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To Live, or Just Exist - That is the Question

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To be, or not to be — that is the question.
— Hamlet (Hamlet)

— ¤ O ¤ —

Tuesday, 25 August 1998

Doomsday. At last.

Not that I have looked forward to this day in any way, shape, or form (you, if anyone, should know this by now), but because this infernal waiting and not knowing have been grating on me for what feels like forever, like a crucio in slow motion glamoured as a cushioning charm. And, as you well know, patience and I don ’t the best companions make. Never have, never will.

Yes, the war (and all it entailed) was truly horrible, and I ’m so tremendously thankful it is finally over. But, Merlin, these past four months have been just like another circle of hell. Which was probably exactly what they were aiming for when they locked us up in here without even bothering to decide on a date for this trial. Or… maybe they did, and just refrained from telling us? I bet my best broom they’d do it too, just out of spite, those self-righteous bastards. And then they laughed all the way back to their tawdry victory party.

What ’s even more disconcerting is, now that the day has finally come, I can’t decide if I’m more excited to finally be allowed out of these doors — if only for a brief trip to the ministry — or completely terrified at the prospect of not being able to come back at the end of the day.

Because let ’s face it. The risk is high that I might not come back to the Manor any time soon. For all we know, I might be sleeping on the cold stone floor of my very own Azkaban cell tonight. My only wish at this point is for Mother to be spared from the same fate. She was never an active part of the cause, nor does she have any grave misdeeds to answer for. Not like Father has. He, on the other hand, should consider himself lucky if he isn’t administered the Kiss before the next sunrise.

I will leave you here when they come for us. If they decide to take me away they wouldn ’t let me keep you, and I don’t want them to indulge in all the years’ worth of private musings you carry between your covers. If you don’t hear from me in a while, please don’t think I have forgotten you. I will count the days until we meet again.

Only a miracle can save me now.

— ¤ O ¤ —

Harry puts down the empty bottle on the side table and looks down at the tiny baby resting peacefully in his arms. Before his eyes, the soft tufts of hair on the boy’s head morph into the light brown of his father’s, a tell-tale sign the baby is once again drifting off to sleep.

“Sweet dreams, Moony bug,” he whispers with a woeful smile, tracing a plump cheek with the knuckle of his forefinger.

It’s amazing how the mere presence of his godson always seems to ease the pain and sorrow constantly weighing down on him these days. After that fateful day almost four months ago, when Voldemort finally ceased to exist, it’s as if the world around him faded into shades of grey — like an old Audrey Hepburn movie. Since then, the only times when hints of other colours have been able to break through the gloom are the moments he’s shared with Teddy.

Even the usually bright and bustling Burrow, where he first stayed after the final battle, has been veiled in grief and mourning, its inhabitants just as subdued and colourless as the home surrounding them. No matter where you go, at every turn Fred’s absence is still palpable, and Molly’s sobbing the constant soundtrack of everyone’s lives.

For the first few days, Harry didn’t even manage to get out of bed, too exhausted and languid to care about the concerned voices reaching him from the other side of the door. Ron and Hermione brought up food, for which he had no appetite, and repeatedly tried to strike up conversations on everything from Quidditch to news from the Ministry, but to no avail.

When he was finally able to get out of bed, it was only to stumble down the stairs to join the others in the kitchen for a meal which he wasn’t able to eat. It took another few weeks before he made it outside, collapsing in one of the chairs on the porch, then sitting there, squinting in the bright summer sun, and wondering if he’d ever find a way to feel alive again.

His first trip away from the Burrow was to this very cottage, to visit his godson. The occasion was preceded by a constantly growing sense of loneliness, regardless of the numerous people surrounding him at the Burrow at any given time. Despite their unrelenting insistence on him being a part of their family, when watching them unite in their grief it became painfully clear to Harry that when push comes to shove he doesn’t really belong. Not really. Not like the others. Even Hermione — who’s earned her place in their midst as the girlfriend of the family’s youngest son — seems to fit in rather seamlessly these days.

Maybe if he and Ginny had gotten back together, like everyone had seemed to expect they would, it might’ve been different. But, once they sat down to actually talk about it, the improbability of a joint Happily Ever After soon dawned on them both. While they still love each other deeply, the events of the past year have drawn them apart, so much so that they simply no longer want the same things out of life.

Eventually, this alienation from the family he had once become so used to seeing as his own, brought his latent mourning for Sirius back to the surface. And this time, finally free of the constant threats to his life, Harry found himself missing the man more than ever before. Ever since his innocence had been proved back in the Shrieking Shack, Sirius had been an anchor in Harry’s life; the only link to the loving parents he never got the chance to know. To lose him to the veil two years later is still one of the worst things Harry’s ever had to face — and that’s really saying something, considering him being The Boy Who Lived To Face Yet Another Rueful Day.

