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Draco had never set up his floo, because he didn't want to be contacted, or even worse, imposed upon.

But he set it up now, because he couldn't do this alone.

Not for him, but for Thuban, the dog.

His mother looked upon him with horrored eyes. She'd likely thought he was dead.

He wondered if she would have preferred it to what greeted her.

"Mother," he said simply.

"Draco," she replied, voice faint. "And to what do I owe this pleasant surprise?"

She was hurt. He hadn't called in seven years.

"I need help," he said bluntly.

Her smile was tight. "What is it you want? Money?"

Draco looked at her apathetically, unashamed. "Yes."

"I shall owl some at the nearest convenience, then," she replied, clearly dismissing him.

"No, I," Draco cut her off nervously. He hadn't seen his mother in seven years, and he missed her, but mostly he needed her help. "It's not money for me," he said, and her nose twitched in disgust. "It's my dog," he said weakly, and for a moment, her expression changed. Relief. She had thought he owed someone money. That he was in debt, be it from drugs, or gambling, or something worse.

He didn't blame her for assuming.

"Your dog?" she asked.

"He's hurt. And I don't know the spells—I haven't used magic for a while."

"So you won't be found," she said plainly.

"Initially," he mumbled, "but now, I can't."

Her eyes shone, and it was with unshed tears. "Oh, oh Draco," she whispered. "Oh, my poor child, what have you done to yourself?"

He recoiled from her as she leaned forward, as if to reach through the floo and cradle him. He didn't want to be. He didn't need to be.

He was practicing being strong, now. He couldn't be weak. His dog, his egg needed him.

"Would you," he said, nervously wringing his hands, "would you help me? I don't deserve it—your help, but Thuban-"


"M-my dog," he sputtered, flushing a bit, because judging by her expression, she understood.

Thuban was a star in the Draco constellation.

"And do you desire my help, or my assistance?" she asked, her gaze intense, and Draco knew the difference.

"Your help," he said. "I need—and Thuban needs—he needs me, but I can't—I can't-"

"The floo is open, darling," Narcissa smiled, and it was shaky, and her voice was thick, and she trembled.

She reminded him then of Thuban, and Draco wondered if maybe his mother needed him, too, even after so long.

"It's been open since the day you left," she whispered, "and will remain open for you until you return. Always," she said, and it was fierce, and this wasn't a lie—she meant it. She promised.

Days, weeks, months.

Draco had never really been self conscious of his body. Before the War, it was because he knew he looked good. During the war, keeping on his beautiful mask changed into keeping up a facade of false normalcy. And after the war, he just didn't care anymore.

His mother hated when he spoke like that. Before, after, and during the War, as though his entire life revolved around it, and always would. She didn't understand. During the hardest time in her life, she'd had decades beneath her belt. She wasn't wise, or experienced enough to have avoided it, but she knew enough. Draco hadn't either of those things, a wee babe in the face of so much horror.

But that wasn't fair. Not really.

She'd lost her husband, after all.

Lucius was a portrait. He was somewhere in the manor, but Draco couldn't find it in himself to seek it out. He couldn't face his father, not yet, and part of him noticed his father hadn't sought him out, either.

But he doubted that it was from shame, on his part.

And shame was a coat Draco wore often.

From his sins, from his mistakes, but also from how he handled them. Starving himself, drinking, smoking.

Running away.

But he was stronger now. At least, a little.

He was on a healthier diet of fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, soy products (albeit, not too much soy), and whole grains. He didn't eat eggs, for obvious reasons, and he didn't drink milk either. He supposed he could, but abstaining from animal products entirely felt safer. More humane. And he wasn't human, but he hoped he might find his humanity once more, someday.

The better eating, the slight exercise—he didn't like sweating too much in general, but he couldn't use his broom because he was still anxious about using his unstable magic—, and his mother's lack of tolerance for his indulgences put him on the right track.

It was hard, because cigarettes were mostly Muggle, so it took a few tries to find the right potion to curb his addiction, and even then, the potion itself was addictive, so Draco was forced to go through the Manor's library, to brush up on his Potions knowledge before brewing an elixir of his own.

And it worked. And Merlin, had he missed brewing.

