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A Different Kind of Meaning

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It's dark. The sky is that special shade of black, like light reflected off obsidian or glass over deep water. It's crystalline and dull, shimmering and still, a matte black that glows with its darkness. Stars are spread across it like a handful of bright stones cast to the ground. They wink and sparkle, peering through the sluggish clouds that drift across the huge, empty night.

At the top of the Astronomy tower, Harry shivers. It's November, and the air is sharp and crisp. But he's wearing a heavy cloak and robes, and a jumper under those, so even with the wind biting through the layers, he's overly warm. Sweat pools in his armpits and the curve of his neck. He feels it clinging to his scalp, trapped by his riotous hair, the breeze trying to steal it away. But even though he's sweating, he can't stop goose pimples from rising on his arms.

There's a tension under his skin. Like a bow drawn, but not yet fired, or a violin about to be played. It's potential. The low hum of magic, a spell waiting to be cast. He's poised, expectant, but he doesn't know what for.

He's felt this way all term. He thought coming back to Hogwarts would settle the restlessness inside him. It's the only home he's ever known, other than the Burrow, and he thought the comforting strength of it would let him lay down this burden of remembered responsibility and the gaping emptiness of what comes after. Instead, it's grown into a tangle he'll never be able to undo. A mix of duty and love, one that leaves him lying in bed, eyes wide, staring into the darkness of his shared room and wishing he could see the stars.

An eighth year. It sounded like a reprieve, a chance to heal and breathe. For him to figure out what he was, now that being the Boy Who Lived didn't feel like enough. Ron didn't need it, went straight into Auror training with the same single-minded focus that let him defeat a magical chess set at eleven. Hermione, equally in love with Ron and with learning, came with Harry, but even the balm of her presence isn't enough.

He doesn't know who he is anymore, and as he looks up into the black sky, he wonders if he ever will again.

The clatter of footsteps on stone stairs breaks his thoughts, and he turns around, surprised that anyone else would brave the cold air that clings to the Astronomy Tower.

As Draco Malfoy steps from the shadowed entry, the surprise dims. This is just another thing Harry doesn't recognize anymore. The blond hair and grey eyes are the same, the sharp planes of his face and the quirk of his mouth unchanged. But there's a difference in the line of his shoulders and the weight laid across them. Harry tries to put his finger on what it means, but it slides away like thoughts in a Pensieve, thin and indistinct.

"Potter." Malfoy walks towards Harry, then past. "I didn't think I'd find anyone up here this time of night."

"I'm not anyone."

Malfoy turns around, brow furrowed. "That's unexpected. I think there are quite a few witches and wizards who would disagree with you on that."

"I just…" Harry can feel his face flushing, that overwhelming heat growing worse. "It's all over, isn't it? I'm just…"

"The Saviour of the Wizarding World. The Master of Death." Malfoy leans his back against the stone rail, legs crossing at the ankle as he eyes Harry up and down. "Harry fucking Potter."

Heat races through him at the curse, at the feel of Malfoy's eyes travelling across Harry's body like they want to own it.

And this is another thing that's changed. His fascination with Malfoy, something that Hermione and Ron would call obsession, has shifted to something more carnal. Before, he didn't notice the way Malfoy's body fit beneath his clothes, the subtle shift of muscle hidden by cloth. Didn't find his eyes wandering over the delicate arch of his hands, tracing the thin blue lines of veins. Didn't wonder what they would feel like pressed against his own skin or tangled in his hair.

But now, Harry wonders what that touch, that ownership, would feel like. When Malfoy cares, he cares deeply. The few people that he opens up to are his, and his entirely. There's nothing he wouldn't do for them, and Harry knows it in the most violent, visceral way possible. He knows it like he knows the line of tension growing between Malfoy's eyes, like the slowly stiffening muscles as Harry stares back.

"I'm just me," he finally says, not knowing what he means but hoping that Draco understands. "I don't want to be anything more than that."

Malfoy's expression shifts, ephemeral and contemplative. "I can understand that. I don't know that I want to be anything more than Draco these days." He looks away. Harry tries to not feel it like a loss. "Not sure about the Malfoy part anymore."

"It's who you are."

"A bit simplistic of a view, but yes."

"It doesn't have to be everything, though."

A pause, as if Harry's words are light glittering in the sky and hidden by clouds. Draco gives them time to come out, to brighten.

"No, I don't suppose it does."

He's burning up. The hands slinking their way under the hem of his jumper are thin and long, their touch tender but with a bite. Nails drag over his muscled back, and he arches into the painful caress.

"Like that, Potter?"

Sharp teeth bite at the cords of his neck, and Harry gasps. He doesn't want to think right now, wants to drown in the heat and desire curling low in his gut.

So he pulls Draco closer, lets his body speak because he can't.

He leans back against the cold stone wall and Draco follows. He breathes against the skin of Harry's neck, his voice a wicked murmur that leaves Harry shaking.

"What do you want?" Draco's voice is soft, though his touch is hard.

"Anything," Harry gasps. "Whatever you want."

Draco's voice doesn't shake when he says, "I want you on your knees." But when Harry drops to the floor in a boneless rush, even gravity too slow for the speed he desires, Draco's hands do.

Harry pulls aside Draco's robes, nestles his face in the space between Draco's waistband and the bottom of his jumper. The white shirt beneath smells like starch and musk, and Harry presses an open mouthed kiss to the fabric, leaving a wet mark behind.

"Fuck." Draco's voice feels distant. "You're desperate for it, aren't you?"

He is, but Harry can't speak, his mouth too full of want. He trails his hands up Draco's thighs, the fabric of his trousers clinging to Harry's rough palms so that Draco's ankles peek out from beneath the cuffs before disappearing when Harry reaches for Draco's belt instead.

It whispers through the loops, the buckle rattling as it settles near Draco's hip. Harry presses his nose to Draco's fly, leaves just enough room for his hands to work the zip down, and breathes in the smell of hunger and cold night air.

There are no words now, just quiet curses from Draco's panting mouth. Harry uses his hands to say things instead. Gentle, teasing touches to apologize for past hurts. His tongue trailing over skin, a plea for forgiveness. The bite of the floor against his knees is a demand for penance. His mouth and lips and teeth are used to bring forth gasps and murmurs of pleasure instead of sharp rebuke and anger. The acrid tang of Draco on his tongue is liquor, hot and burning as it pours down his throat in slow, even swallows.

It soothes him, these moments of forgetfulness. Here, he's nothing important. He's flesh and bone and blood. Draco draws his humanity from him, lets him put his masks away. Harry knows who he is with Draco's body pressed against—pressed inside—his. When his eyes water from Draco's fingers tangled too tight in his hair, the back of his throat aching from the pressure of Draco's cock, he blinks them away. As he comes, both touched and untouched, he sees stars, even with his eyes closed.

"We can't do this."

It's bright and beautiful. Summer is in full force, the world green and vibrant around them. The sky is so blue, it hurts to look at. That's why his eyes sting, not because of the man before him, distant and hard as ice.

"What do you mean? We've been doing… this for months now. Why stop?" Harry shivers, wraps his arms around himself. He wishes he hadn't left his robes inside. The breeze is cold, even though the day is warm.

Draco laughs. "I always forget how much of an idealist you are. We're graduating, Potter. What do you think they"—he waves his hand towards the grounds where tents are gathered, parents and students wandering across the open lawns as they get ready for graduation—"would have to say about the Saviour of the Wizarding World slumming it with a former Death Eater? With Lucius Malfoy's son?"

"It doesn't matter what they think. That's not how I see you."

Draco's laugh is rough and muted. "It's not worth it."

His back is turned, but when Harry reaches out to touch him, he flinches. Harry's fingers curl into his palm, pain stinging sharp and insistent through his body, and he takes a step back.

"I won't force you."

"No." Shoulders slump. "No, you wouldn't."

"Do you want me to?"

Silence, then footsteps on stone, walking away.

Harry wants to shout, to scream. There's something inside of him desperate to get out. It builds in his chest, a low tension that he fights against throughout the ceremony, his eyes steadfastly turned away from the sun. It's distant but still so bright, it hurts to look at. He blinks again and again, and wishes it were the middle of the night, and he could see the stars instead.

He figures it's because of his name and his history that Ron ends up being his trainer. He hates the favouritism, the way he's rushed through the interview and application process, hates that the nameless men and women who wave him through red tape look at him like he's an oddity, a museum piece, something to be both admired and feared. But being with Ron, having someone at his side who knows and accepts him, with or without the labels and accolades, is still a relief.

"Welcome to the team." Ron slaps his back hard enough to sting, but he smiles when he does it. "Glad to have you with me, mate."

Auror training is hard, or at least Harry thinks he's supposed to think it is. There are spells to learn and physical combat. Mental exercises, tips and tricks for evading capture or not breaking under interrogation. The days are long and punishing, and though he sleeps like the dead, his dreams are still haunted.

He's not bored, but he's been learning these skills since he was a child, and while he may not understand them on an intellectual level, he knows them by instinct. But his body and his mind grow, even if he doesn't think they will, and he changes. He's been raised to be a weapon, but now he's honing the blade, potential beginning to be realized.

He accompanies Ron on missions, and it's like the Horcrux hunt all over again. It's like fighting Death Eaters across the grounds of Hogwarts. It's like standing at the top of the astronomy tower, waiting to hear footsteps. His heart races, and his mind goes still and quiet. He's focused, intent. There's no space to think, to feel. There is only purpose and action. He loses himself to it, lets himself narrow down to the point of pursuit and capture.

There are so many faces that he recognizes. Men and women who ran after Voldemort fell, their pale and stricken faces fleeing the school's grounds to disappear into the wet wilds of Scotland, only to reappear at the end of his wand.

It's like Harry's summoned them. Wave after wave, they come, all hoping for revenge. And though they find it, it's not theirs; it's his. He thinks of Sirius, of Remus and Tonks. Of Dobby and Hedwig. Of Dumbledore and Fred. And when he does, the anger grows unruly and overwhelming. Harry snarls and snaps inside with each capture, a feral animal held back by the cage of respectability and expectation. If he were let loose, if he were unleashed, he'd devour the whole lot of them, desperate to fill the aching emptiness inside.

