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Shine, Shine, Shine

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Shine, Shine, Shine

We've been closing our eyes day after day,
Covered in clouds, losing our way.
–"Daybreak," Barry Manilow and Adrienne Anderson

 

Yesterday

 

"You will go see Poppy today."

"I'm fine."

"You are not. This is the—what, tenth?—day in a row you've woken up feeling ill."

"I'm fine now, thanks to you."

Draco set down his coffee mug and gave Harry a hard look. "You cannot keep taking that anti-nausea potion every morning. It's not meant for extended use. There is something wrong."

Harry shrugged. "Stomach flu."

Draco glared.

Harry sighed. "Fine, I'll see Poppy this morning."

"Good."

Harry met his challenging gaze and tried not to think of a time when their mornings had begun with eager touches and impatient mouths and shared laughter, rather than prickly verbal exchanges.

There'd been no laughter between them for a while now. He'd begun to wonder if there ever would be again.

Harry shifted his gaze away and finished his coffee in silence.

*

New Year's Eve, twenty-five and a half months ago

 

The first night of their relationship had begun on the streets of Hogsmeade.

Harry still shivered when he thought of that night—the glitter of the snow under the light of distant stars; the dark clasp of the cold as he'd stood before Draco, without cloak, without gloves, without shame, and with only the barest sliver of hope; and, finally, the blessed, wished-for heat of Draco's mouth on his, the clumsy but eager press of his hands, the promise of a night spent wrapped around him and within him.

Once they'd retrieved the winter clothing Harry had unthinkingly left behind in the Hog's Head in his haste to catch Draco, Harry had wrapped his arms around Draco and, without warning, Apparated them to the gates of Hogwarts. Startled, Draco blinked at him, his face cast into shadows here, away from the warm, glowing windows of Hogsmeade.

After a few brief moments of silence, Draco had closed his eyes and pressed his mouth to Harry's. Harry drew in a breath and opened his own lips hungrily under Draco's, plunging his tongue into Draco's mouth and shivering at the sound of Draco's low groan.

"Inside," he whispered against Draco's lips, and Draco made an affirmative noise and pulled him through the gates.

Though he'd lived in the castle as Draco's young "cousin" for a mere handful of days, he remembered well the path to Draco's quarters in the dungeons. The route had never seemed so long as in that still night, the castle mostly empty of students who'd returned home for the Christmas holidays. Torches flickering against the high stone walls at intervals cast pools of warm light that drew Draco in and out of shadows as they hurried through the corridors, Draco's hand tight around Harry's, Harry's clinging just as tenaciously.

If he were being completely honest, he'd never given much thought to Draco Malfoy in that way before the night that unfortunate—or fortunate—potions accident had turned him into a child and left him under Draco's reluctant care. He'd noticed that Draco had matured into a disconcertingly attractive man, certainly; he wasn't blind. And the evening he'd interviewed Draco as part of his research on hallucinogenic potions, he couldn't help noticing how that attractiveness was enhanced by Draco's adeptness at potion-brewing, and by the utter confidence—veering a touch into smugness, Harry admitted—that adeptness inspired in Draco.

Watching Draco at work—the efficiency of his movements, the adroitness of his hands—had been far more enjoyable than it'd had any right to be. Harry had found his mind drifting, wondering how adept those wide, pale hands would be at other things, and felt his cock start to stiffen.

He'd already planned on staying at the castle for the night, something in the back of his mind had whispered. Perhaps he needn't spend that night alone.

But Malfoy was a prick, the more rational side of his mind had countered, no matter how much of a turn-on it was to watch him handle a stirring rod.

Yes, yes, that devious voice had whispered, but who ever said you had to like a man to fuck him?

He'd all but convinced himself to proposition Draco and see where it got him, when disaster had struck.

And now here he was, back in the dungeons, pushing Draco through the door Draco had just opened, slamming the door shut behind them and shoving Draco hard up against it, fusing their mouths together as Draco moaned unashamedly, his still-gloved hands gripping at Harry's hair, knocking his knit hat to the floor.

The hot, flushed reality of Draco against him was so much more arousing than he'd even dared to imagine it, that night in the potions laboratory.

Harry tore the green woolen scarf from around Draco's neck and flung it to the floor, replacing it with the heat of his mouth in the pale, vulnerable hollow where Draco's neck met his jaw.

Draco's breath stuttered, and he groaned, "Fuck, Potter."

"Don't you think," Harry managed, working his gloves off between their bodies, then sliding one hand over Draco's crotch, pressing his palm against the hard length of Draco's cock and drawing a gasp from Draco, "that you ought to call me 'Harry'?"

Draco laughed, the sound turning into a whimper as Harry's hand slid farther down, curling around the weight of Draco's balls. Draco's voice was breathless as he taunted, "It'll take more than one grope against the door to break that habit, Potter. I never even got used to calling you 'James.'"

At that, Harry paused, drawing a strangled sound from Draco. Harry drew back, waiting until Draco's gaze met his. "Is it weird?" Harry said. "My being here, I mean."

The accusation that had hardened Draco's eyes at the sudden cessation of their activities shifted into puzzlement. "Weird? Why would it be weird?"

"Just—" Harry settled both of his hands at Draco's waist, relishing the warmth against his palms, the lean, tight lines of him. He wanted desperately to tear Draco's clothing off, to see that long, firm torso, to press his hands and his mouth against the bare expanse of it. But he couldn't do that until he knew. "The last time I was here, I was a child," he said with a sigh.

Draco's eyes flashed. "Are you accusing me of being some sort of pedophile?"

"No! Merlin, no! I only meant—well, it's not exactly conventional, is it, the way we got here."

"What about us has ever been conventional, Potter?"

Harry acknowledged that point, his thumbs beginning to stroke in small circles against Draco's flanks. "I just—didn't want you to get cold feet, suddenly, remembering that I used to be your—your ward or whatever."

Draco's look was pointed. "I am not the one who stopped, Potter," he said, firmly tilting Harry's chin and sealing his mouth over Harry's once more.

Without conscious thought, Harry darted both hands beneath the hem of Draco's cashmere jumper, seeking the heat of Draco's skin, feeling the faint tickle of hair against his palms as he slid his hands from Draco's abdomen all the way up to his nipples.

Draco gasped at the touch, jerking his head back against the door as Harry's thumbs teased him, then yanking his gloves off with his teeth to tear Harry's cloak from his shoulders and tug at the shirt Harry wore beneath. "Off," he growled.

Harry hurriedly pulled the shirt off over his head, hating every second that his skin wasn't in contact with Draco's. Draco, for his part, dropped the cloak he still wore and drew his jumper over his head, exposing pale, fine skin and tight, pink nipples—and a series of thin, white scars.

Harry sucked in a breath, his hands instinctively reaching out to touch them, his fingers shaking as they traced the longest of them, which sliced clean across Draco's left pectoral.

Then Draco grasped Harry's hand, hard, stilling its movement. Startled, Harry's gaze jerked back up to meet Draco's.

"No," Draco said firmly, his eyes hard. "Don't even think about it. I didn't bring you here to feel sorry for me, or to feel inadequate about not being a hero every fucking moment of every day."

"But—"

Draco's grip on Harry's hand tightened, and Harry's fingers curled reflexively into his palm. "I. Said. No," Draco hissed. "I brought you here to fuck me. So stop with the guilt, and get on with the fucking already."

Harry stared at him, breathing hard, then yanked his hand free to tangle his fingers in Draco's hair and drag their mouths together again. Draco laughed into his mouth, a deep, satisfied sound, and stoked his fingers down Harry's chest, making Harry shudder and lean harder into Draco's body, pressing him more firmly against the door.

"At least," Harry managed, single-mindedly seeking friction against the corresponding bulge he felt in Draco's trousers, "I don't have to ask where your bedroom is."

He drew back and curled his fingers around Draco's belt, yanking him away from the door and toward the bedroom. Draco laughed again, allowing himself to be led through his suite of rooms. Harry pressed him against the bedroom door frame, sealing their mouths together once more as he efficiently unbuckled Draco's belt and unfastened his trousers, letting them fall to the floor. Harry smiled against Draco's mouth. "You aren't wearing pants," he said, delighted, and took Draco's already hard cock in hand.

Draco's own hands trembled as they reached for Harry's belt, unhooking it with a faint but promising clink. "Potter," he breathed into Harry's mouth as one hand darted into Harry's y-fronts and began stroking—light, teasing, maddening.

"Guess I can't defile you in my old room," Harry whispered. The wall adjacent to Draco's bedroom was smooth, unadulterated stone once more, with no sign that it had once held the portal to a child's bedroom.

Draco shuddered at the suggestion, breaking their kiss. "I'd rather forget that entire…incident ever happened, thank you very much." He opened his mouth over Harry's once more, stroking his tongue against Harry's, and Harry felt his cock jerk in Draco's hand.

Draco parted their mouths again, and Harry opened his eyes to find Draco's gaze warm and teasing before he crouched to tug Harry's trousers and pants down over his arse and shoved them unceremoniously to the floor. That heated gaze crawled slowly up the length of Harry's body, and Harry's cock jerked again under the intensity of Draco's regard. The movement drew Draco's attention back downward, and the corner of his mouth curved into a familiar smirk as he dropped fully to his knees and licked his lips.

Harry's breath shuddered out of him.

Draco glanced upward once before he fixed his gaze on the cock that bobbed in front of him. One of Draco's long, pale—strong, helpfully whispered Harry's mind, adept—hands encircled Harry's cock and began to stroke up and down in slow passes. "Such a big cock, Potter," he murmured. "I knew you'd have a big one."

Harry clenched his teeth to hold back a whimper at Draco's words. "Not—ah—" He broke off as Draco's thumb swept briefly over the very tip. "Not that big," he managed.

"Big enough," Draco replied, his breath fanning over Harry's cock, heightening the teasing sensation of Draco's fingers gliding lightly up and down, up and down. "Big enough to fill me up," he said, touching his mouth to the base of Harry's cock. "Big enough so that I'll feel you everywhere."

"Holy Christ," Harry gasped, clinging to sanity as he watched the languid movements of those long, pale fingers against his flesh.

Draco smiled, and Harry could feel the movement against the skin of his hip. "Always knew you were a big man, Potter," he murmured, amusement shading the low rumble of his voice.

"Very…funny," Harry managed before Draco took the head into his mouth, and Harry was enclosed in such wet, tight heat that his knees nearly gave out. He braced himself against the door frame with one hand, the other curling spasmodically into Draco's hair as he sucked with slow, maddening deliberation, the taut ring of his lips moving up and down Harry's length as Draco's hand cradled his balls, one finger tickling purposefully behind them. Harry's gaze was riveted to the blond head as it moved forward and back, and a moan was strangled in his throat when Draco tilted his head back just enough so that those wicked gray eyes could meet Harry's.

Draco lifted his mouth from Harry's cock, and the rush of cool air against heated flesh made him gasp. "Not going to come yet, are you, Potter?" Draco teased. "Because I want you to be deep—" Those merciless fingers pressed again behind Harry's balls, and he bucked helplessly. "—deep inside me when you do."

With a sound very like a growl, Harry bent and grasped Draco under the arms, hauling him to his feet, only to shove him back against the door frame once more and mercilessly devour his filthy, taunting mouth. Draco moaned, his arms coiling around Harry's neck as Harry dipped the fingers of one hand into the valley that lay between Draco's arse cheeks. Draco bucked, all but climbing Harry's thigh as Harry touched and explored, stroking his fingers up and down, lingering here and there to tease. Each movement seemed to provoke another twitch, another whine. Soon, Draco was panting into Harry's mouth. "If you don't fuck me immediately," he hissed, "I might have to kill you, Potter."

Harry curled both hands into Draco's arse, pulling their hips firmly together, and kissed him deeply. The smoky flavor of the firewhisky Draco had drunk in the Hog's Head still lingered, and Harry's tongue explored, seeking the faint, barely discernible burn of it, like a heartache half-remembered. When he drew back, Draco's expression was dazed.

"Get on the bed," Harry said.

Draco scrambled to comply, forgetting, for a moment, that he hadn't fully removed his trousers or his boots, and nearly fell to the floor. Harry caught him and pulled him fully upright, then dropped to his own knees to tug the offending articles from Draco's legs. He looked up to find Draco staring down at him, eyes heated. Harry grasped Draco's hips and licked a single slow stripe up the bottom of Draco's twitching cock, and the strange, strangled sound the action drew from Draco's throat had Harry tumbling two steps closer to orgasm.

"Bed," he managed. "Now."

Draco practically leapt for the mattress, and Harry lunged after him, yanking off his own boots, trousers, and pants in the process. Draco sprawled on his back, and Harry crawled between his thighs, relishing the long, pale length of him, the heat that radiated from his skin, the rapid rise and fall of his chest as Harry bent over him, rubbing his erection slowly against Draco's and kissing him again, deep and deeper, savoring the faint smoky taste of him, the humid heat of Draco's breath as he began to pant from the growing friction between their bodies.

"Oh," Draco gasped, his fingers knotted in Harry's hair as Harry sucked at the salt-slick expanse of Draco's throat. "Potter. Get in me. For fuck's sake!"

He levered himself up, his face hovering over Draco's. "Is this how you want it?" he asked quietly. Draco's face was flushed, his lips reddened and swollen, the rings of gray in his eyes mere shadows around pupils that were blown wide.

The sight of him made something tighten in Harry's chest—even more so when those darkened eyes met his and Draco replied in a low, fervent voice, "Yes. Exactly like this."

Trembling with something he couldn't put a name to, Harry cast a wandless lubrication charm and began to prepare Draco. That long, lithe body twisted and arched beneath him as Harry caressed him over long, heated minutes, slowly teasing him open. Draco's body was slick with sweat, his fingers clawing desperately at the sheets, when Harry finally rose over him again, hand on his cock as he prepared to enter. "You're sure?" he asked, and he could hear the edge of desperation in his own voice.

Draco's gaze lifted to meet Harry's eyes once more. The desire Harry saw there made him catch his breath. "Harry," Draco said, clearly. "Fuck me."

Draco was tight and hot and alive around him as Harry pressed inside, gritting his teeth against the urge to come, and come hard. It had been...well, a while since he'd done this. It wasn't even known outside of his immediate circle of close friends that he was gay, so his previous encounters had all been with Muggles who didn't know who he really was, and who didn't give a good goddamn that his name was Harry Potter. That had always been a relief, in its way.

Draco, though—Draco knew. And maybe this would turn out to be one of his more spectacular fuckups in a life riddled with them, but right now, it didn't feel like that, not with the flex of Draco's thighs against his flanks, the eager, almost reckless way he rocked up into Harry's every thrust, the harsh pants of his breath next to Harry's ear, interspersed with the occasional gasp of, "Harry," almost too incoherent to understand. But every one of them coiled the tension within Harry even tighter, until he felt Draco convulse beneath him, and Harry finally, finally let himself come, shuddering with the intensity of it as Draco tightened around him and accepted all the passion, the anxiety, the strange, startling rush of affection, that Harry poured into him.

When he could move again, Harry rolled to the side, lying flat on his back against Draco's soft cotton sheets and staring at the dungeon ceiling, listening as Draco's breath evened out next to him.

"Wow," Harry managed at last, and Draco started to laugh—quietly, absurdly ugly little snorts that had Harry rolling back up on one elbow to gaze down at him. Draco's eyes were dancing when they met Harry's. "What's wrong with 'wow'?" Harry asked, one corner of his mouth curving upward in spite of himself.

Draco schooled his face to innocence. "Nothing," he said gravely, then ruined it with another of those odd snort-laughs.

Unable to resist, Harry caught Draco's jaw with one hand and brought their faces together for a slow, lingering kiss. When he drew away this time, the mirth had fled Draco's expression, and he looked only startled.

"Thank you," Harry said.

A frown shadowed Draco's brow, and he looked away, blinking. "You're welcome," he said, his tone flat, and climbed out of the bed.

Harry sat upright. "Where are you going?"

"To fetch my wand, moron. I've no intention of falling asleep dripping with spunk, thank you very much."

"Oh," Harry said, watching as Draco padded naked to the open doorway and rummaged around in his discarded trousers to locate his wand before casting a cleaning spell over himself. He lifted an eyebrow at Harry, who shrugged, and a flick of Draco's wand sent the tingling rush of a strong cleaning spell over some very sensitive areas. Harry yelped at the sensation, and Draco smirked, his arms crossed over his chest as he gazed at Harry, eyes oddly blank.

Silence stretched between them, making Harry feel more uncomfortable with every long moment that passed. "I—er, should I go?"

"Well," Draco said, his tone still flat, "perhaps that would be best, now you've got what you came for."

Harry blinked at that. "Draco," he said, and saw one of Draco's eyes twitch. "It's not like that," he insisted.

Draco sneered, but didn't reply.

Harry climbed out of the bed and walked over to Draco, who stood his ground, his jaw set. "Look," Harry said, "I can't pretend to know what's going on in your head right now, but I thought we both enjoyed what just happened."

"Never said I didn't," Draco said, gaze stubbornly directed somewhere over Harry's left shoulder.

"I'd hoped—well." He reached out to touch Draco's shoulder. Draco flinched, but didn't shake off the touch. "I'd hoped maybe we'd—do it again sometime."

"I—" Draco's gaze skittered across Harry's face for a moment, and he frowned, but it was more sad than angry this time. "I—guess I wouldn't mind that."

"Draco," Harry said, brushing his lips against Draco's. Draco sighed. "Can I stay?" Harry asked, kissing Draco again, and almost receiving a response this time. "It's New Year's," he said, touching their mouths together a third time, and this time he felt Draco's lips move against his, slowly, almost questioningly.

Harry drew back and brushed his hand gently through the hair that fell over Draco's forehead. "All right," Draco said.

They climbed back into the bed and Draco doused the lights. They lay in the dark side by side, the bed now seeming so much larger to Harry than before, so much colder.

Draco sighed softly and turned onto his side, his back to Harry. Harry turned his face toward him, weighing the wisdom of what he longed to do, before cursing mentally and simply going with his instincts.

Draco flinched when Harry first touched him, but he didn't move away. Harry spooned behind him, curling his arm around Draco's waist. "I've missed you, prat," Harry whispered into the darkness.

He could sense Draco's tension all down the length of his body. And yet he felt Draco's hand brush against his for an instant before settling carefully atop it, warm and unexpected and uncertain. "Yes, well," Draco replied after a few moments, "I am very hard to get over."

Harry fell asleep smiling.

*

Yesterday

 

He hated to admit that maybe Draco had a point about him going to see Poppy—but, well, all right. Maybe he did have a point.

Harry acknowledged this during his long climb from the dungeons to the hospital wing, but only after he'd been forced to stop for a second time to ride out a wave of dizziness.

At least, he thought gratefully, the students were in their lessons right now and not traipsing through the corridors, perfectly positioned to see their sometime-professor with his arse propped against the wall and his head between his knees, sucking in slow, steadying breaths.

He'd been certain it was nothing more than a bout of flu. He was still almost certain of that. But surely the symptoms should have abated by now. He hadn't even let on to Draco how bad it had become. The anti-nausea potion Draco had been administering to him regularly in the mornings at least prevented the miserable vomiting he'd endured on the first morning this had struck. But it only served to blunt the edge of the nausea, not eliminate it entirely, and he hadn't passed a day in the last week and a half without that low-grade nausea as a constant companion, present on investigations, on stakeouts, and most definitely at mealtimes, when the smells of familiar, even favorite, foods could make his stomach roil. He'd lost nearly half a stone, and the troubled expression on Draco's face the previous night as Harry had undressed before bed—which Draco had wiped from his face the moment he saw Harry looking—made him suspect this fact had not gone unnoticed.

Truth told, he'd been feeling peculiar and not quite himself for a while now—unsettled, both physically and emotionally. But he suspected that had much more to do with certain personal epiphanies and interpersonal difficulties than with anything physical.

Still, though, he could easily think of at least two raids in the last few months that had involved a great deal of spellwork being flung back and forth. Nothing had turned up when he, like all the other Aurors involved, had been examined in the aftermath for curses and other magical residue. But it was entirely possible something had got through regardless, and was only manifesting now. He knew it was a risk he ran in his line of work, and Merlin knew he'd long ago got used to facing danger on a regular basis. He wasn't inured to it, by any means—if you weren't cautious, you were dead. But he understood more than most Aurors his age about risk and the potential consequences thereof.

Draco never said anything, but Harry had seen the worry line Draco didn't like to admit to appear between his eyebrows occasionally when Harry slung on his scarlet Auror robes as he prepared to leave for the Ministry. Harry would have liked to tell him there was no sense in worrying, that he knew how to do his job and that anything that was going to happen simply was going to happen, but he was reasonably certain Draco wouldn't admit to the worry, either, or would attribute it to something else entirely, like new Ministry regulations on the importation of rare potions ingredients.

Bullying Harry into visiting the hospital wing was quite possibly—and in the most Draco-ish of ways—the most effusive gesture of affection Harry had received from him in almost two months.

Harry sighed and lifted his head, finally feeling steady enough to resume his climb. Only one more flight of stairs and a short walk until he reached the hospital wing and, he hoped, a simple solution to whatever was plaguing him.

He could do with some simple answers right about now.

*

Approximately two years ago

 

After their first night together, Harry hadn't seen Draco for nearly a month.

An owled expression of appreciation coupled with a none-too-subtle hint that Harry would like to repeat the experience soon had gone unanswered.

In retrospect, perhaps he should have refrained from mentioning how amusing he'd found Draco's little snort-laughs in the afterglow.

