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A Sad Story

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What brings it all to the surface, after ten damn years, is one of Ron’s bloody pub nights.

Harry hates them, mostly because ever since they finished seventh year Ron’s been trying to recreate Hogwarts in the real world, calling up Dean and Seamus and Neville like they’re all best mates, and while they’re each of them perfectly fine blokes, they haven’t really had much in common with each other since they stopped taking the same classes and having nocturnal emissions about the same incestuous group of four or five Gryffindor girls. Neville’s apprenticed to Professor Sprout, Dean’s a junior teller at Gringotts, and Seamus works at the Ministry, doing something with explosives that Harry trusts he’s very good at but really doesn’t want to discuss on a Friday night after a long week at the DMLE.

The crux of the problem, Harry knows, is that Ron has recently had to resign from his job as the DMLE’s liaison to the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures in order to stay home with Rosie, who, while she’s a very precocious six months and already has a vocabulary that encompasses three entire words (mummy, Molly, and, to Hermione’s eternal dismay, nargles), isn’t quite up to the task of feeding herself lunch and changing her own diapers. It makes sense for Ron to stay home--Hermione’s work as a Wizengamot barrister brings in much more money than Ron’s Ministry salary--but Harry knows it rankles him to be treated as the wife in their marriage, though he knows Ron will never say it.

So here they are, crammed into a sticky booth in the Leaky Cauldron, all of them a bit stiff and awkward and Ron several drinks ahead and much too loud. Harry’s trying to be personable, he really is, because he feels like it’s his responsibility to smooth this all over and protect the other three from Ron. But he’s been up for nearly two days on a child abduction case, and the only fraction of those days he’s spent alone has been a few minutes in the loo every few hours, and at this point just the effort of keeping up the glamor on his bad arm is draining him. All he wants to do is drag himself back to the shop and sleep, but he promised Ron thirty minutes.

Ron’s recounting a game of exploding snap that had nearly ended with them burning down Gryffindor tower, and he’s managed to draw Neville into it when Harry spots a familiar blond head across the room.

Malfoy, Harry thinks, and all the tension goes out of him at once.

Merlin, but it’s good to see him. Harry flicks his fingers under the table, sending a little sprig of magic over to tug at the leg of Malfoy’s perfectly-pressed slacks, how he always used to do in the Great Hall when he wanted to make contact without anyone seeing. Malfoy turns around, and his eyes find Harry unerringly in the smoky crowded corner. He gives Harry a look he’s given him a million times before, asking all at once: What? How bad is it? Do you need rescuing?

Harry only shakes his head, subtly enough that the others won’t notice--especially not Ron, who’s speeding past pleasantly drunk into well and truly, steal-his-wand-so-he-can’t-Apparate inebriated. Malfoy holds his gaze for another moment, as if he knows Harry will feel better just to have existed for a moment in their own private world, which he does, and turns back to his own companion, who Harry vaguely recognizes as the witch who took over Flourish & Blotts last year.

Harry’s feeling so much better that he thinks he might even contribute his own exploding snap memory, but then Ron’s eyes lock hungrily on something across the room, and he’s guffawing, “Is that Malfoy?”

“You know what,” says Seamus, who has always been Harry’s least favorite. “I think it is. Merlin. Bloody Death Eater has the nerve to walk into our pub--what’s next?”

And then Ron’s joining in, piling on, and even Neville’s laughing into his beer, and Harry is very well-practiced at getting through conversations like these with vague mumbles that can be interpreted as agreement, but he’s exhausted and Dumbledore has demanded to see him at four in the bloody morning tomorrow and Ron’s evolving from taunts to actual, concrete plans to follow Malfoy home and beat him up, and even though Harry knows that he’s not serious, in that moment he hates Ron as much as he’s ever hated anyone.

“Shut the fuck up, Ron,” he says, without deciding to.

The table goes abruptly silent. Conversation continues in the pub around them, but Ron’s eyes slide to him, sharp and mean like they only get when he’s gone too hard at the Firewhiskey, and in their booth it’s so quiet Harry hears Dean suck in a breath and hold it.

“What, mate?” Ron demands. “You’re defending a fucking Slytherin now?”

“For Merlin’s sake, we’re not at bloody school anymore,” Harry snaps, and then, “Grow the fuck up,” and then a lot of other stuff that makes Ron get up and follow him out the pub, yelling himself red and ugly in the face, about how he knew Harry was a poofter but he didn’t know he went for Voldemort’s fucking cast-offs, and then Harry turns around and punches him in the face in front of rather a lot of people and snarls down at him, more angry than he can remember being in a long time, “You shut up about Malfoy if you know what’s fucking good for you. He’s twice the man you’ll ever be, you sad bloody sack.” 

He Apparates away with a crack, and finds himself in front of the shop.

At this time of night, even Knockturn Alley is deserted, but there’s a tiny red burn in the dark, a cigarette, and he knows it’s Malfoy before he even says anything. “Long day, Harry?” he drawls.

“Yeah,” Harry croaks, automatically. “Long week.”

