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So Long We Become the Flowers

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Draco thought it would last forever. The endless days in the sun, the passionate nights in the cover of darkness. The whispered sighs and stolen glances and coveted kisses that belonged to them and no one else.

 

And then Harry said the words Draco hoped never to hear as much as he longed for the sentiment behind them.

 

“I want to put our bond to the test.”

 

Draco said nothing at first. Couldn’t. The panic-hurt-joy-hope and all the emotions he couldn't name overwhelmed him, and no words came to express the sentiment.

 

Harry watched him quietly, giving Draco the time he needed to process. He never rushed Draco to speak his thoughts, content to wait for the right words to come, or for silence to speak when words could not.

 

But this was not something that silence could satisfy—it demanded discussion. Dreadful, delightful, decisive. Draco wasn't ready for this conversation; perhaps he never would be. Harry had to know that—Draco suspected Harry knew him better than he knew himself—but he'd brought it up anyway. His tight grip on Draco's hand was the only indication that he was just as anxious as Draco. Oddly, it soothed him.

 

“Ah, so we’re having that conversation,” he said lightly. Paused. Swallowed. Continued, “Why?”

 

He could have meant ‘why are we having this conversation at all’, or ‘why are we having this conversation now’, but as usual Harry knew exactly what Draco meant.

 

Harry squeezed Draco’s hand a little tighter, once, twice. Whether it was to calm Draco or himself, Draco wasn’t sure. “You know why: we’re going to get caught. Maybe not today, maybe not in 500 years, but one day it will happen.”

 

Yes, Draco did know. They’d had a number of close calls lately, and luck only went so far.

 

Harry continued, “The Patrons will be more inclined towards mercy if we tell them ourselves. They value honesty. value honesty. And…I don't want to hide anymore. We shouldn't have to hide like this is something shameful and forbidden.”

 

“It is forbidden,” Draco pointed out, “which is why we’ve kept it hidden.”

 

“I know. But it doesn't have to be that way.” Harry sighed. “I want to be with you forever, and for there to be no doubt about it from anyone and no need to hide. I want everyone to know.”

 

Draco adjusted his grip on Harry's hand. It felt like an anchor, like safety. Even if they were plunging into unknown depths, at least they would do it together. “We’ll have to admit we’ve come out here to this abandoned sector," Draco said, starting with the least of their infractions, "That’s a punishable offense in and of itself, being here unsupervised. Shirking our duties—”

 

“Oh please, you've never shirked a duty in your life,” Harry teased, kissing Draco's shoulder to take the edge off. Normally, it would have worked. But today, Draco was all edges. It had that effect, discussing the revelation of their illicit bond to the only beings who were both willing and able to end it. To end their very existence, should they so decide.

  

Draco gathered the courage to say what was really worrying him. “Even if the patrons don’t decide to extinguish us, and even if they agree to let us take the test, we could still fail.”

 

Harry drew up a short breath, tinged with a familiar fear. Then— “Do you truly think we might not pass?”

 

Draco reached out, pulling Harry close, leaning their foreheads together. It always made him feel stronger, to share Harry’s warmth. Draco was neither strong nor warm, but with Harry, he often thought he—they—could do almost anything. “I want to believe we would, Harry, but why risk what we have?”

 

“Because,” Harry mumbled, breath warm on Draco’s face, “I can't stand the thought of losing you. Of being discovered and forced apart. Every day I wonder if it will be the last. I can’t stand it, Draco."

 

"Yes, but—"

 

“And even if we aren't discovered, as far as they know we're both unattached. They could decide to assign us to anyone, anywhere, on a whim. The thought of watching you for the rest of time with someone else, of being with someone else…it burns.”

 

It hurt Draco, too, to hear Harry define what Draco seldom dared to even consider. Even the thought of an end to what he had with Harry—whether that be through discovery, assignment to someone else, or failing the test—was like a lance in his side, poisoning every sweet moment between them with a heaviness their light beings were not meant to sustain. But bear it they had, and forged something beautiful in the process.

 

Draco was close enough to see the tears threatening to fall from Harry’s eyes. Harry rarely cried, but he never filtered his feelings in front of Draco.

 

I can't stand it,” he repeated, fierce and soft all at once. “I'd rather die, Draco.”

 

“Please don’t say that,” Draco whispered.

 

He moved his head down to Harry's shoulder. Harry was bold enough to share his tears; Draco was not. This was why he didn’t let himself think about this; if he thought about it, he feared he’d start crying and never stop. The thought that they weren't each other's other half, made from the same thought, the same beam of light, the same curve of darkness was as foreign a thought to him as it was an unwelcome one. Even if it didn’t make sense for them to be together; even if they came from separate Patrons; even if their very natures were in conflict. In spite of all the reasons why not, none of them were enough to refute what Draco knew with all his being: they were meant to be, and they’d overcome much to prove it to each other.

 

But to prove it to everyone else was another matter entirely. Draco didn’t truly think they would fail the test of bond—how could he? —but the fear was too strong to ignore. Draco was afraid of failure, yes. But he feared the contents of the test just as much as he feared failure. Draco knew exactly what happened to Charges who took the test. He'd seen enough Observations to understand exactly what a test of bond entailed, and regardless of whether they passed or failed, a test always ended the same. There was only one way back home, if you got to return at all.

 

“I don't particularly fancy the idea of being human,” he said at last.

 

Harry chuckled, deep and warm. Everything about Harry was warm to Draco. “Human lives are fleeting. Compared to eternity, what's 80 or so years?”

 

“Some mortals live nearly twice that long.”

 

Harry pulled Draco's head up with gentle fingers, brushing his thumb across Draco's cheekbone. “All the more time for us to be together.”

 

“If we find each other,” Draco said, stomach churning, “and even if we do find each other, we won’t know what it means! We won’t remember any of this. It’ll be a blank slate—”

 

“Sometimes Charges remember. As dreams, or visions, or gut feelings…”

 

Draco exhaled sharply. “That's not the same as knowing.”

 

“Technically, we don’t know now, either,” Harry countered, “does that make this mean less to you?”

 

“Of course not! But—”

 

“I know,” Harry said softly, interrupting Draco’s impending rant. They'd never really talked about this before, at least not regarding them and their unique situation. Only in the abstract, where it wasn't close enough to hurt.

 

This was close enough to hurt. “Surely you don't need the test?" Draco whispered desperately, telling himself it didn't make him sound weak. "We don't need that to know, do we?"

 

Harry kissed him gently, brushing his thumbs along Draco's cheekbones. Draco had always thought they were too pointy, though he'd never said it out loud to anyone but Harry. To criticize oneself was to criticize the Patrons. Draco had many self-criticisms—he was selfish, anxious, overly critical—but Harry took special care to pay attention to all of them and list his virtues instead. He paid attention to all of Draco—points and all. He knew what to say to cut to the core of Draco's worries, even when Draco wasn't himself sure.

 

“I don’t need the test to prove it. I know. But the Patrons demand it," Harry said, as if Draco didn't know exactly what the Patrons demand, "If we want to be free of secrecy, we have to tell them. To know with certainty, we have to risk it all.”

 

“Sod the Patrons,” Draco muttered mutinously. He couldn’t believe Harry had him actually considering this. “Mortal lives are so full of suffering. Don’t tell me you want that?”

 

Harry looked at him, eyes serious. “I'd suffer anything to prove we belong with each other.”

 

“I don't want you to suffer! Least of all for me.”

 

“It’s for us.” Harry kissed Draco's knuckles, his warmth soothing the cold fear gripping Draco's heart. “I’ll make you a promise: when we get back here, successful, I'll give you a kiss for every pain we endure down there.”

 

Draco sighed. In his heart, he'd already decided. But the petulant part of him wanted to argue just a little bit more. “We will die if we take the test.”

 

Harry brushed Draco’s hair behind his ear. A small comfort in this time of stress. “Not really. Not in any way that matters, as long as we pass.”

 

“And if we don't?”

 

Now it was Harry's turn to be silent as he contemplated. “Then we'll know it wasn't meant to be.”

 

It hurt to even think the words. Not meant to be, as if everything they'd done was all some cosmic mistake. They were meant to be. Draco refused to believe otherwise.

 

He just had to work up the courage to show it to the world and make them believe it with just as much conviction. “What if they make me…I don’t know, a swot or something?”

 

Harry smiled and rolled his eyes. “You are a swot. You put your sequences and fractals and science patterns into every flower you design.”

 

“It's aesthetically pleasing!” Draco huffed. “What if they make you someone who doesn't like intelligence? What if—”

 

Harry laughed softly and cut off Draco's tirade with a kiss. “They can't change who I am, and who I am is someone who loves you and all that you do, barmy patterns and all.”

 

“The whole point of the test is to challenge those convictions.”

 

“Let them try. It won’t change my mind, or my heart.”

 

Draco wanted to believe Harry was right, that mortal life wouldn't change their feelings. But mortals were fickle and prone to change. Their experiences created holes in their existence, holes they could fill with good things or bad.

 

Charges were beings of light. Unlike mortals, they did not have to fight for the means of survival—everything a Charge needed was provided by their Patron. Unlike mortals, Charges were not compelled to search for purpose in their existence—they had one and knew it from their first moment of consciousness. Unlike Mortals, Charges did not doubt their path, for there was no other path for a Charge to choose, other than the one they were created for. Unlike mortals, Charges did not worry about accomplishing their goals by some unknown deadline. The only reason a Charge would cease to exist was if their Patron decided it must be so. And if a Patron decided it must be so, it was always for a reason.

 

Mortals died due to all kinds of arbitrary causes. Some deaths had meaning, most did not.

 

Charges were not strictly alive in the same sense as mortals, so they could not die, per se, merely be extinguished, the matter that made up their existence to be repurposed. It didn’t happen often, only when they failed their test of bond, or when they broke The Rules. And really, failing the test was just another kind of infraction. Bonds were picked by Patrons, as was the time one took to test whether the bonds had adequately developed their trust. To fail the test of bond meant the Charges had not done as they must. An infraction of the Rules, and grounds for extinguishment. Tests of bond were rare for that reason—the risk of failure was too great and outweighed the potential benefits. Failing the test was the most common kind of infraction, but infractions rarely happened, thus extinguishments were rare, too.

 

So as long as one followed The Rules, and did as instructed, a Charge had no reason to fear The End. And yet Harry wanted to bring attention to the fact that not only had they broken The Rules—many of them, at that—but that they wanted to participate in an exam that could also count towards their imminent destruction. All in the name of Love.

 

Love in the face of constant uncertainty was what made mortals different and, arguably, better. They had to fight for survival, question the meaning of everything, die; but they had love to pull them through. Romantic love, familial love, platonic love, self-love. Love was a mortal emotion, an island of comfort in a world of unknowns. Charges did not know the meaning of this one mortal thing, because without any uncertainties, how could they fully appreciate what it meant to love? At least, that’s what Draco had been told when he’d asked about love. The first time he’d had reason to, and the only reason he wanted to know, was all because of Harry.

 

Draco wanted to believe Harry loved him, and that he loved Harry. But love was a mortal emotion, and sometimes Draco feared he did not truly understand the meaning of the word. Mortals seemed to think the sentiment held more value in the face of hardship. To love in spite of the darkness.

 

Perhaps that was the reason for the test of bond. Then again, Draco had never heard of other bonds loving each other. Their union helped them augment their skills and abilities as a Charge. Companionship was important, but never love. Love was a mortal emotion and did not help a Charge serve their Patron. No, in fact, if Draco were honest, love had not made him a better servant at all. It had made him question everything, doubt his purpose, break the Rules.

 

But it had also made him immeasurably happy. It had given meaning to his existence outside of the one he'd been created for. And if he had doubts about Green, about the system, about the Patrons themselves, it was with good reason. Because what he and Harry had made together should not have been possible, yet here they were. Charges were supposed to be perfect—every facet of their existence made for an exact purpose as designed by the Patrons.

 

Perfect beings shouldn't be able to change. To be perfect was to be complete. To change from perfect was to become less than. But if this was less than, Draco didn't want perfect. Because only since meeting Harry did he feel whole.

 

"If they let us do this…it would change everything," Draco said at last.

 

“Maybe it's time for things to change,” Harry said, eyes aglow with fiery determination. “We could show them, all of them. Patrons and Charges both.”

 

Draco turned their hands over, still laced together, traced circles on the back of Harry’s hand. It was easier to pretend he disagreed when he didn’t have to look at those eyes that said together, they were unstoppable. “Change is not in our nature.”

 

“I've changed. You changed me.”

 

“Lead you astray into an illicit bond, did I?” He couldn’t help the smirk curving his lips. It was an old joke between them; falling back on familiar lines settled him. Or at least, it distracted him.

 

Harry didn’t take the bait. “You changed me for the better. Besides, if anyone lead the other astray, I rather think I’m the guilty party.”

 

Draco’s smirk turned into a full, genuine smile. He couldn't quite pull off the same earnest frankness of expression Harry flouted easily, but he felt the same. Harry's very existence was a revolution to Draco; he’d changed Draco for the better, too, and together, perhaps they could bring change to the system that wanted to keep them apart.

 

“Have we truly done anything wrong?” Harry asked, brushing his fingers against the worry lines of Draco's forehead.

 

“We have broken the Rules,” Draco said glumly.

 

“What is allowed and what is right are not always the same thing. You showed me that. You showed me flowers, Draco. Dandelions. Don't you want to go down there and see it yourself? All the flowers you made?”

 

Draco plucked at the green-red-black of the obsidian grass, softer than it looked but too strong to uproot. “I won't know I’m the one who made them once I'm down there.”

 

“All the better to marvel at their beauty.” Harry kissed Draco's hand again, lips warm and soft. “Besides, I'm sure the flowers will recognize you, and bloom more brilliantly for their creator.”

 

“I hope your creations don’t give you the same treatment. Electricity does not agree with mortals.”

 

Harry laughed. “I’m not worried. I’ve got lightning in my bones. Thunder doesn’t scare me.”

 

"That's what I'm worried about."

 

Draco squeezed Harry's hands. He ought to have looked away so Harry wouldn't see him cry, but he didn't want to miss any chance to gaze into Harry's eyes now, while he still had the chance. Harry wouldn't judge him for it, anyway.

 

“Alright, Harry. If you really want this…there’s nothing in this life or the next that will keep me from you. Not Patrons, not our nature, not even mortality. Let’s put our bond to the test.”

 

Harry's beautiful eyes lit up, and Draco couldn't have denied him anything.

 


 

 

Draco grit his teeth and glared across the Great Hall with (what he imagined to be) the heat of a thousand suns. Stupid Potter with his stupid hair and his stupid scar and his stupid broomstick. Everyone thought he was so wonderful, but Draco knew the truth: He was just a boy no different from anyone else. The only reason anyone talked to him, surely, was because they all thought he was some kind of hero. They wouldn't have given him the time of day if he weren't the Boy Who Lived.

 

In fact, Draco was probably the only wizard at Hogwarts who'd ever talked to bleeding Potter without knowing who he was. Clearly, Draco was a superior kind of person. He hadn’t known he was speaking to Harry Sodding Potter that day at the robe shop, and he’d still engaged him in conversation. If Draco had only thought to introduce himself that day, perhaps he could have steered Potter on the path to proper wizardry. But stupid Weasley got to him first and corrupted his mind with stupid Gryffindor rot, and now he was stupid Harry Potter who was Draco’s nemesis instead of sensible, discerning, Harry Potter who could have been Draco’s friend.

 

Not that Draco wanted to be friends with Potter, of course. How could he, now that he’d seen what Potter was truly like unfiltered? Draco had taste, and though he had, briefly, been willing to teach it to Potter, Potter wanted to blunder his way through life without a clue. Draco probably wouldn't have been able to teach such a dullard, anyway. Good riddance.

 

Being Potter’s arch nemesis was far more rewarding than being his friend, anyway. Draco had seen the nauseating number of people tripping over themselves to befriend Potter, and Draco wouldn’t want to do something so common. He was above the rest of the wizarding world; never would he lower himself to become one among many of Potter’s sycophants. No, thank you. Draco, you see, was and would remain unique, and maintained a title befitting his superior qualities: Potter’s One and Only Arch Rival.

 

At least, that’s how it should have been. Much to his dismay, it rather felt like Draco was the only one putting any effort into this rivalry. Potter only payed attention to Draco when reacting to something Draco did (hence the aforementioned scowling across the Great Hall that Potter was mulishly failing to notice). Draco liked getting a rise out of Potter—who wouldn’t? —but he resented having to always be the instigator. It made the whole thing feel rather one-sided, which was pathetic, and Draco Malfoy was anything but pathetic.

 

Unfortunately, upping the ante with their rivalry had failed to produce satisfactory results. Potter hadn’t gotten in trouble when he stupidly agreed to having a duel with Draco or when Draco stole Longbottom’s Remembrall. Potter had actually been rewarded for that particular rule infraction. The double standards were appalling, really.

 

Draco nearly got his revenge when he ratted the lot of them out for smuggling a baby dragon—Draco knew what he’d seen—but somehow, they got away with that, too. And though they did get caught after the fact, not having the promised dragon on them meant Draco got punished alongside them. The injustice of it astounded him. And it wasn’t just any detention either—oh no. Potter had to be exceptional in every way, which meant that the normally Forbidden Forest was to be the setting for their punishment. They only had to go where werewolves, centaurs, and Merlin-knew-what-else lived in order to find something that had been attacking and killing unicorns.

 

Really, though, who sends first years alone into the Forbidden Forest?

 

Perhaps it would have been an acceptable if not cruel detention were it not for the fact they had to do it at night, after curfew, without teacher supervision. He still couldn’t believe that the great lumbering oaf had them split up with only a drooly dog for protection.

 

Potter didn’t seem to think anything of it, as though it was both normal and unremarkable to be asked to risk his life as recompense for a minor infraction. When Draco asked him why he was so calm about it, he merely shrugged and said it could be worse. Gryffindors, honestly.

 

The only comfort in this ghastly situation was that it was unlikely they would actually find whatever it was that they’d been sent to investigate. It had evaded both sight and capture for weeks already with far more skilled pursuers. Draco and Potter were just two first years, bumbling loudly through the forest with a big stupid dog.

 

But then they did find it, because of course they did, crouching there with legs bent at unnatural angles drinking from the poor unicorn. Draco screamed and tried to run away—as any sane person would—but Potter fell to the ground, clutching his forehead and gasping in pain.

 

Draco was not a brave person. He knew this and didn’t regret it. Brave people usually died for their overrated virtue. His father made sure he understood that, ensuring that no matter how much Draco admired the heroes in the books he read, he’d never dream of emulating them. Perhaps he could dream of marrying a hero, but Purebloods were rarely heroes themselves, and as he could only marry a pureblood, the prospect didn’t seem likely. Heroes didn’t live long enough to start a family and carry on the bloodline, anyway, Pureblood or otherwise.

 

In any case, he had no illusions about what he was and was not. When he saw Potter fall, he knew the logical thing to do was keep running. Whatever that thing was seemed to be focused solely on Potter, anyway, and likely wouldn’t pursue Draco if he fled. But something rooted him to the ground, right next to the groaning idiot, demanding he drag Potter to his feet instead of leaving said idiot behind. So he listened to that small, insistent voice, and tried. But Potter’s legs were like jelly, and he would not—could not—stand.

 

“Come on Potter!” Draco hissed, regretting every decision (conscious and otherwise) that had led him to this moment.

 

Potter moaned something that might have been ‘leave me’ or ‘get help’ or ‘I’ve spent the better part of this year undervaluing you and our intense, impassioned rivalry. I regret my transgressions and, should I survive this, will endeavour to rectify this disparity in our relationship.’

 

Then he moaned again, louder this time, so there was no chance for winsome misunderstandings. “Draco, run!”

 

He didn’t have the opportunity to process the use of his first name, or follow through on that request, for a palomino centaur bounded out of the forest and stopped their would-be attacker. Whatever it was seemed less keen to take on a centaur than two underage wizards and ran away with a hissed curse into the darkness.

 

The centaur, for his part, did not seem to find this reassuring. He scooped the two of them up like they weighed no more than a bushel of apples and tossed them on his back.

 

“Hold on to him, Draco Malfoy. He needs you, as you need him to pass this trial.”

 

“Obviously,” Draco said, and then did as he was told without complaint, holding onto the delirious, moaning Potter who grasped at his robes and called him 'Draco', not Malfoy, who leaned against him instead of pulling away. Draco held on, and told him not to worry, all the while worrying quite a lot himself.

 

Later, he’d tell himself that he’d whinged about it, and later he’d wonder how the centaur knew his name. Later, he’d focus on that part of the story—the escape, the strange prophetic centaur speak, leaving the forest—rather than the fact that they’d run into some nightmarish abomination in the dark. It was forbidden for a reason, after all.

 

But in sleep and dreams, one's mind is not one's own, and the thoughts and feelings that drift to the fore are often closer to nightmares and truth. Draco was helpless to change his dreams; all he could do was choose whether to acknowledge or ignore them.

 

---

 

Draco spent the rest of the year working up the courage to ask Potter what he remembered from that night, and whether there are some things you can’t share without ending up liking each other, and was facing certain death from an unidentified unicorn slayer one of those things? Draco certainly thought it was the kind of thing that might make your relationship change from a rivalry to a friendship, don’t you think so Potter? Or should I say, Harry?

 

But Potter was wrapped up in some conspiracy it seemed, always in the library with his cohorts or running around the grounds like a madman. He either did not notice or did not care about Draco's attempts to speak with him and ended the year in the infirmary due to reasons no one seemed willing or capable of telling Draco.

 

Draco was a Malfoy and had his pride. He could only take so much disappointment before abandoning a plan.

 

On the last weekend of term, Draco wandered down to the lake, slipping away from the Slytherin dungeon without anyone noticing. It was not the first time he'd slipped away, and certainly wouldn't be the last. His mind felt crowded sometimes, with all his thoughts and worries and ideas and hopes clambering for consideration, and during those times he just needed to escape, to be alone. To let it all out. To think it all over, and then not think at all.

 

As always when it all got to be too much, he made his way to the Northern side of the lake, picking his way slowly across the heath with a specific destination in mind. It tended to be cooler on the Northern side, and the rocky surface meant there were fewer soft places to sit, and it was a pain to get to besides, so students tended to avoid going there in favour of the more accessible banks. The relative isolation was a benefit to Draco, and as long as one knew where to go it was comfortable enough.

 

Draco, as it so happened, knew exactly where to go. He'd had found a place for himself within the cover of a weeping willow grove along the lake’s edge. It was the perfect place to sit and think, and even if someone should happen to pass by (extremely unlikely, in Draco's experience), they would not see him or bother him there.

 

But when he got to his favourite willow tree, he was dismayed to find it was not unoccupied like normal. “What are you doing here, Potter?”

 

Potter didn't look up at him. He was laid out on a rock in the sun in the middle of the lake, apparently napping except for the lazy way his foot swished in the water.

 

He sighed deeply at Draco's question—and presumably at Draco's presence—before replying, “Malfoy. What does it look like I’m doing?”

 

It looked like he was sunbathing, his tan skin looking even darker than normal from the exposure. The look suited him, as did the sunshine. Draco knew Potter preferred being outside to indoors—Draco had seen Potter staring longingly out the window often enough to guess that. Not that he watched Potter or actively catalogued his preferences or any of that rot. He’d just—noticed one time, or something, and was reminded now, for some reason that would surely make sense if he cared to think of one. Which he didn’t.

 

Rather than say any of that, however, Draco said, “This is my spot.”

 

Potter did not even open his eyes to say, “I don't see your name written on it.”

 

“Did you look?” Draco sneered, but since Potter was pretending to be asleep and was keeping his eyes closed, he missed out on the overall effect (devastating). Draco's name was not written on it, in fact, as he loathed people who carved their names into nature. It was his simply because he'd found it.

 

But he didn't want to concede any of that to Potter, so he asked, “Where are your lackeys? You’re all alone out here.”

 

“So are you, Malfoy,” Potter said, though how he could know that without opening his eyes was a mystery to Draco. “And they’re not lackeys, they’re my friends.”

 

“Then why aren’t they here?” Draco wasn’t sure why he cared so much—it certainly didn’t matter to him, but—

 

Potter opened his eyes and sat up abruptly. “They aren’t here because Hermione is helping Ron look for Quidditch Through the Ages so she doesn’t have to pay a library fee since she lent it to him, and I got sick of them fighting about who was the last to have it.”

 

Draco sniffed. He hadn't exactly expected a genuine answer. He'd expected to hear 'it's none of your business, Malfoy' or some variation thereof.

 

It unsettled him; he didn't know what to do with a genuine answer. "You’re not helping them look? And you call yourself their friend.” It wasn’t his best, as far as insults went, but it got the point across.

 

Potter, the git, merely rolled his eyes. “I’m not helping them look because I know where it is.” He stood up, and it was then that Draco noticed he had a flower crown clutched in his hands.

Before Draco could ask about it, however, Potter continued, “I already returned it to the library last week after Ron let me borrow it and I noticed it was already overdue. And before you ask, I did try to tell them, but you can’t get a word in edgewise when they’re like this. Eventually, Hermione will make Ron go with her to the Library to tell Pince he lost the book, and Pince will tell them it’s already been returned, and then they can find something else to nag each other over.”

 

In the time it took him to explain the perplexing dynamic of Gryffindor friendships, Potter had navigated his way across the rocks and returned to dry land, nearly slipping only once. “Not sure why I’m telling you this,” he said with a frown, more to himself than Draco, it seemed. "Not like you care."

 

“I did ask,” Draco pointed out, “Not that I care,” he added. He, too, was not sure why Potter was telling him this, and was even less sure how to catalogue the feeling of having a somewhat-civil-if-not-sincere conversation with Potter. It wasn't a bad feeling. It wasn't exactly good, either, though.

 

“Like I said.” Potter carefully pulled on his socks and shoes, and Draco felt he ought to say something. Hadn’t he been trying to speak with Potter for weeks?

 

Somehow, it all seemed rather impossible now that he was in a position to actually try to be friends with Potter, rather than just thinking about what he’d say given the chance.

 

But Potter was lacing his shoes up, and the moment to say anything at all was rapidly fleeting. The only thing that came to mind, out of the myriad things he could have asked, was, “Why were you in the hospital wing for three days?”

 

Potter stopped lacing his shoes to glare at Draco suspiciously. “How’d you know about that?”

 

“Everyone knows, you’re Harry Potter. When something happens, word gets out.” That was only true in the most technical sense, but he wasn’t about to tell Potter that he’d gone to McGonagall demanding to know what had happened.

 

It was obviously the wrong thing to say, though, since Potter’s shoulders tensed up. The air around him seemed to sharpen and crackle, and Draco felt all the hairs on his arms (and perhaps his head) stand on end.

 

“Why should I tell you? You wouldn’t believe me anyway,” Potter said, standing up, giving the answer Draco had long been expecting to hear. Potter was short and scrawny and not particularly threatening, but Draco took a half step back anyway.

 

Draco raised an eyebrow and pretended to be unimpressed. “I might have to assume it was something stupid if you don’t tell me.”

 

Potter glared at him, green eyes blazing. “You want to know what I was did?” He took a step closer.

 

Draco winced as Potter’s magic released tiny shocks in the air. He really ought to have better control over that by now, but perhaps he was quite a bit more upset than Draco had thought.

 

“I was passed out for three days, because apparently Voldemort has been living in the back of Quirrell’s head for the past year, and last week he tried to steal the Philosopher’s Stone Dumbledore decided to keep here for some reason. If me, Hermione, and Ron hadn’t done anything, he might have got it, too.”

 

Draco shuddered. “You shouldn’t say that name.”

 

“Voldemort? Why not?" Potter challenged, "It’s just a name. Besides, I rather think I’ve more than earned the right to say it. Voldemort’s tried to kill me twice now.”

 

Though he desperately wanted to believe what Potter was saying couldn’t possibly be true, there was something about the conviction in his voice that told Draco he wasn’t lying.

 

The nightmares of the unicorn slayer in the forest came to his mind unbidden. The thought that it was in fact the Dark Lord made his lunch think about making a reappearance.

 

It couldn't be true. It couldn't. And yet… “How did you beat him, then? Two grown wizards against three first years—”

 

“I was alone, actually. And I burned him,” Potter smirked and began to walk away, apparently deciding this conversation wasn’t worth his time. "With my skin."

 

Draco blinked, fear and curiosity and pride fighting for dominance inside him.

 

Indignancy won out. “You can’t just say something like that and leave!”

 

“Funny, that’s exactly what I planned on doing.”

 

And then he did just that, leaving Draco alone in the willow grove. He hadn’t really answered any of Draco’s questions, not fully anyhow. Instead, he’d left Draco with only more questions, which was probably what he’d meant to do, the specky git.

 

In the end, Draco decided there was no use befriending someone who, apparently, had a death wish. Any lingering doubts on that front were dispelled by Gryffindor stealing the House Cup from Slytherin at the End of Year Feast because of some last-minute point additions in a blatant display of favouritism.

 

Yes, Harry Potter was Draco's arch nemesis, always would be. Nothing more, and certainly nothing less.

Chapter Text

The first time Draco saw him, it was an unremarkable day like any other.

 

Charges didn’t have much in the way of opportunity to dictate their own schedule; their purpose was to create, and on occasion observe said creations. They did not tire— they had not been made to—and therefore did not need rest. But, just as no tree can constantly blossom, no Charge could be expected to endlessly churn out creations for their Patrons. So they were allowed the chance, after their work was done, to do nothing. Relax, were they so inclined, though in Draco's experience most Charges spent the time they were not creating either thinking about, talking about, or planning their next creation.

 

Draco was not like most Charges. At least, not like the ones he knew. And he knew every Charge in the Green spectrum.

 

During his fallow period (as Draco called it), Draco escaped to a secret meadow. His secret meadow, as far as he was concerned, because no one else knew about it. Secret was, perhaps, not the best word for it, but Secret was preferable to what, Draco suspected, it truly was: abandoned.

 

He’d found it quite by accident, so long ago he couldn’t quite recall when—not that when was a consideration that mattered to Charges, along with Time—but how was something he doubted he’d ever forget. To this day, he’d swear he didn’t intentionally wander out of Green Sector. Intentions mattered, no matter what The Rules said. In any case, he’d left without Intention, and it was without Intention that he found the abandoned sector.  

 

It was-and-continued-to-be an isolated patch of land with strange obsidian grass that faded into the ether around it. There was sky visible from all parts of the meadow, but Draco discovered that whether there were stars, or sun, or clouds, or moon depended on one’s position within the meadow. In the centre sat a strange forum of sorts, a crumbling infrastructure that might have once held an amphitheatre or something of the like, and from the middle of the forum one could see night, morning, afternoon, and evening sky meet. It was strange to look at, and rather hurt Draco’s mind to consider it too deeply, so all he could do was accept it and move on. Much in the same way he’d had to accept the cracked ivory pillars of the forum, how they glowed with dim beams of trapped, fading light, and seemed to go up and up and up though they clearly did not reach the sky and were crumbling besides and should have fallen down. He’d tried to count the pillars once, but came out with a different number every time, though it seemed to be somewhere between three and ten.

 

Draco couldn’t fathom how it had been constructed—to what end, by whom, and what had led to its demise—but it was abandoned now, existing outside the boundary of all seven sectors, for all intents and purposes forgotten by all spectrums. He spent most of his time there relaxing in the grass, anyway. It was softer than it looked, and it certainly did not make him uneasy in the same way the forum did.

 

When he’d attempted to find the Secret Meadow a second time (with Intention), he’d been unable to. Until he gave up and went wandering again (Without Intention), and found it. Again. And thus Draco concluded that the Secret Meadow (once Abandoned, now claimed by Draco) was a place one could only end up if one only happened to get there. You could not find it if you meant to, which made it rather difficult to find, as Draco had to wander and sort of amble about thinking about nothing in particular until the starlit path appeared and he found his toes sunk deep in obsidian grass.

 

He’d done his research, of course, on what such a place could be, to no avail. There was no record of it to find in any annals of history, and Draco didn't see any reason to rectify that by bringing attention to the fact that no record of the place existed. Asking around about lost sectors might raise questions about how he came to know of an abandoned sector in the first place. Questions he'd rather not answer to, if it were up to him.

 

It was not that it was expressly forbidden to go to the Abandoned Sector because no one knew about any abandoned Sectors to forbid going to them. Draco was rather much more worried about the fact that it was, at the very least, taboo to leave one’s own sector, if not prohibited, save for those who were given explicit reason to leave which, strictly speaking, Draco hadn't been. Given one, that is, though he certainly had a reason to leave. A good one, at that. Because although One’s Own Sector had everything a Charge needed, allegedly, and as such there should not have been a good reason to leave it without being given one, (and doing things without reason was wasteful, and therefore prohibited and shameful), Draco, obedient, Loyal, Rule-Abiding, had found reason to leave.

 

Perhaps that was why it had not been found before: you could not get to it by meaning to get there, and Charges were not made to do anything without Meaning.

 

But the Reason Draco had for leaving was what had led to him unintentionally finding the meadow in the first place: Draco liked to sit and think without being disturbed. A simple enough reason, and yet one that had brought him to quite a complex situation of mental gymnastics he didn’t enjoy thinking about too deeply lest he reason himself into a corner he couldn’t reason himself out of.

 

In any case, there was nowhere within Green Sector where thinking quietly without being disturbed was likely to happen. It was certainly big enough to find space if needed, but everywhere in Green Sector was… full. Full of sounds (moving water, crashing waves, shifting glaciers), full of Charges (moving around, crashing Draco's solitude, shifting plants around), just full of things. Not to mention that Green Charges were, in Draco's experience, rather prone to gathering in groups to gossip and chat and be together always like leaves on a branch. He didn't dislike the other Green Charges, as such, and gossip was always a laugh. But sometimes...sometimes he just wanted to be. After a full cycle of working, and listening to babbling brooks, and…well, all the chattering, his ears felt full, and he just wanted some tranquillity when he had time to lie fallow. If he didn't get time to himself, he became irritable, cranky, and prone to mistakes.

 

He reasoned, to himself, that his motivations for leaving The Green Sector were thus fully justified, and should the need to defend his actions arise, he had a perfectly rational claim to necessity. ‘You created me, Green, which means I need silence and alone time precisely because you made me this way.’ Flawless.

 

A small part of him—and it was very small, mind—said that if there were truly nothing wrong with what he was doing, he wouldn’t have felt the need to keep his outings a secret. But he ignored that small voice, suppressed it with the logic that the only reason he didn’t tell anyone was that his sanctuary would no longer be a sanctuary if everyone knew about it. If everyone knew about it, he wouldn’t be able to find peace and quiet there because everyone would know about it. And go there. And bring their gossip and chattering with them.

 

Draco had found this place, and it was his. Silent, peaceful, perfect for contemplation. And it wasn’t like he’d lied about it, which would have been a much more serious Rule Infraction than seeking-alone-time-outside-his-sector. Keeping it to himself was Definitely Not The Same as Not Telling Anyone, surely, because no one asked him what he did when he wasn't creating. He couldn’t give a false answer to a question no one was asking, after all. And the point was, having this place made him a better Charge, so it could be allowed, even if it was, technically, not somewhere he was supposed to go or something he was supposed to do. As long as he wasn’t in another Patron’s territory, he hadn’t strictly broken any Rules, and this sector was, decidedly, abandoned. So it was Fine and he was Not At All Worried about whether it was technically an Infraction to go there.

 

And so it was, during one of his fallow periods of Tranquillity, while breaking the spirit of the Rules in order to better obey them, an Unremarkable Day like Any Other. Except for the fact that it was the Beginning of Something New, even if he was not yet aware of it, because he was not alone, and his secret meadow was not empty, and it was turning out to be a day Quite Un-Like Any Other.

 

For there was another Charge there, in Draco’s secret, sacred place he came to be alone with his thoughts. Draco had been certain no one else even knew about this sector, but proof to the contrary was there before him. It wasn’t anyone he recognized, either, which only made Draco doubly nervous; it meant whoever-it-was came from another Sector, a Charge of a different Patron.

 

There was not to be Inter-Sector Fraternization without Supervision, and Only Breaking The Rules By Technicality was quickly morphing into Explicitly Illicit Behaviour.

 

The only Supervision being conducted was by Draco, who stood frozen at the boundary of the Secret Meadow, staring at the Unknown Charge, who remained blissfully unaware of Draco and his gaze. Whoever they were, they were leaning against a crumbled quartz pillar, eyes closed, soaking up the sun like a flower. A flower was the only thing Draco could compare them to, for he had never seen a Charge behave as such.

 

Flowers, on the other hand...Draco knew a lot about flowers. In fact, he knew everything there was to know about them. How the petals attached to the stem.  Whether they had both pistons and stamens, or only one, or neither. How they went to seed. Pollination schedules. How long seeds germinated in the soil.

 

He did not know about the forms of Charges, other than his own. He was rapidly learning, however, having the opportunity to get quite a good look at the other Charge’s stamen, for they had decided to sunbathe sans uniform. In the nude. Au naturale.

 

Draco thought it was a rather inappropriate thing to be doing in public, displaying one’s form like that without uniform or colour. Then again Draco was unable to stop watching, mesmerized, transfixed, so perhaps he didn't have a leg to stand on. Not to mention that the Unknown Charge had likely believed the Secret Meadow to be unknown to others, as Draco had, so it was not an act of exhibitionism any more than Draco was a voyeur—by Accident, not Intention.

 

But 'accident' was quickly becoming a flimsy excuse, at least on Draco's part, and even if the Unknown Charge was not yet aware of it, this Abandoned Sector was not so abandoned after all.

 

As Draco contemplated what, precisely, he ought to do in this hitherto unprecedented situation, he noted that the interloper’s form was not so different from his own, shape wise, though that was to be expected given that Charges were all, essentially, the same thing: light spectrums moulded to their Patrons' requirements. But the longer Draco observed, the more the differences between them stood out. The Other Charge was of similar height to Draco, if not slightly bulkier where Draco was slender. The Other looked strong, where Draco was delicate. And where Draco was all pale with tinges of green in his skin and silver in his hair, the Other was rich with colour, russet skin speckled with gold and hair as black as night. Draco, like all Green Charges, was slow moving, cautious, cool. The air around The Other seemed to radiate crackling energy. Danger. Speed. Even as they sat there unmoving.

 

The Newcomer was unlike anything Draco had ever seen before, and the only word he could use to describe them was beautiful. Draco knew a lot about beautiful; it was his job to make beautiful flowers. But he did not think he could have crafted that which lay before him.

 

He watched for longer than he should have; he shouldn’t have watched at all. He should have turned around and left, and not spent any more energy thinking about it. He shouldn't have ever come here in the first place, but here he was, and this was the consequence: Uncertainty, novelty, and an ache to know what it all meant.

 

He shouldn't be here, yes, but here he was, frozen with indecision. If he left and immediately got to behaving as a dutiful Charge should, he'd never get answers. And he'd already, after a fashion, infringed upon the Rules, had he not? If he got caught, there were no degrees of infractions of Rule-Breaking to be considered. Wrong was Wrong, and he'd come this far. If he got caught now or after sating his curiosity, his punishment would be the same.

 

Thus, after too-long-to-be-decent but not-long-enough to come up with a better plan, he made a decision.

 

He stepped out of the shaded ether and cleared his throat to announce his presence.

 

The Other Charge sat up, eyes flying open as they scrambled to summon their uniform and cover them self with it. The chiton uniform was crimson in colour—no, it was closer to carmine, rich and lovely. It swirled around them like thick, lazy smoke, crackling dangerously with fleeting sparks where it folded across itself. Draco's uniform was longer than theirs, sweeping down to his ankles like a waterfall, but the Other's was only thigh length and apparently cut for ease of movement, leaving much of their body exposed.

 

Admiration of the colour and essence of the uniform brought understanding of its significance: the Charge’s Patron was Red. Draco's heart sank like a stone, all the more striking in contrast to how it had soared before. Green and Red did not get along. Their Charges did not interact, did not cooperate on projects. There was no goodwill between them, or appreciation of each other’s merits. He did not even know what Red Charges did, so estranged were their spectrums.

 

Draco wished he could hide his own ivy uniform, climbing vines, and delicate silvery petals. But then he would be the nude one, and he doubted that would improve the situation. His cheeks stung with frost at the very thought of that particular humiliation.

 

The Red Charge straightened out his Carmine Uniform—as much as smoke could ever be straightened—and focused on Draco. “Ah, Patrons, I'm sorry you, uh, had to see that. I didn't, er. See you. There. Here. Um.” In his embarrassment, it seemed the Red Charge had yet to notice that Draco was a Green Charge.

 

“Not surprising,” Draco replied coolly, though he felt anything but cool in this situation. “Your eyes were closed, after all.”

 

The Red Charge winced and rubbed the back of his head, mussing his already dreadfully delightfully messy hair. His cheeks flushed nearly the same colour as his uniform, and Draco found himself wondering what it would feel like to touch them. Would they be frosty, like Draco’s? Surely not, with Red as his Patron, nature as opposite to Green as could be.

 

But Draco couldn’t even begin to imagine what the opposite of cold might feel like.

 

“No one ever comes over here,” the Red Charge continued, oblivious to Draco's inner turmoil, “I thought I was safe to...er. Unwind?”

 

Draco sniffed at that, deciding to focus on his irritation at finding his spot occupied rather than his disconcerting wayward admiration of the colour and feel of another Charge’s cheeks. “Do you come here often?”

 

“Every day,” the Charge replied easily, previous embarrassment seemingly forgotten. He squinted slightly, eyes roving over and cataloguing the colour of Draco's uniform. “Have done for ages. I’d definitely remember if I’d seen you here before.”

 

“I’ve been coming here for more cycles than I can count,” Draco bit back.

 

The Red Charge smirked; eyes gleaming. "Well, that could be a lot, I suppose, depending on how high you can count."

 

Draco scowled. Crossed his arms. Uncrossed them. Irritation was coming more easily now. It was jarring to think he’d unknowingly been sharing his private meadow with someone he did not know, someone who should have been different from him in every way. But said someone had found this place too, just like Draco. Had come here frequently, just like Draco.

 

Draco didn't want to share traits with a Charge from the opposite end of the spectrum, if not literally than in every way that mattered. He didn’t even want to think about it, for if Draco were in any way like a Red Charge, what did that say about his adequacy as a Green Charge? Better to deflect blame elsewhere.

 

“I've never seen anyone else here before you," he said, raising an eyebrow. "Why have we never crossed paths if, as you say, you’ve been coming here for 'ages'?”

 

The Red Charge narrowed his eyes, carefree posture straightening to rigid. The air around him seemed to snap with bright fleeting light, threatening and sharp. “Are you calling me a liar?”

 

It was an intriguing display, to be sure, but any beauty Draco had seen was rapidly being replaced with more irritation and—though loath to admit it—fear. “Merely stating facts. Why? Feeling defensive?”

 

The Red Charge muttered something about ‘Green gits’ under his breath, but Draco decided, magnanimously, to ignore anything not said to him directly.

 

That, and the Red Charge was crackling louder and more sporadically now, dark clouds swirling above them and blotting out the mid-morning sky. The hairs on Draco's neck were standing at attention, telling him to run.

 

But he stood his ground, stubborn to the last.

 

“Not that it’s any of your business," The Red Charge growled, "but I got a new schedule today. I’m normally here in the afternoon.”

 

"Afternoon?" Draco echoed. It was a mortal expression, one he understood but which had little meaning outside the mortal realm.

 

Draco didn't get the chance to ask about it though—not that he wished to prolong their discourse—as the Red Charge said, “I was just leaving, anyway. Storms to brew, you understand. Wouldn't want to disturb your delicate sensibilities.”

 

And then he left. Without even giving his name, the heathen.

 

Then again, Draco hadn't asked. Or offered his own name...Well, it was of little import. Draco would probably never see the Red Charge again, now that whoever-he-was knew this abandoned meadow wasn't as abandoned as he'd thought. The dark clouds dispelled, and the sun returned to wipe away any lingering darkness wrought by the Red Charge.

 

When Draco returned the next Cycle and the Red Charge was there already—again—Draco didn't know what to think.

 

“Oh, it's you,” the Red Charge said with a teasing if not lazy smile.

 

“You again?” Draco sighed.

 

"I'm surprised to see you came back," he continued as though Draco hadn't spoken. He didn't sound surprised. "I thought I'd scared you off with my, ah, display yesterday.” In spite of his bravado, his cheeks were flushed a dusky pink. Perhaps the Red Charge was not as nonchalant about it all as he seemed. And he’d used a mortal time expression again. Why? Was it a Red Charge mannerism, or something else?

 

Draco decided he'd already thought too much about it.

 

“It takes more than that to scare me,” Draco sniffed, examining his nails to hide his fascination discomfiture. “I didn't think you'd return after getting caught in flagrante delicto yesterday.” Seven Spectrums, using the mortal time expressions was catching, wasn't it? Patrons help him. “Last Cycle, that is. I see you aren't displaying anything today.”

 

He regretted saying it the moment the words left his mouth. Patrons, what was wrong with him?

 

“Not that I wanted to see it again or anything. Er, see you again. I mean, obviously.” Draco willed himself to stop talking before he made it worse.

 

He had a sinking feeling it couldn’t have been any worse. If the Red Charge's smirk were any measure of Draco's remaining grace, he had none. The damage was done.

 

“I got all my displaying over and done with already, but if you're that disappointed—”

 

It was sheer stubbornness alone that kept Draco from cutting his losses and leaving his perfect spot forever. “Don't flatter yourself.”

 

“I don't need to flatter myself with you around.”

 

Draco, graciously, decided to ignore whatever the Red Charge was implying, and instead decided to point out, “It’s against The Rules to leave your Sector."

 

“Oh, is it?” The Red Charge’s lips quirked in amusement. “Forgive me, I didn’t realize I was dealing with such a discerning Rule Follower.”

 

Draco tsked under his breath. Was he being mocked? He was, wasn’t he? This situation was annoying enough as it was without adding sarcasm to the mix. Completely unnecessary. “I could report you, you know.”

 

The Red Charge shook his head in mock disappointment. “Ah, but you don’t know who I am. My name, my lineage, my palette. What are you going to tell your supervisor? That you saw a Red Charge out in an abandoned sector? Even if you didn’t get in trouble for the exact same infraction, Red would throw out the accusation on principle as soon as they learned it came from the Green Sector.”

 

“But the Rules—

 

“You underestimate Red’s spite and pettiness, especially when it comes to Green.” He slunk lower against the pillar he was leaned upon, as if heavy thoughts weighed him down. A hint of something dark crept into his face, his eyes stormy and introspective. Draco wasn’t entirely sure what it meant, but it didn’t seem directed at him. Curious.

 

The Red Charge pushed off the pillar with a force that belied his blasé attitude, the ruins flashing a streak of weak red light like fingers trying to hold on to wind. Draco himself had never touched the pillars, still preferring the grass, but he found the reaction intriguing. They always had a dim glow of light, but he'd never known they could react to the spectrum of a Charge.

 

"I could report you, too, you know," the Red Charge continued, brushing past Draco at an arm's distance and distracting him from inquiries about the nature of the pillar. Not that Draco would have asked. "My superiors wouldn't mind overlooking an infraction of the Rules if it were to the detriment of Green."

 

"You wouldn't," Draco growled, cheeks stinging with angry frost.

 

The Red Charge shrugged, and continued walking, calling back over his shoulder, "Guess you'll only know if you show up tomorrow."

 

"Is that a threat?"

 

The Red Charge didn't respond, disappearing into the dark ether separating the Light Sectors.

 

"I won't abandon my meadow!" Draco shouted after him. He wasn't sure if the Red Charge could still hear him, but he felt is should be said it on principle. "I found this place."

 

He had the distinct impression he was being laughed at from beyond the boundary, as if to say challenge accepted.

 

Challenge, indeed.

  


 

 

Draco and Potter sped neck and neck towards the snitch, hands outstretched with grasping fingers, victory or defeat but a moment away. Draco surged forward, determined, even as his chances for winning dimmed to zero before his eyes. Potter’s fingers wrapped around the snitch (like they did every time he played) and he tumbled to the ground (he didn’t fall every time, but Draco thought they ought to).

 

Draco hovered in the air in shock. He’d had every advantage—a better broom, more practice, no broken bones—and he’d lost. The snitch had been right there next to him and he’d failed to notice. Until it was too late, at least.

 

Of course, it wasn’t entirely his fault, he told himself as he walked (bitter and miserable) to the locker room. He'd just been distracted, what with Potter breaking his arm and running away from a rogue bludger chasing him most of the game. Rather, having his arm broken and getting pursued by the rogue bludger. The Rogue Bludger that Draco suspected he knew exactly the cause of. He could have hexed the stupid elf for his barmy ideas about…heroism, or whatever it was motivating this mad plot. Perhaps he would, once he saw the dreadful thing at summer holidays.

 

Elves, honestly, were more trouble than they were worth, he decided for the umpteenth time. Once they got an idea in their head, it was next to impossible to disabuse them of it. A small voice in the back of his head—one he'd come to think of as The Small Voice—told him that he was the one who’d given Dobby the barmy idea in the first place and encouraged it, but Draco was not in the habit of listening to that small voice. It rarely said anything nice to him. It whispered things like guilt guilt guilt, and doubt doubt doubt, and shame shame shame. It whispered ‘save Potter from the unicorn slayer’ and ‘earn his respect the honourable way’. It whispered the unthinkable, the undoable, the unimaginable, and then reminded him of how he’d failed to do all the hopeless things it instructed him to do.

 

So he ignored it and placed the blame where it belonged. In this case, on Dobby, for manipulating the bludger and breaking Potter’s wrist and distracting Draco and making him lose the game, all because Dobby thought it was his duty to save Potter's life.

 

It wasn’t Draco’s fault that no matter what he'd told Dobby about Potter over the summer, Dobby interpreted it in Potter's favour, and somehow got it in his stupid elf head that Draco cared about Potter. Which, obviously, he didn’t. But Draco hadn’t cared that Dobby had the wrong idea—not at first, anyway—because having the wrong idea meant Dobby was willing to listen to Draco’s whinging. And as Draco had no one else to complain to (after his father said Draco was ‘forbidden’ from uttering the name 'Harry Potter' at dinner 'ever again'), he’d take whatever sympathetic ears he could get. Even if they were large bat ears attached to a house elf.

 

It was all well and fine until Draco—quite by accident, really—found out about his father’s “plans” for the coming year. And when Draco shared what these plans were with Dobby, since he didn’t have anyone else to tell...well. Dobby, somehow, got the idea that Draco was worried about Potter in the coming yearDraco had only been trying to vent to the barmy elf over his doubts about his father's scheme, such that it was. Letting a basilisk loose in the school just to get rid of Muggleborns and make Arthur Weasley look bad seemed just a bit too much to Draco, and he wanted someone to agree with him, because he was right, obviously. But he couldn’t tell anyone but Dobby, obviously, because Draco wasn't supposed to know about his father’s plan.

 

So, obviously, he only had Dobby to complain to. And when he mentioned that Potter would inevitably get embroiled in uncovering the plot—as was his wont—and would probably end up fighting a basilisk and dying or something equally heroic and brave and stupid, Dobby took that as a hint that it was up to him to prevent Potter from returning to Hogwarts and endangering his life. Dobby was convinced that Potter could only depend on Draco and Dobby to save him, definitely not because Draco had said those specific words in that order or implied it in any measure. Draco had only mentioned once, or perhaps twice (at most thrice), in passing, how Potter had gotten himself injured burning their teacher and maybe You-Know-Who alive, because he didn’t trust adults for some reason, and that was all it took to get Dobby on board the ‘save Potter train’ that Draco was definitely not conducting.

 

Honestly. What good were those enormous ears if he wouldn't listen?

 

Well, alright. Technically Draco had said it would be better if Potter didn’t come back to Hogwarts because of the stupid, evil, plan that Potter would get caught up in somehow and that would probably get him killed. But he’d only said it in the context of “it would be boring without Potter if he didn’t come, but it would also be boring if he died because he tried to take on a basilisk, which he would, Dobby, he’s that much of an idiot, I tell you.” But still. He hadn’t meant that to mean that Dobby should therefore take it upon himself to stop Potter, because Draco hadn’t said that or implied it or anything of that nature, but that’s the takeaway Dobby got from Draco’s complaining. And so off the barmy elf trot to enact some equally barmy plan to stop Potter from returning to Hogwarts all because he thought Draco was worried about Potter. Honestly.

 

Draco considered ordering Dobby to stop trying to save Potter’s life, but it seemed to mean so much to Dobby, protecting Potter, so Draco let him. And so it came to be that, all summer long, Dobby had been disappearing to wherever Potter lived in an attempt to try to stop Potter from returning to Hogwarts without Potter's knowledge that his life was being interfered with. Dobby didn't share his plans with Draco—Plausible Deniability was a skill Draco had learned young—but Dobby did share that his attempts had been unsuccessful.

 

It was on the first of August (the day after Potter’s birthday, as anyone who knew anything was aware) that Dobby returned from Potter's looking strangely rattled.

 

“Good grief, what's wrong?” Draco asked, feigning mild irritation and general disinterest. Though often wanting in the details category, Dobby's stories were entertaining, but it simply wouldn’t do for Dobby to be aware that Draco thought so. Better to let him think Draco only listened to Dobby's stories because there was nothing more interesting to do than listen to his ramblings, and that they were a pleasant enough diversion. In any case, Draco wondered what Dobby had gotten up to at Potter’s to return looking so disturbed. Perhaps he’d had another run in with an angry kneazle? That had been his best story so far from his summer exploits.

 

But Dobby did not tell about another harrowing encounter with a kneazle. What he said was, “Dobby is a bad elf,” while trembling.

 

Draco had frowned at that. Dobby often assessed himself as a ‘bad elf’; he was correct in said assessment, at least in the sense that he was bad at being a house elf because he was a bit disobedient, didn’t like serving, and got the wrong ideas about what Draco felt about Potter. But normally Dobby returned from Potter's in good spirits, Kneazle attacks and all.

 

So, while he wasn’t worried about Dobby or concerned or any such nonsense, Draco did ask, “What’s happened?” It was only polite, after all, and he had nothing better to do than listen.

 

Dobby, however, had launched himself at the floor and began beating his head against it. “Dobby! Is! A! Bad! Elf!” he wailed.

 

“Stop that, Dobby!”

 

He did—with great reluctance—and crumpled up into a ball muttering badelfbadelfbadelf to himself. “Tell me what happened,” Draco ordered.

 

Dobby would not speak for long moments; technically Dobby was his father's elf, not Draco's, and could therefore choose to ignore Draco’s orders. Draco had some measure of authority as Lucius’ son, but he could not order Dobby to defy a direct order his father had given, such as 'punish yourself for bad behaviour’.

 

But finally, Dobby did speak. “Mister Harry Potter is as great as Master Draco says,” Dobby whispered. “He shook my hand, invited Dobby to have a sit! He spoke as equals to Dobby!” He paused to blow his nose on his pillowcase uniform.

 

Draco decided to graciously overlook the fact that while Potter, apparently, had no problem shaking a house elf's hand, he would not—had not shaken Draco’s. He also did not bother denying that Draco had never once said Potter was great; clearly, Dobby had misunderstood, and it was too much trouble to disabuse the barmy elf of the notion now. “You spoke to him?”

 

“Dobby was not intending to, no sir! Dobby was just watching and taking Mister Harry Potter’s letters, but then Dobby overheard that Harry Potter is still planning to return to school!” He groaned in despair and pulled his ears. “So Dobby decided to tell Harry Potter about the danger! Only in vague terms, Dobby swears,” he added when Draco was about to scold Dobby for sharing secrets, “But Mister Harry Potter said he was not caring about the danger, he'd rather be at Hogwarts, even without friends!”

 

“I told you he’s an idiot,” Draco said, wondering why Dobby was so upset about this. He'd gotten a handshake and a sit out of it, after all.

 

As if Draco had not spoken, Dobby continued, “And when Harry Potter realized his friends had written him after all, he was very upset with Dobby, but Dobby had his orders! 'Harry Potter is not to return to Hogwarts this year, lest he dies by fighting a basilisk'! But Mister Harry Potter wouldn't promise to not return to Hogwarts, so Dobby got him in trouble with his family.”

 

Draco took a moment to process. “The Muggles?”

 

Dobby nodded furiously. “Dobby heard the Muggles telling Mister Harry Potter he was not to be doing any ‘funny business’ while they were having a very important meal yesterday evening!”

 

“And you being present at their meal didn’t count as ‘funny business’?” Draco asked, amused now. He didn’t know much about Muggles, but he was certain they would be frightened by the appearance of a house elf at their dinner party.

 

“Oh no, they weren't seeing Dobby at all! Mister Harry Potter was upstairs in his room, making no noise and pretending he does not exist!”

 

“On his birthday?” Draco frowned, thinking that this story was making less sense by the minute. Is that why he didn’t want to stay with them? Because he was having a strop about his birthday being overlooked for an important dinner party? Draco knew exactly what it was like to have one’s birthday overlooked for business; his father had missed many a birthday for that very reason. But Draco no longer had fits about it, so it seemed unlikely that Potter would. He didn’t have fits about anything, far as Draco had seen. Not even getting sent into the Forbidden Forest for detention, which demanded a fit, in Draco's (refined) opinion.

 

Dobby wringed his hands, lip quivering. “Dobby has been watching, and the Muggles do not even let Mister Harry Potter say the word magic. They are afraid, Dobby was thinking, or jealous, and Mister Harry Potter had pretended he was going to set the bushes on fire, and got in trouble for it…”

 

“Dobby, focus,” Draco ordered, annoyed. “So, you thought to get Potter in trouble with the Muggles because…?”

 

“Because the big one said he would keep Mister Harry Potter from returning to school if he did any ‘funny business’!” Dobby wailed insistently.

 

Draco had anticipated that Potter would be resistant to staying with his Muggle relatives. It must be boring, at the very least, living with Muggles. In any case, he’d authorized Dobby to do whatever he deemed necessary to get Potter to stay, if only to appease the pitiful thing. He wouldn’t have thought getting Potter in trouble with the Muggles would work. They were his family, surely they wanted Potter to go to school?  They must understand the importance of a magical education on some level. Muggles had schools too, Draco knew.

 

Dobby whimpered a bit and continued his tale. “So Dobby made the pudding float and crash on the floor, because Dobby knows the muggles would call that 'funny business', and even if they don’t know about house elves, Harry Potter was right there trying to stop Dobby, and so the muggles thought it was Mister Harry Potter who had done it! Just as Dobby planned!”

 

“Alright…” Draco said. For a plan that had gone off without a hitch—for once—Dobby seemed incredibly unhappy.

 

“Dobby stayed to watch, to be sure it would work. Dobby didn't realize his magic would get Harry Potter in trouble with the Ministry…”

 

“The Ministry?” Draco repeated. “What do you mean?”

 

“The underage magic restriction!”

 

“Ah.” Draco rarely thought about the underage magic restriction. The Ministry had no way of enforcing the restriction on those who lived in magical estates, as the Ministry couldn't tell who had done the magic—but Potter lived with Muggles. Of course they’d think any magic done in the house was done by him.

 

“What happened next?”

 

Dobby sobbed, wringing his bandaged hands. “The Muggles, they locked Harry Potter in a cupboard. A very small cupboard,” he added when Draco did not react appropriately.

 

 “A very small cupboard?” Draco repeated, unimpressed. “How small?”

 

“The size of the fireplace in the guestrooms, sir.”

 

Barely enough room to stand up in, then.

 

Draco was beginning to get a strange feeling in the pit of his stomach. He couldn't quite place the emotion, but it felt bad. “How long did they keep him there?”

 

“Overnight,” Dobby whispered.

 

“Overnight?”  Was that a normal Muggle punishment? No, surely not. Draco had always heard that muggles were stupid—believed it too—but this was on another level. Who locks their family in a cupboard? Especially a wizard. Were they not afraid of magic? Dobby had said they were, but that did not seem to be the actions of one who fears repercussions.

 

“They kept Harry Potter locked in the cupboard while they put bars over his windows and locks on his bedroom door,” Dobby continued, ignorant to Draco’s mental struggle. “Dobby left after they installed a flap for food. Dobby isn't sure why they did that, though, because they aren't feeding Harry Potter, as far as Dobby could tell.”

 

Draco had to sit down. He'd never imagined… “They're not feeding him at all?”

 

“Dobby isn't sure,” he moaned, pulling his ears again. “They said they'd keep him in there forever. They must not be wanting Harry Potter to die, then, Dobby thinks.” Dobby’s eyes filled with tears. “But they hurt Harry Potter with their fists and frying pans. Dobby didn't think Muggles could hurt the Great Harry Potter, but now he's going to die, and it's all Dobby's fault!”

 

“Stop that,” Draco said, tired, as Dobby launched himself at the floor to punish himself again. “Harry Potter is a great wizard. He won’t die from a little...rough treatment.”

 

Still, the image of Potter shovelling food in his mouth at feasts came to Draco’s mind unbidden, the way he never seemed to get enough. Potter was scrawny, Draco recalled, but he’d always thought perhaps Potter merely looked that way due to the oversized, atrocious, ill-fitting clothing he tended to wear. Not that Draco had been staring at or contemplating Potter’s body or anything.

 

“Harry Potter is going to die because Dobby is a bad elf!” The wretched thing wailed again, bunching his small hands in his dirty pillowcase and sobbing furiously.

 

Draco couldn’t very well forbid him from crying, but he had to stop it somehow. “You may go check on him—secretly—in a couple of days. If he looks unfed you can… bring him food from the Kitchen. This kitchen,” he specified, in case Dobby tried to summon food from the muggles and got Harry in trouble with the Muggles or the Ministry again.

 

The thought of being able to do something seemed to calm Dobby, and his uncontrolled wails simmered down to something more manageable. “Dobby will make it his personal responsibility to keep Harry Potter fed, sir!”

 

But several days later, when Dobby returned from his nightly visit to Potter’s, he was visibly distraught. “Harry Potter is gone! Luggage taken; bars busted—”

 

Draco smiled, relief washing over him. He couldn’t identify it until the feeling was gone, but now he knew: he'd felt guilty over the whole thing. He'd never felt guilty before and hoped he never would again. It was awful. The small voice whispered guilt’s not all you feel, but Draco ignored it, as usual. “Don’t you see? He escaped. I told you he would.”

 

When Draco saw Potter at Flourish and Blotts with the Weasleys, he realized that must be who rescued him. Of course it had been. Why should that come as a surprise? The Weasleys were always doing for Potter what Draco couldn’t.

 

Contrary to the image Dobby had painted, however, Potter didn't look as though he'd been beaten, imprisoned, or starved. He looked happy. Still scrawny, but perhaps he was just like that. As he watched Potter get fawned over by Lockhart and the press, all remaining traces of concern vanished. Perhaps Dobby had exaggerated. Or misunderstood. No one who'd lived through such trauma could be so nonchalant about it all, surely.

