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you, a violent desire

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Harry throws his textbook down in exasperation. “I still don't understand this bloody chapter,” he groans, rubbing a hand over his face and flicking his eyes toward the other man in the room—his study partner. “And I've made you stay late again too. Probably for nothing, since I'm going to fail the exam anyway at this point.”

“Oh, come off it,” says Trainee Four, his voice and face carefully disguised by the Identity-Masking Charms that shield all of their identities. The Unspeakables take anonymity almost frighteningly seriously, especially where Trainees are concerned. “You'll be fine if you stop whinging about it long enough to actually study.”

Harry huffs a sigh. He knows Four is right, even though he doesn't want to admit it, but nonetheless he picks up his book again. “Fine. Can you explain one more time?”

A while later, after they've long since lapsed into silence, Harry aims a small, tired smile at Four and says, “Thanks for this.”

“It's nothing,” Four responds automatically with a wave of his hand, but Harry shakes his head.

“No, really. You've been helping me out this whole time—much more than I've helped you, I'm sure. I swear I wouldn't be anywhere near passing the final exams without you.”

“Well,” says Four, then chuckles a bit. “I suppose you may be right about you being an unhelpful arse.”

Harry throws a balled up piece of scratch paper at him, playfully scowling even though he knows Four can't see his expression behind the charms. “Prick.”

Four laughs. Harry finds himself wondering what his real laugh sounds like, and then he has to stop that thought in its tracks.

He doesn't even know if Four is attracted to men.

He doesn't even have any idea who Four is in the first place.

Still, as he looks over at the other man, lounging in the same deep blue Unspeakable Trainee robes Harry is wearing and somehow managing to seem almost elegant despite it being so late at night, Harry can't help the way his heart thumps unsteadily in his chest.

“I wish I could see your face,” he says quietly, in a moment of weakness.

Four is silent for a moment. “I’m not so sure about that,” he says eventually.

“What?” Harry asks, frowning. “What do you mean?”

“Nothing,” Four says quickly. “And anyway, you’ll see soon enough, won't you? After we pass our exams?”

Harry wants to press but decides to let it go. “Assuming I do pass,” he mutters instead, throwing a glare at his scribbled notes, and again Four laughs.

“You'll pass,” he says, reaching over to pat Harry's arm. The touch burns, and for once Harry is glad for the charms that obscure his own face—because that means Four can't see the sudden warmth in his cheeks.

Four pulls his hand away, but leaves it resting on the table, mere inches from Harry's own.

It would be so, so easy to reach out and touch him. To take his hand. To give away his own feelings.

But he shouldn't. He has studying to do.

 

--

 

The candle-light is low, flickering, casting ominous shadows on the walls of the dark chamber Harry’s standing in. He assumes he’ll grow used to the sight in the coming years, but for now, it still seems incredibly eerie, and he suppresses a shiver.

“Repeat after me,” the stern-sounding Unspeakable in front of him says. The Identity-Masking Charms shimmer over her face, distorting the very air in front of her, and it only adds to the eerieness of the moment.

A wisp of nervousness spins in Harry’s stomach, and he has to fight to squash it. He’s been toiling in this Trainee program for a grueling six months, has pushed through all of the tasks and trials and tribulations set for him and the other Trainees, and he’s not about to quit now.

This will help him get closure from the war, he thinks—it has to.

He spares a glance at the other Trainees next to him, four others in total. He hasn’t a clue to any of their identities—they aren’t allowed to know anything about each other until after the Oath has been taken. It promotes unity, the mentors say, but sometimes Harry thinks it simply feels dehumanizing. Every day for the last half year, he’s been referred to as a number instead of his name.

‘Unspeakable Trainee Number One’ sounds just a bit too close to ‘Undesirable Number One’, in his opinion. He’ll be glad to get rid of it.

But first, the Oath.

“On my honor as an Unspeakable Trainee,” says the witch acting as the Head Unspeakable, clad in the traditional deep black robes of the department. She motions for them to repeat, and Harry does, noticing immediately the frantic nature of the air as it begins shivering around them.

It’s the mark of a magically binding contract, he knows. The Unspeakable Oath isn’t an Unbreakable Vow, or at least there’s no death penalty. But no one has mentioned what exactly happens to those who break it, and Harry’s terribly sure he doesn’t want to find out.

“I swear that never will I reveal the contents of my work to those unauthorized, unless under penalty of law,” the witch continues, and Harry, in trance, repeats the words with the other Trainees.

“I will not reveal the identities of my colleagues,”

I will not reveal the identities of my colleagues,

“Nor will I use information found in my work to commit any crime.”

Nor will I use information found in my work to commit any crime.

“These things I vow in order to be accepted into the position of Unspeakable, and from this day forward, I accept the title as my own.”

“…I accept the title as my own,” Harry finishes, and then he’s struck by a sudden pain in his head, letting out a grunt as the magic hits him, squeezing at his brain until he nearly screams.

The Trainee next to him knocks into him, and Harry shakily reaches out a hand to steady them, becoming dimly aware that it’s Trainee Four. Harry’s again grateful for him—his biggest ally and support through all of this—as even now, their heads screaming in pain, Trainee Four reaches out and steadies Harry in return.

And then all at once, the pain stops, and the Trainees are left gasping.

“You could’ve warned us,” Trainee Two says, voice surly. But halfway through her sentence, her voice begins to change—with a start, Harry realizes that the identity charms are slipping off, melting away like water down the drain.

“We used to warn people, but then they resisted…” the Head Unspeakable begins explaining drily, but as she continues talking Harry is far more distracted by the other Trainees, whose faces are slowly becoming clear.

He shakes off the dazed feeling leftover from the pain of the Oath, turning as Trainee Four, whose arm he’s still clutching at, slowly is revealed—

Then the last wisps of the charm fade away, leaving Harry face-to-face with Draco Malfoy.

Shocked, he drops Malfoy’s arm—his left arm at that—as if it’s burned him. “Malfoy,” he hisses.

To his credit, Malfoy looks just as shocked and disgusted, if not more. “Potter. Of fucking course.”

“That’s Unspeakable Malfoy and Potter to you,” the Head Unspeakable interjects loudly before they can begin to row, and Harry tears his gaze away from Malfoy, embarrassed. “And you will knock off whatever silly rivalry you have going on between you, or so help me, I will not think twice about kicking you out of this department!”

Harry, suitably chastised, shuts his mouth, and Malfoy does the same, thank fuck. Harry’s worked far too hard on getting this position for Malfoy of all people to fuck it up.

It’s a pity Trainee Four had to be him, truly.

Harry had been looking forward to making a friend—and maybe something more.

But obviously not anymore.

“Now that I have all of your attention—I’m Unspeakable Adams. Pleasure,” says the Head Unspeakable in a voice that’s anything but pleasurable. “You all are dismissed for the weekend. Feel free to either leave or get acquainted with the department a bit, but do not touch anything. And don’t forget that if you show up late for your first day of specialty rotations on Monday, you may not be able to enter the department. Now please, those of you who don’t already know each other, introduce yourselves.”

Adams walks away, heels clicking on the black marble of the meeting chamber, and Harry attempts to rid himself of the tension paining his shoulders as he turns to say hello to the remaining Trainees. He doesn’t recognize any of the others, only catching fleeting blurs of names before all three of them are upon him, gazing at him in adoration and thanking him for being so brave in the war.

His stomach turns. “It was years ago,” he says, trying to shut them down as quickly and efficiently as possible. He hates this the most of all.

Off to the side, Malfoy glares at him snidely, and Harry glares back but refuses to let his temper get the better of him. It’s easy to notice the way the other Trainees have suddenly begun to ignore Malfoy—his family name was smeared through the mud so thoroughly after the war that it’s hard not to have heard of his involvement with Voldemort.

But it serves Malfoy right, doesn’t it? Bloody ex-Death Eater.

Harry finally shakes off the attention of the other Trainees, nearly wishing he could put the identity charms back on as he stalks away in frustration to begin exploring the department. All he wants is to just do his job, and his job right now is to continue with the specialty apprenticeship program until he earns the title of full Unspeakable.

But it seems that’s going to be a difficult task when his coworkers have turned out to be Malfoy and three others who can’t see past his fame.

Bitterness rubs at him, clenching at his throat, and he swallows the strong medicine of it down. Just one more thing to go wrong in his life, he supposes—like failing at joining the Aurors, or neglecting to go back to Hogwarts, or getting turned down when he proposed to his ex-boyfriend. All of those things got fucked up somehow. What’s one more on top of the pile?

Trying to distract himself from the anger blooming in his spine, he decides to go through the department doors at random. This is the first time he’s been allowed loose in the department since he’d been tricked into going in by Voldemort as a teen. That was… seven, eight years ago now, right? He’s just turned twenty-three.

Five years of his life wasted, all because he didn’t know what to do with himself after the war.

He pushes that thought as far out of his mind as he can.

The first door he opens is to the Thought room, and he blanches at the sight of the brains, mind whirring through images of the faint scars on Ron’s arms that persist to this day. Still, he forces himself to walk through the room, everything a sickening green color from the light shining through the glass of the brain tanks. He’s glad that Thought isn’t his planned specialty.

The second door is the Death room, and he skips over that entirely for now. He knows all too well what’s in there at any rate, the dais and the archway and its gently swaying curtain. And he’ll be back soon enough.

He continues going through the rooms one by one—he’d seen all of them during their initial tour, but after that the Trainees had mostly been confined to the various Unspeakable meeting rooms for lectures and study and testing, so it’s been a while since he’s looked through everything. Space, with its hovering planets, Time, glittering and full of possibilities, the Hall of Prophecies, many shelves less full than when he’d been here in his youth, and so on and so on until he hits Love—

Love is where he stops, pausing to unlock the door with a spell only Unspeakables are allowed to know before he enters.

It’s the most elegant of all the rooms and by far the most beautiful, all done in white wood, the doors accented with delicate archways. The large Amortentia fountain in the center fills the main chamber with the smell of the most wondrous things, treacle and broomsticks and Ron and Hermione’s flat, and Harry takes a deep breath in and holds it until he thinks his lungs might give out. He exhales, looking around once more, eyes skating over the works of art that are lining the walls, ones said to encapsulate loving moments throughout history.

The very air in the room seems soothing. Though, he’s fairly sure that’s the still a side-effect of the Amortentia.

One could easily become addicted to standing here, staring at the pearly sheen of the fountain, wondering at its depths. He forces himself to turn away. This room will be a comfort in the coming days, he thinks, because while he’s done being a Trainee, specialty rotations aren’t supposed to be easy either.

He starts walking back to the door, but before he’s halfway across the room, the door opens and Malfoy steps in. Harry’s shoulders immediately tense, but he thinks of Adams’s words and forces himself to simply turn away, starting toward the door. See? He can avoid their “silly rivalry” just fine, thank you very much.

Malfoy does no such thing.

“Still basking in the glow of your little fans, aren’t you, Potter?” Malfoy sneers as he strides past.

Slowly, Harry pivots to glare at him. “Still can’t get over your fucking attitude, can you, Malfoy?”

“Wow, what an insult. I’m hurt,” Malfoy says in the most insincere voice possible, and Harry braces himself against the anger that wants to erupt from his chest.

“Listen,” Harry snarls, “Just stay out of my way.”

