Actions

Work Header

What We Pretend We Can't See

Chapter Text

 

Twelve days after the Battle of Hogwarts, Harry steps across the threshold of Grimmauld Place and knows abruptly that he can’t live there anymore.

He moves through the house systematically, almost blindly, picking up and packing away those things that are his or that he wants to keep. There aren’t many of them; he can’t so much as look around the place without being swamped with a memory of someone who just… isn’t, anymore. He’s sick of it. He’s tired. Every bone is his body has ached for two weeks, as though all the trials of the past year are catching up to him at once, and there are moments he can barely breathe for grief, moments he has to close his eyes and remind himself forcibly that it’s over, they’ve won, he can let go now. He’s not sure how — he’s not sure he’s ever known — but he is sure that he can’t keep coming home to this mausoleum without becoming part of it himself.

It was Sirius’s place, and Harry feels hideous guilt rise in his throat at the solicitor’s office the next afternoon, but the guy’s old school, a professional, a brusque almost-kindness to his frank practicality and lack of judgement. He says, “Of course, Mr. Potter,” and “Makes perfect sense, Mr. Potter,” and tells Harry they can ensure the house goes to someone who will preserve it, take care of it, keep Kreacher on — with a wage, even, if he’ll take it, though Harry sincerely doubts he ever will. It doesn’t feel like enough, but nothing has felt like enough for so long now that Harry doesn’t think it matters very much. He signs some documents and agrees on some figures and Mr. Bracefoot shakes his hand, says, “I think you’ve made an excellent decision, Mr. Potter, I’ll Owl you when the right offer comes in,” before his secretary sees Harry out the door.

Harry Apparates almost at random to a Muggle neighborhood near the Leaky, close enough that he can walk to Diagon Alley if he likes but not so close that he has to worry that his neighbors will know who he is and sell pictures of him buying milk to the Prophet. He prowls the streets looking for for-sale signs and then buys the first place he finds that’s immediately available, a one-bedroom with creaky pipes and a cramped kitchen in this old building’s fourth floor. It has little to recommend to it, but it's never been occupied by anyone who has since died horribly on his behalf; that, for Harry, is quality enough.

He gets a job as an Auror, because it’s what he always said he would do. He goes down to the pub with Ron and Hermione and Ginny, brings Ginny back to his flat with him after, because it’s what he always thought he would do. He testifies at a few trials —  Alecto and Amycus Carrow to convict, Draco and Narcissa Malfoy for acquittal — because it’s the sort of thing he thinks the person he wants to be would do, and he knows he has to try.

Six months later Mr. Bracefoot Owls him to say that a buyer has made an offer on the Black estate, complete with a verifiable blood claim and an offered Unbreakable not to do any intentional harm to the structure or magic of the house. Harry waives the Unbreakable and signs the papers by Owl for the sake of expediency, heaves a sigh of relief as he watches the bird disappear on the horizon.

Hermione tells him, a year or so later, that it’s been turned into some sort of museum. Harry’s only half-listening when she says it, busy watching with narrowed eyes as Ginny and Neville linger a little too long together at the bar, but he turns to her when she asks if he thinks he might ever like to go and see it. Her gaze is sharp, almost probing, and he thinks this might be one of those things where she’s worried he doesn’t have — closure, or something.

“Honestly, Hermione,” he says, with a wincing little shrug, “if I never go back to that house again, it’ll be too soon.”

She nods slowly, and that’s the end of that. And if sometimes, when his walls feel too thin and his surroundings too ordinary, his pipes too loud and his kitchen too small, Harry thinks about what the old relic might’ve been like clean of all the loss it stood for — well. He’s only human, after all. It’s natural to wonder.

Chapter Text

It’s a Thursday afternoon in February, and if Harry finishes three more reports he can go get a gelato from the shop down the road.  

This is his life now, this sad little bargaining system he’s set up with himself: do your work and get a treat, like he’s a spoiled kid, or a dog with an incontinence problem. He’s pretty sure that by twenty five you’re supposed to have worked out how to just do boring stuff because it needs doing, and not because you’ve promised yourself ice cream. It’s not as though there’s anyone that he can ask, though, without tipping his hand vis-a-vis his own motivational methods, so there is the possibility that everyone does this, and he’s not odd or abnormal at all. He doesn’t think it’s very likely, but possible is enough to be getting on with —

— and he’s spent three minutes he could have been writing the report on the Siddlebaum case thinking about the damn ice cream. Harry stares down at the swimming mass of demanding questions and half-written answers on his form and wishes that someone would come hit him or threaten his life or try to burn headquarters down or something. Give him something else to do.

The ear-splitting crack that rents the air is a surprise, and gives Harry half a heart attack thinking he can actually summon evil at will before he looks up and sees:

Kreacher?” Harry says, his voice cracking. He casts a quick cleaning charm over his glasses without taking them off, but when he blinks through clear lenses the elf’s still there, as knobbled and bug-eyed as Harry remembers him. His outfit is different — and is that a name tag? — but the face is so familiar Harry couldn’t possibly mistake him.

“HARRY POTTER,” Kreacher wails, throwing himself at Harry’s feet. Harry stares down at him, horrified — he’d been afraid of something like this seven years ago, when he first sold the place, but after all this time he just sort of assumed Kreacher was fine with the whole thing. It’s not as though there’d ever been much love lost between them; whatever truce they managed to form towards the end there, Harry was sure at the time that Kreacher would be happiest under a master of the house who didn’t actively want to die a little every time he stepped across the threshold.

“Er,” says Harry. “Hi, Kreacher. What’s — ”

“Harry Potter must come at once,” Kreacher says, tone urgent, wide eyes staring up at Harry filled with tears. “The Master is in trouble and Kreacher cannot fix it, Kreacher tried, Kreacher tried to disarm them but they hit Kreacher, and Master told Kreacher to get to safety and Kreacher cannot disobey the Master!” He stands and wrings his little hands, bouncing from foot to foot in his agitation. “Kreacher is not even sure he should be here except — Master cannot protect himself and the children and  the artifacts and the house. So much precious history in Kreacher’s hands and Kreacher has failed, failed!” He bursts into hiccuping sobs and slides back down to the floor, clearly too overcome to continue.

“Oi,” says Ron, poking his head over his own cubicle into Harry’s, “I heard something, is everything — bloody hell, is that Kreacher?”

“Who’s armed?” Harry demands of Kreacher, ignoring Ron. “Who hit you? What children? You tell me what you’re talking about right now!”  

“The thieves!” Kreacher cries, and howls, pounding his fists on the floor. “The thieves at Number 12 Grimmauld Place! Harry Potter must come and save us!” He freezes, his whole body aquiver, and then sobs out, “Oh no, they are hurting the drawing room,” before he vanishes abruptly with a crack identical to the first one.

Harry and Ron share a long look over the top of their cubicles before they separate; Ron to gather a proper team, and Harry to grab his cloak, wand and rucksack and head for the door.

It occurs to Harry, as he walks grimly out to the Apparition point on the sidewalk in front of the Ministry, that this might be a trick, a trap. It, after all, wouldn’t be the first time Kreacher fed him misinformation to get him somewhere, and now that Harry thinks about it, he doesn’t actually know who he sold the house to. It’d been purchased through a holding company, but Harry’s lawyer at the time had assured him it was a perfectly respectable buyer who even had some blood ties to the property. That had been more than enough for Harry. He’d been so relieved to get the place off his hands that it hadn’t mattered much to him who got it.

It’s only now that he’s bothering to consider the fact that anyone with blood ties to the old Black house might well be an unsavory sort of character. But Kreacher said there were armed thieves, said there were children; Harry can’t take the chance of not going, and, anyway, he doesn’t want to. He Apparates to a destination he hasn’t thought of in years, and underneath the teeth-gritting, crushing press of traveling this way, Harry feels excitement spread warm through his body, his heart pounding a lion’s roar in his chest. This might be the only part of his job that he actually likes, but by god, he likes it enough to make up for the rest of it.

He has to, or his whole life’s a fucking joke.

Harry lands at the front gate and stumbles a bit, breath stolen at how different Number 12 looks from his last memory. Where it once had been dark and foreboding, sketched out bleak against the landscape in drab blacks and greys, the place is now almost cheerful, the black-shingled roof and wrought iron detailing offset with white paint and accenting green shutters. A carved wooden sign, about four feet high, is embedded in the grass next to the walkway up to the house. It reads “The Modern Museum of Wizarding History, Est. 1999.”

Harry stares at it blankly until a crashing noise from inside the house, followed by something that sounds a lot like Kreacher howling, jerks him back to reality. He runs up the front stairs and through the door that’s been left hanging open, and it becomes clear to him that whatever else this might be, it isn’t any kind of trick — he knows too well what a house looks and sounds like when it’s been invaded by those uninvited. The first floor is wrecked, glass exhibit cases in shatters, chairs overturned with half their stuffing out and the wallpaper hanging loose in strips, but it’s all clearly very recent damage. Harry thinks distantly that even like this it looks better than the last time he saw it, but he doesn’t have time to focus on that right now. He can hear footsteps upstairs, at least three sets, maybe four, and the sounds of spellwork, crashing and ripping and something that might be a pleading voice.

Quickly, Harry pulls his Invisibility Cloak out of his bag and yanks it on. Underneath its silvery cover he climbs as fast as he’s able to the second floor, taking care to avoid the steps and specific spots of floorboard he remembers as being creaky. Memory’s a fickle thing, though, and when he gets to the top of the flight he almost puts his foot down on the only stair he’s ever encountered with a bloodlust, having blocked out its existence more than forgotten about it. He’s stopped just in time by a little sign on a stick that pops up out of its center.

“Careful,” the sign reads, “I bite!” And then there’s a little drawing of a stair with huge fangs biting down on a somehow helpless-looking ankle. Harry strangles back a laugh at the strangeness  and hops over it, landing soft and soundless on the balls of his feet. He creeps over to the door of the parlor, where the footsteps and voices are coming from.

Draco Malfoy, of all bloody people, is sitting with his legs crossed on the floor.

For a second, Harry sees red, fully prepared to burst in and Petrificus Totalis the bastard, read him the riot act about how Harry did not testify at his bloody trial so he could be here, robbing museums and terrorizing house elves, less than a decade down the line. His better judgement takes over his prejudice, though, and he draws in a deep breath and sees the desperation in Malfoy’s face, the obvious terror in the set of his shoulders, the way his hands are behind his back and probably bound — he’s a hostage, Harry realizes. The primary hostage, Harry realizes. This must be his house, Harry realizes.

He sold Grimmauld Place to Draco Malfoy, Harry realizes, and briefly considers just turning around and letting Ron and the backup team handle this one.

He notices the children then, though, huddled behind Malfoy and all probably under the age of ten. One of them, a little girl with light eyes and skin the same warm brown tone as Harry’s, is leaning against Malfoy’s upper arm, would obviously be clutching at it if her hands weren’t bound behind her back. There’s a woman with them, too, pretty and young and dark-haired; she looks like she’s been crying.

All thoughts of turning around forgotten, Harry slips in through the half-open door and gets a look at their intruders. Three men and a woman, all with the tell-tale shimmer of a recently applied glamour, all holding wands. Two of the men are thick in the neck, shoulders and arms, with the wide stances of professional grunts; the third is slight, almost delicate, with a restless, twitchy sort of look to the way he’s pacing back and forth across the room. The woman with them is of average build, neither fat nor thin, and sitting with her legs crossed on a marble-topped desk that looks at least a century old.

She smiles lazily at Malfoy, spinning her wand around between two fingers. “What’ll it be, Mr. Malfoy?” she says, her voice dripping with false sweetness. “Do you want to tell us where it is, or shall we be forced to search this room like we’ve searched the others?”

One of the grunts holds his fist menacingly over a glass case housing a fragile-looking crystal vase. Malfoy’s eyes widen almost imperceptibly, but his voice betrays nothing but haughty exasperation as he spits, “As I have said a dozen times, I haven’t the faintest notion of what it is you’re looking for. If I did, I would certainly have told you where to find it by now, but as I do not, this interrogation tactic is as idiotic as it is pointless.”

Harry glances over at the woman to see if this remark has fazed her at all, but she just laughs. “So you keep saying, Mr. Malfoy. You’ll excuse me if I don’t find myself convinced.” She turns to whisper something to the slightest of the men, who ducks his head to hear her, nods slowly as she talks.

When Harry looks back at Malfoy, Malfoy is looking right at him.

Harry jumps, and then scowls at Malfoy, even though he doubts Malfoy can actually see the detail of his face. He’s probably just an Occlumens — there are a couple of them in the department and the cloak never works on them either. Once, three years ago, Harry’d been tracking a suspect who turned out to be trained in Occlumency and he’d very nearly bled out in an alley because of it; it’s not unheard of, people being able to sense him even when he’s wearing the cloak. It’s just bloody annoying, and especially bloody annoying because it’s Malfoy who’s doing it.

Malfoy’s eyes flick pointedly from Harry’s face to his right. After a second, they roll briefly heavenward and then resume their previous action, flicking from Harry’s face to his right, from Harry’s face to his right…

…where a set of clearly old, quite probably enchanted metal chains are hanging for display on the wall next to the intruders.

Harry grins slightly and offers Malfoy a nod of understanding that, in all likelihood, goes totally unseen. What he should really do is wait to confer with the backup that is bound to be along any second now, but what he does is walk in careful silence across the floor to stand just beneath the chains, reach up and wrap a hand around the end of one. It shivers down and around his arm until his grip on it is perfect, carefully and silently enough that Harry wonders if its magic isn’t a little bit sentient.

He wants to act so badly that it’s all he can do not to rip it from the wall right now, but there are four of them and one of him and children in the room, so he stands there, nearly vibrating in impatience, until he hears the slightly mangled attempt at birdcall that he and Ron set up as a signal for situations like these years before.

The chain sings as it whips through the air, striking the first of the grunts exactly in time with the sound of the front door banging fully open. The man turns in his direction and shrieks blue murder — probably at the way it looks like he’s being wrapped up in a chain attached to and controlled by exactly nothing — and Harry casts an Impediment Jinx and then a Body-Bind at the other grunt, who’s already started to advance menacingly towards Malfoy and the rest of the hostages. There are footfalls on the stairs and the woman jumps from the table, all lazy amusement forgotten, looking at the slight man in what Harry can see is panic even through the glamour.

“Go,” she yells, and Harry throws a curse after them but misses, has to watch in horror as they both run and jump through the nearest windows just as Ron comes crashing through the door.

“Cor, Harry,” he says approvingly, surveying the scene, “bloody cool is what that is, you being all invisible with a chain of death and everything.”

“Windows,” Harry gasps. The chain is heavy, whipping his arm back and forth uncomfortably as the man caught within it thrashes. As if it heard this thought, it slithers its way off his arm to bind itself entirely around its captive, followed shortly by two members of their back-up team; two more are dealing with man in the Body-Bind on the floor. Harry pulls off his cloak and dashes over to the broken glass to meet Ron, noting grimly that the lawn is occupied with several additional Aurors, but not the dead or damaged bodies of any fleeing robbers. “Looks like mid-air Apparition. Bugger.”

“Yeah,” Ron mutters, and meets Harry’s eyes. “So: professionals, you reckon?”

“Of one sort or another,” says Harry, who’s been doing this job long enough to know that the only people well trained enough to make that sort of jump are law enforcement, hit wizards, or the kind of criminals nobody wants to encounter. “Definitely more than your standard snatch-and-grab, that’s for sure.”

“Do you mind?” drawls a hideously familiar voice. Harry turns, heart sinking, to regard Draco Malfoy, who raises one eyebrow and, despite being tied up and sporting what will probably soon be a wicked black eye, manages to look unimpressed. “Not that everyone isn’t enjoying the show, Potter, but there are  children tied up over here.”  

Guiltily, and annoyed that Malfoy even needed to point that out, Harry turns at once and crosses the room, Ron at his heels. He decides to let Ron, who actually has a child and thus presumably knows better than Harry what to do with them, start with the kids, and waves his own wand to undo Malfoy’s bonds first.

“I have told you already I will not play into this sick delusion, Potter,” Malfoy says, loudly and nonsensically, as he stands. Strangely, several of the children seem to be giggling. “It is not healthy and I will enable you no longer! You cannot continue to pretend to rescue people who are in no danger — my god, man, you’ve stooped to frightening children! Innocent babes!”

Harry stares at him, incredulous. “Malfoy,” he says slowly, “what in the bloody — ”

“So maybe,” Malfoy hisses, dropping his voice so only Harry can hear it and turning his face away from the kids, “one of the children said ‘Will Harry Potter come and save us, Mr. Malfoy?’ And maybe it was a bit of a stressful moment and all that popped into my head was this impression I used to do of you in school, so I did it for them and they found it quite funny.” He smiles, as if gratified by this, and then, in a sterner tone, continues: “And of course that useless wretch of a teacher they sent this time was just sitting there crying like a sad lump, completely unhelpful, so, you know. I told them that it was all a bit of a game designed to appease your terrible ego, and the intruders weren’t going to hurt us really, and soon you would burst through the door and declare ‘I am Harry Potter and injustice bows before me!’ and they’d all fall right over in an effort to preserve the fragile balance of your mind.” He fixes Harry with an accusing look, as though irritated with him for having the gall to rescue him from violent criminals intent on torturing information out of him. “It never occurred to me that you might actually show up. But since you did, what say you reach down deep into that special sappy Gryffindor place in your heart and play along? We might spare some of the younger ones, at least, having nightmares tonight.”

Harry stares at Malfoy, aghast. There’s nothing on his face except — well, disdain and fury and cool grey-eyed superiority and all that other stuff that’s driven Harry quietly mad every time they’ve interacted since they were eleven, but. On top of all that, there’s something that Harry would be hard-pressed to call anything but sincerity. And, yeah, it’s pretty weird that Malfoy seems to care about sparing a couple of children some nightmares — that really doesn’t line up with Harry’s mental picture of the man at all — but, well. It’s also pretty weird that Harry seems to have sold him this house, and that he seems to have turned it into a museum, which seems to have just been robbed.

Also: like hell is Harry going to tell Draco Malfoy he can’t put aside his own pride for the sake of some traumatized kids.

“That’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard in my life, you’re completely mental and I can’t believe I’m doing this,” Harry whispers furiously, but then closes his eyes briefly, sighs, and says, loud enough to carry this time, “Er, you’re — right, Malfoy. This is very — dangerous and selfish behavior. How… dare I.”

Ron turns, wide-eyed, to give Harry a questioning look. Harry gives him a helpless little shrug in return, which Ron seems to take as answer enough. He goes back to spelling the children free; several of them appear to be hugging him.

Several others, Harry notes with mild horror, are staring in rapt attention at him and Malfoy. They do, as Malfoy said, seem to be the youngest of the group; the older ones are obviously more shaken and not buying their little show in the slightest.

“How dare you indeed!” Malfoy declares at the top of his voice, and then, in an undertone, “Is that really your best acting? Good god, Potter, how have you survived undercover work all these years?”

Ignoring this — for the children  — Harry says, full volume, “I am, er, deeply ashamed. Of my actions. Which were… deeply shameful. You’ve all, er, shown me the error of my ways. Never again will I,” Harry catches Ron’s eye, sees that he is only barely succeeding at stifling his laughter, and closes his own eyes again to force out through gritted teeth: “manufacture a rescue operation for my own selfish ends.”

“See that you don’t,” Malfoy says sternly, and the group of younger children, all of whose hands have now been freed by Ron, burst into a round of spontaneous applause. Harry wishes briefly and fervently for death. Ron looks like he wishes he had a recording of this for posterity.

Malfoy mostly looks surprised, though his face clears of all expression the minute Harry’s eyes meet his. He moves quickly to begin herding the children and their teacher towards the stairwell, talking a mile a minute about Flooing their parents and rescheduling their tour and how surely — he fixes Harry and Ron with a dark look as he says this part — the Aurors can be convinced to come take their statements at home, if they need them. Harry glances at Ron and then nods his assent at Malfoy, who looks briefly pleased and then briefly irritated and then carefully blank all over again, and who vanishes down the stairs behind his little group without another word.

“Best. Bust. In. Years ,” Ron says with feeling, and goes to check on the two intruders they caught.

They decide that Ron will go back to headquarters to interrogate the prisoners and Harry will stay behind and interview Malfoy. Harry puts up a good fight, in that he gets in one whole, “But,” before Ron looks him firmly in the eye, puts a hand on his shoulder and says, “Mate. I love you like a brother — more than some of them, even — and you have many skills. But interrogation? No. You’re not good at it, mate. It’s just not your bag. It just isn’t your cuppa. You know this. I know this. We have this conversation every time.”

“But,” Harry says, and Ron says, “Mate, it’s not happening,” and Harry, who knows that any argument with Ron where Ron uses the word “mate” more than twice is an argument lost, throws his hands in the air and goes to find Malfoy.

He’s not in the wrecked sitting room or the wrecked study, but Harry finds him in the wrecked parlor, perched on the edge a large armchair that seems to have a fist-sized hole through its middle. He’s got his head in his hands, and Harry thinks he might be trembling slightly. Harry’s surprised to feel a stab of something like admiration for Malfoy — this was obviously quite an ordeal for him, but he kept it together enough to shield some of the children from it, even to display some tactical thinking in getting Harry to that weapon. Harry’s seen enough people in crisis situations to know it for the rare quality it is, calm in the face of a storm. It would be one thing, less impressive, if Malfoy were calm by nature, but obviously — based on this moment but also on basically every memory Harry has of him from school — it’s something he has to construct for himself.

Of course, then Kreacher says, “Thank you for saving us, Harry Potter!” in rapturous tones, and Harry realizes that he’s probably been standing next to the fireplace the whole time Harry’s been in the doorway at the same moment that Malfoy jerks upright, a mask of cool indifference slamming down over his features.

“Oh,” he says, narrowing his eyes. “You’re still here.”

“Aurors are widely known to linger at crime scenes,” Harry says mildly. “Strangely enough.” Malfoy scowls at him but says nothing, and Harry sighs. “I’ve got to take a statement from you, Malfoy. So we can, you know, catch the criminals?”

“You wouldn’t have to if you’d just targeted the actual ringleaders,” Malfoy mutters, frowning. “It was obvious that the two who got away were the brains of the operation. But no, naturally you go straight for the muscle, bloody Gryffindor that you are — ”

“Yeah, well, when you’re trained in tactical analysis of hostage situations you can decide who gets taken out first,” Harry snaps, stung. In truth he’s been kicking himself for that very thing since the ringleaders in question jumped out the window, but it’s not like he’s going to say so to — the victim, Harry reminds himself, of this crime. He takes a deep breath and tries again. “It’s really not that difficult, I swear. I’ll just have you take me through the crime, answer a few questions, and then I’ll be on my way.”

Malfoy glares at him for a long, narrow-eyed moment, before he abruptly says, “Oh, fine,” and collapses back against the chair, seemingly either forgetting or not caring about the hole through the middle. He waves a hand at the settee across from him. “You might do me the basic courtesy of sitting down, so I don’t have to strain my neck looking at you on top of everything else.”

Harry rolls his eyes, but he sits down.

“Would Harry Potter like some tea?” Kreacher asks, suddenly appearing next to Harry and leering unsettlingly at him, and Harry says, “Sure,” in the same moment Malfoy says, “No!”

They look at each other for a beat, and then at Kreacher, who seems to be fixed in a suspended state of indecision, one finger twitching slightly. “Oh, fine,” Malfoy says again, even more irritably than before. “I’ll have one too, then. Maybe,” and he raises his eyebrows at Harry, as though daring him to say anything, “put a little something extra in mine.”

Harry does not say anything, mostly because he’s conducted a lot of interviews like this while the victim sipped on something to soothe their nerves, but a little because he’s tempted to say, “Bring the bottle.”

Kreacher vanishes with a pop and Malfoy puts one hand over his eyes, waves the other again in vague permission. “By all means, Potter,” he drawls, “ask away.”

“Well, let’s start with this — what were they after?”

“Oh my god,” Malfoy says, dropping the hand from his eyes to stare at Harry. “Really? Are you deaf? Did you not just stand there and watch them threaten me and my life’s work and, implicitly, every one of those children for that same information?” His voice climbs as he talks, nowhere near shouting but — louder, certainly, than normal speech. “I  don’t knew, Potter. If I knew, as I believe I mentioned upstairs, I would have given it to them just to get them out of the bloody house!”

Harry flushes, irritated. “Well, how was I supposed to know that that wasn’t just — I don’t know, a cover or something? To keep them from getting their hands on — whatever it is?”

“Oh, because I’d protect myself and my unknown personal treasure at the cost of history and schoolchildren,” Malfoy sneers, a bitter twist to his mouth. “Not to mention a perfectly innocent wizarding home, right, yes, of course. It has become so surprisingly easy to forget what a terrible person I am without you constantly popping up to remind me.”

Harry’s mouth is open around a retort when Kreacher reappears with a tea tray. It seems to startle both of them away from the argument — he can see his own slight shame reflected for a second on Malfoy’s face — and he takes his cup without replying. When he sips it, he’s touched to realize that Kreacher has remembered how he takes it, and smiles at him. “It’s perfect, Kreacher, thanks.”

Kreacher beams at him and scurries over to hand Malfoy his cup before he and the tray vanish with a pop.

Malfoy takes a long sip of his tea and sighs contentedly. “He’s a strange creature, but Merlin favor whatever Black ancestor trained him into his heavy pour.” He regards Harry coolly over the rim of his cup. “Well, come on then. Let’s have the rest of them. I haven’t got all day to sit around and answer questions, you know.”

Harry sighs, wishing that he had given in to his instincts and told Kreacher to bring him some Firewhiskey too, professionalism and rules for on-duty Aurors be damned. Instead of sharing this with Malfoy, he says, “So — you turned the place into a museum.”

Malfoy stares. Slowly, as if talking to a child, he says, “Yes?”

Harry imagines throttling him a little, but he thinks he succeeds in keeping it out of his voice as he says, “And this museum specializes in artifacts from Wizarding history?”

“You know, I don’t think you actually need me for this interview at all,” Malfoy says, tone mockingly thoughtful. “There are several others around the place you could consult — our brochures, for example, would be eager to help — I’ve had nothing but pleasant conversations with the sign outside — “

“Are you always this difficult?” Harry snaps, needled to his breaking point.

“Well I’ve had a rather trying day,” Malfoy says, drawling the words out slow, dry as the Sahara. “So you’ll forgive me if I’m not eager to answer questions with answers so obvious it’s painful.”

“Was anything. Of value. Taken,” Harry says through gritted teeth, writing YOU GIANT GIT in the margins of his form as he does.

It seems to be the magic question, though; Malfoy’s body language changes and his eyes dart to the floorboards that have been torn up, the painting on the far wall that’s hanging in ribbons in its frame.

“They damaged far more than they took,” Malfoy says, abrupt and miserable. “If they took anything, that is. I haven’t exactly,” he stops and takes a long sip from his tea before he says, “taken a thorough inventory or anything, but. I haven’t noticed anything significant is gone. Certainly none of the more obviously valuable pieces.”  

“Odd,” Harry mutters, making a note of it. “Do you have insurance?”

“Are you actually trying to accuse me of insurance fraud?” Malfoy demands, sitting up straight so abruptly that he very nearly spills his tea. “Because I would never, you must be completely daft. It would hardly be worth the risk, and even if I did lose my mind and decide to give it a go I would never damage the house itself — ”

“I am not accusing you of insurance fraud, Malfoy,” Harry says, holding up a weary hand. He’s really regretting not asking Kreacher for the Firewhiskey right about now. “I am asking whether you have insurance. Because it’s a question. I have to ask. On this form.”

Malfoy glares at him suspiciously and so Harry holds up the form, pointing at the offending prompt. He’s not expecting Malfoy to lean over, snatch it away, and start reading off the questions in a lazy voice.

“Target of theft, we’ve done that; history of property and/or organization, yes, okay; was anything of value taken — my god, Potter, you really don’t deviate much from these questions at all, do you? Except, I note, for this stunning gem of professionalism.” He holds the paper up much as Harry had, his finger pointedly beneath the words YOU GIANT GIT. Harry tries to grab it away from him, but Malfoy’s quick and just used that move besides, and so leans out of reach, regarding Harry with a superior little grin, and keeps reading.

“Insurance, yes, yes, ah, here we are: ‘Additional questions, asked at Auror discretion, may be notated here, to be written out in full in final report.’” Malfoy raises his eyebrows at the form, and then lifts his face to direct the expression at Harry. “Bureaucracy at its finest, isn’t it?  I must say, I feel ever so assured of the Auror department’s competence.”

“Would you just,” Harry says, and before he can stand up to snatch the form out of the bastard’s stupid hands, Malfoy leans over and passes it to him, all innocence and grace, like he intended to all along. God, but he drives Harry up a wall. “Just — the kids, what were the kids doing here? Who were they? We actually are going to have to take their statements, we’ll need their names — is it a regular visiting group, or just a one-off thing?”

Malfoy sighs, all the humor dropping out of his expression, his shoulders drooping slightly. “They were the London Education Advancement and Readiness Network, or,” he shudders slightly here, “L.E.A.R.N. I would like it on the official record that I am not responsible for the name.”

“So noted,” says Harry, pointedly not writing anything down, and the little twitch of irritation this wrings from Malfoy is better than the gelato would have been. He grins, pleased with himself. “So, what’s L.E.A.R.N.?”

“A verb no one ever bothered to teach you?” Malfoy suggests brightly. Then, at Harry’s sharp look, he adds in a much crosser voice, “Merlin, fine. It’s a group for area children from the Hogwarts list who are too young to be at school, but who still might want the opportunity to learn about Wizarding culture. The Pureblooded families tend to take care of that sort of thing for themselves, but for mixed families and Muggleborn kids, it can be a bit harder. One of the new Hogwarts governesses suggested it a few years ago. If I recall, she thought it was a bit cruel to suddenly drop the bomb of magic on eleven year olds and their families, especially right before they have to go off to school.”

Harry, who remembers vividly having a conversation with this very man in a robe shop when they were both eleven, and who will never quite forget thinking he was so out of place in this strange new world that he’d never fit in, thinks the governess was right. But, also:

“You,” Harry repeats slowly, “were hosting — what, a field trip? For a group of non-Pureblood kids? To study Wizarding history?”

“Yes, and isn’t it tragic that the interlopers broke in right before I got the chance to eat them,” Malfoy snaps, rolling his eyes. He takes a sip from his cup so deep that it surely has to drain it, and puts it down on the side table next to him with a savage little clatter. “I have a group come through every month, Potter. You can check my guest logbooks; you can ask the children themselves, for that matter, some of them have been here several times. And, to forestall any questions about whether I stole any of my exhibits, or am secretly using this operation to launder money for dangerous criminals, or whatever other nefarious deeds your lot might come up with to accuse me of, you can also feel free to check my other records. I’ll have them sent by messenger.” Malfoy smiles at him unpleasantly. “I’ve kept very meticulous records, you see, in case the Aurors ever came to call.”

“And that never struck you as a little paranoid?”

Malfoy gives him a long, cool look, and then gestures sweepingly at the wreckage around them. “It’s not paranoia when they really are all out to get you, I believe is the phrase.”

And then — Harry can’t say what it is, exactly, how he’s so sure, but he watches the way Malfoy’s face freezes, the way his eyes go distant and unfocused, and knows that it’s all just hit Malfoy, the weight of what’s happened here. Harry’s uncomfortable all of a sudden, in this ruined wreck of a room; part of being an Auror is seeing these moments, is being with people after they have been brought low and made vulnerable, but, well. Usually those people aren’t Draco Malfoy.

Harry can’t think of anyone who he’d want to see him fall apart less, and he stands up abruptly, folds the form and slides it into his pocket. “That’s going to be all for now, I think.”

“I — wait, what?” Malfoy wrenches his gaze from where it had been fixed in misery on the far wall to stare at him in outrage. “That’s all your additional questions? This is what your discretion has deemed an appropriate amount of inquiry? A crime was committed here today, Potter! The culprits are still at large!”

Harry stares at the tense line of Malfoy’s shoulders, hears the sharp note of panic ringing through his voice, and realizes: he’s scared. Like any other victim of any other crime, Malfoy is frightened and unsettled and wondering what to do now, what he’ll do if they come back. It’s wholly understandable — normal, even — but it’s so bizarre to recognize in Malfoy that Harry stares openly, just for a second, before he shakes himself and lets his slightly open mouth snap shut.

“No,” Harry says, and as usual his voice comes out rough, not anything like the tone of calm reassurance he was going for. He clears his throat and adds, as kindly as he can manage, “I want to go through some of the records first, take some other statements, see what we get from the two we apprehended. Then I’ll be back. Tomorrow, maybe the next day. I’ll Owl you for a good time.”

“Oh, joy,” Malfoy drawls, but he settles back in the chair all the same, looking slightly mollified. “And I suppose if they come back before you do I should just ask very nicely not to be murdered, hmm?”

“Or you could just call out for one of the Aurors I’ll have posted at your door,” Harry says, equally dry.  “Obviously the department would prefer the latter option, but you have to do what feels right, I guess.”

“Hmm,” Malfoy says again. Then he nods sharply and says, “Well, get out then, Potter. I assume you can see yourself to the door; it was your house once, after all.”

And Harry’s opening his mouth to say, “About that,” to demand to know why in the hell Malfoy had secretly bought this property from him and turned it into some mad little museum that seems to attract primarily Muggleborn children and thieves, when he — doesn’t. He just doesn’t. He’s not sure why — he definitely still wants to know — but he doesn’t.

He picks his way back through the study instead, past the mutilated guts of couch cushions and throw pillows and what looks like a burn in one of the massive, plush carpets rolled out across the floor. When he reaches the door, he turns to regard Malfoy’s tired frame, already curling back towards the hunch he’d been in when Harry first walked inside.

“Hey, Malfoy,” Harry says, quiet and genuine. Malfoy looks up and Harry feels the corner of his own mouth pull up into a gesture that isn’t quite a smile, more of a wincing, commiserating little grimace. “Sorry. Really.”

Malfoy’s mouth opens a little, and he stares at Harry for a second before he snaps it shut, looks away. He swallows — Harry can see his throat working — and then gives Harry that sharp little nod.

Then he ruins it by adding, “Please do get out now, Potter, it’s very rude to linger,” but Harry still leaves glad he said it. Someone has to be the bigger person, after all.

Chapter Text

Harry ends up having dinner at Ron and Hermione’s that night in the sort of absent-minded way he often does, where one minute he’s talking about a case at the office with Ron and the next he’s blinking and kissing Hermione on the cheek as he takes off his coat. He doesn’t mind it — he’s grateful for it — but he can’t help but wonder some nights if he isn’t… imposing on them. Forcing himself where he does not belong.

The roast is good tonight, though, so Harry tries not to think about it.

They spend a few minutes going over Hermione’s day, always an interesting discussion — you couldn’t pay Harry to work the judicial side of the law, but Hermione seems to enjoy it, and she’ll be Chief Witch of the Wizengamot one of these days — before they cycle back around to the Malfoy case. Rose laughs her sticky-fingered amusement right along with Ron as he tells, with what Harry privately thinks is a lot more delight than is really professional, the story of Harry and Malfoy’s weird little impromptu skit. Harry defends himself the best he can — “It was for the children, Hermione!” — but eventually he gives in and sighs, laughs a little along with them.

“Fine,” he admits, grinning slightly, “it was completely mental. But what was I supposed to do? Malfoy’d already told them the whole thing was play-acting, I couldn’t very well say, ‘No, kids, actually you’re all lucky to be alive, if Mr. Malfoy’s house elf hadn’t come and got us you’d probably all have been killed!’ No. I had to go along, completely barmy though it was.”

Ron nods enthusiastically, swallowing a mouthful of potato. “Mad as a brush, that Malfoy,” he says, sounding immensely pleased to have the opportunity to do so, before he fixes his eyes on Harry. “Meant to ask you about that, actually — why didn’t you finish the interview? Did he go off on one or something?”

Harry looks at him blankly. “What?”

“I saw your initial report,” Ron says slowly. “The whole backside of the page was blank. Harry, did you forget to finish filling it out again? You know your backlog is already massive.”

Harry closes his eyes briefly, the words “Details of the Crime,” and the entire page of empty space to write swimming behind his eyelids. He hadn’t forgotten to fill it out; he’d forgotten to even ask, distracted by… whatever. The way Malfoy kept looking like he was about to scream or cry or be sick or something, just for a second, before he went back to looking like a ferret-faced posh bastard without a care in the world.

“Er,” Harry says, opening his eyes. “Yeah, I, er, did. Forget. To write it down, I mean. I’m going back in the next day or so, though,” he adds quickly, “to get some additional details, do some more digging, so. I’ll definitely get it done.”

For some reason, this sentence triggers an apprehensive look between Ron and Hermione, who quickly looks back to Harry, takes a sip of her wine, and says, in a falsely bright tone, “Paperwork is very important, you know, Harry. I know it doesn’t always seem that way, but it’s really a cornerstone of our justice system. Why, just the other day I was having a conversation with — ”

“Wait,” Harry says slowly, his mind working. Why would Ron and Hermione be worried about Harry going back to Grimmauld Place? What could they possibly be worried he would find or figure out, except — one of the Hogwarts governesses, Malfoy had said — and that he wasn’t responsible for the name L.E.A.R.N.

“Oh my god!” Harry says, pointing a wild finger at Hermione and then staring at it, slightly horrified with himself. He drops his hand but not his tone as he continues, “You knew! You knew I’d sold my house to Draco Malfoy and you didn’t tell me! God, you’ve known for years, haven’t you?” he demands, suddenly remembering the night Hermione told him the place had been converted, the sharp, probing way she asked if he thought he’d ever drop by. At the time he’d thought she was trying to get at his Deep Emotional Baggage or whatever, but: “You’ve known since the first time you went and saw the museum!” 

“I,” says Hermione, clutching at her wine. She opens her eyes too wide, that I’m-innocent-please-forgive-me look Harry most strongly associates with missing bites of his dessert, and then, quailing under Harry’s ferocious glare, blurts out, “Ron knew too!”

“Divorce,” Ron gasps, turning to stare at her. Harry, who spent several months a few years back quietly panicking every time either of them said this before he recognized it was a joke, settles back in his chair to glower, arms crossed over his chest. Ron casts a look his way, grimaces, and then turns back to Hermione. “I can’t believe you’d just throw me under the bus like that! Divorce for sure, I no longer feel this marriage is built on a foundation of trust.”

“Well it’s the truth,” Hermione says, and turns beseeching eyes on Harry. “Please don’t be angry, Harry. We didn’t want to keep it from you, we just. Well!” She turns her pleading look on Ron, who, for all he was threatening to divorce her a mere twelve seconds ago, caves under it a lot quicker than Harry would have.

“It’s only,” Ron says, and takes a long swig of his wine, clearly to brace himself. “You — well. You know how you can get, Harry. About Malfoy.”

“What?” Harry says, staring at both of them. “Sorry, what ? No, I don’t know how I can get  about Malfoy, what are you even talking about?”

“Oh, Harry,” says Hermione, sounding very pitying.

“Mate,” Ron says, in the same tone. “C’mon. This is a safe space.”

“Also, we were there,” adds Hermione, with a heavy sigh. “Remember in sixth year? When you were so obsessed with him that we weren’t allowed to talk about anything else?”

“He was doing evil,” Harry protests, outraged. “And I was doing my best to thwart evil! That’s not obsessive, that’s — that’s — civic-minded!”

“Civic-minded, was it, to sit up all night watching his name move around the Slytherin common room on the Marauder’s Map?” Ron does not sound convinced. Also, he sounds like maybe he thinks Harry has suffered some sort of traumatic brain injury in the last ten minutes; it’s not a combination Harry enjoys. “I swear, one night we were down in the common room and I said, ‘You coming to bed, Harry?’ and you said — ”

“Oh god, I remember this,” Hermione interrupts, and groans. “You said ‘I won’t rest until Malfoy does!’ Then you threw a paperweight at the wall, and it exploded.”

“I loved that paperweight,” Ron says mournfully. “It died too young.”

“Well!” Harry says. He feels boxed in by the joint weight of their disapproving stares, and a little wildly he fixes his eyes on baby Rose, who at least is too young to judge him. “Well, okay, fine, maybe in sixth year I was a bit — but it was sixth year. I had a lot going on and maybe, fine, maybe I did get, I suppose, a little fixated on the whole Malfoy thing, but that’s one year! One! That’s hardly a basis — ”

“Oh, Harry,” Hermione says, now sounding so pitying that Harry wants to die.

“My mum and dad used to talk about it,” Ron says, with the air of a man laying down a trump card. He nods when Harry turns, agape, to stare at him in horror. “Yep. Yes. They did. My mum always said it wasn’t natural for a child to have a nemesis, and then my dad would say that he was sure that if the Malfoy boy was anything like his father he was a terror and deserved it. And then Mum would say, ‘Yes, Arthur, I’m sure he does, but I’m not worried about him, even Fred and George never had nemeses,’ and then Dad would say of course they had, but not sounding very sure about it. And Mum would say no, they didn’t, they had prank targets which admittedly also was not very healthy, but they’d never actually singled out and declared violent hatred for one of the other schoolchildren. And then Dad would mutter something about keeping an eye on you and have a large drink, which, as we all know, meant he agreed with her but didn’t think you’d be keen on hearing that little boys shouldn’t have eternal undying feuds of hate with their classmates!”

Ron leans back in his chair, looking triumphant. Harry slides down in his own, wishing there were a way to slip under the table and Disapparate without them noticing he’s gone.  

“This might be the most humiliating moment of my life,” Harry tells Rose, who gurgles at him and gleefully smears mashed carrot across his sweater. Seems about right.

“The point is, Harry,” Hermione says, her tone brisk now, “for obvious reasons, we thought it might be better to just leave the whole Grimmauld Place thing alone. Malfoy’s never been any better about you, after all, and you didn’t even want to know who’d bought the place. You could have found out easily, but you never did, so we thought we’d leave well enough alone. ”

“Yeah, mate,” Ron says, and shrugs. “We weren’t trying to keep you in the dark, but. If this hadn’t happened today, you’d’ve kept on the way you’ve been and probably never even found out about it, don’t you reckon? And we just thought that might be…. better. In the long run.”

“I’m not a child,” Harry mutters, and looks away from their twin stares. “And I’m not — I’ve never been — whatever, obsessed with Malfoy, you two are off your nut. He just drives me a bit mad, is all, but I’ll go back and get the rest of his statement — “

“Wait, you didn’t even take the other part of his statement?” exclaims Ron, eyebrows raising. “Harry, that’s the most important part of the whole interview!"

“I will go back and take the rest of his statement and get whatever information I need and solve this case and then that is it,” Harry says, and stabs vengefully at his roast. “Okay? All right? Is that enough to get me off the hook here, judges? I’ll do my job and then get on with it like the adult that I am. All right?

Hermione and Ron share that apprehensive glance again, but then Hermione sighs, gives Harry a long look. “Fine. You’re right, you’re an adult, and we’ll drop it.”

“I’m locking all my paperweights in the office safe,” Ron says darkly. Harry ignores him.

He sends Malfoy an Owl the next morning. After several different attempts to begin — “Dear Draco,” is right out, but “Dear Malfoy,” looks equally ridiculous, and he’s not about to write “Dear Mr. Malfoy,” like he’s one of the children from yesterday — he decides to omit the greeting entirely, and writes:

Hey. I need to come by and take the rest of your statement, plus go over some stuff with you, and get a good look around. Do you have time today?

-HP

He rolls it up and holds it out for Mathilda, the barn owl he bought a few years ago. She’s not Hedwig, but she’s a character in her own right, and Harry’s grown to love her little strangenesses. True to form, she pops her head up under his hand and rotates it nearly all the way around and then back again, knocking all her feathers into an avian imitation of bedhead, before she sticks out her leg and lets him tie the letter on.

“This goes to Draco Malfoy,” Harry tells her, stroking her feathers lightly back into place. “Wait for his reply if he starts writing one, but don’t feel like you have to hang around all day for him, okay?”

Mathilda hoots in soft acquiescence and swoops out of his office window.

Harry spends the hour she’s gone pouring over Malfoy’s records. They are, as he’d suggested the day before, punishingly thorough, and Harry’s eyes swim after just a few minutes of looking at them. He pushes gamely on, though, and before he is mercifully interrupted by Mathilda’s return he draws two conclusions. The first is that Malfoy is an absurdly meticulous git whose very existence somehow manages to gives Harry a headache.

The second is that Malfoy’s actually got quite a lot of incredible stuff in Harry’s old house, and seems to have done a fairly enormous amount of work to get it.

He takes the parchment from Mathilda’s leg, grateful to have anything to look at that isn’t Malfoy’s ledgers. In the neat script Harry’s gotten all too familiar with this morning, he reads: 

As my business has been temporarily closed due to cataclysm, yes, Potter, I am available today. I have meetings with potential restorers for some of the damaged exhibits scattered across the day; if you don’t mind the occasional 15 minute break, you may come by at your leisure.

Cordially,

Draco Malfoy

P.S. Your inability to correctly format a letter is bordering on grotesque. No greeting? No signature? You must have been raised by wolves.

Harry scowls at the P.S. until he rereads the letter and notices that Malfoy has not manage to include a greeting either. Then he grins, grabs up his belongings, and hits the door.

Kreacher pulls open the door at Number 12 before Harry even gets the chance to knock, which is nice, if a bit creepy. He doesn’t get there quite in time to stop Harry from reading the little sign on the doorway, though: Closed Indefinitely for Repairs. Your Patience is Appreciated in This Trying Time, handwritten in Malfoy’s newly familiar script. Harry’s not sorry to stop looking at it, although he couldn’t quite say why.

“Harry Potter!” Kreacher says, beaming at him and ushering him inside. “Master Draco is expecting you. Kreacher will take your coat.”

Harry hands Kreacher his coat and scarf gamely enough, noticing again the little golden nametag hanging proudly from his crisp white toga. “What’s with the nametag?”

Kreacher draws himself up proudly and beams. “Kreacher is a tour guide for the Modern Museum of Wizarding History between the hours of ten and six, Harry Potter! Kreacher is employee of the month.”

He vanishes with a familiar crack on that little disclosure, leaving Harry to blink in surprise after him and then shake his head, look around. The place already looks better than it did yesterday, if still in obvious disrepair; the debris has been cleared from the ground, the worst of the torn wallpaper cut away. Most of the damaged furniture seems to have been pushed out to the edges of the rooms Harry can see from the foyer, leaving what’s left within them looking bare and strangely forlorn.

It really is pretty amazing, Harry thinks, what Malfoy’s done with the place. He’d hardly think it was the same house he remembers from the war. Every surface that Harry recalls as dampening light catches it instead, and the ceilings actually seem higher, which Harry knows logically that they’re not, but. He remembers Grimmauld Place as close and claustrophobic, musty, dark. The museum, even in what has to be the worst condition of its short history, is open, airy and bright. It’s hard to reconcile.

There’s another crack as Kreacher reappears, and when Harry turns his head he sees that the elf is wringing his hands, hopping slightly from foot to foot. Harry crouches down, alert at once, and demands, “What is it? What’s wrong?”

“Oh, nothing! Nothing, Harry Potter!” Kreacher says, voice squeaking on the words. “Kreacher didn't mean to suggest anything was wrong! Kreacher only wanted to say — thank you for answering the call!”

“Oh,” Harry says, huffing out a relieved breath and offering him a little smile. “Well, that’s — that’s all right, Kreacher. I didn’t mind.” He’s about to stand back up when he considers the phrasing — “answer the call,” that’s a bit weird — and he wonders, for the first time, why on earth Kreacher had shown up at his cubicle yesterday. Not at the Auror department; his cubicle.

“Say, Kreacher,” Harry says, keeping his voice pitched in the tone of casual inquiry, “I meant to ask. Why’d you come to me in the first place? I mean, to my desk? Not that I wasn’t happy to help, but it’s usually better to go to intake with a crime in progress.”

“Kreacher is not always a tour guide, and Harry Potter is a former Master of the House,” Kreacher says, voice going oddly formal. “Kreacher serves the Master, and Kreacher serves the House. If the House seeks aid, Kreacher goes to the Master; if the Master seeks aid, Kreacher goes to the House. If both seek aid, Kreacher must find another Master, or another House, to answer the call.”

He gives Harry a significant look and then vanishes again, with a crack that seems somehow more pointed than the first two.

“Huh,” Harry says, rocking back on his heels. He’d known that some of the magic tied up with old Wizarding homes was a bit bonkers, but apparently he’d had no idea.

“Oh for god’s sake, Potter,” comes Malfoy’s voice from the top of the stair. “What are you doing, looking for clues in the woodgrain?”

Scowling at having been caught crouched on the floor like an idiot, Harry stands up and turns to see Malfoy descending the staircase. He’s wearing his hair pulled back today, caught in the tiniest tuft of a ponytail at the crown of his head and revealing that, though long enough to hang down past his ears on top, the sides are shaved down short. It looks — not good on him, Harry thinks hastily, he doesn’t really care about that, but. Fitting, Harry supposes, is the word. Sleek, but unusual.

He’s also, Harry notices with some irritation, still sporting the massive black eye that was starting to develop on his face the previous evening. Someone should have healed that for him, and it grates a little under Harry’s skin, seeing it there; it’s doing the Aurors a discredit, letting Malfoy walk around with that obvious injury over his soft green sweater. Harry’s just about to open his mouth and say as much to Malfoy when he realizes who is descending the stairs behind him.

“Neville,” Harry says, shocked. “I, er, didn’t know you’d be here.”

“Me neither,” Neville says, and gives Harry a tight, uncomfortable little smile. “I mean, that you would be here. I would have — gone. Or not. I mean, I wouldn’t have — you get what I’m saying.”

“Sure,” says Harry, and looks away. It’s just been… awkward, hasn’t it, with Neville and Ginny, in these years since everything fell out. Harry doesn’t want it to be; sure, he’d been angry at first, hurt that she’d left him, brokenhearted that it was for another man, for one of their friends, but. He doesn’t think he could ever really have been happy with her, not in the long term, now that he’s had the time to properly think about it. He doesn’t think he could have made her happy, either, and Neville obviously does; he’s glad for her, for both of them. He is.

But sometimes even now Harry sees them together, laughing and leaning into each other at the Weasley dinners, or trading jokes and sly glances across Ron and Hermione's table, and hates them both, just a little. Hates Neville for being what he wasn’t, and hates Ginny for needing that, even though he knows she deserves it and wants her to have it. Hates that they’ve got each other, and he’s alone.

It’s awkward, is all. He hasn’t ever quite been able to figure out how to make it right.

“Well, isn’t this the most upsetting little display of social incompetence since man discovered the wheel,” Malfoy drawls, rolling his eyes. “If I’ve said it once I’ve said it a thousand time: they don’t socialize you Gryffindors properly, it’s why you all come out hopeless bores. Longbottom, Potter is here to ask me a series of invasive questions in the name of justice. Potter, Longbottom tends to the vicious, ancient hag who lives in my attic.”

Harry stares, and is about to demand to know how Neville Longbottom, of all people, got stuck dealing with that painting of Sirius’s mad old mum, when Neville makes a soft tsking sound and slaps Malfoy lightly on the shoulder with a rubber gardening glove.

“Don’t talk about her like that,” Neville says, and then, in rapturous tones, “Harry, Malfoy has the oldest known living Venomous Tentacula up there. Found her half-dead on some dig and installed her in the attic — apparently these old wizarding homes like having a bit of deadly shrubbery about the place, and of course Tentaculas feed on magic as well as sunlight, so the climate suits her fine. She’s nearly a thousand years old, just an absolute beauty, a really incredible specimen — ”

“A nightmare,” Malfoy interrupts, “that I should have left to die in the sand where I found her. Tetchy and expensive and barely even a museum attraction, because as it turns out no one wants to get near a mad old plant who’ll throw spiked seedpods at you as soon as look at you. I should just let you take her, really,” he says, directing this last at Neville as he steps down off the last stair.

“I wish you would,” Neville says, and grins at him.

Malfoy sighs, but it’s clearly affected, part of some in-joke, which is just — really weird, Harry thinks, to see between Neville and Malfoy. “Perhaps next time; I just can’t seem to find the energy to draw up the paperwork right now.”

“I won’t hold my breath,” Neville says easily, and steps down onto the ground behind him.

“So you two… work together, then,” Harry says, looking back and forth between them and still not quite believing it. He lets his eyes settle on Neville. “Malfoy. Is a client. Of yours?”

“I see you still have all the subtlety of a hex to the face,” Malfoy says, turning an irritated look on him. “Yes, Potter, you might as well come out and say it: we did indeed have quite a fractious relationship as children, thank you so much for bringing that up. But then I had a dying magical plant and Longbottom here was touted far and wide as the best in the business, so.” He shrugs, a louche little one-shouldered move. “We got over it.”

“He was a bullying git and the source of half my childhood nightmares,” Neville corrects, grinning, “but I charged him four times my normal price when we started and it more or less evened out in the end.”

“Four times,” Malfoy splutters, rounding on Neville at once. “But — that can’t be — you dropped it down from double last year!”

“I dropped it down to double last year,” Neville says. “But don’t worry. I promise if you ever really can’t afford it, I’ll discount you down to you my standard rate.”

“What a great comfort,” Malfoy mutters. “Such a warm notion in this time of stress.”

“I live to serve,” Neville says cheerfully. He throws his gloves into the carpet bag slung over his shoulder, which is printed with a pattern of radishes and trowels.

Ginny left him for a man carrying a radish and trowel carpet bag, Harry thinks, and almost laughs. It’s not that he doesn’t think Neville is a great guy, deserving of all he’s got; it’s just funny, how life never quite seems to shake out the way Harry thinks it’s going to.

“Well, I’m off,” Neville says. He claps Malfoy on the shoulder and says, “Chin up, Draco,” which, for some reason, makes Malfoy look sharply at Harry before he makes another spluttering noise that is, now that Harry thinks on it, really more of an outraged squawk. Neville ignores this and looks at Harry, hitching his bag up on his shoulder awkwardly. “It was, uh, good to see you, Harry.”

“You too,” Harry says, reaching up to rub at the back of his neck. “Say, er. Say hi to Gin for me.”

“I… will,” Neville says, voice slow with surprise. Then he nods to both of them, takes his coat from a waiting Kreacher, and walks quickly out the door, leaving Harry and Malfoy alone in the foyer.

Harry waits, all but holding his breath, for Malfoy to say something cutting about what he — and the rest of the Wizarding world, according to Harry’s friends — read in the gossip columns a few years back. Harry hasn’t taken the Prophet in years, but the Potter-Weasley-Longbottom love triangle had apparently gotten a lot of traction, produced months of speculation after it broke. Harry could never understand that; it was really a very simple story. Ginny loved Neville more than she loved Harry, fit better with Neville than she fit with Harry, wanted Neville more than she wanted Harry. Nothing complicated about it at all.

Malfoy’s eyes, fixed on Harry, glitter with malice, and Harry’s so braced for some comment about cuckolds or ginger abandonment or whatever else that he almost doesn’t process it when Malfoy says, in tones of deep delight, “Potter, what in the name of heaven is that?”

Harry blinks, and then follows Malfoy’s gaze down to the center of his own chest. To his absolute horror, one of their inter-office memos has affixed itself there, its neon green paper glowing faintly in the morning light. It must have attached itself to him while he was going through Malfoy’s accounts; Harry has no idea how he didn’t notice.

Malfoy leans over and plucks it from Harry’s shirt before Harry can even react. “‘Dear Harry,’” he reads, “‘please — ’ oh, this part is all in capitals ‘— DO NOT FORGET AGAIN to have Malfoy take you through the crime. It is — ’ capitals again ‘— THE MOST IMPORTANT PART OF YOUR JOB, and I know it’s distracting that he’s Malfoy, but still. Don’t forget! Hermione says paperwork is 9/10ths of the law. Love, Ron.’” Malfoy closes his eyes and lets out a satisfied little sound before he opens them again, like he’s just downed a glass of lemonade on a hot day. “Potter, I must be straightforward with you: I may frame this. It is beautiful and it deserves a place on the walls of Wizarding history. Who knew Weasley had such poetry inside of him?”

“Oh, give me that,” Harry snaps, snatching for it. It vanishes up Malfoy’s sleeve before he can get his hands on it, and he crosses his arms and gives Malfoy his sternest scowl. “You will not put that in the museum.”

Malfoy just laughs, eyes bright. Harry’s not sure he’s ever seen him laugh before — or, well. Of course Harry’s sure he has, he must have laughed plenty at school, in mockery and lording himself over everyone else and generally being a tiny blonde whirlwind of unpleasant evil-adjacent chaos, but. He’s never seen this, Malfoy’s wide smile and the lithe lines of his throat as his head tips slightly back. It’s still at Harry’s expense, but the amusement is less… cold, somehow, than anything Harry can remember from him.

It’s a nice laugh, low and rich, crinkling his eyes at the corners. Harry’s surprised by it.

“Terrifying though that little display of authority was,” Malfoy says after a moment, calming himself, “why don’t we get on to THE MOST IMPORTANT PART OF YOUR JOB?” He pitches his voice in obvious reference to Ron’s capitalization, and just smirks when Harry scowls. “Come on; most of the rooms down here won’t be sorted out for ages. Being in them depresses me.”

He says it like it’s a joke, but the smile still playing at the edges of his mouth goes sour, so Harry is pretty sure there’s hard truth behind the words. He follows Malfoy silently up the stairs, jumping the one with the “I bite” sign, and into a room at the far end of the hall. When Harry lived here, he just thought of it as a spare room, empty space with no purpose, nothing in it but a few ancient and vaguely ominous armoires. Under Malfoy it’s a beautifully appointed little sitting room, all done in warm woods and soft leather, complete with a well-stocked wet bar in the far corner.

Harry walks over and runs his hands across the polished wooden surface of the bar, and then blinks when it materializes a glass right in front of him, a bottle of Firewhiskey and a perfectly round sphere of ice hovering a question over the rim.

“Er, no thank you, it’s half-eleven,” Harry tells the bar, which, managing somehow to seem a little put out about it, vanishes its offering as quickly as it appeared. To Malfoy, he says, “Did this come with the house? I don’t think I’ve ever seen it before, but it certainly seems to be hooked into the magic.”

Malfoy makes a pleased little noise. “After a fashion, yes. I saw it in a painting of this room from my great-grandfather Pollux’s time, and I tracked it down and bought it back. The woman who had it was terribly fond of it, but, well.” Malfoy shrugs, waves a hand. “It’s hard to argue that it isn’t where it belongs.”

Harry agrees, and thinks, a little bitterly, that if there’d been a magic bar pouring him drinks when he lived here he might never have sold the old pile in the first place. He doesn’t think it’d be very wise to say so, though.

Malfoy moves to the center of the room and sits on one of the leather armchairs, so Harry takes the one across from him, mirroring their postures from the day before. From this angle there’s no ignoring the black eye sprawled across practically half of Malfoy’s face, and Harry frowns at it, annoyed. “D’you want me to get someone to look at that eye for you? Or I can probably just heal it; someone from our team should have seen to it before we left.”

“You will do no such thing,” Malfoy says, sounding scandalized. He prods at the bruised flesh, hissing a little at the pain but then grinning, as if well-pleased by this moment of agony. “It’s quite good, isn’t it? No, no one is touching this until after my appointment with the Prophet. I want to look as battered and tragic as possible when the article comes out.”

“You… want… what?” Harry says, feelings his lip curl in distaste. Not that the Prophet doesn’t deserve to get a little of the manipulation it so often gives, but the very idea of what Malfoy’s suggesting turns Harry’s stomach.

Malfoy’s lip curls right back at him. “Well, Potter, not everyone was beaten about the head with the attention stick when they were doling out lots in life. I’ll do whatever I have to do to make sure the story gets out, and that people are on the lookout for the perpetrators. Speaking of whom,” he leans forward in his chair, fixes Harry with a sharp look, “did you manage learn anything worthwhile from the two you nabbed yesterday? Not that I suppose you could have gotten much, since you focused all your efforts on catching the wrong criminals.”

Discussing the details of an active case with a civilian victim is expressly forbidden without clearance from your supervising officer, Harry thinks. Then Harry looks at the mocking smirk on Malfoy’s mouth, so smug Harry wants to scream, and thinks that expressly forbidden is a matter of opinion, anyway.

Actually,” Harry snaps, “we got quite a bit of helpful information from Pensley and Jocler. They did turn out to be hired muscle — ”

“Obviously.”

“— but,” Harry continues triumphantly, ignoring him, “they were hired on by this same outfit for several jobs before this, and they were able to give us some details. If nothing else, we know that we’re dealing with a network now, and what at least some of the players look like without glamours on.” Harry doesn’t mention that neither of them had the faintest idea who their companions were yesterday, or what they were at Malfoy’s to steal; he doesn’t really think he can bear Malfoy’s response to that without the drink he turned down at the bar.

Malfoy’s smirk softens into a more considering expression. “That’s something, at least,” he says grudgingly.

“We think so,” Harry says, and resists the urge to roll his eyes. “So, look, Malfoy: I really do need you to take me through the crime now. I’ve got other questions, but that comes first.”

“And by ‘take you through the crime,’” Malfoy says, “you mean what, exactly?”

Harry’s mouth is opening to deliver a sharp reply when he notices that one of Malfoy’s hands is fiddling with the sleeve of his sweater, a nervous little movement that betrays more than he probably thinks it does. Harry realizes again that for everything else Malfoy might be, right now he’s just a civilian, the victim of a robbery and an assault, and it’s Harry’s job — like, his real, actual job — to treat him as one.

“Just tell me what you remember, as you remember it,” Harry suggests. The words and the low, non-threatening tone he uses to deliver them are so practiced and familiar they’re almost dear to him, an old friend in times of trouble. He pulls a quill and the report file out of his bag, flips it open to the blank Details Of The Crime page. “Don’t worry about going in order or getting every detail in. Just tell me what happened.”

Malfoy nods, the movement slow, careful. Then he narrows his eyes at the quill in Harry’s hand. “No, thank you. If I must do this, I’m not going to do it listening to you scratch ‘YOU GIANT GIT’ onto an official record in your caveman writing.” He gets up and walks over to the bar, taps his fingers against it twice, and then tosses Harry the little glass vial that appears in his hand with more force than is strictly necessary.

Harry catches it, of course, but still. “What’s this for?”

“For your memory of this conversation,” Malfoy says, giving him an incredulous little look. “Aren’t you supposed to be an Auror, Potter? This is literally why Pensieve technology exists; it’s common practice for law enforcement to use it. Even know that.”

“Er,” says Harry, who does seem to remember some seminar or other about this, though all he seems to have retained is its truly terrible name (Pen-SAVE Yourself Some Time!).

“I should ask the DLME to send me someone else, you’re clearly not their best and brightest,” Malfoy sighs, but he sits down in his chair again anyway, wearily meets Harry’s eyes. “All right. Where do I start?”

I don’t know, the beginning? Harry does not say, because he’s better than that. Because he’s a professional. “Well. When did you first realize something was wrong?”

Malfoy’s eyes go unfocused almost at once, and his body language changes — shoulders hunching slightly, hands drifting together so that one’s thumb can dig into the center of the other’s palm. “I suppose… just after the L.E.A.R.N. group arrived. Normally the logbook enters the name of anyone who crosses the threshold automatically, but when I checked it, none of the children’s names were there; the teacher’s, either. I had to write them in myself. I thought that was odd.”

“Not as odd as you’d think,” Harry says, making a mental note to look into whether a Befuddlement or Confundus Charm would be more likely to work on a logbook. “It means they cased the place first, picked out and disabled any magic that might track them. It’s smart.”

“Don’t compliment the criminals, Potter.”

“I’m not complimenting them,” Harry starts hotly, before he notices the amused little curve of Malfoy’s mouth and realizes he’s being wound up on purpose. “Oh, for fuck’s — just. Okay, Malfoy. Fine. What happened next?”

Malfoy’s expression of small pleasure at petty malice sinks into a frown as he considers the question. “Well, the children always seem to enjoy meeting Vicky; I don’t know why, no one else ever does. Their underdeveloped senses of self-preservation at work, perhaps. Who knows? I took them all up to see her, in any case.”

“Vicky,” Harry says blankly, and then, the realization dawning with mild horror, “is the Venomous Tentacula in the attic.” He stares at Malfoy, boggled. “You have the oldest violent plant in the world living in your attic and you named it Vicky?”

“Well,” Malfoy says, bristling with defensiveness, “what would you have called it?”

“Not Vicky,” Harry says at once. “I don’t know — Spike, maybe? Fang?”

“Spike?” Malfoy repeats, perfectly horrified. “Fang? Oh my god, what kind of — Venomous Tentacula don’t even have fangs, Potter, why on earth would you call one that?”

“Why on earth would you call one Vicky?”

Malfoy crosses his arms over his chest, sits back in his chair, and fixes Harry with a glare so intense that it makes Harry doubt, suddenly, that he meant a single thing he said to Neville about the plant being a nightmarish monster he’d love to be rid of. He’s clearly attached to it, and, also, quite mad. “She looked like a Vicky.”

“Of course she did,” Harry mutters. He hates that Malfoy was right, but he really wishes he hadn’t put the quill away — his fingers are itching to write down some very rude things he can’t say right now. “Okay. Focusing. You took the kids upstairs to see… Vicky… and then?”

Malfoy pauses, thinking, and then jerks up in his chair in realization, arms falling from his chest. “One of them must have come in the through the skylights,” he says, as if solving a little mystery for himself. “The smaller of the men, I think — I remember a tap on my shoulder, and when I turned around he sucker punched me.” Malfoy gestures at his black eye with a little grimace. “It wasn’t enough to knock me out, but he must have cast something on me before I could get up; the next thing I knew, I was sitting tied up on the floor of the study with the children.”

“The study?” Harry says. “Not the parlor where I found you?”

“No, the study.” Malfoy’s face flickers, and the expression that crosses it this time is so raw, so wounded, that Harry has to look away. Almost snarling it, Malfoy says, “They carted us around from room to room with them and made me watch as they tore each one apart. I suppose they thought it was the most likely way to make me talk, and in fairness, they were right. I would have given up what they were looking for in an instant to save even half of what they damaged, if I’d only known what it was they wanted.”

Harry is a professional, so he ignores the way the words seem to catch on their way out of Malfoy’s mouth. He’s seen this all before, and there’s no reason to fixate on it. “So they never came right out and asked?”

“They did,” Malfoy says, and drops his head into his hands. “In a sense. They kept saying the source — that they needed to find the source, that they knew the source had to be here, that the source wasn’t in whatever room we were in at the time. I must have asked them ten times to just tell me what it was, but every time I did the woman would laugh and tell me not to play dumb. I couldn’t make her understand that I wasn’t playing,” Malfoy exclaims, his voice increasing dangerously in both volume and pitch with every word, “that I genuinely didn’t know what in unholy creation she was talking about, but it was like every time I said I didn’t know she got more convinced I did!”

For a horrible moment Harry thinks he’s actually going to have to attempt to comfort Malfoy, which he imagines as not unlike attempting to put a sweater on a porcupine. He’s saved, as it happens, by the bell, when Kreacher appears directly to Malfoy’s left and says, “Master Draco, Mr. Zabini is at the door.”

“Oh,” Malfoy says. He lifts his head and looks at Harry, and for a hanging second their eyes meet and all Harry can see is his misery, his frustration, his helplessness and fear. It’s written into every inch of him, so visceral and intense that Harry draws in a breath and forgets to exhale for a moment. They just stare at each other, Malfoy looking half-mad and Harry feeling it, until Malfoy seems to remember who exactly he’s looking at. His face reverts to an expression of cool indifference so quickly that Harry thinks it must have actually hurt, but the edges of his mask are visible now, not hiding nearly well enough the raw emotion underneath.

“Well, I can’t leave Blaise alone with the valuables,” Malfoy says with obviously forced levity, standing and stretching. “He’ll leave with half my collection and I’ll be beggared. Kreacher, tell him I’ll be down directly. Potter, I trust you can entertain yourself for a few minutes?”

He arches an eyebrow as he says it, like he doesn’t actually trust this at all, but Harry doesn’t really have the heart to snipe at him just now. He just nods, and Malfoy’s other eyebrow rises to join the first before he huffs and turns away, stalks to the door and slams it behind him.

Harry stares blankly at the wall for a few minutes, trying to think it all through. Then he gets bored, and goes to spy on Malfoy.

It doesn’t take him very long to find a spot where he can hear Malfoy and Zabini in the long hallway of the foyer; he remembers, if a little fuzzily, where those places are. Harry creeps up to the rail of the stairs on the balls of his feet and hears:

“ — stop it right now, I said it’s for the press.” Clearly Malfoy’s voice, but even his irritated drawl sounds several degrees fonder than Harry’s ever heard it before.

“I don’t care what it’s for,” snaps a deeper voice — must be Zabini. “It’s massive and unsightly and it looks like it hurts. I can’t believe none of the Aurors healed you!”

Harry, who isn’t honestly entirely sure he could pick Blaise Zabini out of a lineup, nevertheless feels his heart cry out in agreement and support. They’re obviously talking about Malfoy’s black eye, and it’s exactly the discredit to the department Harry thought it would be.

“I didn’t let them,” Malfoy says pleasantly, “and if you try to fix it again, you can have a matching one. Won’t that be nice?”

This seems to win a low laugh from Zabini, who says, with obvious affection, “I’m glad you’ve lived through this ordeal to be stark raving mad another day, Draco.”

“Did you actually come by for something,” says Malfoy, voice equally warm, “or are you just here to call me names and ensure I’m still capable of fogging mirrors?”

“The latter,” Zabini says, so quietly Harry almost doesn’t hear it. Then, louder: “Though of course I will never admit to having done so, and will shout you down with great prejudice should you ever attempt to slander me by telling anyone I did.”

“How touching,” Malfoy says. It’s viciously sarcastic, but Harry thinks that Malfoy maybe is touched, and that’s why.

“Hmm,” Zabini says. There’s a pause, and then he adds, “How are you doing with — all of it? And be honest, since we’re already having a conversation that shortly won’t have ever happened. I have a few hours now, if you need someone to stay with you, and I already talked to Pans and she can Floo in if — ”

“Oh, for god’s sake, spare me the mother hens of Slytherin,” Malfoy says. “I’m fine, really.”

“You’re a rotten liar, Draco.”

“You’re a good friend, Blaise.” Another pause — long enough this time that Harry wonders if he shouldn’t start making his way back to the little sitting room at speed — and then Malfoy sighs and says, “You honestly should go. I’ve got Potter upstairs. ”

“What, as your captive?” Zabini demands, sounding alarmed.

Malfoy’s voice is properly cross as he snaps, “What? No, of course not as my captive. Are you out of your mind?”

“Well, you can hardly blame me,” Zabini says. He sounds utterly unfazed by Malfoy’s tone. “You remember what you were like about him in school, completely obsessive and round the twist, it was honestly terrifying. Professor Snape called me and Pansy into his office once and told us to, I believe the exact phrasing was, ‘Keep an eye on Mr. Malfoy, lest he ruin his promising future by murdering Harry Potter in one of his deranged fits of passion.’ Then he gave us each a Cockroach Cluster and told us to get out. It was awful.”

“He did not.” Malfoy sounds appalled.

“Yes,” says Zabini, “he absolutely did. I know, because the whole hideous experience is seared into my memory for the balance of eternity.”

“Oh my god,” Malfoy says faintly. Harry thinks of Ron and Hermione last night, their horrible pitying tones and that haunting story about Mr. and Mrs. Weasley discussing the appropriateness or lack thereof of childhood nemeses, and is hit with a strange combination of emotion. Satisfaction — that he wasn’t the only one, that Malfoy is having to suffer this conversation with someone in his life too. And — commiseration, this odd, intense understanding of just exactly what Malfoy must be feeling right now.

But then Malfoy says, drawling and bored, “Potter’s here of his own free will, Blaise, god. He’s the Auror assigned to this case, and as obnoxious as ever, I might add. You’d think it wouldn’t be so much to ask to have a moment’s peace, the courtesy of a day to get my house in order, but no. Precious Potter’s questions are all so very pressing, it couldn’t possibly wait. It’s his way or nothing, as always.” Then Harry mostly feels cold.

He creeps back to the sitting room without waiting to hear Zabini’s reply, chest aching for reasons he can’t explain. What does he even — why would he care  — it doesn’t matter to him, whether Malfoy likes him or not. Which, Harry reminds himself, he obviously doesn’t, and never has, and Harry’s never wanted him to, and certainly doesn’t now.

So this is just — work, then. A citizen in crisis, who Harry needs to give some space. He’ll leave, that’s what he’ll do, and come back in a few days. Do Malfoy the courtesy of allowing him to get his house in order, or whatever. Harry’d rather thought he was doing him the courtesy of attempting to catch the criminals, but, obviously, that’s not what’s important.

He packs up his things, pulls the memory of what questioning they did get through out of his mind in a long, silvery thread and puts it into the vial Malfoy gave him, corks it, tucks it away. He’s at the door of the study, reaching for the handle, when it opens, and he stares at Malfoy, who stares back in obvious surprise.

“Oh,” he says, at the same moment Harry snaps, “I’m going.”

“You… are?” Malfoy says, slow, brow furrowing. If Harry didn’t know better he’d say Malfoy looked almost disappointed — but he does know better, he reminds himself firmly, and doesn’t allow his resolve to break. “I thought you had — more questions. Things to look at.”

“Called back to the office,” Harry lies, “urgent matter, you know how it is. I’ll just have to come back in a few days — after the weekend, maybe. After this… new matter… is wrapped up.”

Malfoy’s mouth, which had been slightly parted, sets into a thin line. “Oh. Well. Fine.”

“Fine,” Harry repeats, and sweeps past him out of the room, down the stairs and out the front door, stopping only long enough to snatch his coat and scarf from the hands of Kreacher, who looks after him mournfully.

He stops on the lawn to put them on and runs into a woman who must be Malfoy’s next appointment. She looks vaguely familiar, but Harry can’t put his finger on it and doesn’t much care to just at this moment. He nods, hoping that’ll be the end of it, but the woman says, “Jumping juniper, it’s Harry Potter,” so, no, apparently not.

Harry sighs and nods. “Yeah, well. I’m on-duty and working this case, so it’s Auror Potter right now,” he says, just because he’s irritable and rankled and really doesn’t want to be asked to sign any fucking autographs right now.

“Pretty crazy, isn’t it?” the woman says, nodding towards the house.

“Awful,” Harry agrees. “Why anyone would want to tear apart a history museum is beyond me, and to terrorize a group of schoolchildren — well. I could draw comparisons, but I probably shouldn’t. I doubt I have to, anyway.”

He pushes past the woman, and is almost to the gate when he hears her call, “Don’t you think that might be what it was about, though, Auror Potter? Mr. Malfoy’s — let’s say spotty past — with that comparison you don’t want to draw?”

Harry stops, fury bleeding into him all at once, and turns on his heel. He might be annoyed with Malfoy — when isn’t he annoyed with Malfoy? — but he has no truck at all for this sort of thing, for people who can’t just let the goddamned war be over. Coldly, he says, “I hardly see how that’s relevant. Anyone who would do this has more in common with Voldemort than Draco Malfoy — who was acquitted of all war crimes nearly ten years ago, by the way — ever did. Good day.”

He stalks out of the gate, slams it shut, and Apparates away. Distantly — oddly — he thinks he hears the woman call, “Hey, thanks, Auror Potter!” as he goes.

Chapter Text

That’s Friday. Harry goes back to the office after he leaves Malfoy’s and then calls it a day an hour early, begs off dinner with Ron and Hermione and makes a Tesco’s run instead. He goes home and soothes himself with cooking a complicated French dish he’d always liked making as a kid, and which, as an extra treat, his Uncle Vernon had loathed with a passion. He can’t remember what it’s called but it tastes good, chicken and wine and onion and garlic, and the act of throwing it together grounds him, helps him shake off the dark mood that dogged his heels all afternoon.

So Malfoy’s an unpleasant git who prefers anyone’s company to Harry’s; what else is new? It’s never bothered Harry before, and he goes to sleep with a full belly and the firm conviction that it doesn’t this time, either. It doesn’t.

On Saturday he wakes up early, refreshed and restless, and finds himself at a loose end until the monthly round-up his friends are having that night at the pub. He goes to work, has gelato from the cart up the street for breakfast, liberates Malfoy’s records from his cubicle, and takes them home.

It becomes clear, as the day wears on around the armchair where Harry sits pouring over them, that Malfoy, at 25, has already lived quite a life. There are travel records, as painfully meticulous as the rest, of trips Malfoy has taken for research, or to retrieve artifacts for the museum. He’s been to the Australian outback and the steppes of Russia, the States, the Amazon, the Savannah. He’s been to most of the major cities Harry can think of, Athens and Rome and Mumbai and Sydney, Cairo and Hong Kong, Moscow and Bogotá. They’re just little trips, all of them, never more than a few days, never long enough to absorb the culture, eat the food, talk to the locals… but still. He’s been. He’s gone. He’s seen for himself.

Harry’s never really been anywhere, discounting one disastrous holiday in Avignon with Ginny that ended in tears and sunburn, unhappy silences. It’s one of those things he’s always wanted to do, traveling, but between one thing and another he never quite manages to find the time. Harry realizes, uncomfortable to think that it’s happened without his noticing, that he’s put the idea of walking the world into the box in his brain where he keeps marrying Gin, or being raised by people who love him: things he knows won’t happen. Dreams he’s had to let go.

He slams the files closed, eats leftovers for dinner, and goes down to the pub.

It’s fine, for the first hour or so. It’s fun. It starts with just him and Ron and Seamus, the way it had in the old days, back when this little monthly gathering had been nothing more than a few old classmates trying to wipe clean a month’s worth of Auroring with drink. Harry has a Firewhiskey, indulges in a bit of office gossip -- Seamus, in particular, can’t seem to help himself -- and shouts with laughter at a story about Trent, their newest Junior Auror, nearly soiling himself during a routine pixie round-up.

Others start rolling in after a while, as they always do. Over the years, their monthly wind-down night at the Bawdy Bowtruckle has evolved into a proper piss-up, and people flit and in out of the rotation as they have the time. It’s people they knew in school, mostly, some work colleagues and friends-of-friends, a few stragglers they’ve picked up just from the sheer consistency of their meeting time and place.

It’s nice, Harry tells himself. It is. He doesn’t miss his quiet nights with Ron and Seamus, or sometimes Ron and Hermione and Seamus and Dean, at all.  

Hermione shows up first tonight, having pawned Rose off on Molly for the evening. She’s followed shortly by Luna — it’s good to see her, and Harry slides over in his booth to make room for her and her latest paramour, a girl called Vi with pink hair and a piercing through her tongue. He orders another round and Dean shows up, kissing Seamus hello as he pulls up a chair, and then George and Angelina, and then Neville and Ginny. Harry’s eyebrows raise in surprise — they don’t come often — but Neville gives him a cautious, questioning smile, and Ginny’s nervous little wave about breaks Harry’s heart. Maybe the encounter at Malfoy’s broke some of the awkwardness somehow. It wouldn’t be the strangest thing Harry’s ever seen do that job (the winner of that contest, now and probably forever, being “troll bogies.”)