 

He forgot to think about it after he watched his father (rather clumsily) enact his plan to Utterly Decimate Blood Traitor Weasley. His father got punched for his efforts, which was so pedestrian, really, but perhaps it was a fitting punishment for pettiness.

 

When Draco returned from Diagon and relayed the news of Potter's complete and total wellbeing, Dobby started sobbing again—happy tears, it seemed. “Is Master still wanting to keep Harry Potter from school?”

 

Draco didn’t really care anymore. Well, he’d never really cared, of course, but it was a lost cause at this point; he was certain Potter would find a way to get to Hogwarts now that he had wizards on his side. But he told Dobby to continue anyway, mostly because it seemed to please him to have an extra task to protect precious Potter’s life.

 

Regardless, it hadn’t been a surprise to see Potter at school. He wasn’t surprised to hear the story (greatly diluted though it was from being passed down the grapevine) of how the Weasleys rescued Potter from the terrible muggles. He had been surprised to hear that upon finding the barrier to Platform 9 ¾ blocked, Potter and Weasley decided to take an invisible, flying car to Hogwarts instead. Weasley’s idea, no doubt.

 

It was easy to forget his concern over Potter’s general-and-summertime wellbeing when faced with the raging rush of envy at the renown Potter got for arriving to Hogwarts in a stolen, flying, invisible car and getting attacked by the Whomping Willow and escaping with only a few scratches. And detention with Lockhart, which was hilariously fitting in Draco’s opinion; even if the man was rather charming and had rather nice hair, Potter hated attention and vanity, and would thus hate spending time with someone like Lockhart (nice hair and all), who thrived on those two sentiments.

 

Concerns thoroughly mitigated and replaced with envy once again, Draco hoped that, perhaps, Potter would start to take their rivalry a bit more seriously this year. Draco had become the Slytherin Seeker, after all, so they were at the very least, technically, sports rivals. Potter had to recognize that, hadn’t he? But then Granger had to go and muck it up by implying and then stating explicitly that Draco only got the position because his father bought new brooms for the team, not for his skill. Bloody interfering busybody.

 

Draco wasn’t an idiot; he knew the brooms certainly gave him a competitive edge for the try-outs. A very competitive edge. But if Draco didn’t have any ability to back up his father’s gift, Snape would almost have certainly done something to ensure Draco only got put on the team as a back-up. But Draco had replaced Pucey as the Seeker for Slytherin because he was Better. Obviously.

 

Even if the truth was that both money and skill had gotten him his position, he wouldn’t have Granger messing up his and Potter’s already very unbalanced rivalry. And she hadn’t, he was certain, because Draco had a plan. A very good plan. His plan, of course, was to win and show everyone that Potter wasn’t all that after all, that he could be bested by skill and pedigree, but then there was Dobby’s interference, and Draco’s distraction, and…well. Draco had lost. But! It had been a very close game, anyway, and surely had it not been for Dobby’s interference distracting Draco, perhaps he could finally have bested Potter and earned his respect. He had thought Dobby would give up his goal, once he realized that Potter was already at school and would stay there, but never doubt the diligence of a determined elf, as they say. Or a deranged one, as it so happened.

 

And even though Draco had played admirably and kept up with the specky git, he doubted Harry was thinking about how worthy an opponent Draco was when he was focused on all the shattered bones in his arm—or rather, the lack of bones in his arm.

 

Thanks ever so, Dobby, Lockhart, et al.

 

____

 

When the attacks started, Draco was almost glad Potter was around to see it, after all. Perhaps it would teach him to value his own mortality. To realize his own mortality. Only, everyone seemed to think Potter was behind it because of Potter managing to be in the wrong place, at the wrong time, all the time. But still. How idiotic were the masses? Didn’t they know who Potter was? Well, alright, it was a little suspicious, but it wasn’t as if Potter would or could do something so horrifying as opening the Chamber of Secrets and setting a basilisk on the Muggleborns. Potter didn’t have the inclination to pull off anything requiring such forethought, either. Even if Draco hadn’t known exactly who was behind the attacks, he would never for a moment have suspected Potter.

 

He tried for a bit of light-hearted fun (at Potter's expense, of course), sending Potter a Valentine's Day Love Poem Serenade—a joke amongst rivals, obviously—but it backfired terribly, and no one was laughing, and Girl Weasley was just staring at him and blushing as if she had written it. As if a Weasley would think to call You-Know-Who ‘The Dark Lord’. Well, with the journal’s assistance, she could have come up with it perhaps, but no one knew about the journal, so they wouldn’t have thought that. Honestly.

 

But, given Potter's reaction (shy, not angry), Draco didn't want Potter to know who had written it (it wasn’t very good, anyway, because he hadn't tried, since it was just a joke), and a plausible scapegoat standing right there (Girl Weasley, blushing, foolishly watching the scene unfold), and maybe—if Potter put the brain that must be hiding under that awful hair to use—he might realize the Weasley Girl was acting unusual (and not just in a ‘your awful hair makes my cheeks feel hot’ kind of way) and maybe he should figure out why?

 

But Potter left in a snit and didn't seem to notice much of anything at all. He just glared at Draco, looking almost…disappointed. Draco couldn't imagine why, but this was not how he'd hoped their rivalry would unfold.

 

His rivalry with Potter got back on track, at least, when they were selected to duel each other in front of the whole Dueling Club. Draco had duelled before, so it was hardly anything new. Potter surely didn’t have any experience, and Lockhart’s demonstration had been a joke (everything about the man was a joke, even if his fancy hair was quite nice). Draco expected Potter to be at least a little nervous. He demanded it, in fact.

 

Or meant to. When what slipped out was “Scared, Potter?” and the response came, “You wish”, Draco's brain did something…funny. Shifted somehow, like fogged glass being cleared. it was almost akin to déjà vu, and he would have bet his broomstick they'd had this exact exchange before were it not for the fact that they most certainly had not. He knew they hadn't, of course he did, but it was so familiar, like a key fitting into a lock, and turning. Click.

 

It had startled and disturbed Draco enough that he decided he didn't really want to duel Potter, after all. So he sent that dumb snake after him because surely that would make Potter give up without a fight. It was a black adder, after all. Highly venomous. And Potter clearly had an aversion to snakes, if his attitude towards Slytherin was any indication.

 

But Potter always had to show everyone up (including himself) so of course he bloody talked to it. How could Draco have known Potter was a Parselmouth?

 

Draco had been bothered ever since. Now everyone thought Potter was the heir of Slytherin, which was the stupidest thing he'd heard since Warbeck released “Cauldron full of Hot, Strong Love”. Potter loved Muggleborns, and half breeds, and blood traitors, and probably even house elves if Dobby were to be believed.

 

He'd never hurt anyone who didn't deserve it, and that realization as much as his certainty of it disturbed Draco. What was wrong with him? Good grief. He couldn’t even share who was behind it, because then his father would be arrested. None of the professors seemed to have any idea what was going on, and since the bloody basilisk didn’t seem to have any major compunctions about who it took out on its rampage of blood purity, Draco decided to pull some strings. Pull strings if you have them, Draco. That’s what his father had always told him.

 

Being a string-puller was like being a puppet master, he told himself. No one ever sees you or knows you’re involved. Leave it to the puppets to play the show—and there were no puppets more willing than sanctimonious Gryffindors. Draco knew Potter and his accolades were already trying to figure out the conundrum that was the Chamber of Secrets. He’d predicted it this summer, after all, and Potter wasn’t exactly subtle in his attempts. It was just like Potter to think three second years had a better chance of uncovering a one-thousand-year mystery than all the adult witches and wizards working on it.

 

And with Draco’s assistance (a page on basilisks ripped from a book about magical beasts), they did. Well, Granger did, and eventually the knowledge trickled down to Potter and Weasley. Not soon enough, perhaps, but nobody died in the end, and no one found out about Girl Weasley just as no one found out about Draco’s involvement.

 

His father was not so lucky, but that was the price for trying to murder children, Draco supposed.

 

---

 

On the last day of term, he went down to his willow grove—and it was still his, make no mistake—to reflect on what a terribly stressful and unproductive year it had been, only to find that just like the end of first year, Potter was there already, stretched out on his back with the sun on his face. It shouldn’t be allowed for someone to look so at ease sitting on the ground, surely.

 

“Potter. I thought you’d be off celebrating yet another unlawful House Cup victory instead of moping.”

 

Potter sat up with irritating sluggishness. “Malfoy. What a surprise,” he said with a distinctly un-surprised look on his face. He shuffled something behind his back before Draco could see, but he was certain he saw a distinct flower-crown shape. A distant memory tickled the back of his mind.

 

“And I’m not moping,” Potter added, ripping Draco from his thoughts. “I’m sunbathing in my spot by the lake.”

 

“Potter. I’m certain I told you this is my spot. Find your own.”

 

Potter shrugged. “I was here first.”

 

Draco really couldn’t argue with that, unfortunately. Botheration. “Why aren’t you off cavorting with your cohorts?”

 

“‘Cavorting’?” Potter snorted. “Whatever. Ron is in the infirmary with his family, and Hermione is trying to convince Pince to let her check out library books over the summer.”

 

“And you don’t have other friends, so you’re down here, all alone, playing with dandelions?”

 

Draco was pleased, for reasons he didn’t want to examine, that Potter’s cheeks flushed a deep red. “I do too have other friends; I just like to be alone sometimes. And I’m not playing with dandelions, I’m—just picking the ones that’ve gone to seed, is all.”

 

That wasn’t a very convincing argument, in Draco’s opinion, but Draco was distracted by the faded pink scarring on Potter’s arm. Certainly it was more interesting than whatever Potter was or was not doing with flowers. “What’s happened to your arm?”

 

Potter yanked his sleeve down and stuttered out a “Nothing” far too quickly for it to be, in fact, nothing.

 

Draco groaned and rolled his eyes. “Oh Merlin, did you really go fight Slytherin’s beast? I thought that was a joke when I heard it—”

 

“Where’d you hear that? Your dad? Doubt he'd know a joke if it hit him in the face.”

 

Draco blushed, immediately regretting the direction he’d inadvertently taken this conversation. “I really rather think—”

 

“So, was it your idea to have Dobby nearly kill me in misguided attempts at saving my life?” Potter interrupted, and this was not at all what Draco wanted to talk about.

 

“I beg your pardon?” he tried, going for nonchalance and failing miserably.

 

“Dobby. He was your elf, wasn’t he? I hardly think it was your dad who ordered him to keep me alive, though it’s hard to imagine you wanting me alive, either. But stealing my letters to make me think I don’t have any friends? That sounds like you.”

 

“Dobby did that all on his own,” Draco lied. Well, it wasn’t exactly a lie, but Draco had some hand in it. Not that he wanted credit, in this instance, even if the small voice told him win his respect. Tell the truth.

 

“Who gave him the idea I was worth saving in the first place?” Potter challenged.

 

"I'm sure I don't know. He's not a very good listener." Draco was terrible, and a liar.

 

Potter narrowed his eyes. "Then was it your idea to make him iron his hands for disobedience?"

 

"No! I would never," Draco hissed, too upset at the accusation to come up with anything better than the truth.

 

"Then you should have ordered him to stop, since he's your elf—"

 

“My father’s, actually, so before you go off on your high Abraxan about elves, understand that there’s a lot about house elves you don’t know.”

 

“I understand more than you think, Malfoy,” Potter growled, on his feet before Draco registered his movement. Draco remembered what Dobby had said about cupboards and frying pans and staying upstairs and pretending you did not exist. 

 

“He’s free now, " Potter said, face red, "so you can’t hurt him anymore.”

 

“If you think I would hurt him, you’re an idiot,” Draco huffed. Then, more quietly, added, “An idiot who obviously doesn’t know me very well.”

 

“You’re right, I don’t.” And like that, Potter was grabbing his things to beat a hasty retreat. Just like last time.

 

“Running away again, Potter?” Draco shouted, angry and hurt for reasons he couldn’t define.

 

But apparently Draco was wrong, because instead of leaving Potter shoved a piece of crumpled paper in Draco’s hands. “Actually, I was going to say thanks for the tip. I waited all day for you to show up.”

 

Draco took a moment to process that Harry Potter had been waiting all day for him to show up. He’d have liked to savor the moment...well. A moment longer. But his attention was needed in the present.

 

“Here I was,” Potter continued, “thinking maybe you weren’t so bad after all. Guess you were right about one thing: I’m an idiot.”

 

Draco flattened the parchment. It was the page on basilisks he’d anonymously given to Granger. Draco wondered how Potter had figured out he was the one who’d given it to her, but of course it had to be Dobby who'd told him. Or his brain under that awful mop of hair utilizing the undervalued skill of deductive reasoning.

 

Draco didn’t like the implication of either.

 

“I haven’t the faintest idea what you’re talking about,” he lied again, though he felt his face flushing in a tell-tale give away. Maybe Potter wouldn’t notice.

 

“What I’m talking about is that Dobby had to learn about the Chamber of Secrets from someone, and someone told him to keep me from coming to school, and someone gave Hermione that page on Basilisks.”

 

He gave Draco a meaningful look that Draco summarily ignored.

 

“Granger found it herself. Her bloody nose is always in a book.”

 

“Hermione would never rip a page from a book," Potter said, eyes stormy. "And besides, I asked her, and she said she found it in her bag.” Potter seemed to deflate after that, heaving a sigh and looking to the sky for patience. “I don’t know why I’m bothering telling you what you did. I don’t know why you did it, but it couldn’t have been anyone else.”

 

Potter really did turn to leave then, and Draco didn’t have any idea what to say.

 

“You know, Malfoy,” Potter called back over his shoulder, “One might think that you're a respectable person. Far better than your dad, anyway."

 

"Who said I want your respect, Potter?" Draco spat. He was a terrible, terrible liar.

 

Potter smirked, but it was far softer than the kind of smirk Draco was accustomed to. It was a smirk that said 'you're being a prat, but I don't mind', or a smirk that said 'I know better, I've seen through your facade.' "Being respectable isn't a bad thing. If you're the type of person who'd never hurt Dobby, who helps when—well. Maybe you're worth knowing, if you're like that. Maybe you're the kind of person I'd ask to call me Harry.”

 

"And what's that supposed to mean?" Draco mumbled, doing his best not to fidget and failing.

 

"Well. My friends call me Harry."

 

And then he was gone.

 

“Ridiculous,” Draco muttered to himself, sitting down against the trunk of the willow. He had an image to protect, after all.

 

But if he kept the page on basilisks as a reminder that he had, once, done something good, well. No one would be the wiser, except, perhaps, Potter. Or, rather, Harry.

Chapter Text

Draco ran into the Red Charge at his Secret Meadow during every fallow period over the course of the next few cycle sets; sometimes at the beginning, and sometimes at the end. It didn't appear that the Red Charge operated on any sort of consistent schedule, unless it was a schedule crafted purely for the purpose of irritating Draco, which it did. Irritate him, that is.

 

They rarely exchanged more than a few hostile words, but in spite of their promises to turn the other in to the authorities amidst oaths that neither would give up their claim to the abandoned sector, it was only ever the two of them there. No Blank Charges, no supervisors, no additional Charges of their respective spectrums to backup their claims. It seemed all threats were empty, on both sides. A rather curious situation.

 

Draco, at least, understood that he couldn't share knowledge of this place without losing it. No matter how violated he felt about the invasion of his space, he'd rather share it with one (very annoying) Red Charge than make a play for spite and sacrifice his one place of peace. Draco could only assume the Red Charge felt the same, since none of his promises to turn Draco in ever came to fruition.

 

It was this realization that forced Draco to confront that he no longer…minded their strange unspoken arrangement all that much. The crossing of their paths was tangential and fleeting, but despite the unpredictable nature of the Red Charge's schedule, Draco could always count on seeing him at some point, which was a kind of dependability in itself. An unprecedented sort of dependability to be sure, but reliable, nonetheless.

 

It was…suspect, to say the least, that in all the cycles Draco had been coming to the meadow, he'd never seen another soul there, until he had. But after their unintentional initial meeting, a cycle didn't go by that he didn't see the Red Charge.

 

The Red Charge's schedule was erratic; Draco's was not. If the Red Charge wanted to avoid Draco, he could have done so easily. He’d managed to not see Draco for the ‘ages’ he’d been coming to the meadow prior to their meeting. But he didn't avoid Draco, and that was something. Meant something.

 

The Red Charge also wasn't nearly as antagonistic as he'd been at first. Sometimes he didn't even speak. He just glared—or watched, really. Lately. He hadn't glared in quite some time, actually.

 

Draco was many things: precise, punctual, and productive, as all Green Charges were meant to be. Green Charges were not meant to be curious, but Draco was that, too. And if there were answers to be had, he would have them.

 

"Tell me," he asked when he could no longer bear not knowing, "why do you come here?"

 

The Red Charge crossed his arms. "Why do you care, greeny?"

 

"Humour me."

 

The Red Charge shrugged, but the corners of his lips twitched. An interesting reaction. "Maybe I'm just here to bother you."

 

Draco rolled his eyes. "Perhaps that is your new purpose, but it wasn't always. The first time you were—without uniform or concern who might find you in that state—that had a different purpose."

 

"I didn't think anyone would see me like that!" The Red Charge hastened to say, cheeks darkening to carmine.

 

Draco smiled, victorious. "Exactly. So, what were you doing?"

 

The Red Charge clenched his jaw, seeming to realize he'd been talked into a corner. Draco almost thought he wouldn't get answer, but at last one came.

 

"Sunbathing."

 

"…what?"

 

"I come here to sunbathe. There's just not a lot of sunlight over in the Red Sector, and with the other Red Charges all vying for the roof spots, I decided to find someplace new. And I found this place. I thought I was the only one who knew about it.”

 

The floodgates of conversation had opened, it seemed. Draco couldn’t find it in himself to be upset. He was a curious sort, after all. He didn't have any idea about what most of the information meant, but he was hardly going to admit it, was he? “Why did you keep coming back, then? After you found out you weren’t the only one who knew.”

 

The Charge shrugged. “Same as you, I imagine. I searched high and low to find a place like this, and I've been coming here ever since. A long time, as far as I can tell. I'm a bit attached, you see. Who wants to start over from scratch when you've found something perfect? Not me.”

 

Draco’s neck prickled in irritation, at himself and this interloper, for having thought the same thing. Well, not quite irritation. He wasn't sure he had a word for this feeling. He'd started this conversation, and yet it wasn't going at all how he'd thought it would. Most notably because he'd lost control of it.

 

"Why do you come here?" The Red Charge asked, voice calm and quiet. Draco could appreciate the sound of his voice when it was like this. Smooth, rumbling, deep.

 

The Red Charge had answered him honestly, even if Draco didn't know what 'sunbathing' was, and Draco felt he ought to respond in kind. "I come here to think and get alone time. In silence."

 

"Silence?"

 

Draco waved vaguely, finding it difficult to put into words. He’d never had to put it into words before. "Green sector is…loud. Full. Busy. I just get overwhelmed. As long as I can get away from it all on occasion, it’s manageable."

 

"Sensory overload," the Red Charge said with a nod of his head.

 

Draco had never heard it phrased like that before. Well, he'd never bothered to explain it to anyone before, because no one else seemed bothered by the sounds of the Green Sector. But somehow, this Red Charge got it.

 

"That's exactly it," Draco said softly, unsure what the strange fluttering in his chest was about.

 

"I suppose I should really apologize, then, for disturbing your peace." The Red Charge sighed, any remaining fight seeming to leave him. “I hope you don't mind sharing?”

 

Draco did mind, or at least he used to, but now… “I don't own it. Do as you wish.”

 

The Red Charge laughed, a hearty booming sound as he threw his head back. He sounded relieved, almost, but Draco couldn't fathom why. “Patrons, we got off to a bad start, didn't we? It's exhausting, staying annoyed for weeks and weeks when I come here to relax. I've wanted to say sorry for a while now. I didn’t mean to push buttons, but you're cute when you're annoyed."

 

Draco sputtered and tried to form a properly scathing response to being called cute, but before he had the chance to process the Red Charge continued, “Then I started to worry that you might not come back if you got too narked. And then I realized there are all kinds of expressions you can make besides annoyed, and I wanted to see them. So, I'm glad you kept coming back, and sorry for being a git. I think there’s space for both of us here. Plenty of sunlight to go around, wouldn’t you say?” He gestured expansively to the abandoned forum, and Draco had to admit he had a point. “I really hoped you'd keep coming back.”

 

Draco ignored the renewed pleasant fluttering in his stomach. “Why?”

 

“I told you, I wanted to see you again,” he said without shame or reticence.

 

Draco felt his own cheeks flush with frost again. How could this Charge be so…sincere? “You did?”

 

The Red Charge smiled again. It shouldn't have been possible for him to look better than he already did, but when he smiled… “Sure. Had to apologize, didn't I?”

 

There it was again—that openness. Draco didn't sense any deceit in his words, but he was unused to such blatant honesty.

 

“Well, you've done it,” Draco felt compelled to point out, "apologized, that is."

 

“But I didn't introduce myself! I'm Harry.” He stuck out his arm and pinned Draco with eyes as green as Draco's uniform. Draco hadn't noticed the colour during their exchanges in the past. He'd never bothered to actually look before.

 

He retroactively berated himself for that oversight. All this time, he could have been doing something useful. Like looking at and noticing green eyes.

 

He grabbed the proffered forearm and squeezed gently. Harry's arm. “Draco.”

 

Harry squeezed back, which should have concluded their greeting, belated though it was. But Harry didn't let go, and neither did Draco. He'd thought himself too old to experience anything new, but he was doubting that assumption now. Harry didn’t feel anything like Draco expected. His first impression was only that Harry wasn’t cold like Draco. He knew Red was Patron of fire or something to that effect, but Green discouraged any discussion of other Patrons, much less the Red one.

 

Draco regretted that now, as the dearth of knowledge robbed him of the vocabulary to describe the sensation of touching Harry. Harry felt like tingling, visible energy, a rushing sensation that surged from Draco’s toes all the way to the tips of his ears and out the top of his head. He felt the way sunshine looked, and butter smelled, and coffee tasted—not that he’d ever felt sunshine, or smelled butter, or tasted coffee, but touching Harry made him understand, anyway, what he’d always imagined those things to be like. Harry was a jolt, a caress. A lullaby, then a howl.

 

He didn’t have the precise words for what Harry felt like other than not cold, and so for now the only thing he could call it was what it was: the feeling of Harry.

 

“Oh,” Harry sighed softly, bringing his other hand up to grasp Draco’s arm, intensifying the feelings his touch brought. “You feel…nice.”

 

Draco could only nod, voice too thick with something to speak. When he found his voice again, he said, “Yes, you too,” covering Harry’s hand with his own.

 

Harry smiled.

 

Harry smiled, but didn’t say anything. Perhaps he, too, had forgotten all the words he’d ever known.

 

“I need to go,” Harry said eventually, gaze bashful and apologetic.

 

“When?” Draco asked, looking at their hands, clasping the other as though afraid of drifting apart. ‘When’ wasn’t a question Charges ever needed to ask; time was a mortal construct. But asking ‘when’ was better than asking ‘why’, and Harry clearly liked mortal time-words, anyway.

 

“Seven minutes ago."

 

"I don't have any idea what that means," Draco confessed. Perhaps he could ask, next time, why Harry used the words he did.

 

"It means I'll be late."

 

Draco tried to pretend he wasn't disappointed that Harry was leaving already. He wasn't very good at pretending. "I could turn you in now, you know. I have your name."

 

Harry, much to Draco's consternation, smiled. Maddening. Warm. "I suppose you could, Draco. I gave it to you. My name." Harry could turn Draco in too, he realized. He had Draco's name and spectrum. He also had a dimple in his left cheek when he smiled, Draco noticed.

 

Harry squeezed Draco's hand gently and continued, “I don't think you will, though."

 

"Why?"

 

Harry shrugged. "Trusting you is electric."

 

Draco didn't respond. He didn't know what 'electric' meant, but he knew he wouldn't turn Harry in, just as he knew Harry wouldn't turn him in.

 

"Will you be here tomorrow? Next cycle?” Harry asked, as though the answer weren't obvious based on Draco's unwavering pattern since they'd met.

 

“That depends on whether you intend to keep sunbathing here, or whatever it is you do.”

 

“I told you, I don't want to find somewhere else. I'm rather attached.”

 

With a final squeeze, Harry let go. Draco regretted the loss ofHarry, whatever the feeling was called. He’d never noticed feeling cold before, and a tinge of fear at the newness of it pulled at his heart.

 

Harry smiled, and Draco thought maybe he could feel it even without Harry’s touch, as long as he kept looking at Draco like that.

 

“See you soon, Draco.”

 


 

 

Draco wouldn’t easily admit to being jealous of Potter, but the only alternative was being jealous of a hippogriff for the attention Potter was giving it. Bowing before it, deferring to it, saying kind words about its stupid feathers and awful eyes and terrible beak and wretched talons. And then Potter bloody got on top of the thing, and took off without any kind of safety parameters, or—

 

Merlin, he really did have a death wish. That was the only explanation.

 

Over the summer, Draco had done a bit more thinking about his…fixation on Potter. He'd done a lot of thinking, and then did some more. No matter how much he thought, he always came around to the same conclusion.

 

He didn’t like said conclusion.

 

He also didn’t like that in a desperate ploy to find some other explanation, he’d dived deep into research on house elves, and found out more unfortunate truths. It was Pansy's fault, really, because she'd complained to him during one of their summer brunches that her house elf ("a dear old thing, Draco, but far too honest for her own good") kept putting daisies in her bedroom instead of hydrangeas. "Saffron knows I like daisies best, but they're such a common flower, don't you think, Draco? I'm thirteen now, it's time for sophistication."

 

"Did you tell her you like daisies? Elves can be stubborn, you know. Once they get an idea in their mind, they hold on to it no matter what you say." Draco knew that from his own experience with elves.

 

"Of course I didn't tell her, I didn't have to. They just know these things. Doesn't matter how many times I tell her I prefer hydrangeas. You can't lie to an elf."

 

It should have been obvious, in hindsight, really. Elves had to anticipate their masters’ every need, spoken and unspoken. Of course you couldn't lie to them. Still, Draco would much rather have remained ignorant of the fact. He couldn't even complain to Pansy about her telling him, because then she'd ask why he was so peeved about it, and like a dog with a bone she'd dig and dig until she found the truth, and the truth was something he didn’t want anyone to know. Including himself.

 

Come to think of it, Draco's Big Unfortunate Realization was also Pansy's fault.

 

"You're so distracted lately Draco, always sighing and staring off into the distance like an ingenue in a mid-century romance novel. If I didn't know better, I'd say you're lovesick."

 

Draco had scowled at that. "Me? Lovesick? Please. I'm not the type to pine pathetically over some poor sod who doesn't recognize my fine qualities."

 

She'd given him a pitying look, pat his hand in a rather patronizing way, and told him, "Sure, darling," then promptly changed the subject so he couldn't argue.

 

So yes, it was all Pansy's fault, obviously. It was her fault he now knew that house elves can read emotions, and it was her fault he'd come to the unwavering conclusion that the reason Dobby had been so dedicated to saving Potter was—

 

Well.

 

In hindsight, Dobby had been a wonderful elf, and Draco was grateful the barmy elf was free now. He deserved it. And if part of that gratitude centred on the fact that Dobby was no longer around to read the truth of Draco’s emotions, well. That was neither here nor there. He didn’t begrudge Dobby his freedom, or that it had come as a result of his father’s hubris and Dobby’s stick-to-itiveness in trying (rather in vain) to save Potter (who'd saved himself and everyone else, in the end).

 

Draco, on the other hand, was not free. He was in a cage, trapped by the realization of his personal emotional truth, or whatever it was they were calling it these days. He could barely think the words, let alone say them, even if he knew now exactly what it was he was feeling and why Dobby had behaved the way he had. But even if Draco knew it, he couldn’t admit it, and so he continued pretending outwardly and inwardly as much as he could manage that Harry Potter was nothing but a rival and nuisance.

 

Draco had always been a terrible liar.

 

He projected his feelings of frustration and resentment onto the things tangential to Potter. Like Weasley and Granger, and the Nimbus 2000, and treacle tart. All of them won easy smiles and joy from Potter. Draco had never won either. He only lost things when it came to Potter, it seemed.

 

Harry Potter was not miserly with his smiles. Myriad small things brought delight to his wonderful stupid Gryffindor face. One might think his life had been previously devoid of joy for how simple it was to please him. Give him a chocolate frog, and his eyes lit up like a Lumos. Point out the way a constellation looked like a duck, and he laughed with his whole body. Or put him on a wild flying animal that could kill him, and he whooped like it was the best thing since Quidditch.

 

As easy as it was for all the simple things to make Harry happy, it was just as easy for Draco to feel miserable at his inability to do the same. Draco couldn't enjoy vanilla toads anymore—because when he ate them he remembered that he preferred chocolate frogs. He'd stopped eating chocolate frogs because they made him think of Potter. He couldn't enjoy caramel snails as a third option, either, because everyone knew caramel snails were only good when you ate them with chocolate frogs. It wasn't limited to sweets, either—everything at Hogwarts was designed to bloody well remind him of Potter. Quidditch Practice was singularly focused on beating Potter. Potter was in most of his classes. Even the Slytherin common room made him think of Potter, because everything was green, like Potter's stupid bespectacled eyes.

 

Hogwarts and Harry Potter were as inherently linked in Draco's mind as thunder and lightning. There was not one without the other, and because Draco couldn't stop thinking about Potter, he couldn't move on from these stupid feelings, no matter his efforts. Everything made him think of Harry Potter and his smile and how hopeless it all was. He knew (on some level) being bitter and contemptuous was not going to help his chances any. Not that he had chances to help, hence the hostility. Disdain was a far stronger option than despair, for it allowed him the illusion that he chose to feel this way rather than merely ending up like this as a consequence of things outside his control.

 

There were so many things that might have thrilled him had it not been for how they made him think of Harry, and how very far away he was. At the constant reminder of these things exist, but not for you. Never for you.

 

The small voice whispered it could be, if you tried. But even when he tried, things never seemed to go his way, and he always got caught up in envy, and pettiness, and impatience.

 

Like with the hippogriff. Draco would have been fascinated with them under any other circumstance.  Curiosity was why he took Care of Magical Creatures in the first place. Why he hadn't dropped the course even once it had been announced that Hagrid was the new professor. As the only heir to the Malfoy Family, Draco would never get to be an animal handler. Magizoology was only valuable to a Malfoy insofar as it could turn a profit. Malfoys were businesspeople and delegators; they did not get their hands dirty, that was something to hire others to do. So this course was his one chance, he thought, to be something like Newt Scamander (whom Draco secretly idolized, even if the man had been a Hufflepuff). Daring, dashing, heroic, facing dragons and chimeras alike without batting an eye.

 

But now any joy Draco felt was dampened, all because of Potter. Hippogriffs were smart creatures, prideful. Not so different from a Malfoy, really. So how could a bloody chicken, haughty and prideful, win Potter's affection when Potter detested those same traits in Draco? It wasn't the beast's fault, he knew. But he also had a bad habit of voicing his grievances to the nearest ear, sympathetic or otherwise. And now that Dobby was gone, there was no one left to listen who wouldn't judge him. No one but a hippogriff, not so unlike him. Or so he thought.

 

A mistake he would sorely regret re the Hippogriff, and not only from the pain it caused him physically. After the fact, there were the scathing looks Potter and friends sent him; scathing looks that only grew more caustic after his father got involved. For his father brought with him the influence and condemnation of the Ministry. His father also brought with him a grudge against Hogwarts in general and Dumbledore specifically. He was still not over his loss of his position as a governor, and here was his chance for revenge. Indirect, yes. But potent all the same.

 

Draco did not always know when to stop, when he’d gone too far. He wished he could say he'd learned it from his father. Draco had thought the bloody chicken’s condemnation to death was fair; Draco had been grievously wounded by it, after all. But the way Harry glared at him with hurt and betrayal—as though there were anything between them to betray!—was his first clue that he had, perhaps, gone too far. Had Harry confronted him (rather than merely send him baleful glares across the Great Hall), he would have argued that his father had started it. 

 

But it had been Draco who’d played up the severity of the wound which had been easily mended by Madam Pomfrey. It had been Draco who’d said rude things to the hippogriff, after being instructed not to. And it had been Draco who’d complained to his father about it all afterward, wanting some sympathy from someone even though he knew his father was vindictive and spiteful towards anyone or anything that threatened the Malfoy legacy. Especially if it were an opportunity to get back at Dumbledore—and Draco knew that his father had been looking for an opportunity to get back at the daft old fool. Draco hoped it had more to do with his father being protective than with revenge, but Draco also knew exactly the sort of person his father was. Because Draco hadn't been harmed that badly, and his father knew that. He was undoubtedly delighted at the opportunity the "maiming" had provided him.

 

Draco knew these things, and he acted out anyway.

 

He wanted to blame his behaviour on stress. Over the fact that mass murderer and traitor Sirius Black was after Potter. And that Potter was sensitive to dementors, who had nearly killed Potter by rendering him unconscious mid-air. And then Potter had to be stupid and decide he was going to keep playing Quidditch anyway, on the fastest broom ever, in spite of the fact that it could easily kill him. Potter had to be stupid and sneak into Hogsmeade where there were both dementors and—possibly—mass-murderer Sirius Black who was looking for Potter and had even found a way into Hogwarts on multiple occasions to enact said revenge.

 

Well, maybe it didn't matter so much where Harry went in regards to Sirius Black. But there were still the dementors to consider. 

 

Potter hadn't appreciated Draco being a 'nark' and 'turning him in'. He hadn't appreciated Draco's thoughtful, lighthearted prank to remind Potter of the possibility of death-by-falling-due-to-dementors, either. No, Draco's efforts to keep Potter safe had not been well received, but what else was new? Potter still was not taking their rivalry seriously; he even got slapped—by Granger, no less. The small voice in the back of his head told him he deserved it for being a prick.

 

And if Draco was secretly glad the hippogriff escaped, and that Sirius Black seemed to be a non-issue, and that the dementors were taken away, and Potter had survived the year against all odds, no one would know but Draco. It had been an all-around terrible year, and he had, once again, lost to Potter at Quidditch, among other losses (namely the Quidditch Cup and the respect of McGonagall due to not playing as cleanly as precious Potter). 

 

So yes, while all’s well that ends well and all that rot, Draco felt rather drained and disappointed at another year gone.

 ---

On the last weekend of term, it was easier than ever for Draco to slip away from the Slytherin dungeon without anyone noticing. Not that slipping away from Greg and Vince had ever been a challenge; they were far more concerned with stuffing themselves with the last of their Hogsmeade treats and setting off their Zonko’s pranks before the tedium of summer. It was Pansy and Blaise who normally posed difficult; Pansy and Blaise usually wanted to spend the final days of term discussing whose house they would 'brunch' at first (Zabini's), and which beach they might visit (Brighton), and would it be Paris or Rome this summer (the answer was always 'both').

 

But one of the seventh years had brought out a cask of firewhiskey and was liberally doling it out, even to third years. Everyone was nursing both their shot glasses and their wounded pride at losing not only the Quidditch Cup for the first time in years, but the House Cup. To Gryffindor. Again. 

 

So Draco was able to leave without having to make any excuses to anyone about where he was going; he wasn't in a mood for lying, anyway. He only had one destination in mind. He only ever had one destination in mind when his mind was like this. Full. Buzzing. Congested. Like a beehive with communication issues, perhaps.

 

He didn’t know what to hope for as he approached the willow grove. Just because Harry had been there the previous two years didn’t mean he’d be there again this year. The first year had been an accident, and the second had been…with a specific purpose.

 

Draco had no reason to believe Harry would want to talk to him this year. Draco had not done anything worthy of being thanked for. He’d pinned internally and outwardly been a prat. Granger had slapped him, and Draco really thought that ought to have been the end of it. Back to neutral ground.

 

But when he got to his favourite willow tree, like the two previous years, on this final day of term—his final day to enjoy it—his spot in the willow grove was not only not unoccupied, but was very full of the cloying presence of one Harry Potter, his bare feet soaking in the lake and the sunlight gleaming off his coal black hair. “Is this a thing now? Are you just always going to be here when I bloody well want to be alone?”

 

He didn’t know if he actually wanted to be alone; he just wanted peace. Anywhere with Harry in it wasn’t likely to be peaceful for him.

 

Harry didn't look up at him. He was making some kind of chain with dandelions. “I can’t help it if you’re intent on following me out here, Malfoy.”

 

“This is my spot,” Draco reminded him, not that he expected Harry to care at this point—he’d not cared the past two years—but it had to be said on principle alone.

 

“I still don't see your name written on it.”

 

“Did you look?”

 

Unexpectedly and to Draco's great delight, Harry smiled. “You're going to be difficult about this, aren't you.”

 

Draco sniffed, delight rapidly diminishing. “I'm difficult about everything.”

 

“I know.”

 

Draco wasn’t sure he was meant to hear that, Harry said it so softly. He barely had the chance to wonder at it, however, as Harry continued, “Look, can we not do this today?”

 

“Not do what?”

 

“This.” Harry gestured between the two of them vaguely, eyes still on his flower chain. “Whatever this is.”

 

“I thought we were having a rather pleasant conversation.”

 

“You would think that,” he mumbled. He sighed and tried again. “I just meant can we not be Potter and Malfoy today? I've had a rather upsetting few days, and I just want to sit here and make daisy chains and not think about any of it.” Harry looked up at him then, for the first time since Draco had arrived. His eyes were red, and he looked worn. Tired. Existentially weary. “I'm guessing you didn't come down here to have a pleasant conversation, either.”

 

Draco hummed and considered. He wasn’t very good at comforting others, but it didn’t seem Harry wanted that. He just wanted…peace. “I suppose I could pretend I don’t find you irritating, for once.” Of course, Draco’s only irritation at Harry was that he was near and yet still so unreachable. But here he was, wasn’t he? They both were here, like always. But unlike always, Harry wasn’t storming off, or trying to hide whatever it was he did with dandelions.

 

And for once, Draco was in a position to ask instead of wonder. "What is it you’re always doing out here? With the flowers?"

 

Harry rolled his eyes, probably because he wanted to be left alone, and instead Draco was being difficult. But his smile didn’t disappear, so that was something. "Making a daisy chain, obviously."

 

“You know those aren't daisies, right?" Draco asked. "They're dandelions.”

 

“Sod off,” Harry scoffed, but he was still smiling, even if it didn’t quite reach his eyes, so Draco sat down about an arm's length away. “I can make a daisy chain out of dandelions if I want to.”

 

“It’s against the Rules,” Draco said.

 

“What rules?”

 

"There are rules," he began.

 

"Name one," Harry challenged.

 

Draco huffed. “At least call it a dandelion chain.”

 

“Ah, but it’s not a chain. At least, that’s not what it’s going to stay.”

 

Now it was Draco’s turn to roll his eyes. “Whatever you say, Potter. It’s your party.”

 

“I told you, I don’t want to be Potter and Malfoy today. That’s a rule, since apparently you’re such a fan of them.”

 

Now that Draco was closer, he could see dried tear tracks down Harry’s face. It was strange to think of Harry crying—anger, he was used to. Determination, of course. Laughter, too, even if it was never shared with Draco, only seen from afar. But sorrow?

 

Draco wanted to ask what Harry could possibly be upset about. The dementors were gone, Black was gone, Gryffindor had won the Quidditch Cup. He knew he didn't have any right to ask, though.

 

Speculation, however, was always on the table. “Are you really that disappointed that Black has disappeared? I'm sure you enjoy being stalked and threatened as much as the next person, but you're safe now.”

 

“I'm never safe,” Harry said quietly, and something inside Draco broke a little. He tried not to think about what Dobby had told him about iron bars, food flaps, and cupboards, unicorn slayers, basilisks, dementors— “but I'm not worried about Sirius Black. Did you know he's my godfather?”

 

“I did,” Draco said, plucking a dandelion that had already lost almost all of its seeds, too bare for making part of the chain-that-wouldn’t-stay-a-chain.

 

"How did you know that? I didn't even know I had one," he mumbled. "A godparent, I mean."

 

Draco pursed his lips, thinking quickly. "I'll tell you if you tell me what you're upset over."

 

"I'm not upset—"

 

"Yes you are. I can tell."

 

Harry watched Draco carefully, as if debating whether to deny it again. "What makes you so sure?"

 

Draco raised his shoulder in—what he imagined to be—an elegant, blasé sort of way. He wasn't about to say, 'I can tell because your eyes are red and you're sitting in the shade instead of the sun and you're talking to me'. Honesty wasn't his game. "Either tell me or don't, it's all the same to me."

 

Harry rolled his eyes and muttered something about 'snakey gits' under his breath that Draco elected to ignore. "Do you remember when you told me that if you were me, you'd want to kill Sirius yourself for what he'd done?"

 

Draco could have admitted he remembered with painful clarity everything he'd ever said to Harry. Especially the cruel things. He didn’t admit anything. "What of it?"

 

Harry hesitated a moment longer, eyes conflicted. "Sirius is innocent. He rotted for twelve years in Azkaban for something he didn't do. I—I can't prove it. I tried. But he's on the lam, and Remus resigned, and…well, it's all a bit shite, is all.” He took a moment to add another flower to the chain, wrapping it into a circular shape. “I almost got to have a real family."

 

Draco's heart ached and swelled. He knew more than he cared to about Harry's muggles. Well, not more than he cared to; but more than he knew what to do with. "How do you know he's innocent?"

 

Harry watched Draco out of the corner of his eye and grinned slyly. “Don't tell anyone, but I may or may not have helped him escape."

 

Draco sighed and shook his head. Another smile shared with him. He was doomed. "Of course you did."

 

"Don't tell anyone,” Harry repeated, humour fading. “Well, not that anyone would believe you. But still."

 

Draco handed a dandelion to Harry. "It almost sounds like you're trusting me."

 

Harry took the flower, and pinned Draco with a look full of questions and answers. "It does, doesn't it?"

 

He tried to maintain the gaze, but one could only take so much exposure to Harry’s brand of earnestness. He turned away and smiled to himself.

 

They were quiet for some time. One could almost call it peaceful. The dandelion construction was taking shape now—a crown. “It's not all shite,” he pointed out, trying again for levity. “At least your bloody chicken survived.”

 

Harry laughed like he had a secret, and Draco would have given anything to know what it was. “Heard about that, did you?” He looked pleased, though about what specifically Draco wasn’t sure. "It's your turn. How'd you know Sirius is my godfather?"

 

Draco picked imaginary lint off his trousers and smoothed imaginary lines. His story wasn't nearly as exciting as helping his falsely-convicted godfather escape a fate worse than death. "Every pureblood family home has a family tree. When new members are added, or some change happens, a new branch grows. Sirius Black is my cousin, on my mother's side—"

 

Harry snorted at this. “Right.”

 

"Hush. You asked. Obviously Black is on the tree—because Sirius is my cousin—but he’s your Godfather, too. So your name is on our family tree. I asked my mother about it once, curious what The Boy Who Lived was doing on our wall. She told me."

 

"Huh," Harry said, tone indecipherable. "That doesn't make us family, does it?"

 

"Good grief, of course not. Technically Sirius Black has been disowned from the main branch of the Black Family, but that happened after my parents had married, so his name was already on our tree—"

 

"Why would the Malfoy Family Tree recognize Sirius if he was disowned?"

 

Draco tsked at the interruption. "Because you never know when a connection might be valuable, Harry Potter. Besides, no one but family can see it anyway, so no matter what embarrassing secrets the past contains…well. It’s good to keep track of who your relatives are, to prevent…unfortunate accidents of in-breeding, to put it delicately."

 

Harry frowned and didn't respond for long moments. "But why am on there, if we aren't related? The godson of your mum's disowned cousin seems a bit distant to put on a family tree, and Sirius hasn't adopted me or anything."

 

"What do you think godparent means? Once your parents—well,” Draco paused and flashed Harry an apologetic grimace, “You know. Tragically became unable to care for you, Sirius Black became responsible for you. Magically."

 

Harry’s frown deepened. "Not my blood relatives?"

 

Draco waved his hand at that. "Magical inheritance doesn't count muggles." From what Draco knew of Harry’s muggles, he didn’t think anyone ought to count them for anything.

 

But Harry pressed on. "Then why was I given to my mum's sister?"

 

"What makes you think I would know?"

 

Harry frowned again, momentarily lost in thought. When he found himself again, he asked, "And Dumbledore would know this?"

 

"Of course he knows it. Every pureblood does."

 

As they talked, the sun hid behind rapidly forming clouds, and thunder rolled in the distance. "So I should have been living with Sirius all along?"

 

"Well, Azkaban is hardly the best place to raise a child," Draco said, trying for humour. It fell flat. Lightning flashed along the mountain tops. Draco counted to five, and the thunder followed. The storm was close, then. "But yes, you should have gone into his immediate care. Even now he's magically responsible for you. That’s why it’s such a big deal. That he escaped. And came after you."

 

“I told you: He’s not after me.” Lightning flashed again.

 

Thunder followed. “But most people don’t know that.”

 

Harry nodded woodenly as rain fell around them in big, fat drops like tears from the sky. They stayed dry in the shelter of their willow grove. "I should have gone with him," he said at length.

 

"Where? 'On the lam'? That's no place to be, Potter. Being responsible for your well-being means choosing to be apart, in this case."

 

Thunder rolled again, softer this time. Summer weather was strange, the way it decided to storm then changed its mind.

 

Harry's eyes were impossibly full—of sorrow, of longing, of anger. But he did not cry. "I don't want to be Potter and Malfoy right now," he said, voice hoarse.

 

"Alright," Draco replied, wishing he had something meaningful and heartfelt to add.

 

They sat quietly for a while, Harry making his flower crown and Draco plucking the best dandelions and handing them over. Harry took each one delicately, like they were something precious. “If we aren't going to be Potter and Malfoy, who are we?” Draco asked at last.

 

Harry shrugged. “Why not just Harry and Draco?”

 

“That’s not very creative. We could be anyone.” Draco swallowed, and decided to indulge in a moment of…well. Self-indulgence. “We could be Merlin and Arthur, Achilles and Patroclus, Hadrian and Antinous…”

 

Harry made a face at that, though whether it was because he knew who those people were and protested their history, or some other reason, Draco wasn’t sure. As expressive as Harry’s face was, Draco did not always know how to read it.

 

Fortunately, he did not have to wonder for long. “That sounds complicated. I like things simple when they can be.”

 

Well then. If the names meant anything to Harry, he wasn’t showing it. Draco was caught between relief and disappointment.

 

So he nodded again and plucked another dandelion. “Well then, Harry, what are you making a daisy chain of dandelions for?”

 

Harry presented his creation to Draco. It wasn’t very attractive, but it had a certain charm. “I call it a crown of wishes. You wear it on your head,” Harry dropped it on top of Draco's hair gently, “And think of everything you'd like to come true.”

 

A flurry of white dandelion seeds fluttered down around them with their delicate spines catching the sun that had re-emerged from the clouds.

 

Draco was breathless, watching Harry, heart aching. “When do you stop wishing?”

 

“Never,” Harry said, tone heavy with some unnamed burden. He locked eyes with Draco for just a moment before looking away. “Or until the wind has carried all your wishes away and grants them. Whichever comes first.”

 

Draco swallowed; mouth dry. “That could take a while.”

 

“Yes.”

 

“Dandelions don't really grant wishes,” he pointed out, raising his hand to touch the crown. It smelled of sweetness and summer.

 

“No.” They sat quietly for a moment, then Harry added, “Muggles think they're weeds. I spend my summers pulling them out of the garden for my aunt.”

 

“Does she have a use for them?”

 

“No.” Harry plucked grass out of the ground and watched it blow away in the highland breeze. “She throws them away without wishing for anything.”

 

Draco crossed and uncrossed his legs, at a loss for what to say. “She must be happy, then, if she has nothing to wish for.”

 

“Of course she isn't happy. She doesn't want to be.”

 

“Everyone wants to be happy, Potter.”

 

Harry didn't say anything for long moments. He opened his mouth several times, as though finally deciding how to respond, but in the end all he said was, “Not Potter. Harry.”

 

Draco nodded.

 

They returned to silence, and picking dandelions, and making Crowns of Wishes that would never come true.

 


 

 

Draco watched transfixed as Harry made small clouds of flame billow into the air in various shapes. He loved the heat, and the creativity, and the danger of it. So fleeting, so unlike water, and plants, and ice.

 

They sat side by side, legs almost touching, as if by accident. But they could have been sitting anywhere in the wide meadow, and instead they sat close enough to touch. Sometimes they did. As if by accident, but no one was apologizing.

 

“What is your purpose, as a Red Charge?”

 

They'd met frequently over the cycles, weeks, asking each other simple things, seeking answers to questions they didn't know how to ask yet.

 

“I'm in charge of making storms. Thunderstorms, specifically.”

 

“What do storms have to do with fire?”

 

“Well, we can’t go around setting things on fire as we wish, can we? Storms create lightning, and when lightning strikes—” a tendril of red-white energy sparked between his fingers “—things burn.”

 

Draco frowned. “But storms make rain, and rain puts fire out.”

 

“Not always. Some fires burn too hot. Anyway, it’s not just about fire itself, but what it represents, what it does. At their essence, Red is about heat and pressure.”

 

Harry’s jaw flexed, and his eyes got that far-off look they sometimes did when he talked about his Patron. Draco wanted to ask, but he wasn’t sure they were there yet.

 

“What do you do, then? As a Green Charge,” Harry asked, nudging Draco’s shoulder with his own.

 

Draco was both grateful and conflicted about the change of topic, but surely they would have another opportunity to talk about Red, and Harry's feelings toward them. “Green Sector manages water in all its forms. Oceans, lakes, glaciers, and plants.”

 

“Plants? That sounds more like Yellow’s territory.”

 

“Plants are made mostly of water, so it is a Green duty,” Draco paused, running his fingers through the obsidian grass. There was nothing like it on the mortal plane, he knew. Mortal grass was green, and sometimes yellow. “My work revolves around designing flowers.”

 

“Flowers? That's a pretty word. Sounds interesting,” Harry mused. “I've never seen a flower.”

 

“You've never seen a flower?”

 

Harry shook his head. “I watch the skies during observations. We're discouraged from looking down, except to see lightning strike.”

 

Draco could understand that. They were supposed to watch how their creations interacted with the real world. They weren't supposed to observe the creations of other Charges. But even knowing that, he told Harry, “You should look for some flowers next time.”

 

“What do they look like?”

 

“You'll know them when you see them.”

 

Harry made a noise that Draco suspected meant he disagreed, but he didn't push it.

 

“So you know about Yellow?” Draco asked, equally scandalized and curious.

 

Harry nodded. “She's always sending representatives to get on our case about sticking to seasonal guidelines when it comes to storms. And then there’s the volcanoes…a joint effort, I guess. I wouldn’t know. We work more often with Blue.”

 

“You’ve met charges from other Patrons, then,” Draco said, trying not to sound petulant. He left what his heart was saying unsaid: other charges besides me. He’d rather thought Harry was like him, not having contact with anyone outside his sector.

 

“Not really. I’m not allowed to talk to them. Or…anything else.” He lifted his pinky finger, almost grazing Draco’s hand with it. Draco wasn’t sure if it was real or imagined, the feeling touching Harry sent through him. It felt the way that strange sparking tension looked, the one Harry showed him whenever Draco asked to see it. Draco had learned it was called electricity. Or lightning. Harry had done a poor job explaining the difference, in Draco’s opinion. In any case, it felt and looked the way Harry did when he got excited about things, and Draco couldn’t get enough of it.

 

“But sometimes I listen in when I’m not supposed to, so I know some things.” Draco had almost forgotten what they were talking about, so distracted was he with Harry’s damn electric-lightning fingers.

 

But he was nothing if not poised to bring himself back to reality quickly.

 

“Naughty,” Draco chided, feeling warm warm warm inside, even if Harry wasn’t touching him now, except by accident, carefully arranged or otherwise.

 

“What about you? I’d expect you to have to work with Yellow Charges sometimes.” Harry mirrored Draco's actions, threading his fingers through the strange dry grass they sat on, tugging it almost enough to break, but never quite managing it. “They deal with earth. Plants grow in the earth, don’t they?”

 

Draco thought he perhaps detected a hint of jealousy in Harry’s tone. “Maybe the older Charges get to,” Draco said after a beat. “Or the bonded ones. They share the soil parameters the flowers need to flourish. But I’ve never met a Yellow Charge before…in any case, whoever sets the soil conditions, my job is mostly a combination of engineering and aesthetics. Personally, I like programming sequences into my work.”

 

“Sea-Quinces?”

 

“Yes. Numbers, patterns, repeating sets that are perfect every time.”

 

Harry grunted, and Draco suspected he wasn’t really sure what Draco was talking about. “Which one is your favourite?”

 

“My favourite?”

 

“Your favourite flower.”

 

Draco hummed, pretending to consider it. He didn’t have to, though; his favourite would always be the first flower he’d ever designed. “The dandelion.”

 

“Dandy Lion?” Harry chuckled at whatever mental image the words summoned.

 

“I don’t get to name the flowers,” he said, a bit defensively. “It means lions’ teeth.”

 

“Do they look like lion teeth?”

 

“Not really.” Draco attempted to describe it in detail, and as he did, Harry tried to recreate it with his flames. It was amusing to watch, beautiful colourful explosions. It gave him some ideas, but it wasn’t a dandelion. “No, not like that,” Draco tsked. He wasn’t very good at controlling water and ice designs—not like Harry with his flames—but he made an approximation, based on a dandelion ready to blow its seeds. It looked like a spiky snowball.

 

"Seven Spectrums, that’s beautiful,” Harry marvelled, touching the ice reverently. It started to melt almost immediately. He pulled his hand back apologetically.

 

Draco decided to ignore how disappointed he was at the loss of proximity to Harry’s hands. Instead, he focused on refreezing the ice sphere.

 

“They don’t always look like this. They start out covered with yellow petals, absorbing the sun and storing nutrients, then they fold back in on themselves to change to their seed phase, which looks like this. You wouldn’t even think they’re the same flower, but they are. That’s why I like them. They’re strong. Mutable. They can survive almost anywhere.”

 

“These are…seeds?” Harry asked, touching the fanned ice flower again. It didn’t melt this time, and Harry’s lips lilted up in a pleased smile. “What is a seed, exactly?”

 

“It’s how plants grow new plants in other places. Like…mortal infants, in a sense.” Draco didn’t know nearly as much about how mortals procreated. Not his department. Or any Patrons purview, as far as he was aware. But seeds were probably involved.

 

Harry shrugged, a baffled look nearly replacing the smile. “Sounds complicated.”

 

Draco decided then that he would do almost anything to keep Harry smiling. “I made them like this so the wind can carry them away to make new plants.” He didn't explain that each yellow petal was, technically, a flower. The dandelion was a floret, a collection of flowers grouped together. He could explain that another day, because he was sure there would be another day.

 

 “However they work, they’re lovely, aren’t they? So delicate. The mortals must enjoy them.”

 

“No,” Draco sighed. “The humans call it a weed and take great pains to remove them from their garden.”

 

Harry traced a finger through the grass, as though willing flowers to grow. At least, that’s what Draco liked to think. But Harry didn’t know what flowers were, or how they grew, or that they couldn’t grow here. “Well. What do humans know, anyway?”

 

“Not how to appreciate a gift, that’s for sure.” He sighed again. This was an old wound, but one he’d never forget. The rejection of his first—and favourite—creation. “At least the children like them. They blow the seed tops off and make wishes on them. The wishes won’t come true, but it’s a pretty thought.”

 

They moved on to discuss brighter things after that. What made a good spot for a lightning strike, whether it was an insult or a compliment for storms to make water fall on humans, the strange words humans chose for the Charge’s creations.

 

“The humans call this one a fractal,” Draco said, demonstrating the pattern with his ice. “They can look different, but they all have the same basic framework. The patterns are repeated within the microstructure of the ice crystals, and every layer you examine contains the same—are you laughing?”

 

Harry was laughing. At Draco, he realized.

 

“I’m sorry, it’s just…you’re so different than I thought you were when we first met.”

 

“What do you mean?” Draco demanded; stomach full of ice.

 

“Nothing bad. You just came off as so…aloof. And quiet. I was never sure if you’d show up again, or decide you were going to go find a new place to be alone. I thought I annoyed the hell out of you.”

 

“You do.”

 

Harry smiled at that, not even a little bit offended. “But you keep coming back. And once you get going about something you’re passionate about, you’re so…free.”

 

“Free,” Draco repeated, testing the word in his mouth. Water wasn’t free like fire. Some thought it was, but whether it was in plant form or an ocean, it was only allowed to be free within the confines of its anatomy. In that same way, Draco was allowed creative expression as long as he followed the guidelines. Breaking guidelines had consequences—like having your flower rejected as a weed.

 

Draco certainly wasn’t free like dandelion seeds that only needed the softest sigh to launch themselves to greener pastures. “I don’t think I know what freedom is.”

 

Harry played with the folds of his uniform, sending shocks sparking off across the surface. Draco had asked him once why it did that, and Harry’s response had been some nonsense about ‘electrons’ and ‘rain clouds’ and ‘antimatter’. Draco still wasn’t convinced Harry hadn’t made half of it up.

 

“Well, we’re all a bit constrained by our nature, aren’t we?” Harry said after a moment of reflection. He held his palm flat, summoning a small lick of flame to dance there, flashes of abstract shapes with no clear distinction between forms. “Lightning isn’t a skill set of all Red Charges, you know.”

 

“Oh?” Draco asked, intrigued. “Only you?”

 

Harry extinguished the flame and shrugged a bit helplessly. “Not only me. Some of the bonded Red Charges can do it. But the older Red Charges can’t do it without assistance from a Green Charge."

 

“That doesn’t make any sense. Red and Green don’t work together.”

 

“Not anymore,” Harry agreed, “But Thunderstorms can’t happen without moisture. The story goes that Red and Green used to be more…well. More. They used to be friends. Red’s heat allowed Green’s water to take on different forms, and Green let water carry warmth from place to place.”

 

Draco leaned back, taking in the dark ether of the skies around him as Harry’s words sunk in. “Is that why your eyes are green?”

 

"I think I can make lightning because my eyes are green," Harry said quietly. It wasn't exactly an answer, and Draco got the impression Harry didn't want to talk about it.

 

“I always assumed Yellow forced them to cooperate.”

 

“These days I think that’s the case. But before that, they worked together willingly. Something happened, and Red’s anger trapped moisture in clouds, pushed upward with heat, and the first thunderstorm was burned. It struck a field and set it on fire. Only ash was left, and they haven’t spoken since.”

 

“Red used Green’s own nature to hurt him, then," Draco mused. It was strange to think of Red and Green getting along in any circumstance. Draco got disapproving frowns whenever he designed red flowers, as though even the thought of putting Red and Green together on a plant was doomed for failure. It didn't stop him; red was a good color to attract bees and butterflies and hummingbirds. But he'd only gotten away with it for roses by agreeing that they could come in multiple colors.

 

He'd never heard the story that Red and Green had been friendly once. Before meeting Harry, he would have thought it impossible. But having met Harry, he thought differently about everything. "I wonder what happened between them.”

 

Harry shrugged. “Either no one knows, or no one is willing to say. We don't talk about it in Red Sector. They tell us once, and then never mention it again.”

 

“Why did you tell me?”

 

Harry shrugged again, but a small smile danced on his lips.. “I thought you deserved to know. That…well, things have changed before. Maybe they can change again.”

 

“You’re different than I originally thought, too,” Draco offered, lacking anything else to say.

 

Harry leaned back in the grass that had grown around them, black as always, but with shines of green and red. Perhaps the meadow didn't like being abandoned. Perhaps it wanted to claim them as they had claimed it.

 

Harry folded his hands behind his head and gazed out at the infinite cosmos around them. “What did you think I was like?”

 

“Brash. Simple. Shameless.”

 

Harry hummed at that, eyes closed, but didn’t comment.

 

Draco took that as an invitation to continue. “But you’re thoughtful, and complex. Maybe a little shameless.”

 

Harry chuckled. “What have I or you or any of us got to be ashamed of? Shame is useless.” He opened his eyes, face turned toward Draco. “I prefer boldness. It has far better rewards.”

 

“I prefer caution, so that I might keep what I've won,” Draco said, and because he couldn’t let the moment just be, added, “We’re going to get in so much trouble if the Patrons find out we’ve been meeting like this.”

 

“Like what?” said Harry, voice tinged with mischief and challenge.

 

“Unsupervised.” That was the least of their worries, really, but it was the only infraction he wasn’t afraid to voice aloud.

 

“Why? We haven’t been designing anything. That's why we're not allowed to meet. So we don't, I don't know, break the rules of the mortal plane and create a fire flower, or something."

 

The words fire flower did give Draco some ideas, maybe a defence mechanism for a plant or—but he couldn't let himself get distracted.

 

“We’re not supposed to fraternize.”

 

Harry rolled his eyes affectionately. “‘To know is to give meaning to creation’. Isn’t that the Patrons’ creed? How can we improve ourselves and the gifts we give if we don’t challenge our views?” When Draco didn’t respond, Harry added, “I think you make me a better Charge. I’d never think about patterns on my own. The nature of fire is one of chaos. It’s good to think about new things.”

 

Cheeks stinging with frost, Draco said, “I suppose you might have a point.”

 

Harry smiled, and said nothing. He appeared to be sleeping, but Draco had a feeling he was wide awake.

 

Chapter Text

In hindsight, Draco probably could have found a nicer way to tell Harry and friends to hide Granger from the Death Eaters at the Quidditch World Cup. Being too polite about it would have been suspicious, though, no matter what pleasantries he and Harry had exchanged in the willow grove. One could never be sure who was listening, where, and Draco wasn't one to gamble even on the lowest of stakes. This—whatever it was—was anything but low stakes.

 

They had been, for a moment, just Harry and Draco, but outside that space they were once again Potter and Malfoy. To himself, though, Draco still called him Harry. He also still pushed Harry, taunted him and his friends, like a compulsion he couldn’t curb. Whether his intentions were good or selfish didn't seem to matter as much to Harry as the delivery. Draco could see it in his eyes: questions and disappointment. They seemed to cut to Draco's very soul, demanding why he had to be a prick about everything; why he only let the cruel facade drop when they were alone.

 

It was easy to let himself believe that at least he had some measure of importance in Potter’s life. To deceive himself with the consolation that negative attention was better than none. That by antagonizing Harry, he kept Harry's eyes and interest on him. But it was fleeting, and hollow, and Draco hated the hurt his actions put on Harry's face. Irritation. Frustration. Disappointment. Seeing them on Harry's face reflected what he felt towards himself.

 

A fitting punishment for his dishonesty.