In the faint light from a far-off lantern, he sees the edge of Malfoy’s face, and can tell from how his cheek moves that he’s smiling. “Long month,” Malfoy returns, as he always does.

Harry slumps against the door of the shop. “Long year,” he reports obediently.

“Long life,” Malfoy agrees, and fishes his keys out of his pocket, and lets them inside.

***

Fourth year, Harry started to say, “He’s back--“ and Dumbledore clapped a hand over his mouth.

Fifth year, Harry begged, “I don’t understand why I have to do this all on my own. I don’t understand why I can’t ask for help from someone. Just one person. Sirius--“ and Dumbledore reminded him that as the Chosen One, the fight against Voldemort was his burden to bear, and he couldn’t expect other people to make the sacrifices that Harry himself had been born to make.

Fifth year, he stole a thestral and flew to the Ministry on his own, and when Dumbledore finally came to retrieve him he was so near death that Dumbledore had to hide him in a French hospital for a week.

Sixth year, Dumbledore handed him a ring, and said Put this on, Harry, and when Harry did it burned his arm black and he passed out and when he came to he’d been laying in Dumbledore’s office for a week, feverish, in exruciating pain, and Professor Snape was sitting next to him with his hand on his forehead and a grim, frightened expression which Harry had never seen on him before.

Sixth year, Harry learned to cast a glamor on his arm, and to use small nonverbal charms to assist his left hand in doing the things it usually did, and because he knew that, as the Chosen One, he was the only person alive except for Voldemort himself who could possibly have hoped to wield the ring’s power, he bore the burden of his disability and he never said a word to anyone, not even to Ron and Hermione.

Sixth year, he found Draco Malfoy having a mental breakdown in the boys’ bathroom, and Malfoy took one look at him in the shattered mirror and confessed everything.

Sixth year, Dumbledore found them in the Room of Requirement, having just destroyed the vanishing cabinet, both of them giddy with newfound camaraderie, and grabbed both of them by the ear and Apparated them to a remote, rocky beach, to the mouth of a cave which he said was the hiding place for a Horcrux.

Sixth year, Harry said, “I can’t, I won’t hurt him,” and Dumbledore turned to Malfoy and said, “You’ll do it, then,” and Malfoy shook his head, tight-lipped and very, very pale, and Dumbledore hissed with fury, a quiet noise that reverberated off the walls of the cave, off the surface of the lake, as if it were the hiss of a thousand snakes, and he pointed his wand at Malfoy and snapped a binding curse, locking Malfoy’s body up in an invisible vice, and Harry dived and tore at his shoulders and so instead Dumbledore whirled on him and yanked his mouth open and said You drink it, or he does, and Harry nodded dumbly, and he drank it.

Sixth year, Harry woke up in that same hospital in France, L’institut des maladies magiques, and Malfoy was asleep at his bedside, frowning stormily even while unconscious, a book open on his chest.

Seventh year, Harry felt a tug on his trouser leg at breakfast and looked across the Great Hall in time to see Malfoy escorted out by a duo of stone-faced Aurors, and he leapt up--muttering an excuse he didn’t even hear to Ron and Hermione--and raced up to Dumbledore’s office, where he knew without thinking they would be taking Malfoy, and put his wand to his throat and said he’d kill himself if they didn’t let Malfoy go.

Seventh year, Malfoy chased him into the freezing quad in the breathless panicked moments after they fled the Aurors in Dumbledore’s office, Harry still half-convinced that they would change their minds and come after them, and grabbed Harry by the elbow and shouted, “What the bloody fuck was that?” and Harry didn’t have any answer at all, except that he couldn’t go on alone.

There was no end in sight, only more isolation and more pain, and Harry couldn’t go on alone.

He could feel Hermione and Ron drawing away from him a little bit more every time he disappeared and didn’t tell them where he’d gone, or came up with a shoddy lie--drawing away from him and closer to each other, in their own private circle. It hurt, because he loved them and he wanted to tell them everything, for it to be the way that it had been when they were eleven, twelve, when they’d all been in it together. But at the same time he felt guilty for wanting to involve them, when they’d had, at this point, four peaceful years in which nothing had tried to kill them while they were doing their homework.

And he couldn’t tell anyone, besides. He’d caught Remus looking askance at his glamor once or twice when he went round to Grimmauld Place to spend Christmas with him and Sirius, but he never asked any questions and no one else ever seemed to notice. Harry wanted desperately for someone to notice, to take the decision out of his hands, so he could go back to Dumbledore and say honestly that he hadn’t broken his promise. No one ever did. Even after things got very bad his second year as an Auror and the Order was re-formed, Dumbledore and Harry continued to wage their own private war, and Malfoy was the only one who knew the extent of it.

Harry knows that he got Malfoy on a technicality, that if Dumbledore had taken only one sacrificial lamb to the cave that night instead of two, he would be as alone at twenty-seven as he had been as a baby.

He’s overwhelmingly grateful for Malfoy, and sometimes he feels ashamed of himself, that he would wish this life on someone else, even in a roundabout sort of way. But without Malfoy he would be dead, and no matter how much he wishes he could just end it, he knows his death would spell the doom of wizarding England.