Malfoy gives him a snide, cruel smile. “That’s not what you said when we were Trainees and you didn’t know it was me, was it? But of course, the great Harry Potter would never go as low as to fraternize with a former Death Eater. Shame. I thought Gryffindors were supposed to be better than turning their backs on people who helped them.”

“We helped each other, okay?” Harry grits out. “And that was it. So now can we go back to hating each other and just fucking stop speaking so we both don’t get kicked out of the bloody program?”

“Oh? Being an Unspeakable must mean a lot to you then, hmm?” Malfoy says, looking as if this delights him for some bloody reason. “It’ll be my pleasure to point out every single time you fuck up, then.”

Harry’s hands clench into fists. “You wouldn’t dare. Even for you, that’s fucking low.”

“Who knows?” Malfoy says, shrugging blithely and turning to look at the fountain. “I am a fucking Death Eater, after all.”

One moment, Harry is standing there, glaring at him.

The next moment his anger finally erupts, hot and scalding on his skin, and he’s running toward Malfoy with his fist raised for a punch. Malfoy steps out of the way at the last second, but he’s not so lucky when Harry swings a second time with his other hand, fist connecting with Malfoy’s cheek and whipping his head to the side.

“Fucking Potter!” Malfoy groans, hand flying to his face as he stares at Harry in shock for a moment. And then he bursts out toward Harry to retaliate, and all of a sudden they’re wrestling, grabbing at each other’s shoulders, fighting for control. Harry moves for his wand but Malfoy sees what he’s doing and reaches for his wand, and that’s the window of opportunity Harry needs to knock him to the floor—

Except Malfoy casts a Shield Charm at the last moment.

Harry’s not sure what happens in the split-second after that.

All he knows is that there’s a loud splashing sound from the fountain, and then suddenly both of them are left standing there, drenched in Amortentia.

“Fucking Merlin,” Malfoy swears, staring down at his own soaked clothing.

Slowly, Harry raises his wand and casts a Scourgify over both of them, thankfully ridding himself of the sticky-wet sensation of potion dripping down his skin. He glances at the fountain, which seems unharmed minus the Amortentia lost in the Scourgify, thank God. He only hopes that no one will notice.

Still, he’s not sure why Malfoy’s looking at him with such an expression of horror. “What?” Harry asks, eyeing the bruise forming on Malfoy’s cheek. “It’s fine—I don’t think either of us swallowed any. Amortentia has to be ingested to work, right?”

“How did you ever fucking pass your Trainee exams?” Malfoy growls out, rubbing a hand over his face. “We went over this! That”—he gestures at the fountain—“is not normal Amortentia. It’s extra-strength Amortentia, about the closest you can fucking get to replicating true love without all the bloody side effects, and even touching a drop of it in the vicinity of another person—”

“…causes extreme infatuation,” Harry cuts in to finish as he finally remembers from his studies. His eyes widen in dismay. “Holy shit—”

Malfoy grimaces. “I suspect we only have a few minutes.”

“I don’t suppose there’s an antidote,” Harry says, glancing around the room in a panic.

“No. There is no antidote to extra-strength Amortentia,” Malfoy says, all of the bravado stripped from his voice.

“We could leave?” Harry tries, already poised to Apparate.

“Wait, no!” Malfoy stops him, already sounding desperate. “It’s just—I suspect that would only make it worse.”

“Worse? What do you mean?” Harry asks, even as the panic fully sets in, panic about what’s about to happen, what he’s about to feel.

“You’ve been in love, haven’t you?” Malfoy asks, his eyes flashing. “Now imagine that feeling, except about three times stronger. We don’t want to be apart right now, and at any rate even if we tried, I doubt we’d be able to stay apart once it starts—oh.”

A shiver travels up Harry’s spine, warm and filling him with longing all at once, and he knows immediately that happening because he sees Malfoy’s jaw go slack too—

Then all of his thoughts disappear, and what takes their place is Malfoy, or rather how much Harry yearns for him, so much that it’s splitting him in half just to be a few steps away. ”God,” he chokes out, and before he can even start moving forward, Malfoy is on him, embracing him, pulling him to a chest warmer than he’d ever imagined and enveloping him in the smell of lemons and charcoal and musk. It’s only amplified by the fact that the Amortentia in the fountain now smells like Malfoy too, meaning it’s all around him, dizzying Harry as he runs his hands over Malfoy’s back so he can pull him closer.

“Fuck,” Malfoy breathes, “fuck. It’s—it’s just the potion, it’s just the potion—”

“Fuck the potion,” Harry mumbles, twisting his fingers into the hair at the nape of Malfoy’s neck, because this feels so good, so wonderful to be close to him like this. Already, the memory of exactly why he was so concerned about this earlier is slipping away, along with every memory where he’d ever been angry with Malfoy—why would he be angry with him, anyway? He can’t be now, at least not for long, because Malfoy is everything he’s ever needed, he loves him—

“Potter,” Malfoy sighs, breath warm against Harry’s cheek as he kisses his jawbone, making Harry shudder. “Potter, fuck.”

Harry’s struck with the thought that it’s rather funny that Malfoy’s still calling him ‘Potter’—and for that matter, Harry’s still calling him Malfoy, isn’t he? He laughs, deep from his belly, pulling Malfoy closer still. “Draco,” he says, liking the sound of it in his mouth, “Draco.”

Nngh,” Draco groans, pupils dilating as Harry pulls back to stare at him. “Potter, can I—”

“Harry,” Harry corrects, laughing again, sliding his knuckles up against Draco’s cheek and making his eyelids flutter.

“Harry,” Draco says, “can I—I mean, I need to, I need to kiss you—”

“Fuck,” Harry gasps, not quite sure why he hadn’t thought of that before, but now the desire burns in him, clenching in his throat and pulsing in the space between his hips. “Yes, please—”

Then Draco kisses him, and it’s like fireworks, his lips soft as they move against Harry’s own, stirring so much arousal in him that he thinks he could burst. Harry groans into it, deepening the kiss, sliding his tongue against Draco’s and panting as Draco slides a hand down to cup his arse.

“More,” Harry gasps out, pulling at the fastener on Draco’s robes. “Please, I need—I need you—”

All at once Draco looks both frightened and completely desperate. “Not… not here,” he gasps out, but even so, he’s clutching at Harry as if he’s afraid to let go.

“My place,” Harry offers, and he notices the slightest bit of relief in Draco’s eyes but doesn’t pay it any mind—he’s too focused on thoughts like now, please and yes and need you.

“Okay,” Draco says, “Yes, yes, okay,” and then he kisses Harry fiercely, very nearly distracting Harry from the fact that he ought to Apparate them out of there.

After several moments of snogging he finally remembers, and he Apparates them into his living room mid-kiss, the crack barely audible against the heavy beating of his heart. “Fuck,” he says, grinning at the sight of Draco in his flat. “I’m so glad you’re here.”

“Harry,” Draco sighs, pressing him backwards until Harry’s knees hit the sofa, and he bends obligingly, letting Draco lay him down and whimpering as Draco crawls on top of him. “You’re so—fuck…”

“I’m so what?” Harry says, grinning coyly and finally, finally pulling at Draco’s robes.

“Insufferably attractive,” Draco mumbles, leaning down to press the words into Harry’s neck as if embarrassed. “Obnoxiously good-looking, dreadfully endearing—”

Harry laughs, pausing in trying to get Draco’s robes off so he can gently caress Malfoy’s shoulder. “I love you,” he says softly, nudging at Draco’s chin so Draco looks at him.

Draco blushes, bright and pink. “Don’t expect me to say it back,” he mumbles, but then he kisses Harry anyway, and Harry’s pulse is thrumming in his throat as he finally manages to unfasten Draco’s robes. “Let me,” Draco breathes, casting some sort of spell that neatly deposits his own clothing, save for pants, on a nearby chair.

Harry’s hips buck of their own accord at the warm, soft feel of Draco’s skin against his arms. “Mine too, please,” he says, heady with the feeling of his cock filling, of Draco’s body pressing down on him, surrounding him. Draco thankfully obliges, spelling Harry’s clothes off too, and then Draco leans down to bite at Harry’s nipple and Harry lets out a guttural moan. “Fuck.”

“Yes, lets,” Draco mumbles, hands nimble as he toys with Harry’s waistband. “I want—fuck, I want to fill you up—”

“Draco, fuck, yes,” Harry babbles out. “Yes, yes, I—Accio lube!” he calls out, and the lube comes flying around the corner and smacks into his hand.

“Did you just do that wandlessly?” Draco asks, open-mouthed and looking more than a little turned on.

Slowly, Harry grins. “Yeah,” he says. “I can do more too. Wanna see?”

Draco shudders. “Maybe—maybe after,” he says. “Right now I just… I just want to be with you,” he finishes, his words nearly a whisper by the end of it, and Harry smiles at him and slips his hand through the silky strands of Draco’s hair.

“You are with me,” Harry says, and Draco flushes again.

“Merlin, I’ve wanted this for so fucking long,” Draco tells him, the words teasing across Harry’s chest as Draco leans down and mouths at his collarbone.

“Really?” Harry asks, but then Draco stretches up to kiss him and he forgets the question.

And then there’s a hand, warm and firm, pulling down his pants and wrapping around his cock, and Harry keens. “Fuck, fuck,” he groans, pressing up into Draco’s touch, and Draco seems to like that because he shudders in turn, pressing his hips so his cock aligns with Harry’s leg. “We should—if we do this for long I’ll, oh God, please.”

“Nngh, okay, okay,” Draco says, wrenching himself away, and then he’s nudging Harry’s legs open and settling between them, grinning at him in a way that seems very un-Draco-like if Harry is to be honest.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever seen you really smile before,” Harry muses, hissing as Draco dribbles lube down the crack of his arse.

“Surely you must have at school,” Draco says, frowning a bit, and Harry aches to kiss away the lines of stress in his face.

“Mostly you smirked. It’s different,” Harry says, and then he can’t speak anything more than a wordless moan as Draco spreads his legs even further and begins pressing a slick finger inside of him. “Fuck, Draco—it’s, it’s been a while.”

“Good,” Draco says, something predatory in his eyes as he slowly fucks into him with his finger, twisting his hand and making Harry groan.

“And you?” Harry asks, heart chilling with jealousy as he imagines Draco with someone else.

Draco’s eyes go all shuttered. “Later,” he says, and then he kisses Harry and all his thoughts melt away.

Draco works him open with two fingers, then three, treating him more gently than Harry would’ve ever imagined. Harry’s heart nearly bursts, full to the brim as he watches Draco hovering over him, loving him, God. The hard lines of Draco’s face are softened by affection as he presses his fingers inside him until Harry’s slick and open, clenching his arse with need for more.

“Please,” Harry lets out on a sigh, reaching out to nudge Draco’s arm, and Draco takes the cue to pull his hand away and remove his own pants. Harry watches, heart hammering, as Draco slicks up his cock, flushing and thick in his hand, and God, Harry wants.

Draco climbs on top of him, bracing his arms around Harry’s shoulders, kissing his neck, his shoulders, and Harry moans at the gentle sensation, reaching up to pull Draco closer—

And then Draco finally presses in, and they both groan in unison, Harry’s eyes flaring with want and need as Draco slowly fills him.

“Draco,” he gasps, clutching at his back, his arms. “Draco, fuck.”

