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In What Universe?

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Draco, August, 1998

The melancholy creeps like black mould. Draco knows he should fight it off—scrub his internal machinations with positivity or optimism—but he just can’t muster the energy.

No matter what he does now, the facts will remain the same. Draco is almost certainly going to Azkaban. It’s strange, to know what’s coming. His trial is tomorrow and there is precisely zero chance that he avoids a prison sentence. Not a single death eater has been spared what the public at large are calling retributive justice. The foregone conclusion barrels forward and it does not appear to give a fuck about Draco’s preferences.

Draco’s on a balcony overlooking the gardens, which feel freshly scrubbed but lonely, too. The manor hasn’t recovered from the war. It's still standing, still grandiose in the way that old buildings tend to be, even after they’ve been gutted and damaged. There’d been peacocks once. They’d strutted, arrogant and fanciful and far too brazen for their own good, before Macnair had butchered them all. For sport. Draco had watched, hadn’t stopped him.

“Feeling sorry for oneself isn’t really brave,” Draco says and then mutters, “I wish I was brave,” softly.

Had it not been for his inevitable one-way trip to Azkaban, Draco knows he would never have cast the spell. He rubs at his arms, searching for some sign that it's worked—it's only been a few minutes, but he craves confirmation.

He’d found the spell—a messy ancient thing—in his great great uncle Cassius’s collection, scrawled in the margins. It was peak idiocy, casting a handwritten spell. Draco knew it, but then he’d never been very good when left on his own. Wallowing had soured to recklessness and Draco had hoped doing something would stifle the melancholy. 

It hadn’t.

“Mr. Draco, sir,” Minty, one of their few remaining house elves, says, startling Draco out of the memory. “Miss Pansy is here.”

“Send her to the ballroom,” Draco says. “I’ll be down shortly.”

It’s his last night as a free man and, while he will never tell her, there is no one he’d rather spend it with than Pansy Parkinson.

* * *

“Are you trying to torture me?!” Pansy says, looking at the device in the middle of Draco’s ballroom with open suspicion.

Muggle music knocks around the empty walls, the sultry tones of Will Smith bouncing off vaulted ceilings.

“Torture?” Draco says, wounded. “I’m merely providing you with an education. I’m expanding your cultural palate.”

“I don’t like Muggle music.”

“That’s a touch elitist of you,” Draco says.

“It’s not that it’s Muggle,” says Pansy, doing her best to sound dignified. “It’s just that it’s…it’s so bad.”

Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It has all the hallmarks of a classic!” Draco says, defensive.

“He’s not even singing! He’s…” Pansy struggles to find the words. “He’s talking with style!”

“I think Muggles call it The Rap,” Draco says, shimmying his shoulders. “I like it.”

“Where did you even find that thing?” Pansy tries to sound haughty, but she gives the Boom Box a wide berth.  Neither she nor Draco know what kind of Boom this box contains. It could explode at any moment—they both know it.

In his quest for enlightenment—which included but was not limited to the nuances of what the Muggles call Pop Culture—Draco had purchased the strange box as well as a stack of circular disks.

“I bought it at an Electronics Shop.” He says the last two words slowly, determined not to botch the pronunciation.

Gettin’ jiggy wit it.

“You went to a Muggle store? Alone?”

Na-na na na na-na-na.

“Alone,” Draco says, trying not to sound too pleased with himself.  “And I paid with a Credit Card.”

Pansy shudders. “If you start talking about invisible money again, I will sew your lips shut.”

“It’s fascinating!” Draco says, a bit dreamy eyed. “I don’t know how they trap all of your assets in a tiny piece of plastic, but they do! It works every time.”

Gettin’ jiggy wit it.

Pansy glares at the boom box, as if it’s interrupting them on purpose. “Seriously Draco. Is this some kind of punishment?”

“Let me change the song—”

“That’s really not the solution I was hoping for—”

But Draco is already moving slowly towards the boom box, creeping on his tip toes, lest he startle it into explosions. He jabs at the next song button.

The fast-talking man is replaced with something much more soothing. “Oh! This is by Lenny Kravitz." It's a strange name, Draco thinks, but to the Muggles, so is Draco. He scoots back across the room and settles down next to Pansy. She’s taken her socks off and is wiggling her toes.

“Are we going to talk about it?” she says, eventually.

I wish that I could fly, Into the sky, So very high,  Just like a dragonfly.

Draco closes his eyes. Perhaps, if he pretends she isn’t here, if he just ignores the question, maybe everything will disappear.

I'd fly above the trees, Over the seas in all degrees, To anywhere I please.

“Draco,” she says again. “You trial is tomorrow—”

“Is it?” Draco’s voice is a shrill.

“And you haven’t said a word about it.”

“Why don’t we focus on the more pressing matter of a grown man who thinks he can fly.” It’s becoming difficult to breathe. Draco rubs his calves.

I want to get away. I wanna fly away.

“How long are we going to dance around—”

“It’s bizarre really,” Draco says. “He’s a muggle. There’s no reason that he should be able to just spread his wings and fly away. Unless it’s a metaphor—”

“Draco—”

“In which case, I need to revisit the meaning of this entire song. As a metaphorical conceit, it may be rather brilliant. Let’s listen to it one more time—”

“It tomorrow, and we haven’t talked about what could happen if—”

Draco snaps his chin up and faces her. “If I go to Azkaban?” His words are still shrill, but the edges are sharp. Like glass in a shattered window. “If all of the wizarding world takes one look at me and what I’ve done and realizes that I deserve to go to Azkaban?”

“You don’t deserve to—”

“Don’t tell me what I deserve!” Draco’s shoulders are heaving, his breaths coming in painful gasps.

“I’m sorry.” Draco barely hears her. But he feels Pansy’s hands rubbing soothing circles into his back. “I’m sorry,” she says again. “I’m sorry.”

The song ends.

Pansy’s hands still.

“I’m scared,” Draco says. It’s a confession and it’s all he’s got.

“Me too.” Pansy’s head falls onto Draco’s shoulder and he realizes that this is what he has to lose. “Me too.”

Draco knows he should tell her about the spell. Deep in his guts, at the centre of him where his honestly lives, he knows he should tell her. But as he breathes in the smell of her—of lavender and hairspray—he can’t bring himself to do it. For just a little while, the weight of her head and the weight of his future seem to balance and everything feels calm.

I’ll tell her tomorrow, he thinks. And if the Winzengamot sends me straight to Azkaban, well. Then it won’t matter.

* * *

Draco doesn’t look at the chair, or the chains hanging limp at his sides. He doesn’t look at the raised seats or the purple robes. He picks a stain on the cool cement floor and forces his eyes to stay put. Looking at it will only make it worse.

The whispers, though, fall upon him like arrows.

In the weeks and months following the Battle of Hogwarts, the Ministry had opened all trials for alleged Death Eaters to the public, in an effort to avoid the hushed suspicion that certain families were buying their freedom. Dollars soaked in blood to smother the guilt. And so Draco’s shame would be witnessed by most of wizarding London.

Draco had made his peace with the audience, but he still hadn’t expected there to be so many. There must be hundreds of people crowding into the pews. Hundreds and hundreds, and more coming all the time. Draco feels them. Their hatred is thick in the air.

“This is what a thousand eyes feels like,” Draco mutters.

Narcissa is sitting beside him, her posture impeccable, her lips a thin line. She doesn’t say anything, but she doesn’t need to. She’s with him, alive, and that’s what matters. The last two Malfoys, to be tried together.

Unlike his father. If Draco ever saw Lucius again, it would be in chains. Lucius had been sentenced to ten years in Azkaban. Draco has no idea how to process this, and so he hasn’t.

Most of the people have stopped shuffling, most bodies have found their seats, when a gavel snaps the room to attention.

Someone from the highest benches above says, “The accused being present, I call to order the trial of Narcissa Cassiopeia Malfoy and Draco Lucius Malfoy, on the fifth of August, of the year 1998, into offenses committed during the Second Wizarding War, in which the accused allegedly harboured and housed He Who Must Not Be Named, committed acts of torture, knowingly participated in… ”

Draco lets the words wash over him. He still doesn’t look up. The world will see him, they will look at all he’s done, and they will judge. There’s nothing for it now.

Suddenly, the whispers coalesce, startled back to life. They’re so loud and Draco doesn’t want to hear. He doesn’t. But he can’t make them stop.

“Is that Harry Potter?”

“…The Chosen One!”

“…they hated each other….”

“…probably saw a lot of what happened…”

“…Death Eater scum…”

“…he was there when it happened…”

“Potter!”

Arrow after arrow crashes into Draco’s back, but he doesn’t look up. Looking at it will only make it worse. Of course Potter is here. Was there anyone Draco had hurt more than Harry Potter? It made sense that he would want to see their old rivalry finally set to rest.

Still, the vestiges of his pride prickle. Of course he came to gloat.

“Mr. Potter?” the man with the gavel says, and he sounds surprised. Which is when Draco hears the footsteps. Not heading up into the gallery but down. Down into the pit, soft against the cement floor. Settling next to his chair. Draco can see a set of trainers—there’s a tiny hole where the left toe pokes out.

“Hey,” Harry says, and Draco’s not sure exactly who he’s talking to. Hey isn’t exactly the kind of language that one uses to address the Wizengamot. Draco can’t stop staring at the shoes, because he’s scared. He's so scared and looking at it will make it worse.

“Mr. Potter, it’s an honour,” the man with the gavel says, and Draco suddenly understands the kind of power saving the wizarding world can afford a person. There is no other man alive who could stride into the middle of a formal hearing unencumbered. “Your presence here is a bit…unexpected.”

“I’m here for their trial,” he Potter, his voice unapologetic and clear.

“In what capacity?” the man asks.

“Oh,” Harry says, as if the reason for his presence should be obvious. “I’m here to provide testimony for their defense.”

“For my defense,” Draco whispers and hears his words echoing around the dungeon.

“…defense!”

“…his defense!”

“…he’s defending death eaters!”

Somewhere, a gavel is banging away, desperate to bring the room back to order. But Draco doesn’t hear any of that.

For the first time that day, Draco looks up. Sees that Harry is staring at him, green eyes wild and alive and focused. He’s always wanted those eyes on him. And now that he has them, Draco feels naked and very much not enough.

Potter is ragged, like a messy draft of the person Draco used to know. His edges are scribbles and there are dark smudges under his eyes.

I’ve never seen eyes like his, Draco thinks, and he feels all of his restraint crumble to nothing. He lets himself stare, lets all of his feelings pour out into the unflinching attention of Harry Potter.

 

It’s all a dizzy mess, when the Wizengamot opens the proceedings. Draco's crimes are described in that horrible kind of detail that looks too close, and everything is huge and ugly.

Potter’s face is stern in a haggard sort of way. He looks so calm, staring down a court full of the most powerful witches and wizards in Britain, but his magic betrays him. Draco wonders if anyone else can feel it, if anyone else realizes that Potter is a massive cumulous cloud rubbing static into the air.  

It shouldn’t calm him—should have the opposite effect—but Draco is comforted, knowing that the precious Chosen One is nervous too. It makes him feel horribly human.

Eventually, Potter starts to monologue. It’s with less bluster than usual, so Draco knows he must’ve practiced. Which means that this intervention on his behalf was planned in advance.

Can’t resist an opportunity for attention, can you? Draco thinks, and his rage starts to prickle.

Potter’s still talking. Insisting that Draco saved his life at the manor by refusing to identify him. It’s true, but Draco hasn’t told anyone that, and he wants to scream, wants to pin Potter to the ground and force him to explain how the fuck he knows. Who does he think he is, spouting opinions about Draco’s innocence and guilt?

Anger claws at his throat. And when Potter reveals that he’d been there at the top of the Astronomy tower, Draco can’t bear it. He’s carved his palms open with ragged fingernails.

“He’s not a killer,” Potter says, and Draco is desperate for cross examination.

How do you know! How can you be sure, when I’m still so guilty?

Draco’s rage is a rash, and the only way to scratch is to scream and scream, but he can’t because there are a thousand eyes on him and he’s supposed to be deferent. Licking the boots of the fucking Hero, come to save the day. Again.

“We sacrificed so much. It seems stupid to tear ourselves apart now,” Potter says, letting out a breath he must’ve been holding. “It’s over. Just let it be over.” Draco can hear all of Potter’s bruises in this final line; he sounds so tired.

No one’s moving, a thousand breaths trapped in a thousand chests. Purple robes frozen, slack jaws hanging in stasis. The silence is unnatural—this many people shouldn’t be so still.

One heartbeat. Then another.

“We will consider your testimony and return with a verdict,” the man with the gavel says. “This court will recess for twenty minutes.”

The quiet shatters. And Draco is so angry, he thinks he might die.

Potter’s close. It’s uncanny, but Draco can feel Potter’s eyes. He’s always known when Harry Potter was looking at him.

The angry itch flares and Draco is on his feet. Potter’s just so fucking close.

“What are you playing at!” Draco’s yelling but against the noise all around them, it hardly registers.

Potter flinches. He looks…sad. But he doesn’t say anything.

“You can’t just walk into my life and stomp all over everything. You can’t just show up at my trial. You can’t…” Draco feels blood in his ears.

“I didn’t mean to stomp,” Potter says, and his voice is gravel and sleepless nights.

Draco hates how calm the words are, when he feels hot all over. Potter, in his stupid shaggy jeans and a shirt that hangs like a tent flap. And he’s just staring at Draco without any of the fire that used to be there.

As if Draco doesn’t matter at all. It makes him want to lunge, grab Potter’s shoulders and shake him until he remembers that he used to care about what Draco was up to. That he used to look at Draco with something more than pity.

It’s too much, seeing Potter like this. Still trying to save the world—one rotten death eater soul at a time.

“You can’t save everyone!” Draco explodes. “You can’t fix everything. Or be the centre of every fucking universe.”

The rage is a rash all over him, fury building and itching and Draco wants to climb out of his skin.

“I’m not…” Potter’s mouth twists into a frown. “I saved you, didn’t I?”

“I don’t need it! Or you! I don’t want to need you!”

Those green eyes are hard and flat when Potter says, “Not like this, Malfoy. Not where people can see.”

Not where people can see, Draco thinks, and feels his rage fizzle to nothing. Of course Potter doesn’t want to be seen with him. Doesn’t want any of Draco’s shame to get on his horrible shoes. Somehow, the idea of Harry being embarrassed of him hurts more than anything else in this horrible day.

“Not to worry!” Draco says, mania spilling over. “We’ll be all over the front page of the Prophet. What luck. You’ve always loved that.”

“Fuck you.” There it is. Anger stirs behind those green fucking eyes and Draco almost groans with relief. I can still get to him. The untouchable Harry Potter and I can still get to him.

“Oh, aren’t you the pinnacle of wit. What a brilliant comeback, Potter. Have you always been this clever?”

Potter closes the distance so fast that Draco doesn’t have time to move away. At first, he’s sure that Potter’s going to hit him and he welcomes the contact. But the blow doesn’t come, and Draco feels Potter place his hand on his elbow.

His mind goes to jelly. Touching, he thinks. Potter is touching me.

“Stop it,” Potter says, and his eyes are on fire. His grip is firm and he doesn’t let go. Not when the crowd starts to settle, not when the members of the Wizengamot return, looking grave. Not even when they read the verdict of their deliberations.

Draco faces his future with Harry Potter holding on to him, refusing to let go. 

* * *

Probation.

The word feels artificial.

As soon as the verdict had come down, Narcissa spirited Draco out of the room. “To the apparition point,” she had said. “Quickly now.”

Probation for Draco Malfoy, for a period of six months, as well as 500 hours of community service, to be carried out in accordance with the list of acceptable activities outlined by the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. Probation for the same duration for Narcissa Malfoy, along with the seizure of assets equivalent to ten percent of her accumulated wealth.

Narcissa had wrapped her thin arms around him; it was an unconventional pose for a side along, but Draco leaned into it.

They were gone before the stands could empty. Before he could find Potter and do…he’s honestly not sure.

They’re nearly home now. The wind moves across the grass like a hand drifting over velvet—a soft touch against the grain. Draco feels it on his cheeks, feels the cold in the corners of his eyes.

Two Malfoys stride up the path to the manor, backs perpendicular to fields of green. Neither has said a word since apparating from the ministry.

Harry fucking Potter, always swooping in to save the day, Draco thinks and hates himself just a little more than before. Hate piling on top of hate piling on top of hate. Draco hadn’t known his self-loathing could reach such great heights.

Narcissa approaches the heavy gate announcing the entrance to the Malfoy ancestral holdings, and it swings open to greet her. I’m coming home, Draco thinks, and realizes that he hadn’t expected the day to end this way.

Only now, as they step into the safety of the grounds does his mother finally speak.

“Probation,” she says, and it feels like a question, a statement, and an exclamation all at once.

“It doesn’t feel real,” Draco says.

“It was not the most likely outcome when this day began,” Narcissa replies, and Draco wishes he could reach across the formalities and hold her.

“Potter,” Draco whispers, and he can’t stop thinking about the way he’d looked. Like someone drunk had tried to draw him. Like he hadn’t slept in days.

“Did you reach out? Ask for his support?” Narcissa says and Draco bites back a snarl.

“Of course not,” he snaps, and the fury is back. Does his own mother think so little of him? That he would beg for the saviour’s help? But then he remembers Potter, shoulders squared against the public who loathed Draco and the Wizengamot who wanted to make an example of him. Remembers Potter’s voice—low and even—when he’d said, “Narcissa lied to Voldemort to save my life,” and “Draco refused to identify me,” and “I saw him the night Dumbledore died,” and “He’s not a killer.”

“I didn’t save Malfoy just so he could rot in Azkaban. I don’t want that.” And who dared deny Potter what he wanted?

Not the Wizengamot, apparently.

The gate clatters shut behind him. “Probation,” Draco says, again, as they walk up the lane.

Narcissa stops, bracketed by smooth lawns on either side of her slim shoulders. “Draco,” she says, and her voice wobbles. “We’re …we’re going to be…”

His mother is crying. She hadn’t cried when they’d returned to the manor, not when they’d moved the bodies out of the basement, not when the Aurors had come for father. Narcissa Malfoy had steeled herself against the aftershocks of a war and now she was crying.

Formalities be damned, Draco thinks, and pulls his mother against his chest.

She sobs, and so does he.

“We’re going to live,” he whispers and Narcissa pulls him closer.

“I suppose we are,” she says, breathy. “Now, pull yourself together. It’s far too cold to be weeping in the middle of the lane.”

Draco snorts, but lets her lead him inside. It looks like he may have to tell Pansy about the curse after all.

Chapter Text

Harry, September, 2003

The Emergency Room is squirmy and Harry’s adrift in the trauma.

“Potter! Have you been to see the kid in trauma bay 4?” Dr. Horwood says from somewhere, and Harry cranes his neck trying to find her.

“Not yet—” he starts to shout, but the nurse on triage is suddenly plopped in front of him.

“There’s a mental health patient waiting for assessment,” she (Megan?) (all of the nurses here seem to be named Megan) says, and Harry tries to nod, but someone else is talking.

“We’ve got an ambulance on the way—”

“Right!” Harry says, grabbing the clipboards from query-Megan’s hands and flipping through the charts. The fluorescent lights are a food lamp, baking everyone alive.

Harry had wanted this, he reminds himself. The busyness, the rush of bodies, the urgent need to help.

Five years ago, in those days and weeks after the war that had wept like an open wound, Harry’d had no idea what he wanted to do with his life. A year of chasing and being chased by a sadist megalomaniac had really put him off magical law enforcement. Ron began Auror training and Harry did not.

“Have you thought of healing?” Hermione had said, and it was an offhanded comment. Not one meant to land or said with much intention. Hermione was desperate to get Harry off the couch and Harry was catatonic most of the time. Neither of them had expected it to take.

Harry spent most of the days after the Battle of Hogwarts on the couch at Grimmauld. Dark halls, moldy drapes, and one very distressed house elf kept him company. Harry hadn’t really thought much of it until Ron and Hermione came over one day, and he realized the mountain of pizza boxes was approaching human height.

“You’re depressed, Harry,” Hermione had said, pushing a mound of takeaway containers onto the floor and settling next to him.

“Don’t call him that!” Ron had said, leaping to his defence.

“I’m fine,” Harry had grumbled and rolled away from her, pressing his face into a crusty cushion.

“When was the last time you showered?”

“I—” Harry opened his mouth and found that he didn’t know the answer to that.

“Are you sleeping in your bed?”

“Sometimes!” Harry said, defensively, although that wasn’t really true either.

“And how much are you sleeping?”

“I’m sleeping loads!” Harry said, finally landing on something he was doing right.

Hermione jabbed him in the spine. “Sit up. You’re depressed and we need to do something about it.”

“You do look a bit…” Ron trailed off, clearly reaching for a word that was kind rather than disparaging. “Well, you look a bit shit, actually.”

Harry had rolled over and opened one bleary eye. “Not depressed,” he’d said, throwing an arm over his face and trying to blot out all of the noise his two best friends had brought into his home.

“Oh Harry,” Hermione had said, patting the top of his head.  “C’mon Ron. Let’s get to work.”

Hermione had swished her wand and vanished the pizza boxes. Harry felt a pang of loss. He’d grown quite fond of those pizza boxes. “You,” Hermione said, poking his cheek. “Shower. You smell like cheese.”

 

The problem was, Harry had known he was broken. But it wasn’t in a way that could be fixed—not even by someone as clever as Hermione. The parts of him that should be alive—the insides, where he was supposed to feel all of those vibrant things that had been there before he’d wandered into that forest—were dead. They were dead and they weren’t coming back.

Because death was a direct flight, wasn’t it? A one-way ticket. Harry should not have come back. His body was whole. It worked in all the ways bodies were supposed to. But on the inside…

In the days and weeks after the war had shuddered to a halt, Harry felt his insides start to decay. He didn’t want or hate, he didn’t care or breathe. He’d left a part of him behind at King’s Cross.

On the inside, Harry was a corpse.

 

He’d told Hermione. It was a secret that was elusive when it came to articulation—he just didn’t know how to say out loud the thing that he was so sure was true. I’m still dead sounded dramatic and wouldn’t make sense to someone who hadn’t seen it, hadn’t followed him into the dark. I’m just punching my time card until I end up back at that station.

Eventually, over a lunch where Hermione ate and Harry lay on his kitchen floor, he said, “I’m a warm body without a soul, Hermione,” and hadn’t had to say anything else because Hermione had understood.

Nothing changed between them, not visibly, except that Hermione started coming over for lunch. Every day in the beginning. Having someone there—not saying anything inspiring or motivational or trying to fix him, just existing in his space—had helped suck some of the cloying despair from inside his chest.

And then, “Have you thought of healing?” Hermione had said, offhand. Harry had seized the idea with single-minded attention, had sunk his teeth into the concept. Healing was the first thing since Malfoy’s trial that had made him feel alive.

 

Harry forces the squiggly lines of Viola Pinkerton’s chart back into focus. Pediatric fever first, he thinks, striding towards room 4 with the confidence of a healer completing his last residency. I chose to do a Muggle rotation, he reminds himself.

The idea had been Hermione’s. “Muggles have cured all sorts of things we haven’t. And their pharmaceuticals work in places where potions just can’t compare.” Harry agreed, and it was why he was here. In one of the few ERs with integrated ties to the Ministry.  

Harry’s magic crackles under his skin, restless and keen to jump into the fray. You have to get that under better control, Hermione would have said. The Muggles will notice.

Harry taps his fingers together, finger to thumb, finger to thumb, and forces the anxious magic back down. I can do this, Harry thinks as he pushes the curtain back. I’m here and I can do this.

“Hello Viola—”

Viola Pinkerton’s body is convulsing on the floor.

Harry sheds his insecurities like a second skin. It’s always been this way; he’s always worked better in a crisis.

“Help me get her on a stretcher!” Harry shouts at the same time the waifish figure standing behind the seizing child lets out a single terrified scream.

Parents scream a lot, Harry thinks, but it’s fleeting.

Bodies hurry through the green privacy curtain. “We need to get her on the stretcher,” Harry says, and reaches down. The girl’s arms are jerking, her body stiff under his hands. She’s so small, he thinks, and they lift her together.

“Megan,” Harry guesses, although he’s not really sure which nurse followed him in. “I need you to hook up the monitors. Heart rate, EKG, blood pressure—”

“I know,” hopefully-Megan says.

“And an IV,” Harry says. “Try to get an IV.” He knows it’s an ask—the twitches haven’t stopped, won’t stop. Sliding a needle neatly into a vein when it’s wriggling underneath you is no easy task.

Scenarios flash through Harry’s head. If they can’t get a vein, I could order an IO, Harry thinks and then shudders in spite of himself. Drilling directly into a bone has always given him pause.

“Right,” the nurse says, and alarms are bursting into life.

“It was just a fever,” the woman who must be Viola’s mother whispers. “You can’t die from a fever. Kids get them all the time. It’s just a fever.” And the whispers continue, on an on. A litany. A prayer.

The IV cart is screeching and the violent sound of alarms crack the hum of the department. Harry glances at the numbers wriggling across the screen.

“Watch the airway,” Harry says. You wouldn’t think that someone with a seizure would die because they couldn’t breathe, but Harry knew better. It was so easy—common, even—for a patient to bite down on their tongue and bleed, or vomit and choke, or—

“You can’t die from a fever,” mum whispers and her daughter’s lips twitch and twitch.

You can though, Harry thinks. You really really can.

“IV?” Harry says, looking over at probably-Megan.

“I’m very good,” she says, giving him a wicked grin and Harry decides that he’s going to like maybe-Megan. “IV’s in.”

“Administer diazepam, 0.1mg,” Harry says. 

Benzos, Harry thinks as he watches hopefully-Megan push the medication. Benzos and if that doesn’t work

It’s almost immediate. The sharp convulsions settle. The heart rate monitor drifts back into a normal range.

Big brown eyes drift open and look up. There’s no recognition behind them, no hero worship or familiarity. It’s why Harry’d wanted to intern here. No one went to pieces or asked for autographs or went to the Prophet if the Chosen One was their healer. “Hey Viola,” Harry whispers, because there’s not time for many more words. “I’m Harry.”

”Hi,” she says.

“We’ll be admitting your daughter,” Harry says, over his shoulder. “For monitoring and bloodwork.”

Viola’s mum has tears in her eyelashes. “Oh,” she says. “Alright.”

 

Harry stumbles out of Trauma Bay 4, jotting notes and admission orders onto Viola’s chart. The Emergency room is still squirming and alive, crisis after crisis unfolding in the partitioned rooms. Catastrophe in miniature. Contained and sterile and tragic.

“Dr. Potter,” a nurse says, and Harry drifts back to awareness. It’s the same nurse—Megan? She has red flecks on her scrubs.

“Yeah?” he says, and sees that she has a clipboard in her hands. Fuck. Please, just give me a bad cough or a twisted ankle. Something easy.

“I entered the mental health consult a while ago. The counsellor’s almost finished with the suicidal ideation in Room 5.”

“Thanks,” Harry says, taking the clipboard and trying for a smile. It’s a catastrophic failure at cheeriness.

“And it’s Emma,” she says, her look shifting from professional to withering.

“Wha—” The words feel blocky and Harry struggles to process.

“My name,” definitely-not-Megan says. “It’s Emma.”

Fuck. “I’m so—” But Emma is stalking away from him and Harry can’t help but smile. He’d wanted to get away from the hero worship; an appropriate level of indignation makes him almost warm and fuzzy. Here, Harry thinks, I’m just a normal person.

It’s with a grin as wide as a watermelon that Harry turns towards Room 5—one of the few places in the department with a door. Suicidality, Harry thinks, looking up from the chart. I just have to have a quick chat with the counsellor and then we can decide if we’re admitting or—

Harry’s thoughts hit a brick wall.

A gash of white-blonde hair.

Long legs. Sharp angles.

Tattoos? No. There’s no way…

But Harry sees them, dark lines shocking against that pale skin.

And those fucking grey eyes looking across the room at the person on the stretcher—the attention is singular, focused, as if this patient is the only person in the world who matters.

Harry’s world erupts into colour—a flash of vibrancy in the pan. Because Draco Malfoy is five feet away from him and the memories of their shared history burst through his carefully constructed compartmentalization. I don’t want to think about this, Harry thinks as he stares at Malfoy brushing hair from his eyes. But they come anyways. The memories always have, with Malfoy.

 

It had all been so messy. The accounting of responsibility for a magical civil war exploded all over the front pages of the Profit.

Just Desserts? Former Death Eaters attacked in the streets of Diagon

Bill advocating for the implantation of mandatory minimum sentences for all death eaters to be considered by the Wizengamont

Old Families Must Go Down: Arguments for the seizure of pure blood assets following crimes committed in the name of blood purity

The headlines narrated the story of a world in chaos. It was almost as if, after the external threat of Voldemort was defeated, everyone forgot how to live with each other.

The Yaxley manor went up in flames. Antonin Dolohov was beaten within an inch of his life by twenty people in front of the Three Broomsticks. Celestina Warbeck put out a single called You Know What You Did, and it became a post war anthem. Anger was in the water and the temperature of the entire world was set blood to boil.

And Harry had wanted none of it.

Shacklebolt had owled him every day for two months. Reporters published front page spreads on everything from his takeout preferences (greasy), his love life (shambles, since Ginny’s left), and his political affiliations (unknown).

“You could do a lot of good, you know,” Hermione would say and Harry would glare and the conversation would stop before it started.

Until Hermione mentioned the trial of Draco and Narcissa Malfoy—speculation about which was splashed all over the Witch Weekly.

“It’s such a waste,” Hermione had said, sighing into her coffee cup. Harry was sitting across from her, nibbling on a piece of toast. He’d graduated from the couch to the kitchen on occasion and Hermione marked this a victory.

“What is?” said Harry.

“It’s not decided yet,” Hermione had said. “But most people believe that Malfoy and his mother will receive lengthy prison sentences.”

“Prison?” Harry had said, still a bit fuzzy. “What do you mean, prison?”

“Draco Malfoy is probably going to spend the next five to ten years in Azkaban,” Hermione said, looking down at the article, her sharp eyes flying across the newsprint.

“Are you fucking serious!”

“Harry, you’re yelling—”

“What’s the point!” Harry had stood up. “What was the point of saving the fucking world if we’re just going to kill everything that’s left behind?”

“I agree Harry, but—”

“But nothing! This is so stupid.” Harry yanked the magazine out of Hermione’s hands and tore it in half. Let the glossy paper fall onto the checkered tile. “So stupid,” he said again, softer this time.

Hermione had reached across the counter and, with the caution with which one would approach a wild animal, had taken his hand. “I know it is.”

“Why can’t we just…just stop…”

“I don’t know, Harry.”

Harry looked down at the pieces of the magazine cover on his floor. Malfoy stared back, sharp grey eyes narrowed at the photographer, blonde hair falling into his face. “This can’t happen, ‘Mione.”

Harry hadn’t known why, exactly. But for the first time in months, he wanted something. Wanted to do, to fix, to help.

“Okay,” Hermione said slowly. “It would take something fairly dramatic to keep the Malfoys out of prison. Lucius was already sentenced—”

“Draco isn’t Lucius,” Harry snapped, and the name had tasted strange on his tongue.

“No,” Hermione said, her words long and thoughtful. “He’s not. Harry, I think you may need to make a statement.”

“A what?”

“If you spoke at his trial, I think it would go a long way in swaying the Wizengamont.”

“Speak? At his trial?”

“I’ll help you.” Hermione had smiled then, and for a second, the world flickered into colour. “He called me a Mud—a nasty slur and he stomped on your face and he poisoned Ron.”

“Fuck, he did, didn’t he?” Harry had forgotten how many ways Malfoy had hurt them. The rest of the war had diluted the harms—made them feel like teenage problems, when they’d hurt each other with an abandon that should never really’ve been allowed.

“Yes, he did,” Hermione said, all of her feelings about Malfoy collecting in the furrow between her brow. Harry watched it smooth over. “I’m going to need to locate the transcripts from the original trials, just to see if there’s any legal precedent for charging a minor with high crimes and misdemeanors…”

There was nothing more dangerous, Harry thought, than Hermione when she decided she was going to figure something out. Her brain could bend the world.

And it had worked.

Probation. Malfoy got a shot at a life bigger than war trauma and reparations. Harry knew he should have been happy with the outcome. But as he pushed through the crowds of people, the shouted questions, the camera flashes, all he could think about was the way Draco’s skin had felt under his fingers. The way that grey eyes had pinned him in place. The way that his dead flesh had felt warm for those few moments when Draco Malfoy had been paying attention to him.

Fucking Malfoy, who always knew how to get under his skin and just stay there. Who hadn’t said thank you, who had fled the Ministry after his trial and hadn’t looked back. Until that awful night at St. Mungo’s, when everything had gone wrong—

Harry had gone for a run that night, for the first time since the war. Better tired than sad, he’d thought, for the first time, but not the last. Better tired than sad.

 

“Dr. Potter?” A voice says— Dr. Horwood, Harry thinks absently. But they’re both close enough to Malfoy now that Harry’s name must have slipped through the open door. Or maybe they had always been so caught up in each other’s gravity that Harry’s proximity was enough.

Because grey eyes snap up, and Harry doesn’t have time to run. He’s frozen in place. An object at rest in a world without gravity. Draco Malfoy vanished from wizarding society five years ago, and Harry hadn’t stopped him.

Harry swallows hard. Barely hears Dr. Horwood’s barrage of questions. Finds his focus pared down to the single point where green eyes meet grey.

Chapter Text

Draco, August, 1998

Emotions shouldn’t have any physical attributes—fear shouldn’t weigh heavy on the soul and shame shouldn’t have the pigment to leave a stain. What colour would my shame be? Draco wonders, as he takes the drinks from the barista-turned-late-night-bartender and walks back towards his table.

It’s been three days since his trial. Seventy-two hours of angry post and headlines that pull no punches. The press, it seems, is keen to tell Draco exactly how they feel.

Malfoy Money Triumphs Over Justice and Chosen One Confounded? Unlikely testimony traced to sinister roots. For more details on the signs of someone under Imperious, see pg. 10!

Pansy had wanted a piece of him almost immediately. Had fire called and owled and—in a truly tenacious act that Draco was sure she’d seen in a Muggle Rom-Com—had shown up at the manor’s gate holding a giant handwritten sign that read ANSWER ME YOU TWAT!!! in all caps.

Draco had thought three exclamation marks a bit excessive, but he had not met her in the grass to tell her so. Instead, he’d owled her a time and a place deep enough in Muggle London that no press would catch on.

Across the Board’s décor is uninspired and the air is a bit musty. Draco sets what the Muggles call a Cooler (and what Draco calls alcohol-juice) in front of Pansy and settles into his gin and tonic.

“I can’t believe Potter!” Pansy greets him with a shout, tapping her acrylic nails on the tabletop. Pansy chatters non-stop about how horrible the Muggle world is, how slow and dirty and inconvenient. And then she turns up with fake nails and, today, with frosted tips.

“I don’t want to talk about Potter,” Draco says, taking a long swallow.

“But it was so dramatic!”

“It really wasn’t.”

“You weren’t there! You didn’t see what it was like!”

“It wasn’t that dramatic,” he says after a moment.

“You’re just jealous that you’ve never gotten to make that kind of entrance,” Pansy says.

He wants to argue, but knows that, with Pansy, there’s no point. So he deflects. “I can’t stop looking at your hair,” Draco says instead, and it’s true. Pansy’s hair is a jet-black bob, except for the last half inch or so—which appears to have been dipped in bleach.

“Don’t lash out because you’re secretly processing your fucked up feelings about Harry Potter,” Pansy says, but Draco ignores her.

“I know that Justin Timberlake is outrageously handsome, but this is a step too far.”

Pansy’s eyes narrow to fuck-you thin. “You’re a prick when you’re jealous.”

Draco snorts—it’s undignified and wonderful. “Hair should not be orange,” Draco says, and he’s smiling at her. “And frosted tips will never be cool. Just wait. Future decades will laugh at you.”

“I thought we were celebrating your escape from Ministry clutches,” Pansy says, sipping her cooler. “Not criticizing my stylish hair. You know, most people think that not spending the best years of your life in wizard prison is a pretty big deal.”

“Oh, I was never worried,” Draco lies shamelessly.

Pansy’s eyeroll is tremendous. “Then why are we here?”

Draco follows Pansy’s skeptical glance around the room, and does feel that he owes her an explanation.

They are sitting at a table in the middle of a gaming café that specializes in, but is certainly not limited to, intense matches of a card game called Magic: The Gathering as well as some eccentric role-playing game called Dungeons and Dragons. Draco is sure that none of these pale, middle aged Muggles have ever stepped foot in a real dungeon or seen any kind of magic, gathering or otherwise.

“I know it’s not your typical night club,” Draco says, very pleased with all the Muggle lingo he’s picked up. In the early days after the war, he and Pansy decided that the Muggle world was—a bit ironically—more welcoming to former death eaters than the wizarding one. “But they’re open until midnight, you don’t have to yell directly into my ear to have a conversation, they serve liquor, and we’re the most attractive people in the place.” Draco looks around. “By quite the margin.”

Pansy’s grin is wicked. “True,” she says, “but I don’t actually care about your choice of venue.” She tucks a strand of orange-kissed hair behind one ear. “If we’re not celebrating your brush with an extended stay in Azkaban, why are we here?”

“Because you invited me via billboard?”

Pansy snorts. “You’ve been cagey as a Hufflepuff with a hidden agenda since we walked in. You,” Pansy says, poking him in the chest, “have a secret. So spill.”

Fuck. Resistance, he knew, was futile.

“I’ve…” Draco begins but the words are sticking. “I’ve done something a bit rash.”

“Oh?”

“Didn’t really think it through and now the consequences are a touch more…enormous? than I originally anticipated.”

“Stop stalling,” Pansy says, fingernails demanding to be heard. “What did you do?”

“I may have cast a spell—”

“What kind of spell!” Pansy yelps, far too loud. Several heads turn to look, and for a moment, Pansy seems a touch concerned that she’s breached the International Statute of Secrecy.

“That little card game they play has all kinds of spells, Pans,” Draco says, and watches her shoulders relax. “Besides, it’s less of a spell and more of a curse, as it turns out.”

“Oh for fuck’s sake. What have you done?” All of Pansy’s play has fallen away. She’s seriousness and certainty and Draco knows better than to skimp on the details.

“I found an old spell in one of great great uncle Cassius’s journals. It’s a family spell, I think, but it wasn’t copied into any of our official ledgers.”

“Okay,” Pansy says, nudging the story along.

“It was scribbled in a margin. Anima Revelare.” Draco whispers the name of the curse.  

“I don’t know what that means—”

“It loosely translates to reveal the soul?” Draco says, soft.

“Oh.”

“And I thought…” Draco tries to push on, but vulnerability has never come easily. “I thought it may show me if…if I’m irredeemably evil?”

“You dramatic little shit…”

“Would I have been different? Better? If things had been different. If I’d been brave, just once. If I’d made one good decision, been kind instead of selfish. If I’d been born in a Hobbit hole under a mountain and no wizards ever came to bother me—”

“—What’s a Hobbit?—"

“—would I still have turned out to be so…” Draco doesn’t have the words.

“You’re not evil.”

“How can you know! How can you and saint Potter be so goddamn certain that I deserve the benefit of so much doubt?”

Words won’t calm him, and Pansy seems to know better. One hand, nails dipped in Muggle culture that she would have spat on a few months ago, reaches for him, grabs hold, and drags him back from the ledge.

“I don’t think a spell—”

“—curse,” Draco mutters.

“I don’t think a curse can tell you if you’re a good person.”

“It was actually meant to reveal the true nature of my soul, Pans. Do keep up,” Draco says, congested in that weepy sort of way.

“I don’t think a curse can do that either.”

“I know. It didn’t exactly have the desired effect.”

The silence hangs like someone awkward at a party.

“Draco?” Pansy prompts. “What happened?”

Draco tries to shrug it off. Tries to weaponize his nonchalance. “Oh, it’s nothing really. I just…” He breathes in. Once. Twice.  “The curse I cast on myself—the effects make absolutely no sense. It wasn’t supposed to work like this—”

“—Draco!”

“Right. The curse I cast may or may not open up the…uh…the multi-verse? Plunging me headlong into different various worlds, wherein I live as myself until the curse decides it’s done with me and sends me home again. It’s no big deal.”

This time, the silence hangs like a dead man.

Pansy’s mouth opens and closes on nothing but air.

“I feel like you’re going to make it a thing,” Draco says and Pansy shreds him with a glare.

“You’re out of your mind!—”

“Please don’t make it a thing.”

“This isn’t just mucking around with time turners, although that would be bad enough.” Pansy’s shriek is in full form.  “You’re seriously playing with…with the whole universe…”

“It’s multiple universes actually. The multiverse,” Draco supplies, and Pansy looks like she wants to hit him.

“I don’t even know what that is!”

“It’s just a collection of potentially observable universes that represent every possible future in every possible world. It’s nothing, really.”

“Are you out of your mind?”

“I came here for support, Pans. You’re not being very supportive.”

Pansy is reduced to spluttering curse words.

“You see, you’re the only one I’ve told, and I’m quite frightened, and I might need someone else to stay calm, because I need to make a plan and I can’t make a plan when I’m having a panic.” Draco peers up across the table, pleading. “I need someone to help me make a plan.”

And just as she has in every other moment of crisis, when Draco has felt like the world is without gravity or friction, Pansy is a point of contact holding him steady. “Alright,” she says, blinking rapidly. “You irresponsible, ridiculous, impulsive—

“—clever, witty, devilishly handsome—”

“—idiot. Stop inflating your ego and start telling me about this curse. Are you sure that it even took? Have you seen one of these…universes?”

He had. Merlin, he had, and he desperately needed to talk to Pansy about it.

 

The curse hadn’t touched him the night he cast it. There was a lingering feeling, like fingers on the back of his neck, that made him sure he’d produced something. A touch that hovered just close enough make his hairs stand on end, but not enough that it had felt like anything had changed.

It came for him the night after his trial. He’d lay, curled up into the smallest version of himself, wishing that he could muster a few tears. Was crying the appropriate response? Should he have clapped his hands in celebration of the shiny new future he now had access too? A single act of benevolence from Potter, something he probably barely thought about, had changed the trajectory of Draco’s entire future; the charity would probably haunt Draco for the rest of his life.

It was as his mind self-flagellated and his tear ducts refused to release that the curse came for him.

Draco tells Pansy that it was like fate had wrapped herself around him, slipped her fingers between his, and tugged. There was no resisting her.

“It was like my ears popped,” Draco says, looking up at Pansy, who is hanging on his every word. “Like when you’re flying and you drop too fast, and your ears pop and you can suddenly hear and you had no idea you couldn’t until that very moment. It was like that, but with my whole body.”

“Uh huh,” Pansy says, mouth open. “And then…”

Well.

“Then?” Draco takes a breath to prepare for the plunge. “Then, I was in a pick-up truck driving across the Tundra with Harry fucking Potter.”

The look that blooms across Pansy’s features is kaleidoscopic—horror and excitement and ravenous for more.

“I knew you had a secret,” she whispers. “Tell me everything.”

And so he did.

Draco Malfoy and the Carpool Across the Tundra

Draco’s own universe had disintegrated like sugar melting in hot water.

“What the fuck?” he said, the cool press of the curse’s touch still chilly between his fingers.

“You refuse to speak for nearly two hours,” a voice said and then Draco was looking up into those stupid green eyes that could only ever belong to one person. “And that’s what you break the silence to say?”

“Oh my god, it’s Potter,” Draco said, before he realized that he probably shouldn’t.

“Are you sick?” Potter said, and there’s something wrong with his voice. “Do you have a fever or something? Cause you really should’ve told me about that before you jumped in my truck. It’s rude to trap someone with your germs, y’know.”

And that’s when Draco realized he’s in a truck—an old truck, by the looks of things. And that Potter was driving on the wrong side of the road.

“I’m going to die,” Draco said, out loud again because he’s an idiot. But he was trapped in the cramped cab of a fucking pickup truck with The Boy Who Lived and what else was he supposed to say?

“That seems a bit dramatic,” Potter said, frowning at the road.

They were on the wrong side of the road and Potter had an accent and it was all building to a very large panic in Draco’s chest.

“We’re in a truck.” Draco was confused and facts had babbled out of his mouth.

Potter snorted. “No shit.”

