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The Lion and the Serpent

Chapter Text

“Well now, Mr. Malfoy – I see it’s your lucky day.”

Draco seriously doubted that.

Warden’s office was austere. No space wasted on things like pictures frames, or family photos, or paint. Just gray walls, a single desk holding two neat stacks of paper, and a cushioned chair in which the small woman now sat. Draco had been shoved into the room’s only other chair, an uncomfortable metal contraption not unlike the one deep inside the Ministry of Magic: the one he had sat in while the Wizengamot sentenced him to fifty years in Azkaban. This chair, too, had sprung to life as soon as he sat down, cinching his wrists to the chair’s arms with thick leather cuffs under Warden’s sharp gaze. Lest anyone doubt the strength of the cuffs, lines of shimmering steel could be seen where the leather had been reinforced, and Draco was certain they contained spells he would be hard-pressed to undo even if he had his wand. The cuffs were much more comfortable than the iron chains at the Ministry, however. Draco had to admit he appreciated that.

It didn’t take much, these days.

“You have a rather esteemed visitor,” Warden was saying. Draco suddenly realized that she was speaking slightly faster than usual. Her voice seemed to have dropped a few octaves as well, and as he watched, she actually put a hand up to her hair and patted it, as if to brush away stray strands. If he didn’t know better, he would swear she was blushing.

Before he got a chance to wonder further, however, a door set into the wall behind the large desk opened and the Minister of Magic walked through it. Kingsley Shacklebolt was every bit as imposing as Draco remembered. Dressed in dark blue dress robes, his dark skin seemed to glow, enhancing the weak light cast from the lamp on Warden’s desk. Draco tried not to lean back or sink down in the chair. It was difficult, however, when the leader of the wizarding world was looking at you as if something unpleasant and slimy had crawled out from under his bed. There was a long moment of silence before Draco realized they must be waiting for him to say something.

“Good afternoon, Minister.” His voice caught in his throat but he inclined his head. It was odd how comfortable the formal motion felt; after four years of having even something as casual eye contact punished by a sharp slap or a hex, he wasn’t sure he remembered how to interact with people in the wider world.

Once a Malfoy, always a Malfoy, he thought grimly. He still kept his eyes lowered though, watching as Kingsley clasped his hands.

“Good afternoon, Mr. Malfoy,” the Minister said crisply. “Warden tells me you have been a model prisoner.”

A model prisoner? He supposed that could be true. Draco had never tried to smuggle in forbidden items, never gotten involved in any of the gangs that sometimes formed and fought within the prison’s walls. He had thought about fighting, about smuggling in some food that didn’t taste like nuclear waste, about escaping – but that had been in the first few months, when he still hadn’t truly believed that he was facing fifty years in Azkaban. He had even approached some of the other prisoners, hoping to find other Crabbes and Goyles to boss around and hide behind. He had quickly learned that the Malfoy name took away as much in here as it had given him out there. No self-respecting prisoner wanted to be associated with Lucius Malfoy’s son, not when his father was known, even here, as the worst kind of traitor: a coward.

After the first few beatings, Draco had gotten the message. It had been months—years?—since he had tried to even talk to any of the other prisoners. Being ignored was much better than being hurt.

“…Thank you,” he replied. It was an odd response to an odd statement. Kingsley seemed to agree. He cleared his throat and began again. “You may know, Mr. Malfoy, that the wizarding world is still deeply divided.” Kingsley’s deep voice betrayed no emotion. No sign whatsoever that he was speaking to someone who was responsible for that division. “Four years later, Voldemort’s presence is still felt every time a wizard mistrusts his neighbor, every time a witch feels unsafe venturing out after dark. Rebuilding was difficult—reconciliation is proving nearly impossible.”

“I’m certain you’re doing all you can, Minister,” Warden said quickly, and Draco felt amusement stirring before he quashed it. These were powerful people—laughing at Warden’s brown-nosing would not win him any favors.

“Thank you, Fera,” Kingsley said. Draco thought he detected a hint of annoyance in the Minister’s voice and wondered distantly if his old self would have smiled at that. “That brings to me to my purpose in coming here.” Once again he stopped, seemed to gather his thoughts. This time Warden didn’t say anything. Draco got the impression she was hanging on Kingsley’s every breath. Draco examined the floorboards in minute detail. “The idea has been put forth,” Kingsley began, “that one step to take toward a reunited society could be a personal union to mirror the reunion we hope to see in the wider world. In other words: a marriage between someone who fought against Voldemort and someone who fought for him.”

“That’s a nice idea, Minister,” Draco said quietly, eyes still fixed on the floor. “Why are you telling me?”

“Because you have been selected as one party in this union, Mr. Malfoy. Your behavior here over the past few years, coupled with the fact that you were, in fact, quite young when you fought for Voldemort, means that the wizarding world could very easily see you as a redeemable figure, which would not be the case for many of your former comrades.” He cleared his throat again. “That, along with the fact that you are already acquainted with the other party, sets you up quite nicely.”

Looking back, Draco wondered if he hadn’t really understood the Minister fully yet. Perhaps that accounted for the ease with which he asked his next question. “Who is the other party, sir?”

Kingsley sounded almost tender as he answered. “Harry Potter.”

Draco let the words settle to the floorboards. He felt them sink into his mind like stones to the bottom of a murky pond. Then he did the only thing he could do. He started to laugh. It had been years since Draco had laughed, and he wondered if this was what laughter had always felt like: knives gathering in his belly, scraping his throat raw. Tears gathered in his eyes and he sat back, chest heaving.

Then Warden’s hand struck him across the face. “You will not laugh in Minister Shacklebolt’s face, prisoner,” she spat. “One more display like that and I’ll throw you back in your cell to rot and find someone more suitable to marry Mr. Potter.”

“You should definitely do that,” Draco responded, feeling his voice scrape low where the laughter had stunned him. “Get someone else. Anyone else. Because if you think, for one moment, that Potter will agree to…to marry me…”

“Mr. Potter has already agreed,” Kingsley cut in, and Draco felt his mouth fall open. His eyes flew to Kingsley’s face before he could stop them; Warden’s fingers twitched to her wand and Draco flinched, dropping his eyes again, but not before he had glimpsed on Kingsley’s face: earnestness. Honesty. The man was not lying, at least not that he knew of. Harry Potter had agreed to marry Draco Malfoy. It was nearly unthinkable.

“…Why?” Draco managed after a long moment. “What…why?”

“Mr. Potter is eager to assist in this reconciliation project,” Kingsley replied promptly, perhaps grateful to be back on scripted ground. “I imagine he also fondly remembers your school days together and knows that the two of you, once reunited, can forge a partnership that reflects the very best of the wizarding world.”

Fondly remembers. School days together. Images rose up in his mind’s eye: Harry’s face, twisted with hatred; wands flung out, spells flying, pain blossoming across his chest; that first evening at the castle, they were both so small, a hand offered in haughty friendship, and denied. I can find the right kind of wizard for myself, thank you.

A thousand, thousand petty insults. A hundred unforgivable wounds.

Maybe Potter wanted revenge. Draco felt his stomach clench at the thought. He would be at Potter’s mercy; any jury, any Auror, any witch or wizard would side with the Boy Who Lived over a Death Eater. He would be walking from one prison into another.

“If I say no, sir?” Draco asked quietly. “What happens then?”

“If you say no to this offer, Mr. Malfoy, you will not only be throwing away your own future, miraculously restored to you; you will be spitting in the face of the entire wizarding world. Again.” An onlooker might have thought Kingsley’s voice was kind. “A crime of that magnitude, on top of the crimes already charged against you? I would say that might warrant a second trial, wouldn’t you, Warden?”

“Oh I would certainly think so, Minister,” Warden replied instantly. “And this time, the charge may be for life.”

“It may well be,” Kingsley responded slowly. “At the very least, you would return to serve out the remainder of your sentence here. Another forty-six years, Mr. Malfoy. You would not be a free man again until you were sixty-eight.”

Draco felt the weight of both their gazes on his bowed head. He said nothing. After a moment, Kingsley clasped his hands. “May I take your silence as acceptance?”

It was no choice at all. Draco nodded.

“Excellent, excellent,” Kingsley boomed. Warden gave a positively un-Warden-like giggle. “The ceremony is tomorrow—I will arrange for someone to arrive here early to prepare you.”

“Tomorrow?” Draco asked, feeling his stomach clench again but remembering just in time not to look into Kingsley’s face. “The wedding is tomorrow?”

“Why yes, my boy—you lovebirds don’t want to waste any time, do you?” Kingsley was practically glowing. Draco felt a hollow opening in his chest. Of course: this was a public marriage, arranged by the Minister of Magic for his own political ends. Of course he, Draco, would have to play happy in front of the entire world.

He wasn’t sure what prompted him to ask the next question—perhaps some small vestige of his former life, when things like this wouldn’t have happened. Or maybe the illusion that since he seemed to be important again, they couldn’t hurt him. “Is it possible for me to see Mr. Potter before the ceremony?”

He instantly regretted it. Warden’s hand flew to her wand and before he could react he felt the curse hit him, twisting his muscles into knots of fire. He let out a pained grunt, barely noticing as she walked across the office to him where he still sat bound to the chair. He noticed, however, when she clasped his chin in her hands and yanked his head up, her cold, furious eyes meeting his.

“How. Dare. You,” she bit out. “You would make demands on your future husband, the hero of our time, before the wedding vows are even exchanged? Is this really how you want to begin your life together? With unreasonable requests, tension already forming, thanks to you?”

She broke the curse and Draco sagged back into the chair, bowing his head, the model prisoner. Of course. He should have known better. But then Kingsley was there, and the Minister’s formidable height, presence, and gaze were all focused on him.

“Let me make one thing quite clear, Mr. Malfoy,” Kingsley said softly. “This is a marvelous opportunity for you, but you are not yet a free man. You may never be a free man, for you are not coming to this marriage as his equal. He is the Boy Who Lived, the hero who saved us all. You, on the other hand, are the defeated, the broken Death Eater, the enemy. You will be the one who will have to demonstrate what you can bring to the wizarding world, after tearing it apart. You will be publicly atoning for the sins of multiple generations, and you will have everything to prove. And everything to lose.”

The Minister stepped back and Draco felt something loosen in the room, balanced by the tightening in his chest. It was so difficult to breath.

“Do you understand?” Kingsley asked conversationally. Draco nodded, and said no more.

---

“He said yes?”

Ron was staring at the letter in Harry’s hand like it had grown fingers and made a rude gesture at him. On the table between them, Kingsley’s owl preened smugly, as if aware of the stir it had caused. “Why?

“I don’t know…” Harry read the letter over again. Written in the Minister’s precise cursive, it was maddeningly brief.

Mr. Malfoy has agreed to the marriage. The ceremony will move forward tomorrow as planned. The wizarding world thanks you, Harry, as do I. Kingsley.

No mention whatsoever of how Draco had taken the news, what he had said, how he had looked after four years in Azkaban. Harry needed a drink. “It doesn’t say.”

“Well what does it say, Harry?” Hermione asked reasonably. She was perched on the couch, Ron sprawled on the rug at her feet, her dark hands tangled in his red hair. Mutely, Harry handed her the note. “Tomorrow,” she breathed, and Ron shook his head.

“Sure, why not? Going to bind yourself to the enemy, marry Draco fucking Malfoy of all people—why not just go ahead and do it so quickly no one has any chance at all to think things through?” He met Harry’s gaze, his own eyes gray and stormy. “Tell me again, in the name of Merlin’s stinky left toenails: why did you agree to this, mate?”

Harry shrugged, feeling defensive, as he had each time this topic had come up. “You both heard what Kingsley said: this is a step towards reconciliation, truly, after all these years of divisions and old grudges. If someone from Dumbledore’s Army and a former Death Eater can get married and have a happy life together—it will give everyone else some kind of hope. Right?”

He was grasping for their approval and they all knew it. Harry had done a lot of stupid things in his life, most of them flanked by Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger. Their support meant more to him than he could say, and if not their support, then at least some form of understanding. Judging from their expressions—Hermione’s, dubious, Ron’s, mutinous—he was a long way even from that.

“Reconciliation is all well and good, Harry,” Hermione began. “But tying your entire future—the rest of your life—to Malfoy…”

“And how do we know he’s a former Death Eater, anyway?” Ron cut in. “How do we know he’s not agreeing to marry you so he can escape Azkaban and kill you and bring the Death Eaters back?”

“Are you implying that I can’t defend myself against Malfoy?” Harry asked archly. “May I remind you, he won’t have Crabbe and Goyle to hide behind now—and time in Azkaban must have done something to him…”

“Yeah—it probably made him meaner,” Ron grumbled. Hermione just looked pained, the worry in her brown eyes searing Harry’s soul. He stood up quickly – too quickly – and poured himself a drink, pretending he didn’t see the look Ron and Hermione exchanged. He felt better with the half-full glass in his hand.

“Look,” he said quietly, looking at Hermione but speaking to them both. “I know you don’t understand why I’m doing this. Honestly, I don’t either.” He spread his hands helplessly. “But can you understand that it’s something I have to do? Like fighting Voldemort, or helping your mom clean up after dinner, Ron. It will help people. And I…I want to help people.”

After a long moment, Ron sighed and shook his head, but Hermione stood and clasped Harry’s hand. “We know you do, Harry,” she murmured. “And we’ll be right beside you.”

“We will,” Ron agreed. His mouth quirked up in a crooked grin. “Unless Malfoy’s right beside you. Then, I’ll be standing as far away as I can while still in range to curse him if he tries anything.”

Harry laughed, relief settling beside the tension coiled in his stomach. “Thank you both,” he said, giving Hermione’s hand a squeeze and taking a long drink. Tomorrow.

Chapter Text

They came to get him just after dawn: a tall middle-aged witch and a short, round man from the Ministry, flanked by Warden and two stone-faced Azkaban guards. As the guards patted him down, Warden went through a list of things he wasn’t under any circumstances to do, on pain of ending up right back here with even more to make up for, including cursing anyone, taking more than 24 hours to answer any correspondence from Azkaban or the Ministry of Magic, or giving any public indication that this marriage wasn’t a pure love match greatly desired by both him and Mr. Potter.

“We’ll be watching, boy,” Warden murmured, her eyes intense. “The newspapers, the media—what they print matters, so you’d best keep an eye on it too. You should also know,” she added, putting a hand on his shoulder as he started to walk away from the guards, “the Ministry will be checking in with Mr. Potter regularly. If he has any complaints at all about you…” She trailed off, letting Draco’s mind fill in the rest.

 If Harry Potter, his lifelong enemy, had any complaints about him, he wouldn’t even be granted the dignity of a trial before heading right back to Azkaban, possibly for the rest of his life.

Fantastic.

He signed a few papers in the dim front office and Warden handed him a wand. It wasn’t his wand, of course—that had been lost after the Battle of Hogwarts—but at least it was something, even if it did include a special tracking spell that would let the Ministry see every spell he cast until they decided he had earned back society’s trust (Warden’s words). Then he was walking out of the massive iron gates between the two Ministry employees: a free man.

The two Ministry employees had, he gathered, acted as on-site sponsors of a sort, representing Kingsley, Potter, and any other official who had signed onto this plan. That group didn’t seem to include the short man; Draco kept feeling small, beady eyes on him, and made conscious efforts to keep his eyes down, not make any sudden movements, and respond quickly and appropriately to anything asked of him. As he stepped outside the prison’s walls for the first time in four years, he distantly noticed warm sunshine on his skin. It seemed to be summer.

After a surprisingly smooth ride across the ocean waters surrounding Azkaban, they Apparated directly into what looked like a dressing room, the man holding onto Draco’s arm a bit harder than seemed strictly necessary. Two more Ministry employees were waiting there, although these seemed to be more in the class of “make a man who has been in Azkaban for four years look healthy and happy again.” They washed and combed his hair, brought him new clothes, and one of the men even waved his wand in a practiced manner in front of Draco’s face. When he turned to look in the mirror, he recognized himself, which was startling. The dark circles under his eyes, stark against his pale face, had disappeared, and there even seemed to be some color in his cheeks. The man noticed him looking and smiled smugly.

“Nothing a little make-up spell can’t hide, mate,” he said with a wink. “Your fella will be swooning, no doubt about that.”

Personally, Draco doubted that very much, although he had to concede that when they had finished bringing in the seams of the dress robes he was to wear (when had he gotten so thin?), he did look less like a prisoner playing dress-up and more like a husband-to-be. More like himself; more like a Malfoy. Draco turned away from the mirror, nausea curling in the pit of his stomach.

He would be arriving in a carriage, as would Potter, as scripted in the traditional wizarding wedding ceremony. When he had been declared presentable, the two employees who had taken him from Azkaban grasped his arms again and the three of them Apparated again, this time to a field where two winged horses grazed on the new spring grasses and a huge carriage sat waiting, looking more like a frosted wedding cake than a vehicle.

“It was decided that the traditional thestrals would be in poor taste,” the stout man murmured. Draco nodded and said nothing.

They helped him climb into the unfamiliar seat and watched as the coachman clucked to the horses. Draco supposed the Ministry employees would then Apparate to the grove – frankly, he was glad to see the last of them, with their sideways eyes and their scripted decency. Still, now that he was alone, there was nothing standing between him and the question still ringing in his head: why?

Draco closed his eyes, leaned his head against the bumping carriage wall, and tried to breathe.

 --- 

Harry didn’t remember carriages being so damned bumpy. He supposed that was why thestrals were usually used in these sorts of moments, and wondered why they weren’t using thestrals today. Then he realized it was very likely that far, far more wizards could see thestrals now, after Voldemort’s rise to power and hard-won fall, and stopped thinking altogether.

It was a short drive to the grove from where they had readied his carriage a few blocks away. Harry could already hear the muted roar of the crowd; after a few minutes, the roar was deafening. The carriage turned a corner and flashbulbs started exploding. He could hear his name being shouted, cries of “Congratulations!” filling the air. As Hermione had coached him to do, he smiled and waved out the window, feeling ridiculous. Inside, his stomach was churning into ever-tightening knots.

What would Malfoy do when they came face to face? What was Malfoy thinking about all of this? Was he furious at Harry’s agreement? Was he still holding grudges from Hogwarts? Was Harry?

The grove was huge, a spreading circular building meant to mimic the traditional woodland groves of old. Harry knew it was even bigger inside, but despite this there seemed to be hundreds of people standing outside, waving and calling to him. Some were holding up signs that hollered things like: “We love you, Harry Potter!” “Harry Potter, marry ME!” “Harry is our hero.” As the carriage bumped its way through the throngs of people, Harry felt like he was swimming against the ocean’s current, waves of sound crashing over him again and again. Several flashbulbs went off all at once and he saw Rita Skeeter’s sickly smile as he passed. He hoped suddenly, fervently, that he wouldn’t faint, then chuckled at himself. He had faced dementors, Death Eaters, the Dark Lord himself – but this wedding was threatening to undo him. He wished everyone would stop looking at him.

The carriage stopped before one of the grove’s entrances. Harry knew there were three other entrances spaced evenly around the circular structure, and guessed that Malfoy’s carriage would be pulling up to the entrance directly across from him. He had never actually been to a traditional British wizard wedding before – Bill and Fleur’s had been much more in the French style, which was closer to Christian Muggle weddings – but Ron and Hermione had filled him in, Ron drawing on personal knowledge and Hermione drawing on her extensive research.

“You’ll be met at the entrance by one of the Druids,” Hermione’s voice echoed in his head as he climbed down from the carriage and began to walk the few steps toward the open doorway. A tall, beaming woman with dark skin and bright beads woven into her locs, appeared from within and held out her hands in a ritual gesture of welcome. Harry nodded to her politely and placed his own hands in hers, trying to ignore the roar of the crowd. She smiled at him and squeezed his hands ever so slightly before drawing him inside. There was no door in the opening to block out sound, but as soon as he crossed the threshold all noise from outside fell away – magic, he reminded himself, as he sometimes still had to do. The Druid led him quickly, still holding one hand, through a dim, low-ceilinged hallway. Harry barely had time to register the smell of pine enveloping him or the dimness receding before they stepped out into an echoing chamber.

