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Cathexis

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Cathexis

“These,” George says, “are the good ones. If you go to any other place, you won’t get what you’re looking for. I’ve tried. This lot have everything.”

“Been here before, then?”

George grins. “We all have our tastes, Harry. Some run darker than others.”

They stand at the entrance to a building resembling a rotting tooth. Timber and planks reek, foetid and broken out, like the air itself was a sweet spent too long in one place, the stench of bodies, fluids and things better not contemplated. It is black and the lighting from the windows glows. A whorehouse… or escort service… a den of sin: by any other name, it is the thing that he has been dreaming about for months, possibly years. George fortunately shares his proclivities. This is something Harry can do with someone other than Ron. If any of them only knew… Pity is the last thing Harry wants for his desires. This is the first time he’s worked up the courage to go, after making excuses every other time. No-one else need know exactly why he’s there. It is his, and he holds it close like his lover. Still, Harry’s heart and mind are at odds, deception becoming the routine of his days and nights. He tells anyone anything that comes to mind just to get away and not have to spend more than a minute with them trying to get close, or ask a question, or seek his knowledge of something he doesn’t actually have. Be a shield that absorbs the Killing Curse and suddenly you’re an expert on life, death and the great beyond, at least to the people of the wizarding world. He pauses to think. What are those darker tastes? George, Harry has learned, gives one hair for Polyjuice - a trick to avert the grief that years gone haven’t been able to release. Harry doesn’t ask what they do. He just watches George pluck the hair, hand it to the waiting attendant behind the desk and disappear.

“Try to have fun.”

“Oh, I’m sure I will.” Harry glances at the board to his right. There are various acts listed, some sordid and some less so, with a price. Somehow it caters to the reader; he’s certain what shows up for him is not the same as what George sees. It reads like a salon or something his Aunt Petunia would know by heart. He has learned the ways to identify certain… iniquitous parlours like this one by a symbol and a spell. It all requires something of the seeker, blood to tie them to the spell and the symbol, and the incantation given by referral of other customers. He presses the tip of his wand against the sparkling spiral moving hypnotically in the bottom corner. The blood payment exacted, he watches the board change, feeding from him, knowing what he needs – not what he wants. Galleons aren’t a problem. Reading everything listed could take ages, so he flicks his wand and thinks very hard about what he wants. Three options present themselves. The young woman who escorted George off has returned. Harry doesn’t bother hiding who he is; the blood given is a contract of sorts – Dark Arts – to bind all of those involved with the house to secrecy. Needs, service, desire, anything you want, for a price. Magic, in some ways, is limitless, and the possibilities of its nature used correctly make him ignore his conscience: grey is simple, if used the right way – all things have shades, right or wrong. Harry understands this now in a way he didn’t comprehend in his youth.

“Please, Mr Potter, come this way. Your selection has been noted and when you are settled in, someone will attend to your needs.”

Harry nods, following at a distance. The house is dying. He can feel it as he moves behind the girl, energy fading and transforming into something else. Harry ignores this as an omen and lets his feet take him up the stairs, down the creaking corridor.

The girl disappears and a door waits, open, inviting. Harry’s breathing becomes heavier, his pulse rushing like his body is fighting an infection. This is what he wants, what he needs. Someone has provided it, and he knows it waits beyond. He takes a tentative step forward, and the door closes behind him.

In the middle of the room, a Pensieve awaits, and a selection of bottles sits on a table. They are all labelled in careful script. He feels slightly idiotic for wanting this. There must be more interesting things than this: sex with a random stranger, watching two people who’ve taken Polyjuice and fucking. His pulse quickens. Those are things he’d happily watch. Those are not the things he will be watching, though. There are ten generous selections to choose from. He knows he must savour them while he is able; they will be returned to their owner as soon as his time with them is over. He doesn’t pause to think of how they were obtained so quickly; there’s no need. He is curious, but for now, he contents himself with having this. These cherished memories on display for him, in a room like a cloud, where the scent has diminished to a numb stench in his nose. He lets go of his anxiety like a balloon before beginning.

He doesn’t bother reading the labels. He reaches for one at random and pours the silvery contents into the Pensieve and plunges forth into the memory.

He twitches immediately. The ornate room is so familiar, so close to the surface of his mind still, that he feels like his saliva is steel wool and a great rock blocks his oesophagus. The Malfoys...

Narcissa Malfoy sits in a chair by the fire reading, with one hand resting on her belly. She gasps slightly.

“Narcissa?”

A much younger Lucius Malfoy looks at his wife, the skin between his eyebrows thickening a fraction.

“He’s being very active today.” She smiles, a beautiful smile; the glow of a mother before birth. He’s seen the look on Hermione’s face twice now. Once with Ginny...

“Shall I fetch the Healer?”

“Yes, I think so.” She’s confident, pleased. Her expression says this clearly.

Everything blurs, removing the birth and bits that are private in a way that makes Harry glad they aren’t there. This memory in particular came from one of the Malfoys – Narcissa or Lucius Malfoy. Harry wonders why they would give up such a thing, for anyone. There is no price high enough to entice Harry to do the same – ever.

The scene settled again from its disorienting blur, to a not-quite-aware-of-everything view, but all of the faces are familiar: Draco (a baby), Lucius and Narcissa. Harry watches Narcissa, her serene gaze and happy eyes admiring her son. He is wrinkly and odd like the babies Harry has seen, but she clearly is smitten with him. Not hours ago, or minutes, or however long it had been, she had been calm and collected when telling Lucius that she thought the Healer was needed. This particularly memory must have come from Draco. It’s simple and the view is limited, but the brilliance of Pensieves is that everything is at the viewer’s disposal. Lucius looks proud – not arrogant, Harry notices – at his wife and his son. He places a single hand on her shoulder and looks down, and smile settles on Narcissa’s face. And there he is: Draco Malfoy, on the day of his birth... pale, fussy and being doted on by his parents already.

Harry wonders if it is true what they say about children bridging gaps – fillings for rotted places. His heart feels rotten, stained by the years of Voldemort’s touch. It scares him to think of his as normality. He doesn’t remember Aunt Petunia ever holding him or cuddling him. He doesn’t remember anything, apart from that cupboard. Now he wonders why social services were never rung, why no one protected him, or gave him proper meals and love. His only experience with love is that his mother’s love saved him, but he is wiser now and believes it wasn’t love or the power of love, but more the power of a mother defying anyone to steal her child. He sees this same look in Narcissa’s face, this protective nature, that fills his chest with tar and shards of glass; breathing becomes painful.

It is strange to realise that this memory must be Draco’s. That somehow he was able to call up the memory of the day of his birth, even if every detail isn’t there, and see his parents full of love and pride in their son. It hurts that Harry didn’t have the same. He’s not empathetic enough. He knows this. Anger he feels like a laugh, harsh and quick to come, enough that he aches when the two come so closely together.