Sorry, he’d told Malfoy, once.

Malfoy had looked at him strangely across the shop and asked, For what, you tosser? Saving me from being forced to take the dark mark, or saving me from Azkaban?

***

“YOU OWE ME AN EXPLANATION, MATE,” says the first owl of the morning, which is a Howler. “ME AND ROSIE HAVE MUSIC CLASS AT NINE BUT YOU BETTER BLOODY COME ROUND AFTER THAT.”

The rest of the Weasleys have, no doubt, also been alerted to Harry’s duplicity, because by ten Harry has had to get up and go to the window so many times that he gives up and cancels the redirect charm that brings owls here from his unused flat in Diagon. Let them tap thosewindows to shards; in the past decade, all Harry’s things have migrated here to the rooms over the shop anyways.

In the blessed absence of any more owls, Harry sits with his cup of tea and sifts through the post that’s managed to arrive already: a letter from Seamus accusing him of being a traitor; one from Gin demanding explicit details and congratulating him on having such a fit boy-toy; one from Neville asking if he’s alright and offering to grab a pint in Hogsmeade if he wants to talk; one from Molly offering to set him up with a nice young man who’s her old school friend’s nephew and not an evil little blood purist who’s liable to stab him in his sleep, besides; one from Hermione asking him to please be patient with Ron, because Rosie’s very advanced at some things but she’s still not sleeping through the night; one from Fred and George that just says HAHAHAHAHAHA, haven’t seen Ron turn so red since we lost the World Cup; one from Kingsley telling him another child’s gone missing; and one from Dumbledore berating him for missing their four a.m. meeting and rescheduling for eleven tonight.

Harry’s half-convinced Dumbledore schedules their meetings at such awful hours because he thinks it makes them more covert and mysterious, but he can tell from how Dumbledore’s handwriting is--terse, spiky--that something serious is afoot. More serious than usual, even.

He can hear Malfoy puttering around in the shop downstairs, getting ready to open for the day. Harry’s assisted in the process enough times that he can picture what it looks like; Malfoy, in his tailored slacks and sweater vest, wire-frame spectacles perched on his nose, muttering to himself as he shifts books around in the front window and flicking short, angry charms at the lantern out front to try to get it to turn more welcoming yellow and less sickly green. The lantern has never obeyed and it never will, tainted--as all the ones on the block are--by the ambient dark magic in Knockturn, but Malfoy has always wanted the shop to be a friendly, respectable sort of place, had only bought this space because no one in Diagon would sell to him, so every morning he tries something new, or tries the same thing, but he always tries.

It is, Harry thinks, a routine born from the same stubbornness that makes Malfoy swear, whenever he’s patching Harry’s wounds or sitting beside him at L’institut, clutching his hand much too tight, that someday he’s going to kill Albus Dumbledore. He won’t; neither of them will. Dumbledore’s the only one out of all of them that knows what has to be done to defeat Voldemort. But Harry always appreciates the sentiment, anyways.

After a minute of respite, Harry sighs and looks down at his arm--the blackened, atrophied one, which after all these years is basically useless. He’s considered having it removed, but has been assured by copious research that it would be much more difficult to maintain a glamor to convince someone that there’s an arm where there’s nothing but empty air, than a healthy arm where there’s a ruined one. He mutters the charm, and even goes so far as to use his wand, depleted as he still is. He flexes, tests the charm’s range of motion, as he does every morning. It looks good. Lifelike. He’s certainly been doing it for long enough--and he still uses a mirror image of his right arm, but he thinks that if no one’s noticed at this point, no one ever will.

He runs a washcloth over his face, shrugs into his Auror robes, and heads downstairs to find the pair of trainers he took off in the shop last night without thinking. He finds them under the cash register, and is pulling them on when Malfoy appears, grinning. “Off to beg mercy from the Weasel King?”

Harry gives him an unamused look, summons Dumbledore’s letter, and hands it over.

Malfoy’s expression grows grave as he reads the short message. After all these years, he can recognize the tells in Dumbledore’s handwriting as well as Harry can. “You want me to go with you?” he asks.

Harry shakes his head. “Just--you know. Be ready, in case.”

“Always,” Malfoy agrees.

Harry is struck, unexpectedly, by such a sweeping wave of affection, that when he ties his shoes and stands he can’t help but pull Malfoy into a brief, crushing hug.

“If any Weasleys show up, lock yourself in the back,” he suggests, as he draws away. “Or lock them in the back, and I’ll deal with them when I get home.”

“Go to work, Potter,” Malfoy gripes, using Harry’s surname like he only ever does when he feels like they’re being too mawkish and needs some distance. “You’re late enough already.”

Harry goes. He Apparates to Ron’s front step first, but he can hear a baby wailing inside and he’s not really in the mood to deal with Ron when he’s covered in spit-up and feeling wronged by the universe, so he only waits for a beat before Apparating straight to his rendezvous with Kingsley.

Kingsley raises a single, unamused eyebrow at him. “Family stuff,” Harry says, “sorry for the delay.”