Or rather, less a chamber and more a…well, grove was the best descriptor Harry could bring to mind. Somehow, what started out as definitively wooden boards at the base soared into towering trees overhead, their tops lost in golden mist that reminded Harry of the Hogwarts Great Hall. Hundreds of people were seated on either side of an aisle that bisected the room from east to west; Harry knew, thanks to Hermione, that another aisle bisected the room from north to south, the two paths meeting in the center marked by four light-barked trees whose leafy branches created a kind of mini room within the huge grove hall. As he paused beside the Druid, he registered a change beneath his feet: the aisle had transformed from wood to hard-packed earth.

The crowd inside was slightly more restrained than the crowd outside, although Harry still blinked as several flashbulbs went off all at once. The Druid beside him still had a hand on his arm; she seemed to be waiting for something.

Then she squeezed his arm and gave him a small push forward and he was walking slowly along the earthen path, golden light falling around him, the sound of an organ coming from somewhere high above and all around, and the chattering crowd fell into a reverent silence. Harry hoped he wasn’t walking too quickly, or too slowly, but almost immediately he found Ron and Hermione in the crowd, seated right near the four central trees, and Hermione’s bright grin reassured him even as he nervously smiled back. They rose to meet him when he reached their chairs – they would be his witnesses, of course. Who else? Ron gave his shoulder a squeeze and Harry exchanged a glance that he hoped conveyed his gratitude at Ron’s support, no matter Ron’s own feelings about this union. He needed that in this moment, more than he could express. Ron gave a small nod before falling into step behind Harry and they walked the remainder of the path together. Four more Druids awaited them beneath the central trees, and Harry nodded solemnly to each of them in turn. Then he looked up and had to fight a sudden, deep-seated urge to draw his wand in self-defense.

Draco Malfoy was walking towards him down the aisle. The other man was dressed in dark green robes that made his blond hair gleam like sunlight on dark water. His head was up, gaze fixed on a point just over Harry’s head, and his thin lips were set in a straight, tense line. He was walking slowly, with the easy grace Harry remembered of him from their last few years at Hogwarts, and Harry suddenly caught sight of Ginny Weasley’s face, her eyes fixed on Malfoy in a look of pure hatred. Harry hoped that Luna, sitting beside her, was holding Ginny’s hand. It had taken Luna years to help her beloved overcome the trauma of being possessed by Voldemort at the hand of Lucius Malfoy. He knew this couldn’t be easy for either of them.

Professor McGonagall suddenly rose from her seat by the four trees. Malfoy’s eyes darted to her for a split second before returning to Harry, and their eyes met briefly before Malfoy dropped his gaze to Harry’s shoulder. Before Harry had time to think very deeply about what had been in that glance, Malfoy and McGonagall were standing before him and everything had gotten very, very quiet.

Almost without realizing what he was doing, Harry stepped forward and held out his hand. They were supposed to be old school chums, weren’t they? The audience would expect some kind of civil greeting, if not the tearful reunion of two separated lovers. He half expected Malfoy to smirk and turn away, but the other man met his eyes again quickly before reaching forward and clasping Harry’s hand in his own. Malfoy’s palm was cool, but shaking ever so slightly. Surprised, Harry tried to meet Malfoy’s eyes once more, but his gaze was focused again just past Harry’s right ear. Still, he didn’t pull away.

“It’s good to see you, Malfoy” Harry murmured. Startled gray eyes met his, but before the other man could respond, one of the Druids started speaking and their hands dropped.

“In the names of the Old Ones and the Grove’s Kin, we welcome you here today…” Harry let the words of the rites wash over him. After a few moments, Hermione nudged him and he took both of Malfoy’s hands, as the ritual dictated. Looking back, most of the ceremony was a blur of sing-song words and organ music and vows said half wonderingly and half haltingly before the final spell of binding, but Malfoy’s cool hands in his seemed to be burning themselves into Harry’s memory.

It ended with the wave of four wands, and bands of metal that appeared around their ring fingers – Malfoy’s a pure silver inscribed with curling snakes, Harry’s a dark bronze with leaves cut into the metal. Then they were walking hand in hand, this time down one of the other paths that led toward another door that took them back out into the midsummer afternoon and into a cacophony of voices, shouts, cheers, and ringing bells. Flowers filled the air and songbirds burst from the ends of wands to fly above their heads. Harry heard Hermione’s laughter and Ron’s gruff voice close to his ear: “Congratulations, mate.” He turned to give his friend a smile but they were already making their way toward the line of port keys arranged in the field that would take select guests to the reception. He would see them soon, he knew.

Suddenly, angry shouts rose above the jovial chatter. “Kill the Death Eater!” “Dark Lord scum!” “Save Harry Potter!” Harry felt Malfoy tense beside him and was already reaching for his wand as three Aurors he hadn’t even seen beside them strode toward the disturbance. Two other Aurors flanked them and started ushering them toward the carriage that would take them to the reception, but not before Harry saw a spell fly through the air and narrowly miss Malfoy. It hit an unlucky witch instead, who fell to the ground gasping.

“We’ll take care of her, sir, no worries at all,” one of the Aurors said, pushing Harry and Malfoy along. “Got to get you to safety, now don’t we! All’s well, all’s well.”

“But—”

“Not to worry,” the Auror, who he didn’t recognize, spoke over him. “She’ll be attended to, and the troublemakers will be identified and removed. Not to worries, sirs.” Harry hated being spoken over, treated like a child, but he noticed Malfoy’s cheeks had gone even paler and nodded quickly.

“We’ll go to the reception directly,” he said, partly for Malfoy’s benefit and partly for his own. “You don’t need to take care of us. See to her. Please,” he added, when the Aurors appeared hesitant.

“I guess you can take care of yourself, Mr. Potter,” the other Auror said jovially. “We’ll see you there then.” The two of them moved off, toward the grass where the woman still lay. Harry grabbed Malfoy’s hand again and walked, perhaps a bit more briskly than was necessary, the rest of the way to the carriage.

Once they were safely within, he breathed a small sigh of relief before turning to Malfoy. “Are you –”

The words died on his lips as he got a good look at Malfoy’s face for the first time since the ceremony’s end. The other man was bone white, jaw clenched and eyes wide. He was breathing shallowly, quickly, like a cornered animal. His hands, as he brought them together to clasp them in his lap, were visibly shaking.

“Whoa,” Harry said quickly, twisting so that he could get one hand on either of Malfoy’s shoulders. The other man’s eyes were fixed on his clasped hands, but his shaking stilled immediately. “Steady, Malfoy. It’s alright. We’re alright. They can’t get to you. They won’t hurt you.”

Malfoy nodded once, a quick bob of his head without raising his eyes. He cleared his throat, took a deep breath. Unclasped his hands.

“I’m sorry,” he said quietly. “I…forgot myself. It…it will not happen again.”

Harry suddenly felt very aware that he was nearly sliding off the carriage seat and shifted quickly back to his own space, facing forward next to Malfoy. The awkward silence was broken by the sudden clatter of the carriage wheels, the sharp bounce forward as they pulled out of the crush of people streaming away the Grove toward the portkeys. Their carriage would take a few minutes more than the instantaneous transportation of the wedding guests, allowing the hall to be fully prepared and their guests to be seated and waiting for them upon arrival. This, Hermione had told him, was a Muggle tradition that had been incorporated into the Wizarding ceremony. Everyone loves to make an entrance, she had laughed. Wondering whether his new husband’s silence was disappointment or disdain, Harry couldn’t help but wonder also what kind of an entrance they would make.  

Chapter Text

By the time the carriage stopped at the door to the reception hall, Draco’s heart had slowed to its normal speed. “Kill the Death Eater” was still echoing in his head as he climbed out of the carriage, but at least now he had his body under control. Residual fear and shame mingled with embarrassment as he thought of what Potter must think of him now. Afraid of a few hecklers. Panicking at nothing. Already needy, incompetent. He didn’t even understand why those words had opened such a storm of emotion in him. The Azkaban guards had never put words to why they treated him and the other Death Eaters so cruelly. And once a Death Eater, always a Death Eater. He should have been used to it by now.

Draco dropped his eyes when Potter circled the carriage. They would walk in together, of course. Potter extended a hand and Draco took it lightly. As they walked toward the hall’s double door, Potter murmured: “Alright, Malfoy?” and squeezed his hand. Draco nodded quickly. He would not embarrass them during the reception. He could not. That hard squeeze was only a preview of what would happen if he did.

The roar of the crowd met them as they entered: two hundred friends, colleagues, Ministry officials, and celebrities had been invited to this more intimate gathering after the public ceremony. They all stood now among row upon row of tables laden with candlesticks, flowers, sparkling stars, and ivy twining around creamy white plates awaiting food. The soft sounds of a string quartet emanated from the room’s corners, but all eyes were on him and Potter. Draco swallowed hard and hoped he wouldn’t throw up.

The only thing that kept him walking was Potter’s hand in his. That, and the knowledge that if he didn’t keep walking, bad things would happen. The threat of bad things happening, Draco reflected wryly, had historically been a big motivator in his life.

It didn’t look like the Dark Lord’s fall had changed that.

He sneaked a glance at Potter, careful to keep his head still. The other man was waving casually, smiling broadly with just the right mix of wry and joyful that made it look like he couldn’t believe his luck, walking down this hall between hundreds of strangers, his lifelong enemy’s hand clasped in his. Draco realized he was staring and quickly snapped his eyes forward. He arranged his features into what he hoped looked enough like a smile for the cameras flashing somewhere off to their left, and lifted his own hand in a tentative wave.

It seemed to take forever to get to their table. It was at the head of the hall, a beautifully-decorated table set for two, with two chairs next to each other facing out towards the guests. They looked a little like thrones. Draco scoffed inwardly – leave it to Potter to milk every ounce of self-aggrandizement he could out of this event. Then he realized he would have to sit on one too, and felt his stomach clench. What would the world make of a Death Eater sitting enthroned beside the Boy Who Lived? He would be lucky to make it through dinner without getting hexed.

By the time they reached their seats, Draco’s palm was sweaty against Potter’s. When they finally let go to wave one last time and sit down, he tried to wipe his own palm as unobtrusively as possible. The guests took their seats as well, a cacophony of chairs scraping back and murmured comments. Just as Draco was beginning to sweat anew, seated up there next to Potter with a target on his forehead, the plates before them filled with food and Draco forgot everything else.

This was more food than he had seen, let alone been allowed to eat, in years – and so much higher quality than the food at Azkaban so as to be nearly unrecognizable as the same substance. His own plate was nearly overflowing with tender salmon, green beans covered in spices, and fluffy mashed potatoes. On the table near him, buttery yellow rolls were piled to the brim of a small basket, and two glasses held water and pale-yellow wine, respectively. Hesitantly, he picked up the wine goblet and raised it for the ceremonial first toast – “To the newlyweds!” from a hundred throats in unison – then raised it lightly to his lips and took a sip. The wine slid down his throat and his eyes filled with sudden tears. It had been so long –

Beside him, Potter was already eating, his own glass of dark red wine already half empty. As if he felt Draco’s eyes upon him, he glanced up with a crooked smile in between bites of his steak and leaned over.

“How are you feeling?”

Draco’s eyes flicked to Potter’s, wondering if he was being mocked, but he saw only concern. Quickly, he nodded. “Fine.” Desperate to change the subject, he indicated the other man’s meal with his chin. “How is it?”

“Delicious,” Potter said happily before tucking back in with a will. Draco nearly scoffed at seeing the savior of the Wizarding World eating huge chunks of steak and kidney pie, barely pausing to wash it down with wine. Then he thought of his parents, who would have been scandalized, and quickly lost all desire to laugh.

Draco ate his own food slowly, aware of his stomach as it accepted the finest food it had been given in years. There must have been some kind of spell on the salmon, though, for although it was rich and buttery, and the mashed potatoes must have been made with cream they were so fluffy, he didn’t feel nauseous at all. At least, not because of the food. After the first question, Potter had remained focused on the plate before him. 

After the first course was finished, one of the Druids approached their table with a long scroll. Draco remembered this from other weddings he had attended during his childhood – well, mainly he remembered rolling his eyes as the lengthy marriage certificate was read in full, witnessed by everyone in the hall, then signed by the two newlyweds. It was a long time to wait between the first course and the rest of the meal, especially for an eager child. He eyed the scroll in the woman’s hand, hoping that she was a fast reader. His stomach seemed to have woken up after a long sleep.

But she did not read the scroll at all, merely unrolled it and set it before him and Potter with a warm smile. Two feather pens materialized in the air before them, the tips wet with ink. A bit taken aback, Draco snuck a glance at Potter. The other man was already signing – he must have read the certificate before the ceremony. Draco took up one of the pens and moved to sign his name when he caught part of one paragraph out of the corner of his eye.

“The Malfoy fortune shall be held in trust by Mr. Potter until such time as Mr. Malfoy is deemed suitable to –”

Draco leaned forward, hating the way his heart began pounding at Potter’s questioning look. “Excuse me,” he murmured to the Druid, summoning all the deference he could. “Would it be possible for me to get a copy of this?” He swallowed as his courage failed him. “If it’s not too much trouble,” he added hastily. The Druid’s eyes held a question but she nodded. Draco put pen to paper and signed his name, then clasped his hands together beneath the table as she walked away amid the delighted babble of the guests. It was done, witnessed and signed in the traditional two forms. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed Potter watching him and took a gulp of wine in hopes that the other man wouldn’t demand an explanation for his strange request.

Before Potter could say anything, however, the second course appeared before them, signaling the beginning of the receiving line. Sure enough, several people were already approaching their table, headed by a small man in brilliant purple robes.

“My most sincere congratulations, Harry Potter!” the man exclaimed happily as he approached their table. “I remember well the first time I saw you as a boy, with those terrible relatives of yours, and now here you are, our savior once again, extending the hand of peace and friendship across the divide of the war, your own suffering notwithstanding, I applaud you – oh! I applaud you! – for your dedication to our cause –”

“Yes, thank you Dedalus” Potter replied. Draco was quietly pleased to note that the other man’s easy confidence appeared a bit ruffled. He had already taken a bite of the salads set before them, and a bit of salad dressing caught the light on his lower lip. Draco looked down quickly. “Thank you for coming, it’s a pleasure to see you.”

“Wouldn’t have missed it for the world!” beamed Dedalus, and he took one of Potter’s hands in his and shook it heartily. “My very best wishes to you.” He let go of Potter’s hand only when a tall witch in dark red robes swept up behind him, and Draco’s stomach clenched in renewed panic as he curved his lips into something he hoped resembled a smile. Dedalus seemed to be doing the same.

“Congratulations to you as well, Mr. Malfoy-Potter,” he said formally, threading a hand between Draco’s cups. “Nice to see a young man get a second chance. Harry Potter is very generous, is he not?”

“Absolutely, yes, couldn’t be happier,” Draco responded quickly, reaching out to take the other man’s hand and shaking it solemnly. He kept his face in a mask of polite attentiveness as Dedalus went off again about Potter’s many virtues. By the time he bobbed away back to his seat, Dedalus was smiling again and Draco’s hands were clenched into fists beneath the table. He had only a moment’s peace, however, before the tall witch swept up to him and clasped him by the hand.

“So good to meet you, so good of Harry Potter,” she purred, and Draco, swallowing down equal measures of bitterness, rage, and fear that his face would betray him and he would be back in Azkaban before the day was done, nodded and smiled and nodded again.

It went on like that for over an hour: guests approaching the table to fawn over Potter and remind Draco how very lucky he was the Potter “was willing to put all that nastiness behind him.” The fact that Draco himself was that nastiness was implied in their too-tight grips on his hand, the too-bright smiles they showed him, and the way they glanced back at him as they walked away, gazes hooded and suspicious when they thought he wasn’t looking anymore. Either that, or they barely acknowledged him at all, brushing his hand with a brief “Blessings,” and hurrying back to their seats. Draco saw many of them wipe their hands on their robes.

Of course, he didn’t blame them. Many of them had lost loved ones in the war, he was sure. The Dark Mark seemed to burn beneath his sleeve. The only thing that kept him going was, surprisingly, Potter himself. More than once, when Draco turned back from a particularly pointed comment, he found the other man’s eyes on his. Potter would give a small shake of his head, roll his eyes and quirk his mouth in a smirk, as if to say “They wouldn’t know a blessing if it bit them on the ass,” then turn back to the next admirer. Several times, in small lulls between well-wishers, Potter reached out and clasped Draco’s hand upon the table, clearly playing the part of the loving new husband for their audience.

Potter was a better actor than Draco had given him credit for.

He’d thought he was getting into some kind of rhythm – getting numb to it all, perhaps, or at least progressively deeper into his wine – when he saw long blond hair floating towards their table. The last time he had seen that hair, it had been flying behind Luna Lovegood as she battled Death Eaters in the halls of their school.

The second-to-last time he had seen that hair, it had been bedraggled and dirty and Luna had been imprisoned in his own family’s dungeon. His right arm began to itch.

The Weasley girl was walking hand in hand with Lovegood and reached Potter first. She immediately launched into a whispered tirade that Draco couldn’t hear over the din of other guests talking and eating. He took a bit of his salad to give himself something to focus on, and looked up a few moments later, bland smile plastered on his face, to find Ginny Weasley glaring at him over his water glass. 

“Fuck you, Malfoy,” she whispered savagely, then turned and stalked away without even waiting for Lovegood, who, Draco could now hear, was praising Potter on an especially good display of tiddlywamps. Potter was nodding enthusiastically and smiling, genuine warmth plain his eyes. Draco took a deep breath as Lovegood turned toward him, steeling himself to smile through yet another well-deserved whispered curse or insult.

“Hello, Draco,” Luna hummed happily, waving one hand around her head. “I was just telling Harry, there are exceptional tiddlywamps here this evening. They signify good luck, you know.”

“Oh – do they?” Draco suddenly felt like he was back in the Manor’s secret room, bringing food to Lovegood and Ollivander and avoiding their too-knowing looks. Lovegood was looking at him again now, her gaze suddenly shrewd. She leaned forward.

“Don’t worry, Draco,” she whispered kindly. “Harry’s nervous too, and the tiddlywamps will do their best.” Then she patted his hand and turned away, her golden hair floating behind her, leaving Draco with several questions and an oddly warm feeling in his chest. He found himself looking over at Potter, who was watching him with a small, slightly wary smile. For just a moment, Draco let the warmth in his chest guide him as he leaned over to Potter. “I’ve been meaning to tell you all evening,” he murmured. “Great work with the tiddlywamps.”

Potter’s genuine smile was like a flash of sunlight peeking out from behind clouds. He chuckled warmly. “She’s really something, isn’t she?”

“Like no one else,” Draco agreed, and was about to say more when he noticed two more guests making their way up the aisle towards them and felt his chest constrict. Granger and Weasley. Neither were looking at him. 

He leaned back quickly as they approached Potter, who turned his smile on them with something like relief. Draco supposed that made sense: who wouldn’t prefer talking to their two best friends in the world instead of their former-enemy-turned-husband? Seeing the three of them with their heads bent together felt like stepping back in time, accompanied by the blisteringly familiar rush of scorn and envy.

He had to move. With a light touch on Potter’s arm, Draco excused himself and walked, somewhat blindly, toward a side hallway that he hoped held the bathrooms. He fancied he could feel their eyes on his retreating back, and kept himself from running toward the exit only with an extreme exertion of willpower. Only when the hallway’s dimness – startling after the brightly-glowing hall – had encompassed him and he had shut the door of the men’s room behind him did he let himself relax.

He seemed to be the only person in here for the moment, which was just as well. The man looking back at him from the wide mirror across the opposite wall didn’t look like he could stand to make much more polite small talk. His jaw ached from forcing a smile all evening. Draco took the opportunity to check that his dress robes were still falling correctly, half spinning away from the mirror so he could see his own back. It was such a familiar movement, and one that he had not used in so long, that he again, for a moment, felt as if he had stumbled back in time and was in the bathroom at one of his mother’s many social functions, taking a quick breather before returning to the role of dutiful heir.