Perhaps he also ought not to have waited a week to send the owl.

Or perhaps, Harry thought grimly, Draco simply wasn't as interested in pursuing a relationship as he'd seemed that evening in Hogsmeade.

When Harry had awakened the next morning to find Draco Malfoy sprawled—completely relaxed, utterly unself-conscious, and unsurprisingly hogging far more than his share of the bed covers—across the bed they'd shared, something within him had given a funny little leap. For half a heartbeat, he'd entertained the far-too-enticing thought of climbing over Draco and waking him with slow touches and slower kisses, sliding into his sleep-warmed body and making those long, loose limbs tremble as their bodies rose and fell together in pursuit of the same dizzying pleasure they'd shared the night before.

He wanted that, Harry'd realized, almost desperately.

But he'd been assigned an early shift at the Auror office that morning, and—a quick glance at Draco's clock had confirmed—he already was going to be late.

And so, instead, he'd slid quietly out of the bed, careful not to wake Draco, and dressed in the early-morning gloom of Draco's sitting room, keeping one ear attuned to the man who slept on in the bedroom, listening for any hint of wakefulness. He'd fumbled across the coffee table and the side tables until he found a quill and what he hoped was simply a spare bit of parchment, scrawled a note, and set it carefully on the pillow next to Draco's, before slipping silently out of Draco's quarters.

In light of Draco's conspicuous silence in the weeks that followed, he wished, more than a little, that he'd stayed.

When Robards directed Harry to return to Hogwarts to follow up on his previous interviews concerning the ongoing hallucinogenic potions investigation, Harry contacted Minerva by Floo to ask about arranging appointments with both Neville and Draco.

"Can you—I mean, is it possible," Harry had asked, "that you could, maybe, not tell Draco who the appointment's actually with?"

Minerva's expression had been knowing. "Lovers' spat already?" she replied dryly.

It took all of Harry's considerable Auror training to keep his mouth from gaping at the question. And yet, perhaps owing to her own not inconsiderable experience as an educator, Minerva seemed to catch the instant of shock he felt.

"Do give me some credit," she said, eyes twinkling in a distinctly Dumbledorean way at his discomfiture. "Did you think we failed to tighten security on the castle after the war? I am always aware of who's coming or going—or staying overnight in the dungeons."

Harry had fought the blush that threatened. "Oh." He cleared his throat. "Well. I'd still prefer he didn't know. We haven't—he—" He sighed. "I'm concerned he might not even agree to speak to me."

She gave him a stern look that, to his embarrassment, cowed him as easily now as it had when he'd been a boy.

"It's nothing I did," he insisted. He paused. "At least, not that I know of."

Minerva pursed her lips and exhaled a short, exasperated sigh. "Very well, Potter. But I'm sure I do not need to tell you this sort of behavior is hardly becoming of a Gryffindor."

"Yes, well," Harry replied, "if I were less of a Gryffindor, would I be bothering to pursue him at all?"

A hint of the twinkle returned at that. "You do have a point, Mr. Potter."

Which was how he'd found himself descending the stairs to Draco's dungeon office on another wintry Friday evening, his fingers trailing fondly along the stone wall as he recalled traveling this path with the welcome distraction of an amorous Draco only weeks before. He knew, logically, that it would be far less complicated simply to let this whole—whatever—with Draco fall by the wayside and try to forget it had ever happened.

Uncomplicated had never really been Harry's cup of tea.

He nodded at three small Slytherin-robed students who scurried past him in the chill, torch-lit corridor, their expressions a mix of awe and nerves as they caught sight of the scarlet Auror robes he wore. When he reached the closed door to Draco's office—just past the potions workroom where their fates had become entwined in a peculiar new way—he knocked.

"Come in, Potter," a voice replied from within.

Frowning, Harry opened the door to find a coolly expressionless Draco Malfoy seated behind the heavy desk Harry recalled all too well from his time spent as a student in Snape's office. "Minerva told you I was coming?" Harry asked, closing the door behind him. Draco rolled his eyes. "No, she was remarkably vague about which Auror would be paying me a visit, even when I asked specifically if it would be a certain favorite son of Gryffindor."

Harry dropped into one of the chairs opposite Draco's desk with a grin. "You asked about me? How sweet."

Draco's ears colored, and Harry could see his jaw tighten. "I asked a question in a very specific context, Potter," he ground out. "Do get over yourself."

The smile faded from Harry's face as he realized this wasn't just Draco playing—he was genuinely angry. "So, what? Lucky guess?"

"I should let you think so," Draco said. "But, no, in fact, Longbottom let it slip over dinner tonight. Seems McGonagall never bothered to inform him that your name was not to be mentioned to me." His eyes glittered with the sort of malicious amusement Harry remembered seeing in his face back in their school days. "Careless of her, no?"

"Very," Harry bit out, realizing he'd been played by the headmistress. Though to what end, if this was the result?

Draco crossed his arms on the desktop and stared at Harry in stony silence.

Harry closed his eyes. "Draco—" he began.

"Auror Potter, I believe you have some questions for me?"

Harry pinched the bridge of his nose at the waspish tone. Sighing, he retrieved the shrunken notepad and quill he'd stashed in the pocket of his robes, resized them, and proceeded with his questions.

Draco's replies were thorough, insightful, and completely, utterly, insultingly impersonal.

With every exchange, the headache that had bloomed behind Harry's eyes seemed to grow, until he was almost grateful to have reached the end of the interview. He closed the notepad with a snap and re-shrank it and the quill, shoving both irritably back into his pocket.

"Are we quite done here?" Draco asked, in the same cold tone that had characterized all his responses to Harry's questions.

"Yes," Harry said, rising. "I believe we are."

"Excellent," Draco said, turning his attention back to whatever he had been working on before Harry's arrival. "I trust you can see yourself out."

Harry stood and watched in silence as Draco's quill scratched the familiar curves and slashes of his precise scrawl across the parchment.

After several long moments had elapsed, Draco's quill stopped, but he did not look up. "Still here, Potter?"

"I've just remembered something I forgot to ask you."

Slowly, Draco lifted his head, his expression bored. "Yes?"

"What the fuck is wrong with you?"

Draco's expression sharpened, and he slammed the quill to the desktop. "Excuse me?"

"You heard me." There was a buzzing in Harry's skin, a tense anticipation of the type he usually experienced only when he gripped his wand on the cusp of a fight in which the stakes were high and the outcome far from certain.

Draco rose to his feet, his hands spread on the desktop. "Perhaps I did not hear you correctly."

"Then I'll repeat: What the fuck is wrong with you?"

Draco straightened to his full height, his breath quick and angry. "What the fuck is wrong with you? Who the fuck do you think you are?"

"I think I'm the man you fucked just a few weeks ago, but who apparently didn't even merit a response to the bloody owl he sent."

"You—" Draco practically vaulted over the desk, swinging his fist at Harry's face.

Draco was fast and surprisingly strong. But he wasn't a trained fighter. Harry managed to grasp him by the arms, wheel him around, and slam his back against the stone wall before leaning in so close that their noses nearly touched. "Don't make me Stun you," he warned in a low voice. "Don't think I won't."

Draco stopped struggling against Harry's hold, though Harry could still feel the tension that held Draco strung like a wire. "You know what I think, Potter?" he snarled. "I think you're just a big, fucking mistake I made, and the sooner you accept that, the better off we both will be."

Draco's gaze held Harry's without wavering, his pupils wide and dark in the dungeon dimness. Harry couldn't help remembering the way those same eyes had darkened with desire in Draco's bedroom as the lean, strong body he now held grasped in his hands had arched beneath him. "Why?" Harry asked.

The gray eyes blinked. "What do you mean, why?" Draco demanded. "What does it even matter? I've just told you I don't want you, Potter."

Harry leaned in closer, his cheek almost brushing Draco's, feeling the tickle of Draco's hair against his own forehead, and closed his eyes, concentrating. Draco's breathing sped up, and the muscles that had been taut with shock and anger began to quiver faintly. Harry brushed his lips against Draco's ear. "I don't believe you," he whispered.

Draco exhaled sharply and began to struggle again, so Harry leaned in fully, pressing his own body against Draco's, nearly from neck to knees. Draco groaned, a defeated sound, and his head thudded backward against the cold stone wall, his eyes falling closed.

"What is this about?" Harry asked, gentling his voice, and felt Draco shiver, still not looking at him.

Draco shook his head. "I won't be your fucktoy, Potter. I will not be treated as one."

Startled, Harry slid his hands down Draco's now unresisting arms and captured his hands, squeezing. His breath caught as he felt Draco's fingers tighten around his in return, as though in reflex. "What? Why would you think—?"

Draco reopened his eyes, rolling his head just far enough to the side to meet Harry's gaze. "For Merlin's sake, Potter," he said, his voice sounding tired. "You fucked me, then took off in the morning without a word, and didn't bother to owl me for a fucking week, and then only to say we should do it again."

"I left you a note!"

Draco rolled his eyes. "Thanks for everything. Have to go. I'll owl you. Smooth, Potter."

"That—I had to work!"

"You didn't say that."

"I—" He'd meant to. He'd meant to say that the night had been amazing and he couldn't wait to see Draco again. That he almost hated to leave at all, let alone so early and so stealthily. That almost nothing but the demands of his job could have pulled him from that bed. But, well… "I was running late," he said. "I had to hurry."

Draco snorted in derision and turned his face away. "You certainly didn't hurry in sending that owl."

Harry frowned, staring at the sharp edge of Draco's jaw. There was a peculiar undercurrent in Draco's tone that sounded almost wounded. He would never have imagined he'd have the power to wound Draco Malfoy.

"Draco," he murmured, feeling that strange, uncertain little leap inside him again. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to hurt you—"

Draco's head whipped around so fast, his face bumped awkwardly into the frames of Harry's glasses. "You didn't hurt me, Potter," he said, his eyes snapping. "You offended me. You insulted me."

Harry held his gaze, taking in the anger that radiated from him, and feeling that odd little leaping thing inside him fall still, and start to shrivel. Of course. He'd been a fool even to entertain the thought that he could hurt Draco. Merlin forbid.

And yet, something lurked in the shadows of that gray gaze that made him doubt the truth of Draco's words, made him wonder whether he'd somehow penetrated that defensive outer shell of Draco's without even realizing it—and made him long to find out just what lay beneath.

"I'm sorry," he said again, his eyes still on Draco's.

Draco blinked, and frowned, and darted his gaze away.

Harry pressed a kiss to the corner of Draco's mouth.

Draco sighed.

Harry's lips brushed across Draco's cheek, prickly with the hints of near-invisible evening stubble; the aristocratic jut of his chin; his sharp nose. Draco closed his eyes, and Harry kissed each eyelid in turn.

Some of the tension began to leech from Draco's body. Harry felt the hands that still grasped his lose their death grip, and when Harry took the chance of stroking his thumbs along the edge of Draco's hands, Draco sucked in a breath, then melted just a little more against Harry's body.

Harry pressed his nose into the shadowed curve where Draco's jaw met his neck, and breathed in the scent of him—spice and sugar and green, growing things and, yes, dampness and darkness and traces of potions fumes that clung to Draco's pale skin and fine hair, and there was something strange and irresistible in those contradictions that made up the scent, and the man.

Draco arched his neck, and Harry took it as invitation. At the touch of his mouth, Draco shivered, then exhaled on a groan as Harry began to suck gently, curiously desperate to mark him afresh, visibly, deliberately.

"Potter," Draco whispered, his hips now moving purposefully against Harry's, and Harry knew he could have him now, have him here, in Snape's old office, with all those shelves of odd, unknowable masses in jars looking on as Harry claimed him.

But somehow, in light of what Draco had said earlier, and how Harry had not-hurt him—it didn't feel right.

He lifted his mouth from Draco's neck and drew a steadying breath, dropping his forehead onto Draco's shoulder. Draco made a small noise of protest, and Harry huffed out a strangled little laugh at his own strange, stubborn desire to do right by Draco Malfoy.

"Come to London this weekend," he said.

"What?" Draco said.

Harry lifted his head and met Draco's eyes. His pupils were wide and dark, his face flushed. Harry let go of Draco's hands and curled his own fingers around Draco's neck, framing his face with his thumbs. "Come to London this weekend."

Draco blinked. "Why?"

"To see me."

Draco's face paled. "You mean, go out together? In public?"

Some of the odd, effervescent sense of hope that had begun to rise in Harry fizzled at that. That was exactly what he'd had in mind—a proper date, conversation over a plate of something delicious and a glass of wine or several, an hour or two to talk properly as adults, to find out whether this—whatever—that lay between them truly meant something, if they had any future beyond mere physical attraction. But if Draco was that afraid to be seen with him in public, then…

"You can come to my flat," he said, struggling to hide his disappointment, which had caught him off guard. "We'll get takeaway. No one needs to see you."

"Oh," Draco said, turning away, a frown tugging at his mouth. By Harry's sides, his hands fluttered, touching lightly along the folds of scarlet fabric. "I—all right."

"I'll owl you," Harry said. When Draco flinched, almost unnoticeably, Harry added, "Immediately. Tonight. Tomorrow, too."

A smile began to twitch at the corner of Draco's mouth. "And the day after that?"

"I will owl you every damn day, if I have to," Harry said, and Draco finally turned to face him again, customary smirk in place. Strange, it was so strange how that smirk had always infuriated him, and now it felt like a triumph.

"Pathetic, Potter," Draco drawled, his eyes warm.

Harry kissed the smirk, and felt it curve into a smug smile.

*

Yesterday

 

"Well, Mr. Potter, I must say it's nice to see you in here with some ordinary complaint, for a change."

Harry grinned as he seated himself on the examination table. "No broken or missing bones—"

"No friends mysteriously poisoned or petrified—"

"Admit it," he said, "you've missed the excitement I bring to your day."

She shook her head at him, but laughed and patted his shoulder. "You may think you cornered the market on mayhem back in your day, but I assure you, the younger generations are quite adept at getting into scrapes in their own novel ways."

Harry leaned back on his hands and let the cool, antiseptic air of the hospital wing wash over him. Morning sunlight spilled through the high windows, illuminating the room with an ethereal white glow. He hadn't actually set foot in here since the days following the final battle, when Madam Pomfrey and a handful of volunteers, including Hermione, had tended to those either too stubborn or not injured enough to go to St. Mungo's. Thankfully, the hospital wing had been relatively unscathed in the battle, requiring only the repair of broken windows and equipment.

If only the psyches of the students, staff, and other battled-scarred occupants of the castle that night had been so easily mended.

"My guess is, it's only a touch of that stomach bug that's been making the rounds," Poppy said after murmuring a diagnostic spell and beginning to move her wand slowly back and forth across his torso. "There's always something going around here, especially just after the start of term."

"That's what I tried to tell Draco," Harry said, "but it would probably kill him to agree with me on anything, so here I am."

Poppy chuckled. "I'm certain you find plenty to agree on, else you'd never have lingered here as long as you have."

Harry fought the blush that threatened to rise. He wasn't ashamed of Draco or of what they had together—whatever it was. These days—and most days leading up to this, really—Harry wasn't particularly sure where they stood. But it still felt strange that the entire Hogwarts faculty and staff knew the primary reason he remained in residence in the castle was that he was fucking Draco Malfoy. Officially, as far as the students knew, he was a consultant to the faculty on defense and on issues in wizard law and law enforcement. And he did consult with them, sometimes, though mostly to keep up appearances. Still, he knew the students gossiped.

And, well, even though he knew Poppy was a medical professional, it still felt odd for a childhood authority figure such as her to know how he spent his nights.

To say nothing of the weirdness of Minerva McGonagall not only knowing, but actually making special allowances for him to do so.

"Minerva must really want you to get laid," he'd joked to Draco after Minerva had offered him the consulting position as an explanation for his continued presence in the castle. His comment was met first by a frosty stare, followed by an evening of ever more imperious demands for Harry to suck Draco's cock, to rim him, to do every dirty thing Draco could think of, because, after all, the headmistress not only encouraged Harry to see to Draco's needs, she all but demanded it.

In light of the circumstances, Harry had felt no need to object.

Poppy hmm'ed as she passed her wand across his abdomen, then halted, a peculiar expression flitting across her face. "That's odd," she said, frowning.

Harry sat up straight. "That's not something one really wants to hear from a mediwitch."

She shook her head. "Don't worry, dear, I'm sure it's only some sort of ambient magical interference, or another perfectly reasonable explanation." She ended the diagnostic spell, then re-cast. Again, when she swept her wand across his abdomen, she froze.

Glancing down, Harry saw that the tip of her wand had begun to glow a soft pink.

"What?" he asked, feeling anxious for the first time. "What's wrong with me?"

"I can't imagine how—" She shook her head and gave him a curious look. "Harry, would you be so kind as to give me a urine sample? I'm afraid I need to check something, just to rule it out."

"Sure," he said slowly, accepting the cup she held out to him and sliding off the examination table.

She gave him a fleeting smile that didn't quite meet her eyes.

When he returned and handed her the cup, she wasted no time in murmuring a spell and waving her wand over it. Immediately, the cup's contents were enveloped in a pink glow.

Poppy stared, her mouth agape.

"What's wrong?" Harry demanded. He'd spent his adolescence half-convinced he wouldn't live to see adulthood, and he'd walked knowingly into Death's arms at age seventeen. Now that he'd reached the ripe old age of thirty-one and had finally found—something—with someone he...cared about, he had no desire to surrender to whatever terrible condition Poppy seemed to have identified.

Poppy set down the cup, her face pale, and turned to Harry. "First, I have a question: You haven't taken any new potions lately, have you? Nothing—out of the ordinary?"

Harry blinked at her. "No…?"

She rubbed her fingers along the bridge of her nose. "I'm sending you to St. Mungo's for further evaluation. If this is what I suspect it is, you're going to need more experienced guidance than I can provide."

He could feel his temple start to throb in rhythm with the pounding of his heart. "What's wrong with me?"

"Have a seat, Mr. Potter," she said with a sigh, falling into her own chair heavily.

He remained standing, eyes fixed on her.

She gave him a level look. "Believe me, Harry, you're going to want to be sat down when I tell you this."

*

Approximately fifteen months ago

 

Harry's last visit to St. Mungo's as a patient had been the result of getting caught by an assailant's hex during a raid that had turned into a massive cock-up. He'd lain in a coma while the Healers frantically attempted to mend the damage inflicted by the spell.

He'd opened his eyes briefly for the first time one night, half in and half out of consciousness, to find a lean blond figure sound asleep in a chair that had been dragged close, his upper body slumped against the side of the bed, head on Harry's shoulder, Harry's hand clasped in his.

Harry had faded back into the mists of unconsciousness, and when he woke again, this time to weak fingers of late afternoon autumn sunlight reaching through the room's small window, he found Hermione and Ron keeping vigil, and Draco nowhere to be seen.

He wondered if he'd dreamt it.

"Harry!" Hermione had gasped, falling upon him with a sob.

Ron had clasped his hand, his silence an eloquent enough indication of the gravity of Harry's condition.

A Healer had arrived to examine him just then, and she informed him of his state: unconscious for three days, extensive internal damage that the Healers thankfully had been able to repair in time, and a head injury that was minor in comparison to what the rest of his body had withstood, but still severe enough that they needed him under observation for at least another couple of days—although the fact that Harry had woken up was a promising sign in itself.

When the Healer had left, after extracting promises from Ron and Hermione that they wouldn't agitate or overtire her patient, Harry turned to his two friends, tensing at the question, but unable not to ask: "Is Draco here?"

Hermione started, and Ron frowned. "Malfoy?" he asked.

And then Harry realized, with horror—they didn't know. He'd never even told them that he was all but living at Hogwarts on the weekends, wrapped around Draco Malfoy's lithe form as they fucked, and bickered, and fucked again, and marked Draco's students' scrolls together, Harry's quill charmed to make his chicken-scratch resemble Draco's neat penmanship, if not quite to mimic his acerbic tone. He'd never told them, not because he was afraid of their reactions, but because he hadn't known what to say. They weren't dating, per se. Sometimes he wasn't even sure Draco actually liked him—at least, not the grown-up him, the Harry who knew Draco and all his sordid history. And yet—

Harry rubbed a hand over his face. "Nobody told him," he said. He'd imagined Draco's presence. Of course he had. He'd been a fool to think otherwise.

"Well, no," Hermione said, her expression wary. "We didn't realize you two had that sort of relationship…"

"We…" Harry picked at the edge of the blanket, then sighed. "Since New Year's," he admitted.

"Since New Year's? How could you—"

"Ronald, hush! It's Harry's business, not ours." She gave Harry a searching look, and he was very, very careful to keep his expression as blank as he could. "We didn't contact him. We didn't know we ought to have."

"So he doesn't know."

"He—well—" Hermione sighed. "It was in the Prophet."

Harry groaned.

"To be fair, your condition was bad. It still is!" she added, giving him a warning look as he tried to sit up. He slumped back down onto the bed, annoyed. "But, well, they reported that you were barely clinging to life, and that the outlook was essentially hopeless."

He braced himself against what was to come. "And?"

She sighed. "And Draco Malfoy came tearing into St. Mungo's the other night, after the Evening Prophet dropped its 'Boy Who Lived to Live No More?' bombshell, and demanded to see you."

Harry's jaw fell open.

Hermione reached out to take his hand. "The staff downstairs wouldn't let him up, of course. You were still in intensive care, and he wasn't on your list of approved emergency contacts. And, well—" She cast a glance at Ron, who looked as though he'd tasted something bad. "—We didn't know that he—had a right to know."