Despite himself, Harry’s mood sours a little to think of Malfoy. He orders another drink.  

And it’s still fun, after that. Of course it’s still fun. People keep pouring in until it’s so crowded in their corner of the bar that Harry can’t really track who’s coming and going, but that’s fine. Who needs to do that, anyway? He orders another drink and definitely doesn’t mind that it’s too loud to have a conversation with anyone. It’s a good time, a chance to let loose, to get out on the dance floor — not that Harry dances, never good at it with a partner and too hopeless to even consider making the attempt by himself, but he’s sure it’s just as much fun to watch. He’s not at all bothered, when he flags down the waitress for another round, that it takes him three tries to get her attention over all the shouting, laughing bodies, or that when she reaches him she looks overwhelmed and frantic. His Firewhiskey is delicious and absolutely no part of him is screaming at the top of its lungs that he can’t see either of the exits and wouldn’t be able to spot a threat in this crowd until it was too late. It’s great. Really a blast. Harry’s having a fabulous time.

It’s only after about the sixth drink that Harry can admit to himself that he’s well and truly miserable. This, too, is a regular feature of these pub nights, although admittedly Harry doesn’t tend to remember all that much of this part in the morning.

He slouches a little in his seat — he’s got the corner booth, his back to the wall, which always seems to be where he ends up. Not that anyone ever calls him on it, but he’s got his reasons, could defend his choice admirably if anyone were to bother: it’s the most easily defensible position in the whole place and Harry doesn’t like to have his back exposed while he’s this drunk, in this big of a crowd. God, there are too many people, the Bowtruckle’s got to be over capacity and technically it’s his job to check; he’s not going to but it rankles anyway, a splinter under his skin he can’t quite manage to worry loose. His ears are ringing a little with the volume of the place, a headache beating on the door at the back of his skull that all the Firewhiskey he’s downed is currently holding shut.

Which is fine, of course, since it’s not like anyone’s talking to him. Because: of course they’re not. Because: in times like this, on nights like these, they’ve all got people to talk to. Ron and Hermione are laughing breathlessly on the dance floor and Seamus and Dean are snogging for England in the corner; Luna and her latest have vanished, probably to the women’s toilets and probably for a good while; Angelina is draped across George’s lap with her fingers in his hair, smiling and smiling at him. The worst of it is the way Neville and Ginny are standing by the bar, their heads bent in towards one another, faces lit with the simple pleasure of sharing space.

It’s all just so wonderful  that Harry could choke  on it. The thought’s unfair, leaves him guilty just for thinking it, even though he knows he’s just vicious with drink and exhaustion and how much he really, if he’s going to be honest with himself, hates every last part of this particular experience, and has more or less every time. It’s not like he can say so, though — they’re his friends and they like having him here and it’s important to be social and they’d just worry about him if he started begging off. Anyway, it’s not like Harry has anything better to do.

He glowers down at his Firewhiskey. There are a few nearly-melted cubes of ice floating forlornly in it, a smudge of something that looks like lipstick on the side of the glass, and Harry finds his mind filled suddenly with the image of the little spread the wet bar at Grimmauld Place pulled up for him the day before. That glass which had looked sturdy, solid, like it had some real heft to, some weight; that perfectly spherical ball of ice; that warmly appointed study, all wood and leather, where you could have a conversation, or hear yourself think.

Sometimes, on nights like these, Harry walks the crowded bar and looks for — something. Some guy or girl who will smile at him, kiss him messily in the street, follow him home, stay until morning. He finds it, even, not always but… usually, when he puts in the time, and though it’s never once made Harry feel even half as good as he’d hoped it would, there are months where it’s better than nothing. There are months when Harry feels so drunk, so alone, so doomed to sit forever with his back against the wall and no one to talk to, that it’s worth the sinking sensation of the morning after, just to have a warm body to ward off the cold.

Not tonight, though. Tonight Harry sits and sips his seventh glass of Firewhiskey and thinks about that stupid room in that stupid house that he sold to stupid, stupid Malfoy. He didn’t even want the damned place until he knew it was Malfoy’s — not that he wants it now, he corrects himself quickly, taking another sip. He doesn’t want anything of Malfoy’s. It’s just — just — galling, is what it is. It’s galling, and he’s galled.

God, he’s drunk. He’s too drunk; he doesn’t want to be here anymore, in this awful bar, he hates this bar, the bar and the crowd and the noise and the house and —

— he runs into somebody, hard, in his haste to beat a retreat to the front door.

“Terribly sorry,” says a familiar voice. Slowly, as if moving through water, Harry looks up into the face of a handsome black man who he wouldn’t be able to identify as Blaise Zabini if he hadn’t been essentially eavesdropping on him the afternoon before.

Being an adult, Harry thinks with the conviction of the truly sauced, was supposed to be more dignified than this. He knows it was. He’s just sure.

“Zabini,” Harry says, instead of this. “Right? Blaise Zabini, from school?”

Zabini nods, looking pleased. “And you’re Harry Potter, of course. I don’t think we ever ran across each other much at Hogwarts; I’m surprised you remember me.”

“Ha!” says Harry.

“Pardon?” says Zabini, cocking his head to one side.

“Er,” says Harry, and tries frantically to come up with something to say that isn’t, ‘Of course I don’t remember you, I know we went to school together and all but I’m pretty sure that I’ve never actually laid eyes on you before now, I just recognized your voice from when I was secreted away on Malfoy’s second floor landing yesterday, listening to you ask him if he was keeping me as his prisoner. Nothing weird or unprofessional about that, right?’ He’d settle for almost anything else.

His mind, unhelpfully, spits back nothing but an image of a bottle of Firewhiskey with a sign sticking out of the top that reads, “Careful, I bite!” So, y’know. Hooray. For that.

“’M… quite drunk,” Harry admits, because it seems the better part of valor in this moment and, also, because it’s true.

Zabini looks amused. “You shock me, Mr. Potter.”

“God, Harry, please,” says Harry, waving a hand. “I hate when people call me Mr. Potter, it makes it sound like I’m somebody who knows, you know. When the times are… coming.”

“I’ll… take your word for that,” says Zabini slowly. “And it’s Blaise, if it’s Harry.”

“Blaise!” Harry declares, drawing himself up to his full height — which is still about three inches shorter than Blaise’s — and clapping him, hard, on the shoulder. “Great talk. I’m going to go outside and vomit in a bush now.”

And then, a man of his word, he does so.

When he straightens, head swimming, and stumbles back a few steps, a hand lands between his shoulder blades and stops him from overbalancing. Harry turns expecting Ron but it’s — Blaise Zabini, again, and wearing a wry expression this time.

“Are you like,” Harry says, and grimaces, trying to remember the word. Fellow… fallow… “Following me?”

Blaise makes a face and then mutters something Harry can’t quite hear, but which sounds like it might be, “Merlin help me.” Then he smiles at Harry, which is friendly. “No, Harry, but what a perfectly salient question. I am not following you. I just happened to be walking into the bar, and you just happened to be walking out of it, and as luck would have it I was, actually, hoping to have a brief chat with you. And as we seem to have met so fortuitously — if you have moment?”

He gestures over to a nearby bench, which is at least a) not the bar and b) quiet and c) not the bar, and where he clearly means for Harry to go and sit.

“Er,” says Harry. “I mean, sure? I s’pose? if you don’t mind. Uh. That I probably won’t remember. Tomorrow.”

“That might be better for everyone,” says Blaise.

Cryptic bastards, these Slytherins. No truck for it at all.

Blaise steers Harry over to the bench and then sits down on it next to him, his whole body angled towards Harry. For a horrified second Harry thinks that it’s a come-on — which, hey, not that Blaise isn’t a bit of all right, but it’s not like Harry can go around sleeping with Malfoy’s friends. That’d be… weird.

It’s just for a second, anyway, because before Harry has the chance to really spiral deep into awkward, sweaty, drunken panic, Blaise says: “So. How are things going with Malfoy?”

Harry freezes, one hand that he was planning on using to scratch his nose hanging stupidly in mid-air for too long before he notices and drops it. “With,” he says, and stops. “What’re you saying about?”

“The case,” Blaise pushes. “And, you know, Malfoy, in general. How does he seem? If you had to rate his sanity on a scale of one to ten, just for example, where do you think you’d place the marker?”

“Er,” says Harry, “which end’s the mad one?” Then he thinks for a second and squints at Blaise, adds, “Hey, wait. Wouldn’t — er — wouldn’t you know better than I would?”

“You’d think so, wouldn’t you,” Blaise says, and settles back against the bench, nodding thoughtfully. “You’re very astute, Harry Potter, I’m sure people appreciate that about you. The strange thing, though — and stay with me now — is that Draco’s a completely barmy little terror who never tells me when something is wrong. I mean, for Merlin’s sake, I had to find out about the break-in through my channels — “

“What channels?” says Harry, or at least the little part of Harry that is an Auror every second of every day, even when he’s in the shower or asleep.

“What perfectly absurd rot are you talking? Who said channels? You should have yourself checked for head trauma, you know, Auroring is a dangerous job,” says Blaise, honey-smooth. “And of course we’re all so grateful for what you do, it’s really an inspiration, I donate to the department every year. My point is, I would like to know if you suspect Draco to be in any actual danger. You know. As a talented, qualified professional, whose opinion I implicitly trust to make me feel safe.”

“Sorry, ’m sorry, but d’you mean to tell me that this,” Harry says, gesturing between the two of them and making an incredulous face, “is a professional conversation right now?” And then, in a contribution from his tiny hard-wired Auror brain that has been yelling CONSTANT VIGILANCE for several minutes, adds, “Wait, is that why you’re being all — with the like — very weird — flattery? And the thing with the donations, god, that’s like. Wow, mate. Really the very wrong way to go there. Barking up the wrong… er. Thing… with the leaves.”

Blaise stares at him for a long moment, face scrawled over with almost comical dismay; Harry resists the urge to snicker, fails, and hides it badly behind his hand. Blaise’s eyes widen, and then he puts a hand to his temples and lets out a snicker of his own.

“Merlin’s saggy balls, I see it. Not for myself, of course, but for him,” Blaise stops, drops his hand, looks at Harry again, and lets out a huge peal of laughter, tipping his head back. It takes almost half a minute before collects himself enough to say, “Oh, it all makes perfect sense. God, if only I could go back in time and tell myself years ago, it all could have been so much funnier.”

“What’re you talking about?” Harry says, squinting at him. Did he lose his glasses? He feels like he’s squinting a lot.

“Nothing, you imagined it,” Blaise says, tone abruptly switching back to neutral pleasantness, and sweeps right on to: “Look, Potter — ”

“Don’t call me Potter,” Harry mutters. He’s tired; his eyes are drooping. “Only Malfoy calls me Potter.”

“I want you to know I literally couldn’t make this up,” Blaise tells him earnestly. He pulls a notebook out of his breast pocket, rips out a page, and writes something on it. Then he holds the little piece of paper up in front of Harry’s face. “Harry? Yes? Hello? Okay, this is my address. I’m going to stick it in your wallet and if Malfoy is ever in danger, or doing something really, really mental, you Owl me, all right?”

“I already told you,” Harry says, grumpy, eyes falling shut again already, barely slitted when he says, “’m not going to remember anything tomorrow.”

“I think I’m sort of operating on the same principle as hypnosis at the moment,” Blaise says, sounding thoughtful. “You know, the theory that you’re so far gone that I’m actually tapping into your subconscious mind just by sitting here saying things at you. It’s a bit of a flier, I’ll admit, but I’m hopeful it might work out.”

“Sure,” Harry says. “You do that.” He closes his eyes.

Harry’s dreaming of the war.

It doesn’t happen very often anymore, rarely enough that usually, these days, when he finds himself in the tent in the Forest of Dean or walking Bathilda Bagshot’s halls, he knows that he’s dreaming. The knowledge never seems to be quite enough to change anything — he still has to sit and watch it all play out — but it’s become a strange sort of comfort, that he knows the ending. That he can't affect it either way.

Tonight he’s at Grimmauld Place, back when it was Grimmauld Place, Sirius’s ill-favored childhood home and not the airy, open museum Malfoy’s seen fit to turn it into. There is dust on every surface, the walls are grey, and in a minute Remus is going to walk through the door and Harry is going to say vicious, horrible things to him. That’s what happens here. That’s how this part goes. Remus will come, and Harry will say those things, those things that will be some of the last things he ever says to Remus; those things that will haunt him for years. It will hurt, and then he’ll wake up and it will still hurt, but at least it’ll be over. There’s nothing unpredictable about any of it anymore.

Except:

“Potter,” a voice says. Harry turns away from the door and sees — Malfoy, in a chair at this same table, in this same room, except it’s… later. Except it’s now, all at once, the space around Malfoy folding seamlessly into clean lines and polished counters, the only dust visible the motes falling through sunbeams and catching the light.

“Potter,” Malfoy says, head tilting curiously. “Where are you?”

Harry blinks at him, stunned. Maybe he’s not dreaming — but he must be. The real Malfoy wouldn’t be asking him such an uncannily perceptive question. Would he? Harry’s not sure, suddenly, and when he tries to open his mouth to give his answer he finds he can’t remember how to vocalize it. He’s… here, he thinks, and not here. Here, and where here used to be.

He can hear his heartbeat, strange and too loud in his ears, a furious thump-thump-thump.

“Potter,” Malfoy says. He scrapes his chair back from the table, stands up, and walks over to Harry, stoops to lean over him. Harry looks up with wide eyes, wondering what in the hell is happening and frozen with these words, too, trapped in his mouth. He just sits there, the thump of his heart growing louder, as Malfoy’s face gets closer and closer until it’s barely an inch away — until he can see little flecks of gold and blue in the cool grey of Malfoy’s irises.

Malfoy takes a shaky breath, lips parting, and yells, “OPEN. THE. BLOODY. DOOR.”

Harry’s eyes slam open.

He’s — home, Harry thinks, blearily. Bed — no — sofa. Also: pain.

He wiggles his body a little, just to ensure that it’s not pain with any kind of critical and dangerous focal point, like that time he came home after a bust without stopping by medical with what he thought was a minor hex wound, only to wake up with one of his arms completely covered in oozing sores and starting to smell dead. He concludes that it hurts to move, but not in a life-threatening way.

His headache feels life-threatening, a little. Harry thinks it’s probably not helping that somebody’s pounding on his door.

“Mrr,” Harry says into the sofa cushion. Maybe, he thinks hopefully, it’s a bear; if he doesn’t engage it in conflict, it will go away and leave him to die.

“I swear to god, Potter,” calls a voice Harry knows full well does not belong to a bear. “I know you’re in there and if you don’t open this bloody door right now I won’t be held responsible for my actions!” The pounding redoubles, as though Malfoy -- because of course it's Malfoy -- is now using two fists to ruin Harry’s life with sound instead of one.  

Mrr,” Harry says, with feeling this time. The sofa, of course, offers him no words of comfort.

He sits up. The whole experience is supremely awful. His mouth tastes like cats peed inside.

“Stop knocking,” Harry calls out, even though the act of doing so is an agony. God, why does he do this to himself? He feels around for his glasses until he finds them on the side table, slips them on. “I’m coming, just — stop.”

For a second, the knocking does stop. Then it starts up again, harder and faster and with an additional aspect to it that Harry suspects strongly means that Malfoy is kicking the door as well.

“I hate my life,” Harry tells his coffee table, which, being a coffee table, pretty much just sits there in response. He gets up. He shuffles over to the door. He opens it.

Malfoy stares at him with his mouth parted and his fist raised, clearly mid-knock, and makes a little noise, like whatever he was about to say has died in his throat. Harry gets that. Something has clearly recently died inside of his throat also.

“I — Potter,” Malfoy says, blinking, after a second. “This… is not what I was expecting.”

Harry looks at Malfoy, standing in the doorway of his apartment with a sheaf of papers balled up in one hand, hair wild and face red, at what can’t be later than 6:30 in the morning. The only thing he can think of to say is: “Why?”

“Horrifyingly enough, I think my expectations were too high.” Malfoy peers in at Harry, eyes raking over him with the air of a man who has just found a rotting fish in his garden. “I assumed at the very least you’d be semi-conscious and wearing a shirt, but here you are, a walking corpse who smells like he’s been bathed in Firewhiskey. This is a difficult moment for me, Potter, I won’t lie. To think that I actually overestimated your ability to be a functional person is really quite appalling.”

“‘M just a bit hungover,” Harry says on a cracking yawn, having concluded somewhere in the middle of Malfoy’s little tirade that that’s what’s going on. He twists his face in a grimace at a particularly brutal stabbing sensation behind his eyes and tries to think. “And I meant — why. Are you here. Where… I live. Being all — loud. And… very loud.”

Malfoy’s face, which had been looking mostly — well, kind of half-curious, half-horrified — freezes, and then twists up with cold fury. He shoves at Harry’s chest, hard enough that Harry stumbles back a little, and steps into the apartment, slamming the door behind him. The sound is colossal, and Harry winces.

“Oh, did that hurt your head? Good,” Malfoy snarls. “You know, I was mostly joking the other day with the children -- or so I thought, anyway. I suppose I was operating on the assumption that since you’re an adult, and I’m an adult, perhaps some of my childhood memories of you and the conclusions I drew from them were a little unfair. Draco, I said to myself, as I looked into their wide-eyed little faces and told them you were an insatiable savior complex in ill-fitting trousers, you haven’t seen Harry Potter in years. Perhaps he has mellowed with age! Perhaps he is a perfectly lovely chap who finds all the fulfilment he needs from reading a nice book by the fire.”

“Er,” says Harry, who can’t help himself, “really?”

“No of course not really,” Malfoy snaps, “I’ve imagined you as a society lady for years, doing all manner of charity work to make yourself feel valuable and important -- that’s not the point! The point is that I didn’t actually think you were truly so unhinged that you would go around trying to rescue people who didn’t require any rescuing! It never occurred to me that you might actually do something like this!”

“Did you just,” Harry says, wondering if he’s still drunk, “call me a society lady?”

“I called you deranged,” Malfoy yells, “because you are deranged,” and he slaps the sheaf of paper in his hand out flat against Harry’s bare chest.

Harry takes it, shakes it out. It’s a copy of the Prophet, emblazoned across the top with the headline Potter Takes Lead in Museum Heist Investigation. Underneath are two massive photos. The first is of Malfoy with his black eye -- which, Harry notices, isn’t marring his face today -- making solemn eye contact with the camera against the backdrop of his ruined parlor. The second is of Harry, coat buttoned to the throat and eyes stormy, stalking towards Grimmauld Place’s front gate.

“Oh, what,” Harry mutters, horrified.

Malfoy snatches the paper back from him before he can even look at the text of the story. Fanning it out dramatically in front of his face, he reads, voice thready with incredulous fury, “‘Anyone who would do this has more in common with Voldemort than Draco Malfoy ever did?’ Are you kidding me, Potter? Is this actually your idea of a joke?”

“I didn’t,” Harry says, but then he remembers that he did, in fact, say that. Just the other day, in fact, to… “Oh, hell. That lady was a reporter?”

“‘That lady was a reporter?’” Malfoy parrots, in a deep, bored-sounding voice that’s clearly supposed to be an imitation of Harry’s. Harry scowls at him, even though it kind of makes his head feel like it’s going to drop off his neck and roll across the floor. “A likely fucking story, Potter. It was only Ileara Krespaw, the most famous byline on the entire bloody paper! Do you have any idea how much work I put into getting that meeting? Do you have any idea how much careful planning went into ensuring the story ran in the Sunday edition, only to have you -- you -- co-opt it like this?”

“Oh, come off it, Malfoy,” Harry says, irritation growing enough to distract him even from the way his stomach is churning unpleasantly. “I didn’t do it on purpose. And it’s not like -- I mean -- it’s not like I said anything horrible about you! I thought you wanted to get it out there however you could, anyway, even if it meant walking around with a blacked eye for two days. I’m sure this’ll help with that.”

“I don’t need your help!” Malfoy shouts this at a volume so oppressive that Harry has to close his eyes and sway where he stands for a moment. “What I needed was for the story I planned to run, maybe below the fold or in the Arts section, somewhere other collectors and curators might see it! What I needed was an opportunity to rally a bit of community support, not for the Boy Who fucking Lived to compare my little no-theft museum break-in to the greatest evil to threaten Wizarding Britain in the modern age! Gosh,” he adds, voice practically curdling now with sarcasm, “I wonder if it’ll occur to anyone that I used to work for that same dastardly villain? I do hope nobody thinks to ask if this isn’t what I deserve for my past crimes!”

“People were going to ask that anyway,” Harry snaps, at the end of his rope, hangover and frustration and just -- fucking Malfoy -- ganging up on him to make him blunt. “That’s the only reason I even said it, all right? I didn’t know she was a reporter, she was just some woman on your lawn, I thought she was one of your appointments or something! And she said isn’t it awful what happened to the museum, and I said it was, and she said don’t you think this is what Malfoy had coming, and I told her where she could shove it!” Harry glares at Malfoy, furious, even though it hurts to hold his eyes open for so long. “I wasn’t trying to co-opt your story or, or rescue you against your will, or be a -- society lady! Or whatever else you’re accusing me of! I just thought she was being unfair, so I said so. God,” he adds, a little winded, in this state, from forcing so many words out of his mouth.

Malfoy gives him a long, measured look. Harry stares back and, after a moment, has the pleasure of watching him deflate a little: tension bleeding from his shoulders, redness fading from his cheeks, fury draining swift and sure out of his eyes.

Eventually, a little stiffly, Malfoy says, “Oh.”

“Yeah,” Harry says, and only resists the urge to roll his eyes because he has the sneaking suspicion that doing so in his current condition might kill him. “Was there anything else? Because I’d really like to get back to wishing for death on my sofa, if it’s all the same to you.”

“Well, you still shouldn't have done it,” Malfoy says -- mulishly, but not with any real heat behind it. “And don't you have any hangover potion? I know you were always perfectly hopeless at brewing, but they do sell the stuff pre-made, you know.”

Harry yawns, another huge, cracking one. “I don’t keep it in the house,” he says. “It’s cheating.”

“God save us all from the nobility of the Gryffindor spirit,” Malfoy drawls, sarcasm heavy on the words. “I mean, honestly. Of all the stupid, self-inflicted, idiotic...“

He whirls around and out of the apartment without even finishing the sentence, slamming the door behind him. Harry flinches at the noise, thinks briefly that he’s going to be sick, changes his mind, goes and brushes his teeth, and then flops back down on the couch to abandon this weirdness for the sweet release of sleep. Or possibly death. Whichever comes first.

No sooner has his head hit the cushion, however, than:

“Potter!” Malfoy calls from the hallway. He knocks again, but only the once, and less forcefully; it’s more of a tap than anything else. “Let me back in, there’s a very strange creature making faces at me from the door across the hall.”

Harry groans, drags himself upright, and shuffles back over to the door, which he throws open balefully. Waiting on his threshold is Malfoy, again. He seems to be glaring at the Christmas decorations that are still on Mrs. Across-The-Way’s door.

Harry thinks they’ve been up for too long, too, but he’s never stooped to accusing them of sentience about it.

“It’s Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Malfoy,” he says. He puts a fingers to each of his temples and rubs, not that it helps much. “A Muggle thing. For Christmas. Made of paper. Definitely not making faces at you.”

“Are you sure?” Malfoy says, still looking at the cardboard reindeer with wary hesitation.

“Very sure.”

“Well it’s February, in any case,” Malfoy says, “very poor taste,” and he steps past Harry and into the apartment without waiting to be invited. Harry’s just about to ask what kind of taste it’s in to invade someone else’s home without asking before 7 AM when Malfoy thrusts a little corked vial at him. “Here.”

Harry looks down at the bottle, the tell-tale neon green answering the question even as he asks it: “Wait, is this hangover potion?”

“No, it’s deadliest poison,” Malfoy says, rolling his eyes. “All part of my cunning plan to murder you, Potter -- yes, of course, it’s hangover potion. I won’t have you telling the press that I left you here in the throes of agony the next time you decide to speak to them.”

Hotly, Harry begins, “I didn’t decide to -- “

“Oh, I know,” Malfoy snaps, waving a hand. “My god, you are irritating. Just take the potion and shut up about it, all right? Assuming you’re even capable of that.”

Harry, who thinks that’s pretty rich coming from Malfoy, should throw the potion back in his face and tell him to get out. But. Well. He does feel pretty awful. “Fine.”

Still, he’s never been one to cede his ground entirely; he uncaps the vial and holds eye contact with Malfoy as he lifts it to his lips. But Malfoy, the little bastard, doesn’t even the decency to look away, and so Harry ends up drinking the whole thing down with their eyes locked. It’s -- weird, the potion pouring sweet relief through every inch of him even as the weight of Malfoy’s gaze makes him want to shift on his feet and rub at the back of his neck. Harry’s never felt anything quite like it before. He’s not sure he likes it, but… he’s not entirely sure he dislikes it, either.

Maybe, Harry thinks, discomfited, Ron and Hermione and even Blaise Zabini all have a bit of a point.

“There,” Malfoy says brightly, when Harry’s drunk the last drop and pulled the vial away from his lips. “You already look much less like you’ve spent a month in Azkaban, this was clearly a success, I can’t wait to read all about it future Prophet articles. ‘Draco Malfoy Saved Me A Humiliating Death Covered In My Own Sick,’ Says Former Top Citizen Harry Potter. ‘He’s The Real Hero!’”

“You are,” Harry says. When Malfoy’s eyes widen satisfyingly in shock, he continues, “For not going into journalism, I mean. That’s a real service to the country you did there. You should get a medal.”

“For your information,” Malfoy starts, and then his eyes seem to focus, for the first time this morning, on something beyond Harry. They bug out a little, and he stops talking.

After a second, Harry caves and waves a hand in front of Malfoy’s face. “Hello? Earth to Malfoy? For my information… what?”

“Oh my god,” Malfoy says. His eyes snap back to Harry’s, and Harry takes an instinctive step back at the expression on his face. “Potter,” he demands, “do you live here?”

“Er,” says Harry, “yes?”

“Oh my god,” Malfoy repeats. He steps past Harry and, with an awfully cavalier disregard of basic courtesy for somebody who was raised in a manor house with peacocks, starts poking around, opening doors, and peering into air vents.

Harry feels much better after the potion, but would still like to take a nice seven or eight hour nap. He decides he’s going to need coffee if he’s going to deal with Malfoy at this hour of the day. Coffee, and sustenance, and possibly some sort of mood stabilizing potion, although admittedly he’s not entirely sure which one of them it would be for.

“Oh my god!” Malfoy calls again, from inside of Harry’s bedroom. He takes it back: definitely Malfoy gets the mood stabilizer.

Harry goes into the kitchen rather than confront whatever the source of Malfoy’s distress is this time. He pulls potatoes and coffee from the pantry, a rasher of bacon and a carton of eggs from the fridge, and sets to work. The potatoes slice up easily with a spell and Harry scoops them into a skillet, starts the range; the enchanted coffee maker Hermione bought him as a housewarming gift years ago is already drawing the beans out of the bag and grinding them. He’s just laying slices of bacon out into a cold pan when:

“Potter,” Malfoy says, bursting into the kitchen. He looks around like a wild man and makes a wounded little sound. “Oh, god, this might be worst than the rest. This might be the worst part. I didn’t think anything could be worse than the bathroom, but this is so terrible. It’s enough to make a grown man weep.”

“What’re you on about now?” Harry says, placidly enough. Malfoy is clearly mad, but Harry doesn’t mind his insane prattling so much when he’s got something else to focus on.

As if in response to this, Malfoy throws something at Harry’s head. Harry catches it automatically and then recognizes it as his third favorite sweater, a black one with thin white stripes that’s impossibly soft to the touch. He’s pretty sure it’s dirty, but he’s not about to tell Malfoy that, so.

“Clothe yourself,” Malfoy says imperiously. “And tell me how long you’ve lived in this -- this -- dwelling.”

Harry rolls his eyes, but he pulls the sweater over his head. Pointedly, he says, “About seven years, Malfoy. Give or take.“

“Aha!” Malfoy says, and points a wild finger at Harry. Harry has a uncomfortable flash of recognition for a gesture he directed at Hermione not three days ago, and busies himself with stirring the potatoes. “I knew it!”

Harry makes a face at his hash browns. “You knew what?”

“I can’t believe you threw over Grimmauld Place for this heap,” Malfoy says. “I always assumed that you’d, I don’t know, had a palace built for you beneath the Thames for your great service to Wizardkind or something -- ”

“Oh, sure,” says Harry, dry. “Totally natural thing to assume. Who wouldn't guess that?”

“ -- but I never,” Malfoy continues, as if Harry hadn’t spoken, “thought that you might have abandoned her to live in squalor. One of the greatest and most ancient Wizarding homes in Britain! The likes of which hasn’t been seen in easily 500 years! And you tossed her aside like yesterday’s garbage for this?”

“I did not,” Harry says, turning away from his breakfast in incredulity, “toss Grimmauld Place aside like yesterday’s garbage.”

“Oh, please. Of course you did.” Malfoy folds his arms and glares at him.

At a bit of a remove, Harry wonders if this is what all conversations with Malfoy are like — just ping-ponging from one dramatic accusation to the next until somebody gives up or falls over — or if it’s just him. Then he remembers the overheard conversation between Malfoy and Zabini the other day and turns abruptly back to the relative safety of his fry-up.

“Leaving aside the condition,” Malfoy’s still talking, apparently completely unfazed by having a back turned on him mid-rant, “which of course we should not leave aside, because it was horrific — Potter! Come on! You waived the Unbreakable. You might as well have spat on the front step on your way out.”

“What are you even talking about?” says Harry, who feels like he’s said this a lot more to Malfoy in just the last few days than he ever has, cumulatively, to anyone else. “I waived what?”

“You waived what — the Unbreakable, Potter.” Malfoy crosses the small kitchen to lean against the counter next to Harry’s stovetop, arms still crossed. “The binding spell? To ensure that the new owner won’t harm the home on pain of death? They must have at least sent you the paperwork.”

Harry thinks back. “Huh. Yeah, I guess I remember that. Seems a bit extreme, though, doesn’t it? What if somebody, I don’t know, wants to knock out a wall or something? Make a room a little bigger?”

“Knock. Out. A. Wall.” Malfoy repeats, his accent so thick it could cut glass.

“Well, sure,” Harry says, and turns the bacon. “Or redo a bathroom or something, I don’t know. I just thought — ”

“If you want to make a room bigger in a Wizarding home you do not knock out a wall.” Malfoy nearly shouts this; Harry almost drops the spatula. “You take a mixture of salt and powdered dragon’s horn and you walk the new layout of the house, and then you make sure the salt line isn’t broken, and then you sprinkle on a few drops of blood and you go to bed! And in the morning, Potter, your home has kindly moved the wall that so offended, and done a much better job of it than you would have, without suffering any chaos or agony in the process!”

“You talk about them like they’re alive,” Harry says.

Malfoy throws his hands in the air. “They are alive! How could you not —  ” He fixes Harry with a stern look, drops his arms to his side, and sighs. In a different tone — almost as if to himself — he says, “Okay. Just — okay. You were raised Muggle and you know nothing! That’s the explanation; you just know nothing. I always thought perhaps it might be that, but the thought depressed me terribly on the old girl’s behalf, so… okay. Elementary magical theory! Practically square one! Any magic that sticks around long enough develops a personality.”

Harry scowls, and only just barely doesn’t say I don’t know nothing! “Oh come on, not any magic —  “

“Any magic,” Malfoy repeats. “If it’s around long enough, yes, Potter, it does. Haven’t you ever encountered a magical object and known, somewhere deep, that it was evil? In fact, scratch that, I know you have: I’ve seen you myself in Borgin and Burkes.”

“Malfoy,” Harry exclaims, “we were twelve!”

“And that alters my point how?” Malfoy looks at him coolly as Harry takes the bacon out of the pan, pours some of the grease into a cup and cracks eggs into what’s left. “You were there, you saw what there was to see; you know I’m right. Any magic that’s been around long enough develops a personality. Not always evil, of course, but certainly always extant. You build something as powerful as a Wizarding house and take care of it for a century or two? Then, yes, for all intents and purposes it absolutely is alive, if not in precisely the same way as you or me. Which is why,” Malfoy adds, “they even came up with the Unbreakable part of the changing of houses in the first place, so that your enemies couldn’t secretly buy up your property and then murder it!”

Harry shrugs, and flips the eggs. “Sorry, Malfoy. That all sounds pretty barmy to me.”

“Oh for the love of — fine. Don’t take my word for it! Ask anyone you know who was raised Wizarding — ask Weasley, for all I care. They’ll all tell you the same thing!” Malfoy subsides, finally, into a sulky sort of silence.

Which leaves Harry to stare down at the range full of fully cooked food and conclude, rather horrified with himself, that he has made enough breakfast for two people.

He has a moment of panicked indecision — what is a person supposed to do in this situation? Should Harry just load enough breakfast for himself onto a plate and go sit down at the table and eat it? That’s got to be rude; he’d think it was rude, if somebody left a full portion of food on the stove and didn’t at least offer him some. Wasteful, too. But what’s he supposed to say? Hey, Malfoy, what are your feelings on the most important meal of the day? Christ. Maybe he really is still drunk, hangover potion or no.

But then Malfoy takes a deep breath and Harry can just tell he’s about to start in again, on the thing with the Prophet or the thing with the house or god knows what else, and suddenly it’s the easiest thing in the world.

“Look, Malfoy,” Harry says. “D’you want some breakfast?”

Malfoy’s mouth snaps shut. He stares at Harry for a second, eyes widening just a little — the way they had, Harry remembers, when an intruder’s fist was hovering threateningly over that little crystal vase.

“Do I want… some breakfast?” Malfoy repeats, faintly, after a moment.

Harry could just kill him for not saying yes or no, for leaving Harry standing here like this feeling so helplessly, hopelessly awkward. He’ll be damned if he’ll let Malfoy see that, though, so he forces one shoulder up into a shrug. “Y’know. Eggs? Bacon? Stop me when something rings a bell.”

“You… cook?” Malfoy says, looking slowly from Harry to the range, as though noticing it for the first time.

Harry raises his eyebrows. “What exactly did you think I was doing here?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” Malfoy snaps irritably. Then he pauses, the line of his mouth going funny, just for a moment. “I suppose it doesn’t smell terrible.”

“Wow, Malfoy,” Harry says, rolling his eyes and grabbing some chives to top the eggs with out of the fridge. “Careful with the gratuitous praise, there. My head might swell up.”

Malfoy lets out a little noise that Harry thinks might be stifled laughter; by the time he’s turned back from the fridge, Malfoy’s face is impassive again, and he can’t tell.

Honestly, this is unbearable. “Look,” Harry says, slicing the chives with more force than is really required, “if you already ate or whatever, it’s — “

“Sure,” Malfoy says, before Harry can finish the sentence. Harry shoots a glance at him and Malfoy flushes slightly, looks away. “Fine. Breakfast! Why not.”

“Great,” Harry mutters.

He thought getting an answer would cut the awkwardness of the thing, but he was obviously mistaken, because Malfoy’s never-ending stream of chatter seems to have ceased entirely as Harry gets plates and cups, doles out portions. It’s strange — if Harry’d had to guess, a minute ago, he’d have said it would be a relief to turn off that particular tap for a moment. Instead he finds himself wishing Malfoy would start up again, save Harry from this empty, endless desert where something to say should be.

They sit down at his little two-person folding table, and Harry has to move some stuff off the other chair, and Malfoy doesn’t say anything pithy about how Harry is a slob, or living in squalor, or eating in the kitchen like an animal when he could have lived like a king in an ancient estate with an emotional profile. He just sits down, and kind of nods at Harry, and frowns down at his breakfast, and takes a bite.

Harry is desperate enough to consider bringing up the weather when Malfoy, thankfully, says, “I say, Potter! This is actually not terrible!”

“It’s the ‘actually’ that really sells that, thanks,” Harry says. He hopes his voice comes out dry, as opposed to so relieved he’s a bit ashamed of himself.  

“That little underestimation incident from before affected me more deeply than you know,” Malfoy says. He spears a potato, and, in what he clearly imagines is a reassuring tone, adds, “I dropped my expectations very low.”

“Great,” Harry says, rolling his eyes. “So I assume I’ll be receiving a stern letter at the office about how I’m going to bungle the investigation, then?”

“Oh, they’re lower than that, Potter, what do you take me for?” He chews and swallows a bite of bacon thoughtfully. “I give you until — end of this week, tops, before you’re living in a box next to the river.”

“This would be the river with my secret underground palace for services rendered, would it?”

“Oh, quite,” Malfoy says, mouth quirking up at the corners. “Of course, they won’t let you in there anymore by the end of the week. You’ll have urinated on a public figure and set several tourist attractions on fire by then. Very down on that sort of thing, the secret palace people.”

“I thought it was my palace,” Harry says, distantly aware that this entire conversation is completely bonkers and just… not caring very much. “Shouldn’t a man be allowed to do what he likes in his own home?”

“Within reason, Potter, within reason.” Malfoy’s actually, honestly smiling now, though it’s directed at his plate, and not at Harry. “Anyway, those tourist attractions are all much too large to fit under the Thames, and I don’t know how you’d lure a public figure down there to pee on them.”

Harry gives up and laughs, really laughs, the noise loud enough to fill the room. He can’t help himself — it’s funny, and completely bizarre, and so unexpectedly easy that he’s not entirely sure what to with himself.

“You’re completely mental,” Harry says, a little laughter still riding on the words. “Has anyone ever told you that?”

“D’you know, I’ve heard it before.” This smile Malfoy does direct at Harry -- it’s slow, lazy. Entertained. “Never quite seen it, myself.”

The silence that falls between them this time is almost companionable, and Harry’s getting used to it -- god help him, maybe even enjoying it -- when Malfoy lets out a little huff of laughter, only half vocalized but undeniable this time.

Harry raises his eyebrows. “What?”

“Oh, it’s just,” Malfoy says, and shakes his head, releases that little huff of a laugh again. “Well -- it’s  just a bit surreal, isn’t it?” He gestures back and forth between them, to the coffee and plates. “I mean, for one thing, I think at some point during school I swore a solemn oath that I’d never break bread with you.”

“That is a little surreal,” says Harry. “Did it escape your attention that we ate practically every meal together for the better part of six years?”

“That didn’t count,” Malfoy says. He takes a haughty sip of his coffee while Harry stares at him, waiting for the explanation, which, sure enough: “We were separated by -- how did I phrase it -- two full tables and the chasm between our disparate ideologies.” He gives his fork a loaded look. “I believe that, technically, I’m supposed to tear out my entrails and burn them now. You’ll forgive me if I let that one slide.”

“The chasm,” Harry repeats, “between our disparate ideologies.”

“I was a gifted child,” Malfoy says, nodding as though he is agreeing with a thought Harry has already proposed. “I had the wrong end of the ideological stick, obviously, but nevertheless I was the envy of all my schoolmates. And, of course, of their parents, who only wished they’d produced offspring so naturally brilliant.”

“Brilliant enough to want to burn your own entrails, were you?”

“I didn’t want to,” Malfoy says, as though Harry is the crazy one. “But it’s no good laying out an edict without an appropriately weighted punishment, is it? The point was that I would burn them, not that I particularly hoped to ever have to do so. How else was I to make sure I never violated the rule?”

“I don’t know,” Harry says, mock-thoughtful. “How about the fact that we would have started a food fight in about eight seconds if you ever forgot about -- the, er, chasm -- and gave it a go?”

Malfoy smiles at him again. This one is smaller, but more -- honest, Harry thinks, somehow. It makes him feel like he’s won something. “Well, sure. When you put it like that.”

There’s another nearly comfortable silence, and then Harry says: “I did forget to do the toast, actually. So technically we didn’t, y’know. Break any bread.”

Well, Potter,” Malfoy says, swallowing his last mouthful of food -- he’s cleaned his plate, which Harry is weirdly gratified by. “That might be the cleverest thing I’ve ever heard you say.”

Harry rolls his eyes instead of answering, stands, clears their plates. He’s placing them in the sink when something occurs to him, and he walks back over to where Malfoy is leaning back in his chair, eyes closed, one hand resting against his stomach, looking strangely but inarguably like a contented house cat.

“Hey, Malfoy?”

“Hmm?”

“How’d you know where I live?” Harry says.

“What? Oh,” Malfoy says, eyes blinking open, “Blaise.”

“Zabini?” Harry demands. “How does he know where I live?”

Malfoy smirks at him. “Blaise is an Unspeakable, Potter. He knows where everyone lives, and probably also whether or not they enjoy living there, and almost certainly where on the property they’ve buried any bodies.”

Harry absorbs that piece of information slowly. It pulls at something in the back of his mind -- a hazy memory --

“Potter?” Malfoy says, sounding vaguely alarmed. “You’re not going to off on one about -- I don’t know, personal privacy or something, are you? Because, honestly, I think it’s a bit late for all that. You had plenty of opportunities to kick me out.”

“No, it’s not that,” Harry says slowly. He’s almost got it. “I think… I think maybe I ran into Zabini last night.”

Malfoy’s body language changes in an instant. He snaps upright in his chair, abandoning his indolent pose as if it never was at all, and demands, “What, at the Gryffindor piss-up?”

“Okay, seriously, how did you know it was the Gryffindor piss-up?” Harry says. “If you’re stalking me you’re very bad at it; you’ve really tipped your hand.”

“Oh, everyone knows about the Gryffindor piss-up,” Malfoy says, waving a hand, though Harry thinks his cheeks might be very faintly pinked. “Once a month at the Bawdy Bowtruckle, everyone’s invited except former loathed enemies -- Potter! Focus! You saw Blaise there?”

“I think maybe -- just outside,” Harry says. It’s coming back to him; not any of the details, those are probably lost forever, but certainly the vague shape of the thing. “He made me sit on a bench. I was, er. Pretty far gone, to be honest.”

“I never would have guessed,” Malfoy says, sarcasm thick. “You looked fresh as a daisy when I got here.”

“Oh, shut up,” Harry mutters. “Anyway, he said something about -- channels, I think? And I’m pretty sure he called you a name.”

“So you talked about me,” says Malfoy. His tone is very calm, which, for some reason, Harry finds a little frightening.

“Maybe?” he hedges. “But honestly, all I really remember is that he kept trying to like… flatter me, or something. Butter me up. It was really weird.”  

“That’s how Blaise gets information, it’s -- actually, never mind, I don’t have time to do this with you right now,” Malfoy says. He drops his napkin on his plate, sighs, and stands up; his eyes, Harry notices, have gone a bit wild again. “I have a previous engagement that I was unaware of until this very moment; I must be off.”

“I think he must have gotten me home, too,” Harry says, realizing he doesn’t actually recall at all how he got back here last night. Then he processes what Malfoy’s said. “Oh! Oh. Okay. You’re not going to, er, burn out his entrails or anything, are you? Just because, you know. It’d be my duty to stop you.”

“No harm will come to Blaise that Blaise doesn’t entirely deserve,” Malfoy says, which Harry notes is not exactly a no.

“You’re going to go kick on his door too, aren’t you,” Harry says. Malfoy glares at him and Harry raises his hands in the air. “Hey, I’m just stating the facts as I see them. You’re the one who comes ‘round to other people’s places and kicks on their doors and then tells them houses have feelings, or something.”

“That’s,” Malfoy says, appalled. “That’s just -- it’s so wrong I can’t even begin to -- I, just, look. I’m leaving, I am, but we’re circling back to this another day, all right? Please pencil it in somewhere amongst the several insipid and burdensome visits I assume I will shortly be receiving from you and your staff.”

And the thing is that it’s -- mean, what he’s saying. It should be cutting. It should bother Harry like overhearing more or less the same thing the other day did, whether he wanted to admit it to himself or not.

But Malfoy’s smiling very slightly as he says it, so small and quick you could miss it, and when he gets to the door he stops, turns. Looks Harry in the eye, and then looks very quickly away. Says, quietly, to some spot on the far wall: “Potter. Thanks for breakfast.”

If Harry grins at the door for half a minute after he’s gone -- well. He’s still a little drunk.

 

Chapter Text

It’s Sunday dinner at the Burrow that night, and after a few minutes’ consideration Harry decides to go. He doesn’t, some weeks. He’s got a standing invite — they all do — but it’s a casual thing, very much a “Come if you can and don’t worry if not” sort of commitment, and, well.

It was different when Harry was with Ginny. Back then he felt like — oh, he doesn’t know. Like he’d finally earned his place at the Weasley’s table, maybe, however freely they’d offered it to him years before. He knows that’s a little fucked up. He knows they all, Molly especially, Ginny especially, would be horrified to hear that the reason he doesn’t come to dinner every week is that he’s not sure, anymore, that it’s his place to be there. But he isn’t sure, and there’s always this voice in the back of his head when he goes too often, like when he eats too many meals in a row at Ron and Hermione’s. It says: nobody wants you here, Harry. It says: run along back to your cupboard.

Tonight, though, it’s been three weeks since his last one, so he figures he’s probably safe. He makes a side dish with broccoli and cheese and breadcrumbs — Molly never lets him cook anything once he actually arrives — and Apparates onto their front stoop moments after he pulls it out of the oven.

“Harry, dear!” Molly cries when she opens the door, beaming at him. She wraps him up in a hug the minute Arthur takes the steaming dish out of his hands, then pulls back, still holding onto Harry’s upper arms, to give him a critical once-over. “You’re too thin.”

“You always say that,” Harry says, laughing and extricating himself from her, unwinding his scarf.

“That’s because it’s always true,” Molly chides. She casts a Summoning Charm and a scone zooms into her hand. “Eat this,” she says, handing it to him, “and — oh, George, not the armchair!”

She’s gone in the blink of an eye, over to where George is snickering down at a chair that, while once a lovely shade of burgundy, seems to have come over all yellow and striped, and sprouted a pair of apparently flightless wings. Harry shakes his head, takes a bite of his scone, and goes to find Ron and Hermione.

It’s a nice night; he’s glad he came. Bill and Fleur have made an appearance — not unheard of, but rare — and little Victoire is a spitfire at five, happily running around in the back garden and poking curiously at her cousin Rose. George is here too, and Angelina, and Percy’s wife Penelope but not Percy himself, who is apparently chained to his desk until quarterly reports come out in April. Neville’s not shown up this week, but Ginny has, and Harry smiles at her from across the room; she smiles back.

The meal is as wonderful as always, the conversation raucous and hard to follow, and over dessert Harry remembers Malfoy’s crazy rant about Wizarding houses. And it’s not like Harry really believed any of it or anything, but, well. Malfoy did say to ask anyone, even Weasley. He figures asking the whole lot of them won’t hurt.

“Hey, Arthur,” Harry says casually, as they’re all milling around refilling their drinks and clearing plates, “you ever think about changing the floorplan of the house, now that it’s just you and Molly?”

Arthur smiles, releases a considering hum. “Oh, sure. Sure we have. Maybe we even will one of these days, but...” He throws Molly a loaded little look, exasperation and fondness all wrapped up together. “To be honest with you, Harry, we like the old place the way it is. And it does always seem such a lot of work, doing the maths and things to get the proportions right.”

“I don’t think it would be that hard,” Harry says. He looks out into the living room thoughtfully. “Just knock out that wall, maybe, and push into the room behind it, and then…”

He trails off, because every Weasley in the entire house is staring daggers at him.

“Harry,” Molly says, faintly, at last. “What a perfectly awful thing to say.”

“Er,” says Harry.

“It’s not his fault,” Arthur says hastily. “The lad was raised Muggle, they do that sort of thing all the time. Remolding, they call it.”

“Remodeling,” Hermione corrects, in the long-suffering tones of a woman who has had probably a thousand conversations about electricity with her father-in-law.

“Sure, sure,” says Arthur. “Remodeling, yes. Anyway, apparently it’s perfectly normal, very common. I’ve heard that some Muggles will even buy a house just to knock it down and build another on the very same spot!”

What?” says Ron.

“But that’s barbaric!” says Ginny.

“Even I wouldn’t go that far,” says George. “Charm the walls to ooze slime, sure, that’s hilarious, but knock them down? Knock a whole place down? Don’t know how you could do it and not feel like a murderer.”

“I guess, if the house didn’t have any magic,” Bill starts, and stops, shuddering. “Eurgh. No, I still don’t think I could stomach it.”

“This is a very disturbing discussion to ‘ave in front of my child, ‘Arry,” Fleur tells him. “I ‘ope we will not ‘ear such ‘orrible things from you in the future.”

Harry stares at them all, boggled. Angelina and Penelope, who were both raised at least partially Muggle, look like they have some sympathy for him, but Hermione — who, of all people, should understand — is giving him a look just as stern as the rest of them.

“You could have avoided that entire unpleasant experience if you’d just read Hogwarts, A History, that’s all I’m saying,” she tells him primly a few minutes later, when she, Harry and Ron have settled into chairs by the fire. Harry, who is still catching horrified glances from the now slightly more subdued Weasley clan, has taken the one George altered as an act of unspoken penance. Every few minutes the cushion seems to swell a bit under his bottom; he thinks he has maybe six minutes left before it lets out a truly enormous fart. “There’s a whole chapter about the nature of magical structures. Did you know — ”

“That any magic that’s been around long enough develops a personality?” Harry says. He takes a long sip of his wine. “Yeah, you know, I think I’ve heard that somewhere before.”

“Well, yes, of course, but it’s not just that,” Hermione says. “It’s — with magical dwellings, it all gets a bit… complicated. Generations of wizards and witches live in them, feeding their magic, feeding off their magic; eventually, it all becomes kind of an amalgam, not just of the house’s magic and personality, but of everyone who’s lived there before.”

“Look, it’s like this,” Ron says, correctly interpreting Harry’s look of blank confusion. “In my old bedroom on the second floor there’s that window that sticks, right?”

“Sure,” says Harry cautiously, not sure where this is going.

“Well,” Ron says, “that’s because when I was a kid, I couldn’t sleep with the window shut, because SOMEBODY,” he raises his voice pointedly, “told me that I’d suck all the air out of the room in my sleep and suffocate.”

“Sorry,” says Bill, in passing, handing Rose over to Ron and not sounding apologetic at all. “You snored really loud. You needed to pay.”

“Your uncle was a terrible brother,” Ron tells Rose in a sing-song voice. “The most terrible brother of all.”

“Hey!” calls George, sounding wounded. “That’s an insult to me! That’s an insult to Fred’s memory! Take it back or apologize to the great Fred in the sky!”

Ron groans; apologizing to the great Fred in the sky is a more involved and humiliating process every time George makes someone do it, but nobody argues, both because it seems like pretty fitting tribute and because they all like to imagine that, somewhere, Fred’s really enjoying it. “Fine. You were all terrible brothers, does that make you happy?”

“Ickle Ronniekins, you do love me,” George sighs, and goes out into the back garden with Victoire and Bill to build snowmen.

“Anyway,” Ron says, shifting Rose on his lap. “I had to keep the window cracked, so for ages I’d just sort of use stuff to prop it up, sticks and rocks and things, whatever I could find. But after a while the house got the idea, and after that the window was always cracked. Even when it was freezing, or pouring rain, it would stay open — but the old girl wouldn’t let any cold air or water or nasty bugs or anything in, just the noise from outside.”

“That’s exactly what I’m talking about,” Hermione says. She throws Ron an approving smile, and Ron winks at her before he busies himself with entertaining their daughter. “Because the thing is, Harry, in a hundred years that window will still be open all the time, just letting sound in, and whoever lives here then won’t know about Ron or the trick his brothers played on him or anything else. They’ll just know the house has a weird quirk where it doesn’t like to shut that window, and that’ll become what’s true. And for every magical structure there’s hundreds or even thousands of little things like that — they’re all greater than the sum of their parts, and that’s especially true the older they get, and the more people who’ve lived in them.”

“But that doesn’t make any sense,” Harry says, keeping his voice low to avoid triggering another round of Weasley wrath. “I mean, if that were true, then —  I mean, for god’s sake, Hogwarts — ”

“Would have a personality so well developed it could choose sides and fight in a war?” Hermione says pointedly, and Harry’s mouth snaps shut.

He thinks about Grimmauld Place, sitting cold and shuttered after housing centuries upon centuries of Blacks, just Kreacher and that mad old painting of Walburga rattling around inside. He thinks about Sirius — the last of his line — finally coming home, and of the way he’d hated the place, treated it like a prison, let Buckbeak piss and shit in it, wished he were anywhere else. He thinks about how even that must have been better for the old pile than Harry, not an ounce of the family blood in him, moping around and feeling sick, defeated, empty; feeling like he’d gladly trade every last brick and floorboard for just a minute more with any one of the people he’d lost who had, at one point or another, walked those dusty halls.

Harry thought, when he sold Grimmauld Place, that it was a trap, a sinkhole, designed by Fate’s cruel hand to deepen and exacerbate his grief. It only occurs to him now to wonder if maybe the house was grieving, too — if, perhaps, it’d been grieving longer than Harry’d even been alive.

“Goddamn it,” Harry says, “I think Malfoy was right.”

Hermione and Ron exchange an apprehensive glance. Harry is getting really sick of that.

“And when,” says Hermione, after a moment, “did you and Malfoy get around to talking about the nature of magical houses?”

“Oh,” Harry says. Heat prickles on the back of his neck. “Well — we kind of — er. Had breakfast this morning.”

Ron chokes on his breath; Hermione comes within an inch of dropping her glass. It takes Harry a second, but then he puts together the concept of breakfast with just how drunk he was at the pub last night, not to mention with the fact that if anyone saw him leave, it was with Blaise Zabini.

“Oh my god!” Harry says, loud enough that several nearby Weasleys turn to look. Deeply and desperately unwilling to have this conversation with them, he loudly adds, “I can’t believe I forgot to pick up eggs today!” and then remains stock-still, waiting, until they’ve all turned back to what they were doing before.

Harry collapses back into his chair and glares at Ron and Hermione. “Oh my god,” he hisses, barely audible this time, “not — it wasn’t — not that kind of breakfast! I can’t believe you’d even think we’d — that I’d — it’s ridiculous! I mean, as if! I would ever! With Malfoy, you guys, seriously? Are you both crazy? You both must be crazy, because that’s the most absurd thing I’ve ever heard.”

“Do you know,” says Hermione, after a long pause, “I think I’m going to have another drink.”

“Mind filling mine up too?” Ron says. “Really appreciate it. Just as full as you like.”

Hermione stands, takes their glasses and then, with a little shake of her head, baby Rose. “Sorry,” she says, “I just — I want her to grow up to be self-actualized,” and walks off without giving any further explanation than that.

“What — ” Harry starts.

“Haven’t the foggiest,” Ron says quickly, and drains his glass. “So. Uh. Obviously we are — crazy — for drawing the conclusion that we did — ”

“Crazy!” Harry repeats, because he feels it needs saying again.

“Real clear about where the crazy’s living in this conversation, mate, thanks,” Ron says. “But — can I ask why you did, uh, end up… having breakfast… with Malfoy this morning?”

“Stop saying it with those significant little pauses,” Harry hisses, horrified. “That makes it sound like — I’m telling you, it was just breakfast! Real breakfast! Eggs, and bacon, and things!”

“‘Course it was,” Ron says, clapping him briefly on the shoulder. “Why, now?”

“Oh, well. He came by in a bit of a strop about the thing in the Prophet,” Harry admits.

Ron blinks at him. “You saw today’s Prophet?”

“Well, I wouldn’t have,” Harry says patiently, “except that, like I was telling you, Malfoy came by in a strop about it at 6:30 in the morning. Yelled and kicked at my door until I let him in, too. I’m sure the neighbors are terrified to live next to me now.”

“Oh, right,” Ron says, “because all those times you’ve come home covered in blood before have made them feel very safe.” He pauses, then says, “Wait, how does Malfoy even know where you live?”

“Apparently Blaise Zabini’s an Unspeakable.”

“No kidding?” says Ron, leaning back in his chair. “Huh. I can see that, I suppose. ‘Mione, did you know Blaise Zabini was an Unspeakable?”

“You know, the point of their being called Unspeakables is that we’re not supposed to speak about it,” Hermione says, returning from the kitchen plus two drinks and minus one baby.  “How did we happen across this piece of information?”

“Harry was just explaining to me how Malfoy got his address from Blaise Zabini,” Ron tells her as she sits down, “so he could come kick at his door and yell at him about this morning’s Prophet.”

Hermione gives Ron a pained look and passes him his drink, which he takes a gulp from in obvious gratitude. To Harry, she says, “You saw this morning’s Prophet?”

“I see the Prophet sometimes, I’m not a hermit,” Harry snaps, needled by hearing the same question twice in less than two minutes.

“Oh, I know that,” Hermione says. “Just — usually — I’m trying to think of a way to phrase this delicately — ”

“Usually when you see yourself in the papers you throw a right fit about it,” Ron says cheerfully.

“Ron!” says Hermione.

“Well, he does,” says Ron, unrepentant. “Remember last May? The thing with the Ministry leak?”

“Oh, well, yes,” Hermione says. She gives Harry a long-suffering look. “Even you have to admit: you didn’t exactly comport yourself well.”

“They said I was selling state secrets to fund a Felix addiction!” Harry says, scandalized. “They said I was committing treason, Hermione!”

“Yes, but,” Hermione says, “you weren’t. And neither was that tree you punched, Harry.”

“Trees,” says Ron. “There were two. One of them was a bit frail and sickly, as I recall, and cracked sort of pathetically, and you said ‘Too easy,’ and then stomped around until you found that nice oak that broke your hand. And then, at St. Mungo’s, one of the healers said, ‘What happened here, Mr. Potter?’ Totally innocent, medical question. And do you remember what you did?”

“I knocked over the exam cart,” Harry says sheepishly, because: yeah. He did that. He thinks someday he might get over the shame.

“You knocked over the exam cart,” Ron agrees. “So you can see why we might be a little — ‘Mione, what’s the word I’m looking for here?”

“Incredulous?” Hermione suggests. “Bewildered? Astounded?”

“Astounded’ll play,” Ron says, grinning at her. “So, yes, Harry, you can see why we were a little astounded to learn that you saw yourself on the front page of the Prophet today. I’m not saying they’re all two-trees-and-an-exam-cart blowouts, I understand that was a special circumstance, but you didn’t sulk through dinner or anything!”

Harry would like to protest that he wouldn’t have sulked through dinner, but he knows the evidence is against him on that one. “Yeah, well. I guess I kind of… had it all out with Malfoy? I don’t know.” He thinks about it. “I suppose I wasn’t wasn’t that bothered, to be honest. I mean, I did at least say what they’re saying I said this time.”

“You… did,” Hermione says.

“Yeah, I did. Didn’t know she was a reporter or I’d never have given her the time of day, but,” Harry shrugs. “I said it, so I suppose it’s fair play. Malfoy’s a lot angrier about the whole thing that I am.”

Hermione stares at him for a long, hard second, her gaze fierce and a little uncomfortable.

Harry makes a face at her.

“Yep, I can’t do this.” Hermione says, and she stands again, plants a kiss on Ron’s cheek, and adds, “Godspeed, honey,” as she walks off.

“She’s being really weird tonight,” Harry says.

“Oh, sure,” Ron says, nodding, “yeah, mystery, no explanation for it. But look — Harry — I still don’t understand how all this ended in breakfast. He came over to yell at you and so you — what, made him some food?”

“Er,” says Harry. “Well, sort of. Not really!” he adds, bristling defensively at Ron’s raised eyebrows. “He came to yell, and he did yell, for a while. Then I explained that I hadn’t known it was a reporter and had just been trying to, you know, reduce the amount of post-war dickishness in the world, and he calmed down. Well, a bit. I’m not sure he ever really calms down, you know, like normal people.”

Ron says nothing, though at the words “normal people” he does take another large sip from his drink.

“And then,” Harry says, “well, I was really hungover, and I think he wanted to — I don’t know, yell some more or — huh. Actually, I don’t really know why he came back with the hangover potion. He said it was so I wouldn’t tell future reporters he’d left me to die in my own sick or something, but I’m pretty sure he was joking.”

“Joking,” Ron says thinly. “Haha. Yes. Funny stuff.”

“Anyway, then he got after me about the house,” Harry says, “Grimmauld Place, I mean, which why I was even asking about that stuff, before. I guess I wasn’t such a good homeowner.”

“Oh,” Ron says, and winces. “Yeah, that you were not.”

“You might have told me!”

“You don’t know what you were like to be around that year, Harry,” Ron says, “and that’s a mercy and a gift and you should be grateful for it every day. Let’s just say that the thing with the house was towards the bottom of our list of worries, at that point.”

Harry opens his mouth to ask what had been at the top, and then…. thinks better of it.

“My point is,” Harry says, steering them hastily away from that unhappy topic, “he was chattering on and on about the house, and I wanted something to eat, so I just sort of started cooking. Only then I had enough food for two and it would’ve been rude to not offer him some, and he accepted, so.” Harry shrugs one shoulder. “I gave him some breakfast.”

“How civic-minded of you,” says Ron, in a strangled voice.

It is at this point that Harry’s chair, which he’d finally been beginning to trust, lets out a fart so enormous that it propels Harry out of his seat and almost into the fireplace, covering the room in glittering brown confetti. Everyone laughs, even Harry, and in the ensuing confetti clean-up and reshuffling of seats Ron ends up in a corner with Angelina, Arthur, and Molly, none of whom Harry wants to continue this particular conversation in front of.

Which is fine. It’s not like he wanted to keep talking about Malfoy, anyway. Ron was acting really strange about it.

Still, Harry feels a bit trapped, suddenly, in the close, warm space of the crowded Burrow. He Summons his coat and lets himself out into the back garden, pleased and relieved at the rush of cold air, the soft grey fog of his breath.

Ginny’s sitting on the back stoop, red hair spilling out from underneath a white knitted hat. Harry almost goes back inside, but then he thinks about that odd little conversation with Neville the other day, and the way things seemed to sit a bit easier, afterward. Maybe, Harry thinks, exposure’s the thing. It’s probably worth giving it a shot.

He walks over and sits down next to her before he can think better of it.

“Harry!” Ginny says. She sounds surprised, but — pleased, Harry thinks. He’s almost sure. There’s a beat of hesitation, just long enough for Harry to think that this was a mistake and he’s an idiot and he’s going to have to sit here with her in horrible silence for five minutes, before she smiles at him and says, “So. Did the chair go off?”

Harry laughs, more out of relief than anything else. “It did. My own fault for sitting on it, but it was pretty spectacular. As farting chairs go, anyway.”

“My brother the genius,” Ginny says. She rolls her eyes, but her tone is too fond to give the gesture any weight. “I heard him talking the other day — apparently he wants to run a whole line of furniture like that. You know, farting chairs, farting ottomans, farting chaise longues. ‘If you can sit on it, it should fart,’ seems to be his philosophy.”

“It’s hard to argue with,” says Harry, and Ginny laughs, the sound bright in the muffling, pervasive quiet that always comes on the heels of fresh snow.

There’s a pause, and then, with the air of someone striking out bravely into the unknown, Ginny says, “So, Nev told me he ran into you at Draco’s the other day?”

“Oh,” says Harry, wondering briefly and with passion why he can’t seem to escape talking about Malfoy tonight. “Yeah, it was — wait, Draco?”

Ginny raises her eyebrows. “That is his name.”

“I know,” Harry says. He wraps his arms around himself, trying to keep the heat in. “It’s just… well. It’s a little weird to hear you say it, to be honest.”

“Yeah,” Ginny says, shrugging a shoulder. “For me too, but after a while it just felt strange to call him Malfoy all the time. Their whole relationship is a little weird in general, anyway — actually, truthfully, I think he’s just a little weird. Draco, I mean.” Ginny pauses, and then laughs. “Well, and Nev too, I suppose. I think most of their conversations revolve around who gets to marry a scary old plant.”

“Vicky,” Harry says absently.

Ginny gives him a look he can’t quite interpret. “Um, yeah. Vicky. Right.”

Silence does descend after that, but Harry’s pretty sure — not certain, but pretty sure — that it isn’t awkward silence. It’s the silence of sitting side by side on a snowy evening, watching the steadily deepening night. Ginny’s got a mug of mulled cider huddled between her gloved palms, gentle tendrils of steam winding up from its surface and floating away on the wind, and in the distance Bill and Victoire are building a snowman. Occasionally George will pop out from behind a tree and throw a snowball at them, his cackles and Victoire’s half-laughing little shrieks carrying back to the stoop. It’s nice. Comfortable.

As they watch, Fleur comes out of the house and joins her husband and daughter. Bill wraps an arm around his shoulders, kisses the top of her head, as Victorie throws herself against her mother’s legs in a snowy hug before tearing off after her uncle.

Softly, Ginny says, “I used to think that would be us.”

Harry wants to whip his head around to stare at her, wants to insist that they start slower than this, wants to demand wildly to be excused from this conversation and given time to prepare, but he doesn’t. It’s been years; if he’s not ready now, he never will be.

He keeps his eyes firmly fixed on an arbitrary spot in this distance, this spiky-looking fir that’s a little too far out from the rest of the treeline, and says, “Me, too.”

Some of his hesitation — and, okay, if he’s going to be honest about it, his fear — must bleed out into his voice, because Ginny says, “Oh, Harry, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to just — I shouldn’t have said — ”

“No, hey, it’s fine,” Harry says. He forces himself to look at her; she’s beautiful, snowflakes caught in her hair, eyes heavy with worry. “Really, it is. It was a long time ago, and I know — I know we weren’t, you know. Going to make it, in the long run.”

“I don’t necessarily think that’s true,” Ginny says. She toes a little at the stair with the tip of her boot, then puts her mug down, scoops some snow up into her gloved hands and starts rolling it into a ball. “I think we could have gone the distance.”

“Then why — ” Harry starts, and stops. He knows why. She told him, that horrible night all those years ago: because he was closed off. Because he wouldn’t confront his emotions. Because some days she thought he was dead inside. Because she was in love with someone else.

“Because I couldn’t shake the thought that you’d wake up in twenty years with no idea why you’d done it,” Ginny whispers. “I didn’t want — I know I went about it wrong and I’m sorry, I was all kinds of messed up at that point and anyway I’m. Impulsive. Like you,” she adds, and he hears the compliment he thinks she means it to be; he doesn’t know if he would have, even a year ago. “But, Harry, you always — I always felt like you were just, I don’t know. Going through the motions, I guess? And that wasn’t what I wanted. Not for either of us.”

Harry knows she’s right, and it stings in his eyes, at the back of his throat. He can’t believe how much old history he’s seen dug up this week, not after all this time he’s spent avoiding it. It’s like he turned over the earth, running into Malfoy, and now all these things he’s kept safe and buried for years are running loose again.

“You deserved better,” Harry says, quiet and sorry, into the cold air of the night.

“Don’t do that,” Ginny says. When Harry turns to look at her, her eyes are hard. “Don’t act like that, like you’re some kind of monster I got saddled with. We both deserved better, Harry. We both deserved to be with someone who saw us for who were were, not as,” she stops, swallows, “a future, or a hero, or whatever else. Just someone who wanted us for us.”

Harry doesn’t have anything to say to that; she’s right, not that he imagines he’ll ever manage to find that for himself. It’s enough, though, that she has it. It’s enough that one of them does.

He looks at her again, really looks, and sees the way the lines of her face have changed, the differences in the way she carries herself. Ginny at 17, at 18 — she’d been a spitfire, a perpetual motion machine, always throwing herself into the center of whatever was going on. She liked to go to concerts and stay out dancing and kiss Harry messily against the side of his jaw, just under his ear, one hand fisted in his hair. She was a beautiful girl, but nothing like as gorgeous as the woman in front of him, steadier and calmer and content with herself in this way she’d never been able to manage when she was with him.

“God,” Harry says, feeling ancient even to hear it come out of his mouth, “we were so young.”

Ginny lets out a little huff of surprised laughter. “Yeah,” she says wistfully, and then punches Harry lightly in the arm. “Hey! We’re still young.”

“Not that young,” Harry says, grimacing.

“Go say that to my mother’s face, I dare you,” Ginny says. “Better yet, say it to Fleur’s — she’s coming up on the big 3-0, and reports from all corners say she’s not handling it well.”

“Yikes,” Harry says mildly. “Maybe I’ll leave well enough alone.”

“Well,” Ginny says, tone sparkling with mischief, “if that’s the kind of mood you’re in,” and then she lobs the snowball she’d been making right in Harry’s face, because deep down she’s all mischief, regardless of circumstance.

Harry lets out a war cry and soon the whole family’s outside, screaming and laughing and pelting snowballs, tackling each other into the drifts. He catches Gin’s eye a few times as the fight wears on, and when she looks back at him, grin fierce and happy, he checks for his bitterness and finds that, at least for this moment, it’s gone.

For the next three days, Harry buries himself in the Malfoy case.

He actually goes to Grimmauld Place on Monday; he doesn't bother to Owl first, figuring that if Malfoy can turn up on his doorstep unannounced at 6:30 on a Sunday, Harry can show up at his crime scene whenever he damn well likes. It backfires on him, though, because Malfoy’s out.

Still, Kreacher lets him in, takes his coat, and tells him to wait in the foyer. He vanishes with a crack and reappears a few minutes later, beaming, to say, “Master Draco says Harry Potter can stay if he does not break anything!”

Harry raises his eyebrows at the still-visible carnage of the place, but he does as he’s told and breaks nothing. It’s actually easier to get through the note-taking and cataloging he needs to get done without Malfoy around to distract him, and after an hour or so he leaves Kreacher with a list of things he’ll need from Malfoy and heads back to the office.

And if he pauses, hand raised, half considering — he doesn't know, patting the wall in apology for past treatment, or something — well, nobody sees him do it. It's not like it counts.

On Tuesday, he receives the following Owl.

 

 

Potter -

Having now taken a complete inventory, I can tell you there are in fact several things missing. They are as follows:

  • -Amortentia, one (1) vial (vintage; estimated brew date June, 1934)
  • -Draught of Peace, one (1) vial (though it was an Everlasting Elixir and was, I might add, not cheap, so in terms of actual loss, it was considerably more than one vial)
  • -Dreamless Sleep, four (4) vials
  • -One (1) charmed necklace, unprocessed for display on date of loss; estimated date of production 14th century. Based on what initial examination I had time to do, the charm allows the wearer immunity to disease. Probably a relic of the Black Death; I could say for certain if I’d had the chance to do further research.
  • -Two (2) self-sheathing daggers, 4th century. Protection charms in handle inlays, sheaths and blades. 
  • -One (1) music box, 20th century. Tune causes... let’s say ‘youthful exuberance,’ though in reality the experience is not unlike being extremely drunk.  
  • -One (1) box Witch Ranger Biscuits, flavor Cocoa Glacier. (You can leave this out of your official report, Potter, I’m aware that the Auror department is not concerned about missing biscuits. However, they’re only for sale about a month out of every year, so you can imagine my dismay to discover my depleted supply.)

What gives me the most pause is that several of these items — the Draught of Peace, the biscuits, the Dreamless Sleep, and the necklace — were on floors I have reserved as my private living quarters, which are closed to visitors of the museum. This is disturbing for two reasons. The first is that, to ensure that my private space remains private, I have several strong spells in place to repel any curious guests. None would be likely to cause serious harm, but anyone who proceeds more than a step or two past my rope partitions without permission should be overwhelmed by both a sudden absence of understanding as to what they’re doing there and the strong desire to be anywhere else. A particularly impressionable would-be trespasser ran out the front door screaming, once. The charms are still in place, the magical signature my own; how did the intruders make it in and out without removing them?

The second cause for concern is that I have no earthly idea when  they could have gotten themselves in there. Setting aside the time I was unconscious, which I know was only about five minutes — that useless wretch of a teacher was good for that, at least — I had all four of the intruders we know about in my eyeline at all times. So: was there a fifth? Or did one of those four somehow make it upstairs, through the charms, to search my rooms and make off with their very unusual choices in those few minutes I was out cold?

It doesn’t make any sense. I’ve wracked my brains all morning and still I can’t explain these targets. All the items are valuable, but nothing like as valuable as some of what they didn’t take — or, for that matter, nearly all of what they damaged or destroyed. There’s no item of larger value that I know of which can be produced by combining these elements, either. Why the potions? The Amortentia, fine, it’s a rare vintage bottle that’s rumored to have been brewed in an ill-fated and frankly silly attempt to bring down Grindlewald, but the Draught of Peace? The Dreamless Sleep? Hogwarts students can brew them, for god’s sake! (Well, Hogwarts students who are better at Potions than you ever were, anyway.) Why my biscuits , Potter? What kind of blaggard secrets himself into another man’s home only to make off with his Cocoa Glaciers?

I’d say I hope your investigations are proceeding apace, but, alas, my expectations of you are much too low. I shall thus toil on, biscuitless, and await the opportunity to read news of your fall from grace due to public urination in the Prophet.

Regards,
Draco Malfoy

 

Harry stares at the letter and sighs. It’s obvious that Malfoy’s never met a medium he couldn’t use to chatter endlessly, but it’s also obvious he’s worried, and not without cause. The possibility of a fifth intruder is unsettling, and the list of what was taken is just bizarre, though Harry suspects the Cocoa Glaciers, at least, were nothing more than a crime of opportunity, and not intended as the a deep psychological blow Malfoy seems to have suffered at their loss.

He shows the letter to Ron, who blanches as he reads it, and says, faintly, when he’s finished, “Sorry, Harry, I am, but — your fall from grace due to public urination?”

“Oh,” says Harry, flushing slightly. He’d forgotten that part. “It’s — ” he pauses, looking for any other way to phrase it, but eventually has no choice but to say, “Well, it’s kind of… a bit of an in-joke.”

“Of course it is,” says Ron, and then, fatalistically and clearly mostly to himself: “Some days, I don’t know why I bother.”

Harry sets up a meeting for later in the week with Horace Slughorn, whom the department often calls on to weigh in on cases involving potions, and writes Malfoy back.

 

 

Malfoy -

You’re right, that’s a weird list. Any idea if the necklace makes someone immune to ALL disease, or just the Black Death? We’ve got a couple of jumpy types here who are always quick to scream biological attack, but I doubt that’s what’s going on. Still, it’d be good to know one way or the other. And if you have previous ownership records on the rest of it, especially the daggers and the music box, definitely send them along. You’d be amazed how many thefts come back to someone whose great-great-grandmother sold the item before it was worth much and feels entitled to a payout now.

The idea that there might have been a fifth conspirator is, yeah, a bit unsettling, I’ll grant you. I wish we’d known on Thursday; any magical residue we could have swept for then will have dissipated by now. We didn’t find much on the first two floors, but I’d like to have checked anyway. If you come across anything that obviously isn’t yours and could’ve been left behind, please send that over.

One of the guys at dispatch has a daughter in the Witch Rangers. I’ll see if he can’t scrounge you up a restitution box of — what were they? Coconut Blizzards?

It’s nearly Wednesday and I haven’t burned anything down OR peed on anyone,

HP

P.S. An ill-fated and silly attempted to take down Grindlewald? I don't think I’ve heard that one.

 

When he arrives at work on Wednesday morning, Malfoy’s enormous eagle owl is waiting on his desk.

 

 

Potter-

I can’t stomach responding to your Owl in the standard fashion. This requires a list.

  1. I genuinely can’t believe they let you be an Auror; you last missive was a horrorshow. It’s probably not a biological attack, how very reassuring, what would I do without your comforting presence? I was obviously mistaken the other morning — you’re not going to fall from grace for burning down tourist attractions or urinating on public figures. You’re going to do it by inciting mass hysteria, probably totally by accident. “Mr. Potter,” the reporters will say, “what happened here?” And you’ll reply, “Well, it looks like a total normal B&E, so you definitely shouldn’t worry that all of Wizarding Britain will be decimated in an explosion before lunch!” Then you can watch in bemusement as everyone runs around screaming bloody murder; what fun. Maybe, for the public safety, you should conduct all your official business in Parseltongue. At least then no one will be able to understand the horrible things you're saying.
  2. Golly gee, Auror Potter, I’m sure glad you said I should send along any strange objects I happen to find at the scene of the crime! That would never have occurred to a wide-eyed innocent civilian like myself! D’you think I should maybe also include this large piece of parchment I found with the words “Reasons Why We Did It” and four signatures at the bottom?  
  3. Honestly: you are an imbecile. I, of course, have found nothing out of the ordinary in either the museum floors or my rooms, which I have searched exhaustively — one might even say obsessively — twice. In the event that I do find something, believe you me, I do not intend to sit quietly on that information wondering if should dare trouble the Auror department with my discovery. You imbecile.
  4. The records you asked for in the information I already gave you, Potter. It’s a good thing my expectations have already been lowered dramatically or I think I might actually be disappointed. Blue binder, sorted by category and then by year — there’s an index with a green tab in the front. And, finally:
  5. They are not COCONUT BLIZZARDS, you terrible useless shell of a man. Have you no decency? Have you no soul? Coconut Blizzards are a garbage biscuit forged in the pits of hell and have no place in the home of an upstanding small business owner such as myself. I will have Cocoa Glaciers or I will have NOTHING. (But if your contact does have them, tell her I’ll give her twice what they’re worth and never breathe a word of it to anyone.)

You don’t deserve a proper sign-off and I refuse to write you one. Coconut Blizzards. Honestly .

DLM

P.S. Of course you haven’t heard this, it’s an obscure story even amongst historians and you literally don’t know basic elementary magic: in the 20s, at the beginning of the Grindlewald regime, there was this group of witches called the Berlin Seven. Really incredible coven, did a lot of good in that war, except they were really the Berlin Eight — the seven women who were actually going out and fighting and spying and what have you, and then one of their mums, who was by all accounts a lovely if slightly dotty old woman called Bernice. I believe the arrangement was that she housed and fed them so they could get on with things, but war takes its toll, as you know, and by 1934 they were the Berlin Three — Miriam Cohen, Basilah Saeed, and somehow Bernice. I don’t think she was even one of their mums, if I’m recalling the story right; I think she just stayed on for the sake of it.

Anyway, she got this perfectly mad idea to brew up a batch of Amortentia and use it to turn Grindlewald’s head. Saeed writes this whole thing in her diary about it, it’s quite funny, I’m paraphrasing but it’s something along the lines of ‘Crazy old Bernice at it again, wants to dose GG with Amortentia so Miriam and I can take him out while he’s distracted by her beauty, don’t think she realizes there’s only so much love potion can do when you look like a toe.’ But there have been rumors for years, since long before anyone ever found the diary, that there were several attempts to, essentially, attack Grindlewald with love potions that year.