Harry sighs, knowing that what he wanted and needed now are at odds. No wonder the magic chose this, fickle thing that it can be. He should’ve known when in his heart of hearts that he wanted to know what it was like to have a loving family, he would find something. . . strange and unexpected. These hollows in his life need filling, and if he has to watch every memory forever to make those gaping wounds heal just enough to close, rather than fester, he will do.

The clever part of his brain engages only rarely; it goads him, reminding him, that he can never have these things. His only hope is ever to give them to a child, raise a child and love it like he never had. It is a shame he cannot collect memories of his parents: everyone who knew them now are dead, even if they aren’t in physical form, but mentally. Andromeda no longer has Teddy, and Harry isn’t sure he can give the boy what he needs. He doesn’t even understand the fundamental feelings of joy that Lucius and Narcissa feel as their only son came into the world, or the nine months before it. Somehow he’s supposed to understand something so foreign, so far removed from his own experience, that he’s supposed to do this with Ginny: marry her, give her children, give her a perfect life as the queen to his king. Nothing was perfect, especially not him. He wonders why so much expectation sits on his shoulders when he isn’t sure he wants to go through with all of these things. Kissing Ginny had been nice, in the new feeling way. But he’d never felt... the raging desire to overcome her, not the way Ron talked about being with Hermione, or the way Bill and Fleur were together...

Simplicity has never been the meal on Harry’s plate; this he knows as well as starving, scraping for respect... but never giving any to earn it. One thing he counts himself proud of is defying Umbridge, but then again, defiance has always come naturally to him. Snape, on the other hand... if he’d just stopped and thought, perhaps life would be a lot different. Perhaps he would’ve let Snape teach him something...

He is weary of these thoughts. He returns his attention to the bottles and removes the memory carefully. They are fragile things.

The next one he selects for its colour. It’s shimmering brightly and calls to him. He pours it into the bowl and follows it.

There’s colour; there’s life in brilliant places. All around the garden of the Manor – again the Malfoys. It’s a birthday party, one with magical lanterns strewn about the garden, the peacocks in full strut as they pace the garden and irritate guests. It seems to be amusing to young Draco, who is sitting with younger, yet familiar faces from Hogwarts. Weasleys were there, Crabbe, Goyle, Pansy, Luna Lovegood: all pure-blood wizards and witches. The list went on, but many of the blood lines now are extinct from the war. Those who remain, cling to their lifelines, their hope that their magic won’t be diluted. Harry’s scalp prickles, his mouth like he’s swallowing dirt. It makes Harry sick to realise – and understand – for the first time, that there were these people for a reason; there were undiluted and power bloodlines, raging with magic and special abilities passed down from generation to generation. Something did make them different. There seems to be an aura around those pure-bloods, making them stand out, but perhaps it’s only something they see in one another. Yet, there were so many Muggle Born and half-blood witches and wizards. Harry frowns.

This is grey area.

Grey area is a place he doesn’t understand fully. There’s good and bad, right and wrong – but then there’s doing the wrong thing for the right reason...

Lucius and Narcissa are loving parents. Draco has everything his heart desires and more. He doesn’t know of Muggles, apart from stories of how they’re dangerous. Lucius sometimes reads a book to young Draco, one with morals about wizards who trusted bad Muggles and how it affects everyone in their world. He never speaks of Voldemort and refuses to answer Draco when he asks about the mark on his arm that cannot be hidden in the safety of their home.

“I want to protect you, my son, our way of life. This is all I will say on the matter.”

Young Draco doesn’t understand, not yet. Harry knows he does in the future. Obedient, Draco doesn’t press the issue and lies in his large, comfy bed, surrounded by miniature racing brooms and riders, fairy lights, other strange things Harry’s never seen before but reckons they must have been bought somewhere. There is not a lot of conversation or affection between Draco and Lucius, but his depth of feeling is clear. He is not the same cold man who Harry encountered in his second year of school, or any of the other faces of Lucius Malfoy he’s seen. In fact, if Harry had to say what it is making him different, he believes it is relief. Voldemort is dead, to him, and his son is safe. His heir is safe.

Harry watches many memories, all of Draco Malfoy and his family together. There were sometimes whispers of Harry, curious children asking questions, and them wondering how a Muggle-born witch could be so strong, when they have only known that they are the powerful ones, as pure-blood wizards. Harry learns that their second year at Hogwarts isn’t the first time Draco Malfoy’s called a Muggle-born a Mudblood.

One memory shows a re-enactment of the night Harry’s parents were killed. Luna plays the part of his mother and Draco plays his father; Ron is Voldemort. Twigs serve as their wands, and a bundle of hay as Harry. He can’t tell who Hagrid is, but they play this for a while, and because those taboo curses aren’t uttered in polite company, they use their limited vocabulary to express the actions. Sometimes, a bubble or a light erupts from somewhere, a bit of magic coming out before there is a wand to channel it. These games are quickly halted and the children chastised by an icy Narcissa. Lucius watches, but does not comment. His gaze is enough to make Draco stop whinging at his mother. Lucius is stern in many things, respecting Narcissa is one of them, and when he catches Draco becoming like one of the other overly indulged children, Lucius makes sure there is a punishment.

Draco’s parents teach him important things young: politics and the importance of bearing and manner. He learns maths, but not the same things Harry remembers from school. He learns things that boys who will be powerful in the world learn, and from his mother. Harry envies every second of it. Narcissa tells her son she loves him, and often. She touches his cheek and moves his hair when it’s out of place. He is precious to her, speaking softly but with authority. Draco obeys her and spends his time with her and a nanny. Narcissa lavishes her only son with her attention, though, and banishes the nanny often. Lucius allows the indulgence, but Harry can tell from the hard line of his expression that he wishes she wouldn’t coddle their son so. He is young, but alive under his parents’s mutual affection: Lucius in his way and Narcissa in her more obvious, loving way. Draco is a happy boy.

Lucius keeps his distance, and Draco always looks to him for approval. There are times when he expresses his pride, especially when Draco tells a ruddy-faced Ron Weasley that Muggles are bad and they should stay away from them. The fight that ensues between Mr Weasley and Lucius Malfoy is... grim. Arthur hasn’t a chance. He lacks the eloquence and phrasing of Lucius Malfoy; his courage cannot match Lucius’s conviction. With her voice shrill, Mrs Weasley take Ron by the arm, along with the twins, and ushers them into the flying Ford Anglia. Draco appears to hate Ron now as much as Lucius hates Arthur.

Harry’s throat tightens.

