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Salt on the Western Wind

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“That wand’s more trouble than it’s worth,” said Harry. “And quite honestly,” he turned away from the painted portraits, thinking now only of the four-poster bed lying waiting for him in Gryffindor Tower, and wondering whether Kreacher might bring him a sandwich there, “I’ve had enough trouble for a lifetime.”

-- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, page 600.

 “That certainly is true,” Ron concedes, patting Harry on the shoulder as they leave the murmuring portraits behind and descend the stone staircase. Harry is pretty sure that he means to be gentle, but the reassuring touch only makes his aching bones and muscles protest harder. “Are you going to do it now? You know, get it out of the way?”

Fingers clenched around all three wands in his possession, Harry opens his mouth to speak but Hermione beats him to it.

“Ron, don’t hassle him,” she sighs, sounding as exhausted as he feels. “He probably just wants to get some sleep.”

Harry finds a weary smile for his ever-perceptive friend, but shakes his head. “No, he’s right. Let’s go and do it now—I think I’ll sleep far better if I know that it’s back where it belongs.”

Hermione casts him a concern-laden glance, but she says nothing as they walk through the castle, steps echoing rudely on stone, avoiding the blood and debris at their feet. The grass of the lawns is cool and dew-damp, swiping against Harry’s skin through tears in his trousers and prickling fresh grazes back into life, and he focuses on the sensation, using it to hem in the snarl of unprocessed, unfelt emotion that threatens to clobber him to his hands and knees and leave him there.

It’s not far now; he can see the white tomb through the haze of the early morning light. The gentle, rippling reflection of the lake shimmers over the raw, broken edges of the stone and Harry swallows hard, painfully, wondering vaguely when he last had anything to drink. There’s a hand on his arm and cool, strong fingers tightening around his wrist. Hermione.

Somewhere in the back of his mind, he expects her to say, ‘you don’t have to do this’ or ‘let’s come back later’, but she only looks from him to the desecrated tomb and whispers, “It’s alright.”

Harry gazes at her, at both of them, and, just for a moment, he really thinks it is. Ron’s vivid hair blows around his head in the breeze and he nods, fixing Harry with a look of utter trust and solidarity as he absently scratches a patch of dried blood on his chin.

“Yeah,” Harry manages, feeling as though his words have been torn away with the rest of this night and hoping that sleep will be enough to restore them. “Okay.”

Together, they push away the rubble with their hands, ignoring scratches and torn fingernails, breathing in dust and earth until he is visible—the man who used to be Dumbledore. Harry knows he isn’t here any more—at least, he’s as sure as he can be—but the sight of the pale, motionless body still shakes him. He takes a deep breath and attempts to master himself. The man has, after all, gone... on.

“This is yours,” he says unsteadily, withdrawing the Elder Wand and tucking his own and Draco Malfoy’s into his waistband. “I think it’s best that you have it back.”

Breath caught, he tucks the wand into the gnarled fingers and repairs the ripped sheets around the body with a murmured spell. Then, stepping back onto the grass, he points his wand at the ruined tomb, opens his mouth to cast, and hesitates.

Beside him, Ron and Hermione are wiping their dirty hands on their jeans and drawing their wands, too. Harry smiles, heart tight. His head pounds. “Together?” he says, voice altogether too loud for the scene.

“Course,” Ron nods. Hermione just smiles, eyes bright.

With a searing crack and a coarse, drawn-out grating sound, the pieces of marble begin to shift and slide and fit themselves back together; the earth seems to groan beneath their weight and Harry has to shield his eyes from the jet of light that runs along the cracks in the stone, burning and sealing until the imposing tomb is whole once again. When the light dissipates at last, Harry sags, dropping his wand arm to his side and allowing his weight to rest on one foot and then the other, certain that neither will continue to support him for long.

“Look,” Hermione says softly, lacing her fingers through Ron’s and pointing at the surface of the lake, where the Giant Squid is raising a curious tentacle, as though enquiring as to whether the unpleasantness has come to an end at last. There is something oddly hopeful about the sight, and Harry feels himself lift along with it.

The sound of urgent, squelchy footsteps makes them all turn. Neville is sprinting across the grass toward them, dishevelled and dragging the bloodied sword of Gryffindor behind him.

Alarmed, Harry clutches his wand tightly, every muscle painfully tensed. “What’s the matter?”

Neville stops, just feet away, breathing hard. “Harry... all of you... you’ve got to come back inside.”

“What? Why?” Ron demands, frowning.

“Nev—what the hell’s going on?” Harry asks, trying to keep his voice even. Neville isn’t exactly known for theatrics, and the sight of his pale, tight face is unnerving.

“You’ve just got to come!” Neville insists, accent roughening in genuine anguish. He takes several steps backwards, sword dragging against the grass as he goes. “I’ll explain when we get there... or someone will. Just hurry up!”

Exchanging split-second glances, Harry, Ron, and Hermione pelt after Neville, who is dashing across the lawns at an impressive speed. Nerve-endings frayed with exhaustion, Harry’s co-ordination deserts him at regular intervals and he seems to stumble every few feet, staying upright through sheer panic and the fearsome, adrenaline-fuelled pace that catapults him forward over the grass and creates the curious sensation that his feet aren’t really touching the ground at all. Around him, he can hear only the ragged pants of his friends as they try to keep up, and the bizarre sound of Nev’s breathless cursing as he leads them toward the castle.

Finally, they slam into the Entrance Hall and stand gasping, hands resting on knees. All eyes are on Neville, who is locking the towering wooden doors with his wand, chest heaving but eyes steady.

“Neville,” Hermione appeals finally. “What’s happening? Is someone hurt?”

Harry leans against the solid support of a stone wall, feeling sick. Already, his mind is flashing images in front of his eyes like a yet more grotesque parody of Molly Weasley’s Boggart—friends and family, dead and dismembered—George, Charlie, Bill, Arthur, Ginny... Molly herself, and then McGonagall, Kingsley, Flitwick, Slughorn and Hagrid. He thinks someone says his name, but it’s only the sharp, familiar voice that forces his eyes open.

“There you are, Longbottom. I was just about to send someone out after you.”

McGonagall is singed and limping slightly, but unarguably alive, and Harry is immediately flooded with relief to see her. He has never quite learned to read her face, but her tone conveys anger and anxiety rather than sadness, and that, right now, is infinitely preferable.

“Sorry, Professor,” Neville says. “They were right down by the lake.”

A look of tacit understanding seems to pass between them, and then McGonagall’s eyes sharpen as she turns on Harry. “Where is the wand?”

Harry hesitates, but only for a fraction of a second. “The Elder Wand?”

“Yes,” she snaps, frustration evident in the catch of her breath. “Where is it?”

“I gave it back to Dumbledore,” he says, lifting his chin in readiness for the argument he knows is coming. “We put it back and sealed the tomb.”

To his surprise, McGonagall merely nods. “Good. It will be safe there for now.”

Bewildered, Harry is barely able to keep his attention from drifting wherever it wants to go. The mysterious tension filling the Entrance Hall wraps and crackles around his wrists and ankles but he can’t help but feel that he is already somewhere else.

“What’s happening?” demands someone, he thinks Ron, but he can’t be sure; he’s watching the doorway to the Great Hall, beyond which people are still eating, talking, crying and celebrating. One heavy wooden door has been pinned back to the wall and the other lies, splintered and twisted, on the stone flags. Harry has the strangest compulsion to wander away from the others, to lift the great slab and spell it back onto its hinges, and he takes a couple of steps across the floor of the Entrance Hall before the sight of the others stops him dead.

The Weasleys, led by a fierce-eyed Molly, crowd into the doorway and wait. Brown eyes and blue flick between McGonagall, Harry, Ron, and Hermione, and it’s obvious, even to his frazzled mind, that they know something. Something he doesn’t.

“Harry.” McGonagall’s voice echoes around the vast stone chamber.

He turns to her, trying hard to shake away his confusion.

She hesitates for a moment before speaking again, and he has the strangest impression that she is trying to be kind. “You must leave Hogwarts. Now. There isn’t time to explain.”

Horrified, Harry looks to his friends, but their startled faces offer nothing in the way of clarification. His stomach begins to turn once more and for long seconds, all he can do is shake his head.

“No,” he manages at last. “I’m not going anywhere. No.” He knows he sounds stubborn and childish and he hates it, but his control is slipping away. He tears his eyes away from McGonagall and stares past the Weasleys into the Great Hall. Everything seems... just as he left it. And he’s not going to leave it, not properly. Not now.

“Harry, listen to me,” McGonagall demands, voice sharpening. “It is no longer safe for you here.”

Fear prickles at the back of Harry’s neck, but he ignores it. “He’s dead,” he says flatly.

“Yes,” McGonagall agrees, all but spitting the word in her vehemence. “Unfortunately, that now makes you a very desirable target for any and all of the remaining Death Eaters.”

“We were told they were in retreat,” Hermione protests, as though saying it with enough conviction will render McGonagall’s words invalid. “Even Kingsley Shacklebolt said... he told me they were being captured.”

Something like empathy flickers in McGonagall’s eyes before the steely facade drops back into place.

Were, Miss Granger, yes. I’m afraid the situation has changed and we must remove Mr Potter to a safe house as soon as possible.”

“What?” Harry explodes, staring wildly at his former teacher as though she has gone mad. Perhaps she has, if she thinks he’s going to bugger off to a safe house and let everyone else deal with a load of rogue Death Eaters. “Sorry, but no—not a chance. I’m staying here. How long do we have before they get here? Have they got any kind of special weapon? Do we have time to reinforce the—”

“Harry... you can’t stay here,” Arthur says firmly. “They’re coming to kill you. The best chance we have of stopping that from happening is for you to be somewhere else when they get here.”

Harry stares at him, taking in the grey face and sore, red-rimmed eyes. He looks old and shattered and Harry suddenly has no idea what to say to him.

“They’re coming for me?” he mumbles, avoiding Arthur’s eyes and gazing over his shoulder, into the Great Hall and at the back of Lucius Malfoy’s head. Idly, he wonders if he should give Draco his wand back or not.

“And for the Elder Wand,” McGonagall says, and Harry closes his eyes.

“Because now they know it will work if they take it from me,” he murmurs, mostly to himself. “Oh, good.”

For several seconds, there is silence in the Entrance Hall; the people beyond the doors continue to talk and laugh and cry, oblivious, and the sound amplifies inside Harry’s head, over and over until he can barely stand it. He’s beginning to seriously consider just Stunning himself and letting someone else make a decision when Hermione speaks.

“We’ll go with him.”

“Yeah... obviously,” Ron puts in, only sounding a little bit startled. “We’re with you, mate.”

“I suspected you might offer,” McGonagall says slowly, as though choosing her words with care.

“And?” Hermione challenges. Harry doesn’t need to look at her to feel the raw, frightened ferocity that leaps from that single word and hits McGonagall square in the face. He shivers.

And, Miss Granger, the necessary arrangements have been made to accommodate you,” comes the reply, and the flash of the gimlet eyes in Hermione’s direction falls somewhere between quelling and darkly amused.

Harry turns to his friends, scrubbing at his hair with sore fingers. “Thanks... but no, you won’t, because I’m not going.”

McGonagall lets out a harsh sigh but says nothing more.

“It won’t be for long, Harry—a couple of weeks... maybe just a few days,” Molly appeals. The delicate roughness in her voice yanks at Harry and he forces himself to look at her, awash with pain and guilt. “It’s just until things are safe again. Everyone wants you to be safe.”

“I don’t need to be protected,” he mutters, hating himself but somehow unable to keep the words in. “I want to stay here and help.”

“Don’t you think you’ve done enough?” Bill says gently, tightening his arm around Fleur’s shoulders as she, too, gazes imploringly at Harry through a nasty-looking black eye.

“Not if it’s not over,” Harry says, just about resisting the temptation to fold his arms like the rebellious teenager he’s trying so hard not to be.

“It is over for you,” McGonagall says. “I know you are tired, Harry, and I know you are not quite ready to let this go, but you have done what only you could do, and now you have to step back and trust the rest of us to finish it.”

Harry takes a deep, shuddering breath, smoke and magic and drifting savoury aromas from the Hall. “Are you saying I don’t have a choice?”

“You always have a choice,” she says simply. “You can choose to stay. You can choose to destroy the Elder Wand, for all the difference it may make. You saved many, many lives today, Harry—I’m disinclined to force you to do anything you don’t want to do. I am asking you, please, to do this for those of us who remain.”

“I can’t...” Harry mumbles, nauseous at the thought of reopening the marble tomb and breaking apart what suddenly seems like his last real connection to Dumbledore. In the back of his mind, somewhere amid the dust and the mist, he knows the logic is stretched and flawed, but it doesn’t matter now.

“They’re wounded animals now,” Arthur says, following Molly as she takes a step closer to Harry, never releasing her hand. “They’re going to fight... either until they’re all captured or you’re dead. It’s not going to matter to them if any of this makes sense any more. You’ve killed their leader—there aren’t any more rules. The best thing you can do now is let us end this as quickly as we can.”

Harry inhales slowly, painfully, blinks sticky eyes and looks around at the collection of anxious faces. Beyond the doorway, someone laughs hoarsely and he thinks he hears someone ask, “Where did Harry Potter get to, anyway?”

“Dunno,” says another, louder this time. “Passed out on his bed, if he’s got any sense.”

Harry snorts and steadies himself, shuffling his feet and catching the eyes of Neville, who looks as though he’s half a second away from dashing over, sword in hand, and propping Harry up himself.

“Mr Potter,” McGonagall says, ripping into his weary trance.

Before he can say a word, the hulking shape of Kingsley appears in the doorway, blocking out most of the light and attracting every eye to him without needing to make a sound.

“Yaxley and Greyback have escaped,” he murmurs, voice softer and more urgent than usual. “We cannot wait any longer.”

At the mention of the werewolf’s name, Bill’s eyes narrow and his scarred jaw clenches.

“Shit,” Neville mutters, neatly expressing the views of, Harry suspects, almost everyone in the small group.

“Indeed, Mr Longbottom,” McGonagall manages, eyes still on Kingsley. “The situation is contained, I take it?”

“Yes. Officially, we are moving all the captured Death Eaters to another part of the castle. But we don’t have much time.” Kingsley’s dark eyes swivel to pin Harry to the spot. “The situation has been explained to you?” he asks, and all Harry can do is nod.

“How?” Ron says suddenly.

Kingsley frowns. “Excuse me?”

“How have they escaped?” Ron insists, sounding genuinely curious.

“They have Disapparated,” Kingsley says simply.

“But it’s impossible to Apparate or Disapparate within the grounds of Hogwarts,” Ron presses, and, despite everything, the look of utter exasperation on Hermione’s face makes Harry want to laugh.

Now you remember that?” she hisses.

Ron shrugs. “Sorry.”

“Fortunately, the protective magic preventing Apparation into the castle is holding... for the moment,” Kingsley says, apparently unperturbed by Ron and Hermione’s exchange. “Otherwise we might have an incursion on our hands.”

McGonagall turns on him, incredulous. “Yes, and that is very much still a possibility! We need to take action immediately—which means doing something rather than standing around having a discussion.”

“Harry, just go,” Ginny says, and he’s startled to see her, even though she has, he is certain, been standing there all along, sandwiched between George and Fleur. Her face is pale and tear-streaked but formidable, and he knows beyond all doubt that whatever has changed between them, she is far stronger than he will ever be. “No one’s going to think any less of you, if that’s what you’re worried about.”

“It’s not,” he says, and it’s only partly a lie. He can already feel himself starting to give in, and he hates it. He fucking hates it, and he hates that, just like always, he has made a target of the people he loves the most. If he’s honest, he knows that this time he doesn’t have a reason to stubbornly refuse the offer of help—at least, not a good one. He can shake his head and stamp his feet and storm into another pointless battle, wand drawn and eyes closed; he can do it for the sake of stubbornness itself.

You can die for it, too, offers a small, pointed voice in the back of his head, and he sighs.

Then Molly’s hand is on his arm and she is looking up at him, piercing him, and he knows it’s over.

“I won’t lose another son today, Harry,” she whispers, and the words drag a gasp from him that seems to echo endlessly around the Entrance Hall.

Eyes stinging, he stares down at her and nods slowly.

“If Fred was here, he’d...” George trails off. “He’d make sure you bloody well went,” he finishes after a moment, rough tone hacking at Harry’s chest.

“I know.” Impulsively, he throws his arms around Molly and hugs her hard, stealing jagged breaths of her warm, familiar scent and burying his nose in her damp hair. “I’m sorry,” he whispers. She clings to him, tracking fresh tears against his skin. “I’ll go. I promise. It’s alright.”

When they pull apart, everyone seems to have found somewhere else to look, and as he takes a deep breath and clears his throat, he’s oddly grateful for the show of quiet respect.

“What do I have to do?”

For the briefest of moments, McGonagall’s face betrays her relief, and then she presses her lips together, exchanges glances with Kingsley, and nods.

“There is a Portkey in the office. It is best that we go now,” she says, sweeping Harry, Ron and Hermione with a critical gaze. “You should find all you need at the other end.”

Harry allows himself to be caught up in the flurry of soft, muted goodbyes, wondering as he is hugged and reassured by various Weasleys, just how long this contingency plan has been in place, and whether any of the planners ever expected to have to use it after the war was all but over.

“Look after Ron, eh?” Charlie mutters, enveloping Harry in a fierce hug that smells of leather and sweat.

“I think Hermione’s got that covered,” Harry mumbles against a strong shoulder. Charlie grins; he can feel it.

When he opens his eyes, he finds himself staring into the pallid, stony face of Narcissa Malfoy. Behind her, one wrist clamped in his mother’s iron grip, is Draco, and though he glares and attempts to pull away, it’s plain to see that she, just for now, is a hundred times stronger than her adult son, despite her obvious frailty. Several paces behind them both, Lucius hangs back, face unreadable.

Releasing Charlie, Harry steps back, heart hammering. He daren’t look away from Narcissa, even though she is clearly no kind of threat in the presence of these people.

“You are going somewhere,” she says calmly.

Harry’s fingers twitch toward his wand but he forces them into a ball at his side. “What do you want?”

“Take Draco with you.”

Harry blinks.

What?”

For a moment, Harry is certain that the exclamation came from him, but when he tears his eyes away from Narcissa’s, he realises that Draco is the one protesting. With a painful-sounding wrench, he finally manages to pull himself out of his mother’s grasp and just stands there, wide-eyed and furious, rubbing at his slender wrist and glaring around at anyone who happens to be in his eye-line. Harry just looks at him, lacking the energy to glare back; he takes in his dishevelled hair, his bloody nose, his bruises and singed clothes and wonders, without really caring, if his own appearance is just as rough.

“I want you to take him with you to this safe place,” Narcissa repeats, wrapping her dark cloak more tightly around her body. “It isn’t a request.”

“You’ve got to be kidding,” Ron cries. Narcissa appears not to hear him.

Harry turns to them. Hermione is silent but her eyes are large and watchful as she stands there, mud-grained fingers wrapped around Ron’s arm, whether clinging or restraining, it’s difficult to tell. The hush that has fallen over the group is deafening. When Molly breaks it, her voice seems much louder and rougher than usual.

“Don’t you dare come over here and ask Harry for a favour!” she shouts, glaring up at Narcissa and appearing to expand with every word. “You’re lucky your entire family hasn’t been carted off with the rest of them—if you think—”

Harry isn’t really listening. His mind is full of the forest and the earth, whispers and lies.

“She saved my life,” he says, cutting Molly off mid-flow.

The recriminations stop and she stares, open-mouthed. In fact, everyone stares; the Weasleys stare at the Malfoys; Ron and Hermione stare at Harry, and McGonagall and Kingsley stare at each other. Bewildered, Harry stares at Draco, and is somehow shocked to find in those strange, pale eyes, a confusion and weariness equal to his own.

McGonagall speaks softly, all traces of haste dissolved. “If that is true, Harry, then you know it is out of my hands.”

“Mother?” Draco asks, hanging so many other questions onto the word that Harry thinks it might break apart.

Narcissa does not reply; she merely continues to gaze evenly into Harry’s face. He hesitates, looking around at the others, even though he knows there are no words that could influence his response. He owes Narcissa Malfoy a debt, and that’s all there is to it—the only thing that seems important now is how he deals with it. If this night—this week—this year—has taught him anything, it’s that there are far worse things in this world than Draco Malfoy. Far worse people.

He can do this like a dick or like a man, and, in the end, it’s not really much of a choice.

With as much grace as he can muster, he nods. “We’ll take Draco with us.”

Something interesting but fleeting flickers in the pale blue eyes. Narcissa’s bony hands relax their hold on the fabric of her cloak as she returns his nod, understanding and a crackle of instinctive magic passing between them. Harry inhales sharply.

“Don’t I have a choice in this?” Draco demands.

McGonagall sighs. “Not really, Mr Malfoy.”

“If you are going, you must go now,” Kingsley says, eyes sweeping the Great Hall with uncharacteristic anxiety. “We can’t afford to waste any more time.”

When Narcissa turns to embrace her son, Harry looks away. He can’t watch their goodbyes, and it isn’t out of respect or politeness. It’s all so stiff and formal and halting, almost wrong on the edge of this shattered chaos, in which everyone but this odd little group is milling and clinging and crying and bleeding and celebrating. It feels like secret plans and whispered negotiations and the calling in of new debts, quiet and confusing and dry as dust.

They follow McGonagall through the corridors in silence, back up to the office where the portraits are once again in full voice, all attempting to out-shout the others and be the first to tell McGonagall of the impending threat.

“Yes, alright, thank you,” she snaps, and the portraits fall silent. As she unlocks a hidden compartment behind Phineas Nigellus, the eyes of the others flit around the incongruous little group, and by the time the Portkey has been retrieved, the painted images of headmasters and headmistresses past have begun to murmur to one another.

Keen for a distraction from their scrutiny, Harry pulls the hawthorn wand from his waistband and offers it to Draco.

“I think you’d better have this back.”

The pale eyes widen, but Draco hesitates only for a fraction of a second before reaching out and tugging his wand from Harry’s fingers, tucking it out of sight before Harry can change his mind.

“Harry...” Ron begins, and then appears to think better of it.

“This doesn’t mean I trust you,” Harry says, the words tumbling out of his mouth before he can stop them, “but honestly, I have no interest in being your keeper, and if you really want to hurt me, you won’t need a wand to do it.”

“I’m not a savage, Potter,” Draco snaps.

Harry ignores him.

“That’s enough,” McGonagall reproves. “There can be no magic in the safe house unless the situation is truly one of life or death. The Death Eaters may well be able to trace magical signatures and that is not a risk I am prepared to take. I needn’t stress that you are a target yourself, Mr Malfoy. Death Eaters are not, by nature, as forgiving as some to those who... change their minds,” she says quietly, fixing Draco with a look so significant that Harry’s eyes immediately flick to the portrait of Dumbledore, but the painted image of the old man only smiles serenely back at him.

Draco stares at McGonagall for long seconds, expression, for once, painfully easy to decipher. His eyes and sharply arched brows practically scream, ‘Fucking really?!’ Finally, though, he manages a stiff nod and says, “Yes, Professor. I am not expecting to find them sympathetic.”

Ron snorts softly. When McGonagall produces the Portkey, Harry can’t help but join him.

“When you are ready,” she says tartly, dropping the heavy orb into Harry’s hands and motioning for the others to gather around him.

“I can’t believe you have a crystal ball,” Hermione says, voice heavy with disappointment in her former teacher as she gloomily presses a fingertip to the glass. “I thought you didn’t believe in Divination.”

“Big picture, Hermione,” Ron murmurs with an almost-smile, placing his finger next to hers.

Draco merely scowls and touches the ball lightly, as though reluctant to make contact with it at all.

“Portkeys can, and should, be made from any old rubbish,” McGonagall offers, producing her wand with a tiny, wry smile, and as the familiar yanking sensation spirits them away, Harry smiles, too.

**~*~**

The room is dark, musty-smelling, and, Harry realises as he stumbles slightly, the hard floor of the office has been replaced by the squashy pile of a carpet. In the gloom, he can just about make out the movement of the others, Draco’s pale hair and a razor-thin trickle of light from between what he assumes is a pair of heavy curtains.

Disoriented, he steadies himself, wishing pointlessly that he’d gone for that fucking sandwich when he had the chance. The nap would’ve been pretty good, too.

“They told me to expect three,” someone says in the darkness, and then the room is flooded with harsh, early-morning light and the owner of the voice is clearly illuminated, standing at the vast bay window and drawing the curtains back with short, stiff movements. “Hello, Mr Malfoy,” she adds, scrutinising Draco with intelligent deep-set eyes that are strangely familiar to Harry.

“Mrs Longbottom?” Ron says faintly, and of course. Of course she is—her stretchy leggings and zip-up fleecy jacket are casual, Muggle, even dowdy, and her silver hair falls loosely to her shoulders without a trace of its usual severity, but there’s no mistaking that face.

The woman smiles grimly. “Miss, actually. I suspect you’re thinking of my sister, Augusta. My name is Lyona, and this...” She lifts a careless hand to indicate the room, “is my place.”

“And what sort of place is this exactly?” Draco asks coolly.

“The sort of place that is going to be your home until I’m advised otherwise,” she says, apparently unruffled.

“Neville never mentioned you,” Harry says, and by the time he realises his rudeness, it’s too late.

Hermione makes a small sound of frustration. “He did,” she advises Lyona, and skin around her eyes wrinkles with quiet pleasure. “Didn’t you ever listen in Muggle Studies?” she demands, turning on Harry with what seems like a disproportionate level of frustration.

“Not really,” he admits, just about biting back an apology.

She sighs. “In our very first term we studied Muggle holidays and Neville said that his great aunt on his dad’s side ran a guest house at the seaside. How do you not remember that? In fact, Malfoy said—”

“Something rude and uncalled for, no doubt,” Draco cuts in.

Hermione scowls, but Lyona seems almost amused. “Not to worry, I shall use my imagination.”

“So... this is a hotel?” Ron asks, looking with bemusement at the baggy old sofas and chairs, the moth-eaten curtains and the coating of dust on every surface. Harry follows his eyes, noticing the holes picked in the bumpy wallpaper and the splintering, peeling paint at doorframes, windowsills and skirting boards. The air is cold and heavy with disuse, and though Harry can now see the sea, blue-grey and choppy, from the window, he can’t imagine staying here by choice.

“This is the Lakeland,” Lyona says, sadness rasping the edges from her voice. “It’s not... being used at the present moment. I also have the Bayview, next door, which is open for the season. I agreed some time ago to keep the Lakeland free as a safe house, should you need it... and here you are.”

“Agreed with who?” Harry asks, stuffing his hands into his pockets and wishing he had something to lean against.

“Albus Dumbledore, of course,” Lyona says, drawing herself up to her full height, which happens to be a good couple of inches taller than Harry. “And the rest of the Order.”

“You’re part of the Order of the Phoenix?” Hermione asks faintly. She drops onto the broad arm of an ancient chesterfield sofa, and in doing so, somehow breaks the spell that has been keeping all of them upright. Ron sits heavily beside her, Harry collapses onto a threadbare ottoman, and Lyona perches on the edge of the grimy windowsill. For a moment, Draco hesitates, eyeing the furniture with distaste before finally capitulating, settling himself on the coffee table and folding his arms.

Lyona grants them an odd little smile. “Yes. It takes all sorts, you know. Even Squibs.”

“I didn’t mean it like that,” Hermione stumbles, flushing. “I didn’t know you were... I didn’t know.”

“Of course you didn’t,” Lyona says, tucking her large hands into the ends of her sleeves. She sighs. “Augusta doesn’t exactly advertise the fact, you know. But... this isn’t about her, much as I’m sure she’d relish that idea.”

“You’re twins, aren’t you?” Ron asks, almost managing to keep the wobble out of his voice. Harry senses rather than sees the moment that Hermione grabs his hand and grips it tight.

Lyona nods. “Yes. But Augusta and I have very little in common beside this old face. And the Order, of course. Don’t look so surprised,” she advises, catching Harry’s startled expression. “You didn’t really think you knew every little detail, did you?”

Harry’s mouth twists into a grimace. “I’m sure I was only ever told as much as I needed to know.”

“For your own safety,” Lyona insists, and Harry has definitely heard that one before. “Let’s put it this way—there were, and there are, many people, wizards and Squibs alike, who have been looking out for your interests, even if we never came to your secret meeting house or went along on any of those daring missions.” Lyona sighs wistfully, and Harry has the impression that she would have loved to have gone on a Polyjuice broomstick ride or broken into the Ministry in the middle of the night. “The Order is a network—yes, there’s the inner circle, the Dumbledores and Snapes and Weasleys and what-not, but there are also lots of tiny little cogs, watching and listening and passing on information. The Lakeland and I are one of those little cogs, you see?”

Harry nods, throat tightening as he wonders if Lyona knows how many of the people she mentioned are now dead. A network, he thinks vaguely. Wizards and Squibs alike.

“Mrs Figg,” he murmurs to no one in particular.

Lyona laughs hoarsely. “Arabella is a marvellous woman. Quite unhinged, but marvellous. She loves the Bayview, when she can get away... mostly because I let her bring her cats, I imagine.”

Harry finds a weak smile in return and closes his eyes, allowing the creeping sunlight to bathe his sore skin. This whole thing is unreal, and it isn’t being made any more ordinary by the presence of Draco sodding Malfoy, who is now slumping, elbows on knees, and flicking the metallic strap of his wristwatch back and forth—click, click, click, click, click...

“I suppose I’d better leave you to it for now,” Lyona says, and for a delicious few seconds, the clicking ceases. And then begins again. “It’s best if you stay inside the house for the first few days. No magic, of course, it’s far too dangerous... I don’t want to confiscate your wands, but I will if I have to,” she says, peering at each one of them in turn. “I’ll be next door if you need me—you know how to use a telephone, don’t you?” She frowns, suddenly uncertain.

“Some of us do,” Hermione mumbles.

Lyona’s worried expression melts away and she nods, all business. “I’ve managed to get the electricity back on, but I didn’t have time to clean up, I’m afraid... as you can probably see.” She sighs, giving Harry the impression of someone who has waited and waited for this moment of significance and now can do nothing but find herself lacking.

“It’s great,” he says decisively. “We’ll be fine. Thank you.”

A faint, pleased flush creeps over Lyona’s austere features and she attempts to hide it by slithering down from the windowsill and making a show of brushing dust and bits of peeling paint from her trousers.

“There’s some food in the fridge and I’ll bring you some more in a few days... I don’t really know what young people are eating these days, so I just got everything I could see.”

“Thanks,” Ron says, perking up at the mention of food.

“We’re very grateful for this... Miss Longbottom,” Hermione says hesitantly.

The dark eyes widen, almost in horror. “Good heavens, Lyona, please.”

Click, click, click, click, sigh, goes Draco. He doesn’t need to say ‘I don’t want to be here’; the message swirls around him like a tidal wave, crashing into the others and sweeping away their fragile moorings. Harry supposes that all they can do is hold onto each other and hope for the best.

When Lyona takes her leave and locks the front door behind her, he has never felt more trapped in his life.

**~*~**

“So...” Ron ventures after several minutes of silence. “Does anybody have a clue where we are?”

“Morecambe bay – a glorious traditional Northern seaside town,” Hermione says.

Harry stares at her, nonplussed. “How the hell do you know that?”

Mouth twisting into an odd little smile, she holds up a tatty leaflet on which the words are printed in a determined scarlet above an aerial view of the coastline that bears little resemblance to the grey, miserable scene beyond the window. “This was stuffed down the side of the chair. Sort of gave it away, really.”

Harry snorts and leans over to take the leaflet from her, opening it out and scanning the suggestions of things to see and do, the maps of local landmarks and photographs of children with whippy ice creams and donkeys on the beach.

“Do you think she left it on purpose?” Ron asks.

“Maybe,” Hermione says, shrugging. “She seemed kind.”

“She seemed scary,” Ron counters. Harry doesn’t look up from his examination of a map of the coastline, but he suspects they are both right about Lyona. Given the right—or wrong—circumstances, he thinks she could be every bit as intimidating as her sister.

On the coffee table, Draco sighs and clicks and sighs, but seems disinclined to contribute to the conversation. Harry thinks he’s alright with that, actually.

“Well, I wouldn’t suggest you get on the wrong side of her,” Hermione concedes at last, “but... if Dumbledore trusted her for this, I think we have to assume that she knows what she’s doing.”

Her voice is compelling but the whisper of sadness in it catches at the back of Harry’s throat and he bites down hard on his lip, glaring down at the shiny leaflet and reading and re-reading the same sentence until it ceases to make sense.

Morecambe has attractions and activities for all the family to enjoy.

For all the family to enjoy.

All the family.

Harry’s stomach drops. “Fuck.”

“What’s the matter?” Ron asks, but Harry can’t look at him. He can’t believe it didn’t even cross his mind to ask, that he blithely took a Portkey to this bizarre place without even a thought. Horrified, he drops the leaflet and rakes both hands through his sticky hair.

“I don’t know where Teddy is. I don’t even know if he’s... fuck.”

The silence seems to stretch out interminably before Hermione speaks. Her words are hesitant.

“I’m sure he’s okay, Harry... someone would have told you if anything happened.”

There’s a pause, and then Ron adds, “Er, yeah. Definitely.”

Harry closes his eyes, mind swirling with dreadful possibilities.

Draco sighs once more, and then, “He’s with his grandmother. They are both fine.”

Dangerously hopeful, Harry looks up, frantically scanning the pale face for signs of deception; it must be there—it is always there—and yet all he sees is worn, jaded irritation. Hope surging, he continues to stare hard at Draco, hands clamped together on his lap.

“How do you know that?”

“Some women were talking about it in the Great Hall, just before my mother decided to hand me over to you like some kind of commodity.”

“I think a commodity is supposed to be something valuable,” Ron retorts, scowling.

Draco grants him the briefest of withering glances. “If you think I’m above hitting you back, Weasley, you obviously have no idea how exhausted I am,” he says calmly, and, quite without his permission, the corners of Harry’s mouth twitch in response. Appalled with himself, he forces his features into a frown.

“Shut up, Malfoy,” Ron mutters, apparently giving up. Hermione squeezes his hand and gazes wearily at Harry.

“Can we get back to the point?” Harry asks, trying not to think about how—or if—this is ever going to work. They could be here for weeks. There’s every possibility that Ron and Draco will attempt to finish each other off without magic. Idly, he wonders if Lyona has thought to clear the place of anything that could be used as a weapon. Probably not, he reasons, if she hadn’t anticipated Weasley/Malfoy hostilities. He supposes he’ll have to do it himself—as soon as he’s had some sleep.

“Why bother asking a question if you aren’t even going to listen to the answer?”

With some effort, Harry shakes his brain back into the present moment. “Hmm?”

Draco inhales slowly, nostrils flaring. “I said, I overheard a group of women discussing the strange Lupin child.”

“And?” Harry presses, deciding to let the ‘strange’ go. He has certainly heard worse.

“One of them had had word from my Aunt,” Draco says, starting up the anxious watch-strap-flicking once more. “She said both were safe and well. Then they started talking about how terrible it was that both his parents had been killed.”

“Don’t you think it’s terrible?” Harry demands hotly.

Draco regards him steadily. “Of course it is. I was merely telling you what I heard.”

“Right... ’cause what would you know about losing someone?” Ron mutters, face flushed and eyes glittering.

Draco takes a breath, blinks slowly, and says nothing. Harry watches him, chest aching with relief for his godson and anguish for Ron, expecting a snarl or a sneer or a caustic, hurtful comment, but Draco just sits there, quiet and tattered and oddly dignified. Bewildered, Harry turns to Ron, but Hermione is already there, whispering gently to him, fingers laced through his and bodies pressed tightly together, hip to hip with no space in between.

And it’s so right for them, he knows that. But that space was where he always used to fit, best friend and confidant to each, and though he knows—hopes—that he will find a new space, in the meantime he’s floating; he’s lost. Hermione’s eyes are soft and fervent as she mumbles those careful words, and Harry can’t help but wonder if having someone to whisper and hold and cling to would make the ground beneath his feet feel solid again. There’s Ginny, of course, bright and brave and wonderful, but he knows that too much has passed for her to be the one to murmur reassurances or prop him up safely.

Draco, similarly marooned, he supposes, stares at the swirly carpet and looks as though he’d rather be anywhere but here. Harry has no idea what to do with him, what to feel about him, or how to find out, but he’s aware that his higher brain functions gave up in protest some hours ago, so there probably isn’t much point continuing to wonder.

“I need to go to sleep,” he announces, levering himself up from the ottoman and yawning widely.

“That’s a good idea,” Hermione says, catching the yawn and covering her mouth with a grubby hand. As if noticing the grime for the first time, she frowns and examines her fingernails critically. “I think I might need a shower first, though... I don’t even want to think about what my hair looks like.”

