Chapter 1: Welcome Home
It was a quiet meeting, full of more significant glances than Harry could track. He ignored that, as he had ignored a lot of secrets and significant glances among his colleagues for the last year. What he wanted was to bring down the Solitary Brewer, and as long as everyone else in the raid did their parts so that could happen, he didn’t care about their hidden love affairs or jealousies or paranoia.
Harry tapped his quill against his parchment to bring their attention back to where it belonged when he was sure that no one else would. Reluctant glances focused on his face. Harry leaned back, his hands folded behind his head to make them think he was casual, and studied them. If there was someone here more occupied with who was sleeping with who than with the plans for the raid, he would leave them behind.
But no, they all sat up when they saw him looking, and their faces became firm. Harry nodded. “All right,” he said aloud, and flicked his wand instead of his quill this time. Copies of the plan rose and scattered among them, all down the round table. “This is the house he occupies. You know that we’re going to go in through both doors at once, and all the windows…”
Nods followed his words, and Harry wrote down the questions that popped up, the ones that didn’t have answers yet. Then they debated those questions, and came up with the answers, and everything began to lay itself out in the neat squares of plans worked on by the multiple teams of Auror partners that Harry had discovered he had a talent for leading.
Or else they follow me because of my reputation.
Harry gave a little shrug when that thought appeared, as it always did, the same shrug he always gave. As long as they followed.
Questions clicked along, minds clicked along and joined, and soon Harry was rising to his feet at the head of the table and smiling at the Aurors who locked eyes with him. Hesitantly, many of them smiled back.
“This won’t be easy,” Harry reminded them, quietly. “But that doesn’t mean it can’t be done, and it doesn’t mean we won’t put him in Azkaban. We already have all the evidence we need. We just need him.”
More people nodded, and Harry saw the brightening that swept along their faces like the shadow of a wing as they stood and began to make their way out of the conference room. All of them had known what it was to watch a criminal walk away for lack of sufficient evidence. This time…
Not this time.
Harry closed his eyes and braced his hands on the table when he was alone. He didn’t pray, he didn’t think he’d even come close since he walked through the Forest in the company of the dead, but he spent a moment hoping and feeling what he would do settle into place around his shoulders and chest like a silver harness.
Harry shut his eyes and turned his head. Ron was right behind him; Harry would recognize that restless shifting of Auror robes anywhere. And Lilian Madour was ahead, known to Harry by the tapping of her wand against her palm. It didn’t make enough noise to overcome the swelling chant inside the Solitary Brewer’s house, at least.
Harry opened his eyes and turned his head back. They were pressed up against the side of the house, the long, low place that the Solitary Brewer had rented and trapped with every ward known to the Aurors, and some that had taken them much longer to break. He had trusted to those wards to protect him. Not a bad plan, as long as no one had a reason to look closely at the house and wonder who was hiding there.
But Harry and his team had broken every single ward over the past week, replacing them with powerful illusions that convinced the Brewer his house was still invisible and heavily-guarded. Harry smiled now. The Brewer was an accomplished Dark wizard; still, his expertise was in potions, not in defensive spells, and he had grown overconfident about the five times he had slipped out of Auror hands.
Not this time. And when he tells us how to lead those people he trapped in their minds out of them…
Carefully, Harry blanked the staring eyes of the patients in St. Mungo’s out of his memory. They would only upset him now, and when they went through the front door, he needed to be swift and ruthless and above all accurate.
Ron touched Harry’s back with his elbow. Harry touched Madour’s back, and their line rippled forwards, at the same moment as brilliant bursts of colored light came sailing in through the windows, clouds of smoke billowed down the chimney, and another wave of Aurors attacked the back door. They had left the wards that prevented Apparition inside the house in place, the better to not give the Solitary Brewer a chance to escape immediately when he realized the place was under attack.
Harry heard the leopard-like roar that probably marked the Brewer realizing he was trapped, and smiled. Then he blew past Madour as if she was standing still and straight through the door. All those years running from Dudley and his friends had stood Harry in good stead.
He caught a confused glimpse of a reeling room with the Solitary Brewer standing in the middle of it, above a smoking cauldron, batting at the darting lights around his head with his yew-wood wand and crying out. There were only three doors, the front and back ones and the one that led to the kitchen, and Aurors at all of them, as well as at the numerous windows. But a large and glowing crystal ball that hadn’t been in their initial reports stood beside the Brewer, on a silver pedestal.
And of all people, Draco Malfoy was plastered against the fireplace, his mouth open and his eyes overbright.
Harry froze, staring at him, and that gave a chance for the Solitary Brewer to react as none of them had thought he would. He suddenly dived forwards, aiming straight at Harry’s chest, and tried to trample him over and run out through the front door.
Harry clasped his arms around the Brewer’s neck and wrestled him to the floor, ignoring the kicks and blows of hands and elbows. He had better training than the Brewer did, and all he had to do was let it take over. It didn’t matter if the Brewer hurt him. There were Healers waiting back at the Department.
But the Brewer seemed intent on escaping instead, the way he writhed and scraped against Harry, and several times almost dragged himself free. Harry clung around his neck and tried to club him into unconsciousness with his wand. He could hear the others shouting and trying to get in close, unable to curse the Brewer without also hitting him.
Harry yelled for them to do it. He could recover from a Stunner, damn it, and the longer the Brewer went on kicking, the greater the chance he would run!
But they continued to do nothing, and Harry continued to be unable to subdue him. Harry cursed between gritted teeth and forced the Brewer’s head down, rolling them over until he was on top. His face ached, one of his eyes was starting to swell shut, blood dripped from a cut on his forehead, and Harry was determined to end it now. He clenched his hands around the Brewer’s neck and tried to slam his head into the floor.
He caught a glimpse, only a glimpse, from the corner of his eye, of Malfoy darting forwards. They were next to the fireplace, and Harry saw a flask standing there, swirling purple and white. He saw Malfoy snatch it up, and the Brewer stretch his hand out, forgetting about Harry for a second as he tried to take the potion back from Malfoy—
He nearly wrestled himself free from Harry. Harry grabbed his hand and slammed the wrist into the stone of the hearth in place of the stubborn idiot’s head, to discourage him from trying anything like that again.
The Brewer shook his head and brought his knees up, slamming them into Harry’s chest. Harry nearly lost his grasp. The Brewer squirmed and scrabbled and made his way towards the hearth, dragging Harry along.
Malfoy backed up, his eyes terrified, and tripped over a carved marble grill at the base of the grate. Down he went. Harry saw the Brewer’s eyes widen a moment before the giant glass flask in Malfoy’s hands hit the stone and shattered.
A cloud of whirling smoke rose into the air. Harry held his breath and pulled at the Brewer, hoping against luck that the smoke had knocked him unconscious and that the rest of his Aurors had already prudently fled.
He heard someone squealing, someone shouting, and the Brewer fighting. Harry held on more desperately. They had come so far, they had risked so much, and he was going to be damned if he let his enemy go now.
The smoke went on dancing, making his eyes water, weakening his limbs even though Harry was sure he wasn’t breathing it in. Then he realized what was happening, and grunted as his hands fell open. He was absorbing the bloody fumes through the pores in his skin.
The last thing he felt, or the second-last before the thud of his head off the floorboards, was the whisk of cloth as the Brewer at last worked himself free of Harry’s grip. Harry stabbed his fingernails into his palm at his own general uselessness, and then fell free and down, down, down.
Harry woke to sunlight.
That was sufficiently unusual that he immediately rolled and snatched at his wand, and shivered in relief at finding it close against his side. But he would have expected St. Mungo’s or the ceiling of his office in the Auror Department, so he went on rolling, right off the soft bed that it felt as if he lay on, and onto the floor. He heard a protesting whine, and swallowed, staring around.
This was a high chamber, a wooden one with a slanted ceiling that made Harry think he was in an attic. A door was in the wall right in front of the bed, there was a horrid red carpet on the floor, and a wide window in the left wall took up more room than the bed did, letting in the whoops of birds and the sunlight. The bed itself was decorated in long, silky sheets and thick blankets, purple ones edged with white lace, that made Harry feel as if he had seen that color recently. He recalled it after a brief struggle. The colors of the potion that the Brewer had reached after and Malfoy had stolen.
Harry hissed between his teeth and folded himself down beside the bed, on the side he’d fallen off, so that whoever else was in the bed couldn’t see him. He had no options until he could figure out who was here with him and how he had come here. The door had no hum of locking wards around it, at least. On the other hand, the entire room could be a trap, or an illusion. Harry wouldn’t approach the door until he had no choice.
The whining continued. Harry frowned. He couldn’t imagine one of his Aurors doing that, which eliminated the best choice for who he was trapped with.
Finally, a very familiar voice said, “Potter? Are you there? I know I woke up and saw you earlier. You better not have abandoned me.”
Harry closed his eyes and rubbed his forehead with his palm right where his headache was starting. Malfoy. The one who had caused this disaster in the first place. Harry thought the Brewer’s capture would have been a lot more painless if he hadn’t come to steal that potion. Or at least one of his Aurors would have caused the collision, and then they could effectively work together to discover the way out. Malfoy wouldn’t be effective at discovering anything but the fastest way to drive Harry mental.
“I’m here, Malfoy,” he said, standing. For the first time, he thought to glance down, and relaxed a little to see himself still wearing his Auror robes. He had tricks concealed in the cloth of those robes that might make the difference between life and death in a trap like this. “Do you have any idea what happened?”
“It wasn’t my fault.” Malfoy pulled the blankets up to his chest even though he was quite obviously still clothed.
“That wasn’t exactly the idea of what happened that I meant,” Harry said, and sighed, and sat down on the bed, tucking his wand away. He would have to think of Malfoy as a reluctant Auror and do his best to work with him. “Why were you in the Solitary Brewer’s house, anyway?”
Malfoy closed his eyes and sniffed. “Because he’s my rival,” he said.
Harry choked. Malfoy immediately stared at him and said, “If you die of choking on air, who’s going to take care of me here?”
Harry managed a single, long breath that came in and out without catching on anything, and then leaned back and ran his hands through his hair. “Malfoy, you think that you’re rivals with someone like the Brewer? Someone who created a lust potion that was actually irresistible, and made the victim commit suicide when the Wizengamot attempted to separate her from the man who gave it to her? Someone who made potions that exactly mimicked the most subtle and complex spells? Someone who created a potion—we never did discover how he did it or exactly how it worked—that made vampires into his obedient servants? And no one else has heard of you in the past few years.”
Malfoy’s face turned so brilliant a red that Harry was tempted to reach over and feel his brow. “You know nothing,” Malfoy snarled, his head turned to the side so that his dangling hair hid the outline of his neck. “I was merely keeping myself away from nosy Aurors. Someone like the Solitary Brewer has no tact, no understanding of anything but notoriety. By giving himself away, he was increasing the chance that he would be captured—no, he was guaranteeing it. That’s not what I did.”
“What kinds of illegal potions have you brewed then, Malfoy?” Harry asked quietly.
Malfoy hunched his shoulders further and shook his head furiously. Harry sighed and waited until Malfoy started emerging like a turtle. There was a question he hadn’t yet asked.
“What was the potion you tried to steal?”
“Steal?” Malfoy flushed up again, but this time, Harry thought his indignation was more real than it had been. “He stole the recipe from me! I was merely taking back the product of my own hands.”
“Good,” Harry said, and forbore to laugh when Malfoy snatched at the blankets again. “What does the potion do?”
“I know what it was supposed to do,” Malfoy said, and stared around at the walls of the room.
Harry waited. Then he waited some more. He knew that he needed to handle some of his Aurors with a delicate hand, and if he was thinking of Malfoy as a reluctant Auror, then it was best if he had patience.
But when Malfoy had said nothing for as long as it took the beam of sunlight coming through the window to track a handspan across the bed, Harry gave in. “What does the potion do?” he repeated. “And in what way is this different from the intended result?”
“Listen to your syntax,” Malfoy said, and sneered at him. “Did Granger teach you to speak like that? Or were you merely tagging along and imitating her?”
Malfoy had made the mistake of looking at Harry, and Harry simply matched him gaze for gaze, bearing in, until Malfoy made a noise of disgust and whipped his head to the side. “I still want to know how long it took her to train you,” he muttered.
“About as long as it took Snape to train you in childish sarcasm,” Harry said. “But I think I know which of us learned our lessons better. I’ll ask one more time, Malfoy, before I push you out that door and let you experience whatever hazards are here for yourself.”
Malfoy hurriedly began speaking. “The potion was supposed to take whoever used it to a safe haven. A place that he could be alone, separated from the world, and safe from all his enemies. Anyone hunting for him would never find him. He could wait as long as he needed to let the hunt die down. The house provides food and shelter and water and clothes and everything else that the person inside it needs.”
Harry narrowed his eyes. “Well, I suspect that having two people inside it is the first way that this potion went wrong.”
Malfoy nodded miserably. Harry leaned forwards with his wand aimed incidentally at Malfoy’s side and said, “What else?”
“Why should there be anything else?” Malfoy asked, his eyes on Harry’s wand. “Isn’t that enough of a problem?”
“You wouldn’t have looked the way you did if it was only two people being here that had gone wrong,” Harry said. “Unless you hated me much more than I ever thought you did.”
Malfoy bowed his head, his chin wobbling. Then he said, “The house was also supposed to open its doors when the person inside it wanted to leave. But since there are two people here—I already looked for the front door. There isn’t one. The only doors which exist are the ones that lead to other rooms.”
Harry shut his eyes and leaned back. He let the full impact of those words slam him in the chest, rattle around inside him, and settle into nothingness.
“Are you telling me,” he began at last, “that I’m trapped here with someone I despise, and no way to find my way back to my Aurors or communicate with them?” His hands had tightened on his wand, and he felt whorls in the holly wood that he normally never noticed pressing deep into his palm. “What about a Patronus?”
“The house was meant to be isolated,” Malfoy said, in a voice like a peeping baby bird’s. “Totally isolated. That means that you can’t reach outside it, and no one can reach inside it. We’re going to be here for a long, long time. Unless we can figure out what went wrong with the potion, and what it means for there to be two people inside the house, and how two people can open the door instead of one.”
Harry underlined the words in his mind. He had a goal. That meant he couldn’t panic. He could help Malfoy with it, instead, and ultimately they would get out of here and he could go back and join the hunt for the Solitary Brewer.
He opened his eyes. Malfoy watched him over the tops of his knees. Harry rendered his voice neutral, which he could do with some effort. “Come on, then. Let’s see what we have here, and what we don’t have.”
Malfoy didn’t follow him. Harry snorted and stood, striding towards the door. He listened to the floorboards creak under him, but they didn’t crack or sag. He shook his head as he opened the door. The only thing that proved was that the floor in this room wasn’t dangerous in that particular way, not yet.
He stepped out into a broad corridor that stretched up and down in several directions, and slanted mostly down, towards what looked like a normal flight of stairs. Harry spun his wand in his hands as he looked around. The doors were wood, but when he moved his head, he saw that they had certain deep sheens to them. Dark blue, emerald green, vermillion. Harry glanced over his shoulder and noticed the purple sheen to the bedroom door.
Nothing to do but open them and see what was in there. He walked to the blue door, the closest one, and flung it open with his arm cocked beside him, wand poised to deliver a devastating blow to whatever might spring at him.
The door flew back against the wooden wall, and showed an exquisite bathroom, done in blue-green tiles that made Harry feel as if he was floating underwater. Harry eyed the deep tub, the loo—done in white—and the mosaic of a mermaid on the wall, which showed no inclination to giggle and bat its eyelashes the way the mermaid in the Prefects’ Bath had, and withdrew slowly, fingers tapping still on the shaft of his wand.
Well. All right. Nothing there. But he would keep an eye out for mosaics in other rooms, and how they might come to life.
The green door opened on a lounging room. Or drawing room, maybe, although Harry thought the stuffed green couches and sofas were simply made for falling asleep on. The carpet was green, too, and as thick as grass. Harry knelt and ran his hand and wand through it, checking for trapdoors or nasty surprises. He found neither.
The scarlet door splashed open on a kitchen. Harry raised his eyebrows when he saw the cupboards that seemed to bulge slightly from the food or dishes inside them pushing against the doors, the Muggle refrigerator humming quietly to itself in a corner, and the empty and sparkling table. There were no chairs, a strange occurrence, but perhaps the potion had only meant that room for cooking and not eating. The other rooms had more comfortable and attractive seats, Harry had to admit.
Harry shook his head and turned to the stairs. He wondered what he would find below. A dining room? A garden to walk in? A way out? That last was all he really wanted.
“Where’s the food?”
Harry’s wand ended up jammed into Malfoy’s chest. Malfoy had come up behind him, and Harry hadn’t heard him. Harry swallowed back bile and fear that he could have killed Malfoy, and shook his head.
“Right in front of you,” he said, gesturing around the kitchen. “You only have to open a door and take what you want.”
“But the nature of the potion was altered,” Malfoy insisted, stepping into the kitchen and looking around. The red color of most of the cabinets and cupboards seemed to intimidate him. Harry suspected it might have bothered him as well, but he had experience with bloody crime scenes. “That might mean the house has a limited amount of food now. I don’t know what I should eat first.”
“Then don’t open a door,” Harry said, and started to walk out into the corridor again, listening intently as he did so. No, the floor beneath him in the kitchen showed no sign of collapsing, either.
There was a note in Malfoy’s voice that made Harry hesitate and turn around again, even though, realistically, he knew that he’d probably heard it a thousand times before and Malfoy was making something out of nothing, the way he had with his scratch from Buckbeak.
Malfoy stood in the middle of the kitchen. All the doors of the cupboards were shut completely now, and the refrigerator no longer hummed. Harry took a hasty step back inside the kitchen, and—
The cupboards looked full again. The refrigerator sang to itself. A shadow lying across the table, which had made it look unappetizing in ways that Harry hadn’t fully articulated to himself, vanished. Harry blinked and said, “I have to admit, that’s not like the effects of any other potion I’ve ever seen.”
“No fucking kidding.” Malfoy’s voice had soared to the point that Harry felt like a dog listening to a whistle. He whipped back around. “If we can only eat when you’re in here, then what happens when I’m hungry and want food?”
“I don’t think that’s it,” Harry said slowly, his mind darting back along the pathways of memory, what Malfoy had said about the potion and some of the things Harry had learned about Potions theory during Auror training. “Look, you step out of the room now, and let me stand in the middle.” He moved to what he thought was the central point, right near the table, and Malfoy fell back with his arms folded.
“I don’t know what good that will do,” Malfoy whinged, but he stepped out of the kitchen and into the corridor.
Harry saw the moment when the cupboard doors sagged shut again, and heard the one when the refrigerator stopped running. He nodded grimly. “Come back in,” he called. “No, I mean, lean your head in, and look. It needs both of us in here to provide us with food. I wouldn’t be surprised if the bed works the same way, and that’s why we both woke up in the same place, instead of separate rooms.”
Malfoy stuck his head back into the kitchen, and moaned when he noticed the cupboards. “What did you do, Potter?” he asked, glaring at Harry. “You could have prevented this if you really tried, couldn’t you? The big, bad Auror?”
Harry narrowed his eyes. Treating Malfoy like a recalcitrant member of his own team was only going to work so long, he thought. “Maybe my raid would have gone off the right way if someone wasn’t hiding in the house.”
Malfoy turned and stomped out into the corridor again, towards the stairs. “I hope I find a private sitting room down here!” he yelled towards Harry. “Somewhere that doesn’t require you to be there.”
Harry put his head in his hands briefly before he went after Malfoy. He had once thought that being in the Aurors would be easier than being the Boy-Who-Lived, target of Voldemort and the Death Eaters.
He sometimes wished he had a Time-Turner, just to go back and give his younger self a stern lecture.
Chapter 2: Doors Without Keys
The other rooms were the same, Harry noticed as they passed them. When he and Malfoy were together as they walked past the bathroom, he heard running water, and the sunlight perceptibly brightened under the green door, which he had left partially open, when their shadows crossed it together. He thought now that the cupboards in the kitchen had only been full of food the first time he looked because Malfoy had been right behind him, even if Harry didn’t realize it.
The stairs didn’t appear to have any particular objects to be activated by them going down separately. Harry was glad, because the steps weren’t wide enough for two.
Unless they squeezed their hips together and leaned in so that each of them had an arm around each other’s waist instead of gripping the banister…
Harry frowned up at the ceiling, which rose above them as the staircase dipped lower and lower. He was starting to have some disturbing ideas about what this house was intended to do.
They reached the bottom without incident. The staircase dumped them in a small space that seemed to be made of the walls of other rooms, but had a series of thick, small rugs in various colors on the floor. Harry lifted his wand to the windows as they appeared, but they were all done in thick panes of glass, covered with iron bands, and he couldn’t see snarling faces through them.
Of course, he couldn’t see anything else, either. Other than a blank dazzle of sunshine. Spells crawled up the glass, humming softly, hiding any sight of a garden or the flat plain that Harry had privately imagined the house would stand in. Harry swallowed back his nausea and looked around, crossing from the spare room into the larger space immediately in front of them.
The smell of water touched his nostrils, and for the barest moment he thought they’d found another bathroom, followed by the hope of a way out. But, no. Harry jerked to a halt and stared, while Malfoy peered over his shoulder and shoved with one hand in the middle of his back, as though he assumed that Harry was obstructing his view on purpose.
It was a pool. A room done in the same blue and green tile that occupied the bathroom above, yes, but deeper colors this time, and with a pool set in the floor. Harry sniffed, and the scent of Astringent Charms came to him. Yes, this was a pool meant for swimming, not a giant bath. Fresh water, but carefully treated to keep algae from growing in it, or animals getting into it.
And it was gigantic. Harry assumed that was the reason it was down here, where he thought it would have made more sense to put the kitchen, at least. He circled it warily, watching the smooth sides for signs of traps. He saw nothing breaking them, however, but a set of wide steps going down into the water on one side and a small platform level with the surface on the other. When he bent down to examine the platform, he discovered a system of creaking hydraulics that would presumably raise it and allow it to be used as a diving board.
”Ridiculous,” Harry said flatly, shaking his head. He would have liked to say a lot more, but Malfoy wandered to the edge of the pool and started talking.
“The potion was only meant to create an exercise room,” he murmured. “Or a training room, a place that you could practice your spells so you wouldn’t get sloppy. I never imagined anything like this.” He darted a look at Harry that wouldn’t have been out of place on a sniffing ferret. “Do you like to swim, Potter?”
Harry felt his face flame, as though he’d been caught naked beside the pool. He turned away roughly. It was true, he did, but he saw no reason to admit it to Malfoy. It wouldn’t help them in their goal of getting out of here.
He walked across the pool room, ignoring the way the water lit up and bubbled. That particular tiled room opened into another, smaller one, this time with a proper tub instead of a pool, but ornamented with so many fancy faucets and spigots that Harry was sure it would heat up like a Muggle hot tub. He rolled his eyes and kept walking, although Malfoy lingered to stare into that tub with a delighted expression.
The room beyond that was a conservatory.
Harry stood and gawked up at the glass roof arching overhead. The room shimmered, hot and sticky, a sensation he hadn’t felt even a meter beyond the threshold. Wards—well-done ones, since Harry hadn’t heard them humming—must confine the heat to this room.
Everywhere were shelves and pots and frames and trellises. At least, Harry thought they were there. It was hard to see them under the riot of flowers and vines and neat, precise rows of magical plants that ran everywhere.
“There’s a lab beyond here,” Malfoy said, in a deep, satisfied voice that woke Harry somewhat from the daze of scents and colors crowding around him. “A proper one. Fully stocked.” He turned his head and smiled at Harry. “So I can brew while you’re swimming, Potter.”
Harry reminded himself of who he was, what he was here to do, and what he had been doing before they stumbled into this mess. “No,” he said quietly. “I don’t think that would be a good idea.”
Malfoy shook his head. “You think the pool and the lab won’t work without both of us there? But the water didn’t change that much when we passed it by, and there’s no spells in the lab except the ones that keep the ingredients fresh and the dust off. I’m sure that we could be apart for the length of the rooms between us without drowning or blowing something up.”
“I mean,” Harry said, harnessing the words he wanted to snap with steel, “that you are not going to act as if we’re here for an extended holiday. We’re not. We’re here to make sure that we find a way out.”
“No, we’re here because a potion exploded and didn’t work the way we wanted it to.” Malfoy drifted towards Harry, one eye on him. “Are you all right, Potter? You look as though you’re about to explode.”
Harry clenched his hands down and took a deep breath. “Look, Malfoy,” he said at last, “I know that. But we have to work on a way of getting out of here. Not just settle back and—and enjoy the luxuries the house has to offer, or whatever you were proposing we do.”
“I was proposing to settle back because there’s no door to the outside that I’ve seen,” Malfoy said steadily. “This lab curves back around to join with the other side of the pool room. No way out.”
Harry licked his lips. The air settled around the top of his head like a muzzle, and he wanted to strike out, lash out, carve a way through the walls if there wasn’t one. He heard himself breathing, and Malfoy moved towards him with one hand extended.
“We missed something,” Harry said, and turned to hurry back through the conservatory and tub room and pool room, ignoring the way that Malfoy protested and pattered after him. Of course Malfoy would want to stay in a place like this, perfectly safe and without any luxuries that he had to pay for. But Harry was more sensible.
He went at a dead run back to the entrance hall, and then turned through the doorway that they hadn’t taken before. He almost slammed straight into a wide table covered with gleaming carving knives and stirring rods.
Malfoy was right. The ground floor was set up as a huge circle, unlike the first floor. They didn’t have a simple door they could walk through and find themselves outside again.
Harry shut his eyes and trembled, arms locked rigid. Gradually, he forced his muscles and even his breathing back under control. He had been through worse than this, he told himself. A lot worse, in fact. He had no reason to think that he would explode simply because he was in a house without a door.
Like the cupboard. Or Dudley’s second bedroom. A locked door that he could never open, a window that he had to gaze out of between bars, and watch all the people below walking through the neighborhood who would never know or believe how lucky they were merely to be able to go from place to place…
Malfoy snatched his wand hand. Harry turned on him, and Malfoy immediately threw his head back and raised his hands.
Displaying his belly and throat. Making himself helpless in the face of Harry’s rage, which triggered instincts that went deeper than Harry’s Auror training. He turned his head away and shut his eyes, counting his breaths, making himself focus on the numbers burning in his mind as if lit up with magnesium.
“You have claustrophobia, then?” Malfoy sounded like a Mind-Healer, the way they had the few times Harry had visited one, serene and indifferent to any personal aspects of the problem at hand. One of his fingers brushed Harry’s back, then withdrew. Harry was at least glad to realize that Malfoy understood the ramifications of the problem and that there were some lines he shouldn’t cross.
“No,” Harry snapped, and thought of a bright, glittering 30 before he opened his eyes. “Only a dislike of not being able to leave a place when I want to.”
“The same thing,” Malfoy said. “Especially since this is such a big house, and you could have gone into another room if you felt uncomfortable in this one.”
Harry rolled his eyes and moved further away, towards the stairs again. It was the best place for what he had in mind. “That sounds like you’re talking yourself out of me having claustrophobia, not into it.”
“Why would I try to talk to myself, either way?” Malfoy asked, following him. “You’re the one I want to convince.”
31 appeared in Harry’s mind, but he was glad that he had come up with the plan that he had. It might keep his magic from denting Malfoy’s skull. “Stand out of the way,” he said, and when he held up his wand, Malfoy hastily did so, flattening himself against the wall as if a mouse had tried to crawl up his trousers.
Harry smiled briefly, and then his training relaxed his muscles and made his fingers into a light, loose grip on the wand. He checked the angles, instincts running beneath the conscious surface of his mind, and nodded. This should be fine. He half-closed his eyes and launched the Blasting Curse at the wall opposite him, the one that the doorway to the pool room stood in.
The blow rocked the house, and dust drifted down at the same time as Malfoy squeaked and flung himself at Harry. Harry turned so that Malfoy didn’t block his wand and hit the wall in the exact same place again. More dust, and a groaning that made Harry smile. The house might not have a door, but it wasn’t going to stand up to simple destructive magic.
“What are you doing?” Malfoy screamed, trying to grab Harry’s wand without actually touching it, or Harry’s arm, or anything that would get him in the way of a hex. “Do you want to bring the roof down on us?”
“The house is too sturdily built for that,” Harry said, aware that he sounded a little like he was shouting through the ringing in his ears, and used the curse a third time. “We have to hammer a way to the outside world!” he added in the echoes of that one, watching as cracks spread up and through the wall.
The house shuddered a bit, and Harry got ready to raise a Shield Charm in case something did fall on their heads. But instead, the walls steadied a moment later, the cracks sank into the plaster and vanished, and Harry’s wand leaped out of his hand and into Malfoy’s.
Malfoy gaped, but gestured sharply with the wand when Harry started to move towards him. “I wouldn’t,” he drawled.
Harry halted, less because he thought Malfoy might hurt him on purpose than because he would probably try it by accident when handling Harry’s wand. “Do you have any other idea on how to get out of here?” he snapped.
“No,” Malfoy said. “Not yet.” It was unfair that he sounded so calm, now Harry was Disarmed. He studied Harry for a moment, then added, “But given that everything else—the food and the tub and so on—only functions when we’re together, it’s got to be something that we can do together, not apart.”
“I don’t understand,” Harry said, scowling at him.
“I know you don’t,” Malfoy said. Indulgently, Harry thought, and his cheeks flamed. Malfoy gave him a leisurely study from head to foot, as if he thought that he would find wisdom in Harry’s left knee, and then shrugged and tossed Harry’s wand to him. Harry reached up and caught it, waiting for the moment it would jerk out of reach, but that never happened. Perhaps the house could feel Harry’s intention not to damage it for a while. “But the potion was intended to create a true safehouse, one that couldn’t be destroyed from either inside or outside. It’s done that. I suggest we go to the kitchen and get something to eat. No one can think comfortably on an empty stomach. Probably the reason that some of your raids failed,” he added. “I thought your Aurors looked hungry.”
Harry closed his eyes and reached for the memory of holding Ron and Hermione’s daughter for the first time instead of responding. Then he swirled his wand, and the silver stag danced into being, flicking its ears at the walls for a minute before it focused on Harry.
“Take this message to Ron,” Harry said, and deepened his voice the way they’d all learned to do when they wanted a Patronus to report to someone else. Otherwise, there was a sort of distance to the voice that meant messages sounded squeaky or vanished altogether. “I’m trapped in a house created by the potion that spilled. Malfoy’s with me. I can’t damage the house, and it has no door. Everything can only be done by two people together.”
The stag dipped its antlers to him and then leaped out the window. Harry sighed. He reckoned that was all he could do for now.
He turned around to find Malfoy watching him with a clearer expression than he’d worn so far. It actually made him look adult, instead of the whining teenager he’d been that morning or the drawling one that holding Harry’s wand apparently made him into. Harry blinked and tilted his head. “What?” he asked.
Malfoy shook his head. “Nothing. I didn’t think you would find a way to get a message to someone else, since the Floos are blocked and there’s no way that an owl could get through any of these windows, even if it could find its way into this dimension in the first place.”
“Yeah, I thought that was probably true,” Harry said, and made himself think of this the way he would the end of an unsuccessful raid. He and his team could sit around then, and eat biscuits, and bitch about what had gone wrong. “Let’s go find that food.”
In the end, because the house refused to provide chairs in the kitchen, they had to drag in some from the green sitting room. “Maybe it only wants us to eat in bed,” Harry said, dropping the heavy armchair he’d brought with a thunk that he hoped would scar the tile floor of the kitchen. The only reaction was a little tremble.
“I think it does want that.”
Harry snapped his head up. Malfoy had taken a jar of honey and a loaf of bread out of the cabinets and called himself satisfied; Harry had been the one who forced him to find fresh tomatoes for Harry to cut up, apples that Harry pared, and a carafe of pumpkin juice in the fridge as well as some glasses in the same cupboard that held the cutlery. Malfoy was eating a piece of honeyed bread now, slowly, and sticking a bit of a slice of tomato in his mouth at the same time. Harry refused to think about what that combination probably tasted like.
“What do you mean?” he demanded.
Malfoy leaned back and swung his legs, considering Harry with a careful, cool eye. Yes, he was different from the man Harry had woken up beside this morning. And it seemed that seeing Harry in a moment of weakness had restored him. Because Harry would rather have competent help than fear, he made himself sit down in the armchair and reach for the plate of tomato slices.
“There are only so many reasons that a house would shove people together,” Malfoy said quietly, intensely, leaning forwards over the table. Harry almost paused, but by now his stomach felt deflated, so he ate his tomato. “And the potions theory—well, when you brew any potion like this, Thugger’s Law of Finite Expansion indicates that you can’t violate Grummer’s Law of Expansive Boiling—”
“I don’t know what that means,” Harry said, waving a hand at him. “Just tell me what you think the house wants, please.”
Malfoy sighed and licked honey off the corner of his mouth. “The house was meant to provide a safe stronghold, and that purpose doesn’t change even if there’s two people now. And who’s the kind of person you would feel most comfortable sharing a stronghold with?” He waited, but Harry stared at him silently, because his only answer was “someone who could get me out of it.” Malfoy shrugged and finished. “A lover.”
The tomato really tasted sour. Harry put the rest of it down on his plate and ran his hands through his hair, staring at his plate until a small strand of black pulled out of his head and dropped there. He snorted, finally. “Oh.”
“Yes,” Malfoy said. “And I think that means the house will go on pushing us together, because it sees no reason it shouldn’t. This was made for lovers, and lovers would want to spend every minute together, wouldn’t they? Sleeping in the same bed. Watching each other brew or swim. Eating meals at the same table.”
Harry grimaced. “Yeah.” He reached out and picked up the remaining tomato slice, and it tasted a little better. “Thanks for the explanation.” He raised his eyes to Malfoy’s face finally, and saw him still leaning forwards over the table.
“We give the house what it wants,” Malfoy said. “Stay together and act as happy as we can. When we both want the house to open equally, it will.”
“I find that hard to believe,” Harry said. He could forget about the personal aspects of the question if he just concentrated on what Malfoy was saying. “We both want out of here already, don’t we? Even if you think that we’re going to arrest you—and I can put in a good word to keep that from happening—we don’t want to stay here.”
Malfoy’s smile was a shadowy thing, slipping onto and across his face but not touching it. “I mean that we both have to want the same thing,” he said. “At the same time. With the same level of intensity. That’s the stereotype of lovers, and just as the house was created to provide the safest place possible, I think it might be, in this altered form, created for the most romantic pair of lovers possible. We haven’t wanted the same thing, not yet. I wasn’t willing to destroy the house to get free, while you were.”
Harry snorted and stood. “Then I reckon that green room down the corridor is going to get some use after all.”
“Pardon?” Malfoy asked, not bothering to stand. In fact, he reached for another piece of bread and the knife he was using to spread honey on them. “Why?”
“Because I’ve learned to meditate, and you must have learned to concentrate, if you’re a successful brewer,” Harry said. “And meditating is the only way I can think of to make our wills align perfectly.”
“Perhaps,” Malfoy said, licking delicately at the honey that fell off the edge of the knife. Harry opened his mouth to comment that he could cut his tongue on the blade if he did that, then shut it again. Surely Malfoy knew. “I find myself unconvinced it would work, however. Or that your learning gave you any benefit.” He regarded the bunched muscles in Harry’s arms.
“It’s a little hard to be calm right now!” Harry yelled, and then shut his eyes and shook his head. “Sorry, you’re right. But it’s the best chance we have, and I don’t want to stay here a minute longer than necessary. I don’t even know if we caught the Solitary Brewer or not, and Ron and Hermione will be worried.”
Malfoy rolled his eyes. “If you insist on leaving right now, then the food will disappear. I want a full lunch. That’s my price for trying the meditation,” he added, when Harry opened his mouth. “You eat, and I eat, and that way, there’s no rumbling stomachs to distract us when we try it.”
Harry hesitated, but he could see the sense of what Malfoy said, and he had always been a fan of common sense in Auror investigations. He sat back down and reached for one of the apples.
“Now. Lean back against the wall. Relax.”
Harry kept his eyes closed, and resisted the temptation to snap that he didn’t need advice about how to practice meditation, that he had learned how to do it well enough in his Auror training program and often took advantage of that training. Snapping would destroy the entire reason they were here.
Instead, he concentrated on the things that were unfamiliar to him, letting them tumble through his mind as though they were sand grains passing through a sieve. Malfoy’s breathing, the way he seemed compelled to clear his throat every few minutes, the thick carpet beneath his legs and the soft song coming from outside the window. A single, persistent bird, it sounded like—though since they were in an enchanted dimension, Harry had little idea. He breathed, and he watched without eyes, and he listened, until it felt as though the prickles of sensation he was extending in all directions like whiskers had begun to relax and droop at last. Then, and only then, could he begin to concentrate on his thoughts.
There was a reason that the method of Occlumency Snape had tried to teach Harry had never worked for him. He couldn’t simply leap straight from a chaos of thoughts into a state of blank calmness. He had to exhaust himself first, wear out the temptation to look in all directions out of curiosity or simple caution, and then begin to meditate. Think about the things inside his head when the interesting ones outside it had been exhausted.
If Snape had been a better teacher, or if Harry had understood himself better from the beginning and insisted on learning that way…
Harry let the thoughts tumble through his mind and pass out, not slowing down, the same way that he’d done with the sensations outside his closed eyes. Quiet. Calm. His mind was a stream, flowing away with utter silence under the willow branches, and it took thoughts and memories like that with it, until Harry was in no danger of succumbing to the bitterness over thoughts of losing Sirius.
He floated there, and began to think of getting out of the house.
Images of open doors and open windows and secret passages surged up, and then fell away again. Harry let the idea become more and more a pure philosophical point, the idea of escape, the desire to get out. He pared away the worry that he might not get back in time to see the end of his investigation, that he might worry his friends or send them into a frenzy of despair, that the Solitary Brewer had escaped because of the chaos Harry and Malfoy had caused with the potion. He became a single point of pure desire, spinning in space, and waited for Malfoy to tune his mind to the same frequency.
Silence. Peace. Purity that Harry had never discovered the last few times he meditated, which had been in the middle of a case when he absolutely needed to relax for a little while. He felt the names themselves—silence, peace, purity—become unimagined and distant, sounds that lost connection with the ideas they represented and drifted away in the stream.
He didn’t know how long he waited there, but then a hand touched his shoulder and jerked him rudely out of his silence. He opened his eyes to see Malfoy’s face in front of him, and Malfoy’s head shaking. “I tried,” he said. “I wanted and wished as hard as I could for the house to open a door. Did you feel anything?”
Harry revised the last several timeless times carefully, and at last shook his head. “I could feel my own desire to get out, but I didn’t feel any connection from you or any door opening.”
“Yes, blame me,” Malfoy snapped, and turned away, tromping over to the window and flinging it violently open. The birdsong came in louder and clearer at once. Harry rose carefully to his feet, his legs cramped less by the position he’d been sitting in than by the fact that he’d paid no attention to them at all for some moments. Bars shimmered into place across the window as he moved.
“I wasn’t,” Harry said. “Only saying that I couldn’t feel anything. I may have been mistaken. Let’s go down and see if there’s a door there that wasn’t there before.”
Malfoy paused and turned his head a little. “I think I prefer you when you’ve been meditating,” he told the air to the left of Harry. “You’re not so quick to spring on me and make me feel like an incompetent idiot.”
Harry thought it best not to answer that. His legs had stopped pretending they didn’t exist, and he walked to the door and out. He heard Malfoy trailing him, and heard the birdsong stop the moment Malfoy crossed the threshold.
Harry grimaced. That suggested one reason that their meditation trick hadn’t worked, one that would relate to the food the house provided, and the running water, and the single bed. If the house wanted to see them do certain physical things together, if it was set up for that, then of course it wouldn’t be impressed by purely mental activity no matter how closely their wills coincided.
Malfoy came up to walk beside him. Harry studied him with some of the distance of meditation in his mind, and saw the clenched chin, the pinched lines that ran down beside his mouth and nose.
At least he takes it seriously, too. At last he’s not treating this like a holiday and refusing just to spite me. Harry could think of some Aurors who would have.
They made a quick circuit of the four rooms on the ground floor, but once again, everything looked the same as it had. Pool room, hot tub, conservatory, Potions lab, without a door to the outside. And this time, from the way Malfoy halted as they stepped into the lab, Harry was sure he had noticed, as Harry had, the way the tables acquired an extra sheen and the labels on the vials suddenly became easier to read.
“I thought I could brew us a solution if nothing else,” Malfoy murmured, putting his hands on his hips and staring around the lab. “But it seems I’ll only be able to brew, maybe even only open the cupboards and the vials, if you’re in here with me.”
Harry shrugged. “I’ll meditate, then. Maybe put up protective charms if you think the potion likely to explode.”
Malfoy’s head swiveled. “You’d trust me to brew something to get us out of here?”
Harry looked evenly back at him. He was sure the meditation made the words easier to say, but really. “You’re the one who knows about the Potions theory. I don’t. If you say that you can help us escape, I don’t have a choice but to believe you, because I’m out of ideas.”
Malfoy spent some more time trying to speak without stuttering. Then he said, “I’ll have to take an inventory of what’s here and what I might need to pick from the conservatory or try to get the house to produce for us. I probably couldn’t start the actual brewing until tomorrow.”
Harry nodded, and conjured a stool to wait on in a corner of the lab. Malfoy, still sneaking cautious glances at him from time to time, began to read the shelves.
Harry waited, reaching now for the training that had allowed him to survive captivity in the hands of criminals or people who wanted ransom from the Ministry several times. He had done the best he could. He didn’t have any more ideas, and what he had to do now was to wait and let the experts get on with it.
It wasn’t easy, but if he wanted easy, Harry wouldn’t have become an Auror. He managed to hold his tongue and his temper through a long afternoon of watching Malfoy make notes, sniff at ingredients, and cast charms that meant nothing to him.
Chapter 3: Sharing
“We have to decide what to do about the bed.”
Harry glanced up from his spaghetti. That was what the house had decided to deliver to them for dinner that night, and Harry reckoned it was better than anything he could have cooked, even though there was a faint, unknown spicy undertone to the sauce that covered it. Malfoy had a drop of red at the corner of his mouth, and Harry gestured to it silently, smiling in spite of himself. Malfoy started, then reached for the napkin at the corner of his plate and mopped up the sauce, not taking his gaze off Harry.