Between them, family stuff has always meant Order business, and Harry feels no shame in letting Kingsley interpret it that way even when he doesn’t mean it that way. It gets him out of sanctimonious lectures about the dead and the missing being more important than whatever squabble he’s gotten into with Ginny--who, for some reason, everyone thinks he’s been seeing since school. The war effort supercedes everything.

He and Kingsley duck into the crime scene, a dingy basement like something out of a Muggle horror movie, where their kidnapping case has turned to a murder case. By the time the sun goes down they’ve found three more bodies--all of them boys between the ages of eight and ten, sent off to St. Mungo’s for post-mortem examinations--and are no closer to finding a suspect than they were four days ago, when they had nothing to work with but the report of fraught, panicked parents. Harry is excused, as he always is, from the morbid responsibility of delivering the news of the children’s deaths. They figured out long ago that having the Boy Who Lived sitting on a bereaved parent’s couch only made them more outraged at the visible injustice of it all, that their child should die, while Harry--improbably, again and again--was allowed to survive.

Harry grabs a quick, nauseous ten p.m. dinner at a Vietnamese place in Muggle London, wanting fervently and with a desire he has not felt since school not to be recognized by anyone or approached.

Ron’s big mouth, on top of blabbing to the extended Weasley clan, had also spread news of their altercation to half the DMLE, and all day he’d had to field questions about what he was doing with Draco Malfoy, regaled with laundry lists of Malfoy’s imagined crimes and given sympathetic assurances that, if he was really that sore up for a good fuck, everyone knew Justin Finch-Fletchley down in the Tax Office was a major slut and would be happy to bestow upon Harry all sorts of sexual favors in the third-floor men’s room. By the end of the day, Harry had been forced to edit his tirade on how his personal life was none of anyone’s damn business down to a single, cutting look, which he had been pleased to find sent most everyone running for cover.

When he’s stalled as long as he can, he leaves a crumpled twenty on the counter and Apparates to the back room of the Hog’s Head Inn.

Aberforth is waiting for him, smoking a pipe. “Harry,” he says.

“Aberforth,” Harry returns.

“Tell that cunt brother of mine I hope he dies,” Aberforth says, as always.

“Will do,” Harry says, also as always, and ducks through the tunnel behind Ariana’s portrait.

The walk up to Hogwarts has gotten no more cheery or less gruelling than when Harry started making it ten years ago, but he’s begun to appreciate the brief respite it gives him, before his meetings with Dumbledore. There is no reason, logically, why Dumbledore couldn’t alter Hogwarts’ wards to let him Apparate straight in, but Harry has never suggested it, and Dumbledore has never offered. As much as Dumbledore is hiding their mission from the Dark Lord and his followers, he’s also hiding it from the rest of the good guys, and so to have Harry come and go as he pleased would be too dangerous--he would run the risk of being spotted by such dangerous and untrustworthy people as Professor McGonagall and Hagrid.

The secrecy doesn’t rankle him, anymore. Hardly anything does, these days.

Or so he thinks. But then he’s hurrying through the quiet, darkened castle under his invisibility cloak, whispering the password to Dumbledore’s office, and he takes the stairs two at a time as he has done a million times before, and sits down opposite Dumbledore as he has a million times before, only this time the old man looks more drawn, more wan and tired than Harry has ever seen him.

He is reminded, suddenly, of the Dumbledore he knew when he was very young, who visited him after the incident with the philosopher’s stone, and was very kind, and very wise, and the closest thing to a parent Harry had ever had. He wonders, now, if Dumbledore had been kind to him then because he was a child, or because he was the Chosen One, if he was already manipulating Harry, at eleven, the way he’d manipulated him at fourteen, seventeen, twenty-one. He wonders, if Dumbledore hadn’t planted that insidious seed of trust so early in Harry’s memories, whether he would still be where he is today, letting himself be puppeted by the lesser of two evils.

“Harry,” Dumbledore says, “I’ve identified the last Horcrux.”

And then he tells him, and Harry thinks--Oh. Oh, well. I guess none of it ever mattered, after all.

***

Dumbledore grants him a stay of execution: twenty-four hours. Harry doesn’t ask him if he’s going to be the one to do it, because he knows he will. For all his flaws, Dumbledore has always done his own dirty work.

Harry’s not sure why he isn’t more frightened, more angry. He supposes he always knew he was going to die in the war effort. The fact that he’s not going to go out in some heroic battle, diving in front of someone he loves, but instead lying on that bloody cot in the back of Dumbledore’s office, staring up at thad damned vaulted ceiling and swallowing down all his wishes and what ifs, doesn’t really make all that much of a difference.

Once he’s made it back to Hog’s Head, he Apparates first to the shop in Knockturn, where he’s hoping to find Malfoy but instead finds only dark, silent stacks of books. He knows he could send out a Patronus and have Malfoy back here in a matter of minutes, and he starts to take out his wand, but then realizes that, even though he thinks it’s a waste of time to sleep right now, he is bloody exhausted.