It wasn’t even that much of a stretch, he consoled himself, examining his own face in the mirror. The makeup spell from earlier seemed to be holding – he couldn’t see the dark circles beneath his eyes, and his hollowed cheekbones still held a magically-induced healthy pink glow. Had he really only left Azkaban that morning? It felt like years had passed. He was so tired. He found himself wondering how much longer the dinner would stretch, then reminded himself that this was his life now: constantly being watched, judged, scorned. In Azkaban, at least there had been a modicum of anonymity, a pretense of impartial treatment. Now, even that was gone.

Draco didn’t realize he had closed his eyes until the bathroom door slammed open and he snapped back to the present. He turned quickly, planning to slip to the side and out the door with a mumbled apology. The words died in his throat when he saw Weasley stalking towards him. Ron had followed him. The other man was weaving slightly as he walked, but his eyes were fixed on Draco.

Draco had never realized just how tall Weasley was. The other man towered over him; his breath was hot on Draco’s cheek. Draco concentrated on staying still, on keeping his eyes down, on breathing steadily and slowly. This was nothing new – this had happened in Azkaban, again and again, and then there had been nothing keeping him safe. Now, there were hundreds of people outside the bathroom who would notice if he didn’t return, or if he returned with a broken nose. He could get through this.

It was difficult to remember, however, as Weasley bore down upon him. The other man’s breath smelled strongly of firewhiskey and his face was flushed.

“I wondered if I’d find you here.” Weasley’s words were slightly slurred. Draco felt his stomach clench.

“Just…I was just about to go back in…” he started, but Weasley shook his head sharply. Moving with a catlike quickness that Draco wouldn’t have credited him with, Weasley’s hands shot forward and grabbed the collar of Draco’s dress robes. Draco suddenly found himself pinned against the far wall of the bathroom, the other man’s hands pressing painfully into his neck.

“No. No, you don’t talk,” he said firmly, and suddenly his words were not slurred at all. Draco breathed in carefully, his eyes never leaving Weasley’s face.

“I want you to listen to me now, and remember what I say.” His face was very close now. “I don’t know what your sick game is, sitting up there next to Harry, pretending that you’ve changed, that you’re not a monster anymore.” Weasley’s scoff showed just what he thought of Draco’s performance that evening. “I do know this: you’re married now, married to my best friend. And if you ever – ever hurt my best friend –” Weasley’s breath was coming fast now, his face growing even redder beneath his auburn hair. “I will hunt you to the ends of the earth, Malfoy, and I will make you wish you were back in Azkaban. No one will protect you, no one will stand up for you, and I will not let you die until I have made you pay. Do. You. Understand.”

It was not, in any conceivable way, a question. Draco nodded slowly. Weasley’s eyes seemed to be boring into his skull. Then he pushed him aside with a mumbled curse. Draco hit his head against the wall and bit back a grunt. He would not let Weasley know he had hurt him. He could not. 

“Get out of here, rat. I have to piss.” 

Draco did not run. He did not scurry, or bow his head. He walked, slowly and calmly, to the door and let it swing closed behind him. He walked carefully down the hallway until he found a shadowed alcove a few feet from the hall’s mouth. Then, and only then, did he let himself press his back against the wall and close his eyes, taking deep breaths and wishing he could sink into the floor.

Of course, he could not. That wasn’t how magic worked – and anyway, the Ministry would still be able to track him through the wand they had given him. He couldn’t get away. He couldn’t disappear. All he could do was breathe, and hope that his legs would obey his brain before anyone realized he had been gone for too long.

His own thoughts of a few moments before were like a mockery. Of course he hadn’t stumbled into his own past, when he had been a beloved son and a celebrated student.

It was the other part of his past that had followed him, instead.

In the end, it was only the thought of Potter starting to wonder what was keeping him that pushed Draco off the wall and propelled him out of the alcove and down the hall once more. He would not give Warden the satisfaction of being sent back to Azkaban after less than one day. He had only taken a few steps, however, when the mouth of the hallway darkened. A cloaked figure, backlit by the dining room’s bright lights so that only the vaguest shape of their body was visible, was striding down the hall toward him. Draco backed up quickly, not wanting to bump into another former peer all alone, but the figure brushed against him and he felt something flat press into his hand. Draco looked down to see a small envelope with a plain wax seal daubed into the center. He raised his head, intending to call out, to ask for some sort of introduction or explanation, but the hallway was empty. More intrigued than anything, Draco looked back at the envelope and broke the wax seal. The parchment within was blank, but before he could do more than wonder, spidery writing curled across the page. “Open me again when you are somewhere safe.” 

Footsteps sounded and Draco hastily refolded the parchment and stuffed it in an interior pocket of his robes, stepping out of his alcove and coming face to face with none other than Minerva McGonagall.

She registered his presence and stopped quickly, her bright eyes lighting up with a smile. Draco couldn’t remember ever seeing her smile before. He wondered if she had had a few too many glasses of wine.

“I haven’t yet had the opportunity to congratulate you, Mr. Malfoy-Potter,” she said, clasping his hand in both of hers. “It is a joyful time indeed.”

“Yes. Yes, of course,” Draco responded quickly, doing his best to smile back. “Thank you. And thank you again for being my witness. I – appreciate what that meant. For you.”

He cursed himself for awkwardness – when had he forgotten how to talk to people? Then again, how did you thank someone for being your required joining ritual witness when every member of your family was either dead, imprisoned, or not speaking to you? How did you acknowledge that someone had risked their reputation to stand next to you at a public ceremony, without seeming too dramatic?

Fortunately, McGonagall seemed to understand. Her eyes, as she squeezed his hand, were kind. “It was an honor, and my sincere pleasure,” she said firmly. Then, as if it was the most natural thing in the world, she continued, “And of course, we would love to have you back at Hogwarts for your final year.”

For a moment, Draco wondered if he had imagined that. Had McGonagall really just invited him back to the castle he had nearly ruined? To the place where he had killed a headmaster? Where he had let the Death Eaters in? Then he wondered if she was toying with him. The grey eyes fixed on his face, however, were serious.

“I…but I finished my seventh year,” Draco stammered. She couldn’t have forgotten. He had not forgotten.

“You did not,” she responded sternly. “You never sat your NEWTS, and the Battle occurred before you even had a chance to finish your classes. Marrying Mr. Potter-Malfoy is all well and good, but having a diploma is vital for when you begin applying for jobs.”

Draco did his best not to laugh in her face, but it was difficult. Who would ever hire him, with or without a diploma? But McGonagall was still talking.

“It would be unusual, certainly, but not unheard of. You would not stay in the castle of course, but you could come each day for classes, and you were always a bright student. I’m sure you would have no trouble getting back into the swing of things.”

Draco swallowed hard. She was offering him the world.

“Thank you, Professor,” he said quietly, knowing it was inadequate to convey the depth of his gratitude but hoping she could read it in his eyes. “I appreciate your offer more than I can say. Of course, I will have to check with my husband…”

“Of course,” she conceded briskly. “But do let me know. The new term begins in four weeks. That should give you plenty of time to prepare.”

And then she was gone, sweeping past him towards the lady’s room.

Draco didn’t meet anyone else between the alcove and the dining hall. He was slightly taken aback to see Potter still talking to Hermione. It felt as if hours had passed since he left, although the candles on their table had burned down only slightly. As if his return was some sort of cue, Hermione gave Potter a quick hug across the table and turned to Draco with a hesitant smile.

“It’s good to see you, Draco,” she said softly. Then, quieter still: “I never thought you should have gone to Azkaban.” She clasped his hand quickly and turned away, leaving Draco staring after her.

Potter glanced over at him with a smile, then looked again, his brow furrowing.

“All right, Malfoy?” he asked quietly, leaning solicitously toward him for the benefit of their guests. Draco nodded quickly and found he didn’t have to go so deep for a smile this time.

“Professor McGonagall offered me a place at Hogwarts for the year,” he said quickly, before he could stop himself. He watched Potter carefully for any sign of displeasure, but the other man’s face lit up with delight.

“That’s wonderful! I wondered if she would ask you. I went back for another year after the war, and so did Ron, Hermione – a lot of us.” Potter stopped quickly, clearly realizing that the year he was talking about had been Draco’s first year in Azkaban. But Draco nodded quickly, moving them both past it.

“That’s great,” he said honestly. “I…I would really like to go, I think.” He made sure that his hands were flat on his legs, instead of balled into anxious fists. “It would give me something to do, and maybe help me get a job. Eventually,” he added quickly. But Potter didn’t even bat an eyelash.

“It’s settled then,” he said, beaming, and turned back to greet the next guest. Draco sat back in his chair, picked up his wine, and took a long sip, letting the warmth spread through his belly.

So far, so good, he thought wryly, and readied himself to smile and nod once more.

Chapter Text

The wedding dinner seemed to last years. By the time the last dessert plate had disappeared, Harry felt like he was sleepwalking. It was with mingled relief and renewed anxiety that he heard the low hum of the Druids’ final song, and saw a sea of faces turn toward him and the man beside him – my husband – in expectation.

It was time for the send-off.

Even Hermione’s warnings had not prepared Harry for the din that ensued as the Druids’ song grew louder and faster, guests began banging fists on the tables, and misty magical creatures erupted from the floral centerpieces. A cloudy dragon soared overhead, flanked by two phoenixes and a unicorn. Farther down the hall, merpeople swam through the air, hair billowing around their heads as if immersed in water. The rafters of the hall were nearly invisible through a thick cloud of pixies and owls, which were hooting in time to the Druids’ song.

With a smile that he hoped looked less grim than it felt, Harry got to his feet and turned to see Malfoy already standing. The other man’s gray eyes were determined above a smile that would hopefully look less pained in grainy newsprint. Drawing a deep breath, Harry took one final look out over the crowd of guests. Hermione was waving, smiling, beside a sullen Ron who nonetheless gave Harry a thumbs-up. Harry smiled back, then turned to Malfoy and again clasped hands. The noise was nearly unbearable now.

Suddenly, the dragon swooped down and began encircling them ever more tightly. Harry could also see one of the phoenixes and several merpeople, whose protruding eyes looked even stranger in the flickering candlelight. Everything else was obscured in mist, the din of the guests receding by the minute. It was just him and Malfoy in a swirling world of sparkling fog –

And then it was over. When the fog cleared, they were standing in the living room of Harry’s flat and everything was silent.

They were also alone for the first time that day.

Harry quickly dropped Malfoy’s hands and stepped back, spreading his arms out wide and giving the other man a self-deprecating half-bow.

“Welcome home!” he said, then took a deep breath. “Actually, it’s not really home. I mean, it won’t be soon. I don’t know if he told you, but Kingsley is going to give us a new flat as a wedding present. He offered to help me set it up beforehand, but I wanted you to have a say in where it was, and the layout and everything…” Harry trailed off. Malfoy was looking around, taking in the pile of papers on the kitchen table, the coat thrown carelessly over an armchair. Harry suddenly wished he had tidied up a bit more, maybe painted the walls something other than the off-white color in which he had found them three years ago when he moved in. He could imagine how all this must look to someone who had grown up in Malfoy Manor.

“Sorry it’s a mess, I can clean up some tomorrow,” he finished, somewhat defensively, then cursed his own inability to stop talking. Malfoy still hadn’t said anything, and Harry found it impossible to tell what he was thinking behind that pale, expressionless face. Judging him, judging his house, probably. At least you could always count on Malfoy for that. Harry was just about to say something else – he had no idea what – when Malfoy finally spoke.

“No, it’s…It’s really nice,” he said quietly, and gave Harry a small, slightly strained smile. “I’m sorry, I’m very tired…”

“Of course! Yes, right.” Harry ran a hand through his hair absentmindedly, a bit taken aback to hear a compliment come out of Malfoy’s mouth (of all people). He started toward the bedroom. “Let me give you a quick tour, so you know where everything is, and then we can go to bed.” He heard Malfoy’s footsteps behind him, so he didn’t bother to turn around as he waved a hand to the left (“Kitchen”) and right (“Bathroom”). Halfway down the hall he stopped and turned as he opened a door. “Here’s the bedroom. They sent a lot of your clothes over earlier, they’re all in the wardrobe, and there’s a smaller bathroom through that door there.” He indicated another door on the opposite wall and was about to head the rest of the way down the hall when Malfoy spoke.

“I’m sorry,” he said expressionlessly. “May I ask you a question?” “Of course,” Harry said, turning to face him.

Malfoy’s face was carefully blank. “What is expected of me in the bedroom?”

Harry jerked back as if the other man had slapped him. He didn’t know what question he had been expecting, but it had not been that one. “Um…sleeping?” He tried to laugh. It came out as more of a gasp. “What, Malfoy, do you mean –? Like…sex?”

Malfoy nodded once, his eyes now fixed on the floor. Harry shook his head vigorously.

“Um, no, no one expects that. I mean…” This wasn’t going well. “We’ll obviously have to pretend that we’re doing – I mean, that we’re having…” He swallowed. “But we don’t actually have to do it. Ugh.” He suddenly wished desperately that they were having this conversation over a glass of wine, preferably not after the longest day ever. “Can we talk about this later? Maybe?”

“Of course,” Malfoy answered instantly. “I didn’t mean to pester you. I am at your disposal.”

Harry cocked his head at that, but Malfoy spoke again. “I am more than happy to sleep on the couch.”

“No, that’s not necessary either.” Harry turned and walked the rest of the way down the hall, relieved to have an easy answer for this, at least. “My office is big enough for a bed – I can conjure one up, no problem. I’ll just grab a change of clothes from the bedroom and leave you alone.” He opened the hallway’s last door to reveal his office. Malfoy glanced in, then looked again.

“Um,” he said, clearly groping for the right words. “What’s that?”

That was a huge map of the United States and Canada, the British Isles, and Western Europe. It spread across an entire wall and was crisscrossed with shimmering threads in hundreds of different colors. Small, neat labels marched alongside the outlines of nations, some cities, and a few regions colored in teal or gold.

The overall effect, of an absurd amount of information expertly organized, was somewhat marred by several huge black scorch marks and dozens of huge, red slashes that cut across the bulk of the map. One began in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean and stretched to the eastern edge of Germany. Another cut vertically through the middle of England, but both ends were obscured by holes that cut right through the map’s parchment to the wall beneath. It looked like a large, angry, fire-breathing tiger had ripped claws of red ink across the western world.

Harry laughed awkwardly. “Oh – just a little something I’ve been working on for the Ministry,” he said. “I got a little impatient with it a few nights ago and…well, let’s just say I might have to ask Hermione for some stronger repair spells.”

“Ah, yes. You work for the Ministry of Magic…?” Malfoy was looking at him inquisitively, and Harry realized with a start that he had no idea how much, if anything, Malfoy knew about him anymore.

“Mm-hmm,” he nodded with a tired grin. “You’re looking at one of the youngest Aurors ever accepted to the Ministry’s top team. Hired me right out of Hogwarts and I haven’t had a day off since.” He laughed shortly, looking back at the ruined map. “It can get stressful, but I guess it still beats fighting Death Eaters from the Room of Requirement.”

It took Harry a full minute to realize what he had just said, and to whom. When he looked back at Malfoy, the other man was staring at the floor, his shoulders hunched and his hands shoved into the pockets of his robes.

“Shit, Malfoy, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean…”

“No need to apologize,” Malfoy said quickly with a shake of his head. “Really. You, of all people, do not ever need to apologize to me.”

Harry winced. “I guess I deserve that. Let me just grab my pajamas and a change of clothes and then we can go to bed.”

And try again tomorrow, he thought, following Malfoy back down the hall. When hopefully I won’t keep putting my ever-growing foot into my motherfucking mouth.

--

Harry awoke with a start as unfamiliar sunlight hit his face. He looked around frantically, still partly lost at the edges of a dream of running, screaming, fighting, killing, and automatically reached beneath his pillow for his wand. That latest Death Eater scare in Norway, we ruled it out but what if we were wrong, what if they found me – then remembered that he was sleeping in his office because Draco Malfoy was sleeping in his bedroom.

Draco Malfoy was sleeping in his bedroom.

What a supremely odd thing.

Harry shut his eyes with a groan, trying to block out the light that seemed to be sending tiny daggers into his skull. He hadn’t been conscious of drinking that much last night, but the hangover was definitely present. I suppose there are worse ways to begin a marriage, he reflected wryly, pushing himself into a seated position. His head protested again. I can’t think of any.

Levering himself out of bed, Harry grabbed his glasses from the small table he had conjured to sit near his newly-conjured bed and shoved them onto his nose. He shuffled down the hall, his socks sliding along the familiar boards until he reached the kitchen. As he passed it, he noticed the bedroom door was still closed. He wondered how late Malfoy usually slept.

He did not have to wonder long. Just as he opened the large refrigeration cabinet to see what there was for breakfast, he heard the bedroom door swing open. Harry took a deep breath, grabbed an opened bottle of pumpkin juice, and made sure he was smiling as he turned around. “Good morning,” he said brightly, waving the bottle vaguely in Malfoy’s directly as he reached for two cups. “Sleep alright?”

“Very well, thank you,” Malfoy replied promptly. “And yourself?”

“Pretty well, yeah,” Harry said absently. He supposed it was true, too. The nightmares hadn’t been any worse than usual. He filled the cups with pumpkin juice and slid one across the counter in Malfoy’s direction. This put him face to face with the other man for the first time that morning, and Harry felt himself gaping.

Malfoy looked…perfect. Far more perfect than someone who had just been released from prison, drunk at least five glasses of wine last night, greeted hundreds of people, gone to sleep well after midnight, and hadn’t even had anything to eat yet this morning had any right to look. His hair was combed nearly away from his face, and his cheeks had a healthy glow that Harry didn’t remember from their time together at Hogwarts. He was dressed in light slacks and a long-sleeved button-down shirt in a dark red color that made his long fingers look even paler. The overall effect was someone who was ready for a business meeting, and although he was standing on the other side of the kitchen island, Harry wouldn’t have been surprised if the other man had been wearing dress shoes.

Harry suddenly realized he had never seen Malfoy in anything other than school or dress robes. Seeing him in normal clothes was…odd. It was like seeing an actor who you had only ever seen in one role suddenly in costume as someone else.

Malfoy was regarding him with what seemed to be apprehension. Harry snapped his mouth shut. “Sorry,” he said sheepishly. “I’m just impressed whenever anyone looks like a human being before noon on a Sunday.”

“Ah,” Malfoy said noncommittally. Harry was suddenly very aware of his own tartan pajama pants and threadbare white T-shirt, and busied himself with taking out flour and measuring cups.

“Do you like pancakes?”

“Um,” Malfoy said from behind him. “I’m sorry. What are pancakes?”

Harry spun around, his mouth falling back open. “You’ve never had pancakes?!”

Malfoy dropped his eyes to the floor. “No,” he said simply. “Are they a Muggle breakfast food?”

“They’re one of the best Muggle breakfast foods,” Harry said earnestly. “Ron got really into American cooking about a year ago and taught me how to make American pancakes. It was one of the best days of my life.”

“Really,” Malfoy said blandly. “That’s quite a statement.”

Harry glanced back at him. Had that been a joke? He decided to take it as such.

“I stand by it,” he said with a grin. “Just wait until you try my specialty: banana chocolate chip.”

“I can’t wait,” Malfoy said, then added quickly: “Is there anything I can do to help?”

“Do you want to start cutting up some bananas?” Harry asked. When Malfoy nodded, he passed the other man three bananas, a knife, and a cutting board. They worked for a few moments, the silence broken only by the clip clip of Malfoy’s knife against the cutting board and the sound of Harry’s whisk against the mixing bowl.

Then they both spoke at the same time.

“So, this is weird,” Harry said, at the same time as Malfoy said, “I would like to apologize –”

They both stopped, Harry glancing over his shoulder. “Apologize for what?”

“Last night,” Malfoy said. His eyes were fixed on the cutting board, where the second banana was slowly but surely being turned into a series of perfectly-sized coins. “I wanted to be clear about expectations, but I overstepped and created an awkward situation. I apologize.”

“Oh no, don’t worry about it,” Harry said, relieved. “It’s good to communicate about these things. We’re in kind of a strange place, right? We need to make sure we’re on the same page, even if it’s awkward.”

“Yes,” Malfoy replied. He started peeling the third banana. “Thank you.”

Harry waited to see if he would say anything else. When Malfoy just started cutting up the banana in silence, he turned back to the skillet and dabbed some butter on. It sizzled as he maneuvered it around the pan.