“But…why?” Does it matter if I disrupt the internal logic of the universe? Draco wondered.

“Because you were looking for a carpool? And I agreed to take you, because I’m way too nice, apparently?”

“Why would I agree to get into a vehicle with a relative stranger—”

“I’m not a stranger!” Potter shouted, and it was all very loud inside the bench of the front seat.

“You’re not?” Draco asked, because in what universe could they ever be friends?

“We’re in the same program,” Potter said, and he wasn’t angry anymore.

Draco had struggled to process, had stared at Potter without shame. The hair was the same—a dark weed sprouting every which way. Same arms and chin and scar. The scar still carved sharp white lines across Potter’s forehead, and Draco wondered if it was the Dark Lord who put it there. “The same program?”

“We see each other every day. I—” Potter stuttered, and his knuckles were white around the wheel. “I’ve talked in your direction.”

“Did I answer?” Draco asked and he found that he really wanted to know.

“Not obviously,” Potter said and he was blushing. Harry Potter. Blushing. “You glare, mostly.”

“I do not glare,” Draco said, but realized that was probably a lie.

“Believe me,” Potter said, and his hands tightened around the steering wheel. “You glare.”

“I cannot believe I agreed to an extended stay in a vehicle with you.”

“You’re being borderline offensive. You know that?” Harry said, still blushing. Still vaguely upset.

“You could be a serial killer,” was Draco’s rebuttal.

“I’m not a serial killer!” Harry waved his hands that were supposed to be on the wheel.

“That’s exactly what a serial killer would say.”

“We’ve been in classes together for two year,” Potter said, sounding a bit morose. “I thought you liked me well enough.”

You have no idea, Potter, Draco thought, until Potter replied and he realized he’d said that out loud too.

“What is that supposed to mean? And why the fuck do you keep calling me Potter?”

Draco clawed at his wits, willing them to come back to him. “Because it’s your name?” Do you have to keep the same name when you’re in a different universe?

“My last name. It’s not like I walk around calling you Malfoy.

“You don’t?”

“Obviously not!”

Potter—no, Harry, and wasn’t that strange?—looked upset. The idea of it, of Harry’s mouth twisted in that frown that’s more disappointment than anything else, was painful.

“Right, so we’re carpooling,” Draco said, trying for small talk. Anything that would remove that horrible look from Harry’s face. “I knew that, obviously. How much longer have we got?”

“Another five hours.”

“That’s an obscene amount of time,” Draco snapped, irritation crackling in the cramped interior.  

“It’s 360 miles from Anchorage to Fairbanks. Take your complaints up with geography.”

“Oh, I plan to.”

And he’d done it, because Potter—Harry—smiled.

Why the fuck am I driving across the Alaskan Tundra with Harry Potter?

* * *

The wind clattered against the windows, and even though they were sealed up tight, Draco could feel the cold trying to claw its way in.

“Where are we?” he’d asked, for at least the third time.

The night had fallen on the world hours ago. Draco couldn’t see much past the truck’s high beams. They carved the dark open with their solitary blast of white light.

“Literally the middle of nowhere,” Harry said, glancing across the cab at him.

There was something different here, something off in the way that Harry was looking at him. In school—in sixth year more than the others—Potter’s eyes had been on him. Followed him everywhere, until Draco thought he’d go mad.

A part of Draco had given into the fantasy that Potter had wanted him, had chased that attention to a hot release in a tight fist. In person, though, Draco’d had no delusions when he stared back into those green eyes. It had been loathing, suspicion, hatred. It had never been lust or anything softer. Nothing like love.

Any fantasies that he’d clung to were banished in that bathroom, the day Potter had carved him open.

The truck gobbled up the lines on the road.

Harry kept stealing glances, flashing over when he thought Draco was dozing or staring out the window. He’d lingered.  

“How cold is it out there?” Draco wondered.

“Chasing -40, I’d say,” Harry answered, as if this was the most normal thing in the world.

“Forty degrees? Below zero?”

“Draco, I know you’re a Brit, but you’ve lived here for three years—”

“That shouldn’t be allowed,” Draco said, too stunned to filter. “Human civilization should refuse to colonize spaces so hideously inhospitable.”

“I dunno.” Harry was looking again, sidelong and wistful. “I think difficult can also be…nice.”

“Nice?” White curls of frost scratched at the pane and the wind howled across the waste.

“You’re certainly difficult,” Harry said.

Draco rolled his eyes and then realized that Harry couldn’t see him. “I’m not nice, Potter,” he said, distilling his look into words.

“It’s Harry!”

“I’m not nice.”

“Agree to disagree,” Potter said, eyes fixed on the road, and Draco had no idea what to do with that. A version of Potter who didn’t loathe him—who though he was nice. The cab was far too small. Draco could feel the heat of his thighs where they’re pressed to the ancient leather. Warm air wheezed through the vents and Draco was far too hot.

“Look,” Harry said, and Draco watched that chin slot into place, jutting forward Draco knew that Potter had made a decision that he planned to see through. I know that look, he thinks. It’s just usually at the other end of a wand. “This is gonna sound a bit weird, but I’ve been meaning to ask you, to tell you—”

No. No no no. Whatever confession Potter was gearing up to, Draco was suddenly sure that he did not want to hear it.

“Pull over!” Draco shouted and Potter had turned to face him.

Oh dear, is all Draco had thought. He’d been viewing Potter in different angles of profile. Harry’s fulll face focused entirely on him now, so intent, so close—

“Are you okay?” There’d been worry between his eyebrows, on the edges of his lips. The truck was slowing down. Potter flicked the indicator and was drifting towards the shoulder.

“Fine! Just need to…” Draco reached for an excuse that made more sense than Well actually the way you are looking at me is making my chest close up. “Just need to use the facilities.”

“Right,” Harry said, worry lines still nudging his expression. “You remember it’s minus forty, yeah?”

“Yes yes.”

“Draco, your coat,” Harry said, reaching for a lumpy thing that was far too hideous to be a coat. But Draco was already tugging at the ancient metal handle. He didn’t need a coat. He needed to get out—

“I’m fine!” Draco said, trying to dodge as Potter’s hands reached into his space. “Just going to be out for a second.”

“You don’t understand—”

The end of Harry’s sentence was cut off by the wind searing the world clean.

“Fuck a witch’s tit!” Draco yelped as the cold air bleached his skin. Draco needed space from that stupid truck. He could see it now, after tumbling out into the wild. It was bulky and red and looked as if it was carved out of a block of metal. The indicator was still blinking.

“I can’t go back in there,” Draco said to the open air. He took a deep breath and realized that it hurt. The deep freeze cut into his lungs and chilled him from the inside out. “I can’t.”

He didn’t know why. The idea of Potter liking him…maybe wanting him…it wasn’t possible. Because Draco didn’t deserve nice things. He didn’t get to have things he wanted. He didn’t get—

A heavy door slammed and the sound bounced off the snowdrifts. “Draco?”

“I’m peeing!” Draco shouted, barely registering how undignified he sounded or how distressed his mother would be to know that the word ‘peeing’ had come out of his mouth.

“You’re not peeing,” Harry said, and his boots crunched against the snow as he approached. Draco hadn’t known that snow could crunch.

“I just—”

A hand touched his elbow and Draco shivered. Touching, he thought, and the trial flickered across his memory. He touched me then. He’s touching me now.

“I like you,” Harry said, voice low and thick and afraid. “Have for a long time. So long.”

“No,” Draco whispered, and the wind picked up the word and whisked it away.

“It’s okay if you don’t—I mean, I figured it was a long shot, look at you—” And Draco was going to die.

“It’s not that,” Draco said, Harry still behind him, his touch still and steady. He held on at the trial. He’s holding on now, Draco thought.

“What is it?”

Draco considered locking the honesty away, but he was so cold and Potter’s voice was so earnest. Eighteen years of pure blood breeding and Potter still—always—had him undone.

“I don’t get to have nice things.”

Harry’s hands moved to his shoulders. A firm grip turned him, forced him to look straight into the sun. I’m so fucked. “Why not?” Potter asked, shivering in his long sleeve.

“Because…” Honesty was a knot; Harry had the end and he’d pulled. “Because I’ve done things. Horrible things. And I don’t get to just move on. The villains don’t get a happily ever after.”

Harry’s hands hadn't moved from his shoulders. Draco felt contained, bracketed in the safety of the Chosen One. Different universe. Same boy. Same weighty certainty that, when Potter had you in his sights, everything would be alright. “You’re not a villain.”

Draco opened his mouth to protest, but Potter wasn’t done. “Even if you were…” The wind rose, twisted around them, sent shivers cascading across Draco’s flesh. “Even if you’ve fucked up and carry guilt around like some cross to bear.” Harry was so close. Draco could feel the warmth of Harry’s breath on his frozen cheeks. “That doesn’t mean you can’t have nice things.”

“Doesn’t it?” Draco choked.

“No.” It was one word and it punctuated the moment.

Draco wanted to answer, to launch a compelling argument about the dangers of moral relativism, but his teeth had started to chatter.

“No more philosophizing under the stars,” Harry said, grinning. His mouth was so close. Draco wanted to touch the smile with his fingers. “C’mon.”

Draco let himself be led—hadn’t he always?—until he’s looked up. And then he’d stopped, arms bare against the elements.

“The sky,” he whispered.

“Yeah,” Harry said, following his gaze.

“The stars,” Draco couldn’t put what he’d seen into words. Stars. Hundreds, maybe thousands, bright and white, as if the sky has its eyes wide open and Draco was seeing it’s true face for the first time.  Bearing witness to the galaxy without alteration.

“Sometimes, we forget to look up,” Harry said. Those green eyes could join them, glinting like that. He was a man made of star stuff.

“They feel so close,” Draco breathed. Or maybe he was just seeing the night clearly for the first time. Without the cosmetics of the modern world. “I’ll never forget this.”

It was true. He wouldn’t.

“C’mon,” Harry said, again. “You’re actually gonna get frost bite.”

“You’re supposed to hate me,” Draco said, more to himself, as he walked around the truck, hopped up onto the seat, and slammed the door.

“You’re so dramatic.”

Draco ignored him and savoured the way that heat seeps back into his skin.

“I don’t hate you,” Harry sighed. “I know our families have history, but I don’t hate you.”

Consistency across the timelines, Draco thought, and then decided not to ask. That there was no point in seeing how horrible the Malfoys could be in another iteration of the world.

“But I’m just—” Harry had floundered and Draco waited, barely afloat himself as he rode this wave of fate and the lives that could have been.

Harry leaned across the cab, moved so far into his space all Draco could see were irises green as a killing curse.

“I want,” Harry said.   

Me? Draco thought and Harry answered. With his mouth.

 * * *

Later, he wasn’t sure if he’d woken up or come back. The logistics felt wobbly.

The curse had tugged him loose from a pile of sweaty limbs and cloudy breaths stuck against the windows. It’s time to go, the curse had said and Draco had known that each universe would cost him. A piece of yourself, until there’s nothing left, she’d said. Eventually, you won’t be able to come back.

I don’t want this, Draco had lied. To himself and the curse. But she knew. Draco didn’t understand it—the hows of it were made of magic—but he knew that the curse could feel the want still thrumming in Draco’s blood.

Make things right, she’d said. Before the glimpses take, take and take and pare you to nothing.

Her touch was kind and her words unequivocal.

Understanding had roared through him, then. Eventually, this spell would kill him—peel him away until there wasn’t anything left.

He hadn’t told Pansy that.

Chapter Text

Harry, September, 2003

Pressure. Hot and hard, moving against his back, rutting between his legs.

Yes.

There’s a grip around his wrist, holding. Holding.

I can’t move.

Something tight in his hair, pulling his neck back, forcing his chin up. He’s pulling him closer and Harry goes, he doesn’t mind because then there’s a tongue licking a line up his neck, teeth sharp against his flesh, a mouth at his ear.

“I’m going to fuck you,” Draco whispers, and Harry groans, desperate and delirious with how much he wants. He tries to turn his head, to get his lips on all that smooth skin. The hand is his hair tugs him closer, won’t let him, he can’t…

“I want,” he says. Pleads. “I want.”

Draco’s breath is hot and Harry can hear it, can feel the grip in his hair tighten. Pinning him, his body pulled against the hard planes of another man’s chest.

“I know,” Draco says, his lips moving against Harry’s ear.

Harry’s hard. He’s so hard and he can’t move. Wants to touch.

“I want—”

“Shhh,” Draco says, not letting go of Harry’s wrists. “I’ve got you.”

He’s got me, Harry thinks, as he babbles “I want” and presses back into Draco’s erection (“I need,”), writhes against the hands that won’t give him an inch (“More”), that hold him and Harry knows will pull every pleasure out of the places he’s never shown anyone else. 

It’s a plea and a prayer that builds until Harry is begging and Draco is moving and their bodies stop fighting and surrender to a tandem that ruins them both.

Harry comes with Draco Malfoy inside of him, green eyes meeting grey, pinned in place by desire that’s raw and desperate and his.

“Mine,” Harry says against Draco’s lips, into his mouth, out of his mind. “Mine.”

* * *

Harry jolts into awareness, sticky and confused and delirious with want.

“Fuck,” he says, thrashing under his comforter. The down filling chuckles as he tries to kick himself to freedom.

Another fucking dream.

Harry has a moment of genuine self-hatred. He’s angry at the wet mess in his boxers. Furious at how he’s half hard just remembering it. Livid that it’s been five years and he still dreams about Draco bloody Malfoy.

I’m not supposed to want this.

Seeing Malfoy had to have triggered some kind of autonomic response—it was his subconscious, that’s all. It was his subconscious that was obsessed with having or being by Malfoy—Harry didn’t care which it was, not when it was with him.

Harry wanted to write it off as a fucked up fantasy gone wrong—would’ve done, if that was all that it had been. Except that the dreams weren’t just sex. Not by a long shot.

More often than not, Harry’s dreams were innocuous, simple in the way that a day in the life often was. Harry dreamt of nights on spent the couch, Draco’s head in his lap, and when he woke up, he could still feel how soft Malfoy’s hair had been between his fingers. He dreamt of farmer’s markets and flowers, of showers and the scent of lemon. Of kisses under a sky splashed white with stars, of road trips and fights and wedding rings.

Harry’d thought that nothing could disturb him more than a sex dream about Draco Malfoy; he’d been wrong.

He’d tried to tell Ron once, in a fit of desperation after far too much Firewiskey.

“S’let me get this straight?” Ron had said, and then cackled into his cup. “You’re dreaming about domestic bliss with Malfoy?”

“I know!” Harry had moaned like a beached whale with no hopes of ever returning to the sea. The pub moved around them, fuzzy at the edges. “What do I do?”

“Go see a mindhealer?” Ron had suggested, and then Seamus had collapsed across Harry’s legs and spilled a full pint into his lap. Ron had laughed even harder and Harry had thrown his head back in despair and they hadnever spoken of it again.

He’d tried to tell Hermione too with, somehow, less success.

“It’s probably your subconscious latching onto your suppressed adolescent urges,” Hermione has said once Harry had gotten the words out.

“I never had—there were no— urges for Malfoy!” Harry spluttered.

“It would have been quite taboo, what with him being a man and a death eater,” Hermione had said. “Bad boys seem to be your type. And he’s always been a bit of a bad boy.”

“I don’t like—bad boys?—what are we, twelve?”

“I would argue that your feelings started around sixth year actually,” Hermione said.

“Sixth—I didn’t—I don’t—I’ve never had feelings!”

“If you say so,” Hermione said, and shared a private smile with her muffin. 

The whole dream disaster had started around the day of Malfoy’s trial. Harry’d half-suspected Malfoy cast a spell on him, but there’d not been time and there were far too many witnesses. Someone would’ve seen.

Self-loathing curls tight in Harry guts. Because he likes the dreams. Which was something he could deal with—privately, in the shower and under the covers, where no one else could see.

Except now Malfoy had the audacity to show up. In the fucking flesh. With tattoos and forearms and—

“Fuck!”

The memory of it mingles with the last dregs of a dream. Five years was a long time. Five years ago, Malfoy had levelled him with a look that bled loathing and said, “I’m leaving, Potter, and I’m never coming back.”

Harry hadn’t stopped him.

Five years, and Harry had finally found him, hadn’t expected to find him working in A&E.

The Emergency Room had slowed. Malfoy had looked up and Harry pinned like a butterfly in a shadow box. He looked at Harry like he was a mirage, grey eyes wide and afraid.

“Potter?” Dr. Horwood had spoken behind him.

Harry dragged his eyes away from Malfoy. “Yeah?”

“Are you planning on assessing that patient?” Horwood had gestured at the room where Malfoy was and Harry knew that he couldn’t. He was not going in there. “Or are you just going to stand there, staring at the crisis worker?”

“Uh—” Crisis worker? Harry’s brain jammed.

“Potter? Are you alright?”

“Yes! I just need to—ah—consult on the patient with the seizures.”

“Alright,” Horwood has said, slowly.

“In the med office. Away from…I mean, can we talk in the office!”

“Right.”

When he’d returned to see the patient, Malfoy was gone.

 “I can page him,” Emma said, as Harry looked down at the assessments Malfoy had attached to the chart. Five years, and his handwriting was still cramped and neat

“No. No no,” Harry said. “I’ll just read his progress note.”

“That’s really not how we normally handle these things. The counsellors have a lot of insight into the patient’s mental state. It’s important to listen—”

“I’ll read the note, thanks!”

Emma’s sweet features were all scowl and Harry scuttled away before she could say anything else. Away from everything that was blond and distracting and who fucked him in his dreams at least twice a month.

 

Exhaustion wraps around Harry like a lover. It knows him, stays with him after the sixteen-hour overnight, holds him close as he does his rounds and scratches away at his documentation. The light filtering through the curtains of Grimmauld is bleary and overcast. Harry narrows his eyes at the sharp lines of his digital alarm clock. 3:13pm. Great. He’s woken up before his alarm.

“Fucking Malfoy,” Harry growls, and pads towards the bathroom to shower off the mess he’s left in his pants.

Harry lingers in the shower long after he’s finished washing. As steam chokes the air, Harry breathes deep into the damp, lets the water pressure pound his shoulders.

“Tired is better than sad,” he whispers to the tile. “Tired is better than sad.”

The outline of a mental To Do list starts to take shape as Harry wriggles into his scrub pants. Head in early for documentation, stop for coffee, feed the fucking cat

An ominous yowl rends the air, on cue. It’s as if the villainous creature can read his mind (Harry is sure that she’s telepathic. Even though Hermione insists she has no magical properties and reminds Harry that he got her from a Muggle animal rescue. Harry knows there’s more to her than she’s letting on.)

“I’m coming!” Harry shouts, scrambling for an undershirt. He needs to hurry, because if he doesn’t, the demon cat will not be happy, and when she’s unhappy…Harry shudders and hurries down the stairs to the kitchen.

The scene that meets his eyes fills him with terror.

The fucking cat is poised on the edge of his kitchen counter. A single fluffy paw is raised, poised in front of a glass. That particular glass is special to him, a gift from Ron, after he’d agreed to be his best man. It’s got Harry’s fucking name on it.

And Bella has pushed it to the very edge of the countertop, letting it teeter. One gentle tap, barely a push, and it will go clattering to the floor.

“Bella, no,” Harry says, holding her gaze. She does not respond well to weakness.

Bella narrows her pale blue eyes at him, staring straight back out of that horrible squished face. They’d be having some variation of this same battle for the better part of three years.

 

“I don’t understand why you named her Bella,” Hermione had said, as the traitorous creature lavished her in love that she never showed Harry.

“Because she’s an evil bitch,” Harry had grumbled.

“I think you might be projecting your war trauma onto this sweet little thing,” Hermione said as Bella licked the tips of her fingers.

“She never licks my fingers,” Harry muttered, glaring at his stupid cat. “I can’t believe you convinced me to get a pet.”

“You were lonely,” Hermione said, kissing him on the cheek. She came for lunch twice a week. Always had since the war. Harry depended on it. “You needed someone to take care of.”

“This was a terrible idea,” Harry said, but Hermione had dismissed his concerns, leaving him alone with the feline from hell.

 

Harry looks up at Bella now. “Don’t do it,” he says.

Her paw touches the glass. Pushes it a centimeter. The tumbler wobbles.

“Bella,” Harry says, trying to infuse his words with the assertiveness of an apex predator.

Bella, though, is made of steel and Harry should know better; the bitch is not to be intimidated.

She does not break eye contact as her tiny white paw pushes the glass off the counter and onto the floor.

“Oi!” Harry yelps, watching the cup shatter into a thousand tiny pieces. I should’ve anticipated this, Harry thinks, mourning the loss of his favourite tumbler. I should never’ve left it on the counter. Amateur mistake.

Harry’s never been very good at repairing broken things. Not in life and not in the ongoing battle with his Persian nemesis. He’s had lots of practice—Bella is tetchy when she doesn’t get the food she likes, on time, in her favourite dish (that has little fishes painted on the bottom that Harry had special ordered). He’s lost several ceramics to her displeasure and has still not mastered fixing them. No matter how strong the repairo, the items of Bella’s revenge always come back leaking and imperfect.

These days, he doesn’t even try. “Menace,” he growls and magics the shards of glass into the bin.

Bella springs into motion, her beady little eyes fixed on Harry’s fridge. She meows. Threateningly.

“You impatient little shit,” Harry says, fishing a tin of soft food from the bottom shelf and spooning it into her dish.

Bella eats and Harry runs his fingers up her spine. “I don’t know why I bother with you,” he mutters, letting his hands drift through long silky fur as he pours himself some of yesterday’s coffee. “You’re the worst.” Bella purrs and Harry relaxes under the soft vibrations. “The absolute worst.”

* * *

Hospitals, Harry thinks, cannot sit still. One would assume that, at some point in time, in some tiny square of space, the hospital would settle and the shuddering gasps of trauma and healing would even out. Find stasis.

Harry smiles, and it’s a gentle thing. There’s comfort in knowing that no matter where he goes, the world will be in motion. Better tired than sad, he thinks, relishing in the bodies that hurry to and fro.

Handover in A&E is at 5:00pm and Harry’s watch tells him he has forty minutes until he needs to be back in Emerg.

He’d planned to chart, to hide in the tiny little office that he shares with two other residents and try to get caught up on his documentation. Harry’s feet, it seems, have different ideas. Without much conscious thought, Harry is walking up to the switchboard operator, not thinking about what he’s going to say until he’s right there in front of her.

“I’m looking for the crisis worker?” Harry says, surprising himself.

A woman with a short grey bob and a set of knitting needles glares up at him. “Do you work here?” she asks, her tone crisp.

“Yeah.” Harry flashes his ID badge. “I’m a resident.”

The clerk’s eyes narrow. “I’m sorry to disturb your—” Harry looks at the pointy metal sticks and gulps.

“They’re socks,” the woman snaps.

“Right.” Silence is tight in the air between them and Harry has no idea what to say.

“There is more than one crisis worker,” she finally says, as if this should be obvious. “Which one are you looking for?”

“Uh? Draco Malfoy?” Harry says, rubbing the back of his neck. This was a terrible idea. It would probably be better to just run now and—

“Oh, Draco!” The woman— Flo, Harry realizes as he catches a glimpse of her ID tag—perks right up. “He’s over in mental health.”

Harry’s eyes must give his ignorance away. Flo blows out a wet sigh of frustration. “It’s right next to public health. Follow the green lines on the wall.”

Harry nods and turns to leave.

“Residents,” he hears her mumble once his back is turned. “Like chickens with their heads cut off.”

“Stupid chickens,” someone else says, and Harry hurries away.

“That was rude?” Harry thinks out loud, and starts to track a path across the labyrinth of Royal London Hospital.

I’ll just go and find his office. That’s all. Just confirm that he actually works here, Harry thinks and dutifully follows the green lines on the wall. It’s not like I’m looking for him.

As his feet clack against the industrial tile, it occurs to Harry that he may be slipping back into dangerous patterns. The rationale for discovering what Malfoy is up to is much thinner at twenty-three than it was at sixteen. But Harry’s feet have carried him to the correct wing of the hospital and it would be a waste to stop now. Just a quick look at his office. That’s all.

Harry passes door after door, title after title. Gillian Butler, Addictions Counsellor. Brenda Graves, Intensive Case Management. Todd Buckley, Youth Outreach Coordinator.

Harry stops, and there it is. Draco Malfoy, Crisis Response Counsellor.

The door is closed and there’s no light peeking out from beneath the frame.

“Hoy shit,” Harry breathes. Because, until this moment, he’d sort of thought it hadn’t been real. He’d given up on ever finding Draco Malfoy.

“Where are you going now?” Harry had asked, the last time he’d seen Malfoy.

“I’m leaving, Potter.” Draco had looked so tired. So mangled by sadness. “And I’m never coming back.”

Harry hadn’t believed him. No one would just leave the magical world behind. Especially not someone like Malfoy, who had lived his entire life steeped in pure blood traditions and the mantra of magical superiority. Harry had let him go.

But Malfoy was true to his word. He hadn’t attended any of the fancy pure blood fundraisers. He never came back to the club where his father and his father’s father had stirred their money into magical society and watched it simmer.

He didn’t have a job or live at the manor. The troop of Slytherins he’d left behind were a united front of silence, each one ridiculously tight lipped and, allegedly, completely clueless.

Draco Malfoy had been missing for almost five years and Harry would know, because he had been looking for him.

 

Harry hadn’t been able to explain it, not even to himself. When Ron would give him that funny look or Hermione would pat him on the shoulder and sigh, Harry would remind them that Malfoy was a missing person—Harry had made sure of it, reporting Malfoy’s absence to the Ministry himself, although the Aurours never did much about it. “He could have been murdered!” Harry would insist and Ron and Hermione would exchange a look—the same look, every time—and would let the matter drop.

For weeks after Malfoy vanished, Harry’d lain awake at night, replaying the last time he’d seen him, revisiting every memory he had from after the trials. It’s agony, but Harry replays each moment, trying to pinpoint if there was a place where he could have done things differently.

 

He’d only seen Malfoy a handful of times. Once, bizarrely, had been at a wizarding night club once, a couple of weeks after the trial. There had always been an air of untouchability about Malfoy; his shirts were too crisp, his demeanour too cutting to engage in something so common as dancing. Socializing with the proletariat, and Muggles to boot, had never seemed very Malfoy.  

Hermione’s campaign to Get Harry Out of the House had been in full swing. She and Ron were somewhere in the mess of bodies. They’d abandoned him and were probably in a corner somewhere, making out, but not before Ron had clapped him on the back and shouted, “Go find a nice looking witch!”

“How am I going to do that?” Harry yelled and his words were threaded with a secret terror. The strobe lights looked a lot like curses and they were making him dizzy.

“You’re Harry Potter,” Ron had said. “Just introduce yourself and the work is done!”

Ron missed the grimace that curdled on Harry’s face. Sometimes, Harry wished that he’d been able to come back as someone else and leave Harry Potter behind at Kings Cross. Sometimes, he wished he hadn’t come back at all.

The dance floor had a heartbeat and was sending shock waves through Harry’s bones. The whole world swayed around him. There were just so many people. Sweat rolled down Harry’s forehead, but not the warm kind spurred on by dancing or arousal. The cold kind that turned his skin the texture of raw meat.

Someone pressed against his back, and shudders cascaded through Harry’s body.

“I can’t do this.” His words were greedily swallowed up. “I can’t…” Harry pushed blindly through the crowd. Move. They needed to move.

The walls were closing in, everything was loud and the bodies that should’ve been dancing were dying. Curses and cold sweat and Harry had to get out.

“Excuse me,” he panted, but the edges of his vision were black. “Move,” he gasped, because his lungs were desperate for air and he couldn’t breathe.

There was a door off to the left, and Harry had forced himself through it. He heard the metal slam against brick and then he collapsed onto the edge of a metal fence.

Breathe, Harry reminded himself. Just breathe. Slow, determined breaths to remind his lungs that they knew what to do and that he wasn’t dying. Not again. Not now. Not yet.

The music was softer outside, muted like the sound waves were travelling underwater. A remix of fucking Celestina Warbeck’s You Know What You Did pulsed behind the metal doors and Harry hated that song almost as much as he hated the panic attacks. The night air was tinged with an edge of cigarette smoke and Harry felt his heart start to slow. “Not dying,” he whispered, and looked around.

He was alone outside, in a large patio area, with tall fences and enough space for several parties to mingle comfortably. Harry crossed to the far corner and settled next to a large potted plant that Harry assumed was meant to be decorative but actually looked rather lonely. “I’ll keep you company,” Harry said to the plant, rubbing a textured leaf between his fingers. “Don’t you worry—”

The sound of metal cracking into brick almost sent Harry spiralling again.

“Come closer.”

“Yes.”

“Fuck, your lips are soft.”

A gentle laugh muffled by an open mouth.

“You want it. I know you do.”

Harry saw a flash of white blond and felt his pulse ratchet back up. Malfoy, tangled in an urgent knot of limbs and lust with a stranger, someone Harry didn’t know but who Malfoy seemed to. Intimately.

“You’re so fucking hot,” the stranger said, pushing Malfoy roughly against the opposite wall. “No one else out here.” The words were an invitation.

Oh fuck, Harry thought. Neither man seemed to know that Harry was there, tucked away next to the lonely plant. Malfoy’s eyes were closed, his head pressed back against the damp brick, his neck stretched long.

Harry could see him swallow as the stranger started to kiss him there, could see his Adam’s apple bob under a pair of lips.

“You want it, don’t you?”

Malfoy nodded.

Harry tried to shuffle, quietly, behind the minimal leafy plumage. Cover, he thought, weakly.

“You’re filthy,” the man said. “This is so wrong.”

Malfoy’s eyes were still closed and Harry wondered what was so wrong about it. Found that he wanted to interrupt. To ask what was so wrong—

“A death eater,” the man whispered. “I can’t believe I’m doing this with a death eater.”

Malfoy had shuddered. His eyes stayed closed.

“So hot,” the stranger slurred against Malfoy’s lips.

Malfoy said nothing, but Harry heard that unmistakable sound of flies unzipping.

“Fuck.” I shouldn’t be here, Harry thought.

“Don’t stop.” I should disapperate. I should leave.

Malfoy said nothing.

“So wrong. I can’t believe—” Harry tried to shift deeper behind the plant’s leafy fringe, but its strategic advantages were all used up.

“Faster. Yes.” If I close my eyes, maybe I can disappear. But that plan backfired spectacularly, as all of the sounds sharpened. Malfoy’s hand moving, sharp breaths, and the crunch of gravel under shoes.

“I’m gonna—please—I’m—” Death, Harry thought , would be better than this.

The sounds of the stranger’s release mingled with the muted thrum of the music. Celestina was finishing her condemnation in a low, pitchy note.

“Fuck.”

“Yes,” Malfoy finally said. Harry could see him. He was looking at his feet.

“Your turn,” the man said.

Malfoy shook his head. “Need another drink.”

The stranger shrugged. “Suit yourself.”

Harry breathed a silent sigh of relief as they moved back towards the door. He was going home, Ron and Hermione be dammed. Night clubs were stupid and he’d almost seen Malfoy’s dick for fuck’s sake.

But then…

It was a small gesture. One that Harry has replayed in his pensieve more times than he can count. They were halfway through the back door when Malfoy had reached for the stranger’s hand. A simple thing. Tender. Almost intimate.

The man flinched. Pulled away.

“Not where people can see,” he’d said. Malfoy had recoiled as if slapped. “Not where people can see.”

And they’d disappeared back inside.

Harry thought about it sometimes, the way that Malfoy’s face had looked. He’s thinking about it now, as he stands in front of an office announcing the presence of a man he had never expected to find.

“Potter?”

Harry jumps. Oh fuck, is all he has time to think before he looks up.

Five years of mystery manifests into a man who is the same but also completely different. Malfoy is a verb that has been conjugated, by time and loss. 

“I’ve got to—” Harry starts, “start shift in—” And stops.

Draco is leaning against the wall across from him, looking at Harry as if he’s a wild animal that’s escaped the zoo. “What are you doing here?”

Flashes of that horrible room in St. Mungo’s. Blond hair dipped in blood, blue lips. “Handover—” Harry tries to say. “Have to go—”

“Have you lost the ability to speak?” Draco’s voice snipes at him. “I’ll admit, I thought that your intellect would have increased somewhat considering that you’re a Healer now?”

The upward inflection marked this as a question, and Harry mouths a reply, but the words still won’t come.

“I suppose being the Chosen One affords you advantages the rest of us can only dream of.” Each word is a tiny cut. “One call to Shacklebolt and I’m sure you could have had any job you wanted.”

“That’s not!— I didn’t!” Harry is shouting now, but not in complete sentences.

“Or is this some return to your repressed teenage stalker phrase? Figuring out what the evil Mafloy is up to?”

“You were up to something!” Harry’s anger is an open flame; he hasn’t felt this much of anything in months. “And I didn’t stalk!”

Malfoy snorts and it’s so undignified that Harry forgets to be angry and just gapes. “Then why, pray tell, are you standing in front of my office?”

“I…” Harry doesn’t have a good answer for that. “I have to go. I’ll be late for report—”

“Handover in A&E is at five,” Draco says, looking down that long nose at him. “I know. I spend quite a lot of time there.”

Harry should be responding. He should be producing words. But he’s still not quite accepted that, after years of searching, Malfoy has just dropped into his lap. There he is. I’ve found him. It’s been five years chasing the ghost of a snitch he’d never hoped to catch and here Harry is, at an anticlimax.

Half of Harry’s brain is screaming What are you up to Malfoy! and the other half is reliving a dream where Malfoy’d pinned him in place and fucked him—

“Bye then,” Harry huffs abruptly, because he can’t do this. He can’t. Harry turns to flee.

But Malfoy’s voice catches him before he can make it more than a few steps. “Potter?”

Fuck. “Yeah?”

Pointy features have become sharp angles, sneers have softened, and Malfoy is grinning at him. With teeth. It’s all a bit much.

“You noticed me, yes?”

“Uh…”

“In A&E. You saw me? I wasn’t imagining it?”

“Of course I did.” Harry’s not sure what game Malfoy is playing.

“Right.” Malfoy’s eyes are all over his face. Harry’s cheeks go up in flames. “There’s really no need to run away from me.” 

Harry wasn’t running. He wasn’t. He was just exiting the situation with haste. 

“I don’t bite.”

Oh god.

There’s nothing for it.

Harry flees, with Draco Malfoy’s laughter biting at his heels.

Chapter Text

Draco, September, 1998

Draco had known from the very start how he wanted to spend his community service hours. Robertson’s was a bookshop he’d stumbled into while questing for electronics. He’d been smitten from the very first.

Draco assumed that the Ministry would take issue—who in their right minds could ever view time spent in a book shop to be anything but self-serving? The Ministry, however, was not interested in vetting Draco’s choices. Muggle Exposure was defined under subsection e. of the list of appropriate activities for rehabilitative interventions and so Draco’s form outlining the hours and duties was approved without further scrutiny.

Convincing Mr. Robertson, the owner of the shop, had been far less straightforward.

For three consecutive days, Draco had wandered into Robertson's and purchased a truly obscene number of Muggle classics.

“I’d like to volunteer,” he’d finally squawked, his arms full of Marlowe and Dickens. “I’ve got some community service hours and I’d like to do them at your shop.”

Draco resisted the urge to hide behind the stack of books in his arms. Robertson had a firm “no bags” policy. Not in an effort to save the oceans or out of concern for his carbon footprint. No. A sign on the door proclaimed that “BOOKS NEED TO BREATHE! CARRY THE STORIES IN YOUR ARMS; DO NOT STRANGLE THEM IN PLASTIC! RESPECT THE CRAFT!”

“You want to give me free labour?” Robertson had said, white hair crackling with the humidity. The man cast an imposing figure. He was tall and broad as a battle axe, but with the mania of those professor types who are always on the brink of the next discovery that will change the world.

“Yes.” Draco tried very hard not to appear afraid.

“And you’re a disturbed youth—”

“I’m not disturbed!”

“With a history of unsavory activities requiring this act of community service as penance?”

“I suppose that’s one way of putting it,” Draco had said.

“And you expect me to welcome this criminal element into my shop without knowing you personally, vetting your credentials, or surrendering to my preconceived notions of you felonious types?”

“Yes?”

Robertson had winked at him. “Of course you can work here!” he bellowed—with stomach and gusto and Draco had nearly fallen over. “It will add some variety to the mundanity of my every day, if nothing else.”

“Just to clarify,” Draco had said. “That’s a yes?”

“A hearty yes, my young felon.”

“I’m not a—”

“You can start tomorrow.”

Robertson, Draco would soon discover, spoke five languages, had a PhD in Literature and Linguistics, and was more interested in the drama of Draco’s company than actually training him to manage a book shop. “I’m don’t care about the minutia of your every day,” Robertson had proclaimed as he conducted Draco’s orientation to the shop. “It’s not complicated. Sell the books, manage the register etcetera!”

Robertson spoke with his hands and had knocked over several unruly stacks of paperbacks as he spoke. “I only ask two things.” He’d looked down his wide nose at Draco. “First, and most importantly, do not steal my meatball subs.”

“Meatball subs?”

“That’s right. I have them every Friday for lunch and I will not have them pilfered by greedy little shop boys.”

“That won’t be a problem,” Draco had answered, seriously. He’d learned early on that it was best to treat all of Robertson’s concerns with levity.

“Second, please call me Robertson. Everyone does.” 

Draco was not sure what else he was supposed to call him, but he’d nodded sagely. “Of course.”

* * *

The scent of used books and damp umbrella’s fills the tiny shop.

Draco looks up at the tower of titles climbing the walls in front of him with grim determination. Robertson may be filled with more words than the British Library, but his organizational instincts had lost the plot—often quite literally.

Draco is in the Mystery corner of the store, drowning in a bottomless mass of paperbacks. He’s committed to forcing some order to the magic of Robertson’s collection—today, by a resolute effort to alphabetize.

Steig Larsson

Dennis Lehane

Names dance behind Draco’s eyes, unzipping into letters. It’s a beautiful blur and, for a moment, Draco doesn’t think about last night. Pansy Parkinson was a menace—filled with optimism and terrible plots to improve his mood—and Draco would not wallow in self pity. He wouldn’t.

Not where people can see.

The words have attached to Draco like a brand.

Going out had been one of Pansy’s more horrible ideas. “But we’ll all be there,” Pansy had argued. “Blaise, Theo, even Daphne! We won’t let anything happen. It’ll be completely safe.”

Completely safe. Draco supposes she hadn’t been wrong—not exactly.

The smell of sweat had hit him as they stepped in from the cold. It’d been loud; Draco could feel his eardrums vibrating.

“It’s a new club!” Blaise yelled against his ear.

There were so many bodies. Pressed up against each other and moving. Trapped in the pull of a song and a drink.

For a moment, they’d all stood on the precipice of fun, five Slytherins united against a world that may not want them anymore.

“Drinks!” Theo said, breaking the hesitation into pieces. “Come on. I’ll get the first round.”

Alcohol had made things much easier. Pansy insisted on this ghastly clear liquid called tequila.

“How do you know about this stuff!” Daphne asked, throwing the shot back with abandon.

“Draco and I have been completing our Muggle education,” Pansy said, licking the top of her hand and sprinkling it with some salt.

“How pedestrian,” Blaise said, and licked the salt off Pany’s skin with a wry smile.

The night had started to tilt after that—everything felt like it was one of those Muggle records (Draco needed to buy some of those) spinning and spinning. There’d been eyes on him all night. Angry ones, but others too. Eyes that were hungry and black and, fuck, it had been so nice to have someone look at him with something other than disgust.

When Dark-Haired-Not-Potter had slipped up behind him, Draco had taken one look at his face and known what the stranger wanted. Understood it in a way that was so much simpler than everything else in his stupid life.

This was not a phantom from another universe. He was not a Chosen One determined to save him—to save him and hate him. Not-Potter was looking at him like he was something to eat and it was so much more straightforward.

Gillian Flynn

Agatha Christie

And when Not-Potter had pressed his lips to Draco’s ear and said, “Let’s take this somewhere else,” Draco went. Because the last time he’d thought about his dick was after a jaunt with Potter across the Alaskan Tundra and he needed to wash that down with something else. Tequilla. A cheap Potter knock off. Anything.

The stranger had trailed his hands down Draco’s arms, had pulled him close and buried his face in Draco’s shoulder, and it had been fine at first. The night air nipped at his neck, but Draco licked into another man’s mouth and forget everything.

“This is wrong,” the stranger said, but his lips were still hungry, and so Draco thought it was fine. He couldn’t be messing this up too badly.

“I can’t believe I’m doing this with a death eater,” and Draco had started to understand. Had known that he was a thrill and not a person. But Draco had shut Not-Potter up with his mouth and chased the stranger’s release to its peak.

He’d been fine, really. Completely fine. Until—

“Not where people can see.”

The words had peeled off his skin and laid him bare. Potter had said that. Had narrowed his singular green eyes and said, not where people can see, and the shame of it was septic.

Lee Child

Mary Higgens Clark

Draco breathes in the smell of the world around him and pushes the memories away. Used books and damp umbrellas. The wizarding world may not want him but “I’m here,” Draco whispers. “I’m still here.”

* * *

The streets of Diagon are bright against the afternoon, sunlight glancing off windowpanes. People are bustling in a way they hadn’t during the war—the world is learning how to move again. Draco swallows hard and resists the urge to take his mother’s hand.

There’d been no avoiding it. To transfer the portion of the Malfoy fortune required by the Ministry and fulfill the terms of Narcissa’s sentence, she had to sign. In person. Goblins were old fashioned like that—refused to accept anything less.

“What about the solicitor? Couldn’t he do it on your behalf?”

“No, Draco. I’ve inquired about all alternative options,” Narcissa said. “I know how distasteful wizarding society finds our family. I would have avoided this were it possible.”

“Can’t I go instead?”

“Not while I’m still living,” his mother said. “With your father in…” she’d stumbled. “Without your father, I have full control over the Malfoy estate. It has to be me.”

“Well, I’ll go with you.”

“That’s unnecessary.”

“Indulge me then,” Draco said. “It’s not safe, mother.”

“You’re being dramatic,” Narcissa said, but Draco knew that he wasn’t.

Anti-death eater sentiment had hit a fever pitch. Since the gentler nature of Draco’s sentence and Potter’s public push for a leniency, there had been a dangerous shift in public opinion.

The shift hadn’t been linear. There was no slow build towards compassion. No steely decision to lock every death eater up and throw away the key. No one could agree, and so the people pushed and pulled and tore each other apart.

The world was an earthquake. Public riots rocked the streets every and people were picketing outside the houses of influential Wizengamot members. Acres of pure blood wizarding lands went up in flames and the Prophet turning up the heat, with editorials on both sides, and washing their hands clean of the world on fire.

There’s an earthquake of public opinion and Draco was scared to go outside.

But he’s more scared to let his mother go alone.

Grudgingly, despairing of his head strong tendencies and refusal to listen to his mother, Narcissa had relented. If they were going to take their first step back into a public space, they would do it together.

Diagon is humming with energy and September is the worst month for this, Draco realizes. All of the children who are returning to Hogwarts will be shopping for their supplies.  

For a moment, Draco and Narcissa stand and stare. Gringotts shines white on the horizon. It feels so far.

“Waiting will not improve the situation,” his mother says beside him. People have already noticed them. The news of Draco and Narcissa Malfoy is a flock of birds taking off, as the word seems to spread.

The Malfoys have finally come out of their hiding place.

“Right.” Draco extends his arm and Narcissa—finally revealing how nervous she must be—takes it. “Let’s go.”

It is just a stroll down the lane, Draco thinks, pulling his mother tight to his side as the faces start to turn. Two Malfoys, striding up the path to the manor, backs perpendicular to fields of green. That’s all this is.

Except there are so many faces. The whispers fall like arrows

“This is beginning to feel like a bad idea,” Draco says out of the corner of his mouth. Draco did not have his wand—Potter hadn’t returned it that day at his trial. Even if he had, Draco couldn’t have used it. The terms of his probation included a strict list of spells that he could use for one full year after his sentencing—none of which were offensive. Draco had been using his mother’s wand to apparate to work every day, but was permitted little else. Narcissa was bound by the same restrictions. If either of them cast a single spell to defend themselves, they would be sent straight to Azkaban. 

People are crowding together. Not in the hundreds, but it doesn’t take one hundred people to make the streets feel dangerous. 