He is consumed with so much anger, he's afraid of what will happen when it spills out. If this painful, overly bright heat in his chest will burn through the world like it burns through him. When they pin his Auror badge to his chest, Robards' eyes bright with pride and a twisted excitement, Harry wonders if that's why he's here, really. To sweep across the world like disaster, like wildfire, to let something new grow in the wake.

He doesn't let himself think of Draco. Harry can't count him among his lost, though Draco is. And the tension beneath Harry's skin grows and grows, a string stretched tight.

"I cannot believe it." Hermione throws The Prophet down on her kitchen table, hands already on her hips. "Will you look at this?"

While Ron peers expectantly at the news story spread across the front page, Harry doesn't want to. He already knows what it says. He spent all of breakfast staring at the damned paper, his hand trembling as it brought the coffee cup to his lips and forced him to drink.

The photo is like an offering at the altar of Harry's fading memories and long-buried desire. Draco's face beams out at the world. There's a smugness in the curl of his lips, and Harry remembers how they felt against his skin, the way they shaped his name, the way they held him safe.

Reformed Death Eater Passes Reparations Bill in Wizengamot, Donates Half a Million Galleons to Fund.

"I've been trying for two years to pass that bill, and he waltzes into the Ministry, cheque in hand, and makes it happen in two weeks." She shakes a finger at the paper, as if Draco can see her annoyance through newsprint. "The utter bastard."

"Do you want him to take it back?" Ron sounds confused and a little scared. "I don't think the Ministry will let him."

"No." She runs a hand through her hair, getting her fingers tangled and shaking them free. "I'm just irritated. It's great that he's managed to do it. It needed to be done."

It did, and it is. Harry watches Draco's picture smile at him, again and again, and he fights for breath.

"Then, good for him." Ron picks up the paper. Harry doesn't wince. "At least he's doing something good now."

"That's just it!" Hermione slumps into her chair and steals Harry's tea from his limp hand. "This isn't the first thing he's done. After I saw that article this morning, I did some research."

Ron groans. "Hermione, really?"

"Yes, really." She sips, grimaces, sets the tea down. "You need to cut down on your sugar, Harry. It's going to ruin your teeth."

"'Mione, focus."

"Sorry, sorry. I did some research, and he's either chaired or had his name on nearly fifty bills in the last two years. Almost since he finished his magical law degree, Draco Malfoy has been slowly but surely rewriting the magical legal code."

Harry stiffens. "What's he trying to do?"

"Nothing nefarious, not that I can tell. The earliest ones were straightforward. Inheritance laws, taxation rates for estates lost either due to death or incarceration, things like that. But the changes pick up after that. You remember when they updated the sentencing laws for wizards and witches associated with Death Eaters?"

"That was Malfoy?" Ron pales. "I remember that. We had to let twenty people out of Azkaban years early."

"They weren't Death Eaters," Harry says quietly. "Just their friends and family, no one directly related to Voldemort or his cause."

"But they colluded with the people who were."

"Allegedly," Hermione says.

"Allegedly." Ron shakes his head. "I'm surprised you're not making more of a fuss about this, Harry. I thought you hated Malfoy."

It would be so much easier if he did.

"Maybe he wants his name to mean something different now. Maybe he doesn't want everyone to see the War when they see Malfoy."

Hermione looks at him. She's always been clever, and he sees a bit of understanding creep into her gaze.

"Maybe. Why don't you two tell me about your day?"

"You won't believe it, 'Mione. Harry did the most incredible thing…"

Ron launches into an enthusiastic retelling of their day, and Harry lets himself fade away, not listening. The paper lays on the table, forgotten in Ron's excitement, and Draco stares up at him. Harry maps the planes and angles of that face, memorizes the careful constellation of Draco's smile. Tries to remember what it felt like to trail his fingers over it, to hold it in his hands, cherished and close and already lost.

It's been years, and the memories are fading like night before sunrise, turning from deep, sharp black to a soft, golden glow, lost like stars to the day.

He leaves after supper, and takes his own copy of The Prophet from the bin where he'd thrown it that morning. Smoothing the wrinkles from the page, he tucks it into his bedside table for reasons he can't bear to examine. Maybe one day, he will, but for now, he keeps Draco's smiling face nearby and tries to remember everything he's lost.

There's a breaking point for everyone. A limit that no one really knows until they reach it. And then it's shattering glass or breaking bones or the stinging snap of a wire. It's potential energy released without warning, without foreknowledge. It isn't until it is.

Harry thought that death would be it for him. But then he died, and he came back, and life went on. He woke up in the morning and went to bed at night. He ate. He breathed. And while it hadn't been a limit, it had been a boundary, one he crossed without understanding and one he still fails to understand. But he went past it, and he was still whole.

But he thinks he's reached it now. He stares down at the sightless eyes looking up at him, his wand still hot in his hand, and he thinks that his limit isn't his death, it's someone else's.

"Merlin." Ron rushes to his side, panting. "Fuck, he nearly got you."


The world is numb and still around him. A ringing starts in his ears. He sees stars.

Ron's hand on his shoulder shakes him back to reality. "Harry. Are you all right?"

He doesn't know the man's name. Doesn't know why he was out in the middle of the Moors, why he'd been stalking and killing Muggle women. Harry doesn't recognize the man's face or his clothes, didn't recognize his accent before his voice was cut off part way through the Killing Curse.

Harry's never going to forget them, though. Not now.

"Yeah," he forces out. "I'm all right."

Every time he picks up his wand, his hand shakes. Though he tries, again and again, to go into the field, he can't bring himself to. He can't sleep, and the droop of his shoulders and the darkness under his eyes grows worse and worse. His handwriting crawls across his paperwork like insects, a thin trail of black going nowhere.

He can't do this.

He quits two weeks later.

Five years, he's been an Auror, and in the course of five hours, it's done. His desk is packed, his robes and badge handed in, and Ron helps him to Grimmauld, watching Harry like he's something Hagrid would teach them about back at Hogwarts.

"You sure you're alright?" Ron asks, standing on Harry's doorstep like he's never been there before. "I can come in, if you'd like. Keep you company?"

"I'm fine, I promise." Harry tries for a smile. "I know it seems sudden, but it's what I needed to do."

"Of course, of course."

"You don't get it at all, do you?"

Ron's shoulders sag and he tries to smile. "No, mate, I don't. But if it's what you want, then I'm here for you."

Harry wants to hug him, but he's worried it'll be too much for him to handle right now. He isn't lying, but he spent so much of his childhood thinking he would be an Auror that now that he isn't, it hurts. His future, one that had been chosen for him before he could say no, is even more indistinct now than it had been when he'd screamed Expelliarmus across a battlefield and hoped for the best.

So instead of pulling his best friend into his arms, Harry shoves at Ron's shoulder, his thickly muscled body shifting only because he lets Harry do it. "You're such a sap."

"Yeah, yeah." Ron smiles, and it eases something within. "I've got to get back, but I'll Floo you later? I'm sure Hermione will want to talk to you, too."

"See if you can get her to leave me be for the day, all right?"

"You know how she gets."

"And I'm sure you can think of some way to distract her."

Ron laughs. "Damn right." His smile, bright like the sun, softens. "I'm gonna miss working with you."

"No, you won't. At least your paperwork will get done on time, now."

"No, it won't. Who do you think is going to do it?"

Harry knows that Ron's delaying, trying to find a reason to stay. So instead of waiting for him to go on his own, Harry takes a step back, gets the door ready to be closed. "We'll talk later. You've got work to do."

Ron's expression turns serious, corners of his mouth falling to a more sombre mien. "Later, then."

They don't say goodbye. They never say goodbye.

Harry closes the door, listens for it to lock, then slides to the floor before lying down, spread out across the front rug.

The ceiling doesn't hold any answers, but there are cobwebs scattered across the corners with shadows tangled in their threads. The rug against his back is rough and scratchy, threadbare and devoid of colours other than various shades of brown. Harry takes it all in, absorbs the dingy and depressed state of his home. There's a pointed moment of decision, a note about to be played, a silence about to end, and then he rolls to his feet and sets to cleaning.

It's the first constructive thing he's done in years.

There's a simplicity to repairing things. There's a problem and a solution. Sometimes, they're both immediately apparent. A cracked dish that needs to be patched, a torn shirt sewn. Other times, the uneven legs of a chair refuse to find level, no matter how many times he measures and cuts and sands, and he has to take the entire thing apart, replacing the mortars and tenons, chiseling new dovetails, and slotting everything back together into a cohesive, stable whole.

Grimmauld purrs under his hands. Its floors, sanded smooth and even and stained the same color as Macallan 25, no longer creak when he walks down the hallway to his kitchen. That had taken him a whole week to accomplish, his body tucked under the joists in the basement and his fingers sliding shims in between the floorboards and beams until they stopped crying out beneath his feet.

The walls are painted in clean, fresh colors. A white tinged with the warmth of sunrise in the halls, a bright blue in the kitchen, a deep red in the library. The cobwebs disappear, taking the shadows with them. He's left with a space he barely recognizes, a bright and open place that lets him breathe and think and rest. It reminds him of a nearly empty train station, of an ice cold wind at the top of a tower, of the aching press of stone against his knees.

Kreacher changes with the house. Though he's still old and looks like a soggy newspaper that's been scavenged from the gutter and dried a little too close to the fire, his posture straightens. He stands taller, with more purpose and poise. It turns his age from a sad, decrepit thing to one of calm assurance and gravitas. Harry's surprised by it, especially when the house-elf starts tending to the newly finished rooms, straightening knick-knacks on shelves and organizing books in their cases, until everything is tidy and well-ordered.

"The house deserves to be cared for. And since Master cares," he says when Harry asks one morning, sitting in the kitchen as Kreacher potters about making breakfast, "Kreacher cares, too."