“Yes—yes,” Draco chokes out, pulling out and pressing back in, hot and thick inside him. Then he sets up a frantic rhythm, grasping at Harry, and Harry attempts the best he can at this angle to push back toward him and meet him at every other thrust. It’s messy and hot and feels so fucking good, especially because every now and then Draco’s eyes meet his and—and there are sparks, warm and happy, all across Harry’s skin.

Has he ever really been in love before? He’s not actually sure, because every previous sexual encounter he can remember pales in comparison to this moment, to the desperate way he yearns to touch Draco even as Draco fucks into him—to the way Draco starts making little sighs and whimpers into his ear, ones that even sound like his name.

It feels like he could die happy here in Draco’s arms.

Which is why it’s so blatantly obvious when the Amortentia suddenly stops working.

Harry can feel it, mid-thrust, as all of the love in his veins completely vanishes. And then it’s replaced with all the hatred and rage he’d been feeling in the moments before the fountain erupted, only stronger, because what the fuck have they just done?

Above him, Malfoy stills, his face contorting into a stern frown. “Fuck,” he says, then louder, “Fuck!”

Harry’s so fucking angry, which normally would have made him go soft by now. But his prick is still full, pulsing against his belly, and even more surprising is that he’s still feeling arousal so strong that it burns inside of him.

Fuck.

He still wants this.

Slowly, he removes his hands from around Malfoy’s back, swallowing thickly—because Malfoy, too, is still hard inside of him. “You won’t keep going,” he goads.

“I fucking hate you,” Malfoy says, and it must be an aftereffect of the potion that makes the words hurt just a little.

But stronger that is the equal, rivalling hate in Harry’s lungs. “Tell me something I don’t fucking know,” he spits out, and Malfoy lets out a frustrated groan—

And then Malfoy starts fucking him again, but harder this time, slamming into Harry so forcefully he rocks back against the cushions with every thrust, and fuck it feels good. Clenching his teeth, Harry hooks his hands behind his knees and pulls them higher, feeling a small amount of delight in the way Malfoy can’t withhold a moan the next time he presses in.

“This doesn’t mean anything,” Malfoy says, his arms starting to shake, and then he moans high and needy as he comes, hot and pulsing inside Harry.

When he finally pulls out, Harry almost expects him to immediately leave without looking back. But instead Malfoy slicks his hand and wraps around Harry’s cock instead, avoiding his eyes, stroking with a quick, sloppy rhythm that makes Harry shudder beneath him.

“You better fucking come,” Malfoy mutters, probably because he just wants to get it over with. Harry wants to retort, but then Malfoy twists his hand in the most perfect way and then Harry does come all over Malfoy’s fist, sealing his mouth shut so he doesn’t let a single moan escape as he bucks helplessly against him.

And then it’s over.

They sit up, and Harry immediately grabs his wand and casts a Scourgify, disgusted at the wetness now seeping out of him. “Fucking hell.”

“Yeah, thanks for that, Potter,” Malfoy snaps, collecting his clothes and pulling them on with no small amount of force.

“It wasn’t all my fault,” Harry says, outrage slowly filling him as he too dresses. “It was just as much yours as mine and you know it!”

“Yes, but you’re not the one who has to go home now and tell their wife,” Malfoy spits out, the words hot and seething as he throws his robes over his shoulder and Apparates away with a loud crack. Then he’s gone.

He’s… he’s married.

Fucking shit.

Harry is left glaring at the place where Malfoy once was, desperately trying to forget what was both the best and worst sex he’s had in his entire fucking life.

 

--

 

Draco is still vibrating with fury as he stalks into his own bedroom, spelling his clothes into the laundry because they’ve touched Potter and he needs them off.

“Draco?” Astoria calls from the adjoining sitting room, the one she’s all but claimed as her own to lounge and sleep in.

“Not now,” he bites out, because he needs to take a fucking shower. He can’t get the scent of Potter out of his nose.

“I take it the Unspeakable promotion didn’t go well,” says Astoria, lovely and frail as she comes over to lean against the doorframe. She seems unbothered by the fact that he’s standing in the middle of the room naked, but he Summons his silk bathrobe and pulls it on anyway.

“No, it’s not that,” Draco snaps, pinching at the bridge of his nose. He shuts his eyes, but the moment he does so, images of a naked Potter beneath him flash across his vision, and he has to open them again in a hurry. He shakes his head. “I had sex,” he says abruptly. He withholds the part about the Amortentia—that, he’ll keep to himself.

To her credit, Astoria doesn’t show anything more than mild surprise. “Oh,” she says. Then she grins. “Was it good?”

No,” Draco says, and then he feels guilty for snapping because Astoria doesn’t deserve his anger.

She’s his best friend, after all. She’s funny and clever and intelligent and shares his enthusiasm for both reading and watching Quidditch, among other things.

It’s almost a shame he’s gay.

Astoria is his wife only in name, an arrangement years ago to appease both of their parents. They’ve never slept together, nor do they share a bed. They only kissed at the wedding.

He does love her. Just not romantically. He really only brought her up earlier just to make Potter feel worse, if he’s to be honest.

Astoria rolls her eyes. “Don’t get cross with me, Draco. I doubt it’s me you’re angry at.”

Draco sighs deeply. “It was P—I mean, it was my coworker,” he says, remembering at the last moment that they’re forbidden from revealing other Unspeakable identities. That’s fine. Astoria has no need to know just how deeply fucked he is, given that it’s Potter that he had his cock in barely ten minutes ago. She’s seen him glaring at Potter in the papers. And, okay, maybe ogling his face for a bit longer than strictly necessary, damn his past self.

Arching her brow, Astoria walks over to perch on his bed. “So you were angry at your coworker and then you fucked him, or you were angry at your coworker because you fucked him?”

Draco glares at the floor. “Both.”

“Of course,” Astoria says, laughing. “And now you’re all upset because you have to deal with working with him for the foreseeable future, right?”

“It’s not just that,” Draco says, frowning. “It’s…” He shakes his head, frustrated. “I can’t talk about it without revealing who he is.”

“Right, right,” Astoria says, nodding. “Unspeakable rules, I get it.”

She starts coughing loudly then, and he goes to her and rubs her shoulder until she’s over the fit—the coughing comes more and more frequently nowadays, each time feeling like the ticking of an ominous clock as the blood curse she’s been unfairly saddled with slowly wreaks havoc through her body. It’s the reason Draco ultimately joined the Unspeakables. And it’s a last resort, at that. They’ve seen what feels like most of the Curse Breakers in existence, but too little is known about her ancestor, the one who was originally cursed to carry this awful thing along in her bloodline. Every single Curse Breaker said the same thing: until more details are found, it’s impossible to derive a solution.

In the meantime, Astoria is dying.

If they could just slow down the curse’s progression, it would be easier to study, one of the Curse Breakers said. Right now, it’s simply too quick, too unpredictable, barely even responding to their diagnostic spells.

In other words, they need more time. Which is precisely what Draco is planning to study.

“Oh, stop looking at me like I’m going to break,” Astoria admonishes him despite the paleness of her face. “I’ve got years left—decades, maybe, and you know it.”

So the Healers say. But Draco finds that hard to believe, as he watches her grow weaker with every passing month. “I know,” he says wearily.

“Listen,” Astoria says. “I’m fine. And I don’t know who this mysterious coworker of yours is—though I have my suspicions—”

“It’s not—” Draco starts, but she shushes him.

“Nope. Not going to discuss it,” Astoria says, grinning in that fierce way of hers. “I’m keeping my imagination to myself, mind you. At any rate, things will settle down eventually between you and him, I’m sure. And who knows—maybe you’ll sleep with him again.” She pauses, then laughs at his expression, which has twisted into one of horror.

“Not bloody likely,” he mutters, and then he stands up and goes to take his shower.

 

--

 

Harry doesn’t speak a word about what happened to Ron and Hermione at their weekly Saturday night dinner—both because there’s not much he can say without violating the Oath and because he doesn’t know what he would say even if he could talk about it. In fact, he simply decides to stop thinking of sex with Malfoy whenever possible, and he’s doing so good a job at ignoring it that he very nearly forgets it happened in the first place.

Until he sees Malfoy that Monday at work, that is.

As he watches Malfoy walk into the meeting room, black Unspeakable robes billowing around him, tall and lean and unfairly handsome as he strides over to where the rest of the Apprentices are standing—it all comes rushing back to Harry.

Malfoy holding him, warm and secure. Malfoy leaning over him, warmth in his eyes, pressing into Harry like a lover. Malfoy, saying his name in ways that make Harry’s heart flip, even now.

Harry has never so desperately wanted and not wanted something at the same time.

He hates it. He’s so fucking confused.

Thankfully the wanting slowly fades—maybe just a side effect of the Amortentia after all—only to be replaced with resignation that he still, unfortunately, has to work with Malfoy.

He’ll simply have to return to his original plan—ignore him entirely. It should be easy enough, given that they’ll all be cooped up in separate departments from now on, and thankfully enough no one seems to have noticed the mishap with the fountain.

He can just put everything to do with Malfoy behind him.

“Good morning,” says Unspeakable Adams, gesturing at the five of them. “It is now time to choose your first specialty rotations. I’m sure you all have been looking forward to this.” She Summons a handful of small slips of paper, shimmering with charms. “Simply write down your first and second choice, and then the magic will sort you.”

Each of them takes a slip of paper, and Harry’s heart beats dully as he stares down at the little blank lines, rummaging in his pocket for a quill. Now is the moment of truth, he thinks as he finds his quill and unshrinks it. Does he have the bollocks to do what he came here to do?

“Oh, before I forget,” Adams says, causing them all to look upward again. “Unspeakable Jones has very recently returned home to deal with an unforeseen family emergency. She is in charge of overseeing Apprentices in the Time department, so unfortunately Time will not be an option for this rotation.”

Quietly, Harry hears Malfoy swear.

So Malfoy wanted Time, then. Interesting. Harry has no interest in dealing with Time—it seems far too complicated, and after seeing the immense potential for chaos when Hermione took him back in time during their third year at school, he’s absolutely certain he wants nothing to do with it.

He wonders why Malfoy’s interested.

But he still has his own decision to make. He takes a deep breath and lifts his quill, scrawling onto the first blank line: Death.

He shivers. His stomach is twisting itself into knots, but he’ll have to face it someday, the swaying curtain under the archway. The desire to learn more about death and its ways has given him purpose again, to learn exactly why and how he was able to return to life, while so many others including Sirius and Remus and his parents had to die. It’s given him a direction after a long time of feeling lost.

And it’s cathartic, in a way, to view death academically instead of through the lens of the loss and emotion he’s attached to it over the years. It was enough to get him off of his sofa and make him apply for the Unspeakable position, even though Hermione warned him that she heard it was a ton of work. Which it was. But he made it through. He’s never been the best at studying, but he’s picked up enough good habits from Hermione over the years that he just managed to scrape by during the Trainee exams.

Malfoy helped too, of course. But Harry refuses to let his mind stray there anymore.

His second choice of rotation doesn’t matter nearly as much, but it still makes his heart flip in his chest as he writes the word, “Prophecy.”

When he looks up, it appears the rest of them have finished writing. Adams raises her wand and swishes it cleanly, causing the slips to soar into the air in front of her. Then, one by one, she taps them with her wand and they disintegrate into ash. “Unspeakable Bailey is assigned to the Space department,” she says, motioning to whom Harry used to know as Trainee Two. “Unspeakable Lee to the Love department,” Adams continues. “Unspeakable Knight to the Hall of Prophecy, and…” She holsters her wand. “Both Unspeakable Potter and Unspeakable Malfoy to the Death department.”