Draco tries for confidence, standing straight and stern. This is my world too, he thinks, holding his mother tight.

“How dare you?”

Someone steps into his path. It’s a thin someone, with skin that hangs limp on his skeleton.

“Malfoys walking free in Diagon,” says someone else. A fuller person, someone who’s cheeks aren’t sunken but who carries sadness between his shoulders. Atlas, balancing his tragedy on the knobs of his spine. “It’s wrong.”

“My sister died in your dungeons, did you know?” A female voice says, behind him.

There’s anger in the air and it’s starting to crest. The wave will crash soon. Draco looks for a way out, but there isn’t one. Gringotts is still so far away.

“You sister tortured—”

“Why do you get to live when my dad—”

“I’ll never see my mum again, but I have to see you—”

“Mother,” Draco says, but then the first blow lands and she’s ripped away.

It’s magic at first. A stinging hex blooms across his cheek, something hot blisters up his back. The pain swaddles him and Draco doesn’t resist. For the first time in months, he knows how to handle something. There’d been pain at the manor. So much—

Someone has cut him open with a diffindo and Draco hears his mother’s voice cry out.

“Mother!”

It starts with magic, but it ends with fists and feet. Draco is on the ground, can feel the pavement kissing his cheek. The blows land, one after another and Draco doesn’t cry out until a shoe connects with his nose and the world blinks white and then red.

“We sacrificed so much. It seems stupid to tear ourselves apart now.” Potter’s voice washes over him and Draco gives in. “It’s over. Just let it be over.”

Potter had been wrong.

And, this time, he’s not here to save the day.

It hurts. Draco’s conscious enough to know. Pain splinters and punches its greedy fingers through flesh and bone and Draco feels it at the centre of him.

But I deserve this. Maybe this is the scales of justice, some karmic balancing act. I’ve hurt others and so now I get to hurt. Draco wants to run—he’s always been a coward, he knows, he knows. But a bigger part of him wants to lean into the violence. To feel someone finally take their pound of flesh. Someone had to.

“Stop it! Right this instant!” a voice says, slicing through the din and the pain.

The crowd ignores it, someone kicks him in the spine, his mother is crying…

Powerful magic rends the air. Draco can feel the anger in it—he can taste the rage as it mingles with the blood in his mouth.

“What on earth are you all thinking!” And Draco realizes he knows that voice; it’s an insufferable voice who thinks she knows everything. Someone who was always smarter. Always better.

“You should be ashamed of yourselves,” Hermione Granger says from somewhere above him.

I’m on the ground, Draco realizes. Laying at the feet of a Mud—Muggle born.

“He’s a death eater miss,” someone finally says, but they sound afraid. The golden trio is famous now, Draco thinks. They saved the world and no one wants the heroes of the story to be angry at them.  

“Was. And he was acquitted, or have you already forgotten.”

“Potter was tricked. Everyone knows—”

Draco opens his swollen eyes in time to see anger flash across Granger’s features. Whoever is arguing with her should run while they still can—even if she weren’t one of the most powerful witches of her generation, Draco has personal experience with her right hook.

“The war is over,” she says. “And this is a pathetic display of violence that you will probably pretend was justice. But at the end of the day, you are really just a mob of angry people attacking an unarmed man.”

The sun is still bright against the afternoon. It’s in his eyes and Draco can’t see.

“If you don’t all leave this instant, I will report each and every one of you to the Ministry and have you brought up on charges of assault, creating a public disturbance, and hate crimes.”

“Hate crime—”

“Do you really want to argue with me?” Granger’s voice is taught.

No one did. The mass of bodies disperses, anger sinking back into the mix of the everyday. The osmosis of trauma in a world that won’t stop hurting.

For half a second, Draco wonders what to do next. Get up, perhaps? But his body is not responding and his eyes feel swollen.

“Draco,” his mother says, and her hands are all over him. Long cool fingers, exploring the parts of him that hurt.

“Let me,” Granger says, and before Draco can do anything, there’s magic washing all over him. It’s pathetic, but Draco sighs into the spells.

Granger doesn’t speak until the end. “That won’t fix anything internal. You should go to St. Mungo’s when you’re finished whatever you came here to do.” Granger lowers her wand and reaches out her hand—to help him up, Draco thinks, but can’t shake the feeling that this gesture means a little bit more.

There is a moment’s hesitation, a half second where he shudders at the idea of touching her, and lord old prejudices die hard, don’t they? Teeth gritted, Draco takes her hand and Granger pulls him to his feet. Her brown eyes are still bristling with suppressed rage and Draco isn’t sure if it’s directed at him.

“Thank you,” his mother says, breaking the silence. Narcissa’s lips are a thin line and her face looks like sour milk, but she’s not hurt. Small mercies.

Granger nods, but she’s still looking at Draco. Bushy hair shades him from the sun and he can’t place what he sees in his face. 

“Don’t tell Potter,” he says, finally.  

“What?” Granger says, clearly expecting him to say something else. “Why?”

Draco doesn’t have an answer for that. It’s fortunate, then, that he starts to cough and that his spittle is tinged red. Long fingers rub circles into his back, and Narcissa is behind him, holding him steady.

“Where are you headed?” Granger asks. “I’ll take you.”

“An escort from one of the golden trio? I think not. I’d rather not indebt myself to you further,” Draco says, but Granger’s looking at his mother.

“Gringotts,” Narcissa says, and Draco quietly curses her.

“Right,” Granger says, striding down Diagon with the confidence of someone who has saved the world. “Follow me, then.”

* * *

“You were attacked!”

Draco tries to soothe Pansy with shushing noises and promises of tea biscuits, but she will not be tamed.

“It was nothing.”

“NOTHING!” Pansy roars. Legit roars. The windows shake beneath her rage and they’ve got three panes of glass. “You had the shit kicked out of you by a literal mob!”

“You’re being dramatic again—” Draco tries to say but Pansy is not having it.

“A raging, mindless, hateful mob!”

“Pansy,” Draco says, massaging her shoulders. “I know it’s been a difficult day. Here, let me just put on a nice CD.” Robertson recently taught Draco all of the technical terminology regarding the Boom Box. Draco was alarmed to discover that it wasn’t even the smallest bit explosive.

“NO!”

“Oh, come on. I know you’re secretly dying to hear those Spicey Girls again. I know how you look up to the Posh one.”

“Draco, I swear if you force me to listen another Space Girl song—”

“You told me you liked it!”

“This is serious!” says Pansy, and Draco realizes, a bit belatedly, that Pansy is distressed. That she’s barely holding herself together.

“I fail to see how.”

“I want to move to London!” Pansy says, and Draco’s confused.

“Not sure how that’s relevant right now.”

“With you, you idiot!”

Oh. It turns out, Pansy’s solution to his public flogging is to abandon Wizarding London altogether. For a moment, Draco’s too touched to feel anything else. But it’s only a moment.   

“Pansy, I knew you had a bit of a crush in fifth year, but I’d really thought we’d moved past this—”

“Quit deflecting!”

“Propositioning me is quite a hopeless venture these days,” Draco goes on, undeterred. “Unless you have a secret dick somewhere—”

“I find that I agree with Miss Parkinson,” Narcissa says and Draco’s blood runs cold. I’ve just said dick in front of my mother.

Narcissa is standing in the doorway to the sitting room. She’s carrying a tray of biscuits and a pot of tea in her hands.

A house elf could have done that, Draco thinks, and realizes that his mother wants to see him. That the worry on her face is genuine and that their afternoon in Diagon had shaken her to the point of hand delivering food to his guests. 

“You’re ganging up on me,” says Draco, a bit petulant as he realizes what’s about to happen.

“Yes,” Pansy says at the same time Narcissa says, “If necessary.”

The fire burns soft in the grate, embers crackling into the silence. Draco pulls at the sleeve of his shirt.

“You will be moving,” his mother says, not a request. “Permanently.”

“No.”

“It’s not a question.” Narcissa’s voice is as stern as Draco’s ever heard it. “I’ve instructed the house elves to stop permitting you entrance to the grounds, beginning next week.”

“What!”

“Your mother’s not playing around,” Pansy says, her frosted tips catching the fading light.

“I’m not,” Narcissa says. “I’d already purchased you apartments, in case you should decide to reside closer to your workplace.”

Narcissa sets the tea down and slips several glossy photographs from her robes. 

“I think that, given the public sentiment,” Narcissa’s lip curls in disgust “that you should make use of accommodations.”

“You didn’t tell me,” Draco says, glancing at his mother’s kindness, which is now splayed across the end table in close ups of hardwood floors and breezy windows.

“I arranged the purchase in case you wanted to take a break from the…” Narcissa considers her words, “the judgement of the post war reckoning. Until today, I hadn’t thought…I didn’t think…it would be necessary.”

Draco’s mouth is dry. “I won’t leave.” You, he thinks.

“It stopped being a choice the moment they laid hands on you.” His mother’s face is impenetrable. The world feels small—in that the most important part of it is right here in front of him.

 

Later, with Pansy sprawled across his bedroom floor in a velour track suit, Draco feels the wrongness of the day settle like debris. These were not the dreams he’d had at eleven, boarding the Hogwarts express and waving goodbye to his childhood. He’d not imagined himself a public enemy, a villain. He’d never thought himself to be a cautionary tale.

“What’s your face doing?” Pansy asks from her spot on the rug. A collection of nail varnish spills around her, and she sits atop the colorful bottles like a dragon guarding her treasure. “Are you worrying about the curse?”

“What? Oh, no.”

They had done some recognizance since the first glimpse—that’s what Draco’s started to call them. Glimpses. Pansy had come with him to the Muggle shop, had said she felt like a Mr. Bond from the film they’d watched a few weeks ago when they’d purchased the camera. “For surveillance,” Pansy had whispered, looking scandalized. It had all felt exciting at first.

“I still can’t believe you actually disappear,” Pansy says, shaking one of the bottles. Florescent lime green.

“Yes, well, neither can I.” Draco frowns at her. It’d been disturbing, to realize that he vanished when he was pulled into another universe. Until that moment, as he’d sat with Pansy in front of his brand new telyvision and watched his body vanish on the screen, there was still a secret hope. Possibility had been prowling the more optimistic habitats of his psyche.

Eventually, you won’t be able to come back, the Curse had said.  

He’d wanted it to be a fever dream, he’d wanted it to be pretend.

Until he’d watched himself flicker out of existence—it was a rather bleak thing to witness, knowing that one day he would stop coming back.

“That colour will look like toxic waste, by the way.”

“Sod off,” Pansy says, dragging the brush over her big toenail. “You’re just cranky because I reminded you that you get pulled into different worlds on the regular.”

Three times, now. I’ve disappeared and lived another life three different times. “Universes Pans. They’re universes.”

“At least it only happens at night.” Pansy words slur a little at the edges; she has her tongue between her teeth and is dabbing at her feet with intense concetration.

“Small mercies,” Draco says and tugs his comforter up to his chin.

“What were you in the last one again?” says Pansy.

“A burlesque dancer.”

Pansy snorts and Draco throws a pillow at her. “I’ll have you know, I was brilliant.”

“I have no doubt,” Pansy says, seriously. “And Potter still loved you?”

The strings of his heart are suddenly taught. “Yes,” Draco answers, because it’s true. In every universe so far, most details varied wildly—from winter wastelands to nipple pasties. One thing, though, remained steadfast. Harry Potter, not-always-the-saviour-of-the-world, the boy who lived in every timeline, was always there.

Was always in love with him. 

“I can’t decide what’s more unlikely,” Pansy says, nose scrunched in concertation, dabbing at her baby toe. “You dancing burlesque or Potter loving you.”

“Me neither.” Draco closes his eyes and he can almost feel the heat of Potter’s body, the smell of old leather, the stubble scratching against his cheek. “Me neither.”

Chapter Text

Harry, October, 2003

Harry had never been a very good dancer. Parvati Patil had given an in-depth interview to Witch Weekly for anyone who wanted the excruciating details of his inadequacy. It had been years since the Yule ball, and yet here he was, doing a twisted sort of dance with Draco Malfoy.

Malfoy, who did spend a lot of time in A&E as it turned out. Malfoy, who never rolled his sleeves up far enough for Harry to make sense of the tattoo peeking out at the cuffs. Malfoy, whose eyes went so soft when he was counselling, who Harry’d watched de-escalate a three-hundred-pound monster of a man with a cigarette and a touch on the elbow. Who Harry spent quite a lot of his shift staring at and spent the rest of his shift trying to avoid.

I’m not supposed to want this.

They danced around each other with more grace than Harry’d managed with anyone else.

Everything about Malfoy is so tangled, Harry can’t figure out where he stands. Malfoy was a bully and a coward, and then he was a victim and that would have been confusing enough, but now Draco was grown up and working with Muggles and so fucking fit Harry thinks he might die.

And Harry…well, the calculus of who owes whom, of how much regret and remorse adds up to something that balanced is messing with his head. They’re dancing and Harry is dizzy with life debts and Fiendfyre. Malfoy had stomped on his face and Harry had flayed him in a bathroom. Malfoy had let Death Eaters into Hogwarts and Harry had…

the memory of blonde hair dipped in blood and blue lips send Harry reeling.

Will he ever forgive me for that night? Harry wonders for the thousandth time since Draco Malfoy had reappeared in his life.

It was complicated. It was so very very complicated.

Malfoy is in the department again, arranging an appointment with the on-call psychiatrist. It’s for a patient—Lucy Freedman, Harry remembers—who had walked into the waiting room in a thong and a sports bra and nothing else.

“You never know what you’ll get in the run of a shift,” one of the nurses says— Katie, her name is Katie. Harry’s made it his personal mission to remember every one of his co-worker’s names.

“Fucking mental,” Megan mutters (Harry’s sure that this one is actually named Megan). They’re all clustered around the nursing station.

“Like, there’s kids out there,” someone adds.

“There aren’t any kids,” Harry says, narrowing his eyes, but no one is paying him any mind.

“She was talking to the wall with her ass cheeks hanging out when I got here,” Megan says, nibbling at the paper rim of her coffee cup. “We get all sorts, don’t we?”

“Fucking psycho,” Katie says, and Harry’s starting to get angry. Because can’t anyone see that Malfoy is standing right there, next to the wall of charts? His grey eyes are churning and Harry can feel a storm coming, but no one else seems to notice him, which is bizarre really. Because someone else is agreeing—

—“Absolute nutter!—”

—and that’s offensive, isn’t it?

“Lucy,” Malfoy says, striding into the middle of the group, “has auditory and tactile hallucinations. Do you know what that means?”

Malfoy’s voice is crisp without a hint of anger, but no one answers him.

“It means that she can hear people speaking to her. All the time. Lucy has a voice profile of thirteen abusive hallucinations. And, how did you put it, Megan?” Malfoy pauses to let the tension simmer. “That she was talking to the walls with her ass cheeks hanging out?””

It feels wrong, those words coming out of Malfoy’s posh mouth. Harry is transfixed.

Malfoy stands at the centre of everyone’s attention and does not flinch. Megan’s not looking at him.

“Lucy doesn’t just see insects crawling all over her body, although that would probably be enough to drive each of you over the edge.” Malfoy is channelling the tight rage from behind his eyes into words. “She feels them. She can feel their legs scuttling across her stomach. Slipping on top her eyelids. Would you want to keep your clothes on if you had an infestation living in your skin?”

“But she doesn’t actually have bugs living—”

“She does. I’m not sure why you can’t seem to grasp this,” Malfoy says. “To her, it’s real. She can see it, hear it, feel it. What you and I see when we look at her is irrelevant. The sensation of a thousand legs touching her, the way it feels when a dozen people won’t stop yelling at her?” The room exists only for Malfoy. “That’s real. Please do not make her into a joke.”

The silence ripples as Malfoy scratches a few lines onto Lucy’s chart. “There. Dr. Mikhail will be in touch for a telehealth session later this evening.”

“Draco, I’m—”

But Malfoy’s already striding away, in the direction of the doctor’s office, as if everyone else in the department stopped existing as soon as he’d lost interest.

 

Harry finds Draco sitting atop a stool in the office, legs pointing long lines.

For a moment, Harry almost retreats. It’s the look on Malfoy’s face that pulls him back. Grey eyes stare at the ceiling, vacant and sad. Almost like Malfoy has slipped out of focus, onto another track, into another world.

Harry’s not ready for him to disappear again, and so pushes through the door and collapses into another chair. The cheap plastic wheels scrape the tile.

“Hey,” says Harry, his eyes stuck to Malfoy, and dumps a half dozen charts onto the counter. His despair at the prospect of more charting is heavy, but not as heavy as the silence. Malfoy hasn’t acknowledged him—is still staring at the ceiling.

Blonde hair, blue lips. He’ll never forgive me.

“You know,” Harry says, pushing through the regret and pulling a ballpoint pen from his pocket. “I thought I would miss cleaning spells the most.”

It’s the most he’s said to Malfoy in over a month, and the way Malfoy’s dreamy eyes snap back into focus tells Harry that he’s noticed.

“You can see me?” Malfoy asks, quiet, as if the words aren’t meant for Harry.

“You’re right here, of course I can.”

“Are we on speaking terms then?” Malfoy asks, and the words are sharpened, almost bitter. “I was sure you’d somehow lost the ability, but then I saw you socializing with all those lovely nurses, half of whom are clearly in love with you.”

“Do you want to know what I miss the most?” says Harry, ignoring the question.

Malfoy is looking at him like he’s sprouted a second head. “Why not.”

“Quick quills,” Harry says, collapsing into his hands. Under his elbows, a few of the paper charts fall to the floor. “I fucking hate these stupid pens. Like, I know that they’re a clever invention. I get that. But I’m this close to breaking the international statute of secrecy, for a fucking quick quill.”

“The perils of the Chosen One. Reduced to hand cramps and some semblance of legibility. However will you survive?” Five years ago, Harry would’ve assumed Malfoy’d meant those words to wound.

“Are you…” Harry looks up from his hands to meet Malfoy’s eyes. How are they so grey? “Are you making fun of me?” It feels like a revelation.

“Me? Make fun of you?” Malfoy’s lips twitch and for a second, Harry is sure they will share a smile. “I wouldn’t dare.”

“What do you miss?” Harry asks, feeling brave. Why did you leave? he wants to asks, why did you leave and never come back? But a part of Harry knows that anything so direct would be a gunshot in a field of birds. They’re still dancing, Harry knows. And it’s better than fighting.

“That’s what you want to know?” Malfoy pushes at his sleeves. “You want to know what I miss?”

Harry nods.

“I miss…” Malfoy closes his eyes and Harry can see the synthetic light in his eyelashes. They’re faint. Lovely. “The peacocks,” he says, finally.

“The peacocks?”

“At Malfoy manor,” adds Malfoy. “They used to live on the grounds. There was one that was pure white…” The memory takes him and Harry can’t stop looking at Malfoy’s mouth; his lips are still parted. 

“That’s nice,” says Harry, almost sad to see the dreamy look leave Malfoy’s eyes.

“Yes. It was.” The office feels small.

“Look, Malfoy—”

“No.” Malfoy holds up a finger, and Harry’s assaulted with the memory of a dream, where Harry had pulled that finger into his mouth and just sucked.

“I just, I never thought I’d see you again—”

“Potter, I refuse to have this conversation sober.”

“What conversation?” Harry asks, genuinely perplexed and still struggling to adapt to a Malfoy that’s not actively antagonizing him.

“The one where you lament about things I can’t talk about and I apologize for being the most catastrophic kind of arsehole. And you ask me several intrusive questions that will inevitably be some variation of ‘What is Malfoy up to?’ I just…” Malfoy takes a shaky breath. “I can’t. At least, not sober.”

“Okay,” Harry thinks he says. The tiny room holds its breath and Malfoy looks like he’s considering something. And nothing exists between the silence and what Malfoy might say.

“When are you off?”

“Uh. Was s’posed to be off twenty minutes ago,” Harry says. “But I’ve got charting. My nemesis.”

“I thought I was your nemesis.” Malfoy almost looks offended.

“Maybe. But not anymore.” The weight of one childhood grudge seems to crumble.

“I see. Well, make fast work of those.” Malfoy points a long finger at the mess of files cluttering Harry’s space. “And we can go to Emma’s house party.”

“A house party?” asks Harry, and he’s briefly hurt that she hasn’t invited him.

“Mmm,” Malfoy says, rising from his stool and bending down to collect Harry’s fallen papers. “Wrap this up by ten and then we’ll go.”

“But my scrubs—”

“Are you or are you not a wizard, who also happened to slay the dark lord?”

“I—”

“I’m sure we can manage to alter your clothes.”

“Right.”

“Ten o’clock Potter, or I’m leaving without you.”

Don’t leave, Harry thinks. Not again.

* * *

“They’re too tight!” Harry whines as they walk up the lane.

“They are not.”

Harry bends his knees, trying to force some stretch into the fabric. He should never have let Malfoy transfigure his scrubs—should’ve known something like this would happen. “I can feel the denim on my skin.”

“That’s the idea, Potter. Have you never worn pants before?”

“Fuck off,” Harry says, squirming. Under his tighter-than-usual fashion choices or Malfoy’s more-intense-than-usual stare, Harry can’t be sure.

The posh twat had come to collect Harry at 10:01, a bottle of wine in hand, and quite literally dragged him away from his files. Harry’d been distracted by how Malfoy’s fingers had tightened around his upper arm—warm, insistent, like a brand. And then he’d looked up at Malfoy himself, and it had sent his whole body into emergency conditions.

Heart palpitations, Harry thinks, looking at Malfoy walking purposefully a few feet in front of him.  Black denim should be illegal—god, the contrast with the white-blond hair. Malfoy’s wearing a simple t-shirt with the word NIRVANA on it. There’s a picture of a pink and blue man underneath the lettering. It’s a t-shirt and shouldn’t do things to Harry, but the way that it stretches tight across Malfoy’s shoulders—

I’m so fucked, Harry thinks. So so so fucked.

“You couldn’t have fixed my hair too?” Harry says, running his hands through the forest of jet black. A navy long-sleeve clings to Harry’s biceps—everything Malfoy had put on him was a size smaller than he normally wore—and he feels a bit exposed.

“Not even I could set that mess to rights,” Malfoy says, and he’s smiling. It’s just a gentle thing, but Harry can see it, playing across his lips.

Malfoy drags Harry to the precipice of a crumbling staircase when Harry forces him to stop. “What if Emma doesn’t want me?” Harry asks, years of living as quietly as he could catching up with him.

“Doesn’t want you?” For a moment, Malfoy looks at Harry like he’s a math problem. “Potter, are you trying to tell me you fancy Emma?”

Malfoy’s on the step above him, and Harry finds he’s looking up. Tall. He’s so tall. “No!” Harry blusters. “It’s not—I don’t even—”

The moonlight is filtering through Malfoy’s fucking eyelashes and Harry can’t quite focus. “I don’t like Emma—” and there’s nothing for it, “or women, much, anymore.”

Behind them, the party hums, something gentle and acoustic. “So, you’re—”

“A bit gay!” Harry blurts, and immediately wants to stuff the words back in his mouth. Malfoy’s eyes stretch with surprise.

“A bit?”

Harry shrugs, still stunned that he’s having this conversation on someone’s stoop.

“But what about the she-weasel?”

“Ginny?” Harry shrugs. “It was fine while it lasted, I guess.”

Malfoy snorts, but Harry pushes on. “We snogged. It was nice. But since then, I’ve been with—it’s—blokes. Almost always blokes.”

“In this universe too,” Malfoy mutters and Harry has no idea what to make of that.

“Look, I’m not sure why I’m telling…just please don’t mention it to anyone.”

It was cheating, really, to look that good in profile. “I wouldn’t,” Malfoy says, so serious that Harry believes him instantly. “Now stop stalling. We came to drink, not to linger awkwardly outside.”

I’m going to drink with Draco Malfoy, Harry thinks, realizing that this may not be his best idea. Dancing, Harry thinks, we’re dancing, and gives in the pull. 

 

It wasn’t like Harry hadn’t tried to go to parties. In those early days, in the student housing next to St. Mungos, Harry had forced himself to leave the mouldy comfort of Grimmauld. To drink piss poor beer and shoot clear liquid from chipped shot glasses and try to slip into student life like he wasn’t anyone special. Like he didn’t matter at all.

It hadn’t worked. Hysterical “Harry Potters!” would greet him at every door, followed by either clingy fans or bitter looks at Harry and his train of admirers. I didn’t ask for this! Harry’d wanted to scream. But he hadn’t. He’d just stopped going to parties.

 

Draco slips out of his soft brown boots, leaving them in the puddle of stray shoes in the porch. They follow the noise inside. The house feels like a paper fortune teller—room after room unfolding, and somewhere between the music, the old guitars and warbling feminine voices, Malfoy reaches back and takes Harry’s hand. Like it’s nothing.

“Where are we going?” Harry’s voice is heavy with the weight of his dreams.

“Somewhere quiet,” Malfoy calls over his shoulder. “To drink this, I think,” and Harry remembers the wine in his other hand.

The house unfolds into a bedroom with forest green walls and chipped paint. A few are people smoking, draped across the bed like spare clothes, the others wobbling into red cups.

“Draco!” Harry recognizes one of the paramedics, who’s got his head in the lap of a very pretty blonde girl.

Malfoy raises the wine bottle in greeting, fingers still wrapped around the neck; he doesn’t let go of Harry.

“Who you got there?” asks a girl with a fringe cut high on her forehead. There’s two red spots on her cheeks.

“Harry Potter,” Malfoy says, and Harry feels himself shrink, tries to hide, feels his hand go limp. The skin suit that is Harry Potter the Boy Who Lived feels like ants scrambling across muscle.

Until something impossible happens and no one recognizes him

“He’s one of the new residents,” Malfoy adds, giving Harry’s hand a barely perceptible squeeze.

“Yeah. That’s me. Harry the resident,” and he knows he sounds like an idiot, but he’s so delighted to be a stranger.

“Hi Harry the resident,” the blonde girl says, giggling. Harry giggles too, basking in the anonymity like he’s sunbathing on a beach. It’s intoxicating.

“Come on, Potter.” Malfoy tugs him towards a door leading to a balcony and Harry goes. Of course he goes. There’s no resisting Malfoy. There never has been.  

 

The night air hits Harry’s cheeks and chases away the tension. He can breathe. Malfoy releases Harry’s fingers and eases into a damp lawn chair. Deft fingers pry the cork of the wine bottle free.

“I like the air,” Malfoy says, leaning his head back against the house and taking a long swallow.

The lines of Malfoy’s neck slip under Harry’s skin. The balcony is a metal cage of wrought iron twisting like cursive. Harry leans against the railing, close to Malfoy. Fucking gravity.

“This is nice,” Harry says, letting his eyes move over Malfoy’s Adam’s apple, up his chin, over his closed eyelids.

“I’m many things, Potter,” Malfoy says, eyes still closed, lips barely moving. “But nice? I don’t think so.”

“You know, you could call me Harry,” Harry says. The railing is digging into his spine.

“Could I?” Malfoy passes him the bottle. The air feels damp on Harry’s tongue.

“I mean. The last name business is a bit childish,” Harry says.

“Reminiscent of a teenage rivalry.”

“Stupid,” Harry agrees.

Apologies hang in the air. They both know that they’re there. Neither Harry nor Draco pay them any mind.

“So.” Draco looks at Harry and smiles. It’s devastating. “Harry.”

Harry shivers. “Yeah?”

Draco’s eyes pin him in place. “Harry. Harry. Harry.”

Each iteration of his name lands with more force than the next, waves gathering strength as they are sucked back to sea.  “Fuck.

“Eloquent, as ever.”

“Sod off, Draco. ” All of Draco’s long lines shiver. “See!” Harry says, triumphant. “It’s weird.”

“You’re a child,” says Draco. “Now give me back my wine bottle if you’re not going to drink it.”

“Wouldn’t have pictured you as the straight from the bottle type,” Harry says.

“I’m the pinnacle of class and decorum,” Draco says, and snaps his wine from Harry’s loose fingers. “I am the reference point against which all grace should be judged.”

“Obviously,” Harry says, and means it.

“You’re so earnest. Always have been,” Draco says, fixing him with that look. It’s not gentle or kind. It won’t let him go.  

“How…” The moment feels fragile and Harry’s sure that he’ll break it. His words have always been blunt objects.

“All of those questions. I’ve watched them building up since that first day in A&E,” Draco says, setting the bottle on the cement. “Just ask.”

So Harry does. “After the trial—”

“Thank you for that, by way. What a spectacular demonstration of generosity and moral fortitude.”

“After the trial,” Harry tries again. “You just…” A fern spills out of its hanging pot, dripping onto Harry’s fingers.

Draco leans forward, forearms on his knees. “Yes?”

“You disappeared.”

The light leaves Draco’s eyes. “I’m a ghost Potter. Didn’t you know?”

“I thought…” but Harry doesn’t know what he thought.

“That the entire wizarding world would forgive my sins? That I would settle into high society and rule the world from the various important boards I would inevitably find myself sitting on?”

Okay, so maybe that’s what he’d thought.

“No,” Draco says. “Maybe when I was sixteen. But things...change.” Draco sighs and it’s forever on the exhale.

“It’s nice,” Harry says. He has no control of what tumbles out of him now. Impulse has conducted a hostile takeover of his vocal chords. “Seeing you like this.”

“Is it?”

“Draco, about that night at the manor. I’m—”

Blonde hair dipped in blood. Blue lips.

“Don’t.”

“But—” Harry’s desperate to turn over this one rock, to stare at the hideious underbelly of what they’d done to one another.

“Can’t we save it?” Draco says, and Harry notices that his hands are shaking. “Can’t we just—not?”

“Okay,” Harry says, helplessly.

“Okay.” Draco is fumbling in his pockets. “Do you mind if I?” He’s holding up a pack of cigarettes.

Harry shakes his head. “I can’t believe I found you here of all places. Working in a Muggle A&E.”

Draco slips the white filter between his lips and lifts the flame of his lighter to the tip. “Yes well,” he says, taking a deep breath in. “I had a fairly traumatic interaction with the Muggle mental health care system and decided that I wanted to be a part of it.” Draco breathes out, and smoke spills from the corners of his mouth.

“You did?”

Draco nods. Harry focuses on the single point of red light at the end of his cigarette. “But that’s a story for another time.”

“Okay,” Harry says. “Another time, then.”

Draco stands up. “Do you smoke?”

He’s close. He’s very close.

“No,” Harry stumbles. “Never tried.” His back presses tight against the wrought iron curling around them.

Grey eyes rove over his face, catalogue his reactions. “Would you like to?”

Would I like to? “Yes,” Harry says, and he doesn’t let himself look anywhere else. This is how it’s always been. Pushing. Pulling.

Draco lifts the cigarette to his lips, breathes in.

And those long fingers take him by the chin. The touch is gentle against his stubble.

“Come here,” Draco says.

“Yeah.” Harry finally closes his eyes, leans in to the pressure of a thumb stroking his jaw. Something warm brushes, soft, gentle against his lips.

Smoke, Harry realizes.

“You have to breathe in,” Draco whispers. Harry’s lips part, and he feels the ghost of Malfoy’s mouth, and he breathes.

Smoke dances across his tongue, warmth mixing with the damp night air.

“There,” Draco says, leaning back, but the space between them is infinitesimal, barely exists.

Harry opens his eyes.

He’s going to kiss me, Harry realizes and his chest contracts with want and then explosive panic. He’s kissed me in dreams. He’s done all sorts of things to me in dreams.

“Um!” Harry jerks away, stumbling into a very dead potted plant.

Draco’s face snaps back into place—the emotional elasticity of his features returning to something haughty and indifferent.

“We’ve neglected our host,” Draco says, words a bit tight. “Come on.”

For a moment, Harry is frozen in place, filled with a violent urge to grab hold of Draco and just hold him still. Under Harry’s hands, where he can make sense of him. But Malfoy is moving into the warmth and Harry, helpless and confused and chasing the heat of Draco’s lips, follows.

They fold back into the house, slipping from room to room. Draco moves between groups, chattering nonsense. At some point, he presses a drink into Harry’s hands. The world feels pliable, off kilter.  

Time stretches and they eventually find Emma sitting on a shag carpet, back pressed against a lazy couch. She’s balancing a chipped glass atop a guitar, humming softly. “Harry!” she shouts when she sees him, and the look on her face is so relaxed and good-natured, that Harry actually believes her when she thanks him for coming.

Draco eventually maneuvers Harry into a large group of people, makes sure that Harry’s inserted into conversation. It’s only once Harry settles in that Malfoy disappears.

At first, Harry thinks he’s gone to the loo. Or maybe to find another bottle. But he doesn’t come back and a strange irritation itches under Harry’s skin. It’s stupid, he thinks, to assume that Draco was going to stick to his side all night. Malfoy isn’t his babysitter. It was fine, really. He can leave whenever he wants.

After an hour passes, though, Harry thanks Emma and shows himself out. He definitely doesn’t spend five minutes scrutinizing the pile of shoes, nor does he notice that Malfoy’s lovely leather boots are no longer there.

It was fine, Harry tells himself after apparating home to Grimmauld. Fine, he thinks as he feeds his evil cat, who had shredded the cabbage he’d left out on the countertop. It was totally fine, he thinks as he pulls on a pair of joggers and his running shoes.

Malfoy could do whatever he pleased, whether that involved Harry or not. Whether it involved kissing Harry, or not, on a balcony, with the taste of smoke and lemon lingering on his lips.

Or not.

Harry doesn’t care. Harry slams his front door and settles into a brutal pace.

Because dream Malfoy and real Malfoy aren’t the same and he doesn’t care anyways. Because he’s not supposed to want this and Malfoy can leave if he wants to.

The air is chilly and it makes his bones shake, but Harry pushes out into the street. The pavement stretches on and on and Harry lets the rhythm lull his thoughts into submission. Running, he’d learned in the months after the war, was the only time that his thoughts would turn down. The rhythm and exhaustion swallowed them up and so this is where he went, when the sadness came for him.

Better tired than sad, Harry thinks as he pushes his feelings out into sweat and heat and screaming muscles. Better tired than sad.

Chapter Text

Draco, December, 1998

The ancient register is sticking again. Robertson insists on using an outdated metal contraption that could be confused with a torture device and whose handle refuses to budge on the regular. “Robertson,” Draco shouts in a vague direction—there’s really no telling from where the man will emerge. “The register is being contrary again. I need you to do whatever it is that you do and make it open.”

As if magically summoned, Robertson bursts onto the scene, crashing through the front door, cradling a bag of produce in his arms. “Draco, my sinister shopkeep!”

“I’ve given you no reason to find me sinister,” Draco says, but Robertson’s in a bluster and doesn’t hear him.

“I was at the market!” he bellows, a stray orange dropping from the paper bag with a pathetic thump.

“I see that.” Draco bites his lips to keep from grinning. Robertson is not to be laughed at.

“And I’ve had the most profound moment. You see, I was perusing the cabbages—”

“Why cabbages?” Draco askes, noticing the green and purple globes poking up from the bag.

“I’ve plans to make a borscht. Now, stop interrupting. The story must be out!”

“Right.”

“I was at the market, and I came upon these lovely cabbages. And as I was picking them up, examining each one for that special something that will turn an average borcht into an exquisite one, I couldn’t help but to think about Hamlet’s musings once confronted with the skull of Yorick.”

“Excuse me?” Draco does not think he’s ever been more confused, and Robertson is a very confusing person.

“Are you not familiar with Shakespeare? My my, you must have been quite preoccupied with your criminal activities before landing in my shop.”

Draco opens his mouth to protest, but Robertson plows onward. The story will not be stopped.

“Hamlet is a tragic hero, Draco. Perhaps the most tragic, although I’m sure that some would disagree, citing Lear or Othello, but they would be spouting nonsense of the most questionable calibre.”

“Idiots,” Draco agrees.

“Regardless! Nearing the end of the play, Hamlet finds himself in a graveyard. Surrounded by,” Robertson lowers his voice ominously, “bodies.”

“Touch morbid,” Draco says.

“Excellent literary criticism,” says Robertson. “In this graveyard, Hamlet stumbles upon the skull of the king’s jester and a man he once knew. Enter Yorick!”

At this point, Robertson pillages his shopping, shuffling through several heads of cabbage. “Ah ha! This cabbage, Draco, this one right here. Does he not look like a Yorick?”

“I have no idea how to answer that.”

“Well, since I am the authority on Shakespearian tragedies, I assure you, this cabbage is the spitting image of Yorick.” Robertson grabs hold of the cabbage and lifts it up to his nose, as if attempting to make eye contact. “I was tempted to recite Hamlet’s speech, when he seizes upon the skull of a man he’d once known and reflects deeply on the inevitability of life and death. Upon how we all go to rot, king or jester, nobility or peasant. Of how death will come for every man. There is no escaping it.”

Here, Robertson’s words stumble to a halt. There’s a sheen of tears ready to spill over—emotions came so rapidly with Robertson, sunbathing to storms. “Um?” Draco says, inching towards his slightly manic employer. “Sir, are you grappling with your mortality?”

Robertson fixes the cabbage with a serious look. “I believe I am. Now, if you’ll excuse me. Solemn introspection on vast philosophical ideals is best processed in private.”

Robertson pushes past him an into the back of the shop. Draco can hear him, monologuing as he goes.

“Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio, a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy.”

“Was he talking to a cabbage?” someone says, and Draco starts at the sound. At some point during this bizarre exchange, a customer must’ve entered the store.

“Yes. Yes he was,” Draco answers, turning around and seeing—

—Freckles, in abundance, with wild dark hair that looks a lot like Potter’s. The eyes, though, aren’t right. They’re deep cerulean rather than blinding green.

“He’s a bit eccentric, then?” not-Potter asks, and Draco mentally chides himself for sorting the world of men into Potters and not-Potters.

“My gorge rises at it. Here hung those lips that I have kissed I know not how oft. Where be your gibes now?”

“I think eccentric is a generous interpretation,” Draco says, and the stranger smiles at him. It’s all teeth and goodness.

For a moment, Draco is properly dazzled. “Are you looking for anything in particular?”

“That depends,” not-Potter says, leaning across the counter.

“Depends?” Draco says, and he does not like the way not-Potter is looking at him. The glint in his eye is suspicious.

“On if you’re single.”

“Oh.” Was that a pickup line? Was he trying to use a pickup line. On me?

“You know?” the stranger says, his confidence wilting under Draco’s confusion. “It depends on if you’re single?” The last word squeaks out.

“I—”

“Too much?” not-Potter cuts in, his face the colour of Robertson’s purple cabbages. “I’m so sorry. Oh my god. I’m just going to crawl under the counter and die now.”

“No, don’t!” Draco barks out. “It’s fine. You’re fine.”

The stranger does not look fine. “My friend is trying to teach me how to be more…outgoing? I’m fucking awful at it.”

“It—” Draco is still stunned. “It was direct?”

“I’m so sorry. I’m just going to back slowly out of the shop now and never talk to you again. Which is a fucking shame, really, because I’ve been working myself up to come in here for weeks to talk to you and now I’ve gone and fucked it.” The strange man turns to leave.

How horrifically endearing, Draco thinks. “Wait,” he says, just as not-Potter reaches the door. “It’s really fine.”

If I could get past the blue eyes, he actually looks a lot like Potter. “I’m actually quite experienced with bizarre behaviours. Case in point,” Draco says, gesturing towards the back room, where Robertson is probably still quoting Elizabethan playwrights. “My employer monologuing to a cabbage.”

Not-Potter is still staring at his shoes. “That was pretty fucking odd,” he says. “I’m Daniel, by the way. I promise not to use any more one liners if—”

“Draco!” Robertson returns from the backrooms in a burst of energy, still cradling his cabbage with tender loving care. “Are you fraternizing with the customers?”

“What! No! I—”

“I was just looking for a book recommendation,” Daniel says, attempting a rescue.

“Oh?” Robertson eyes him suspiciously. “Well, I’m the proprietor of this establishment, so I’m sure you’d be receptive to my suggestions?”

“Uh—”

“How about Don Juan!” Robertson booms, white beard bristling. Even at rest, Robertson’s voice is just louder than the average person. “Or perhaps Gentleman Prefer Blondes?”

Subtle, Robertson. Real subtle.

“Both? I guess?”

“Draco, I can take it from here. If you could head to the back and start sorting the new arrivals?”

“Right,” Draco says, every shade of bewildered. “See you around?”

All of Daniel’s features are twisted in confusion, but he gives Draco a little wave and turns to face Robertson, who is still holding his cabbage.

 

Later, Robertson would corner him in Literary Fiction, his caterpillar eyebrows full of mischief. “He left you this,” Robertson says, handing Draco a slip of paper with a phone number on it.

“Thanks?” Draco takes the paper.

“Draco,” Robertson says, and the words drip with gravitas. “As your employer and an adult figure to whom you look up to a great deal, I must voice my concerns regarding his approach.”

“Proceed with your concerns,” Draco says, folding the piece of paper and carefully and putting it in his pocket.

“Pickup lines are blasé, my boy, and you deserve better.”

The concern is sincere and unexpected, and it knocks Draco off kilter. “I had no idea you cared.”

Robertson harumphs in his direction. “It’s less about fondness and more about the world’s slow descent into lazy diction. In my day, a suitor would have come prepared, armed with the words of his better—poets and philosophers. He would have spread his dreams beneath your feet. He would have romanced you in several different languages.”

“I’m not sure anyone will ever live up to those standards,” Draco says. “But thank you. Honestly.” He means it—feels something in his chest kindle knowing that there is someone out there who thinks him deserving.

* * *

This rain is oppressive, Draco thinks, staring up at the sky as if the condensation is a personal slight. This is what I get for trying to…

…date.

The word resists him. It’s such a strange concept.  

Water presses his hair flat against his face, drips into his eyes, soppy and a fucking harbinger of futility. A metaphor for his entire fucking existence.

A part of him tries to acknowledge that the…date…hadn’t been all bad.

When Draco had arrived at the restaurant, the idiot had looked up at him with interest. With something heated and filled with potential and Draco had thought, this might not have been a bad idea after all. Daniel, Draco thinks. His name had been Daniel.

Draco forces his key into the lock, trying to forget that his shoes are currently the consistency of soggy bread.

Give dating a chance, they said. It’ll be a good way to temper the nearly manic urge to break down Potter’s door and ask for his hand in marriage, they said. They, in this specific instance, meant Pansy, who had erupted into an explosion of enthusiasm once she discovered Draco had “gotten someone’s digits.”

It’s not that Draco wanted to marry Potter. Make violent love to him? Maybe. Wrap him up in warm blankets and push his hair back from his forehead and whisper sweet nothings into his ear? Perhaps. But marriage? That, Draco thought, was a step too far.

“Dating will help!” Pansy had insisted. “You can’t keep pining over someone who doesn’t exist.”

“I’m not pining!” But it was futile, arguing with Pansy, because she was right.

In the four months since he cast the spell, the curse had come for him a half-dozen times. When he considered it logically, Draco knew that the fingers that slipped between his and tugged him into another version of his life couldn’t be real—were just an expression of a spell in physical elements. Still, the touch felt kind, delicate. The curse talked to him and Draco could feel the honesty in the words—it was a magic that didn’t know how to lie. Draco squeezed her hand when she pulled him into other worlds and he went home with her when the story was done.

The universes were bizarre and addictive, dazzling in their unpredictability and glistening in their variation. There were worlds where wings sprouted from his back on the full moon, where Draco transformed the old Black home into a museum, where slow acting death curses flew in the air. And yet, as the threads of the multiverse wove the lines of fate into the fabric of his body, magic stitched to vein, Harry Potter was forever constant.

A thread that resisted divergence, twisted tight around Draco, tying their lives into tandem. With love. Because Harry always loved him. With anger sometimes, and reluctance, and passion and something unfaltering. Harry Potter loved him.

Pansy was right about the direction of Draco’s thoughts—which were Potter, always Potter—but she was wrong about the depth, of how deeply Harry Potter cut into him. More permanent than the Sectumsempra scars he wore on his chest. The spell was going to kill him, but he would go willingly if it meant he could have Potter.

It was a problem.

Because here, in the world where Draco was supposed to live, Potter would never want him. It was a clever curse, in that it gave him glimpses of what he could have had, if he were a better person. The answer to what if? was a wound that would never heal, penance that Draco would carry for the rest of his life, because happy endings were earned.  In this universe, Draco knew, the door to this one possibility (at least with Potter) was closed.

