Dudley could remember, months ago now – when he’d first started hearing the sound – how he could so easily confuse it with the backfire of a truck or someone watching a crime series at high volume. Now he could hear the unnaturalness of it. The way it ripped open the world around it with explosive sound like it was tearing a gash into the atmosphere itself.
He heaved himself out of his armchair and switched off the telly, hurrying on with his jumper when he heard a muted crash just outside. He grabbed up the cricket bat he kept in his umbrella stand and yanked open the front door. There was nothing waiting for him on his porch and he carefully crept around the side of his house, tightening his grip on the handle of his bat.
He played in a neighbourhood league every Friday and he could hit a six with the best of them. The heavy, uneven weight over his shoulder was reassuring as he saw his rubbish bins had been knocked over. He strained his eyes and there, palm against his the flat of his house, was a lean stranger in a black robe. His hand was thrown out to keep him upright while he bent over and took in sharp cuts of air through his teeth.
Dudley cleared his throat, not as fazed by hooded figures showing up in the middle of the suburbs as he had been once upon a time. Though that wasn’t to say he was unmoved. He still tightened his grip on the handle of his bat and said with as much bravado as he could muster, “Who are you?”
The face was too far back in the shadows to see properly even when it turned towards him. He could practically taste the bloke’s – and it was a bloke – distaste. “You’re—” the man coughed and it was an awful rattling sound, “You’re Potter’s bloody protection?”
The tightness in Dudley’s shoulders eased and he lowered the bat. “Harry sent you?” he asked, the relief in his voice obvious.
The man nodded stiltedly. The hood of his robe was still pulled up around his face making it hard to discern the movement.
Dudley took a step closer. “You will be safe here. It’s protected by spellwork and the like,” he said firmly, hoping he was using the proper terminology there. It was hard to differentiate what terms he’d heard Harry actually use and what he’d picked up and unknowingly assimilated from pop culture.
The man scoffed. He tried to step away from where he’d propped himself up and stumbled.
Dudley rushed forward and caught him round the shoulders before he could topple. An uneasy feeling churned in his stomach. “You’re not well, are you?”
The bloke snorted and shook his head. He pulled his hand from where it had apparently been pressing into his side and it came away bloody.
Dudley swallowed. “You’re safe here, but I’m not a doctor.”
“Perfect,” was the muttered response.
He noticed something clutched between the fore- and middle fingers of the hand he’d kept pressed to the outside of Dudley’s house – and a quick glance up showed there was now a smudged and bloody palm print painted over the happy yellow colour. Brilliant. Dudley plucked it out of his slack grip and saw it was his address written in Harry’s near-illegible scrawl. He got the bloke’s arm over his shoulders and said, “Let’s get you in, yeah?”
It took a lot of manoeuvring on his part, and he had to take most of the bloke’s weight, but they made it inside. The bloke’s teeth didn’t unclench until Dudley had him planted down on the couch. He was still giving off pained pants as he tried to find a good position to sit in.
He glared up at Dudley as he stood there watching him and Dudley could see his face now. Hair so blond that it was almost white spilled out from under his hood and a sharp, angular face was tilted towards him, but it was the eyes that caught his attention. They were like flint, flashing fire, and always seemed to be focused on him even when the bloke’s gaze was elsewhere. It made him feel pinned and helpless. “A flannel,” the bloke got out through his gritted jaw, breath whistling as he drew it in, “would be nice.”
Dudley leaned his bat up against the end of the couch and said, “Yeah, yeah, ‘course.”
He wet a flannel with cold water and scurried back to hold it out to the bloke. He snatched it away, sleeve slipping down so Dudley could see the top – or bottom if it was what he thought it was – of a black inked tattoo on his inner forearm.
Dudley took a step back from him and the bloke shook down his sleeve with a scowl before pressing the cold compress to whatever wound was torn into his side. It was still bleeding profusely, whatever it was. Dudley hadn’t gotten a good look yet as it had been hidden beneath long, pale fingers the entire time. He said suddenly, “I’ve an owl so I’ll send something to Harry. Let him know you’re... poorly.”
The bloke rolled his eyes and spat mordantly, “Much obliged.”
Dudley wanted to snipe back at him but he wasn’t that disagreeable little boy anymore. He made himself nod and then tore up the stairs. He ripped off a sheet of notebook paper and wrote:
Snotty blond bloke showed up and knocked over my rubbish bins a few minutes ago. I think he’s one of them so I’m not sure what you’re doing sending him here. And now I’m a bit concerned he stole it off someone else you meant to give it to. Either way, he looks like he’s been through a hell of a firefight. He’s pale and sweating and I don’t think he’s going to last much longer. Whatever you plan to do, do it sooner rather than later.
Dudley tied it to the owl’s leg the way Harry had taught him and came back down the stairs to see even more of the blood had drained from the already pale bloke’s face, and he was staring at Dudley’s bat with his lip raised. His eyes flicked to the telly and then to Dudley at the top of the stairs. “Muggle?” was all he said but it was all he needed to convey his disgust.
Dudley’s hands tightened into fists at his sides. “Yeah,” he spat challengingly, “I am. What of it?”
The bloke sneered and opened his mouth before he leaned away and tilted his head back. “Nothing,” he muttered. “Nothing.”
Dudley wasn’t sure what had just happened but he decided not to push his luck. A crack sounded just outside and then his door was being flung open. “That was quick,” he said blankly.
