing his hand around their cocks, fucking them both into his hand. “Everything I have. Yours.”
“My wank fantasies never involved all this worryingly clean dirty talk.” And then he let out a needy cry, as Harry shifted far enough to lick the tip of his cock and then swirl his tongue around the head. “You fucking tease.”
“You want me to suck you off, Malfoy? Is that what you want?”
“If you want me to last longer than ten seconds when you start fucking me, it might be a good idea to take the edge off, yes.”
Harry laughed, and took Draco deep, thrilling to the way he had to hold Draco’s hips down to stop him from thrusting into Harry’s throat. The way he kept muttering Harry’s name — names, actually, he kept drifting from Harry to Potter and back again, insensible. Hands tangled in Harry’s hair, controlling his head, which was also all kinds of hot. Apparently, they were going to take a similar approach to sex as they always had to Quidditch. Competitive and snarky.
Harry wordlessly conjured some lube on his fingers, and nudged Draco’s thigh; he seemed to get the picture very quickly, and threw one long leg over Harry’s shoulder, angling his hips just slightly so that Harry could get at his tight little hole.
It was strange, because it felt like they’d already done this, before, but —
“So much better than my imagination,” Harry growled, when he’d taken his mouth off Draco’s cock. “Fuck, Draco — I wish you could see yourself right now. Every inch of you. Unbelievable.”
“I thought your imagination had rather a lot going for it, actually,” Draco replied. He looked like he might melt; his pale cheeks were stained with a bright flush, his mouth was red and kiss-swollen, and he was looking at Harry like he was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen.
Harry ran a slick finger around Draco’s hole, and Draco made a keening sound.
“Can I? I swear, we’ll go slower, next time — I just need to be inside you, Draco. Can I?”
His finger slipped inside before Draco’s impatient nod was even finished. To the first knuckle, and then the second, laughing as Draco’s hips rolled again, struggling between pulling away from the intrusion and fucking himself down onto Harry’s fingers. Two fingers, then, and he took Draco’s cock back into his mouth while he scissored them, stretching, but not wanting to stretch too far.
“Is it enough?” he gasped. “I don’t want to hurt you, but I want you tight.”
“It’s enough,” Draco said. “I don’t care, I’m not waiting anymore. I’ve waited more than two decades. It’s enough. Need you to fuck me deep, Harry,” he said, making as if to roll over onto his hands and knees, but the thought of not being able to see his face had Harry feeling mildly panicky.
“Not like that,” he said, and in one smooth move (smooth, but deliberately flashy, all elegant muscle and dominance) he was sitting up on his feet, Draco straddling his hips, both of them insensible as Draco slid down over his cock. And they stopped. For a long moment, they just stopped, getting used to the feeling, Draco’s forehead resting against Harry’s. Breathing each other’s breath.
“You feel so good,” Harry murmured, and pressed his lips to Draco’s, shifting to his neck. He tasted clean sweat and skin, arousal, he smelled herb tea and something a little citric, orange hair potions maybe, a rich patina of scents and tastes that Harry planned to map.
“Not as good as I’ll feel when you start to move,” Draco replied, when he had his breath back. He wrapped his arms around Harry’s neck and shoulders, his legs around Harry’s hips, clingy and needy and exactly everything that Harry had ever wanted. “For fuck’s sake, Potter, move,” he snarled.
“I fucking knew you’d be a brat in bed,” Harry said, laughing. And then he started to move. His hips snapped hard, making Draco grunt in a way that purebloods probably weren’t really supposed to, begging and snarling and coaxing Harry to go faster, harder, just more. More of this, of everything.
“I’m going to marry you,” Harry said into Draco’s throat, fingers digging into his hips and arse. Draco would be covered in these fingertip bruises the next day. No, for the rest of his life, because Harry would keep putting them back long whenever they started to fade. “D’you know that, Draco? I’m going to make you my husband.”
“My father will probably crawl from his grave to stop the wedding, but I’m game if you are. That could be quite funny, actually.”
Harry laughed, and Draco smirked until he couldn’t smirk anymore because Harry had switched angles just right and he was coming, instead, coming against Harry’s chest, come dripping from his snail trail and over his scars. The sight of it had his hips snapping faster, Draco holding on for dear life.
“Come for me, Harry,” he growled into Harry’s ear. “Fill me up. Let me feel it. Let me see your face when you come, you smug Gryffindor git. I’ve been waiting to see it long enough.” He gripped Harry’s hair tightly and pulled his head back so he could watch his expression.
Of course, everyone makes ridiculous faces when they come. Harry felt his mouth fall open, his eyes roll back in his head as the tug deep in his body, behind his balls, became impossible to control. As his balls tightened, and his thrusts lost their rhythm. And then he was coming, hard, with his teeth buried in Draco’s bottom lip.