Harry laughs. It hurts. “It looks great,” he assures, gazing at the knotty, muddy tangle. “Sort of... cavewoman chic.”

Hermione shudders, but she smiles wearily as she stands and drags Ron upright with her.

“I’m not sharing a room with him,” he mutters, eyeing Draco with distaste.

“Believe me, the feeling is entirely mutual,” Draco snaps, rubbing his jaw again.

“No one has to share a room with anyone,” Hermione sighs, not looking at Draco. “This is a hotel, remember?”

Ron’s expression turns appealing. “I was kind of hoping to share one with you, actually.”

Hermione flushes and heads for the door; Ron follows her, thundering up the stairs and across the landing, drawing Harry’s eyes to the ceiling where a dusty chandelier is swaying precariously.

“Right then,” Draco says, and when Harry glances at him, he looks as though he might be sick.

Blackly amused, Harry makes for the door, aiming to find a room with a bed in it and fling himself under the covers for a very long time. Perhaps, after that, some of this will start making sense.

“Probably best if you avoid the room underneath theirs,” he advises Draco, for no other reason than that the expression of dismay on his face is spectacularly entertaining. He points at the chandelier. “It’d be terrible if one of those fell on you in the night... know what I mean?”

Harry closes the door behind him and makes for the stairs. Draco’s ‘oh, fucking no’ drifts through from the lounge and he starts his bedroom hunt with a smile on his face.

**~*~**

On the first floor, he finds a perfectly serviceable little room with a double bed, a tiny portable television and a tea tray, on which stands an ancient kettle, a stack of cups, and several little packets of biscuits of indeterminable age. The window frames, beginning to rot with damp and neglect, are soft beneath his fingers as he leans out and takes in his view—a long  line of ramshackle back yards, a launderette, and a fish and chip shop. There is nothing glorious about what he supposes is his new home, but the sheets look clean, and that’s more than good enough right now.

After a minute or two of absent-minded poking around, he discovers extra pillows, heavy, fusty-smelling blankets, and, to his delight, a shower room. Conflicted, he hovers in the doorway, almost groaning with the idea of the hot water on his weary, sticky skin, imagining the hiss of the steam and the clean, surging sounds of liquid on tile as the last of this... this day, this feeling, this, is washed away from him. Closing his eyes, he leans against the doorframe, wondering if there will be soap, shower gel, maybe even a nailbrush...

Harry frowns and opens his eyes, letting his head bang gently against the frame. He’s tired, yes, but fantasising about nailbrushes may just be a step too far. Trying not to overthink the thing, he steps into the bathroom, splashing his face with freezing cold water and washing his hands with a block of pink soap that smells of dried flowers and immediately makes him think of Aunt Petunia. Frowning at his haggard reflection, he casts a regretful glance at the shower and resists—at least for now. For some reason, the thought of having to put his clean self back into his dirty clothes when he wakes is far worse than the prospect of one more grimy night.

Attempting decisiveness, he closes the curtains, and, muscles twinging, he lowers himself onto the bed. The apparently well-worn mattress surrenders immediately under his weight and pitches him sideways onto the sheets. Harry sighs, opting to accept his position; he kicks off his shoes, pulls his feet up onto the bed and yanks the rough, waffle-textured blanket over himself with a painful jerk of his arm. The sheets smell like old ladies, he thinks as he closes his eyes. He supposes there are worse things.

Like old ladies with snakes coming out of them, supplies his subconscious, and Harry’s head is all at once awash with images somehow more grotesque or terrifying than the reality. Gritting his teeth, he shakes them away, but it soon becomes apparent that his depleted control is no match for the nightmare coalition of fear and memory.

“No,” he whispers harshly into the silent room, cocooning himself in the blanket and pressing his face into the sheets. Deep breaths, slow and steady. Eyes tightly closed against stiff fabric. No.

No, because he’s held it together for all this time, forced himself forward, onward—find this, destroy that, run away from them, fight for your life, for theirs, live, die, save, shout, kill, hide—and now that it’s over—oh, fuck, god, please let it be almost over—there’s nowhere to go, no next thing to do. No one is issuing instructions or threats; no one needs him to step up and be anything. All there is to do is wait. And after that... breath quickening, Harry shakes his head in the near-darkness. He isn’t going to think about after that.

With a massive effort, he forces his mind onto another track, but immediately wishes he hadn’t; all he can see are the faces of the dead, swimming before his closed eyes and staring, cold, pale and lost, and then the image shifts, and with a painful wrench, Harry is reliving his first meeting with each of them as vividly as a preserved memory in a Pensieve. Breathing hotly against the sheets, eyes stinging, his chest aches as he hears, ‘Mr Potter, our new... celebrity’, sees coal-dark eyes and disdain, sparkling blue and ‘Nitwit! Blubber! Oddment! Tweak!’, a manic grin in a dirty, wasted face and the Patronus of a tired, scruffy man on a darkened train. There’s a solemn promise to send home a Hogwarts toilet seat, a handsome young man behind his proud father, the flash of a camera and a small, awestruck face, and then, ‘Wotcher, Harry’ and so, so many colours, a child with a stupid, menacing face and the knowing whirr of a demented eye, and Harry has had enough.

Kicking away his blanket, he scrambles to his feet and leaves the room without a backward glance. The carpets of the landing and hallways are surprisingly soft underfoot and he walks slowly, trailing one hand along the textured wallpaper in an attempt to hang on to his equilibrium. In the cold silence, he pauses at the top of the staircase, breath caught. Someone is crying. Not big, noisy sobs, but dry sniffles, the kind that hurt. With some effort, Harry grips the cool, gloss-painted handrail and makes his way down the stairs. It won’t help to interfere, and even if it would, he wouldn’t have a clue where to start.

He pauses at the door to the lounge, drawing his wand more out of habit than any logical reason.

“Constant vigilance,” he mumbles to the door handle. Reassuringly, it has no response to offer.

When he pushes his way into the room at last, he’s at once startled and not at all surprised to find that he’s not alone. Curled on the shabby window seat, legs pulled up and head resting against the glass, is Draco. He, too, is clutching his wand, hands resting in his lap, and Harry can’t find it in himself to blame him for never wanting to let it go again. It is, he thinks, the first time he has found himself in a room with an armed Draco Malfoy and not feared at least a little bit for some horrible disfigurement. In fact, Draco appears to be completely serene in sleep, and Harry is at least as envious as he is strangely fascinated.

Fuzzily thoughtful, he tucks his wand away and watches for a moment the slow, gentle rise and fall of his breathing and the way the weak sunlight spills over pale skin and hair without appearing to disturb the sleeping figure one little bit.

Harry sighs and turns away, squashing the vindictive urge to slam the door as loud as he can.

“Not a helpful idea,” he says softly, heading instead for the unexplored door at the other end of the room. He opens and closes it gently and feels disproportionately proud of himself; a nasty awakening might be the very least that idiot deserves right now, but sleep is precious. Even if he isn’t getting any.

With what feels like a heroic effort, Harry buries his spite, brushes away his fatigue, and pictures himself instead as an explorer, wandering into room after room, discovering strange items of furniture, opening drawers and cupboards, and admiring the nineteen-seventies decor that once again puts him in mind of Mrs Figg. He can fully believe that she finds herself at home in a place like this. In the vast dining room, he finds a sea of round, shiny-topped tables, the ugliest mirror he has ever seen, and a thriving colony of woodlice. The kitchen, small but well-equipped, needs a good scrub, and Lyona had not been exaggerating about the food—Harry inspects the fridge, large chest freezer, and countless cupboards, finding every square inch crammed with provisions. Amused, he makes himself a cup of tea and drinks it at the sink, reading the graffiti on a nearby brick wall (‘the system sux’ and ‘brian has a tiny dick’) and relishing the coldness of the tiles against his sore feet.

Revived by caffeine and sugar, he continues his investigation of the ground floor. He moves quietly through the rooms, conscious, despite his better judgement, of the sleeping tangle of not-quite-Death Eater on the living room windowsill. He locates the telephone, a fantastically old-fashioned avocado green thing with a proper dial on the front, and finds, beside it, a notepad with the contact number for the Bayview written in what must be Lyona’s swooping script. Attached to the dining room, he discovers a small, run-down conservatory containing mouldy wicker furniture, cobwebs, and, on a rickety table, next to an old copy of ‘Lancashire Life’, the Lakeland’s guest book.

Harry returns to the kitchen, prize tucked under one arm, and settles himself on the floor. Fresh cup of tea in one hand, heavy leather-bound book balanced on drawn-up knees, he leafs through the pages of comments, squinting to decipher the crabbed scrawls of elderly guests and the round, determined printing of childish hands. He absorbs several years’ worth of seaside holidays, pressing his numb face against the hot ceramic of his cup as he drinks in the praise for the Lakeland’s cleanliness, warmth and atmosphere, for Lyona’s hospitality and her apparently renowned cooked breakfasts.

In his head, he weaves the words into a world he can almost reach out and touch, where this cold kitchen is alive with frantic activity, the wicker chairs are occupied by Barry and Diane from Ormskirk, who are having the most wonderful weekend—we so rarely get to treat ourselves—and the sea looks like it does in those crumpled photographs.

His tea is cold by the time the entries come to a stop.

12th August, 1995, he reads. Thank you for a lovely break, Lyona. We’re so sorry that it’s to be our last at the Lakeland. Best wishes for the future.

The signature is indecipherable, but all Harry can do is stare at the date. He shivers.

If, as Lyona claims, she closed the Lakeland for use as a safe house when Dumbledore asked her to, then this place has been lying, frozen in time, for the best part of three years. And what was he doing three years ago? Stomping around number twelve, Grimmauld Place and acting like an idiot, if he remembers accurately, and he thinks he does, much as he’d like to forget the whole period and try it all over again.

It’s not as though he hasn’t always been aware of the number and depth of sacrifices made for him over the years, but as he sits here now, leaning against Lyona Longbottom’s washing machine with the edges of her guestbook digging into his palms, he suddenly feels very small. Without a better idea, he sets the book down, wraps his arms around his knees, rests his chin on top, and hopes as hard as he can for everyone he has left behind. They can do this, with or without him.

What can only be minutes later, light footsteps draw his attention to the kitchen door.

“Harry?”

“Oh, hey, ’Mione... couldn’t you sleep either?” Harry asks, muffling a yawn.

Hermione’s eyes narrow with concern and she crouches beside him. “No... I’ve been to sleep. It’s four o’clock.”

Harry blinks, feeling as though someone has replaced his eyelids with sandpaper. “In the afternoon?”

She nods, the action whisking her hair toward his face; it’s neatly combed and smells like eucalyptus. “You haven’t slept, have you?” she sighs, expression daring him to lie.

“Nope,” he declares, letting his stiff legs flatten to the tiles and gazing up at Hermione, a spiky bubble of hysteria rising in his chest. “No. But I found lots of things. A book and... and Draco is sleeping on the windowsill,” he adds conspiratorially.

Hermione’s mouth twists grimly. “Not any more.”

“Oh.” Harry picks up his tea cup and stares into it, wondering where the liquid went. “What did you do to him?”

“Nothing,” she says, frowning and taking the cup from him. “Ron tripped over the rug and he woke up—he wasn’t too impressed. Never mind him, Harry, you need to get some sleep.”

“I know,” he agrees, levering himself to his feet and wincing. He reaches for the kettle and waggles it in the direction of a bewildered Hermione. “Tea?”

“I suppose it’s a start,” she says faintly. “I’ll find some more cups.”

Five minutes later, with steaming mugs distributed to a grateful Ron and a startled Draco, Harry arranges himself within the square, solid support of the Chesterfield chair, fingers wrapped around his tea and body curled into a protective ball. Hermione and Ron sit side by side on the saggy brown sofa, and Draco barely seems to have stirred from his sleeping position, knees drawn up onto the windowsill; his face is expressionless, and only the fierce grip on his tea cup assures Harry that he’s fully conscious. The room has, once more, lapsed into near-silence, and the smallest sounds rip and tear at Harry’s ears: the tap of Ron’s socked foot on the rug, the clink of teeth against ceramic that speaks of slow hands and inattention, a muffled shout from beyond the window, and sighs from all corners of the room.

He wonders if they, too, are caught up in their memories, or trying like he is to grasp the idea that Voldemort—every last bit of him—is finished, wiped away, and that everything must start all over again. The trouble is, it has to start in the absence of so many huge, vital characters, and it will have to carry on without them, too. Harry sips his tea, nose wrinkling. Hermione has put far too much sugar in it, no doubt thinking it will do him good. It might, he supposes, but it tastes vile. When he looks over at her, she is gazing past Draco and out of the window, as though he isn’t there. In all likelihood, she wishes he wasn’t, but there isn’t anything Harry can do about that. Grimacing, he drinks his tea.

The late afternoon sun has just begun to sneak warm, golden tendrils into the room when Ron’s stomach lets out a ferocious growl, drawing every eye as it rumbles on for several seconds, seemingly intent on making itself heard. Harry watches his friend with interest, allowing his arms and legs to stretch painfully for the first time in hours. Still no one says a word.

After a moment, though, Ron yawns and stumbles off in the direction of the kitchen. Hermione and Harry exchange curious glances, as though this behaviour is very strange indeed, and when Draco shifts on his windowsill and cranes his neck to follow Ron’s progress, Harry is suddenly struck by the absurdity of the situation. Three supposedly grown-up people, dazed and baffled by the very idea of a solution to hunger. Weakened by amusement, he lets his head drop back onto the shabby leather arm of the chair and closes his eyes, mouth twitching.

“Are you alright?” Hermione asks after a moment, voice scratchy.

Harry laughs but doesn’t open his eyes. “No idea.”

He isn’t sure when Ron returns; time has become a stretchy and unreliable thing. It could be ten minutes or two hours later, but whenever it is, Ron reappears at the door with a plate of huge, messy sandwiches in one hand, and a stack of smaller plates in the other. Four, Harry notes, surprised and relieved that Ron hasn’t chosen to make a point of excluding Draco.

“Even wankers need to eat,” he mutters under his breath as he leans close to Harry to pass him a plate and proffer the chaotic platter.

“Thanks,” Harry manages, taking a vast sandwich and deliberately not looking over at the windowsill as Draco accepts the offering with a stiff, quiet, “Thank you, Weasley.”

Harry takes a bite and chews mechanically. The sandwiches are stuffed with cold meats, mustard, coleslaw, and god knows what else, and, knowing Ron, are probably delicious, but Harry’s mouth tastes like dust, his jaw aches, and the vinegary dressing stabs into a small cut on his bottom lip. Food is good, he reminds himself. It will make him feel better. Food and sleep and a shower—he supposes that one out of three is... what had Hermione said? It’s a start. Harry swallows and looks over at Ron, who has finished his first sandwich and is reaching for a second.

“That alright, mate?” he asks, bread-enclosed mountain halfway to his mouth. The blue eyes are alight with genuine anxiety, and there’s no way Harry is going to tell his friend that his lovingly-prepared meal is merely being forced down in an attempt at mind-over-matter.

“Brilliant,” he assures, wiping coleslaw from his mouth. “Just what I needed.”

Ron nods, apparently satisfied, and starts on his second sandwich. Draco, now cross-legged on the window seat, has separated his sandwich into two smaller layers; whether for convenience or propriety, Harry can’t be sure, but the food is being attacked with a speed and vigour that strikes at an old sore spot in his chest. Impatiently, he shakes away his empathy and concentrates on something that will do some good. The sandwich is a challenge. He likes a challenge.

**~*~**

Judging by the rapidly-fading light, Harry thinks that it must be around eight o’clock when something discontented begins to stir in the lounge. At first, he can’t quite put his finger on it—it’s just a feeling. And yes, he may be tired and he may be disoriented, but he’s pretty sure he isn’t imagining things yet, and there is definitely a vibrating sort of tension occupying the room, one that wasn’t there before. Not only that, he thinks, but it seems to be increasing in urgency. Fingers curling into his palms, he lifts his head and glances at the windowsill; Draco is, he has to admit, his first suspect, but when he looks, the pointed, black-clad figure is just as it was the last time he checked, and the time before that, and the time before that, gazing calmly out of the window, chin on folded arms and pale fingers tucked into sleeves.

The restless tremor in the air only intensifies as Harry turns his head slowly, carefully, to regard Ron and Hermione, and when he sees them, he knows, because Ron is sleeping with his mouth open, head lolling back against the cushions and arms flopping gracelessly at his side. Hermione, in contrast, looks as though she is about to explode.

“Hermione?” Harry asks hesitantly, propping himself up on his elbows and preparing for... well, something. “Is everything—?”

“Right!” she announces, cutting him off and leaping to her feet with enviable energy.

“What’s happening...? You’re not Ludo Bagman,” Ron murmurs, gazing glassily up at her.

“No, Ron, I’m not,” she agrees, folding her arms and narrowing her eyes. “I’m not Ludo Bagman and I’m not spending another minute sitting in this room and feeling sorry for myself. And neither are you. We have to do something.”

“I’m not feeling sorry for myself,” Ron says, though he doesn’t sound convinced.

“I am,” Harry admits. “What do you suggest?”

“There isn’t anything to do,” Draco sighs. “We can’t even go outside.”

“I suggest,” Hermione says, ignoring him, “that we give this place a proper clean. If we’re going to live here, it should be a nice place to live. We already have everything we need, it just needs a bit of polishing up.”

“No offence, ’Mione, but...” Ron yawns again, remembering to cover his mouth at the last minute, “We’re all pretty tired—can’t we clean up another time?”

“No,” she says hotly, face flushing. “No, we can’t. We’re all mooning around here and thinking horrible thoughts, and... I’m scared! I’ll admit it! I don’t know what’s happening at home and I’m frightened. I’m frightened that I won’t be able to find my parents or they won’t be able to forgive me when I do. I’m frightened that the Death Eaters are hurting the people I care about. I’m frightened that we’ve all lost so many people that we’ll forget to be sad enough for all of them, and yes, I’m frightened that they’ll find us here and we’ll die. Alright?” Hermione gulps for air and looks out of the window, eyes bright.

“Okay,” Harry says softly, heart strangled and pulled tight.

“We have to do something,” she repeats, hair falling across her face as she looks at the floor. “We have to start putting ourselves back together, because... no one else is going to do it. Ron, your mum and dad need you... more than ever. Harry... everybody needs you... I’m sorry, it’s not fair, but it’s true. And...” She looks up, gesturing negligently at the windowsill, unable to complete her sentence.

“No, no, that’s fine,” Draco says drily, but she doesn’t appear to hear him.

“I can do something,” Ron says, scrambling to his feet. He squeezes her hand and leans close to her ear to add something that sounds a lot like, ‘we can talk later about being scared, I promise’.

Harry unfolds himself from his chair, suddenly disinterested in such pointless things as exhaustion, dirty clothes and trifling injuries. Hermione is right, and if she wants the last of his energy, she can have it.

“You’re right,” he says, finding a smile for her. “Action beats fear, right?”

She nods, and, with what looks like a great deal of effort, forces her arms away from her chest, letting them dangle at her side as she looks around, surveying the task in hand.

“Alright. I’m going to start with the dining room; Ron, why don’t you do in here—I found loads of cleaning stuff in the kitchen this morning,” she calls, voice fading as she disappears through the door and then reappears with a bucket full of cloths, sprays, polishes, brushes and more besides. She hands Ron an old-fashioned pink feather duster that has definitely seen better days, and glances up at Harry. “I thought you might have the best idea of the washing machine—it doesn’t switch on properly.”

“Me?” Harry’s eyebrows shoot up. “I don’t—when did you even find that out?”

“This morning, when you were making tea.” Hermione smiles and helps herself to a tin of furniture polish. “I hope you’re a better plumber than an observer. Someone will have to do the kitchen, too,” she adds, concentrating very hard on selecting a duster. She doesn’t notice that Draco has shaken his head, rolled his eyes and headed for the kitchen, but Harry does. “Oh my goodness,” she wails, looking up abruptly, duster in hand. “I’ve turned into Molly Weasley.”

Harry grins but Ron’s face is a picture of confusion. “What’s wrong with my mother?” he demands, waving his feather duster at Hermione.

“Nothing... I just wasn’t quite ready, I suppose,” Hermione says weakly.

“If you don’t have anything nice to say...” Harry murmurs, recalling the oft-repeated advice of his favourite primary school teacher. He gives Hermione a consolatory hug and wanders off to examine the washing machine, hoping that the knowledge required to fix the fucking thing might just drop into his head on the way.

Unfortunately, he arrives at the kitchen door still clueless, but the lure of clean clothes and fresh sheets is enough to make him determined to give it a go. Apart from anything else, he’s pleased to have something to do; Hermione has, in the way that only she seems to know how, broken into his somnolent nightmare and given him a focus. The least he can do in return is fix the sodding washing machine.

When he walks into the kitchen, he has to bite down on a curious smile. Draco has discarded his jacket, rolled up his sleeves and begun scrubbing at the floor with a pan scourer. Harry watches him for a moment, taking in the frown of concentration, the small, precise movements, the ragged curtain of pale hair and the faded Mark on the arm that supports his weight against the dirty floor. Long, pale fingers splay out over the grubby tiles and the bowl in which Draco dips his scourer at regular intervals is overflowing and painted with spring flowers. He makes a strange and compelling picture, distracting enough to ensure that Harry forgets all about the washing machine.

“You’d probably be better starting at the top,” he says before he can stop himself.

Draco looks up. “What?”

“I said, you might be better starting at the top and working your way down to the floor,” Harry says, gesturing vaguely at the cupboards and surfaces. “That way, if you sweep bits of stuff off the counter tops, it won’t matter. And... well, that thing’s for washing up pans and things,” he adds apologetically, thinking better of his urge to tug the scourer out of Draco’s hand.

Draco arches an eyebrow and sits back on his heels. “I didn’t realise you were an expert.”

“I’m not. But I’ve probably cleaned more kitchens than you,” Harry snaps. “You don’t have to listen to me—it won’t be anything new.” Slightly stung, he turns away from Draco and crouches in front of the washing machine, pushing buttons at random. When all the little lights stay stubbornly unlit, he sighs. Part of him had been hoping that there was nothing wrong with the machine at all, and he could just flick the right combination of switches and somehow emerge triumphant.

“I haven’t ever needed to clean anything before.”

The admission is surprising, even if the content is anything but, and Harry twists around to look at him. “Lucky you,” he says, but there’s no edge to his tone. “Welcome to the real world, I suppose.”

“The Muggle world,” Draco corrects. He gazes down at his scourer, brows knitted.

“Yeah,” Harry concedes, opening the door and peering into the metal drum. It smells dank and rusty, and he bangs his head as he withdraws. “Fuck’s sake,” he mutters, and then he does something he has never done before: he asks Draco Malfoy for help. He must be losing the plot. “Can you help me pull this out? Please?”

Apparently just as startled, Draco stares at him for a moment before dropping his scourer into his bowl of scummy water and getting to his feet without a word. Together, they haul the ancient washing machine out from under the counter and into the middle of the floor, and when Harry crawls behind it and locates the problem, he wants to perform a victory dance.

He can fix this.

Delighted, he reaches out and yanks the plug from the socket, bringing it close to his face and inspecting the damage. Something—perhaps a rat or a mouse, judging by the size of the teeth marks—has chewed almost all the way through the cable. It’s a mess, but fortunately he can sort it out, he can make the washing machine work, and, perhaps more fortunately, whatever did the chewing chose to do it before Lyona switched her electricity supply back on.

As he extracts himself and rummages around in the lower cupboards for some kind of tool box, he realises that Draco is no longer attempting to clean the floor. Curious, Harry glances around the kitchen under cover of the cupboard door, and he smiles as he simultaneously closes his fingers around a rusted but serviceable pair of pliers and catches sight of Draco as he balances on the counter top above the sink, swiping at the tops of the cupboards with a flat sponge. He’s still using far too much soap, but it’s definitely a step in the right direction, and Harry isn’t about to criticise him again.

He has changed enough plugs to complete the task in his sleep, but Harry is careful now as he sits on the floor and carefully snips and strips and connects the new, undamaged sections of wire. It’s not pretty and it won’t win any safety awards, but it means clean clothes and a happy Hermione, and, on balance, those things are rather more valuable.

“What are you doing?” Draco says finally, sounding as though he’s been trying not to ask.

“Fixing the washing machine,” Harry says, and there’s another first. A smile, voluntarily offered. He tightens the last screw and holds up the plug for Draco to see. “I’m going to give it a try now.”

Harry chews his lip and hopes hard as he fits the plug into a different, safer socket and presses the power button. He grins, watching the tiny light turn red and blink on and off, over and over again. It’s nothing, of course, a bit of basic electronics and a lot of luck, but that knowledge doesn’t stem the rush of pride.

“Will it work now?” Draco asks, lowering himself to sit on the counter, hands wrapped around the metallic edges.

“I think so.”

“Where did you learn to do that?”

“Harry?” Hermione calls, seconds before appearing in the doorway. Draco picks up his sponge and resumes his careful scrubbing. “Oh, wow—have you done it?” Beaming, she gazes at the washing machine, just as entranced by the little blinking red light. “That’s brilliant! Well done,” she says, clutching her polish and duster to her chest. “I was just going to ask you to put the kettle on, but... well. Thanks, Harry.”

“No problem. And now,” Harry says, as grandly as he can manage, “I will put on... the kettle.”

Hermione laughs and then is gone in a whisk of curls and cleaning smells. Harry fills and switches on the kettle for more tea, and, when the dining room door slams shut behind Hermione, Draco sighs. “Do you think she ever plans to stop pretending I’m not here?”

“I don’t know,” Harry admits. He doesn’t look at Draco, just concentrating on the flow of cold water over his hands as he washes them at the sink, even though he feels those eyes on him, watching him from only feet away. “Do you think you deserve it?”

Draco snorts. “Do I think I deserve her attention?”

“Yeah, I suppose that’s what I’m saying.” Harry dries his hands thoughtfully, unsettled by the civility of the conversation. “If anyone deserves to hold a grudge against you, it’s her. You’ve said some disgusting things to her over the years, Malfoy.”

The kettle roars and hisses, filling the silence as Draco wrings out his sponge and considers his response. “I know,” he says at last, voice flat. “And it isn’t that I don’t understand her feelings, but... it’s going to be rather difficult for the four of us to live in such close proximity if she continually refuses to acknowledge my existence.”

Harry nods. “That’s probably true, but it’s really up to her whether she wants to forgive you or not.”

“I hadn’t really thought about it like that,” Draco says stiffly. “In terms of forgiveness, that is. Do you?”

The question is nothing, tossed out into the chilled, pine-scented air as though without thought.

Harry’s heart thumps anyway. “Do I what? Forgive you?”

Pale eyes regard him with poorly-concealed interest. “Yes.”

“I don’t know,” he says at last, and the answer is, at least, honest. He grabs a clean sponge, dips it into Draco’s water, and begins to wipe down the cupboards at the other end of the kitchen. The click of the boiling kettle makes him jump, but Draco gets there first.

He picks up the kettle as though it’s an unexploded bomb. “Can I make the tea?”

“Er... yeah, be my guest,” Harry says, cleaning the same patch of cupboard door over and over as he watches Draco out of the corner of his eye.

He lines up four cups, locates and sniffs suspiciously at the box of tea bags, and then pauses.

“What goes in first?”

Harry turns, sponge dripping soapy water to the tiles. “Don’t tell me, you’ve never made a cup of tea before either?”

“It hasn’t been necessary,” Draco says, eyes defensive. “I realise that I have to put the little bag into the cup, but which goes on first—water or milk?”

“That depends on who you ask,” Harry says, unreasonably irritated with himself for being unable to provide a definitive answer. “I’d say go with the water and add the milk at the end, but there are plenty of people who’d disagree with me.”

When Draco nods, gazing down at the cups and appearing to give the matter some serious consideration, Harry turns away from him and pinches the skin on the back of his hand, hard. He’s not dreaming; he and Draco really are having a conversation about tea-making etiquette. It’s... different.

“I’m going to do an experiment,” Draco announces.

Harry smiles wearily. “You do that.”

**~*~**

That night, there is still no sleep for Harry.

The horrible swirling images have faded away, leaving behind only a writhing, crawling restlessness that prickles his skin, pulls at his insides and makes him want to lean out of his bedroom window and scream into the darkness. Instead, he washes his clothes and hangs them up to dry, fishes out a threadbare dressing gown from the wardrobe, and wanders the silent house again. Draco is nowhere to be seen this time, and Harry wonders vaguely if he has found himself a bedroom at last. Not that he cares.

By the morning, he feels certain that he is coming apart on a cellular level. Oddly disconnected from his body, he slumps into a chair at one of the shiny-topped tables and stares at the yellowing breakfast menu until the words begin to bore their way into his brain.

Finest Lancashire sausages. Bury black pudding. Free range eggs, scrambled, poached, or fried. Locally reared hand-cured bacon. Toast, white or wholemeal. Fresh grilled tomatoes. Coffee or tea.

Draco makes tea. Draco makes lots of tea, in fact. When he finally appears—looking different somehow... clean, Harry thinks, clean and showered with hair wet and white shirt white again—he strides straight past Harry and into the kitchen to fill the kettle. Harry supposes it must be a bit of a novelty for him, though he doesn’t recall a time when he ever felt that way about tea-making.

“You look dreadful,” Draco says, scrutinising Harry from the kitchen doorway.

“Good fucking morning to you, too,” Harry snaps, going to rub his eyes and then noticing that his hands are trembling. Fantastic. It’s just tiredness... he hopes.

“You know, you’d be doing us all a favour if you just went to sleep,” Draco says darkly, folding his arms. “If you want, I can try knocking you out.”

“Thanks,” Harry says, pulling a face. “I’ll remember that. For now, please can you either make me a cup of tea or bugger off?”

Draco scowls and retreats into the kitchen, and Harry rests his head against the table and hates the horrible words pushed out of his mouth by this feeling. Breathing in the scent of polish and his own skin, he closes his eyes. When he opens them again, there is a steaming cup at his elbow.

Opting not to think too hard about any of it, Harry drinks his tea in silence, nodding wearily to the others as they drift through the dining room, head for the kitchen in search of breakfast and both practically jump out of their skins at the sight of Draco doing... well, whatever he’s doing in there. Harry can’t quite see into the room from his seat, but the smells coming out of there are definitely interesting.

Breakfast is conducted in silence, but silence of a much more comfortable variety; it doesn’t hang heavily like yesterday’s silence, it just seems to sit at the table with them, allowing Hermione to read as she slowly consumes her cornflakes and Ron to try out at least five different flavours of jam on his toast. Harry watches them, slumping against the table with his chin propped up on one hand, and so the pattern for the morning is set.

Harry watches Hermione as she takes everything out of her beaded bag and lays it out on the floor of the dining room; he watches her arranging everything in an order he hasn’t a hope of understanding, and he watches her flitting in and out of the room, placing books and clothes and various magical items on shelves and in drawers as though desperate to make this strange place feel a little more like home. He watches Ron as he takes up Draco’s vacated position at the window and looks out at the sky and the people and the sea.

After an hour or two, he gives in and moves to another table so that he can also watch Draco and his endless, almost obsessive, tea and coffee-making. He doesn’t ask for advice again, but there is a tacit expectation that Harry will drink whatever is put in front of him, and he does, because he’s curious, and because it’s something to do. Also, he thinks, sipping at the latest offering, there’s something undeniably comforting about a hot drink, especially one made by someone else. And, bizarre as it is, Draco is getting better.

By eleven o’clock, he has begun experimenting with Lyona’s clapped-out coffee maker, and by ten past, the entire ground floor of the Lakeland smells like burnt, bitter grounds. Several minutes later, he emerges, hands, forearms and shirt sleeves covered in tiny black particles and stalks over to join Ron at the window. He scans the windswept promenade, sharp eyes irritable.

“Why are there people standing in the water?” he asks of no one in particular. “Is there something wrong with them?”

“Don’t tell me you’ve never paddled in the sea, Malfoy,” Ron says, bewildered.

“I have swum in the sea,” Draco says stiffly. “In France. In summer.”

Ron sighs and shakes his head.

Harry hides his smile in his cup when Hermione appears at his table and passes him a stack of clean clothes. “Yours, I think,” she says. “Must have been mixed up with Ron’s. Now you can have a shower,” she adds pointedly.

“I will,” he promises, adding wistfully, “And then maybe I’ll fall asleep.”

“I really hope so,” Hermione says, no longer bothering to mask her anxiety. “You can die from lack of sleep, you know. I mean... people can. Sorry, that’s not helpful.”

Harry laughs, leaning back in his chair, and covers his dry face with both hands. “Not really, but I appreciate the concern.”

“This is the strangest place I have ever been,” Draco declares, and Harry opens his eyes just in time to see him striding back toward the dining room.

“I was thinking I could make you something—I’m sure I have enough ingredients left over to brew a sleeping draught, if I... fudge it a little bit,” Hermione says, nose wrinkling even at the thought.

“That’s really nice of you, but I’m fine, really I am,” Harry lies, wanting the cavalier words back as soon as they have escaped his lips. Yes! screams the little voice inside him, yes, I’d love a sleeping draught! When can you make that happen?

Hermione rests her hands on the back of a vacant chair and regards him dubiously. “I don’t think you’re fine, actually, but I was a little bit worried about what McGonagall said—no magic unless it’s life or death—the last thing I want to do is put you in danger, Harry, but I think there comes a point when you have to—”

“She was referring to spells,” Draco interrupts. For the first time in two days, Hermione turns to look at him. “It is possible, though not likely, that certain spells and magical signatures can be traced. Potions are far subtler. You could make a thousand sleeping draughts without being detected.”

Hermione opens her mouth, hesitates, and shuts it again. She swings around to look at Harry, and he has the sinking suspicion that he’s going to have to be the one to make the decision.

“Well... I think that probably makes sense,” he says, realising with a jolt that, whichever way he tries to slice it, he is trusting Draco not to throw him under the bus. Sort of. His argument does make sense, and fuck, Harry would swap a non-vital organ for some sleep at this point. “I think we should have a go.”

After a moment’s uncertainty, Hermione nods, face set. She retrieves her cobbled-together ingredients and an ancient Potions book, and, with Harry, Draco, and Ron in tow, heads for the kitchen. Brushing aside the debris from Draco’s coffee experiments, she finds an old pan printed with flaking sheaves of wheat and lights the stove with a match, filling the kitchen with an evocative, acrid scent that reminds Harry of other people’s birthdays.

While Ron and Draco all but rest their chins on Hermione’s shoulders as she works, Harry opts to lean on the counter and observe from a slightly safer distance. He trusts Hermione’s potion-making skills implicitly, but he’s not sure he trusts Lyona’s stove or the contents of her cupboards, with which Hermione is attempting to supplement her sparse supplies. And she’s struggling—the mixture in the pan is smoking copiously, sticking to the wooden spoon one minute and sloshing around like water the next. Sweeping her unruly hair out of her eyes, Hermione runs her fingers frantically down the spattered page, muttering to herself, and all Harry can do is think that Snape, wherever he is, would probably be able to rescue this. He’d have a few choice words to say about it, too, Harry imagines, especially regarding the substitution of rice for pearlworms because it’s ‘a starchy texture thing, I’m sure’.

Something has to happen, and when it happens, Harry has no idea how he failed to see it coming. With a sigh that displaces smoke around him in a cloud, Draco leans over and takes the spoon from Hermione. Gently, but with definite authority, he prods her aside and peers into the pan.

“Why is it that you always come unstuck when you have to improvise? It’s not as though you lack intelligence,” he says without looking at her.

Harry doesn’t know whether to cringe, rage, or laugh, because that was almost a compliment. A twisted, snippy sort of compliment with a healthy dose of criticism, but a compliment nonetheless. Hermione stares at Draco, pink-cheeked and open-mouthed.

“Excuse me,” she mutters, extracting herself from the group at the stove. As she makes for the door, Harry catches her wrist and pulls her back, slipping an arm around her shoulders and hugging her briefly.

“Don’t go,” he murmurs, watching with amazement as the smoke starts to thin out and turn a silvery blue. “He can’t help being a dick—it’s genetic.”

She holds herself stiffly for what feels like a long time before relaxing against him and letting out a long, frustrated breath. “It’s true, though, isn’t it?” she says at last.

“What’s that?” Ron asks. “Lemon juice? Are you... oh, brilliant.”

“What’s true?”

“What he said about me. I always go to pieces when I have to actually think for myself.”

Harry frowns, eyes meeting hers now. “That’s bollocks, Hermione. If you hadn’t been able to think for yourself, we’d probably all be dead by now.”

She flushes. “Hardly.”

“Definitely. And there’s nothing wrong with preferring to have everything, you know, in order. I wouldn’t know anything about that, but as you’ve said to me before, I’m a messy, disgusting boy.”