So that's what he did. He ate well, and he jogged with Thuban, and he brewed, and studied, and used his wand for little things. And he socialized with the House Elves, and they taught him a thing or two about cooking, and sewing, and Healing spells and magicless remedies.

And he explored the Manor and its grounds. The garden, the fields. He introduced and reintroduced himself to the peafowl in the yard—it had been seven years, after all—who seemed rather keen on following him around, which Draco blamed entirely on being part Veela. He named them as well, after learning his mother had never been fond of pets and hadn't bothered.

His favorite was a leucistic peachick, a little too large to be considered a chick, really, but surely not large enough to be qualified as a peacock. It was mostly albino, like the rest of the Malfoy peafowl, but the lower half of its face was brilliant blue and green, like a normal peacock, as well as half of its tail feathers. The other half of his tail, and the very top of his head, however, were albino, and it almost looked as though he was covered partially with snow.

Draco had named him Demitri, just because he liked the name.

Even besides the birds, Draco was enjoying himself. He didn't have to work for his stay, to pay rent—likely, he wouldn't have to work for another day in his life, but that wasn't what made him so... so content. No, it was the feeling of improvement. That every day he was moving closer to a better Draco Malfoy. A Draco Malfoy who could care for his dog, who could deliver his developing egg the way he was supposed to be able to.

His hips had widened. His anal passage had changed to a cloaca to aid in delivery and fertilization. He was designed to give birth. It was in his genes, and now, now that he could lap the entire Manor grounds without dying of hyperventilation due to his cigarette-addled lungs and weak heart, he could do it. He could deliver the egg, no problem, because he was healthier. He wasn't healthiest—he still couldn't release his wings, or look at himself in the mirror too long without noticing the flaws, but he was getting there.

He was healthy enough to care for his dog, to not skip his meals. To do yoga to increase his flexibility and stretch out his brittle bones. To practice wandless combat, and healing. To watch the sun rise and set every day. To spend entire days in the garden, just exploring, and laughing delightedly at the flowers that crooned and stretched for him to stay a little longer each visit.

It was the single place he didn't permit Thuban, because the dog was obedient, sweetly so, but if there was one thing the canine couldn't control, it was the urge to chase garden gnomes and pee on any plant pretty enough to warrant interest, and Draco was having none of that.

"Draco, darling, would you be a dear and pass me the mail?" Narcissa asked around her teacup.

Draco nodded, absently flipping his hair over his shoulder, and when had it grown so long? And so beautifully?

Draco, even as a narcissistic child, had grudgingly acknowledged he had thin hair, and that it would become apparent as he grew older. Receding hairline, bald spots, and all that. But with his extra time, and lack of alcohol to convince him burning it all off was a splendid idea, Draco put his energy into more potions, and had been experimenting a bit to enhance its growth lengthwise, but it was definitely looking thicker. Luxurious. But, curiously, it was also wavy, definitely curling at the tips.

But perhaps that was all his veela, and not his experimenting at all? He would need to find other test subjects...

His eyes strayed to Thuban, who was calmly resting at—rather, on—his feet as he passed his mother the mail.

But then his eyes flickered up, and he caught sight of a familiar face in the newspaper.

Draco had adamantly stayed away from the papers. He didn't want to remind himself how much time had passed, how much had changed when he was only just beginning to change, himself.

But Potter looked... Well, he looked brilliant. Healthy. Strong. Provocative, really. Why, it was almost indecent, the way he smiled at the camera, the crows feet at the corner of his eyes as he laughed and smiled that familiar, crooked smile.

Draco felt a little flustered just thinking about it, because Potter had changed, but not badly. No, he'd changed for the better. He looked good, and part of Draco was intimidated, awed, while the other was determined, inspired.

He was only twenty-seven, really. He had at least a century ahead of him, if he kept up his good health. He could strive to be that, one day. To be like Potter.

For the eggs, and all the future ones. For Thuban. For his mother.

For Demitri, even. The peachick was young yet.

"Would you..." Narcissa trailed off. "Would you like to join me?" And then she looked at him, a mixture of imploringly and reassuringly and dissuading, all at once, and then came in familiar indecision that crawled beneath his skin. She could see how uncomfortable the question made him, but she asked every time, anyway, because she hoped. He could see it in her eyes, in her stance. She hoped.