Though it's not the last thing he does, Harry buries the house-elf heads in the back garden, plants roses for protection and apology above them. The bush blooms shortly after with deep red blossoms. Their centers are scattered with white like stars in a bloody sky. Kreacher stares at the bush for a long time, not leaving the garden until the sun starts sinking behind the London skyline and the whole world is washed in red and gold.

And when he's finished, when there's no more furniture to mend, no more walls to paint, no more floors to sand, he's left with calloused hands and a singing tension in his blood, and a desire to continue, to rebuild instead of destroy.

He starts at the Burrow. Molly welcomes him with open arms, drawing him into a tight hug that feels like loss and coming home. He swallows past the sensation, his tool box bumping against her back as he returns the embrace.

"Arthur's just outside, dear." She pulls back, pats his cheek. "He'll be happy for the help."

There's plenty to do. Most of the walls are at odd angles, thrown together by necessity, but by hands unsure in their task. Harry brings them square and even, fits their corners together in strong, powerful lines. The kitchen fireplace gleams when he's done patching the stone. Eventually, the ghoul takes to following Harry around the house, trailing its chains across the floor in low, inquisitive jangles. When Harry fixes up the space where the creature lives, it settles into it as if it had been waiting for someone to make the Burrow its home, too.

It's surprising to Harry, how comfortable he is with his hand wrapped around a hammer instead of a wand. He could use magic to mend these things, to put boards square and even, to change the color and texture of the walls. Transfiguration would make everything move faster, charms would give everything a gleam in seconds. But there's a simplicity to the repetition of placing a nail, driving it into the wood, and moving onto the next one. It's almost meditative, his mind stilling and the tension inside him easing for the first time in years. The ache in his muscles reminds him of combat, but there aren't any bruises now, just the low pain of a long day's work and the satisfaction it brings. So, while he could use magic, he uses his hands instead.

He starts restoring magical homes after he finishes with the Burrow. Unlike that home, which had breathed with life and love, most of his projects are abandoned and empty when he arrives. They need him just as much as he needs them, and together, they find their way from hollow things, haunted by the echoes of forgotten footsteps on stairs, to warmth and sunlight and acceptance. Harry opens these homes, and they open him, and together, they learn how to face the world again.

When their new tenants take ownership, Harry whispering spells to transfer control as he signs the more mundane paperwork, he feels whole.

Harry doesn't tell anyone what he's doing, but the magical community is small and his name still carries weight, even a decade after the War ended, and it gets out.

The Prophet writes an exposé. At first, it feels like a violation. Like someone picking through pieces of his life, of his soul. But as he reads and takes in the pictures of happy families outside glowing homes, it eases. It's recognition, respect. And this time, it's earned. It's not because of a scar or a prophecy. It's because of his hands and his heart, and by the time he finishes the article, he's crying at his kitchen table, and he thinks he might finally understand why.

His post is flooded with offers. There are so many magical homes in Britain and Ireland and Scotland and Wales, all in desperate need of a talented and gentle touch. He wishes he could work on all of them, from the smallest flat to the largest estate. But there's not enough time, and he has to be careful about his choices.

There's a stone cottage in Cornwall that he spends three months on, painstakingly filling the cracks between the stone walls and rethatching the roof. As he works, it starts sealing its own holes until Harry only has to think about it before the light from outside winks out.

After that, he gets a misbehaving town home in Glasgow back in order. It fights the changes at first, the front gate locked tight when he arrives, the iron bars covered in thorns. But as Harry eases his way inside, whispering to the lock until it clicks open, letting his hands catch on iron to leave his blood—red like rose petals— behind, the house stills, waits. He feels its apprehension like a cloak around his shoulders, knows it watches him as he works slowly and carefully through each room. But when he places a new number plate on the front, its silver bright and catching the sunshine so that it glows, there are only roses tangled around the fence and no sign of thorns at all.

He doesn't expect to hear from Narcissa Malfoy. Malfoy Manor is one of the oldest magical homes in Britain. It's been left uninhabited for as long has Harry's been repairing homes, and though he knows it must be a disaster inside and out, he's still surprised when the eagle owl appears at his window, its tufted ears held back with elegance and its talons grasping a letter with a delicate touch.

For a long time, he considers not opening it. But there's a faded newspaper in his bedside table and an ache in his gut, and his hands tremble when he rolls out the parchment. Like the woman, Narcissa's handwriting is precise and refined. Her request is simple. Labour for capital.

There's no mention of her son.

Harry takes the job anyway.

The first time Harry walked down the front drive of Malfoy Manor, his face was swollen to the point of pain, his eyes watering from it, his glasses askew and smeared by a nameless Snatcher's fingers. He'd been in a panic, fighting against Voldemort's presence in his mind and trying desperately to think of a way to get them all to safety. There was no time to appreciate the building, only the dread growing in his stomach until he thought he would retch from it.

But today is bright and sunny, the weather unseasonably warm for Wiltshire. The sky is blue and dusted with clouds, the gravel drive crackling and even beneath Harry's feet.

Somehow, it makes it all so much worse.

The gate, once a sharp black like obsidian, is peeling and stained with rust. It flakes off in places, littering the ground beneath with bits of paint and metal. As Harry approaches, the face in the gate forces itself to appear, the jagged red around its mouth like a scraggly beard.

"State your purpose," it says, its voice screeching as if its hinges haven't been oiled in far too long.

"I'm here to help. To repair the Manor."

The face blinks, shedding more rust, then slowly opens the gate. It winces, as if it hurts, and Harry can already feel his hands itching.

The hedges are overgrown, the peacocks probably long dead. The wide stone steps to the front door are crumbling at the edges, and when he knocks and Narcissa opens the door, it moves, slow and ungainly, like a wounded creature.

"Mr Potter." She steps to the side. "Come in."

After the brightness of the spring morning, it's pitch black inside the Manor. But it's more than his eyes adjusting. There's a sense of disuse, of abandonment clinging to the walls and floors. It coats everything in a layer of darkness that turns the purple walls and the golden oak floors the same shade of unwashed grey.

"As you can see," she drawls, sounding so much like Draco that Harry's heart clenches, "there is plenty of work to be done."

He nods. "I'll need to ask you some questions, and then a tour if there's time. Depending on how long that takes, I can get started tomorrow."

"Of course." She gestures down the portrait-lined hallway towards the drawing room. "If you'll follow me."

He does his best to not remember the last time he was here and hopes he can stand to be in the basement—the dungeons—again.

When they settle into chairs, the only two in the room that aren't threadbare or spilling stuffing onto the scratched floorboards, Harry finally asks the question he's been holding in his mind since he got her letter.

"Why me?"

Narcissa's expression doesn't change. Her chin tilts up an infinitesimal amount, her voice as steady as it had been when she'd whispered a question about her son in Harry’s ear.

"Because this is my home. Because it has been misused and abandoned and forgotten. Because I believe that the Manor deserves the best." She blinks and Harry thinks he sees something broken in her, a jagged edge that matches his own. "And you are the best."

He nods. "Why don't you show me around?"

With the land gifted to Armand Malfoy by William the Conqueror, Malfoy Manor and its surrounding gardens and forests are some of the oldest properties in magical England. The first house was built between 1067 and 1104, but was later demolished to make way for what is now the Manor, which was built in 1243. Though it has been renovated countless times since then—mainly to replace flammable building materials, such as wood, with stone—the main footprint of the house is unchanged from this earliest major construction. Most of the foundation stones date back to then as well.

In its current form, there are thirty-eight rooms spread between four floors. Walking into the Manor from the east entrance, one travels through the main entrance hall, which contains the grand staircase leading to the second level. From the hall, one can continue through and into the ballroom, which takes up the back half of the ground floor. Though they are currently closed by large, dark shutters, almost the entire back wall of the Manor is covered in floor to ceiling windows, with a section that opens onto a terrace. Outside are two sets of matching stairs that lead to the larger of the gardens. At its height, there were balls held here for most of the summer season, sparkling Magical and Muggle gentry spilling onto the lawn like brightly-coloured jewels.

The north wing contains the drawing room, the main library, and the lady's and men's retiring rooms. The Lord's office, the main dining room, the sunroom, and the butler's pantry are in the south wing.

In the upper story, there are eight bedrooms—two with en suite bathrooms —and three bathrooms for general use. The Lord and Lady's rooms are on the eastern and western sides of the house respectively, with a hallway and closet space connecting the two. Malfoy Manor was one of the first houses in the area to make use of Muggle plumbing in the bathrooms, rather than having house elves cast heated Aguamenti spells. This had, of course, freed up the elves for other tasks around the Manor, which boasted a staff of twenty during its busiest years. They'd been a mix of both house elves and human servants, with the human servants occupying the six bedrooms on the highest floor of the house, the space hidden by the line of the roof and accessed by two sets of servants' staircases on either side of the house. The additional two bathrooms on that floor, along with the bathrooms on the first, were renovated during the 1920s and converted to more modern accommodations, making Malfoy Manor one of the most desirable postings in the area.

The remaining eight rooms are in the lowest level of the house. A large kitchen with a walk-in freezer and a wine cellar take up most of the space. There are a handful of storage rooms, though they have been converted more recently for other uses. Tunnels link the basement to a boiler house which fed hot water and steam to the rest of the Manor through a series of iron pipes. It has since been decommissioned, but as one of the first of its kind in England— magical or otherwise—the boiler house has been kept in good repair due to its historical merit.

The two gardens, which were updated in the early 1900s to a Classical Revivalist style, are to the front and back of the Manor. The back—and larger—garden is sunk into three terraces that overlook the forests covering most of the Manor's lands. There is a magic-made lake with a marble pavilion located on its shores. Five marble and bronze sculptures are scattered throughout the gardens as well, including one that will answer riddles during full moons. The front garden's main attraction, other than the large mature trees, is a fountain and a line of ornate boxwood hedges lining the front path. While no longer present, there was a hedge maze on the property as well that gained the property some notoriety.