He’s seen enough. He understands more about Draco Malfoy and is afraid to admit that this grey area is one that everyone glances over like the family member no one wants to mention – he knows this feeling all too well. These mad ideas aren’t healthy for an impressionable boy. The lessons on Muggles become more advanced. Fear an overriding factor, it seems. Fear of dying out. Fear of the unknown. Fear of... everything.

Pure-blood wizards are an endangered species.

Muggles are foolish and weak. Muggles don’t understand magic. Muggles are not like us; they are different and inferior. Muggles hate you because you have power. Muggles call you a freak. We cannot trust them. They are weak and will kill all of us. They are below us. Muggles are filthy, and so is any witch or wizard who betrays his blood and mixes with them. They’re blood-traitors. Filth. Dirty. Mudbloods.

Another memory unfurls. Draco walks with his head high and his mother beside him. They are wearing their nice robes, strolling along Diagon Alley. Lucius will not let Draco go to Knockturn Alley with him, even though he begs his father. Harry watches, wondering why Lucius has grown distant. He seems irritated with his son, and Draco seems unable to work out why. Another child is shopping with his mum, someone Draco knows. He smiles a cocky smile in greeting and ask conspiratorially if they can go to Zonko’s. Narcissa smiles indulgently at her son and gives him a purse heavy with coins. Draco smirks.

The two boys head off together and look at the brooms through the shop windows, appraise the quality of the newest toy in the window and move along. They look back at Narcissa regularly and make sure she isn’t watching. The boy with Draco is dressed in robes, too, more colourful but less ornate, like it somehow states, without introduction, who this child belongs to. Harry watches closely, following them, knowing well that feeling of excitement that grows until it’s so high, it can only drop: yielding or unyielding. Draco remarks about a girl nearby to his friend, something he’s heard his father say about half-bloods and Muggle-borns. The girl scowls at him, but says nothing. Draco then says something crude and full of hatred that makes her pull her wand and point it at him.

They run, as fast as they can, until they have reached the end of the alley and are on the doorstep of the Leaky Cauldron. Draco reasserts himself rather quickly, a brag about what he’d have done if he had a wand quickly coming out as the bricks unfold like a living book, pages parted and stepping into a story. The boys go through, and it’s quiet, dull in colour and light. A few patrons sit at the bar and order from Old Tom. They don’t notice the boys, or that they’re heading into the Muggle street.

Draco and his friend step out into the world of cars that can’t fly, bicycles, motorbikes, traffic... Muggle London. Even though the Leaky is on a back street, they are still surrounded by noisy Muggles going about their day. The boys sneer and make faces like they’re somehow important. Someone yells at them, asking why they aren’t in school. They move closer, more insistent in their questions. There is no trace before a wand chooses its wizard; one of the boys sets the man on fire by accident, it seems. Just at the hem of his woolly jumper and all hell breaks loose. The man is screaming and trying to get it to stop, while Draco and his friend laugh, calling him a stupid Muggle. They don’t understand that they’re being watched.

The shadows produce others, with glinting knives, dark bars and other things and look at the boys. They call them names and make fun of their clothing, telling them to piss off; they’ve got work to do. Stop playing in the alley and get to school before they call one of the bobbies round to take them home to their mummies. Draco and his friend laugh and the fire rages hotter. Harry can’t tell which of them is controlling the spell, but they aren’t releasing it or they don’t understand it and it’s out of control. One of the men grins evilly, like he’s seen this sort of thing before. They’re called freaks and unnatural; those magic words ring loudly for Draco and the other boy, so true and exactly what his father said they were like. Then fear becomes so obvious it’s like having a train on a motorway, out of nowhere.

One of the men makes to grab at them, but it’s too late. Narcissa Malfoy has her wand pointed at them, Obliviating their memories before they can put a hand on either child.

Harry decides he’s seen enough. For the most part, his curiosity is sated.

+ + +

Harry walks home slowly, deciding on fresh air. It’s quiet, leading up to Grimmauld Place. Lights are on inside. His lips twitch, a small smile rising. Harry knows in many ways, from those memories, what it is like to have a loving family, a normal childhood. These things have haunted him, and he can never get them back, never erase Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon, or Dudley and the things they’ve done. He decides he doesn’t need to forget it. He also wonders if Draco had any idea whom the memories were for. He probably does; he knows Harry very well, even if he doesn’t always point things out or have as many words as Harry. Age and experience have given Draco a filter, much like Harry, and each word is weighed and measured before it is spoken. Together, they are learning that irrational behaviour gets them nowhere.

“Oh, it’s you.” Draco’s voice is cool, relaxed. “You’ve been gone a while.”

“Yeah, I went out with George.” Harry crosses the room and pours a measure of gin from the drinks cabinet. When he turns to look at Draco, he sees the bottles of memories. “You knew.”

“I know a lot of things, Potter. It’s obvious. Was it enough for you?”

“I understand a bit more, if that’s what you’re asking.”

Draco looks at him shrewdly. Harry thinks he’d like find his own relatives and bury them in holes, show them what it was like for him. Draco doesn’t know this, or if he does, he doesn’t say anything. This is a depth of Harry’s mind that he doesn’t want to share with anyone, not when they think he’s one thing, this symbol of heroism. If they only knew how badly he wanted to die as he walked toward Voldemort that night in the Forbidden Forest during the war. He has to move on, though. He knows that. He just wants his family – all of those who died for him, because of him and at his defence. Nothing is quite right in the current state of Britain on the whole. The entire royal family have stepped down – Prime Minister gone; the wizarding Ministry is collapsing around them. They’ve made it this far. Someone will have to lead. Harry doesn’t want to do it. Draco doesn’t want to do it, either. His father expects it and disapproves highly of him living with Harry. He knows this adventure into discovering what it’s like to have a family is silly.

“Potter, don’t be obtuse. You talk in your sleep – we share a bed. You needed to see to understand.”

“I—. Er.” Harry thinks about sitting, drinks the gin swiftly, then pours more before going to sit. “Yeah, I reckon it helped.”

“Good. That was the point.”

Harry knows the subject is closed. He finishes his gin and exhales, his throat burning like he’s tried to swallow knives. Draco has shown him bits of his life that only those who were there have seen. He wants to know about the Weasleys, about the boy Draco left Diagon Alley with... but he’s been given a rare present with all of those memories.

“I didn’t watch all of them.”

Draco looks at him. “No?” The rest of the question is implied: why ever not?

“You’ve been working late. I wanted to see you,” Harry says as if this answers the question.

Draco hums, watching Harry closely. “Is there anything you want to know, Potter?”

“Loads; but it doesn’t really matter.”

“I thought it did.”

Harry tries to think of how to respond. The world is different now, and chopping at the same fallen tree is pointless. It still creates splinters, leaving nothing but worthless bits for someone to clean up.