Harry had been trying to avoid thinking about this, but it was here now. He leaned back and sighed. “So far, the house hasn’t tried to force us to do anything but be in the same room together,” he said. “You even ate that bread and honey when I didn’t want some.” He nodded to the discarded crusts beside Malfoy’s plate. “Do you think that means that I could sleep on the floor and you could sleep in the bed and it wouldn’t do anything more than that? We don’t necessarily have to sleep beside each other.”
“You’d offer me the bed?” Malfoy leaned back and put his fingertips together. “You don’t have to take the Gryffindor ideal of chivalry that far, Potter.”
Harry rolled his eyes. “I have some training that allows me to wake and go to sleep pretty easily, and I’ve slept on plenty of hard floors before in pursuit of a case. Not always by choice, no, but enough to let me get away without damaging my back. Have you done the same thing?”
Malfoy paused, then shrugged. “No. I always sleep in a chair when I’m planning to wake up and tend to a potion during the night.”
Harry nodded. “Then you might as well let me do it. And like I said, it’s a good test. If the house does something to try and make us sleep together, we’ll know it’s more serious than simply spending time in the same place.”
“Becoming lovers,” Malfoy said, voice flat and eyes dim. “You might as well call it by the full name of what the house is trying to do to us, Potter.”
“Forcing us to become lovers,” Harry said, and grimaced.
“You should know that I keep myself fit,” Malfoy said, and stroked his hands down his own arms as though admiring their smoothness. “You wouldn’t have anything to complain about if I did decide to slum with you.”
“Yeah, until you started talking,” Harry retorted, and stole the honeypot from Malfoy so that he could smear some on his plate and eat it with a spoon. Malfoy recoiled when Harry dipped his spoon in.
“At least put it on a piece of bread like a civilized person, Potter!”
“No,” Harry said, and then craned his head down to lick at his wrist, where a drop of the honey had run.
Malfoy made a noise somewhere between “Ick” and “Ugh” and pushed back from the table. The plates flew through the air to the kitchen, and invisible fingers began to scrub them. Harry quickly swallowed the last of the honey before Malfoy left and the honeypot melted through his fingers, going back to its cupboard.
“See if I sleep with you while we’re here!” Malfoy yelled back from the corridor.
Harry leaned back on his chair, grinning. And that was the only safeguard I was trying to set up.
They found a pair of robes in the bathroom, the green one exactly the right length and size for Harry, and the blue one for Malfoy. “Apparently the house thinks you should be in Ravenclaw,” Harry said, and that ensured silence while they readied themselves for bed, even if Malfoy’s turned back had more than a hint of indignation about it.
Harry followed Malfoy down the corridor with a mental shrug. Yes, they had got along well during the afternoon, but that hadn’t involved a lot of talking. Harry would maintain silence when he had to and then try to maintain it the rest of the time by simply making Malfoy too offended to speak.
Hermione would scold him for his childishness, Harry thought, as Malfoy climbed into bed and Harry cast a Softening Charm on the floorboards in the bedroom. Well, she wasn’t the one stuck here with Malfoy.
And I hope that I get to hear her scolding me soon. I really do. No Patronus had come yet, and Harry didn’t know if that was because they couldn’t figure out how to send one to him or because it simply took more time for a Patronus to travel in and out of the dimension that the house occupied.
Nothing to do but wait. With the first bubble of panic and hatred burst, then Harry thought he could resign himself to do that.
“You look ridiculous, you know.”
“And you look the same way, bundled up to your chin as if you think a monster is going to attack you if you’re naked,” Harry retorted, and rolled over, lowering his own chin so that it was tucked into his chest.
“See if I give you a blanket,” Malfoy muttered. There was a long, whispering sound that Harry assumed was the one someone made when they were snuggling down into the middle of a warm bed with silken sheets.
He shut his eyes. He really didn’t need blankets, and he could feel sleep waiting for him. He could always use it, continually behind due to long nights in the office and raids as he was. Soon slumber caught him.
Harry woke up when something long and wooden, something that felt rather like a furniture leg, slammed into his side.
He woke up swearing, and reaching for his wand. And then he stared around and wondered where he had woken up.
He lay at the bottom of what looked like a wooden chute. The walls slanted steeply upwards and away, and he could see a glimpse of faint light from the top. The bottom was only small enough to contain him and the thing he had slammed into, which was—
The leg of the bed. The bed sat beside him, at the bottom of the chute, and Malfoy was sitting up in it, staring in several directions.
“Malfoy!” Harry sat up, waving his wand so that the pain in his side would ease a little. “Do you have any idea why the house would decide to change the way the bedroom worked so suddenly?” He hated having to depend on Malfoy for information, but he resolved to think of it like a case, where he would have some informants that might not be very reliable. He waited for answers, poised on one knee.
Malfoy sighed. “It rolled us down,” he said. “I didn’t wake up until halfway through the fall. This is still the bedroom. It just tilted the floor. You’ll notice that it didn’t actually hurt either of us.”
Says the one who didn’t sleep on the floor, Harry wanted to point out, but he kept the temptation down. He was the one who had volunteered to sleep there, after all. “All right. But why?”
Malfoy looked silently at him, but parted the bedcovers in invitation.
Harry wished he had something small and easily breakable and not valuable on hand. As it was, it had to be a half-hearted glare and a slide across the floor until he could reach the side of the bed more easily. Then he clambered up and in. Malfoy immediately rolled away to give him more room, and Harry sighed. As long as neither of them wanted to touch each other, they might be all right. They weren’t responsible for what the house did to them.
He settled his head carefully on the pillow, and waited a few moments before he sneaked a quick glance at the rest of the room from under lowered eyelids. Yes. The room had gone back to the way that it looked before, steep roof and all. Harry shook his head. He hadn’t even felt the change. The house had more powerful magic than he’d thought and more complicated inner workings than he had reckoned.
Not really. Not complicated if all it wants us to do is fuck each other.
That wasn’t something he wanted to think about, either. Harry closed his eyes, told himself the warmth behind him was Ron helping him defeat the cold on a long watch, and drifted off again.
The next morning, the most irritating thing at first was having to wait for Malfoy to wake up so that he could go into the bathroom and brush his teeth. When Harry tried to reach out and shake Malfoy’s shoulder, his hand simply slid away on the air a good few centimeters short of him, as if off greased glass. Apparently the house thought it was more romantic to make them wait for each other.
Harry stared at the ceiling and thought a lot about spells to rot wood and break plaster. He would have tried them, except for the experience of trying to break out yesterday.
Malfoy got up yawning and grumbling. Harry went with him to the bathroom, ignoring those sounds. He would have to do a lot of that if he was going to spend any appreciable amount of time here with Malfoy; it was good to have a head start.
Harry brushed his teeth and stepped back from the sink so that Malfoy could get up to it. But Malfoy didn’t move in. Harry looked around, and was confronted by an expanse of naked shoulders as Malfoy whipped off his sleeping robe.
“Malfoy!” Harry yelped, and turned away. They had undressed in the same room last night to put the robes on, because after finding them hanging there it didn’t seem like a good idea to ignore the house’s “hints,” but they had at least averted their eyes by mutual agreement. This time, Harry could have seen something. “What are you doing?”
“I want a shower,” Malfoy said, and moved so that Harry was catching a glimpse of a long pale leg in the corner of his eyes. He hastily shut them. He heard sounds that were probably Malfoy assembling soap and scented unguent and whatever else he needed for a long, decadent shower. “I assumed you would want the same.”
“I’m planning to use Cleaning Charms,” Harry said between gritted teeth, head still firmly turned away.
“No wonder,” Malfoy said, and stepped past Harry into the long shower. He pulled the door closed behind him, but Harry heard the distinct splash of water and Malfoy groaning as the spray hit him.
Harry turned his back firmly on the shower and looked longingly at the door. But if he left, the water would shut off and Malfoy would be too pissed at him to make being out of here worth it. Harry sat down and began casting the Cleaning Charms with more attention to detail than he had ever used. He didn’t use them on his teeth only because they made his gums sting when he did, but he wondered if he should start.
Minute after minute passed, and Malfoy was still in the bloody shower. How long did it take him to scrape some dirt off? Of course, he was probably exfoliating and plucking out ingrown hairs and all the rest of that shit, too.
Abruptly, Malfoy yelped. Harry spun around, although he held his head to the side so that he could watch just Malfoy’s shadow. “What happened?” he called.
“The water just turned cold!” Malfoy squeaked, and he popped the door open and his head around the door. Harry backed up a step and nearly looked away again, but it seemed that Malfoy was keeping the rest of his naked body decently out of sight, so Harry didn’t have to retreat that far. “Come in here, Potter.”
“I am in here,” Harry pointed out, and eased away from the door, in case his fantasies of flight had minded the house to give Malfoy a freezing shower.
“I meant, in here,” Malfoy said, and pulled the door open so abruptly that Harry didn’t have the chance to hide his eyes. Luckily, a huge swirl of steam did it for him. He wrapped his arms around himself and snorted, head bowed and eyes squeezed shut so that the resulting wrinkles hurt his forehead.
“Why would I want to share a shower with you, Malfoy?”
“You don’t want to,” Malfoy said, his voice dipping, “but I promise, I want to stand under an icy spray even less. And if we’re together, then the house is going to give us warm water. It thinks that we’re lovers, remember? Or should be. Lovers wouldn’t object to sharing a hot shower together.”
“There’s this thing,” Harry told the floor, “where I object to standing naked in a shower with another man.”
“As though you never showered in front of anyone at Hogwarts,” Malfoy said. “And I’m sure that you had to strip the shirt from at least one wounded Auror so you could look at his injuries. Get in here.”
Harry winced and edged a step nearer. “Maybe if I come and stand just outside the door, it’ll warm up?” he suggested.
In response, Malfoy scooped up a handful of water and flung it at Harry. Harry made a sound somewhere between a growl and a shriek. It was like standing under a cluster of icicles that had just begun to melt.
Harry shuddered and reluctantly began to pull his robe off. He didn’t know if Malfoy was still watching, but he didn’t dare open his eyes to check. He wouldn’t have been able to keep going if Malfoy was.
And if he thought about it in any detail, Malfoy was right. Harry had showered in front of other members of his Quidditch team, and other Gryffindor boys, and even other Aurors on occasion when they had to use the special bathrooms at the Ministry for removing dried potions that might have an unexpected effect on them if they waited until they were home. Why was this so different?
Because it was one person instead of many. And because Harry had never been in this situation before, and he wasn’t sure what to do. There was nothing among the Aurors like it, and nothing like it in Hogwarts. He had been naked in front of other boys, but not in front of Slytherin boys.
Or a Slytherin man.
Harry walked towards the shower with his eyes shut and his hands reaching out to feel the glass of the door. Malfoy hissed under his breath and snatched his wrists, tugging him into the shower. Harry stumbled, caught himself on tile, heard the door slam shut, and opened his mouth to object that it hadn’t worked, because the water swirling under his ankles and pounding on his head was cold—
And then he groaned, and Malfoy groaned, because the spray had turned hot again, and Harry had to admit that it was wonderful. Probably just the effect of the enchantments on the house and the fact that Harry didn’t take hot showers all that often, relying on Cleaning Charms and quick, lukewarm baths, but God, it was getting into all the cracks in his muscles where he still carried tension and melting them.
That didn’t keep him from trying to do an impression of a flattened spider when Malfoy reached past him and brushed his hand against Harry’s shoulder. Harry cowered, and heard Malfoy exhale hard enough that Harry could feel it even past the water.
“I only want the shampoo,” Malfoy said in painstaking tones, and then he apparently located it, because he turned his back and left Harry alone. Harry heard his hands moving in strong, regular motions, and he knew that Malfoy would be working the shampoo steadily into his hair, and probably down the nape of his neck just in case there were little blond hairs there that needed it.
Harry hesitated. It seemed like a waste to not wash in the shower, as long as he was in it.
“Pass that here when you’re done,” he said.
Malfoy answered with a grunt and a tossed bottle that clanged near Harry’s head. He bent down and fumbled with it, and came up too near Malfoy’s arse for comfort. He knew it was there. He kept his head turned as he fumbled his way past the unexpectedly thick cap on the bottle, dumped some of the shampoo out, washed some off under the water because it was too thick and too much, and then finally put his hands in his hair.
It promptly made his hair clump and cling, and the scent that rolled around him was thick and fruity, like watermelon. Harry wrinkled his nose but kept rubbing, under the certainty that it would be worse if he left the clumps there, and then shuffled forwards with his head bowed to get under the strongest spray.
He collided with Malfoy, and blinked his eyes open. Malfoy had braced himself against the wall with one arm, and glared at Harry now.
“You’ve still got all shampoo on the left side of your head and dripping down your face,” he said crossly, and reached out to rake his fingers steadily through Harry’s hair.
Harry would have been happy to lean forwards with his arms against the shower wall and drip into a puddle of goo right there. Instead, he called on the strength of will that Auror training had developed in him, stood upright, and retreated frantically the moment Malfoy was done, even though Malfoy tried to hand him the soap.
“You’re not done yet,” Malfoy told him, shaking water out of his own eyes and regarding Harry with a pointed gaze that he couldn’t meet.
“My hair is, and the Cleaning Charms will take care of the rest,” Harry said. “And you’ve been in here half-an-hour, any longer isn’t good for you.” He leaped out onto a green towel spread precisely to receive him on the floor, and another whisked up while Malfoy was still cursing at him for turning the water cold before Malfoy could shut the showerhead off. Harry seized the towel and buried his flaming face in it.
Apparently he really liked it when someone else petted his scalp that way. Really liked it.
But he had a towel around his waist before Malfoy even opened the shower door, and he had another one on his face, and the bathroom piled him with more of them, all the towels he wanted. For once, Harry was glad of the house’s impulse to pamper its inhabitants. He squeezed the water out of his hair and ignored the way that Malfoy ranted behind him, until Malfoy took a step as if he would actually seize Harry’s hair.
Then Harry snapped his head around and snapped the towel out to flick Malfoy on the back. Malfoy yelped and hopped, which kept Harry from having to look at his groin, either. The house promptly buried Malfoy in fluffy towels that manifested from blue light near the ceiling and tumbled down like the world’s plushest rain.
“I don’t like people manhandling me,” Harry said. “Especially when I’ve been through the Auror training I have. I could have seriously hurt you if you touched me without my permission anywhere else. You should be glad that it was just my hair.”
Malfoy blinked at him indignantly, and then leaned against the bathroom wall, nursing his abused back. At least the pile of towels was high enough to hide him now, and Harry solved any further problem by turning away and continuing to rub at his hair until it stood out in a frizzy halo around his head.
“I didn’t think about that,” Malfoy said at last, hesitating as if he didn’t know whether Harry had scored a point he should respond to or not. “I thought the house would keep us from hurting each other.”
Harry was wrapped up in the sleeping robe now. He could turn around and shrug. “It probably depends in part on our behavior. It tries to shove us together when it thinks we’re not getting along, but it didn’t prevent you from getting soaked with cold water. Or flicked with the towel. Or me rolling down the floor and slamming into the bed.”
“You have injuries remaining from that?” Malfoy stared at him.
“I healed them,” Harry said. “The point is that it’s obeying the stereotype of committed lovers more than the reality.” Ignoring Malfoy’s mutter about that, he turned around and began to search for more suitable clothes. The ones he’d been wearing yesterday had vanished. Sure enough, there was a basket of shirts and trousers in his size in one corner. “We can have lovers’ quarrels, and the house will try to reconcile us, but it won’t prevent us from having them.”
“As if I would ever have you as a lover, Potter.”
“Right,” Harry agreed, and took off the robe to drape the shirt he’d found around his shoulders. It was ridiculous, white sheer cloth of some kind with embroidered violets at the cuffs and collar, but at least it would cover him, and as long as he was turned away, Malfoy couldn’t see anything. “I have much better taste than that.”
Malfoy threw the soap at the back of his head. Harry charmed it to fly back at him, and in the contest of insults and raving and tossing water that followed, Malfoy seemed to have forgotten entirely about anything he might or might not have seen in the shower.
They ate a breakfast of steaming porridge and bangers that Harry had to admit were cooked better than Kreacher could have done, and then went downstairs to the lab again. Malfoy brewed, or rather checked shelves and made notes as he prepared for the potion. Harry sat with his hands stretched out, slouching enough to relax his muscles, and closed his eyes, resolved to doze.
And not worry about his Patronus, or where it might have gone.
“Potter, I need your help with something.”
Harry blinked and came slowly out of the trance he’d fallen into, somewhere between a doze and a contemplation of the far wall. “What?” he mumbled, stretching. “Is the house refusing to open certain cupboards for you unless I’m along?”
“Not that,” Malfoy said. He was standing in front of Harry wearing tight, silken clothes of the kind that the house had thought would fit him. Harry blinked. The white silk had a blue shimmer to it that was—distracting. He tore his eyes away and lifted them to Malfoy’s face with an effort. “But I need someone else to chop the valerian, and as long as you’re here, you might as well make yourself useful.”
Harry rolled his eyes and rose to his feet. It was true that he had done about as much sleeping as he could for right now, but he thought it only right to warn Malfoy. “I have no skills whatsoever with Potions, Malfoy. None.”
“I can readily believe that,” Malfoy snapped, and shoved a knife at him. Harry juggled it hastily while Malfoy laid out the spiky green leaves on the table and put a small silver cap of what looked like salt nearby. “But all I need you to do is cut each leaf in half and sprinkle it with the salt. Don’t worry about how much salt you’re using. I’ll give you more when you run out.”
“But does it matter if the halves are symmetrical?” Harry asked, tilting his head to the side so that he could make out the sharpness of the knife. “I never managed to do that well enough for Snape’s satisfaction.”
“I’m not Snape,” Malfoy said. “Luckily for you,” he added under his breath as he turned back to the cauldron he’d been tossing things in.
“Because Snape would have let me rot here before he brewed a potion to let me escape?” Harry cut the first half and reached into the cap for the salt. It made the leaf sparkle and a scent that was sweet and sharp rise up from it. Harry blinked and shook his head, and the smell dissipated. He laid the leaf half aside and reached for the next one.
Malfoy said nothing. Harry looked up and found that Malfoy was gazing at him in a way that warmed Harry’s cheeks.
“Don’t talk like that about him,” Malfoy whispered. “He never would have done something like that.”
“Probably not,” Harry conceded, cutting the next leaf and reaching for a handful of salt to sprinkle. This time, the leaf turned slightly pink. Harry checked Malfoy’s face, but had to look away. And surely Malfoy would have said something if the leaf was unusable, Harry decided as he put it aside. “He always did what was needed to save my life. I was just thinking that he might not care because he would have everything he needed here, and I would be safe as long as no Death Eaters found a way into the house. He could sit back and laugh at me.”
Malfoy slammed his tools on the table and spun to face Harry. Harry kept his hands moving, although it was slower than before because he had to look at Malfoy instead of looking at the leaves as he cut them up. At least, with the knife, he had a weapon close to hand if Malfoy chose to attack him like a beast.
“He would never do something like that,” Malfoy repeated, his breath rushing as his hands curled in front of him. “He would have—he would have saved you, he would have tried to get you out of here and back to the battle. He was a lot more heroic than you think he was.”
“I know that he gave his life for the war, for me, in a way, so that I could have the time to defeat Voldemort,” Harry said quietly. He put the knife down, because he was going to cut the leaves wrong and ruin their chances of getting out of here if he wasn’t careful. “That doesn’t mean that he liked me, and that doesn’t mean that he—hell, Malfoy, he knew I was going to die. He knew I had to walk into that Forest and give up my life. He didn’t like it, but Dumbledore told him, and he did everything he was supposed to do to make sure I stayed alive until I did it. That makes it hard to think about him. I think that he cared a lot about making sure I survived, but I don’t think I always understood his motives. And he wanted to see my eyes when he was dying. Because he cared about my mother, everything was for my mum. Not me, and not even the war, really. Her.”
Malfoy stood there with his lips slightly parted. Harry didn’t think he’d ever realized before that they were actual honest-to-God red, instead of the chalky pale color that he remembered dominating Malfoy’s face in school.
“He would have done what was needed to get you back for the battles,” Malfoy repeated, and then turned around and started chopping again. His hands were steady and he’d hidden his face, so Harry had no idea what he felt.
Hell, maybe the revelations hadn’t made any difference to him. Harry couldn’t pretend that someone revealing details about Dumbledore’s hidden motives would really change his mind. He knew Dumbledore had arranged things so he could die, but also so he could survive, and he’d made his peace with that.
He turned his attention back to salt and valerian leaves.
Chapter 4: Home Troubles
Except for lunch, which was thick beef sandwiches in the kitchen, they worked on the potion all day. And Harry’s Patronus still hadn’t come back by the time Malfoy looked up at him and jerked his head at the cupboards. Harry put the cap of salt and the knife away while Malfoy swept up the leaves. Harry reckoned he deposited them somewhere where they’d be safe, because they were gone when he turned around.
“Dinner,” Malfoy announced, and walked out of the lab. The sunlight through the windows promptly became dimmer. Harry rolled his eyes and followed him, pondering the best way to ask his question.
“Do you think that a Patronus could get out of the dimension, but not in?” he asked, when they were halfway up the stairs.
Malfoy turned and looked at him blankly, then shrugged. “Oh, you’re thinking about the message you sent yesterday. I have no idea. But I can’t worry about it, because right now we’re working towards a solution, and we don’t know if it will succeed yet or not. There’s no reason to concentrate on anything but the potion right now.”
Harry smiled in spite of himself. “You sound like the way I feel about Auror work,” he murmured, and kept climbing.
He’d meant it as a throwaway comment, but Malfoy sneered at him as they entered the kitchen. There was a fireplace in one corner, and Malfoy opened the cupboards and began looking for something specific. Harry opened the refrigerator, saw a bowl of hard-boiled eggs, and took them out with a little shrug. Good enough.
“What makes you think we have any similarities?” Malfoy drawled, not looking up from the loaf of bread. He’d sliced some pieces off and evidently meant to toast them over the fire. Harry shook his head. Malfoy ate more bread than anyone he’d ever met.
Harry tried to remember for a moment if he’d eaten that much bread at Hogwarts, then dismissed the attempt. A different memory, a different world.
“We have to focus on the task at hand until it’s finished,” Harry said, and looked around for salt, mourning the amount he’d left in the Potions lab. Luckily, a saltcellar sat on the table. Harry tapped the egg on the side of the bowl to begin the crack in the shell. “That’s what Ron doesn’t understand, and what I keep telling him. He wants to interview half-a-dozen witnesses and then go and chase down reports of the criminal somewhere else, and I tell him to finish the interviews first. It’s the best way.”
“So Weasley isn’t the star Auror that so many people thought he would be,” Malfoy said, and rolled his eyes. Harry caught the movement even though Malfoy had mostly turned so he was facing the fire. “Does the fault lie with his abilities or with the judgment of those who thought he was perfect in the first place? One really must wonder.”
“One doesn’t need to wonder,” Harry said quietly, stripping and then salting his egg. If his hands were busy, he was less likely to strike out with his fists or reach for his wand. “Not when one knows that he’s a fine Auror in other respects, and he’s made more arrests than I have.”
Malfoy’s shoulder twitched. “But you were still the leader on the raid that imprisoned us here.”
“I was assigned to that, and Ron doesn’t want a lot of leadership positions. He’s good at them, but that’s not the same thing.” Then Harry wondered why the hell he was talking about his friends with Malfoy, and returned to eating the egg instead. Probably for lack of other things to talk about, honestly. Well, and fear that Malfoy would return like a yelping dog to the incident in the shower this morning if he didn’t.
But facing up to my own embarrassment would be better than letting Malfoy insult my friends. Now that he was more distant from what had happened that morning, it didn’t seem to be as big a deal as it had at the time.
“You screwed that up, too.” Malfoy turned his skewer, and a perfect slice of golden-brown toast flopped on the table. He was roasting another almost before Harry could blink and recover from the shock of the first one landing.
“Yes, I did,” Harry said. “I should have looked first and made sure that you weren’t hiding in the Solitary Brewer’s house.”
“If you’d let me get in and then get out with the potion, none of this would have happened—”
“We didn’t know you were there!” Harry spun around, crushing the last of the egg he held in one fist. He ignored the slimy feeling on his hands and glared at Malfoy. “But you claimed to know we were. Why the fuck didn’t you wait until the Auror raid was done and then come in and take your prize?”
“You would have taken it,” Malfoy said tightly. “And you might have had someone competent enough in your labs, notice that I say might, to work backwards from the completed potion and figure out the recipe. That means I would have lost any and all claims to it. It would be harder to take it out of the Ministry than it was to take it out of a house without enough wards.”
Harry checked his tongue and his temper, reminded himself that this was like arguing with one of his Aurors who had been snogging on duty, and turned away. “Yes, whatever you want to say, Malfoy, I’m sure,” he murmured, and reached for the next egg.
“You think it would be easier to steal it from the Ministry?” Malfoy laughed, short and like a needle digging into Harry’s eyelids. “Then you must have less faith in your security than I knew you did. Interesting.”
Harry shut his eyes and reminded himself that Malfoy’s words could only irritate him if he let them. Plus, they were trapped here, and Malfoy’s potion was the only means they had, at the moment, of getting out.
“I have faith in my own wards, but I didn’t put all of them up in the Ministry,” he said. “So there’s a chance you could have stolen it. Sorry.” He bit viciously into his egg, and bits of yolk fell down his hand.
Malfoy was silent. Harry didn’t turn and look at him again, so he didn’t exactly know why, but that wasn’t the sort of thing he needed to concern himself with. He concerned himself with eating and cleaning up instead, and sitting with his profile turned to Malfoy while Malfoy ate. He made new plans for casting Patronuses, for conjuring an owl strong enough to get through the wards that must be around the house, for forcing Malfoy to cast the Patronus in conjunction with him so that the house would think they both wanted to leave and have to give them passage.
But all of those were useless plans. Right now, their best chance was Malfoy’s potion, and that meant not irritating Malfoy. Harry stayed with Malfoy until he was done eating, accompanied him to the bathroom—one shower a day appeared enough for him, luckily—and then went to bed with him. At least the bed was large enough to let them lie back-to-back without touching, Harry thought, as he shut his eyes.
Malfoy hadn’t spoken a word since Harry’s apology. Harry felt the little twitch of curiosity traveling up his shoulders, urging him to turn around and see what Malfoy’s expression looked like.
But that would anger Malfoy more, likely, or at best show Harry a face he didn’t know how to read. So he kept his eyes shut, and breathed the way he did when trying to get some sleep in the middle of a case, and drifted off soon enough.
“Potter, get off!”
Harry’s eyes popped open. The first thing he noticed was that the floor seemed a lot further away than before, and then that his head was dangling over the side of the bed.
And the third that he was folded like a map along Malfoy’s side, with Malfoy shoving at Harry’s arms and legs where they crossed his body.
Harry hauled himself further away, and caught the edge of the bed before he overbalanced. It was a near thing, but the floor was not. The bed had grown higher, yes, so that they were now perhaps six meters above the bedroom. Harry turned his head, assuming that the ceiling slanted a centimeter above their heads now, but found that it was much higher. The house must have adjusted the size of the room.
And the size of the bed. Harry was convinced there was less space to either side than he had ever had before.
Malfoy pushed at him again. Grimly, Harry clung and turned. “The house shrank the bed and lifted it,” he said. “What do you want me to do? I can try sleeping on the floor again, but I doubt the house will like that idea any more than it did before.”
Malfoy stared at him, then shook his head. “That’s ridiculous, Potter. Think about what you’re saying.”
Harry rolled his eyes. “The house has changed the temperature of the water and the food in the cupboards and the shape of this room before, without trouble. Why do you balk at the idea that it would change the bed?”
Malfoy fell silent, from which Harry surmised that he really didn’t have a good argument. Harry snorted and carefully rose onto his knees. Watching the walls and the ceiling as much as he could, he dangled his feet over the side of the bed, ready to jump onto the floor.
The ceiling promptly shot up and straightened, and the bed followed it. Malfoy gasped and clung. Harry did the clinging without the gasping, because he had more than expected it.
“The house wants to make sure we spend the night in each other’s arms, evidently,” he said over his shoulder to Malfoy. He found himself almost cheerful in the face of this stupid development, even given what Malfoy’s touch had done to him in the shower yesterday. It was just another consequence to be dealt with on their way to brewing the potion and getting out of here. Harry had always been happiest when he had an enemy to fight, and calling Malfoy an enemy was out of the question right now.
“That’s,” Malfoy said.
“Disgusting, right, I know,” Harry said. “But let’s see what happens when we make a move in that direction.” He rolled towards Malfoy, keeping an eye on the ceiling and window as he did so, the only parts of the room that were easily visible when he was facing in Malfoy’s direction.
The window widened and acquired a sill. The ceiling rose further above them as the bed lowered a bit, and Harry thought he felt more of it expanding away behind him. He wouldn’t look, yet, in case the house took that as a signal to shrink it again.
Malfoy stared at him. His breath filled the space between them, making Harry glad that both of them had brushed their teeth last night. Then he shut his eyes and turned his head away from Harry, shuddering.
“I don’t smell that bad,” Harry said, and leaned his head on Malfoy’s shoulder. It would make an acceptable pillow, he thought. Malfoy’s arms dangled along his sides like cold noodles, but some pulling got them into position.
“I’ve never slept this close to anyone else,” Malfoy whispered, and shuddered.
“You think I have?” Harry snapped back. Perhaps it was true that he’d slept in closer quarters with Ron and Hermione on the Horcrux hunt, but they’d always been careful to leave some space between their pallets, and their tent had more room than this bed. “We’re both going to just have to learn to deal with this, Malfoy. Shut up and go to sleep.”
Malfoy didn’t, of course, instead lying there like a tense and frozen thing. Harry spent a little time rolling his eyes and a lot of time rearranging Malfoy so they would be vaguely comfortable. Or he would, and since Malfoy wasn’t speaking to him at the moment, that could cover both of them, as far as Harry was concerned. He assumed Malfoy would kick him back or lash out if Harry crossed over the sort of invisible line that he seemed to want separating them.
The bed was the whole world. Harry felt the sheets grow damp beneath them as they lay there, from the sweat, and he could count each one of Malfoy’s eyelashes. That taught him a lot of things about Malfoy’s cosmetic charms that he would have preferred not to know.
But he was an Auror, and they could sleep anywhere. He shut his eyes, ignored the way Malfoy’s breath rattled his lashes, and slipped into a restless doze.
The next morning, the bed retained its smaller size, but it had shrunk back down to near the floor, and Malfoy was gone. Harry rose and stretched. He reckoned Malfoy had preferred a cold shower to the enforced intimacy a warm one would produce.
Funny. I would have understood that better yesterday.
But this was enemy territory, and they had to figure out the way to survive until they got out or someone rescued them. Harry decided he could probably accept that more easily because he had survived these kinds of situations before. He tied the dressing robe firmly around his waist and padded out to the bathroom.
A small, sullen shape stood in the shower, turned away from Harry; he could see that much through the glass of the door. Harry shrugged and began to brush his teeth, then cast the Cleaning Charms on himself, gasping a little as they tingled sharply up and down his body. It was like toothpaste for the skin, really.
The door to the shower banged open, and Malfoy leaned out. “I didn’t need you to make the water warmer,” he said.
“Glad to hear it,” Harry said, and cast another Cleaning Charm on his hair, then reached for the comb that the house had thoughtfully provided.
Malfoy slammed the shower door again. Harry shook his head, listened to the almost musical echo of the bang, and compared it with the first one. On the whole, he thought the first bang superior.
He waited inside the bathroom until Malfoy had finished, all the while deciding that he would release another Patronus at noon today if he heard nothing before then. When Malfoy stepped out, the house rushed him with towels, and Harry kept his head turned to the side as Malfoy dried himself.
“Typical,” Malfoy said in a voice that buzzed and hummed around Harry’s teeth the way the brush had. “You can sleep with me, but you can’t look at me the morning after.”
Harry shuddered, then laughed. “You don’t seem to need my help,” he said. “You were the one who chose to get up without waking me and take a cold shower. Why do you think I owe you something for that?”
“Look at me.”
Malfoy was right beside him. Harry’s mind rang with visions of what he might see if he turned, but on the other side, keeping his face averted like some blushing virgin when Malfoy had challenged him was worse. He turned around.
Malfoy had a towel around his shoulders and one clutched in his hands, more or less at waist height. He stared at Harry. Harry looked back, and only knew what was coming from the fey flash in Malfoy’s eyes the moment before he uttered it.
Too late to stop it, certainly.
“I know you were hard when we showered together yesterday,” Malfoy whispered. “Because of how I touched you. I felt it.”
Harry thought for a second he would pass out; stars exploded along the edges of his vision that suggested that, and he swayed back and forth. But he had survived harder things than this, he told himself. The Cruciatus. The Dursleys. Having to tell Ginny that they had grown apart during the war and he really didn’t want to date her again afterwards.
Besides, now it was out in the open. That meant he didn’t have to fear mentioning it himself, or having it happen again and Malfoy finding out that way.
“Are you finished?” he asked. “With the shower, with the taunting. We should get some breakfast and then work on the potion.”
“You’ll sit back on your useless arse in the chair, you mean,” Malfoy snarled at him, “and I’ll do all the work.”
“I’m not good at Potions,” Harry said, steady, despite his blush. “I can do simple tasks like the one you gave me yesterday, but otherwise, I’m probably useless, yes. But you know that, and you know trying to force me to participate because it’s ‘fair’ would ruin the potion, and our chances of getting out of here.”
Malfoy trembled for a second. Harry didn’t want to name the emotions raging across his face and behind his eyes, because he didn’t think either of them wanted to hear those names.
Malfoy finally broke away. “You think of getting out of here, and nothing else,” he said, over his shoulder, as he dropped the towels and reached for the clothes that the house had already hung on hooks. Harry had put the ones from yesterday back on, because the house had cleaned them overnight and he saw no reason not to. “You act like a machine, and then you’re surprised when I don’t like you.”
Harry shook his head. “And now you’re not making sense. What else should I think about? You admitted that you don’t know how to escape, and the house resists destruction and won’t let us out, and even the potion is only a chance.”
Malfoy snapped and snarled his way through the rest of his dressing, but without words. Harry stood stolidly aside and waited for him. He thought he had done all that could reasonably be expected of him.
Of course, that was before they got to the kitchen.
“Why the fuck won’t they open?”
Harry watched in silence as Malfoy attacked another cupboard, which might as well have been a decorative piece of solid wood for all the impact he made. It had been the same with all the cupboards, and the refrigerator had turned itself into a solid block of metal despite still having a door. It hummed, so Harry was sure there was food in there, but the house seemed to have decided they were to have none this morning.
Harry shuddered a little. He had found some full dungeons when cleaning out Dark wizards’ houses before. Starvation was a long death, and not a pretty one.
Cheer up, it probably won’t let us have water either, so we’ll die of thirst before then, he thought.
He was pants at cheering himself up.
Malfoy broke away from the cupboard swearing fluently, and turned around and glared at Harry. Harry shrugged a little and walked up to stand beside him, studying the cupboard door. It didn’t gape at all. He thought it was the one Malfoy’s precious loaf of bread had been in, which explained why he was so desperate to get into it.
“We should just have left the food on the table,” Malfoy said, folding his arms and scowling at Harry and the cupboards impartially. “It’s not like we have to worry about mice or insects finding it.”
“Yes,” Harry said, because he was tired of disagreeing, and leaned nearer to the cupboard. He thought he had seen the door tremble when he did, but if Malfoy had tugged on it all this time without producing any change, why should he think that simply being near it would do that?
Malfoy moved up behind him, already mouthing the next arguments, and the cupboard door did tremble. Harry took a deep breath and reached out, taking Malfoy’s hand before he could object. Then he used his free hand to tug on the door of the cupboard.
It flew open. Harry promptly scooped up Malfoy’s bread and the honeypot before the house could change its mind, and turned to set them down on the table. Malfoy exclaimed sharply and tugged away from him.
The cupboard door slammed shut.
Malfoy glared at it. Harry waited for the inevitable explosion, but when it came, it was a tempered, “We can only open them by holding hands?”
“It seems so,” Harry said, and turned towards the drawer where he knew the house kept the knives, snapping his fingers at Malfoy as he did so.
Malfoy followed him, and Harry seized his hand again to open the drawer. This time, he managed two knives before Malfoy danced free, and stood there waving his hands as the thing slammed shut.
“And the way we have to survive here, just like we have to survive by sleeping in the same bed,” Harry said, and used the knives to begin cutting the bread and spreading the honey. Malfoy took a step towards the kitchen doorway. Harry clenched his teeth, but said evenly, “If you go, then I think the food will just disappear back into the cupboards again, and that means that no one gets something to eat.”
“Maybe I think that’s worth the price, to deprive you of it,” Malfoy retorted, and took another step nearer the door.
Harry promptly stuffed a huge bite of bread in his mouth and hurled the other dripping piece at Malfoy’s head. It stuck in his freshly-shampooed hair, and Malfoy whirled around, cursing. Harry finished sucking and swallowing his bread, coughing when it stuck in his throat, and then yelled. His words were louder than Malfoy’s, and more coherent, which was probably the reason that Malfoy shut up to hear them.
“Will you fucking listen to yourself? You’re acting like a child, throwing tantrums because the house is making you uncomfortable. Well, I’m so sorry that your precious potion caused this and this is the way we have to live. You were making fun of me yesterday for not settling down and accepting the inevitable. It doesn’t look any more attractive on you when you do it, you know.”
Malfoy stared at him, his mouth open, then yelled, “If you hadn’t bumped into me, I wouldn’t have dropped the potion!”
“And if you haven’t been in the house during an Auror raid, then I wouldn’t have bumped into you,” Harry snapped back. He was starting to regret the loss of the bread he had thrown at Malfoy, although it had been the best way to get his attention. He was still hungry, and he thought Malfoy still might end up storming out of the kitchen. “Look, it was both our faults, if you want to look at it that way. I frankly don’t care. What I care about is that you’re going to make life here impossible for the both of us for the sake of—what? Your stupid pride? What is wrong with you? Showering together is fine but holding hands offends your nonexistent Malfoy sense of dignity?”
Malfoy stomped back towards him. Honey was starting to drip down the side of his face, but it didn’t make his eyes less murderous. “You want to know,” he said. “You want to know why this is different for me?”
“Yes, you idiot,” Harry said. “Or I wouldn’t have asked. I know that you’re used to doing everything that’s the opposite of sensible, what with being Slytherin and all, but the rest of the world occasionally asks for what it does want—”
“You got me hard!”
Harry stopped ranting and stared at him. Malfoy promptly spun away, but didn’t seem to have the strength to lift his feet. His face had turned as red as Harry was sure his must have burned that morning.
Never, not once, had he thought Malfoy was reacting out of much the same embarrassment that Harry had been feeling yesterday.
Harry cleared his throat, and tried to think of what to say. What came out was, “I don’t understand.”
“In the bed,” Malfoy said. “I told you that I’d never slept that close to another person before. You got me hard, and I didn’t—want you to know, and I hate this house, and I hate the world, and I hate you.” He folded his arms and bowed his head, his sides heaving for a moment as though he was struggling to control sobs.
Harry could only shake his head. “Fine,” he said at last. “So we did it to each other, and we have equal things to be embarrassed about. But that doesn’t mean that we need to behave like children. You scolded me for it. You were right.”
“That’s not what you said yesterday.”
“I’m sorry,” Harry said, and cast a Tempus Charm. “From now on, I shall note the exact time of all my apologies. Nine hours and two minutes into the morning this time. Perhaps my next one shall be at ten hours and three minutes. I think that would be preferable, don’t you? To anything else, I mean. Because it’s so precise.”
Malfoy stood there for a second, and Harry was equally ready for him to walk out or to continue fighting. Instead, he shook his head, came back to the table, and started casting the spells that would take the honeyed bread out of his hair, while cutting himself a piece. Harry sat down on the other side of the table, chair pushed as far back as possible so that Malfoy would have more room, and waited for him to finish.
Malfoy was perhaps three bites from the end of the piece when the air in front of Harry shimmered, and he started to his feet. The next moment, a gleaming silver otter stood on the table, lifting its nose towards him. It was fainter than usual, perhaps because Hermione had had to send it such a distance.
“Harry,” the otter whispered, nose twitching and whiskers vibrating. “Your message…break through as soon as we can. We found the place that the house touches…world, but the wards are…As soon as we can.”
Harry closed his eyes in relief as Hermione’s Patronus disappeared. At least he knew his friends were coming, even if it would probably take them weeks of work to break through the wards.
And at least he knew that he had managed to tell them what had happened. The thought that they might never know what had happened to him because he simply vanished was a nightmare to him.
“Then you’ll wait for them?” Malfoy’s voice was curiously sharp.
Harry blinked. “What do you mean? I don’t have much choice but to wait for them, because they’ll be digging through the wards and I don’t think I can get out from the inside.”
Malfoy slammed his bread down on the table and leaned forwards. “I meant,” he whispered, quicksilver-vicious, “that you won’t want me to brew my potion anymore, because your precious friends are coming.”
“No,” Harry said. “I don’t know that they’ll manage to actually get into the house. It’s best that you keep working on your potion at the same time, because then we have a double chance of getting out in case one of the methods doesn’t work.”
Malfoy leaned forwards with his hands planted so solidly into the center of the table that Harry didn’t understand the stiff tension in his shoulders, the shaking of his arms. Harry stared back as those narrow grey eyes examined him, and almost wished that he could reassure Malfoy. But since he had no idea what Malfoy was upset about in the first place, he couldn’t. Malfoy ought to be happy that they wouldn’t spend as much time around each other. Harry had embarrassed him, yelled at him, and needed to be coaxed and prodded. Malfoy wasn’t happy here right now. Why would he want to stay?
“I promise that I’ll tell the others what happened, and that you helped,” Harry offered. “That way, no one will arrest you for being in the Solitary Brewer’s house, and you don’t have to worry about the Aurors prosecuting you.”
Malfoy walked out of the kitchen, leaving the crust of uneaten bread on the table. As Harry had thought would happen, the bread vanished the moment Malfoy’s foot crossed the threshold. At least the refrigerator didn’t stop running this time, probably because the house had no need to enforce that prohibition when it had simply stuck the doors of the cupboards shut instead.