Harry nodded, looking so much older than his nineteen years. Dudley felt like a pipsqueak next to him though he was both broader and taller. “I was nearby,” he got out gruffly, his voice lower and darker than it had been the last they’d seen each other. His jaw was strong and his hair its regular unmanageable mess and his lightning bolt scar was stark against his forehead. Only the oval glasses spoke to the dorky, lanky kid he’d once been. “Where is he?”
Dudley looked pointedly over at the couch. The bloke looked even worse now, slumped down against the side. Dudley was sure there’d be blood all over the arm of his new-ish sofa by the time he moved away. Bloody wizards. He snorted at the pun.
Harry strode over determinedly and knelt down in front of him without hesitation. “You came,” he said quietly, sounding almost reverent.
The guy blinked at him and swallowed.
Harry slid his fingers under the bloke’s chin and tilted his face up so their eyes met. “This is a declaration, Malfoy,” he told him indisputably. “This is you choosing a side.”
The bloke – Malfoy – coughed and shook his head. “This is lunacy,” he bit out. There was red in the lines between his teeth. “And fucking domestic besides. You send me to the middle of the bloody suburbs with a Muggle for a Healer? I’ll take the Dark Lord’s hospitality, I think.” He gritted his teeth like it was only sheer force of will keeping him conscious. Dudley didn’t doubt it was. “At least I would have if I’d known yours was so amateur.”
To Dudley’s surprise, Harry smiled a soft smile. “You would’ve left already if that were true.” He tugged the flannel away from Malfoy’s side but he stubbornly kept his fingers dug into the wound. Harry wrapped his hand around the bloody digits and forcibly pulled them away. “Fuck,” he swore. He looked up into Malfoy’s face, his own hard and closed off. “Who did this to you?” he demanded.
Malfoy choked on his own blood and shook his head. “Doesn’t matter now.” A dark, almost black, red coated his lips.
“Dudley,” Harry barked, not bothering to turn towards him. “I need you to pay attention to everything I do because, after this, you’re going to be the one doing it.”
Dudley nodded jerkily and knelt down next to Harry, watching as he pulled out a vial and three small jars from the pocket of his robes. He pulled out his wand and Dudley didn’t flinch at the sight of it this time. He waved it towards the glassware and tucked it away once again. He held out the vial to Dudley and he could see it was now labelled: Essence of Dittany.
“You’re going to take the eyedropper and squeeze out three drops onto the wound itself,” Harry told him while he did exactly as he narrated.
Malfoy twisted and hissed through clenched teeth, his chest heaving as the drops hit his skin. Dudley could see the injury properly now and he felt his stomach turn over. It was a single, diagonal slice in Malfoy’s side, ranging from just above his hip to just below his nipple. The real worry came not from the length of it but the depth. Whoever had done this; they had meant to leave Malfoy in two pieces.
Harry ran the back of his hand down Malfoy’s thigh in soothing fashion as he brought it back to cap the vial.
Malfoy’s body was still twitching as though currents were running through him in slow motion. He shifted in pain and Dudley saw a flash of white that might have been one of his ribs.
Dudley dropped his head low and took in deep, steadying breaths of air.
Harry nudged him in the shoulder and gave him a sympathetic frown before holding up the first jar, labelled: Blood-Replenishing Potion. “Just what it says on the tin. I’m giving him a whole bottle’s worth now but, as he bleeds less and the wound closes, he won’t need as much.” He patted the side of Malfoy’s face, trying to get his attention. “You’ll have to track how much he has to change the dressing so you can tell him how much to give you.”
Malfoy blinked hard and nodded his head shakily.
Harry swallowed. “Good.” He tilted Malfoy’s head back and placed the lip of the potion to his mouth, unnecessarily smoothing his hand over Malfoy’s hair and pushing back his hood. Malfoy drank slowly and Harry followed his pace.
He held up the last two jars together. One was labelled: Murtlap Essence – Oral and the other was: Murtlap Essence – Topical. “The topical one will have to wait until the wound’s closed properly,” he said, setting it down on the side table. He uncorked the other. “It’s a pain potion and it should put him out for a few hours, more or less depending on how much he takes.” Harry cringed and sat back on his shins. “It’s going to hurt him like the worst pain in the world, only for as long as it takes him to swallow it, but... Just don’t think you’ve done anything wrong, yeah? It’s supposed to hurt at first.”
Dudley got the feeling Harry was saying it as much for his own benefit as he was Dudley’s.
He levered himself up on his knees and Malfoy eyed him warily before tipping his head back again. “Only give him about a swallow’s worth,” Harry told him as he tilted the potion to Malfoy’s mouth.
Malfoy met Harry’s determined gaze guardedly before allowing Harry to help him take a swallow. The reaction was instantaneous. Malfoy howled and Harry jumped up and held him down by his shoulders so he couldn’t twist his torso and rip the gash open further. He planted his knees on either side of Malfoy’s hips and put pressure on them to keep him still. Malfoy arched under him, screaming himself hoarse, until – barely a split second later – he went limp.
Harry carefully backed away from him, his breaths stuttering. He ran a shaky hand through his hair; his eyes greedily taking in the healthy and even rise and fall of Malfoy’s chest. He pulled out his wand again and waved it at the flannel. Dudley watched it lengthen and soften into a long strip of gauze as quickly and easily as turning on a faucet. Harry looked over at him. “Do you have tape?” he asked and his voice was just the tiniest bit breathless.
“Sellotape?” Dudley said with a wince.
Harry nodded. “It’ll do for now. I’ll get proper dressings once we’ve moved him.”