Hermione blinks, a tiny smile curving her lips. “I didn’t mean that about you, Harry. I meant it about all boys.”

Harry grins. “Including Ron?”

Especially Ron.”

“Poor Ron,” Harry sighs, yawning and turning back to the stove, where Draco is adding drops of green liquid from Hermione’s stash and some kind of brown powder from the cupboard, then stirring carefully in a clockwise direction. A small fireball leaps from the surface of the liquid, forcing Ron to step hastily backwards.

It seems like no time at all before Draco is ladling the potion into a tall glass and passing it to Harry, expression caught somewhere between smugness and anxiety.

“It’s no Dreamless Sleep but it should put you out for a few hours.”

“You should check it first,” Ron says, apparently concerned for Harry’s safety despite having watched the entire brewing process from only inches away.

Draco’s mouth curls irritably. “I’m a little offended that you think I’d choose to poison you in front of two witnesses.”

“I’d rather have you offended than Harry dead,” Ron says, effectively putting a stop to the discussion.

“Hermione, you check it,” Harry says, passing her the warm glass.

“What? Why?”

“Come on,” he says, “you’re the best with potions and you know it. Don’t listen to him; he’s just trying to get a rise out of you.” As Harry says the words, he realises how true they probably are—were he in Draco’s position, being so comprehensively ignored, he’d probably throw out a few insults to break the silence, too. He might try apologising first, of course, but these things can’t be rushed.

Reluctantly, Hermione examines and sniffs the potion. “It’s fine. It’s...” she sighs and passes it to Harry. “It’s perfect. Perfectly safe. You should drink it.”

“I suppose I will, then,” Harry says. Feeling supremely uncomfortable, he thanks Draco and bids Ron and Hermione goodnight. Good morning. Good time to have a very long sleep. He grabs his stack of clean clothes and heads for the stairs, half-listening to the rumble of voices as he drags himself slowly to his bedroom, glass of precious liquid held aloft.

“... just incredibly rude,” Hermione is saying.

Ron mumbles and someone clanks around in the sink. “... least Harry can sleep now—that’s the main thing.”

Harry smiles. In the bedroom, he sheds his dirty clothes like an old skin, letting them fall to the floor around his feet and leaving them there. The shower is hot, blessedly powerful and feels like everything he has ever wanted. He leans against the tiles and lets the water batter his scalp, back and shoulders, pound his aching muscles into submission and sluice the dust, blood, and sweat from his skin. After a brief search, he finds a small bottle of violently green liquid, and, on sniffing it, realises immediately what Hermione has been using to wash her hair. He follows suit, soaping his body and hair with vigour, inhaling the cleansing scent of eucalyptus and shivering as he steps back out into the cold bathroom.

Drying himself as much as he can be bothered, he picks up Draco’s sleeping draught and gives himself one last chance to change his mind. He wavers for a moment, but takes one look at his clean sheets and extra pillows and his mind is made up. He drains the glass in two huge gulps; it’s lukewarm and tastes unexpectedly spicy, but not unpleasant.

With a long, contented sigh, Harry flops into bed and waits, eyelids already growing heavy.

At last, he sleeps.

**~*~**

Outside the window, a seagull squawks importantly and Harry opens one eye, just in time to see the vast bird landing on his windowsill. Stretching, he opens the other eye and fumbles around for his glasses. With the world now in focus, he glances at the clock on the bedside. The harsh sunlight that is now streaming into the room makes the backlit display difficult to read, but he just about makes out 09:52, which means he has been sleeping for almost twenty-four hours straight.

Startled, he flops back onto his pillows and looks at the damp patches on the ceiling. He supposes there’s no way of knowing whether it was Draco’s sleeping draught or just that he bloody well needed the rest, but it doesn’t really matter. Either way, he feels restored. The aches and pains are still in evidence, and he’s pretty sure he’ll discover more of them when he decides to stand up, but the important thing is that his body feels as though it belongs to him again. His head, too, is beautifully clear—so clear, in fact, that he closes his eyes for long seconds and just basks in the near-silence.

It’s not long, though, before the call of the shower becomes too strong to resist, and although he’s still pretty clean, he turns the power up to full and has another one, just because he can. He rummages through his little stack of clean clothes and pulls on a green t-shirt and a pair of worn jeans, both of which feel obscenely luxurious against his skin after days of wearing nothing but the thing that now makes up a crumpled pile in the corner. It can stay there, as far as Harry is concerned.

His reflection in Lyona’s scalloped, oval-shaped mirror stares back at him with a small smile. He has definitely looked better, that’s for sure, but he has also looked worse. It’s likely that the rose-tinted glass is giving him a healthier colour than he really possesses, but he’s not about to hunt for another mirror just to find out. When his stomach growls with genuine hunger for the first time in days, he heads downstairs, and is not at all surprised to find a note from Hermione on the coffee table.

Harry,

I hope you had a good sleep. Ron and I checked on you a couple of times because you were out for so long, but you just seemed very peaceful. I was going to make you some breakfast before I remembered that I couldn’t just leave it under a warming charm! It’s strange how much I miss magic already. Anyway, there are plenty of things to eat, I suppose. We thought you might like some space when you got up, so Ron and I will be in room five if you need us.

Hermione.

Harry smiles, then makes a face at the idea of disturbing Ron and Hermione in their bedroom. He’s sure she meant well, but fuck knows what he might find in there. Besides, he’s perfectly capable of looking after himself. Perhaps, he thinks, making for the kitchen, Draco will still be in the mood for making coffee. When he opens the door, though, Draco is nowhere to be seen. The surfaces are still strewn with cups and spoons and sticky granules of all kinds, and the faint scent of coffee hangs in the air, suggesting that he has been here this morning, but the only movement in the room is the attention-seeking flap of the curtain in the stiff sea breeze.

Harry stares at the open window, stomach dropping heavily.

“Shit,” he mumbles, stumbling over his own feet as he swings around in the doorway a little too fast; he steadies himself on the frame and runs to check the conservatory, the bathroom, and anywhere else he can think of. When he draws a blank, he sits on the stairs and attempts to think rationally. Of course, there’s every possibility that Draco is upstairs in one of the bedrooms, every possibility, but something just doesn’t feel right. Drumming his hands against the stair carpet, he holds himself back, trying to hear the voices in his head, the ones that always attempt—and usually fail—to keep him safe.

It’s dangerous out there.

The best place for you is right here.

Why on earth would you put yourself in danger for him?

Because he could give us away, he reasons, friction heating the palms of his hands. He’s a liability.

And that’s enough, because it’s true, even if it isn’t the only reason. Even if it’s at least partly because Harry doesn’t actually want something horrible to happen to the selfish bastard. Shoving his feet into the first pair of shoes he can find, he dashes back to the dining room, flipping over Hermione’s note and scrawling, ‘Draco has buggered off. Can’t have got far. DO NOT follow me’, before heaving himself up onto the kitchen counter and crawling through the window.

“I really didn’t need this today,” he mutters, jumping down to the ground and scraping the full length of his forearm against the windowsill as he lands. It stings like hell, but he doesn’t suppose he’s got time to worry about it right now.

The backstreets stretch out in front of him, and he can see the launderette and the tumbledown terraces that are visible from his bedroom, but something he can’t explain makes him turn away and set off toward the sea front at a jog. He doesn’t know where he’s going, but with nothing to guide him but his instincts, he can either follow them or crawl back through that window and wait for something to happen. Harry has never been much of a ‘wait and see’ sort of person.

The road seems to follow the curve of the bay, and is sandwiched between the beach on one side and the endless row of guest houses on the other. Each of these is almost identical, with stacks of bay windows overlooking the sea, brightly coloured awnings and tidy little patio gardens out front. Signs explaining rates and making grand proclamations like, ‘the best bed and breakfast in town’ or ‘voted best family guest house 1996’ are pitched outside almost every establishment, even the Lakeland, which has been standing empty for several summer seasons. As Harry glances up and down the road, deciding which direction to take, he examines his temporary home. With its bright red paintwork dulled and peeled, and its hanging baskets dry and devoid of life, the Lakeland looks sad and neglected next to its sister; the Bayview, done up in blues and whites with fresh flowers in the windows, is beautifully kept.

It also contains Lyona, and that is enough to send Harry in the opposite direction. He soon leaves the guest houses behind and finds himself in the midst of pubs that are not yet open and strange, open-fronted shops that definitely are. He doubts that Draco would be caught dead shopping for a bucket and spade or a lollipop shaped like a penis, but he looks into each shop anyway, just in case, and scans the beach below with every other step. He pauses outside a run-down bookshop with several cases full of old paperbacks sitting out on the street, gazing at mixed-up old copies of P.G. Wodehouse and Jackie Collins novels and holding onto a convenient shelf to stretch out his burning calves. When what feels like a hairy missile shoots out and hits him behind the kneecaps, he has to hang on for dear life just to avoid the indignity of falling on his arse in a heap.

He turns around to see a small, elderly brown dog with expressive white eyebrows and a mouth full of a rubber toy in the shape of a fluorescent pink wedge of cheese. With some effort, the dog jumps up and plonks its front paws on Harry’s knees. Charmed, he smiles, and his search is momentarily forgotten.

Someone with a blunt Yorkshire accent bellows, “Get down, Hamlet!” and then a man appears in the doorway, stout and heavy-browed.

“It’s alright,” Harry assures, patting the dog’s head, and then the not-quite-question is out before he really knows anything about it. “I was wondering if you could help me—I’m looking for someone.”

The man twitches bristly dark eyebrows. “Fair-haired lad with a snake tattoo?”

Harry sighs as relief and exasperation crash over him in waves. “Yeah, that’s him,” he says faintly.

“Hmm,” says the man, eyeing his dog, who has now seen fit to curl up on top of Harry’s feet. “He’s been wandering about inside since I opened. Seems a bit... odd.”

Harry snorts. “Yeah, you could say that. Thanks,” he offers, dislodging Hamlet and walking into the shop. When his eyes adjust to the dim light, he draws in a sharp breath. What he sees is so far removed from the orderly neatness of the average bookshop, or even the organised chaos of Flourish and Blotts, that he has no idea what to do next. Made up of what appear to be countless little caverns, the shelves wind and fold and slump, creating a dark, twisting warren for books and glass cases and god knows what else. The books are stacked from floor to ceiling in precarious towers, each looking as though it could collapse in on the others at any moment, setting off an avalanche of paper and leather and dust. The desk, behind which the man has now retreated, is buried beneath a mountain of periodicals and tiny volumes on fish, insects, and spiders.

Harry has the unsettling feeling that it would be easier to find Draco in the middle of London than in this shop.

“You... have a lot of books,” he says redundantly.

“Aye,” the man agrees laconically. “Last time I saw him, he was in crime.”

A darkly amused smile flits across Harry’s face, and then he gazes at the dusty labyrinth in front of him. There is not a single label or sign to be seen.

“Almost all the way to the back, then on the right,” the man says, taking pity on him. “You’ll find him—there’s no bugger else in here yet. That I know of, anyway,” he adds, and Harry thinks it would be entirely possible to lose a customer in this chaos and know nothing about it. You could probably die in here and go undiscovered until you started to smell. It does smell nice in here, though, he concedes, musty and inky and full of knowledge.

“Thanks,” he sighs, and heads off in search of the crime section. Hamlet follows him, claws clicking on the uneven floor and rubber cheese squeaking with every wheezing breath.

After a couple of wrong turns—one involving a near-collision with a huge stuffed goose that can have no other purpose than to terrify customers—Harry finds him, hair ruffled and eyes narrowed, reading the back of a tatty book with a blood-smeared knife on the cover. When Harry stops in the makeshift doorway to the tiny room, Hamlet runs into the back of his legs and drops his cheese.

Draco looks up. “What are you doing here?” he asks, as though they have run into one another by chance at some society function.

Harry shakes his head in disbelief. “I hate to ask the obvious question here, but what the actual fuck do you think you’re doing? You know we’ve got to stay in the house!”

Setting down the paperback, Draco sighs. “I was bored,” he says simply.

Harry thinks he may just actually explode. “You were bored? Are you completely insane? You could have got us all killed!”

Draco scowls and folds his arms. “Don’t you think you’re being a little bit dramatic?”

“No! Don’t you think you’re being a little bit of a selfish prick?” Harry snaps, and it feels good. Which is strange, and surely not a very good sign for him as a person, but Draco has always had a talent for making him angry.

“Probably,” Draco says with a light shrug. “I’m not particularly in the mood to argue with you.”

Makes a change, Harry thinks, but manages to hold it back this time. “Are you going to come back to the house?”

The grey eyes glitter with amusement. “I was always going to come back, Potter. Where else do I have to go?” Harry opens his mouth to argue and Draco adds, “Alright, I’ll rephrase that. Where do I have to go where people don’t want to kill me? Except maybe Granger, and she’s not allowed to use her wand.”

“Hermione doesn’t want to kill you,” Harry says as Hamlet begins to wind around his legs like a breathless, bristly cat. “Although... I doubt she’s going to like you any better when she finds out about this.”

“Oh, no,” Draco whispers, eyes going theatrically wide, but he walks around Harry and picks his way through the maze to the front of the shop, where he nods to the man at the desk and stalks out into the sunshine.

“Sorry,” Harry says, but the man only heaves a philosophical shrug and whistles for his dog. Hamlet reluctantly disentangles himself from Harry’s legs and slinks behind the desk, and Harry follows Draco out into the street, wondering exactly what he’s supposed to do now.

After a moment or two’s panicked glancing up and down the street, he finds Draco on the other side of the road, standing at the blue-painted railings and looking out over the bay. The wind seems to have whisked itself into a frenzy, lifting Draco’s fine hair and fanning it out in every direction, skating it across his forehead and obscuring his eyes; he does nothing about it, just stands there with his arms hanging by his sides, motionless, as though transfixed by the craggy, mist-hazed shapes of the mountains in the distance. For longer than he cares to think about, Harry has no idea what to say. Eventually, remembering why he came out here in the first place, he crosses the road and stands beside Draco, taking a moment to inhale the evocative scent of salt and wet sand. It’s a beautiful morning—whether it really is, whether it’s because it feels stolen, or whether it just feels good to have the sun and the breeze on his skin again, he has no idea, and he supposes it doesn’t really matter.

“Come on,” he says at last, jerking his head in the direction of the Lakeland. To his surprise, Draco merely sighs and follows him, walking not-quite behind him and not-quite in step, wrinkling his nose as the wind scatters sand into his face at regular intervals.

“Is that why you made me the sleeping potion?” Harry asks suddenly, unable to keep the words in as the idea springs into his mind. “So you could sneak out?”

Draco glances at him, looking almost wounded. “First of all, you were the one who asked for a sleeping potion. Secondly, I did not sneak. I merely... took advantage of the situation.”

“Oh, is that what you call it?” Harry says acidly, ignoring the first point as best he can.

“Yes. I needed something to do. I’m not saying it was a good idea. I have to admit, I’m rather amused by the fact that you seem surprised at my capacity for making poor decisions,” Draco says, and when Harry looks at him, his bruised jaw is set, not in wry amusement, but in defiance.

“I’m not surprised, I’m just...” Harry trails off, attention caught by the newsagent’s sandwich board that sits on the pavement on the other side of the road. The headline, printed in bold, black letters, reads:

UNUSUAL CLOUD PATTERNS FOUND IN SKIES OVER SCOTLAND – WEATHER PHENOMENON OR PUBLICITY STUNT? MET OFFICE BAFFLED!

Heart racing, Harry stops dead in the middle of the pavement, staring at the words and trying to decide if it would make him feel better or worse to read the entire article. He doesn’t have any money with him, of course, Muggle or otherwise, but perhaps the shopkeeper would just let him have a quick look...

“You think it’s the Dark Mark, don’t you?” Draco says quietly.

Harry nods, trying not to think of the people he has left behind. It doesn’t work. He feels sick.

“They...” Draco hesitates. Exhales. Pushes his windswept hair from his face. “They aren’t as strong as you think. Not without him.” He all but spits the word, and Harry pulls his eyes away from the sign for long enough to notice that Draco’s eyes are narrowed with... not hatred, but something like it. Revulsion, perhaps. The sight of it sparks a flicker of relief that surprises him, but it’s quickly buried in dense, swirling dread.

“I don’t know how I can take that chance,” he admits at last, fingers straying to his waistband, summoning every memory of his family—Potters and Weasleys—to stop him from drawing his wand, Stunning Draco, and Apparating back to Hogwarts to join them. It’s not an option, he knows that, but just for a moment, the pull is so compelling that he has to close his eyes against it, and that’s when something very strange happens.

“Right, that’s it,” Draco mumbles, or at least Harry thinks he does. “Catena—” he begins, and Harry’s eyes snap open, just in time for the wind to carve in from the sea in a harsh, cold blast, throwing gritty sand into Harry’s face and sending Draco into a series of spluttering coughs. “Con...” he manages, and fuck, he’s pointing his wand at Harry in the middle of the fucking promenade. “Ee—unx... fuck it,” Draco gasps, turning his face out of the wind; something cold is tugging at Harry’s wrist, and then the wind drops away, and all is calm.

“Put your wand away, you idiot!” Harry snaps, looking around anxiously. The streets are almost empty and none of the early morning dog-walkers on the beach below seem to have noticed them at all, but he’s still furious. “What did you do? Or try to do?”

“Don’t look at me like that, as though you’ve never done magic in front of Muggles,” Draco snaps, but he tucks his wand back into his belt anyway.

“That was different,” Harry hisses. He frowns. “How do you know about that?”

Draco lifts an eyebrow and looks away. “I find things out.”

Harry snorts. Taking one last look at the headline—it won’t help to read it, and anyway, he can ask Lyona what’s really going on when they get back to the Lakeland—he starts walking again.

He manages two steps before he is yanked back into place by something that tightens almost painfully around his right wrist. Instinctively, he turns around and lifts his hand to examine it, and Draco steps right into his personal space along with it. He looks strangely unperturbed.

“What have you done?” Harry demands, examining the slender silver cord that encircles his right wrist and binds it to Draco’s left. When there is no immediate answer, he tugs at the connection and manages to stretch the short adjoining cord an inch or two more, but it quickly snaps back into place with the resistant force of a million tiny magnets. “Tell me what you’ve done!” Harry insists, fear pushing dread aside as he glances around again for witnesses.

“You were going to do something stupid,” Draco says, not quite meeting his eyes.

“No, I wasn’t,” Harry protests, but his gaze strays back to the sandwich board and he knows he was, at least, thinking about it.

“Yes, you were. So I made it so that you have to stay here, unless you want to take me with you.”

“What the hell did you do that for?” Harry explodes, glaring down at their joined wrists, at his grazed, suntanned skin against Draco’s pallid forearm with its faded mark.

Draco shrugs. “I don’t really know.”

“Is this the first impulsive thing you’ve ever done?” he asks.

“I think it might be,” Draco says, expression pensive as he gazes out at the sea once more. “Unless you count climbing out of the window.”

Harry watches him, just about resisting the urge to whack him across the face with both of their hands. “You really have chosen a fantastic time to start. Do you know how to undo this?”

“Of course. But I’m not doing it until I know that you’re not all going to dash off to Hogwarts and leave me here to rot.”

“Do you ever think about anyone besides yourself?” Harry sighs, pulling at the cord until Draco, rather reluctantly, begins to walk beside him.

“Sometimes. I really don’t like to walk on the right, though.”

Harry rolls his eyes skyward. “Well then, maybe you should have tied us up the other way around. Or not at all.”

“You know what might help?” Draco says irritably as they weave around a lamp-post. “Shutting up.”

Harry scowls but concedes—at least to himself—that Draco might be right. There is, after all, a first time for everything. The silence lasts until they reach the back of the Lakeland and realise, as they stare up at the open kitchen window, that they must attempt to climb through together.

“Well... it’s either that, or we go and ask Lyona to let us in,” Harry says, and Draco shudders. “Yeah, that’s what I thought, too. If you give me a leg-up, I’ll climb through first and then sort of... pull you in. Alright?”

Draco frowns. “You will not. I will climb in first and pull you in. If you’re lucky.”

“Oh, fine, if you want to spend the rest of your time here with one hand dangling out of the window,” Harry snaps, moving closer to the house until the fingers of his free hand graze the bricks. “And besides, you’ll never pull me in, I’m bigger than you.”

Draco’s eyes flare with indignation. “I am at least an inch taller than you, Potter. Or do you actually think that you are so... so... muscle-bound that I couldn’t possibly move your weight?”

Harry stares at him, suddenly finding himself fighting a smile. “Muscle-bound?” he repeats, mouth flickering.

“You know what I mean,” Draco says moodily. “Fine—you go first; let’s just get back inside before the Longbottom woman comes outside and sees us.”

Needing no further encouragement, Harry manages to scramble up onto the windowsill with a little help from a very reluctant Draco. He perches there unsteadily for a moment, right hand sticking out of the window, and lowers himself into the huge metal sink. From there, swearing under his breath as he accidentally kicks several plates onto the floor, he leans out and pulls as hard as he can, wrapping his bound hand around Draco’s and jamming the other under his arm to haul him up and in.

After several minutes of pulling, gasping and swearing, Harry is kneeling on the draining board and Draco is halfway in, his free hand gripping the windowsill as he attempts to fold his long legs through the frame without losing his balance and dropping them both back down to the ground below.

“You know what?” he pants, hair over one eye and legs pressed uncomfortably into his chest. “I’m beginning to think this was a bad idea.”

“I’m beginning to think that you were a bad idea,” Harry shoots back, grabbing Draco’s boot and tugging hard. With an almighty crash, his leg comes free and they both tumble into the kitchen, first onto the sink unit and then to floor, landing in an undignified but unhurt tangle of limbs and wounded pride.

Harry hears the thunder of footsteps on the stairs but he can barely be bothered to move, let alone disentangle himself from Draco. And this day had started off so well.

Ron and Hermione dash into the room, wands raised. When they survey the heap on the floor, they exchange identical confused glances.

“What happened?” Hermione says after a moment, putting away her wand and gazing down at Harry.

He sighs. “Help us up and I’ll attempt to explain everything.”

**~*~**

“I can’t believe we were upstairs, completely clueless, while all this was going on,” Ron says for at least the third time as the four of them sit in the lounge with cups of tea some time later.

I can, Harry thinks, but he just shrugs. “I don’t think it would’ve made any difference if we’d all been there. Probably would’ve just attracted more attention to ourselves. It’s done now—and it can be undone,” he adds sharply, throwing Draco a sidelong glance.

“I’m not afraid of you,” he snaps, shifting position on the saggy sofa so that his wrist is the only part of him touching Harry in any way. His defensiveness seems to have increased tenfold since they returned to the house, and Harry has the feeling that it’s at least as much because of Hermione’s iciness as it is because of all of their attempts to persuade him to release the spell. The thought feels horrendously disloyal, but he wishes he could just get her on her own and talk about the situation. Of course, that’s not going to happen now, not with this grumpy fucker essentially handcuffed to him for god-knows-how-long. Harry sighs and ignores him, choosing to focus on Hermione and not on the practical implications of this spell which are crowding unpleasantly into his mind all the time.

“Do you think anyone could’ve got a trace from the spell?” Ron asks from his perch on the arm of the chesterfield, one hand resting on Hermione’s shoulder.

“In theory,” Draco admits. “But it’s unlikely that anyone is actually looking for my magical signature.”

“If that’s the case... can’t you just release it?” Ron says carefully, expression almost beseeching as he looks at Draco. Harry’s stomach wriggles and he flexes his wrist pointlessly against the silver cord. “We can just get back to normal... you know, as normal as it’s going to get around here.”

“No,” Draco says flatly.

Ron blows out his cheeks until his fringe lifts from his forehead. It’s taking a lot for him to be the diplomat, Harry knows that, but for some reason, he can’t summon the energy to jump in. This morning’s vigour seems to have evaporated, and all he wants to do is get out of these ridiculous bonds and go back to sleep.

“Why not?” Ron tries again.

“Because,” Draco says slowly, as though trying to reason with a naughty child, “I know that the second I do, you will disappear off on your heroic fucking way and leave me in this ridiculous house for someone to... find! And, strange as it might sound, I don’t actually relish that idea.”

“We’re not going anywhere,” Ron says, looking down at Hermione, who grants him a tight smile.

“He wants to,” Draco argues, indicating Harry. “And whatever he does, you’ll do.”

Ron bristles but says nothing. Harry closes his eyes and tips his head back against the sofa cushions, worn thin by years of use by thousands of seaside holidaymakers who made this place their home for two weeks a year. They can keep it, he thinks savagely. He just wants to go home, not that he really knows where he can go, or even where he wants to.

“Maybe we should go back,” he throws out, opening his eyes.

“You see,” Draco says triumphantly.

“Harry, no—it’s too dangerous,” Hermione says, anxiety creating a deep furrow between her brows. “You promised.”

Harry stares at her until his eyes start to sting; his head is full of Molly’s comforting scent and her parting words to him. He sags, slumping forward and resting his head in his free hand. He’s not going anywhere, and though it pains him to admit it, Draco’s stupid spell may just have stopped him from doing something even more stupid.

“I’m not leaving. None of us are. We’re staying here until Lyona tells us we can leave.”

“Maybe we should tell her about this,” Hermione suggests, clearly relieved.

“Maybe we won’t need to, if we can undo the spell before we see her again,” Harry says, and this time the glance he casts in Draco’s direction is hopeful rather than aggravated.

Draco hesitates, mouth twisting in contemplation. “Do I have your word that you are going to stay here?”

Surprised, Harry nods. “Yeah, of course, if my word means anything to you.”

Draco says nothing, but, after scanning his face for a moment, inclines his head and draws his wand. Harry, Hermione, and Ron watch him intently, as though hoping to soak up the first magic they have seen in days.

Pointing his wand at the silver cord connecting him with Harry, Draco says, “Recatena Contineo.”

Nothing happens.

“It’s not working,” Draco says, genuinely puzzled.

“Are you sure you did it right?” Ron asks, having apparently abandoned his role as diplomat.

Draco closes his eyes for a brief moment but says nothing. He tries again. “Recatena Contineo.” Again, nothing happens. “I don’t understand why it’s not working.”

Having listened to the incantation a second time, Harry frowns. “It’s not working because that’s not what you said. You didn’t say ‘contineo’, you said something like... coniunc? Something like that. It was when the sand got in your face and you started coughing,” he says.

Draco pales. His hand curls into a tight, tense ball beside Harry’s. “I don’t know that spell. I don’t know what it does.”

“It does this,” Harry points out, lifting their joint wrists.

“Oh. I feel better now,” Draco snaps.

“What was it supposed to do?” Ron asks tentatively.

“Create a physical bond—a restraint—but one that could be easily dissolved by the caster,” Draco explains, scrutinising his wand with narrowed eyes. “In theory.”

“Hmm,” says Hermione, and then she’s on her feet, striding between bookshelves and sweeping several of her own volumes into a stack in her arms. She stops at the doorway into the dining room and looks back, eyes lingering on Draco for the longest time yet before she focuses on Harry. “I don’t know the spell, either,” she admits, sounding irritated. “But I’m going to find it.”

With that, she disappears into the dining room and Harry can hear the thunk of heavy books being set down and opened, one after another. A minute or two later, Ron follows her, leaving Harry and Draco alone in the lounge.

“Do you think she’ll find it?” Draco asks, failing at nonchalance.

“If it’s in one of those books, she’ll find it,” Harry says. “I have absolute confidence in her, even if you don’t.”

Draco laughs lightly. “I don’t have absolute confidence in anyone.”

“You’re not really trying to tell me that you don’t have anything against Hermione in particular?” Harry says, unsure why he feels the need to push it but doing it anyway. “Because if you are, I don’t believe you.”

Draco leans back and stretches his legs out in front of him. For what feels like a long time, the only sound is the muffled conversation of Ron and Hermione in the next room, and then Draco sighs. “It’s very difficult not to resent someone who contrives to be better than you in almost every way.”

“Yeah, I suppose so,” Harry says after a moment, managing little more than a whisper. He can’t even think of anything insulting to say, just to lighten the mood. There’s just nothing there. He has the uncomfortable feeling that Draco is telling the truth, and he doesn’t know quite what to do with that. “This could be worse,” he says finally, pulling a little at the silver cord. “Proper handcuffs... you know, the metal ones, they really hurt your wrists after a while.”

Draco lifts an eyebrow and says nothing.

“I imagine,” Harry mutters, but he already knows that Draco now thinks he is some sort of sexual deviant. He turns away to hide the flush creeping up the side of his neck and hopes as hard as he can that Hermione’s resourcefulness turns up something useful soon.

Fortunately, he doesn’t have to wait too long. With a bit of light persuasion, Harry manages to get Draco off the sofa for long enough to fiddle around with the ancient television set and produce a fuzzy picture, and by the time the afternoon sun begins to glare off the screen and obscure the contestants of the difficult quiz show that Draco has chosen, Hermione’s voice has begun to gain enthusiasm and volume. When the programme draws to a close and Draco has managed to answer even fewer questions correctly than Harry, she bursts into the room, face caught between accomplishment and disquiet.

“Did you find something?” Harry asks, sitting up a little too fast and yanking Draco across the sofa.

She nods, hugging a thick book to her chest and glancing at Ron.

“Yeah,” he says. “But I’m not sure if you’re going to like it.”

“Which one of us?” Draco asks, yanking Harry back in the other direction just as hard.

“Either of you,” Ron admits.

“We found the spell that you meant to cast, and the one you actually cast,” Hermione says. “They’re actually very similar—the root of both spells is the same: catena; it forms a magical restraint or chain between two or more people, which you have...” She gestures at the silver cord and then grimaces. “The spell you meant to cast—Catena Contineo—would have acted as a temporary bond that could have been released at any time.”

Uneasy, Harry looks over her shoulder at Ron, whose features are screwed up as though in anticipation of impact. He isn’t filled with confidence, and neither, it seems, is Draco, who sits forward and presses, “But...?”

Hermione takes a careful breath. “Well, when the sand made you cough, it looks like you accidentally cast this other spell—Catena Coniunxi.”

“That’s it,” Harry nods. “That’s what you said.”

“I was afraid of that,” Hermione sighs, hugging her book more tightly. “Catena Coniunxi is known as the bonds of unity. It’s a trust spell, basically. When the people bound by the spell reach a point of... mutual understanding, confidence and accord,” she recites without needing to look at the book, “then they will be released from its hold.”

As the real implications of Hermione’s words begin to sink in, Harry just stares at her like an idiot, free hand coming up to scrub helplessly at his hair. Beside him, Draco is breathing a little too quickly.

“So, you’re saying that we’re stuck like this until we... what, trust each other?” Harry asks.

“I think so,” Hermione says with a painfully apologetic shrug. “To be honest, there wasn’t a lot of information on it. I don’t think the spell is used very often any more... for fairly obvious reasons.”

“Sorry, mate,” Ron says, and then glances at Draco. “You, too, Malfoy.” Hermione shoots him an odd look, but he continues with a stubborn set to his face. “I know I’ve said plenty of times that you deserve whatever’s coming to you, but this seems a bit... sadistic.”

“Sadistic?” Draco repeats. “This thing is an insult to the bloody concept of sadism. I can hardly believe that such a disgustingly trite, Hufflepuffian spell has the nerve to exist! Stuck together at the wrist until we learn to trust each other? Good fucking grief.” Appalled, Draco slumps back against the cushions, tries to fold his arms, gives up, and crosses one leg over the other instead.

Ron blinks. “Well, whichever way you want to look at it...”

Harry thinks that, actually, he’d rather not look at it at all. The parts of it that are trying to edge their way into his consciousness are terrifying and disturbing enough without forcing himself to examine the bigger picture.

“Thanks for finding out,” he says, smiling weakly at Hermione. “It’s always better to know what you’re dealing with, isn’t it?”

She nods, carrying her book over to the chesterfield and curling up with it, looking as though she feels responsible for the whole fiasco. Harry would quite like to get up and hug her, but he doubts that either she or Draco would appreciate it under the circumstances.

“Does anyone want a sandwich?” Ron says, and, when there is no immediate response, walks out of the room, mumbling, “I think I’ll go and make some sandwiches. Lots of sandwiches...”

Harry turns to Draco. “I need to call Lyona—if something has happened, she’ll have news.”

Draco follows, stony-faced but compliant, and Harry dials the Bayview.

“Bayview Guest House, Morecambe, how may I help you?” comes the familiar, authoritative voice.

“Lyona? It’s Harry... er, from next door?” he attempts, feeling idiotic. Draco sighs. “Shut up,” Harry whispers, covering the mouthpiece with some difficulty.

Lyona laughs. “Hello, Harry from next door—how are you doing? Have you run out of food?”

“Er, no... not quite. I was just wondering... if anything had happened. You know, with the Death Eaters,” he adds, lowering his voice, and when the line is quiet for a second too long, he realises that he’s going to have to admit that he’s been outside if he wants any of this to make any sense.

“You didn’t really think it through, did you?” Draco mutters.

Harry stares at him in disbelief, yanking their hands up to eye level. “Really?” he hisses. “Coming from you?”

“Is there something wrong?” Lyona says at last, voice sharp with suspicion.

“No, well... I don’t know.” He takes a deep breath and glares at Draco. Fuck it. “We had a little incident this morning—don’t worry, everyone’s fine, but Draco decided to go wandering and in the process of getting him back, I saw something in one of the Muggle newspapers that was a bit... disturbing.”

“Good heavens,” Lyona breathes, and Harry can practically hear her panicking. “You were outside? Were you seen? You didn’t use magic, did you?”

“It’s all fine, I promise,” Harry lies, side-stepping the questions. “It’s not going to happen again, I assure you.” Draco snorts and leans against the wall. “Have you heard anything from the Order? Please... we need to know. Is everyone okay?”

“Harry, the best thing you can do is—”

“Please,” Harry repeats, trapping the receiver between ear and shoulder and twisting his fingers into the thick, spirally cord. “You’re the only link we have back to everyone. It’s really important. We aren’t going anywhere again—are we, Draco?” he demands.

“No,” Draco says dully, staring back at him as though he’s a mad person. Perhaps he is.

“Alright,” Lyona relents with a sigh. “My sources tell me that there was a comprehensive attack on Hogwarts yesterday. The Dark Mark has been displayed in several locations, including some that are visible to Muggles. What’s left of the MLE have been convincing the public that it’s part of some kind of daft marketing scheme...”

“What about Hogwarts?” Harry interrupts.

“One or two casualties but nothing serious,” Lyona says and Harry leans heavily against the wall next to Draco, knees weakening beneath him. “It’s mostly structural damage from what I’ve heard, and several more Death Eaters have been apprehended. The fight is progressing in the right direction, Harry, slowly but surely. Please be patient.”

Harry pushes out his breath in a controlled stream. “We’ll try. Thanks for the update.”

“And please stay inside,” she adds, voice turning stern. “Don’t make me nail the windows shut. I don’t want to, but I will.”

Harry puts the phone down with the very real belief that she would lock them in their bedrooms if she thought it might help. Back in the living room, a vast platter of sandwiches takes up most of the coffee table, Ron is looking pleased with himself, and Hermione is watching cartoons with the sound off. Harry has just settled himself on the sofa with a ham sandwich when the front door opens.

Ron drops his sandwich and immediately reaches for his wand.

“It’s alright, Ron, it’s not a crack team of Death Eaters,” Harry says, stomach twisting with humiliation.

“How do you know?” Ron asks, brushing crumbs from his jeans and stalking over to position himself behind the door.

Hermione, apparently following Harry’s train of thought, stays put but watches Ron over the rim of her mug with interest. The front door swings closed with a click and then there is a clatter as the interloper locks it behind them. Harry isn’t worried. Somehow, though, the prospect of being scolded by an old lady is a little bit worse than Death Eaters. He’s used to Death Eaters.

“Because they probably wouldn’t just let themselves in at the front door?” Draco suggests, moving slightly closer to Harry on the sofa and unfurling his shirt sleeve so that it covers some of the silver cord.

“I suppose,” Ron sighs, but he doesn’t move from his position and is very nearly clobbered by the door when Lyona bursts into the room just seconds later.

“Hello,” Hermione says brightly when it becomes apparent that no one else is going to speak. “How are you?”

Lyona raises her eyebrows and rests her hands on her hips. She might be dressed in maroon stretch corduroy and a strange t-shirt with a picture of a baby seal on it, and she might have a streak of what looks like flour across one of her cheekbones, but her expression is every bit as intimidating as the one so often worn by her twin sister.

“So, who is going to tell me what’s happening?” she says, and Harry, Draco, Ron, and Hermione exchange glances, united momentarily in quiet alarm.

“Nothing’s happening,” Harry manages at last. “Not since we spoke on the phone just now—I thought we... er... sorted everything out?”