Harry sighed and followed Malfoy, braced for another long day of chopping.
Chapter 5: House of Horrors
And a long day of chopping was what it was, except that this time Malfoy took away the valerian leaves about halfway through and assigned him to chopping fern fronds. Harry worked with his head down, not looking at Malfoy except when he had some question—rare—to ask about the amount of salt or whether a particularly ragged cut was acceptable.
Malfoy always answered in monosyllables. He seemed to never lift his head from its bent position over the cauldron, to the point that Harry wondered that he didn’t have a cramp. But unless Malfoy asked Harry to massage his neck or something, Harry thought, it was really none of his business.
Harry snorted. As though Malfoy would ever ask me that.
They worked straight through lunch, and although Harry nearly opened his mouth to ask Malfoy if he wanted to go back to the kitchen and find food, Malfoy shot him a deadly enough glare just then that he decided not to ask. Harry was hungry, but it wasn’t as though he had never worked through hunger before. And he would eat a big dinner, if necessary by conjuring a chain between their wrists so Malfoy couldn’t leave him alone.
Near what Harry’s Tempus Charm identified as six, when the light slanting through the windows in the lab had become perceptibly dimmer, Malfoy leaned back, stretched, and stared at the shimmering numbers of Harry’s Charm as though he had never seen them before. Harry curled his lip, wondering if Malfoy’s next rule would be no casting spells where he could see them.
“I’m hungry,” Malfoy said in wonder.
Harry rolled his eyes and began to clean off the knife and put the salt away. He left the uncut fern fronds lying in the center of the table, because, knowing him, he would handle them wrong, and Malfoy would throw a fit. Harry was tired of fits. He wanted food, and he wanted a long, hot shower, and he wanted to go to sleep in a bed that he hoped wouldn’t shrink or grow during the night.
Hermione had once talked to Harry about how wonderful it would be to live in a strange place where magic worked, but not by usual rules, and to figure them out—a place like Wonderland. Harry shook his head. He had first-hand experience, now, of how it was anything but wonderful.
“I’m cramped up.”
Harry just nodded, determined not to take issue with the whinge in Malfoy’s tone, or point out how it was totally his fault. “Taking a hot shower will probably help with that.”
“Not unless you’re in there with me.”
“I want one, too.” Harry kept his head bowed over the knife. Talk about simple things until his friends came and rescued them or the potion worked, that seemed to be the key. “I’ll get into it with you.”
Dear Hermione, to make the shower work I had to promise to shower with Malfoy…
“The shower is too small.”
Harry rolled his eyes under the protective cover of lowered eyelids, so Malfoy wouldn’t have anything to complain about. “Then I’ll stand over to one side, and you can stand over to the other, and then we can both catch the warm water and we don’t have to worry about touching each other.”
“No, I mean, I want to lie down, and the shower won’t let me do that.” From the sound of it, Malfoy was throwing his stirring rod carelessly over to the side of the table. Harry listened, but didn’t hear the glass crack, which he thought was more good luck than they really deserved. “Come on. I want to try the hot tub.”
Harry resisted the temptation to bang his head into the nearest wall, and instead put the knife down, folded in its cleaning rag. Malfoy hadn’t told him where to put it, anyway. Harry would rather err on the side of a scolding for overcaution than do something that couldn’t be retrieved and delay the progress of the potion.
When he came into the hot tub room, Malfoy was already bent over the shining porcelain side, studying the tubs. “There’s more here than in the Prefects’ Bath at Hogwarts,” he said to Harry in the most conversational tone Harry had heard from him all day. “Hot water, scented water, shampoo, bubbles—”
“Not bubbles,” said Harry hastily, one of Hermione’s warnings from years ago coming back to him. “Not if it’s modeled off a Muggle device.”
Malfoy shot him a glance under lowered eyelids, but nodded and stood up, starting to strip.
Harry bit his tongue, wondered for a moment what exactly the line was between the times that Malfoy was shy in front of him and the times that Malfoy would pull his clothes off without warning, and turned his back. He tugged his own shirt over his head, following it with his trainers, his trousers, and his pants. He just tried to think of it as a series of movements, things he did, a routine.
Harry stared at the far wall, which had a mosaic of slowly moving dolphins nudging a shell around the waves that he hadn’t noticed before, and shook his head. “You’ll have to give me more context for your random utterances than that, Malfoy,” he said.
Malfoy didn’t reply, and Harry had just started to turn around to get into the water when Malfoy whispered into his ear, “Don’t move,” from behind him. Harry froze, and felt Malfoy’s fingers low on his back, tracing something—
Oh. The jagged line of the scar that Harry had earned last year during the chase of a Dark wizard who turned out to have more unusual guardians around her home than they’d thought. Harry relaxed and shrugged. “A jaguar bit me on a case.”
“And you survived?” Malfoy’s hand dipped lower, as though he wanted to explore the texture of Harry’s skin, and Harry jerked away abruptly and bent down to twist the knob that poured hot water into the tub. He hadn’t asked Malfoy, which was probably the cause of the indignant breath from behind him, but Malfoy had said that he wanted to relax cramps in his muscles, and for that, he didn’t need perfume or bubbles.
“There were Healers not far away,” Harry said, and slipped into the water, pleased to find out that the tub was more than deep enough, and the faucet quick enough, for his waist to be hidden, and everything beneath it. “We knew that she used animals, although she’d never used great cats before. And it’s not as though the jaguar cracked my skull. They can do that, you know.” So the Healer who tended him had lectured him and again, trying to keep him from drifting off due to the pain as she stitched him up.
“I don’t have scars of that kind,” Malfoy said, slipping into the water beside him. “Potions doesn’t leave them. Only one more reason for the superiority of my career over yours.”
Harry looked at him for the first time that evening. Malfoy leaned back in the water, lounging on what seemed to be a sort of shallow step or ledge that ran all the way around the side of the tub, and sighed as he received the touch of the heat on the back of his neck. Harry suspected that really was the place that hurt the most, not simply the one that he had thought did. Malfoy’s face seemed to melt, mouth opening and cheeks sliding down in a long and unconscious moan. Harry looked away.
“What about scars from acid, slipped knives, fire?” he asked at random. “You can’t tell me you don’t have those.”
“Oh, there’s this one, of course,” Malfoy said in a lazy voice, and Harry turned back to see him holding up his right arm, tapping the curve of his elbow, where the snake of the Dark Mark would lay its head on the left arm. “Not much I could do about that.”
Harry squinted, and made out the twisting mark of a knife, in a way that made him want to touch his own arm, and the scar that Wormtail’s blade had left there. “What happened?”
“I had to take my own flesh and blood for the potion that I brewed to become a Potions master,” Malfoy said, and tilted his head further back, until he was floating with his hair spread around him. “And it had to be deep enough to leave a visible scar. A small price, though, to pay for so grand a gain.”
Harry nodded. “Becoming an acknowledged master of your craft?” He couldn’t imagine what other kind of gain Malfoy was talking about, unless he was engaged in illegal Dark Arts of the kind that the Solitary Brewer had been.
And he might be. Don’t let sharing a house with him and feeling some sympathy towards him dim your memory of what he is.
Malfoy floated in the water in silence, staring at him. Then he said, “Sometimes you’re not as stupid as you look, Potter.”
“But only sometimes,” Harry finished for him, and ducked his head under the water, running his fingers through his hair. He had to admit Malfoy was right. Cleaning Charms had nothing on water and soap.
He avoided the floral-scented soaps and shampoos, though, because he could only imagine how Malfoy would bitch about having to share the bed with Harry if he smelled like that, and chose one that had an odor of dessert. Hard to qualify it as more than that, Harry thought as he poured the thick liquid into his palm; he couldn’t narrow it down to vanilla, or fudge, or chocolate, or anything that was more traditionally dessert-like. Only “dessert.”
He rubbed it into his hair, and then dived down to rinse it out. He’d shaken his head and raked his hands underwater three times before he realized that the shampoo had decided to cling.
Harry surfaced with a gasp. “Fucking stupid house,” he told the walls, which stood there in silent smugness. He was sure something could hear him, probably whatever was in charge of changing the size of the bed and the food in the kitchens, but he didn’t get the satisfaction of an answer.
“What are you talking about?” Malfoy snapped. He moved up behind Harry. “Are you so incompetent that you can’t even wash without my help?”
“I can’t wash without your help because the house doesn’t want me to,” Harry said softly, and tilted his head back, reminding himself that he’d been held captive by Dark wizards. “The shampoo won’t come out. Will you please do it for me?”
Malfoy paused. Harry wondered for a moment if he was like the house, about to refuse to do something simple because of his own inscrutable whims.
But although Malfoy certainly could be like that, he apparently decided to put it aside, perhaps because he knew that he would need Harry’s help next. His fingers rose and brushed through the clumping hair, and it sprang apart under his touch. He did it again, tugging, and Harry groaned and sank deeper into the water.
Sinfully good. Decadently good. Harry associated a lot of things in the house with decadence—no one needed an indoor pool, a hot tub, a Potions lab that big—but this was better. He would need to have someone wash his hair when he got back to the wizarding world, he decided. Definitely.
And just like it had in the shower the other day, Malfoy’s touch was getting him hard.
But Harry had known it was a risk, and probably the reason that the house had set this up in the first place. He bit his lip and held still, other than the sinking into the water that he couldn’t help. Malfoy’s hands grew gentler and more skillful. Perhaps he remembered the other morning, too.
“Why are you so good at this?” Harry asked, when Malfoy had paused. Harry thought he was moving away, but heard the sound of hands rubbing together, and knew that he was working more of the shampoo into a lather instead. So he held still, head drooping a little, concentrating on the silky brush of hot water against his skin instead of his erection.
“Anything I want to do, I think I should be good at,” Malfoy responded, his hands dipping into Harry’s hair more deeply this time, to the point that Harry thought there wasn’t a spot on Harry’s scalp he hadn’t touched. He kept his eyes closed, and that was a way of distancing himself, getting away from the touch. Or maybe he split himself, mind and body. With his mind he heard Malfoy, with his body he felt him. “And I’ve had lovers who wanted me to do this for them, that I wanted to do this for.”
Harry nodded, or he thought he did. Malfoy stayed him with a hand on the nape of his neck, murmuring something about how Harry would spoil the pattern of the lather. Harry held his tongue, and then body and mind tumbled back into each other and he gasped aloud as Malfoy’s fingers made a small pattern on the back of his neck.
“Good,” Malfoy whispered. Harry didn’t know who he was addressing, Harry or the shampoo, but the next moment Malfoy let him go and moved away, and Harry was both glad and sorry. He turned around to find Malfoy gathering up a different kind of shampoo, this time strongly scented with lavender, and crushing it between his hands into a cramped, curled shape. He dumped the whole handful over his head and shook it so that the lather ran and dripped, then drifted backwards and sighed. “Now. Your turn.”
“I won’t be as good as you were,” Harry muttered, dipping his hands into the shampoo and feeling it crawl up his skin.
“The first time that you do something, you can’t be,” Malfoy said drowsily. “Only Malfoys can be.”
Harry rolled his eyes, but began to move his fingers around, and scrape them, and even dig into Malfoy’s hair and scalp the way that he’d dug into Harry’s. The hair felt thick and soft as it rubbed past his palm, but then, the foam from the shampoo felt much the same way. “Why do you think I haven’t done this before?”
“You didn’t know how to do it for yourself, let alone a lover.” Malfoy opened his eyes and turned his head slightly, not seeming to notice how his words had frozen Harry. “In a lot of things, you seem…inexperienced.”
Harry welcomed the burning sensation in his face, and the sharp pain as he bit into his bottom lip, and the way that his hands traveled deeper and rubbed harder. Yes, he couldn’t be friends, or attracted for long, to someone who sounded the way that Malfoy did.
Gorgeous, until he opens his mouth. He remembered Ginny complaining about the same problem with some of her boyfriends. Never Harry, luckily, but then, he thought that might come from not fitting into the “gorgeous” category.
He washed Malfoy’s hair until Malfoy was drifting limp enough to nearly drown, and then tapped him on the shoulder. Malfoy winced as though the sharp edge of Harry’s fingernail was a personal affront, and sat up with a little sigh. “As you wish,” he told no one visible, and handed a cake of soap to Harry.
Harry stared at it blankly. “You don’t think the house is going to let us wash the rest of our bodies, either?” he muttered.
“Do you think so?” Malfoy touched his clean and dripping hair, his eyes as steady as though neither of them had ever suffered their little fits of embarrassment. “I don’t want to try it. I hate having soap cling to my skin and itch.”
Harry stared at him. That sounded like an excuse, and the way Malfoy’s eyelids flickered confirmed it, but—
But nothing, Harry, he told himself, as he began to rub Malfoy’s chest. Maybe he just doesn’t want to deal with the house’s stupid tricks on top of everything else that he’s dealt with today.
“I’m not a piece of sandpaper,” Malfoy hissed abruptly, and pulled away from Harry, shaking his head.
Harry started. He had rather been scrubbing away as if Malfoy was one of Aunt Petunia’s pots instead of a human being. “Sorry,” he murmured, and paused, rubbing with one hand instead, and bringing up scooped palmfuls of water to drench Malfoy’s chest with. He tried not to notice how different a color Malfoy’s nipples were from the rest of his flesh.
“Mmmm,” Malfoy said, and let his arms spread out, his toes floating up as if he were enjoying himself. Well, he probably was, Harry told himself. That didn’t mean he didn’t want someone other than Harry with him here, and it didn’t mean the house’s stupid tricks to try and force them together were going to work.
Harry managed to split his body and mind again, so that his hands were the ones that stroked the soap into Malfoy’s skin and up and down again, but his mind was the one drifting far away, thinking about it as happening to someone else, noticing Malfoy’s reactions as they occurred.
Malfoy finally opened his eyes, and shivered a little, and reached up to take Harry’s hand, fingers closing around the wrist in a way that once again snapped the barrier between body and mind, and Harry was there, the wristbone that Malfoy held, the smooth pulse of blood in the skin beneath his fingers. “Now I’ll do you,” Malfoy said softly.
Harry ground his teeth and tossed his head. “Thanks, but I think I’ll be content with Cleaning Charms for my body.”
He started to turn away, but Malfoy’s hands were already in place, ribs and hips, gripping him, holding him still. “What’s the matter?” Malfoy whispered, hot behind his ear. “Scared of me? Ashamed to let a Malfoy touch you?”
Harry shut his eyes, and decided that honesty was worth more than forcing Malfoy away again, especially since that only caused stupid fights both of them regretted later. “I don’t think I want to give the house more fuel for its tricks,” he said, with difficulty, since Malfoy’s fingers had slid up his arm, and the inside of his left arm was more sensitive than he had ever realized. “And I don’t want to—feel what I do when you touch me.”
“Ah,” Malfoy said. “Yes, when someone is inexperienced, he does feel greater arousal from a casual touch than someone who knows a lot.”
Harry whipped his head around, exasperated. “Will you quit saying that? You’ve already admitted that you haven’t ever slept close to someone either, and I don’t know how you get from that to saying I’m a bloody virgin!”
Malfoy raised his eyebrows and leaned in. “But the expression I saw on your face when you said that gives me all the acknowledgement that, yes, you really are.”
Harry gritted his teeth, and tried not to duck his head. Bloody stupid blush! Bloody stupid emotions! He had done a lot of practice in the last few years at controlling his feelings and making them as obscure as possible, but that training always failed when it came to people like Malfoy that he felt strongly about.
And not strongly in that way, either.
“Fine, you can think what you want,” Harry said, and gestured with one arm behind him. “But I’ve washed you, and you washed my hair, and that ought to be enough even for this bloody house.”
He walked towards the edge of the hot tub, and gripped the ledge that ran around it under the water, to pull himself out of it. He had had enough of everything, the steam around him and the sharp scent of the shampoos and soaps and Malfoy’s proximity.
But no matter how long he walked, he never got any closer to the edge of the tub. The bottom lengthened, and the water closed in around him, not stopping his movements but blocking them. Even the faucets looked more distant than they had. Harry finally stopped and leaned his head on his forearms, swearing.
“You had a word with me this morning, about being stubborn.”
Harry looked up wearily. Malfoy floated in the water in front of him, and his eyes had the same direct, bright, hard look, without passion but also without hatred. Harry might have become an especially interesting Potions ingredient.
Perhaps that was better. Perhaps he could handle being looked at like that, Harry thought. He folded his arms and said, “What about it?”
“That being stubborn in a case like this is more trouble than it’s worth,” Malfoy murmured, and reached for the soap again.
He said nothing else, but Harry understood. He still turned his back with a grimace. He didn’t like what the house was doing to him, to them, the way it shoved them closer and then did something worse just when Harry had come to the conclusion that he might be able to accept that level of closeness.
He closed his eyes and breathed slowly through the touch of Malfoy’s slick hands to his shoulders. You’ve survived worse. You can survive this. And remember that he’s doing you a favor. He’s brewing you the potion that’s going to get you out of here. You certainly can’t do it yourself.
All those distracting thoughts, and bracing ones, didn’t make the touch any less like lightning. Harry cried out in spite of himself when Malfoy’s fingers wandered into a spot on his spine that no one else had ever touched, and then bowed his head and tried to return to the deep, regular breathing. Malfoy paused, his hand brushing lightly.
“That doesn’t help,” Harry told him, rubbing his temple where a headache had sprung up. “If you have to, could you please just dig in? The lighter touches are—they’re uncomfortable for me.”
Malfoy brushed his thumbs up and down in response, which wasn’t what Harry had asked for, but then pressed down like a masseuse seeking the source of his client’s tension. Harry sighed. This kind of touch affected him, too, but at least it wasn’t as bad.
Malfoy moved down his back to his legs, and began to wipe soap on Harry’s arse. Harry bit his tongue on the impulse to ask him to stop. The house might not let him out of the tub unless they did this. Harry reckoned he would rather go through the whole ordeal at once rather than do it once, fail to get out of the tub again, and have to come back.
Malfoy paused, as if counting heartbeats. Harry held still, or as still as he could when his feet drifted off the floor. He could hear his own heartbeat, sure enough, and his labored breathing. At least he didn’t sound as if he would bolt away from Malfoy at any moment, even if he felt like it.
Then one hand came forwards and brushed Harry’s hair off his shoulders. Harry opened his mouth. “You already washed that—”
Harry shut up, because Malfoy’s voice was quiet, precise, but abstracted. Maybe he had another plan that would involve them being able to escape. The major plans had been his so far, and Harry’s hadn’t worked, other than sending the Patronus. So he sat there, and remembered the food in the kitchen. Something like the hot tub might be a silly trick of the house’s to throw them together, but they really needed to eat and sleep, to be ready for the brewing.
If Malfoy thought this was serious enough, too, then Harry would sit still for it. But they needed to stop trying to relax and take advantage of the house’s luxuries. Something stupid always happened when they did.
Malfoy rubbed his hand down Harry’s chest, without insisting that Harry turn to face him. It was a small kindness. Harry relaxed in the face of it, until Malfoy’s fingers fluttered past his nipples. Then he held his breath again.
“I won’t touch you that way if you don’t want me to,” Malfoy said, and pulled his hand back.
Harry nodded and bowed his head, letting Malfoy stroke his neck, and touch his hair again, and stroke between his legs. Something about his voice—that helped. His hands were still everywhere and terrifying, but his voice was so thick, so sure, so grounded. Harry discovered that he was breathing in rhythm with Malfoy, and didn’t stop in embarrassment only because he thought Malfoy wouldn’t make fun of him for it.
Malfoy won’t make fun of me? What kind of mad world am I living in?
One in which the house was madder, Harry understood then, and Malfoy was a victim of it, too. If Harry didn’t like being tumbled into the same bed and made dependent on someone else for food and escaping the water, neither did Malfoy.
That was the best way to think of it. Focus on what made them similar, and not different. Cooperate to escape the trap.
Which was the way that Harry had been trying to think in the first place, thinking of Malfoy as one of his Aurors. He wasn’t sure why he’d stopped.
Because none of my Aurors have ever touched me like this. I’ve never been attracted or aroused by any of them.
And that was true for everyone, including Hilary Broadmain, the blonde and green-eyed Auror everyone else swooned over, or Shirley Cassel, who Department gossip said had been responsible for the breakup of three marriages and near-deaths in four duels. Harry had decided it was because he was busy all the time, and resolved to be less busy.
Now he had to wonder if it was because he was gay, and had always been just too busy to explore it.
Sometime, I’ll have to. But it would be beyond mental to think that Malfoy would make a good candidate for that.
Malfoy’s hands dipped up and down, swabbing the inside of his thighs. Harry wondered suddenly why the house hadn’t given them washcloths or towels to do this, and then scowled. Of course. That would be too easy. The house wanted them to touch each other, to use bare hands for everything; it thought it was easing a lovers’ quarrel.
“You’re tense again,” Malfoy whispered into his ear. “I don’t want you to be. The more relaxed you are, the better chance I have of a good meal and the sleep that I need tonight.” His hands swept up to Harry’s shoulders again, and he did that deeper touch that helped Harry more than the light one.
“I’m okay,” Harry said. “Just thinking about what the house will try to make us do next.”
“I know,” Malfoy said. “But don’t think about that.” Harry rolled his eyes, but Malfoy continued in a quiet, insistent voice. “Think about your friends. Think about your case. Think about pounding me into the ground, if that’s what you want—”
Harry jerked in Malfoy’s arms despite himself. Malfoy paused, then laughed softly. “You try not to think of things that will stress you out more,” he said, his hands still sliding up and down, “and I’ll try to watch what I say.”
“Yeah, good idea,” Harry said, and hated that his voice came out breathless, and hated the way he could have sagged forwards and rested his forehead on the edge of the pool and gone to sleep right there. But he tried to remember what Malfoy had said, and started considering his Aurors’ combinations of partners, and the ones that worked well together, and the ones that he would probably have to change in a few months.
He was just relaxing finally, sure this would almost work, and Malfoy’s fingers came in, low, his hand spreading out under the water, his fingers curling up so that he very nearly cupped Harry’s cock.
Harry shut his eyes and held his breath and simply drifted. He reminded himself that Malfoy had said he wouldn’t touch Harry in places that Harry didn’t want him to without Harry’s permission, and then he reminded himself that Malfoy’s fingers hadn’t actually touched him there. They were just there.
And Malfoy pulled his hand back after a moment, so the way Harry had imagined it lingering and lingering was just his imagination.
“Come on,” Malfoy said, his voice back to deep and soft, and pulled Harry towards the side of the tub. Harry’s sigh when his arse bumped into the ledge that ran around the side of it and he found he could climb out was so deep that he felt a little shaky as he wrapped one of the towels waiting on the floor around himself.
Malfoy stood beside him, drying his own hair with both hands while the towel dangled limp and loose around his body. Harry stole a quick look, although he didn’t really want to; it was just something that happened. He tried to think about how he would respond to that pale skin if it didn’t belong to an enemy or he hadn’t just washed it, and came up with disturbing answers both times. He turned away, shuddering.
“You know the house may do worse things to us,” Malfoy said, calmly, not looking at him.
Harry nodded wearily and raked his fingers down his face, clearing his fringe out of the way and messing it up at the same time. “I know. But let’s take one challenge at a time for now. I’m hungry.” That was a small word for the way his stomach plastered itself against the back of his ribs.
Malfoy nodded, wrapped the towel around himself, and led the way up to the kitchen. Harry hesitated, then followed, Summoning his clothes. If he waited and tried to dress, the house would probably make them disappear or something
Chapter 6: For the Best
At least there was a hot meal waiting for them in the middle of the kitchen table: steaming, slick slices of delicate roast beef, with potatoes beside them, and soft, warm carrots, and some crunchy green bits that Harry couldn’t identify by name but which sure smelled good. He ate so fast that he nearly choked, and Malfoy reached out and touched his arm to calm him.
After that, Harry reminded himself that Malfoy was in a towel on the chair across from him, watching, as Harry swallowed, and made himself calm down and swallow a bit more slowly. A bit.
Malfoy polished off his own side of the meal first, even so, or perhaps he wasn’t hungry. And he sat there watching Harry, until Harry stirred and glanced up. “What?” he asked.
“I think I know what the house is going to do tomorrow,” Malfoy said.
Harry shuddered and glanced around at the walls. “Don’t give it ideas.” He swallowed more of his meal, the beef beginning to cloy and cling in his throat now. He didn’t want to listen to what it seemed Malfoy was about to say.
“I’m predicting, not giving it ideas.” Malfoy leaned over the table, and Harry unwillingly looked at the blond stubble on his chin. “It’s going to make us take food from each other’s fingers, and eat that way.”
Harry rubbed his face. “Won’t that make a mess?” he muttered, thinking of gravy and juice dripping all over the table.
Malfoy laughed. “I don’t think the house cares about that, not when it has the spells that bring us the towels and clean up the messes already,” he said.
Harry nodded and put down the fork. Not only was most of the food gone, so was his appetite. “All right. Then what do you suggest we do? Just think about it so we can be ready for it?” He had to admit that was an all-right strategy for him, and his muscles relaxed. It would be easy.
“No,” Malfoy said. “I recommend that we practice now.” He used his fork to scoop up a small amount of carrots and held it out.
Harry stared at him. Malfoy looked back with calm, ancient eyes, and moved the fork closer to Harry’s lips when Harry refused to say anything or open his mouth.
Harry stood and pushed back from the edge of the table. “I’m not hungry.”
“You’re hungry enough for this to work,” Malfoy said. “And if we do it on our own, maybe the house won’t force us to, because we’ll have already done what it thinks it wants.”
Harry shuddered. “Then it’s likely to come up with something even worse.”
“I can’t force you,” Malfoy said easily, his fork still waiting. “Of course I can’t. But I do think that it’ll be a lot easier if we yield now, if we do this instead of acting stupid and insisting that we can’t. No more stubborn fights like the ones we had today.” He hesitated, and then tried to smooth down and pretend that he’d just said all he had to say, but Harry caught the hesitation and glared at him. Malfoy sighed and added, “My potion may take as much as a fortnight to finish. And we could get free much earlier, I think, if we went along with the house.”
“Malfoy.” Harry leaned forwards and spoke in friendly concern. “Listen to yourself. You want to go along with the house? Where’s the Potions master who was so willing to have his own way that he cut into his flesh and blood?”
“Right now?” Malfoy gave a rippling stretch that almost made the towel slide off his shoulders, and Harry glanced away, flushing. “Trapped in a house that won’t let him go until he does some ridiculous things to satisfy it.” He sighed when Harry continued to look away. “Look, Potter. The house only wants us to perform certain actions. It can’t alter the way we feel. It can’t make us—I don’t know, what are you afraid will happen? That you’ll become so addicted to me that you can never get out of bed again?”
Harry spun, because dangerously dangling towels or not, that wasn’t the kind of challenge he could let Malfoy think he’d get away with. “Of course not! I only think that I want to share—I don’t want to have sex with you!”
Malfoy nodded. “You’re afraid of your first time not being special,” he said.
Harry rubbed his fists into the table and wondered if his face would ever stop burning. “You make me sound like a child,” he muttered. “Look. I’m not—it’s not as though I have fantasies of being special and making love to someone in a bed made of pink clouds while twittering bluebirds fly around us. I’m not bloody sixteen anymore.”
Malfoy’s voice had deepened. Harry sat back and forced himself to meet his eyes. Malfoy sat there, looking at him, not moving, except for the fork of carrots trembling a little in his hand, but his gaze wasn’t neutral, the way Harry had assumed it would be.
“Look,” Malfoy said back to him, as though he assumed that repeating what Harry had said was the way to get on his good side. Harry narrowed his eyes and started to respond, but Malfoy stretched out his free hand and delicately rubbed the veins in the back of Harry’s hand. “I find you pleasant to look at. Arousing to touch, once I got over my stupid fear about admitting it.”
“Why did that happen?” Harry demanded. “How did you go so fast from not wanting to say anything about it to doing this?” He gestured at the way that Malfoy was playing with his hand.
“I think,” Malfoy said, his voice descending, “that it was because you didn’t laugh at me. I still find humiliation very hard to stand. But with you, I don’t have to stand it. And that interests me. You can think it’s a silly reason, but this version of you is someone I wouldn’t mind sleeping with.”
Harry looked at Malfoy’s eyes again, and tried to ignore the odd feeling of standing naked on a high rock with a clean wind blowing. It was ridiculous that looking at Malfoy could give him sensations like that, anyway, and reminded him of the sixteen-year-old that he had so earnestly disavowed being.
“So,” he said. “What you’re saying is that we’re both good-looking blokes, and we’ve grown past the children we used to be, and there’s no reason not to sleep together and try to convince the house to let us out early for good behavior.”
Malfoy laughed, an almost noiseless pant with his eyes narrowed, his nose lifted, his tongue curling out. Harry watched him, and swallowed. His erection had never gone all the way down, and now it made him feel as though he wanted to rub against the chair—not that he would ever do anything so humiliating with Malfoy watching.
“A good way of putting it,” Malfoy said, and reached out to hook his fingers in Harry’s hair and tug his head closer.
Harry opened his mouth to protest that they’d been going to eat carrots, but he tasted Malfoy’s tongue instead, and it was good.
Useless to pretend that his body didn’t want what it wanted, and this was all about the body. Harry told himself that the reason he was still practically a virgin was his uptightness. He might not think of sex the way he had when he was sixteen, but he was still too preoccupied with waiting for just the right time, for just the right person, for making too much of it.
Now, he leaned in and let himself go.
He liked touching Malfoy’s neck, and at least he could get his hands in position to choke the life out of him if Malfoy taunted him about this later. He stroked up and down Malfoy’s throat, his fingers lingering near the collarbone, and Malfoy hummed and said Nice so many times that Harry almost changed his mind about strangling him.
The table was in the way, and they really needed the bed for this, always assuming the house didn’t shrink it on them again. When Malfoy stood up, dropped his towel on the chair, and tugged Harry along towards the bedroom, Harry followed, and didn’t even think too much about how Malfoy was naked. He’d already seen Malfoy naked more than once now, after all.
When they got to the bedroom, Malfoy was the one who tumbled Harry on the bed first. Harry tried to take back control by grabbing his shoulders, but Malfoy took his hands, kissed both of their palms, and said, “This will be good. Trust me.”
Harry didn’t, particularly, but enough for this. Just the body, he repeated to himself as he spread his legs and leaned back, letting Malfoy climb up so he was kneeling in front of Harry, between his thighs. Just sex.
And so far, it felt pretty bloody brilliant.
Malfoy skimmed his fingers up and down, up and down, until it started having the same effect on Harry that the light touches in the bathtub had and he squirmed for Malfoy to hurry up and touch him. Malfoy knew it without being asked this time, and ducked his head down, mouth opening to lap where Harry most wanted him right now.
Harry closed his eyes. There were some things that he could cope with and some things he couldn’t, and watching while Malfoy sucked him was on the second list.
But Malfoy was good. His tongue changed direction, his mouth grew warmer or tighter or looser at a suck, and his hands were brilliant at coaxing Harry to spread his legs or lift his knees or touch himself right in front of Malfoy’s fingers. Harry breathed faster and faster, and wondered why he had waited so long to try this. At the moment, the reasons for holding back and clinging to his virginity seemed very far away.
Harry knew that Malfoy had said it, that he hadn’t just imagined hearing it, and his stomach spasmed. He gasped and reached down, not sure what he was aiming for, but Malfoy moved to the side and ensured it was his head that Harry brushed and clung onto, his mouth that Harry was poised above.
Harry scrambled and slipped. He shuddered through all the orgasm, not sure he liked it, even when he was also sure the pleasure was almost overwhelming. That was the problem, though. It was so deep. Was it like that all the time?
If so, sex with someone he actually liked might kill him.
He dropped his head back and panted at the ceiling when he was finished, and Malfoy’s fingers brushed against his groin, smearing in the liquid, rubbing it in circles. Harry was sure that he didn’t like that, so he sat up and caught hold of Malfoy’s wrist.
Malfoy looked up at him, and Harry had to shut his eyes, because there was a little bit of him at the corner of Malfoy’s mouth. He leaned in to capture his mouth and stroke his tongue up and down, grimacing at the taste. He would have to get used to it, though. He had no doubt that Malfoy expected him to return the favor.
When he started to slide down towards the end of the bed and tug Malfoy up, though, Malfoy resisted. Harry blinked at him, and Malfoy cocked his head to the side and raised an eyebrow. “Are you sure that you want to do this?” Malfoy asked. “It’s a difficult task for virgins, especially keeping their teeth out of the way.”
He wasn’t even out of breath, which was more than Harry could say for himself. He held his breath for a second until he was sure that it was properly reined in, and then said, as nice and normal as he could be, “All right. Is there something you would prefer me to do, instead?”
“This,” Malfoy said, and pushed Harry directly back where he had been. Harry hissed as he landed in the wet spot. Malfoy rolled his eyes and grabbed his wand to dry it, which made Harry wish he’d kept quiet. If he never had to repeat the experience of having a wand pointed at his cock again, it would be too soon.
Malfoy didn’t seem to notice Harry’s flinch, or decided it would be a good idea to keep what he thought to himself for right now. Of course, Harry thought, as Malfoy leaned over him and stared into his eyes like a lion deciding where on the body to start eating, if he insults me, he must know that he has less chance of getting off.
“Stay still,” Malfoy whispered. “Or thrust back, if you like.” He smirked, a whip-like smile that chased his mouth into an expression that much more resembled the one Harry was used to seeing. “A lot of people I’ve been with can’t keep themselves from doing it.”
The last thing Harry needed was the reminder that Malfoy had been with lots of people and this was his first time. He scowled back and would have opened his mouth, but Malfoy bent down and kissed him at the same moment as he began to rub his groin against Harry’s.
Harry gasped and wriggled. But it wasn’t due to Malfoy’s prowess, whatever the bastard thought. It was because his groin still ached and tingled from oversensitivity, and Malfoy seemed to pick out the spots that ached most and choose them for the unexpectedly rough ridges of his own cock, the bumps of his hips.
Malfoy moaned. Harry stared at him. Malfoy’s mouth had fallen open, his breath heaving out so fast Harry was surprised he could still keep on all fours. He was flushed a dangerous, dark red; his hair dangled around his ears; his head dipped down and his mouth sought Harry’s again as if he was about to faint.
It must feel a lot better to him than it does to me, Harry thought, and reached down between Malfoy’s legs before he could stop himself, taking Malfoy in hand and rubbing gingerly back and forth.
Malfoy gasped and tossed his head back, eyes rolling, fingers clenching down as though he was going to tell Harry to stop.
Instead, he whispered, “Go faster. Go harder. More to the sides. Think of how you like it when you wank.” His hips surged forwards, butting into Harry’s, and Harry took a deep breath and stroked while trying not to think that, yeah, he was wanking Malfoy.
And he liked it. He liked watching Malfoy’s flush deepen until his face was purple and he was bedraggled and wispy and disheveled and sweaty, and he came with a grunt and a collapse straight onto Harry’s chest.
Harry closed his eyes and wiped his hands on the sheets behind him. He was too tired to use his wand with a Cleaning Charm and hope that it would have any degree of accuracy.
Malfoy rolled off him when Harry heaved and pushed him, and said some mumbling words that Harry couldn’t interpret. Harry started to roll over to the side. Maybe the house would give them more room in the bed now that they had done what it wanted.
Instead, Malfoy caught his wrist and lifted Harry’s hand to his mouth again, turning it over, kissing the pulse, the palm, and each of the fingers. By the time he had finished, his eyes were open and he was licking his lips.
“I want to,” he said. “Again.”
He rolled Harry beneath him and reached down for him, and Harry yelped and batted his hand away. “I can’t yet,” he said between gritted teeth. “Too sensitive. Sex maniac,” he added, because the smile hadn’t disappeared from Malfoy’s face.
“Then let me ride your leg,” Malfoy countered.
Harry hesitated. But really, as long as Malfoy was rubbing himself off against Harry’s leg—which was what it sounded like—then what harm could it do? At least it meant no one would touch Harry’s groin again right now, and it might finally calm Malfoy down so he could go to sleep.
“Fine,” he said, laying back and spreading his legs so that Malfoy could climb on top of one and get it between his own legs, which he did with a delicious groan that seemed to make Harry’s chest ripple, as well as Malfoy’s. “If that will shut you up.”
Malfoy chuckled breathlessly and shifted into position, settling himself with a small bump and a groan. Harry leaned his head to the side. Malfoy could satisfy his desire, but Harry had no intention of watching him while he did it.
But somehow, he ended up doing exactly that, staring as Malfoy’s head snapped up and down and his hair flew back and forth. He was riding fast, his face screwed up in a way that made Harry wonder whether he was getting any enjoyment out of it. He made several small noises and resettled himself each time he made one, then went on riding.
His mouth hung open near the end, his hips pumping and flexing until Harry lifted his hips to echo them. Malfoy opened his mouth and smiled lazily at him, holding out one hand as if he was going to invite Harry to share in his pleasure.
His hand made a long swing and completed the arc at the top, holding it there as he shuddered and came, following the descent of his orgasm with a descent of his body. Harry shifted far enough to the side that he nearly fell off the bed, but he didn’t want Malfoy breathing all sour and sticky into his nostrils, thanks. It was going to be bad enough sleeping in the same bed when the house insisted on crushing them together.
But Malfoy lay beside him, snoring already, his hand in place on Harry’s hip. Harry cast a Cleaning Charm before he dared crowd any closer. Malfoy didn’t stir. Harry sighed in relief as he laid his wand aside; maybe the house would be satisfied with this and not make them do anything else in the morning.
So. He’d had his first sex. And survived it.
Malfoy was right. He’d been making far too big a deal out of nothing.
Chapter 7: Sing the Difference
Harry jumped awake. He’d been dreaming of solving a puzzle, squatting beside the brightly-colored pieces spread on the ground, and then he knew he was lying on a pillow, someone huge and warm pressed beside him, his hands sprawled in uncomfortable directions and a hand playing with his groin.
Playing, as if his cock was a toy. Harry reached down to take it away, because it annoyed him more than anything else, and then the hand turned sideways and brought such a rush of pleasure into his life that he froze and groaned, stomach churning.
“Good morning,” Malfoy said into his ear, soft and friendly, and squeezed again. “How about a morning wank?”
Harry would have said yes, but his throat was as crowded as the bed, and he couldn’t force the words out past the blockage that had taken up residence there. He shut his eyes and turned his head to the side until his tongue could flick out and up and down Malfoy’s wrist. Malfoy chuckled and started stroking him.
Harry kept his eyes closed the entire time, but he could imagine how he looked anyway: half on his side, half on his arse, flexing under Malfoy’s constant soft touches, rubbing against his knuckles, rubbing against his palm, rubbing pretty much everywhere. He was sure that he looked silly, or abandoned, or something else.
But there was no one else here to see except the house, who frankly didn’t count. And if Malfoy ever tried to tease Harry about it, all Harry had to do was bring up the way he had looked last night.
“You sound good and smell good and feel good,” Malfoy said into the back of his neck, to the point that Harry didn’t know how he could hear him. Maybe his ear was closer than he’d thought to Malfoy’s mouth. Maybe that picture in his head wasn’t so accurate after all. “But I bet you’d feel even better if you stopped thinking, for once.” His fingers clasped down and ran back and forth, loose but tightening on every stroke now.
Harry trembled. The pleasure had leaped up to a new height. He found himself touching Malfoy’s wrist, moaning softly as his hips began to answer the insistent motions.
“That’s it,” Malfoy said into his ear, and then leaned over and kissed him, tongue lapping at his teeth as if Harry had sweet-smelling morning breath instead of the disgusting kind.
Harry kissed back, and maybe Malfoy had cast some sort of special spell, because his morning breath tasted pretty sweet to Harry, too. Harry kissed, and kissed, and let go, enough that it was a surprise to hear Malfoy moan and pull sticky fingers away, because Harry had almost forgotten he’d come.
“The house knew what it was doing,” Malfoy whispered thickly, and rolled on top of Harry before he could contest that. Harry thought Malfoy was going to rock against him again, but instead, Malfoy sat where he was, straddling Harry’s lap and staring at him, his arse twitching but not moving.
“What?” Harry asked, shivering a little now as his skin started cooling. It seemed unbearably silly, suddenly, to be trapped like this, under Malfoy, who had a gloating expression on his face. Harry had to take a deep breath and remind himself about the house before he could lie still.
“Touch me,” Malfoy said. “I—want what you can make me feel.” And he leaned back until he was sprawled against Harry’s knees, which must have been as uncomfortable as all fuck, but he didn’t sit back up. His legs fell open, and he waited.
His eyes never left Harry’s. That brought an uncomfortable, prickling flush to Harry’s face, but it also reminded him, again, of what this was. Nothing more than touching. And Malfoy would be humiliated if Harry told someone else about him wanting Harry. They each had equal leverage on each other.
Harry still reached out slowly, checking Malfoy’s face. Malfoy’s lips parted, and he began to pant, his legs stirring uneasily in the bedclothes. Harry touched his cock, tried to assimilate the smooth hardness of it, knew he didn’t do a good job, and then just gave up and began to stroke back and forth.
It wasn’t the way he liked to be touched himself, but Malfoy squirmed and moaned. Harry’s face flamed now, and he was really glad the house didn’t have portraits. He tightened his grip when Malfoy whispered that he should, and Malfoy went back to his rocking, only this time he wasn’t just concentrating on Harry’s leg or groin. It was his hand, Harry’s willing touch, and it made Malfoy’s head move in slow, counterclockwise circles, his tongue dangle out and his breath pant.
It made Harry want to keep stroking him.
Luckily for both of them, Malfoy came before that could happen, and Harry took his hand back and performed a Cleaning Charm. Only on himself, though. Even though Malfoy was dripping and smelled bitter, Harry couldn’t bring himself to disrupt the expression of sleepy contentment on his face.
Malfoy opened his eyes when Harry’s legs began to tremble. “Hmm,” he said. “Wonderful, but I’m not going back to sleep.” He leaned down and cupped Harry’s cheek.
Harry squirmed. Malfoy really did look right now as if he was reconsidering their bargain, and would tell someone else all about the stupid things Harry did in bed and the embarrassing sounds he made. His hand was so steady. His eyes were piercing, and he seemed to be trying to memorize Harry’s features.