Dudley grabbed the Sellotape out of his dresser in the hall and said when he came back with it, “I take it from all the instruction that you won’t be staying?”
Harry shook his head, distracting himself with taping the gauze to Malfoy’s side. “I can’t. I’m still looking for – those things I’m looking for.”
Dudley rolled his eyes. “Right, of course. I’m surprised I didn’t guess.”
Harry smiled, looking a tad sheepish. “Yeah, all right, but I can’t just go around blurting it out. It’s good practice for keeping my mouth shut.”
Dudley waved it away. He was sure even if Harry did tell him what he and his friends were searching for, he still wouldn’t understand it.
Harry stood after smoothing his thumb over the last piece of tape. “Just keep him alive, yeah?”
Dudley nodded dutifully.
“If anything happens,” Harry bit his lip and breathed deeply, “if anything happens, owl me.” He rubbed the back of his neck. “Try not to but if there’s something I need to know, if he gets worse, don’t hesitate, all right?”
Dudley dipped his chin agreeably, walking Harry to the door, unable to keep the question from bursting out any longer. “Harry,” Harry stopped and turned towards him curiously, “he’s got that tattoo, doesn’t he? The one you said means he wants Muggles dead.”
Harry sighed, looking even more world-weary all of a sudden. He pinched the bridge of his nose and spoke like he’d had to argue this more than once. “He’s got it,” he said, letting out an explosive breath. He looked back towards the living room. “He’s confused, all right? His parents are telling him one thing and his conscience is telling him another. I’m not giving up on him, not until he gives me a real reason to, because I’ve seen him make the right choice time and time again.” Harry reached out and gripped Dudley’s shoulder. “I need you not to give up on him either.”
And there was something in the emphasis he put on ‘you,’ like he expected Dudley – of all people – to be able to understand his dilemma. Dudley shifted his jaw back and forth and huffed out a small laugh. Looked like he and this Malfoy bloke were compatriots in being spoiled little fucks with the same shit principles their parents had instilled from day one. He snorted. “All right,” he said honestly, “I won’t. Unless he gives me a reason.”
Harry grinned. “Fair enough.” He stopped with his hand on the door and said what he always said when Dudley took in one of his strays: “Thank you, for doing this.” Admittedly, this time it had more gravitas, more heft behind it.
Dudley huffed out a small laugh. “You have me at a disadvantage. I kind of owe you a lifetime’s worth of favours.”
Harry came back with a change of robes for Malfoy – about a week’s worth, two rolls of medical tape and a mountain of gauze. He thanked Dudley again and the door was barely closed before he did that loud, popping thing and disappeared. Dudley barely noticed. Malfoy was still out cold, sprawled out on the bedspread in his guestroom. His expression was troubled, pained, even in unconsciousness.
Dudley eased him out of his robes and cut through the ruined undershirt with a pair of kitchen scissors. He was careful with him, though it was clear the bloke was all but dead to the world. He pushed him into a sitting position and wiped the dried blood from his pale skin with a damp flannel. He froze when he got to Malfoy’s back.
At the line of his hips were spiralling, expansive roots that pulsed and swayed and dipped and moved on his skin, darting down and up and slipping under the band of his trousers. Dudley reached out for them, awed, but his fingers met nothing but warm, slip-soft skin. He traced the line of one root with a finger, flattening his palm as it smoothed into the thick trunk of the large, dead tree covering the expanse of his back. It seemed like he should feel bark beneath his fingertips, that’s how real it looked to him. There were no branches to follow. The trunk ended, curving off into a sharp point that looked like the beak of a particularly violent bird of prey.
It was a bleak thing and it made Dudley’s own hope for the future, for Malfoy’s survival, shrivel and wilt to nothing.
Malfoy’s eyes slid open with a hiss. Dudley pressed harder with the gauze, just in case Malfoy shifted and ruined the dressing. He blinked, coming into consciousness slowly, and glowered over at Dudley when he realized where the sharper stab of pain was coming from.
Dudley grinned brightly at him. “Morning, sunshine.”
Malfoy groaned and dropped his head back against the pillow. “You could try a little finesse...” He opened and closed his mouth with a snap and Dudley realized what the belated punctuation was for.
“Dudley,” he said patiently. Malfoy cocked an arch brow at him. “Dudley Dursley.”
“Unfortunate for you,” Malfoy said snottily.
Dudley just snorted, pulling off another piece of surgical tape with his teeth. The wound was stitched together now, some spell of Harry’s, and that made it a lot easier to look at. It was red and angry and violent looking but Dudley couldn’t see Malfoy’s insides anymore so he was counting it as an improvement. “Yeah. Went by ‘Big D’ for a few years when I was younger.”
Malfoy choked on a laugh. “Did you grab your crotch to emphasise it, too?”
The tips of Dudley’s ears went red and he ducked his head a little, smoothing the tape over Malfoy’s pale skin. “Didn’t really realise that, ah, connotation until later.”
Malfoy sniggered. “Clever you.”
Dudley ignored him. He, maybe, pressed a little harder with the gauze than he needed to. “Which brings me to: what the hell kind of a name is ‘Malfoy.’”
Malfoy rolled his eyes and gritted his teeth before letting out a slow breath through his nose, as though forcibly letting go of his annoyance. The mean little boy in Dudley that would never really grow up revelled in it. “A second one.”
Dudley blinked. “Oh.” He focused on Malfoy a little more intently, placing the last piece of tape. He supposed it made sense that Harry called Malfoy by his second name since Malfoy did the same to him. It wasn’t like Dudley had got the feeling they were great mates either. “What’s your proper name then?”