Draco knew exactly why he did it, just as he knew that if he asked Harry, sincerely, for them to start again, Harry would grant it. He couldn't ask, for reasons he couldn’t (wouldn’t) put a name to. But Draco could no longer tell himself he was Harry's number one nemesis. His arch rival. He was not Harry's biggest enemy; perhaps they were not enemies at all.

  

He’d started having dreams over the summer; strange dreams that defied explanation. Dreams with ice flowers and handheld fireworks; dreams with bizarre Escher landscapes that could not have possibly existed, even with magic supporting them; intoxicating displays of red and green, and laughter and anxiety. It wasn’t difficult to suss out what they might mean: even asleep he could not escape his crushing feelings for Harry. Said feelings had not subsided with time, transformed into mere tolerance, or relaxed into platonic friendship, as he’d hoped they would. If anything, they’d only gotten stronger.

 

Now was not the ideal time to have anything but contempt for his father’s enemy. He did not feel contempt, though. Quite the opposite: He was worried. Harry looked tired, worn down, and thinner than ever, and not only physically. Draco had noticed it as soon as he’d seen Harry in the box seats at the World Cup. He’d also noticed Harry trying (and failing) to watch Draco without letting on that that was exactly what he was doing. Of course, Draco had only noticed because he’d been doing some surreptitious observation of his own, but that wasn’t the point. He didn’t know what the point was, precisely, but he knew what it wasn’t. Probably.

 

It should have pleased him that he had Harry’s attention. It should have given him a gratifying amount of satisfaction that Harry was watching him when the World Series Quidditch Finale was right there. It should have been the best realization of all that Harry was too distracted pretending not to watch Draco that he completely missed the Veela performance.

 

Normally—rather, if Draco had a normal life, which he didn’t—he would have been allowed to have the normal reaction. Joy, warmth, excitement. But while Draco was sneaking furtive glances, he did not get the chance to appreciate that he was proving to be a distraction for Harry. He did not get to appreciate it because he was too busy noticing the not-quite-right state Harry was in. Harry smiled, and laughed, and to the casual observer seemed happy. But Draco was no casual observer; underneath the smiles and the cheers, there was a wary tension. Questions Draco had long held buzzed around his mind, refusing to give him peace. Why did Harry still wear those clothes clearly meant for someone much larger than he? Why did he have that hunted look in his eye? Why did he regard everyone with removed interest, and keep a measured distance?

 

When Draco saw him with Granger and Weasley after the Death Eater attack, Harry hadn't even look surprised it was happening. He looked resigned, as though he were thinking he should have known this was going to happen. That a happy outing with his friends was too much to ask for, that peace was too good to be true.

 

Draco wanted to tell him that wasn’t the case; it wasn’t too much to ask for. Harry should ask for more, deserved more. He thought of what Dobby had told him of Potter's muggles. Draco had dismissed it as an exaggeration, but now he wondered anew how much of what Dobby had told him was true. If only he could ask someone, maybe he would know what to do about this horrible, rotting feeling inside.

 

But he could only wonder, and worry, and wish some more. He kept his wishes locked up tight, though he could feel them clawing away inside him like a trapped rat trying to escape.

 

When Harry's name was pulled from the Goblet of Fire, Draco thought he might have an inkling as to why Harry had that look on his face over the summer. That he should have known something like this would happen. Draco was starting to wonder if he shouldn’t have expected this, too. Every year it was something, wasn’t it? It shouldn’t have even been legal; Harry was only fourteen for Merlin’s sake! But apparently Dumbledore was as useless as Draco had always suspected.

 

He wanted to warn Harry this stank of outside interference. He wanted to insist Harry shouldn’t participate, to demand that surely there must be something Harry could do to avoid this. He even asked his father if there were a way to get Harry disqualified and his father, ever the optimist, said ‘Not to worry, Draco, Potter will surely die within five minutes of the first task’. That was exactly what Draco was worried about, but he had no one to tell.

 

The first time he saw Harry after the fact, he didn’t say ‘I’m worried’. He made a tit of himself, as usual, and said, “You’re going to die, Potter.” He didn’t say ‘I want to believe in you, but this is impossible’. What he said was, “My father thinks you’ll die within the first five minutes,” because that’s exactly what Lucius Malfoy thought, and Draco feared that for once his father might be right.

 

As he always did when Draco was being a prat, Harry looked disappointed and hurt. “I don’t give a flying fuck what your father thinks, Malfoy. He’s a bastard, and you’re an idiot if you believe any of his shit.”

 

Well, Draco had deserved that. His father was a bastard, but he was his father. Harry left Draco there and stormed off, the air around him seeming to crackle like a building storm. It suited him somehow, even if it made him look dangerous and unstable, just like the Harry in Draco’s dreams. Draco drew his wand without any real intention behind it, and it definitely wasn’t because he was afraid or any such nonsense. But people were watching, and he couldn't stand there doing nothing.

 

“Idiot?” he repeated dully. He could hardly deny it, he was an idiot, a fool for letting himself—

 

“OH NO YOU DON’T, LADDIE!”

 

Draco hardly had a chance to process who was speaking (Mad-Eye Moody); to whom he was speaking (Draco); and what was happening (illegal corporeal punishment) before it happened. A noxious swell of dark magic swept across the courtyard followed by blinding pain and Draco was shrinking smaller and smaller, confused and unable to understand anything except he was terrified and it hurt as he flew up and fell to the floor, then up only to be thrown down again, and it hurt and it hurt and everyone around was so big and loud and—

 

With a booming crash of thunder and a crackling explosion of light, the pain stopped, and Draco was himself again, and he understood, more or less, the world around him. The voices were quiet, and everyone was staring at Harry. Well, that wasn’t so unusual, but the friction in the air, the lingering smell of ozone, the charred walls and burning trees…well. That wasn’t usual at all.

 

“Mr. Potter,” Professor McGonagall said, tension rolling off her in waves as she doused the flaming trees and grass, “My office. Now.”

 

Harry nodded and followed her out of the courtyard, but not before glaring at Mad-Eye and growling, eyes glinting with hostility. Draco would never have thought he could find Harry frightening—dreams of Harry wreathed in fire and lightning and smoke and such-like notwithstanding—but in that moment he wasn’t so sure. He was certain that he did not want to be on the receiving end of such a potent glare (potent enough to wilt crops, he’d say). It was shocking for him to realise that, in spite of all the…less-than-wholesome history between them, Harry had never looked at Draco like that. With Disappointment? Yes. With Anger? Certainly. But not like that; whatever that was.

 

Draco found out later through sleuthing (i.e. asking Blaise) what, precisely, had gone down in the courtyard. He learned that he had, apparently, briefly been transfigured into a ferret by Mad-Eye, who then proceeded to bounce Ferret-Draco around on the stones. With a vindictive smile, according to Blaise, but Blaise had always been one for dramatic embellishments. Embellishments aside, Draco had no trouble believing the story, what with the ugly bruises blooming all over his body. It was the next part of the story he was having a hard time understanding. Because what happened next was that Harry had, apparently, “called lightning down from the sky” to “strike the ground next to Mad-Eye” as he “demanded Moody fix you, Draco, and stop abusing his power or some such nonsense, eyes blazing in righteous fury. It was wicked, honestly, too bad you were a ferret and missed it, old bean,” to hear Blaise tell it.

 

“But why?” Draco demanded. It didn’t make sense.

 

“Who knows?” said Theo, who was never one for speculation.

 

“He’s a bleeding-heart Gryffindor,” said Pansy, who was only half-listening on account of her being there to witness the whole thing and having already heard Blaise recount it three times already.

 

“Maybe he felt his honour was besmirched by the interference,” said Millicent, who had become very interested in ‘honour’ over the summer and what besmirched it.

 

“The man’s a house elf advocate, Draco, you can’t expect the things he does to be logical. I wouldn't waste your time trying to understand,” said Blaise, picking up on the thread of his story (and clearly put-off at having had the attention diverted from his yarn-spinning in the first place).

 

Vince and Greg just shrugged and said it was ‘wicked’, respectively, even when Millicent scowled and said not to be ‘wooed’ by the ‘prowess’ of the ‘enemy’. She ought to have said it to Draco, but of course she didn’t know how very smitten he was.

 

But smitten or not, Draco still didn’t understand Harry’s reaction, because what it sounded like was that Harry had gotten angry on Draco’s behalf for the way Mad-Eye had treated him. But that didn’t make sense. Even in Draco’s wildest fantasies he couldn’t imagine that Harry would do that. Especially not after the things Draco had said to him.

 

He didn’t know what it meant, but he knew what he hoped for.

 

The gossip around the Incident died down to make way for gossip around what the first task would entail, with guesses ranging from the ridiculous (racing on the back of a manticore) to the unfathomable (wandless magic to tame an acromantula). It lulled Draco into, what turned out to be, a false sense of security that the Ferret Affair (Afferret, as Blaise called it) was largely forgotten. That no one cared anymore about why Harry Potter, Boy Who Lived, Fourth Triwizard Champion, had threatened a teacher over treatment of his alleged bitter rival.

 

But word had apparently escaped the castle walls, or so he had to assume when Rita Skeeter, "Journalist" (only in the most technical sense of the word) approached him asking for 'a word' on his views about 'tragic boy-hero slash champion Harry Potter'. “From the whispers I hear, you two have quite the strange dynamic going on! Some might say rivals, others might say…well. Other things.”

 

Draco’s first instinct was to tell her to fuck off. Later, he would wish that was exactly what he’d done. But it wasn’t, of course, because Malfoys didn’t tell the press to hang; Malfoys took advantage of opportunities when they fell into your lap. In any case, he had an image to uphold, and it didn’t hurt to have a good rapport with the Press. His mind was set on damage control, not realising it was, perhaps, too late for that. “I don’t know where you heard that rubbish—”

 

“Oh, the walls have ears, dear! Something about lightning, and ferrets—well. I just wondered whether you might have a different perspective to offer on the whole ‘tragic hero’ angle I’m—I mean, Harry Potter, Boy Hero, is working."

 

He’d remember later that he’d sneered at that—at the thought of Potter ever working an angle, let alone the ‘tragic hero’ angle. He’d remember it, because she took his picture just as he made the face, and commented on it at length in her ‘opinion piece’.

 

Had Draco been of mind to think of it, he ought to have reminded her that it was illegal to interview a minor without the consent of a guardian. But instead he told her, "Why don't you ask Potter himself? Or his friends?"

 

"I want a more…well rounded story, you understand? Rumour has it you two have quite the history together," she cooed, words and smiles saccharine-sweet.

 

Later, Draco would tell himself he was so distracted by her perfume and unpleasant mien to see the trap she was laying. "I think Potter doesn't deserve half of what he gets," Draco growled, "Between those terrible muggles he's unfortunate enough to call relatives to competing in tournaments that very well may kill him, I hardly think more attention is what he needs."

 

The delighted 'thank you!'  Skeeter gave him made his skin crawl, and when the Prophet came out misquoting him and wildly misconstruing his words, he couldn't help but to blame himself. He blamed Skeeter most of all, the calculating bint, but those feelings were ones he had to keep inside, like so many others. Blaise and Pansy thought it was delightful and took great pleasure in quoting the article for weeks afterward, expecting Draco to join in, congratulating him on a ploy well executed (for once).

 

People were now calling Harry an unhinged, cheating, attention seeker for entering the tournament, starting fights, and smiting a teacher for getting involved in his “pissing contest” with Draco. Draco knew none of that was true, but he couldn’t just come out and say that, could he? He couldn’t even come out or admit his feelings to himself.

 

So after The Afferret Incident and the Prophet article and the resulting backlash, Draco attempted to show support, by way of apology or gratitude or something, but like many of his endeavours it all went horribly awry. He meant to make one badge—one! —for Harry alone, with the words ‘Potter Stinks—Support the real Hogwarts Champion.’ He’d planned it all out, too: he’d send it anonymously, with a message to ‘not let the naysayers bring you down, Potter’. He thought if Harry wore that, people would stop assuming he entered the tournament for attention. A flawless plan, surely.

 

But then Blaise saw Draco making it and completely misunderstood Draco’s intentions—how could he understand, when he didn’t know Draco’s secret? Draco might have explained to Blaise; but before he could weigh the options or evaluate how terrible it might be for Blaise to lord a secret like that over him and was it worth it, Blaise went and told everyone in the Slytherin Common Room about the badge. And by that point, it was too late; Draco couldn’t very well tell Blaise the truth. He couldn’t say he was only making it for himself, either, because he didn’t want to wear it. And then everyone was asking him to make them a badge, too, and he got (perhaps) a bit too carried away with all the attention, and, well…

 

Suffice to say, the whole thing got out of hand, and even though Harry couldn’t possibly have known Draco was responsible, the hurt look he received across the Great Hall was enough to put Draco off his breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

 

It was one of those moments when Draco just wanted to be alone again, and although the place was now tinged with sadness and guilt, there was only one place for him to go.

 

It was pouring rain by the time Draco got to the willow grove, and the sound of approaching thunder made him forget to check whether there was anyone already there. Of course, there was only one other person he'd ever seen there, and only at the end of the year, so really he thought he could be forgiven for not checking because it was unlikely to be occupied. The other only person besides Draco who might go there wouldn't want to be anywhere he might run into Draco.

 

When he looked up at the sound of a cleared throat, he didn’t know whether he ought to feel resigned or shocked that once again, he wasn't alone.

 

Harry was sitting on the rock in the lake, the one he favoured for sunbathing (though the sun was hidden away on this occasion). His trousers were rolled up, his feet submerged in the water, but it seemed rather pointless if the idea was to keep them dry, as he was getting soaked from the rain.

 

“I'd wondered if you'd come back here,” Harry said without preamble. Thunder rumbled from somewhere close by.

 

Falling into old patterns was easy. It was a comfort in a time with so few things to feel glad for. “I told you: this is my spot.”

 

“I still don't see your name on it.”

 

“I still don’t think you’ve looked properly.”

 

Lightning struck a nearby mountaintop, thunder booming overhead. Perhaps things were not so easy and comfortable, then.

 

“You'll catch your death out there,” Draco said, overcome by a surge of protectiveness he was helpless to suppress. “Pepper-up can only do so much.”

 

Harry’s shoulders hunched up irritably, his voice cool and distant. “I've never caught a cold before. I’ll be fine.” It wasn't right; Harry wasn't cold. He was warmth, and fire, and smiles, and—

 

Draco exhaled sharply. Harry was also stubborn, and not keen on taking orders or advice, particularly from people who had said cruel things about him to the paper and made badges decrying him. But still. “Well, is your constitution strong enough to withstand a lightning strike?”

 

Harry snorted. “Your concern is touching. Lightning won't strike me.”

 

“You don't know that—”

 

“I do, actually. The storm isn’t even that close. And even if it were—well. I’ll be fine. After everything, I hardly think a bit of lightning will do me in.”

 

“Still,” Draco said, chastising himself not to sound too desperate. Draco thought of his strange dreams, with Harry wreathed in lightning both terrible and lovely. He'd always assumed it was some metaphor for Harry's scar and what caused it. Now, something akin to doubt (or at least doubt-adjacent) crossed his mind, though he couldn’t think of any suitable alternative.  “I’d rather not see you di—it would make me feel better.”

 

Harry sighed. “Well, if it will make you feel better, that’s all that matters then.” He waded through the lake back to the shore, grousing and grumbling the whole time while Draco watched. Harry threw himself down on the dry grass unceremoniously, expression unreadable. If Draco didn't know better, he'd say Harry was avoiding his gaze. But, he didn't really know better, did he?

 

“Can I ask you a question?” Harry said, far too casual to be, in fact, casual.

 

Draco shifted his feet. “I don’t see how I could possibly stop you.”

 

Harry raised his eyebrows, unimpressed with Draco’s cheek, and spelled his clothing dry. “Why did you make those badges?”

 

"What makes you think it was me?"

 

Harry glared at Draco impatiently and waited for a real answer. Still, it wasn’t nearly as loathsome a glare as it could have been, so that was something.

 

Draco swallowed; throat thick with emotion. “It was supposed to be a gift?” he tried.

 

Harry just scoffed. Put on his socks and shoes.

 

Draco tried again. “It was a gift. I…was going to make only one and give it to you. But then Blaise saw it, and…” Draco sighed. “For what it’s worth, I am sorry.”

 

Harry didn't say anything for a long time. Finally, he huffed in an amused, defeated sort of way. Draco hoped it was the sound of Harry's hurt leaving him. “Well, I suppose the effect would have been different if I’d been the one wearing it instead of all the Slytherins, Hufflepuffs, Ravenclaws, and Ron.”

 

Draco raised an eyebrow. Not that Harry saw it. He was watching the lightning storm overhead. “Weasley?”

 

Harry's hands curled into fists, ripping the dry, dead grass from the ground. “He thinks I entered the tournament, and that not only did I not tell him about it and not let him in on the trick, but that I asked for your help doing it.”

 

Draco scratched at his neck, uncomfortable. “Why does he think that?”

 

“I wouldn’t know, we’re not speaking,” Harry paused, reflective, “but he's angry I defended you.”

 

“Defended me?” Draco repeated.

 

“From Mad-Eye Moody. Surely you recall? Unless getting turned into a ferret is a regular past time of yours and I needn’t have bothered.”

 

Draco was dumbstruck, shocked that Harry was acknowledging it. He rather thought Harry might try to deflect, to make up some nonsense about…doing the right thing always, or something.

 

But Harry always told the truth; it was Draco who so often struggled with honesty.

  

"Ah. That." As if I could forget, Draco thought to himself. But he didn’t say that to Harry; he doubted very much it would be appreciated. "From what I hear, you called lightning down from the sky to smite Mad-Eye where he stood."

 

Harry smiled tightly, more of a frustrated grimace really. “I didn’t mean to. I have a hard time controlling my magic when I’m angry.”

 

“You were angry?” Draco pressed. “Because…because of what I said?”

 

"To Skeeter, you mean? Or right before that, when you said your father told you I’d die within five minutes and you agreed with him? Or are you referring to the time when you called Hermione a mudblood? Or when you nearly got Hagrid fired and Buckbeak killed? Or maybe you were referring to something else? I could go on; I have plenty of examples of things you ought to be sorry for."

 

Draco hadn’t thought it was possible to feel any worse about the stupid badges he’d made, and for every other stupid thing he'd ever said or done. But he did. “So you were angry with me.”

 

Harry made a frustrated sound. “Yes. No. I mean—I was angry with you. Am angry. But that wasn’t why I…with the lightning.”

 

“Oh.” Draco swallowed; mouth dry. "I don't suppose it's too late to apologize."

 

"I don't know, Malfoy, why don't you try it and find out?"

 

Being called Malfoy hurt more than almost anything else at the moment, but it was the least he deserved.

 

Draco took a stabilizing breath, nerves frazzled as lightning struck close by. "I am terribly sorry, Harry. For everything I can think of, and even things I've tried to forget. I'm sorry about the badges, and the hippogriff, about Granger…about the Prophet article—"

 

"Why did you say those things?" Harry interrupted, eyes burning.

 

Draco pressed his lips into a thin line, determined not to lose his temper but failing. Of all the things he’d done, that was the one he’d done unintentionally. The one thing he expected Harry to have understood. "You've spoken to Skeeter, haven't you? Surely you know how she twists words, takes things out of context, lies? I said those things, but not in the way she implied it!" Draco huffed, annoyed with himself for getting upset. "I didn't believe any of the tripe she wrote about you—and for what it's worth, I don’t think you entered the tournament. I never did.”

 

Harry's jaw and fists were clenched tight as he glared across the lake. “Well, thanks for that, Malfoy. Really means a lot. That brings the grand total up to, let’s see…three? Four people who believe me?”

 

"It should mean something to you, when even one of your so-called best friends doesn't believe you!"

 

"You leave Ron out of this! He's being a git right now, but if you want to compare the ways you've hurt me that he wouldn't—"

 

"I've apologized!" Draco hissed, ice in his veins. He regretted bringing Weasley up, but they were in it now. "What more do you want?"

 

Harry took a steadying breath, while Draco held his. Thunder rumbled as the storm rolled away.

 

“You make it so hard to like you." Harry stood up to his full height. He was still shorter than Draco, but even so, in this moment they stood as equals. "Almost as hard as it is to hate you.”

 

Draco's stomach filled with ice and guilt, tempered with hope and light. “No one is forcing you to like me, Potter.”

 

“No," he scoffed. "But for some reason I want to.”

 

The distant thunder rolled again, the sound of gently falling rain filling the silence between them.

 

"Can I ask you a question?" Draco said at length. A question was more than he deserved, but he hoped Harry was as forgiving as he believed.

 

Harry rolled his eyes. "I don't see how I can possibly stop you."

 

Draco smiled weakly and steeled his courage. "Why did you defend me from Mad-Eye? Why were you angry?"

 

"That's two questions," Harry said, eyes watching the lake.

 

"Not really," Draco pointed out.

 

He suspected Harry knew that already, but he wasn't testing his luck. He really wanted an answer.

 

Finally, Harry said, “You really don’t know? You’re supposed to be the clever one.” His glasses caught the reflection of a far-off lightning strike, and for a moment Draco could have sworn it looked the lightning was inside him. “He was hurting you.”

 

Draco scrambled for something to say to that. It was such a simple answer, and yet… “You could have fetched another professor.”

 

“When has another adult ever helped anything?” Harry scuffed his shoe on the ground, face gently flushed. “In my experience, more adults are the last thing you need. Adults are useless. He ought to have been sacked for what he did,” he added under his breath.

 

Draco was still at a loss for what to say; ‘Thank you’ didn’t seem appropriate, this far after the fact, and he doubted Harry would appreciate his thanks, anyway. The only response to such honesty was honesty of his own, he decided. “I suppose I would’ve thought you’d find it funny. Or what I deserved, at the very least.”

 

Harry clenched his jaw and fists before seeming to will himself to relax. “Abuse is never funny, Malfoy.”

 

Draco thought of what Dobby had said about Harry’s muggles, and the look in Harry's eyes at the end of every summer, and the way his clothes hung on his too-thin frame. He thought of broken glasses, and cupboards, and iron bars. He thought of Harry preferring to face off against Basilisks, dementors, and mass murders than returning home to his muggles, who sent him upstairs to pretend he didn’t exist on his birthday.

 

He didn’t like the conclusions he drew from it and hated even more how powerless he felt in the face of it. But he didn’t talk about his conclusions, or Harry’s muggles, or any of that. “I thought we aren't Potter and Malfoy here?”

 

Harry sighed, shoulders sagging. “You remember that?”

 

“How could I forget?”

 

“Seemed pretty forgettable to you when you were making those badges. And telling me I’m going to die. And—”

 

“I told you, that was—” Draco paused, grasping for the words, “How can I make it up to you?” His voice sounded weak, and pleading, and desperate.

 

Malfoys didn’t beg, or plead, or resort to acts of desperation, but he reminded himself that here, he was just Draco. Draco was not above pleading, or begging, or desperation. Perhaps he was not above anything at all.

 

Harry sighed and ran a hand raggedly through his hair, making it stick up in all directions. “I dunno. I don’t suppose you have any tips for fighting a dragon?”

 

It took Draco a moment to parse Harry’s implication. “A drag—the first task?”

 

Harry nodded miserably.   

 

Draco sat down on an exposed root, hiding his face in his hands. He would not cry over this—Harry wasn’t crying, and he was the one who had to fight a dragon. But how was any of this fair? “I don’t suppose it’s a baby dragon?”

 

Harry sat down next to him. “Baby dragons are involved…I’m meant to fight a mother dragon. Maybe I should ask your mother?”

 

Draco chuckled, though it sounded hollow even to him. "Well. You're very good at flying. And you have the fastest broom on the market. I'm sure you'll figure something out."

 

Harry snorted, and it really shouldn't have been so charming, but it was. "Out-flying a dragon? Really?"

 

"Better than trying to fight one. And just so you know, there's nothing wrong with losing, as long as you survive."

 

"I don't want to lose," Harry said quietly. "Whoever put my name in the goblet…I want them to regret it."

 

Draco didn't know what to say to that. Of course Harry would want to win—he was competitive, a fighter. Draco's vague wishes meant less to Harry than proving everyone wrong. “I wish none of this had ever happened,” he whispered.

 

With the rain and thunder, it wasn't really silent in the grove. But it carried weight while Draco awaited Harry's response.

 

“None of it?” Harry said after a moment.

 

“The Tournament,” Draco clarified.

 

Harry hummed. “If only we had a crown of wishes.”

 

“We could make one,” Draco said, trying and failing to suppress a smile. 

 

“Tried. The dandelions here are all dead.”

 

Draco looked around the grove, where only a few months prior they’d sat and been just Harry and Draco, making flower crowns. There were still a few close to the water’s edge that were clinging to life, but the dandelions had certainly seen better days. The once vibrant stalks had faded to a chalky, pale green, dry and shrivelled. The seed heads were mostly seedless at this point, priest crowns with a few clinging pappus.

 

“You could make them bloom again,” Drago suggested.

 

Harry shook his head. “Nah. Their wishes are all used up. Seems unfair. Even dandelions deserve to rest.”

 

Draco was not often in the position of having to encourage someone; he was not optimistic even under the best of circumstances. But he felt he had to say something. “Did you forget you’re a wizard? Summon some new ones. Unless you forgot the spell Flitwick taught us? For shame, it was only a week ago.”

 

Harry rolled his eyes. “As it so happens, Neville taught me a better spell. It grows flowers from nothing.”

 

"Nothing grows flowers from nothing," Draco mumbled. Draco knew of a few spells that did something similar, some more reliable than others,  but it was a universal law: you could not make something from nothing.

 

"Ugh, don't start. You sound just like Hermione." Harry watched him carefully, as though to gauge Draco's reaction at being compared to a muggleborn.

 

Harry wasn't the type to test people, Draco knew. But this was still a test. "Well, you should listen to her, then. She doesn't get top marks because she's lucky."

 

Harry rolled his eyes again, but this time it was accompanied by a small, warm smile. "Neville's better than everyone at herbology, though. And the spell he gave me is better than the one we learned in Charms."

 

Blaise would have some choice words about that. But Blaise wasn't here. “Well, if it's so much better, then why haven’t you used it?”

 

“I did.” He gestured to a pile of flowers where the lake lapped at the banks. Draco hadn't noticed them before, on account of being so wrapped up in…well. Harry. And the possibilities of his being struck by lightning. “He didn’t tell me you don’t get to choose what flowers the spell creates.”

 

Draco summoned the sad bouquet, surprised by what he saw. “Gardenias?” His breath caught in his throat as he wondered, could it be? “What spell did you use?”

 

“Orchideous.

 

Draco wondered what, precisely, Longbottom had told Harry about the spell. Had he mentioned it created plants from your emotions? That historically, lovers did it together to confirm their feelings? That it was controversial for that very reason? No…in all likelihood, Harry had asked for a spell to summon flowers, and that was the one Longbottom gave him. Longbottom wasn’t the type to ask questions. Perhaps he assumed the reason Harry wanted such a spell was romantic in nature, and why shouldn’t he think that?

 

More important than what Longbottom had or had not said was whether Harry, intuitively, understood what the spell relied on. That it didn't 'make flowers of nothing'. It made flowers from the caster's feelings. And if Harry had made gardenias...did he know what that meant?

 

Draco decided it was unlikely. Harry would never have shown them to Draco if he’d known.

 

The fact that Harry probably knew only that it was a flower summoning spell gave him courage, and in an uncharacteristically bold move Draco pulled out his wand and whispered, ‘orchideous’, placing his creation on Harry's head. He was, himself, somewhat surprised by the result, but not altogether displeased. In fact, they were perfect for this moment, if not a bit too revealing to the discerning eye sympathetic to the language of flowers. Which Harry was not. “These suit you better than dandelions with fake wishes, anyway.”

 

Harry didn’t know anything about the language of flowers, or about the honesty of the spell, or what the result would mean coming from Draco. But even if Harry did know, as long as it cheered Harry up, perhaps Draco did not mind. Especially if Harry’s gardenias meant what he dared not hope too hard to be true.

 

Harry pulled the crown from his head and hummed softly. “Sunflowers? Why?”

 

Draco tapped his wand on his leg in multiples of four, a nervous tick his mother always reprimanded him for. Harry wouldn’t know or care about that, though, Draco was sure. “For loyalty and longevity. You'll be needing both in the coming challenges.”

 

Flowers had all sorts of meanings, far more vague than words. Far safer than words.

 

Harry touched the other plants woven into the crown. Draco had hoped Harry might not notice them, but of course he did.

 

“Why the periwinkle?”

 

Draco swallowed. “For reaching your full potential.”

 

"…and baby's breath? Usually only see those paired with roses, I thought."

 

This had been a terrible idea, after all. "Such a boring application!" Draco said, only sounding a bit forced. "They can mean, erm, well. Freedom from corruption from outside influence. You may not have gotten into the tournament, but you'll get yourself out of it, won't you?"

 

Harry made a speculative noise at that, but whether he suspected there was a deeper meaning to the flowers, he did not say. He put the crown back on his head. And smiled.

 

Harry smiled, and Draco felt his heart melt just a little more. They weren't exactly friends, certainly not outside this willow grove. But perhaps they were not enemies anymore, either.

 

“I don't suppose you have any of those badges left?” Harry asked at last. “It's only polite to graciously accept a gift, after all.”

 

 ---

 

Draco was as amused as he was pleased to see Harry proudly wearing his POTTER STINKS badge during the first task, along with a red-tinged sunflower pinned to his chest. He was as pleased as he was proud that Harry had taken his suggestion to use his broom. And just as Harry had said, the first task was dragons, because this was a death tournament, and nothing was fair. Harry did fine, of course—better than fine—even against the most vicious of the four dragons brought to the tournament. And if his eyes caught Draco's for a moment and lingered as he sped away on his broom, and if he smiled as if to say 'are you watching? I didn't die.'…well. Draco was as happy as he was pleased to keep that private moment to himself, to save for a rainy day.

 

Harry summoned flowers as he flew to the ground. Gladiolus, nasturtium, ambrosia. Meanings Draco tried not to read into, but his dreams and hopes were another matter, filled with fields and reds and greens and closeness.

 

With the first task over, all talk was singularly focused on the Yule Ball. Draco wished (desperately) that he could ask Harry. He asked Pansy instead. She couldn’t go with who she wanted to, either, but as friends at least they had each other.

 

Harry, it seemed, asked one of the Patil twins. Draco regretted that he didn’t know either of them well enough to say which, but he suspected Parvati. Though insanely jealous, he had to admit they looked good together if not uncomfortable with the arrangement. It was clear they had not planned their attire together, but their tan skin and dark hair perfectly complemented each other (Draco hadn't admitted that himself; he merely acknowledged the truth of the statement he overheard Anthony Gold-something or other remark on). The bottle-green of Harry's dress robes tied in well enough with the teal-gold of Patil's, and she had given Harry an embroidered shawl to coordinate them somewhat (it was definitely Patil's idea, Draco was certain). Harry wore one of her earrings as well, and damn him for making women's jewellery look so good.

 

They looked good together, and even seemed to be having fun, in spite of everything. Everything being, well. Harry was graceful on a broomstick, but on his own two feet he was a nightmare dancer. Draco, though he would never admit to the accusation that he was watching the whole time, did see Harry make an effort to dance with Patil, who rolled her eyes and patted him indulgently on the cheek. She left him halfway through the ball to go dance with a Beauxbatons boy at Harry's urging (Draco saw Harry encourage her to do so through the four or five songs he slaughtered the dances to), and Harry went to sit at an otherwise empty table with Weasley, who had gone with the other Patil and who had likewise been abandoned. They weren't speaking or looking at each other, but they seemed to have made up somewhat.

 

Draco still didn't like Weasley, but Harry had been so miserable about not speaking with the moron. Draco could be happy on Harry's behalf, even if Draco still hadn't gotten over four years of jealous resentment.

 

Throughout most of the Ball Pansy complained about how unfair it was that Chang happened to be dating a champion, and how was she supposed to compete with that, and why wasn't Draco paying more attention to her, and could he please stop trying to kill Potter with his eyes and focus on Pansy's Problems for once?

 

He told her they always talked about her problems, so she stomped on his foot and went to "rub elbows with Durmstrang Students and their Deep Pockets".

 

Draco left at that point, sparing one last glance at Harry, speaking to Granger and looking only marginally like his smile was forced. Draco went to bed thinking of how dashing Harry looked in green, even if he thought of Harry's colours as Red, wishing one last time that they could have gone to the ball together. Draco dreamed of a better version of events with himself on Harry’s arm instead of Patil, dancing the night away, even if it meant sacrificing the comfort of a few toes. The vision of Harry in green robes gave way to more familiar images of Harry in Draco’s dreams, with Harry in strange smoky fabric with lightning trapped inside. It was unlike any garment Draco had ever seen, bearing a vague resemblance to Grecian robes. As always in his dreams, Harry wore red—no, it was closer to carmine. But sometimes he appeared in ivy green robes, more like leaves or water than fabric. When he wore green, he wore it with a mischievous pleased look in his eye. Dream-Draco told Dream-Harry to take them off before someone saw, and Dream-Harry did, with a lascivious smile just for the two of them.

 

The second task approached, and Draco heard through the grapevine (by asking Krum, in fact) that it would take place underwater. It was clear from Harry’s panicked expression and long hours spent in the library that he had no idea what to do, and so Draco did what he promised he’d never do: he asked Dobby for help. “Just—give him gillyweed, Dobby," he pleaded, "It’s a request for a mutual friend.”

 

Dobby gave him a knowing look. Dobby did know, Draco was sure, what the exact sentiment fueling this desperate request was. “Dobby knows, sir. Dobby will help, because Dobby is a friend of Harry Potter.”

 

“You can’t—please, don’t tell him about my involvement. Just get him the gillyweed, okay?”

 

"Mister Draco should know he is not the only one wanting to help Harry Potter," Dobby said with a look that implied something deeper.

 

But he disappeared before Draco could ask what the devil that meant. The evening before the second task, Snape came to find him in the common room, where he was certainly not fretting over whether Dobby had gotten Harry the gillyweed, and what would happen the next day. Snape almost never came to the common room—in fact Draco was sure he'd only ever seen him there the first night of term every year. He could only assume someone had colossally screwed up for Snape to make a personal appearance.

 

When he stalked over to where Draco was sitting by the fire and said, “Draco, come with me," he didn't know what to think. His only theory was that Snape somehow knew Draco had sent Dobby to steal gillyweed from him.

 

He tried to play it casual. “Have I done something wrong?”

 

"That remains to be seen," was all Snape said before he swept away without checking to see if Draco was following.

 

Draco was, of course, following. He followed all the way to a strange gargoyle statue where Snape stopped, sighed, sneered, and spat, "Jelly Bellies," at the statue, as though it had called him a bat.

 

The statue sprang to life and revealed a staircase, at the top of which was an ornate wooden door, behind which was none other than Dumbledore.

 

Draco was feeling less certain about this than ever, but figured he was unlikely to be punished by Snape for stealing in front of the headmaster. Unless he was going to be expelled.

 

"Draco! Excellent. I was hoping to see you," Dumbledore beamed, as though nothing pleased him more than to see Draco. Draco was certain he'd never spoken to the man, and yet here he was acting like they were dear old friends. Strange man. "I take it your presence here means you've agreed to participate?"

 

"Sir?" Draco said, directing the unasked question to his head of house.

 

"He doesn't know why he's here," Snape said, ignoring Draco for the time being. "I did not think it…wise to speak of it where others might hear, given the general climate of my house and Draco's standing amongst them. I did not think it wise to involve him at all."

 

"Of course, of course," Dumbledore said dismissively, and Draco was going to lose it if someone did not tell him exactly what was going on.

 

Dumbledore turned his unsettling blue gaze Draco. "Draco, my dear boy, you are no doubt very curious what all this is about."

 

"You could say that." Understatement of the century, really.

 

“You are here because your participation is required in tomorrow’s task, should you agree, of course.”

 

"My participation?" Draco repeated. "Why?" Why me was what he meant, but the short word was all he could manage.

 

Dumbledore looked far too pleased for Draco’s comfort at the question. “The Sorting Hat has determined that you are what—or rather, who—one of the champions will miss the most.”

 

“Fleur?” Draco asked. They’d spoken a few times, because Draco spoke French and she didn’t like English. He couldn’t imagine that he would be what she’d miss most, however. Perhaps it was Krum? He’d sat with Draco during meals a few times, but…

 

“Potter, actually,” Snape sneered, as though he found the very idea reprehensible. “I don’t suppose there’s anything you wish to tell me about you and him? And the theft of my potions ingredients?”

 

Draco blanched. He thought he might pass out. In fact, losing consciousness seemed preferable to having this conversation. He wished he could play it cool, but instead he choked out a panicked, “What?”

 

“The Sorting Hat has determined that you are who Harry would miss the most,” Dumbledore informed him again with a smug smile.

 

Draco hadn't been aware a heart could soar and crash at the same time, but he now could count the sensation among his experiences. “But…but that doesn’t make any sense! Potter hates me.” He knew that wasn't exactly true. Harry had worn the badge he made and the flowers he'd summoned. He’d told Draco that he wanted to like him, which was very far removed from hate. But no one else knew that. No one else could. Other than Dobby, but that didn't count, surely.

 

“Perhaps he needs the kind of antagonism you provide in his life to buoy his enormous ego and victim complex,” said Snape. “It certainly runs in the family.”

 

Draco decided not to comment on that. Harry had the opposite of a victim complex, and Snape of all people was smart enough to know that.

 

"What would I have to do to...participate? If I agree, that is." All Draco knew was that the lake was involved. He didn't see how he even could participate. 

 

"Oh, nothing but consent to being asleep and underwater for an hour. Or shorter! However long it takes Harry to rescue you." Dumbledore waved his hand negligently, as though it was no big deal. A non-issue, being underwater for up to an hour.

 

The confidence Dumbledore had that Harry would rescue him was encouraging, if one were the type to trust Dumbledore's judgement.

 

Draco was not the type. Even if he did have a thing for heroes in general, and Harry's brand of heroism in particular. “What if he doesn't—or can't—rescue me?"

 

Dumbledore smiled, like the very idea of Harry failing was unthinkable, but indulged him with, “Then the merfolk will release you, no harm done!"

 

Draco noticed Snape roll his eyes. He couldn't help but to reluctantly agree with the sentiment.

 

“Oh hush, Severus, it’s quite safe," Dumbledore chided, "I personally ensure it.”

 

Draco didn’t mind being underwater. He was quite used to it, being in Slytherin. He still didn’t understand one thing, however.

 

“Am I required to participate?” he asked, not sure what he wanted the answer to be. He didn’t want the choice to be up to him, because if he didn’t have a choice, he didn’t have to admit to anyone—not even himself—that he wanted to do it.

 

“There is an alternative participant should you choose—wisely—not to participate," Snape said in his disinterested fashion, “The hat assured us it was a close call, anyway, when we expressed…doubts.”

 

A sharp pang of anger and jealousy surged through Draco. “And who is my replacement to be, should I decline?”

 

He had a feeling he already knew, but he had to be certain. It felt very important for reasons he wasn't willing to evaluate at this juncture.

 

“I don’t imagine he’s your replacement so much as someone Harry feels as strongly about, if not differently,” Dumbledore said in what he probably thought was an assuring tone. “Ronald Weasley will do it if you will not.”

 

Draco, on rare occasion, hated being right. Of course it was Weasley. Where Potter was concerned, Weasley had always taken everything from Draco.

 

But perhaps, this time, it didn’t have to be so. It was a risky move, of course. People would ask questions, wonder why it had been Draco chosen to be the one Harry had to rescue. It could be dangerous for Draco, if they found out his feelings weren’t so different from Harry's, but they wouldn’t find out. Even Blaise and Pansy didn’t know. Hell, even Harry didn’t know. Surely, if anything, Harry was the one who would be embarrassed by this, not Draco. Draco could always claim he did it for attention, or to get the Boy Who Lived to owe him a favour.

 

“You’ve already asked Weasley?” he asked, casual as could be.

 

Dumbledore smiled knowingly, the smug bastard. “Not yet. We asked you first, given the situation between Mr. Weasley and Mr. Potter at the moment.”

 

“What situation?” Draco demanded.

 

“Something inane, surely,” Snape said with a bored sigh. “Do decide quickly, Draco, we’ve all got better things to do than discuss Potter’s social life.”

 

It was a non-decision, really. He didn't have a choice; this was something he must do, consequences be damned. “Fine. I’ll do it.”

 

“An excellent choice, Mr. Malfoy,” Dumbledore said, with an annoying little nod and a stupid twinkle in his eye.

 

Draco didn’t have long to feel put off by the whole thing, however, as next thing he knew, he was falling asleep, sparing only a thought to the fact that being part of the Second Task meant he wouldn’t get to watch it. Bullocks.

 

When he came to, sputtering, wet, and cold, along the surface of the lake, he understood that he probably hadn’t missed out on that much, anyway, since no one could see below the water. This tournament was turning out to be a terrible spectator sport, really.

 

He also realised that he was not the only one Harry had rescued, when the sounds of distressed French reached his ear.

 

“Really, Potter? You rescued two people?” He didn't know whether to be annoyed or proud. It would probably always be a mixture of the two, when it came to Harry.

 

“It’s Fleur’s sister, Malfoy,” Harry growled, “and Fleur wasn’t coming. I didn’t want her sister to die because of this stupid tournament.”

 

Draco was about to point out that they wouldn’t have allowed that, but Harry continued, “You speak French, don't you? Can you say something to calm her down?”

 

Draco wanted to roll his eyes, and accuse Harry of having a saviour complex and a need to always outdo himself, and wasn’t that exhausting? But instead he told the tiny French girl not to be afraid, because Britain's most heroic wizard had saved her.

 

Harry didn’t speak much as they made their way back to the shore, only asking Draco to help him carry Gabrielle, and keep her distracted with conversation.

 

Granger and Weasley were there on the docks, waiting with blankets and tea and looking relieved to see Harry. Draco expected them to be hurt or angry—to wonder why they hadn’t been chosen for this great task—but the looks on their faces wiped the thought from his mind. Granger was teary and seemed to be trying to shield Harry from public view, miniscule though she was. Inexplicably, she seemed to be attempting to shield Draco as well.

 

“Harry! Oh thank Merlin!" Granger cried, hugging Harry and wrapping him in a towel. She spared only a glance for Draco, nodding at him almost cordially, before focusing her attention on fretting over Harry.

 

And Weasley…Weasley looked apologetic. "Harry," he began, voice gruff, "’m sorry about everything, mate. I’ve been an arse. I get it now, I do.” He looked once at Draco and then back at Harry, who merely mumbled and nodded it was ‘fine’.

 

In any case, neither Granger nor Weasley seemed surprised to see Draco, and were watching Harry with a kind of heartfelt sympathy unique to Gryffindors. They whispered things in his ears that Draco couldn’t hear, while Harry listened on in silence, alternately nodding stoically and rolling his eyes. He looked over at Draco several times during their secret conversation, but Draco could not tell if the emotion in his eyes were guilt, longing, or some familiar combination of the two.

 

Draco didn’t get the chance to say ‘So you decided winning was more important than letting me drown?’ or ‘can we talk about why I am the thing you’d miss most?’ or ‘does this mean I can call you Harry whenever I want now?’ or even so much as ‘thank you’ before the judges came to cart Harry off for health checks and scoring.

 

Harry, even though he’d been last to emerge from the lake, had not only passed the second task with flying colours due to 'feats of heroism', but had apparently impressed the merpeople as well. He really was too much.

 

Draco tried to no avail to catch Harry alone, talk to him about what happened at the lake, get some answers. But Harry was hardly ever alone, and certainly not long enough for Draco to find him when there was not someone to see them meeting. Other than Care of Magical Creatures—where Draco’s attention was focused solely on not getting scorched or stung or bitten or pinched by the wretched blast-ended skrewts—and Potions—where Harry always sat in the back and out of Draco’s direct eye line—Draco hardly saw Harry anywhere. He spent all his time either preparing for the third task or dodging rabid fans who, after Harry’s two spectacular performances in the tasks, seemed to have altogether forgotten their earlier accusations that Harry was an attention seeking cheater who didn’t deserve to be a champion.

 

Likewise, everyone seemed to have forgotten that Draco was the one Harry had saved from the lake, either because it was inconvenient or so difficult to understand that they decided to ignore it. The only one who said much of anything about it was Pansy, who told him he was ‘too pretty to marry a Gryffindor’. Even Harry seemed reluctant to acknowledge it, since Draco had to assume at this point that Harry was actively avoiding him. Only once did Draco manage to catch Harry’s eye, and the look he got in return was apologetic and fleeting.

 

He went to the willow grove several times in desperation, to no avail. Every time, Harry wasn't there. And the last time he went, a week before Easter Hols, he found a purple hyacinth under a strong preservation charm.

 

I am sorry, please forgive me.

 

Perhaps Potter understood the language of flowers, after all. Draco didn't know what to think of that.

 

He left behind zinnias, and blue violets, and cyclamen, and azaleas.

 

A single primrose grew where he stood, but he did not see it as he walked away.

 

---

 

When he went home for Easter Break, the mood was decidedly sombre.  Draco assumed it had something to do with the fact that in spite of his father's predictions, Harry had not died. As it turned out, the sombre mood had very much to do with Harry, but not how Draco expected. His father pulled him aside before dinner to speak to him privately.

 

"Draco, Son. I never thought I’d need to have this conversation with you, but…I need you to swear to me that you’ll break off whatever it is you have going on with Potter.”

 

Draco nearly choked. "I beg your pardon?”

 

"I don’t know why I didn’t see it sooner, given your fixation on heroes in general and Potter in particular, but it has to stop.”

 

"Stop? There isn't," Draco paused, trying to find the words, and continued, “There’s nothing like that between Potter and I." He was telling the truth, but it felt like a lie.

 

“But there is something?”

 

“No! Potter and I loathe each other!” Well, Potter and Malfoy did. But Harry and Draco were a different story.

 

"Then why were you chosen for the second task? Given the…circumstances between the other champions and their hostages…it worries me, Draco."

 

"How should I know how Potter thinks?" Draco scoffed.

 

His father did not seem convinced, fixing Draco with an icy glare. “Do not lie to me, Draco. Why did you agree to participate?”

 

Draco scrambled, grasping at the (admittedly weak) logic he'd used to justify his desire to participate. “I—I didn’t have a choice, did I? Potter somehow got to participate in the Triwizard Tournament, and it isn't fair, and everyone thinks he’s so wonderful—”

 

His father sent him a quelling glare. “So you've said.”

 

“And I only thought he’d look bad no matter what! Either he’d have to rescue me from the lake, or he wouldn’t and he’d lose points and face.”

 

His father watched him carefully, expression unreadable.

 

Desperate, Draco added, “There’s nothing between Potter and I but loathing, father, I swear. I can’t believe I have to tell you that, of all people.”

 

“Mind your tongue, Draco," his father snapped. He seemed relieved, but only marginally. "The Potters have always had a certain…gravitas that’s difficult to overcome. Greater wizards than you have certainly become ensnared. See that you don’t get swept away.” His father squeezed his shoulder and stood up.

 

“Being important to The Boy Who Lived is not enviable, even if you’re his greatest enemy. Remember that Draco.” He rubbed his left arm, almost distractedly, before adding in measured tones, “There are…things afoot that you do not understand. It does not matter what there is or is not between yourself and Potter. It only matters what people believe, and if the wrong people think you're precious to the Potter boy—"

 

"I'm not," Draco choked out, fighting back tears. He could not stop the angry flush of his cheeks, stinging with shame. He didn't know whether he hoped it was a truth or a lie.

 

His father pulled out a folded piece of parchment and handed it to Draco. "Go on. Read it. Read it and tell me again that there's nothing between the Potter boy and you."

 

Fingers trembling, Draco unfolded the parchment. It was a letter from Rita Skeeter, swearing vengeance on all persons Malfoy for ruining her 'career-making story' on—

 

"…Star-Crossed Lovers: Malfoy and Potter," he read aloud, horrified. "Father, I—"

 

"Apparently, it’s an angle she’s been wanting to push for a while now. You wouldn’t happen to know anything about that, would you?”

 

“N-no! Of course not.”

 

“She didn’t ask when she spoke to you in November?”

 

Had she? Draco had tried to forget the whole affair, embarrassing as it had been.

 

But apparently, his father wasn’t wanting or waiting for a response. “You don't know what I had to do, how much I had to pay, which useful favours I had to cash in to prevent that from going to print. If you have strings to pull—"

 

"You must pull them," Draco finished quietly.

 

His father nodded. "But it is a poor puppet master who lets the audience see him pulling the strings."

 

"Potter and I are not lovers, father. This is…that vile woman prints nothing but lies."

 

"She won't print anything against us again if she wishes to have a career, I assured her of that, and compensated her for her silence."

 

'Us', his father had said. Not against Draco, but against the Malfoy Family. Because to be associated with Harry would be a bad thing for Lucius. It didn't matter what Draco felt, or wanted. The truth didn't matter, either; only what people thought.

 

Draco felt hollow, and numb, and cold—cold enough to freeze the lake. "What would you have done if it were true?" He asked quietly.

 

"It does not matter, because it isn't, and i expect you to see to it that it stays that way. I’ve already taken steps to ensure Potter understands what he is and is not to do concerning you.”

 

It took Draco a moment to read between the lines, but once he did, he was caught between fury and knowing he couldn’t say anything without revealing the depth of his feelings and lies. “You…spoke with him?”

 

HIs father smoothed out the non-existent lines in his robes. “I sent him a letter detailing what exactly would happen if people believed there were anything but animosity between you and he.”

 

“What, precisely, did you detail?” Draco said through a clenched jaw.

 

“Nothing you need concern yourself over, son, as it will not come to pass, since you’ve assured me there is nothing but hate between you and he and no one has any reason to think otherwise.” The look in his father’s eyes told Draco everything he needed to know; that his father was perfectly aware of the truth and would not allow it.

 

“He even sent me a return message—that I requested, for evidence, of course—that the hat made a mistake precisely because as a sentient piece of fabric, it does not understand the complexity of human emotion, and therefore mistook his feelings of resentment for something else, and that he only saved you because it was the right thing to do and the only way to win the task.”

 

Well. At least he understood why Harry was avoiding him now. Some misconstrued idea of respect or not letting Draco get disowned or whatever it was his father had threatened. It certainly did not sound like the sort of thing Harry would say unprompted; 'Complexity of human emotion' sounded more like something Granger's would say.

 

"If Potter can understand how disadvantageous his presence in your life would be—even the misconception of it—surely you can understand it, too. The people in our network are powerful, Draco, and they are not forgiving."

 

With that last veiled threat, his father walked away and didn't mention it again, the matter apparently over.

 

Draco hoped the ominous words were nothing more than paranoia, but his father rarely confided even the barest hints of his plans to Draco. There'd been a time when he’d have been thrilled to be thought worthy of knowing even an inkling of his father’s secrets, but now it only made him uneasy. His father's secrets were ugly, and costly, and for the first time in his life Draco realized that for all his father spoke of pulling strings, his father was the one who held them all. Draco was only a puppet in his theatre.

 

---

 

Draco returned to Hogwarts and did not attempt to speak to Harry. He did not look in his direction or visit the willow grove. It was what Harry wanted, after all. Draco didn't think about gardenias, or gladiolus, or hyacinth, or ambrosia. He did not dwell on what Harry wanted, or whether his distance implied disinterest or defence, dedication or detachment.

 

He knew only what he hoped, in the small moments he allowed himself hope. He could only have it when he slept and dreamed of obsidian grass and strange ethereal uniforms.

 

The third task turned out to be just as terrible a spectator sport as the second task, since they couldn’t see inside the hedges. Draco still watched with nervous eyes while Blaise and Pansy discussed increasingly dramatic theories to explain why Rita Skeeter had disappeared without a trace. Draco could not have cared less; he was too worried. Harry had done well with tasks one and two, but already Krum and Fleur had sent up sparks to be removed from the maze. It was only Diggory and Harry left, and secretly Draco wished Harry would just this once decide not to be a hero, that he’d send up red sparks and let Diggory win by default.

 

It was too much to hope for.

 

When Harry finished the third task, apparently triumphant to everyone else, Draco instantly knew something was wrong. Diggory’s body looked lifeless and cold—and Draco knew all about being cold. His father’s warning crept back into his mind, sending chills down his spine. Things you do not understand are afoot.

 

The music and fanfare had died down, the band had stopped playing. More people caught on that something was not right. “My boy! That’s my boy!” Amos Diggory shrieked, running over to the two Hogwarts champions.

 

Harry’s tan skin was paler than ever, his green eyes haunted and terrified. He was crumpled over Cedric’s body, shaking, clinging desperately even as Dumbledore and Moody tried to pry him away from what Draco realized, with horror, was a corpse. Harry was repeating something to anyone who would listen, and through the growing panic of the crowd, Dumbledore cast a sonorous and let everyone in on the terrible truth.

 

“He’s back. Voldemort’s back.”

 


 

 

The first time they kissed could have been called an accident.

 

Harry had been playing with an ice sculpture Draco made of a flower. He’d been practicing ice sculpting in his free time—well, the free time he didn’t spend with Harry—because he wanted to show Harry his flowers, and this was the solution Draco came up with. Real flowers couldn’t grow anywhere outside the mortal realm and the Green Sector, and it was equally unlikely Harry would see either. So, he made an ice sculpture for Harry, knowing it wasn’t really the same, but it was good enough.

 

“So this is a flower,” Harry marvelled, playing with the ice flower Draco made. “What’s this one called?”

 

“A begonia.”

 

“Strange name.”

 

“I’ve told you I don’t get to name them.” They’d been over that fact countless times, but Harry always felt the need to comment on how he thought the names were strange. Draco didn’t truly disagree with Harry, but Draco rather enjoyed the discussion, so long as they didn't argue about things that really mattered. They hadn’t fought in a serious way since their petty squabbles at the beginning of their friendship.

 

But they also did not really talk about anything more controversial than flower names.

 

“What did you call it while you were working on it?” Harry asked, handing the sculpture back to Draco to refreeze it before it melted. The ice flower sculpture did not quite capture the essence of the real thing, but Harry admired it all the same.

 

“I gave it a number and forgot as soon as the mortal name was processed.”

 

“And that doesn’t bother you?”

 

“It doesn’t matter how I feel about it. It is what it is.”

 

Harry didn’t say anything for a moment, watching Draco reshape the begonia. “But you made it. I mean, the sculpture obviously, but you invented the flower, too. Seems unfair.”

 

“Justice is Orange’s purview,” Draco said with a small shrug. He could not meet Harry’s gaze and still pretend he, too, did not find it disappointing. “I’ll leave it to her to decide whether it’s right that I shouldn’t get to name my own creations.”  

 

Harry pulled the ice flower from Draco’s fingers and coaxed him into looking up. “Next time you name a flower, you can tell me. We don’t have to use the mortals’ names for your work.”

 

Draco’s heart swelled, too full of emotion that threatened to spill out his eyes. He refused to cry in front of Harry, though, even if everything about this situation made him want to.

 

Harry, oblivious as ever, stroked the ice petals, delicate and bold. “Patrons, I could stare at it all day. It's love-ly.”

 

Lovely was a word Harry claimed to have heard from the mortal realm. How he could have heard it, Draco wasn't sure. He thought it was made up, since Harry couldn't tell him what it meant, only that it was a good thing.

 

So Draco said, “Thank you,” because it was a compliment, even if he didn't know that it was necessarily a good thing in the original meaning of the word. Harry meant it as a good thing, which was what mattered.

 

Draco cleared his throat and leaned over to explain something about the flower. What it was, he couldn’t have said, because at the very moment he shifted, Harry turned towards him and their lips brushed. Quite an accident, really. Easily brushed off as unintentional and unimportant.

 

But they did no such thing.

 

Instead, they locked eyes, Harry flushing with carmine heat Draco could feel on his own cheeks for the proximity, and Draco’s cheeks stung with frost that melted as it formed. A moment passed when neither breathed, and then they were kissing again, and there was nothing accidental about it.

 

Draco had been thinking about kissing Harry for weeks now. He never let himself think about it for long, but ever since the first time they'd touched, he'd wondered what it would be like to taste him, to bury his hands in that awful hair he loved, to place his ear upon Harry's chest and hear the thumping proof of his life and essence. He'd probably been imagining it since the first time he’d laid eyes on Harry, if he were being honest.

 

Draco wasn’t honest, however. Not even with himself.

 

But there was no need to merely imagine and wonder any more. Now he knew. And to know was to give meaning to creation, indeed.

 

Draco thought he'd understood what warmth was from being next to Harry all this time. The glancing touches, shy brushes, tender connections with his hand or shoulder or knee or foot. But this was something else entirely. Draco felt heat everywhere, in places he’d never given much thought to before. Now he burned, and ached, and longed, even as every desire he'd both acknowledged and ignored was met and reinvented. Harry was everywhere, over him, encircling him with his arms, running his warm fingers through Draco’s hair. Draco let his own hands explore, touching Harry’s chest, his back, his face.

 

Harry pulled away, pausing to catch his breath, looking at Draco in awe and adoration. Like Draco was worth worshipping, worth forsaking every oath he'd ever made for. Draco was certain his face was a mirror, for it was what was branded on his heart.

 

“I’ve wanted to do that since the first time I saw you,” Harry said softly, a shameless declaration for Draco and Draco alone. He touched Draco’s forehead, his eyelids, his lips. He gently took Draco's hand and placed it over his heart, holding it there with both of his own. Draco felt it beating declarations beyond words. The inexpressible. “I don’t have the words for this.”

 

But Draco understood the meaning perfectly. “Words aren’t enough, I think.”

 

Harry smiled, and kissed him again, and wordlessly recast everything Draco thought he knew as fact into doubt. For how could something so beautiful be forbidden? How could the Patrons, just, true, and wise, proclaim that this was never to be?

 

It was not the first time Draco had ever transgressed the Patrons laws. He had done so with more frequency and ease the longer he knew Harry.

 

But for the first time, he wondered if he wasn't wrong for breaking the Rules.

 

They kissed every time they met after that. Kissed, and more. Harry no longer bothered to put his uniform back on when Draco joined him in their meadow, baring himself in a way that was both bold and sweet. Draco felt emboldened to take his own uniform off and sit with Harry in the sun. He didn’t need it like Harry needed it, it didn’t warm and nourish him the way it did Harry, but Draco suspected he knew what Sun felt like anyway. It felt like the way Harry stared at Draco with wonder, the way Harry held Draco like he was something precious. It felt like the look of approval and joy on Harry’s face as he revelled in Draco’s essence, the way Draco’s internal system of values was unmoored and repositioned with Harry at the centre. It felt the way Harry told Draco with unconcealed sincerity that nothing was more important to him than Draco, that nothing he could ever do would matter more than the time he spent in Draco's company.

 

But seriousness in affection was not Harry's only mode; Harry was playful, too. He once figured out how to summon Draco's uniform and put it on. It looked strange to see Harry in a pale palette, but it made his eyes gleam. It shouldn't have been possible for Harry to summon Draco's uniform, but at the start of all this Draco would have thought nothing about this arrangement was possible. But here they were.

 

Seeing Harry in Draco's colours made Draco hungry with want, and he demanded Harry take it off. He wouldn't until Draco tried on Harry's uniform, so Draco did. As entertaining and enticing as it was, they both preferred not to wear anything around the other. Their uniforms were a reminder of their colours and Patronage, of the fact that this was as foolish as it was unlikely.

 

It was easier to forget and ignore the harshness of reality when wearing nothing but bare skin. Easier to do other things, too, that Draco dare not think about outside their meadow lest his frosty cheeks give him away.

 

“I like it when we’re like this,” Harry often told him, tangling their legs, fingers entwined. It felt dangerous—no, actually, it was dangerous, but Draco felt safe. He always felt safe with Harry.

 

“Obviously,” came Draco's response without fail. Sometimes he'd trail a finger down Harry's stomach, or play with Harry's hair, or admire his body.

 

Sometimes the conversation stopped there, for their lips to be put to far better purpose than talking.

 

Sometimes the conversation continued, into the mundane, the risqué. The controversial, only rarely. The blasphemous, only once.

 

“I don’t mean that. Well, not just that,” he amended when Draco gave him a knowing look. “I like it just you and me, without our colours. Our Patrons don’t matter here. We're just Harry and Draco. Draco and Harry.”

 

Draco leaned his head against Harry’s chest and closed his eyes. He didn’t want to be reminded of all the Rules they were breaking. That they had different Patrons, who did not get along, and would condemn their coupling. He usually reserved that kind of negative thinking for the moments he spent away from Harry, when the threat of discovery outweighed the joy of Harry’s company.

 

But Harry had brought it up, and now he was thinking about it. “Perhaps this is why unsupervised fraternizing isn’t allowed. A Charge should think always and only of their Patron.”

 

Harry snorted. “I don’t want Red supervising this. They’d be all up in arms about regulations and blah blah blah.” He sighed. “They’d be disappointed in me.”

 

Draco didn’t give much thought to what Green would think. He’d raise an eyebrow, probably, and tell Draco it was against regulations to remove one’s uniform. Then he’d tow Draco back to the Green sector and give him so much work he’d never be able to leave again.

 

“You’re not disappointed, are you?” Draco asked, tracing flower patterns on Harry’s chest.

 

“Of what?”

 

“Of yourself. For being with me.”

 

Harry tensed, and Draco worried he’d said too much. But then Harry, with all the determination and bravery Draco knew he possessed, said, “I could never be ashamed of you.”

 

Well, that wasn’t what he’d asked, but perhaps that was what he’d meant. “I know you want Red’s approval,” Draco continued, not daring to look Harry in the eye.

 

Harry kissed Draco on top of his head. “Red will never show their approval,” he said at last. “Not of me or anything I do. Red thinks I’m an embarrassment.”

 

“Why?” They’d never really talked about it before, Harry’s problems with Red. Harry hinted and mentioned things in vague terms, but never this.

 

“They think my eyes make me a disloyal and jealous.”

 

“…because they’re green?”

 

“Rather stupid, isn’t it? They made me this way. I used to think there must be a reason for it, that one day I’d understand. But now I have reason to doubt…well, everything. Perhaps it was just a mistake, or the result of Red’s lack of control. That, at least, would explain why they treat me the way they do. I am an unpleasant reminder of their own flaws.”

 

Draco hummed, but said nothing. Patrons did not have flaws—could not. They had their purpose, their purview, and anything outside of that was unnecessary to their existence. It was not a weakness, or a lacking, merely something for another Patron to concern themselves with.

 

But if he'd begun to doubt that, Draco wasn't ready to admit it.

 

“Do you ever wonder why we do what we do?” Harry asked after a beat. “What the point of it all is?”

 

“We’re not meant to think about it,” Draco said, which was a non-answer at best. He was not brave enough to say that he wondered it about it more and more each day, that the more time he spent with Harry the more his doubts grew about their so-called reason for existing.  

