Draco opens one eye and sighs. Something is flinging itself against the door of his quarters, bumping and scrabbling and making an enormous racket. The noise itself is nothing new to him; he hears it all the time, but there is something about the way it has made itself a maddeningly incessant soundtrack to this day that is skittering all over his last nerve. Yes, it’s extremely hot, and yes, a silent room full of ineffectual Cooling Charms is probably a very unexciting place for a sociable beetle, but he’s far too sticky and pressed-down weary to do anything about it.
“We should take him out for a bit,” Harry says, and Draco unsticks his face from his pillow to gaze at him.
He decides against pointing out that this is at least the third time Harry has made this suggestion today, and instead finds a very reluctant smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. If he and Stanley are struggling with the temperature, he knows that Harry is in hell. His skin is flushed and his chaotic dark hair is flopping against his forehead, temporarily beaten into submission by the humidity. The air in the bedroom is like soup, and even with their best attempts at magically bringing freshness into the atmosphere, there is nothing much to be done beside flopping naked on the sheets and waiting for the madness to pass. According to Poppy, who reads the Daily Prophet, a storm is coming. Given that it was supposed to come on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and now today, Draco has rather given up hoping.
“What’s the point?” he sighs, raising his voice in the hope of reaching the infernal beetle. “It’s even hotter out there and the ground will burn your little feet!”
For a moment, the bumping ceases, as though Stanley is considering this information. Draco waits. When the rhythmic bashing starts up again, he groans and turns back to Harry. The sound is now so ingrained into his consciousness that he thinks he might never stop hearing it.
“We could put him in his boots,” Harry suggests, Summoning the little box with a lazy flick of his wrist.
Draco attempts to ignore the warm flutter in his stomach set off by the careless display and instead presses his palm to the side of Harry’s face, relishing the way he closes his eyes and leans into the touch.
“You’re… not quite as warm as me,” he murmurs. “How do you do that?”
Draco snorts. “Poor circulation, probably.”
“I love it. Don’t stop.”
Amused, Draco lifts his other hand and trails his fingers over the hot, damp skin. His fingertips drag over the points of new stubble and trace Harry’s wonderfully stubborn, if slightly sticky jawline. He’s a beautiful man, all rough edges and electric energy, and the fact that Draco is allowed to touch him any time he wants to remains almost uncomfortably thrilling. Harry sighs softly and Draco kisses him, ignoring the heat and leaning close, threading fingers into damp hair. A feeble wisp of a breeze sneaks in through the window, bringing with it the heavy scent of the brewing storm, and all at once, Draco’s head is full of white sheets and rain-damp hands and the palpable relief of a man who could not open his mouth to explain that he was hot and uncomfortable and fed up with the world.
“It’s okay,” Harry whispers against his mouth, “I know,” and then kisses Draco with dedication, wrapping one arm around his waist and sliding the fingers of his other hand against Draco’s jaw with such careful desire that he aches all over.
It’s too hot for this, he knows that, but he doesn’t care, and his entire body is heavy with wanting it. He groans when Harry touches him and kisses him harder, and then the bumping from the next room is suddenly replaced by a loud crash and the sound of six scuttling feet. Slowly, they disentangle themselves and stare at each other.
“He’s probably fine,” Harry says, uncertainty at odds with the heat in his eyes and the way that he is still gripping Draco’s thigh. “Isn’t he?”
“Probably,” Draco says through gritted teeth. “But I wouldn’t be much of a beetle parent if I didn’t go and see, would I?” he calls, raising his voice again and staring at the closed bedroom door.
Harry lets go of him and flops back onto the sheets, eyes closed. Draco hesitates, just for a moment, dragged in by his arched back and slick, hard… oh, good grief. Now he can hear the tack-tack-tacking of a beetle who knows he’s in the soup, and he’s actually going to have to walk away from this. Prickling with irritation, he throws on the first clothes he sees and flings open the bedroom door. Stanley shoots out from under the coffee table and bobbles around his feet, directing ingratiating little clicks up at his knees. Because of course, the little bugger is adorable, and Draco is almost sold until he spots the mess of soil and leaves and ceramic in front of the door.