And Draco wavered. Towards her, then back again, because every time, he felt closer to agreeing. He was still self conscious, still nervous, still scared. But he was close.

"Maybe next time," he said, as he always did, and Narcissa merely smiled, and then left.

The door sounded ominous in her wake, but Draco was used to it. It was used to spook guests, really, but he no longer found it amusing to needlessly do so.

And Draco wandered. He checked on the peafowl, on the garden. And he met some Elves there, which he kept company—rather, they kept him company—for a few hours before moving on.

He took Thuban for another run, less to expend the dog's seemingly boundless energy, and more simply to explore. He examined the pond, the fruit trees, and then sat on a boulder and sunbathed for a bit. And when Thuban began to doze, Draco grew hot, so he darted off, startling the dog who, after realizing what had happened, happily chased him and chased him until, with a predatory leap, the dog pounced, tackling Draco easily beneath the healthy weight. And on they tumbled, rolling in the grass.

Thuban, Draco had learned, was a breed Muggles called a Great Dane. Of course, Draco didn't cut the dog's fur as short as Muggles often fancied, because Thuban was self conscious about the malformation below his ribs. So Draco let the black fur grow, and Thuban was truly a majestic animal.

Draco had done a little tinkering with his formulas to see how it would react on a dog—only a portion, mind you, and he had a cancellation spell at the ready—, but Thuban's fur was glossy, long, and thick. Like a lion's mane, and sure, the additional fluff only made the hulking creature look even larger, but Draco didn't mind.

His mother, however, was terrified, but Thuban would grow on her. Honestly, the dog was as sweet as a butterfly. The worst he would do is love her endlessly, for Salazar's sake.

And then they jogged back inside, and Draco was exhausted, but he left Thuban near his water bowl before trekking up to his room, where he did some stretches before taking a shower.

And afterwards, Draco risked a look in the mirror.

The wounds. He could still see the mark on his arm, and the long, pink scar that ran from the protrusion of his left hip bone to his right shoulder.

But beneath the scar, was soft skin. And beneath the skin, was a layer of fat, a healthy layer, and beneath that was muscle, healthy, beautiful muscle, and beneath that was strong bones.

Draco didn't look like a model, he knew. More like a rat—especially after recently showered, when his hair was a stringy mess and the steam made his skin pink and blotchy. But he looked... normal. Maybe a little slim, but it was attractive, he supposed. He looked lanky, in his own opinion, all long legs and a frightfully long neck. But his mirror always assured him, when voicing his insecurities aloud, that he looked fine, and he only saw what once was, and what could be, not what was standing right before him, as others would.

Draco didn't usually mull over his appearance. He shaved only when it became necessary, because he didn't mind the scruff, but beards reminded him of alcohol and smoke and the hum of a ceiling fan, of stinging eyes and a pounding in his mind, possibly on his door.

But he did look. He liked to see the improvement, because it was empowering, and also, he wondered what might have been, if he skipped the part where he drowned for nine years. If, maybe, he'd been fine the whole time. Would he look the same? Buffer? More attractive? More scarred? Maybe he would be missing an eye, and he'd wear an eye patch, and then his beard would match. Maybe he'd have a lover, or children. Possibly both? Would it have been with Astoria, as was arranged before he ran off? Would he have his wings? Have already lain his first egg? Would he still eat meat?

Ah. But he wouldn't have Thuban.

But he would have kids.

Maybe. Was that worth it?

He didn't know. In that life, he would undoubtedly prefer his child, or children. But in this life, with this future, he knew he couldn't handle them. He could barely handle himself. But he could handle Thuban, and Thuban could handle him, and they weren't father and son, but man and dog, loyal partners, and that was okay.

And Draco realized with a start, yes, his hair was curling into loose ringlets, and that must be because he hadn't brushed it as it dried, as he usually did. Was that the potions, or his veela? Thuban's fur was definitely textured, like onyx ocean waves, but that wasn't even really hair, it was fur, and supposedly those were different.

Draco had always wanted a pet as a child, and crups and dogs were almost the same thing. He'd done his research on both, hoping that maybe, if his mother didn't want a magical pet, she would allow him a dog.