Harry sighs. “I think... it’s been long enough that we don’t need to bring up the past to save the present. You know you can leave any time you like. You stop, though, and I like it. I understand you more... Voldemort and that, you know? I just... I want to forget my own past. Start over. You help me do that. You don’t have to, but you do. I mean, what we have is basically a family, right?”

“Yes, Potter, I think so.”

“Then I have a family. We have a family, together. You have Scorpius, and I have James. Sons to carry on the family lines and all that. The one thing I can’t understand – because I’m not like you – is what’s so special about being a pure-blood.”

“No, but it’s irrelevant, now. There are only so many bloodlines left. The way things are going in England, I think perhaps there will be no pure-blood wizards left in fifty years. If anything, we adapt and change. The Muggles will either kill us all, or we’ll have to protect ourselves, hidden away further from them. It hasn’t got so bad on the continent.”

Harry’s throat tightens. In the Muggle Liaison Office, he sees the line between the wizarding world and the Muggle world collapsing and can’t do anything. He’s a ‘police officer’ to the Muggles and can only speak with certain members of the local branch. The existence of wizards is still too scary for Muggles; the ones who know are afraid and it’s obvious in the way they interact with Harry. It’s obvious when they watch him use his wand to test things, spells designed to detect – forensics, they call it. They ask questions that Harry has vowed not to answer, about killing wizards and how they do it, if a thought could do it. The SAS and Ministers of Defence are very interested in the abilities of wizards working alongside the military and if it’s even possible. Requests go in and out of his tray so quickly, he fails to remember if he really read them at all or if his mind is playing tricks on him. Death is death, no matter what. Harry doesn’t want to cause it; he’s only interested in finding out who is responsible and making sure they go to the proper authorities: Muggle or wizarding. He’s tired of watching files fall on his desk at the pseudo-IT office for him to investigate – murders of wizards, murders of Muggles. He’s just tired. The war never seems to have ended.

“Potter?”

“Hm?”

“I know it was an unpleasant day. The Minister has asked me to take the case you got today. He says that you’re too close to this sort of thing.”

It’s a relief, actually, to hear it. Harry’s glad that he isn’t the Head of any division in the Ministry. He gets his orders, he follows them, and he moves on. He does his job, he comes home, and sometimes Draco isn’t here, but he always comes back. This shows Harry more than anything Draco can say. If he could say the words. Love is not a term identified in the DNA as absolute, but the presence and fondness they share for one another point to love, something deeper, perhaps, that Harry only understands on the surface. Even thinking of a day without Draco makes him skin crawl and heart feel like a nail has been driven in slowly.

“Yeah, her history’s a bit too close to home. I won’t be objective.”

Draco nods. “Let it go. I’ll see that it’s handled properly.”

“I know.” He pauses and thinks for a moment. “What sort of relationship did you have with Luna?”

“Personally or professionally?”

“Both.”

“She was... perhaps the most understanding after the war. She helped me, for want of a better word, cope.”

“How?”

“In the three years we’ve been together, Potter, I thought you would’ve noticed my need to be in control of things,” Draco says tersely. His eyes darken a fraction.

“Yeah, sorry. I know you don’t like talking about it.”

“What do you want to know?”

Harry looks at Draco, trying to work out exactly that. “Do you still need that sort of thing?"

Draco remains silent, his gaze never flickering from Harry’s. “You are a pleasant diversion from the need, Potter.”

Harry’s eyes widen.

“Unless, perhaps, you’d like me to show you.”

Harry swallows, and again. This takes a lot of trust on Draco’s part to offer. It would take a lot of trust on Harry’s part to accept, too. He isn’t sure he’s ready for that. Being out of control has never been easy for him, either, but he’s accepted that he can’t control everything – or fix everything. Then it hits him.

Their relationship works because Draco likes to be in control and Harry wants to be anything but. He always has to control himself – at work, when he does call by Ginny’s to see James, when there are people who deserve all of the wrath buried within – and while they’ve never discussed this, Draco’s past in detail and his sexual experiences, it makes sense that Draco would want to do this. Draco says he doesn’t need it, but Harry can see in his eyes, the subtle change in his expression that he wants it. Neither of them have ever really had what they needed in their lives; it’s how they ended up together. Ron still has no sense of what Draco means to Harry. Draco is a lifeline. Harry will do anything for him, just like he knows Draco will do anything for him. With Draco, he can be himself, broken bits and all. In turn, Harry accepts, without desire to change or modify things, how Draco is.

He wants to give Draco this.

“Alright.”

Draco smirks. “I don’t want to be called Sir or Master. Just call me Draco. I do, however, require your absolute obedience. Arguments will result in punishment of my choosing. Understand?”

“Yes. I have a vague idea of how it works.”

“Good. Once we begin, you may only speak to me if I speak to you first.”

Harry nods. “I can do that.”

“I’m sure you can, Potter. I have faith in your ability to please me. You usually do.”

These words sink into Harry’s brain like an injection of fire. Even more, now, Harry wants to please Draco, to pleasure him, to let him take pleasure from Harry. Though it is free, Harry feels that Draco needs this as much as Harry knows he needs it, too, a reminder that he’s taken care of and cherished. Harry thinks it will also release some of the helpless energy. Learning to surrender to Draco means that he gives himself wholly and without reservation, unconditionally. This, he hopes, Draco will understand and give him validation. Harry needs it some days like water, and this is one of those days.

“This is not about humiliation or degradation.” Draco’s expression softens. “I’m not a sadist. You doing whatever I ask of you is rather arousing, though. I don’t like blood and pain, so you will not experience that. I will, however, blindfold you. You can’t see me without your glasses anyway.” Draco smirks. It’s as though he’s rolling around a thought like a sweet in his mouth, decided he likes the flavour but found it lacking - just a touch - and something must be done for it. “I just want to be in control of everything you do, and I will, I promise, push your limits, but I will also be fair and good to you. If you’re good, I’ll let you come.”

Harry can’t breathe. He tries, inhaling deeply through his nose, but his heart is beating so fast he thinks a jungle climbed inside his chest somehow. “Okay.”

Draco stands and crosses to him, then sits and strokes Harry’s face. He removes Harry’s glasses and sets them aside. Everything becomes a blur, all colour mixing together, leaving behind sound and touch as his guide. He has agreed to do as Draco asks – obey he will. He closes his eyes and waits, and inhales like he’s stuttering before noticing the cloth being knotted at the base of his skull. The darkness is comforting; Draco’s soft touches on his hand are comforting. He can smell the soft hint of Draco’s aftershave, mingled with a day’s work, all things which Harry likes on Draco. It’s not robes or fancy dress, but Draco in his most natural, with a hint of some exotic twist that he’s applied to his skin. Deeply he draws this part of Draco in, savouring the way his lips tingle to be touched. He groans softly when Draco barely kisses the corner of his mouth and leaves behind a tantalising taste of more. He licks the spot Draco’s lips have just departed, greedy for more. He waits, as asked, or has assumed is the primary response to all this. Whatever this is.