Harry closed his eyes for a moment. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you," he said. "It's just—complicated."

She nodded, though small lines remained between her brows. "Mandy Brocklehurst works in reception, you know," she said. "She knew Ron and I were up here with you, so she paged me to come downstairs. That's the only reason I know Draco was here at all."

Harry started. "So…you saw him?"

"I did," she said. "I spoke to him, briefly."

Harry searched her face, but her expression was carefully neutral. "Did he tell you—?"

She shook her head. "He didn't tell me anything. He clammed up when he realized I didn't know why he was there—though, of course, I guessed," she added, giving Harry a wry look.

He grimaced. "I bet that wasn't awkward at all."

"More for him than for me, I think." She settled her other hand atop the hand of Harry's she already held, sandwiching it between the comforting warmth of her palms. "His face went blank and cold in that way he has, and he tried to leave, but I, well—I put him under a Full-Body Bind."

Despite himself, Harry huffed out a laugh of disbelief. "You didn't."

Her cheeks colored a little, but she lifted her chin. "I did. I didn't leave him that way, of course—"

"More's the pity," Ron muttered.

"Ronald," she admonished again, her tone recalling, to Harry's ear, the stern, but fond, snap of Molly Weasley. She turned back to Harry. "I released him from the spell and warned him I wouldn't hesitate to do it again if he refused to sit down and listen to me. He gave me a look that could have curdled milk—"

"Yeah, very familiar with that one," Harry murmured.

"—But he sat, and he listened while I told him about your condition—that you were hurt, yes, and badly, but that there was every expectation that you would recover fully. He—" She paused, closed her eyes. "The way the relief settled over him—you should have seen it." She opened her eyes again. "He'd truly thought that you were going to die, and when I assured him you weren't—" She shook her head. "He must really care about you, Harry."

Harry tried to picture it, but couldn't quite. He and Draco got on well enough, it was true. And the sex was—well, maybe not the most creative or the most athletic Harry had ever experienced, but certainly the most…intense. Fraught. And by far the most satisfying.

He knew Draco felt something toward him, else he'd never allow Harry to stay over as frequently as he did. But there was no romance there, and little affection. Outside of bed, Draco was mostly reserved and self-contained. He rarely touched Harry except in bed or to entice him into bed.

Harry swallowed, hard. He didn't love Draco, didn't even know if it was possible to love him. But he liked him—liked him in spite of his prickly surface, or maybe even because of it. He remembered Draco's not-quite-grudging kindness when Harry had become his charge during what Draco referred to only as "The Incident"—the initial caps always implied by his very tone. He liked how flustered Draco got when Harry kissed him or touched him, how his cheeks burned when Harry murmured filthy things into his ear. He liked how Draco came alive moving beneath him and riding on top of him, how he always seemed to twine himself around Harry in the night, so that Harry would awaken with Draco's arm wrapped around his midsection, Draco's leg wedged between his, Draco's breath soft and warm against his neck.

He liked that Draco knew how he took his coffee, and how he took his tea. He liked that Draco was hard on his students because he wanted to challenge them to succeed, not because he genuinely thought they were dunderheads, no matter his protests to the contrary—Harry had seen him look pleased one too many times when a student mastered something that previously had given him or her difficulty. He liked Draco's tidy handwriting and the way he'd, very rarely, send Harry owls at work during the week that left Harry tugging his collar and counting the minutes to the weekend.

And Harry, having learnt his lesson, had more than returned the favor on that score.

But love was something else entirely, and he didn't know that he'd ever reach that point with Draco. In the meantime, he meant to enjoy what they shared and not waste his time wondering if—or, worse, hoping—it might develop into more.

And so he brushed aside Hermione's remark about Draco. It was too soon even to think about that sort of nonsense. And, besides, Hermione was always seeing potential where there wasn't any—for Merlin's sake, she'd thought Harry and Neville should give it a go, when Harry knew for a fact Neville was as straight as they came, and was doggedly pursuing Hannah Abbott besides. It happened, Kingsley had told him sagely when he'd caught Harry gnashing his teeth over it, because Hermione was happily settled and wanted all of her friends to be, too. He'd have been inclined to dismiss Kingsley's theory—Hermione had more sense than that, certainly—except that not a week later, Ron had suggested perhaps Harry should consider asking out Zach Smith—yeah, sure, he was a prat, always had been one, but he was gay and he was single, and maybe there'd be something there, hey?

Clearly, Harry needed more single friends.

"So—he left?" Harry asked, hoping it didn't sound as though the answer mattered to him at all. He might not care all that deeply about Draco, but, well, it might have been a comfort to see him, that was all.

"He did," Hermione said. She cast a glance at Ron. "Dear, would you mind fetching me a cup of tea?"

Ron stood, stretching his long limbs with a series of audible cracks that made Harry wonder, humbled, just how long he and Hermione had been sitting with him. "Sure," Ron said, "back in a tick."

Ron's footfalls receded down the hall, and Hermione leaned in closer to Harry. "He came back," she whispered.

"What?" Harry said.

She kept her eyes on the door, watching for her husband, and her voice was low as she told him, "I told him Ron and I were leaving within a few hours, then gave him a few of my hairs and told him he'd know what to do."

Harry sucked in a breath. "You—Hermione. You don't even know for certain what he—"

She turned to face Harry again, her eyes intent. "I saw his face, Harry. I saw what he looked like when he thought you were dying, and when he knew you weren't. There is no way on this earth that he meant to do you harm. And if you don't realize that, then—"

"No," Harry interrupted. "No, I—I know that."

She glanced back at the door. "He came back late that night. I saw he'd signed in as me on the visitors' log."

"Oh," Harry said. He remembered the weight of Draco's head against his arm, the warmth of his hand. Perhaps he hadn't dreamt it, after all.

"Oh, Merlin, I should owl him!" she said, sitting abruptly upright. "He'll want to know you're awake."

Harry eyed her. "You haven't suddenly become friends with Draco Malfoy, have you?"

"Don't be silly," she said. "We're not friends." She paused. "Allies, maybe."

"I wonder if he knows that," Harry said, offering her a tentative smile.

"He will."

Harry laughed. "He'll be horrified."

"I'm counting on it," she said, smirking.

Ron returned with tea, and he and Hermione left not long thereafter to collect their children from the Burrow, Hermione whispering a promise to owl Draco as soon as they'd returned home. And with his heart in his throat, Harry obeyed Hermione's exhortation that he add Draco to his list of approved visitors, so that Draco might be permitted to return in his own skin, for a change.

He slept fitfully that night, awakened every hour by St. Mungo's staff who needed to check his vitals, ask him questions, confirm he hadn't slipped once more into anything direr than mere slumber. Each time, he glanced around the room, hoping to find Draco seated on one of the chairs or hovering in the doorway.

When morning dawned, he realized his hopes had been in vain.

Harry was discharged two days later. Draco had never come back.

*

Yesterday

 

Harry didn't bother to cast a Lumos when he returned to his and Draco's quarters late that afternoon.

The dungeons got little natural light as it was, all sunlight being filtered through the lake that embraced the lower sections of the castle, so that whatever light fought its way through the rare, small windows took on a greenish cast. At this time of day, the dungeons were especially dim, enveloping the suite of rooms in dense shadows.

Two mismatched armchairs loomed out of the shadows, stationed opposite each other, on either side of the fireplace. One was Draco's, a lovely, comfortable, green-and-gray-upholstered indulgence he'd apparently bought himself in his early days as a professor, and which was his chosen perch for evening reading. The other was the sole piece of furniture Harry had brought with him from his own flat—an ancient-looking, red-covered...thing Harry had picked up in a charity shop when he'd realized he needed someplace in his flat to sit other than the floor. Draco had frowned and eyed it with distaste when Harry declared it was making the move to Hogwarts with him, but Harry had dug in his heels—it didn't look like much, but it was marvelously comfortable (although, he'd admit only to himself, Draco's sofa actually was a bit more comfortable, and had become his preferred spot for lazing after a long day—not least because it offered space enough for Draco to curl up into his side, if he were so inclined...which he often had been, at least until recently).

It didn't hurt, too, that it was one of the few very visible marks of Harry's cohabitation with Draco in this space. Something about the almost-symmetry of the two mismatched chairs appealed to Harry on a level that didn't bear too much examination. And the fact that Draco had, surprisingly, given in without a great deal of fuss had made Harry wonder if, perhaps, in secret, Draco might just feel the same way about it.

Harry dropped into the worn embrace of his chair and tilted his head back, his fingertips curling into the arms as he focused on taking long, slow breaths. He wished devoutly for a cigarette, though it had been years since he'd smoked. Right now, he craved the heat and drag of smoke through his lungs, the way his slow exhalations would calm him, the way the infusion of nicotine would clear his head.

Cigarettes were pretty much out of the question for the foreseeable future, though.

By the time Draco arrived half an hour later, Harry had calmed himself nearly into sleep. Draco hung up the robes he wore for lessons and cast a quick Lumos to illuminate the lamps, then startled when he spotted Harry ensconced in one of the sitting room chairs. "Oh! Harry. What are you doing home at this hour?"

Home. Wasn't that a loaded word?

"I ended up owling into work today. Poppy sent me to St. Mungo's."

Draco paled and sat down, hard, on the sofa. "Are you all right?"

"In a manner of speaking." His gaze swept over Draco, whose eyes were wide, body tense. He had no idea how Draco was going to react to the news. "I'm pregnant."

Draco flinched. His gaze, blank with shock, drifted down to Harry's midsection. After several long moments, he spoke. "You're what?"

"Pregnant," Harry said, drumming his fingers on the arm of the chair. "With child. Up the duff—"

Draco held up a hand to forestall him, and Harry could see that it was trembling ever so slightly.

"I get it," he said. "I—" He swallowed. "How?"

"Poppy thought it was most likely a side effect of a potion or combination of potions," Harry said, watching Draco carefully. "Healer Galen at St. Mungo's suggested it might also have been the result of a curse I encountered on the job. But I spent hours with the curse specialists in Spell Damage today, and none of them could find a trace of anything even remotely in that vein. So the prevailing theory is a potion."

Draco's mouth had fallen open at the first mention of potions, and by the conclusion of Harry's explanation, a fretful line had appeared between his eyebrows as he stared into the distance, lips moving soundlessly. "I don't—" he said, then halted and frowned.

"Healer Galen asked if I'd taken any unusual or untested potions recently," Harry said. "I told him no, not that I knew of—at least, not within the last couple of years."

Draco blinked and looked up at him. "Did you tell him about—The Incident?"

"I did," Harry said. "He was very interested to learn of your potions' ingredients—though, of course, I didn't know enough to tell him."

Draco stood up and began to pace, hands twitching. Harry leaned back in his chair and watched.

The news, when Poppy had told him, had left him in a state of utter shock. And his discreet consultation with the head of obstetrics at St. Mungo's had taken away any lingering sliver of doubt he'd had in Poppy's diagnostic powers. Improbable as it was, he was carrying a child within him.

Male pregnancy was extremely rare, Healer Galen had informed him, but not unheard of. The Healer himself had never encountered one in his many years with St. Mungo's, but there was a fair trove of literature pertaining to the condition, so Harry's care would follow established medical guidelines, and they would seek to consult with experts in the field—assuming, that was, the Healer had noted delicately, Harry did not prefer to abort.

A chill had swept over Harry at the idea, and, without conscious thought, he'd placed his hand protectively over his belly. "No," he said. "I couldn't."

For years, he'd longed for children and the sort of family he'd never had growing up. He'd thought perhaps someday, down the road, he'd broach the subject of adoption, or maybe even surrogacy, with a partner—perhaps, he'd let himself dare to hope, with Draco.

He'd never imagined pregnancy was even an option.

And now, as he sat in the Potions Master's dungeon quarters, watching Draco stalk back and forth across the room, he wondered just how drastically this discovery was going to alter his life as he'd come to know it.

*

Six months ago

 

It wasn't all that long ago that these quarters had effectively become Harry's home, as well.

For the better part of a year, Harry had spent most of his weekends with Draco. Then he'd begun spending weeknights as well. He'd been renting a flat in Camden Town for half a dozen years. It hadn't much going for it, but Harry spent enough time on the job that his living quarters hadn't mattered all that much to him; all he'd known, after leaving Hogwarts, was that he didn't want to live in Grimmauld Place with all its associated ghosts.

The less time he spent at the flat, though, the more dust began to accumulate, and with him regularly staying over weekends at Hogwarts, the situation quickly began to grow out of control. Soon, he was spending even less time at the flat, precisely because he couldn't be bothered to clean the place. It had long since passed the point where a few simple cleaning spells could have done the job.

He'd brought Draco to his flat only once. Draco had been horrified by the small size and Spartan furnishings.

"I spend most of my time at the Ministry or out in the field," Harry had pointed out.

"No excuse for living like a poverty-stricken Muggle," Draco had replied.

The lack of house-elves had been the last straw. Draco had been distinctly unimpressed by the chicken vindaloo Harry had procured from his favorite takeaway place. Harry'd closed his eyes and wondered whether it was even remotely worth the effort of putting up with such deep-seated snobbery.

The blowjob Draco had given him that night had settled Harry's mind on that score.

Besides, Draco was right—takeaway really had nothing on house-elf cuisine. Not that he'd ever admit that to Hermione.

And so, Harry found himself overnighting at Hogwarts with increasing frequency, while the flat fell into greater and greater disuse. When he received a rent increase notification from his landlord, it had been a solid two months since he'd even set foot in the place other than to look for some particular item that, for whatever reason, hadn't made its way into Draco's quarters yet.

Harry had been reading through the notice when Draco came in from a late-evening brewing session. He closed his eyes and arched his neck as Draco leant down behind him to press his mouth just beneath Harry's jaw.

"Mm," Draco murmured. "You seem tense. What's that you're reading?"

"Notice from my landlord about the flat," Harry said, and felt Draco go still. "He wants to raise the rent by eight percent, the greedy bastard."

Draco touched his mouth to Harry's neck again and said something unintelligible. The warmth of his breath and the subtle vibrations of his voice made Harry shiver.

"What was that?" he managed.

Draco stood upright and cleared his throat. "Terminate your rental agreement," he said, his voice light. "It's not as though you spend any time there anyway."

Harry turned on his chair to face Draco, surprised at the suggestion. "And live where?"

"Here," Draco said.

Harry blinked at him. "Live here," he repeated.

Draco shrugged. "It's not as though you don't already."

"You're asking me to move in with you."

"I think we're rather past the point where asking is even necessary." He glanced around the suite and gestured at the book that lay spine up on the arm of the chair, the Weasley jumper forgotten on the sofa cushion, the Auror robes hanging neatly next to Draco's professorial ones on the hooks by the door. "Your belongings seem to keep appearing without any prompting from me."

"But that's different," Harry said. "That's not—moving in with you."

Draco shrugged again, a quick jerk of his shoulder. "I don't see what's so different about it. We already share a bed and a living space—"

"It's your living space."

"It can be yours, too."

"I—" Harry closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose. "Wouldn't we need to get permission from Minerva?"

"As if she'd say no to you."

Harry shot him an impatient look. "She still has to report to the board of governors. They might have something to say about two unmarried men living together under the school roof."

Draco stilled. "Did you want to be married?"

Harry laughed. "Merlin, no! That's not what I meant."

Draco nodded, a little stiffly.

"It's only—" He frowned. "Isn't that going to cause a scandal?"

"No more than it has already," Draco said, looking smug. At Harry's inquisitive look, Draco explained, "Do you really think McGonagall lets you stay here all the time without some sort of protection against adverse publicity? This castle is charmed from the depths of the dungeons to the peak of the Astronomy Tower—that's why the student gossip never spreads anywhere beyond these walls. It can't."

"Oh," Harry said, startled. It had never occurred to him that Minerva would have had to take precautions to protect his and Draco's—well, "secret" was accurate enough, he supposed. Harry's closest friends knew, and the Hogwarts staff, of course, but they almost never went out in public together. It felt strange and humbling to know that the headmistress would be so protective of the both of them. And it made him worry that she thought there was more between them than there truly was.

Harry officially moving in with Draco wouldn't exactly dissuade her on that score.

"What about all my furniture?" Harry asked, trying to grasp the practical implications.

Draco snorted. "What furniture?"

"I have furniture!"

"What, a bed and a chair?"

Harry frowned, not wanting to admit the near-truth of Draco's comment. Furnishing the flat with anything more than the bare essentials had never been much of a priority. "I have a telly," he protested.

Draco gave him a puzzled look. "It won't work here."

"I know that," he said. He'd missed the entire last series of Doctor Who. Not that frequent, mind-blowing sex with Draco Malfoy wasn't more than adequate compensation. "Maybe I could talk Hermione or Filius into trying to charm it to work on magic."

Draco shrugged, clearly not wanting to make an issue of it, but Harry could see that his nose had wrinkled in distaste.

"There isn't exactly room in here for any more of my stuff, though," Harry said, looking around. Some of the furnishings were standard Hogwarts issue, he knew, like the four-poster bed they shared. But most of the furniture and decorative items were Draco's—family heirlooms hoarded from sale as the Malfoys' financial straits had become more and more dire after the war, or else items Draco had purchased for himself with his Hogwarts salary, like the comfortable armchair that was Draco's seat of choice on evenings when he didn't join Harry on the sofa to mark essays, or read, or just get an early start on the night's bedroom activities. Harry knew Draco was inordinately proud of what he'd been able to accomplish on his own, so there was no question of asking him to part with his belongings.

"Sell it," Draco said.

Harry blinked. "But what if I need—I mean, if we—"

Draco's stare was cold and unswerving. "If we what?"

Harry stared back at him, not quite able to voice the words "break up" in the face of Draco's hard expression, which almost seemed to be daring him to say it. He realized he wasn't quite sure how Draco would react if he did.

It wasn't as though Harry felt any imminent need to break up. It had, in fact, begun to worry him a little how much he didn't want to break up with Draco. Though he'd also found himself wondering in some of his darker moments—could you even break up with someone you weren't officially "dating"? They were together, clearly. They slept together, they shared a living space, and Harry's friends, at least, had some inkling of Draco's role in Harry's life. But it wasn't something they'd ever talked about. Talking wasn't something they excelled at. As a result, many things in their increasingly intertwined lives went unsaid.

They'd become used to each other in a way he never would have anticipated at the start of this whole—experiment. He thought, sometimes, on the rare occasions he encountered a quiet moment in his cubicle in the Ministry, far away from the warmth of Draco's arm around him in the night or the heat of Draco's mouth against his skin, that maybe he ought to end it, start looking for someone who wanted to settle down and buy a house and raise a family and all the same things Harry had for so long wanted out of life. He was past thirty now. His best friends had already produced two children. His godson was a teenager, for fuck's sake. What he had with Draco was, well, satisfying from a physical standpoint, certainly, and often even comfortable in a way that still surprised Harry.

He suspected—or at least hoped—that Draco cared about him to some extent, though it likely would have killed the man to admit it. But for all that Draco had invited Harry into his bed and into his life, he always seemed…uneasy…around Harry—at least, when they weren't fucking or on the verge of it. And that made Harry fear that, whatever Draco might feel for him—lust, possessiveness, a guarded sort of affection—it could never truly evolve into love. And that, ultimately, was what Harry craved most of all—to love and to be loved. He couldn't bear the thought of giving his heart to a man who'd never fully reciprocate.

And, yet, Harry couldn't quite bring himself to end this.

"I can't—" Harry pressed his lips together, gathering calm in the face of Draco's challenging stare. "I need time to think about it."

"Fine," Draco said, and Harry could see him withdrawing, the shutters coming down over his eyes. "You know where to find me." And he disappeared into the bedroom, already shrugging out of his clothing, no doubt in anticipation of washing off the smells of the laboratory.

Harry watched him go, tension already causing a headache to bloom behind his eyes. This wasn't exactly how he'd planned for this evening to go. He turned back to the missive from his landlord, staring blankly at it as a million thoughts careered around his head.

Draco was right—he didn't use the flat. There was virtually nothing left there that he needed, and little more that he really wanted. It wasn't by design that he'd begun moving his possessions into Draco's suite. It had begun with a toothbrush, left out of practicality. Then, "Why don't you leave some clothing here, so you don't have to sneak back to London so early?" Draco had murmured into his ear one morning when they'd awakened entangled and neither had particularly wanted Harry to vacate the bed. And so Harry had—first just some pants and trousers and shirts and such, but eventually shoes and cloaks and spare Auror robes, so that he never needed to leave Draco's bed a moment sooner than absolutely necessary.

For his birthday the previous year, Draco had given him a book on the history of the Auror force in Britain, and it had remained on a side table in the suite for Harry to pick up and read on the evenings when he and Draco would sit together in oddly comfortable silence on the sofa, Draco marking essays, Harry caught up in the dynamics of Second World War-era Auror operations. Other books had joined it.

There was even a photo of Harry, Ron, and Hermione on the mantel, snapped by Draco after a dinner together at Ron and Hermione's house the previous winter, using the camera Ron had received for Christmas. It perched right next to a photo of Harry and Draco, taken without their knowledge as they'd prepared to leave that same evening, Draco reaching out to adjust the collar of Harry's cloak, a long-suffering expression on his face, while Harry rolled his eyes. But it was the moment afterward, when Draco's hand smoothed the collar he'd just fixed and his expression, unknown to Harry at the time, slipped into something almost like fondness, that had made Harry slide it into a frame and set it with a flourish on the mantel. Draco had scowled, his nostrils flaring in annoyance, but Harry had seen the spots of color appear high up on his cheeks, and he didn't miss the fact that Draco never actually forbade him to set the photo there, nor did he remove it. Harry had caught him looking at it more than once, an odd expression on his face. It was the only photo they had of the two of them together.