Harry’s eyebrows fly up, and he nearly objects, but Adams gives both of them a look of warning and Harry is forced to stand down. Fuck. He didn’t even know that was possible, being assigned to the same department—after all, why did they even put down multiple choices if this was going to happen?

Numbly, Harry turns to follow the other Trainees to their designated departments, but Malfoy hangs back with Adams. Curious, Harry hovers at the door and listens to their conversation.

“…surely we won’t receive the highest quality education possible if there are two of us,” Malfoys says. “I mean, part of the advantage of the Unspeakable curriculum is the one-to-one interaction with more experienced—”

“Unspeakable Malfoy,” Adams says sternly. “Sucking up is not going to get you anywhere in this department and you know that. Now move along to your rotation before I start to second guess whether or not you and Potter can be trusted to work together.”

Malfoy nods tightly and turns toward the door, and Harry quickly leaves, hoping not to be caught listening. But Malfoy catches up to him on the way to the department anyway.

“Eavesdropping, hmm, Potter?”

Harry simply grunts, because he’s ignoring Malfoy. He is. Really.

He has to, because Malfoy’s walking close enough that Harry can smell him, and all the memories come rushing back. That smell is irrevocably connected to good things in Harry’s mind, to warmth and happiness and feeling so fucking loved—

And this is why he’s been trying not to think about it. Because it’s absolutely mad to be mourning the loss of someone he hates, to be missing touching him like this.

Not to mention Malfoy’s married.

He thinks of what would happen if he touched Malfoy, how ridiculous that would be, and then he remembers punching him, the harsh feel of his fist colliding with Malfoy’s cheek. He can’t help but glance at Malfoy’s face, but Malfoy’s either healed the bruise or Glamoured it because it’s no longer there.

The weird part of Harry that insists on being intrigued by Malfoy kind of wishes he’d left the mark on his face.

Thankfully his thoughts are interrupted by their arrival at the department door. It’s labeled with shimmering runes, only visible to Unspeakables under Oath, to discern it from the other doors in the round entrance hall. Harry is more than grateful for it—otherwise he’d probably be unbearably lost.

They go inside, and Harry forces himself to avoid looking at the dais for now as they cross the room, gritting his teeth to block out the whispering. But soon enough they’ve made it across, and they walk up to a small, nondescript door on the other side of the chamber. Malfoy steps forward and raps his knuckles on the wooden surface.

It takes a moment for it to open, and Harry curses every second of it, feeling like his spine is prickling with the discomfort of being in this room once again. But finally, the door opens, revealing a very short, very ancient-looking wizard, and Harry allows himself to breathe a sigh of relief.

“Come in,” the man says, his voice like paper, and Harry doesn’t find it at all hard to believe that this man studies death. He follows Malfoy and steps over the threshold. “I’m Unspeakable Hughes,” the man continues. “Two of you this time, goodness. It’s about time we had some new Apprentices…”

Harry swallows nervously. “Do you not usually get applicants?” he asks, looking curiously around the small, dark, dusty office they’ve stepped into. There are four small desks shoved into the room, each one against a wall with barely space to walk between them. Where there aren’t desks, there are bookshelves that reach all the way up to the high ceilings. Two of the desks are occupied with a witch and a wizard who both look nearly as old as Unspeakable Hughes, but neither of them turns from their work to offer a greeting.

Hughes shrugs one shoulder as if moving both is too much effort—which it may well be, considering how old he looks. “Most young Unspeakables want something more… exciting.”

Harry’s so taken aback that he can’t think of a good way to respond, so he doesn’t, following along with Malfoy as Hughes takes them to the darkest back corner of the room.

“I swear there was another torch around here…” Hughes says to himself. “Ah, well, I expect you’ll find it at some point.” He holds out his arm. “Afraid we’ve only got one desk to spare. I’ll bring another chair over.”

Harry stares at Hughes mutely as he putters away, then glances at Malfoy, brow wrinkling in horror. It seems he made a dire mistake by thinking that all of this couldn’t possibly get any more ridiculous. But it obviously can—and has—because now they’re being forced to share a desk. Which it seems they’ll have to comply with, as this room is simply too small to fit another one in here. What in the bloody hell?

So much for ignoring Malfoy. It’ll likely be impossible now. Fuck.

To make things worse, he can nearly feel the way Malfoy is bristling at the situation, and that in turn makes Harry feel even more annoyed, because now he has to share a tiny corner with Malfoy while Malfoy’s throwing his own temper tantrum. Of course.

“I can practically hear you thinking insults at me, Potter,” Malfoy drawls, and Harry realizes he’s been glaring at him.

“So what if I am?” Harry mutters.

“Childish,” Malfoy accuses loftily.

Harry rolls his eyes. “At least I’m not speaking them aloud.”

Hughes interrupts them by walking back over with a creaky-looking wooden chair Levitated in front of him. He sets it down with a dull thunk next to the similar chair already at the desk, then nods once. “There,” he says, brushing his hands off as if he’d gotten them dusty. “Feel free to read any of the books we’ve got lying around here. I’ll be over there if you need me.” He points with a bony finger to another desk across the small room.

“Wait,” Malfoy says as Hughes begins to shuffle away. “Aren’t you supposed to give us some sort of project? Or a research direction?”

Again, a one-armed shrug. “You have to find that on your own, lad. Death has been around since before humanity existed. It generally takes years to find a topic that hasn’t been studied by some civilization or another.” He smiles at them as if that’s barely an issue, even as Harry stares at him, aghast.

Then he walks away.

Malfoy waits until he’s out of earshot before shoving past Harry to sit in one of the chairs. “Well this was a fucking waste of time,” he says quietly.

“Shut it,” Harry mumbles as he sits down too, not wanting to get overheard. Although, privately, he’s thinking exactly the same thing. He’s not sure he has the attention span to spend months looking for a topic, let alone years. “You think that if we really had researched Death well, we’d have solved it by now.”

“Well, haven’t we, to some extent?” Malfoy asks, casting a Scourgify on their area so strong that Harry’s nose feels clean.

He itches it, making a face. At least all of the dust is gone from the desk, leaving only a scattering of old books on its surface. “What do you mean?”

“Witches and wizards live far longer than Muggles do, obviously,” Malfoy states, face twisting as if it’s a pain to even have to speak to Harry. “Then there’s other methods of prolonged immortality, such as the Sorcerer’s Stone, which I’m sure you’re well-acquainted with. We know how to extend life, thereby pushing away Death. Is that too much for your tiny brain to handle?”

Harry sighs and ignores the quip, thinking instead of unicorn blood and Horcruxes. In a way, Malfoy is right. “We can summon death too,” he realizes, mulling it over—it’s only too easy to kill someone with magic, to invite Death to one’s door, whether only incidentally or on purpose.

“That doesn’t even require magic,” Malfoy points out loftily. “Muggles do it all the time… But yes. The Killing Curse is basically death incarnate.”

“Hm,” Harry grunts. They sink into silence, and Harry idly picks up one of the books sitting in front of them. The cover is so faded he can’t read it, but he flips it open and attempts to begin deciphering the text anyway.

Eventually Malfoy does the same, and Harry reflects that this was probably the first nearly-civil conversation they’ve had in—well, ever. Not counting when Malfoy was Four, of course. The two of them are world’s away in Harry’s mind.

He’s not sure what to think about that, so he doesn’t.

 

--

 

Draco is utterly, vehemently bored.

Five days he’s sat here in the Death department, faffing around and attempting to find something in a book that interests him. But that’s the thing. There’s no new and exciting research in the Death department. They know why Death happens, they know how to make it happen, and they know how to circumvent it.

Nearly the only question left is what happens when one dies, but both he and Potter have separately brought that up to Hughes, and both times they’ve gotten the same answer: “Beyond the veil, of course.” Hughes refuses to humor any other questions about the topic.

When Draco tries to enquire about what the other Unspeakables are working on, he’s confronted with topics such as “Quantitative Analyses of Magical Interplay in Bodily Weakening Due to Old Age” and “In-Depth Interviews about Life and Death in Wizards Above Age 150.” Which he’s sure are topics that are scintillating, really, except that nothing in this damned dusty hellhole is helping get any closer to figuring out Astoria’s curse.

At this rate he’ll die of old age before he finds an answer.

Okay, okay, he’s being melodramatic. Unspeakable rotations only last two months, and realistically Astoria will be fine, at least according to her Healer. But then again, her Healer also said a few months ago that Astoria’s coughing fits shouldn’t get worse, and they have, so obviously they can’t predict everything, now can they?

So he’s left here, just sitting in the dark, musty Death department every day, staring down at books while quietly seething. To be honest, he doesn’t know how Potter stands it either.

Potter.

The other bane of his existence.

He’s so. Bloody. Distracting.

Potter sits there, and sometimes he reads, but other times the boredom radiates off of him in waves so strong Draco can feel it secondhand. Sometimes he folds his notebook paper into messy origami and then Vanishes it with a huff of resignation, sometimes he stares idly up at the ceiling for minutes on end. Draco aims dark glares at him whenever possible, but either Potter doesn’t see him or is just plain ignoring his obvious displeasure.

It’s a pity Draco can’t ignore him as well. He’d like nothing more, but he can’t. It reminds him of sixth year, watching Potter watch him, feeling trapped and bitter and—and yearning, late at night, touching himself to quiet fantasies of Potter watching him in a different way.

And then hating himself for it, of course.

He spent many sleepless nights that year thinking of bright green eyes and messy black hair beneath his fingertips. Thinking of touching Potter.

It’s the same, isn’t it? He can’t stop thinking of touching him and he hates that. Not to mention his present situation is frankly worse because now Draco has touched him—he’s been fucking inside of him, has felt Potter hot beneath him, has kissed him—and yes, it was under Amortentia, but that doesn’t mean he’s forgotten how it felt to have Potter smile at him and tell him he loved him.

He doesn’t want that. He doesn’t.

Except now that it’s happened part of him wants that terribly.

What is he thinking? He’s fucking married. Not that it’s a real marriage, not by any means, but the Malfoy estate doesn’t know the difference, and its magic doesn’t look kindly at long-winded affairs. There are stories of various Malfoys’ year-long sordid trysts ending with them tossed on their arses, locked out of the Manor grounds before their wives or husbands ever found out. Horrendous.

Sure, he goes to the Diagon Gentlewizard’s club on occasion at Astoria’s behest. But even then Astoria usually comes along with him, despite not having interest in such things. So the point stands that he cannot touch Potter again. He shouldn’t want to. He still fucking hates him.

Though he maybe doesn’t hate him as much as he used to.

Fucking Amortentia.

Now that these awful feelings have made themselves evident, it’s the worst kind of torture to be literally sharing a desk with Potter. Draco can hear his every movement, Draco can hear him breathing

Draco can smell him, all warm and somehow reminding him of Quidditch, every time Potter idly shifts in his chair. Sometimes their knees brush against each other under the desk, sending sparks up Draco’s spine, and he’s fiercely glad they never located the missing torch in their corner because the Lumoses they’ve been casting to properly read their books aren’t bright enough to show his occasional flush.

He’s at his wits’ end when he returns home Friday night in a sulky mood, which Astoria recognizes immediately, wordlessly going to scrawl an order for Owl-In fish and chips on a bit of parchment and sending it off with one of the Manor Owls.