Malfoy looked to the side and huffed. “Draco.”
Dudley shoved his hand under Malfoy—Draco’s neck and tilted it up. Malfoy was just a stupid name. Though, honestly, Draco wasn’t that much of an improvement, but at least it fit him better – the ponce. Dudley held up the glass of water from the nightstand for him to drink.
“Finesse,” Draco snarked, “look it up.”
Dudley eyed him, unimpressed. “Do you want the drink or not?”
Draco’s lips thinned but he didn’t complain as he drank deeply. He sat back and a cough stuttered in his chest.
Dudley watched him settle himself for a half second before he said, “What kind of masochist tattoos an ugly, dead tree across the whole of his back?” Draco snorted and Dudley added before he could answer, “Also, I feel I should point out – I mean, you probably already know but just in case – it moves.”
Draco laughed snidely and his brow reactively furrowed in pain. He tilted his hand so his inner left forearm was showing. “I needed something to compete with the ugliness of this.” His voice didn’t sound as hoarse as it had only moments ago.
Dudley sat down next to him, staring openly now that he had the chance to study one of these Dark Allegiance tattoos – as he privately referred to them – up close. Draco had a point. It was a skull vomiting up a snake. Who the hell would want that? Dudley looked up at Draco to find the man watching him, clearly trying to gauge whether or not he knew its meaning. Dudley gave away nothing and shrugged his shoulders. “You hungry?”
Draco shook his head and raised his hand weakly to wave him off.
“I put Dittany on it,” Dudley told him, nodding his head towards Draco’s side. “Do you want the potion, too?”
“No,” Draco barked out, tensing up. He made himself relax and said more evenly, “It’s best not to get overly dependent on those.”
“Is it as bad with the topical one?” He rubbed his palms up and down the thighs of his trousers. “It’s closed up now but Harry says if I don’t let it heal proper-like, the topical one will only heal the stitching into you.”
Draco waved him off more strongly this time. “It doesn’t matter. One is just as bad as the next.”
Dudley nodded. He paused in getting to his feet. “It’s only… Harry said you were meant to take it.”
Draco glared at him. “That’s because Potter wants to heal the whole damn world with confetti-spewing cherubs and Puffskeins.” He clenched and unclenched his jaw. “I can do without it. Last night I couldn’t’ve. There’s a chance I’ll need it to sleep but we’ll deal with that Portkey when we find it.”
“Um.” Dudley raised a brow and stared down at Draco uneasily. “I’m pretty sure most of that was nonsense. You’re either seriously delusional from the pain and we’re going to have to revisit that Murtle tonic or you’re talking all that, uh,” he wiggled his fingers and widened one eye, leaning his head in and out in a showy fashion, “magic malarkey.”
Draco huffed, staring up at the ceiling as though asking it for patience. “Muggles,” he muttered snidely.
Dudley brightened up. “Oh good. I’m taking that to mean it’s the latter, in which case: speak proper English.”
Draco seemed to take it as the joke it was and snorted. Which was a bit of a surprise. Dudley wouldn’t have pegged him as someone with a sense of humour.
Dudley stood up, just because Draco wasn’t hungry didn’t mean Dudley wasn’t ready to gnaw off his own arm. He paused before leaving and frowned. “Did you ever think maybe I just wanted to shove that pain crap down your throat so I wouldn’t have to deal with you hogging my guestroom and being conscious to complain about it?”
Dudley was sure if Draco had had the strength for it, he would have thrown something heavy at him before he could slip out the door, laughing all the way down the stairs.
Dudley ate his fry-up straight from the pan, bored out of his mind. Normally, he would go into work but he had called in some holiday leave when Draco showed up with his insides falling out. It helped that his dad was chairman director of Grunnings now and, even if he still harboured residual hatred and fear of Harry, he allowed for Dudley’s leave every time. Even knowing he was doing it to take care of some wizard Harry knew, like a modern-day Underground Railroad.
Working at Grunnings wasn’t exactly fulfilling but it was mindless and considering he only stayed for the paycheque between dances in the ring, it lived up to its purpose. Not that he had all that many bills. His parents had bought him the house as soon as he graduated from secondary school. He expected it was an attempt to buy him back into the family fold as he wasn’t nearly as close to them as he once had been, not after he’d gotten a wake-up call to what a horrid and spoilt little shit he was thanks to his first and only girlfriend.
He and Bex had dated for ten days before she’d schooled him on why the way he treated people, her included, was going to get him horribly and violently murdered some day and dumped him on his arse. She’d already come up with six or seven plots herself and she was pretty much the nicest girl he knew. Thus Dudley’s entire relationship history was exhausted.
He dumped his pan in the sink and wiped his hands on the thighs of his trackies. He glanced up at the ceiling, squinting against the light. He shrugged his shoulders, snatched a pack of cards out of the hall dresser and tromped up the stairs. At least there was no way Draco wasn’t bored out of his skull too.
Dudley opened the door to the guest room to find Draco’s face twisted into his pillow, trying to block out the sun streaming in through the window opposite.
His eye cracked open and he glared at Dudley with a scowl.
Dudley shook the pack of cards with a grin. “We’re playing Strip Jack Naked,” he told him brightly.
Draco’s expression soured further and he said in a mocking tone, “Speak proper English.”