They stayed exactly like that for several minutes, just breathing, enjoying the closeness, until Harry’s softening cock slipped from Draco’s body, and Draco started complaining about mess. In truth Harry would have been happy to lie in their filth for a while, but Draco looked like he was getting ready to fret loudly, and Harry thought it might be better to just head him off at the pass. A wandless, soundless Scourgify charm and Draco returned to looking smug as fuck and ready to lie around for a while.
So he did, and they talked, and Harry almost leapt from the bed when Draco summoned Rubino to bring them a small antipasto platter. “I wasn’t serious about snacks!” he cried.
“Really, Harry, European house-elves aren’t so prudish as their British counterparts. And it’s not like you’ve got your knob out. And a bottle of the Sangiovese, thank you, Rubino.”
It really did feel incredibly European, lounging naked in bed eating tiny pieces of meat and cheese and sipping wine (Harry was almost beginning to get an appreciation for the stuff, after a few months back in Hermione’s company).
“Did you mean what you said?” Draco asked.
Harry frowned puckishly. “‘Oh, god, Draco’? Or ‘d’you like that, can you feel it’? No, that one was more of a question.”
“And I’m the arsehole,” Draco growled.
“Oh, you mean when I said I was going to make you my husband? Yes. I meant it. I don’t know what the future holds here except that we’ll be together in it.” He reached across the bed to tuck a strand of Draco’s hair behind his ear. It was so soft.
“You’re really not doing back to the DMLE,” Draco asked suspiciously.
Harry shook his head. “I’m really not. But I will have to find something to do with my time, or I’ll turn into some weird old hermit. Not yet; in a year or two. Not a sodding clue what that might be, but if your life is here, then so is mine.” He held Draco’s gaze as he said it. Determined that there would not be any doubt between them. If this ended — if this didn’t even begin — it would be Draco’s decision, not Harry’s. He took Draco’s hand in his own. “I haven’t been so sure about anything since I was a kid.”
He saw the moment of uncertainty on Draco’s face, and he recognised it for what it was; everything that Draco had, everything he’d achieved, he’d achieved by being someone else, Guaritore Christopher Black. If it took Harry the rest of their lives to convince him that Draco Malfoy deserved to be loved exactly as he was — well, then, Harry was up to that task.
“Harry Potter,” Draco said, frowning, narrowing his eyes. “Did you just invoke dying in the war as a way of tricking me into saying yes?”
“I have no moral code anymore,” Harry agreed earnestly, his eyes wide. “If that doesn’t work, I have a list of ideas in the pocket of my robes.”
“Giant prat,” Draco said, satisfied. “Fine, I’ll marry you. But not until you’ve grovelled adequately over the whole stalking me across Europe thing.”
“And bought me a lot of presents.”
“And learned to speak Italian.”
Harry grinned. “Are you nearing the end of this list, or do I need to get a quill and parchment?”
“And worked on your dreadful handwriting.”
“I withdraw my proposal. Next you’ll be asking me to comb my hair.”
“Asking,” Draco scoffed. He levitated the platter onto his bedside table, and climbed over Harry, straddling his hip, slowly rocking against him until Harry was getting hard. “You still have a great deal to learn about me, Harry Potter. Boy Who Fell Asleep.”
“I don’t mind at all,” Harry said, wrapping a hand around the back of Draco’s neck to pull him down into a kiss.
“How on earth did I convince you that we should do this in England?” Draco growled, fretting over his tie in the full-length mirror and unnecessarily adjusting his formal robes. The latest thing, they’d said, a cross between a Muggle tuxedo and Wizard robes. Draco wasn’t convinced he liked them but he was convinced that he wanted to get married in the latest thing. Kreacher was shining his shoes and muttering under his breath.
“Because,” Harry said, “if we did it in Italy, we’d have an entire clan of Weasleys to entertain for a week, in addition to the Minister for Magic and her security entourage, Luna Lovegood and her boyfriends trying to decide what order to do things by the stars, and —”
“Fine,” Draco said, patting down his robes again.
“And probably Pansy and Greg insisting on staying at the Villa.”
“On the other side of our bedroom wall.”
Draco wrinkled his nose. “You might have a point.” He looked down at the points of his shoes. “Beautiful job, Kreacher. I’d ask you to do something about Harry’s hair, but I know how you feel about abject failure.”
Harry poked Draco’s ribs, mean as a snake. “You’re really alright with this, though? I do feel like I… talked you into it. Just a bit.”
Draco met Harry’s eyes in the mirror. They were sparkling, and so were Harry’s. “You did, you beast. While I was all fucked-out and floating on a sea of hormones. No, I promise you, I’m here of my own free will. ’Til death do us part, and all the rest of it.” He was supremely satisfied to see Harry’s expression darken hungrily for a moment.