Currently, the Manor has been unoccupied for seven years. The previous owners were, of course, the Malfoy family, followed by the Ministry of Magic, and then a French magical family. Unfortunately, the owners decided the property was too ostentatious for them and abandoned it. Since then, it's sat empty, unloved and waiting.

For Narcissa to buy it back.

And for him to bring it to life.

Because Harry’s still a bit of a masochist, he starts with the basement. The kitchen is in good shape, all things considered, but the ovens need to be replaced, and the entire wine cellar has to be redone. He builds new cabinets out of red oak and cedar, leaves the stone floor as-is since its dark and uneven surface contrasts beautifully with the light caught and reflected by the wine bottles. It's a mix of refinement and untamed beauty, and when he finishes, he helps himself to a red wine so old, the label is more dust than paper. The vintage clings to his tongue and teeth like a memory, and he cherishes every sip.

In the kitchen, he puts in a six burner hob with a wide open oven and broiler underneath, all cast iron and brushed steel. It commands the room, but begs for a matched pair of baking ovens that Harry wrestles down the narrow servants stairs with careful Reducio and Wingardium Leviosa charms. Normally, he wouldn't use magic, but there's no other way to make the damn things fit, and something in his blood says they have to be there for the job to be done right. He adds a pot hanger made of reclaimed wood above a central, heavy butcher block table. The copper pots and pans that hang from it brighten the room, catching and reflecting the small lights littered across the ceiling.

The cabinets only need refinishing and a layer of high-gloss white paint, and when he finishes putting away the new porcelain plates, their edges covered with a delicate pattern of flowers in greyscale, the whole room sparkles.

The dungeons—because that's what they are, no matter how Narcissa described them during her surprisingly informative and well-practiced tour—need a lot more work than either the kitchen or wine cellar. Harry can taste stale magic and blood on his tongue when he walks inside the first time, and he's surprised he keeps his breakfast down. The floors are stained and cracked. Moss grows over the walls as if it could cover the dark things done here, its small roots tangled into the mortar of the stone like fingers. But the darkness is pervasive, like a dead animal lost behind a wall and rotting there. Harry wrinkles his nose at the stink, though he doesn't know exactly where it comes from.

He tears everything out. The heavy wooden door is pulled from its hinges. Bars are ripped from the walls, the deep-set holes in the stonework the only sign they'd been there. The floors are scrubbed and scrubbed until Harry's hands are raw from it, but at least there's no more blood stuck in the cracks and crevices of the stone.

The magic is harder to remove. It's sunk into everything, blended with the bones of the house. And because those bones are old and tied to the land and the blood of the family, the magic doesn't want to let go. Its roots are large and run deep. Harry spends two weeks pulling the curses from the stone. He sweats and grits his teeth, drawing out dark power until his head aches. He's sick later, what little dinner he manages to choke down forcing its way back, his body arched over the toilet as he retches again and again, remembering his time in those godawful rooms over a decade ago and Hermione's screams echoing from upstairs. And though his hands shake when he goes back to the Manor the next day, he gets back to his work, wand in hand. He removes everything like a cancer, until the touch of evil disappears from his skin to leave something else behind, expectant and waiting.

But once everything is clean and cleared, and there are no more remnants of anything dark except for the normal shadows left where the light can't reach, Harry doesn't know what to do with the space. He wanders upstairs, finds Narcissa in the relatively unscathed sunroom, and asks.

"I've never had any use for it myself," she says, her book folded in her lap now that he has her attention. "Turn it back into storage space. There's not much else you could put down there, other than the family's leftovers."

And Harry plans on exactly that. He orders lumber and paint, starts building utilitarian shelves to push against the walls. But as he stares at the pile of wood and the tidy stacks of nails, the plaster and tools, he doesn't build anything. He leaves and moves onto the ground floor instead.

He starts with the butler's pantry, rebuilding its cabinets with the same cedar and oak he used in the wine cellar. The lines are simple, the space small, and he finishes it in a handful of days. The dining room is next. There isn't any furniture in it, just parquet floors and wainscoting and peeling damask wallpaper. He pulls the paper, replaces it with a silk in a soft blue that brings out the golden tones in the wood. The floor and panelling, he refinishes. As he puts the last layer of varnish on the floors, the oak glows like embers.

The ballroom, with its delicate herringbone floors and ornately paneled walls, must have been beautiful in its heyday. But now, the windows to the back terrace are shuttered. Wet Wiltshire air has seeped through the old window frames, and the floor has warped and buckled because of it. The plaster designs on the walls are sagging, the gold and silver leaf tarnished and dull. There's a medallion in the center of the ceiling, but the chandelier that used to hang from it is nothing more than a tangled mess of wire and a single, glittering pendalogue lying beneath. Hidden above the doorways are ominous paintings of the forests outside. Harry catches flashing eyes watching him, but they disappear before he can get a clear look.

He's got his work cut out for him here.

The plaster comes down easily. He takes a heavy crowbar to the walls, cracking through the bits that aren't molded or damp. Something screams when he breaks through the frescos, and his heart aches at the loss of the art, even if it is darker than his usual taste. Thankfully, the lath beneath is in shockingly good shape, and as Harry tears down the plaster with long, wrenching pulls that reminds him of gutting someone, he breathes a sigh of relief that he won't have to replace that as well.

Once the plaster is gone, he starts pulling up the floor. He can't rush it, though, not like he could with the walls. Instead, he pulls up each and every piece of parquet wood, taking the small nails out with a delicate touch, his breath held. He won't be able to reuse most of what he removes, but if he's going to recreate it, he needs to know each and every piece of this puzzle.

With steady hands, he traces each piece onto butcher paper until there's no more flooring to pull up, just bare joists and the basement ceiling beneath. It takes him a week to find the right replacement lumber, a beautiful oak that's tightly grained and warm when he runs his fingers over it. His hand saws cut into it with smooth, even strokes, and slowly, he rebuilds the floor, piece by piece.

Plastering the walls doesn't take as long, even with the ornate panelling and details that the room calls out for. He leaves them white, forgoing the gilt that had covered the room before. He does find a local artist to redo the paintings above the doors, though, but they're of the lake in the lower garden and the sunlight glinting off of its surface, rather than the dark forests beyond.

The crystal chandelier he puts in would likely be considered ostentatious, even by the Malfoys, but it sends bright light glittering across the newly polished floors and the white, clean walls, and he loves it in spite of himself.

Once he starts on the retiring rooms, Harry finally feels the Manor awaken around him. The houses he's worked on before were quick to respond to his presence, for good or ill. But even with the homes that had fought him, they'd been present, a part of the renovations from the beginning. But not the Manor. Maybe because it's been empty for so long, maybe because it was filled with evil before then, maybe because it had given up when the world gave up on it. Whatever the cause, the Manor has been lost in a sleep like sickness. But now it's waking up and watchful.

It's there when Harry removes the stained and moth-eaten rugs. It's there when he brings in new chairs and sofas, matching sets for both retiring rooms, though they are upholstered in different shades of brocade. It watches him put up light fixtures and replace the sideboards and bookshelves. When he sets crystal tumblers and a matching decanter on a silver salver, they shiver, clinking together delicately under the Manor's touch.

It watches, and it waits, but it does nothing to help. Harry doesn't know if it's because the Manor doesn't want to, or if it can sense that Harry wants—needs—to do it all by himself, but unlike the stone cottage or the town house or even Grimmauld, it sits, quiescent and still beneath his hands.

Potential, waiting to be realized.

It's only a matter of time before he has to invade Narcissa's space. She's normally in the Lord's office or the sunroom, shifting between the two like a graceful ghost haunting the halls while he works around her. But now that he's running out of rooms on the ground floor, it's inevitable that they crash together. The sunroom is her favourite, and that's where he finds her two and a half months after starting work on the Manor.

"Mrs Malfoy"—he can't call her Narcissa, not out loud—"I'll try to finish up in here as quickly as possible, but you may want to relocate to one of the other rooms."

She sets her tea down on the small table next to her, both the movement and the cup delicate and light as air. "Of course, Mr Potter. I wouldn't want to hinder your work."

When she stands, the sun catches her. It filters through her hair and around her shoulders, covering her in a radiance that he struggles to make fit with his mental image of the woman, her presence one that both repels and fascinates him. She's so much like her son in that way. But when he thinks of Narcissa, it's like a morning sunrise dampened by dingy windows. It's soft and golden, but not overwhelming. Nothing like Draco. She is a summer day seen from the shade, while her son is the blaze of July laid across an empty field of golden wheat with no breeze to be found.

"Which room do you recommend?" she asks, her hands pressed flat to her sides.

"You haven't looked yet?"

Something like a smile crosses her face. "I'm afraid I haven't taken the opportunity, no."

So, Harry shows her. In some weird parallel to his first visit to the house, Narcissa trails after him, through the retiring rooms, the dining room, the pantry. She doesn't say anything, just turns around in a graceful circle, existing within each space with a quiet intensity Harry's only felt from the Manor itself, when it turns its power towards him as he works.

When he steps into the northern servants stairwell to take her into the kitchen and the wine cellar, she pauses. She doesn't freeze. She's ice already.

"I think that can wait until another day, Mr Potter," she says.

He holds his hand out to her. "I think it can't."

Together, they walk through the basement. The kitchen smells like fresh cut wood and baking bread. The house elves watch Harry and Narcissa as they pass through, their eyes wide and disbelieving. He does his best not to notice, distracting Narcissa with the wine cellar and a heavy bottle that he passes to her hesitant hands.

"To celebrate," he says with an uncomfortable smile. "To change."

He doesn't expect her to ask him to drink it with her. Or to open another bottle when they finish the first. They have another bottle after that, and another, until he can't taste the wine anymore, just the pleasant buzz of alcohol and the quiet understanding that he's going to have a hellish hangover the next morning.

"I never knew what to think of you," she says, a half-empty bottle of Chateau Lafite dangling from between her elegant fingers. "Draco would talk of you incessantly, and I never understood why." She smiles, soft and muzzy. "I think I'm starting to, now."