In this universe, Harry Potter would never love him back.

That, more than anything else, had been the problem with Daniel. He represented possibility. The possibility that someone could look at him with affection rather than loathing, that he could be loved.

“Stupid,” Draco says to his empty flat. The disappointment tastes bitter on his tongue.

If the silence is listening, it does not answer him.

Instead, the rain pitter patters against the window pane, and Draco’s suddenly unable to bear it. Fuck the rain and fuck dating and fuck Pansy and her insistence that they can have a fresh start, if he could only stop thinking about Potter.

“Wine,” Draco says, making his way to the kitchen. Tonight requires his most bowl-sized wine glass.

“And music,” he says, once he’s emptied a full bottle of red. “I need music.”

Draco strips his coat from his damp shoulders, drapes it across the back of the sofa, and strides towards his sound system; he’s upgraded in recent weeks. Tall speakers sit in the corners of his living space, connected to a large CD player. It had taken the better part of a weekend, in which he had nearly spooned Pansy’s eyeballs out with his kitchenware, but he’d managed to put the entire contraption together himself. Draco is quite proud of this.

Usher

Nsync

Nirvana

They’re all tempting options. But as Draco flicks through his ever-expanding CD collection, he realizes that there was only ever one person who could capture his mood in this moment.

Draco pulls Celine Dion’s Falling Into You from the pile and places it in the player

He skips immediately to track 6.

“No one does a Power Ballad quite like you,” Draco says as Celine’s voice fills the flat. It’s soothing, in the way that only strong French Canadian vocal cords can be.

When I was young, I never needed anyone. Making love was just for fun.

In every other universe, Potter could love him. Did love him. Wanted him in a way that broached no argument, that took no questions. That refused to share. In this universe though.

All by myself!

Merlin, the song is apt, and as rain pounds his windows and dripps down his spine, Draco surrenders to it. The despair and the rage and the music

“Don’t wanna be, ALL BY MYSELF!” Draco belts the chorus out into his empty flat, but it’s not enough.

Hard to be sure. Sometimes I feel so insecure. That love so distant and obscure.

Draco seizes his morning copy of The Prophet and rolls it up into a makeshift microphone.

“All by myself!” The notes are impossible to hit if you’re not Celine, but he doesn’t care. “Don’t wanna be ALL BY MYSELF!”

He’s panting now. Letting the sombre lyrics wash over him.

The tears sting; it’s the only reason he knows they’re there. “This is the only world where he can’t love me,” Draco gasps. “He can’t. I’m so awful that he can’t.”

Making love was just for fun. Those days are gone.

The tempo is picking up. Celine is letting the tension build and build and he can feel the release.

Draco stands in front of the window, makes stern eye contact with his reflection. “All by myself!” he shrieks, because he’s not singing anymore, and he pushes the high note from his lungs. One hand clutches the curled newspaper, while the other stretches in front of him, raising slowly up from waist to chin. As he belts out the final syllable “ANYMORE!!” his fingers snap into a fist

His chest is heaving with the effort of trying to match Celine fucking Dion, tears are streaming down his cheeks, and Draco doesn’t care.

“Don’t wanna live by myself by myself anymore!” He lets the strangled note drift off as it fades to black.

“I’m so sorry.”

Oh no, is all Draco can think before he snaps his head around to the source of the noise.

Pansy is standing in the doorway, a paper bag of groceries in one hand, her key dangling from the door.

His embarrassment is incalculable. Draco has absolutely nothing to say. No explanation. So he just stands there. Staring at her. Daring her to laugh.

“I don’t want to make you feel stupid. Honestly, I don’t.”

Draco is still panting. He may have lost a button or two from the strain.

“You’re clearly going through something.”

Slowly, Draco lowers his hand from the fist-clenched position.

Pansy treads into no man’s land on her toes and sets the shopping down on their kitchen table. “Did the date really go that bad?”

Draco wobbles across the room and collapses into the cushions of his sectional. “I’m never doing that again.”

“He seemed nice—”

“I asked him why there were horses under the hood of his vehicle,” says Draco.

“Why would you do that?”

“He was going on about something called horsepower?” Draco looks up at Pansy, eyes beseeching her sympathy. “I think I drew fairly logical conclusion.”

“That Muggles cram live horses into the boot of their car-thingers?”

“I actually thought there were under the front end, where all the metal contraptions are.”

“The whole thing is a metal contraption!”

“I don’t know what I was thinking alright!” Draco says, waving his hands in protest.  

Pansy shuffles though her purchases until she finds a tub of ice cream and hands the entire thing, plus a spoon, to Draco. “You can come back from that,” Pansy says, returning to the cupboards, into which she is stuffing several cans of beans.  

“At the end, I asked for a look,” Draco says, much more quietly. “Up until that point, I think he found my naivete charming rather than manic.”

“Well, fuck Draco! Why weren’t you more prepared!”

“I’m sorry that I haven’t had time to brush up on the entire history of auto mechanics!” Draco wails, sounding like Celine again. “Although I’m definitely going to ask Robertson for some clarity on the situation tomorrow.”  

“Given the circumstances, I’m guessing you didn’t get laid?” Dark eyes dusted with blue eye shadow gleam at him from behind a box of Museli.

“What gave that away?” Draco asks, sarcastically.

“Oh, I don’t know,” Pansy says. “Perhaps it was the phrase ALL BY MYSELF, booming over and over so loudly that I could hear you from the street?”

“You are never to mention this again,” says Draco, sinking further into the couch cushions.

“Does this have anything to do with Potter?”

The rapid change of tack startles Draco into honesty. “Daniel wasn’t…he’s not the same. He’s not…”

“Oh,” Pansy says, abandoning her groceries and hurrying to his side. “Oh, you’ve gone and caught feelings, haven’t you?” She pulls Draco’s head into her lap and begins stroking his hair. The feel of Pansy’s hands is a secret comfort that he guards jealously.

“You sound ridiculous when you appropriate Muggle slang,” he says, trying for a joke.

“You’re deflecting and in an act so gracious that you will never truly deserve me, I’m going to let this one slide.” Pansy’s fingers combs through damp tangles.

“Yes,” Draco whispers. When he lets himself think about it, in the hours after returning from another glimpse, another universe, Draco knows that he hadn’t stood a chance. That falling for Potter was as inevitable as breathing. He’d always been weak for Potter’s attention—he just hadn’t known that the pendulum could swing so far. “If you had to watch repeated iterations of Potter being stubborn and perfect and in love with you, for some reason, you wouldn’t have fared any better,” Draco huffs. “He’s worn me down with his persistence. That’s all.”

Truthfully, though, it’d been a lost cause from the very beginning, since that first night when Potter had kissed him under the stars.

Chapter Text

Harry, October, 2003

Eight kilometers hadn’t blunted the anxiety thrumming under Harry’s skin. He’d scalded his skin, then let it wrinkle under his showerhead, he’d thrust furiously into his fist, he’d tried not to think about the heat of Malfoy’s mouth hovering above him. And then he’d growled Draco into the tile.

Hermione finds him frothing in his kitchen, pacing the ancient tile.

“What on earth has you in such a tizzy?” she says, brushing soot from her shoulders and dumping her ostentatiously large bag on his countertop. Bella sluices out from beneath a piece of furniture—Harry has no idea where she hides, but suspects that it’s some kind of high powered cat-lair, where she plots how to best make him miserable—and hops into Hermione’s lap.

“Nothing,” Harry lies, stomping to the stove and ladling Hermione a massive bowl of soup. Harry likes soup. It warms you on the inside. It was the first thing he’d done after he woke up and his brain still itched.

“You’re clearly upset,” Hermione says, scratching Bella under the chin.

Harry does his best not to slam the soup bowl. “I’m fine.”

“You’re upset. No, don’t argue with me,” Hermione says, cutting Harry off before the words have formed on his lips. “Stop pretending. It’s really quite pointless.”

“But what if I want to wallow?” says Harry, moping and pacing.

“When you wallow, you tend to spiral,” Hermione says, blowing on a spoonful of Harry’s taco soup. “And we’ve worked quite hard to bring you back to life.”

Back to life.

Back when she’d called him depressed, Harry hadn’t listened, rolling away from her concern as if it was optional. Back then, he hadn’t wanted a lesson in the ways in which he was broken. In her infinite Hermione-ness—because wisdom and Hermione were synonyms—she’d changed her tactics. Diagnostic language disappeared from her vocabulary—words like depressive episodes and behavioural activation and therapy. Rather, she was bringing her friend back to life. Simple as that.

In the quiet place between sleeping and dreaming, when his thoughts were at there most biting and real, Harry knew that she was placating him.

Some days, though, Harry wanted to be more of a man than corpse. Some days, he felt like Hermione had managed it and that he’d come back to life. Some days—

“Harry,” Hermione says, dangerous now. The sheer volume of what must live behind Hermione’s big brown eyes terrifies Harry sometimes—that the inside of her can be so vast. “What’s wrong?”

“I found Draco!” Harry blurts.

“Oh.” Hermione sets her spoon gently against the bowl. “After all these years?”

“I know,” Harry says, and finally stops pacing. Draco had wound him up, charged the springs with his mouth and his hands on Harry’s chin and just left him to unwind. Like one of those little mechanical toys.

“Have you uncovered any sinister plots? Why did he vanish? Is he actually living as a Muggle?”

“I dunno,” Harry says, realizing how little information he’s gleaned from his time with Malfoy and making a mental note to pay more attention to questions and less to the lips answering them.

“What are you going to do now?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, chasing Malfoy has always been this...” Hermione takes a deep breath, arranging her words with care before saying, “this existential goal of yours. He goes and you follow. What are you going to do now that you’ve finally caught up?”

Kiss him? Fuck him into a mattress?

“I haven’t really figured that out. I want—” But he doesn’t know what he wants. Because, “I’m not supposed to want this,” he says, out loud for the first time since he’d realized that wanting Malfoy was something seared into him—permanent, scarring.

“Harry.” Hermione’s voice clatters, soft ice cubes in a glass. “You don’t have to rationalize what—who you want. You can have it. You can just have it.”

A spot on Harry’s countertop is suddenly very interesting.  “I can’t—” because he couldn’t. This want was too old.

Blue lips. Blonde hair dipped in red.

They had cut into each other and the blood spatter did not divine a happy future.

“Where!” Hermione redirects, reading Harry’s face like it’s made of words rather than skin. “Where did you find him?” Hermione blows on her soup with a bit too much enthusiasm. Bella licks at her fingers.

“You’re really not gonna believe this,” and Harry tells her. About that first day in A&E and about the way Draco moved, in and out of a crisis as if he was built for it.

“A counsellor!”

“Yeah,” Harry says. “And do you want to know the most fucked up part?”

“Obviously.”

“He’s…” Harry’s throat struggles for a moment, the words sticking like a wish bone. “He’s bloody brilliant at it. Like, really fucking good.”

“I wonder what brought him here,” Hermione says. “To counselling and helping Muggles. You should ask him.”

“I will. Next time I see him.”

“It sounds like something worth doing,” Hermione says, inspecting a chickpea bobbing lazily on her spoon. “And I bet it’s quite the story.”

Harry smiles, picturing Malfoy on the balcony, wrapped up in the moonlight, all mystery and pent-up rage, black denim and unknowable tattoos. It probably is quite the story. I wonder if he’ll tell me?

“I’ll report back.” Harry knows he will, because a little has never been enough—not with Draco.

“It’s weird, isn’t it?” Hermione says, and Harry hears her voice change, in that way it does when she’s talking about puzzles and ideas—it’s richer, a more vibrant shade of her. “You and Malfoy, both working without magic. I never imagined he would leave all of that pureblood nonsense behind. I wonder if he misses it.”

Five years. Malfoy abandoned the magical world for five years. Harry remembers the look on his face, day in St. Mungo’s; sadness bed from his pores when he said, “I’m leaving, Potter, and I’m never coming back.”

Hermione rubs one finger under Bella’s chin.

“I miss it,” Harry says.

“Magic? Or Malfoy?” Hermione has always been too intuitive for her own good.

Harry rolls his eyes, but his brain has stopped itching for the first time since that impossible moment on the terrace. “Sometimes, I just want to just cast one or two spells. For the cancers they’ve not got figured out yet. Or to regrow organs and save someone months of dialysis. I feel like a failure, like I’m keeping lifesaving treatment from a whole group of people who deserve to be saved.”

Bella’s purrs are a concerto of contentment. Harry buries his face in his mug and breathes in the smell of coffee.

Hermione considers him. “Sometimes I wonder if we should just be rid of the Statute of Secrecy altogether. Because you’re right Harry. There’s something unconscionable about watching people die when we know that we could save them. We could save them, and it would be easy.”

“So easy,” Harry whispers to the sloshing reheated sludge in his cup. “I wouldn’t even need a wand.” These days, Harry could manage most of his healing spells wandless.

“Hmmm.” Hermione’s eyes drift away from Harry, going fuzzy and thoughtful. “I wonder how Malfoy has managed it all these years. Watching people die when he knows they could be saved?”

Me too, Harry thinks, and the need to know is a wild animal. Question after question expands in his chest, a thousand conversations he can’t wait until his next shift to have, but that he knows he must endure because he has stalked Malfoy before and knows the signs.

“No stalking,” Hermione says, directing a cheeky smile into her soup. Words, skin, Harry thinks, considering how well Hermione reads his face. Same difference.

* * *

It takes three days before Harry breaks.

He could have made it, he tells himself, except he was in clinic most of the week and hasn’t run into Draco at all, and besides, who lets their lips almost brush up against his and then just leaves without a word?

It was Draco’s fault, really, Harry thinks as he fills a script for antibiotics.

“Looks like an ear infection to me, Mr. Trembelt. Take these.” Harry tears the paper from the prescription pad and scratches his name across the bottom. “Twice a day for seven days and then come back to see me.”

The man in front of him is built like a pit bull and is looking at Harry like he’s the world’s biggest joke. “Are you sure? Cause I’ve talked to my friend who’s a chiropractor and she said—”

“If you want to get your medical advice from your friend, be my guest,” Harry says, itching to get the man out of his office. This is his morning appointment and there’s a chance that Draco’s in his office and it’s easy enough to just walk over there. Harry knows where it is. There’s nothing weird about taking a stroll.

Mr. Trembelt-pitbull lets out a colossal snort and snatches the script from Harry’s fingers. “Fine. But when I’m not better in a week, I’ll be back!” and storms out with about as much grace as can be expected from bullish dogs or bullish men.

Harry flings his ballpoint pen across the table, shouting, “don’t look at me like that. I’ll get to you later!” at his documentation before slamming the door behind him. It was a stroll. A casual jaunt through the hospital to clear his head. It has noting to do with Malfoy.

 

If Harry’s heart rate increases when he sees Malfoy’s office door open, it’s the brusqueness of his pace. I’ve got no idea what to say, Harry think, as he lifts his hand to knock anyway. Self-preservation had always fled the stage whenever Malfoy was due to feature.  

“I’m sorry, but you’re trying to squeeze water out of a rock, Draco,” a woman says. Harry’s hand freezes.

“Amber, have you considered the benefits of a mobile unit? Like, have you actually thought about it? The cost-benefit analysis is excellent.” Malfoy’s voice is pressured, as if he’s trying very hard not to lose his cool.

“I’m sure it is, but—”

“I’ve even drafted you a summary of the potential savings for the hospital in that lovely report I placed it in your mailbox three weeks ago. Have you had a chance to review it?”

“Draco, you know that I haven’t,” says Amber.

“Well, I’d be happy to explain right now!”

Harry hears the woman sigh. Through the closed door.

“That’s really unnecessa—” she tries, but Draco is relentless.

“A mobile unit will divert unnecessary patients from A&E. Which saves you huge sums of money, because in Emergency, you are paying several staff to address the patient’s needs. Reception, nursing, Lab, physicians. Mental health.”

“Draco please—”

“But with a mobile unit, you’re literally just paying me and a police officer—both of whom will already be seeing the patient. Plus, it will expedite the emergency room experience because of the reduced volume of presentations.”

“That all sounds lovely—”

“Doesn’t it? You’d have to be daft, really have to make an effort at idiocy to turn down something that improves patient care and cuts costs.” That smart mouth is cutting poor Amber apart.

“But I can’t ask for that right now. The department has other priorities.”

“Such as?” Draco sounds unconvinced.

“You know that I’m not at liberty—”

“—to discuss it, yes yes, so you’ve said. Every time I’ve raised suggestions for departmental improvements. I’m familiar with the ways in which you placate my initiatives.”

Amber does not sound like she knows what placate means. “Thank you for your commitment to excellence. You’re doing great work. Honestly. I’ll take think about what you’ve said.”

“Will this consideration include actually reading the proposals I place on your desk?” Draco says, weaving condescension and politeness together with the deft muscles of his tongue.

“Sure,” Amber says, and Harry can see her backing out of the door. Slowly, as if retreating from a predator. Which she is, in a way. “Sure.”

A waifish woman stumbles into the hallway, her sharp bob streaked with premature grey. “Congratulations on an—an excellent performance review, Draco,” she says, a bit uneven on her feet.

“Amber are you sure you can’t spare another minute. I’ve got a few other items I’d like to—”

“No no! I’m so sorry. I’ve got—bye then!” The sound of her plastic heels clack rapid fire against the hospital tile. If Amber spots Harry in her flight from the office, she doesn’t let on.

In a bizarre turn of events, Harry realizes that he’s laughing. This is why you would have made a terrible Auror, mate, Harry hears Ron tell him. The laughter boils in his chest, bubbling over and he can’t help himself. Harry barely recognizes the sound, it’s been so long.

“Potter? Is that you, lurking outside my office?”

It’s all too much. Harry stumbles through the door, and his chest won’t stop.

“What’s wrong with you?” Draco says, and his face narrows in concern. “Has someone cursed you? Is that why you’re like—”

Harry snorts—actually snorts—and collapses into the chair across from Draco’s desk.

“No,” he gasps. “I’m fine—I—I just—Draco, you’re vicious. You—scared that woman. You should’ve seen her face—” Harry knows he’s being ridiculous. Draco’s face tells him exactly how unimpressive he’s being. But it’s as if a damn has burst and five years’ worth of laughter is rushing out. “You terrified—she was running—actually running—”

“Stop laughing at me this instant,” says Draco and Harry is howling into his arms. “Harry, I swear to god, I will peel your fingernails off.”

“That’s not—just give me—” Harry takes several measured breaths. “I’m—” he hiccups, “fine.”

Draco raises one eyebrow, and Harry briefly wonders if this is a skill that's innate or requires practice. He wouldn’t put it past Draco to spend long hours staring into a mirror, wiggling his blond brows trying to look sinister.

Harry’s willpower nearly dissolves into giggles at the thought, and so he looks up and tries to focus on anything else. Draco’s desk is made of cheap particle board. The computer looks geriatric and is making strange whirring noises. There’s a small window, with several colourful cactuses on the sill.

“Why are you here?” Draco says at the same time Harry says, “Why’d you leave?”

“Leave?” The confusion on Draco’s face is genuine.

“The party,” Harry says, but Draco looks no less baffled.

“You noticed?” Draco says.

“What’s wrong with you? Of course I noticed. We came together.”

“We did,” Draco says, picking at his sleeves. “You wanted me there?”

“I’m not just going to forget about you. Like, I’m not a complete arsehole.”

“Hmm,” Draco says, looking at his desk. Nothing about the office is ostentatious, not in the way that Harry had expected it to be.

I’m not supposed to want this.

“What are those?” Harry asks, looking for something, anything to distract from the fact that he’s here, with Malfoy, and filled with a want that he’s definitely not supposed to have. The wall behind Draco is enormous and covered in dozens of colouring pages. They’re mostly done in crayon, with a wobbly hand.

Draco’s eyes follow Harry’s. “Those? Oh.” A hint of embarrassment, followed by, “they’re done by my patients.”

“You see children?” Harry’s not sure what he means by the question, but Draco bristles.

“Of course I see children.”

“Sorry, I just—”

“Are death eaters not fit to be alone with children?”

“What? No!” Harry scrambles to fix whatever he’s broken. His words, as always, are blunt objects. “I just…when I picture it. You with a kid.” Harry smiles. “It’s just unexpected.”

“Oh.” The tension settles. “Sorry. I don’t know…how to act with you,” Draco says, and Harry knows exactly what he means. Fighting and dancing aren’t all that different.

 “Yeah, I’m a bit shit at this,” Harry says, staring at the collection of coffee rings next to Malfoy’s mouse pad. “But I wanted to see you?”

For a moment, Harry can’t believe he’s said it out loud—given voice to the things he’s not supposed and said them aloud in a world where there are consequences. Harry braces for the kind of tongue lashing he’d witnessed only moments stumbling into the office.

“Do you have a mobile?” Draco asks instead, and then looks desperate to snatch the question back.

“Uh, yeah?” Harry has no idea where this is going, but thinks it’s better than where he started. “Hermione made me get one. In case I got lost of forget something or didn’t remember the Muggle medical intervention.”

Harry rummages around in his scrubs for something to write with. I’m giving my number to Draco Malfoy, Harry thinks as scrawls his mobile number onto a post it that’s crumpled from several weeks spent in a pocket.

“Here.”

“This is weird,” Draco says. As he plucks one of his pens out of the jar on his desk, Harry realizes that Draco does still indulges in some of the finer things. The pen he cradles between those long fingers is heavy and the liquid is so coming out so soft and easy—

“I think I might want to make love to your pen,” Harry says, watching how smooth the ink looks coming out of the tip.

“Excuse me?” Draco’s face is flushed.

“Your pen,” Harry says, curiously. “If I had pens like that, I wouldn’t hate charting as much.”

“Here,” Draco says, handing Harry a scrap of paper and the exquisite fountain pen. “You can keep it.” Harry can see the red creeping up the back of his neck. I want to lick him there, Harry thinks and then realizes that he needs to leave.

“I’m going now.”

“Sometimes,” Draco says as Harry gets to his feet, “I’m not sure that you’re actually here.”

Harry opens his mouth to correct him, but the way that Draco looks just then, Harry swears that he could see through him if he angled his head just the right way. As if Draco is more reflection than man.

“You’re the one who disappeared,” Harry says.

“I’m a ghost, Harry. I thought you knew.”

* * *

The yowls that rend the air sound like the mouth of hell grinding open. “Bella, if you don’t stop, I’m going to feed you kale for a week.” It’s an empty threat and Bella, who’s blinking up at Harry with those enormous pupils, knows it too.

Harry surrenders. “Fine,” he growls, rummaging for her food and then throwing it into her dish with far more force than necessary. Flecks of brown mush stick to the backsplash. “Now leave me alone—” Harry’s ravings are interrupted by a loud ping.

“What the fuck?” He’s never heard that sound before.

It chimes again, and Bella starts to howl in protest.

“I know I know!” Harry says, searching for the source of the noise, but only because it rings again and again and again.

“Stop!” Harry says, and Bella meows and Harry finally finds the device causing the commotion in a drawer in his entranceway.

It’s a cell phone. “What the—?”

Unknown number: Chosen one?

Unknown number: The boy who lived. Twice!

Unknown number: Saviour of the wizarding world. Is this you?

Unknown number: Scarhead?

Unknown number: Harry?

Unknown number: Do I have the correct number. Seemed polite to check first.

Harry: and none of that was polite

Unknown number: Keep up, scarhead. I thought you were a healer. Aren’t you supposed to be clever now?

Harry: Malfoy is that you?

Unknown number: No, I’m just another rival turned colleague from your boarding school days, with a fondness for offensive nicknames and a penchant for cowardice.

Harry: You know you could have saved yourself the time and just “hey, it’s me Malfoy.”

Harry fusses with the interface of the mobile, trying to update the contact information.

Draco: Where’s the fun in that? Where is the disruptive pre-teen who let trolls into the dungeon and ordered basilisks to terrorize the school?

The words swim on the screen and Harry has no idea what to make of them. Text messages offer very little context, Harry thinks. It’s impossible to tell if Malfoy is being playful or nasty.

Harry: Can I ask you something?

Draco: I’m open for a light interrogation.

Harry: If we were 16 and you’d said that, I’d probably assume you were being a dick.

Draco: I am a dick, Potter.

Harry: Shut up for a sec. If we were 16 I’d assume you were being a giant prick. But this is just who you are isn’t it?

Draco: Are you implying that “dick” is my state at rest? Resting dick face?

Harry snorts, but answers immediately.

Harry: Guess so.

Draco: You wound me!

Harry: Shut up, your fine.

Draco: *you’re

Harry: Sod off with your grammar. I’m barely managing the basics as it is. How do Muggles do this???

The question is genuine. Harry is struggling to remember which letter goes with which number, and the process of composing a message is painfully slow. Draco, however, answers like he has lightening in his digits.

Draco: With their fingers, Potter. If you’re using another part of your body to text, I think you should stop.

Harry: Fuck, I can’t believe I never figured it out before.

Draco: Figured what out?

Harry: That sarcasm is you being friendly. This is you being nice.

Draco: If you could stop trying to plumb the depths of my psyche, that would be excellent thank you. Last I checked, that was my job.

Harry: Fair enough.

Draco: Speaking of jobs (and yes, that was me segueing seamlessly via text. Watch and learn, Potter), you’re off for the next two days, are you not?

Harry: yup

Harry: wait

Harry: how did you know that?

Draco: I knew you had to be cleverer these days, being a healer and all. It’s a bit inconvenient.

Harry: youre avoiding the question

Harry can feel his pulse in his throat. Malfoy knows his schedule. Which means he sought it out, which means he was thinking about him—the mobile pings and Harry can’t look at it quickly enough.

Draco: Flo just asked the physician who manages your little possy of residents for your rotation schedule.

His fingers dash to reply—filled with adrenaline because Draco had asked about him, but Draco is a prodigious texter and beats him to it.

Draco: I feel like you’re going to make this a thing. Please don’t make this a thing, Potter.

Harry: I thought we were past the whole last name thing.

Draco: It’s a difficult habit to break. We’ve invested quite a lot of energy into school age animosity. I hardly know who I am without you as my nemesis.

Harry: That’s a bit dramatic.

Draco: I’m a bit dramatic. Were you not paying attention in school?

Harry: You know I was.

It’s strange to admit it, even through the medium of digital space.

Draco: So you see, my behaviour is just a part of a previously established precedent.

Harry: You fucking stalker.

Draco: You have quite literally zero ground to stand on with that accusation.

Harry: Fair enough.

For a long moment, their phones stand still.

Harry: You left.

Draco: What do you mean?

There are two conversations Harry wants to have; he chooses the safer of the two.

Harry: The other night. Why?

Draco: I made sure you had people to talk to.

Harry: I know.

Draco: I didn’t think my presence was necessary.

Harry: Seriously?

Draco: I may have assumed you’d be happier without a death eater hovering about all evening

Harry: Acquitted death eater.

Draco: I’d rather not talk about that, if it’s all the same to you.

Harry: That’s fine. I don’t like it either.

Harry: Talking about the war.

Draco: That’s refreshing. Lord, Pansy refuses to let it go. Insists I’m burying my trauma. Which is when I remind her that I am the trained professional in this relationship, thank you very much, and that she can take her Law and Order psychology and shove somewhere embarrassing and private.

Harry: Relationship?

Draco: Our friendship, you numpty. I thought that my preferences were fairly obvious.

Harry: Uh, no?

Draco: Gay, Potter. Very gay.

For a moment, Harry can’t breathe. A small panic is brewing in his chest, but he needs to reply, because if he leaves it too long, Draco will know and that thought makes the small panic feel much bigger.

Harry starts and deletes several words until he finally settles on:

Harry: Cool.

Draco: How profound.

Harry: I’m not great at profound. Sorry.

Harry: Why’d you message anyways?

The longest pause so far stretches Harry to breaking.

Draco: I wanted to.

The admission is their first foray into vulnerability and Harry treats it as an invitation.

Harry: Would you want to…hang out?

Draco: Hang out?

Harry: Is that weird?

Draco: Yes.

Harry: Do you want to?

Draco: Also yes.

Harry: Stalker.

Draco: Look at that. We match.

Harry: I guess I’ll text you.

Draco: I guess you will.

* * *

A&E is on wheels, the kind of night where everything walking through the door is an anomaly, and the department is riding a collective caffeine fix.

Harry’s kneeling next to an older man, the hard plastic of the clipboard pressed against his knees. He’s shirtless and Harry’s eyes drift over the loose folds of aging skin. Mike, Harry thinks, absently. His name is Mike.

Mike’s got a grin that feels earnest in that I’d-take-you-home-and-feed-you-supper kind of way and for a moment, the person and the patient starts to blur. Harry shakes his head, flips through the chart. Bloodwork, Oxygen levels, and heartrate monitors and still, no one can figure out what’s wrong.

It’s scary when you don’t know what’s wrong with a person.

A deep retching drowns out the sound of the monitors, and Harry rushes forward just in time to press the barf bag to Mike’s mouth. The old muscles in Mike’s shoulders are shaking so violently and Harry can’t do anything but hold onto the bag as Mike’s body heaves and urges. As Mike forces his insides out through his throat, Harry gently takes one aging hand and presses it up to the bag. “Here, hold onto this, Mike,” he says.

A diagnostic spell could solve everything, Harry thinks, bitter with exhaustion.

“I’m attaching these pads to your chest,” Emma says and Harry is happy she’s here with him. The heart rhythm is not behaving and Mike is quivering on the stretcher.

Mike’s wife Frieda is rubbing soothing circles into his back while bloody vomit pours from his lips. Forty years of marriage, with three kids and eight grandkids. Harry knew all of this. Details tended to filter through the breaks in the trauma and crisis—the last bits of the night, coloured in “You still don’t know what’s wrong with him?” she asks, calm in the way that matriarchs tend to be—straight-backed and strong in the face of a tragedy.

“No,” Harry says, and not knowing is the scariest feeling in the world. “But I’m working hard to—”

The bag of vomit drops to the floor as Mike collapses, limp and vacant. The heart monitor starts to scream and Harry feels his world shift. “Okay, everyone away from the bed!” he says, loud. Rita’s hand stills and falls away.

“Abnormal heart rhythm. Is everyone off the stretcher?” Harry’s eyes swallow the room, sees the bed clear. “I’m going to deliver a shock. One hundred and twenty joules.”

For a moment, the world holds its breath. Sending electricity through someone’s heart is not something Harry has gotten used to.

Please don’t die. Not this time. I don’t want you to die.

The shock rushes through Mike’s body, and his eyes fly open. “Sweet merciful Jesus!” he yelps, and a few laughs stutter out. Tears are streaming down Frieda’s face as she smiles at her husband. “I felt that go through me. Down to my toes, I felt it!”

Relief is a momentary rush, and Harry’s grateful. But I don’t know what’s wrong with you, he thinks, and the fear is a cold companion.

 

The night ends six hours later with a body, naked and cold on a stretcher. One of the nurses is washing him, handling his limbs gently as they move cloth over skin. “I’m lifting up your arm now, Michael. Not to worry.” Not everyone talks to the bodies as they’re cleaning them, getting them ready for transport to the morgue. It’s a kindness, to wash the bodies.

* * *

The electronic doors open and close, open and close as Harry stands just a bit too close. He knows he should just go home, to his empty fucking house and force his evil cat to love him just a little. He knows that’s what he should do. But he’s got his mobile out and that’s where the bad choices lay in wait.

Indecision hovers like the stale smell of smoke. Harry shreds his cuticles. I’m not supposed to want this, he thinks, but only briefly. There’s a pressure building behind his eyes and he decides that tonight he doesn’t care who he’s supposed to be or who he’s supposed to want.

Harry thumbs at his keyboard, blinking furiously as the numbers swim in and out of focus. “I hate texting,” Harry says and the automatic doors slide open in answer.

Harry: Um. I’m feeling a bit messed up.

Before regret can start to sour, Draco’s texted back.

Draco: Okay.

Typing…

Draco: Do you want…you could come over.

Draco: I’m not sure it would help. But you could, if you wanted. Only if you wanted.

Harry: okay.

Draco: Here’s the address. Apparate straight into the living room. I don’t mind.

It hadn’t been what he’d meant, when he’d asked to hang out. A dozen invitations had died as drafts, never to be sent to their destination. Harry’s two days off had passed, and he’d not found the courage. Here, as the day ebbs away the midnight sky blinks down at him, Harry finally asks for what he needs.

The automatic doors open and Harry’s gone before they close.

 

The world squeezes, makes sausage of him, until his feet collide with something solid, and Harry remembers that he has a body made of flesh and parts that have a place. He’s never gotten used to apparating.

The smells hit him first, bright smells—fresh basil and mint leaves and maybe parsley? Harry’s never really been on first name terms with herbs, but he would bury his face in whatever that smell is—

“Harry?”

Harry forces his eyes open, tiredness gritty under the lids. Draco is hovering on the very edge of the room, a pair of joggers hanging low on his hips. Tight arms cross his chest, fingers gripping elbows, white and nervous.

Harry blinks once, twice, trying to fend off the hurricane of exhaustion with a tiny paddle.

“You’re not alright,” Draco says, a statement rather than a pointless question. He takes one tentative step into the room, watching Harry like he’s something wild.

Harry shakes his head, slow, like it’s filled with water and not brain matter or grief. “You’re in joggers,” Harry says, knows that this is stupid, but his mouth isn’t listening.  

Draco raises one eyebrow. “You didn’t give me much time to prepare for visitors,” Draco shuffles a bit closer. He’s wearing slippers, Harry realizes, and a jolt of fondness stabs like a headache behind his eyes.

“Sorry,” Harry says, and realizes he’s whispering—that’s he’s been whispering the entire time, like he’s at a funeral and to speak loudly would disturb the grief.

“Your scrubs.” Draco reaches out and touches his sleeve.

“No don’t—” Harry flinches, because there’s probably vomit and blood on him and Draco is clean. Harry doesn’t want anyone else to touch the remains of his night.

Draco’s hand drops. “You should shower it off. C’mon.”

Harry lets himself be led. Out of the airy living room and into a bathroom down the hall. The mirror is enormous and Harry tries not to look. He knows what he’ll see there—sadness doesn’t look good on him, makes a scarecrow of his features. “Going to get you something clean,” Draco says, pressing a towel into Harry’s hands. “I’ll be in the living room when you’re done.”

The reality, that Harry is in Draco’s space—that he is going to leave this room and find Draco in joggers with his hair mussed and loose around his face—finally hits Harry as he turns the shower on scald. The knob is simple, the tile white and clean, and it’s all Draco’s. Draco stands in this shower, naked, and washes off the day, and Harry’s in his space.

He’s going to have to explain. The water presses against his forehead and Harry leans into it. He’ll have to explain, and it’s all so stupid, isn’t it? People die all the time; Harry’s watched them go, has found them cold, and so he knows this is stupid and that Draco’s going to see.  

For now, though, Harry’s content to rub Draco’s shampoo into his hair and drown in the smell of citrus and spice. To rinse the evidence of a thousand emergencies down the drain and to cover himself up in Draco’s towels and then his clothes and to hold on to this moment where it’s alright.

 

“You look better,” Draco says when Harry pads down the hall to find him. It’s late, Harry realizes, too late for visitors, but Draco’d asked him over, had said it was okay. He’s sitting right there on the couch, a mug pressed to his lips.

Even with the night dark outside the windows, the room is still bright.

“I didn’t picture your flat like this,” Harry says, spotting a few scruffy plants sprawling across the windowsill. A leafy fern cascades over an elaborate sound system.

“What did you expect? A dungeon?”

Harry can’t laugh, not quite, but his lips twitch. “Yeah, actually.”

Draco’s tucked into a couch cushion, and Harry sits on the other end. There’s a cup of something waiting for him. The steam fogs his glasses.

“Mint,” Draco says, looking into his own cup. “Makes me feel settled. So I thought—”

“Thank you.”

The lip of the mug is chipped. Harry stares into the steam, watching it lick the porcelain, and Draco doesn’t say anything. The quiet is a kindness.

“It’s not like people haven’t died before,” Harry finally says. “I’ve seen it. I see it. All the time.”

Harry can feel Draco nodding, but can’t look at him. “He wasn’t even important. Not really. I didn’t know him, he wasn’t a regular patient. He wasn’t a friend. He was just a nice man who died.”

At some point—time has started to feel wobbly—a hand touches his shoulder blade.

“I didn’t know what was wrong. I didn’t know. If I’d known, I could’ve fixed it.” Harry turns, finally, and lets himself tip into those endless grey eyes. “A diagnostic spell and I could’ve fixed it. It didn’t have to be like this.”

“Different universe, different rules,” Draco says.  

“It shouldn’t be like this!” The anger is unexpected but Harry’s been on a knife’s edge all day. “We could save so many people and it would be easy! It would be so easy.” The mug is burning his palms but Harry barely feels it. “It’s like the war, just a quieter kind of hate. We don’t look at them, don’t see them, and so it’s alright if they die from heart complications or kidney failure or lymphoma and who cares, because they’re not magic and so it doesn’t matter.”

Bodies are everywhere. Dead eyes staring up at him in the Great Hall, corpses on the Quidditch pitch, Dumbledore broken at the bottom of the Astronomy tower and Dobby limp in his arms. White blonde hair covered in blood, pale lips blue. Bodies cold on a stretcher, bodies twisted by curses, bodies covered in angry gashes gorging into flesh. A body living in his chest, cold and sick and dormant.

“I died,” Harry whispers. Draco probably knows this—rumours of something close to the truth had made it to the biographers, who’d picked over his life story like carrion crows and published the scraps for the world to see. “Sometimes, I feel like I’m a corpse who puts a body on every day.”

The hand moves from his shoulder blade, is tracing circles up and down his back and this is what finally breaks him. Because suddenly they’re Frieda’s hands, pressing soothing circles into Mike’s back, until they’d taken his body and worked it and worked it until there was nothing left.

The sobs that come are dry and heaving. For a long time, Harry can’t breathe, can only gasp past the tightness, dry eyes making a mockery of his grief.

I can’t even cry right, Harry thinks, but the circles don’t stop and Harry holds onto the feeling of someone touching him in kindness.

“People die all the time,” is all Harry can say when his chest loosens. “I don’t know why I’m like this.”

“It doesn’t have to make sense,” Draco says, and he looks so soft in his joggers that Harry wants to cry again.

“Why are you being so nice to me?” Harry asks, because this is not how it’s supposed to work. Malfoy is a slur in Harry’s mouth, they talk with curses, not words. They cut each other open; they don’t put each other back together.

Draco shrugs, breathing into his tea. He hasn’t removed his hand. Circle after circle, like a balm, as if that point of contact will hold this moment together. “You’ve been kind to me. Like when you spoke at my trial. I thought you hated me, and then there you were.”

“I didn’t hate you. Haven’t for a long time,” Harry says, rubbing his nose on his sleeve.

“Maybe that’s why I’m being so nice to you.”

“But—” Harry remembers the last time he saw Draco, remembers the blood and the white-blonde hair and the words, aimed to hurt, to harm, to bleed. “I fucked up. So badly. I’m so—”

“Don’t,” Draco says, weary. “I don’t know if I’ll be able to stop apologizing if you do. So please…just don’t.”

“I just—I wish I could change—” But Draco cuts him off.

“A lot of things have changed,” Draco says and Harry can feel the weight of it, of the shared history. “Let’s talk about anything else. Literally anything else. Just not that.” Blue lips. Blonde hair and blood.

Harry tries to banish the memory, shudders as a fresh wave of guilt rises like bile. “Uh—Okay. Something else.”

Draco nods.

“Okay. How did you end up as a counsellor?”

Draco pulls his hand back, and all of a sudden he feels a thousand miles away. White socks peek out from under his long legs, and his arms are wrapped around his knees so tightly, Harry’s worried he’ll fly apart.

“I found myself very low one night,” Draco says, so soft that Harry is shifting closer to him, breaching the middle cushion.  “And I made some rather…erratic choices.”

“Erratic choices?”

“I was high as a kite and a bit emotionally compromised when a Muggle police officer found me,” says Draco, grimacing. The memory is not a pleasant one.

“Shit.”

“Indeed,” Draco says and Harry throws all caution to the wind. His hands feel heavy, like they belong to someone else, but he reaches over and places one on Draco’s knee.

“What were you doing?” Harry asks, his voice uneven.

“A bit of tightrope walking.”

“I don’t under—”

“Not relevant. Anyways, the officer was a bit…rough with me. Long story mercifully short, I landed in A&E and face to face with John.”

“John?”

“He does what I do now. He was a crisis worker. He was…” Draco swallows. “Kind to me when no one else…well, he was kind and I thought, this…this is something worth doing. This might be able to fix things.”

Fix things. All Harry’s ever wanted was to fix things. The breeze filters through the sheer white drapes; Harry can smell lemons in the air. He feels lighter.

“Thank you,” Harry says. “For this.”

“You’re welcome.”

“I know it’s not hanging out. I know I shouldn’t have—”

“No.” Draco is staring everywhere but Harry. “It’s fine. I’m glad. That you’re here.”

The pause feels infinite, the entire universe feels contained within this single moment and Harry can’t move or think or breathe.

Until Draco looks up from his knees.

He’s a book who’s spine has finally cracked, who’s opening to Harry and giving him something secret. It’s vulnerability that feels like too much.

No one has ever looked at him like this. Harry didn’t think anyone could.

“I thought you would kiss me the other night,” Harry says, leaning closer. There’s no space left for fear. The inches between them are crowded with other things, and so Harry barely thinks, doesn’t hesitate.

“Harry,” Draco says, halting. Reluctant. “You’ve been through something. I don’t want to—”

Harry ignores him because the idea of being close to someone—no, to Draco—is the only thing he wants. To lose himself in something that doesn’t hurt.

“You were like this,” Harry says, words unvarnished and he should be terrified, but he can feel Draco’s panting, breath warm on his cheeks and fear feels impossible when he’s this close. “I thought you might kiss me...”

“I wasn’t—I didn’t know if you wanted…” The moment swirls and steeps. Harry’s drowning in it. “Me.”

Draco’s mouth is open, Harry can feel him breathing.

“I do,” Harry says, and he hears Draco swallow, they’re that close.

“Oh.” The moment right before catastrophe always feels breakable.

There was no distance to close and Draco’s lips are on him and for the first time in his life, it’s enough. This moment, right here and now, is enough.

Soft. His lips are so soft, Harry thinks. So soft and he needs more. Harry’s want isn’t fragile and Draco knows. Lips part and Harry feels Draco’s tongue, feels his teeth, feels gentle shift to mine.

“Yes,” Draco says into his mouth and Harry gasps as those lovely hands—strong hands—grab his shoulders and push him onto his back. For a flash, Harry’s eyes snap open, and he’s sure that the world is unravelling. Because Draco Malfoy is above him, knees on either side of his hips, holding him down. He’s panting and looking at Harry like…like he wants me. He really really wants me, and Harry can’t believe it. Not when Draco rolls his hips against his, and he goes from aching to impossibly hard. Not when he leans in, blond hair falling into his eyes, and Harry brushes it away. With two fingers. Like it’s nothing. Not when Draco holds him, just holds him still and beneath him, and pulls Harry’s bottom lip between his teeth.

“I want,” Harry gasps when Draco releases him, starts kissing down the side of Harry’s neck.

“I know,” Draco says, his lips moving against Harry’s ear.

Harry’s hard. He’s so hard and he can’t move. Wants to touch.

“I want—”

“Shhh,” Draco says. “I’ve got you.”

 

Harry hadn’t understood how something could be too good, too much. A desire that makes Harry’s bones ache—as if flowers are about to burst from the marrow.

“Do you have any idea?” Draco says, rolling against him. Friction has never felt so vital, so gloriously fucking perfect.

“So good,” Harry babbles, mouth open and searching for those lips, so mean, so soft.

It’s late, and some detached part of Harry can hear the traffic humming its approval—the part that remembers to breathe.

But then he’s under again, and he’s drowning in Draco’s open mouth kissing the line of his sternum, stripping his own clothes from Harry’s skin, slow, purposeful.

“I’m going to take you to bed,” Draco says, and Harry’s in his pants and a single sock, somehow, and he knows he doesn’t stand a chance. That he was lost the moment he apparated away from those restless automatic doors.

 

The room is dark but for the orange glow of the streetlamp, but Harry can see. He can see Draco let his joggers slip down past his hips. Egyptian cotton is a soft caress as his shoulder blades sink into the sheets.