“We could skip the ceremony and go straight to the consummation,” Harry growled. “You look fucking spectacular, Draco. But these robes will look even better in a pile on the floor later.”
“Yes. Later,” Draco said, primly. “Stop ogling me, Harry, it’s not sixth year.”
“I’ll ogle you all I like,” Harry said, and he kissed the hinge of Draco’s jaw. “Draco Potter.”
“Oh, don’t even joke about that. I wouldn’t change my name again under the Imperius curse. Now, stop trying to get a rise out of me, and kiss me properly.”
Harry seemed only too pleased to oblige. The name-changing joke had been running for almost two years, at this point, but Draco quite enjoyed it. “You know if we’re not fifteen minutes early, Molly Weasley will probably box both of our ears,” he said. “I’d rather like to avoid that.”
“I love you,” Harry said.
“Romantic tosh,” Draco agreed, with what he hoped was a look of smug indifference, but knew was probably more like the look on Harry’s face when Dora did something cute. “Side-along? I don’t want you to get ash on those robes.”
“Side-along,” Harry agreed, and Draco took his elbow.
“Harry Potter,” Pansy kept saying. She was full to the eyeballs of her own whiskey, and, Hermione hated to notice, still looked like she belonged on a magazine cover. “And Draco Malfoy.” Hermione kept pushing food in her direction. She really needed something to soak up the alcohol. “Who’d have ever thought.”
“You did,” Greg said. “You bet us all a million galleons that they’d get married one day. I don’t have a million galleons, though,” he said, sorrowfully, to Blaise. “But you remember, mate?”
“I remember. And I think I probably do have a million galleons, thanks to a series of stepfathers with deep pockets — but I was never stupid enough to bet against Pans.”
Hermione laughed, and Blaise wrapped an arm around her shoulders and kissed her hair.
“Harry sodding Potter, the Gryffindor git, married to Draco even-more-sodding Malfoy, Pureblood Prince of Slytherin. I wouldn’t even believe it if I hadn’t just watched them get their hands all tied together like… oh, no, it wasn’t a sex thing, was it? Ribbon’s not that sturdy —”
“Don’t kink-shame the happy couple,” Ginny said, tossing a cherry at Pansy’s face and dropping into the seat beside her.
“Oh. No, no, I refuse to think about them having sex, let alone kinky sex. In fact I have already decided that they sleep in separate twins beds and only kiss on special occasions. Because otherwise I’d keep throwing up all over everything and everyone for all eternity. Which I might do right now, actually,” she said, looking across the tables to where Draco and Harry were still dancing, as if they hadn’t noticed everybody else had decided their feet needed a rest. She made an appalled face.
“That’s what you think?” Ginny asked, innocently. “Hmm. Funny. Yesterday at brunch Draco looked like he could barely sit, and unless he got bitten by a goblin —”
“That love bite on his neck!”
“Ginevra Weasley, I can puke at will,” Pansy said, waggling a very drunken finger at Ginny’s face, before staring openly at her breasts. “Is it true you’re still letting your freak flag fly, Gin? You should come and stay with me and Greg sometime. All the whiskey you can drink.”
Hermione snorted, and stood up. “I think I need a break from all of this,” she said. “Can someone please sneak something starchy into Pansy’s mouth while her mouth is hanging open?”
Ron was groaning into his hands. “She’s my sister, Pansy. That’s my sister you’re propositioning.” Gabrielle laughed, and patted his shoulder, and Hermione made her way around some of the other tables.
When Hermione had cut in and taken Draco for a turn around the dance floor, Luna stepped in to rescue Harry. He twirled her and didn’t step on her feet, which was very nice. They were talking about the new school Harry was help to start, deep in the forest outside of l’Aquila.
“The castle herself is old,” Harry was explaining. “She’s a Muggle castle, but very fit for purpose and the charms are coming along well; much bigger on the inside than on the outside, now, and we’ve disillusioned her. And do you know, I think she’s starting to wake up. I didn’t think it could happen that quickly. Another year of work and we’ll be able to start taking students. Just the senior years, at first.”
“I’m sure all of those Italian families will be happy knowing their little ones aren’t all the way in France,” Luna said. “Just as I’m very happy for you and Draco, Harry. He’s very pretty, and these days his aura is much less prickly. Not prickly at all, really. I don’t think he could have helped people that way.”
Harry spun Luna around again.
“The spikes were never as sharp as he wanted us to believe,” he said, and ignored Draco making a rude face at them both. “Wanker,” Harry said, and Luna and Draco swapped partners.
Hermione was a very good dancer, Luna thought idly. But both women were watching Draco and Harry move closer for a very sweet kiss, full of promise.
They did look very happy, and the stars, Luna thought, when she gazed up into the sky, seemed to agree.
Thank you so much for coming on this adventure with me :)