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Grounds for Divorce

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EPILOGUE

AUTUMN

A week before Jovtvev came for his official visit, Harry got nervous over Draco’s Patronus.

“Would you very well leave be,” Draco snapped after the fifth time Harry brought it up over dinner — needling, throwing out theories as to why it wasn’t working yet. Talking almost to himself, listing the tricks he still wanted to show Draco, thinking perhaps one of them might work.

Harry went quiet for a second. Then, “Leave be! I fucking well not leave be! Leave be and then what? And then you get stuck again, and I won’t know and you can’t call for help and—”

Draco dropped his cutlery onto the plate, letting it clatter loudly to cut Harry off. “I haven’t learned it in a month and I will certainly not learn it in a week, Harry. And if you could refrain from adopting my failures as your mission statements that would be much appreciated, thank you very much.” He took a deep breath and picked up his knife and fork again. He cut his meat in smaller pieces, then paused, said, “Oh, blast this,” and rose from the table, throwing his napkin onto his plate before storming out of the room — avoiding Harry’s gaze.

Harry found him in the shower, not an hour later. He stripped and joined him under the water, apologising to the heavens and back. I’m just worried, is all, he said, a murmur to the wet skin behind Draco’s ear. Last time was terrifying. He’d wrapped his arms around Draco, was holding him as surely and closely as he could.

I know, my love, Draco said, letting himself be held. Stroking a light hand to the line of Harry’s spine. I know.

***

Jovtvev had a shrugging way of using the word ‘maybe’, as if it was an affirmative. Would you like to sit down? Draco asked him as they led him through to the kitchen at Grimmauld Place.

Maybe, he shrugged, and sat down.

Would you like some tea, perhaps? Harry asked, nervous at the worktop — fiddling with the kettle.

Maybe, he said, and accepted a steaming mug.

He reminded Harry of Remus: tall and greying, dark smudges under his eyes, calm and easy and feeling no need to make any sort of small talk.

“Okay,” he said after Harry and Draco had sat opposite him for a good five minutes — waiting for him to talk while he sipped his tea and looked about the room with distant interest.

“Okay,” Harry repeated, half in question, and Jovtvev reached into his satchel and took out a tattered cloth, all rolled up. As he unfolded it, Draco’s hand was a sure weight on Harry’s leg to stop its anxious jumping.

Two rings, still dirty with polish, looking dull in the low light.

Harry and Draco had been at Jovtvev’s workshop while he worked the metal. It had been the requirement, and so they had made the trip. It had been barely two weeks after they’d returned from Luxor, and the both of them had still been tender from it all, Draco still hesitant in his affections and Harry overly performative — unwilling to leave his sight for too long at a time, getting on both their nerves and pushing Draco into arguments he, himself, didn’t even want to have.

They’d been annoyed over one thing or the other — Harry could barely recall, now — when Jovtvev had asked them to cast. It hadn’t mattered what, as long as it was the same spell. Harry had wanted Alohomora, Draco had wanted Scourgify, and they’d bickered for a good few minutes before Jovtvev had cut in with a, Okay then, I have decided. You will do Lumos.

They’d lit up Jovtvev’s workshop, holding hands as ordered, resting the glowing tips of their wands to the hollow strip of metal. Harry had been able to feel exactly how it worked, at that moment: the Bond and his magic. How he and Draco had intertwined, how it was all wrapped up in the threads that ran between them. It had felt terribly scary, dizzying, a bottomless well of magic — an ouroboros, a room full of mirrors. It had made him want to weep.

They both had been very quiet that night, holed up in their little Plovdiv hotel room. Careful with each other.

It all seemed far less cosmic and awe-inspiring in the kitchen of Grimmauld Place — the wireless they’d forgotten to turn off, the room still smelling of the dinner Draco had cooked. The matching gold bands sitting on the table between them.

“You are waiting for a royal invitation, yes?” Jovtvev said, dryly, when the two of them simply stared at the rings.

It was Draco who reached for them with a small huff. All business, he put one on himself, then took Harry’s hand and slipped the ring on for him.

The effect was like a silencing charm — like descending from a great height at high speed, ears popping. Harry closed his eyes, briefly. Back during those days in Romania, Draco’s attempt at a token — his somewhat amateur experiments with dragon hide — had made it feel like his touch was on Harry, constantly. This was different. This went to the core of it all, to the tight link holding them together: Draco’s magic, mixed up with his, was now rushing through him. Settling him. Easing the perpetual knot of need at the centre of him.

Draco laughed, incredulous, dropping Harry’s hand. Putting his fingers to his own chest, marvelled.

“Five days, we try, see what happens,” Jovtvev said, folding up his square of cloth again. Then, as though quite enough had been said about it, “Another tea, maybe?”

They’d arranged for him to stay at a nice B&B for the duration of his visit. He accepted this information with a shrug and requested a meeting with Bill, maybe. Harry said he would put them in touch, or would contact Bill himself, or give Bill Jovtvev’s contact details — Or something, or whatever, Harry trailed off as they said goodnight by the fireplace. He was distracted and felt strange and a little miserable.

Once the man had gone, he was stubborn and petulant about letting Draco leave.

“For crying out loud, it’s just a few days,” Draco said, amused, but his voice was lower than usual. Harry was keeping him close by his robes. Draco was fixing Harry’s collar, which was peeking from under his jumper.

“One more hour,” Harry tried to bargain. “Come on. An hour. Let’s go upstairs. Let’s — you said you wanted me to suck you, let’s go, come on, I’ll—”

Draco laughed, hands coming to rest on Harry’s neck. “I say, what a charming offer. So much gusto, too.”

Harry narrowed his eyes at him, pulling his head back a little. “Why are you enjoying this?”

“I’m not,” Draco said, his eyes dropping to Harry’s mouth and up again, thrice in quick succession. “I’m enjoying your tantrum.”