He wants to ask more, wants to know what Draco would say about him when they were children, before things changed and they were forced to become adults, but he's afraid of what it will reveal. He takes a heavy drink of wine and asks her what woods she think would suit the library instead.

His headache is awful, but Narcissa passes him a hangover potion when he arrives in the morning.

"House special." Her voice is warm with affection and shared suffering. "And I think mahogany for the shelves."

He finishes the sunroom, and Narcissa starts having him join her there for a cup of tea most days. It's not always the same time, but her request is always phrased the same way, more of a command than a question. Harry doesn't mind, though. It's nice to have a break from his work, as much as he loves it, and the sunroom is full of bright colors and warm light, green plants hanging from the metal beams of the roof. The mosaic tiled floor is smooth and even. Harry removed so many broken tiles, he'd nearly given up and redone the whole thing. But he found a perfect match for them at a small ceramics store in the picturesque village near the Manor, and the delicate hexagons in black, white, green, and blue that twist and twine their way around the floor now were worth the time and effort it took to put each one in place.

He's come to love the room like Narcissa does, the shelter of the glass ceiling and the way it captures and holds the warmth of the sun, even on colder days. It's on the southern exposure, so it gets more light than the rest of the house. The omnipresent feel of abandonment is washed away by sunlight glittering through glass, leaving everything clean and clear. The weight of the Manor's attention is lighter in the room, too, and he breathes slow and easy when he's there.

As he sips his tea quietly, listening to Narcissa talk about growing up with Sirius, Harry wonders why this doesn't feel more odd than it does, which isn’t at all.


Even though it's warm in the sunroom, even though he's holding a cup of steaming tea in his suddenly clenched hands, Harry's cold to the bone.

"Draco. What a surprise."

"I'd imagine. I wasn't aware you had a guest."

Narcissa laughs. "He's not a guest, dear. He's the help."

It's a joke they've had for a few weeks now, Narcissa's need for formality mixing with her surprisingly sharp wit. She doesn't mean it and she does. Her voice is fond, her eyes laughing, when she says it. But as Draco's face closes off at the word, Harry wishes she hadn't said anything at all.

He feels like he's looked into the eyes of a basilisk, like all of his body has turned to stone, leaving only his racing mind intact. If he tries to move, he will fall or shatter. Locked in the prison of his own body, he stares and fights for breath.

It might be easier, Harry tries to convince himself, if Draco didn't look… There isn't a word for it. There's no way to describe the sharp blade of his nose, the delicate arch of his cheekbones, the rough edge of his jaw, how they all combine into a devastating, cohesive whole. His eyes are the same shade as an early morning storm and just as tempestuous, shaking Harry like window glass loose in the frame. It rattles through him, bringing him to the edge of breaking. He's struck by Draco's beauty as if it were a force of nature, and Harry's helpless against it.

"The help." Draco shakes his head, turns. His body stills before he looks back to his mother, face creased in confusion. "What's he helping with?"

She waves a hand at the room. "The Manor, of course. Can't you tell?"

Harry sees it when Draco realizes the changes around him. Realistically, Harry hadn't had to do much in the sunroom and the changes are subtle, but they are noticeable. Irritation grows, and he sets his cup down.

"I'm afraid I must have missed something," Draco says with false apology, "what with all of my time spent in London and at the Wizengamot, but please, explain to me why you have Harry Potter, of all people, here to help with our home."

"Draco Lucius Malfoy"—the fondness in her voice disappears as she says his name—"you're being inexcusably rude right now."

"I'm being..?" Draco raises his eyebrows. "My deepest apologies, Mother. I thought he was the help."

"I'm restoring the Manor." Harry forces the words out. "I specialize in magical home renovation."


God, he can't figure out if he wants to punch the man or kiss him. Either way, Harry wants him to shut up.

"Really. If you'll excuse me." Harry stands, though gravity insists he should stay seated. "Mrs Malfoy."

"Harry, please—"

"Thank you for the tea, but I need to get back to the library."

He's pleased that he leaves the room before he starts to shake, Draco's raised voice echoing after him down the hallway until it's drowned out by the ringing in Harry's ears.

Before Harry can replace the shelves, he has to empty them. Hermione would likely chide him for the disregard with which he approaches the task, but he's got an itch under his skin that he can't shake, and sending piles of old, dusty tomes to the old, dusty carpet is cathartic in a reckless, destructive way.

He's on the last shelf, the floor covered in piles and stacks and tumbled messes of books, his sleeves rolled up and forearms coated in dust, when there's a quiet knock at the library door. Harry glances over his shoulder, sees who it is, and curses before reaching into the bottom shelf to strong arm out a series of musty potions texts in one furious push.

"Well." Draco's voice washes over Harry, and as he stacks books, he swears to himself he won't throw any at the man in the doorway, no matter how much he wants to. "You've certainly been productive."

"I have to get the books out before I can remove the shelves."

"Why remove them at all? They look to be in good enough shape to get another decade's use."

His fingers clench on a cover before Harry sets it aside. "They're starting to sag. It's easier to take them out now, before I do the floors, and replace them after. Trying to do it later will be more difficult."

Draco makes a noise that approximates polite agreement, but sounds more like he doesn't know what the hell Harry's talking about and has stopped paying attention.

Harry finally runs out of ways to keep his hands busy and turns around to look at Draco, lounging in the doorway. "Is there something in particular you wanted?"

"I thought I'd outgrown it," Draco says, and Harry's heart clenches, terrified of where this sentence is headed, "but my mother wants me to apologize, and I'm afraid I can't disappoint her."

Of course.

"Apology accepted, then." Harry picks up a stack of books next to him and stands. He won't throw any at Draco, he won't, he won't. "If you wouldn't mind, I need to move these out of the way."

"I'm not sure that qualifies as an apology, Potter. It felt more like a statement of fact."

Draco's blocking the door, and though he's lean enough that Harry could push past him, could escape to the hallway and the basement storerooms, Harry isn't sure he can risk touching the man. He's glad for the burden in his arms that's stopping him reaching for something he can't have.

"Say what you need to say, Malfoy"—he shifts, arms straining—"and then let me get back to my work."

Draco opens his mouth. There's a flash of white teeth, pink tongue darting out to wet his lips, and then he shuts it again. His expression goes distant, thoughtful, and Harry feels it like a physical thing. When Draco's body leans towards him, weight shifting like a planet brought into the orbit of a star, Harry shifts his weight to his heels, moving a hair's breadth away instead of closer like he wants.

"I'm sorry. If I said anything that made you feel like you're… unwelcome here. I didn't… My mother..." Draco's throat flexes as he swallows. "What you've done so far, what little of it I've seen, looks beautiful. I promise to stay out of your way, so we can avoid any further… awkwardness in the future."

"Thank you."

They stand in the doorway, and he's so uncomfortable, Harry's surprised his skin doesn't crawl off his body to try and escape the sensation racing underneath it. The silence grows weighted and sickening. His gut tightens, and he has to get out of here before he does something he'll regret.

"If you'll excuse me," he finally says, nodding towards the doorway. "These are heavy."

"Oh, my apologies." Draco winces, then steps to the side. "Do carry on."

When Harry moves past him, though he tries not to, his shoulder brushes against Draco's chest. That singular touch, that scrap of physicality, tears through him like he tore through the bookshelves. It sends pieces of himself scattering, cast away with disregard and abandon. Heat and desire and desperation choke him, and he will not drop these books, he will not reach for Draco, he will not, he will not, he will not.

But, Merlin, does he want to.

The shelves come out next, then the carpet. The wood floor beneath is stained and scarred, but Harry spends a week on his hands and knees, carefully sanding each imperfection away with a focus that would scare him if he weren't using manual labor to forget something else.

Because now that Harry's seen Draco, it's like the man is always around. Over a decade without contact, and now it's everything Harry can do to avoid the poncy git. He's in the sunroom with Narcissa, or in the Lord's retiring room drinking scotch from the crystal tumblers that Harry picked out. His cloak is hanging by the door when Harry arrives in the morning, and he's a bright, distant figure in the gardens when Harry leaves at night.

And worst of all, the Manor seems to perk up whenever Draco is there. It makes sense, in a distant way. Magical homes are tied to the bloodline, and Draco is the heir. Of course his home would pay attention to his presence, would welcome its child back with open arms. But the weight of the house's regard blends with Harry's, until it's all he can do to not think of Draco and his hands and his mouth and his absence, like an abscess, from Harry's life.

He finishes the library, and it looks like he feels. The colors are dark and somber, the new rugs thick enough to mute the sound of his footsteps as he walks across them. There are lamps scattered throughout the room, but they're dim and the light they cast is limited to the tables they rest on, thick cushioned chairs nestled nearby so that someone could curl up there in the deepest part of winter and be warm and comfortable as they lose themselves in someone else's story.

He renovates the drawing room in a blur. Draco keeps popping in, over and over again, to offer suggestions on the color of the walls or the stain that Harry should use on the floor or the type of furniture he should consider to replace the scarred and battered pieces that fill the room.

"I think there's a lovely set in the attic," Draco says, leaning against the wall as Harry tears purple wallpaper down in long, jagged strips. "Maple, inset with ebony. It'd be striking against an ivory, I think, or maybe a pale green?"

Harry does his best to keep his temper and not comment. He knows what he's fucking doing, has been doing it for years, and doesn't need Draco coming in and telling him how to decorate the damn room. But Draco is also Narcissa's son and, therefore, at least tangentially, Harry's employer, and whether he likes it or not, he does want to get paid for this job when it's all said and done.

So he nods as Draco talks about paint swatches and wood grain and antique furnishings, and proceeds to ignore every bit of his advice.

"I told you that green would be perfect, didn't I, Potter?"

He very nearly throws something.