This trust is unfamiliar. Harry takes a deep breath and exhales, knowing that when he next inhales, he will no longer feel alone in a dark room naked, without hope.

He is safe.

+ + +

“You will need a punishment for disobeying me.”

Harry remains silent, deciding that Draco is only thinking aloud. He is trapped with only four senses. But he’s not really trapped. He’s waiting, like a bird for the right moment to launch into the air. He needs the appropriate cues - permission. It’s hard not to balk and complain. Harry presses his lips together tightly to keep from speaking. The effort not to move has him trembling. The important thing is that Draco would never hurt him. They have seen and been through too much, worked together too often, for there to be any question of his safety. How long can he sit like this, he wonders?

“Orgasm denial is cheap and unfair. This is meant to be about pleasure.” Draco’s tone is speculative.

Harry feels a light caress over his hair and can’t help greeting the touch.

Draco tuts. “Ah. Yes. I won’t touch you if you don’t please me. You will touch me, instead, however I want.”

Swallowing is like ingesting coal, bitter and hard. “Anything but that,” he says before he can de-rail the thought.

“You have to get used to it at some point. And you’ve spoken without being addressed, Potter. Hrm. I’m not removing the blindfold. I’m still sitting beside you. Put your hand on my thigh and leave it there.”

Harry hesitates, starting once, again, then stopping. Finally he slides his hand across the sofa and locates Draco’s leg. He winces as he finds a good place to rest his palm comfortably. One after the other, his fingers drop; he stops fighting the compulsion to pull away. Draco is right; he is not humiliating Harry, but he is pushing his boundaries, challenging everything that is comfortable to him. It has nothing to do with Draco, and he can handle being touched; it’s the touching others that he finds most difficult. Touching people feels like an invasion, not to them, but himself. All of the nerves light up and he’s at a loss for how to contain the revulsion and discomfort.

“Very good, Potter.”

There is a light caress over his fingers, and somehow that soothes his rattled nerves. It starts at the tips and Draco works his way to the sensitive bit between his fingers. He stops on Harry’s ring finger and strokes the tan line where a ring personifying vows and love once resided.

“Are you alright?” Draco asks, his lazy strokes on Harry’s skin satisfying.

Harry knows he’s supposed to be honest. To be honest, though, he has to think. Saying ‘yes’ would mean he’s not at all distressed or that he isn’t afraid, when he’s both. If he says ‘no’, Draco may stop; something deep in his heart doesn’t want Draco to stop.

The words are like a clogged drain, but eventually they trickle to Harry’s lips. “I’m... afraid.”

“You needn’t be.”

“I know. It’s just... new.”

“Potter, if you want to stop, then say so.”

Harry thinks for a moment, asking himself what he wants. This is an opportunity, a way to explore and show Draco that he trusts him, and all the other confusing, mad things he feels for him. “No, I don’t want to stop.”

“Good.”

The pleasure in Draco’s tone shoots down his spine, leaving tingles behind.

“Now, I want you to get on the floor, on your knees, in front of me.”

Harry takes his hand back to feel his way to the floor.

“Ah, Potter. I didn’t say you could move your hand.”

Harry’s heart is like a battering ram, nearly breaking through its obstacle. He takes a deep breath to steady himself, then returns his hand to Draco’s thigh. The searing invasion of the touch makes him feel like maggots are writhing on his skin, spiders in his bones. He shudders, but remains as calm as possible.

“You aren’t going to hurt me. Stop thinking and just listen to me.”

Harry tries, as he works his way to the floor. He turns his left hand to a more comfortable position and seeks Draco’s other thigh with his right. His knees ache against the floorboards, but he does as Draco commands. He slides closer, inches at a time, until he hears Draco’s approval. It’s a humming moan that shows Harry just how turned on he is by playing director on this stage of theirs. This is unlike anything they’ve done before, and Harry is starting to regret it, apart from that sound: it’s like Draco’s tongue has slithered out and licked his neck, just before he bites down. He wants more of it but cannot ask nor know why. That sound dances inside of his head, lighting up every nerve. He yields to please Draco.

“Very good.”

Harry forces away a smile before he earns more punishment.

“Slide your hands toward me,” Draco commands. It is a soft compulsion once it enters Harry’s ears and his body engages before his mind can make him stop.

Harry shoves his hands forward quickly—

“Ah, ah, Potter. This is for my pleasure. Start over.”

Harry’s hold tightens on Draco’s thighs. It’s like a storm has begun in his mind and he cannot run or hide from it – not when it’s so close. The unnatural feeling of being powerless hammers into his bones. His hands grow hot; his palms feel like they’re blistering. No, no, no, no! He shudders and jerks away.

“I can’t do this.”

“Yes, you can, Potter. Don’t move.”

Harry feels the gentle touch of Draco’s finger outlining his palm. “There’s nothing there. You didn’t burn me.”

Harry gasps, fumbling for words; they fail and he chokes with the effort not to ask how Draco knows what he’s thinking.

“Now, start again. Slowly.”

Trembling, Harry seeks Draco’s thigh with his other hand. He stops, then takes a breath. Before he can think, Harry guides his hands to Draco’s legs and settles them comfortably.

Slowly. Harry begins. It’s like using Legilimency to fight the compulsion to remove his hands from his lover’s body. Draco usually ties his hands to alleviate this struggle, but there is no choice now. He has committed to what Draco wishes, which is what Harry wishes. Trying to shut down his mind and act is not natural. Impulsive behaviour is natural, but this is planned, directed by Draco. This difference, Harry feels, is the distinction between weakness and power. He’s not weak, but this fear of his does make it difficult to engage in anything like a civilised life. He would rather be tied up than touch Draco for fear of hurting him. Now Draco directs him to touch, to do the exact thing that terrifies him most; clearly Draco wants it, though. There is no denying Draco. It has nothing to do with letting, but wanting in a way he doesn’t understand for the first time in his life. Trust, perhaps, Harry thinks, is the needle of the compass as he blindly feels the fabric of Draco’s trousers first, beneath it the fit sinew and muscle of his thighs.

Heat fills Harry’s hands as he draws them closer to the centre of Draco’s trousers, where he know he will find an erection waiting. Harry’s attention turns to his own arousal, realising with a floating sense of pleasure that with every second his hands rest on Draco’s body, he is reacting, becoming so hard he wants to rub against something to feel the relieving friction of his cock against a surface that won’t give. He’s in a giving mood, though. By now, Draco has to have realised with the creep of his hands forward and their eventual stop to feel the shape of his balls and cock that Harry wants to be taken, but only at Draco’s direction.