Harry stood and walked over to the mantel, lifting the photo in its simple silver frame and watching the moment Ron had captured play out over and over again—Draco's fussy adjustment, the light stroke of his hand against the wool, the way his eyes caught on Harry's face just as Harry turned away to face the camera, laughing as he realized Ron had been photographing them. He'd never asked Draco what he'd been thinking at that moment. Truth be told, he hadn't thought about it too hard. Now, though, he wondered. There was a hint of a smile, a tad rueful, perhaps—maybe at having attached himself to a man who couldn't even seem to dress himself properly—and something oddly soft in his eyes. Sometimes, Harry thought they seemed warm. At other times, almost sad.

Harry's thumb traced the edge of the frame, and he frowned.

At the sound of a creak, he turned his head to see Draco padding naked out of the bedroom toward the bath, face directed straight ahead, not acknowledging Harry in any way. The door to the bathroom closed all but a crack, and Harry heard the squeak of the knobs as Draco began to run the shower.

Harry stared at the narrow band of light that shone from beneath the door. He heard the sounds of quiet splashing and closed his eyes, picturing Draco's long, lithe form stepping under the showerhead, pale hair darkening under the spray, skin slick as the water traced loving paths along the planes and curves of his body.

He took a slow, deep breath and opened his eyes to study the photograph once more.

Draco rarely looked at him with any softness, at least that Harry had seen. Outside of bed, he was all prickly sarcasm and affronted silences, punctuated by rare moments of grudging almost-affection—a sigh as he leaned into Harry's side on the sofa, the light touch of his hand against the small of Harry's back as Draco brushed past him while they readied for the day. In many ways, he showed far less kindness to Harry the adult than he had to "James" the child. Harry sometimes wondered if he clung too tenaciously to Hermione's insistence that Draco cared, which was based on little more than a hospital visit she claimed had occurred, but which Harry and Draco had never discussed. If one of Harry's Healers hadn't confirmed having seen Draco asleep next to Harry's bed that first night, he might have dismissed Hermione's tale as an outright hallucination.

In the photo, the scene played out over and over again, Harry laughing, Draco watching him. Maybe it wasn't love in that expression, or even affection, but it wasn't hate, and it wasn't indifference.

And that, at least, was a start.

Harry pulled his t-shirt over his head and dropped it onto the floor, then shed his jeans and pants as he made his way toward the bathroom. He hoped Draco would be distracted enough not to needle him about his slovenliness later—and knew there was no real point in hoping.

Steam whispered through the crack in the bathroom door as Harry nudged it open. Through the glass-paned shower door, he could see Draco's silhouette—head bent under the spray, unmoving. Harry watched for a few moments in silence before walking into the clouds of steam. When he drew open the shower door and stepped into the stall, Draco jumped, startled, and spun around, swiping wet hair off his forehead with the back of his hand and blinking water out of his eyes.

"Harry, what—?"

"Shh," Harry said, cupping his hand around Draco's jaw and drawing their mouths together.

Draco made a low, pleased sound against Harry's mouth, his wet hands cupping Harry's arse and dragging their hips together, pressing Harry's already hard cock against the slick expanse of Draco's abdomen. As their kiss went on, Harry could feel Draco hardening as well.

Harry skated a hand down Draco's back, fingers gliding through the wetness as the shower rained down on both of them, and traced the strong, clean line of Draco's back to the curve of his arse.

Draco sighed, his mouth lifting from Harry's to alight against his jaw. "Yes," he murmured.

Harry's fingers dipped lower, applying light but steady pressure along the sensitive skin there. Draco arched against him, and Harry turned their bodies so that Draco faced the wall. He pressed a kiss to Draco's shoulder blade as he cast a wandless, wordless lubrication spell and teased his fingers against Draco's slick opening.

"Harry," Draco sighed, so soft as to be almost inaudible over the sound of the water, as Harry pressed slowly inside of him and began to thrust.

The play of muscles in Draco's back and the soft grunts and sighs he made had Harry craving even greater closeness. He lowered his chest atop the long curve of Draco's back and laid his cheek against the warm, wet flesh there, relishing the slick-tight-hot grasp of him, the way Draco's pleasure vibrated through his skin as they moved together in a familiar rhythm.

Within minutes, Harry felt himself start to crest. He lifted his upper body, immediately missing the contact of so much hot, slick skin on skin, but desperate for leverage to increase the pace of his thrusts. Draco braced himself against the wall with one hand and returned Harry's thrusts just as frantically, his other hand working with brutal efficiency at his own cock. Harry groped for contact, wrapping his own hand around Draco's fist so that they pumped in tandem along the length of Draco's cock, until finally Draco whined and shuddered, his come coating Harry's hand and spilling onto the shower floor.

At the feel of Draco's orgasm coursing through him, the spasms clenching at Harry's cock, Harry gritted his teeth and let his own climax tear through him, bucking into Draco hard as the sensation overwhelmed him.

As they caught their breaths and let the water rinse away the evidence of their activities, Harry felt Draco link their fingers loosely together against his abdomen.

"I'm giving up the flat," Harry said.

Draco's fingers tightened on Harry's, but he was silent for a long moment. At last, he drawled, "Finally realized London has nothing on Hogwarts, did you?"

"Well," Harry said, touching his mouth to Draco's shoulder in a fleeting kiss, "there's at least one important amenity it lacks."

*

Yesterday

 

The cushioned depths of the armchair provided no comfort to Harry as he watched Draco pace back and forth across the sitting room in the evening quiet.

Even caught up in distress, he moved beautifully, Harry couldn't help but notice—long, purposeful strides, coupled with brisk hand movements as he muttered his agitation. Harry wanted this child—and, more important, he wanted this child with Draco—but the longer Draco paced, the higher Harry's own tension ratcheted.

Draco froze abruptly, his eyes growing wide, and Harry watched in confusion as he turned on his heel and stalked into the bedroom. Curious, Harry rose from the chair and followed, pausing in the doorway to see Draco standing in front of the painting on the wall.

"You!" Draco barked. Harry jumped, then realized Draco was pointing at the painting. "Go fetch Severus!"

The sheep bleated at him.

"Shut up, you bloody voyeurs, I know you understand me. Get Severus now!"

To Harry's astonishment, the sheep moved as one toward the edge of the pasture, finally disappearing at the edge of the frame.

Harry frowned at Draco, who'd dropped to the edge of the bed, rubbing his temples. "What are you doing?"

"I have to know," Draco said. "I have a hunch—" His voice was tight, and when he met Harry's gaze, lines of strain had appeared in his face. "I never meant to do this to you."

Quickly, Harry sat down next to Draco, wrapping one of Draco's hands in his, even as Draco tried to tug it away. "Draco, I know you wouldn't—"

"I never wanted kids," Draco said miserably, turning his face away, and Harry felt himself go cold.

"Oh," he said, releasing his grip on Draco's hand.

Draco scrubbed his hands over his face. "It was never—it didn't fit," he said. "I'm gay. It wasn't possible, and it's not—I'm not—I have no right to pass on—" He turned to Harry again and abruptly caught Harry's face between his palms. "Harry," he said, and there was a strange note of anguish in it. His mouth was desperate as it closed over Harry's, his tongue thrusting, seeking, the kiss stealing Harry's breath as he grabbed hold of Draco's shirtfront and held on, letting Draco devour him.

Harry lifted a hand and threaded his fingers through Draco's hair, relishing the silk-soft sensation of it sliding across his skin, moving his mouth just as hungrily against Draco's.

It was the first time they'd touched like this in close to two months.

Harry had missed this, desperately. He'd long ago given up trying to understand just why this worked so well between them—the ignition that sparked every time, the heat that always simmered, then flared between them. He no longer wasted time wondering what drew him to Draco, what made him crave the warmth of Draco's body next to his in the night, the snide tone of his patrician voice, the arch tilt of his eyebrows. He'd admitted to himself, at long last, that Draco Malfoy had, however improbably, become his home. The whys no longer mattered.

And so he latched onto Draco and held on for dear life.

"Harry," Draco gasped into his mouth, thumbs stroking Harry's face. "Harry."

Harry breathed in the sound of his name, spreading a hand against Draco's chest to feel the heavy thud of Draco's heartbeat beneath his palm. It wouldn't take much pressure, he knew, to have Draco falling backward on the bed, arching and crying out beneath his hands, like he used to. Like he hadn't for far too long.

At the sound of a throat being cleared, however, he found himself profoundly grateful for whatever shred of sanity had held him back.

"Really, Draco, what is so bloody important that you had me set upon by a flock of idiot sheep?"

He and Draco broke apart, and Harry turned to see that they'd acquired an audience of an irate former Potions Master and the painting's usual flock of sheep—who, Harry noted, did look far too interested in the goings-on. He made an irritated mental note to have that painting removed from the bedroom.

Draco cleared his throat, his hands smoothing over his hair and clothes in a fruitless attempt to conceal the telling evidence that he and Harry had been engaged in precisely the activities Snape had just caught them engaged in. Harry didn't even bother. His lips still throbbed with the phantom pressure of Draco's.

"Severus," Draco said. "Thank you. I—ah, have a question for you."

"Well, be quick about it. I was on the verge of winning a chess match against Phineas Nigellus, and I don't trust the old rotter not to move the pieces in my absence."

Draco blinked. "Yes, well—I wanted your opinion. It hadn't occurred to me previously, but I have begun to suspect I may have overlooked a particularly...dire possible side effect of an experimental combination of ingredients."

Snape lifted an eyebrow. "Explain."

"Well—" Draco launched into a discourse about ingredients that flew right past Harry's grasp of Potions, like a Snitch dancing just beyond the reach of his fingers. He heard mention of dittany and nettles and fresh versus dry mandrake leaves, and he gave up trying to keep the relationships straight. Finally, Draco paused. "Are you seeing the same possibility I am?"

"Fertility," Snape answered bluntly. "Extreme fertility, even. Quite possibly for an extended length of time." He lifted a brow. "Whatever you've invented could prove a boon for witches who've had difficulty conceiving."

Draco turned to Harry, his expression gutted.

Snape caught the look, and his own expression shifted from intellectual curiosity and calculation to one of deepest suspicion. "And in just what potion did you blend said ingredients?"

"The aging-reversal potion," Draco replied. "And its antidote."

"Ah," Snape replied. Draco continued to stare at Harry, his face stricken. Harry's gaze darted between Draco and Snape, who was eyeing the both of them cannily. "Well, then," Snape said at last, "let me be the first to congratulate you both."

Draco bent his head, his hand covering his eyes.

Snape sniffed. "I cannot understand why you would have chosen to use fresh adolescent mandrake leaves instead of dried. The dried would have worked just as well, and without the, ah, ill-conceived side effects."

"Longbottom had mandrakes of just the right age in the greenhouse," Draco answered without looking up. "Using the leaves fresh was more expedient than waiting for them to dry. And they're more potent when they're fresh."

"That's putting it mildly." Snape sighed. "Well, I think I've done all I can here. And now I must return to my match, the one I am on the verge of winning, because some of us, unlike others, endeavor to think more than a single step ahead."

When Harry glanced up at the painting again to snap out a reply to Snape, the man had already gone.

Draco lifted his head. "I'm so sorry," he whispered. "If I'd known—there are precautions—"

"I'm not sorry," Harry replied, and his heart twisted a little at the shock in Draco's eyes. "I've always wanted a family, Draco."

"But probably not like this," Draco said, his gaze dropping. "Not by virtue of a supposed Potions Master's idiocy."

"It doesn't matter how," Harry said, watching Draco's reaction carefully.

Draco shook his head, the fall of his pale hair shielding his eyes from Harry's view. "It matters. Of course, it matters. It's all my bloody fault."

Harry sighed. "Draco."

Draco rose abruptly from the bed. "I can't talk about this right now."

Harry stood as well, a disquieting sensation settling into his chest. "Draco, don't beat yourself up about this."

Draco finally met his gaze, and his eyes were oddly empty. "How can I not? My whole life, everything I've done when it comes to you seems to be one goddamned mistake after another."

He fled out the door, leaving Harry in a state of numb shock, staring blankly after him as a flock of curious sheep bleated quietly into the silence.

*

Almost two months ago

 

Christmas had gifted Harry the night that would change his life in more ways than just one.

They'd spent a stilted Christmas Eve with Draco's parents in Paris, Narcissa quietly gracious, Lucius obnoxiously skeptical about Harry's very presence in their home. It hadn't been long since Draco had told them about his liaison with Harry. Frankly, Harry was surprised Draco had bothered to tell them at all, since he hadn't seemed particularly eager to spread the word outside of his knot of close friends—not that he could blame him, really, after the disaster that had been Harry's first interaction with Parkinson, Zabini, and Nott a few months before.

In that instance, it hadn't been until they'd arrived at the private club in London that Harry had discovered Draco hadn't bothered to inform his friends ahead of time just whom he was bringing to lunch. Parkinson had fumbled her cigarette and burnt a hole in the upholstery of her chair, Zabini had fallen out of his chair, laughing, and Nott—gainfully, if questionably, employed these days as a proofreader for the Quibbler—had spent the entire luncheon testing ever-wilder theories pertaining to Harry's presence among them.

Harry had tolerated the man's insistence on sniffing his glass every few minutes to check for Polyjuice. He'd closed his eyes and bitten his tongue when Nott subjected him to nonsensical spells to test for the Imperius Curse and a host of other mind-control spells. But then Nott had somehow managed to slip Veritaserum into his water and demanded to know if he was, indeed, Harry Potter and there of his own free will—followed immediately thereafter by Parkinson, who'd twigged to the game, purring her own inquiry about the kinkiest thing he and Draco had ever done in bed together. "Snape roleplay," Harry had blurted, unable to stop himself, then risen to his feet with a final, thunderous look at Nott, and Apparated straight to the gates of Hogwarts. Draco had returned half an hour later, clearly full of apologies, but Harry had applied a temporary deafening spell to himself and refused to lift it until he was certain the Veritaserum had worn off. Then he'd let Draco put that apologetic mouth to better use.

But Draco had apparently thrown caution to the wind and owled his parents, and Narcissa had responded to Draco's missive on the subject immediately with an open invitation for the two of them to visit, and an insistence that they come for Christmas. Lucius had responded immediately, too—with a Howler that demanded to know just what the hell Draco was thinking, and did he have no respect for family honor, and did he realize how delusional it was to think Harry bloody Potter would ever consider attaching himself to a Death Eater and a Malfoy?

Draco had shrugged off the Howler, but Harry could feel the tension in him when he'd wrapped his arms around Draco from behind and pressed his face to Draco's shoulder.

Christmas Eve was the first time they'd actually ventured to France together, Draco's hand clenched around Harry's as the Portkey activated. Harry'd gritted his teeth against Lucius's digs, while Narcissa went over the top with hospitality, and Draco's tension increased visibly with every snide remark. Harry had a strong suspicion Narcissa eventually had resorted to sending stinging hexes at Lucius under the table, given how the man would periodically jump and send a glare her way.

Either that, or the post-war years had done more and stranger damage to Lucius Malfoy than Harry had imagined.

In the morning, they'd returned to England to spend Christmas Day at the Burrow, the first time Harry had brought Draco with him into the den of the Weasleys, and not just Ron and Hermione's cozy and much more private home. He'd hoped the warmth and general conviviality of the Burrow at Christmastime would thaw the chill that had set in during their sojourn in Paris. But the Weasleys, it seemed, were nearly as uncomfortable with Draco as Lucius had been with Harry.

Molly had given him a stilted hug, seemingly out of obligation after having flung her arms enthusiastically around Harry, and Arthur had been polite, if cautious, and appeared at one point to try to engage Draco in conversation—which had left Draco looking briefly confused and alarmed. Most of the rest of the clan at least made a cursory effort to make Draco feel welcome, but Ginny was outright hostile, in spite of Hermione's hissed remonstrances, Dean's embarrassed squirming, and the angry glares Harry leveled at her.

"I don't care," she'd snapped when Harry cornered her in the kitchen. "His father tried to kill me, and he made both our lives a misery at school, no matter how easily you seem to forget that in favor of having a pretty arse to bugger."

He'd sputtered with rage at that.

"For Merlin's sake, he's a Malfoy, Harry," she'd said, poking one sharp fingernail hard in his chest. "If you want to keep him around to play with, fine, far be it from me to dictate whom you sleep with." There'd been something hard and empty in her eyes at that, and Harry winced—their breakup years ago had not been a clean one, and some days he found it a trifle miraculous that they'd managed to salvage some measure of friendship at all. "But don't bring your Death Eater fucktoy into my parents' home and expect me to play nice with him."

"He is not," Harry growled, "my Death Eater fucktoy."

She'd laughed. "Oh, really? Do you fancy yourself in love with him?"

Harry opened his mouth to reply, then closed it, his jaw clenching.

The mockery faded from Ginny's expression. "Oh, Harry, you do."

"No," Harry said. He glanced past her into the living room, where Draco sat stiffly on the sofa, staring into his eggnog as the Weasleys conversed animatedly around him, as though he were invisible. Hermione made an attempt to draw him into her conversation with Fleur, but Draco just shook his head and looked away, his gaze meeting Harry's for only an instant, then darting away, but not before Harry could glimpse the emotions that shaded Draco's eyes—anxiety, frustration, helplessness.

When, he wondered, had he learned to read Draco Malfoy in the space of a heartbeat?

"No," he said again. "I—can't."

"Can't is not the same as don't," Ginny replied, settling a hand on his arm. Startled, he looked down at her and saw a mix of surprise and pity in her expression. "Harry, what are you doing?"

"I haven't the faintest clue," he admitted, realizing the truth of it for the first time.

Two years before this moment, he'd sat in this very house, his mind whirling with the secret of his time spent as a child in the care of Hogwarts professor Draco Malfoy—and the fact that those few dizzying days had effected a complete paradigm shift in how he viewed Malfoy. He'd found Malfoy attractive before, sure. He'd even managed to forgive him for his role in the war, having recognized his actions as those of a frightened, if prejudiced, teenager. But in the aftermath of the potions accident, Harry knew he wanted to understand who Draco Malfoy had become after shrugging off the mantle of his dark past and adapting to post-war wizarding society. There'd been a gruff kindness in the man that he hadn't anticipated, and a strange sort of reluctant affection that Harry, as a child, had recognized instantly and blossomed under, and that made Harry, as an adult, wonder if Draco had felt the loss of his companionship as keenly as he'd felt Draco's—even here, in the bosom of his family in all but blood.

He'd wanted then to march up to the doors of Hogwarts and down to the dungeons, to demand to know if Draco felt the same way. But the faint, niggling worry that the affection had been feigned for the sake of humoring a small boy had stopped him, and left him roiling with a mix of puzzlement and longing and worry that Draco Malfoy might finally, finally have exacted some obscure method of revenge by lulling Harry into thinking that, however improbably, he'd cared.

The following week, Hermione had found Harry staring at nothing in his cubicle in the Ministry, Auror Headquarters already nearly empty as afternoon slipped toward evening. He wasn't even meant to be here; technically, he was scheduled to be on holiday for another week. But he'd felt so lost and at loose ends that he'd opted to return to work early in the hope that the press of his caseload might be enough to distract him out of this odd, uncomfortable, Malfoy-shaped funk. So far, all he'd managed to do was drink a lot of crap coffee and obsess about Malfoy's parting words, instead of focusing on the files stacked in front of him. "Have a nice life"? Why had he said that? Had Harry imagined the affection in Draco's—Malfoy's—voice and expressions in those few sunlit days together? Had he simply been so starved for acceptance that he'd invented the fondness he'd thought he'd sensed…?

Hermione had taken a seat on his desk, startling him out of his reverie. "What has you so down today?"

He shook his head. "Nothing."

She gave him a hard look.

"Really," he said.

"Right," she said. "In that case, why don't you tell me where you really were those few days you were gone last week?"

He blinked at her, then turned to shuffle some parchment haphazardly into folders. "I already told you. Special assignment. Top secret."

"Mm-hm," she said. "And I might even believe that if Neville hadn't let something slip the other night about having seen you at Hogwarts."

Harry turned to face her again, schooling his face to a mask of innocence. "You knew I was stopping to visit Teddy and to interview Neville for a case."

"Yes," she replied. "And I would still think that's all it was—if Neville hadn't suddenly looked so terribly guilty and refused to say another word about it."

Harry cursed under his breath, and Hermione laughed.

"You might as well tell me, Harry," she said. "You know I'll get it out of you eventually."

He rubbed his fingers along the bridge of his nose and sighed. "All right," he said. "All right. But this goes no farther than Ron, you hear me?"

And so he found himself confessing about the potions accident, Draco's temporary guardianship of him, and the entire strange sequence of events—excluding precisely what had him so twisted up in knots right now.

To his shock, she told him he ought to go speak to Draco.

"It's been a long time since the war, Harry," she said, one foot swinging back and forth. "We're none of us kids anymore. If Minerva McGonagall thinks Draco Malfoy has changed enough to merit a position on the Hogwarts faculty, then who's to say he hasn't also changed enough to have thawed toward his former school nemesis?" She poked him with her foot.

"Maybe," Harry had replied, feeling dubious.

"And think how proud Professor Dumbledore would be to see you mending fences with Malfoy," she went on. "Who knows? Maybe you really will end up friends." He winced at the word, and she laughed, misunderstanding his reaction. "It would hardly be the end of the world, Harry."