Everyone has a breaking point, and, apparently, that also applies to magical houses. Harry is working on the finishing touches for the Lord's office, the last room on the ground floor. Draco is lounging in a plush chair behind the large, subtly ornate desk Harry brought down from the attic. Draco's about to put his feet on the wide top while Harry rolls out yet another antique carpet when the door to the office slowly swings shut and closes with an ominous click.

Draco stills, his feet raised a few inches from the top of the desk. "Did you do that?"

"No." Harry finishes laying out the carpet, making sure it lays just so in front of the desk. Still kneeling, he tilts his head to the side, then grabs a corner and pulls it square. "That's the Manor."

"The Manor locked us in."

"The Manor shut the door." Nodding, he stands and brushes his hands on his trouser legs, satisfied. "I don't think it locks."

"It's the Lord's office, Potter. Of course it locks."

Draco stands and walks past him, leaving behind a whiff of his cologne that makes Harry's stomach tighten, and reaches for the doorknob. It rattles under his hand, but doesn't open.

"Do you have your wand on you?" Draco asks, still shaking the knob. "I left mine in the sunroom."

Harry rolls his shoulders, his back cracking. "I never have my wand on me while I'm working. I do everything by hand."

The rattling stops. "How, then, do you expect us to get out of here?"

"How's your wandless magic?"

"Since I'm not the ex-Auror here, probably worse than yours."

"Then we'll have to wait until the Manor lets us out. Mine's terrible."

Draco scowls. "I have to get back to London."

"And I don't." Harry wanders behind the desk and falls into the chair, watching Draco at the door. "Make yourself comfortable, Malfoy. I don't think it'll keep us here for long."

Harry is rarely wrong about magical homes. He understands them on an instinctual level, especially ones like the Manor that have been left alone for too long and grown a bit wild around the edges because of it. It speaks to the restlessness inside of him, that desperate desire to belong to something or someone. And because of that, he knows what the houses need, whether that's just a new coat of paint or someone wandering their hallways and rooms to fill them with the sound of a person's voice and the weight of footsteps.

But, in this case, he underestimates how stubborn the Manor is going to be about whatever point it's trying to make.

An hour later, Draco is sitting with his back against the door, his arms draped over the elegant arch of his bent knees, and he's definitely going to get wrinkles from how much he's frowning.

"This is ridiculous."

Harry, feeling indolent and irritated, irrational, has his feet up on the desk and is staring at the silver-patterned ceiling. "I told you, I'm terrible at wandless magic. Wordless is fine, but ever since… I haven't been able to do it reliably for years."

"You could at least try."

Harry has to laugh. Draco glowers, his grey eyes darkening.

"I have to say, Potter, I never expected you to give up."

"I'm not giving up, I just know it's not going to work."

"I'm not talking about the damned Alohomora you refuse to cast." Draco waves his hand around the room. "I'm talking about this. It isn't exactly the direction you were headed in when we graduated."

"That was a long time ago."

"But you had purpose. Now"—Draco shakes his head as if disappointed—"you have calluses."

It stings. Harry knows he's not doing what everyone expected him to do, isn't what everyone expected him to be, but that's part of why he enjoys his work so much. It's his in a way that nothing else ever has been, and as he looks at Draco, beautiful and full of disdain, Harry feels heat grow under his skin. He doesn't know this man, not really. And Draco doesn't know Harry any longer, either.

"I have a purpose."

Draco scoffs. "Fine. If you want to call this a purpose, don't let me stop you. But…"

"What about you?" Harry wants to turn the conversation around, to make Draco hurt a little the way that Harry is. "Considering the illegal activities you used to get up to, I'm surprised you went into law."

"Considering the poorly written and horrifically antiquated statues in our criminal code, I'm surprised it took so long for someone to step up and do something."

"Something like getting criminals released before their sentences are up."

"Something"—Draco bites the word out—"like getting innocent bystanders out of a prison they didn't belong in. The Dark Lord's followers dragged their families into that mess with them, and those people didn't deserve to suffer more than they already had."

"Like you suffered?" Harry shakes his head, traces the delicate pattern on the ceiling with his eyes. "If you were dragged into it, it was done gladly."

"You can go fuck yourself, Potter. You don't know me."

"No, I don't. You didn't want me to."

"What the hell does that mean?"

"Oh, don't be thick, Malfoy. You've been an awful lot of things, but an idiot isn't one of them."

"Why don't you educate me, then, because I'm afraid I don't know what the fuck you're talking about."

Harry sits up from the chair. His chest burns, and the fire he's been fighting back bursts forth. "You left. You gave up. You just... let it all go. Because you cared more about what other people thought than what you wanted."

"I went into law because it's what I wanted. If everyone else had had their way about it, I would've ended up in Azkaban."

"That's not what I'm talking about."

"Will you tell me what you mean, then? Because I thought we were talking about our career choices."

"Us." Harry chokes on the word. "You gave up on us."

"There was no us, Potter. We fucked around for a bit, that was it. It was just a… a stupid, adolescent fling."

God, this hurts. He thought being without Draco was the worst pain he'd gone through, but this is so much worse. "It wasn't like that for me."

Draco laughs. "You expect me to believe that?"

"Why would I lie?"

"I don't know. Why would you?" Draco stares up at Harry from the floor, arms still draped casually over his knees. "It's not like we talked. You only ever asked me to fuck you, Potter."

It's as if he's been punched in the gut. He can't breathe, and he feels nauseous. "That's not… I wanted…"

"You wanted"—Draco face twists with something like anger—"a distraction. You didn't care."

"I didn't care?" Harry's throat closes. He can't do this. "I cared, goddamnit. I can't…" He waves his hand towards the door, and the lock clicks open. "Get out of my fucking way, Malfoy."

Draco scrambles to his feet, hands clenched into fists at his sides. "No. You don't get to pretend like it meant something to you."

"Move!" Harry waves his arm, and Draco is pushed to the side by an invisible hand. And it's gentle, dammit. Harry wishes he'd thrown the man across the room, but instead, Draco's feet slide carefully across the floor, Harry's magic using just enough force to move Draco out of his way and to prevent him from reaching for Harry when he brushes past.

"Potter!" Draco's voice ricochets down the hallway, the weight of it like a blow across Harry's back. "You coward!"

And as much as Harry doesn't want to admit it, Draco is absolutely right.

Harry goes home. He turns off the lights and locks the door, and he curls up on his couch, a blanket pulled around his shoulders. As he lies there in the dark, he doesn't know if he wants to scream or cry. He does know that he doesn't want to go back to the Manor—assuming he still has a job to go back to after getting into a massive row with his employer's only son. Groaning, he throws the blanket over his head and presses his face into the cushions.

He falls asleep on the couch, wrung out and bone-weary in a way he hasn't been in years. When he wakes up, it's Saturday, and even though he hasn't missed a day of work on the Manor since starting, he stays at Grimmauld instead. He changes into joggers and a tank top, throws a soft zip-up sweatshirt over top of that, and spends the day curled around a mug of tea and a book, his bare feet tucked up underneath him on the couch.

Grimmauld must sense a little of his unhappiness—a very gentle way to describe the riot of emotion he's fighting to stay ahead of—because it pulls the curtains, and Kreacher makes shepherd's pie and Harry's favourite biscuits, clucking his tongue when he brings the food to Harry, who's managed to move from the couch to an armchair.

"Mustn't be so upset, Master." He presses the laden plate into Harry's lap, then hands him a heavy fork. "All will be well. Eat. Eat. Kreacher will take care of the rest."

Harry isn't sure what "the rest" is, but he digs into his meal with as much enthusiasm as he can find with his stomach still in knots. The food warms and soothes him, though, and he finishes his plate, biscuits included. His body feels heavy and dull, as if it's buried under the weight of a heavy snowfall. He stumbles his way to his bedroom, then falls asleep on top of the blankets, bare feet uncovered and cold.

He gets dressed on Sunday, putting on Muggle jeans and heavy work boots, a flannel in red and black buttoned up over top of a white undershirt. But when he puts his hand on his wand and readies himself to Apparate to the Manor, he can't. The magic is there, but his will isn't. Rather than possibly splinching himself, he heads into the garden and the workshed. He spends the day with hand tools and a dresser he's building for the second bedroom, all smooth maple and carefully crafted joinery. It's easy to get lost in the grain, in the smell of sawdust and tung oil. When Kreacher appears next to Harry with a bang, he jumps and drops a chisel on the ground, nearly catching his toe.

"Careful." His voice is rough from disuse and surprise.

Kreacher's ears droop. "Apologies, Master. But, Master has a guest."

"If it's Ron or Hermione, you can just let them through," he says as he picks the chisel up from the floor, checking the cutting edge for any nicks. He sighs when his thumb catches on the edge. He hates sharpening these things.

"It's not the Weasleys, Master."

"Will you tell me who it is, then?"

"Hello, Mr Potter."

It's the second time he's been startled by a Malfoy in recent memory, only this time he's holding a sharp tool when it happens. The chisel bites into his thumb, and he curses as blood pools on the tip of his finger. "Narcis—Mrs Malfoy."

She smiles while Kreacher presses himself against Harry's leg. "You may call me Narcissa, but only if you'll let me call you Harry."

"I'm sorry, Master. The house must have let her—"

"It's okay, Kreacher." Harry places his hand on the elf's head and feels him trembling, though it eases with Harry's touch. "You're not in trouble. Why don't you get some tea for our guest?"

"Yes, yes. Of course. Tea. Of course." Kreacher nods. He steps away from Harry, then Apparates with a loud crack.

"He did ask me to come," Narcissa says, looking refined and only barely sheepish.

"Ah. The rest." At her confused look, Harry shakes his head. "Never mind. Let me put this away, and we can go inside."

He quickly casts a healing charm on his thumb, the skin knitting together quick enough to sting, and puts the chisel away. Narcissa looks around his workshed with calculating eyes used to seeing things and determining their value.

"You have some lovely pieces in here."

Harry takes in the half-finished dresser, a chair with claw feet and a trellised back, a handful of boxes of various sizes and shapes with dovetail corners, and Japanese joinery and inlay. His shop, his creations, take on a new light when reflected through Narcissa's eyes, and he feels himself flush with embarrassment and pride at his work.