Lyona fixes him with a grim smile. “I have four children and thirteen grandchildren, Harry Potter. I know when someone isn’t telling me the whole truth.”

Harry wavers at the steel in her eyes, but stubbornness takes over and he manages to hold her gaze for what feels like a lifetime and is probably no more than ten seconds before he gives in, drags the bindings into full view and tells her the entire story. Next to him, Draco sighs and scowls and shifts position but doesn’t offer a word in defence of his actions.

“So... it seems we’re stuck like this until we... what was it?” Harry looks at Hermione.

“Until you reach a point of mutual understanding, confidence and accord,” she supplies.

Lyona purses her lips, eyes troubled. “Perhaps I’ll be keeping the Lakeland out of action for a little bit longer than I thought,” she muses. “Clearly you can’t return to your homes in this condition. I suppose I should get in touch with the rest of the Order as soon as possible, too.”

“No!” Harry cries, momentarily startled to realise that Draco has joined him in protest.

“They will need to know about this,” she insists.

“Would it really help?” Harry says, trying to sound more reasonable than he feels. “They’ve got enough to worry about right now, and we’re not in any danger. It’s just... a bit inconvenient, that’s all.”

“A bit?” Draco repeats, incredulous. Harry kicks him in the ankle.

“Harry’s right,” Hermione speaks up, sitting upright now with her empty cup cradled on her lap. Lyona turns to her immediately, giving Harry the impression that she has already sized Hermione up as the most sensible member of the group. If so, Lyona is every bit as smart as Harry hopes she is. “It’s going to be fine—maybe a bit of a challenge, but nothing worse than we’ve handled before. I think...” Hermione hesitates, biting her lip. “I think the Order would want you to use your discretion. They’ve trusted you to look out for us for a reason. We can manage this.”

“That’s right,” Ron puts in. “Hermione and I will be here to make sure everything’s okay.”

Lyona sighs and turns away for a moment, gazing out into the dying light of the day. Harry looks to Draco, who is looking at Hermione with something like respect on his face. It’s an interesting look, and one that, strangely enough, rather suits him. Hermione is staring hard into her empty cup, fingers white-knuckled and face flushed. She’s never been comfortable at using her intelligence to manipulate, and while Harry greatly admires her strength of character, it’s almost a shame as she’s so skilled at it.

“I won’t contact the Order... for now,” Lyona says, turning back to face them. “But there will be no more magic. There will be no more leaving the house—”

“At all?” Ron cuts in. “You said that we’d have to stay inside for the first few days, that’s all.”

Lyona’s expression turns regretful. “I did. My aim was not to mislead you, only to prevent panic, but I knew it was unlikely that conditions would be safe enough to allow you to leave the Lakeland. After what has happened today... I’m afraid it would just be irresponsible of me. I’m sorry.”

Harry isn’t really surprised by these words, but Ron looks as though he wants to cry. He’s never been very good at being cooped up indoors, and now it’s at least partially Harry’s fault that he’s going to be stuck here for days, weeks, months... who knows. He pulls his feet up onto the sofa and curls into himself, trying to squash the shame that has taken up residence in the pit of his stomach.

“And where was it so important to go that you felt the need to compromise the safety of your colleagues as well as your own?” Lyona is saying crisply when Harry starts listening again.

Draco hesitates and Harry silently dares him, fucking dares him to say, ‘I was bored’.

“Nowhere,” he says at last, without emotion. “I just wanted to be outside. I ended up in a bookshop on the front. As I told you before, I only used magic because—”

“Hmm,” interrupts Lyona, peering beadily at Draco before turning on Harry. “As for you, Mr Potter—I’m fully aware that your instincts are legendary, but this time? Had Mr Malfoy not been there, we could have all been in a very different kind of trouble.”

Harry can’t help but think this assessment is a little unfair—after all, he wouldn’t have been outside at all were it not for Draco’s disappearing act—but he senses that it would be better not to say so.

“Yeah, you’re right,” he says instead. “I really am sorry for worrying you.”

She nods, appearing to believe him, and her sternness all but melts away, leaving just the tiniest wrinkle of her brow to remind them that they have definitely buggered up this time.

“Progress reports every day,” she insists as she unlocks the door. “If I don’t get one, I will be coming round to check on you, make no mistake about it. I shall see you soon.”

The door closes behind her and the occupants of the lounge sag wearily against their cushions. Five minutes later, Lyona is back.

“Books, Mr Malfoy!” she declares, striding into the room with an armful of tatty paperbacks. “I can’t say it’s a particularly cerebral selection, but perhaps having something to read will temper your wanderlust.”

Draco watches, wide-eyed, as she tips the books onto the coffee table where they spill across the surface in a lurid, shiny rainbow. Catching the title of the topmost volume, Harry holds in a snort.

“Thank you,” Draco says faintly.

Lyona beams. “It’s not much really—I’ve just built up a little library from the books my guests have left behind over the years. I haven’t read any of them myself, I’m afraid—far too busy.”

“I appreciate it,” Draco says, fighting hard to look gracious and ultimately winning. It looks like an effort, though, and as soon as Lyona is safely out of the house once more, Harry lets his laughter escape.

‘Vicar’s Daughter to Viscount’s Lady’,” he pronounces, picking up the first book and examining its glossy blue and gold cover. He grins at Draco. “Looks like a good read. Or... what about ‘The Viking’s Touch’?” he offers, picking up the next in the pile. “It’s nice that she knows you so well already.”

Ron snorts and crouches down beside the table, beginning to sort through the books himself.

Horrified, Draco watches them and grows more and more alarmed with each title that is read out.

“‘Eternal Seduction’?” Harry offers.

‘Their Private Arrangement’?” Ron intones, holding up the cover picture of a half-naked threesome to show Draco. “‘Hot Demon Nights’?”

“Stop it,” Draco says, nose wrinkling. “Stop it right now.”

Harry and Ron look at each other. They could stop it, of course, but it’s as good an activity as any other currently available, so they decide not to.

**~*~**

Night has fallen by the time Harry and Ron have finished picking through the romance novels, assisted on occasion by Hermione, who points out the correct pronunciation of ‘Marquis’ and ‘Sheikh’ and does a fairly poor job of pretending not to be intrigued by a story entitled, ‘Learning to Love her Wizard’, featuring glittering gold text and a huge, topless man in a ridiculous hat.

“He looks like Kingsley Shacklebolt,” Ron mutters, taking the book and examining the cover, boggle-eyed.

Harry smirks. “He does as well.”

Draco frowns. “Who’s Kingsley Shacklebolt?”

“Really?” Harry sighs, showing him the picture. “Have you seen more than one person recently who looks like that?”

“Oh, him,” Draco says, dropping back against the sofa and twisting Harry’s arm into a slightly uncomfortable position. Harry decides not to complain, because Draco remains silent for the rest of the activity, and a little discomfort is a small price to pay for that.

The evening settles into an oddly comfortable rhythm of reading, eating, and regular rounds of tea and coffee. Conversation is light and infrequent, and the topic of Harry and Draco’s new problem is avoided by mutual tacit consent; Ron and Draco play along with the quiz shows that blare out in the background and Hermione seems to be re-examining each of her books in turn for more information on the bonds of unity. Harry watches her without optimism. Draco’s right; it is a ridiculous spell.

Ron and Hermione head to bed around midnight, yawning and casting apologetic glances in Harry’s direction. He smiles weakly back at them and wishes them a good night’s sleep, knowing that he has absolutely no chance of the same. He’s never really relished the idea of sharing his sleeping space with another person, and the idea that the person is Draco Malfoy doesn’t seem to improve the idea one bit. But sleep they must, and a bed has to be better than this baggy old sofa, whatever the implications. And those are fine, because Harry isn’t thinking about them.

Draco’s thoughts are evidently rattling along the same track, because the next words out of his mouth are: “I’m not sleeping in your bedroom.”

Harry looks at him, surprised. “Why not?”

“It’s horrible,” Draco says, wrinkling his nose.

Bristling, Harry frowns. “No, it’s not, and anyway, how would you know?”

“I’ve seen all the rooms in this house,” Draco informs him. “Did you know that Weasley keeps his boxers on the windowsill?”

“Yes,” Harry sighs, imagining that the Gryffindor boys’ dorm would look strange without a pair of Ron’s pants on the windowsill on any given summer morning. “He puts them there to warm up before he puts them on. His window always used to get the first sunlight, so he...” Harry stops at the sight of Draco’s baffled and somewhat horrified expression. “Never mind. Some people just like warm pants, I suppose.”

“I think I’d like to go upstairs now, before that image sticks in my head and gives me nightmares.” Draco gets to his feet without warning and yanks Harry upright.

“Ow, you impatient fucker,” Harry complains, rubbing at his wrist where the cord has tightened rapidly and bitten into his skin. Draco merely looks at him, no apology forthcoming, but Harry is weary and disinclined to argue. Together, they make their way up the stairs to the first floor, and then up and up again until they reach a tiny landing with a sloping ceiling and only one door.

Draco opens the door and steps aside, as though waiting for Harry to admire the room. Unfortunately, he can’t help but admire it. His own room is clean and functional, but this is something else. Draco’s attic bedroom is huge, with heavy, exposed beams and a ceiling that tapers almost all the way down to the floor at each end. Through three vast low-set skylights, Harry can see an expanse of velvet-dark sky and stars almost as bright as the ones visible from the Hogwarts Astronomy Tower. Perhaps most strikingly, there are no old-lady bed linens here—Draco’s sheets are crisp and white—and the swirly carpet is absent, leaving bare, waxed floorboards underfoot.

“Nice, isn’t it?” Draco says, and the hint of pride just visible on his face makes Harry wonder if he has, in fact, worked to make it this nice—if he has cleaned the surfaces and wiped the windows and washed and dried the linens himself. It’s a strange thought, but not so strange that Harry doesn’t believe it. He remembers the determined cleaning of the kitchen, the experimentation with the kettle and coffee maker, and wonders. It’s not outside the realms of possibility for a person with a need for a certain level of comfort to become self-sufficient enough to obtain it without help, if truly necessary.

“How come you have the best room?” he asks at last, deciding that he doesn’t want to ask Draco about doing his own laundry, at least, not right now.

“There was nothing stopping anyone else from having it,” Draco says defensively. “I imagine that you just collapsed into the first room you saw. I shopped around.”

“I was tired,” Harry points out redundantly. He gazes at the perfectly-made bed, anxiety spiking. It’s a large bed, there’s no doubt about that, but there’s no way it’s big enough for both of them, even without handcuffs. Not that there’s a single thing he can do about it now, unless perhaps he and Draco spend the night talking about their deepest fears and plaiting each other’s hair in an attempt to break the spell in one big push. It’s an unappealing thought at best, and anyway, he doubts it’s as simple as that. Sleep is the thing, and he might as well give it a go.

With a little manoeuvring, he kicks off his shoes and tugs at the button on his jeans.

“What are you doing?” Draco demands, eyes wider and paler than ever in the moonlight.

“I’m going to bed, and so are you, if you know what’s good for you,” Harry says crossly as he struggles to undo his zip with his left hand.

“I think you should go back to your room and find something to wear.”

Harry looks up, frustration holding back the smile that wants to come out. “Oh, right... you mean the pyjamas that I carry around everywhere with me?”

Draco rolls his eyes. “No, but you must have something.”

“And what have you got?” Harry shoots back, eyeing Draco’s outfit of tailored black trousers and white shirt, which he has washed and worn again ever since arriving here. “I dread to think.” Actually, Harry thinks wearily, he couldn’t give much less of a fuck what Draco wears to bed. He can sleep naked apart from a feather in his hair if he wants to, as long as he keeps his mouth shut.

“If you must know, Weasley let me have this,” Draco says stiffly, removing a bright red t-shirt from under his pillow and showing it to Harry. “I imagine he found the colour choice amusing.”

“Probably,” Harry agrees, relieved at finally claiming victory over the zip. “And unless you want to drag yourself back downstairs with me, I will sleep like this,” he declares, letting his jeans fall to his ankles and forcing himself to stand there in t-shirt and boxers, staring defiantly at Draco and ignoring the fact that their fingers are brushing unhelpfully every time he moves.

“Fine,” Draco sighs. Turning his back on Harry, he unbuttons his shirt without a problem, leading Harry to wonder, not for the first time, whether he deliberately left his dominant hand free when he cast the spell. He comes back to the same answer every time: probably.

“This isn’t going to work,” Draco says quietly, a note of distress creeping into his voice.

“Which part exactly?” Harry enquires.

“This part,” Draco replies, turning around and flinging his borrowed t-shirt onto the bed. Holding up their joined wrists, he pulls at the cuff of his shirt, demonstrating with startling clarity that he has no way to remove the garment, or worse, to change it for a new one.

“How did I not think of that?” Harry mumbles, ignoring the part of his mind that insists on reminding him that he has been doing his best not to think about any of it.

Draco scowls and pulls his shirt back into place, refastening most, but not all, of the buttons.

“I’d like to say ‘because you’re an idiot’, but apparently I didn’t think of it, either.”

Harry just stares at him, already too drained to offer a retort. “Look... just sleep in that and we’ll figure something out in the morning. If we both survive the night,” he adds under his breath.

Draco nods. “Fine. But I need to use the bathroom before bed and I don’t want to be watched!”

Harry rubs his face and groans against his hand. “Believe me, I have no interest in watching you... wait—you want to use the bathroom for what?” he asks as the potential for unpleasantness unfolds vividly before his eyes.

“For bathroom things,” Draco snaps, already pulling him toward the door of the en-suite. “As you are neither my Healer nor my mother, I don’t see that you have any business asking.”

“You tell your mother what you get up to in the bathroom?” Harry asks, wincing as he finds himself flattened against the wall of the bedroom with his right arm folded and yanked around the doorframe so that Draco can... well, Harry doesn’t know, but it seems to involve running water.

“Shut up,” Draco snaps. “And stay there.”

“What about when I want to use the bathroom?”

“Then I will stand outside. But you can bugger off tonight—you’re not using my toothbrush.”

Harry yawns and automatically tries to use his right hand to cover his mouth, resulting in a yelp and a clonk of bone on ceramic as Draco loses his balance. Harry smiles, just a little. There’s no one here to judge him.

“What did you do that for?” Draco demands a minute or two later as he reappears in the doorway, fresh-smelling and slightly damp.

“No particular reason,” Harry says, and yawns again.

Greatly relieved to have his arm back in the right place, he doesn’t even bother to fight Draco for access to his bathroom. Tomorrow, maybe, but right now, he can’t be arsed to do anything except flop down onto the mattress and attempt to find a semi-comfortable sleeping position.

“How do you usually do this?” Draco asks, once they are both in bed, sitting bolt upright with the covers pulled up to their chests. The light has been switched off, but both Draco and the bed sheets are pale enough to be visible in the dark, seeming to luminesce gently before Harry’s eyes.

“How do I usually sleep when I’m handcuffed to another man?” Harry asks. “It varies, but naked and upside down is usually best.”

Draco draws in a sharp breath and then flicks his wrist so that the cord snips unpleasantly at Harry’s skin. Secretly impressed, Harry tries to do the same and ends up poking himself in the eye.

Blinking painfully, he slides down the bed and settles on his back, breathing in the comforting scent of the fabric conditioner and something else citrusy that he can’t quite place. He can do this.

“Let’s just try to sleep and see what happens,” he suggests, and, after a moment’s hesitation and a dramatic sigh, Draco shuffles down the bed, too. When Harry looks over, he has closed his eyes and seems to be trying to relax. All Harry can do is attempt the same; after all, he’s already sharing a bed with someone who, at the very least, drives him mad, how much more uncomfortable can he get?

As it turns out, very.

With some controlled breathing and the replay of a few pleasant memories, Harry is just beginning to drift, bound arm resting flat at his side, free one dangling over the side of the bed, when he is yanked awake by Draco turning abruptly onto his side. His right hand is hoisted into the air and then dropped against the warm fabric at Draco’s hip, where his wrist slips inside the loop of cord, jerking his elbow and turning his hand so that his fingers grasp helplessly at the sheets. The only thing he can do is turn onto his side, too. That, and poke Draco hard in the back with his free hand.

“This is not comfortable for me,” he hisses.

One grey eye blinks open. “This is how I sleep.”

“Well, it isn’t how I fucking sleep!” Harry snaps, indicating his tangled position and realising that he’s pretty much going to have to spoon Draco if he can’t get him to move. And that’s... just no.

“Surely it’s better if at least one of us sleeps,” Draco mumbles, eye falling closed again.

“Right, and it has to be you,” Harry says, deciding that it’s probably politic to let him get on with it for a while and then have a go at hauling him into a more comfortable position.

“Well, exactly,” Draco says, words muffled by a long, drawn-out yawn.

Harry punches his pillow and settles on his side, one arm tucked around his waist and the other bent and caught between himself and Draco. This bed is more comfortable than his and Draco is surprisingly warm where they touch, but sleep, unsurprisingly, is elusive.

This is all your fault, he thinks, glaring at the angular face in the dim light. Or maybe it’s not. Maybe it’s mine for agreeing to bring you here. Maybe it’s your mother’s for deciding this was how I could repay her for saving my life. Harry sighs, gazing at the faded black shapes on Draco’s forearm. Those are almost inconsequential details and he knows it. Because everything horrible, even this, can be traced back to one person.

“Fuck you, Tom Riddle,” Harry mutters, staring up through the skylights and making patterns from the stars. Ten minutes later, he yanks Draco onto his back again.

**~*~**

By sunrise, very little sleep has been had and the room prickles with tension. The sheets and blankets now lie in an untidy heap at the foot of the bed, having been drawn up, flung away, pulled back and fought over countless times during the night. Harry now knows that Draco is almost incapable of keeping still—even in sleep—and Draco has found out that Harry occasionally spouts nonsense as he is just about to drift into unconsciousness. Draco feels the cold and likes to cocoon himself in as many sheets as he can find, while Harry frequently finds himself overheating and wishing he could take off his makeshift nightclothes, which, of course, he doesn’t.

All of this knowledge seems somehow far too intimate for two people who have barely stopped hating one another, and Harry doesn’t think he is the only one who doesn’t know where to look as they lie there, side by side in silence, watching the sun climb through the mist.

“I was hoping we could make another sleeping potion—enough for both of us this time,” Harry says at breakfast, as he sits next to Draco and eats his cereal with the wrong hand.

“I’m sorry, Harry, but I don’t think we can,” Hermione says, nose wrinkling apologetically. “I haven’t got any valerian left, and I can’t think of a single decent substitute. I’ve been trying to come up with something all morning, but...” She takes a deep breath and looks at Draco. “Can you think of anything?”

Harry hides a smile in a large, crunchy mouthful of cereal. He’s extremely proud of Hermione, but he knows he’ll only make her self-conscious if he lets her know.

“No, I can’t,” he admits, scowling at his coffee as though it is somehow responsible for the problem. “Anyway, the last thing we want to do is become reliant on sleeping draughts, they can be highly addictive.” Draco pauses, brightening. “I could still hit you over the head, you know. It’s crude, but effective.”

Hermione’s eyes widen in horror. Harry just stares at him evenly. “No thanks, Draco.”

He shrugs. “Let me know if you change your mind.”

Harry says nothing for a long time, focusing on the sweetness of his cereal and the sound of Ron humming what sounds a lot like the theme music from Catchphrase in between mouthfuls of toast. He knows he’s going to have to mention the clothing issue—apart from anything else, the last twelve hours or so have been warm and he’s starting to feel grubby and uncomfortable. He has put up with much worse, of course, but now that he has rediscovered showers and clean clothes, he doesn’t really want to let them go. Showers, he thinks dully, closing his mouth around an empty spoon in his distraction; they’re going to be an issue, but not one about which he is prepared to ask Hermione for advice. He could ask Ron, of course, but he has the sneaking feeling that his best friend will be too tickled by the whole idea to offer a helpful solution.

Bonds of unity, my arse, Harry thinks mutinously, chasing a sugary flake around the bottom of his bowl. It’s all very well forcing people to spend time together, but did the inventors of the spell really think about the practical problems they were creating? Apart from showering, changing clothes and using the bathroom, what about all the other things that people generally prefer to do alone? Scrubbing at his flushed cheeks with his free hand, Harry abandons his breakfast. He’s going to have to ask her—best to do it quickly and get it over with.

“Hermione?”

“Mm?” she says vaguely, wiping her fingers on a paper napkin.

“We’re having... a sort of... clothing issue,” Harry says, all in a rush, “and we wondered—okay, I wondered, if you had any ideas.”

Hermione blinks, startled, and at the other end of the table, Ron appears to be having a coughing fit.

“When you said we would figure something out in the morning, I assumed you mean you and I,” Draco protests, doing his wrist-flicky thing until Harry winces and kicks him again.

“Well, I’ve changed my mind,” Harry says stubbornly. “I think we need some outside input.”

“This is so incredibly humiliating,” Draco sighs, resting his elbow on the table and propping his chin up on his hand. “Go on, then,” he relents, and, to Harry’s astonishment, doesn’t say another word as he explains, with the help of their joined wrists as a useful prop, their new predicament.

“Goodness, I hadn’t even thought of that,” she says at last, and Draco smirks. She pulls gently at the silver cord, brightening. “It’s a bit like a logic puzzle, isn’t it?”

“I’m glad you’re enjoying yourself,” Draco says drily, but there are no sharp edges to his words.

Hermione isn’t listening. She is thinking, lips pursed and eyes narrowed as she pensively traces her index finger up and down Harry’s arm, wrist to shoulder and back, mumbling all the while.

“The way I see it, you have two options,” she says at last. “And only one of them is actually feasible at the moment.”

“Go on,” Harry encourages, leaning forward on the table.

“Well, either we can create a spell that makes it possible for fabric to part and rejoin itself to allow your wrists through—which might take some work and would almost definitely get us into trouble with Lyona...”

“Or?”

“Or we’ll have to do it the old fashioned way,” she admits. “Scissors and a needle and thread.”

“There’s a sewing kit in the dresser!” Harry says triumphantly, rather pleased that his night-time wanderings have not been for nothing. “Are you any good at sewing?”

Hermione wrinkles her nose. “I can do a little bit, but it probably won’t be very pretty. Just enough to keep things practical and... you know, preserve your modesty.”

Harry, relieved to have a stopgap solution, glances at Ron, who snorts with laughter. Harry can’t help but join him, and after a moment, Hermione, too, is giggling. It’s wonderful to see.

“Hold on,” Draco cuts in, brows knitted. “Never mind my modesty, this is a very nice shirt!”

All eyes turn to examine the garment. Harry supposes it is a nice shirt, but then again, he’s never known much or cared much about clothing.

“You can always have it fixed properly when all this is over,” he suggests reasonably, but Draco’s scowl doesn’t budge an inch.

“There is a third option,” Ron offers, still grinning. “You could just not wear a shirt—it’s not like it’s cold at the moment.”

When Draco stares at him, aghast, Ron shrugs. “I’m just saying, that’s what I’d do. Saves all that faffing about. We’re all blokes here... well, apart from Hermione, and I doubt she’ll faint at the sight of a couple more chests around the place. I’m not insecure or anything,” he says proudly.

Harry smiles, amused and strangely touched by the suggestion.

Draco sighs. “That’s good to know, Weasley, but I think I’ll take my chances with the needles and threads.”

“Suit yourself,” Ron says easily, buttering another piece of toast. “I think there’s some scissors in the kitchen... you might want to give them a rinse first, though—I was using them to cut up bacon.”

I’ll wash them,” Draco says darkly, rising from the table. Harry follows him, managing to wrap his free arm briefly around Hermione’s shoulders as he passes. She smiles.

**~*~**

As it turns out, changing their clothes is just the first in a long line of practical problems.

Once both shirts have been carefully snipped up one side and along the underside of the corresponding arm, they can be removed, and Harry places them on the towel rack, ready to be sewn back into place later. For a long moment, they stand in the middle of the small bathroom, staring at each other in bewildered silence.

Finally, Harry gives in, tearing his eyes away from Draco’s to examine their washing facilities. Unlike the cubicle in his own room, this shower is mounted over a large bath, and separated from the rest of the room by a shiny curtain with a loud, swirly pattern. Opposite the bath and next to the door stands the sink, and on the other side, currently hidden by the open door, is the toilet. How that’s going to work, Harry has no idea, but showering, at least, should be relatively simple.

“Right then,” he says, trying to sound strident and nonchalant and feeling neither. “I’ll get in, and you can stand next to the bath and stick your arm round the side of the curtain. I promise to do... er, all my washing with this hand,” he adds, holding up his left and attempting a smile.

“You’d better,” Draco manages, looking disturbed.

As they are now at the very top of the house, the shower is somewhat weaker than the one in Harry’s original bedroom, but it is just as hot, and he soaps himself all over with yet more of the eucalyptus-scented stuff that appears to be in every bathroom. To his surprise, the actual washing part is pretty easy; in fact, he thinks he copes extremely well with just his left hand. Admittedly, it takes him a little longer to wash his hair and the tiny plastic bottle does slip out of his grasp a couple of times, but it’s fine. Or, at least, it would be if Draco could stop talking. Throughout his shower, he is subject to a running commentary of what seems to be every little thought that passes through Draco’s head, including: the water temperature, the pattern on the shower curtain, the sorry state of Harry’s discarded jeans, the standard of Ron’s sandwich-making, the temperature of the bathroom, the nature of the binding spell (still ridiculous, apparently), the temperature of the tiles on the floor and the length of his shower.

When Harry emerges, dripping, in a cloud of steam and grabs a towel to wrap around his waist, Draco seems to pause for breath, but as soon they switch positions and he disappears behind the shower curtain, the whole thing starts up again.

“Do you think Granger can really sew?” he asks, pulling at Harry’s wrist until he is almost leaning into the shower. “I’m not sure I trust her enough to let her poke at me with a needle.”

“If she says she can, she probably can,” Harry says, twisting around to avoid the spray that is sneaking through the gap in the curtain and starting to rub himself down with some difficulty. “She’s not going to poke you, anyway. Unless you really wind her up.”

“Oh, well, that’s reassuring,” Draco says over the unmistakeable sound of hair-washing. “I think we should call Mrs Next-Door and tell her that we’re going to have to use magic, there’s nothing else for it.”

“Do you actually think she’ll just give in if you put it like that?” Harry laughs, lifting his foot onto the edge of the bath to dry it and then repeating the process with the other, whilst trying not to lose his balance on the slippery floor.

“She might. This shower makes no sense,” Draco says crossly, and his dial-twiddling is quickly followed by a drastic change in water temperature. Harry jumps as the icy water pounds against his fingers, but Draco’s horrified ‘fuck!’ is extremely gratifying, as is his loud scramble to get out of the path of the water, bottles and soaps flying everywhere and clattering into the bathtub.

When he steps out onto the mat, scowling and shivering, Harry opts to hand him his clothes in silence and keep his face as straight as possible. Against his better judgement, he decides that he has nothing to lose in asking Lyona for help—after all, she has demanded daily updates—and so, when both are finally dressed as well as they can be, and Harry has dragged Draco into his old room to retrieve his toothbrush, they head for the telephone.

“Why don’t you let me speak to her?” Draco says as Harry dials, and, unable to come up with a proper reason why not, Harry relinquishes the receiver.

He takes up position against the wall, half-listening to Draco’s (politer than expected) words and half-wondering if any of this is actually happening. If previous experience has taught him nothing else, it’s that anything is possible, and there’s just as much chance of this insane situation being some sort of test as it is of being his new reality. Somehow, though, he doubts that even the most fiendish of tests would be this fucking irritating.

At last, Draco replaces the receiver carefully and turns to Harry. He sighs, pushing his damp hair out of his eyes. “It looks as though we’re stuck with Granger’s sewing for the time being,” he says.

Harry nods, unsurprised. “What did she say?”

“Oh, plenty of things,” Draco mutters, and begins to pull him toward the lounge, where Hermione can be heard doing a rather good job of persuading Ron that it’s definitely his turn to make a cup of tea.

“I suppose we’d better go and get stitched up, then,” Harry says.

Draco turns and lifts an eyebrow. “Was that supposed to be funny?”

“No,” Harry says innocently, waiting until Draco turns back to the door to add, “It was, though.”

**~*~**

“Ron was right,” Harry says gloomily just hours later. “This thing is sadistic.”

Draco faces him in the doorway of the attic room bathroom. “No, it’s just disgusting. People are supposed to do these things in private.”

“Okay,” Harry agrees, attempting to take the lead. “We’ll use your word. It’s disgusting. Look—I have no more desire to piss in front of you than you do in front of me, never mind anything else,” he says, screwing up his nose in distaste. Draco, whether consciously or not, mirrors the expression back to him. “But... it’s got to be done. I’ve held on for this long but I’m not prepared to wet myself.”

“Neither am I,” Draco says, affronted.

“Right, well... either I can stand next to the toilet and close my eyes, or...” Harry scans the tiny room, hoping for inspiration to strike and trying not to think about the fact that he’s essentially looking for a way for the two of them to use the bathroom together without... using it together. He has always suspected that he would need a new challenge after the war ended, but this is ridiculous.

“Or?” Draco presses, shifting from one foot to the other. Harry’s tortured bladder groans in empathy.

The door—it has to be something with the door—and that’s it. The topmost hinge sits unusually low, and the doors in this part of the house are small to begin with, so if Harry were to loop the silver cord over the top and thread it down between the door and the doorframe... Alight with hope, he prods Draco into the bathroom and carefully tests out his theory.

“How’s that?” he asks, pressing his wrist flush to the doorframe to give Draco as much movement as possible. He might have to go with his arm stuck up in the air, but it could be a lot worse.

“Yes, I can just about...” Harry hears the lid being lifted and resigns himself to waiting while Draco takes advantage of his idea. “Fantastic. Now cover your ears.”

“You’re not serious.”

“I certainly am. You’re lucky I’m not asking you to hold your nose,” Draco says.

Harry snorts. “I’ve only got one hand, Draco. I can cover my ears or my nose, not both.”

“Are you going to talk all the way through this?”

Harry makes a face at the painted wood of the door. “What, like you did all the way through my shower?”

Draco says nothing. Harry rolls his eyes and covers his ears.

**~*~**

The second night is no better than the first.

Harry may be growing more resigned to his situation, but no amount of acceptance can negate the fact that Draco is a horrible fidget or the fact that he wakes up several times a night to drink water and manages to fling Harry about the bed every single time. When he does finally drop off, he is jerked or prodded awake and informed, “You’re lying on my arm” or “You’ve knocked all the blankets on the floor again, you horrible bugger”. When Draco sleeps, Harry watches the stars and thinks dully of the morning, when the whole shower-sewing-telephone-bathroom debacle will have to be repeated. Tomorrow, and the day after that, and the day after that, until they either learn to trust each other or they murder each other in a fit of mutual frustration.

He wonders how long it will take to reverse seven years of distrust, dislike, and all those other words. Perhaps they’ve already started, he thinks, turning his head on his pillow to look at the man next to him; they’re both men now, he supposes, though he doesn’t really feel like one most of the time; he feels stupid and small. Draco breathes slowly, pale eyelashes resting against pale cheeks. His fingers grip the blankets tightly, even in sleep, as though he thinks Harry might steal them from him again. He shifts position slightly and there’s that citrus scent again—Harry frowns, baffled and intrigued in spite of himself. How does Draco contrive to smell like lemons and herbs when everyone and everything else in this house reeks of eucalyptus?

“You are very strange,” he whispers, and closes his eyes.

**~*~**

“Ponchos,” Hermione says suddenly, looking up from where she is pulling the cut edges of Harry’s t-shirt together with long, slightly uneven stitches.

“Excuse me?” Draco says, eyebrows askew, and Hermione stabs Harry with the needle in her inattention.

“Sorry,” she sighs, cringing. “You need ponchos—you know, like a blanket with a head-hole but no arm-holes. They’re South American, I think... no?” She looks up at Draco, mouth twisting resignedly, and Harry doesn’t even need to look at his expression.

“Don’t you think that this is degrading enough without putting me in costume?”

“Well, actually, they’re not really... never mind,” Hermione mutters, finishing her line of stitches and shooting Harry an aggrieved glance.

Harry just shrugs. He’s relieved that she and Draco are now able to maintain eye contact and exchange a sentence or two, sometimes at the same time. It’s progress, and he’s happy to do anything he can to encourage it.

“We really appreciate your help, Hermione,” he says, flicking at Draco’s little finger and making him jump. “Don’t we?”

“Yes,” Draco says gravely before returning to his examination of the edges of his white shirt, which are beginning to fray somewhat.

Harry isn’t surprised. It’s the fifth day of their enforced attachment and, due in part to Draco’s insistence on having clean clothes every day, and in part to the fact that he possesses only two shirts, including the one lent to him by Ron, the ‘very nice’ white garment has been washed, dried, cut and sewn at least four times. Harry, who is now rotating several plain but reliable sets of t-shirts-and-jeans, has offered to share, but Draco is having none of it.

Trivialities of clothing aside, sleep (or lack thereof) remains the biggest sticking point. Harry has managed to catch a few hours on the sofa while Draco watches television, argues pointlessly with Ron, or reads, and it’s better than nothing. Despite his initial disdain, Draco has capitulated and begun to investigate Lyona’s books, and Harry is finding it endlessly entertaining to watch his reactions. Unfortunately, he also seems to delight in reading particularly horrible passages out loud, especially when Harry has just managed to scrunch into a semi-comfortable position against the arm of the sofa.

“Oh, good grief, listen to this,” he insists, jiggling his foot against Harry’s hip until he gives in and opens his eyes. Ron and Hermione are nowhere to be seen, which is very smart of them, Harry thinks. “Xavier devoured Darby, sucking lasciviously at her soft, juicy flesh and lapping up the sweet secretions of her femininity,” Draco reads, one eyebrow climbing toward his hairline. He looks appealingly at Harry. “Is he having sex or eating a watermelon?”

“I don’t know, Draco,” Harry yawns, catching sight of the book cover, on which a busty woman in catering whites wields a wet knife. “It’s called ‘The Chef’s Revenge’, it could be either.”

When Draco makes a noncommittal sound and disappears back behind his book, Harry closes his eyes again and pillows his head on his free arm. If he can just sleep for a little while now, he might be able to manage yet another night of being yanked around the bed... in a completely non-fun, non-kinky sort of way. Just one more night, that’s what he keeps telling himself, and then they’ll... something. They’ll do something, he thinks, and then he’s drifting.

And then he’s being poked, and Draco is peering down at him with a small piece of something cream-coloured between his thumb and forefinger.

“Oh my god, what?” Harry snaps and then forgets his next words, because his eyes are caught by the little patch of bare wall next to Draco’s head. “What are you doing?”

Flicking the scrap of what Harry now realises is woodchip wallpaper into his lap, Draco frowns. “Do you know these walls are full of little bits of wood?”

Harry stares up at him for a moment, and then hauls himself upright, abandoning all hope of sleep for the time being. If they are ever going to get out of this thing, they have to start talking. And it might as well be now.

Bemused at this sudden activity, Draco stares at him. “What?”

We need to talk, Harry’s subconscious offers mockingly. And it’s true, but where the hell to start?

“We need to... start working on this thing,” he says at last, pointlessly indicating the silver cord that joins them. “I know you think it’s a stupid spell, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a powerful one, and if we don’t start at least trying to find some... trust and mutual understanding and whatever else, we might be stuck like this forever, and I’m sure you don’t want that any more than I do.”

“And you want to start doing that right this minute?” Draco asks slowly.

“Yeah,” Harry shrugs, glancing again at the picked-at wallpaper and wondering what he can use to hide it before Lyona next comes round. “Unless you had a better time in mind?”

Draco stretches out his legs and sighs, tapping his fingers on the shiny cover of his book. “No,” he concedes, flicking Harry an almost appealing glance. “But I have no idea where to start. Surprisingly enough, trust and mutual fluffiness have featured in very few of my relationships so far.”

Harry supposes they haven’t, but the ‘so far’ makes him hopeful, in spite of Draco’s contemptuous tone. “Well, I’m not really an expert either, but we have to start somewhere, unless you like the idea of me following you to the bathroom for the rest of your life.” Harry pauses, wrinkling his nose. “That really sounded a lot less weird in my head.”

“I’ll take your word for it,” Draco says faintly.

Harry sighs heavily, frustration pulling him tight. Beyond the bay window, the sea crashes against the concrete barrier, making Harry wish he was standing on the edge of it, letting the salt-spray wash over him, instead of sitting in this tatty old lounge, trying to talk to someone who doesn’t want to talk to him. He doesn’t care that it’s pitch black out there, most likely cold, too. This whole thing is madness, and he is starting to feel as though he is the only person who has noticed.

Trust, he’s always believed, has to be earned, and through action, at that. Here in this place, though, all they have are words and time. It will have to be good enough. He has questions, after all—plenty of them.