“You knocked over my peace lily, you little reprobate,” he chastises, booting Stanley away from his feet so that he can inspect the damage. “Ivy and Magnus got me that. They thought it might make me more…”
“Peaceful?” Harry suggests, appearing in the bedroom doorway in scruffy jeans and a white t-shirt.
“Yes,” Draco says grimly, unsure whether or not to be disappointed that he’s dressed. It’s probably for the best. “And I’m not feeling it right now. I’m really not.”
Stanley, who has now decided to direct his apologetic dance at Harry, tacks loudly and spins in a circle. Draco knows that he didn’t mean to break anything, he’s just made that way. A strange, chaotic being, much like Harry. At that thought, he smiles and draws his wand, focusing all his energy on raising the broken shards of the pot and clicking them back together in a flash of yellow light. Next, he spells all of the spilled soil back into place and then carefully levitates the plant to sit in it. There doesn’t seem to be any permanent damage, and he thinks his peace lily will live to see another day, but now he’s hotter and wearier than before, and he knows that he will have to do something to amuse that sodding beetle before he mischiefs the castle to the ground.
“I give in,” he says, turning to Harry. “Let’s put him in the boots and take him out.”
Amused, Harry Summons the box from the bedroom with another little flick of his wrist and sets about stuffing Stanley’s flailing feet into the little boots. Sensing adventure, Stanley clicks delightedly and scrabbles in Harry’s lap, making the simple task anything but. Draco just sighs and fetches his harness, strapping him in and suppressing a smile when the beetle struggles out of Harry’s grip and bobbles over to him, poking affectionate antennae through the holes in his jeans and stroking his skin.
“One more boot, thank you,” Harry laughs, grasping Stanley by the shell and finishing the job with a flourish that makes Draco want to mock him and hug him at the same time.
The castle is all but deserted, the reason for which is clear the moment they step out into the grounds. The entire student population seems to have decamped to the lawns, the more sensible individuals forming little knots under trees and the rest sprawling in the oppressive sunshine, limbs spread out over grass and blankets and, in some cases, one another. The air is almost humming with not-really-allowed Cooling Charms, and Draco feels Harry glancing at him, clearly wondering if he’s planning to go full Professor Malfoy and throw the lot of them in detention for using magic outside of lessons. The old temptation prickles at him, especially when he catches sight of Jasper Bracknell using some slightly dodgy spellwork to create a little fountain for himself and his friends, but Draco resists. It’s a Saturday, it’s hotter than the depths of Hades, and, more importantly, he really can’t be bothered.
Stanley pulls at his lead and hops up and down, his frenzied tacking attracting the attention of everyone nearby. Draco nods to the students issuing ‘ooh’s and cheerful greetings and allows the beetle to pull him over to a group spread out under a large cherry tree. Harry walks at his side, occasionally allowing their knuckles to brush together but never pushing for anything more. They’ve made it six months without announcing their relationship to the gossiping little buggers, and Draco thinks it might be nice to make it a few more. His lazy thought is stopped in its tracks by the sight of Magnus Humphries, one of three students lounging under the cherry tree and one of Stanley’s most special friends. There is nothing surprising about Magnus himself, his ruffled sandy hair or his bright yellow t-shirt that reads, ‘Don’t Rough With The ‘Puff’. The fact that he is clearly in the middle of telling a story to a sunblock-smeared Ivy is also to be expected, but the rather possessive hand on Fergus Quinlan’s knee and the presence of a Gryffindor-themed bracelet on his wrist is extremely interesting.
Tack! Stanley clicks, pulling impatiently at his lead and tugging it out of Draco’s hand. Triumphant, the beetle flaps his wings and scuttles straight into Ivy’s lap. At the sight of him, Magnus jumps and pulls his hand away from Fergus as though someone has sent a Stinging Hex up his back.