"Thank you. Please, if you'll follow me."

She trails after him like a memory, quiet and unobtrusive but present in a way that leaves him rolling tension from his shoulders. They walk in from the garden, through the front room and into the kitchen, where Kreacher's left out a tea tray. The teapot is steaming, and there are two delicate cups next to it. There's sugar and milk in a creamer, and a small plate of sandwiches and biscuits. Harry waits for Narcissa to take a seat, and she smiles up at him as she does, her chair scraping quietly against the ceramic tile of the kitchen floor.

"You know," she says as Harry sits, "I barely recognize this place now."

He tries to hide his surprise. "You're familiar with it?"

"Of course. It was part of the Black family for generations. I came here as a girl, from time to time." She frowns. "It wasn't a very happy home then. It doesn't feel that way now."

"Thank you." Harry flushes. "I did my best to make it more…"


He laughs. "Welcoming is what I was going to say."

"Well, it's certainly that." She picks up her tea, sips at it gracefully.

The conversation stills, both of them intentionally preoccupied with the familiar motions of tea and finger foods. Cups clink against saucers. Mouths move quietly as they chew and swallow. Though they've fallen into a sort of friendship that doesn't require all of the polite trappings, somehow, by being in Harry's space instead of hers, Harry feels like it's taken a step in the wrong direction.

It's unbearable. Narcissa is the first to shatter the silence.

"I was under the impression you'd fallen ill."

"No, just took the weekend off."

"As you should. You've been working too hard, I think. Though"—she tilts her head in acknowledgement—"your efforts are lovely."

"Thank you."

"I was wondering…" She turns her cup back and forth on its saucer, long fingers the same shade as the porcelain. "Are you happy, Harry?"

He startles. "I… Yes, of course."

"It's only that you've seemed… I'm sorry, I don't want to presume."

"You're not," he says, though she is and he has to fight against his growing discomfort.

"Are you absolutely sure?" Her eyes are a clear blue like bright skies in summer. "You've been different since my son returned home."

He hates that he's this transparent, that she can see to the core of him without trying. Hiding his face in his tea, he drinks and hopes for clarity. "We weren't exactly friends at school."

"I've told him before that he doesn't have to keep checking on me like he is. He's quite busy in London—he's a lawyer, if you weren't aware, working at the Wizengamot—and I know it's a strain for him to Apparate out as often as he does. But, he does worry."

"He's an adult. He can make his own choices."

"If he's interrupting your work, or getting in the way of the renovations…"

He knows what she's offering, the things she's not saying. Stretched out like an olive branch, Narcissa is offering him a way out, an escape.

One he can't take.

"He's not. Draco's fine."

She frowns but nods. "All right, then. Will you be back tomorrow?"

"Yes. I need to get started on the first floor."

"So, you've finished the ground floor?"

"Yes," and now he's smiling for real, his empty tea cup on the table between them. "We'll have a walkthrough tomorrow."

She smiles and reaches for the teapot, offering it to him. He picks up his cup, holds it out so she can fill it.

"I do have one question," she says as she pours her own cup, "if you'd settle an old woman's curiosity."

He's almost scared of what she's going to ask, but figures he owes it to her. "Go ahead."

"Whatever happened to Walburga?"

Harry laughs, startled. "I had to tear down the wall, actually."

"She must have loved that." Narcissa grins, the broad open expression on her face like a breeze of spring air after a storm. "And the portrait?"

"Wrapped in tarps in the attic. I can get it for you, if you'd like?"

"I was never her favourite," Narcissa says slyly. "Why don't we let her stay in her old home?"

"I wouldn't want to disturb her," Harry says with mocking sincerity. After a moment, he wandlessly summons his Ogden's and holds the bottle out to Narcissa. "Can I top you off?"

"Of course."

Kreacher finds them in the kitchen two hours later, laughing so hard that tears gather in the corner of their eyes, the Ogden's nearly empty in the middle of the table with the kettle.

Humans, he thinks as he moves around them, tidying. Such confusing creatures.

The gate scowls at him when Harry arrives on Monday morning. Its rusted beard is still present, though slightly less unkempt.

"The family is not receiving," it says with its scratchy, squealing voice. "Have a nice day, sir."

"Narcis—Mrs Malfoy is expecting me."

"The family. Is not. Receiving."

Harry frowns. "Can you check?"

"Harry!" Narcissa's voice is muffled by the overgrown hedges. "I'm so sorry, the Manor is in a foul mood this morning."

As she approaches, the gate sticks its tongue out at him, then swings barely open with an irritated shriek.

"It hasn't done that before," Harry says as he forces himself through the small crack. "Do you have any idea what's going on?"

"I haven't the foggiest," she says apologetically. "Why don't you come inside and see?"

It's subtle, he'll give it that. While most of the main rooms look exactly as he left them two days before, there are small signs that the Manor is furious about something. Floorboards that were even when he last walked on them catch at the toes of his shoes, sending him stumbling down the hallway. But when he turns around to see which board is sticking up, they're flat and smooth behind him.

As he shows Narcissa through the finished ground floor, the rooms are no better behaved. The carpets are bunched and refuse to lie flat. Furniture wobbles on its legs. The lights dim and flicker, but only when Harry's in the room. As soon as he walks out, they brighten, cheerful and bratty.

"It certainly has an opinion on matters, doesn't it?" Narcissa looks back into the library which is now warm and welcoming instead of ominous. "Whatever did you do?"

Harry thinks back to his fight with Draco and winces. "I have an idea."

"Well," she crosses her arms when another board rises up to trip Harry, "you might want to do something about fixing it."

Harry runs his fingers through his hair and sighs. "All right. In the meantime, do you want me to get started on the first floor?"

"If you think it'll let you."

Good point. Damn.

With another heavy sigh, he plunges forward. "Do you know where your son might be?"

Of course, Draco is in London.

"He has an important bill up for a vote today," Narcissa says with pride and apology. "I think he'll be around later this week, though."

Harry nearly owls the man, but when he gets out the parchment, he has no idea what to write. Instead, he moves through the first floor of the Manor, tallying the work that will need to be done and hoping the Manor will stop being contrary about it until Harry's able to apologize to Draco, or explain what the last decade has felt like without him.

Unlike the ground floor, the first needs a lot of work. Where a few rooms had been in relatively decent shape there, the first floor is nearly the opposite. The spaces up here would've been reserved for the family, so they're less ostentatious than the ground floor. That also means the craftsmanship is of a slightly poorer—though still high—quality. The bedroom floors were carpeted at one point, which means the lumber underneath is wide plank and unfinished. It's new enough to have lapping, so there aren't great, gaping cracks between the boards, but Harry can see where they've shifted and warped from time, moisture, and use. The windows leak something fierce, and as a soft rain starts outside, he can smell the wet coming in through the sills. The bathroom tiles are cracked and crazed with time, and one of the toilets is completely worthless, the basin cracked and dry. Add in the way the Manor is behaving, keeping the few working lights up here low and uncertain, and the darkening sky, Harry has to fight against a melancholy only made worse by regret.

More than ten goddamned years since he last talked to Draco, and Harry has to go and fuck it up with his bloody feelings. Ones that were, apparently, one-sided. He curses and the only working lightbulb in the room pops, sending the bathroom into darkness.

"I get it," he says quietly, but with banked fury. "I fucked up. I don't know if I can fix it, but I'll try. Stop pouting about it."

Something gurgles in the sink, and Harry glares at the offending fixture.

"Fine, you're not pouting. You're too grand to pout. Just…" He needs to do something with his hands, the tension in his body growing with his inactivity. "Let me work. Please."

Light from the hallway brightens briefly, then fades again. But when Harry walks out of the bathroom into the hall, the floorboards only creak, rather than buckle, beneath his feet.

There's a surprise warm spell forecast for the next three days, and Harry takes the opportunity to replace the windows. Some of their frames are so rotten, they fall apart under his hands and tools, crumbling as if they're made of wet paper rather than wood. He takes the glass out, replaces the frames, then sets to the task of reglazing a dozen windows. It's repetitive, painfully so, and slow, but it keeps his hands busy. The putty sticks to his fingers, and the treatment and primer fumes stink, even though he's set up with sawhorses in the front drive and the soft breeze wicks the smell away as soon as he puts brush to wood.

He carries them back inside, one by one, and, with a bit of wandless Wingardium Leviosa, sets them back in their frames. When the Manor knocks a window over before Harry can get it in place and, shockingly, the glass doesn't crack when it hits the floor, he takes it as a good sign.

The bathrooms are easy to repair, since they're done in simple white metro tile and more of the same hexagonal tiles from the sunroom. Harry replaces the broken pieces, adds a colorful border in green and blue to off-set the white, and puts in new toilets and sinks. The baths, all deep, heavy cast iron clawfoot tubs that leave his back aching and sore for days after he moves them, stay.

He has no idea what he wants to do with the bedrooms. Narcissa's is in good shape, and he'll have her pick out the final color scheme for her personal space, but the remaining seven rooms are a mystery to him. Usually, the house would let him know what it wanted, speaking to that quiet part of Harry that understands magical homes, but the Manor is still not-pouting and silent as he works.

The closet space between the Lord and Lady's suites is easier. There are two doors on the ends of it, opening into each of the suites, and a handful of lights littered along the back wall. The shelves—once a beautiful mix of large and small compartments, built-in dressers and wide spaces for laying out clothes or sitting on padded cushions long since gone—have fallen in on themselves. Boards are missing or lying at awkward angles where their supports have been lost or removed or rotted away. He pulls it all out, leaving a wide, blank space that puzzles and saddens him, only the faintest lines showing where things used to be. A faded memory of opulence, of shared space, of the private lives lived here.