 

“I do. Every day. All for the glory of the Patrons, or so they say. But it’s not the Patrons doing the work. It’s us.”

 

“But they made us, and they made us with the ability to do their work in the mortal realm. Is our work not their own?”

 

Harry shrugged in response to that—or that’s what Draco assumed. It felt like a shrug. “Green didn’t design those flowers—you did. Red doesn’t think about the best time for lightning, or where to place a storm, or run around to create the storm. Perhaps they can do it, but they don’t. They just sit on a Council and make Rules for us, without telling us why it must be so.”

 

“The Patrons work in mysterious ways,” Draco quoted. He didn’t really believe it, though. Not now, after Harry. How could something so right be forbidden?

 


 

 

In the end, he figured things couldn’t be made any worse by going. He knew what—who—waited for him at home. And besides, Harry might not be there, anyway.

 

So he went to the willow grove.

 

Harry was, of course, there. He was always going to be there at the end of term, Draco felt sure of that now. He didn’t know if the thought pleased him or annoyed him. It would probably always be some of both, when it came to Harry James Potter.

 

“I didn’t think you’d come back here,” Draco said, in lieu of a greeting. They might have shared flowers and this willow grove, Draco might be the one Harry would miss most, but outside this space, there was no ‘them’. Nothing to lend itself to inquiring after the other. There couldn't be, no matter what Draco saw in his dreams.

 

"I hoped you would," Harry said, gazing out at the setting sun's reflection on the lake. “Though I am a bit surprised. I thought…your father made it sound like you wanted nothing more to do with me." Harry threw a stone in the lake. It skipped once before sinking.

 

"My father?" Draco said, throat feeling very dry. "Why?"

 

"He told me how upset you were at how I 'endangered your life, your future, your standing among your peers' and 'No Malfoy will be a dandy, Potter, certainly not with you'. He's not wrong, though. I did put your life in danger."

 

There was something there, beyond the surface, that Harry wasn't saying. Draco just had to be brave enough to find out what it was. "Then…the flower you left…?"

 

"So you did find it." His tone was carefully neutral, nothing like the Harry Draco knew. Harry was passionate, wore his heart on his sleeve. He didn't hide his feelings or run from the truth, and yet here they were.

 

"You didn't come to check?"

 

Harry shrugged, which didn't tell Draco much of anything about whether Harry had seen the flowers Draco left in response, but—

 

“Ron said wizards don’t care about that sort of thing, but Purebloods must different,” Harry said with a quiet bitterness. "It's not like we're even a couple or anything, but the very idea was so 'reprehensible' to your dad that he—well."

 

"Are you really surprised to hear there's ignorant bigotry in pureblood circles?" Draco asked, mind working in double time to process everything Harry had said and hadn't. The implications of it were—

 

Harry snorted, shoulders relaxing ever so slightly. "Ignorance and bigotry? Surely not. I hate to think what Pureblood opinions on bisexuals are.” He threw another stone in the lake. “Nothing I'm not used to, probably," he concluded bitterly.

 

A piece of a puzzle Draco didn't know he was trying to solve fell into place. “Your muggles?”

 

“I hesitate to call them mine,” he said with a grimace. "I just thought attitudes would be different in the wizarding world. That people really didn't care…”

 

“Oh, they don’t care, as long as you keep quiet about it, and have babies like a good little heir, however it has to be done. You think you’re the only one whose family despairs of your preferences?”

 

"No. Your dad wrote me a nice letter, remember? He was a real bastard about it, too, no surprises there."

 

Draco squeezed his hands together, conflicted at the thought of his father. "But you respected his wishes, so how can you say you're any better? And here I took you for a Rule Breaker. My mistake."

 

Harry clenched his jaw. "You don't know what he said. He didn't make any requests. Malfoys don't ask for things, do they?"

 

"What did he say?' Draco wasn't entirely sure he wanted to know, but not knowing was almost worse.

 

Harry grimaced. “I don't think you want—"

 

"Tell me."

 

Now Harry looked conflicted. But he wouldn't hide it, Draco was sure. Harry didn't hide from the truth, no matter how ugly. "In one letter…He said if I truly cared for you, I would have left you at the bottom of the lake to drown rather than entertain ideas that would only hurt you. 'Being the paramour of Harry Potter is a curse more potent than the darkest of magic, Potter'. Something to that effect. In another, he said I painted a target on your back and called it affection."

 

"He wrote you more than once?"

 

Harry smiled sadly. "He didn't like my first response."

 

Silence hung between them, laden with guilt and regret, respectively. "He really told you to let me drown?" Draco said at last, telling himself that voicing the question didn't sound weak, all while knowing that needing to ask the question was an admission in and of itself.

 

Harry looked at him, soft and sorry. "I think he meant I shouldn't have publicly declared that I care about you."

 

"No," Draco replied quietly, “That’s not what he meant."

 

Draco hadn’t expected to talk about this today. Or ever, if he were being honest, and certainly not with Harry. "Do you?" He asked, voice small.

 

"Do I what?"

 

"Care about me?"

 

"Do I care, he asks." Harry sighed, rolling a dandelion between his fingers. "Do you really need to ask?"

 

"I want to hear you say it."

 

He nodded gently, as if to say 'I can understand that', and handed Draco a crown of flowers. Dandelions, yes, but also arbutus, camelia, ambrosia, jonquil. "Of course I care. That's why I stayed away."

 

"But you came back here." To our spot.

 

"It's a nice place to sit and think." Harry threw another stone in the lake, like punctuation at the end of a sentence that wasn't said.  “You aren’t going to run off telling everyone, are you?”

 

"What, that you care about me?"

 

Harry blushed and darted a glance at Draco. It took Draco a moment to understand what Harry meant right before he said it. "No, that I'm—that I'm bi."

 

It warmed him as much as it shocked him that Harry was trusting Draco with what was, apparently, something he wanted to keep a secret. As if I would out anyone against their will, much less him.

 

“I won't tell anyone," Draco promised. "What would I tell them, anyway? That you live with bigoted, ignorant muggles? I've already told everyone that. That you had to deal with my bigoted, ignorant father lying to you about my wishes? Should I tell people that I loathe not only your relatives, but all bigoted, ignorant fools, muggle and magical alike, for trying to tell us who we can and cannot love?”

 

Harry flushed a deep carmine and smiled. "I hoped it was a lie. He's better at it than you."

 

"What, bigotry?"

 

"No, lying. And bigotry," he added after a beat.

 

"Don't tell anyone. I have a reputation."

 

Harry plucked another dandelion and rolled it between his fingers. “I used to envy them, you know. Dandelions. I always thought they were so free. Just a small sigh, and with a wish they fly away.”

 

Draco felt wrong-footed at the abrupt change in topic, but he did his best to keep up. “And you don't envy them now?”

 

“No. I've no reason to. I know what it's like to be a dandelion.”

 

“What do you mean?” he asked quietly.

 

Harry blew the seeds away and sat quietly for a moment. “Half the world thinks you're a weed, only good for wishes that won’t come true, and the rest see you as useful for what you can do for them. Either way, they pluck and use you. No one ever looks at you and thinks, what a lovely flower. You’re a weed with false wishes, or you’re an ingredient.”

 

Draco knew they weren’t really talking about dandelions, though he wasn’t sure what, specifically, they were talking about. “That's horribly depressing Potter. Besides, you really aren't a dandelion. I told you, didn’t I? Sunflowers suit you far better. Always facing the sun like a bloody optimist.”

 

Harry chuckled, a bit wry. “They're in the same family, though. Dandelion 2.0. And we're not Potter and Malfoy here, remember?”

 

Draco huffed. He should have learned by now that for some barmy reason, no matter what had happened between them Harry was always willing to forget, to leave those problems to 'Malfoy' and 'Potter' so they could just be Draco and Harry here, who didn't have greater problems than dandelions.

 

"As you wish, Harry." Draco moved to sit down next to Harry, close enough to touch by accident or with intention.

 

Harry didn’t say anything for a long while after that. He didn’t pick dandelions, or throw stones, or play with the grass. He just sat there, staring across the lake. There were other students outside now, sitting on the sunny, soft banks, laughing and carefree. Exams were over, the tournament was over, summer holidays were near, and everyone wanted to pretend they hadn’t a care in the world.

 

Draco couldn’t tell if Harry was watching them with resentment or envy. Perhaps some of both, if his dandelion diatribe was any indication. Draco knew something terrible had happened to Harry during the third task, but he doubted Harry wanted to talk about it. He wanted to ask as much as he was afraid of the answer. They didn’t come here to discuss their problems; they came here to escape them, and pretend they were just two normal wizards.

 

But he wasn't very good at lying, even to himself. "What happened to you? In the maze."

 

Harry's eyes flashed with pain. "I don't want to talk about it."

 

Draco nodded. "Alright. But…if you did, I would listen. I was…am grateful you came out of it alive."

 

“Are we friends?”

 

The question came out of the blue. It was such an unexpected thing to ask that Draco didn’t know how to respond. He didn't exactly know the answer himself. “…what do you think?”

 

Harry hummed, speculative. “Do you want to be?”

 

Draco snorted to cover up a pained sigh. “I think that should be obvious.”

 

“Obviously it isn’t, or I wouldn’t have asked. Now answer the question: do you want to be friends?”

 

“…I really think I ought to be the one asking you. You rejected my friendship once. Do you recall?” His heart beat so rapidly in his chest he feared Harry could hear it.

 

“I did tell you to call me Harry,” he responded. “My friends call me Harry.”

 

"That's not an answer," he pointed out.

 

Harry laughed once, a bit nervously “I suppose you’re right. Though I still reckon we are friends, after a fashion. Maybe not just friends, or maybe not quite friends. Somewhere in that zone.”

 

“You really are dense.” He didn’t think he quite hid the smile in his voice.

 

“You don’t mean that,” Harry replied, voice warm and almost fond. “But some things are better left unsaid.” Then, without prompting, he added, “I looked up all those people, you know.”

 

Draco frowned. “What people?”

 

“The ones you mentioned. When you said we could be anybody.”

 

It took Draco a moment to understand what Harry was talking about. “Last year?”

 

Harry nodded. “You said we could be them instead of Potter and Malfoy.”

 

Draco felt all the blood drain from his face. “And what of it? They didn't mean anything. Random names.”

 

"For someone with such a casual relationship with honesty, you really are a terrible liar.” He didn’t give Draco the chance to defend himself as he continued, “Merlin and Arthur I knew of. Well, the sanitized muggle version. The wizarding version is much more colourful, isn't it? Guinevere’s affair with Lancelot makes a lot more sense, if she figured out Arthur loved her only as a friend.”

 

Draco didn't respond for a moment, doing some very quick thinking. “That's just one version of the story,” he said, with a casual shrug that was only a little forced. “No one knows what really happened.”

 

They'd been talking around it so far, in vagaries and hints and flowers, but Draco wasn't really prepared to talk about…all this. Not today. Maybe not ever.

 

As always, Harry seemed unbothered by the potential awkwardness of the topic at hand. “If you say so. But Patroclus and Achilles?”

 

Draco swallowed. “Very good friends.”

 

“Very good friends don't ask for their ashes to be mixed so that they will never be apart even in death.”

 

Draco shrugged. He didn't often find himself in the position of having to defend the idea that there was nothing more than friendship between Achilles and Patroclus because it was a patently ridiculous notion.

 

“I never knew Hadrian was a wizard,” Harry continued. “Even Muggles know about him. They conveniently neglect to mention his Antinous, unless you really dig. I'm guessing you didn't mention them because you wish to build a wall?”

 

Draco sighed, annoyed, but said nothing.

 

Harry stood up and slung his bag over his shoulder, parting the willow branches to leave their enclosure. “I don't want to be Merlin and Arthur, or Patroclus and Achilles, or Hadrian and Antinous.”

 

Draco's heart sank as much as the small, ignored, optimistic part of him rallied to stay hopeful. “No? Who then?”

 

Harry looked at him and smiled. “I think you know, Draco.”

 

Draco smiled back. “Alright, Harry.”

 

“I’ll tell you this: I like the ‘and’ between names. Nice, isn’t it, Draco?”

 

And then he left. Draco decided to focus on the fact that Harry had somehow mastered the patented Dramatic Slytherin Exit, rather than the fact that he apparently had figured out Draco's deepest held secret.

 

He hadn't said no to any of it, Draco noted. Not to whether they were friends, not to whether he wanted to be, not to being more than just friends.

 

Not ‘no’ wasn't a yes, but Draco hadn't asked that, had he?

Chapter Text

By the time July rolled in, the summer heat was second only to Draco's boredom. With nothing to distract him from his studies except for more studying, playing quidditch by himself, and maudlin thoughts about his situation, Draco had gotten through all his summer work in record time. He'd read all of his books twice now, finished his assignments, and even done Vince and Greg's share, too. Draco knew from experience they wouldn't do it themselves. 

 

The summer after the Triwizard Tournament, Draco’s father had not come to pick him up at King’s Cross as he had the past three years. His mother hadn't been there, either. Only a house elf, with a letter informing him that he was to spend the summer in France. He was not to send owls to his family, or his friends, or anyone at all. He was to study and be a “Good Malfoy” and “await further instruction”.

 

In spite of everything—namely, the fact that he was being sent away, cut-off, isolated—his first reaction had been relief.

 

Draco had spent the entire train ride from Hogwarts wondering what he was going to say to his father on the platform. After everything Harry had told him, Draco decided he needed to have a word with his father. About those awful letters, about lying to Harry, about ‘things that had been afoot’ and what was being kept from him.

 

But deciding he needed to have a word and knowing what those words would be were two very different things. Draco had always done as his father asked; of course he had. He'd always believed everything his father told him about the world and how to succeed in it. Draco had acted accordingly and been rewarded handsomely for it.

 

He wanted to believe his father's lessons came from a place of love. He wanted to believe that the ever-tightening grip of control and the ever-insurmountable expectations his father had were because his father believed Draco was capable of meeting them.  He wanted to believe said standards were only what was required of him as the One and Only Malfoy Heir.

 

He wanted to believe it; he was no longer sure if he did. Or, at the very least, if he should.

 

He knew he did not agree with everything his father thought; he knew his father believed a lot of things which were patently untrue; he knew his father had been wrong about all kinds of things.

 

But in spite of what he knew, Draco was afraid to examine too deeply. The line between where his own thoughts began and his family’s ended was less clear than he’d like it to be, and in spite of what he knew, he was far more frightened of what he didn't know yet. 

 

Despite everything however—the secrecy, the bigotry, and the silence—he loved his father.

 

Because, despite everything, he was his father’s son.

 

But now, after nearly four weeks of hiding out at their French Estate—for that was certainly what he was doing, though why he was doing it was far less certain—Draco began to tire of the whole affair. Gone was the relief of not having to confront his father, as was the thrill of living alone. There was no one to talk to except for the house elves, but none of them were as chatty as the elves at home—and the ones at home weren’t exactly wordsmiths. But by this point he’d take their awkward mien over the inanity of responses that came only in some variety of “yes, master”, “no master”, and “I’ll see to it, master”.

 

Draco’s dreams had gotten more intense, and more bizarre over the summer. More consistent, too. They were not exactly good dreams. He often woke from them with his heart racing, hands clammy with sweat in places it frankly did not belong. They were instilled with a sense of urgency, but he could never quite remember the specifics, only the theme: always Harry, dressed in red with lightning in his eyes. 

 

And yet, as unsettling as they were, he knew that the urgency stemmed from something other than the content, for while he did not remember exactly what they depicted, he knew that in them, he was happy. Or, rather, the Draco in his dreams was happy. The Draco who was not quite him but was close enough to feel the sting of envy and euphoria of that happiness. Happiness with Harry, who was in turn happy with Draco. 

 

Everything about it felt unreal and distant, but every time Draco woke, he was left with the distinct feeling that this was the fake world, and the real world was in his dreams. Even if he could not clearly remember why, he longed for it. That place felt like home in a way no place in the waking world ever had. A sign of madness, yes. But these were mad times they were living in, weren't they?

 

Draco had scarcely let himself think about Harry in his waking moments because thinking nearly always led to worrying. Worrying about what he was doing this summer, how he was faring with his muggles. Hoping that maybe the Weasleys would come save Harry again. Fretting over what had really happened at the end of the Triwizard Tournament. Wishing things between them could be as simple as they seemed in his dreams.

 

He wondered what Harry would say if Draco told him about the dreams but dismissed the idea every time. How would he even begin to explain them without coming across as completely barmy? Even if he thought that, perhaps, Harry was the only one who would understand, he did not have the words for the feelings his dreams wrought.

 

Besides, Harry had bigger problems than helping Draco interpret his dreams like some sort of divination lesson gone wrong. Probably. Even if he was not allowed to receive the Daily Prophet here in France (or any of his post, for that matter), he sincerely doubted things were quiet after Harry revealed the Dark Lord had returned. He could only hope Harry wasn't being hounded by the Press.

 

———

 

In August, his mother came to see him. 

 

Draco was grateful he hadn’t succumbed to the wanton desire to wander around naked (out of spite), though he had taken to wandering around the French estate in pyjamas and a floral dressing gown. The house elves didn’t care how he dressed (or if he dressed at all), so the only reason he put on real clothes was when the tutor came. And Monsieur Accroit only came once a fortnight by carefully arranged appointment to review the practical portion of Draco’s spellwork as well as assign new books to read. 

 

Draco hadn’t been expecting her; after a summer of barely a word from his parents, either written or otherwise, he had assumed he would not see them until Yuletide. He had no compunctions over missing out on seeing his father; he still had not settled upon what he ought to say to the man. How to live up to his impossible standards and be the perfect son his father expected while also making it clear he didn't agree with his father's meddling in his life.

 

Draco's mother was different; She had always been the doting one, between his parents. Sure, his father bought him broomsticks and World Cup tickets and almost everything he asked for, but his affection was as reserved as his praise. His mother was the one who spoiled him with words and trinkets. The one who sent him sweets and called him pet names and brushed her fingers through his hair. She only revealed those indulgences when they were alone, though, as though affection were a weakness. Draco's father certainly thought so and chastised his wife for it. "You'll make him soft, Narcissa," he always said. So her tender love was 'their little secret'. 

 

"You'll always be my little boy," she told him regularly. Draco had pretended to be annoyed, rolling his eyes and saying he was too old for sweets. But she always sent them, and he always hoarded them jealously, and never had he had any reason to worry that things would not always be this way with his mother. 

 

Seeing her now, he realized how terribly he had missed her. His mother was easier to talk to. His mother somehow always knew what to say to improve his mood, or reassure his insecurities, or keep his father from being too harsh.

 

But now, his mother stood before him, stiff and unsmiling. It was a pose Draco recognized as her public disposition. They were alone now, so the only reasons he could come up with for her behaviour were that either someone was watching them or she was very upset about something. He didn't like the prospect of either. 

 

“Draco, it’s nearly lunch, and you haven’t dressed yet?”

 

It broke the tension somewhat, but it was hardly what he’d hoped to hear from her after months of silence. “I didn’t see the need. You didn’t say you were coming.”

 

“A Lord must always be prepared to welcome guests,” she quoted.

 

Draco sighed.

 

She pulled off her gloves and—with a flinch-worthy flick of her wand—drew the curtains. Warm sunlight filled the parlour where Draco had morosely been picking at a fruit salad. It was the room meant for welcoming guests, and though he hadn't been expecting anyone, the fact that he was eating in there—alone, in the dark, wearing pyjamas—was telling.

 

"How are your studies coming along?" she asked, accepting a biscuit from the plate a house elf hastily offered her.

 

He couldn't help the bitter rush of frustration at the question. He hadn't seen her since Easter, hadn't gotten word from her all summer other than instructions to behave (as if he’d ever done anything but behave), and the first thing she asked about was his schoolwork?

 

He stabbed a strawberry with a bit more force than necessary, satisfied with the red stain it left on the white porcelain. "Oh, they're coming along swimmingly. This is exactly how I wanted to spend my summer holidays."

 

"How fortunate that you got exactly what you wanted, then," she said airily with a hint of barely detectable sarcasm.

 

"Yes. Lucky me," he sniped back. When she didn't say anything else, he asked, "Why are you here?" What he meant was: What took you so long? Can I come home? How long will you stay? What's happening? But he was a Malfoy and a good son. He knew better than to ask outright.

 

He knew better than to hope for a straight answer, too.

 

She hummed thoughtfully and started winding her way through the parlour. To anyone else, it would look like she’d become suddenly very interested in checking the dust regulation spells.

 

Draco saw it for what it was: a displacement activity. "Your safety is of the utmost importance."

 

Draco’s heart stopped, anxiety flooding his system for reasons he couldn’t quite place. “Has something happened?”

 

“Nothing you need to worry about,” she said, deflecting again.

 

Draco bit back a nasty retort and tried again. "If you thought I might be in danger, why are you only arriving now?"

 

It was a weak attempt at fishing for information, he knew, but he’d never had to try very hard when it came to his mother. He’d always had her favour, and he expected this to be no different.

 

Then again, he didn’t know what was happening outside the French estate he was secreted away. With no letters and no Daily Prophet and no visitors, he had no hope of even guessing what was happening. 

 

But rather than throw him a scrap of information, she simply lifted a pale eyebrow. "It took time to arrange coming here.”

 

He pretended to be suddenly very interested in inspecting a pineapple slice on his plate. “Are you bringing me back to the Manor, then?”

 

“One of our elves will be escorting you back to King’s Cross on September first from here directly,” she replied.

 

“So that’s a no, then.” Draco spread his arms wide. "Well. Lovely of you to stop by and visit your only son, but as you can see, I'm fine. Good job, too." He was aware that he was being a bit of a tit, but he couldn't help himself. "It would be a pity for you to go through the trouble of arranging to visit only to find out it was too late."

 

Her shoulders tensed and her eyes flashed in warning. “Don’t be ungracious, Draco.” 

 

The barely concealed hurt in her voice filled him with hot shame. He felt nine again, like the time he'd asked for a dragon for his birthday and hadn't gotten one and accused his mother of not loving him at all. He knew now, as he knew then, that it wasn’t really her fault; but she was the one who was here.

 

He scowled at his crepes and attempted another half-hearted bite. His appetite had abandoned him. “Forgive me. I’ve been alone here all summer. Gratitude is a bit hard to come by.” 

 

"I came as soon as I could, Draco. If there had been real danger, I— we would have come immediately." 

 

"I'm sure," he said, a bit unkindly. "Will father be coming to stay as well?"

 

"I'm not staying," she said, turning away. She went to fiddle with the flowers on the table. Marigolds. "Your father won't be coming either."

 

"Why not?" Draco demanded, hating how petulant he sounded. "What could possibly be so important—"

 

She cut him off with an icy glare. "It was difficult enough for me to visit. Your father has been hosting an important guest and can't attend to any trivialities." She pruned the dead petals off the flowers and banished the less vibrant blooms altogether. Draco couldn't see her face, but he could imagine the small frown between her brows. These were not her words; they were his father's. 

 

Draco could only think of one individual his father would defer to in such a manner, especially in regard to his own family. 

 

He didn’t like the implications. He hated that he was finding out like this even more. "Trivialities?" he echoed. "Is that what I am, then?"

 

She sighed heavily. “Of course not, darling.” He almost believed her.

 

“At least try to lie better, won’t you?” he mumbled venomously, pushing away from the table. He intended to stalk off to his bedroom, but his mother knew him too well. The parlour doors shut with a flick of her wrist, and he was trapped in her with her and too much sunlight and too many flowers from a summer of practicing charms.

 

Unable to leave, he turned away from her and stared out the window, not really seeing anything.

 

“Draco,” she began, hesitant and delicate and he hated this; this distance between them. He was frustrated, and he knew it wasn’t her fault he’d been stuck here for nearly two months, cut off from his friends, from the news, from—well. Everything.

 

It wasn’t her fault, but she had agreed to it. 

 

He sensed her drawing closer before her hand wove its way into his hair. He almost pulled away again, but he really had missed her. Missed people, in general, who weren’t his tutor or house elves.

 

“There are some changes to come to our family in the near future,” she continued, voice soft and apologetic, “the Manor is not the most conducive environment to your success right now. Being there would—it would only stress and distract you. This is an important year for you academically, and it is of utmost importance that you focus on your studies. Do you understand?”

 

“Am I supposed to?” he challenged. She pulled her hand back, stung.

 

His parents had always tried to shelter him from the unpleasantries of life, including their own past. He’d been happy enough to remain ignorant before; now he worried whether there were consequences for ignorance.

 

There were still things he was afraid to know, but now his curiosity and desperation was greater than his fear. In a moment of bravery, he said, “You can tell me, you know. The truth. Whatever is happening at home, I can handle it—"

 

"Draco," she warned, squeezing his arm. It almost hurt, and he realized that his mother was frightened. 

 

"Mother, I—" he began, paused, then started again “—why are you here, really?” 

 

She released his arm and smoothed her hair back, though there had never been a lock out of place. “I came to hand-deliver some good news from your father."

 

"Good news?" The only good news, as far as he was concerned, would be the end of this house arrest, and he already knew that wasn’t happening.

 

She turned and wandered away to the next window bay, putting distance between them again. It certainly did not bode well. "News of an arrangement you'll certainly find agreeable.” 

 

Draco narrowed his eyes in suspicion. “What sort of arrangement?”

 

“The kind with a young ladyOne you'll accept without exception." Whether it was an evaluation or an instruction, Draco couldn’t be sure, but he had the sinking feeling that it was the latter.

 

He tried to smother the panic flooding his system. “Mother, I am only fifteen. I’m too young for—for an arranged marriage.”

 

“It’s nothing so serious as that,” she said, waving her hand airily, “arrangements like these are for mutual convenience. For appearances. Appearances are everything, you know.”

 

She reached into her cloak and pulled out a scroll bearing his father’s seal. He didn’t want to read it—as long as he didn’t read it, he could pretend this wasn’t happening.

 

But his mother coughed delicately as if to say you’re going to have to open it eventually, might as well get it over with.

 

He rolled his eyes and took it from her, scanning the missive quickly. He gripped it tightly as he took in the instruction—commandment, really—from his father. It was as cold and unsympathetic as he imagined those letters he'd sent Harry had been.

 

“Is he serious? He wants me to start courting Pansy?

 

His mother looked at him with an expression that was suspiciously close to pity. 

 

He wouldn't have it. “Have you read this? ‘Do so seriously enough to convince the world you are sincere about your general intentions, but do not promise anything specific to Ms. Parkinson’. This is—I don’t—”

 

“I thought you’d be rather satisfied with the arrangement. Pansy is one of your dearest friends,” she said, a bit too casually. “I know she’ll understand and respect your feelings, whatever they may be.” 

 

His face flushed, and he had to turn away. She doesn’t know, he reminded himself. She can't. “I'm not sure I follow.”

 

“Don’t make that face, darling. I told you that arrangements like these are for mutual benefit. You and Pansy have much to gain from an understanding like this.” 

 

She can’t possibly know, he told himself again as his ears filled with a buzzing sound. 

 

She reached over and straightened the lapels of his pyjamas, which was a rather neat way to avoid meeting his gaze. “You can do whatever you like with whomever you like as long as you do so discreetly.”

 

His mother was still talking, but he was no longer listening. She knew. He didn’t know how, or for how long, but the way she was talking—rather, what she wasn’t saying—was far too telling.

 

She knows she knows she knows

 

Had she told his father? Was that the impetus behind this arranged marriage? Or was it something else? 

 

If his father had bothered to tell him any of this in person, Draco might have argued. He might have said, "I'm not interested in Pansy, father." He wasn't interested in women, in general or specifically, but he wouldn’t have told his father that much. He remembered what his father had written in those letters to Harry, what he'd said to Draco over Easter, the fact that Draco was being hidden away in France—

 

He realized with the painful clarity of overcoming denial that even if his father had been there, and if Draco could tell him the things about himself he hadn’t found the courage to do, his Father would inevitably say, "This isn't about what you want. This is damage control for your poor choices."

 

And so it did not matter that his father was not there to hear the truth that Draco was unwilling—unable—to tell him. The outcome would be the same either way.

   

His mother was watching him now with carefully concealed concerned. Perhaps she had asked him something or was merely awaiting his response to his new assignment.

 

"I'll try not to disappoint you further," he said finally as he stared at his feet. What else could he say? He’d never really had a choice in the matter.

 

She placed her hand under his chin and lifted his face. He was nearly the same height as her now. Her expression softened, but it did little to quell his nerves. "You could never disappoint me, Draco. No matter what you do, I'll always be proud that you're my son. Some of your… choices may surprise me, but I just want you to be happy and safe. Not necessarily in that order." She did not say sorry, but there was an apology in her eyes.

 

And with that, she’d left.

 

Draco burned. His face, his throat, his eyes. She knew, and she did not care. Didn’t hate him for it, at least.

 

It was not exactly acceptance, but it was not rejection either. It was better than he'd ever hoped for, in the moments he let himself imagine the possibility of telling his mother. Of testing the limits of how unconditional her love was.

 

He told himself he was too old to cry, but if he did so anyway, there was no one around to see it.

 


 One does not always notice a change in progress. Sometimes, it wasn’t obvious until after an irrevocable conversion had already taken place.

 

It was small changes at first, noticeable only in hindsight: The white pillars turned shades of silver and gold; the obsidian grass grew more green-and-red than black. Well, it wasn’t unnoticeable as such, but Draco tried to ignore it. When a pool of water formed in the centre of the crumbled pillars, sun-warmed and sweet smelling like an herbal bath, it became difficult to ignore. And when floating orbs of fire bloomed in the sunset meadow filtering light into rainbow prisms, it was impossible to ignore. 

 

Impossible to ignore that, in the time Draco and Harry had been spending in the meadow and claiming it as theirs, the sector had claimed them right back. More precisely, the more time they spent in the abandoned sector together, the more it took on their qualities.  

 

Draco tried to push his concerns aside—a doomed endeavour, but he didn’t want anything to spoil the limited time he had with Harry. But as usual, his anxieties festered, until he couldn’t keep it in any longer. “Have you noticed that this place seems different lately?”

 

“Different how?” Harry asked lazily, not even bothering to open his eyes. He often got like this when he sunbathed. Malleable, sleepy.

 

“Well, there’s the weather changes,” Draco said, trying not to sound annoyed. “Rather, there never used to be weather, and now there is.”

 

Harry frowned lightly but did not open his eyes. “You don’t like it?”

 

“That’s—how I feel about it is irrelevant.”

 

Harry made a small noise of disagreement in the back of this throat. “We can change it, if you like.”

 

“I don’t think we—that’s not—” Draco stopped and started a few times before landing on what he wanted to say. He was stressed enough over the situation as it was without Harry failing to take it seriously. “I’m trying to tell you: it should not be.”

 

“Alright,” Harry said, then went back to sunbathing, apparently content to let the conversation end there.

 

Draco was not content. Things that should not have existed had sprung into existence in the meadow; things that did not exist in the mortal realm. Not yet, anyway. A phenomenon Harry dubbed ‘thunder snow’ that boomed whenever Draco made Harry laugh just so. Flowers that did not burn grew in clusters around the water pools—there were several pools now, instead of just the one. And those were just the ones they were aware of.

 

It was times like these when the differences between them felt insurmountable; that Draco understood why it was said that Red and Green were opposites. But Draco also knew the problem wasn’t that Harry didn’t care that Draco was worried; he just did not share the worries, and perhaps did not even realize that Draco was worried.

 

Draco worried a lot. Harry didn’t, as a rule, unless Draco made it clear he needed some reassurance. And that wasn't worry so much as concern for Draco. Sweet, but inconvenient in times like these.

 

Draco was not a direct person, but he summoned all the wherewithal within him to speak his mind. “What if the things we do here—the things that happen here, rather, affect the Mortal Realm?” 

 

Harry hummed as he considered. “I don’t really think it’s worth worrying about,” he said with a careless shrug after a beat. 

 

It was difficult to argue with him when he lay glistening in the sun after going for a swim in the pool—their pool—all stretched out for Draco to admire. But Draco had to try, just a little bit more, once again. “But what if the things we've made here do get to the Mortal Realm, somehow?”

 

“How would that even happen?” Harry asked, rolling onto his stomach. He blinked open his eyes at last, sultry and green as ever. His expression told Draco he was not worrying about the potential disaster of their reclaimed sector leaking into the Mortal World. Not even a little bit. “This sector is unconnected to the Mortal Realm. And without a supervisor or a portal, the things that happen here will stay here. Now, why don’t we—”

 

Draco had to look away, lest he get distracted. “It’s not that far-fetched. While the sector is not connected to the Mortal Realm, it is connected to us.”

 

“And?” Harry said, sounding far too unconcerned.

 

“And you and I are connected to our Patrons’ Sectors, which are connected to the Mortal Realm.” He bit his lip, worried he was getting too emotional. He already felt vulnerable and insecure, like he was making a mountain out of a molehill, but he had to press on. “Part of me…part of me thinks that when I go back to Green, I leave a piece of myself here, and take something else with me in its place."

 

Harry didn't respond to that, and Draco wanted to look, but he had to continue before he lost his nerve.

 

“I cannot confidently say that I leave behind the things that happen here when I leave.” His voice was far calmer than he felt it ought to be for all that he was opening up his very soul. Even if it was just Harry—only Harry, for Harry —putting it to words only made it all the more tangible. “Can you?”

 

He heard Harry sit up and summon his robes, playful mood evaporated. “How long have you been thinking about this?”

 

“Time has no meaning outside the Mortal Realm,” he said, even if he no longer really believed that. Harry’s fondness for temporal words had rubbed off on him. Words like ‘tomorrow’ and ‘forever’. But concepts tied to time necessarily had an end. Not a reassuring thought at the moment.

 

He chanced a brief glance at Harry. Harry’s brow was furrowed, but he did not look worried. He never looked worried, and he never was. "The Patrons would have destroyed this sector if it posed any threat." 

 

"What if they tried to destroy it, and couldn't?" Draco pressed, mouth dry. “The pillars were in ruins, before…before we started spending time here. The State of Things exists in relation to Any and All Actions Taken—”

 

Harry groaned. “I beg you, don’t quote the Rules at me, Draco.”

 

“But don’t you see? What if…” he paused, breath hitching in his throat; what he was saying was tantamount to blasphemy, or something just shy of it. But Draco needed Harry to listen, to understand. “What if The Patrons tried to destroy this sector, and couldn’t? They couldn’t destroy it, so they abandoned it, and made it nearly impossible to find."

 

Harry didn’t say anything for a long time after that. He just kept stroking Draco’s hand as he stared into the middle distance. He’d told Draco once it was grounding to touch him. You’re like my roots, and I’m a dandy-lion about to blow away.

 

"If they couldn't destroy it,” he said at length, the little furrow between his brows deepening, “then either they didn't make it, or some part of them didn't want it gone." 

 

As usual, he outlined enigmas like they were a simple thing. Like it wasn’t a profane epiphany to even pose the possibility that something outside the Patrons’ purview could exist.

 

Draco made a frustrated sound in the back of his throat, desperate to make Harry understand. He cast his arms out towards the strange grass, the strange sky, the emptiness. "But the implications! Look around! It was inert! And now, now it’s—now it’s got weather, and plants, and pools! It’s got life!"

 

“Well sure, it’s got us,” Harry replied. Easy as anything.

 

Draco closed his eyes and sighed. “Something must have happened to this place—in this place! It was abandoned for a reason. And now we’ve found it, and…and changed it.”

 

Harry placed his hands gently on Draco’s face, guiding his gaze back to Harry. “Even if that’s true, it’s over now. Whatever this place was for, it no longer serves that purpose.”

 

“You can’t know that,” Draco whispered, fighting back tears.

 

“No, I can’t,” he agreed, “but even if we bring the things we’ve created here back to our Sectors, and somehow… somehow it gets to the Mortal Realm…if it were impossible for these things to exist, it couldn’t exist, even here. Whatever happens, we will confront it. Together.”

 

Draco was no longer entirely sure whether they were talking about themselves or the sector and its impossible creations. Perhaps there had never really been a difference.

 

He shut his eyes to contain his misery. “It doesn’t matter if whether or not it’s technically possible ; it’s against the Rules.” What he meant was they’re going to find out about us, but even if he thought it, he was too afraid to say it aloud, terrified he might speak it into existence.

 

Time did not matter to Charges because there was no point separating things into ‘before’ and ‘after’, because even acknowledging there was a ‘before’ and an ‘after’ meant there was a difference to acknowledge, that ‘before’ and ‘after’ had meaning because something had changed.

 

Draco had watched the sector change because of their presence. It hadn’t changed when they had visited separately. Only when they spent time there together. He’d tried to ignore it, in fact, because it was unfamiliar and frightening. 

 

What Draco did not want to admit was that he, too, had changed. And if he had changed once, then he could change again. 

 

One does not always notice a change in progress. Sometimes, it wasn’t obvious until after an irrevocable conversion had already taken place. Draco certainly hadn’t noticed it happening until it was too late. Not that he wanted things to go back to how they were before. Before, he’d felt alone. He’d been alone.

 

He wasn’t alone anymore, and he didn’t want to be.

 

Harry had noticed it, though, and shared it much in the way he shared himself: without planning the moment just so, without considering what the implications of it would be, without any greater plan in mind. He just did it and left the worrying for later.

 

“I don’t care.” Harry said it softly, but the truth of the statement rang loud in the silence that ensued.

 

Draco’s heart was in his throat, as all the said and unsaid possibilities rushed through his mind. “You don’t care?”

 

“I don’t care if it’s against the Rules. You are dearer to me than anything else, Draco. You’re…” he trailed off as he searched for the words. Draco held his breath and waited. “You’re my other half. My bond. I don’t care if it doesn’t make sense.”

 

“Your bond?” he whispered, the word sounding strange and so much bigger and full of so much more than its small form revealed. “You see me that way?”

 

“Of course,” Harry replied, easy as breathing, as though he had not struggled to find the word just moments before. 

 

It had happened without Draco realizing, or intending for it to happen, and by the time he became aware, the seeds of impossible hopes had already spread their roots.

 

“It’s alright if you don’t feel the same,” Harry continued, voice soft, “But it’s what’s in my heart.” 

 

It wouldn’t be alright, though, if Draco didn’t feel the same. Having a bond meant reciprocity, synchronization, it meant—well. It meant everything, didn't it? And having a word to describe this feeling…well. What else could it be? 

 

“Of course I feel the same, Harry. I just…how?”

 

“Don’t say ‘of course’ like it’s obvious,” Harry said, huffing a bit petulantly. A plume of fire bloomed from his ears in his embarrassment, and Draco put it out without thinking. “I suppose it doesn’t make sense, but stranger things have happened, haven’t they?”

 

They hadn’t, not really. Fire and ice, storm and spring. They didn’t go together, but here they were. “There’s supposed to be an exchange, to form a bond,” he said in wonder.

 

“Haven’t we? Exchanged words, and thoughts, and dreams? You said it yourself, you leave a piece of yourself here when you go and take something else in its stead.” He smiled brightly and tucked a piece of Draco’s hair behind his ear. “We’ve shared worries and feelings and secrets. Things that belong to both of us now. We share this place, too.”

 

Draco had always thought there would be more of a ceremony to it. Well, there was supposed to be. A tangible trade between members of the bond. A lock of hair, a petal, a piece of heart, a strip of pigment.

 

But perhaps the things they’d exchanged were more meaningful, all the more so because they’d done it without an audience or a ritual or the approval of anyone else.

 

“I didn’t realize that this is what it felt like. Having a bond.”

 

“I would be worried if you already knew what a bond felt like,” Harry joked, but Draco could see the relief in his eyes, his gentle smile, the way his hands cupped Draco’s face like he was holding something precious.

 

Logically, he ought to have recognized that’s what he and Harry had been doing. Bonding. But it wasn’t something Charges were meant to do on their own. They weren’t meant to decide on a bond or create one. A bond was given, not forged. 

 

A bond was supposed to be something every Charge strove for. It was a reward for excellent work and service to the Patrons. A sign of maturity, and skill, and recognition.

 

Draco knew from his work with flowers that sometimes no matter how badly you wanted to put two things together, wanting wasn’t enough to make it viable. He couldn’t imagine feeling that another Charge completed him just because a Patron—his Patron—told him that they were meant to be. To think of Green picking someone out for him, putting them together and encouraging them to be the other’s everything was…

 

Well. What he had with Harry was special precisely because he—they—had chosen it. Made it together.

 

“A bond with a Red Charge,” Draco marvelled, “It shouldn’t be possible.”

 

“Everything about you makes me think ‘impossible’ is a word the Patrons made up to limit what we can imagine.” Harry took Draco’s hands in his own, gentle, warm, strong. “This can work. It does work.”

 

And it did work, as long as they were here, in this abandoned meadow they’d made their own. But it was only because no one knew that they could meet like this; if anyone found out, they would be extinguished, of that Draco had no doubt.

 

So it worked, and it was real, their bond—but it could never be official. Draco could make his peace with that, but he didn’t know if Harry could. So he didn’t ask. And as long as neither of them brought it up, they could pretend that they had not violated all of the Rules they’d sworn to, as well as Rules that had not even been written because if one followed the Rules that had been written, they would never have met and made an unsanctioned bond.

 

As long as they never brought it up, they would never have to confront the fact that no one could ever know they were bonded.

 

“My heart, my soul—”

 

“My bond."

 

Draco kissed Harry silly, and whispered sweet nothings, and told himself it was fine that no one could know. They knew, and that had to be enough. 

 

One does not always notice a change in progress. Sometimes, it wasn’t obvious until after an irrevocable conversion had already taken place. But even if it were possible, Draco wouldn't have wanted to go back to 'before'; 'after' was new, and frightening, and full of unknowns, but 'after' had Harry in it, and whatever the consequence of change might be, it was worth what came with it.

 


  

 

After The Welcome Feast, and after Draco had led the first years to Slytherin Common Room, and listened to Snape's unenthused spiel, and done rounds with Pansy looking for curfew breakers, he collapsed into bed to the sound of snores all around. Normally it would have annoyed him, but he was too exhausted for anything but sleep.

 

Sleep did not come easily, though, for all that he wished he could drift off into the much preferable land of dreams. It had not been a very good day, to say the least. 

 

International Portkey travel always turned his stomach, and he’d had to wake up early to catch the Portkey from France to London. He’d almost dared to hope he’d see his parents on the Platform at King’s Cross, waiting to send him off and wish him a good year as they always had. 

 

It had been foolish to hope for, of course. He’d known that. He was fifteen now, hardly a child in need of coddling, so he wouldn’t admit to being disappointed or acknowledge the sting of resentment at being placed aside for more important matters and people.

 

His day had not improved when he made it on the train. He was thoroughly looking forward to gossiping and socializing about meaningless things in the company of friends, and had only just barely greeted Blaise and Vince and Greg—he’d missed them, too—when Pansy came up behind him, snagged him by the arm, and dragged him to the Prefects' car. 

 

That was how he discovered he was, in fact, a Prefect. It didn’t surprise him, really; he'd known since he was a first year that one day, he'd be a prefect. He just hadn’t stopped to think about it. Prefect nomination hadn’t crossed his mind over the summer; he’d been too wrapped up in feeling sorry for himself.

 

But there he was, a prefect being dragged to the front of the train by Pansy hissing in his ear.

 

"Why by Merlin's tit do we have to pretend to date? I won't get any fanny this year, thanks ever so, you're lucky I love you, darling."

 

She’d given him a quick run-down of events while managing to complain that she and Blaise had been ‘bored to death’ without him and were ‘in a tiff’ because they’d both felt the need to ‘overcompensate’ for Draco’s missing ‘dramatic flair’ that they’d driven each other mad.

 

He tried to be patient with her rather lacklustre explanations of current events, but the walk from their train compartment wasn’t long enough to get a detailed report of what had been, apparently, a very eventful summer.

 

At least, it had been for Harry.

 

Draco was grateful his heart was not a weak one. If he had, surely, he would have suffered a cardiovascular event when he heard that Harry had been: attacked by two dementors, fended them off, and then been subjected to a full Wizengamot trial for underage magic.

 

Draco understood now why he hadn’t been allowed to receive The Prophet in the remote southern French estate, why his mother insisted it was ‘a distraction he didn’t need’. Draco had the sickening realization that his father had been involved somehow. The thought made him sick, along with the technically-unknown-and-unacknowledged progenitor of that agenda. 

 

Not that it mattered that much that he hadn’t kept up with the news, since apparently it was ‘complete shite’ anyway. Pansy launched into a scathing review of the Prophet, whinging about how Potter had been on the front page nearly every day as part of the ‘dedicated campaign’ to discredit him and Dumbledore.

 

“Not that they had very much credit to begin with, mind,” she said flippantly, “but it really is a bit pathetic, really, running a smear campaign against a fifteen-year-old. Who do they think he is, the second coming of Merlin? With that hair? Well, I suppose it's even more pathetic that people believe the drivel they shovelled out this summer.”

 

He’d barely had the chance to process all that before they arrived at the Prefect Car. It wasn’t until he saw Harry wasn’t there that Draco realized he’d expected him to be. Then again, Harry barely followed the rules himself; perhaps even Dumbledore couldn’t imagine Harry enforcing them, Golden Boy or not. Instead, Granger and Weasley were there, looking a strange mixture of proud and worried.

 

That meant wherever he was, Harry was alone. Well, maybe not. He had other friends, but after a summer of horrible things being said about him by the press… 

 

The small voice that spoke less and less to Draco begged him to go to Harry, to ask him if he was alright after everything, to promise flowers or treacle tart or testing fate within a thunderstorm or whatever it took reassure Harry that not everyone had written him off. The voice pestered and pleaded all through the prefect meeting— it had been dull enough that it couldn't hold his attention from more pressing Harry-shaped preoccupations. 

 

Draco ignored the voice. Tried to, anyway. Harry liked the 'and' between names, but they were something between not quite friends and maybe more than friends. Would he even be welcome, asking after him like that? 

 

But he'd never been very good at denying himself the things he wanted, and he wanted to see Harry. To speak with him as soon as possible, find out the truth. Or at the very least, the details. 

 

So when the train arrived and they all alighted, he kept an eye out for Harry while herding first years to the boats and everyone else to the horseless carts. It wasn’t hard to spot him; he’d grown over the summer, though he was still shorter than Draco, probably. That messy shock of black hair and spectacles shone to Draco like a beacon, who was only marginally aware of the fact that they were in public and didn’t do things like talk to each other where others could overhear. 

 

He hadn’t even meant to say anything to Harry, necessarily. He just wanted to see him. To gauge how he was doing after what had, apparently, been a very poor summer holiday.

 

It was, by far, the worst discovery of the day. Seeing the way Harry looked up close. He seemed better fed for once, but the heaviness in his eyes and the way his shoulders sagged as if something weighed on him…Something beyond dementors and a governmental smear campaign and the trauma of whatever had happened during the Triwizard tournament that Harry would not talk about—did not want to talk about—not with Draco. 

 

But Harry had seen him looking now, and Draco decided he had to open his big mouth and say something. He was aware that people were watching and listening, and he couldn’t just talk to Harry like he did when they were alone. In hindsight, he shouldn’t have said anything at all. But Draco had said something, because of course he had.

 

Somehow, “I’m surprised the Ministry is still letting you walk around,” did not come across as the playfully-sarcastic-jab-at-our-stupid-government that he planned for, and was not helped by his follow-up, “better enjoy it while you can.”

 

It did not win him smiles, or laughter. In fact, for a moment, Draco had not recognized Harry for the flash of hideous anger in his eyes, followed by an almost serpentine lunge at Draco. Granger held him back, and Harry shook it off, looking like he himself had not expected it. But Draco could not deny that, for a moment, he had been afraid. Harry glared at him, expression a cross between apologetic and hurt.

 

Draco could not have said what was written on his own face. He hurried off with Greg and Vince to a cart and sat worrying all through the standard introduction of the new Defence Professor and whatever ministry poppycock she was spewing. He barely noticed when the food arrived, and barely touched it even when Pansy filled his plate with his favorite dishes.

 

Draco did not have strong emotional intuition, but he knew with every fibre of his being that something was wrong with Harry, help him, find out. What he didn’t know was what to do about it.

 

The small voice of his conscience told him to apologize sincerely and ask Harry what was wrong.

 

He’d spent the rest of the evening in a fog, alternatively trying to process every bad thing dumped on him while also trying to ignore it so he could complete his duties. And so he was exhausted, and restless, and wound-up, and ready to collapse all at once. All the while worry worry worry weighed heavy on his mind.

 

I'll speak to Harry tomorrow, he promised himself, and meant it. Tomorrow was too far away, but he'd waited this long already. He could wait a little while longer. 

 

That night he dreamt of fields of goldenrod, and forsythia, and clover. Dark green glass walls and a storm brewing overhead. 

 

——— 

 

Umbridge was the most insufferable hag Draco had ever had the displeasure of meeting, and he’d met his Great Aunt Walburga. She was hellbent on making an example of Harry, and of everyone who supported him. And Draco’s personal feelings aside, there was no way they would pass their Defence O.W.L.s with her sorry excuse of a curriculum. 

 

He had to wonder whether his parents had known she would be teaching this year. That didn’t fully explain why they had sent him off to France—cut him off from everything happening back home—but it did bring some light to their actions. Did they approve of her? Recognize that she was not there to teach, but to be the Ministry’s eyes—Fudge’s eyes—at Hogwarts? 

 

His father had spent a frankly embarrassing amount of time cosying up to the Minister. Not because his father liked or respected Fudge; although Fudge was easy to manipulate, he was far too worried about keeping everyone happy to ever actually get anything done. His most useful purpose—and how his father used Fudge—was as a power check to Dumbledore. Not that he actually posed any threat, of course, but Fudge was worried enough on his own that Dumbledore was going to come after his position. All Lucius had to do was suggest Dumbledore might be Up To Something and he’d devote all his attention to stopping it, while legislation favourable to Lucius and his friends passed through the Wizengamot uncontested. 

 

But this? Putting this literal toady at Hogwarts to interfere? This was ridiculous. Even Lockhart had been a better teacher, and that was saying something. Draco couldn’t imagine his father approving of Umbridge, and his mother even less. She was tasteless and clung to her imagined superiority like a barnacle to a ship. 

 

What he could imagine was his father suggesting to Fudge that the Ministry ought to be more involved with shaping the minds of the youth, and Umbridge was the best solution his small mind could come up with.

 

His suspicions were confirmed when Draco received a request to meet privately with Umbridge after class on Monday. Draco quite liked the colour pink, truth be told. It was the colour of roses, and carnations, and snapdragons, and hibiscus.

 

Umbridge’s office was a disservice to the colour, and to cats as well. The whole thing as saccharine as the tea she offered him.

 

“I wanted to take the opportunity to get to know you personally, Draco. May I call you Draco? I’ve heard such good things about you from your father. How bright you are, a beacon of leadership.” She giggled and took a sip of her tea.

 

Draco took a sip as well. Drinking tea was better than trying to find something nice to say that wasn’t ‘my father never mentioned you. I haven’t spoken to him since last Easter, in fact’. "You may call me Draco," he said at last, because he couldn't think of a good reason to say no.

 

She smiled unctuously and Draco suppressed a shudder. “People like you and I have a hard time in a world like ours, Draco.”

 

“Do we?” Draco let slip out.

 

Fortunately, she took it for glib humour. “Well, we certainly make it look effortless,” she giggled again, “but I have no illusions about the challenges ahead. Already, today, I had a disturbance in class. The Potter boy, stirring up the class with fear and dissidence with his lies.”

 

Draco gripped the teacup so tightly it might have cracked. “I see.”

 

“That’s why we need to stick together, especially in times like these. I will be counting on you to help maintain order in this place. I don’t know what kind of zoo Dumbledore has been trying to run here, but if he won’t put a leash on the Potter boy, I will.”

 

Draco took another sip of tea. 

 

Umbridge didn’t seem to mind that Draco hadn’t spoken; in her mind, his support was such a given that she couldn’t imagine it any other way.

 

And why shouldn’t she? Ask anyone. Harry and I aren’t friends, we’re rivals. 

 

“Change is coming to Hogwarts. I’ll see it done. I’m not here to make friends and hold hands, you understand?”

 

Draco nodded, finding himself. He was a Malfoy, first and foremost. At least, in every place outside the willow grove. “Of course. Order must be restored here. Every year it’s gotten worse.” That, at least, wasn’t a lie. And if you’re going to serve someone bullshit, best to coat it in sugar. Umbridge liked sugar, a little too much, perhaps. “It’s good you came when you did, Professor.”

 

Umbridge preened, and giggled, and Draco hated her a little more every second. “If you want my advice, regarding Potter…you should just ignore him. He only does it for the attention.”

 

Her smile went sharp and frightening, then. “Oh I wouldn’t trouble yourself over Potter. I have something special in mind to get him in line. But your advice is…appreciated.”

 

If he hadn’t had lessons in decorum since he was six, he probably wouldn’t have been able to school his expression into a knowing smirk instead of disgust.

 

Draco made excuses then about having prefect duties to attend to, and she sent him off. “Send my regards to your mother, won’t you?”

 

Draco lied and said of course he would.

———

 

As soon as he could get away with it, he went down to the Willow Grove. He told himself not to expect to see Harry there, that daring to hope would only let him down, but he was disappointed, nonetheless. It was not the first time he’d come to the grove and Harry wasn’t there. In fact, most of the times he’d gone, he’d been alone.

 

It felt different now, though. In the past, it had been 'his' place to be alone, but he could no longer think of it that way. An anxiety that Draco had gamely been trying to suppress reared its ugly head. It was only day one, and already the news of Harry’s outburst in Umbridge’s class had spread through the student body. A week of detention, just for telling the truth.

 

He was scared for Harry. He didn’t know what Umbridge had in store for him, but surely it was nothing good. He couldn’t even warn Harry, not that Harry would listen to him. Their altercation on the platform still had him shaken. The haunted look in Harry’s eyes…something was wrong. Draco wasn’t in the habit of saving people, but for Harry he could make an exception.

 

For Harry, he could probably make an exception to all his rules.

 

But he couldn’t just wait for Harry to show up; they would both be under a lot of scrutiny. Everyone was watching Harry with levels of mild distrust or pity. Even the other Gryffindors seemed to be giving Harry a wide berth, and how was that for the supposed house of Chivalry?

 

But even if Harry wasn’t here now, Draco believed—hoped—he’d come here eventually. 

 

“What would I tell you if you were here?” he whispered to himself. Say it anyway, the small voice of his heart encouraged, you know how. 

 

The grove was filled with dandelions, but they were almost dead by now. He pulled out his wand and breathed orchideous.

 

He left with a heavy heart and left behind a message. Petunias for shame, fever root for delay, hyacinth for I’m sorry, rhododendron for beware.

 

It wasn’t enough—would anything ever be? —but it had to do.

 

He went down three times over the course of the week. The first two times, his flowers were still there. But the last time, they were gone. He hoped Harry had been the one to find them; the thought of anyone else in this place disturbed him.

 

He couldn’t be sure, though. No flowers were left in place of his own. All he could do was what he’d been doing: wait. And watch. And hope.

 

Harry walked around with a bandage on his hand, worn with pride, ever since his first detention with Umbridge. He didn’t look at Draco with disdain, or anger, or anything. He did not look at Draco at all.

 

———

 

A week later, a single iris landed on his plate. I have a message for you. No further flowers came, and Harry was pointedly ignoring him. Pansy picked up the Iris and stuck it behind her ear, asking Draco if he thought she was pretty. She was making a scene of their fake relationship and enjoying every moment.

 

He saw Harry flush red, and without thinking about it plucked the iris away from Pansy and stuck it in his lapel. “I believe the flower was given to me ,” he said, trying not to be too obvious about the way he was staring across the great hall. He saw the way Harry turned away, expression unreadable. He only managing to get away with it by promising Pansy he’d buy her something at Hogsmeade.

 

Draco went down to the Willow Grove again to see his absent flowers were replaced by a sea of yellow and white. Yellow carnations for disdain, white chrysanthemums for truth, yellow tulips for hopeless, and flowering dogwood full of more meaning than Draco knew what to do with. 

 

Draco left a message of his own, encouraged despite the less than positive message Harry had left behind. At least they were communicating, he said, breathless and hopeful and yet still anxious.

 

He left yellow lilies for falsehood, pink roses for please believe me, lion’s ear for secrecy. And because orchideous was a spell of honesty, ice flowers dotted the bouquet of his affection.

———

 

A week full of Irises and tense looks left Draco more confused and hopeful than ever.

 

Disdain was a common theme in Harry’s flowers, and betrayal, too. Demands for explanations, and reluctant acceptance. Draco had to check out a book on Victorian flowers just to understand even his own flowers, so convoluted were the messages they sent.

 

I miss you. Can’t be with you. Falsehood and regrets.

 

The weeks carried on, sometimes with a new message. Sometimes the flowers were the same.  

 

When Draco heard about Harry’s ‘defence association’, he wished more than ever he was at least on publicly neutral terms with Harry (et al ), if for no other reason than his grades. He desperately needed the practice—two months in France reading that rubbish book Umbridge assigned hadn’t given him any practical experience, which was essential for the Defence O.W.L. And to have Harry teach him defence would be…well, on second thought, that might be distracting. 

 

Umbridge was true to her word, both at the Welcome Feast and in private. She invited Draco to tea more often than he’d prefer; sometimes he could get out of it. Usually he couldn’t. He ran into Harry once while leaving one of these meetings; Harry presumably was there for detention.

 

The result of that meeting was a willow grove filled with frog ophrys of disgust and peonies of anger

 

Draco returned the sentiment of corn straw of agreement. 

 

Harry didn’t say anything for a long time after that, in person or in flowers. He did not rise to Draco’s poor attempts to rile him, to engage, to say I prefer your contempt over your silence.

 

His bandages were gone now, his hand proudly proclaimed I must not tell lies.

 

Harry was many things; a liar was not one of them. Sometimes Draco wished he were.

 


 

“Two new charges just arrived at Green Sector,” Draco said one day, apropos of nothing.

 

Harry stopped what he was doing—which was kissing his way down Draco’s arm. It hadn’t been Draco’s intention, getting Harry to stop, but it was done now. “What?”

 

“The previous ones had to be replaced. They failed their test.”

 

Harry squeezed his hands nervously. “The ones from the Observation?”

 

Draco nodded. “They never even got close to finding each other.”

 

“I know.” The only thing every Charge got to do was watch the tests of bond of other Charges. The Patrons called it ‘Observation’ and disguised it as an opportunity to see how their creations fared with mortals. But all Charges knew the real, unspoken purpose was to watch the tests. 

 

“I looked for you,” Harry said softly.

 

Draco traced patterns on Harry’s shoulder, refusing to meet his gaze. “You know we can’t see each other during Observation.”

 

The Charges were kept separate by their spectrum; they neither saw nor interacted with anyone else observing the test. Perhaps they did not even watch all at the same time. It was not required to watch the whole test, just enough to know: test taking was for serious Bonds only.

 

“That’s funny, because I definitely saw you,” Harry replied, “I saw you in the dandy-lions, and the day-seas, and the Night-Shade, and the clovers. I saw you in periwinkle, and holly, and thistle. In the blue-bells and prim-roses, and the Two-Lips and the Fox-Glove.”

 

“I didn’t make all of those,” Draco said, to cover up how pleased he actually was.

 

“I saw you in them, anyway. How you would have made them differently. What are those yellow and black things that go between them?”

 

“The mortals call them bees,” Draco explained. “They pollinate the flowers.”

 

Harry hummed quietly, a mindless tune, and didn’t ask what pollination was. He’d ask again some other time, Draco was sure. The flowers had been a pleasant distraction from their darker thoughts, but the darkness lingered.

 

Harry had just sat there holding Draco that day, and Draco held Harry right back. They didn’t need to speak to give voice to their fears. Would they fail if they took the test? Not that they could, because their Bond was not official, sanctioned, approved, or allowed. Any thoughts of taking a Test of Bond, and passing it, were just that: thoughts. Their dreams were as borrowed as the time they spent together. How long before they were discovered and separated? Before reality crashed down around them, and perhaps their right to exist as well?

 

That wasn’t the only thing. It was getting more and more difficult to sneak away to meet. Harry had mentioned, off hand, that his lengthy absences had been noted by some of his fellow Red Charges.

 

“Let me tell you, Draco, it’s difficult to run and jump and navigate the storm when you have five Red Charges all around you asking where you’ve been sneaking off to, and why I don’t compete for the sunny spots any more, and how come I always look so tan without any lines—I’ve had to get creative in my excuses.”

 

“Running?” Draco questioned.

 

“That’s how we make storms,” he said, waving it off. He’d tried to explain it several times, but in the end, it always came down to speed and chaos, and the point was not to think too deeply about it, according to Harry. “Anyway. No one’s been bothering you about it, have you?”

 

“Not recently,” he said, though it wasn’t quite true. His fellow Green Charges didn’t ask him direct questions, but they did give him curious, lingering looks, and imply that he was, perhaps, up to something. 

 

It made Draco nervous, talking about getting caught, as though mentioning it were summoning bad luck to them. So he changed the subject. “I’m designing a new flower.”

 

“Oh? Tell me more.”

 

“It’s a tropical flower, so it likes the heat.” He ran his fingers through Harry’s hair, watching the way it stuck up in tufts. It felt like a warm breeze today. “It’s large, and bushy, but it flows down and looks like water. It’s edible, too, and looks good even when it’s dried out.”

 

Draco felt Harry smile against his skin. “What colour is it?”

 

Draco shrugged. “Well, I’m struggling to get the colour right, to get it deep enough, but…”

 

“Is it, by any chance, red?” Harry asked playfully.

 

“Maybe.”

 

Harry laughed, delighted. “If I didn’t know better, I’d say you designed a flower version of Red Charges.”

 

“Well, I’ve only met one,” Draco began slowly, “He’s a right tosser, but he gave me some good ideas.”

 

With a final laugh and a kiss to Draco’s shoulder, Harry settled his head on Draco’s chest. “Well, if I were that Charge, I’d be terribly flattered. What’s the flower called?”

 

“I don’t get to name them,” Draco said automatically.

 

“Tell me anyway.”

 

“Oh, I don’t know. Flaming Fountain, perhaps?”

 

Harry ran his hands through Draco’s hair, and they were silent. Harry often played with Draco's hair. Draco savoured the way Harry's fingers felt, the way he'd braid it when Draco had it long and sink his fingers into it when it was short. Harry's hair was too thick and unruly to plait, he said. Draco asked him how he knew how to do it, then.

 

“I learned from the mortals.”

 

It made Draco nervous, how often Harry watched the mortals. Dreaming impossible dreams. But it made Harry happy, so he didn't share his feelings.

 

———

 

“What are you thinking about?” 