“Come here,” Harry says, the words involuntary.

Draco finds Harry’s eyes and stares, not casual or polite. That look is what it’s always been: it’s intense and demanding, it’s animosity and gravity, it’s an obsession that finally tipped into pleasure. Draco stares as he pulls his shirt over his head. Keeps staring as he nudges Harry’s knees apart. His hands roam across Harry’s ribs and he’s still staring.

Pleasure swirls around them and Harry’s drunk on it as Draco moves up his body, holds himself above him, forearms bracketing Harry’s face. He traces the tip of one finger down Harry’s nose.

“You’re real,” Draco says, and Harry is lost in the moment. Euphoria plays across his skin.

“Real.”

“Can’t believe,” Draco drops his gaze, tastes his neck. “We shouldn’t—”

“Not supposed to want this,” Harry whispers, as his back arches closer to the long lines of Draco’s chest.

“Neither am I.” But Draco did want him.  It was there in the way he looked at Harry, wild and possessive.

Harry needs him to keep going, babbles his need. “But I want. I don’t care.”

“Me too.”

The feelings froth and bottleneck and somehow, their bodies have figured it out. Forgiveness and desire overflow.

And Harry can’t lose this. Not again. Not ever again. He’s holding on to Draco, hands shaking as they wrap around Draco’s biceps, because if he lets go he might lose this.

Which is when he sees the black lines crawling over exposed flesh. “Your tattoo,” Harry breathes, still clutching, still holding.

The moment is so fragile. “Harry, please,” Draco breathes, looks like he wants to hide.

But Harry’s mouth refuses to heed him. He pulls Draco’s arm to his lips, starts kissing those cheeky dark lines that he’s ogled for months. That had snuck under those rolled up sleeves, refusing to let him see.

Harry kisses the skull and the snake and Draco starts to shiver, violent and afraid.

“I don’t care about the mark.”

“I can’t—” but Draco’s words dissolve into a strangled sound.

Harry follows the ink with his tongue. A stem, petals, delicate leaves. “Flowers,” he whispers.

Draco sobs, buries his face in Harry’s chest, but Harry is enraptured, presses Draco’s forearm to his lips and just holds it there. “Beautiful,” Harry mumbles against the skin. “So beautiful.”

The sound that comes out of Draco then could break your heart. A keen and a sob, a sound that wants but is ashamed to want.

“I want you,” Harry says, his whole world at a boiling point. “All of you.”

“You’re sure?” Draco says into the hollow of Harry’s neck, still shaking, still hiding.

“Please,” Harry says, but already knows that Draco will give it to him.

 

Feverish simmers and Draco moves slow, coaxes Harry’s body to the edge of reason and leaves him boneless. Fingers stretching him open. The pressure drives him wild, and Draco is so purposeful about it, so intensely focused. Harry’s mouth is open, the touch both too much and not enough.

“Please,” he says, and again, “Please,” but the word stutters on the pleasure, it’s so intense. He’s sweating and squirming. Draco kisses the inside of his thighs, and Harry has never been kissed there before.

“Can I?” Draco asks,

“Fuck, please. Please Draco.” Single words stutter out of him. “Fuck me. Please. Please.

“Yes,” Draco says, as if he can’t believe it. “Whatever you want. Anything,” he says and then pushes into Harry. It’s slow and hot and Harry’s head falls back into the pillow. He lets out a breath he’s been holding his whole life.

“You feel…God Harry, you feel—”

“Yes, yes.”

Harry loses himself in the moments—his leg over Draco’s shoulder, the way Draco bites his bottom lip as he moves, slow and determinedly. Harry wants to look everywhere at once but he can’t and he wants to cry because it’s all happening at once and he can’t hold on.

“You’re perfect, so perfect.”

“Draco—”

“I knew it’d be like this. I knew—”

“Don’t stop. Please—”

“Close. Harry, so close.”

“Fuck, Draco, fuck.”

Draco’s hand reaches between them, wraps around his leaking cock. Pulls Harry to the edge in needy hurried jerks, but it doesn’t matter, because contentment is flowing through him, between them.

Harry comes with Draco Malfoy inside of him, green eyes meeting grey, pinned in place by desire that’s raw and desperate and his.

“Mine,” Harry says against Draco’s lips, into his mouth, out of his mind. “Mine.”

 

 

“I dreamt about you,” Harry whispers, much much later, pushing his face into Draco’s chest. It feels like a safe place to leave a confession, pressing the secret words onto Draco’s skin.

The sky is grey, so late it’s early and Harry’s sore and drunk on gratification he finally got to have. The air feels thick with what they’ve done. “I dreamt about you too. In a way,” Draco says. “I’ve never stopped.”

“Don’t leave,” Harry says. “Not again.”

“Never.”

Harry has nothing left and so lets the words fall away. He drifts into sleep with Draco Malfoy wrapped around him and for that tiny slice of his life, and for the first time in forever, everything is alright.

Chapter Text

Draco, February, 1999

The first time Pansy doesn’t notice him was innocuous; it could have been the noise in the gaming café or the distractingly fit bloke trying to charm her at the bar.

Make things right, the curse had said. Before the glimpses take, take and take and pare you to nothing.

Fear nips at his heels, cold as the Alaskan Tundra. It had only happened once though, and Pansy was an inattentive sort when other people were paying attention to her.

Draco tries not to think of it, as he approaches their usual table and Pansy doesn’t look up. It’s loud in here, Draco thinks. It’s just loud.

“I’ve found Jesus!” says Draco, with a bit more gusto than usual, his nerves still on edge.

Pansy looks up, sees him, and Draco can breathe again. “Oh?” says Pansy, “look at you, waxing philosophical.”

“I’m waxing biblical,” Draco says, slipping into a booth. “Have you ever heard about the crucifixion?”

“I like Muggle fashion. Muggle face paint. You like the weird thinky types.”

“I take it that’s a no.”

“Obviously,” Pansy says.

“Well, this woman, who also happened to be a virgin, got pregnant—”

“Sounds fake,” Pansy says.

“I thought it was entrepreneurial, but I see your point. After this miraculous virgin birth, enter Jesus. Who grows up, performs miracles and, I think he threw some gamblers out of a church? But I’m definitely playing fast a loose with the source material. Robertson would know.”

“Whatever.”

“So, after a truly horrible betrayal where one of his closest companions betrayed him with—wait for it—a kiss! Judas sealed his wicked scheme with a kiss, Pans! How did I never think of that?”

“Internalized homophobia?” she says and Draco elbows her.

“After this murderous kiss, the poor man is crucified! He dies!”

“And that’s the end of that religion,” Pansy says, and Draco revels in the sarcasm.

“Not quite.” Draco leans in, conspiratorially. Pansy matches him. “This Jesus had the gall to come back from the dead!”

“He did not!”

“He did,” Draco says, sombre, their heads barely an inch apart. They’re both grinning. “So, obviously, the comparison has to be made.”

“What comparison?”

“Well, Potter is Jesus,” Draco says, impatiently. “Obviously.”

“Obviously?”

“He came back from the dead! A perfect person who was noble and good in the face of impossible odds. He sacrificed himself for the whole world—”

“I think you’re blowing this out of proportion—”

“—for our sins! The similarities are honestly quite stunning. If he’s not a Christ rip off, he’s at least Christ-like.”

“Lilly Potter was not a virgin.”

Draco rolls his eyes. “Not all of the plot points have to match.”

“I think you have an unhealthy tendency to put Potter on a pedestal,” Pansy says, and she sounds so fucking mature about it Draco wants to flick a peanut at her.

“I do not.”

“You just called him a perfect person who died for our sins.”

“You’ve heard the rumours,” Draco says, trying to fend off his embarrassment. “And mother confirmed it. He died Pansy. He walked into a forest knowing he was going to die.”

“Yes well, I think he could use a lesson in self-preservation.”

“You’re being glib,” Draco says.

“And you love me for it. Now stop obsessing over how perfect Potter was and how evil you were. You know it’s not that simple.”

“I know it’s not,” Draco says, peeling the label of his cooler.

“You literally cast a curse on yourself to try and figure out the if your soul was—how did you put it? Irredeemably evil?”

“Fuck off.”

“Stop comparing yourself to Potter.”

“It’s not—It’s not just that. It’s also—” Draco pauses. “I need you to promise not to laugh.”

Pansy fixes him with her most solemn gaze. “Cross my heart.”

“This is literally the only universe where Potter can’t—” The table is littered with tiny scraps of paper, a tarot reading of his anxiety. “Where he can’t love me. God, he doesn’t even like me.”

“Oh Draco—”

“So that means that there must be something wrong with this version of me. Because Potter is good, he’s the poster boy for goodness, and he can’t love me. And so it follows—”

“—it doesn’t—”

“—that this version of me is the worst version. I am the darkest timeline.” Draco can’t look at her. Not when he’s being this pathetic.

For a split second, Pansy’s face twists in agony. Pain on his behalf. But she has always known what he needs, and he’s never needed her pity.

“You’re so emo, Draco,” she finally says, bouncing a paper coaster off his forehead.

“I have no idea what that means,” he says.  

“It’s probably better that way.”

“I don’t like when you know more about Muggles than I do,” Draco says, glum and still stewing in self-pity.

“Perhaps you should spend more time fraternizing with Muggles and less time wallowing.”

“Fuck you. Also, in an effort to be less evil—”

“—seriously Draco, this is a fucking problem.”

He ignores her. “I’ve decided to become a vegetarian.”

“Of course you have.”

“I’ll be the pinnacle of decency in no time. My purity will be unimpeachable.”

“What if I told you there was meat in those coolers?”

“I would remind you that you are a dirty liar, Pansy Parkinson, and that Jesus would not approve of this harassment.”

 

They stayed until the gaming café closed, dizzy with vodka coolers and drunk on a good mood. Pansy flirted shamelessly, and Draco was sure he would die at the hands of a brutish looking man, who reminded him forcibly of Goyle.

“I’m so sorry,” Draco had said, pushing an unsteady Pansy through the front door. “I know she may appear conventionally attractive. But trust me. This one is more trouble than she’s worth,” and Pansy had cackled into the starlight and they’d stumbled home, arm in shaky arm.

 

“What time is it,” Pansy asks as they spill, messy and tired, into their flat.

“Past one o’clock,” Draco says, checking his watch.

“Oh my god! Those gamers really mean business.”

“Wild party animals, the lot of them,” says Draco, and he’s smiling so much it hurts his face.

“I wonder if they get hot playing that silly game,” Pansy says, tossing her purse and coat on to the sofa.  

“You’re a menace, Pans,” Draco says, aiming for his bedroom, but those blasted coolers have impaired his senses.

“And you’re a villain,” she says, collapsing onto the couch. Draco knows he’ll find her there, mascara smudged, the sparkles of her eyeshadow dusting her cheeks, beautiful in that fallen-angel sort of way that Pansy is so good at.

“The darkest timeline,” Draco says, finally into his bedroom. He slams his door behind him.

It was easy enough, to joke about how terrible he’d been. Pansy was a good sort, and would tease him until he felt normal again.

Draco flops onto his mattress. A villain, he thinks. The darkest timeline.

Draco wonders if there is a currency for remorse. If his guilt guts him like the spine being ripped out of a fish, does that edge him closer to decent?

It’s a futile exercise, really. Draco knows that he’s still the same person who had called Hermione Granger a Mudblood, the same person who had let the death eaters into Hogwarts. Rubbing shoulders with Muggles hadn’t erased that. His cells were still the same. His parts hadn’t been changed out. The ugliness was still there.

Draco wanted to dissect it. To pin his selfishness to the petri dish, to watch the skin of his ambitions pull off muscle, to wiggle the tendons of his cowardice with the tip of the scalpel. To conduct the autopsy of his mistakes.

It would be a comfort, Draco thinks as he drifts into a tipsy sleep, to reduce my true nature to its component parts.

He’s still drunk, he realizes, when the curse slips her fingers between his and spirits him away.

 

Draco Malfoy and the Boy Who Wants to Die

Draco has had some strange entrances into other universes—he once nearly bled out on Harry Potter’s doorstep. It was always a little disorienting at first, but Draco’s improved at finding his bearings. He’s proud of his new ability to react on the spot.

It’s a good thing, too.

A sharp bolt of red light shoots past Draco’s right ear. “Motherfucker!” he says, dropping to the ground, pressing himself flat against the pavement as another curse whizzes past.

The noise rushes in, the volume turning all the way up. Screams, jagged and afraid, shouting that barrels through the air, the worried sort of shouts: “Martha! Where are you?” and “Look out!” and “they’re coming!”

Draco’s head is on a swivel, taking everything in. There are men in dark cloaks—Death Eaters, Draco realizes, and his stomach roils with nausea. Panic peels back his skin. No. I can’t be. I’m not. I’m not one of them. Please, please, not this.

Curses fly overhead, but all Draco can think about is skulls and snakes. Bile in his throat, he looks down at his clothes and nearly sobs in relief. His robes are forest green and his arm is clear. Unmarked.

“Set up a perimeter,” a familiar voice says, and Draco feels his muscles loosen, feels himself lean towards the sound. Inexplicably drawn to Harry Potter.

Gravity, Draco thinks idly. He’s gravity

“Don’t let them slip away,” Harry says and Draco looks for him. Potter’s across the street, far enough away that he hasn’t seen Draco yet. It’s like this, sometimes. Sometimes, he and Harry haven’t settled into anything romantic. Sometimes, Draco gets to see it happen, gets to relive Harry’s desire crumbling.  

Harry is framed in the middle of the street, sun at his back, green eyes sharp and focused.

Draco feels Harry’s magic humming; Potter’s always been powerful, and that hasn’t changed in this universe. The street is a battlefield, curses flying everywhere, and Potter is a power plant, magic is rolling off of him in waves. There are civilians everywhere, trying to escape the duel that spilled out into their everyday lives.

Potter moves through the chaos, magic spilling from his lips, through his fingers. A Death Eater dashes across the street, dark cloak rippling in the wind, wand out. Potter’s eyes twitch, he barely reacts, and the bricks beneath the Death Eater’s feet reach out and grab at his ankles.

A curse flashes white, someone screams, and Potter’s magic flares. Draco blinks just as a bright shield erupts, collects around a young boy who is crying on the pavement. And Harry keeps moving, untouchable, his mouth pressed into that same determined line.

The middle of the battle is wherever Harry Potter is standing, drawing fire, impossible to ignore, moving slowly towards the black cloaks scurrying in the streets of Diagon. Draco stays put, his chest flat against the street. In this universe, Draco knows he’s no Auror. He also knows that he’s somewhere in his 20s and that, if the Death Eaters in the streets are any indication, the war that Harry Potter ended when he killed the Dark Lord at the Battle of Hogwarts is not over here.

Eventually, the world stills, the street bleeds under the curses that have gouged out the pavement storefronts.

“Is everyone alright?” Harry says, voice commanding and sure.

Everything is quiet, the calm after the chaos, until—

Draco feels a boot clamp down on his neck.

Fuck.

“Here!” someone says, a stranger with sandy brown hair and an angry mouth. He’s above Draco, his boot pressing hard against Draco’s windpipe. “I’ve got one.”

Finally, finally Potter looks at him.

This is the moment Draco looks forward to, the one that is both a gift and a curse. Because Draco knows Harry’s face, has come to know it intimately. He has run his fingers over those cheekbones and has kissed those bright eyes closed. Draco knows the way Harry looks at him. The universes are different, the context wild and varied, but that look…it does not change or falter.

Slowly, in the middle of confusion and chaos, Harry sees him, and the look does not disappoint.

Those angry green eyes stretch wide, the fury in them blinks out, and Harry Potter is suddenly soft. His lips—that have kissed Draco until his cheeks were raw from the stubble—fall open. Draco hadn’t known this look for what it was—not at first—but he’d learned.

Harry Potter looks at him like he’s in love.

The foot on his neck presses harder, and Draco chokes. A puff of dust explodes around his mouth, into his eyes. “Hurry! It’s Malfoy. He’s here!”

The anger is back in Potter’s eyes, green as a killing curse. He strides towards them, red Auror robes flapping and Draco suddenly understands how this boy could have been the sigil of righteousness for an entire generation.

“Get off him,” Harry says, his rage on a leash. For now.

“But his father works for He Who Must Not Be Named! He’s right here—”

“Don’t,” Harry says, and Draco sees that famous temper flash, “make me ask you again.”

Bewildered but obedient, the foot releases him.

Draco gulps, so desperate for air that he doesn’t think, just swallows a mouthful of dust, and starts to hack.

Firm hands take him by the shoulders, haul him up from the ground, steady him. “I’m sorry,” Harry says, brushing some of the dirt off of Draco’s robes. His hands are too big for it.

“Merlin, Potter, are you trying to rough me up or help me?” Draco says, knows that that easy blush will light up Potter’s skin.

I’ve licked you there, Draco thinks, and barely resists making a public display, internal logistics of the universe be dammed. But he doesn’t, instead forcing himself to be content in the delicious red flush up that long neck. 

“Just…fuck off Malfoy,” Harry says, turning away sharp and embarrassed.

Now that the action has finally slowed, Draco takes this opportunity to look around. The curse rarely dropped him into a situation he couldn’t handle, and Draco had learned to look for clues. The first hint stands out in an enormous sign above a clean shop—modern looking with green siding. APOTHECARY, Malfoy reads, and this universe starts to shift into place.

Draco looks down at his robes, notices that they’re different than the ones he would normally wear. The material is heavier, and now that there aren’t a dozen curses flying above his head, Draco can feel subtle spellwork woven into the threads. Anti-inflammatory spells, water resistant material, spells to resist stains and blemishes—Draco chuckles at his vanity, but isn’t surprised. He checks his pockets. Dragon leather gloves and sprigs of sage and rosemary.

I own that apothecary, Draco thinks, certain in a way that has started to feel natural to him.

These are paths I could’ve taken, Draco thinks. Glimpses at lives I could have led. It’s a thought that often leaves him feeling melancholy.

“Thanks for nothing,” Draco says, and he means it to be flirtatious. Potter always finds him, no matter what he does or how unlikely. Potter finds him.

Harry turns back, a split second of a look. His eyes are hollow, cheekbones a closed door. There are no tears—not here, where people could see the display, not ever with Potter—but there is something like tragedy in the furrow between his brows.

Something is off.

Draco knows that face, as well as he knows his own. And so Draco knows, as he looks at Harry, that there is something different in this world. Something far too similar to the universe that Draco already lives in.

Something is wrong; Harry Potter is not alright.

“Fuck off, Malfoy,” Potter says, tucking that brutal face behind a mask of confidence. He strides away with the same easy confidence the real Potter had always managed, the wind making his robes dramatic.

“Well,” Draco says, brushing the dirt from his knees and massaging his throat. “This world is going to be interesting.”

* * *

Draco had not meant to follow Harry—he had never thought of himself as particularly obsessive. He was definitely not a stalker, not like Potter had been sixth year.

No, this was an act of last resort. Draco had expected Potter to come back, would stride purposeful and strong into his shop and interrogate him. At some juncture, perhaps in a moment of heated verbal sparring, he imagined Potter grabbing him by his collars and pulling him close. Draco’d considered this all afternoon, as the glimpse dragged on and on. How Harry’s eyes would flare as anger shifted into something heated. Their lips would crash together and the kiss would be more teeth than tenderness. Draco would match him, Harry would push and he would pull and it would be like it’d always been, but they would fight with their mouths and not their fists, and what a difference that would make.

Harry, though, never came, leaving Draco to fuss about the Apothecary, half-aroused and very confused. At least his potion-making prowess had carried over into other worlds. Draco scanned the walls, admired the clean bottles, the diverse options he offered his customers. A large piece of parchment hung over the ancient register—Draco can’t help but think of Robertson. In an elegant flourish, the words Draco Lucious Malfoy, the honorary designation of Potions Master, with all the rights and privileges in witness thereof, on this day May the 4, 2004.

I could have done it. In another world, I did this. The possibilities, the depth of his potential, is bittersweet .

Draco closes up for the day without a glimpse of the Chosen One and hopes that he hasn’t forgotten to lock something important. He’s never lingered in a glimpse so long before, and for just a moment, the words of the Curse flit across his mind’s eye. “Eventually, you won’t be able to come back.”

For a moment, Draco stands in the streets of Diagon, a brass key heavy in his hand, a locking spell fresh off his lips, confused and lost. Where are you Harry? Draco thinks. Why aren’t you here? He’s become so used to the universes twisting these two threads—weaving their story as the central focal point. Draco had always hated novels where the romantic subplot took over, subverted the driving force of the narrative. But that was their thing. These threads were what pulled the rest together.

As the damp air settles on his tongue, Draco makes a decision. “If you won’t come to me,” he whispers to no one, “then I will come to you.”

And a stalker was made.

 

Draco has a wand in this universe, a difference that shouldn’t feel substantial, but is. Back in Draco’s world, Harry had never returned his wand. At his trial, Draco was sure that he would, would stick out his hand and present Draco with the one piece of magic that had chosen him.

Harry hadn’t.

The weight is friendly as he grips it in the pocket of his robes. Ten inches, hawthorn, a unicorn hair at the centre. As he casts the tracking spell, Draco feels his magic come home.

Potter is not at the Black House, nor is he at the ministry or the pub. The tracking magic tugs him out of Wizarding London and deeper and deeper into the Muggle world. Not for the first time, Draco is struck by how large the Muggle world is. He has lived for months with Muggles and there are still so many streets he doesn’t know, so many neighbourhoods he’s never seen and places he hasn’t heard of.

Fifteen minutes and several city blocks later, Draco sheds his robes and drapes them over one arm. He’s wearing grey slacks and a white button up beneath his work clothes—Draco is always pleased to discover that he has style in every universe.

The air is sticky and wet on his skin and Draco leans into it, accepts the dusting of moisture on his nose and his cheeks in the same way he accepts the pull of his wand as it takes him to Harry. This is right, he thinks, trusting his instincts. I’m on the right track.

The sky has started to spit, messy drops of rain turning the pavement dark, when he finally sees him. Draco would never mistake those shoulders, that shock of dark hair. There’s a bridge up ahead; Harry’s heading straight for it and Draco follows.

Something crackles under his skin as he steps up onto the bridge—something like destiny, although Draco has no idea what it means. The traffic rumbles beneath them and Draco can’t help his shudder as he thinks about the metal monsters flying through the night, separated from him by a piece of concrete and a Muggle engineering.

Harry has settled in the middle of the bridge, is staring down at Archway Road intently. His fingers are pressed flat against the stone railing, his knuckles white and flecked with rain. He looks so alone up here, so removed, as the traffic whizzes by and the wizarding world continues on with its horrible bloody struggle. Up here, none of that can touch him.

“Fancied a walk?” Draco says.

Harry starts, head jerking around. “What are you doing here?” Harry snaps, but it’s a brittle thing.

“Following you,” says Draco, and the honesty throws Harry.

“What? Why?” Harry turns back around, can’t seem to stop looking down down below. The cars are so loud, so fast underneath them.

“I was worried about you,” Draco answers, keeping with the truth. The moment is too fragile for sarcasm, too breakable for humour.

“You?” Harry says to the traffic. “Worried about me?”

“Yes.”

“Go away,” is all Harry says after a long silence. The line of his shoulders is so straight, so tight.

“I don’t think I will.”

“Malfoy.” Harry tries for anger, but it won’t come. The name stutters out, strangled and sad.

Draco searches for his courage, finds it in the tiny trembling of Harry’s shoulders.

Touching Harry Potter is like trying to soothe an earthquake and yet Draco will try, every time. He lays one hand between Harry’s shoulder blades, lets it rest there, waits for Harry to shake him off, maybe hit him.

He doesn’t.

“I don’t—” Harry’s gasping. “Why are you—”

“You could tell me,” Draco says. “About what you’re doing up here.” Although Draco is starting to understand, thinks he might know.

Rain clings to Harry. It’s like he’s made of ink and his hair should melt right off, drip thick and squiggly. “I come here. All the time,” Harry says, not looking away from the street. Never looking up.

There are a thousand words crowding in Draco’s throat, countless replies and yet they all feel inadequate. So Draco says nothing. He hopes the silence is a gift rather than a cruelty.

“It would be so simple,” Harry says, and his voice loses its focus, goes dreamy and listless. “One foot, and then another, and then you just let it all go.”

Draco doesn’t say anything, starts to move his hand in slow circles. He can feel the planes of Harry’s broad shoulders, smooth beneath his wet t-shirt.

“It would all stop. All of it. I’d stop failing. Stop letting them all down.”

Draco had never let himself consider it, had never thought about what it must’ve been like, to be Harry Potter, capital ‘C’ chosen one, with the weight of the wizarding world literally on these trembling shoulders. It had never occurred to him to consider Harry’s fragility, because he’d always seen him as unbreakable. Even with the Dark Lord living in his home, Draco had always expected Potter to come through. It was just something Harry did. Overcame.

“I’d stop being the broken half of a prophesy that’ll never come true—”

The cars rush by, headlights blinking into the distance.

It’s time to go, the curse says. But Draco can’t. Not yet. Not until he’s fixed this. Until he’s taken this ragged draft of a man and redrawn his lines. Come with me, she says, weaving her fingers between Draco’s and tugging. We shouldn’t linger.  

“But I love him,” Draco says as the world starts to slip between his fingers. “I love him.”

He knows, she says, and they’re gone.

* * *

“No!” Draco shouts into his sheets. “Not yet,” but the curse does not negotiate and so Draco knows he’s home. Egyptian cotton, soft and tangled up in his feet, confirms it.

The cold twists against the windows and misery twists behind his eyelids. If he lays still enough, if he keeps his eyes clamped shut, maybe he can crawl back through the multiverse. Find the version of Harry that is standing on the edge of a bridge, thinking about dying, and suck the hopelessness out through Harry’s mouth.

Fuck it, I’ll go now, Draco thinks, still caught in the momentum of a universe that’s not his own. It was Archway Road. Draco remembers the street sign.

“Mr. Malfoy?”

There’s a voice in the dark.

The realization settles like the silence after a bomb goes off. There’s someone in my home.

Instinct tells him to find his wand. Find it now! Except that he doesn’t have one. Harry never gave it back, never—

“Draco Malfoy?” The voice calls, louder this time.

Pansy. Fuck, Pansy is still asleep on the couch.

There are no weapons in his bedroom. Maybe if he can make it to the kitchen. There are knives in there. Draco slips out of bed, his bare feet cold on the hardwood, and he creeps from his room.

“I heard you, son. Come down so that I can speak with you.”

Speak with me? Draco moves away from the noise, heads straight for the kitchen, and seizes a large knife from the block. Voldemort lived in his home, his aunt Bella crept into his careless thoughts, and Draco had seen his fair share of horror movies. He will not walking towards an unknown entity unarmed.

A soft scuffle disturbs the quiet. Leather shoes on flooring. As Draco creeps down the hall, the warmth of a fresh fire casts long shadows out into the dark. The sitting room, Draco thinks. There is someone in the sitting room.

Draco breathes deeply—they’re not with Pansy, and it’s a small thing, but it sets him at ease. Focusing his courage on the single point of light, Draco smooths the tremble from his fingers and steps into the doorway.

A man in red robes, deep a crimson in the low light, stands with his back to Draco.

“Come inside, Mr. Malfoy.”

“What—”

“There are Aurors all over London looking for you, Draco.” The man turns and Draco realizes he’s a stranger, with heavy eyes and hair that’s greying at the temples.

“I don’t understand.”

“I’m sorry to intrude,” the man says and takes a step closer and Draco holds his ground, keep himself close to the exit. “There’s been an incident. Of some urgency.”

“An incident?” Draco is struggling to process, still has one foot in another universe, itching to race to Archway Bridge.

“Involving your mother.” The man delivers the line without feeling and it takes a moment for Draco to realize that his world, his universe, is the one in crisis.

“What? What happened? Where is she?” Draco needs to find her, needs to make sure that she’s alright.

“It’s—” The Auror tightens his jaw, the first hint that there might be feeling beneath the stern visage. “I didn’t expect to be the one to tell you—this was just one of the Malfoy properties that we were dispatched to. You weren’t here and so I—”

“My mother,” Draco says, words turning nasty.

“She’s—I’m sorry son. We think that she died.”

Chapter Text

Harry, October, 2003

It’s the cold that wakes him. There’s a draft whistling in through the window and it’s tickling his feet, where they dangle over the edge of the bed.

Not his bed, Harry realizes.

Draco’s bed, he realizes.

Where they shagged! he fucking realizes.

Smooth skin, sweaty and heavy. Hands that searched and touched him just there. How Draco had pressed him into the sheets, had moved so slow at first, so careful. Until he wasn’t and Harry had arched into it, had begged—

“Fuck,” he groans, a bit sore, a bit strained, but craving contact. “Draco are you—?”

Harry turns over, hand searching for contact, but there’s nothing.

“What?” Harry sits up, grimaces a little with the ache of it, and looks around.

The room is clean but for the mess they’ve made of the bed. The colours are light and pastel, every surface covered with plants—waxy leaves and sprawling shoots and creepers that crawl across the walls. There’s far too many throw blankets—at least twenty, draped across chairs and folded on his dresser and hanging from hooks behind the door.

This space is nothing what Harry had expected but is all so Draco that it makes Harry want to hold, to force him to stay. But the room is empty.

“Draco?” Harry says, rolling out of the ridiculously soft sheets. Harry needs a set of these and resolves to ask Draco once he finds him. Because he can’t be far.

For nearly five minutes, Harry hunts for his pants in the dark. It would be undignified to wander around Draco’s flat in the nude. Harry’s sure of it.

The draft nips at his bare chest, and Harry almost crawls back into bed because Draco won’t be long and he could just wait for him to return. But the need to hold, to be held, drags him up and out of the bed, through every room in the flat.

Harry finds some bizarre items—scattered bottles of nail varnish in the bathroom, several pairs of spangly heels that set Harry’s mind racing, a collection of colourful scarves in the front closet. Harry finds all of this and more too, but not what he’s looking for.

Draco is nowhere to be found.

“He’ll be back,” Harry says to one of the larger plants, retreating to the bedroom and crawling back under the covers. 

“He’s probably just gone out for coffee,” Harry says, glancing at the clock on the bedside table for the first time. 4:37 am.

Something like fear twists in Harry’s gut then. “There’re coffee places open. He’s just gone out for a sec. That’s all.”

The plant looks back at him, it’s heart-shaped leaves glorious and well-watered. “He’ll come back.”

4:58

5:20

6:18

He’d wanted to wait him out at first. Draco had to come home sometime. It was his flat. But frustration quickly mellowed to shame. If Draco didn’t want him, if he was so averse to the idea of what they’d done that he’d left his own flat rather than face it, well…

Waiting felt pointless and a bit pathetic. Malfoy had left and there was nothing Harry could do to make him stay.

Harry leaves, still short a sock, as seven o’clock turns to eight. Takes one long look at the bedroom and the plants and the sheets, listens one last time for the sound of the front door, for feet on stairs, and then apparates home.

* * *

The cracked tile of Grimmauld sags around him, mould creeping in the caulking, faucet sniffling into the sink. Harry’s not sure why he thought that his kitchen would feel less empty. Grimmauld has never warmed to him, as if the transfer of ownership resisted, refused to take.

“My life is depressing,” Harry says, and Bella yowls in response. “And that’s enough out of you,” Harry says to the squished face that pops up onto the counter. Giant blue eyes watch him—judge him.

“I don’t know what I did.” Harry flops onto the dirty tile. A chair seems like too much of an effort right now, and it hurts to sit. Harry hates that it hurts to sit; it makes him feel used. Ashamed.

A loud thump announces Bella’s presence on the floor.

“I mean, he might still be angry,” Harry says and has the distinct impression that his evil cat is listening. “Wouldn’t put it past Malfoy, to play the long game. To wait until he’d gotten a leg up—” His voice breaks and Harry wants to sink into the floor. There’s a pressure behind his eyes. “I mean, I did find his dead mum. And I—” Flashes of blood staining white-blonde hair. Of his magic crackling, red and hot and totally out of control. Of blue lips and then—

“I didn’t mean to,” Harry says, and the tears come. They finally come. Despair and rejection, shared history made liquid. “I didn’t mean to,” he says, to his empty kitchen and his cat. 

When the glimpses start to flash, polaroids of single details, of blonde hair and blue lips, Harry runs until he’s too tired to think. Uses his feet to pound himself into an exhaustion so heavy that his memory is distant and blissfully numb.

On the cool tile, with the memories of Draco Malfoy whispering into his ear—You feel so good, Harry and You can come, come for me— Harry feels the memory rising, impurities bubbling to the surface,  and he’s too tired to run.

 

Harry really hadn’t expected anything to come of it, that day in February five years ago. The wind moved across the snow like a hand drifting over silk when he’d strode up the lane. The air was cool and it bit at Harry’s cheeks, nibbled the corners of his eyes.

It had been six months since anyone had heard from Draco Malfoy. Six months since the Prophet had reported on a mob attacking “two free death eaters” in the middle of the day in Diagon.

“Why didn’t you tell me!” Harry had roared, when he’d seen Hermione’s name in the subheadline.

“He asked me not to,” Hermione said, avoiding his eyes.

“And you listened?”

“You’re not exactly yourself where Draco’s concerned,” Hermione said. “You never have been.”

Harry hadn’t had an answer for that. So he’d tried to let it go. To forget that Draco Malfoy was out there somewhere, and Harry couldn’t find him. Off kissing strangers and getting publicly mauled and Harry didn’t care because it wasn’t his business.

Which had nothing to do with why Harry had walked up to the manor, a small box in his hands, in the middle of February.

I’m just returning his wand, Harry had thought, helplessly trying to give his obsession some plausible deniability. He probably won’t even be there. I’ll just leave it with his mum. I won’t even ask where he is.

The snow was light and lazy on his cheeks. Harry could see the spires of the manor poking up in the distance—declarations of power and wealth that had been standing for hundreds of years. The trees dipped their heads as Malfoy Manor bent the natural world to its will. 

It could have been beautiful, once. Maybe it was.

The hedges herded him up the drive, curving with the road towards large wrought-iron gates. Harry had apparated here on a whim, the box under one arm, confessions cloying against the walls of his throat. There’d been no strategy beyond giving back the wand.

He’d known that the wards would prevent him from apparating straight to Malfoy Manor proper and so Harry had come as close as he could, landing at the top of the drive. He hadn’t thought about the hows of getting past the fence or what he would say if he had to explain. Foresight had never been his strong suit. 

Which left Harry standing in front of an enormous gate with a wand in a box, no plan, and no idea what to do next. Someone was going to have to let him in, but there wasn’t an intercom or a buzzer and Harry had no idea how wizards handled unexpected callers without the convenience of Muggle technology. 

“Uh…I’m here with Malfoy’s wand?” Harry said to the air in front of the gate, kicking at the gravel with his trainers. 

No answer.

“I know it’s a bit weird,” Harry tried again, feeling sheepish. “But I’m not trying to be. Weird, that is.”

Silence.

“I should’ve brought it back ages ago,” Harry said, shame deepening the blush on his snow-scrubbed cheeks.

Nothing.

“This was a stupid idea.” Harry kicked the heavy gate for emphasis and then squealed as pain shot through his foot. “Fuck!”

He’d been so lost in the sting streaking through his toes, that Harry’d almost missed the gate swinging gently open.

That is not how it’s supposed to work, he’d thought. The wards were ancient, dated back generations, and shouldn’t have succumbed to an angry kick.

“What?” It was then that he’d known, in the uncanny way that Harry always knew when danger was stepping onto the stage to turn the tale into tragedy, that something was wrong.

On instinct, he’d started to run, tucking Malfoy’s wand under one arm, and he hadn’t stopped until he was at the front entrance, panting and scrubbing melted snow from his face.

And there was the proof. Someone had blown the enormous wooden door clean off its hinges.

“Fuck!”

Harry had flown through the gaping wound where the entrance had been, his own wand out, his magic skittering across his skin.

The halls were silent, the portraits had fled from their frames. Everything was quiet and Harry realized that, whatever had happened, he was too late.

The calamity was stale.

“Hello!” Harry shouted, knowing it was stupid and that this was why he would make a terrible Auror. The need to know pounded in his ears. “Is anyone still here?”

Nothing.

Harry moved fast, the light of his lumos getting brighter and brighter as his panic thrashed and wobbled—dying star on the end of his wand tip.

“Please!” Harry said, rushing into a familiar room. The ballroom. Harry knew the fireplace, the mirror, could picture where the chandelier had hung before Dobby had brought it crashing down.

That’s where he found her.

“No,” Harry gasped, crossing the enormous room in a few hurried steps. “No no no.”

White-blond hair was a paintbrush dipped in deep red, flecks of blood scattered across the stone floor. “Oh god.” Harry was by her side, on his knees next to Narcissa Malfoy’s body “No.”

He pawed at her broken limbs, barely touching, not sure what his hands were supposed to be doing. Her thin lips were blue.

You’re a healer, he’d thought, because he’d just started his training that January and he should know what to do.

“Diagnostic spell,” he said, blinking too quickly. Harry flicked his wand and cast, not needing the words to channel the magic; it was keen to obey.

Strings of light exploded from his wand, plain and colourless and Harry waited. The air smelled of iron and frost and Harry blinked over and over—tried to banish the red spots from his vision.

But the blood was everywhere, pooling around her head, sprayed on stone. They’d used it as ink to write on the walls.

You Know What You Did

Fucking Celestina Warbeck and her post-war anthem, written in blood.

The strings of light turned black.

“No.”

Harry knew what that meant.

“No.”

Usually, the spell would localize, find the relevant part of the body and offer a colourful depiction of the harms done and the damage that needed fixing. Black, though, only meant one thing.

“No.”

Black meant that she was dead.

“No!”

No matter how many times Harry replays the memory, this moment is impossible. In the pensieve, Harry can see himself, knees on the stone floor, blinking and blinking and blinking. And then the world explodes into white.

The memory inside his head isn’t much better. There were flashes, of Narcissa’s hands on his face, cold against his chest. Is Draco alive? Is he in the castle? Her slim shoulders, straight-backed and resilient as the Wizengamot looked down from on high. The blonde hair swaddled in blood and the blue lips—and Harry loses his grip. The war was over and no one else was supposed to die. He’d saved them, he’d tried to save them, and the story still ended with bodies and hate written in blood.

They were supposed to live.

His magic—which jumped and rushed these days, tended to overflow when his emotions started to shudder—burnt through him. The shadowy din of the ballroom erupted into a white light and Harry felt his star explode.

Please don’t be dead, he remembers thinking. I don’t want you to be dead.

All these years later, Harry thinks that’s what did it. His need to play the hero and save the day had dragged Narcissa Malfoy out of the grave, and he would have rejoiced if she had returned to the world as she’d once been.

Except that she hadn’t.

When Harry had come to, had managed to blink the white spots and the red from his eyelids, Narcissa lay beside him, hair still stained, lips still blue, and her mouth opening and closing in a silent scream that tore Harry’s heart out through his throat.

Wrong, was all he could think. She’d come back wrong.

 

“I didn’t mean to,” Harry says to the cracks in the tile. “I didn’t mean to.”

Something coarse and a little damp scratches at the skin beneath his eyelids.

“Wha—”

Harry peels his heavy eyes open and sees Bella, who has settled next to his face, two tiny paws resting between her enormous head. With obvious trepidation, she is leaning in, a tiny pink tongue licking the tears from his cheeks.  

* * *

For the first time in years, Harry calls in. He expects a stern lecture about the importance of dependability and taking his training seriously, but Dr. Horwood gives the auditory equivalent of a shrug on the phone and wishes him a speedy recovery.

“Er—right,” Harry answers and hangs up abruptly before he can make a mess of himself.

His first instinct is to dial Hermione, and he has her number half-programmed into his mobile before he thinks better of it. Whatever thing had happened between him and Malfoy, Harry’s not ready to put it to words, and so he tries to drown the gaping chasm of feeling with curry and chips instead.

The day moves slow, a road trip to nowhere, and the combination of a serious lack of sleep and a  marathon of reality television melts the finer points into mush. Which may help explain why it takes him so long to notice the persistent thumping coming from the hall.

Bella is curled up in his lap, snuggled into a mangey throw blanket, still strangely affectionate. “Did you hear that?” he asks her, and she opens one massive eyeball lazily. The pounding sounds again, much louder, as if the meaty part of a fist is bashing against his front door, but that’s not possible, because he isn’t expecting anyone—

“Potter, if you don’t open up, I’m going to blast this door off its hinges.”

What the fuck?

Harry glances at the clock on the mantle. It’s just past ten. Draco’s shifts usually ends at ten, which means he came straight here—

“If you think I’m joking, you and your fucking door are about to suffer for your miscalculation.”

Harry jumps from the couch, sending Bella plunging to the floor. She yowls in protest as he sprints towards the front door, but he doesn’t have time to apologize because Malfoy is about to break into his home and the wards will not respond well to an intruder.

“Wait!” Harry shouts, sliding to a stop in the entranceway in nothing more than his pants, with  a ragged throw draped haphazardly across his shoulders.

The insistent drumbeats stop short and Harry swallows past the lump in his throat. Malfoy is on his doorstep. Malfoy, who left him alone after the best sex of Harry’s life, who left after he promised he wouldn’t—

“Potter, so help me Merlin—”

Harry throws the door open.

It wasn’t his imagination, or a violent spectre of his desire come back to haunt him. Draco Malfoy is standing in the door, slacks wrinkled, blond hair thick with rain and pressed flat against forehead.  

“You weren’t at work,” Draco says, and Harry can tell that it’s an effort, to break the silence.  

“Called in,” Harry grunts.

“Yes, they told me,” Draco’s hands are fists.

The door is an open threshold, and Harry doesn’t know how to let Draco cross.

“Look,” says Draco, hands tightening. “I can explain.”

What had been confusion this morning and shame this afternoon has matured to something angrier.

“Really?” Harry hears his voice rise an octave. This is not going to be good. “Not much to explain, now is there?”

“Harry—”

“We shagged. I asked you not to leave. You left.  Simple, even for me.”

Draco’s knuckles look like they’re about to burst through his skin. “I know it looks bad,” Draco says, the words tight through clenched teeth.

“No, not at all.” Faux indifference slips off his tongue. “You walking out in the middle of the night and leaving me alone—”

“—Harry—”

“—in your fucking flat! Oh yeah. That doesn’t look bad. At all.”

“I came here to try and talk to you!” There’s mania in Draco’s eyes, but Harry’s too angry to care.

“You’re doing a shit job.”

“Look, are you going to let me in?”

“I’ve been trying,” Harry growls, but stands aside.

Those tight knuckles release and Draco flexes his fingers. “You’re a horrible host,” he says, brushing rain from his shoulders. “Can we sit?”

“No.” Harry has no idea why Draco is here, but he refuses to let him further into his life. And if there are no flat surfaces, Harry won’t be tempted to push Draco against them and—

“Why aren’t you dressed?”

“Nope. You don’t get to come into my house and judge me,” Harry says, leaning against the wall in the entranceway. “Say whatever you came to say, Malfoy, and leave. You’re good at that.”

The slip into his last name seems to stun Draco; Harry watches him flinch and then scramble to recover. “Harry,” he says, in the same voice he’d used last night. “I can explain.”

“Well, that’s convenient.”

The mania in those lovely grey eyes stretches wide. “I didn’t want to leave,” Draco says, still in his coat, still in his shoes. “It wasn’t on purpose.”

“Where did you go?” Harry asks.

“You’re not going to believe me.”

“Try me,” Harry says, flatly.

Draco takes a deep breath, swallows. “Another universe. I was pulled into….another universe.”

For a long moment that could only have been a few seconds but that feels like forever, the words hang in the air between them. The sincerity in Draco’s voice, in the way that he’s looking at Harry, almost convinces him. Almost. “Are you fucking joking?”

“No.”

An ugly laugh rushes out of him, the edges made of razor blades. It hurts, to laugh right now. “Just stop, Malfoy. You realized it was a mistake. You freaked out. You panicked. Whatever.” It wasn’t whatever , not for Harry, but he could pretend. “Stop lying.”

“I’m not lying!” Draco looks so upset, his lovely hair matted with the rain and the stress of his hands in it, that Harry wants to believe him.

“You were…” Harry struggles for the words, they’re so ridiculous. “Pulled into another universe? Really Malfoy? Couldn’t come up with anything else?”

“I’m telling the truth!”