“I’m not a werewolf,” Harry blurted at last.
Malfoy blinked, then leaned back without taking his hand off Harry’s face. “What made you think I thought that?”
“You’re looking at me as if you expect me to change shape,” Harry said, and shook his head. “It’s not—never mind. We’ve done what should really satisfy the house, and now I’d like to sit up.” He looked pointedly down at the mess on his stomach.
Chuckling, but in a way that made it sound as if he were panting and caused Harry’s stomach to quiver again, Malfoy rolled off him. “I predict that the house won’t let us shower this morning at all unless we’re both in it and washing each other,” he said, rolling his head in a clockwise direction this time and touching his neck with a frown as it made a cracking noise.
“And you have to keep giving it ideas,” Harry muttered, bending to pick up the robes that the house had placed neatly on the floor.
Malfoy stopped him with a long, sliding touch to his shoulder. “Why dress?” he murmured. “We’ll only take the clothes off in a few minutes anyway.”
Harry closed his eyes and swallowed through a dry throat. “I’ll feel better if we do,” he said. “I don’t know why,” he added, anticipating Malfoy’s next question. “I just will.”
Malfoy paused, then withdrew his hand. Harry opened his eyes to see him shrugging. “If you want to do that, then you should,” Malfoy said, and turned, rolling over so that Harry could see the line of his shoulders for a long moment before Malfoy bent down and pulled on a pair of soft slippers that the house must have provided.
They walked down the corridor in silence. Harry was aware of the burning glances, though, the quality of the silence. Yesterday, it would have been merely not saying things; now it hummed with things unsaid.
As Malfoy had prophesied, the shower gave them water at all only when they were both inside it, and the gentle, warm sprays of water that made Harry groan again. When Malfoy put his hands on Harry’s shoulders to wash him, and poured shampoo into Harry’s hands so he could do the same thing for Malfoy’s hair, Harry discovered he didn’t want to protest.
This time, the work Malfoy put Harry to was preparing geraniums by crushing them with a pestle and mortar. Harry at least knew how to do that, although he was less sure about exactly how crushed the geraniums should be. Malfoy had to lean over his shoulder at a few points and take his hands to show him how to do it.
Malfoy lingered when he was done. Harry closed his eyes and stood there until Malfoy withdrew, with the same panting chuckle he’d used that morning.
Harry licked his lips and tried not to taste the strawberries that, sure enough, the house had only let him eat from Malfoy’s fingers, moving the plates away or just thinning the food into insubstantiality when he tried to pick them up.
Malfoy touched him casually through the morning—reaching past Harry to get something and letting his arm brush him in the middle of the back, using his shoulder as support when he leaned far over the cauldron, and boosting him from below when he wanted Harry to check something on the highest shelves of the Potions lab. After the first time, when he nearly squeaked, Harry gave up complaining about it, too. The house was full of ideas already, and he didn’t need to give Malfoy any help.
At least they did get to stop and eat lunch this time, and it was some kind of salad that had to be served with forks instead of fingers. Even better, Harry thought, and didn’t stare into Malfoy’s face when he was eating, because that would be ridiculous. He looked at the fresh green and gleaming lettuce leaves instead, at the tines of the fork, at the walls of the kitchen and the merrily humming refrigerator.
“If you could duplicate the spells on the house and make them obey a pair of wizards instead of trapping them, you’d make a fortune,” he muttered at one point.
Malfoy paused, holding a fork that dripped with cheese and soft egg and more lettuce over the middle of the salad. “How so?”
Harry blinked at him, then remembered that not everyone was an Auror and what to him was an obvious application might escape them. “Because we could carry safehouses along with us,” he replied. “It’s hard to find shelter in the middle of a chase, and especially shelter that might not expose you to the very criminals you’re hunting. A house in the middle of a dimension that no one else could see, and which had its own food and showers and bedrooms? Perfection. Maybe we could even modify the windows so that we could see our prey and always know where they were going in the morning.”
Malfoy snorted and held the fork out to Harry again, forcing him to open his mouth and accept it. “I was unaware that you chased that many wizards who couldn’t Apparate. Or are sixteen-year-olds taking up Dark Arts in unprecedented numbers now?”
Harry laughed, then choked, then spent a few minutes cleaning half-masticated leaves from his face while Malfoy looked in the other direction. If I want him to leave me alone, then, just make sure that my table manners are unacceptably bad, Harry decided with some glee. “No,” he said. “But the places that people can Apparate out of Muggle sight are more limited than you might think, given all the Muggles who like to live in isolated places and wander around in them, too. And there are the corridors—”
He shut up. Malfoy looked at him and selected a smaller forkful, this time crumbled cheese alone. “Which ones?”
“The corridors of the Ministry,” Harry said, biting his lip. He felt that wasn’t a big enough punishment; he would have liked to slam his head against the table like a house-elf. “I mean, when someone commits a crime in the Ministry, they can’t just Apparate out right away. They need to run, and—”
“You’re not a convincing liar,” Malfoy said, smiling at him, as if that was information he was providing Harry as a service. “And there would be no need for a safehouse in the Ministry. Explain.” He tapped the fork against Harry’s chin. “After you eat your cheese.”
Harry grimaced and opened his mouth. Malfoy touched the fork gently to his tongue, so that Harry at least had a choice about whether to swallow or not. The cheese broke apart equally gently in his mouth and flavored his lips with a smoky tang, which only made the decision the harder.
“We’ve laid out anti-Apparition corridors over some parts of Britain,” he admitted at last, because Malfoy was gazing at him with a rapt expression and his assistance was still the best means that Harry had to get out of here. Either the potion or convincing the house they were lovers—Harry needed him for either plan. “They’re long and narrow, but we’re the only ones who know where they run. If we can herd a criminal into one, then they have to go straight ahead for a long time, and we can chase them.”
Malfoy paused with his fork in the salad again. “What a fascinating idea,” he said. “I presume that you weren’t the one who came up with it, since it is so fascinating. Who did?”
Harry shook his head. “I can’t tell you that.”
“Of course you can.” Malfoy reached out and tucked a strand of hair behind his ear. “Since you’ve already told me so much else, and you ought to know that I’m not going to give up now.” His fingers slipped along Harry’s face and down into his mouth. “I know more about you than anyone else does now.”
Harry sneered and kept silent. Malfoy might know what Harry was like when he had sex, true, but compared to the depth of knowledge Ron and Hermione had about him, that was paltry.
Malfoy handed the fork to Harry and leaned back with his limbs draped loosely along the chair, his mouth opening. “Now,” he murmured, somehow without quite closing his mouth, “you can feed me.”
Harry moved around the table and picked up the fork, making sure to get a good amount of lettuce on the fork each time, so that Malfoy would have trouble speaking. Malfoy was faster at chewing and swallowing than Harry had counted on, though, and not at all shy about holding onto Harry’s hand to keep him from overfeeding him. Harry recoiled at the first touch, and Malfoy laughed. “A bit silly, don’t you think?” he asked, and passed straight into his chosen subject before Harry had a chance to answer. “I wonder how much money I could make from selling this potion to the Aurors, then, always assuming that I could exactly duplicate the mistake’s effects.”
“Not that much,” Harry said, keeping his eyes on the way that Malfoy’s hair parted on the top of his skull. It looked like it might start thinning early. That cheered Harry up. “It would be useful for me, but I think the Department might set a different value on the potion, and they probably wouldn’t end up buying it from a known criminal.”
“A Potions master who stayed out of trouble?” Malfoy touched one hand to his chest, smiling at Harry. That made Harry think about how he had made that chest flush, but although he blushed, it would have seemed silly to look away now. “I’m not a criminal. I got involved in this completely innocently.”
“You interrupted an Auror raid you knew was in progress,” Harry said. He had to concentrate, to remember both what was needed to get out of the house and that the house wasn’t the whole of the world. Somewhere out there were Aurors with good arguments for why they could put Malfoy in prison. “That’s going to be suspicious to someone.”
“And you won’t put in a good word for me?”
Not trusting the way Malfoy’s voice had fallen for one moment, Harry went back to the salad, and feeding Malfoy enough to satisfy him and keep him quiet. And Malfoy let him, after studying Harry’s face for a few seconds. Harry wondered what magical ingredient in his expression had changed Malfoy’s mind. He’d probably never know.
“You don’t want to go swimming?”
Harry didn’t look up from the seeds that Malfoy had handed him about mid-afternoon. He didn’t know what they were, but they burst with a sweet-smelling cloud of dust when he crushed them, and got milky fibers all over his hands. “Looking forward to cleaning up,” he said, holding out a hand. “Not swimming.”
“We haven’t been in the pool yet.” From the sound of it, Malfoy was over on the other side of the lab, putting away the ladder that they could only use to reach the high shelves if both of them were touching it.
“We don’t have to use every corner of the house,” Harry said, and finally ground down the last seed so that it lost all trace of its round shape and he could toss its mangled corpse in with the others. “We’ve barely used the meditation room since that first day, either. Where did you want these?”
“Those are the final ingredient in this stage of the potion,” Malfoy said, and now he had moved up behind Harry. Harry wished he knew who had given Malfoy lessons in stealth. He could do with some of them for his own heavy-footed Aurors. “And you’re going to help me stir them in.” He reached around Harry and scooped up the seeds he’d crushed, somehow doing it with his hand held like a spoon so that none of the fibers or dust got on him. The bastard.
Harry shook his head. “Aren’t you afraid that I’ll ruin your potion if you do that? You know Snape never trusted me to put the potions together.”
“In this case,” Malfoy said, his voice soft against the nape of Harry’s neck, “I think it best.”
Harry closed his eyes and reminded himself again that this was about fooling the house, and Malfoy would have objected to touching him just as much as Harry objected to touching him if it wasn’t for the house.
As Malfoy’s arms twined around his and his hands lifted Harry’s hands, though, to lever the seeds to the cauldron, it didn’t feel like that. Harry shook and burned and bit his lip, and he could hear Malfoy breathing behind him, as unsteady and trying-for-casual as two of Harry’s Aurors had been when he caught them snogging in front of a suspect.
But so what? It was silly to feel so much anxiety about it, the way Harry had done for so long, and it was silly to think that Malfoy attached a lot of importance to it, or that anyone should. Harry kept his eyes fixed straight ahead, and had the satisfaction of seeing the seeds drop straight into the cauldron at last, without his hands trembling and adding random scraps of skin or something, the way Snape would have claimed they did.
When the seeds hit whatever was at the bottom of the cauldron, though, they did send up a huge puff of dust, and Harry coughed as it hit and coated his face. Malfoy laughed behind him, and ducked.
“Bastard,” Harry croaked aloud this time. “Of course you didn’t get any on you. You were using me as a human shield.”
“Are you suggesting that there’s some other shield you could be, Potter?” Malfoy’s hands were still on his, pressing his fingers down and also twining around them as though, of all the stupid things, he admired the shape of Harry’s hands. Harry shook them off and turned to face Malfoy. He surprised a slightly slack look on his face before Malfoy blinked and focused on him. Then he just cracked a smirk, probably because Harry had all that dust on his face and looked like an angry snowman.
Harry rolled his eyes. “Fine. Now can we go eat dinner?” He turned his back and walked steadily towards the door from the lab, which would force Malfoy to follow, since he couldn’t work with anything in the lab when Harry wasn’t there.
Malfoy stepped up behind him and said, “But don’t you want to go for a swim and get cleaned up that way?”
“Tergeo,” Harry snapped, and gasped as the spell swept over him and left his skin stinging and tingling in its wake.
Malfoy had stopped walking. Harry turned around and saw him studying Harry with a slow motion of his eyes from side to side that probably had some secret Slytherin meaning, but which looked as though he thought Harry was mental.
“The house would have prevented Cleaning Charms, I thought,” Malfoy continued in a low voice, “because it wanted us to shower or swim together. But obviously it didn’t consider that you were mad enough to use one that hurts. Congratulations, Potter. You’ve successfully come up with ways to make the house think you’re mental.”
“It’s my proudest moment,” Harry said, and bowed to each of the walls, and then burst out laughing from the sheer look on Malfoy’s face.
Malfoy continued to look at him, and whether it was silly or not, what was between them and what they were doing and what they were discussing, Harry found the laughter becoming a smile.
Not enough of a smile to agree to a dip in the pool with Malfoy. But enough of one that he didn’t move away when Malfoy slung an arm around his shoulder to help him up the stairs.
Chapter 8: Sometimes
Malfoy was breathing it into his ear, his hands wrapped around Harry’s waist, his leg slung over his hips when they got into bed. Harry honestly hadn’t been thinking about it; he’d been thinking about the tear that had appeared in his robe for some reason, and whether that was a hopeful sign. It might mean that the house was getting sick of them or sick of tending to them and wanted to let them go.
But then Malfoy was there, and his erection was there, and Harry rolled his head over and kissed him and said, “Yeah. But let me be in control this time.”
Immediately Malfoy’s eyebrows bristled and he retreated to the far side of the bed, which still only meant a few finger-lengths separated them, his body coiled as if he was a snake about to strike. “If you found it distasteful, you could have asked me to stop,” he said, and even his voice was a hiss. “I don’t fuck the unwilling.”
Harry shook his head. Well, he knew how to talk to snakes, didn’t he? “Not that,” he said. “I just want to do what you did last night. It looked—it looked like it felt good.” He reached out and traced the curve of Malfoy’s hip.
Malfoy immediately smirked. “It did. But that means that you should do all of what I did last night, Potter.” He parted his lips and licked at the air as if he was tasting Harry’s cock all over again.
Harry rolled his eyes. “Only you would try to negotiate with someone in bed, Malfoy.”
“There speaks a virgin.”
Harry was tired of arguing about that, too. He settled the issue by pulling Malfoy back, rolling him over, and kissing him soundly, then reaching down and pushing aside the folds of the robe Malfoy had worn to bed so he could reach his cock. No point in being a coward if he had already decided to do it.
Malfoy almost stopped breathing when Harry took his cock in hand, and Harry smiled at him and bent his head down so that he could lick the tip. It didn’t taste as bad as he’d been fearing, or maybe Malfoy tasted better than Harry did. Always a possibility, Harry thought, and lay down fully so that he could really get his mouth to work.
Not so horrible, not so hard. Harry had to stop and keep breathing, had to keep his teeth back and listen to Malfoy’s sarcastic comments about his inexperience, and had to remind himself that he would probably choke when Malfoy came and that was okay, but in some ways, he liked it.
Especially the way that Malfoy kept writhing and parting his legs and giving these little whines in the back of his throat that he would undoubtedly deny if Harry asked him about them, and they sounded like the snores Harry had sometimes woken in the night to hear. This was powerful, and it gave him something to tease Malfoy about later, if Malfoy insisted on teasing him. Harry sucked and hummed and pulled, and Malfoy gave it up with a shake of his head and a flex of his hips.
Harry didn’t manage to swallow all of it, either, but even when he choked, Malfoy continued to look at him as if his face was a revelation, so Harry didn’t think he had done too poorly. He leaned back and looked Malfoy in the eyes, waiting. The throb from his groin was distant, and he really thought that he could wait hours, until Malfoy yielded and admitted that that had been at least okay.
Harry blinked in surprise, both at how fast the word had come and how the sound of it made his cheeks and chest sting, and then didn’t have any more time to say anything, because Malfoy had yanked Harry on top of him and was kissing him, hard, cutting Harry’s lips with his teeth and stabbing his tongue into Harry’s throat, which was still sore. Harry wrestled back, narrowing the kiss down to what he could comfortably handle, but he couldn’t withdraw; Malfoy’s grasping hands were still there, and he held Harry, and he wrestled with him, and his touch was worshipful and his eyes huge and gaping. Harry finally found himself in the position he’d wanted to be, seated upright between Malfoy’s legs, their groins aligned, and Malfoy was the one who rocked back and forth to start the rubbing before Harry got his wits back and took over.
And Malfoy was right. It felt good. It felt brilliant.
Malfoy’s slick skin and limp cock kept bumping up against Harry in ways that he’d never thought of before, but which made him hunch and hump and thrust back in desperation. He never wanted it to stop. He didn’t think it would be as good with anyone else. Malfoy had to give this to him.
He’d never wanted anything so much, and the skin-hunger increased until he was scratching at Malfoy’s chest and twisting his nipples and leaning over to kiss him, the way Malfoy had done to him when he was on top. He felt the swell of his orgasm beginning, and was almost sorry. He wanted to go on doing this.
He couldn’t. He came, and enjoyed himself, shuddering and aching and groaning aloud, but knelt there shaking his head and still wishing that the rocking could have continued.
He opened his eyes, and Malfoy was kissing him. Malfoy rolled until they were lying side-by-side, and continued kissing him, playing with Harry’s hair and moving his tongue lazily from place to place in Harry’s mouth.
Harry never knew when he fell out of the kiss and into sleep.
The next morning, there was no way Harry could get up early, because Malfoy was on top of him in a snoring cascade of weight, and the moment he shifted, Malfoy woke. He didn’t say anything, though. He just looked at Harry and stroked his hair, touched his chin, touched his eyelids, as if he was considering all the different parts of Harry and the way that they might work or not work.
Harry would have been better off with insults, he thought. He knew that the warmth and light in Malfoy’s eyes came from desire—because what other reason would Malfoy have to look at him that way?—but the continual gaze straight at him felt dangerous.
“Let’s go take a shower,” Harry said, when he found his own hands straying to Malfoy’s face and back and he knew that they would probably only lie here touching each other forever if this continued.
Malfoy smiled, but still didn’t speak, and didn’t smirk. He rose with his hand held out, and waited until Harry accepted it and stood. Harry could have pointed out that the bed was sinking under him and softening, and he probably couldn’t have risen without Malfoy’s help, but he didn’t want to. Malfoy would do something to the words, he would destroy them with his silence, and Harry still wasn’t in the mood to let him win.
Hasn’t he already? Harry had to wonder when Malfoy pulled off the robe that Harry had worn into the bathroom and dropped it on the floor, and Harry let him.
He led Harry into the bathroom and started the water, letting Harry step into the shower before him. Harry reached out, meaning to be business-like, and picked up the shampoo that he knew Malfoy preferred.
Malfoy made a small sound. Harry turned around, wondering what new mischief the house had come up with now.
He discovered that Malfoy stood there with his eyes fastened on the bottle of shampoo. When they rose to Harry’s face, they burned with the same kind of brightness and warmth that Harry had thought was dangerous in the bedroom.
He…likes it that I picked it up?
No, Harry answered himself as Malfoy pinned him against the wall of the shower and kissed him. He likes it that I remembered.
At least Malfoy spoke at breakfast, which meant he didn’t intend to preserve that creepy silence all day long. “When are you going to send a Patronus to your friends and reassure them that they don’t need to destroy the whole dimension the house is in to find us?” he asked.
Harry started. “Shit.” He’d honestly forgotten about it. It had washed out of his mind, and the past few days in the house had made him—not think about it.
He shook his head and drew his wand. The silver swirl of his stag had scarcely started to form in the air (and it came very fast this time, for reasons that Harry didn’t want to think about) when Malfoy reached out and clasped Harry’s wrist, pressing down with his fingers on tendon and bone until Harry winced.
“I didn’t mean that you should do it right now,” Malfoy said quietly. “I don’t think the house would approve, anyway.”
Harry blinked at him, then looked back at the bowl of fruit and bread that the house had set out in front of them this morning, without forks, because it doubtless meant them to feed each other with their fingers. Yes, it was smaller than before, and some of the grapes had started to turn into clusters of purple mist.
“What now?” Harry muttered, withdrawing his concentration from the spell and letting it disperse into nothing. “Is it that offended that we’re talking about leaving, even though we’ve been talking about leaving all along?”
“It’s that offended that you aren’t focusing on me,” Malfoy said, and leaned across the table with a strawberry between his fingers, and touched Harry on the forehead with his free hand, fingers sliding across the scar.
And that pretty much ensured Harry couldn’t focus on anything else for the duration of the breakfast. He had to lean in to Malfoy and bow his head as he listened, and laugh in spite of himself when Malfoy imitated some of the Aurors who had gawked at him during the failed raid, and answer questions that Malfoy was asking about his Patronus and how he had mastered it so easily. It was the most pleasant conversation they’d ever had.
It was one of the most pleasant conversations Harry had ever had.
He shuddered when he thought about that, when he realized that he was looking at the scars on Malfoy’s chest—he still hadn’t put on a shirt—and wondering what they would feel like if he reached out and carefully slid a nail down them, and at Malfoy’s hair and wondering what it looked like when he was in the lab after a long day of brewing.
He was in trouble. He could only hope that a lot of it came from being confined in the house together, and would wear off when they got outside.
If they ever did.
The stupid feelings didn’t stop in the lab, either. There, Harry found himself watching from the corner of his eye as Malfoy’s fingers flashed between the knives and chopped leaves with skill and precision. Harry knew he would never match that skill, or the precision, either.
“Keep your eyes on your own work, Potter.” But Malfoy’s mouth curved up when he said it, and he only gently pushed Harry’s hands back into work on the stirring rods for the small cups of thick milkweed extract that Harry was mixing up today.
Harry snorted weakly and turned back to his work without bothering to come up with a retort. Personally, he was amazed that Malfoy had decided to trust him with something so complicated, and he concentrated hard, blinking when drops of the extract sprang up and hit him in the face.
“You’re doing fine.”
That was Malfoy from the side, and Harry relaxed more than he had known was possible when he was around Potions. Instead of flinging the small bowls away and yelling, which he knew he would have done if he was with Snape or most of the Potions masters in the Ministry who had tried to tutor him, he slowed down and learned to stir so that no more drops would come flying out.
By noon, Malfoy announced that they were comfortably past the preliminary steps for the potion, and the main brewing was all that remained. Harry handed him the bowls of milkweed and watched as Malfoy stirred them into the potion, with the same soft and slender movements of his hands that he used to cut.
“What exactly does the potion do?” Harry asked. He had only known that it would let them escape, up to this point, and not questioned Malfoy about the theory or the effects. Which was a weird, deep kind of trust, when he thought about it.
“It convinces the house that we aren’t here anymore.” Malfoy flicked his hair out of his eyes and watched Harry with a smile that came more from the edges of his face than his mouth, which only moved to speak his words. “That it should reconnect to the outside world, because there’s no one to keep prisoner.”
Harry shivered a little. “And you’re sure that the house won’t just fade and take us with it?” It sounded like a gamble to him, even if Malfoy had invented the potion that produced the house in the first place.
Malfoy reached out and grazed his fingers down the middle of Harry’s chest, while his other hand kept moving steadily, stirring in the milkweed. Harry wondered where he had learned to do that, and then cut off that thought when it began to move in distracting directions.
“I know it won’t,” Malfoy said. “It’s to do with the potion that produced it, and the way that that potion embraced both of us. If I was here by myself, then the house would open the door the moment I felt safe. But with both of us, it’s more complicated. As your little stint in the meditation room showed us.”
Harry winced. “Yeah, yeah, I failed at that. You don’t have to rub it in.”
Malfoy’s laughter was as warm and thick as the steam now rising from the cauldron. “It’s not your failures that I’m interested in rubbing in.” His hand on Harry’s chest grew heavier, and he released the stirring rod he’d used to mash the milkweed in with a flourish. “We have time, you know, before I have to begin the next stage of the potion.”
“Time for what?” Harry asked, but he knew the answer before Malfoy leaned across the table and kissed him.
Harry lost himself in the kiss for longer than he wanted to, the weight of Malfoy’s tongue and the way it could dart and change direction more rapidly than he would have believed, the clamp of his hands on Harry’s shoulders that grew more insistent—
And then the heat on his elbow from the cauldron.
Harry pulled back, gasping and shaking his head. “I—I don’t think we should do this here,” he said, looking at the cauldron, because looking at Malfoy took more courage than he had right now. “If we knock the potion over, then we’re right back at having no option to escape the house again.”
“You want to leave the house,” Malfoy said, stepping back from him. Harry found it hard to read his face or his voice, but Malfoy’s jaw was set like stone as he began to unbutton his shirt. “You want to abandon me here.”
“I don’t mean that, you ridiculous wanker,” Harry said, shutting his eyes and raking his fingers through his hair until it turned into the offended, ruffled clumps of a pine tree battered by wind. This was good. Through the insides of his eyelids, he couldn’t see Malfoy, though he was sure that telling him that would result in Malfoy inventing a potion to cure it. “I mean that—this potion is the only sure means we have of getting away, and it doesn’t matter how much I’m enjoying the sex, I don’t want to be trapped here for the rest of my life.”
There was the wave of a wand and a few whispered incantations. When nothing happened to knock Harry from his feet and ravish him, however, he opened his eyes cautiously.
A shimmering shield arched around the cauldron, protecting it in every direction but from the bottom, so that the fire could still heat the inside. The floor of the lab had also become a mess of blankets and sheets, and a mattress so thick that Harry shuddered at the sight of it before he could stop himself. It looked better, tamer, than the bed upstairs, which kept changing size and shape at the house’s whim.
“Stop arguing, and come here,” Malfoy ordered softly, and had stripped himself more than half-naked when Harry looked up. He was working on his pants.
Harry shut his eyes and took off his clothes, because his desire was stronger than the silent arguments inside his head that things would only get more complicated if they did this.
Malfoy dropped onto the mattress with a plumping sound and beckoned Harry to join him. His hands and lips were strong and hot, drawing Harry down and into him more effectively than the mattress itself could have done. Harry kissed him helplessly, bowing his head, mouthing at Malfoy’s hair, wondering with half his brain if the house could have done this to them by itself.
Malfoy’s hands tightened as if he’d heard the thought and found it insulting, and then he rolled Harry beneath him and spread his knees with one leg. His eyes shone, and his hair swirled around him like the ends of flames. His breath panted in and out of his lungs as he rested his hand above Harry’s heart.
“Let me do what I’ve always wanted to do,” he said.
Harry snorted and shook his head. “And what would that be?” His throat was too dry from longing, making his voice sound strange. He licked his lips, cleared his throat, and tried again. “You know a lot more about this than I do. You’re the one who fucks men.”
Malfoy just grinned. Either Harry hadn’t managed to insult him or he didn’t consider it an insult. “And that’s what I want.”
“To fuck me,” Harry said. He thought about it, while his blood rushed through his veins and to the surface of his skin. He was sure that he probably looked like a cooked lobster to Malfoy, and wondered why Malfoy would find that attractive.
Then again, someone should ask him why he wanted to sleep with Malfoy, when he’d been so frantic not to before. Harry didn’t want to ask questions right now. He wanted to take hold of what Malfoy was offering him—if he only had the courage to grasp it.
He looked up, and let his questions wither away in the heat crackling between them. “All right,” he said, and spread his legs of his own free will.
Malfoy nearly fell over, staring at him.
“Is the house going to provide lube, too?” Harry asked, staring at the table beside the mattress, where he thought it might have appeared. “Or do you brew your own?”
Malfoy staggered up and over to the shelf where he had put some of the ingredients back. Harry watched him snatch up a little cauldron of what smelled like flowers, and then saw the way his legs trembled and shut his own open mouth.
Malfoy slid to a kneeling position beside Harry, his eyes so intense that Harry squirmed. Malfoy’s fingers dipped into the cauldron, and then shot out and matched Harry’s squirming pace, inside his arse. Harry groan-squeaked.
“You should hear yourself,” Malfoy whispered. He didn’t look up from Harry’s arse, which was apparently the subject of so much rapt contemplation that maybe this was the thing he’d wanted for years.
“I can,” Harry said, and then clamped his mouth shut, determined not to make another sound.
Malfoy glanced up and lit his tongue spill out from his mouth in what looked like a savage pant. “Not the way I can,” he said. “Or you wouldn’t look that way about it.”
And his fingers dug in, and dipped, and scraped, and Harry reckoned that it was all right to make a few other noises. Noises that Malfoy squeezed out of him, the way he was digging, but that was all right. Harry’s head rocked back and forth, and he held on. He was clutching the sides of the mattress, but that was all right, too. He had to grab something, and Malfoy’s hair wasn’t available.
Malfoy bent down, his neck turning so far Harry thought he would snap it, and opened his mouth. Somehow, his tongue found Harry’s cock. That made the heat come back, and weakened Harry’s hands, so they fell open and he floated in the middle of the pile of softness as though drowning.
“Turn over,” Malfoy whispered.
Harry nodded—maybe that would give him his body back again, make him feel less like this, if he couldn’t see Malfoy’s face—and turned and sprawled and clawed his way into position. Malfoy’s fingers never left his body, twisting now as though Malfoy had lost control of them. Harry tossed his head back and clenched his eyes, locking his teeth on his lip. Some noises were all right, but not the one he felt building in him now.
Malfoy’s fingers pressed deeper, and a third joined them, and Harry lost the battle.
“Yes, give it to me,” Malfoy whispered, and before Harry could snap back that that sounded like something he should say to Malfoy instead of the other way around—at least if Malfoy was honestly any good—he was pulling back, and Harry had only a moment to brace himself before Malfoy pushed into him.
It itched and burned. Harry made another noise, and Malfoy kept pushing in. Harry bowed his head and locked his hands on the edges of the mattress again. He thought Malfoy would keep thrusting and drag him forwards, but he would fight back the only way he could, since he had been mad enough to let Malfoy into his body.
Instead, Malfoy paused, and panted into Harry’s ear. Harry turned his head away, wondering what the house would think of that, and deciding that he didn’t fucking care. He hurt right now.
“So good,” Malfoy told him. “Get on your knees, though, Harry. All the way beneath you, not like this.” He tugged at the sides of Harry’s arse, at his hips, as if he could force him up that way, when his weight was part of the forces holding Harry down.
Harry snarled and refused to move. When Malfoy kept pulling, he finally said, “Get bent, Malfoy. Take what you want and get out.”
Malfoy paused. Long moments passed in rocking stillness—rocking because Malfoy was still thrusting, unable to control his hips. Harry lowered his head and shut his eyes and told himself that desire wasn’t a good reason to do things after all.
Then Malfoy whispered, “I’m sorry. I didn’t know it hurt that much,” and kissed his ear, and the back of his neck, and reached around the edge of Harry’s hip for his cock.
Harry surged upright at the touch of Malfoy’s hand. Incredible, that his stupid, sick body still wanted this. Maybe it was good, though. He would let Malfoy fuck him, and they would get the fuck out of here, and then Harry could find someone to fuck that would teach him how good it could be and make him forget all about this.
“Fast and hard is the way to do it,” Malfoy whispered, and thrust again.
The pace was so brutal that it jarred Harry’s bones and jaw. He felt Malfoy’s fingers curling and rubbing on his cock, and the cock inside him moving constantly, and he whined, caught between two kinds of sensation so sharp that he didn’t know whether he was hurting or feeling good at any particular moment—
Then Malfoy hit something inside him, and Harry would have melted back into the mattress again if he hadn’t locked his knees. Malfoy kissed his ear again and hit it, and hit it, and hit it.
“Yes,” Harry said, the word ripped from him in spite of himself. “Shit, fuck me.”
“That’s what I like to hear,” Malfoy said, and went to work before Harry could find the breath to tell him that he was still a bastard.
Malfoy never stopped, never paused, always thrust. Or at least it felt like that, and at the moment, Harry wasn’t inclined to quarrel with what he was feeling. Sensation ripped and roared and spiraled through him, from his belly up to his chest, linking his ears to his elbows, his jaw to his cock. He gave out sharp noises that he didn’t have a name for, and Malfoy whispered to encourage every one of them.
The orgasm consumed him completely, and Harry lay limp after it was over, his body still resonating with pleasure, and thought, So that’s why it can be good when someone’s inside you.
Malfoy didn’t seem to mind that Harry was lying flat now, even though his hand was trapped under him. He just collapsed forwards and kept his hand in the same place and used his hips harder than ever. Harry could hear him wheezing, feel the sweat dripping on his back from above. He did the only thing he could, and lay down on Malfoy’s hand more heavily.
A groan, a shake, and Malfoy was done. Harry reckoned he looked a right mess, that both of them did, because Malfoy was lying on him still sweating and shaking as though someone had tried to poison him.
Pleasure can be a poison, in its own way.
Because of that, and because Harry’s Auror training had taught him to be sympathetic to people who were recovering from physical wounds, Harry waited until Malfoy had slid off him and was lying on the mattress in a tangle of exhausted limbs. When Harry fought his way up onto his elbows and glanced over at him, Malfoy’s lips were parted and shone with a sticky sheen. His hair clung to his cheeks. Harry’s chest still ached even when he looked like that, though.
This is stupid.
Harry shook Malfoy harder than he’d meant to on the heels of that thought. Malfoy’s eyes opened, but he didn’t turn his head. He seemed too exhausted even for that.
Harry sighed. “Look, Malfoy, I think we ought to stay and sleep here for a while. The lab doesn’t seem to think that it ought to alter the size of the blankets, not like the bed upstairs.”
“Very good idea,” Malfoy whispered, rolling his neck towards Harry this time. “And not only because I don’t think I could move.” He began to grin as Harry watched him. “I can’t believe how good you were.”
“Yeah, it was pretty good,” Harry said, thinking about the potion and how he didn’t want to hurt Malfoy’s feelings and how many different things would have to change the minute they were out of this stupid house.
Malfoy gave a grumble that mixed a lot of different words into it and rolled over, his arm slinging over Harry’s back. Harry didn’t let that stand, but rolled and rocked Malfoy back and forth until they were in a position that was comfortable for both of them. Malfoy was snoring softly by then, and Harry thought that he could have got up and walked out of the lab and Malfoy would never have heard him.
Or maybe not, he had to admit, when Malfoy’s hands tightened on Harry the instant he shifted to the side.
Harry reckoned it was all right to close his eyes for a little while and doze, since they were so tired and limp and sated. Just for a moment.
Chapter 9: We the Living
“I’m hungry. And I want to go swimming.”
Harry started and opened his eyes. From the cramp in his neck, he’d been asleep a long time. And Malfoy was up, sitting on the edge of the mattress with his legs folded, dressed, as though he’d spent that time watching Harry sleep.
Harry yawned and stretched out both arms and legs, sprawling them in all sorts of different directions until he felt Malfoy kick him. “So go on,” he said, and let his eyes flutter shut. “If you want to swim, I mean. I’m not stopping you.”
“The house would probably make sure that I couldn’t go in the pool by myself, given all the other things it’s done already,” Malfoy said, words gentle on the surface but rough along the edges. “Come on—”
He paused so abruptly that Harry rolled over, moaned at the twinge in his arse when that happened, and looked up at him. Malfoy’s hand rested on his throat, and he stared at his fingers as though they had choked him. Harry sat up and rested a hand on his elbow. “What’s wrong?”
“I couldn’t say your last name,” Malfoy said. “I can’t—Harry Potter.” He hesitated, then said, “Well, that time I could. But I think—I think the house doesn’t want us calling each other by our last names anymore. It’s fine when we say it as part of the whole name, but it wants me to call you Harry.” He met Harry’s gaze evenly.
And Harry felt the odd little catch in his own throat when he would have said Malfoy’s surname, the drag and the click that shut him up in ways that he didn’t wish to be shut up. He snarled, and his hands formed into fists in front of him.
“You can say it,” Malfoy whispered. “Harry.” His hand was on Harry’s chin, bending his head back so that he had no choice but to meet Malfoy’s eyes, weirdly intrusive. “Say it, Harry.”
“Draco,” Harry snapped, and the invisible bit vanished from his tongue. “You realize that that doesn’t mean I want to call you that all the time?”
“I know that,” Malfoy said, with a weird smile on his face that Harry distrusted instinctively, and would have distrusted still more if he didn’t know Malfoy was suffering under the house’s restrictions as much as he was. “But while we’re here, that’s what we need to call each other.” He pulled Harry to his feet with an easy tug and offered him his shirt. “Now, hurry up. I want to go swimming.”
Harry sighed and tugged the shirt on, though of course Malfoy didn’t offer him his trousers and he didn’t look for them. If they were walking only a few paces, from room to room, there was no reason to ask for them anyway.
“I’ll go with you if you answer one of my questions,” he said, and then sighed when Malfoy waited expectantly. “Draco.”
Malfoy nodded. The wide smile had vanished from his face, but Harry thought he could see traces of it lingering in his mouth.
“Why do you like this?” Harry asked. “Me calling you by your first name, and having sex with you—all right, the having sex part I can understand.” One of Malfoy’s eyebrows had gone up, and Harry could only imagine the devastating things he would say in a minute if Harry didn’t retract that part of it. “But the rest of it? I know that you didn’t like me before we came here. We were never friends. Why didn’t you want to leave as much as I did? Why are you able to put up with this so much better than I can?”
Malfoy studied him in silence for a few seconds. Harry began to shiver, and Malfoy cast a Warming Charm at him and then turned and left the lab. Harry hurried to catch up, not wanting to know what the house would do at the moment if either of them tried to stay alone in a room.
“You’re right that I never liked you,” Malfoy said over his shoulder. “But I did envy you. And not because of your fame or because you were the one who received the fawning adoration of the crowds.”
Harry rolled his eyes so hard that he winced a minute later, and Malfoy laughed, stopping on the side of the pool and pulling his clothes off again. Harry started to look away, then decided that he had the right to look if anyone did, and admired Malfoy’s long, sleek muscles as he emerged.
“For that, too, then,” Malfoy said, and shrugged, and slipped, and then he was in the water, although he shivered. Harry pulled off his shirt and joined him, and felt the edges of ice beginning to form in the water melt. “But most of all, it was your friends. I thought Weasley wanted to be close to you to get some fame of his own at first, and that Granger saw you as a research project. Then I started thinking that no research project or desire for fame would keep me at your side through all the dangers they endured, and I knew it must be something closer to real friendship.”
“They’ll take that as high praise, they will,” Harry muttered, and began to swim to the far side of the pool. Malfoy kept up with him easily. No reason why he shouldn’t, Harry decided. Aurors weren’t the only ones who might receive some training in swimming.
“Listen,” Malfoy said. “Just listen.”
Harry felt a thickness like a collar settle into place around his throat and decided that he probably couldn’t do much else at the moment. He sighed and leaned against the far side of the pool, letting his legs float out in front of him. Malfoy settled close enough for them to brush shoulders.
“That was what I envied you for,” Malfoy said. “I had friends, but they drifted in and out and away from me. Pansy was really only my friend for as long as there was no risk or danger to it. She abandoned me during our sixth year. Millicent and I were never close, and Blaise and I were too alike and mocked each other. Theodore—I don’t know, I think we knew too much about each other as the children of Death Eater fathers. Most of the other Slytherins didn’t try to approach me. There were Vincent and Gregory, though.” He shut up and stared at the far side of the pool.
Harry hesitated. He had never liked Crabbe and Goyle, and he hated the way that Malfoy had encouraged them to bully people. But he remembered what had happened in the Room of Requirement, and no matter what he thought about Malfoy or the way that he was acting about this stupid house, it was a pretty fucking awful thing to see one of your friends burn to death.
He reached out and laid a hesitant hand on Malfoy’s shoulder.
Malfoy turned to him and took a deep breath. His eyes were enormous, enough that Harry could see floating flecks of other colors in them. Green, and hazel—his eyes reflected light the way the water dancing around them did.
This is stupid. Stop.
But Harry didn’t think he could look away or quit touching Malfoy even if he wanted to, although he couldn’t blame those things on the house, either, not with the way that Malfoy was staring at him or the way he had reached up to clamp his hand on top of Harry’s.
“Vincent died,” Malfoy said, struggling through emotions Harry could guess at and never, ever wanted to experience. “And Gregory didn’t want to talk to me after that. He blamed me for Vincent getting killed. I—understand that. But it just meant that the friendships I’d thought were always going to be there burned and cracked apart. And I was on my own, with no one but my family. They loved me, but that wasn’t enough.”
Harry pictured what Ron would say if he could see Harry sitting there and listening to Draco Malfoy’s confidences. Then he shrugged. Ron wasn’t here, and Harry wouldn’t tell him about it if Malfoy wouldn’t.
“So,” Malfoy whispered, “I envied you for your friends harder than ever. Even when they seemed to blame you and distance themselves from you, they always came back.”
Harry nodded, thinking of Ron. Jealousy could affect him sometimes, but he would be there when it most counted, to rescue Harry from icy water and admit that he was wrong after the Triwizard Tournament.
“Now, you’re talking to me and listening to me and touching me like you mean it and not running away for the sake of running away.” Malfoy lifted his head and stared at him, his hands clenched in the water as though he expected to have to fight for his life in a minute. “You could have been stubborn and stupid enough to go on resisting even when the house changed the shape of the bed on us. You could have tried to hurt me instead of letting me brew the potion, but instead, you trusted me enough to do that. You could have tried to kill me, even. You could have done anything rather than let me touch you, or have sex with me, let alone as often and enthusiastically as you’ve done it.” Harry glared, but Malfoy seemed to take that as encouragement, if anything, from the way his eyes glowed. “You were willing enough to go along with it, which means that you don’t see me as the ultimate evil or a person too terrible to be with. I don’t care that this situation is artificial. You’ve still given me something I’ve always wanted, and let me experience it from the inside, the thing you experienced with Weasley and Granger.”
“I didn’t let them fuck me,” Harry said, the minute he felt the collar loosening from his throat.
Malfoy utterly ignored that, instead leaning forwards until his forehead hovered a little distance from Harry’s scar and whispering, “Thank you.”
Harry flinched. There was no retreating, not now, and he didn’t think he would get away for as long as Malfoy wanted to hold onto him, either.
That wasn’t all the house. It wasn’t all Malfoy, who was strong, but not as strong as Harry. Harry could have pushed him away and gone on pretending that there was another way to get out of this house, or at least got along with him but nothing more, and starved and gone without sleep. He had done harder things when he was with the Dursleys, and he had been a lot younger then.
But part of this came from him. He had wanted to understand Malfoy and get along with him and get out of this house more than he had wanted to preserve his own independence and autonomy. He looked away and shut his eyes as he thought about that.
No getting out of this. No backing away.
Which meant there was a strong chance that it would continue in the future, too, and he wouldn’t be able to change things when he and Malfoy were out of the house.
But things would change. Malfoy won’t want me as much, and Ron and Hermione will surround me and talk about how they’re friends with me, he isn’t, and help me distance myself from him…
Malfoy laughed quietly beside him. “I can see the struggle going on in your face,” he explained, when Harry opened one eye and looked at him. “You’re so open. So easy to read.”