 

It was one of Draco’s favourite things to ask Harry; Harry was almost never thinking about any of the things Draco might have guessed. Sometimes it was nonsensical things—why do mortals dream if they don’t remember when they wake? —and sometimes it was practical—do the Patrons have to plan to keep their Charges at an equal number? 

 

Sometimes, Harry made up stories about the two of them. 

 

Only rarely did Harry say ‘nothing’ when Draco knew he meant ‘I don’t want to say’. 

 

This time, when Draco asked, Harry hummed low and deep. He brushed a lock of hair behind Draco’s ear. “I’m thinking about you, among other things.” 

 

“What kind of things?” Draco asked, playing with the pads of Harry's hands.

 

Harry smiled in the way Draco had come to know meant mischief. Today was a day for make-believe, it seemed. “Well, I’m thinking of a house, just over there,” he gestured expansively to the meadow, “with a kitchen for me, and a garden for you, filled with your creations.”

 

“Where will your creations be?”

 

Harry rubbed his nose along Draco’s chin, breath warm and ticklish. “That's what the kitchen is for.”

 

Draco chuckled. “We don't need to eat. That's a mortal thing.”

 

Harry swatted Draco playfully. “Let me have my dream, won’t you?”

 

“Fine, fine. Tell me more about our house, then.”

 

Harry nestled his head on Draco’s shoulder, dark hair smelling vaguely of smoke, as always. “Well, there will be a bed of course, and one of those fancy sitting things—a sofa, I think they’re called? —and the house will be made of glass, so we can see the meadow, and the storms, and the sun—”

 

“A glass house?” Draco mumbled, but Harry was already carrying on.

 

“—and we can have a dog, and a record player, and every evening we can go dancing. You’ll be better at it—”

 

“I am better,” Draco reminded him. They’d danced before, once, after Harry saw mortals doing it and wanted to try.

 

“But you’ll indulge me, anyway. There are so many dances out there, after all.”

 

“...make it a cat and you have a deal.”

 

Harry smiled and kissed him, and Draco thought maybe he could dream a little, too.

 

It was an endearing exercise they played, building dreams full of mortal things. The house in the meadow was a common theme. Sometimes it was made of yellow plaster, other times it was brick. Once, Harry described a house in the clouds, a castle in the sky. But more often than not, it was a house made of glass. And though he always described the house as though it were some silly flight of fancy, Harry couldn’t disguise the longing in his eyes. 

 


 

Flowers, Draco decided, were not a very ideal way of communicating. Flowers, even when cast with orchideous that demanded truth and bloomed your feelings on full display, left room for all kinds of dissemination and ambiguity. Even if Draco could touch Harry’s flowers and know exactly what they meant, as if they had little voices of their own, they did not truly speak to him. They did not paint a full picture or give context. They were not a conversation, at least not the sort that Draco would have preferred.

 

But flowers could not tell him anything, small voices or not, if Harry would not send any. 

 

Flowers could only say so much, or nothing at all, but Draco had eyes, too. He kept his head down, but he watched Harry and told himself he wasn’t; he didn’t want to give away whatever this was between them, and his mother had always told him his eyes were too honest.

 

His eyes were honest, but he was not, so even though he said he wouldn’t watch Harry, he did. Harry, who looked more stressed and angrier and harried and less himself every day. Who watched the world like he was hunted, and didn’t care, and why should he? He knew the truth, even if no one wanted to hear it. 

 

Sometimes Harry watched him back, eyes full of questions. Mostly he watched when Pansy was draping herself over Draco, or feeding him pancakes, or generally making a scene of doting on “her boyfriend”. He scowled at these displays or acted like he didn’t see them at all. He glared at Draco when Umbridge displayed her approval and bore his fury like a shield.

 

It was as inspiring as it was frightening, and Draco didn’t know what to do.

 

After Harry beat Draco at quidditch (how many times had it been, now?), Harry got angry at Draco. By rights, Draco was the one who should have been upset over the loss, but it was a familiar sting now.

 

But Harry said, “You aren’t even trying,” right to Draco’s face, eyes blazing just like they had that night on the platform. Draco felt fear, and then anger of his own. He didn’t know who threw the first punch, but it hardly mattered in the end.

 

In the end, Harry was banished from Quidditch, and Draco had to wonder what he was missing. Upon reflection Draco had to concede Harry might have asked “are you even trying?” 

 

The end result was the same, though. Harry was frustrated, and Draco was, too. So he decked him, right in the nose, and though it didn’t exactly feel nice, it did feel good. But then Harry was banished from Quidditch, and it was sort of Draco’s fault, and Harry was pointedly ignoring Draco now.

 

Draco had long ago figured out negative attention was better than none, and it seemed Harry had figured that out as well. So Draco left rocket of rivalry and raspberry blossoms of remorse in the willow grove, and a week later added a gladiolus of give me a break. 

 

Still Harry said nothing, and still wouldn’t even look at Draco, until finally in November, Draco left one final sprig of holly asking am I forgotten?

 

He still would not look at Draco. Draco didn't look for him, either. He'd never been very good with honesty.

 

Well, this is it then, he decided. It’s over before it began. 

 

He told himself it was better this way, for both of them. He didn’t believe a word of it. He’d never been very good at lying. Not even to himself.

 

He still went to the Willow Grove every other day, searching for a message, just in case. Searching for closure or hope, and never sure if those were separate things after all.

 

And at the beginning of November, he got what he was looking for.

 

The answer came in quaking grass of anger, tamarisk of guilt, and gorse of enduring affection. Or possibly more anger.

 

But there was also an olive branch of peace, a lilac of humility, and zinnias of absence, and remembrance, and constancy.

 

Draco didn’t cry, of course. He wouldn’t let something so revealing happen. 

 

Balm of Gilead that spelled relief sprouted up where saltwater hit the ground.

 

———

 

“Seriously, mate, it’s bad enough that they take up so much space in the dormitory, but I’m getting allergies in November—NOVEMBER! —because of all your stupid flowers.”

 

Draco hadn’t meant to overhear it. He was docking house points from a group of Ravenclaw third years who had clumped in a group of ten, contrary to Educational Decree Number Something or Other. It was a stupid rule to begin with, and a waste of his time to enforce, but it put him in a position to hear this.

 

He missed Harry’s response while he dismissed the Ravenclaws, but Weasley’s groan of “I know that, but do you have to rub my nose in it, literally?” gave him an idea of the contents. He didn’t know whether to be pleased or embarrassed. 

 

“They are a bit excessive, Harry,” Longbottom hedged, “And I mean, I’m happy to practice that plant preservation charm, but it’s been months. They aren’t gonna last forever.”

 

“I can’t just throw them away,” Harry grumbled.

 

“You get new ones every week!” Weasley countered. “Sometimes twice a week!”

 

“Perhaps you could put them in a box or something?” Longbottom suggested, and Weasley enthused a hearty agreement.

 

“I just like to look at them!” Harry protested.

 

Weasley moaned. “Ugh, you’re such a bloody sap!” 

 

“I think it’s very gender role non-conforming of you, Harry, and I applaud it,” said Granger said as they rounded the corner and out of earshot. Draco was tempted to follow, but he had places to be that didn’t include following Gryffindors. 

 

He’d had no idea Harry kept the flowers Draco made. He kept them all, by the sound of it, even the ones from the period Harry hadn’t been talking to him (not that they talked; but the flower exchange almost felt like a conversation). Not that they were exactly on good terms, now; the flowers Harry left were just as often angry and frustrated as they were understanding.

 

Draco felt a pang of guilt that he didn’t keep most of the ones Harry sent. It wasn’t because he didn’t want to; mostly it was due to the fact that Pansy was like a dog after a bone, and if she knew he was getting flowers from someone, she would sniff out who. Fairly easily, if he had to guess, given that Gryffindors liked to stomp around and talk loudly about private matters. Didn’t they understand discretion?

 

Of course not, they’re Gryffindors, he thought to himself, but in this one instance he couldn’t complain, because it gave him an excellent idea, now that he knew Harry kept his flowers. Harry kept his flowers and didn’t hide who they came from. At least, not from Granger and Weasley and Longbottom. 

 

He told himself it was perfectly normal to buy a present for someone who was not-quite a friend but was also more-than, who liked the ‘and’ between their names, and who had kept every single flower Draco gave him, even when he was angry.

 

What was a present between friends? Or whatever they were?

 

It took a week to order the damn thing, and another week for it to arrive, so it was already December by the time Draco could enact his bid for forgiveness. Pansy was far too curious by the package, perhaps believing it was something he was purchasing for her in order to keep up appearances. He hoped that’s what anyone monitoring his purchases would think.

 

What he’d purchased for Harry was a simple thing, but Harry liked things simple; it was a glass flower box imbued with preservation spells, meant specifically for plants. It had taken him some time to decide what shape would be best. There were simple rectangle shaped boxes, circular boxes, boxes shaped like stars, boxes with tinted glass. In the end, he’d had to rely on gut instinct and his instinct said Harry would like the heptagon. It vaguely resembled a hut, or a house (a very small house, but a house nonetheless), and since Harry was apparently sappy, he’d probably love it and forget all about Draco getting him banned from Quidditch over a fist fight about effort.

 

With only a little bit of trepidation, he put the glass flower box under the tree where they normally shared their flowers, filled with purple hyacinth of forgive me. He risked a small note that couldn’t be traced back to him, and even if it were it was hardly incriminating.

 

A home for your treasures.

 

Two days later, a new glass box sat in its place. It was pentagonal and pointed, looking rather like a circus tent. Inside was a single white tulip of forgiveness.  

 

——— 

 

Shortly before the end of term, Draco received a letter from his mother, telling him to stay at Hogwarts over Christmas Break. Do not go home with Blaise or Pansy, Draco. Hogwarts is the best place for you right now.

 

So, they still were not telling him anything. It wasn’t written in words, but between the lines: it isn’t safe for you at home.

 

He reflected again on how very blissful ignorance wasn’t when one was already aware that secrets were being kept. 

 

Draco floated through it all, feeling detached and certain something terrible was brewing. What was being kept from him? He floated through the mass Azkaban breakout, including his aunt Bellatrix. Draco had no doubt where she was staying. He’d never met her—at least, not that he recalled—but he didn’t relish the thought. Photographs of her told him everything Draco wanted to know about his Aunt Bella.

 

He sat with Pansy in every class, at every meal, tried to be a good fake boyfriend. Pansy seemed to be enjoying the facade much more than he, hamming it up at every opportunity by hanging off him and calling him the vilest of pet names. She probably thought it was a good distraction. Maybe she thought it would get a genuine laugh out of him. How long had it been since he’d genuinely laughed?

 

Harry watched their display, eyes wounded even if the rest of his expression was carefully neutral. He never held Draco’s gaze when their eyes met across the Great Hall. What he saw in the flowers Harry left were yellow. Draco told himself they were the yellows of disdain and secrecy and memory. It wasn’t jealousy, because what was there to be jealous of?

 

He could not say the same for himself and his own flowers, especially when Harry went on a date with Cho Chang. On Valentine’s Day. Draco was shocked, but then felt he shouldn’t be. He and Harry were not anything, except something between not-quite-friends and something-more-than. They were not anything, except two wizards who exchanged flowers full of feelings, even if they did not speak. 

 

But it was fine. Draco would not admit to feeling anything, even if his yellow carnations, chrysanthemums and hyacinths told a different story. 

 

It was only one date, and Harry looked miserable at the end of it. Based on the fact that Chang left Puddifoot’s in tears, he had to assume she didn’t enjoy it very much either.

 

Draco smiled. It didn't feel very nice. But it did feel good.

 

 ———

 

The Quibbler article with Harry's interview telling what really happened during the third task of the tournament came as a most unpleasant surprise in March.

 

On some level, Draco had known his father had been involved in some way. Draco had known that his father had been involved. But he’d imagined his father being involved with the murder of Cedric Diggory much in the same way he imagined his father being involved in getting Fudge elected Minister of Magic. With words and money and trickery and cleverness.  

 

It was one thing to be involved; it was quite another to have been there. To have participated. To have threatened Harry with more than just venomous words. His father had hinted at it, warned Draco, threatened Potter and the wizarding press with silence, because he'd known. Things you don't understand are afoot, Draco, he’d said. Things that couldn't be explained to him, naturally. Things that were still being kept from him.

 

His father’s involvement, his father’s betrayal…it wasn’t a surprise. Draco knew exactly what his father thought about Harry Potter. But Draco’s father wasn’t the only one who’d kept secrets. Harry hadn’t told him anything either.

 

Harry hadn't behaved like he'd just been through a dark magic blood ritual when he spoke to Draco in the willow grove. He hadn’t mentioned any of it. Not watching Diggory being murdered right in front of his face. Not like he’d been crucio-ed. Or tied to a grave, stabbed, and forced to duel The fucking Dark Lord himself. 

 

He hadn't mentioned it at all. Draco tried to remind himself that Harry had said he hadn't wanted to talk about it. What he did talk about was letters and bigotry, and dandelions and wishes, and keeping each other’s secrets. He'd talked of flowers and being something between not quite friends and being more than friends and liking the 'and' between names. 

 

He hadn't mentioned any of his trauma to Draco. But he’d told Rita Skeeter and the Whole Blasted World in an interview. 

 

Draco knew it was irrational and stupid to be angry over it. Harry hadn’t done it to hurt him specifically. He’d probably kept it from Draco in an ill-conceived attempt at kindness. He told me other things; Draco attempted to reason with himself, his jealousy, his feelings of betrayal. Harry had shared a secret with Draco, and gave him flowers that said devotion, requited, only you, affection. Things he did not want the world to know and told only Draco.

 

But there were things he had not told Draco but had told the world. Why didn’t he tell me? Draco wondered. Why didn’t he trust me?

 

He tried to overcome it. To ignore the hurt and the jealousy and the anger. To think about Harry, rather than Harry’s secrets, and Harry telling the whole world about his father, and Harry nearly dying — 

 

But Draco’s flowers that week were barberry and red balsam and hellebore, ill-tempered and touch-me-not and calumny.

 

Harry answered nightshade and juniper and verbena, bitter truth and protection and regret.

 

Draco didn’t know what to say to that. He remembered what Harry told him about his father. That he sent letters, that he was ashamed, that he made Harry promise to stay away. He hadn’t wanted to tell Draco even that, had kept the worst of his father’s sins away from Draco.

 

All summer Draco been desperate to know the truth; promised his mother he could handle it; insisted on being in the loop. And now that the truth was laid out before him…he couldn’t handle it.

 

He wanted to believe Harry was lying, but Harry didn’t lie. That was Draco's purview, even if he wasn’t very good at it. 

 

He didn’t leave flowers that week, because he didn’t know what to say, and was terrified of the truth of his own emotions.

 

——— 

 

One week turned into two, and two into three; due to an obsessive need to know, Draco went back to see Harry’s flowers. Ebony for hypocrisy, eglantine for necessary pain, hazel for reconciliation, harebell for grief.

 

Still Draco could not respond, even with the addition of Harry’s wormwood of absence, followed by a silence heard in the lack of new flowers.

 

——— 

 

When Umbridge came to him in a flurry of righteous indignation and horrifying glee, Draco didn’t know what to think. Had Dumbledore been sacked, perhaps? No, that couldn’t be it. Draco had a feeling Dumbledore would sooner die than leave Hogwarts. He’d said as much before, and he’d followed through.

 

What it was, in fact, was much worse than Dumbledore being sacked, if only because Dumbledore being sacked was hardly a nightmare scenario. No, what it was was Marietta Edgecombe being an appropriately labelled sneak. 

 

“Draco! Come quickly! Gather the other Slytherin prefects, they’re the only ones I can count on for objectivity.”

 

“What is it?” he asked, already dreading the answer.

 

She smiled with too many teeth and he felt the pit of his stomach drop. “Potter and his little rebellion! It ends here! He ends here!”

 

If he could have, he would have found a way to stall longer. He did his best; taking longer than necessary to round up Slytherins willing to chase down the Defence Association. But Umbridge was champing at the bit and could only be stymied so long.

 

“That’ll have to do, Draco. Quickly! The Minister’s already on his way.”

 

The only silver lining—if that—was that someone seemed to have tipped the Defence Association off that Umbridge was on the way because nearly everyone was gone by the time Umbridge arrived. 

 

It was little consolation, however, we he ran into Harry in the hall, quite literally.

 

They just stared at each other for the longest moment of his life. Draco had been avoiding any sort of confrontation, internal or external, with his feelings about Harry. There was no avoiding it now. He realized he was still hurt and angry. He was afraid, too, but perhaps he always would be. But this was not fear for himself; it was overwhelming fear for Harry.

 

Fear and the strongest desire to protect.

 

Draco wasn’t brave. Bravery was for heroes, and Gryffindors, and people who saved the day. People like Harry. But he could pretend, just this once, because some things were more important than fear.

 

“What are you doing?” he whispered when he got over the initial panicshockjoyfear of seeing Harry. “Run!”

 

But Harry was still there, staring with wide eyes reflecting the same emotions trying to claw their way out of Draco’s throat. Why was he still here? “Go! Now!” he hissed, as loudly as he dared.

 

But it was too late; Umbridge came around the corner, already praising Draco and rewarding him fifty points for catching ‘Potter’. She had Granger and Weasley in tow, as well as Longbottom and Girl Weasley. All of them looked at Draco like he was a particularly nasty toadstool, and he couldn’t blame them.

 

Except for Harry, who saved his venomous glares for Umbridge.

 

But it hardly mattered, because now Harry was caught, and Dumbledore was gone, and Umbridge had named herself headmistress. 

  

 


 

The moments when Draco was working on flowers used to be his favourite. The calm, steady flow of constructing a living thing that started as something so small and grew to be a masterpiece. A combination of form and function, artfully done. A fusion of opposites.

 

He still loved making flowers, of course; it was what he was made to do. But it was no longer his favourite thing. Now it was merely what he did while he waited to see Harry again. And even when they were apart, Draco’s mind was so full of Harry that he could almost imagine him there right next to him. With every petal he crafted, he imagined Harry’s lips as they smiled. With the roots he built to give his flower long life, his mind traced Harry’s strong legs, sturdy enough to bear the weight of his powerful convictions. The green of the unfurled bud was nothing compared to the green of Harry’s eyes. 

 

But no matter how well he imagined him, worshipped Harry’s image in his brain, nothing could compare to the real thing. The way he hummed whenever Draco touched him. His gasps of pleasure when Draco pressed into him, his sighs when he returned the favour. The way his lips lilted up in joy as he traced Draco’s features with his gentle hands. The mischievous sparkle in his eye when he pulled on Draco’s uniform and claimed Draco as his, inside and out. 

 

Making flowers was what Draco had been created to do. But Harry was what he lived for.

 

The only time Draco ever regretted what he had with Harry was the time they were nearly caught. They’d had close calls before, but this stood out. Usually, ‘close calls’ were someone noticing he was gone when he shouldn’t have been. It was inquiring about a mark Harry had left on his body somewhere and coming up with a cover story. It was the foreign scent of a Red Charge left on Draco’s person that the overly curious noticed.

 

But this time, it was something else. It was a charge of White uniform coming to their meadow, their sector. A Blank Charge, who worked directly for the Patron’s Council. 

 

Draco had not thought anyone could find them in their sector. It could only be found without intention, or so he'd thought, and Blank Charges were stauncher than any other Charge: their dedication to the Patrons was absolute. They did not create or curate. All they did was serve; nothing about them was without intention.

 

Perhaps it was the absolute nature of their will that let them come to the glen. Perhaps it was because the Patrons knew where it was and were not beholden to the laws that governed Charges. Perhaps it did not really matter, because however it came to pass, a Blank Charge had come, and there was nowhere to hide. The grasses in the meadow were too shallow to cover them, and the crumbling pillars were too narrow to cover them both.

 

He and Harry exchanged a desperate glance, because this was the nightmare scenario. 

 

“Red Charge Harry, you have been summoned,” The Blank Charge announced, expression as unreadable as their tone. "Show yourself."

 

As usual, Harry made up his mind about what to do more quickly than Draco. “You hide,” he whispered furiously.

 

Dread and ice filled Draco’s stomach. He shook his head. “You’ll get caught!”

 

“They already know I’m here!” Harry hissed, then with a lazy smirk added, “Besides, I’m known to have a certain disregard for The Rules, leading innocent Charges astray into illicit affairs…”

 

“But—”

 

Harry didn’t give Draco the chance to argue. He dissolved his robes and stepped out in the meadow, absorbing sun much in the same way he’d been the first time Draco had ever seen him.

 

Draco regretted it, because he should have been out there with Harry. He regretted it, because he didn’t want to have to hide anymore. He regretted it, because in spite of the danger, he was jealous that anyone else should see Harry without his uniform. He was possessive of Harry just as he was, something Harry shared only with Draco.

 

The Blank Charge seemed unaffected by Harry’s state. They told him to suit up, he was being called in for a meeting with his captain for discrepancies. Draco could see the tension in Harry’s shoulders even from where he was hiding. He wished he could go out there, squeeze Harry’s hand, go with him to wherever he was being taken.

 

In that moment, he regretted that no one else knew or could know about their great, boundless, endless, eternal love.

 

 


 

Over the course of the next few weeks, Draco tried to find a good opportunity to speak to Harry, but one never came. Harry was always busy. Or he was avoiding Draco. 

 

It probably had something to do with Draco accidentally interrupting what was, apparently, a remedial potions lesson between Snape and Harry. One would have thought they’d be grateful for the interruption, considering how miserable they both looked, but Harry looked ready to drown himself in his cauldron when he saw Draco, and Snape looked like he'd drown Draco right after for stopping him. 

 

It probably also had something to do with Draco joining Umbridge’s sycophant squad.

 

Draco hadn’t wanted to join Umbridge’s stupid sycophant squad; any time spent in her company was ill-spent. But his mother passed along his ‘father’s hopes’ that he would join and hinted it would be good to ‘support their family friend Fudge’ as well as ‘ensure his O.W.L.s were seen by favourable eyes’. His father had always insisted that it was who one knew rather than what one knew that was important when it came to O.W.L. scoring. Draco thought that was a load of bullshite, considering that they’d sequestered him away all summer in the name of studying for the bloody things. Of course, that had been a ruse, but all the same. People who lie need a good memory, and it seemed to have slipped his father’s mind that Griselda Marchbanks, head of Wizarding Examination Authority, was neither a close family friend nor liable to become one. Lucius Malfoy certainly had nothing to offer her, though not for lack of trying; she had all the money and power she needed on her own and was too sharp to fall for an obvious attempt at cosying up to believe Lucius Malfoy wanted to be her friend.  

 

In the end, however, Draco’s joining the Toad Squad was a foregone conclusion. He consoled himself by the thought that he could attempt to lead the whole thing astray. It was difficult when brown-nosers like Montague were so keen on going above and beyond to enforce Umbridge’s tyranny. Probably because his N.E.W.T.s weren’t likely to score above Acceptable, and he wasn’t good enough at Quidditch to join even the minor leagues. So sycophantry was his best bet for post-Hogwarts employment.

 

Still. Knowing why he was doing it didn’t lessen the sting when Harry glared at Draco and his newly minted inquisitorial badge with confusion and disdain. Why? His eyes demanded. For you, Draco tried to say. 

 

He longed to explain, but he couldn’t very well send an owl to Harry, no matter how badly he wanted to. They did not speak outside their willow grove and the confines of Draco’s dreams. And no matter how vivid those dreams seemed, they were only dreams, nothing more.

 

The only explanation he could give was one of flowers, flowers he had not left since that horrible Quibbler Interview. Flowers he had not dared summon since then either, out of fear, vulnerability, frustration— 

 

Harry had always been honest with him. To a fault, perhaps; he bore the marks of his honesty on his skin. The least Draco could do was explain.

 

But even the least he could do was too much. He could not be sure he even deserved to explain, after everything. 

 

His mother sent him another letter, congratulating him on his "good decision to join the headmistress" as well as informing him not to come home for Easter Holidays. Stay at school and study, darling, it's the best thing you can do for your future. Give Pansy my regards.

 

Par for the course, then.

 

———

 

When Draco received an urgent summons to Umbridge’s office, he was eager to go, for once. He was still sulking over his stupid mistake in his Charms O.W.L.—how pathetic was he, smashing his wine glass all because the practitioner said Harry’s name? He thought that whatever Umbridge wanted, it would be a good distraction. Maybe he could yell at some first years, or watch Filch row across the Weasley Twins’ swamp again, or confiscate another firework to add to the end of year Pity Party stash when Slytherin inevitably lost the House Cup again.

 

When he saw his mother there waiting for him, all thoughts of O.W.L.s and house cup parties vanished; his stomach dropped with a horrible sense of foreboding. Something had happened, he knew. This was the thing he'd been dreading all year.

 

"Mother," he said, rushing to her side in as dignified a manner he could, "what's happened? Is father unwell?"

 

"Your father is fine,” she said gently, but there was a strange emotion in her eyes he couldn’t quite place. “Your Aunt Walburga is not, however."

 

"Aunt Walburga?" He frowned. "But she's already—"

 

"Come, Draco, there isn't much time. The Headmistress has given her permission for me to take you off campus for the evening."

 

He turned to Umbridge, gobsmacked and confused. "But, O.W.L.s are—"

 

"It's quite fine, Mr. Malfoy. Family is very important. A star student like you needn’t worry about a one evening set back, especially to have the chance to say goodbye to your favourite aunt."

 

Draco was unable to speak as his mother swept him toward the floo and hit him with a silent lip locker curse. "I'll have him back as soon as I can."

 

She didn't remove the curse until they were standing—kneeling—in the guest room fireplace.

 

"Mother. Aunt Walburga has been dead for years.”

 

His mother did not say anything. Her expression gave nothing away. She did not move.

 

He tried again, more directly this time. “What in Merlin’s name is going on? Why have you taken me out of school? And why are we in the guest suite?"

 

"So many questions, darling. You needed to be out of school this evening, and that's all you need to know."

 

Was he still so unworthy of the truth? "No! No one ever tells me anything—"

 

"Keep your voice down!” she hissed; eyes more fearful than angry. “And mind your tone."

 

Draco had never, not once, been told to keep his voice down in his own home. You deserve this, the small voice told him.You don’t like uncomfortable truths.

 

Draco ignored the voice; he had more pressing concerns at the moment than a personality flaw. "He's here, isn't he?" He said, voice steeped in simmering rage. "The Dark Lord."

 

She stood up and smoothed out her robes. He’d never seen his mother on her knees before, not for anything. The guest floo was not large enough for someone of her stature to fit through comfortably, and yet here they were. "I believe he's just left. If all goes to plan, our family will be safe."

 

"Safe?” Draco scoffed. “Why would we be in danger?" By this point, he knew exactly who his father worked for.

 

His mother pursed her lips together. He hadn't seen her in months, hadn't been home in over a year, and it was all wasted on the fury of being kept in the dark.

 

"Your father made some...miscalculations with an item that had been entrusted to him. But he knows how to get back in the good favour of those who matter."

 

More equivocation, then. "And am I party to that plan?" 

 

He didn't expect a real answer, and was thus unsurprised when his mother said, “all you need to do is be here. Nothing more."

 

They sat in the guest room for several hours, not talking and not moving. The sun set, but no lights came on in the Guest Suite as though even the Manor did not wish to acknowledge the undignified manner that Draco had been returned.

 

Nothing happened until a decrepit elf showed up with a crack, bowing his head low. "It is done, Mistress Black."

 

"Excellent. Be gone." The elf left, as quickly and mysteriously as he'd come.

 

"What in the nine hells was that all about?" Draco demanded. He didn't expect an answer, but he had to ask on principle.

 

"Nothing you need worry about, darling. Come, you can go back to Hogwarts now. You are not to speak to anyone of what happened here."

 

“Nothing happened,” Draco pointed out.

 

His mother pursed her lips but would not meet his gaze. “If anyone asks, you were bidding farewell to a dying family member.”

 

The feeling of incumbent tragedy did not leave him, even as he went to sleep. Sleep evaded him, and when he did doze off it was to nightmares of faces with far too many eyes and too much knowledge, in angry shades of all colours like a malevolent rainbow.

 

You asked for this, Draco. You were not ready; your hubris exacts its price. 

 

He felt the truth of the words even as the dream faded along with his memory of it. But the feeling stuck.

 

The next morning, Harry sat across the great hall, a haunted look and grief in his eyes. It reminded Draco of how Harry had been at the end of fourth year. After witnessing Diggory’s murder. His eyes grew wide when he saw Draco enter. He dropped his fork on the ground with a clatter and stood up with a bang heard across the hall. He looked prepared to vault the table and storm over to Draco, but Weasley and Granger held him back. Granger rubbed a soothing hand on his back while Weasley pulled him back to the bench and handed him a new plate and fork.

 

Draco didn't know what to make of it until the post arrived.

 

Splashed across the front page of the Daily Prophet was a picture of Harry, looking shell-shocked and dirty, with Dumbledore placing a comforting arm around his shoulders. Photograph-Harry didn't seem to notice. Above it was the headline HE'S BACK! DEATH EATERS IN THE MINISTRY: POTTER VINDICATED

 

Draco only read half the story about The Dark Lord breaking into the Ministry before he had to put it down to take care of his mother's owl, who demanded his attention. Of course Harry had gone and done something foolish at the end of the year. Was it a seasonal urge? Was it fate? Was it some cruel test?

 

Or, far worse, was it something Draco had been a part of somehow? 

 

His mother's letter did not quell his mounting anxiety. The plan failed; your father has been arrested. He had to put down the letter, unable to process. He took a few steadying breaths and read the rest in chunks. His father had been captured at the Ministry of Magic. He was being charged with breaking and entering, attempted murder, attempted theft of ministry property, assaulting minors, and hate crimes counter to the blood laws of 1982. He was going to Azkaban, denied bail. Trials to be set at a time to be decided, which meant he probably wasn’t getting a trial.

 

Prepare yourself, Draco. You will be expected at the Manor this summer. Don't forget: you are your father's son.

 

Draco was angry. And frightened. Whatever his father had been sent to do, he had failed. His father was safe in Azkaban. Draco and his mother, being outside Azkaban, were not safe.

 

It only seemed right that he go down to the Willow Grove one last time. The small voice of remaining conscience told him this might be the last time he came here: enjoy it. He didn't want to enjoy it. A part of him didn’t want to go at all; he was still angry. Angry with Harry for getting his father arrested. Angry with his father for being there in the first place and trying to hurt Harry. Angry that the Dark Lord was back, and angry that he didn’t know what role he’d be expected to play in all this. Angry that he might have already played a role, unbeknownst to him.

 

Had his puppet strings been cut, or merely handed over to a new puppet master? 

 

Like every other time he'd been there that year, Harry was absent. Who knew an absence could feel so heavy? To be denied the chance to explain, or demand an explanation…

 

As if summoned by thoughts of him, however, Harry appeared. Breathless (slightly), eyes red (teary), hands full of a parchment (old) and a silvery cloak (mysterious). "You're here," he said. Croaked, really. He sounded awful. Looked even worse.

 

It was the first thing Harry had said to him since their stupid fight over Quidditch, and already his heart was softening. Finally, he thought. I missed you, he wanted to say. I’m sorry.

 

Draco's traitorous heart clenched to see him this way. To see him at all. His voice cooperated and did not betray his wretched feelings. "Did you follow me here?"

 

"Yes," Harry admitted, shameless and honest as ever.

 

Draco leaned against the trunk of the willow before he fell over. He couldn’t quite bring himself to sit down, no matter how badly he wanted to, but he refused to look weak, either. "Well, maybe I don't want to see you right now."

 

"You're angry with me." Harry didn't sound surprised, just resigned.

 

"How can I not be angry? You put my father in prison." You almost died, and for what?   

 

Harry swallowed, worry and relief rapidly replaced with far darker emotions. "You've no idea—"

 

"No! You've no idea!" Draco interrupted, pushing off from the tree. "You've no idea what you've done, what will happen to me!” He laughed once without humour. “I have no idea what will happen to me! Why'd you have to go there? Why—"

 

"Believe me, if I could change the past I would." His voice was quiet but cutting. "You think I'm not angry? No one's angrier at Harry fucking Potter than me. I'm just so relieved you're alright." He took a step closer, eyes roving over Draco as though checking for injuries. "I knew you'd be angry, but I had to see you."

 

Draco was shocked speechless. That wasn't at all how he'd envisioned this going. "Why wouldn't I be fine?" He asked, sounding colder than he meant to.

 

Harry slumped over on the tree root, arms draped over his legs as he hung his head. "I saw it. You were hurt. In danger. Voldemort had you—"

 

Draco hissed. "Don't say that name!"

 

Harry pulled his head up and glared. "He had you, and said he'd kill you, then Sirius, then Remus—one every hour unless I came."

 

Draco sat there for a moment, quietly processing. Somehow, the Dark Lord had told Harry he’d kidnapped people Harry cared about. He cares about me. Draco knew that, but this was more than that. "So you went. Into an obvious trap."

 

"I thought he had you," Harry whispered, staring at the ground. “You weren’t here—”

 

"I was with my mother."

 

Harry’s head snapped up. "You weren't here, and Parkinson said—"

 

"You spoke to Pansy?” It was a difficult thing to imagine, but the fact that Harry had tried to confirm the truth before charging off to the ministry—the fact that he’d asked Pansy—well. Draco didn’t know what to think about that. “What did she tell you?"

 

Harry’s jaw clenched and unclenched three times before he answered. "She said you were with your aunt. Bellatrix, I thought."

 

Draco took a step closer. 

 

With painful clarity, he realized exactly what had happened. Umbridge must have told Pansy his mother’s lie, that he was saying goodbye to his Aunt. 

 

All to lure Harry into a trap. "I was with my mother," he repeated. He didn’t know how to feel, heart full of so many conflicting emotions that it amounted to a kind of numbness.

 

"Did you know?" Harry said after a beat.

 

"Did I know what?"

 

"Did you know what the plan was? To use you against me?"

 

"How can you ask that?" Draco demanded. "You think people tell me things? Even you don't tell me things, but you'll bloody well break into the Ministry because you have some barmy idea that the Dark Lord took me hostage!"

 

"I SAW it!" He insisted, up on his feet in a second. "And what haven't I told you?"

 

"Anything!” Draco yelled, with an entire year’s worth of frustration. “Everything!"

 

"Name one thing!"

 

"The graveyard! What happened during the third task—"

 

"I didn't tell anyone!"

 

"You should have told me!"

 

“Why?" Harry breathed heavily, eyes burning. "Did you want me to tell you how I watched Cedric die and I couldn’t do anything? How the man whose life I spared, who my father once called a best friend, who Sirius rotted in Azkaban for, tied me up and stabbed me? Stole my blood? Used it to revive the monster who murdered my parents? Or did you want to hear about how I was forced to duel Voldemort after he crucio-ed me three times? How my parents’ souls came out of his wand?"

 

Draco winced at the name but did not—could not—speak. You told the whole wizarding world in that dumb fucking interview, he wanted to say.

 

But he could not speak.

 

Harry’s eyes were spilling tears now, but his voice betrayed no weakness. Just exhaustion, and pain, and frustration of his own. "Please, forgive me if I thought you didn't want to hear about that, or how your dad was there, and how he grovelled before his so-called Lord, kissed his feet, swore fealty—"

 

"Shut up about my father!"

 

Harry did, then. Not for long, but the silence was worse than the yelling. Far too calmly, he continued, “He tried to kill me, you know. Your dad. I'm not sure whether he did it because he personally hates me, or to prove a point to Voldemort, or just—"

 

"Don't say that fucking name!"

 

"I'll say it if I want to!" Harry snapped. "He's been in my mind, in my body, shaped my life in every way!"

 

Draco didn't even know where to begin with that. “So you've kept all that inside just to what? Protect my innocence?"

 

Harry growled in frustration. "Merlin, you're such a prat sometimes! I didn't want to tell you because he's your dad! No one wants to hear that their dad sucks, actually, in spite of what you’ve always believed!"

 

Draco wasn't even sure what he was upset over anymore. He didn't want to hear these things about his father. He didn't want his worst fears confirmed. He didn't want to have to choose. "So you care so much that you kept secrets and kept your distance?"

 

Any calmness he’d collected had vanished as quickly as it came. "Yes! I did that to protect you! Is that so hard to believe? And I was right, too! You don't know—" he growled again and punched the willow, air crackling with electricity and ozone. "What if they'd really taken you?"

 

Draco felt cold, and numb, and too much all at once. "You could have asked my opinion on it."

 

Harry scoffed. "Oh, yes, that would have gone well. All year you act like you loathe me, won't look at me, mock my friends, mock me, join the inquisitorial squad, all while privately helping me, sending me flowers, and a glass house—and then you come here after a year of staying away and—and—I can't take it!"

 

For someone who claimed to have been worried and happy to see Draco, Harry really did seem more angry than anything else.

 

"I joined the Inquisitorial Squad to help you,"  he said, because out of all Harry’s valid complaints, that was the easiest to address.

 

"I know," Harry said darkly. 

 

Draco made a frustrated noise. “Then what’s the problem?”

 

Harry scoffed. "Nothing, according to you. I think I know you, but I can't figure you out. Dating Parkinson—"

 

"Not really. I told you I’m…that I prefer wizards." Even here, he couldn't fully admit it, and he hated himself and how weak he was, unable to be honest just this once.

 

“You didn’t, really. You hinted, and implied, but you never said —and anyway, that’s not the point —”

 

“Then what is the point? Enlighten me!”

 

“She was all over you, all the time!”

 

Draco opened his mouth to deny it, but the truth of Harry’s words caught up with him. He couldn’t believe it. All that denial, because it couldn’t be, and yet “—you were jealous? Over Pansy? Seriously?” he laughed once, still caught up in the threads of disbelief. 

 

“Go ahead, laugh it up," Harry growled, face red and splotchy, "You don't know what it was like, sitting there, watching that—"

 

"Excuse me, but you went on a date with Cho Chang—"

 

"That was a misunderstanding!" Harry interrupted, face impossibly redder. "I didn't realize—I thought she wanted to talk about Cedric."

 

"It was Valentine's Day," Draco said coolly, "How could you not know?"

 

"That's what Hermione said," Harry mumbled. "It just—it didn't occur to me."

 

“It didn't occur to you that a pretty girl asking you to go to Madam Puddifoot's on Valentine's Day was a date?" 

 

"We're friends! I didn't even realize it was Valentine's," he added miserably.

 

Draco was less angry than he had been, but it was all too raw still. "And Pansy is my friend. Nothing more." He almost pointed out the fact that he and Harry were not, technically, together, so Harry's jealousy was a moot point. But he understood all too well the pain of wanting something out of reach.

 

"Yes, and I'm not even that to you, am I? Not outside here," Harry said coldly. "Pansy gets to show you affection, and sit with you and—Pansy doesn’t have to leave flowers just to say I miss you! Pansy doesn’t have to pretend to hate you, or suffer all her friends asking what she sees in you, and how can she defend you—” Harry cut himself off, face red.

 

Draco was still upset, but it was rapidly being replaced with joy and wonder. “I didn’t know,” Draco said at last.

 

Harry scoffed. “Yes you did. You do.”

 

Draco felt his own face heating. “How could I? You haven't told me anything!”

 

Harry stared at him, gobsmacked. "I just did! And what about all those flowers? You of all people should know what they meant!"

 

Draco wasn't quite sure what Harry meant by that, but he was too frustrated to process it at the moment. "Your flowers were full of as many spiteful messages as kind ones!"

 

"Spiteful?" Harry repeated incredulously. 

 

"Yes, spiteful. And judgemental. Not all of us can just be who we are, who we want to be, say what we want."

 

"And you think I can? Where have you been all year?"

 

Draco sighed. He didn't want to start thinking about the Daily Prophet at the moment, and he especially did not want to think about the Quibbler. "That's my point exactly! You can tell the truth, if you want. And you do!” Draco continued, voice hoarse and unattractive.

 

"You could, too," Harry protested, begged. "Tell the truth."

 

Draco growled. “I can't."

 

"Your flowers are honest."

 

"It's not that simple!"

 

"Yes it is!"

 

"I have things and people to think about other than myself." Like my mother, he thought, but didn't say.

 

"And would they do the same for you?" Harry countered. What about your father? was left unsaid, but Draco heard it anyway.

 

The problem was, they were both right. "Do you know how hard it is to—you make me doubt everything I've ever known and believed! You make me want things I shouldn't, things that would ruin me, my family, my future—"

 

Harry’s face was red, voice thick with unshed tears. Draco didn’t think he could hold it together if Harry started crying again. Harry might be bold enough to share his tears; Draco wasn't.

 

"If that's how you feel, truly, then—"

 

But Draco wasn't finished. He had a year of pent up feelings to share. Maybe more than a year. "But I can't stay away! You're like a drug, or gravity, or—the fucking sun! I can't escape you, and I don't even want to! I can't decide if I should hex you or kiss you or—"

 

"Then why don't you try it?" Harry challenged, eyes burning. "Kiss me, hex me, do something! You must know what you want deep down, so if you could be a mate and let me know—"

 

"I want you, you berk!" Draco yelled. Harry, it seemed, didn't know how to respond, shocked into silence for once.

 

Draco was shocked himself, but why stop now? “I want to be allowed to just be Draco and Harry. To not have to fake-date Pansy, or work for that vile woman, or any of the things I'm sure you're thinking! But I'm not just Draco; I'm Draco Malfoy, and you're Harry Potter. What I want doesn't matter."

 

"And what about what I want?" Harry asked. "What about what we want?"

 

Draco scowled. "There is no 'we'. And I don't know what you want, because for all that you go on about honesty and truth you won't tell me anything!"

 

Harry stared at him like Draco was a particularly thick specimen of Devil’s Snare. Perhaps he was, but obstinance came easily to him, and he wasn’t about to stop now.

 

"I broke into the Ministry, walked into an obvious trap, to save you, and you say it's unclear to you what I want? How I feel?"

 

Draco hadn't noticed when Harry had gotten quite so close. 

 

Harry’s eyes were desperate and wild. He pulled out his wand and flicked his wrist—a silent orchideous. His flowers spoke devotion, and longing, and endless—it was that strange red flower he couldn't remember ever seeing before, but he knew it, and it was flowing over Harry's hand like a fountain of flame, but what was it called? Where was it from?

  

If he could only remember the name, he knew he'd understand something great and powerful. But the name escaped him.

 

Harry watched him, green eyes fierce and sincere and so damn full of everything Draco could ever have hoped to see there.

 

Draco imagined then exactly how things would continue if he let them. Harry would say something witty, and infuriating, and irresistible, and Draco wouldn’t be able to help himself. Malfoys take what they want, especially when offered like this. Draco wasn’t Malfoy here—he didn’t want to be, anyway. But Harry said, kiss me, hex me, and Draco wasn’t sure he knew the difference.

 

He could imagine it perfectly—he’d seen it in dreams that were both more than and average. He’d seen it in his waking mind, too, when he let his thoughts drift. Kissing Harry, those wicked lips that spit insults and truths and smiles and hexes and maybe, just maybe, kisses, too. For Draco, not Malfoy, wreathed in flame, thunder, ice, and flowers.

 

It would be gentle, soft, and chaste. Or maybe it would be hard, and awkward, with too much teeth and chapped lips and nervous smiles. But it would be them, and so it would be perfect.

 

He could imagine it perfectly, what it would do to him, as if he had already done it.

 

It would be everything, and it wouldn’t be enough.

 

"Do you understand now?" Harry said, voice soft as the susurrus of wind in the willows.

 

And the trouble was, Draco did. He didn't know this flower, but he knew what it meant. Denial never stood a chance in the face of such devotion.

 

“I do,” Draco said, voice barely a whisper. "But I can't—" he cut himself off, the words too final to speak aloud.

 

Harry understood, anyway. "Can't, or won't?" he challenged. "The rules don't matter here, Draco—"

 

"Yes, they do!" Draco interrupted. He took a deep breath. "Whatever my father was trying to do—he failed. I am expected at the Manor this summer, and I am my father’s son.” 

 

"I don't care who your father is—" Harry said, but Draco didn't think he could bear to hear the conclusion.

 

"But I do."

 

Harry nodded; eyes distant. Distant and understanding and disappointed and something softer Draco was afraid to name but knew like his own heart.

 

Draco knew what waited for him at the Manor. Who waited for him. He didn’t know if hope would sustain him, or ruin him, so he buried it deep inside with the facts.  

 

“My father was there, last year—” Draco's voice sounding wretched and weak and he hated it, he hated this “—at the graveyard. You said so, didn't you? Swearing fealty to him. And ever since, my mother—my parents have kept me away from the Manor. Hidden. They wouldn't tell me why; straight answers are not the way of my family, but I'm not an idiot, and I know who—I can't—I'm not strong enough. To be both safe and happy." He understood now what his mother had meant. "And already, I've been used against—if anyone knows, finds out, it could be—it's—you went there, to him, for me, and I can't—"

 

"I know," Harry said and all Draco's anger deflated, calmed by this unspeakable, beautiful thing between them. He couldn't name it, but he knew it like his own name.

 

“Draco,” Harry sighed, watery eyes searching Draco's face. “You don’t remember, do you?” 

 

“Remember?” Draco was raw and tired and not in the mood for vague questions. "Remember what?"

 

“A glass house, filled with our creations," Harry replied, nonsensically. His eyes burned with hope and desperation, as if those words should mean something more than they did.

 

They didn't.

 

A niggling sensation in his gut made him feel like he should know, but there was nothing. 

 

“What are you talking about?” He was irritable and tired and he just wanted…well. It didn’t matter what he wanted, in the end. It never did.

 

A cloud passed in front of the sun, casting them in shadow, and a cool breeze blew the willow branches gently. The leaves rustled, as if in protest, and Draco would have given anything to stay in this moment forever.

 

 Draco did not cry, even if he wanted to. Harry wouldn’t judge him, he knew. But he didn’t think either of them could bear it.

 

“Do you want to know?” Harry said, but Draco wasn't sure what he was asking.

 

A thousand answers filled his mind. I asked, didn't I? I want to know anything you'll tell me. You should know by now. Do you want to tell me? 

 

What he settled on was none of those things. “Do I want to know what?”

 

“The truth,” Harry replied. Like it was that simple.

 

The truth could mean so many things. And recently, Draco had shown he did not handle the truth well. 

 

“I’ll tell you, if that’s what you want," Harry promised. "No more secrets. Even if it's cheating, it might be worth it.”

 

Please trust me, he asked, in words and flowers and what lay between. As if Draco didn’t already trust him more than anyone.

 

“I’ll tell you any truth you want to know,” Harry continued, taking a step closer. He was close enough to touch, now. Close enough to feel the heat of Harry's body. Draco shivered. 

 

“I want to know—” everything, anything “—but some things are better left unsaid." His voice cracked twice, so he swallowed thickly and tried again. “You said it yourself: I’m a terrible liar.”

 

Harry scrubbed his eyes with the heel of his hand, a forced chuckle escaping. The sunny afternoon was giving way to rain, and Harry shrugged helplessly as though he were responsible. 

 

He looked up, no longer bothering to stop his tears. “I think you know, anyway. I’m not very good at it, either. Lying.” He took a deep breath and held Draco’s gaze, unsaid words passing between them. I’m sorry, so sorry. I wish, I wish, I wish. 

  

The dandelions around them bloomed devotion, and the asters wished for a different outcome, and the camellias sighed with longing. The seeds of all their floral messages, spelling out the words they could not say. Primrose and amethyst, dogwood and lilac, and a flowing red flower Draco could not remember the name of but knew the meaning of like he'd made it himself. 

 

Magic like this could not lie, and Draco could not pretend he didn't know what it meant.

 

“Take care, Draco,” Harry said at last, turning to leave the willow grove, and what he meant was goodbye.

 

The small voice that Draco knew now was his heart screamed in protest, pleading in words he did not know but understood anyway.

 

“Will you meet me here again?” he called after Harry. He had to say something; his heart demanded it.

 

Harry looked back and smiled. “As long as I can find you here.”

 

Draco tried to smile back, but he had a terrible feeling it didn’t quite come out. “Until next time, then,” he whispered, because it was far better than ‘goodbye’.

 

He turned his face away so he wouldn’t have to watch Harry leave. Harry didn’t say anything more, either. The sound of willow branches parting was so soft, it might have been the wind moving them.

 

And then Draco was alone, to cry and curse and hate himself and his circumstance. He plucked the flowers from the ground one by one, placing them gently in his pocket.

 

No matter what happened to him this summer, at least he had this: proof that once Harry Potter had loved him.

Chapter Text

Draco had barely disembarked the Hogwarts Express before he was whisked off by House Elves to a waiting carriage. His mother sat inside, looking pale and wan. She offered no words of comfort, no hugs, not even a glance his direction.

 

The reason why soon became apparent: "Surprise, nephew! Miss me?"

 

Draco did his best to keep a neutral expression. "Aunt Bellatrix."

 

"You do remember! I told you he would, didn't I, Cissy?" She leaned in close to kiss his cheek, breath rank from rotting teeth. "I haven't seen you since you were an itty, bitty, baby."

 

He climbed into the carriage like everything about this was normal, squelching the impending sense of doom as the door shut behind him. 

 

He was grateful he did not remember her, but he had a sinking feeling he was going to get a refresher. "How could I forget my favourite aunt?"

 

"Your only aunt," she cooed. 

 

Draco smiled. "Of course." 

 

His mother's hand twitched as the carriage lurched forward. "How was your year, Draco?" she asked, cool as anything. "I hope you aren't too tired from the journey." 

 

"He better not be. You've got a busy afternoon ahead of you. I've got so many things I want to ask you, Draco." Her eyes flashed dark, no trace of humanity inside. "So does my Lord."

 

Draco tried to catch his mother's eye, but she was staring resolutely out the window, knuckles clenched so tightly they were turning white. "You mean Uncle Rodolphus?"

 

Bellatrix grinned with gleeful malice. "No."

 

 

It was dark and cold in Wiltshire for summer, as though even the sun did not wish to shine there. The house loomed over him like a monolith; he had not seen it since he'd left it the spring of his fourth year, nearly a year and a half ago. The house hadn't changed physically, but there was something off about it he couldn't quite place.

 

Draco was ushered into the Ballroom and told to wait. In his own home. He'd never seen the ballroom look so morose; usually it was resplendent with decorations and fineries, with polished wooden floors, gleaming chandeliers, an orchestra in the corner…now it looked like half the stock of Borgin and Burkes had been relocated there, lining the walls like witnesses to untold misery. There were dark stains on the floors better left unacknowledged; the walls were covered in a dark layer of filth that he didn't want to contemplate too deeply; a low fire burned in the great fireplace, but its warmth did not reach Draco where he stood.

 

He heard people entering room behind him, but he couldn't see who it was or how many of them there were without turning around, and he was far too anxious to move, let alone look into the eyes of every individual who had chosen to be here. They did not speak to him or to each other, but he felt the weight of their collective gaze beating down on him nonetheless. He could not help but to feel that he was being put on trial, though for what he could not say.

 

Draco waited for over an hour before he arrived, sweeping into the ballroom as though a party were being thrown in his honour: the Dark Lord. His magic filled the space around him with violence and chilling hate, announcing his presence far before Draco even saw him. 

 

Seeing him did little to change Draco's opinion. Draco could hardly stand to look at the man when he spoke. Those unnatural red eyes, that deathly pale skin…

 

He was a monster.

 

“Young Draco. At last, we meet." A voice like cold water, soaking into his skin and raking the walls of his being with sharp claws of despair. "I’ve been so eager to finally meet the young man I've heard so much about." Perfectly polite, as long as it suited him. "I've been asking for you for quite some time—you were indisposed all last summer, as I understand?”

 

Meeting him had been presented to Draco as an honour, like a visitation with a king. Draco wondered if there had ever been a time when he might have believed it. When this power and influence would have struck Draco with awe rather than with the horror he felt presently. If he would have felt graced by The Dark Lord's presence in his home once, or if he would've been irritated at the man's arrogance; the way he walked around like he owned the place. For the moment, he might as well have; Draco certainly wasn't going to say anything about it, and if his mother's behaviour thus far were any indication, she didn't plan to, either.

 

As for his father…well. He wasn't here, was he?

 

The incongruity between his manner and the monstrosity of his mien set Draco's teeth on edge. But two could play at courtesy, and Draco had been trained by and among the best.

 

He bowed his head and showed proper deference, as was only polite. “My Lord, had I known you wished to see me, I would have come to you at once.”

 

The Dark Lord paused significantly before asking, “You did not know?" He turned to Draco's mother. "How can this be? I sent summons, did I not, Narcissa?”

 

Draco felt his mother tense beside him.

 

“I didn’t read any of my letters," Draco said quickly, but not too quickly, thinking of a lie—any lie—to protect her. To protect himself, too. "I ordered the elves send all the owls away. I wanted to focus on my studies.”

 

The Dark Lord hissed something in Parseltongue to an enormous snake—an enormous snake that Draco had not noticed until this moment. It uncoiled itself from a dark corner of the ballroom, slithering up to the Dark Lord. Draco could not understand the words, but shivers went up his spine at the sound of the strange snake language. To think there'd been a time when he would have given anything to share the ability…

 

With a final sibilant whisper, the snake went gliding off, past Draco and deeper into the manor. He hoped he had not sentenced the elves to the fate of being snake food. But better them than his mother. Better anything and anyone than his mother.

 

“I see. It's true that education is very important. You are part of the next generation, after all, the worthy who will lead the world. It would hardly be right to punish you for prioritizing your studies, especially when you remained ignorant.”

 

It did not escape Draco's notice that the Dark Lord did not offer forgiveness; not that Draco expected any.

 

“Thank you, My Lord, for understanding,” he managed.

 

"Oh, if only it were so simple as understanding, Draco! I could have used your insight last year." The Dark Lord sighed, almost wistful. "There's only so much one can see in a dream, even for one such as myself. And had I known sooner that some of them were more than just dreams, well…" he chuckled, the sound cold and cutting. "It was intriguing, being inside the mind of Harry Potter."

 

All the blood drained from Draco's face. He could not speak; dared not open his mouth. Harry’s words came to his mind unbidden: He's been in my mind, in my body, shaped my life in every way! He hadn't thought Harry had meant it literally, but he should have known. Harry wasn't one for metaphors and allegories; that was Draco's purview.

 

He thumbed the pendant in his pocket, wishing it could give him luck, grace, or whatever it took to survive this encounter. 

 

The Dark Lord prattled on to his captive audience. “I saw some of the most fascinating things in there. All his fears, his insecurities. Beautiful weaknesses ripe for exploitation. And exploit I did. Perfectly." He smiled inhumanly wide, showing too many teeth.

 

Draco clenched his jaw, grateful that he had not eaten anything before this meeting.

 

"Alas, things do not always go to plan when you hand the reins to someone else. As I'm sure you're aware, I experienced a…disappointment this June. A setback in my plans." He sighed and shook his head, as though what happened at the Ministry had been nothing more devastating than a mistaken order at a restaurant and not a complete failure that exposed his return to the Wizarding World.

 

"I was not informed of the details," Draco said carefully.

 

"Ah, the details," he echoed, "that is where the devil lives, as they say. Here is a detail you might be unaware of: you, too, played a part in my plan, Draco. Ah, but you needn’t worry. You did not fail me. You played your part perfectly, even if you were not aware of your involvement. You see, Draco, I’ve always believed that if something can be used, you should use it.” The Dark Lord walked around the room, letting the silence crawl over Draco. He wondered if it were a magical effect or just his imagination getting away from him, summoning the sensation of bugs creeping over his skin, scratching, searching for a weak point to burrow.

 

“That said, I try not to put much stock in hearsay. Everyone likes to think they have valuable information, but rarely do they have anything useable. Rumours, on the other hand…" he paused, humming thoughtfully. "Rumours you should listen to. Even if they amount to nothing, rumours often contain the seeds of truth. And speaking of rumours, I heard a rumour, Draco. About you."

 

Draco froze. "A rumour, my Lord?"

 

"Yes," he said, "A rumour. This rumour, Draco, was that you were what the Sorting Hat decided Harry Potter would miss most."

 

Draco kept his gaze down, terrified of what his eyes might communicate. 

 

"I understand that your father thinks we should not trust the judgement of an old hat." The Dark Lord drifted away, inspecting the heirlooms around the room. He picked up a hand of glory, easily dismissing the curse on it as though it were no more than a first year's jinx. "Curious, really, that he should think that, isn't it, Draco? After all, he has placed a lot of value in…old hats. And the Sorting Hat is not merely old; it is a relic! Did you know it belonged to Godric Gryffindor, originally?"

 

It took a moment for Draco to realize he was expected to respond. "I did not, my lord."

 

“You see, everything has its use. Relics, old hats, trinkets. Even Gryffindors!” That won him a laugh from the audience of Death Eaters Draco had all but forgotten about.

 

"But perhaps your father merely does not know how to value things he does not possess. He's certainly been careless with my possessions." The Dark Lord glanced over the hand of glory a moment longer before depositing it back on the mantelpiece. He made his way back over to Draco, bringing his cold and rotting magic with him. "Opinions on the hat and its value notwithstanding, it's very strange that it should think that you are the one Harry Potter would miss the most."

 

Draco’s stomach filled with ice, and he was certain he would not survive this.

 

"In years past, I might have ignored this particular rumour. It's just too unlikely, is it not? That Harry Potter should, more than anyone else, miss the son of my most ardent supporter? Well, most ardent by his own estimation," he added, with a rueful chuckle. He leaned closer to Draco, lowering his voice as though they were in on a secret together. "It sounds like the kind of thing someone who wanted to take his place would make up, doesn't it?"

 

"Or to put Lucy back in his place," Aunt Bella sang from the back of the room.

 

He pulled back, pacing away again. "In any case, a childish lie. But then, you might recall, I was privy to the inner sanctum of Potter's mind last year. I don't need hearsay or old hats to know what he thinks about. And so the rumour that Harry Potter should feel that way about you is…" He waved his hand expansively. "Plausible."

 

Cold sweat rolled down Draco's neck. He stared at the floor, eyes unseeing. His mouth was dry and he could hardly hear for the blood pumping through his ears. 

 

"Though it’s hard to say what he feels, precisely," the Dark Lord continued, "only that you are almost constantly on his mind. Curious, isn't it?”

 

Pale feet advanced toward Draco, stopping just before him. "Look at me, Draco."

 

Draco did, reluctantly, trying his best to remember everything he knew about occlusion, which felt like not nearly enough in this moment.

 

"I asked you a question. When your betters ask you a question, you are to answer it. Don't they teach that at Hogwarts these days?” The Dark Lord paused, smiling a terrible smile that could only mean bad things for Draco. “I said, curious isn't it?"

 

Draco nodded. "Yes, My Lord. But P-Potter's always been a bit off, hasn't he?"

 

The Dark Lord narrowed his eyes. "I heard another bit a of news, I'm afraid, that you agreed to participate in a task during the Triwizard Tournament. The one where Harry Potter had to rescue you from the Black Lake. You might recall?" The cruel laugh did not put Draco at ease. "And I tried to think of a reason why you would do that. True, my glorious revival had not yet come to pass at the time, but still. Why?"

 

Draco forcibly willed his clammy hands to relax and jaw to unclench. "Honestly, my Lord, I thought it would humiliate him—"

 

"Humiliate him?" The Dark Lord interrupted. "How so?"

 

"H-having to rescue me, his known rival, or if he refused, forfeiting the second event. I didn't think about why I was—I didn't know that—"

 

The Dark Lord clucked his tongue in reproval. "Pettiness is not becoming of a young master, Draco."

 

Draco nodded once, unable to find his voice.

 

"So, you did not know before today how frequently you have been the subject of Harry Potter's thoughts? Answer me,” he hissed. Draco felt a sharp pang in the back of his mind. Not quite a cruciatus curse, but close enough to threaten. To show that he could and was choosing not to. For now.

 

“N-no, My Lord,” Draco whispered, nails biting into his palms. It wasn't even a lie; he'd had some idea—of course he had, based on what had happened at the end of term—but mostly Harry seemed content to ignore Draco in the past year. The thought that he was almost constantly on Harry's mind…Draco didn't know where to even begin with that, except that this was not the way he wanted to find out. Tainting something that should have been pure, and good, by having it delivered here, in this setting…

 

The Dark Lord smiled. "So obedient. What a good boy you are, Draco. Of course you didn't know, how could you?" The Dark Lord stroked Draco's cheek with his long, spidery fingers. A poor and unwelcome imitation of affection.

 

Draco bit the inside of his lip to keep from recoiling. He tasted copper and fear, and he hated this.

 

"No need to be frightened, Draco! I believe you, of course. You wouldn't lie to me, would you? I have no need for liars in my world, after all. Nor do I have need for failures. Your father said he could redeem himself, and he did not. So, he either lied, or he failed me. Perhaps both,” he added, raising his eyebrows as though the thought had not occurred to him before this moment. "I might have succeeded in killing Harry Potter at last, had it not been for your father's incompetence. Unfortunately, Lucius is not here to pay for his own mistakes.

 

“But Draco, you are here, and you are your father's son, are you not?"

 

"My Lord, surely there is something—" his mother began, but one cold look from the Dark Lord silenced her.

 

“There is no better apology than changed behaviour, Narcissa." He fixed his scarlet gaze back on Draco. "Now, Draco, unlike your father, you have never failed me. Perhaps you acted foolishly, and perhaps it started some rumours that leave a bad taste in the mouth, but that isn’t your fault. Rumours contain the seeds of truth, yes, but do not necessarily bear fruit. And so, Draco, I’m offering you a once in a lifetime opportunity. Something only you can do: redeem your father’s name and ensure that the foul rumours started about you bear no fruit.  And you want to do that, don't you, Draco? Serve me, atone for your father's sins?"

 

Draco jerked his head in a shaky nod. 

 

The Dark Lord smiled. He knew he'd won, as did Draco. "I knew you would, Draco."

 

"What would you ask of me?"

 

“My Lord, if I might,” Snape said, stepping from the shadows. Draco hadn't even known Snape was there until that moment.

 

The Dark Lord withdrew his hand; never had Draco been more grateful for his head of house. "Speak freely, Severus. You are among friends."

 

“I, too, was inside Potter’s mind last year, attempting to teach him occlumency. On Dumbledore’s orders, for all the good that it did.”

 

“Severus,” the Dark Lord said with cheerful curiosity, “How ever did you get away with failing that mission on purpose? It must have been very important to Dumbledore that Harry learn it.”

 

It sickened Draco to hear Harry's name pass so casually on such vile lips. Like the Dark Lord had any right to call him Harry. Like he had any right to speak of him at all.

 

“I did not have to try very hard to fail, My Lord," Snape drawled, "Potter is ill-suited to the practice of occlusion, and was unwilling to learn, besides. But I saw very clearly what he thinks about many things, including Draco.”

 

Draco was now beginning to doubt that Snape had stepped in to save him, after all.