He wonders what Narcissa thinks of this space. They haven't talked about Lucius, dead now for three years, but he knows that the man's presence haunts her as much as it haunts the house. This walkway between rooms had been theirs, once. Lord and Lady of the Manor, bound together by marriage and love, later torn apart by war and death. Harry won't ask Narcissa about it, about whether she still thinks of her husband fondly, or if his memory has soured over the years, as abandoned and forgotten as the Manor had been. He doesn't want to know the answer, and he doesn't want to hurt her by asking.

When Draco walks into the closet, entering from the Lord's suite, Harry finds he isn't surprised. Draco has always had a flair for the dramatic, and his timing is as perfect as ever.

"Potter." The door shuts behind him, the latch clicking with a quiet echo. "We need to talk."

"Seems I owe you an apology this time." Harry keeps his eyes trained on the missing shelves. He can't look at Draco.

"Another statement of fact." There's the quiet rustle of clothing, the groan of wood as Draco leans against the door.

"I was out of line. What happened between us… It's in the past, where it should be, and I shouldn't have…" He swallows, tries to think about cedar or oak, pine or poplar. Something familiar and solid beneath his hands so they don't shake. "I know it doesn't matter now, but you were important to me, and I should have told you that when it made a difference. So, I'm sorry. For a lot of things, but mostly for that. For making you feel like you weren't something… to me."

"I see."

The other door is farther away than the one Draco's leaning against, but Harry can leave through that one. There's nothing stopping him from turning on his heel and walking out, walking away. His leg muscles tense, ready to take him from the burning ache to his left, the star that he can't stop searching for at night.

"I thought…" Draco's voice is rough and quiet, but it's loud in Harry's pounding head. "You made me feel seen. Like you understood who I was, separate from the Mark or my name or our history. And, for a long time, I didn't think I deserved that. To be known. So, when graduation came, and my future was years and years of uncertainty and people hating me, I couldn't… I didn't want you to stop seeing me. Not in the way you did."

Harry closes his eyes, as if that will help him breathe.

"I told myself it was nothing, that it hadn't meant anything to you, because it was easier than the alternative. If I let you go because you were using me, then I could forgive myself for being used. And I let myself forget the way you looked at me. Until you looked at me that way again."

Harry turns, opens his eyes, blinks away gathering dampness. Draco is leaning against the door. He seems nonchalant, easy. His hands are tucked into the pockets of his robe, which is open across the spread of his body, showcasing a white starched shirt and a loosened blue tie, the narrow taper of his waist and black trousers beneath. His feet are bare, a shocking contrast to the rest of his put-together self. Eyes cast to the floor, bottom lip caught in his teeth, there's almost nothing to give away that he's as shaken as Harry is.

Except that Harry knows. In the same way he knows how to coax roses to bloom or stones to shift to fill the gaps between them, the same way he knows the feel of wood under his hands and the language of grain, he knows that Draco's hands are hidden because they're clenched and white-knuckled and will give him away.

"What way is that?" Harry's voice is rough like sandpaper.

Draco raises his eyes and meets Harry's gaze. "Like that. Like you see me, even now."

"I won't force you," Harry says. "If this isn't something you want, I won't push. You deserve…. You've earned… I want you to be happy, and if I'm not…"

"You made me want to be more than a Malfoy."

"You are. You're so much more than that."

"Potter." Draco's pushing himself away from the door, shoulders rolling his body forward. "Harry."

Harry isn't sure which of them touches the other first, but it doesn't matter. There are fingers tangled in hair, mouths pressed together hard enough to bruise, their bodies trying to displace the air between them with flesh instead. It's overwhelming heat, a bright light exploding in his chest. Draco groans into Harry's mouth, and he has to pull away, desperate and gasping and full of disbelieving joy.

"Please," he whispers against the skin of Draco's neck before pressing his lips there to feel the pulse beneath. "Touch me."

This room has seen hundreds of clothes. Shirts in white cotton and thin muslin, cut for men and women and, sometimes, both, laid gently on shelves or tucked into drawers with care. Trousers pressed and folded and readied for the next day. Day dresses and night shirts, riding habits and robes. Soft silk and lace that was hidden until it wasn't, removed by trembling, anxious, heated hands.

The way they shed their clothing isn't anything nearly as romantic as that. It's a rushed, frantic thing, tinged with disbelief and desire. Draco's robe falls heavily to the floor, and Harry lays him across it, his long, lean body revealed as Harry's hands trail over buttons and fastenings and zips. The tie goes flying, Draco's laughter trailing after it, and then he groans when Harry bites at the cords of his neck and grinds down against him, hips to hips.

Harry's work shirt tangles around his wrists, but he rips it aside as Draco sneaks his hands beneath the hem of Harry's undershirt with a pleased groan.

"All of this manual labor has done wonders, I must say," he breathes against Harry's mouth, and Harry shuts him up with another fevered, grinning kiss.

Draco arches his back so Harry can pull his shirt free, Harry's undershirt goes over his head, and then they're pressed together, skin to skin. His hands shake when he drags them over Draco's body. He's all lean muscle over bone, and though it's been over a decade since they last touched like this, Harry remembers how Draco's body feels beneath his palms.

"Tell me what you want," he says as he reaches for Draco's trousers.

"You." Their fingers tangle as Draco helps Harry. "Just you."

Draco's trousers shimmy down his legs, and he takes his pants with them. His cock, hard and thick, slaps against his stomach, and it's all Harry can do to keep moving, to make his shaking hands remove his own clothes. His trousers and pants tangle around his work boots, but he doesn't care, just presses his length against Draco's with a slow, aching glide. Panting, he stares at the two of them, their hardnesses pressed against each other, heads red and already slick with precome.

"Fuck." Draco arches, pressing himself closer to Harry. "If you don't touch me, Potter, I may have to kill you."

"It's Harry," he says before spitting into his hand and wrapping it around both of them with a groan. "And you can kill me later."

Draco laughs and moans at the same time, thrusting into the tight, wet heat of Harry's work-roughened hand, pressing against the heavy weight of Harry's cock.

It's nothing like their time at Hogwarts, when they were young and reckless and Harry dove into it with mindlessness. Now, he memorizes every breath and hitch of Draco's lungs, catalogues the way his body strains and tenses in pleasure. Harry took it for granted, then, but now, he knows it needs to be preserved, to be treasured, because Draco is something worth treasuring. He takes Draco apart with the same care he uses to rebuild homes, meticulous and gentle and so full of light, he can't breathe.

They kiss again, both thrusting, slow and languorous against each other. There's a heat gathering beneath Harry's skin, a low thrum of potential that has his body curving like a bow being drawn. The floor beneath Draco's robe digs into Harry's palm as he raises himself up so he can watch Draco's body, flushed and shivering, move beneath him. He's beautiful, pale skin flushed red and covered in love bites that are already starting to bruise. Draco grabs at Harry's arms, fingers biting into his biceps with a touch that's both hard and soft. Their hips roll together, Draco's eyes locked on Harry's.

"Missed this," he gasps, body shivering. "Missed you."

It's too much. Harry can't do this, he can't think, can't hold it back anymore.

A wire snaps in his spine, a sharp, stinging ache that leaves him choking on Draco's name, cursing and shaking and coming in hot, heavy stripes across the ridged planes of Draco's stomach. Draco's eyes widen as he watches Harry shake apart above him, then his back bows, mouth open in a gasp before he coats Harry's hand in more white as he comes.

Harry collapses, careless of the mess between them and the way it sticks to his hand and his stomach. His fingers twitch around their spent cocks, and they both groan before Harry pulls his hand away and flops onto the floor next to Draco, breathless and fighting back laughter.

They lie there for a long moment, catching their breaths. When Harry reaches for Draco's hand, even though his own is coated in their come and sticky with it, Draco laces his fingers through Harry's and holds on tight, unwilling to let go.

Draco picks out the carpets for the bedrooms. They're all Aubusson, handwoven and thick, in different shades and patterns that, while being distinct, are still cohesive. The walls are painted in matching colors. Blues, mainly, but also green and yellow and white. Bright, open, welcoming.

The servant's quarters upstairs are turned into offices. Draco spends a day with Harry, paintbrush in hand, as they coat the walls in white. The Manor, finally contented, lays the floorboards flat for Harry without any asking and covers the fireplace mantels in carved flowers and ivy.

The basement storage space, still unfinished, gets converted into a workshop for Harry, though Draco does it without telling him until it's finished. Draco leans in the doorway as Harry looks around at the workbenches and stacks of wood, the careful line of tools along the wall. His arms are crossed, mouth quirked into a soft smile.

"Thought you'd like it," Draco finally says. "Having a space here to work."

Harry does. The Manor isn't his home. It's Draco's and Narcissa's, and a part of Harry hopes that it'll, one day, be even partially his, too. The lights blaze at the thought, and Harry knows that the Manor has heard him, though he doesn't know how. It's instinct.

It's potential.

And when he's finished, when there's no more furniture to mend, no more walls to paint, no more floors to sand, he's left with his back pressed against a stone wall, Draco pressed against his front, Harry's calloused hands pinned above his head.

"Like that, Harry?"

And, oh yes, he does. He bloody well loves it.

Years later, when Draco's moved into Grimmauld and Harry's not so worried that he'll leave, when Kreacher learns to avoid the master bedroom on nights when Master works in his shop all day and Master Malfoy is at the Ministry until late, when Narcissa finally takes Walburga from the attic and moves her to the Manor, Harry rolls over and pulls Draco's body close to his.

"I've work in the morning," Draco murmurs quietly, though his voice is tinted with humor, warm like sunlight. "And I've already had you once."

Harry leans down and kisses Draco like he's air, like he's the night sky above Hogwarts in November, like he's a field of golden, shimmering wheat in summer. Draco is sunrise and sunset, he's gravity, and Harry laughs when he thinks he might have lost it all, that he's lucky enough to have found it again and made it his.

"I love you."

"Good of you to catch up." Draco buries himself deeper into the curve of Harry's body, lets his hands trail over the familiar skin of Harry's back. "Now, go to sleep."

Harry lets Draco nestle closer, stares at him, bright and brilliant and beautiful, and sees stars.