I suppose I like the idea that Saeed and Cohen ended up going along with it. There’s just something that tickles me about the idea of two of the deadliest spies in history lobbing love potions at Grindlewald to humor a mad old lady who wasn’t even their mum. It’s so insane! But that’s the only reason I even had that bottle of Amortentia; that story is just a story, it’s not as though there’s any verifiable proof linking my bottle to the rumor. I just thought it was funny, and the guests liked hearing about it. It’s not like it’s worth anything! God, this whole situation is just so bizarre.

Anyway. Now you know.

 

Harry goes into his meeting with Horace Slughorn torn between feeling irritated, insulted, amused, and entertained, which, while a mixed bag of emotions, is at least one he’s getting used to.

He leaves feeling mostly slimy.

It’s not that Slughorn’s a bad guy, exactly. Harry doesn’t think he means anybody any harm. He’s just… obsequious, in that way Harry hates dealing with, that way that makes him feel, afterwards, as though he’s in need of several very hot showers. It’s all, “Oh, Harry, my boy, you are looking well,” and, “My goodness, I just find all you’ve done so inspiring,” and endless discussion of Gwenog Jones, who, Harry knows, doesn’t even play for the Holyhead Harpies anymore. The only useful thing Slughorn has to offer in the entire meeting is the suggestion that maybe all the objects that were taken had some kind of significance or importance to Malfoy, that the ultimate target was some variation of sentimentality magic, and Harry would have come to that theory on his own in any case. Or Ron would have. Or... someone, anyway, would have thought of it.

He looks at Malfoy’s letter again to cleanse himself of the experience, because there’s nothing that clears the scent of sycophantry out of your nostrils quite like someone calling you an imbecile twice in one paragraph. Then he writes I ordered you eight boxes of Coconut Blizzards, will that be enough? on a slip of parchment and sends it off with Mathilda, and catches himself humming a jaunty little tune every few minutes for the rest of the afternoon.

Just before he leaves for the day, Malfoy’s eagle owl returns, and Harry reaches out, mouth already quirking at the corners, to take the letter. Before he can, though, the huge bloody bird leans over and bites his hand, hard.

“Fucking hell,” Harry snaps, after he’s made sure he’s not going to bleed on anything, and unrolls Malfoy’s note. It reads:

 

 

I told him to do that. DLM. 

Harry looks at the piece of paper for a long time and then laughs, loud and long, a little rueful. He chucks the piece of parchment into his top desk drawer and goes home.

On Thursday, Head Auror Erhard calls Harry and Ron into her office. She’s a strange woman, Erhard, an American with little diplomacy and less patience and a head of hair that makes her look a lot like Hermione, for all Erhard’s a good deal older and has much lighter skin. Harry likes her a lot, actually, except that she’s his boss and he most often talks to her in the aftermath of having done something that reflects poorly on the department. That aspect of their relationship is, admittedly, not ideal.

“How’s it going on the Malfoy case?” she asks, looking back and forth between them. “Progress? Changes? Have you caught the rapscallions responsible?”

Ron and Harry exchange a look; nothing good comes of an interested Erhard. Then Ron, the selfish bastard, says, “Harry’s been taking the lead on that case, ma’am.”

“Have you?” says Erhard sweetly.

“Er,” says Harry, who knows a trap when he sees one but can’t ever quite seem to keep from helplessly falling in anyway. “Well — ”

“Oh, I don’t really care, Auror Potter,” she snaps. Harry shuts his mouth. “Here’s what I do care about: it’s been a week, and we’ve still got an Auror posted there on protective duty around the clock. You do understand the department only has so much funding? And that we like to make sure that some if not most of that funding goes to actively fighting crime?”

Ron is giving Harry a very pointed look. Harry’s not actually looking at him, but he can feel it burning into the side of his cheek. He ignores it.

“Er,” he says again.

“Do you believe Mr. Malfoy’s life is in clear and present danger?” Erhard says, getting down to the brass tacks of the thing.

Harry looks her dead in the eye and says, honestly, “I’m not sure. I believe that it could be. I don’t want to take the chance.”

She gives him a long, measuring look and then nods sharply, just once. “Three more days, and then I pull the plug. That’s as long as a damn attempted murder would get, so don’t try to fight me on it. And one of the Junior Aurors called off sick today, so we’re a man short. If you want someone out there tonight, it’s your happy task to assign the shift.”

Harry groans — softly, but, unfortunately, not softly enough. Under the cover of the desk, Ron kicks him.

“I’m sorry, Auror Potter, was there something more?” Erhard’s voice is stone cold. “Did you perhaps want to try to argue down my insanely generous offer? Do you want to bite the very, very permissive hand that feeds you? Go ahead. Now’s the time.”

“No, ma’am,” Harry mutters, even though a tiny part of him is yelling Do it! Bite the hand! Fight! Fight! Fight! “Sorry, ma’am.”

“Oh, stop apologizing and get the hell out of my office,” Erhard says. Harry and Ron both move to get up, and she snaps her fingers. “Just Potter. Weasley, you stay.”

Ron looks like he just swallowed a frog, and Harry beats a hasty retreat before he becomes part of whatever Ron’s done wrong. After all, Ron can afford a black mark or two on his record — Harry, at this point, really cannot. His own record is more black mark than anything else.

He walks over to the bulletin board of Junior Aurors, the rosters of active surveillance and guard details, and spends a half-hearted minute or two trying to find some poor bastard to stick with the empty shift.

Then he gives up, and does what he was probably always going to do anyway: he grabs his cloak, and goes to Malfoy’s himself.

It’s pissing down when Harry gets to Grimmauld Place, an icy late February sleet. Trent, the Junior Auror who was according to rumor nearly shitting himself over pixies a week ago, is sitting on the front stoop, trembling a little. Harry wants to roll his eyes — Trent is clearly not equipped to live with the crushing daily misery of Auror work — but he doesn’t.

Instead he says, “An Impervious Charm can work wonders in times like these,” and attempts to clap Trent on the shoulder. He means it to be a reassuring gesture, but Trent shies away from him like a wounded animal, which is both discouraging on a professional level and disheartening on a personal one.

Harry puts his stupid awkward hands in his pockets, because that is where they belong. This is what he gets for trying to mollycoddle the Junior Aurors, anyway; clearly his more typical approach is best.

“I’ll take it from here,” Harry says. And then, when Trent just stares at him, eyes big: “Look, just — leave. Now. Please.”

The kid’s off like a shot, Apparating before he even gets halfway to the gate. Yeah: he’s definitely not going to make it through training. When Harry was a Junior Auror… well, actually, Harry doesn’t remember that much about being a Junior Auror. It’d been during that period right after the war where he was a bit… just... not quite all there, somehow. It’s all a bit of a blur.

Still, he’d… well, no. He’d hated these jobs, too, the scutwork and endless nights on sentry duty or patrol, but it wasn’t because he was scared. It was because he was bored, and sure he could be doing something more, and terrified of missing an opportunity to help someone, and really, really bored.

It took a long time for Harry to learn the hard truth of this work: that this is the work, more than anything else is. Occasionally in Auroring there’s a bright, shining moment, a bust, a rescue, a takedown that makes Harry feel alive and valuable, living up to his purpose — but mostly there’s not. Mostly there’s just the endless, unyielding grind, day after unchanging day. Mostly there’s just wanting to help people, and failing, and hating yourself for failing, and making yourself get up and try again the next day anyway. The cases change, but the stories are all the same, and they’re mostly brutal, difficult stories, stories that make a shiver run down your spine.

In some ways Harry has been standing in this rain for nearly ten years.

He casts an Impervious Charm of his own, and takes up a post next to Malfoy’s front stoop.

It’s half an hour before he notices someone standing on the sidewalk in front of the house. It’s a little guy, glasses, weird purple fedora hat — unfamiliar in one sense, but all too familiar in another. He’s got a camera in his hands; Harry closes his eyes briefly, pulls his coat in a little tighter in against the wind, and ignores him.

Another half hour passes, and there are three new people on the sidewalk, all with either a notebook or a camera, all staring at him hungrily. By the two hour mark, Harry’s Impervious Charm is starting to give up the ghost and there are thirteen people watching him through the bars like a zoo animal; a whole baker’s dozen, Harry thinks, not without a little hysteria. They’re all shouting questions to him occasionally, like maybe if they keep trying they’ll wear him down into answering one. Harry tries thinking about the guards at Buckingham Palace, how stiff and immovably placid they’d been when he took Ginny to see them years before. There’s freezing rain running down the back of his neck, though, so it’s not working all that well.

He is, horribly enough, considering walking up to the gates and begging them to fuck off when Malfoy’s front door opens.

“What in unholy hell is going on out — ” Malfoy stops, stares out at the crowd, and seems to follow their gaze back to where Harry is leaning up against the house, trying to stay out of the wind. Then he contents himself with just staring at Harry, hands at his sides, mouth slightly open, for what feels like a long time.

“Er,” says Harry. “Hi?”

Malfoy’s eyes narrow, and he throws his hands in the air, says, “They’re as low as they’ll go, I don’t understand,” before he wheels back into the house and shuts the door.

He’s back before Harry can even process his leaving, and with a cloak on this time. He storms down the stairs, grabs a fistful of Harry’s sodden robes and says, “Come on, Potter.” Harry thinks, for a hopeful moment, that Malfoy is going to herd him inside like a sheepdog; instead the treacherous bastard starts hauling him forcibly down the lawn.

“I can walk, Malfoy, god,” Harry mutters, halfway to the gate, because there’s no escaping doom now; he might as well face it with some dignity.

“Far be it from me to assume you have any of the basic personhood skills down,” Malfoy snaps, not letting go. “Walking, eating, breathing — it’s all a crapshoot with you, isn’t it, Potter? Now shut up, and let me do the talking.”

“When are you ever not doing the talking?”

“Shut up,” Malfoy hisses again, and, at last, drops Harry’s robes.

They face the assembled crew. This close up, Harry can see that they are all quite a bit soggier than they appeared from a distance. Also, several of them seem to be teenagers, perhaps on Hogwarts break, and one of the adults has what looks to be a live grey squirrel perched on one of his shoulders.

Harry blinks, but the squirrel’s still there when he opens his eyes. He stares. It chitters at him.

“Hello there,” Malfoy says pleasantly, apparently impervious to all squirrel-related shock. “My name is Draco Malfoy, and I am the proprietor of this establishment. Were you hoping to see the museum, perhaps? Unfortunately we’re closed for repairs right now, but we’re planning to reopen week after next; you would be more than welcome to come back then.”

There’s a pause, and then one of them — the guy with the purple hat, Harry realizes, who’d shown up first — holds up his camera and waves it a little in the air. Like he thinks Malfoy is an idiot, he says, “Uh, no? We’re the press? Obviously?”

Harry can’t help it; he has to bite back a grin of sheer anticipation. He knows too well what happens to people who antagonize Malfoy, and it’s bound to be more entertaining when it’s happening to someone else.  

“How shocking,” Malfoy says, still in that smooth, pleasant voice. “You could just knock me down with a feather. Dare I say: lawks. What fine publications are you here representing today?”

The eight who aren’t obviously teenagers rattle off their bylines quickly; two for the Prophet, three for Witch Weekly, a couple of freelancers working on spec, and one for the Quibbler. That last is the guy with the squirrel, who Malfoy gives a long, furrow-browed look before he says, “Quite.”

Then he turns to the teens, who are snickering and elbowing each other, and says, “And what about you lot?”

“We’re with, uh,” says the boy who has received the most elbows, and is clearly the leader of their little gang, “Farts International.”

No, mouths one of his friends, a girl with large, light eyes, who reminds Harry a little of Luna. I’m sorry.

“Farts International,” Malfoy repeats, raising one eyebrow. His voice is the picture of cool, posh indifference, but Harry thinks he can detect a little thread of amusement there, just beneath the surface. “I’m afraid I’m not familiar. Well respected publication, is it?”

“Oh, yeah,” says — well, Harry’s just gonna go ahead and think of him as Farts International, actually. “They say our writing is… explosive.”

He and all his friends burst into ill-concealed snickering again, except for the girl Harry noticed before. She rolls her eyes, gives Harry and Malfoy a pleading look, and mouths I’m sorry, and then, He’s crazy, with a little spiraling hand gesture to go with it.

The corner of Malfoy’s mouth twitches. Harry grins at her outright, and then hastily stops when she looks like maybe she’s going to fall over.

“Well, I am certainly — ” Malfoy pauses, rolls the next word over his tongue with such a hideously posh accent and inflection that Harry almost chokes, “honored — to have such a wide sampling of the press corps here at my little museum. But I’m afraid you may have wasted your time; unfortunately, I gave all the details I could to the gentleman who wrote the story that ran in the Prophet on Sunday. I’d love to give you more information, but the rest is classified. Isn’t that right, Auror Potter?”

Out of the corner of his mouth, so quietly that it’s barely even audible, that no one but Harry could possibly hear it, Malfoy says, “Nod, Potter.” Then he elbows Harry hard in the side, quickly and subtly enough that no one seems to notice.

Harry despairs a little to think that they might have something in common with Farts International and his friends, but he nods all the same.

“Well,” one of the women from the Prophet says, hedging.

“We’re here for him, actually,” says the bloke from the Quibbler, who Harry decides to think of as Squirrel Guy. He blinks owlishly at Harry, seemingly unperturbed by the awkwardness of being so blunt. “It’s the best gig in town, you see — it doesn’t matter what we ask him, because our papers will print it, whatever he says. People’ll read anything if it’s got Harry Potter’s name on it.”

Harry wonders if the papers will print that he feels a bit sick. He wants to go back to his spot against the wall where at least he didn’t have to deal with this, but before he can even move Malfoy shoots him a quelling glare, like he’s can tell what Harry’s thinking and doesn’t like it.

Harry scowls back at him, but he stays put.

“Oh, dear,” Malfoy says. His pleasant tone has taken on an air of heavy sympathy — Harry can tell it’s mocking, but he’s not sure the assembled can. “That is just heartbreaking, because as you can see, Auror Potter is on duty, aren’t you, Auror Potter?”

He elbows Harry again, and Harry nods automatically, and then realizes Malfoy’s controlling him like a fucking marionette and elbows him back, hard.

Malfoy just smirks at him, the git.

“Please,” says Purple Hat, rolling his eyes. He’s one of the ones here on spec, not with any specific publication. “I mean, sure, okay, duty, whatever, but he’s not really doing anything, is he? So I’m sure he has time to answer a few questions — ”

“Would that it were a matter of time!” Malfoy says mournfully. “But, alas, I’m afraid it’s a bit illegal to harass an Auror while they’re on duty. Seems a terribly oppressive policy to me, but what can you do? These law and order types take their jobs very seriously; I just can’t imagine why. I myself would prefer to let it slide, but Potter here is known far and wide as being a real stickler for the rules.” Here Harry makes a small, involuntary choking noise, which Malfoy ignores. “There’s nothing for it, I’m afraid. You’ll just have to find a story somewhere else.”

“It is not illegal to — ” Purple Hat starts hotly.

Malfoy cuts him off, voice abruptly and utterly cold. “A solicitor now, are we? Good for you. It’ll come in handy when you’re hauled up in front of the Wizengamot on charges of Violation 311C, Salamander Class, Impediment or Obstruction of Auror Activity in the Second Degree. I’ve been before the Wizengamot, you know; it’s not fun. Very uncomfortable seating, and you don’t truly know humiliation until you’ve been administered Veritaserum in public.” He leans forward a little, and even with the thick iron bars of the gate between them, Purple Hat steps back. “What do you think might come out of your mouth, hmm? Are you ready to find out?”

Purple Hat looks like the only thing he’s ready to find out is whether he’s about to piss or shit himself. It probably shouldn’t be so funny.

“So, there you have it,” Malfoy says, voice pleasant once again, stepping back. “You can head off to wherever you like, unmolested, or you can stay here and file your reports from jail. What’ll it be?”

Everyone takes off so quickly — some Apparating, some legging it off down the street — that Harry almost expects to see a cloud of dust clearing when they’ve gone.

Instead he sees… Squirrel Guy, who shrugs at Malfoy’s raised eyebrow as, expressionlessly, he feeds his squirrel a peanut. “I think being administered Veritaserum in public would be an eye-opening experience that might allow me to transcend the suffocating coils of the social contract and understand the nature of truth,” he says, in the tones of a man explaining his choice of sandwich.

“I,” Malfoy says. He opens his mouth, shuts it again, shakes his head, and says, “You know what? Fair enough. Muffialato.”

“That,” Harry says with feeling, so impressed that he can’t be bothered to engage his verbal filter, “was brilliant.”

Malfoy flushes, looking briefly pleased before he crossed his arms over his chest and scowls. “Oh, spare me your adulation, Potter; it’s gauche.”

He starts walking back to the house, and Harry hurries to keep pace with him. “Seriously — is there even a Salamander Class C11 Impediment law, or whatever you said?”

Malfoy throws him a scathing look. “You’re an Auror, for god’s sake. Shouldn’t you know?”

“I know that wasn’t a yes or a no,” Harry says.

Malfoy sighs, but Harry can see the sliver of a smile that’s creeping onto his his face. “Well,” he says, sounding pleased with himself, “there very well may be, yes. I would be quite shocked, though, to discover it said what I said it did.”

Harry laughs. Malfoy stops a few feet from the stoop to look back at him in surprise, but then he’s laughing too, his shoulders shaking under his cloak. The sound is warm against the chill of the day, the steady beat of the rain against his skull, and Harry can’t believe how much the act changes Malfoy’s face, leaves him looking somehow both younger and nothing like the version of him Harry used to know.

Thought he knew, at least. He’s not so sure anymore.

“What are you even doing here, anyway?” Malfoy says, when they’ve both stopped laughing. He walks the last few feet to the stoop, climbs the stairs, and leans against the doorframe. “I mean, guarding the place against further dastardly attack, I assume, but I rather thought you had underlings for that.”

Harry follows him, stopping one stair from the top. “Er, well. I sort of — asked the Weasleys about magical houses the other day,” he admits sheepishly. “And it turns out that, er. Maybe you were right, and I was… erm. A bit of a shit homeowner.”

“I encourage you strongly to omit the word ‘homeowner’ in future uses of that sentence,” Malfoy says, but there’s no bite to the words at all. He sounds almost…. Harry doesn’t know what he sounds like. “In fact, just ‘I was a shit,’ should more than suffice.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Harry says, rolling his eyes. “The point is I felt a bit guilty about it, and then one of the Junior Aurors called off his shift tonight, and I couldn’t find anyone to replace him. So. You know. I came myself.”

“Hmm,” Malfoy says. He gives Harry a look Harry can’t begin to interpret, his eyes flicking briefly along the line of Harry’s body, his soaking robes and trousers. It’s — assessing. It makes Harry’s mouth go a little dry.

Then Malfoy huffs out another laugh, this one more exhalation than anything else, and opens the front door. He steps inside and catches it as it swings back, holds it half-open, inviting. “And heaven forbid you just knock on the door like a normal person, I suppose. Much better to stand out here being slowly drowned for your riveted audience, wasn't it? I swear, it’s a wonder you manage to so much as dress yourself in the morning.”

And Harry’s opening his mouth to say that, no, he couldn’t have knocked on the door, because the post, the job he’s here to do, is outside, watching for danger. He’s opening his mouth to point out that Trent hadn’t knocked on the door — Christ, hopefully, anyway —  and even if he did, Malfoy clearly didn’t let him inside. He’s opening his mouth to argue, like he always argues, just for the sake of the argument…

...and is drawn up short, all at once, by revelation slamming into him.

Malfoy is standing in the doorway of this house that was Harry’s once; he’s lit from behind with the warm, golden glow of a space Harry could never make so much as vaguely inviting. His hair is loose, hanging in damp little chunks over his head, and for all his words are harsh now, like — well, like almost always — his eyes are nearly warm. He’s bizarre and off his nut and Harry wants to go inside with him just to see what he’s going to say next. He wants to go sit in that beautifully done little study and talk to him about… anything. Whatever. It won’t matter, because whatever it is it’ll be insane or infuriating or eye-opening or funny, or all of those things at once, or even just: not boring.

It might be the most unlikely truth he’s ever stumbled across, but: Harry likes Malfoy, this person he’s become. He doesn’t hate him; he likes him.

It’s a rather significant shock.

“Well?” Malfoy drawls, irritation sketched into every line of his body, arms folded and eyebrows up. “Are you coming in or not?”

Harry blinks, and then nods, and then, when Malfoy rolls his eyes, smiles. He climbs the last stair, and goes inside.

Chapter Text

The next month is… interesting.

In a lot of senses, he does the same things he’s always done. He goes to the office; he goes home; he has dinner with Ron and Hermione. He spends a few afternoons with Teddy in the park, plays strange games that Teddy invents and hopes he’s not messing up being a godfather too horribly. Twice he goes to the Burrow for the Sunday meal, and three times he babysits for Rose, who is a delightful little bundle of laughter even if Harry is, almost constantly, afraid that he’s going to drop her. He walks through the routines of his everyday life. He proceeds as normal.

He just also — spends some time with Draco.

It’s still strange to think of him by his first name; the switch happened without Harry realizing at some point a few weeks back. By the time he noticed he was doing it, he knew it’d been happening for days already, couldn’t pinpoint a source for the change. He’s not insane enough to actually try calling Draco by it — Draco, who still peppers the word “Potter” into about a third of the sentences Harry hears him say, almost always like it’s an insult — but there doesn’t seem to be any going back to thinking of him as Malfoy. Harry’s decided he might as well try and accept it.

It was just visits to the museum, at first. That night with the reporters, Harry told Draco that the department was going to have to pull the house’s protective detail and Draco looked — stricken, just for an instant. It was enough, though, to make Harry start dropping by every couple of days. He made a show of it at first, dropping his coins into the little box marked “Price of Admission: Seven Sickles” as Draco complained that the museum was closed, and he didn’t know why he’d opened the door in the first place, and if Harry was going to linger in bold violation of the closed for business sign, he might at well help Draco refinish the drawing room floor. But after the first few times… well, after the first few times, Harry started just kind of showing up.

It was fun, was all. For the first week or so they did a lot of repair work, restorations both physical and magical, and moved all the exhibits to different spots easily six times. Draco was incessant and intense about his work — Draco was incessant and intense, full stop — but Harry, who’d spent six years in classes and one year at war with Hermione Granger, didn’t mind. It was nice to have something to do with his hands, work that he could look at and touch when he was done, and anyway Draco told fantastic stories as they made their way through the museum. Every artifact seemed to have some kind of insane, rambling tale attached, from the crystal goblet that Rowena Ravenclaw had whipped at a suitor in a drunken rage to the enchanted chains Harry encountered the day of the break-in, which were rumored to have belonged to Blackbeard the Pirate.

It occurred to Harry, one night while they were up late re-hanging paintings, that the museum was really more a collection of old stuff Draco thought was interesting or funny than it was a comprehensive walk through the annals of history. When he said as much, Draco rolled his eyes.

“Oh, honestly, Potter — yes, of course it is. To encompass all of Wizarding history I’d need a building the size of Hogwarts, and also I’d have to rob blind the seven museums scattered across the globe that are already attempting to carry that mantle. I didn’t open this place with the goal of full and complete historical coverage in mind.”

“Why did you open it, then?”

Draco took a long time to answer the question; he did, sometimes. Harry was learning. When he finally spoke, his voice was careful.

“After the war,” Draco said, “it was — difficult. I don’t particularly enjoy talking about it, to tell you the truth, and I won’t now, so don’t ask.” He gave Harry a stern look, as though Harry was planning on asking that very instant, and Harry gave him one back, as if to say D’you think I want to talk about the war? “But then I heard Grimmauld Place was up for sale, and Mother was already abroad and my father was — well, you know where my father was.”

The unspoken weight of Lucius’s sentence — life in Azkaban, no parole — hung between them in the air for a moment. Harry’s never been sorry a day in his life that Lucius Malfoy is rotting in prison, and he wasn’t then, either, but he was sorry for the way the truth of it curled Draco’s shoulders, pulled at the line of his mouth.

Then Draco sighed and waved a hand, as if to clear the topic away. “Anyway, I didn’t want to live in the Manor anymore, and I always loved this house when we’d come to see Auntie Walburga when I was a child. And then I had control of my trust as well as a portion of my father’s holdings, which was… not a small amount of money, even after what was seized. So I bought it. Then, of course, it turned out you’d left it a shambles — ”

“I know,” Harry groaned. “I know, I know.”

“Just reminding you,” Draco said, shamelessly glad at Harry’s displeasure and guilt. “Look, Potter, the point is: I spent all this time cleaning it up, and then all I really wanted to do was show it off. But I wasn’t exactly rich in friendship or positive public opinion at the time, things being what they were, so I thought — maybe a museum. Fill the place with beautiful things to lure them in, and then trick them into admiring the house while I’ve got them.”

“A cunning plan,” Harry said, dry, and ignored the face Draco pulled at him in favor of picking up a sculpture of a raven with a large cockroach crawling out of its mouth. “And this is one of those beautiful objects, is it?”

Draco gave him this weird look, then, a little too long, his head cocked. Eventually, thoughtfully, he said, “Interesting turned out to more worthwhile than beautiful.”

“Did it,” Harry said, discomfited and not wholly sure why. He shifted in his chair and Draco seemed to snap out of it, jerking his attention abruptly over to the next painting in line to be hung.

“Yes, well,” Draco said, spelling the frame to the wall with a savage little flick of his wand, “as it turned out I liked the work, and was rather good at it. And… ” He paused, bit his lip, and then shot Harry an accusatory look, as though Harry was forcing him to say all of this instead of basically just standing there holding an ugly statue. “And maybe it was nice to, I don’t know, be part of preserving some history, instead of seeing it destroyed. To share it instead of… well, instead of whatever else. We turned a profit. It made me happy. It felt like enough.”

“Sure,” Harry said easily. It sounded logical enough to him.

Draco narrowed his eyes anyway, tetchy little git that he was. “Oh, don’t hold back on my account, Potter,” he sneered. “Tell me what you really think, you won’t be the first. My mother insists that calling it the Modern Museum of Wizarding History is false advertising, and really I should call it The Museum Of Little Oddities, and sell tea sandwiches. Blaise says it’s just an excuse to keep spending my ancestral money acquiring strange objects that nobody needs, and I swear to god Pansy still thinks the whole thing’s a practical joke, and one of these days I’m going to jump out from behind a potted plant and yell, ‘SURPRISE! I’ve had a Gringotts job the whole time.’”

Harry laughed, but then he shrugged and put the sculpture down. “I didn’t say any of that, Malfoy, you nutter. I just said it seemed like the pieces were more driven by your taste than by, you know. History as a whole.” He held up a hand before whatever defensive, cutting thing was about to come out of Draco’s mouth could hit the air. “I didn’t say it was a bad thing. I like it, actually.”

“Oh,” Draco said, and turned vaguely pink, and went off to another room to find some item or another that he found himself in need of, suddenly.

So — yeah. It was just evenings spent more or less like that, at first.  

Only then… well, then the museum was about to reopen, and Draco had clearly made his peace with the lack of a constant Auror detail at the doors, and Harry could practically see how it would go, how it was all going to play out. The museum would open and Draco wouldn’t need Harry around anymore and they’d go back to being — well. Not the bitter enemies they once were or anything, but Harry knew, knows, how these things happen, how people can just fall out of your life without your realizing it until they’ve already gone. He could just picture it, him and Draco running into each other somewhere a year or two down the line and maybe having a drink, laughing awkwardly about their strange three weeks of not-quite-friendship, before they returned to their wholly separate lives.

Harry didn’t want it to happen, for reasons he was not planning on examining too closely. He sort of hated even thinking about it.

“We could… eat,” he said, the night before the museum was set to reopen, while he and Draco were drinking celebratory Firewhiskey in Harry’s favorite sitting room, enjoying the novel sensation of having nothing left to get done. “That’s a thing that people do.”

“You really do have all the social grace of a flatulent hippogriff, don’t you,” Draco said, but he was smiling. “Yes, Potter, people do eat, what an incredible grasp you have on the human experience. Would you like to give it a go?”

Harry flipped him the finger at the insult but also said that he would, and they went to this little cafe up the road that did the best pork chops Harry’d ever had in his life. It’d been there for 40 years; Harry had lived right up the street from it, and he’d never known.

After that they just sort of started… eating dinner together, a couple of nights a week. Usually they went out, but one night they got caught up in some discussion and didn’t end up leaving the museum until so late that all the worthwhile places were closed. Draco panicked a little, made a whole production out of the fact that he was going to starve to death on the streets in the bloom of his youth, but Harry just rolled his eyes and Apparated them to an all-night Muggle grocery store.

He cooked in the kitchen at Grimmauld Place, so much bigger and better and more responsive than his own crappy little one that Harry could almost have wept, and made them steaks and spinach and crisp rosemary potatoes, a quick carrot soup as a starter. Draco peered over his shoulder while he worked, and kept trying to add spices to things at random and clearly out of mischief, but he enjoyed the food and said so, and the conversation flowed easy between them over their long-empty plates and bowls.

It was the best night Harry’d had in a very long time. He still can’t quite put a finger on why.  

So that’s… that. It’s not important; it’s just something he’s doing; it doesn’t really matter at all. It’s a nice distraction from work, though, because as it turns out, Ron was held back in Erhard’s office that day they were both called in there to be told he was getting promoted.

“It’s really incredible,” Ron gushed at dinner the evening after his first day as a Supervising Lead Auror. “I mean, I’ve been saying for years — ‘Mione, haven’t I been saying — that the department needs to take a more tactical approach to how they determine who works what case? How they allocate time and resources?”

“I have indeed heard you say that many times,” Hermione said, in a tone that suggested she had confirmed this for her husband more than once already. She gave Harry a fond, if exasperated, look. “And now you’re in a position to change that!”

“And now I’m in a position to — yes exactly, Hermione. That’s exactly right. God, you know me so well.” He leaned over the table to kiss her, a little tipsy, and put his elbow in the mashed potatoes, but Hermione didn’t seem to mind. “Plus, I mean, I don’t mind telling you — I loved my days in the field, I did, but being a father changes a man.” He gave Rose a serious look, which she returned by blowing a raspberry at him. Ron grinned. “It’s hard to be out risking life and limb all the time when you’ve got such an important set of lives and limbs waiting for you at home, you know?”

“Sure,” said Harry, who didn’t at all.

“Not that I won’t still be out in the field sometimes,” Ron said hurriedly, giving Harry an apprehensive look. He’d said the same thing, made the same face, when he told Harry about the promotion — like he was afraid Harry was going to fall apart without him.

Harry did, honestly, feel a bit like he might. He’d actually been thinking about… maybe asking, that night, if Ron wouldn’t consider sticking with his old job. Harry didn’t think it would be such a big ask; he couldn’t think of anything he, personally, would hate more than working any of the positions the department had to offer that were above his current one. They took you out of the field, and being in the field was the only part of Harry’s job that ever felt worth doing. He couldn’t understand why Ron would want to give it up, and — selfishly — he thought he might go a little mad without Ron there, at his side, joking around and reminding him to do his paperwork and just generally cutting through some of the mind-numbing despair and boredom.

He couldn’t say so, of course — not when Ron was so clearly thrilled, going on and on about how great even just the training was, how excited he was to get the opportunity to make decisions, shake things up. Harry ate his shepherd's pie and sipped his wine and said that he was happy, that it was great, that he couldn’t wait to meet his new partner.

He got assigned Trent, because of course he did.

“I want you to think of this as a teaching opportunity,” Erhard told him the morning he found out. “As in, it’s an opportunity for you to show me that you can teach. Your track record in this arena has not been stellar.”

“Hey!” Harry said, flushing. “That’s not true! People still talk about that seminar I did on defensive and protective magic!”

“That’s an excellent point,” Erhard agreed. “One that no one could argue. But I have your file here with me — let’s look at some of the complaints from previous Junior Aurors who have sought you out for advice on, oh, any other topic.”

Harry slumped down low in his chair, because: fuck.

“Oh, here’s a good one,” Erhard said. Her tone was even, but Harry could tell this was bringing her joy. “‘I asked Auror Potter how I could improve my stance and he said to stand better.’ Oh, or this one: ‘I went to Auror Potter for an evaluation of my civilian communications skills and he said there'd been a crime and walked away.’ Or this one, a personal favorite, the department heads discussed it at great length: ‘Auror Potter caught me crying after my first murder inquest and he hit me in the shoulder.’”

“I did not,” Harry said, appalled. He remembered that night, and Auror Wipple was clearly exaggerating. “I was — it was a pat! I was comforting her!”

“She said you left a bruise,” Erhard said, and gave Harry a stern look over her glasses. “I don’t think most people find bruises very comforting.”

Harry did not say I do, but it was distressingly close.

So now he’s stuck with Trent. It’s not as bad as he thought it would be, in the sense that it’s much worse. Harry’s operated for years on the assumption that he and Ron were both pretty good Aurors — they had a decent closing rate, not the best in the department but nothing to sneeze at, either, and all the work always seemed to get done.

Now, though, Harry is beginning to suspect that Ron is in fact a great Auror, and Harry is a small but committed dumpster fire cunningly disguised in an official DMLE robe. It’s… humbling. He’s trying not to think about it too much.

They haven’t even solved Draco’s case, which Harry can’t actually stop thinking about; it keeps him awake nights, nips worryingly at his heels all through the day. It’s not like he’s not working on it — they’ve made headway — but it’s not enough, and it needs to be, and it’s driving Harry slowly mad. He asked Draco about Slughorn’s suggestion about sentimentality magic weeks back and Draco told him, begrudgingly, that the Dreamless Sleep and the Draught of Peace were both potions he relied on to get him through the day, though he’d fixed Harry with a look of such intensely concentrated fury on admitting it that Harry hadn’t pressed him for why. The biscuits were obviously also of significance (though Harry still feels in his heart that the thief probably just swiped them because they were there), but the necklace, Draco assured him, meant nothing to him, so there was that theory scuppered.

The lack of resolution is obviously getting to Draco, too. Harry doesn’t blame him; he, personally, would probably relish the thought of some thieves out there that might come back and have another go at him, but he’s aware that his feelings towards danger do not exactly comprise what most might call a sane outlook. And anyway Draco’s nervy, in general, suspicious of everyone from his street’s Muggle postman (“Look at his eyes, Potter! They’ve never known joy! I think he’s an Inferi, truly I do,”) to the barista at his local coffee shop (“I made a comment about the temperature of my tea one time and now she’s out for blood — smell this, Potter. Does this smell dosed to you?”). It makes sense that it would eat at him, this unresolved violation, but Harry can’t seem to figure the bloody thing out, and Trent’s no help at all. It’s killing him, a little, to watch the way Draco’s eyes snap to the door at any little sound, the way he seems ill at ease even inside his own home.

It’s all ganging up on Harry a bit, though not necessarily in a bad way. He’s more frustrated and unhappy than ever at work, but after work — well, he doesn’t feel quite as guilty about going ‘round to Ron and Hermione’s now that he doesn’t see Ron as much at the office, and it’s nicer to be at the Burrow now that things are sitting easier with Ginny and Nev, and there’s Draco. Harry maybe feels a bit overwhelmed every now and again but it’s better, he thinks, than the alternative; he hadn’t realized until he didn’t have time to do it anymore how much time he used to spend just sitting around, waiting for the next thing to happen, not thinking about anything much.

Anyway, that’s probably why he forgets, until the ignominious day is already upon him, the approaching Gryffindor pub night.

When Harry gets to the bar, Seamus and Dean are already at a table, and there are two coats thrown across chairs that look like Hermione’s and Ron’s.

Harry raises his eyebrows at Dean, who always rolls in after his gallery closes at eight. “Early tonight, aren’t you?”

Dean shrugs. “Ron Owled me and asked me to be here early if I could, and the gallery was dead anyway.”

“He didn’t tell me to be here early,” Harry says, a little put out in spite of himself.

“You’re always here early, though,” Seamus says, rolling his eyes. “First one in, first one out — that’s our Harry!”

Harry is spared having to think up a comeback to this frankly upsettingly perceptive jab from Seamus by the door opening. Neville, Ginny, Angelina, George, and then — to Harry’s absolute shock — Bill, Fleur, Penelope and Percy walk into the pub.

“Where’s Charlie?” Harry says faintly, just because — well, because it would be less weird to see Charlie here than Percy. Or Fleur, to be totally honest.

“Oh, who knows?” Bill says, waving a hand. “Last month he sent me an Owl that was just a singed piece of parchment with some coordinates and a smiley face on it. I’d’ve heard if he were dead and that’s about the best I’ve got. Blasted dragonette season,” he adds, sounding cross. Fleur pats him on the arm.

Ginny rolls her eyes at Harry. “It’s a sore subject, y’see, because last time Charlie was in town they started playing this game — “

“We are not discussing this,” Fleur says firmly. “We are all ‘oping to ‘ave a perfectly lovely evening and I will not ‘ear another word about it!”

“Yes!” Bill says, looking a little wild about the eyes. “Thank you, Fleur! A perfectly lovely evening! We’ll hear no more about it!”

“Oh, all right,” Ginny says, tone suspiciously placating, and then waits until Bill and Fleur’s backs are turned to jerk a thumb at Bill and mouth, He’s loooooosing. Then she does a little pantomime of an explosion, which almost gets her caught because Harry laughs at it, but she’s got a sweet smile fixed firmly in place by the time Bill and Fleur whip around.

They all descend in a madcap rush on the tables and chairs — which Harry thinks were probably set up the way they were set up for a reason, but who is he to say — and, in true Weasley fashion, emerge having pushed several of them together to make one large place to congregate. Harry sits, and wonders just what the hell is going on.

Ron and Hermione come back to the table then, each of them carrying a drink tray. “First round’s on us,” Ron says, to cheers from the group, and doles out shots of Firewhiskey. “Don’t drink them now, we’ll have a proper toast in a minute — I mean it, George!”

“Oh, fine,” George says sulkily. His mood flips in an instant, though, and he grins, says, “What is it, then? Don’t think we haven’t noticed you’ve gathered the troops.”

Ron looks at Hermione, and she beams back at him, and Harry knows what’s going to happen a second before it does — the second he realizes Hermione doesn’t have a drink in her hand.

“I’m pregnant,” she says. The table descends into chaos.

Harry remembers this from the first time Hermione was pregnant, and from when Ron and Hermione got engaged, and from when George and Angelina got engaged, and — well, from a lot of times, in fact. The Weasleys take their good news with more enthusiasm than any other group of people Harry’s ever encountered, cheering and yelling and elbowing each other in trying to be the first to get in for a backslap or a hug.

Dean and Seamus both look a little frightened. Harry gives them a reassuring look.

His own strategy, developed over years of exposure, is to wait out the rush and slide in right at the end of the pack. “Congratulations,” he says, grinning, his hands in his pockets, and Hermione laughs and drags him in for a hug. Ron throws his arms around them both and for a second it’s — Harry’s so happy for them he can hardly think, and he can’t wait to meet the new little person they’re making, to see what parts of them are like their parents, like Rose.

Then Ron lets go and Hermione lets go and Harry shuffles back to his chair and sits down, and it’s like some of his happiness just… doesn’t come with him, somehow. He’s still thrilled for them, still excited, but there’s a cold, numb sort of sensation spreading out from the center of his awareness, deadening some of his joy.

“How far along?” someone calls — Harry doesn’t quite track on who — just as another voice says, “When’re you due?

“Late October, maybe early November,” Hermione says. “I’m about six weeks along; we only found out Friday before last.”

“Six weeks,” Ginny says slowly. “Does that mean — ”

“That I subjected my unborn child to our last pub night?” Hermione says, and grimaces. “Unfortunately, yes. But my Healer assures me everything will be just fine, and otherwise the timing couldn’t be better if we’d planned it. The Wizengamot isn’t in session from Halloween to New Year’s anyway, so except for the occasional special hearing I won’t be missing important time on the bench, and with Ron’s promotion…” She leans into the circle of his arms; he kisses the top of her head. “It’s just all really good.”

“Well!” Bill says, and raises his glass. “To Ron, Hermione, and the newest Weasley! May the heart be true and the love be long.”

“Zee labor swift and ze potions strong,” Fleur says, sounding like she means it.

“The spirit rich with magic and song!” George finishes, and they all cheer and throw back their shots. Harry never does know any of these Wizarding toasts.

It all devolves after that, everyone scraping back their chairs to talk, to get more drinks, to hug Ron and Hermione again. Harry chats with Neville for a few minutes while Ginny’s at the bar, and then, when he goes to get a drink himself, gets stuck with Percy. It’s twenty minutes and most of a glass Firewhiskey before Penelope shows up and saves Harry from further discussion of the minutiae of Wizarding tax law reform, and on his way back to the tables with a fresh top-off he gets roped into judging an arm-wrestling contest between George and Angelina. By the time he, at last, makes it back, more people are starting to pour in, and a new round of cheering starts with every addition to their group, the enthusiasm almost as overwhelming as the noise. Harry’s usual booth, at least, is thankfully empty, and he slides over into the corner, takes a long sip of Firewhiskey, and sighs.

They’ve known for two weeks, and they didn’t tell him.

That’s not — Harry knows it’s not fair, that they’re not obligated. He found about Rose more or less exactly when they did, but that was only because he happened to be on a Firecall with Ron while Hermione was doing the charm to check in the bathroom. She burst out shrieking her delight and Ron and Harry, once they figured out what was going on, shrieked too — well, yelled, at least — before Ron and Hermione threw their arms around one another in a passionate embrace and Harry hastily retreated back into his own fire. It was an incredible thing, even if it did end in a brutal assault on Harry’s eyeballs. It’s one of the moments he always reaches for when he casts a Patronus.

And that should be enough. Harry shouldn’t and doesn’t expect any more from them; he takes too much of their time and energy already, and to need this from them, too… it wouldn’t be fair. He knows that it’s not. It’s just… for so many years it was the three of them against the world, and even after they paired off — hell, even after they had Rose — Harry could convince himself, sometimes, that it was still like that in all the ways that mattered. That Ron and Hermione and Harry were a team, and what Ron and Hermione got up to in their down time wouldn’t change that, no matter what.

But now Harry can see what he’s known somewhere deep for years, what’s left him feeling guilty a thousand nights at Ron and Hermione’s table: they’re the team, the two of them. Harry’s what they get up to in their down time.

Harry’s chest hurts, and he orders another drink. The bar is loud, music thumping, and Ron’s been promoted — he’ll slip away slow, and right in front of Harry’s eyes. They’ll talk when they see each other at the office, which is already less and less, and then Ron won’t want to hang around after work; he’ll have his kids, his two kids, and his wife to get home to. Hermione will make plans with Harry that she’ll break, because she’ll be overworked and exhausted and presiding over six cases in between navigating breastfeeding and the terrible twos, and Harry will understand. Harry will have no choice but to understand, because he would never begrudge either of them a moment of happiness, nor their children — any children, but especially theirs — the loving attentions of wonderful parents. He’ll still see them, go ‘round for dinner maybe once a month or so, catch them at the Burrow or babysit when they need a hand, but it’ll never be the same. They’ll be wrapped up in the warmth of their family, where they should be, and Harry’ll be where he always is: standing just on the outside, without one.

His stupid fucking glass is empty. He glares at it, as though this will cause it to refill itself; Harry knows it won’t, but he doesn’t stop. He’s a bit drunk, the sort that requires continued imbibing to really solidify into a proper evening’s buzz, and when he looks away from his glass he’s going to have to confront the enormity of the task it will be to either flag down a waitress or get to the bar.

Maybe, Harry thinks, if he stares at the glass long enough, it will simulate the sensation of further drinking, and he won’t have to get up at all.

“Well,” drawls a familiar voice, “isn’t this exactly as sad as Blaise said it would be.”

Harry wrenches his head around to the left, unable to believe it without seeing it, but sure enough: there’s Draco, standing at the end of Harry’s booth with his arms crossed and Blaise Zabini at his shoulder. He’s got his hair pulled back tonight over a black jacket and a slate grey sweater, a pair of jeans in dark blue denim, and the expression of a man who has been tried beyond all limits of patience — though, admittedly, that is his expression at least a third of the time.

“Dra — Malfoy?” Harry says, catching himself just in time.

Draco rolls his eyes. Then, to Harry’s amazement, he slides into the other side of Harry’s booth and demands, “What are you drinking, Potter?”

“Er,” says Harry, blinking at him, “Firewhiskey?”

“Lovely,” Draco says, and turns a dazzling smile on Blaise. “Would you look at that? Potter and I are already sitting down and you seem to still be up. You should probably go get drinks; it would be the polite thing to do.”

“You understand that no one finds this little act as amusing as you do,” Blaise says, sounding amused. Harry’s not actually looking at him; he’s still too busy staring at Malfoy, trying to determine whether or not he’s some kind of hallucination, if maybe Harry needs to go to St. Mungo’s and demand a drugs kit.

“As luck would have it, I find it amusing enough for all of us,” Draco says. “One Firewhiskey for Potter — he takes it on the rocks, I believe — and another, neat, for me.”

“You can take the boy out of the Manor,” Blaise says, but then he laughs, adds, “Oh, fine, but you’re paying. Hi, Harry, by the way.”

It takes Harry a second to realize that Blaise has addressed him, and he turns to look, having somehow — despite sitting here listening to his and Malfoy’s exchange — almost forgotten he was there. “Oh. Er. Hi, Blaise.”

“I want you to know,” Blaise says, sounding like he’s holding back laughter, “it is genuinely always just such a pleasure,” and then he walks off into the crowd, smiling to himself about god knows what.

He’s not been gone five seconds when Draco pulls a flask out of his breast pocket. “He’ll be forty minutes if he comes back at all,” he explains, pouring a measure into Harry’s empty glass and then swiping it, tossing it all down. “And if he does return he’ll have drunk at least half of one of our drinks. Blaise is very dependable that way; bags on whichever glass he leaves alone, since I’m the one playing catch-up.”

“Do you always bring a flask to the bar?” Harry says, as Draco pours another measure into the glass. He snatches it before Draco can pick it up and takes a small sip, then holds onto it, just to be obnoxious.

“To this bar I do,” Draco says, narrowing his eyes, and takes a drink straight from the flask itself. “Like I want to elbow my way through a crowd of Gryffindors to buy an overpriced glass of Firewhiskey not even half as good as what I have at home; please.”

Harry startles a little at the word “Gryffindors,” reminded abruptly that this isn’t just the two of them waiting for an order at some restaurant, like usual. “Malfoy, what are you doing here?”

Draco waves a hand. “Oh, Longbottom invited me, that’s not important. The better question is: what are you doing here?”

Harry stares at him, and then at his glass, as if it will provide him some answers. When it does not, he looks back to Draco and says, “Er. These are my friends? It’s the Gryffindor piss-up? I’m here every month?”

Draco drops his head briefly and feelingly into his hands. “Not here in this bar, Potter,” he says, muffled against his palms, before he pulls them back again to gesture at the table between them. “Here, in this booth, in a dark corner, by yourself. Like a serial killer,” he adds helpfully. “Or perhaps a vengeful ghost, take your pick. Either way: what gives?”

Harry has thought, many times, about what he would say if anyone ever asked him this question. He’s been sure for months — no, years — that his answer was unimpeachable. But no one has, in point of fact, ever asked it before, so he’s never until right now gotten the opportunity to hear exactly how stupid, “It’s the most easily defensible position in the bar,” sounds coming out of his mouth.

“That,” Draco says, staring Harry dead in the eye, “is what a serial killer would say.”

Harry thinks maybe he’s supposed to laugh — he thinks he would, even, that it would be funny if he weren’t in such a foul mood. Instead he crosses his arms over his chest and, a little defensively, says, “I just — I don’t like crowds that much, okay? Or, you know. This kind of music, or the dancing, or having seventeen different conversations in the space of two minutes but never for any longer than two minutes or...  all of it. I’d rather not, is all.”

It’s more than he meant to say by a fairly wide margin. Harry blames the drink, even as he lifts his glass and takes another long pull.

“So your solution to this problem,” Draco says slowly, “is, what — to come anyway, and sit in a corner until you’re the worse for drink and have an excuse to fuck off home?”

“More or less,” Harry admits. He knows it’s not great, but, well. It’s what he’s got.

“But that’s the stupidest plan I’ve ever heard,” Draco says, sounding horrified. “That’s stupider than the time I was nine and tried to fly my broomstick to Jupiter. That’s — Potter, that might be stupider than Bernice throwing love potions at Grindlewald.”

“I don’t know if it’s quite that stupid,” Harry says. “I mean, this works all right sometimes. It’s not like the love potion was ever going to, even if it did hit.”

“You can’t know that,” Draco says. “Perhaps Basilah Saeed was being ungenerous in her descriptions and Bernice did not resemble a toe! Perhaps Grindlewald preferred his women on the mature end of the spectrum!”

“Pretty sure Grindlewald preferred his men to his women,” Harry says, just as Draco’s taking a sip from the flask.

Draco chokes on his drink. He coughs, gasps, and splutters for a minute before finally, in scandalized tones, he says, “Gellert Grindlewald was not gay.”

“Pretty sure he was,” Harry says.

“And how would you know? Talked to a lot of his conquests, have you?

“Well, just the one,” Harry says, and makes a face. “I think, anyway. And I suppose he could’ve be bi, now that you mention it; I never really felt up to asking for specifics.”

“Why not?” Draco demands. “Who was it? I must know, Potter. For posterity; for history; for my own sanity, I must know.”

“Oh,” Harry says. He would never want to out anyone, especially on a guess, but — well — the man’s dead. Also, Harry’s feelings about him have, with adulthood, evolved into a complicated little snarl that he doesn’t like to touch, but that reeks distantly of anger most of the time. Also, he kind of doubts the old man would mind. “Erm. Well — it was Dumbledore, actually.”

“Albus Dumbledore was not gay!” Draco nearly shouts this, though it’s too loud in the bar for anyone but Harry to hear him. “Honestly, this is too much, you can’t possibly expect me to believe — wait, do you mean Aberforth?”

“No, I mean Albus.” Harry shudders. “But thanks for that mental image; I’ll treasure it.”

“Oh, because the image of Albus,” Draco says, and stops, blanches, before he continues, a little more subdued, “Okay, perhaps it’s best to skip the images entirely. But still — I mean — Dumbledore — ” He shakes his head, eyes wide against the shock. “Not a single indication! Not an iota of disclosure! Not a hint, not an inkling, not a single nod in any of those benighted speeches to the near and queer amongst us! You’re just going to tell me this now, after the fact, and expect me to believe he was simply walking around Hogwarts, gay as a bird, that whole time?”

“I mean,” Harry says. Something about the phrase ‘the near and queer amongst us’ is sending up alarm bells in the back of Harry’s mind, but he’s drunk and at a bit of a remove from all that, so he doesn’t worry about it. “You can believe what you want. I never got total confirmation, anyway, he just… I don’t know. He told me about him and Grindlewald, when they were young, and it was kind of — I mean — pretty unmistakably. You know.” He makes another face, because even now the idea of Albus Dumbledore bumping uglies with anybody horrifies Harry a little.

“I cannot believe this,” Draco says. He both looks and sounds outraged. “I cannot — believe — I mean, there I was, in the throes of my adolescent sexuality crisis, without an adult on that whole campus to talk to — well, none but Madam Hooch, anyway, who doesn’t count, Potter, let me tell you. What a terrible conversation that was, I’m loathe to even think of it, it honestly very nearly drove me right back into the closet — and there was Dumbledore! Up in his ivory tower! Gay!” He throws himself into a slouch against the back of the booth, scowling and crossing his arms. “What kind of commitment is that to bettering the lives of the next generation, I ask you? That man was a blight on our education and I won’t hear a word of argument.”

“Wait,” Harry says, the alarm bells in his mind having increased from a distant ringing to a much more immediate cacophony. “Wait, hold on. Malfoy. Are you gay?”

Draco’s mouth drops open. Then it moves soundlessly for a moment, as though Harry — impossibly — has somehow robbed him of the power of speech.

“Am I gay?” Draco repeats finally, voice cracking on the last word. “Am I — Potter, what the fuck, of course I’m gay! What have I ever done to send the impression I was anything but gay? Oh my god,” he adds, sounding appalled, “have I become such an eccentric shut-in that I read as straight somehow? No, no, that can’t be right, it must just be that you’re an imbecile — Potter. You imbecile. How on earth could you not know that?”

Harry’s never actually offended anyone by assuming they weren’t gay before; in his admittedly limited experience, it usually goes the other way. Not that he’d assumed Draco was straight, necessarily, just —

“I guess I’ve never really thought about it,” Harry admits, shrugging. “Sorry?”

Draco raises his eyes briefly heavenward, as though trying to communicate the depth and breadth of Harry’s idiocy to some higher power. “God save us all from the observational prowess of straight men.”

Harry can’t help it; he grins a little into his glass. “Whoa there, Malfoy. Who says I’m straight?”

Draco’s mouth drops open for the second time in as many minutes. After a second, his voice flattened out in shock, he says, “You’re not.”

“I’m not,” Harry confirms, and is deeply entertained by the way Draco’s body relaxes and then tenses up again immediately when he continues, “gay, that is. Bisexual, I definitely am.”

He doesn’t get the chance to find out what Draco’s going to say to that, because at that exact moment George Weasley stumbles up to the table. He’s clearly very drunk; he pats Harry twice on the top of my head, yells, “Where’s my jacket?” and then sees Draco.

His body goes very still, his only movement the way his eyes are getting wider with every second. Draco makes a little choking noise, the one that means he’s trying to stop himself from laughing but not really all that hard; Harry kicks him under the table.

Draco kicks back, of course, but at least he doesn’t laugh in George’s face and make it weird for everyone.

“Harry,” George says after a minute, turning his head so he can ping-pong his gaze back and forth between them. “Harry. ‘M friend. ‘M brother. I don’t — wanna alarm you? But,” he lowers his voice to what he obviously thinks is a whisper, but is really more of a shout, and jerks his thumb at Draco. “That’s Draco Malfoy, that is.”

“I know,” Harry says, amused. Draco is making a face somewhere between entertained and horrified, though Harry thinks horrified is winning. “I was just talking to him.”

“But,” George says, visibly mystified, “it’s Draco Malfoy.”

“Indeed it is,” Draco says, voice cool. “He can hear you, by the way.”

George looks briefly at Draco, and then turns pleading eyes on Harry.

“Well,” Harry says, with an apologetic little shrug, “he can.”

“Draco!” calls a pleased voice, and Neville steps up behind George, a drink in each hand. “It’s so good to see you!”

“D’you know, I think I’m having a stroke,” George says, and stumbles away before anyone can reply.

“I had no idea you were going to be here tonight,” Neville continues. He doesn’t seem to notice the way Draco flushes and darts a glance at Harry before looking hastily away, but Harry sure does.

“Yes, well,” Draco says, sounding well and truly caught. “Potter invited me.”

The gatecrashing little git. Harry grins at him, delighted by this turn of events, and is rewarded with Draco’s filthiest scowl.

“I did,” Harry tells Neville, for the sole purpose of winding Draco up. “I said ‘Oh, please, Malfoy, we need you at the Gryffindor pub night, everyone there has such fond memories of you, whatever will I do if you don’t come — ’”

“And I said, ‘Play a sad song on the violin from your dark little corner of solitude like the tragic headcase you are,’” Draco says, smiling wide and mean at Harry. “Then he threw himself on the floor and pounded his fists and begged, it was really quite shaming. What was I to do? Honestly, I had no choice.”

Harry laughs and makes a rude gesture; Draco smiles placidly and kicks him again under the table.

A little mistily, Neville says, “This is so nice. Do you ever think about what it would have been like if we were all friends at school?”

Sounding disgusted, Draco says, “Oh, what, certainly not,” in the same moment Harry, equally horrified, says,  “Seriously, mate? C’mon.”

They grin at each other. Neville sighs.

“Fools,” he says, but cheerfully enough. “No sentimentality in your souls, even on this happiest night!”

Harry eyes the drink in Neville’s hand speculatively, wondering just how many he’s had to put away to get to that sentence to come out of his mouth.

Draco says, “Oh? I don’t think I’ve heard the happy news. Enlighten me.”

“You didn’t tell him? Harry,” Neville chides. “It’s only that Hermione’s pregnant!”

“Well, that is exciting,” Draco says, voice neutral, pleasant. “Please pass along my best wishes to the happy couple.”

“You can pass ‘em yourself, they’re around here somewhere.” Neville raises the drinks in his hands as if in explanation and adds, “I have to go, Gin’s probably thinking her booze and I were abducted. Come find me later! We can talk about the spot in my garden I have picked out for Vicky; she’ll get much better sun there than she does in your attic.”

“When pigs fly!” Draco calls at his retreating back. “That man, honestly.”

Harry doesn’t say anything. His bleak mood, which had mysteriously vanished without his really noticing, returned the moment Neville brought up the baby. Which is so stupid, it’s not fair of him and it’s stupid, and he should just suck it the hell up and get over it.

He throws back the rest of his Firewhiskey, slams the glass down on the table. It hits the wood with a satisfying thunk and Harry looks pointedly from it to Draco to the flask in Draco’s hand.

Draco pauses, but then, slowly, he nods. He pours some Firewhiskey — less than last time, but still a generous measure — into the glass, and then sits back against the booth again to regard Harry, a considering look in his eyes.

“Potter... ” he starts, but is drawn up short when Ron and Hermione themselves are suddenly standing next to the table.

“I TOLD YOU,” Ron crows at the top of his voice. Hermione, who is of course sober, leans away from him a little, wincing at the direct shot of volume and booze-breath to her face. “I told you it was Malfoy, Hermione! I told you it was!”

“Yes,” Hermione says, all loving exasperation, “you did. And I said, yes, Ron, it looks like it is, how interesting, perhaps we should leave them alone, but,” she gives Harry and Draco an apologetic little shrug, “here we are. Hello, Draco.”

“Granger,” Draco says. His tone is warm on her name, but retreats into the vague, pleasant one Harry thinks of as his public voice when he adds, “Weasley. I hear congratulations are in order?”

“They are, thanks,” Hermione says, grinning. “For you too, right? I’ve been hearing great things about the new layout of the museum, and actually I’ve been meaning to Floo you. I must’ve had two dozen calls this month from parents who saw the article in the Prophet and want to sign their children up for the L.E.A.R.N. program.”

“Really? They’re not afraid their little angels are going to be subject to a traumatizing experience that will scar them for the rest of their lives?” Draco says it lightly, like it’s a joke, but Harry can tell that it’s not one.

And apparently Ron can too, because he puts his hands flat on the table, stares down at Draco with an intensity that Draco clearly finds unnerving at best and, at worst, outright alarming. “Look, mate — can I call you mate?”

“I find myself somehow incapable of drawing up an adequate response,” Draco says faintly.

Ron seems to take it as permission enough, because he says, “Mate. I know it’s — slow going, y’know, some cases are just slow. That’s how it is. And I mean, I’ve always thought you were a bit of, well, a git and all, but. Mate. The Aurors have your back, d’you know that?”

“Uh,” says Draco, clearly gobsmacked. Even through the dark cloud of Harry’s mood, it’s pretty funny.

“It’s true!” Ron says. “‘Course it’s true, ‘cause see, I’m like, the boss now — a boss — you know. And so the Aurors’ve got — the backs that I say they’ve got. And like I said, you’re not my cuppa an’ all, but I’ve got Harry’s back forever, you know?” He grabs the top of Harry’s head and wiggles it a little without looking away from Draco; Hermione chokes on a laugh, and even Harry feels the corners of his mouth twitch with a smile. “Forever. And that means I gotta have yours, too, right, because Harry is, like, so obviously, totally — “

“Oh my god, Ron, it’s — uh —  the Chudley Cannons!” Hermione says, eyes wide.

“What, all of them?” Ron demands, releasing Harry’s head, and takes off in the direction she’s pointing at once.

“Sorry,” Hermione says to Harry and Draco, already following him. “Catch up with you two later?”

She goes without waiting for a reply, vanishing into the crowd after Ron, which is — pretty fitting, Harry thinks, things being what they are.  

When he looks back at Draco, Draco is still looking at him, the same considering, assessing gaze as before. Harry shifts a little under it; he’s not sure he wants Draco to see whatever it is he’s picked up on, the petty, stupid ugliness of Harry’s train of thought tonight.

“Potter,” Draco says eventually. “You want to get out of here?”

Harry does.

-

Draco, still relatively sober, leads them outside, sneers when Harry reaches for his wand, and insists on Apparating both of them himself. Harry expects them to land in the warmly lit halls of Grimmauld Place; instead he blinks to see a familiar Muggle street near Diagon Alley, about three blocks from his apartment.

“Oh,” Harry says, his heart sinking. Draco’s just taking him home, maybe thought he could use a nice — constitutional, or something, first. Walkies, Harry thinks bitterly, and pulls his coat a little tighter around himself. He thought… well, it doesn’t matter what he thought. Obviously Draco has no interest in entertaining Harry in this state, and it’s not like Harry blames him.

He wants to go home, to be alone with his thoughts, less than he’s ever wanted to do anything. He would rather have stayed at the damn bar. He supposes there’s nothing for it now, though, and starts walking.

He only makes it a few feet before Draco says, “Potter?”

Harry turns. Draco is still standing in the exact spot they landed, arms crossed, eyebrows raised. “Where, exactly, are you going?”

“Er,” Harry says, “home?”

Draco looks at him blankly for a second, and then realization seems to dawn. “Oh, yes — your place would be around here, I suppose. No, of course we’re not going there, you idiot. It’s horrible there.”

“Oh,” Harry says again, mollified in spite of the insults to his apartment and his intelligence, respectively. He looks around as he walks back over to Draco; this street is mostly weekend-empty office buildings, a couple of closed little Muggle shops. “What are we doing here, then?”

Draco fixes him with a steely look. “Look away, Potter.”

“What?” says Harry. “Why?”

“Don’t ask questions,” Draco says, and groans. “It’s such a simple request — ‘Look away, Potter,’ — a Kneazle could do it! Are you really going to force me to consider you less intelligent than a Kneazle?”

“Kneazles are very smart animals,” Harry says, and crosses his arms over his chest. He doesn’t break eye contact with Draco.

“Oh — you — fine,” Draco says, flushing bright red, “but I swear to god if you tell anyone I’ll ruin you.”

Then he… he….

Harry really doesn’t know how to explain it, even to himself. Draco just kind of — it’s not a shimmy, exactly, sort of more of a — wave, Harry thinks, except with his whole body. It reminds him a little of people cheering at the Quidditch World Cup, the motion of jumping out of their seats and throwing their arms in the air, except that Draco started it already standing so he just kind of — rocks his hips forward and back, and then his torso, as he lifts his arms over his head, pulls them as far back as they’ll go.

There’s not even time for Harry to process, yet alone laugh at, the most hilarious thing he’s ever seen in his life, because the air around them starts to shimmer and ripple. Then, with the distant sound of a bell chiming, it almost — rips — and a little doorway-sized gap appears between the two buildings closest.

“What,” Harry says, staring.

“You’ll see,” Draco says, and tilts his head at the gap. When Harry doesn’t move, Draco grabs him by the jacket sleeve, rolls his eyes. “You’d think you’d never seen magic done before, Potter. Come on.”

He draws Harry through the portal.

Chapter Text

They step out into a forest.

Harry gasps a little; he can’t help himself. They’re standing at the mouth of a glen, looking down onto a long winding creek cutting through it. The walls of the narrow valley are lined with trees, and even in the moonlight, even though it hasn’t quite turned spring, there’s the suggestion of verdance sketched into every line of the place. Harry can hear birdcall, the hoots and cries of wild owls and song thrushes. The air tastes and smells different than it did a moment ago — fresher. Clean.

Harry, a little wildly, looks back around through the portal, where he can still see Muggle London in all its mundane glory, painted in grey asphalt and the distant glow of streetlamps. He looks back to the glen. It doesn’t get any less surreal.

Draco laughs, a bright peal into the darkness. “Good, isn’t it?”

“Good,” Harry repeats, dazed, not even really hearing the word. “Malfoy, where are we?”

Draco smiles; when he speaks, he sounds a bit like he does on the tours he gives at the museum. “So, there was this mad wizard in the 1660s who was convinced Diagon Alley was going to be the site of some terrible accident — I think a centaur told him or something, I don’t remember now. Anyway, he bought up all this land thinking that, when the disaster in question hit, people would want to rebuild somewhere else. And then, incredibly enough, there was a fairly devastating fire in Diagon about ten years later, but no one wanted to move. It’s almost as if,” he adds, in a pointed little voice, “wizards grow attached to their homes and places of business, because the structures themselves develop personalities over time.”

Harry sighs. “Are you ever going to let that go?”

“Letting go isn't really an area of strength for me,” Draco says, looking away. Harry follows his gaze down to the creek, watches the way the water curves and winds. “It wasn’t for Isidore Dibbler, either; that was his name, the man who bought the land. When the Statute of Secrecy was passed, he sealed this place up, convinced that someday everyone would be ready to quit Diagon for good and he’d get rich. Then he died. He didn’t have any kids, or anyone to inherit, and he spent all the money he had buying the land in the first place, so as far as I can tell it just sat here for centuries, hidden anyway. One of those things that just sort of… fell through the cracks.”

“That’s…” Harry says, and before he can choose between insane, incredible, or some combination of the two, wonders: “Wait, so how’d you find it?”

“Oh, years ago I came across his journals in a collection of old books I bought at auction,” Draco says, waving a hand. “I do that sometimes; you can learn very interesting things that way. The barmy old coot went on and on for six hundred pages about how he’d been denied his rightful fate as the owner of New Diagon — not much of a creative thinker, Dibbler — but about halfway through there was a map which marked the place I Apparated us to. Underneath it said ‘Go To Thee Spotte and Speak Unto It With Your Body As The Fish To The Ocean; Only Then Shall You Walk The Path.’ So, I. Uh. Well.” Draco shrugs, looking a little embarrassed. “I spent two days standing out there trying to speak with my body as the fish to the ocean, in fact.”

“What,” says Harry, already laughing, “just kind of — wiggling around?”

“More or less,” Draco admits. “The Muggles thought I was a busker; they threw coins at me. It wasn’t one of my more dignified moments.”

Harry laughs some more, delighted just at the thought of it, but the sound dies in his throat as he looks around again. The moon is high over the glen, beams of light lancing down over the trees, the water, the plants and animals that have been left to their business here for centuries, untouched by human life. It’s beautiful, in a rough, uncomplicated way. Simple. Pure.

“Seems like it was worth it,” he says at last.

Draco turns to him and smiles, a slow, warm one that Harry doesn’t see very often, can never quite interpret. “Yes,” he says. “It was.”

“Have you ever showed anyone else?” Harry asks, on impulse.

Draco freezes, and then says, loudly and as if he didn’t hear Harry’s question at all, “Come along, now, Potter, we can’t linger here all day.”

So: no, Harry thinks, grinning a little as he follows Draco down the path to the heart of the valley. He hasn’t. He found this place on his own, and kept it for himself — didn’t tell his mother, or Blaise, or Pansy, or even Neville, who would probably give up a limb or two to walk a patch of magical forest that’s been more or less suspended in time. It sounds like Draco, who opened a museum in his home but put heavy wards and blocking charms on the part that he lives in, who’ll talk incessantly about any topic except the shit he really means. He likes stuff like this: open secrets. Things that could belong to everybody, but, one way or another, turn out to just be his.

He’s brought Harry to walk this ground that no one but him has touched for hundreds of years, to see this place he has kept close to his chest, private, all this time. It means something; Harry’s sure. He just can’t quite figure out what.

He walks with Draco in companionable silence, their steps guided by a path that’s been worn into the ground — by Draco, Harry realizes. It couldn’t really have been anyone else. “How much time to do you spend here?”

“Some,” Draco says, with a little shrug. “More than I probably should; less than I’d probably like. It’s peaceful.”

Harry rolls his eyes. “Because you’re such a peaceful person.”

“Well I would be,” Draco says, shooting Harry a look of dark irritation, “if everyone around me wasn’t so stupid and infuriating all the time.”

Harry laughs. “So it’s their fault that you’re a tetchy little git, is it?”

“He says, like he’s not part of the problem.” Draco smirks. “You might be stupider and more infuriating than the whole rest of the world combined, actually. Some days I honestly wonder.”

It’s pretty hard to take Draco’s insults to heart anymore on their worst days; against the backdrop of the glen, Harry can’t even muster up a decent scowl. “My sincerest apologies for any trouble,” he says, and even though he means it to sound sarcastic, it comes out… real. Genuine, horrifyingly enough. He makes a face into the darkness.

Oh,” Draco says, strangled, “would you just — come on already, stop lollygagging and — and speaking, Potter. God!”

He picks up his pace, drawing the flask from his pocket to take a swig, and Harry follows more sedately a few steps behind, pulling in long, deep inhalations of the cool night air. He’s definitely been drinking, but he thinks he’d probably feel this way even without the Firewhiskey singing through his veins — like he’s somehow both drunk and sober, balanced on the knife-edge between them. It’s a heady sensation, in its way, different than anything Harry’s experienced before. It reminds him a little of flying.

Draco comes to a stop in the center of a bridge, one that Harry can tell must have been pulled up out of the ground, crafted and shaped, by magic. It’s just one huge slab of rock and earth, and Harry leans over the edge to get a better look at it, the faintly glowing moss and lichen crawling up the side. When he pushes a little too far over — not so far that he’s in danger of falling, but far enough that he might be shortly — he hears Draco sigh, feels him take a fistful of Harry’s jacket.

“Are you going to vomit?” Draco’s inquiry seems more wicked than concerned. “Blaise warned me about that, you know. He said you left a spectacular mess in a bush that night he ran into you last month, and that you didn’t even have the decency to Banish it, just left it there for someone else to deal with. For shame,” he adds, sounding pleased with himself. “Terribly irresponsible of you.”

Harry rocks slowly back off the edge of the bridge, his back hitting against the solid weight of Draco’s hand. It’s steadying, and he needs steadying — Draco’s comment reminded Harry of the last Gryffindor piss-up, which reminds him that they just left the Gryffindor piss-up, for all they did it to go somewhere that’s for all intents and purposes at several hundred years’ remove. It crashes back into him, Ron and Hermione’s announcement and how it’s wonderful, completely amazing, except for how it means that he’s going to lose them, watch them drift away, walk the rest of his life alone —

“All right, Potter,” Draco says, and there’s nothing wicked in his tone now — it’s firm, insistent. “Out with it.”

“Out with what?” Harry’s aware that it’s not a particularly skillful dodge; he just doesn’t care that much.

“With whatever’s got you all,” Draco gestures broadly at Harry, makes a face, “this way. You know, looking like perhaps you’re about to crawl under the bridge and cry?”

“Shut up, Malfoy,” Harry snaps, “I am not.”

“I’m not saying you are, I’m saying that’s what you look like,” Draco says. “I could say you looked like the myopic offspring of a Kelpie and a Grindylow, and that wouldn’t mean you were one, just that you looked like it. Do you understand the concept I’m laying out for you here?” When Harry doesn’t say anything, just sticks his hands in his pockets and looks down at the water, Draco huffs out an irritated breath. “Do I have to ply you with additional Firewhiskey? Is that really what it’s come to?”

Harry doesn’t say yes, but he doesn’t say no, either, and Draco proffers the flask with an annoyed little flourish. Harry takes it, amazed to find it still feels full. “How have we not killed this thing yet?

“Hmm? Oh, it’s from my wet bar,” Draco says. He gives Harry a wary look as Harry takes a sip, like he’s afraid maybe Harry will throw him over the edge for daring not to be as miserable as he is, or something. “It’s refilling itself from one of the bottles I keep in there. The twelve year, I believe, but don’t quote me.”

“It’s good,” Harry says. He hadn’t really noticed it at the bar, because in the bar it had tasted more or less like every other glass of cheap, basic Firewhiskey he’s consumed at the Bowtruckle over the years. Out here, though, over the rush of the water and under the riot of birdcry, Harry can appreciate the richness and spice to the flavor, the subtle difference in the way it burns down his throat.

“Yes,” Draco says, “it is. Now talk.”

There really doesn’t seem to be any way around it, but: “It’s stupid,” Harry says.

“Oh, Potter.” Draco’s voice is very nearly kind. “So is nearly everything you say. I’d hardly expect otherwise.”

It makes Harry feel a bit better, weirdly enough. More capable of doing it. He takes a deep breath, hoping that Draco won’t actually make him spit it all out this minute, will take the hint and give him a chance to gather himself. Draco must, because he says nothing for once in his life, and Harry turns away from him to lean forward again against the wall of the bridge — not as far as before, just enough to balance his weight. He knows he can’t look at Draco while they do this. He knows that, if he does, he won’t even be able to bring himself to try.

Draco must know it too, because after a moment he leans on the bridge the other way, his back against the rough stone. “If you’re going to make me stand around waiting,” he says, “you could at least pass the Firewhiskey.”

Harry takes another long drink, and then he passes the flask to Draco without looking round.

“Ron and Hermione,” Harry says finally. His voice is gravelly with the effort it takes to push the words out. “They’re having another kid.”

“I heard,” Draco says. It’s non-committal and brief, two things Draco rarely is, and Harry could just kill him for not being his usual babbling fountain of verbiage here, in this moment, when Harry needs it. “So?”

Harry stares out at the water, trying to find the words. For all the time he and Draco have spent together in the last month, for all the absurd, impossible, insane conversations they’ve had, somehow they never quite seem to get around to talking about the real stuff. Harry doesn’t mind or anything — he dodges these sorts of conversations when he can, in general, and usually pretty successfully — but it’s strange, now, to realize just how much he’s going to have to say to make Draco understand. To realize just how much he’s managed, until now, to avoid telling him.

“They were my first friends,” Harry says, finally, and sounds eleven fucking years old. He wrenches away from that thought the minute he has it, a full body shudder, and tries to forget what he sounds like; tries to just talk. “And they’re not — I mean, anymore, they’re not. My only friends. I have.” He swallows. “Lots of people. These days. Only it’s not… it's not the same, with Ron and Hermione. I don’t know how to explain it, but it’s true. They were — when things were really bad, you know, just as bad as they could get, they were right there, the whole time. And it’s not just that,” he adds, too loud, a sudden spike of fury in his chest at the thought that Draco could think he means this is — about that, about what they did during the war. “God, it’s — I never really had anybody, and then I had them and with them it was like — like it was the three of us, no matter what, forever. Like it would always just… come down to that, in the end.”

Quietly, Draco says, “They’re your family.”

“Oh, they’re their own family,” Harry spits, and grimaces, hating himself. He scrubs his palms over his face. “God, that’s horrible. I’m sorry. I just — and see, this is exactly the problem — we were kids, you know, back then. We were kids! And it all seemed like it just fit, like it would just fit forever, and there was always a goal, anyway. Some, whatever, evil to vanquish, or even just classes, just homework. It all… made sense. Or, it didn’t, none of it did, but there were constants and we were working together, for the same stuff, and I guess I just thought that’s how it would always be. I guess I thought that feeling of just — knowing what ground I was standing on, you know? I guess I thought that came from them.”

He throws a hand out without looking back, because he can’t look at Draco, but his throat is closing up; because if he doesn’t get a little more Firewhiskey into him he thinks maybe he’ll die before he gets this out. Draco puts the flask in his hand and says nothing at all, and Harry’s not sure if he’s grateful for that or not. He takes a swig and passes it back, stares down at the ebb and flow of the water.  

“Nobody told me,” Harry says, his voice a low rasp, “that it would — get hard like this. That we’d grow up and there’d be all this… other stuff, this stupid emotional shit, this stupid — adulthood shit, and I know I’m not good at it! Not any of it, Malfoy, I hate my job, I hate my apartment, I don’t know how to do any of the — the big important things. The — other people stuff! And they know, and they can tell, and they act like it doesn’t matter but I know that it does. It matters to me! And it has to matter to them, anyway, if it doesn’t already it should, they’re happy normal people with a happy normal family and I’m… well, I’m whatever the hell I am. God,” he says, the words pouring out of him now, almost against his will, “d’you know, at dinner last week Hermione was showing us this chart about fucking — I don’t know, Muggle infant care or something, talking about how Rose was 18 months already and soon she’ll be a toddler and what a big deal that was. She wanted us to give her our suggestions on how we could, what was it, ‘foster a safe but not overly permissive environment,’ because if we didn’t she’d never grow up to be a healthy, well-adjusted adult! And I didn't, god, I didn't say anything. I just sat there, because the only thing I could think of to say was that I’d spent most of my childhood locked in a cupboard!”

Harry stops, breathing hard; it’s more than he meant to say. It’s too much — it’s so much Harry thinks he might vomit after all, prove Zabini’s dire predictions right. Honestly, that might be better than standing here, the weight of what’s just been drawn out of him sitting so heavy on his shoulders that he thinks he might collapse underneath the load. It might even feel good, just because it would be something else to focus on.

Then, into the ringing silence between them, Draco says, “Well, that’s not at all safe, but I’ll grant you that it isn’t overly permissive.”

Harry huffs out a little noise of surprise — it’s nothing like a laugh, but it’s as close as he imagines he could get right now. After a moment, Draco says, tone very even: “I suppose there’s no chance that was a metaphor?”

“No,” Harry mutters, looking at his hands.

“So the Muggles who raised you,” Draco says carefully, “were…”

“Very incredibly crap, yes,” Harry bites out, and waits for the rest of it. Waits for Draco to look at him with pity, the way Hermione does whenever Harry slips and brings up his youth, or say something well meant but awkward, trying-too-hard, the way Ron always seems to. They’re the only two examples Harry has to go on; he’s never really told anyone else, though he’s suspected, more than once, that Molly and Arthur know.

Draco says: “Quite.” And then, after a beat: “So, is that all of it?”

Harry turns to look at him, a full-body, involuntary action. He can’t let himself believe it without seeing it, but — there’s Draco, leaning back against bridge, elbows bent to prop himself up against the stone, looking for all the world as though they’re having a conversation about Quidditch or the weather, except for the very slightest hint of anxiety in the set of his mouth. He looks Harry right in the eye, slowly raises one eyebrow, and Harry is so hideously, pathetically grateful that he has to look away. That he can’t bear it, the relief of it, for a single second longer.

“All of what, Malfoy?” he says.

“Oh, you know,” Draco says. He turns, now, so he’s leaning on the bridge in the same direction as Harry, but he doesn’t make Harry look at him. “The big wad of emotional compost you’ve had lodged in your chest all night. That’s one thing I’ve figured out about this ‘stupid adulthood shit,’ as you so eloquently put it — at some point, gauche though it is, you do have to talk about things, or they just end up rotting inside of you.”

“I don’t really think of you as someone who does a lot of emotional sharing,” says Harry, who once saw Draco actually stand up and walk out of a restaurant rather than answer Harry’s perfectly innocuous question about why it mattered which fork he used.

“Yes, well, mostly I come out here and talk to myself,” Draco says, tone wry. “You know, sort of a ‘We’ll do this where no one can hear you scream’ kind of thing. It’s all very healthy.” Harry laughs; he can’t help himself. Draco knocks their shoulders together with a little noise of what Harry is almost certain is mock outrage. “Don’t laugh! It’s better than your strategy — how long has that been building up, exactly?”