“That’s actually also kind of what I wanted to talk about too,” he said, turning and grabbing a handful of banana pieces. “We’re in a strange situation, technically, but it doesn’t have to be hard. For all intents and purposes, we can just be roommates who sometimes go to Ministry functions and pretend to be a happily-married couple.”

“Ah, yes, that classic roommate setup,” Malfoy agreed, his eyes still fixed on the cutting board. Then he winced. “I’m sorry. Yes. That makes sense to me.”

Harry shot him a questioning look, but Malfoy didn’t look up. “Mm-hmm,” he replied, flipping the first pancake. “Well, great then.”

They didn’t speak again until Harry plopped a plate of steaming pancakes down onto the table, flanked by a pat of butter and a small jug of maple syrup.

“Here you go: American pancakes!” he said with a flourish, helping himself to the top two. Malfoy took two as well, mimicking Harry’s movements exactly as he put first butter, then syrup on his plate. They each took a bite at the same time.

Harry was watching Malfoy, so he saw the look of slight wariness turn to one of surprise. Then a smile spread across the other man’s face and he glanced up at Harry, still grinning.

“This is really good,” he said, after swallowing the first bite. “Weasley really taught you how to make these?”

“He did,” Harry confirmed, grinning back. “Sometimes people can surprise you.”

“I suppose so,” Malfoy agreed, and took another bite of pancake.

--

They ate the rest of the pancakes in fairly companionable silence. Harry kept trying to think of good topics of conversation, but too many of them included things that had happened while Malfoy was in Azkaban, or people Malfoy either wouldn’t know or had tortured at one time or another. Even Harry’s job was off-limits, he realized. How could you talk to a former Death Eater about hunting down former Death Eaters?

This wasn’t something he had anticipated when Kingsley had approached him about the marriage. It was one thing to prepare for sleeping arrangements, but quite another to find something to talk about over breakfast.

It was Malfoy who eventually broke the silence.

“So,” he began casually, sitting back from a plate scraped clean of the last syrupy bite. “Who’s good this season?”

Of course, Harry thought. Quidditch was safe. He launched into an overview of the best matches that had happened so far with a feeling of relief. Malfoy listened intently with a small smile on his face, periodically replying with prompts or comments. He even gasped at Harry’s play-by-play of the Hollyhead Harpies’ winning goal against the Lexington Lightnings, and shook his head appreciatively when it was done.

“And the Weasl—I mean, Ginny—she’s on the team now?” he asked incredulously. Harry nodded.

“They signed her right after she left Hogwarts,” he said, still feeling a glow of pride for his long-time friend. “You’ve never seen anyone so excited. I thought she was going to just start flying without a broomstick, gravity be damned.” He chuckled. “Ron was thrilled, of course—and I think, just a little bit jealous.”

“I bet,” Malfoy said absently. “Weasley always did have a jealous streak.”

In the next moment, Malfoy seemed to realize what he had said and his head snapped up, wide, anguished gray eyes meeting Harry’s.

“Shit, Potter, that was out of line, I’m sorry—”

“No, you’re right,” Harry said quickly, trying to ignore the wave of defensiveness that rose up in him upon hearing Malfoy insult Ron. “Ron’s my best friend in the world, but he would be the first to agree with you there.” Malfoy was looking down at his lap, his back very straight. Harry groped for words, wondering how he could return them to the almost-comfort of a moment ago. “Were you able to follow Quidditch at all? When you were—I mean—”

“No,” Malfoy said shortly. He swallowed. “No,” he said again, more softly. “There wasn’t much of an opportunity for sports in Azkaban.”

“Ah,” Harry said lamely. “I guess there wouldn’t be.” He felt like he was tiptoeing across thinning ice, knowing that the wrong move could be disastrous. They had to live together, after all.

He came to a decision.

“What did you think about? In Azkaban?” When Malfoy didn’t reply at once, Harry pushed on. “I mean, what did you think about wanting to do? When you got out, I mean. What’s something that you’ve been wanting to do for four years?”

Malfoy was quiet for so long that Harry started to wonder if the other man had fallen asleep or something. He held himself still, though, hoping that if he left enough space, Malfoy would give him something.

He did. “Eat good food,” Malfoy said quietly. “See the sun low in the sky. We were only allowed outside at noon,” he added quickly, seeing Harry’s questioning look. “It’s been four years since I’ve seen a sunrise or a sunset. Ride horses, listen to music—”

“Wait—really? Ride horses?” Harry asked, unable to keep quiet any longer. “I didn’t know you liked riding horses.”

Malfoy ducked his head sheepishly. “My father hated it, but Mum and I would go sometimes, when I was younger. There was this spot in Ireland, on the coast, and this man who would rent us horses for a few hours and we would just ride…” He stopped, and shook his head. “It’s stupid, really, I’m not sure why I’m talking about it so much—”

Harry pushed his chair back from the table and stood up. “Let’s go,” he said, and grinned at Malfoy’s stunned look. “I’m not kidding—let’s go! What else are you going to do with your first real day of freedom?”

Malfoy was watching him like a bomb was about to go off. “Really?” he said. “Don’t you have better things to do than—I don’t know, go horseback riding? With me?”

“Nope,” Harry said happily. “It’s Sunday, and Kingsley gave me a few days off so we could get settled in anyway. Anything else we have to do, we can do tomorrow.”

Chapter Text

Draco couldn’t quite believe what was happening.

He had been so careful all morning: waking early and dressing quickly, waiting until he heard a door open and Potter’s footsteps pass in the hall before opening his own door, doing his best to keep the conversation light and moving in safe directions. Thank fuck for Quidditch, he thought several times as Potter waxed eloquent about another game. He didn’t even have to feign interest. As breakfast continued, he felt himself relaxing marginally. Eating American pancakes while Potter re-enacted a particular Harpies goal with the salt and pepper shakers felt—not normal, exactly, because their “normal” had never been kind and easy like this—but like something he could get used to, perhaps even grow to enjoy.

Then he had made that comment about Weasley and Potter had looked at him like he had just remembered who he was sitting across from. Stupid, Draco berated himself as Potter made a visible effort to calm himself. Stupid mistakes like those could put him back in Azkaban.

Which Potter had then asked about.

Draco supposed it was revenge for his Weasley slight. He had promised himself he wouldn’t ever mention Azkaban—after all, it wasn’t like he had grounds for complaint. He was a Death Eater. He couldn’t look for pity, and he didn’t want Potter to feel like he was asking for it.

But now Potter was asking about Azkaban and Draco couldn’t just ignore him. They had to live together, after all.

He still wasn’t sure why he had brought up horses. When Potter had zeroed in on that, Draco had been sure he was in for some merciless teasing. That’s what he would have done, had the positions been reversed. But Potter seemed…excited.

And now he was preparing to go horseback riding with Harry Potter, of all people. Draco was still half-expecting a punchline, some mocking joke or other that would leave him looking like a fool, with no options for retaliation without the threat of Potter reporting him to Warden. But so far, the other man had just asked him several questions about appropriate riding gear. Draco felt a little like he was dreaming.

“I’m sorry – what?” Draco said, poking his head around the door to the study. “I didn’t hear you.”

“I said: are trainers ok to wear?” Potter was dressed in blue jeans and a dark red T-shirt that made his dark skin look like it was glowing. Draco swallowed.

“They’re fine. It would be ideal if we had boots, but…”

“We’ll see if they have any at Madam Malkin’s when we’re next in Diagon Alley,” Potter said solemnly, pulling on his trainers and grabbing a jumper from where it lay over a chair. “All set?”

“Yes,” Draco said hesitantly. “You know, we really don’t have to do this,” he said for the third time, but Potter shook his head and strode toward the living room.

“It’s too late for that, Malfoy,” he said, throwing a grin over his shoulder. “I want to see Draco Malfoy on horseback and that’s all there is to it.” Draco sighed and followed him.

It had been years since he and his mother had gone riding, but when Potter clasped his hand and looked at him expectantly, it was surprisingly easy to remember the salt spray on his face, the fresh tang in the air, and the smell of horses laid against the color green. Draco turned on his heel, feeling Potter turning right along with him. He trusts me, Draco thought with a start, and felt something warm pressing against his heart. Then they were standing on cliffs above the crashing sea, and the warmth inside him blossomed.

It looked just as he remembered: the sea stretched out before them, gray and smooth beneath the clouds. The stable sat a few meters away, and the smell of horses mingled with the salt in the air. There were a few horses grazing in a fenced-in paddock behind the stable, and a small structure that Draco remembered as the proprietor’s office sat near the road. With a grin, he set off toward the office and Potter, impossibly, followed him.

The wizard behind the desk was older than Draco remembered him, but still very recognizable as the man who had rented him and his mother horses all those years ago. The man looked up with an absent smile when they entered, then focused on Draco. His eyes widened.

“My goodness!” he exclaimed, his reedy voice an echo of the voice from years past. “Can this really be young Mr. Malfoy? Why, I hardly recognize you, sir, you’ve grown so.” He pulled himself to his feet, grasping a cane that was leaning against his chair, and squinting into Draco’s face as he tottered out from the desk. Draco felt his cheeks flush with mingled embarrassment and pleasure when he placed one papery hand against Draco’s cheek. It had been such a long time since anyone had reacted favorably to seeing him. The old man hadn’t even looked at Potter, a step behind Draco.

“It’s good to see you, Riley,” Draco said with a smile, grasping the other man’s hand warmly. “I’ve –” he swallowed around a sudden catch in his throat. “I’ve missed you, and this place.”

“You’re always welcome here, you know,” Riley beamed. “How is your mother?”

Draco was suddenly very conscious of Potter standing behind him. “I’m afraid she—she passed away a few years ago,” he said, and cleared his throat. “Unexpected illness.”

“Oh, now that is a shame,” the elderly man said. He pressed his hand briefly into Draco’s cheek before removing it. “She was a noble woman.”

Draco nodded, but Riley was already making his way back behind his desk. Draco could almost feel Potter’s eyes burning into his back, and concentrated on not turning around. He did not want to see what Potter thought about an old man complimenting Narcissa Malfoy without so much as looking at the great Harry Potter.

Fortunately, Riley began talking again almost immediately. “I’ve got a few lovely ones in the stable today, most are already out and about but there’s a sweet gray that I think you’ll remember, Mr. Malfoy, and a chestnut for your friend.” He was making notes in a ledger, stopping only to smile up at Draco. “Has he ridden before?”

Draco glanced back at Potter, who was watching him with a bemused smile and shaking his head.

“No,” Draco responded, suddenly feeling very unsure about the whole thing. “Look, we really don’t have to—” he began again, turning to face Potter, but the other man was shaking his head vigorously now.

“Yes, we do,” he said firmly, and stepped up to stand beside Draco. “I’ll be careful,” he said with a disarming smile to the older man behind the desk. “Just give me a calm one and I’ll hold on tight. And Malfoy can give me some pointers,” he said with a smile at Draco, who looked away quickly.

“You’ll be in good hands, young man,” Riley said, not even looking up. “My horses never throw their riders and I don’t expect they’ll start today.” He made a final mark in the ledger and nodded decisively. “This ride is on me, Mr. Malfoy. In memory of your mother.”

Draco swallowed around a lump in his throat. “Thank you, Riley,” he said sincerely. On an impulse, he stepped forward and clasped the older man’s hand gratefully. “I won’t forget this.”

“See that you come back again soon,” Riley said, beaming and squeezing Draco’s hand. “Now, go on – they’ll be waiting for you.” He shooed them out with more smiles. Draco thought he saw the older man’s eyes fix briefly upon Potter’s forehead, then flick away again without a word, and felt a surge of love for the stooped old man. As they stepped back out into the windy afternoon, Potter chuckled under his breath.

“I don’t remember the last time I’ve been able to meet someone new and not be fawned over,” he said musingly, almost to himself. Draco looked at him quickly, but Potter didn’t seem to be upset. On the contrary, he looked—relieved.

Draco felt the last threads of tension drain away as they entered the stall: the squat building next to the office smelled of manure, leather, and horses, and nearly-forgotten sounds of whickering and equine chewing filled the air. Draco went right to a stall holding a sweet-faced gray mare: the name “Lady” was written above the door in cursive script. He wondered if she remembered him; she certainly sidled right up to the stall door and pushed her nose into his hand readily enough.

Draco didn’t realize he was talking to her softly under his breath until Potter moved up right next to him. He stopped quickly, embarrassed, but Potter only smiled.

“I guess this is yours,” he said. “Which one’s mine?”

Draco looked around and quickly spotted a chestnut head sticking over a stall door, seemingly drawn by all the commotion. He nodded toward the head with a grin.

“Gryffindor red for you, Potter,” he said boldly. “I just hope he’s not as thick as all the Gryffindors I know.”

He kept himself from cringing back with an effort, shocked at his nerve, but Potter only laughed in response and approached the horse, one hand outstretched. “And I hope yours isn’t as mean as most Slytherins I’ve met,” he threw back over his shoulder. Draco realized with a start that he was laughing, not even minding the jibe.

“Here’s to Hufflepuff horses,” he said, and waved his wand with a whispered word. Lady’s harness and saddle materialized on her head and back, and he opened the stall door to let her out. He did the same for Potter’s horse (“Lancelot” read the cursive nameplate), and they led both horses out into the fresh air.

As soon they mounted up, Draco realized that Potter, for all his famed talents at battling evil wizards and defeating the Dark Arts, was a terrible horseback rider. Draco hadn’t doubted that the other man had never ridden, but he was unprepared for Potter’s utter and complete lack of either bodily coordination or the ability to follow shouted instructions. They must have made a comical pair, Draco reflected: he and Lady circling Potter and Lancelot, with him giving tips and instructions and Potter doing nearly the exact opposite.

“Keep your heels down! Shoulders back, Potter, you’re not reading about a horse, you’re on a horse! Tell him where you want him to go – no, don’t let him start to graze!”

Lancelot was happily munching on the thick summer grass and Potter—heels floating up nearly out of the stirrups, shoulders slumped forward over the reins—was laughing uproariously. Draco found himself torn between annoyance and hilarity. The sun was warm on his shoulders, peeking out from behind the clouds, and he suddenly felt like moving fast. Lady must have sensed his eagerness. She whinnied and flicked her ears back, listening to him.

Potter regained his composure just enough to wave one hand. “Go on, Malfoy, don’t wait for me. You do your galloping, or whatever it is people who actually know how to ride these things do. We’ll be here, eating our fill.”

Draco didn’t wait to be told twice. With a whoop that his former self in Azkaban wouldn’t even have recognized as his own, he urged Lady into a trot, then a canter. Her gait was as smooth as he remembered – it felt like they were skimming over the grass. Except that this was better, somehow, than skimming over the grass on a broomstick. He had loved flying, and probably still would, he reflected, if he ever got on a broomstick again. But riding a horse was something else entirely. It was connection, it was confidence, it was a radiance that had nothing to do with flying and everything to do with moving in tandem with another being, bodies joined and flowing. It was pretending, anyway, that you had some kind of presence in the world. That your body was your own, and no one else’s.

Lady was galloping now, responding to Draco’s cues so smoothly she might as well have been reading his mind. They tore across the field, ocean waves crashing against the cliffs far below, seabirds wheeling in the air above. Draco felt like he was made of light. As he turned Lady to gallop back to Potter, he knew a moment of pure joy.

Potter was watching him, a broad grin on his face as Lancelot munched happily. Draco whooped again and waved. Potter waved back, his back toward the office and stables were Riley had just appeared. The older man was leaning on his cane, wand held in his other hand as he tottered out into the field. Draco wondered absently what Riley was doing – probably going to saddle up another horse or two for arriving clients. He watched Riley lift his wand, even though there were no horses nearby except for Potter and Lancelot. Riley’s lips moved.

The explosion was so loud that even Draco, nearly a hundred feet away, felt his bones shake. Lady leapt into the air with a terrified whinny and changed direction so quickly that Draco nearly fell off. For a few long moments, he could concentrate only on holding on as she rocketed away from the source of the noise. But she was a sturdy horse, and knew him. They had gone only a few dozen feet before she let him slow her to a trot and turn back around. He could feel her heavy breathing between his thighs.

As Draco turned her, his thoughts were focused on Riley—what had gone wrong with Riley’s spell to provoke such a reaction? What had he been trying to do?

Then Draco saw Lancelot, rider-less, cantering across the grass, and his heart stopped. Potter. Where was Potter?

A small, crumpled form in the grass near where Lancelot had been eating was his answer.

With a cry, Draco urged Lady back into a gallop. Riley was hobbling across the grass more quickly than before, also heading to where Potter lay. “Get a healer,” Draco yelled as he threw himself off Lady and knelt at Potter’s side. Frantically, he felt for a pulse. Potter’s eyes were closed, but—thank the gods—his pulse was strong. Draco realized he was cradling Potter’s head in his lap. His hands, where they had touched Potter’s head, came away sticky with blood. Draco forced himself to breath. Riley would find a healer. Someone would fix this.

Riley was standing next to them now. Draco looked up gratefully. “What happened? Is a healer on the way?”

“Everything will be alright, Mr. Malfoy,” Riley replied absently, his gaze fixed on Potter’s motionless form. “Just a few more minutes, now, and everything will be alright.”

“What—what happened?” Draco asked, trying to find the source of the blood still seeping from Potter’s head. Gods, keep him alive. I can’t go back to Azkaban after only two days. I can’t have killed him. Please. “Did you see what made that explosion?”

“None of your concern, Mr. Malfoy,” Riley said quietly. “Everything will be alright.”

Draco looked around frantically. A healer should have Apparated in by now. “Where are they?”

Riley said nothing in response, but met Draco’s eyes. With a smooth motion that belied his years, he pulled up the left sleeve of his robe.

The pale skin of his forearm was marred by a dark snake bursting from a skull’s mouth.

Draco recoiled. “You—you’re—”

“I’m a friend, Mr. Malfoy, to you and to your dear mother,” Riley said firmly. “Just sit quietly now, and soon we can notify the Minister that Harry Potter has died in a tragic accident. Horses can be so unpredictable, can’t they—”

“No,” Draco gasped. “No, he won’t. I won’t let him die. You—you monster.”

He realized he was crying, but he brushed the tears roughly aside and pulled out his wand. “Stupefy!”

The spell hit Riley squarely in the chest and the older man crumpled. Desperately, Draco looked around but they were alone except for Lady, Lancelot, and several seagulls overhead. There was no help here.

It took him too long to hoist Potter’s limp body into a kneeling position. With one of Potter’s arms in one hand and his wand in the other, Draco turned on his heel and Apparated both of them back to their small flat. Potter’s pulse was still going, but so was the blood coming from his head. Draco felt himself slipping closer to panic.

No. He had to think. Who could help Harry? And who would believe him when he said he hadn’t done it? Except I did do it, I took him there, it’s my fault…Draco resolutely pushed that thought away. There was no time. He needed someone who knew medical magic, and who might listen to his explanation before immediately contacting the Ministry. A face flashed into his mind, improbable but possible. Where was the Floo powder? 

He left Harry lying on the ground for long moments as he scrambled to grab a handful of the powder from an urn beside the fireplace. “Incendio,” he whispered, and lit a fire in the grate. There was so little time.

When Hermione arrived, she found Draco cradling Harry’s head in the middle of their living room, his head bowed and his shaking hands covered in blood.

Chapter Text

Harry’s head hurt. He opened his eyes a fraction and gasped in pain when light seared his brain. Where was he? What was happening?

Confused images filled his mind. Arriving at the horse barn, seeing the old man greet Malfoy like a long-lost son, and reveling a bit at the feeling of being in the background. Watching Malfoy gallop away – absurdly graceful, it was unfair, really – and lifting his hand to wave as Malfoy wheeled his mount and started thundering back across the grass. He remembered thinking, in that moment, that Malfoy’s smile seemed to light up the gray, cloudy world. He remembered laughing at himself. He remembered grinning.

Then the world had exploded and the images scattered: the sky above him, the ground racing up to meet him, spinning, then an impact, so quickly. The breath was knocked out of him and everything went black.

Now, he seemed to be in his office. That was strange. Why was he lying in a bed in his office?