"Are you sure?" Harry said. "I could have sworn that 'Potters befriending Malfoys' was one of the signs of the apocalypse."

She kicked him, gently, and rolled her eyes at his "Ow!"

"You know, I'm proud of you, Harry," she said, her expression turning serious. "If something like this had happened back at school, I can only imagine you'd have sought revenge—no doubt with Ron as co-conspirator," she added with a sigh. "It's a real mark of maturity that you'd want to reach your hand out to him like this."

Harry didn't bother to clarify that what he really wanted to reach out for wasn't necessarily Draco's hand; he wasn't sure how badly that would spoil her newfound image of a mature Harry, and didn't particularly want to find out. "I think—" he started, then frowned. "I'm going up there tonight," he decided.

"It's New Year's Eve," Hermione pointed out.

"Right," Harry said, thinking. "If he's not in the castle, maybe he'll be in Hogsmeade."

"So, I suppose Ron and I won't be seeing you tonight after all?" Hermione asked.

Harry blinked and focused on her. "Oh," he said. "Damn. I—shit. Well—maybe? Is that—do you mind terribly?"

She laughed. "It's fine, really. I like the idea of you starting a new year with a new beginning."

Harry frowned. "Well, I guess it depends on whether I find him. And, er, whether he hexes me stupid if I do."

"In which case, Ron and I will be sure to keep an extra bottle or three of champagne chilled and ready."

He rose from his chair and kissed her on the cheek. "You're too good to me, Hermione."

"Yes, well," she'd patted his cheek in turn, "someone has to be."

When he and Draco returned to Hogwarts after Christmas at the Burrow, Harry couldn't help thinking back to that evening, two years prior. At the time, he'd been so fixated on establishing a relationship with Draco—by means of getting into his trousers, of course—that he'd hardly imagined that two years later, they'd not only still be sleeping together, but sharing a living space and visiting each other's families—and accused, of all things, of being in love.

Harry watched surreptitiously as Draco shrugged out of his cloak, movements jerky with the tension that didn't seem to have drained during the cold, snowy walk in from their Apparition point outside the school gates. Slowly, Harry hung up his own cloak on the hook next to Draco's, then restored the presents he'd shrunk to pocket-size for the journey home. Draco's parents—well, Draco's mother—had been more generous to him than she'd had any right to be, given what he knew about the Malfoy family's reduced circumstances. The pocket watch had belonged to Cygnus Black, her great-grandfather—and Sirius's.

"Nonsense," she'd said when he protested. "You are a Black heir, after all. And, well, you are…rather like family now."

Harry had blinked at the words and looked at Draco, who had, inexplicably, scowled at his mother. And Draco had brushed him off when he'd asked about the comment later, as they'd prepared for bed, mercifully in the same bedroom—which Harry knew had to have left Lucius nearly apoplectic. "That's Mother," Draco had said. "She gets notions." And before Harry could pursue what kind of notions Narcissa had taken into her head, Draco had kissed him and cast the strongest Silencing Charm he knew.

Molly, for all her standoffishness with Draco, had, to Harry's surprise—and, he wasn't going to lie, amusement—knitted Draco his own Weasley jumper in a brilliant emerald green with his initial in silvery gray. To Harry's even greater astonishment, Draco had immediately swapped out his black cashmere for the new jumper, which made his hair staticky and left him looking all of sixteen. Harry'd bussed a fleeting kiss to Draco's cheek when the rest of the group's attention was directed elsewhere. Draco had colored a bit, but not said anything in response.

He was still wearing the jumper now.

Draco had moved into the bedroom and was standing in front of the chest of drawers, wearing a scowl and staring into his open sock drawer. Harry stepped up behind him and wrapped his arms around Draco's waist, pressing a kiss to the back of his neck. "Have I ever told you," he murmured into Draco's ear, "how incredibly attractive you look in green?"

Draco had frozen at the initial contact, startled out of whatever melancholy world he'd drifted into, but at Harry's words he sighed, and Harry could feel some of the tension drain from him as he leaned back into Harry. "Not nearly as thoroughly as you ought to have."

"Well," Harry said, tilting Draco's head to the side to better allow him to trail slow kisses up the line of Draco's neck, "you do. You always look ravishing in green." He smiled and nipped lightly at Draco's ear. "More important," he murmured, "you always look ravishable."

Draco chuckled, the sound of it warming Harry. "I doubt I look all that ravishable in this jumper."

"Oh, you do," Harry assured him, one hand smoothing over the soft, faintly scratchy wool that covered Draco's abdomen. "You always look ravishable, but the Weasley jumper just makes you more ravishable."

"So what you're telling me," Draco said, voice dry, "is that you have to constantly restrain your libido in the Weasley household at Christmastime, lest you find yourself moved to jumper-incited acts of lust against a band of unsuspecting gingers?"

Harry laughed, muffling the sound against Draco's shoulder. "Much as I, ah, appreciate the mental image of some sort of mad Weasley orgy—" He felt Draco shudder theatrically against him. "—I'm afraid it's only when you're present that I find myself on guard against shocking acts of lust."

"So it's only Slytherin-colored Weasley jumpers you find yourself lusting over?"

"Only Slytherins in Weasley jumpers," Harry corrected.

"Well," Draco said, guiding Harry's other hand down toward his prick, which was already hardening noticeably, "that's all right, then."

Harry traced the length of Draco's cock, feeling the shiver that ran through him at the touch, then placed his hands on Draco's waist once again and turned him around so they faced each other. Draco's cheeks were lightly flushed with arousal, his lips parted. Harry's eyes swept the length of his body, taking him in, and when his gaze found Draco's face again, he saw that Draco had cast his own eyes downward, as though embarrassed.

Harry framed Draco's face with his hands, and Draco looked up, startled, to meet Harry's gaze. "I love that you wore this jumper," Harry told him, voice low and serious. "I love how you look in it. I love that you made the gesture, even though the Weasleys were less than welcoming to you."

Draco's eyes were wide, and Harry felt himself stuttering, caught on the words that had come to him next, naturally as breathing, and that he'd very nearly let fall from his lips.

I love you.

It was completely mad. He was completely mad. Surely it was only that he had Ginny's words in his head.

The moment seemed to stretch as Harry's mind whirled, assaulting him with a barrage of images between one heartbeat and the next—Draco, under the twinkling lights of Hogsmeade; Draco, passed out asleep on the corner of Harry's hospital bed; Draco, cackling as he marked student essays; Draco, cheeks stung pink by the wind as they played a giddy Seekers' match high in the air over Hogwarts; Draco, laughing at some ridiculous story Neville had told him over dinner; Draco, eyes dark and heated as his mouth descended over Harry's.

The shock of the epiphany nearly took Harry's knees out from beneath him.

How long had he been in love with Draco and not even realized it?

Draco's gaze clung to his for long seconds of silence as Harry struggled to figure out what to say. Finally, Draco looked away. "Well," he said, clearing his throat, "far be it from me to pass up any opportunity to seem like a better person than the entire assembled Weasley clan."

"Draco," Harry said helplessly, and kissed him.

Draco's mouth opened under his, welcoming him in that way he always had, the one that made Harry feel lost and found all at once—helpless against the urgency, yet treasuring the sensation, certain he'd never find this again with any other man. He'd been an idiot not to have realized sooner—or, perhaps, not to have admitted it to himself, because he suspected now that, somewhere deep inside, he'd known the truth for a while—weeks, maybe months. Maybe even longer than that.

Love. God, how both freeing and terrifying that seemed.

Harry's fingers threaded through Draco's hair as Draco's hands alighted on Harry's waist, drawing their bodies together until Harry was pressed flush to Draco, the ledge of the wooden chest surely cutting uncomfortably into Draco's back. But he didn't seem to care, arms wrapping fully around Harry as Harry devoured his mouth, unable to get enough of the taste of him, the feel of him, flooded by the knowledge that this person, this flesh-and-blood creature beneath his hands and mouth and body, had somehow become as necessary to him as breathing, as indispensably a part of his life as the magic that sparked along his nerves and veins.

He drew back from the kiss, sweeping his hand up Draco's forehead to watch the fall of silvery hair tumble back downward, then stroking his fingers down the side of Draco's face. Draco closed his eyes at the touch, his breathing uneven, and Harry's gaze crawled hungrily across Draco's features—the pointed chin and nose, the thin, expressive mouth, the pale lashes and brows that curved against milk-white skin. Draco's eyes reopened, and there was something uncertain, something oddly vulnerable, in their depths as he met Harry's gaze.

I love you, Harry thought desperately. But he couldn't bring himself to say it.

He pressed a light kiss to the corner of Draco's mouth. Draco's breath shuddered out of him, his eyelids falling closed at the touch. Harry kissed the tip of Draco's pointed nose, the sharp jut of his chin, the angle of his jaw. He curled his fingers into Draco's hair and tilted his head downward to kiss both of his closed eyes and the expanse of his forehead.

He brushed his fingers through Draco's hair once more, reflecting that Draco's hairline already seemed to be climbing higher, ever so slightly. Harry had found the first cluster of gray hairs on his own head only a month ago. They'd settled down and begun to grow old together, he thought, and he hadn't even realized the significance of it.

He pressed his forehead to Draco's, feeling himself tremble with the intensity of the emotion sweeping through him. He'd always thought love would be like a sunrise—something that crept up on you, unfurling its colors slowly, majestically, until at last you were dazzled by its glow. This—well, this was more akin to slamming to the ground on your broom because you'd all but swallowed the Golden Snitch.

Then again, that had worked out pretty well for him the first time around.

He drew back and lowered his hands to Draco's waist, slipping his fingers beneath the hem of the Weasley jumper. Draco's eyes opened as Harry began to tug the jumper off him. "So eager to get rid of the object of your lust?" Draco teased, his own fingers dancing up Harry's back.

"The jumper may have incited it," Harry said, dropping a swift kiss to Draco's jaw that had Draco all but purring in approval, "but the object of my lust is something else entirely."

"My vest?" Draco asked innocently, lifting his arms over his head so Harry could tug the jumper off fully.

"Funny," Harry said, swiftly divesting Draco of that layer as well. "You're very funny." He bent his head to suck at one of Draco's exposed nipples, and Draco gasped, clutching at Harry's head, his fingers sinking deep into Harry's hair.

Harry flicked his tongue at the small nub, teasing it to stiffness, and felt Draco shudder against him. Harry switched to gentle licks, stroking gently, relishing the small shivers that shook Draco's frame beneath the wet heat of Harry's tongue and the light dance of Harry's fingers along Draco's lean flanks.

"Harry," Draco murmured, his fingers gentling on Harry's head.

Something in Harry reacted every time he heard the sound of his name on Draco's lips. Early on, he'd been "Harry" to Draco only in bed, and hearing that name on a choked gasp of pleasure had gone straight to Harry's cock every time. The first time he'd heard Draco use it outside of bed—in a tone of startled pleasure when he found Harry unexpectedly ensconced in his suite one Thursday evening, a day earlier than they'd planned—his cock had actually twitched, both at the association his body apparently had made between sex and Draco voicing his name, and at the realization that finally, finally, Draco was beginning to see him primarily as the man who shared his bed (as well as innumerable other, less momentous things) and less as the man who'd been his childhood nemesis of sorts.

Even now, so many months later, that small proof of his changed status in Draco's eyes invariably produced an odd little sensation in Harry's gut—a flip, or a twist, or a tug, maybe; it was hard to characterize, but it was always, always there.

It was a wonder, Harry thought now, moving his mouth to Draco's sternum to press a reverent kiss against the flushed skin there before trailing his lips downward, that he hadn't realized sooner just what that tiny flip-twist-tug presaged.

Draco's fingers combed lightly through Harry's hair as Harry pressed his mouth to Draco's trembling stomach and unbuckled Draco's belt with a soft clink. He dropped fully to his knees, tugging Draco's trousers and pants down to his ankles and immediately closing his mouth over Draco's erection.

Draco jerked and gasped at the first touch of Harry's lips and tongue. "Merlin, Harry," he whispered, fingers tightening in Harry's hair as Harry's hands caressed the tense muscles of Draco's thighs before anchoring themselves on his hips. Draco's skin felt warm and smooth as Harry's fingertips curled into the flesh of his arse.

"I love your cock," Harry breathed against the wet, reddened tip, the soft, buffeting force of his breath causing it to twitch, hard, as Draco whimpered again. Harry touched his lips to the underside of the head, then pressed slow, luxurious kisses all the way down to the base, Draco trembling underneath his hands the whole way. He breathed deeply, inhaling the scent of this man who'd become his lover, and now his love, and his lips and tongue began the slow journey back upward.

Draco's breath came in deep, shuddering pulls as Harry closed his mouth over the head of Draco's cock and began to suck, one hand drawing firm strokes up and down the shaft as the other kept Draco anchored against the bureau. Draco's torso curled over him, his fingers spasming in Harry's hair as Harry felt tremors run through him. He bent his head to tongue at Draco's balls, and couldn't help grinning at the strangled sound that escaped Draco's throat at that.

Harry pressed his mouth to the heated flesh of Draco's lower belly. "There is no part of you I don't want," Harry murmured, feeling Draco shiver beneath the movement of his lips. "I didn't know what want was before you."

"Fuck, Harry," Draco breathed.

Harry drew back, still on his knees, and made eye contact with Draco, his hand curled around Draco's erection, which throbbed beneath the press of his fingers, the head darkened and wet. Draco's pupils were wide and dark, his mouth slack as his breath rushed in and out.

"Harry," he said again.

Harry turned his gaze back to Draco's prick, his hand stroking slowly now—firm and steady and slow, so slow. "I want you," Harry said. He lifted his chin to meet Draco's darkened eyes again. "I want to feel you inside of me."

Draco sucked in a breath.

Harry closed his eyes and pressed his mouth reverently, once again, to the head of Draco's cock. "I want to know what you feel like inside of me," he said, letting Draco feel the rush of his breath against his heated flesh. "I want you to make me feel the way you feel when I'm inside of you."

Draco's breath sped up. "Harry—" he said. His fingers combed frantically through Harry's hair, one hand reaching for Harry's chin and tilting it upward so their eyes met once again.

"Is that all right?" Harry asked, searching Draco's eyes.

Draco gusted out a laugh. "Yes, it's all right. Merlin." His fingers continued their path through Harry's hair, and Harry closed his eyes briefly against the pleasure of it. "It's just—have you—I mean—have you—ever—"

"Once," Harry said. "A long—" He shook his head. "Years ago. Just once." His nose wrinkled, and he shook his head again. "It was—fast. And—unpleasant. I never wanted to again."

Draco's trembling fingers touched his face, stroked the rise of his cheekbone. "Why now?" he asked. "Why me?"

Because I love you, he didn't say. "Because I trust you," he said.

Draco's eyes closed, and he shivered.

Harry rose to his feet, and when Draco's eyes reopened to meet his, they were so very, very dark. Harry leaned into him, feeling the thump of Draco's insistent heart against his chest, the weight of Draco's erection pressed against his own hard cock, still trapped behind the placket of his trousers. His thumbs brushed lightly along the curved lines of old scars that crawled down Draco's pale torso, the physical evidence of Harry's own ignorance, judgment, and fear, carved into flesh.

Draco captured his mouth, and Harry opened willingly to his claim, fingers tightening on Draco's flanks.

Draco's fingers curled into the wool of Harry's Weasley jumper and began to tug. "Off," he growled into Harry's mouth. "Off. Some of us don't find these as arousing as you apparently do."

Harry laughed, a bit dizzy with how much he loved this man, with how clear it all seemed now, how utterly mystifying that he hadn't realized it sooner. He pressed his mouth, still smiling, into Draco's, feeling Draco's petulant huff of breath against his lips, and reluctantly drew his fingers from the irresistible lure of Draco's soft, heated skin to grasp the hem of his own jumper and tug it and his underlying vest upward, separating his mouth from Draco's just long enough to yank both over his head and toss them to the side.

"We have a hamper, Potter," Draco muttered irritably against his lips, and Harry kissed him again, hard, to stop himself from babbling, I love you so fucking much, you utter prat.

Harry pressed his hips into Draco's, and Draco's long, expert fingers insinuated themselves between their torsos to work at Harry's belt and trousers. His fingertips were cool and determined as they curled around Harry's hips and slid under the waistband of his pants, pulling them free from Harry's body just far enough to let Harry's now-throbbing erection escape and brush—finally, blissfully—against Draco's. Harry groaned into Draco's mouth at the contact, and barely noticed as Draco shoved his pants and trousers inelegantly down his hips. Draco's fingers dug eagerly into the flesh of Harry's arse, dragging their hips together with such force that Draco gasped, his head tilting back at the sudden, shocking pleasure of it.

Harry pressed his mouth to the long, pale column of Draco's neck, breathing kisses into the warm, humid flesh, feeling Draco's pulse beating urgently beneath his lips.

"Take me to bed," he murmured into Draco's ear, and Draco's pointed chin tilted downward again, their eyes meeting. Draco's cheeks were flushed, and Harry saw his own hunger reflected back at him from the depths of Draco's gray eyes before Draco took his mouth once more, his cock pressing urgently into Harry's hip as he took a step forward, then another, forcing Harry backward by degrees as Harry, mindless to virtually everything but the heat of Draco's mouth and the points of contact along their bodies, fought not to stumble over the trousers and pants still trapped around his ankles. At last, Draco drew back briefly, their faces separated just enough for their eyes to meet, their breath meeting in mingled pants between their lips—and he shoved.

Harry tumbled backward onto the bed, his legs sprawled, feet still hopelessly tangled in his shoes and trousers.

Draco stood and smirked at him—his own pants and trousers on the far side of the room, where he'd had the presence of mind to have stepped out of them. The light in his eyes seemed to dance as he gazed at Harry in warm amusement.

Harry lifted a hand and wandlessly Banished his remaining clothing, then spread his knees.

The warmth in Draco's eyes flashed into heat.

Draco's gaze raked him from head to toe, almost predatory as he approached the bed and slowly crawled onto it, until he was crouched above Harry, his breath soft against Harry's face, his cock hot and heavy against where Harry's own strained against his belly. Harry stared up at him, his own breath growing more rapid.

Draco leaned forward and pressed a kiss against Harry's lightning-bolt scar.

The contact was soft and warm and thoroughly unexpected. Harry's eyes were wide when Draco drew back, his gaze not meeting Harry's as he pressed a kiss to Harry's right cheekbone, then his left.

"Draco," Harry whispered, the word caught against Draco's lips as he kissed there, too.

Harry sucked in a breath as Draco's lips continued their path downward, touching the taut column of Harry's neck, his collarbone, both nipples, the Horcrux scar that had carved itself into his chest so long ago. A slashing mark against his flank that had never quite healed after a duel with a former Death Eater the Aurors had dragged out of hiding several years back. A small, misshapen burn mark on the outside of his right thigh, the only remaining physical remnant of the attack that had left him comatose the year before. Draco's lips touched every scar, every mark acquired across a childhood shadowed by war, and a career spent running headlong into those very shadows. Draco lingered almost infinitesimally over the last mark, his gaze lifting to meet Harry's for the space of half a heartbeat, and Harry remembered the hospital, remembered the sensation of slack fingers woven between his own in the hushed St. Mungo's night.

Maybe, he thought—maybe there was a possibility he wasn't alone in this feeling.

Draco's lips brushed against scar and skin, teased across fine hair, tickled at coarse, until Harry was squirming under the attention, writhing against the sheets, his cock dripping against his belly in his eagerness. Finally, Draco lifted his head. His own eyes were bright with arousal, his cheeks reddened with it, but his mouth slid into a slow smirk at Harry's no-doubt obvious desperation. That long, pale body rose over Harry's, moving with fluid grace, until Draco's mouth—red, wet, sinful—hovered over the tip of Harry's straining cock, his breath an almost torturous tease. "Harry," he murmured, his lips finally touching Harry's desperate flesh, then opening to take him inside, and Harry groaned, feeling the low vibration of Draco's chuckle as he sucked and licked.

Harry's fingers clutched at the sheets as his body strained against the mattress, his chest rising and falling as his breathing grew more labored with every wet caress. Through the haze of escalating arousal, he felt one of Draco's fingers stroking lightly against his arsehole, then the cool shiver of a lubrication charm as that finger began to tease inside, in tandem with the suction of Draco's wicked mouth. "Draco," he gasped. "I can't—I want—" He could feel his balls tightening, feel himself starting to lose the battle against orgasm.

Draco's head lifted, and the sudden rush of cool air against Harry's exposed cock made him groan, his eyes clenching shut. His hips writhed, and he realized he could feel two of Draco's fingers still moving inside him. "Draco," he groaned, reaching for him.

Draco levered himself up and leaned forward, his smug smirk relaxing, just for a moment, into something warmer and fonder, just before his mouth closed over Harry's again. Harry opened his mouth eagerly, tasting himself in Draco's kiss, and pressed a shaking hand to the back of Draco's neck, holding him close. "Please," he murmured against Draco's lips. "Please."

Draco drew back slightly and dipped his head, his soft hair brushing against Harry's face and shielding Draco's eyes. "Do you—" He took a breath and met Harry's eyes again, gaze searching. "If it's been…a while, maybe it'd be easier on your stomach?"

Harry shook his head, his hand stroking at Draco's neck, trying to soothe the odd tension he could feel there. "No," he said, lifting his head to capture Draco's lips again, softly, then once more. "This way. I want to see your face."