His godfather’s brief appearance in his life became so much more important to Harry thanks to the absence of his parents. Growing up without a loving mother or father inevitably makes you search for the people who can fill this void of security and care — like Sirius. Or Dumbledore. Or Remus.

The baby stirs in his arms and Harry tears his eyes away from the sky in the distance, just in time to watch his pinkie get enveloped by a tight fist of tiny fingers. The parallels of their fates are not lost on him. In fact, the realisation that he had a chance, if not an obligation, to do for Teddy what Sirius had never been able to do for him — being there for his orphaned godson — was what had finally made him muster up the energy to venture an Apparition to visit Andromeda’s cottage.

The first time he took the boy in his arms it was as if the sun had broken through an eternity of darkness. Those big baby-blue eyes had looked up at him, glimmering with curiosity, and then, when they slowly shifted to emerald green, Harry had felt his lips tentatively curving into his first genuine smile since… he couldn’t even remember when.

It’s moments like these that make every minute with Teddy seem like a small miracle. And these were the moments that made him come back again and again, up until the point when Andromeda grew tired of his back and forth and resolutely took Harry under her wing.

Since then, over a month ago now, Harry has only reluctantly left the cottage on a handful of occasions, and then almost exclusively for Molly’s weekly Sunday dinners. The rest of the time he spends with Teddy; either here in the nursery, or downstairs and in the garden with Andromeda. And while his friends may frown and call this change in his life just another mode of isolation, to Harry it has made all the difference in the world.

Because, while life at the Burrow is dwelling in the sorrows of the past and constantly affected by the death of a loved family member, life at Andromeda’s cottage is — thanks to Teddy — tinted, however faintly, by the future and brightened by the precious life of a newborn.

All the difference in the world.

— ¤ O ¤ —

Half an hour later, Harry leaves the sleeping baby in the crib to go downstairs and turn the kettle on. Apart from his Teddy time, his and Andromeda’s evening tea routine has quickly become Harry’s favourite part of the day, and the soothing stillness of the sitting room as they sit together, cradling their steaming cups in front of the crackling fire, feels as sacred to him now as any healing ritual ever could.

From his very first visit, every day he’s spent here has ended the same. Some evenings they talk about anything from the war to their childhoods, deliberately leaving out any details the other might find upsetting in favour of the peace of the moment. Other times they stay mostly silent, both occupied by their own thoughts while still comforted by the company, the other’s presence like a silent reminder of support. I’m here if you need me.

As he waits for the water to boil, Harry prepares the tray with cups and saucers, milk and biscuits. None of them take sugar in their tea but the sugar bowl is added anyway, just as always. Harry doesn’t see the point in it, but Andromeda insists and Harry isn’t one to argue. He guesses it’s something to do with her upbringing, a whiff of those strict pure-blood traditions she once left behind but still seems to carry with her everywhere she goes. Just like her dignified posture and her penchant for fresh cut flowers.

Leaving the tea steeping in its pot on the counter, he goes through the house to find Andromeda in the study, watched over by a majestic and vaguely familiar eagle owl posing on Cora’s perch in the corner. The rasping sound of quill against parchment stops as Harry knocks on the open door.

“Tea’s almost ready,” he says, watching the visiting owl warily from the corner of his eye. It’s glaring at him condescendingly; as if Harry is rudely interrupting something awfully urgent and important. Harry briefly wonders how it’s even possible for an owl to look like that. “Is everything alright?”

There’s a faint smile resting on Andromeda’s lips as she turns around to greet him.

“Yes Harry, everything is absolutely fine. Better than anyone could ever wish for, actually, considering the circumstances.”

“Good,” Harry says, trying hard to ignore the owl still shooting mental daggers at him. “Good.”

“I’ll be with you in a moment. Just let me finish this reply.”

— ¤ O ¤ —

“It was from my sister,” Andromeda offers sometime later when she’s seated in her usual armchair across from him, both hands encircling the teacup in her lap. Harry has already figured as much. It had taken him a few minutes to recall the identity of that haughty owl, but once he did, he’d wondered why he’d ever forgotten it in the first place.

The two sisters have been writing to each other for several months now, and even though Harry isn’t privy to the content of their letters he knows Andromeda enjoys their correspondence and is pleased, although still a bit surprised, by Narcissa’s aspiration of reconciliation.

“She wanted to let me know about—”

“—the trial,” Harry concludes. Of course. Harry isn’t really aware of details like dates and days of the week anymore, but he’s known the Malfoy trial was coming up by the end of the month. He had contributed his statement, after all, albeit in the form of a pre-collected Pensieve memory. In his current state, facing the whole Wizengamot — not to mention the public, and the press, and— Harry’s chest constricts painfully by the mere thought of it, and suddenly it’s hard to breathe.