So he takes a breather, goes upstairs to Malfoy’s desk, and begins to write letters: one to Ron and Hermione, apologizing to them for all the lies; one to only Hermione, advising her on the location of his will; one to Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, thanking them for everything, for taking him into their home and allowing him to pretend to be a normal child; one to Hagrid, which he has to stop halfway through writing to get a hold of himself, to tell him that he’s always been like a father to Harry, and that he loves him; one to Gin, advising her on what he heard today about Justin Finch-Fletchley; one to Seamus telling him to fuck off; one to Dean advising him to dump Seamus; one to Neville telling him he’s always been a good friend; one to Professor McGonagall, letting her know that she shouldn’t allow Dumbledore mentor any more children; and one to Sirius and Remus, which again he has to take a break in the middle of writing, confessing that he has, since he was fifteen, always thought of them as his parents, and that he is sorry they should have to outlive him, but he’s sure they understand.

His right hand is in spasms by the time he begins a last letter, which he addresses Dear Malfoy. He feels as if, out of all of them, he should have the most to say to Malfoy, who has been with him through all of it and who knows even the most shameful details of what Harry has done, has endured, for the cause. But he stares down at that blank scrap of parchment, and nothing that he thinks to write feels correct. He jots out, ridiculously, Long life, and then laughs meanly at himself and tears the parchment to bits, and sits back and looks at the stack of other letters, rolled up and addressed with the little green tags Malfoy keeps in his desk drawer, and feels violently and helplessly the inadequacy of his own vocabulary, that he should be so unable to tell the people he loves how much he loves them, and why, and how sorry he is.

“Fuck,” he tells his rotted arm. “I need a drink.”

So he goes downstairs and pops down to the pub--the grimy, scary one at the end of the block that no one he knows ever sets foot in--and has a few pints, enough to make himself warm and loose but not enough to make himself drunk, since he has twenty hours to go still and thinks it would be an awful waste to spend them with a hangover.

By the time he gets back to the shop, letting himself in the front door with his own set of keys, the light’s on upstairs and Malfoy’s home. Harry finds him at the kitchen table. Malfoy is a terrible morning person, which means he goes to bed very early and is only ever awake at four in the morning when he’s waiting for Harry to get home from a meeting, or a mission--in this case, he’s fallen asleep on his folded arms, glasses pushed up into the silky mess of his hair, tie undone and curled around his hand, where it rests in front of him. Harry stands in the doorway and just looks at him for a moment. The animal inside him that has been frothing and pacing since Dumbledore’s reveleation quiets down and curls up to sleep, and Harry realizes that, more than he is at peace because he always expected to die, he’s at peace because he’s willing to die.

It’s not as unfair as it would’ve been at eleven, at seventeen. He’s had a life--maybe not the best life, but a good one. A far better life than he ever imagined, before he went to Hogwarts.

He’s had friends. He’s had parents: Molly and Arthur, Sirius and Remus, Hagrid. He’s had Malfoy, and though he’s never been able to define, even for himself, what they are to each other, Malfoy has given him understanding on a more profound and intimate level than he ever thought he’d get.

Malfoy took on the responsibility of caring for Harry’s life when Harry gave up doing it himself. He sat at Harry’s bedside and harrassed Harry’s mediwitches in sharp, perfect French, installed himself in Harry’s dusty old flat and slept in a chair for a week after Harry asked--with what Malfoy believed to be far too much interest--whether it was possible to cast Avada Kedavra on yourself. He made no comment when Harry’s clothes started migrating into his closet, made no comment when boxes of books and a cheap futon followed--made no comment but still made space for him, kept the fridge stocked with groceries Harry liked, poured an extra cup of tea in the morning. He created a signal, for when they were at the same function but pretending not to know each other, for Harry to tell him he needed him to take over the glamor on his arm--two sharp tugs to the earlobe, a flick of Malfoy’s fingers across a crowded room, and Harry could relax. In a sea change from their childhood rivalry, he has never made fun of Harry or blamed him in any way that matters. He’s made Harry feel safe.

He is so, so much more than Harry ever thought he would get to have, and, even though he knows he can’t, that he has other things he needs to do, standing there in the kitchen doorway, he suddenly wants to spend the last twenty hours of his life like this, watching Malfoy breathe.

Instead, he says, “Draco.”

Malfoy comes awake with a start, blinking up at him. “Harry. You’re back.”

Harry smiles softly. “Come on. Let’s go to bed.”

Malfoy stands and follows him down the hall to the bedroom, so tired he’s almost woozy on his feet. “Your meeting with Dumbledore. How did it go?”

“Same old same old,” Harry lies. “I’ll give you a play-by-play in the morning.”

Malfoy hums, and they strip down to their undershirts, and climb into bed. He’s given Harry this, too: he lets him into his bed, and holds him while he sleeps, and sometimes presses kisses to the back of his head, his clothed shoulders, the bone behind his ear, but he never pushes.