Dudley snorted loudly and sat down on the edge of Draco’s bed to explain the rules while the bloke struggled to sit upright. He went through all the trick cards slowly and Draco seemed intensely focused on memorizing them. Dudley could already guess he was a competitive arse too. This should be fun. He slid the cards out of their box and paused splitting them into two piles to shuffle and pointed a warning finger at Draco. “Using magic is strictly forbidden.”
Draco smirked in response.
At first, they used the stretch of empty sheets between them as a table but the position wasn’t good for Malfoy’s side so they ended up playing right on his torso.
Draco placed a black Jack on top of Dudley’s and Dudley groaned, drawing ten cards while Draco cackled and his stomach shook the whole deck. Dudley flicked him in the arm to make him stop.
“You’re cheating,” he accused, near-growling. His own hand was to the point where he couldn’t hold all the cards comfortably between his fingers.
Draco shook his head, grinning. “I’m not. You’re just terrible,” he said gleefully. “You have to save the trick cards rather than playing them as soon as you get them,” he told Dudley stoutly. It was a bit pathetic put into context. Half an hour ago Malfoy hadn’t known what cards were, now he was soundly thumping Dudley at the first game he’d ever played. He nodded to Dudley’s sprawling hand as evidence. “That is why you are holding half the deck and I’ve only got two cards left. It is also why I am going to win.”
Dudley flicked him again. “Don’t get cocky. I could make a comeback here.”
Dudley didn’t make a comeback and Malfoy won three turns later. He won the next six games too. Dudley tossed the cards down on the bed and snarled, “Well I could still kick your arse at cricket.”
Draco perked up. “What’s that? How do I win?”
Dudley rolled his eyes. “You don’t. And you can’t play because you’d bleed out on the field so I win by default.”
For some reason, Draco seemed to find his completely unsportsmanlike behaviour entertaining rather than obnoxious. Which was a first for Dudley. Dudley suspected it was because, were their positions reversed, Draco would be behaving in the exact same fashion.
Draco yawned. For the second time in as many minutes. “Well I’d hold onto that for as long as you can then. I won’t be near-death forever and then I’ll beat your arse at crakit.”
Dudley groaned. “Cricket. I swear if I didn’t know any better I’d think you were an alien.”
Draco chuckled and sunk down further in the sheets, eyes closing.
Dudley stood. “You need anything? Blood-Replenishing, pain potion, anything?”
Draco shook his head, yawning.
Dudley nodded. “I’m going to the gym down the road. Don’t die while I’m out or I’ll be furious.” Draco waved him off and turned his head into his pillow. “If you’re going to expire at least let me get all the satisfaction out of it possible,” Dudley added as he reached the door.
Draco snorted but he sounded half-asleep so Dudley left to let him get some proper rest.
“You don’t seem to understand that the game is not fun if you cheat,” Dudley said through clenched teeth, mussing up the deck in his frustration over losing for a third time.
Draco threw his last card at Dudley’s face. “It’s not my fault you have no patience for strategy.” He settled back and said smugly, “What other game can I beat you at?”
Dudley taught him to play Whot and Rummy too. It ended with his cards all over the carpet and Draco laughing at him as he stormed out of the room.
He still went back and played him the next day.
The dittany was closing up the slice in Draco’s side slowly but surely. The hisses, scrunches of his forehead and cringes in pain were slowly but surely dropping off as he stubbornly stuck to his refusal to take Harry’s pain potion. Dudley could often hear him groaning across the hall at night as he tried to find rest. He could only listen to it for so long before he would get up, sit himself at Draco’s bedside, turn on the lamp and read The Magician’s Nephew to distract him from the stabbing agony.
Draco would fall into fitful sleep more often than not, waking up every so often. Which would prompt Dudley to come to in his stiff-backed desk chair enough to sleepily murmur the next few pages until Draco nodded off again.
They never mentioned it in the morning but Draco’s gaze grew warmer each day.
By the week’s end Draco was feeling up to moving about so Dudley helped him down the stairs and out to the back patio. They had tea and played Gin Rummy and Dudley resisted the urge to call him a cheating cheater who cheats. Again. “That’s it,” he said angrily, tossing down the cards, “I’m not letting you Knock anymore because it’s basically cheating.”
Draco reordered his cards and clicked his tongue. “How does it feel to be the most terrible player at anything ever?” Draco glanced up at something over Dudley’s shoulder and said simply, “Oh, hello, Potter.”
Dudley twisted around to find Harry standing behind him with a grin he was clearly trying to hide. Dudley scowled. “Here to get rid of him yet then? He’s a horrible cheat, you know.”
Harry shook his head. “No, he’s a strategist. And you, Dud, are not.”
Dudley put Harry on the list of ‘People to Maim for Telling Him He was Poor at Cards.’ It was only two names as of right now and Harry was right under Draco.
Draco nodded his head, clearly pleased with Harry’s assessment.
Dudley crossed his arms and ignored them both.
Harry stepped around the table to Draco’s side and held out his hand to help him stand.
Draco placed his hand firmly on the edge of the table just to spite Harry and stood. It was strange, the stab of pleasure that Dudley got from remembering Draco’s hand sliding into his without hesitation only hours earlier when he’d helped him out of bed. Harry rolled his eyes and pulled back the side of Draco’s robes. He carefully edged up the hem of his shirt, thumb skimming his unbroken skin as he lifted it. It seemed oddly intimate. Harry leaned over and squinted down at the ugly, twisted scar in Draco’s side with equal parts relief and sadness.