Harry turned his head away again. “Then you know that this is only going to last as long as we’re here, and not beyond that,” he said, controlling himself with an effort. “You’re all right with that?”
Malfoy moved, gripping his shoulder with one hand and his throat with the other. Harry kept his eyes steadily on Malfoy’s face. He didn’t think Malfoy would really hurt him, but the emotions that boiled between them were more dangerous.
“I know that it’s real right now,” Malfoy said. “And you can’t take the memory of the experience from me. That’s what I meant.”
“I wouldn’t try to Obliviate you,” Harry said quietly, reaching up and prying at Malfoy’s hands until he released his grip. “But I don’t want you to sabotage the potion or do something else that would get us stranded in this house for longer than necessary. I want you to remember that it’s going to end. That’s all.”
Malfoy watched him with an inscrutable face for a moment, then nodded. “It will end,” he said. “It will change. But not even you can say in what way, yet.”
Harry grunted and shrugged away from Malfoy. “I still need to think of something to say in a Patronus, and especially why I didn’t answer Hermione’s for such a long time,” he muttered, stretching out for the far side of the pool. “Why don’t we swim while we think about that?”
“I would prefer that you think about me,” Malfoy said, but softly enough that Harry could ignore him if he wanted, which was exactly what he planned to do. He swam beside Harry without attempting to stop him or kiss him again, which was everything else that Harry wanted right now, anyway.
Harry decided, as he felt the water brush smoothly along his skin and Malfoy splash around and past him, that it was better to just apologize and then go on without telling Hermione why he’d forgotten about answering her. She would probably assume that it was due to the difficulty of getting any message past the house’s wards, and that way, Harry could avoid arguments with both his friends and Malfoy.
And he would mention the nature of Malfoy’s potion, too. Hermione wouldn’t know the exact recipe, but she might have ideas about brewing portions of it faster so that they could get out.
Malfoy’s arm brushed his as they were climbing out of the pool, and Harry thought back to the mattress in the lab and what he’d let Malfoy do to him there. What they’d done together.
I have to get out of here, and see what’s real and what isn’t.
Mercifully, the house played no new tricks with the food or the bed that night, and Harry slept deeply and woke up with Malfoy in his arms and his head resting on his chest. His hand traced slow, empty patterns around Harry’s nipples, but at least Harry was somewhat used to that by now.
“We should go down to the lab,” Malfoy whispered, right before he twisted his head to the side and kissed Harry.
Harry yielded, because he did want to, and at least this was something both of them had chosen, just at this moment, and not something the house had enforced. Malfoy held him and moved on top of him, moaning softly, his legs stretching and squirming every which way. Like tadpoles, Harry thought, and wanted to laugh.
Instead, he kissed Malfoy and pushed and pulled him about until he was settled in a position that was comfortable for both of them. Their groins fitted together, their cocks rocked against each other at the same time, and Harry was crying out before he realized it, trying to kiss Malfoy so it would be muffled.
Malfoy pulled away, though, and shook his head. His face was flushed, but nothing was brighter than his lips and the glisten of saliva on them. “No,” he said. “I like hearing you.”
Harry yielded again, and groaned and screamed and moaned and cried through the rest of it, which ended faster than the other times they’d done this, with slick skin and Malfoy stiffening above him and crushing him when he cursed, and Harry feeling Malfoy’s tongue in his mouth at the exact same time as he came himself, while Malfoy stroked his hip and hummed smugly into the kiss.
“We need a shower,” Malfoy said, sitting up. Harry watched him, the scars on his chest and the ribs showing through his skin on the left side. He would get too thin if he didn’t watch himself, Harry thought. He needed to remember to eat when they got out of here, and not simply sit in his lab and experiment. “Then we should have a meal, and then go to the lab.” His hand came and rested on Harry’s shoulder. “In the afternoon, we can do this again.”
“What if we get the potion finished today?” Harry rolled away and sat up, watching Malfoy, mainly to see what he would say.
“Then it’s finished, and we escape,” Malfoy said, his lips twitching upwards, his eyes so bright that Harry cautiously decided that he’d been telling the truth, and really did want to leave. “But I don’t think it will be. I still need to infuse it with my magic, and with my blood. And I want a clean knife in the lab before I do that.”
“Blood magic?” Harry said, before he could help himself. Malfoy looked at him, and then gave Harry’s damp and sticky chest a long glance. Harry flushed, but said, “Every potion that uses blood I’ve run into is used to dominate or control someone else.”
“Of course,” Malfoy agreed. “It’s the house, in this case.”
Harry stared at him. Malfoy looked back at him, with his eyes gentle and implacable. Harry realized that was all the answer he was going to get out of him, and sighed, shutting his eyes and rubbing his face for a second.
“All right,” he said. “All right. I’ll send another Patronus to Hermione in case the first didn’t get through, and then come and help you with the potion.”
“No shower together, then?” Malfoy’s hand moved towards his chest.
Harry cast a Cleaning Charm, and it worked perfectly. Malfoy blinked. “I was sure the house would make it impossible for your wand to do that,” he murmured.
Harry paused. It sounded like disappointment in Malfoy’s voice. He shrugged a moment later and said, “I think that we’re getting along the way the house wants now, and that’s more important to it than any single action we do. But I’m only going to do this because of the Patronus. We don’t have as much time this morning.”
Malfoy nodded. “Good,” he said, and kissed Harry lightly, and rose to begin dressing, while Harry closed his eyes and once again concentrated on the silver stag. He had no shortage of happy memories to feed it with this time, although he didn’t think Malfoy would be grateful to know that one of them involved the way Malfoy had rocked above him, scars flaring on his chest and eyes shut with pleasure.
Or maybe “ungrateful” isn’t the problem. Maybe the problem is “far too smug.”
The stag appeared and pawed at the air for only a moment before settling back in resignation; it appeared to have accepted that there would be no Dementors around when Harry summoned it for quite a while. Harry leaned forwards. “Hermione, I’m making sure that my first message reached you. Malfoy thinks that he’s close to finishing that potion up—”
He hesitated, noticing the way that Malfoy watched him. Head bowed, eyes glittering at Harry, his arms crossed.
He’s waiting for me to mention that part of the potion is blood magic, Harry thought, while his face prickled and the moments stretched and the stag watched him, prick-eared, no less alert than Malfoy was.
“Maybe not today, but soon,” Harry finished, looking at Malfoy and not the Patronus. “I’m sorry, again, because I didn’t contact you in so long. But we’re fine. The house hasn’t hurt us much. I need you to look through your books and see if there’s anything that we can do to speed up the process, though. There aren’t any books here. We’re just relying on Malfoy’s Potions knowledge, and the theory could have been messed up when the two of us blundered into this predicament.”
The Patronus bowed its head and bounded out of the room. Meanwhile, Malfoy and Harry watched each other.
“You didn’t tell her about the blood,” Malfoy whispered. “Even though you know the knowledge could be important to help her figure out if we’re doing anything wrong.”
Harry swallowed back the immediate retort he wanted to make, that Malfoy was the one brewing the potion and not him. At this point, they were collaborators. “I—she would only argue with me, and talk about how we couldn’t do the potion after all and would have to figure out some other way to escape. I don’t want to listen to it right now.”
Malfoy’s smile slowly warmed and expanded across his face. “Irritation. As good a reason for making important decisions as any, I suppose.”
“Oh, shut up,” Harry muttered, and rose to start getting dressed, aware that Malfoy watched him as much as he had watched Malfoy.
It wasn’t an unpleasant sensation. He simply wanted to know if it was real.
Chapter 10: Shattering the Webs
After that, it was surreal.
At least, it was for Harry. Maybe Malfoy had experienced such bouts of Potion-brewing before. Harry wouldn’t know, considering that he had spent only as much time in labs as he needed to to qualify for Auror training, and emphasis on Potions knowledge had decreased under Kingsley’s Ministry; most of the Dark wizards they chased seemed to rely on pure Dark Arts, the spells rather than the potions.
But when it went well, the way it was doing now, Harry thought he could see why people like Malfoy might dedicate their lives to this art.
Malfoy at his cauldron was a pleasure to watch. His arms swirled with delicate motions more graceful than any ghost’s. Harry watched him from the corner of his eye as he mashed the last seeds up—the seeds were bright red and shed a peppery dust that made Harry have to hold his breath some of the time—and Malfoy’s lips were twitching all the time, barely concealing a smile.
He stood back out of the way when fumes billowed up from the cauldron at one point, and avoided the red and stinging eyes that they afflicted Harry with. The touch of his hand on Harry’s back, and the sound of his voice as he cast the incantation that eased the stinging, was gentle.
“It takes some people that way, the first time,” Malfoy murmured into Harry’s ear.
Harry tried to find his voice, to remind Malfoy that after they escaped the house, he would have no reason to stand at Malfoy’s side and try to brew a potion again. But Malfoy’s hand tightened, and Harry turned his head towards him, to make sure that Malfoy’s face was the first sight he would see when the smoke finally cleared from his eyes.
After that, if not before, it was surreal.
Harry didn’t make another mistake. The pestle and the mortar moving in his hands felt as light and as natural as a wand ever had. He deposited the crushed seeds in a bowl from which Malfoy took them, with more of the graceful motions of those hands that Harry had to duck his head to watch, that made his breath come short as he watched them.
Malfoy caught him looking more than once, and more than once gave him the same long, slow smile he had showed when Harry woke that morning. But Harry didn’t mind it. They worked beside each other, and they were making good progress towards getting out of the house. He could hardly ask Malfoy for more.
He had asked him for more.
Harry shifted. His arse still stung, but not being a virgin any more felt less different and life-changing than he’d expected. He’d built it up as this huge thing that would change him completely in his mind, one of the reasons he’d been so hesitant to do something about it. What were the odds that he would find a partner who wouldn’t laugh?
What were the odds that he would find a partner who would take the gleeful, wicked delight in divesting him of it that Malfoy had?
Harry’s cheeks flushed, but he kept working through the embarrassment, and watching Malfoy’s hands as they swooped and rose. How many motions had he learned like that, by heart? How did he know just what to do next? How could he tell when the potion needed to be covered with a lid, or placed under a Stasis Charm, or moved away from with a murmured warning to Harry?
It’s the same kind of art that I have as an Auror, Harry realized slowly. Everyone keeps asking me how I can memorize all those defensive spells and get them working together. Monica Whistler said that she couldn’t believe I could fire so many hexes so close together in battle.
But you love something enough, you work at it, and it becomes instinctive, or close to instinctive. And Malfoy loves Potions.
Watching Malfoy, Harry thought he could understand that love himself. Not something he would ever have said before this.
Malfoy glanced up, smiled at him, and said, “As flattering as I find it to be drooled over, I do need your help for this next part of the potion. If I’m right, then I understand the modifications to the theory behind the house that we made when we stumbled into it. But both of us need to correct that mistake.” He turned to face Harry, stirring rod in one hand and chopping knife in the other, like some arcane wizard of the kitchen.
Harry swallowed the laughter that wanted to escape and nodded. “If you’re right?”
Malfoy only shrugged. “All of this has been experimental, Harry, and if you don’t understand that, then you’re a greater fool than I thought you were. I don’t think you are one. A fool, I mean. I think you enjoy playing one—”
“A lot of people think they can make me the butt of their jokes, if that’s what you mean,” Harry interrupted, and he couldn’t help the way that his hand dropped to his side and gripped his wand. Most of the people who had said things like that to him had attacked him in the next moment.
“That’s not what I mean,” Malfoy said, and held Harry’s eyes until he flushed and lowered his wand. “Now. Come here.”
The voice was quietly commanding. Harry moved forwards and stood across from Malfoy. Malfoy lifted his hands and spread them, then seemed to realize that he still held the rod and knife and put them down. When he spread his hands again, a web shimmered between them, thin as though it was made of torn tissue. Harry squinted at it, shook his head, and looked again. Now it looked as though it was made of silver thread starred with dancing bubbles, like a spider’s web in the morning.
“Yes,” Malfoy whispered. “I’ve arrived at the point in the potion where my own magic is interacting with the magic of the house. This is how it manifests. The house has established a sanctuary for us, and it doesn’t see that we have any reason to leave it. Hence the web, the symbol of strangling and imprisoning.” He turned his hands over, and Harry saw that the web had grown thicker and was creeping up his wrists.
“You didn’t say anything about this.” Harry worked on his outrage, making sure Malfoy could hear it but it couldn’t overwhelm Harry himself. If the house opposed them like this, then that meant there was a way they could fight it, even if not by bursting through the walls. And here Harry had thought he was reliant on Malfoy’s Potions skills all by themselves.
“I didn’t,” Malfoy said, staring at him, “because this is all part of the brewing process, no different than crushing seeds. But I did ensure that you could participate with me in it. That’s why I had you help brew.” He nodded at Harry’s own hands.
Harry looked down and saw the silver web hanging there. He jumped. The web swished against him, but Harry felt nothing more than the brush of a raindrop.
“Good,” Malfoy said, and his eyes were bright and his smile sharp. “Now that you can see it, we can destroy them.” He lunged forwards and moved his hands in a careful round, snaring his web with Harry’s. They caught and tangled like chains, and then Malfoy stepped forwards.
“Don’t you have to back up so that we can tug on them and shatter them?” Harry gave an experimental pull on his bonds, and felt nothing except an implacable push, like a wall, when he reached a certain distance.
Malfoy shook his head. “We’re ultimately fighting against a house that shoved us together and wants to keep us together.” Harry breathed deeply and fixed his eyes on Malfoy’s. “We have to show it that we’re together, but in our own way, not at its command.” He paused, then chuckled. “Yes, I thought that would inspire you, fighting an enemy. You should see the way your eyes lit up.”
Harry snorted. “A lot of my enemies have learned the way my eyes light up to their cost,” he retorted, and pressed closer to Malfoy. “Remember that.”
“Since I’m not an enemy, I hardly think I need to,” Malfoy said, on an exhaled breath so soft that Harry really wasn’t sure how he heard the words. “I spend enough time thinking about you as it is.”
Harry wanted to close his eyes and turn his head away, but that wouldn’t solve the problem, and was probably the equivalent of running right now besides. He was not going to retreat.
He stepped closer instead, when Malfoy gestured for him to do that, and murmured, “What do we do now?”
“Think about the things you were thinking about this morning.”
Harry blinked. How did Malfoy know about that?
“The expression on your face when you were brewing, when you watched me,” Malfoy whispered. “Or the sex we had. The house forced us to do some things, like give us each other food and share the shower and stay in the same room. But others were our choices. Think about the choices.”
Harry took a deep breath and closed his eyes. He was swaying a little from the force of the sense memories that assaulted him, he thought. Just a little. The memories pounced him and bowled him over, and he went with them, restless and dazed. His breath was coming fast as he thought about the way Malfoy had pinned him down on the mattress in the lab, and sucked him off, and held him—
“Yes, that’s it,” Malfoy whispered, and Harry felt the brush of his fingers and wrists and pulse as Malfoy knotted his hands around Harry’s.
Harry didn’t open his eyes to check, because the sight of Malfoy’s face would probably distract him. He just thought, about hands and tongues and lips and the way he had reacted, the way he had wanted Malfoy, the way he moved when he brewed the potion, and how he teased and joked but was overall decent to Harry. His helplessness hadn’t lasted long; he was taking the lead in rescuing them. He hadn’t been unreasonable for long enough that Harry hated him for it, either. He would have been more unreasonable in Malfoy’s place.
He swayed, and he breathed, and then he heard a splintering crack, one that made him want to fling himself on top of Malfoy to protect him from imminent danger. He probably moved without thinking about it, because the next moment, he found his elbows hitting the floor of the lab and his chest hitting Malfoy’s. He blinked open his eyes, and shivered.
Malfoy raised an eyebrow at him and said, “Not that I’d object, you understand, but would you mind standing up so I can see our hands?”
Harry shut his eyes and shook his head, scrambling up and backwards. His whole body knew what Malfoy felt like and wanted more. He held up his hands, though, and miraculously kept them from reaching out and taking what they wanted.
Harry opened his eyes, prepared to see that they had failed after all and had to do something else to make the house relax its hold on them. Part of him wouldn’t mind; he liked the way they acted around each other now, how they worked as a team, almost like the way he acted with Ron as his partner.
But no, the spiderwebs were gone. Malfoy seized Harry’s chin, kissed him hard enough to make him pant, and scrambled back and faced the cauldron. That was still whole, Harry saw, and the table, and the instruments like the knife and the stirring rod that Malfoy had laid down beside the cauldron. The crack must have come from some of the house’s magic holding them in.
“You might even be able to leave the room, if you wanted,” Malfoy murmured. His back was turned, his head bent over the cauldron.
That didn’t fool Harry. He moved closer and took Malfoy’s shoulders in his hands, not holding them, simply using his palms and fingers to shape them.
“I don’t want to,” he answered.
Malfoy turned his head, and their kiss was lighter this time, but no less fierce, no less promising.
Harry opened his eyes with a start somewhere after midnight. He knew it was after midnight because the clock that the wall in the bedroom had obligingly sprouted this morning said so, and because Hermione’s Patronus was hovering in front of him, paws clasped as the otter scolded him.
“…until today, Harry! And now it’s midnight, and I’m trying to revise the information you’ve given me, and it doesn’t make sense! Something is missing, Harry. Some ingredient that Malfoy uses in the potion, or something else. Maybe a procedure that he’s used and hasn’t told you about. Get him to tell you, so that I can actually help the problem from the outside.” The otter’s voice softened. “We miss you. We want you back.”
The otter dissolved into wisping smoke, and left Harry blinking. Malfoy sat up behind him, rubbing his back and saying nothing. Harry finally felt secure enough to turn to him and smile. “Sorry you had to hear that.”
“She’s right,” Malfoy said. “After all, you didn’t tell her about the blood in the potion, and the theory she’ll try to work with doesn’t make sense without that.”
Harry nodded uncertainly. His world had gone strange again, he thought, surreal like that afternoon of watching Malfoy brew. He ought to want to be out of this house more than anything in the world.
In the beginning, it had been like that, especially because he wanted to make sure that the case of the Solitary Brewer ended with the Brewer’s capture, not escape. But he hadn’t thought about the case that much in several days. He hadn’t counted the minutes or spent every one thinking up new insults for Malfoy, the way he had been sure he would.
“I don’t mind being here with you,” he said aloud, because a revelation like that had to be shared.
“I like being here with you,” Malfoy responded.
Quiet, but the words struck Harry nonetheless, hard as a blow. He turned around and reached for Malfoy’s shoulders almost angrily, because that was like the git, wasn’t it? To challenge him, to come up with words that were more profound than his own, to show that he had come as far as liking Harry while Harry was still struggling with the admission that he might be okay with someone—
Malfoy met him kiss for kiss and scramble for scramble, and Harry—though he blamed that on the small size of the bed more than anything else—ended up near the edge with his head hanging off it. Harry struggled and wheezed with rage, and Malfoy leaned up and off his chest so that he could sit there.
“I don’t need you to talk to me like I talk to you yet,” Malfoy said, words keen as sleet. “I need you to realize that this isn’t ending, that the house’s walls can fall and I’ll still be there, that not everything disappears because this dimension does. Can you promise me that, Harry?”
Silence, and Harry turned his head away, because he didn’t know that he could, not really, and Malfoy’s fingers were tightening on his shoulders as though he was going to rip muscle from bone after all—
“I told you,” Malfoy said, voice soft as a breath now, “you don’t need to call me the same things that I call you.”
But Harry’s sense of fairness woke up at that, because it really wasn’t fair, to leave Malfoy struggling like this, to have him make all the promises. And weren’t Gryffindors supposed to be the more courageous ones, anyway, the ones who gave their hearts without hesitation and responded when someone all but said he loved them?
He. That was going to be a sticking point with Ron and Hermione, too, who had never known Harry as any different than he’d presented himself with Ginny.
But it wasn’t a sticking point with Harry anymore, and it was silly to pretend that it was. He reached up, noticing the way his fingers shook, before he put a stop to that by burying them in Malfoy’s hair. Malfoy looked down at him, quick and intense, and shook his head. Harry knew without his speaking that he was silently refusing a kiss to put an end to the conversation right now, if that was the only purpose Harry had for it.
“I can promise you that I’ll be there, that I won’t vanish because the house does,” Harry said, although he trembled and his breath would have come out as cold, shaky clouds if anyone was around to look. “I can’t promise that I’ll still be your lover. That’s what I promise. Draco.”
Malfoy was on him then, hands tugging and ripping again, although Harry only wore a shirt and pants to bed and they came off easily enough. Then Malfoy pulled back and hovered, eyes on Harry as though the scars on his back were a surprise, while Harry laid his head on the pillow and his heart pounded and sang in his ears, Draco, his name is Draco.
“What?” Harry demanded, when the looking had gone on long enough to make him feel that every inch of his skin was scattered with embers.
“I’m trying to decide how I should have you,” Draco said casually. “We’ve done so much so far, and it’s all satisfying, but what would be the most particularly satisfying thing for this particular moment?”
Harry propped himself up on an elbow and stared earnestly at Draco. “I’ll tell you a secret.”
“Yes?” Draco bent down, his mouth crooking up in a smile that Harry had never seen before and wanted to see again and again.
But not enough, right now, to keep him from whispering into Draco’s ear, “I’m not a bloody potion.”
Draco drew back, blinking at him. “I know,” he said, and his voice took on a caressing tone that made Harry blush. “Why would you think I didn’t know that?”
“I’ll thank you not to approach me so methodically, if you do know,” Harry said, and held his eyes without turning away.
Draco shook his head, a small frown working its way across his lips for the first time. “I’m only speaking. It’s only a matter of speaking, Harry.” He reached out and traced his hand from Harry’s shoulder to his hip in a way that almost made Harry forget what they were talking about—but only almost. “You can tell me what to do, if you want to,” Draco added, his eyes darkening with passion, “and that way, it will be even less like brewing a potion, what with you in charge.”
“Tempting,” Harry said, catching Draco’s hand as it reached out for him again. His breath was catching in his lungs and the pace of his heart making him almost feverish, all from the way Draco was looking at him. “But I want to say this first.”
“Then go ahead and say it.” Draco dragged his chest impatiently up and down against Harry’s shoulder. “I grow tired of waiting.”
That strengthened Harry’s resolve to say what he wanted to say. Maybe the words were silly, but Draco was getting his way a lot lately. He had got his way more often since they came into the house, as a matter of fact, because he had been the one to adapt to sex and the shower and the food more easily. Harry didn’t think he was in a conspiracy with the house, not exactly, but this had been easier for him, and Harry was determined to make the sex maniac listen to his point of view for once.
“If we’re going to stay together once we’re out of here,” he said, “then things will have to change.”
Draco ducked his head and looked up at Harry from under lowered eyelashes. “You promised that you would stand up for me to the big, bad Aurors.”
“I didn’t promise,” Harry said, and shook his head when he saw the way Draco was frowning. “Oh, it doesn’t matter. Look. We’re not going to spend all our time alone, and we’re not going to spend all our time having sex. We’ll have to talk about how this is going to work. How much time are you going to want to spend with me? Are you really going to want everyone to know about this right away, when I’m a public figure?”
“I’ll have you know that there are brewers who know my name, as well.” Draco bristled.
Harry kept himself from rolling his eyes because he didn’t think it would help right now, but he decided to remember that Draco had that bitter little trace of jealousy still hidden inside him. “I know, but it’s different for you. Some of the people that were just rumored to be with me had a pretty bad time with all the owls dropping on their heads and jealous rivals stalking them. Is that what you want? Or are you going to need privacy?”
“You want to lie to them.” Draco sat up and wrapped his arms around his knees as though for protection against the cold. “You want to tell your friends that we’re not really lovers.”
“My friends will have to know,” Harry said. “Of course. I’m talking about the public, and the people who make up the public. Do you want them to know?”
“Why do your friends have to know?”
Harry checked his sigh and nodded to the place near the wall where Hermione’s Patronus had hovered. “Because they already know a lot, and they have a place in my life that no one else does. But they won’t spread gossip. How much we’re out in public and what they think about us will really be up to you. What would make you comfortable?”
“I don’t see why you should value them more than me.” Draco was staring at him with his eyes narrowed. Harry had to resist the urge to look down and make sure that his chest hadn’t changed form somehow. “Who took your virginity?”
Yes, mention of that could still make Harry flush. He hoped fervently that he wouldn’t have to put it in quite those terms to Ron and Hermione, who probably suspected that he was still a virgin in most ways but wouldn’t want to hear about it. “What does that have to do with anything?” he snapped back. “So you took my virginity. That doesn’t make you more important than my friends.”
Draco struggled in silence for a moment, and then said, “What if I want to be?”
Harry swallowed. He felt a lump sticking in his throat that was a lot like the one he had felt when the house forbade him to call Draco by his last name. “I—then you’d have to find someone else,” he said. “I mean, you’re important. You’ll be important to me for a long time, if you want to be. But I won’t say that you’re more significant to me than my friends. Why would you want me to?”
“I told you what I wanted,” Draco said in a low, charged voice. “Why I was almost grateful that the house trapped us in here, for the experience of your friendship.”
“And you also said that you knew it might not last,” Harry snapped. “Listen, Draco, everything will be different when we get out of here. Maybe not the emotions, but we won’t be alone together anymore. My friends will come back into my life. You knew that.”
“You’re speaking now as though that matters more to you than the time we spend here.”
“Of course it does,” Harry said, and then watched the wounded roll that Draco took away from him and realized what he’d said, or what Draco had probably thought he meant. “No! I mean—I mean that we’re going to spend more time outside the house than we are trapped inside it. The whole rest of our lives, I hope.” He tried to soften his words, and he held out his hand, but Draco was turned away and didn’t see it. Harry let it drop, and tried to ignore the urge to clench his fingers into the bedsheets. “Listen, Draco, I want to be with you. I do. What I’m trying to get you to consider is what you want.”
“To stay here, if what you offer me is the only alternative.”
Harry didn’t manage to check the sigh this time. So now we come to it. “I won’t stop being Ron and Hermione’s friend,” he said quietly. “I’m willing to try being your lover. But is that what you want?”
Draco’s silent, turned back answered him.
Harry shook his head. “I don’t know what to say to you,” he said, rubbing his hands through his hair. “The house brought us together. We can try remaining together. But things won’t be exactly the same when we get out. You know that. Of course you know that. What is this, the last gasp of denial?”
“I’m trying not to be,” Harry said, and made an effort he hadn’t thought he was capable of to gentle his voice and sit back with his arms unfolded and his legs open, making himself vulnerable down to his hard cock, which was still enthusiastic because Draco was nearby. “What do you want? Seriously. That doesn’t involve staying in the house, because you know as well as I do that we’ve worked too hard for that.”
Draco continued to sit with his back turned for long enough that Harry thought he might never say anything again, and Harry would have to get up from the bed and escape from the house and do everything else he wanted by himself. Then he said, “I want you to promise me that you won’t leave.”
“I will,” Harry said instantly. “Stay with you, and let you determine how much publicity you’re comfortable with? I can do that.”
Draco turned around. “And you’ll be my lover? And you won’t tell your friends?”
Harry held his eyes until he hoped Draco could see how heartbroken he was about this, and then slowly shook his head. “Sorry, but I can’t,” he said. “My friends know, I told you. There’s no possible way they can’t know, when they realize that we spent time together. But they won’t bother you about it. And I don’t know how real my own emotions will be once we’re out of the house.”
Draco squirmed towards him. His face was so intent that Harry half-expected a slap when Draco got to him, but he held still and let him come. Then Draco was all but pushing him backwards, his hands in the center of Harry’s chest, his face passionate with anger.
“You don’t know,” Draco whispered. “You can’t make any promises. You won’t think that anything that happens here is real, even when you know bloody well it was.”
“I’m not lying,” Harry snapped. “Not to you, and not to myself. I was trying to pretend that this meant nothing, and I know it does, now. But how much is what I have to figure out. Once we’re out of the house, with nothing forcing us together, then I can figure out how much I honestly feel for you. And it’s honesty you deserve, not a false lover.”
“It’s you I deserve,” Draco said, voice lowering. “As much time as I’ve given you, as much emotion as I’ve poured into you—”
“That’s ridiculous, to think you deserve another person—”
“This house has given us so much, and you’re just going to throw it away like the gift doesn’t even matter to you—”
“It’s given you more than it has me—”
“You have no idea what you’re saying—”
“It is more in tune with your wishes, or at least you could adapt to it,” Harry snapped, thinking again of the way that Draco had looked at him with cool eyes and held the fork out on the day when they first had to start eating from each other’s servings. “You were more experienced than I was. You wanted my friendship, and I hadn’t even thought of you in years. That’s an advantage, Draco. You might not think of it that way, but it was—”
“I never even thought of us as engaging in the same kind of stupid contest that you want to make this into—”
“I did,” Harry said. “Because I was more uncomfortable than you were with what was happening, and that meant I had to think about it. And I want to leave this house, and I want to face what comes next. Just because you’re too much of a coward to do that—”
Draco slapped him.
Harry clapped a hand to his stinging cheek and stared at him in silence. Draco stared at him with parted lips as though he understood what had happened no more than Harry, and for a moment, Harry was tempted to tell himself that, to ensure that he forgave Draco—
But no, why should he? Everything he had said was true, and that Draco had put this much effort into the potion and into building up a relationship with Harry and then would balk at the notion of leaving the house disgusted him. He let his disgust show in his face, in the curled lip, in the way he dropped his hand away from his cheek and left the red print there for anyone to see who would.
Draco stared back, his hands looking oddly defenseless even as he curled them into fists. Harry thought he felt a low vibration traveling up through the bed, but he also thought it came from Draco, from the growl Draco was giving.
Then the bed dissolved beneath them like morning mist, and the walls parted, and the sheets were gone, and they were sitting in the Solitary Brewer’s darkened house, with Harry’s Auror robes and the first clothes Draco had worn crumpled in a pile not far away.
Chapter 11: Outside the House
“Harry. You’re all right.”
Ron’s voice was flat with exhaustion and disbelief. Harry found it so good to hear after so long that he didn’t really care. He nodded and fought to keep on his feet, because Ron—who had been waiting outside the Solitary Brewer’s house—had stood up and was staring at him. God knew what he would do if Harry fainted.
Particularly when Draco emerged from the house behind him, his head bowed as he scrubbed at his robes with the heel of one hand. He was scrubbing off soot and the like, but Ron still instantly raised his wand. Harry concealed a sigh and got between them. He knew what that expression on Draco’s face meant; he was getting ready to unleash a tirade. He would say that he had known all along Harry’s friends would react like this, and that was why they couldn’t know what he and Harry had done in the house.
“Did he hurt you, Harry?” Ron demanded. His wand had simply turned to the side, like a weathervane, to point around Harry’s head at Draco.
Harry moved again, and said, “No. He was brewing a potion that would have got us out of the house.” He didn’t look at Draco, because he thought that even one look might give them away, and he wondered what the hell the best course was. Should he tell Ron about them being lovers, when that might make Ron attack Draco and Draco didn’t want him to know anyway?
No. Not right now. He was going to wait, and he would speak when the air was clearer, without all these emotions flying around, and they could see what the best course would be.
“Would have got you out.” Ron pounced on that, of course. “But that means it didn’t, and that means something else must have. What was it, Harry?”
Harry grimaced and shook his head. “I don’t know.” He suddenly hoped that the print of Draco’s hand on his cheek wasn’t visible and that it didn’t sting as badly as it felt. That might be one reason Ron was acting hostile. “We were—arguing, and the house dissolved around us. I thought maybe you and Hermione had finally found a way through.”
Ron took a step back, but Harry thought that was only to get better aim at Draco. “We didn’t,” he said shortly. “Hermione’s been researching like mad, but she hadn’t come up with anything yet. Did you get her last Patronus?”
Harry swallowed, and nodded. “She said something was still missing in the list of ingredients I’d given her. It must be something I misunderstood. You know I’m pants at Potions theory.” And he kept his eyes pointed away from Draco, no matter the suspicious look that Ron flung him. No, he wasn’t about to get into the blood magic Draco had added to the potion right now.
“Well.” Ron finally lowered his wand, but spun it between his fingers, and still kept his hard, suspicious stare on Draco. “We have you back now, but I wish we understood what had happened better, and what’s going to happen next.”
“So do I,” Harry said, rubbing the back of his neck. It felt as though all his tension had concentrated there. The only mercies so far were that Draco hadn’t spoken, and there were no other Aurors with Ron; it looked as though he had been camping outside the Solitary Brewer’s house alone.
Ron shut his eyes and finally stepped in, gathering Harry up in his embrace. Harry hugged him back, his head reeling with exhaustion and confusion. He had no idea what would happen next, but he knew that he wanted to go home.
“It’s good to have you back, mate,” Ron whispered into his ear.
Harry nodded and said, “Same. What happened to the Solitary Brewer? Did you catch him?”
Ron grinned; Harry could feel it even before he pulled back and saw it on Ron’s face. “He was just as distracted by the accident you had as anyone else,” Ron said. “He tried to snatch something—I think it was the vial that potion was in—but the smoke blinded him. I took him out of there.”
“Good for you,” Harry said, grinning back and feeling some small, curled-tight part of himself relax. He couldn’t do anything about the cases he had missed while he was stuck in the house, but he was at least glad that the Solitary Brewer couldn’t run around poisoning anyone else.
Draco pointedly cleared his throat.
Ron turned and looked at him. “Yeah? What do you have to add to this, Malfoy?”
Harry looked at him along with Ron. He saw the way Draco’s eyes lingered on the arm Ron had wrapped around Harry’s shoulder before turning pointedly away. Harry found himself caught somewhere between sighing and laughing. He had told Draco how it would be, that he would be back with his friends and they would have to know everything that had happened in the house if they were going to accept his relationship with Draco.
But maybe there was no relationship. From the way Draco was looking away from him, from the way his eyes had narrowed in that moment when he was still looking, he might have made the same decision he had been pushing Harry to make: that this was at an end, that they should just give up on it if they couldn’t be the most important people in each other’s lives.
“I can vouch that Malfoy wasn’t helping the Solitary Brewer,” Harry said quietly to Ron. “He came there because he wanted his potion back. The Solitary Brewer had stolen the recipe, but it really was an accident that the vial broke like that and affected both of us at the same time. Don’t charge him with anything.”
Ron snorted like a bull. “It isn’t really me that you should say that to, Harry. Tell it to the Auror hierarchy. They were ready to charge Malfoy with murder, or at least kidnapping, until your Patronus showed up and we realized what had really happened.”
Harry could imagine the way Draco’s shoulders would stiffen even better than the way he actually saw it happening. He rapidly shook his head. “I’ll testify for him myself, then. Do you think the Auror hierarchy would want to be roused out of their beds in the middle of the night to talk about why they would be wrong to arrest him?”
Ron started at him. “What? No. Of course not.”
“Then it can bloody well wait until morning,” Harry snapped, and moved away from Ron, ignoring the way his best friend was studying his back, to look at Draco’s face.
Draco stared at him, then flickered his eyes away. There was a look of defeat in his face Harry had imagined several times in the house, but found that he hated seeing when it was put into reality. They weren’t schoolboys anymore, and he didn’t really want to see Draco beaten down and humiliated.
But what they were to each other didn’t have a name at the moment. Harry put out one hand, but Draco stared into the distance and ignored it. Harry ended up dropping it back to his side and clearing his throat awkwardly.
“They’ll probably want to talk to us in the morning,” he said quietly. “I’ll speak up for you, and there’s no reason they should arrest you when you were the innocent victim in this.”
“That’s what you think,” Draco said, staring into the distance still. There must be something infinitely fascinating there, from the intense study he was giving it. “But the Ministry can always find new ways to screw you over when your name is Malfoy.”
“If you think the Ministry has screwed you over more than it has Harry during the years when they thought he was lying about You-Know-Who,” Ron began.
“It’s not a competition, Ron,” Harry said, and the quiet, vicious tone in his voice was enough to make Ron stare at him. Harry knew he would have to explain that later, but he didn’t care. What he cared about at the moment was getting some answers from Draco, defining what they were to each other since they had come out of the house.
But Draco continued to look into the distance, his hands clenched at his sides, and Harry was becoming aware of the large and deafening silence that beat between them, of how he wouldn’t be able to break through that silence if Draco was determined to keep it. He controlled the temptation to wave his hand up and down in front of Draco’s eyes. It would humiliate Draco without accomplishing anything else.
“You can go,” he said at last, and stepped back.
Draco walked away immediately. There was no glance back, no final farewell, the way Harry had thought there would be. Hadn’t Draco been the one who had acted like he was madly in love with Harry, or at least determined to remain with him once they were outside the house?
But no, he Apparated, and left Harry to talk to Ron.
Harry sighed and turned back to face Ron. Ron, who knew him. Ron, who was staring at him now, bent forwards at the waist, his folded arms dropping to his side and his face conscious with dawning knowledge.
“Holy shit,” he said. “Harry. After all the times that you talked about shagging being a waste of time and how you couldn’t understand the Aurors whispering and sniggering about it…you shagged Malfoy?”
Harry sighed. “We thought it was the best way to get out of the house at the time. Malfoy made the potion originally as a way to create a safehouse for one person. But with us both in there, the potion screwed up and created a house that seemed to want us to be lovers. We had to sleep in the same bed and take showers at the same time to use the hot water and eventually eat from each other’s hands. Being lovers was part of that.”
Ron studied him soberly for a moment, then gave him a smile. “The sad thing is,” he said, “with your life, I’m pretty sure you’re telling the truth.”
Harry woke from a sound sleep sometime after ten in the morning. Once again, he knew the time even before he cast a Tempus Charm to check because Hermione’s Patronus was floating in front of him and chattering away about it.
“…ten in the morning and you’re supposed to be at work, Harry! Ron’s facing an inquisition about where you are and why you aren’t at work if you’re really back, safe and healthy, from the house. I think they’re halfway ready to decide that he was the one who kidnapped you. Go and help him, won’t you?”
The Patronus zoomed towards the ceiling and vanished. Harry sighed and sat up. His own stag was active, but he would hate to have a Patronus like Hermione’s; the otter was simply so fast, and hard to handle.
He washed quickly, ignoring how strange it was to feel hot water on his back without someone in the shower beside him. That only made sense, considering all the showers he and Draco had taken at the house. He would get used to something different in time.
If you want to.
Harry grimaced and shook shampoo out of his hair, raking more water through it. Yes, that part he was sure he wanted to forsake. Whether or not he was ever with Draco again, whether they spent more time together or not, he wouldn’t miss forced showers and forced meals. He liked choosing his own morning routine.
He dressed carefully that morning, as carefully as though Draco was watching him and judging him on his performance. The Auror robes had to be crisp and fresh to impress the people he was speaking to; the dragonhide boots had to be shining. Harry took care of that with a muttered charm rather than actual scrubbing, but it was still a concession. Ordinarily, he wouldn’t have bothered.
Draco had acted like an idiot during the last moments they were in the house, but he had still brewed the potion and cooperated, and Harry really did believe it was an accident that they had ended up there. At the very least, the house hadn’t been doing what Draco wanted when it dissolved.
Why did it dissolve?
Harry sighed. He probably wouldn’t get the answer to that just thinking on his own, either. He needed Draco and his expertise on Potions theory, or at least Hermione. If she had worked out that the potion he’d told her about was missing a certain ingredient, she could probably figure out the rest on her own.
I don’t know what to do next. I don’t know what the Ministry is going to want to hear, either.
Harry changed the grimace into a smile with a bit of effort and a glance in the mirror. Well, the Ministry might want to hear certain things, but they were going to hear the load of bollocks that he shoveled together every time he had to make an official report. Whether the raid had gone wrong or not, whether they had captured the criminal or missed them, the Ministry hierarchy would fuss and complain and yell. Harry would give them less to yell about with his polished neutrality.
What would Draco say, if he was here?
And I can’t answer the question, Harry thought as he opened his door, because I knew him inside the house, but not outside, and that’s an outside question. A real question.
“You expect us to believe that the potions accident that locked you and Mr. Malfoy in the house together was just an accident?”
Yes, and I believe that you should serve in the Repetitive Department of Repetition, Harry thought, but kept his face calm and serious as he nodded. He had made sure that his fringe was swept away from his scar when he stepped into the room where officials from the DMLE and the Wizengamot waited to meet with him. There was a certain kind of person his scar impressed, and from their constant nervous little glances in its direction, this particular room was full of them. “It was an accident, sir, yes. No one could have predicted the potions vial would fall in that particular way, and Mr. Malfoy seemed as surprised at the house’s nature as I was.”
Or not quite. But the nice thing about having been in a house that was in a pocket dimension and had its own ideas about security was that no one could prove he was wrong with a Pensieve memory or a ward picture.
That particular questioner sat back, and Mathilde Terezi, one of the brighter individuals Harry had to deal with at this level, leaned forwards, with her own attempt at a serious expression. “Do you think there is any chance it could have been a plot by Mr. Malfoy? He admitted he was there to steal information from the Solitary Brewer.”
“No,” Harry corrected her, with his best smile and deep glance that made it seem as though Terezi was the only one in the room he was paying attention to. It always flustered her, and it worked now. “He claimed he was there to steal back the potion that the Solitary Brewer had taken from him. He didn’t want that madman to have the credit for inventing the potion.”
He heard the door of the hearing room open and close behind him, but assumed it was one of the hierarchy come late and paid no attention. Until he heard several gasps, at least, and looked over his shoulder.
Draco stood there, his arms folded and his gaze so intense that Harry found himself flinching away from it before he decided what he was going to do.
Draco smiled at that and nodded, with equal grimness, as if he had come here to find Harry betraying him and wasn’t surprised to see the flinch. He walked up the aisle between the spectators’ chairs towards the podium where Harry stood and settled into the chair waiting there. Harry had assumed the chair was for him and that the Wizengamot members had forgotten, as usual, that he never sat down during these inquisitions.
It was harder to hang onto composure with Draco’s gaze digging into his back. Harry faced the questioners again to make it easier.
“Mr. Malfoy is here to tell his own story, as you say,” Terezi said triumphantly, waggling her head so that her long, tangled black hair fell out of her eyes. “What will you have to say if it contradicts yours?”
“The truth,” Harry said calmly, and smiled at the way that flustered her in turn, and moved away from the podium so Draco could get up and speak.