“You may touch my cock, Potter.”

Harry salivates and closes his eyes behind the blindfold, only to add more sensation with the absence of sight. He slides his hands across Draco’s cock, which is as hard as Harry hoped it would be and more. He reckons Draco’s feeling the same need to be consumed, just in a different way. Maybe. Harry isn’t sure, but despite his discomfort with touching, Draco’s direction makes him forget just long enough to do what’s asked. Harry gasps, wanting to comment on how wonderful the outline of Draco’s cock feels to his hands, how in his imagination it’s already inside him and Draco’s fucking him so deeply there is no thought left in him, only desire.

In the three years they’ve been together, Harry has never felt Draco’s cock this way. He wants to unfasten Draco’s trousers, and tries to find the buttons and clasps.

“Tut, tut, Potter. I didn’t say you could do that. Put your hands on my thighs and don’t move them until I tell you. Do you understand?”

Harry’s heart stutters, but with a deep breath and a break in his voice, he says, “Yes, Draco.”

It is difficult to move his hands and leave them still. The heat is coming back like a Fiendfyre rests in his palms, only waiting to be released. Inhaling is difficult, knowing that he will hurt Draco if he remains this way for too long. He’s hurt others, ones he loves and was supposed to protect because of this strange lack of control he has over magic. He promised himself he’d never burn anyone again after—

“Potter, you may continue.”

Time doesn’t matter; it’s only a measurement of breaths and moments anyway. This moment, these precious minutes deserve more than fear. Thought and calculation just subtracts from the countdown until morning. Harry resumes, grateful to leave the now-damp and hot impression that must be on Draco’s trousers behind to feel the bulge between Draco’s thighs, the softness of his balls contrasting with the thick rigidity of his cock. Harry can hear both of their breathing, a quickening in counterpoint to his own that tells him without words what he’s doing right.

There is a stifled gasp that fills Harry with the distraction he needs. Draco runs his slender fingers through Harry’s hair, tickling Harry’s scalp and sending a rush of sensation down his spine that’s unexplainable but pleasant nonetheless. Harry’s needs have never been this intimate, this close to need so bone deep that he’s willing to do anything for approval.

Draco’s scent fills his nose. He sighs with a smile, caressing Draco like he’s stepped out of his body and touching a stranger. This doesn’t frighten him. He adds pressure to the rhythmic rubbing of fingers and palm over Draco’s cock. It feels good, the heat receding from his hands. Between his own legs, his cock is aching for touch, but he can’t ask for anything. Even if he tried to rub against the edge of the sofa, Draco would stop him. The pleasure denied is part of the game, he thinks, only to make it sweeter in the end. This is not a new feeling, denial versus satisfaction. This slow burn is for both of them.

“Very good.” The change in Draco’s voice is a ripcord, exposing his nerves to the force of compulsion that meets desire. He cups Draco more firmly than before. He’s so hot he can barely stand it, but Draco’s cock feels good to touch, reminding him that he’s wanted. He needs this reminder like air; he breathes, then fumbles in his blindness at Draco’s trousers. His fingers are like spaghetti noodles, so un-cooperative that frustration drives a hot spike thorough him. He starts and pulls away—

Potter.”

The knife-edge of Draco’s voice cuts through and Harry catches himself on the floor.

A sigh comes, and Harry feels Draco’s hands on his shoulders, a reassuring squeeze following. “Are you listening, Potter?”

Harry nods.

“I did say I was going to push your limits.”

Harry nods again.

There is movement, the sound of Draco’s shoes on the floor, the creak of wood under the rug. Draco’s hands rest on Harry’s shoulders and he relaxes. “Get up.”

Harry obeys, using Draco to pull himself to his feet. The burn in his hands is still there, but Draco touches him and he knows the fire is only in his mind. I need this, he realises, and continues to use Draco for leverage. What now? he wants to ask, but the rules of this game prevent questions. He must wait, holding onto Draco, even though he wants to let go and beg for Draco to tie his hands up so he can stop feeling fire that won’t subside.

“Potter,” Draco says, sounding like he wants Harry’s attention.

Harry looks at him, even though he cannot see.

“The curse has been broken. You won’t hurt me. Listen very carefully. We’re going to our bedroom and you’re going to touch me until I’m satisfied, then I’m going to fuck you, with no ropes. Understand?”

Harry trembles but nods.

“Hold my elbow.” Draco’s authority shoots through Harry and he finds the inside curve of Draco’s arm, without hesitation. His arm is relaxed, unlike Harry. It feels like a long-standing, lower-powered Cruciatus curse is leaking into his pores, forcing him to quake. He’s not afraid of Draco. But if he hurts Draco, he will never forgive himself.

Warm...

Draco walks, and Harry, with his hand around Draco’s arm, follows, up the stairs, down the corridor and to the bedroom on the left. It is a bit disorienting, but he knows where their bedroom is.

“Stop.”

Harry does, feeling the change from wood to rug under his feet.

“I’m going to stand in front of you, and I want you to undress me. Touch me, every time you undo a button. I’ll put your hands where they belong. As long as you do what I say, I will reward you generously.”

His heart flutters, but Harry nods. Just one touch and he can already feel the pleasure across his skin, the exact placement of fingers and palm against him that will pull his need to the surface for Draco to take care of. Draco takes hold of Harry’s hands and places them against his chest. Draco’s body is warm, not fire, but still hot enough that Harry wants to pull away.

No, focus.

He inhales and Harry presses more firmly against Draco, and a ghostly touch moves over his forearm. It pulls him in, a world of blindness. In his mind he knows exactly what Draco looks like, but he’s never touched him this way, with his hands pressed against his chest and feeling the warmth of his body through his robe. Harry inhales and follows the line of collarbone under cloth. It’s a strong line from his shoulder, which he’s seen, but feels knobby. Draco has always been lean and lithe but feeling it for the first time makes Harry realise their physical differences. He likes the way Draco feels; quiet strength in every controlled movement he makes. Though he’s seen, this ability to feel... something inside Harry opens and floods him. An outline follows his fingers; he’s not seeing, but knows the contours well by sight. He knows that there are scars just beneath where his hands wait, stuck and unable to move yet. He waits for Draco to immobilise him, feeling like his magic is going to erupt into a blaze.

The last time Harry tried this, he failed and no Healer has been able to get through to him, not the way the memories of Draco’s childhood did – proof that there is no perfect childhood, and that even though he’s ruined his son’s chance for a normal childhood, he can still have one of love, despite the harm Harry has done to him. Harry’s thought about this for a while. He won’t back down now, not when he’s resting his hands on Draco’s chest and Draco’s fingers are trailing across his arms, hands and fingers telling him that everything is okay.