Draco pressed the side of his face to Harry's, exhaling deeply. Harry's stroking fingers felt some of the tension melt away. "Right," Draco murmured. His hips rolled against Harry's, and Harry gasped at the sensation of Draco's cock stroking against his own, his fingers tightening against Draco and his thighs clasping involuntarily at Draco's lean waist. Draco kissed his mouth again, drawing away with one last, searching look, and maneuvering himself into position, one of his arms holding Harry's thigh up and open, the other returning to play at Harry's rim, one finger teasing inside with a slow glide that made Harry arch. "Ah!" he gasped. "Oh, fuck."

Draco watched him intently. "Is it too much?"

"No!" Harry squirmed, chasing the sensation. "More," he said. "Give me more."

Another blunt, skillful finger, moving smooth, slow, slick. A steady, searching rhythm that made Harry whine.

He was panting now. "More," he gasped.

Oh, thank Merlin for the silencing charm that blocked sounds from escaping their bedchamber, and for the holiday break that had sent dungeon-dwelling schoolchildren far away. If this kept up, he wasn't sure how these old stone walls were going to contain the noises he'd make tonight.

Draco's movements slowed, and Harry struggled to focus on him. He realized then that Draco, too, was panting, his prick jerking as he watched Harry lost in the sensation of riding his adroit fingers. His skin was sheened with sweat, his mouth open as he breathed shallowly, tension in every line of his beautiful body.

"Draco," Harry breathed. Draco's gaze lifted to meet his. His eyes were dark, all pupil and desire. "Fuck me." Draco's breathing hitched. "I want you." I love you. "Fuck me."

Draco breathed deeply and slid his fingers gently from Harry, murmuring a charm to clean them, and another to slick his cock as he bent over Harry, poised between his thighs, his cock so close Harry could feel the heat of it. "You're sure?" Draco whispered.

Harry reached up to touch Draco's face, and Draco's eyes fell closed. "Please," Harry said, and Draco nodded, turning to press a kiss to Harry's palm. With another deep breath, he nudged his hips forward, and Harry could feel the blunt head of his slick cock seeking entrance. Harry arched, and Draco thrust shallowly, bent over Harry, their breaths mingling between them. Harry gasped as he felt Draco's cock slide home, broad and hot and perfect.

Draco bent his head, struggling for breath, and Harry surged upward to take his mouth. Draco gasped into the kiss, his hips jerking, and they soon caught each other's rhythm.

Harry moaned at the onslaught of sensation—the relentless advance-retreat of Draco's cock inside him; the weight and motion of Draco's long, lean body on top of his; the heat that spiraled between them; the unearthly beauty of Draco's face above his own, his expression taut, intent, as though Harry were the only thing that existed in this world; the tension that rose, and rose, and rose with every thrust of their hips, every flex of Draco's strong back, every thud of their hearts.

Finally, finally, it crested, and broke, and Harry shouted with the strength of his release, feeling Draco gasp and shudder against him at almost the same moment. It was unlike any orgasm he'd ever experienced—not merely a release of tension, but...a feeling of transcendence, almost. Something beyond coming—arriving, finding. It reminded him, a bit, of how music that resonates just so can make one's hair stand on end—a beautiful shiver, a sense of recognition, a deep, profound contentment.

He felt, in that moment, like he'd been set alight from the inside. Like he'd been changed.

Draco collapsed on top of him, trembling, and Harry wrapped his limbs around him, holding his body close as they rode out the aftershocks together. Eventually, their breaths slowed, and their sweat-slicked bodies began to cool in the chill dungeon air. Draco curled into Harry even more closely, and Harry felt that new light inside of him flare even brighter.

Draco exhaled into Harry's neck. "Merlin. That was…"

Harry pressed his nose into Draco's hair. "Incredible."

He could feel Draco's mouth curve into a smile. "Well, naturally," he murmured, and Harry chucked.

Draco drew away slightly, and Harry made a soft noise at the loss of contact. But Draco just bent to capture his mouth—gently, but possessively. Harry shivered, and returned the kiss in kind. When Draco drew back, he brushed a hand through Harry's hair and traced the lightning-bolt scar with his thumb. His expression was oddly solemn as he met Harry's eyes, and Harry wondered, for a heart-stopping moment, if this was his turn to be rejected, the way Draco seemed to have felt after their first night together. Now, when he'd just realized how much Draco meant to him. When he'd just begun to fathom how empty his future would be without Draco in it.

Instead, Draco settled his head on Harry's chest, and Harry felt his heart catch at the weight of it.

He cast a half-hearted cleaning charm over the both of them, which made Draco huff a quiet laugh into Harry's skin, and turned to clutch Draco closer, falling asleep between one breath and the next.

*

Yesterday

 

At night, the dungeons always, somehow, seemed even quieter than the rest of the castle—as though the heavy weight of stone on stone that pressed the dungeons deep into the Scottish soil also layered with it silencing spells that blocked unnecessary intrusion from the outside world.

Harry could remember his first night here during The Incident—ten years old, skinny and scrawny and alone, and the quiet of the castle had felt not weighty, but utterly freeing, a breath of night-fresh air after a lifetime among the low, restless stirrings of Little Whinging and the inevitable creak of the stairs overhead as Dudley slunk down for his midnight—and 2 a.m., and 4 a.m.—snack.

Tonight, though, the silence felt only oppressive, and the width of the half-empty bed yawned in the darkness.

He'd waited hours for Draco to return. He'd requested dinner from the house-elves, unwilling to brave the smells and distractions of the Great Hall, and had ordered enough for two—then only picked at his own half while the other went uneaten. By now, the warming charm probably had faded away, if the house-elves hadn't returned to Banish the remains of the meal entirely.

Finally, he'd retreated to bed, curled under the covers in the lingering chill of the dungeon air. He'd closed his eyes against the darkness and fought to clear his mind and sink into the oblivion of slumber, but sleep continually eluded his grasp.

It had occurred to him, in a dull sort of fashion—like a serrated knife raking against skin, rather than slicing cleanly—that this might actually be the start of the end, the thing that separated him from Draco for good.

Their relationship had been…stilted since New Year's Eve. But even amid the awkwardness and the eggshells and the abrupt, agonizing halt of sexual relations, he'd never doubted that they'd get over this bump in the road—it was his own fault, after all, and Draco knew Harry was an idiot pretty much all the time, but he'd always got past that before. It was just taking a little longer than usual, was all.

But this. He clenched his fist against the pillow, then deliberately relaxed it. This wasn't a simple fight that ultimately could be forgiven and, perhaps, forgotten. It was, in fact, pretty much the definition of permanent consequences.

Another half-hour or more had crawled past before Harry finally heard the creak of the outer door swinging slowly inward, then the low thump of its closing. He tensed, listening for any whisper of sound from the outer rooms, but for a long time there was only silence. A sick feeling churned in his gut at the thought that Draco might choose to sleep on the sofa tonight rather than share his bed with Harry.

At long last, though, he heard the soft scrape of Draco's shoes against the smooth stone floor as he approached the door to the bedchamber, and the quiet groan of the hinges as he eased the door slowly open, then closed again. In the darkness, he couldn't see Draco's silhouette, only hear the soft sounds of him fumbling out of his clothing. He felt the mattress depress as Draco sat down, then heard Draco's quiet, drawn-out sigh before he lifted the covers and lay down, tugging them over himself to ward off the winter chill, but gently, so as not to wake Harry.

When Harry reached out and touched his shoulder, Draco jumped.

"Draco," Harry whispered.

Draco shuddered out a breath and rolled over, slowly, so that he faced Harry in the darkness. "I didn't mean to wake you," he murmured.

"You didn't," Harry replied. "I couldn't sleep." He didn't need to ask where Draco had been—he could smell dust and parchment and age, the calling cards of the library. Unlike Harry's own schoolboy rule-breaking habits, he knew Draco had a formal arrangement with Madam Pince that allowed him to access the Restricted Section at any hour, in the event of late study or a brewing-related emergency. Harry had seen him disappear in there for hours on days or nights when he was struggling to unravel a particularly vexing potions problem, and always he returned with the same bookish scent clinging to him. Harry never would have thought he'd associate the smell of old books and learning with anyone other than Hermione; it was, perhaps, telling how that had shifted.

They lay there, face to face, breathing in the dark, an arm's length away from each other. Draco didn't volunteer whether he'd found anything of interest in his nighttime library excursion. Harry didn't ask. He wondered if Draco had fallen asleep, but realized his breathing sounded tense, still. Harry reached out again, touching tentative fingers to his arm.

Draco sucked in a breath. "Harry," he said, and the word was infused with such unexpected anguish that Harry immediately moved closer, wrapping his arm around Draco to draw him against Harry's body. Draco snaked his own arm around Harry's waist, burying his face in Harry's shoulder, where Harry could feel the labored rush of his breath. Harry stroked his hand along Draco's back and pressed his nose into Draco's soft hair. I love you, he wanted to say, but he wasn't sure if he was allowed, now. If it would be welcomed on a night like this.

So, he tried to say it with each stroke of his hand, with each breath.

Slowly, he felt some of the tension begin to drain from Draco, his body slumping a bit against Harry's with exhaustion. They held each other in the darkness, Harry cradling Draco close, Draco's hold still more akin to clinging, perhaps—a palpable sort of desperation in the way his fingers curled into Harry's flesh. Harry risked pressing a kiss to the side of Draco's head, and he could feel Draco sigh against him. Harry began his stroking movements again, but with intent this time, until he felt Draco's body begin to stir with a different sort of tension altogether.

Draco lifted his head to meet Harry's lips, kissing him, slow and intense. Harry could feel himself growing hard, could feel Draco's erection beginning to nudge against him, as well.

"Draco," Harry breathed into his mouth. "Draco."

Knowing this heat still flared so easily between them made him want to believe that everything would be all right, in the end. For all the awkwardness of the past couple of months, for all the lack of moments like this recently, he at least could tell for certain that Draco still wanted him. At times, he'd dared to hope that Draco cared for him. Even if they'd never put anything into words. Even if Draco had, well…

Even after New Year's Eve.

Harry rolled onto his back and pulled Draco with him, until Draco was wedged between Harry's sprawled thighs, their mouths still pressed together, their hips beginning to shift in rhythm, the friction of their hard cocks shortening their breath as they moved together. Harry groaned as he felt Draco's hand stroke up his chest, tease at one tight nipple.

"Draco," he gasped. "Fuck me. Oh, god, fuck me, please."

Draco froze over him for one breathless moment, then Harry could feel him exhale, feel his hips cant downward, pressing urgently into Harry's. "Are you sure?" he asked.

They hadn't done it this way since Christmas night, and Harry ached to feel that way again. That had to have been the night when it happened—the night his world had rearranged itself in a moment of dazzling realization, when he'd been so certain he could see their future together…only to have that future be rewritten in his very flesh and blood and bones in a way more awe-inspiring than he ever could have imagined.

"I'm sure," Harry whispered, arching into him, opening himself further to Draco.

He could feel a tremble in Draco's fingers as they stroked his cock and pressed behind his balls until Harry was panting, desperate. Those skilled fingers began to tease at Harry's entrance, and his other hand dragged across Harry's nipple and slid downward, first grasping at Harry's waist for leverage, then skating onto Harry's abdomen, a warm, welcome weight.

Unthinking, Harry grasped Draco's hand with one of his, pressing them together against where their child grew, deep within his body.

Abruptly, Draco pulled back.

"I can't," he said. His hands no longer touched Harry anywhere. Harry tried to close his thighs around him, pull him close again, but Draco scrambled away, retreating to the opposite side of the bed. Harry could hear his harsh breaths. "I can't," he said again. Then, more quietly, "I'm sorry. I can't."

Harry curled into himself, rolling onto his side so that his back was to Draco. The room felt suddenly colder.

He expected Draco to leave—to sleep in the sitting room, perhaps, or return to bury himself in whatever had captured his interest so in the library. Instead, Harry heard the sheets rustle as Draco lay down on the bed, far enough away that Harry couldn't feel the heat of his body.

The mattress stretched between them, an endless, empty gulf, and the night was silent but for their breathing—neither sliding audibly into sleep for long afterward.

*

A month and a half ago

 

The night it all started to fall apart happened less than a week after the night Harry had realized he never wanted it to end.

Their relationship had begun with a New Year's Eve kiss two years before, and they'd treated the anniversary the following year with all due solemnity—that is, by sealing themselves in Draco's quarters and enjoying themselves until they'd been too exhausted to rise at a respectable hour the next day. That time, Harry hadn't run out on Draco. But he had sent him an owl every night that following week, with increasingly explicit suggestions for what he'd like to do the next time they saw each other. By the time Harry arrived at his door on Friday evening, Draco had dragged him inside and not let him come up for air for four hours.

It had been an excellent start to the year, all around.

As the two-year mark approached, Harry was acutely conscious of how much had changed. They were no longer just "Draco's quarters"; they were Harry's home, as well, acknowledged as such by Harry, Draco, the headmistress herself, even official records at the Ministry.

(He'd received some raised eyebrows at the change of address, but it was known widely at the Ministry that he also worked as a consultant at Hogwarts, even if it wasn't widely known that he did somewhat less consultation than fornication there. Home address records were merely a formality, anyhow; owls could find a person virtually anywhere, so it hardly mattered what the Ministry recorded as his home base, let alone what notions some parchment-pushing bureaucrat entertained about famous Harry Potter's seeming inability to let go of his Hogwarts glory days.)

Their family and close friends knew of their relationship. They'd spent multiple evenings at Ron and Hermione's home, dined with the Malfoys in Paris, celebrated Christmas at the Burrow, partaken of an ill-fated lunch with Draco's Slytherin set. Hermione had trusted Draco far enough to let him Polyjuice himself to look like her. If that wasn't acceptance, Harry wasn't sure what was.

The fact that they'd never said they loved each other almost seemed like it should be a trivial detail. Except, it didn't feel trivial.

For Harry, knowing that he was in love with Draco felt like magic—literally, like magic: something he hadn't even realized he was capable of until the knowledge of it made it real, and giddying, and awe-inspiring. And now that he knew he had the power, he wanted to use it—to say the words that would change things, maybe forever. But it felt like a force trapped under his skin—a fathomless power, and a complete impotence to express it.

He wanted to believe that Draco loved him. Logically, he knew he knew there had to be some feeling there, for Draco to have kept Harry around as long as he had. He'd brought him to spend Christmas Eve with his parents, for Merlin's sake. Was that Malfoy-ese for I love you, let's spend forever together (so you'd better make peace with my Death Eater dad)?

Because Harry was starting to realize he wanted forever, with Draco.

Harry had come into the Auror Office to complete and file documentation for the case his team had wrapped that week, the last task on his to-do list before he was free for a few days' well-earned break. It was New Year's Eve, again, the enchanted windows long since having faded to an inky evening sky, and the Ministry had largely emptied out already for the holiday. He knew Draco would be expecting him home—home—soon. He just had one form left to complete. And yet, when Hermione—lingering late, as always—popped her head around the edge of his cubicle, she found him with his head buried in his hands, thoughts very far away from the manticore smuggling ring whose definitive rout he was meant to be chronicling for the Ministry's records.

"Harry," she chided, and his head snapped up.

"Oh!" he yelped. He took a breath, trying to calm his racing heart. So much for constant vigilance. "Hermione. Hi."

She crossed her arms, hip cocked against the wall of his cubicle. "Why are you still here?"

He gave her an unimpressed look. "Why are you?"

"Paperwork," she said.

"Same."

"No," she said, "you had paperwork two hours ago. Now you're just dithering."

He exhaled and sagged backward into his chair. "How do you always do that?"

She sighed. "It's not magic, Harry. You literally told me two hours ago that you had one case file to wrap up, and then you were going home. Have you forgotten?"

"Oh," he said. He had.

Maybe it was just as well he was taking a few days off. Clearly, he needed a break.

"What's bothering you?" Hermione asked, and he startled, embarrassed to realize he'd become lost in his thoughts again.

He rubbed a hand over his face. "It's...nothing. It's stupid."

He didn't even need to lift his hand from his eyes to know she was giving him a hard look. But he did anyway, and...yep, there it was. She'd had that expression perfected already at eleven.

He groaned and covered his face again. "OK," he said. "Fine. It's just—it's our anniversary, sort of. You know."

She hmm-ed at him expectantly.

"And I just—only, it's been two years, and—I mean—" He felt the anxiety clawing at his throat, but he took a breath and pushed through it. "I love him?"

She laughed, quietly and not unkindly. "Was that a question? Because I don't think that's a question."

"No," he said. He rubbed a hand across his chest. "Not—not a question. I—love him."

He looked up at Hermione, and she was smiling at him beatifically. "Of course you do," she said.

"But he—" He looked down, rubbed a hand across his eyes again, tense. "I don't know if he loves me."

The sudden thwap of a stack of parchment against his head caught him by surprise for a third time that evening. Shocked, he jerked his head up to find Hermione towering over him, his all-but-finished case file clasped in one hand. "Hermione! What the fuck!"

She tossed the file back onto his desk and bent forward, her hands braced against the arms of his chair as she loomed into his personal space. He leaned back in the chair as far as he could go, swallowing nervously.

"Harry Potter," she said, slowly and clearly, "you are an idiot."

He glared at her. Her expression didn't change.

"Have you seen how that man looks at you?" she continued. "He invited you to live with him. He came to the Burrow with you. He let Arthur talk to him about Muggle pop music."

"Oh," Harry said. He'd wondered what that awkward conversation had been about. Draco had refused to talk about it afterward, appearing mildly traumatized.

"Yes, oh. That man is devoted to you, and you—" She pushed off the chair to stand upright, and poked him, hard, in the chest. "—are an idiot not to recognize it."

He rubbed at the spot she'd poked. Hermione had fingernails, damn it. "But he's never said so."

She sighed and crossed her arms. "Have you?"

His gaze slid away from hers. His silence answered the question.

"OK," he said. He scrubbed a hand through his hair. "All right. I'll talk to him. I'll ask him tonight."

"You mean you'll tell him tonight."

He looked up at her again, and the judgmental tilt of her eyebrow could have done Draco proud. He made a mental note never to tell either of them that.

"I—"

"Are you afraid, Harry?"

"Of course I'm bloody afraid!"

"Good," she said, and, gently now, leaned forward to press a kiss to his forehead. "That'll show him you mean it."

He gaped at her, and she smoothed a hand through his hair, perhaps attempting to tame it. It had always been a lost cause.

"This is what being a Gryffindor is all about, Harry," she said. "Can't really call it bravery if you're not at least a little afraid." Her hand settled against his head. "And important things are worth being scared about."

He nodded, and she patted his head and straightened.

"I should be going," she said. "The children are probably growing impatient."

"Not kind, talking about your husband that way," Harry said, and Hermione laughed, then ruffled his hair.

"Good luck tonight, Harry."

He swallowed, and nodded. "Thanks," he said. "Think I'll need it."

She smiled. "For what it's worth, I don't think you will at all."

Which—Harry would reflect later—just went to prove that Hermione might still be the brightest witch of her age, but she had a blind spot as big as her heart where Harry was concerned.

Hermione's interruption spurred Harry to finish his case writeup, and as he filed the paperwork, re-cloaked himself against the cold, made his way out of the Ministry, Apparated to the Hogwarts gates, and walked the snowy path to the castle, he could feel anxiety and anticipation rise inside of him in tandem.

As always on New Year's Eve, the castle was quieter than usual, the sound of his footfalls echoing as he strode down the torchlit corridors to the dungeon, stripping off his gloves and hat and scarf as he walked, and casting an absent drying charm to banish the traces of snow that clung to him.

He was conscious of the beat of his heart in a way he wasn't, ordinarily—the pulse of blood through his limbs, tingling at the tips of his fingers, the warmth of his cheeks, reddened by his brief exposure to the winter wind. At the door to their chambers, he paused and took a breath, exhaled slowly, and grasped the handle. The door, recognizing his magical signature, unlatched, and he pushed it open and walked inside.

Draco turned at his entrance, his mouth curving into a smile as though it were as natural as breathing—as though it were an involuntary reaction, as though Harry's very presence made him happy, of all astonishing things. Harry felt his own smile bloom in response, a rush of warmth washing over him as he turned to shrug out of his cloak and set aside his winter togs.

"The elves just sent dinner," Draco said. "They must have been watching for you."

He stood near the fireplace, the light casting warmth over the planes of his skin, limning the deep blue jumper he wore—one Harry not-so-secretly adored for the way it brought out the blue flecks that lurked in Draco's eyes—to emphasize its soft, inviting texture. Harry let himself be drawn across the sitting room, caught in his gravitational pull. His hand found one of Draco's, fingers entwining as if by instinct, and their eyes met. Both were still smiling when Harry pressed his mouth to Draco's.

Now, he thought, as he felt Draco's breath escape in a sigh against his mouth, say it now. But Draco's other hand rose to capture Harry's chin, tilting his jaw to open up the kiss, and the moment disappeared in the languorous caress of Draco's tongue.

Harry chased the taste of him, but Draco drew back. When Harry opened his eyes, Draco was smiling at him again—softly, warmly. "Welcome home," he murmured, and Harry watched helplessly as that clever tongue slipped along the seam of Draco's lips, perhaps dampening them, perhaps seeking the taste of Harry again. As Harry watched, the small smile slid into a more familiar smirk as Draco seemed to realize where Harry's gaze was fixed. He turned, tugging at the hand Harry still grasped. "Let's eat first," he said. His cheeks were pink—from the kiss, from the fire, from the flattering shade of his soft jumper—and his own gaze dropped back to Harry's lips for a moment before his eyes met Harry's again, warm with promise. "We have all night," he said.