“Yes,” Andromeda confirms, unknowingly staving off Harry’s looming panic attack. Thank the stars for this woman. What would I ever do without her? “Don’t you want to know how—”

“No,” he says, shaking his head and lowering his gaze back to the crackling fire. The relief showing in her features is the only information Harry needs. “Please. I…” don’t want to know.

The end of the sentence gets stuck in Harry’s throat as he realises it’d be a lie. He still doesn’t know why his brain has always reacted like a dry sponge towards anything Malfoy related, but it does. It’s like an addiction really, his mind craving any new intel on the annoying git like a junkie craving his next fix.

“As you wish,” Andromeda says softly and reaches for the teapot to refill their cups. No further explanation needed. That’s why he likes Andromeda’s company so much; she never asks all those questions he wouldn’t be able to answer, never expects him to share any thoughts he’s not yet ready to put into words. Not like some other people he knows.

Harry lifts his steaming cup, inhaling the calming scent of bergamot as his glasses cloud over, blurring his view of the flames dancing in the hearth.

Even as he tells himself not to, in the following silence Harry reluctantly notices that his thoughts drift back to the three blond aristocrats time and again. By the looks of it, if Andromeda’s relaxed shoulders are anything to go by, at least one of them has managed to stay out of Azkaban. Feeling a warmth spread through him, different from the one caused by the tea, Harry secretly wishes more than one did.

Not that he’d come to care about those wicked ex Death Eaters in any way. He’d be happy to never encounter any of them ever again. It’s just that… these days — even though some people would surely question his sanity if they knew — Harry finds himself strangely reluctant to wishing an Azkaban sentence on anyone, even the Malfoys.

Remembering the state Sirius had been in when he’d finally escaped that hellhole — paired with an ever-growing yearning for all this antagonism and divergence of the war to finally be over — had actually been one of the main motivating factors in Harry’s decision to speak up on their behalf for the trial in the first place.

“Harry?”

He can sense from the tone in her voice that it’s not the first time she tries to gain his attention. As he looks up to meet her questioning gaze there’s a warm fondness in her hazel eyes, and for a fleeting moment he lets himself imagine what growing up with a loving mother would have been like.

“I was just asking if you’d be alright if I left you alone with Teddy for a little while?”

“Tonight? Sure,” Harry finds himself nodding even as he frowns by the unsuspected inquiry. In all his time here, she’s never once left the house this late in the evening. “Why?”

“I need to go into town to meet up with someone. I shan’t be long, but you never know with these things.”

“You want me to come with you?”

Not that Harry wants to head into town at late o’clock in the evening. But, post-war depression or not, Harry’s still a gentleman. And even though Andromeda is a capable witch, she’d still be a lone woman walking the streets of Glastonbury after dark.

“No, that shouldn’t be necessary. But know that I appreciate the offer.”

She smiles and puts down her empty cup on its saucer as she seems to ponder her next words carefully.

“I don’t know if it will, but… if it comes to it, would you be averse to the notion of having another wizard staying with us for a while?”

Her question catches him by surprise. Firstly, because he realises he’s never even considered the possibility of anyone intruding on his newly-found safe haven. Secondly, because he’s suddenly awfully curious about who this unknown person might be. Surely, she hasn’t found herself a new man already, or I would have heard of it, right? And thirdly, because he’s suddenly painfully humbled by the fact that Andromeda even cares to ask for his opinion before bringing a guest into her own home.

“No,” he says as soon as he’s able to get his vocal cords in check. “I’d never dispute who you decide to invite to stay over. This is your house after all.”

“Oh, Harry, that’s so kind of you to say. And thank you, I really appreciate your will to accommodate this sudden request of mine.”

She winks as she raises from her chair and straightens out her bottle-green robes.

“But just so you know,” she adds, lifting the tray from the small table between them and heading for the kitchen, “this is your home too. I do consider you just as much a part of this household as the rest of us. Maybe it’s time you let yourself do the same.”

Harry swallows hard against the sudden lump in his throat and remains seated with his empty cup in his hands for a very long moment, his thoughts swirling through his mind.

Could he really allow himself to think of Andromeda’s cosy cottage as his home? Could he really let himself dare to imagine Andromeda and Teddy as his very own family?

Up until this very moment, Harry has never considered himself anything more than a guest in this house; a long-term visitor helping Andromeda with the baby for a while, until the time will inevitably come when he’d be forced to move on without risk of overstaying his welcome.

Home.

There had been a time — before the Wizarding World had stomped into his life in the form of a boisterous half-giant — when he’d considered 4 Privet Drive his home. Then, nearly seven years ago, he’d entered the gates of Hogwarts — and from that day on, the magical castle had become the closest resemblance of a home that he’d ever known.