“I don’t know,” Harry admits. Then, a little more honestly: “Probably a while.”

“‘Probably a while,’” Draco repeats, mocking, and sighs, drops the tone. “I ask again, Potter: is that all of it? Now’s the time, if it’s not.”

“No,” Harry says, itchy all over at the very thought of saying anything further. “I think I’m done.”

He’s surprised to find that Draco might be right; he does feel better for having talked about it, a little. He also feels unbearably exposed, and a bit like he wants to throw himself off the bridge and let the cool rush of the water carry him away, but — better, a little.

Of course, then he actually thinks about what he’s said and immediately feels much worse. “God, Malfoy, I just realized — I’m sure you think I’m — Jesus, I’m really happy for them, I am, I shouldn’t have said all that stuff — ”

“For god’s sake, Potter, do shut up,” Malfoy drawls. “I certainly don’t care that you’re not pure as the driven snow inside your own head all the time. In fact, I already knew you weren’t, and I for one am glad of it. I’m sure some people think it’s thrilling, but I find the St. Potter facade very tiresome.”

“It’s not a facade,” Harry says, even though he thinks he knows what Malfoy means, and he finds it tiresome too, sometimes, always trying to keep things on an even keel.

“Yes,” Draco says, his tone thoughtful, “in fact in your heart of hearts you’re a very naturally pleasant person. Placid, even. I think I describe you most often as ‘difficult to rouse.’”

He only lasts a second before he starts to snicker, and Harry, to his own surprise, snickers too, shaking his head. It’s so strange, how Draco can see these things about him that Harry works so hard to play down, tuck away; stranger still how he doesn’t seem to mind. Some days Harry thinks Draco might even like him better for all the ways he’s not the man he probably should be, as though Harry’s unkindnesses and rages and shortcomings make him a more interesting person, and that’s more important than being good or just or right… but that’s impossible.

Then again, they’re standing here in a glen that’s been hidden away since 1690 where Draco apparently comes to yell about his feelings, so. Maybe it’s not.

“I grew up in a museum,” Draco offers, after a while. Harry slants a look at him, knowing full well where Draco grew up, and Draco rolls his eyes. “That was a metaphor, Potter. I meant — surrounded by beautiful things that I wasn’t allowed to touch, or even think about touching. If they could have, I think my parents would have put me under glass, too; it would have been so much easier for them. So much quieter, and less embarrassing, and closer to what they wanted in a son.” He Summons a few pebbles up off the ground and starts skipping them across the water, lip curling a little. “It doesn’t compare to being locked in a cupboard like a spare broom, of course, but it fucked me up a little anyway. There are even times I’ve thought it served them right, my mum and dad, to watch the Dark Lord all but burn the place to the ground.” He stops, and sounds a little surprised when he says, “You know, I think I’ve had a bit more to drink than I thought.”

Harry holds out a hand for the flask automatically, but Draco pours pebbles into it instead. It’s better; Harry starts skipping them, trying to beat Draco’s distances absently, still listening to him talk.

“Sometimes,” Draco says, “I think I started my own museum just because I wanted — oh, I don’t know. A do-over, or something. Like it was an attempt to soothe some sad, pathetic part of me that’s still six years old and terrified to breathe on anything too hard, having not figured out yet that the only way to avoid that was not to really breathe at all. Sometimes I think that’s all it’s about: my life, the choices I’ve made.” He sighs, scowls. “But I try not to, Potter. D’you want to know why?”

Harry’s not sure he does, but he asks anyway: “Why?”

“Because that would make it about them,” Draco says. “My whole adult life, my passions, the things I’ve invested my time and energy in — that would make it about them, would mean it was all for them, and I don’t want that. Even if that is how it started out, on whatever level, it’s not that way now; now it’s for me.” He nudges Harry’s shoulder with his own, just a shade too hard for it to be an entirely friendly gesture. “Maybe you are fucked up, you know? I think most people are, one way or another. Most worthwhile people, anyway. But if you think that means you can’t figure a way out of things that make you unhappy, or that your oldest friends are going to suddenly drop you just because they’re having a kid — their second kid, Potter, aren’t you having this breakdown a little late? — well. Then, honestly, you’re even more of an imbecile than I’ve always thought.”

Draco throws all the pebbles left in his hand into the creek; they splash and plop into the water below them. “All anyone can really do,” he says, “is try to carve out a space for themselves in this world, and hold onto the people they love for as long as they’ve got them. That’s it. I’ve spent the better part of my life wading through the past and I can tell you with some certainty: that’s pretty much all that we’ve got. You’re not disqualified just because you’re not a particularly well-adjusted person.” He nudges Harry again, and when Harry turns his head to look at him, Draco offers him a crooked smile. “Anyway, who wants to be one of those?”

They stay in the glen for… oh, Harry doesn’t know how long. Hours, probably, just walking around, drinking, not talking about anything much. Draco shows him a cave where the stalagmites sing (“Do not ask the stalactites in the cave down the way to do this,” Draco warns him, “they can’t and they’re very sore about it, they will fall on you with great vengeance”), and a little thatched hut where Draco suspects Isidore Dibbler spent his final days.

Harry, who’s had an Auror’s instincts drilled deep into his bones whether he likes it or not, looks around and says, “Hey, did anyone ever find his body?”

“Oh, you are a ruinous, terrible person,” Draco says after a long moment, “let’s get out of here, I can’t believe you just said that, I hate you,” and takes him to offer some Firewhiskey to a massive, gnarled fairy tree instead.

They keep drinking, passing the flask back and forth between them, until they’re cackling over every little stupid thing the other one says, filling the valley with sound. Draco does an impression of Ron’s drunken Auroring speech that’s so dead on that Harry nearly wets himself, and Draco actually cries with laughter when Harry tells him, a little breathlessly and not sure how they got on the topic, about blowing up his Aunt Marge when he was thirteen years old.

“The little dog,” Draco says, wiping his eyes, “Potter, truly, you’re a marvel,” and Harry takes a page from Draco’s book, keeps the tiny pocket of warmth that blooms in his chest at this comment just for himself.

Eventually they stumble their way back to the portal. It closes behind them automatically, and Muggle London looks strange, bleak, after so long in the safe haven of the glen. Harry feels his spirit dim a little to think of going back to his apartment, where it’s cold and it’s dark and the pipes creak and the air never smells clean. Still, it’s a better prospect than it was earlier in the evening — a better prospect than, maybe, it’s ever been before.

“You can come back to mine,” Harry decides, directing the words at the Draco he thinks is the real Draco, and not the two standing on either side of him, who Harry suspects are imposters borne of drink. “For the Floo! Since we are — not fit — for the other one. Appearing and such. You know.”

“I will not go,” Draco declares loudly, right in Harry’s face, “to that HOLE! And nor should you, holes’re terrible. None will go to the hole tonight, Potter! Not for one minute, not even for Floo. I would rather — ” he sets off laughing again, has to gasp the next words through his mirth, “take the Knight Bus like — a teen on the run from justice for — for — crimes of engorgement — ” At this point he loses control of speech entirely, just covers his face with his hands and howls. He stumbles with it, apparently too overcome to hold onto his mastery of balance; Harry reaches out a hand to steady him automatically and somehow ends up with Draco leaning against him for support, his whole body shaking with laughter against Harry’s.

It’s nice. Warm. Harry doesn’t mind it.

They do, in fact, end up taking the Knight Bus back to Grimmauld Place, but Harry doubts he’ll remember a lot about it.

When they get home — to Draco’s home, Harry reminds himself; to the home that could have been Harry’s but never really was, and has long since belonged to Draco — Draco climbs the stairs and Harry follows. He doesn’t realize they’ve turned onto one of the warded staircases until Draco says, “This’s where the spells are; Kreacher, turn off the spells!”

“The wards do not affect guests who are with Master Draco,” Kreacher says, appearing with a crack. “As Master Draco usually knows very well.” He looks and sounds like he is a bit put out by their show of debauchery; Harry doesn’t really blame him, but just can’t bring himself to care all that much right now. Kreacher’s mad at him anyway, because Harry keeps cooking and it’s like, against the old codes or whatever — the house is sad about it — something. He’ll figure it out when he’s sober.

“Hey,” Harry says, a thought popping into his head and eclipsing all others in its glory. He pokes Draco, who’s a few steps above him, right in the middle of his back. “Can we go back sometime? With brooms? And fly?”

“We can do whatever we like,” Draco says, in a briefly dignified moment at the top of the stairs, “we are grown men in the prime of our lives.” Then he ruins it somewhat by adding, “I must bathroom. Then: sleeping. Take whatever bed you like.”

“‘I must bathroom?’” Harry yells down the hallway after him. “Really? Is that how you say it in posh?”

“Oh piss off, Potter, you enormous twat,” Draco calls back, but he’s laughing when he throws a rude gesture over his shoulder.

Harry makes a beeline for the first bed he sees, a big one with light grey covers on that’s — whatever. In a room that wasn’t Sirius’s, and that’s about all he’s got. He falls on top of it fully clothed and with both of his shoes on, and, blissfully, closes his eyes.

“Oh my god,” Draco says, what could be a moment or an hour later, “Potter, not this bed. I didn’t mean this bed!”

“You said I could have any bed,” Harry says, not opening his eyes, “that I liked. I like this bed.”

“I like that bed too,” Draco says. “Because it’s my bed. Now get out.”

Harry cracks one eye open. Draco is wearing pajamas now. They look soft. Also: he is glaring at Harry, which he probably thinks is very menacing, except that what he probably doesn’t know is that his hair is all — sticky-uppy. Hilarious.

Harry is just drunk and amused and comfortable and twelve years old inside enough to let himself say: “I don’t see your name on it.”

“Oh, for the love of god — “ Draco starts.

“And I’m the one who’s in it.” Harry has found that sometimes, when one is talking to Draco Malfoy, one has to think like Draco Malfoy and just talk whenever one feels like it, regardless of whether or not it’s rudely interrupting. “So, you know. Squatter’s rights, Malfoy.”

Draco make a muted little noise of outrage and then, mutinously, flops down next to Harry on top of the covers. “Now I’m in it, and it’s my bed. That beats your squatter’s rights two to one! Get thee hence, thief!”

“I was here first,” Harry points out, deciding to let ‘Get thee hence, thief!’ go because he’s tired and, if he remembers it, it’ll be a nice gift for poor tragic Hangover Harry in the morning.

“It’s my bed!” Draco says, for the third time in as many minutes. He’s acting all hysterical about it, but the way where he’s kidding, so it’s fine. If he were really mad he’d pretend like he wasn’t. “It’s my house.”

“That,” Harry says, smirking at Draco, “was mine first too.”

Draco groans. Harry grins and closes his eyes; it’s his bed, dead to rights.

Time goes a little fuzzy for a second, but then: “Get out,” Draco says, kicking him half-heartedly. He sounds sleepy. Soon his kicks will stop.

“You get out,” Harry tells him, muffled against the pillow. God, it’s so soft. “Dead... to rights.”

“Not even — sense,” Draco murmurs. “Find your own, ‘s what I say.”

“No, you,” Harry argues, and passes out.

Harry wakes up slow.

He hurts, but he’s — comfortable. His own bed’s not this comfortable. Maybe Ron and Hermione’s guest room? No, and not the Burrow either; there’s no mysterious lumps in the mattress, no distant sounds of yelling. He should probably open his eyes and make sure he hasn’t been taken prisoner or something, but he sort of doubts it. All of his limbs feel like they’re reporting for duty, and he doesn’t think kidnappers would put him in a bed this soft, with sheets that smell fresh and clean, a pillow like a cloud under his aching head.

God, his head. What happened last night? He’s never awoken in this sort of pain in an unfamiliar bed before; even when he’s gone out and pulled, he’s always taken partners back to his own place, rather than submit to the unknowns of a stranger’s living environment.

He rubs his cheek against the pillow and makes a soft sound. Maybe his policy of not sleeping in strange beds has in fact been incredibly stupid all this time; this one, wherever it is, is definitely an upgrade.

“Mrrph,” says someone to his left.

Now sure that he is not alone, Harry really has no choice but to open his eyes. He cracks them the absolute smallest amount possible, not even enough to be able to properly see, but it’s an agony anyway, the light of the room all but searing his retinas. He pushes through it with only one groan of anguish, because he is a man and will not be brought low by daylight, and opens them the rest of the way.

Draco is laying on the pillow next to his.

Harry regards him for a moment; his face is screwed up in a grimace, clearly not wholly asleep but not wholly awake, either. Harry can relate. They’re not touching, but they’re so close that they almost might as well be; Draco’s sprawled out across most of the bed, loose in near-sleep the way he isn’t in life, where he’s all carefully controlled motion. Harry’s the opposite, has slept as long as he can remember curled into a tight, question-mark sort of shape, arms wrapped around the bottom half of his pillow, head buried in the top.

Draco’s hair is in his eyes. Harry has the absurd, half-formed thought that he should — touch it, or something — before he wakes up enough to recognize that as nonsense.

What did they do last night? Harry’s fully clothed — even his shoes are on — and he considers panicking and throwing himself out of the bed for a second, but he doesn’t. It’d be stupid; Draco’s fully dressed too, albeit in pajamas, and anyway Harry’s not insane enough to think that they might have… whatever. Gotten up to anything untoward. It’d be crazy, like he told Ron and Hermione that one time they…

...Ron and Hermione…

Harry groans again, bits and pieces of the night coming back to him. Draco showed up at the pub night, and then — Harry was all selfish and stupid about — god, Ron and Hermione are having another baby and — and Draco took him to a secret forest about it? Maybe that part was a dream, Harry thinks. It doesn’t feel like a dream, though. Fuck, his head hurts.

“Stop,” Draco mumbles, eyes still closed, “with the sounds. Death to sounds. Be silent.”

“Oh, make me,” Harry mutters back.

Draco’s eyes snap open.

For a second they just look at each other, and Harry thinks Draco’s probably having the same train of thought he did a minute ago. He wonders, in too much pain to care about it all that much, if Draco’s going to panic and throw himself out of the bed, but he doesn’t. He just kind of… draws in a big breath and then sighs it out again, wincing on the exhalation.

“Hi,” Draco says at last.

“Hey,” says Harry.

“Are we dead?” Draco asks. It sounds like a genuine question. “Or do I just wish I was dead? If this is death I hate it, and I won’t stay, and I want my money back.”

“We’re not dead,” says Harry, though he does have to take a moment to consider it. “And that’s not really how death works, anyway.”

“It is too early for your Boy Who Lived rubbish,” Draco says grouchily. His eyes fall closed again, though this doesn’t seem to deter him from talking. “Just be a fucking person for seventeen seconds and talk about, I don’t know, how your mouth feels like it’s been coated in sewage, or something.”

“Not sewage,” Harry says, considering it. “More like — I don’t know — bile and sadness?”

“I hate you,” Draco says, mostly into his pillow. “I can’t believe I’m going to die here, like this, and the last thing anyone’s ever going to have said to me is that their mouth tastes of bile and sadness.”

“You said — ”

“Oh, I know what I said, shut your terrible breath hole,” Draco snaps. Without opening his eyes, he makes a valiant attempt to sit up, gets about halfway there, lets out a little heartcry, and collapses back down onto the bed. “This is it. The end times. The final note in a tragically short symphony. Please write my mother and tell her I died with dignity, will you? Lie as baldly as possible. Share nothing of the true events and say I was taken down in a heroic — a heroic — well, make up something heroic, anyway.”

“You’re being dramatic,” Harry tells him, and Draco swats at him blindly, his fingers brushing Harry’s sleeve but not landing any more serious blows. Harry grins, even through the hangover. “Missed me, Malfoy.”

“Bite me, Potter.” Draco yawns hugely; Harry think he’s one to talk about terrible breath. “God, I need — potions — Kreacher!”

Kreacher appears with a crack; Harry and Draco let out simultaneous half-shouted groans of agony at the sound.

Why,” says Harry, burying his face into the pillow as deep as it will go.

“Master Draco summoned?” Kreacher sounds too chipper by half, even through the pillow. Probably he thinks this is what they deserve for stumbling in here at whatever o’clock in the morning drunk as skunks; he might not be wrong, but Harry doesn’t have to like it.

“Hangover Potion,” Draco says, the way a man might gasp for water after days stranded in a desert. Harry lifts his head a bit and sees that he looks like it, too, a little. “I urge you, I implore you, I beg on bended knee — “

“You’re laying down, Malfoy,” says Harry, just to be obnoxious.

“I will actually kill you,” Draco says. “In cold blood, right here. You watch! I’ll do it!”

“I’ll believe it when I see it,” Harry says, and then, when Draco glares at him and reaches threateningly towards a spare pillow, “God, fine. I’m shaking in my boots, are you happy?”

“Oh my god you are actually wearing boots,” Draco says — yelps, really. Harry winces against the soft fabric of the pillowcase. “In my bed! Did you take some kind of intensive course on being the worst houseguest in all of space and time — no, wait, don’t answer that, we have more important matters to attend to. Kreacher,” he continues, in ingratiating tones, “if you could please, I beg you, get the Hangover Potion. And don’t — “

He vanishes with a crack right as Draco says, “Disapparate. Oh my god, please just let me die.”   

“Me first,” Harry says.

“Rude,” says Draco, and closes his eyes again, only to jump violently and moan when Kreacher reappears.

It hurts like hell for Harry too, but. Well. It’s pretty funny.

“Stop laughing at the misfortune of others, Potter,” Draco says, sitting up to grab a vial off the tray in Kreacher’s hands and downing it in one go. He collapses back against the pillow with a sigh. “Oh, thank Merlin, I really thought that was it for me.” He fixes Harry with a dark look. “Go on, then. Your turn.”

“It’s cheating,” Harry protests. It is a feeble protest, but he feels it necessary to make all the same. “If you’re going to drink you should — suffer the consequences. Of drinking.”

“That’s absolutely the most idiotic thing I’ve ever heard in my life,” Draco says, but Draco says this to Harry at least three times a week; it’s kind of lost its punch. “Your little martyring streak is very upsetting, and if you don’t take the bloody potion I will be forced to transfigure this pillow into a tiny violin to play for you about it.” He smiles sweetly, and adds, “Well, I say 'play.' I’ve never actually studied the violin, so the correct word might be ‘torture.’”

“You’re a bad person,” Harry mutters, “I hope yours stops working,” but he sits up and takes the stupid potion anyway. It leaves his mouth tasting fresh and clean, and helps a lot, actually, which is annoying.

“There,” Draco says, sounding satisfied, as he flips back the covers and burrows into his bed. “Doesn’t that feel much better than your moralistic nonsense? Now: go make me breakfast.”

Harry is so occupied with trying to think of a way to avoid admitting to the first half of that statement that it takes him a moment to process the second. When he does, he rolls his eyes. “Seriously, Malfoy?

“That’s the going rate of exchange for my Hangover Potion,” Draco says. Only one of his eyes is visible, but that one eye is wicked. “Don’t look at me, Potter, you’re the one who set the precedent. If you didn’t want to make me breakfast you shouldn’t have accepted the potion in the first place.”

“Which time?” Harry says, more to entertain himself than for any other reason, since either way it’s not like Draco gave him much of a choice.

“Oh, either,” Draco says. “Both. Who cares? Take your pick.”

He yawns then, huge and cracking, eyes falling shut and staying that way, one arm sprawling out to stretch halfway into the space Harry vacated when he sat up. Harry looks down at his wild hair, the faint circles under his eyes, and finds himself suffused, suddenly, with a rush of affection for this man, however odd or bossy or exhausting. He’s remembering more of last night now that his body’s not actively fighting him, and he’s not sure anyone’s ever — done anything quite like that for him, before. He can’t even entirely wrap his mind around it, the shape of the memory strange and incongruous, its smooth, polished edges not finding anywhere to fit with the rest of Harry’s largely jagged mental landscape.

He wouldn’t trade it, though. Not for anything. Breakfast’s probably the least he can do.

“Don’t get used to this,” Harry warns, standing up. “I don’t want you to go getting any insane ideas about bossing me around being a good or effective strategy for making me to do stuff.”

Draco makes a little scoffing noise into his pillow. “Oh, please. Like I don’t know how to get you to do things. I want sausages.”

“You’re getting bacon,” Harry says, automatic.

“See?” Draco says, and yawns again. “You’re so easy, Potter. It’s honestly quite sad.”

“I don’t know why I spend time with you,” Harry says, “I really don’t,” but he picks his coat up off the floor anyway, walks downstairs and opens the front door to head out for supplies.

At least, he starts to. Kreacher appears with a crack between him and the door before Harry can open it more than an inch, grabs him by the ends of his shirt, and says, “No! Harry Potter will not do this again!”

Harry sighs. “Look, Kreacher — “

“Harry Potter will not ‘Look Kreacher’ Kreacher!” say Kreacher. “Kreacher will ‘Look Harry Potter’ Harry Potter! If Harry Potter likes to cook, then Harry Potter likes to cook. Kreacher understands. What Kreacher does not understand,” he continues, his tone going dark and foreboding, “is why Harry Potter keeps insisting on leaving! Is why Harry Potter keeps bringing into the Noble and Most Ancient House of Black foods that smell awful and are locked in packages which Harry Potter must cut with a knife!”

“Er,” says Harry, staring. “You mean — groceries?”

“Kreacher does not care what they are called!” Kreacher nearly wails this, pulling hard on Harry’s shirt. “Why is Harry Potter not using the storeroom? Kreacher worked hard for many years on that storeroom! The House worked hard for many years on that storeroom! Harry Potter does not otherwise seem like a cruel person!”

Privately, Harry thinks that maybe so many years with Draco has made Kreacher a more dramatic elf. He’s not planning on mentioning it to anyone, though.

“I,” Harry says. He blinks at Kreacher, who looks like he might be about to cry, and caves. “Do you know, Kreacher, I’ve actually never seen the storeroom.”

Kreacher stares at him for a moment, and then realization lights up his face. “Oh! Of course! Because Harry Potter was a terrible Master and never bothered to learn the secrets of the house!” Kreacher sighs a little mistily and pats Harry on the leg. “Kreacher likes Harry Potter so much better now that Harry Potter is an adult.”

“Er,” says Harry, “thanks, Kreacher.”

Kreacher nods cheerfully and then starts walking, one corner of Harry’s shirt still in his hand. Helplessly, Harry lets himself be towed, thinking that Kreacher really has become rather a lot like Draco and finding that he’s vaguely amused by it.

They go down to the kitchen, and then through the kitchen to the mudroom, and then Kreacher reaches out and presses a finger against the grout between two tiles on the far wall. Harry stands, eyes widening in shock, and watches the whole wall fold back and away into an enormous set of wooden stairs, clearly old but well-maintained, solid.

Kreacher lets go of Harry’s shirt and hops up and down a bit in excitement before he adopts a very solemn manner and gestures Harry in. “The storeroom, Harry Potter.”

Harry takes the first few steps down the stairs hesitantly. Then, when he sees what’s actually below him, he takes them two at a time.

The cellar — because that’s what it is — is enormous, spanning what has to be the underside of the entire first floor. Massive, load-bearing columns are spaced out evenly across the expanse, and between them are seemingly endless shelves, each one of them covered with food. Harry can see lettuces and legumes, pomegranates and potatoes, a tank full of lobsters, a whole side of beef; in one corner a sheaf of wheat seems to be milling itself into flour and then reassembling into stalks again, an endless, impossible cycle.

A little blindly, just wanting to prove to himself that he’s not having some kind of — hallucination, or something — Harry reaches out and picks up an apple from the nearest bushel. It… resists, almost, for a moment, like his hand is reaching a little farther than just the distance Harry can see in order to pick it up, but then it comes away easily, and, as Harry watches in amazement, is immediately replaced by an identical apple.

He takes a bite. It tastes like the sun rising.

How?” Harry demands of Kreacher, staggered to think that this was here, under his feet, when he was seventeen and mentally shattered and eating crappy take-away for dinner every night because he couldn’t keep his thoughts in order long enough to so much as make a shopping list. “How can this — even exist? How did it do,” he gestures, with his bitten apple, to where its identical cousin is now perched, “that?”

Kreacher beams. “The storeroom has been here since the house was built, Harry Potter! The Noble and Most Ancient House of Black has made many shrewd trades and deals over the centuries, and some of them were for food, and some of them were for farming rights. The storeroom is remembering that.”

“So, what,” Harry says slowly, trying to parse Kreacher’s always cryptic house-talk, “every time the Blacks got food, like, ever, since the house’s been built, they just — put it in here? How does it not all go bad?”

“The storeroom has very complicated Stasis charms, Harry Potter,” Kreacher says. Lowering his voice conspiratorially, he adds, “There are even stories of Mistresses and Masters sleeping in it, to keep themselves fresh!” He titters, a shrill, shrieking sort of giggle, before he calms himself and nods at the apple in Harry’s hand. “And some of it is replenishing constantly, because of trade agreements that have been honored for hundreds of years. That apple Harry Potter is eating is from the orchards at Malfoy Manor; Master Draco is making sure himself.”

Harry stares down at the apple. He takes another bite; it’s even better than the first one was. A little wryly, thinking of all the times he has left for a Tesco’s run and Draco, the bastard, has just let him go, he says, “So Master Draco is knowing about the storeroom, huh?”

“Master Draco is knowing about everything,” Kreacher says, with, Harry notes in amusement, a slightly grim affect. “Master Draco is knowing about things even Mistress Black was not knowing about. Things the House did not think a Master would ever know again.”

“He’s weird like that,” Harry agrees. “Probably went absolutely mental and read every book in the whole place for the notes in the margins and shit. Maybe he dug up the journals of all the old owners; I wouldn’t put it past him.”

Kreacher makes a little squeaking noise, the way he does when they’re treading too close to the dangerous territory of actually insulting Draco, and vanishes with his customary crack. A basket appears in the spot where he stood a second later, and Harry picks it up, tucks it over his arm. He eats his apple, and when he puts the core into the basket to throw away upstairs, it simply vanishes; the same happens with the hull of a perfectly ripe strawberry, the top of a sweet, crisp carrot. There’s a whole shelf covered just in loaves of bread; Harry cracks one open and inhales, bowled over, because for all he knows it’s from the 1850s, but it smells fresh from the oven. When he puts that in the basket, it seems to know he doesn’t want it vanished and holds it for him, even though he’s already taken a bite.

Harry doesn’t come upstairs for a long time. When he does, he’s not really thinking about cooking Draco breakfast so much as he’s just thinking about just  — cooking, all the random passing ideas he’d had as he walked around that he gathered up ingredients for because they were there, because he felt like it.

The kitchen — which has always just seemed to be a kitchen to Harry before, if a much better and brighter one than his own — seems to work with him, now that he’s not working with outside food. His chopping spells all cut themselves off at the exact right amount for whatever dish he’s working on, even when he forgets to check them; the spices grind themselves by magic over the bowls and pots; the stove turns down the heat the moment he wants it to without his even reaching for the knobs. Harry finds himself humming as he works, some old Muggle song he remembers from the radio as a kid, and even though Grimmauld Place couldn’t possibly know it, it almost seems to be humming along, pans and spoons clanking and clattering to the beat.

Harry makes apple popovers and spinach quiche and bacon, because Draco said he wanted sausage. He makes crêpes and citrus bars, a potato hash studded through with wild mushrooms, soft-boiled egg and avocado toast. He makes fruit salad, which seemed such a simple thing once upon a time, but is suddenly an endlessly changeable landscape now that Harry has every kind of fruit and veg there is, held forever at peak ripeness, at his fingertips.

“Oh, I wanna dance with somebody,” Harry is singing to himself, tunelessly, over a pot of raspberry sauce for the lemon cake, when he hears Malfoy clear his throat.

Abruptly, the fog lifts, and Harry looks around to realize that he has made… really quite a lot of food. Much, much more food than he and Draco could possibly consume. He says, “Er.”

“Are you throwing a party?” Draco looks much too amused for anyone’s good, least of all Harry’s. “Or raising an army, perhaps?”

Harry flushes. “I, er. I think I got a bit… carried away?”

“Oh, do you think so?” says Draco, raising both his eyebrows in entertained incredulity. “I said make me breakfast, Potter, not make me breakfast for twelve.”

“You never told me about the storeroom!” Harry exclaims. His cheeks are burning, but the hell if he’s going to let Draco win without a fight, the storeroom-hiding little git.  “And then Kreacher showed me and — I mean — ” He gives Draco a helpless look, spreading his hands, and drips some raspberry sauce on the floor.

Draco’s face does something — strange, for a second. He’s staring at Harry with such an odd intensity that Harry almost thinks maybe he’s going to do — something, walk across the kitchen and just… well. Harry doesn’t know what. It doesn’t matter, anyway, because Draco swallows, averts his eyes.

“Yes,” he says quietly. “I see how a person could get carried away.”

Harry makes a face at him, because he’s weird and he’s mad and half the time Harry thinks he talks in riddles for the sole purpose of driving Harry crazy. Draco doesn’t seem to notice, gaze fixed out the window, and Harry shrugs, finishes off the last few things on the stove, and then stares down at the whole mess of it, wondering at the best method for serving it all up.

“Er,” says Harry, a little despairingly, “do you want to just — go at it?”

Draco turns to look at him so quickly that Harry startles a little. He stares at Harry, blinking fast, for a moment, and then looks at the food and releases this little sound, half sigh, half… Harry doesn’t know what.

“Oh,” Draco says, sounding a little breathless for some reason, “well, that’s. A horrific and philistine idea, actually, but: sure. Why not.” He picks a fork out of the drawer, walks over to the dish of potato hash, holds the fork poised over it for a moment, and then gives Harry an apprehensive look. “You know what, I take it back. This just feels wrong.”

Harry rolls his eyes, but Draco won’t be moved; in the end and at his direction Harry ends up cutting or spooning a heaping portion of everything onto a giant platter that he leaves in the middle of the kitchen island.

“Which was stupid,” he says to Draco, as they eat, “because all we did is dirty an extra dish, and we’re still standing up and being philistines, or whatever.”

“Yes, well,” Draco says, “I liked that part of the idea. It seemed avant garde and unusual! Someday, many years from now, my grandchildren will say to me, ‘Oh, Grandpapa, what’s the strangest experience you've ever had,’ and I’ll say, ‘Well, children, once I stood in my kitchen with Harry Potter, ate four times my bodyweight in breakfast foods, and ended up in St. Mungo’s, which just goes to show the importance of proper decorum at mealtime.’ And they will look up at me with rapt attention and say ‘Oh, Grandpapa, what an exotic and fascinating story, you do bring life to even the most uninteresting topics,’ and I will thank them and carry on with my business.’”

“You’ve never actually met a kid in your life, have you?” Harry asks, thinking of Teddy, who would sooner die than spit any one of those sentences out of his mouth. 

Draco scowls at him. “I seem to recall that I was entertaining several of them when we met a month ago.” He stops, looking briefly horrified, before, sullenly, he says, “Not met, obviously. I just meant — “

“I know what you meant,” Harry says, because he does. It feels that way a little for him, too, like Draco is a totally different person than the child he knew in school, even though in some ways he’s so like that proud, unyielding boy that it’s as though no time has passed at all. “You want kids, then?”

“Oh my god, Potter,” Draco says, appalled. “It’s not even eleven in the morning, you’re a horrifically ill-mannered person and I refuse to answer that question. Who just — asks someone! That question!”

Harry shrugs, and eats some of his lemon cake with the raspberry sauce. It’s not bad. “I don’t know. I didn’t know it was a thing, or whatever. I was just saying — because you said, you know, that whole rant about — “ he waves his fork in the air expansively, “ — your weird manners-obsessed future grandchildren.”

“Oh, honestly,” Draco says — exasperated, but maybe a little amused, too. “I was doing a bit. I didn’t actually intend us to have have some sort of,” he pauses, shudders hard enough that Harry’s almost certain it’s for dramatic effect, “heart-to-heart about it, or anything.”

“Oh,” Harry says, and remembers something else from last night. “A ‘We’ll do this where no one can hear you scream’ sort of thing?”

Draco gives him a crooked little smile, inclines his head very slightly, and says nothing, and Harry has to pretend to be intensely focused on the crumb of his lemon cake so that Draco won’t see the stupid look on his face. It’s — Harry doesn’t quite know what’s happening, suddenly, in this familiar room in this familiar house with this all-too-familiar person. Something feels... wrong with him this morning, maybe, or maybe it’s something wrong with Draco, or with them both. Or, maybe, ‘wrong’ is the wrong word for it entirely. Maybe there’s a better way to describe this sensation that skittering along the edges of Harry’s awareness, just very slightly unsettling him. It’s as though everything’s the same, but totally different. Or just… more intense, or something.

Then, in a total departure from everything Harry has ever understood to be true about him, Draco says, thoughtfully, “You know, Potter, you’re really quite good at this cooking lark.”

Harry thinks, for a horrible moment, that it’s some kind of — like a pity thing, maybe, or something. Like Harry got all weird and fucked up with Draco last night, told him all that stuff he never tells anybody, and now Draco doesn’t feel like he can be mean anymore. God, Harry thinks he might lose his mind if that’s happened, and how absurd, how nonsensical, that he so hates to think about losing — what, about 45 insults an hour and and several unflattering nicknames? Who wants that from someone? Why?

Luckily, when he looks up Draco is staring at his fork as though it has horribly betrayed him, so Harry doesn’t have to worry about it.

“That really took a lot out of you, saying that,” Harry says, relaxing. “Didn’t it? I can tell.”

“I felt a whole year of my life slip through my fingers,” Draco agrees, and Harry throws a potato at him, and thinks that he’s just being crazy, and everything is perfectly normal.

That night, he goes to dinner at the Burrow. Molly and Arthur are thrilled about the baby and furious that everyone else found out before they did — “It was the Gryffindor pub night, Mum!” Ron protests in desperation, “we couldn’t move it, it’s not my fault you wouldn’t skip Great Aunt Agatha’s Deathday Party!” — and when Harry looks for the knot of bitterness and fear in his chest, he finds it isn’t there. Or, well. A bit of it still is; maybe Draco’s thing about emotional compost was more appropriate.

Just — just. Maybe it won’t be so terrible. He holds Rose on his lap, and Ron and Hermione talk to each other, of course, but they talk to him, too, and so does everyone else. It’s not like the Gryffindor piss-up, the rest of Harry’s life: he doesn’t feel abandoned or alone most of the time. Lonely, sure, but not in the same way; not like he’s stuck at a table with no one to talk to.

He smiles a little, that strange feeling from this morning stealing over him again, foxing the edges of his awareness. He had someone to talk to last night, this morning; so what, if Ron and Hermione’s lives are changing, filling up? Harry’s life is changing too. Harry’s life is fuller, just now, than he thinks it’s maybe ever been before.

He thanks Molly for a lovely meal. He goes home. He falls asleep grinning, laughing to himself, about Draco saying “Get thee hence, thief!” which his brain has held back from him all day, saved as a happy little gift on which to close his eyes.

He wakes up to the crack of a house-elf appearing in his bedroom door.

Chapter Text

For a disorienting, half-awake second, Harry thinks he’s at Number 12, somehow. He’s grown so used to the crack of Kreacher entering and exiting those rooms that to hear it here, now, disrupts his sense of place.

Then he realizes that Kreacher is crying.

He jerks upright, throwing the covers back, abruptly aware that he’s in his own apartment, and there’s only one reason Kreacher would come here like this. “Kreacher? What’s happened! Right now!”

“The thieves,” Kreacher sobs, barely intelligible. “They are hurting the house, they took Master Draco’s wand and — “

Harry doesn’t wait for the rest of the sentence, just grabs his own wand out from under his pillow and Apparates directly from his bed to Grimmauld Place’s front gate.

His feet land on cool grass; he remembers that he’s barefoot, in pajamas, in the same moment that he notices he’s managed to touch down on the lawn. Either Draco’s re-keyed the wards to let Harry Apparate in or the intruders have taken them down entirely — god, Harry hopes it’s the first thing. He shudders to think of what someone could have done to the old house, to Draco, if they’ve taken down all the wards. Draco’s told him a little about the complicated web of spells that makes up Grimmauld Place’s security; all Harry’s really taken away is that it’s ancient and crotchety and has had so much magical energy poured into it over the years that there’d probably be a fairly massive explosion if it was to be dissolved all at once.

“But no one could do that,” Draco said, rolling his eyes, when Harry pointed this out. “And even if they did of course there wouldn’t be an explosion, it’s all tied in with the — oh look, Potter, can’t you just accept that you are woefully under-informed and live in blissful ignorance, like any decent person would do? You don’t have to be Auror Potter every second of the day, you know, and I for one wish you wouldn’t. He’s really very obnoxious.”

Harry let himself be talked out of further inquiries by the alarmingly intense allure to the idea of not being Auror Potter all the time. He thinks that’s going to be a pretty fucking cold comfort, though, if this night ends with the house — with Draco — scattered in pieces across the lawn.

There’s an earsplitting crash, and then he hears Draco scream, either in rage or in pain, from one of the upper floors. Harry runs.

The front door is shut; Harry slashes his wand furiously across the air in front of him and it isn’t anymore, slamming back just in time for him to burst through. He takes the stairs two at a time, trying to think tactically, trying not to panic — there’s too many floors, too many rooms, that scream could have come from anywhere above the first floor and Harry doesn’t have time to search them all and —

He realizes, all at once, that he has stepped on the biting stair, and it is not biting him.

Harry looks down, shocked into a split-second of stillness. He knows it’s the right stair — the sign is standing up on its little stick right next to his foot and everything — and Harry wonders if the house is trying to work with him, the way it did in the kitchen the morning before.

Feeling a little crazy and not caring — too desperate and frantic to care — Harry closes his eyes and whispers, “Help me. Please. Show me where they’ve got him.”

When he opens his eyes, he sees that sconces are flickering on, one after another, in a long and inarguable path down the hall.

Harry runs. His heartbeat is loud in his chest, in his ears — there’s no damage on this floor, wasn't on the first either, as far as Harry could tell. The museum in the exact pristine condition it was when Harry left it the day before, and it’s chilling, strangely. Harry thinks it’s more unsettling than carnage would be. Whatever’s happening tonight, the intruders have clearly taken a more targeted approach, and while that might turn out to be better for the house, Harry knows too well it means the worst for Draco. No good can come from being in the path of highly focused thieves, especially ones as extensively trained as the two, possibly three, who escaped them last time.  

The house guides him to the stairwell up to Draco’s private floors. Harry draws in a deep breath before he takes his first step through the doorway, not sure if he’s hoping for the wards to be down or not — on the one hand, there’s the potential explosive disaster to think about, but on the other hand, Harry doesn’t have time to force his mind through a barrage of distracting thoughts, reasons he should be elsewhere. Both turn out to be baseless concerns; Harry feels the magic of the wards slide over him, and then blinks, surprised, when they let him through.

He’s not sure if that was the house helping him out, or if Draco —

“I won’t!” Draco’s voice, sharp with distress; Harry turns towards the sound with his whole body, not needing the sconces anymore, running up the stairs and down the hall towards it at a dead sprint. “I already told you I won’t and I meant it, I’ll die first, I’d rather die — ”

“You never could figure out when to keep your fool mouth shut, could you, Mr. Malfoy?” A cool voice, unfamiliar but… known, too, in a way Harry can’t quite quantify. “There is, of course, a perfectly feasible version of this plan where that’s exactly what happens to you. I did all this out of the kindness of my heart, you see, to avoid that tragic outcome. But if you really won’t cooperate, I’m afraid I’ll have no choice but to — “

“Die bloodily?” Harry snarls, and throws open Draco’s bedroom door.

Draco is pinned to the wall, suspended about half a foot off the floor, his captor — glamoured, average build and height, not either of the intruders from last time — standing below him with a wand to his throat. Draco’s arms and legs are bound in rope that’s clearly been attached to the wall with a Sticking Charm, and Harry aches to see that his wrists are red and raw already, chafed from what must be an unbearably uncomfortable hold. How long had Kreacher waited to come get him? How long has Draco been in here, being subjected to this? There’s a long, thin cut bleeding sluggishly across his right cheekbone, a bruise already forming at the edge of his jaw, another at his temple — where somebody probably cold-cocked him, Harry realizes, so enraged for a second that he can’t think, can’t move. He just stares at Draco, breath coming heavy, and watches the wide-eyed looks of surprise-horror-panic flickering across his face as he turns toward the sound of Harry’s voice.

“Harry!” Draco shouts, but Harry’s already seen the warning in his expression. He whips around just in time to see the guy sneaking up behind him, wand raised. Harry casts a Stunning Spell with his wand hand and punches out hard with the other; the curse misses, but the punch lands in the center of the guy’s throat, and he staggers, choking. Harry uses his distraction to cast a Body Bind, and then, when he realizes that this is the slight guy from the first break-in, throws a Conjunctivitis Curse in for good measure. He hopes it fucking hurts.

There’s a strangled, breathless cry from Draco, and when Harry turns it’s to see his captor hitting him for the second time, hard, in the stomach.

Harry doesn’t even cast. He just waves his wand and steps forward, an intent, menacing advance, and the man flies away from Draco, slams against the nearest wall so hard the windows rattle in their frames. Harry grins, a vicious, unfriendly one; slashes his wand in Draco’s direction without looking around to cut his bonds clear of the wall; bears down on this filthy, foul excuse for a man, who has been hurting Draco, who must pay.

Harry holds his wand underneath the man’s throat, a purposeful imitation of the position in which he just had Draco, and jams it in hard enough that the man gasps, watering eyes visible even through the glamour. “And how the fuck do you like it?” Harry yells, an inch from his face. He lowers his voice, digs the wand into the flesh of his neck even harder. “Because I’ll tell you what, mate, this is the least of your worries right now. You should be thanking your lucky fucking stars for this moment, because this moment? This is the least your life is going to suck for a long, long time. I hear Azkaban’s a real hell-hole, now the Dementors are gone — nothing to keep scum like you from turning on each other.” He pauses, thoughtful. “Maybe we should carve up your face, too, what do you think? Write ‘Me First’ right on your forehead for when you get there?”

“Potter,” Draco gasps, and Harry stops talking, but doesn’t look away from his prisoner. “Not that I don’t appreciate the sentiment, but he won’t be the only one led off in chains if your team shows up and finds you engaging in Auror brutality.”

“I didn’t call the team,” Harry snaps. He wants to hurt this man, wants to make him do more than just choke and splutter for air. He wants every inch of the pain Draco’s suffered delivered unto this sniveling, sorry excuse for a person, and he wants to be the one to give it to him, wants to hit him and hex him until he is too battered and broken to lay a hand on someone else ever again.

But then Draco’s hand is on his shoulder, warm, alive; Harry can feel the ropes that are still tied around Draco’s wrists thumping gently against his back. “This isn’t you,” Draco says, softly, into Harry’s ear; when Harry snarls out an incoherent noise of very firm disagreement, Draco tightens his grip, his voice going sharp. “I swear to every god, Harry, if I have to watch you mope around for the rest of your life because you snapped and maimed somebody, I may just finish what this hideous little home invader started. This. Isn’t. You. You’re not going to hurt him; you’re going to take him in. Say it.”

It’s the use of Harry’s first name that breaks through the cloud of rage blurring his vision, his judgement. It startles him, and then he’s startled all over again to realize it’s the second time Draco’s used it — he shouted it, too, when he saw the other intruder nearly get the drop on him.

Harry wants this guy to bleed, wants it so badly that his fists and his chest and his teeth hurt, but — he wants him to bleed for Draco, and that’s not what Draco wants.

“I’m not,” Harry forces out, through gritted teeth, “going to hurt him. I’m going to take him in.”

“Very good,” says Draco, and lets go.

Slowly, Harry lowers his wand from the guy’s throat — not far, just far enough to cast another Body Bind, make sure the little fuck can’t go running off. The man coughs for a minute, and then he smiles at Draco over Harry’s shoulder, says, “Why, thank you, Mr. Malfoy. What an unexpectedly merciful spirit you’ve got.”

There’s a ringing pause, and then:

“Do you know what,” says Draco, voice flat and unyieldingly cold, “one punch couldn’t hurt.”

Harry hits the man so hard his own hand hurts, so hard he can’t quite control his follow through, scrapes his knuckles raw on the edge of the window frame just next to his face. It’s worth it; for the sound he makes, for the blood he spits out of his mouth, but for the satisfied little sigh from Draco, most of all.

“Tell me what the fuck you’ve been doing here,” Harry growls, low. “Right now.”

“Harry, Harry, Harry,” says the man, and there it is again — Harry knows he’s never heard this voice before, but he can’t shake the sense that he’s talked to the person underneath the shimmer of the glamour, knows him somehow. “You’re really not very good at this, are you? I know you don't have backup coming, and you've already played the rest of your hand — poor child, it’s not your fault. All you ever knew was brute force and dogged persistence, wasn’t it? You weren’t supposed to be an Auror. You weren’t supposed to live long enough.”

Harry doesn’t really care about any of this, could give a shit about some criminal spitting up painful truths that Harry himself accepted long ago, but Draco snaps, “You shut the fuck up right now or I’ll let him murder you. There’s a lovely spot in the back garden where we could bury your body; no one would ever know.”

“Oh, this is interesting,” their captive breathes, looking to Draco and then back at Harry, a speculative expression on his false features. “Harry, you’re not even wearing shoes — what, did you Apparate straight from your bed to answer the Call? And Mr. Malfoy, if I didn’t know better I’d say you were more concerned with Harry Potter’s feelings than you are with exacting revenge. It’s hardly very Slytherin, is it? Most damning, boys, most damning, no matter which way you slice it.”

“How’s this for Slytherin,” Draco says, voice raised a little, the edge of hysteria in it, “shut up and answer his fucking questions or I’ll kill you myself!”

“You know,” says the man, “I don’t think I will.”

“Oh, you will,” Harry says. “Or, if you don’t, your friend in the hall with the crushed windpipe will — well, it’ll probably be a while before he can talk. Maybe he can write it all down on a piece of paper for us or something. Because when I take you in — ”

“You won’t be taking either one of us in,” says the man, very calm.

“That,” says Harry, “is so very wrong,” but before he can say anything further the man yells, “It’s now, Em!” and headbutts Harry hard in the forehead.

Harry takes the hit with all the grace his training’s taught him, falling back only the barest half-step — but that half-step’s enough. The man vanishes, smiling, into thin air, nothing left of him but the telltale whoosh of a recently departed Portkey. Harry swears, runs out into the hall, and finds his compatriot is gone too, probably by the same mechanism; a Portkey worn close to the skin, the strategy favored by highly-trained wizarding assassins who want a back door exit if they get picked up on the scene of a hit.

“God fucking damn it,” Harry yells, loud enough that his voice reverberates down the halls.

He should have seen it. He should have anticipated it, the Portkey, but he didn’t because he’s not smart enough, not good enough, they’re gone again and it’s Harry’s fault. Draco’s not safe here, Harry had the chance to keep him safe and he missed it, he fucked it up, he fucked it up and let the bastards go and he should have killed him, killed them both, it would have been worth whatever the fuck it cost him and —

Harry wheels around to punch a wall and — stops. Remembers, all at once, that it’s not the wall’s fault; that he’d be hurting the house, which helped him, which he’s only ever done wrong by, before; that he would be hurting Draco. It takes everything in him, but he unclenches his fist, places his palm flat against the wall instead, tries to imagine he can feel the current of the house’s magic pulsing underneath the whorls of his fingertips. He takes deep, steadying breaths and waits for Draco to say — whatever he’s going to say. Something pithy about how Harry’s clearly deranged, probably, but isn’t it nice that he’s developed a rudimentary grasp of basic self control.

Nothing comes.

Harry looks up and realizes that Draco — isn’t next to him. That Draco is still in the bedroom. That there are frenetic-sounding little crashes coming from the bedroom. That Harry still doesn’t know what caused the massive crash he heard outside. That Harry is being selfish.

He shakes himself, drops his hand, and goes in after Draco.

The answer to what caused the crash he heard outside is apparent immediately; Harry doesn’t know how the hell he didn’t notice it before. The far wall of the room has been blown clean through; all that remains is debris, a few determinedly clinging wooden panels, and a gaping hole leading into what must be the master bathroom.

Harry can’t believe that a month ago he was talking about someone doing this like it wouldn’t matter, like it would be fine. The hole is more than just hole, visibly and palpably, and he feels dizzy for a second to look at it; sick. He thinks that maybe he wasn’t imagining it a minute ago, that feeling of magic pulsing under his fingertips — maybe the house is bleeding, the only way it knows how. Certainly Harry feels, standing here in this room, the pervasive, creeping sense of dread he associates with hospital and battlefields, busts gone very wrong. This is a wound, and a grievous one. Harry’s chest hurts just looking at it.

Of course, then he lays eyes on Draco, and thinks that first bout of chest pain was nothing.

Harry thought — he got swept up in the moment, Draco’s hand on his shoulder, the way he said “Harry. This isn’t you,” in that calm, collected voice. He got swept up in Draco’s whole — thing. He seems so in control most of the time, like he’s got everything figured out, or at least like he’s got so much more figured out than Harry that it might as well be everything, and whatever he doesn’t have quite managed is just a wash. Harry knows, has always known, that it’s maybe a bit of a facade; Draco’s not quite as good at it as he thinks he is, and Harry sees the cracks sometimes, notes them. In some ways he’s been looking for them since he was eleven, so. It’s not like the fact that they’re there is really a surprise.

He forgot, is all. He forgot — or maybe never truly let himself recognize — that the reason Draco puts it up in the first place is that what’s underneath is the same deep well that fuels his endless talking, his endless research, the way he went and stood on a sidewalk in Muggle London and wriggled like a fish for two days out of sheer determination to find something everyone else abandoned long ago. Draco is intense and incessant, full stop, and Harry knows that, has known it for weeks now, but it hadn’t occurred to him to push that thought to its logical conclusion, to think about what it must be like sometimes inside of that forever babbling brain.

It’s occurring to him now, though. He can’t seem to make it stop.

Draco is shaking. Visibly; badly. The ropes are still trailing from his ankles and wrists. He is flitting from drawer to cabinet to dresser to nightstand, opening doors and pulling things out at random, tossing them aside, moving to another spot and starting again. He’s looking for something; he’s gasping for breath. He’s heavily favoring his left side.

“Malfoy,” Harry says.

“Oh!” Draco says. He turns, and his eyes are wild; bright. Narrowing dangerously. He always does try to hurt when he’s hurting. “Oh, are you done now? I’m sorry I couldn’t attend to your little breakdown, I’m a bit busy in here, it turns out it’s very difficult to find things by hand and seeing as they took my wand — ”

“What are you looking for?” Harry says.

“I don’t need your help,” Draco cries, and it’s such an obvious lie, so utterly transparent, that it’s all Harry can do not to go over to him and call him on it. The only thing that holds him back is knowing how desperately Draco wants to believe that it’s true; Harry can’t bear, after all of this, to be the one to force him to admit that it’s not. “I need the potion — I need my wand — ”

“Here,” Harry says, and holds out his own.

Draco stares at the wand; stares at Harry. Stalks over and rips the thing out of his hand. Snaps, “Accio Draught of Peace,” and then, louder, “Accio Draught of Peace,” and then, in a voice so thready and badly concealing desperation that Harry nearly snatches the wand back rather than see it disappoint him, “Accio Draught of Peace.”

Nothing happens. Draco makes a horrible, high pitched keening noise, drops the wand, backs up until he hits the wall opposite the hole, and slides to the floor.

“They took it again,” he says. His voice has a quality to it that Harry’s never heard before — he talks fast, sometimes, often, but not like this. Right now Draco sounds like he’s taking in too much air and not enough, the words tumbling out from between his lips breathy and too close together, each one of them an obvious choking hazard. “They took it again, Potter, what the fuck kind of thieves are these? Who does this to someone, why would you go out of your way to —  are they just — sadists! Is that all it comes down to! Or is this personal, do they just hate me that much, I can’t breathe, I — “

He stops, his gaze fixing on the hole where the wall once was, and as his breathing picks up too much for him to even speak Harry realizes that he’s having a panic attack. Hermione used to, sometimes, over really big homework assignments and in the Forest of Dean; Harry used to, sometimes, in moments when nothing much was happening, after the war was over. Ron usually dealt with Hermione’s and Harry usually dealt with his own, which is to say he mostly didn’t deal with them, just gasped and cried and threw things and then, afterwards, cleaned it all up in silent, empty-feeling misery and went about his day.

Still, he knows the territory, and the important thing, Harry thinks, is that he, himself, remain calm. Somebody has to be calm here. Somebody has to show Draco how.

Harry hesitates for only a moment and then crouches down in front of Draco, settles his weight on his knees. “You can breathe,” he says, and then, when this has no effect, considers what approach Draco might try on him and adds, “you idiot.” This, too, does nothing, and when Harry says, “Malfoy,” Draco doesn’t even look round. Harry can hear the labor in his every inhalation, the work it’s taking him just to get a little air, and the urgency of the situation overrides Harry’s desperate grasping for what he’s supposed to do, his fear of getting it wrong. It pushes him back onto his instincts, which, anyway, is really where he belongs.

“Draco,” Harry says.

Draco’s eyes snap to his — they’re too-wide, brimming with panic, and they move to look back at the hole almost immediately. Harry moves too, his whole body, to keep himself in Draco’s eyeline. To get in Draco’s way.

“Draco,” he says again. It’s the gentlest voice he can come up with, but it mostly sounds like a rasp, as hushed and hurting as the rest of the room. He keeps going anyway. “Look at me. Okay? Don’t look at that; look at me. Can you do that?”

Slowly, without breaking eye contact, Draco nods.

“Okay,” Harry says. “Okay.” He thinks for a second, and then reaches out and picks up one of Draco’s hands; Draco draws in a breath as he does that hitches so horribly that Harry has to bite down on a wince. Then Draco’s eyes fix on the rope around his wrist and Harry has to say it again: “Draco, don’t look at that, look at me. Stay right here with me, okay?” He thinks about asking Draco to say it, the way Draco had asked him to say he wasn’t going to hurt his fucking torturer — it helped Harry, but he’s not sure they need the same things. Anyway, he doubts Draco could get it out.

He trusts his instincts. He takes Draco’s hand and presses it, holds it, to his own chest. He keeps himself in Draco’s eyeline and he draws in deep, even breaths, releases them steady and slow. He waits for Draco to follow.

“This isn’t — going to work — Potter,” Draco chokes out. Harry does not point out that it’s working already, that a minute ago Draco couldn’t even find it in himself to speak, because that’s not what this is about. He just keeps breathing, and after another minute Draco manages to say, “Get out.” He sounds like he means it, but his fingers betray him, closing around Harry’s pajama top in a white-knuckled grip.

“No,” Harry says, a little helplessly. He couldn’t leave Draco here like this if Draco wanted him to, and, anyway, Harry knows that he doesn’t. “I won’t.”

Draco makes this strangled little sound that might be the ghost of a laugh; Harry can’t tell. “I don’t want — you — to see this,” he gasps, and Harry’s heart breaks for him, a little, that he’s still this unbearably proud person, even now.

“I’m sorry,” Harry whispers, and means it. “But I’m staying.” Adds, in case it’ll help: “I’ll let you Obliviate me after, if you want.”

With a noise like a wounded animal, Draco capitulates; he rocks forward, makes as if he wants to curl in on himself, and Harry moves without thinking so his head hits Harry’s shoulder instead. Harry lifts the hand he isn’t using to hold Draco’s wrist to rest on Draco’s back, and he feels Draco’s free hand wrap up and around his biceps. His fingers are digging in a little too hard, but Harry doesn’t mind. Harry would probably let him do a lot worse than this if it meant he’d be all right.

Neither one of them says anything for a long time. Draco chokes and gasps for breath, hyperventilates, and Harry forces himself to keep his own breathing even, measured. He runs the flat of his palm up and down Draco’s back, tries to will it to stop heaving under his hand with slow, deliberate strokes. He’s never done anything like this before, not for anyone — Ginny’d asked him to hold her, once, after a nightmare, but she’d just been a bit unsettled and was asleep again in about 45 seconds, so Harry doesn’t think it counted. This is — awful, Harry thinks, and better than doing nothing, and strange, above all else. He didn’t know his body could contain this many warring feelings, concern and sorrow and helplessness thick in his throat even as he thinks that his knees hurt, or notices that Draco’s hair smells faintly of soap.

It’s probably about fifteen minutes. It feels like fifteen years.

When, finally, Draco’s breathing starts to even out, he uses the hand he’s got on Harry’s chest to shove him backwards, away. Harry nods, understanding, even though he can see that Draco’s eyes are closed, and busies himself with untying the knotted ropes around Draco’s wrists and ankles. It’s more laborious that Harry expected it to be — it’s thick rope, coarse, it’s no wonder it rubbed his skin raw — and when he finishes and looks up, Draco is looking back at him.

And the expression on his face is so — Harry’s never seen him like this, completely open, a raw nerve. He knows that’s because Draco’s never wanted him to see it, and probably doesn’t want him to now; Harry should look away, but he can’t. He can’t, because what’s sketched out plain as day for Harry to see is misery, sure, and resignation, but also, unmistakably, affection. Incredulous, disbelieving affection, like Harry is a mirage that has appeared before Draco in a desert, but affection all the same.

It’s somehow the single most captivating thing Harry’s ever seen. He couldn’t break Draco’s gaze if he tried.

It’s Draco who drops his eyes after a minute, mouth pulling into a strange, unreadable shape, and Harry, at long last, takes his weight off his knees. He folds himself down into a more comfortable position on the hardwood floor, and wandlessly Banishes the ropes.

“D’you want to Obliviate me?” Harry says at last.

Draco gives him a long, considering look, and then, slowly, shakes his head.

“Okay,” Harry says — like he wouldn’t have minded either way, but secretly very relieved. “D’you want me to heal you?”

Draco makes a face at him, which Harry chooses to interpret as meaning not yet

“Okay,” Harry says. “D’you want… some tea?”

At this Draco actually laughs, though it comes out vaguely wheezing; pained. “Of all the things I never would have pegged you as, Potter, a feeder is pretty high on the list.”

Smiling slightly — glad, if nothing else, that Draco has not abandoned forever all power of speech — Harry shrugs. “Everybody has to eat, Malfoy. Come on.”

“Oh,” Draco says, and frowns. “What if… you brought me the tea?”

Harry hates to say it when Draco’s so obviously not in a state to do much more that sit in a heap, but: “I don’t, er. Sorry, but... I don’t know that you should be in here by yourself, just now.”

“Oh,” Draco says. He nods, a slow, distant sort of movement. “Yeah, that’s probably right.”

Harry stands. Picks up his wand. Helps Draco up. Keeps himself firmly between Draco and the agonized, horrible hole in his house. Turns him around. Guides him out into the hall.

“You need St. Mungo’s,” Harry says, after about six steps. Draco’s still favoring his left side, heavily enough that Harry is afraid to step more than a few inches away, his hands hovering nervously in the places he thinks Draco looks most likely to fall. The bruising on his face alone is a horrorshow, and Harry doesn’t want to think about the injuries his pajamas must be concealing, what they might have done to Draco in the time it took Harry to show up.

“I don’t take medical advice from people who aren’t wearing shoes,” says Draco, still distant. “Contact me again when you’re properly attired.”

Harry makes a face at the back of his head that he’s glad Draco can’t see. He’s not sure what it must look like; he knows he’s never made it before. “At least let me — “

“Shhh,” Draco says.

Harry shuts up, if only because it’s the only time Draco’s ever missed an opportunity to tell him viciously and actively to shut up, and Harry thinks that probably means something. He just trails Draco down the hall, down the stairs — which is nerve-wracking, to say the least — and into the little sitting room with the wet bar.

When Draco can’t sit down without gasping, Harry’s patience wears thin, and he snaps, “Malfoy, for fuck’s sake, it’ll take me two seconds.” Draco hesitates and then nods, weary, waves a hand. The vague permission is all Harry needs, and he spells the blood off Draco’s face, casts a couple of pain relief charms that he learned early on in his career, mostly from other field Aurors who’d come, over the years, to rely on them. They’re only a stopgap; they’re not really fixing the problem, but they’ll give Draco a couple of hours, at least, to gather himself back together before he submits to the indignity of being seen by an actual professional.

“You still need St. Mungo’s,” Harry says, because he does.

“You know what I have always imagined about you,” Draco says, closing his eyes, “is that you’re the kind of horrifyingly stubborn imbecile who won’t go to hospital even if one of his bones is visible. I’m right, aren’t I? You’d rather bleed to death in an alley, probably, than just go to a Healer and admit you’re made of flesh like everyone else.”

Harry’s not really sure what Draco’s getting out of turning it around on him like this, but, hey, if it helps. “Yeah, well. It’s not the same when it’s me.”

“Why not?” Draco’s eyes are still closed. His voice is very neutral.

Because I don’t feel like this when it’s me, Harry doesn’t say. He thinks it — the truth of it scrabbles wild, dangerous, inside of his chest — but he doesn’t say it. It doesn’t make enough sense right now for him to admit it out loud.

“Because I’m not made of flesh like everyone else,” Harry says. “I’m, er. A very convincing hologram?”

Draco doesn’t open his eyes, but his brow does furrow a bit. “What on earth is a hologram?”

“A Muggle thing,” Harry says. It’s such an incredibly bizarre topic in the circumstances that he almost laughs. “Like — television, sort of, except more…. solid, I guess. You have seen a television before, right?”

“Of course I’ve seen a television,” Draco says. He’s still neutral — no, Harry realizes. Not neutral; flat. Affectless. It’s awful. “Pansy has two. I’m not sure I see the appeal.”

“Er,” Harry says. He thinks about it, and then — because he thinks Draco would be honest with him, if their places were reversed — he says, “Well, actually they’re pretty great for moments like these. Distracting, you know?”

“Hmm,” says Draco, more of a hum than a word. “Perhaps I’ll get one. For next time.”

“There isn’t going to be a next time,” Harry says, trying to sound soothing and not like the thought of this happening again makes him want to set things on fire, and Draco’s eyes open.

“Oh, don’t be ridiculous, Potter, of course there’s going to be a next time,” he snaps. It’s nice to hear a bit of tone coming back into his voice, even if that tone is somewhere between ‘withering’ and ‘full up with abject despair.’ “They didn’t get what they wanted, and, as I’m sure you overheard, they’re perfectly happy to murder me for it. Maybe it’s silly to buy the television after all,” he adds, voice going scathing, bitter. “Seeing as I probably won’t live long enough to use it.”

“Nobody is murdering anyone,” Harry says, too harsh, the very idea sending a flare of white-hot fury down his spine. Then he catches sight of Draco’s trembling hands and takes a deep breath, tries again for soothing, for calm. “Look, we’ll — we’ll put a detail on the door again, and — ”

“Oh, what, for another week?” Draco sneers at him, eyes hard. “Well, isn’t that lovely, a few days to get my affairs in order! I’ll owl my solicitor, I’m sure he’ll be thrilled.”

“I’ll stay, then,” Harry says. The words come out of his mouth unbidden, but it’s what he wants — he knows it the minute he hears it. He doubts, now that he thinks about it, that he could find it within himself to leave Draco here alone. “You said yourself that there’s plenty of rooms. I’ll stay until it’s done.”

Draco’s mouth, which was open around whatever inevitable diatribe he meant to come next, snaps closed. He blinks at Harry, inscrutable, for a long moment, and then says, in a voice smaller and stranger than any Harry’s ever heard him use, “Potter, you can’t.”

“Sure I can,” Harry says. “I’m — oh, what was it — a grown man in the prime of my life. I can do whatever I like.”

“But,” Draco says, a little helplessly, “you’re — I can’t ask you to — “

“You’re not asking,” Harry says. He offers Draco a crooked smile, a little shrug. “I’m offering. I want to.”

Draco’s mouth opens slightly, and then closes again. He looks like maybe he needs a minute with that, so Harry walks over to the wet bar, wondering if it will provide him with tea; he doesn’t really relish the thought of letting Draco out of his sight, just now. He puts his hands down on the smooth wooden surface, closes his eyes, and thinks hard about a kettle, two cups, and some teabags.

When he opens them, two steaming mugs of butterbeer are sitting in front of him instead. Harry grins at them, delighted; they’re a much better idea than the tea was.

“I suppose it would get you out of that hovel you insist on calling home,” Draco says. “Temporarily, at least.”

Harry rolls his eyes at the butterbeer — typical — but hey, if acting like he’s the one doing Harry the favor is what gets the job done, then so be it.

“Sure, Malfoy,” he says, carrying their mugs across the room. He hands one of them to Draco, ignoring his raised eyebrow at how very much it isn’t tea, and sits down in the chair he’s come to think of as his own with the other. “Maybe it’ll even force me to see the folly of my ways, find someplace better. Lead by example, and all that.”

“Stop humoring me,” Draco snaps. He sounds genuinely angry for a second, but when Harry glances at him the emotion drains out of his face, leaves him looking nothing more than wan, tired. He takes a long sip of his butterbeer and sighs. “Look. I know… I mean, you saw… I’m aware that I’m not exactly. Doing well. In this moment.”

“So?” says Harry.

“So,” Draco spits, like it’s costing him money, “you’re an insufferable Gryffindor lunatic with a borderline-clinical incapability of leaving well enough alone. You like to save people, Potter. It’s your whole — thing. I will admit, because I don’t have much choice, that I need — ” Draco stops, pales, swallows hard. Continues, voice uneven, after a moment: “I’ll admit that it would be better, for right now, if you were here. But what I will not have, what I flatly refuse to allow, is this — this — mollycoddling!”

He gives Harry a severe look over the rim of his butterbeer, which Harry is not planning on telling him is quite a bit less intimidating than he’s clearly intending, what with the cut on his cheek and the bruises blooming across his jaw and temple, and all. “You will talk to me like you usually do or you will not talk to me at all,” Draco declares, and then, clearly as an afterthought, adds, “you horrible one-man assault on self-preservation and sense.”

“I thought I was a savior complex in ill-fitting trousers,” says Harry, mildly, after a moment.

Draco huffs out a faint laugh. “That too.”

“Well,” Harry says, “in that case. Er. Fuck you, Malfoy?”

Draco sighs and seems to relax, his body sinking into the cushions of his chair. “Thank you, Potter.” He reaches for the pocket of his pajama bottoms, pats around for a moment, and then scowls so intensely that Harry startles a little. “Kreacher!”

Kreacher appears with a crack. Before he can even say anything, Draco says, “Good, yes, hello, if you could get me my spare wand from the... ”

He trails off, his eyes fixed with horror in the same place that Harry’s are: on the large, angry-looking lump sticking out of the top of Kreacher’s head. That answers the question of why Kreacher hadn’t come to get Harry immediately, at least; they must have cold-cocked him too, to keep him from defending the house. Harry’s not surprised that he didn't see the injury of the darkness of his own bedroom, but he’s furious, and he wishes he had known. He wouldn’t have waited around to go after Draco, of course — he doesn’t think he would have been capable of it — but he’d have summoned or gone looking for Kreacher before now if he’d known he was hurt.

“Oh, Kreacher,” Draco says, sounding sick. He reaches out like he’s going to try and touch the lump, and Kreacher shies away, quivering, with a pained little noise. “No, I’m — if you’d just let me see, one of us can heal it for you.”

“Kreacher does not deserve healing!” Kreacher sobs, collapsing into a heap on the ground. “Kreacher allowed this to happen! Kreacher was laying asleep on the floor while thieves were upstairs blowing holes in the house! While thieves were upstairs hurting Master Draco!” He lets out a long, hiccuping wail and adds, at the top of his voice, “Master Draco should throw Kreacher into the well!”

“I,” Draco says, clearly nonplussed. “I — don’t want to throw you into the well, Kreacher.”

“It’s not your fault,” Harry adds, because he’s dealt with a hysterical, guilt-riddled house-elf a time or two in his day. You got them, sometimes, at the higher-end crime scenes, and also — though it pains Harry even now to think of it — Dobby had been an education. “You weren’t asleep; they hit you. They knocked you out.”

“Then they got the better of Kreacher and Kreacher deserves the well even more!” Kreacher says, and stares up at Harry with desperation in his eyes. “Kreacher is sorry, but Harry Potter does not understand the severity of Kreacher’s crimes! It is Kreacher’s job to sound the Call, it is Kreacher’s job to protect the house, Kreacher failed and the House is wounded and the Master is wounded and Kreacher should be wounded too!”

“Kreacher is wounded,” Harry reminds him gently, because Draco looks pale and ill and vaguely panicked again, and there’s not really any reason for him to have to deal with this, since Harry can. He holds up his wand, wiggles it a little. “What about this? You let me fix you up — hold on, don’t yell yet — and then you can go get Master Draco’s spare wand for him, because that would be a big help. And I’m sure, after that, that the house would probably really like it if you… talked? To it? Or, er. Communed... with it? Or — look, whatever, I don’t really know the right words for, er. All of that. But I’m sure it would like it,” Harry adds, his voice having grown very uncertain by now. He’d been sort of going on the theory that people experiencing heartache need something to do — it’s one of Hermione’s, and it’s turned out to be pretty true over the years, actually a number of times — but he’s not sure it’s going to work after such a weak finish.

There’s a beat of silence, and then, croakily — but not sobbing anymore — Kreacher says, “Okay, Harry Potter.” He submits without argument to Harry’s healing spells, and vanishes with his customary crack the minute Harry’s done.

“Commune with it, hmm?” Draco says, clearly entertained.

“Oh, piss off,” Harry mutters, a little embarrassed, even if it is kind of worth it to see some light in Draco’s eyes. “It’s not like I know what they get up to. I just figured — “

“No, it was good,” Draco says. “I mean. Funny, don’t get me wrong, but — I usually can’t get him to let one of those guilt spirals go that quickly.”

Harry shrugs. “Kreacher and I go back a long time,” he says, and winces. “Not… totally in a good way. Sirius was kind of — and then I was kind of — well, and then he was kind of — but it wasn’t his fault, really. I think I might’ve done what he did, too, now that I know what I know.”

“Was any of that supposed to make sense to me?” Draco says, exasperated now. “Or are you just talking to yourself?”

“I guess I was just saying,” Harry says, a little pointedly, “that sometimes, when you’ve got a lot of history with someone, they hear things a bit differently from you than they might from other people.”

Draco’s eyes widen slightly, but before he can reply, Kreacher cracks back into the room holding…

Holding Draco’s hawthorn wand.

“Thank you, Kreacher,” Draco says. He is, Harry notes, very pointedly not looking at Harry; Harry does not blame him. He wouldn’t be looking at himself, either, if he were in Draco’s position. “Please let me know if there’s anything you need, all right?”

Kreacher makes a little wailing sound, but then he nods and vanishes again, leaving Harry and Draco to sit in silence for a long moment.

“So,” Harry says at last. “You did get it.”

It was maybe two years after the war when Harry found the wand — it was in a trunk of things he’d packed away six days after the Battle of Hogwarts, all the books and mementos and tools he’d associated, back then, with fighting Voldemort. He hadn’t wanted to look at them, hadn’t wanted to touch or see them, hadn’t felt like he even deserved to use them, when so many were dead and he was alive. It had helped, weirdly, for a while, keeping those things locked away; it felt like a small penance that made the act of walking around, of breathing, ever-so-slightly more manageable. Then he’d kind of… well, he’d forgotten about them, not to put too fine a point on it. They were out of sight and out of mind, and when he did eventually stumble across the trunk, shrunk down and hidden in the very back of his spice cupboard, it didn’t hurt so much to look at all of it.

He felt a bit guilty, though, when he pulled out the hawthorn wand and remembered who it belonged too. They weren’t anything back then, Harry and Draco, except what they’d always been — childhood rivals, and people who inexplicably kept saving each other from horrible deaths, and the only two living witnesses to the time Harry nearly accidentally committed murder in a bathroom, which was another thing he felt guilty about. He’d spoken for Draco at his trial, because it was the right thing to do and because Draco really had played a part, however small, in turning the tide of the war — and, a little, because the idea of Draco locked away in Azkaban made Harry feel… something. Unsettled; discomfited; unbalanced; something. They’d seen each other in the hallway that day, after Draco was acquitted, their eyes locking for a second through the crowd that poured out of the courtroom. Harry’d thought about walking over, saying something, but in the end he hadn’t been able to figure out what.

Anyway, that was the last time Harry had even seen Draco when he found the wand, and by that point he Ginny were right in the middle of breaking up. That was why he was cleaning out the spice cabinets in the first place; she kept insisting he’d taken all his cooking shit back from hers already and Harry didn’t want to believe it, wanted to be petty and stupid and insist that he’d gone through everything and determined she was holding on to his paprika, or something. It was stupid, and he felt stupid about it, and then he found the wand and he felt stupid about that too, and he just… didn’t have it in him to track Draco down and give it back properly. It was kind of selfish and shitty of Harry, because he knew the wand probably wouldn’t work right unless they did the whole — whatever — the allegiances thing, but, well. He figured it had been two years, and Draco had almost certainly found another wand, and it wasn’t Harry’s job to make sure this one performed for him the way it once did. He figured just giving it back would have to be enough.

He chucked it in a box, and then, because he did still feel a little guilty, because he couldn’t help himself, he wrote a little note that said, “Here. Sorry. If you have any issues please contact me. -HP” with his address scrawled at the bottom. Then he gave the box to the Auror mailroom, because they could find anybody, and went on with his bloody life.

Draco never got back to him. He never Flooed or owled, not even to say that the wand wasn’t working right anymore, which had to be the case, Harry knew. It drove him quietly mad for about six months, wondering if Draco was just going to — pop up, one day; wondering why he hadn’t. Then he decided not to think about it anymore, and he pretty much hasn’t, since.

It’s becoming very clear to him now, though, that what he long since decided was the most likely option — to wit, that Draco had simply not gotten his package, and has thought all this time that Harry had maybe dropped the wand in the Thames or something — is not what happened at all.

Draco doesn’t say anything for several long moments, just turns the wand over and over between his fingers. It’s strange to see — Harry’s gotten so used to the dogwood one he carries now that he’d forgotten the way the slightly darker wood looks in Draco’s hand. For a second Harry almost expects him to… oh, he doesn’t know. Cast a Jelly Legs at him, or something.

Then Draco clears his throat and looks at Harry, something wry and almost apologetic in his twisted little smile, and Harry is too consumed with trying to figure out the man he is now to dwell on the child he once was.

“I did think about writing, you know,” Draco says. He rolls the wand between the palms of his hands and sighs. “I started to, even, a couple of times. But I couldn’t — I didn’t know what I would even say. After the trial, and… ”

He trails off, and Harry takes pity on him after a second and nods; he knows what Draco means. He means after the trial, and the Fiendfyre, and the incident at the Manor, and the incident in the bathroom, and Dumbledore, and Narcissa, and Snape, and all the other stuff they don’t ever really talk about. He means after the war, and Harry doesn’t need him to drag all that up, especially not tonight. It’s long over. It won’t change anything now.

“I think maybe I would have, if it wasn’t for the house,” Draco admits. “Blasted wand never did cast quite the same, and I always rather wanted to ask you about that, but… I figured you didn’t know it was me that bought this place. I kind of... did my best to make sure you wouldn’t find out, while I was buying it. And then, after — I mean, it would have been easy enough for you to figure it out if you wanted to, and when I got the wand I just kind of assumed you hadn’t.” He shrugs, looking uncomfortable. “I thought… Pandora’s box, you know?”

For a second, Harry wants to say that he doesn’t. For a second, Harry wants to snap, “No, Malfoy, I’ve actually got no idea, but thanks for assuming I would’ve been reflexively horrible to you, it’s great to hear that your opinion of me was so high.” For a second Harry wants to stand up and walk out of the house and just — take a couple of fucking breaths, or something, because sometimes Draco is so frustrating that it’s all Harry can do not to tear all his own hair out. Harry can’t believe he hasn’t mentioned it over this month and change they’ve spent getting to know each other, and if he’s honest it hurts, a little — not that Draco hadn’t said anything when they were nineteen and idiots, but that he hasn’t said anything now, when they’re twenty-five and… well. And still idiots, probably, but older ones.

But then Harry looks at Draco, the unhappy slant to his mouth, the way his eyes are looking anywhere but at Harry, and realizes: Draco is telling him, right now. This is Harry’s opportunity not to do what Draco was afraid of in the first place.

“I get it,” Harry says. Draco whips his head up to glare at him at once, and Harry even laughs a little, shaking his head. “God, you suspicious little freak, I’m not — mollycoddling you, or whatever. Stop looking at me like that; I mean it. I get it. I almost didn’t send it to you, and I definitely wouldn’t have if I’d, I don’t know, bought Malfoy Manor and turned it into a restaurant, or something.”

Draco rolls his eyes, but he looks relieved. “Malfoy Manor would make a terrible restaurant, Potter. The layout’s all wrong, and it’s far too large, and it wasn’t for sale, anyway.”

Harry shrugs a shoulder. “Still. It’s fine; it was a long time ago.” He pauses, and then, a little awkward, adds, “I do, er, probably know why it never worked the same way again, though.”

Draco raises one eyebrow, the corner of his mouth. “Do tell.”

Harry figures it’ll be a lot easier to just show him, so he offers Draco his own wand, hold his other hand out, palm up. “Trade me for a second?”

After a long, wary look, Draco complies. The hawthorn wand feels good in Harry’s hand, an old, familiar friend; it still thinks of him as its master, not Draco, and Harry enjoys the feeling just for a moment, knowing that it will be the last time.

“Disarm me,” Harry says.  

“One of your eyes is very slightly larger than the other one,” says Draco.

Harry blinks. It takes him a second to recognize the self-satisfied expression on Draco’s face, and then a second more to actually get the joke. When he does he groans, rolls his eyes, and waves the hawthorn wand in the air a little despairingly. “For fuck’s sake, Malfoy, I meant — “

Expelliarmus,” Draco says, eyes glittering, because he’s never missed an opportunity in his life to be an annoying little git and Harry shouldn’t have expected him to start now. The wand flies through the air, and Harry can almost feel its allegiance tug loose from his fingertips with it, over to Draco, where it belongs.

Draco snatches it out of the air like a Snitch. He tosses Harry back his own wand without even looking at him, says, as if to himself, “Could it really be that simple?” and throws a fire into the grate with a curious-sounding, “Incendio.” Flames burst merrily into life, and Draco bursts into laughter, the first genuine laugh Harry’s heard from him all night.

“I’m sorry,” Draco says, “I just — the sensation is just so strange. It’s like being fifteen again.” Then he looks at Harry, and, quieter, his smile going small and a little wry, adds, “Well. Not quite.”

Harry grins back at him, broad and easy, and laces his fingers behind his head, settles back in his chair. “What’re you saying there, Malfoy? I mean, what, did you not like me when we were teenagers or something? That’s hurtful, you know. I had nothing but kind and wholesome things to say about you.”