 

“Oh? And what does he think about young Mr. Malfoy? Enlighten us, Severus.”

 

Snape lifted his lip in disgust. “Potter is very much like his father. An arrogant fool. He fancies Draco as a…rival to better show off his own skills and popularity." Snape glanced at Draco, but his expression, as always, gave nothing away about what he might be thinking. "It is ego that drives Potter's fixation on Draco, with a hero complex big enough to rival Dumbledore's. Nothing more.”

 

Draco knew for a fact it was far more than ego that drove Harry. Especially when it came to Draco, if he'd meant what he'd said and done at the end of term. And Harry rarely said and did things he did not mean. For better or worse, he was incurably honest.

 

"In any case, I do not think your plan to use Draco as a…provocateur of seduction will succeed."

 

Draco paled as the implications of why he had been brought before the Dark Lord became clear.

 

The Dark Lord narrowed his eyes. “As always, Severus, your insight is most valuable. And perhaps you are right! Perhaps mere contempt is Harry Potter's primary draw to Draco. But even so…I do not think it was contempt that drove me from his mind and body in June. Nor was it mere contempt that had him flocking to me and certain death to protect his weaknesses.

 

"And now, as back then, I would be remiss if I did not use his fixation to my advantage, whatever the nature of that fixation may be.” The Dark Lord replied, tone chilly. "Let us hear what Draco has to say on the matter."

 

Snape and the Dark Lord turned to Draco. "I-I'm afraid I don't fully understand what it is you're asking of me, my Lord."

 

"Why, I'm asking you to exploit Harry Potter's weakness: You."

 

"In what way?" he squeaked.

 

There was a moment of silence until the Dark Lord burst out laughing. Soon the room filled with raucous laughter as everyone else joined in.

 

"My dear boy," the Dark Lord said, sobering instantly, "surely you are not so naive? You are nearly a man now!"

 

"I see." Draco's knees felt weak, heart heavy. "B-but I do not think I can do that."

 

"Why not? Because he is a boy? Is that the problem?"

 

His face burned, in shame, in anger, in desperation. The pendent in his pocket seemed to burn, too, but it was surely just his imagination. "Because I hate him! He put my father in Azkaban—"

 

"Your father did that to himself."

 

Draco took a steadying breath. Getting upset would win him no favours here. "Potter will not trust such advances. He will not trust me."

 

"Do not undersell yourself, Draco," the Dark Lord cooed, "He is quite fixated, believe me, and any lingering mistrust can surely be assuaged by your beauty. Unless it is your skill you doubt?"

 

Snickers filled the room behind him, and Draco hated. He wanted to wretch, to scream, to blast the smug looks off every face in the room.

 

Instead, he lifted his chin, proud as anything. "I do not doubt myself, or your judgement. But even if, as you say, Potter is… fixated on me, I have seen no evidence of any affection from him. He has no reason to think I would welcome that attention, either, and no matter what he might want from me, he would see through any attempts to use that against him."

 

"Sounds like you know him well," the Dark Lord observed, tone carefully neutral, "But I know him better. I have seen his most carefully guarded secrets…"

 

"Is he not aware of that? Would he not be suspicious that—" Draco choked, words cutting off as the cold swell of the Dark Lord's magic overwhelmed him, lifting him onto his toes just enough to see the knife's edge he walked. "I-I apologize," he eked out, "for my impudence—"

 

The magic ebbed away, but he felt the residue of it crawling over his skin. He inhaled deeply, voice hoarse as he gulped air into his lungs. He cursed himself silently, for letting his fury make him careless.

 

The Dark Lord watched, mouth tilted in amusement. "Do not speak out of turn, Draco, lest someone think you're being disrespectful."

 

Snape stepped up next to the Dark Lord, commanding his attention. "He is undoubtedly an insolent brat, but Draco is right. Though it pains me to say it, Potter is smarter than he seems, my Lord, and prone to suspicion. He reacts to every hiccup like the worst-case scenario that only he can solve, a flaw you've used against him before. In any case, there is too much bad blood between Potter and Draco for any ploys of romance to be believable."

 

The Dark Lord said nothing as he stared into the fireplace, eyes unblinking, more snake than human. It seemed to spark and writhe under his gaze. "Very well. I had hoped to take Harry Potter out from under Dumbledore's protection, but as that is not a viable option…we shall have to break him some other way…though I had so hoped to enjoy watching his heart shatter before his inevitable end…" The Dark Lord cricked his neck, as though dislodging an unpleasant thought, and fixed his attention back on Draco. "Since you can not—will not—seduce Harry Potter, I will use you elsewhere.

 

"Chief among my disappointments this past year was your father's failure, yet again, to suppress Dumbledore’s ever-present interference. As he lives and breathes, my goals are unable to advance." He cricked his neck again, an angry tick. "The old fool knows he cannot kill me, knows I am stronger, but he's slippery enough to escape every encounter we have. He will continue to slow our progress while hiding away in that impenetrable castle, knowing he is safe there where I cannot trespass.

 

"But you, Draco…you can get inside, can’t you? Studies are so very important, after all, and Hogwarts is a place for learning.”

 

He stalked over and placed a cold finger under Draco’s chin, forcing him to look up into crimson eyes. “You will find a way to let my Death Eaters into the school, Draco, and you will find a way to kill Albus Dumbledore. I know you can do it. I don’t think the Malfoy Family could bear the shame of failing me yet again. After all, what use do I have for a family who cannot deliver anything but disappointment and empty promises?”

 

The Dark Lord removed his finger, but Draco could not look away. “I will not fail you,” he said, even as he wondered how he could be expected to do what even the Dark Lord had not. It was impossible.

 

“I’m certain you won’t.” The Dark Lord walked away, staring into the fire. Draco thought perhaps he would be allowed to leave at this point, but apparently the Dark Lord was not finished with him.

 

He turned to Draco and walked to him slowly, bare feet pale and grotesque on the floors. “As for Harry…I think we must show him that the things he holds dear will all belong to me in the end, and always have."

 

He smiled cruelly, holding out a veiny, pale hand. "Kneel, Draco. Give me your arm, and your fealty. Do this, and I shall find it in me to forgive.

 

"Give me your arm, and your life, and I will give you a gift far greater than even the deep pockets of the Malfoy coffers can buy.”

 

 


 

Despair was not an emotion Draco was familiar with, thus he could not say for certain it was what he was feeling. He knew inadequacy, and disappointment, and frustration, and anxiety. He'd experienced the other end of the spectrum as well, in joy, and promise, and delight, and passion. 

 

He knew dark emotions; he knew bright ones. This was different. This felt numb, and dull, like a veil had been pulled over his senses. It felt like stepping out on an iced-over lake and feeling it crack—perhaps even hearing it, small but certainly there. Waiting, waiting waiting—for the crack to spread, to fall through the ice, for a freezing tomb to rob and dull and numb the senses one by one, waiting for the end—but nothing happens. There's a crack in the ice, but there's nowhere to go but forward, while waiting waiting waiting for a terrible fate, one way or another.   

 

Draco had waited for far longer than he should have for Harry to return after he went off with the Blank Charge. Draco stayed in the meadow, and Draco waited, watching the unnatural sky cycle through morning day evening night, through winter fall summer spring. It could have been an hour. It could have been a hundred years. He stayed in the meadow, hoping at any moment Harry's carmine uniform and charcoal hair would appear on the horizon, and he waited.

 

Or perhaps he'd wake up, and the whole thing would have been a dream. Charges didn’t need to sleep, and Draco rarely did, but he still knew what it was like to dream. Dreams were Harry, and a glass house, and dancing to music only half remembered. This was no dream, if he were truly asleep. It was not a nightmare either, because nothing bad had happened yet.

 

Nothing he knew of, anyhow, and that was half the source of his torment. The waiting, and the not-knowing, and the wondering when the ice would break.

 

He waited and waited, but Harry did not return, and Draco did not wake up.

 

Eventually, he'd had no choice but to return to Green Sector and hope that the next time he went to the meadow, Harry would be there. With his warm smile, his reassuring confidence, a promise that everything was fine. That they were fine. That they were safe, that their happiness was not at risk.

 

He trudged through his work, relying on habit rather than skill to get through the cycle. All he could think about was getting through it, and sneaking off, and putting this churning dread to rest. One foot in front of the other, crack

crack

crack

Waiting, waiting, waiting, for nothing or for everything, to end, to begin again, to know one way or the other. 

 

———

When Draco was finally free to return to the meadow, Harry was not there. He was not there the time after that, or the time after that, either.

 

Though there was nothing arranged about their meetings, from the first time they'd met, Harry had always been there when Draco was. Waiting for Draco in their meadow.

 

Now Draco stood alone in their meadow and waited. He watched the sky, churning with a storm that would stay on the horizon unless someone—unless Harry—beckoned it over. It flashed and bellowed and darkened and brewed, but it did not come closer.

 

To think he could lose someone so precious to him, and he might never know why. Or if it even had happened. Or if he could do anything about it to help, or to follow wherever Harry had gone, even into oblivion—

 

Despondency. Without hope. Without Harry. Senseless anger without direction, that he might never know what had happened or who was to blame for this perpetual sense of loss—

 

For the first time, Draco thought he might understand how to make a storm.

 

But he dared not draw it closer, even if it might listen to him in this moment. In the abandoned sector they'd claimed as their own, that was Harry's job, and to do it for him would be to admit Harry was not coming back. Draco was not ready to admit that, not yet. But if he ever did...he would not abandon this place. If thunderstruck was the only state he could see Harry again, then he'd feel it.

 

It was not necessarily despair Draco was feeling, but perhaps he could add it to his lexicon of emotions.

 

He did his work and made his flowers, all of them white; blank as the Charge that had taken Harry away. He planted their seeds in the redgreenblack meadow and bid them to grow, blooming the nameless emotions that consumed him.

 

Draco didn't get to name the flowers he created, but if he'd named these, they would have been 

 

Sorrow 

 

Agony 

 

Grief 

 

Despair 

 

———

——

As a rule, Unbonded Charges did not interact with Bonded pairs. They were in a class of their own, the upper echelon, the best of the best and a goal for the rest to strive for. As far as Draco knew, it was not forbidden for them to mingle with the Unbonded, but there had to be a reason they did not.

 

Draco had certainly never had reason to approach them, even as a Bonded Charge himself. They didn't know he was like them, of course, but he worried they might sense it somehow. They might even consider him an abomination, an affront to their own Bond and a disgrace to everything a Bonded Charge was meant to be.

 

He'd avoided them like the plague out of fear, but he was considering seeking out their aide now. Because he wasn't sure if it were normal to feel separation from his bonded like a physical pain. He had no wound he could see, and he could function normally, but Harry was all he could think about; perhaps it was psychosomatic or a result of long-term anxiety, but he knew the cause was missing Harry.

 

It was agonizing being away from him; not knowing what had happened; to have no way of finding out more without potentially making things worse. He didn't know if asking the bonded pairs would do any good, anyhow; bonded were generally not separated if they succeeded their test. They might not know the pain of being separated, since it was considered cruel to do so; and if this was what happened, then truly, it was cruel.

 

He didn't have anyone to talk to about it, though, to unburden his concerns. The one he talked to when he felt any degree of anxiety was Harry. 

 

Still, every cycle, every fallow period, he went to the meadow. He had to believe that one day it would be good for something, even if that something was only the confirmation of his deepest fears.

——

———

 

He did not know how long it had been since he'd last seen Harry—Harry was the mark he used to measure his time. Time had not had meaning before he'd known Harry. He hadn't thought it was something a non-mortal could understand, but it had been so long that eternity had carved its shape inside his heart in countless lines that spelled Harry Harry Harry—

 

The acute relief he experienced when he saw black hair, red robes, green eyes, Harry, sitting between the golden pillars like no time had passed at all, waiting for Draco like he always did, filling the gaping wound that no one could see but he'd felt all the same with every gasping, shallow breath—

 

"Harry…?"

 

Draco wasn't sure if he ran to Harry, or if Harry came to him. He might have been too shocked. It might have been the tension escaping his body in a rush, leaving him weak. It might have been everything all at once, and nothing at all, breath stuttering in his chest, heart bursting with fullness, revived, brought back from a ledge he didn't know he'd been so close to.

 

And Harry was there, wrapping his arms around Draco, kneeling with him on the ground like he, too, had lost the ability to stand. He whispered apologies and affirmations and seekingfindinggivingtaking relief of his own. Draco almost couldn't believe it—he'd hoped and waited and imagined and despaired for this moment, and here it was.

 

"Draco," Harry said, over and over again, "Draco, Draco, Draco." His face was lined with tears spanning every color of emotion. Joy and warmth and pain and sorrow. He brushed Draco's cheeks with his thumbs, kissed Draco's eyelids with his lips, nestled his nose in Draco's hair, in constant movement but never straying far.

 

"Where have you been?" Draco asked, voice raspy and plaintive and terrible terrible terrible but he didn't care, Harry was here—

 

Harry smiled, painful and lovely. "I couldn't get away, I couldn't get back to you," he said, and Draco could see his heart cracking like thin ice warmed over as he remembered and explained. "I tried every day. Someone was with me every moment. Watching, cataloguing. I couldn't risk it—risk you."

 

Cold fear gripped Draco where moments ago there had only been the sweet warmth of relief. "What? Why? Did they—do they know?"

 

They couldn't know. If they knew, Harry wouldn't be here, Draco wouldn't be either, and—

 

Harry shook his head, running a hand down Draco's arm as if to reaffirm its shape and substance. His hand was warm and electric, just like it always had been, like Draco had desperately tried to remember and imagine and recreate every moment they'd been apart. His memories hadn't done justice to Harry's touch; nothing was like the real thing.

 

"No, no, they don't know." He kissed Draco's hand. "I came as soon as I could. When I knew it was safe, that no one was watching. I couldn't risk it, risk you," he said again. His eyes were wet, lips pressed into a thin line. "I am sorry. It must have been unbearable for you."

 

"I came every day to look for you," Draco said, in lieu of answering the unasked question.

 

Harry closed his eyes and held Draco's hand to his cheek. "Thank you for not giving up. No matter how painful the separation."

 

So it hurt you, too? In ways beyond words?

 

But he didn't say that, not yet. "You thought I'd give up?" Draco's throat worked. "That I'd stop coming, abandon—" our everything, our place, our promises— 

 

"I didn't think you would," Harry said, eyes earnest and fierce and blazing. Then, more quietly added, "I hoped you wouldn't. But…but I also hoped…if something had happened to me, I'd want you to go on, be happy even without—" 

 

"It was unbearable." For all that was bubbling forth from inside him, and for all that he was cutting off a terrible thought he couldn't bear to hear spoken aloud, Draco's voice was a soft, tenuous thing. "Being without you, not knowing anything..." He looked down at their clasped hands, pale ice against warm ochre, a confirmation that this was real. Harry was here. "I thought you were dead. If you had been, I don't think I could…It was unbearable."

 

Charges didn't die, not really. Death was a mortal concept, through and through. But like many things he'd once thought beyond his ability to understand, Draco understood death. The fear, and the loss, and the finality of it.

 

"I'm sorry," Harry croaked. It sounded terrible, and lovely, and Harry was here.

 

"Did you really think I might give up?"

 

Harry gave a shrug. "Half the time I thought you might come storming into Red Sector, demanding to see me."

 

"I may have considered it a few times." Draco smirked. "You really have led me astray, off the path of reason into brash actions." 

 

Harry smiled, but it didn't quite reached his eyes. What aren't you telling me?  But it was too soon to ask. For now, he wanted to revel in the hereness of the moment.

 

It was too much and not enough and Draco's heart didn't have strength or space to stay in these feelings right now.

 

Harry wasn't dead, he was here, and he didn't have to find out what he would do if those things weren't true. Not today. Not ever. “Why were you summoned, then?”

 

A dark look crossed Harry’s face at the question. “Nothing bad. At least, not from their point of view." He began pulling flowers from the ground—his named flowers for unnamed emotions—and weaving them into a crown. Draco wondered if Harry could feel what eat flower meant, if by plucking them he meant to say you don't need these anymore, I'm here. 

 

"My superiors just wanted to talk. The Blank Charge didn’t even tell them where she found me,” Harry continued, expression almost baffled. Like he still couldn't believe it.

 

Draco couldn't believe it, either. “So they don’t know about us coming here, our meetings…our…bond?”

 

“No,” Harry said. He wouldn’t quite meet Draco’s gaze, fiddling with the crown, adding more flowers. “My supervisor wanted to give me a commendation.”

 

“Oh,” Draco said, trying to match the words with Harry’s troubled expression, “that’s good, isn’t it?”

 

Harry pressed his lips together. “They said they want to submit me for promotion.”

 

“I'm still not seeing where this is a bad thing.”

 

He turned his stormy eyes on Draco. “Because, Draco, getting a promotion means I’ll be busier! It means people will pay more attention to me. They already are, if the managers following me around are any indication. You don't know what I had to do to get away today! And—” he cut himself off, looking away “—my supervisor hinted they were thinking of beginning the process for finding me a bond.” He rested his head on Draco’s shoulder, lips pressed to his back, muffling his voice. “With a Red Charge.”

 

Draco couldn’t speak for a moment. The words hit like a fist to the stomach, the phantom pain of potentially being separated again—permanently—gnawing a new hole in his heart. “…oh. What did you…?”

 

He felt more than saw Harry shake his head. “I told them I wasn’t ready. I know they won’t match someone who doesn’t want it, but I have no good reason to say no. They insisted I consider it, start the preliminary actions. I was so stupid,” he growled, fisting his hands in Draco’s uniform, “I thought if I got in line, and worked harder, they’d leave me alone. That they wouldn’t suspect—”

 

“You didn’t do anything wrong,” Draco soothed, “And you certainly aren’t stupid.”

 

"It feels like I've done something wrong." Harry scoffed, but Draco could see he was smiling. “I wanted more down time to spend with you, and look where it got me. Promoted."

 

"Only you would be disappointed about a promotion," Draco teased. He was hardly in the mood for joking, but he feared if he didn't make light of the situation, the darkness that ever hovered around the periphery would drag them down. 

 

Harry sighed, turning his head to look up at Draco. "And here I thought it was a good thing I wasn’t being lectured so much.”

 

“You? Getting lectured? Perish the thought. What could you ever do to get a lecture?"

 

"Insubordination," Harry admitted, smile spelling trouble for Draco's heart.

 

 "Insubordination? My, my. I never."

 

Harry seemed to decide the best way to respond to that was to tackle Draco and cover him in kisses. "I'll show you insubordination, greeny."

 

Draco gave as good as he got, cataloguing every inch of Harry’s body; with his eyes, with his hands, with his mouth. Nothing was enough to reassure Draco; he felt he had to make up for all those missed moments immediately and ten times over. No matter how many times Harry promised he was alright, that he wasn’t in trouble, that they hadn’t been discovered, the fear lingered. But he pushed the fears down, pretended they weren't there, or that they weren't important. He didn't want to think about everything that could go wrong now, the danger they might be in, the fact that Harry's supervisors wanted to pair him with someone else. He didn't want anything to poison this or any beautiful moment between them.

 

With every kiss he demanded the things he couldn't ask for aloud. Never leave me again. Promise you'll always come back to me. Don't ask me to bear being apart.

 

Say you'll be mine, and only mine, forever.

 

 

Sometime later, they were sweaty and sated and sweet with affection, wrapped lazily together that there was no meaningful difference between where one of them began and the other ended.

 

"You never told me, before," Draco said, as casually as he knew how, "that you used to get in trouble with your supervisors.”

 

Harry pressed his lips to Draco’s neck, voice soft. “Didn’t wanna worry you.”

 

“So you just went off worrying yourself?” Draco huffed. “What happened to sharing things?”

 

“I wasn’t worried.

 

"No. You never are, are you?"

 

Harry folded his hands on Draco's stomach and laid his head on them, positioning himself just so. It might have been a stalling tactic, but Draco knew by the smoke billowing out of Harry's ears that he was embarrassed and pressing on anyway, so Draco let it go. “I suppose I should’ve told you about it. And that it had stopped because I was behaving myself for once."

 

Draco hummed doubtfully.

 

"Behaving myself more than before," Harry amended. "You probably could’ve told me it was a bad idea, changing my behaviour.”

 

Draco ran his fingers through Harry's coarse hair and searched for the right words to say. “Well, maybe. But that's not why I want you to tell me about these things. Your struggles are mine. To share, to solve, to bear. We're bonded, aren't we?"

 

"Of course we are—"

 

"Then you don't need to go it alone. Whatever it is, we'll do it together."

 

"Together," he echoed, "I like the sound of that."

 

They held each other and didn’t say much after that. And when the time to part ways came as it always did—too soon, and all at once—it was more painful than ever to say goodbye. Draco's heart filled with fear, anticipating the anxiety and pain he'd only just put to rest. He felt it two-fold, like Harry was feeling the same, an echo chamber of longing and reluctance to separate.

 

Harry took Draco's hands in his. "I don't know what customs you have in Green Sector, but Red Charge pairs have a ritual. An exchange, if you will." He paused, eyes pinched as he searched Draco's face. For what precisely, Draco couldn't be sure, but he waited. He knew he could wait forever for Harry, if he had to. "I didn't propose it before, because I thought it might hurt you. But being apart is already painful as it is, and this…it might serve as a welcome reminder."

 

He pulled a hand away and summoned a miniature storm cloud in his palm, lightning striking his fingertips periodically.

 

Draco frowned. "You give each other a tiny thunderstorm?" He reached his fingers out, but did not touch, feeling the electric buzz. "Seems a bit odd."

 

Harry chuckled, but Draco could feel the nervous energy rolling off him in waves. "Not exactly. It's an exchange of…erm. Essence? I don't know how to explain it, but each Red Charge has a different energy, and if you take in a part of it…you're connected."

 

"Connected?"

 

"You said you thought I was dead." Harry worried his lip. "I don't know what will happen from now on. It was easy to get away before, and now…it might not be. I don't want you to worry—"

 

"I'll probably always worry," Draco pointed out.

 

"I know. But I thought…even before all this happened, I've always wanted a way to show you that even when we're apart, that we're…together. Ugh, I'm doing a terrible job explaining this…"

 

"It's very cute," Draco assured him, "Usually I'm the flustered one."

 

Harry glared at him. "I'm just trying to explain, to make sure—I mean, if you're amenable…though I should warn you, it might sting sometimes, or something. I don't know how it would feel to a Green Charge, but it won't be a constant feeling—ah, but it is permanent, I should warn you— but—"

 

"Harry, breathe. Just tell me what it is."

 

He took a deep breath, putting an end to his rambling. "The ritual is an exchanging of marks, infused with the other's energy. Something to serve as, as…"

 

"A reminder," Draco finished.

 

Harry nodded. "You know what my essence is. Lightning, fire, heat. If…if you don't want that, I understand, and maybe I could find something else to do, to give you, but…as long as my essence burns here," he touched his chest, eyes serious, "then you will feel it also. So you don't have to wonder if I'm still…"

 

"Extant?" Draco offered.

 

"Not how I would put it, but yes, that's the idea."

 

Draco considered, though he knew he'd already made his decision. "Does it hurt Red Charges? This…exchange of essence?"

 

"No. It just feels foreign. Until you get used to it, when it becomes a part of you. At least, that's what I've heard. It's a, um. Pre-bonding ritual. A measure of compatibility." Smoke rose from his ears the more he explained, endearingly embarrassed as he was. "We're a bit past pre-bonding, but. Well. It's—"

 

"I understand. I think it's a wonderful idea." 

 

Harry smiled brightly, shoulders relaxing.

 

"But," Draco continued, "You said it's an exchange, didn't you?"

 

"Er, yeah. I don't know how you'd give me one back, but we can find a way between the two of us, I'm sure."

 

Draco smiled; he had an idea. "Green Charges have a similar ritual, in fact. Different, but in the same vein. It is a potentially…permanent procedure. Also somewhat painful."

 

"I'll do it," Harry said without hesitation.

 

"You don't even know what it is."

 

"Doesn't matter. Let's do it."

 

Draco wanted to laugh and scowl and shake Harry and also wrap him in his arms and never let go. "Well then. You had better kneel."

 

Harry raised his eyebrow suggestively at Draco, but lowered himself to one knee. "Now what?"

 

Draco reached out and brushed Harry's hair away from his ears. "The lobe is the traditional placement. One before bonding, one after—" he wet his lips "—after a successful test of bond."

 

Harry hummed, waiting for Draco to continue. He didn't even know what it was, and he wasn't worried at all…

 

Draco smiled fondly and continued, "Someone might see it there, though, and you'd have to come up with an explanation for having a thorn in your ear…"

 

"A what in my ear?"

 

Draco summoned a black thorn and held it out for inspection. Harry's eyes went wide with comprehension, then he smiled. "I see. Well, we've never been very traditional, have we?" he tapped the tip of his ear. "Put it here. My hair will hide it."

 

"Are you sure? It will be more painful there."

 

Harry tilted his head and held back his hair, offering his left ear. "I'm not afraid."

 

Draco only hesitated a bit more before proceeding. He held the tip of Harry's ear, slightly pointed and hot, willing his fingers with ice and frost to numb it slightly. "On the count of three, then. One, two—" he pierced Harry's cartlidge with the thorn, hearing Harry inhale sharply "—three. All done."

 

"Ow, you bastard, you said on three!"

 

"It's better to not expect it," Draco said with a shrug, "or so I hear."

 

Harry reached up to touch it, but Draco batted his hand away. "Leave it. It won't heal right if you mess with it."

 

"Fine." He scowled and climbed to his feet. "How does it look?"

 

Draco held Harry's chin, turning his head to inspect it. It looked painful, already sore and inflamed. In time, it would either wither and fall out, or grow. "It suits you."

 

Harry's eyes twinkled with mischief and warmth. He kissed Draco's palm. "Your turn." He walked a wide circle around Draco, inspecting. "Where do you want it?"

 

"What is it, exactly? You still haven't told me."

 

Harry came back to stand before Draco, expression contemplative. "I don't know how to explain what it is. But as for what it looks like…" he rubbed his chin "…well, it can look like anything. It's how it's imprinted that matters. Though the 'what' matters too, a little bit…" He trailed off, lost in thought.

 

"So it's an image?" Draco prompted. "That you pick?"

 

Harry shrugged. "More like an impression."

 

Draco tapped his fingers, considering. "So basically, it's a tattoo."

 

"Tattoo is so reductive a description," Harry pouted.

 

"But it's permanent?"

 

"It won't look bad, I promise. You just have to trust me." He said the last part softly, as if to tell Draco that it was alright if he didn't. That he'd understand.

 

Draco thrust his left arm out, palm facing up, and pushed up the sleeve of his uniform, exposing the underside of his forearm. "I want here. Where I can see it whenever I want."

 

"Are you sure?" Harry traced the delicate skin between his wrist and his elbow. "It will be difficult to hide."

 

Draco raised his eyebrow. "No one will see it. Green Sector's uniforms are far less…revealing than yours." He fluttered his long sleeves to emphasize the fact.

 

"If you say so." He offered an apologetic smile. "This might hurt. A lot."

 

"Just...Get on with it."

 

Harry nodded. "Try to hold still." His fingers sparked with a steady line of electricity that he brought to Draco's arm, tracing a design. It was hot and sharp, and though it did hurt, the pain was less than he'd imagined.

 

Draco tried to watch, but every shock made him wince, and he decided it was easier to just keep his eyes shut and wait for it to be over.

 

And as abruptly as it began, it stopped. "Finished. Take a look, I think you'll approve." Draco could hear the smile in Harry's voice.

 

Anticipation and trepidation warred as he peeled his eyes open and looked, letting out a soft gasp. "A dandelion seed?" 

 

He touched it gingerly, thin black lines more delicate than he would have expected. It was warm under his fingers, like a lingering kiss. 

 

"You told me once that you like dandelions because they’re strong, mutable, and can survive almost anywhere." He placed his fingers over the tattoo, gentle and warm. "So can we."

 

The dandelion shimmered where Harry touched the tattoo and a shock rippled out from it, going up Draco's arm and down into his fingers. It was sharp and somewhat uncomfortable, but it made him feel warm and tingly, too. It was not entirely unpleasant, in any case. A gentle rumble followed, thunder like a laugh meant just for him.

 

"Will anyone else be able to hear that?"

 

Harry smiled, blinding as the sun. "No. But it's a good sign that you can."

 

Draco touched it reverently. "I thought it would be bigger."

 

"It will change and grow. As we work on our compatibility, that is," he added, lips twitching from a suppressed smile.

 

Draco rolled his eyes fondly. "You know, you're doing exactly what your supervisor asked you to. 'Starting the preliminary steps to bonding', was it? Some rebel you are. We'll make a rule abiding Charge out of you yet."

 

Harry's eyes went dark and serious. "I chose you a long time ago. This—" he gestured between the tattoo and his new piercing "—just makes it official. As official as we can make it, anyway."

 

"I chose you, too, and will every time. Again and again."

 

Parting ways was still painful, and always would be. But it was a pain Draco could bear this time. It was not forever, only for now, and in the interim he had the sweet sting of a personal storm to remind him how to find his way back.

 

 

Draco meant what he'd said, that whatever they did, they would do it together. But the only place they could be together was in their meadow and recent events had shown that they weren't as safe there as they'd believed.  He'd long known, on some level, that it was not a matter of ‘if’ they were discovered, but ‘when’. This whole experience had been a wake-up call. One they had not been prepared for.

 

And though they'd had to keep it a secret in order to survive, that was not any way to live. Seeing the other Charges in Green Sector with their proudly pierced ears only underlined how badly he wanted that. To not have to hide; to show how proud he was of Harry. He often caressed the tattoo through his sleeve, sending a pleasant jolt up his arm. He didn't actually know how far apart Red Sector and Green were from each other, but whenever the accompanying thunder made its way back to Draco, he couldn't help but to smile.

 

Harry was right about the increased difficulty in seeing each other, and the mark of his essence was exactly what Harry had described: a reminder. It helped, but it wasn't enough. He didn't want to have to keep the mark hidden, or worry about Harry, or wonder when they'd meet again. A bond shouldn't be something that could only be acknowledged in private, something known only by the two of them and only within the confines of a sector that had been forsaken by the seven spectrums. It should be known and celebrated everywhere. 

 

Draco figured that Harry had probably figured that out a long time ago; he'd said he'd been thinking about exchanging a mark with Draco for a while. It had never been about danger for him, only a demonstration of his feelings. Draco wondered if he'd always be playing catch-up with Harry when it came to their relationship. But the strongest plants grow slowly, digging deep roots that no storm could knock down. Harry often told him that Draco was his roots, and he didn't intend to let the sentiment be just that: pretty words. Harry had always been the storm, to push back against adversity and defy the odds; but Draco was the roots. It was Draco's job to grow deep and anchor, to withstand the force of a tempest of furore against them.

 

It sparked an idea that was, perhaps, rather foolish upon reflection. But like Harry’s touch, his mark, his very essence, it got under his skin. It felt like so long ago now that Draco had worried that their creations in the their meadow would leak out into the Mortal Realm and wreak havoc. Harry's words from them had stuck in Draco’s mind: If it were impossible, it could not exist, even here. He'd been afraid of that once, but rather than refuse to acknowledge the unpleasant possibilities and hope for the best, now he wanted to face them. He wanted to pull their creations out of their reclaimed sector, to make them a reality.

 

Because their relationship was also forged in that meadow, and he could not—would not—believe that the things made there could not exist outside it.

 

Even if he knew he should not tell anyone about Harry, some part of him needed to prove—perhaps to himself—that they, too, could exist outside the confines of their secret meadow. Because if—when—their secret got dragged out into the harsh light of the Seven, he would be ready with counter evidence to the claims against them. Passion would not be enough to sway the Patrons; not all of them, anyway. They would require more tangible proof. 

 

And more importantly, he didn't want to hide anymore.

 

So he got to work.

 

The most impossible thing he could think of was a flower that would not burn. His supervisors thought he was losing his touch, given all the failed attempts he had to destroy. But he would make it happen. If nothing else, it gave him something to focus on during the time he could not see Harry.

 

It took trial and error (lots of error), but finally, he succeeded. Almost. Mostly. It was not a flower that could grow just anywhere, but it was not a fussy flower, either. Most importantly, it would not burn except in the most extreme conditions; it could survive through heat, dryness, insects, and even neglect. A beautiful, fragrant flower that bloomed year-round, could float on the water, came in all shades of white and orange and red and yellow, like a flame on the water…

 

He might have gotten a bit carried away with the hidden symbolism. His superiors were certainly baffled, as tropical flowers were not his area of expertise, but they grudgingly accepted it while gently urging him to return to his normal work.

 

But he didn’t stop there. It was good, but it wasn’t enough. He needed a flower that could not survive only in spite of heat, and drought, and all things one might expect from Red. He needed a flower—or at least a plant—that thrived on wildfire conditions. Depended on them, even.

 

It took some mental arrangements, and the areas it could grow were limited, but he did it: he designed a seed that would not germinate until it came into contact with smoke. Fire and flowers were mortal enemies, his relationship with Harry notwithstanding, the two could not coexist. And yet here it was, a way for fire to do more than take from the flora of the mortal world. To give back, to replenish. To coexist. 

 

He made more and more, like a man possessed. How far could he push the concept? What conditions could he impose on a plant to make it survive what a more delicate plant could not? He made more flowers and trees not only resistant to smoke, but dependent upon it; dependent on flames, even. He made sharp, prickly things that did not need water to grow and thrived in heat. He made plants with flowers that were as ephemeral and fragrant and defiant and adaptable as mortals themselves.

 

While Draco's peers churned out flowers that were largely the same, only ever changing the colour, he branched out (ha!) like he’d tapped into a bottomless well of creativity. It was not quite passion that drove him, though that was part of it; the other part was fear, and defiance of that fear. The thought that Even if they discover us, and even if they extinguish us, the legacy of our bond will bloom forever. No fire can destroy it, and no water will douse it. 

 

It might have been the case that Charges existed to do their Patrons work, whatever that may be. But this, all Draco's creations, were for himself and Harry.

 

And then Harry said the words Draco longed to hear as much as he hoped he'd never have to: “I want to put our bond to the test.”

 

He'd known Harry would ask for it one day. And even though the very thought of being known by the Patrons terrified him, he wanted it, too. He had for a long time. Living in secrecy and shadows was no life for beings of light and purpose.

 

"There’s nothing in this life or the next that will keep me from you. Not Patrons, not our nature, not even mortality."

 

Sometime later, Harry asked him again if he were sure. "We can always do it later, if you want. Tell the Patrons. But once we tell them, that's it. There's no going back."

 

"Good," said Draco, sounding more confident than he felt. "I don't want want waiting and watching to be the only things I can do for you."

 

He promised he was prepared to do whatever it took to stay together. He didn't know if he were ready, and maybe he never would be. But he'd weather the storm, and they'd make it through.

 

His roots ran deep as his convictions. Better to die for something he believed in than to wither away by depriving themselves the light they needed to survive.

 

Draco wasn’t a believer of much on principle, but he believed in this. In them.

 

It would be enough. It had to be.

 

 


"You know, Draco. I didn't think you had it in you."

 

Draco froze in the hallway. He hadn't noticed anyone following him to the seventh corridor. Well, no one other than a couple of house elves. But they were gone today, perhaps scared off by present company.

 

Even so, there were worse individuals who could have been trailing him. "Professor. You're going to have to be a bit more specific than that."

 

Snape walked around to the front of Draco, dark eyes clever and unreadable. "Blatant lying to arguably the most dangerous if not powerful wizard alive…you're either braver than I thought, or that Gryffindor idiocy has started wearing off on you."

 

Draco bit his lip. He'd thought he'd avoided having this particular conversation, since the man hadn't approached him about it all summer. Draco had wondered, yes, but he'd had his own problems to worry about without concerning himself over why Snape had lied to protect him.

 

"I don't know what you're talking about."

 

Snape raised an eyebrow. "Obfuscating ignorance, are we? I know you can do better than that. And even if I didn't…I wasn't lying about seeing into Potter's mind."

 

Draco's throat worked. "Your point?"

 

"My point," he said, "is that I know. I never would have taken Potter for such a romantic, keeping all those flowers…"

 

Draco turned away in shame, realizing too late that it was a tell. That he'd as good as admitted it. "What do you want from me? If you know so much, then you lied to the Dark Lord, too."

 

"I don't want anything from you Draco. Nothing but caution. Our house values survival above all else—"

 

"And loyalty," Draco added, "To those who have earned it."

 

They glared at each other, a silent battle of wills.

 

"And has he…earned it?"

 

Draco didn't know how to answer that. Because on one hand, of course he had. He'd saved Draco from the Lake, he'd gone to the Ministry just because he thought Draco was in trouble, he'd been willing to risk everything just to be together—   

 

But Draco had told him he couldn't. Even so… "I ended things. But Har—he would never betray me."

 

Snape lifted a lip, displeased. "You barely know him."

 

"I know him better than you do." Draco patted his pocket, taking comfort in the weight there. "And better than you think I do."

 

"I looked into his mind—"

 

"And what of his heart?"

 

Snape pressed his lips together. "I confess, I did not understand everything I saw. But he is not worth dying over." He leaned in close, voice barely above a whisper. "You are on thin ice, Draco. You may have satisfied the Dark Lord for now, but if he so much as suspects even a hint of disloyalty—"

 

"I told you, it's over; I ended it. " Not that it ever began.

 

"Are you certain he knows that? He is a stubborn fool. Just like his fath—"

 

"I don't know what you saw, or think you saw, but I do not wish to discuss this with you any longer. Under normal circumstances, I wouldn't have shared any of this with you." Draco straightened up, summoning what was left of his dignity to lift his head high. "No one else knows, anyway, and I don't intend to change that. You only know because you went snooping, so if it is my discretion you are worried about, don't. 

 

"Now, if you don't mind, I have things to do."

 

Draco swept down the corridor without waiting for a dismissal. Snape might think he had the upper hand here, but he'd revealed that he was on some level invested in maintaining the lie. Besides, if he were going to betray Draco, he would have done so already. Draco wasn't sure what game Snape was playing or whose side he was on, but it wasn't the Dark Lord's. Not entirely, anyway. 

 

It wasn't exactly comforting, but it was comfortable in its familiarity.

 

"Draco," Snape called after him softly.

 

Draco paused, but did not turn around.

 

"If you need help…with anything whatsoever…you need only ask."

 

Draco bunched his fists, and walked on.

 

 

Sometime later, Draco sat in a pile of forgotten rubbish and contemplated letting himself become one with it. To be forgotten, hidden, left behind. He contemplated the appeal of fading away—with none to mourn or remember him. Lonely though it was, it remained an appealing thought. If there were no one to forget him, there'd be no one to fight for. If there were no one to remember, he wouldn't have to struggle like this before the inevitable fall. It was all well and good to 'take responsibility' and 'determine himself to fulfilling his duty', but it was already October, and he didn't have a damn clue how to proceed.

 

Before him, the Vanishing Cabinet stood, tall, dark, resolute. And broken. It didn't look broken; the broad mahogany panels gleamed, freshly polished and repaired from the physical damage of being dropped and having Montague shoved inside. That had been the easy part. Draco had naively hoped it would be enough, but of course nothing could ever be so simple.

 

Of course, had it worked, he would've had to have found a way to kill Dumbledore by now, so all told perhaps it was just as well that it had failed. Fixing the cabinet was only the necessary prologue to his crime. In fact, he didn't really need to fix the cabinet at all. The Dark Lord would be just as pleased if Draco found a way to kill Dumbledore single-handedly. Or not, as no one really expected Draco to succeed in killing the most powerful wizard of this age and the last. It had taken Draco a long time to fully understand that he was not expected to succeed. That really, all that was expected of him was failure.

 

And that he'd fix the damn cabinet so someone else could kill the old man. Someone like Bellatrix, or Yaxley. Well, probably not Yaxley. And probably not Draco, either. He had made an effort, of course; his life was worthless compared to his mother's, and he'd sink to any soiled depth to spare her. But so far all he'd managed was to imperio Madam Rosmerta and curse Katie Bell. He had other plans in the works, but he knew even now that they would fail. Probably.

 

Draco had never been one to give in to despair. He was clever and determined and scared shitless, yes, but he could fix a damn cabinet. Especially since failure meant his mother's death. Draco could do just about anything to save his mother's life; and would. Even if his own life were forfeit—and he suspected it might be, one way or another—his mother was worth fixing every broken, irreparable, forgotten thing in this room full of things that fit that description.

 

He stroked the pendent in his pocket, thumb running over the engraving on the front like a worry stone. He knew, of course, that he was not without people to mourn him, and that was why he was in this predicament in the first place. If it were only himself he had to worry about, then—

 

But it wasn't like that, so there was no use thinking about 'if onlys' like some kind of…second year Hufflepuff, or something.

 

He sighed and pulled the pendent out, flipping open the clasp to stare inside it. As though the contents might disappear if he did not periodically check on them. As though object permanence did not apply to something so ephemeral, magic be damned. Sometimes he wondered if he might disappear, without someone to watch over him—but of course, he'd chosen that. Out of necessity, of course, but choosing to be alone didn't lessen the sting of loneliness…

 

His arm still ached where Voldemort had claimed Draco as his property. Even if he didn't have to spend every spare moment attempting the impossible, he couldn't have played Quidditch this year. He did his best not to move his arm, touch his arm, think about it…but it was always on his mind. What if he accidentally summoned the Dark Lord? He knew he had to touch it with his wand and use the proper incantation, but the anxiety of 'what if?'  haunted him.

 

Not to mention he had to keep it hidden. All of it. From his friends, from professors. And most of all, from Harry.

 

Harry, who had grown taller over the summer and was, unfortunately, hotter than ever. Harry, who had cried for him and with him and because of him, who had broken into the Ministry to save him from danger that Draco had not been in. Harry, who was now hailed as the Chosen One, who everyone wanted a piece of, who all claimed they'd supported him from the beginning, who were all fair weather friends who did not understand that Harry Potter was a storm.

 

Harry, who was respecting Draco's wishes and keeping his distance. Well, he was now, at least. Probably had something to do with Draco stomping on his nose.

 

Harry still watched Draco—over Breakfast, across the hall, in the classroom, everywhere—but pretended not to. Draco didn't know if Harry went to the Willow Grove, because Draco wouldn't let himself check. He didn't think he could bear knowing the truth, because either Harry still went there, maybe leaving flowers of hope and devotion and forgiveness and grace—

 

Or he didn't, and the only flowers for Draco were in the past, dead as his chances of winning salvation.

 

He couldn't bear knowing, and as long as he didn't visit, he could live in the ignorant bliss of maybes. He told himself he did not have time, anyway, and that if he ran into Harry, if Harry found out what Draco was supposed to do this year, what he was desperately trying to do, in spite of the poor likelihood of success… 

 

He didn't think he could bear Harry's reaction to that terrible truth, either.

 

Better to preserve Harry's bliss and ignorance. Spare him the knowledge of the hateful thing Draco had become.

 

An agent of death. A sacrificial pawn. An enemy within, not worthy of love, or forgiveness, or hope.

 

It would probably help if he stopped calling him Harry, and went back to Potter. Harry was someone who had loved him once—and he had proof that no one could take away. Potter was someone his master had wanted him to seduce and betray. Well, he was definitely doing the latter, and he might not mind doing only the former, but the point was, that was over now. 

 

The pendent glinted silver and pure in the light as he snapped the lid shut, shoving it in his pocket to forget about until he needed it again. He returned to staring instead at the vanishing cabinet of diminishing hope. He had no time for jewelry or overwrought mementos. He had no time left at all for much of anything, really.

 

He patted the pendent in his pocket once more, and got to work.

 


 

Standing there before the council, with his fireproof flowers and Harry by his side, Draco wasn’t brave, but he was ready for whatever it took. Including a test of bond. Including mortality. Including the very real possibility of being extinguished.

 

The Council was silent after Draco and Harry put forth their request to be tested, after having admitted they’d been meeting in the abandoned sector for quite some time and had shared secrets of their nature with one another. They'd sat quietly while Draco presented his flowers, his proof that Harry had made him better. They listened (or pretended to, at least) as Harry told them how Draco had improved his productivity, streamlined his process, and even inspired him to add a new element to his storms: hail.

 

That had been news to Draco as well, but Harry didn't like talking about work. He liked talking about philosophy, and feelings, and Draco's life and interests.

 

It was when Draco and Harry showed their tattoo and piercing, respectively, that the silence was finally broken by cacophonous yelling. Draco supposed it was difficult even for all powerful beings to know how to respond to something so outside their experience. To see proof that something which should have been impossible simply…wasn't.

 

“This is highly unorthodox, choosing your bond partner for yourself,” Blue said at last, opening the floodgates for the other Patrons to voice their discontent in words rather than screeching on unimagined planes of existence.

 

“Indeed,” continued Violet, “I cannot condone this. We cannot. It is unthinkable that you should go out beyond your Sector—beyond the boundary!—and attempt to create a bond yourself!”

 

“That was not the original intention,” Draco hastened to say, “it just happened.”

 

“‘It just happened’?” Orange scoffed, raising an eyebrow. “Even bonds picked by the Council often fail the test, and you think a bond you made without even meaning to has any merit?”

 

A plume of fire bloomed from Harry’s shoulder, but Draco doused it quickly. Nature demonstrations were considered rude in mixed company. He hoped no one had noticed Harry’s outburst, but if their shocked expressions were any indication, the Council had indeed taken note.

 

“You see?” said Green. “Your very natures are in conflict.”

 

“We balance each other out,” Harry countered.

 

Balance… said Indigo, in the special way that only Indigo could. It is not the place of Charges to consider such matters. Unions based in likeness are far more stable.

 

Draco grit his teeth, suppressing his anger. He and Harry couldn’t both lose their cool here, and Draco was supposed to be the cool one. “Yet Harmony makes for far sweeter music.”

 

“You don't have to take our word for it,” Harry added, “We'd like to show you.”

 

"We've already seen your little demonstration," said Orange, "and we weren't impressed."

 

"What Harry means is that we want to take a test of bond," Draco clarified, though he was certain that it had already been mentioned.

 

Blue waved her hand as if to dismiss the topic altogether. “A bond rooted in such weak foundations does not deserve Council consideration.”

 

“Weak?” Harry repeated, “There is nothing weak about our bond. Its strength lies in the fact that it happened organically. We did not meet each other under any pretence. It was happenstance—is that not how you test bonds in the mortal world?" He paused, standing resolute before them. "That we found each other with no guidance should be celebrated, not punished.”

 

“You only think it is strong because you do not understand what a true bond is supposed to be like,” said Red.

 

“I—we—disagree.” Draco tried to ignore the weight of seven Patron’s eyes upon him, but even the attention of one Patron was a heavy burden to bear. 

 

Our roots are deep, he reminded himself, weather the tempest. “Is a bond not a relationship that makes a Charge stronger? Better? More capable? That enhances our abilities to serve our Patron?"

 

Blue pressed her lips together. "Knowing the definition of a Bond is not the same as experiencing one."

 

"Then what of the pain of separation?" said Harry, "and the wholeness of being together?"

 

"You could have learned of it by asking any bonded pair, or by consuming one of those stories I hear are so popular in the Red Ranks," said Red.

 

Harry's shoulders tensed, and Draco feared another plume of smoke was imminent, but he got himself back under control. "What Draco and I have together is far better than that propaganda."

 

Orange leaned in. "How so?"

 

Harry took an impatient step forward, eyes flashing dangerously. "Weren't you listening to anything we said?"

 

Draco stepped up next to him and joined their hands. Several of the Patrons sneered in disgust at the display, but not all. Promising. "Illustrious Seven, everything you work towards is about the natural order of things. Our relationship was just so: natural. And is it not better to let a relationship unfold naturally, rather than bonding simply because someone else decided we should?"

 

Violet tapped their fingers impatiently. "It is not merely 'someone else' who decides these things, it is us. The Patrons."

 

"And is a union good only because we Patrons decide it would please us?” said Yellow. She had thus far been quiet, only observing with detached interest. Even so, it was a nice reprieve to hear something supportive.

 

“Everything a Charge does is because of and for their Patron," Green hissed, glaring daggers at Yellow sitting next to him. He turned his attention back to Draco and Harry, still clinging to each other. "You speak of nature and order, but there is nothing natural about this. It should not have even crossed your mind to try to form a bond, especially outside your own spectrum. Even if we allowed you to take the test, you would fail. We only pick those who have a chance to pass, and you have not been picked. Certainly not in this pairing.”

 

Draco shivered at the unforgiving tones of his Patron. Every word Green said was chosen for precision and efficacy, cutting to the core of the matter with little regard for pleasantries.

 

“If everything we do as Charges is because of and for our Patrons, does that include failure?” Harry asked quietly. 

 

Stony silence was the Council’s response. They could not refute what Harry said, either through denial of failures or without admitting that by their own logic, they had to take credit for the failures of their Charges.

 

Emboldened, Harry continued, "Your judgement is supposed to be infallible, yet it seems you pick a lot of failures. Perhaps the bonds you choose fail your tests because they are not founded on authenticity. Perhaps they fail because rather than evaluate for themselves whether their bond is strong and true, Charges merely believe it is strong enough to pass the test. And why shouldn’t they? You told them to believe it. They do not evaluate their readiness for a test themselves—you've taught us not to. They do not question your judgement—we're not allowed it as an option. 

 

“So, if Charges undervalue the risk of taking a bond test, and if they fail, is it really their fault? If your judgement were so infallible, there should be none who fail the bond test. There should be no risk if it is a Patron-sanctioned bond. Yet most Charges fail their test. So tell us again how good you are at picking who is and who is not ready.”

 

The Patrons hissed in a thousand displeased voices. Draco's throat worked. Impressed though he was with Harry's boldness, insulting the Patrons was not a good way to win their favour.

 

“We mean no offense, Council. Harry only means that we know of the risk, have evaluated that risk, and proven we are willing to face said risk. We understood before we came here that by presenting our bond to you, we might not walk away." He squeezed Harry's hand for courage and continued, "We know it is not done, forming a bond outside Patronage sanctions. Outside our own spectrum, too. But we have done it. Rather, it happened, and we were helpless to stop it. Regardless of how it came to be, we believe in…well, us. We only wish to prove our bond to you by having it evaluated like any other bond."

 

“And if we truly are not suited for one another as you say, we won't pass the test, and you get the satisfaction of being right, anyway," Harry added.

 

"But if we do pass, we all stand to gain! Perspective, knowledge, a new way. And for Harry and me, an eternal, unbreakable bond.” Draco rather thought they already had that, but he had to preserve the notion of doubt if only to appease the council. The line between confidence and arrogance was deceptively thin, after all.

 

“Are you not saying we would be proven wrong if you pass?” asked Red from their stormy throne. Harry folded his arms over his chest stubbornly, unconsciously mirroring his Patron.

 

Patrons were not exactly like parents, from what Draco understood of the mortal roles of caretaking and child-rearing. But in that moment, Harry and Red looked remarkably alike. 

 

In any other context, it might have been amusing, but in spite of the old adage he did not want to fight fire with fire.

 

“We would prove only that there is another way,” Draco said hastily, “A better way, perhaps. Is that not why we Charges are here? To provide perspective? Is that not why you all sit on the Council? Because you do not always agree on the best way to do things?”

 

“He's right,” said Yellow, with a small, pleased smile. “I think we should let them take the test.”

 

Draco’s heart soared, and Harry squeezed his hand so hard it almost hurt. Draco squeezed right back.

 

“But—” protested Blue.

 

“But what? We have nothing to lose here and stand much to learn," Yellow said, like it was that simple. And perhaps it was. She continued, "They are willing to risk extinguishment to prove their bond. If we do not let them try, then we prove nothing. If we do not let them try, then we admit we are afraid of being wrong. If we do not let them try, the net result will be the same as failure, for we surely cannot let them walk away from this. They have broken the Rules knowingly, wilfully, and in full cognizance of the consequences."

 

"They could be wiped clean instead. Blank states," Violet began, but Yellow waved them away.

 

"That never works out, and you know it. They always revert back to their true colours in the end." Yellow paused to look at Harry and Draco, offering them an encouraging if not amused smile. "I say: let them try. It’s been a while since we've seen anything new. If nothing else, it will be entertaining.”

 

The Patrons argued furiously for several long moments, hissing and talking over each other in words too old to understand.

 

“And who will complete their work while they are indisposed?” asked Green, voice ringing out over the others. “There is no excess in the system. This is why we plan for bonds and bond tests: to ensure balance is maintained.” Green glared at Draco and Harry, and Draco had no doubt they’d both be extinguished were it up to Green’s will alone. “We cannot interrupt our established schedule on a whim.”

 

"Worry not, my verdant friend. We have true Blank Charges for a reason, after all," Yellow said waving her broad hands with practiced negligence, “But I can oversee it personally to make sure production does not fall behind, if you are too risk adverse to try something new.”

 

Draco decided Yellow was his new favourite Patron. Perhaps he and Harry could defect to Yellow Sector, if this did not end well for them. No Charge had ever defected before, but Harry and Draco had already done countless unprecedented things. What was one more?

 

I find their bondfascinating. Such devotion is inspiring, said Indigo, tone distant but intrigued. 

 

Draco was never really sure what Indigo was thinking, but then again, no one was ever sure. Perhaps not even Indigo. 

 

Few are willing to take the test, even for Patron assigned bond partners. They risked much by telling us, and risk more by testing themselves. I support them.

 

“I'm still sceptical." Red spoke directly to Harry now, choosing to ignore Draco. They were not responsible for Draco, after all. "You’ve been sneaking around, leaving your sector, having relations outside your spectrum. And with a Green Charge, no less!” They snorted hot air, almost like an angry laugh. It made Draco sweat unpleasantly.

 

“You are too young, too impetuous, too stubborn," they continued, "And here I thought you were finally living up to your glorious heritage. You'd been doing so well lately. I heard you were even offered a promotion, though you turned it down—”

 

"I got better because of Draco!" Harry growled. “But if you are in any way dissatisfied with my creation, the blame lies with the creator. I can’t help how I am.”

 

Red’s eyes blazed and crackled with heat. “Too stubborn and too cheeky by half. But, you are right. It is your nature.” Red sighed and shook their head; they almost looked sad. Or regretful, at the very least. “You are not ready for this, regardless of what you think. But I’ll admit, I’m inclined to agree to it simply because Green is opposed. Perhaps the harshness of mortal life will teach you what I can’t.” Red smirked, seemingly satisfied.

 

"You cannot teach anyone anything, in spite of your big head," Green hissed, "You're all hot air and no substance."

 

At that, the Patrons erupted in a fight between themselves again. Draco could not understand them when they spoke in a thousand tongues—no one but a Patron could—but the general sentiment of ‘this is no time for in-fighting’ versus ‘will you two give it a rest?’ came through.

 

When at last the Patrons had settled down, Orange turned to them and said, “I still do not understand how you two can foster any feelings of fondness for one another when your natures are so opposed. It simply does not make sense.”

 

“Red and Green are complementary colours,” Harry offered, and Draco smiled. He’d been the one to tell Harry that. Harry loved the colour wheels Draco showed him.

 

“We cannot decide this on a whim,” Blue said decisively. “Let us recess into a meeting. Put the Charges in holding for now.”

 

Draco shut his eyes briefly. The holding cells were rarely used. Cages of darkness, antithetical to a Charge's nature. Draco did not think it boded well that they were being sent there. But it was better than being extinguished, at least

 

“Can we be put together, at least?” Harry asked, stepping forward.

 

Red looked at him speculatively but did not deign to answer.

 

Two Blank Charges stepped out of the shadows and carted Harry and Draco off. They tossed them in separate cells, slamming the door shut behind them and sealing them in shadow.

 


 

Draco had never imagined that he might die in a bathroom. He should have imagined it; the only person he really talked to these days had died in a bathroom, after all. And Myrtle did like to talk about her death quite a lot. Most ghosts did, probably. One’s death was an important thing, he'd come to understand.

 

He’d imagined himself dying in so many ways, it was strange that he hadn’t imagined a bathroom scenario. He worked for Death, it felt like. Was engineering death’s machinations, was marked a Death Eater. He’d die if he failed, and he might die if he succeeded, too. He might fail by dying, which was far more appealing a thought than it ought to be, and not at all helped by Myrtle’s insisting that “it’s not so bad, really, once you stop feeling the connection to your body. It was instant, for me. Maybe you’ll be lucky, too, Draco.”

 

He’d imagined death by falling, by suffocation, by poison, by drowning, by Avada Kedavra, by Crucio, by inferi, by snake (both snake venom and being eaten), by stab wounds, and even dying in his sleep and never knowing why. He’d thought about his death so often and in so many different ways that he thought it might not even surprise him when it happened; it might even feel familiar. He almost hoped it would, if only to pretend he wasn’t scared shitless about his inevitable end. Sometimes, the thought was almost a comfort, if a cold one. He was living in hell right now, and if it ended for him—however it ended—at least it would be over. 

 

But no matter how far he and his family had fallen, dying in a bathroom lacked dignity, and so it never occurred to him he might die there. Certainly not in a Hogwarts bathroom. He tried to remember that he wanted to live, of course. That his death would, at the very least, upset his mother. Perhaps his father, too, but Draco had not seen his father in two years. Is this what his father had imagined for him all those years he’d groomed him to be Draco Malfoy, Heir Extraordinaire?

 

If his son had to die, Lucius Malfoy probably imagined it being a glorified death; a spectacular affair that generations would be proud to remember. His distant cousin in France would inherit the title Lord Malfoy, and Draco would be free. Dead, but free. His father would mourn the loss of control from his direct bloodline, surely, but Draco did not doubt his father had a plan in case of Draco's death. He'd have to have imagined it, given that Draco was his only child. Perhaps he'd imagined it as frequently and vividly as Draco had, even decided what deaths were Acceptable for a Malfoy Heir and which ones were not. Drowning at the bottom of a lake, for example, was apparently more desirable than living in shame.

 

He probably had not imagined this, though: Draco Malfoy meeting his fate in a Hogwarts bathroom, sobbing his heart out to a dead little twelve-year-old Ravenclaw muggleborn. Lucius had not imagined it, because Draco had not imagined it. He’d imagined dying in countless ways, but not today, and not like this.

 

Perhaps because this seemed like too good a death, for someone as ruined as he.

 

He only wanted to have himself a little cry, get some sympathy from a dead Ravenclaw, and carry on with his doomed task. A dead friend was one who could not die, who he didn’t have to worry about losing.

 

Then Harry showed up.

 

He might have tried to say something. Katie Bell had just woken up, after all, after a five month magical coma that Draco had caused, and soon he'd be caught, and everyone would know, and he'd go to prison, and his mother would die—

 

He was just so fucking tired of it all.

 

So he started throwing spells. Harry dodged them at first, and he was still trying to say something, but as Draco's curses got more and more aggressive, Harry had no choice but to react.

 

One of Draco's curses bounced off Harry's shield spell, exploding a toilet and sending water spraying into the air. Some of that might have been Myrtle, screeching at the two of them to stop.

 

Harry might have been saying something as well, but Draco couldn't hear him over the gushing water and Myrtle's shrieks and his constant internal soliloquy of self-recrimination. 

 

Wouldn’t it be better to die than suffer this? Death would come for him eventually, one way or another. Of course, he could not do it himself; that was a coward's way out, and one the Dark Lord would not forgive, and then his mother would die, his father… but if someone should kill him, if he should die in the line of duty, well. Hadn't that always been the point, anyway? The Dark Lord would be pleased enough if Draco succeeded, but this task was a punishment, one he was not meant to survive. Might as well get on with it. He might even be a hero, in a certain light. After all, if he died, then who would fix the vanishing cabinet? Who would let the Death Eaters into Hogwarts? Who would kill Albus Dumbledore? Only Draco could do those things…at least, two of those things. But not if he were dead.

 

Perhaps his father had been right all along: heroes didn't live long. Certainly not long enough to tell their own stories. 

 

And after everything he'd done, and everything he still planned to do, he thought it would be fitting if Harry Potter were the one to do him in. And why shouldn't he die in a bathroom? Draco was nothing, no better than the forgotten rubbish in the room of hidden things. Harry was the Chosen One, the Boy Who Lived, he of  righteous heart and noble cause. If he killed Draco—and his eyes were full of anger and pain, maybe Draco could get him to do it—it would only be right. Just. Fair. An act of Vengeance.

 

The more he thought about it, the more appealing it sounded. He didn’t want to die at the hands of the Dark Lord, a cowering failure. But dying at the hands of Harry…it was sorrowful, certainly, and the part of his heart he’d learned to ignore rallied against it, begged him to reconsider, screamed at the wrongness of it. But it was a death he could face with pride. Perhaps in death he could be redeemed, cleansed by the power of Harry’s conviction.

 

Of course, Harry was good; too good to kill even Draco who, objectively, deserved it. But Harry didn't plan murders, or sabotage his school, or bear the mark of the Dark Lord. Harry didn't want to hurt anyone, probably not even Draco. But if it was Harry, Draco thought he could die by his wand. His magic. His hands.

 

Draco sent an ice blast at Harry, shards of frozen water stabbing into the wall. He'd mis-aimed intentionally; Harry couldn't kill him if Draco killed him first. But he had to make Harry think he was serious enough about it to warrant a genuine reaction of fury or self-defense.

 

"Merlin, you're such a prat!" Harry yelled, firing a rictusempra at Draco.

 

"Really, Potter? A tickling charm? We're not children!"

 

Harry might have tried to level a witty retort, but Draco sent a reducto somewhere above his head, dropping pieces of marble on him that Harry had to roll to avoid. He cursed under his breath and called Draco something uncharitable.

 

His feelings for Harry were not something he could afford to live with, but they were something he could die for. He knew it in his bones.

 

But Harry wasn't a killer; that was what made him good. What made dying by his hands an acceptable fate. Noble, even. Even as dangerous spells flew all around, destroying the bathroom, Draco knew that Harry was not aiming to kill him. He hadn’t even been able to crucio Aunt Bella after she murdered his godfather—and he’d heard all about that over the summer.

 

A stinging hex flew overhead, erupting in a stream of purple as it shattered a mirror.

 

"You're going to have to do better than that, Potter!" he jeered. It sounded half-hearted even to his own ears.

 

A sink exploded from Harry’s wild magic with a bright flash and the smell of ozone, and Draco remembered: Harry time controlling his magic when he was angry. He’d nearly smote Mad-Eye because he was angry, so all he had to do was anger Potter, and that was a skill he excelled at. Harry was already agitated, if the static in the air were any indication.

 

“Angry about your Weasel getting poisoned, Potter?” he yelled, ducking as a streak of red flew his direction. Apparently, his subconscious will to live was stronger than he thought. “You missed!”

 

“Shut up!”

 

A fireball exploded on the ceiling, large enough that it would have actually hurt had it hit Draco. Shame that it hadn't.