“Just…” Harry can’t take it. Draco’d had his fun. This encore hurts too much. “Get out.”

“Stop being so fucking stubborn!” Draco cracks, his composure shatters like porcelain. “I’m trying to be reasonable, to explain—”

They’re both yelling now. They always escalate. Always heat so fast. Too hot to touch, too hot to soothe. “And what about when I tried to explain!”

Because Harry had tried. As he sat next to the living-corpse that had once been Narcissa Malfoy, waiting for her son to arrive at St. Mungo’s, Harry had gone over what he would say. How he would apologize. And then Malfoy had shown up and they hadn’t spoken, not really. Everything had blown up in a fit of rage and a sadness so raw that the world curdled around it. They had never used their words to treat each other kindly.

“What on earth are you talking about?”

“I knew you were still angry, but this—”

“Potter, I don’t know what—” Draco’s yelling over him, but Harry’s not listening, just barrels forwards.

“I didn’t—Draco I didn’t mean—”

“Mean to what!” Draco’s voice is a knife on glass.

“I didn’t mean to do that to your mum—”

Draco’s face is so intense, it’s hard to look at.

“Don’t,” Draco says, the single word quiet. Sharp.

“I know I fucked up—” Harry rambles on.

“Don’t.”

“But I didn’t mean to. I just wanted to help—” It’s all going wrong, the infection lanced and oozing,  and Harry can’t stop. His words have always been blunt objects, and this explanation deserved so much more care than what he’s bleating out.

“Potter.”

“She was just there and I had your wand and I wanted to help and—”

“You brought her back from the dead!” Draco explodes.

“I wanted to—”

“Help?” Draco’s shrill and reeling. “How! How does forcing me to see her like that, to have to choose to end—No. You don’t get to pretend this wasn’t your fault.”

“I’m sorry—”

“You just can’t help it can you?” Draco says, and the words are sharpened, aimed to hurt. “You have to save everyone. You can’t just leave well enough alone.”

“I don’t! I don’t want—”

“You’ve made it your fucking profession!” Draco is vibrating with rage.

“At least I don’t run away!” Harry roars back, because this is what they’re good at. Hurting each other.

“I didn’t run away! I’m trying to tell you—”

But Harry’s not done. “You’ve always been a coward. Running or just giving up when things get hard—”

“I don’t run—”

“When Voldemort—”

Draco flinches. “Stop it.”

“When the wizarding world didn’t want you—”

“I said stop.”

“And then we—when we—” Harry can’t say it. Shame is sticky on his tongue. “I told you not to leave.” It hurts. This all hurts.

“I’m trying to explain.”

“You fucking lied to me. You’re such a fucking liar.”

Harry is shaking all over. Draco is staring at him with a look that is simultaneously desperate and furious.

“I should’ve known,” Draco whispers. The fury is violent, Harry’s ears are ringing with it. He’s not supposed to hear this, Harry knows, but he does. Draco mutters under his breath and Harry hears him say, “You’ll never love me in this universe.”

The laugh that tears out of him bleeds at the edges. “In what universe,” Harry says, slow and furious and cold, “could I ever love you?”

As soon as the blow lands, Harry knows that it’s fatal. Draco’s anger peels away and reveals the hurt, raw as a wound.

“Right.” Draco turns, taking the pain on his face away, where Harry can’t see it.

“Wait, Draco.”

“No. You’ve made yourself abundantly clear.” They hadn’t made it further into the house. It makes for an expedient departure.

In another world, Harry reaches out. In another universe, he makes words that stitch rather than tear.  Here, though, as Draco walks out of his life, Harry watches him go.

Chapter Text

Draco, February, 1999

It never occurred to Draco that they would come for his mother.

“But why?” he asks Ropson—that was the Auror’s name. Ropson. The question was loose and confused, as if he were asking after a family friend or a public figure. “Why?”

Words like hate crime and war victims and coordinated attack are offered in a halting explanation, but Draco doesn’t really hear it. It’s almost as if the shock of it, of the words We think that she died cleaved Draco in two. There is one version of him, the one that accepts Ropson’s side-along, that moves through the halls of St. Mungo’s. This version is calm, polite, is a shell encasing the shock. Draco watches himself, moving through the world as if underwater.

The hospital is a dizzy labyrinth of linoleum and synthetic light. Healers rush up and down, in that awful lime green that Pansy had once used to paint her toes. Every door looks the same and Draco allows himself to be tugged along, in a universe he’s no longer sure he wants to exist in.

We think that she died, Ropson had said. What was her crime? Loving the wrong man? Taking the wrong side?

It had never occurred to him that they would come for mother.

The lift spirits them to the fourth floor. Spell Damage.

The confusion settles on him slowly. Spell Damage was not where they kept the dead. “What did you mean, you think that she died?” Draco asks, as they step out of the lift.

Ropson answers the question with a pitying look and nothing more. There are men in red and lime green robes standing outside one of the rooms up ahead and Draco realizes that this is their destination. The world comes to him through a hospital filter—itchy eyes and exhaustion, manic movements and sterility.

“Tell Potter he can stop breaking things,” Ropson says as one of the Aurors looks up at the sound of their feet on the tile. “I’ve found him.”

Potter? Draco thinks. What’s Potter be doing here?

For a moment, an image of Archway Bridge flashes across his memory. Of broad shoulders trembling and headlights disappearing into the distance. The universes mix and swirl, and Draco feels himself slip under, dragged down by the current of every possible version of himself.

Have I tangled this somehow, he wonders absently. The men in red part, and Ropson is moving through the door into a room that contains something Draco knows he will not be able bear. Have I done something wrong? Tied knots in the lines of time and fate? It seems a reasonable conclusion to think that he is stuck in some other world, that the curse dropped him somewhere on their way back and hasn’t yet noticed that she lost her passenger.  

But then Draco sees him and knows.

Harry Potter looks up from his knees, skin red and blotchy and Draco knows.

Draco’s emotional free fall finds something solid in Potter’s face. He knows this face as well as he knows his own. Draco has traced his fingertips along the bridge of this nose, has pushed confessions between these lips, has watched these same eyes soften from Avada Kedavra to a summer afternoon. This world is real because Draco has seen love move across this face and knows that this Potter doesn’t love him. Draco is home. And his mother is dead.

“There was an attack,” someone behind Draco says. “A group of extremists. We’ve been following their movements for months.”

Jet black hair is stark against the white light. Draco’s still fixed on Potter, on the way Harry bows his head, as if in prayer.

“We’re still not sure how they breached the wards,” one of the aurors goes on. There’s blood, dried in a strange shape across Potter’s chest. As if he’d pressed something tight against and refused to let go.

“Harry found her like that.”

“What?” The gravity of all that’s happened pulls the syllable loose. Why had Potter been at his—

“I came to return your wand,” Harry says weakly, answering the words Draco hadn’t quite managed. He lifts one hand and gestures to a box, a deep walnut with images of whimsy carved into the top.

“My wand,” Draco says. The world where he’d yearned for this moment when Potter would finally return it to him feels like a carbon copy of the horror he’s living now.

“I just wanted to give it back—” Potter starts to say, but is cut off. It’s a noise that stops Draco’s heart. Like the last of the water sucked down the drain, of a lung collapsing or a heel crushing a windpipe. Potter drops his face into his hands and starts to shake.

It takes Draco this long to notice the stretcher. There’s a simple white sheet covering something—

Someone, Draco realizes.

We think that she died.

It startles Draco, how quickly his shock can turn to fury.

And what fury. Draco’s swallowed Fiendfyre whole. It roars inside of him, an urgent need to raze the entire universe to the ground, to set this string of fate alight and watch it burn.

“We’ve evaluated her condition,” the healer is saying. “I’m sorry Mr. Malfoy. There’s nothing that we can do.”

All the while, the sound goes on and on. The scream of the dead rasps quiet, bouncing off the industrial tile.

“You.” Draco’s vibrating with fury. “You did this.”

“I hardly think that’s fair—” Ropson starts to say, but Harry silences him with a hand.

“Out,” Potter says, a single word that does not offer any room for disagreement. Three professionals, bona fide adults, don’t dare question the Boy Who Lived—not when his eyes rage and all of that magic shivers in the air around him. They hurry out like chattel.

Potter waits for the doors to close and stands.

“Wanted to send all the witnesses out, did you?” Draco tries for anger, but his composure is a loose hangnail and he’s pulling. The pain is ready to unzip his skin and let the hopelessness come gushing. They’re both going to leave this bloody.

Harry shakes his head, green eyes glazed with guilt.

“What then?” Draco says, voice unrecognizable. “Do you enjoy seeing me low, Potter? Suffering for my sins?”

“No,” Harry says, and he won’t stop looking at him.

“Liar.” Draco spits the word like poison.

Harry shakes his head, takes one step towards him.

Draco panics, reaches for words to hurl, to force Potter to keep his distance. “Wasn’t enough to cut me open,” Harry flinches, “and then sew me up again. Can’t resist returning to the crime scene.”

Harry takes another step.

“Do you get some sick pleasure, seeing me like this?”

Harry stops in front of him and stands there. Just stands there.

“Why else would you stick around, waiting for me to find—” The words are brittle. “To see—” So brittle that they crack.

“I’m sorry,” Harry says. The truth of it is too heavy; he’s alone now. The last Malfoy. He’s never been very good when left on his own. “I’m so sorry.” An apology is not enough because it won’t bring her back.

They’re inside the Fiendfyre and everything is burning. Draco feels his rage lashing out in fire and fists. “Why is it always you?” Draco's hands are flailing, his whole body curdled with violence. He’s hitting something. Harry.

“I’m sorry.”

Draco hits him, a closed fist. Harry’s lip splits. “Why?” Draco screams, voice lost in the flames.

Fists pound against Harry’s chest, his fingernails tear lines into Harry’s arms. He rails against Potter’s firm chest. Violence. It’s all violence.

And there’s only Potter

Harry lets him.

Lets him.

Lets him.

A single, incontrovertible truth throbs in his knuckles as they batter Potter’s body. I love him. Draco had fallen in love with him under the stars of a frozen tundra, in the throes of a haunted house determined to suck out his soul, in the middle of mystery of vanishing portraits and under the auspices of a thousand will they, won’t theys. He’d loved him in robes auror red and healer green. Muggle or magician. He loved every version of Harry Potter.

Including this one.

“I hate you,” Draco says, knows it’s a whimper, doesn’t care.

Two hands have him by the shoulders, frame his grief like a portrait.  

“She’s gone,” Draco yells—he knows he’s yelling, but he can’t stop. Potter pulls him close, holds his arms still and lets Draco shudder into his chest.

“We were supposed to live,” he says. He’s inside out. The tender parts screaming, the pretences shoved away.

Harry handles him with care. It’s hard to know how long. The grief is timeless.

 

“I don’t know what to do,” Draco whispers, eventually, into Harry’s neck.

“I should get the healer,” Harry says, releasing him. There will be bruises, he’d held on so tightly.

Potter takes an unsteady step away from Draco, shouts something towards the door, startles the world back into its linear progression.

Harry has pressed play and the story must continue, moving forward into the things that happen next when someone is dying.

“Can she feel anything?” Draco remembers asking.

“No.” The healer had been unequivocal. “It’s not her anymore.”

Draco remembers holding her hand, as they removed the stasis charm, as his mother slipped slowly back into death.

She just sleeping, Draco had thought. For a long while. Until I go to sleep too.

Harry had hovered, a spectre at the back of the room, silent as his horrific magic was set to rights.

“We’ll have her body cleaned and transferred back to the Manor,” a nurse had said, later. Hours had passed. The logistics of death stripped him clean, his chest cavity was bleached bones. Draco could see the daylight high in the sky out one of the windows.

“Right,” Draco had said, adding his signature to one final document.

Harry was still there at the end of it all, still wearing his mother’s dried blood.

“Malfoy,” he’d said, unreadable. “Where are you going now?”

Draco hadn’t known how to interpret the question. How deeply did Harry Potter wonder about the trajectory of his life? Hours, days, years?

“I’m leaving, Potter,” was what Draco had finally said, because it was the truth for every version of his question. “And I’m never coming back.”

* * *

In the end, it had been a bit more complicated than that. Draco had apparated to the manor—he had his wand now—and Minty had met him in the shattered remnants of his front door. It stood like a missing tooth. “Go to your room, Master Draco sir. Go straight to your room until we can finish making this right.” There were Aurors in the ballroom, but Minty pushed him past their blue tape and flashing cameras. “Don’t look, Master Draco. Don’t look.” The sagging skin around Minty’s eyes had been red and swollen.

The manor wouldn’t recover from the war—not now. It was grandiose in the way that old buildings tended to be, even after they’ve been gutted and damaged. When they’d moved the bodies from the basement, Draco had assumed that the violence was over. There would never be peacocks again, Draco knew that now. Azkaban had been a one-way trip for father, and his mother—there were no peacocks for her now.

Draco hadn’t drafted a memorial in the paper, although the investigation was made public and the Prophet printed the story anyway. He’d buried her in the gardens on a Thursday, with Pansy Parkinson and Minty as the only witnesses to his grief.

“We will get through this,” Pansy had said, squeezing his hand as they left Malfoy Manor behind—Pansy had made arrangements for a caretaker until Draco chose to return. “We’ll be okay.”

* * *

“Why do I get the distinct impression that you are not okay?” Pansy is a sneaky sort, moving softly through the flat. Draco suspects she’s spent however many days since the funeral walking on the tips of her socked toes, treating Draco much like she would his old boom box, easily startled into explosions. Until she’d spoken, Draco hadn’t known she was there.

“I’m fine,” Draco says, staring down at his next bad decision and first foray into mind altering substances. Robertson would have cause to call him a deviant now.  

“Why are you looking at that candy like it contains the meaning of life?”

Draco looks up for the half-dozen multi-coloured tablets he’s just poured onto the plastic top of his record player. “It’s not candy,” Draco says. “I don’t think.”

“You don’t think?”

“Do you remember sketchy Greg?” Draco asks, trying to keep his voice light and this conversation as far away from the grief that’s writhing at the centre of him.

Pansy nods. “The one who washes windows at the intersection in front of Robertson’s shop?”

“Yes, well, it turns out he’s more than willing to connect you with all sort of illegal substances.” Pansy wrinkles her nose, but doesn’t say anything.

“He said this was MDMA.” Draco looks down at the colourful circles. “Said it would cheer me up.”

“I highly doubt that,” says Pansy, and Draco can’t bear the concern that twists on her lovely face.

“Do you know how difficult it is to find Muggle drugs when you’ve never used them before?”

“No, no I’ve never had that specific problem.” Those socked feet have entered the room and are creeping closer to Draco.

“Well, it was quite awkward.” There’s a smiley face pressed into a few of the tablets, a garish promise for later. Draco thinks it’s a bit tacky.

“This feels like a bad idea,” says Pansy, her brown eyes huge and traced in black eyeliner.

Draco shrugs. “I’m struggling to see how it matters, whether I snort myself into oblivion or take a hundred of these bloody things or just sit in my flat alone like a good little boy,” as the grief ravages my fucking soul, Draco thinks but doesn’t say. No reason for pointless dramatics, his mother would say, and fuck, it hurts. “The end result doesn’t change.”

“The end result?”

The sigh feels like he’s spitting out his insides. “If I’m good, if I’m bad? It doesn’t matter, Pans. Nothing changes.”

I tried to be good, Draco thinks. And all it got me was a dead mum.

“Draco—”

“I tried to fix it,” Draco says. “To fix whatever’s wrong with me. Whatever I’ve done to fuck up this entire universe.”

“What are you on about?”

“The curse!” Draco’s not sure why he’s having this conversation now. “She says I have to fix it. Or that the other universes will…” He tries to gulp the truth back down, but it’s like bile in his throat. It needs out. “They’ll pare me away to nothing.”

“The curse can be broken?”

Draco nods, feels how honest and certain the words had felt. Make things right, she’d said. Before the glimpses take, take and take and pare you to nothing.

“Well, that’s ridiculously cryptic.”

Draco snorts.

“What is it with ancient family death curses and their refusal to just arrive at the point?”

“Direct instruction is woefully underrated,” Draco agrees.

“Well, I am formally declaring this a terrible idea,” Pansy says, settling down and crossing her legs in front of Draco and his multi-coloured drugs. She gives one of the tablets a gentle sniff. “I want that on the record.”

“I’ve officially noted your complaints, Miss Parkinson. Now, please leave me to my self-destructive behaviours. I would like just one night where I’m not thinking about—yes, I would very much like not to think.”

Pansy snorts. “You think I’m letting you do this alone?”

Draco looks at her for a long time.

“Absolutely not,” she says, poking at the pills with his pinky finger. “We will sort out whatever that stupid curse means by fixing things later. For now, what do we do with this?”

“Do you promise not to laugh if I tell you that I’ve got absolutely no idea?”

“You’re terrible at being bad, you know that?” Pansy says.

“Recent history would disagree,” Draco replies, half-heartedly.

Pansy elbows him in the ribs. “Would you fuck off with the wallowing for two seconds? I think you just put them under your tongue, but I’ll text Angelica to confirm. She’s quite shady. Perhaps we should set her up with sketchy Greg. She’ll definitely know what to do.”

* * *

The silence of their flat quickly lost its appeal and Draco and Pansy tumble out into Muggle London, hands clasped together, eyes huge. Pansy apparates them straight into a Muggle nightclub and Draco should have lectured her about apparition and recreational drug use, but all he can do is follow and touch her bare shoulders and laugh and laugh.

Pansy drags him to the bar, her eyes all pupil, giggling uncontrollably. “Six shots of Jäger!” she shouts the order at the bartender, fighting with the music and a hundred other crushed bodies for his attention.

A pretty brunette glares, and Pansy grins back with teeth. “See something you like?” Pansy says, something hot behind her words. Draco expects a blush, or embarrassment, but the brunette has the decorum of a gypsy, and her irritation melts as her eyes rove over Pansy’s body.

“Maybe,” brunette says and Pansy looks hungry. The girl’s halter-top leaves little to the imagination, and Pansy looks ready to take hold of the her long curly hair and twist it between her fingers.

The bartender lines up six shot glasses and starts to pour. The wooden countertop is filthy, varnished with the sticky remnants of shots mishandled. “Race you,” Pansy cackles, downing shot after shot with the confidence of someone practiced.

Draco can do nothing but follow, swept up in a haze of instinct and pleasure. One and two and three, and he slams the last one down with a growl. “Disgusting!” he wheezes, the burn still hot on his throat.

“Let’s chase it with something tastier,” Pansy says, her eyes following the same halter-top and curly brown hair into a hundred dancing bodies.

“You’re a menace,” Draco says, but goes. His heart is pounding and there’s sweat dripping down his back.

The world is too bright, too fast, the dance floor a blur. Draco disappears into a haze of ooo ahhh just a little bit and I’m blue da aba dee da ba di, revels in the feeling of hands on him and the smell of people who want him. Lights pounds his eyes but, fuck, everything feels so good. The tablets had been strange and it had all seemed like madness at first, but now—

The Muggle nightclub pulses and his muscles ache, but the minutes melt with the music.

Brown curls mingle with Pansy’s black hair. Halter-top has her hands all over Pansy’s leather tank top, has dropped down to taste the skin on Pansy’s neck. Draco reaches out, takes one of Pansy’s sweaty hands, shoots her a questioning look. “Having fun?” he yells over the din.

Pansy throws her head back and laughs. “Unlike you, I would never limit my conquests to people with dicks,” Pansy shouts, winking at him, and turning to press a kiss to the piercing on halter-top’s full bottom lip.

The world is wobbling and Draco’s skin is hot but he doesn’t care. He’s above everything now. The ache of what’s happened is so far away, and it’s okay now. Everything’s okay.

* * *

Until it isn’t.

Draco doesn’t know when he lost Pansy. The memories started to blur like watercolour paint as they’d tripped out of the flat and smudged their evening into Muggle London. It’s been hours—Draco can feel the time ticking in the sweat turning cold down his back, the ache in his feet from dancing to the tune of his desperation. At some point, he’d stumbled out of the club, buzzed and dizzy and craving air.

“I’d kill for a glimpse at the stars above Alaska right now,” Draco says to the street.

February is melting into March, but the night still bites at his neck, nips the tips of his fingers. The tight leather coat he’d worn because Pansy insisted it made him look “tragic and fuckable” was not at all warm.

Pansy’s gone. Still wobbly from whatever had been in those shots, Draco pulls his cell phone from his back pocket and tries for a text.

Draco: If you letf me to have sex with tht angry brunnete, I will officialy rescind my friendship, Pansy Parkinson

The dark pavement feels like a blackboard and Draco a single white line. He knows where he’s going. His head is buzzing and his thoughts are washed out, but Draco knows where his feet are taking him.

It’s muscle memory, more than anything else that brings him back to Archway Bridge.

The two nights aren’t all that different. Headlights stampede down below, bright eyes blinking in the dark. A memory of white knuckles and trembling shoulders, of a boy who lived who wanted to die.

Draco takes a few long, wobbling strides, feels destiny hum through his blood. “I knew I’d be back here,” he says, lifting his head to the sky and closing his eyes. “The lines got tangled and this is a part of my story now.”

Except there is no Harry Potter trailing behind him. “Not in this universe,” Draco slurs, eyes still closed, chin still tipped to the big black sky. “There’s no one coming for me.”

It’s cumulative, the pain in his chest. The weight of his mother’s body, lowered into the ground and of the feet kicking him in front of Gringotts, of a thousand futures he will never have and one pair of green eyes that will never look with love. The scars on his chest will never fade and the pitch of his soul will never lighten. And right now, the white lights flying by feel less like dying and more like flying.

Draco caresses the ledge, presses his palms flat against the concrete railing. “I don’t want to die,” he says, and the crisp winter air balloons from his lips in a smoky puff. Pansy would call him a dramatic little shit, because of course he would narrate his own descent into despair.

But Draco doesn’t feel distressed. He feels tired and wonderfully indifferent. Light. Draco wonders if this was why Potter had returned to this spot, over and over; the journey had looked well-worn.

The concrete is cold against his skin and Draco wonders what it would feel like, to stand on the ledge between life and death.

“Why not,” he whispers to the world whizzing beneath his feet. “Why not,” he says and pulls himself up onto the handrail.

It’s a few inches across—that’s all—and Draco feels his balance lurch, feels himself pitch forward and then lurch back. “Oh,” he breathes, throwing his arms out like a bird to help steady the wobbly world.

The air is even cooler, the wind blowing his hair across his forehead. He feels the strands catch in his lips.

“We were supposed to live,” he says, closes his eyes and lifts his head to the sky. Those moments after the trial, when he’d held her and said “we’re going to live” and she’d wiped her cheeks and said that she supposed that they would. Draco feels his grief and guilt stream down his cheeks. “But that future’s gone now.”

“In one universe,” Draco says, “I fall to my death.” There’s no answer. Just the sounds of a city at night.

“In another, I keep my balance. And live. I don’t think I care one way or another,”  he says and finds he means it. He really means it. Draco’s head is buzzing, with traffic and Jäger.

Tightrope walking, Draco thinks. That’s all this is. Tightrope walking without a net.

His back pocket vibrates, and he feels a pang of irritation. It’s an undignified interruption, all things considered. Wobbling violently, Draco drags his phone out.

Pansy: sry, cant talk, having outrageously deviant sex with angry brunette.

Pansy: jk

Pansy: well not rlly but can come get you if your stuck

The fondness tears a sob out of his chest. “You stupid cow,” he hisses at the screen.

It’s as he’s composing a reply, still straddling the concrete railing, six feet of desperate man perpendicular against the sky as his thumbs race across the screen, that he hears the sirens.

Draco looks over his shoulder, sees the white and blue bleaching the night, and slips his mobile back into his pocket. “This,” he says, “can’t be good.”

A man in a blue uniform slams the driver’s side door and begins to close the distance. Draco wonders if this is the Muggle Aurors, but that wouldn’t make sense, because he wasn’t doing anything illegal.

“Hey! You!” the Auror says, his voice gruff and feral. “Step down from the ledge!”

Draco cocks his head to the side, looks the man up and down. Bulging biceps flex and angry eyes narrow.

“No,” Draco says, slowly, because who did this man think he was, telling Draco what to do? “I don’t think I will.”

The Muggle Auror glowers. “There’s two ways this night ends,” he shouts over the sirens, which are still bellowing their displeasure into the night. “With you nice and safe in your bed or with you in a cell. So just step off the fucking ledge.”

“Were you not listening?” Draco says, looking down his nose at this oversized ball of muscle. “I’m just fine up here. In no need of assistance. And you are not adding much to the quality of the conversation, so if you could go away, I’d very much appreciate it.”

“You entitled little shit!” the man shouts, and this would’ve wounded Draco on any other night, because he thought he’d been quite polite.

It’s been a long day and Draco finds he has very few fucks left to give—certainly none for rude Aur— “Police officer!” Draco snaps his fingers, and feels his balance lurch. “That’s what you idiots are called. Police officers.” Draco’s so pleased with his excellent memory that he barely notices the officer charging forwards.

A strong hand latches onto his calf, stubby fingernails digging into his flesh. “What the fuck—” Draco starts, but then he falls, and he’s not sure which way the scales of fate have tipped when the back of his head cracks against the pavement and the world goes black.

* * *

 

“—I’m so tired of fucking idiots—”

“—attention seeking horseshit—”

“—Hit his head—”

“You can fucking take him. I don’t need another rich kid to babysit.”

 

Bright white light burns holes in his eyelids. I’m dead, is the first thing Draco thinks, until his body realizes he’s woken up and then decides to make it’s complaints known. Every inch aches, like stony knuckles have kneaded him until he’s nothing but bruises.

Draco tries to sit up. “Holy fucking shit on a stick, my head!” he says, flopping back into starchy sheets. “What the fuck!”

“You landed pretty hard, I heard,” a voice says, but Draco has no time for anyone else. Not now. Not when his head is has decided to go supernova.

“You okay? Do you need me to get the nurse?”

Nurse? Draco thinks idly. “Am I at the hospital?” Draco says and tries to open his eyes for verification.

“Yeah. Royal London Hospital.”

Everything is bleary and bright. Draco presses his palms into his eyes and tries to push away the pain. It doesn’t work. The meat of his palms comes away black—I’ve smudged my eyeliner, he thinks idly.

“I can get you some pain meds if you want,” the voice says and Draco chases it. Find the source a few feet away, lounging casually in a plastic chair.

A man in his late twenties sits, one leg crossed over the other, a light blue dress shirt tucked into his jeans. “Who are you?” Draco asks, squinting against the florescent light currently burning his retinas to a crisp.

“John,” the man says, grinning. “They told me you were posh. I didn’t realize quite how posh.”

“Oh fuck off,” Draco says, rolling into the pathetic excuse for a pillow. “Why am I here? Wait.” Draco tries to scowl, but finds his face rather soggy. “A better question. Why are you here.”

John laughs and it’s such a full sound—as if he’s got goodness to give away. “You’re here because you were tight rope walking Archway Bridge and maybe thinking about killing yourself? At least, that’s what the officer said when he dumped you in the waiting room.”

Draco appreciates the directness of John’s approach, and almost tells him so.

“Cop also said you fell, but onto the sidewalk and not into the street a hundred feet below. And that you cracked your head on the way down.”

“That,” Draco says through gritted teeth, “is a blatant misrepresentation of the facts.”

“Is it?” John says.

“The maniac grabbed me,” says Draco, but his words fizzle on the way out. He’s too tired to be angry.

“I believe that,” John says. “Cops can be a bit shit when it comes to mental health.”

“Mental health,” Draco says, swirling the unfamiliar words around in his mouth. “Is that why you’re here?”

John nods. He has a thick head of brown hair and an enviable hairline. “Here to try and figure out if you’re safe to leave or if you’re gonna try and die again.”

“I didn’t try to die,” Draco snaps, because it really hadn’t been his plan as he wandered the streets towards Archway Bridge. Feelings swirl in his exploding skull—blonde hair dipped in blood, full lips kissing his neck, strong shoulders looking out over that hundred-foot drop, a boot on his neck and the wind in his air as it screamed across the Tundra. Stepping off into something else, something easier. “It was more complicated than that,” Draco whispers.

“It usually is.”

Horrifically, Draco realizes he’s going to cry. He bites the inside of his cheek to stop the assault, but he’s too late.

“Looks like you’re having the shittiest day if your life,” John says, treating his tears as if they’re invisible.

Draco sob in the floor’s general direction. “What an astute assessment.”

“No use pretending this is anything else.” John has smile lines—wrinkles around the edges of his eyes. “I’m not really that kind of counsellor. There’s too much bullshit in the world already.”

Counsellor. Draco knows that word, recognizes it as the Muggle equivalent of a mind healer—Robertson keeps suggesting he see one. “Where are your positive affirmations? Aren’t you supposed to be a purveyor of wisdom and benediction?”

“Positive affirmations are bullshit,” John says, his face washed out by the hospital lights. “In moments like these, anyway.”

“I see.”

“Rock bottom hits you hard,” John continues.

“It’s…a bit shit,” Draco says, weakly.

“Shit,” John agrees.

“You’re doing such a lovely job convincing me to live.” Feelings had always been a cloak and dagger affair. Malfoys approached their emotions like their posture—rigid, straight backed, controlled. John refused to acknowledge the Pureblood rules of emotional disclosure and Draco feels strange and scrubbed and a bit exposed.

“I can’t convince you to do anything. That’s always gonna be on you.”

Draco sniffs. His nose is running but he’s not got the energy for embarrassment just now. John hands him a small tissue box.

“Then what’s the point of you?” Draco asks, and it’s only once the words have left his lips that he realizes he’s being quite rude.

John leans back in his plastic hospital chair and cracks his neck. “Not exactly shy, are you?”

“I’m occasionally quite callous,” Draco says, dabbing the single ply slip of tissue under his eyes. “It’s not one of my better qualities.”

“Well,” John says, lounging so far down in the chair that he’s practically horizontal. “I can give you space to talk. Get you a bed if you’re not safe at home.”

“Not safe?” Draco says, picturing his flat and all of the throw blankets he planned to wrap himself in once he stumbled through the front door.

“If you’re gonna go home and try and die, I’d rather you stay here.”

“Oh.” John wasn’t dropping it. Insisted on highlighting Draco’s shame. “I don’t know what gave you that idea.”

“Tight rope walking Archway Bridge?”

“Ah. I suppose that would do it.”

John just smiles.

“I’m not.”

“Not what?” John asks.

“I’m not going to try and…” Draco struggles for the words. “I’m not going to kill myself.”

“Okay.” John rubs his hands through his thick brown hair in a way that reminds Draco of Potter.

“That’s it?” Draco asks, because he’d thought it would be more complicated.

“That’s it.”

“Aren’t there assessments?” Draco waves his hand, as if conjuring the paperwork he’d expected to see. “

“Yeah. We'll do them after.”

“But—“

“You know yourself better than I do. If you tell me you don’t want to die, I believe you. That and,” John looks Draco up and down. “Sorry, but you look too wrung out to lie to me.”

“Touché mental heath worker.” Something companionable settles between them, which is a miraculous development given the context.

“Did you want to talk about it?” John asks, tilting his head to the side and meeting Draco’s eyes in a way that is so much like Potter that Draco wants to punch something.

“What?”

“The reason you were walking the line between life and death?”

Draco rolls his eyes. “No need to make it sound so dramatic.”

John doesn’t say anything.

“I…” Draco tries. He does. But the words don’t want to come. It’s such an enormous thing, his grief. Catastrophic in the sheer size, like he’s swallowed the entire countryside and is trying to contain it in his guts. “I’ve made a lot of mistakes. And…” Draco’s throat is closing. “And someone I loved…they got hurt. Permanently.”

John still doesn’t say anything.

The tears are red hot under his eyelids and Draco looks up at into the horrible florescence to keep the damn from bursting. “I’m also hopelessly in love with someone who will never want me back. Although that issue is currently a close second to the whole my-poor-choices-have-come-back-and-wrecked-vicious-vengeance thing I mentioned earlier.”  

John smiles. “It’s hard to picture you in love,” he says, not unkindly.

“I wish I could change—” Draco’s not sure why he’s talking. “I would do anything to go back and just shake myself.”

John just shrugs. “Past is fixed, isn’t it?”

“That’s it. That simple?”

John sits up, leans forward, a little further into Draco’s space. “No. It’s not. But nothing will change what you did. No matter how much you wish for it.” John pauses grinning. “Here’s the one and only piece of advise I’ve got for you. Take note, you grumpy twat.”

Draco snorts. Its undignified but he can’t help it.

“You can’t change what you did. But you can choose what you do.”

“I...”

John holds up a hand and Draco lets himself be silenced. “Past is fixed. Stone. You’re not changing it. Future though. That’s something worth doing.”

Something worth doing.

Draco looks at John, notices something warm in his fingertips, and realizes that he can feel the curse, curling her hands between his.

Chapter Text

Harry, October, 2003

Harry stands in the entranceway until his toes get cold. A part of him hopes that Draco will come back, that Harry will throw the door open and press that lovely blond head tight against his chest, and that everything will be forgiven.

But most of Harry’s mind isn’t thinking at all. His thoughts are blank, a pure white haze, like tinnitus after an explosion. The aftershocks curl, ashes falling from the sky, and Harry just stands until his toes feel like ice cubes, eyes drifting in and out of focus.

It’s the giant grandfather clock that drags him back to the present, eleven loud gongs knocking him about the head.

And suddenly he’s tired. He’s so tired. Their words were sandpaper on skin. Everything was edges with Draco—sharper but beautiful too—and Harry couldn’t sand him down, could only make him bleed.

You can’t save everyone and You don’t get to pretend this wasn’t your fault and You could never love me in this universe.

Harry could, though. As the arrows they’d flung at one another rattle around inside his head, it’s this that scares him more than anything else. I could love him. I could.

The desire for sleep presses heavy on his eyelids, but Harry knows the wounds will fester. Years ago, he’d have let them, but he’s not seventeen anymore. 

A pinch of floo powder and Harry’s head is in Ron and Hermione’s fireplace.

“Hey!” Harry says, hoping that he’s not too late and that one of his best friends will still be awake.

“Harry mate, is that you?”

Ron’s sitting at the kitchen table, his long back a U shape as he pours over case files. Dozens of photographs and stray pieces of paper clog every inch of table space. For a moment, Harry’s filled with a twinge of guilt, and longing. This was the future he left behind when Ron joined the force alone. They could’ve been partners, could’ve gone on solving mysteries and chasing down dark wizards for the rest of their working lives. Harry would’ve taken the spot next to him and they would’ve stayed up into the early hours of the morning.

It was a future they would never have and it was because of him, the result of choices Harry’d made that he’s still not sure were the right ones.

“Yeah,” Harry chokes on some soot. “Yeah, it’s me.”

Ron scrambles up from a stiff-backed wooden chair and crosses the room in a few lanky strides. “What’re you doing here? It’s late, isn’it?”

“I think?” Harry says. “Dunno. I just…”

“Something happened,” Ron says, on his knees, leaning close. “What is it?”

It should be hard, Harry thinks, to tell him. “I think…” Where is he supposed to start? “I—uh—Malfoy. I think I might—”

“Hermione!” Ron yells into the silence and soft candlelight.

“Ron no!” Harry hisses. “She’s definitely asleep.” Waking up Hermione was a categorically bad idea.

“Don’t worry,” Ron says, throwing him a knowing look Harry’s missed so much it’s ike a physical ache in his chest. “She’ll wanna be here for this.”

“What are you on about?”

“Mate, we’ve been waiting for this day for years.”

“What day—”

“Mione, c’mon!” Ron hollers, but he needn’t have bothered. Hermione is stomping down the stairs, her feet heavy with sleep, hair a wild halo around her face.

“If this isn’t life or death, I will spell you flaccid,” Hermione says, rubbing her eyes, not realizing that Harry’s head hovering in the flames beneath their mantle until he snorts with laughter.

“Harry!” Hermione says, blinking furiously.

“It’s finally happened,” says Ron, waving Hermione over to the hearth with frantic hands.

“What are you on about?” Harry says as Hermione joins them.

“Why don’t you go on,” Ron says, tucking a wild strand of hair behind Hermione’s ear with casual affection that’s nearly a decade old. “What were you saying about Malfoy?”

“OH!” Hermione’s face lights up, residual sleep falling away. “No way! Has it finally happened?”

“What the fuck is wrong with you two!” Harry says, trying not to let his temper flare.

“Just tell us what happened,” Ron says, his grin all self-satisfaction.

“I…” Harry almost loses his nerve. But the words were poison and they needed to come out. “Malfoy,” he says, lowering his eyes. “I think I might fancy Malfoy.”

Ron woops, pumping his fist into the air and Hermione’s eyes are bright.

“Oh Harry!” she says. “Why don’t you come through. We’ll have a cup of tea and you can tell us everything.”

* * *

“Took you long enough, honestly,” Ron says as Hermione puts the kettle on. “I’ve known you fancied him for years.”

“Years?” Why was Harry always the last person to gain insight into his own feelings? Why had no one bothered to tell him?

“Since that night at the pub.”

“What night?” Harry says, helping Ron collect his mass of case notes and settle them into piles.

“You were dreaming about domestic bliss with the fucking ferret,” Ron says, but there’s no anger in it. Harry, who hadn’t expected his friends to take this so well, feels the urge to overcompensate.

“He’s changed,” Harry says.

“Course he has,” Ron says. “We all have.”

“We’re not sixteen anymore,” Hermione adds sagely, and Harry can’t help but agree.

“So,” Ron says, blowing steam off the cup Hermione hands him. “Have you…?” Ron has the audacity to wink at him.

“Ron!” Hermione punches his shoulder and hot mint tea spills over the rim. “Is your first question really going to be about sex?”

“What?” Ron says, not at all sheepish. 

“You’re being ridiculous—” Hermione tries to divert Ron’s attention, and Harry appreciates it, but he’s already opening his mouth.

“We did,” Harry says, and knows he’s blushing.

Another whoop, another stern glare, but Harry feels lighter. As if the catastrophe of the last few hours can be undone. “But I fucked it. Or he did. I dunno.”

“Do you want to talk about it?” Hermione says, passing Harry his own cup and settling down next to him. “You don’t have to.”

“Yeah,” Harry says. “Yeah. I do.”

 

The candles have burned low by the time he’s done.

“That is shit,” Ron says.

“I know!” Harry half shouts, leaning his neck back and staring at the ceiling.

“So, Malfoy really said that he’d been dragged into another universe?” Hermione says, staring quizzically into her tea.

Ron snorts. “As excuses go, it’s pretty bad.”

“It is,” Hermione says, and even though it’s approaching one in the morning, Harry sees that look burrowing in. Hermione has her thinking face on. “As much as he was an entitled blood purist, he was also clever.”

“Was he?” Ron says, rolling his eyes.

“Honestly, yes,” Hermione says. “Maybe the smartest in our year after…”

“After you,” Ron finishes for her. Hermione blushes, but carries on.

“And deception was kind of his hallmark. So it doesn’t really make sense,” Hermione says.

“Hermione.” Harry’s suddenly tired beyond reckoning. “You can’t be serious. Malfoy didn’t disappear into another universe. I’ve never even heard of a spell that can do that.”

“I know,” Hermione says, that expression still playing across her face. This was dangerous; Hermione was dangerous.

“Look,” Ron says, collecting their empty mugs and dumping them in the sink. “Just find him at work tomorrow. Talk to him. It’s honestly not that complicated.”  

Harry scowls. “It shouldn’t be, should it?”

“Neither of you have much experience being kind to one another,” Hermione says through a long yawn. “But I think you can salvage this.”

The confidence of his friends feels tender. If Harry can just sit Draco down and try and explain the thorny mess of feelings growing in his chest, then everything will be alright.  Buffeted by the certainties of the two best people Harry knows, the green magic of the floo roars to life and whisks him away.

Tomorrow, Harry thinks, green flames licking his skin. I’ll talk to him tomorrow.

 

That night, he dreams Draco. Of a light at the top of the stairs, a strange tattoo, and striped pyjamas.

* * *

Draco is not at work.

“But he’s scheduled to be here,” Harry says, mania rising with each syllable. Flo is holding four tiny needles and looks ready to put one through Harry’s eye.

“I’m not sure what you want me to say,” she says, glowering at him. “I really shouldn’t be giving out personal information about employees, but after I told Draco about that first time you asked after him—”

“—you told him—!”

“—he seemed so pleased.” Flo sets her needles down and smiles.

“Listen. Flo.”

She raises two very stern eyebrow at him.

“Can you tell me if he called in? If he’s okay?” Harry asks, desperate.

Flo glares at him and somehow manages to make it both scathing and pitying. “Son, just wait until tomorrow. Draco’s never out sick. He’ll be in tomorrow.”

 

Draco was not in the next day, either.

 

“But I need to know if he’s alright!” Harry shouts from the doorway to Amber’s office.

“Who?” Amber says, her forehead creasing in concentration.

“Draco!”  

“Oh, right. Draco,” she says, pinching the bridge of her nose. The old fake leather of her office chair is peeling. “I’m sorry, who are you?”

“Harry Potter!” Harry roars, wishing just this once that the power of his name would make everything work out. “I’m a resident. I work with Draco.”

“Of course,” Amber says, but her eyes glaze over again. “Who did you say you were looking for?”

 

Eventually, one of the daytime counsellors calls security.

“You’ll need to control that temper, Mr. Potter,” Dr. Horwood says after the balding security guard deposits Harry into the arms of his supervisor. “The sick leave of a fellow hospital employee should not elicit such a reaction.”

“Right,” Harry says, but he’s not listening. Harry's lost control of the pace and content of his inner monologue, and so hasn't stopped thinking, he'll be in tomorrow. He'll be back tomorrow. He'll be here. Tomorrow. Tomorrow.

An entire week goes by and still, Draco does not come back.

 And Harry goes a bit mad.

 

It starts small. Hovering around Draco’s office. For just a couple of hours. Not long. Five days after Draco has disappeared, Harry wanders down to community health and alohamora’s Draco’s door. It just happened, Harry thinks as he sits in Draco’s horrible spiny chair and chases the smell of him. What else was I supposed to do?

It’s only once Harry’s decided that no clues to Draco’s whereabouts can be found at the hospital (approximately seven days post fight) that Harry starts to apparate to the street in front of Draco’s flat. It’s not really that bad, Harry convinces himself, because it’s what an auror would do. And Draco’s essentially a missing person. Harry’s just a concerned citizen. What he’s doing is a public service, if nothing else.

 

It’s been ten days. Harry is wearing a path into the hardwood and has been all day. Bella is yowling and wreaking havoc on his Quidditch paraphernalia, and Draco still hasn’t come back.

“I could just apparate into his flat,” Harry says to an imaginary audience. “I mean, he’s invited me before. And he could be in trouble.” Deep in his guts, Harry knows it’s wrong, understands that he’s blasting a giant selfish hole in Draco’s boundaries, recognizes that he’s reverted fully to the obsessive behaviours of sixth year, but he can’t find it within himself to care.

Harry apparates into Draco’s flat, prepared for the angry end of a wand or the violent end of a fist. He finds neither.

Wind filters in through white curtains, jostling the fine leaves of few baby spider plants Draco must’ve repotted. The silence in the living room tickles the hairs on the back of Harry’s neck.

“Draco!” Harry shouts, because the quiet feels like an ending. “Draco, I’m sorry.”

Nothing.

“I shouldn’t have said any of that shit.” The words feel like an epilogue that he’s not ready to write, but he presses on. “I didn’t mean half of it.”

Nothing.

“I was freaking out. Because I—I could,” he whispers. “That’s the part that scared me, I think. That I could,” love you, he thinks. “And you could just leave and I’d be stuck feeling like this. And you’d be gone again.”

Nothing.

“And I went and fucked it anyway.” Harry laughs and it scrapes on the way out.

“I’m leaving, Potter. And I’m never coming back.”  

Dancing. They’d been dancing and Harry hadn’t realized how alive he’d felt until the music stopped.

“Fuck,” he says, turning around, looking at all of these pieces of Draco that have been left behind.

“I don’t—” Harry’s breaths start to speed up, start to come shallow and rushed. There are so many pieces of a man that Harry’s only just started to know.

“I don’t know—” Harry spins in place, gasping. There are books and antique lamps, throws and plants, shoes and Harry’s spinning, the air is coming, faster and faster. He can’t breathe, his head is white noise and panic. Because he’d only just started to know him, and now he’s gone again.