Bracing himself, Harry opened his eyes again and groaned. “Careful, Harry,” a familiar voice said gently from beside his head. “I’ve stabilized you, but I need you to be conscious for the next spell. Don’t you dare faint on me again.”

Hermione. Of course. Harry breathed out in relief. If Hermione was here, everything would be ok. He tried to look in her direction and nod his affirmation, but gasped again when pain scorched his skull. Hermione made a small noise of protest.

“Lie still, please,” she said crisply, shifting so that he could see her without moving his head. “I’m going to ask you a few questions about where the pain is coming from. Do you understand me?”

“Yes,” he said, keeping his head motionless and his eyes fixed on her. She was bent over a spell book open on her lap, brow furrowed. A few strands of hair had escaped her neat locs, giving her a slightly frantic look when she glanced up at him.

“Can you tell me if the pain is toward the front or back of your head?”

There were several questions like this, all so that she could pinpoint the exact location of his injury. After a few moments, she took a deep breath and raised her wand.

“Alright, Harry, hold very still now and close your eyes—”

He did so, and felt a thread of coolness slide into his head. It was difficult not to jerk away or fidget, but Harry had experience with this sort of thing. This was not the first time he had been treated for a head injury.

Although it’s definitely the first time I’ve been treated for a head injury from a horse.

The silence stretched until Hermione let out a breath, and Harry felt the cool thread recede. He opened his eyes once more. This time, the light didn’t sting or burn, and he breathed a sigh of relief.

“Thank you,” he said sincerely as he sat up. “That was—”

“That was terrible and you should know I hate being put in that kind of position!” Hermione snapped, rising from her chair so quickly that the spell book on her lap crashed to the floor. She didn’t even flinch or bend down to pick it up, which told Harry all he needed to know about how angry she was. “I did not drop out of St. Mungo’s Academy to become your own personal doctor-on-call, Harry Potter, and I’ll thank you to use the certified healers the next time you need brain surgery—”

“Woah, wait!” Harry said, raising his hands. “I didn’t call you.” He knew that Hermione’s outrage was a sure sign he was out of danger – she would never yell at him if he still needed her help – but that didn’t mean he liked bearing the brunt of her fury. “What happened, anyway?”

She seemed to deflate, air leaving her lungs with an indignant whoosh, but when she spoke again, her voice was gentle. “That’s a question for Draco, I think.” She watched him get up with a critical eye. “Is your leg alright?”

Harry tested his weight on both legs, then did a few experimental knee bends. “Seems to be. Why?”

“There were some gashes that went pretty deep, but the standard healing spells seem to be doing the trick. That’s good.” She turned toward the door and he followed her out. As they walked down the hall, he considered asking her more questions, but decided on what seemed to be the most important one first.

“Where is Malfoy, anyway? Shouldn’t he have been by my side, as my worried husba—”

The wry comment died on his lips as they entered the living room to find Ron Weasley and Draco Malfoy sitting on the couch together. Well, “together” was a bit of a misnomer. They were sitting on the same couch, but Malfoy was pressed so tightly against the far armrest he seemed to be trying to become one with the furniture. Ron was staring daggers at the other man and turning his wand over and over in his hands in a distinctly threatening manner. Malfoy’s eyes were fixed on the floor in front of him, his shoulders hunched and tense, and his hands were clenched together so tightly that the knuckles shone white. It was such a far cry from the joyous, relaxed Malfoy of their horseback ride that Harry felt something twist in his gut.

Both men looked up when he and Hermione entered the room, and Ron leapt up with a glad cry. “Alright, Harry?” he asked, grinning and clapping Harry on the shoulder. “It’s good to see you looking human again.”

“Good to be back,” Harry said, returning the smile. His attention, however, was fixed on Malfoy, who had also risen to his feet but was standing back, as if wary. When he caught Harry’s gaze, Malfoy flushed and looked down.

“I – Harry – I mean, Potter – you – I’m—” He twisted his hands together miserably. “Gods above and below, I’m so sorry—”

He cut off abruptly as Harry pulled him into a hug.

“I don’t know what happened, Malfoy,” he said as the other man stiffened against him. “But I don’t think you should apologize for saving my life.”

“Saving your life?” Ron burst out, apparently no longer able to contain himself. “Harry, he tricked you – lured you to some Death Eater hide-out and –”

“Ron,” Hermione hissed. “Draco also called me to help Harry. That doesn’t sound like someone who was trying to murder him, does it?”

Harry stepped back. Malfoy still wouldn’t meet his eyes, but his pale cheeks were flushed. “What happened, Malfoy?” he asked gently. “What went wrong?”

“He…Riley…he was a Death Eater,” Malfoy started hesitantly.

“See?” Ron cut in, furious, but Hermione shushed him. Harry kept his eyes fixed on Draco.

“Riley was a Death Eater and I had no idea,” Malfoy continued miserably. “He…he made that explosion on purpose, to scare your horse and make you fall, and he wasn’t going to call a healer, just let you die, so I stupefied him and brought you back here and I didn’t know who else to call…”

He trailed off, and his eyes flicked to Hermione. “I knew she would be able to help you and I thought…I thought…” He trailed off.

“You thought she’d buy your bullshit story,” Ron cut in. “Unfortunately for you, I came too, and I’m not that fucking gullible.” He moved up to stand beside Harry, wand held at the ready. “You want to contact Kingsley, Harry, or should I?”

Malfoy’s eyes snapped up, his gaze panicked. He took a step back. Harry raised a hand.

“No one is calling Kingsley,” he said firmly. “Ron, I believe Draco.”

“You do?” Both Ron and Draco spoke in unison. “Why?” That was Ron. 

“Because I don’t believe anyone would be that stupid,” Harry said quietly, watching Draco’s chest rise and fall with his rapid breathing. “Look at him, Ron. He’s terrified of going back to Azkaban – he’s only been out for two days. Killing me would be a monumentally stupid thing to do, on par with—" 

“On par with joining a terrorist organization when you were sixteen because your daddy told you to?” Ron cut in. Draco’s shoulders tensed.

“Harry’s got a point, Ron,” Hermione said levelly. “I know you don’t like him, but you can’t deny the facts. Draco called me. He could easily have let Harry die, and blamed…Riley, or whatever his name was. He might not even have gotten sent back to Azkaban.” Draco huffed out something that was not quite a laugh. “But he called me,” Hermione continued. “And Harry’s fine.”

There was a long moment of silence. Then Ron lowered his wand.

“Fine,” he growled. “I don’t know why you both trust him all of a sudden, but fine.” He shoved his wand into a pocket of his jumper and resolutely turned his back on Draco. The other man didn’t move, but Harry saw his eyes close briefly.

“I’m leaving,” Ron said firmly. “Coming, Hermione? Or are you going to stay and hang out with your new friend?” Venom practically dripped from that last word, and Hermione rolled her eyes.

“Get in touch if you feel any head or leg pain coming back,” she said to Harry as she followed Ron toward the fireplace. “And try not to call me for any illicit healing for at least a few weeks. Magical law, yes, any time. Please call me with desperate, pressing questions about magical law.” She smiled at him and Harry grinned back. 

“Thanks, Hermione,” he said again, then she and Ron were gone. Ron hadn’t even said good-bye. 

Harry turned back towards Draco. The blond man hadn’t moved. Harry forced a smile.

“I don’t know what time it is, but I am starving,” he said heartily. “How about some dinner?”

It turned out neither of them felt much like cooking, so Harry contacted one of his favorite wizard-owned Indian restaurants. A large owl carrying an aromatic bag was soon perched on the windowsill, and the awkward silence became slightly less awkward, punctuated by chewing and the small, appreciative noises that accompany any good meal.

Harry had just taken a big bite of naan, chewing distractedly, when Draco spoke.

“I’m sorry,” he said quietly, his hands folded together on the table.

“I told you, you don’t need to be,” Harry said around the food. He swiped up some sauce from his plate. “I believe that you didn’t know Riley was a Death Eater. And you certainly saved—”

“Not for that,” Draco interrupted, then looked down. “I mean, yes for that. But also—I think—I might be making things difficult between you and Weasley?” His voice lilted up at the end, making it a question. Although of course it wasn’t.

“Not your fault, either,” Harry said with a small chuckle. “At least, nothing you’re doing now. Ron’s just—”

“Having a hard time seeing past the bloke who mercilessly taunted his family for years, repeatedly attacked his best friend, and started a war?” Draco’s mouth quirked in something that was not a smile. “I get that, I really do.” His voice grew earnest. “And he can hate me all he wants, but I really don’t want this…um…marriage to mess up any of your—" 

He stopped abruptly. Real relationships? Harry wondered. He took another bite of naan. 

“Just—please don’t feel like you always have to defend me,” Draco said finally, and bit off a piece of tandoori chicken.

Harry looked up, startled. “But it isn’t fair,” he said, uncomfortable with the plaintive note creeping into his voice. “You’re not that bloke anymore, you spent time in Azkaban, you seem really different now…”

“Except I am still that bloke,” Draco said quietly. “My past choices will always define me. I live with that.”

Harry choked on his response. He suddenly remembered Dumbledore’s words from what seemed like a lifetime ago: “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”

How could those words now seem so sinister?

He took a breath, suddenly desperate to change the subject. “Draco,” he said, and the blond man looked up at him, eyebrows raised. Harry suddenly felt self-conscious. “What?” he asked.

“It just—feels strange to hear you use my first name,” Draco said, one corner of his mouth curling up. “I mean, it’s always strange when we talk without throwing hexes at each other, but…" 

“Huh,” Harry said, grinning. “I hadn’t even noticed.” He shrugged and took a sip of water. “I guess after someone has saved your life, not once, but twice, you start to feel a little more informal with them.”

Draco’s eyes widened. “Twice?” he asked hesitantly. “I’ve saved your life twice?”

“Well, yeah,” Harry said bluntly. “Once today, and then there was that time during the war, at Malfoy Manor, when you didn’t identify me even though Voldemort—” Draco flinched, but Harry pressed on. “Even though Voldemort was coming and he probably would have rewarded you with eternal life or something if you had delivered me to him.” He took another drink of water. “I think that counts as saving my life.”

“I—I didn’t know that you remembered that,” Draco said quietly. He looked up, searching Harry’s face. “How do you know that I recognized you? I might just have been clueless and thought it wasn’t you at all." 

“You recognized me,” Harry answered firmly. He remembered that moment so well: the fear, the pain on his face, Ron and Hermione tied tightly next to him, Draco leaning down to stare into his eyes. He remembered Draco’s shoulders tightening, had felt sure that death was coming for him at last. Then Draco had shaken his head.

“Yeah, I did,” Draco said now. He swallowed hard. “And the Dark—I mean, Vol—” He bit his lip. “He did not reward me with eternal life for that choice.”

Harry looked at him, a question in his eyes, but Draco put his hands in his lap and looked down, not saying anything more. After a moment, Harry picked up his fork and pushed more rice onto his plate. “You and your mother, both,” he said quietly. “I’m alive now thanks to two of the three Malfoys.” He chuckled, taking another bite. “Fancy that.”

Draco’s head snapped up. “My mother saved your life too?” he asked incredulously. “When?”

“During the Battle of Hogwarts,” Harry answered. “You didn’t know?” he asked in disbelief. When Draco shook his head, Harry realized his mistake. Of course, Draco wouldn’t have known, unless Narcissa had told him. When Harry had spoken at her trial, Draco had already been in Azkaban. “That’s part of why they only put her on house arrest, instead of a full prison sentence.”

Draco said nothing, silently pushing rice through sauce on his plate without eating anything.

“I was sorry to hear of her passing, Draco,” Harry said after a moment. The other man nodded quickly. “She was a complicated woman, but I grew to really respect her, after the Battle.” When Draco still said nothing, he pressed on. “I sent flowers for her funeral, but couldn’t come in person. Work trip.” He watched Draco carefully, trying to gauge how much of this was helpful. “I’m sure it was a lovely memorial.”

“I wouldn’t know,” Draco said shortly, standing up. He grabbed up his water glass and stalked over to the sink to refill it. With his back turned, Harry could barely hear him over the splashing water. “I wasn’t there.”

Harry looked at him, flabbergasted. “You didn’t go to your own mother’s funeral?” When Draco didn’t reply, Harry pressed on. “I mean, I know you were in Azkaban, but they must have at least let you watch, maybe through a portal or something…?” An uncomfortable thought occurred to him. “Unless you didn’t want to go…”

“I didn’t even know she had died until three months later,” Draco growled, turning around at last. His hand was clenched around his cup so tightly Harry thought the glass might break. “Warden called me into her office and told me and laughed. Then she gave me dozens of letters my mother had written to me during her illness, all increasingly panicked, asking me to respond, apologizing for pulling me into the Death Eaters, urging me to be strong. My mother died thinking I didn’t even care enough to write back.” He was breathing hard. Harry, on the other hand, couldn’t seem to take in even one breath. Malfoy’s raw grief, this sudden outpouring in their kitchen, was too much.

“Oh, Draco,” Harry breathed, and Draco’s face contorted with rage.

“I do not. Need. Your. Pity,” he spat, and turned on his heel, clearly meaning to stalk into his room. A hard tapping against the window stopped him in his tracks as both he and Harry turned toward the source of the noise. 

An elegant, mottled brown owl was standing on their windowsill, a small scroll clasped in its beak. Confused, Harry crossed the living room to let it in. With a small hoot, the owl stepped lightly into the room and deposited the scroll on his hand. When she didn’t fly away, Harry realized whoever had sent this must be expecting a response.

“Sorry,” he said desperately to Draco as he unrolled the letter. Draco nodded silently, still poised in the middle of the kitchen.

Dear Harry, read Kingsley’s firm, flowing script on the parchment. I do hope the first few days of your marriage are going well. Please, do not hesitate to notify me if anything is amiss. You know how much I appreciate your sacrifice for our community, but you must also know that I have your best interests at heart. If Mr. Malfoy is proving difficult, you will not be alone in dealing with him.

It was signed simply “Kingsley.”

“This is weird,” Harry said slowly. He glanced up at Draco, who still hadn’t moved. “The Minister wants to know how our marriage is going." 

Draco’s face went even paler than usual, and his eyes widened as he went from looking furious to terrified in a single breath. Of course. Harry kicked himself. We’re in the middle of a conversation about how badly the Ministry has treated him, and I start waving around a letter from the Minister of Magic himself.

“Sorry,” he said quickly. “I’ll answer this in the study. You don’t have to worry about it.”

The Ministry owl flew after him as he made his way down the hall, leaving Draco motionless in the kitchen. Harry was still so distracted by what Draco had said about his mother’s death that he barely registered what he was writing.

Thanks, Kingsley. All well here. Harry.

The owl flew off into the night, leaving Harry lost in thought. He headed back out to the kitchen, meaning to apologize for bringing up Narcissa in the first place, but Draco had moved to the couch and was perched on the edge, his eyes downcast.

Harry flopped down next to him. “Hey, sorry again about all that, and about bringing up your mother, that’s really –”

I’m sorry,” Draco said forcefully, then seemed to collect himself. “My past is not your concern,” he said, more quietly this time. “I know that. If you’ll excuse me.” He rose to his feet. “I am quite tired.”

Harry felt like someone had punched him in the gut. He knew that he and Draco weren’t married, not in a real, emotional way, anyway. He knew they weren’t even really friends. It made sense that his lifelong enemy wouldn’t want to discuss his dead mother, or the terrors he had experienced in prison. Harry had overstepped.

Still…A memory of Draco waving to him from horseback, smiling from ear to ear, stole into his mind, and Harry felt something in his heart twist. He had thought they were getting somewhere, finding some kind of relationship that would let them tell each other things, help each other out. If not husbands, and if not friends, then at least…roommates.

But Draco was watching him, his face guarded, clearly waiting for his polite withdrawal to be acknowledged. With a sinking feeling, Harry realized he didn’t even really know how to talk to this man, who had grown up in a manor, had made choices Harry would never understand.

“Sure,” he said with a smile that probably looked as false as it felt. “Sleep well.”

Chapter Text

An uneven square of early afternoon sunlight crept wearily across the floor by Draco’s feet. It looked like he felt: insubstantial, immaterial, trapped in a slow progression through space. He shook his head, amused at his own sour thoughts. Here he was, sitting on a comfortable couch in a light, bright, well-appointed flat that was, in some ways at least, his own. He wasn’t chained in a cell, or being forced to perform horrendous acts under threat of personal or familial harm. He was free, at least in theory.

So why do I still feel so trapped?

It had been a little more than two weeks since the horseback riding fiasco, and Harry was back at work. Draco still felt a flicker of amusement at himself every time he thought of Potter by his first name, or heard his own given name from Harry’s lips. They seemed to have settled into something resembling civility, at least outwardly: first names, cordial greetings in the mornings and evenings when Harry returned from work, most dinners spent together in usually companionable silence. Every so often, Harry would send an owl that he would be getting dinner with coworkers or, more often, working late, and Draco would make something simple for himself and eat at the table alone. He cherished those solo evenings when he didn’t have to worry about asking questions that Harry seldom seemed to want to answer, or examine Harry’s every movement for signs of annoyance or exhaustion. He actually felt a little guilty at how much he enjoyed evenings alone – further proof, he supposed, of how little he appreciated his new life, and how poorly suited he was to being anyone’s husband.

One of the sheets of paper he had balanced on his lap drifted to the floor, and he bent over to pick it up with an air of bemused exhaustion. When had he become so easily distracted? It seemed to have gotten harder to concentrate on simple tasks since he had left Azkaban. He wondered if it was a sign he was getting older, or perhaps he had always been absent-minded like this, just never noticed it so often until now.

It had felt difficult to concentrate on things during his sixth year of Hogwarts, too.

He blinked hard and focused on the paper in his hand. It was a floorplan, one of several that Harry had left for him to look at over the last few days: possibilities for their new flat, provided by the Ministry. Draco had been putting off looking at them – every time he thought about the Ministry, the nausea spiked – but Harry had mentioned it this morning over breakfast and Draco did not want to keep anyone waiting.

Step by step, he thought to himself for the thousandth time. Minute to minute. Just don’t do anything stupid.

The flat in his hand looked similar to their current setup, with the addition of a few extra rooms. “Receiving room,” “drawing room,” and “living room” were all inked into separate adjoining squares alongside “kitchen,” “study,” and “master bedroom.” It all felt depressingly like Malfoy Manor, except without the third story.

It also seemed to indicate that their semi-private life would not last much longer. Harry had started dropping hints that suggested Kingsley’s last few missives had included invitations to social events, or encouragements to host their own gatherings. Logically, Draco saw the importance of being seen in public together, especially at high-society gatherings, in front of photographers. That was the whole point of the marriage, after all: for him to be seen as a reformed Death Eater, atoning for the sins of his family, back in the regular world. Building bridges and all that.

The fact that just thinking of stepping into a room full of witches and wizards watching him on Harry’s arm made him want to sink through the floor was completely beside the point, of course. He knew that, sooner or later, he would have to start attending dinner parties. It was just still so soon, not even a full month since he had been in Azkaban, and the last dinner parties he had attended had been hosted by his mother and attended solely by Death Eaters and the Dark Lord. 

Fortunately, every time Harry had brought it up, he had dropped it again almost immediately. Draco was fairly certain this was due to his own total inability to respond properly, and felt embarrassment curling in his chest. It hadn’t yet come to Harry having to force him into anything, but Draco harbored no illusions: if he didn’t get his act together soon, Harry would do what was necessary.

Draco swallowed hard. Step by step. It was his mantra, and let him shut everything else out to focus only the task at hand. Right now, that meant picking his top three floor plans to show Harry that evening.

He could do that. Right? He could pretend, for just a few moments, that he had an opinion worth sharing -- if only to keep Harry from telling Kingsley that he was being obstinate.

The sun had moved several inches by the time he laid the floorplans carefully on the coffee table, stood up, and stretched his arms over his head. His stomach rumbled and Draco headed to the kitchen, meaning to see if any of last night’s dinner was still in the cupboard. He had only gone a few steps, however, when a small black owl flew in through the open living room window. Draco tensed, but forced himself to accept the scroll calmly. If it was from the Minister, he would put it on Harry’s desk. Simple.

He wished his hands would stop shaking. When had he become so nervous?