Why did you join the Death Eaters? Why did you change your mind? What are you really going to do when you leave here? Do you know how to think for yourself? Do you want to turn out just like your father? Why do you think that people like Hermione are inferior to you? Or do you? What do you really think about anything? What do you think about me?

Harry shakes away the last question; it’s irrelevant, and besides, he doesn’t really care.

“Well, are we going to talk or not?” Draco says irritably.

Never mind irrelevant, the answer is pretty obvious. Harry nods. Start at the beginning; start with something easy.

“Maybe you should just... tell me about yourself,” he says at last, shifting on the sofa until he’s facing Draco. “You know, as if we’d never met... as if I don’t know anything about you.”

Draco lifts an eyebrow but doesn’t alter his position, continuing to stare at the opposite wall with his legs stretched out in front of him. “Fine. I was born in nineteen eighty, on a Friday afternoon, at Malfoy Manor. My mother had had a first-rate birthing suite organised for the event, but, in the end, couldn’t be persuaded to stop wandering around the house, and so I arrived under the windowsill in the drawing room. My father was not terribly impressed, or so I’m told.”

“That’s not really what I—really?” Harry says, amused. “You were born under a windowsill?”

“Yes,” Draco says, posture turning defensive. “I suppose you have a better story, as usual?”

“No,” Harry admits, pulling himself into a lop-sided cross-legged position. “I don’t know what happened when I was born. I suppose... no one who was there is still around to tell me,” he says, and though his tone is matter-of-fact, there’s no stopping the swoop of sadness in his chest.

“I didn’t think of that,” Draco says, and then, stiffly and quietly, “I’m sorry.”

Harry hides his surprise by pretending to scratch at his eyebrow, but he’s not sure he quite pulls it off. “I didn’t really think of it either. When you’ve never had any parents, it’s just one of those things,” he says with a little too much nonchalance. “Mostly,” he adds, remembering that there’s very little point doing any of this if he’s not going to be honest, however alien it might feel. He sighs. “Sometimes.”

“My parents can be very challenging,” Draco says, eyes still fixed on the horse brasses hanging on the fireplace; Ron has spent the afternoon polishing them in front of the television and now they gleam in the lamplight. “I can’t quite imagine what things would be like without them, though.”

“I always had the impression that they were very difficult to please,” Harry says, thinking he is being diplomatic until Draco shoots him a rather sharp look.

“What exactly do you mean?” he demands.

Harry hesitates, picking at a loose thread on his jeans. “I suppose... it just always seemed like you were under a lot of pressure. I’m not trying to cast aspersions, Draco, I just want to make this go away, and there’s probably not much point in either of us lying, or underplaying the truth, or whatever you want to call it—I doubt this spell will be fooled if we do.”

Draco lets out a long, controlled breath, eyes back on the fireplace. “I don’t want to talk about my father.”

Harry nods, suspecting that he has, in fact, said plenty with just that one sentence, but he’s not going to push it. “Okay. Forget about parents, then. Maybe we should talk about something we have in common,” he says, wondering about the wisdom of those words as soon as they are out of his mouth.

“Besides this?” Draco says, turning to him at last and lifting their joined wrists. Harry rolls his eyes and nods. “We could talk about the way you somehow always managed to beat me at Quidditch,” he suggests, mouth twisting grimly.

“If you like. Or we could talk about how you bought your way on to the Slytherin team,” Harry shoots back, suddenly all challenge, though he has no idea why it matters.

Unexpectedly, Draco laughs shortly. “I did,” he agrees. “Or, at least, my father did, but we aren’t talking about him. But if we’re really going to get into Quidditch-related injustice, we have to mention the fact that McGonagall broke all kinds of rules to grease you into the team in first year,” he points out, looking as though the idea of the thing still offends him.

“She didn’t grease me in anywhere,” Harry protests, mind full of images that are slippery and disturbing. “That’s a very scary thought.”

Draco continues to stare ahead, mouth stretching into a shark-like grin. “There was a rumour about McGonagall around Slytherin,” he offers. “They said she never wore knickers under her robes—like a true Scots lady.”

Harry cringes, just about resisting the temptation to pull his hands (and one of Draco’s) up over his ears like a small child. Instead, he uncurls one of his legs and kicks Draco soundly in the shin. As he listens with satisfaction to the beautifully-enunciated stream of swear words pouring from Draco’s lips, he realises that this is nothing more than the small stuff, no more than pointless arguments about silly things that don’t matter any more—if they ever did—but that’s fine. They’re talking, and that’s enough of a miracle in itself.

“Maybe you should ask me something,” he suggests, pushing McGonagall’s undercarriage out of his mind and hoping it has the good sense to stay there.

“What like?”

“I don’t know. Anything you want. I promise I’ll answer honestly,” Harry says rashly.

Draco arches an eyebrow, mouth curling into an unholy smirk. “What’s your favourite colour?” he asks, with the tone of one enquiring after a stranger’s most bizarre sexual fetish.

Exasperated, Harry just looks at him. He hadn’t expected to be teased, and more than that, there’s something in Draco’s expression that makes him feel uncomfortable, like he doesn’t quite know where to look.

“You’re an idiot,” he says after a moment, turning away and scrubbing vigorously at his hair.

“You promised you’d answer anything honestly,” Draco points out.

“You’re still an idiot.”

“We’ll agree to disagree, shall we?” Draco says brightly. “Answer the question.”

“Fine. It’s red. Are you shocked?”

“Only that you actually are that predictable. Do you want a cup of tea?”

“The way you’re avoiding the subject—it’s not subtle,” Harry points out, but allows himself to be towed into the kitchen anyway, leaning against the counter and trying to decide how to proceed as Draco clatters around next to him and the steam from the kettle fills the little room.

Back in the comfort of the lounge, they balance cups on their knees and swap trivialities. They discuss Hogwarts (both carefully avoiding the subjects of Dumbledore and Snape), food, and the relative merits of Gryffindor and Slytherin House. Harry tells Draco about his overcrowded state primary school and he listens, intrigued and horrified, before sharing stories of the live-in governess his parents hired for him in preparation for Hogwarts. The dim light seems to invite confidences, and the warmth from the single bar of Lyona’s electric fire is enough to keep Harry from reaching for the knitted blanket that drapes over the back of the sofa. As he finishes his second cup of tea, he hears the sounds of running water and flushing that signal bedtime for the others, but he doesn’t feel quite as alone as he thinks he might.

“Albertine is a strange name for a governess,” he says absently, setting his cup on the floor and pulling his knees up to his chest.

“Albertine was a very strange woman,” Draco says, mirroring the action and wrapping his free arm around his knees, leaving their joined wrists to rest against the cushions between them.

“In what way?”

“Well, apart from the fact that she spat when she talked and she wore a badger’s foot on a chain around her neck, she was something of a zealot when it came to blood purity,” Draco says, and, catching Harry’s expression, continues, “And yes, much, much worse than any of those people you’re thinking of. Some of the songs she used to sing to me at night would have frightened the Dark Lord himself... in fact, I’m sure they’d have got along famously if she hadn’t died when I was twelve.”

“What happened to her?” Harry asks, struggling to process the rest of the information as quickly as he wants to. There are so many things he wants to ask about, but he’s not yet sure what they are.

“She was bitten by some sort of poisonous creature on a trip to Australia,” Draco says. “A snake, I think. Apparently, it was all so fast that there was nothing they could do. I can’t say I was terribly sad, though she had promised to teach me how to duel properly when she came back...”

“You seemed to do alright on your own,” Harry says faintly.

Draco says nothing for a long time. He rests his chin on his knees, twisting to gaze at the wall in such a way that Harry finds himself examining the bruises along his jawline, yellow-green and fading fast.

“I was never on my own, not really,” he says quietly. “I always had Severus. And you always had Dumbledore.”

Harry inhales sharply and Draco’s eyes flick to meet his.

“Someone had to mention him.”

“I know,” Harry admits, remembering his promise to be honest. “And it probably wasn’t going to be me.”

“He tried to help me so many times,” Draco says, suddenly pretending interest in the nails of his right hand. “I wouldn’t have bothered if the roles had been reversed, but he never stopped. We can talk about this, Draco; I can help you, Draco; what do you want to do with your life, Draco? I always just pretended I wasn’t listening.”

Startled by this revelation, Harry has no idea what to say. For some reason, the idea that Dumbledore spent so much time on Draco, and that Draco spent so much time with him, makes him feel sad and moved and resentful all at once. It doesn’t make a great deal of sense, but something raw and possessive stirs inside him and he wants to jump up and yell that Dumbledore was his, not Draco’s—his mentor, his friend, his lost father figure.

He swallows hard, fighting to temper the unhelpful feeling. It’s useless and irrational, and besides, there’s no way he’s jumping up anywhere without Draco, which, he reminds himself, is sort of the point of this whole discussion.

“I didn’t realise you spent so much time with him,” he says at last, voice scratchy.

Draco grants him a tiny smile. “Don’t worry, you were definitely his favourite,” he assures, and his perceptiveness makes Harry want to disappear into a hole in the ground.

“I wasn’t... I was just surprised,” he admits, swallowing the denial before it escapes.

“So was I. I know you think I’m a completely horrible person, but I did realise, even then, that he was giving me chances I didn’t deserve.”

“I don’t,” Harry says without thinking, heart hammering erratically as though just as surprised as he is to hear the words aloud.

Draco’s eyes glimmer in the soft light, dangerous and hopeful. “You don’t what?”

“I don’t think you’re a completely horrible person,” Harry says.

“Oh,” Draco manages, before turning back to the horse brasses and blinking rapidly. “He always had the strangest sweets—never seemed content unless I’d tried one.”

Harry smiles in spite of the confused tangling inside him and decides to let the non-sequitur pass without comment. “Sherbet lemons?”

Draco makes a face. “Why anyone would want to eat something so sour is beyond me. He also had that bizarre stuff that popped in your mouth—I think he just liked to watch people’s faces when they tried it.”

“Probably,” Harry agrees, allowing himself to be carried back to the big, round office with its whirring instruments and shelves stuffed with books. “Did you have the liquorice ones that turned your mouth black?”

Draco shudders.

**~*~**

When Harry next checks the time, it’s coming up for three in the morning and he’s finding it ever more difficult to keep his eyes open, but still they continue to talk. Having shifted through every comfortable position he can think of—plus a few uncomfortable ones for good measure—Harry is now lying flat on his back on the carpet, right arm dangling from its loop of silver cord as Draco stretches out on the sofa just above him.

“What do you think will happen in the end?” Harry asks, folding his free arm under his head and releasing a small cloud of dust from the ancient carpet. “D’you think it’ll just dissolve away when we’re not looking, or do you think it’ll be more dramatic?”

“I don’t know,” Draco says, yawning. “I’m just hoping it happens at all. Preferably before either one of us is too old to enjoy our freedom.”

“Now that’s dramatic.”

“If you say so. Worse still, I suppose—I might get used to you, and then what?” Draco muses, sounding quite genuinely anxious.

Harry snorts, inhales carpet dust, and sneezes. “Let’s worry about that weird bridge when we cross it... or something,” he mumbles, exhaustion scrambling his words.

“That doesn’t make sense,” Draco points out. “But alright.”

Harry lets out a soft murmur of agreement and then lapses into silence. The carpeted floor is firm and prickly underneath him, worn pile rubbing at his arms and lower back as he stretches, and for the longest time he feels content just to listen to the sound of Draco’s breathing. The slow rhythm of it is oddly comforting; it is becoming a constant, a safe, familiar accompaniment to this unsettling new phase of his life. He’s not entirely sure how he feels about that part, but there it is. He’s calm, steady, and then, all of a sudden, he’s not, and the words are spilling out everywhere before he can grab them.

“Why did you do it?”

The sofa creaks as Draco shifts position. “Why did I do what?” he asks warily.

“Why did you become a Death Eater?”

Draco doesn’t answer immediately, but the harsh sound of his exhalation makes Harry open his eyes, and when he does, he wants to close them again. Draco is not looking at him; his gaze is fixed firmly upon the ceiling, but his eyes glitter with the sort of anger that Harry hasn’t seen there for what feels like a long time, and his mouth is compressed into a hard, bloodless line. He’s furious. And Harry doesn’t blame him—it was a stupid thing to say, especially when things were actually starting to move in the right direction.

“That’s what you want to talk about now? In the middle of the night?” Draco asks, accent sharpening with every word.

No, Harry thinks, unable to take his eyes off him. I don’t. It was a stupid thing to say. Instead, he shrugs and says, “Is there a better time to talk about it?”

“I don’t want to talk about it at all,” Draco snaps.

“Well, then, how am I ever supposed to trust you?” Harry shoots back, no longer half asleep; his blood is racing as he scrambles into a seated position and meets Draco’s eyes. He’s awake, he’s raging, and he fucking hates how Draco makes him feel. How he always has, and how it seems so easy for him.

“I don’t know, Potter, maybe trust is about accepting the things you don’t know and putting your faith in the rest,” Draco says, propping himself up on one elbow and practically snarling the words into Harry’s face.

“Suddenly you’re an expert!” Harry retorts, the fact that the argument is mostly his fault just making him angrier. “Answer the fucking question, then at least I know what I’m dealing with!”

“You are so incredibly self-righteous,” Draco says coldly. “And arrogant, too—you actually believe that everybody should just fall in line with whatever you want and give whatever you ask of them because you’re the Chosen One? Please.”

Taken aback, Harry says nothing for long seconds. When he speaks again, much of the ire seems to have drained out of him and it once again feels like a struggle to keep himself upright.

“Is that what you think of me? Is that... who you think I am? Seriously?”

“I don’t think that’s all you are,” Draco says, glare softening slightly until he looks merely irritable once more. “I have no idea who you are. Well, that’s not true; I know that you snore, that you take forever in the shower, that you can fix Muggle washing machines and that you always seem to say the first thing that comes into your head, but that’s not really much to go on.”

It’s not, Harry agrees, and that, of course, is the point. He doesn’t want to be the Chosen One any more than Draco wants to be the Death Eater, even if those things do make up at least a proportion of what they are. And he’s tired, and an idiot, and he’s going to have to apologise.

“Sorry,” he manages at last.

Draco lifts an eyebrow. “Good grief.”

“Don’t start,” Harry says. “You’re actually being the reasonable one at the moment.”

“Surely not.”

Harry smiles ruefully and flops back onto the floor; he jars Draco’s wrist slightly as he does so but there’s no way he’s apologising again. “I never saw it coming.”

“I’m extremely reasonable,” Draco says expansively, as though he hadn’t been absolutely livid just minutes earlier.

Stretching drowsily, Harry decides to let it go. At least for now. There are other nights, and other conversations, other opportunities for him to make a complete tit of himself. Perhaps it doesn’t matter any more, a small, rarely-heard part of him suggests; perhaps the fact that he changed his mind is enough. Harry doesn’t know yet, but he suspects that it will have to be enough for tonight. His brain is beginning to shut down, and pushing the conversation any further has to be asking for trouble.

“... the idea is, then, that Granger and I... are you listening?” Draco demands, leaning down and prodding Harry in the side of the head.

“No,” Harry admits, opening his eyes. “I’m falling asleep.”

Draco sighs, looking extremely put out. “Well, that might be alright for you, but I prefer to sleep in a bed, so up you get.”

When Harry doesn’t immediately leap to his feet, Draco slides off the sofa and yanks at his arms until he gives in, fearing a dislocated shoulder.

“Okay, okay, I’m getting up,” he protests, stumbling to his feet and trailing up the many stairs to the attic bedroom.

The night sky is full of stars and the moon casts a ghostly glow across the sheets as they kick off their trousers and slump, face-first, onto the bed without a word. Draco doesn’t even try to persuade or drag Harry into the bathroom, and when Harry flicks a lazy glance in his direction, his eyes seem to be falling closed of their own accord.

“Can’t sleep like this,” he mumbles into his pillow.

“I beg to differ,” Harry mutters under his breath as Draco’s breathing begins to slow and deepen, but there’s no answer, and that’s just fine.

Two minutes later, he’s drifting pleasantly when Draco twitches, sighs, and mutters something that sounds like, ‘just not right’. Barely conscious, Harry pulls him onto his side, wriggles around and tugs at their joined wrists until he finds something approaching a comfortable position, curled up behind Draco with one arm looped beneath him and the other resting wherever it happens to fall. It’s warm and it smells nice—the rest, he will just have to deal with in the morning.

**~*~**

When he stirs, the room is bright and the sun that streams in through the skylights is pleasantly warm on his skin. He stretches, opens his eyes, and jumps—Draco is staring right at him, hair sleep-ruffled and neck twisted at an awkward angle as the rest of him faces away from Harry. For once, it seems he has remained relatively still during the night—and he must have, because Harry doesn’t remember waking up at all—and though his stare is sharpening with every second that passes, his body remains exactly where it is, tucked neatly against Harry’s from shoulder to ankle.

“Potter, are you—in fact, just, what are you doing?” he asks in almost a whisper.

“Nothing, but if you’re going to let me cuddle you, don’t you think you could at least call me by my first name?” Harry says, attempting a joke in the vain hope that it will reduce the awkwardness of the situation.

Draco glowers and turns his head away, dropping it back onto his pillow and groaning.

“Oh, this is weird.”

“Mm,” Harry says noncommittally, trying to ignore the very obvious fact that he is extremely fucking comfortable, and that this... position has given him the best night’s sleep he’s had since the potion. He’s not sure what that means, or even if he wants to know what it means, but he feels languorous and well-rested and he almost doesn’t want to move at all. Which is, as Draco says, a bit weird.

“I don’t suppose you’re going to tell anyone, are you?” Draco says suddenly, twisting to look at him again.

“About this? Er, no, I wasn’t planning on it.”

“I suppose I’ll have to trust you, then,” Draco says drily, and Harry doesn’t miss the split-second flick of his eyes to their joined wrists. He wonders if Draco had thought, even for a moment, that his words might have been enough to dissolve the bond. Unsurprisingly, it remains intact.

“It’s hard to know what kind of trust this thing actually wants from us,” Harry says, thinking out loud.

Draco gives him an odd look. “Trust is trust, it doesn’t come in different flavours.”

“Of course it does—there are people I’d trust not to hurt me physically but not with a secret,” Harry says, rubbing his eyes and idly wondering where he left his glasses. “In fact, there are people I’d trust with my life that I wouldn’t want to talk to about... you know, feelings and stuff.”

Embarrassed, he breaks off and presses his nose into his pillow, inhaling the clean scent and trying to ignore the restless jiggle of Draco’s leg against his own.

“You are not going to make me talk about feelings and stuff at this time in the morning,” Draco informs him.

Though Harry hadn’t been planning to, he can’t resist the opportunity to needle Draco.

“So, you don’t want to talk in the middle of the night, and you don’t want to talk first thing in the morning—when do you want to talk?”

Draco rolls his eyes and stretches, tugging Harry’s arm out from under himself. The limb is now almost completely numb, but as Draco pulls it around with abandon, the blood begins to rush back cheerfully into the veins, causing Harry to wince and swear at the sudden influx of painful prickles.

“Fine, then,” he continues from between gritted teeth. “Maybe we should schedule a time—how does three in the afternoon grab you?”

“Oh, fuck off,” Draco sighs, giving their joined arms one last vicious shake. “Harry.”

**~*~**

As the morning wears on, Harry feels more and more confident that they have, somehow, made a breakthrough of sorts. His mood is lighter than it has been in a long time as they eat breakfast, read, and, at Hermione’s insistence, clean the kitchen, which has once more become a bit of a state. When Lyona arrives with provisions, Draco is impressively polite to her, even when she reiterates the ban on magic, and even when she reminds him specifically that this still includes cutting and mending charms.

They put away the food, wash their clothes, and submit to Hermione’s needle before returning to the lounge in time for Draco and Ron to play along with Fifteen to One. Harry, who has begun to enjoy this ritual, observes in silence as they offer incorrect answer after incorrect answer, each seemingly more bizarre than the last. Draco’s knowledge of Muggle culture and technology is even patchier than Ron’s, but, while Ron has remained at a steady level of cluelessness, Draco appears to be learning, absorbing and remembering everything he sees, and Harry suspects it won’t be long before he overtakes his competitor.

He doubts Ron will mind, either, and that is something that Harry is still getting his head around. Ron had been the loudest protesting voice when Narcissa had insisted that Draco accompany them to the safe house, and now, while not quite the best of friends, the two of them are tolerating one another in a way Harry would never have previously thought possible. For all his hot-headedness, Ron appears to have accepted the situation with the sort of philosophical, let’s-all-have-a-bacon-sandwich-then Weasley grace that Harry thinks Arthur would be proud of.

Even Hermione is beginning to thaw. She, too, stops everything for the Fifteen to One ritual, and though she is unsurprisingly the most well-informed of them all, she doesn’t volunteer an answer unless Ron and Draco are too stumped even to make something up. On the rare occasion that either one of them answers a question correctly, she exchanges impressed glances with Harry, but Draco doesn’t earn himself kisses or hair-ruffles, a fact which Harry finds both amusing and strangely gratifying.

Draco is argumentative and irritable; he still talks while Harry is trying to shower and yanks him around all over the place with little regard for his comfort, but Harry is getting used to all those things. He is getting used to the intimate sleeping arrangement, because it works, and he is getting used to persuading Draco into talking in the afternoons, because it’s the best time to get more out of him than snappish retorts or long, meandering diatribes. After their first real conversation, Harry opts to seize on his flippant suggestion and designates three pm as ‘talking time’.

“Fine,” Draco concedes, unfolding himself from the sofa and setting down his copy of ‘The Wanton Bride’. “As long as we’re back in time for the quiz.”

“So long as you have your priorities sorted,” Harry says, but he’s smiling as he turns away from Draco and heads for the stairs.

“Why do they have to bugger off to their bedroom to talk?” Ron grumbles as Harry closes the door to the lounge. Harry has the impression that he is trying to keep his voice down but the attempt is far from successful. “They can talk here—it’s not like we’d join in or anything.”

“I suppose it’s because it’s just between them,” Hermione says, and her voice carries almost as well, Harry is amused to note. “They have to learn to trust each other, and that’s hard enough without dragging us into it.”

“I suppose. It’s just weird.”

And it is, Harry thinks, for perhaps the thousandth time since he came to this place. It’s weird. It’s weird, and it’s not easy, but they’re slowly moving forward, settling into a new sort of rhythm, and an odd little part of him is starting to enjoy it.

**~*~**

Draco sighs. “Your experience of friendship and mine are very different. I doubt you could understand.”

Harry glances at him irritably and then turns his attention back to the sky, where seagulls are swooping over the houses and down to the beach. Over the last few days, he has found that talking time is greatly improved by lying on his back, horizontally across the bed, and gazing up through the skylights. The view is wonderfully calming, even on grey, stormy days, and it’s the closest he can currently get to the world outside.

The clock on the bedside says 16:24, but it’s Saturday, so there is no Fifteen to One to save him. Not, of course, that he wants to be saved. He wants to be a grown-up and continue this very healthy discussion. Obviously.

“I’m trying to understand,” he says as patiently as he can. “I didn’t have a single bloody friend until I came to Hogwarts—not one--so it’s not as though my experience was particularly normal, either.”

“And that’s the thing I can’t understand,” Draco says, frowning and turning onto his side so that he is staring holes into the side of Harry’s head. “You got on that train, met Weasley, and by the time you got to Hogwarts, you behaved as though he was a member of your family. How does that work?”

Harry attempts a shrug, but in his current position manages little more than an awkward shuffle against the mattress. “I really don’t know,” he admits, casting his mind back and gathering little more than fragmented memories of corned beef sandwiches and feeling accepted for practically the first time in his life. “I suppose that some people are just meant to be your friends, and others you sort of collect along the way.”

“You sound like one of those books I’ve been reading,” Draco observes tartly, but when Harry looks at him, he’s staring down at the blanket and tracing the seams with one pale finger. Realising he’s being watched, Draco lifts his eyes to meet Harry’s and, just for a moment, his face is shockingly open. Harry takes a breath and goes to speak but nothing happens. “I can’t help but imagine that the most important difference between real friends and... well, most of the ones I had is the fact that you choose them yourself instead of being provided with them at an early age and learning to make do.”

“Yeah,” Harry says softly, turning back to the seagulls. “That’s a pretty important distinction.”

Draco shifts onto his back beside Harry and looks at the sky, too. “It’s not ‘poor me’, you know,” he offers eventually. “It’s just the way things are. Certain types of families stick together. It happens to the parents and then they make sure it happens to their children, and so on, until the end of everything, I imagine.”

“I think it’s the same in some Muggle families, actually,” Harry says carelessly. “The really established, rich families, I mean. I don’t think it’s the best way to go about it, but most people want to preserve their way of life.”

If Draco is shocked by this idea, he doesn’t show it. He merely lets out a long breath and swipes his hair out of his eyes with his free hand.

“I don’t hate them, you know.”

Harry’s heart leaps and he shoots Draco a sidelong glance. “Muggles?”

Draco nods. “I think I did, once. Or I thought I did, if that makes any sense.” Pale eyes flick to Harry’s in an uncharacteristic show of insecurity.

“It does.”

“There’s a certain point, I think... in the middle of the most horrific time in your life, when you just lose all interest in hating anything. It’s as though it just evaporates away, and then there’s nothing left.”

“And then what?” Harry asks, not daring to look at Draco, too astonished by the very real words that are coming out of his mouth and attaching themselves to parts of him that he’s tried so hard to ignore.

“And then you don’t know what you think about anything much any more. There’s survival, but very little more than that.”

Harry closes his eyes, aching. “I want more than just to survive. Don’t you?”

“When I first came here, I wished you hadn’t pulled me out of that fire,” Draco says quietly.

His curled fingers brush against the sensitive inside of Harry’s wrist as he shifts position yet again, sending a hot crackle of something up his arm and across his back. Eyes still tightly closed, Harry is in darkness, and it is all too easy to be back on that broomstick, fierce heat raging all around him, sweat stinging his eyes and making hands too slippery to hold onto. Horrible screams and burning throat and desperate fingers hanging on for dear life.

Gasping, he forces his eyes open. The sky above is clear and blue, and the seagulls continue to swoop, calling to one another and gliding in effortless circles.

“Are you alright?” Draco asks, leaning over him and filling his world with the clean scent of citrus that somehow washes the inferno into nothingness.

Harry rubs at his heated face and nods. “Yeah. Thanks. I... do you still think that? About the fire? Because I’m not sorry I did it.”

“It’s a start, isn’t it, if you’re not sorry you saved my life?” Draco says lightly, tugging at their connection.

“Seriously,” Harry says, feeling as though someone has filled his throat with grit.

Draco relents, flopping back down and closing his eyes. A small, rather peaceful smile spreads across his face. “No, I’m not sorry I’m alive. Not any more.”

**~*~**

Mid-May brings with it heavy rainfall and humid air, the combination of which seems to make Draco fractious and even pricklier than usual. Harry, without a better option, puts up with it and carries on with his routine, cleaning and quizzing and chatting to Ron and Hermione while Draco reads and fidgets and makes endless cups of tea and coffee. His daily phone calls to Lyona keep him informed of what appears to be encouraging—if not exactly rapid--advancement on the hunt for the last of the rogue Death Eaters.

“Slow and steady progress,” Lyona tells him over and over, until he begins to wonder if there is any other kind.

That said, the rate at which Draco is ploughing through the pile of tacky romance novels is anything but. He devours them, curling into one corner of the sofa with a book on his knee, or propping one up on Harry’s back as he tries to sleep, and, despite his better judgement, Harry is starting to find it funny when he reads aloud. Those terrible descriptions of love and various sex acts only seem more ridiculous when recited in Draco’s disdainful, cut-glass tones.

“Oh, Martha,” he pronounces, holding the book aloft, “let me meditate on your heavenly shape, for my throbbing love-stick will not let me have a moment’s peace whilst I remain in the presence of your fulsome pudendum.”

The grey eyes regard Harry over the top of the book and it’s useless. He snorts, drops his head to his drawn-up knees, and laughs helplessly.

“I don’t even want to know what one of those is,” Ron says, freckled nose scrunching up.

As one, Harry and Draco glance at him, and then back at each other, and the volume of their laughter only increases.

“Well, I know,” Ron says, flushing. “But... you know...”

Draco smothers his laughter in the pages of the book but his eyes are bright with amusement and Harry knows that he’s grinning like a loon, even if he doesn’t want anyone to see it. Face hurting, Harry indicates the book.

“Carry on, then,” he urges, breathless, and when Draco lifts an eyebrow and continues, he realises that they might just be starting to like one another.

**~*~**

When the supply of romance novels dries up, Draco reads anything else he can find around the house, and though Harry rather misses hearing about ‘ripe udders’ and ‘the juices of buxom young maidens’, he is grateful that the easily-bored bugger has something to occupy his time. When Draco has worked his way through every instruction book, leaflet and old magazine he can lay his hands on, Harry finds himself subjected to pleas, threats, and everything in between to return to the kitchen.

Wary of his intentions and lured by the dusty board games Hermione has discovered at the bottom of her wardrobe, Harry puts him off for as long as he can. Which turns out to be not very long at all, because once Draco has enraged Hermione by beating her at Scrabble two times out of three, and declared Monopoly ‘appallingly boring’ while at the same time cheating shamelessly throughout, Harry is all too happy to retreat to the kitchen.

The room is a bit too warm and there’s not really enough space for two people lashed together at the wrist as well as all the pots and pans and utensils Draco wants to play with, but it’s better than listening to him complain, and anyway, it’s always nice to have something to do, even if the something is being attached to a person determined to make cheese and apple muffins and passing items as they are requested.

“If you’re hungry, why don’t you just make some sandwiches?” Harry asks without much hope as Draco turns away from him and frowns at some unseen item on the worktop.

“I think Weasley has that covered, don’t you?”

Harry supposes he has. Ron takes immense pride in his sandwiches, too; it might be for the best if Draco doesn’t start invading his turf.

“Yeah, okay, but... do you really want to put those in?” Harry tries, eyeing the cloves of garlic that Draco is slicing into with potion-making precision. “And cheese? And apple? And... oh, god, what is that?”

“Will you be quiet?” Draco says impatiently, flicking his left wrist and making Harry wince. “I want to do it like this.”

“It won’t work,” Harry sighs, leaning on the counter.

“I’m sure Delia never had this kind of interference,” Draco complains, appearing to consult something before hacking the tops off three apples in turn.

“Delia who?”

“Delia!” Draco says, turning to show Harry a sauce-splattered, dog-eared book with a smiling, dark-haired lady on the cover. He has a strange feeling that Aunt Petunia used to have one just like it.

“Well,” he says, trying not to laugh, “I’m sure Delia would tell you not to do it like that.”

“She would not,” Draco says huffily. “She would support my right to experiment.”

Harry has no idea what to say to that, so he watches with morbid fascination as Draco combines all of his strange ingredients, plus a few more, added at the last minute and stirred in with obvious satisfaction. All the while, he glances over at Harry as though daring him to comment.

Harry manages to hold his tongue, but when a rather odd aroma starts to waft out of the oven some minutes later, it almost undoes him. One look at Draco’s face, though, and he knows he has to keep his mouth shut. For one, it’s easier, but he doesn’t think that’s the only reason; there’s something maddeningly charming about Draco’s experiments and attempts to learn about the world he has always shunned, and Harry finds that he doesn’t want to spoil it.

When the tray of muffins comes out of the oven, though, his resolve wavers. Harry glances at the picture in the book and then at Draco’s effort, and, unfortunately, struggles to find many similarities between the two. Delia’s muffins are neat, even, and golden; Draco’s are... well... Draco has made what appears to be a single muffin-esque entity—all the individual cases are linked together with splotches and tentacles of mixture, some charred and some sticky. The larger pieces of apple are poking out of the mess like wilted fins, the bottom of the oven is covered in burned cheese and the stench of garlic is incredible.

“Hmm,” Draco says, turning the tray this way and that with his right hand in a flowery oven glove.

“Well, yeah,” Harry manages.

“Shall we try one, then?”

Harry lifts an eyebrow. “You are not serious.”

Draco scowls. “Of course I’m serious. Pass me a couple of plates.”

“Draco, if you think I’m putting any part of that near my mouth, you’re sorely mistaken,” Harry says firmly, but Draco is already reaching around him and grabbing a knife with which to prise one of the not-quite-muffins out of its tray.

“We’re trying to learn to trust each other,” he says grimly, sawing at a tough section and flicking a shard of cheese into Harry’s hair, “and you won’t eat one of my muffins?”

“I’ll eat one,” Ron offers, appearing in the doorway.

Harry brushes the cheese from his hair and shoots Ron a look.

“Thank you, Weasley,” Draco says politely, levering out the first muffin and handing it to Ron. “You see? He trusts me not to poison him and he’s always hated me, probably more than you have.”

“That’s not really the point,” Harry says, but he knows it’s no good.

“I didn’t... well, yeah, I did,” Ron admits. “But things change.” He sniffs at the muffin for a moment and then takes a large bite. Fascinated, Harry watches the expressions that flit across his face as he chews. Beside him, Draco appears to be holding his breath.

“Well? What do you think?”

Ron swallows his mouthful and shrugs. “It’s weird. But I like it.”

He takes another bite and walks away, humming to himself. Harry can actually feel Draco’s buzz of triumph, and, feeling resigned, turns to him.

“You see,” Draco says exultantly.

“Ron will eat anything,” Harry points out. “I’m still not having one.”

Draco shrugs. “I don’t care.”

He does, of course, and Harry knows it.

Five minutes later, he eats one.

It’s disgusting.

**~*~**

After a week of grey, overcast skies and warm rain, the first morning of clear sunshine feels like taking a deep breath after forgetting how. Without a word, they scramble out of bed and pull at the stiff old bar on at the top of the centre skylight until the window flips open, allowing the cool wind to flick the smell of the sea into the room. Draco stretches up on tiptoes, resting his arms on the sun-warmed ledge and all but arching into the light and the breeze. He watches the people on the promenade and Harry watches him, eyes travelling idly over the pale, bare legs, the dishevelled hair, and the now-familiar outfit of fitted black boxer shorts and oversized red t-shirt that makes him look so normal, so... un-Draco-like. Or, at least, so unlike the Draco he used to know.

His face is relaxed, no sharpened eyebrows or curled lips, and the pale eyes gaze down at the people on the beach with such longing that Harry can’t help but feel for him. Staying inside for weeks on end is torture enough, but on a day like this, it’s almost too much to stand.

“If nothing else, I suppose this is teaching us to appreciate fresh air,” he says, nudging Draco over and leaning out beside him.

“Speak for yourself,” Draco says. “Six months shut in the Manor made me appreciate it quite enough already. Look at her—” He points to a thirty-something woman who is walking slowly along the edge of the lapping water, dog lead dangling from one hand as she sips from a bottle of juice, clearly in no rush to be anywhere else. Some way behind her, a large Labrador leaps around in the spray. “She looks horrifically content, doesn’t she?”

“She does,” Harry agrees, watching the wind whip through the woman’s hair and sticking his head as far out of the window as he can in the hope of experiencing the same.

“And here we are, stuck in here,” Draco sighs, and Harry is interested to note the use of the word ‘we’ instead of the usual ‘I’, but he says nothing. “I’d give my thumbs to be her right this minute.”

“Both of them?” Harry asks, amused.

“Yes. In fact, right now, I’d be happy to be that dog,” Draco says, expression so wistful that Harry thinks he might mean it.

“Ah, but then you’d be a Muggle’s best friend,” Harry points out as the woman fishes a ball from her pocket and throws it into the shallows for the dog.

“Mm,” Draco says vaguely, and Harry wonders.

“Would you really have a Muggle friend?”

Draco frowns. “I don’t know. Would you?”

“They’re just people, Draco. Of course I would. I thought I was one until I was eleven, remember?” Harry pokes him. “I asked you the question.”

“I suppose it might be interesting,” Draco says carefully, eyes narrowed in deep thought. “I don’t know that we would understand each other, though, and lying can become very boring if you have to do it all the time... hold on a minute—this isn’t talking time,” he accuses, turning to look at Harry, apparently scandalised.

Harry just laughs and pulls at the silver cord in the direction of the bathroom. Suddenly ravenous, he jumps into the bath and completes his shower in record time, already rubbing at his hair with a towel as he steps out, bath sheet slung around his waist. Draco, for all his usual complaints about Harry’s lingering under the water, is in no mood to rush this morning, and when Harry perches on the edge of the bath, clean, mostly dry, and dressed in his favourite old jeans, the shower is still running.

Stomach grumbling, he holds on to the slippery sides of the bath and pours all of his control into not saying the words that drift through the curtain into his shower every morning:

‘What are you doing in there?’