“It’s not a — mmn.” Draco kissed him, muffling the words. It was meant as a bit of a joke at first, over-the-top with the lips, Draco smiling against his mouth. But it soon eased, became languid. Harry knew, by now, how to draw Draco’s kisses from him — how to slow just when it seemed it would speed, how to slide his tongue into Draco’s mouth, how make him shiver.

Draco’s hands at his throat tightened, slipped into his hair. Harry tugged on Draco’s robes.

“Just a few days,” Draco repeated, dazed, pulling away before Harry could physically drag him back up to their bedroom.

“I don’t like this,” Harry said quietly.

“I know you don’t,” Draco said, and gently kissed his chin.

***

Harry demanded they keep a Firecall going at all times for the period Draco was at the townhouse. Impossible, Draco said. He had customers, orders, and he needed to make some calls with his suppliers — his Wiggentree guy was being elusive, again, and he was not going to sit about and wait for a response, for Merlin’s—

“Fine! Whatever! Fine,” Harry called out from the kitchen, cutting off Draco’s lecture. He walked back into the living room with a beer and flopped into Draco’s chair — as he’d come to think of it, without ever having made the decision to — with a great air of put-upon drama.

On the other side of the fire, Draco was sitting in the townhouse drawing room, his lap full of parchments and a book. He had a quill tucked behind his ear. It was their second evening apart.

“What’s this? This—” Draco imitated Harry’s great sigh, exaggerating it even further. “I’m the one being reasonable here. Don’t make me out to be unreasonable. And — damn it, where’s my—” He was searching about, lifting a book, a piece of paper.

“Behind your ear, you oaf.”

Draco felt behind his ear. Found his quill. “Lord,” he mumbled, annoyed with himself, looking at the thing in his hand.

On the third evening, Draco put the call through to the hearth in the kitchen. He was talking and cooking at the same time — opening cupboard doors, closing them, adding water to a pan of poaching tomatoes — saying, “—and then I say, well there’s already a thing for that, dear sir, it’s called dittany, look it up, many people swear by it, and he — I tell you, he calls me unprofessional. He says I took an unprofessional tone with him, and that I could kiss his business goodbye, and of course I said, sir, I do believe kissing anything of yours would be far less professional than anything I’ve said in the course of our . . .”

Harry was lying back on the couch. He’d eaten early, had joined Ron and Hermione and darling little baby Rose for supper, and was still full and slow. As he watched a Firecall-blurry Draco move about and ramble, sleep began pulling at him. The ring was warm around his finger, and he played with it, rubbed his thumb over it.

“I’m sorry, am I boring you?”

Draco had come to stand by the hearth. His hair was a mess, his sleeves rolled up. Desire coiled tight at the pit of Harry’s stomach. There was no hum, no tug, no foreign magic.

Harry smiled, slow and tired, and said, “No. I like it when you talk.”

“Yes, I can see. Lulls you right to sleep, doesn’t it.”

“Hmm,” Harry said, grinning. He rubbed his hand low over his belly. Pushed his shirt up a little, up over the V of his hips. He couldn’t hear Draco’s reaction over the low hiss of the fire, but saw the drop of his eyes. Saw the bob of his Adam’s apple.

“Harry,” he said, a faint warning in his voice, but he didn’t follow it up with any concrete thought. Harry moved a slow hand over the zip of his jeans, grinding up against his own touch.

“Harry,” Draco said again, a whisper this time. Harry unbuttoned his fly.

The tomatoes were burnt, in the end, rather than poached, and Draco’s kitchen was blue with smoke.

On the fourth evening, Harry sat cross-legged by the fire, eating pizza out of a box, and said, “You know, I could be your Wiggentree guy.”

“You what?” Draco looked up from his own dinner — made without company to distract him, this time.

“I have a sapling in the back of the greenhouse. It’ll take a while before it’s mature enough, but — I think perhaps by early spring you can start with bark shavings. You dry them, don’t you? Isn’t that what you did for the one for — ah, what’s her face. The other week, the one with the . . . What, Draco?”

Draco was staring at him, his mouth a line.

“You listen,” he said, eventually. He sounded like this was upsetting to him. Like he’d just lost a bet with himself.

Harry snorted. “It’d be hard not to.” He tore a slice of pizza from the pie. “You do talk an awful lot.”

On the fifth night, Draco kept the conversation going far past the point where either of them had anything to say. Harry was drowsy, laid back on the carpet, fingers playing through the cold fire of the call. It was past midnight. They’d been talking for hours.

“Guess it works,” Harry said, his voice a little rough. He was looking at the glinting of the band on his finger.

Draco hummed. He was tracking the movement of Harry’s hand.

“How many more hours?” Harry asked.

“Five,” Draco said.

Harry groaned. Draco huffed a laugh, and Harry could read how tired he was by the way he inhaled. The way he slouched, sitting by the fireplace with his knees drawn, his back against the seat of an armchair.

When Harry woke up, dawn was pale beyond the curtains of the living room. He’d fallen asleep on the floor and his back was hurting. Draco was kneeling by his side, hovering close, softly cupping his cheek.

“Good morning,” Draco said, voice deep with sleep.

“Ah, we’re alive,” was Harry’s dopey reply. “Yay.”

Draco’s smile folded into his cheeks, crinkling his eyes. “You’re so warm.” He’d moved his hand to Harry’s neck. Harry’s eyes drooped. “So sleepy. Such a warm sleepy baby.”

“Y’r a baby,” Harry mumbled. He was having a hard time keeping his eyes open.

“Come on, up. We’re going to bed.” Draco tugged at his arms and laughed when Harry let himself be hoisted into sitting, limbs limp.

Harry wasn’t sure how they’d made it upstairs, or how much he’d contributed to the act of moving at all, but he woke up a bit once they were in their bed again.

Draco was taking off his jeans for him, and his neck was very close to Harry’s mouth. Harry hummed, nipped at the skin, and Draco gasped a laugh, let himself fall onto Harry’s chest.

“Ugh,” he said, and half-heartedly shoved Harry’s jeans down his thighs. “That’s it. That’s all I’ve got for you.”