The owl flew away without waiting for a response, and Draco examined the seal on the parchment. His heart leapt. His own name was written neatly about a coat of arms bearing a lion, an eagle, a snake, and a badger. It looked so familiar, so safe—

But no. He squashed that feeling at once. Hogwarts was not safe for him, should not be safe for him. Not after what he had done. He would do well to remember that.

Taking a deep breath, Draco slid his finger between the wax and the parchment, taking care not to ruin the seal. Neat, spidery handwriting filled the several pieces of paper tucked within: a list of books, a suggested list of supplies, and instructions for reaching Platform 9¾ on September 1.

It was his acceptance letter for a final year at Hogwarts. Professor McGonagall had kept her word.

Draco found himself pacing furiously up and down the hallway, and finally hurled himself into the bedroom where he sprawled on the bed, parchment spread out around him, and examined the book list like a starving man seeing food. It was a generally innocuous list of reference books, spell books, and historical treatises, each accompanied by the course, or courses, for which it was required. He ran his finger down the list and found entries for Advanced Potions, Advanced Transfiguration, Advanced Charms, Ancient Studies, Arithmancy, and Defense Against the Dark Arts.

A smaller note fluttered onto the bedspread, and Draco picked it up, confused. It was a personalized note from the headmistress herself.

Mr. Malfoy –

I have taken the liberty of assigning you courses based on your previous conversation with Professor Severus Snape in your fifth year. Should your career aspirations have changed, please inform me at your earliest convenience.

Defense Against the Dark Arts is my own choice for you. Please respond with any concerns.

Hogwarts looks forward to welcoming you for your final year.

Sincerely,

MM

Draco read it again, hardly daring to believe it wasn’t some elaborate, cruel joke. He didn’t think that Minerva McGonagall was the elaborate prank type, but becoming a student again seemed equally implausible.

No, he reminded himself, again pushing down the happiness that threatened to surface. I killed Albus Dumbledore. I let Death Eaters into the castle. Hogwarts might accept him for another year, but he could not let himself think of it as the home it had been. Everything had changed.

Carefully, Draco stacked the pieces of parchment together and put them on the top of his dresser. He meant to go back out to the living room, perhaps pick up a book from Harry’s room or continue looking at the floorplans, but something stopped him, drew him towards the closet. Towards the loose floorboard he had found that first, disastrous night of their marriage (“Ugh,” Harry had said when confronted with intimacy with Draco, and of course, Draco couldn’t blame him). He felt his skin start to crawl with residual shame and lingering fear, but felt those feelings recede as he withdrew the small roll of parchment stowed beneath the floor.

Open me again when you are somewhere safe read the parchment, just as it had when the dark figure had passed him in the hallway.

“I’m safe,” Draco whispered, as he had nearly every day since the marriage, and the writing disappeared, replaced by more words in an achingly familiar script.

My dear son, he read in his father’s neat hand. I am overjoyed at your change of fortune. Please accept my sincere congratulations on your newfound freedom. I hope that you and Mr. Potter will be very happy together.

The words had lost their initial power under the wear of repeated readings. Still, Draco felt his breath hitch, his cheeks burning. The words themselves looked kindly on paper; in his father’s voice, he knew, they would sting with scorn.

I look forward to whatever happy events might bring us together again, the letter continued cryptically. Think of me, Draco, and know that you are never far from my thoughts.

With love,

Your father

Draco took a deep breath and lowered the letter to the bed. It was folly, pure and piercing, to keep this letter. If he was discovered with a letter from an Azkaban prisoner (and how had Lucius even gotten the letter out of Azkaban in the first place?), to say nothing of a former Death Eater, he didn’t imagine even Harry would be able to keep him from people like Weasley. Hell, Harry would probably put him back in Azkaban himself. Draco harbored no illusions about the nature of their relationship. Potter was kind, considerate, attentive – but only because he had to be. There were appearances to keep up.

Appearances that Draco would shatter with this letter. 

Still, something kept him from burning it – fear, but of what? Of the man who had raised him with an iron fist? Of Warden, watching every spell he cast? It wasn’t like the message said anything particularly dangerous, he reflected yet again. To any outside observer, it was just a father congratulating his son.

Draco placed the letter back beneath the closet floorboards and shut the door against the memories, and the pain. 

Chapter Text

Harry was having a terrible day.

It had begun innocuously enough, with the usual morning meeting running long (they never could seem to get through all of the new Death Eater cells in only an hour) and Ron walking him back to his office as they went over logistics for a raid next week. Ron had made a wry joke about needing more pumpkin juice and Harry had laughed. Then Ron had made a more serious comment about Draco Malfoy’s potential involvement with the latest underground Dark Magic network, and Harry had not laughed.

His marriage had become a constant presence in their friendship – seldom mentioned but always there. Harry had noticed Ron watching him when he thought Harry wasn’t looking. When Harry had confronted him about it, Ron had gotten defensive and said he was just making sure Harry hadn’t been Imperiused or anything. A few days later, Harry had brought in dinner leftovers for lunch, which smelled amazing when they were blasted with a reheating spell. Duncan, a junior Auror, had sniffed appreciatively.

“That husband of yours is a real chef!” he had exclaimed, and Harry had nodded, smiling, before catching a glimpse of Ron angrily leaving the room.

The comment from that morning hadn’t even been that bad, but it left a lingering foulness in Harry’s mouth that was only exacerbated by the news later in the day that a Ministry covert opps agent had been discovered and tortured by Norwegian dark wizards calling themselves “Neo-Death Eaters.” It was unclear how much of the mission had been compromised. Harry dropped his head into his hands and resigned himself to working late yet again.

When he got home that night, the flat’s living room was dark. He saw, gratefully, that Draco had left some soup on the range. He ladled some into a bowl, trying to move quietly so as not to disturb Draco in the bedroom. The door opened anyway, and Draco stepped out. He was dressed in creamy white flannel pajama pants and a dark blue shirt that hugged his chest. His blond hair was slightly tousled, as if he had been sitting up against the wall behind the bed.

Harry told himself to stop staring and held up the soup bowl with a sheepish grin.

“Thanks for the soup,” he said. “Sorry for the noise.”

“That’s alright,” Draco answered, taking a seat at the table across from Harry. He was holding his shoulders even more stiffly than usual, Harry noticed. “How was work?”

“Terrible,” Harry groaned around a mouthful of soup. “Fucking Norwegians setting themselves up another Dark Lord, and now we don’t even have an undercover agent to keep an eye on things.”

He stopped himself with a guilty shake of his head. He was tired – that’s why it had slipped out. He didn’t usually like to talk about what happened at work with Draco, because the other man usually got very tight-lipped and uncomfortable whenever the subject of dark magic or Death Eaters came up.

Not that Harry could blame him.

“I’m sorry,” Draco said, and Harry could practically see his clenched fists through the table. “What…how…what can I do? Can I do anything?” he asked, a little desperately.

“This soup is a big help,” Harry responded gratefully. “How was your day?”

“Fine,” Draco began, then shook his head. “Actually, good. I got a letter from Hogwarts.”

He stopped, watching Harry closely. Harry felt a broad grin spreading across his face.

“Congratulations!” he said happily, raising his glass of water in a toast. “Another year at Hogwarts! They’re lucky to have you.”

“Um…thank you,” Draco said, dropping his eyes. When he didn’t say anything else, Harry drank a sip of water and put down his glass.

“You’ll need new robes and books, right?”

Draco’s eyes snapped up, his whole face lighting up. “That’s true…I mean, I don’t want to cause any trouble, but I realized that all my school things were in the Manor when…”

Images of Malfoy Manor from the front of the Daily Prophet filled Harry’s head: the roof collapsing in, the manor aflame. It had been looted before anyone from the Ministry could restore order after the Dark Lord’s fall, and some particularly enthusiastic celebrant had set off fireworks in the main hall.

“Yeah,” Harry said quickly. “New robes, new books, everything.” He took another bite of soup. “Well, I could certainly use a trip to Diagon Alley – mind if I tag along?”

Draco looked oddly grateful as he nodded. “Of course not. When works for you?”

“Let’s plan for tomorrow. I should be done at 4 – barring a prison break or another agent loss.” Harry scraped the last bits of soup from his bowl as Draco nodded again.

“I’ll be there,” he said, and Harry was taken aback by the gratitude in his voice. “Thank you.”

Somehow, the prospect of a Diagon Alley trip seemed to make Harry’s next day go by much more easily. Ron was out of the country, meeting with a group of Russian Aurors in Switzerland’s neutral territory, so Harry didn’t even have to worry about their next awkward encounter. He realized, with a sinking feeling, that he was starting to dread seeing his best friend. 

That has to change, he thought firmly as he packed up his things at the end of the day. He would contact Ron when he had a chance, ask if they could sit down and hash things out. Hermione would probably also have thoughts, he reflected as he cast a medium-level locking spell on his office door and headed toward the Ministry Floo deck. She usually did.

When Harry stepped through the brick wall into Diagon Alley a few moments later, it took him several long moments to find Draco. He finally spotted the other man hunched against a pillar in the shadow of a lodging house a few meters away. Draco’s eyes lit up with something that looked suspiciously like relief when he saw Harry, and they started toward each other. In that moment, Harry realized that this would be the first real public appearance for the two of them since their wedding. We should have talked about this, he realized, but it was too late: Draco was already approaching him, a tentative smile on his face. 

Without letting himself think too much about what he was about to do, Harry folded Draco into a large hug and pressed a lingering kiss to his cheek. He felt the other man tense, then immediately relax into the embrace, his surprise at the kiss betrayed only by a light gasp.

“How was your day, love?” Harry asked as they pulled apart, very conscious of several people around them who had stopped to take this in.

“It…good…it was good,” Draco replied hastily, looking like a deer in Muggle headlights. He shot a quick glance at the people beside them, who turned away hurriedly and pretended they had never stopped to stare. All except for a rather rotund man of middling height who pushed through the crowd of shoppers toward them. 

“Mr. Potter! Mr. Malfoy!” he exclaimed with a broad smile. The tip of his wand was glowing with a bright green light that Harry recognized as a recording spell. “Harold Rose with The Daily Prophet. What brings you both to Diagon Alley today?”

Harry wondered with a franticness that bordered on hilarity how the Prophet had known to send a reporter this soon after they had arrived. Still, he had to say something.

“We’re picking up books and school robes for my husband, here,” he said, resting a hand on Draco’s back in what he hoped looked like a fond and familiar gesture. “He’s starting his final year of Hogwarts in a few weeks.”

Draco glanced up at him, expression unreadable, but Harold Rose gasped with excitement.

“You’re going back to Hogwarts, eh young man?” he asked jovially, adjusting his wand slightly so that the green glowing tip was aimed right at Draco’s face. “How does it feel?”

“Um…great,” Draco began uncomfortably. He shot another look at Harry, who crooked an eyebrow but nodded encouragingly. “Yes, I am very grateful that Headmistress McGonagall, and all the Hogwarts professors and students, are giving me a chance to finish my education.” He bobbed his head, a light flush spreading over his cheeks. Harry tore his eyes away from Draco Malfoy’s cheekbones to see Harold Rose affect a rather tragic expression.

“Of course, the castle might hold unpleasant memories for you, given the events of your seventh year there,” he said, each word heavy with meaning. “How do you think you’ll—”

Harry could feel Draco’s back knot up through the fabric of his shirt. This had to stop.

“No further comments, thank you Mr. Rose,” he said firmly. “Come on, Draco.”

He steered both of them toward Madam Malkin’s Robes for All Occasions before the portly reporter could protest. He didn’t remove his hand from Draco’s back until the door had closed behind them. Only then, in the shadowy entrance to the shop, did he take a deep breath and step away. 

“Phew! Sorry about that,” he said, squinting in the sudden dimness. “Are you ok?”

“Yes.” Draco’s voice was strained, but Harry thought he could see a small smile tugging at the corners of the other man’s mouth. “Thank you for ending the conversation…when you did.”

“Yeah, of course,” Harry answered, relieved. “He has plenty for his story already. No need to drag you through gratuitous unpleasantness.”

They walked side by side into the store, and Harry felt his breath catch in his throat. The store looked exactly the same as it had all those years ago when he had come here with Hagrid. Then, he had been beaten-down eleven-year-old hardly daring to believe that his life had changed forever. He had been overwhelmed at the quality of the robes—fabric finer than anything he had ever touched, let alone been allowed to wear.

And a small, pale boy also being fitted with robes had smugly asked him if his parents were “our kind.”

Harry glanced at the pale man beside him, wondering if Draco was remembering the same moment. Something about the set of his shoulders, and the way he avoided Harry’s gaze, suggested that he was.

Before either of them could say anything more, however, Madam Malkin herself was standing before them, beaming. She was, if possible, even shorter and rounder than Harry remembered, still dressed in mauve robes that trailed across the floor behind her. Kind brown eyes sparkled up at him from beneath hair that had gone entirely gray. She seemed to be overcome.

“Harry Potter,” she breathed, her eyes barely focusing on Draco before returning to him. “It is an honor all unlooked-for to have you return to my shop. With what may I assist you? New dress robes, perhaps? Quidditch robes?" 

“Actually, we’re here for Draco,” Harry answered smoothly. “He’s going back to Hogwarts this year and needs a new set of school robes.”

“Oh – yes, of course,” she replied, seeming to catch herself. She turned to Draco; Harry could practically see each piece of her smiling mask reassemble itself. “Right this way, Mr. Malfoy. Slytherin colors, I assume?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Draco responded quietly, following her towards the back where mirrors lined the walls. Harry perused the shelves, not wanting to intrude as the magical tape measure flitted back and forth and Madam Malkin wrote quick notes in a ledger. Before long, Draco was walking back toward him, hands full of a paper-covered bundle, and Madam Malkin was beaming from behind the counter. 

“Always a pleasure to serve you,” she said, directing her face to Harry even though her words were clearly meant for Draco. “That will be five galleons, please.”

Harry glanced toward Draco, expecting to see the other man counting out coins, but Draco only looked back at him, shoulders hunched.

“Five galleons,” he said helpfully, thinking perhaps Draco hadn’t heard Madam Malkin’s request. Draco nodded.

“How—” Draco cleared his throat. “I’m sorry, I didn’t ask you before how you would prefer to handle money. Should I be keeping track of how much I spend today?”

“Keeping track?” Harry felt like he had stepped into a conversation that had already been going on for several minutes without him. “Can’t you just pay her?”

Draco took a deep breath. “I cannot,” he said quietly, speaking more to the floor than to Harry himself. “I’m sorry. Would it please you to see me beg?”

Harry reeled back as if Draco had slapped him.

“No! No, of course not,” he stammered, feeling his face flush. Where had he gone so wrong? “I—I can pay for the robes,” he said quickly, turning back to Madam Malkin and her determinedly impassive face. He counted out the galleons quickly, thanked the small witch, and strode out of the store, Draco following behind him.

It took Harry a few moments to find a corner of Diagon Alley that was relatively empty; when he saw a deserted space under the awning of a closed apothecary’s shop, he grabbed Draco’s upper arm and pulled him to a stop in the shadows. Harry glanced around quickly: no reporters that he could see, and the only other shoppers in the area were a family of five young children with one harried-looking, and very distracted, man. Perfect.

Harry pulled out his Invisibility Cloak and threw it over both of them. Reporters could be anywhere, and it wouldn’t do for them to be seen fighting.

He did want an explanation, though.

“So,” he began, finally focusing on Draco. The other man’s shoulders were still hunched, and he was grasping the paper-covered robes like a drowning man clings to a lifeboat. “What was that about?" 

Draco seemed to be having trouble speaking. He took a deep breath, while Harry forced himself not to fidget.

“I—my sincere apologies,” Draco finally said, his voice low. “I had not thought to ask how you want to handle money. That—I’m sorry,” he finished. He sounded almost desperate. “Whatever you want to do, however you want to proceed, is fine—”

Harry was completely lost.

“What are you talking about?” he asked, a note of desperation creeping into his own voice. “I mean, I’m happy to pay for things for you, of course, but don’t you have your own money?”

It suddenly dawned on him, horribly, that he didn’t know what had happened to the Malfoy fortune when two of the family had been thrown in Azkaban and the only other free member had died. “Wait—where is your money?”

“You have it,” Draco responded, not meeting Harry’s eyes. His voice was wooden, as if he was repeating something from rote. “‘The Malfoy fortune shall be held in trust by Mr. Potter until such time as Mr. Malfoy is deemed suitable, by the Ministry of Magic, to handle his own financials once more.’” When Harry didn’t immediately respond, Draco rushed on. “Of course, I understand, and will do whatever you think is best—”

“I have it?” Harry finally burst out. Draco flinched back slightly and finally met his eyes. The other man’s grey eyes were terrified.

“Y-yes,” he stammered, clearly thrown off as well. “I thought—didn’t you know?”

“How would I possibly know that?” Harry said loudly. He saw Draco flinch back again, looking around to make sure they were still mostly alone, and tried to lower his voice. “How do you know that?”

“It was in our marriage contract,” Draco replied quietly. “I thought you had read it.”

“Hermione told me they all say the same thing,” Harry said, remembering the hurried conversation the morning before the wedding. There had been so much to go over, the contract had seemed like the least of his worries. “Everything was happening so fast—I didn’t think it was that important to read.”

Draco flushed and bit his lower lip. Harry suddenly realized how that had sounded.

“I mean, not that I don’t care about—this.” He waved his hand vaguely at Draco, and the other man nodded. 

“I understand, of course,” he said quietly, and Harry wanted to hit himself.

Or Kingsley. Or the warden of Azkaban. He wasn’t sure who, but somebody needed to be hit.

“Well, we’ll take care of this right now,” Harry said firmly. When Draco looked at him, confused, he pushed on. “We’re in Diagon Alley – Gringotts is right here! We’ll go talk to someone, make it so that you can access your own money again.” He paused, suddenly unsure. Draco’s face had gone even paler. “Or—you don’t have to come if you don’t want to. I can go see if I can talk to someone, you shouldn’t have to deal with this —”

“No,” Draco said, quiet but determined. “I’d like to come too.” 

“Ok,” Harry said, oddly relieved. “Let’s go.”

It turned out that the money clause in the marriage contract was tied to the rest of the marriage contract in its entirety. One clause couldn’t be changed without complicating the rest of the contract, including their actual marriage, which was out of the question. Draco had to give credit where credit was due: someone in the Minister of Magic’s office knew their magical legalities.

But Harry Potter knew how to get what he wanted. Draco watched in mute amazement as the Savior of the Wizarding World appeared behind Harry’s eyes. He had seen how the smaller man drew back from the limelight – had even seen, surprisingly, that Potter seemed disinclined to use his fame for his own benefit (something that a younger Draco Malfoy would never have believed). But several goblins and three offices later, Draco had to concede that Harry Potter did, in fact, know how to leverage the power he had earned while fighting Voldemort. And he was leveraging that power for none other than Draco himself.

It made him feel a little faint. He couldn’t take his eyes off of Harry as the dark-haired man leaned across the fourth desk they found themselves facing, staring calmly but determinedly into the eyes of an increasingly-flustered goblin. Potter’s back was ramrod straight; his mouth quirked into something that was not quite a smile. His eyes, though – his eyes were molten.

Draco swallowed quickly and looked away, trying to catch up with the conversation. When had Potter’s face become so distracting?

“I’m sorry, Mr. Potter,” the goblin behind the desk was saying while clenching and unclenching his gnarled hands with what could only be anxiety. “But the contract is clear. Mr. Malfoy’s accounts can only be returned to his name when Minister Kingsley Shacklebolt, Warden Fera Brown, and several other Ministry officials sign off on it. To circumvent this specification would make the entire marriage contract null and void.”

Harry ran his hands through his hair in frustration. “So your colleagues have told us,” he said lightly. “What I need from you, Mr. Bogrod, is a solution.” He nodded in Draco’s direction. “I want my husband and I to be on equal footing as regards our mutual accounts. Draco Malfoy is a free man; he needs to be able to access funds even when I’m not with him.”

Draco fought to keep his own back straight, instead of shrinking down under the weight of the goblin’s accusing glare. But Bogrod nodded icily.