“I don’t like you now, Potter,” Draco says, clearly trying for obnoxiously earnest, but laughing on it a little. “I find you appalling in every respect. Your manners; your personality; your living conditions; your hair. The whole operation is tits-up, and I can’t believe I socialize with you. In short: egads. Alas. Etcetera.”

“Did fifteen year old you say ‘egads’ a lot?” Harry wonders aloud. “I mean, 1500 year old you, sure, that would make sense — “

“You genuinely and without reservation are such a complete horror,” Draco tells him, but he doesn’t bother to hide his smile when he says it, and doesn’t look away for a hanging second when Harry meets his eyes.

They sit in silence for a good while after that, just kind of… decompressing, Harry thinks, from the whole night. It’s nice. Usually Harry starts to feel a little antsy if a period of quiet goes on too long, sure he’s supposed to be doing something, saying something; sure he’s messing the whole thing up, somehow, by missing some cue everyone but him knows. With Draco, just now, it’s… like sitting in a room alone, but better. It’s a bit like sitting in the Gryffindor Common Room, actually, late at night when no one who was still around was actually trying to talk. Harry used to sit and watch the fire for hours on nights when he couldn’t sleep, listening to the sounds of his classmates sneaking to and from each others’ dormitories, or the scratches of their quills on last minute homework.

He looks at Draco, whose legs are stretched out long in front of him, his head tipped back against his chair and his eyes on the dance of the flames. He doesn’t look panicked or resigned or affectless or sorrowful or anything else horrible, just now. He looks comfortable, calm — maybe the calmest Harry’s seen him look this whole month. Maybe the calmest Harry’s ever seen him look. Harry thinks about being fifteen and hating Malfoy more than almost anything, hating Malfoy so much it burned and hissed beneath his skin, and wonders if maybe Draco wasn’t doing this too, back then, down in the Slytherin dungeons. If some nights it hadn’t just been the two of them, at opposite ends of the castle, sitting up alone with the fire.

It’s a ridiculous thought, a silly one. He doesn’t ask Draco about it, because he doesn’t want to find out that he’s wrong.

-

“We should call the Aurors,” Draco says eventually. “To report, you know. All of these unpleasant happenings. Criminals on the loose, and such.”

“Yeah,” Harry says, and sighs. “And you still need St. Mungo’s. Are you sure you’re — ”

“Oh, just call your bloody Aurors, Potter,” Draco snaps, before Harry can get the word ‘ready’ out of his mouth, so Harry shrugs and sends a Patronus.

It’s only about 20 seconds before another one swoops back in, and Harry blinks at it a second, frankly astonished at the response time, before he realizes that it’s a Jack Russell terrier, and Ron’s.

“Harry,” it says, sounding furious, “where in the bloody fuck are you? Hermione’s been attacked. Come to St. Mungo’s the minute you get this.”

It dissolves in the air between him and Draco, who is staring at him, eyes wide. For the second time tonight, Harry doesn’t think; he stands, grabs Draco by one of his wrists, and Apparates them both out of the house.

Chapter Text

“What the fuck, Potter, you complete lunatic!” Draco exclaims, the minute they rematerialize in the lobby of St. Mungo’s. He looks around wildly, as if he can’t believe where he is. “Do you never stop to think for even one second, you can’t just grab somebody like that, neither one of us is wearing shoes — “

Then he gets a look at Harry’s face, and stops talking. He stares at Harry with wide eyes for a moment, and something seems to — settle over him, almost, this sudden shift that wears in his expression, in the set of his shoulders and stance.

“Potter,” Draco says again, and this time it’s low, urgent. “What do you need?”

Harry needs — Harry needs to have gotten Ron’s call earlier. He needs not to be here in the first place, because he needs Hermione to be fine, home asleep in bed, safe. He needs not to have said all that stupid, selfish shit to Draco about Ron and Hermione not two days ago, because he was sad and he was scared and he never expected to be here, right now, not knowing anything except that Hermione was attacked and is in the hospital and Harry hadn’t been there the answer the call, to help.

“I need to find her,” he says, and his voice sounds shredded, a little frightening. He doesn’t care. “Right now.”

Draco nods sharply, grabs Harry’s sleeve, and drags them over to the front desk.

“Hello there,” he says to the witch behind the counter. She looks up calmly from the report on her desk, and then her eyes widen. “My name is Draco, and this is — well, I’m sure you know who this is, and — ”

“Sure, yes, of course,” she says, without waiting for the rest of the sentence. “You need intake forms, give me just a moment, we’re a little backed up tonight but I’m sure,” her eyes flick to Harry, and then quickly back to Draco, “we can get you right in.”

Draco stares at her for a second, thrown, and then snaps, “Oh, for the love of — I don’t need to be admitted, I need to find somebody you’ve already got. We’re looking for Hermione Granger-Weasley, and it’s imperative for — oh, let’s say national security — that we find her.”

“I,” the witch says. She gives Draco a considering look. “Are you sure you don’t need to be admitted?”  

“Lives hang in the balance!” Draco says, throwing his hands in the air. “My god, woman, look who I’m standing here with! When they write about this day in the history books, do you want to be preserved forevermore as the reason evil brought Wizarding Britain to its knees?”

“No, sir!” the witch squeaks. “Sorry, sir!” She gives Harry a panicked look and then flees towards a door marked Records, calling, “I’ll be right back with that information, Mr. Potter, sir!”

“Typical,” Draco mutters, rolling his eyes. “You stand there like a lump while I do all the work and still it’s ‘I’ll be right back with that information, Mr. Potter! You can use my body as a shield, Mr. Potter! All I’ve ever wanted is your love and adoration, Mr. Potter!’ Honestly, it’s enough to turn your stomach.”

Harry doesn’t say anything. He doesn’t really trust himself to speak; his mind is a yawning blank space, all hissing static with the occasional wild thought — She’s dead! They’re both dead! — screaming through too quickly for him to even tell himself he’s panicking, and they're probably wrong.

Draco sighs, and knocks their shoulders together. “Harry,” he say, quiet, but then the witch is back, waving a folder over her head.

“Fourth Floor, Mr. Potter, sir,” she says, breathy from running, while next to Harry Draco mutters something that sounds a lot like, "Enough to make someone lose their bloody lunch."

At a proper volume, and in ingratiating tones, he adds, “Thank you so much for your assistance, madam. Your country will thank you; history will thank you; Mr. Potter and I will just be off on our way in pursuit of truth and justice now.” He drags Harry off down the hall.

“You should’ve had her admit you,” Harry say, hearing the words as he says them as if from a great distance away. “You’re still — I could have — ”

“Oh, honestly, Potter, is it so hard for you to just shut your bloody mouth?” Draco snaps. “And walk faster, I think we’ve got about twelve seconds before someone realizes we’re barefoot and in pajamas and we both get admitted, since we’re clearly insane.”

Harry nods. He walks faster. Draco’s right; by the time they get on the lift, there are at least three people looking at them strangely, and he thinks he hears someone calling, “Hey, you two! Hold on a moment!” as the doors shut.

There’s cheerful, tinny music playing inside, which just feels wrong.

“Fourth Floor’s spell damage,” Harry says, hating the way his voice sounds. It’s miserable and frightened and too quiet against the humming spellwork of the elevator, the horrible little tune. It’s small.

“Yes, and that’s good news,” Draco says, equally hushed. “Your other choices are creature-induced injury, magical disease, and poisoning. Would you rather she was in one of those wards? Spell damage is best-case, you moron. Perhaps she just got hit with the wrong end of a Tickling Charm, and has spent the evening doing nothing more painful than laughing hysterically.”

“I thought we agreed to stop humoring each other,” Harry says, wearily.

Draco knocks their shoulders together again. “You agreed to stop humoring me. I agreed to no such terms and I don’t intended to, either. You’re difficult enough to deal with already, I’m not taking any of my tools out of play. And anyway I have, myself, been hit by a Tickling Charm — by a truly unconscionable bastard, I might add, who had no sympathy for how humiliating it might be to make a twelve year old nearly soil himself with laughter in the middle of what was supposed to be a character-building adversarial experience — ”

“I’m not apologizing for that, Draco,” Harry says, and ignores the startled look Draco gives him at the use of his first name. Harry forgot to filter it; he’s too tired and worried to bother, and it’s not like Draco didn’t just call him Harry out in the hall, anyway. “You hexed me first, and again afterwards, and you were cheating. You threw that first spell before the duel had even officially started.”

“My point,” Draco snaps, ignoring the rest of it the way he usually does when Harry is right, “is that a Tickling Charm is no walk in the park, which I know from horrible, scarring experience, so I wasn’t even humoring you anyway.” The elevator doors slide open on his last word, and Harry can see Ron sitting in a chair at the far end of the hall.

“Ron!” he calls, and takes off in his direction. Ron stands to meet him and they hug, a little awkwardly — Ron starts it and Harry just sort of goes along, even though this is one of those times a hug turns out to happen where he would never have guessed a hug might go, and he feels a bit strange accepting one.

“Where the hell have you been?” Ron demands, as they pull apart. “I sent that damn Patronus across half of London before I thought to try… ” He pauses, looks Harry up and down, and gulps, before he glances over his shoulder and his eyes go wide with surprise. “Malfoy! Merlin’s saggy tit, what happened to you?”

“Oh, everyone’s a critic,” Draco snaps. Harry slides a look over his shoulder — Draco can snap at him all he likes, but not at Ron, not right now — and Draco makes a face, but then says, in a much more pleasant tone, “I mean, good evening, Weasley. Hello, and so on.”

“Grimmauld Place was attacked again,” Harry says, his voice low. “Kreacher came and — we’ll talk about it later. Where’s Hermione? What happened? Is she all right?”

Ron’s face falls. “She’s in with the Healers. I don’t know very much yet — when I found her, it was — ” He pauses, swallows. Pales. Looks away. Harry thinks he’s going to be sick. “It wasn’t good, Harry. She’s alive, but… they won’t tell me anything right now.”

Harry takes the words like a Stunning Spell to the chest; he knows too well what it means, when the best you can say is that someone’s not dead. He knows too well how wrong that means things could go. He sways a little where he stands, sure for a moment that it’s all going to overwhelm him, this whole night of terror and panic and heavy, helpless rage. Ron doesn’t notice, his eyes fixed on a set of swinging doors with Staff Only written above them, but Draco must — he puts a hand on Harry’s back, steps forward so he’s not behind Harry anymore, but right next to him.

Slowly, holding Harry’s gaze, he draws in a deep, slow breath, and then narrows his eyes at Harry, holding it in, until Harry does too. It helps, the clean air rushing into his lungs, the warm weight of Draco’s fingers through his thin pajama shirt. It makes it easier to keep going.

“What can I do?” he asks Ron, and then, recalling Draco’s words from earlier: “What do you need?”

“I,” Ron says. He shakes his head, gives Harry a lost, helpless sort of look, and then stares down at his hands. “Uh. Some company, maybe? I got my mum over to the house for Rosie when I couldn’t reach you, I really didn’t — I probably shouldn’t have kept sending the Patronuses, but.” He shrugs a little without looking up. “It’s. A bit horrible, as it turns out. To just sit and wait alone.”

“Sure,” Harry says, feeling awful and guilty and sorry. “I’m so sorry I didn’t — that I wasn’t there to get your message, I — ”

“Oh, stop,” Ron says. His eyes cut to Draco, and he sighs, shakes his head. “Seems like it was rough all around tonight; I’m sure you had your hands full. You all right there, Malfoy?”

Draco seems badly startled by the question; his hand tightens around Harry’s shirt, and then drops away almost at once. “I, ah. Sure, Weasley. Certainly.”

“No, you’re not,” Harry says, remembering, and turns to face him. The bruising on his face is really miserable in this light, and his stance is going a little lopsided again; Harry’s spells are probably starting to fade. “God, we should have had them admit you, I don’t know what I was thinking — ”

“You were thinking that I was fine,” Draco snaps, “because I was, and I am, and anyway, Potter, they can’t admit me. I have things to do. Someone has to go back to the house and deal with the Aurors we called.”

“Oh,” Harry says. “Fuck; I forgot. I — I’ll just send a Patronus — ”

“Saying what, that you Apparated away from an active crime scene with the victim of said crime twelve seconds after calling them to come?” Draco says, exasperated. “Come on. They’ll think we’ve been taken and you’re sending it under duress. It’s what I’d think.”

“He’s right, Harry,” Ron says, and sighs. “You should go. I’m sure I’ll still be here waiting when you get back, anyway.”

“I,” Harry says, looking desperately between them. He can’t leave; he can’t just abandon Ron here, abandon Hermione, after he wasn’t around to help in the first place. But he can’t let Draco leave, either — Draco needs medical attention, and he’s been through enough tonight, and also Harry’s not sure he can stand to have him out of his immediate line of sight just yet.

“Potter, for god’s sake,” Draco says softly. Harry’s eyes fix on him, and Draco gives him a crooked smile, the same one from the bridge in the glen a few nights before. “You should stay. I’m all right; I’ll go talk to the Aurors, make sure they don’t start up some kind of all-hands-on-deck Boy Who Lived manhunt. Stop looking like that. It won’t even take very long.”

“But,” Harry says, because it’s important, “you’re hurt, you need — “

“Yes, fine, all right, I will come back afterwards and get admitted like a good little assault victim,” Draco says, rolling his eyes. “Does that satisfy your horrific savior complex, or shall I cry a bit about how desperately heroic I find you in your Golden Snitch pajamas? A song and dance routine, perhaps? Maybe I should build a shrine to your bravery out of medical supplies.”

There is a snort of what sounds suspiciously like laughter from Ron, which Harry manfully ignores.

“Piss off, Malfoy,” he says, and if it comes out grateful — well, then Harry just doesn’t much care, does he, right now. “Look, I mean, are you absolutely sure that — ”

“I swear to god,” Draco declares, “you are the most obstinate man on the face of the earth; it beggars belief, it really does,” and then he Apparates directly out of the hall before Harry gets the chance to respond.

“Shut up,” Harry says, reflexively, into the silence that follows.

“I didn’t say anything, mate,” Ron says, the amusement in his voice in fact saying quite a bit, and Harry thinks he would probably have said a lot more if a team of Healers didn’t choose that exact moment to rush someone by on a stretcher.

It’s sobering for both of them, the reminder of where exactly they’re standing abrupt and awful, and for a second they just stand there, making miserable, uncertain eye contact.

Then Ron sighs. “Come on,” he says, and spreads his hands in a helpless, what-are-you-going-to-do sort of gesture, which is all the more wretched for how Harry is used to seeing it after Hermione’s gone off on one and covered the house in buttons and pamphlets for some new cause. “Let’s — let’s go sit down, I suppose.”

They go sit down. Ron drops heavily into a chair, balances his elbows on his knees and puts his head in his hands. Harry sits carefully, looks at the ground, counts the threads in the patterned beige carpeting, and quietly panics. He’s not — he’s not sure what he’s supposed to say to Ron, in this moment; if he should ask again what happened or tell him she’s going to be fine or just say nothing, give him the space to talk if he wants to. It was easier with Draco, Harry thinks a little wildly, which is just — crazy. It’s crazy, because Draco is a childhood enemy that Harry’s only really known about a month and Ron’s his oldest friend, his comrade-in-arms, and his partner of seven years, whatever job title Ron’s holding now.

They’re your family , Harry thinks, in Draco’s voice, and wants, with the pointless longing of a man who hasn’t done so in years, to cry.

“Why don’t you tell me what happened with Malfoy, then,” Ron says, without lifting his head, after a while. His voice is flat; it’s not really a request. “Since we’ve got the time, and all.”

Harry starts a little. “Ron, we don’t — I mean, you can’t want to talk about that right now.”

Ron sits up only to collapse backwards into his chair, press his palms against his eyes for a second, and then shake himself a little, drop his hands back to his sides. “Harry,” he says, “right now, what I want to do is talk about anything but — this.” He closes his eyes briefly, swallows. “Just — just honestly anything else.”

He sounds like he means it — he looks like he means it — and so Harry tells him about the attack on Grimmauld Place, about waking up to Kreacher’s call. He tells Ron about Apparating to the house blindly, without even stopping to get out of bed; about finding Draco tied to the wall; about hearing that rat bastard threaten his life; about catching the intruders only to lose them to Portkeys. He even tells Ron about Draco’s panic attack, though doesn’t mean to, and feels awful the minute he does — it just kind of slips out with the rest of it, because Harry can’t stop thinking about it, but Draco would hate for Ron to know. Ron waves away his pleading and says of course he won’t say anything, and who does Harry think he’s talking to, and Harry lets out a long sigh and tells him about the hole in the wall, the way he and Draco just sat a while, after, and watched the fire, before they called the Aurors.

“I shouldn’t have let him leave,” Harry says, finally, frustrated with himself. He shouldn’t have, he was just — distracted, and overwhelmed, and Draco was being so insistent, and Harry didn’t have it in him to fight. “He was — I mean, you didn’t see him right after, Ron. I cast a couple of pain spells just to take the edge off, but he could barely walk. It was awful.”

It was awful. The whole thing was so awful, this whole night has been so awful, that Harry kind of can’t believe he’s sitting here right now, talking to Ron under the too-bright lights. It’s just — bizarre, the uncomfortable chair, the ugly beige carpeting, the way all of this has happened and they’re still just… the same people they were yesterday, in this place they never expected to find themselves. Two Healers in hospital robes walk by chatting about their plans for the weekend, some party each can’t believe the other one is going to, and as they pass Harry feels a hysterical laugh bubble up inside of him at — just — at the way he and Ron are sitting here in impotent, frantic terror, killing time to avoid thinking about what could be happening, as around them the world simply carries on.

“It’s hard, isn’t it,” Ron says. Harry turns his head to look at him, but Ron’s eyes are fixed on the Staff Only doors again, don’t look like they’re really seeing anything at all. “When you care about someone, and they’re hurting.”

“I don’t — ” Harry starts to say, but, of course, can’t finish the sentence. He can’t say he doesn’t care about Draco; it’s not true, and he knows it’s not true, and he doesn’t even want it to be true, is fiercely glad that it’s not. His life is better for Draco, even if the obnoxious little git drives Harry up a wall half the time. He wouldn’t trade it. He wouldn’t begin to know how to let it go.

That doesn’t mean he wants to admit it to Ron, though. But before he can think of a work-around, some answer to Ron’s question that won’t involve that particular concession, Ron sighs.

“Oh, come on, Harry,” Ron mutters, and it’s not the words that get to him — it’s the tone. He sounds exhausted, not just physically, not just emotionally, but by Harry, or maybe for him. He sounds fed-up, and Harry… Harry thinks about Draco leaning against the bridge, talking about carving out a place for yourself and holding onto the people you love. He thinks about the way he said, “You’re not disqualified just because you’re not a particularly well-adjusted person,” and smiled, that crooked one Harry saw again not half an hour ago. He thinks about Hermione, behind those doors, and the new baby Weasley that’s in there with her, and about Ron, out here, waiting. He thinks about Draco’s back heaving under his palm, the bleeding hole in Grimmauld Place, and… he wants to try.

“Yeah,” Harry says, voice rough, and looks at his hands. “Yeah, it’s really hard.”

They wait a while — Harry couldn’t say how long — and then a Mediwitch walks out and asks Ron to come back with her. They both stand, but the Mediwitch says, “Family only, I’m afraid,” with a pointed look at Harry’s bare feet.

Ron looks a little outraged, a little flummoxed, and Harry says, “No, mate, go on, it’s — of course. Go.”

Ron goes. Harry sits and waits alone for a bit, and then Ginny turns up, and George. They’re both wearing shoes, and coats, and scarves, and Harry bites back the uncharitable thought that they would have been allowed to go back with Ron, even though they took the time to dress themselves, the way Harry didn’t. Harry’s who Ron called, whether he got the message when he should have or not; Harry showed up first, but that doesn’t matter, because they’re family, and Harry isn't. It’s not fair, and, just for a second, he honestly hates them for it.

But then they sit, and Ginny squeezes his hand, and George cracks a couple of vaguely desperate jokes, and Harry is glad for them after all. Glad for their specific warmths and weaknesses; glad not to be alone.

He wonders how Draco’s getting on, and then Neville comes in, and then Arthur and Molly and Rose. Harry holds the baby for a while, passes her to Bill when he shows up, says hi to a haggard-looking Percy and Penelope, leans his head back against the wall. The Weasleys are a force to be reckoned with in any circumstance, and even their low-voiced conversations drown out the sounds of the hospital around them; Harry closes his eyes a minute, tries to let it soothe him. He wonders how long it’s been, thinks he should go check pretty soon — that if it’s been more than an hour or so he needs to go make sure Draco isn’t — well. Whatever. In trouble, or avoiding medical attention, or trapped in endless nervous conversation with Trent, or something.

He doesn’t realize he’s falling asleep until someone’s shaking him awake, hesitantly, a warm hand on his shoulder.

“Hey,” Draco says, when Harry opens his eyes. He’s leaning over Harry and looking rougher than when Harry saw him last; there’s a grey pallor to his skin, dark circles under his eyes, and a crookedness to the way he’s standing, because he’s got all his weight on his right side. He’s smiling, though, small and a little fraught, his eyebrows up over the slice across his cheek, and Harry aches just to look at him, a tight, coiled knot in his chest.

“Hi,” he says, and stretches a little in his chair. “I didn’t mean to fall asleep.”

“People usually don’t, in positions like that,” Draco agrees. Harry realizes a little fuzzily that Draco’s not in pajamas anymore — he’s dressed, wearing soft-looking black trousers and a navy blue sweater that’s too big for him, sleeves hanging down by his thumbs. “Some of us didn’t have time for uncomfortable cat napping, of course. Some of us were much too busy dispatching your deeply tiresome new partner — honest to god, Potter, you could have warned me, he is so terrible. Talking to him was itself an assault.”

“Sorry,” Harry says, a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth.

“Oh, good, yes, laugh at my suffering,” Draco says. Then he smirks, and holds up a black duffel bag which Harry didn’t even realize he was holding. “I’ll tell you what, how about you keep mocking me and I withhold this perfectly serviceable change of clothes I brought you?”

“You — what?” Harry says, blinking. “I — what?”

“Well, if that doesn’t just take the fun right out of it,” Draco mutters, but he tosses Harry the bag anyway. “Clothes, Potter. Shoes. The things that humans wear to differentiate us from the beasts. You’re welcome.”

“I — thanks,” Harry says, a little bewildered, as he opens the bag. It just gets stranger, though, because inside: “These… are my clothes.”

Draco gives him a narrow-eyed look. “Did you take some kind of blow to the head while I was away? I’ve only been gone a few hours! What, was there a madman roaming the halls with a mallet, striking likely-looking people on the head? How many fingers am I holding up?”

“I meant how did you get them,” Harry says, even as he pulls a sweatshirt on over his pajama top. It’s a red one, old and faded, that he bought at a Muggle museum years ago; it’s one of his favorites, and distantly he wonders how the hell Draco’d known.

“Oh, well,” Draco says, waving a hand. “I went to the hovel. Your security is terrible, Potter, you bring shame to the Aurors, breaking in was not even hard.” He meets Harry’s startled eyes and falters, just for a second, before he continues, “Anyway, I’ll never step foot in that benighted space again, it's genuinely tragic. I regret ever even thinking that you might prefer your own clothes while you waited with,” he looks to his left, and then, faintly, as if noticing them now for the first time, “...the, uh. Entire Weasley clan, apparently?”

“Hi Draco,” says Neville, with a commiserating little frown. “Looks like you had a rough night too, huh?”

“Yeesh, yeah,” Bill says, nodding at him with a grimace. “You all right there, Malfoy?”

Draco looks possibly even more gobsmacked then he did when Ron said it, but it does, at least, jerk Harry back to wakefulness enough to remind him that he’s got things to do. He pulls on his shoes while Draco is saying, “Uh, yes, I’m — just great, thanks,” and then stands, throws his jeans over his shoulder for later.

“You’re not great,” Harry says firmly. “You’re getting admitted. Right now.”

“Oh, fine,” Draco says, sullen. Then he looks Harry up and down and, smirking, adds, “That’s quite a look, Potter.”

“Shut it, Malfoy, I’ll finish changing in a minute,” Harry says, rolling his eyes. To the Weasleys, a little awkwardly, he adds, “Sorry, I, er. He’s got to get — checked in, and things. Can one of you send me a Patronus if you hear anything?”

There’s a moment of silence, in which every last one of the Weasleys, even Penelope, cocks their head to the exact same angle and just kind of… regards them, for a moment. Harry thinks it’s going to haunt his nightmares.

“Sure, Harry,” Ginny says at last. Her eyes are tired and worried, but she sounds like she might be holding back laughter. “You got it.”

Harry and Draco take off down the hall for the fourth floor intake desk at speed. After a few seconds, in a shaken voice, Draco says, “Do you know, I suspect that moment is going to haunt my nightmares.”

Harry laughs, even after this bleak night. He can't help himself. “Yeah, well,” he says, “you can tell your Healer all about it.”

He waits again with Draco in another section of the fourth floor, watches while Draco fills out some forms, fiddles with his quill, and prods absently at the cut on his face a few times, wincing each time he does it. Harry reaches out twice to grab his hand out of the air and stops himself, both times, but it’s a close thing, and he thinks Draco notices the second one. It stops him doing it, at least, and this time when the Mediwizard comes out and says, “Just family,” Draco puts on his poshest voice and does the whole song and dance about Harry Potter and the safety of the nation again, with more or less exactly the same results.

“You’ve got to stop doing that,” Harry hisses to him as they follow the Mediwizard through another set of Staff Only doors.

Draco favors him with a large, vicious grin and says, “Not on your life, Potter.”

The actual appointment doesn’t take that long. The Healer comes in and does an examination, gives Draco some potions for the bruising and internal damage, makes quick work of his rope burns, and then spends a couple of minutes attempting to spell the cut on his face closed. Eventually she sighs, takes off her gloves and throws them in the trash.

“Best I can do, I’m afraid,” she says ruefully. The cut’s not red and bloody anymore, but it’s still an angry dark pink, stark against Draco’s pale skin. “That’s a nasty spell, whatever it was. I’m recommending a course of dittany, twice a day for one week, to go along with the potions I’ve given you. It should heal up all right, but there will probably be some scarring.”

“Oh,” Draco says in a small voice. Then he looks at Harry, and his mouth pulls into a strange little expression — not quite a smile, but not so miserable as a frown. “Ah, well. Maybe I’ll tell people I’ve been fighting dark lords.”

“Interesting, Mr. Malfoy, yes,” the Healer murmurs, clearly not listening as she writes on his chart, but Harry gives him the finger behind her back. It looks like it makes him feel better, though Harry couldn’t really say why.

They go back to the waiting room filled with Weasleys, which has become an encampment of sorts in the time they were away. Molly’s pulled out practically an entire dinner she had shoved into her purse, and Bill and George are playing a subdued game of Exploding Snap in one set of chairs, Arthur and Ginny in another. Percy’s pulled a massive stack of files out of his briefcase, which must have an Expanding Charm on it, and Penelope’s reading what Harry thinks is a Muggle novel, though he’d have to actually look at it to make sure.

Harry goes and puts his jeans on, and then he and Draco mostly sit in the far corner, not really talking about anything much. Neville comes over for a while, and they chat about Vicky — well, Draco and Neville chat about Vicky while Harry listens vaguely, anyway — but then Neville gets drawn into some argument Ginny and Molly are having, and Draco lets him go easily enough. They have a couple more conversations with various Weasleys as the next hour passes, never for more than a few minutes, and Harry thinks it should be weird, probably. It is, a little — George, in particular, seems to be having trouble getting past the Draco Malfoy of it all — but mostly everyone’s friendly, if a little guarded. They’re good people, and Harry thinks Draco being here at all probably goes a long way, and anyway he still looks a bit pathetic, ashen and grey except for the angry slash across his face, the heavy, purpling circles under his eyes.

Harry’s not planning on ever, ever mentioning that last part to him, of course. The shame would probably kill him.

He thinks Draco’s going to give into exhaustion at one point, the way Harry himself did right before he showed up — there’s a long silence in which Draco slumps further and further down in his chair, and when his head hits Harry’s shoulder Harry figures he’s out for the count. He’s glad of it, thinks Draco needs the sleep, and regrets it when Draco jerks upright less than a minute later, the motion a little flailing, uncontrolled.

“Sorry,” Draco says quickly, “that — sorry, I was — sorry.”

Harry squints at him, waves a hand. “It’s fine,” he says, and then, feeling his face heat a little for reasons he can't entirely explain, adds, “I mean, I didn’t — I wouldn’t mind. You can sleep, if you want.”

Draco hesitates, and then says, “What, me? In this hospital? Surrounded by Weasleys? Please, it would be terribly uncouth, I’m not even tired, stop projecting.” It’s a strange voice he uses, slightly higher pitched than usual. Harry shrugs, but he doesn’t miss the way Draco keeps cutting glances at him after that, these curious little sidelong looks that Harry can’t interpret, and which he breaks off every time Harry meets his eyes.

As they sit there Harry feels it again, that sensation from the previous morning, this stretching, shifting something — like he’s wearing different glasses, and suddenly the world looks totally unfamiliar and exactly the same. He feels almost… it's like being on the edge of a cliff, he thinks, broom in one hand, ready to jump. It’s that same gut-churning anticipation, that same mix of adrenaline and excitement and the distant, barely acknowledged dread of something going badly wrong; not enough to tarnish the experience, just to heighten it, give it weight. He doesn’t know how to explain it to himself. He doesn’t know where it’s coming from.

He watches Draco’s hands twisting the hawthorn wand over and over again, the circles under his eyes dark and pronounced. Harry wants to send him home, to make him rest, but can’t find it in himself to tell him to go.

By the time Ron finally comes out, dawn is starting to peek in through the windows, and Draco is sitting on the floor, playing with Rose. He’s transfigured four empty coffee cups into tiny paper soldiers who are marching circles around her, occasionally calling things like, “I say!” and “How rude!” in tiny voices when she tries to smash them. She’s delighted by them, giggling to the point of nearly falling down every time one of them talks, and Draco looks pleased even through his exhaustion. He gives Ron a nervous sort of smile when he sees him walk over, like maybe he’s afraid Ron is going to snatch away his child and banish Draco from his sight or something, but Ron just smiles back, nods at him.

Draco tips his head back onto the seat of the chair all the way and gives Harry a speaking look. Harry is too exhausted and terrified and eager to hear what Ron’s going to tell them to really know what it’s saying, but he nods back anyway, and Draco smiles.

“She’s going to be all right,” Ron tells them all, not seeming a bit surprised by the small army that’s shown up while he was gone. He puts his hand on his heart as he says it, looking and sounding so relieved that for a moment Harry’s not sure he can bear it, thinks he's going to scream or jump out a window or something. “They’re going to keep her here for a day or two, make sure everything’s looking normal, but they expect her to make a full recovery.”

There are whoops of delight and several ‘Thank Merlins,’ and then Arthur, carefully, says, “And… the baby?”

“Healthy as an ox,” Ron says, grinning, to another chorus of cheers and gratitude. “Sorry I was so long in there, it was all a bit… touch and go, for a while, and we had a lot to talk about. Everyone can come see her in a bit,” he adds, holding up a hand to forestall six different people from asking, “but for now — Harry? Would you mind coming back with me?”

Harry nods, stands, and then looks down at Draco, who is still sprawled out on the floor with his head back against the seat of the chair, staring up at him. He makes a little face, probably at the thought of being left out here with almost all of the Weasleys, and Harry makes one back, honestly at least in part at the thought of leaving him with them. Then, awkward, forcing it out, he says, “Hey, you can — I mean, if you want to go home — ”

“Actually,” Ron says, “Malfoy, you should come too. This concerns both of you, really.”

“Well, that’s ominous,” Draco mutters, too quietly for anyone but Harry to hear, but he stands and follows Ron down the hallway.

Hermione’s room is down at the far end of the hall, and Harry hesitates on the threshold, his foot frozen in mid-air. He doesn’t know — what if she’s —

From behind him, Draco coughs and shoves Harry, hard, in the shoulder. Harry stumbles a little and glares back at him, but Draco just blinks with a falsely innocent expression, and, well. After that, he’s inside the room already. It’s easier to keep walking.

Hermione’s sitting up in bed. There are bandages covering a good portion of her face, and she looks drawn and ill, a little haggard, but she’s smiling. Just for a second Harry can see her at twelve years old in a bed just like this one, covered in cat hair instead, and he can’t breathe for how grateful he is not to have lost her, senselessly, years after the dark time when he’d had to make peace with the possibility that he might. Of course he knows, logically, that there was no guarantee when they took down Voldemort that things would simply be happy and painless forever, that Death’s heavy hand would never knock on their doors again, but it’s still a punch to the gut every time life proves itself to be random, harsh. It still makes Harry a little dizzy, to think that, at the end of the day, they all have so little control.

“Harry,” she says warmly, and then, with an amused, quizzical look at Ron, “and Draco, I see. Hello, boys.”

Harry nods, so glad to see her alive and all right enough to talk to him that he doesn’t trust himself to speak, even as Ron shrugs, and walks over to her bedside. He puts a hand on her shoulder with this look like — like he didn’t even want to be a few feet away from her; like those five minutes out in the waiting room were the longest of his life. Harry swallows hard against a deep, bizarre sense of resonance, gaze flicking to Draco and then quickly back to Hermione. He doesn’t have time to deal with that right now.

“Granger,” Draco says, probably because Harry is just standing around stupidly, smiling huge relief at Hermione but saying a whole lot of nothing. “It’s good to see you. Sorry about the,” he gestures at his own face in the same vague areas of Hermione’s bandaging, “circumstances.”

Ron looks a little murderous, but Hermione chuckles, shakes her head. “Sorry about your,” she repeats Draco’s gesture on her own face, “circumstances, too.”

“Maybe we can form a club,” Draco suggests brightly. “Me, you, and Potter here. Weasley, I’m terrible sorry, you’re not invited — well, unless you want to consider the freckles a tragic disfigurement, I suppose.”   

“Hermione is not tragically disfigured,” Ron snaps, and Draco falls back half a step, looking alarmed.

Harry thinks he’s going to have to intercede, but then Hermione rolls her eyes, grabs Ron’s hand, and says, “Ronald, he’s joking.” To Draco, she adds, “Really, don’t let him scare you. He’s more bark than bite.”

“Don’t tell him that,” Ron hisses, perfectly audible for all he clearly thinks it was a whisper, at the same moment Draco snaps, “I certainly was not scared, thank you very much.”

Hermione just laughs, her eyes meeting Harry’s. “You okay, Harry?”

“I’m just really glad to see you,” Harry admits, and is surprised and pleased that his voice comes out mostly even. “Are you okay? What even happened? I mean — if you, er. If you don’t mind. Talking about it. We don’t have to,” he adds quickly. “If you don’t want.”

“Smooth, Potter,” Draco says, in an undertone. Harry elbows him a little, but carefully, and avoiding his injured side.

“I don’t mind talking about it,” Hermione says. She picks at her blanket a little, vanishing some invisible fuzz; when she starts to speak again, she sounds distant, and Harry wonders if she isn’t on some pretty heavy pain potions. “I was — leaving work. I stayed late, I’ve got a massive judgement to finish and I’m only halfway through writing the outline — Ron, can you have someone pick up — ”

“Your notes, yes, you’ve already said,” Ron says. He takes her hand and make a helpless little face down at the top of her head, and Harry has to turn away, avert his eyes, to stem the tide of that strange, swelling sensation still right at the edge of his mind. “I’ve got someone going for them, love. They’ll be here later today.”

“Do you think that will be soon enough?” Hermione asks anxiously. “I know the Healers said I should rest, but it really wouldn’t be very taxing at all to just read over a few of the depositions again and — ”

“One day,” Ron says. “I’m begging here, Hermione. You nearly — ” He stops, swallows. Lowers his voice, not that it keeps Harry from hearing: “I nearly lost you. Just. Please. Twenty-four hours of listening to the Healers, and then you can go back to being the completely cracked workaholic we all know and love.”

“Oh, all right,” Hermione says, and looks up at him with so much emotion in her expression that Harry’s skin feels too tight. He tries to catch Draco’s eye, desperate to look anywhere but at this very private moment, but Draco’s looking at the floor.

“Anyway,” Hermione says, clearing her throat, “I was working late, and I like to walk home, sometimes, clear my head — yes, Ronald,” she says, before Ron can get even do more than get his mouth open, “I know you’ve always said it’s not particularly safe practice, but I’ve done that walk a thousand times and this is the only time I’ve ever been assaulted, so really, statistically, it’s actually quite low-risk.

“What a comforting thought, ‘Mione, thanks,” Ron says, dry, and she swats him lightly with the hand he’s not holding.

“Well, it wasn’t the walk’s fault,” she says. “There was just this — woman. She came out from the mouth of an alley, and I realized she was glamoured, and I reached for my wand and found I didn’t have it. I know it was on me when I left the office, and I’d only been walking about ten minutes; I think she must have pickpocketed me.”

Draco makes a small, surprised noise. When they all turn to look at him, he flushes, says, “Sorry, I — I just had a similiar experience tonight. I woke up, and I had this sense that — that something was off, and I reached for my wand in the pocket of my pajamas and it wasn’t there.” Draco frowns, shudders a little; the swelling sensation in the back of Harry’s mind is starting to give him a headache. “I know it was in there when I went to bed, but — anyway. I apologize. This isn’t what we’re talking about.”

Ron and Hermione exchange a grim look that Harry doesn’t like one bit. “It might be,” Ron says. “We’re getting to that.”

“I don’t,” Hermione says, and takes a deep breath. “I don’t really remember much of the — attack. Except… it felt... personal, almost? She kept coming back to my face — I kept thinking I was glad, that at least she didn’t seem to know that I was pregnant, that I’d rather be scarred or blinded than — than — well, than anything else.  And I got some good hits in, too,” she adds, changing tack abruptly, almost defiant about it. “Glamour or no, she’ll need one hell of a healer for the wound I left on her shoulder; I always carry a canister filled with a special reduction of Venomous Tentacula seed, just in case. That stuff’ll burn the flesh off anything it touches.”

“Granger,” Draco says, approving. “Nice.”

“Thank you,” Hermione says with a little sniff. “Ron always says it’s savage and slightly unhinged.”

“Well, I don’t anymore,” Ron says, expression rueful. “From now on, you carry whatever you like.” To Harry and Draco, he says, “Here’s the weird thing. I mean, the whole thing’s the weird thing — how anybody could ever — but, look. I got this Floo call, and I think it was from Hermione’s attacker. I mean, there’s not really any way to tell if someone’s been glamoured during a fire call, but the timeline makes sense. She said that my wife had been attacked and I needed to come through immediately, and that I didn’t need to worry, she’d call Mr. Potter for me. I went through, and Hermione was… she was out in the street and I... I didn’t really think about it again, until Hermione and I were talking a little bit ago. I guess — and yes, love, I know this is a bit sexist — but I guess I just sort of assumed her attacker was a man, and that the woman in the fire was — whatever.” He gives Harry an uncomfortable look. “A fan, or something. Someone who knew who we were and wanted to help. It didn’t even twig for me that it was weird that she hadn’t reached you, because I couldn’t reach you either. But then Hermione and I were talking, and... ”

“Well, it just seemed a bit strange that Draco and I would both be attacked in one night,” Hermione says carefully.

There’s a sharp intake of breath to Harry’s right; when he turns his head, Draco is looking at him. No, Harry thinks; Draco is watching him, eyes intent.

“Mate,” Ron says. “Don’t get all — how you get.”

“What are you guys talking about?” Harry says, looking between the three of them. “What are you saying, that Hermione was — ”

It slams into him like a freight train: Hermione was attacked because of Harry. Hermione was attacked to keep Harry from answering the call from Grimmauld Place; there probably even had been a Floo call, like the woman said. It’s not as though his place is very heavily warded — he relies on his Muggle neighborhood for anonymity and has own trained combat skills in case of actual break-in, but. He’d Apparated straight out of bed. If there’d been a head in the fire in the living room, he wouldn’t have seen it. God, he’d probably just missed it, left Hermione nearly dying to — well, to go keep Draco from being murdered, but —

“Oh, now you’ve gone and done it,” Draco says, sounding furious, far away. He stalks across the room to stand in front of Harry, snaps his fingers in Harry’s face. “Potter! I swear to god, if you come over all Kreacher about this I am going to snap. I really am! I am underslept and badly in need of a long shower and I have done and said roughly seventeen embarrassing things in front of, apparently, every Weasley in the Western Hemisphere tonight. We are not doing this, too; I refuse! It’s not happening. It’s not your fault! No one is throwing you into the well!”

“I — wait, what?” Harry says, briefly distracted by Draco’s madness, before guilt engulfs him again. “God, I can't believe this. I should have — ”

“Oh, what,” Draco says, eyes going suddenly cold. “Leave me to die, would you, to run off and — ”

“Of course not, you stupid git,” Harry interrupts, horrified. Draco narrows his eyes at him, suspicious, but does at least stop saying that horrible sentence out loud. “I didn’t mean that at all. I just — I could have gotten some help, I could have done something — ”

“Yes, well, your various regrets are noted and deeply helpful to the continuing discussion,” Draco says, bitingly sarcastic, and rolls his eyes. “Can we maybe, I don’t know, get on with it? You beating yourself up isn’t exactly a valuable or productive contribution, you know.”  

“I,” Harry says, “you — oh, fine.” He crosses his arms over his chest, more to protect himself from Draco’s furious glare than anything else. “Jesus, Malfoy! I said fine.”

Draco gives him one more long, suspicious look, but then he snaps, “Good,” and looks away.

“Wow,” Hermione says, blinking at the both of them. Harry suddenly feels a little exposed; next to him, Draco is shifting uncomfortably.

“I know,” Ron says. “Wild, isn’t it?”

“Do they always do this?” Draco demands of Harry, sounding outraged. “Just have their — their own little conversation? Over there? In the corner?”

“Yeah,” Harry says, and shrugs. “You get used to it.”

Draco opens his mouth, and then, for some reason, pinks very slightly and shuts it again. After a second, he actually turns his back on Harry, because he’s a mystifying little freak who will never make sense and Harry really doesn't know why he tries.

“Yeah, well,” Ron says, with an uncomfortable shrug. “Obviously we’ll be all over this at work, but we thought it’d be best to warn you both now. I’ll be telling everyone else to keep an eye out, too. Somebody’s really determined to get at something in that house, and, Harry, they know you’re their biggest obstacle. Whoever they are, you’re both in their crosshairs now.”

Harry’s eyes meet Draco’s. Draco raises both of his eyebrows, a question, and Harry shrugs one shoulder in answer. He doesn’t really care if someone’s gunning for him, though the idea of anyone else getting caught in the crossfire like Hermione sets his teeth on edge, makes him want to rage and shout. He’s staying until it’s done. They’ll figure something out.

Draco’s mouth twitches a little, but his voice is controlled when he says. “Well. That’s just wonderful, Weasley. Thanks for the heads up.”

They stay for a bit after that, and then Hermione asks for Rose, which opens the visitor floodgate. When everyone else is distracted by the inflow of many Weasleys into a tiny space, Harry notices Draco swaying alarmingly, bracing himself against a wall. He makes their excuses and takes them both back to Grimmauld Place, ignoring Draco’s protests that he can Apparate, really, and Harry doesn’t need to be such a great bloody ninny about it. He still crashes into bed like his strings have been cut when Harry steers him into a bedroom almost at random — he obviously can’t sleep in his own, not in its current state — and falls asleep almost instantly, his breathing going even, slow.

Harry stands there, in the doorway, staring at him, asleep across the covers in his black trousers and too-large sweater, the healing cut on his face still perfectly visible. His hair is falling in soft pieces across his eyes even as Harry watches, long fingers curling in sleep against the sheets, and the odd, swelling balloon of sensation Harry’s been pushing down all night finally bursts, all at once. It’s nothing like jumping off a cliff. It’s like jumping into cold water, coming up nearly frozen and halfway drowned, and gasping in huge lungfuls of air that hurt going down.

Harry doesn’t just care about Draco; doesn’t just want Draco to be safe; doesn’t just think Draco is interesting and funny and odd. Harry relies on Draco. Harry worries about Draco. Harry understands, truly and for the first time, the way Ron looks at Hermione, because it’s the way he looks at Draco. Harry trusts Draco with his worst secrets. Harry trusts Draco with his life.

Harry is in love with Draco. He’s just been doing his damndest not to notice.

“Oh, fuck,” Harry says, into the quiet of the room. Draco rolls over in his sleep, but doesn’t reply.

Chapter Text

Harry doesn’t sleep much that morning. He should — he knows he needs it — and he tries, for a while, after he calls in sick to work, first in a room right across from the one he stuck Draco in and then in the room he slept in back when this was his house. It looks nothing like it did when he was seventeen, and for the first time since he set foot in the museum Harry wishes, a little, for the dusty old halls of the place as she once was. He thinks it might actually be easier to fall asleep if everything around him was crushingly depressing, instead of bright and clean and reminding him of Draco.

God: he's in love with Draco. Harry’s so stupid, he can’t believe he’s let this happen, and without his even noticing — and that, Harry thinks, is the most horrifying part. At least twice a year since he was fourteen Harry’s had the same nightmare, where he’s tied to a flagpole in the middle of Privet Drive, trying frantically to dodge a basilisk wearing Voldemort’s face, as from the ground Mad-Eye Moody shrieks, “CONSTANT VIGILANCE, POTTER,” at the top of his lungs. Sometimes the flagpole is the statue at the Department of Mysteries; sometimes the basilisk is a lake full of Inferi; sometimes it’s not Mad-Eye but Sirius or Dumbledore, or little Teddy Lupin, one particularly rough time Harry doesn’t like to think about. But the message is always the same: constant vigilance, Potter. Constant vigilance or die.

Which is why, Harry thinks a little hysterically, it’s particularly mind-numbingly horrible that he’s found himself in this beast of a spot. He is supposed to be aware of his surroundings! He is supposed to be abreast of the situation! He is not supposed to be in love with Draco Malfoy, accidentally but irretrievably, and not notice it happening until it’s too late to do a damn thing about it.

He throws his hands a little in the air as he thinks this, and then recognizes he’s laying flat on his back in bed waving his hands around like a crazy person, and goes downstairs to pace.

In the end, he walks the whole house. He walks the storeroom, its endless soothing shelves; he walks the museum, reading the little placards next to the exhibits; he walks Draco’s private floors, careful to creep on light feet past Draco’s door. He even goes up to the attic to see Vicky, who seems to be snoozing and throws only one seedpod at him, and that one halfheartedly, before settling down into an innocent-looking pile of vines.

Harry goes back downstairs. He sits on the couch in the first floor parlor. He puts his head in his hands and tries to tell himself that it’ll be fine, that it’s just the pressure and intensity of the last twelve hours playing tricks on him, and he’s not in love with Draco at all. He even tries to tell himself that he’s a savior complex in ill-fitting trousers, and this is all nothing more than an outcropping of his twisted desire to save someone because Gryffindor children aren’t socialized properly, and then realizes he’s trying to talk himself out of being in love with Draco in Draco’s voice. He has a bit of a hysterical fit at this point, muffling his not-at-all pleasant laughter into a throw pillow, and he must fall asleep somewhere in the middle there, because he wakes up to the sound of knocking on the front door.

He blinks, heavy-lidded, sore-muscled exhaustion letting him know that he didn’t sleep nearly long enough, not more than an hour or two. Then he remembers that Draco is upstairs and needs the sleep a lot more than he does, and drags himself wearily off the couch to meet Kreacher at the door.

“Kreacher was not sure if Master Draco and Harry Potter would want him to answer it, in the circumstances,” he tells Harry in a nervous squeak. “Kreacher is sorry for making guests wait!”

“It’s okay, Kreacher, I’ve got it,” Harry says.

He’s assuming it’s just museum guests or something, that he’ll just tell them to come back tomorrow and go back to sleep, so it’s a nasty surprise to open the door to Blaise Zabini and a short Asian woman with close-cropped hair who Harry’s fairly certain is Pansy Parkinson.

“Er,” Harry says, and then — because what the hell else is he supposed to do? — adds, “Hello.”

“Oh my god it’s true,” Pansy says, and rounds on Blaise. “I thought you were having me on! Why didn’t you tell me you weren’t having me on?”

Blaise shrugs, his eyes dancing. “I did, Pans. You wouldn’t believe me. You never do.” To Harry, in a conspiratorial tone, he adds, “Draco and I played one trick too many on her as children, you see. She just wasn’t up to playing with the big boys, and it scarred her; she may never trust again. It’s all very tragic.”

“I want you to remember you said that,” Pansy tells him sweetly, “when I spell your eyebrows off again, Blaise. May the phrase ‘she just wasn’t up to playing with the big boys’ bring you comfort in their absence.”

“Oh, you wouldn’t,” Blaise says; he’s laughing, but he touches a fingertip to one of his eyebrows a little nervously anyway, and she smirks. Seeming to decide that he's through with her for the moment, Blaise turns to Harry. In a tone that Harry suspects means he is being mocked, he says, “So, what, are you Draco’s doorman now?”

“Er,” Harry says again, “no.” He tries to think of some way to explain his presence that isn’t, I volunteered to stay here indefinitely because as it turns out I’m desperately in love with Draco, whoops, sorry, bloody shocking for me too, and comes up with: “I’m… just keeping an eye on things.”

“I told you Draco was still in St. Mungo’s,” Pansy exclaims, and hits Blaise in the arm with her handbag. “I told you, you were all ‘Oh, my intel says he was treated and discharged, it’s perfectly fine to wait until nearly two in the afternoon to drop by and see how he’s doing.’ Men! We’ve dithered about all morning while he’s clinging to life alone in a hospital bed — “

“Er,” says Harry, for the third time in as many minutes. He’s having a lot of trouble stringing a thought together. “No, he’s — upstairs. Sleeping. It was,” Harry stops, yawns hugely, and finishes, “a really long night.”

“We heard,” Pansy says, fixing Harry with a murderous look.

“Well, I heard,” Blaise amends. “And then I made the horrific mistake of telling this one, thinking she could perhaps remain calm for long enough to — ”

“Oh, I remained calm last time and look what good that did me,” Pansy snaps. She pushes past Harry into the house, apparently sharing Draco’s ‘I know the rules of etiquette and therefore it’s perfectly acceptable for me to break them’ attitude. “‘Stay in Cairo, Pansy,’ you said. ‘I’ve got this all perfectly handled, Pansy,’ you said. He was treated for internal bleeding last night!”

“No he wasn’t,” Harry says. “It was — bruising, I’m pretty sure. One of his kidneys, a couple of his ribs.” He crosses his arms over his chest, rubs them a little with his palms, and adds, more defensively than is probably wise, “He’s okay now.”

Blaise and Pansy turn identical incredulous looks on him. Harry sort of wants to die.

“Blaise, are you coming in or not?” Pansy demands, having apparently determined that Harry is obsolete to the whole entering-the-house process. “Because I’ll leave you down here with Potter if I have to, but I’m going up.”

“Er,” says Harry, who is starting to suspect that it's all he can say. “Sorry — no.”

Pansy whips her head around to stare at him, and then stalks across the hall until they’re inches apart. It’s a familiar move, one of Draco’s, but when Draco does it he winds up looking down at Harry a little; Harry’s got about half a foot on Pansy, so her version isn't quite as effective. She does, however, change it up with the added element of a jab from one of her nails, which are all filed into long points and painted a deep, gunmetal grey.

“No?” she demands, like the very word is offensive. Harry wonders if maybe there’s some sort of emphasis on dramatics that the Sorting Hat seeks out for Slytherin House.

Then he remembers that the Sorting Hat wanted to put him in Slytherin, and promptly banishes the entire thought process.

“No,” he repeats to Pansy. When she continues to glare at him, he gives her a little shrug — it’s trying for apologetic, but Harry’s not sure he does that great a job. “Like I said, he’s asleep. You can, er,” he pauses and casts around, trying to come up with anything else to suggest, before he sighs and offers, “wait down here, if you like.”

Instead of seeming mollified at this perfectly reasonable offer, Pansy looks like she wants to rip Harry’s spinal column out and beat him with it. “You,” she spits furiously, “do not get to decide whether or not we can wait! You do not get to decide whether or not we go up and see him in the first place. I mean, who exactly do you think you are?”

Harry blinks at her. He’s too tired for this. “Er — ”  

“Now, now, Pansy,” Blaise says in soothing tones. “I know being unnecessarily aggressive keeps you young, I do, but Harry’s made some perfectly rational points, haven’t you, Harry?” He doesn’t wait for Harry to answer, just breezes right on ahead. “And since it would, actually, be quite a terrible idea to go wake Draco up, why don’t we just have a nice little sit-down in the parlor, hmm? Relax in the manner to which you were once accustomed? Doesn’t that sound nice?”

“Ugh,” Pansy says. She takes off her black leather jacket and drops it in Harry’s hands; Harry stares at in mute confusion and vague offense. “Fine, but only to stop you using that terrible Unspeakable voice on me. It’s so demeaning! I’ve known you since we were four, I’m aware when you’re manipulating me.”

“Doing a lot of that at four, was I?” Blaise says, amused, and follows her clacking black heels into the sitting room. Harry doesn't bother straining to hear her reply.

Kreacher peeks his head out from behind a bannister. “Harry Potter?” he whispers.

Harry sighs. “Yeah, Kreacher?”

“Kreacher could take care of tea for Master Draco’s guests,” Kreacher whispers, in an entreating little voice. He sidles up to Harry, blinking up at him with big eyes. “Master Draco’s guests can sometimes be… very difficult. Harry Potter would probably do best to let Kreacher handle it.”

“Kreacher,” Harry says with feeling, “thank Merlin for you. Please. Yes. God, what do I do with the coat?”

“Kreacher will take the coat, Harry Potter,” Kreacher says, and gives Harry a fond little pat as he does. He looks a bit nervous. “Harry Potter should just… do his best, okay?”

He vanishes, and Harry spends a dark moment alone in the hall thinking that even Kreacher knows that Harry is in over his head, and maybe he should just give this all up for a bad job and run screaming out into the afternoon sunlight.

Then he remembers all over again about the whole love situation, and once he gets done grimacing at the floor over the horror of it all, he decides he is going to have to learn to deal with these people to even have chance with Draco. Which he doesn’t, of course, and probably never will, and honestly the whole idea is pretty absurd anyway, since nobody ends up settling down with someone who once signed a blood oath not to eat meals with them on pain of burning entrails. It’s an insane crazy idea and Harry is insane and crazy for having it, and if he was smart, if he had any self-preservation instinct at all, he would run screaming out the door, and never look back for a moment.

He sighs. He goes into the parlor.

“Oh, good, you’re still here,” Pansy says, rolling her eyes. And it’s just — she’s sitting in the same spot Draco was when, more than a month ago, he said those exact words to Harry, that very first day. It’s like Harry can see that whole moment superimposed over her, him and Draco staring daggers at each other over the wreckage of the room, and he wants to reach out and slap the past version of himself, demand that he sit up and pay attention and not comprehensively screw over his future self with his stupid distractibility and refusal to interact with his emotions until they blow up in his face like this.

God. Harry’s really tired.

“Yes,” he says, collapsing into the nearest chair. “I’m still here. I’m staying here for a while. Until this all gets — whatever. Sorted.”

“What, as his live-in Auror?” Pansy looks to Blaise, a sour expression on her face. “Did you know about this?”

“I don’t think the Aurors know about this, Pansy,” Blaise says, and smiles at Harry. There’s a quality to it that makes Harry feel vaguely queasy. “As of 11 o’clock this morning, the last the DMLE has on Harry Potter is that he’s out on a sick day, and expected to return to work tomorrow.”

“You know that’s creepy, right?” Harry says, pressing the heel of his hand against his forehead to ward off an impending headache. When Blaise just nods cheerfully, unperturbed, Harry drops his hand, since it’s obviously not going to be any help. “Well. Great. As long as you know.”

“So you’re just,” Pansy says, turning incredulous eyes on Harry, “volunteering your time, then? To protect Draco? Draco Malfoy? Who you tormented mercilessly all through school?”

“Hey!” Harry snaps. “I did not — well, it was — mutual tormenting! And Draco started most of it!”

“Did you just call him Draco,” Pansy says, her eyes wide with horror. “Blaise, come on — it’s too mean. I’ll leave your eyebrows alone if you just call it off now; I’m honestly not sure I can take it.”

“Not a trick,” Blaise says again, smiling winsomely at her. “Not that I’d change it if I could, of course. It’s basically street theater.”

“I’m not dignifying that with a response,” Pansy says, and sits back in her chair with her arms crossed.

Kreacher appears with a crack into the ensuing silence. He brings tea over to Blaise and to Pansy before he places a cup at Harry’s elbow and whispers, “It does not look like it is going very well, Harry Potter.”

“Good eye, Kreacher,” Harry tells him wearily. He thinks he hears a snort of laughter from Blaise, but he doesn’t have the heart to look over and find out.

Kreacher vanishes again, and Harry, slightly nettled by his comment, decides to try to make small talk. It’s got to be better than sitting here being glared and/or laughed at, and, also, if he doesn’t do something soon he’s going to fall asleep in this chair, and he doubts that’ll go over well.

With Pansy, anyway. He’s starting to think everything goes over well with Blaise, in the sense that he finds it deeply entertaining and that’s all he really cares about.

“So,” Harry says, striking out bravely, “Pansy. You live in Cairo?”

Pansy rolls her eyes over her teacup, but she does at least deign to answer the question. “I live all over. I’m a Cursebreaker.”

“Oh!” Harry says. He’d considered that line of work at one point himself, until he sat down with Bill and went over how much maths and analytics and other stuff Harry couldn’t be bothered about was actually involved. “That’s supposed to be quite an interesting job. How’d you, er. Find yourself in that line of work?”

Pansy raises her eyebrows. Then, slowly, she leans forward, this menacing little trick of body language that Harry does not enjoy at all. “Well, Potter, when I was about seventeen a genocidal maniac broke into my school and said he’d kill everyone if we didn’t turn over this one boy. He was a classmate, you know, that boy, who’d always been pretty horrible to my friends and me, and then nearly murdered one of them to boot. So I thought, well, maybe I’ll put it out there that his one life is probably not worth all the others, and perhaps we should consider giving him over before the maniac starts slaughtering twelve years olds for sport!” She gives Harry a filthy look, and adds, “I’m not saying it was a proud moment or anything, but I thought the resulting ostracism was a bit harsh, in the circumstances. I didn’t enjoy it, so I found a job traveling to places where nobody knew that particular story, and where, god willing, I’d never have to look that boy in the face again.” She looks Harry up and down. “Unfortunately, life does seem to come along with these little disappointments.”

“Er,” says Harry, wishing badly that he hadn’t asked.

“Is that all he says?” Pansy demands of Blaise. “Is he actually a functional illiterate? I thought that was just one of Draco’s mad childhood theories!”

Harry is saved from having to defend his literacy by the sound of footsteps on the floor overhead. They all fall silent, glancing up towards the ceiling, as the footsteps proceed across the hall above them and onto the staircase.

Then Draco calls, “I sincerely hope you’re making me breakfast, Potter, wherever you are. I’ve been through a traumatic ordeal, it would be shirking your duties as an agent of justice to deny me some… sausages… ”

Draco trails off, having reached the doors of the parlor and discovered Harry, Pansy and Blaise sitting therein. He’s rumpled, clearly just awake, but he looks so much healthier than he did last night that Harry’s heart twists in his chest, and then… kind of stays that way, each beat painful and too hard. He wonders if this is just what looking at Draco is going to be like now, all agonized hopeless longing, or if maybe it will get easier over time, and Harry can work his way back around to not noticing it very much. Horrifically, he’s not sure which way he wants that one to go.

Just at this moment, Draco is giving him a slightly panicked look, which Harry returns with interest. He knows why he’s panicking, but as for Draco, he hasn’t got the faintest idea. They’re his friends, after all. He should know how to deal with them.

“Pansy,” Draco says, after a long pause. “Blaise. Hello. I see you’ve found Potter.”

“It’s a trick,” Pansy says. “I know it is; it has to be. It’s the only explanation that makes sense.”

“We broke your spirit when you were young,” Draco tells her, seeming to regain his equilibrium. He flicks a quicksilver grin at Blaise before he turns an expression of mocking concern back on Pansy. “It’s not your fault. You were only a child!”

“I don’t know why I even care that you’re alive,” Pansy says, and sounds like she means it for all of three seconds, before she gets up off the couch and throws her arms around Draco in a massive, vaguely alarming hug. Draco pats her on the back a few times, looking torn between being surprised and gratified.

Harry takes this as his cue to go. He’s not sure what happens when an interloper is caught viewing genuine affection between Slytherins, but in his current mental state he can’t help but think it might involve death by firing squad or something. He says, “I’m, er, just gonna — ” and ducks out and down the hall to the kitchen before anyone can stop him. Not that anyone would, but. Just in case.

He’s drumming his fingers against the countertop, trying to decide what he’s going to cook, when Draco says, “Oh my god, I knew it,” from just behind him.

Harry turns, and blinks at him. The cut on his cheek looks less angry now; his hair is loose, and his eyes are warm. Harry is so, so stupid.

“What did you know?” he says.

“I knew you,” Draco says, and rolls his eyes, “were actually coming in here to produce breakfast. You nitwit. Go to bed, you look unwell.”

“But,” Harry says, “you said — ”

“Yes, well, that was making the assumption you slept,” Draco says, “which you obviously didn’t, and which is on me. I must have allowed my expectations to raise to ‘basic human functionality’ again. Silly. A rookie mistake.” He gives Harry a dark look. “When I agreed to let you stay here I didn’t mean ‘Awake, every minute of the day, stumbling about looking consumptive and unsettling my houseguests.’ Go. Sleep. I’ll awaken you if there’s crime.”

“They’re more unsettling than I am,” Harry mutters, because he feels in his heart that it’s true.

Draco openly laughs at him. “Oh, Potter,” he says, as though Harry is a very amusing dog who has just done an entertaining trick, and walks back off towards the parlor.

Harry tells himself, as he climbs the stairs back to his old bedroom, that there’s no reason to love such an obnoxious little git anyway. That Draco is condescending and insulting and has terrible taste in friends. That what would really make Harry happy is someone friendly, and likeable, and without any childhood grudges, who never bosses him around or calls him names or laughs in his face like an asshole.

He doesn’t believe a word, though, and he falls asleep knowing it.

It’s nearly dark when Harry wakes up. He stretches, groans, and drags himself out of bed — he’s got things to do, however much he might like to lay here and let the world drift away again. Sleep hasn’t done him the kindness of scrubbing his feelings for Draco out of his mind, but he didn’t really expect it to, and he decides that he’s just going to… put it aside, for the moment. Deal with it when it comes up.

Draco’s not in the house, which is a small mercy. Kreacher tells Harry that Draco told him to say he was going out, and hadn’t been kidnapped, and that Harry should refrain from doing anything insane is his absence, so Harry goes back to his own place to pack up some of his stuff, take a shower. His ancient old showerhead hisses and spits and Harry finds himself reaching through the shower curtain for his wand, annoyed, and casting a couple of restoration spells he learned when he and Draco were fixing up the museum the first time. It helps, and Harry pats himself down with a towel afterward wondering why he never bothered to do anything about it before; wondering if he’s just been here all these years, quietly and systematically ignoring things that were bothering him, when he could have fixed them with just a little attention.

He stands in his living room for a few minutes, towel slung around his waist, dripping on the already warped wood floors, and for the first time sees what Draco must see when he comes here. This place is horrible. It’s cold and it’s dark and there are large discolored patches of the walls from mold and water damage; half his appliances barely work; he can hear a vicious row playing out between his next-door neighbors, the sound so familiar that it’s essentially become white noise. Harry wouldn’t be ashamed to live here if it was all he could afford — god knows he’s lived with worse — but it isn’t by a wide margin, and wasn’t even when he bought it. He could live in a place cleaner and more comfortable and better maintained than this one on his Auror salary alone, forgetting the money he inherited from his parents and the largely untouched payment he accepted for Grimmauld Place seven years ago.

And Harry is, he realizes, ashamed to live here. That’s why he never has Ron and Hermione over; that’s why he’s never hosted a dinner party, or even a birthday party, or a smaller, less horrible alternative to the pub nights. He doesn’t want the people in his life to come here and see this, Harry’s unchanging grotto of privacy, how little he cares for the things that are just for himself. He’s had seven years with this place; it doesn’t have to be what it is. Harry could have fixed it up a dozen ways, if he was determined to keep the space itself for location or whatever other reason — he just didn’t. It just never seemed that important.

“Sorry,” he says to the empty room, even though this is a Muggle apartment in a Muggle structure and almost certainly can’t hear him or care. “I’ll do better when I come back. Or,” he adds, thinking of Grimmauld Place’s open, airy sprawl, about how these days it doesn’t look like it could belong to anyone but Draco, “I’ll find someone better, who can.”

He gets dressed, packs up some clothes, shoes and toiletries, and then grabs his invisibility cloak, his broom, and the Malfoy case files. They’ve been sitting next to his armchair for a month, so heavily, fruitlessly poured over that most of the edges are dog-eared, and Harry feels a thick rush of guilt as he hefts the box under one arm. He should have solved this already, it’s his fault everything’s happened, if he were just a better Auror this whole thing would never have played out —

— but that, Harry remembers, is not productive. He swallows it down, throws his belongings into a duffel bag, and goes to St. Mungo’s.

Hermione’s in rare and terrifying form when he gets there, seventeen open files on her bed and and a container of Chinese food in one hand as she bosses two assistants around. She says hello to Harry and then shoos him out almost immediately, so Harry and Ron take Rose for a walk around the grounds outside. Harry’s quiet, caught up in his thoughts, so he startles a little when he glances to his left and realizes Ron is giving him a measuring look.

“You all right, Harry?” he says.

“Sure,” Harry says. “Just… thinking.”

“Okay,” Ron says gamely. “Thinking, that’s always a good thing to do.” He pauses, and then, uncomfortably, adds, “I’m... here if you need to talk about anything, though. If you ever do, I mean. Even if it’s… well. Whatever it is. You can talk to me.”

Harry feels a surge of sharp affection for his straightforward, easy-going friends, who don’t ever come across as trying to embarrass him for their own amusement, or give the suggestion that they’re covered in invisible spikes. But then he feels one for Draco, too, at the thought of how he weathered all the Weasleys last night, long after he could have gone home. They might seem straightforward and easy-going to Harry, but he’s sure that to Draco, Pansy and Blaise seem — well. No. He can’t imagine Pansy and Blaise being defined in either of those ways by anyone.

Still, though. It was a nice thing Draco did. Especially nice, even, seeing as it’s Draco.

“Thanks, Ron,” Harry says, and means it, but doesn’t take him up on his offer. He goes back, instead, to Number 12.

Draco hasn’t returned, and Harry’s hungry, so he makes dinner — that French dish with the wine he can never remember the name of, but thinks of privately as ‘Fuck You Uncle Vernon Chicken.’ It’s not bad, and he eats a hearty helping, washing it down with a glass of the wine he used in cooking it. When Draco still isn’t back after he does the washing up — or, well, after he starts to do the washing up and Kreacher lets out a warcry and starts slapping and poking at him until he steps aside and allows the professional his work — he starts to worry a little. It is, Harry realizes quickly, a lot more horrible to worry about Draco now that he fully understands why the worry is happening, and he only lasts about twenty minutes before he decides it’s either act or lose his mind.

He has a pretty good idea of where Draco might be once he really thinks about it, and it doesn’t take long for Kreacher to help him track down a few things, to grab his scarf and jacket from the pile of stuff on his bed that he brought over from his apartment. He’s on the street corner in Muggle London not fifteen minutes after he decided to go, staring, a little despairingly, at the spot where the portal to the glen should be.

“Probably only stays open for you if you actually see it open,” Harry mutters. He knew that was a possibility, but he hoped… oh, well. No getting around it now.

Harry looks over both shoulders, sighs heavily, and makes an attempt at the fish-to-the-ocean gesture Draco pulled the other night. It does nothing except make Harry feel very foolish, and when he tries again all that happens is that someone across the street yells, “Shake it, baby!” and does a little wolf whistle.

He tries a third time, figuring that if this fails he’ll just go back to Grimmauld Place and deal with the indignity of sitting around fretting, instead of the much more immediate indignity of being stared at by laughing Muggle strangers. But this time it works; the portal opens, and Harry strides through it quickly, looking around.

From a distance he can see Draco’s white blonde-head in the moonlight. He’s sitting on the bridge, his legs dangling over the edge, throwing pebbles. Harry walks the little path down.

“You see,” Draco says, without looking around, when Harry gets close, “this is the problem with telling someone where your secret lair is. It’s really a very significant flaw.”

“I can go,” Harry offers, even though he doesn’t really want to. “If you want to be alone or whatever.”

“Now, why would I come here if I wanted to be alone?” Draco’s voice is bitingly sarcastic, and Harry slumps a little; this was stupid. Love is stupid, and it makes people stupid. He should have stayed at the house and left well enough alone.

“Right,” he says, shifting uncomfortably. “I’ll just,” he jerks a thumb over his shoulder, not that Draco’s looking at him, and turns around, starts walking back up the path.

“Oh, for god’s sake, Potter,” Draco calls after him. Harry turns; Draco’s jumped down from the bridge and is standing next to it, hands on his hips, eyebrows up. “I was joking. What’s gotten into you?”

Well, since you mention it, it turns out I’m madly in love with you and I'm not handling it well, Harry does not say. Instead he shrugs, and walks over to lean with his back against the bridge. “I don’t know. Weird day, I guess.”

“Well, there is that.” Draco turns back out towards the water, his mouth pulling into a tight little line. Harry notes distantly that they’re in the reverse of the positions they were the other night, when Draco poked and prodded all his balled up emotions out of his chest, and wonders if he’s supposed to return the favor or not. If it was a favor, that is. Harry’s still not totally sure.

He’s pretty sure, though. He sighs. “Did it… er. Not go well with Pansy and Blaise, or something?”

Draco glances at him, startled; then he lets out a brief bark of laughter. “Dear god, I’ve created a monster. Is it so much to ask that you just stand there in your usual stoic silence, maybe making the occasional pithy comment? I mean, honestly.”

Harry rolls his eyes. “I do not stand in stoic silence, Malfoy.”

“That’s actually a little distressing,” Draco says, though his voice is light. “That you don’t know you do it, I mean. Next you’ll be telling me that your hair is like that on purpose, and you’ve never said ‘er’ in your life.”

“Er,” says Harry, and then scowls when Draco smirks. “You — shut up!”

“There it is,” Draco says cheerfully. “Now, wait for it, you’ll sulk a minute, and then you’ll forget that you’re sulking and just stare broodily out into the night, like you alone carry the world’s troubles. I’ve seen you do it a thousand times. In many ways, Potter, you’re actually very predictable.”

Harry opens his mouth, shuts it again, and then, hating himself for it, does actually look out at the water in sulky silence because — because — because whatever! Because he feels like it! Because Draco can predict Harry’s stupid moods better than Harry can, but he can’t see that Harry’s heart beats faster in his chest every time Draco so much as turns his head and it’s too much, on top of all that, to be expected to say something.

It takes a minute for Draco to stop laughing at him, but then, in a conciliatory tone, he says, “It went fine with Pansy and Blaise.”

Harry shoots him a questioning sidelong glance, but doesn’t say anything that could be latched onto and used as a distraction. Draco, Harry thinks with a vicious little twist of satisfaction, is in many ways very predictable himself.  

Draco rolls his eyes. “Oh, for the love of  — if you must know, yes, fine, it wasn’t the best afternoon we’ve ever passed. They’re just a bit... ” He trails off, whips a pebble out into the water, and sighs. “Blaise inherited the Zabini Estate when he was fourteen — his mother, you know, she didn’t want the place to end up with some spurned husband by mistake. And Pansy… well. Pansy had a really hard time after the war.”

“She said,” Harry says quietly. He’s been thinking about it all afternoon. “For what it’s worth — “

“Oh, don’t,” Draco says, holding up a hand and fixing Harry with a fierce scowl. “Whatever you’re going to say — Merlin, I can just imagine it. ‘But Malfoy, I too feel I should have been served up to the Dark Lord on a platter to save the lives of schoolchildren!’ You are personally responsible for all the consequences of every decision ever made in the history of the world, Potter, I know. But nobody thinks that — even Pansy doesn’t think that — and this isn’t about that, anyway, so just spare me, all right?”

“Er,” Harry says, nonplussed. He’d only been going to say he was sorry for her trouble, even if that thought Draco laid out as a hypothetical maybe did cross his mind today, once or twice. “All right.”

“Good,” Draco snaps, and turns his gaze back to the water. When he speaks again, he sounds calmer. “The point is, anyway, it was — hard, for Pansy. Well, it was hard for all of us, but especially for her and me. I’d been right in the center of things, acquittal or no, and she’d said what she said, the way that she said it.” He shrugs a little; the movement is brittle, and Harry wrestles with the insane urge to try and reach out and… pat him, or something. Touch him somehow. “We dealt with it in different ways. I decided to stay, and learn, and try to be… someone better, I suppose. I thought that if I worked hard enough, if I grew up and became someone else, the world would forget what I’d done. I wasn’t totally right; there are some people for whom, some situations in which, I’ll always be who I was at seventeen. And that’s all right. That’s the price. Most of the time my life is better than I ever expected it to be — better than I probably deserve.” Draco sighs again, drumming his fingers against the stone. “Pansy… well, Pansy left.”

“Sometimes people run from things they don’t know how to handle,” Harry says, knowing the truth of it all too well.

“Oh, I know that,” Draco snaps. He throws all his remaining pebbles into the water, hard, as he says, “I’m not angry with her. She can do what she likes. But they — neither one of them really understands what it is to make something, you know? To pour yourself into changing something, the way I did with that house. The way I did with myself.” He scowls down at his empty hands, and, abruptly, says, “They want me to leave.”

“They — what?” Harry says, heart rate picking up. “To go where?”

“Blaise’s,” Draco says. He’s still looking at his hands; his voice is flat. “Or the old Parkinson Estate, or Malfoy Manor. Pansy thinks I should go with her to Cairo; she’s sure it’s some crazed maniac trying to enact vengeance on my father through me, like that thing with the Dolohov boy a few years ago.”

“We looked into that, though,” Harry says, voice admirably even given the way his mind is screaming He’s leaving! He’s going to Egypt and never coming back! Grab him while you still can and run for the hills! “I must’ve run down a dozen leads on the Lucius-revenge angle; everything came up clean.”

“I told her that,” Draco says, throwing his hands up a little, “and she tried to bribe me with access to an upcoming archeological dig. They both think I’m being, what was it, ‘willfully stubborn,’ and that an old house that isn’t even my ancestral home isn’t worth dying for.”

“You’re not going to die,” Harry says. It comes out as more of a growl.

“Oh, well,” Draco says, all dark amusement, “in that case. I suppose I’ll just owl them that there’s nothing to worry about, and they got their knickers all in a twist for nothing.”

Harry doesn’t say anything to that. He just stares out at the glen in mute dread, wondering what the fuck he’s supposed to do now. He wants — Draco needs to be safe — if Draco wants to leave and Harry talks him out of it and he dies it’ll kill Harry too, he’ll want it to, but. He doesn’t want Draco to be run out of Grimmauld Place, not when he’s worked so hard for it and loved it so well, not when he’s proved himself the type of person who doesn’t run out on much of anything at all. He doesn’t want Draco to move to Cairo, or even Wiltshire; he’d be leaving behind too much, the wet bar and the storeroom and Vicky and Kreacher… and… and…

… and Harry. Fuck it all.

“You’re not going to do it, are you,” Harry says. It’s not what he means to say. He means to say, What do you think you’re going to do, or, Have you given it any thought, or something like that, a non-committal and non-pressuring option. But instead he’s said this, the only small victory of the whole experience that his voice does come out non-committal, so it’s a statement, not a question, which doesn’t make him look quite so twelve years old.

It’s still not great, though.

But then Draco turns to stare at him, and Harry draws in a deep breath that he forgets to let go for a moment. The look on his face — there’s this little smile playing around his lips, in his eyes, this slight furrow to his brow like Harry’s some kind of startling, remarkable surprise.

“No,” he says slowly. “Of course not. I was upset that they thought that I might.”

They look at each other for a long moment, standing there over the water. Draco’s eyes are warm and watchful; they flick to Harry’s mouth and then back again and Harry thinks, for a second, that maybe… maybe it’s all going to go a different way than he’s expecting, after all. Maybe it’s not the most insane notion to ever cross his mind, the thought that he and Draco might be — something, somehow. After all, it’s not like Draco’s a normal person; he’s strange, the way that Harry is strange, and also not at all the way that Harry is strange — in a way that’s all his own. He likes Harry, doesn’t he, as much as he likes anyone? He lets Harry come around; he shows Harry his private spaces. He talks to Harry, the endless way he talks to everyone but the real way, too, just sometimes, just lately. He’s looking at Harry’s mouth.

Harry could take the risk, could lean forward right now with birdcall and his own heartbeat loud in his ears. He could kiss Draco just to find out what would happen. He could see.

He says, “Letting go isn’t an area of strength for you, right?” and knows, as he does it, that it’s a cowardice.

It seems to break the spell; Draco jerks as if stung, though his voice is completely calm when he says, “The power of memory, at least, you seem to have grasped. No, Potter. It’s not.” His eyes rove for a moment, a bit wildly, as if he’s looking for something else to focus his attentions on. They fix on the bag over Harry’s shoulder for the first time. “What’ve you got there?”

“Oh,” Harry says, remembering. “Right.”

He pulls their brooms out of the bag — his own from his apartment and Draco’s from Kreacher, who helpfully informed him that Draco had four brooms, but would probably prefer this one, because the other three were fragile antiques behind glass cases and Draco might kill Harry for looking at them wrong.

“I just figured,” Harry says, faltering at the total lack of expression on Draco’s face. “Er. I mean. The other night — I asked — and you didn’t say no, so I just thought. Well. Maybe I’d see if you wanted to give it a go?”

He tosses Draco his broom, a little because Draco’s gone all still and strange and Harry wants to make sure he’s not catatonic with delayed shock or something. He snaps out a hand to catch it, though — Seeker’s reflexes, Harry thinks, wondering why exactly that particular thought is such a punch to the chest and then dismissing it, because Draco is grinning at him.

“You know — I say, is someone coming through the portal?” he says. Then, because he’s a cheating little bastard and always has been, he throws himself into the air with a mad cackle the minute Harry turns his head. “Race you, Potter!”

“Race me to where?” Harry calls, already kicking off after him. Draco, hideous cheat that he is, doesn’t answer, so Harry catches him up and then slides into the air beneath him, flips himself upside down so he can stare up at Draco, make sure their broomsticks are lined up. Harry can’t win if he doesn’t know where they’re supposed to be going, but he can sure as fuck still tie.