“C’mere,” Harry told him, pushing a slow hand into Draco’s hair, moving him, seeking out his mouth. Their kiss was messy, uncoordinated. Harry couldn’t quite close his mouth as Draco licked at his bottom lip, sucked at it.

Harry wanted him, had missed him, was suddenly weak with it. He muttered as much into Draco’s mouth, his hands slow at the buttons of Draco’s fly, and their fingers laced together as they tried to push his trousers down.

They ended up rutting together, slow and hazy, breathing into each other’s mouths.

“Sweetheart,” Harry said, his breath hot on Draco’s wet mouth. “Put — ah, darling, put—” He took Draco’s hand to hold the both of them, showed Draco how he wanted him to jerk them off together, then let his own hold slip off again — clutching at the sheets, fucking up against Draco’s hold. Against the pressure of Draco’s hard cock, pushed tightly against his.

“So I’m—” Draco’s voice caught and he tried again, gravelly, saying, “So I’m doing everything now.”

Harry laughed, his stomach muscles jumping against Draco’s knuckles. “Fuck, I’ve missed you,” he said on a huff of breath, and Draco dipped down to lap at his throat, to suck a hard kiss to the spot under his ear. Harry moaned, and came, surprised — he had not realised how close he was.

Draco moaned in response, stroking Harry through it. He murmured sweet things at him, dirty things, holding Harry’s twitching cock in hand — revelling in Harry’s gasped laughs.

“C’mon,” Harry said, tugging him until he was draped over his chest. Draco moved against him, rubbing against the V of Harry’s hips, his face hidden in Harry’s throat. Harry stroked Draco’s back, encouraging him, sleepily mouthing at the shell of his ear.

Draco’s breath hitched, something of a sob, his hips snapping quickly now — cock hot and wet against Harry’s skin.

“C’mon, baby,” Harry whispered, and Draco stilled for a fraction — then rutted frantically, coming with a small and desperate sound.

“Ah,” Harry said when Draco stilled. When he dropped all of his weight onto Harry. “We did it.”

Draco’s chest moved with his answering laugh. “We did it,” he said, voice like sandpaper.

When Harry reached for Draco’s hand, their rings clinked together, as warm to the touch as their very skin.

***

WINTER

Ten minutes before they left for the Burrow, Harry wanted to know whether Draco had seen his ring. Isn’t it in the bowl? Draco called from the bathroom, and Harry didn’t raise his voice to reply, mumbling to himself that no, it wasn’t it the bowl. That if it was in the bowl he wouldn’t have asked, because the ring was always in the bowl.

It wasn’t that he was in the habit of taking it off. Just sometimes, before sleep. Sometimes, when Draco decided to work from Grimmauld for the day and would take shop in the study, Harry could feel precisely where he was in the house, without the ring. Could feel exactly the length to which the Bond stretched, where it ended.

“God damn it,” Harry mumbled, patting his pockets, looking under the bedside table. Perhaps it had rolled off. He wanted to go in search of his wand and Accio the damned thing, but Draco marched out of the bathroom in a cloud of cologne and demanded they leave immediately.

“We’re very late and very rude,” he said, suddenly all action, dragging Harry from his fussing about — from looking under the bed.

“We’re not that late,” Harry said, easily letting himself get carried along as he cast a final glance back at the bedroom.

Though for all his hurry, it was Draco who had Harry wait out in the snowy garden while he secured the cat door open and left a shallow saucer of food on the kitchen tiles. Masudi refused to enter if the little plastic flap hadn’t been Spell-o-taped open. He’d simply stay on the other side of the glass doors, meowing until someone trudged downstairs and opened the garden doors for him.

He never did that before you moved in, Harry had said one night, at three in the morning, slipping back into bed. It had been his turn to let the cat in.

Deepest apologies, Draco had mumbled, half asleep, turning his back to Harry. I’ll move out t’morrow.

Harry had responded by wrapping himself around Draco with a dramatic noooo, draping a leg and an arm over Draco and hustling him close, pretending he was not going to let go.

Ottery St Catchpole was colder than London. The skies were brighter, the snow piled higher, and the both of them shivered all the way from the Apparition point to the Burrow. They entered midway through a carol, bellowed out by a pink-cheeked party made up of Ron, Bill, and Charlie. Bill was trying to hit the high notes, Ron was aiming for the low baritones, and Charlie — tone deaf as he was — swung wildly between the two. Lowe was at his side, hiding his face in Charlie’s chest — straight out laughing at the display. Arthur was trying to entertain a weepy Rose, rocking her about, and Teddy was playing exploding snap with Hermione. Andromeda and Molly were sat by the Christmas tree, slow in conversation. There were fake antlers atop Molly’s head, and her cheeks were a deep red.

“Rosie!” was Harry’s exclamation of hello to the room at large as he made a beeline for the baby, not bothering to take off his coat. He gently took her from Arthur with a long babble of, “Rosie Rosie my cosy dosy hello, my sweet!” while the babe stared up at him, her weepy tantrum slowing to a shocked expression.

Draco found him a good few minutes later, put-upon in his attempt to get Harry to take off his coat. He greeted Rose with a quiet, “Good ‘eve, little one,” tugging one sleeve off of Harry’s arm.

Hermione took Rose from him eventually, kissing him hello, asking him how he was. Rose was grabbing at her hair, and she gently eased her fingers from the tangle — almost absent-mindedly, used to it by now.

“Good,” Harry said, grinning. The room was full of people, a fire was blazing in the hearth, and everything was hot. He was flushed and he hadn’t even had a drink yet.

Hermione’s inspection of his answer was not subtle in the least. “Okay,” she said, grinning herself, sounding suspicious.

“What!” he said, laughing, taking Rosie’s tiny little hand — letting her wrap her fingers around his thumb. “What else am I supposed to answer?”

“Nothing.” Her smile was kind and private, and he felt far too seen by it. “Good is good. Good is a good answer.”

Draco had made a sachertorte, this time, and had taken to guarding it by the food table. Not guarding it, he insisted when Harry wandered over to make fun of him, Just making sure people consume appropriately sized pieces so that there’s be enough for everyone.