He won’t do it. He just won’t. And yet he finds himself wondering, as he listens to the drum and splash and trickle of the water, exactly what Draco is doing in there. He could be washing his hair—he does that every day, and Harry has almost stopped being surprised at how much the water darkens the white blond; he could be soaping and scrubbing at his skin—he’s definitely fussy enough about being clean; he could be standing under the spray, letting the water flow over him and pretending he’s somewhere else, like Harry does—less frequently these days—or he could be...

Harry breaks out of his thoughts with a jolt as the shower is turned off and he realises that he is, quite absent-mindedly, picturing Draco naked. And wet. And that can’t be good.

“What’s the matter with you?” Draco asks, stepping out of the shower and bringing Harry’s right arm back into the cool air of the bathroom.

Harry watches the droplets of water drip from his fingers for a second or two before he grabs his towel and begins to scrub roughly at his skin. When Draco pulls gently at the cord, he gets to his feet without a word and follows him to the sink so that he can brush his teeth. After a minute or two, Draco places something in his hand, and it takes a lot longer than it should for him to realise that the object is, in fact, his toothbrush.

“You look ill,” Draco observes.

“I’m fine. Just very... hungry,” Harry says. He loads up his brush and thrusts the bristles into his mouth, scrubbing savagely at his teeth and hoping that it’s as simple as that.

**~*~**

Harry feels much more like himself after a plate of bacon and eggs, and manages to persuade Draco to sit (almost) still for an hour or two in the conservatory as he and Ron play a no-holds-barred game of Scrabble which quickly descends into a deeply nostalgic conversation about some of the more ridiculous things they—and sometimes Hermione—got up to over the years.

“I don’t think we’ll ever do anything as brilliant as that stunt Fred and George pulled when they left school,” Ron sighs, and Harry forces himself to hold eye contact, even though it hurts. After all, Ron’s the one who has lost a brother, and if he wants to talk about him, then everyone else can fucking deal with it.

“I think you’ve had your moments,” Harry says with a small smile. “But it was brilliant.”

Ron nods and fiddles with his ‘K’ tile. “I wonder if that bit of swamp’s still there.”

“It was still there when I left,” Draco says without looking up from his Argos catalogue.

Ron smiles to himself. “Maybe they’ll name a bit of the school after him. He’d like that.”

Gut wrenching, Harry pushes away the momentary image of Fred’s motionless body. He swallows hard and replaces it with another, brighter picture, and another, and another—fireworks and magical beards and matching jumpers.

“I’m sure he would,” he says after a moment, heart fractionally lighter. “I bet they would, too, if you asked them.”

“I’d be surprised if George hasn’t already,” Ron says, setting down his tile and rising from his wicker chair with a creak. His eyes flick to Harry’s for the briefest of moments, but it’s enough. “Going to lie down for a bit,” he mumbles. “Tired, you know.”

“Yeah.” Harry nods and leans back in his chair, watching his friend until he disappears out of view.

“I wonder how you keep going,” Draco says.

Harry twists around. Draco is staring through the French doors and into the house, apparently preoccupied. “What do you mean?”

“When you lose a person like that—an important person—I wonder what it is that convinces you to get up every morning,” Draco says lightly, as though the problem is a hypothetical one, as though he’s merely curious.

In the dining room beyond the French doors, something shifts in the relative shadow. Hermione.

“I don’t know, really,” Harry admits, twisting his wrist inside the silver loop and admiring the way it scatters the sunlight over the tiles. “All the people who are still alive. The fact that life goes on... it always has, and it always will, with or without you.”

“Weasley has a lot of people to live for,” Draco says easily.

“Yeah, he does,” Harry says, feeling as though he should say more but failing to find the words.

Hermione takes a deep breath and picks up her book again.

Draco sighs. “I can’t sit here any longer. Come and help me make muffins.”

“Oh, good,” Harry says under his breath, following him out of the baking hot conservatory and back into the dining room, cool and dark with all the curtains drawn.

As they pass, Hermione stares hard at her book and says nothing.

**~*~**

The muffins—batch number nine, Harry thinks—are actually pretty good. So good, in fact that all sixteen have disappeared by nightfall, and as he and Draco climb the stairs to their bedroom, Harry is beginning to wish he hadn’t had quite so many. When they reach the top landing, his stomach gives a heavy roll of protest, leaving him in no further doubt that the fifth muffin was definitely a mistake.

Draco, who has been floating around on a little cloud of accomplishment since mid-afternoon, doesn’t appear to notice Harry’s discomfort, and blithely swings him face-first—or stomach-first, so it feels—into the bathroom doorframe before heading for the sink. Harry groans softly at the sudden compression of his full belly. For a moment or two, he listens to the sounds of the water in the basin and submits to the familiar yanking around of his arm as Draco completes his evening washing ritual. Until he’s had enough.

“This is really uncomfortable,” he snaps, pulling at the cord a little more harshly than he means to. “I’m coming in.”

He hesitates for a few seconds, just long enough for Draco to protest or to cover up anything he doesn’t want Harry to see, and then he peels himself from the wall and stomps into the bathroom. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he knows he’s being unfair and perhaps even insensitive, but he can’t seem to stop himself. It must be Draco’s own fault somehow, anyway—he’s the one who made all the sodding muffins.

He finds Draco standing at the sink, stripped to the waist, with his white shirt and scissors at his feet. He gazes at Harry, mild surprise flickering across his face, and then returns to his task without a word. Startled, all Harry can do is watch as he pours liquid from a tall glass onto a cloth, held awkwardly but securely in the hand attached to Harry’s, straining out myriad green and black specks and allowing the rest to splash into the steaming basin below. As the mysterious liquid touches and mixes with the hot water, the scent that seeps out into the room is instantly familiar.

“Lemons and herbs,” Harry murmurs to himself, discomfort quite forgotten.

Draco looks at him sharply. “What?”

“Nothing, I just... nothing,” Harry says, suddenly feeling as though he is intruding on something deeply personal and wishing he could extract himself from the room without making things worse.

With a soft sigh, Draco turns his eyes back to the basin. He sets down the empty glass and squeezes the cloth, releasing yet more fragrant steam into the air. Swiping a hand through the hot water, he stares at his reflection in the mirror above the sink and draws in a long breath that Harry feels all over his body. When he leans down and begins to splash the lemon-scented water over his face, neck, and shoulders, Harry knows he should look away, but he can’t quite do it. There’s something shockingly graceful about the motions of the pale hands; it’s almost as though he has forgotten, just for this moment, that he is tied, cuffed, fettered, and Harry’s hand hangs uselessly at the end of the short silver cord as though, just for this moment, it doesn’t belong to him.

Draco continues to stare into the steaming basin as he works the fragrant liquid over his arms, chest and back, breathing slowly and moving as though in a dream or religious ritual. It’s ridiculously intimate somehow, even though Harry can’t quite put his finger on the distinction—he has seen plenty of people get washed before; at boarding school, it’s damn near impossible to avoid—and yet this feels different, and his insides curl up with shame and hot embarrassment. He tears his eyes away and looks at the floor, as hard as he can, but Draco is already pulling the plug and reaching for a towel.

“You may as well ask; I know you want to,” he says, sounding almost amused.

Flushing, Harry forces himself to look up. “You make your own... washing... stuff?” he manages, grabbing at the words as they determinedly slip away from him.

“Yes.” Draco finishes towelling himself and drops his left arm to his side, forcing Harry to step closer to him.

“How? And why?” Harry asks, inexplicably full of fluttering nerves.

“You don’t notice anything, do you?” Draco says, arching an eyebrow. He pushes his damp hair out of his eyes and leans against the sink.

“I notice plenty,” Harry says defensively.

“Okay, then—how many times have you noticed me squeezing lemons?”

“I don’t know... loads of times,” Harry says, idly wondering just how many hours they have now spent in the little Lakeland kitchen, and how many of them he has spent trying to keep his baking advice to himself.

“And when have I ever used them in my cooking?” Draco challenges.

Harry thinks, irritated by the fact that Draco is probably right. “Sometimes,” he says triumphantly, shaking the scented water from his right hand. Draco rolls his eyes and passes the towel. “You made that lemon cake last week!”

“Fine. Apart from that,” Draco sighs.

“Apart from that, you’ve been secretly bringing lemon juice upstairs all this time...?”

“The fact that you didn’t notice doesn’t mean I was being secretive,” Draco points out. “And it’s not just lemon juice. It’s also pepper and sage.”

Harry laughs. “You should smell like the inside of a chicken, then.”

Affronted, Draco flicks his wrist and the cord bites at Harry’s skin. Then, frowning, he asks, “Do I?”

Harry swallows, mouth dry. He shakes his head. “No, you... no. It’s just an interesting combination.”

“It reminds me of home, if you must know,” Draco says, picking up his cloth and sluicing it out with cold water. Harry watches the little specks of pepper and sage disappearing down the plughole.

“I’d have thought you’d’ve had much fancier stuff than that at home,” Harry says, thinking out loud. “I bet your bathroom cabinet was the size of this whole room.”

Draco snorts. “I didn’t mean the Manor—I meant Hogwarts.”

Harry stares at the side of his head, astonished to hear his own oft-repeated sentiment coming from Draco’s mouth. “I never thought you were very happy at Hogwarts,” he says truthfully.

Draco shrugs and relinquishes the sink. “Happy is a complicated word. But it was always a safe place for me.”

“We have that in common, then,” Harry mumbles, heart racing with the connection as he starts to brush his teeth. “You know, Lyona has fresh herbs,” he says through a mouthful of minty foam.

“I don’t think so. I checked all the cupboards.”

Harry smiles as he rinses out his mouth with cold water, remembering that, despite all of Draco’s bravado, he is still very new to cooking. “No, I mean she grows them—in her window box. I bet she’d let you have some if you asked.”

“Well, I might,” Draco says, and then there is silence as Harry cuts his stitches and climbs into bed. The night is warm, even with all three windows flung open, and though not a word is exchanged on the matter, neither of them bothers to put on a t-shirt for sleeping. It seems easier now, somehow, perhaps because the walls are beginning to crumble, and perhaps because Ron is right, and a chest is just a chest.

Harry settles on his left side and Draco lounges on his back, knees drawn up and resting his book on Harry’s hip; he’s currently in the middle of a thick paperback about a Liverpudlian family during the Second World War, lent to him by Lyona from her own personal library. The weight of it is oddly reassuring against Harry’s hand and he finds himself perfectly happy for Draco to use his fingers as a prop for the pages. Still feeling a little too full of food, Harry is content to lie still and gaze out at the stars. When the soft knock at the door comes, his eyes are beginning to close.

“Come in,” Draco says, and there’s a rustle of sheets as he tucks them in around himself.

The door opens and Hermione begins: “Harry, can I borrow your—?”

“Shh, I think he’s asleep,” Draco says quietly.

The unexpected softness in his tone twists Harry’s heart and he closes his eyes, keeping perfectly still.

“Oh,” Hermione says, dropping her voice. “Well, never mind.”

“Can I help?”

Harry holds his breath, feeling Hermione’s hesitation like a tight band around his chest—one that has to snap some time.

“Well... not really, but I suppose we should talk anyway,” she says carefully. Harry bites his lip hard, wanting to punch the air in triumph, because at-fucking-last, but he does not move.

“I suppose we should,” Draco agrees, and though there is a definite edge to his tone, Harry knows it is caused by apprehension rather than resentment. “Would you like to sit down?”

Hermione’s footsteps draw closer and then there’s a soft creak as she settles in the wooden chair next to Draco’s bedside table. She won’t be comfortable in it, Harry thinks; she’ll be perching right on the edge, hands in her lap and back straight.

“This is a nice room,” she offers uncertainly. Harry screws up his eyes and silently begs Draco not to snap back at her about how anyone could have had it. It just won’t help.

“Yes,” he says gravely. “That’s just what Harry said when he saw it.”

Hermione takes a short breath, perhaps surprised by the use of Harry’s given name. Harry just smiles.

“I don’t really know where to start,” she says. “Part of me feels as though I should apologise for being so rude to you, but then another part says... you deserve it. You deserve worse. You have been awful to me since the day we met for no good reason.” Hermione sighs. “But then again, I’ve always believed in second chances, so it’s all a bit confusing.”

“I imagine so,” Draco says, and nothing more.

“Is that all you have to say?” Hermione asks, frustration sharpening her tone. “Because it really isn’t any skin off my nose if you and I are never friends, but now that you and Harry are... like this, it’s a little bit more complicated, and I can see that he’s starting to like you, so there’s no way that we can carry on like this!” she hisses. “He’s my best friend, you know.”

“It hasn’t escaped my notice, Granger,” Draco says, and Harry cringes.

“Well, that’s something,” she says acidly.

“It is,” Draco agrees, and then there is silence.

Harry thinks he might like to get up and shake them both, but he’s still pretending to be asleep.

“I think Harry’s forgiven you,” Hermione says at last, sounding calmer now. “I think he has his reasons and I trust his judgement. I think that Ron is accepting you, because... whatever you might think of him, he has a kind heart and he just wants us all to move forward, to grieve for what we’ve lost and then to get on with our lives. I heard what you said earlier—in the conservatory—and you were right. Ron does have a lot of people to live for. I don’t really know what your situation is, or what’s going to happen when we leave here, but for now, this is everything—just the four of us, and this house, and I want things to be different, but I still feel...” Hermione lets out a sound of frustration and taps her fingers on the arms of her chair. “It makes no sense. Or a lot. I don’t know.”

“I don’t think trying to make sense of it will help,” Draco says after a moment. “Believe me, I have tried.”

“And what conclusion did you come to?” Hermione asks quietly.

“None. But I admit that I owe you...”

“An apology?” Hermione suggests.

“Many.”

In the pause that follows that word, everyone in the room seems to let out a long-held breath.

“You admit that you were wrong?” Hermione asks.

“About what?”

“About Voldemort. About people like me... about me,” she says, voice strained.

“I was wrong about all kinds of things,” Draco admits. “All of those things, in fact, but I never hated you because you were Muggleborn.”

Hermione snorts, and Harry can picture her expression quite clearly. “You could have fooled me.”

Draco shifts slightly, fingers curling more tightly around his book. “I was taught to look down on anything and anyone different, but that wasn’t the only reason I was so unpleasant to you.”

“Oh, good,” Hermione says faintly. “You had multiple reasons for hating me.”

“If you want to put it like that.”

“I do. And just so you know, I hated you because you were a smarmy, prejudiced snob, and you were horrible to my friends.”

“Good to know. And you were clever and talented without any help or any preparation, and you had friends who actually seemed to like you, and everything you touched seemed to turn to ‘oh, isn’t Hermione Granger wonderful, and it looks as though she and her friends have saved the day again!’,” Draco says, letting emotion colour his words at last.

“You were jealous?” Hermione says incredulously.

“That’s not quite what I said. But I will apologise.”

“Go on, then,” Hermione says.

“I’m sorry, Granger,” Draco declares, voice stiff.

Hermione hesitates, creaking in her chair. “I accept your apology... Malfoy.”

“Right then,” Draco says. Pauses. “That’s not it, is it?”

“Not really. I suppose it’s too much to ask, but how do I know you’ve really changed your mind about anything?”

“You don’t,” Draco says simply. “In the absence of proof, you have to trust me. I’m not going to be surprised or offended if you don’t want to do that.”

“Why, then? Why did you decide that the person who put that thing on your arm actually wasn’t the one with all the answers?” Hermione challenges.

“He never had all the answers,” Draco says evenly. “And I grew up. I lived through a war. I saw things I didn’t want to and did things I can never take back. People have changed for less.”

“So, you’re a humanitarian now?” Hermione says, a strange sort of lightness in her voice. “A Muggle-lover? You don’t think you’re better than everyone else?”

“I don’t know. I think I’m more intelligent than most people, certainly—present company excepted.”

He’s teasing her, Harry is certain of it, but whether or not Hermione is ready to be teased is another question.

“You really can’t help it, can you?” she sighs.

“Not really, no.”

“The strange thing is... I actually want to like you,” Hermione admits. Harry smiles to himself.

“Maybe you should slap me in the face again,” Draco says drily. “Or you could punch me; that seemed to help Weasley with his rage.”

“And how exactly would that make me feel better?” Hermione asks.

“I don’t know—perhaps you need to get some aggression out.”

“I can’t quite believe that you’re inviting me to punch you in the face,” Hermione says, puzzled.

“It’s the one and only time I will, Granger. This one’s free, and then you have to be nice to me.”

Harry holds himself very still, unable to discern whether or not Draco is being serious. He has a horrible feeling that he might be, and a general sense of confusion as to how he feels about it—one could argue that it’s none of his business who does or doesn’t punch Draco, but he can’t help but feel that, as the person attached to him, he should have some say in the matter.

“I’m not going to do it,” Hermione advises, and Harry relaxes.

“That’s fine,” Draco says.

“Good, because I’m not going to.”

“Alright.”

Harry isn’t sure what comes first, the jarring sensation of the rebound that travels along Draco’s arm and up to his shoulder, or the cry of, “Fucking hell, Granger!” that explodes in his ear. For a fraction of a second, he toys with the idea of pretending to wake up, but quickly decides to let them have their moment, whatever it might be. After a few seconds of awkward silence, the sound of startled laughter ruffles the air as both Draco and Hermione appear to realise what they have done.

“I thought you weren’t going to do it,” Draco says, moving around on the mattress, presumably to check his wounds.

“I changed my mind,” Hermione says, stifling a giggle. “Are you alright?”

“I’ll live. Good grief, where did you learn to punch like that?”

“My parents made me take some self-defence classes a couple of years ago,” Hermione admits. “And, you know, there were a few things I was pretty mad about.”

“Yes, I felt them,” Draco says.

“Sorry,” Hermione offers.

“Don’t be. I told you to do it.”

“I didn’t mean about that.” Hermione gets up from her chair. “I’d better go, before Ron comes steaming in, wondering what’s happened to me.”

“Mm,” Draco murmurs, closing his book and laying it on Harry’s hip. “Hold on, didn’t you want to borrow something?”

Hermione turns the door handle. “No, not really. Harry looked half-asleep downstairs, but you were still reading, so I thought I’d chance it.”

Amused by his friend’s scheming, Harry bites down on a smile.

“And what if he’d been awake when you came in?” Draco asks.

“I’d have made something up,” she says with an odd little smile that Harry can hear in her voice. “Goodnight.”

When the door closes behind her, Harry rolls over to face Draco. He picks up the book from the sheets and hands it to him, as he does, leaning closer to inspect his injury. The area under his right eye is red and beginning to swell beautifully.

“I was awake,” he advises, deciding on all-out honesty.

“I know.”

“The whole time?” Harry asks, disappointed.

“Most of it. When she sat down, your breathing changed and you tensed up. I don’t know why you’re so unimpressed,” he adds, frowning at Harry and then wincing. “I’m the one who was maimed.”

“Mm-hm, and as you know I was awake, you’ll also know that I heard you telling her to do it, you lunatic,” Harry points out. “Does it really hurt?”

“I’ve had worse,” Draco says grimly, shuffling down the bed and turning onto his side to face Harry.

“I told you she’d come round,” Harry yawns. “She’s very... reasonable.”

He closes his eyes, and Draco’s response is lost to the night.

**~*~**

“My hand hurts,” Hermione announces when they report for their shirt-sewing the next morning.

Harry says nothing, but when he catches her eye, she wrinkles her nose guiltily, and it is immediately apparent that she, too, knows he was awake last night. His acting skills obviously need some work.

“My cheekbone regrets nothing,” Draco says, picking up the needle and thread and examining them with interest. Harry, meanwhile, looks at his jaw, which has completely healed, and then the site of Hermione’s punch, where the rapidly-darkening patch of skin looks a lot like a smudge of purple wax crayon.

“So you actually did hit him? Hermione!” Ron murmurs, horrified and impressed.

Hermione swings around to face him, clearly offended. “Did you think I was making it up?”

“No, of course not, it’s just...”

Draco sighs. “Have you all quite finished, or does anyone want another go?”

“I’ve never hit you,” Harry volunteers for no good reason that he can see.

Draco turns to him slowly, eyebrows raised. “Are you feeling left out?”

“Er, no. Shall I let you know if I change my mind?” Harry says, taking the needle and thread from him before he decides to attempt the sewing himself and somehow manages to stitch their skin together.

“You do that. I’m sure I can find a spot of uninjured skin for you.”

“I’ll sew you up if you want,” Ron offers, holding out his hand for the needle and thread.

Harry and Draco exchange dubious glances. “Are you qualified, Weasley?”

Ron rolls his eyes. “I’ve watched Mum do loads of tapestries—how hard can it be?”

Hermione prods him with her foot. “Ron, why didn’t you say so before?”

Ron shrugs. “I thought it might be... uncomfortable.”

“And yet the idea of all three of us wandering around topless wouldn’t be?” Draco asks.

For a moment, Ron stares at him as though he’s gone mad, and then his gaze turns almost pitying. “If you’d grown up in my house, Malfoy, you wouldn’t be so squeamish about chests. There was always someone who couldn’t be bothered putting a top on in the summer... I mean... not my mum... or Ginny... actually, it was usually me, but anyway.” Ron stands up rather abruptly and swipes the needle and thread out of Harry’s hand. On the sofa behind him, Hermione is trying not to laugh, but not very hard.

“Don’t you dare stab me,” Draco warns, pulling his and Harry’s arms up out of the way as Ron crouches on the carpet and pierces the two cut edges of Draco’s shirt with the needle, tongue sticking out of the corner of his mouth in concentration.

Harry watches him nervously. “Please don’t, Ron—I’ll never hear the fucking end of it.”

“I’m being careful,” Ron mumbles, and he is as good as his word. He is so careful, in fact, that the task that usually takes Hermione five minutes or so stretches out into a good half-hour, and he is still finishing off Harry’s sleeve when Lyona turns up with a delivery of food and some news from home.

“Things have really taken a turn,” she says, setting down a rustle of plastic bags on the chesterfield and perching on the arm. “If all goes well over the next few days, you’ll be able to go home.” She glances at Ron, head on one side. “Good heavens, what are you doing?”

“Sewing,” Ron says proudly, tying a knot in the last stitch and straightening up. “It’s a very underrated manly skill.”

“I couldn’t agree more, Mr Weasley,” Lyona says, severe features transformed by a beaming smile. “You’ve all done so wonderfully well.”

“Thank you,” Draco says, allowing himself to be pulled down onto the sofa with Harry. “I was wondering—could you spare a little bit of fresh sage?”

“I’m sure I could manage that, Mr Malfoy.” Lyona’s eyes widen as she gets her first proper look at him. “What on earth happened to your face?”

Hermione catches her breath, but Draco just shrugs. “It was an accident.”

“Er, yeah,” Harry leaps in, indicating the silver cord. “Mostly my fault.”

Seemingly satisfied, Lyona takes the bags into the kitchen. Hermione stares at Draco, relief and astonishment written all over her face, and Harry wonders if Draco has, at last, inched his way into her good books.

“Thanks,” she whispers.

Draco lifts his shoulder in a shrug and turns to Harry, expression appealing. “If we get the all-clear to leave here in a few days,” he mumbles, eyes anxious. “What are we going to do?”

Harry stares down at the cord, stomach churning. “I really don’t know.”

**~*~**

Harry spends the rest of the morning in a daze. He walks from room to room, drinks tea, makes the long trip up the stairs for strange, if now familiar, visits to the bathroom, and speaks when he is spoken to, but he barely registers any of it. All he can think about is the prospect of going home—or, more accurately, the prospect of leaving this place. He never wanted to come here; he certainly never wanted to stay here, and he absolutely, categorically never wanted to be handcuffed to Draco Malfoy. And yet, somehow, this has become his reality. Hermione was right—their lives have become each other, and the Lakeland. It’s safe here, in more ways than one. No one is expecting anything more of him than to eat and play board games and talk and talk and talk. All he has to do—‘all’ he has to do—is work out who he is so that he can share that information with Draco and earn his freedom.

The idea of stepping back out into a world that sees him as some kind of hero, some kind of figurehead for their freedom, makes him want to scream. He misses his family and friends terribly, and there is a world to be rebuilt, he knows that, and he wants—needs—to be a part of it, but he doesn’t feel quite... ready. Things don’t work that way; he’s under no illusions of that, but he can’t help but wish for a little bit more time. And aside from all of that, the idea of returning to the place he left with Draco tied to his wrist is ridiculous. However he might try to explain it, it looks... well, it doesn’t look good. It would be in all the papers. Neither of them would ever be allowed to forget it. And, more to the point, how is he supposed to get on with ‘normal’ life if he can’t even go to the bathroom by himself? Draco’s parents will be horrified, of course, but he’s trying his best not to think about that.

In the end, he decides that it’s best not to think about any of it, at least for now. He can distract himself; he’s always been good at that. At lunch, he throws himself into a conversation with Ron about the Quidditch league, and when the regular season might start up again. Afterwards, they decamp to the conservatory to soak up the afternoon sun and to watch the most civil game of Scrabble that Hermione and Draco have ever played. She barely even scowls when Draco plays ‘cazique’ on a triple word score, and Draco merely blinks and rearranges his letters when she turns ‘boxes’ into ‘jukeboxes’ and wins herself fifty-eight points.

Graceful in defeat, Hermione suggests a rematch and wins by a narrow margin. They are, in fact, pretty evenly matched, and though Harry has never before thought of Scrabble as a spectator sport, Hermione and Draco are compelling to watch. He and Ron sit back, drinks in hands, mumbling to each other every now and then and watching two superior intellects at work. By evening, he’s beginning to feel rather daft, and he reflects that really, he didn’t need another extremely clever friend, but it seems as though he has found one under the unlikeliest of circumstances.

That night, as they flop sideways across the bed, still fully-clothed, and stare out at the night sky, the questions and doubts crowd, unbidden, back into Harry’s mind.

What am I going to do? Where the hell am I going to go? What more does this thing want from me? When is it going to fucking come off? What if it never fucking comes off?

“Remind me why you did this?” he sighs, tugging at their joined wrists but keeping his eyes on the stars. For some reason, the night sky seems like the safest place to look right now.

“Because you were about to bugger off in a panic and leave me here by myself,” Draco says, and for the first time, Harry doesn’t quite believe it.

“I bet you wish you’d let me get on with it now,” he says with forced lightness.

“No,” Draco says. “I don’t.”

Harry has no response to that, so he once again pushes the unhelpful thoughts from his mind and concentrates on the black, glittering sky beyond the open window, the cool, crisp sheets beneath him, the scent of the approaching summer with its evocative twist of warm, wet concrete that has been sent spiralling up to them by an earlier soft shower. The bedroom is dark but for the weak light of Draco’s bedside lamp, and, for once, he is almost motionless, lying beside Harry with his legs dangling off the end of the bed, wrists resting gently against one another in the space between them.

Harry thinks the scene might almost be romantic if he were with... well, almost anyone else. Amused by the idea, he glances over at Draco, who happens to have chosen that moment to glance over at him, and his stomach lurches so violently that it’s all he can do to hold in a gasp. He looks away quickly, pretending intense interest in the constellations, and the fingers of his free hand twist into the sheets, because that was... unexpected. And, of course, completely imagined, because whatever else has changed during this strange experience, those sorts of feelings are out of the question. And completely unhelpful. And inconvenient. And not real, so it’s all fine.

You have been feeling strange, though, his subconscious reminds him helpfully. And you have been looking.

He hasn’t, of course. It’s just... curiosity, and the way things are when one is connected, day and night and bathroom breaks, to another person. Surely.

Hoping to be more discreet this time, he flicks his eyes to the right and looks at Draco again. He is staring straight upwards, eyes luminous and sharp edges blunted by the soft light, free hand resting gently on his stomach, chest rising and falling in a slow rhythm under his white shirt.

The feeling, this time, is not quite the same; it’s worse. His heart hammers and pounds and races until he begins to feel quite sick. With some effort, he focuses on the sky and swallows against the sudden dryness of his mouth.

This is not happening. Of course it isn’t.

Distraction, he reminds himself firmly. That’s the answer. And if he can’t distract himself from the prospect of leaving the Lakeland, he can, at least, distract himself from this.

“I think we’re going to have to ask Lyona if we can stay on for a while,” he says, staring determinedly skyward. “Just until this thing has finished with us.”

“I think you’re right,” Draco sighs.

“Really?”

Draco makes a small sound of amusement and Harry can feel those eyes on him but he daren’t move. “Yes, but don’t worry, it doesn’t happen very often.”

“What’s that?”

“Me thinking you’re right.”

Harry forces a laugh, but it sounds nervous and ridiculous. “Yeah, I know. Listen, I’m really tired—do you mind if we move around so I can actually get into bed?” he asks, hoping that Draco is feeling charitable, because he’s not sure he can cope with the whole lemon-water-ritual while his head and his gut are making these ridiculous suggestions.

Fortunately, Draco acquiesces with the minimum of fuss—for him, that is, Harry thinks—and he is soon taking up his usual sleeping position, arm looped underneath Draco and chest pressed into his back. He smells different tonight—not of lemons or pepper or sage but of what Harry supposes is the scent of his skin, warm and slightly salty-metallic. It feels wrong somehow, and unnervingly stirring. As Draco moves slightly under the covers and turns a page in his book, Harry shuts his eyes and thinks of something else—anything else. He pretends he is all alone in the bed, in the room, in the house and pushes his confusion to the darkest corners of his mind, at least for now. Sleep will solve everything.

**~*~**

“What are you looking at, Potter?” Draco demands, standing naked at the sink and rubbing himself all over with half a lemon. “I saw you looking at me—do you want something?”

“No,” Harry protests, realising that he, too, is naked, and scrambling to cover himself up with a towel, but it only becomes smaller and smaller until it covers nothing at all. Anguished, he goes to cover himself with his hand, only to find that both are now bound with silver cord—one to Draco and one to Ginny, who is shirtless and mocking.

“I saw you, too,” she says, flicking her long curtain of red hair. She laughs, and the sound echoes cruelly in Harry’s head. “No wonder you left me! You wanted him.”

“You silly goose,” Molly scolds, appearing behind Draco. She, too, is naked from the waist up, and Harry tries to look away, but she seems to be everywhere. “Why didn’t you just tell us you were gay?”

“I’m not,” Harry protests, closing his eyes, but Draco is pressed against him now, stroking lemon juice over his back, his arse, his legs, and his mouth is everywhere, hot and damp and wicked. “I’m... I don’t know... can’t we just... oh, god.”

Harry wakes with a start. His eyes fly open and he blinks painfully against the light that now fills the room. It’s just after seven, he’s flat on his back in the middle of a tangle of sheets, and he’s decidedly sticky. Mortified, he checks that Draco is still sleeping and then screws his eyes shut again. With the dream still vivid in his mind, it’s not difficult to work out what has happened, and it’s quite possible that he has never been so embarrassed in his life. Pressing the back of his free hand against his flushed face, he groans softly. The dream was... interesting. Of course, he’d prefer to forget about the parts featuring Ginny and Mrs Weasley as soon as possible, but the rest... a sudden wave of heat pulses through him and he opts to think about something else before the whole thing starts again.

Quickly, he glances down at himself and decides that Draco will be none the wiser as long as he leads the way to the bathroom and gets into the shower first. Satisfied that he won’t be answering any difficult questions—at least not out loud—he flops back onto the pillow and sighs. Sleep hasn’t, as he had hoped, solved everything, but it has provided some perspective as well as some disturbing images. He knows, now that he is no longer in a state of panic, that the world will not fall apart if he finds another man attractive. It’s not a big deal; in fact, it’s not as though he’s never wondered before. The situation, unfortunately, is a little more complicated. As is Draco Malfoy.

The thing is, he’s well aware of the fact that he doesn’t handle these things—attraction, chemistry, romantic feelings, whatever one wants to call them—very well. Usually, he has found that the best practice is to avoid the person in question altogether so as not to make a complete fool of himself, but it seems as though, in this case, that option has been neatly removed for him.

He can do this, he tells himself, taking deep breaths and attempting to slow his heartbeat. He’s a man. Possibly. It would be nice to have someone to talk to—where’s Hermione when he needs her? Harry glares ineffectually over at Draco. He snarls in his sleep. Of course, it’s not Hermione’s location that’s the problem. It’s the fact that Harry is attached to the person he wants to talk about.

As he pushes on through the day, Hermione’s very proximity seems to be mocking him. She sits next to him at breakfast, washes dishes as he and Draco peel potatoes for lunch, and sits on the carpet during the late afternoon, playing along with Fifteen to One and laughing when Ron gives up on one round and answers ‘carrot’ to every question in it.

Apparently oblivious to Harry’s discomfort, Draco carries on as usual, leaning carelessly against him whenever he feels like it, resting books and cards and Scrabble tiles on whichever part of him is most convenient, laughing and scowling and doing possibly irreversible things to Harry’s heart and nervous system. Every now and then, when Hermione catches his eye, her brow creases in concern, and all Harry wants to do is grab her, clamp his hands over Draco’s ears, and tell her everything. She probably isn’t ready for such a confession, having only just decided to give Draco a chance, but at this moment, Harry is almost prepared to take that risk. He doesn’t, of course, partly because the idea is ridiculous and partly because talking about someone behind their back—or with your hands over their ears—isn’t exactly conducive to the kind of trust they are trying so hard to build.

“What is wrong with you?” Draco demands after the second day of Harry’s new awareness.

“Nothing,” Harry lies. “I’m fine.”

“You’re extremely jumpy. Do you know something I don’t?”

“No,” Harry says miserably, hating that he has to lie again, but not quite enough to make him risk the kind of awkwardness or possibly worse that would result if he told the truth. “But I’m beginning to think that whoever came up with this spell was seriously messed up.”

**~*~**

The news they have been waiting for arrives less than a week later. The last of the Death Eaters have been captured. Without the distraction of a battle in the background, and under the formidable command of McGonagall and Kingsley Shacklebolt, there has been no room for error this time. There have, inevitably, been considerable numbers of casualties, but Lyona is delighted to report that the operation has been carried to its conclusion without the loss of a single life.

“Good,” Ron says vehemently. “We lost enough people the first time round.”

Hermione leans down from the arm of the chesterfield to hug him, looking more relieved than Harry has seen her in a long time. After Lyona has shared the news, she dashes back over to the Bayview, where a group of middle-aged ladies with husbands trailing behind are waiting to check in.

“So...” Hermione begins uncertainly.

For a long time, no one says a word. The sun streams through the bay window, illuminating millions of floating dust particles and Harry watches them fall slowly through the air. He has no idea what to say. None of them have discussed what was going to happen when it was safe to leave, and now here it is, sitting in the middle of the room and effectively preventing communication.

Finally, Hermione tries again. “Harry... I feel awful about this, but I think maybe Ron and I should go back.”

The words seem to slacken the atmosphere in the room and Harry finds he can speak again.

“Of course you should. I... we... have got stuff to sort out. Obviously. You don’t need to be here for that.” He grants her a weak smile, which she returns.

“What should we do?” she asks, suddenly uncertain.

“You don’t need me to tell you that. Spend time with the Weasleys. Find your parents and bring them home. Help put Hogwarts back together. Go on holiday... spend some fucking time together—just the two of you. Enjoy yourself, ’Mione... it’s over.”

She lets out a long breath and nods. “I really hope so.”

“Are you going to be alright on your own?” Ron asks, eyes full of genuine concern.

Harry glances at Draco, who just smirks unhelpfully. “Yeah, I think we’ll manage,” he assures. “The hardest thing will be convincing your mother that I can look after myself without a Weasley present.”

Ron grins. “I suppose that’ll be my job?”

“You suppose right.”

“I’ll help,” Hermione assures. “We’ll just tell people that you needed to take a few more days out. It’s not as though anyone can argue with that.”

“It’ll be strange not having you around for a while... both of you, actually,” Ron says, looking as though he has managed to surprise himself with the sentiment.

Draco lifts an eyebrow. “Likewise. I think.”

“I don’t think you’ll be here for too long,” Hermione says with enviable confidence. She smiles at Harry. “You’ve already come a long way.”

“Yeah,” Harry says faintly, trying not to jump when Draco’s thigh brushes accidentally against his.

When Ron and Draco finally return to their usual routine, Hermione scurries off upstairs to retrieve her little beaded bag, then wanders around the house, packing books and clothes and various other items back into it. When she has finished, she sits down next to Harry on the sofa, bag on her lap, and produces a small pouch. Inside are a selection of wizarding coins and several bank notes.

“These are yours,” she says. “I’ve been keeping them safe for ages, but now that you can go outside, I thought some of them might be useful.”

“Thanks,” Harry mumbles, gripping the velvet bag tightly. The thought of venturing outside , going into a shop and buying something of his own choosing is an incredible novelty, and he has rarely felt more grateful to be given money.

“It’s not all that much, but, like I said, hopefully you won’t be here for too much longer,” Hermione offers, eyes anxious.

“It’s great, Hermione. Thank you.”

She hugs him tightly and he tries not to think about what he’s going to do without her.

“I’m proud of you,” he whispers against her hair. She just smiles.