Draco stared at him as he did so. Harry bowed and made a gesture with one hand towards the podium. No one could say that he hadn’t been gracious with Draco, that he hadn’t invited him to speak. That was the way it had to be, of course. Never show you were afraid of anything someone else might say.
Even if your heart was pounding hard enough to give you a headache and your hands would have been too slippery to grip a wand, right then.
Draco turned away with a faint sniff after a moment, and marched to the podium. He was dressed in a pair of rich, dove-grey robes that suited him, and which made Harry wonder what robes he wore from day to day as a Potions brewer. Probably plain black ones. It had been Snape’s costume of choice.
I know him so little. That’s not the kind of thing we talked about.
No, they’d talked about sex and how to escape the house and a little bit about their pasts. The more Harry thought about it, the more artificial their time in the house seemed.
Harry could see Draco shifting around, probably because his back was to Harry and so he couldn’t see what Harry was doing at any given moment. Harry sympathized, but sitting down now, when he had made such a point of not doing so, would seem suspicious and maybe give the people interrogating them some sort of clue. So he remained standing, and after a little while, Draco calmed down.
The questions he answered were intrusive, or at least Harry thought. Terezi thought she knew something about Potions making and kept trying to trip him up on the theory. Another small, grey-looking man whose name Harry could never remember kept going over and over the most minute details of Harry’s answers, and trying to find inconsistencies with Draco’s.
Through it all, Draco never raised his voice, or seemed as if they could be annoying him. He just spoke, and replied, and listened, and nodded when appropriate. Harry couldn’t fault his grace or courage under fire.
It would be different if he desired any of them.
Through long effort, learned when he was an Auror trainee, Harry didn’t blush and possibly ruin some of the fine responses Draco was giving. He stared in front of him and pretended that nothing interested him less than the interrogation, until Terezi called him forwards again.
“Auror Potter,” she said, her jaw set in a way she probably imagined looked determined but simply made her look like a pouty child. “Would you say that Mr. Malfoy did not take advantage of you?”
Shit. There was Ron leaning forwards in the audience, and Draco watching him out of the corner of his eye, and of course the inquisition waiting for him to trip up. And Harry still was better at bending the truth than lying.
He stared straight at Terezi, and said, “He did not take advantage of me. We were both trying to escape that awful place, and he helped me adjust to the house’s unreasonable demands.”
From the corner of his eye, he saw Draco flinch. Was it perhaps because he’d called the house awful? Well, it had been. Harry might have different opinions at any given moment on whether he liked Draco or not, but he would never change his mind about the house being horrible, and his gladness at being free had exploded through him when he was sure it had really happened, and wasn’t just some new trick.
“You’ve been evasive about what those demands were,” said the grey man, and waited, his silence more full of traps than his question.
Harry sighed. “The house wanted us to spend every waking moment together. We couldn’t eat unless we were in the same room, not sleep unless we were in the same bedroom.” All true, and he didn’t falter as he said it. “We even had to brew the potion together, which was probably more of a challenge for Mr. Malfoy than anything else, and might have delayed our escape. I’m no Potions brewer.” He turned his head to look at Draco directly for the first time since he’d entered the hearing.
Draco’s eyes led away into forever, and asked lots and lots of questions that Harry wasn’t ready to answer. He turned back, with what he hoped wasn’t undue haste that would surely offend someone, to face Terezi again.
Terezi was drumming her hand on the arm of her chair. “Would you say that Mr. Malfoy took sexual advantage of you, Auror Potter?” she demanded suddenly.
Harry raised his eyebrows. “If I felt that I had been raped, or harassed, or driven, what would stop me from reporting that to you, Madam Terezi? Everyone knows that I had no particular regard for Mr. Malfoy in our schooldays.”
Terezi looked back and forth between them again. Then she said, “You might lie to spare someone else.” But even she didn’t sound as if she believed it.
Harry sighed patiently. “I hope that I can be fairer to Mr. Malfoy than my schoolboy self would have been, Madam Terezi. But, as you must know, I haven’t dated much of anyone since my unfortunate separation from Ginny Weasley. I would have felt pressured by almost anything Mr. Malfoy did. Unfairly, yes. And I would have reported it.”
He held Terezi’s gaze, and either he was better at lying than he had thought, or she was poorer at reading faces, because she waved her hand and went on to her next question with ill-concealed irritation.
And now Draco was staring, and Harry was glad they would only need to spend a few more minutes in each other’s company. The last few questions were indeed perfunctory, and in less than ten minutes, people were putting papers away and chatting to each other and yawning.
Harry hesitated, but turned towards the door of the room. He wanted to talk to Draco, but here, in front of everyone else, might undermine the neutral picture that he had been trying to build towards.
“Potter. A moment.”
Perfect, Harry decided with relief. Draco would be the one to set up the meeting, and away from everyone else, surely. He turned around.
Draco stood in front of him and continued to stare. Harry didn’t incline his head and retreat, but he badly wanted to. There were so many questions in those eyes, and surely no one person could answer them all.
Then Draco said, “I wanted to give you some of the books on Potions theory that we discussed in the house, which might help you understand what went wrong better, and save you if you are ever in a similar situation.” He spoke smoothly, but Harry could hear the hurried staccato of his words underneath, the fear of rejection. “Would you like to adjourn to a place we could talk?”
Harry nodded, caught Ron’s eye, shrugged a little, and said, “Of course, Mr. Malfoy. Lead the way.”
It isn’t ideal, but it might be the best we can hope for right now.
Chapter 12: Of All the Conversations
They walked aimlessly for a while after they got out of the Wizengamot’s courtroom. There was really no place in the Ministry they could go that someone couldn’t spy on them with wards, Harry thought, and was impressed with Draco for recognizing the same thing. And he wasn’t about to invite Draco back to his home, and he doubted that Draco wanted to invite him to Malfoy Manor, or wherever he was living now.
I don’t even know that.
Harry shook his head. Of course he didn’t. Draco was a Potions master who had admitted to brewing Dark potions, or at least ones with illegal ingredients and dangerous effects, and Harry was an Auror. Still. Despite everything.
The time in the house didn’t change me from what I was. It taught me that it’s not all I have to be, perhaps.
His head bowed, walking deep in thought, Harry almost jumped when Draco pressed his fingers against Harry’s shoulder and said, “I think that we should go somewhere we can be alone. Truly alone. Do you trust me enough to let me Apparate you?”
Harry took a deep breath and looked around. They were in the middle of a corridor in the Ministry, an empty corridor for right now. The wards would still be watching, but he thought anyone listening wouldn’t be able to get to them quickly enough to prevent them from leaving. He nodded, and began walking in the direction that Draco gestured with one widespread hand.
Draco trailed him with a softly stunned expression on his face that said he hadn’t expected a positive answer to his question. Harry shook his head. Then why ask it? Draco hadn’t struck him as someone who took a lot of risks. He had done what he had done in the house because he knew Harry had nowhere else to go, and he had the house’s magic to back him up.
I hope he tells me some more of what he’s thinking, because at the moment it does baffle me.
They reached an exit from the Ministry, finally, and stepped onto the dirty cobblestones in the shadow of one of London’s streets—more like an alley, really. Harry swallowed and turned to face Draco, already holding out an arm. Draco looked at him, looked him in the eye, strong and steady as a pulsebeat, and nodded. His hand gripped Harry’s, hard, for a second.
Then they were Apparating, and Harry grimaced. He had never liked the sensation. He came out of with the usual feeling of being squeezed through a tube, shook his head, and resisted the urge to reach up and make sure his hair wasn’t matted to the sides of his head. Draco wouldn’t care if it was, and Harry had never been able to do much with his hair.
Draco led the way into a small house that stood, Harry couldn’t help noticing, in what looked like a wide meadow, miles from anywhere. The house was a cottage, made of stone, with a fireplace in the corner that flared with flames when Draco merely looked at it. Harry could feel the magic that powered it, surging to life, present in everything from the unmortared walls to the simple wooden table in the middle of the room. Yes, this place looked defenseless and poor, but someone had spent a lot of magic preparing it.
“Yes, you would be a fool to attack me here,” Draco murmured.
Harry turned to look at him. Draco leaned on the mantle by the fireplace, his arm propped up and his head turning sharply so that he could track Harry’s movements. He looked relaxed, but Harry knew any false movement would probably trigger a deadly display of violence. Draco had had to bring him to a place where he felt absolutely safe in order to talk to him.
Harry shook his head. “If you distrust me so much, why do you want me as a lover?” he asked, speaking the first words that came to mind, the way he would have in the house. Well, if the house had let him say something like that, anyway.
It probably would have. It was happy to hear us talking about anything that sounded romantic.
Which only increased the mystery of why it had dissolved, instead of trying to keep them pinned in a conversation that had the potential of turning romantic. Harry shrugged. That wasn’t the mystery he was here to solve.
“I want you because the wanting won’t go away,” Draco said, his voice as soft as the snick of the door closing on an interrogation room, and bitter as the clash of chains. “I realized that, last night, when I tried to think that I would spend the rest of my life without seeing you again, except perhaps today. What we have can’t be the same as it was in the house, but—I still want you.”
Harry sighed and wandered over to the opposite side of the table, studying a low bookshelf that stood against that wall. All Potions books, of course. Harry hoped this house’s doors wouldn’t slam shut and trap them here, or he would expire of boredom before he found something to read.
“Wanting isn’t enough,” he said, not looking at Draco because the words might feel false if he did. “Lust isn’t enough. I don’t want to spend my life with someone who wants me.”
“You don’t?” Draco’s voice was as blank as his walls.
“I mean, not just with someone who wants me,” Harry corrected. “If that was what contented me, I could have had it at any time. Lots of people wrote to me after the war, or came up and told me straight out to my face, that they wanted me.”
He turned around, intending to continue, and stopped short at the complex expression on Draco’s face. It took him a moment to work it out.
“Look,” he said, his voice gentle without his permission. “I’m just trying to explain to you what happened. I didn’t—you know full well I didn’t take anyone up on those offers. So there’s no reason to look jealous over me.” That last sentence made him want to shake his head again. Jealous over him? Draco didn’t know him enough for that, but he did know that Harry was hardly out there fucking everyone he met.
“I’m not jealous,” Draco said, but he hunched his shoulders in the next moment and looked away, which was all the sign Harry would ever need that he was lying.
Harry concealed a sigh. It wouldn’t endear him to Draco at the moment, and while Harry didn’t precisely want Draco’s approval, he did want to avoid alienating him. He thought there had already been enough of that. “All right. Then do you want to sit down and tell me what you are? What you’re feeling?”
“You sound like a Mind-Healer.” Draco turned towards him, all eyes and claws and teeth, and Harry wondered if he really felt safe in this safehouse after all. Or maybe he had had to come here to articulate some of what he was feeling at all.
“I don’t mean to,” Harry said quietly, and decided to offer something Draco might not know about him, something that might possibly create a bond between them if anything could. “I hate those bastards.”
Draco started and focused on him. “Why?”
Harry shook his head. “No matter what I did—poorly in my Auror training, well in my Auror training, killed someone in self-defense, killed someone in anger, killed no one, talked about the war, didn’t talk about the war, was gracious, was silent, was open—they were determined to find something wrong with me.” He sighed and stared down at his hands. “Something that would make me unfit to serve as an Auror, I thought at first. Then I realized they wanted gossip to tell their friends. No one who treated me could ever keep their fucking mouths shut.” The words burst out of him, and he paused, embarrassed, a moment later. “Anyway,” he finished, with a small cough. “So being told that I sound like one of them is pretty much the worst insult you could offer me.”
He smiled at Draco, who had come closer. Draco stood there for a second, and then sat down in the chair opposite Harry, which was at least progress. Harry gave him an encouraging nod, but for long minutes Draco stared at his hands and seemed to think about other things instead of responding.
Then he said, “I don’t mean to insult you. I want you, though. That’s the truth. That’s just something you have to put up with.”
“But do you want more than to fuck me?” Draco winced a little, as though insulted by the crude wording, and Harry sighed again. “Sorry. I’m no good at this. I’ve never had a steady lover since Ginny.”
“Why?” Draco looked up at him. “That was something I asked you in the house, but you didn’t answer me the same way there that you would out here. Why didn’t you want someone to have sex with?”
Harry smiled. At least Draco realized there was a difference between the house and the real world. That was a strong sign that maybe they could move past what had happened there, and into something else.
“Because I didn’t want someone to have sex with,” he pointed out. “That was all it would be, or all some people wanted. I didn’t. I wanted to focus on my job, and when I couldn’t find someone who would do more than sleep with me or brag about it to their friends or want me to take care of them, then I focused even more on it.”
“But sex is nice,” Draco said, leaning forwards over the table as though he thought he would have to convince Harry all over again.
Harry swallowed. “I know. You taught me that.”
Draco’s eyes flamed with triumph, but at least he didn’t do something like reach out and try to continue what he had begun the last morning they were in bed together. “But why didn’t you want it? You could have done something. Concealed your face under glamours and found someone who didn’t mind casual sex.”
Harry leaned back in his chair and shook his head. “Because I don’t just want casual sex. I don’t do casual, Draco. How many times do I have to repeat that before it sinks in?”
Draco blinked. “You did in the house. I mean, you agreed to fuck me when you thought it was going to be casual.”
Harry grimaced. “That was when I thought it was what we needed to do to get out of the situation, and I thought you were thinking the same way, until you told me about this longing you had for my friendship.”
“You—you honestly would have done something like that to get out?” Draco went on staring at him.
“Yes,” Harry said. “I would have found someone else after the house, maybe, if that had been all it was, because you did open my eyes to some of what I’ve been missing. But I would still have wanted a steady lover, someone to love me for me, not just someone to love me for my fame and my money. I would have looked harder. I’m never going to be content with what you think I should have been content with, though.”
Draco’s nostrils flared a little. “I’m happy that you refused them and remained a virgin for me to take,” he snapped.
Harry leaned forwards. “I am more than that.”
“I just don’t understand why you didn’t go after what you wanted.”
“Because I thought it was impossible to find, and I deserve to have what I want,” Harry replied shortly. “A real lover, not a relationship that’s going to end in two months, not a casual fuck. I decided after the war that I was going to work as hard as I could for what I wanted, but I’m not going to settle for something lesser, either. Because I bloody well suffered enough in that war to deserve something better.”
He hadn’t ever said that aloud before, and the sound of the words shook him. Draco, across the table, stared at him with wide, startled eyes.
“I—didn’t know you thought that way,” Draco said at last, shaking his head as though he thought that would somehow clear his thoughts. Harry was sure it was more likely to confuse them, but he kept his mouth shut. “I thought you were—well, repressed.”
Harry rolled his eyes. “That would be part of it, yeah, with that intense focus on my job. But it also helps to know the person that you claim you’re ready to profess undying love for, Malfoy. Might help.”
“Don’t call me by my last name.”
“Why not?” Harry leaned back and lifted his hands. “There’s no one here to enforce the rules that the house wanted. We can call each other by our last names. We can go different ways if we want. What are we going to do outside the house? We can’t live by its rules, no matter what happens. I refuse. They were far too limiting.”
Draco did some more blinking. Then he said, “You make no sense. You want someone to love you, someone to have a real relationship with, but you didn’t do any looking. You just said that you didn’t. How did you expect to have a partner like that if you wouldn’t even bloody well look?”
Harry clenched his jaw again. “I would have responded if someone had come along. But so many people weren’t coming along, and I was tired of the immense effort I was spinning out for so little reward. I decided that I would rather concentrate on my job for now. But when I saw the chance, I was going to grab it with both hands.”
Draco leaned back in his chair, spreading his arms so that his hands dangled on either side. His silence was eloquent.
“Someone who wants the real me,” Harry said, locking eyes with him. “Not the version of me that the house dreamed up, not an isolated me without my friends.” Yes, Draco still flinched when he said that. It seemed that part of him was real and not an invention of the house or the situation they’d been trapped in. “I need my friends, Draco. I want them. I’m going to have them. There’s no reason to think I’ll change my mind on that. If you can’t stand that, then go elsewhere, because I’ll never give them up.”
Draco shut his eyes. Then he said, “It wasn’t—I just objected to the way they might talk to you about me.”
“Insulting you?” Harry leaned back in his chair. Although it seemed the hardest part of the argument was still ahead, he was breathing a bit easier. Part of him had expected Draco to surge out of his chair and slap Harry’s other cheek. “Well, be fair. You’ve insulted them quite a bit. I told Ron and Hermione that you helped, and that’s true. But that was partially self-interest, in their eyes. You wanted to escape the house, too.”
Draco opened his eyes. “If the alternative was losing you, no, I didn’t.”
“I told you you might be able to have me,” Harry said with careful emphasis. He flattened his hands on the table. At the moment, it felt very important to him that Draco should realize he wasn’t reaching for his wand. “The problem is, you decided that you wanted a certain answer, and that’s the sort of thing I can’t give you.”
Draco shot him a taut, simmering glance. “Why not? Don’t you specialize in certainty, as an Auror? Always finding the clue, always bringing down the criminal?”
Harry sighed, and massaged his forehead. He wondered what it would take to make Draco understand him.
“That house wasn’t like the rest of my life,” he said. “As you should know from the very fact that I was willing to have casual sex if it would get us out of there. You can’t gauge all my reactions from what happened in there. Yes, I’m uncertain. That’s the way I really am, until I know I have a solution.” He dropped his hand from his forehead and raised an eyebrow at Draco. “I thought the raid on the Solitary Brewer’s house was a certain thing, but you never know when a new factor is going to pop up and prove you wrong.”
Draco was staring at him in what looked perilously like horror. “When do you think you can give me an answer?” he whispered.
“You already have plenty of them,” Harry said, watching him. “About what I’m like, and what I want, and about my friends.”
Draco shook his head. His voice was high, and sounded stuck in his throat. “When can you give me an answer about staying with me forever?”
Harry sighed again. “I want someone who will stay with me forever,” he said. “Yes. That much is true. But I can’t say it’s going to be you. That’s what we actually have to take some time to think about and decide.”
“But when do you think we’ll know?”
Harry sighed yet again. He was getting used to it, but he didn’t like it. “I don’t know what you want out of me, Draco. I told you over and over again that nothing in the house was real, not in the way that would let me know whether it would endure outside. And now, we’re here, and surprise, I don’t think it was real. Why do you keep asking about something that I told you I can’t tell you?”
Draco sprang to his feet and began pacing back and forth. Harry watched him in silence, folding his hands in front of him. He had the feeling Draco was working up to something important, but he had no idea what it could be. So far, he had sounded more stubborn and repetitive than involved in something important.
Draco turned around again, and his eyes were burning with passion. Harry reckoned that was a start. He sat up and paid attention.
“I want you,” Draco said bluntly. “I told you I wanted the chance to find out what friendship with you was like, and that’s true, but this is more than that. I want to sleep with you again. I want to work side by side with you. I want to hold you, and I want you to stay with me because you want to, not because you have to.”
“That’s something we never had in the house,” Harry felt compelled to point out. “You don’t know that you like it. You might hate it.”
“Then I want the chance to find out if I hate it,” Draco said, watching him. “Fine, I agree with your logic to a certain extent, that none of it was real, or at least that we can’t be sure how much of it translates to the outside. Then—I want the chance to work with you until we can figure out what’s real, and until you can give me an answer.”
Harry nodded slowly. “I can give you that if you promise that you’ll give my friends a chance.”
“To do what? Insult me? Because as you pointed out, I’m sure they’re doing that already.”
“I can’t promise instant peace with them,” Harry said. “But Ron already knows we’re sleeping together—and I didn’t tell him, he guessed it when he saw the way I reacted. And they’re part of my life, and they’re not going anywhere. I may not know yet whether we’d be together in two months’ time, but I can assure you we won’t be if you keep insisting that I choose you over them.”
Draco’s face had closed. “I’m only doing what they’re sure to insist on with regards to me.”
“You don’t know them very well,” Harry said. “Just like you don’t know me. And that’s essentially what I’m asking you: to give me and them a chance to show ourselves for who we really are, not the Hogwarts caricatures you think we are.”
Draco bowed his head. There was silence. Harry wondered if it would be a bargain after all, or too much for Draco. Draco had been careful to stay away from him, he noticed, not to touch him. That might mean he thought they could never have back what they had in the house, but that made no sense, given what he was asking of Harry.
No, it was more likely that he knew that Harry would never agree if he simply tried to take what he wanted. And that gave Harry hope. Draco cared about his wishes at least this much. That was a good sign.
Now to see if he can get over his prejudices against other Gryffindors.
“I’ll talk to them and treat them like normal human beings,” Draco said abruptly, looking up. “If you’ll give me a fair chance, and not hold what happened in the house against me.”
“That’ll depend on how many times you insist on referencing it, and talking about it as your ideal place,” Harry said, meeting his gaze evenly. “Because I assure you, it was far from mine. I never want to live like that again.”
“You didn’t find any comfort there?” Draco sounded baffled.
Harry shook his head. “Not comfort. I learned what sex was there, and I learned that I could like it. Thank you for that. I learned that I could trust you to work with me. That was important. But I wasn’t comfortable. That’s another thing you don’t know about me,” he added, because Draco was watching him with the kind of breathlessness that really deserved an answer. “What I look like when I’m relaxed, because you haven’t seen it.”
Draco nodded slowly. “I assumed you were happy there and just resisting it because admitting it would mean that you were admitting I made you happy.”
“You have a twisted mind, you know that?” Harry asked when he’d worked that out. “I’m no good at lying. If I tell you that I mind something, I mind it. If I don’t mind it, then I don’t.”
Draco looked at him for long moments, taking a step to the side as though he assumed the firelight would do something other than cast a few shadows on Harry’s face. “All that tells me is what you would say if you were unhappy or indifferent,” he muttered. “It says nothing about what you’re like when you’re happy.”
Harry smiled at him and lifted an imaginary glass in a toast. “Now you get it.”
From the widening of Draco’s eyes, and the soft way he exhaled, it seemed he really did. Harry stood up and held out his hand.
Draco froze as though the house had materialized around them again. Then he crossed the room slowly, and took Harry’s hand. Harry nodded to him, and pumped his wrist once before he let go. Draco blinked, but did release his hold, something Harry hadn’t been sure would happen until it actually did.
“Nice to meet you,” Harry said softly. “And for the record, this is what my face looks like when I’m happy about something, when I think something impossible has a chance to come true. That first started happening to me when I was eleven, and my delight in it hasn’t stopped yet.”
Draco’s real smile was a glorious one.
Chapter 13: When We Have Faces
"Okay. Explain this to me."
Harry scratched the back of his neck and shifted awkwardly around on the couch. He was glad, now, in a way he had never thought he would be, that Ron had guessed he and Draco had shagged before Harry could really say anything. That was embarrassing, but Hermione's cool, relentless stare was worse.
"All right," he said finally, and leaned forwards to pick up the cup of tea she'd placed on the table. "But I don't know that it'll make any sense."
"There's a surprise," Hermione told the world. She leaned back on her own couch, one leg drawn up and the other foot dangling on the floor. She hadn't moved it since Harry began the awkward dance around the truth that he had taken up most of the afternoon with, but now it swayed back and forth.
Direct. You have to be direct.
Harry nodded. It was the only way to get anything done, the only way to tell anything true, whether the person he was talking with was Draco or Hermione. (He did pause for a moment to wonder how they would feel about being compared like that).
"All right," he said, and Hermione gave him a raised eyebrow to let him know that she didn't appreciate the repetition of what he had just said. But Harry had said it to reassure himself, more than to do the same for her, and he had at least started a road that he could walk down now. "The house seemed impossible to escape on our own. We tried meditating to bring our minds close together, and then Draco said he could brew a potion to help us escape, but neither worked immediately."
Hermione frowned. "How did you get from trying meditation to fucking?"
Harry winced. He still wasn't used to the new Hermione who would say things like that. Then again, he reckoned that years of struggling for house-elf rights with an unyielding Ministry changed a person.
"The house started pushing us together," he said. "It made the bed smaller until we were sleeping on top of each other. We couldn't eat unless we were both in the kitchen at the same time, and that progressed to us having to feed each other with forks and holding hands to open the cupboard, and then us eating from each other's hands. We didn't have hot water in the shower unless we washed each other. We couldn't even use the bloody potions lab unless we were both in there and using the ingredients."
One of the nice things about the person Hermione had become in the last few years was that she didn't scold him for language anymore. She just nodded. "All right, but that doesn't explain how you got there." She gave him a searching look. "Ron and I had just about decided that you needed a Mind-Healer."
"For my virginity?" Harry snorted. "Perfectly normal Muggles make the choice not to have sex all the time, Hermione. Even some wizards."
"They do that when they've been through trauma, or had their hearts broken." Hermione laced her fingers around her upraised knee and sipped from her own cup. "I know Ginny didn't leave you heartbroken. So I was trying to figure out whether something was wrong."
"Nothing was," Harry snapped, then took a deep breath. The truth. "I told Draco--well, I told him the truth. I wanted someone who would love me for the person I was, and I was only running into fame-seekers. That wasn't something I could deal with. I finally gave up and just stopped seeking out sexual partners."
Hermione watched him, eyes very wide. Then she nodded. "Good on you for knowing what you wanted."
Harry relaxed against the couch so much it felt like he was melting. Sometimes he thought Hermione's approval shouldn't matter so much to him, but then, he had thought the same thing about Draco's approval. The fact was that he valued both of them, and wanted both of them to be happy with him, and that was it.
"But I'm not sure that you'll get what you want out of Malfoy," Hermione went on thoughtfully, lacing both arms together around her knees now and almost knocking the teacup out of her hand. Harry hid his grin as she set it back on the table and cast a Cleaning Charm on the couch. "Does he know the real you? You told me that he didn't."
"I think he's closer to it now," Harry said, although he shook his head when he thought of the glazed stare Draco had given him sometimes during their conversation. "He didn't understand how I could get along without sex for so long."
"Because some people think of sex as more than mere pleasure?" Hermione shook her head. "I don't know, Harry. I won't discourage you from dating him, but I don't know that it's going to work out."
"Neither do I." Harry grinned at her expression. "I mean it, Hermione. I don't. And that's what irritates him so much. He wants this extended commitment, and I don't know if I can give him that yet. I told him we just had to go along from day to day and see if we felt comfortable with each other."
"That sounds sensible," Hermione said, and gave him a searching glance.
Harry stuck his tongue out at her. "And when did I become so sensible? That house forced me to think about what I want, at least, and what I didn't want."
Hermione sat up, and drew in a deep breath. "Harry...Ron won't ask you this. He wouldn't think to, probably. But I have to. Did Malfoy rape you?"
Harry thought about it, because he knew only thinking would satisfy Hermione. Her face grew more and more strained the longer he was quiet, though, so finally Harry spoke. The truth, again. He seemed to be doing that a lot more often lately than his Auror career would encourage him to.
"No," Harry said quietly. "The house gave us a limited choice about what to do, but it never intervened when we were fighting or arguing, except at the very last." He saw Hermione's hand twitch as if she wanted a quill at that last bit, but he didn't stop. "I could have thrown him off. Maybe not left the room until it was settled, maybe not had a comfortable sleep, but I could have resisted."
"But he was the one who suggested sex." Hermione frowned.
"Yes," Harry admitted. "But again, I was curious to see what it was like, and I kept going with it because it felt so good. I still don't know how much of that was real, though. I probably wouldn't have if there was someone else in the house with us, or if I thought there was a different way to escape. Escape was always my priority. I did it to give us a greater chance."
"Your emotions now?" Hermione leaned forwards and peered at him.
She was the only one who could have asked that without irritating Harry enough to retreat. He snorted, though. "How can I explain what I don't understand myself? I like him, sometimes. I think he's an idiot for apparently falling in love with me. I really like--sleeping with him." He cleared his throat and buried his flaming face in his teacup for a second. "I don't know how everything will work out. I think he's strange."
"Not the best foundation for a lasting relationship." Hermione shook her head wisely.
"Neither is sending canaries to attack someone, but look at you and Ron."
Hermione turned bright red. Harry, he knew, was also the only one who could get away with pushing that far with her; she and Ron had apparently made some sort of pact to never discuss that part of their lives. Harry drank more tea, and grinned at her.
"Just--be careful," Hermione finally said, shaking her head as though she was trying to see to the end of the road Harry was walking, and couldn't. "I don't know why I tell you that, since you never are, but--"
"This time, I have to be," Harry interrupted. "Because there's so much in the house that could have been real, and seems like it was real to Malfoy, but doesn't look that way now that we're outside it. I don't want to mess up this time. I want something real, and it looks like he might give it to me. But I can give it up if he doesn't."
Are you sure about that? asked his memories of the house, his sense-memory of the taste of Draco's skin and his lips and the way he had rolled Harry beneath him with his eyes glowing with passion.
Harry nodded in response to the question. Because I would rather abandon something unreal than continue fooling myself. I've had enough lies in my lifetime.
"So, what lies did your friends tell you about me?"
Harry kept his back turned, his wand waving as he fried the bread on a flame, turning it gently over and over in the air. He had invited Draco to his house for dinner, but he had to admit that this might not work out. He kept his voice mild, too, though. "Nothing. Hermione wanted to know if you raped me, and she warned me that it might not work out, but I knew that already."
"They are insulting me."
Harry finished the bread with a little flourish of his wand, and sent it to a plate, but turned around, shaking his head. "You don't know them well. They don't know you well. At the moment, they're perfectly willing to let me date you. They aren't calling you a sneaky Slytherin or a horrible person. They're worried about me. I would be worried about one of them, too, if they were trapped in a house for a week with someone and came out talking about the things that had happened to them there. If those things were like what we endured."
"Endured." Draco hadn't taken his cloak off yet. He looked down, running his fingers over the table. Harry wondered if he admired the wood, which was very different from the wood of the table the potion-house had had. "It wasn't endurance for me. It was the best time of my life, a time when I had your attention."
Harry sighed and moved around the table towards him. "You're more than this," he said softly.
Draco's eyes were as flat as Harry could have wished when he looked up again. "Excuse me?"
"You're more than your pathetic longing for me," Harry said, and watched Draco flinch as if he'd been stung. "You haven't stalked me for years. You haven't followed me. You haven't pined after me and done nothing else with your life. Your life was normal for you until you got trapped in the house with me. Why? What made it so different for you than it was for me?"
Draco closed his eyes and took a noisy breath through his nose. Harry waited.
Finally, Draco said, "Imagine that you want something, the way I told you I wanted your friendship. There's no reason to think you'll get it, and you put it aside and don't think about it much. But suddenly you're in a situation where you get that, and more. And then the situation ends. Would you recover so quickly, once you were outside it? I don't think so."
"What you want now is different than what you wanted from me before you went into the house."
Draco opened his eyes and nodded. His face was miserable, but clear. "I was fine when I thought there was no way to get what I wanted. You were a wank fantasy, or a friendship fantasy, the same way I dreamed about Potions masters everywhere acknowledging me for the brilliance of my creations. You don't really get disappointed when a dream like that doesn't come true. But then it did. And now I realize that for you, it was a nightmare."
Harry wanted to sigh again. He settled for shaking his head and saying, "If it was, I would have cut off all contact with you after we got out of the house. Instead, I find myself wanting to remain close to you in some ways. And I still want to know why the house simply fell apart like that, after all our attempts to escape it in different ways."
Draco hesitated, grimaced, then said, "I can tell you my interpretation. I don't know if you'll agree with it."
"I don't know anything about it right now. I'm as likely to agree with you as not."
Draco gave him the sour look he had used when Harry wouldn't commit to saying they would stay together forever, either, and summoned a glass of pumpkin juice Harry had poured for himself earlier and then forgotten about. He poured the glass down his throat in one easy motion. Harry stifled the irritation--it wasn't as if he was going to drink it--and settled back against the counter, waiting.
"I think the house wanted us to be lovers," Draco said, staring into the glass. "Or maybe assumed we were, as much as a magical building like that can assume anything. It tried to push us together, reconcile us if we were quarreling."
"We never did see what it would do if we had intended to hex each other with major curses."
"That's true." Draco rubbed his forehead. "I think--I think the house realized that it couldn't give us a lovers' relationship by keeping us trapped together any longer. Or else it sensed your uneasiness, and realized that sleeping together and eating from each other's hands wouldn't solve it. It let us go so that we could find something real, to use your word, outside its walls." He darted a hard glance at Harry. "So, if I'm right, you caused the walls to evaporate with nothing more than the force of your will."
Harry faced the silent accusation, and shrugged it away. He had thought the house more amenable to Draco's wishes, but he hadn't spent a lot of time accusing him of it, so he was inclined to dismiss that now. "That's interesting. And I think you might be right. It happened right after you struck me, too, and neither of us had done anything like that before."
Draco took another long gulp of pumpkin juice. "I'm sorry."
Harry blinked. He had to throw his mind in a whole new direction every few minutes with Draco, it seemed. "For slapping me?"
"Yes." Draco's hands were grinding into each other around the glass. "I thought--I don't know what I thought, anymore. I was just so worried that my dream was going to end and I'd have to wake up. That you'd laugh. That you wouldn't care."
"Once I have sex with someone, I'm going to care," Harry said, and reached out to take his hand. "I just can't promise that I'll always care the way you need me to."
Draco's hand gripped his for a minute. Then he stepped back and said, "I'll have to live with that, won't I?"
Harry studied him. Draco didn't look at him right now; in fact, most of his attention seemed focused on a corner of the kitchen floor where it met the cabinets and there was a stain from tea that Harry had never cleaned up. Harry wondered if he should warn Draco about his housekeeping skills when they were in a building that didn't have the ability to do everything for them, but it seemed useless when Draco would find that out for himself in a little while anyway.
So I can see us staying together for the length of this dinner, at least. I suppose I can find that reassuring.
Finally, in as low a voice as if he had forgotten his audience and was talking to himself, Draco said, "I think--I think I can do this. I had the dream. I didn't have to resign it the minute we came out of the house. That was more than I expected, and if I refuse to accept anything less than you've already given me, then I stand the chance of never having it again." He looked up at Harry with fierce eyes. "I'll be happy to accept this."
Harry didn't really like that note about less, but Draco had finally explained where he was coming from in a way that made sense, and so he nodded. "All right. If you understand why I don't want to share a bed or eat from your hand any time soon, then we're even."
Draco half-smiled. "I'm not going to be invited to stay overnight, then? Damn."
Harry blinked a little more and turned back to face the meal he was fixing, a thick salad and some buttered fish and the toasted bread. He wasn't deliberately trying to make food that would remind Draco of the house, but the house had taught him that Draco liked at least the bread and the salad. "I didn't know if you would want to. This house isn't as protected as the cottage you showed me."
"I go there to make experimental potions, not to eat ordinary meals. The wards are more to protect against the consequences of something exploding than anything else."
Hearing the desert dryness of Draco's voice, Harry glanced back at him with his eyebrows raised. "Did I say something to offend you?"
Draco stared at him for a second, then sighed and collapsed against the table. "And I did it again," he muttered to himself, rubbing at his forehead with a hand. "No, Harry." Harry had to admit that he softened a little when Draco said his name, especially because it didn't sound like any of the ways he had pronounced it in the house. "I just meant--I just thought you were calling me paranoid. I'm sorry. We're going to have to say that around each other a lot, aren't we?"
"At least at first," Harry said, and poured a glass of water for himself. Draco seemed content with his pumpkin juice right now. "And I want you to meet my friends. That'll be harder."
"I've met them, thanks." Draco took a seat on the other side of the table with his glass clutched in front of him like a shield. Harry ignored that and held his hand out for Draco's plate until Draco reluctantly handed it over, then ladled it full of salad and two hefty pieces of bread. He didn't miss the way Draco's eyes brightened, even though Draco was looking more at him than the food.
"I mean in close quarters." Harry handed the plate back and sat down to his own. "Where you can talk to them and they can talk to you, and you can stop thinking they're attack dogs and they can stop thinking you're a rapist."
"We didn't do anything that you didn't want to do." Draco's face was mottled with annoyance. It was only when Harry picked up his own fork and started eating that Draco followed suit.
"Hermione is afraid that the house would have stopped any attempt I made to throw you off," Harry said, and shrugged, then ate a tomato slice and at least three pieces of lettuce before he said anything else. "Since I didn't try, we can't know that for certain. But she is concerned about me since I didn't have a regular lover before. Thinks I may have gone off the deep end with lust."
"She thinks that even knowing our history?"
"Well, you have to admit that the house was an intense situation." Harry sipped some water. The conversation itself, not to mention the tension he was fighting down in his fingers and wrists, made him want to stalk from the room. But he sat there, and he didn't. "She doesn't think we'll last out here."
"What business is it of hers?"
"Because she's my friend," Harry snapped, feeling his hold over his temper fray at last. "Because she's going to be involved in my life for as long as I live, and so will Ron. If you want to be involved in it, then you're going to hear what she thinks. It doesn't matter if you value it or not. I'll still talk about her, and about him, and about what we do together."
Draco stared at him with flat eyes. Harry concealed a sigh. And here they were again, right back to fighting, right after they had made a little peace.
Still, maybe that's a good thing. The house never really allowed us to fight the way we needed to. This is real.
Draco played with his salad fork until Harry wanted to take it away from him and stick him in the eye with it. Then he said, "What happens if they tell me that I'm a liar to my face? If they never give up this stupid idea that I raped you?"
Harry took a drink before he answered. "Then I tell them not to say anything like that again, and that I don't want to hear it. They'll respect that, Draco, really. Ultimately, they care more about not hurting me than about expressing their opinions of you."
"You know that?"
"Yes, I do. These people are my bloody friends." Harry laid his glass down again and held Draco's eyes. "You don't know them. They don't know you. Fine. But I want to get myself out of this uncomfortable position of being the only one who knows everyone, because my reassurances don't mean anything to either of you without your own knowledge. So we have a fucking dinner together, and you be as polite as you can, and if they aren't polite, well, you have the satisfaction of knowing that you've proved me wrong."
Draco ducked his head and pressed his hands over his eyes. "I'm sorry," he whispered, which made Harry stare at him. "I just--I'm still so jealous of them."
"Neither one of them ever wanted to fuck me." Harry was sure Ron or Hermione had wondered, just like he had wondered about them and some other people he'd known. But that wasn't the same thing as the intense, desperate desire that Draco had.
And maybe that I have. It was true he couldn't stop thinking about the house, whatever he thought of Malfoy now.
"It's not even that I'm jealous of." Harry stared at him, and Draco flushed. "All right, a little. But I do think that I'm mostly jealous of them because you like them so much. If I'm going to agree to this, it would help to know you like me enough not to automatically side with them."
Harry's first impulse was to say that he would side with Draco more often if he would stop saying such stupid shit, but he suppressed it. Draco looked as tense and miserable as he had when he'd admitted that being with Harry was a sort of unattainable dream.
Harry nodded jerkily. "Fine. I like you enough to invite you to dinner, both with me and with them, and I can't stop thinking of the house. And you. I want--I don't want this to just collapse, and I can't ignore it. Is that enough for you?"
Draco lowered his hands. "So that does mean that--you don't usually invite people to dinner just with you."
"Just my friends." Harry toyed with his water glass, and waited.
Draco took a look around the kitchen as though to reassure himself no one else was there. Then he looked at Harry, nodded once, and picked up his fork.
Harry sighed. "Thank you." He reached across the table and gave a fleeting caress to Draco's hand, ignoring the way he flushed. It wasn't the right evening to either tease him about it or take advantage of it.
Now there was only the ordeal of telling Ron and Hermione about the dinner to get through.
Chapter 14: Oh, What a Dinner
"No offense, mate, but Hermione is still wondering if he raped you. And now you want to invite us to dinner with him?"
Harry could feel himself flushing, and knew that Ron's incredulous stare wasn't helping. But this was still Ron, his best friend, and he could answer him as he couldn't answer Draco for fear of scaring him away. "I don't know why Hermione is still wondering about that. I was very clear when I answered that he hadn't. Does she not trust me anymore?"
Ron grimaced and rubbed the back of his neck, then slung his feet over his desk and cast a few Privacy Charms on the door. "It's more complicated than that, mate. Hermione trusts you. She believes you. But that doubt keeps sneaking into her mind when she looks at you. You didn't find anyone since Ginny who gave you what you wanted, and now you find that in him?"
Ron's gaze snapped right back to him, and Harry saw the very dangerous transformation behind his friend's face that he'd only seen a handful of times before, mostly when Harry was in danger. "Really?" Ron asked quietly. "So he can't give you anything you want, but he's forcing his company on you anyway?" He started to rise to his feet. It was like watching a mountain move.
"You're not listening." Harry snapped. "I don't know if he can give me what I want yet because I don't really know what I want. I'm still talking to him because I want to find out what the fuck that is. When I know, then I can decide whether I want to spend more time around him."
Ron blinked, and sank slowly back in his seat. Then he nodded. "Okay, mate," he said. "Okay. As long as you--as long as you know that I will destroy him if he hurts you."
"That would be the same about anyone I dated." Harry rolled his eyes, remembering when Ron had got carried away threatening one of the female Aurors who had flirted with Harry. It would probably never have got beyond that; Sandra had already realized that Harry was all business on the job, and was about to retire from the flirtation field in disappointment. But Ron had dropped "subtle" hints about the pain curses he'd been studying until she fled in disarray.
"This is different." Ron planted his fists on the desk. "Because you went so far as to have sex with him, but if he doesn't understand the meaning of 'no' and keeps pushing you..."
"I could have thrown him off if I wanted to," Harry said. "I could have punched him in the face if I wanted to, since we came out of the house, and stopped talking to him. I haven't. I want to figure out what I have with him, Ron. But it takes an awful lot of thrashing through the memories and soothing his insecurities first."
"Does he ever do the same for you?"
"He tries." Harry rubbed his hand over his face, and wondered what Ron would say if Harry told him Draco's version of reassurance, which mostly seemed to revolve around sex. Imagining that was good for a laugh, anyway. "I wouldn't say that he's anything but shit at it, though."
"You need to be with someone who can--"
"Love me for me, and understand my wants, and not want me for my fame," Harry broke in impatiently. "I'm sure of the last one for Draco, at least. He would prefer it if I'd never had any other lover, if no one else had ever heard of me. The first two, we're still working on. But, Ron, much as I love you and Hermione, you don't get final say in who I choose to be with. I want you to come to this dinner, but I only want you there if you can shut up and listen and not insult him. Okay?"