“You’re mental!” Draco calls down at him, laughing. “You’ll knock your fool head off! Come back up and I’ll tell you where we’re racing to!”

“You will not,” Harry calls back, and Draco laughs again and then takes off straight up into the air, a winding, dizzying climb. Harry follows. Harry doesn’t know how anyone could do anything else.

He never does find out where that finish line was supposed to be; in the end they mostly end up chasing each other around, each pulling out whatever tricks they've got to try and show the other up. Draco does an impression of Viktor Krum that’s so absurd and over-the-top that Harry nearly falls off his broom laughing, and Harry tells Draco about the World Cup he went to with Ron and Seamus three years ago, shouts the story of how Seamus nearly threw over Dean for a leprechaun after a few meads too many through the rush of wind and speed. It’s good — it’s clean — it’s fun, and when they touch down at last they’re both breathing heavily, grinning with delight.

“This was a brilliant idea,” Draco says, and then, seeming to remember that it was Harry’s, quickly adds: “Not that you’re any less stupid in general, of course.”

“Oh, of course,” Harry agrees mildly, rolling his eyes. He wants — well, what he wants is to draw Draco in by the lapels of his jacket, kiss his wind-chapped lips long and desperate and a little bit filthy against the wall of the bridge, but. This is okay. This is nice. It’s not more than he can bear, just to be Draco’s friend; it’s more than he should even expect, and he’s grateful for it. He’s sure he can figure out a way for it to be enough.

They go home — they go back to Grimmauld Place, Harry reminds himself, for what feels like the hundredth time — and Draco says that he’s starving, and won’t it be tragic when the thieves come back and he’s inconveniently already dead from malnutrition. Harry pulls a face at his histrionics but heats him up a plate of Fuck You Uncle Vernon Chicken, though he doesn't mention what he calls it when he places it in front of Draco on the table.

After a long, slightly nerve-wracking moment of staring at it, Draco says, faintly, “Is this coq au vin?”

“Hell if I know,” Harry says, shrugging, as he drops into the chair across from him. “Could be, I suppose.”

Draco sniffs at it; pokes it with a fork; takes a bite. His eyes widen. “It is — wait. Potter. You know how to make coq au vin, but you don’t know that it’s called coq au vin?”

Harry shrugs again. “I guess? I don't know. It’s just something my aunt used to have me make for dinner parties as a kid; I don’t think I ever knew what it was called. The recipe kind of stuck with me, I suppose.”

Draco hums around a mouthful, an interested little noise. When he swallows, he says, “Did you cook a lot as a child?”

Harry tenses up, but there’s no careful pity in Draco’s voice, just curiosity. “Yeah,” Harry says, and surprises himself by adding, as lightly as he can, “It was kind of a ‘Don’t cook, don’t eat,’ sort of situation.”

“How charming,” Draco mutters, tone sharp with anger, but then changes tack so quickly Harry doesn’t have time to feel — to feel however that was going to make him feel. “I just meant — did it start back then, was my question. Your whole bizarre secret food obsession, I mean.”

“It’s not bizarre,” Harry says, a little defensive. “And it’s not a secret, and — no. Not really.” He’s never really thought about it before, and his next words come out slow as he casts back in his memory. “When I cooked as a kid I just did it because I was hungry, mostly, or because I was told to, and I knew they’d take it out of me if I didn’t. I never did it for fun, or to make me happy or anything.”

“Does it now?” Draco’s tone is casual, but gaze is probing, intense. “Make you happy, I mean.”

Harry has to consider the question for a long time. Cooking’s mostly just something he does; he’s never really prodded himself for an emotional reaction to it, or wondered all that much as to why.  Everyone has to eat, and he’s good at it, and there aren’t any huge, horrific stakes on a sandwich or a pot of stew. No one ever prophesied that neither he nor the chicken stock could live while the other survived, and he likes that, the steady, reliable, never-waving nature of it all. It helps him think. It calms him.

“Yeah,” he says eventually, and steals a mushroom from Draco’s plate. “I think so.”

“You think so,” Draco says, rolling his eyes. “Some days I genuinely wonder how you survived to adulthood — where you won’t remain, Potter, by the way, if you don’t leave my mushrooms alone.”

Harry shrugs, and maybe grins a little, and sort of very slightly wishes Draco would kill him, because if he’s fighting for his mushrooms it means he likes what he’s eating and that makes Harry’s chest hurt, which is pathetic, and also horrible. He backs off, though, and lets Draco finish his dinner, and is just about ready to get up from the table and consider the possibility of going back to bed when Draco clears his throat.

“I asked for coq au vin every year on my birthday from ages six to sixteen,” Draco says, eyes on his empty plate, so quietly that Harry almost doesn’t hear him. “I haven’t had it since the war. I thought — oh, I don’t know what I thought.” He looks up at Harry just for a second, this flash of eye contact there and gone again, and Harry’s heart breaks a little when he smiles down at his plate. “It’s really good. I’d forgotten.”

“I,” Harry says, hopelessly overfull of a thousand things, but not one of them something to say. That clearly meant something to Draco; it meant something to Harry, too, not that he could begin to explain even to himself what or why. Still, despite that (or perhaps because of it), the only thing he can manage to work out of his mouth is: “I, er. I call it ‘Fuck You Uncle Vernon Chicken,’ actually. Because — well. Because my Uncle Vernon never liked it very much.”

Draco lifts his head to stare for a second, but then he laughs, shaking his head. “You really are a very strange man, aren’t you, Harry?”

“Like you’re one to talk,” Harry says, good-naturedly enough.

“Oh, I know that I’m strange,” Draco agrees. “I’ve probably known that as long I’ve known anything. But from you... ” he pauses, shrugs. Smiles down at his plate again. “From you it’s a constant surprise.”

Harry goes to bed that night thinking of the look on his face, the warmth in his voice, all these little ways it turns out they intersect perfectly, without intersecting at all. Maybe it’s not such a workable problem, being in love with Draco. Maybe Harry’s been doomed all along.

Chapter Text

Over the next three weeks, Harry gets used to it.

What a lie. He’s not even able to convince himself that it’s true in his bleakest moments, the ones where he needs it most; he doesn’t get used to it. How could a person get used to it? Harry wakes up every morning and stares up at his ceiling and marvels that people walk around every day, being in love, and there aren’t more folks just — dropping dead on the street of it, the way he feels like he’s going to about a third of the time. It’s unimaginable. It’s insane, carrying around this many feelings in your chest for someone else; Harry barely has room for his own, most of the time. He thinks maybe he’s just not properly equipped, and then he decides that that doesn’t matter, because it’s happening anyway. He’s stuck with it, and it’s not the most underprepared he’s ever been for a situation, probably. He fought Voldemort when he was eleven; that’s probably true.

It doesn’t feel true. It feels like Harry’s standing on a long, thin pane of glass, watching the tiniest crack creak its way slowly towards him, ready to shatter at any moment. In a good way, sort of, and also very decidedly not. Harry’s trying not to think about it, but for the first time in a storied career of shutting things away in the back of his mind until he feels prepared to deal with them, he’s not having very much success. He keeps catching himself thinking of Draco without even realizing it, which, aside from being inconvenient, is also really bloody embarrassing. He’s not paying attention in meetings. Seamus nudged him at a crime scene one afternoon to say something seemed different, and was he finally getting laid? It’s horrifying.

Living with Draco, incidentally, is not helping with Harry’s little problem. He sort of thought maybe it might at the beginning of the third day, after he left a mess in the kitchen the night before, but in the end he and Draco had about half of a screaming row before Harry, abruptly, said, “You know what, fuck this, I’ll just clean it up,” and Draco blinked and then said, “Oh, what, that’s it? Suddenly you’re Mr. Agreeable?” After that the whole thing descended into… well, still a screaming row, but sort of a... playful... one. Harry feels a little queasy even thinking about it — well, ‘queasy’ might not be the right word.  The correct ones do actually make him feel like he’s going to hurl, though, so he’s sticking with the vocabulary he’s got.

Every day it’s something else. Every day Harry tells himself that he’s hit capacity and found the ceiling and from here on in his feelings will shrink, not grow, and every day he’s wrong. Draco does or says the stupidest little things — just, these inconsequential nothings, the way he stirs his coffee, it doesn’t make any sense — and Harry feels the already unbearable pressure of the whole thing ratchet up another level. More than once he has to fight the urge to go round to Ron and Hermione’s, sit them down on their sofa and demand to know how they’ve done it all these years, been in love with one another and not simply expired from it, forgotten how to draw air after so long without.

There’s a dangerous voice in the back of Harry’s mind when he thinks this way. It says: Maybe, you idiot, the whole mutual nature of the arrangement has something to do with it, what do you think? Harry tries to ignore it. Harry tries not to think of who it sounds like.

Some of it isn’t inconsequential things, anyway. Some of it’s a lot worse.

Harry goes into Sirius’s room one night, about a week and a half in. He’s just — he’s bored. Draco’s out at dinner with Pansy, who’s decided to stick around town for a while, and with Blaise, who seems never to leave town and whom Harry half suspects of actually physically being everywhere, just out of sight, all the time. Ron and Hermione are having a date night, and he doesn’t feel like Firecalling anyone else, or even particularly like going out. He finds he sort of can’t remember what he used to do with his spare time, although he recalls having a lot of it. Did he just, what — sit and stare off into space? Think about nothing?

He tries it. He thinks about Draco. It’s awful; it has to stop. He gets up.

He doesn’t even really mean to open Sirius’s door. He’s just sort of poking around, looking at stuff — there are a lot of rooms in Grimmauld Place, because it’s bigger on the inside than it looks from without, and though Harry had left a lot of them sitting empty when this was his house, Draco’s done something with all of them. Even the ones that don’t have a specific purpose have fascinating things inside them, all these magical artefacts that Draco’s collected but hasn’t yet put out in the museum, or only puts out in the museum on specific days based on some insane system he’s always telling Harry about that Harry never pays attention to. It’s weird stuff he’s collected, too, everything from cursed toucan sculptures to a frankly unsettling amount of information about ancient Wizarding bathroom practices. It’s wild.

And Harry — Harry just wants to see what’s behind Sirius’s door, is all. He knows what used to be there. He wants to see what Draco’s done with it.

He’s not expecting it to look exactly the way it was the last time he saw it, minus the layer of dust and grime. It’s clean but otherwise unchanged, Sirius’s posters on the wall and his bedspread hanging a little loose, and Harry leans back against the doorframe without really realizing he’s doing it, slides down to sit on the floor. He didn’t think — he doesn’t know — it doesn’t make any sense that Draco would have kept this, Draco who never even knew Sirius, Draco who’d have no way to know this was his room, once.

Harry’s eyes burn, looking at it. He thinks that maybe his father sat right there, on that bed, with Sirius, and played — fucking Exploding Snap, or something, when they were boys. He thunks his head against the doorframe a few times; not hard, just enough to… ground him, maybe. Enough to keep him still. He doesn’t want to be here, but he can’t bring himself to go, and so he just sits, quiet, for a long time.

Eventually Draco comes home. Harry hears his steps on the stairs and sighs; he should move, but he doesn’t. He just sits, and waits, and after a few minutes, Draco finds him.

Draco sighs too, a messy exhale that sounds loud in the quiet room. “Ah. Brooding, I see. Here I thought perhaps you were doing something productive with your time.”

Harry doesn’t have the heart to snipe with Draco right now, so he just says, “No.” And then, after a beat, “This was Sirius’s room. When he was a kid.”

“I know that, you great pillock,” Draco says, and before Harry can ask him how, he walks over to a bookshelf and pulls out a thin volume, tosses it at Harry. “This kind of cleared it up for me.”

Harry stares down at it, a thick, angry knot at the back of his throat. It’s a black notebook, leatherbound, but someone has painstakingly carved the words “PROPERTY OF SIRIUS BLACK. DO NOT OPEN. THIS MEANS YOU MUM.” into the cover. He flips it open, not sure what he’s expecting to find, and lets out a little sigh of — relief? Disappointment? — when he realizes all the pages are blank.

“Flip to the end,” Draco says, from much closer than Harry expects. He looks up and Draco’s sitting on the floor, too, legs crossed, leaning back against the other side of the doorframe. His eyes are bright, searching in the semi-darkness, the only light in the room pouring in from the hallway behind him.

Harry flips to the end. There, on the last page, in Sirius’s looping, messy handwriting, are the words Ha! Fooled ya! -S.B. Harry chokes on his breath a little, but Draco’s good enough not to call him on it.

“I tried to change this room once, you know,” Draco says, conversational. “When I first moved in. He had very… comprehensive taste, I’ll grant you, but I thought the space might be better served with some new decor.” He shakes his head, expression going wry. “When I came back in the next morning, everything was exactly the same as before I’d started. It was as if I’d never done any work at all. After that, I decided it was better to leave well enough alone; the house obviously wanted to keep this room the way it was.”

“Why?” Harry says. His voice cracks on it, but — he doesn’t understand, not at all. Sirius was horrible to this house, came back and gave it hope only to leave it again to sit cold and unloved and alone. This house should be angry at Sirius, the way Harry is, sometimes, even though it’s silly and not fair, and he knows Sirius did the best he could with the rough hand he’d been dealt. Even though it was a long time ago. This house has more reason to be angry at Sirius than Harry does and yet here they sit, in this piece of him that it has preserved — that will maybe, Harry thinks, be like Ron’s window at the Burrow, and stay this way for the next hundred years, until this is just a room that nobody knows looks like Sirius, even though it still does.

“Perhaps it wanted to remember,” Draco says, considering, after a moment. “Or perhaps — and stay with me on this theory, Harry — the boggart I found in here when I first cleaned it was just the tip of a hideous boggart iceberg, and in fact what we are seeing now is something entirely new to the ways of magic. The horrific illusion of many boggarts fused together! A boggart king, if you will.”

Harry can’t help it; his eyes slide, almost against his will, away from the rest of the room to focus wholly on Draco. Exasperated — terribly, hopelessly fond — he says, “I knew I shouldn’t have told you about rat kings.”

“You are so wrong,” Draco says. “You should be telling everyone about rat kings, you’re an Auror, it is your public duty. People are out there right now! On the streets! Unaware of the horror lurking beneath their very feet!”

“It’s just a Muggle myth, Draco,” Harry says, shaking his head. “They’re not real.”

“We’re a Muggle myth!” Draco declares, throwing his hands in the air, which, actually, isn’t a terrible point. “Since when, I ask you, is ‘A Muggle said it wasn’t true,’ a good barometer for reality? The rat kings are out there and they’re coming for our very souls. They’re coming for yours first, by the by, because your blasé attitude towards their very existence has offended them.”

Harry laughs, because Draco’s mental, and then gets up, because Draco’s insistent, and then makes dinner, because Draco’s hungry. He doesn’t go back into Sirius’s room, but he’s glad, every time he walks by it, to know it’s back there, behind the door.

Of course, he also only barely resists the urge to throw Draco against the wall and kiss him with furious, desperate passion as they walk down the stairs that night, so. He’s not sure if it’s a good experience or not, overall.

There are rougher things, too. One afternoon Harry comes in and finds Pansy and bloody Narcissa Malfoy taking tea in the drawing room, and, in one of the less proud moments of his life, says, “I have to go, there’s been a — murder,” and walks straight back out of the house. Draco laughs himself nearly sick about the whole thing later, and Harry sits in slightly sheepish acceptance of this, pretending he doesn’t notice the way Draco’s hands are shaking a little. Pretending he doesn’t know why Draco’s mother is in town for the night, staying over at Malfoy Manor, when Draco’s made it perfectly clear a dozen times that she never sets foot on English soil anymore when she can help it.

Draco’s scared. It wears in his face, the set of his jaw when he thinks Harry’s not looking, the uncomfortable little half-jokes he keeps making to museum guests about being murdered in his bed. Harry thinks that Draco probably thinks he’s doing a pretty good job of hiding it, but he’s really not, and it keeps Harry up some nights, tossing between his fresh, clean-smelling sheets: his helplessness in the face of that, the way there’s only so much he can do. Draco won’t even get close to the topic, anyway, changes the subject abruptly every time Harry brings it up, so Harry doesn’t bring it up. He just — sets Trip Jinxes on all the windows, and Alarm Spells on all the doors, and every night he goes floor to floor and checks that there are no holes in the wards.

“I did all this stuff before, you know,” Draco says every night, but he doesn’t ever insist on taking over, and Harry always thinks he seems a little easier about it all by the time he’s done.

They’re working the case, too — Harry’s given up all pretense of running a professional investigation and showed Draco all their files, because he’s better at research and honestly maybe at Auroring in general than Harry, though Harry tries not to acknowledge that grim possibility most of the time. He lets it slip to Ron that he’s done so by accident at dinner one night and is immediately horrified, but then Hermione says, “Oh, thank god, I’ve done so much research already, when can we all meet and go over it all?”

They all have dinner at Grimmauld Place about two weeks after the night of the attacks. Harry cooks because Draco says he should, and it ends up being a really nice night, though they don’t get all that much done. Hermione and Draco get along well, and Draco and Ron have several perfectly civil conversations, and Harry thinks he keeps his feelings for Draco under wraps pretty well, all things considered. He catches himself when he’s staring and stops. He doesn’t say anything weird. It goes fine.

After dessert they have drinks in the sitting room, go over a little bit of the case work, and agree to meet up again the following week to go over the rest, since they’re all overly full and a little tipsy, except for Hermione. Then Hermione says she and Ron have to go home, and they had a lovely evening, and they’ll just take the Floo, and would Harry mind coming through for a minute to say hello to Rose?

Harry looks at Draco, who raises one eyebrow, picks up his current book from the coffee table, and drawls, “By all means, Potter, don’t let me stop you,” so Harry shrugs and steps through the fire after them.

He remembers that Rose is at Molly’s, not even here to say hello to, at the same moment Hermione pinches the bridge of her nose and wails, “Harry, oh my god!”

“Sweet Merlin’s saggy trousers, it was horrible,” Ron says, grasping a chair for support. “I feel like I’ve seen inside of you. Both of you. Like. Your insides! That’s how unclean I feel right now.”

“Er,” says Harry says, badly startled. “What are you talking about?”

“What are we talking about?” Hermione repeats, shrill. “What are we talking about? Harry!”

“Look, mate,” Ron says, and grimaces. “If things are — I mean — if you and Malfoy are having — bedroom problems — ”

“What,” Harry says, a stricken whisper, and then, at a volume that’s more of a shout: “What?”

As it turn out, Ron and Hermione have basically thought he was having sex with Malfoy this entire time. It’s a pretty horrifying revelation, apparently all around.

“What do you mean you’re not sleeping with him?” Ron demands, crossing his arms over his chest. Then he grimaces. “Oh, ew, hold on, do you mean the thing tonight with the — ”

“The corn,” Hermione groans, “oh my god, that was bad enough when I thought it was intentional! Harry! How can you possibly not be sleeping with him? It’s not even sexual tension, it’s — it’s — I mean, the corn thing alone was borderline pornographic!”

Harry tries to think of what they’re even talking about. He does have a glazed, soft-edged memory of Draco eating a piece of corn on the cob, which, yes, fine, did perhaps engender some less-than-wholesome thoughts on Harry’s part, but they were just — thoughts! Ron and Hermione shouldn’t be able to see his thoughts!

When he says as much, Ron gives him a faintly disgusted look.

“Mate, everyone could see your thoughts,” he says, shaking his head. “From space, they could see them; yours and his. How about the thing with the sauce on his face, ‘Mione?”

Hermione makes a pained sound and picks up the edge of a blanket. Leaning over into Ron’s space, and in a truly terrible impression of Draco’s voice, she says, “Oh, Potter, you’ve got a little — spot,” as she rubs the blanket in what is clearly supposed to be a sensual manner all over Ron’s cheek.

Harry knows what moment they’re talking about, and they’re obviously both insane. Draco only — kind of dabbed him a little, with the napkin, for a second — and Harry definitely, definitely was not wearing whatever truly appalling expression is on Ron’s face right now.

“Please stop,” says Harry, in a small voice. “You’re scarring me.”

“Well how do you think we feel!” Ron says, throwing his hands in the air.  “Look, okay, I genuinely cannot believe I’m saying this, it hurts me to say this, but: Harry. Please. For the sake of decency. For the sake of my eyeballs. Just do the deed, mate. Just have at him. This has gone on long enough.”

“What do you mean?” Harry says, a note of real hysteria in his voice. “How can you guys be — you’re talking like — I only realized I had,” he stops, swallows, spits the next word like it’s a disease, “feelings for him, or whatever, like two weeks ago!”

There is dead silence for a long moment. Then:

“Oh, Harry,” Hermione says, her hand flying to her mouth, “what?”

“But,” Ron says, sounding badly rattled. He throws a panicky look to Hermione, who returns it. “But — we just thought you didn’t want to tell us. And who could blame you, I mean, it’s Malfoy — ”

“Harry,” Hermione says, and it’s almost a wail. “I’ve known since sixth year! What do you mean you only figured it out two weeks ago, that’s — “

“Sixth year?” Harry repeats. He maybe yells it a little. “Sixth year?”

“Well!” Hermione wrings her hands, her face a picture of mortified horror. “You were — you were so obsessed! And at first I thought, well, but he’s always been a little obsessed with Malfoy, you know, only then I got to thinking about that and — and it just! It all made a lot more sense! If you had a — a bit of a crush, or,” her voice wavers, probably at the expression on Harry’s face. “Or something.”

“We talked about this!” Ron says, in the tones of someone having found a secret tunnel out of a collapsing mine. “Yes! We did! Weeks and weeks ago! Right at the beginning of this whole thing! We said, Harry, you’ve always been a bit obsessed with Malfoy, and you got all squirrelly about it and said it wasn’t true and we just — we assumed you were trying to avoid the topic, because it so obviously was true, and… ” Ron looks at Harry and pales a little. “Merlin. You really did think it wasn’t, didn’t you?”

“Sixth year?” Harry says again, because: that can’t be right. Harry hadn’t had a crush on Draco — on Malfoy, back then — in school. He just… knew where Malfoy was most of the time, and agonized for hours about what he might be up to, and spent many perfectly happy afternoons zoning out in class imagining defeating him in Quidditch, or punching him, or playing some trick on him just to see the look on his face, or…

“Oh my god,” says Harry, horrorstruck, to the floor.

“If it helps, I didn’t figure it out until you sent him that wand,” Ron says, a little faint. “Only then — I mean, six months you talked about it, Harry. ‘Do you think he even got the wand? He probably did and just isn’t answering me; what a stupid git. Don’t you think Malfoy’s a stupid git, Ron?’ It was every day!”

“I,” Harry says. He supposes, now that he considers it, that he had thought about the whole thing with the wand an awful lot, for a while.

“Two weeks ago means you didn’t even know for,” Hermione says, shaking her head at him in disbelief. “I mean — the pub night — the hospital —  “

“Could we all just stop,” Harry says, too loud, “talking about all the stupid ways I didn’t notice that I was bloody in love with him for a second! Please! Just one fucking minute! Of peace!”

There is another ringing silence.

Eventually, quietly, Ron says, “Wow, mate.”

Harry swallows. “Yeah.”

“I’ve…” Hermione says, equally hushed. “I’ve never heard you say that about anybody before. Not even Ginny. That’s — wow.”

“Well hooray,” Harry spits, too freaked out to filter it and not caring much. “One thing tonight that I knew before you two did. At least it’s a big one!”

Silence again. This time it’s heavy, weighted, but Harry cannot find it in himself to give a single fuck. He’s too — he’s too — whatever the word for it is, when your two best friends in the world tell you they’ve known about your secret embarrassing horrible feelings for Draco Malfoy since nineteen ninety fucking six. He’s too — that, to care right now.

Eventually, though, it does get to him, and he snaps, “Oh, would you please just stop — stop looking at me like that. It doesn’t mean anything, anyway.”

“Harry,” Hermione says, cautious, “I think it means kind of a lot.”

“No it doesn’t,” Harry snarls — like if he says it harshly enough, that will make it true. “It doesn’t, it’s just… a phase, or something. It can’t matter, he’s not — I mean, we couldn’t — and, anyway, it’s not like he feels the same way.”

“I wish I didn’t know this,” Ron says, with a little shudder, “but, mate: I’m pretty sure he does.”

“I mean,” Hermione hedges, when Harry whips his head up to stare at Ron, “obviously we don’t know if he — if his feelings for you are — as, ah. Deep. As yours for him.” She exchanges another nervous glance with Ron, and then finishes, “But I think Ron and I can say with some certainty that what we’ve been witnessing has definitely not been one-sided.”

“It’s really gross,” Ron says, patting Harry on the shoulder. “Not because of the gay thing or anything! Because of the Malfoy thing. And, also, because you guys are really gross about it.”

“I suppose the — intensity,” Hermione says slowly, “does make a lot more sense, now that we know you two haven’t — “

“Don’t say it!” Harry says, throwing up a warning hand. “Not again. No more. I just — I just want to go be someplace where you two. Aren’t. Right now.”

“That’s fair,” Ron says, a little distantly, after a moment. “We’re, uh. We’re sorry?”

“Very sorry,” Hermione repeats, too quickly. “Really, Harry, we thought — ”

“Yep,” Harry says, “sure, I got it,” and walks back through the Floo, unable to do anything more.

Draco’s still reading in his armchair in the sitting room when Harry steps through the grate, and he raises one eyebrow when Harry lets out half of a strangled little shout on seeing him. “Good lord, Potter. What did that baby do to you?”

“I,” Harry says, blinking rapidly. Sixth year! screams a hysterical voice in the back of his mind, which he suspects may never stop screaming until the day that he dies. Possibly not even then. “Ahaha. Nothing. Everything was — perfectly fine. Normal! And fine!”

Draco cocks his head, and puts his book down. “Oh, because that’s such a normal and fine thing to say.”

“Just,” Harry says wildly, “I can’t — I don’t want to — talk about it. Ever. Forever. Forever and ever, is how long I want to — to — to never ever think or talk about it again! Okay? Is that okay with you?”

“Y...es?” Draco says. He looks like he’s considering taking Harry to St. Mungo’s. After a minute, carefully, he says, “Do you want to — talk about something else?”

“Please,” Harry says, collapsing into his own armchair. “Anything. Maths. Slugs. Whatever you like.”

“Hmm,” Draco says, frowning at him, but then he shrugs and launches in on some rant about a bicorn horn from 1812 that he’s been tracking for three and a half years, and Harry zones out to the rise and fall of his voice, the soothing rhythm of his pointed inflections, until he feels like he can breathe again.

So: in school, too, then. Not in the same way, sure, but — still.

So, yeah. Harry doesn’t get used to it. He does, however, grow accustomed to it; not just to Draco, to the way he feels about Draco, but to living with Draco, in Grimmauld Place, without an end date in sight.

It’s… nice. Surprisingly nice. Obviously some of that is just a result of — whatever, the stupid emotional shit, the fact that every time Harry so much as looks at Draco he’s suffused with warmth and affection and, yes, okay, a bit of visceral horror, also, but still. It’s not surprising, that he’s enjoying spending time with Draco; he does, generally. He got over that particular shock a while ago.

What is a surprise — what Harry can’t help but be a little bowled over by every time — is the way they fall into certain routines. Is the way Harry enjoys them.

He’s never been a particularly structured guy, is the thing. Harry’s always kind of subscribed to the theory of playing it fast and loose with — well, with almost everything, just making decisions when decisions came along. He eats when he’s hungry. He does laundry when he’s out of clean clothes. He tidies up when things get dirty, or he’s having trouble finding something. It always felt oppressive, weird, to force rules on himself in the absence of someone else to do it for him, like he was putting himself in a box for no reason other than to be inside of one. It never sat right.

Draco, as it turns out, is a very structured person. It’s really pretty startling, how little Harry minds.

He’s not, Harry works out after a period of observation, unwilling to break from his patterns, exactly. Like a number of things about Draco, they seem to be there mostly for show. But he has them, and he defaults to them most of the time, and though, again, he isn’t married to them, he’ll kick up a hilarious fuss if they’re disrupted for any reasons other than his own.

Like: Draco eats dinner at seven. Not 6:30; not 7:15; seven. It takes Harry about a week to figure out that Draco’s actively herding him towards the kitchen at ten after six every night in order to achieve this goal, and then another four days of dragging his feet and making roasts that take hours to cook before Draco snaps and yells at him about how seven is the most rational and civilized time to eat, which is really pretty satisfying.

“What did you even do before you press-ganged me into feeding you all the time?” Harry asks, when Draco has calmed down a little and Harry has subtly turned up the heat on the stew he’s making so it’ll be done on time — it’s fun winding him up and everything, but Harry’s not cruel.

“I starved,” Draco says, rolling his eyes and throwing dramatically himself across the counter, before he makes a face like he’s just bitten a lemon and straightens up. “Honestly, the ego on you, it’s sickening. I had Kreacher cook for me, of course. Or I ordered takeout, or went out to eat with one of my many scintillating friends, none of whom ever felt it necessary to say, ‘Hey, Draco, when you and I are aren’t out sharing a meal such as this one, d’you just sit alone in your kitchen and try to will dinner into existence with the power of your mind?’”

“I was just asking,” Harry says, putting his hands in the air in mock surrender and maybe flicking a little stew at the wall in the process. Draco narrows his eyes at the spot on the tile, and Harry laughs as he Scourgifies it — he’s such a little git, it’s honestly unbelievable. “Why don’t you just do that, then, if I’m so — er, what’d you say — inexcusably and criminally tardy all the time?”

“Yours tastes better,” Draco says, and then promptly looks horrified with himself. He grabs a handful of a nearby spinach salad and throws it at Harry, yelping, “You tricked me into saying that! I’ll never admit it on record! Expunge it from your memory! Burn the evidence!”

Harry laughs and flicks carrot peels at him and laughs some more, and then realizes Draco has gotten some salad in the stew, and dinner’s late after all. But after that he goes to the kitchen at ten after six all on his own, except on those nights Draco arbitrarily decides that they’re going out. It’s weird, but Harry thinks that he… likes it, actually. The reliable sameness. It’s not a rule or a box; it’s a fencepost. It’s something to construct the rest of his day around.

Or: the mornings. Draco gets up at the same time every day; showers at the same time every day; sits and reads the paper in his sitting room at the same time every day. He changes it up from there — and Harry has the sneaking suspicion that maybe he didn’t used to eat breakfast at all, because he doesn’t seem to care what time that happens — but those in first three things he never wavers. It’s earlier than Harry used to get up, but he finds himself waking to the sound of water rushing through the pipe in the wall behind his bed when Draco gets into the shower, and then — well, then he’s thinking about Draco in the shower, so he can’t go back to sleep. One way or another he always ends up having one himself, and then meeting Draco in the sitting room. Draco’s usually read most of the Prophet by the time Harry drops down into his chair, toweling his hair dry and yawning a little, and he tells Harry what’s worth knowing, since Harry still won’t read the paper and doesn’t ever intend to, either. It’s helpful; Harry never realized how many conversations he couldn’t follow at work were actually just people talking about what was in that morning’s Prophet. Now he even joins in sometimes, although generally he gets weird looks when he does.

Harry can’t get used to being in love with Draco, but it’s almost impossible not to become familiar with his various idiosyncrasies and patterns, the little ways in which he seems determined to shape the world around him. They make sense to Harry, even though they shouldn’t, even though the fact that they do goes against a lot of the things he’s always thought were true about himself; they resonate for him, work for him, in a way his own habits have never really done. He’s trying not to worry about that. He’s trying not to think that maybe he’s never known himself very well at all.

Anyway, that’s why, when he comes downstairs to an empty sitting room on a Saturday morning in the end of the third week, he knows that something’s wrong.

“Draco?” Harry calls, pulling his towel away from his head and hurrying down the stairs. It’s probably nothing — Draco’s probably just answering the door or something — the museum’s not open until ten and it’s only 8:30, but someone’s probably — early, or something. This churning feeling in his gut is probably nothing. “Draco? Are you down here?”

“Kitchen,” Draco calls, in a horribly strangled voice. Harry drops his towel and runs.

Draco is standing in the middle of the room, his back to the stove. Harry’s briefly so relieved to see him standing there, perfectly fine, not at wand point or bleeding again from the now thin and silvery scar under his right eye, that he doesn’t notice what he’s looking at. Then he sees that Draco’s hands are clenching and releasing at his sides, and, already dreading it, follows his eyeline.

Beetles — hundreds and hundreds of beetles — are spelling out the words “GET OUT” in two foot letters across the window above the kitchen sink.

“What the fuck,” Harry says, staring at them. He’s never had much of a problem with bugs, but this is disgusting, and in his kitchen — in Draco’s kitchen, Harry hastily corrects himself, but still. There’s also the disturbing little message to consider, and he grimaces at the whole mess of it, furious, but also… confused. “Who even takes the time to do something like this? It’s like something out of a bad Muggle horror movie — what purpose does it serve? It’s not even that intimidating, really, just weird. Well, unless you’re afraid of bugs, I suppose. Ron’d probably hate it.”

He casts a sidelong look at Draco, expecting him to roll his eyes and say something in that dry, exasperated voice he gets when he’s in the mood to feel superior to Harry, which is most of the time. What he’s not expecting is for Draco’s face to be white as a sheet — which is stupid, Harry realizes, because Draco’s a museum owner, a private citizen, and not an Auror. Those school breaks he spent sharing houseroom with Voldemort aside, he’s probably never, just for example, seen an expletive scrawled out across a corpse in blood, or played a rousing game of ‘Worst Murder’ over a few drinks at the pub. He’s a regular person, for a given definition of the words. He must be terrified.

Harry turns quickly, steps in between him and the window. “Whoa, Draco, hold on,” he says, and he puts a hand on Draco’s shoulder because — because they did this once before, didn’t they? The night of the attack, when Draco curled into him and gasped for breath; Harry trusted his instincts, and they were right. And that’s all he’s doing now, it’s the same thing, he knows what that look on Draco’s face means and he wants to help, but — but Draco must not want his help.

It’s strange, though, because just for a second he leans in, the full weight of him pressing against Harry’s hand, their faces close, and Harry draws in a deep breath and —

Draco rips himself away from Harry’s touch like it’s burned him, his eyes snapping from distant and fearful to furious, hard. Disgusted, Harry registers, feeling the hit like a physical blow.

“Don’t touch me,” Draco spits, and then, sneering, adds, “Fucking hell, Potter, you really can’t help yourself, can you? The second you have an opportunity to be the big hero you just come charging on in, regardless of whether or not anyone actually wants you to.”

“I,” Harry says, startled and stung, reeling. “I wasn’t trying to — “

“Oh, just shut up,” Draco yells. “Or — or — don’t just stand there! Don’t try to be kind to me, you fucking pillock, can’t you understand it’s not fair to — ” He cuts himself off abruptly, standing pale and rigid in the center of the kitchen, and looks at Harry with wide, unreadable eyes.

Harry’s heart’s beating too loud again; distantly, he wonders if Draco can hear it. “It’s not fair to what?”

“Nothing,” Draco snaps. All the anger’s gone from his voice now; he just sounds flat. Cold. “If you’ll excuse me; I’ll just be a moment.”

He turns on his heel and stalks off towards the stairs and Harry — Harry stands at the kitchen, his back to the beetles, and stares at the spot where Draco just was.

It’s not that Harry hasn’t thought about what Hermione and Ron said last week: that it isn’t one-sided, this thing between Draco and him. He’s thought about it a lot, in fact. He’s lost hours to thinking about it, to watching Draco out of the corner of his eye and wondering: what if? There have even been moments he let himself think that maybe his friends were right, and that Draco might — well. Like him, or something, a little. Harry’s never let himself think for even a moment that Draco might love him; he’s not an idiot, and he knows too well the power of love, how it’s strong beyond measure and burned into your very bones and never quite there when you want it to be, somehow. But he thought, just maybe… he thought…

Well. It doesn’t matter what he thought. Draco doesn’t so much as want Harry to touch him, thinks it’s unfair that Harry would even try. That’s… that’s pretty clear. Even Harry can figure that out.

He takes slow, shallow breaths, and looks down at the swimming pattern of the tiles on the floor, and thinks that love’s never been worth it, not for a second, because the pain that it comes with is too wretched. Because it’s unbearable. Because it hurts too fucking much.

Draco comes back downstairs a few minutes later. He’s calm in that way he doesn’t get naturally, like there’s a thin glaze between him and the rest of the world; he’s taken Draught of Peace, and Harry almost asks him for some. He doesn’t, though. He doesn't want to ask Draco for anything, just now.

“I apologize,” Draco says. The worst thing about it is how easily it falls out of his mouth; wrestling an apology out of Draco is typically a Herculean task, involving days of coordinated effort and a committed wearing-down campaign. Getting one unprompted like this doesn’t just feel cheap — it stings. “I was overwrought. No one enjoys being systematically driven from their own home.”

“Sure,” Harry says to the floor. If Ron and Hermione are right, he’s been making a hideous, embarrassing ass of himself for weeks, mooning after Draco so obviously that it can be seen from space, so he’s sure as hell not going to show Draco his face right now. “Makes sense.”

Draco makes a little sound, this huffing breath of some emotion that Harry could probably identify if he’d just look up, but he doesn’t. He can’t, and after a second Draco shoves past him, hard, knocking their shoulders together as he steps up to the sink.

Harry risks turning to look at the line of his back. It’s as bitter and harsh as the taste in Harry’s mouth, but he stays quiet, carefully a step away, while Draco pulls a little jar out of his pocket and knocks one of the beetles inside with the tip of his wand.

Draco turns around, and his face is cold with fury, even through the glaze of the potion. Without looking at Harry, he says, tightly, “I think it’s about time we called in some bloody reinforcements.”

Blaise shows up first; he takes one look at the beetles, glances at Draco’s face, and then Banishes them, which is what Harry should have done. Ron and Hermione arrive next, both in work clothes after being drawn away from a weekend home improvement project — each of them gives Harry a weighted look, but he looks away, doesn’t respond. Finally Pansy comes through the door, wearing sweatpants and a face of what looks like last night’s makeup. She complains bitterly about having been drawn away from her business on a Saturday morning, but she settles in with the rest of them anyway, sprawling out next to Draco’s chair on the sitting room floor.

It’s a long day. Strangely enough, Ron and Hermione and Pansy and Blaise get on all right, to the extent that Harry’s really paying them any attention; the intersection of their assorted disciplines, and their shared investment in the matter at hand, seems to outweigh any lingering animosity from school. There are a couple of delicate moments, but by and large they all work together well, passing case notes and ideas and large tomes from Draco and Hermione’s libraries back and forth.

All of them except Harry and Draco, that is. It’s — Harry knows it’s his fault, that Draco’s being cold and shuttered because Harry is, that what Draco needs right now is for Harry to just swallow all of his stupid unproductive bullshit and be there for him, help him work the fucking problem. Harry even catches Draco throwing him little openings, once or twice, moments that have to be costing him with all his stupid pride, and Harry wants to take them, he does. It kills him, that look on Draco’s face when Harry won't rise to his bait, refuses to fall back into their easy rhythm even though it would be the simplest thing in the world. He wants to let go of his — of this — of whatever it is, this blockage that’s settled under his skin like cement, walling him off from himself.

But he can’t. He can’t stop seeing it: the disgust on Draco’s face this morning, the way he tore himself away from Harry’s hand like Harry’s touch was poisonous. It shouldn’t be important, Harry shouldn’t let it get to him, it should matter so much less than what they’re trying to do here, but — it doesn’t. Harry lied to Ron and Hermione, and he lied to himself; he’s not sure anything has ever mattered to him like this thing with Draco does, and he can’t stand it another minute, to sit here and let himself fall back into their familiar give-and-take when he knows how Draco really feels. When he doesn’t have even a distantly flickering beacon of hope to keep him going.

It’s selfish. It’s horrible. It’s too hard to do anything else.

“Well, here’s something,” Hermione says, after a few hours. Harry is grateful to her — to all of them, really, even Pansy — for staying here and working with them, even over the cavernous echo of his and Draco’s icy silence. “Here, Ron, give me that initial report — Draco. You said that first day that they kept asking you for the source, right?”

Out of the corner of his eye, Harry sees Draco stiffen very slightly, though his voice is perfectly even when he says, “That sounds right, yes.”

Hermione makes a triumphant little noise. “Well, what about the actual core of the house? It says here — and I can’t believe I never knew this about magical property — but it says that in every one there’s an actual, physical object that acts as sort of a focal point for all the power a place collects over the years. Almost like a wand for the house, in a sense. Couldn’t that have been what they were talking about, when they were saying the source?”

“Something like that would be incredibly powerful,” Blaise says thoughtfully.

“What happens to the house, though?” Ron asks. “Without the core, I mean?”

“Well,” Hermione says, voice hesitant. “I think it dies, Ron. The physical structure might remain, but honestly it might not. So much of Wizarding architecture is based in spellwork that it might just leave a ruin behind. I’m not sure.”

“I’m sorry,” Pansy says, not sounding it, “but that’s just stupid. I mean, sure, it’s a powerful object, but powerful enough to justify all this? Plus, it doesn’t explain all the freaky psychological torture bullshit. I’m sure it’s something else.”

Harry isn’t looking at her as she says this. Harry isn’t looking at any of them. Harry is looking, as he’s been looking since Hermione brought the topic up, at Draco, who is sitting so stiff in his chair now that he almost looks as if he might shatter. Who is purposefully and studiously avoiding Harry’s eyes.

Draco said, at wandpoint that night in his bedroom — he told his attacker that he’d die first. He said that he’d rather die. In all the confusion and panic and unprecedented emotional revelations, Harry lost sight of that little comment, didn’t think to ask Draco what, exactly, he was being asked to do that he rejected so thoroughly. Harry just proceeded blithely along, assuming that Draco would present to him any information he had that Harry might need to know. Harry just walked forward, not even realizing he was being a fool.

“No, that’s it,” he says, staring daggers at Draco, and he’s so angry that his voice shakes on it. “Isn’t it?” When Draco doesn’t say anything, doesn’t even look at Harry, Harry picks up the heavy tome in his own lap and slams it down, hard, on the table next to him. Yells, “Isn’t it, Malfoy?” loud enough that it makes even the boom of the book’s impact sound quiet.

A muscle in Draco’s jaw twitches, but he still doesn’t open his goddamned mouth.

“Uh,” Ron says hastily. “Hermione, don’t we have that — thing — ”  

“How long have you known?” Harry demands, ignoring Ron entirely. “When’d you work it out, Draco? I know it was before the second attack — you were telling them you wouldn’t give it to them, weren’t you? You were telling them to kill you, that you’d rather die than give it up!” Draco’s eyes flick guiltily to Harry’s face for a second, but he looks away just as quickly, and Harry’s voice rises again, not even intentionally, as he repeats: “How long?”

For a hanging second Harry thinks Draco still isn’t going to say anything, but then he lifts his head. His eyes are cold. His lip is curled. His voice, when he says, “Since three days after the first break-in, Potter, if you absolutely must know,” is a fucking murder weapon, all sharp-edged, deadly violence.

“Do you know what I think we should all go,” Pansy says, without pausing for breath; from a remove, Harry registers that Ron and Hermione are already heading for the door. She grabs her purse, and then Blaise’s arm. “Come on, Blaise. You can’t just stay and watch somebody else’s row. It’s voyeuristic, and very gauche.”

“But — “ Blaise says.

“Now,” Pansy says, throwing an urgent glance at the way Harry and Draco are glaring at each other, and Blaise relents and lets himself be pulled upright. When they get to the door, she pauses just long enough to say, “Don’t kill each other, please, it’d be such a horrible bother,” before she vanishes around the corner.

Harry should say a lot of things. He should say that Draco is a conniving little snake who’s been lying to him for two months. He should say that Draco’s stupid, selfish secrecy fetish has wasted the Auror department’s time and money. He should say that he’s been killing himself with worry all the time, every day, watching the stress carry itself heavier and heavier over Draco’s shoulders, panicking every time he’s two minutes late getting home, and Draco’s been sitting on this, hiding this, when just bloody saying something might have let them wrap the whole thing up. He should say that Draco’s some Slytherin, that he has less self-preservation instinct even than Harry, and that his idiocy could have been the death of them both. Of the house, too. Of it all.

But what comes out of his mouth, bitter and embarrassingly, obviously hurt, is, “Why the fuck didn’t you tell me?”

“Oh please, Potter,” Draco sneers. He stands and walks over to the fire, and Harry wonders if he’s doing it on purpose — putting physical distance between them, since one of his other stupid walls has been compromised. “You nearly murdered this house yourself, with your neglect and your ignorance and unscrupulous selling practices. You didn’t even believe me when I told you that magical houses had souls and personalities, you looked at me like I was crazy, you said people should knock out walls — “

“Yeah, and that was bloody months ago!” Harry snaps. He gets out of his chair, because he doesn’t want Draco to have any distance right now — because Harry’s too angry to want to give him any room at all. “I was wrong and I admitted it, something you apparently literally can’t do to save your fucking life! And anyway, I know you wouldn’t have let me stay here for one minute if you still thought I was that guy, so what’s the real reason? Do you just not trust me?”

“Trust you?” Draco says, his eyes glittering. “You must be joking. What did you think, that I was just going to open right up to my childhood nemesis and — ”

“You are so full of shit,” Harry yells, loud enough to drown out whatever other stupid toxic hurtful rubbish Draco is trying to spew at him. “You think after everything I’m just going to stand here and let you act like that’s all it is? Like there’s not a single thing that’s different between you and me standing here right now and, what, flinging mud at each other in third year? You must be out of your fucking mind!”

“Why do you even care?” Draco cries, just as loud; just as wretched. “What could it possibly matter to you, why do you give a single bloody fuck about whether or not I trust  — “

“Because I’m in love with you, you stupid git!” Harry shouts. He never has been very good at holding back his emotions in crunch time.

Still, it’s — not what he expected. Harry thought, when he thought about it at all, that if he ever did tell Draco this particular truth it would be one of those things he’d have to force out, that he’d need to pry it loose with too much Firewhiskey and grit his teeth around the words as he said them. Instead it slips out of him without so much as a moment’s hesitation, furious and defiant and so honest that Harry’s teeth hurt, that Harry has to cross his arms over his chest to try to protect himself from the havoc he knows he’s just caused.

Draco stares at him, mouth hanging open, for what has to be the longest moment of Harry’s life.

Then he laughs. It’s not — Harry doesn’t imagine he knows what all of Draco’s real laughs sound like, secretive, withholding bastard that he is, but he knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that this isn’t one of them. It’s brief and barked, sounds as forced out of Draco’s mouth as Harry thought his own admission would have to be, and that doesn’t make it hurt any less, somehow.

“No,” Draco says, “you’re not.”

“Yes I am!” Harry snaps, because he might as well, now, and because Draco is above everything else so bloody annoying that Harry can’t quite help himself. “I’d think I might know a little better than you do!”

Draco actually rolls his eyes at him, though his face has gone very pale. “Oh prove it, Potter,” he says, sneering, “except wait, you can’t, because it isn’t — ”

Harry never gets to find out what it isn’t; with a snarling noise from low in his throat, he slams Draco up against the wall and kisses him.

He’s expecting hesitation, but Draco kisses back with an immediacy that startles Harry a little. His hands are in Harry’s hair so quickly that Harry thinks he must have been lifting them, reaching for him, while they were still moving towards the wall, and that’s — Harry can’t think about what that is right now, because he’s thinking about this, Draco warm and fierce under his hands, his mouth. His kiss is as intense and unrelenting as the rest of his stupid fucking personality and Harry breathes it in with his whole body, moving to wrap an arm around Draco’s waist, draw him in. He spreads his hand against Draco’s back and Draco drags him down for a better angle with his too-tight grip in Harry’s hair and it’s so good that Harry feels something within himself fracture spectacularly, a rain of shatterglass shivering down his spine. He wants — he wants — he wants to throw Draco to the ground, into the chair, to lay hands on him and press the truth of his stupid confession into the hollows of his bones.

But then Draco’s shoving him back and away, shoving him hard enough that Harry stumbles, a little, in getting clear of him. Reeling, he meets Draco’s eyes and nearly stumbles again at what he sees in them, the panic and disbelief and rage. Harry’s own anger bled away into the consuming friction of their kiss, and he sees the curl to Draco’s lip, the trembling clench to his hands, and is sorry and humiliated and afraid, most of all.

“You arrogant bastard,” Draco says. His voice is pitched higher than usual, breathy in that way that makes Harry nervous for him, not that Harry can say as much just now. “What gives you the right to do that? What makes you think you can just — just come here, to my home, and take whatever you like? Did you honestly imagine you could just say that, like it doesn’t matter, like it’s okay to just declare willy-nilly when it’s supposed to mean something real — ”

“It does mean something real,” Harry says. His voice is a low rasp, unfamiliar to his own ears. “It’s — it’s real to me, anyway.”

Draco glares at him, and now that Harry’s not wrapped up in his own shit he can see that it’s the same way Draco’s been glaring at him all day; angry, sure, but more frightened than anything else. It’s a punch to the fucking throat, that Harry can still feel the ghostly sensation Draco’s lips on his when he’s put that expression on Draco’s face. When kissing Harry is what that expression is even about.

“I had everything the way that I liked it,” Draco says, and his voice is so ragged and wounded that Harry sways a little, leans away. “Do you understand — I worked so hard, Harry. I told myself and told myself that if I just kept my head down! And kept trying! That eventually I would have what I wanted! And I did, I was happy, I had my work and my friends and my house and I never wanted for anything! I told myself I could do it and I did it, and it was perfect, and you had to show up and ruin it, didn’t you, because that’s just what you do. Because you can’t fucking help yourself!”

“I’m sorry,” Harry whispers. He is. He’s so sorry he doubts there are words for it in any language. He’s so sorry he could fall to the floor.

“Take it back, then,” Draco demands. “Take it back right now and we can forget it and — and solve the bloody case and go back to — to — just take it back, all right?”

“I’m sorry,” Harry says again, because he can’t, however much he might want to.

There’s a beat of fraught silence, and then Draco says, “I have to go.”

“But,” Harry says, “it’s your — “

“I have to go,” Draco repeats, grabbing a handful of Floo powder and tossing it at the fireplace. “Keep an eye on the house — or don’t. What do I care, anyway? What does any of it matter, after all?” He steps into the flames and shouts, “Parkinson Estate!” vanishing in a whirl of the fire.

Harry stands in front of the empty grate for a long, long time.

Eventually he moves to the wet bar, and spends the rest of the day and much of the evening getting well and truly sauced.

It’s not a healthy coping strategy; Harry knows this even as he does it. It’s not the well-adjusted adult thing to do. But fuck if he doesn’t have to do something, and the burn of the Firewhiskey on his lips and his throat is the closest he can come to wiping clean the taste and shape of Draco’s mouth against his own.

He shouldn’t have — he went about it wrong. He’s impulsive and reckless and he never thinks anything through; in all this time he’s been agonizing about Draco he didn’t stop to consider what a guarded, prickly person he is, how poorly he reacts to surprise. Harry should have played it any other way, instead of working Draco up into a frothing rage all day and then just dropping that on him cold, no warning, in the middle of a fight. He didn’t mean to, but that doesn’t make it any better. He didn’t mean to, but that doesn’t make it right.

He tries to be angry with Draco for a while around seven, when he doesn’t come back for dinner, but he can’t hold onto the emotion for more than a moment or two. Draco doesn’t owe Harry his love. Draco doesn’t owe Harry anything, except — well, probably the truth of what the thieves were after would have been the least he could do, in the circumstances, but even that anger rings hollow and cold. Harry feels hollow and cold, not even drunk, though he knows logically that he is, he must be. He just feels empty, lost, and every few minutes he catches himself rubbing two fingers against his bottom lip, worrying it, like he’s trying to summon back Draco’s touch, somehow.

He goes to bed eventually, and Draco’s still not home when he wakes up, and Harry takes the Hangover Potion Kreacher brings him and doesn’t feel better at all.

For a while he just lays in bed, staring at the ceiling, and wonders what happens next. Will Draco just stay at Pansy’s forever, or is he going to come home and tell Harry to get out? Harry doubts, realistically, that Draco could stay away from the house for long — but then again, Harry’s apparently ruined everything for him, so maybe he will. Maybe he’ll move to Cairo, and Harry will catch his thieves or he won’t and it won’t matter, either way. Draco will be gone and Harry will… will go back to his old life, in his tiny apartment a few blocks from Diagon Alley, and tell himself not to think about Draco until eventually he figures out how. He’ll go to work, and to Ron and Hermione’s; to the park with Teddy, and the Burrow on Sundays. He’ll sit alone in his booth on the godforsaken Gryffindor pub night. He’ll walk past that corner where the portal to the glen is hidden and won’t move his body like a fish to the ocean, and when his path through the city takes him by Grimmauld Place he’ll avert his eyes and pretend he’s a Muggle, pretend the house numbers jump from 11 to 13, like he used to before. He has plenty in his life, without Draco. He’ll be fine.

The weight of the lie sits on Harry’s chest so heavily that he has to get up, go do something, because he knows that if he doesn’t, it will crush him.

In the end he goes for a run. He doesn’t really mean to — in general, Harry doesn’t exercise that much, having found that instinct and pure bloody-minded determination to win are more useful in most of his fights than muscle definition ever could be. What he means to do is go for a walk, just clear his head, but he’s trying so desperately to escape from his own thoughts that he finds himself running almost five miles in his jeans and t-shirt. It was a nice spring day when he started, but London’s tricky and as malcontent as Harry feels; it’s raining by the time he gets home — to Grimmauld Place — oh, whatever. It’s raining by the time he gets back to the house that used to be his, and Sirius’s, and now is Draco’s, that Harry wishes were his home with such a clawing desperation that it feels unfair to even look at it, let alone step inside.

He does, though. He steps inside, and he looks around the entry hallway, open and airy, fiercely beloved. Harry closes his eyes for a second, trying to affix it in his memory exactly as it looks right now, in case Draco comes through the fire in a minute and tells Harry never to come back again. He’d do it with Draco, too, if he could, if Draco were here — if Harry thought Draco would even let him look long enough to manage it, right now.

He sighs. He goes down to the storeroom. He lets a hand rest lightly on a head of lettuce and thinks of Draco saying, I had everything the way I liked it. Harry thinks that maybe he understands, a little. That maybe he’d be angry too, if he had a place like this, a life like this, and someone as wrong-footed and bumbling as Harry stumbled in and started knocking things over.

He takes some food upstairs to cook breakfast, lays it out on the counter. His favorite chef’s knife is missing from the block next to the range, and Harry looks around for it, checks the sink and a few of the drawers before —

— he feels it sinking, pain white-hot-screamed surrender, into the space just beneath his ribcage from behind.

Chapter Text

It’s not the first time Harry’s been stabbed, of course. There was that case in Brixton the year before last, an escaped Death Eater holed up in a Muggle apartment not unlike Harry’s own; Harry went in without backup and the bastard stuck him through the shoulder with a fire poker, which was a bitch to fight through and even worse to heal. There was that time in the alley with the invisibility cloak and the Occlumens, too, and another one with a toasting fork when he was a Junior Auror, during what should have been a routine domestic dispute call. He’s no stranger to it, the rush of shock and adrenaline, the way the pain starts sharp and breathtaking and then seems to settle out over his whole body — it’s not the sort of thing you forget, no matter how long it’s been since your last go-round.

It is the first time he’s ever been stabbed when he wasn’t at least vaguely expecting it, though. It’s the first time his constant vigilance has let him down.

Harry reaches for his wand, but it’s not in his pocket, and he swears. He’s not frightened, even though he knows he should be — this is their M.O., these thieves who have been making Draco miserable all these months, who attacked Hermione in the street. They’ve come for him and they’re better than he is, they’ve gotten away from him twice and left him with a string of crimes he couldn’t solve, he’s wounded and wandless, and he should be terrified.

Mostly, he’s just angry.  Mostly, he’s just thinking that these bastards hurt Hermione, hurt Draco, and even if it kills him, he’s going to make them pay.

He turns, only stumbling a little, and —

“Professor Slughorn?” Harry says.

He blinks, because — because that can’t be right. Because after all these weeks of searching and puzzling and taking the pieces apart and putting them back together again, the answer cannot be — it just cannot be — Horace fucking Slughorn. He doesn’t fit the profile; he doesn’t so much as share a body type with any of the glamoured professionals Harry’s encountered over the course of this case, and anyway he’s too old to have been one of them, even if he had managed to hold a shape-changing full body glamour one or both of those times. God, Harry took a meeting with him in the very beginning, he’s an official departmental consultant, they went over the notes of the case and he was — well, obsequious, like he always is, but not — not a fucking criminal mastermind! It can’t be Slughorn, because it doesn’t make any sense for it to be Slughorn. Because Harry would have figured that out by now.

On the other hand, there is the very damning evidence of the knife he just stuck in Harry’s back, so.

“Harry, my boy,” Slughorn says, his voice warm and congenial, like Harry’s standing in front of him in a queue instead of dripping blood on Draco’s tile floors. “Please. It’s Horace.”

“I think it’s fuck you, actually,” Harry says. He reaches around behind him to try and assess how badly he’s hurt; the knife is still in the wound, and when he jostles it by accident pain screams through his entire body. He takes a slightly shuddering breath and pulls his hand away, finds his fingers come back wet with blood. “What — you — how did you even get in here?”

“Oh, Harry,” Slughorn says, with a little laugh. “You remember my talent for housebreaking, don’t you? Learned out of necessity, of course, perfectly vulgar to do it for sport, but I did get rather good at it in those years I was on the run. I started out with just Muggle places, but a man does miss his creature comforts; by the time you and Albus found me, I was in Wizarding homes about half the time. The trick, you see, is to come in when the wards are allowing guests, and then simply hide yourself until your timing is right. I came in with the last round of the museum guests on Friday, and then spent an instructive weekend as a neglected settee in the second floor sitting room.” He leers at Harry a little, voice threaded through with mocking pity. “I saw your little display with Mr. Malfoy, you know. So sweet. So touching. So sad, the way it’s all going to end in such tragedy.”

“Is this supposed to be scaring me?” Harry demands. He tries to make it sound unruffled, like he’s just having a normal chat with a normal criminal, even though halfway through he has to brace himself on the counter just to say upright. “Because, to be totally honest, it’s mostly just pissing me off. You’d’ve been better off killing me up front.”

“Who’s trying to kill you?” Slughorn says. He twirls Harry’s wand between his fingers, a gesture that registers distantly for Harry as familiar, important. He’s having a little trouble keeping his thoughts in order. “I mean, if you die, then you die, though of course I would be very sorry to lose you, Harry. You always did have such an enormous amount of promise. It’s a shame, really, that it came along with so little self-control.

“Oh, bite me,” Harry snaps.

Slughorn smiles. “I think I’ve already done all I’ll need to do to you, Harry. You see, I don’t want you to die, although, again, I doubt I’ll lose much sleep if you do. You, my boy, are simply the perfect bait. I don’t need you to die; I need you to bleed, so that Mr. Malfoy will coming running. Him... ” and here Slughorn shrugs, a little smile playing at the edges of his mouth. “Well, him I’ll admit I intend to kill.”

Harry doesn’t think. He just acts, throwing himself at Slughorn with a cry of rage, one fist in the air. He might be wandless and injured but that doesn’t make him helpless, and Slughorn is old, anyway; Harry doesn’t need magic to take him. Harry doesn’t need magic to beat him until he’s too bruised and battered to so much as look at Draco the wrong way, let alone murder him in his own house.

Except, as it turns out, he does. Except Slughorn waves his wand and says, “Protego,” almost lazily, and Harry’s closed fist hits the solid wall of the Shield Charm instead of his hideously, unbearably smug face. The impact causes such an intense burst of pain from the wound on Harry’s back that he cries out, that he almost blacks out — he falls to his knees, pulling in hissing breaths through gritted teeth, and holds onto consciousness with everything in him while he waits for the worst of it to pass.

“It’s like I said,” Harry hears Slughorn say, as if from a great distance. “You’re just not very good at this, my boy. I blame Albus, I really do. I’m sure that needing a war weapon is all well and good, but he might have made sure you learned some critical thinking skills, just in case you did manage to survive.” He sighs, a fond, wistful sort of sound. “Ah, Albus. Now there was a man who knew how to keep the grease on the wheel, if you know what I’m saying — but, wait, who am I talking to? Of course you don’t. Your type took over after the war, didn’t you? You and Ron Weasley, and Kingsley Shacklebolt, and Rebecca Erhard, and that Hermione Granger, who might be the worst of the lot. Idiot children, all of you. You expect people to do the right thing just for the sake of it. You think you can really run a government with clean hands.” His voice and eyes go hard. “No more little favors. No more inside connections. And you really think people are just going to play along!”

“It’s been working out for us pretty well so far,” Harry says, looking up at him through his hair and boiling over, seething with rage. “Is that what this is about, then? You want to exact revenge on — what, on Draco Malfoy, because nobody’s bringing you — crystal pineapples, or whatever, anymore? That’s insane! That doesn’t even make sense!”

“Of course it doesn’t, Harry,” Slughorn says, tone genuinely pitying this time. “Because it’s not what I’m doing. This thing between Mr. Malfoy and I is about the houses, pure and simple. I was only saying.”

“The houses?” Harry’s starting to feel more than a little woozy, and Slughorn must be able to see it; he laughs, and shakes his head.

“Look at me, standing here chatting as if I don’t have things to do,” Slughorn says. He pockets Harry’s wand, and something about the way he does it, the continuation of the little twirling motion from before —

“You were,” Harry says slowly. “You were the woman, in that first break-in. And at the second, you were — that guy — ” He stops, trying to think through the static crowding his mind, the ringing in his ears. “You used Polyjuice and glamours, didn’t you? Why would you — “

“To throw you off track, obviously,” Slughorn says, and sighs. “It’s just not the right job for you, I’m afraid. Don’t you worry; if you do survive this, I’ll Obliviate the whole experience away, and we’ll start you over as something else. You’ll be so grateful, of course, to have been saved from a brutal attempted murder-suicide at the hands of a former Death Eater, that you’ll do whatever I say. A professional Quidditch player, perhaps. That would keep you in the papers, you know, and in plenty of favors, and I’m sure Gwenog would be happy to show you some tricks — ”

“You and Gwenog Jones can both go to hell,” Harry says, fear striking him for the first time at the thought of Slughorn trying to keep him like a trained animal. It’s not that Harry’s worried he’ll actually fall victim to it — Harry could throw off an Imperius at fourteen — but the idea that he could wake up in St. Mungo’s, with Draco dead — with no memory of Draco — thinking that Draco tried to kill him —

“Maybe I will let you die,” Slughorn snaps.

Harry tries to keep the relief out of his face, his voice, which he keeps mild as he says, “Guess I’ll see you in hell, then.” Slughorn scowls at him, and Harry grins back, slow and vicious. “You better hope I do die, Horace. Because if I live, and you’ve killed him? I swear to god I’ll send you there myself.”

Slughorn goes, and Harry’s not sure how long he sits there, on the floor. He knows he tries to stand and doesn’t quite make it, pulls himself part of the way up and then slumps back down against a cabinet. He knows he looks down at a little puddle of his own blood and laughs, even though it hurts, because, honestly: it’s a bit funny. It’s a bit funny, that after all those near-death experiences fighting the most powerful Dark wizard in a hundred years — after he actually did die, however impermanently, at that maniac’s hands — he’s going to bleed out here on the floor of Grimmauld Place, murdered with his favorite knife.  

He tries to stay awake, because — because. Because Kreacher’s not here, and Kreacher would be here if he wasn’t going to get Draco, and Slughorn thinks Draco will come. Harry’s not so sure; Harry hopes, actually, that Draco doesn’t care about him at all, that Draco leaves him here to die, because that would mean he’d stay away. It would hurt, but not for very long, and Draco would live, so that would be fine.

Harry keeps closing his eyes and then — opening them again, and it feels like blinking, but Harry’s pretty sure that it’s not. He’s pretty sure that every time his heavy eyelids fall he’s falling too, away from the consciousness he’s trying to cling to; he’s having some trouble remembering the problem with that. It would be such a relief, wouldn’t it, to just — go to sleep — deal with all this fuss in the morning —

“Harry, you absolute fuck, don’t you dare be dead, I swear to god if you’re dead I’ll — I’ll — ”

Draco.

Harry’s eyes open.

Draco’s kneeling in front of him, his eyes wide and looking everywhere but at Harry’s face; his own is deathly pale. His hands are moving too quickly for Harry to really — understand, reaching for him and pulling away and doing it all over again, never quite managing to land a touch. It tugs at a muscle in Harry’s chest, the solid truth of Draco’s painfully frantic face, and Harry’s selfish, he is, because it turns out he’s glad Draco didn’t leave him here to die. He’s probably still going to die, of course, but at least he gets to know this before the end, this fluttering, hesitant tenderness he’s never felt before.

But —

“It’s — a trap,” Harry says, gasping a little at the pain of drawing the breath to speak. Draco’s head whips up, and he stares at Harry, face completely immobile; stricken. Harry can’t help the small smile that creeps onto his face, and doesn’t want to, anyway. Maybe Draco doesn’t love him, but this might be Harry’s last chance to smile at him, and he’ll take it, goddamn it, before he goes. “You’ve got to get out of here, it’s —  ”

He doesn’t get to say the word Slughorn, because Draco kisses him.

It’s not — Harry knows it can’t be a good kiss. He can barely even remember how to kiss right now, and anyway he thinks Draco might be biting him, a little. It hurts, too, even though Draco is carefully not touching him anywhere but at his lips, because it makes Harry’s breath come faster and each breath is a game of Russian roulette, agony-wise. It’s not a good use of their time and it might be what gets Draco killed and any Auror worth their salt would call him stupid just to look at it, and Harry’s still so glad of it he could cry.

“Of course it’s a trap, you imbecile,” Draco says, sounding near tears himself, when he pulls back. He rests his forehead against Harry’s for a second, bracing his hand on the cabinet next to them. “Do you think I don’t know a trap when I see one? What kind of reckless Gryffindor idiot do you take me for?”

Harry looks at Draco through his lashes again, trying to drink in every inch of him. Trying to affix Draco to his memory, like he did with the house. “You’re… not wearing shoes.”

“Fine, maybe I am a reckless idiot,” Draco admits. He pulls away and gives Harry a helpless once over, slides both of his hands into his own hair as he does. “God, I’m useless, I — my wand was gone the minute I walked through the door, I just looked down and it wasn’t there and I don’t know what I’m supposed to do, Harry! You’re covered in blood! You look like — when I came in, you looked like — and all I can think of is — is a stupid fucking Caesar joke, and that you’re not allowed to die!”

“Hey,” Harry says. He fumbles around, a little blindly, until he gets a grip on part of Draco — the upper arm, he thinks. He doesn’t want to put himself through the nightmare of moving to look down and see. “It’s okay. Breathe.”

“Oh!” Draco says, incredulous. “Breathe, should I? I should breathe, is your professional assessment of this situation? You, bleeding out on the floor, think that I should breathe? That’s great, Harry, thank you. That’s so helpful.”

“Or you could call me some more names,” Harry suggests, his smile going wider. He knows that this is bad, that it’s really bad; he knows what really bad feels like and he doesn’t want to die, not with Draco sitting here in front of him, looking like he’ll fall apart if Harry does. But — god, but he loves this crazy idiot, who never makes any sense except for when he makes all the sense in the world, and finally, if only for a few minutes, he doesn’t have to hide it anymore.

“Bastard,” Draco spits, at once. His face — it’s like he’s trying to look angry but not quite managing it, as though somehow he’s misplaced part of the mask. “You really are one, you know, I never wanted — you can’t imagine — to feel this way about someone else, it’s too much risk! I knew it would be, I knew it, and now you’re going to die and I’m going to have to live with that, you rat fuck. You — I mean — it’s everything! Even the simple act of eating is tainted, because now every time I look at food I think about you — food, Harry! That which we need to survive! It’s not right!”

“Maybe you can enchant the storeroom to make it all look like something else,” Harry says, drifting a little. He’s having a very hard time keeping his eyes open. “Like — leaves, or something. Tree ones. Never cooked you anything with tree leaves in.”

There is a long silence, and then Draco breathes, “The storeroom. Oh my god.”

Harry doesn’t totally track on what happens next; Draco calls Kreacher and then he kind of blacks out for a second and then he’s... floating, he thinks, laying stomach-down on one of his bedsheets, being carried through the air. It must be Kreacher doing it, because Draco’s next to him —  Draco doesn’t have a wand — Harry can see his socked feet proceeding along the floors of the kitchen, and then the mudroom.

“You have to,” Harry says, remembering in a sick rush, turning his head to look up at Draco even though he can’t hold back a groan of pain at the motion. “You have to go, it’s still a trap, he’ll kill you — ”

“Oh, shut up and focus on keeping yourself alive for once in your bloody life,” Draco snaps, and the ground under his feet changes again, to the polished woodgrain of the stairs down to the storeroom.

Harry feels the oddest sensation wash over him. He’s felt… leaky, he supposes, is the best word for it, for this last however-long, as though not just his blood but his thoughts, too, the things that made him him, were pouring out through the wound in his back. But now — there’s this tingling along his veins, centered around the knife, and it isn’t — he doesn’t feel healed, or even any better, just like the slippage has stopped, somehow.

“The Stasis Charms,” Harry realizes. Kreacher said it himself, that Masters and Mistresses used to sleep down here to keep themselves fresh — they can’t heal him or replace the blood he’s lost, but they’ll buy him some time, keep him hovering here, weak but alive, for at least a little longer. “Draco, you’re a genius.”

“Stop talking,” Draco says. He draws a shaky breath, and adds, fiercely, “D’you think I want praise from you while you’re half dead and barely coherent? No, Potter, I do not. I, unlike some people I could name, do not have an ego so unsightly and massive that it needs constant stoking in even the most dire of circumstances.” His facade shatters a second later, when Kreacher gently lowers Harry’s makeshift sheet-stretcher to the ground and, despite himself, Harry makes a little noise at the impact. “Harry? Are you — is it not working anymore, did it stop — ”

“It’s working,” Harry says. He can feel it working, and it’s easier to stay awake now, even if he still feels as though he’s taken about seven Bludgers to the face and body, and would like more than anything to pass out and wake up in the hospital wing.

The effect of the Charms doesn’t extend far enough to give him the strength to hold his own weight, however, and after a second of trying to push himself up on his arms, Draco says, “Oh for god’s sake, sometimes you drive me so insane,” and reaches over to help him up. Once Harry’s upright Draco doesn’t pull his hands away; he just kneels there on the floor, one hand on the ball of Harry’s right shoulder and the other curled around his left biceps, and fixes him with an accusing look.

“You were supposed to keep me from getting murdered, you know,” Draco says severely. Harry’s not sure it really fits, tone-wise, with the way one of Draco’s thumbs is rubbing a steady, soothing pattern against his arm; he’s not even sure if Draco knows that he’s doing it. “Not get murdered yourself! You’re always stealing my bits, Potter, it’s honestly pathetic. I mean, even in school — ”

“Slughorn,” Harry remembers abruptly, fury washing over him again.

“McGonagall,” Draco returns, raising his eyebrows. “Flitwick. What are we doing?”

“No, I mean — it’s Slughorn,” Harry says. “Who did this. Who did all of it.”

“What?” says Draco, looking as dumbfounded as Harry was. “Horace Slughorn? The Potions professor? Potter, surely not. I know you’ve lost a lot of blood, but I swear that man once let Blaise trade him half a box of candied orange peels to ‘forget’ he caught us drinking in the Slytherin common room. He can’t be a criminal mastermind!”

Harry laughs a little, regretting it even as the sound comes out of his mouth. “Yeah. Came as a shock to me too.”

“Well, I have to say I’m not impressed with his trap-laying skills,” Draco says, looking around. “We could survive for years down here — well, I could.” He frowns at Harry, head tilting to get a better look at the knife still sticking out of his back. “Merlin, that’s horrible. We have to get you to St. Mungo’s — Kreacher, can you — ”

“No,” says a now-familiar voice, “he can’t,” and Horace Slughorn steps through the door to the storeroom.

“Dear god,” Draco says. He’s turned to blink at him, but one of his hands is still on Harry’s shoulder. “That’s — really Slughorn.”

“I told you,” says Harry.

“Yes, well, I thought the odds were heavily in my favor that you were raving mad,” Draco snaps, glaring at him, before he looks back at Slughorn and lets out a heavy sigh. “It’s really not good for the Slytherin reputation, you know, pulling stuff like this. You tarnish the name of the group!”

Harry rolls his eyes at Draco’s back, amused and faintly horrified that that’s what Draco has chosen to object to right now.

Slughorn does not look entertained. “And what would you know about maintaining Slytherin’s reputation, Mr. Malfoy? As I recall, during the war I stepped up for the winning side, and you — ”

“Yes, made a lot of horrible mistakes, for which I was tried before a jury of my peers,” Draco snaps. “Is that how you excuse what you’re doing? Brutalizing this house, attacking innocent women in the street — ”

“That wasn’t me, in fact,” Slughorn says. “It was on my order, of course, but I didn’t attend to it personally.”

“You must sleep great at night,” Harry mutters, and Slughorn smiles.

“You know, I do, my boy,” he says. “I truly do. But I would sleep better — much better, in fact — in one of the beds here than I would in any at my own home.”

“Wow,” Draco snaps, “thanks for that very important bulletin about your napping preferences, but do you know, I find myself oddly uninterested! Kreacher, I’m sorry, I got distracted by the madman; can you please Apparate Harry to St. Mungo’s? And then have him send all the Aurors he can think of right back here, that would be just excellent.”

“I’m not leaving you here,” Harry snarls, and the same time Kreacher whispers, “Kreacher is sorry, Master Draco. Kreacher would if he could, but he cannot.”

Draco blinks at Kreacher, obviously startled. “Why the hell not?”

“For the same reason he couldn’t do anything when I had you at my mercy, Mr. Malfoy,” Slughorn says. “One of the Masters of the House is in mortal peril. He can only Call another Master, or another House.”

“But,” Draco says, turning to stare at Kreacher, “I’m perfectly fine! I’m… ” He trails off, and his gaze flicks to Harry, aghast. “You don’t mean — ”

“Kreacher is sorry, Master Draco,” Kreacher says again. Distantly, through the wave of realization threatening to engulf him, Harry thinks there’s something a little odd about that — normally when Kreacher apologizes it’s accompanied by wailing and suggestions of what kind of harm he deserves, not the wide-eyed, entreating gaze he seems to be directing at both of them now. “The House knows how Master Draco is feeling, and Harry Potter was its Master once before. Harry Potter stays here; Harry Potter has walked the House, attic to foundations, while Master Draco slept. The House has shown the way for him. It has let him enter the storeroom by himself. Master Draco is still Master of Grimmauld Place, but… Harry Potter is Master of Grimmauld Place, also.”

“I,” Harry says, his heart in his throat. The House knows how Master Draco is feeling — Harry doesn’t have time to think about that right now. “Kreacher, that can’t be right, I’m — I sold it. It’s yours,” he adds, quickly, to Draco, who looks like he might be having some sort of out of body experience. “I sold it to you, and it’s yours, dead to rights. This is — a mistake, or something — you bought it fair and square — ”

“Oh, I don’t know about that,” Slughorn says. “You see, Harry, there was another offer on the table for this house. One that was put down rather before Mr. Malfoy’s, I might add. I even came to see you about it, if you recall?”

Harry thinks back, and does, with the murky haziness of all his memories from the year after the war, sort of recall Slughorn coming by the Auror office one day. “You wanted to know if it was true I was selling Grimmauld Place,” Harry says slowly. “You asked… about the Unbreakable Vow.”

“You see, that’s what really gets me about this whole situation,” Slughorn says, spreading his hands. “You were already so unconcerned about the place that you didn’t want to bother with all that mess; it all could have been so easy. If you had just gone to a less scrupulous solicitor to manage your affairs, I would have snapped the house up before Mr. Malfoy even knew it was for sale.” He glares at both of them, crossing his arms over his chest. “But, of course, old Bracefoot’s a sentimentalist, and just had to hold out for someone with a blood connection, who was willing to swear on their life not harm the old place! She was mine by rights, you know. I saw her first.”

“Are you serious,” Draco says, faintly, after a moment. “This is — this whole thing — is just about you wanting to get back at me? For having something you wanted?”

“You don’t even know what you have!” Slughorn cries, throwing his hands in the air. “Children, all of you — the core of the Black house hasn’t always lived here, you know. This is just a row house! A shell! That core has been carted around since the middle ages, from hut to hovel to house to castle — wherever that family went, for hundreds and thousands of years.” He looks around, eyes gleaming. “This is the Preservation Room, you know. It always shows up, in every version of the house. Malfoy Manor doesn’t have one, does it, Mr. Malfoy?”

“No,” Draco says, and for the first time since Slughorn stepped into the room, he sounds genuinely nervous. “But that’s — I’ve done all kinds of research, this is just — I would know if this house had a core from the middle ages — ”

“Oh, you know nothing,” Slughorn snaps. “I can’t tell you how painful it was, sitting and listening to you and your twittering little friends yesterday, all of you barely more than Hogwarts students! Talking like you knew anything at all about the history you claim to love.”

“What?” Draco exclaims. “How could you have — what?”

“He likes to be furniture,” says Harry, fixing Slughorn with a look of deep disgust. “He was the settee in the sitting room for the last two days.”

“The green one?” Draco demands. “Harry, I sat on that!”

“And it was no picnic for me, either,” says Slughorn, making an unhappy little face at him. “But it was worth it! My mother used to say that in ancient times, the Blacks were necromancers, and they’d put their dead in here for reanimation — this core once had the power to wake the dead, Mr. Malfoy, and you’re wasting it running a quaint little household museum!”

“Oh, and what would you do with it?” Draco snaps. His voice is fierce, but his hand is gripping Harry’s shoulder so tightly that Harry thinks it’s probably going to leave a bruise right over his fire poker scar. “Think an army of zombies is likely to win you a lot of power and influence, do you?”

“Don’t be silly,” Slughorn says smoothly, and then —

Harry uses the word insane a lot, its derivatives and variations. He thinks it about Draco at least three times a day, about Ron and Hermione, about people he works with, the rest of his friends. He thinks it about himself, which is the crux of the whole thing, really. Harry’s been afraid for his entire adult life that he’s wired wrong, that he was damaged too young and too severely to ever be a whole person again. He lived with himself the year after war, when the scarring in his mind was so fresh and so intense that his magic went haywire, sometimes, crashing out windows and cracking craters into the ground. He’s lived with himself all of these last seven years, watched himself standing still from a bit of a remove as his friends flitted and danced around him, building themselves, building their lives. Harry has called people mad, crazy, lunatic, maniac, has done it jokingly, has done it a lot, because the truth is that he’s been afraid to his very foundations that it was what was true about himself. He’s wanted, with such a pathetic desperation that he couldn’t admit it even in the privacy of his own mind, not to be the only one.