Right, Harry said, and tried to distract him with a kiss while cutting off a disproportionately large piece off to the side.

“I know what you’re doing,” Draco said into the kiss, and aimed to twist the knife out of Harry’s grip. Harry pulled his hand away, and they tussled for the knife until Ron had to tipsily shout across the room that there were children around, and could Harry please refrain from waving about sharp objects.

“Yes, could you?” Draco repeated quietly between them, biting down on a smile.

Harry licked a bit of chocolate frosting from his thumb, said, “No promises,” and sauntered off in search of Bill, making a face at Draco over his shoulder as he went.

Bill was even more upset than Harry thought he’d be at the fact that Harry hadn’t brought the ring with him. Harry apologised, said that he knew he’d promised — and he’d meant to, truly! — and that usually he never took it off, only, just. Well. Last night, and, well. And he could ask Draco, if need be, he was certainly—

“Ech,” Bill waved off the suggestion, well into his mulled wine, looking sulky for it.

“Next time, certainly,” Harry told him, a hand to Bill’s shoulder. “Certainly next time.”

Teddy had dragged Draco out into the garden to show him the few spells he was allowed to do with his practice wand. Harry watched them playing about in the snow from the kitchen window, Teddy making a whisk of powder puff up into the air. Draco was watching his performance seriously, nodding, saying something earnest in response that had Teddy blushing proudly.

Then Draco showed him a few spells of his own. He spelled the snow into balls, the balls into a snowman, the snowman into tumbling about the garden and then falling apart in a puff of white dust. He spelled a play of charming lights around them, spelled a butterfly from the end of his wand, then excitedly — a youthful thrill about him — set to show Teddy his Patronus charm.

It hadn’t taken form yet. It hadn’t developed into anything more than a shimmering, warm shield that would surround the both of them whenever they’d practice. And in the safety of their living room, after the fifteenth time in a row when he couldn’t produce anything clearer than that, Draco would often be snappish about it. He would shrug off Harry’s touch, annoyed and embarrassed, would throw his wand onto the coffee table and storm out of the room.

But outside in the snow with Teddy, he was nothing if not proud. The shield sparked and glowed, casting a bright blue hue across the garden. Teddy stood under its umbrella, awed, a hand clutched in Draco’s robes.

That’s when Lowe walked in, a bottle of wine in hand, looking for something to uncork it with. He softened at seeing Harry, softened further still at seeing Harry watching the play unfold out in the garden.

“Very cute,” said Lowe, opening a drawer, closing it. Opening another one.

“Next to the stove,” Harry told him. Then, “I’m under strict instructions to not speak with you of anything other than the weather.”

It wasn’t exactly true. Draco had joked about it when Harry had asked if he would be fine at the party. He’d said something to the effect of, Simply keep it short, yes. You ask him of the weather, he tells you its dreadful, and then that is that.

Lowe snorted. He found the bottle opener in the drawer next to the stove. “How about the weather, then?”

“Dreadful,” Harry said.

Lowe uncorked the bottle with a pop. He walked over to Harry, offered to fill his empty glass. Harry held it out, grateful.

“Charlie pretended he had no idea what I meant. ‘What d’you mean if I’m okay with Harry?’” He affected Charlie’s inflection eerily well, holding out the bottle, pouring Harry his wine.

“Thanks.” Harry drank, slow, watching Teddy as he tried to catch the sparks of the Patronus shield. “So Ron tells me you’re—”

“Yes.”

“So you’re—”

“Yes.”

“You don’t know what I was going to say.”

“Well.” Lowe took a swig straight from the bottle. “It’s probably yes anyway. Yes, we worked it out. Yes, we talked. Yes, we’re fine now. Yes, the weather is dreadful. Yes, I love him stupid. Yes, yes.” He said this with an affected exasperation, gesturing.

Harry looked at him for an amused moment, shaking his head. “Well. Congrats.” He held out his glass for cheers, and Lowe snorted, clanked his bottle to the rim.

Midnight found Teddy fast asleep on the couch. It was around that time that Ron held a drunken speech about love and family and the beauty of it all. Hermione stood next to Harry while Ron pontificated, and at some point mumbled, My god, someone should interrupt him, under her breath, and shoved at Harry when he didn’t do a good enough job at stifling his laughter. George was the one who herded Ron off the coffee table. He then got onto it himself and delivered a very good rendition of Ron’s speech, except with nothing but the words Christmas, wine, and baby on repeat.

When it was time to leave, Harry found Draco in the dim kitchen, rocking a sleeping Rose on his shoulder. He noticed Harry, a warm glance, then made a face to say that Harry should stay quiet. Harry had both their coats in his arms, and put them down over the back of a chair. He went over with a whispered hello to Rose — with a soft kiss to the top of her head — then another whispered hello to Draco, leaning up to kiss him on the mouth.

“We should get going,” he said.

“Would they notice,” Draco began, voice all reason, looking down at the sleeping babe, “if we took the baby?”

“After a day or two, yeah. Probably.”

“She’s just so warm,” he said, and put his cheek to her head.

“You want the baby for heating purposes?”

“Hmm,” Draco affirmed. Rose was drooling on his shoulder.

Back at home, they were still in the foyer — still taking off their coats — when Draco said he had Harry’s Christmas gift. Harry disagreed, said that it had to wait until the next morning, as per tradition, but Draco didn’t listen. He simply hung up his coat, reached for his breast pocket, and took out Harry’s ring.

“Hey!” was Harry’s first reaction, accusatory, but then Draco held it out for him to see. The light was low in the entrance hall, and so the lettering was hard to read, but the inside of the band was now unmistakably engraved.

“What . . .” He took it from Draco, held it up to the orange light. All hearts, it said, in curling, slanted script, are fools.