Dudley shifted about uncomfortably, the sudden heaviness between the two men seeming private and leading. He blurted out, “Aw, look, you’re not all pretty anymore. Now you look like your side’s been zippered up off-centre.” Which was tantamount to admitting Dudley found him pretty and that was not at all what he’d meant to say.
Draco didn’t seem to notice. He laughed and threw a biscuit at Dudley’s head.
Harry’s palm momentarily flattened over the scar, fingers curling around Malfoy’s side almost absentmindedly as he straightened up. “The dittany should fix that before long,” he said carefully, eyes hooded and focused exclusively on Draco. Dudley doubted Harry’d even heard him speak.
Draco narrowed his eyes, like he couldn’t figure out what Harry’s angle was. He seemed to decide that, whatever it was, there was nothing sinister behind it. “The scar doesn’t matter,” he said before long and his eyes flicked up to Harry’s forehead. “Who knows, maybe I’ll get famous off it?”
Harry snorted and pulled his hand away. He glanced back at Dudley. “I just wanted to check in, be sure he was still alive and you didn’t need help getting his body out of your guestroom.”
Dudley snorted into the sudden break in the tension, his shoulders dropping. “I appreciate you thinking of my potential corpse-y plight.”
Harry ended up staying for tea and Dudley tried to teach him to play Rummy too. Eventually Draco and Dudley silently agreed to call him the winner after the sixth time he’d forgotten the rules and was just playing by his own completely arbitrary set. During which he got to throw his cards down on the table – far too often – and say, “Ah ha!”
When Harry left, Draco stared after him with a thoughtful expression and said calmly, “So, it’s hardly your fault then.” Dudley frowned in confusion and Draco continued. “Sucking at cards runs in your blood.”
Dudley yanked up a clump of dirt and grass and mashed it into Draco’s hair in measured retaliation.
It mostly backfired as Draco spent the rest of the day whinging about needing a proper shower rather than another Cleaning Charm and ruffling his hair so he got dirt in Dudley’s tea. Dudley finally relented and let Draco use his arm to steady him up the stairs. He got him to the washroom without incident and Draco didn’t even pause before beginning to undress, only slightly hampered by the pain in his side.
Dudley awkwardly turned towards the maw of the door and covered his eyes with his hand, pretending he couldn’t see everything in the mirror above the sink.
His bathroom was little better than a closet and they could easily fall into each other standing on opposite ends of it. Dudley still grunted at Draco, whose hand was lingering on the plastic sheet, “Curtain open.”
Draco rolled his eyes but acquiesced as he turned the knob. Dudley had never really looked at him properly; a gaping wound turned nasty, jagged scar in a bloke’s side would do that. He made up for lost time now and looked his fill, watching Draco in the mirror under the guise of making sure he didn’t slip and brain himself on the ceramic soap dish.
He felt something like awe as he watched the water darken Draco’s hair to spun gold. Draco closed his eyes and tilted his head back, letting the water run down his chin, wetting his slight stubble. He was lean and lightly muscled and nothing like the blokes Dudley regularly saw in the gyms, who were often grotesquely beefy. Dudley’s mouth went dry watching the water soak down the light thatch of hair below Draco’s navel.
He followed Draco’s hand as it chased the rivulets of water with soap, moving down to cover his soft prick. Dudley’s face went beet red but he didn’t look away. He stared unblinkingly as the hair on Draco’s thighs darkened and the water sluiced off his pale skin and, holy fuck, but he was gorgeous. Dudley had never looked at blokes, occasional peeks in the showers but not with any intent behind it. He understood now why Harry’s eyes tracked Draco’s every move when they were in the same room. As he had massive amounts of intent looking at Draco now, his cock was throbbing with all his bloody intent.
Draco turned, washing his hair and Dudley gasped as he saw the muscles flex in his back. The dead tree on Draco’s torso had grown, changed. It no longer twisted off into a single sharp-beaked dead end but instead had bare branches that stretched up to cover his shoulder blades, the smallest of which were waving as though in a slight breeze.
Draco turned off the tap and Dudley handed him a towel, staring at the floor. Draco stepped out onto the small mat and held the proffered towel over his crotch with a smirk.
Dudley could feel his face going hot and he cleared his throat, hoping to distract Draco from his unsubtle staring. He shrugged a shoulder towards Draco’s back. “It has branches,” he said tightly.
Draco’s smirk widened. “I’m fairly certain the etiquette is not to look.”
Dudley gaped, his mouth yo-yoing as he tried to find an answer that wasn’t really an answer. “I—”
“Looked,” Draco said finitely, but it sounded amused rather than accusing.
Dudley rubbed the back of his neck. It was true but he wasn’t about to say as much. He coughed and asked brightly, looking at the ragged scar, “Does it still hurt?” Draco’s amusement increased at Dudley’s abrupt subject change. His words ran together a bit as he added, “We could try regular drugs. I’m sure they’re a lot less effective but they won’t cause pain either.”
Draco shook his head, smiling, and it wasn’t the mean one Dudley might have expected. “I’ll live,” he said quietly.
The cards were set up, as they always were, on Draco’s chest and abdomen. His shirt had ridden up sometime between the last hand and this one, and Dudley couldn’t stop ‘accidentally’ brushing his hand against the pale jut of his hip. He haphazardly set down his cards, smoothing the knuckles of his hand against the soft fabric of Draco’s t-shirt. Which was really Dudley’s t-shirt. And bloody hell if Draco didn’t look brilliant in his clothes, drowned in them from the broad stretch of Dudley’s shoulders but beyond attractive and looking pleasingly vulnerable.