But the look that crosses Slughorn’s face now — it’s true insanity, the kind of lunacy Harry last saw end in a rebound of its own curse in the middle of the Great Hall. It’s the look of a man who cares about nothing and no one but himself, his own ends, who will hurt and kill on the theory that he deserves to, and nothing more. And for all he hates to see it in the circumstances — for all he hates to see it, ever — Harry feels relief settle over his shoulders, sweet and simple and long since coming.

Harry’s not crazy. Draco’s not crazy, either. Or, if they are, then the word means — flawed and complicated and wounded and human, and if that’s true than everyone’s crazy, so no one really is. Maybe Harry isn’t a well-adjusted person. Maybe he has lost years to a pervasive fog, thick around his head and heart, that bled away the things he felt so easily when he was young without his even noticing: so what? It doesn’t mean that he’s beyond repair, that he’s hurting anyone, that there’s anything wrong with him. It just means that this is the person he turns out to be, that’s all. It just means that this is what he’s got.

It also means that whatever’s about to come out of Slughorn’s mouth is bound to be off-the-charts madness, though.

“I was cheated, you know,” Slughorn says. “All those years spent with the guilt eating away at me — and for what! I’m sure Tom would’ve found out about Horcruxes some other way, if it weren’t for me. I’m sure it would still have ended the same way! But now, with the hindsight of years, as I am forced to live without the comforts and hierarchies to which I grew accustomed — it haunts me, the time I wasted. The things I could have done with it.” Slughorn smiles beatifically, spreading his hands. “I don’t want to raise a zombie army, Mr. Malfoy. I simply want to take the core and install it in my own home, where I can take all the time I need to work out how to age myself back, say, fifty, sixty years. Have back what's owed to me. That’s all.”

“Yep,” Harry says, nodding grimly to himself. “There it is.”

Draco shoots him a confused look, but then turns back to Slughorn. “Oh, is that all? You are mental. Grimmauld Place can’t do that, nothing can do that, I don’t even know where the core is — ”

“Please,” Slughorn says, laughing. “You know exactly where it is, but honestly, don’t bother. All I really needed to do was get the house to make a Call to someone other than dear Harry here. I thought waiting the customary seven years would nullify that particular clause, but obviously I underestimated the depth of your, ah,” he smirks, a little, at Harry and Draco, “passion for one another. If the new owner can’t let go, the House won’t, either. Bloody irritating, especially when you wouldn't do me the favor of simply going mad with stress, though as you can see I worked it out in the end. I had to try several alternative options.”

“What good does the Call do you!” Draco’s voice is higher than usual, heavy now with real panic. “Surely the house will just call — Malfoy Manor, of course, or Zabini Grange, or the Parkinson Estates — even the Weasley place — ”

“The house will call Slug Hall!” Slughorn cries. Really, Harry thinks, the Slytherin-sorts-for-dramatics theory holds some weight. “I knew what this house was years ago, Malfoy, I planned and planned to get my hands on it — I came! When Walburga Black was dying! When her sons were dead or imprisoned, and it seemed that soon the house would stand alone! I befriended her — I alone! I wrote the offer myself, and she took it, and carried it with her through the halls of the house until her dying days. The House of Black, in peril, calls Slug Hall!”

“Oh my god,” Draco says. His hand falls at last from Harry’s shoulder — he looks almost as panicked as he did up in the kitchen, when Harry was dying.

Well. Harry is probably still dying, just a lot more slowly.

“What?” he says, low, to Draco; he doesn’t care if Slughorn hears or mocks the concern in his voice. Fuck Slughorn. “What does it matter if the house calls him? He’s already here!”  

“Harry,” Draco says, and swallows. “If a House calls another House — if a Master is in such peril that the House itself has to make the call — it’s. It’s forfeit. To the Master of the other house, I mean. If they want to take it over, it’s forfeit to them. The theory was that if a Master ever got themselves in such trouble that they couldn’t even send for help themselves, they weren’t fit to be guardian over one of these places.”

“But it’s just me that’s hurt!” Harry cries. “You’re the real Master of this house, anyway, and you’re fine, you just don’t have your wand. That can’t count! The House can’t just be forfeit if there’s still a Master who can watch over it!”

“Yes, Harry,” Draco says, and his voice is almost kind. He smiles, small and tremulous and utterly without any happiness at all. “But you said it yourself: he’s going to kill me.”

Slughorn lets out a big, satisfied sigh, even as Harry looks at Draco in horror. “You know, I do feel so much better now that it’s all clear,” he says, and cracks his knuckles. “Now, boys, this has been fun, but I really am looking forward to finding that core, and Mr. Malfoy, regrettably, your time has come. Last words? Would you perhaps like a cigarette? We’ve got plenty of time, you see; no one else is coming.”

There’s movement out of the corner of Harry’s eye; Kreacher is waving his arms over his head. When Harry looks over at him, Kreacher darts a nervous glance at Slughorn to make sure he’s not paying attention, and then starts pointedly looking from Harry’s eyes to Harry’s pocket and back again, over and over.

It reminds Harry of Draco that very first day, silently and swiftly guiding Harry’s attention where it needed to go. Slowly, carefully, he reaches into his pocket.

All that’s in there is his wallet. He pulls it out behind the cover of his leg; Draco can see what he’s doing, is looking at him quizzically even as he rambles to Slughorn about the dangers of smoking in what is clearly a stalling tactic, but Slughorn can’t. Harry rifles through it, curious, under Kreacher’s sharp, nodding gaze. There’s not much in it — he uses a pouch for his Wizarding money, so it’s just the stuff he keeps on him in case he gets stranded somewhere Muggle, a couple of pounds and an ID, and a few old receipts he’s never bothered to clean out. And then, in the back, he finds it: something he’s completely forgotten ever receiving until right now.

“Hey, Slughorn,” Harry says, interrupting Draco’s rant mid-stream. “What’d you say those rules were? A Master has to take an offer of help and — what did you say? Carry it through the house with them? Get it in writing and walk the halls?”

“That is how it works, yes,” Slughorn says, and shakes his head. “This is a very transparent attempt to stall, Harry, even for you. I’m going to kill him no matter what, you know.”

“Oh, sure,” Harry says, ignoring Draco’s outraged little glare at his casual tone. “Just, real quick, before you do — d’you think this counts?”

He holds up the piece of paper he found in the back of his wallet, the blue strokes of its original penmanship almost hidden beneath the way every line is glowing gold. 

Potter —

You are very drunk right now, but please, when you find this, do not hesitate to call if Draco needs anything at all. And, what the hell, if you do, too; for an Auror (and a Gryffindor!) you are a laugh riot, though you really can’t hold your drink, and are a sincere tragedy vis a vis Draco’s taste. It’s Zabini Grange, 10 Rosethorple Lane, Pangbourne.

Cheers!

Blaise Zabini   

“No,” Slughorn breathes.

“Let me see that,” Draco says, snatching the paper out of his hand, as from upstairs they hear the sound of the door crashing open.

“Harry!” calls a voice so familiar that Harry could cry with relief. “Malfoy! Where the hell are you?”

“Ron!” Harry calls back, and then doubles over a little, because it turns out shouting hurts something awful, even through the Stasis Charm.

Draco slaps a hand over his mouth, glaring from Harry to the knife in his back, even as he yells, “We’re down here, Weasley! Move, he’s wounded, we’re — oh, don’t you fucking dare, you treacherous worm!”

This last is directed at Slughorn, who is diving towards one of the small windows that are set into the top half of the storeroom walls. It’s not necessary, though, because as Harry watches in amazement, two massive, spike-coated green tentacles crash through the glass from the outside and wrap Slughorn in their clutches, spewing seedpods wildly.

“Vicky,” Harry says, shaking his head, an incredulous grin spreading over his face.

“Well, I’ll be goddamned,” Draco says, blinking at the writhing mass of man and plant. “She does love me.”

Ron comes thundering down the stairs then, Trent, Seamus and Blaise hot on his heels. Harry is pleased to note that Trent looks only a little bit like he’s about to wet himself; it’s a big improvement, though his face does go slack with horror when he gets a look at Harry on the floor.

Ron’s face does too, though, so. Maybe they’ll make an Auror out of the kid after all.

“Merlin, Harry,” Ron says, eyes wide, and then, “Holy shit, is that Professor Slughorn?”

“Don’t ask him questions, take him to St. Mungo’s,” Draco snaps. “Honestly, you’re all completely incompetent — except for Blaise, who apparently knew this whole time what was going on and didn’t see fit to mention — “

“I did not!” Blaise says, sounding shocked. “I don’t even know what’s going on now, my whole bloody house went mad, and then Blinky started screaming that the call was sounding from Grimmauld Place and we must attend — ”

“The note, Blaise,” Draco says. He sounds exasperated, but he’s not looking at Blaise anymore, even though he’s talking to him; he’s looking at Harry, gaze steady and warm. “That you gave Potter here, oh, I’d guess that night you ‘pretended’ to run into him at the pub?”

Blaise shrugs one shoulder, still looking completely bemused. “I was just a little afraid you might try to kill him or something, Draco. Or, I don’t know, fill the whole house with water again — ”

“That was one time,” Draco says to Harry, the edges of his mouth quirking up. “And I had a very good reason, you know.”

And Harry — Harry laughs, and leans forward, and lets his head rest against Draco’s shoulder. He’s so tired, and it’s sorted now, isn’t it? Draco is safe, and Harry can let go for a minute. Harry can let someone else figure the rest out.

Slowly, Draco’s fingers creep into Harry’s hair, stroking in little hesitant swipes at the nape of his neck. Harry closes his eyes, lets out a breath. They’re fine. It’s all going to be fine.


“I’m sure you did,” he tells Draco’s collarbone, and falls asleep to the faint sensation of Draco’s huff of laughter hitting the side of his throat.

Chapter Text

Harry wakes up in a hospital bed alone.

Well — no. Not alone. There’s a Mediwizard in with him, and then a Healer; they tell him that he lost a lot of blood, but the wound missed his splenic artery by a hair, and that they’re keeping him overnight, but he’s going to be fine. There isn’t even going to be a scar, which Harry thinks is a little unfair, since Draco’s stuck with that thin line of silver down his cheek for all eternity. Still, it’s good news, and he’s glad to hear it. Ron comes in a few minutes later, and then Hermione, and then the full complement of Weasleys, saving Charlie, who Bill says is still off in parts unknown. Harry talks and laughs with them for a while, wondering where Draco is. None of them seem to know, though Ron assures him that he was with Blaise and in this very hospital last he laid eyes on him, and that he’s sure Draco’s fine, and Harry shouldn’t worry about it.

Harry can’t help but worry about it, of course. He wonders if maybe, after everything — the kissing, sure, but also the bleeding, and the death threats, and finding out Harry’s apparently a Master of Grimmauld Place again — if Draco just decided he didn’t want to deal with it anymore. If it turned out to be too much risk, after all.

The house knows how Master Draco is feeling, Harry thinks, and hopes, hopes, hopes.

Eventually everyone clears out — “Visiting hours are over,” the Healer tells Ginny, when she tries gamely to hide behind a potted plant — and Harry sits alone in the dark and listens to his own breathing, wonders what Draco’s doing right now. It’s — he should be here, Harry can’t believe that he isn’t here, and he’s so occupied with trying to figure out where or why he might have gone that it takes him longer than it should to realize he’s listening to the sound of two people breathing, not one.

“You know,” Harry says, to the empty room, “nicking my stuff is technically a crime.”

There’s a beat of silence, and then Draco sighs and pulls off Harry’s invisibility cloak. He’s leaning against the table at Harry’s bedside, and he looks down to make a sour face at Harry that Harry is almost certain is mostly for show. “You shouldn’t just leave it hanging on the coat rack if you don’t want people to borrow it.”

“I didn’t,” Harry says, amused, his heart pounding in his chest. Maybe it’s all the new blood running through his veins, but he feels alive, suddenly, in this way he hasn’t in a long time, looking up at Draco’s well-loved little scowl. “I left it folded up inside my work bag, where I always leave it, and where you found it by snooping around like the snake you are.”

Draco shrugs and drops down into the chair next to Harry’s bed. “Maybe I didn’t much fancy discussing the whole ordeal with every Weasley known to man, did you consider that possibility? And it’s not as though you were using it, after all.”

“You could have just gone home,” Harry points out. “Left me here under the Weasleys’ watchful eye.” He’s fishing, and he knows it, and he doesn’t care; Draco’s been sitting in this room under his invisibility cloak for hours, probably, was clearly planning on just staying and watching Harry all night. He took Harry to the glen. He let Harry move in. He kissed Harry back, and then kissed him again; he didn’t want Harry to die. The house knows how Draco feels, and Harry’s pretty sure that he does, too. Harry’s pretty sure that they both do, and he can be patient, if that’s what Draco needs from him, but… he’s had a hard day. There’s no harm in fishing a little.

The smile Draco gives him is small, a little crescent of rueful admission curling the corners of his mouth. Quietly, he says, “I don’t think I could, actually. Tragically enough.” Harry grins, wide and stupid, and is so happy he could burst when Draco seems to startle a bit at the expression before he flushes and ducks his head. “Don’t look at me like that; god. You’ll put someone off their dinner.”

“No one else in here,” Harry says. “Except you, that is, and you want to know the truth, Draco? I think you like it.”

I think the symptoms of blood loss must include hallucinations,” Draco tells him earnestly. “Severe ones. Be honest — I look like a crab to you right now, don’t I?”

“No,” Harry says, and doesn’t let his smile dim a single degree; doesn’t think he could, even if he wanted to. “You don’t.”

Draco gives him a hard look, gaze sharp even in the darkness, and then, in a voice that’s trying too hard for casual, says, “Look. Potter. You’ve obviously been through an — ordeal — ”

“Please, I’m fine,” Harry says. “It’s not even the worst time I’ve been stabbed! A couple of years ago there was this thing with — ”

“Spare me,” Draco says, holding up a hand. His face is pained. “Most people, you know, don’t respond to life-threatening attack with a list of comparable attacks they’ve survived. That’s not right, Harry. Have the decency to seem taken aback by the whole thing, at the very least.”

“Er,” Harry says, “okay?” He looks around for a minute, and then, because he might as well make an attempt, tries, “Man. It’s — so strange? To be here. In… this hospital. And stabbed, and all. How... bizarre.”

“You’re a hopeless dolt,” Draco says, a slight smile playing at the edges of his mouth. He leans forward, rests his arms on Harry’s bed, pillows his head atop them, and looks at Harry sideways. “I lied, you know.”

“About what?”

“Why I was under the cloak.” Draco closes his eyes briefly, punches out a harsh breath before he opens them again. “I was quite sure that if you could see me, you’d immediately start asking me questions, and I’m very tired, you see. I was up all last night because — well.” He winces, and sits up enough to free one of his hands, gesture broadly with it. “I’m sure you recall. It’s not fair, you know, to make me have a conversation about all that right now; I might as well be under Veritaserum, it’s been so long since I slept. I can’t be held responsible for my actions, and it’s wrong — unjust — to press your advantage like this.”

Prickly little git. Harry’s throat tightens just looking at him, the brittleness that’s crept into the set of his shoulders and the sound of his voice. Heaven forbid he just ask Harry to leave it alone like a normal person — no, he’s obviously got to level a false accusation. Though it twists his heart a little to think it, Harry wonders if Draco’s ever made it more than a few minutes with his armor down. He thinks the answer’s probably no.

“I’m not making you do anything, Malfoy,” Harry says, mild, instead of any of this. “I’m just sitting here. Laying here. Whatever.”

“Don’t think that gets you off the hook,” Draco says. It’s nonsense, and as if to underscore this, he yawns hugely after the last word, grimacing when he stops. “Merlin.”

“Yeah,” Harry says, catching his yawn. “You should go home and sleep.”

“I already said I wouldn’t,” Draco snaps, “and I won’t. Stop pressing it! Honestly, the stubbornness, it’s unbelievable, like a dog with a bone — “

“So to be clear here,” Harry interrupts, before Draco can launch into a proper rant about how stubborn Harry is and be struck dead of sheer hypocrisy halfway through. “You won’t go home, but you don’t want to talk about anything, and I’m on the hook for anything we do talk about, even if you bring it up?”

“That’s the long and short of it, yes.”

“So,” Harry says, grinning slightly, “standard play, then?”

Draco rolls his eyes, but Harry thinks he looks relieved, anyway. “Oh, piss off, Potter.”

They sit in companionable silence for a few minutes, listening to the hum of the hospital working on outside the door, and Harry finds that Draco’s right; he does want to ask a bunch of questions. He’s not sure any of them are the right questions — in fact, he rather doubts it — but they’re lining up in his mind anyway, one after the other, jostling for first position.

“Draco,” Harry says slowly. “What if — I mean, what I just asked one — ”

“Oh my god, I knew it." Draco groans. “I knew you couldn’t just let sleeping dogs lie — I bet you wake real sleeping dogs, actually. I bet you go ‘round to people’s houses and they let you in, little knowing your dastardly plans, thinking you’re perfectly trustworthy because you’re Harry Potter and they’ve never actually met you before. Then they have to look on in horror as you awaken their peacefully sleeping canine companions! Cruelly! For sport!”

Harry shrugs. “It’s a hobby.”

Draco stares at him for a second, but then he laughs. He is tired; even if Harry couldn’t see it in the circle under his eyes, he can hear it in that rasp of a chuckle, the way it pulls thin and strained from the back of Draco’s throat. “God. Fine. One question, at the cost of your being banned from asking anything further until at least tomorrow. What is it? What cannot wait until you no longer look quite so much like you emptied half your blood onto my kitchen floor? What is so pressing that it must be answered before I have the opportunity to indulge in the sweet release of sleep?”

“Er,” Harry says. And he shouldn’t ask it — it actually is doing what Draco accused him of, pressing his advantage, using Draco’s exhaustion as if it’s Veritaserum — but. He wants to know. “Why… why didn’t you tell me? About the core?”

Draco scrapes the chair back and stands up abruptly. For a stung second Harry thinks he’s going to walk right out of the room, not even say goodbye — thinks he’s going to do, for all intents and purposes, what he ended up doing the last time Harry asked him this question — but he doesn’t. He walks to the window instead, stares out into the night for a moment, and, not without bitterness, says, “You couldn’t have gone with something easier?” Then, perhaps remembering the full complement of other things they haven’t discussed, hastily adds, “Don’t answer that.”

Harry doesn’t. He just sits quietly, watching the line of Draco’s back, until Draco turns around and leans against the glass to regard him.

“I don’t know,” he says, finally. When Harry raises his eyebrows, he holds up a hand. “No; stop. That’s not my whole answer, but it’s… an answer, anyway. I really don’t. At first it was like I said — I didn’t think someone who’d treated Grimmauld Place like you had deserved to know that kind of secret. Nobody’s known where the core in that house is for years; I don’t think Auntie Walburga even did. I only found it because I… well… ”

“Did something a bit mental to figure it out?” Harry suggests. His voice is a gentler than he means it to be, and he winces when Draco glares at him. “You don’t have to tell me, you know. Where it is, I mean. I’m not asking for that.”

“Well, good, because you’re not getting it,” Draco says, arch. His voice drops back into a more normal register, though, as he adds, “But yes. I did something a bit mental, and it worked, and I liked that it worked. I liked being the only one who knew. So I think some of it was that, too, which is… stupid, honestly. All the reasons I can come up with are stupid! I just didn’t, that’s the answer. I was going to, and then, after the second attack — you came to stay, and I.” He stops talking, fixes his gaze firmly on the ground. “I wanted to solve the case, obviously, it was killing me, I was terrified for the house — my life — but. Maybe. I don’t know.”

Harry can’t be sure, but he thinks it’s possible — not likely, but possible — that Draco is saying he didn’t tell Harry about the core because it might have solved the case for them, and given Harry a reason to go home. And that’s — Harry can’t believe — there are fifteen things he wants to say but every one of them has an inherent question attached, that big looming truth they’re both not touching, and Harry promised he’d only ask the one.

“Okay,” he says. When Draco’s head whips up, his eyes wide with surprise, Harry laughs. “I mean, don’t do it again or anything — bloody stupid, nearly got you killed — ”

“Nearly got you killed, you mean,” Draco mutters, as he moves to drop back into his chair again.

Harry shrugs. “I don’t mind.”

“Do you know,” Draco drawls, rolling his eyes, “I think that’s actually true? And it might be the worst thing about you, Harry, which is really saying something. That bar is incredibly high. I mean, it’s a disconnection from your own mortality on par with — have I ever shared with you the truly appalling details of Archibald the Archaic’s private writings?”

“Don’t think so,” Harry says, even though he knows Draco’s just trying to distract him. That’s fine; Draco’s tired, and, if he’s honest, Harry is too. They can deal with the rest of this tomorrow. “Why don’t you tell me about it?”

Draco does, and Harry must fall asleep to the soothing rise and fall of his voice, because when he wakes up there’s sunlight slipping through the window and Draco’s out cold, asleep in his chair, his head a warm weight against Harry’s thigh.

His hair is loose, knocked askew, in his eyes again, and Harry, half-awake and curious, reaches out a hand to —

“Don’t touch my hair, Potter,” Draco says, without opening his eyes.

“How’d you,” Harry says, snatching his hand back, and then hastily corrects: “I mean, I wasn’t!” He’s a little horrified with himself, in fact, that he even got halfway through the gesture. Now that he’s more alert he can recognize it’s probably weird to — whatever — to roll someone’s hair under your fingertips just to see what it feels like, or stroke it back out of their eyes. He’s not sure if either or those things are what he was planning on doing, exactly, but he can recognize that two desperate, heat-of-the-moment kisses don’t give him permission to just go… touching, whenever he likes.

Draco’s eyes open, but barely; he holds them narrowed and suspicious. “How do you feel?

“Er,” Harry says, blinking at him. “I guess — hungry?”

Sighing heavily, Draco sits up. “I meant, how do you feel, since yesterday a distressing amount of your blood quit your body for the floor of my kitchen. But — sure. Hungry. All right.”

“Did you sleep all night like that?” Harry cocks his head in interest as Draco stretches and winces, cracks his neck. “I don’t think that’s good for your back.”

“Better than having a knife stuck in it,” Draco says, smiling nastily. “I win.”

He settles back in his chair, and before Harry can argue, a Mediwitch, Hermione and Ron walk through the door.

“Mr. Potter,” the Mediwitch says warmly. “Good to see you awake. Of course, I’m sure that Healer Menteur here has taken excellent care of you — I was just saying to Auror Weasley here how incredible it must be, to have a Healer from foreign parts at your beck and call because of your war efforts.”

“A lot of very interesting things were said,” Ron agrees, giving Malfoy his best ‘We’ve got you dead to rights,’ look. “Many things, of considerable interest, have been said this morning. I, for one, was very shocked to hear about your extensive celebrity clientele.”

“What can I say? The Healing, it is my calling,” says Malfoy, apparently totally unperturbed by Ron’s glare, and in a French accent so pronounced it would put Fleur’s to shame. “And to work with Harry Potter is — how you say — insufferable.”

“I believe the word you mean is incredible. Poor dear, English is a bit tricky,” says the Mediwitch absently, as she busies herself with casting an assortment of diagnostic spells on Harry. “You don’t mind if I check your work, do you, Healer Menteur? I’m sure you’re very capable, but since he’s in our hospital, and all — ”

“Be my guest,” Draco says, just as Hermione, voice all pointed amusement, says, “Did you know, Harry, that Menteur means liar in French?”

Harry gives up and laughs, long and hard enough that the Mediwitch starts fretting that perhaps one of the potions has gone wrong and Draco has to start waving his arms around and explaining, half in French, that hysteria is a side effect from an old war wound and she’s being terribly rude by bringing it up. She hurries out and Harry laughs some more when Draco drops the accent at once, drawls, “What, Weasley? I had to do something; the wretched woman tried to kick me out. Are you going to arrest me for impersonating a Healer?”

“I should arrest you on grounds of personality alone,” Ron mutters, though he sits down in a chair without moving towards Draco. “Some poor bastard has to have encountered your whole — thing — before. You can’t be the first person in all of history to be this mad. Maybe they were smart enough to put some laws down to protect the rest of us.”

“Alas,” says Draco, “I’ve searched the annals of history for myself, and the closest I’ve ever found is a chap called Wildercomb from the late 12th century.”

Harry starts laughing again. “The guy from the second floor drawing room? Draco, the hypothetical magic guy?”

“Wildercomb was very committed to his craft, Potter,” Draco says. His raises his eyebrows and crosses his arms, expression stern. “And while, yes, I will grant you, his methods were a little unorthodox — “

“He burned down three forests!” Harry hopes his incredulity is written on his face. “Half the exhibit is a tapestry of him yelling while a roomful of servants cover their ears!”

“Two forests and a small orchard, and it was intended to be hypothetical. I think the important thing is to focus on all the forests he didn’t burn down,” Draco says. “And, anyway, the point is, he did whatever was necessary even if everyone around him did think he was mental. He is my kindred spirit. The brother of my soul.”

“You been committing arson, Malfoy?” Ron says, giving Draco a speculative look. “That’s a serious offense, that is. I was just kidding before, but maybe we should bring you in for questioning.”

Draco darts a panicky glance at Harry. “Potter! Control your man, he is — the Auroring has gone to his — oh my god. Wait. Are you joking?”

“Course I’m joking,” Ron says, grinning broadly. “You can’t expect me to go without taking any shots, can you?”

“I had to talk him out of buying a ferret for exactly this reason the other day,” Hermione says, patting Ron on the arm. “Petty childhood grudges are well enough, I’m sure, but we’re all adults, and they do have such a terrible smell.”

“We do not talk,” says Draco, his voice several pitches higher than normal, “about the ferret incident,” and then he scrapes his chair back and stalks out of the room without another word.

“Shit,” says Ron, looking after him uncomfortably. “I just wanted to rattle his cage a little. I didn’t actually mean to, you know. Draw anything up.”

“Please,” Harry says, rolling his eyes. “He’s fine. He’s just trying to make you feel guilty so you’ll do stuff for him later.”

“See if I get you a coffee now, Potter,” comes Draco’s voice, vengeful, from the hall.

“No coffee, no breakfast,” Harry calls back, even though he doesn’t know if he’ll even be out of here in time to cook it. He’s rewarded with a string of expletives that switch to French halfway through, if also forced to endure identical long-suffering looks from Ron and Hermione.

Unsurprisingly, the Mediwitch Draco tricked walks in a second later, followed by Harry’s actual Healer, a middle-aged witch who clearly has better things to do than be here dealing with this. She clears Harry to go home, though she orders him off active duty for a week, and after they’ve gone and Harry’s changed into regular clothes, he, Ron and Hermione sit on the bed to wait for Draco to return.

“Sorry you guys came all the way up here,” Harry says, a little awkwardly. “Since I’m, you know. Leaving, and everything.”

“Don’t be ridiculous, Harry, of course we came,” Hermione says. She puts a hand on his arm, even as Ron knocks his shoulder against Harry’s. “We were worried about you, and you’d do the same for us.”

“Well, sure,” Harry says, “but — ” He stops, looks at the wan exasperation on Hermione’s face and the badly hidden wince on Ron’s, and bites back, It’s different when it’s me. “Anyway, thanks. It’s nice to have you here.”

“Sorry we didn’t pretend to be your foreign medical team,” Hermione says, dry. Then, carefully: “So. Draco really slept here all night?”

“Yeah,” Harry says. “Or, well. I think so, anyway. I suppose he could have left while I was asleep and come back.”

“Still, though,” Ron says, with an approving little nod. “That’s the right way to go about it. Stand by your partner, and all.”

You didn’t tell anyone you were my personal French Healer when I was in hospital,” Hermione says, affecting a wounded air. “The romance is clearly dead.”

“Oi!” says Ron. “I didn’t have to tell people I was a bloody French Healer, I’m an Auror. They didn't try to make me leave. What’s more romantic, a lying little git or an upstanding man of the law?”

“So, Harry,” Hermione says, ignoring Ron’s outraged little noise at being ignored, “you and Draco talked it all out, then?”

“Er,” says Harry.

“You know,” Hermione presses, “your feelings, and what you’re going to do about them, and where you stand with each other?”

“Er,” says Harry again.

“Oh, Harry,” Hermione says, despairing. “You have to talk about these things! All good relationships are built on communication!”

“I think me and Draco communicate all right,” Harry says, and looks at his hands. “It just… takes a while, sometimes. I don’t want to force anything, you know? Or… count my chickens. He — I think that he — oh, I don’t know.” He offers her a small, slightly rueful smile. “Can we just leave it for now? I promise I’ll tell you if anything, you know. Changes, or whatever.”  

“Sure, Harry,” Ron says firmly, and then cranes his neck in a way that Harry knows, without looking, means he’s giving Hermione a quelling look over the top of Harry’s head. “We can be respectful and restrained, can’t we, ‘Mione?”

“Oh, fine,” Hermione says, begrudgingly. “But so help me, Harry, if you don’t tell me — “

“Tell you what?” Draco says, returning. He hands Harry a cup of coffee and then raises his eyebrows at Ron. “Sorry, Weasley. A wild ferret attacked me on the way back up here; he drank yours.”

“And mine too, I suppose?” says Hermione, sounding amused, as Ron scowls.

“You’re with child,” Draco says, waving a hand. “You shouldn’t be drinking coffee anyway, and especially not the foul swill they sell here.” He takes a sip and shudders. “Honestly, it’s dreadful. You should be thanking me.”

Harry takes a sip of his own coffee and grimaces, though a little part of him is warmed to note that Draco remembers how he takes it. “God. Yuck. I’ve been cleared anyway; let’s just go ho— er. Back to Grimmauld Place. I’ve got real coffee there.”

“Good lord, yes,” Draco says, tossing his cup into the trash at once. “Why didn’t you say, you horror, I drank half of it — “

“Before you go,” says Ron, and his tone draws every gaze in the room. He squares his shoulders. “I wanted to make sure I told you — Slughorn talked.”

“He talked yesterday, too,” Draco says, his face darkening at Slughorn’s name. He starts to move towards Harry, but his eyes flick to Ron and Hermione flanking him on either side, and he stops, holds himself still. “I suppose I should be grateful, as his inability to shut up and get on with it probably saved my life, but I’ll admit I’m not feeling charitable towards the man at the moment.”

“That makes two of us,” Harry mutters.

“Four, in fact,” Hermione says. “But — well, he gave up his partner, and they brought her in. The various other accomplices will take a little longer to track down, but they weren’t involved in the planning, and shouldn't try anything on their own. We thought you both might be happier knowing it’s really over.”

“What, the woman who attacked you?” Harry demands. “Who was it?”

Hermione sighs. “Do you remember Marietta Edgecomb?”

“Er,” says Harry, who knows that he should. The name sounds familiar…

“I say,” Draco says, sounding shocked, “I do. She’s that girl you disfigured for tattling on your underground fighting club fifth year!”

“I didn't disfigure her!” Hermione’s voice is sharp, though Harry thinks it would be a lot sharper if she could see Ron mouthing, ‘She did, bloody terrifying woman, even then,’ the way Harry can out of the corner of his eye. “I warned everyone that there was a curse on that list and she didn't choose to heed my warning. She disfigured herself.”

“Do you know, Granger,” Draco says, his tone genuinely warm, “you might have done well in Slytherin. Obviously these two hopeless imbeciles would have been drowned within their first week, had the Sorting Hat suffered some sort of fit and sorted them snake, but you — you have potential.”

Harry decides, with a quiet delight he feels to his toes, that he will wait to tell Draco that the Sorting Hat wanted him for Slytherin until he really deserves the reaction it's bound to elicit. Maybe for his birthday. God, it's going to be hilarious.

“I am going choose to take that as a compliment,” Hermione says.

“I’m not,” says Ron, giving Draco a dark look. “Anyway, since apparently it's hard to get a normal job with ‘Sneak’ written across your face in giant pustules forever —”

“I warned her!” Hermione insists. “She shouldn't have told!”

“— she became a Hitwizard.” Ron shrugs at Harry, a little helplessly. “So we weren't totally wrong, at least; it was a professional job. Slughorn just used her expertise to his own ends. He offered her twice her usual fee, plus that stuff she looted at the first break-in; she was wearing that necklace when we picked her up. I guess old Sluggy figured he’d have money to spare after he took over your place.”

“She was apparently quiet pleased to get the chance to assault me,” Hermione says, her hand flying up to worry at the faint scarring across her nose, under her left eye. “Her exact words were, ‘a happy bonus.’”

“How do you have that interview transcript already?” Ron groans, dropping his head into his hands. “I swear, Hermione, you have to stop doing that, all the lads’ll talk about how my wife in Justice gets special treatment — “

“But she doesn't, Ronald,” Hermione says. “She just actually bothers to know where things are filed, which is more than can be said for you and your team.”

Harry stands up, figuring he might as well leave them to their bickering, which they continue without breaking stride. He meets Draco’s eyes.

“So,” Harry says. “I guess it's really over.”

“Like hell it is,” Draco snaps, “you promised me breakfast and coffee.” He grabs Harry by the sleeve and pulls him towards the door.

It’s the strangest breakfast of Harry’s life.

By all accounts, it shouldn’t be. As a life Harry’s has been a lot of things, but it’s never been long on normalcy — even his breakfast history is bizarre, featuring dozens of meals eaten in places he never would have expected meals to be found. The taste of freedom that morning at the Weasleys’ when he was twelve, after Ron, Fred and George broke him out of the Dursleys; a bagel he ate, still shaking and bloodstained, in Erhard’s office after his first case gone wrong; hell, that first breakfast with Draco, in Harry’s apartment, talking about palaces under the Thames and the nature of magical structure — all of them should be weirder than this, Harry knows. This is just him and Draco, sitting across from each other at the kitchen table as they have every morning for weeks now, and it shouldn’t be unusual at all.

It doesn’t matter. It’s the strangest breakfast of Harry’s life, whether there’s logic to that or not.

They talk about — something. God. Nothing important, anyway, whatever it is. Harry isn’t paying attention to the conversation even as he’s having it, hears words fall out of his mouth in reply to Draco’s ranting and then forgets them instantly, as if they never were at all. He doesn’t taste his food. He doesn’t even look at his food, just shovels it blindly into his mouth as his eyes flick to Draco’s hands — away again — to his cheekbones — to the pattern of the tile on the floor. Every breath he draws feels a little heavier than regular air, and Harry thinks wildly of Bernice and the love potions. He wonders if this is what it feels like to be in one’s grip, this scrabbling sharp-clawed desperation under every inch of his skin, or if this is worse for being the real thing.

He doesn’t say so. He doesn’t ask. He just sits there, and looks at Draco and then away again, and tries not to think of the yawning void of uncertainty that will open between them the moment they lay down their forks.

They have to eventually, of course. Harry places his across his plate with care, and then looks up to see his own dread anticipation reflected back at him on Draco’s face. It’s enough to startle a laugh out of him, and Draco blinks but then he chuckles too, ruefully, shaking his head.

“Look, Potter,” he says, and rubs briefly at his forehead. “I know it’s only half ten, and you’re, I mean, a recent survivor of a brutal attack and all, but. Can we — would you like a drink?”

“God, yes,” Harry says at once.

“Thank Merlin,” Draco says, and they both push back from the table.

Harry’s expecting Draco to lead them up to their study — to the study, Harry reminds himself with frantic, scrambling haste, it’s the study, not theirs in any way — but he takes them to the parlor instead, pulls a dusty bottle off a shelf and Summons two glasses.

“There is no point in having the good stuff,” Draco says, when Harry raises his eyebrows, “if you can’t identify a circumstance that truly calls for it. We have, I’m afraid, found ourselves in one of those ignoble moments.”

“Do I even want to know what this is?” Harry asks, peering down into the glass Draco hands to him. The liquid inside is the deep amber he associates with really excellent Firewhiskey, but there’s an iridescent quality to it he’s never seen before; the smell, too, is both familiar and somehow… not quite.

Draco smiles. “Suffice it to say it’s old enough and rare enough that if you don’t savor it, I’ll be very cross.”

Harry considers throwing back the entire glass in one swig just to irritate him, but only briefly. Whatever it is they’ve spun between them these last few months, it feels too fragile in this moment for that kind of game; he takes a small, slow sip instead, rolling the whiskey around on his tongue. It’s rich and heady and unlike anything he’s ever tasted, and when he swallows the sensation is more than just the usual burning heat — he feels a little frission of steadiness rush through him, too, as though his foundations are being shored up.

“Wow,” Harry says. “That’s — wow.”

“Yes,” Draco says. And then, his voice carefully blank, adds, “A drink fit for the Master of the House.”

So that’s where they’re going to start. Harry fights back against the urge to give in to disappointment; it’s not as though he was really expecting anything else. “Draco, look, I already said — it’s yours. It has been for a long time. I’ll sign whatever you like, relinquish whatever I need to; I’m not going to try to claim anything, or — take anything away from you. I wouldn't do that.”

“And here I was awash with terror that you might toss me out on the streets,” Draco snaps, all the neutrality scrubbed from his tone for his more typical nettled annoyance. Harry feels muscles he hadn’t even realized he was tensing relax. “Of course I know that, Harry, you twit; even if you did want to steal this house back from me, your enormous unwieldy guilt complex would inevitably get in the way. ‘I’m sorry,’ you’d weep, ‘I’m a terrible person, everything wrong that has ever happened in history is my fault alone, I don’t deserve to live in this beautiful home I once mistreated and then cruelly booted you from — ’”

“Is this like a play?” Harry says, dry, his eyebrows climbing. “Am I supposed to do parts, or do I just stand here and clap when you’re done talking?”

“Would that I could convince you to just stand there and clap there when I was done talking,” Draco says, in mournful tones. “A beautiful dream, if of course also a terribly cruel one, since it will never happen and I’ll have to languish here, longing for it, until death takes mercy on me and comes for my soul.”

Harry snorts and takes another sip of his whiskey. “Well, at least you don’t have any deluded expectations.”

“Don’t I?” Draco says, and his voice is threaded through with such unanticipated vulnerability that Harry jerks his head up, meets his eyes. He’s expecting them to be wide and terrified, but instead Draco looks — defiant, his sharp chin tilted proudly upward, his gaze more challenging than frightened.

“I… don’t know,” Harry says, after a moment. It is, at least, honest. “I don’t know what you’re expecting, I suppose.”

“You walked the house,” Draco says. He takes a long sip from his glass without breaking Harry’s gaze, puts it down on the table next to him when he’s done. “That’s what Kreacher said. While I was asleep — you walked the house, attic to foundations. That’s old magic, you know, Harry. It communicates… certain intentions, getting to know someone else’s home like that.”  

Harry shrugs, not really sure what Draco’s getting at. “I didn’t know. I didn’t mean to — communicate anything, really.”

“What did you mean to do?” Draco’s voice is sharp. “To the extent you ever really mean to do anything beyond get on my last bloody nerve, that is.”

Harry decides to let that go out of the kindness of his heart. “I don’t know. I wanted to — make sure it was safe?”

“That’s rubbish and you know it. We both do.” Draco’s hand reaches out towards his glass again, but then his fingers flex in the air and he drops his arm instead. “You did the checks every night while I was awake — that’s not what this was, locking up doors and windows and firming up security spells. That doesn’t mean — I’m talking about the other time. Times, maybe; I don't know. You must have some idea of what I mean.”

“Yeah,” Harry says, and it comes out a rasp, because: yeah. He does. He knows which times Draco’s talking about, the nights he spent climbing and descending the stairs of Grimmauld Place, peeking down every hallway and behind every door. Draco’s right; it’s bullshit, completely and without question, to say he did it for the sake of safety or security or anything other than the churning push of his own gut instinct, so often relied upon and so rarely called to give its reasons this way.

“Well?” Draco says, crossing his arms now. “What did you mean, Potter? Do try to be an adult and use your words, though honestly at this point I would accept interpretive dance if it provided some enlightenment.”

“I,” Harry says. He thinks about those nights, the wooden floors slippery and smooth under his socked feet, the warm, enveloping embrace of a space where he’d once felt strangled, trapped. “I wanted to know it as — yours. I like it so much better as yours,” he admits, dropping his eyes to stare at a spot on the floor, “than I ever did when it was mine, or even Sirius’s, and I wanted — I thought I could — I was writing it over, I suppose. In my head. Replacing what I had, or what I thought I had with… what is.” He shrugs, wincing down at the woodgrain, and thinks of the way Draco always expects the worst, the way he’ll find it in him to doubt any intention that isn’t explicitly made clear. It makes Harry’s skin crawl a little to do it, but he forces himself to say: “I didn’t — want to miss anything. Any part of it. Er. You.”

Draco draws in a breath at that last which hitches a little, but when Harry makes himself look up he can’t spot panic anywhere, just narrow-eyed ferocity. “And why would that be, exactly?”

Harry drains his glass, puts it down on a nearby shelf with a clatter. “You know why,” he says, and though he wants to drop his gaze from Draco’s, he doesn’t allow himself the luxury. He watches those grey irises, inscrutable and focused on him with an intensity so consuming that it’s nearly intoxicating, even now that Harry’s gotten used to. “I told you I wouldn’t take it back and I meant it, Draco. I still do. And I’m not — I’m not going to change my mind, either, and I know it made you angry last time I said it, but. You know. Then you kissed me, so I… don’t really know, honestly, what’s happening, and I. I think we probably have to talk about it.”

“Probably should,” Draco says. His voice is flat and his face is impassive, and for a horrible second Harry braces himself to hear, I just don’t feel that way about you, or, Oh Potter, you terrible undersocialized Gryffindor, don’t you know it is customary in Wizarding society to mouth-kiss anyone on the brink of death regardless of your feelings for them? It wouldn’t be the worst thing that’s ever happened to him, probably. He lived through the Dursleys, after all. He survived the war. He died, that one time.

But then — then Draco’s mouth curls into this smile Harry’s never seen before, all rakish, wicked implication. His eyebrows lift even as his eyes drop, travel the length Harry’s body in such an unconcealed once-over that Harry has to take a deep, steadying breath.

Draco says, “…Or.”

Harry’s not sure which one of them moves first, only that they crash together with an intensity just this side of violent, their movements almost grappling in the swath of light spilling through the parlor window. One of Draco’s hands lands on the side of Harry’s neck as one of Harry’s seals over Draco’s biceps and then they’re kissing, Draco’s mouth warm and whiskey-flavored against Harry’s own. It’s nothing like their enraged, biting first kiss, and such a far cry from the desperate, furious one Draco planted on him yesterday that Harry’s dizzy with it, a little. He gasps into Draco’s mouth and Draco presses his advantage, leaning into him, his whole body bearing down. Harry stumbles even as he shifts to wrap his arms around Draco, eliminate any pesky space that might remain between them, and keeps stumbling when Draco nudges him with a shoulder. His back hits the wall and he tips his head back against it, chokes on his breath when Draco uses the opportunity to break away, tilt his head, press his mouth to Harry’s neck.

“Jesus,” Harry says, his voice coming a little rough already. His fingers curl to fist around Draco’s shirt as Draco nips and sucks at the tender skin below his jawbone, traces the hollows of his throat. “Jesus, Draco, that’s — “

“Oh, yes, what is it,” Draco breathes against his ear. “Do tell, Potter; I’m simply dying to know.”

“Good,” Harry says. The word goes funny and strangled halfway through, when Draco drags his teeth across Harry’s earlobe. “God. Really good.”

Draco huffs out a laughing breath against the side of Harry’s neck. “I suppose I’d have been insane to expect eloquence from you at a time like this, hmm?”

“You’re so annoying,” Harry says, aware that it’s maybe the least convincing thing he’s ever said and not really caring at all. “Would you just — ” and he slides a hand into Draco’s hair, pulls him back far enough that Harry can catch his mouth again.

Draco hums against his lips, probably with more words he wants to say, endlessly chattering little git that he is. Harry thinks some fractured thoughts about that as he kisses Draco, remembers something about Hermione and communication being important and then forgets it again, forgets he ever thought it. He forgets most everything, honestly, except the exact size and shape of Draco’s warm body under his hands, his mouth. The simple fact of it is too important, too impossible, to waste a second thinking of anything else.

One of Draco’s hands slides up underneath Harry’s shirt — the shirt that was just there, on the little table in his room at St. Mungo’s, with fresh jeans and clean trainers and Harry’s wand this morning. He hadn’t even thought about it at the time, but now he realizes that Draco must have left them, must have come back here and chosen those clothes from amongst Harry’s things as the ones best suited for the day. He doesn’t know why it goes straight to his dick, the thought that Draco dressed him and is now, actually, honestly right now, going to undress him, but it does. God help him, it does. He lets out a little groan at the sprawl of Draco’s hand across his stomach and feels Draco shudder against him, tightens his fingers in Draco’s hair, reaches his other hand down towards Draco’s belt, and —

— the doorbell rings.

“Are you fucking kidding me,” Harry says, when Draco breaks away. “This is — Draco, if that’s Pansy I swear to god I’m taking her back to Cairo myself. In handcuffs, if I have to. This is too much.”

“It’s museum guests, you imbecile,” Draco says, but the insult is tempered by the breathlessness of his voice, his bright, irrepressible smile. “I forgot to put up the bloody closed sign.”

“Kreacher can get it,” Harry says, already drawing Draco in for another kiss. “The tour — he’s a tour guide, he can — ”

“It’s his day off,” Draco says, but he lets Harry kiss him again anyway, only steps away when the doorbell rings a second time. “God, okay. Okay. It really is his day off, Potter, we have to stop.”

“It’s his — wait, you got Kreacher to take days off?”

“Just from the museum,” Draco says. He’s only half a foot away; Harry has to stick his hands in his pockets to keep from reaching for him again. “He won’t be pried away from his duties to the house for anything, god knows I’ve tried — that’s how I know they’re guests, because he can tell. Elf-magic, you know. He doesn’t answer for museum visitors on his off-days, that’s part of the agreement we drew up, and I had to fight him on it tooth and nail, he’s probably sitting upstairs twitching every time the bell sounds — ” Draco cuts himself off abruptly, takes a deep breath, runs a hand through his hair. He’s still smiling. “I’m babbling.”

“Usually,” Harry agrees, grinning helplessly back, and he’s stepping forward, his hands sliding out of his pockets of their own accord, Draco already leaning towards him, when the bell tolls a third time.

“Oh my god,” Draco says. He takes three clean, if painful, steps back. “Okay. I have to — deal with this. And you have to — to — to go away, because I won’t be a person who was caught in flagrante delicto with Harry Potter, I simply refuse, that’s so embarrassing there aren’t words — “

“You,” Harry says, blinking, “you’re going to — right now — you’re going to send me home? So you can give a museum tour?”

“You are the stupidest man on the earth,” Draco says, throwing up his hands. “In the history of the earth, even. No, Harry. I’m going to send you upstairs. While I tell these unfortunately-timed visitors — in my most soothing and professional tones! — to get lost as quickly as humanly possible. Is that all right with you, or did you really have your heart set on being caught with your pants down?”

Rather than answer, Harry closes the distance between them and captures Draco’s mouth again, drinking down the annoyed little noise Draco makes as he does so. He kisses Draco until the bell rings a fourth time and Kreacher, mournfully, wails, “Please, Master Draco, Kreacher is begging you! Kreacher has shown you nothing but kindness for many years!” from the upstairs landing.

“I’ve got it, I’m coming,” Draco calls. To Harry, he says, “You — go. I’ll only be a minute.”

Harry goes. He endures a horrible moment of eye contact with Kreacher on the stairs, though thankfully Kreacher seems to feel the awkwardness too, because he squeaks and vanishes with a crack before Harry has to do anything as horrible as figure out what to say to him about this right now. He proceeds alone up the stairs and onto Draco’s private floors, walks quickly down the hall and through Draco’s bedroom door.

Draco moved back in here a few days ago; he dragged Harry in to see it all fixed up, thrilled and prattling on about the extent of the damage and how it really should have taken longer to repair. That day Harry thought it was torture, standing with Draco next to his massive, comfortable bed and nearly vibrating with all that he was holding back, however glad he was to see the hole in the wall healed up. It’s different now, better, but — weird, too, to be standing in Draco’s bedroom like this. Waiting for this thing Harry’s been waiting on, whether he knew it or not, for months now. Years, maybe. More than a decade, by Hermione’s reckoning, though Harry’s still not sure he’s prepared to concede that point.

He sits on the bed. He stands up. He paces across the floor. He wonders if he should — take his shirt off, or something. If that’s something a person’s supposed to do in a situation like this. He sits on the bed. He stands up. He pulls his shirt up over his head.

Naturally, it gets stuck. Even more naturally, it is while Harry is trapped in its clutches that he hears the bedroom door shut; hears Draco say, his voice rich with barely suppressed laughter, “Well, well. Breakfast and a show.”

“Shut up,” Harry says, wrestling his way free of the fabric. Of course, without its helpful shielding qualities he’s confronted with the full force Draco’s scrutiny, and just how exposed he is beneath it. He feels his face heat. “I don’t — I don’t do this that often, all right?”

“All right,” Draco says. His gaze flicks down to Harry’s chest, and lingers. His eyes are hungry.

Harry swallows. “Did you. Er. Get rid of the guests, and everything?”

“I don’t think you really care,” Draco says, sounding amused. “Do you?”

“No,” Harry admits, and, when Draco flushes — like he hadn’t actually expected Harry to agree with him — adds, “I don’t think I’d care if they were right outside the door.”

“An exhibitionist streak,” Draco says, a little too quickly, his eyes widening as Harry steps towards him. “I knew you were feigning being media shy. A devious ruse, exposed at last! Little do all those Prophet reporters know — ”

Whatever the rest of that sentence was going to be — besides offensive and slanderous, obviously — is lost in the slide of their kiss. The museum is closed now, with the sign up and everything, and the case is solved and Draco hasn’t run away screaming yet, so Harry lets himself go slow, this time, lets himself kiss Draco the way he hasn’t ever been able to imagine himself kissing anyone. Draco’s whole body seems to unfold against him, his every touch unguarded and pliant, and Harry reaches down to undo Draco’s belt without pulling their mouths apart. When he slides a hand under the waist of Draco’s boxers to wrap around his cock, Draco draws in a shuddering breath of Harry’s air, leans back to roll his forehead against Harry’s and watch as Harry pulls it out.

“‘I don’t do this very often,’” Draco says, in an admittedly breathier-than-usual version of his deep, bored, ‘This is me mimicking you, Harry,’ voice. “I must say, Potter, I grow more suspicious by the moment. That was distressingly smooth, but even more so if you are, as you claimed, a sexual hermit.”

“I said I didn’t do this very often, not that I was a fucking virgin,” Harry says, and feels his own dick twitch a little when Draco hisses at the words. “Or a — sexual hermit, Draco, what the fuck — ”

“You swear more during sex, I see,” Draco says, gleeful. “Because, of course, as I have always said, you are a deviant. Full to the brim with filthy appetites! The scandal of the century!”

“Yeah,” Harry says. He shifts his grip on Draco’s dick just a little, and is rewarded with a visible shudder. “Filthy appetites. You’re not wrong.” He drops to his knees, because — because he wants to, and it seems like he can, and he’s so, so tired of pretending not to think about it. “Can I — ”

“Well I’m certainly not going to to stop you,” Draco says, voice gone high, all semblance of composure vanished at last, and Harry takes his dick in his mouth.

“God,” Draco gasps, as Harry swirls his tongue over the head of Draco’s cock, draws him in towards the back of Harry’s throat. “God, what the hell, Potter, how can you — do you know — I mean, all you need is a bloody Gryffindor tie and this is — Merlin. I must’ve wanked to that one a thousand times, and so fuck you, honestly, this is only — I mean, right out of the gate — ”

Draco, Harry thinks, humming his satisfaction around Draco’s dick, has probably never stopped talking a minute in his entire life. Probably all those moments over the last few months Harry’s thought they were sitting in silence, Harry was in fact sitting in silence while Draco, in the relative safety of his own head, was just rambling ever onward. Harry’s glad. He didn’t know it until right now, but he would have been disappointed to discover the truth was anything else.

“Bit rougher in my head, of course,” Draco babbles, though his voice is getting threadier by the second. “Don’t take it personally, just — the nature of the — hey, what are you doing?”

Harry, whose mouth is occupied, doesn’t answer him. He just takes the wrist he’s grabbed and uses it to deposit Draco’s hand in his hair. When Draco takes a hitching breath Harry looks up along the long line of his torso to meet his eyes, nods as much as he can with Draco’s dick in his mouth.

“Harry,” Draco says, wondering, and Harry rolls his eyes and slams himself up, the first time, feels his whole body come alive with the sensation of Draco’s cock hitting hard against the back of his throat.

Draco gets the idea and it’s quick, after that — he tightens his grip on Harry’s hair and fucks into Harry’s mouth and Harry lets him, encourages him, moans even as tears spring up at the corners of his eyes. He grabs hold of Draco’s shirttails with both hands and holds on, and when he looks up to meet Draco’s eyes again Draco comes with a shout, body pitching forward, one hand still in Harry’s hair, the other landing on Harry’s shoulder to steady him. Harry sucks him through it, swallows down every drop before he lets Draco’s softening cock slip out of his mouth, and they’re both still for a second, gasping in the quiet room.

Then Draco says, “Merlin, Harry, that was so good, and slips his hand down through Harry’s hair, strokes it over the nape of his neck. And Harry — he comes so hard and so quickly that it genuinely startles him, the orgasm shuddering through him before he even has the chance to process that it’s happening. He gasps, head crashing forward to land at Draco’s hip, and for a long moment he’s too overcome with the release of it to really register that he’s come in his pants like an actual fucking teenager, and that that is truly and properly mortifying.

“Potter,” Draco says, sounding startled, “did you just — ”

“Don’t you dare say a bloody word,” Harry grits out. He wonders if the back of his neck is as hot with humiliation under Draco’s hand as it feels to him.

“Hey,” Draco says. He grabs hold of Harry’s hair again, pulls his head back so that he can see Draco’s face. He’s smiling, just with the one side of his mouth, the expression both warm and almost… vulnerable, somehow. His voice is soft. “I wouldn’t. Or, well — I probably would, honestly. You’ve met me, after all; you know what I’m like. But. I won’t.”

“Okay,” Harry says. He swallows; his mouth is dry. “Thanks.”

“Sure,” Draco says. He repeats the gesture that undid Harry, running his hand over the nape of his neck almost experimentally, and cocks his head when Harry shudders, his already spent nerve endings crying out at the casual, proprietary affection of it. “You like that, don’t you? That’s good to know.”

Harry rests his head against Draco’s stomach again instead of replying, closes his eyes, just lets himself ride the sensation of it a minute — Draco’s fingers stroking lightly against his hair, his skin, what he can reach of the line of Harry’s spine. Harry thinks he could fall asleep like this, and Draco must think so, too, because after a minute a mutters, “We could be doing this in the bed, it’s just stupid,” and hauls Harry to his feet with a hand under his arm. Harry lets himself be pushed down across the duvet, lets Draco cast one of those complicated little sex fluid banishment charms Harry himself has never mastered, lets his eyes flutter shut when Draco lays down next to him, reaches out to touch him again. There’s the same curious air to it, though this time he doesn’t go near Harry’s neck, runs his knuckles up and down the side of Harry’s arm instead. It’s just as good — it’s almost better — and Harry sighs, happy, his whole body relaxing against the pillows.

“Harry,” Draco says.

He sounds — something. Not as pleased with the world as Harry is. Worrying, even if Harry is, just now, not really feeling that worried about much of anything at all. Still, it’s enough to make him crack one eye open, regard the little frown curling the edges of Draco’s mouth. “Draco?”

Draco’s hand stills, though he doesn’t pull it away. “You do understand that it’s not — that I’ll always be this person, don’t you? That you’re not going to calm me down with sex? People have thought that before, you know, and really, almost exactly the opposite is true. I’m obsessive and intense and — and rude, sometimes, and I like things the way I like them, and you aren’t going to change that. That’s — me. And if that’s not what you want… ” He stops, takes a huge breath, and continues, tone so even that Harry aches for him, “If that’s not what you want, then it’s probably best for everyone that we don’t. Well. Make this any worse for ourselves than we already have, I suppose.”

Harry frowns against his pillow, and then props himself up on an elbow so he can look at Draco properly. As honestly and deliberately as he knows how, he says, “And what if what I want is to be with the mad bastard who nearly kicked my door down at 6:30 in the morning over a Prophet article? What if I like that you’re obsessive and intense and, yeah, Draco, really rude a lot of the time? What if the last thing I want is to calm you down?”

“Then you’re crazy,” Draco says, after a long pause, but he doesn’t look away from Harry when he says it, and Harry doesn’t miss the snarl of wild hope in his voice. “Completely round the twist. In fact, if that is truly the case, I’m sorry to tell you it maybe be impossible for you to live as a normal and respectable member of society.”

Harry thinks about it for a minute. Then he shrugs. Then he smiles.

“Well, hey,” he says, “that's all right. After all, who wants to be one of those?”

Chapter Text

Three months after his showdown with Slughorn, Harry steps across the threshold of Auror Headquarters and knows abruptly that he can’t work there anymore.

It’s not that much of a surprise, really. He’s been talking around it with Draco for weeks, over dinner or during lazy mornings in bed — the fact that he only ever got into this line of work because he thought it was what he was supposed to do, because he couldn’t picture himself doing anything else. Draco’s done a lot of eye-rolling and jabbing him in the chest and calling him an idiot about the whole thing, but he hasn’t actually come out and said that he thinks Harry should quit. Harry’s not certain, but he thinks it’s a conclusion Draco wants him to draw for himself, either for Harry’s mental health or because Draco doesn’t want to be held responsible for any consequences.

There was that one night, though, when Harry came home shaken and covered in blood, too angry and heartbroken at what he’d seen, what he hadn't managed to stop, to even say anything to Draco other than, “I’m fine, it’s not my blood,” and “No, I don’t want to fucking talk about it.” He got in the shower and tried, to no avail, to scrub himself clean of the experience, and after a while Draco climbed in behind him, hooked an arm around Harry’s waist, his chin over Harry’s shoulder.

“You don’t have to do this to yourself, you know,” Draco said, barely audible over the sound of the spray. “There are plenty of people who even enjoy their jobs. I enjoy my job. I think Blaise would make sweet love to his job, if it were possible.”

Harry bowed his head, the water beating a steady, shaming pattern against the back of his neck. “Blaise is a sick man,” he said, because it was always worth saying, before, miserably, he continued: “But it’s — I have an obligation, you know? To these people. To everyone. I have to — fight, and defend them, and I can’t just run out on that because I don’t… enjoy it, or whatever.”

After a long moment of silence, and in a strange voice, Draco said, “Good lord, Harry. Don’t you ever get tired of martyring yourself? ‘I have an obligation to all people in any kind of distress,’ honestly.”

“But,” Harry said, and Draco calmly reached up a hand and redirected the spray of the shower directly into Harry’s face, the obnoxious little fuck.

“I’ve got this theory,” Draco said, all innocent, earnest interest as Harry spluttered. “That you actually don’t hear yourself, when you talk. I’ve decided that every time you open your mouth all that registers for you is — well, I don’t know, I haven’t worked this bit out yet. A duck quacking, or something. In any case, it’s clearly less theory than fact, because if you could hear what you sounded like just now, I have full faith that you’d know it for the utter nonsense it was.” He dug his sharp chin into the meat of Harry’s shoulder, a punishing little gesture. “You deserve to be happy, you know, even if you are the most tragically irritating person under the sun.”

Harry didn’t really believe him or anything, but he turned around to press Draco against the cool, damp tile and kiss him just for saying it; just for seeming to think that it was true. Draco opened his mouth against Harry’s and with one thing and another they never worked their way back around to the topic, but he’s carried Draco’s words in his pocket since he heard them all the same, a talisman of sorts. You deserve to be happy. It’s a strange thought.

Still, that’s not even what does it, the morning he walks into the office and knows in his bones that he’s not cut out to be an Auror anymore. It’s not as though he thinks, This doesn’t make me happy and it never did and therefore I must go, because I deserve happiness; Draco said so, or anything silly like that. It’s more that he looks out at the hive of activity buzzing around him and is struck, wholly and without reservation, with the realization that he doesn’t know where he fits into it, anymore. That maybe he’s never known.

He doesn’t hesitate. He doesn’t stop to think it through. He just walks into Erhard’s office, crosses his arms over his chest, and said, “So, er. I think I quit?”

Erhard raises her eyebrows and, after a second, spells her door shut and mirrors his posture, leaning back over her crossed arms to regard him. “You think you quit?”

“Er,” Harry says again. He shifts a little under her scrutiny, even as his resolve firms up. “No. I quit. I mean, I won’t just — I guess people don’t just… leave, do they?”

“Two weeks notice is the customary courtesy,” Erhard says, and Harry’s surprised to notice a slight smile slip onto her face. “Have you ever actually quit a job before, Auror Potter?”

“No,” Harry admits. He runs a hand through his hair, and offers her a rueful shrug. “I’ve never quit — well. Much of anything, really. Sorry?”

Erhard snorts. “Don’t apologize to me. I have no interest in keeping anyone on staff who doesn’t want to be here, and, to be entirely honest with you… ” She trails off, and the rare expression of uncertainty on her face is so pronounced that Harry can’t help but laugh.

“I’m not very good at it, am I?” Harry says. He doesn’t really need her to answer; he knows it’s the truth.

Erhard gives him an evaluative look, steepling her fingers. “I think that’s a little harsh. In some aspects of the position, you’re one of our strongest Aurors. But in others… ”

“Tactical decision making?” Harry says lightly. This conversation should be embarrassing, but weirdly it’s kind of a relief. “Waiting for backup? Following orders? Doing any paperwork, at all?”

“You do at least seem to know your weaknesses,” Erhard says, the smile stealing back onto her face. “Which is more than I can say for some of your colleagues.” She leans forward, rests her now folded hands on her desk. “May I ask what prompts this abrupt exit? Have you been snapped up by another department, perhaps? Going to work with Granger in Justice?”

“God,” Harry says, laughing on it a little, before he realizes it’s a serious question. “Oh! Er. No, ma’am. I’m not entirely sure what I’m going to do next, to be honest with you. Just… something else. No offense,” he adds, a little awkwardly, when she raises her eyebrows.

“I’ll admit, Potter, I had you pegged for a Ministry lifer,” Erhard says, shaking her head. “But what can you do? Start organizing your active cases for transfer, and we’ll announce it to the press on Monday.” She holds up a hand before Harry can protest that there’s no reason to involve the papers, and he doesn’t know why she would insist on calling them. “You’re a public figure whether you like it or not, Harry Potter. It’s the smart thing to do, for you and for the department.”

“Fine,” Harry mutters, wondering if he can’t figure out a way to be conveniently held at wandpoint that day, for old times’ sake.

Erhard surprises him, and laughs. “I’ll tell you one thing I will not miss: that look on your face. The migraine that always goes with it, either. Get out of my office, and whatever you’re thinking about doing on Monday, forget it. One last favor to the old boss before you go.”

“Yeah, all right,” Harry says, grinning now. He feels… lighter, as he stands and walks to the door. Guilty too, already, and afraid to even consider what the Prophet might write about it, but… lighter, all the same.

“Oh, and Potter?” Harry turns, and Erhard straightens in her seat, lifts her jaw. “Thank you for your service.”

“Er,” Harry says, startled and touched, “you too?” and flees to his desk before he has to deal with any further sincerity.

He keeps his head down for the rest of the day, not ready to say anything to anyone, and when he gets home he remembers that it’s Wednesday, and Ron, Hermione and Rose are coming for dinner. It’s a thing they do pretty regularly now, him and Draco — have people over. Invite friends to share their space. It’s nice. Harry’s getting used to it.

Draco’s not home yet, but dinner (as always) is at seven, so Harry shrugs and starts cooking, losing himself a little in the process. When Draco bursts through the door at ten minutes til, sweaty from the summer heat and enraged about some meeting with an antiquities dealer in Sussex, Harry honestly forgets to tell him. He leaves his pots and pans working on the stove and follows Draco upstairs instead, leans against the doorway of their bedroom while Draco changes shirts and rants — “And then, Harry, then he says, ‘Oh I don’t know about that, Mr. Malfoy, I’ve got another buyer offering me fair market value,’ like I don’t know what fair market value is for an 18th century amulet that never even worked in the first place,” — and it’s all so comfortable that Harry doesn’t think about the big, life-changing the decision he just made. He just hums vague agreement where he thinks he’s supposed to and watches Draco’s hands, which are flying around in agitation even as he does up the buttons of his shirt, making the whole process agonizingly slow.

It’s still a little weird for Harry, if he’s honest, to look at this room that was once Draco’s and acknowledge that it’s his now, too. It’s not like it’s really a new thing; even though they both agreed that it would be insane to move in together straight off the bat, in practice Harry’s lived here since he decided to stay temporarily during the case, and they both know it. Hell, Harry’s only slept a handful nights at his apartment in the last three months, and a few of them were just to prove that he could, and the other one barely counts, anyway. It wasn’t even a full night — he and Draco had an enormous row about Hagrid, of all things, and then Draco turned up at four in the morning to, essentially, needle Harry into bullying him into apologizing, so. Harry’s lived here for a while, is the truth.

Harry supposes, as he watches Draco do up his last button, that it’s a bit like the hole that used to be in the perfectly solid wall Draco’s standing in front of. It took weeks to knit itself back together, slow, painstaking work that Draco tracked with a little frown and a ruler, and Harry bets it feels a bit strange sometimes, too, standing there perfectly whole like it was never it pieces at all.  

He smiles at Draco, who fixes things up as a hobby, who loves this mad old house he rescued and that mad old plant he rescued and maybe even mad old Harry, who he rescued a little bit, too. Some days Harry thinks Draco has a lot of nerve accusing him of having a savior complex, since, if anything, he’s worse; he’s just a lot more selective about it.

Draco catches him looking, and flushes. Still, his voice is lofty and dignified when he says, “Stop ogling me, Potter. Your friends will be here any minute — with their child, no less — and I’m sure they’d all be scarred for life if they walked in on anything risqué.”

“Oh, because they’re going to come up to the bedroom looking for us,” Harry says, rolling his eyes. “And they’re your friends too, Draco.”

“Bite your tongue,” Draco says, though Harry knows it’s mostly for show. “It’s bad enough that I associate with you.

“You and Ron went and got a drink last week,” Harry says, in the triumphant tones of a man with an ace up his sleeve. “That’s true friendship, that is.”

“It was only because you and Hermione were late!” says Draco, looking hunted. “No fun was had! No camaraderie was forged!”

“Ron said you had a lovely time,” Harry says wickedly. “I believe his exact words were ‘Dead helpful, that Malfoy.’”

Draco shudders. “That’s truly horrible, Harry, thank you. My day was going too well, you see. Without you to bring me down I might have spent the whole night doing something as hideous as enjoying myself.”

“Something one does,” Harry says mildly, “with one’s friends.” He attempts Draco’s signature solo-eyebrow raise, too, but he’s not sure that it’s really working all that well.

After struggling to hold a scowl for about two seconds, Draco snorts with laughter and shakes his head. “You look deranged. I mean, you are deranged, so it’s fitting, at least, but — ”

They lose whatever he was about to say to Kreacher appearing with his customary crack. Though it drove him a bit mad at first, Harry has grown to love that crack; it’s very helpful in delicate situations, and has saved him from accidentally exposing himself more than once.

“The Weasleys are here, Master Draco and Harry Potter!” Kreacher trills, even as Harry sighs. He’s categorically forbidden Kreacher from calling him Master Harry, Master Potter, or anything else involving the word Master, on the theory that it really is Draco’s house, whatever it might have decided, and also the idea of answering to Master makes him uncomfortable anyway. Kreacher agreed easily enough, but could not be swayed into calling him either “Harry” (Harry’s preference) or “Potter” (Draco’s), so Harry seems to be stuck with his full name for the duration.

“Thanks, Kreacher,” Harry says, instead of fighting that losing battle again. He and Draco go downstairs, still bickering about whether or not Ron and Hermione are Draco’s friends, though Harry notes with some amusement that Draco abandons the topic the minute they’re in earshot. They have drinks in the kitchen while Harry finishes making dinner, and Draco plays with Rose, and all in all it’s not until about halfway through the meal that Harry remembers that he has an important piece of information to share. He braces himself.

“So,” Harry says, keeping his voice casual and his eyes on his plate, when there’s a lull following an impassioned discussion of Hermione’s last official ruling, “I, er. Quit my job today.”

His admission is followed by dead silence. He doesn’t dare look up.

Ron’s the first to break. “You — you did what?”

“Oh, Harry,” Hermione says, sounding despairing. “But you’ve put in so much time there! You couldn’t have been more than a year or two out from a promotion!“

“I didn’t want a promotion,” Harry says, to his peas. “I’d’ve had to give up the field work, and that’s the only part of the job I’ve ever even sort of liked.”

“That’s not true!” Ron says at once. “You liked — well, okay, maybe not most of the paperwork and networking and stuff, but still! You could have found a way to, I don’t know  — work around that! Something!” He lowers his voice conspiratorially. “You know, I haven’t even heard any whisperings about this among the senior staff; I bet you still have time to change your mind.”

“I don’t want to change my mind,” Harry tells his remaining bites of rosemary-crusted lamb, defiant for all he’s not making eye contact with anyone. “And I’m not going to, anyway. It’s done.”

Silence blooms out between them again, unbroken except for the sound of Rose merrily thwapping her spoon against the side of the table, and Harry can’t take it anymore. He lifts his head, and looks at Draco.

Draco is looking back at him, eyes warm, smile small and honest and so pleased that Harry can’t help but grin back, awash with relief. “Well, Potter. Took you long enough.”

“Git,” Harry says, so affectionate that Draco winces a little, though he doesn’t quite stop smiling.

“Oh, no,” says Ron, looking back and forth between them. “Don’t tell me you support this, Malfoy! If this is one of your — your schemes — ”

“Sorry to disappoint, Weasley,” Draco says, though his eyes don’t leave Harry’s for a second. If Harry didn’t know any better, he’d say Draco sounded almost proud. “I’m afraid this was all Harry’s doing.”

“But mate,” Ron says. His voice is so entreating that Harry forces his gaze away from Draco to glance at him, and regrets it immediately; Ron’s face has fallen dramatically, and Harry feels a swell of guilt at his wounded look. “We were going to work together until we were old. We were going to be those guys, you know! Who’d been there forever! And the Junior Aurors would come in and say, ‘Who’re those guys,’ and everyone’d laugh and say, ‘Oh, them? That’s Potter and Weasley. They’ve been here since the dawn of time.’”

Harry has a wild, angry moment, just for a second, thinking of that night in Ron and Hermione’s dining room, months and months ago now. He’d gone over there so sure that he was going to beg Ron not to take his promotion, and then — then he saw how happy Ron was, and he bit his tongue. And it’s not — it’s not fair, the situation’s not the same, but for a second he wants to take Ron’s head off anyway. Hermione’s, too. Can just see himself screaming, “Don’t you want me to be happy,” even though he’s not entirely sure he knows the answer to that question himself. Even though he wants to believe that isn’t why he’s done this, because it doesn’t seem like a good enough reason, somehow.

“That is such a grim dream I may drink my own tears with dessert,” says Draco, before Harry can say anything. “Harry, will my tears go well with whatever you’ve made?”

“Victoria sponge with raspberries? No,” Harry says, grateful for the distraction. “But I can do you a quick cheese plate, if you like.”

Draco’s shoulders shake a little with suppressed laughter, though his voice is sarcastic when he says, “Truly, your mastery of the culinary arts astounds me. A cheese plate — what insight! What vision!”

“Look, if you want to drink a cup of tears with cake be my guest,” Harry says, not bothering to hide his amusement all that much. “Choke on it, for all I care.”

“Maybe I will, Potter,” Draco says, with a slight leer. He leans forward on his elbows a bit. “Do you think — ”

“Oh my god!” says Ron, abruptly reminding Harry — and Draco, judging by his little jump — that he’s still there. Thankfully, having forgotten him makes it a bit difficult to hold onto his anger vis-a-vis Ron not paying enough attention to Harry’s — whatever. Emotional state. “First of all, let’s spare baby Rose the floor show — ”

“And her mother, too,” Hermione says, patting the now-visible swell of little Possibly-Violet-Possibly-Hugo. “I’m fragile, you know. In the family way. You might overwhelm my delicate sensibilities and kill me right here at this table.”

“Hermione, the first half of tonight’s dinner conversation featured a story about you telling two clerks where they could shove their inaccurate reports,” Harry says, raising his eyebrows. “‘Fragile’ and ‘delicate’ aren’t really the words that come to mind.”

“Well,” Hermione says, popping a cherry tomato in her mouth and not having the grace to look even slightly moved, “still.”

“Getting back to the matter at hand,” Ron says pointedly, “maybe — maybe it was a little unrealistic, okay, to think that you and me would just, you know. Work together forever, or whatever. But — mate! What are you even going to do now?”

“Yes, Harry,” Hermione says, leaning forward to regard him with interest. “If not the Aurors, then what? Ooh, you’re not thinking of going back to get your NEWTs, are you? I know it’s a bit late, but I think that’s a great idea. I always said you’d wish you had them someday!”

When Harry throws another look to Draco, feeling hunted, Draco’s staring back at him, still wearing that small, honest smile. Eyes glittering, he says, “Let me guess. You decided to do it, oh, about twelve seconds before you actually did, didn’t you? And of course you didn’t bother to think it through any further than that, so you have no earthly idea what you’re going to do now. Does that sound about right?”

Harry winces and shrugs a shoulder. “Er. Well. More or less?”

“Harry,” Hermione groans, even as Ron drops his head into his hands.

But Draco tips his head back and laughs, the sound low and rich, filling the room. He’s not laughing at Harry, exactly — Harry, for better or worse, is very familiar with that particular sound — and there’s no hint of mockery to it, no sharp edges on which to cut himself. It seems more delighted than anything else, like Harry is so wildly entertaining that Draco can’t help but bubble over with it a little. It warms Harry to his toes.

“Oh, Potter,” Draco says, shaking his head, voice still thready with laughter. “You are who you are, aren’t you?”

Harry shrugs again. “I guess so?”

“Incredible,” Draco says to his plate, spearing a couple of peas, but not actually making any move to eat them. He rolls his eyes at Harry, all fond exasperation. “And I suppose it hasn’t occurred to you to ask yourself what you want to do, has it? Or what you like to do, even?”

“Er,” says Harry, which seems to be answer enough.

Draco waves his laden fork in the air a bit; one of the peas flies off into a corner, not that he seems to notice. “It’s honestly a miracle you’ve survived so many years on this earth. You will be 26 in one week, Harry Potter, and yet still, somehow, you know nothing about life.” He smiles, then, a bright one that Harry thinks is vaguely reminiscent of a shark. “Luckily, you have me. I’m sure that between us we can figure something out.”

“This conversation has taken a terrifying turn,” Ron says in fatalistic tones, “you’ll both be dead in a year,” but. Well. Harry’s just not really all that worried about it.

They travel, for a while. Draco closes the museum for a month and they go — well, “galavanting around” isn’t the phrase Harry would use, but it’s cropped up in owls from both Hermione and Pansy, so. Draco keeps trying to insist that they’re taking a Grand Tour, like the wizards of old, until eventually Harry has to tell him about Dumbledore and Grindlewald’s Grand Tour plans just to get him to shut up about it. It backfires on him, because Draco spends the rest of the trip muttering to himself occasionally about how you still have a responsibility to queer youth even if your big gay vacation got cancelled by tragedy, but at least he’s not proudly announcing them to people as Tourists anymore.

Some of their stops are work, for Draco; Harry spends three days wandering around by himself in Istanbul, another two in Prague. He doesn’t mind it; it’s kind of nice, actually, ducking into shops and chatting pleasantly with locals who either don’t know who he is or couldn’t give a fuck, eating little meals at random from carts and stands and tiny restaurants. He kind of can’t believe that the version of him it brings out, this relaxed, affable person who resembles the man he always hoped he would become, but not in any way Harry really knows how to quantify. Draco rolls his eyes and says Harry’d know a vacation high for what it was if he’d ever behaved like a normal person and taken a vacation before, but Harry thinks he’s at least a little bit wrong. Harry thinks that he’s just… learning how he fits inside of his skin, maybe, if a handful of years later than he was probably supposed to.

In Cairo, Pansy takes Draco firmly by the shoulders and insists that Harry fuck off for the day, so Harry shrugs, asks around a little, and then Apparates the ten miles to Giza to see the Great Pyramid. He only means to stop and look at it, the way he’s looked at a dozen old houses and caves and weird trees Draco’s dragged him to, always with some fabulous, insane story about whatever moved him to bring them there in the first place. It’s interesting, certainly, but more because of Draco’s stories than because of the visits themselves; when he’s on his own Harry prefers his method of sight-seeing, which admittedly is less about seeing the sights and more about having bizarre conversations with area strangers in magical shops, but still. He’s not expecting anything earth-shattering, when he Apparates to the pyramid. He just wants to have seen it for himself.

He ends up staying for hours, the sun beating down hot on his neck, marveling. He’s not sure what it is; his father’s family was from Egypt before they settled in England generations back, and maybe that’s why he’s so captivated, why he doesn’t even consider walking away. Maybe it’s just… Harry’s spent so much of his life hearing, knowing, that he was living history, that his very existence was prophesied and foretold to bring down dark evil, that his every action would be studied and judged for years and centuries to come. He went from being a worthless waste of space to the savior of the Wizarding world, and one way or another he never got much of a chance to just be Harry, or really even figure out who Harry was. But he stands in front of that pyramid, built by hand all those years ago and standing still, the work of people who stood right here on this same earth that’s beneath Harry’s feet now, and he feels — small. Blissfully, blessedly small. Just one in an endless, ever-expanding line of souls to live and die under this sun — lovers, failures, heros, all.

“Does sunburn actually bliss you out?” Draco demands that night, while Harry submits without complaining to being rubbed down with some potion or another. The answer to is his question is no — it hurts a lot, actually — but there’s this unfamiliar sensation in his limbs anyway, and also the rub-down is pretty nice. “I can’t believe you’re making me do this, by the way. It’s grotesque. It’s undignified.”

“I didn’t make you do shit,” Harry says, easily enough. “You said ‘For god’s sakes, you idiot, you’ve turned purple, I swear sometimes I could just kill you,’ and then you insisted — ”

“Slander and lies,” Draco says, rubbing a particularly painful spot on Harry’s neck. The potion helps, and when Harry lets out a little sigh of relief Draco’s voice goes soft. “I obviously don’t care if you burn yourself to a crisp.”

“Obviously,” Harry murmurs, and wonders if maybe the sensation in his limbs isn’t peace. It’s bizarre. He thinks he likes it.

They spend a weekend in France with Narcissa Malfoy, and Harry sees what Draco meant about growing up in a museum. He’s a different person inside the walls of her beautifully appointed country home, conciliatory and studied in his words and his movements; careful, in this way that goes beyond the already painful consideration he brings to most of his life. A dozen times Harry sees him bite back something he’s going to say, cover the impulse with a cough or a yawn or, a couple of times, a little kick to Harry’s ankle. He thinks Narcissa sees it too — every once in a while Harry catches her frowning at the smooth mask of Draco’s features, like she’s trying to see beneath them, though of course the expression vanishes the moment she notices Harry watching.