“Oh, Lord,” Draco said when Harry looked up at him, bleary through wet eyes. “No. Won’t do. I will take it back if you weep. Come, give it back, give it—”

Harry twisted himself out of Draco’s reach, laughing wetly. He put on the ring, chest full and swelling and aching. Draco was still so very careful with his heart, these days. He still blushed when Harry told him he loved him, and only said it back on the rare occasion — and always in response. And I you, he would say, all seriousness, even if Harry had said it as lightly as he could.

Later, in bed, Harry quietly asked if Draco had engraved his own ring as well. He gave a humorous little speech on how strange it would be for just one of the rings to bear the text, and how — if ever lost — no one would know they came as a pair, and Draco cut him off by taking off his ring for Harry to inspect.

Harry turned on the reading lamp.

In love, it read.

“You’re a sap,” Harry said, a long moment later. It wasn’t true — he simply didn’t know what else to say. His throat felt thick.

“Yes, well,” Draco said, taking the ring back, slipping it back on.

“My god,” was all Harry had in response. He then turned and leaned in so he could kiss Draco, and Draco, though blushing, met him halfway, moving into Harry’s touch — into Harry’s hands on his cheeks. It was a deep kiss from the start, Harry tilting his head, open-mouthed and close as he slotted their bodies together. Draco kissed him back breathlessly, hotly, his hands low on Harry’s back — slipping down below the band of his briefs.

And while Draco was hesitant in his spoken affections, there was no reserve in how he reached for Harry each time again. He enjoyed giving pleasure, enjoyed tracking Harry’s slow falling apart at his hand. Enjoyed, most of all, walking the sharp edge of frustration and release — pulling off when Harry was about to come, slowing down, making him wait. Making Harry say whatever Draco needed to hear from him.

How do you want me? he’d ask, right when Harry was beyond words. And when Harry would only moan, would only arch in response, the command would come again: Tell me how you want me.

That night it was deep and fast, Harry with his knees tucked under him and Draco pumping into him, keeping Harry close with an arm looped around his waist. His other hand he’d braced by Harry’s head, and Harry — red-faced and sweaty, turned on beyond belief — mouthed at Draco’s fingers. Sucked them into his mouth. Licked at the band of gold, at the skin under it.

“Tell me.” They were Harry’s words this time. Uttered hoarsely, wetly, as he slanted an angled look at Draco over his shoulder.

Draco didn’t pause in his thrusting. He moaned, slack-jawed, his eyes dark, lashes clumped together.

“Tell me,” Harry told him, again, and Draco breathed an unfocused,

“What?”

“Tell me.”

Draco’s responding noise was something like a groan. Something like a gasp, movements stuttering as he pulled Harry up closer by his hips, lifting his knees a little off the mattress. Harry lost his voice for a while, face mussed in the sheets, and Draco was controlling their trusts with two hands now. One at the crease of Harry’s pelvis, one at the small of his back.

“I love you,” Draco said on a breath, just when Harry’d almost forgotten what he’d asked for.

Harry shuddered, pushed back against a thrust — pushed off the mattress with two hands, coming up on all fours.

“Lord, so much,” Draco said, leaning over Harry. He bit the back of Harry’s neck, then held him as he came, repeating the words thrice more: “I love you, love you, love—”

***

SPRING

Sara came to pick them up by car from the one-platform station. Mitali didn’t want to connect the summer house address to Apparition coordinates, as she had her theories about the Ministry tracking magical travel.

It was a sunny day in early April, a deceptively bright one even though the air was still cold, the winds still cutting. Sara’s car was hot, though, and smelled like sun and old dogs. There were water bottles on the floor, which she insisted they kick out of the way if they bothered them.

Harry had wanted to take the passenger seat, but Draco’s hand had tightened on his arm when he’d opened the front door and Harry had recalled how nervous Draco got in cars. They’d both settled in the back seat, and as the car hobbled over narrow country roads Draco reached out to hold Harry’s hand. His fingers tightened painfully with every bump, every turn.

Sara was rattling off facts about the region, the history of the countryside. Every now and then she’d glance up at them through the rearview mirror, eyes crinkling, and say, Gosh, so nice to have you. So nice to have you!

They had a darling cottage with a pond. Mitali was standing at the door when they arrived, waving, stepping out onto the gravel. Her short salt-and-pepper hair was striking in the bright light of the day.

Draco and Harry were greeted with a hug and were then quickly ushered inside. There were sandwiches, Sara told them, inflecting the word as though it had been a point of contention.

“Everyone likes sandwiches,” Mitali declared, directed at Draco rather than at her wife.

“Certainly,” Draco agreed, shooting Harry a quick look — eyebrows up.

They had lunch in the sun room. They sat opposite one another on plush couches, surrounded by towering palms and ferns. Harry had a few questions about temperature charms, and Mitali quickly redirected him to her wife.

“All Sara’s hand, really,” she said, gesturing at the greenery around them. “Quite something, isn’t it?”

“You should come see Harry’s garden,” Draco said. He’d draped his arm over the back of the couch, was touching the pad of his thumb to Harry’s spine. “It’s rather — beautiful.”

This was the first Harry had heard of his garden being anything else other than a muddy menace. He gave Draco a questioning smile, but Sara wanted to hear of his garden and drew him into a conversation. Mitali and Draco were quick to segue into their own side-conversation — something about a paper she’d been writing, a footnote Draco was going to provide.

It was a lovely afternoon. After they’d finished the sandwiches Sara had brought out a decanter of port and poured them all a shallow glass. Harry, happily woozy in the warm room, hadn’t said anything for a while, and awkwardly interrupted a conversation he hadn’t realised was going by saying: “Such a lovely home.”

There was a beat of silence, then Sara asking if he wanted to be shown around? She could take him around the garden, too. She would like his take on the state of her wisteria.

Draco and Mitali kindly declined an invitation to join. Draco was sat on the edge of the couch, notebook in hand, while Mitali had put on her glasses and was having a look at some of his calculations.

“This is new,” Sara said, a while later, just as they were taking a turn about the pond. She had nodded at Harry’s ring finger, at the gold band.

Harry looked down at his ring, turned it about his finger with a thumb. There was no reason for him to blush, and yet blush he did.