Inhaling, he runs his fingers along the opening of Draco’s collar until he finds the top button and finally pushes it through the hole, exposing a little more skin, putting him one step closer. As directed, Harry touched Draco’s skin, the pads of his fingers tickled by his slow movement. He can feel where Draco’s sternum meets in the middle, and slides his fingers through the slight hollow. He finishes each button and opens the shirt, starting again at Draco’s shoulders and sliding his hands across the naked skin. Every scar, every blemish he feels, drives him further. He splays his fingers and caresses Draco’s nipples, unable to stop a smile when they react and harden. He pinches, without permission, and feels a shudder. Cool air touches warm skin, the small wrinkles of arousal alive. Harry seeks Draco’s arms one at a time and removes the cufflinks, before pushing the shirt from his shoulders and hears it hit the floor like a sigh. Perhaps it understands Harry’s relief and appreciation that he’s come so far. He leans in and uses his thumbs, pressed against Draco’s nipples, as a guide. Tongue extended, he swipes up and over the pale skin and sucks. Draco’s hands tighten around Harry’s arms and for a moment he thinks he needs to stop, but remembers that Draco will tell him to when he likes. He will guide him and make it easier. Harry has been dying for this closeness, this ability to touch and give Draco pleasure that he’s failed at before – but not now. Harry bites down on the fleshy edge of Draco’s chest on one side, a wet trail in his wake. He smells the reaction, the subtle change in Draco’s scent as he touches and licks.

Harry nips and bites, a restrained noise from Draco following the withdrawal of his mouth and teeth. There is dampness everywhere his lips touch, and he moves up, knowing by the shapes and contours he’s reached Draco’s neck. He slides one hand up and cradles the column of warm flesh and kisses the opposite side. Gently. Hard. Then he finds Draco’s lips, his tongue moving across jaw line and chin and kisses him. His arms, as though he’s no longer in control of his body, wrap around Draco and pull them flush. Their mouths become one, tongues flicking together. Harry feels in his bones a warmth that only comes when his arms are restrained and he can do no harm. Right now, He feels anything but restraint. He bites at Draco’s bottom lip and touches his naked skin, lost memories of how to give pleasure surfacing in his subconscious. Memories of what pleases Draco most: short bursts of kisses, not the long, teasing ones Harry sometimes prefers; a hand through his hair as though the carding of fingers brings him a quick burst of arousal, followed by arching his body to get more. His neck, his palm, all places Harry knows so well he could create a life-like impression from anything. The reward is immediate. Draco’s arms tighten, his palm resting on Harry’s lower back. Harry feels the curl of his fingers, the bite of fingernail trapped by his t-shirt. He doesn’t reciprocate ; Draco is giving his approval well enough. His hands haven’t left Harry’s body. And Harry knows that he has to keep touching Draco so that doesn’t happen.

There is no request he can make. Draco has to make the moves in his own time. Harry wants his own shirt off, his trousers gone. He reaches between them and finishes what he started, remaining silent. He pushes down the trousers, exposing the rest of Draco in the candlelit room. His cock is hard, and Harry wishes he could see it, to see what parts of Draco have gone flushed in the heat of arousal. His mind fills in the blanks. It’s not sexy the way the body reacts and pale becomes pink or red. It crops up on Draco in the same places, though: across his collarbones and up his neck. Harry traces those lines, hoping that touch conveys what he’s unable to say. How perfect Draco feels, how much Harry likes his body, his mind, the things he does to Harry, no matter how difficult this is.

Harry runs his hands down Draco’s chest, scraping nipple and the flat, smooth surface of his abdomen until he reaches Draco’s cock. Draco’s panting, and maintaining his hold; his grip has tightened, though, digging into Harry’s skin. It doesn’t bother him. He likes it. This feeling of possession and belonging. He is slack, content with the heightened sensations of touch, scent, sound and taste. The smell of sex is in the air, not the post-intercourse musk, but the scent that comes after reaching the cusp of arousal and crossing over into the need to create friction. Create the positions and movements that change the clean scent of Draco’s skin into light sweat and something that involves chemical reactions. Draco’s skin is hot – not Harry’s. Light moisture coats Harry’s hand as he strokes the length of Draco’s shaft and covers it with his palm. He feels the ridges and curves, the sensitive spot on the underside of the shaft, the wrinkle of foreskin drawn back. Draco’s breath hitches, a sound Harry wants more of. He wants more full stop. Draco’s naked and they’ve only shared a kiss, and these touches. Harry knows he’s the one meant to be doing the touching—

“Dra—”

The hold around Harry falls away. He wants to beg but he doesn’t and continues stroking Draco’s cock. He takes hold of his balls with the other and massages.

“I didn’t give you permission to speak.” His voice strains. “Your punishment is to undress yourself. With the blindfold still on.”

Harry nods and releases his hold on Draco. He feels empty without the touch, lost without his sight. He does what Draco asked, removing one article of clothing at a time until he is naked. Being exposed without Draco touching him is strange and embarrassing. He can’t see if Draco approves or hear anything apart from his own breath and heart beat. He rests his hands at his sides. He doesn’t want to fidget; he has a feeling Draco wouldn’t approve. He doesn’t cover his own erection, either, however much he wishes to. He gravitates toward Draco. Then he stops, reminded that any other move without permission may result in this ending before it can finish.

A hand rests on his shoulder, and traces the outline of Harry’s spine. “Very good, Potter.” Draco’s hand continues down, slow and deliberate, until he reaches Harry’s arse. “Stand still.”

Harry does his best. Draco’s fingers are wet and pushing into him – he has no idea how many. Enough to make him feel full and alive. Enough that he moans, and wants more, deeper, now.

Draco makes a throaty sound, primal and reaches into Harry’s bones. “That’s right, Potter. I want to know how it feels. Let me hear it.”

Harry moans again, the slick in and out of Draco’s fingers moving in a rhythm that he can’t keep track of. His body just moves, knowing there’s something missing. Draco’s lips skim the edge of Harry’s shoulders, kissing just enough to make his skin tingle when he pulls away. Harry wants to touch Draco, but he can’t move; if he does, he’s sure Draco will withdraw. He doesn’t. He adds another finger, stretching Harry wider and so much that he cries out. He’s still not quite full, not quite enough satisfaction in the longer slender fingers fucking him. His knees feel numb, but not like he can’t hold himself up any longer. He’s losing his tenuous grasp on reality, feeling drawn toward something he can’t explain. It’s just his body and Draco using it however he likes. Harry goes with it.

Words garble together, but the removal of Draco’s fingers snaps him back to reality. “I said lie down on the bed, Potter. On your back.”