When Harry had confessed to him, reeling in the midst his first sex crimes case, what Dumbledore had made him do in fifth year in order to gain access to the Lestranges’ vault at Gringotts, Malfoy had gone very quiet and very still, but had not gotten angry, had not recited his usual threats against Dumbledore’s person, and had not told Harry that he was disgusting or vile, like some large part of Harry had feared he would. He’d only said, voice wobbly, “Merlin, Harry, I’m sorry,” and, “Can I…?” and, when Harry nodded, had held Harry’s hands tightly and sat next to him while he shook and shook, feeling like he should be crying but unable to conjure tears.

Harry realized how he felt about him two years ago, and, true to form, had blurted, “I love you,” in the middle of their weekly trip to Tesco Magic in Diagon Alley.

Malfoy had been holding a rutabaga at the time and looked very alarmed. Not, he told Harry later, because of what he’d said, but because of the vehemence with which he’d said it. And he’d said, “I love you too, Harry,” as if it were the simplest and most obvious thing in the world, and maybe it was.

“Alright then,” Harry had said, and they’d moved on out of the produce section.

Now, he feels Malfoy’s breath slow and deepen, his arm heavy across Harry’s stomach, and Harry can feel himself drifting as well, but he forces his eyes wide, needing to stay awake. He stays awake while the light changes outside the window, while a thin sliver of warm yellow morning advances across the floor and onto the bed, illuminating one section of Malfoy’s hair like gold filaments; he stays much longer than he should, because it is suddenly very hard to even consider leaving, now that he knows it’s going to be the last time.

In the end, he manages by closing his eyes, lifting Malfoy’s arm gently away from him, slipping out from underneath him. Malfoy’s a heavy sleeper, always has been, and he doesn’t stir even when Harry bends to press a soft, lingering kiss to the corner of his eye. The feel of his skin against Harry’s lips and his hair under Harry’s fingers is so much that for a moment Harry just stays there, nose tucked against Malfoy’s temple.

I’ll be back, he tells himself, nonsensically. This isn’t the last time. I’ll be back.

The delusion is enough to get him out of the bedroom, down the stairs. He pauses in the shop, realizing with a lurch that he never finished his letter to Malfoy, and digs around behind the register for a piece of scrap paper, not wanting to go back upstairs and risk waking him.

His second attempt isn’t much better than his first. Dear Malfoy, it reads. Rutabaga.

***

Remus is, of course, always happy to see his godson. He has endeavored for ten years to impress upon him how much his and Sirius’ home is Harry’s as well, and that he can come and go as he pleases.

But Harry has never taken him up on the offer, has always called first and been sure to ring the doorbell, so when Remus manages to extract himself from the octopus known as Sirius Black and makes his way downstairs to find Harry sitting at their kitchen table having himself a cuppa, he very nearly has a heart attack.

“Harry,” he says, clutching his chest. “Merlin, you scared me. Is everything alright?”

Harry gives him one of those smiles that Remus hates because they don’t quite reach his eyes. “Everything’s fine. Sorry. I just thought maybe the three of us would have breakfast.”

Remus knows something is wrong--he knows--and for a moment he’s about to call Harry out on his lies and make him tell him what it is. But Harry looks at him, and Remus can tell that he’s exhausted in the way that only people with great weights on their shoulders are exhausted, and he can also see in Harry’s face that if Remus presses, he’s going to leave. So, in the end, it’s easier to do what he’s always done, since Harry was thirteen, which is let him get away with it.

“Good luck waking your godfather,” he says, bustling past Harry to the kettle. “I swear, you could drive a herd of angry erumpents through the foyer and that man wouldn’t so much as twitch.”

Harry smiles--a real smile--and for a moment Remus feels as though he’s made the right decision. He has always thought that it was more his and Sirius’ duty to keep Harry happy, than to keep him safe, because the second prospect was such an enormous and unapproachable job. And Harry drags Sirius, grumbly and wrapped in Remus’ dressing gown, down into the kitchen, and Remus cooks a simple breakfast, and Harry tells them about his work (dreadful, as always) and the shop in Knockturn (on the brink of bankruptcy, as always), and it is such a nice morning that Remus cannot imagine why he might’ve wanted to ruin it by making Harry discuss things he’d rather not discuss.

“I don’t know what you see in that Malfoy bloke,” Sirius says, for what must be the millionth time since Harry admitted to living with him, at what had been a very awkward Christmas four years ago. “Honestly, I think you should carry on the proud Potter tradition of marrying redheads--“

“Sirius,” Harry says, like he has a million times. “No.”

Remus has always been a bit mystified by the conviction with which Harry says it, so patiently and so certain every single time. But he also respects it, and is proud of him, like all parents are proud when they realize that their children have become real, complete people.

“Right. We’ll circle back around in a few weeks,” Sirius dismisses. “Take your temperature then.”

Harry rolls his eyes. Remus shoots Sirius a look that he hopes tells him to be quiet and respect that Harry is an adult capable of making his own decisions. Sirius gives him one back that says, very succinctly and with a great deal of clarity considering it’s just a look: BUT IT’S A MALFOY.