“Hey, it’s okay,” Harry says, gentle tone drawing three sets of eyes to him. “Don’t hide on our account. I mean…” He pauses, very much not glancing at Draco, and the action makes his chest hurt. “We didn’t come to bother you. Stanley needed a walk and it looks like he chose you.”
“Such a good boy,” Ivy murmurs, laughing when curious antennae become entangled in her long hair.
Realising that Magnus and Fergus are now staring at him, Draco sighs. He loathes big pronouncements but he’s fairly certain he’s going to have to make one now, whether he likes it or not. Two of his favourite students need him, and he’s going to have to say something.
“Love is love, gentlemen, whether it’s between a man and his beetle or, heaven forbid, a Gryffindor and a Hufflepuff,” he says solemnly, and both boys glance at each other, sheepish but amused. “Be safe and be… er… fruitful,” he attempts, wilting under the hot, heavy sky and knowing that he is saying words, but not the right ones.
“Fruitful,” Fergus repeats, boldly threading his fingers through Magnus’s.
“Productive,” Ivy suggests, doing a poor job of hiding her laughter. In her lap, Stanley tacks and turns in a joyful circle.
“Happy,” Harry says firmly, and Draco suddenly wants to reach out and take his hand, too.
Ivy frowns. Smiles. Bites her lip. “Professor Malfoy… I hate to ask this, but what are you wearing?”
Draco frowns, too. “Jeans, Ivy. I believe you helped me choose them.”
“Now there’s an image,” Magnus mumbles. Draco pretends not to hear him.
“I helped you pick some jeans, yeah, but I had nothing to do with those,” Ivy says, releasing Stanley when he struggles down into the grass and takes off behind the tree trunk.
Baffled, Draco glances down at his clothes and goes very still. Because she’s right, and these are not his jeans. They are Harry’s, and he has no idea how he could have failed to notice that fact. They are lighter in colour than anything he owns, sort of faded and worn with torn patches and holes that are perfect for a beetle to poke his antennae into. They are rather too large, too, hanging from his hips and clinging only where his damp skin is sticking to the soft denim. He is wearing Harry’s jeans, and Ivy bloody Baron knows it, which means that it’s only a matter of time before Magnus knows it, too, as well as his boyfriend Fergus and half of Gryffindor House, which, with the help of the Hogwarts rumour mill, will soon be the whole school.
Ivy is laughing now, resting her head on her knees and covering her face with her hands. Magnus and Fergus are staring at her in mute curiosity, and it won’t be long. Stanley is chasing something through the long grasses without a care in the world. Harry is radiating anxiety so intensely that Draco can taste it. He’s worried, and it’s ridiculous. It’s ridiculous because none of it matters. People were always going to find out, it’s just that he’d hoped the process might be more… dignified. Then he looks at Stanley, who has tipped over onto his back, all six legs cycling in the air, and at Magnus, who is gripping Fergus’s hand with such obvious pride, and at Harry, who seems frozen in place.
“You’re right,” Draco says at last, trying to at least stand up straight. “They’re not mine, and I didn’t mean to put them on. I’m sure you’ve worked out that Professor Potter and I are…” He hesitates. An item? A thing? In a relationship? Good grief.
“Are you really?” Fergus says, eyes wide.
“That’s so cool,” Magnus offers, and Harry and Draco look at each other, startled.
“It’s romantic,” Ivy says, hugging her knees. “I did suspect, though.”
Harry looks at her with the air of someone about to explode. “Really?”
Heart full of almost painful warmth, Draco reaches out and takes his hand. Ivy shrugs.
“The two of you are… oh, dear.”
Draco turns to follow her eyes just in time to see a loudly-tacking Stanley pelt by with an angry wasp in hot pursuit. The beetle scrabbles through the grass in wide circles, wings flapping in alarm as the furious insect chases him around and around. Flooded with protective instinct, Draco waits for the right moment and then ducks down and scoops up the silly beetle, cradling him against his chest and feeling his tiny, rapid heartbeat speeding out of control.