“This is why I love you,” Draco says, moaning in delight later at his first bite of fish.

Astoria rolls her eyes. “You only say that when you feel guilty about something.”

“Do not,” Draco mutters even though he knows it’s true. He wipes his hand with a napkin.

“I’ve booked you time at Bentley’s tomorrow night,” Astoria says, and Draco nearly spits out his next bite of food.

“Oh—ah, all right,” he says, swallowing and attempting to disguise his alarm.

It doesn’t work, of course. Astoria squints at him. “Usually you’re excited.”

“Not always,” Draco says, even though it’s a lie—Bentley’s is discreet and their employees are stunningly good in bed, much better than fucking someone in a grimy club loo.

Astoria snorts. “Yes, always. You love sex about as much as I despise it.”

Draco toys around with a chip, contemplating her words before taking a bite. “Do you really despise it? I just always assumed you weren’t interested.”

“It comes and goes,” Astoria says, shrugging. “Sometimes I find it mildly interesting, sometimes not. I’ve simply never wanted it enough to bother.”

“Hmm,” Draco says, wondering why he hadn’t known that before. He knows she doesn’t want children, and he would never want her to bear them—he’s fairly certain the strain would kill her. He’s known that she identifies as asexual as well, but he supposes he’s never pressed her on the particulars.

“Anyway, don’t try to worm your way out of the subject,” Astoria says. “Are you sure it’s all right? Shall I cancel the Bentley’s appointment?”

“No, no,” Draco says, shaking his head. A good time in bed is probably just what he needs to get Potter off his mind, honestly.

“If you’re sure…” Astoria says pensively.

He looks over, noticing then that she’s barely picked at her food. He frowns. “Stop worrying,” he says. “Are you feeling all right?”

“I’m fine,” Astoria tells him, immediately going to eat a bit of fish. “You stop worrying. You’re worse than my mum.”

Draco wrinkles his nose—Astoria’s mum is not unpleasant, albeit over-perfumed and fairly conservative in her beliefs. Still, that doesn’t mean he wants to be compared to her.

“All right, all right,” he says, and Astoria laughs.

“Draco,” she says after a moment. “Your coworker—the one you slept with.”

“What about him?” he asks, suddenly alarmed.

Her head tilts. “You don’t have to answer this—I know you’re under Oath and whatnot. But it’s Harry Potter, isn’t it?”

He can’t answer the question. But he can feel the blood draining from his face, and he knows at once that she knows she’s right.

“Hm,” she says. “Interesting.”

There’s something odd in her voice, he thinks. But he can’t deal with it right now, stunned into silence as he is, so instead he tries his best to absorb himself in his meal once more.

 

--

 

Harry is out shopping when he feels a light tap on his shoulder, turning to see a slight woman with dark hair and pretty eyes. She’s holding a basket containing only a baguette and a block of cheese. “Er,” he says, “Sorry, was I in the way?”

“No, no, not at all,” the woman says, smiling pleasantly. “I’m Astoria Malfoy.”

Harry stares at her, forgetting his manners completely as his mouth drops open.

Malfoy’s wife.

He vaguely remembers her from Hogwarts, but he barely knows anything about her—a product of being in different years and different Houses, he supposes. “Er, hello?” he says, finally remembering to shut his mouth. He wants to ask how she found him, but then again, maybe she’s bumped into him on accident—maybe she’s simply coming to ask him about the war, like so many others do.

Or not. Astoria cocks her head, and Harry catches a hint of shrewdness from her that reminds him of both Hermione and Ginny at once. Which, of course, is terrifying. “I was wondering,” she says, “And pardon if this is rude, but—do you happen to work in the Department of Mysteries?”

Harry furrows his brow. “Wait,” he says, “Malfoy wasn’t supposed to say anything—”

“Oh, no—don’t worry, he didn’t,” she says, motioning him to the side of the aisle as an elderly witch pushes her trolley on by. “It was just a guess on my part.”

“Oh,” Harry says. It’s honestly quite astute of her to ask him personally, as it means no rules are actually being broken. “Yeah,” he says, “I am.”

And then he remembers—Malfoy said he was going to tell her, didn’t he? About… about the Amortentia. His face pales, his stomach twisting as he realizes just why she’s talking to him in the first place. “Er,” he says, “I’m—I’m sorry, you know—it was a complete accident, and—”

“What are you apologizing for?” Astoria asks, looking confused. Harry stammers for a moment, attempting to think of a good way to put ‘I slept with your husband’ into words, and then she bursts out laughing. “Sorry, sorry,” she says, coughing a bit—Harry can hear her lungs wheeze.

“Are you all right?” he asks, alarmed.

“I’m fine, just a cold,” she says, waving off his concern despite the fact that she’s still breathing heavily. “At any rate… don’t worry. I know about what happened between you and Draco.” Slowly, she levels a glare at him, and he flinches, immediately becoming aware that they’re in the middle of the supermarket. He casts a Muffliato, bracing himself before she tears him one.

Except then she starts laughing again.

“Merlin, sorry to be making fun at your expense,” she says, still grinning. “I don’t get out much, see.”

Harry blinks at her. “You’re… not angry? About Malfoy and I?”

“Of course not,” Astoria says, seeming surprised. “…Oh, hm. Did he not tell you?”

“Tell me what?” Harry asks.

“Our marriage isn’t a love match, you know,” she says, amusement in her eyes. “It was never consummated, and frankly I don’t care who he shares a bed with.”

“What?” Harry repeats, feeling a bit in shock if he’s to be honest. If that was the case, why did Malfoy make such a big deal about being married?

“What I mean is… hmm. It’ll be easier to show you, I think.” She digs around in the purse on her shoulder for a piece of parchment and a quill, scribbling down an address and handing it to Harry.

He looks down at it. Bentley’s Gentlewizard’s Club, it reads at the top, and—oh. Oh. He’s heard of this place. Blushing, he looks back up at her in bewilderment. “I, um, I don’t really need their, er, services right now—”

“Not for you,” Astoria says, grinning wickedly. “I wrote a room number as well. Come there tonight at eight—if you’re curious, that is. About Draco. Or ignore me, whichever suits you.”

“Hold on,” he says, the slip of paper crinkling in his hand as he stares at her, confused. “Er, just—why bother?”

“Because I think Draco’s curious about you,” Astoria says, making Harry’s eyebrows shoot up in surprise. “He’s my best friend, you know. I want the best for him.”

Before he can protest, she walks away with a wave of farewell, darting past the edges of the Muffliato.

He doesn’t know what to think. Draco’s curious about him?

He should Vanish the slip of paper she gave him. Really, he should.

Instead he puts it in the pocket of his shirt. There it burns, for hours and hours as he goes about his day, forcing him to realize he’s actually considering going.

This is an absolutely awful, terrible idea.

He goes anyway.

Unsureness clogs his throat as he Apparates, and it’s a miracle he doesn’t splinch himself. The building he lands in front of is one in a row of many lining a quiet cross-street of Diagon, its façade unassuming, not even a sign denoting what it is. But he’s been told of things one might do inside; it was one of many things discussed during a long conversation with Charlie after Harry’s ex dumped him. The club sounds intriguing, sure, but Harry’s never felt the need to go.

Until now. Because he can never be sensible where Malfoy’s concerned, can he?

This is such a bad idea.

He swallows nervously, pushing open the doors anyway and heading straight to what looks like the reception desk. He wonders if he should’ve Glamoured himself, but by then it’s too late, as the woman standing behind the desk has already spotted him.

“Ah, Mr. Potter,” the woman says. “We were told we might expect you.” She picks up a small orb from beneath the desk, tapping it with her wand, and it glows brightly and begins to float. “You may follow the orb to your room.”

Heart in his throat, Harry obeys—he can’t really back out now, can he? So he follows the orb as it hovers through the air, walking down a hallway lit by torches, then up a set of stairs and finally down another hallway. At last the orb pauses in front of one of the doors lining the hall, and when Harry stands in front of it, the orb vanishes.

Taking a deep breath, Harry pushes the door open.

He’s honestly relieved when he’s faced only with Astoria, sitting in one of two chairs in a room that’s only slightly larger than a broom closet. “Oh, you’re here,” Astoria says, looking pleasantly surprised. “Just in time for me to leave.”

“Leave?” he asks, confused.

But she says nothing, only gesturing to the wall as he steps fully into the room, letting the door close behind him—and it’s at that point that he realizes the wall is charmed almost completely transparent.

The room adjacent to them is dimly lit, featuring only a bed and some chairs, and on the bed is a dark-haired, naked man doesn’t recognize, lying on top of another man, kissing him—

The man beneath him is Malfoy.

“Fuck,” Harry swears quietly, cock pulsing despite himself. “I—I shouldn’t be here,”

“Don’t worry,” Astoria says. “He can’t see us. The transparency spell is set to only go one way—for now, that is.”

“But,” Harry says, gulping, “I mean, he doesn’t… isn’t this… His privacy, I mean…”

“Oh, I see,” Astoria says, nodding in understanding. “It’s all right. This place is very thorough, and they have everyone fill out forms on what they want and don’t want sexually when they first come here. Draco put exhibitionism as something he’s definitely good with on his forms—I can show you, if you’d like—and there are no exceptions noted as long as it wasn’t a woman, besides me, of course.”

Harry stares at her, trying desperately to ignore the two men tangled together on the bed, which is difficult because just then Malfoy lets out a low moan and Harry knows that moan. Intimately. “It’s fine,” he says eventually. “You don’t need to show me—just, I… I don’t quite get it,” he says. “You—you’re here, and… and watching him?”

“Oh, I don’t watch,” Astoria says. “There’s a waiting area that I usually sit in—quite nice, actually, there’s a masseuse down there too. But I wanted to show you this, because I just thought that you might not believe me if I said that I honestly don’t mind you having sex with him.” She gestures at Malfoy. “I might encourage it, even.”

She must be absolutely mad. “But why?” Harry asks.

“Did you know he’s gay?” Astoria asks abruptly. Which. Harry didn’t. Huh. “Which means that there’s absolutely nothing I can do to give him a fulfilling sexual relationship, even if I wanted to.” She sighs. “I think he misses it.”

“But I’m not… I’m not the right person for that,” Harry stammers out, shaking his head. “He… we hate each other. Have since Hogwarts.”

“And yet you fucked him, and he’s been preoccupied by it ever since,” Astoria says bluntly.

Malfoy? Preoccupied by him? That’s bloody odd to think about, honestly. He supposes that even when he himself was unhealthily obsessed with Malfoy in sixth year, he’d never once considered that it might be possible for that preoccupation to go the other way.

But he’s sure that any preoccupation is most likely a mere side-effect of the Amortentia. Harry read up on it again after fountain incident, just in case he missed something about its effects, and apparently the aftereffects on one’s mind can linger for weeks. It’s all at once horrifying and relieving—it at least gives him an excuse to why he hasn’t been able to stop thinking about Malfoy since.

He can’t wait for it to wear off.

Upon seeing Harry’s dubious expression, Astoria sighs. “I apologize. I think maybe I mis-pegged the situation,” she says, looking strangely disappointed. “You can leave if you’d like—they offer Obliviatory services if that’s something you’re in need of.”

Harry bites his lip, mind whirling. Somehow Malfoy’s wife just literally told him that he could sleep with Malfoy if he wanted. Which he doesn’t. Of course not. No way. He can walk out right now, can ask the receptionist to Obliviate the shit out of him, and simply go on with his life as normal.