He licked his lip, staring at Draco’s hip and stammered, “I, uh, that’s sixteen points for me.”
Draco’s hand smoothed over where Dudley’s still rested on his abdomen, his fingers curling around Dudley’s own, and he said gently, “You still have cards in your hand.”
Dudley blinked and sure enough he was still holding half of his hand. “Oh, right. Yes.”
Draco grinned at him, a bit of darkness in it. “Dudley,” he said pryingly.
Dudley met his gaze, let his tongue sweep out over his lower lip and said bluntly, “I want you.”
“I know,” Draco said, the curve of his lip amused. “You’re about as subtle as a Bludger.”
Dudley leaned into him without realising it. “I don’t know what that means,” he said breathily.
Draco’s fingers curled in the hair at the base of Dudley’s neck.
Dudley hadn’t even seen him move. He could feel his breath picking up, his pulse racing but Draco was as calm as ever, smiling softly.
Draco’s hand smoothed up his neck, parted strands of his hair and fisted. “Context clues, Dursley,” he whispered, “Use them,” before he tugged him forward and onto the bed, cards crumpling between them.
Dudley had never really done this. He’d kissed Bex a total of four times but those were only ever chaste and close-mouthed. He’d had one other seven-minutes-in-heaven experience when he was fourteen but that hadn’t been much of anything either. Certainly nothing like this. Draco’s thighs had immediately come up to frame his hips and their hard cocks were pressed together and his mouth was already open, tongue surging confidently forward and it was clear he wasn’t new to this.
Dudley tried to match him in intensity and skill but he had no doubt he was failing horribly. He ripped his mouth away from Draco’s and hesitantly rested a hand on his hip. He stared down at the heave of Draco’s chest with hooded eyes. “I, um. I haven’t—done this.”
Draco was looking at him but his hand was creeping from Dudley’s shoulder down his chest and slipping into his pants. Dudley started like he’d been electrocuted and gasped, his shoulders hunching in as Draco’s fingers curled around his painfully hard cock. This wasn’t going to last long and he was sure he’d be embarrassing himself in barely a moment’s time. It took Dudley a second to recognise Draco had said something to him with his fist slowly pumping Dudley’s cock. Eventually he made out the words, “With a bloke?”
Dudley shook his head, teeth clacking together as he drew in stuttering breaths, his hips skipping forward into Draco’s hand. “With anyone,” he got out. “Just, yeah, so you know where we’re at.” Draco blinked up at him, curved his knee around Dudley’s side and urged him over. He shifted to move on top of Dudley but Dudley stopped him, his hand smoothing over Draco’s back. The tattoo looked the same only… “There’s a bloom.” A small bud, pale pink, just beginning to flower sat at the far end of one of the topmost branches.
Draco smirked at him but it softened into something warmer and he said lowly, “Don’t sound so surprised, Dursley.” He shifted down Dudley’s body, fisted his fingers in the hem of his shirt and pushed it up over Dudley’s navel.
He drew in a sharp cut of air and everything in him seemed to freeze in anticipation as Draco’s other hand yanked down his bottoms. Draco bounced his eyebrows twice and then engulfed Dudley’s cock in a hot, wet warmth. Draco clearly wasn’t new to this either and he sure as shit knew exactly where to put pressure with his tongue and to lick over the slit and to ripple the back of his throat when Dudley’s cock met it and Dudley suddenly understood how sex could get blokes into trouble.
He was sure he would give Draco anything, promise him anything so long as he didn’t stop.
Draco let him thrust into his mouth, his hips stuttering up to get to more of his tight, glorious heat and Dudley managed to stammer out, “C-close,” as his toes curled inward and his balls drew up. He was glad nothing else had popped out of his mouth as he was biting back the urge to tell Draco he loved him. Which was true, though entirely conditional on Draco keeping his mouth on his cock.
Draco groaned at the warning and the vibration along his cock was enough for Dudley. He fisted his fingers in the sheets and arched up into Draco’s mouth as he came harder than he ever had in his life. Draco swallowed and that felt like… something.
Dudley panted and tried to quell the shaking of his limbs as Draco shifted back up the length of him and planted a close-mouthed kiss on his lips. Dudley instinctively tried to follow him as he pulled away. He grabbed a little too roughly at Draco’s cock in his eagerness to repay him and Draco let him.
He used his free hand to drag Draco back in by the strands of his silk-soft hair and kiss him stupid. He was sloppy and drunk from orgasm but he was sure he’d got the point across. He wanted Draco, more than he’d ever wanted anyone or anything.
And he was used to getting what he wanted.
His fingers squeezed around Draco’s cock as he found a pleasing rhythm, twisting his palm as he reached the head the way he did for himself. He would get hard again before long if Draco kept up the rabbiting little shifts of his hips. He kissed Draco harder, wanting to impress his mouth on him and moaned as he felt Draco’s cock give a throb.
There was the sound of a hard thump and a creak somewhere near the door but Dudley was too caught up in Draco to process it. At least until someone said explosively, “Fuck. Fuck, fuck, buggering fuck, fuck.”
Dudley pulled away from Draco’s mouth and paused with his hand on his cock. Harry was standing at the door, his eyes almost comically wide and looking for all the world as though someone had just yanked out his insides.
Draco leaned away from him and Dudley tried to surreptitiously slip his hand out of Draco’s pants. But at the slightly nauseated look on Harry’s face, he knew he hadn’t succeeded.
“Er, Harry,” he started.