Harry draws his wand and freezes the wasp in mid-air with a spell that tastes like burnt metal. He picks it up carefully and propels it towards the forest.
“He’ll be confused when he wakes up, but at least he won’t sting Stanley,” he says. He eyes the beetle with such sternness that Draco has to smile. “Don’t play with wasps.”
“Good advice,” Magnus says. “Once I sat on a wasp’s nest and my bum blew up like a balloon. Like two balloons, I suppose.”
“Stanley!” someone cries, and Draco is all at once surrounded by small, noisy people.
“Why is he wearing his boots?” Winston asks, frowning. “It’s not snowing.”
“The ground is hot, silly,” Emilie says, reaching out to stroke the beetle in Draco’s arms. He sets Stanley down so that he can be petted by his friends. “You wouldn’t want to walk around on the hot ground with bare feet, would you?”
“I do, every time I go to the pool on holiday and forget my flip flops,” Surya says.
“Me too,” Fergus admits, and the first year is so startled to be spoken to by an older student that she almost loses her balance.
“Where did you get your ice cream?” Harry asks, and Draco realises that all three are carrying dripping cones.
“Some third-years made a stall around the back of the…” Winston flushes and trails off, as if only just noticing that he is in the presence of teachers and prefects. “Erm, I don’t know.”
“Around the back of the…?” Harry attempts, and Draco fixes him with an exasperated stare, even though he would actually rather like an ice cream right now.
“I’ve forgotten,” Winston says firmly, with such an exaggerated shrug that his elbow bangs into Surya’s and she drops her ice cream straight onto Stanley’s back.
The sudden coldness makes him click in alarm, but when he turns in circles in a futile attempt to see the problem, the sticky ice cream just clings to his shell, turning gloopy in the heat and making the cone stand up like a single pointed horn. Stanley tacks at Draco’s shoes, seeming to request help, but when he tries to remove the new accessory the beetle dashes away, trailing melted strawberry goo in his wake.
“He thinks he’s a dinosaur,” Emilie laughs, and under the tree, the older students laugh, too.
“The mighty beetle-a-saurus,” Magnus says. “Fear him. Love him. Feed him mint leaves.”
“You know, insects and dinosaurs probably co-existed,” Ivy says, reminding Draco forcefully of Hermione Granger. Perhaps there’s one in every group.
“Stanley is a one-of-a-kind,” Harry says, pulling a proud little smile from Draco. Stanley is an idiot, but he’s Draco’s idiot, and perhaps, so is Harry.
Something crackles in the air, and a low rumble makes everyone stop what they are doing. Draco looks up, dragging damp, electrified air into his lungs. The sun has disappeared, leaving the sky grey and heavy and ominous.
“Stanley, come here,” he instructs, fingers just about to close around the trailing lead when the sky lights up in a brilliant flash and a deafening roll of thunder rips over the grounds.
Seconds later, everything below is being pounded by hot, fat raindrops. A collective groan goes up from the assembled students and all at once, the lawn seethes in a scramble to collect belongings and dash for the castle. Draco goes to grab Stanley only to find the lead whipping away from him as the beetle pelts across the grass as fast as his little legs can carry him. Clearly terrified, he tacks and clicks and weaves across the lawn, sodden leather leash snaking behind him. Draco glances at Harry for a split second and then breaks into a sprint. Despite his boots and the deluge hammering over him, Stanley is surprisingly speedy, and Draco has to push hard to keep him in sight. He can just about hear Harry’s footsteps behind him over the roar of the thunder and the rain hammering in his ears, and the knowledge that he, too, is concerned for Stanley makes every sliding, squelching step just a little bit easier.
“Stanley, you daft beetle, just stop!” he calls, knowing that it’s useless. Stanley has been well and truly spooked, and the only way to stop him is to grab him and lift him off the ground.