Ron blinked several times. Harry wondered if he had gone too far. They were blunt with each other, all the time, but Harry had crossed a line that they didn't usually cross with each other, either.
Then Ron smiled, and from the sheer, dazzling brilliance of that smile, Harry knew himself forgiven. He let his head droop as Ron reached over and punched him on the shoulder. "I can't promise we'll like the ferret, and I won't keep quiet if he says something to me first. But we'll be there."
"That's all I can ask," Harry said, and squeezed Ron's fist. He thought of saying it was all he would ask of Draco, too, but he knew that would be a lie. For one thing, what he wanted from Draco, whatever that was, would almost certainly end up being different from what he wanted of his friends.
For another, there was no way that Draco would say something as plain and logical. Harry was still learning to read him.
And God, is it a complicated book.
Harry stood back and glared at his kitchen, then shook his head. It was no use trying to come up with something delicate and symbolic for three people whose only thing in common was him. He would do the same salad and bread he'd done for Draco the other night, and have fresh fruit and cheese and nuts available for Hermione, who liked all of them, and plenty of butterbeer for Ron. At least that way Ron would get the satisfaction of apparently drinking while not really taking in enough alcohol to chance becoming violent.
Harry called Kreacher to him and started cooking. There was no way that he would get everything all perfectly arranged without help. Kreacher worked away with a will. Since the war, he was somewhat in awe of Hermione, tolerated Ron, and was thrilled to be helping to prepare dinner for someone with Black blood.
"Master Draco will be settling with Master Harry," Kreacher said, bobbing his head while his fingers worked incredibly fast, shredding nuts of their casings. "Master Harry will be reopening the mistress's house, and there will be small Blacks..."
Harry rolled his eyes and shut his ears to that kind of talk, since it would drive him mental otherwise. He was making the salad, and cutting the fruit, when his Floo chimed. He glanced at the clock. It was at least half-an-hour before the dinner, and he'd asked Ron and Hermione not to be early, since that would only increase Draco's paranoia.
That left one person it could be.
He went to open the Floo himself, because sending Kreacher might make Draco feel neglected, and Harry wanted to do everything he could to make the evening run smoothly. When he opened the connection, Draco stepped through, slapped dust from his robes, and handed him something Harry hadn't paid close attention to, just assuming it was a dish of some kind.
"This is for you." Draco's voice jangled and clanged, and he looked around in a way that made Harry especially glad he'd told his friends not to show up early.
Harry stared blankly at the bouquet of white roses for a moment, then blinked and looked at Draco. "Um, thank you," he said. A blush tried to start to life on his cheeks. He ignored it and nodded to Draco, calling Kreacher from the kitchen to bring him a vase and some water. "It's very nice of you."
"And unexpected." Draco gave the walls that glare again that said he expected invisible enemies, or maybe enemies who became visible the instant he relaxed. "You didn't expect romantic gestures of me, did you?"
"Not this kind," Harry said, startled into deeper honesty than he'd planned. "This seems a little, um, Gryffindor. Maybe you'd bring me Potions ingredients, or something."
"But you're not that good at Potions, and you wouldn't like them or have any use for them." Draco's eyes were fastened on him so intently that Harry felt as though he would tear his eyelashes if he tried to look away. "I want to give you things you'd like. I want to do things for you, not because I would enjoy them."
Harry smiled then, and couldn't stop. He leaned forwards. Draco froze like a rabbit at the sight of a hawk, which wasn't the reaction Harry had wanted.
But he remembered all the different things Draco had said he felt for Harry, and decided that he would go ahead with this anyway. "Thank you," he whispered into Draco's ear. "That's the thing you've said that most reassures me."
And he kissed Draco, sparing one hand for the vase that Kreacher brought him, and enchanting the flowers to hover between them so that he could touch the back of Draco's head and softly stroke the nape of his neck.
Draco made equally soft noises into his mouth, and pulled away only when Harry's hands began to ache from their odd position, so enchanted that Harry smiled again at him. "This way to the kitchen and the food," he said, tugging on Draco's arm.
"But your friends aren't here yet," Draco whispered, his hands coming down on Harry's arm.
"Yeah, but I need to get these flowers in water and then sit down before I kiss you again," Harry said.
Draco laughed aloud then, and Harry liked the way it sounded better than any noise Draco had made since they were in the house. Well, all right, maybe those gasps he made after I pulled away count, too, Harry thought a little smugly as he led the way into the kitchen.
"You're a lot more practical than I thought you were," Draco said, folding his hands beneath his chin and fluttering his eyelashes a little when Harry looked up from the flowers and the vase. "You come up with things to do that I hadn't thought you would consider. Or things that a house-elf could do for you."
Harry shrugged as he moved back to examine the food. The leaves of lettuce in the salad looked all right, he decided. He had been worried about them wilting. "It's probably only having magic for fifteen years or so. I'm still not always used to all the things you can do with it."
"But you've had magic all your life. Unless you're going to tell me that those ridiculous rumors about Muggleborns stealing pure-bloods' wands were true after all, and you knocked some kid down in Diagon Alley and took his."
Harry froze, staring at the wall. Then he rolled his eyes. You're the one who brought this up. Draco didn't say anything about it.
He forced himself to move and speak casually as he cast one more spell on the fruit, to clean off a little dirt and heal some of the bruised patches on their skin. "I mean that I grew up with Muggles. They knew about it, but I didn't, so until I was eleven it was like I didn't have magic at all."
Silence from behind him. Harry turned around to see Draco watching him with a really strange expression on his face.
Concern, Harry realized a moment later. He'd seen Draco looking the same way in the house sometimes, but then Harry would say something that knocked Draco back into irritation or at least banter, and they would move past that instant when things could have marched a different direction. Here, there was nothing but the grumbling of Kreacher in the background and the ticking of the clock.
"I knew you grew up with Muggles," Draco said. "Not the rest of it." He made a vague motion with his hand, paused and looked disturbed at himself, and then said quietly, "Will you tell me about it?"
That's better than the demand that he probably would have made a little while ago, Harry thought, and rubbed his forehead. He considered the clock, the fact that Ron and Hermione would probably arrive soon, and the equal fact that he had been the one to bring this up in the first place.
And what Draco would feel if Harry said something about it and then tried to change the conversation from that subject on the weak excuse that his friends were coming soon. Draco would probably feel that Harry was choosing his friends over him again, and it would be worse now that he had a concrete example to point to and not just his own fears.
"All right," Harry said, turning around. "But we can't discuss it in detail right now. Ron and Hermione are coming, and they don't--they get too upset about it. I want it to be a private conversation with you. It can't be that if they join in."
He knew he had said the right thing when Draco's eyes brightened, and he nodded and leaned forwards on his chair, gaze fastened eagerly on Harry's face and hands fastened together. "I won't say anything else," he promised. "While they're here."
But when they're gone...
Well, I reckon that it's at least a sign of growing closeness if I can hear the words that he wants to speak so clearly, Harry thought wryly, and took the chair across from Draco. Kreacher could handle the last parts of dinner, and it would make him happier to do so.
"My relatives knew about magic, and it freaked them out," Harry said. "They wanted to be normal. Mundane. So when Dumbledore left me on their doorstep with a note about my parents being killed by him, they decided that they were never going to tell me. If I didn't know anything about it, I couldn't do magic."
"That's stupid," Draco said. "Children do accidental magic all the time, they can't help it." He sounded as though he was reciting from an aphorism of his father's, but this time, as though it was something Lucius might have said to comfort him instead of indoctrinate him.
"You know that, and I know that. My relatives didn't have any other experience with wizarding children."
"That's insane." Draco sat up with his eyes sparking. "When you said they knew about magic, I thought--but why did Dumbledore leave you with them? I know he wasn't the batty old man he liked to pretend he was, but this is insane. I'm sorry you had to go through that, Harry."
Harry silently put out his hand, and Draco gripped it. Harry realized that he had forgotten to listen for the chime of the Floo, that he wasn't that worried about Ron and Hermione arriving right now and walking into the middle of this. He could do this.
It's wonderful how I feel when I focus on him. No, when he focuses on me, and does it in a way that's not about sex.
"He was afraid of who might influence me if I grew up in the wizarding world," Harry said quietly. "That I might turn into a pampered, spoiled hero who was convinced I only had to lift a finger and I could save the world. Or, worse, that a bunch of people would jump to serve me if I lifted that finger. Or what if the family who raised me tried to push me in a certain political direction before I knew anything? He thought it was better for me to come in ignorant."
"Not ignorant of magic."
Harry hesitated for a minute. Then he shook his head. "No, I don't think he planned on that."
"Then he was insane," Draco repeated flatly. "I know you might not want to hear that, because I know he was a hero to you--"
"Not so much of a hero," Harry interrupted, and the Floo chimed. He sighed and stood up. "Thanks for listening. Can you not talk about it as long as Ron and Hermione are here?"
"I'll do my best," Draco said steadily. "And they already know about this, anyway, don't they? So there's no reason for me to hint around about knowing a secret." He sat back with his arms folded and watched Harry thoughtfully.
"Exactly," Harry said, smiling and turning around as the Floo chimed again. He could have let Kreacher answer it, but he preferred not to, simply because of the way that Kreacher squinted at Ron. Ron always said it put him right off his dinner. "Thanks, Draco. For--for listening, and for agreeing."
Draco sat back with a small smile. Harry suspected it was probably a smug smile that they had shared a private conversation before Ron and Hermione got here, but he couldn't even blame him for that. Harry was the one who had brought up the topic, who had made the decision to talk about it, who had asked Draco to wait. And Draco was going to wait.
As he went to welcome his friends, Harry was almost sorry that he couldn't tell them about this, because they would have been awed by how forbearing and considerate Draco had just showed himself.
And the dinner went--all right.
Draco and Harry sat on one side of the table, Ron and Hermione on the other. Harry had hesitated over the seating arrangements, wondering if it would make his friends feel like he was against them, but something that left Draco beside one of them would probably be far worse. And, frankly, Harry didn't want to be at the other end of the table from Draco, distant from him and thus unable to kick him if he started in with some snotty comment.
Draco made no snotty comments, though. He nodded in response to Ron's office talk and Hermione's talk about house-elves, passed the dishes when asked and asked for them in turn when he couldn't reach them, said, "Please," and "Thank you," and didn't try to touch Harry in embarrassing ways. Harry let his slightly-raised hand finally drop to his lap, and squeezed Draco's wrist instead.
Draco turned slightly pink, but said nothing. Hermione was the one who glanced back and forth between them and said, "You seem pretty comfortable with each other, Harry."
"Yes, we do," Harry said firmly, and gave Hermione a quelling look as Draco's chin started to rise. Hermione gave him the standard "I am concerned about you" look in response. Harry made his face into the "I don't give a fuck, shut up," glare that he only used once or twice a year, and Hermione shut her mouth and blinked.
"We get along better than I thought we could, once we were outside the house," Draco said, speaking the sentence in a way that made it sound as if it was coming from between clenched teeth. Harry couldn't blame him for that, though. "It--I didn't want to leave the house because I thought I would lose Harry. It seems I haven't, though."
"Are you sure that you won't?" Ron's eyes were moving back and forth between him and Draco, making Harry grit his teeth. Ron only met his eyes in some confusion when Harry tried to shake his head at him, though. It's a nice conversation, I asked a polite question.
"Not sure. He told me that." Draco's chin could have cut ice. "But I trust him to tell me honestly when he doesn't want me anymore or--or when he feels like it isn't working out. That isn't something I'm used to."
"Especially not in the war," Hermione said, nodding, her voice that perfect mixture of softness that Harry couldn't have imitated and gentleness that meant she could get away with a lot more than most people could. "Yes, I understand. Most of us would have a hard time trusting people after the war."
It looked as though Draco might say something really unfortunate, and Harry pinched the back of his hand. Draco choked a little, nodded, and said, "Yes, the war did a number on all our minds," which pleased Hermione to the extent of making her smile at him.
"You don't mind if we go on calling you Malfoy, do you?" Ron asked, picking up the salt in the middle of the table and liberally scattering it over the apple halves Harry had given them earlier. Harry had yet to figure out why he wanted to ruin perfectly good apples that way, and Hermione had only said that she couldn't really get him to stop when Harry asked, so Harry had been forced to give in and ignore it. "Only it would be weird to call you by your first name when we've thought of you by your last name for so long."
Draco pressed his lips firmly together, probably so that his snort of laughter wouldn't escape. But he nodded. "As long as you don't mind that I'll go on calling you Granger and Weasley, too."
"Just don't say it in the tone you usually have, and we'll be fine," Ron said placidly, and bit into his disgusting apples. He winked at Harry, but Harry thought that came more from the face he was undoubtedly making than because he thought he'd got a victory over Draco.
"Or compare us to small animals." Hermione promptly turned around and frowned at Ron. "Any small animals are out of bounds for anyone when it comes to comparisons."
Ron held up his hand in surrender, but Harry heard him mutter, "What about large ones?" A moment later, he winced as Hermione kicked him under the table.
"Good," Harry said loudly, and stood up to begin clearing dishes from the table. "So now that you know each other a little better, can you stop depending on me to translate for you and stop asking me behind my back if I'm going to abandon you any time soon?"
"We'll try." Hermione gave him a melting look that didn't fool Harry for a second and reached across the table to squeeze his hand. "We just care about you and want you to be happy, you know."
Harry squeezed back, but said, "I know that. The way you go about it is just bloody exhausting, sometimes."
Draco blinked, maybe because Harry had said something to Hermione that Draco himself must have thought at one time. Hermione chuckled a little and shook her head. "Fine, Harry, have it your way," she said, and stood up, stretching and pressing her hands to her back. "I'm for bed. I was up late last night."
"And I wasn't," Ron told Harry with a pouting lip. "How's that for fair?"
There was a flurry of farewells then, the joke about firecalling that Ron always did and Hermione trying to tell Harry about half a dozen meetings on house-elf rights in the next week that he could attend if he wanted to. Draco hung back, and Harry turned to him when the Floo closed behind Ron and Hermione and realized that he was biting his lip and staring at the floor.
It was obvious what he wanted.
Harry just didn't know if he was up to giving it to him.
But they had a conversation to finish, and the dinner had gone spectacularly, which meant Harry wasn't retiring to his bed with a glass of Firewhisky and bitter contemplations of the mess that was his life. So he took a deep breath, and said, "Would you like to stay? For a while?"
Draco's face lit up like a firework.
Chapter 15: Oh, What a Conversation
Harry moved around the living room, lighting the candles on the shelves and tables by hand, although he could have used his wand, or simply lit the fire on the hearth with equal ease. He could feel Draco behind him, and the hungry quality of his gaze, and he knew very well he was putting things off.
Draco knew it, too, but he remained quiet until Harry had lit the last candle and turned around to nod to him. Then he smiled and let his eyes run around the room. "This is a handsomer place than I expected," he remarked.
Harry looked with him, trying to see it the way a stranger would--no, the way Draco would, which was far more immediately relevant. The wood was all dark, but it no longer looked grimy, thanks to efforts by Harry and Kreacher. The fireplace had dark stone around it, and red brick that glowed in the candlelight. There were a few lamps with crystalline shades, and some bookshelves that Harry had enchanted to have lighter wood.
"Yeah, well," Harry said, and gave Draco a faint smile. "Your ancestors had good taste."
"So do you."
Harry licked his lips and felt his throat squeeze. He couldn't retreat every time Draco said something like that, he reminded himself. Draco was giving him compliments, keeping silent when Harry asked him to, bringing gifts along like the roses that he probably wouldn't give ordinarily but thought were the kind Harry wanted. Harry had to meet him halfway.
"Thank you," he said quietly, and took a seat on the couch across from Draco. Kreacher popped up with two glasses of wine. Harry took his and watched Draco accept the other, his fingers curving around the stem. "Now. You wanted to know more about my childhood?"
Draco hesitated, then said, "Yes. But not if talking about it hurts you the way it seems to."
"It always hurts me, at least a little," Harry said, and shook his head. "I wouldn't have talked to you about it if it made me faint or something. I can stand this."
Draco nodded. "That bad, were they?"
Harry looked up with an instinctive protest on his lips, and saw Draco leaning forwards, gripping the edge of his couch, his drink forgotten enough to tilt towards the floor. Yeah, Harry, don't lie now, Harry thought, shaking his head. There's only so far you can go in fending off people who want to express sympathy.
"Yes," Harry said. "They were pretty bad." He swirled his drink in his glass, and was glad suddenly that Kreacher had brought them. Harry thought it might be a bad idea if he ended up drinking anything, because him in a room with Draco and impaired judgment was just asking for trouble. But it gave him something to do with his hands, and meant he didn't have to meet Draco's eyes every single second. "They punished me for accidental magic. And they were determined to keep me away from Hogwarts. They kept tearing up the letters and driving away to avoid them."
Draco blinked. "Don't they know that that only means more letters arrive?"
"They didn't," Harry said. "Although you'd think they would notice when hundreds more letters came pouring down the chimney or through the door. But no, my uncle kept snatching them away from me, and then he took me and my aunt and cousin to this island off the coast. He was sure that no one would find us there." He smiled a little. "He didn't count on Hagrid."
"That was the reason you liked him," Draco murmured. "He was the first one to tell you you were a wizard." He reached across the distance between them, even though it made for an awkward stretch, and put his hand on Harry's knee. "I'm sorry, Harry. I never would have made fun of him if I knew."
Harry met his eyes. "But you would be keeping quiet just to be polite. I mean--it wouldn't be what you really believed."
Draco snorted faintly. "And are you keeping silent on the subject of my parents, and especially what my father did to Weasley's little sister, because you've spontaneously decided they were good people, or because you don't want to upset me?" He held Harry's eyes, not letting him look away this time. "Being polite is part of what we need to do around each other, Harry--I'd say more often. It doesn't turn everything into a lie."
Harry shut his eyes, nodded, and swirled his drink again. "Okay. Thanks." He felt Draco's hand squeeze, and pushed ahead with the story. "They--they kept me in a cupboard for most of my childhood. I mean, that was my bedroom. And that was where they locked me when they thought I'd been bad, like fighting with my cousin or asking for birthday presents or doing accidental magic. They would always tell me to be quiet when someone else came over, because they knew some people would be upset by them doing that."
Harry looked. Draco was quiet, and it felt as though he had drifted a hundred miles from Harry, even though he still sat there with his hand on Harry's knee. He was looking at the far wall. Harry shivered. He thought Draco looked more frightening than he ever had during the war when he was trying to pretend to be a big, bad Death Eater.
"You look as though you want to kill them," Harry said, the first words that came to mind for the look on Draco's face.
Draco shrugged a little, and smiled at him. "Do I? Yes, I suppose I do. But I know that you probably wouldn't want me to." His fingers traced up and down Harry's knee, and Harry gulped as awareness seemed to flare there, in skin that he hadn't thought was that sensitive before. "I just think about it, though, and think about the way that you probably had to crouch in that cupboard, and how small you were." He broke off and stared directly at Harry. "They didn't feed you much, did they?"
Harry frowned. But Draco had probably guessed that because of his size when he first came to Hogwarts, rather than through something specific Harry had given away. "No," Harry admitted. "They thought I only deserved food at specific times, and when I'd misbehaved wasn't one of those times."
"Let me guess." Draco's fingers stopped their distracting trace around Harry's knee and tightened there instead. "They thought you'd 'misbehaved' an awful lot."
Harry nodded. "By their standards, I reckon I did. They were terrified of magic, and I did better in school than Dudley--my cousin--and--"
Draco reached up and put his hand over Harry's mouth, and although his eyes were soft, he was smiling in a way that made Harry shut up. "I don't want to hear you excuse them," Draco whispered. "Please."
Harry squeezed his arm in return. He had noticed this before, how talking about the Dursleys seemed to hurt his friends more than it did him. That was another reason he didn't do it often.
Draco sat back at last, picked up his glass, and took a gulp of his drink. "I never knew," he whispered. "I don't think many people ever did. But it makes what you did during the war make a lot more sense."
Harry stared at him. "What?" He couldn't think of anything he had done during the war that he hadn't done before. Defending Muggles wasn't new, and neither was defying Voldemort.
"The way that you think you're not worth as much as other people." Draco continued to look evenly at him, but his hand on the glass shook a little. "The way that you jumped into the middle of any dangerous situation. Even the way that you reacted when--when my aunt tortured Granger. You still think of yourself as smaller than others, don't you? If you could have suffered for Granger, you would have done it."
Harry had to shake his head. "I'm not as good or as broken as you think I am," he told Draco. "I would have jumped into Hermione's place, but she's my friend. If I saw Bellatrix being tortured? Sorry, I know she was your aunt, but I would have laughed and walked right on by."
"I wonder if you would have."
Harry shifted from side to side. "I didn't tell you this about my relatives so that you could analyze me. I told you about it because I want to show I trust you, and I brought it up and so I owe you an explanation."
"I understand that," Draco said, which, Harry noted to himself, was not actually a promise to stop analyzing Harry. He put his drink down and leaned across the gap between the couches again. "Can I tell you something? Not something about the war. I think you know enough about that. But something about the way I've brewed Potions since the war, why I turned to Dark things."
Harry nodded. He had forgotten about it under the pressure of everything else and because the Wizengamot had accepted his interpretation of events, but Draco was still a wanted criminal. Trying to date someone who did illegal things would hardly work when he was an Auror. "All right."
"The Dark potions are the more powerful ones," Draco whispered, his voice low as if he was disclosing trade secrets. Hell, for all Harry knew, he was. "The ones that require the most work and skill to brew, the ones that can go wrong in an instant if you don't know what you're doing. That's mostly because they're meant to influence someone's spirit or mind or body, and so they require a sacrifice that's similar from you."
That made sense to Harry, more than most of the similar Potions theory Hermione or other people had tried to teach him. "And you wanted to be powerful?" he whispered back.
Draco nodded. "I never was, you know. It was my father and his money that people feared when they talked to me, not me. And then--then the war came along and showed me that I wasn't even as strong or smart as I thought I was. Never mind feared." He made a soft disgusted sound, like gargling spit. "There were too many people out there better at it than I was."
"I think you don't need to be," Harry said, and squeezed Draco's wrist, not quite knowing when he'd taken his hand.
"At that time?" Draco nodded again, slowly. "I needed to be as strong and deadly as I thought I was if I was going to protect my family. But the Dark Lord taught me I couldn't do that. I suffered, and broke, and came out of the war knowing no one cared much about me."
There didn't seem to be much to say, so Harry squeezed his wrist again. Eventually, as Draco sat there, he found words. "So you decided to brew Dark potions so that you would never be helpless again."
Draco gave him a sharp smile. "Yes, I did. A good guess. You can analyze me as much from what I say to you as I can analyze you from your words, can't you?"
Harry made a helpless little gesture. He reckoned that was true, although he hadn't thought of it in those terms. "So we become equally vulnerable to each other?"
Draco nodded. "The way we weren't in the house." He took Harry's hands and chafed them back and forth. "That was another reason I wanted you. You seemed so strong, so powerful. If you paid attention to me, that meant I was someone worth paying attention to. Of course, since I was a Dark Potions master and you were an Auror, that was just another reason it would never happen."
"And now?" Harry looked into his face. "Are you going back to brewing the same kind of potions?"
Draco hesitated a fraction of a second. Then he said, "It would depend on how this works out. I can brew other potions that take less time and make me more money. But sometimes I think I'll be weaker in the face of this exchange with you than I ever was before." He continued chafing, and didn't look away.
Harry slowly nodded. "I don't think I could ever give up being an Auror. And it seems selfish to ask you to give up your career."
Draco shrugged with one shoulder. "It's a matter of desires. If I have you, then I have something I want more than I want to be able to brew Dark potions. It's not as though you're asking me to give up potions forever because it reminds you of Professor Snape or something."
"Well, now that you mention it..." Harry began, and then had to laugh aloud at the look on Draco's face. "No, don't worry about it. I wouldn't do that to you."
Draco nodded, then fixed him with a hard stare. "Of course, if you're going to report me for what I've already done, I have no reason to give it up, either."
"I don't think I should have to," Harry said. "I didn't observe you brewing the potions. I don't know which apothecaries you purchased the ingredients from, whether any of them were illegal themselves, or who you sold the potions to. If you did something like set up a Dark lab in my house, that would be a problem."
Draco nodded a third time. "Do you think--do you think, at this point, that it's going to work?"
Harry bit his lip. There was nothing to be done but face hard truths this evening, it seemed. "Can you put up with Hermione as someone who's going to be bossy and annoying sometimes, and who doesn't always say the right thing at the right moment? Or do you think she's inferior and you're going to flinch every time I hug her, because I also touch her?"
Draco blinked. "Well. That's direct enough."
"But I have to know," Harry said. "Because I could ignore it for a while, but in the end, you would think about me the same way you did about her. Or you would flinch when I brought my mum up, and not because she was the real reason the war ended and I could defeat You-Know-Who."
Draco reached out and let his hand lie on the table between them. "You ask me questions like that, but you're willing to soften his name for my sake?"
"Not the same thing," Harry said, with a small shake of his head. "I knew lots of people who were afraid of saying his name. It didn't make them cowards, though when I was a kid I thought it did. But hating someone because of their blood makes you hateful and disgusting. I can make allowances for what you did when you were a kid, if you can forgive me. I won't make allowances for someone who's an adult."
"I want you. Isn't that answer enough?"
"You want to fuck me," Harry said, while Draco winced from the word that he had said himself in the house. Harry thought that was interesting, but he also thought they should finish one conversation before they began another one. "Do you want to kiss me? Touch my hand? Look into my face? Have me touch you when you're sick? Bring you gifts? Or will you always think my blood is tainted and that taints everything except maybe the sex that you want despite yourself?"
"I'm starting to see why you never had any other lovers," Draco muttered, and took a long drink. "They probably couldn't stand the storm."
Harry nodded. "I was pretty demanding. I'm going to be demanding of you, too. I'll want to know what you think and believe a lot. You get to ask me anything you want in return. I'll be as honest as I can."
Draco put his glass down on the table. "All right. So I'll ask you something, and if you agree to answer it, then I'll answer yours." Before Harry could consider, he rushed on. "How badly do you think the war messed you up? Do you have nightmares? Do you wake up in the middle of the night reaching for your wand? Do memories sometimes pounce on you, or are there things you can't do because of it?"
Harry smiled. "I can answer that. So you can do the same. I'll go first, shall I?"
"Merlin." Draco drained his glass this time, although he ignored the way that Kreacher immediately popped up with another full one. "There's one thing that the stereotypes about Gryffindors didn't exaggerate. You're a brave one."
"I just don't know any other way to be," Harry said, shrugging. "So I don't know if it's a virtue or not. Yes, I do have nightmares. Not as many since I spent a lot of time talking about it to my friends, and I was on Dreamless Sleep for a while. But they're still there. I have to have my wand near me. As for other effects, you saw me during the time we were in the house. I wanted to be free. I had to be free. I wanted to know what had happened with the Solitary Brewer and the case I was working on, and I couldn't stand being trapped. I would rather face him half a dozen times than be trapped somewhere where I can't do anything."
"Thank you," Draco whispered. "I don't know if I can be honest in the same way, but I said that I would be, and I’ll try." He sat up with an expression on his face that Harry would have thought he'd have worn when confronting the Wizengamot. But it wasn't Harry's place to judge what Draco looked like, except when it came to whether Draco was attractive to him. He sipped at his own Firewhisky and waited.
"I find you distracting, and maddening, and attractive, and desirable," Draco said, staring at him. "But you're a half-blood, and you were born to magic in a way that Granger wasn't. No, hear me out," he added when Harry stood up with his mouth open. "You had an unhappy childhood. You just told me that. You were ready to leave your family behind and come join us because there was really nothing more for you in the Muggle world. So I can trust that you're making a whole-hearted commitment.
"But Granger was raised in total ignorance of magic, and she probably had a happy childhood. We never know whether Muggleborns are going to embrace living in the wizarding world, the way she has, or whether they'll want to go back. And the ones who go back are the ones that could prove dangerous to us."
"That's one of the reasons the Obliviators exist," Harry snapped. "And pure-blood wizards could betray our existence to Muggles, if they wanted to."
"But your friend Granger, and others, have talked for years about how the use of Memory Charms on unwilling victims is horrible," Draco said, his smile almost a skull's grin. "I think Granger is actively campaigning against continued use of Obliviators. You can see why she makes me nervous."
"And that's the same thing as hating her for her blood?" Harry stared at him. "It's a more rational basis for fear than I've heard before, but none of the pure-bloods talked about it that way."
Draco shrugged. "That's why I'm going to be uncomfortable around her, probably for the rest of my life. She wants to change too much about the way I live. As for hugging her or touching her or whatever, she won't be doing those things to me, so I don't care. I won't insult her if she doesn't insult me. I'll treat her exactly as she treats me. The minute she strikes at me, I'll strike back."
Harry would have opened his mouth to say something else, but instead he sat down and sipped at his drink again. Draco blinked in turn and started on the drink Kreacher had brought him, watching Harry all the while. Harry didn't think he blinked again while Harry thought.
As much as it probably would have been good to scold Draco and tell him about the Muggles' Golden Rule and how it worked...
Well, the way Draco felt about Hermione was the way Harry felt about most people.
He liked the people who were nice to him, and he would be nice to them in return. He saw no reason to treat enemies kindly. Decently, sure. He would make sure criminals weren't beaten up or injured in custody, and he had only ever killed when he was an Auror to defend himself. It didn't matter what they'd done and how angry he was about it, it mattered that he had them tied up and he was in control and he wasn't going to do to someone what his relatives had done to him when he was too young to fight back.
But he wasn't going to hug his enemies or forgive them. He wouldn't trust the people like Rita Skeeter who prattled on about how good he was to his face and then gossiped about him behind his back. He still resented Snape and Dumbledore, even though they were also heroes and they had died to save the world. He would have liked to be able to tell everyone to fuck off and save themselves from Voldemort, even though he never had.
But the pure and true hero so many people thought he was wouldn't have even had the thought. Harry lived a lot more by Draco's rule than Hermione would have been happy to hear about. He thought most people did.
"Sure," he said at last. "I can see the sense in that. Maybe don't phrase it that way to her, but if you're polite, she should be."
"What about Weasley?" Draco touched his throat a second later, as though surprised the words had escaped. Of course, maybe he'd thought he needed more time to absorb the information about Hermione.
"If you're polite to Hermione, you've won a lot of points with him." Harry put his drink down, because his head was starting to spin, and he didn't think he needed any more. "And if he starts getting rude, Hermione will make him be quiet."
"I won't take insults sitting down, Harry." Draco's eyes glittered in a way that probably didn't have much to do with alcohol. "I told you that. If he starts something, I'll let him start it, and I'll finish it."
Harry rolled his eyes. "I just told you that. Hermione will step in and make you both finish it early, is more like. I'm willing to accept that, Draco. I'm willing to accept a lot from you, as long as it's honest and different from the house."
"Different from the house."
Harry stared at him, at his bowed head and hanging hands, and, unusually for him and Draco, figured out what the problem was before Draco told him. "Oh, for," he said, and then took the shorter course to making Draco pay attention and just reached across the table and shook him. When Draco gaped at him, he snapped, "It doesn't mean that we can't ever have sex again. I just want to have different sex than the kind we had in the house. Where I can agree to everything, and we're doing it because we both want it, not because we're being pushed into it in hopes of escaping."
"It was never about that for me." Draco said the words quietly, leaning close with those glittering eyes. "God, just being near you makes me drunk. Please, Harry? A kiss?"
"Not just because you want it, or the house wants it," Harry told him. "Because we both do."
"There's no house here," Draco said. "There's me, and you, and it goes as far as you want it, because you're the saner one." He looped his arms around Harry's neck and kissed him, and Harry leaned across the table, dragging Draco onto it by main force, and then leaned back onto the couch, so that Draco was pulled on top of him, and flung himself into it.
It felt different, incredibly different, from just surrendering the way he had in the house. This was like leaping into a raging river and trying to swim. Draco fought him, his muscles twitching and his sleek body turning, and Harry fought back, circling his legs around Draco's hips and using them to position him how he wanted him. Draco moaned, Harry was silent through forcing himself to be by biting his lips, and it was lovely.
When they broke apart, Draco stared at him with his mouth open, lips slick, and Harry smiled and twisted to his feet. "Bedroom," he declared, hauling on Draco's wrist.
Draco followed, still dazed. Harry pulled on him again, impatient. He wanted to see what sex was like when he wanted it.
Chapter 16: In Memory of Consequences
Draco roused up again from the dazed puppet Harry had turned him into when he kissed him, and kissed Harry again, firmly, within the door of his bedroom, his fingers sliding onto Harry’s shoulders and gripping until Harry thought he might shake him. He lifted his own hands, though, and caught Draco’s wrists, and held them there, and they stumbled into the bed gripping each other.
This bed wouldn’t shrink under them, or grow larger, or try to make them sleep in a particular way, Harry thought. They wouldn’t wake up tangled with each other. Unless they wanted to.
And that made all the difference.
Draco had shown him how pleasurable sex could be, but their first time together hadn’t made Harry’s fingers burn this way, hadn’t made his hands clumsy when he pulled at Draco’s clothes, hadn’t shown him the way that Draco would look up at him from his nest in the middle of a bunch of blankets and crook a finger. And that was more arousing than infuriating, somehow.
“Come here,” Draco whispered. “I want to see you come.”
Harry took his time removing his own shirt and letting it slide down his shoulders, because they were out of the house and he only had to obey Draco’s orders when they matched his own desires. Long before he got his shirt completely off, Draco was gaping at him, a small string of drool sliding down his cheek. Harry reached out and caught it on one finger, cocking his head winsomely at Draco.
“Yes, I drool over you,” Draco said, and reached down to grip his erection, thrusting it towards Harry in his fist.
Harry almost melted to the bed, but turned it to good purpose by kneeling down and taking Draco in his mouth.
Draco stared at the ceiling with his mouth going wider and wider, and then began a series of short, uncoordinated thrusts into Harry’s throat, which was when Harry learned that it wasn’t much fun when your lover tried to choke you. He pulled back, shaking his head, and this time leaned his cheek on Draco’s leg, so that no matter what angle Draco thrust at, he would have a harder time getting all the way down Harry’s throat.
“Sorry, sorry,” Draco whispered, and his hands snatched at Harry’s hair and the sheets and his own legs, digging his fingers into his skin as though that would make up for something. “Sorry, I—I didn’t mean to.”
He sounded like he thought Harry might climb out of bed and give up on him entirely. Harry didn’t want that. So he licked him to show that he was forgiven and to shut him up, and then returned to using his mouth in different ways. Draco babbled in response and fell back on the bed with his legs wide open.
Harry pulled back, once, to absorb that vision. Draco on his bed, under his roof, was absurdly satisfying. Draco panting for him and making desperate little motions of his hands for Harry to get back to what he was doing was great.
Harry dipped his head and began to practice with circling his tongue in different directions and altering the angle of his head. Draco responded to all of it, arching his back and crying out, but he never closed his eyes, and he never took them off Harry.
It was impossible not to feel touched by that tribute, that Draco wanted to see at all times who was in bed with him. Harry rewarded him with a special scrape of his tongue, and then he locked his hands on Draco’s hips and slid Draco down his throat after all.
Draco whined, his hips thrusting in jagged little movements as he fought his own desire. Harry closed his lips down as hard as he could and sucked, and Draco gave in with a resounding cry. Harry tried his best to swallow, but it was just impossible, and he ended up turning his head and coughing some of it discreetly over the side of the bed.
He thought Draco might stare at him in disgust when he turned back, but the emotion on his face was closer to rapture, and he reached up to cradle Harry’s head and draw him down for a kiss, ignoring Harry’s muttering about what his breath must smell like.
“You’re magnificent,” Draco said, and he really did sound more drunk than what he’d had earlier could account for. “God, I want to touch you. Make you come.” He was running his hands over Harry’s shoulders as though that could do it, but Harry had to admit, it was the only part of him that was bare.
“Down here,” Harry said, and took Draco’s hand and directed it to the right spot. Yeah. He closed his eyes and rocked into Draco’s grip.
Before Harry could get his eyes all the way open and tell Draco that he was still just as bossy as ever and Harry did not like it, Draco was stripping his trousers off, and his pants followed right after that. And he was fastening his hand around Harry’s cock, and it was better with the cloth gone, so Harry would give him that one.
“What do you want?” Draco was easing Harry back into the pillows like he was a bride or something, and then hovering over him, staring down at him. “What do you—anything you want. Anything you like.”
Harry squinted up at him. The problem was that a lot of what he liked was in their memories from the house, but he was determined that whatever they did here, it was going to be different from the house.
Well, he could think of one thing that was different, at least. “Fuck me like this,” he said. “On my back, so I can see you, and all those absurd faces that I know you made the last time we fucked.”
Draco half-closed his eyes and nodded, then cast a spell at his own cock. In seconds, he was erect again and rocking into Harry’s arse, and his eyes were wide open with desperation.
“That’s what I like to see,” Harry said, and smiled sweetly at him while he reached across the bed for the lube.
“You like to see me desperate to fuck you?” Draco was taking the lube from him almost before Harry realized that he had it in hand, and he was drinking Harry in with his eyes, and Harry arched his neck and threw his head back feeling that he was more alive than he had ever been.
“I like to see you as desperate as I am,” Harry said, and spread his legs. “That was what was infuriating in the house, knowing that anything you wanted you were going to get, and what I felt was just—”
Draco shook his head. “I don’t want to think about the house right now. I want to think about you, and I want you to tell me how you like it.”
Harry wanted to say that they had to talk about the house sometime, and ask how he could know what he liked when he’d never had sex with any man except Draco? But he had known how he liked to be kissed even though he and Ginny hadn’t done much together, and Cho had been his only kiss before that.
He half-shut his eyes and thought about it while Draco slicked himself up and made sure that all their clothes were off. How would he like to be fucked? To be touched, around his arse and on his legs and on his balls?
It was Draco’s voice, gentle and frantic both at once, as though he was afraid that Harry would retreat into his own head and leave him there. Harry nodded and reached out, taking Draco’s hand in his, feeling the lube slicking his fingers. He guided the fingers down to his entrance, and paused until he could feel Draco’s breath coming sharp and hard, and then slid Draco’s fingers into himself.
That was what he liked, fast and hard and with Draco’s breath getting even more frantic. God, it was desperate and it was what he wanted, more than anything, more intense than anything else had ever been. Draco’s fingers twisted and delved, and Harry pushed Draco’s hand further and further into himself.
He realized that he was murmuring and stretching his legs and enjoying it when a ragged edge of Draco’s nail caught at him, but he didn’t know what Draco was feeling. He remedied that right away by opening his eyes.
Draco was bending over him, his rapt eyes flickering back and forth between Harry’s hole and Harry’s face. Harry smiled at him and spread his legs until he thought he could feel the edges of the bed behind his knees.
“Please,” he said, because he wanted to see what would happen.
Draco reared back on his heels and seized Harry’s legs, was what happened, and Harry arched his neck back and hummed as Draco pulled his hand out. He felt pleasantly empty, aching, waiting, but also knowing what was coming. Yes, this was nicer than anything they had done in the house.
Then Draco was sliding into him.
It hurt, of course. Well, yes. Harry hadn’t done this much. But he knew the pain could give way now, and he knew that Draco was watching him, and Harry could watch him back if he wanted. He just didn’t really want to right now, because closing his eyes made the sensations so much more intense.
Then the pain ebbed a bit, and Draco held himself still and panted, and Harry thought that maybe it was time to open his eyes and take a look.
Draco was rocking back and forth, his head bobbing, his mouth dangling. But his eyes remained as steady on Harry’s as ever, and there was a depth in them, a light, that made Harry want to reach up to his neck.
He couldn’t persuade his hand to stretch that far. His arms were limp with pleasure, and so was most of the rest of him, minus one part. He did manage to find one of Draco’s hands that was on his hip and guide it to his cock, though. So Harry didn’t feel that he was completely useless right now.
“Yes, yes,” Draco whispered. “You ought to see your face.”
“Same back to you,” Harry wanted to say, but by this point he couldn’t get the words out. He was swallowing air and turning it into pleasure. It burned in his chest, and his face, and his neck, and his arse. All of him burned and was consumed, and it had never felt like this in the house. He tilted his head further back on the pillow, gasping out air.
Then Draco began to stroke him, and that was even better. Harry made all sorts of noises that sounded embarrassing to him but probably thrilled Draco, and really, who was ever going to know that he liked to whimper in bed?
And when he could lift his head again and focus on Draco’s face…
Being worshipped wasn’t fun when Harry knew that the person worshipping him didn’t know about his fear, or care about it. To them, he was just a hero who always went and did the right thing, and then came back and was strong about it.
But Draco knew. He knew that Harry had hated the house, and had been a virgin, and wanted him to get along with his friends, and was pathetic on a number of levels.
But he was still looking at him like that.
Harry reached down hard, straining, and impaled himself further on Draco’s cock when he did, and wasn’t that brilliant? He managed to catch Draco’s hand, the one stroking him a little slower than they were fucking. He caught Draco’s hand, and wrung it back and forth, over and over, up and down, gasping as he did.
He didn’t know if he could properly convey what he was feeling, if there was any way of doing that. But he could look at Draco with distinct, sharp eyes, and touch his hand, and then drive himself down again, and Draco seemed to get the message enough to pick up the pace, his eyes never leaving Harry’s eyes now.
Draco was fucking him. Harry had to shut his eyes at last, and he gave himself up to that, and to the imagination of what he probably looked like, spread out on his bed, and to the reality of the feeling, deep inside him, over him, throughout his body. It was all through him. It was there. It was real.
There was no flight from it, and it was real.
His orgasm felt like the pleasure gathering and burning to a point, more intense but no greater than what he’d already felt. He rocked and clenched as he came, and felt Draco gasping and shuddering above him. Draco was calling out, too, and Harry might have been able to hear his name in there if he concentrated.
But, frankly, at this point in time, he couldn’t care less about what Draco was saying. He cared about what was happening inside him, around him, within his body and outside it.
When Draco sagged down on top of him, he brought the first return of pain. Harry didn’t care. He held Draco’s neck with his hands, scratching lightly at the nape with his nails, the way he’d thought of touching Draco’s cheek when they’d been in the middle of sex. He cradled him, and his body burned, and his lungs ached.