“Congratulations,” she said. Harry smiled, thanked her, and meant it too. Should he have corrected her, he wondered — should he have told her what the ring was? But no, there was nothing to correct. It still meant the same. For him, it still meant the same.

The surface of the pond was green with algae. It had a few big lily pads in its middle, and above the water was a jumping cloud of insects: water striders and early-season mosquitos, flies and mayflies and dragonflies — colourful ones — jerking themselves up and downwards. Their little bodies at a standstill, their wings a blur of movement.

“Have you ever,” Harry started, “taught someone the Patronus charm?”

She didn’t seem taken aback by the question. “I teach Arithmancy,” she said as though to say, no.

“So you don’t know anything about . . .” he trailed off. He turned the band around his finger again. “I’ve been working on it with Draco. Almost a year, now. And it’s not . . . I don’t know. I thought, maybe . . . as a teacher, you’d . . .”

She nodded, thinking. Then, “You know, I wasn’t able to produce one until my late thirties. Ten years into my relationship with Mita. We thought it’d be — good, somehow — for me to be able to do it, once she started travelling a lot and we didn’t see each other as much as we used to, and . . . well.” She waved off the details of the story. “It was difficult for me. So Mita started reading up, as she’s wont to do, trying to figure out why, exactly, and I remember . . .” She took a breath. “She found this article that looked into the sustainability of the core memory and the Patronus itself. I think for me, personally, that is, that — it helped, in the end.”

“Sustainability?” They’d started walking again, slowly back toward the house. “What does that mean?”

She clasped her hands behind her back. Shrugged. “I was a tad insecure at that moment in my life, if you can believe. Patronuses need conviction. Certainty.” She gave him a sidelong look, squinting against the sun. “The caster needs to know their own happiness. Beyond any doubt.”

He hadn’t stopped turning the ring around his finger. It was hot against his skin. “Do you think Draco is . . . that he’s . . .”

“Darling.” She put her hand to his arm, squeezed. “Aren’t we all, from time to time?”

Back at home, Harry didn’t even wait for Draco to hang up his coat, starting the conversation with a—

“You know I’m not leaving you, right?”

It was a testament to their short near year together that Draco didn’t startle at this. He simply made sure the loop of his coat hung from the hook properly, unravelled his scarf and said,

“Perhaps tea first, love?”

And so tea was made, left to draw, then poured, then set on the kitchen table. Harry waited for Draco to sit, opposite him, fingers wrapped around a mug, and then earnestly picked up right where he’d left:

“I’m not leaving you.”

“Very well,” Draco said. “I wasn’t quite aware that it was an imminent danger, but all the same, good to know.”

“Do you have doubts? About us? About me?”

“Good Lord, what’s this, then? Half a glass of port and you’re a—”

“Do you still think I might leave? That I’m not — that I’m not honest in this?”

Draco took a sharp breath, looking up at the ceiling. A shaky smile had been playing at the corner of his mouth, a feigning amusement that died down quickly. “I’m—” He closed his eyes briefly. “Lord, the things you make me say.” He looked back to Harry. Then, “I’m quite — I’m happy, Harry. With us. Quite so.”

“Quite so?”

Draco’s huffed response was all annoyance. His words didn’t seem to do what he wanted them to, which Harry knew was a sure way to get him mad.

“I just mean to say—!” He cut off with a breath. He ticked his ring to the cup, some rhythm, then glanced about the room. He said, “You know, when I left this place I swore to myself I wouldn’t return. Under no circumstances was I to set foot in this house again. Quite dramatic, of course, in retrospect, but at the time . . .” He finished the thought with a wave of a gesture. “It was a pride thing. A hurt thing. But then you got hurt, and someone had to take care of you, and really, it didn’t — matter at all, did it? Not one bit.”

Harry looked at him — looked at him in what was now their kitchen, their home. At their table, Harry’s ring around his finger. The kettle was still quietly puffing on the stove. Harry stayed silent, wanting to hear if there was more to come.

“I don’t have the privilege of your thundering certainty, Harry. I don’t know things the way you know them. With this — clarity. This focus. I hedge my bets, love, I dither, I go through every scenario twelve times before I act and — I doubt. All the time. Not us, just — in general. But . . .” He put down his mug. Shook his head, once, said, “It doesn’t matter.” He smiled, a small, self-deprecating line. “Not when it comes to you, does it?”

Harry reached out, a hand out on the table, palm-up. Draco’s familiar hand slipped into his, his long fingers wrapping around Harry’s wrist, a touch like a memory — new and echoing all at once.

“I’m going to be here,” Harry said, stroking the skin of Draco’s wrist, “until you’re absolutely sick of me. Until you’re bored of me, bored of my face, and—” Draco had tugged at him, reprimanding, and Harry laughed, adding, “And even then, I’ll still be here. And maybe one day you’ll wake up and you won’t worry anymore. But even if you do, I’ll still — I’ll be here. Right here.”

Draco was looking at their hands. “See what I mean? This absolute bloody certainty. Who’s like that? Who’s even—”

“Hey.” He pulled a little, making Draco look up. Harry smiled at him, warm, and said, “I know what I know.”

“Ugh,” Draco looked away, abashed — as per tradition — by Harry’s bare affection. But he was blushing all the same, a ruddy flush down his cheeks. It looked pretty on him, Harry thought. Most things did.

Draco’s hold was growing warm in his. Harry didn’t feel the need to let go. In the garden, Masudi the cat had started pawing at the door, wanting to be let in. The slight shake of the glass made the coin that hung on the wall skitter against the plaster with a soft few ticks. A non-existent breeze blew through a room a world away, a century away, and the gold-set lemon tree shook, its leaves fluttering.

***

SUMMER

Harry’s Patronus had first changed at the end of their 8 th year. The memory of his parents wouldn’t work anymore, just filled him with the aching sadness of only looking back — of ignoring the future. The memory that became the core for his second Patronus was one of a tipsy evening with Ron and Hermione at Grimmauld Place, not too long after the war — the first time in years he’d seen his friends laugh so hard they were crying. The Patronus had shifted from a stag to a bear cub, a sweet and barreling animal, which Harry had come to love dearly for the few years it had stayed with him.