 

"Are you even trying?" he jeered. A cascade of water fell on him from above; Harry had summoned a rain cloud. As if there weren't enough water damage in the bathroom already.

 

Draco peeked over the edge of the sink, bursting with water. Myrtle was still flying around Harry, distracting him, yelling at him to leave Draco alone. Harry was seething, chest heaving up and down. A trickle of blood ran down his face from somewhere around his hairline; he must not have dodged all the rubble.

 

Draco felt a pang of guilt, but he had no time for that now.

 

“I’m going to find a professor!” she shrieked, disappearing through the floor.

 

Harry wasn’t moving and, much to Draco’s disappointment, seemed to be calming down. Harry still sent a few fireballs Draco's way, though they were too small to do any real damage, especially since the whole bathroom was now filled with water, sloshing around his ankles. And it was still raining.

 

In retaliation, Draco blew up the wall next to Harry, but he saved himself with a quickly cast protego.

 

"Are you mental?" he yelled, hiding behind a stall door.  Draco thought he heard thunder from above.

 

Annoying Harry wasn’t enough. He had to hurt him, shock him, push him beyond reason.

 

At the moment, however, he only had one idea how to do that, and it was a bad one. It wouldn’t even work, because of course he didn’t hate Harry. He loved the stupid, idiotic, completely unattainable Harry. He loved him, for reasons he didn’t quite understand, and he could only admit it now when death seemed certain, from one side of the war or the other. Harry wouldn’t kill him, but if Draco had to pick an executioner, Harry would be his first pick. His first pick for everything.

 

But he had to try, because the alternative was to lose a piece of himself every day.

 

If things went the way he planned, he wouldn't live to regret it. He'd never forgive himself, either, but he suspected Harry would, even if it were Unforgivable. 

 

He was at peace with that. But peace was not what he needed for this; pain and loathing and every vile emotion that lived closer to the surface than he cared to admit. It already tainted his magic, so why not his soul as well?

 

Cruci—” he didn’t even finish the incantation when he found himself floating upside down over the destroyed bathroom. He hadn’t even heard Harry say anything. Harry had never seemed to have much luck with wordless magic in DADA class, but Harry had always been the type to figure things out in the midst of action, hadn’t he?

 

He emerged from his hiding spot on the opposite side of the bathroom Draco thought he'd been hiding. He must have cast an image double. When had he learned that?

 

Expelliarmus,” Harry said, yanking Draco’s wand from his grip. Draco let it go without a fight. What would be the point? But maybe the situation wasn't unsalvageable. He had no wand, and Harry had effectively immobilized him, but magic wasn't the only way to die. “Going to drop me on my head, are you? Go on, then. You’d be doing me a favour.”

 

Harry frowned. At least, Draco thought he did. It was hard to tell while looking at him upside down. He saw Harry crouch down and pick something up. It glinted silver in the weak sunlight filtering through the high windows and conjured rain clouds.

 

With horrible clarity, Draco knew exactly what it was. "Give that back!"

 

Harry looked up at him, rising to his feet. "You're in no position to be making demands at the moment." He inspected the pendent for a moment, expression contemplative.

 

He couldn't open it. Draco wouldn't allow it. "Fine, then let's negotiate. Give that back, and I'll kindly allow you to drop me on my head."

 

Harry sighed, whispering something under his breath and lowering Draco to the floor and gently placing him right-side up.

 

So much for Draco's plan.

 

He leaned up against one of the sinks that had managed not to take any damage during the duel. He didn't bother standing up. Dying on one's feet was for honourable men, and Draco was anything but.

 

Harry only stared at him in measured silence. Draco stared right back. Defiant, angry, spent.

 

“If I give you your wand back, are you going to try to crucio me again?” His voice was softer than Draco expected or deserved. As though Draco had not tried to kill him only minutes ago.

 

“Why don’t you try it and find out?” Draco sneered, but it lacked heat. Draco was too cold, too numb, too done with it all for heat. Even his dreams didn’t give him a release anymore. They were full of hiding, and anxiety, and close calls.

 

Much to his surprise, Harry tossed him his wand back. Draco caught it. He may have quit the Quidditch team, but he still had seeker’s reflexes. "Actually, I'd rather have the pendent, if you don't mind."

 

Harry clenched his fist, but made no move to hand it over. He didn't try to open it either. “What’s happened to you?” he asked quietly. So quietly Draco wasn’t quite sure he was meant to hear it. “You look terrible. You aren’t eating. I doubt you’re sleeping.

 

“You never come down to the willow anymore.” A beat of silence, and Draco’s heart was breaking. He’d returned, left flowers, waited. “I hoped you’d come back. After last year, I tried to give you space, to keep you safe…but I couldn’t. I guess I can’t stay away either.”

 

His smile was tight. His expression spelled desperation, and pain, and hopelessness. It was a look Draco knew well; he saw it every time he looked in the mirror.

 

Draco had to turn away, it was too much.

 

“Tell me what’s happened to you. Please.” He sounded on the verge of tears, not that Draco could have told the difference with the rain coming down. 

 

“What’s happened to me?” Draco started laughing. Softly at first, then gaining power and a kind of maniacal energy. “What’s happened to me is the fucking Dark Lord came back!" He no longer cared who heard him. He could barely hear himself over the blood in his ears, the spraying water, the damn thunderstorm that was somehow raining harder now than before.

 

Harry didn't say anything, but his eyes spoke volumes. Understanding, sympathy, anger. Not at Draco; for him. 

 

Of course he understood. He understood like no one else could.

 

But Draco's rage had not worn itself out. "Did you know he’s living in my house right now? He is. I’m not supposed to tell anyone, but you know what? Fuck it. Fuck it all. I’m supposed to—I have—" he grabbed his hair, furthering his already dishevelled appearance. 

 

He wished he could hate Harry. That would make everything easier. "My father fucked up, but you already know all about that, don't you? And now my mother’s life—my life! I have to…to…” Draco knew he wasn’t making sense, but he didn't even know where to begin.

 

“You’re supposed to kill Dumbledore,” Harry finished, sounding neither accusatory nor doubtful.

 

Of course he knew. He'd been following Draco around all year like a grim. Draco had had no one to tell, nothing he could do, and try as he had to forget Harry, avoid him, loathe him, the truth won out. Harry would always find him, but Draco had to keep him away.

 

“Figured that out, have you? I suppose you always were cleverer than I liked to pretend.” That wasn’t even the half of it, though. And he was still there, just standing. Watching. Draco couldn’t take it. He pressed his hands over his eyes, weary down to his bones. “For fuck’s sake, Potter, what are you doing here?”

 

“Not Potter. Harry.”

 

They’d never met outside the willow grove and talked about it. Not really. It made Draco feel even more vulnerable than he already felt. Harry couldn’t have picked crueller words if he meant to, and Draco was certain he had not. “We're not in our spot now, Potter.”

 

“'Our spot'? Thought you said it was your spot?”

 

Draco removed his hands to glare at Harry. Or maybe just stare at him in disbelief. Was he flirting? At a time like this?

 

Of course he was, the tosser. “My name isn't on it.”

 

"Not your name, but your signature." Harry smiled now, but it fell short. It wasn’t the warm, sunny smile Draco loved, the one that gave him hope even if it was never quite meant for him. “This might as well be our spot, anyhow. We’ve got a lake,” he gestured to the flooding sink water, “a tree grove,” he gestured to the wooden toilet doors, “and us. The last bit is the only true requirement, by the way.”

 

“There aren’t any dandelions,” Draco mumbled, angry and annoyed.

 

Harry took a step forward. “That can be arranged.”

 

“Stay back,” Draco warned, “Just because I haven’t managed to kill Dumbledore yet doesn’t mean I’ll hesitate to kill you.”

 

Unexpectedly, Harry smiled wider at that. And took another step closer. “I don’t think so. You’re a pretty shit assassin, you know.”

 

Draco raised his wand, and Harry took another step. “I know you. You’re not a killer.”

 

“You don’t know me!” Draco yelled. His heart couldn’t bear this…whatever it was. Draco hesitated to call it kindness, but it was close enough to hurt because he knew it wouldn’t last.

 

“I do. You prefer lemon curd to marmalade, you charm your coffee to look black even though you always fill half your cup with milk, you don’t like to talk to anyone before you’ve read your post in the morning. You write with your right hand, but you’re ambidextrous. You count things when you’re nervous—”

 

“Stop,” Draco whispered. Harry didn’t listen. He took another step closer.

 

“Your hair curls at the ends when you brew potions. It'd probably be wavy, if you let it be, but you use sleekeazy's to slick it back. You’re an Arrows supporter. You prefer vanilla to chocolate, except during Christmas. You love flowers—”

 

“Stop!” Draco said, a bit more forcefully this time. Harry was right in front of him now, crouching down to be at eye level with Draco.

 

“You want a cat, but they make you sneeze. You actually like McGonagall’s classes. You’re afraid of the dark, but it's not your worst fear.

 

“I know you, Draco.”

 

“Don't,” Draco pleaded, not even entirely sure what he was asking for at this point. His voice was soft and weak and exposed every vulnerability he thought he'd buried deep within himself.

 

But Harry had called him by his name, and he really wasn’t sure whether this was real, or if he’d finally crossed over to the dream world for good. He thought he’d known pain: losing his father, getting marked…But the pain of hope was far worse than anything he’d experienced thus far.

 

“Let me help you.” Harry placed a hand on Draco’s knee. Draco could imagine his face, expression full of too much emotion—more than Draco deserved, anyhow—but he didn’t dare look up to confirm it. 

 

"Please," Harry added in that soft voice Draco rarely heard outside his dreams.

 

He longed to lift his own hand, to find support in Harry’s presence. But he was fighting down panic and wondering how badly he would suffer for this dalliance later.

 

Begging Harry obviously wouldn’t work. He couldn’t possibly hurt him. Shock was the only thing he had left. “I’ve been having dreams, Potter. Did you know? Strange dreams.”

 

“Dreams?” Harry repeated, a frown in his voice at the abrupt change in topic.

 

“Yes, Potter. Dreams. About you and I. Us. In them, we’re together, in flagrante delicto. Does that shock you?”

 

“It might have once,” Harry said calmly.

 

Shock wasn’t working. Perhaps Harry didn’t speak Latin? “I mean together in the carnal sense. And not just that, no. We’re deeply in love. Like a…a Celestina Warbeck song. All soft touches and warm gazes and sappy, stupid things. Can you imagine?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“I thought not. Now kindly—what?” Draco looked up, staring at Harry’s face. There was no derision or ridicule there. Only sadness.

 

“I can easily imagine being in love with you,” Harry said again with a sad, sincere, heart-wrenching smile. "All soft touches and warm gazes and sappy, stupid things."

 

Draco’s throat worked, but his words failed him.

 

“I’ve had dreams too,” Harry continued, “About us. Strange dreams. They almost feel real.”

 

Draco wasn’t sure what Harry was trying to say, and he was tired. Tired of everything. “Strange? Should I feel offended, Potter?”

 

“Harry, not Potter.” Harry bunched his hands up in his trousers, as though weighing his answer. "They aren’t bad. The Dreams. In them, I'm…waiting for something. I’m sad about it, and worried. But…you're there, so it's alright.” He smiled at Draco. Sad, but full of warmth. Just like a dream. Or a Celestina Warbeck song. "I have a lot of bad dreams, but the ones with you are always welcome. No matter how sad they are sometimes, I treasure them.”

 

Darkness lingered in Harry’s expression. Draco remembered then what the Dark Lord had said to him over the summer, before he marked him. Harry Potter thinks of you constantly.

 

Harry scooted closer, sitting down next to Draco, not minding the pooling water. He grabbed Draco's hand and laced their fingers together, apparently impatient with waiting for Draco to work up the courage to do it himself. “I’ve missed this.”

 

Draco scowled half-heartedly in a poor attempt to hide his quickening pulse. “We’ve never done this before.”

 

“Sure we have. Every night, in strange dreams of in delictoh flagranti.

 

Draco almost smiled, but he thought that he might have forgotten how. “You don’t know what that means, do you?”

 

“I assume it’s some toff expression meaning ‘I don’t know how to talk about things like a normal person’.”

 

Draco did smile then, though it was more of a smirk, and he even managed a chuckle at Harry’s embarrassed expression when he told him what the toff Latin expression meant.

 

“Just call it a wet dream like everyone else, won’t you?” he said, wrinkling his nose.

 

It wasn't cute. Draco wouldn't admit that. Not even while Harry was still holding his hand. “It was no mere wet dream. It was poetic reverie.”

 

“What did you imagine? Dreams of me counting your freckles, and braiding your hair, and admiring things you pretend to be embarrassed about but secretly enjoy?”

 

Draco didn’t dignify that with a response, because that’s exactly what he saw. “It doesn’t matter, because that’s all that it is. Stupid dreams.” Draco used his free hand to roll up his sleeve, exposing his mark. He hated it. “I can’t escape this.”

 

Harry stared at it for a long time. He didn't look surprised, just…resigned. Slowly, he pushed back his fringe and showed Draco his scar. “I can’t escape this either.” 

 

Draco scowled and tried to pull his hand away, but Harry held on. “It’s not the same. You didn’t choose that.”

 

Harry glanced down at Draco’s mark again. “Did you choose that?”

 

Draco didn’t respond.

 

Harry pulled the pendent out of his pocket, inspecting it. "Where did you get this?"

 

He considered not answering, out of spite or dignity, but what would be the point? "I made it."

 

Harry hummed, and handed it back. "It's pretty." 

 

Draco stared. "Aren't you going to open it?"

 

"Only if you want me to," Harry said, like it was that easy. "Seems important to you."

 

He plucked it eagerly from Harry's palm, in case Harry changed his mind about opening it. He ran a thumb over the engraving. "It is important to me."

 

"The design is interesting. A dandelion seed, is it?"

 

Draco didn't have to look to know that Harry had an insufferably smug grin on his face. "Maybe."

 

They sat in silence for a while, holding hands like they weren't in a flooding bathroom they'd just destroyed, like there wasn't a war, like it was normal.

 

"Aren't you angry?" Draco asked at last. "Don't you hate me?"

 

"For what?" Harry said. 

 

"For being a death eater," he said, voice miserable. "For this!" he gestured to his marked arm.

 

Harry didn't let go of his hand. "I don't."

 

"I hate me for it," Draco admitted. The thunder rumbled again, and now Draco was sure Harry was doing it on purpose.

 

“It does make me angry, but not for the reasons you think.”

 

“You don’t know what I think,” Draco said, knowing he sounded petulant but unable to stop himself.

 

Harry smirked, all challenge, and didn’t even bother to contradict Draco. He did let go of Draco's hand though, and Draco missed the warmth of it more than he could put into words.

 

Harry pulled out his wand and whispered ‘orchideous’, the blossoming flowers blooming out the end and into a wreath. “Your flowers, as promised.”

 

Draco took the wreath with trembling hands, eyes stinging. "These aren't dandelions."

 

"I wasn't trying for dandelions. These are what's in my heart."

 

Draco chuckled, watery and far too honest for his liking. “Baby’s breath. Forget-me-not.” And there it was, the red flower again, but this time he knew what it was called; he’d looked it up over the summer. "Amaranthus.”

 

“They have a lot of names. Molten Flower, Tampala, love-lies-bleeding.” Harry paused, swallowed. “But my favourite is flaming fountain.”

 

Something old and precious seeped into his mind, a memory he couldn’t quite latch on to. But he knew, somehow, that it was important. “I don’t know that one.”

 

Harry shrugged. “I used to make up flower names, as a kid. When I didn’t know the real names.”

 

Draco didn't know quite how to respond to that. He knew Harry's aunt made him garden to 'earn his keep'; he'd told Draco about it once. He couldn't begin to imagine how Harry could like flowers at all after something like that. “Mother says the flowers speak their own secret language, that our names are never quite as good, which is why every flower has so many names.”

 

“I never would have taken your mother to be someone so whimsical.”

 

“It’s no whimsy. It’s the truth, Potter.”

 

“Just Harry.”

 

Draco sighed. “Fine. Just Harry, if you insist.”

 

Harry splashed water at Draco, a pointless feat considering they were both soaked. “I do.”

 

Things had never been simple between them, but perhaps they could pretend. In their willow grove or a destroyed bathroom, they were just Harry and Draco, with flowers, trees, a lake, and each other.

 

They sat there together, the destroyed bathroom spewing water on them. It was freezing, and wet, and uncomfortable, but Draco had never felt warmer outside his dreams.

 

“Let me help you, Draco,” Harry asked again, once more taking Draco's hand in his.

 

Draco was so tired. Tired of being alone, tired of being afraid, tired of being tired. 

 

“Alright.”

 

 

— — —

 

Sitting in Dumbledore's office, Draco felt colder than he'd ever felt. Going to Dumbledore for help was not what Draco hoped it would be. In fact, it wasn’t a help at all. Harry’s reaction told him he was just as disappointed.

 

“I’m aware that you’ve been trying to kill me, Draco. And I am so proud that you’ve decided not to. Unfortunately, I must die this spring.”

 

Draco thought he smelled something burning. Harry certainly looked angry enough to set something on fire, be it intentionally or accidentally. “What the fuck.

 

If Harry’s cursing surprised Dumbledore, he didn’t show it. “It's true, I’m afraid. Due to circumstances of my own folly, I’m not long for this world. I had hoped it wouldn’t have to be you who sent me on my way, Draco, and in fact I’ve made arrangements for it not to be you. But understand that I have made arrangements, and this year will be my last." He smiled in that way of his that Draco had always suspected was quite literally charming. "Beyond that, I cannot say, lest we risk the whole operation.”

 

“How can you just talk about your death that way,” Harry choked out, “What about—the thing we’re working on together?”

 

It did not escape Draco’s notice that Harry hesitated to name whatever it was he and Dumbledore were working on. Some part of him still didn’t trust Draco, then. Or perhaps there was another reason for it, but distrust seemed most likely. Holding hands and talking about dreams in a bathroom once did not a strong relationship make.

 

Dumbledore turned his placid smile on Harry. “I trust that you will be up to the task of finishing it once I’m gone.”

 

“I’m not up to the task!”

 

“Then Harry, I must ask too much of you again, I’m afraid.”

 

Harry didn’t say anything. He sat there silently shaking in rage and grief. Draco could almost feel licks of heat coming off Harry, but a quick glance revealed nothing other than normal, flameless shoulders.

 

Draco wondered if they’d forgotten about him. He almost wished they had, but there was a reason for his being here. “What am I to do? I'm supposed to kill you. I have orders, lives are on the line—”

 

“I promise my arrangements will spare you and your family, and Voldemort will be none the wiser to it," Dumbledore said in a way he probably thought was kind. "After all, I shall be quite dead, as he ordered—"

 

“I can’t let Death Eaters into the school either!”

 

Harry stiffened beside him; eyes wide with worry. They hadn’t exactly discussed that part of his mission.

 

“There’s a vanishing cabinet in the Room of Hidden Things,” Draco continued, pacing back and forth in front of the desk. Might as well get all the facts out now. “The matching cabinet is in Borgin and Burkes. The one here is broken, and I have to fix it.”

 

Dumbledore didn't seem surprised. Which meant he already knew. Of course he did. Snape told him.

 

Draco didn't know whether to be relieved or worried. He'd watch Snape lie to Voldemort's face—to save Draco, but still—who could say he wasn't double crossing them both? He'd failed to teach Harry occlumency; was that intentional?

 

Dumbledore watched him like he knew exactly what Draco was thinking. He probably did, the old mind-reading creep— 

 

“I’m sure you’re more than capable, Draco,” Dumbledore tried, but Harry wasn't having it.

 

“Don’t you get it? He doesn’t want to!” When Dumbledore did not reply, Harry continued, “Do you ever think about other people? What they want? Draco’s risking everything by coming to you, asking for your help to protect him and his mother! You told me once that it’s our choices that matter, and he’s trying to make the right choice!”

 

Dumbledore startled at Harry's words, though his eyes were distant as though thinking of something—or perhaps someone—else. “I can protect you, Draco, but if you do not fix the cabinet, if Voldemort has any reason to suspect your true loyalties…I'm afraid your mother is beyond my reach to protect. As I understand it, your father has since broken out of Azkaban again.”

 

Draco nodded woodenly. Officially, he didn't know anything about his father's whereabouts. It felt like a worse betrayal to discuss this with the leader of the Order of the Phoenix than anything else he'd shared. Voldemort and his plans could hang, for all he cared. But admitting the rest…his family were the only reason he’d agreed to do all this in the first place.

 

Dumbledore's voice rang loud and clear in his office. Enemy territory. “They will not escape punishment for your disobedience.”

 

“You think I don’t know that?” Draco whispered. “I came to you because you’re supposed to be the most powerful wizard of our time!”

 

Dumbledore's eyes shone with tears. Draco almost believed they were genuine, as if he could feel compassion for his would-be assassin. “I’m just an old man, I’m humbled to say. I don’t have all the answers. I cannot save everyone, no matter how very much I wish that I could.”

 

Draco's stomach churned and clenched, hands shaky. "If I follow through with my orders, I'll be a criminal. Even if I don't kill you, I'll have to speak with the Dark Lord, he'll know what I've done—" He sat down sharply in the chair he'd been offered and ignored earlier. “What would you have me do.”

 

It didn’t quite come out as a question. The man had just said he didn’t have answers, after all. 

 

He did have the decency to look grim about it, though. “You won’t like it.”

 

Harry snorted, anger coming off him in waves. Draco imagined he could feel it like licks of flame again.

 

“I think erasing your memories of this would be for the best.”

 

“No!” Harry cried, slamming a fist on Dumbledore's desk. "We’ve only just—”

 

“It’s for his own protection, Harry. Voldemort is a formidable legilimens, if he suspects anything, he will not hesitate to break Draco's mind to find proof of treachery.”

 

“Then have Snape teach him Occlumency!”

 

“Professor Snape, Harry, but the risk is too great to even attempt—”

 

“You didn’t seem to think that last year!” Harry countered, triumphant look in his eye. “So either admit that the whole thing was bullshit or let him try!”

 

“You were not able to learn occlumency from Severus. What makes you think he’d be able to teach Draco?”

 

“Where’s your confidence in him now?" he mumbled. "Snape hates me. He did it only because you asked. I’m sure he’d be delighted to teach Draco. He’d probably find much more success than he did with me.”

 

Draco swallowed thickly. He knew what it was like to have your mind nearly broken. Even if he learned occlumency, mastered it, the Dark Lord would keep searching, breaking down mental barriers, endlessly pursuing whatever information he sought. Draco had seen it happen before. Even so… “I don’t want to forget.”

 

Dumbledore smiled at him, as though that could fix this fucked up situation. “I assure you, Draco, that you have nothing to worry about; you will not be responsible for killing me. You can fix the cabinet. Your path is not an easy one, but being in Voldemort’s good graces is the only clear path to keeping you and your family safe.”

 

“Like you give a damn about his family,” Harry whispered mutinously.

 

Dumbledore's stupid blue eyes sparkled over his stupid half-moon spectacles.“You won’t forget your feelings, either.”

 

Draco felt his face heat, embarrassed that they’d been so transparent. “Nothing could make me forget that,” he said with confidence he did not possess. But Dumbledore couldn’t obliviate six years of loving Harry.

 

No, the only thing Dumbledore could erase was the knowledge that Draco was not alone in his feelings.

 

So, forget, and: live, save his family, serve the Dark Lord. Or, remember, and: face unbearable pain, abandon his family to the Dark Lord, be with Harry. It shouldn't be a difficult choice, and yet.

 

“Will Harry be safe?”

 

“I’ll be sure of it.”

 

“You can’t be seriously considering this, Draco!” Harry pleaded.

 

Draco smiled, and squeezed Harry’s hand. “You’ll have to remember for the both of us and find me on the other side of all this.”

 

Draco could see it in Harry's eyes, the will to fight, not to just accept this. But he also saw that Harry would not ask Draco to choose him over his family.

 

Dumbledore cleared his throat, determined not to be ignored even during their private moment. “Given what, ah, happened last June, Harry, I rather think it would be best for you not to have knowledge of this, either.”

 

Harry stood up straighter. He’d grown over the past year and was nearly as tall as Draco now. “I’m not letting you obliviate me as well. You said there was no risk of Voldemort possessing me again.”

 

Draco’s stomach filled with ice. “He possessed you?”

 

Harry shot him a look that said, ‘not now’, perhaps not realizing that now was the only time for answers.

 

“I don’t think it likely,” Dumbledore said delicately, “But it certainly remains a possibility. If you truly care about Draco’s well-being—”

 

“Of course I bloody care,” Harry growled, eyes burning with intensity. Somewhere overhead lightning flashed, followed shortly by thunder. “It’s because I care that I won’t let you make me forget. When all this is over, do you expect people to be forgiving?”

 

Dumbledore said nothing. He just sat there and watched with all his unbearable wisdom.

 

Harry took Draco by the arm and pulled him gently to his feet. "Thanks, professor. You've made it clear you can't help us. We'll find our own solution." He guided Draco to the door, eyes full of sorrow and fury.

 

"And if you can't?" Dumbledore called after them.

 

Harry paused to look over his shoulder. "I will."

 

"Harry. Please listen to reason."

 

"You mean listen to you? Do what you want?”

 

Draco shivered at the ice in Harry's voice. It was powerful, and terrifying, and it was on Draco's behalf.

 

“You’ve made mistakes before.”

 

“Many times,” Dumbledore agreed. “I’m only human.”

 

“Then give us time," Harry replied, “Give us a choice.”

 

Dumbledore's lips pinched tightly, eyes conflicted, but he nodded. “Alright, Harry, Draco. But be aware that time is running out. For all of us.” He stared out the window, looking his age for the first time in all the years that Draco had known him. "Such Beings of Light were not built to bear such Burdens of Darkness."

 

He said it so quietly, Draco couldn't be sure they were meant to hear it. He didn't know what it meant, but the words filled him with unnatural fear.

 

———

 

Harry stared blankly at the page in front of him. It was a book on botany, as far as Draco could tell, but Harry had been cagey about letting Draco see it. Not that Draco had time to worry about what Harry was reading; he was too occupied in his own research.

 

They’d been searching for weeks for a better solution. A way to get Draco’s mother to safety, a way to save them all. But in the end, there wasn't a better solution. Draco had spent the whole year trying to think of ways to get out of his task without dooming himself and his family to death and come up empty. Having Harry help him look didn't change the facts. Even with Harry's help, there was nothing to be done. 

 

"I'm marked, Harry. I can't escape this. He'll kill my mum, and my dad, and then he'll hunt me down and kill me, too." They’d had a dozen conversations like this already, and even Harry’s unwavering optimism couldn’t overcome the darkness Draco was enmired in.

 

Every time, Harry said they’d find a solution. Insisted that they just needed to look a little longer, to find the right book.

 

Today was no different. "I'll help you," he said, eyes fiery and determined.

 

"Harry, you can't. I've told you there's nothing—"

 

"No, I mean…I'll help you fix the cabinet." He looked up at Draco, a small smile on his face that didn't quite reach his eyes. "I'll help you fix the cabinet, and the rest we'll figure out later."

 

It wasn't as solid a plan as Draco would have preferred, but it was all they had. "Alright."

 

Knowing he wasn't alone anymore was more comforting than Draco anticipated, and even though he didn't want to fix the cabinet, the work went faster than ever.

 

As it turned out, Harry was actually quite helpful. He didn't know as many charms as Draco did, but he came up with ideas Draco would never have thought of. And just having Harry there to talk the process through made Draco realize what he'd been doing wrong. Sometimes he just sat there quietly, reading his own books in silent companionship. 

 

Other times, he'd talk about nothing and everything all at once. He talked about Sirius and Lupin, Granger and Weasley. He distinctly didn't talk about his Muggles. He told Draco what he heard when dementors got too close, and why his Patronus was a stag. Draco learned all about the Marauders, and the map (which explained a lot, really), and all kinds of plots that were difficult to believe.

 

"You did not use a time turner to help Sirius Black and that bloody chicken escape."

 

"Me and Hermione did," Harry corrected. "I'd probably be dead a hundred times over if it weren't for Hermione."

 

"I don't doubt that," Draco mumbled. Then a thought occurred to him, in the way unpleasant thoughts do, bubbling up and pestering him until he could think of nothing else. "Do they know?"

 

"Does who know what?" Harry asked, turning another page in his mysterious book.

 

"Granger and the Wease—and Weasley," he corrected when Harry glared at him. "Do they know about…this?"

 

He hoped Harry didn't ask him to clarify what he meant by 'this'; Draco wasn't too clear about it himself.

 

"Some of it," Harry admitted after a moment of reflection. "Have you told anyone?"

 

Draco was about to deny it, but then he remembered. His face heated at the thought. "I didn't tell him. But Snape knows."

 

"Oh, yeah. Sorry," Harry smiled bashfully. "Pretty sure that one was my fault."

 

"He could have told the Dark Lord. I'm still not sure why he didn't. Instead, he lied about it…"

 

"Guess he likes you or something." Harry turned a page, silent for a while. "Do you trust him?"

 

"Dumbledore trusts him," said Draco, dodging a real answer. He fiddled with an interior panel of the cabinet. "I don't think he'll tell the Dark Lord anything. He'd have to admit he lied before, which is a good way to die painfully. And I—when Dumbledore said he'd made arrangements. So I wouldn't have to—kill him myself. I think he meant…"

 

"Yeah." Harry sighed. "I still can't believe it. That after everything, he's just going to…" he put the book down and walked over to Draco, leaning against a pile of stacked wooden chairs. "We're working on something together. I'm not supposed to tell anyone, but…" he stared off into the middle distance, gathering his thoughts. "But you told me your biggest secret."

 

"Technically, you already knew," Draco pointed out.

 

Harry sent him an annoyed glance. "Do you want to know or not?"

 

Considering that there was a very real possibility Draco was going to have his memories erased anyway, he didn't think it mattered that much. But he did want to know; he was curious, if nothing else. "If you want to tell me."

 

Harry was silent for a long time, still as a statue. "Do you know what a horcrux is?"

 

 

"I told Ron and Hermione that we're, um. Dating."

 

Draco paused his work, turning around slowly to stare at Harry. His face felt as hot as Harry's looked. “You did?"

 

Harry nodded.

 

It took Draco an embarrassingly long time to process, during which Harry's expression ran the gamut from flustered to worried to mortified. "I suppose that's a good explanation for why you've been gone so much…"

 

Harry huffed. "That's not why I said it. They know I'm helping you with something dangerous."

 

Draco frowned. "Are we, then? Dating?"

 

Harry flushed impossibly redder, dark skin tinged the same shade as his dream robes. "I don’t know. We can't exactly go to Hogsmeade together."

 

"No," Draco conceded, "I suppose we can't."

 

"I’d go with you,” Harry said in a rush, “to Hogsmeade. If we could. If you wanted to.”

 

Draco fiddled with his wand. "It doesn’t really matter what we want, does it."

 

“Hypothetically, if we could, though. Would you want to?” he paused, wet his lips. “'cause I want to. Did I already say that? I did, didn’t I?”

 

Draco opened and closed his mouth a few times. Typical Gryffindor brashness and bravery, charging right ahead. "We're a bit beyond dates at Hogsmeade, aren't we? I mean, you're helping me betray The Dark Lord. That's at least third date material.”

 

"Technically, I'm helping you finish your task for him. That makes me an accomplice, I think." Harry wet his lips again. "That puts us at fifth date material, I think."

 

He couldn't exactly deny that, could he? "What would they say if they knew what the chosen One does with his free time?"

 

Harry rolled his eyes.

 

Feeling emboldened for reasons he couldn't quite place, Draco admitted, "Did you know the Dark Lord originally wanted me to attempt to seduce you? That was his grand plan for getting you out of Hogwarts so he could try to kill you. Again."

 

"Really?" Harry snorted. "I'd like to see you try."

 

"Excuse me?" Draco put down the piece of the cabinet he was adjusting. "I had to suffer him saying all kinds of inappropriate things about my 'seductive qualities', and you dare doubt me?"

 

Harry smirked, but it was tinged with incredible fondness. "You don't seduce people. You're the type who wants to be seduced, persuaded, wooed. And you wouldn't make it easy. I would know," he added the last bit quietly, almost to himself. "Me? I'm too stubborn to be seduced. I already know what I want."

 

Draco's face was quite hot now. He was sure he looked pink and flustered and not at all seductive. "Oh do you? You know what you want?" 

 

Harry smiled, all mischief and trouble, and didn't say anything.

 

And that just wouldn't do. Draco refused to be the only one flustered here. “I’d go with you to Hogsmeade, if we could. I’d want that. I do.”

 

Harry's eyes twinkling mischievously. “I could take you to the Shrieking Shack, if you like. No one would bother us there.”

 

“You really know how to romance a wizard,” Draco said, turning back to the cabinet, “taking me to a haunted house? Delightful.”

 

“It’s not actually haunted,” Harry said. Draco heard the sound of a page turning. “Remus used to go there for full moons when he was student. To turn.”

 

“Oh.” Draco was still deathly afraid of werewolves, even if Lupin had seemed quite alright before Snape outed him. After everything Harry had told him about the marauders, and Lupin specifically, he couldn’t really see the man as terrifying anymore. But that didn’t mean he wanted to go hanging about his old transformation grounds, either.

 

“We could even go to the Honeydukes cellar,” Harry said, “if it’s romance you’re after.”

 

“Charming.” Draco sighed, fighting back guilt. “They’ve cancelled the remaining Hogsmeade trips, anyway. After the poisoning.”

 

“We could still go. Anytime we like.” Harry, tactfully, did not mention that it was Draco’s fault, however indirectly, that the Hogsmeade trips had been cancelled. Not that they could have gone together, anyway. "I know a secret passage."

 

“Ah, yes, that map of yours. How could I forget? We can just go, 'anytime we like'. It’s not like there’s a homicidal maniac after any of us, after all. And even if there were, I doubt he’s hiding in the Honeydukes cellar,” he added. “The shrieking shack on the other hand…no promises there.”

 

“It did once house known criminal Sirius Black,” Harry agreed, then chuckled. “I really can’t imagine Voldemort trying to fit through that dingy tunnel.”

 

Draco didn’t know what Harry meant by that, but it hardly mattered. It was a distraction anyway, from the things they couldn’t do. Not now. Perhaps not ever.

 

But for the first time in a long time, Draco had hope that there might be an after. A future to hope for. It was small, but it was there, and that was enough.

 

——

 

Within a month—all too soon—the cabinet was all but fixed. Draco had never felt more dread at a successful project.

 

When the bird came through the cabinet alive and whole, he allowed himself to cry without holding anything back. He knew Harry wouldn't judge him. Harry held him and stroked his hair, silent tears falling from his eyes as well.

 

Don’t make me do this, his tears whispered, please, I beg you.

 

"I can tell the Order when to come here. To minimize the damage," Harry offered, unprompted. "No one else needs to get hurt."

 

Draco shook his head. "That's not enough. And the Dark Lord might suspect, then, that I've betrayed him. And then if he uses legilimens, or crucio, or imperio—" he took a steadying breath. All these weeks they'd been fixing the cabinet, he'd known it would come to this. He'd known it.  Somehow, that did little to lessen the blow. "Please tell me you’ve found something. A solution. Anything." 

 

Harry held him tighter, throat working as he responded. "Not exactly. Nothing that will work for the short term."

 

Cold fear doused with hope gripped his heart. "And the long term?"

 

Harry was silent for a long moment. "You trust me, don't you."

 

It wasn't exactly a question, but there was a hint of uncertainty in Harry's voice.

 

Draco pulled away. "I bloody well hope so, otherwise I've made the biggest mistake of my life, telling you my worst secret to date."

 

Harry smiled, but it was a thin, wan thing. “I’ve got an idea…” he started and trailed off.

 

Draco’s nerves were far too frazzled for all this caginess. “Harry. Either reveal the master plan you've been working on all this time, or…" Draco closed his eyes, pretended he was brave like Harry, and finished, "or we go to Dumbledore."

 

"Draco…" Harry began, but Draco couldn't let Harry talk him out of this.

 

"It’s the only sure way! Voldemort is a powerful legilimens—"

 

"You can occlude—"

 

"Would you bet your life on it? My mother's life? Mine?" With a defeated sigh, Draco shook his head. "My aunt…she told me I was weak-willed, soft. That it would be my undoing."

 

"Your aunt is a fucking moron," Harry pointed out.

 

"But she's right! I could barely keep her out when I practiced with her, and I doubt she was really trying. She was just bored." Draco had to take several more deep breaths to calm himself, to force himself to continue. "I think it would be best…if we went back to Dumbledore."

 

Harry clenched his jaw. "No."

 

"Then you have to do it!" Draco insisted, almost angry now. "Don't be a stubborn fuck, Harry! I don't want to do this either, but—"

 

Harry grabbed his hand in a silent plea. Draco had to wonder if Harry just knew all his weaknesses, or if it came naturally to him like so many of his talents. "I won't obliviate you, Draco. But there's…what if I told you I could do something else? Something better."

 

"I'd ask what you think you can do that the most powerful wizard in Britain can't."

 

Harry locked eyes with Draco and smiled. Warm, mischievous. Harry. "Dumbledore can't do this spell. Well, not with you, anyway."

 

"What is it, then?" Draco raised an eyebrow, challenging. "Boy Who Lived magic?"

 

Harry didn't rise to the bait. "I won't remove your memories. We'll plant them."

 

Draco waited for Harry to continue his explanation, but it didn't seem he planned to provide further information. “I don't understand."

 

"Do you trust me?" Harry asked again, more certain this time.

 

Draco heroically resisted the urge to roll his eyes. "You know I do."

 

"I need to hear you say it."

 

Draco sighed and fixed Harry's tie, dishevelled as always. He couldn't quite bring himself to look Harry in the eye and say it. "I trust you, Harry."

 

Harry lifted Draco's face with a finger, a smile on his face. "Thank you." He pulled out his wand, fingers trembling, then seemed to think better of it and put it away again. He glanced up at Draco briefly before looking down at Draco's left arm, right where the dark mark was hidden, and slowly lifted his hands to grab Draco's arm and pull it towards him.

 

Draco tensed and tried to pull back, but Harry held fast.

 

"What are you doing?" He whispered, watching in horrified awe as Harry unbuttoned Draco's sleeve up and pushed it up, revealing the hateful mark. When Harry's fingers quested towards the black lines, Draco stopped him with his free hand. "Don't touch it, please. I beg you."

 

Harry took a deep breath. "I need you to let me do this, without asking questions. I found a spell…it will protect your memories and sever your connection to him. But it will push our trust to the limit."

 

Draco swallowed, wondering what Harry didn't want to tell him. "Will it hurt?"

 

Harry looked down at his feet. "It might."

 

Draco squeezed Harry’s hand so tightly it had to be painful, but Harry didn’t complain. "What does it do?"

 

"I told you, no questions.”

 

“Harry,” Draco whined, but he knew it was useless. Harry had always had a far stronger will than him.

 

“I can't tell you until it's over."

 

"Because you don't know, or because that's a part of the spell?"

 

"Yes."

 

Draco did roll his eyes this time. He'd read about magic like this, that relied on trust—and quite possibly feelings even stronger than that. Feelings he was afraid to put a name to. The most powerful magic of all. 

 

He'd always dismissed stories about such magic as useless; his father told him it didn’t exist, and Draco never imagined he’d have the opportunity to test it out. He never thought he'd trust anyone enough to try it, or that anyone would ever trust him enough to let him try it on them.

 

Once again, Harry defied every rule Draco could think of. At least he understood now why this wasn't an option for Dumbledore: the spell required complete, unconditional trust between subjects. Draco didn't trust Dumbledore. But Harry…they'd come this far together, hadn't they?

 

“What do I need to do?” Draco whispered; throat tight.

 

"Hold still. And don't watch." He glared at Draco seriously until Draco closed his eyes. Something wet touched his arm and he winced. The taste of copper was on the air.

 

"What are you doing?" he whispered. "are you bleeding?"

 

"Hush," Harry said. Draco felt designs drawn wetly into his arm, near and around the dark mark, but never touching. Harry whispered an arcane word; Draco jumped at the jolt of energy that ran through his arm.

 

He wanted to ask, but he had a feeling he wouldn't get any answers anyway.

 

“We can’t complete the ritual here.” Harry's calloused fingers brushed Draco's damp hair back from his forehead. It was only a touch, but it felt more intimate than anything he’d experienced outside a dream. “Meet me at midnight. You know where.”

 

When Draco opened his eyes, Harry was gone. He wanted to complain that Harry’s instructions were too vague, but then again he did know where. And perhaps that was part of the spell.

 

He looked at his arm; it was slightly red, but otherwise betrayed no proof of what had transpired. Whatever it had been.

 

Draco felt a rush at the thought, an ancient spell of trust, and time, and magic more powerful than anything else.

 

If anyone could do it, it would be Harry.

——

 

Draco waited in the shadows of the boat house until five to midnight. He didn’t want to be late, but he thought it would be in bad faith to show up early. Even if he did want to sneak a peek, glean some insight as to what Harry had planned…his curiosity wasn't greater than his certainty that peeking would ruin the spell. He'd know soon enough. He could be patient.

 

He was also terrified about what might happen, but he was trusting Harry. He had to. He repeated it to himself as he walked across the moonless heath, grateful that at least there was no need to worry about werewolves, even if the encroaching darkness made it hard to breathe.

 

He came to the Willow Grove and pulled back the branches, banishing the last of his reservations. There were little floating orbs of flame floating around the clearing, casting Harry in warm golden light. It felt safe, and calm, and he’d been right about this being the place.

 

“Harry,” he said softly. Harry turned, eyes alight with relief.

 

“You came,” he breathed, stepping quickly over the roots to take Draco by the hand.

 

Draco barely bit back the ‘of course I did’, settling on the far softer, “You asked me to.”

 

It felt wrong and dangerous to make himself so vulnerable when so much was at stake, but he knew by the way Harry squeezed his hand that it was the right thing to say. 

 

Harry tugged Draco into the centre of the grove, every step filling Draco with warmth in spite of the cold air. He stepped very deliberately through the grove, and Draco did his best to follow. The deeper they got, Draco's eyes adjusted to the strange light the globes emitted; he realized the light in the trees were not mere globes—they were fairy lights.

 

“How—” he began, but Harry shook his head. The ground was littered with night flowers—jasmine, gardenia, phlox—all sacred plants and fae-loved, laid out in a pattern Draco vaguely recognized, but in the low light he couldn’t make out what it was. Fairies were fickle creatures, but they had strong respect for promises. They loved secrets and hated lies. Draco wasn't sure if it were a good thing or not that they were here, since they usually kept to themselves. He wondered if Harry had brought them here intentionally, or if something about the ritual had drawn their presence. 

 

Harry must have come here straight from the Room of Hidden things to set this up. Or perhaps he'd been working on this for weeks, knowing they wouldn't be able to find a way to avoid going through with letting Death Eaters into the School. It was painful and bittersweet and lovely all at once.

 

Harry stopped leading him when they were at the centre of the grove and the petals strewn about the ground. They'd walked in a winding, circular path to arrive here, no doubt a part of the ritual. "Um," Harry began, greens eyes glowing gold in the fairy light, "if there's anything you want to say…now is the time."

 

There were so many things he wanted to say, and so many more that he didn't have the words for. He didn't want to cheapen the sentiment with the fact that he would forget saying it at all, but…

 

Before Draco could change his mind, he reached into his pocket and pulled out the pendent. Soon, he wouldn't know what it meant, anyway. He couldn't risk losing it, even if it meant giving it up. Temporarily. "Take this."

 

He held out the silver chain expectantly. Harry took it.

 

"Open it," he said, voice soft. And Harry did. His eyes grew wide as he realized what it was.

 

"This is…?"

 

"The flowers—" Harry's flowers, gifted to Draco "—from last year. I shrank them down, put a preservation charm on them, and put them in there to keep as a reminder. O-of. What they mean." He sniffed, voice going all wobbly. "And I'll want it back, so you had better take care of it for me."

 

Harry's eyes searched his for a long moment, the way he did sometimes. Like he was looking for an answer to a question he hadn't asked. Draco was never sure if Harry found it, and now was no exception. "Would you do something for me without being weird about it?"

 

Draco sniffed again, lifting his chin. "I've never been weird about anything in my life."

 

"Never." Harry smiled, incredibly fond. "Pierce my ear."

 

Whatever he'd expected Harry to ask, it hadn't been that. "I beg your pardon?"

 

Harry bent down on one knee. "Do it." 

 

Draco's heart fluttered. "is this part of the ritual?"

 

"If I say yes will you stop asking questions?"

 

Draco continued staring, because Harry ought to know the answer to that by now.

 

He sighed. "It will help, I promise. Please?"

 

"How can I possibly say no when you've asked so nicely?" Draco shook his head. This would give him nightmares, if he remembered it. "So how do you want me to do this? Do you even have an earring to wear?"

 

"Make me one."

 

"Wh—now?"

 

Harry shrugged. "Why not? You made a pendant. An earring should be easy, in comparison."

 

Bewildered, Draco reached down and plucked a dandelion, transfiguring it into metal and shrinking it down to size. "There. That'll have to do."

 

"It's perfect." The way Harry was looking at it, Draco believed him.

 

"So. You just want me to…stab it in, then? Where?"

 

"Right here," Harry offered his left lobe, "it's the traditional placement, so I hear."

 

He fiddled with the makeshift earring. It would be better to use a needle, probably, but Harry seemed to know more about this than Draco. "What if I fuck it up?"

 

"You won't. And even if you do, there's this thing, it's called magic? Ever heard of it?"

 

Draco rolled his eyes and grabbed Harry's lobe. "This is by far the strangest thing you've ever asked of me."

 

"It won't be the last," he promised. Draco didn't doubt it for a moment.

 

Harry lead him through how to pierce an ear based on something he 'read in a book once', which sounded like a lie.

 

"On the count of three, then. One, two—" he stabbed Harry's ear. Harry winced, but didn't say anything. It was easier than he'd thought it would be, though he tried too hard not to think about the fact that he was driving a sharp object through flesh, and it might start bleeding soon, or get infected, or something equally terrible "—three. All done."

 

Harry glared at Draco playfully. "I should have known you'd do that." He clambered to his feet, grunting a bit. Draco wanted to ask if it had hurt, but the answer seemed fairly obvious. "How does it look?"

 

"Very becoming," Draco drawled. It really did suit him, though. "Shall I do the other ear?"

 

"Maybe some other time. Your turn?" Harry waggled his eyebrows.

 

The idea wasn't as distasteful as it should have been, but … "I think I would be alarmed to wake up with an earring and no memory of receiving it."

 

"Fine. Some other time, then." Harry's expression was carefully neutral enough to suggest he might be disappointed, but he didn't push the issue. He looked one last time at Draco's pendent before placing it around his neck and tucking it under his shirt.

 

Harry turned back to Draco, taking both hands in his. For all that they were, and were not, this felt far more intimate than it had any right to be. "Do you trust me?" Harry asked for the third time that day.

 

And this time, Draco knew exactly how to respond. 

 

"I trust you with my life, Harry. My secrets, and my future." 

 

Harry smiled, but Draco wasn't done yet.

 

"Do you trust me, Harry?"

 

Harry blinked in surprise but held Draco's gaze. "I trust you with all my heart and soul. My everything. I choose you, even if it doesn’t make sense to anyone else."

 

Draco’s breath caught in his throat. He looked over at Harry, and saw the tears threatening to fall. Harry met Draco’s gaze, and one did. He smiled anyway, and Draco knew exactly what it meant. Harry hadn’t asked Draco to choose. He hadn’t asked Draco to choose him over his parents. Not him, or at all. Draco stared at his hands and wished there were no one in the world but Harry and him. Surely that would be a better place. I could really use a crown of wishes right now. “I don’t want to forget. I want to choose—”

 

“It’s alright, Draco. I know. It’s only for a little while. I’ll find you. Always,” Harry swore, eyes fierce even in their pain.

 

“I know you will.” Draco closed his eyes and nodded. He couldn't quite bring himself to speak, but he didn't think he needed to.

 

Harry gently took Draco's left arm again and pushed up his sleeve. Even though they had been safer in the privacy of the Room of Hidden things, this space felt like that world he’d imagined, with nothing and no one but the two of them in it.

 

"Don't watch," Harry whispered, and Draco felt the warmth of Harry’s wand and magic on his arm. “Think of your favourite flowers.”

 

It was a strange request, but Draco did, and he felt a hot pain in his arm, different from when he'd been marked. Perhaps just as painful, but without the horror and shame of wondering what he'd done. The pain of being marked was cold and cutting, like isolation and despair. This was…it felt like being joined. Struck by lightning, and truth, and light. It felt like giving, and taking, and searching, and finding.

 

He thought of sunflowers and daisies, jonquil and azaleas, lilies and primrose.

 

And dandelions, of course. Nothing would ever beat dandelions.

 

He couldn’t tell how long it went on. Time passed the way it did in dreams, all at once and not at all.

 

He almost wondered if he had fallen asleep, the strange trance of a flower parade ending with a final zap and the strange tingle of Harry's magic settling on his arm. "Is it…are you finished?"

 

"Yes," Harry breathed.

 

Draco opened his eyes to Harry's flushed face, tinged with the faint blue of magical overexertion, tear tracks dried on his cheeks. Draco wanted to touch. Wanted to taste. Wanted to ask, everything and one thing only: why?

 

He didn't do any of those things, afraid to crush the fragile peace that hung in the balance. Even if Draco didn't want to fight and didn't want the Dark Lord to win, their sides had been picked for them long before either of them had a say.

 

He tore his gaze away from Harry, desperate for something safer and less likely to break. But there was nothing safer or stronger here than Harry.

 

So he looked at his arm instead, the result of this long, strange ritual he didn't fully understand. He expected to see some remnant of what Harry had done this time, a mark that showed the magnitude of what had happened. It wasn't what he was expecting. "It doesn't look any different."

 

Harry smiled faintly. "Give it time." He fiddled with his wand in his hands, breathing shallow. If Draco had to guess, he'd say Harry was stalling. "I need to go."

 

"Go?" Draco's head snapped up, searching Harry's face. Harry wouldn't meet his gaze.

 

"The spell will take effect soon; I shouldn't be here."

 

Draco had hoped they might have more time, but as always, more time was too much to hope for. 

 

Harry’s eyes filled with tears and he looked at Draco at last; the will to fight back was there, that ever-present defiance…

 

He put something in Draco’s palm and closed their fingers over it, kissing the back of Draco's hand with a cheeky smirk. "Hold on to this for me, won't you?"

 

Draco glanced at their joined hands, wanting to ask something, anything, everything, but his words failed him. "You're always giving me more than I can give back."

 

"Well then. You'd better find a way to make it up to me someday, hadn't you?"

 

With that, he was gone. Draco didn't watch Harry go; he didn't think he could bear it. He'd call him back, beg him not to go, and Harry would probably do it. He'd asked for this, to have his cake and eat it too, and Harry had given it to him.

 

He brought his hand up to his cheek, still warm with Harry’s touch, or so he imagined, and pretended Harry was still there.

 

He examined the small pouch Harry had given him. It was fastened shut with a silver thread, attached to which was a small slip of parchment. Open when times are certifiably shite. 

 

A watery chuckle escaped without his permission. Laughing was about the last thing he felt like doing at the moment, but even absent Harry pulled it from him. Times were pretty shite right now, but now was probably not the time. 

 

All too soon, his sight was fading, just as his memories of everything that had transpired between them faded, and he was forgetting Harry, their stolen hours together, that with Harry he wasn't alone anymore—

 

 

Draco woke up with a gasp, eyes darting around the chamber that was certainly not the Slytherin boys dormitory. It was too bright, too white, too quiet—

 

He calmed down and took stock of his surroundings: he was lying on a cot in the infirmary, his head pounding, his heart aching worse. He was unsure of how long he'd been there, but time certainly had passed. Time he was unaware of.

 

A cleared throat alerted him to the presence of Snape by his bedside, looking unconcerned except for the flicker of relief in his eye that Draco might have imagined. “Good morning, Draco,” he drawled. It was the nicest thing Draco had ever heard the man say, and now he was wondering if he’d died, after all.

 

No, he decided as he attempted to sit up, he was alive. He was in too much pain to be dead. Whether that was fortunate or unfortunate remained to be seen, but his money was on the latter. “What happened?” he asked.

 

“I was hoping you could tell me. We found you in the boathouse, knocked out. No blood or wounds, but some kind of memory modification charm has been applied."

 

“Was I attacked?” he said, sounding a bit too hopeful. Then he frowned, Snape's words processing. "Why do you think I was obliviated?" He didn't feel like he was missing any memories. Usually memory charms left some kind of mental residue, but he felt…nothing. Well. Nothing other than crushing loneliness and loss, but that was nothing new.

 

Being found in the boathouse was strange, yes, but he'd been on his way to the Willow Grove. He didn't truly need to go there for alone time anymore—most of his time was spent alone—but the Willow Grove was the only place he could relax even a little bit. Something about the isolation and the water and the fact that nobody else knew about his going there, where he could disappear—

 

Snape made an uncomfortable twitching face, that could have been a suppressed smile, or sneer. Perhaps there wasn’t much difference when it came to people as misanthropic as Snape. “The memory charm was performed on your wand.”

 

“Oh.” Maybe he’d been trying to put himself in a coma. Plausible.

 

"Pomfrey has attempted the counter spell, but either you are an obliviation master the likes Hogwarts has not seen since—" he sighed deeply, shaking his head "—Lockhart, or someone else stole your wand and obliviated you. Honestly, I don't know which to hope for."

 

Draco didn't either. Considering that he was definitely not an obliviation master, he decided he was probably better off having forgotten.

 

“How is your task coming along?” Snape prompted. 

 

Draco felt his heart sinking. He’d lost hours that he should have spent fixing the cabinet being infirm instead. “It’s coming along,” he said vaguely. He didn’t mention that it was already finished, fixed, because he didn’t want it to be true. 

 

He knew there was something else he was forgetting, an itch in the back of his mind but…maybe he’d damaged his head by obliviating himself, after all.

 

"You know that if you need assistance, you need only ask."

 

Draco stared numbly at the sheets. Help. It had been offered to him before, but this was something he had to do by himself.

 

Snape was prattling on and on about duty, responsibility, and the maturity of knowing when to ask for help. Draco was only half listening. He shifted on the bed, rolling onto something small and lumpy in his pocket. Without thinking about it, he stuck his hand in to investigate, only to find that is was…a small leather pouch.

 

Snape was still talking to him, but Draco wasn’t listening at all. He pulled the pouch out. It didn’t look familiar, but it felt warm. He squeezed it gently. Where had it come from? There was a small note attached, written in handwriting that was, frankly, frightful. Open when times are certifiably— 

 

“Are you listening to me, Draco? You need to hurry,” Snape snapped, ignorant to Draco’s mental struggle. “An opportunity is coming up soon. You won’t get a better chance.”

 

Draco knew that better than he cared to. “Understood.” Snape acted like an ally, but in reality, he was a watchdog, there to make sure Draco did as he was told.

 

He was alone in this, as he’d always been.

Chapter Text

The first time Draco opened the leather pouch, it was shortly after he’d been forced to watch Nagini eat Charity Burbage. Had anyone asked him prior to the experience, he probably wouldn’t have said he knew who she was, exactly, only that he’d seen her at Hogwarts, and that she must be a member of staff.

 

He’d never cared about Muggle Studies; he might even admit to thinking it was a silly thing to waste an elective on. But killing someone over it was…there weren’t words, really. The sick crunch of bones, the way she’d begged for mercy…

 

Certifiably shite, indeed.

 

He’d often wondered throughout the summer what was in the small leather pouch. He’d come up with all kinds of ideas, from plausible to ridiculous. Obviously he could have opened it any time he felt like it; he could have easily satiated his curiosity and put the questions to rest. Certainly any time since he failed his mission to assassinate Dumbledore could be counted as a time that was certifiably shite enough to warrant opening the damn pouch. But the thought of just opening it for no real reason, on a whim, seemed wrong. Dissatisfied him, somehow. He just knew he shouldn’t, that he’d regret it. Rather, he knew that if he waited until he needed it, he’d be rewarded.

 

When he finally did open it, the contents were not what he was expecting.

 

It was full of seeds. Strange, silver-coated seeds in all shapes and sizes and varieties. He couldn’t quite identify any of them, no matter how striking the sensation was that they were familiar; that they were his; that he should know what they were, and the fact that he didn’t was less frustrating than it was painful.

 

He wasn't sure how many there were, either, only that there were a lot. He’d tried to empty the pouch once, believing there couldn't be more than a handful inside. But the seeds kept coming out of the bag, overflowing from his hand all over his desk, and from the desk onto the floor, and still there were seeds left inside. It had taken him two hours to collect them all and stuff them back in the pouch. For some reason, he thought it would be terrible if he lost even one. The pouch must have had an enchantment on it, an undetectable extension charm in all likelihood. That alone made the pouch valuable; such enchantments weren’t easy to come by, less for the spellwork needed and more for finding material that would hold it.

 

Even so, the pouch was less valuable to him than the contents. Holding the seeds in his hand was a strange experience. Inexplicable, yet positive. A group of seeds felt only warm and safe, but if he placed only one in his palm, the sensation was more concentrated. Precise, as though the seed contained a specific feeling itself. The feelings were not always positive, but they were always good. He wondered what sort of plants they’d make if he planted them, but he was afraid to even attempt it while he was at the manor that summer. He doubted anything would ever grow there again, seeped as it was with dark magic. At least, nothing good would grow there.

 

Imagining what the seeds would do if he planted them was enough to sustain him until he got somewhere he could plant them safely. He didn’t know yet where that would be, only that it certainly wasn’t the Manor; Hogwarts wasn’t exactly safe anymore, not with Dumbledore gone. (Not without Potter, either, not that he’d admit it.)

 

But the magic of Hogwarts was stronger than the manor; it could resist the darkness in a way his own home couldn’t. He wasn’t sure if the flowers could really flourish in such an environment of despondency, however. Perhaps it was the choir of dementors that ever hovered just outside the Hogwarts gates, or perhaps it was something else altogether, but all the colours seemed a bit dimmer; the air was cold, even next to the fire; food didn’t taste as good or fulfill him; and the only scent he could remember since the start of summer was that of rot and death.

 

He could have planted the seeds, whatever they might sow, at Hogwarts. But if he planted them, they’d be gone, and with them the warmth they brought. To feel anything other than the fear and nothingness that plagued him these days was a gift. But if he planted the seeds, the gift would be gone. And if they failed to produce anything…

 

Well, they had to produce something; that they might not didn't bear thinking about, and having a goal beyond the war was important, probably. Not that he could easily imagine such a time, but the first step to surviving was planning to survive, even if the thought that he could survive this darkness was uncharacteristically optimistic of him. In any case, it gave him purpose, a reason to outlast this, if only in order to find a place worthy of these seeds.

 

So he waited, and he imagined. He knew it would be worth it, just as it had been worth it to wait to open the pouch until times were, as instructed, ‘certifiably shit’.

 


 

 

“That went well, I’d say.” 

 

Draco snorted. “You have a twisted sense of success.” Still, in spite of everything, it cheered him.

 

Harry sounded far away and muffled. These containment units did not apparently lend themselves to communication and companionship with other detainees. The only reason Draco could tell he was not completely alone in this dark place was because he knew Harry had been brought in with him. 

 

Even so, they'd make it work. They’d done so in the face of the many obstacles they’d yet encountered, and this was no different.

 

“I was half-convinced they would just incinerate us on the spot. The fact that they’re even considering our proposal is more than I dared to hope for.” 

 

“If you thought they were going to dissolve us, why did you suggest we tell them?” Draco said, panic leaking into his voice.

 

“If we’d tried to hide it, they definitely would have destroyed us. We couldn’t have asked them for a test if they found us out. So it was worth it, even for a small chance they'd listen." In a smaller voice he added, "All I want is a chance at forever.”

 

Draco sighed. “I know."

 

He heard a scratching sound, and though he couldn’t see in the absolute light-swallowing darkness of the cells, he thought he could smell the distant hint of crackling fire.

 

“Are you burning things?”

 

“No,” Harry said guiltily, then, “Yes. I just wanted to see if it were true.”

 

When Harry failed to elaborate, Draco asked, “To see if what were true?”

 

“They say you can’t feel anything from your flames in here. Not heat, not light. Nothing.”

 

More silence. 

 

“And?” Draco pressed.

 

“And…and I feel cold.”

 

Draco, for his part, was starting to feel rather uncomfortably warm. At least he knew the sensation, recognized it from his time with Harry. “I believe they’ve made these cells contrary to our nature.”

 

Harry hummed speculatively. “Well, joke’s on them. I could never feel negatively about anything that shares your qualities.”

 

Draco huffed a laugh. He wondered if optimism were catching. He hoped so. “How can you be so relaxed? Aren’t you scared?”

 

“Why? Should I be?” There was enough of a waver in Harry's voice to suggest it was a facade of bravery. 

 

But perhaps bravery did not exist in absence of fear, but in spite of it. “…we could die, you know.”

 

“At least we’d know we tried.”

 

In fact, they would not know anything. For if they failed their test, or if the Patrons decided their brashness did not deserve to be rewarded, they would be unmade, and never think or know anything again.

 

Draco decided he didn’t need to point that out.

— 

 

They spoke off and on to pass the time, but there was something about the yawning emptiness of the place that demanded silence. And in the end, there wasn’t really much they could say. Neither of them really wanted to discuss their chances of survival, and with nothing to distract them, it was simpler not to talk.

 

It was shortly after Harry had dozed off—not really asleep, probably, since they didn’t need it, but still like an ember in the rain—when Draco heard a sound.

 

Footsteps, he realized. Quiet, but not stealthy. Whoever it was didn’t feel the need to hide their presence.

 

At first he assumed it was a Blank Charge sent to fetch them, and though he dreaded what they would say, he was almost relieved. It was better to know; the endless waiting was not easy to bear.

 

But it was not a Blank Charge. With a chilling breeze of air and the fragrance of fresh flowers, the one being Draco never expected to see appeared. 

 

Green.

 

Even now, after everything, Draco felt a conflict between adoration and distance. Green was, after all, the one responsible for Draco’s existence. It was not quite love he felt, though, for Green was also responsible for the Rules that put Draco in a cell.

 

“My Lord,” he said, bowing his head. He knew he ought to show deference; no matter how frustrated he was, he still respected his Patron’s power.

 

“My Charge,” Green said, returning the greeting. “Draco.”

 

Draco jerked his face up, unable to hide his surprise. 

 

“Don’t look so shocked. I am the one who named you. I am the one who made you. There’s nothing impersonal about that, no matter what you might think of me.”

 

Draco averted his gaze again. “Of course, my Lord.”

 

Green did not say anything for a long moment, still as ice in winter. Perhaps he was watching, just because he could. Perhaps he was observing, trying to come to a decision. “You are no doubt wondering why I am here.”