“I understand, Mr. Potter,” he said slowly. “However, the only possible solution, at the moment, would be to add Mr. Malfoy to your own account as a joint shareholder, which would —”

“Would it mean he could withdraw money at any time, without my permission or presence?” Harry asked, cutting the goblin off.

“It would,” Bogrod answered with a nod. “But I think you’ll agree that to add someone else to your private accounts, especially someone with Mr. Malfoy’s…history…”

Draco did shrink a bit at that. The goblin’s eyes on him were like chips of glass, but the banker was right. There was no way Harry would agree to that.

“That will do nicely,” Harry said firmly. He smiled disarmingly at the stunned goblin. “Please draw up the required forms now. We’ll wait.”

Bogrod bustled off, his eyebrows nearly disappearing over the round top of his bald head. Harry sat back with a sigh.

“Harry,” Draco began hesitantly. When Potter looked at him, he remembered his place and drew his hand back from where it had been drifting to the other man’s arm. “I appreciate your efforts on my behalf, and of course I’ll do whatever you think is best. Do you—” He cleared his throat. “Do you really trust me? With this?”

Harry looked at him as if he had grown a second head.

“Of course I trust you.”

“Why?” The question was out of his mouth before Draco could stop himself. He pressed his hands against his lap, desperate to know, dripping with shame. “How can you trust me?" 

“Well, because you’re my husband,” Harry answered slowly, seeming to think deeply about the answer. “And because I can tell you’ve changed. You’re out of Azkaban, this marriage saw to that. Why should you keep being punished?”

Bogrod re-entered the room with several pages of parchment covered in spidery writing. He explained the changes quickly, then Harry signed and initialed at the bottom of every page. It was done.

As they emerged into the fading light of evening in Diagon Alley, Draco was still turning Harry’s words over and over in his head. He watched Potter out of the corner of his eye. The other man seemed so sure that Draco had changed.

Maybe, for now, that could be enough.

Chapter Text

Forcing high-ranking magical officials to give you what you wanted could really take it out of a person.

Harry was still yawning as he stepped out of the Floo portal the next day, his eyes bleary from lack of sleep. He and Draco hadn’t spoken much after their afternoon excursion had turned into a full evening of wrangling bureaucracy. Dinner had been quick and silent, although the silence had been unexpectedly comfortable. He was getting very used to co-existing peacefully with Draco Malfoy, Harry reflected. In fact, things had only started to deteriorate once he and Draco had said their good-nights. 

Harry had pulled out a few pieces of parchment from work – he had left earlier than usual, after all, and it wasn’t like he didn’t sometimes bring work home. With Draco sleeping in his office (and he really needed to fix that, Harry thought for the thousandth time, the man needed his own room), he had taken to working in bed, propped up against several pillows with lumos spells hovering around his head. No problem.

But last night, something about Malfoy’s terrified eyes, the day spent bashing his head against implacable wizarding laws, and reading page after page of Death Eater-like atrocities committed against Muggles in Oslo, had put Harry fully on edge. He had spent the remainder of the night sliding in and out of confusing, fitful dreams that left him wide-eyed and panting in the dark.

Not exactly a recipe for healthy rest.

Still, he managed to pull himself together for the first few meeting of the day, and even sent several messages asking for reports and updates. The courier owls came back bearing scroll after scroll of parchment: a new agent had been identified to take over the covert mission in Norway, but she needed the proper clearances; Kingsley needed an updated list of Death Eater-adjacent groups for a report; the Daily Prophet was asking for another interview. Harry could feel himself getting more and more consumed with his work, and let it wash over him gratefully. The tightening in his chest was a familiar companion; it reminded him that he was needed, that he was doing something important. He might be in the dark about his relationship with Draco, or even with Ron for that matter; he might be so tired that he felt on the verge of collapsing if he weren’t pulled so tight – but at least he was defending the world against dark magic.

It was his birthright, and his destiny. Harry reminded himself that this – this feeling of going forward because there was no other choice, this itching drive to wipe out evil – this was what he lived for.

He didn’t realize how late it had gotten until his stomach rumbled so loudly he looked up, startled. The window by his desk was dark, with a few faint stars pricking out from behind London’s smog. The day was over, and Harry had barely even seen it begin.

He was just starting to gather his things when a tentative knock at his door made him look around. Ron Weasley’s unruly mop of bright red hair was peeking around the doorframe – Ron’s eyes tentative beneath it.

“Hey, Harry,” Ron said awkwardly. His smile looked unsure, as if he wasn’t entirely certain how it would be received. “Have you eaten?”

Harry felt something inside him loosen – he smiled back, full and genuine. “Nope – and I’m starved. Where to?”

Ron’s grin widened and he stepped fully into the door, leaning comfortably against the frame. “How about the Cradle? I’m dying for some foul Muggle beer.”

Harry laughed. “Lead on, mate.” He slung his bag over his shoulder and followed Ron out the door.

~

Their customary table was waiting for them at the Muggle bar a few blocks away. Ron and Harry had taken to coming here together when the amount of attention paid to both of them became unbearable at wizard-frequented establishments, or when they needed to discuss private or confidential wizarding matters without fear of being overhead by someone from the Daily Prophet. Harry hadn’t been in a while, though, and said as much as they settled into their corner booth, drinks in hand.

“You’ve been busy, haven’t you,” Ron said, not meeting Harry’s eyes, and Harry sighed.

“Look, Ron—” He stopped abruptly as a bored-looking waitress came over to take their food orders. When she was safely back in the kitchen, he tried again. “I haven’t been around as much for you and Hermione, and I’m sorry about that.”

Ron peered at him over the rim of his glass. He raised his eyebrows.

“I’m not fussed that you haven’t been spending as much time with us, mate,” he said, setting his pint down carefully. “I’m a grown adult, not a spoiled little kid, however much my actions might be borderline childish.” He grimaced, and Harry knew this was an apology for how Ron had acted in their apartment. Before Harry could say anything else, Ron was talking again.

“It’s just…I don’t know. It’s Malfoy, Harry.” Ron brought both hands up, then dropped them to the table, as if at a loss. “You just – seem to have forgiven him, and moved on, without any trouble, and I – I still don’t really understand why you agreed to fucking – marry him in the first place.”

“Ron, it’s something I agreed to do because I thought it would help,” Harry said, a little desperately.

“I know, I know,” Ron said harshly, running a hand through his hair. “I know you have a savior complex, I know you have to be married to him, but do you have to like it so much?” Ron hissed. His eyes were gleaming, and he didn’t even look up as their waitress approached them again with their appetizer. “His dad tortured my sister, Harry, he let Death Eaters into Hogwarts, or have you forgotten—”

“No, Ron, I have not forgotten,” Harry bit out, acutely aware of how the waitress’s eyes widened comically, how she hesitated before finally coming all the way over to their table and setting down the bowl. Harry nodded at her with a smile that he hoped was both grateful and apologetic. “But the war is over, do you understand? It’s over, and the whole point of this marriage is to help people realize that. If my own best friend can’t be bothered to give him a chance – to, to try to help make the peace we fought for –” Something else Ron had said finally sunk in. “And what do you mean, I have a ‘savior complex’?”

“You know full well what I mean,” Ron bit out. “And don’t you dare lecture me about not knowing that the war is over. You’re still fighting it every day, and it’s killing you. I’m not just talking about the marriage,” he said, waving away Harry’s heated rebuttal. “I’m talking about getting so sucked into Auror business that you forget to eat lunch, and would have forgotten dinner if I hadn’t come in to get you today. I’m talking about you taking work home on the weekends, about you never being able to get through a meal with friends without getting distracted by the news. Are you still having nightmares?”

At Harry’s silence, Ron nodded. “You look like hell,” he said frankly. “And I’m just—I’m worried that being married to Malfoy isn’t helping.”

He scooped a large helping of guacamole onto a chip and bit into it mutinously. His eyes seemed to be daring Harry to contradict him.

And Harry couldn’t. At least, not about his tendency to get pulled into work, not about the nightmares or the stress. 

“Actually, Ron, I haven’t been talking about work or the news at meals much at all, these days,” he said quietly, realizing the truth of his words as he said them. “I don’t like to bring it up when Malf—when Draco is around.”

“Hm.” Ron made a noncommittal noise around his second chip. “Well, that’s something, anyway.” He chewed thoughtfully. “Does he make you think about the past?”

It shouldn’t have been such an unexpected question, but Harry felt a little taken aback. “No,” he answered truthfully, almost before he could think. “It feels different – like I’m getting to know a different person for the first time, except I kind of already know them. It feels – really comfortable, actually.” He paused, scooping his own bite of guacamole onto a chip. “I mean, not that he’ll really open up to me much. I think he probably still resents everything I did to him, which is fair.”

Ron made a noise that sounded suspiciously like a growl, and Harry waved him back. “No, not that he does things to me, or anything. Just that he hasn’t spilled his deepest secrets and hopes and dreams to me yet, which is fine. These things take time.” He took a long swallow of beer, thinking about dinners talking with Draco about Quidditch, sitting together in companionable silence. “But it’s almost – it’s nice.” 

Ron was looking at him, one eyebrow quirked. Harry suddenly felt defensive. “What?”

“Nothing,” Ron said slowly. “I’ve just never seen you look like this before.”

“Like what?” Harry asked stubbornly, but Ron just shook his head.

“Nothing,” he repeated. He leaned back in his chair, suddenly seeming far more relaxed than he had a few moments before, and scooped up another helping of guacamole. “This place is terrible.” 

“It is,” Harry agreed solemnly. “I hope the rest of our food comes soon – I’m starving.”

Ron’s laughter, as always, was infectious.

Chapter Text

Commuter. Draco tested the odd word out on his tongue, the unfamiliar syllables reminding him of Harry’s smile when he had heard what McGonagall’s arrangement was for Draco’s last year of Hogwarts. You’re going to be a commuter.

Then Draco realized that he had been staring into space, thinking about Harry Potter’s smile for an altogether inappropriate amount of time, and shut his mind down immediately. This was clearly his brain trying to focus on anything other than the fact that he was about to go back to Hogwarts. Desperate times, he supposed, called for desperate measures.

He flicked his wand with a murmured tempus and red numbers appeared in the air before him. They flickered erratically, but he could just make them out if he concentrated: 8:45. It was time.

Draco took a deep breath, checked to make sure he had everything he needed in his bag, and turned on his heel. The now-familiar smells of the apartment were immediately replaced by damp earth, crushed grass, and the scent, barely perceptible on the wind but unmistakable, of cinnamon and spice. Hogwarts.

He could just see the castle, a dark smudge on the horizon. This was as close as you could Apparate. McGonagall had said Hagrid would be waiting for him with a thestral to take him the rest of the way. But as he looked around, it appeared that he was alone in the dewy morning. His stomach clenched automatically. Something’s gone wrong.

Then he glimpsed a broom hovering above the ground a few feet away, and felt cold sweat break out across his face. She couldn’t expect him to fly – could she?

He walked toward it slowly, not wanting to see the parchment coiled around the handle. But there it was, his name written in large letters on the outside. He unwrapped it carefully, as if he was handling something very fragile.

Mr. Malfoy,

There has been a change of plans. Instead of Hagrid and a thestral, please use this broom to travel back and forth to the castle. There is a place for you to stow it near the front door.

Welcome home.

Headmistress McGonagall

Draco swallowed around a sudden lump in his throat. Welcome home. He wasn’t quite sure how he felt about that. But first, he had to get on a broomstick for the first time since the Battle of Hogwarts.

Deep breaths, Draco, he told himself. You can do this. He would not think about Crabbe’s screams. He would not think about the scorching heat against his skin. He would not think at all.

Draco mounted the broomstick in one fluid motion, and was soaring across the grounds before his mind caught up with him. He felt his heart beating faster and was unsure if adrenaline or fear was driving him harder. The castle was getting nearer and nearer. It looked shockingly, heart-wrenchingly, the same.

Draco touched down on the deserted front courtyard. He supposed all the students were still having breakfast after the welcome feast and the Sorting the night before, and was grateful that no one saw him looking around awkwardly before he found the small niche in the inner wall with his own name on it that was clearly intended for his broom. He stowed the broomstick, then turned to face the large front doors. And froze.

“Harry Potter…is dead.Voldemort’s voice was cold and exultant. Draco was surrounded by Death Eaters, he was a Death Eater, and now he would have to be a Death Eater for the rest of his life because Potter – infuriating, wild, vibrant Potter – was dead in Hagrid’s arms and nothing, nothing, would ever be right again

No. Potter was alive. Potter made him dinner sometimes. Voldemort was dead. Draco knew this, he knew this, but the castle remembered everything. It remembered him.

Draco could not move. He knew this with a deep certainty. He could not walk into the castle that had seen him at his worst, the castle that he had betrayed. But he could not go home, either, and spit in the face of such an opportunity. He was paralyzed as surely as if someone had cast a fully body-bind curse on him.

“Malfoy?” A loud voice said suddenly behind him. “What’re ye—” and then Hagrid was there, his arms full of leafy boughs and flowers and blessedly empty of Harry’s body. Draco stepped back reflexively, his fists clenching against the suspicion in Hagrid’s words.

“Nothing,” he said quickly, glaring up at the oaf challengingly. “I’m just here to finish my seventh year.” He swallowed hard, knowing that if Hagrid accused him of anything untoward, his year was over before it began.

Hagrid seemed like he was about to retort, but then he peered at Malfoy’s face. His expression softened suddenly. “Well, of course ye are,” he said quietly. “Ye’ve grown, Malfoy.”

Draco didn’t respond. What did you say to that? But Hagrid wasn’t finished.

“I’ve got to get these into the Great Hall to finish up the decorations. Care to give me a hand?”

Draco hesitated a moment, then nodded. “Yes.”

Draco Malfoy re-entered Hogwarts with his arms full of lilies-of-the-valley and leafy oak boughs. Beside him, Hagrid was grinning. Draco felt the old defensiveness flare, then dissipate. Tentatively, he smiled back.

“The castle looks good, don’t it?” Hagrid asked, stumping toward the entrance to the Great Hall. Looking around at the entrance hall, Draco had to admit that it did. The stone was glowing gold in the morning light, and there were already flowers and leaves adorning many of the walls and staircases.

“I don’t remember all these decorations,” Draco said suddenly. Hagrid paused and turned around.

“The headmistress asked me to do it the year after the Battle,” he replied. “Said it would do the students good to see blossoms when they returned. Everyone took to it, so I’ve done it ever since.”

Draco found himself smiling. “It looks wonderful,” he said sincerely. Hagrid grinned back.

“You can put those down there,” he said, indicating a table beneath a portrait with a nod of his head. “I’d invite you to stay and help me decorate, but I daresay you’ll be wanting to get to class!”

With a start, Draco realized that the low hum of students on the other side of the Great Hall doors was getting louder. Breakfast must have finished. He suddenly very much did not want to be framed in the doorway when it opened for the entire student body to see.

With a grateful nod to Hagrid, Draco deposited the flowers and branches on the table and strode quickly down the nearest hall. He heard the doors open behind him, and glad cries of greeting which Hagrid returned. Draco sped up, then made himself slow down. He had just as much right to be here as anyone.

Well…sort of.

His first class was Ancient Runes, so he headed toward the tower classroom he remembered from sixth year. The door was shut when he arrived; slowly, he opened the door and peered in.

He was the first student to arrive, but the professor was already seated behind the large desk at the front of the room. She was young, with thick-rimmed glasses and a wide, easy smile that she turned on him as he entered. Draco didn’t recognize her, but she clearly recognized him.

“Welcome, Mr. Malfoy,” she said warmly. “Please, take a seat.”

Then she went back to reading the thick scroll of parchment before her.

Draco was a little taken aback by her ease, then realized McGonagall must have prepped all his teachers. Grateful for the welcome, he slid into a set towards the far wall of the classroom and, for lack of anything better to do, pulled out his own parchment and quill. It felt odd, being back in a classroom, but not in a bad way, really. Draco was just reflecting that he could get used to this when the classroom door opened again and a large group of students hurried in.

They were deep in conversation, broken by several loud laughs, when they saw Draco. A hush fell over the group, and he could practically feel their eyes on him as he pretended to be very interested in his quill. He was tense, though, he realized – nerves that had been heightened in Azkaban were alight with warning. He tried to breathe evenly.

“Welcome, students,” the professor said brightly. Draco glanced up. She had fixed the newcomers with a steely stare that belied her warm smile. “Please, everyone. Take a seat.”

The spell was broken. With small comments to each other and a grand shuffling of feet and bags, the students found desks and class began. Draco felt his shoulders loosen and he lost himself gratefully in the lecture on ancient runes and spellcasting.

They were starting with Irish ogham, an alphabet that Draco had some familiarity with but about which he was eager to learn more. The professor – Professor O’Reilly, as she introduced herself – was vibrant and engaging. She was up and out from behind the desk before they had been there ten minutes, and strode around the classroom gesticulating wildly when she wasn’t scribbling notes on the blackboard. Draco liked her immensely. By the time she dismissed them all for the day, he was feeling tentatively excited.

His tentative optimism did not dissipate in Advanced Charms. Professor Flitwick nodded to him briefly as he came in, but that was his only sign of recognition. The other students in the class – a mixture of Slytherins and Ravenclaws – pointedly ignored him, which was absolutely fine as far as Draco was concerned. Being ignored, as he had learned in Azkaban, was much better than being hurt. This first class of the new year was mainly reviewing theory, which Draco appreciated. It had been quite a while, but everything felt like it was sliding into place around him. In fact, as he walked to the Great Hall for lunch, he reflected that this might be a very good year.

His good mood did not last. The pointed indifference from other students in his first two classes gave way to sidelong glances, muttered epithets, and even a Stinging Hex that singed the edge of his robe before he could put it out. Draco looked around quickly, but was met with dozens of hard stares. Any one of them could have thrown the hex, and none of them would give anyone up.

The worst part was, he didn’t blame them at all. He completely understood why they were doing this. If the roles had been reversed, he would have been incensed that a known Death Eater had not only been released from Azkaban, but was being allowed to finish his studies alongside innocent students. When a low voice behind him hissed “We’re watching you, Malfoy,” he didn’t even look up. He knew they were watching. They should be watching. He couldn’t be trusted.

Defense Against the Dark Arts was next. Much as Draco was dreading that class, he found himself unwilling to stay in the Great Hall a moment longer than was necessary, and left as soon as he had eaten what he could stomach of lunch. He could always find a spot to sit and wait until class began, he reasoned. A broad window ledge a few halls away from the classroom was blessedly empty, and he curled up against the window frame, hoping that no one would pass him.

Luckily, no one did, and he entered the classroom feeling marginally calmer. The calmness evaporated, however, when he saw the man sitting behind the desk.

“I don’t hear you begging, Death Eater,” the man hissed down at him. Draco couldn’t speak – his throat was dry, scraped raw from screaming and lack of water. He reached toward the man bending over him, mostly on instinct, a strangled gasp escaping his throat. The man was holding a jug of water. Gods, he needed that water.

“I couldn’t quite make that out,” the man taunted, pulling the jug back. “Did you want something?”

Draco sobbed but no tears came. He knew what was coming next. Trembling violently, he tried to scramble away, but the man above him was too fast.

“Crucio!”

“Excuse me!” An annoyed voice behind him yanked Draco from his memories and he stumbled forward, out of the doorway and into the classroom. He was trembling, he realized, and his heart was beating violently. Gluing his eyes to the floor, he walked quickly to a desk at the back, praying that his eyes were playing tricks on him, that the new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor was not –

“Todrick Shaver,” the man declared, spreading his arms wide as if he wanted to embrace the entire class. “I am thrilled to be joining you as your new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor this year, and excited to get to know each and every one of you.”

He walked out from behind his desk, and Draco tried very hard to sit tall and straight and still. “This will be a bit different from my last position –” his glittering eyes flicked to Draco, then away again, “—but I hope that I can share with you a small fraction of the skills I have gained in my many assignments as a Ministry Auror.”

A young-looking Gryffindor sitting near the front of the class raised his hand. “Did you fight in the Battle of Hogwarts, sir?”

“I did, young man,” Shaver said, turning back to the front of the classroom. Draco tried to breathe. “I was here when the Dark Lord fell, and I helped hunt down many of his companions.”