Harry shook his head, opened his mouth, closed it, and turned away. Dudley could hear him stomping down the stairs. Draco sighed, doing up his trousers. He muttered something Dudley didn’t catch under his breath and went after him.
Dudley lay there for half a second before pulling up his trackies and hopping, barefoot, out of the bed.
He crept down the hallway and sank to the floor at the top of the stairs so he’d be able to hear everything that went on even if he couldn’t see it.
Draco broke the ugly silence first, only saying tightly, “Potter.”
There was a long, panting stretch of blankness and Harry forced out angrily, “I know, okay? I know it’s one-sided. That I look at you and you—you don’t look back like that. I’ve known for years.” Dudley had suspected it from the way Harry’s eyes lingered on Draco but it was harder to read what Draco’s feelings might be. He couldn’t help but selfishly hope that Harry was right and things truly were one-sided between them.
He peeked his head around the wall and he could see Draco shifting uncomfortably on his feet, surprise and suspicion on his face. “Potter, what are you—”
Harry cut him off and hissed out, “But it can’t be him.” Dudley flinched. “I’m trying to come to terms with the idea that it’s never going to be—” he gestured between the two of them. “I’m trying and I get that I’m not owed you or anything,” he said it like he’d only just got that, “but it can’t be him.” Dudley wondered if Harry knew, if this was some twisted form of payback. After all, he had spent their entire childhood taking things away from Harry and now Harry was taking the thing that Dudley most wanted, not just now but always.
Draco barely hesitated. “Okay,” he said simply.
Harry’s shoulders were still strung up tight, gearing for a fight when he registered the word. He deflated completely and parroted back in confusion, “Okay?”
Draco nodded and Harry rubbed at his eyes under his glasses. He let out a long, shaky breath and said, “I’m sorry, I just—”
“Potter,” Draco cut him off firmly.
Harry nodded and then clearly took them both by surprise, stepping in to Draco’s space and curling his hands around his waist. Draco stiffened and Dudley strained to hear Harry mutter into his neck, “Please. Just—just for a second.” Draco relaxed into it slightly and awkwardly patted Harry’s back. Harry turned his face into Draco’s neck and said clearly, “You’re healed enough that you could come with me. I could keep you safe.”
Draco shook his head. “I have to go back, for my parents.”
“Not alone,” Harry growled instantly.
“Severus will help me,” Draco agreed.
Harry’s eyes went dark. “I don’t trust him,” he said quietly.
“I do,” Draco answered, just a touch of defiance in it.
Harry’s voice was small and vulnerable and he rubbed the back of his neck, admitting, “I don’t want you to get hurt again.”
Draco swallowed and squeezed his hand on Harry’s shoulder, looking slightly uneasy. He caught Harry’s eye and said seriously, “I have a safe place to go now. That’s due solely to you, Potter.”
Dudley could hear the gratitude there and he knew from the look on Harry’s face that he could hear it, too. He drew in a deep breath, teetered forward onto the balls of his feet and started, “I—”
“You should go,” Draco said, cutting him off sharply.
Harry let out that same breath and his shoulders slumped. “Yeah. Yeah, you’re right.” He glanced back up the stairs but thankfully his gaze didn’t drift far enough to catch Dudley watching them. “You won’t—” he started, mouth pursed tight.
“I won’t,” Draco agreed.
He didn’t come back upstairs for hours even though Harry left barely a second later. Dudley eventually got up and lay down on the guest bed, staring at the ceiling. Draco slid under the covers next to him around half two and Dudley curled around him, one hand splaying in the small of his back and the other curving over his hip.
Draco pressed his head up under Dudley’s chin and Dudley fell asleep to the feel of Draco’s breath blooming over his clavicle.
Logically, it made no sense. Draco had been there less than a full week. Dudley really shouldn’t have grown so accustomed to his presence after such a short stay. He had never done so with any of the wizards he’d housed previously. Draco leaned back against the closed door and clucked his tongue. “It’s a shame.” He offered Dudley a cheeky grin. “That could have been fun, plucking your cherry.”
Dudley leaned into him slightly, not touching him but swaying into his orbit. On some level, he understood. Draco owed Harry his loyalty if nothing else and they weren’t anything to betray that. Not yet. Dudley stuck his hands in his pockets and shrugged his shoulders. “I’ll have to be someone else’s conquest then, I suppose.”
Draco’s grin dimmed slightly but he said reassuringly, “It would never have lasted regardless, Dursley. I was… stepping out of time for a moment here with you but it was only ever a temporary diversion.” He paused, smoothed a hand over the curve of Dudley’s hip in a way that felt proprietary. It thrilled Dudley too much, a shiver snaking up his spine. Draco smirked as though he knew it. “A nice one at that.”
He opened the door behind him and Dudley grabbed his forearm. “Draco,” he said quickly. “You know where I live. And you have that ability to just… poof places.” He leaned into Draco far enough now that they were actually touching. “If I got a choice in it,” he licked his lip, “I don’t but uh. If I did, you would be it.”
Draco’s hands slipped around his waist and he pressed a light kiss to Dudley’s lip, whispering, “Of course I would.”
Dudley let him pull away and he disappeared the way wizards did. He told himself he’d see Draco again.
The alternative was just too bloody depressing.
He couldn’t help but be glad that he didn’t have a tattoo of some tree that showed his emotions fanned out across his back. He was sure if he did, it would show nothing but a dead, wilted thing fit for nothing and no one. He wondered if the flower on Draco’s back had gone limp and lifeless.
Selfishly, he hoped it had.