Remus is just about to direct the conversation to safer climes, but the Floo chimes and he has to go answer. It turns out to be Kingsley, looking for Harry, so Remus calls Harry in and then ducks out to give him some privacy. While they’re alone in the kitchen, he takes the opportunity to reprimand Sirius out loud for his obstinance and his stubborn bloody bigotry, when he’s never actually met the Malfoy boy, to which Sirius replies that Remus has always been too soft and too trusting, and that if they’re not looking out for Harry then who the hell will? and they devolve into a whisper-shout argument that grows tenser and tenser until Harry sobs from the other room.

They’re both out of their chairs like shots.

Harry has his head in the Floo, making an outgoing call, and he’s begging someone, “More time, please, just one more day--Please, me and Kingsley are onto a case, I’ve just got to solve it and then I can--“

He falls quiet as the other person speaks. Sirius goes to step forward, but Remus grabs his arm and keeps him in place. After a moment, Harry says, miserably, “Yes, sir,” and ends the call.

“Harry,” Remus tries. “What’s wrong?”

Harry brushes past them toward the front door, not even bothering to rub the soot off his face. “I’ve got to go. I’m sorry, this was meant to be longer, but I’ve only got twelve hours and Kingsley says the boys were raped before they died and I can’t leave it like this, I can’t leave them like that, I’m sorry--“

And then he’s out the door, onto the front step, and he Disapparates with a crack.

***

Eleven hours later, the Malfoy boy is on their front step, and he looks like he’s been crying.

Remus feels a swoop of fear. “Harry?” he asks.

“I need to speak to you,” Malfoy says, which doesn’t tell Remus anything either way, but he lets him in. Sirius is shouting from the top of the stairs fit to rival his mother’s portrait, but Remus pins him with the same cutting glare he used to use when Sirius was being too mean to Wormtail and was about to cross the line, and he shuts up.

In the kitchen, Malfoy pulls rolls and rolls of paper out of his pockets, enough that they must be magically enlarged, and starts searching through them. “I found these half an hour ago,” he says. “Harry wrote them. There’s one to everyone he knows. I think it’s got something to do with his meeting with Dumbledore last night…”

Remus notices, on top of the pile, a scrap of parchment that reads only, nonsensically: Dear Malfoy, Rutabaga. Something in his mind has gotten stuck on the front step, seeing Malfoy for the first time, like his heart has numbed itself prematurely to the grief he was certain he was about to feel, and it accidentally took the rest of his body with it.

But Sirius seems to be having no such problems. “What meeting with Dumbledore?” he demands.

Malfoy shakes his head helplessly. “I don’t know what he wants Harry to do this time, but I think it must be something he thinks he won’t come back from, because these all read like goodbye letters.”

“You read all of these?” Sirius snaps. “These are Harry’s private correspondences--“

Malfoy shoots him a look that is so tired, so unamused, that Remus knows in that instant he and Harry are much closer than he and Sirius have imagined.

“Mr. Malfoy,” Remus says, as gently as he can, because clearly this boy is going through something. “I don’t think Albus Dumbledore would ever ask Harry to do something that would put him in danger.”

And now Remus is the recipient of that same look, and it makes him feel childish, and naïve, and as if he has been so negligent in looking after Harry that there is nothing that he will ever be able to do to make up for it.

“I can’t tell you--“ Malfoy starts, as he finally finds the letter he’s been looking for. “I can’t tell you anything he’s told me, because I promised I wouldn’t and I won’t break his trust. But here.”

He hands Remus a scroll. It is not, as Remus had expected, addressed to him, or Sirius, or both. Instead, it’s addressed to Professor McGonagall. He hesitates, because he’s never been the sort of person to open another’s mail, not even James and Sirius and Peter’s, but this is Harry they’re talking about, Harrywho Malfoy seems to think is in danger, so he supposes Minerva will just have to forgive him the slight.

Dear Professor McGonagall, the letter begins. I’m sorry that it took me so long to write this letter, but I wasn’t brave enough until now, until I don’t have to stick around to watch what happens. I hope that you know me well enough, and know Professor Dumbledore well enough, that you can trust me when I tell you whatever suspicions you’ve had about him are true. I hope you’ve had suspicions, because if notSince my fourth year of school Professor Dumbledore and me have been hunting for Voldemort’s horcruxes. He has gone with me on some missions but mostly sent me alone. I’ll try to tell you some incidents where you might find evidence. First, in fifth year, he sent me to sleep with a man who could get us into the Lestrades’ vault at Gringotts, and we stole Helga Hufflepuff’s cup, which is broken but still in his office. In sixth year he had me try to wield the Resurrection Stone and a curse on the horcrux nearly made me lose my arm. Professor Snape can tell you about that, or you can look at my arm once the glamor drops. Last year, I was in Bulgaria with Igor Karkaroff for three weeks, Karkaroff died and I had to kill three Death Eaters and was in hospital in France for a week. I know that doesn’t matter much now because I’m an adult but The story was in the papers, so I hope it corroborates my other stories. There was more, but I’m short on time. I only want you to know this so that Dumbledore never gets to take any other child under his wing like he did me. I don’t think he’s fit to do so. Signed, Harry Potter.