But then his father had chuckled, ruffled his hair, and bought him albino peafowl. Because a crup, or a dog, was unsophisticated, inelegant, and unworthy.

But Draco had proven to be all three of those things. And he'd gotten a dog.

Had he changed so much, since those days? Undoubtedly.

Was he worthy of a second chance? Maybe.


Narcissa distractedly searched through her purse. "Would you like to come, dear? It's only grocery shopping, but the remaining Elves are far too daft to maneuver the farmer's market without getting distracted or lost. Too many people."

Draco worried his lip, because he'd been up all night planning out this moment, but she wasn't visiting the quaint little Greenery this time, but an open farmer's market. With people. With wizards.

But it was outside. He could bring Thuban for support. And there would only be fruits and vegetables and such, no meat, surely. One didn't just leave slabs of raw meat out in the sun to attract flies as the day progressed and shoppers came and left, did they? It seemed unsanitary, but there were protective charms for that sort of thing, anyway, weren't there?

His mother paused in her harried searching, looking at him with wide, awed eyes. "Are you thinking about it? Oh Draco, oh my sweet dragon, please join me? Of course, you can change first-"

Draco frowned, because as much as he had initially missed his robes, he was no longer accustomed to wearing them everywhere, and he had every intention to going outside in his jeans and sweatshirt. Both were dark colored, and both were baggy, large enough to hide his skinny frame. He wasn't malnourished anymore, but he was still touchy about his weight, and the confident, Malfoy form-fitting robes were not going to do it for him today.

"You can stay by the outer stands," his mother continued after noting his mulish expression, "you don't have to navigate the crowds with me. You can even-" she wrinkled her nose in distaste, and Draco knew what she would say, and couldn't help smiling. "You can even bring your Thuban, I suppose, as long as he's on a short leash."

Draco's smile turned from amused to warm. "Do you think? I could always try again tomorrow. I don't know... I don't want to have a panic attack or anything." Draco drew his hands up nervously. "You don't think I would pass out, do you? I'm not—I'm not a hermit," he assured, a tad defensive. "I spoke with the people all the time. I just. Not with witches and wizards and the like," he mumbled.

Narcissa smiled encouragingly, sweeping towards with him open arms that he hesitated before stepping into. He only allowed the hugs because she seemed to need them, not because he wanted to rely on her too heavily, and that was the truth. He needed her help to get through his tougher times, but he didn't want her to hold his hand, didn't need it. He was stronger. He could do this.

And so he hugged her back briefly before stepping away and whistling.

Thuban came bounding to the foyer a scarce couple minutes later, his laws clacking eagerly on the marble tile as he ran, and then came the sound of his knees and arse slamming to the ground as the clumsy creature came to sliding halt before him, long tail sweeping back and forth at a dizzying speed.

"Accio Thuban's leash," he called, one of the few spells he allowed himself, and less than a second later, the thick rope was in his hands. He clipped it on the green collar, which was decorated with silvery dragons and golden flames, and patted the excited dog's head to calm him a bit. They wouldn't be going out for a run, but a calm stroll, and he didn't want the dog to start nosing at people.

Thuban was still terribly shy, still nervous around strangers, and that wasn't entirely Draco's fault. Before the blond had given into his veela, Thuban's life was often filled with the neighborhood families shooing and screaming at him, chasing him out of their rubbish bins with brooms and rakes and kicking legs.

Of course, Draco had bloody tried to eat him, so he wasn't saying he was innocent, but that he wasn't entirely to blame. Probably.

Besides, the dog was nothing if not resilient. He was even getting more comfortable around Narcissa, who scowled at him openly, much like the muggles used to, but Thuban adored her anyway. And he was resisting the urge to bark every time he heard the crack of apparition, which was a blessed improvement, as Draco could swear on more than one occasion that he had felt the soundwaves from the beast's bark against his hip.

"Can he be Side-Alonged?" Narcissa asked, but it was noticeably gentle. It was likely for his own sake, but he could imagine she was just being kind to his best friend.

"He's not magical, so no, but he can floo."

"I don't think any nearby establishments are going to feel pleased by an animal within their walls."