Later that evening, Lyona returns with a bottle of sparkling wine and five cut crystal champagne flutes, borrowed from the ‘special occasion cupboard’ at the Bayview. In the lounge, they clink glasses by the fading light of the day and drink to victory, freedom, and the sea.

When Lyona rises and looks around at them all, her lined face is wistful. “I suppose my little contribution to the war effort has come to an end,” she says, balancing the empty bottle against her corduroy-clad hip. “I’m rather sad to see you all go.”

Harry hesitates. Draco kicks him in the ankle. “Actually, we were wondering—Draco and I—if we could stay a little bit longer.”

Lyona frowns lightly. “No homes to go to, boys?”

“Not like this,” Draco says, lifting their joined wrists.

“We thought it might be easier to break the spell if we had a bit more time to ourselves,” Harry explains. “But if it’s a problem, that’s—”

“Good heavens, no,” Lyona interrupts, smiling now. “Stay as long as you like. How wonderful.”

“Thank you,” Harry says, suppressing the urge to give her a hug; she still looks far too much like Neville’s grandmother.

“I’ll let you say your goodbyes, then,” she says brightly, heading for the door. “You two are free to Apparate out at any time.”

In the flurry of hugs that follows, Harry thinks that Draco receives at least a slap on the back, and more than once they almost end up hugging each other. Thankfully, Harry manages to draw back with an awkward smile each time, but it’s a close thing.

“Good luck, mate,” Ron offers, taking Hermione’s hand.

“Come home soon,” she instructs, and then they are gone.

**~*~**

The next morning, which has been designated ‘going outside time’, is bright, crisp and windy. Harry, who has been gazing longingly out of the window since first light, is ready to go, but Draco is insisting on spending even longer than usual in front of the bathroom mirror. Frowning, he examines the bruise on his cheekbone, which has now begun to turn an interesting shade of greeny-yellow.

“You could get rid of that now,” Harry points out. His wand is tucked neatly into his waistband, and the thought that he can now safely use it makes him feel calmer about all but one thing.

“I think I’ll keep it,” Draco says. “As a reminder never to mess with Granger.”

“Or Hermione,” Harry reminds him gently.

Draco nods. “Her, too. It’s not going to feel right overnight, you know.”

“I know. Come on, let’s go! I’ve got the keys! Actual keys that we can use to lock and unlock the doors any time we like,” he enthuses, jangling them in Draco’s face.

“You get excited over the strangest things,” he says, rolling his eyes, but he abandons the mirror and follows Harry down the stairs anyway.

There is something very significant about opening the front door of the Lakeland for the first time, so much so that Harry feels there ought to be some sort of fanfare, or perhaps someone bashing a gong. As neither is forthcoming, he just flings the door wide and gulps at the sea air. It’s wonderful.

“We’re free,” he advises, pulling Draco out onto the front step and locking the door behind them. Lyona’s keys are a comforting weight in the pocket of his jeans and the fold of notes in the other reminds him that he is, finally, back in the real world, or, at least, some version of it.

He pulls down the sleeve of his shirt to cover the silver cord, and Draco does the same. After a couple of false starts (walking between lounge and dining room as a practice run) they have discovered that a combination of long sleeves and walking closely in step hides the fact that they are tied together quite effectively.

“Where are we going?” Draco asks when they reach the pavement.

Harry shrugs. “I don’t know. I don’t care. It’s a nice day—let’s just walk.”

So they walk, setting off along the front and following the road toward the tacky shops Harry last saw almost a month ago. Unsurprisingly, nothing has changed, but while Harry is happy to scan the contents of the shops with mild interest as they pass, Draco is drawn to them like a moth to a flame, pulling up short every time he wants to examine something and causing Harry to stumble, or jar his shoulder, or both.

“What exactly is the purpose of these things?” he asks, picking up a fluffy wormlike creature made of fluorescent orange fake fur. It dangles from the end of a stick and jumps about in the breeze.

“None, really,” Harry says quietly, feeling the shopkeeper’s eyes on them. “People just like daft things when they come to the seaside. I don’t know why.”

Draco replaces the worm and picks up a plastic cup and ball. “And what about this?”

Harry sighs.

When he manages to drag Draco away from the novelty shops, they cross the road and walk down the slipway, onto the beach. The tide is on its way in, and they follow the edge of the water in near-silence, absorbing the direct sunlight and the taste of the wind for what feels like the first time in years. It soon becomes obvious that keeping in step is even more difficult on sand than it is on stone, and the fact that each of Draco’s strides are just a fraction longer than Harry’s mean that they have to stop and start again at regular intervals to avoid stumbling.

It’s so very worth it, though, and Harry can’t help smiling as he trudges along, feeling the pull in his underused calf muscles as he works against the sand, watching the wavelets and wondering just how refreshing they would feel on his skin. Draco, on the other hand, is grumpier than ever, if his expression is anything to go by. Harry ignores it as best he can for several minutes, and then gives in with the sinking feeling that being with Draco has made his self-control even flimsier than ever.

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothing.”

Harry sighs. “Draco.”

“People are looking at me.”

Baffled, Harry looks around. Apart from the usual dog-walkers, the beach is deserted, and from what he can see, none of them are remotely interested in Draco.

“I don’t think they are,” he says. “Anyway, I thought you liked being looked at.”

Draco scowls as the wind dares to whip his fringe up out of his eyes. “There is a difference between being looked at because you look nice or you’ve done something impressive, and being looked at because people think there’s something wrong with you.”

You do look nice, Harry thinks, horrified with himself. “So, what’s wrong with you?” he challenges.

Draco just sighs and shakes his head.

“No one is looking,” Harry repeats, and turns his attention back to the sea.

“What will your girlfriend think of all this, I wonder?” Draco says after a minute or two.

Harry hesitates for far too long before saying simply: “I don’t have a girlfriend.”

“Are you sure?”

Harry wants to laugh, but he holds it in. “I’m sure. If you’re thinking of Ginny, we split up last summer.”

“Oh,” Draco says, sounding surprised. He slows his pace and begins to kick sand ahead of them with each step. “Why?”

Harry looks at him to see if he’s messing around, but his face is perfectly serious. Trust, he reminds himself when his instincts begin to rail against the idea of this conversation. Fucking trust.

“Well... at the time, because I wanted to protect her. I didn’t want her to be used by anyone who was trying to get to me,” he says at last, and it seems like a poor excuse, even now.

“Don’t you think that was her decision to make?” Draco asks.

Harry looks away and lets out a messy breath. “Don’t you fucking start,” he sighs.

“You said ‘at the time’—what about now?”

“You don’t give up, do you?” Harry mutters, shoving his free hand into his pocket.

“Actually, I’m excellent at giving up, unless it’s something I really want,” Draco says, and the amused warmth in his tone wraps around Harry for a brief moment, making him ache.

“And what makes you so interested?” Harry asks, bending to pick up a smooth, black and white pebble and brushing the sand from it.

“Humour me.”

“Not without a reason,” Harry says stubbornly.

Draco sighs heavily. “Alright, here’s one—I’ve been quizzed to death by you and a little bit by Granger because of this sodding spell, and yet I get the impression you think you don’t have to tell me anything, because I already know about it, or it’s private. Am I right?”

“No,” Harry mumbles, and he’s not right—at least, not about his motivation for doing more asking than telling—but he does have a point. “Ginny and I—before we were together—we were good friends, and the Weasleys are the closest thing to family as I’ve ever really had. I don’t want to lose her. I don’t want to lose any of them. When you’re involved with someone, there’s always that risk.” Harry turns the pebble over and over in his free hand, thinking and half-expecting Draco to cut in, but he doesn’t. “So, okay, it wasn’t the best reason for breaking up with someone that anyone’s ever had, but now... I don’t know. I’m glad I did it. I think I did the right thing.”

“For her or for you?” Draco asks.

“For both of us. She doesn’t need me any more, and I probably don’t need to be needed as much as I used to. It’s hardly the basis for a relationship, anyway.”

“Oh? Maybe you can tell me what is,” Draco says with an odd little smile. “I’d be interested to find out from an expert just exactly where I’ve been going wrong.”

“Shut up,” Harry says. “I’m not an expert. Besides, I always had the impression you thought of yourself as a bit of a...” He frowns, casting around for the right word.

“Casanova? Lothario? Romeo? Ladykiller? Skirt-chaser?” Draco supplies.

Harry snorts. “Skirt-chaser? I’d ask what you’d been reading, but sadly, I already know. And yes, that was the general idea.”

“No,” Draco says, managing to look amused and disdainful at the same time. “After I’d finished studying, and aggravating you, there just wasn’t enough time. At least, that’s what I always told myself.”

Laughing, Harry slips his pebble into his pocket. “You always seemed to enjoy Pansy Parkinson fawning all over you,” he points out.

“The attention was very nice,” Draco admits. “Not so much when she wanted it back.”

“You mean you didn’t—”

“I’ve known her since I was two, and she was already very annoying then,” Draco says.

Pulling them to a stop on the shoreline, Harry smiles. He breathes in deeply, tipping his head back into the sun in a futile effort to catch up on all the light he has missed this past month.

“Do you think you’ll see her again?” he asks, closing his eyes. “Or Goyle, or... any of them?”

Draco shifts on the spot, shoulder briefly touching Harry’s. “I don’t know. I think I’d rather start all over again... if such a thing were possible.”

Harry shivers. “It might be.”

In the silence that follows, the waves begin to lap softly around their feet and they step back as one, momentarily losing their balance in the dry sand behind them. Draco surveys the silver cord and sighs.

“I can’t see what’s remotely romantic about this.”

“What?”

“It’s in so many of those books. In fact, in ‘The Wild Knight’, Salome says it’s the most romantic thing she can think of.”

“Well,” Harry says, smile tugging at the corners of his mouth, “I’m no kind of authority on the subject, but maybe Salome is a bit weird. I don’t think it’s supposed to be romantic, it’s supposed to be... kinky. Or, in our case, completely sadistic. Besides, you’d normally attach yourself to someone you find sexually attractive,” he adds, hating himself a little more with each word.

“I’m wounded,” Draco murmurs.

Harry ignores him.

**~*~**

On the second day of their new freedom, Harry drags Draco to the fish and chip shop behind the Lakeland and explains that yes, the meal must be eaten from the paper wrappings, with a little wooden fork, and that yes, he must eat it on a bench on the promenade, even if the wind is threatening to forcibly share his chips with the marauding seagulls. Draco grumbles throughout but finishes every last scrap and has room for the garish green ice cream cones he talks Harry into buying.

Sticky-fingered and windswept, they walk slowly back to the house. Harry watches the tiny fishing boats that bob near the horizon and Draco once again peers into every shop and stall as they pass. When, for the third time in as many minutes, Harry’s calm is shattered by a fierce jolt to the shoulder, he loses his patience and grabs Draco’s hand.

Startled, he whips around. “What the hell?”

Harry smiles at an old lady and steps out of the way for her to pass, then fixes Draco with what he hopes is a no-nonsense stare. “I’m sick of being dragged halfway across the street by my wrist every time you see something shiny. This way is easier.”

Draco drops his voice and leans in, away from the teenager manning the nearest stall. “People will think we’re together.”

Harry’s heart speeds but he doesn’t let go of Draco’s hand. “And? Are you homophobic as well as a pain in the arse?”

No,” Draco says emphatically. He shrugs and looks away, pretending to examine the lines of rainbow coloured rock on display. “I just don’t want people to think I’d hold hands with you voluntarily. You look like you’ve been dragged through a hedge sideways.”

“Backwards,” Harry corrects, too relieved to address the insult.

“What?”

“I look like I’ve been dragged through a hedge backwards. And I’m incredibly flattered that you’re so pleased to be seen with me, Draco.” Harry pulls and starts walking again, delighted by the control the hand-holding offers, even if it is a little bit... too close for comfort.

“Don’t bother with sarcasm,” Draco advises, stalking along beside him. “You’re terrible at it.”

“Be nice,” Harry says, knowing he holds the trump card. “Or I won’t play Fifteen to One with you.”

Draco scowls but doesn’t say another word all the way back to the Lakeland.

**~*~**

Of course, none of the quiz programmes are the same without Ron and his ridiculous answers, but Harry tries his best to fill in the gaps. It’s strange and unsettling how quiet the house is without them; it had never occurred to Harry that Ron and Hermione were the ones making most of the noise, and now they’re gone—at the Burrow, perhaps, or at Hogwarts, helping to put things back together. It’s an adjustment, he tells himself, just like the one he had to make when he first arrived here, and not quite like the one he had to make when Draco cast the wrong spell.

Now that the ban on magic has been lifted, they can at least cut and mend their shirts with a couple of quick spells, and use a couple more to help the washing along. At night time, Draco now reads by wandlight, and Harry occasionally reheats forgotten cups of tea with a lazy spell, even though it’s never the same, but for the most part, things continue much as usual.

Shirts have now been completely abandoned in the bedroom, and Harry gets to see Draco washing himself with lemon-scented water every evening, whether he wants to or not, because Draco can no longer be bothered with holding him at arm’s length outside the door, and apparently prefers to have the use of both hands. Harry tries his best not to look, but more often than not, he fails. It’s not his fault, he tells himself desperately; his eyes are drawn to the pale skin, slender hips, lithe limbs; it’s better to look than to reach out and touch Draco’s clean, damp shoulders or dripping, dishevelled hair.

He’s losing the plot. The whole thing is just slipping out of his fingers, and it’s maddening and painful and thrilling. It’s only Malfoy, he reminds himself. The trouble is, it’s not—he knew Malfoy; he knew the worst and he knew the irritation and he knew the bitterness, but the person he is watching now—the person he is sharing a bed with and holding hands with and spending every moment of the day with—he is only just beginning to know this person. And, unsurprisingly, this person is hard fucking work, just like Malfoy.

Draco touches his arm. He tenses automatically, all too aware that Draco is developing an inconvenient and rather keen habit of noticing the changes in his moods.

“You’ve been on edge all day,” he says, eyes searching Harry’s face. His fingers are wet—hot and wet from his sink full of lemon water, and the fresh sage Lyona gave him. His fingers are wet and hot and lemon and sage and they’re burning Harry’s skin, burning right through him.

“Hm?”

“Are you ill? Because I’m fairly clueless about healing,” Draco says. The grey eyes are bright with anxiety and Harry’s stomach flips, but he manages to shake himself just in time.

“It’s a bit warm in here, that’s all,” he lies. “Think I just went a bit faint.”

Draco doesn’t argue, but Harry has the feeling he doesn’t believe him. When they curl up in bed, sheets flung to the floor and windows wide open, Harry closes his eyes and attempts to shut down the part of him, whichever part it is, that is making him act like an idiot. Draco opens a new book and begins to read.

“Harry?” he says quietly, after a few minutes, and Harry knows he’s been found out. That’s it.

“Yeah?” he whispers, bracing for impact.

“What’s a Teasmade?”

**~*~**

The next few days are soaked in bright sunshine, and the lure of the beach is almost impossible to ignore, especially as the sands are practically deserted on weekday afternoons, providing Harry and Draco with the perfect opportunity to relish the outdoors and talk in relative seclusion.

“Not for long,” Lyona warns when she drops in to furnish Draco with his own sage plant. “The children will be finishing school for the summer in less than two weeks, and then the whole place will be overrun.”

Shuddering at the very thought, Draco thanks her for the plant and the information, and pledges to enjoy the tranquillity while it lasts. They quickly find a favourite spot—a little corner, tucked into the slipway, sheltered from the worst of the wind—in which to while away the long afternoons, sprawling out on the sun-warmed sand with cold cans and fish and chips, or leftovers from Draco’s baking experiments.

In the heat and relative comfort, their conversation turns idle and careless, the silver cord remains, and, in the face of his messy feelings and deteriorating self control, Harry feels powerless to turn the tide. His dreams are full of shining silver rope and when he doesn’t jerk awake because he thinks he’s suffocating, he finds himself hard and aching, pressed up against Draco’s back with no chance for release. Draco doesn’t appear to have noticed—yet—and Harry supposes he should be grateful for small mercies.

As he sits here, though, propped up against the solid concrete of the slipway, bare feet buried in the sand, the same thought returns to him again and again. This spell, this magic, wants more from them. They have made friends, and that wasn’t enough. Frustrated, Harry pushes a hand through his hair and stares over the water at the mountains in the distance, eyes narrowed against the sun.

Beside him, Draco exhales messily and drops his chin to his drawn-up knees.

“Spit it out,” Harry advises. One of us should.

Draco grimaces. “What do you think will happen to my parents?”

“I don’t know,” Harry says, guiltily relieved to be making progress again. “It’ll probably depend on how they decide to behave now... if they seem like they’re sorry.”

Draco glances at him, eyebrows raised. “You really think that’s what’s going to make the difference?”

Harry shrugs. “It might. It would to me.”

“I think Azkaban might be the safest place for my father,” Draco says, expression hardening momentarily. “My mother... I think it might just kill her.”

Heart twisting at the unexpected mention of Lucius, Harry hesitates, wondering what the hell he can say that will be reassuring and truthful.

“Actually, I think she’ll be fine as long as she knows you’re safe,” he says at last. “She risked a lot worse than prison to make sure that you were alive.”

Draco closes his eyes. In the sand, the fingers that lay motionless on top of Harry’s curl tightly around them, just for a moment. “I suppose, then, it all depends on what happens to me.”

Harry bites his lip. A light breeze ripples around them, ruffling their hair and sweeping the scent of seaweed into their nostrils. Harry digs his free hand into the sand, grasping pointlessly at the slippery grains and searching, deeper and deeper, for the words he wants to say.

“I can protect you,” he says eventually. “If you want me to.”

Draco turns to him, eyes sharp with genuine surprise and something else—something now almost incongruous—suspicion. “Why would you do that?”

“Because I want to, maybe?” Harry snaps, hurt.

“I imagined you’d want to see me pay... at least in part, for the things I’ve done,” Draco says, frowning and gazing out over the sea.

Harry stares at him, incredulous. “So, you didn’t think this was going to change anything?”

“I think it’s changed a lot,” Draco says fiercely, “but it doesn’t change the past. It can’t.”

The roughness in his tone lashes at Harry, cutting and abrading all the places that have become soft and vulnerable in recent weeks, and for a minute or two, all he can do is catch his breath and attempt to gather his thoughts. The real difficulty lies in the fact that Draco has no idea how much he knows, and he’s not going to like it when he finds out. Unfortunately, Harry can’t think of any other way to explain his lack of resentment and willingness—his drive—to protect. He isn’t angry any more, at least, not at Draco—it seems pointless, futile somehow, to make one person—one small and reluctant person—the target for the hurt and bewilderment and horror he feels when he spends too much time thinking of the people he has lost. And that, of course, is quite apart from the fact that he likes Draco; he’s attached to him, in more ways than the obvious.

And, despite Draco’s best efforts, hatred and spite are harder to find in this strange place, where the wind sweeps things clean and the cold spray dampens the most determined flames of irritation.

“If I’d thought you really wanted to do all the things you did, I might feel differently,” Harry says finally, opting to stare straight ahead until he’s said all that he needs to say.

“You only have my word that I didn’t,” Draco points out.

Harry braces himself, fingers pressed into the sand as far as they will go. “Not exactly,” he admits. “I don’t know exactly how to put this so that it doesn’t sound ridiculous, because it is, but Voldemort and I had something of a link... he used it to trick me and put me in danger, and I... was able to see things—things that he saw.” Harry pauses, knowing that Draco is looking at him now. “I saw you,” he attempts, voice reduced almost to a whisper. “I saw you doing things... I saw your face. You were terrified.”

Draco lets out a short, jagged breath. “I thought you meant the night Dumbledore died.”

“Ah, that,” Harry says weakly, wishing he had never started this conversation. It’s too late now, of course; he might as well finish it. “I was actually there for that, too.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Draco snaps, and the fear in his voice bites at Harry.

Knowing he has to continue, Harry haltingly tells Draco about the invisibility cloak and the curse that kept him from moving and the conversation, as he remembers it, between the two of them on the top of the tower. When he has finished, he looks at Draco and finds him looking straight back, eyes bright and face flushed with fury.

“I saw you lower your wand, Draco. I’m not stupid, I could see that you didn’t want to do it,” he says as gently as he can, but Draco only seems to become more irate.

“Why are you fucking everywhere?” he explodes, kicking up sand as he scrambles to his feet and yanks violently at the link—not, Harry suspects, to pull him along but to try pointlessly to put some distance between them. For a fraction of a second, the silver cord stretches, but quickly snaps back, catapulting Harry roughly forward through the air. He lands heavily on his knees in the sand, arm bent upward at a painful angle.

He winces and attempts to rearrange himself into a more comfortable position. “Was that really necessary?” he asks, gritting his teeth.

Draco glares down at him. “Is it really necessary for you to witness every mistake I make?”

“Do you think I wanted to be there any more than you did?” Harry snaps, indignation rising fast, even though he knows that Draco’s anger is sparked by vulnerability and exposure and fear, and that he’s not helping the situation by matching it with more of the same.

“Why is everything about you? In fact, why is everything I do somehow about you?”

Draco’s hair flutters in the wind, softening his hard expression. Harry stares up at him from the sand and curses himself for managing to be so incredibly turned on at a time like this.

Taking a deep breath, he gets to his feet. “I don’t want to argue with you. Maybe we should just go back.”

“I’m not arguing with you,” Draco snaps, and, to Harry’s astonishment, takes his hand and starts stomping back toward the road.

Hard and confused, Harry says nothing all the way back to the Lakeland, reflecting instead on the fact that it’s rather odd for someone who appears not to be talking to him to be gripping his hand so tightly.

Once back behind closed doors, the silence continues. Harry turns on the television and they stare at the slightly wobbly picture without comment or movement. When Fifteen to One begins, no answers are volunteered and not a sound is made until twenty minutes in, when the question: ‘Chantenay, Pimpernel, and Swamp King are varieties of what?’ is answered correctly with the word ‘carrots’, and Harry can’t help the smile that tugs at his lips. When he chances a glance at Draco, he is smiling, too.

“Weasley will be sick when I tell him he missed that,” he says, and Harry’s smile stretches into a grin at the idea that he will seek Ron out, just in order to inform him of that fact.

“He will.”

Draco stretches. “Do you want a cup of tea?”

“Do you want some help, or shall I stay here?” Harry asks innocently.

“You’re very funny,” Draco informs him, helping him to his feet and leading the way to the kitchen.

As they wait for the tea to brew, Draco leans against the counter and stares fixedly at the fridge, where Lyona has left them a note reminding them that Tuesday is bin day, stuck to the door with a magnet shaped like a bumblebee.

“I wanted people to be impressed by me,” he says suddenly.

Harry frowns. “What?”

“That’s why I did it. Why I took the Mark.” Draco glances at his arm and sighs. “I didn’t really have the option of being popular and well-liked and heroic, so I thought I’d embrace my family’s madness and be intimidating instead. It worked for a little while, and then the reality set in.”

“You didn’t have the option?” Harry repeats, dubious.

Draco grants him a rueful smile. “It didn’t come naturally to me, then.”

Harry fishes out a teaspoon and turns it over in his hands, thinking. “I believe you.”

“Charming,” Draco says, lifting an eyebrow.

“Not about that, idiot—I mean about the whole dangerous and frightening thing.”

“It was a little more complicated than that, of course,” Draco says, taking the teaspoon and finishing off the drinks.

“Things like that always are,” Harry agrees, because it’s true, and because it’s enough. He isn’t going to push Draco to talk about his darkest hours, but if he wants to, he thinks he’ll be ready to listen.

That night, when Draco rolls over in his sleep and drapes himself across Harry’s chest, he just sighs drowsily and wraps his free arm around his waist. It’s surprisingly comfortable.

**~*~**

When he wakes up and finds the silver cord very much still in evidence, Harry has to pour every bit of positive thinking he possesses into keeping the creeping despondency at bay. The previous day’s conversation had felt like an important step, the disintegration of another wall, and yet here they are, making their way along the promenade yet again, heading for their usual stretch of sand. The streets seem a little busier than usual, and while they attract a few curious glances, no one remarks on the closeness of their position or the fact that they are, quite obviously, holding hands. It barely feels like anything unusual any more; in fact, it’s comforting, and Draco’s skin is always fantastically cool against his wherever they touch.

“Maybe we should rake over every single horrible thing we’ve ever done to each other,” Harry says grimly as they settle themselves on the sand and kick off their shoes. “That seems to be what’s called for in these sorts of situations.”

Draco looks at him, alarmed. “Is this a common occurrence for you?”

Harry smiles in spite of himself. “No, Draco.”

“Well, that’s something. And I can’t really see how that would help.”

“Me neither... I’m just starting to worry that Hermione was wrong and this thing is actually permanent.”

“Oh, don’t say that,” Draco groans. “If Granger can be wrong, I shall have to rethink my entire worldview. Again.”

Harry laughs, letting the worst of his mood drift away. “God forbid.”

A little way across the beach, four young people in jeans and t-shirts are building what Harry at first thinks is a sand castle, before he realises that it is actually the ugliest sand mermaid he has ever seen. He watches their easy, carefree camaraderie, suddenly missing Ron and Hermione violently. He can’t quite imagine Draco entering into something so pointless with such enthusiasm.

“What do you think for nipples?” calls a slender girl with glasses and long, wind-whipped hair. “Pebbles or shells?”

“I don’t know... but I’ve got the seaweed for her bush!” declares the lone male of the group.

“I’m not sure she should have a bush,” points out a blonde-haired girl with no shoes on. “She’s a mermaid.”

The fourth looks up from where she is shaping the tail with strong, tanned hands. “Mermaids need pubes, too, strange-o.”

Harry snorts, though he thinks the blonde girl has a point. He has no idea how merpeople reproduce—maybe he’ll have to ask one when he returns to Hogwarts.

“Look at that thing,” Draco says, startling Harry, who hadn’t realised he was watching. “It looks like my Great Aunt Malinda.”

Harry raises an eyebrow. “Your Great Aunt Malinda had tits like that?”

“She did, actually,” Draco says. He wrinkles his nose in bemusement. “But all tits are weird, aren’t they?”

Harry turns to look at him, breath caught and chest tight. “I don’t know... I never really thought about it,” he says carefully. The implications of Draco’s statement are slapping him in the face, but he’s not sure he dares to issue a direct challenge—he could say no and be horribly offended, or he could say yes and turn Harry’s entire world upside down. But then again, if the alternative is forever wondering, he will have to take his chances and jump. “Draco?”

“Mm?”

Harry licks his bottom lip nervously. “Are you gay?”

Draco doesn’t respond. For long seconds, he gazes at the sand mermaid and Harry gazes at him, certain that any moment now, his heart is going to leap out of his chest and splat onto the sand.

Draco exhales slowly and fixes Harry with cool grey eyes. “Do you have a problem with that?”

Startled, Harry hesitates for a second too long and Draco’s eyes flicker with anxiety. “No,” he splutters, fighting the feeling that now, in addition to everything else, his stomach is trying to turn itself inside out. “No, absolutely not. I just... yeah, no, it’s... fine.”

“Oh, good,” Draco says drily, turning back to the mermaid-makers. “I’m glad you approve.”

Knowing there is nothing he can say that will salvage his fumbling response, Harry keeps his mouth shut. When the little group leave, having named their grotesque creation ‘Gertrude’, Harry shuffles down in the sand until he is flat on his back, feet tucked into the smooth, damp grains and head resting on an ancient flowery cushion from Lyona’s conservatory. He drapes his free arm over his eyes to shade them from the sun, leaving the other resting on the sand, fingers threaded loosely through Draco’s. He sighs contentedly, relaxing every muscle in his body and musing that if the worst should come true and they are stuck here like this, it wouldn’t be all that bad.

“You are falling asleep,” Draco says mildly.

“Absolutely not,” Harry yawns.

“I wish I could sleep like you. You seem to just close your eyes and that’s it.”

“Mm,” Harry mumbles drowsily. “I’m making up for lost time. Maybe you’re just not trying. Stop reading for five minutes, lie down, and see what happens.”

“And then who will wake you up before you burn yourself to a crisp?” Draco grumbles, but Harry hears the muffled thump of his book hitting the sand and feels the change of position as Draco flops down next to him. “Now what?”

Harry smiles against the salty skin of his forearm. “Now close your eyes and think of something nice.”

“This isn’t going to work,” Draco declares, and those words are the last thing Harry hears before:

“Look at the state of that.”

It’s not Draco’s voice; in fact, it’s not a voice he recognises. It’s a loud male voice with a strong local accent and an edge of something that makes Harry’s eyes fly open. He sits up hurriedly, hissing in pain as the silver cord slides against his sunburned skin. Fuck, how long has it been? He has no idea, but the sun is definitely lower in the sky than he remembers, and the beach is almost empty apart from them and a small group of teenage boys who have just stepped off the slipway and onto the sand.

Draco is awake, too, sitting up and gripping his hand to the point of pain, knuckles driven into the sand between them. “What was that?” he whispers urgently.

“I don’t know,” Harry admits, but something inside him crackles ominously at the sight of the boys. Most of them look only a year or two younger than himself and Draco, and they remind him uncomfortably of Dudley’s old gang, clad in sportswear with matching short haircuts and cruel expressions. Whatever they want is likely to be unpleasant. His left hand twitches toward his waistband for his wand, but he forces it down, palm flat onto the sand. “Just... pretend you haven’t noticed them,” he advises.

“Don’t you know this is a no-homo beach?” one spits, stepping forward. “As in, no queers allowed?”

The others laugh heartily. Harry grits his teeth and says nothing.

“Are you deaf as well, bum-boys?” calls another, and Harry can see the hand gesture he is making out of the corner of his eye. Blood boiling, he tries again to ignore them. One more chance.

“Are we supposed to just stand for this?” Draco mutters.

Harry shrugs. “Unless you want to get into a fight with them, it’s probably the best way.”

“Which one do you reckon takes it up the shitter, then?” the first one asks, to a chorus of hyena-like cackles.

“Gotta be the blond one,” someone says, apparently so amused by the idea that he laughs himself breathless.

Harry snaps, scrambling to his feet and opening his mouth to fight back, but Draco, fists clenched and jaw set, beats him to it.

“Why don’t you shut up before I make you regret ever opening your mouth?” he snaps, glaring at the little gang. “And anyway, shouldn’t you be at school?”

His question is met by a ripple of laughter and then one weasel-faced lad offers, “It’s Saturday, retard.”

Draco frowns and glances at Harry. “Is it?”

“I suppose so,” Harry says vaguely, distracted by the fact that the boys have moved closer and their expressions have darkened from cruel amusement to something much more menacing. A quick head-count reveals seven—seven nasty idiots with nothing better to do, and not one of them undersized. Seven against two.

“Do you think you’re clever or something?” asks the one who seems to be in charge, sallow face creasing up into a snarl.

“No, but we’re not bothering anyone, so why don’t you just fuck off and leave us alone?” Harry says as evenly as he can.

“You’re bothering me,” he says, stepping closer with his hands in his pockets. Heart pounding, Harry scowls back at him while quickly looking around for an escape route. Their location means that they are boxed in on two sides by the slipway and the promenade, and their chances of outrunning the idiots are considerably lowered by the fact that they are, of course, still lashed together.

“I think you’ll find that no one forced you to come and speak to us,” Draco snaps.

‘I think you’ll find’,” mocks the leader, imitating Draco’s upper class accent. “I think you’ll find, queerpiece, that you’re not from round here and you obviously don’t know how things work.”

Draco bristles, but when he takes a furious step forward, so do all the others. This isn’t happening, Harry tells himself. He’s not about to get beaten up by a group of teenagers in tracksuits on a public beach. He absolutely will not have it. And Draco—as far as he knows, Draco is as useless at fighting without a wand as Dudley would be with one, and the idea of one of these lowlifes hurting him is just not fucking acceptable. As he grips Draco’s hand tighter—can’t make it any worse now—a hot prickly feeling begins to spiral inside him, moving slowly upwards and gathering in strength, speeding his heart and breathing, pulling tight and connecting every point on his skin in a rumble that reverberates down his spine. When he glances down at himself, he can see nothing unusual, and the boys only continue to approach, pulling hands out of tracksuit pockets as they go. Harry can feel it, though, the crackling ball of rage and the need to protect, and, sensing what he can only describe as an imminent explosion, he turns to Draco and tugs at his hand.

“Stand behind me,” he whispers.

“What?”

“Just do it,” Harry hisses, and as Draco obeys, the storm inside him breaks with a clash of thunder, and all nine look up at once to see the black clouds that come sweeping over the sea, covering the blue sky in seconds and casting the beach into near darkness. The gentle breeze whips up into a frenzy, sending sleeves flapping and harsh words back down their originators’ throats. Harry just breathes as the surge of power drains out of his fingertips, leaving him feeling completely serene.

“Fuck this,” mutters the leader, glancing up at the dark sky and then at Harry and Draco. “Come on, let’s go!”

With that, the group scramble for the slipway and hurry away down the road, eventually disappearing into an amusement arcade. As the door slams behind them, Harry leans against the concrete and exhales, watching with interest as the clouds scud away and the wind drops to almost nothing.

Draco leans beside him, breathing rapidly. “What was that, exactly?”

“Exactly? I’m not sure. I suppose I was just really angry, and I haven’t used that much magic recently, so...” He shrugs, knowing that while he’s not lying to Draco, it’s not the whole truth. That magic sprung from a feeling—one far more complicated than anger—and he knows he could produce it again in an instant if he needed to. The knowledge courses through him like a warm current, sweeping away the last traces of his denial and lodging the certainty of his feelings for Draco into his chest with a rough sting. Sore and shaken, he reaches for more word but finds none.

“It was rather impressive,” Draco admits, looking slightly uncomfortable.

“Thanks.” Harry grins. He feels exhilarated, unsteady, and... fucking sunburnt, he remembers abruptly as he scratches his arm without thinking.

“I can make you something for that,” Draco advises, somehow managing not to add ‘I told you so’.

“Great. I’ve probably had enough excitement for one day, anyway,” Harry says drily, picking up Lyona’s cushion and shaking the sand from it.

Back at the Lakeland, the front door has barely closed behind them when something makes Harry stop. It’s a strange sound, and at first, he thinks he’s the only one who hears it, but then there it is again, and Draco stops, too, leaning toward the door to the lounge and frowning.

“What is that?” he murmurs, drawing his wand and concealing it behind his back in one swift movement.

“I don’t know... just old house noises?” Harry suggests hopefully, but he, too, pulls his wand from his waistband and strains to hear the noise again. It starts and stops, an odd sort of creaking, but as Harry reacclimatises to the usual hums and whirrs of the Lakeland, he notices a far more worrying sound—wheezy, laboured breathing. “I think there’s someone here,” he whispers.

Draco shoots him an anxious look and then immediately covers it with a resolute one. “Maybe it’s Lyona.”

“Have you ever heard Lyona breathe like that?” Harry hisses.

“No, but she might if there was something wrong with her,” Draco points out, taking a step toward the door. “And I can’t imagine it would sit well with your conscience if you just left her there because you were too scared to find out.”

“I’m not scared,” Harry protests, and he’s not. Well, only a little bit, and it’s been a rather stressful afternoon. “I’m... being cautious.”

“There’s a first time for everything, I suppose,” Draco says, almost smiling. “Let me go first, okay?”

“Why?”

Draco’s eyes pin him to the spot and he shivers. “If you get ‘angry’ again, you might blow a hole in the ceiling. It might be better if you let me take control.”

Harry nods reluctantly. Draco is right, of course, but he is still tempted to protest. “Go on, then,” he urges instead, indicating the door, and forcing himself to stow his protective instinct. Draco can do this, and he has to let him.

Draco gives him a look and pushes it open slowly. Harry follows at his signal, wand gripped tightly. He really isn’t in the mood for another confrontation today, but at least he’s walking into this one with his eyes open. The lounge is just as they left it, two cups on the table, various books piled onto Draco’s side of the sofa and a half-finished letter to Teddy and Andromeda on Harry’s. The kitchen is empty, too, and there are no intruders in the cupboards that Draco insists on checking. As they walk slowly through the dining room and approach the conservatory, the stertorous breathing grows louder. Draco looks over his shoulder at Harry and pulls at the silver cord.

“Lyona? Is that you?” Draco calls.

No response. Harry holds his breath. Draco reaches out to open the French doors and a tremendous crash makes them both jump.

“Fuck,” Draco hisses, whipping around to look at Harry. This time, he doesn’t bother to hide his panic, but Harry is quietly relieved when he reaches back for his hand, seemingly without thinking.

The creaking starts up again; the horrible breathing only continues. Finally, wand gripped tightly in the fingers of his free hand, Draco pulls the door open to reveal... a mess. Several chairs have been knocked on their sides, the remnants of Lyona’s old catalogues lie strewn in colourful pieces across the floor, and there is soil everywhere, spilling from the vast house plant that has broken free of its now-shattered ceramic pot. In the midst of it all, happily ensconced on a wicker chair, chewing what appears to be an old flip-flop, is Hamlet the dog.