Oh, fuck,” Malfoy moans from the other side of the wall, and Harry can’t help himself—he turns and looks.

And immediately regrets it, because fuck—now Malfoy’s naked on all fours on the bed, arse up in the air, whimpering as the other man presses a finger slowly inside him. As Harry watches, Malfoy spreads his legs open even further, mouth rounding into an ‘o’ as he takes another finger. And Harry is suddenly, blindingly hard.

Not even quite realizing he’s doing it, he feels around behind him for a chair, unable to look away as he sits down.

“Hm,” Astoria says in surprise. “Should I leave?”

“No—‘s fine,” Harry says, his voice coming out strangled, because he absolutely won’t wank to this if Astoria’s here. So she can’t leave, because he doesn’t want to wank to this. Really.

Which makes it unfortunate then that he’s hard as fuck, arousal is pumping into his veins as surely as if he were the one lying there, getting fingered open.

At the edge of his vision, Astoria nods. “Right then,” she says, standing and walking to the door. “By the way—the spell to make the other side transparent is Claros, if that’s something you’d be interested in. Merlin, sex makes people so weird…

She leaves, shutting the door behind her before he can ask her to stay.

So then Harry is left alone with the vision in front of him, of Malfoy’s pale body in profile, arched toward the other man, gasping with every thrust of the man’s fingers. He’s up to three, now, sliding slickly into Malfoy’s arse, and Harry can see everything.

Now,” Malfoy says, commands, really, and the other man nods and readies his cock. Harry stares, transfixed, as the man pushes slowly inside Malfoy and Malfoy’s whole body goes taut, his chest heaving as he breathes.

Then Malfoy fucking whimpers, and Harry can’t help it—he presses a hand to his cock, straining in his jeans.

The man starts fucking Malfoy, pistoning his hips slowly, causing Malfoy to brace himself against the bed with his arms. Harry slowly strokes his cock through the rough fabric of his jeans, fighting to keep a moan of his own from escaping—Merlin help him, this is the hottest fucking thing he’s ever seen.

“More, damnit,” Malfoy grits out, and the other man grins and starts pumping faster inside him. Malfoy groans loudly and clutches at the sheets, and close enough to the window that Harry can see the beads of sweat that are forming on his back. Fuck.

One moment, he’s watching Malfoy get fucked. The next, he’s thinking about how it would be if he were the one fucking Malfoy, and God, suddenly he wants that more than he’s ever wanted sex with someone in his life.

He wants to be the name Malfoy groans out when he comes, and not even in a romantic way, really—it was just infuriatingly hot the last time, Malfoy moaning his name all breathily. Malfoy is hot, even now in front of him, arching his back and pressing himself onto another man’s cock. And it’s okay to think that just for now, right? Even if Harry still hates him?

It has to be all right, because he can’t help it. He wants to be the one touching Malfoy, cock deep inside of him, grabbing at Malfoy’s arse, his hips. He wants to lick at the tiny beads of sweat on Malfoy’s back, wants to groan as Malfoy squeezes tighter around him—

He wants Malfoy to look at him.

The spell is Claros, Astoria had said, and God.

On impulse, Harry shudders a breath and casts.

It takes a moment for Malfoy to notice the wall has gone clear. When he does, it’s obvious—he locks eyes with Harry, his mouth dropping open. And then in the space between one thrust and the next, he’s moaning out something unintelligible that nearly sounds like “Potter” and coming, his cock untouched, squeezing his eyes closed as he bucks his hips against the other man and spurts out over the sheets.

Fuck. Fuck.

Harry nearly trips over the chair as he stands and leaves the room nearly at a run, because he liked that. He liked Malfoy looking at him, saying his name, he liked watching Malfoy coming—and he wants to do it all again.

And he’s not at all ready for that realization. It’s Malfoy.

By the time Malfoy opens his eyes, Harry is long gone.

 

--

 

Draco lies in bed, staring at the ceiling. It’s late. But he can’t sleep.

He swears he had seen Potter earlier at Bentley’s. But it had only been for a few seconds, so he can’t bring himself to actually believe it—what if it was simply a trick of his own mind, after all?

Potter’s eyes had been wide, his hand pressed to the front of his jeans, his expression one of undeniable lust. It’s not dissimilar to a daydream Draco had once—well, okay, several times—of Potter watching him wank, his eyes wide behind his glasses, getting so turned on that he couldn’t help but touch himself too.

Most likely it was just Draco’s lust-addled brain projecting his desires in the spur of the moment. But… what if it was real?

He has to tell himself that it’s not bloody likely. It’s just his own mind playing tricks on him, the culmination of a week full of Potter’s knee brushing against his and Potter’s scent warm in his nose.

Knowing that it wasn’t really Potter there doesn’t change the fact that he can’t sleep.

Mostly because he’s too fucking aroused.

Finally, gritting his teeth, Draco relents, sliding his hand into his pajama bottoms and closing his eyes. Then, just like sixth year, he wanks to the thought of Potter watching him.

 

--

 

Monday at work is awkward, to say the least. Harry doesn’t know what to say or do with Malfoy, so he hopes that ignoring him and simply taking notes on one of the books on their desk will suffice.

Thankfully Malfoy doesn’t mention what happened over the weekend. Maybe he never even noticed Harry in the first place. It’s not impossible that Harry could have miscast the spell to make the wall go clear—he might’ve said the incantation wrong, and Malfoy wouldn’t have seen him standing there at all. Probably he was just looking at an empty wall, and Harry completely overreacted by bolting out of the room like that.

But that still doesn’t change the fact that both conversations he had with Astoria were truly, astonishingly real.

He’d put them in his Pensieve last night, still struck by her openness with him. Funnily enough, he finds that he likes her quite a lot. It’s a shame she’s married to Malfoy or they might have gotten along well.

But she is married to Malfoy, and on top of that she’s enabling Harry to have sex with him. Which really, absolutely is something he shouldn’t want… but apparently he does anyway. Ugh.

Maybe he should punch Malfoy again, just to get all of this pent up tension out of his system. No, actually—Malfoy should punch Harry, because then Harry could have an excuse to get angry. And then he wouldn’t want to fuck Malfoy anymore. Right?

Malfoy shifts beside him, turning a page in the book he’s holding, and his knee very lightly knocks against Harry’s. Then Malfoy looks up at him, his gaze catching on Harry’s, and time stops as they lock eyes.

Possibly years later, Malfoy clears his throat. “Was it real?” he asks quietly.

“Was what real?” Harry asks. He thinks Malfoy’s talking about what happened at Bentley’s, but he’s not sure—

Malfoy’s lips thin. “Never mind,” he says, turning back to his book.

“Wait—” Harry starts.

“I said never mind.”

Harry lets it go.

The rest of his day is exceedingly normal, if by normal he means being bored to tears while attempting to skim more texts about Death. He thought this would be cathartic, thought it would give him purpose. Instead he feels the most aimless he’s felt since he joined the Unspeakables in the first place.

They’re supposed to sit here and research for two months.

He’s disappointed. It’s growing more and more clear that this is absolutely not the department he wants to be working in for the rest of his life. He hopes to Merlin that Prophecy is more interesting. He hasn’t even thought ahead to a third choice.

Several days of boredom later, he realizes Malfoy is no longer reading books about death.

“What’s that?” Harry asks, even though he swore recently to redouble his efforts on ignoring Malfoy. It never really works.

“A book,” Malfoy says curtly.

Harry rolls his eyes. “Obviously.”

“It’s none of your business.”

“I’m just asking a bloody question.”

“Well you can keep your bloody questions to yourself.”

Harry glares at him, and then he makes an attempt to snatch the book away from Malfoy, resulting in a silent tussle as they both pull at it while attempting not to alert the other Unspeakables to the fact that they’re quarrelling.

Eventually Harry succeeds in pulling the book away, quickly turning so that Malfoy can’t reach it, except Malfoy still reaches for it anyway and then—

And then somehow Malfoy is pressed all up against Harry’s back, breath hot on his neck, and Harry can’t help it—he shudders.

“Hmm?” Malfoy hums lightly in his ear.

It takes all of Harry’s concentration to flip the book over and actually read the title—something about curse-breaking. “Have your bloody book back,” he says, trying to turn to hand the book to him and expecting Malfoy to move away.

Except he miscalculated, because Malfoy doesn’t move and now their faces are entirely too close, Malfoy leaning on his shoulder and fuck, fuck.

Slowly, without moving away, Malfoy reaches over and takes the book back, setting it on the desk. His chest is warm on Harry’s shoulder, firm through their robes, and God, Harry wants to touch. Especially when Malfoy looks at him again, so fucking close that he can see the specks of silver in his eyes.

Interesting,” Malfoy says, drawing the word out, and fuck, he knows, doesn’t he? That Harry wants to fuck him?

It takes every ounce of Harry’s self-control to push Malfoy off of him, to go back to ignoring him just like before.

He’s aware now more than ever of just how close he is to breaking his resolve, to reaching out and touching him.

 

--

 

Draco makes it all the way home and through dinner with Astoria before he can’t take it any longer.

He heads to his bathroom and strips off his clothes, turning on the shower as hot as he can stand. Then he slicks up his hand with lube that’s spelled temporarily waterproof and takes his cock in hand.

He’s already so fucking hard. Merlin, he’d barely touched Potter, but Potter had looked like he wanted him and fuck, Draco wants him back so fucking much he nearly can’t stand it.

He strokes himself, daydreaming of what it would’ve been like to spell a Notice-Me-Not over their desk corner, climb into Potter’s lap, and snog him senseless. On second thought, he doesn’t really want to have sex in their dusty Death department office, so maybe he’d Apparate Potter to the Manor—or Potter would Apparate Draco to Potter’s flat, he supposes, since he’s not sure how Astoria would feel about Draco having a man over. The Manor certainly wouldn’t take kindly to it, and now that he thinks about it, Potter would probably hate the Manor too.

So Potter would Apparate them to his flat, and Draco would spell their clothes off and get inside him as quickly as he could—he could have him on the sofa, or even up against the wall, Merlin. Or—or maybe Potter would fuck him instead, and Draco would—fuck, Draco would fucking love that, having Potter’s cock in him.

He bites his lip, mind whirling with lust, and reaches outside the shower for his wand so he can Summon the one dildo he owns. It’d been sort of a prank gift from Astoria actually, for their wedding day. She then made him promise under no circumstances to tell her what he ended up using it for, which suits him just fine.

He turns around in the spray of the water, tipping more lube into his hand and slicking up the slender length of the dildo, only growing harder as his fingers move over the ridges at the head. It’s just small enough that he can put it in himself without prep if he’s careful, so he leans over and braces himself with one arm on the shower wall, taking a breath as he positions the dildo behind him. Then, when he feels the tip nudging at his arsehole, he slowly pushes, working it inside himself and hissing at the burn.

He imagines what would happen if Potter was watching him do this, watching as he picks up his wand and spells the dildo so it’ll continue rocking inside him, groaning as he adjusts the spell just so and the dildo begins sliding against his prostate with every thrust. He shuts his eyes and palms his cock and imagines Potter pulling the dildo out of him, stepping behind him in the spray of the water and replacing it with his cock instead. Fuck, he’s seen Potter’s cock too, all thick and slightly curved and gorgeous, he wants, he wants

He comes all over the shower wall, shuddering, and is horrified when a low Potter escapes his mouth.