The elves had outdone themselves. Harry wondered if Draco had told them it was their anniversary, of sorts, or if they just knew somehow. Candles cast a romantic glow over a spread that could have graced any much sturdier table in the Great Hall. Harry and Draco seated themselves at the small table in the corner and dug into the meal. Harry closed his eyes to savor the rich flavors of the food and the effervescent burst of champagne against his tongue. But all the wealth of sensory indulgence the table afforded couldn't compete with the glow of Draco's eyes, the warmth of his voice, the frequent touches of his hand against Harry's own.

There'd been a change between them since Christmas, and Harry didn't think it was just that he was perceiving things differently due to the paradigm shift of his own epiphany on Christmas night. Their relationship had begun in a flash point of desire, but over the course of two years they'd slowly forged a sense of comfort, of respect, of trust. Since Christmas, though, it felt as though the fabric of their relationship had become shot through with joy, in a way he hadn't realized had been missing.

Draco had always welcomed Harry's touch, especially when heavy with intent—well, unless Draco was in a strop, but that was part of his charm (and don't think it didn't floor Harry sometimes that he'd come to find Draco Malfoy's occasional fits of pique charming; if his adolescent self could see him now, he'd assume Harry had suffered spell damage to the brain). But now he seemed to have begun touching Harry more frequently, and more purposefully—curling up on the sofa with their fingers woven together, rather than just leaning his weight into Harry; stroking his hand with devastating deliberation down Harry's arm, or back, or arse; even catching Harry's face to draw him in for slow, affectionate kisses, which he'd so rarely instigated before. Draco's face, after these, was always an utterly enchanting mix of pleasure, self-satisfaction, and a flicker of defiance—as though daring Harry to resist, or fight, or mock him, as he might have half a lifetime ago. Instead, they typically prompted Harry to set his hands on Draco, press him against the nearest vertical surface, and return the favor until he could feel Draco's soft, pleased sounds tumbling helplessly into his mouth.

Still, though, it felt almost like something out of a dream to have Draco rise from his chair at the end of their shared meal, tug at Harry's hand to coax him out of his own chair (not that he needed persuasion), and draw him to the sofa, where Harry eagerly pressed his hands into the taut curves and planes of Draco's body and took Draco's mouth once more, as he'd longed to. Draco sighed and opened to him, letting Harry chase the flavors of chocolate and berries and sweet dessert wine that lingered on his tongue. He pressed Draco backward into the cushions, feeling Draco arch beneath him, one leg bent around Harry's restless hips, his arms wound around Harry's neck, the better to allow their mouths to take, and take, and take.

Harry sucked in a breath and levered up slightly on his elbows, taking in Draco's flushed face beneath his—beautiful, beloved, eyes glassy and all pupil, dark with desire as he seized Harry's movement as invitation to fumble at the buttons of Harry's shirt, immediately pressing his palm to Harry's exposed skin, the heat of him like a brand against Harry's heart.

Their eyes met, and Harry felt a flood of emotion surge through him, leaving him feeling exposed, vulnerable. One side of Draco's mouth tilted into a small smile, the hand not pressed to Harry's chest rising to alight on the side of Harry's face, thumb brushing a lock of hair from Harry's forehead.

"You're shaking," Draco murmured. His thumb stroked Harry's face lightly, soothingly. "I can feel your heart racing."

Draco's face was open—his wide gray eyes unshielded, cheeks flushed with color, mouth soft and inviting, lips still half-curved into a lazy, intimate smile.

Harry ached for him, a rush of desperation that overwhelmed him.

And made him stupid.

"Do you love me?" he blurted.

He could see the haze in Draco's eyes dissipate in an instant, his mouth harden, his expression turn cold. The hand that had pressed almost protectively against his heart stiffened, then shoved.

Harry fought for balance, but the wine with dinner and the abrupt shift in the mood caught him off-guard, and he tumbled off the sofa. But one of his arms had curled under Draco's body as they'd lain together, gazing into each other's eyes—as a result, Draco, too, tumbled, flailing, to the floor.

Draco landed with a thump on Harry's chest, and they both groaned. Draco quickly regained enough of his composure to attempt to scramble away, but Harry's Auror-honed instincts kicked in, and he managed to loop an arm around Draco's waist and heave the both of them sideways. Harry landed on top of him again, his weight pinning a thrashing Draco to the rug.

"Draco," Harry panted, struggling to pin down Draco's arms—which currently were engaged in pummeling Harry's head and back from either side—without moving his body enough to allow Draco to wiggle free. "Draco! Please!"

"Fuck! You! Potter!" Draco grunted, landing blows with each word that punched out of him.

The Potter was almost enough to knock the fight out of Harry—it had been a long time since he'd heard Draco call him by that name in any manner other than teasing. He was reminded, abruptly, of their schooldays, of the obvious loathing that had suffused Draco's every taunting invocation of Harry's name. His stomach churned at the memory.

The realization that he might—carelessly, unthinkingly—have undone everything they'd been working toward together for the past two years struck him with the force of a Cruciatus.

"Immobulus," Harry gasped, and Draco froze. Harry grasped Draco's wrists and immediately ended the spell, dropping Draco's wrists to the ground on either side of his head, and holding them there while Draco struggled against his grip and snarled, the expression in his eyes a swirl of venom and betrayal.

"I'm sorry," Harry said—pleaded. "I'm sorry."

Draco stopped struggling, but every line of his body remained taut. His breath shuddered out of him, and he directed his gaze over Harry's shoulder, refusing to meet his eyes.

"I'm sorry," Harry whispered.

Draco released a huff of breath, as though dismissing Harry's apology. Harry opened his mouth to apologize again, to say anything that might fix this. But then Draco's breath huffed out again—and again.

And Harry realized Draco was chuckling—sharply, derisively. When Draco's eyes finally met Harry's again, Harry nearly recoiled from the ice in their depths.

"What are you even sorry for?" Draco asked, his voice cold, his slow smile colder. "This is how it was always going to be, isn't it?" His smile twisted into a sneer. "Famous Harry Potter. The whole world's adoration was never going to be enough. No," he said, his eyes narrowing, head lifting off the ground until their noses nearly touched, "Harry Potter needs to make me bleed for him."

Harry dropped Draco's wrists and scrambled away from him, stopping only when his back hit the sofa. He watched as Draco slowly rose to a sitting position, rubbing absently at his wrists.

"Well," Draco drawled. "This evening hasn't gone entirely as planned."

Harry drew his knees to his chest and covered his face with his hands. "Draco, I—" The words caught in his throat.

Apologies would do no good. And confessions were out of the question, now.

He heard the rustle of Draco rising to his feet, and when he felt a shadow fall across him, he forced himself to look up.

Draco stood over him, his back to the fire, face shadowed and sharp. He contemplated Harry in silence for the space of a few heartbeats.

Harry didn't know what his expression might have been telling Draco. Possibly too much.

Draco shook his head, face still blank and cold. "You're an idiot, Potter," he said, and turned away. Harry heard his footfalls recede, then pause.

"And stay out of my bedroom tonight."

The door to their bedchamber swung closed with a deep, final thud.

Silence seemed to swallow the sitting room, broken only by the occasional crackle of the fire.

Harry buried his face in his arms, concentrating on taking one breath after another. He could feel himself shaking.

He should leave, he thought.

He should probably leave.

Draco didn't want him here.

Draco might not want him ever again.

But where would he go?

He'd long since let his flat in London go.

He could just imagine the disappointment—and probably judgment, though she'd quickly conceal that—on Hermione's face if he were to show up at their house tonight. And they had a family—it wasn't as though they had a lot of extra space, or spare time to deal with Harry's self-inflicted crisis.

He could try the Leaky Cauldron, or some other inn. But someone probably would report it to the press, like they had when he'd briefly taken a room at the Leaky after his and Ginny's breakup. It had been years, but he knew gossip and speculation still sold papers.

Asking Minerva for another set of rooms to crash in was...not a thought he even wanted to entertain, after all the effort she'd apparently put into allowing Harry and Draco space and freedom to pursue this relationship. He couldn't admit to her that he'd fucked it up with his own un-Gryffindor cowardice.

And the fact was—he didn't want to leave. Leaving would be an admission of fear, and of defeat. He was afraid. He was fucking terrified. But he didn't want to let himself think this might be the end.

Besides, he realized, Draco hadn't told him to leave. He'd said keep out tonight, not go away forever.

Harry didn't want to give up without a fight.

But he could admit there was no sense in fighting anymore tonight.

With a sigh, he transfigured his clothing into pajamas and lay down on the sofa with the blanket Draco often used when he sat next to Harry on chilly nights. It smelled like him.

Sleep was long in coming that night.

And for the next several, as Draco's cold glances made it clear he still would find no welcome in their bedroom.

Harry tried to apologize again. Draco ostentatiously cast a deafening charm on himself and calmly continued eating his breakfast.

The sofa cushions began to develop a dent in the shape of Harry's body. And the longer he remained frozen out, the more he began to question whether he'd made the right decision in not leaving.

The students returned to the school, and Harry and Draco both returned to work.

Hermione dropped by Harry's cubicle, a gleam in her eye, to ask after his New Year's Eve, and his abrupt dismissal of her question made the smile drop right off her face. "Harry," she sighed, and he just shook his head and turned his back to her.

"I really can't, Hermione. No time."

He could feel her presence behind him, hear the breath she took, as if to speak. But then she let it out again, and he heard her footfalls as she turned and walked away. He released a breath and scrubbed a hand through his hair. Work was good. Work was a distraction. Work didn't leave time for awkward personal conversations. Or for thinking. Or for hurting.

He interviewed subjects. He followed up on leads. He filled out paperwork like it had become his one true passion in life. But it only filled so many hours.

He remained at work in his cubicle late into the evening, past nightfall, past the arrival of the night shift. He contemplated just giving in and sleeping there that night, but realized that might provoke more awkward questions he didn't want to answer. Leadership liked a dedicated Auror corps, but he had a suspicion he'd be hard pressed to pull off a believable "dedicated" right now, and more likely would land somewhere in the vicinity of "pathetic" and/or "barmy."

By the time he finally rose from his desk and returned home—if it really could be called "home" anymore—the castle had quieted for the night, students and staff long since abed. But when he entered his and Draco's quarters and, on autopilot, made his way toward the sofa, he came to an abrupt halt when he realized the door to their bedchamber lay open.

It could have been a mistake, he reasoned, his heart pounding in his throat as he crept through the dimness to the shadowed, open doorway. It could have been an oversight, because Harry hadn't been here to shut out. It could have been…

...that Draco wasn't in the room at all.

Harry sighed and slumped against the doorframe as he took in the empty bed, a pale, watery stripe of moonlight illuminating its undisturbed covers.

Fuck it. He missed sleeping with Draco. But he also just missed sleeping in a goddamn bed. It was late, and he was so very tired. If Draco was holed up in his potions lab for one of his all-nighters, then, by Merlin, Harry was not going to let a comfortable bed go to waste.

He stripped out of his clothing, dropping it to the floor as he walked, and fell into the bed, asleep nearly the moment his head hit the pillow.

He couldn't have said how long had elapsed before he woke to the sound of the door to their living quarters thudding closed, quietly but heavily. He blinked awake in the darkness, disoriented for a moment before he remembered where he was, why he was here, and why it might have been a bad idea to give into impulse born of exhaustion.

He heard Draco's soft footsteps pause, possibly as he noticed Harry wasn't asleep in his usual spot in the sitting room. The footsteps continued toward the bedroom, and Harry could perceive the outline of him as he stopped in the open doorway. The line of his shoulders seemed less tense than defeated, and Harry felt a sudden, sick sensation of regret for having taken advantage, invading Draco's space, when he'd only set this one boundary, which Harry had now violated.

He thought, for a moment, that Draco might turn around, make his way toward the sofa, and he wouldn't let that happen—he was about to sit up, stop him leaving, relinquish the bed and the room—the whole damn set of rooms, if he wanted it—back to Draco. But, instead, Draco continued into the bedroom, undressed quietly, and crawled into the bed, far to the opposite side. Harry could just make out Draco's profile as he lay on his back, staring into the darkness.

Then Draco spoke, startling him. "I can tell you're awake," he said, not looking at Harry. "You breathe differently when you're asleep."

In sleep, Harry's body had instinctively curled toward Draco's side of the bed, and he still lay on his side, watching the slight frown on Draco's pale face. "I got home late and thought you were out for the night," he said at last, his voice quiet. "I'm sorry."

Draco didn't reply. Harry listened to him breathe. He was awake; Harry knew his breathing, too.

"Draco," he said, voice hushed. His heart was in his throat, but desperation compelled him. "I don't want to give this up. I don't want to lose this."

Draco turned onto his side, facing Harry across the darkness. "And just what is this, Harry?" His voice was tight, and the question made Harry flinch, but—he'd called Harry by name. "What exactly is it you don't want to lose?"

Harry fumbled across the bed for Draco's hand—and Draco let him take it. Harry grasped it like a drowning man. He could feel the tension beneath his fingers.

"Us," he said. "You. I can't lose you. Please—say I haven't broken this."

Draco's breathing turned harsh, and his fingers tightened in Harry's hand. "I don't know," he said. "I don't—why is it always like this, Harry?"

Harry closed his other hand around Draco's as well. "Like what?" he asked, baffled. "I don't—"

"You never—" Draco cut himself off. "After all this time, I thought—I actually believed—" He laughed a little, without humor, and shook his head.

The gesture sent a bolt of pure panic through Harry. "Draco," he said. He shoved closer, grasped for Draco's shoulder. "Draco, please."

With every bit of foolhardy Gryffindor courage in him, he set his hand to Draco's jaw and drew him in for a kiss—and nearly melted in relief when Draco kissed him back.

But, too quickly, Draco broke the kiss, turning his face away. "I can't."

Harry felt like a void had opened up in the center of his chest—just...emptiness. A hollow space where hope had been.

This was it, then. His hand shook as he pulled it back.

"I can leave," he said, his voice hollow.

"No," Draco said, and, to Harry's shock, he fumbled for Harry's hand, seizing it with his own. Harry sucked in a breath. "No," Draco repeated, and his voice was quiet, even a bit uncertain, but his grasp on Harry's hand was firm. "I just...we need time."

Harry turned his hand in Draco's and weaved their fingers together. I love you, he wanted to say, but it felt like too much now, in this moment. I can wait as long as you need. He brought their hands to his mouth and pressed a kiss to Draco's knuckles. Draco's breath shuddered out of him, but he didn't pull away.

They fell asleep together, hands still entwined.

When Harry woke the next morning, Draco was already gone. And when he returned home that night, Draco was tense, cautious. Even as they learned to navigate their ways around each other again over the course of days and weeks, he remained prickly and standoffish. It reminded Harry of their first months together, when Draco hadn't been quite sure what to make of him. He hated that he'd given Draco cause to doubt him again. But he clung to hope that they could get through this.

Because, despite that, Draco didn't close the bedroom door against him again.

He didn't ask Harry to leave.

And although they didn't resume their usual bedroom activities—Harry too wary of overstepping boundaries, Draco clearly struggling to trust him again—they fell asleep together every night.

And then, weeks later, out of nowhere—the sickness had struck.

*

Today

 

In the morning, Harry woke up feeling sick, both physically and emotionally.

He took a dose of the morning sickness potion the healer at St. Mungo's had given him the day before, and, within a few minutes, it soothed his roiling stomach and made the formerly ever-present nausea disappear like, well, magic.

But the worry eating at him wasn't so easily allayed.

The other side of the bed was empty, the sheets cool when Harry reached a hand across to touch the space Draco had occupied that night. The door was open a crack, but Harry couldn’t hear any sound from beyond the bedchamber. He rubbed his hands over his stubbled face and took a few deep, calming breaths.

It did no good to sit alone and speculate about where Draco had gone, or whether their relationship had ended in awkwardness and anguish the night before. It was morning now, a new day. Their futures had been upended in a matter of hours. But now it was time to confront their fears, assess the situation, and finally talk.

Harry gritted his teeth and took one last, steadying breath before standing up to face the day. He wasn't walking away from this relationship without a fight. And if Draco didn't like that—well, then, he should have known better than to take up with a Gryffindor.

When he stepped into the sitting room, it was lit by cool, green-cast morning light that filtered through the lake-facing windows, along with flickers of warmth thrown by the fireplace. Draco sat in his chair before the fire, so lost in thought that when Harry settled into the chair opposite him and cleared his throat, Draco jerked upright, startled.

"Good morning," Harry said evenly.

Draco appeared to study his face warily. "Good morning," he said, cautious. "How—" His voice caught, and he coughed to clear it. "How are you feeling? It's—the nausea, I mean, is it still…?"

"Morning sickness," Harry said, watching Draco's face closely for any reaction. Aside from a small nod, there was none. "They gave me a potion for it."

"Good," Draco said. His hands fidgeted in his lap. "And it—it helped?"

"Yes," Harry said.

"Good," Draco said again.

For several moments, the only sound in the room was the crackle of the fire.

"Draco," Harry said. "I want this child."

Draco swallowed. "I know. Of course, you do."

Harry braced himself. "And you don't."

"No," Draco said, and Harry felt the breath leave him like a punch to the gut, to hear Draco answer so bluntly. But then: "No, no, I don't mean it like—" Draco rubbed a hand across his face, and he frowned as he turned his eyes to the flickering fire, avoiding Harry's gaze. "I'm not—I just—" He paused and took a breath, then spoke carefully. "Part of it is—for years, I've assumed I'd never have children. It was unlikely in the first place, given my…preferences. And I told myself it was just as well, because it wouldn't be right to bring children into this world, not with my fucked-up family."

"Draco—" Harry protested.

"No, hear me out," Draco said, still not looking at Harry. There was tension coiled in him—the lines of his body, his voice. Even the breath he took appeared to require effort. "I grew up hearing about the enviable purity of our family bloodline. It meant we were better than other wizards, better than virtually everyone." He laughed, bitter. "And then my father proved that lineage is no substitute for sense when he threw his lot in with a murderous bloody Dark Lord—and I did the same goddamn thing."

Harry realized Draco was flexing and clenching his left fist, probably not even aware he was doing so. The scarred remnants were concealed beneath his sleeve, but Harry knew the Mark was a constant weight to Draco.

"I'm not…," Draco rubbed at his eyes, looking weary. "I'm not exactly father material, Harry."

Harry leaned forward in his chair, desperate to grasp Draco's hand in reassurance, but Draco tensed visibly, and Harry drew back without touching him. "Draco," Harry insisted, waiting until Draco turned his gaze—reluctant, guarded—back to Harry. "You were quite possibly the best father figure I had as a child."

Draco blinked, then slowly raised a single eyebrow at him.

Harry shook his head. "Oh, you know what I mean. You know how I grew up."

He could see Draco's jaw tighten. In the years since The Incident, they'd rarely spoken of Harry's childhood life outside of Hogwarts. But there'd been one memorable night, maybe six months or so ago, after Harry had mentioned spotting his cousin Dudley while investigating a case of rogue magic in Surrey, when Draco's expression had tightened, and his eyes had turned to fire, and his hands had, well...had actually been surprisingly gentle. Tender, even.

"I don't remember any kindness before coming to Hogwarts," Harry said. "I was raised by small, selfish people who rarely missed an opportunity to treat me cruelly or make me feel like something less than." He laughed, darkly. "By any measure, you'd qualify as Father of the Year in comparison."

"How comforting." Draco's tone was dust-dry. "I exceed the standard set by your abusive Muggle relations."

"No," Harry said. He paused. "Well, yes. But that's not what I mean. Just—you can't think in terms of who deserves it, or who counts as 'father material,' based on their upbringing, because—well, for one thing, that would definitely exclude me—"

Draco frowned. "Harry—"

"—because I definitely lacked good role models. And for another, that doesn't explain my aunt and uncle." He paused. "Well, maybe my uncle. His sister was a piece of work, too. But not my aunt. She grew up with my mother, and my mother was—" He swallowed. "—that is, I understand she was a lovely person. And...she loved me."

He glanced across at Draco, and realized Draco was watching him, the lines of his face carved into an expression of profound sadness.

Harry took a deep breath, and exhaled. "Growing up, I never really knew affection until I came here and made friends."

"The professors loved you," Draco murmured. Their eyes met and, in a wry moment of accord, both added, "Except Snape."

Harry smiled, a little, then sighed. "Yeah, but that's not the same as—they had other responsibilities. Dumbledore was playing a long game. Minerva was—is—wonderful, but she could only do so much. She wasn't a parent. Hagrid was…" Harry paused, smiled. "The best. Just…the kindest man I ever knew. But...I'm not sure I'd have trusted him as a primary caretaker for human children."

Draco lifted his chin and unsubtly laid his hand over the place on his arm where—to be fair—he did still bear a faint scar, courtesy of a hippogriff talon.

"But I didn't remember any of that during—you know, The Incident." Draco flinched, but Harry forged ahead. "You and Minerva were my first introduction to adults outside of the Muggle world—and you were so kind to me, Draco."

Draco shook his head and looked away.

"No," Harry said. "Don't try to deny it. We never talk about it. It was—" He swallowed. "It wasn't just that it made me realize how—" amazing, incredible, lovable "—lovely a person you really were—"

Draco grimaced.

"—once I'd...recovered, and realized who I'd been staying with. That you were someone I wanted to get to know better, as adults. It wasn't just that." Harry paused. "It was that your kindness meant the world to me, when I was a child here."

Draco was staring into the fire, the corner of his mouth turned downward. Harry watched his lips purse, his eyes close. But he didn't say anything.