When the beetle veers suddenly at a particularly shocking flash of lightning, Draco follows, squinting through wet hair and driving rain to see that Stanley is heading straight for the lake.
“Not a good idea,” he mutters, breathless now and starting to regret his choice of clothing. Harry’s jeans are soaked and moulded to his skin, but the waistband is slipping with every step and it’s only a matter of time before the whole mess of fabric is flapping around his ankles. It’s going to be a banner day for the gossip-mongers, he supposes, and then the thought dissolves because Stanley is scuttling right along the lake shore and then, illuminated by another flash-crash-bang, he is leaping straight into the water.
Horrified, Draco stops short and gasps when Harry pelts into the back of him.
“I can’t see him,” he yells over the sound of the downpour.
“He’s in the fucking lake,” Draco shouts, pushing saturated hair out of his face.
“Can he swim?”
“I don’t know,” Draco sighs. “I don’t…”
Something ripples on the surface of the water and Draco’s stomach turns. Without another word, he forces himself over the muddy grass and down to the edge of the lake. A second tentacle breaches the surface and he thinks he might just be sick. The Giant Squid is always hungry, and a Stanley-sized treat would probably go down very nicely, especially if it were to leap into the lake so willingly. Horror-struck, Draco stares at the swirling water for a fraction of a second and then wades in, wincing at the temperature, shoes slipping on mounds of shifting pebbles. He’s going to have to go in, and he’s going to have to do it now. The water is freezing and heavy with algae and he’s not entirely convinced that the squid won’t eat him, too, but he has to get Stanley back. He has to.
“Draco!” Harry calls, but Draco doesn’t turn.
Taking a deep breath, he plunges under the water, scanning the murky depths even as his eyes sting and protest. He used to look at this place from his common room all the time. He knows where he is. He can do this, because Stanley needs him. At the sight of a tentacle, he turns, immediately becoming entangled in grasping weeds and losing all the air in his lungs in one terrifying gasp. He flails in the water, eyes still searching for Stanley as he tries to yank himself free. His chest burns and his vision begins to blur but he twists harder, contorting himself until he manages to wriggle free of his jeans and kick off his shoes. With a spike of triumph, he kicks for the surface and then everything turns black.
He gasps, coughing up murky water until everything hurts, clinging to the strong arms of someone… his someone. Harry is dragging him back to the shore, features set hard and expression grim under the calm, ghostly light that now bathes the grounds. The rain has stopped and the air feels fresh and cool against Draco’s skin.
“Where’s Stanley?” he croaks, trying to shift in Harry’s arms.
When there is no answer, he lets out a painful cry and struggles free, already preparing to dive back into the water.
“Draco,” Harry says softly, and then stops, cut off by an almost deafening rumble of water and rock.
They stand in the shallows, barely breathing, as something gargantuan rises slowly from the depths, spraying them both with cold water and sending up a hiss of spray so fierce that Draco has to close his eyes. When he opens them again, the Giant Squid is towering above the surface of the water, tentacles tracing slow arcs through the air. Just above the great eyes, dripping and gleaming in the first weak rays of sunshine, is a willow-patterned beetle wearing six tiny snowboots.
“TACK!” he says decisively, hopping from foot to foot and causing the squid to shiver beneath him.
“Stanley, what the actual fuck?” Draco whispers, gripping Harry’s hand under the water and grinning up at the demented beetle.
“He’s made a new friend,” Harry says faintly.
Draco laughs, and it hurts, and he doesn’t care. He thought his friend was lost, and instead, here he is, perching on top of an enormous cephalopod as though he doesn’t have a care in the world. Oh, he’s in so much trouble, but it doesn’t fucking matter one bit.
“Thank you for rescuing my beetle,” he says, ignoring Harry’s snort of amusement and attempting to retain an air of dignity. After all, it might be the only bit he gets today. “Thank you for not eating him. If it’s alright with you, I’d like to take him back to the castle now.”
“Your Squidliness,” Harry adds, sketching a little salute.