He pulls the dildo out and sets it outside the shower. Then he stands in the spray and shuts his eyes, willing the water to wash away this terrible, all-consuming need to touch Potter.

But of course it doesn’t. Unbidden, an image flashes into his mind of Potter lying underneath him. “I love you,” he said.

Draco’s throat burns.

After that he hurriedly finishes washing himself, bolting out of the shower to towel himself dry. He can’t even relax without thinking about Potter now, it seems. He thought that getting fucked at Bentley’s would help him forget, but then there was that vision of Potter in the window, and now it’s even worse.

He starts getting dressed in his lounge robes, but halfway through he starts getting the odd, acrid sensation that something is off. Alarmed, he finishes putting his clothes on, mentally testing the Manor wards—but nothing is out of place, as it would be if someone were trying to encroach on them.

He walks out of his room, moving quickly now. Nothing is amiss in the dining room or the large kitchen—the stove and oven are both off. He looks through the entryway, but there’s nothing of interest in there, and the rest of the Manor he doesn’t even bother checking. He’d blocked off all of the other rooms years ago so he didn’t have to think about the horrors they once held.

His heart stops as he realizes he’d forgotten to check one room—Astoria’s.

Pulse racing, he walks briskly back down the hall, pushing open the door to her room—

And finds Astoria lying on the floor unconscious.

 

--

 

Malfoy is even more prickly than usual at work the next day, and Harry wonders if it was because of the touching. He tries to ignore it, but Malfoy is being even more of a pain than usual, shooting Harry glares every time Harry so much as shifts in his chair.

Finally, after another glare and a passive-aggressive huff when Harry tries to stretch, Harry’s had enough. He mutters a Muffliato. “What,” he snaps, “is your problem?”

“None of your business,” Malfoy tries to mutter.

But Harry shakes his head tightly. “Just fucking tell me.”

“If you must know,” Malfoy says, his voice laced with venom, “My wife was admitted to St. Mungo’s last night. So if you could stop making noise every five seconds—”

“Astoria’s in the hospital?” Harry asks, immediately concerned. Then he remembers—he’s not really supposed to know Astoria, is he?

Malfoy’s eyebrows shoot up, and his glare somehow grows darker. “I wasn’t aware you were acquainted.”

“We, er,” Harry says. “We met while shopping recently.”

“Shopping,” Malfoy says, and all of the blood drains out of his face.

“What?” Harry asks, wondering if he said something wrong.

“She… she’s not supposed to leave the Manor,” Malfoy says, and now he’s shutting his book and standing up in a hurry. “Anything could interact with—fuck, I’ve got to go talk to the Healers—”

He doesn’t even make it out of the room before he Disapparates with a crack, leaving Harry and the other Unspeakables staring at the empty space where he’d just been.

 

--

 

Astoria is awake by the time Draco makes it to her hospital room, looking exhausted but alert nonetheless. It seems she’s already told the Healers about her outing, which honestly kind of infuriates him because she hadn’t seen fit to tell Draco earlier, but he goes to her bedside nonetheless.

“Why didn’t you tell me you’d gone shopping?” Draco asks, taking a seat next to her bed, trying to calm his own racing heart. “You could’ve told me what you needed!”

“Sometimes I like to go out on my own,” Astoria says obstinately. “I’m your wife, not your captive, you know.”

Draco frowns at her. “I’m not trying to keep you fucking captive, you know that—I’m just trying to keep you safe! Anything out there could trigger your curse and—and make it worse, or—”

Astoria cuts him off with a long sigh. “I know,” she says quietly. “It’s just. I’m lonely, Draco.”

Oh. Draco stares at her. “But Daphne…”

“Yes, Daph visits sometimes, but it’s not nearly enough.” She shrugs half-heartedly. “Sometimes I feel like I’m losing my mind.”

Draco suddenly feeling guilty for snapping at her. “I’m sorry,” he says, and she waves off his apology. “No, really. But—but I’ve been doing more research on your condition lately, did I tell you? Maybe I’ll be able to find something soon, something that’ll make it easier for you to go out.”

“I’d like that,” Astoria says, a small smile on her lips, and he resolves to search even harder for some sort of clue now that he has access to the Unspeakable archives. “Aren’t you supposed to be at work?”

Draco shrugs, wishing not for the first time that he could tell her what workplace was like—namely that it’s boring as fuck and also ridiculously annoying because he’s been forced to sit next to Potter for a whole two months, working on basically nothing. But he’s not allowed to say either of those things. “I doubt they’ll miss me at the moment.”

“If you say so,” Astoria says, leaning back against the pillows.

Then Draco looks at her and slowly starts putting two and two together—the impromptu shopping trip, Potter mentioning her name… “Astoria?”

“Yes?”

“My… coworker… mentioned he saw you yesterday. While you were out shopping.”

Almost imperceptibly, Astoria’s eyes widen. “Oh, really?”

She’s hiding something.

Draco frowns at her. “You didn’t go looking for him on purpose, did you?”

Slowly, Astoria gives him a one-armed shrug. “It’s a possibility.”

Fuck. She always has been far too interested in his feelings for her own good—but he hates that with a bloody passion, because whatever moods he’s in are absolutely not worth risking fucking up her health for.

He takes a deep breath in through his nose. He doesn’t want to be short with her, but in this case he can’t help it. “Why would you do that? It doesn’t fucking matter.” It doesn’t matter, especially when it’s Potter, and for a moment he has to work to fight back the anger that bubbles up behind his clenched teeth.

“It does matter,” she says stubbornly, and now her eyes are fierce. “Because for the first time in literally all of the time we’ve been married, my husband came home and said he had sex with someone. And you never do things for yourself, Draco—you always come straight home to tend to me, and I just. I just wish you would let yourself live, you know?”

Draco frowns at her. “Letting myself live doesn’t mean—I don’t know, having sex with someone who was literally my rival in school! And anyway, what do you mean? I let myself live! My life is fine.”

“It’s not, Draco, and you never listen to me,” Astoria says, furrowing her brow. “You use me to distract yourself so you don’t have to think. And that’s not going to work forever.”

“I do not,” Draco grumbles. “Anyway, of course we have time. I’m going to find your cure, and it’ll be fine.”

But then something in Astoria’s expression makes him stop.

“What? What is it?” he asks, eyeing the way her expression has gone all shuttered.

She closes her eyes briefly. “I meant to tell you later, but I suppose now is as good of a time as any. The Healers… When you were gone, see, they informed me that the effects of the curse are growing more severe.”

“Fuck,” Draco swears, fighting against the alarm that wants to spiral in his chest. “Did they say if that changes how—how long we have?”

“No. They said all they knew was that it was far more advanced than it was last time I had a check-up,” she tells him, looking tired. “To be honest… I’ve felt it growing worse for a while.”

“And you didn’t tell me,” Draco says, starting to grow agitated again.

“Because you always worry!” Astoria says, but the effort to shout is too much for her and she begins to cough. Draco looks around for the button to summon the Mediwitch, but she waves him off, stopping her fit soon after. “You always worry too much,” she says, her voice hoarser now. “This is what I mean—you consume yourself with my illness, and you don’t leave room for anything else.”

Draco wants to argue, but there’s a little piece inside of him that’s starting to realize that maybe she’s right. He thinks back over the past few years. Sometimes he barely sleeps when he thinks he’s onto something that could help her, even though it never really pans out. He threw himself into the Unspeakable program without a second thought when one of the Curse Breakers said it might be worth a shot, even though it’s well known as one of the most grueling programs in the Ministry.

But Astoria’s his wife. Isn’t this what he’s supposed to be doing? “We’re married,” he says. “And—and I care for you. It’s only right.”

“Draco,” she says firmly. “I appreciate all you do for me, really, I do. But listen. I’m only going to say this once—you use me to occupy yourself so you never have to face what happened during the war.”

“That’s preposterous—” Draco starts, but she shakes her head.

“No. It’s not. You use me so you don’t have to think about what you did, or—no, let me finish,” she says when he tries to interrupt. “You use me so you don’t have to think about your past, or how other people look at you now, or about how much you loathe yourself, and—and do you know how much that pains me? I adore you, but you need to stop using me as a crutch.”

Draco stares at her, dumbfounded. “What… even if that were to be true—which, it’s not—what’s wrong with it? It takes a lot of time to research what’s going on with you—it’s all productive, obviously, and isn’t that what matters? I am doing something with my life.”

Astoria gives an exasperated sigh. “Look,” she says, and stares him down. “I’m going to die, Draco. I’m going to die, maybe sooner, maybe later, and what would you do if I died right now?”

A lump forms hard and painful in Draco’s throat at the very thought. “I… You’re not, right? You’re not going to die soon, you still have time—”

“Answer the question.” Her tone leaves no room for argument.

Draco clasps his hands against his chin and thinks about it. “I’d mourn,” he says truthfully. He can’t imagine life without Astoria. He doesn’t even know if he’d want to go to work, or do anything at all, really. He would just want to sit around at home. “Maybe sell the Manor,” he adds, because honestly he can’t imagine staying there alone for the rest of his life. The only reason Mother was able to convince him to keep it for now is because the wards offer special protections for Malfoys who reside there, meaning it’s safer for Astoria.

“Is that all?” Astoria says, sounding pained.

“It doesn’t matter,” Draco says stubbornly. “You’re not dying—we’ll find a solution somehow—”

“That’s not the point,” Astoria says, beginning to look truly angry. “The point is that you are my best fucking friend and I am not going to let you waste your entire life on me under the pretense of our fake fucking marriage.”

Draco stills, mouth falling open slightly. Never before has Astoria so much raised her voice at him. He shakes his head. “I don’t even know if I’m capable of—of doing other things,” he admits, looking away. He never realized—he never realized that for years, really, the only thing he’s done is attempt to find her a cure.

“Then start with Potter,” Astoria says quietly. “He makes you feel things.”

Oh, fucking Potter again—“Astoria, listen,” he says firmly. “When we… when I slept with Potter, it was a complete accident, okay? We inadvertently dosed ourselves with Amortentia. So there’s nothing between us, and it’s never going to happen again.”

“Oh,” Astoria says, sounding surprised. “Is that… is that really it? No wonder you were so—agitated, after.”

Draco nods tightly. “It was a mistake. That’s all.”

“So what, you still hate him?” Astoria asks, looking as if she’s disappointed.

But she has no right to be. It’s not her place to meddle.

“Yes, of course I do,” Draco says, and maybe it’s just the teeniest bit of a lie, but she doesn’t need to know that. He pushes thoughts of wanking to Potter as far away as possible, along with thoughts of Potter’s skin against his, of wanting to rip his robes open in the middle of the Death department. They’re just fleeting fantasies of his. They don’t mean anything.

Astoria gives him a look that says she doesn’t fully believe him, but sighs, shrugging. “Well, even if you hate him… that’s better than nothing, isn’t it?”

“What do you mean?” Draco asks, furrowing his brow. “It’s not fun, you know.”

“Are you sure?” Astoria says, and he flushes. Okay, sometimes he enjoys making fun of Potter in the papers, and sometimes he goes on talking about him a little more than he really should. But that was before they’d fought again, before they slept together.

Which. Arguably that makes it worse probably, because now his obsession has only grown.

He sighs. “Even if you have a point, it’s ridiculous to try to engage with him. He hates me as much as I loathe him.”