After the curse, after the fallout of that, the memory that kept floating to the forefront of his mind on casting was somehow that of Neville, holding on to him and telling him he was a single Floo away. Of Neville making Harry say it back at him, saying, Say it. Where am I?

And Harry answering, A single Floo away.

Exactly, Neville had agreed, pointing at him. Don’t you forget it!

It was a wolf-looking animal, for a while. Then a stoat, a fox, and for a while it was just a hum. An odd fog, shapeless. A hum.

Somewhere around Ron and Hermione’s wedding, somewhere in the blur of that summer, his Patronus had turned quick and flighty and strange. A hummingbird. It wasn’t a memory that was at its core, not exactly, but rather the tang of an orange. The clean smell of sage, of myrrh.

It liked to perch on Draco’s outstretched hand whenever Harry demonstrated. Sometimes he would send it upstairs to get Draco from the study, and Draco would come down with the silvery thing on his shoulder, cleaning its wings with its long beak.

Draco’s dragonfly did nothing of the sort. It circled Harry’s head, jumping up, down, and wouldn’t leave off its buzzing until Harry got up off his muddy knees by the patch of lilies and began to make his way back to the kitchen, brushing the dirt from his hands as he went.

“You summoned?” Harry asked, taking off his garden boots out on the patio — leaning on the doorframe with one hand.

“Why, yes!” Draco said, mostly to Rose, who he was holding in the cradle of his arm. With his other hand he was regulating one of the hubs, and Rose was babbling, blowing raspberries every now and then. “I know!” Draco said. “I agree, I completely agree, that is an excellent observation, professor.” Then, turning to Harry, he asked—

“Could you?”

Harry came to take Rose from him, and with one sharp look was told off for his mud-dirtied hands. Harry gave a tired Well!, but washed his hands all the same — then held out his arms for Rose, took her from Draco with an exaggerated sigh of relief. She was holding one end of a wooden spoon, gnawing on the other. Harry kissed her head several times over, cradled her close, and asked,

“All’s well?”

Draco hmm’d and stirred at the one pot. Sent an eggplant to the chopping board with a wave of his wand.

Harry gasped. “Look at what uncle Draco can do!” he said to the baby. In response, the baby drooled down her own sleeve.

“They should be back any minute,” Draco said, meaning that he wanted Harry to do something. What, precisely, Harry wasn’t sure — the table was cleared, the room had been tidied. Draco was nervous.

“Smells good,” he said, coming to stand close, looking in over Draco’s shoulder, and Draco gently pushed him away with a sharp,

“Oh, would you—!”

The Floo flared to life in the living room, and Ron’s voice boomed through the house — his dad voice, as Harry called it.

“Child!” he cried out, as though he’d been lost and looking for weeks — as though he had just stumbled into Harry’s living room as a last resort. “Where is my child! Has anyone seen my child!”

Rose started kicking in Harry’s grip, hitting the wooden spoon on Harry’s arm in excitement.

“Oh my god, there she is!” Ron wailed in the doorway, meeting Harry halfway. Rose made noises as Ron took her from Harry, and Hermione — half a step behind him — hugged Harry hello while Ron pretended to eat his daughter’s arm in a babble of nom nom noms.

Draco got a kiss on the cheek from Hermione and a series of questions about dinner, about whether Rose had behaved, about whether they’d managed with the feeding schedule, because I should’ve been clearer, I realised only once we’d left I forgot to mention that she drinks best when you twist the—

“Everything was fine,” Harry told her, coming to stand behind her with two hands on her shoulders — giving her a short shake. They were all surveying Draco’s array of bubbling pots and pans.

“Okay,” Hermione said, a little mollified. “Good.”

Harry could see Draco had invested more than usual in the dinner — that he was more anxious about it than usual — but didn’t quite know why. He tried to keep him at the table for as long as possible, but it wouldn’t do: Draco kept on flitting back between the counter and the table, checking on the sauce, on the second course, on the dessert in the oven. Ron ate it all, gratefully and blindly, his daughter asleep on his chest. He was retelling the story of how, on the first night, they’d Apparated to the wrong hotel, and how it had taken them a good half hour of arguing with the clerk to figure out the error.

“We’re almost out of wine,” Draco mumbled, quietly, and made to get up for the third time in ten minutes. Harry held him back with a hand to his leg, said,

“Everyone’s good, darling.”

Draco was settled back down. Harry kept his hand in place for a good while, but as soon as he left off — reaching for his glass — Draco pushed his chair back and made for the pantry to rummage for a bottle of wine.

They took tea in the living room. Ron was upstairs to put Rose down for now, and Hermione was slow and pink-cheeked on the couch. She wanted to know about Draco’s collaboration with Mitali, as she usually did, and Draco quickly and absently updated her on the status of their research — though kept asking if the cheese was alright, if the jam was good? If she wanted a glass of port, perhaps, or a dessert wine instead, or—

“Is he okay?” Hermione asked, soft-voiced, when Draco went back into the kitchen in search of a dessert wine no one had asked for.

Harry was watching the kitchen doorway, and said, “I’ll go check on him.” Then, with a quick glance to Hermione, “Yeah?”

Hermione waved him off. She was taking off her sandals, put her feet up on the couch, cradling the stem of her wineglass close.

Draco was standing by the worktop, uncorking a bottle. He’d taken out four digestif glasses and had put them upside down on the counter. A wild strand had come loose from his plait. Harry came up to him to tuck it back into place.

“You’ve come for me?” Draco asked, entertained, giving him a quick glance over the shoulder.

Harry wrapped his arms around him, put his mouth to Draco’s shoulder. Hummed in assent. “Thank you for dinner,” he said.