It’s strange. Harry’s never really — he doesn’t know much about family dynamics, is all. About parents. His relationship with his own has obviously been a basically one-sided conversation, barring a year he doesn’t remember and that night in the Forbidden Forest he’ll never forget, and otherwise he doesn’t have much except the Dursleys and the Weasleys to go off of. Maybe that’s why he’s spent his whole life thinking that family, real family, meant people who knew you backwards and forwards, who listened to you, who loved you regardless of who you were — even the Dursleys were that way, if only and very exclusively for Dudley.

This thing between Draco and his mother is… a lot more complicated than that. Harry watches, largely in silence, as they talk around a dozen topics, their tones always pleasant even when their eyes are warm or narrowed or hard. Narcissa must offer a hundred little comments that seem totally innocuous to Harry but visibly aren’t to Draco, and Harry sees Narcissa flinch more that once at something Draco says that sounds perfectly innocent to him. They don’t talk about: Lucius; the war; Draco’s childhood; Harry’s presence; the attacks on Grimmauld Place that drew Narcissa to Britain a few months back; the fact that Harry and Draco are sharing a bed. They don’t seem to talk about much of anything, somehow, despite the fact that at any given moment either Draco or Narcissa is speaking.

It makes Harry sad, watching it. It’s painfully obvious that each of them loves the other, but equally clear that neither one knows how to express that, and that maybe they’ve never known. Harry puzzles it over for a while, because once you learn to speak his language Draco’s actually a very demonstrative person; he just hides it, often rather sloppily, under a few layers of insults and vitriol and babbling wildly about something odd. Eventually, Harry concludes that Narcissa doesn’t speak Draco’s language, and that’s about half of the problem — the other half is that Draco, afraid of being misunderstood, has more or less stopped speaking it at all.

Harry’s not really sure how to be helpful — he’s not even sure the situation can be helped — so he tries to focus on not being actively unhelpful, which mostly works. They get through Friday and Saturday without any carnage, and after dinner on Sunday, their last night, Narcissa asks Harry to run out and pick up some milk for tea the following morning. He thinks maybe he’s being cleared out to make room for a private conversation, so he takes his time about it, dawdles around in the supermarket and then just walks, for a while, through the French countryside. It’s a clear night, and on his way back to the house he sees a head of white-blonde hair out in one of the wide fields beyond Narcissa’s property.

Harry veers his path off the road, cutting through tall grass and wildflowers. When he reaches the long wooden fence Draco’s leaning against, he leans against it, too, places the carton of milk down on the wood between them.

Draco gives it a baleful look. “After all that time you were gone, I rather expected a bucket. I assumed you’d found a cow and milked it — well, no. In fact what I assumed is that you found a bull, attempted to milk him, and after the resulting head trauma wandered off into the night, never to be seen again.”

“Out here mourning me, were you?” Harry says dryly.

“Oh, sure,” Draco says, shooting him a quicksilver grin that vanishes as rapidly as it appeared. “Mourning, celebrating; whichever you like.”

Harry makes a rude gesture, then picks a stalk of tall grass from a nearby cluster and starts picking it apart, one long string at a time. After a moment, he says, “I thought, er. I thought maybe she wanted to talk to you, or something. I didn’t want to come back too quickly, in case.”

Draco laughs, brief and bittersweet. “Please. We’re Malfoys. Any serious conversation we have goes like this: my mother says, ‘Draco, I’ve made the following unilateral decision,’ and I say, ‘Perhaps you might have consulted me first,’ and she says, ‘It’s a bit late to worry about that now, isn’t it?’ and I say, ‘Very well.’ Three minutes would have more than sufficed.” He grimaces, and adds, “I suppose, technically, that tonight we may have taken up to five. Occasionally she attempts to deliver a bit of Lucius in absentia, in which case it’s the same as before, except at the end there’s a nice little addendum warning me not to make a scene, featuring an exciting list of highlights from scenes I have made in conversations prior.”

“You do put on a nice scene,” Harry says, because he has to say something, and because he does speak Draco’s language, even if that’s still a little strange for him even now; even if Narcissa doesn’t. “Fun and engaging for the whole family, not to mention anyone lucky enough to be in a three-mile radius.”

“Oh, piss off,” Draco says, but he leans a little closer to Harry as he says it, so their arms are pressed together over the bar of the fence. The milk falls over, but Draco doesn’t seem to mind. “You’re one to talk, anyway. ‘I’m Harry Potter, all the ill that has ever befallen anyone on the earth is my fault, over the course of my life I’ve committed six acts of arboreal violence — ’”

“We are, thank god, on you right now,” Harry says, knocking his shoulder lightly against Draco’s without moving his arm away. Draco scowls but says nothing, so Harry, carefully, asks: “So, what — er, unilateral decision, I guess? Did your mum make?”

“Oh,” Draco says, and sighs. The scowl drops away from his face, leaves him looking unguarded and young as he stares out into the night. “She’s, ah. Selling the Manor, in fact.”

“Is that right,” Harry says, after a moment’s pause. He, personally, has no love in his heart for that particular property, being as his only memories of it revolve largely around torture, imprisonment, and the heartbreaking sound of Hermione screaming, but they’re not on him right now. “I’m sorry?”

Draco scoffs. “You’re not sorry,” he says, and then, more quietly: “I’m not sorry. Isn’t that horrible? That house endured so much for us, and it — I suppose we had a complicated relationship, but it was still my childhood home.”

“How d’you —”

“Have a complicated relationship with a house?” Draco says, pointed. “I don’t know, Harry. Why don’t you tell me?”

“That’s fair,” Harry mutters, though he hates to give up the point.

“I don’t mean that I’m not sorry,” Draco says, abrupt, as if Harry hadn’t spoken. “Or I shouldn’t mean it, anyway. I — about some of it, I’m — that house has held generations of Malfoys, you know. It’s probably my,” his mouth twists in distaste, “responsibility to talk her out of selling it. To live in it myself, honestly. If I could just keep the grounds, that would be one thing; I am sorry, truly, about losing those.”

Keeping to himself his dawning realization about why Draco seems to find some feature out in nature to lean upon whenever he’s experiencing an emotion, Harry says, “Draco. You know I’m the last person who would — judge you, or whatever, for not wanting to live somewhere.”

“Who cares about your judgement?” Draco snaps. “I’m judging me for it. I’d judge someone else, if they let their ancestral home get sold off to some unknown third party.”

Harry rolls his eyes. “Thanks.”

“Oh, Grimmauld Place wasn’t even your ancestral home, you egomaniac,” Draco says crossly. “And anyway, I did judge you for that. I still do. Even right now, as we stand here, I think to myself, ‘That man, Draco? Who once threw mud at you, and tossed aside your pride and joy for a rank little hovel covered in mold? Him?’”

“Glad to see you’ve worked through the mud incident,” Harry says, and laughs a little when Draco elbows him. “What? I’m just saying, that’s very mature of you, letting bygones be bygones and all.”

“You’re a horror,” Draco mutters, without any real rancor behind it. Then, sounding a little uncertain, he adds, “Do you know — she didn’t even ask me if I wanted it. She said, ‘I’m selling it,’ and I said, ‘What if I don’t want you to sell it, what if I buy it from you,’ and she said, ‘Do what makes you happy, Draco.’ Just that.” He laughs, a faint, pained little chuckle that slips away on the wind. “And the truth is, I honestly don’t know if she meant it as a dig or not. I’ve been standing out here for half an hour thinking about it and I still don’t know. If she meant ‘Do what makes you happy, Draco, even if that’s to live at Grimmauld Place without producing an heir while Malfoy Manor changes hands, ultimately dooming your line and failing your father and I once and for all, as he suspected you would from your first words,’ well. I suppose I don’t necessarily blame her, and I can live with it, anyway. I’ve lived with it this long. But if she genuinely meant she wants me to be happy… ” He frowns, looks at his hands. “I’m not sure I know what to do with that, to be entirely honest.”

Harry looks at the line of his shoulders, the tension in the set of his mouth, and hates it. He has no idea what to do, so he says what he’s thinking, which is: “I don’t know if it helps, but. Er. I know that she loves you.”

He really does, is the thing. He knew it even before he properly knew Draco, will never forget the look on Narcissa’s face that night in the Forest, the desperation in her voice when she hissed, “Is Draco alive?” At the time Harry hadn’t entirely been able to square with the idea of anyone loving Draco enough to defy Voldemort for him, an irony that twists his heart a little now, but. He still knows it’s true, and Draco deserves to know, too, if he doesn’t.

“Don’t be absurd, of course she does,” Draco spits, proving that he does know, and also that Harry’s an idiot. He smiles at Harry, though, after a second, something guarded in the expression. “I even know the story I imagine you were about to tell me, but it should tell you something about our relationship that I didn’t hear it from her. I heard it from — well, from you, in fact,” he says, voice going quiet. “At her trial. We never discussed it, afterwards, but in fairness to her she did make very significant eye contact with me during your testimony, so. I suppose that’s something.”

He looks so brittle in that moment, lip curled against whatever brutal thought is rattling around inside his head, that Harry itches with the desire to touch him, to offer him some sort of — physical — something, to make up for the words he has no chance of getting right. Which isn’t to say that he’s likely to get the touching thing right, either; he’s mostly pretty bad at it, awkward and uncertain and never quite sure how it’s supposed to go. He reaches out anyway, pulls Draco into a rough, graceless hug.

It’s — well, it’s kind of horrible, at first. Draco’s obviously not expecting it, possibly because Harry is inserting a hug where a hug does not belong (he’s never quite been able to work out where they go, to be honest) or possibly because Harry is almost never the one to initiate touch that isn’t the sexual kind. He prefers to follow Draco’s lead than take blind stabs in the dark and humiliate himself, which he had done a time or five back when he was with Ginny and would like to avoid repeating now.

Whatever the reason, Draco doesn’t shift in time to keep Harry from essentially knocking Draco’s head into his chest, and Harry grimaces at his own ineptitude, wishing briefly but fervently for death.

“Er,” he says, unwilling to let go, because that’s when the laughing will start. Of course, then his stupid mouth opens again and produces, “Am I — doing this right?” without any input from his damned brain, so the laughing’s bound to start in a second anyway.

But Draco surprises him. He stills for a second under Harry’s arms, immobile in an awkward, uncomfortable position, before he twists a little, lines them up. His moves his head to rest on Harry’s shoulder, wraps his arms around Harry’s waist, and relaxes under Harry’s hands when they land, one carefully after the other, on his back.

“I’m not sure I’m the authority,” he says against Harry’s collarbone. “But I’d say — six out of ten. Room for improvement, but not a terrible showing.” He does laugh, a bit, when Harry punches out a huge sigh of relief. “You’re pathetic, Potter. Someone could toss you into a death match in a scorpion pit and you wouldn’t bat an eyelash, but this has you shaking in your boots?”

“Yeah, well,” Harry says, because it’s true. He shrugs, just slightly, trying not to jostle Draco’s head. “The worst a scorpion can do is sting you.”

“That’s,” Draco says, sounding horrified, “you’re so,” but he doesn’t finish the sentence, and he tucks himself in against Harry a little closer. “I don't need you to do this, you know,” he adds, not moving away.

“Of course not,” Harry agrees, a little too warmly, but instead of insisting that Harry not humor him, Draco just huffs an irritated little breath against his neck.

They stand there like that for a while, and after fifteen seconds or so Harry is even able to shut up the voice in his head yelling, Step away! It’s been too long! You’re making it weird! Draco is obviously aware that Harry’s got basically no idea what he’s doing at all; he’ll end it, when he wants it to be done. Harry can just stand here, and rub his hand up and down the path of Draco’s spine, and hope it’s helping, somehow. It feels good, at least on his end. Maybe that’s enough.

“Do you want me to buy the Manor and turn it into a museum?” Harry says, eventually. It’s mostly a joke, but there’s a horrifying little part of him that’s pretty sure he’d do it, actually, if it was what Draco wanted.

Draco laughs and finally steps back, looks up at Harry with bright eyes. “I don’t think that will be necessary, Harry, but thank you. The image of what that place would look like under your care is actually very helpful; at least whoever does buy it won’t be you.”

“I’m sure whoever it is will let you visit,” Harry says, kindly ignoring the rest of it.

“Are you,” Draco drawls, sounding as though he doesn’t believe it for a moment.

“Sure,” Harry says. “And if they’re not, well. I’ll come along, and you can do that ‘Look, it’s Harry Potter, now do whatever I say to save Britain,’ bit you like so much. Maybe you can even bury my body on the lawn. You know, when I die from embarrassment.”

“I do enjoy the opportunity to abuse your celebrity,” Draco says, voice thoughtful. “Since it’s so hideously wasted on you, and everything. I honestly consider it a public duty. If not I, then who? If not now, then when?”

“See, I mostly get stuck on the why, with you,” Harry says, and then laughs when Draco gives him a speaking finger and a scowl.

They walk back to the house a few minutes later, though they have to double back when they realize they’ve forgotten about the milk, and Draco grabs Harry by the hand and swings him into a kiss a few minutes before they get to the door. Harry goes along, draws Draco in with arm against the small of his back, and finds himself palming Draco’s jaw when they step apart with no real memory of how his hand got there.

He thinks he sees another head of blonde hair disappear behind the curtain of the upstairs window, and the next morning, as he and Draco are heading out, Narcissa draws him into a hug of her own. It’s both much briefer and considerable less comfortable than Draco’s embrace from the night before, especially because of the death grip she has on his upper arms when she whispers, “Take care of my son.”

Harry doesn’t have any interest, now or ever, in telling her that more often than not that particular sentiment works the other way. But he smiles cautiously, and nods, and follows Draco out into the morning sunlight feeling… good, he thinks, for being asked. Good to think that she might feel easier for having said it. Good to think that maybe there’s something he can do beyond not being actively unhelpful after all.

“I like helping people,” he tells Draco, before they Apparate. Draco has been needling him since he quit the Aurors to come up with things he likes doing, keeping a list of his answers in one of the notebooks he always has hidden away somewhere on his person, and it’s hard — honestly kind of distressingly hard — but Harry’s working on it. “I like… feeling like I did some good for someone.”

“Shocking,” Draco says, rolling his eyes, but he writes it down.

Their last stop is to New York City, because Draco has a deep and bizarre obsession with the idea of reptilian people living in their sewers.

“They’re like merpeople,” he tells Harry enthusiastically, about six minutes after they arrive. “Only not entirely aquatic, obviously, and of course I’m sure merpeople themselves would object to the comparison. They don’t particularly enjoy being associated with anything that doesn’t have gills. But apparently this sewer society is very advanced! They name their young after famous European painters, and are strongly committed to the pursuit and enforcement of justice.”  

“Draco,” Harry says, biting back an absolute scream of laughter with heroic effort, “I think you’re talking about the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.”

Draco narrows his eyes. “A ridiculous name for an underground reptilian society. I’m sure that's not what they really called; it’s a mistranslation or something, I’m certain. And if you’re about to tell me they’re a Muggle myth, I remind you again — “

“No, I know, so are we, but,” Harry says, rapidly losing control of his mirth. “They’re not a myth. They’re a cartoon.”

“What’s that, a Muggle word for urban legend?” Draco says, rolling his eyes. “You can split all the hairs you like, Potter, I still maintain that the society exists.”

“Well, in that case,” Harry says, “d’you think we should get them a pizza?” and then gives up and howls with laughter, doesn’t stop even when Draco sighs and grabs his sleeve and starts hauling him forcibly through Central Park.

It takes him the better part of twenty minutes for Harry to calm himself down and, slowly and painstakingly, attempt to convince Draco that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are not real beings living in the sewers of New York. Draco is very loathe to believe it, and Harry has to pull out the big guns of explaining that Dudley had loved them when they were children before he will even grudgingly allow that maybe, possibly, there was also a show about creatures which resembled the justice-minded reptilian society that he still maintains could dwell in the New York City sewer system.

“You’re certifiable,” Harry tells him cheerfully, as Draco walks sulkily beside him. “Where are we going, anyway? To find the likeliest looking manhole cover?”

“Well, now we’re not,” Draco mutters, and Harry laughs again, hard enough this time that he nearly cries.

They end up just walking for a while, their bickering about the Turtles sliding into the truly hysterical story of how Draco came to believe in a subterranean New York City reptilian society in the first place. It involves two chickens, a 13th century cutlass, and a Muggleborn teenager who was very clearly just fucking with him for sport, and as Draco tells the story that fact visibly becomes obvious to him, which just makes it that much funnier. By the time he’s done Harry’s wiping actual tears of laughter from his face and Draco is hunched a little, hands in his pockets, vibrating with impotent rage.  

“Years, Potter!” he says, sounding equal parts enraged and mortified. “Years, I spent believing that! Talking to people about it! Oh, I could just die. I swear on all that is holy, should I ever run across that ingrate child again I’ll — I’ll send him to live in the sewers.” He shudders slightly. “It’ll be no more than he deserves, too. Filthy places, sewers.”

Harry agrees, but then he remembers that his only real experience in a sewer involved a basilisk and Tom Riddle, and Draco had very emphatically not been present. Which, Harry thinks now, is kind of a pity, because probably if he and Draco hadn’t been at each other’s throats every second of the day back then they could have solved that whole thing much earlier. He sort of can’t imagine a version of events where that situation could have baffled both Draco and Hermione for so long.

Still: “Wait,” Harry says, laughter already bubbling up in his voice again, “have you gone looking before?”

“I’m going to get an ice cream!” Draco says, a little too loud, cheeks pinking as he hurries off towards a cart in the distance. Which means: yes. And, also, that this is the best day of Harry’s life.

Harry laughs to himself as Draco stalks off, delighted by this entire ridiculous turn of events, and sees a tent and some people a little ways away. Curious, he walks over and finds a pet adoption fair, dogs and cats in cages, a couple of volunteers chatting to the people milling around. Harry smiles vaguely at a little girl playing with a small, enthusiastic puppy, and then finds himself drawn to a cage down at the end of the group, with no people nearby. Inside is a blue pit bull, maybe six months old and too skinny, with one eye missing, an angry, fresh-looking scar stretched across the place where it would have gone.

He growls at Harry from the corner of his cage, the sound coming harsh from the back of his throat.

“Huh,” Harry says, tilting his head. After a second he crouches in front of the cage, drops his eyes to the ground, and says, voice low, “I’m not pitying you, if that’s what you think. I bet whatever happened wasn’t even your fault, and I’m sure you did the best you could. I’ve got a couple of scars, too — see?” He holds out his right hand, where the words I must not tell lies will be written every day for the rest of his damn life, and watches the dog from underneath his lashes.

Warily, growl abandoned, the creature creeps forward a few steps in the cage and sniffs at Harry’s hand for a moment before, hastily, he retreats again. Harry bites down on a smile. “That’s okay. I get it. Constant vigilance, am I right?”

The dog cocks his head at him. Harry cocks his head back, and is rewarded with a second’s worth of a tongue-lolling grin before someone says, “Wow! He really likes you!”

Harry looks up to see a teenaged volunteer beaming at him. He gives the dog a betrayed look, ashamed to have been caught out talking to him like a person; the dog seems unperturbed.

“Er,” Harry says, with an awkward little shrug, and wonders if he’s supposed to stand up from his crouch or not. “I don’t know about all that. I’m sure he’s just… bored, or something.”

“No, I really mean it,” the volunteer gushes. “He’s been out at three of these events now, and he always scares people. He’s a great dog, really,” she adds quickly, looking horrified with herself. “I mean, I’ve worked with him at the shelter, I shouldn’t have said — he’s wonderful, he really deserves to get adopted. He just doesn’t like being in a cage.”

“Who does?” Harry says, shooting the dog a commiserating look.

Draco returns as she walks away, and Harry does get up from his crouch. It’s too late, though, because Draco raises his eyebrows and says, “Potter, oh my god. Absolutely not.”

“Did you actually not get me an ice cream?” Harry says, staring at the lone cone in Draco’s hand, and Draco smirks, momentarily distracted.

“You didn’t say you wanted one,” he says, all feigned innocence, widening his eyes and blinking quickly. “And of course I’d share, but — Potter!” This last he squawks, probably because Harry has just stuck his finger into the side of his ice cream and scooped out a little section for himself.

Harry licks about half of it clean, returning Draco’s feigned-innocent look and enjoying the way Draco’s gaze keeps flicking down to Harry’s mouth, as if he’s fighting the urge to openly stare. Then Harry crouches down, ignoring Draco’s despairing groan, and sticks his finger into the cage with the pit bull.

Again, the dog approaches warily, but this time when he sniffs Harry’s hand his tail starts to wag, and he licks the ice cream off at once.

“I can’t believe I left you alone for five minutes and this is what happened,” Draco says, clearly more to himself than to Harry. “I can’t believe you stuck your finger in my ice cream. I’d honestly be better off traveling with a toddler!”

“He’s always like this,” Harry tells the dog, who is watching Draco with interest now, possibly because he’s the one holding the rest of the ice cream. “It’s not you.”

“Harry, you are not adopting this dog,” Draco says urgently. “You are barely capable of keeping yourself alive, let alone another living being. I urge you, I implore you, stop speaking to him like a person — in fact, come away at once. You are clearly already dangerously attached, and in another thirty seconds even I won’t be able to keep you from doing something reckless and rash.”

“Bye, buddy,” Harry says to the dog, as Draco grabs his arm to pull him up. He’s a little regretful, but Draco’s probably right — he is, after all, unemployed with absolutely no idea as to what his future work schedule will look like, in a city across an ocean from his own. It’s probably not a responsible time to become a pet owner.

And that would be the end of it, except that as they’re walking away, this totally random white guy in a Rush t-shirt nods to Draco and says, “Making the right call there, my friend.”

“Pardon me,” says Draco, lip curling a little, “but I don’t believe we’ve met. So tell me: I care about your opinion because why, now?”

The guy shrugs, not seeming at all bothered by Draco’s knee-jerk hostility. “Maybe you don’t. I was just saying, it’s the right call, not taking that one home. They’re dangerous, pit bulls. It’s down to the breeding. Not a one of ‘em that doesn’t go bad in the end.”

“Is that right,” Draco drawls. His voice is like ice, and the guy must pick up on it this time, because he hurries off pretty sharpish. Draco stares after him for a second, and then looks back at the cage where the dog’s still looking up at them, and then snaps, “Oh, come on,” and starts walking away again, clearly expecting Harry to follow.

Harry does follow. After a few steps, Draco says, sharp and interrogatory, “What would you even do with a dog?”

“I don’t know, really,” Harry admits. “I’ve never had one before. I always kind of wanted one as a kid, but obviously that never happened. Well, unless you count Sirius’s Animagus form,” Harry smiles a little to think of Padfoot, ache in his chest be damned, “but I don’t, really. It wasn’t quite the same, I don’t think.” He considers Draco’s question for a moment. “I’d take him on long walks, I suppose. Runs, too. Teach him tricks and things. You know. Dog stuff.”

Draco groans, a heartfelt noise from the back of his throat.

“What?” Harry says, a little stung. He did not, after all, say, Make him be my best friend and listen to me and go on adventures and bite my cousin on the bum, which is why he’d wanted one when he was nine. “That’s what you do with dogs!”

“No, I was just thinking,” Draco says, and there’s a slight pause before he finishes: “that we should probably settle in, is all. I’m famished. You go find us a restaurant, I’ll track down lodgings, and we’ll meet back here in, oh, twenty minutes?”

“Sure,” Harry says, bemused, as Draco walks off, as to how he could be famished whilst currently eating an ice cream cone.

He’s a lot less bemused when, twenty minutes later, he returns to the spot they agreed upon only to see a sheepish Draco, leash in hand, standing next to the one-eyed dog.

“Really great job keeping me from doing anything rash or reckless there, Draco,” Harry says, looking back and forth between them with wide eyes.

Draco scowls. “Your stupid Gryffindor rot is contagious,” he mutters, thrusting the leash at Harry. “And this is your fault, so he’s your dog.”

Harry could argue, but he doesn’t really want to, so he takes the leash instead. The dog looks up at him with a curious eye; as promised, he seems infinitely happier outside of his cage. “You’ll need a name,” Harry tells him seriously, and he whuffs out a cheerful-sounding breath, wags his tail.

“I am consumed by immediate regret,” Draco says, looking despairingly between the both of them, “how do you Gryffindors live like this,” but he moves up their Portkey home to the end of the afternoon, so Harry doesn’t think he means it all that much.

The name thing turns out to be a point of contention, because even though Draco insists that it’s Harry’s dog to do with what he likes, he demands to have a say. Harry wants Cyclops, for obvious reasons; Draco rejects this out of hand, and suggests Bartholomew, which Harry hates.

“What about Alastor?” he says, still on the one-eyed thing.

“Absolutely not,” Draco gasps, putting a hand to his heart and pulling a face of deep betrayal. “I know he’s your great shining hero of never relaxing a minute in your life, but that man turned me into a ferret, Potter. A ferret! And bounced me around on the stone floors! It took me days to physically recover and psychologically I still haven’t; I flatly refuse to name an animal after him.”

“That wasn’t even Mad-Eye, though,” Harry says, even though he knows it’s a losing battle. “Mad-Eye was locked in a trunk for Polyjuice ingredients when that happened, your issue is with a different man. Who,” he adds, delighted to realize it, “actually might as well have been named Bartholomew. So.”

“I hate you,” Draco says, and then looks at the dog and adds, “and also you. Both of you. Obviously him,” he gestures at Harry, “a little more, but you are a terror in your own right, and I wouldn’t doubt for a second that you used some kind of canine trickery to secure your adoption in the first place.”

The dog cocks his head at Draco, and then looks at Harry, who shrugs. “Don’t look at me, mate. I warned you. He gets like this.”

“Don’t talk to him like he’s a person,” Draco insists, for the hundredth time already, either not noticing or not deigning to care that he’s just done the same thing himself.

For a fraught week the dog has no name and wreaks havoc while Harry's learning up on how to train him, peeing everywhere and knocking things down; he eats the bottom of a set of curtains that Draco claims were a treasured heirloom, although he doesn’t mention whose heirloom, and he never seemed to like them much before. Still, every time he comes across a new canine-adjacent affront Draco yells, “POTTER,” and there’s a day or two there where Harry is genuinely afraid that the dog is going to start answering to it, and doom him to a lifetime of shame.

Luckily, Rose sorts it out for them, after a fashion. She’s toddling around underfoot that Wednesday night while Harry cooks dinner, and Harry keeps forgetting how fast she’s gotten. He looks around after just two seconds of concentration on his gazpacho and she’s gone, and he hurries off to look for her, calling her name.

“What, did you lose her?” Ron demands, sticking his head out of the parlor door. He doesn’t sound that worried, probably because Rose has, Harry knows, outfoxed him several times as well. “Hermione, Harry lost the baby!”

“The baby escaped him with intent, you mean,” Hermione says, as she and Draco step out into the hall after him. “I swear, ever since she learned to walk — Rose! Rosie!”

“Tomo!” comes back to them, in Rose’s gleeful, still-developing toddler voice.

It seems to be coming from the drawing room, and as they all move to follow the sound of her voice Ron says, “Funny. That’s what she calls tomatoes.”

“Oh, god,” says Harry, understanding dawning horribly as he steps through the door. Rose is standing in the center of the room, clapping her hands in delight, across from the dog, who is gleefully holding between his teeth the sack which Harry has enchanted to follow him around and catch scraps while he cooks. Which, tonight, is almost entirely full… of chunks of tomato.

Oh my god,” Draco says, in a kind of restrained shriek. He elbows his way up to stand next to Harry, ignoring Ron and Hermione’s respective objections. “Potter, so help me, if a single exhibit in this room gets damaged I will ruin you. Do you understand me? I will ruin your life.”

“Easy,” Harry says, not sure if he’s talking to Draco or the dog. He steps towards the center of the room, one hand reaching out slowly towards the sack of scraps. “Hey, boy, why don’t you just let me — “

Even as the dog starts to tilt his head, every adult in the room is moving; Ron, Harry, Hermione and Draco all draw their wands and cry, “Protego!” Presumably the rest of them are casting it on themselves — Harry, in the interest of not forcing Draco to choose between going back on his word and ruining his life, casts it around the exhibit cases and walls, resigned to his fate.

The ensuing catastrophe only takes a few seconds to play out; the dog gleefully shakes the sack between his teeth and it bursts, as it was always going to, spattering Harry with tomatoes and basil stems and garlic husks and all the other detritus he’s shoved in there tonight. He sighs, reaches up to wipe his eyes, and then realizes that while the exhibits, Ron, Hermione, and Rose are all perfectly clean, Draco looks exactly like Harry must.

He cast his protection spell the way Harry did, Harry realizes, seeing the same knowledge dawn on Draco’s face. God, he looks a mess, tomato bits in his hair and something brown — probably that balsamic vinegar Harry spilled — dripping down his cheek onto his starched white shirt. His face is already twisting with some histrionic expression, horror or fury or both, that is especially ridiculous underneath its coating of kitchen garbage and honestly a bit painful, for Harry, because he loves the bastard a truly wretched amount.

Harry can’t help himself. He starts to laugh.

It takes a second, but then Draco’s laughing too, hard enough and long enough that he has to reach out and grab Harry’s arm for support. Harry lets him, and for a minute they just stand there, leaning on each other, cracking up, because: they’re idiots. Because: really, it’s pretty funny.

“Tomo!” Rose declares, and toddles forward to give the dog a hug around the neck. He offers Harry a tongue-lolling grin over Rose’s shoulder, not an ounce of shame in him, and Harry can’t help but grin back at his sheer good-natured audacity, the way he just has to make things difficult.

The floors take forever to clean, and Harry’s sure that one rug didn’t have those little red spots on it before, but the dog’s Tomato after that. Tomo, for short.

And it’s weird — Harry gets up in the morning, the same time every morning, and takes the dog for a run. He gets home in time to sneak in a shower before Draco wakes up, and then cooks breakfast and takes it up to the sitting room, where Draco’s still doing his own little morning routine, consistent as breathing, unchanged by all the change that’s been wrought around it. They eat and Draco tells Harry what was in the papers and sneakily feeds the dog something off plate only to voraciously deny having done so, and then he goes to open the museum or go to a meeting or host a talk or whatever else, and Harry is at a loose end in his own city for — well. For kind of the first time in his life.

That’s not true, of course. He had time to spare, an embarrassment of it, for years and years, but somehow he never went out and… did anything with it. Somehow it felt like it didn’t belong to him. At first he was so heavy with the weight of what he’d been through, what he’d lost, that he could barely function; then, for a long time, he drew in guilt with every breath, knowing in his bones that it was unfair that he’d lived, and they had died. He was a void those first few years, just a black hole doing its best impression of a star. And when that finally started to shrink down — when he finally started to feel as though there was something other than emptiness inside of him — well, when that happened Harry was so grateful that he didn’t notice, didn’t care, that what came back wasn’t as… much, or something, as what had been there before. Harry hadn’t bothered to wonder if “less empty” was the same as “full.”  

It wasn’t. He understands that now. He thinks he’s probably still — that there’s probably always going to be a pocket of emptiness he carries beneath his skin, the way he once carried a corner of a toxic soul. He’s probably never going to be full, not the way people like Ron and Hermione are full, and that’s all right. He can get close, like Draco is close, and tuck that pocket of emptiness in with all his other scars.

Harry takes Tomato on long walks through the city. Harry takes himself on long walks through the city, wandering into and out of whatever random shops and structures strike his fancy. He even finds himself walking Diagon Alley, now and again, something he hasn’t done since he was at Hogwarts; for the last seven and a half years he’s Apparated straight to his destination anytime he had to go to Diagon even though he lived right up the street, and was always filled with dread that someone would try to talk to him. But — Harry wants to show Tomo the Owl Emporium, slowly, walking by it a few times so he can get comfortable with the smell of a bunch of birds and maybe stop being so freaked out by Mathilda and Draco’s owl, Antigone. Harry wants to get an ice cream at Fortescue's and feed Tomato little bites of it when he does a trick right. Harry wants to get to know Diagon, his very own Wizarding district, the way he started to know the Wizarding districts in Istanbul and Prague after only a few days, so he goes sometimes. People do try to talk to him, almost always, but it’s a lot easier with Tomo than it was without; Harry can redirect the attention to the dog, who actually appreciates it, and then use him as an excuse to be getting on with his day.

In Muggle London he has to put a Disillusion Charm on Tomato sometimes, but, to his surprise, in a lot of places he doesn’t. He notes those businesses, keeps going back, and one Saturday morning he’s showing Draco this incredible little shop where a woman and her husband carve sculptures out of pine cones, and a little girl, maybe 11 or 12, walks up to him and says, “Your dog so cute! Is it okay if I pet him, or is he working? I don’t mean to bother you, if he’s a service dog.”

“Potter,” Draco says, sounding intrigued, “did you get the dog a job here? You do understand that you are the one of the two of you who is eventually expected to acquire one of those, yes? Dashed enterprising of you, of course,” he adds, to Tomato. “Perhaps we can use your wages to pay for all damage you’ve caused to my home.”

“Tomato and I remain unemployed,” Harry says, rolling his eyes, but grinning slightly. To the girl, who is still hovering patiently and exchanging barely-restrained looks of eagerness with Tomo, he says, “Sure, you can pet him. What’s a service dog?”

The girl immediately drops to her knees and gives a thrilled Tomato a vigorous scritch behind the ears. “Oh, you know! They help people with like — illnesses, and stuff.” She frowns, considering. “I think lots of different kinds. My Aunt Anjali has one for her nerves. She says it’s much easier to get out of the house when Wilber helps!”

“Does she, now,” says Draco, a speculative look in his eye. Harry hurries them out of the shop quickly, before he can do anything mad, because he’s learned about that look the hard way a time or two by now.

Draco doesn’t do anything mad, though. He just tucks his arm through Harry’s, and takes Tomo’s leash, and, voice carefully light, says, “I truly can’t believe the dog’s more employed than you are.”

“Oh, bite me,” Harry says, but he doesn’t argue. He figures — well — Tomo does make it easier to get out of the house, doesn’t he? Not that Harry has nerves, or whatever Aunt Anjali’s got. Still, though: the dog helps. Having him around makes it easier for Harry to live his life. He doesn’t need Draco’s oblique references, let alone the self-satisfied nudging and muttering, to tell him that much.

One late September morning, about a month after they get back from their trip, Harry wakes up and feels... odd.

He takes Tomato for a run, and it helps, a little, the way it does when he jerks awake from a nightmare, or finds himself heavy with the desire to bury his face in his pillow and sleep through the day. The run doesn’t chase the feeling away completely, though, like it usually does, and he heads home a few minutes early and wakes Draco with a kiss, leaning down over him. Draco mumbles some half-hearted complaints against Harry’s mouth about showering and routine disruption and how unconscionably rude it is to wake someone up for sex, but he sinks his hands into Harry’s hair anyway, moves obligingly beneath him when Harry crawls back into the bed and presses their bodies together.

“You’re disgusting,” Draco says drowsily, in between doing his level best to leave a hickey on Harry’s neck, “this is foul, you’re all sweaty, I haven’t even brushed my teeth yet,” but he’s not so horrified that he doesn’t come all over Harry’s stomach ten minutes later, so.

Harry comes too, and it’s good — really good, even — but when his body stops shuddering with release he realizes the feeling he woke up with is still there, discontented, thrumming underneath his skin. He collapses off of Draco and onto his own side of the bed, stares up at the ceiling with his head on the pillow.

“I think I’m bored,” Harry says.

Draco sits up so quickly that Harry worries he might have given himself whiplash. “With our sex life?” he demands, a strange look on his face. “And this is how you think it’s appropriate to go about telling me? I mean, putting aside the level of depravity you must be craving in your soul to be bored after everything we’ve gotten up to in the brief span of, what, three months — ”

“Four,” Harry says absently, instead of correcting Draco’s misinterpretation of his comment, since he’s occupied with squinting at Draco, trying to place his expression, his tone.

“Oh, four. Well in that case it’s perfectly normal!” Draco snaps. There’s a thread of hysteria in it, and then Harry figures it out — he looks hurt. He sounds hurt, although, of course, he’s doing his level best to pretend to be anything else.

It’s at this point that Harry actually processes that Draco is saying he thinks Harry is tired of having sex with him.

Draco,” Harry says, horrified with himself. He reaches up a hand to palm Draco’s jaw, and Draco leans out of reach, which is awful. “Hey — Draco. No. Come on, look at me.” When Draco does, Harry widens his eyes, lifts his hands in mock surrender. “I didn’t mean I was bored with our… er. With that. That’s — it’s — er.” Harry has never been very good at talking about this sort of thing outside of while he’s actually doing it, but Draco clearly needs him to, and that’s Harry’s own fault. He averts his eyes, feels his face heating. “That’s — really good. Still... really good. Er. For - for me, at least.”

“Good lord, you unbelievable tool, don't hurt yourself,” Draco drawls, rolling his eyes, but he looks cautiously pleased as he relaxes and lays back down against his pillow. This time when Harry reaches for him Draco doesn’t move away; he lets Harry rub a thumb across the scar along his cheekbone and draw him in, though he does, when they break apart, mumble, “Stop kissing me, Harry, god. My mouth is gross. Your whole person is gross. This, right here? It’s gross.”

“Sorry,” Harry whispers, more for causing Draco’s earlier distress than anything else, but then Draco, sounding strangled, says, “Oh for god’s sake,” and kisses him, so he can’t really mean it all that much.

“So,” Draco says, when they break apart again. “You’re not bored with our sex life, though thank you for that exciting little early morning heart attack. So you meant — existentially bored? Bored with your wardrobe? Me too, if that’s it. Oooh, Potter, are you perhaps bored with your terrible friends? I am wholly onboard if you want to go out hunting for new ones. What say this time you look for a slightly less earnest and Gryffindor set?”

“They’re your friends, too,” Harry says for the hundredth time. “And I’m not bored with them. I’m just… bored. I don’t know.” He frowns up at the ceiling. “I just woke up, and I thought about what I wanted to do with my day — or, well, the middle of it, anyway — and realized that nothing I could think of sounded interesting. I think,” he pauses. Chews his lip. “I don’t miss being an Auror or anything, but. I still don’t have any idea what I want to do now, you know? And I think maybe I need one. I think I might go a little mad if I don’t figure it out soon.”

“Oh,” says Draco. “Is that all?” He rolls over to rummage around in the drawer of his nightstand even as he says, “Honestly, of course you’re bored — I’m frankly amazed it’s taken you this long to get there, with your freakish action-hero complex and everything. You do understand that that’s the whole purpose of this list I’ve been having you dictate to me like a trained monkey, yes?” He pulls his notebook out, flips it open. “It’s much easier to determine what kind of career might — hey! Potter! Give that back!”

Harry only grabbed the notebook in the first place because he thought Draco intended him to look at it. He holds onto it now, laughing and leaning back over the edge of bed to keep it out of Draco’s grasping reach, because Draco doesn’t want him to look at it, which obviously means that he must.

Then he actually lays his eyes on the writing, holding the book in front of his face as he hangs upside-down, and — stops laughing.

The list, titled “Things Harry Enjoys,” spans two pages, though there’s a drawing on the left page that’s taking up a significant amount of space. It appears to depict Harry jumping off a ledge marked The Cliffs of Bleak Despair, into waters infested with… Harry tilts the notebook a little, staring. Alligators, maybe, or the aquatic cousins of the subterranean lizard people Draco claims, not very convincingly, that he doesn’t believe in anymore. It’s a goldmine in terms of proof that Draco is well and truly off his nut, but Harry stops looking at the sketch quickly, is distracted by the list itself. It’s long, and written in a variety of different inks, as though Draco added to it whenever he thought of something with whatever quill was nearby. Some things are circled — Harry doesn’t know why — but what stops him in his tracks is the fact that not everything on the list is the stuff he told Draco he liked. Some of isn’t even stuff that would have any bearing on a potential career; Draco’s noted how low he prefers lighting spells when he’s got a headache, the pumpkin cake he likes from that new bakery in Hogsmeade, his pure and enduring love of treacle tart. And some of it is stuff Harry didn’t even know, that he realizes is true only as he reads it, like the phrase “High pressure but low stakes,” in the bottom left corner.

“Draco,” Harry says, and finds that this time he has to scrape the word out over a lump in his throat. He sits up, and sees that Draco is sitting up too, his knees pulled up to his chest, arms wrapped around them.

“Oh, don’t,” Draco says, brittle. He won’t meet Harry’s eyes. “I’m perfectly aware that I’m obsessive and insane, I did try to tell you. Anyone with an ounce of sense would know better than to snatch away the private writings of a man who had already disclosed that unpleasant little reality, but I suppose sense is too much to ask of the great Harry Potter.” He sighs, an unhappy sound, and his voice is curdled with bitterness when he says, “Go ahead, then. I’m prepared. If you could try to avoid using the words ‘smothering’ or ‘overwhelming,’ I’d really appreciate it.”

“What?” says Harry. His voice cracks on it, and Draco does look at him then, just for a second. There’s so much naked fear on his face that Harry feels it like a punch to the gut, and he wonders with a hot surge of rage who in the hell made Draco this afraid of himself, how anyone could tell Draco he was smothering and overwhelming and…

…well. On consideration, Harry supposes that Draco is those things, a little. Demanding, too. Temperamental. Harsh. Harry just doesn’t care — no, that’s not right either. Harry just likes all that about Draco, wouldn’t trade a bit of it, and can’t believe that any idiot ever would have felt otherwise, either.

But someone obviously did — maybe more than one someone — and Harry’s glad of it, for all that it’s selfish. It means he gets the chance to be here now. It means he gets this opportunity to value that which some mind-bogglingly incorrect person did not.

“Nobody’s ever cared about me like this before,” Harry says, low. The lump in his throat is still there and so it comes out uneven, a hopelessly pathetic sentence even without the ruin his voice makes of it, but. It’s the truth, and Draco deserves to know. “Not — not that I can remember, at least. Plenty of people have… I mean, I’m not trying to say I haven’t been — lucky. In friendships. I have. But… ” He looks helplessly back down at the notebook, swallowing hard when he sees Draco’s written out the way he takes his tea when his sleep is troubled. “Nothing like this, Draco. Never. It’s — I — ” Harry takes a deep, steadying breath. “I don’t want to tell you off, or call you insane, or do… well. Whatever it is you’re afraid I’m going to do. I don’t want to do anything that might make you — stop.”

“Oh,” Draco says. His eyes are startled, his cheeks slightly pinked, and Harry thinks for a second that he’s going to do what he usually does when Harry surprises him with genuine emotion; to wit, say ‘Oh,’ in the exact way that he just did and then walk straight out of the room. Instead, wincing even as it comes out of his mouth, Draco says: “Really?”

Harry offers him a smile he can’t quite hold in place — it's too heartbreaking, all of it, the incredulity in Draco’s voice and the weight of what Harry’s admitting. He shrugs one shoulder when the expression falls. “Er. Yeah.”

“You’re a very stupid man,” Draco tells him, so quiet it’s nearly a whisper. “As if I didn’t try everything to make it stop, Harry, as if I even could,” and then he’s moving, unfolding from his defensive little huddle and pushing Harry back down onto the bed.

Draco still hasn’t said I love you, and Harry thinks it’s possible he never will; he’s not sure Draco’s ever said even it to his own mother, or to any of his friends. Harry doesn’t mind. He himself really hasn’t said it since that first time, finding it a lot harder to vocalize when he’s not screaming it in a fit of rage, and anyway he’s never cared that much if he heard it or not, in romantic relationships or any other sort. Harry knows what love looks and feels like, learned it from the white spaces in his life where it wasn’t. He’s always been someone for whom actions meant more than words, and as he twists and writhes under Draco’s capable hands, his sinfully talented mouth, he knows as sure as he’s ever known anything that Draco loves him. Knows it entire, and to his very bones.

“Jesus,” Harry pants, body arching off the mattress as much from that — the warmth in Draco’s cool grey eyes, the little absently stroking circles of his hand on Harry’s thigh — as from the sensation of his cock hitting the back of Draco’s throat. He comes hard and quickly, an unintelligible little shout escaping from his half-open mouth, and stumbles into the bathroom after Draco when Draco pokes and prods him out of bed. They shower, and Harry jacks Draco off slow and reverent under the spray, his face hidden in the safe expanse of Draco’s neck. He doesn’t know what he feels, except good. Wanted. Home.

It’s not until after Draco’s put up a sign saying the museum will be opening late, until Harry’s made them breakfast and brought it up to the sitting room for a delayed version of their morning routine, that they actually get back around to talking about why Draco pulled out the list in the first place.

“So, as I intended to explain before we got distracted,” Draco says, tapping the cover of the notebook and then flushing, just slightly, at whatever he sees on Harry’s face. “For the love of god, would you stop that? Sanctuary, Potter, honestly. Anyway, I only wanted to tell you that — the items I circled — well.” He smiles, and the barest hint of anxiety in his expression fades when Harry smiles back. “I think I may have an idea.”

It’s a good idea.

That very afternoon, Harry Apparates almost at random to the neighborhood a few blocks up from Diagon Alley, where his apartment has sat empty for months. He nearly buys the first space he finds that’s open, but it feels a little cold to him, without character, and anyway Tomato doesn’t like it and won’t go more than a few feet inside. Harry comes even closer to buying the second place he sees, but he decides at the last second to run it by Draco, just in case. It’s not, after all, like he has a great track record, real estate decision wise.

“I knew you were off doing something like this, you reckless imbecile,” Draco says, exasperated but fond, when he’s replied to Harry’s surreptitiously cast Patronus by just Apparating into the middle of the room and scaring the Muggle realtor half to death. They’ve got her sitting on a bench outside shaking off the effects of an Obliviate while they look around (“You took a funny turn,” Draco said firmly, thrusting what Harry was amused to note was a packet of his own favorite biscuits at her, “absolutely nothing strange happened at all, you just sit here and eat your biscuits and think about how perfectly normal this whole encounter has been,” and she's been out there quietly nibbling at them ever since).

“Right,” Harry says, rolling his eyes. “You break the Statute of Secrecy and I’m the reckless one.”

“You are!” Draco exclaims. “You were going to buy this place, which is, let’s be clear, just exactly as horrible as that hideous rat hole you called an apartment. Don’t think I haven’t noticed that that’s around here somewhere, by the way. You really are a creature of habit, it’s terribly dull.”

Harry, not even remotely fazed at being called a dull creature of habit by a man who has a specific pair of socks for each day of the week, shrugs. “Yeah, well. I like the location, you know? The glen’s just around the corner, which is nice, and it’s close enough to Diagon to make sense as a Wizarding destination, but Muggles could find it too. And I know the space isn’t… great... ”

“That might be the understatement of the century,” Draco says, looking around with distaste.

It’s not that Harry doesn’t see what he means. The place is spacious but clearly the worse for years of neglect; there’s a patina of dust and grime over everything, suggestions of termite damage, and an unsettling wheezing sort of sound that starts up whenever the heating system kicks on. None of the electric lights work, and there’s a faint smell carrying the suggestion of death underneath everything — Tomato’s been sniffing around, tail wagging, since they walked in, probably looking for its source. But…

“I was thinking maybe I could fix it up,” Harry admits, rubbing the back of his neck with one hand. “I mean, the heating and lighting is all obviously buggered, but I’d be replacing most of that with spellwork anyway, right? And I’ll need appliances, but this way I can choose my own, instead of having to customize whatever’s already built in. The floors — well, they’re kind of a mess, but I know a lot of those restoration spells now, and I think they might be pretty incredible underneath all the damage. A couple of coats of paint, and maybe a fireplace in the far corner, for Floo traffic — ” He stops, because Draco’s giving him a look he can’t interpret. “What?”

Draco cocks his head to the side and looks for a moment as though he’s trying to determine what to say. Harry’s expecting a barrage of insults to his decision-making skills and business savvy, so he’s surprised when Draco says: “I’m lamenting.”

Entertained in spite of himself, Harry plays along. “Lamenting what, exactly?”

“The beautiful space you could have had,” Draco says, shaking his head and pasting on a huge, mocking frown that looks nothing like the twisted little one he pulls out when he’s really upset. “The beautiful months we both could have had not breaking our backs trying to make this one vaguely passable. They were going to be beautiful, Harry, and they’re lost to us, since it’s obvious you’re already attached to this nightmare.”

Harry grins at him, not even bothering to glance round at the realtor as she comes back inside. “You don’t think I’m crazy?”

“Oh, I do,” Draco says. “I always have. Ask anyone who knew me in school, they’ll tell you. ‘That Potter chap, what a maniac,’ I said, time and again, to whomever would listen — they never seemed to recognize my genius, of course, but that didn’t make it less true.” The edges of his mouth curl into a small, slightly sardonic smile. “But I imagine that I understand better than most the desire to take something that’s been left an unholy mess and do the work to make it your own.”

“Are you talking about me or Grimmauld Place?” Harry asks, raising his eyebrows. It’s a silly question — one he means flippantly, that he’s mostly just asking to tease Draco a little — but Draco flushes, looks away at once.

“Oh,” he says to the floor, “whichever you like.”

It takes two solid months of work, but The Hollow opens in December, just in time for the holidays. Harry was right about the floors; they turned out beautifully, a deep, gorgeous cherry, even if there is a set of paw prints running down the center of the dining room where Tomato dashed across before Harry could finish setting a varnishing spell. He even likes that, the easy imperfection of it, though Draco despairs and carries on every time he looks at it — it makes the place feel lived in. Harry’s.

The rest he sort built around the floors, mostly figuring it out as he went, taking Draco’s opinion on some things and ignoring it on others. What’s resulted is a place so wholly and profoundly attuned to him, so deeply and inexplicably correct, that he stops in the doorway and takes a deep breath, just enjoying it, in every time he walks inside. The dining area, a long, curved room that wraps around most of the little building, is a warm ochre color. It’s furnished mostly with wide wooden tables and chairs Harry actually had commissioned because he couldn’t find what he was looking for (“I have a chair guy, Potter, relax,” Draco said, like this was perfectly normal thing to have, and didn’t everyone?). There’s a grouping of leather armchairs tucked in the corner by the fireplace, too, a gathering space in lieu of a bar, hidden behind a charmed screen so any Muggles who visit won’t notice people coming out of the Floo. And Harry’s kitchen — it’s spacious, burgundy walls with white accents, filled even when there’s no one else around with the soft hum of appliances Harry selected himself: all of them magical and most of them old as dirt, but all as cheerfully functional as if they were crafted yesterday. There’s a thick, magnetized bar over his favorite stove where all his knives can hang, and racks hanging down from the ceilings for his pots and pans, and a whole separate range for the rest of his staff, so he can have a little room to maneuver, an area all his own.

It’s mostly a restaurant. That’s what Harry says, usually, when people ask what he’s doing these days: “I run a restaurant,” or, if Draco catches this and elbows him, “I own and run a restaurant.” That’s true, more or less. A little bit, though, it’s also a gathering place; a way station; a soup kitchen; a trading post. People get a hot meal no matter what they’re doing there — they pay if they can and don’t if they can’t, and when he comes across someone who needs a place to sleep for the night, Harry gives them the keys to his old apartment, which he let Draco fix up to help him contain his urges to make all of Harry’s decisions about The Hollow for him. He also paid the fees and sat through the two hour seminar to have his Floo connected as an international grate, figuring it would be interesting and exciting, meeting whoever came through. He’s certainly been right so far; he has amazing, bizarre conversations with his visitors, witches and wizards who hop in and out of grates all over the globe, most of whom don’t so much as recognize him, but seem to like the food he cooks. And they have the oddest conversations with each other, not to mention with the Muggles who come in sometimes, which Harry catches snatches of as he works and carries with him, afterwards, laughing again at someone’s joke hours after he’s gone home for the night.

His friends come, too, in big groups at first but eventually individually, dropping by for a meal whenever they find they have a moment. Harry stands Neville a bacon sandwich every Wednesday after his weekly client meeting up the road, and he thinks he might see Ron more now than he did even when they were partners, since Ron takes an hour at lunch pretty much every day to flop across one of Harry’s tables and moan to whoever will listen about the trials and tribulations of baby Hugo. The rest of the Weasleys are regular visitors, as are Teddy and Andromeda, and Blaise all but sets up camp as his fireplace, using the little collection of armchairs to hold god knows what kind of meetings. Even Pansy drops by sometimes.

And, of course, excepting those occasions when he’s got his own plans, Draco’s there every night at seven, tucked into the corner next to Harry’s range or sitting at the little table right next to the serving window, eating and talking to Harry over the spill of noise from the dinner rush. They’re the only ones that know about the core they buried under the center of the floorboards — the knife that spent an afternoon inside of Harry, which Draco, the creepily foresighted little git, saved in case they ever wanted to do something like this, since blood magic was powerful and the damage had already been done. They spent hours practicing the spells at Grimmauld Place before they cast them, talking through their complexities and patterns, and in the end poured a little of both their magics into the knife, bound with an oath Kreacher freely offered to give but refused to teach them for themselves. They won’t know for years yet if it’s worked, but sometimes Harry catches Draco’s eye and would swear he could feel it too, the gentle undulation of personality slipping into these walls, making something where nothing once was.

It’s ridiculous. It’s incredible. Harry loves it.

“It’s a year today, you know,” Draco comments, offhand, over breakfast one Saturday morning in February. He doesn’t even look away from the Prophet as he says it.

Harry panics a little anyway. “Er. No? That’s — I mean — like — sometime in, er. Oh, god. April? Right? Tell me you don’t actually expect me to know this.”

Draco flips down the corner of his newspaper to lift a scathing eyebrow. “For the love of god, Harry. I meant since the first break-in, not since all of this,” he waves a hand between them, a graceful, encompassing little gesture, “happened. You nitwit,” he adds, sounding pleased about it. “As if I’d expect you to remember something like that. Sometimes I think it’s a wonder you remember your own name.”

“So it’s a thoughtful mnemonic technique, then?” Harry asks, laying the earnestness on thick. “The way you’re constantly squawking ‘Potter?’”

“Potter!” Draco squawks, and promptly looks so abruptly, mutinously furious about it that Harry cracks up laughing, carries the mirth with him all the way to work.

It’s a good day. Towards the end of the lunch rush, he leaves his staff with the restaurant and takes Hermione some food at her office, where she’s been more or less ensconced since returning from maternity leave a week ago. They chat and Hermione nearly weeps at the chance for some adult conversation that isn’t about a) the baby, b) work, or c) the baby, and Harry kind of can’t believe, sitting across from her, that he ever worried for one second that he would lose her and Ron in the slow slide of old friendships neglected. It feels silly, impossible, now, and he almost tells her as much, but. Well. It’s probably kinder, he thinks, to spare her the knowledge that he ever thought it could happen. It would probably hurt her to know, and there’s no reason for Harry to put that on her, when it doesn’t really matter anymore.

On his way out of the Ministry, he catches sight of the gelato shop down the road, stopping dead in the middle of the sidewalk to stare at it. A year, he thinks, remembering the way he used to have to bribe himself with the thought of a cup just to get through a shift. For a second he can almost see that version of himself, superimposed in sketchy lines over the reality of the day, his hunched posture and bent head radiating misery, discontent. Harry wants to apologize to him, to tell him it can be different, to grab him by the shoulders and point him towards Grimmauld Place, the unlikely path that turned out to wait within. Of course, then he blinks and the moment’s gone, leaving him feeling stunned and slightly stupid in the center of the sidewalk.

He goes back to work. He makes gelato to serve as dessert with dinner, a rich raspberry one ribboned through with chocolate, and smiles down at his hands while he works, glad to be where he is. Reveling in it, just a little.

Draco, Andromeda and Teddy all tumble in at five, their faces windswept, ice skates thrown over their shoulders. That was… weird, at first, the Draco and Andromeda and Teddy thing; Harry didn’t even know to worry it would be until the first time he brought Draco to a Weasley dinner at which Teddy and Andromeda happened to show up, a month or so after they started really seeing each other.

“She’s my aunt,” Draco hissed, having gasped at the sight of them, ducked behind a chair before they could see him, and dragged Harry into a bathroom in a crouch-walk in full view of about six Weasleys. Harry wasn’t that fussed about it; it’s not like it was even the weirdest thing the Weasleys had seen him do. “And I’ve never really even met her! You understand, that alone — the strangeness of it — and the child, Potter, my god! Do you honestly not recognize that I had an obligation to him! An obligation which I neglected! Due to the grudges of previous generations! Well, and, yes, all right, the insurmountable social awkwardness of penning a letter that said, ‘Dear Aunt Andromeda, my mother banned your name from our home when I was a child; sometimes I think she lives in France to avoid confronting you, and I feel incredibly guilty even writing you this note, but nevertheless — ’” He stopped, glared at Harry. “The letter! Is not the point! Potter!”

“Er,” said Harry, blinking at him. “Who said that it was?”

“He’ll hate me,” Draco said, ignoring this, though he didn’t lessen his glare one iota. “They both will, how could you not warn me they might be here? I could have — oh, I don’t know. I don’t know what you do in this situation, that’s why I’ve never done anything about it!”

“Well,” said Harry, carefully, aware now that they were treading in not-entirely-rational waters, “you could maybe just try… talking to them?”

“Oh, helpful,” Draco snapped. “Talk to them, how unutterably brilliant, never would have bloody occurred to me, you — ”

“Look, Draco,” Harry said, cutting off a barrage of insults on the theory that neither of them really believed he meant them anymore. “Andromeda’s a softer touch than she looks, especially if Teddy likes you. And Teddy’s eight, okay? He likes pretty much everyone. All you’ve got to do is compliment his new light-up trainers and you’ll be his best friend, I swear.”

Draco did not look convinced in the slightest. “Oh, please. That’s a terrible plan. What if I say, ‘I like your trainers, Teddy,’ and he says, ‘I don’t care! I reject your compliment due to eight years of neglected attentions! Begone from my sight, you black-hearted rogue!’ What do I do then?”

Harry didn’t mean to, but he laughed a little, trying and failing to hide it behind a cough. “Sorry, I am, but — what the fuck kind of eight year old would say that? To… anyone?”

“I would have,” Draco muttered, crossing his arms.

“Oh, sure,” Harry said, rolling his eyes. “Because you were such a normal eight year old. All other eight year old behavior should be judged against yours, that makes perfect sense.”

Draco narrowed his eyes, arms still crossed. “You didn’t know me when I was eight, Potter. I could have been a perfectly normal child in every way.”

“Yes, but,” Harry said, quite sure of the answer already, “you weren’t. Were you?”

“No,” Draco admitted, on a forlorn little sigh. “Of course not. That was the winter I read seventeen books about pirates and then broke into a fundraiser my father was hosting. On my head: a pair of my mother’s pantyhose. On my feet: broomsticks, because I felt I could rather improve upon the concept of a peg-leg. I attempted, if I recall correctly, to liberate the entire dessert cart. That I ended up wearing it goes without saying, I suppose.”

“A black-hearted rogue, huh?” Harry said, only laughing on it a little. It’s always oddly endearing, hearing these stories that explain, but don’t excuse, the pernicous, horrible, incessant little bastard Draco’d been when they were children — in some ways, he was just doing his best to hide unmatchable strangeness under a pile of nastiness and bluster.

“Yes, well,” Draco said, but he smiled a little, losing some of the hunted look he was wearing when he dragged Harry into the bathroom. “Who wants to be the hero, after all? Dreadfully boring, heroes. Always prattling on about doing the right thing, and their great and terrible burdens, and how their duty to society is more important than eating or sleeping or even the most basic of hygiene — ”

“You know I don’t find this funny,” said Harry, who actually did, a little, but wasn’t planning on admitting it any time soon.

“Oh, yes,” Draco said, grinning properly now. “This is for me, Potter. Who cares what you think?”

“I think you’re an ass,” Harry said, but he kissed the side of Draco’s mouth as he walked past him anyway, opened the bathroom door. “If you’re not out in ten minutes, I’m telling everyone you’re hiding in here like a chicken.”

“I’m not eight years old now, you know,” Draco drawled, raising his eyebrows. “Surely you don’t imagine that’s going to work.”

Harry shrugged one shoulder. “We’ll see.”

Nine minutes and thirty seconds later, Draco emerged from the bathroom, gave Harry a truly filthy look, and marched up to Teddy. “Hello there. I’m Draco. I… like your shoes?”

“They are the BEST shoes,” Teddy agreed, before he grinned, stomped his foot on the ground to set off the lights, and changed his hair along with them to match. “They can do like I do, look!”

“That,” Draco said, eyes widening, “might be the coolest thing I have ever seen,” and within ten minutes they were running around the first floor of the house, wrapped up in a game of Pirates vs Robbers, which they seemed to be inventing as they went along.

“He’s odd, isn’t he,” Andromeda said, stepping up next to where Harry was leaning against the doorframe watching them. “Always thought Narcissa could do with a little more odd, myself.”

Harry looked at her sidelong. He wasn’t entirely sure sure what he was supposed to say to that, so he shrugged. “I like him.”

“So does Teddy,” Andromeda said, nodding over to where her grandson’s hair was turning steadily blonder, and Harry smiled.

It’s worked out well, since then. Teddy likes the museum, follows Draco around hounding him with questions, and it makes Harry ache for Remus, the teacher Teddy should have gotten — but that’s nice, almost, in this weird way Harry’s not sure how to explain. It… eases something in him, he thinks, even though it hurts. Maybe because it hurts; Harry doesn’t really know. In any case, it passes a lot of afternoons, and so do walks in Diagon, and day-trips through Harry’s international Floo, and the random visits to odd little festivals Draco insists they make now and again, usually on no more than a few hour’s notice. Harry still takes Teddy to the park alone sometimes — or, well, with Tomato, now — and they run around like they used to, shrieking and laughing and throwing a ball, but sometimes Draco comes. And sometimes, on days like this one, Draco and Andromeda take Teddy out to do something that Harry wouldn’t be caught dead doing (“I’ll see you on skates one day, Potter,” Draco promised, ominously, the night before), and Harry can do what he likes without feeling guilty that he’s… whatever. Depriving Teddy of important childhood experiences due to his inadequacy as a godfather, or something.

“How was it?” Harry says, as they all start shedding coats and hats and scarves onto the tops of various tables. “Did you have fun?”

Teddy beams at him. “Yeah! I only fell once, and I did the whole loop frontwards a bunch of times and Draco taught me how to do backwards, a little. Well, he pulled me mostly. But it was still cool! Oh, but. I felt, um,” Teddy pauses and looks at Draco, who nods encouragingly at him. Teddy bites his lip. “But Draco, I didn’t feel like Uncle Harry abandoned me, lying is wrong — “

“I swear, four blocks of rehearsal and you bring up your morality objection now,” Draco says, though he ruffles Teddy’s hair as he says it, and Teddy grins. “Very well, you are excused from participating. Potter, the jig, as they say, is up: only Andromeda and I felt cruelly abandoned by your refusal to be reasonable and come skating, though that alone is reason enough you have to come next time.”

“I’d say don’t drag me into this,” Andromeda says, helping Teddy off with one of his gloves, “but hey: what the hell, right?”

“Grandma, you said a swear,” Teddy breathes, delighted. Andromeda winces down at him, looking caught.

“I’d just fall on my face,” Harry said, to Draco, leaving Andromeda to the unfortunate task of distracting Teddy from her vocabulary choices. “Probably a bunch of times.”

“I know,” Draco says, “it would be so funny. Don’t you want me to be happy?”

“You’re twisted and horrible,” Harry says, rolling his eyes.

“Yes,” Draco says, grinning at him. The little shit already knows that he’s won. “But you want me to be happy, don’t you?”

“God help me,” Harry agrees, cheerfully enough, and retreats to the safety of his kitchen before Draco can do something truly terrible with this little victory, like secure a promise towards future ice skating in writing.

He hums while he works, because tonight is the Gryffindor pub night.

It’s — still pretty weird, looking forward to it. Harry doesn’t look forward to the part at the Bowtruckle, of course; he hasn’t actually attended that bit for a few months, because as it turns out even with someone to talk to he hates a crowded bar, and he and Draco always end up leaving early anyway. But in November, when Harry was getting ready to open The Hollow, Hermione suggested they do a test run with friends and family, and Draco immediately insisted that they do it directly before the piss-up. “It just makes sense,” he argued, when Harry raised his eyebrows. “People should put down a base before they drink like that, and anyway, we know they’re all available that night. Besides, we’re adults, aren’t we? It’s hardly civilized, at our advanced age, to go out drinking without first sitting down to a meal.”

“We’re twenty-six, Draco,” Hermione said. “‘Advanced age’ is a stretch, and not an appreciated one. But I do think that’s a good idea — Harry, what do you think?”

Harry thought Draco was up to something, but he said, “Sure,” anyway, because, actually, it sounded kind of nice.

And it was nice. It is. They’ve done it every month since then; this is their fourth, and Harry’s already grown comfortable with it, developed certain habits and routines. He closes up the restaurant at six, pays whoever on his kitchen staff volunteers to stick around and help out, and then cooks — whatever he feels like. Whatever he thinks his friends might like. That’s actually the best part, however much he does also love getting to see his nearest and dearest in an environment less awful than the Bowtruckle; there’s something centering, grounding for Harry, in the act of putting together a meal, and it’s weirdly easier, afterwards, to socialize with everyone all at once. Draco says it’s because his real destiny in life was to be a hermit and fate got confused, but Draco’s always saying stuff like that. He also says it doesn’t matter why something makes someone happy so long as it does; Harry thinks that part’s probably right.

Tonight the first guest arrives at 6:15. Harry steps out of the kitchen to greet them, but it’s Blaise, because of course it is; he says, “Harry, Draco, Andromeda. Tedward,” and breezes right past all of them to the Floo grate, where he promptly sticks his head in the fire.

“My name is not Tedward,” shouts Teddy, who has had this exact fight with Blaise easily twelve times. “It’s Teddy Remus Lupin!”

“You’re only encouraging him,” Draco says in a carrying undertone. “What you have to do, you see, is pretend like it doesn’t bother you.”

“Well, that sounds healthy,” Ron says, walking in with Rose under one arm, Hugo tucked against his chest in one of those baby sling things Harry himself can never quite figure out. “Teddy, what’s he telling you to pretend doesn’t bother you?”

“Blaise called me Tedward again,” Teddy says sullenly. “My name’s not Tedward! He knows it’s not!”

“Ah,” says Ron. He hands Rose to Harry, ignoring Harry’s raised eyebrows. “Well, you can’t take that, can you? Got to think of a name to call him back, that’s what I say.

“What a sage parenting move, Ron,” Andromeda says, dry. “Do remind me to return the favor in a few years, won’t you?”

Ron laughs, but he pales a bit. Harry gives him a wincing little nod of greeting, passes Rose off to Draco, and goes back to his kitchen, where everything is, if not calm, at least always under control. He waves and shouts hellos through the long, wide serving window as more guests arrive — Molly and Arthur, Ginny and Neville, George and Angelina, Bill and Fleur and Victoire. That’s one of the nice things about about these nights; because they’re not starting off at a bar anymore, everyone can come, not just whoever could find babysitters or, in the case of Molly and Arthur, the energy and will to spend an evening in a pub with a bunch of wasted twenty-somethings. Percy and Penelope show up next, and then Hermione and Seamus and Dean, and then Blaise pulls his head from the fire and actually joins the party. Harry’s just put down his whisk and come to say a proper hello to everyone when Pansy walks through the door.

She’s holding hands. With Luna.

“Oh my god, what?” Draco says, striding over to them. Harry, who recognizes that tone of voice as well as that purposeful gait, follows him pretty sharpish, and so sees him raise a hand and point an accusatory finger at Pansy. “What? You never said! Not a word! Not a peep! How long have you kept this from me?”

Harry thinks it says a lot about how used to the Slytherins in their lives the Weasleys have gotten that no one really bats an eyelash at this behavior. The only person who reacts at all is Blaise, who reaches for some bread, and even that is only because Harry didn’t think to put out popcorn.

“Actually,” Luna says, smiling at Pansy, “we met almost exactly a year ago. At that one pub night — you remember, Harry. Of course, it was all under rather false pretenses, but it all worked out in the end.”

“A year ago,” Draco says, voice cracking on it. “Pansy, an entire year?”

“Well,” Pansy says, wincing slightly, “the thing about that is — ”

“Wait,” Harry says, casting his mind back. The last time he remembers seeing Luna hook up with someone at a pub night... “Pansy, you were that girl? Vi? With the pink hair?”

Are you kidding me,” Draco says, all in one breath. “Potter knows more about this than me, Pansy? Potter? Him ?”

“We live together,” Harry says mildly, solely for the entertaining reward of Draco’s scowl.

Draco does not disappoint. “You would be better off remaining silent, you wretched imbecile. ‘The girl with the pink hair,’ honestly. I can’t believe you never said!”

“What was I supposed to do?” Harry says, eyebrows climbing. “List off for you every person I’d ever encountered in my life who wasn’t like, one of my close friends?”

“A true partner,” Draco says, with a pained little sniff, “would have been willing to make that sacrifice, yes.”

“You are mental,” Harry says, a little fonder than he really means to. “How was I supposed to know it was Pansy, anyway? I mean, why would I look for Pansy at a Gryffindor piss-up? It was weird enough running into Blaise.”

“There’s a point,” Draco says, turning his narrow-eyed stare on Blaise, who just pauses with a slice of bread halfway to his mouth and offers Draco a Cheshire Cat smile. Draco huffs out a little noise of irritation and then rounds on Pansy again, who at least has the good grace to look a bit caught. “What were you both doing there that night, Pansy? I never did believe Blaise’s, ‘I was just a little afraid he might kill you,’ routine.”

“Hey,” Harry says, to Blaise.

Blaise rolls his eyes. “Please. I am, of course, being misquoted. Draco, I said I was a little afraid that you might kill him .”

“Makes a lot more sense,” says Harry, grinning.

“You hush,” Draco says. He takes a half step backward into Harry’s space without looking round, even as he says, “Go cook something, isn’t that your job?”

“I work alone, anyway,” Pansy snaps, pulling the attention back to her. “I didn’t even know Blaise was there that night; I got a little — distracted.”

“By me!” Luna says, and waves the hand that isn’t holding Pansy’s a little. “And then her Polyjuice wore off right in the middle of — ”  

“You know, darling, maybe we don’t tell them that story,” Pansy says quickly, though it’s too late; Draco’s face is rapidly turning purple, and Blaise looks about half a second from breaking down in a fit of hysterics. “I — well! Look! It’s your own fault anyway, Draco! I only went that night because — I mean, Blaise said Potter was assigned to your case, and I remembered what you were like in school, and I figured I had one shot to prevent the worst possible outcome.”

“Yes, well, as much as I’m enjoying all these jokes about the two of us murdering each other,” Draco says, and takes one more subtle step backwards, so his back is just barely touching Harry’s chest. “Thankfully the worst possible outcome did not come to pass, so — ”

“Oh, no, it happened,” Pansy says grimly, shaking her head. “I’m looking at it. Really, I blame myself.”

The conversation gets a bit shouty and vicious for Harry’s taste at that point, and he offers Luna a quick congratulatory smile and squeezes Draco on the shoulder in solidarity before promptly abandoning him for the kitchen. Arthur and Teddy come back with him — Arthur to look at the appliances and Teddy to lure Tomato out of his dog bed by the back door and into the dining room — and are soon replaced with various other Weasleys, Neville, and eventually Draco.

“A peace has been brokered,” he says, crossing his arms and leaning against the doorframe the way he can’t when they’re actually open and serving food, and so does constantly the rest of the time. “You needn’t hide in here any longer, hostilities have ceased.”

“I wasn’t hiding,” Harry mutters.

“Oh, no, of course not, not you,” Draco agrees, smiling slightly. “The great Harry Potter hides from nothing! You were merely — avoiding. Not engaging. Filling your time with more important things than shouting.”

“Can we just skip ahead to the part of this conversation where you say, ‘Whatever you have to tell yourself to sleep at night?’” Harry asks, though he’s smiling a little, too. “You know, for efficiency’s sake?”

“Lunatic,” Draco says, warm. “This all looks done; come talk to your guests. Have a cocktail. Be a person.”

“Ugh, fine,” Harry says. He throws a last dash of sea salt into one of his pots and then allows himself to be dragged out into the dining room.

It’s a good night. Harry ends up sitting next to Ginny, who tells him excitedly about her new placement with a Quidditch team in Leeds, and George, who Harry strongly suspects of putting some sort of inflating spell on his chair cushion. Draco’s way down at the other end of the table, chattering eagerly and in a way that can spell nothing good for Harry with Molly Weasley, but they catch each other’s eyes a few times over the noise of everyone eating, drinking, enjoying the company. Harry smiles, and Draco smirks, and Harry thinks that he’s glad, actually, for the seven long, slow years that led to this wild one. Harry thinks that they were worth it, if this is the reward.

Of course, he thinks that before Charlie comes through the Floo in the middle of dessert, looks directly at Blaise, and says, “Sorry, babes, am I late?” And then, in the ensuing barrage of questions, reveals that they have been dating for five years.

The Hollow descends into chaos.

Pansy is screaming at Blaise about knowing she was coming with Luna tonight, and how he has stolen her thunder; Bil is screaming at Charlie about breaking the bonds of brotherhood. Draco is screaming at Pansy about how the important thing is five years of secrecy, and George is screaming at Bill about how he’s not screaming at Charlie loudly enough. Ron and Hermione are screaming at each other — for sport, Harry’s seen them do it before, they like to have perfectly normal conversations at the tops of their voices in the middle of family fights because they think it’s funny — and Teddy is scream-singing his favorite song, which is about a mischievous cabbage, if Harry’s remembering right. And above them all, like an avenging angel, is Molly Weasley, bellowing at Charlie about trust and honesty and lies of omission at a volume anyone would find a little terrifying.

Harry sips his drink and mourns for his kitchen, where he could go hide out — that is, tactfully avoid all this fuss — if only they weren’t already finishing the last course of the meal. Still, when Arthur Weasley sidles up next to him and says, “Ah, family,” Harry can’t help but agree, with this weird rush of mingled emotions — surprise, exasperation, exhaustion. Gratitude, most of all.

Eventually Charlie says, “Merlin, Mum — didn’t we used to drink at these things? Properly drink? Can’t we go do that now?”

“I’m coming!” Molly says quickly. “I’m coming to this bar, and to any other place you might go, Charlie Weasley. You’ll not get out of this just by running off! Harry, dear, thank you for a lovely evening.”

“Er,” Harry says, “sure, Molly.”

He says goodbye to everyone else as they gather their coats and bags, all of them thanking him but most of them also still arguing with each other, and grabs Draco’s arm as he passes Harry in stalking off for one more go at Blaise. In a low voice, he says, “Please tell me we don’t have to go to the bar.”

Draco’s face, which was stormy and creased when Harry grabbed him, clears. He tilts his head at Harry, hair falling in his eyes, and smiles. “No, Harry. We don’t have to go to the bar.”

“Thank Merlin,” Harry says, and is surprised when Draco kisses him, just for a moment but with real feeling, before he breaks away to yell at Blaise one last time. Draco — doesn’t do that, usually, in public, and Harry doesn’t even know what it was for, but… he thinks he likes that, maybe. A little mystery with an inevitably happy ending. Just one more thing about Draco he can try to puzzle out.

It’s not until they’re locking up for the night that it happens — Harry’s locking up, eager to get home and see whether Draco means to deliver on the speaking looks he’s been giving Harry all night, when a voice calls, “Mr. Malfoy! Mr. Potter!”  

Draco turns, and Harry turns with him to see — a little girl, with dark hair and skin the same color as Harry’s. Maybe 8 or 9. Familiar, for some reason that Harry can’t quite put a finger on.

“Hello there,” Draco says, smiling down at her. He glances at Harry and rolls his eyes, and then, pointedly, adds, “You’re Delia Heatherby, aren’t you? You were at the museum with the tour group, oh, about a year ago?”

She’s the little girl who’d been clinging to Draco’s arm during the break-in, Harry realizes, startled. God. He can’t believe how bizarre it is to remember the way he thought of Draco then — his bemused, distant horror at Draco’s rambling disclosure of slandering Harry to schoolchildren, which wouldn’t surprise him in the slightest to hear today. The little “Careful, I bite!” sign on the violent stair, and how even then he’d felt the faint echo of the fascinated entertainment that he’d come to feel looking at Draco. How confused he’d been to see this very girl clinging to Draco’s arm as though he was someone who could protect her, someone she trusted.

The irony of that last makes him grin a little, tuck the arm he isn’t using to hold Tomato’s leash through Draco’s, even as little Delia says, “Oh, yes, that was me. Is the museum okay, Mr. Malfoy? I kept wanting to come back and see it, but my mum and dad said I couldn’t on account of I had a traumatizing experience there last time, and what if this time I died?”

That, Harry thinks wryly, explains the distant shapes of two adults running frantically up the sidewalk.

“Ah,” Draco says. He throws Harry a look that’s half amusement, half dismay, before he says, “Well. It’s fine, as it happens. Better than ever. Any further trauma inflicted on my guests, god willing, will be at the hands of history alone.”

Delia grins up at him. One of her front teeth is missing, Harry notices, and is charmed until she turns on him and adds, “And you, Mr. Potter? Have you broken your dangerous and destructive habit of creating chaos for chaos’s sake and inserting yourself where you do not belong?”

“Er,” says Harry. He glares at Draco, who is making choked sounds of badly concealed laughter, the treacherous little snake; he won’t be any help. He’ll probably be howling about this until summer. “Well. Uh. Sure, Delia. I’ve — kicked the habit. Changed my ways, and, er. Such.”

“Good,” Delia says sternly, “Mr. Malfoy said you were a drain on society,” and Draco loses his fight with his laughter just long enough to let out one supremely undignified shout of it.  

Delia’s parents catch up to them then, panting and chiding her until they realize he’s Harry Potter. Then they do that whole — the really uncomfortable — fawning thing, and Harry shifts on his feet for a second and then nudges Tomato surreptitiously with his foot until he starts walking, calling, “Oh, sorry, what can you do, dogs, right?” as he follows.

Draco comes along, because his arm is still tucked into Harry’s, and because he usually does, one way or another. It takes him nearly half a block to stop laughing, but eventually he tucks himself a little closer against Harry’s side, his breath coming even and calm.

“So,” he says, voice still lit up with amusement. “Changed your ways, have you?”

Harry looks at him sidelong; he’s lit up in the glow of the streetlamps, all the sharp angles of his face smoothed out with good humor, his mouth turned up in a familiar, well-loved smile. Pulling his arm out of Draco’s grip, Harry wraps it around his shoulders instead, kissing him briefly but fiercely until the dog nearly wraps them both up in the leash, and they break apart.

“Do you know,” Harry says, “I think I have.” He lets Draco lead the way home.