“Don’t leave,” Harry gasps, stumbling. There has to be something here, some clue to where Draco’s gone, because he can’t be gone again. He can’t.

Harry rushes across the room, grabbing at the items on the coffee table. A stack of books, a lighter, a receipt. “Please,” he breathes, and he’s not getting enough air. “Something.” He lunges for the bookshelf, grabs at the titles. There has to be some scrap of Draco left behind.

“Anything.” Books collapse, pages spilling, spines leaning, stories splayed open. The living room spins.

Harry knocks into the end table and the force of his hip sends a decorative wooden box crashing down. It falls face first onto the floor, intricate wooden lines untangling, and Harry’s so upset he barely notices the secrets falling out. Little vials made of glass spill across the hardwood, rolling away in all directions.

But no Draco. None of it explains why Harry is here and Draco is gone.

“I’m a ghost Potter. Didn’t you know?”

One of Draco’s lovely plants falls from the windowsill. It’s upside-down on the ground. Happy leaves blink up at him, soil scattering across the floor.

“No,” Harry chokes, really chokes, because he can’t breathe. “Oh no.” Vials and dirt and air. Harry doesn’t know how he gets to the floor, but his hands are pushing soil around, trying to scoop the plant back into the pot.

“Oh. My. God.”

For a moment, the panic stands still. Harry jerks his head up, winded and dizzy and confused, and there’s Pansy Parkinson right there in front of him. She’s standing in the doorway, a bag of groceries on the floor next to her, a stray orange rolling away.

“Er—” The syllable punches out.

“Harry Potter! What the fuck?!”

“Uh,” Harry gasps. His breathing is out of control and the dirt won’t go back into Draco’s plastic pot. “I’m—” But there’s no way to finish that sentence, because there is no explanation for what he’s doing.

“You fucking gremlin!” Pansy shouts from the welcome mat. “You horrible little shit!”

“What are you doing here?” Harry shouts back, because that’s what they’re doing now.

“What am I doing here?” Pansy closes her eyes, mutters something under her breath. “Potter, you hideous wet sock, I live here!”

“Wet sock?” Harry mutters from his place on the floor.

“You’re breaking and entering!”

“I’m—” Harry’s about to say not. I’m not. But stops short because he realizes that that would be a lie. “Fuck. Sorry?”

“You’re unbelievable.” Pansy strides into the flat, four-inch heels clacking on the hardwood. “Both of you.”

“Both?” Harry says weakly, rubbing at the dirt between his fingers. It’s cool and damp.

“Put that down,” Pansy snaps, dumping her purse on the floor and standing over him, pointy elbows on hips.

Harry puts down the plant.

“Right. Now, sit on the couch like a good little boy while I make you some cocoa.” Her black eyeliner makes her eyes look enormous. It’s smudged, as if she’s been crying or trying to rub away the exhaustion.

“What?” Harry asks, still stunned by how very wrong this recognisance mission has gone.  

“Sit.” Pansy is stern and Harry is afraid and so he rises from the floor and collapses onto the sofa without protest. The shock of Pansy’s appearance mingles with the panic and Harry feels weak, like all his bones have gone soft.

“Cocoa?” Harry says, tugging at one of the fleece throws on the back of the couch cushions. It smells like Draco.

“Unlike some common criminals, I have good manners,” Pansy says on her way into the kitchen, shouting, “Don’t touch anything else!” as she goes.

Shit, Harry thinks, and then am I about to have cocoa with Pansy Parkinson? He leans into the soft fabric and repeats “shit” out loud, for good measure.

The consequences of his obsession spill around him. Draco’s record player is askew, all of his lovely vinyl albums spread across the floor like playing cards. Dirt mixes with books, and there’s dozens of those strange vials glistening in the moonlight. They look silvery, almost like memories. Harry feels the urge to collect them, to tuck them back into the chest he’s upended.

The mess is his fervour boiled over—violent urges that roared in his ears whenever Malfoy completed his orbit into Harry’s atmosphere. He’s ashamed of it. Of the uncontrolled ugliness of it.

“I really fucked this one,” Harry says to his knees.

“No shit, Sherlock,” Pansy says, strutting back into the living room with a cup in each hand. “I’ve become quite the expert in Muggle sayings, by the way.”

Harry accepts the mug because there’s nothing else to do. The ceramic is warm between his hands and Harry readies himself for Pansy’s wrath.

“So,” she says, settling next to him on the sofa. “What the fuck did you do to Draco?”

From his knees, Harry can see Pansy’s hands; they’re shaking.

“I don’t…I didn’t...” He’s not at all sure where he should start. “How much do you know?”

Now that he’s closer to her, Harry notices how exhausted she looks—her dark hair is greasy and pulled into a high ponytail and her face looks strained, as if something dreadful has taken her by the seams and just stretched her like cellophane. Harry wonders if they’re still close, Draco and Pansy. They live together, so it seems likely.

“I know enough,” Pansy says.

“So you know we work together?”

Pansy snorts into her cocoa. “He hasn’t shut up about it. Weeks, Potter. I’ve had to listen to him moaning on about you for weeks.”

A match lights in Harry’s heart. “Weeks?”

“You’re both so emotionally constipated. I can’t believe you made it this far without external intervention,” Pansy says. Harry doesn’t know how to reply and so takes a long gulp of his cocoa.

“OH!” Harry chokes on the hot burn of white rum. “That’s—”

“Just drink it,” Pansy says, thumping his back and Harry doesn’t have the heart to tell her that doesn’t actually help people who are choking.

After a moment, and with very clear sinuses, Harry says, “I think we were actually good. For about a day, and then he went and fucked it—”

“—typical Draco—”  

“—and then I went and fucked it worse?” Harry takes another long swallow of his rum drink, because this barely counts as cocoa anymore.

“Explain, but with details,” Pansy says, her bloodshot eyes trained on his face.

For a moment, Harry struggles, because this is the same woman who’d stood up in the Great Hall and offered him to Voldemort. This strained, blunted woman, who looks less like a pure blood bride and more like a sketch done in charcoal. She’s barely recognizable. “Sorry, but you’re not exactly—like—you’re not my friend,” Harry says, feeling awkward.  

“Don’t mistake the cocoa as kindness, Potter. If your pitiful little story doesn’t end with a detailed description of where you’ve taken Draco—”

“Wait, he’s not with you?”

The pigment drains from Pansy’s face. “No,” she says. “He’s not.”

“I don’t…where? I don’t understand…”

“Fuck,” Pansy says, her voice light. “Fuck fuck fuck.” She’s black and white and panic all over.

“Are you okay?”

“He must’ve gotten dragged into another universe,” Pansy says, the words still floating. “Fuck. He’s never been gone this long. Never.”

Two words slot into place. “Another universe?”

Pansy’s breath shudders. “I didn’t mean…forget that I said—”

“No. No he mentioned something about universes after he disappeared the night we…” Harry chokes on the memory of how each and every one of his dreams had crystalized into something so intense, so perfect. They’d gotten something so right, just that once—

“Wait.” Pansy’s attention sharpens. “You and Draco? In this universe?” She does not look impressed.

“What is that supposed to mean!” Harry says, gesticulating so wildly that the rum drink is sloshing over. “What fucking universes?”

“You slept together?”

Harry tempers his frustration and nods.

“And then he disappeared?”

“Left me in his fucking flat to show myself out,” Harry says, the memory stinging. “If he’d thought it was a mistake, he should’ve at least said so to my face. It was passive aggressive and a shitty thing to do—”

“You idiots. You fucking idiots,” Pansy says, and she rounds on him fully then. Black circles, smudged eyeliner, panic cast in brown irises and Harry can’t look away. “Listen to what I’m telling you. Draco is cursed.”

“Cursed?”

“Has been for years. It drags him into the multi-verse.”

“What?”

Pansy sighs extravagantly. “It’s multiple universes. Different worlds, where he lives as himself until the curse decides it’s done with him and sends him home again. It’s normally not a big deal.”

“Not a big deal?” Harry says, incredulous.

“That’s right.” Pansy’s picking at the varnish on one of her nails. It’s bubble gum pink. “We’ve been dealing with it for years. He’s fine, usually.”

“But—” Harry can’t seem to line his words up. “But that’s gotta be dangerous! Like, time turners are usually bad enough. This is the whole universe! That’s gotta be worse.”

“It’s multiple universes. The multiverse, Potter. Keep up.”

Harry wants to hit something. “I don’t even know what that is!”

“Aren’t you supposed to be smart now?” Pansy says, and yes, Harry’s definitely going to hit something. “It’s just a collection of potentially observable universes that represent every possible future in every possible world. Obviously.”

Obviously, Harry thinks. “And Draco gets sucked into these universes?”

Pansy nods. “At night. But he’s only ever gone for a couple of hours. Eight, tops.”

Realization crashes heavy and full of damage. “I fucked up,” Harry says. “He must’ve got pulled away after we…and then he tried to tell me and I just…” Harry swallows, tries to force the things he’d said back down. “I said terrible things.”

“You’re the actual worst, Potter,” Pansy says, a bit manic but less angry than before. “You’re stale laundry and an unnecessary movie sequel. You’re all of the bad things.”

“That’s not really helpful,” Harry says, ready to curl up with the shame of it all.

“I’m Draco’s best friend, not yours. You’re the shit who broke his heart. I’m not supposed to be helpful to you.”

Harry ignores her. “Do you think he…” he struggles with all of the concepts that’ve just been explained to him. “He got pulled into a universe and couldn’t get home?”

“Possible,” Pansy says, her voice stretching thin like the rest of her. “Possible.”

The mystery is peeling away and Harry says the thing he always says when the world feels out of order. “I need to tell Hermione.”

“Granger?” Pansy asks, downing the dregs of her cocoa in a single swallow.

“She can help,” Harry says. The details of how Hermione figures things out have always felt vague, a secret plucked out of a book somewhere at the last possible moment, but he knows she’ll come through in the same way that he knows the sun will rise tomorrow. “We have to get him back.”

“You,” Pansy says, slow, careful. The lines in her forehead crinkle tentatively. “You miss him?”

What a stupid question. “Yes!”

“He matters to you.”

“Have you not been paying attention?”

“In this universe?” Pansy keeps prodding, as if testing his structural integrity.

“Of course, in this universe. What the fuck are you on about?” Pansy ignores him, jumps to her feet and starts to scramble at the mess on the floor. At first, Harry thinks she’s tidying the room, and guilt forces him to his feet.

“Hang on, I’ll help.”

But Pansy isn’t cleaning. She’s gathering all of the little vials, setting each of them back into the box. “What are those?” Harry asks, because there must be dozens.

“Memories,” Pansy says, scanning the room for any strays.

“Memories?” Harry asks. “Of what.”

Her search of the room complete, Pansy steps towards Harry and presses the box into his arms. “Of you,” she says. “They’re all of you.”

Chapter Text

Draco, October, 2003

Draco.

She’s been calling to him.

Draco, it’s past time.

He hasn’t been listening.

If we don’t go now, I don’t know if I’ll be able to take you home.

“Home,” he mumbles, and wakes up in a new universe, legs tangled in sheets that feel familiar. The sterile smell of starched linens and healing salve tugs at his memories. He’s in the hospital wing, Draco realizes.

Fingers slip between his and squeeze. It’s a kind gesture, soft and well-intended. We need to go now, Draco. You’ve been gone too long.

“What’s the point of going home?” Draco’s been skittering from universe to universe, a rock skipping on a smooth lake, jumping and jumping and never sinking.

There’s a light at the top of the stairs, and footsteps sound a gentle alarm in the silence. Someone is coming.

Pain shudders, bright and fresh across his chest, and this is a wound that he knows. Remembers. A bathroom, the angry syllables of Sectumsempra, spat with venom and fear, blood everywhere, his body taken apart in a way that felt too violent to be real. Draco sits up, nearly screams with the pain that’s cleaved his chest into pieces.

This isn’t another universe, Draco thinks. It can’t be, because it’s a memory. Draco remembers this night after Potter had cut him open. It had stretched long and lonely, the despair dark as Potter's horrible hair, because Draco now knew the  price for the crimes he’d planned to carry out. The cost of standing against the Boy Who Lived.

“What’ve you done?” Draco asks, but the curse doesn’t answer. And someone else is coming.

There’s a light at the top of the stairs, and Draco sees the shadows first. Dark blunted angles, of hair that refuses to sit flat. The light hits his face and Draco really should have known.

“Potter, is that you?”

It is. Of course it is.

“What the fuck are you doing here?” Draco says, because his Potter hadn’t done this. There had been no accounting of their sins, no apologies.

But what if there had been? What would the world have looked like if Potter had been less angry and Draco had been less scared?

Draco, please, the curse says, but she’s on the periphery now, a footnote in the story that Draco is about to live, that he desperately wants to know.

One good turn, Draco thinks, certainly deserves another, and gives himself up to the universe that could have been but never was.

Chapter Text

Harry, October, 2003

The stone lip of the pensive curls up at him in disdain. Be brave, it insists. Pour the secrets in and watch them swirl. Harry’s stomach lurches, and he leans back, feeling more like a nineteen-year-old who can’t handle his liquor and less like a twenty-two-year-old slayer of dark lords.

I can do this, Harry thinks, pushing the nausea back down. It’s only a memory. It can’t hurt him.

“Of you,” Pansy had said. “They’re all of you.”

“Why do Slytherins have to be so cryptic?” Harry mutters and Bella howls in agreement. The mistress of evil has been curled around Harry’s feet ever since he stumbled back through the floo, box in hand, patted down by Pansy’s assurances that he will understand everything as soon as he watches these memories.

At first, he was sure he would wait until morning. Enough havoc had been wrought and Harry was dead on his feet. The box, though, seemed to call to him. The mystery of the vials inside whispered his name, and Harry knew that he wouldn’t wait. That he had to know.

It had always been this way, with Draco.

He’d tried to take his time. With shaking fingers, Harry had opened the box and laid every vial on his bed. There were sixty-one, and each had a date scrawled onto a paper label.

August 5, 1998. This was the earliest time stamp and he picks up the vial and peers through the clear liquid. As he stares at the faded ink, Harry realizes that he knows this date. It was the day of Malfoy’s trial.

There was nothing for it. Harry pours the memory into his pensieve. “I guess we’ll start at the beginning,” he says to Bella and tips into a world made of ice and stars.

* * *

Slipping into the memory feels like stepping into someone else’s shoes. Harry shivers as he sees the cab of the truck, and then laughs as he sees Draco’s confused face shift to abject horror.

It’s fun, at first. Squished in between the windshield and the clutch, Harry smiles as Draco stutters his way through social interaction. There’s no war here, he realizes and what a concept that is—to live a life free from wartime ideology and the pressures of life and death. Seventeen-year-old shoulders were never meant to carry something so heavy, and it’s nice to see a version of himself smiling across the cab of an old truck—even if the American accent makes his skin crawl.

But then Draco is panicking and the truck is stopping, Draco is fleeing and Harry following him outside.

“I like you,” Harry hears himself say, his America voice low and afraid. “Have for a long time. So long.”

“No,” Draco whispers, and the wind picks up the word and whisks it away.

“It’s okay if you don’t—I mean, I figured it was a long shot, look at you—”

“It’s not that,” Draco says, and Harry can’t stop staring, because this isn’t how it’s supposed to be.

“What is it?” the memory asks.

“I don’t get to have nice things.”

“Why not?” Harry hears himself say and, god, is he desperate to hear the answer.

“Because…because I’ve done things. Horrible things. And I don’t get to just move on. The villains don’t get a happily ever after.”

And then Harry wants to leave, wants to get out, because this isn’t his memory and Draco never said that he could look.

“You,” Pansy had said. “They’re all of you.”

The intimacy of the unedited story stuns him still and Harry’s helpless as the rest of the memory unfolds.

“You’re not a villain.” If only I’d figured this out sooner, Harry thinks. If only I’d looked closer. If only…

The wind rises, twists around them, sends shivers cascading across flesh.

The story has him, and Harry sees the stars blink down, sees the sky show its true face, sees himself lean across the cab and tie a question mark into knots with his tongue.

“You,” Pansy had said. “They’re all of you.” And Harry starts to understand.

 

* * *

January 1, 1999. Harry looks at the vial and then the time on the mantle. 2:07 pm. The night had melted into morning and then into afternoon and still, Harry hadn’t been able to stop. Just one more, he’d thought then, and he thinks the same thing now. Just one more and then I’ll stop. I’ll stop.

Harry Potter and the Unexpected I Love You

The night sky washes the scene in a black and white filter. Harry takes in the familiar street, the slant of the house—his house. A few feet away, atop the front steps of Number 12 Grimmauld Place, blood pours from Draco’s chest.

“F—fuck—” Draco stutters, and it doesn’t matter what universe they’re in, Harry flinches at the fear in his voice. It’s instinct. Harry rushes forwards, reaches for Draco as he collapses in a pile of pain and surprise, but Harry’s hands pass straight through him.

“No!” Harry know just how messy it is to bleed; the body is just a walking juice box. The punctures spurt and pool, and the stone steps are quickly painted red.

“This is—” Draco gasps and Harry dances around him, ghostly hands fluttering and useless, “inconvenient.” As his insides start to pool around his spindly limbs, Draco raises his wand arm and whispers, “sonorous,” and then, voice hoarse but magnified a thousand times, “POTTER!” Longing and something softer twists Harry’s intestines into knots.

The seconds measure in the drip drip onto the pavement. Harry’s eyes flit from the crime scene on the steps to the door as it flies open.

“Is that you Drac—oh no. No, you don’t!” Harry hears…himself say? It is him, Harry realizes, as he inches forward and leans in close. An older version of himself, all muscle and hard weather. “Don’t you fucking dare.” Dream Harry pulls the broken pieces of Draco into his arms and carries him inside, slamming the door hard enough to shake the hinges.

It’s fortunate, then, that closed doors can’t keep out ghostly intruders. Harry passes through the heavy wood without a second thought and finds Draco, splayed open on the floor.

The wounds are red as sirens. Harry can’t help him here, can only watch this older version of himself cast entry level healing spells that sew up the skin and ease the swelling.

“You’re a disaster,” Harry hears himself say, and watches himself kiss Draco’s sweaty forehead. “You’re a fucking menace.”

Harry sees something in his own face, a little greyer, a little harder, but stilll there. And then hears it in words that are as unlikely as they are inevitable. “I love you,” this other Harry says, and takes Draco to his bed.

Watching is strange. Addictive. The details sparkle.

This universe has left them both scarred, Harry realizes as he follows the memory up the stairs. Draco’s body is twisted with the white brands of dangerous days—a raised ugly thing above his heart, nicks all over Draco’s hands and two angry looking tears across each of his shoulders. This older version of himself is no better, mangled by what his healer training tells him are dark curses designed to wound with permanency. I’m probably an Auror in this universe, he thinks, and is captivated by what could have been if he’d made one different choice.

It feels intrusive, somehow, as he watches himself pull Draco tight against his chest, press his nose to Draco’s neck, breathe in the smell of him and shudder against the swell of Draco’s breathing. “I love you,” this Harry says, lips against the knob in his spine. And again, “I love you,” into white blond hair.

“You’re crushing me, you know,” Draco mumbles into the dark, and Harry sees himself close his eyes in undisguised relief.

“You’re an idiot,” the other Harry says, pained. “One day, you’re going to show up and I’m not going to be able to—”

“Shhh,” Draco says, pressing a tired finger to Harry’s lips. “Lecture me later.”

“Why don’t you say it?” Harry is startled by how rare the voice sounds—it’s his own, and he’s never heard it bleed like this. It’s raw as a sore throat.

Draco doesn’t answer.

“Sometimes I think you look for people to blow you to pieces,” this Harry says, and Draco must hear the tremble in his voice, because he rolls over, grimacing in agony.

“I don’t want to need you,” Draco says, as he settles into the sheets, and Harry’s transported back in time, in the middle of the Wizengamot and beneath the glare of a thousand angry faces. “But here we are.”

The moment holds, the distance between their noses a joke, and then Harry watches himself take Draco’s face in his hands.

It strikes Harry just then how difficult this all must be for Draco. Being thrust into different worlds, with no advance notice of who he’s supposed to be or what’s waiting for him. It’s a dangerous game, and Draco could refuse to play. He could let the blood flow from his veins and never raise a wand in protest, could throw Harry into the forgotten fields of snow and drive off into the northern lights, and it wouldn’t change anything. Not in their timeline.

But he doesn’t. Draco plays along. He leans into Harry’s kisses. He—

“I—” Draco says, and Harry’s entire world is cropped down to a single moment. This moment. “Goodnight, Harry.”

Harry watches his own eyes close, sees himself press his head to Draco’s, match his breathing, and then, finally, sleep.

“I love you too,” Draco whispers, when he thinks no one’s watching. And this is his Draco, Harry remembers. “I love you too,” Draco says again, and Harry believes him.

* * *

“Hermione!” Harry barrels through the floo, so agitated he thinks it may be bleeding through his skin. “Hermione! I need to talk to you!”

It’s been four days since he’d apparated into Draco—and apparently Pansy’s—flat and he’s not slept more than a few hours since then. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t pull himself away from the memories, pouring bottle after bottle into the pensieve.

“Hermione?” he shouts again. The days have smudged together and Harry realizes he has no idea if it’s a weekday or weekend, if it’s morning, afternoon, or evening. The last time he looked at a clock is ancient history, and he paces through the entrance, the kitchen, the giant dining room table in a daze.

On his way back to the fireplace he finds a note taped to the top of the hearth, written in a hurry.

Harry,

I can’t believe you didn’t come to me straight away! Finding out about your situation through Pansy Parkinson was not a reunion I was expecting. Some advance notice would have been nice.

I’ve gone to Pansy’s (yes, I know. But she was insistent) and she says you know the address. Was a bit irritated about it, actually. Come as soon as you can!

Love,

Hermione

“Oh, for fuck sakes,” Harry says, shredding the letter, turning on his heel, and apparating away.

 

 

“Harry?” Hermione says as he lands in the middle of the living room. It looks like a library threw up all over Draco’s fastidious decorating. “Harry is that you?” She’s papered over with dozens of stray parchments.

“Yeah,” Harry huffs, watery eyes a bit slow to process. “What the fuck, Hermione? Why are you working with—”

“Save it, Potter,” Pansy snaps from an armchair, her small body swaddled in an enormous jean jacket. She looks so Muggle that Harry struggles to process—she’s got pink elbow patches, for fuck’s sakes. “While you’ve been doddling, we’ve been hard at work.”

“At work? Doing what?” Harry asks, too tired to be angry, but not so tired that he isn’t irritated.  

“Come sit down,” Hermione says from her spot on the floor. “And tell us what you know.”

For a moment, Harry hesitates. It all feels so foreign, like a virus has snuck into the normal equilibrium of his life and infected all of his healthy cells. “Hermione, I’ve fucked up,” he says, vision bleary from exhaustion, attention still wandering through other worlds. “You were right. Draco actually was pulled into another universe,” He steps around the corner and into the room. “And I didn’t believe him and now he’s—”

“Gone,” Pansy says.

Harry nods at the floor.

“Pansy was just updating me on the situation,” Hermione says, crossing the room and leading Harry to a squishy accent chair.

Harry opens his mouth to protest, to say that he was supposed to be updating Hermione and not some Slytherin-turned-Muggle fanatic, but Pansy beats him to it.

“I got tired of waiting. Really Potter. I only gave you the memories because I thought you were a man of action.”

“There were sixty-one of them!” Harry manages a soft roar this time, the indignity of it all.

“And you’re only coming to Granger now? Really, you’ve saved the world several times over in much more efficient fashion. I’m beginning to think that it was Granger who did the heavy lifting. She’s certainly the one doing it now.”

“I’m not—!”

“Let’s all just stop yelling?” Hermione says, stepping between them. “We all want the same things. Why don’t we all just work together?”

“I’m not working with her,” Harry snaps, petulantly.

“You wouldn’t know shit without me,” Pansy snaps back, sharper and meaner than Harry. “I gave you your only clues. And cocoa!” she adds, and has the gall to sound offended.

“That barely counted as cocoa,” Harry says, some of the anger seeping out of him.

“I could have just hexed you. You were breaking and entering, you know,” Pansy drawls, taking a generous sip of her wine.

“Yes, that was rather hasty,” Hermione adds, and Harry sinks glumly into the couch cushions, the exhaustion inflating behind his eyes and just pushing. “We’re not sixteen anymore Harry. I thought you knew better.”

The part of Harry that functions like an adult human being on a day-to-day basis starts to wonder what time it is, what day of the week. “Shouldn’t you be at work?” he asks, trying to ignore the Pansy Parkinson shaped elephant in the room.

“It’s Saturday, Harry,” Hermione says, reading his face. “I’ve had a Ministry representative reach out to Royal London Hospital and explain that you’ve had an urgent personal emergency and that you will return to your duties very soon.”

“Thanks.” The world feels like a top that just won’t stop spinning. “How much has she told you?” Harry asks, pressing his palms into his eyelids and squeezing out a groan.

“Everything, I think,” Pansy says. “The curse, the words, the location where Draco found the stupid thing—”

“—what?” Harry would be flummoxed if he weren’t so tired.

“—the way he’d seemed to…” Pansy bites her lip; it’s painted bright red. “Fade. He was fading. I didn’t notice him half the time, even when he must’ve been home in the flat. Usually his voice could bring me back, and I’d remember, but it was getting worse.”

You noticed me? Draco had said after their chance meeting in A&E. You saw me? You wanted me there? he’d said after disappearing from Emma’s party.

I’m a ghost Potter. Didn’t you know? Harry hadn’t. He hadn’t known.

“He asked me,” Harry says on a heavy exhale, too tired to feel stupid for missing all of the signs, “if I could see him. Always seemed surprised.”

“Idiots,” Pansy mutters just as Hermione says, “Blind, aren’t they?”

“Completely hopeless,” Pansy replies, and Harry’s too tired for this.

“Look,” Harry yawns, surveying the room for the first time and realizing that they must’ve been here for several hours. Hermione has entered full research mode, the evidence exploding all over the floor. “I’m just going to shut my eyes for a bit. Just a bit.”

“It’s so obvious in retrospect,” Pansy is saying as Harry lays down, head settling into the cushions, and loses his grip on the world. “He would’ve died first year without you, wouldn’t he?”

Harry can’t even be bothered to defend himself when Hermione says, “Oh yes. If not by Devil’s Snare, then definitely a slow death by poison.”

 

Harry dreams of a light at the top of the stairs. Of snakes that talk and Celestina Warbeck. The voices seep in, his sleep’s seal broken and leaking.

“It would probably work best if we tried the summoning at the original location where the spell was cast,” Hermione.

“The manor.”

“Are you sure you can go back there?” Pansy’s voice is soft. Sympathetic.

Yes.”

 

“Harry could do it,” Hermione is saying.

“How do you know?”

“I’ve seen him bring someone back from the dead.”

Silence.

“If anyone can summon Draco home, it’s Harry.”

 

“Yes, I think we can pull him out,” Hermione says as Harry drifts out of semi-consciousness and back into Draco’s living room. “It would be old magic. A summoning spell. It’s practically Pagan, but I think we can manage with the right preparation.”

"Right," Pansy is saying, nodding along to the beat of Hermione's plotting.

“The trouble won’t be the spell. It will be…” Hermione pauses, searching for the simplest explanation. “It will be knowing where to aim the spell. The multi-verse is a fairly big place.”

“Infinitely big,” Pansy agrees. Pansy has moved to the floor and their heads are close together.  

Harry sits up, stretches. Let’s the ache in his back wring out.

“Do you have anything meaningful to contribute?” says Pansy, but she’s too sad to be properly angry.

The weight of what this means—that Draco is lost in the far flung regions of another universe and that Harry has no way to find him—pushes through his anger, and then his panic. Eyes watering and itchy with sleep, Harry yawns, the truth still crushing his thoughts, his lungs. “All that’ll be left are the dreams,” Harry says, words coming out scrambled. All he wants now is to crawl back into a world where Draco was his and he didn’t care if it was when he was asleep or awake.

“Potter are you still asleep?” Pansy says.

“Are you dreaming about Draco?” Hermione asks, her bushy head popping up from behind a pile of books.

“Uh—” Harry’s too tired for this.

“How long!” The look is back. That look that takes Hermione’s features and transfigures them into a shape that will change the world. “How long has this been going on?”

“I told you, years ago. I’d been having dreams—”

“Potter, if I have to listen to details of your sex dreams, I will hex your balls off,” Pansy says and Harry flinches. Then he blushes.

“You mean when you told me about your crush?” Hermione says and Pansy snorts. “Oh Harry, that was ages ago—”

“It wasn’t a crush!” He pauses. “At least, it wasn’t then.”

“How long?” Hermione asks, staying on point.

The years slip from finger to finger as he counts them on his hand. “Five, I think? Started right after the trial.”

“Oh,” Pansy and Hermione say in unison, their mouths one long syllable.

“That’s when Draco cast the spell.”

“The day before his trial.”

“This can’t be a coincidence.”

“Definitely not.”

They were terrifying, the two of them.

“He’s said he had to fix something,” Pansy gasps from her spot on the floor amongst all of Hermione’s papers and theories. “What if it was Potter?”

“What the fuck does that mean?” Harry says, but they’re not listening.

Two heads practically rubbing together, Hermione says, “You did say that Harry loved him. In every other universe.”

The chatter fades to static as Harry lolls his head back, drifts off into the memory of another world, another channel with a slightly different frequency, thinks of the way Draco had looked at him.

Beneath the excited voices of two clever witches on the verge of a breakthrough, Harry remembers the way that Draco had looked at him here. On a balcony ensconced in wrought iron, above him as they moved together in the half light of an hour so late that it was early, and finally in the middle of a hurried emergency room, where the only thing in the world that mattered was pared down to the single point where green eyes met grey.

* * *

“What the fuck are you doing here?” Ron explodes onto the scene a few hours later, covered in dirt and someone else’s blood. At some point during the morning, Hermione had sent a Patronus with the address and a short explanation that Ron was currently calling, “Needlessly cryptic, Mione!”

“I was busy, Ronald,” Hermione says.

“You’re conspiring with the enemy!” Ron goes on, glaring at Pansy.

“It’s for Harry!”

“It’s in poor taste to insult your host, Weasel,” Pansy says, and proceeds to flay Ron with her sharp tongue. Harry briefly wonders if she’d learned from Draco or if he’d learned from her.

Harry is still dizzy, still sleeping, still wandering through dreams and memories, and he needs to stop. Needs to breathe. The plotting and the yelling and the chatter is filling his head with cotton balls. “I’m gonna step out. Pick up some takeaway,” Harry says into the chaos, and when Hermione dismisses him with a wave of her hand, Harry’s relief huffs out of him in a rush.

Sixty-one different lives have left Harry’s head fractured and loose and right now, he just wants to wander through a life that was his and not some spectre from a future he would never have. He wants to put himself back together. A walk, Harry thinks. I just need a walk.

* * *

The streets sway around him like a slow dance. Soft light filters through the leaves of the trees and Harry realizes that it’s early afternoon. The sky is overcast and Harry breathes in the moisture, chases the sounds of cars down the street.

The lines of the world start to straighten out. The power lines point perpendicular overhead, ninety-degree angles rushing around corners. It grounds him. Everything settles back into place, firm lines taking shape; around them, the landscape colours itself in. It is a strange gift, to wander until the ground feels solid under his feet and the universes stop blinking in and out of existence.

The early afternoon is tempting, storefronts beckoning in the midday lull. Draco’s neighbourhood is quaint and tries a little too hard at it, but Harry doesn’t mind. There’s an electronics shop that advertises a massive collection of CDs and vinyl records, another that sells stationary—and Harry briefly fantasizes about burning it down, his personal vendetta against muggle pens has grown that strong. Near the end of the lane, right before a stoplight that’s humming red in the dew, is a used bookshop.

Robertson’s, the sign reads. Harry can’t remember the last time he read a Muggle novel, and yet something about the store calls to him. The entire building could be under a cheering charm and the haphazard piles in the display window remind him of Hermione’s table at the library during exams. The sight makes him grin and he’s inside before he has a chance to think twice.

The smell of a million printed letters floats with the dust motes, light filtering through the thick scent of a story. If the display looked cramped and haphazard, the interior is disorder magnified by a factor of ten.

The shelves on the walls were filled decades ago, and stacks of books have started to climb next to them on the floor. It’s the room of requirement, but in the imagination of a bibliophile. The footpath from Historical Fiction to Life and Leisure is so obscured by titles, it’s barely wide enough for a single foot. Two people walking abreast would surely result in an avalanche of verbiage.

“Wow,” Harry breathes, overwhelmed with the intensity of the place. “Just…wow.” Careful not to tread on the pages, Harry wanders the maze, breathing. Just breathing.

“It looks to me like you’ve wandered off the beaten path,” a voice booms, and for a moment Harry thinks there’s a speaker system connected overhead. The tones reverberate in the air, fill up the corners.

“What?” Harry yelps, startling around to find the person attached to that voice.

The man is enormous, and Harry’s not sure how he missed him standing there beneath the open window, fingers stroking the spines of a title resting on the ledge. Two shaggy eyebrows arch into question marks. “You don’t look like much of a reader,” he says to Harry, who, for a moment, wonders if this should be offensive.  

“Not really,” Harry relents.

“Then what are you doing in my book shop? Did you wander in from the bustle looking for respite from the perils of our modern life?”

“Er—”

“Or are you a hopeless flaneur, traipsing the cityscape and making it your own?”

I don’t know what flaneur means, Harry thinks, but just says, “Er—”

The man grins and it’s cheeky as an ambush behind enemy lines. “I shall call you captain monosyllable.”

“Hey!” Harry shouts, knowing enough to realize that this wasn’t flattering.

“That particular retort doesn’t do much to inspire confidence, young man,” he says, and then proffers a hand. “I am Robertson.”

Age is difficult to obscure in hands. They’re soft with wrinkles and wear. There’s age in his hand, hidden so well in the thundering tones and confident posture.

“I’m Harry,” Harry says. “Sorry to be a bother. To come in here and not buy anything, I mean.”

“I’m not worried about that,” Robertson says, giving Harry a look that’s half intrigue, half recognition, although Harry’s sure he’s never met him. “I can find titles to appease any customer. But first, I would like to know what’s got your face looking like an overripe turnip.”

Harry’s never had turnip.

Robertson seems to sense this. “What’s troubling you. What stress is wriggling beneath that brow?”

“I just—” Harry considers his words for a moment, and then decides that it’s been a strange day all around and that he’s got very little left to lose. “I’ve just had a lot on my mind. Needed a break.”

“Fiction is an excellent source of escapism,” Robertson says. He looks wise in the way that Dumbledore always had—the realization makes him queasy. “But, alas, every fictional world will come to an end and we will be forced to confront the very real troubles we’d sought to leave behind.”

“Yeah,” Harry says, thinking of sixty-one different universes. ”That’s pretty spot on actually.”

Robertson grunts, and it’s got the vocal range of a sonorous. “What is at the centre of your distress?” he asks, not unkindly. “If I were to pare it down, boil all of the dramatics to a single urgent need. What is the X that marks the spot?”

The metaphors dance with the dust motes, but the questions are as irresistible as the shop had been. “It’s…there’s this bloke.”

Robertson snorts, and it’s affectionate somehow. “It always comes back to matters of the heart.”

Reflex nearly blurts, my heart has nothing to do with it, but Harry’s not sixteen anymore and he knows better.

“Don’t be ashamed, Harry. It is the heart that drives all the best stories.”

“I’m not ashamed,” Harry says, wanting to retreat from this plunge into vulnerability, but trapped by a wall of teetering books. “It’s just—he was kind of my nemesis?”

Robertson has the gall to roll his eyes.

“He was!” Harry shouts, determined to make this point. “We had a…feud?”

“Two houses both alike in dignity, In fair London, where we lay our scene.”

“I have no idea what that means,” Harry says.

“Young people are not familiar with the bard. It’s criminal! But tell me,” Robertson says, grin violent. “How long did it take for this feud to mature into something more romantic?”

“How did you—”

“Even if the classic enemies to lovers plot line were not so well trodden, the look you wore when you entered my shop told me all I needed to know.”

“What?—”

“You’re in love,” Robertson says. “It’s written all over your face.”

“I am not! I’m not. I’m…” Harry spins, and his shoulder takes out an entire pile of paperback mysteries. “I’m not?”

I love you, Draco had whispered. His Draco. His.

Harry, holding the sharp edges of Draco’s face like a shattered piece of porcelain. Mine, he’d said, thought, known in his bones. Mine.

“There it is,” Robertson says, thwumping him on the back with the casual force of Hagrid.

“But I’ve lost him,” Harry says, forgetting where he is and that it is a stranger in front of him. “Draco might be gone forever and it’s my fault.”

There’s a long moment, where Robertson just looks at Harry as if he’s only just realized that he’s there. There’s a story in his eyes, folded between smile lines.

“Go to him with the words of your betters,” Robertson says, finally. “Do not enter battle empty handed. Bring the wisdom of philosophers and the whimsy of poets.”

“I’m not sure that he would like—”

“You should really attempt to woo him in several languages.”

“I can’t speak multiple languages.”

“Horrible monolinguals. There’s no hope for any of them—”

“I don’t see how this is helping—"

“Spread your dreams beneath his feet,” Robertson says. “And perhaps then you will deserve his affections.”

Harry is stunned. This has been a very bizarre afternoon and Harry opens his mouth to say so, until a memory of Dumbledore beginning his first welcome feast at Hogwarts with, “Nitwit! Blubber! Oddment! Tweak!” reminds him that it’s all a matter of comparison. “I didn’t expect to get advice on my love life,” he says instead.

“You needed it,” says Robertson, shifting away from the windowsill he’d been perusing and leading Harry towards another towering mess of books. “Now, let’s find you some reading materials to assist in your efforts.”

 

Forty-five minutes later, Harry stands in front of the ancient register, his arms laden with, “the words of your betters,” Robertson insists. With a flourish that any wizard would envy, Robertson stacks Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass atop the pile. “Make sure you read the Yeats,” Robertson says, holding out Harry’s change, which Harry is wholly incapable of taking, as his hands are filled with books. 

“I can’t see how you will ever deserve him,” Robertson says, hand still outstretched with a few coins, a bit dazed. “Even felons need love too, you see.”

“Er,” Harry says, at a total loss. “Do you have a bag?” This seems to startle Robertson out of his musings. “CRADLE THE WORDS IN YOUR ARMS!” he bellows. “Treat them with dignity! REVERENCE!”

“I’m sorry,” Harry yelps, backing away from Robertson and his change. “I’m going to go now.”

“Respect the craft!!”

“I will!”

The heavy glass door swings shut and Harry’s safely back in the street. “What a strange man,” Harry mutters. His arms too full for takeaway, Harry heads back in the direction of Draco’s flat. The magic from earlier has melted away, and the streets look dull rather than dappled. Still, the weight in his arms feels significant somehow, and Harry can’t quite bring himself to regret it—no matter how loudly his stomach growls.

 

* * *

“You came back with books and not food?” Ron howls, sounding a lot like Bella. Harry shrugs, dumping his purchases into the squishy accent chair he’s claimed as his own in the disaster area that Pansy and Hermione have created. The living room looks much less like Draco’s clean modern lines and more like the inside of Hermione’s brain. Harry is briefly relieved that these two were never forced together at Hogwarts, before Ron drags him back.  

“Books!” Ron shrieks, gesticulating around the living room wildly. “As if we needed more of those!”

“What did you get?” Hermione asks, back on the rug, feet up on the coffee table. Harry instinctively knows that Draco would be scandalized on his furniture’s behalf, but Pansy doesn’t give a whit. “Will it be of any help?”

“Naw,” Harry answers, but picks up the Yeats and starts to page through it.

“Mate, I never thought I’d have to say this to anyone who wasn’t Mione. But you can’t go out for food and come back with books.”

“What is he doing here?” Pansy says from her position next to Hermione. “Like, what is he contributing?”

“Moral support!” Ron roars, his hunger getting the better of him. “Don’t mess with the system, Parkinson. You’re the new element here. We’ve been solving mysteries together since we were eleven!”

“You mean that you were riding Granger’s coattails while she did all the work?” Ron chokes, but Pansy’s relentless. “I think I’ve got the dynamic figured out.”

Ron’s face matches his hair. “Harry! Why didn’t you get food?” he wails. “I can’t take her without food.”

Harry lowers the book to eye level and shrugs. Everything has felt a bit fuzzy since Robertson said the words “love” and “there it is.”

“Uh?” he says, looking guiltily down at his book-that-is-very-much-not-curry.

“You can’t eat books, Harry,” Ron says, frothing a bit.

“Potter,” Pansy interrupts as if Ron does not exist. She crosses the room and grips him excitedly, gel nails digging into his skin. “We’ve got a plan”

“We do?”

“Yes,” Hermione says, crowding around him. “You see, the curse was actually fairly straightforward once we were able to parse the intent of the spell from the original Latin. I honestly don’t know why you didn’t reach out earlier,” Hermione says, directing the last line at Pansy. “It would have saved everyone a great deal of trouble.”

“Is she always like this?” Pansy asks conspiratorially, and for a moment, Harry feels like he’s been given a glimpse of what friendship could be like with Pansy Parkinson.

“Worse,” Harry and Ron answer, simultaneously.

“Ah.”

“But now,” Hermione soldiers on, “Draco is adrift in the multiverse and we need something that can connect us to him. A link. Something that’s remained consistent in every universe. Probably the thing that he needs to fix to end this silly curse once and for all.”

“But how will we figure that out—” Harry starts, but Pansy interrupts.

“Idiots,” she sighs. “That’s you, Potty.”

“I don’t understand—” Harry’s seen every memory and knows, in an academic sense, that this is true but…

“You are Draco’s constant,” Hermione adds.

“You were in every universe,” Pansy says.

“I was.” Harry knows he was. I love you, Draco had said when he’d thought no one was looking. Mine, Harry had said when he’d finally held Draco in his hands.  

“We think that the your dreams will establish a connection. Think about this collection of universes less as a list and more as a wheel,” Hermione says, gesturing absently at an image in one of the books on the floor. “You’re at the centre, Harry.”

Harry’s throat is dry. “Right.” I love you. Mine.

“So, you’ll dream of him and that will establish a link. We’re hoping it’s strong enough that we can perform this variation of a summoning charm.” Hermione is holding a heavy purple book, gold letters peeling on the spine.

Ron pushes his way into their circle of scheming—not one to be left out—to peer at the page. “Wait. That’s not—” He gives Hermione a skeptical look. “That’s not how summoning charms usually work, Mione. Harry struggled to summon his broom from across Hogwarts. How is he going to pull someone out of another fucking universe?”

“That was my objection,” Pansy says, looking at Ron approvingly. “Well spotted, Weasel. Perhaps your use extends beyond the occasional comic timing.”

“Oh fuck off—”

“I thought of that, of course,” Hermione says, quiet but the sudden serious set to her brow settles the brewing tension between Pansy and Ron. “But then I remembered that there’s precedent for—” she chokes on the words.

“Precedent?” Harry says, confused.

“For dragging someone out of one world and back into our own,” she says, gentle as Hermione can be.

“I—” Harry starts, but then it hits him. Blue lips, blonde hair. The sound of the dead breathing the same air. “Oh god.”

“Narcissa,” Pansy says, this one word saturated with an old grief.

“Draco hasn’t died. Not that we know of,” Hermione says, pushing past the memory. “So, it shouldn’t…it should be different. If the summoning spell does what we hope it will, you should be stepping into the other universe and bringing Draco back. Not dragging someone to a plane where they no longer belong, but returning someone to where they’re meant to be? It’s a subtle difference, but an important one, I think.”

No one has anything to say to that. “The risks,” Pansy says after a long pause. “We should go over the risks.”

The living room drifts out of focus as Hermione explains how it could all go wrong and Harry could get stuck and never be able to return to this world. Harry barely hears her, isn’t concerned about consequences because he knows he’s going to do it. That it wouldn’t matter what they suggested, because he would do anything to get Draco back.

“We’re doing it,” he says, waving Ron’s scowl and Hermione’s pinched lips away impatiently. “Tell me what I need to do.”

“We’ll go to Malfoy Manner,” Pansy says. “Draco gave me access to the wards after—” she trails off. “I can get us in.”

“Proximity to the source of the spell may improve the strength of the summoning charm,” Hermione says. “He’s been gone a long time Harry. He might not be able to—I can’t promise that it will work.”