Draco leaned back into the hold. He said, still sounding amused, “You’re very welcome.” Harry’s hands were low on his belly, thumb stroking between two shirt buttons. Draco’s skin was warm under the cotton and he smelled like the dinner he’d prepared, like the soap in their shower, like their bed. Harry pressed a kiss to his neck, and Draco, sensing the shift in how Harry was holding him, huffed — tilted his head, presented more skin.

“Was tonight okay?” Harry asked, nosing behind Draco’s ear.

“Mm?”

“You seemed a little . . .” Harry’s next kiss was to the line of a vein. “Jumpy.”

Draco sighed a pleased sigh, distracted by Harry’s mouth. He covered Harry’s hands with his own, their rings touching. “It’s . . . mmm . . .”

“Yes?”

“Just — wanted . . .” It took him a while to find his words. Harry paused, breathing against the wet trace he’d left on Draco’s skin. Waiting for Draco’s answer.

It came, at length, somewhat strained. “We run a good household,” is how he started. “That’s all, and — it’s important to show.  Make the right impression, especially when children are concerned, it’s important we show we can—”

“Oh, darling. It’s Ron and Hermione.”

“You don’t say.”

“Have you seen their household? They’ll be the last to judge any—”

“That’s not the point. The point is that—”

“I know.” And Harry did know. He knew that Draco had cared, had made himself nervous over it, had attempted to control his nerves the best way he knew how — with a little game plan, a fixed expectation of the evening. I dither, Draco had told him, just a few months ago, in this very kitchen. I go through every scenario twelve times before I act. I doubt.

“You’re right,” Harry said, a whisper to his neck. “And it was lovely. And thank you. Again.”

Draco inched his face to the side, brushing their noses together. Harry could see his eyes move, the drop of his lashes. A quick glance to Harry’s mouth. “I do it gladly,” he said.

Harry kissed him. Once, a chaste, closed-lipped kiss — then again, a little less chaste.

“You know the week you stayed with me,” Harry mumbled, close to Draco’s mouth. “I’d be standing here, exactly here, just waiting for you to . . . come for me. I hoped you’d walk in. See me. Put your hands on me. God, it was bad. Could barely focus around you, those days.”

Draco’s slow smile grew as Harry talked. “Is that right?” he said when the story was done. “What is it that you imagined I’d do, then? Once I came for you?” Then, lower, “Once I put my hands on you?”

Harry whispered, his lips moving over Draco’s, “Fuck me over the counter.”

Draco’s breath hitched. His stomach muscles jumped under Harry’s touch.

Ron cleared his throat by the doorway. He was staring at a point on the floor with an embarrassed but amused smile, his eyebrows up.

“Yup,” he said. “So I was told there was dessert wine.”

Draco took the dessert wine to the living room. Harry held back, saying he’d be right with them — that he was just going to get a glass of water. He needed a moment. He often needed a moment.

Before Ron and Hermione left, Harry said he wanted to show Ron the lemon tree. Neville and Harry had spent the last few months drawing it from a pip to a young sapling. They’d not planted it yet, but it stood proudly in its pot, in the corner Harry had picked for it all those years ago. In a few years it would grow to be a tree, right in view of the guest-room window — the one Rose had occupied for the last few days.

“So how was it?” Harry asked as they made their way down the winding path toward the back of the garden. “First time without Rosie?”

Ron smiled, gave him a look. “Weird. Awful. Great.” He shrugged, laughing. “I really missed the little poop machine, though. As in, really. I didn’t know you could . . . miss a living being like that. Like . . .” He pressed three fingers into the spot above his heart.

They’d arrived at the lemon tree. Even in the dark, its leaves were shiny green. Harry rubbed one of them in his hands, let Ron smell the citrus.

“Lemon,” Ron said, agreeing.

“Lemon,” Harry nodded, smiling.

“And for you? How was it? Brutal truth, please.”

Harry smiled, and Ron jostled him with a shoulder. “Tiring,” he answered. “Very tiring, but . . . good.” He looked at Ron from the corner of his eye. Beyond, the house was lit from within, casting an orange glow down the little paved patio. Inside the kitchen, Draco and Hermione were talking. She was asking him something about his hair, and he was giving an explanation, gesturing, arms up, mimicking how he braided it.

“It’s good,” Harry said, again, heart full.

The look Ron gave him in reply was far too weepy. He’d had a few drinks, that night. They both had. Harry wanted to tell him off for looking at him like that, but before he could Ron had pulled him into a long-limbed hug, one that locked Harry’s arms to his sides. Harry laughed, letting himself be hugged.

“Good,” Ron said, sounding choked up. “Good is good.”

Despite their best attempts, Rose still woke up when they went to get her from her crib. She cried, tired and confused, and everyone had a turn at trying to calm her down.

“She likes you,” Hermione said, taking Rose from Draco. She’d simmered a little, had tired herself out even more.

“He talks potions at her,” Harry said, a hand at the small of Draco’s back. “Puts her right to sleep.”

Ron made a sound like that statement spoke to him deeply. Draco — flushed with drink and calmer now, quite tired-looking himself — just smiled, shook his head. He leaned into Harry.

They said their goodbyes as quietly as possible, Rose dozing off on Hermione’s shoulder. They left through the front door, deciding to take a taxi home: both the Floo and Apparition would startle the babe.

In the first few minutes the silence of the house felt newly strange, empty. They’d gotten used to Rose’s continuous babble, to her cries, to the staticky sound of the charm they’d put on her crib — letting them know when she’d woken up, when she was restless.

But then Draco turned on the wireless, and in a fit of drunken silliness pulled Harry for a spin in the kitchen, humming along to the song. And this was nice too, just the two of them.

Harry would take any version. Any of it. All of it.

He said as much, and Draco kissed him on the mouth, kissed his cheek, hid his face in the crook of Harry’s neck — arms looped around his waist. Harry held him by his nape. Tucked two fingers under the weaving of Draco’s plait.

The garden doors were wide open, and the night’s sounds fell over the kitchen in the lull between two songs: the distant cars, the bark of a dog a street over. The cresting song of crickets, humming.

Humming.