Harry licks his lips and sways with each step toward the bed, Draco leading him. It’s not far. His knees buckle when he hits the mattress, completely dazed. He moans, and waits for the next instruction.

“Spread your legs.”

Harry complies. He could be in a room of people watching and he wouldn’t care. Draco’s watching, and that’s the important thing. Draco wants him, is watching and waiting. He loves it. It moves through him like metal conducting heat, but it’s not magic; he knows the difference now. He knows this is arousal hard and heavy. There’s no need for Draco to tie him up or pin him to the bed; Harry’s body does it on its own, this response to their usual encounters when Draco ties him up. There won’t be any rope this time. Harry doesn’t care. He wants Draco in him, around him, on top of him, consuming him, and he will hold him until he can crawl into his skin and make them half of a whole. He wants it so badly he’ll do anything.

“Wider.”

“Unh, yes.” Harry slides his feet across the bedding, the sheets wrinkling as he spreads his thighs and shows off. He lifts his hips and refrains from touching himself; Draco would’ve told him to do it if he’d wanted to see that.

“You’re talking. I may forgive you for that one. You’ve done well so far.”

Harry wants to groan, but he’s too curious about what Draco sees and how long before he’ll join him on the bed and give in to the desire Harry knows he’s feeling. Draco’s using self-control, and control over Harry. He’s quaking now, as he holds his legs open. His cock hurts and he’s trying to find peace, release, in the madness of his mind and body. But he can’t concentrate. It’s like colour erupts in his mind and blends together and separates. There’s nothing solid. The bed moves, and Harry feels as he’s pulled lower on the bed. Draco’s hands are firm and position him where he wants him. Now that they’re close again, Harry can smell him and it rolls through him in waves, dizzying. Nothing smells like Draco, crisp and clean, hints of arousal and Harry’s body on him. Harry moans, feeling Draco slide into him. Harry arches as Draco stretches and fills him as deeply as he’ll go. He moans, his throat aching from how dry it’s become, the panting, the need so strong he feels like he’ll break.

“Hands on me, Potter.”

Harry exhales and does as he’s told, resting his hands on Draco’s flanks. He can feel the ridges of rib and muscle, the scars along his skin. Harry strokes and traces skin he knows as well as his own. Draco moves and snaps his hips forward. The pain and pleasure of it mingle until Harry only knows the haze, the heat of Draco’s body making all of the pieces fit back together. Harry tightens his hold on Draco’s sides. Skin tears beneath his fingers. There’s noise all around, the least tangible form of pleasure. Harry swallows and it stops. His throat is raw. Draco pants and then Harry feels the touch of lips and teeth. His tongue becomes Draco’s to fellate. He whines and pulls Draco closer, kissing him until he goes limp. He’s buzzing from the slow, fast, hard, Draco’s giving him. The deep thrust and shallow withdraw. It’s hard to hold on; the only thing keeping his legs in position is Draco, the way he’s holding them and making sure that Harry gets all of him.

“Fuck, Draco. Please. I need to—”

Harry loses his breath. Draco slams in harder and Harry grips anything he can hold. His eyes roll back and he comes, he feels the heat of his semen spreading over his stomach and chest. He feels like he falls to pieces, and there’s nothing left of him. He feels Draco thrusting but he barely registers anything else. He feels a fast puff of breath next to his neck, a sound, a murmur so low he only hears his name through what feels like wet cotton wool. He feels Draco stiffen, a few jerks. Then he fades into nothingness.

+ + +

Harry wakes up shivering. There’s a duvet and sheet over him and an arm. Stiffness rests in his bones and muscles like cement. Part of him doesn’t want to move, but he needs the loo. He doesn’t want to move. Draco seems comfortable. His breath touches Harry’s back in soft puffs. Even though his body feels tight from the exertion, the weight he’s felt for months isn’t there. Draco took him apart and put him back together. Perhaps he’s always wanted or meant to, or didn’t know at all. Harry’s sure he knows what he did, though. He sighs, appreciating everything Draco did for him. He’s never known this sort of freedom.

He reaches out and puts his hand over Draco’s. He pulls away on instinct, but there is no flash of heat or pain He smiles and slowly rests his palm down on the back of Draco’s hand. A brief stroke tickles his thumb.

He can’t stop smiling.

+ + +

Six months later...

Harry knocks on the Burrow door and waits, shifting from one foot to the other. Ginny isn’t the problem, or seeing her. Seeing his son terrifies him. It’s time to put the past behind him like rubbish and move on before it’s too late. Forgiveness, perhaps, will come in time, but he suspects it will take ages.

The door finally opens and Mrs Weasley looks at Harry in shock, then her face scrunches up like she’s about to cry. “Oh, Harry.” She shoves through the door and hugs him, a familiar embrace that he hesitates to return, but does, with only the reminder of touching another person registering in his hands. This, he can handle, and knows is Draco’s doing - this strength to be able to find intimacy and not fear touching another person.

“Hello, Mrs Weasley,” Harry finally says.

She releases him and looks him over. “You’ve lost weight. Is that Malfoy boy not feeding you?” She’s appraising him as though he didn’t leave her daughter and grandson without a husband, without a father.

“Yeah, we eat. Work’s just... work.”

She nods. “Well, don’t stand there all day. Ginny and James are in the living room.”

Harry flashes a smile and goes to locate his ex-wife and son. They are on the sofa together, James making sounds of happiness and Ginny bouncing him in her lap. He’s alive - giggling and happy in a way that Harry has only dreamed would happen. James reaches out and calls, “Da!”, but that can’t be possible; Harry has been gone since the day he lost control. He turns—

“Harry?” Ginny says.

He stops and looks at his ex-wife and son.

She smiles slightly. “You can hold him, if you like.”

Harry stops breathing; the offer is sooner than he thought, and just looking at his son is difficult. His face, tiny and young, is red still after years. Hair is missing, and his skin wrinkled where the burns consumed his newborn flesh. Fire consumes; it is insanity. He must have been insane when he’d held his son and burned him so badly the mark is permanent. This is the nature of curses. Had he known sooner, he could’ve done something, but now he looks on at his son reaching for him and he wishes he hadn’t come. But Draco has taught him... and he can do this. He knows he can.

He takes the few steps to close the distance and accepts his son. He hopes one day that James will forgive him for making him look like he was moulded from clay by inexperienced hands, rather than the child he should be. Hurting him was an accident. He will never be a freak; Harry won’t allow it. Curses leave their marks; Harry has his own, but he will do anything he can to make it right. Draco has shown him how to do this.

For the first time in months, he feels the warmth under his hands and realises it’s not fire, or the wild magic that burned his son, but the gentle warmth of skin on skin – the beauty of a living being connecting with another.