The glamor, Remus thinks, because the first revelation is too terrible for him to look at directly, right now. How many times had he stared at Harry’s left arm a little too long, seeing a strange shimmer like the one he’d used to cast on his injuries after a full moon, and not said anything? Let him get away with it, like he had done this morning? How many times had he let Harry give him that fake smile, and seen it for what it was, and not pushed? How many times had he sent him back into the arms of this--this abuser?

Sirius makes a hurt noise, reading the letter, and when he looks up with watery eyes Remus is there to meet him. There is no reassurance to be had, here, but there is, at least, this: that they’re in it together.

“I understand you have a secret tunnel into Hogwarts?” Malfoy demands, tetchily, desperate.

Twelve hours, Remus thinks. What had Harry said this morning? Please, just one more day. Twelve hours.

He sees Sirius put it together at the same time he does. He sees the floor drop out from under Sirius, as he feels it drop out from under him. It’s been more than eleven hours. They have to get to their son.

“Minerva,” Sirius says, and Remus says, “Yes,” and they’re all moving into the next room. Remus calls Minerva, who has always trusted him even since he was a student, and she opens the Floo and lets them all through into her private rooms. She’s surprised to see Malfoy, but Sirius of all people vouches for him, and then Malfoy hands over Harry’s letter to her, and she scans it with quick, flinty eyes. Her expression barely changes the entire time, but by the time she’s finished there’s a tense, determined set to her jaw that wasn’t there before. “Quickly,” she orders.

They run--even Minerva runs--through the dark, deserted halls.

She snaps the password to Dumbledore’s office. The door gapes dark and yawning before them, and Sirius is the first one through, up the stairs with his wand out, Remus and Malfoy on his heels. They’re on their way to face down the most capable wizard of their age--of many ages--but none of them hesitates even for a second as they crash through the door and into the room.

At first glance it looks like the office is empty, and Remus thinks, defeated: they’re not here. But then there’s a tiny hint of movement in thr corner, and he snaps around to see Dumbledore’s tall, gray form crouched over a cot where Harry lays, curled up on his side, looking heartbreakingly small. Remus is the first to snap out a curse, and to his surprise, it’s crucio, but Dumbledore throws up a nonverbal shield, and Remus’ magic glances uselessly off the walls. “Don’t you see?” Dumbledore asks, grieved. “You can’t save him. None of us can.” And Sirius bites out, Like hell I can’t, and then Remus is watching the love of his life trade curses blow for blow with one of the most dangerous men alive, and he realizes that the love of his life is one of the most dangerous men alive. He and Minerva jump in when they spot an opening, and then it’s three against one, and even Dumbledore is flagging.

Remus spots a flash of blond hair, darting around the edge of the action, and sees Malfoy fall to his knees beside Harry’s cot. But then a curse flies his way, Sirius shouts, “Moony!” and he has to look away.

There’s a great flapping of wings, and a red bird descends from the ceiling--a phoenix. Dumbledore lets loose with an enormous curse, enough to send them all diving for cover, and then snaps his arms up and grabs the phoenix’s tail. In a great clap of fire and smoke, he’s gone.

Silence rings in the office. Remus peels himself up from behind a desk. Across the room he sees Minerva do the same, and then turns and finds Sirius, looking rattled, but unharmed.

“Harry,” Remus says, but Sirius is the one who lurches to his feet.

Harry is awake, barely. Malfoy is holding his face between his hands, their foreheads pressed close together, talking too quietly for Remus to hear. Harry’s hands come up to grasp Malfoy’s bony wrists, and the strength of his grip is enough to tell Remus that he’s not hurt, or at least not hurt seriously. He falls to his knees next to Malfoy, and Sirius tumbles less gracefully into a sitting position on the other side of the cot, and all of them put hands on him, like laying hands to give a blessing, and Malfoy’s kissing his face and saying, in between kisses, “Harry, Harry.”

“It was just me,” Harry says. Something in his voice sounds uncomprehending, bewildered. “It was only me, Draco. He just had to kill me, and it would all be over.”

Remus has about a million responses to that, but he can’t find it in him to verbalize any of them, because he feels like if he opens his mouth he might vomit. And it turns out he doesn’t have to, because Malfoy goes very still, and snaps, “What if it was just me, Harry?”

Harry shudders, a great wracking thing, and says, “No. No, that’s not the same.”

“It’s the same,” Malfoy assures him. “It’s the same. You don’t get to do that to me, Potter, not ever.”

Remus watches Harry nod slowly, and watches Malfoy drop another kiss in his messy hair, and watches Harry’s hands go to Malfoy’s shoulders, where they grab on, taking great fistfuls of fabric, like he’s holding on for dear life. And he recalls just this morning, Sirius asking: if they’re not looking out for Harry, then who the hell will? and he meets Sirius’ eyes over the cot where their son almost just died, and by the relieved, exhausted, amused look in Sirius’ eyes, he knows that he’s remembering the exact same thing, and thinking the exact same thing: A MALFOY.

What beautiful, beautiful, gorgeous irony.