“Well, it didn’t seem like that when I told him he should sleep with you,” Astoria says without preamble, and Draco nearly falls out of his chair.

“Wait, you said what? Why?” Draco stares at her incredulously, suddenly feeling all warm at the thought of Potter maybe someday walking up and—no, no. It’s not going to happen. Even if Astoria keeps muddling around in their affairs, the chance that Potter would actually make a move on him again are incredibly low—heated looks in the middle of work be damned.

“Draco. Honestly,” Astoria says. “You’ve gone all red. You can want him even if you do hate him. Those two things aren’t mutually exclusive, you know?”

Draco groans. Fuck. “Whatever. It’s not going to happen.”

“We’ll see,” Astoria says airily. “He didn’t seem so terribly opposed.”

“The Manor won’t look kindly on it anyway,” Draco tries for another excuse, even though he wants to press for more details about what exactly Potter said. But he won’t allow himself. “We are married, technically. There are rules. Sleeping around is fine, but anything more serious…”

“I suppose that’s true,” Astoria says, an odd look appearing in her eyes, but then she yawns and he chalks it up to tiredness.

Draco waits a beat. Still, the question gnaws at him, the one that he shouldn’t ask, but then he caves and asks anyway. “What… what did he say? When you told him that he should… sleep with me.”

Astoria grins. “You do want him.”

“Shut up,” Draco mutters, and she laughs softly.

“Well, good,” she says. “You won’t be mad at me then.”

Draco stares at her, slowly growing suspicious. “What did you do?”

“Mm,” she says, “On second thought, it might be more fun if he tells you.”

Astoria,” he says imploringly, but she just shakes her head and laughs.

“Nope. I’ve decided I won’t tell you,” she says. “Now, would you do me a favor and go back to work? I really am very tired.”

“Okay, okay,” he agrees, standing and stretching. “Just. Be more careful, please?”

“I will,” Astoria says, yawning. “And Draco—I’m glad we talked.”

“Me too,” Draco says, and in an atypical show of affection, he leans over and kisses her forehead.

She makes a face at him. “Gross,” she says, pretending to wipe it off and laughing. “But listen—I’ll be okay, Draco. You have to know that.”

“I do know,” he says after a moment.

“Okay,” Astoria says, nodding slowly. “Good.”

He leaves and goes back to work.

Which, unfortunately, means going back to Potter.

Potter asks after Astoria, and Draco merely grunts and says that she’s fine. Truly, he’s itching to ask Potter what on earth Astoria was hinting at earlier, but he forces himself to wait because really, he’s still not sure about what he wants from Potter.

Yes, he’s attracted to him, unfortunately very much so. But the fact still stands that Potter isn’t someone he enjoys being around. Potter drives him mad, with his righteousness and his Gryffindorness and his stupid messy hair. Not to mention that right now he still kind of wants Potter naked in the middle of the department, and talking rather exacerbates that, which wouldn’t do at all. So he’ll wait until another day when he’s sorted his thoughts out more, thank you very much.

For reasons he’s not sure of, he feels lighter now. Maybe it’s because of his talk with Astoria. He’s still rather bored, but it’s at least more interesting to read about curses than it is to read drab books about Death, so the afternoon goes by quicker than usual, to his relief.

Briefly, he thinks about what she said to him earlier—that he’s using her as some sort of crutch. That he’s doing everything he can to avoid thinking about the war.

He thinks of the closed off parts of the Manor, then thinks too of the closed off parts of himself—even to this day, he won’t go to Diagon alone, as the snide words and hexes hurled behind his back make him want to scream. So he stays in and gets their groceries through owl order—to save more time for research on Astoria, he tells himself—and… oh.

He has to concede that maybe she’s not that far off the mark.

But what else is he supposed to do when he can barely walk out in public without getting called a Death Eater? Everything reminds him of the war, even now, everything and everyone except Astoria.

So if he buries himself in research to avoid it all, isn’t that okay?

It’s funny, he never used to have a selfless bone in his body. But things change when you’ve been on the losing side of a war, he supposes. Astoria helped him rebuild his name, enough to be able to get a job again, and he’ll be forever grateful to her for that. Even more than that, though, she helped him feel human again, gave him something to focus on other than his damned self-pity.

She was right, wasn’t she?

It’s not an enjoyable realization to come to.

When the end of the workday finally comes, he Apparates straight to Mungo’s, planning on taking supper in Astoria’s room. He hopes she’ll only need to stay a night or two, now that she’s awake, although he assumes they’ll want to run more tests on her before she leaves.

But when he rounds the corner and walks into her hospital room, he finds it empty, the bed stripped of its sheets.

He stares at it, not understanding. Had she gone home without him? Worried now, he steps back out, double-checking the room number. But no, it’s the right one.

“Mr. Malfoy?” a young Mediwitch gets his attention from behind him, one he remembers from when Astoria was admitted.

“Yes,” he says, “Do you know where Astoria’s gone?”

“I’m sorry, sir, all I know is that she was discharged a couple of hours ago.” The witch fumbles in her pocket. “She did tell me to give you this, though.” She hands him a small roll of parchment.

“Oh,” he says, “Thank you.”

“I’ll have to ask you to leave the patient area now, I’m afraid,” the Mediwitch says, and he nods and heads out of the hospital, walking through the Muggle entrance and sitting down on a nearby bench as he contemplates the scroll she’d given him.

He opens it up, and then his heart drops, because the first thing he sees is Astoria’s wedding ring, neatly charmed to the top of the parchment, oh Merlin—

His hand shakes as he takes the ring, slipping it into his pocket, and then looks at the words written in her loopy handwriting, terrified of what they might say.

Dear Draco, she begins.

I apologize sincerely for doing this by letter, but I was afraid that I may change my mind if I had to do it in person. You’ve always done a good job of convincing me to see your side, but I’m afraid this time, I need to stand firm in my convictions.

I am divorcing you. Not because I don’t love you (though I’m not in love with you – we both know this). It’s mostly because I do love you, and because I want your happiness nearly as much as my own.

You will not let yourself be happy with me.

I don’t think that’s something you’re even aware of. I think you believe yourself content, Draco, but I believe that if you think back, you’ll find that the times when you were truly happy as of late have been far and few between.

I suppose there’s something to be said for the fact that I do not wish to live in that house of yours for the rest of my life, but truly, I am not leaving you out of any sense of displeasure. I greatly appreciate our friendship and I do hope it will remain whole even after this.

Because I know you will worry, I’ll tell you of my current plans: I am going to be leaving England, likely for several months. The Healers here recommended a retreat of sorts in France that may help ease my condition for the time being. I’m afraid the curse is getting to the stage where I will need to be supervised fairly constantly in case something happens, and I don’t want to trouble you or my family with that. There’s a chance the treatments at the retreat may even help. I do hope so.

You can reach me by letter if you like, although I will be cross with you if I feel you are spending too much time worrying about me instead of living your life. I meant what I said earlier today – I’ll be okay. And you will too.

I’ve already collected my things from the Manor. Please sell it, your parents’ desires be damned. Your mother doesn’t live there anymore and your father is still in Azkaban. That drafty house is only weighing you down.

Please sign the divorce papers when they arrive. I’ve given a discreet statement to a reporter I trust at the Prophet for when time comes.

Keep me updated on Potter as well, assuming you’re not horrendously angry with me. Even if you just end up punching each other again (I did see that bruise before you healed it, by the way).

I know this may seem insane to you, but truly it is something I’ve thought about for a long time. Our marriage was never real in the first place, and it was never truly meant to last, not like we were forcing it to. I will miss you terribly, but we will be fine.

xoxo your ex-wife (ha! how strange) and best friend, Astoria

Draco stares at the paper. Then he reads it again, just to be sure.

When he’s done reading it the second time, he’s surprised that the ink has somehow gone all splotchy in places, and when he reaches a hand up he realizes there’s wetness on his cheeks.

He’s not sure of the last time he cried.

What…? What’s happening?

Fuck. Fuck.

He doesn’t know what to do with himself.

Astoria… she won’t be at home waiting for him, will she?

He’ll be alone, and he won’t have anything to occupy himself with, and—and this is what she meant, isn’t it? When she said it was a bad thing that he’d become obsessed with her illness?

He’s absolutely fucking aimless without her.

Suddenly it feels like there’s a giant hole in his chest.

He’s not in love with her. He never was. But it still hurts that she’s leaving him, hurts so badly he can barely breathe.

As his lungs grasp for air, one thought surfaces in his mind, above all the panic and the worry and the sadness.

Potter.

This is all Potter’s fucking fault, isn’t it?

Suddenly he’s angry. Angry at himself, angry at Astoria, but mostly angry at Potter for fucking up the status quo, for making Astoria think that for some reason things should be different, for, for—

He stands up and does something extremely dangerous, Apparating to Potter’s flat without being sure of where it is. But somehow he lands in one piece, right in the middle of Potter’s sitting room, and there’s Potter, sitting on the couch, looking at him in horror.

You,” Draco snarls, and then before he knows it he’s going for Potter’s throat.

Potter dodges with admittedly fast reflexes, rolling to the side and making a grab for one of Draco’s arms. “What the fuck, Malfoy?”

“You fucking arsehole,” he says, trying to swing at Potter again, but Potter manages to grab onto his arm and hold him back. He wrenches out of Potter’s grip. “It’s all your fault.”

“I don’t even know what you’re fucking talking about!” Potter shouts, and now he’s getting angry, swinging a punch of his own at Draco.

Draco doesn’t even dodge. He just lets the punch hit him, savoring the sudden pain of Potter’s knuckles against his mouth, the taste of blood. Maybe if he lets Potter beat him up, he won’t feel so fucking sad.

But Potter stops after that one punch. “What… what are you doing?” he asks, staring at him, aghast.

Draco wipes his mouth and his hand comes away with blood. “I have no fucking idea,” he says roughly.

This is stupid. This is so fucking stupid.

Before Potter can say one thing more, Draco Apparates away to keep himself from doing something even more stupid.

Like kissing him.

As if.

He lands at the Manor.

He walks immediately to Astoria’s room. It’s still a surprise to see it empty of all her things, even though she said it was so, and he gets the brief urge to go back and start punching Potter again.

Thankfully this time he sees sense and doesn’t.

Instead he walks to his own room and begins angrily Summoning all of his belongings. He Transfigures a couple of spare mugs into boxes, shrinking all of his things and haphazardly packing them away.

Astoria was right. He hates this fucking Manor.

He nearly starts crying again as he finishes packing, because what if—what if he never sees her again? What if she doesn’t want to see him when she gets back, or—or even worse, what if she grows worse and dies while she’s away? He doesn’t think he could bear that—the thought makes him so miserable he wants to vomit.

She’s his best friend.

She’s the only person he’s willingly told he loved them besides Mother in his whole fucking life. He hadn’t even told Pansy that, even though they were close for literally all of his childhood.

And now Astoria’s simply gone.

He never expected for the end of his sham of a marriage to hurt this much—mostly because he never expected it to end, period.

It’s Potter’s fault, he reminds himself. Astoria left because she thinks that, what, Draco could somehow be happy if he let himself be with Potter? That he could fall in love with him? What a fucking joke.

He angrily finishes packing his belongings. And then he goes around the Manor and shrinks the furniture he uses regularly too, like his bed and the dining table, and packs them away with the rest.

Then he Levitates his things and walks out of the Manor for the last time.