It was so brilliant. Yes, the house and what it had forced on them in there couldn’t touch it.
Harry had chosen this, and he was glad that he had been honest, and Draco had been honest, and they had kept going together. They might have violently torn themselves apart if they had just thought about the house; they might have fucked again if they had just trusted what happened in the house, and then it wouldn’t have been this good. And Draco might have gone his way the next day shaking his head.
“You’re drunk on pleasure,” Draco said, sounding startled, and very young.
Harry opened his eyes and smiled at him. Draco’s face was hanging a little under his, so Harry had to move his head until Draco could see the smile. “Yes, I am,” he said simply.
“Your friends—” Draco whispered, and swallowed nervously, and started again. “Your friends wouldn’t like that. They would think that you were only with me for the sex, and what would happen when the afterglow faded? Do you know, Harry? Do you know what’s going to happen to us if we fuck a few times and it gets worse for you?”
Harry rolled his eyes. “And of course you would say something like that, just when I was getting comfortable and not thinking about them,” he muttered. He stretched, and ended up tugging one arm out from under Draco to do it. Draco was staring at him anxiously, and Harry rolled his eyes again. “If you want my friends in the bed, just say so, Draco.”
Draco glared at him. Harry ruffled his hair, and Draco ducked away from his hand and glared at him again.
“If it gets worse, then you’ll be the first to know,” Harry said quietly. “Because you’re the one who’s sleeping with me. And I think you would be happy to leave me and go on your way, if it became bad for us.”
“I’ll never be happy without you.”
Draco’s eyes were wide and honest, and he might have been made of glass; Harry could see through him that easily. He took his hand and kissed him on the mouth, slow and long. Draco kissed back, and if he hadn’t already revived his cock with magic, Harry thought it would have woken up again.
“We’ll do something about that,” Harry said gently, pulling back. “Because I don’t want you feeling that you’re incomplete without me, Draco. I want you to stand on your own, and be happy with your life, and fuck whoever you want.”
“I don’t want to be different,” Draco said, curling himself around Harry. “I want to be with you, and I want to be happy.”
“But if those two things become different,” Harry said, as gently as he could, “if being with me makes you unhappy, would you really want to stay?”
Draco’s face went blank, and he looked over at the far wall. “I promised myself, once, after the war,” he said, voice so low that Harry only understood half the words long seconds after he spoke them, “that I would never let anyone make me unhappy again. That I would never stay in any situation where I was unhappy.”
“Do you think you can keep that promise?” Harry rubbed his wrist, up and down, feeling the quivering and yielding of the tendon, of the skin. “Because I want you to, Draco. I want you to be happy, but also your own person. If I suddenly died or it doesn’t work out, I don’t want you to think that your life will never be worthwhile again.”
Draco bowed his head, and didn’t say anything. Harry gently touched his cheek, trying to get Draco to look at him, but Draco just tightened his shoulders and shook his head.
“I’m in love with you,” Draco breathed. “And all you can keep talking about, even just after we had brilliant sex, is about how it might not work out, and you’ll abandon me the minute it doesn’t.”
Harry swallowed. He reached up and touched Draco’s hair, thought of kissing him again, knew it wouldn’t solve anything, and dropped his hands back to his sides.
“Yes, the sex was brilliant,” he said at last. “But I don’t know if we’ll be together for the rest of our lives, Draco. You still want the kind of commitment from me that I don’t know if I can give. If I told you that we were, if I told you that I was in love with you, and then it didn’t work out, what would happen to you? I think you would be more betrayed than you would be if I’m honest with you from the beginning.”
“Tell me what you think could destroy us.” Draco’s words were harshly gasped, and his hands fisted on either side of Harry’s hips. Harry realized with a little start that Draco was still inside him. They had been arguing so hard that the realization had slipped out of his mind. “Tell me what you’re afraid of. And I’ll fight it. I’ll fight it harder than anyone you ever heard of. Please, Harry.”
Harry gave it careful thought, while he petted Draco’s face with the backs of his fingers. If it would make Draco feel better, there was no reason not to talk about it, even though Harry felt his words wouldn’t encompass half the fears he had, half the things that could tear them apart. But didn’t he owe it to them to try?
Yes. I made the decision to try this when I met with him after the house instead of just walking away.
He looked up, and said, “I’m afraid that I won’t ever need you as much as you need me. I’m afraid that your love for me could be too obsessive. I’m afraid that you won’t like me being an Auror, or sharing me with other people. I’m afraid that I might fall in love with someone else, or that the sex won’t be enough between us forever. All those things.”
“But those are—ordinary things,” Draco said, and he lifted his head with his face transfigured. Harry stared into his blazing eyes, and couldn’t think of a thing to say. “I thought you would say you were afraid of something I couldn’t prevent, something different and important and special to being the Boy-Who-Lived. Or you would say the war, and I couldn’t change what I did and what I didn’t do. But you’re not afraid of the past?”
“I think we’ve got enough of the present to be afraid of right now,” Harry said dryly.
“I can do something about this,” Draco said, rubbing his hip and glancing down as if he had just realized that he was still inside Harry. From his small smile, he liked that fact. “I can’t change the fact that I’m in love with you, but I can try to be gentle and what you need, so you’ll fall in love with me, too. I can’t do anything about the past, but I can try to be polite to your friends from now on. And I can try not to do illegal things so that your career won’t cause problems between us.”
Harry shook his head. “How can I ask you to make those changes?”
“If I want to make them, then it’s kind of insulting that you would think you were somehow forcing me into them,” Draco said, and his eyes blazed.
“Er, right,” Harry said, still feeling nearly swept from his feet. “But what if we can’t keep this up? What if it doesn’t matter, and nothing we do is enough, and we break up in the end?”
“Then I’ll deal with that,” Draco said in a different voice, a low one, and he shifted his hips so that Harry gasped. “The same way I deal with my father being in prison and Severus being dead and the fact that I failed in the most important thing I ever had to do. The same way I dealt with being without you for years. We can do this, Harry. This is ordinary. You’re afraid of it because you’ve never had a regular lover before, but this is the kind of thing that so many people face every day.”
Harry folded his arms and scowled at him. “Then you ought to be okay with it. Better than you were, I mean. If anyone can break up at any time—”
“You wouldn’t say that you were afraid of ordinary things before this, prat,” Draco said, and lightly slapped the side of his head. “I thought it was something a lot bigger and darker than that. The war. Or magical. Or the house.”
“The house might still play a part,” Harry snapped.
“But right now, it doesn’t. Right now, I can do this.” Draco reached out and entwined their fingers, moving their hands backwards as though he was going to pin Harry’s hands against the pillow. “We can do this. Can I count on as you part of a ‘we,’ Harry? Can we do this?”
Harry took a deep breath. He was still so worried, about so many things, and Draco seemed to grow more hopeful the more Harry tried to warn him, which worried Harry.
But he thought about the roses Draco had bought him, and the pleasant dinner with his friends, and the way Draco had wanted to know what he liked, and he thought it was at least worth trying.
He nodded, his hair moving against his trapped wrists. “Yeah,” he said, and then Draco’s ferocious kiss drowned any other warning he might have given.
And Draco was inside him, tongue and cock and, Harry had to admit, worries and warnings and dreams, and it was pretty fucking brilliant, as well as brilliant fucking.
Chapter 17: Things Once Shared
Eating breakfast with Draco was different than Harry had imagined it would be, after the house. Draco woke up before he did, but when Harry opened his eyes, Draco was sitting up in the bed beside him, doing nothing but tracing one finger over Harry’s face, lingering each time he passed on the scar. Harry sneezed, and Draco took his hand away and smiled at him.
“I’m sorry, did I irritate the sleeping prince?” he murmured.
Harry shook his head and sat up. “I’m surprised I managed to sleep as long as I did, with you doing that,” he answered around a yawn. “Give me a few minutes to take a shower, and I can go down and get breakfast ready.”
“Oh, I already did that,” Draco answered, leaping off the bed.
He was trying desperately to act casual, bending down to pick up Harry’s shirt from the floor, but Harry could hear the intensity in his voice, and knew how much it meant to him. He blinked and held still for a minute, until he was sure he would say the right thing. Then he said, “Well, thank you. What did you make?”
Draco glanced over his shoulder. “Toast and eggs. It’s about all that I know how to make. It’s what I have for breakfast every morning,” he added, as though he thought Harry would wonder how he managed without house-elves.
Harry did wonder, but to have Draco make him breakfast was still so strange and new that he reached out and took Draco’s hand, kissing the back of it. Draco stared at him, blushing until Harry thought his face might explode. Harry looked away and gave Draco a minute to recover while he Summoned his morning robes. “Good, I’m starving,” he said.
Draco leaned around to the side as though he wanted to make out how thin Harry was under the robes. Harry tweaked him on the arm and stood up, tugging the robes shut. “Not literally,” he said.
“Good,” Draco said simply, and Harry remembered what they’d discussed last night. No, jokes about starving in front of Draco probably weren’t going to be fun for him, not when he had Harry’s relatives in mind. “Well, then. I also managed to find the tea, although I didn’t know how to make it so you would like it.”
“No one else can get tea right for me,” Harry said comfortably as they left the bedroom and headed for the kitchen. “Even the Healers that were taking care of me after that severed arm I had last year couldn’t get it right, and I told them again and again.”
Harry reached out and touched Draco’s shoulder, turning him gently around. Draco held his eyes as he pivoted on his heel, and there was apprehension in his face, but also something like scolding. Harry sighed. “My job is dangerous,” he said. “But I should still have said nearly severed arm. They’re fine, as you noticed.” He swung his arms back and forth.
“I didn’t notice a scar on your shoulder where they had to attach it again,” Draco said, his fingers twitching as if he wanted to push Harry’s robes out of the way and check.
“That’s why I should have been more specific,” Harry said. “It really wasn’t that bad. All right, it was painful,” he corrected himself, when Draco gave him a sharp look. “But not worse than that, and they got to me in time to prevent the arm from falling off.”
“I’m glad,” Draco said simply, and then closed his eyes and shook his head. “I think worry over you is going to kill me faster than your friends or any of the other things I’ve thought of,” he muttered.
“I really am sorry about that,” Harry said, taking Draco’s hand and squeezing it. He was wondering why he hadn’t foreseen this, but then, that was probably one thing he’d missed out on by not having a regular lover. He had friends to mourn him and worry about him when something like the Arm-Severing Curse happened to him. He had Healers. He had other Aurors. But in the end, he went home when he was feeling better, and no one was there to hang over him or gainsay him.
There’s compromises that we’ll both have to learn to make.
“I know,” Draco said, sighing. Then he laughed and tugged on Harry’s arm. “We’re the only pair I’ve ever heard of who stand here chatting about things that happened years ago while our breakfast gets cold. Come on.”
Harry thought of mentioning that the Arm-Severing Curse had been just a few months ago, but didn’t. His life was different now, and he thought he was going to enjoy seeing how different it could get.
“You realize that some people aren’t going to trust you so easily again, mate?”
Harry kept his eyes on the report in front of him, on a case that two other Aurors had handled while he was stuck in the house with Draco. “Because I was trapped with Draco?” he muttered, shaking his head and laying the report aside. He didn’t know why they’d sent it to him. He hadn’t handled the case, it was done, and it was the sort of case he could have solved in an hour anyway. It had only taken the other team two. “Or because I’m sleeping with him now?”
There was so much silence across the desks that Harry finally looked up. Ron was staring at him with his hand frozen above his cup, his jaw hanging. Harry shook his head. “You know Hermione tells you that you’ll catch flies if you do that, and she doesn’t want to kiss someone with fly-breath,” he advised Ron.
Ron snapped his jaw shut and leaned back with his hand over his eyes. “I think I preferred you when you didn’t have a lover, if this is the way you act,” he muttered. “Mate, you—you’re sleeping with him now?”
“Yes,” Harry said. “It’s a decision that we both made.”
“Listen, mate.” Ron didn’t look at him, as though he was afraid of what he would see in Harry’s eyes if he did. “I’m not like Hermione. I don’t think that he raped you. But are you sure this is the best idea? Your past, and I’m not just talking about Hogwarts. The way that he hates us. The way that we hate him.”
“You got along well enough at dinner last night,” Harry pointed out, and flipped to the next page of the report. His hands were slick and cold, and he had to keep swallowing, but he was determined not to show that to Ron.
“He stayed, didn’t he?” Ron asked in a resigned tone. “And why am I asking about this when I don’t want to know?”
Harry laughed in spite of himself. “Yes, he stayed. I asked him to. We had things to talk about.”
“And—” Ron closed his eyes and shook his head. “No, I’m not going to say that. Nothing good is going to come out of my saying that.”
Harry toasted him with his uplifted folder. “Good for you, to know that and to refrain from saying it. People can change, you know. I remember a time when you would have blurted out anything that occurred to you, just because it occurred to you.”
Ron watched him for a while. Harry turned to the next page of the report. His breathing had calmed down, and his hands were no longer so slick that he might have to wipe them off on his robes. The worst moment was past.
“That was a reminder that Malfoy could change, right?” Ron asked. “I just want to make it clear, so I don’t do something that offends you, like refer to him as the right little git he used to be.”
Harry sighed and leaned his chin on his hand. “What do you want me to say, Ron? That he’s changed? Because he has. I could never sleep with someone who couldn’t keep himself from insulting Hermione, the way he was in school. And I would never sleep with someone who I thought despised me for my blood. I don’t think he does, although it’s hard to tell until he says it. And maybe it’s more that he wants me so much that he doesn’t care who my parents were.”
Ron winced and held his hands up. “Another thing I didn’t need to know, mate.”
Harry smiled at him. “Sorry. You’re right. It’s just a complicated solution, and I know that some people are going to be against us because of it, and that some of the people who were on his side of the war might be against us, too. That just isn’t enough reason for me to walk away from him. I don’t know if that reason exists, unless he supplies it.”
Ron nodded and sighed. “There are more people with reason to hate him than you suppose, though,” he said. “There are Hit Wizards who’ve investigated him again and again, because they thought he was selling illegal potions. But he either took enough care to keep the ingredients out of the way or they were incompetent, because they couldn’t find anything.”
Harry winced a little. He had all the proof he needed to arrest Draco, if he took Draco’s freely-confessed secrets as a confession.
But he wouldn’t. That was the way it was. Draco wasn’t on the same level as Ron and Hermione to him, not yet anyway, but Harry would listen to the story if he caught Ron with illegal Potions ingredients. Or maybe Hermione, because it was more likely to happen with her. Since Hogwarts, she would break rules a lot more willingly in pursuit of what she saw as the greatest good.
“Let’s stop talking about it,” Ron said, standing up. “Let’s talk about something else, like this case Winthrop and Daffodil buggered up.”
Harry snorted. “How did they manage that, when they knew exactly where the delivery would be and who was making it?” he asked, and just like that, the moment slid past and their friendship was safe for another day.
Objections to his relationship with Draco did start sooner than Harry had anticipated, and from unexpected sources.
Someone bumped into him when he was walking back to his office with a cup of tea. Harry was a lot more graceful than he had been at Hogwarts, and a quick dancing step sideways saved him from spilling. He turned around to see who it had been, and whether it might have been deliberate.
The other Auror was a tall man Harry knew slightly, with dark eyes and hair and a silly little moustache plastered across his lip. Harry thought he knew what it was there for, to make the Auror look more handsome and manly, but he believed Draco’s face, which was entirely clean-shaven, got the same look without the same amount of effort.
“Pardon you,” Harry said, when the Auror only stood there and watched him, and said nothing.
The Auror shook his head. “You want me to pardon someone who’s defending a former Death Eater?” he asked loudly, and Harry saw heads turn around the corridor. It was the time in the morning when the most people came out for tea or to chat; the man had chosen his audience well. “I don’t think that’s going to happen.”
Harry smiled at him. “I didn’t actually say that, if you noticed. I asked you to pardon yourself, for being careless and clumsy enough to bump into me in the middle of a wide corridor. Now that that’s settled, I can go back to my office, and you can go back to your—work.” He turned away, bracing himself for another bump.
That didn’t happen, but another few Aurors crossed his path and paused to look critically at him. “Is it true that you defended Draco Malfoy to the Wizengamot?” asked Leopold Winthrop, one of the two Aurors who had buggered up the case Harry and Ron had been discussing.
“He didn’t have anything to do with the situation we were caught in,” Harry said. “He didn’t cause it. He didn’t trap me. That was the truth.”
“But now you’re associating with him,” said Harry’s initial accuser, stepping up behind him. Harry’s skin crawled at the notion of being trapped, but he stood still, because striking out was what they wanted, so that they would have the chance to accuse him of something more substantial. “This Malfoy. Someone said you invited him over to your house for dinner. Heard your mate Weasley talking about that. Is that true?”
Harry twisted his head to look back at him, and finally remembered the man’s name, Iverson. “Of course he was talking about it,” he said. “Best mates talk about things like that with their best mates, not that you would know from personal experience, Iverson.”
Winthrop’s partner snickered, and Winthrop frowned at her. Some of the other Aurors in the corridor began to wander away, probably because Harry wasn’t providing the spectacle they wanted, and Iverson stepped forwards and tried again, “lowering” his voice to a whisper that only people with their office doors shut a mile away wouldn’t hear.
“I meant the part about your eating with a Death Eater, Auror Potter. I meant the part about you sleeping with someone like him.”
Harry knew it was only a lucky guess, but he also knew that he wasn’t a good liar. He turned to face Iverson fully, and clucked his tongue. “Is that what all this is about?” he asked. “Jealousy? I should have guessed. Don’t worry, Iverson. I’m sure your prince will come someday and rescue you from the monotony of an empty bed.”
More people laughed. Iverson’s face was so red that he looked as if he would like to punch Harry in the nose. Harry stared levelly at him. He knew as well as Iverson that the first person to make this confrontation violent lost it.
Iverson mastered himself with a long breath and a faint smile. “Don’t you think someone would find it interesting, their Chosen One sleeping with a Death Eater?”
“Most of the people who would are right here,” Harry said, turning his teacup in a circle to indicate their audience. “And it’s true you’re a bit desperate, Iverson, but still. You don’t need to excite yourself like this in front of watchers.”
Iverson’s face was by now red enough to rival Ron’s hair. “I mean,” he said, through clenched teeth, “that someone might think it’s a bit unprofessional for an Auror.”
Harry sighed. No, he wasn’t a good liar, but he could use his courage to fight against the temptation to give way to fear. Show fear, and they would be on him in seconds, deciding that Iverson’s insinuations were more to their taste than Harry’s jokes. “He was a former Death Eater, that’s true. Someone who was accused, and then cleared by the Wizengamot. And someone who saved my life during the war.”
Iverson narrowed his eyes. “That’s not the way I’ve heard that tale told.”
“And we all know your sources are impeccable,” Harry drawled quietly, holding Iverson’s eyes, and saw him flinch for the first time.
“Are you sleeping with him or not?” Iverson demanded, leaning forwards. Most of the Aurors in the corridor seemed to hold their breaths.
“I’ll tell you this,” Harry said, and lowered his voice, glancing from face to face so that he could draw them all into the circle. “I’m not fucking him on the job, or fucking him on my desk, or paying more attention to my rows with him than to my fucking job.”
And faces around him turned red, because most of those around him had been guilty of one of those. It was the biggest peril of having an affair with another Auror. During the years that Harry had held himself back and taken no lover, he had avoided all those entanglements, and his eyes found glance after glance that darted down and away from him, or saw face after face that blushed.
“Lucas,” said someone else, coming forwards to put an arm around Iverson’s shoulders. “Maybe—maybe it’s okay. Potter’s a big boy. He can choose who he’s sleeping with, and it doesn’t reflect on the Ministry.”
Unlike most of the things other people here have done, Harry knew were the unspoken words lurking behind the spoken ones, and he smiled at the man who spoke. The man dipped his head back cautiously, blinking a little.
“I want to know what he means, doing this, when there are so many other people who would get in trouble with it,” Iverson said, and shook the restraining arm off. “Why does he get to get away with it?”
Harry raised his eyebrows. “Ah. So it is jealousy, but not in the direction I suspected. What former Death Eater did you sleep with that someone made a fuss about, Iverson?’
Iverson turned red and dark with hatred, and Harry nodded. Another lucky guess, but for him this time. “It’s all right,” he said. “I would have stuck up for you if I’d known at the time.” And he turned around, walking away, straight and noble.
Iverson said something else behind him, but Harry could already tell from the tone of his voice that it wasn’t the kind of something he needed to pay attention to. He thought he might have strutted, himself, but that was down to a mix of perception and rumor, and he couldn’t do anything about the people who might think him arrogant.
Except fend them off, and defend my relationship with Draco.
That was what he had done, wasn’t it? Harry blinked down the corridor. He had been so occupied with trying to make Iverson regret attacking him in the first place that he hadn’t considered his purpose. Or what Draco might think of it.
Or what certain people up the ladder in the Ministry hierarchy might, when they heard of it.
Harry clenched his jaw. He had given years of loyal service to the Ministry. He had given years of service to the wizarding world before that, if you counted the times that he’d fought Voldemort in Hogwarts—and he was disposed to, if it came down to a struggle about whether he had to give up his job or Draco. He never had before. The people who cared for his fame were not the ones he wanted to associate with.
But as he would do things for his friends that he wouldn’t do for himself, he would do things for Draco that went against the grain.
I’ve never had a lover that I wanted to protect so badly before. I’ve never had someone who meant—like this to me.
Harry had to smile when he thought of what Draco would say if he could hear those stumbling words. No doubt that Harry needed lessons in eloquence.
But the emotion was deep and true, at least, and it was a pleasure to know something for certain.
“I got this owl today.”
Harry looked up from the report he’d been writing, from the comfort of his own home for once instead of in the office. He had left the wards off the Floo so that Draco could get through without needing an invitation, but he hadn’t expected Draco to take up the silent offer so soon. “What is it?” he asked, putting his report aside.
Draco stepped out of the fireplace with no soot on his robes—Harry had to get Draco to tell him how he did that—and held out what Harry thought at first was a Howler. Then he recognized the white glow to the paper, and grimaced. It was worse, a Chider, a letter that spoke horrible words in a tone of sweet reason. He took it and spread it out, making a woman’s gentle voice start up.
“Certain people are spreading the rumor that you’re dating Harry Potter. I know that can’t be true, because a hero would never associate with a piece of Death Eater rubbish like you, and so you must be spreading the rumor for your own personal gain. I advise you to stop.” There was a pause, as though the speaker was considering her next words, and then she added, “Now.” And the Chider curled up into a scroll again. Unlike Howlers, they didn’t explode, so you could read them more than once.
Probably because the people who send them think their words are precious enough to deserve that, Harry thought, shaking his head, and reached out a hand to Draco without thinking. Draco took it. Harry could feel his hand shaking, and he drew Draco down onto the couch beside him with a tug.
“Is it just the words?” Harry whispered into Draco’s ear, curling an arm around his waist. “Or that someone sent you that at all, and thought she had the right to tell you what to do?”
Draco shut his eyes and nodded. “It’s both, but mostly—they’re trying to drive me away from you. They’re going to succeed, aren’t they?”
“Not unless you let them,” Harry said. He hadn’t intended to tell Draco about Iverson so soon, because he had thought that might upset Draco more than it was worth, but maybe it would help him now. “Because another Auror told me today that I shouldn’t be associating with a former Death Eater and heavily implied I would go Dark because of it, and I told him off.”
Draco stared at him. Harry reached up and framed his face with his hands, shaking his head gently back and forth. “You didn’t really believe me when I said that I was willing to try this, did you?” Harry whispered. “That I could want it, even if I didn’t know we would stay together forever?”
Draco shut his eyes and leaned forwards to rest his chin on Harry’s shoulder. “I thought that you would want it up until someone questioned you about it,” he whispered. “And then you would decide your peace of mind was worth more than me.”
Harry laughed. “I’m never going to content them no matter what I do. If it wasn’t this, it would be something else. Last year I had people trying to get me to date another Auror, because they told me it would be ‘weird’ if I didn’t. They think my private life is their public property. It doesn’t matter, Draco. I’ll stand up to them, and if that helps you resist the words of pieces of shit who send you Chiders—”
Draco kissed him so strongly that it almost flung Harry onto his back, and Harry had to hold onto Draco’s shoulders. Then he returned the kiss, and Draco cursed and muttered into his mouth. Harry stroked his hair, curling his fingers hard through it to give Draco something else to think about.
“Wanted it,” seemed to be the most frequent thing Draco was whispering. “Didn’t know if you wanted me, too.”
“Now you believe,” Harry said, and held him closer still.
Draco pulled back so their eyes could meet. “I do,” he said, and kissed Harry more gently this time, but more searing, more permanent.
Harry shut his eyes. Yeah, I could get used to this.
Chapter 18: Keeping the Watch
Harry woke so suddenly that he almost rolled out of bed groping for his wand before he realized Draco had said that and not him. He sat up, blinking, and turned his head. His wand was in his hand now, and he used the Lumos to illuminate the bedroom. Draco was pale and clutching at his left arm.
“What is it?” Harry asked, dismissing the immediate fear that something could have happened to the Dark Mark. He would have felt pain in his scar, then, too. He had plenty of nightmares about Voldemort returning, but he always told himself they were ridiculous without pain in his scar.
“Someone broke into my lab.” Draco winced and touched his arm again. “There are wards there that require a physical link to the caster. I linked them to my Mark, because it seemed like a reasonable extrapolation…”
“I don’t find anything reasonable that hurts you,” Harry said flatly, and took Draco’s arm, ignoring the way Draco stared at him as if he was a revelation. Yes, well, he did care about Draco, and Draco would have to deal with that sooner or later. He turned Draco’s arm over, and saw the Mark just fading from a bright red glow. “Do you think that whoever set the wards off knows you’re alerted?”
“No,” Draco said, and rolled out of bed to begin dressing. “The other advantage of wards like this is that no one can sense them who isn’t the caster or has some other kind of link to them. My lab would have appeared unguarded to someone who managed to get past the wards on the outside of the house.”
He paused to look over his shoulder at Harry. “And you know as well as I do that there are very few groups of people who could break through the wards in the first place.”
Aurors. He didn’t have to speak the name, which meant Harry didn’t, either. He nodded and stood up, reaching for his own robes. “Let me get dressed. Then I’m coming with you to see what’s happening.”
Draco paused again. When Harry looked at him, he still had his shirt in his hands and what looked like no intention of putting it on. “If it’s Aurors, and they decided to break into my lab after years of ignoring me,” Draco said, voice low, “then you know that it could look very bad for you if you go with me.”
Harry gave him a hard smile. “It’ll be all right. I know all sorts of things about Auror procedure that you don’t.”
Draco still hesitated, but put on the shirt when Harry scowled at him. “If you’re sure,” he said.
“I’m sure,” Harry said, sweeping past him towards the door. “And don’t go out there half-naked. I don’t want anyone else seeing what’s mine.”
He could feel Draco’s gratification heating the air behind him. Harry smiled as he held open the door. That was why he’d said it.
Draco’s house, or at least the house that held this particular lab—after the cottage Draco had brought him to the first time they talked, Harry wasn’t foolish enough to think that this was the only lab Draco had—looked like an ordinary cottage from the outside. Harry touched Draco’s arm as they came out of the Apparition beyond the garden wall and held him there, while his wand flicked back and forth.
He smiled at what he found. “It looks like Auror Vickerson’s work,” he said aloud. “Which means there are other people with him. Vickerson is a stickler for rules. If he’s on an investigation, then it’ll look good when they make the report, since they’re under the protection of his reputation.”
“But they didn’t have any reason to suspect me,” Draco muttered as he opened the gate. “Or, at least, no more reason than they’ve had the last four years, when they didn’t raid.”
Harry shot him a smile over his shoulder as he stepped in to go first. Aurors occupied with a search or not, Harry didn’t want them seeing Draco before they saw Harry. “Yes, well. I doubt they thought it all the way through.”
Behind him came a thoughtful silence, and then a chuckle. Draco had worked out how Harry intended to challenge the Aurors on the raid, then.
Content that it should be so, Harry made his way to the door and knocked. It was his best Auror knock, officious and presuming that he had the right to come in whether or not the person who owned the house agreed. He could only imagine what it would be like to hear it from the other side.
There was a long, disconcerted silence from inside the house, which only then told Harry about the rustling and searching he’d been hearing. Then he heard footsteps, soft and creeping. Harry motioned Draco behind his shoulder, and held his wand ready. He didn’t think he’d have to use it, since the sight of him would startle whoever this was, but it was always a good thing to have it ready.
Sure enough, the Auror who opened the door gaped at Harry and didn’t even appear to notice Draco hovering behind him. “Au—Auror Potter,” he said, and swallowed.
“Good evening, Auror Donnic,” Harry said gravely. He recognized the man as someone who’d just stopped being a trainee last year. That would make this easier, since the older Aurors sometimes resented Harry for not being someone they could intimidate. But with someone this young, the intimidation flowed the other way. “Would you mind letting us in?” This time, he permitted the gesture to include Draco, to draw Donnic’s eyes.
Donnic licked his lips. Then he turned and bawled into the depths of the house, “Auror Vickerson!”
It didn’t take long for Vickerson to approach the door. He’d been an Auror for over twenty years, but he still maintained enough speed and skill for the field; otherwise, he would have been made to retire years ago. He had long grey hair, an even longer grey beard, and a proud, calm face that Harry had to respect. No one was going to embroil Vickerson in politics, at least not without his consent.
“Auror Potter,” he said, and looked at Draco without much surprise. “Mr. Malfoy. How can I help you?”
“I did wonder,” Harry said confidentially, leaning forwards in a way that could be seen as shutting out Auror Donnic and the others who were coming up behind him, “if you had permission granted by the Head Auror or the Wizengamot to raid here?”
Donnic turned pale. But Vickerson couldn’t see him, which meant he was focused on Harry, and frowning slightly. “Of course we did,” he said. “We received reports that Mr. Malfoy had been brewing Dark potions, and we did find ingredients here that could not have come from any reputable apothecary.”
Harry practically felt Draco draw in the breath that he would use to say something about apothecaries. He used one elbow to nudge backwards, and Draco coughed and lost that breath.
“I just wondered,” Harry said, with all the politeness he didn’t bother to use most of the time. “Since it was the middle of the night, and I know the Head Auror resents being awakened for things like this. But it would take less time to reach him than it would to go through the Wizengamot.”
Vickerson held out a hand behind his back without taking his eyes off Harry. “The grant of permission, please, Auror Donnic,” he said.
“Uh,” said Auror Donnic.
Vickerson turned his head by slow degrees. It was like watching a mountain wake up and regard you, Harry thought, and the old bastard did it entirely for effect. He could move faster than that when he had to. “Well?” Vickerson asked. “Did you misplace it?” His voice had gone soft, in the way that the first rumblings of an avalanche were sometimes soft.
“I—we don’t have one,” Auror Donnic said. “Or, I mean, Auror Pulhaft probably has it.” He broke and fled further into the house, shouting for Pulhaft. Harry nodded a little. He ought to have known that the man most people called Pustule was leading this raid.
Vickerson turned back to Harry. “If we do not have permission, then we committed an illegal act by breaking your wards, Mr. Malfoy,” he told Draco gravely. “I’m sorry. I would never have presided over something like this if I had known that they did not have the document that made it legal.”
Draco inclined his head a little. Harry had been worried that he would take the opportunity to blow up, but he had some diplomacy after all. “Don’t worry about it. I’m sure it’s just a misunderstanding.”
“Would that I could be as sure,” Vickerson said, and faced Pulhaft as he came out of the back of the house. “Well? Where is it? And who signed it?”
Pulhaft had a whining voice, and a cowering nature, and he looked at Harry and Draco over Vickerson’s shoulder now with so much hatred that Harry felt Draco step backwards. Harry didn’t. He simply smiled, and Pulhaft had to sniff and face Vickerson. “What are you talking about, sir?”
Someone much stupider than Vickerson could have read that as the delaying tactic it was. “Give me the signed permission,” he said, and held out his hand, palm up, as though he was receiving someone’s wand.
Pulhaft shook his head a little. “I don’t exactly know who has it, sir. You know how eager we were to get here, because we were afraid that Malfoy would flee with his ingredients—”
“Mr. Malfoy wasn’t here when we showed up,” Vickerson said. “You know I suggested that as among the reasons that we could calm our haste and make a careful inventory of the ingredients here.” His hand remained outstretched. “Someone would have had to put it in a pocket or perhaps down on a table somewhere in the house. Go and find it.”
Pulhaft stood there for a second, and Harry wondered if he would turn to go and search, pretending as long as he could that they had some sort of official sanction to be here. But then his head went up and his thin little moustache twitched.
“We didn’t have permission, sir.”
Vickerson looked older without moving a muscle, other than the hand he dropped to his side. “So we invaded a private citizen’s house illegally,” he said, “and dismantled wards that were there to protect him from enemies.” He turned towards Draco, and Draco made a little choking sound at the amount of tragic solemnity in Vickerson’s face. Harry hoped that he didn’t outright start laughing. “I am sorry, Mr. Malfoy. Something went wrong somewhere along the way, and it is something I should never have allowed.”
“Perhaps,” Draco said, “if you leave and make sure that anything disturbed is restored to its original place, we can forget about it?”
Harry reached back and pressed Draco’s arm. He didn’t want this forgotten, he wanted to see someone pay—
But luckily, Vickerson was already shaking his head. “It never can be,” he said seriously, “unless we want to revert to what Aurors were during the first war with You-Know-Who. Given permission to use the Unforgivables, and unforgivable ourselves to anyone we suspected of being an enemy. I lived through those times, and nearly lost my soul. I don’t want to see what will happen to me if they come around again. I would retire first.”
Draco at least knew how to accept a tribute like that with grace. He inclined his head. “Then do whatever you wish, sir. I’ll spend the rest of the night with Auror Potter, so I won’t be in your way.”
Vickerson turned earnestly to Harry then. “He was with you? You can tell us for sure that he was not here immediately prior, removing anything else? The permission, perhaps?”
Harry nodded, almost respectfully. Vickerson would try to exonerate the Aurors who had tricked him to the last, of course, because that was the kind of Auror he was, and the kind of Auror he thought the others were. “He was in my house, in my bed, sir. There’s no way he could have moved to come here without waking me up.”
Unlike what Harry had thought might be the result of those words—Vickerson flinching or turning away from him—he simply shut his eyes and nodded, with a heavy sigh. “Then this was the result of a lie, and I owe an explanation to many people, my superiors not least of all,” he said, and bowed to Draco. “Our pardons, Mr. Malfoy. We will remove ourselves as fast as we can.”
“How can you saythat?” Pulhaft leaned forwards and looked poised on the edges of his toes. “When you know he’s a Dark wizard, when we found those illegal ingredients in his lab—”
“We didn’t find anything sufficiently Dark to warrant breaking in without permission,” Vickerson interrupted. “If we had found Mr. Malfoy in the process of casting Dark spells on someone else in public, or forcing someone to drink a potion, then yes, we would have grounds for arresting him. As it is, we don’t.”
Pulhaft simply gaped at him. Harry snorted. What kind of man had Pulhaft and the others thought they were bringing along? Vickerson really was as good and pure an Auror as people only thought Harry was. And he wouldn’t forgive someone deceiving him and committing abuses in his name.
Pulhaft tried one more time. “But, sir, you know that he was a Death Eater—”
“And exonerated,” Vickerson interrupted. “If we keep suspecting someone who was once exonerated, without proof, than our justice system means noting. We might as well lock up anyone we like and call it the end.”
From Pulhaft’s stare, he didn’t see anything wrong with that, but Harry was already sure that Vickerson would make him think otherwise, and very soon. He half-bowed to Vickerson’s back and said, “We’ll go, sir.”
“Very good,” Vickerson said, and then began his speech to Pulhaft. “Without the protections that we afford criminals, without the rules that we have in order to ensure they’re treated right, we’re no better than vigilantes—”
Harry got Draco quietly out of the garden, and leaned for a second against the gate, shutting his eyes. Then he shook his head and stood up. He wouldn’t laugh, not this close to Vickerson, where he could interpret what Harry was doing as disrespect. They owed him too much for that.
“Will you tell me what’s so funny?” Draco demanded in a whisper close to his ear.
“Not here,” Harry said, and put an arm around his shoulders, and moved him far enough away that the remnants of the wards wouldn’t disturb them. They vanished, and landed in front of Harry’s house. Harry shut the gate behind them, and then the door, and only then collapsed against the fireplace and laughed, and laughed, and laughed.
“You’re going to tell me what’s funny right the fuck now.”
Harry eyed Draco’s raised wand, and conceded the threat. “All right,” he said, and wiped his streaming eyes. “Vickerson is going to ruin them. For lying to him, for dragging him along on an expedition that could have made Aurors look bad, for implying that you’re still a criminal, for threatening me, and for trying to make him take a side in Department politics, which he never does. That’s the end of their careers, basically. And they thought they were so smart. And I think I saw most of the Aurors there who were watching the other day when I talked to Iverson. So that’s it, Draco. We’re safe from a lot of interference on that angle.”
Draco gaped at him, then slowly lowered his wand. “But what happens if I continue to brew illegal potions?”
Harry met his eyes. “They’ll find a way to take you to prison eventually. Especially because now they hate you for corrupting their little hero.”
Draco nodded. “Then the only thing to do is give up brewing Dark potions.”
Harry reached for him, but although Draco caught his hand and pressed it, he was actually smiling. “I’m looking forward to it,” he added. “I have something else in my life that gives me power and recognition, now. I don’t need to keep doing this line of work—more dangerous than I thought, and with fewer rewards—just for my self-respect anymore. I have you.” He looked at Harry, and his eyes burned.
Harry restrained the immediate temptation to ask what would happen if he and Draco broke up. What would happen to him, come to that? He would probably be fucked up for a good long while, and he wouldn’t want to date someone else right away, or for that long while.
He nodded. “If you really want to. I don’t want you to feel like those Aurors pushed you into doing anything.”
Draco shook his head. “I know Vickerson’s type. If I hadn’t felt those wards break, then they would have found something in my lab Dark enough to turn him against me. And you would always be in danger from my reputation and my activities. I don’t want you to get in trouble. I’m stopping.”
Harry tried, but he couldn’t contain the smile that flooded his face, or the relaxation that did the same thing to his body.
Draco stared, then leaned in towards him and said, “You thought I wouldn’t stop? You thought I would put my potions above you, and keep doing Dark things even though they could put—you idiot.” He kissed Harry softly on the mouth.
“I thought you might not want to, and that’s sometimes the same as not doing it,” Harry said, and put his hands in Draco’s hair. “And it’s—I don’t know how to say this without sounding condescending, but you’ve had more than enough taken away from you. I thought taking this away, too, would be more than horrible.”
“If I choose to give it up on my own, and I was already close to that, then there’s nothing you should worry about,” Draco said firmly, pulling away from him and beaming at him with his hands on Harry’s shoulders. “Really, Harry, nothing. Thank you for standing up for me. Thank you for knowing how to handle Vickerson and the rest of them. Thanks for being an Auror. Thanks for being with me.”
He punctuated that speech with another soft kiss to the side of Harry’s mouth, and Harry flung his arms around him, and the kiss turned into something more interesting even than the conversation had been.
“I know that Vickerson and a bunch of other Aurors went out on a raid last night.”
“And they returned without a suspect or even any of the material that they went to find, right?” Harry didn’t look up from the report he was reading.
Ron leaned on his desk, and waited until Harry reluctantly took his eyes off the report and looked up at him. “Harry.” Ron’s voice was gentle, but he was shaking his head. “You don’t care for rules like the one that the rumors say you used to defeat Vickerson. Don’t you think that makes you a hypocrite, to use it now to save Malfoy?”
“I used a rule we’re supposed to obey,” Harry said. “And Draco has said that he’s going to stop brewing illegal potions and become a different kind of Potions master. It’s his decision. It was mine. Maybe we could both do with obeying the rules a bit more.”
Ron took his seat and looked him over carefully. Then he shook his head. “If you’re in love, you’ve got the oddest way of showing it.”
Harry smiled at him and cocked his head. “But why should that matter? I’m not in love with Draco the way I was in love with Ginny—if I was.” The more he thought back on it, the less he was sure what he had really felt for Ginny, and the better he thought it was that they’d both broken up, to go on to other people. “I’m not in love with him the way you’re in love with Hermione. But that’s what matters. That’s what makes the word spin, as Hermione would say. That we’re different from each other and go on loving anyway.”
Ron’s smile was long in coming, but easy and warm when it did. He reached across the desk this time to squeeze Harry’s hand. “As long as you’re ready to obey the rules, and stand the consequences of not doing it.”
Harry squeezed back. “Now, what do you think about this case? It looks like it’s connected to the one Winthrop and Daffodil buggered up, which means it’s on us to make sure that we handle it the right way.”
Ron snorted. “Of course we will. We’re not those wankers.”
And neither of us is a wanker like Iverson, either, Harry thought in contentment as the conversation passed on.
“Harry? Come in.”
Harry let the door fall silently shut behind him and made the way to Draco’s lab. The cottage was pretty large, he noticed, and there were intriguing-looking books on the shelves in each room that made him want to slow down and look at them. But instead he went to the lab, because seeing Draco was most important.
He stuck his head in through the doorway. “Did they destroy anything?”
Draco turned around and smiled at him. “Nothing I can’t put right with a few hours of labor.”
His hands were covered with what looked like ground-in grass stains and ink stains. He had leaves in his hair. His elbows had patches on them that might have come from leaning on dirty cauldrons.
Harry took a step towards him, then stopped.
Draco blinked at him. “What? Did I do something wrong?”
Harry said, “You’re beautiful, that’s all. And I love you.” He kissed Draco hard enough that Draco gasped, and pulled back to put his hands on Draco’s hips. “Is there—I mean, is there anything I can do to help?”
Draco stared at him, then said, “I love you, too,” and thrust a broom into his hands.
Harry turned to sweep the lab, happily conscious that he had never done something like this in the house, where they had both had to do the same task, and the house took care of most the chores.
And happily conscious, too, that Draco was watching his arse as he swept. Harry bent down and put some elbows into his sweeping, to hear Draco shiver.
This is different. This is what we’ll make of it.
And I think it’ll last.