 

“It is not my place to wonder about you, my Lord,” Draco said, though he had been wondering. He just hadn’t thought to ask.

 

“You can speak freely, Draco. You’re already in as much trouble as you can be, after all, and it’s rather exhausting to maintain the charade, don’t you think?”

 

Draco looked up again. Green was actually smiling at him. He hadn't known Green could smile. “I’d like to think I still have a chance to win your favour,” he admitted.

 

Green crafted an ice throne and sat down in it; expression unreadable once again. “I already admire you quite a lot. You are my creation, but you have qualities I do not possess. So you see, the one who hopes he still has a chance is me.”

 

Draco frowned, sitting back against the wall of his cell. It was more comfortable now with Green’s cooling presence. “What do you mean?” 

 

“It might surprise you to hear, but we Patrons have lots of hopes, many which go unfulfilled. It is only natural, you understand, when the hopes of the Seven must compete for dominance. So many of our dreams conflict, contradict each other. Such is our nature.”

 

“I’ve never really thought about it,” Draco confessed. He generally tried not to dwell on the sorts of things that might count as shortcomings for his Patron. "I assumed you all shared the same vision. More or less."

 

"Sometimes more, sometimes less," Green replied with yet another smile, a cryptic one this time. “Some of my dreams, I gave up on long ago. Some are still strong, however.”

 

Draco returned the smile; he couldn’t help it. There was a familiarity to Green, even if Draco had never talked to him like this before. Or at all, really. “Care to share?”

 

Green inclined his head. “One hope I maintain is that you’ll give up on taking this test.”

 

Any warm feelings Draco had immediately vanished. “That, I cannot do.”

 

“Cannot, or will not?”

 

“Even if it were an option, I wouldn’t choose it." The sound of Harry's gentle snores wafted into the cell, fortifying his conviction, not that it had ever wavered. "I want to be with Harry, no matter what it takes.”

 

“You will suffer, even if you succeed." Green fixed him with his stoic gaze. "You were not built to withstand this trial.”

 

Draco wasn’t sure if this was meant to be a warning or a threat. He decided it didn’t really matter; he was ready for whatever the test might bring, if they should be allowed to take it.

 

He set his jaw and stared right back; chin lifted high. “I’m stronger than you think.”

 

“But still not strong enough—”

 

“It is my decision, and it is made.”

 

There had been a time when the very thought of interrupting his Patron would’ve made Draco a nervous wreck. He wasn’t sure if it were a sign of folly or bravery that now he felt justified in his actions.  

 

“You remind me of myself when I was your age,” said Green, changing tack.

 

Draco still saw it for what it was: an attempt to change his mind. “I do not have an age,” he countered, “And neither do you.” 

 

“And yet it's not wrong to say that I have been around longer than you, is it?”

 

Draco had nothing to say to that. “What is your point?” 

 

“You’re naive, and full of hope, and lack the wisdom of experience. Not that it's necessarily a bad thing,” Green added, perhaps sensing Draco’s impending protest, “but you do yourself no favours by reaching for the unattainable."

 

"I have to disagree with you, my Lord. Respectfully."

 

Green pressed his lips into a moue of displeasure. "Your chosen Charge is not so different from his Patron. Are you sure you wish to tie your fate to his?”

 

“Harry is nothing like Red,” Draco snapped. “I saw what they’re like. Angry, and contrary, and vengeful.”

 

“They were not always so…there was a time when Red was all commitment, and devotion, and reckless hope.”

 

Draco bit his tongue, unwilling to give any ground. “Harry is different than Red,” he said again, telling himself he sounded as sure as he felt.

 

Green continued as though Draco had not spoken. “Everyone likes to think they’re the exception; they aren’t. Your Charge will be just like Red is now, given the right circumstances. Red and all their Charges are passion, and a wounded passion lashes out.”

 

“And how would you know?” 

 

“I was like you, once. In love. We both were.” He levelled Draco with calm eyes. "Red and myself, that is."

 

Draco snapped his mouth shut, thinking as quickly as he could, even if his mind felt frozen. Such a thing could not be. And yet… “I thought love was a mortal construct.”

 

“It is true that love is not a creation of any of the Patrons,” Green allowed, “but I’d like to tell you a story. A story of love and pain. If, at the end, you still wish to take your test of bond, I will give you my blessing.”

 

Draco seriously doubted anything could change his mind, but he wasn’t in the mood to risk it. “And if I do not wish to hear it?”

 

“Well, you are stuck in there, and I am going to sit here and talk. You can try to ignore me, but I think you will listen.” Green leaned in toward Draco, a dark smile on his face. “We of Green are keen on learning. You’re too curious to pass up a good story.”

 

Draco was annoyed, but he couldn’t quite deny that Green was right. Which only annoyed him further. “What’s your story about, then?”

 

“It’s about that abandoned sector you think we forgot, and the reason Red and I don't get on, as well as the reason your Chosen has Green eyes.” Green chuckled a little at Draco, who leaned in closer. “Have I got your attention now? Good. It all started before the Mortal Realm was what it is, and before the words of time held any meaning or existence…”

 


 

It felt wrong, going back to school like this. Like everything was normal, like there wasn’t a war on, like the Dark Lord hadn’t staged a military coup, and like Draco hadn’t facilitated the murder of his former headmaster.

 

Like Potter wasn’t off somewhere, fighting for his life, not on the train with the rest of them.

 

Not that Potter would likely ever speak to him again. Not that they’d ever been on speaking terms. Draco couldn’t even remember what the last thing Potter had even said to him. Probably ‘fuck off’ or ‘fuck you’ or ‘go fuck yourself’ or some variation thereof.

 

He felt like he should remember. Everything Harry Potter said to him was important, and the fact that he couldn’t remember was more upsetting than it ought to be.

 

He thumbed the leather pouch in his pocket. In spite of the fact that he’d resolved himself not to plant the seeds at Hogwarts—save some sort of miracle involving the sudden and complete expulsion of the Dark Lord and all his rot—he found the idea of leaving the seeds behind even worse. Just because he wasn’t going to plant them didn’t mean he didn’t want them with him, if for no other reason than to pull them out and periodically stroke them. 

 

He could almost identify what each shape meant now; in terms of the feelings they would evoke. The oblong ones felt like happiness. The roundish ones felt like longing. The ones that looked like pebbles felt like regret. And the thin ones felt like safety. Size didn’t seem to have any indication for intensity, and even the shapes he felt he could reasonably classify as “the same” created different nuances of feeling for what was largely the same emotion. It was delicious, like cool water on a hot day. No, he would not leave such a balm behind.

 

He didn’t know what plants the seeds would grow, but they were all different. And when he held each one in his palm, he was filled with warmth, and longing, and pain, and loss, and wholeness in kind. It was just enough to stave off the chilling horror he was certain had seeped into his bones and become a permanent part of him. 

 

Although the bag contained a single instruction to open when times are certifiably shite—which Draco now interpreted as ‘open every time things are certifiably shite'—it said nothing about what to do with the contents once opened. Perhaps whoever had written the note and gifted him the pouch thought it was obvious what he was to do with the seeds. It wasn’t obvious, not to Draco anyway. Nothing seemed obvious anymore, in terms of what he should do. Up was down and left was right, and he just wanted it to all be over. 

 

In practical terms, what it meant was he kept his head down and did as he was told. Not that that was in any meaningful way different from how he used to behave. But in the past, he did as he was told because he wanted to. Now he did it because he didn’t know what else he could do. It was a pathetic way to live, of that he was certain, but knowing that didn’t give him any better ideas about what to do instead.

 

Times were most certifiably shite right now, but he hadn’t planted a single one yet. He didn’t think it was the right time, though what the right time would be, he wasn’t certain. He just thought he would know it when he got there.

 

Needless to say, the seeds were dear to him. He couldn’t explain why, and it was probably daft of him, but it was his only source of comfort, and he’d protect it with his life.

 

That was the other thing. Even though it felt wrong, he was relieved to be going back to Hogwarts. He’d started his summer with three-hour nightly sessions with the Dark Lord combing through his mind cruelly, forcing him to torture muggles, and otherwise making him miserable.

 

He’d glared at Draco, and sometimes smiled, but mostly he watched. Once, and only once, he had ripped off Draco’s sleeve to inspect his mark, poking and prodding and examining it painfully. “What did you do to it?” he’d asked. 

 

“Nothing, my Lord,” Draco had replied honestly. The only thing he’d done with it was try to ignore it.

 

The Dark Lord had sneered at it, as though it, too, had failed him. “It feels different.”

 

“It still works doesn’t it?”

 

The Dark Lord tested it every day. It still worked.

 

“I didn’t do anything to it,” Draco had said again, and even though he knew it was the truth, it felt like a lie. He hadn’t so much as touched it in the year since it had been branded on him. He usually kept it wrapped in a bandage so he didn’t have to acknowledge it was there. Not that he could forget, with it burning and writhing under his skin at every waking second. But at least he could pretend it was an infection, or a wound, or something other than a claim of evil on Draco’s soul.

 

At least at Hogwarts the burning would be lesser. Maybe at Hogwarts, he would find out if there were something more to do with the seeds other than plant them or hold them like a deranged gardener.

 

And if there was nothing else to do with them…well. Better a deranged gardener than a murderer. 

 


 

“When the beings you know as the Patrons first met, we had no direction. No greater purpose. All we knew was the meadow, and that we were creators. The world was our canvas, quite literally, responding to our wills to create whatever we imagined. We all had our inclinations and preferences, and that was enough.

 

“When you lack a greater vision, and aren’t working towards anything, there are no toes to step on, metaphorically. If you didn’t like something the other made, you could dismiss it and move on to a different part of the meadow. 

 

“But nothing lasts forever, even in that time before time.

 

“I was fascinated with Red; they always made such interesting creations, so different from my own. I admired their passion and reckless abandon. They didn’t care about making mistakes; better to crash and burn than to let fear stop them from creating.

 

“One day, they asked for my help. ‘All this heat and pressure needs something. A release. It can’t build up forever.’ And so we made a rain cloud. And another. You can make so many different shapes from clouds, you know. Red was delighted. So was I. And we’d done it together.

 

“Soon I had to admit it was not just Red’s creations I admired. It was Red. Everything I wasn’t, they were and are. Sometimes it frustrated me—frustrates me still—but mostly it dazzled me. So bright and powerful…a real inspiration to me, to all of us, really.

 

“All my flowers were red for a time. Red loved that, of course. Red is proud, as they should be. They liked our colours together. It was good…for a time.

 

“The others saw what we were doing, what we were creating together. They wanted in. That’s how the Mortal Realm came to be. It was like our sector, but with rules. You can’t have water that burns, or rocks that fly, or nights that are bright and days that are dark. Working with the others meant I had less time for Red, though. And Red noticed. It took me a while to understand, but they wanted approval. Recognition. Attention. The things Red creates are ephemeral, you know. That’s why they make so much noise, I think. Everything they do seems to say, ‘look at me while you still can’.

 

“But one day they went too far. Lightning struck a field I hadn’t been paying attention to. And it burned. The flowers, the trees, the grass. All gone.

 

"I was furious, naturally. ‘How could you do this to me?’ I asked. ‘Use my own nature and creation against me?’

 

“Red insisted it was our creation, and that it needed to happen. ‘Your plants were dying. You neglected them. I tried to water them, but it was too late. They were already dead. That’s what happens with mortal creations: they die.’ 

 

‘That doesn’t mean you had to set them all on fire!’ I yelled. Red just rolled their eyes, insouciant and unapologetic as they'd ever been. ‘They were always going to die. This is just us creating together again. Now you can start over.’ I didn’t see it, then, though. ‘It’s not together if you do it without asking.’ ‘I can’t ask if you don’t have the time of day for me anymore.’

 

“Red was used to their creations having a start and an end; I was not. I said things I didn’t mean, or at least said them in a way I didn’t want to say them. Red has always been a hot head. They told me I’m selfish and unwilling to give up space for others.

 

“Even so…needless to say, we didn’t talk after that. Things went haywire in our meadow, from us constantly trying to outdo each other. The other Patrons said enough; that we couldn’t work together anymore. We had to have our own domains. So we left the meadow and forged our own creative spaces. Rule-bound by the same restrictions that govern the mortal realm, other than time. It was easier that way. A reminder not to create things that could not Be. We have the council now, to make sure the balance is maintained, and that’s enough. It has to be.”

 


 

Draco sat and watched her eat. Technically, he didn't have to; his duties began and ended at bringing her food, but the dungeons felt safer than anywhere else in the manor, so he might as well be here as anywhere.

 

Well, technically he shouldn’t have been here at all. In the dungeons, that is. The dungeons were no place to be at Yule, not that he particularly felt like celebrating this year. It was the principle of the thing though. He’d spent Yule at Hogwarts for the past three years, and while he didn’t particularly want to stay there either, at least at Hogwarts there was no Dark Lord.

 

He’d been summoned to be here, though, in the way one marked by the Dark Lord was. He wasn’t sure if the months he’d spent in hopelessness had numbed him to everything, or if he had simply grown accustomed to the pain of the Dark Mark burning, but he could have sworn the intensity was less than it used to be.

 

He’d been summoned to the Manor, and so he came. He was still working out why he’d been summoned, to be truthful. No one had asked him to actually do anything since his hateful task had been completed. Well, half completed…at any rate, he wasn’t exactly part of the group. He neither believed in the message nor supported the Leader. Oh, from an outside perspective he belonged, certainly. He was marked, which was the distinguishing factor, but apart from that he was a Malfoy. A pureblood, the ideal of everything the Dark Lord and his followers claimed as their ideology. 

 

He was treated little better than a servant these days, mostly forgotten. He didn’t mind being forgotten; being the focus of the Dark Lord and his followers was less than pleasant, even for the favoured amongst them.

 

Even so, he’d been summoned, and from what he’d gathered, the only reason for it was to ‘deal with’ their new dungeon guest. But according to said guest herself, the only reason she’d been taken was to intimidate her father into falling in line, so Draco wasn’t sure where he was meant to fit in to all of this. He’d been given a platter of food to deliver to her, so it didn’t seem that ‘deal with’ meant ‘murder’, in this case. Not that he would have done that, of course, even if they had meant it. 

 

And really, they’d probably learned by now that Draco was not the person to call when they needed a murderer.

 

“You’re Draco Malfoy,” she said. There was no judgement in her voice. Interest, more like. A kind of scholarly distance, perhaps.

 

“Yes I am,” he replied, because there wasn’t much else to say to that, except perhaps to acknowledge that he knew who she was, too. “You’re Luna Lovegood.”

 

“You know my name? And that it belongs to me?”

 

Draco nodded. “I believe we are distantly related cousins.”

 

“I’ve never had a distantly related cousin before. What’s it like?”

 

Obviously, that wasn’t true. Draco was older than she was, so technically she’d always had a distantly related cousin. But having one and knowing about it were obviously different things, and it had been a long time since he'd had a conversation about something that wasn't how fucked everything was. “Well, it’s like this, I suppose. We meet for the first time when we’re already grown, and never discuss our shared great aunt twice removed.”

 

Lovegood frowned. “We aren’t already grown.”

 

“I’m already seventeen, so I think you’ll find that I, at least, am.

 

She cocked her head at him, protuberant eyes scanning his face. For what, he couldn’t have said, so he was unsure whether she found it. “I, for one, hope to never be ‘fully grown’. I hope you learn how to un-grow yourself.”

 

“Right,” Draco said, and he was beginning to understand what ‘dealing with’ Lovegood meant.

 

“Well, if we’re meant to be cousins, I suppose I’ll call you Cousin Draco.”

 

“That’s really not necessary, Lovegood—”

 

“And you can call me Cousin Luna, the first, or perhaps the third, I did always like the number three, although—”

 

“How about just Luna and Draco?”

 

She smiled, and he wondered if that had been her goal all along. “All my favourite people call me Luna.”

 

— 

 

"Would you like me to heat it up?" Draco asked. He’d been tasked with bringing her supper again, even though he should have been at Hogwarts. They both should have been, not that any learning was taking place there. In any case, he didn't see any reason to treat her poorly, even though she was a prisoner.

 

"Oh. Alright." She smiled at the now steaming dinner as though seeing something else. "It's nice to have company, as Mr. Ollivander has been taken away again."

 

"I hardly count as company," he said, and meant it.

 

Luna shrugged as though it hadn't occurred to her. "Harry was right about you."

 

His breath caught in his throat. "Harry?"

 

"Why, Harry Potter, of course.”

 

Draco barely bit back the ‘obviously’. His confusion hadn’t been over the who, but the why. Even so, Luna did not deserve his acerbity.

 

“He and I talked a lot about you," Luna continued, blithely eating her soup. "Quite a lot, I suppose."

 

“When?”

 

“Before I came here,” she said. 

 

He reminded himself again not to say something rude and prayed for patience.

 

She considered her spoon. “We talked lots of times, Harry and I, about lots of different things. He’s one of my best friends, you know. I painted his face on my ceiling. Not just his face. That would be…disturbing. Not that his face is disturbing, but—”

 

“No need to explain Luna, I understand.”

 

She smiled at him, and (fortunately), moved on with her explanation. “There are a lot of things he doesn’t feel he can talk about with Hermione and Ron, I think. He’s never said as much, but they don’t get him sometimes. You are one of those things.” She said this in that flighty way of hers, like it was both incredibly profound and also very simple.

 

It was time for a direct approach, apparently. "What did Potter tell you about me?" He wanted to know what Harry Potter thought he possibly knew about Draco, but hopefully he wouldn’t have to put that sentiment into words.

 

"He said you're contrary, a know it all, and a right pain in the arse sometimes. But he said you've got a soft side that you protect, and it's your best kept secret." Her smile fell a bit. "He said some other things, too. Nothing specific, but I think…I think that even though you might be on the other side of the bars, you're in a cell the same as I am."

 

Draco didn't know what to say to that.

 

“He also told me about the flowers.”

 

“The flowers?” 

 

“Yes, the flowers.” She sighed happily. “You do know what flowers are? Of course, you must do. Harry told me you had a sense of humour.”

 

He got a daft idea then. He pulled out the leather pouch that he always kept on his person and from it extracted a single, shining, silvery seed. “Do you know what this is?”

 

She gave him a very indulgent look, then. “Yes, I do.”

 

“And?” he prompted.

 

She shrugged. “You would know better than I, I should think. And if you don’t, really shouldn’t be the one to tell you.”

 

He sighed. As much as she seemed to believe wholeheartedly in spreading knowledge, she also told him some things defied explanation. That explaining them would lessen them somehow, if not in actuality than in understanding. She'd then told him a story about roses and foxes and a prince and a planet that he only half understood and thought that perhaps she was right about some explanations only muddying the waters.

 

He liked to ask her questions about things that probably seemed obvious to her, anyway. Her answers were not always cogent in the typical sense, but that was never really the point, was it?

 

"How can you stay so positive? Even in times like these?"

 

"Well, either things will get better, or they won't. All I can do is hope for the best. Negative thinking attracts wrackspurts, after all, and I can't have wrackspurts making my brain go fuzzy in a critical moment, can I?"

 

“No, I suppose you can’t,” he agreed. Then, "…what are wrackspurts?"

 

— 

 

Draco learned a lot from Luna, much of it nonsense, but it cheered him up regardless. He learned about her life, and about Harry Potter, too. The DA, and breaking into the ministry, and Bill Weasley's wedding.

 

"Harry was ever so sad there, you know. He was smiling, and laughing, but it was just an act.”

 

“How do you know?”

 

She gave him a melancholy smile as a response, and though it wasn’t an answer as such, he reckoned he understood, anyway. 

 

— 

 

“Do you know what these are?” He’d taken to asking her about the seeds often. Not every time they met, but frequently enough that a lesser being would have told him to shut up about the seeds already.

 

Luna never did. She only smiled, like they shared an in-joke, which maybe they did. No one was laughing, however.

 

He was summoned to the Manor nearly every weekend. He might have complained it was disturbing his studies, but that would imply he was actually learning anything at Hogwarts this year. Besides that, he didn’t mind. He got to spend his weekend taking care of Luna, and sometimes Ollivander, though Ollivander never spoke to him.

 

One day, after he asked her about the seeds, and after she’d given her enigmatic smile, she said something more about it. “Do you know what they are yet?”

 

“They’re seeds, obviously.”

 

“If you know that, why are you asking me?”

 

It was difficult to say he asked because he wanted to tell someone, and he didn’t think anyone else would understand. So he didn’t say that. “You know a lot of weird things.”

 

“Oh, why thank you, Draco.” She smiled wider at that. “Harry was right again.”

 

“What did he say?” He’d asked that many times as well, but she always said something different. It warmed him as much as it entertained him, even down here in this dank cellar.

 

“That you don’t always say what you mean. You’re like a riddle. You have to read between the lines.”

 

“How would Potter know that?”

 

“Harry knows a lot of weird things,” she advised. “Things even I find strange.”

 

“Why did I ask,” he wondered aloud.

 

“It’s a very good question.” Which question, she didn’t clarify. 

 

— 

 

“Do you believe in soulmates?”

 

“No.” Draco wanted to, but he didn’t.

 

“Harry told me a story, once. Not everyone has soulmates. But in a different time and place, some souls decided to be together. To test their love, they tried to find each other in a new life. If they found each other again, their bond was true.”

 

“And if they didn't?”

 

She shrugged. “Then they’d never be the wiser.”

 

His heart ached at the very thought. “That sounds cruel.”

 

“I don’t think so. If you fail, you never know about it. You can find love elsewhere, unburdened by past convictions.”

 

“I’m not so sure…”

 

“I like the idea that a soulmate is someone you pick,” she said dreamily. “I think my soulmate is chocolate. One of my soulmates, anyway.”

 

Draco didn’t think that was how it worked, but if he made sure there was chocolate hidden on the platter at her next meal, no one was the wiser. Except for Luna, probably. She knew a lot of things.

 


 

Draco sat there quietly, waiting for the story to continue. When he realized Green wasn’t going to—that he’d reached the end of the story—he felt…well.

 

“That’s it?” he asked, barely maintaining a respectful tone. “You had one fight, and that was it?”

 

“That’s all we needed. We couldn’t move past it.”

 

“Did you even try?” 

 

Green didn’t respond.

 

“You didn’t." Of all the things he might have expected to feel about his Patron, disappointed wasn't one of them. And yet here he was: disappointed. "You said it yourself, you haven’t spoken since.”

 

“There was nothing left to say.”

 

“Red was right, though. The plants were already dead, and even if they weren’t, at some point they were going to die. It’s the first thing you learn as a Green Charge.”

 

“For a good reason. No point getting attached to things that won’t last, even if you made them yourself.”

 

“You don’t really believe that,” Draco accused.

 

“I was right, too,” Green said, ignoring Draco. “Red should have asked me.”

 

“Perhaps so,” Draco conceded, “but maybe they didn’t think you still cared about the field, since you neglected the plants and let them die.”

 

“They were always going to die, just as my relationship with Red was always going to end.”

 

“That’s bullshit, and you know it.” Draco took a deep breath. “And anyway, Harry and I aren’t like that. We talk about things.”

 

“Have you ever had a fight, though?”

 

Draco smiled. “In the beginning, all we did was fight. Over anything and everything. Who the meadow belonged to, who had found it first, who needed it more. I hated talking to him and hated it even more when he ignored me.”

 

Green waved his hand dismissively. “Those are petty fights, hardly worth considering.”

 

“We’ve disagreed over things, even recently. A lot of things.”

 

“A disagreement is not the same as a fight. He’ll hurt you, someday. Maybe without meaning to. It doesn’t matter. He will hurt you.”

 

“And I might hurt him. But we won’t let it end our relationship because we refuse to speak to each other because of it.” Draco readjusted himself on the floor. It wasn’t going to be comfortable no matter how he sat, but at least he could find a new position to be uncomfortable in. “Relationships are about communication. Harry and I had such little time to be together, we didn’t have time to stay angry. If he did something I didn’t like, I told him, even if it made me anxious to bring it up. And if I did something to annoy him, he asked me not to do it again, or explained why it bothered him, even if it was hard for him to put it into words.” 

 

Really, Draco thought, he shouldn't have to explain this to an ageless, ancient being.

 

“It’s easy to say that now. I’m just trying to save you the pain of disappointment.”

 

There had been a time when Draco might have believed that. Now, he knew better. “Trying to stop me from getting attached, are you? How kind,” Draco scoffed. “I’m already far beyond attached.”

 

“And does he feel the same?”

 

“Of course,” Draco said coldly. He’d never been more sure of anything. “And we’d like to prove it to you. Prove you wrong.”

 

“Bold words for someone so young and naive. What if it doesn’t go as you expect?”

 

“I have no expectations about the test, except that it will be hard. But we’ll make it. Together.”

 

Green didn’t say anything to that. He looked pensive, if anything.

 

“You know, Time is a mortal construct,” Draco began, emboldened. “They can only face things as they come. Sometimes they don’t act quickly enough, sometimes they act too fast. But time is a constant they are aware of. They know the time they have is finite.” 

 

“What is your point?”

 

“That we have an advantage. It’s never too late to make amends, if you want to.”

 

“Time might be for Mortals, but we are still bound by its ends.”

 

Draco could tell he wasn’t getting through. He tried a new tactic. “Do you think Red meant to hurt you?”

 

Green sighed. “Red was angry that I wasn’t paying attention to them anymore, and threw a temper tantrum.”

 

“Because you hurt them first. Unintentionally,” he added to stop Green’s protests, “But you did.” 

 

“It was unrealistic of them to expect me to dedicate all my attention to them when we had work to do.”

 

“Perhaps. But did you make any time for them? Any at all?”

 

“Time did not exist yet,” Green explained.

 

Draco rolled his eyes. Had he ever been this stubborn? 

 

“Time is different for us here,” Draco agreed, “but time is the great equalizer. It’s all Harry and I could give to each other. Time is how you love: by giving it. Knowing you can’t take it back, that those moments are gone.”

 

“You can’t keep them anyway,” Green pointed out.

 

“Exactly. Which is why it matters, how you choose to spend your time. You didn’t spend yours caring for the things you claimed to love, either your plants or Red. Love is a verb—”

 

“And they used their time to destroy!”

 

“Do you know what happens to a field after a fire?” Draco asked. “The soil is replenished. It becomes fertile, and new plants grow. All without anyone having to do anything. A sick land can heal after a fire. Would you have let Red burn that field, even knowing it was necessary? Even seeing the flowers were dead from your neglect?”

 

“They should have asked,” Green said again, stubborn to the last.

 

“Yes. But you should have been paying attention.” Ultimately, it didn't really matter whether Green understood Draco or not. He understood this, fundamentally, but it was not Draco himself Draco wanted Green to understand. Oddly, it was Red. “Maybe Red felt a bit like those dead plants: neglected and forgotten for more interesting ventures.”

 

“If our relationship was like a plant, then it was always going to die, anyway.” That was the third time Green had said as much. Draco wondered whether it was he Green hoped to convince or himself.

 

He had a good idea he knew the answer.

 

“Plants have seeds, you know. So even when they die, they can regrow. Maybe you can’t be what you were. Maybe relationships go through phases of growth and phases of dormancy, too. They have to change to respond to the times. Lots of forests flourish after a wildfire, you know. Harry told me that.”

 

“Did he,” Green said, noncommittal.

 

“Yes. Do you know what I did with that information? I made a whole batch of flowers that only germinate after exposure to smoke.”

 

Green looked taken aback. “Why?”

 

“To prove a point, I guess. That opposites can coexist, and flourish together.” He took a deep breath. “Maybe Red went about it poorly. And they should have asked before setting your field on fire. But didn’t the plants that grew back there flourish?”

 

“I don’t know. I never went back to see.”

 

Draco smiled. “You should. If Harry is anything like Red…Harry isn't always good at explaining things. He's about action, and if Red is like that, perhaps they were trying to show you something."

 

"You don't know them like I do—" Green tried, the panic in his voice carefully concealed.

 

"But I know Harry better than anyone." Green didn't say anything to that, which Draco decided to take as a measure of victory. "I think what Red was trying to say was two-fold: you can’t ignore things and expect them to keep growing, but you can start over from the seeds of what was. Become something new, something better.”

 

Green scowled at him, but Draco felt neither fear nor offense at the expression. “And what about you and your chosen bond? If you take the test, and it all goes up in flames?”

 

Draco shrugged. He'd already thought already about all the ways they might fail, and yet here they were. Alive, hopeful, and with their chance at forever almost within reach. “Then maybe we’ll be reborn and find each other again. I can’t worry about what might happen.”

 

Green stood up abruptly, ice throne melting into a puddle at his feet. “You’ve given me much to think about, Draco,” he said evenly. “If you change your mind about the Test of Bond, I will not hold it against you.”

 

And with that, he left.

 


 

Kneeling on the floor, Draco marvelled that this was both literally and figuratively the lowest point of his life. His former Lowest Point had been the moment he’d succeeded in letting the Death Eaters into Hogwarts and subsequently failed to kill Dumbledore. He was glad he’d failed, on some level. At least he could say he wasn’t a killer.

 

But he had suffered for that failure, and so he'd regretted it. But that moment had nothing on where he was right now.

 

“Well, Draco? Go on!”

 

Draco had thought he knew what hopelessness felt like. He’d been so stewed in it that he could describe how it tasted in his mouth when he lay awake in the middle of the night, drowning in the sounds of muggles being tortured. He could recreate exactly what it looked like just by closing his eyes and picturing his face staring back at him. He knew the size and shape of it, writhing around in his gut, dead and yet clawing its way up his esophagus trying to escape, to come out in words of begging for death or mercy, before asking whether there was any difference.

 

Draco knew hopelessness. It lived in, on, around, and through him. But now he realized that hopelessness had been kept alive through juxtaposition, that he’d kept a small reserve of hope, carefully hidden away in his heart where even he couldn’t find it. He only knew about it now due to its absence, having been ripped away from him, leaving a gaping wound that silently bled out before him.

 

That small hope had been the knowledge that Harry Potter was out there somewhere, doing something to fight back against the Dark Lord. That as long as Harry Potter lived, remained free, there was someone out there finding a way to end this miserable war. That since the death of Dumbledore, the only one the Dark Lord truly feared was around like a splinter left to fester and rot the death eaters away.

 

But now Harry Potter was here, kneeling on the floor with Draco. He didn’t look like a renegade hero. He looked like a scared, starved boy.

 

He was just a boy, and he was captured.

 

He was just a boy, like Draco, and he’d been the last shred of hope for any of them.

 

And he was here. Kneeling on the floor, hope a stranger to them all.

 

“What’s wrong with his face?” Draco whispered. There was something in Potter's eyes, some desperate message or plea he was trying to communicate. Draco couldn't read it, though. As devastated as he was that Potter was here, there was some part of Draco was happy just to see him again. Proof that he was still alive and Draco was alive to witness it.

 

For however long that lasted for either of them. He could almost see the end now, clearer than ever.

 

Thunder rolled outside the window, and it started to rain. Even the sky was in despair, it seemed.

 

“He came to us like that,” one of the snatchers said. Draco had never bothered to learn their names. Why humanize a monster?

 

“Well, Draco? Is it him? Is it Potter?” Aunt Bellatrix hissed, eyes alight with delighted malice. She knew, he realized. She just wanted to hear him say it. To see the proof that he was firmly and securely under her boot, where she believed he belonged.

 

Draco looked at the scar, the wild black hair, the green green eyes. He had no doubt. “I can’t be sure.”

 

“Look closer, Draco! This could mean everything for us!”

 

Draco looked at his father, the man he’d once respected and loved above all other things. He looked back to Harry, his everything. The one who filled his every waking thought, and who graced his dreams at night. The memories, the dreams, they weren’t real. But Draco’s feelings were.

 

“I don’t know…”

 

Later, he’d tell himself he fought back, fought with Potter over control of the wands. He’d never been a very good liar.

 

But in that moment of struggle, when Harry Potter had him pinned to the floor in a desperate struggle to take the wands, Draco could have sworn he saw regret in his eyes. He also saw a strange chain and pendant around his neck, so familiar and dear it knocked the wind out of him.

 

In that moment, Harry didn’t look surprised, just grateful. And sorry. He may have even mouthed it; Draco couldn’t have said one way or the other. He was just…caught.

 

In that moment, he was more sure than he’d been in almost two years. Of what, he couldn’t say; the conviction was as strong as it was fleeting.

 

In that moment, Draco saw, and he understood.

 

And in the moment, he let go, and gave Harry his wand.

 

— — — 

 

He took his mother’s wand with him back to Hogwarts. It worked for him, but he might as well have taken her shoes for the strangeness of using a wand that wasn’t his. What was it like for Potter, Draco wondered, using his wand out there somewhere, fighting back against the forces of evil? Did it feel strange, unfriendly? Or was it yielding and helpful, even if not quite the same?

 

Draco missed his wand, but somehow the idea that Potter was using it was less detestable than it should have been. It almost made him feel like he himself was somehow contributing to the resistance. It was a stupid thing to think, he knew. No one else would see it that way, especially as he hadn’t used his wand to fight back against the Dark Lord well…ever.

 

Or perhaps Potter wasn’t using it at all. He had his own wand, didn’t he? The snatchers had said they hadn’t found one to take off him, nor had it been in the bag with an extension charm on it that apparently belonged to Granger. But it must be out there somewhere, surely.

 

The fact that Granger had a purse with an undetectable extension charm on it was interesting. Well, the bag wasn’t interesting at all; it was that she had it, and with whom she kept company. Was it a stretch to wonder if there were some link between her purse and the pouch Draco had been gifted?

 

The cynical part of him (which made up a large part of him these days) said it was unlikely and childish. It was not as though Hermione Granger were the only one who could cast an undetectable extension charm. 

 

The hopeful part of him said it was certainly possible, and why couldn’t it be true? And after everything Luna had said to him…

 

Luna was gone, though, so he couldn’t very well ask her opinion. He’d cautiously say they were friends now, even if she had been locked in his dungeon for months. He was glad she’d escaped, even if he missed her. Perhaps he’d see her at Hogwarts, if she went back. It would be a foolish thing to do, but she didn’t often take those kinds of things into consideration when deciding what to do with herself.

 

At least he still had the seeds, not that he was any closer to planting them. With the seeds, he felt that maybe he wasn’t quite as alone, somehow.

 

It didn’t make sense, but he didn’t need to explain it to anyone, either.

 

Sometimes, he poured them all out into his palm, arranging them into half-remembered shapes and patterns.

 

He missed Luna; wished she were still with him. Wished he could ask her again if she knew what they were, if only to hear her make up an answer, which she’d done a few times. Not that she’d lied; she’d simply said, ‘I’ll tell you what they aren’t’, and then proceeded to tell him tales as barmy as nargles and wrackspurts. It was always fanciful and cheerful and just a little bit creepy. 

 

He imagined now what she'd say. It was almost enough to cheer him up.

 

“Those are baby tooth fae. They're born from baby teeth, you know. Adult tooth fairies bury the teeth in sacks woven from unicorn velvet. Not hair, Draco: Velvet. It’s rather different. It grows on the horns in the spring, and they rub it off on the trees so it can grow longer and shine brighter. Wizards have no use for it, which is why you’ve never heard of it, but the Quibbler did a special on it. It’s probably for the best that wizards don’t know about it. They’d probably find some way to exploit it, even if we can’t use it. And then the teeth fae would be terribly upset, Draco, and you don’t want a horde of teeth fae coming for you. I’m getting an urge to floss just thinking about it. Speaking of flossing, have I told you about the Rotfang conspiracy?”

 

— — — 

 

As it turned out, he didn’t have to wait long to see Potter again. A little over a month, and there he was. Back at Hogwarts, fighting back, just as he always had done.

 

Well, perhaps it was not quite right to say, ‘there he was’, as though he’d appeared before Draco suddenly. In fact, Draco was the one who appeared in front of Potter.

 

Draco had gone looking for him during the battle. He told everyone, including himself, that his only business was finding Harry to get his wand back. He’d never been a very good liar.

 

He found Potter in the Room of Hidden Things, and how fitting. This was where Draco had lost Harry forever, when he let the Death Eaters in. Not that he’d ever had a chance, really. But every moment spent in here, fixing that cabinet, working towards betraying the castle and everyone in it, was a moment he’d forsaken finding a way to save himself. Finding a way to be honest for once and tell Potter the truth. For someone who wasn’t a good liar, he was just as bad at being truthful.

 

Here in the Room of Hidden Things was where he’d hidden away his feelings for Potter deep within himself. It was never deep enough to forget, only deep enough to convince himself that he cared more about living than he did about Harry Potter. Like the Room of Hidden Things, the door to the true depths of Draco’s emotions was accessible only by those who knew where to look and how to open it. Hidden, secret, profound, powerful.

 

“Potter,” he said, without his usual bite. Potter turned to look at him with sorrowful eyes. “You have something of mine.”

 

Potter smiled, and Draco frowned. Surely that smile couldn’t be for him. Perhaps Potter had finally lost it? There was nothing to smile about here. “You have something of mine as well.”

 

“The bag of seeds?” Draco guessed. He held it up. It was a gamble, but he decided the thing must have come from Potter. He didn’t know why, but he was certain of it. “I’ve grown rather attached to them, I’m afraid.”

 

Potter nodded. “That makes sense. They’re yours.”

 

Whatever Potter meant by that, Draco didn’t have the chance to ask, since Vince decided to unleash fiendfyre on them all.

 

As Draco sat on top of a burning pile of what had once been furniture, he thought it rather fitting. His attempt to pursue Potter had gone up in flames, like it always did.

 

But then he saw a shape emerge from the smoke and like in all his dreams there Potter appeared. Unlike his dreams, he was on a broomstick, and he was not smiling. He had a mask of grim determination, and as he reached out a hand to Draco, Draco realized that grim determination was the will to save Draco.

 

He grasped Potter's forearm and squeezed, Potter hauling him up on the broomstick behind him. “Hold on tight,” he said, and they were flying. Draco indulged himself this one pleasure, wrapping his arms around Harry Potter, boy who lived, and doing as instructed. He didn’t ever want to let go. But all too quickly, and not a moment too soon, they were out of the fire, slamming the door shut behind them as they all collapsed on a pile on the floor. Vince hadn’t made it out, but Draco would mourn for him later.

 

Then Potter was whispering in his ear, “I need to borrow your wand for a little while longer. You’ll get it back, though, I promise.” And then he was gone, leaving Draco in the hall with Greg and several toasted broomsticks.

 

Draco wandered around the castle, looking for his parents, looking for Potter, looking for answers, for purpose. He was on everyone’s side as much as he was on no one’s side, which meant he was surrounded by enemies. Eventually, he found an alcove to hide in, and there he stayed, wrapping his arms around his legs and his hands around the pouch full of seeds and hope.

 


 

Draco couldn’t have said how long they sat in the holding cells. It could have been hours; it could have been weeks. The Patrons certainly weren’t concerned for his and Harry’s wellbeing, and who knows how long they could spend arguing about whether or not to allow a test of bond.

 

In any case, it was after an indeterminable period that at last Draco saw the ambient glow of the Blank Charge’s uniforms appear before the door to his cell. He could have wept for joy, even if they might be leading him and Harry to their end. One way or another, they would get closure, and that was a gift in and of itself.

 

After all, had the Patrons so chosen, they could have extinguished Harry and Draco in their cells without so much as a by-your-leave. The fact that they were being brought back before the Patrons left him feeling cautiously optimistic.

 

Without speaking, the Blank Charges lead Draco and Harry back before the Council. All seven had adopted carefully neutral expressions, but Draco thought he saw a pleased glimmer in Yellow’s countenance. He could have imagined it, though, through the power of wishful thinking.

 

“We have discussed your proposal,” Orange said without preamble, “and have decided to allow you to take a test of bond.”

 

Draco’s knees nearly buckled in relief.

 

“We won’t make it easy on you,” warned Red. “This will be the most rigorous test of bond ever conducted. Are you certain you still wish to take it?”

 

Stealing a glance at Harry, Draco nodded. He wondered if Red gave them a chance to back out because Red did not want them to take the test, or if it were a rare show of affection.

 

“We can handle anything you give us,” Harry said, eyes full of determination.

 

The predatory smile Red gave them did not comfort Draco in the slightest. “We'll see.”

 

— — — 

 

They weren’t supposed to see each other before the test, but Harry and Draco had never much cared for the rules when it came to each other. It was a brief meeting—far too brief—but it gave Draco the courage to accept their task.

 

“It might be years before we meet again, you know,” Draco said, leaning his forehead against Harry’s.

 

“Yeah. But what a gift, to get to meet the love of your life twice!”

 

“Bloody optimist.”

 

“Stingy pessimist.”

 

“I’ll have you know I’m a realist,” Draco protested.

 

“Yes, but Reality is depressing.” Harry kissed Draco’s knuckles. In spite of his bravado, his eyes were tight with worry.

 

He knelt down on one knee and turned his head slightly. “Well, go on. Do it, then.”

 

Draco frowned. “Do what?”

 

“The pre-bonding ritual! You said it’s traditional to pierce the lobe.”

 

His eyes went wide. “You want to do that now? We’re about to be sent to the Mortal Realm!”

 

“I know. And when we get back, you can pierce the other ear.”

 

Draco didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. “It won’t have time to bloom.”

 

“The first one already did, though.” He squeezed Draco’s hand urgently. “We don’t have to hide it anymore, Draco.”

 

He couldn’t really argue with that. “Very well. Hold still. On the count of three?”

 

Harry smiled, all challenge and trouble. “If you say so.”

 

Just for that, he didn’t give Harry a countdown at all, piercing his lobe with a black thorn. Almost immediately, it started turning green, fragrant red blooms bursting forth.

 

On the occasions Draco got to see Harry—rarer though they came to be—he tended to the thorn in Harry's ear, now sporting several small red flowers, fragrant and thriving and beautiful. Harry said the flowers sighed songs to him, and it might have been a flight of fancy, but it could have been true.

 

The mark on Draco’s arm had developed in that time, too, as though the tattoo were more plant than fire. The dandelion seed grew into a flower, then two, three, four, until a garden grew up his arm, beating warmly with energy that was Harry, and now Draco, too. Them, together.

 

“Well, would you look at that," Harry said. "I guess you like me.”

 

“It’s very becoming,” he snarked, mostly to hide how pleased he was. “Is there anything I can do? To show off that I’m claimed?”

 

Harry grinned wide. “Sure. Rip off your sleeve, throw it to the wind. Show off your tattoo. It’s something to be proud of, after all.”

 

“I can’t destroy my uniform, Harry. Quite literally.”

 

Harry stood up. “Will you allow me?”

 

Draco shrugged. He doubted Harry could do anything, but— 

 

“Hold still.” With a burst of flame that somehow avoided touching Draco altogether, his sleeve was gone. Harry nodded, pleased with his work. “Very Avant Garde.”

 

Draco touched the tattoo lovingly. A group of dandelions, all different, bloomed their wishes and devotion and good luck and toughness. “I shall miss having this down there,” he said quietly.

 

“You’ll get it back. You’ll love what happens when we pass the test.”

 

Draco raised an eyebrow, unimpressed. “It’s going to change again?”

 

“Red energy is temperamental as an autumn sky, as they say,” Harry said with an enigmatic smile.

 

“Won’t you just tell me now?”

 

Harry pretended to consider, but Draco knew he’d already decided to tell him. He tapped his bare arm. “We’ll match. Every change, every twist, every turn, mirror images. Normally, the tattoos would join up, but since I don’t have one yet—”

 

“Can I give you one? Not now, obviously,” he rushed to add. "I doubt we'd have time."

 

Harry smirked. "Aren't you always saying time is a mortal construct?"

 

"Seeing as how we're about to be mortal—"

 

Harry interrupted Draco with a kiss. “When we get back, you can give me a tattoo. If you let me pierce your ear, that is.”

 

Draco thought he could feel a garden bloom in his heart. "It would be an honour."

 

They stood for a moment, just absorbing the other's presence. It wasn't long enough, but it never would be.

 

"I wish we could see the meadow one last time," Draco whispered.

 

Harry kissed Draco's knuckles. "It'll be here when we get back."

 

"Still. I think it'll miss us while we're gone."

 

"And we, it. We'll just have to find a place just like it down there when we find each other."

 

"If we—"

 

"When." Harry looked at him fiercely enough for Draco to find the confidence within himself to face their trial without fear.

 

They didn't know what trials they'd be given. This would be a test unlike any other; the Patrons had said as much. But it was them, and they'd overcome impossible odds before. The fact that they were being allowed to take the test at all was proof of that.

 

Draco brushed his fingers through Harry's hair and hoped it would not be the last time he was blessed enough to do so. "I hope we find a place with dandelions. I'll make flower crowns for you."

 

Harry beamed. “Whenever I see a flower down there, I’ll think of you. And when I see fractals, and Fibonacci sequences, and Pascal’s what’s it—”

 

“Triangle.”

 

“That’s the one. I’ll see and smile and think ‘my love did that’.”

 

“You won’t remember me or my contributions to the mortal realm,” Draco pointed out. "You'll think it was Mother Nature or something who made the flowers."

 

“I think I will remember. I might miss some of the details, but the important bits will be there.”

 

“Oh? What bits?” Draco asked with a lecherous smile.

 

“You, of course.”

 

“Draco Malfoy from Wiltshire, you mean.”

 

“It’s still you in there, just as it’s me as Harry Potter.”

 

“Potter and Malfoy. Hmm.”

 

“I prefer Draco and Harry,” Harry corrected.

 

“Scared, Potter?” Draco said, brushing Harry's hair back from his forehead again. It might be the last chance he had for a long time to do so.

 

Harry beamed. “You wish. I’ll find you, Draco. Always.”

 

Draco sighed, and tried for a smile. “I know you will.”

 

There might have been a bright light, or a rush or wind, or the roar of thunder. Maybe there was a sense of falling, a burning heat, a cascade of water.

 

It might have been all of that, or it might have been nothing.

 

But one moment they were together, and the next their test had begun.

 


 

He felt it the moment Harry Potter died. It was not as though there were a burst of light, or a clatter of thunder, or an explosion in the sky.

 

He just knew. Like something had reached inside him and snapped an invisible thread.

 

He’d heard the announcement of a ceasefire from the Dark Lord, the bid for Harry Potter to surrender himself. Harry would never do that, Draco had reasoned, and so he had thought he didn’t need to worry. Not that he was worried about Potter, of course.

 

But apparently he had been worried, and with due cause, because Harry Potter was dead. He knew it.

 

Don't fall for a hero, his father had said. You'll regret it. 

 

Draco did. Well, he wanted to. He couldn't feel regret though, not really. Regret implied an action one had chosen, and from the start Draco had been helpless to fall.

 

Don't fall for a hero. Don't fall in love at all.

 

Draco fell, and if he regretted it, it was only that there was nothing and no one there to catch him now.

 

But Harry would have, if he could. Because Harry was a hero. He'd catch me, if he could.

 

Draco stumbled to the courtyard along with everyone else, feeling more like a ghost than one among the living. He knew what had happened, but he’d refused to believe it until he saw it.

 

And see it he did. He stood in the courtyard, frozen in shocked horror, as Hagrid stumbled in front, tears flowing down his face.

 

In his arms lay Harry’s dead body. Still in a way that Harry had never been in life.

 

In spite of the fact that he’d known, and in spite of the fact that he was seeing it now, Draco simply couldn’t believe it. It was something visceral within him that raged and pushed back against the logic of what all his senses were telling him.

 

It simply couldn’t be true. He couldn’t be in a world without Harry Potter. Draco was still alive, and so surely Harry Potter must be, also, in spite of all evidence to the contrary. 

 

A heart was a stubborn thing. But a powerful thing, as well.

 

“Harry Potter is dead!” Voldemort shrieked in glee. Draco didn’t believe it.

 

Love was supposed to be the most powerful magic of all, and yet here they were.

 

Draco fell to his knees. He needed to breathe. He wasn’t breathing. He couldn’t. His one reason for being, his central support, his everything was gone. He was angry, underneath it all. How could Harry have surrendered himself? And why?

 

Why was everyone saying Harry was dead when he couldn’t be?

 

He wasn’t listening to Voldemort’s drivel, his invitation to let anyone who wanted to join them, join. Even if Draco could have moved, he wouldn’t have. If Harry was gone, he wanted to die, as well. He didn’t want to continue on in a world devoid of Hope and Harry, and so he’d stay on the losing side.

 

Draco just stared at Harry’s body, unmoving. It would be cold, and nothing was less like Harry than coldness. He was warmth, heat, the sun personified, and Draco was a sunflower, endlessly pivoting and trying to capture some of that sun for himself.

 

He thought, fleetingly, of the pouch of seeds, hanging dutifully around his neck, close to his heart. Even the pull of wanting to plant them wasn’t enough to keep him here. Perhaps, if he died with it, they’d burst into bloom around him? He might not get to see it, but someone would. That was enough, surely. It had to be.

 

If he hadn’t been watching Harry’s body, he wouldn’t have seen it. A twitch of his eyebrow, a shallow breath. Could it be?

 

Before he could process what he wasn’t sure he was seeing, Harry rolled away from Hagrid and vaulted over the rubble, running away, leading Voldemort towards the Great Hall. Like a man possessed, Voldemort followed, joyous cackles reduced to furious shouts. He cast curse after curse at Harry, but none of them hit.

 

Draco went with the rest of the crowd that followed them into the Great Hall. He listened with heart bursting as Harry recounted that Volde-fucking-mort had never been master of the Elder Wand. It had been Draco, apparently, and then it was Harry, and wasn’t that just the way of things? Master of the most powerful wand ever made, and Draco hadn’t even known it.

 

He watched with wonder as Voldemort tried for the last time to kill Harry with Avada Kedavra, and for the last time failed utterly. He fell to the floor with barely a sound, and the hall erupted in cheers. Most of the death eaters had already apparated away, but Draco saw his parents at the periphery, subtly trying to signal him to come to them so they could run away, too.

 

But Draco was done running. The only place he wanted to be was here, with Harry, even if only tangentially.

 

Harry had other plans. Like a homing beacon, he zeroed in on Draco, expression changing from worry to relief. Everyone wanted a piece of Harry; to touch him, hug him, shake his hand. Harry wasn’t paying attention to that. He was staring down Draco, making a beeline for him.

 

Draco stood frozen, too confused and cautiously hopeful to question it.

 

All too quickly and not nearly soon enough, Harry was before him, eyes full of emotion. He didn’t say anything, didn’t even stop walking, and his lips crashed into Draco’s with passion, desperation, and love. He pulled back and leaned his forehead against Draco’s. Draco—who was quite certain he would remember it if he had kissed Harry Sodding Potter—was inexplicably filled with a sense of familiarity and rightness. The kiss had been a little hard with chapped lips, but it was gentle and chaste, too. Perfect, really. A kiss he’d never forget, not this time, he was sure.

 

“I told you I’d find you again,” Harry said, brushing Draco’s cheekbones with his thumbs.

 

“I don’t have any idea what you’re talking about,” Draco admitted, “but I’m listening.”

 

Harry fitted his hand in Draco’s, like it was always meant to have gone there, and why hadn’t it been there sooner? “Walk with me. I have something to return to you.”

 

Some members of the celebrating public watched them go but said nothing; everyone was too caught up in their own celebrating, their own relishing that it was finally over and we survived and he's gone.

 

Although their private moment was, after all, very public, everyone was apparently too stunned to do anything about stopping them as they walked away. Draco would have liked to see them try; nothing could stop him from going with Harry, not now.

 

They walked down across the grounds, strewn with rubble, pockmarked from the battle. There would be time for healing later.

 

They walked past the viaduct, past the boat house, down across the heath, and around the lake. They walked and walked until they came to a willow grove.

 

“I know this place,” Draco said softly, parting the branches to reveal a grassy bank next to the shore. It was covered with dandelions, not all quite blooming yet, but full of promise.

 

Harry sat down. He patted the place next to him and looked at Draco expectantly. So Draco sat.

 

“Have we done this before?”

 

Harry hummed. “Not quite, but almost.” He started plucking dandelions and twisting them into a chain. “Do you know what this is?” he asked, presenting his creation to Draco.

 

He’d definitely seen this before, in dreams of things that could not be. He ached with familiarity and rightness. “It’s a Crown of Wishes.”

 

Harry gave Draco his wand back—the Hawthorne wand, not the Elder. He gave Draco his hope back, with his very presence. He gave Draco his pendant full of flowers and love back, with a request that Draco make him one as well.

 

And he gave Draco back something he hadn’t even known he’d been missing—

 

“Do you have the seeds of memories?”

 

“So they aren’t teeth fae eggs,” he joked, pulling the pouch out. If he didn’t know better, he’d say it was singing.

 

“You trust me,” Harry said, and it wasn’t a question. It had been a question once, of that Draco was sure. But no more. 

 

Harry didn’t wait for Draco’s confirmation. “Dig a hole, about a wand’s length in depth.”

 

“Your wand or mine?” he said, but he started digging, and stopped when it felt right.

 

It was deep, but not very wide.

 

“Give me your arm,” said Harry, and though in the past Draco might have offered the right arm, he knew Harry meant his left.

 

Harry smiled when Draco gave it to him, rolled up the sleeve with both precision and impatience. "You can watch this time," he said.

 

And Draco did. Harry bit his thumb until he drew blood, and with it drew a lightning bolt over the dark mark. The blood didn’t do anything, but it wasn’t supposed to, not yet.

 

Harry held out his hand, and Draco gave him the pouch of seeds. “Stick your arm in the hole.”

 

At this, Draco did raise an eyebrow, but he did as Harry instructed.

 

Harry either didn’t notice or ignored him. “I’d forgotten how many there were,” he said, opening the pouch with care. 

 

“How many are there?”

 

“A lot." Harry smiled. "I guess you thought of me often."

 

Draco blushed, but not with shame. It was something far more precious, more dear.

 

"The memories needed to stay with you, even if they weren't in your head.” Harry explained, and smiled. “I told you we’d bury them. Plant them. Here we are.” With that, he tipped the pouch over, pouring the seeds into the hole around Draco’s arm. The seeds flowed in and around Draco’s arm, burying it completely, until the hole was filled completely. 

 

“I put my heart, my soul, my everything into you,” Harry said softly, “all for this.”

 

All for you, was what Draco heard. He didn’t doubt it.

 

Harry placed his wand over the seeds, next to Draco’s arm pointing towards the dark mark, and whispered a word Draco understood even though he couldn’t identify what language it was. “Bloom.

 

Draco gasped as flowers burst from the ground, growing out from the seeds—no, from his arm—in a circling, spiralling pattern. Azaleas, Daffodils, Primroses, baby’s breath. Arbutus, Aster, Anemone, Bleeding Hearts. Tulips and violets and Sunflowers and Amaranth.

 

And dandelions. Of course, dandelions.

 

He pulled his arm out of the ground. He knew it was the right thing to do, even if Harry had never told him the specifics of the spell. He remembered well enough what it was meant to do, and he wasn’t disappointed.

 

Inked flowers erupted across his skin, growing and unfurling and blossoming beautifully until they completely covered up the dark mark—no, they absorbed it, more like. Blooming like a garden and covering up his mistakes, drawing out the sick and the poison and the regret.

 

“Dandy lions and sunflowers,” Draco whispered, touching the flowers with awe. He looked around the grove, now filled with blooming flowers. “Harry, what on earth—”

 

“Sit still; the best is yet to come.”

 

The flowers were still growing, bright petals reaching toward the sky triumphantly.

 

“Why—” It only took a moment later, and thoughts and memories filled his mind. Their fight in the bathroom, going to Dumbledore for help, finding it on their own. Finding each other, every year, in the willow grove. Exchanging flowers, exchanging secrets, becoming friends, and more. Everything he’d forgotten—no, buried, had come back to him, just like Harry said.

 

Draco turned to look at Harry, wide eyed and full of wonder. “Harry,” he whispered, putting a shaking hand on his cheek. “My Harry.”

 

“There you are,” Harry said with a fond smile. “Told you I’d find you.”

 

“Always,” Draco choked out.

 

Harry kissed him again, and again, and again. Slowly, deeply, like he needed Draco’s lips to breathe, like he’d never let go. “Wanted to do that since the first time I saw you,” he said, and Draco couldn’t agree more.

 

He remembered now, the things he’d wanted to ask months ago, and couldn’t. 

 

“Where on earth did you find such a barmy spell?”

 

“Where do you think?” Harry said, smiling. “Luna told me about it.”

 


 

Epilogue

 

Sitting in front of the Patrons was never a comfortable experience. They were just so much, it was difficult to take in. Sitting in front of the Patrons when you’d just finished an excruciating test of your love was even less comfortable. Sitting in front of the Patrons when you’d just finished an excruciating test you weren’t sure you’d passed was, truly, torture.

 

“Well,” Yellow said, breaking the silence, “that certainly was interesting, wasn't it?”

 

Draco was apparently alone in his feeling that it was all too much, for Harry protested, “That was not a fair test.”

 

“No?” said Red, tone carefully neutral.

 

“No! The test is supposed to show whether you can find each other or not. You pushed us together and set us against each other in every way imaginable!”

 

“We told you it would be a challenge. You said you were up for it.”

 

Harry glared at them. “That was not a test. That was punishment.”

 

“You broke the Rules by being together. It was only fair you pay the price,” Green said, sounding like he didn’t particularly care one way or another. Draco knew otherwise, but it still irked him. “It was the condition to get us all to agree to allowing you to take the test. Be grateful.”

 

“Grateful?” Harry repeated, indignant, but fortunately he didn’t get the chance to say anything else.

 

“You passed anyway, so I don’t see why you’re complaining,” added Violet. The other Patrons turned to look at xir sharply, irritation written on their faces.

 

“You weren’t supposed to tell them that yet!” Orange protested.

 

“I rather think they’ve suffered enough, don’t you?” Violet said. Indigo nodded after a moment.

 

Yellow sighed, content. “Violet is right. The test is over, no need to punish them further.”

 

Draco felt flame licking at his shoulders and reached over to squeeze Harry’s hand. He could understand why Harry was still upset, but they’d done it, against all odds. They’d passed.

 

“The rules of the test were finding each other. In this case, it was not connecting physically that mattered, since you’d already done that. Repeatedly.” Blue paused to cough pointedly, but continued, “it was connecting emotionally that mattered.” 

 

“Congratulations on passing your test—you’ve found your other half,” said Yellow, smile indulgent and pleased.

 

“Enjoy eternity together, et cetera,” Red concluded a negligent handwave.

 

Draco might have imagined it, but he thought he saw Green look over and give Red a smile.

 

Harry opened his mouth to protest, and Draco knew he had to stop him before things got out of hand and they had to do something terrible like take another test. “Excuse me,” he said as patiently as he could, “Not to make another request so soon, but...where are we meant to go now?”

 

The Patrons did not answer, though whether that was because they did not understand the question or were ignoring Draco, he couldn’t be sure. So he tried again. “Are we going to stay in Green Sector? In Red? Somewhere else altogether? And where are we going to work—”

 

“You have a lot of questions,” Red interrupted, tone indecipherable. “Reminds me of someone, and apples and trees and falling.”

 

Draco was sure now he didn’t imagine Red’s smirk aimed at Green, friendly more than antagonistic.

 

“Your story was very popular up here,” Yellow said, much friendlier. If Draco had to guess, he’d say she seemed almost amused. “We allowed the Charges to watch your trial together. In the spirit of trying new things, you understand. They asked these same questions on your behalf, and others that have yet to occur to you, I suspect.”

 

“No one wanted you separated after all you went through,” Orange explained.

 

“After what you put us through, you mean?” said Harry. “A war, nearly dying, Gilderoy Lockhart—”

 

“We have no control over mortal affairs, as you know,” Green interrupted.

 

“You inspired curiosity in the other Charges. That change you were so keen on…” Blue hinted. “And some changes, perhaps, you didn’t expect.”

 

“Seven heads are better than two,” Green said. Draco could not tell whether it was meant to be a joke. “No longer will failure of a test result in termination. Charges can,” at this, he paused to sigh deeply, “retry as many times as it takes to succeed.”

 

We’ve lifted the barriers between sectors because of you, as well, Indigo said. But I think you’ll find neither of you wants to step back into your old places and old jobs. You’ve outgrown them.

 

“Then where—” Draco began, but this time Harry stopped him.

 

“We already have a place that’s ours,” he said, eyes sparkling with happiness for the first time since they’d arrived back here.

 

Draco gasped as he realized what Harry was saying. “But—we can just stay there?”

 

“You still have duties,” Yellow explained. “Over an area of Mortal and Charge life hitherto overlooked, in which you have great experience now.”

 

“The greatest magic of all, I’m told,” said Red. “Love.”

 

“We’re…Patrons?” Harry laughed. “Surely not.”

 

“Hardly,” replied Blue. “The spectrum of visible light is already accounted for with the Seven—”

 

“Think of yourselves as ambassadors,” Violet explained. “You’ll have staff, of course, to help Charges understand love. There hasn’t nearly been enough of it up here, and they’re all keen to try it out.”

 

“I don’t understand,” Draco confessed.

 

“You will,” Yellow promised. “Good luck with your next test.”

 

“What—”

 

Draco blinked. They were in their meadow again, the Patrons had left them, and Harry and Draco were finally—at last—alone together. But the meadow was not as they’d left it. Where before it had been abandoned, now there was life, and not only that—

 

“Our willow tree,” Harry whispered, pointing a shaking hand, “and the lake, and our house.

 

It was, indeed, the house they’d shared in the mortal realm, with the babbling brook, Draco’s garden, and from the smoke rising out of the chimney, Harry’s kitchen.

 

Draco had a thought, something missing that would complete their home, but it was too much to hope for, surely. But then he heard it: the ringing of a hundred tiny bells as all their cats—and three dogs and two ferrets—rushed from the back of the house to greet them.

 

“Pay up,” Harry said, grinning from ear to ear. “I told you.”

 

“Technically, you said all dogs and cats go to heaven, and I only see—” he’d spoken too soon. All pets were here, apparently. He supposed if they were in charge of love, it only made sense.

 

“Our Charges,” Harry said happily.

 

"That's right," Draco agreed with a smile, picking up as many cats as he could hold. "Endings should be happy."

 

"Then why are you crying?" Harry asked, wiping Draco's tears away. He'd never hide his tears from Harry.

 

"Oh, I don't know. Allergies, I suppose."

 

He'd never been a very good liar, but that was alright. He didn't particularly want to be. 

 

"Hm. Well, it's not really the end, anyhow," Harry mused. "It's the start of something new."

 

"What would that be?"

 

"Forever, obviously."

 

"Ah. Obviously."

 

Draco looked over to Harry, his other half.  

 

“We did it,” Draco whispered, leaning his head on Harry’s shoulder. 

 

“Draco—” Harry began, but Draco cut him off with a kiss. A move he’d stolen from Harry.

 

“We’re home.”

 

END