"So we'll walk right out," Draco said, and it was cheeky, and he even winked, and he supposed his playfulness is what won her over, judging by her exasperated but fond sigh.

And so they flooed, and calmly walked right out of the clothing store, pointedly ignoring the gasps and gawks.

Because not only was Narcissa Malfoy walking about with a familiar blond beside her, but with a monster of an animal trailing behind them, and wasn't that a sight to see?

And then they walked, and Thuban wasn't tugging as he often did when leashed, because he was in unfamiliar surroundings. He walked between Narcissa and Draco. His held was up high, of course, because he was still a Malfoy with good posture, but Draco could tell the dog was slightly hiding between them. Thuban, well fed and toned from good exercise, could easily take on an attacker. He was large, intimidatingly so, but the sweetpea was kind of a wuss, actually, and unless provoked, he doubted Thuban would even turn in a stranger's direction with anything more than a friendly tail-wag or cock of the head.

At least Thuban was curious. Draco was terrified. His back was slightly arched in, and he leaned forward a bit, a fruitless attempt to make himself smaller, but it was all he was willing to sacrifice without appearing foolish. He was walking his dog, for Christ's sake, why did anyone have to stare?

And when they got to the outskirts of the field where the farmer's market was held, Draco pulled up his hood and wordlessly took Thuban to the treeline, where they relaxed.

Thuban did his business, peeing on any and every tree he could before his admittedly impressive bladder was empty. And then Draco reclined against a tree, watching the witches and wizards shopping from afar. Thuban sat next to him before eventually laying down.

Seconds, minutes, hours passed, but Thuban was growing bored, and honestly, so was Draco. What was once fear was now restlessness, because where was his mother? What has she even set out to buy? Surely she wasn't shopping seriously—their elves weren't useless, and though he hadn't been out with his mother in forever, he still couldn't imagine her carrying bags and bags of groceries.

And so, pulling down his hood to look less dodgy, Draco carefully tugged Thuban up, and together they strolled over to the market. Draco was the face of calm, and when Thuban whined a bit at the crowd, Draco went down on one knee, and held the dog's face. Thuban pushed against his hands, hoping to poke Draco's eye out with his shiny, loveable nose, and Draco just snorted, ruffling the dog's long, wavy fur.

"You're fine," he mumbled, scratching behind the dog's ears, "Stop being a baby, you're fine. I've got you, Thuban."

And then Draco stood, running a hand through his hair. It was long enough that the shortest pieces brushed his shoulders, and peculiarly enough, the oldest hair, the very ends of his hair that curled, had been burned a light russet color, making the roots look silver in comparison to the golden tips.

Thuban tugged a bit, eager to explore the many stands filled with food, and with a nod, as though Thuban had asked or even looked at him—which he hadn't—, Draco let the dog lead.

As he walked, he glanced around furtively to see if anyone was staring, but they all seemed preoccupied with their shopping, and he had barely entered the shopping center, anyway. And what was he expecting? Someone to have been waiting, all these years, with a spell and weapon at the ready, aimed at his frantically beating heart?

Maybe, but no. Not really.

He was just paranoid, and scared, and trying something new.

But Thuban was powering through it, and so could Draco, because they were partners in this, and Draco was stronger now. And his Mother was just a scream away, if push came to shove, and he had Thuban to slobber on anyone who came too close.

But mostly, Draco was stronger now. He didn't need to be protected, but if he looked over his shoulder every few minutes, it was what he had to do.

But he didn't notice anyone hostile, or anyone really looking at him—mostly Thuban, who, though polite enough not to shove his way through people, walked close enough to pant down their unsuspecting backs for moving too slowly for his taste.

And they looked around, and though Draco had no money on him, he obliged the beckoning vendors by admiring their produce, and the few he saw selling raw meat, well, he used his nose to avoid them entirely, despite Thuban showing interest, and stayed to the fruits and vegetables.

And then he heard a squeal, and for a heart stopping moment, he thought it was Thuban.

But it was a baby boy.

Thuban, comically enough, looked terrified by the toddler, standing stock still as the giggling child scampered closer to him and made little baby fists at his long legs.