“You little bugger,” Harry sighs, massively relieved. “How did you get in here?”

“I think someone forgot to close the door this morning,” Draco says, pointing his wand at the door to the conservatory, which swings illustratively back and forth on its hinges in the breeze.

“Someone?” Harry asks mildly. “Or you?”

Draco flicks his wand and the door closes neatly. “Does it really matter?”

“That’s a yes, then,” Harry mumbles, scratching Hamlet’s wiry head. Forcing himself to concentrate for a moment, he raises his wand and rights the chairs, picks up the plant and pieces the shattered pot back together. As an afterthought, he returns the spilled soil to its proper place. The catalogues can bugger off, at least for now. He looks at Hamlet, who wags his tail and wheezes happily. “Someone’s going to be worried about you. I suppose we’d better get you home.”

Hamlet follows them into the kitchen, where Draco Transfigures a long piece of string into a collar and lead. Harry watches him idly.

“He’ll just follow us, I bet,” he says, remembering Hamlet’s insistence on shadowing him all around the bookshop.

“He might, but I’m not prepared to be responsible for what happens if he decides to run into the road, are you?”

Harry concedes, Draco attaches his creation to Hamlet, and they set out once again into the world. The little dog seems quite happy to trot along beside them, and, more than that, seems to know exactly where he’s going, pulling them along the pavement at an impressive speed for an old dog with a flip-flop in his mouth. The bookshop is cool and dark, and they can just about make out the man with the eyebrows behind the piles of books at his desk, speaking urgently into the telephone. When he sees them, though, his face lights up and he ends the call quickly.

“You daft thing,” he murmurs, rising from his seat and crouching down to fuss the old dog. “Where did you find him, lads?”

Harry hands him the lead. “He found his way into our conservatory.”

The man’s dark eyes widen. “Oh, hell. I hope he didn’t do any damage—I’ll pay for it, obviously.”

Harry and Draco exchange secret glances. “Oh, no, he was fine. Very well behaved,” Draco says. “We only brought him back because we thought you might be missing him.”

Obviously relieved, the man smiles. “Aye, I was a bit worried,” he admits, gathering Hamlet to him in a way that makes Harry think he might be underplaying it somewhat. After a minute or two, he sets the dog down reluctantly and fishes around in his pocket. “Let me give you something for bringing him back.”

“No, thanks, it’s fine,” Harry demurs. All he wants right now is to go home.

“No, but...”

“We really don’t need anything...”

“Lads, please...”

“Thank you,” Draco says firmly, interrupting what might otherwise have been an endless dance. “We absolutely will not accept your money. We are satisfied that he’s home.”

The man sighs but doesn’t argue. The natural authority in Draco’s tone and expression has him beat.

“How about a book, then?” he suggests, brightening. “Anything you like.”

Draco smiles, squeezing Harry’s hand and letting him know that they will definitely be accepting this offer. As though noticing their closeness for the first time, the man frowns as he bends to pick up Hamlet.

“I don’t suppose you lads are... together, are you?” he asks uncertainly.

Harry groans inwardly. Not again. No, he thinks irritably. We’re not. We’re just bound together by an infuriating trust spell. But, you know, I wouldn’t say no.

“Yes,” Draco says defiantly, glancing at Harry with an expression that’s a cross between ‘play along’ and ‘this means war’.

The bristly eyebrows lift slightly. “Well, you’re brave to go about like that around here,” he offers, ruffling Hamlet’s ears. “Brave or stupid, they say it’s a fine line.”

“Yeah,” Harry says faintly. “A bit of both, probably. Excuse me.”

Draco is leaning across the aisle and examining a tottering pile of wildlife books. Conscious of not wanting to further inflame the bookshop owner’s curiosity by letting him see the silver cord, Harry steps over to join him.

“Are you going to start behaving any time soon?” he asks, not holding out much hope.

Draco smiles, eyes flicking over the words on the page. “I doubt it.”

**~*~**

When they finally return to the Lakeland and lock the door behind them for what Harry hopes is the final time that day, his mind is racing, his arms are stinging-sore, and he seems to be caught in a maddening state of near-constant arousal. All he wants to do is peel off his sticky, gritty clothes and immerse himself, up to his neck, in a cool bath. Alone.

As it is, he has to settle for making dinner with Draco, followed by eating dinner with Draco and watching television with Draco. Barely a word is exchanged throughout, but there is enough lingering, searching eye contact and accidental touching to ensure that Harry goes to bed with absolutely no idea of what he has made, eaten, or watched. The incident with the boys on the beach goes without mention, as does Harry’s flare of uncontrolled magic. Neither brings up the conversation with the man in the bookshop, or the fact that they absolutely, definitely weren’t scared at the prospect of an intruder.

Just weeks ago, of course, Harry would have taken this lack of communication as a sign that the two of them were tolerating, rather than trying to murder, each other, but now the silence seems suffocating and portentous. The air between them feels thick and it crackles with a static that lashes at Harry’s skin with every restless movement Draco makes, because everything is different now. Today has washed everything Harry thought he knew with doubt and certainty and terrifying possibility. Yes, it’s just Draco, but it’s suddenly so clear and inevitable that he’s not sure his heart and nerves and knees can take it.

In the attic bathroom, he covers his arms and shoulders in a cool, slippery calamine preparation that Draco seems to have knocked up while he wasn’t looking, and watches dumbly, yet again, as Draco fills the room with lemon-scented steam and washes himself at the sink. His eyes are closed, shoulders held more stiffly even than usual, but when he climbs beneath the sheets, he doesn’t hesitate before turning on his side to face Harry and resting his head on his shoulder with a sigh. Inhaling the familiar scent of his hair, Harry drags in a shuddering breath and fixes his eyes on the stars. His heart is pounding and Draco can probably feel it, too.

Gripping helplessly onto the fingers that thread through his, he closes his eyes.

Now what?

“Go to sleep,” Draco instructs, not quite managing to conceal the rasp in his voice. Harry startles, realising he must have spoken aloud. In the darkness, the grey eyes burn brightly.

“It’s just that easy, is it?” Harry whispers, almost amused.

Draco’s free hand slides onto his chest and stays there, gently restraining, fingers splayed out over his skin. “Just close your eyes and think of something nice.”

Harry forces a smile, whole body tight and aching. “I’ll try.”

“I will if you will,” Draco says roughly.

Harry closes his eyes and suppresses a groan. Think of something nice? Under the circumstances, that could be rather dangerous. With a mammoth effort, he mentally pushes Draco away, focuses on that bath full of cool, clear water, and hopes for the best.

**~*~**

He wakes, feeling surprisingly refreshed, to a pale blue sky full of trailing white clouds and the sound of some kind of seagull disagreement.

“Noisy buggers,” he mumbles, yawning and stretching over to his bedside table to retrieve his glasses.

When he knocks them to the floor with morning-clumsy fingers, he leans down to pick them up, using Draco’s sleeping weight as an anchor. He leans, leans, grabs them, and keeps on going, slithering to the floorboards in a confused heap. For a moment, he has no idea what has gone wrong, and then the reality slams into him, hard, stealing his breath in a rush. Automatically, he looks down at his arm for the silver cord but his wrist is bare.

The spell has broken. It’s had what it wanted. It’s over.

Feeling strangely bereft, he stares at his wrist, checking it from all angles, and then shoves on his glasses, scrambles back onto the bed and tugs Draco’s arm out from under his head.

“What the actual hell are you doing?” Draco demands sleepily.

“Look,” Harry insists, waving Draco’s own arm in front of his face until he opens his eyes.

“It’s gone,” he murmurs, gazing at his wrist and then at Harry, who realises that he is leaning over Draco and practically pinning him to the bed.

“Er...” he mumbles, caught by some invisible force. He shakes himself and pulls back, sitting on the edge of the bed and swinging his arms around for no good reason that he can see, except for because he can. “Yeah. It’s gone. Apparently.”

Draco props himself up on his elbows and looks at Harry, hair flopping over one eye and mouth pulling into a cautious smile. For a fraction of a second, it’s ridiculously easy to imagine that this is their bedroom, their house, their Sunday morning, that Harry is heading downstairs to fetch tea and the papers, that this is what they do at the weekend. Embarrassed, Harry looks away, rubs at his face with both hands—both hands!—and contemplates a shower without a running commentary.

“I can still feel it,” Draco says, and when Harry looks at him, he is rubbing at his wrist and frowning. “Can you?”

“Yes,” Harry admits, relieved. He gets up and takes slow steps backwards until his back is pressed against the far wall of the bedroom; Draco’s eyes widen slightly. He feels it, too. “It’s pulling, isn’t it?”

“Oh, that’s a weird feeling,” Draco says, throwing back the sheets and crossing the bedroom to stand beside Harry, at which point, the strange tugging sensation fades away.

“Must be residual magic from the spell,” Harry says, resisting the urge to reach out and touch Draco—an urge that he suspects has nothing to do with the bonds of bloody unity.

Draco is closer now, just inches away, all bare skin and piercing eyes. “Do you think it will stop?”

Harry swallows hard. “Probably.” A thought occurs to him and he smiles, feeling suddenly mischievous. “Do you want to test it?”

Draco smirks, lifts an eyebrow, and then is gone, pelting out of the room and leaving the door flapping behind him. Harry stares after him for a second or two, wrist twitching as the last of the magic tries to pull them together. He listens to the sound of Draco’s rapid footsteps on the stairs, looks around at the clean lines of the attic room, at his bare torso and the faded sunburn on his arms. He’s alone—completely—for the first time in weeks. He breathes, leaning back against the cool wall, and it’s just a little bit too quiet.

Somewhere on the floor below, Draco is flinging open windows and laughing.

Harry shakes his head and grins, making for the stairs.

“Where are you?” he calls.

“Somewhere else!” Draco calls back, emerging suddenly from a first-floor bedroom and wrapping a hand around each side of the doorframe. He hangs there, light, relieved, human, as close to carefree as Harry has ever seen him, and he laughs. Heart swooping dizzyingly, Harry laughs, too, holding on to the balustrade and hoping it will hold him up.

**~*~**

“I suppose what we have to do is get used to being apart,” Draco muses over breakfast in the conservatory, cereal bowl balanced on his palm as he lifts the dripping spoon carefully to his mouth. A recalcitrant droplet of milk escapes and splashes onto his bare chest; he sighs and brushes it away before sliding the spoon into his mouth and chewing thoughtfully. Harry nods and plays with his toast, irritably trying to remember why he didn’t insist on both of them getting dressed before eating—especially before eating a meal in which things can be spilt onto interesting parts of people with such abandon.

“I bet you never imagined you’d be saying that about me,” he says at last.

“I imagine all kinds of things,” Draco advises, skimming for more sugary flakes with his spoon.

Harry snorts, giving up on his toast and stretching out his bare legs to rest on the wicker chair opposite his. He leans back and folds his arms across his chest luxuriously, suspecting that the novelty of rediscovering this particular position will remain with him for some time. It won’t help to dwell on Draco’s imaginings, he decides, but the alternative isn’t much better. Now that the spell is broken, there is nothing keeping them here. It’s time to go—for real this time. Unsettled, Harry thinks quickly. At the moment, no one else knows that the spell has broken; as long as that remains the case, they have a little more time. Time for what, Harry isn’t quite ready to contemplate.

Lyona, he realises, is the risk factor. Not only that, but she has developed a habit of dropping in on Sunday mornings between breakfast clear-up and roast dinner prep, ostensibly to find out if they want any leftover meat and vegetables, but really as an exercise in procrastination. Harry has never before come across such a pathological loathing of potato peeling and he doubts he ever will again. All that aside, he quickly comes to a decision: some time soon, she will arrive, and he is buggered if he’s going to be here when she does.

“I’m going for a walk,” he announces, lowering his feet to the sun-warmed tiles and stretching. “On my own. But first, I’m going for a shower. On my own.”

Draco looks up at him from his chair, amused. “You’ll miss me.”

“On my walk?”

“In the shower.”

“I assure you, I will not,” Harry says with more conviction than he feels, giving Draco the sternest look he can muster and climbing the stairs to their bathroom.

The shower is hot, cleansing and all that it should be, and it’s certainly easier to wash with both hands available, but Draco is fucking right, and Harry hates it.

What are you doing in there?” he mumbles to himself as he turns off the water, just because his shower seems somehow incomplete without it.

“Have you finished at long last?” Draco demands as Harry walks back into the bedroom. He jumps and clutches instinctively at the towel wrapped around his waist.

Draco, who has been sprawling across the bed, now sits bolt upright and regards Harry as though he has been behaving very badly indeed.

“Yes, and you do realise there are about ten bathrooms in this place?” Harry points out.

“That is entirely beside the point,” Draco says, disappearing into the bathroom and closing the door behind himself before Harry has chance to reply.

Baffled, and absolutely in no way charmed, Harry shakes his head and hunts around for clean clothes. Five minutes later, he heads out into the sunshine, crosses the road, and walks. The promenade is already bustling with families, older couples and the usual dog-walkers, all making their way along the narrow pavement, spilling out onto the slipways and down to the beach, or gathering in little groups to examine the strange wares of the seaside shops. The clean, salty air mingles with the aroma of fresh doughnuts, fish and chip fryers, cigarette smoke, coffee and wet dogs and the exhaust from battered old cars.

Alone, and in the absence of a magical bond, Harry doesn’t attract a single glance. In t-shirt, jeans and trainers, messy-haired and sunburned, he looks no different to any of the other young men on the front, and it feels quite unreal. With nothing to hide and no one to talk to, he just continues to walk, following the railings and the curve of the bay, past the shops and guest houses and the run-down old hotel that might once have been grand. As he strides on, the crowds thin down to almost nothing and the shops and houses become boarded-up and dilapidated, paint peeling from their signboards and dust turning their windows opaque.

He has never wandered so far before, and, as much as he tries to suppress the feeling, he can’t quite deny that he wishes Draco were with him. No doubt he would have something to say about this neglected, seedy part of town, and Harry imagines it might make him feel better about it. As it is, he slows to a stop and turns his back on the sadness, protecting himself with crossed arms and looking out to sea. When his wrist begins to ache and prickle, the rest of him quickly falls into line, pulling tight and painful, demanding his return.

“It’s just the remains of the spell,” he tells himself calmly, and then kicks viciously at an empty can, driving it into the air and onto the sand with a thud. It’s not, and he knows it’s not. Taking a deep breath, he turns and starts walking again, back into town and back toward Draco.

When he reaches the bookshop, something makes him stop. For a minute or two, he wanders vaguely around the shelves on the pavement, before Hamlet comes barrelling out of the shop’s interior and immediately attaches himself to his legs.

“Nice to see you, too,” he mutters, bending down and scratching the dog’s ears.

He is, inevitably, followed as he makes his way into the cool, dark maze of shelves. The desk is unoccupied, but Harry can hear someone nearby, steady breathing and slow footsteps. Slowly, scanning the spines of the books as he goes, he moves toward it with an idle plan to engage the owner of the shop in conversation about nothing much in particular. When he turns into the nearest little cavern, though, he finds himself face to face with Draco.

“What are you doing here?” he asks before he can stop himself.

Draco replaces a large, cloth-bound book on its shelf and smiles slowly. “I think we’ve been here before, don’t you?”

“Oh, yeah,” Harry admits, not quite hiding a smile as his heart begins to race idiotically. “If you could keep your trust spells to yourself this time, I’d appreciate it.”

“I think I’ll manage,” Draco says, wrinkling his nose and stepping around Harry, back out into the narrow aisle. “After all, you can leave any time you want to now.”

Harry follows him, stomach twisting at the thought. Maybe Draco can’t wait for him to leave now that they’re apart—it’s often difficult to tell with him—but something in the overly casual tone of his voice suggests otherwise.

A dark shape emerges from the very farthest cavern and advises: “I’ll be right at the back here if you need me—oh.” There’s a pause and a small sigh of amusement. “It’s you two. Back again?”

“Er... yes,” Harry calls uncertainly, but the man has disappeared once more into the stacks of books. He turns to Draco, who is now crouching to inspect the contents of a glass case which is the only object in sight without a generous covering of dust. “So, what are you looking for?” he asks, knowing and hating the fact that he is asking a much bigger question than one about books, even if he doesn’t expect an answer.

Draco looks over his shoulder, eyes curiously vulnerable. “Something interesting enough to keep me out of trouble,” he offers. “Not always the easiest thing to find.”

Harry nods, hanging back at the entrance to the musty little room. He can’t be sure if Draco is still talking about books but it doesn’t seem to matter; he shivers all the same. He bites his lip, fingers slipping absently over rough, splintered wood. “Depends where you’re looking,” he says, and Draco smiles as he turns back to the cabinet and gets to his feet.

He doesn’t reply, just brushing past Harry on the way to the next cavern and making him forget everything more complicated than dust, heat, the creak of a floorboard and the scent of citrus.

“Maybe I can help,” he says boldly, pushing himself past Draco and striding over to the nearest shelf. He can feel Draco watching him, can feel him standing just feet away with his dangerous eyes and his clever mouth and his pristine white shirt with the top two buttons left undone, and if Harry doesn’t want the next word out of his mouth to be ‘please’, he has to find something else and fast.

“Maybe,” Draco says softly.

Harry doesn’t look at him. Instead, he runs his fingers over the nearest row of spines, leather and cloth and paper, reading the titles of those he can and wondering vaguely about the ones that have faded to illegible dots over time. He barely registers the footsteps, but the sudden warmth at his back almost makes him drop the book he is holding.

“What’s the matter?” he manages in a whisper, throat dry and blood pounding.

He feels Draco’s smile and the fingertips at his waist, just for a second, but it’s long enough to convince the sliver of bare skin between jeans and t-shirt that it’s on fire.

“I’m not sure you’re going to find what you’re looking for in a book about famous British battles,” Draco points out.

Harry looks down at the book, surprised. “I don’t know,” he says, slotting the book back into place and turning around. “I could pick up some useful strategies for...” he trails off, realising he is talking to an empty room.

“For what?”

Harry whips around to see a gap, just a couple of inches wide, in the shelving, and a curious grey eye regarding him from the other side.

“For... I don’t know, but anyway, weren’t we talking about what you were looking for?”

The eye blinks. “Maybe it’s the same thing.”

Harry catches his breath, forcing himself to reach for the courage he knows is in there somewhere, and to use it to bloody well say something before he becomes too hot and too hard and too stupidly in love to make any sense.

“I was hoping it might be,” he manages, and it’s not poetic, or even very decisive, but he’s said it, and now all he wants to do is walk out into another book-lined cavern and see if Draco follows him.

He could, he realises as he does just that, tell Draco how he feels here and now. Tell him, and take him back to the Lakeland, and fuck him senseless. Or be fucked senseless. Or anything, really, at this point, he’s not fussy beyond the thought of mouths and hands and hot, slippery... Harry swallows dryly and attempts at least a little bit of focus. He leans tentatively against the nearest bookcase, hoping it doesn’t decide to collapse and take him with it. The point is, he could do that, because at this point, he is pretty certain—if still in disbelief—that Draco wants and needs him right back. And yet, this place, with its precarious piles of books, its creaks and groans and smells of wood and mould and paper, seems like the only appropriate setting for such a drawn-out game.

“There you are,” Draco murmurs, appearing in the gap between two huge shelves.

“I wasn’t hiding,” Harry assures.

“Not very well,” Draco agrees, stepping into the cramped space with a warm smile. He is followed by Hamlet, who makes a beeline for Harry and capers, wheezing, around his feet, claws clicking on the hard floor.

“You were worried,” Harry teases.

Draco leans against the shelf beside him. It gives an ominous creak at the extra weight, but somehow remains upright. “I think I can get used to it,” he says, eyes warm on Harry’s and full of a promise that makes him ache.

“Please,” Harry says before he can stop himself. Heat-flooded and embarrassed, he tears his eyes from Draco’s and focuses instead on the shelves opposite: An Ideal Husband, House of Pomegranates, Lady Windermere’s Fan, The Big Book of Coarse Fishing. He frowns. Hamlet flops down and settles on his feet. Draco takes short, careful breaths. Harry hangs on. He isn’t going to be the one to say it, not this time.

“Let’s go back to the house,” Draco says at last. The words are uncertain, almost sighed into the dusty air, but the nervous sharpening of his accent makes the invitation sound almost formal.

With the blood thundering in his ears, Harry gently dislodges Hamlet, who staggers out into the aisle and collapses on his side in a patch of sunlight. He heads for the door, pausing only to offer pointlessly, “I was going to buy you a book.”

Draco’s brief startled smile is rewarding. “You can buy me one tomorrow,” he says lightly, and the rest of the journey along the promenade is conducted in silence.

Not just any silence, but heavy, loaded silence, the kind that feels as though it could crush one’s chest and put a stop to breathing altogether, the kind that fills the mind with maddening vibrations and makes the skin tingle and crackle all over. Wound tight with anticipation, Harry fights to keep a steady pace, to master the urge to break into a run. He looks straight ahead, even when Draco’s fingers brush alongside his own and he wants to throw him up against the nearest wall and shatter the tension into a million pieces, right here in front of all of these people who are happily going about their business, oblivious to the storm raging right in front of them. When the Lakeland comes into view, he can’t resist quickening his pace, just a little, and he is gratified to notice that Draco does the same. He has never been so pleased to see the faded red paint and the arid hanging baskets; he’s home, finally, and there cannot be any more waiting.

The door closes behind him and for several long seconds, they stand in the hallway, just looking at each other and breathing, and then Harry takes a single step closer to Draco and everything seems to happen at once. He’s sure he moves first, but other than that, he has no idea what happens next, only that they are kissing, mouths hot and desperate and careless, and that he is being shoved against the bumpy woodchip-covered wall, and that his hands are gripping Draco’s hips, pulling them flush together and groaning into the kiss as Draco’s erection presses and slides against his, creating delicious friction through far too many layers of clothing.

There is no room in his head for thought, only this. Only Draco. When an unhelpful little part of him tries to point out that this, surely, is a very strange thing to be doing, it is quickly silenced by the powerful wave of desire that sweeps through him, slamming his heart and making his neglected cock throb with need. He gasps, dropping his mouth to Draco’s shoulder and shuddering as Draco threads strong fingers into his hair and presses heated, painful, thrilling kisses to his neck. He hisses, exhilarated, and splays a hand over Draco’s jaw, dragging him back into the kiss, hot and messy and almost enough to finish this right here in the hallway.

Almost, but he wants more, and he pulls back, breathless, thrilled to see the desperation on Draco’s face, the flush to his pale skin and the haze of lust tinged with fear that darkens the silver-grey eyes. In that moment, Harry knows that Draco wants him, he feels it, and it spurs him on, even though he feels clumsy and awkward and even though he doesn’t really have a clue what he’s doing. His instincts cry don’t stop, and he’s never been happier to obey them.

With shaking fingers, he unbuttons the white shirt and pushes it from Draco’s shoulders, letting it fall to the floor as he stares at the bare skin he has seen so many times before, hardly noticing as his own t-shirt is tugged over his head and flung to the carpet. All he wants to do is to taste that skin, and there is no resistance as he lowers his head and presses his mouth to Draco’s collarbone, inhaling warm citrus and tasting the sea air, salt stinging the sore spot where he has bitten his lip too many times.

Draco makes a soft, rough sound and Harry’s equilibrium deserts him; he leans, bare back pressed to the cold wall, breathing raggedly. His cock, heavy and aching, strains at his jeans, and when Draco looks right into his eyes as he skates his fingers over it, gently but with such intent, Harry shudders and the denim dampens instantly under his touch.

“Should we go somewhere else?” Harry asks, voice barely above a whisper.

“I can’t wait,” Draco says simply, and his expression leaves Harry in no doubt that he means it. Something snaps low down inside him at the words; he reaches for Draco’s mouth and the buttons on his trousers, and everything is wonderfully blurry once more.

They lean, pressed together, Harry against the wall and Draco against Harry, feet caught in a tangle of cotton and denim, thighs warm and sweat-sticky, rubbing together with each breathless, needy rocking movement, hips pulled tight and pushing, arching, lifting into fists; Harry’s fingers wrapped tightly, feverishly, around Draco’s cock as he pushes helplessly into Draco’s cool grip. They move together, scrambling for contact—anywhere—for friction, kissing frantically and filling the air with short, panting breaths and whimpered requests: there, harder, please, yes-yes-yes.

Delirious with pleasure, Harry longs to close his eyes and abandon himself to it, but he can’t take his eyes off Draco—his dilated pupils, the flush to his chest, the way he is biting his lower lip and stretching into Harry’s touch, his hipbones and his ruffled hair and the thrust of his hot, leaking cock in and out of Harry’s fist. It’s all so ridiculously erotic and terrifying and beautiful; Harry doesn’t know where to look, but he must, and his eyes sting anyway because it feels so fucking good. Smiling slowly with one corner of his mouth, Draco leans down, trails kisses across Harry’s chest and then bites his nipple hard. Harry gasps as the feeling jolts through him, snapping through his stomach, his cock, and taking up residence in his lower back. Draco tightens his grip and looks up just in time for Harry to groan and come helplessly, heat-flooded and staring desperately into the grey eyes.

Already feeling his strength draining away and his limbs turning to spaghetti, Harry summons the last of his energy and pulls Draco to him roughly, trapping his cock between their bodies and stroking him hard, cupping the back of his neck and kissing him, slowly, languorously, until he whimpers and shivers, pressing his mouth to Harry’s neck and digging his nails into his back as he spills hotly over their skin. Slowly, their breathing evens out and their knees become solid beneath them once again and they half-stand, half-lean, sticky and satisfied, waiting for the will to move to return to them.

“Well,” Draco mumbles, chin resting on Harry’s shoulder. “That was...”

“Yeah,” Harry agrees, vaguely considering a quick cleaning spell.

“How about somewhere more comfortable next time?”

Harry snorts, deciding not to remind Draco that he was the one who wanted to do it right here in the hallway. He doesn’t care. There’s going to be a next time, and he has the feeling that if he starts smiling, he might never stop.

“Fine. We could be really conventional and actually use the bedroom,” he suggests.

“That would have its advantages,” Draco admits, but Harry isn’t listening.

“Oh, fuck.”

Draco lifts his head, frowning. “What?”

In the midst of everything, he has managed to completely forget about trying to avoid Lyona, and there is a distinctly familiar dark shape visible through the frosted glass of the door, and it is definitely getting closer.

“Lyona’s coming and I think I forgot to lock the door,” Harry mutters, prodding Draco away from him and scanning the floor for his wand. It’s nowhere to be seen, and the handle is turning, and his pants are... yes, still around his ankles.

“Come on!” Draco hisses, reaching for the door to the lounge and shuffling toward it, pulling his trousers up as he goes. The door opens and Harry dives to follow him, but he already knows it’s too late.

“So many potatoes, so little inclination,” Lyona sings as she steps into the hallway. “Maybe I should—oh, good heavens.”

Mortified, Harry quickly turns his back on her and hops inelegantly around the carpet, pulling up his jeans and fastening them. Draco, apparently realising the futility of hiding, comes out of the lounge, black trousers done up neatly. The trouble is, Harry suspects, that neither of them are wearing shirts, and if he looks as dishevelled and flushed and guilty as Draco, Lyona will not have a hard time working out what they have been up to. Which is just... horrible.

“Hi,” Harry tries, opting to brazen it out. “Having a nice weekend?”

Lyona lifts an eyebrow. “Apparently not as nice as yours. How long has this been going on?” she asks, waving a hand vaguely between them.

Harry glances at Draco. Draco glances back. Half an hour or so, he supposes, is technically the accurate response, but neither of them really know how to answer that question. In the ensuing silence, Lyona sighs and shakes her head. “No, no, not that, I mean when did the spell break?”

Relieved, Harry lets out a long breath. “Sometime during the night. It wasn’t there when we woke up this morning.”

Lyona smiles. “Well, isn’t that wonderful? I knew you could do it, boys.”

“Perhaps you had more faith in us than we did, then,” Draco says, managing to sound remarkably dignified for someone who has just avoided being caught in flagrante by an old lady.

“I’m sorry we didn’t come and tell you straight away,” Harry says, heaviness creeping over him again. “I know we’ll have to go back now... I suppose we just wanted a few more hours.”

Lyona regards him with bewilderment and crosses her arms over her brightly-coloured t-shirt.

“Mr Potter... I realise we don’t know each other well, but do you think, if I was willing to conceal the matter of this spell from the rest of the Order, I would then insist on your return the moment the spell was broken? And furthermore, that I would ask you to leave this house when you clearly have... other issues to resolve?”

Startled, Harry just shakes his head. “Er, no, I suppose not?”

“Other issues?” Draco asks, amused.

“Yes, Mr Malfoy, the sort of other issues you were evidently working through just before I arrived,” Lyona says pointedly, but with a smile.

“Oh, god,” Harry groans, lifting a hand to rub at his heated face. “I’m really sorry about that.”

“Apologies are quite unnecessary, but perhaps a change of location would be wise,” Lyona suggests.

“We’ll keep that in mind,” Draco says. Harry thinks he may just go up in flames at any moment.

“I’m not shocked, Mr Potter,” she says airily. “In fact, I’m not even surprised. In all honesty, I think you are probably very good for each other. Take a few days, take a week, take as long as you need, as long as you remember that your world is still there, and it’s waiting for you. I have thoroughly enjoyed having you here—all of you—but you belong with your friends and family.”

“Thank you,” Harry says, humbled. She is a wise woman, and he knows she’s right. He also knows that when he does return, everything will crash in around him and it will be noisy and chaotic and frightening and real; the strange, windswept peace he has found here will be all but gone, but he has to go back, for his family and for Hogwarts, to play his part in putting their world back together, and now, for Draco, whom he has promised to protect.

Lyona nods and turns to leave.

“I don’t suppose there will be any leftovers today, will there?” Draco asks hopefully.

Lyona grants him a crooked smile. “There might be. How are you at peeling potatoes?”

**~*~**

After a lot of discussion—and a few disagreements—they decide to leave on the Friday morning. Five more days, they reason, won’t make much of a difference to the goings-on back home, but will be enough time for them to rest, to prepare, and to make the most of the peace while they can.

Draco returns all but one of Lyona’s books, opting to keep ‘The Chef’s Revenge’ as a memento, along with the nineteen-forties true crime compendium he chose as his reward for retrieving Hamlet. He continues to bake, sometimes with impressive results, sometimes producing the sort of food that only Ron could enjoy. On the Monday evening, Harry ventures into the kitchen by himself and—despite the whole thing feeling slightly wrong—produces an adventurous meal from scratch that has Draco first searching the kitchen for packets and then complaining that if Harry knew how to cook, he shouldn’t have let him make so many mistakes. Harry quickly silences him with a kiss, a method he almost wishes he’d thought of when they were still at school together. It works brilliantly.

After a rather fantastic and very stirring dream, Harry wakes on Tuesday morning feeling bold. He grabs Draco and leftovers of his lemon and sage potion and drags them both into the shower with him.

“What’s got into you this morning?” Draco asks, closing his eyes and tipping back his head as Harry slowly strokes the citrusy liquid all over his skin. “Not that I’m complaining.”

“Just something I’ve wanted to do for a while,” Harry admits, kneeling under the hot spray and stroking his thumbs over Draco’s hipbones. He presses his face against Draco’s half-hard cock, sliding his tongue along the length of it and smiling to himself as it begins to stiffen and twitch against his skin.

“I knew you were watching,” Draco murmurs, hand sliding into Harry’s wet hair.

“I think you wanted me to watch,” Harry whispers, taking Draco’s cock in his mouth and noting with satisfaction that he doesn’t even try to deny it.

Most of Wednesday is spent at the beach, which Harry finds to be a much more relaxing place now that he isn’t worrying about hiding the silver cord from curious families and idiotic teenagers. Draco finishes his lunch quickly and sits forward in the sand, rolling up the bottoms of his trousers to just below knee level. Harry watches him for a minute, enjoying his frown of concentration, but finally has to ask.

“What are you doing?”

“I’m going to stand in the sea. I have to try it before we leave here or I’ll drive myself mad, wondering why people do it,” Draco says, getting to his feet and staring imperiously down at Harry as though daring him to object.

Harry grins, heart full. “Go for it.”

Draco nods and walks toward the water, picking his way across the wet sand with long, easy strides. Harry watches with interest, spearing a chip on his wooden fork and chewing it slowly. Wading cautiously, Draco continues with his back to Harry until the water is lapping around his shins, and then he turns, holding out his arms and frowning, waiting for Harry to answer his unspoken ‘what now?’ Harry laughs and puts down his fork, rising and making his way toward the strange, neatly-clothed paddler, who clearly has no idea what he should be feeling about the situation.

The water is cold and the sand beneath Harry’s feet shifts constantly, sending him off balance, but he makes it all the way out to Draco before it occurs to him that he has forgotten to roll up his jeans; the waterlogged denim flaps heavily around his ankles, but Draco is grabbing his hand and it doesn’t matter.

“This is very strange,” he says, peering down at his submerged feet.

“Well, so are a lot of things, if you think about them too hard,” Harry offers, shaking his head as the wind tries to plaster his hair over his eyes. “But aren’t you glad you tried it?”

Draco looks up, eyes narrowed. “You’re talking about yourself, aren’t you?”

Harry laughs. “No, idiot, I’m talking about paddling. But yes, I hope you’re also glad you tried me.”

Draco smirks, making Harry’s stomach tighten in anticipation. There are plenty of things still left to try.

On their last day in Morecambe, it rains—not a shower or a few drops here and there, but an honest-to-god downpour. In their attic bedroom, skylights firmly shut, they sprawl out across the bed in a tangle of sheets, naked and replete. Harry listens contentedly to the drumming of the deluge against the roof and the glass, and traces lazy patterns over Draco’s skin with his fingertips. Barely a word is spoken, perhaps because the sense of something ending is too great, or because the words they want to say aren’t quite ready to be spoken aloud. Harry thinks it’s because he doesn’t need words; this is already the calmest and most beautifully unexpected thing he has ever possessed.

“When we leave here,” Draco says at last, lifting his head from Harry’s chest, “everything will be different.”

It’s not a question, but it sounds like one. The grey eyes are questioning, apprehensive, but Harry’s certainty that this is merely the beginning is too great to keep to himself.

He shakes his head, stroking the pale hair back from Draco’s face. “We won’t.”

**~*~**

That night, while Draco counts and recounts his meagre possessions, wipes obsessively at the kitchen surfaces and fusses over the safe transportation of his sage plant, Harry seeks out Lyona’s guest book, sits down with it in the dining room, and begins to write.

04/06/98

Dear Lyona,

Thank you for your wonderful hospitality. The Lakeland has begun to feel like home and I’m sad to be leaving it behind. Our stay has been eventful in many ways—I have learned more about myself than I thought possible, and I’m very grateful to have had the opportunity to do all that learning in such a safe, calm place. You are an amazing person, and your contribution to the war effort (I think that’s how you put it) will NOT be forgotten. I hope to return one day when the Lakeland reopens and see it as you’d want it to be seen. You know where to find me.

Harry Potter

PS Draco is very grateful, too, though he might not say so. He’s difficult sometimes.

Uncertain, but knowing it will have to do, Harry sets down his pen and draws his wand, casting a shimmering charm that will conceal his entry from all but Lyona. He leaves the book open on the table and heads up the stairs to bed.

The early morning is cool and damp with a heavy mist that obscures the mountains and drapes over everything like long swathes of gauze. Neither in the mood for breakfast, they gather their belongings, take one last look at the Lakeland, and step out into the deserted alley behind the house. Harry takes a deep breath, stuffs his bag under his arm and draws his wand. The cold, tangy air ripples around him, as though beseeching him to stay, and he sighs.

“It’s going to be... a new start,” he says, rubbing his thumb over the smooth surface of the pebble in his pocket before reaching out and threading his fingers through Draco’s, because he wants to, not because he has to.

“Mm,” Draco says faintly. “It’s my birthday today.”

Harry shoots him a sidelong glance. “You’re kidding.”

Draco shrugs. “No.”

“And you didn’t think to mention that at any time?”

“I only just thought about it. I’ve rather lost track of the days recently,” Draco says, a smile flickering around the corners of his mouth. “Of course, I fully expect you to make a fuss of me once the inevitable drama has died down.”

Harry grins, looking down at the cobbles beneath his feet, back at the Lakeland, at the laundrette and the fish and chip shop and at Draco. “I think I can manage that. Are you ready?”

Draco laughs. “No. Let’s go.”

Harry takes a deep breath and Draco’s fingers grip his tightly. He nods and as they Disapparate—together—the wind sweeps in from the sea, over the sand and through the streets, changing everything it touches.