The squid peers down at them, shifting one enormous eye and then the other. With a sigh of air that lifts Draco’s hair from his forehead, it extends one tentacle to the edge of the lake, forming a bridge that Stanley scuttles over quite happily. He jumps and tacks to be picked up, and Draco grabs him the moment he manages to wade out of the water.
“He’s still got all his boots!” he says, astonished. “I can’t believe they stayed on.”
“Well, that’s more than we can say for those jeans,” Harry says, and Draco instinctively looks down at his bare legs.
There isn’t going to be any dignity today, and he might as well accept it. He watches as the Giant Squid sinks below the surface and out of sight, leaving only a mass of bubbles behind. Stanley burrows against his wet shirt, waving his antennae and issuing contented little noises. Draco cradles him protectively, allowing himself to sag when Harry wraps both of them in his arms and holds on tight.
“Was that enough adventure for today?” he asks.
“That depends. Are you any good at conjuring trousers? Because I’m not.”
“I’ll give it a go,” Harry says, kissing him with a gentleness that threatens to rip Draco’s insides apart.
“It’s not that I didn’t want people to know,” Draco says suddenly.
“Draco, I know what it’s like to want to have control over what people think of you,” Harry says. “You want to have things on your terms, I get it. But the thing is… it just doesn’t work like that, at least not around here. You have to learn to… I don’t know… give less of a shit.”
Draco snorts. “Duly noted.”
Harry kisses him again. His lips are cold but his mouth is warm, and Draco shivers. Harry steps back, frowns, and swishes his wand, surrounding Draco with a sensation of heat, then compression, and finally, relief. His new trousers are black, fitted, and really not bad at all.
“Could be worse,” Harry mumbles, reaching out to touch a spot on Draco’s hip, where a strange patch of red and gold fabric seems to have meshed itself into the black.
“Really?” Draco asks, recalling scarlet eyebrows and hospital rooms and all that came before this. Them. Everything.
Harry grins but says nothing. He holds out his hand and Draco takes it, stuffing Stanley under one arm as they walk slowly across the muddy lawn and back to the castle. In the Entrance Hall, Ivy is sitting on a stone bench and drying her long hair with a spell. Draco has the strangest feeling that she’s been waiting for them.
“What happened to Magnus and Fergus?” Harry asks. Ivy raises an eyebrow. Harry flushes. “Oh.”
“Is he alright?” she asks, rising and stroking Stanley’s shell. “He’s had a bit of a time, hasn’t he?”
Draco agrees that Stanley has, indeed, had a bit of a time. “He’s fine. He’ll be asleep soon,” he says, already feeling the familiar weight of a weary beetle pressed against him.
Ivy fiddles with her damp hair. “Do you want me to take him for a bit? You know, so you can have some… time? ‘Cause… I think it’s really nice that you found each other. I just wanted to say that.”
Draco smiles at her. She’s going to be a wonderful teacher some day, he just knows it.
“We’ll be fine, thank you. You should go and get dry.”
Ivy nods and clatters up the stone steps in her impractical shoes. Draco heaves the snoozing Stanley into a more comfortable position and walks with Harry back to his quarters. The students they pass along the way seem to eye them with a little bit more interest than usual, and he knows that it has begun. The great wheels are in motion, and by Monday morning, there won’t be a rat, statue or House Elf who doesn’t know what Professor Malfoy and Professor Potter are up to. Draco opens the door and steps inside, pleasantly surprised by the way the storm has flushed out the stagnant air and swept the rooms clean and cool.
It’s all fine. In fact, it’s more than fine; it’s wonderful. Carefully, he places Stanley on a cushion in his favourite chair, taking a moment to remove all six boots and set them out to dry on the coffee table.
“Daft beetle,” he murmurs, stroking the patterned shell and pushing away the terror and grief that threaten to drag him back down to the bottom of the lake.
“Our beetle,” Harry says, taking Draco’s hand and gently leading him back to the bedroom.
Draco follows him.