Thuban looked to Draco helplessly, and in the midst of his horror and shock, Draco was amused.

Draco looked around cautiously, searching for an adult, but saw none that were looking towards the child.

Knowing this couldn't be good, Draco stepped beside Thuban and kneeled next to the dog, catching the child's attention. When he leaned forward, his fringe swayed into the child's face, making the boy laugh and grab at the soft strands, but Draco quickly tucked the wayward hair back behind his ear.

"Hey," Draco greeted, his voice going syrupy the way it did when he spoke to Thuban. This, of course, caught the dog's attention, so Thuban butt his wet, twitchy nose against Draco's ear, making the blond grimace and gently push his face away.

The boy was squealing excitedly for Thuban, but the dog merely watched, content to let Draco handle the small human.

"Young one," Draco tried again, and the boy tore his brown eyes away from Thuban with visible difficulty. "How old are you?" he asked, unsure.

The boy smiled widely, proudly. "I'm three!" he exclaimed, and Draco nodded thoughtfully.

"Ah, and what's your name?"

"James!" the boy exclaimed, throwing his hands in the air happily and startling poor Thuban. Draco pet the dog's head comfortingly, and when Thuban nuzzled into Draco's hand for more attention, obviously growing bored, the boy looked so longing, Draco made a compromise.

"Hey," he said again, and the boy focused on him much faster. "Let's make a deal, yeah? I'll let you pet my dog, if you tell me where your parents are? We need to get you back to your Mum."

The boy eyed him. "Mum's not here, just Daddy."

"Okay, where is your dad? Do you know?"

The boy, James, made grabby hands at Thuban again. "Puppy!" he demanded, and Draco sighed.

He turned to Thuban. "Game face on, pup. Can you let the tiny human touch your face with his even tinier hands?"

Thuban blinked at him, and Draco laughed, ruffling the long fur and smiling when the dog's tongue lolled out.

Draco turned towards James as he gently nudged Thuban's head down, orchestrating the whole thing as a tiny hand awkwardly patted Thuban's head, right between his flickering ears.

Then Thuban abruptly licked, his large tongue slobbering all over the boy's face, peeling back James' wild black hair and sticking it up at odd angles.

Draco was horrified, but the boy was ecstatic, squealing again and giggling and tottering around in a delighted little circle.

Sighing, but pleased the boy hadn't cried, or worse, screamed, Draco took a moment to watch the boy celebrate before regathering his attention. All it took was a slight clearing of his throat, this time, and large brown eyes were trained on him.

"Now, where's your father? Can you bring me to Daddy, James? I can't let you wander around alone. It's not safe," Draco said, shaking his head as though saddened by this fact.

James nodded at him fiercely before spinning, running a few feet, and crashing right into the back of another man's legs. Said man quickly turned around.

Draco felt panic welling up within him as he scrambled over, quickly scooping up the giggling child and attempting to hold the small, wriggling body as he apologized to the stranger.

"Oh, Christ, I'm sorry," he blurted, grappling with the boy who was straining towards Thuban as though magnetically drawn to the dog. James' legs were kicking dangerously close to Draco's face while he held out his short arms for Thuban. "I told him to find—and he just shot off—Merlin, you aren't hurt, are you? God, I'm so sorry for this-"


Draco stopped. Blinked. Stared.

And then he blanched, eyes widening as recognition dawned on him. "Wh- Potter?"

Potter blinked at him a bit, as if just as disbelieving, and then he smiled, and his eyes crinkled at the corners, and Draco felt faint.

"I almost didn't recognize you. Your voice is a lot raspier than I remember."

"I, um, yes," Draco stammered.

"And you have my son, I see."

Draco looked to the boy, who was still reaching for his dog, then back to Potter.

"I- Your son?"

And then he felt something flare within him, the same thing he felt when Thuban ran too quickly on the smooth floors of the Manor near the staircase, or when the young Elves naively looked away while chopping with knives.

He looked to the boy.

"James," he asked.

The boy squirmed in his hold until he was looking at Draco, beaming happily. "Yes?" he chirped.

"Is this your father?" he asked, and the boy looked to Potter, scrutinizing the man with a grave seriousness, and then nodded quickly.