Harry doesn’t care. “When can we do it?”

“Tonight,” Pansy says. “We’ll go tonight.”

Chapter Text

Draco, December, 1998

The bell jingles behind an elderly man, who’s tottering out of the shop underneath a pile of books. Draco is becoming quite proficient at this whole sales business—may even be starting to enjoy it.

What he wasn’t enjoying was the enormous cash register as it leered at him from its spot on the countertop, refusing to open. “You will not defeat me,” Draco says, sneering back at the mass of metal. “You are an inanimate object and I am a wizard.”

Draco approaches the contraption and digs his fingernails into the drawer. “You will open,” he says through gritted teeth, “because I say that you will, and that’s” he yanks and strains, “final!” He lifts one leg up to the counter for leverage and pulls and pulls and—

“Draco?” Robertson says, emerging from some hidden corner of the shop, light on his feet as he approaches Draco’s exertion. “Are you abusing my register?”

One of Draco’s fingernails snaps and sends him plunging backwards into the wall. “Motherfucker!” 

“I suppose, given your sordid history, you may not know that force is not the only way into the interior of very ancient cash registers,” Robertson says, looking down at Draco’s sprawling form on the floor.

“It’s not?” Draco snaps, slipping his bleeding finger into his mouth. “Please. Enlighten me. Rehabilitate my horrible notions of appropriate cash register etiquette.”

“Of course,” Robertson says, seriously, and Draco wants to bash his skull into the countertop. Sarcasm rarely pierced Robertson’s armour. “I woo it, Draco,” he says with a wink that leaves nothing to the imagination. “I speak to it the sweet nothings of poetry and wit, now lost on this generation of hustle and bustle.”

“Right,” Draco says. “Could you come and whisper at it until the cash drawer opens?”

Robertson’s frown deepens. “I feel like you are merely placating me to get what you want.”

“I would never!”

“A likely story,” Roberson says, but leans down, his mouth inches from the cash drawer, strokes the back of the machinery, and—much to Draco’s fury—the thing springs open.

“I hate you,” Draco whispers and if Robertson hears him, he doesn’t let on.

Instead, he asks, “How was the date, my blond Casanova?”

Memories of not-Potter’s face when Draco had asked if he could look under the hood of the car come rushing back. “Horrific, thank you for asking.”

There is a long silence, in which Draco collects himself from the floor with as much dignity as he can manage—not very much—and Robertson levels him with one of his serious looks. “Draco. Why don’t you tell me what’s actually ailing you? Rather than your failure to engage in what the bard would call the beast with two backs.”

“That,” Draco says, more familiar with Robertson’s partiality for old English, “is the strangest euphemism for sex I’ve ever heard.”

“It’s also a metaphor my dear boy. You can keep deflecting if you want to, but I think that whatever story is in your chest should be out.”

Draco sighs. The fastest way to the end of any conversation with Robertson is honesty. “It wasn’t the date,” he says, searching through the junk drawer under the register for a plaster or a stray piece of tissue. “That wasn’t great, but it’s…there’s someone else.”

“Oh?”

“I’m in love with Harry Potter,” Draco says and, Merlin, it is such a relief to have the truth said out loud.

“Who?”

Draco laughs in spite of himself. What a delight to work in a place where the name Harry Potter doesn’t produce instant recognition. “Someone I will never have. Not in this universe anyway.”

“That’s woefully inconvenient,” Robertson says, sounding genuinely distressed on Draco’s behalf. It’s touching.

“Isn’t it?” Draco says.

Robertson’s brow contracts with concern. “If I ever encounter this young gentleman, I’ll be sure to set him straight. Whether or not I believe him deserving. If that is what you wish.”  

“I do,” Draco says, knowing it’s an empty promise—the chances of Robertson running into Potter are miniscule, even without considering Potter’s aversion to the written word—but taking him up on the offer anyways. Robertson means well, even in his eccentricities. “Ensure that he’s equipped to woo me properly, will you?”

“You have my word.”

Harry, October, 2003

The night is a blood blister ready to burst. Harry feels the air pulse with the sheer anxious potential of it—the dark on the edge of rupture. His heart is in his throat.

The pressure tightens as they step through the enormous gate, the lock slithering open in response to Pansy’s hand on the iron. The ground is shuddering beneath his feet and Harry only realizes that it’s him who’s shaking when a hand settles on his upper arm. It’s Pansy and the touch is steadying. “Haven’t been back since that—that night,” Harry says in response to the questions in Pansy’s eyes.

A nod tells him she understands, and they march up the lane, sombre as if they’d been carrying a casket between them. Pallbearers for their happily ever after.

They mount the front steps, all trailing a beat behind Pansy.

“You’re positive that we’re not disturbing anyone?” Hermione whispers.

“Absolutely,” Pansy hisses back. “And we don’t to whisper.”

“It feels a bit like breaking and entering,” Ron says, whispering too.

“It’s not! You’re all so—” Pansy stands beneath the massive front door, mouthing insults into the dark. “So Gryffindor!” she says, finally. “Stop it with the needless dramatics and get the fuck inside.”

The tension swells as they cross the threshold and it’s all Harry can do to stand in the enormous entrance hall and close his eyes. He wonders if houses remember. Magical dwellings had always felt more alive than Muggle, and Harry knows that Malfoy Manor has suffered wound after wound. The pain pushes behind his eyes, as if the house is trying to show him just how much it has endured, how desperately these festering hurts need to be lanced.

“You okay, mate?” It’s Ron.

“Yeah,” Harry says, breathing slowly through his teeth.

“We figure Draco cast the spell in the library or on the balcony overlooking the gardens,” Hermione says, throwing an approving look at Pansy.

“Balcony,” Harry says, mind skittering over a memory of Draco’s hand on his chin, pulling his face close, and beathing hot smoke across his lips. He’d looked so calm, leaning into the night. “Let’s try the balcony.”

No one questions him; they all follow Pansy as she leads the way through the empty house.

* * *

“There used to be peacocks,” Pansy says as Hermione prepares the ritual. She leans over the railing, her feet lifting from the ground a little as she pitches forward. The wind is gentle in her hair. “There was this white one that always bit my fingers. Draco loved that stupid bird.”

Ron is spreading a line of salt in a circle, operating under Hermione’s careful instruction. “Yes, that’s right,” she says, following behind him with a cloth and a small bucket. It looks like the kind of toy a child would use to make a sandcastle.

“I can’t believe you’re smearing human blood on the floor,” says Pansy, crinkling her nose.

“Agree with you there, Parkinson,” Ron says.

Harry is unfazed. The task of acquiring several pints of human blood had fallen to him, and he’d agreed easily enough.

“Where are we going to get human blood!” Ron had said, when Hermione had started outlining the materials they would need.

“I suppose we could just bleed ourselves,” Pansy had said. “Hang on. I’ll get a knife from the kitchen.”

“What? No.” Harry had looked at his friends with horror. “You don’t need to cut yourself open.” Wizards, he thought, were so far ahead in some ways and so absolutely medieval in others.

“How else are we going to get human blood?” Pansy said, as if he were a special kind of idiot.  

“S’alright,” Harry said, not ready to explain the circulatory system and blood draws to two pure blood wizards. “I can get the blood.”

“They’ve got fridges of it just lying around!” Ron had yelped when Harry had explained that it wouldn’t be that difficult.

“Uh, yeah?”

“That’s disgusting, is what that is.” Ron said, shaking his head. “I honestly don’t know why you’re bothering at that place. Doctors are just men with knives and apparently fridges full of blood.” Harry had bit his tongue and wrestled  the hot rage back into his chest. Wizards, even good ones like Ron, we so removed from Muggle culture. Too removed to understand or to care about the magnificence of modern medicine and too arrogant to appreciate how the nurses washed the dead. Handled with care, even on their way out of this world.

“This is practically Pagan,” Pansy says, tongue flicking out to lick at her lips nervously. Hermione dabs the blood, determined and soft, into the shape of a star.

“It’s old magic,” Hermione says. “And was your idea, if I remember correctly.”

“Well, yes. All good ideas come from me. But still,” Pansy shivers, and while it could’ve been the cold October wind, Harry knows it isn’t.

Old magic, the kind that only exists in Pure Blood libraries and the minds of men like Voldemort and Dumbledore.  Too old to be dark or light, Pansy had said. We’re the ones who put magic into boxes of good and bad. This kind of thing is bigger than that.

The moon is full to bursting and washes the garish crimson shapes with clean light.

“The sage, Harry,” Hermione says, gesturing to the dried bundles behind her. “Move into the centre of the circle and—oh! Don’t disrupt the salt.”

Harry lifts his foot so as not to muss the lines poured by Ron’s shaky hand.

“Start with the sage, and then the lavender next, and then—” her voice cracks. “Then we’ll be ready.”

Harry nods, breathes deeply as he lights a match and presses it to the first bundle, laying it gently in the centre of their messy rendition of a summoning charm so ancient that there’s no trace of wand work. The smoke billows across his cheeks.

I am more than a corpse, he reminds himself as he settles into place. I’m alive and I’m going to bring Draco home.

“Right,” Hermione says, voice brittle with confidence. “Harry, you stay there. I’m going to cast a gentle sleeping charm. Just enough to put you just beneath the surface.”

Harry knows what will happen next. Hermione had repeated the process over and over until she’d worn a verbal footpath into his memory. “For safety,” she had said. “So you know what’s happening to you,” she had said.

The moon bulges above them and Harry looks up. There’s comfort in the lidless dilation and he’s calm as Hermione’s spell swells in his chest.

“Ron, you stand there, and Pansy you—”

The moon softens its gaze, smoke drifts into his nostrils.

“Once we start the incantation, we can’t stop. Not until he’s back. Not for anything—”

The single white eye blinks and this world bleeds into the next and the next. Everything smudges into shaking fists pounding Harry’s body, a firm hand on his chin, smoke and the soft brush of lips. I love you and mine, stars and headlights. And the blister bursts.

Harry feels someone take his hand. The touch is soft, gentle as fingers slip between his. With me, she says. I’ll show you the way. And the world closes its eye.

His chest dissolves, fragments of himself splayed through a prism of infinite variations. It’s the squeeze of apparition, but inverted, pushing every little bit of him apart, until Harry is reduced to the pieces that are indivisible. Everything is undone and he’s mixing with the stars.

Hold onto me, she says. Hold onto yourself.

The words reverberate through what’s left of him, strumming strong and deep. Hermione, Harry thinks absently, was wrong. The multiverse is not a wheel, and the idea that he could be at the centre of anything is a joke.

The grip tightens between his fingers. I still have fingers, Harry thinks and it’s such an absent thing, to think.

Focus, she says. Find your feet.

The words are a tether, a germ around which he can remember what it feels like to stand. Harry blinks, realizes he has eyes, and then looks around, realizes there is something to look at.

The platform is cast in a soft light, the seats and the tile white. “Kings Cross,” he says. “Again.”

You’ve been here before, she says, stepping towards him on the platform. Her hair was blonde-white, or was it red? Every angle cast a different face, and Harry couldn’t pin her down.

“Yeah,” he says, looking over his shoulder, searching for the station’s corners. “Once.”

I’m sorry, she says and Harry realizes that she knows exactly where this place is and what it means.

For a moment, Harry loses his purpose in the memories of a forest, the green light, the pained whimpers of something bloody and broken and the insistence that “you can’t help.”

You came back? she asks.

The years that followed his decision, the certainty that he’d come back wrong. It twists in the clean white air.

“I—” Harry chokes, and realizes that he doesn’t want to talk about it. “Who are you?”

A guide, she says. A curse, she adds. A friend, she finishes.

“You’re the curse?” Harry should be afraid, but he isn’t.

Curse. Fate. It’s semantics.

“Semantics?” Harry says, squinting in an effort to see her more clearly. He’s without his glasses, and the world is crystal around her, but her edges are infinite. “Seems kind of an important distinction.”

It’s not. The magic vibrates though the station and when she meets his eyes, they’re grey. Are you able to make it right? she asks.

“He wasn’t ever wrong,” Harry says, anger hot in his chest as he remembers Pansy’s face when she’d said, “he thought there was something wrong with him. Was obsessed with being better. With being good enough for this universe.”

No, she says. Not him.  

“What then?” Harry asks, stepping closer, wondering briefly what would happen if he were to reach out and touch. “Try being direct. I’ve heard it’s quite a concept in the modern world.”  

I am not responsible for the world’s slow descent into lazy diction, Harry thinks she says, but these words are softer than the rest and not meant for him.

“Look,” Harry says, body impatient and feet itchy to move. He didn’t have time for vague chats with a morality curse. “Can you help me find him or not?”

Of course, she says. Are you sure you’re ready?

King’s Cross blinks at him, the white halls a place where he’d thought he’d left a part of himself behind. “I think so.”

Harry’s not sure if she walks or glides—does ancient magic have ten toes?—or if the platform just rearranges it’s atoms to accommodate her, but he blinks and she’s in front of him. The touch, when it’s on him again, is soft.

You could not have done this alone. You must have known. You were walking to your death without me to guide you.

“Yeah,” Harry says, realizing that he had known. Even if his understanding of what infinite worlds and the multiverse was incomplete, he’d known that finding Draco and returning home at all had been a long shot. Trying to get a fix on her eyes, as they shift in a face that’s made of a thousand other faces, Harry says, “But I had to try.”

Perhaps you have fixed it after all, she says, grip tightening. Would you like to say goodbye? This place appears to have meaning to you.

King’s Cross glistens around the refracting profile of an ancient-curse-who-may-also-be-fate, soft and clean. I do not think you’ll be back again. Not until it’s time.

A part of him yearns for a hint of half-moon spectacles and a simpler ending. Cleaner. More finite. Where the corpse inside of him can rest. Harry gulps. Squeezes back. “No. Let’s go.”

Watch the gap, she says as the station fades away. And don’t linger. They’ll take you. Take and take and there will be nothing left.

Harry tries to hold on to the concept of seeing and being seen, but it’s no use. The world unravels, the multiverse twisting like a tornado made of tapestry, and it takes Harry with it. Starlight streams, rather than sparkles. Liquid ribbons twist.

“I’ll bring him home,” he thinks he says.

I’d hoped you would.

The moment before catastrophe is still breakable. There’s a light at the top of the stairs, Harry thinks and he follows

the sky’s eyes are wide open

follows

the cars rush by, headlights blinking into the distance

follows

tread softly? Because these are my dreams.

Draco, October, 2003

The canola fields sway in the afternoon wind and Draco stands at the edge. Behind him, a 2002 Renault Mégane coupé is parked on the side of the road, with this universe’s Potter asleep in the passenger seat.

He just ran away with me. Like it was nothing. This Potter is weary, chapped around the edges, hungry for home. Draco is too.  

Draco’s not sure how long he’s lingered here, chasing the horizon, as if the highway is the stray end of a cassette tape that needed to be rewound.

“Draco?”

Potter must have woken up, which is a bit odd—he usually stayed in the car when Draco stood on the edge of oblivion and stared into the distance. Casual dramatics didn’t seem to phase Harry in this universe.

“Hmm?” he answers, not turning around. The gold in the fields reflect the bonfire in the sky and Draco closes his eyes and breathes. Just breathes.

“Thank Merlin,” Potter says. There’s a touch of mania in his voice and it’s so stark a difference from the relaxed posture and easy silences of this world that it startles Draco.

“Have you only just realized you’ve committed to a length-yet-to-be-determined road trip with a Death Eater?” Draco tries for humour, but it falls flat.

“What the fuck? No! No, god, I can’t believe I found you.”

Found me? The words crack the safety he’s found here, chasing the highway’s end. No. No it can’t— Draco squishes that nasty little thought, because it’s not possible and Potter wouldn’t. His Potter wouldn’t. “Get back in the car,” says Draco, trying for a drawl but it comes out thready and scared.

“No. I don’t think I will, thanks. Draco, look at me.”

“No,” Draco says. Panic seethes in his guts. The Potter in this universe didn’t sound like that. These are not the words of the worn out Auror who’d wandered into the passenger side, agreeable to several uncomfortable hours in a moderately priced automobile. This is—that’s his—it sounds like—

“Turn around,” Harry says and there’s really no questioning it now. That’s my Harry. And Draco’s scared, because this is also the voice that spat liar and a coward, that laughed at him, cold and bloody, and insisted that he could never love—

“Draco,” Harry says again. “Please?”

The wind rolls across the canola. For a moment, Draco contemplates wading out into the yellow sea and drowning in the blooms.

And then he turns around.

Harry is standing on the edge of the road, skin slick and dusty, with that same solitary hole in the toe of his trainers. Draco wants to shake him, because even when presented with an infinite number of clothing options, Potter still insists on scruffy disaster. His jeans are worn and his shirt is loose in the breeze and Draco barely registers any of that because his face—

Draco knows this face. Its inches are as familiar as lines on a map. He knows the wrinkles and the shade of his lips after he’s been kissed by tender violence. He knows the muscles under that skin and the spectrum of green alive in the threads of those irises. The addition and subtraction of a quirked lip or a stern line can add up to love. In every universe except for his own, on the face of every version of Harry Potter but the one who matters. Except—

“Who? How?” Draco gasps.

“I came to find you,” Harry says, stepping onto the gravel shoulder, closing the distance.

“You’re not possible,” Draco insists. “You can’t be here.”

“Hermione’s clever. And I had more help, besides.”

“More help?”

“From a friend. A curse? Maybe fate?” Harry’s brow squiggles, puzzled. “I dunno what she was, but she took me by the hand and—”

“She took your hand?” Draco’s disbelief is squirming, refusing to be suspended. It can’t be, though, because his face—He’s looking at me like—

“Draco,” Harry says again, as if his name will spell away all of the hurt. “Please. It’s me.”

Draco can’t speak and so he cranes his neck, sipping the air and staring up at the sky.

“Come back with me.” Harry’s creeping forward, and Draco remembers St. Mungo’s and how Harry had walked into his violence then too. “You don’t belong here.”

“I don’t belong anywhere,” Draco says. The back of his throat is so tight it hurts.

“Yes, you do,” Harry’s closer.

“You don’t want—you didn’t—”

“I was wrong. I didn’t believe you. I’m—” For a moment, Harry chokes on it. No apologies, Draco’d said a lifetime ago. Sorrys would send them stumbling down a cliff of regret that only turned their past into a bottomless pit. It was pointless. “I’m sorry,” Harry finishes anyway.

“Sorry enough to traipse across the multiverse?” Draco wishes his words had more bite.

“Yes.” Potter’s always been hopelessly earnest.

“Well,” Draco says, wishing that he could turn away, but those green eyes pin him in place. “What if I’ve made my peace with oblivion? What if I’d rather live a hundred lives where I get—” to be with you, he was going to say, but doesn’t.

Harry steps again. They’re close now, so close that Harry is nearly standing on his shoes. Draco remembers Potter’s hand on his elbow in front of the Winzengamot and then the ghost of his lips on a balcony. “I’m not very good at this,” Harry says and Draco’s close enough to taste the words.

“Try,” Draco whispers, because anything louder would scare the moment away.

“Someone told me…to come to you with the words of my betters?” A tiny grin crooks the corner of Harry’s lip. “To come with poets and other people with nice words.”

“He did not,” Draco breathes. It wasn’t possible. Robertson couldn’t have—  

“Something about…tread softly? Because these are my dreams.” Harry pauses and Draco’s grateful because the Boy Who Lived is misquoting Aedh Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven and Draco must have died, infinite possibilities be dammed, because there was no world in which Harry Potter ever did that.

“I liked that one a lot, actually,” Harry says, looking down at Draco’s lips. “Cause you were actually in my dreams. Every universe that Pansy gave me felt so familiar, I’m sure I dreamed all of them.”

“Excuse me, Pansy did what?”

Harry waves a hand, as if this detail merits little notice. “He said I should woo you in multiple languages, but I can’t. I came after you and I’m still not sure if I’ll be…” Harry closes his eyes, and in spite of the ragged blue jeans and the plain t-shirt, Draco sees the sun glancing off of his skin and is sure that nothing has even been so beautiful. “I’m not sure if I’ll be enough.”

The canola rustles behind them. “But you don’t want me,” Draco finally says. “You don’t—"

“I do.” That face. Draco knows that face and yet—

“In this universe?” Draco’s voice is small, because it’s the question that holds everything together.

There’s grit in the line of Harry’s jaw and Draco knows, because he knows that face, and yet Harry’s answer still buckles his bones. “In every universe,” Harry says.

In every universe. Three words that slip in through Draco’s sharp intake of breath and squeeze the chambers of his heart into that shape of Harry’s palm. “You don’t need Yeats when you say things like that,” Draco whispers, and the wind picks up the words and sends them rustling through the fields.

There’s an inch between them—maybe less—and Harry closes it, leaves his lips there for Draco to take. The listless fields sway as the sun melts off the sky, and Draco buries his fingers in the neck of Harry’s shirt. Pushes back into Harry’s space. Bends over him, their chins touching, and holds on, possessive and urgent and almost but not quite there.

Harry’s eyes flutter closed, the want written on the face Draco knows so well.

“In what universe, Harry?” Draco asks, because he needs to hear it.

“In every universe,” Harry says again, and Draco takes his face in his hands and kisses him.

“You’re mine,” Draco presses the confession into Harry with his tongue. He feels the moment when Harry gives himself up, body going soft.

“Yes.”

“In every universe,” Draco says, teeth biting down on Harry’s bottom lip and sucking it into his mouth.

Harry whimpers, “Yes,” and Draco chases it.  

Every universe, Draco thinks, and the planes of their bodies drift together, arms buried in shirts and hair and skin. In every single one.

They are clinging together when the curse comes for them. They tip over the edge of the world, tumbling through a yellow ocean and a light at the top of the stair, across fields of snow and a tightrope between life and death.

Will you come home now? she asks. Now that you’ve finally made it right?

Yes, Draco thinks, because Harry Potter wants him in every universe. Every single one.

Fate kisses him on the top of his head and it’s the last thing Draco feels before the lights go out.

Harry, October, 2003

Everything unzips. The heat of a setting sun, the sway of an empty field, the cloying of gravel and sweat on his forehead. Everything but Draco and Harry knows that this is another part of him that is indivisible.

Your magic, the curse says. Let it go. Let it take you home.

For years—ever since that horrible night in the forest—Harry had clutched his magic tight, fought with the frantic moments when it surged close to the skin.

Let it go. It’s the only way you will both make it home.

Harry doesn’t understand the hows of this request. The parameters of this ancient morality curse are indiscernible and it was all Harry can do to listen to her voice. His magic is warm, humming and itchy, as his skin shifts as the power bursts through. “Home,” he says through a mouthful of stars.

Hold onto me, she says. Hold onto him. Hold onto yourself.

Voco compello accio appello

It’s vague at first. Ghostly.

Voco compello accio appello

Hermione’s voice surges over the murmur.

Voco compello accio appello

The world realigns with a shuddering crack, as Harry’s knees collide with the smooth tile. The smell of sage and lavender burns his nostrils. Harry remembers that he has a body and that everything hurts just as he registers the smell of lemons and sweat in the hollow of a neck.

“Fuck a nine toed troll, they made it,” someone says. Ron. That was Ron.

“Draco!” Pansy’s voice is watery and unguarded in its relief.

Harry opens his eyes, because he still has eyes that can look and hands that can hold, and realizes that he’s in a tangle of limbs in the middle of a circle made of blood. Back, he realizes. We made it back.

They’re both on the ground, tangled up in each other. Voices are calling above them, with words of “You alright mate?” and “Draco, you’re a pustule of infection. You’re all the bad things!” and “Harry! Harry are you hurt? Are you okay?” Harry knows he should answer them, but Draco has opened his eyes too, and is looking at him with apprehension. There is a question lurking that wasn’t there in another universe but is resurfacing in this one. As if Harry’s promises are incompatible with the air they’re breathing now that they’re home.

“Hey.” Harry’s voice cracks on the way out and he realizes his words, ever the blunt objects, aren’t enough. Slowly, as their friends fuss above them, Harry lowers the hand that’s buried up the back of Draco’s shirt and twines their fingers together. Holds on and squeezes tight. I’m not going anywhere, he says with his hands.

“Are you sure?” Draco whispers.

Harry nods. He was. 

It all moves so quickly across Draco’s face—the agony and desire, the disbelief and finally the hope, a determined shade of red in his cheeks.  

For a moment, all of Harry’s focus is pared down to the single point where green eyes meet grey. It’s intense, so intense that it hurts. And it’s good.

Draco stares until he finds whatever he’d been looking for, and then stands. He does not let go of Harry’s hand.  

“Did you smear blood on my balcony?” Draco drawls as he surveys his surroundings. “That’s practically medieval. Pansy, how did you let this happen?”

“I’m going to remove your skin with my tweezers,” Pansy says, tears in her eyes, before she crashes into him. “I was worried,” she whispers and it’s so vulnerable, Harry wishes he weren’t hearing it.

But then Ron and Hermione are on him. For just a little while, the weight of their bodies and the weight of the future seems to balance, and everything feels calm.

Chapter Text

Harry, December, 2003

“What is this place?” Ron asks, when Harry pushes through the heavy front door and in from the December frost.

“It’s a gaming café, Ronald,” Hermione says, unwrapping an enormous scarf from her neck and setting her hair loose on the softly lit interior. “It says so above the door. You know, for an auror, your observational skills—”

“Stop,” Ron wails, pulling his woolly hat down over his eyes. It was maroon and clashed violently with his hair. Draco told him so at every opportunity and Ron had taken this as a challenge to locate and purchase a legion of red hats.

“C’mon,” Harry says, pulling them away from the enormous tables covered in small figurines. The chairs are crowded with boisterous twenty-somethings, some yelling, some rolling dice.

“Are those,” Ron stops in his tracks and leans in, getting far too close to a table of men, all of whom have terrifying muscles, “little squares with numbers on them?”

A bald head spins around, and the expression on the face attached is rouge. “Got a problem?” he asks, lips smacking on each syllable.

“No!” Ron appears to notice the subtle flex in the man’s biceps and takes a step out of his personal space. “Not at all. I was just wondering about those little squares you’ve got there—”

“Excuse us,” Hermione says, tugging a curious Ron away from an intense Dungeons and Dragons campaign. Behind them, someone shouts, “Perfect 20! How do you like them apples, Kurt!!” The table roars in response. Somewhere, a pint crashes the floor.

Harry rolls his eyes and herds them towards a smaller wooden table, tucked in the far back corner. Their table. Pansy casts a subtle notice-me-not on it every few weeks to ensure they will always have privacy away from the “insufferable Muggle gamers.” Pansy’s knowledge of Muggle colloquialisms really has improved, Harry thinks, smiling as he spots the shiny black gleam of her hair. Thick liquid eyeliner traces deep lines on her dainty face and Harry realizes with no small amount of horror that the feeling in his chest is fond. It’s a strange universe, he supposes, as he lets his eyes drift over to the man sitting across from her.

A shock of white-blonde hair.

Long legs. Sharp angles.

A tattoo, dark on his pale forearm. Flowers lazily wrapping their leaves around a faded skull, weaving in between the snake and distorting something monstrous into something changed.

And those fucking grey eyes, lifting as Harry approaches. The attention is singular, focused, as if he is the only person in the world who matters. It’s as intense as it was the first time, that night in A&E.

“I had no idea recreational gaming could be so—” Hermione slides into the booth. “Intense?”

“They take their strange form of entertainment very seriously,” Pansy says, eyes glinting as Hermione settles next to her—it’s a hungry look and Harry reminds himself to warn Ron of the dangerous and effective sexual wiles of Pansy Parkinson, which he has now seen first-hand. She’s relentless.

Hermione laughs and Harry chases the sound, tries to hold it. The collection of people around this table is unlikely—Harry still can’t quite believe how easy it all is. How all it had taken was a bottle of wine and a five-hour game of chess before Ron and Draco were draping their arms around one another, a writhing giggling mess of blond and red hair.  

“I will ruin you next time, weasel,” Draco had promised, wine glass sloshing as Ron snorted violent good humour. “I was going easy on you. For Potter’s sake, obviously. How callous would it be to trounce his best mate so thoroughly? No. I’ll get you next time,” Draco had promised, two spots of red glowing on his cheeks.

Harry'd wanted to eat him, had done so later that night, looking up from his knees as Draco thighs shook. Harry nosed Draco’s skin, pressed his wet mouth in the hollow of Draco’s hips.

“H—Harry. More. Please.”

Harry’d grinned, lips stretching. He’d been hungry, so hungry, and all he wanted was Draco. Without preamble, Harry swallowed him all the way down.

“Fuck!” Draco’s head hit the wall with a dull thud.

Harry relaxed his throat, the weight of Draco heavy on his tongue, saliva dripping from the edges of his lips, and had pushed. Draco had wanted more. Harry had given it to him.

 

“Typical,” Draco says, as Harry sinks into the chair next to him. “You bring your uncultured friends to the pinnacle of Muggle sophistication and they’re already embarrassing us.” Behind him, someone screams in genuine terror as another roars, “A FUCKING TARRASQUE, YOU’VE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME.” Draco ignores the disturbance.

Harry shrugs, smiling and revelling in how easy it’s become. To smile.

“Drinks?” Pansy asks, hopping to her feat, eyes alight with villainy. Harry hates how much he enjoys her.

“God yes,” Ron says, and Pansy leans across the table and flicks him on the forehead.

“Oy! What was that for!”

“It’s how I show affection,” Pansy says, and she’s off before anyone can say a word or place an order. No one protests. Pansy’s done this before, and seems to knows what each of them will have to drink before they know themselves.

 

There’s something cheeky in Pansy’s expression as she talks to the barista-bartender, something far too innocent in her eyes as she returns with a glass of red for Hermione, a Bacardi Breezer for Ron, and a hot cocoa for Harry.

“How much rum is in this?” Harry asks, grinning as he tries to find the answer in the aroma coming off the steam.

“Enough,” Pansy says, winking, before turning her attention to Draco. The bartender is trailing behind her, looking charmed. Carefully, he places four shot glasses on the table.

“Thank you, Darwin. You’re an absolute doll.”

Darwin blushes through his beard. “Have a n—nice night, Pansy.”

“You’ve not forgotten about the musical adjustments you’re going to make, have you?” Pansy asks, dark eyes brimming.

“No! I’ll take care of it. Promise,” he says, the red creeping down his neck.

“What a good boy you are,” Pansy says, and Darwin turns and runs back to the bar.

“You’re terrible,” says Ron, but takes his Breezer, looking at it as if it’s a revelation. “You know, this tastes too good to be alcoholic.”

“If you didn’t have hangover potion, you’d understand why no one else drinks those awful things,” Hermione says.

“Musical adjustments?” Draco says, looking at the shot glasses sitting between himself and Pansy.

“Don’t worry about it.” Pansy pats Draco on the head. “But you’ll want to drink at least two of those in preparation.”

 

Six shots of tequila later, the overhead speaker system stutters to a stop, cutting off the most recent Lord of the Rings soundtrack that had been humming through the café.

“Pansy?” Draco says, eyes narrowing, the end of her name a bit soft with drink.

“This is your fault, really,” Pansy says as the Spice Girls start to blare overhead.

Yo, I’ll tell what I really want, what I really really want.

Somewhere, Harry is sure that the rest of the patrons are moaning their disapproval, but the glint in Draco’s eye is every good thing distilled to a single moment. “You’re the one who exposed me to these spicey ladies.”

I wanna, I wanna, I wanna.

Harry can’t believe how sharp Pansy’s words are, given the graveyard of shot glasses scattered across their table. “I’ve decided the posh one is my idol.”

“Of course you have,” Hermione sighs into her cup.

If you want my future, forget my past.

“You’ll have to dance, of course,” Pansy says, giving both Draco and Harry one of her most violent looks. “I spent fifteen minutes flirting with that bearded boy. You have no idea how risk averse he is! Insists that the clientele won’t like a girl band.” Given the glares being directed at the cash, Harry thinks Darwin might’ve been onto something. “You owe me.”

“We can’t dance here!” Ron insists, but his body betrays him, shimmying back and forth in his chair.

If you wanna be my lover, you’ve gotta get with my friends.

Harry latches on to the lyrics and glares. “Is this a hint, Parkinson?”

“Look at you, more than just a pretty face.” Pansy kicks him under the table while simultaneously downing another shot. One can’t help but admire her coordination. “Come on.”

 

The night ends with Pansy on top of the table, beer bottle doubling as a microphone. Her feet are spread in what Harry privately thinks is an excellent duelling stance, the muscles in her throat flexing as she tries to match Celine’s superior French vocal range. “ALL BY MYSELF!” The table shakes under her furious attempt at the high note.

“He sang this,” Pansy insists, panting and flushed, as she collapses back into her chair next to them. “When he was pining after you!”

“I did not!”

“Sing or pine?” Harry whispers, and Draco is as red as Ron’s hair.

“AND!” Pansy says, lifting her finger in delight. “He used to think boom boxes would explode!”

Hermione’s laugh wheezes and squeaks.

“Mutinous motherfuckers,” Draco says. Under the table, Harry grabs his hand and just holds him.

 

Draco, September, 2004

Harry: i graduate this month

Draco: I’m aware. I hope you don’t view me in such low esteem. I pay close attention to important dates.

Draco: I’m the epitome of conscientious boyfriend

Harry: boyfriend

Harry: I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of that

Draco: Stop it.

Harry: whatever

Harry: anyways, I graduate next month and there’s this ceremony thing

Draco types a message. Deletes it. Types again. Deletes.

Harry: Draco, you still there

Draco: Yes.

Harry: right, I was hoping you’d come with me.

Draco: To your graduation?

Harry: yeah

Harry: as my date. Cause you know, the whole boyfriend thing?

Draco: There will be photographers.

Of course there would. While the St. Mungo’s graduation celebration for newly minted healers was not a socially significant affair, the saviour of the wizarding world was attending a public event for the first time in years. High society would be chomping at the bit for a ticket. Every important ministry official would be in attendance.

Harry: whatever

Draco: You don’t mind?

They’ll see us, Draco thinks. Even years later, the memory of Potter in the middle of the Wizengamot, green eyes hard and flat, “Not like this, Malfoy. Not where people can see.

Harry: of course not. I want you there

Draco: Alright.

Draco’s anxiety is pulsing in time with his heartbeat.

Harry: I really want you there

Draco: I know.

 

“Hold still.” Draco knows that it’s not Harry, that it’s his hands that are shaking. The soft brush of silk drifts across his skin as Draco folds the tie into a clean Half Windsor. Draco lets his pinky finger drift across Harry’s neck and feels him shudder.

“Done,” Draco says, cinching the knot to Harry’s throat, gently pressing the starched shirt collar flat.

Mouth a thin line, Harry moves towards the mirror. “You know,” Harry says, voice warm, flavours of want and affection twisting in the vowels. “I think I prefer a suit to dress robes.”

Draco looks at him, admires the planes of his shoulders, the brown of his skin against the deep green fabric, and has to ball his fingers into fists to stop himself from tearing the clothes to pieces. Arriving with the buttons in tatters, the jacket wrinkled, the trousers damp would be well worth it, probably.

“You look—” Draco starts, but can’t quite articulate the unique twist of desire in his stomach; he feels like he’s fallen from a broom.

“Stupid?”

Draco shakes his head. “Who would’ve thought. A green suit.”

“You,” Harry says, lip quirking in the way that Draco loves to bite. “You thought a green suit would be a good idea.”

“I’m not the one who insisted on Muggle fashion.”

Harry sighs. “No.” That had been Harry, through and through, and Draco loved him for it, although he still hadn’t said.

“We don’t mix enough, Muggles and Wizards” Harry had said a hundred times. “We need to let these universes come together, at least a little.”

This was an old want, one borne out of the “hoarding of magical techniques that could save millions of lives if the wizarding world would open their boarders!”

Harry raged and Draco soothed. “Dropping the wards will seem a bit extreme,” Draco had said, even though he agreed.

People will call it impossible,” Draco had whispered when Harry crawled into his arms after a ten-year-old had died, his limp heart in Harry’s hands.

No one will listen,” he had said when Harry’s temper raged in Draco’s small office, and Draco’d been sure that this was how he died, burnt alive in a fit of Harry’s wild magic, it was so hot on his skin.

Start small,” Draco had said, when Harry’d growled about the upcoming end to his residency at Royal London Hospital.

And then Harry had asked Draco to take him shopping for a suit, correctly assuming that he would not have missed the opportunity to see himself in the most exquisite clothing Muggles had to offer. Starting small.

“You look—” stunning, impossible, like grit distilled to its purest form, “acceptable,” Draco finishes.

Those eyes, green as a killing curse and a summer afternoon, look at Draco in the mirror’s reflection. Draco’s grateful he’s not taking the full blast, grateful that it’s only a reflection because his knees are already weak. “So do you.”  

Draco steps forward, grey dress robes folding around him like stardust woven into fabric. If he was re-entering wizarding society on the arm of Harry fucking Potter, he was going to look his best.

All of the pretences fall from his face and Draco watches himself in the mirror, dressed in the finest robes money can buy, his feelings naked for Harry to see. He slips a possessive arm around Harry’s waist.

“Are you ready?” Harry asks, reaching for the hand on his hip, weaving their fingers together. The gesture is so tactile, so effortless, that it leaves a sting behind Draco’s eyes.

Am I ready to face the world that I helped destroy? That knows what I did and told me so in letters painted in blood?

Draco looks up at Harry. For you, he thinks, “Yes.”

A look, a tight nod, and Harry apparates them away.

 

The telltale pressure squeezes nausea from his pores, and Draco holds on, fingers tights in Harry’s. His feet clatter against industrial tile and Draco focuses on the hand that’s holding him, presses his chest into Harry’s spine. I’m here, he thinks. I’m here and I get to have this, and then opens his eyes.

They’re in the lobby, Draco realizes, in a corner near the coat check. No one’s seen them. No eyes are looking. The doorway to the ballroom where the celebration will take place is just up ahead at the top of a set of stairs. Two double doors are flung open, towering twenty feet tall and surrounded by fairy lights floating in the air. Laughter drifts up and out, washing the entranceway in the promise of company.

And it’s all too much. The eyes, the whispers, the arrows. It’s all going to fall upon them, and it won’t just be Draco’s shame anymore. It will be Harry’s too.

“Draco?” Harry says, and it hurts to look at him. The green suit had been a terrible idea, because his love for this man is seeping from his retinas and it hurts, to love like this.

“Are you—” someone laughs behind them, and Draco flinches, bites his lip, carries on. “Are you sure? That you want this?”

“What?” Harry’s confused and Draco wants to sob.

“They’re all…” The words are a pound of flesh that he’s not ready to pay. “They’re all going to see.”

Confused clicks into comprehension and Harry says, “Draco.” Places his hands on Draco’s shoulders and turns him, gently. “I want them to.”

“You…you what?” Draco doesn’t understand.

“I want them to see.”

“But we’ll be—in front of all those—in front of all wizarding—”  

Harry looks at him, and it’s not indifference or embarrassment, and Draco wonders if maybe he’d misunderstood, all those years ago.

“I want you,” Harry says, pulling him towards the light. “I want you where everyone can see.”

There’s a light at the top of the stairs, Draco thinks. Remembers.

“Okay?” Harry asks, and that look Draco knows so well twists on Harry’s face.

Draco’s jaw starts to quiver, but this is not the venue for vulnerability. Teeth clenched tight enough to shatter, Draco manages a quick nod.

Together, his hands clasped, his chin held high, he follows Harry through the doors and into the light. Draco faces his future with Harry Potter holding on to him, refusing to let go. 

 

Harry, June, 2008

The rain is soft today, gentle in its assault on the windows of Grimmauld Place. Bella prowls the deep ledges, watching the drops wandering down the glass with suspicion and the occasional swat of a snowy white paw.

“You’re in the paper again,” Draco says, casting a weary glance at the front page of the Prophet. Harry knows, has seen the headline.

Chosen One Confounded? Death Eater’s Son and Boy Who Lived Spotted in Lake District

Beneath the enormous text is a photograph that Harry would frame if Draco would let him. Harry remembers the moment from two weeks ago as clearly as if it’d been preserved in his pensieve. They’d been hiking, had popped out of the trails near a tiny town—Sandside, Harry remembers. The site of a meteor strike, a thousand years ago and Draco had wanted to see it. Harry, unable to deny him anything, had agreed without question.

The photograph replays the moment of intimacy over and over. A bark of laughter throws the doors of Harry’s face wide open and there’s a smile half swallowed behind Draco’s serious mouth. Harry can’t remember what he’d been laughing at; it doesn’t matter, really.

“Didn’t they run that headline ten years ago?” Harry says, trying for nonchalance. Draco’s never gotten used to the press, the microscopic attention honed in on everything that should remain private, blown up for the world to see.

We knew it would be bad,” Harry had said, time and time again. “The press doesn’t matter,” he insisted, when Draco had wept himself dry after a jeweller had gone to the Witch Weekly about a ring he’d purchased. “I love you,” Harry’d said, from one knee a week later, because it was as true as it was forever.

Draco pushes his hair off his forehead and Harry wants to press him thumb over the worry lines. “If they’re going to invade our personal lives, they should at least strive for originality. Confunded? What a bore.”

Bella swaggers across the counter and sniffs at Draco’s plate, nose held high in something that approaches feline elegance. Draco feeds her the corners of his toast.

“You think they would be more interested in your Muggle Medical Integration Bill, but no! That won’t drive sales.” Draco scoffs and Harry wants to swallow it, to feel the warmth of Draco’s posh mannerisms heat him from the inside out.

Grimmauld place is warmer since Draco moved in. “It’s because of my superior blood claim,” Draco had said as they watched the house slowly open itself up.

“It’s like the mould is being scrubbed by the cheery optimism of our flourishing relationship,” Draco had said, and while Harry knew he’d been joking, he can’t help but wonder if that’s a part of it. Privately, Harry suspects that the house somehow has access to the pH of his soul.

The house has come back to life, and so has he.

Like everything with them, it isn’t easy. Draco is pricklier than razer wire and more potent than undiluted bobtuber puss. He spends far too much time on his facial routine and sings Muggle pop songs loud enough to wake the neighbours. He has an unhealthy relationship with house his plants—which Bella loathes on principle and maims in protest. The screaming matches between man and feline are battles for the ages. Sometimes, on bad days, Draco insists on searching Harry’s face, holding him still and running his long fingers over skin and bone, looking for something that only he can see.

Not easy.

But right, Harry thinks, much later, as he straddles Draco’s hips and the pretences of a universe they both yearned for but never expected to have fade away. “Every single one,” Harry breathes, and lowers himself down, revels in the fullness of it, the way Draco’s eyes flutter closed. There is bliss in the sweat and soft sounds and Draco’s thumbs clinging to his pulse point. Harry lifts his chin to the ceiling, lolls his head back and breathes. The promise turns to air, slipping into his lungs and drowning him in a certainty he’s never known.

Right.

Draco, June, 2008

The shadows writhe around them and Draco hangs on to the throb of Harry’s pulse under his thumbs. Mine, he thinks as Harry moves, hips swaying easy, casual, without urgency. As if he could drive Draco’s pleasure to the brink and just hold him there, dangling over oblivion without a wand, without a broom, with just the promise in Harry’s eyes as he looks down at him. Mine.

Later, sweaty and sticky and utterly sated, Draco feels the world sway to the beat of Harry’s sleep-steady breaths. For years, Draco had stared up at the ceiling, much like he is now, yearning to sleep for the possibility of another universe.

It’s never happened again—not since he’d stood on the edge of a field of yellow and Harry had come for him, but Draco’s sure that she’s been back. Sure that he’s felt the cool fingers on his forehead, the touch tender as his mother’s, sure that he’s heard the soft whisper as he drifts into sleep. It’s right, she says. You’ve made it right.

Right, Draco thinks and sinks into the soft down of his pillow.  Because it’s certainly not easy. Harry’s temper could scorch the earth. He’s too generous with his good opinion and far too tolerant of the press. He leaves his damp towels on the floor and allows his evil house pet far too much leniency. Sometimes, when Draco leaves for work or visits the manor, Harry looks at him as if he’s afraid he will go forever—as if Draco could ever stop coming back.

Beside him, Harry makes a soft sound in his sleep and shuffles closer, pressing his sweaty heat to Draco’s chest. Not easy, Draco thinks, turning to wrap his entire world up in his arms. But right.