"I remember how dismissive you were when I brought up the idea of your future kids," Harry continued, quietly. "I know you thought it was absurd. A child's fancy at best, a careless taunt at worst. You truly have no idea how genuinely I meant it—how envious I was of those hypothetical kids, who'd be lucky enough to grow up with you caring for them." Draco tensed, and Harry continued. "I don't think you have any idea how happy I would have been to stay with you, if I'd never turned back."

Draco cleared his throat, shifted in his chair, as though the very thought made him physically uncomfortable. "No offense, Potter, but—I'm bloody glad for both our sakes it didn't turn out that way."

Harry laughed, and was relieved to see the corner of Draco's mouth twitching as well. Giving into impulse, he slid from his chair to the ground, crossing the space between them until he knelt at Draco's feet. Startled, Draco met Harry's eyes, and his gaze slid down to take in the rest of his face. One hand rose to touch Harry's cheekbone, to smooth at a stray lock of unruly hair. When his eyes met Harry's again, there was something inexpressibly sad there. Yet his fingers continued to touch Harry delicately, almost reverently—as though he were the most precious thing in the world.

Harry felt his breath shudder out of him, and he bent to touch his forehead to Draco's knee, then lifted his face to look up into Draco's again. "You had so much love to give," he said, giving voice to the realization he should have had long ago. "That's what I responded to, back then. I sensed how much you cared." He buried his face in Draco's leg again. "I don't understand how I ever could have doubted you did, once we were together."

Draco's hand touched Harry's head, smoothing over his hair, down the back of his neck. Harry could feel the fine tremble in his fingers. "Because you're an idiot, Harry," he said softly. The words were threaded with affection that, Harry realized, he had come to recognize through long exposure—though he hadn't always seen it for what it was.

He truly was an idiot.

Harry laughed, a bit watery with it. He lifted his face again to look into Draco's, so solemn above his. Rising up on his knees, he took Draco's face between his palms and said what he should have weeks ago, months ago—the instant he knew. Long before he'd ever realized.

Somewhere, somehow, he'd known for a long time.

"I love you," Harry said. "I love you so much."

Draco exhaled, his lips parting, and his eyes searched Harry's. His gaze dropped to Harry's lips and, slowly, cautiously, he leaned in and pressed his mouth to Harry's—lightly. Lovingly.

Harry could feel his cheeks warm at the bare touch of lips on lips.

Draco drew back, and Harry opened his eyes.

"I love you," Draco said.

Harry felt a shiver pass through his entire body at the simple declaration.

"It's…" Draco's hand settled lightly on top of one of Harry's, and he turned his face to press a soft kiss to Harry's palm, making Harry shiver. Then Draco laughed a little, ruefully. "It's rather ridiculous, really," Draco said. "We don't make any sense."

Harry made a noise of protest—something uncomfortably close to a squawk, if one were perhaps to examine it too closely—and Draco chuckled and stroked a hand through Harry's hair again, before his expression slipped into something more solemn.

"I'm quite serious, though," he said. "We have no friends in common—" Harry opened his mouth to protest, and Draco rushed to amend, "Yes, yes, all right, Granger tolerates me now, but that doesn't make her my friend. Our respective friends hate each other—"

"I mean," Harry mumbled, "hate is a strong word—"

"Oh," Draco said, quirking an eyebrow, "so, Pansy would enjoy a cordial welcome if she were to wander into the Weasel's shop some afternoon?"

"I…er." Actually, Harry was fairly certain George had spelled the shop after the war so that Pansy Parkinson—among others—could never set foot in there, and he doubted the spell had ever been lifted. Harry didn't even know whether Draco would be able to enter the shop; he wasn't sure if Draco had ever tried. Slowly, he realized Draco was eyeing him with a smug expression, as though he could read Harry's thought process, and Harry sighed and settled his head on Draco's knee so he wouldn't have to look him in the eye. "Yes, all right. Point."

Draco's fingers toyed with Harry's hair as he continued. "My friends still aren't convinced I didn't bewitch you, somehow. Hell, my own father thought I'd bewitched you."

"See, now, that's just stupid," Harry said, his voice half-muffled into Draco's knee. "What would be the point of that? Would've thought they all still assumed you didn't even like me."

Draco's fingers stilled. "Well. That is—they knew I was…that you held a sort of fascination for me." He paused. "And that I used to wank off over your damn magazine spreads."

Harry's head shot up. "You did not."

Draco stared fixedly past Harry, refusing eye contact, but his cheeks had reddened.

"Oh, my god," Harry said. A slow grin spread across his face. "You did. And I never even did the Playwitch centerfold. So it was just…regular pictures."

"Shut up," Draco muttered. "You know how fit you are."

Harry rose to capture Draco's mouth again. Draco startled, then sighed into the kiss. "I like to look at you, too," Harry murmured against Draco's mouth. "I'm sure that comes as an enormous shock."

Draco opened his eyes. "Less so than realizing, at sixteen, that my father had discovered an old issue of Witch Weekly in my bedroom, featuring a certain boy savior on the cover."

Harry sat back down abruptly, shuddering. "Ugh. All right, I did not need to know Lucius Malfoy knew that about you and me."

Draco snickered at Harry's expression. "But that's the thing—it wasn't you, it was all me. My parents, my friends, everyone knew for years that I was…obsessed with you." He looked away, shook his head. "It was—kind of an unhealthy fixation, really. Just—loathing that morphed into a sort of…fascination. It's not really any wonder they all assumed the only way we'd end up together is if I tricked you somehow."

Harry looked up at him from where he still sat on the floor. Draco's jaw was tight, his mouth a thin line, the corners tipped downward. "That doesn't say much for what your friends think of you," Harry replied softly.

Draco blinked, and his gaze turned back to Harry. "Well. No, it was more that they assumed I was wasting my time even thinking about you, because they never thought you'd be smart enough to appreciate me."

"Oh," Harry said. He paused, frowned. "Yeah, OK, that makes more sense."

Draco leaned back into the chair and rubbed a hand across his eyes. "It was—Merlin, I could have killed Theo that day."

"He is…not my favorite person," Harry agreed.

Draco gripped the arms of the chair and breathed out a sigh, frowning. "All three of them were laughing—cackling, like it was a grand joke that they'd run you off," he said. His jaw worked, and he looked down at Harry. The hard glint in his eye made Harry suck in a breath—he could almost imagine the table falling silent as Draco turned an expression like this against his oldest friends. "I picked up the water Theo had laced with Veritaserum," Draco said, "and drank the entire glass."

Harry closed his eyes briefly, feeling the enormity of the gesture strike him—this, from Draco, who so hated not to have the upper hand, to feel powerless. But Draco's next statement made his eyes fly open in shock.

"I told them I was in love with you," Draco continued. "I told them it was serious, and that I thought you might be coming around to loving me, too, but it was slow going, and if they'd fucked it up for me, I'd never forgive them."

"Draco," Harry said.

Draco's expression softened, and his lips quirked in a wry not-quite-smile. "It's just as well you refused to listen to me when I got home. Probably would have let the whole story spill out, and ended up fucking it up all on my own."

"Draco," Harry said again, and Draco's face turned serious again. Harry's chest ached, just looking at him. "That long ago?" Harry asked.

"Longer," Draco said, simply.

Harry could feel his pulse beating in his throat. He'd never asked about it before, never dared, but— "You came to my hospital room," he said. "Didn't you."

Draco stilled. "I…oh." He swallowed. "Yes."

"I saw you," Harry said. "I thought I'd dreamt you."

Draco's lips parted in surprise, but he didn't say anything.

"You never said that you'd come."

Draco licked his lips, his gaze darting away. "No," he admitted.

Harry took a breath, remembering the hope that had gripped him, and the disappointment that had been left in its wake. "You didn't come back."

Draco closed his eyes, briefly. "No," he said. "I—didn't realize you'd known I was there. And I…" He swallowed again and looked down. "I wasn't sure I'd be welcomed."

"Christ. Draco."

Harry rose up onto his knees and started to climb up into Draco's chair with him, already absently reaching for a spell he could mutter to widen the chair, his entire focus on the desire to spread himself across Draco's lap and convince him with mouth and hands and hips of his welcome, until there was no doubt remaining.

But, perhaps reading Harry's intent in his expression, Draco barked a startled laugh and held his arms out, blocking Harry's way. "No, no," he said. "No, wait, just—" He pressed his hands to Harry's shoulders, urging him back, and slithered out of his chair, so that they ended up together on the floor, Harry sprawled with his arms propped behind him, and Draco with his thighs spread across Harry's hips, his hands clasping Harry's head to draw their foreheads together. Harry shifted his balance and wrapped his arms around Draco's lower back, pulling them even closer as they closed their eyes and breathed together in front of the fire.

"Some days, I can still hardly believe this is real," Draco said, his voice soft, breath buffeting Harry's lips as he spoke. "I keep expecting to wake up and realize it was all a dream, or a delusion—some potions-fueled hallucination. Or to discover that I've lost it." His breath hitched, just slightly. "And then…it felt like I had."

"Draco," Harry breathed, his palms spreading against Draco's back, relishing the radiating warmth of him, the soothing rhythm of his breath, the ever-unexpected gift of his heart. "I'm so sorry. I never should have—I never meant to—"

Draco's thumb smoothed over Harry's temple. "I never really dared to imagine you were something I could actually have. Every time, in the beginning, I thought—this is when he's going to remember who you are, and he's going to leave and never come back, and it'll serve you right for hoping."

Harry felt his chest constrict, remembering all the times he'd given Draco reason to feel that way—the careless note, the belated owl, the thousand times he'd failed to recognize what they were becoming to each other, the countless things left unsaid for so long, almost too long.

"And yet," Draco murmured, a hint of wonder creeping into his voice, "somehow, you kept coming back."

Harry started to speak, had to clear his throat. "Well," he said, finally, fighting to keep the tremble from his voice. "Of course, the sex was great."

Draco laughed, the sound wet, a bit broken.

Harry nudged his head up until he could look Draco in the eye again, waited until Draco opened his eyes, too—dark, shining, intent on Harry's. "…and because I liked you," Harry said.

Draco smiled crookedly. "But, see, that's part of what felt so…hallucinatory about the whole thing. It was one thing to have you like me when you were a literal child and didn't know any better. But adult you—the real you—had never liked me before." Harry began to protest, and Draco set a finger against his lips to silence him. His expression was knowing. "Attraction is not liking. You know the difference as well as I do." He shifted his hand so that his thumb brushed, slowly, back and forth across Harry's bottom lip, which fell open at the touch. Draco's gaze dropped to Harry's mouth. But rather than take up the clear invitation, he kept speaking, quietly. "It didn't feel real. And even if it were real, I felt sure it couldn't last. I was certain you had one foot out the door at all times. And, meanwhile, I—" The slow, metronomic sweeps of his thumb paused, and he swallowed, his gaze rising to meet Harry's again. "—I was so in love with you, it scared me, a little." He shook his head. "It still does," he admitted. The corner of his mouth tilted up, wry. "I don't like being vulnerable to you, Potter."

Harry took his own slow, deep breath, his hands tracing along Draco's ribs. He'd mapped the length of Draco's body with his hands and mouth so many times by now that he imagined he could almost feel the thin, smooth scars that snaked their way across Draco's torso, even through the armor of his clothing. "Because," Harry said, feeling the weight of old resentments, old ill intentions, new carelessness, "I tend to hurt you."

Draco held his gaze. "You do."

Harry searched his eyes. "I don't want to hurt you."

Draco's lips turned slowly upward, a real—if small—smile this time. "I realized that a long time ago, Harry," he said. "That's when I finally let myself admit I was falling in love with you."

Harry tilted his chin up, and this time Draco took it for the invitation it was, pressing his mouth to Harry's, his fingers spearing into Harry's hair and tilting his head just so, both sinking into the kiss until Harry began to forget everything except the friction of Draco's lips, the tug of his fingers, the slow drag of his tongue, the cant of his hips.

But then Draco drew his mouth away, pressing his forehead to Harry's again, his breath coming fast, almost desperate. Harry tried to chase his mouth, but Draco shook his head, biting his lip and looking pained. "Fuck, Harry. We shouldn't—I can't let you—" He clenched his eyes shut for a moment, drew a steadying breath. "Just when we get to this, here, where we finally understand each other, and I—I've fucked it all up, and I can't let you do this—"

"Draco," Harry protested, his own hands rising to slide into Draco's soft, silvery hair. "What are you talking about?"

"I can't let you put yourself in danger like this. I can't." His eyes searched Harry's, his expression strained. "Do you even know? Have you even read about male pregnancy, how dangerous it is?"

Harry blinked up at him, thrown. "I talked to the head of obstetrics at St. Mungo's yesterday, I told you. I'm going back on Monday, so they can run some more tests and we can talk further about a plan, and what I need to do to prepare. He was reaching out to some experts in the field, too, so there may be appointments with them, as well." He hesitated. "Would you like—would you consider coming, on Monday?"

Draco's face still looked tight, even frightened. "The books I read in the library last night—they said there was virtually no path to a successful delivery in the case of a male pregnancy. Either—" He swallowed. "Either the baby died, or the man did. Or—or both. And I can't—" His breath caught.

Harry's hands curled around Draco's jaw, cupping his face and feeling the fine tremor that shook him. The sheen in Draco's eyes made his breath catch. "Is this what you were doing last night? Reading about male pregnancy in the Hogwarts library?"

Draco's expression turned thunderous. "What else would I have been doing? Harry, I had to know—"

Harry felt warmth flood his chest, and he drew Draco's face closer to press a kiss to his sputtering mouth before letting him draw back again, looking like an affronted cat whose fur had been rubbed the wrong way. "Draco, I love that your first instinct was to trust in the library." It reminded him, in the best of ways, of Hermione, but he wasn't sure how well Draco would take the comparison just then, so he kept the thought to himself. "But...how old were those books?" Draco froze, and Harry continued, "Do you really think a library for schoolchildren would be completely up to date on medical texts?"

Draco frowned, as though offended Harry might even think to besmirch the noble reputation of the library, and, oh, Harry loved him so much.

"Draco," he said. He leaned back against one of his palms, and grasped one of Draco's hands in his to draw it downward. He could feel Draco's arm tense as he realized Harry's intent, but Harry determinedly set Draco's palm against his abdomen and weighted it there with his own hand. Draco stared at him, wide-eyed. "Draco," Harry said again, gently. "Poppy did not imply she was handing me a death sentence yesterday. The healer at St. Mungo's said it's unusual, but there have been several successful male pregnancies in Europe alone over the last few years—and even more around the globe. They've got the magic and the science figured out now."

"But—" Draco faltered, his eyes darting to Harry's abdomen, rising and falling with Harry's breaths under their hands. "The books," he said, faintly.

"Unless things have changed drastically since you and I left school, I don't think male pregnancy is a regular part of the Hogwarts curriculum, is it?"

"No." Draco frowned, then muttered, "Although if it can happen this easily, maybe it ought to be."

Harry wove his fingers between Draco's, anchoring him there, and smiled to see how Draco's gaze darted downward, and the way Draco's expression softened. When Draco's eyes met his again, Harry said, "Old, out-of-date library books notwithstanding, modern magic says there is every reason to believe I will get through this just fine, and so will our baby."

Draco's breath caught, and he bent to capture Harry's lips again. Harry smiled against his mouth, feeling the relief in Draco's touch, his breath, the clasp of his fingers in Harry's.

Draco drew back, and buried his face in Harry's shoulder. "I'm still going to talk to Poppy," Harry heard him mumble. He was also fairly certain he heard the word books muttered into his shoulder, and spared a fleeting thought for the state of poor Poppy's medical library once Draco got into it. Abruptly, Draco's head lifted. "And I'm coming with you to that appointment on Monday."

"Good," Harry said, smiling. "I want you there." He untangled his hand from Draco's—pleased to feel Draco's hand remain on his abdomen, exploring the as-yet-unchanged terrain of it with a sort of curious wonder—and touched Draco's face, his heart lifting at the love he saw returned in Draco's eyes. "I want you here for everything," Harry said. He swallowed, held Draco's gaze, admitted, "I want you forever."

Draco sucked in a breath. "Harry. Do you mean—"

"Yeah," Harry realized, he did. Once a seat-of-your-pants Gryffndor, always one, it seemed. He shifted to sit back upright, awkwardly rebalancing Draco on his lap as Draco just stared down at him in shock. "I'm not—I mean—I don't have anything prepared—I didn't plan—"

"You never do," Draco said, absently, still staring at him, his face a mix of surprise and awe and—was that amusement?

"I want to marry you," he said. Joy broke across Draco's face—and Harry realized that this was the moment he'd call instantly to mind if he needed to conjure a Patronus at any point in the near future. He'd never felt so light, so hopeful. But…"I don't have a ring, to ask you properly," Harry admitted.

Draco beamed. "That's all right," he said. "I do."

Harry gaped at him, and Draco laughed, sliding out his wand to cast an Accio toward their bedroom. A small box came soaring through the door, and Draco caught it deftly against his palm, as though it were a Golden Snitch.

"You," Harry managed. "What."

The brilliance of Draco's smile faded somewhat as he contemplated the box, turning it over and over in his fingers. "New Year's," he said, and Harry felt the sharp pang of it strike him, hard. "I had it ready for New Year's." He laughed, a little bitterly. "I was finally going to be the brave one."

"Draco," Harry said, catching Draco's face between his palms and kissing him, deeply, desperately.

Slowly, they drew apart, and Draco brushed a hand along Harry's jaw, his ear, his shoulder. His smile was rueful. "I thought maybe you even suspected. Everyone else seemed to."

Harry blinked at him, confused.

Draco shrugged, the movement uncharacteristically jerky. "My mother knew. She knew how I felt about you, ages ago."

Harry frowned. "But—wait, I thought you only told your parents about us a few months ago?"

Draco squirmed, a bit. "I—may have told her rather longer ago than that. She's—perceptive, my mother." Harry couldn't argue with that. "And—she guessed. How I felt about you, I mean. And I confirmed it. So—" His eyes were clear as they met Harry's. "She knew I loved you long ago. She guessed about my—intentions—when I asked to bring you to Paris."

Something clicked for Harry, then. "So—when she said something about my being like family—"

Draco sighed and rolled his eyes. "Getting a little ahead of herself, yes." He gave Harry an arch look. "She likes you, for whatever reason."

"More fool, her," Harry replied, smiling. "Good thing no one else in the family is similarly afflicted."

"Well, my father isn't, that's for sure," Draco muttered.

"Did he know, too?" Harry asked, curious.

Draco frowned and shook his head. "I honestly don't know. I didn't say anything. I'm not sure if Mother would have." He shrugged. "I'm not sure it would have changed his behavior either way."

Well, at least Harry was walking into his future in-law situation with eyes wide open, he reasoned.

"But, then," Draco continued, frowning again, "I had the oddest conversation at the Weasleys' on Christmas. Out of nowhere, Weasley told me"—Draco made a face like he'd just bitten into something sour—"that if I like it, I should put a ring on it."

Harry goggled. "Ron?"

"No, the paterfamilias."

"Oh," Harry said, strangely relieved. "OK, yeah, that makes more sense." He wasn't sure what to make of a world in which Ron quoted Beyoncé at Draco Malfoy. He actually wasn't sure what to make of a world in which Ron knew Beyoncé existed.

"It was just so strange." Draco frowned, looking deeply perplexed. "I just assumed he was talking about marriage, but maybe he wasn't? I mean, he also said something cryptic about a 'bad romance,' so I wasn't sure if he might have been trying to warn me off, instead."

Harry rubbed a hand across his face. "No," he said, "I suspect someone at the Ministry shared some Muggle pop music with Arthur recently, and he only got a bit overexcited about it."

"Ah," Draco said. "Well, that's a relief. Wouldn't want to overstep and deprive you of any future opportunities to lust over Weasley jumpers."

Harry laughed, stroking his hands down Draco's flanks and enjoying the shiver that induced under his fingers, and the fact they could joke together, again. It had begun to feel like so long since they'd laughed together. "I told you," he said lightly. "It's not the jumper. It's the Slytherin in it."

Draco's smile was fond as he met Harry's eyes, the ring box still clasped in his hand, and Harry could have lived in this moment forever.

"Well," Draco said, taking a deep breath, and exhaling. "I suppose there's a question I need to ask."

Harry felt his own breath catch.

"Harry," Draco said, his tone startlingly solemn. "I love you."

Harry felt the words shiver across his skin. He wasn't sure he'd ever get used to hearing them from Draco.

"We've had our ups and downs," Draco said, "but—my life is so much better, so much happier, with you in it, and I hope you feel the same."

"I do," Harry said, and they each laughed, a little, at the phrasing.

Draco cupped the box between his palms. "I want to keep falling asleep with you, and waking up with you. Finding new little things that annoy me about you—and new things to love about you. I want to—" His voice caught, and he cleared his throat. "—I want to create our family—someone who can finally use that blasted wand you took such a shine to."

Harry laughed, but it was a watery sound. He could feel his own throat tightening, his eyes starting to sting.

Draco's gaze was serious, heavy, as he held Harry's. "I want to stand by your side, against the world, Harry."

Harry swallowed. "I want that, too," he managed.

Draco fumbled the box open. "Marry me?" he asked.

Inside the box were two gold bands, each etched with a tiny, dancing Snitch that darted across and around the gleaming metal surface. Harry felt a bark of delighted laughter burst from him, and he was smiling—beaming, probably—as he met Draco's eyes, now bright with hope.

"Yes," he said. "Of course, I'll marry you." With that, he flung his arms around Draco and dragged him to the ground for a proper kiss to seal the agreement, and to mark the start of the rest of their lives—together.