Draco felt several pairs of eyes on him. He kept his own eyes fixed on the floor.

“Will you be here for more than one year?” another student asked. Draco couldn’t make her out, but he thought he recognized the voice of a Hufflepuff from Ancient Runes.

“Well, that all depends on how well Headmistress McGonagall thinks I do, but yes, I hope to be here for a long time to come,” Shaver answered. Draco swallowed hard.

“And now, I would like to know who I will be teaching in this prestigious Advanced Defense Against the Dark Arts class.” Shaver spun to face them all again, beaming. “When I point to you, please tell me your name, your class year, and one thing you hope to learn from me this year.”

Draco felt sweat running down his back. Of course, it made sense. McGonagall had invited him back, but he clearly still needed to be watched. He might not even have minded much, had it been anyone else. Distantly, he wondered if Harry had been told about this. Probably. Draco felt sick. Maybe he could excuse himself before Shaver reached him…

“And you? Young man? In the back – your name?”

Shaver was looking at him, along with everyone else in the class. Draco took a deep breath and prayed to every god he knew that his voice wouldn’t tremble.

“Malfoy, sir. Draco Malfoy.” But you already know that, don’t you?

He did. Draco could see it in Shaver’s eyes: a taunting knowledge that Draco was, again, completely in his power.

“And what do you look forward to learning this year, Mr. Malfoy?”

Fuck. Draco couldn’t make his brain work. People were staring at him. Someone on the other side of the classroom tittered.

“How to defend myself, sir,” he said finally, feeling a small surge of satisfaction at the barely-perceptible widening of the other man’s eyes.

“Ahh, to defend yourself? In a defense against the dark arts class? Come now, Mr. Malfoy, you’ll have to do better than that,” Shaver said genially. Draco felt himself flush and looked down as Shaver moved on to the next student.

At least this time, Shaver couldn’t torture him in the same way. Draco tried to tell himself that it was ok. Everything was going to be ok.

“Wonderful!” Shaver said when the last sixth-year Ravenclaw had given her name – Eileen Caraway – and what she was excited to learn: occlumency. “We will begin with some review.”

He waved his wand casually and a large box floated out of a closet behind his desk.

“I trust you’ve all encountered boggarts before?”

Draco felt his stomach drop. Maybe he won’t make me go. After all, even an Auror hell-bent on torturing him couldn’t want to set Voldemort loose in a classroom on the first day of school, even if it was just a boggart. Draco made sure to stand at the very end of the line as everyone stood up and shuffled into place. He wished he had thought to drink more water at lunch. Then again, his stomach was already churning enough.

The line shortened rapidly. Everyone in this class was experienced enough that a boggart hardly seemed to phase them. Draco was only a few people from the end of the line now. He waited breathlessly, hoping against hope that Shaver would step in front of him, or class would end, or that he would suddenly gain the ability to physically sink into the floor.

Nothing happened. He was the last one standing before a class of hard, expectant faces, and the boggart was turning toward him. Draco raised his wand, his hand shaking. Voldemort would appear at any moment.

But something was wrong. The boggart was getting paler, yes, but its hair was turning black and rushing down its shoulders. A hooked nose, hard green eyes, sweeping black robes –

Severus Snape was standing before him, shaking his head and muttering to himself. Draco had a fleeting moment of confusion and looked around. Was the boggart seeing someone else? Shaver seemed thrown off as well. He looked back and forth between Draco and the boggart, and moved to stand.

Then Draco heard what Boggart Snape was muttering, and felt stomach turn to ice.

“Lost cause, a hopeless coward, absolutely spineless,” Snape was saying. He looked up suddenly and caught Draco’s eyes.

“That’s right,” he said more loudly. “You’re a lost cause, a hopeless coward, absolutely spineless. Did you really think I cared for you? Respected you? How could I, when you never thought for yourself, when you followed your father into hell with nary a backward glance, when you made me kill Albus Dumbledore and for what? Because you were too spineless to even be a good Death Eater. Well, let me tell you, boy –” He was advancing on Draco now, and Draco felt himself backing up slowly, wand still raised. “It was Potter who was the key, Potter whom I swore to protect, Potter who had the strength and the courage to do what you could never do. I cared for Potter. I respected Potter. And you?” He looked Draco up and down with a sneer, then spat at him. Draco felt hot spittle strike his cheek and he stumbled backward into a chair. With a gasp, he felt his feet fly out from under him and he sat down hard on the classroom floor, a rushing sound in his ears. Snape – his mentor, his protector, his friend – had never cared for him. It had all been a ruse to stay close to Potter. Potter got everything in the end. Potter deserved everything and he, Draco, he deserved nothing, not even someone who would look out for him –

He looked up wretchedly at Snape, expecting – deserving – more, but the boggart was changing before his eyes. Draco had a moment to wonder at this. He had never seen a boggart change mid-fright. Then he realized who it was changing to and felt his stomach clench again.

Todrick Shaver leered down at him, wand raised. “I’ll make you beg, maggot,” he screamed. “Cru-”

Riddikulus!” Draco heard from behind him, and the boggart-Shaver looked up. With a loud crack, it transformed into a giant cockroach playing the maracas, and Shaver herded it back into its box.

There was a moment of deafening silence.

“Class is dismissed,” Shaver said firmly, and the silence was drowned out by the scraping of chairs across the floor as the rest of the class got up and gathered their things. Draco knew he should be standing up, knew deep in his bones that he should not let himself be alone with Shaver, but he couldn’t move. He didn’t look up until he saw Shaver’s boots stop before him, and clenched jaw and fists to keep from shying away.

“Mr. Malfoy,” Shaver said softly. Slowly, Draco looked up. Shaver was holding out a hand to him, as if offering to help him up off the floor. Draco shook his head silently and stood up slowly on his own. Shaver watched placidly as he picked his wand up off the floor where it had fallen and walked back to the desk where his bag was still stowed.

“I’m not your enemy, you know,” he said suddenly. Draco tensed, but Shaver continued. “Just here to help the students learn how to defend themselves.” Draco turned slowly to face him. Shaver was watching him with a crooked smile.

“Alright,” Draco said slowly. “Thank you.” He turned back around and gathered his things, trying to regain a shred of dignity by taking his time.

“Just know that if you ever put on a little display like that again in my class,” Shaver said softly. “I will have no choice but to report you to the Headmistress for contempt of a professor. And if I told her, word would probably spread…”

He didn’t finish his sentence. He didn’t need to – Draco could fill in the blanks for himself.

“Yes, sir,” he said quietly, and walked out of the classroom without a backward glance.

Chapter Text

Harry was tired.

It was more than never getting enough sleep. More than feeling like he could never take a break, even when he was so sleep-deprived that he knew he was missing things in the cases in front of him. It was a bone-deep exhaustion that permeated everything he did, from cooking, to talking, to working.

When he botched a simple take-down of a neo-Death Eater enclave because he was yawning when the main suspect entered the building, he knew something had to change.

So did Ron.

“You need to take a break, mate,” he said firmly as they left the Head Auror’s office after what Harry felt was a well-deserved scolding (personally, he thought it should have been more. That, he thought with a grimace, was what came of being the Chosen One – even his boss couldn’t bring herself to yell at him when he had let several high-profile criminals escape). “This can’t keep going.”

“I know,” Harry said quietly as the elevator door closed behind them. “I know you’re right. But what will I do with myself every day, Ron?” As he said the words, he realized how true they were. “This is all I’ve ever known.”

“Maybe that’s why you need a break,” Ron said matter-of-factly as they walked down the hall back to their own offices. “You killed Voldemort, finished Hogwarts, then started working here immediately. You’ve never had a break, Harry, and everyone needs a break sometimes. Look at me. Look at Hermione.”

Harry remembered how Ron and Hermione had disappeared for long months after finishing Hogwarts. She had wanted to go to Australia to find her parents, and Ron had gone with her because, as he said, he couldn’t imagine making her do that alone. They had never told Harry what happened on that trip, but they had come back sun-tanned and beaming, hand-in-hand and ready for the next chapter of their lives.

By then, Harry had been half a year into his new Auror job, and drinking more every night.

Ron was looking at him pointedly, and Harry finally nodded.

“I’ll talk to Waverly this afternoon,” he said firmly. Ron reached over and clasped his shoulder with a too-knowing look.

“Harry, we both know you won’t,” he said with a half-smile. “I’ll come with you.”

~

Harry left the office that evening feeling curiously untethered. Eva Waverly, the Head Auror, had accepted his leave of absence with good humor – Harry realized she was probably relieved that he was leaving of his own accord for a while. It was an un-specified amount of time, which felt surreal. As he Apparated home, he felt light and a little giddy. It must have shown on his face. Draco glanced up absently from several scrolls spread on the kitchen table, then looked again, a question in his eyes.

“All right, P—Harry?” he asked, making as if to rise from his chair.

“Yes, very good,” Harry answered, motioning for Draco to stay seated. “Ron and Hermione invited us over for dinner tonight – what do you think?”

Draco’s half smile fell away abruptly. “I – I have a lot of homework,” he said, looking back down at the scrolls spread across the table. “Maybe I’d better skip this one…” He trailed off, making the statement into more of a question.

“Oh, sure, right,” Harry said quickly, coming around the table and peering over Draco’s shoulder. “You’re in school again! How was the first day?”

“It was fine,” Draco said quickly – too quickly? Harry made a mental note to ask him again later, when Harry himself wasn’t in such an odd headspace. “Some new professors. I don’t want to keep you from dinner,” he added. “I can tell you more later, if you’re interested.”

“Great,” Harry said with a grin. “I can’t wait to hear how Hogwarts is doing.” He started toward the hallway, planning on changing out of his work clothes before Apparating to Ron and Hermione’s flat, but a sudden curiosity made him turn. “Who do they have teaching Defense?”

Draco’s head snapped up; his eyes were suddenly wary.

“Todrick Shaver,” he answered quickly, his eyes searching Harry’s face – for what? Harry wondered. “He’s an Auror, just started as a professor.”

“Oh,” Harry nodded and kept talking as he walked down the hall. “I don’t know the name, but I’m sure he’s good.” Draco made an affirmative noise from the kitchen. Harry reemerged, his work robes changed for casual Muggle clothes, to find Draco bent over a scroll, his quill scratching across the parchment like he was thinking about stabbing someone with it.

“By the way,” Harry said quickly, not wanting to make too big of a deal out of this but also feeling strange about Draco not knowing. “I’m taking some time off from the Aurors. Starting tomorrow, actually.” He watched Draco, wondering how the other man would respond. Draco’s face, when he glanced up from his parchment, was unreadable.

“Oh,” he said. “Is this – was that your choice?” He flushed and looked down. “Sorry if that’s a personal question, I just –”

“No, not at all. Yeah, it was my choice,” Harry responded, grinning. “I guess I just realized how much I needed a rest. I’ll probably go back eventually, but…” he trailed off, then shrugged. “Going to take it one day at a time.”

“Yes,” Draco responded, a small smile tugging at the corners of his mouth as if at some private joke. “Good to take things one step at a time.”

~

Harry was in such high spirits when he arrived at Ron and Hermione’s small flat that he enfolded Hermione in a huge bear hug before registering the seriousness of her face. He pulled back, suddenly on edge.

“Is everything ok, Hermione?”

She nodded quickly. “Everyone is fine, Harry. I just – have you seen this evening’s special issue of the Prophet?”

“No,” Harry raised his eyebrow in a question. “What have they done now?”

“You’d – you’d better just look for yourself,” she said quickly, and pulled him over to where Ron was standing by the fireplace, looking grimly down at the newspaper.

“It just got delivered. Sorry, mate,” Ron said softly, handing him the front page. Harry swallowed hard, prepared for the worst.

It was a photograph from their wedding that Harry had not yet seen: Harry himself was grinning out at the audience, his hand clasped in Draco’s. It was clearly taken just after their rings had appeared, as they were starting to make their way out of the Grove. But Draco’s expression was strange. He was watching Harry warily, a smile on his face that looked half genuine, half questioning. His other hand was raised, waving toward the crowd, but as the photograph looped, he glanced again and again at Harry’s face. Harry himself never looked back at all.

Over the photograph, the words Trouble in Paradise? were emblazoned in thick black type.

“Um,” Harry said dumbly. “What – what does this mean?”

“Read the rest, Harry,” Hermione said quickly. Harry scanned the main text of the article.

For those of us who questioned the virtue of a marriage between the Boy Who Lived and an ex-Death Eater, the latest reports from their household will come as no surprise. Sources have confirmed that Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy do not share a bed – in fact, their relationship is more akin to workplace associates than loving husbands and partners. This revelation comes only a few days after Ministry of Magic Kingsley Shacklebolt assured the wizarding world that things had never looked brighter.

“The happy union between these two young people is a beautiful reminder that peace can, and has, come again,” Shacklebolt said to a public meeting of the Wizengamot. But that peace may not be what it appears –

Harry tore his eyes from the page and stared, shocked, at his friends. They stared back, clearly at a loss for words.

“What – what the fuck,” Harry finally said, looking back down. “‘Sources confirm—’” He looked up helplessly. “What sources?!”

“They never get more specific,” Hermione answered, spreading her hands hopelessly. “It goes on to paint Malfoy as a frigid, damaged ex-con, and you as a well-meaning but oblivious celebrity just trying to do the right thing…” She shook her head. “Kingsley doesn’t come off that well either.”

Harry groaned and sank onto the sofa. “This is bad, right?” he said quietly. “I don’t – I don’t know what to do. I mean, we could publish a rebuttal, but they’re – they’re not entirely wrong about some of it…”

He broke off at Hermione’s small gasp and felt anger flare in his chest.

“I mean, we don’t share a bed, of course we don’t, we’re not in love!” Harry hated feeling this defensive. “But I don’t know how they know that, or even what business it is of anyone besides us –”

“This was a public wedding, Harry,” Hermione reminded him gently. “Kingsley put his support behind it, Malfoy got out of Azkaban for it. This is your life, but it’s also public knowledge. I’m sorry,” she said quickly, backing up a few steps at Harry’s glare. “I don’t agree with it, obviously, but –” She turned to Ron. “Help me out here?”

“You can see why it looks bad for Kingsley, Harry,” Ron said quickly. “Especially after his big speech a few days ago, and with the election coming up…”

Fuck,” Harry said again. He buried his face in his hands. “I guess –”

He trailed to a stop as the fireplace behind Hermione and Ron suddenly roared to life. They both stepped back quickly, and a moment later the face of Kingsley Shacklebolt himself had pushed through the embers, now glowing green.

“Ah, Harry. Good, Mr. Malfoy was correct. I’m afraid I need to ask you to come home. I am here in your flat, and need to speak with both you and Mr. Malfoy immediately.” He seemed to notice Ron and Hermione for the first time. “My apologies, you two. I’ll try not to keep him too long.” The smile was so undoubtedly Kingsley’s, even through the embers, that Harry felt himself relaxing. Everything would be alright. Kingsley would know what to do.

“See you later, then,” he said, standing up and clapping Ron on the shoulder. “Rain check on the dinner?”

“Absolutely,” Hermione said, her smile trembling. “Let us know if we can do anything.”

“Will do,” Harry said, then stepped into the glowing embers, still clutching the Prophet.

He stepped out into a very different living room than the one he had left. Draco’s scrolls were still spread across the kitchen table, but Draco himself was seated on the edge of the couch, his eyes cast down and his hands folded in his lap. His back was ramrod straight, and Harry noticed he was worrying his lower lip with his teeth.

Kingsley Shacklebolt was pacing back and forth before the fireplace. He broke into a smile when he saw Harry, but his eyes looked tired. “Thank you for coming back,” he said, clasping Harry’s hand warmly. “I’m sorry we’re not seeing each other under more pleasant circumstances.”

“Me too,” Harry said fervently. “Can I get you anything, Minister? Water, or tea, or –”

“Mr. Malfoy has already offered, thank you Harry,” Kingsley said. “I’m fine. Just wanted to talk to you both about the Prophet’s latest attempt to stir the pot.” He sank into one of the living room’s other chairs as Harry took a seat beside Draco. Kingsley rubbed his face with both hands and sighed, then looked up at both of them.

“I assume you’ve both seen it?”

“I haven’t,” Draco said quietly as Harry nodded.

“Oh, here –” Harry passed him the pages he was still carrying. He started to ask Kinglsey a question, but noticed that the Minister of Magic was watching Draco intently as the other man scanned the page. Harry, turning back to Draco as well, noticed that the other man’s face had gone even paler.

“Who – who did this?” he breathed, looking up at Harry as if Harry would have the answer.

“We don’t know, Mr. Malfoy,” Kingsley said sharply. “But I must admit, you are one of our primary suspects.”

Harry leapt to his feet. “Are you kidding?” he snapped. “Draco didn’t do this, no one did it, it’s the Prophet, for gods’ sake, they’re full of shit –”

He turned back to the couch and grabbed the paper from Draco’s hand. The other man had not moved a muscle.

“Look, it says right here that neither of us has confirmed or denied anything.” He thrust it toward Kingsley’s face. “Don’t you think that if they had an ounce of first-hand evidence, Draco’s name would be splashed across every line?”

Kingsley spread his hands and leaned back, shaking his head slowly.

“You’re quite right, Harry. I apologize, I overstepped.” He nodded towards Draco. “Of course, Mr. Malfoy, Harry is correct. But it’s very possible that you spoke with someone unknowingly who would see this as an opportunity for some quick money. Have you spoken with anyone about your relationship with Harry recently?”

Still fuming, Harry looked down at Draco, who was shaking his head quickly.

“I haven’t talked to anyone besides Harry in weeks,” he said quietly. “And before that, I think he was with me any time I spoke with someone else.” He seemed to be thinking hard. “Of course, if anyone were to ask me about the marriage, I would confirm our mutual happiness.” He folded his hands carefully in his lap. “My interactions with Hogwarts professors have been short and focused entirely on my studies.”

Harry found himself torn between wanting to yell at Kingsley again for making Draco so uncomfortable, and having a long conversation with Draco about whether or not he was doing ok (because not speaking to anyone besides himself and Draco’s professors – that was no way to live! What was going on?). Before he could do either, Kingsley spoke again.

“That’s good to hear, Mr. Malfoy.” He clapped his hands together and looked back at Harry with a smile. “Now that’s out of the way, we can focus on how to get out of this mess.”

Harry took a deep breath. Yes, this was good. They would figure things out with Kingsley, and then he would talk to Draco once they were alone.

“Ok,” he nodded. “What do you suggest?”

“I think you know I have been recommending that you host a gathering for some time now,” Kingsley began, raising one eyebrow. “This could be a perfect time to invite some of your friends and acquaintances to share in your – how did Mr. Malfoy put it? – ‘mutual happiness.’” He smiled slowly. “Of course, a few members of the press corps would be invited as well, which would provide ample opportunity for them to see how well you’re getting on and put an end to these rumors once and for all.”

Harry met Kingsley’s eyes. “And I think you know,” he began, “that we don’t actually like the idea of parading ourselves around in front of reporters and that it’s our fucking life, so –”

“Harry.” Draco’s quiet voice cut through Harry’s fury and he quickly looked back down. Draco swallowed hard. Harry could see his Adam’s apple bob up and down. “The Minister of Magic has a point. Reporters always need a new story. If we give them a story on our own terms, we’ll be able to control what they print.” He swallowed again and looked back down quickly. “Of course, I’ll do whatever you think is best.”

Harry considered this for a moment. Loathe as he was to admit it, Draco did have a point about controlling their own narrative. Not that he wanted to be in the business of public fame – but if the Wizarding world was determined to publish stories about his private life, at least they could be true.

Or somewhat true, he supposed.

Kingsley was nodding in a satisfied way. “Well said, Mr. Malfoy,” he remarked. Turning back to Harry, he spread his hands. “I’m sorry to ask this of you, Harry,” he said with a small sigh. “In some ways, fighting Voldemort was far easier than playing these political games. At least then, we knew exactly what we were dealing with.”

Harry sighed as well. “Yeah, ok.” He shook his head mutinously. “This isn’t going to become a regular thing – but we’ll host a party. And invite reporters.” He reached down and clasped Draco’s hand. It was cool and dry in his own. He smiled grimly. “And we’ll show them just how happy we can be.”