"That's Daddy," he confirmed, and Draco nodded, awkwardly holding the child forward, and Potter took him with practiced ease.

Potter shook his head, still smiling.

"Just making sure?" he asked Draco, but he didn't seem upset. He was just teasing.

"Just making sure," Draco agreed, putting his hands in his pockets so his tight grip on Thuban's leash wouldn't attract attention. "Sorry for, um, harassing your son. I—he wanted to pet my dog, but Thuban sort of licked him from chin to hairline, just in case you're curious why said hair is now defying gravity in some places. Of course, some of those flyaways where already there. I'm sure it's genetic."

He sent a significant glance at Potter's messy hair, and Potter laughed lightly, and this was strange. Draco was talking with Harry bloody Potter and his son.

"I should be thanking you for humoring him. He's wanted a dog since he learned of Sirius, and is convinced any black dog will do. Yours just happens to be the largest I've ever seen."

Draco looked at Thuban, who looked back at him quickly, obviously looking for the cue they were supposed to leave. But Draco just smiled at him, so Thuban lolled his tongue out, panting lightly as he waggled his tail, clearly pleased with Draco's attention.

"He's big, but he's a wuss. Total softie, inside and out. Of course, he still scares my mother."

Potter hiked James against his hip, easily holding the child with one arm. "Still live with your Mum?" he asked, but it wasn't mocking, merely curious. And Potter looked genuinely interested, with his earnest eyes and distracted apologies to anyone who bumped into them for staying stationary so long in a near mob.

"I've been out of London for years," Draco said, putting the topic out there very gently, as he hadn't exactly been vacationing, but Potter didn't need to know that. "I came back a couple months ago, and she insisted." After I begged her. "She's just lonely, and I don't mind the company."

"I heard about Astoria's marriage, a couple years back," Potter said sympathetically. "Sorry 'bout that. Even if it wasn't true love, breaking off relationships is always tough."

Astoria had gotten married? Well, congrats to her.

Draco just shrugged. "And you? How have you been?" he was curious, and no hexes had been thrown yet, and he kind of wanted to continue talking with Potter.

Thuban, as if sensing this, laid down at Draco's feet, content to watch the other witches and wizards doing their shopping, for now.

Potter grinned at James, who, noticing this, grinned back, doubly wide. "Well, there's James, who was a bit of a surprise, but a lovely one indeed. Hermione and Ron even seem interested in having a kid of their own, sometime soon. When'd you get the dog?"

Draco blinked. That was it? But he didn't want to seem too nosy. "Couple months ago. He used to be a stray, so he's a rescue. Didn't seem to hate me, and I don't hate him, so now we mutually don't hate each other. And such is our relationship."

Potter was smiling again. "Is that what the kids are calling it these days?"

"Calling what?" Draco asked innocently, admiring his nails.

"Oh, I don't know," Potter teased, "love?"

"I've no idea what you're talking about, Potter," Draco replied crossly, "but I would appreciate it if you would cease such accusations."

Potter laughed again, and it was easy. As easy as the roll of his shoulders, or the cords in his neck.

Draco was suddenly reminded of his own neck, abnormally long. His neck which he hadn't thought of once, because Potter didn't make him feel self conscious about it, even though he usually was. His neck which was bent upon entering the market, but was now ramrod straight, as was his posture, because Potter brought out old habits, and one of which demanded he never back down.

"Anyway," Potter continued, and it was easy, this was easy, "I have shopping I have to get back to. The wife doesn't like being forced to do 'housewife' work," he winked conspiratorially, and Draco smiled back weakly, both lonely at his own lack of love life, and hopelessly smitten by Potter's boyish charm.

Why did Potter being a father have to make him even more attractive than he already was?

"Maybe we can catch up some other time?" Potter asked, and Draco wasn't sure how genuine the question was, because Potter was busy fussing with James, who had taken to climbing over Potter's body like a jungle gym.

"Sometime, Potter," Draco agreed, knowing fully well that may be never, but willing to let his answer be somewhat hopeful, should Potter have meant it. "See you," Draco said simply, easily, and then he tugged on Thuban's leash, his free hand going back into his pocket, and then he was walking through the crowd once more, searching for his mother.