He doesn’t doubt he’ll always be welcome at the Burrow, will always be assured he has a place with the Weasley family whatever the world decides to throw his way. This security has surely been a comforting anchor during his turbulent school years, but as nice as it’s always been to come and stay in their home, it will always be the Weasleys’ house. And no matter how much Harry has wanted it differently through the years, he has always felt more like a guest at the Burrow.

Then there’s 12 Grimmauld Place; the dark murky townhouse Sirius left him in his will. Harry knows this is the place he is supposed to call home these days, but it really doesn’t matter how many official deeds insist on pronouncing him the new owner of the former Black residence — that creepy old house will never feel like a home to Harry as long as it remains in its current state of despair and decay.

This place, on the other hand — this small cosy cottage and its residents — is actually, now that Harry comes to think of it, just like how he’s always envisioned a happy home being. The unconditional love and respect; never expecting or asking too much from you, yet never giving up on you on those days when you’re feeling insignificant and wallow in self-doubt; the peace and tranquillity needed to recover and recharge when the world becomes too much; just as well as the joy and happiness needed to never lose faith in the world and a brighter future.

But could he ever be worthy of anything as honest and genuine as that? A true home? A loving family?

The famous Harry Potter, the Saviour of the Wizarding World, certainly could. At least if public opinion and the press accolades are anything to go by. According to them, The Boy Who Lived Twice is already a living legend, worthy of all the glories and Happily Ever Afters you could possibly imagine.

But that’s not really him, is it? That’s a hero, a valiant knight in shining armour, an impossible ideal to look up to, a fictional character to worship and admire — not this broken shell of a bloke who some days can’t even manage to get out of bed in the morning.

No, the real Harry is not a hero. He’s just a scrawny, struggling boy who happened to succeed on a suicide mission, mostly thanks to resourceful friends and sheer dumb luck. He just did what he had to do, what everyone expected of him, and on his way, he made so many mistakes, caused the deaths of so many wonderful people. Mothers. Fathers. Sons. Daughters. Siblings. Friends. Grandparents. Godparents.

How could anyone like that ever be considered worthy of happiness?

Yeah sure, he actually did manage to bring down the most evil wizard of his time. In the end. But even though he held the wand that finally did it (which, by the way, wasn't even his, but Malfoy's); what people always seem to forget is that the victory truly was a team effort. He could never have ended that Horcruxed bastard if it wasn't for his friends and the other members of the Order. Voldemort had been immortal, and if any of the others hadn’t done their part before him, not even an AK had been able to kill the Dark Lord that day.

All Harry really contributed was giving himself up for slaughter, and then disarming the villain with the power of the Elder Wand. Hell, even Neville is more of a hero than he is — what with fearlessly slaying that vile snake with the Sword of Gryffindor (and that right in front of its Master, no less) after bravely leading a resistance for the span of a whole school year. A year Harry had mostly spent hiding, fumbling through the darkness in a search for Horcruxes, while people all over the country were suffering, hunted, tortured, killed.

No, he is certainly no hero. If anything, Harry feels like a fraud. A fake poster boy for the victors; who wrongfully receives all the praise that really should have belonged to so many others. A sanctimonious hypocrite. A sham.

How could someone like that ever be worthy of anything, least of all something as pure and perfect as a loving family and a true home?

His well-meaning friends would most certainly argue that he deserves a happy ending now the war is finally over, but that's just because they’re exactly that — his friends. Harry knows they all care about him an awful lot, but he can hardly expect them to be objective about this, now can he? Not when they’re only saying it because they’re worried about him and because they don’t know how else to handle this seemingly irremediable melancholia Harry carries in his heart nowadays.

No, Harry doesn't blame them. They only say and do what any good friend would if they were in the same situation. Harry would do it too if the roles were reversed. But, whatever their reason for saying it, Harry knows it's not the honest truth.

No. Pity. That's what it is. Friends who say what they think he wants — or needs — to hear, in an attempt to cheer him up.

And that’s why Andromeda’s words manage to catch him so completely unawares. Because she doesn’t say things like that. She’d never bend the truth just to make you feel better. As Slytherin as she may be, she doesn’t care for false praise or sugarcoated frippery. And she certainly doesn’t let you in if she doesn’t find you worthy of her trust and respect.

And still…

In Andromeda’s unassuming way, veiled as an unimportant afterthought, she’s just offered him a whole new world — and Harry finds himself stricken by the force of it, stupefied by the wave of emotions crashing over him in its wake.

It isn’t until much later, long after Andromeda’s left for her late-night meeting that Harry finally manages to leave his comfy chair in the sitting room and traipse upstairs to check on Teddy and get ready for bed.

— ¤ O ¤ —

Tuesday, 25 August 1998

Well, isn ’t this a surreal Gringotts-cart-ride of a day?

Never in a million years would I have imagined this day leading me to a place like this. During these last months, I have envisioned my prison cell fairly clearly. (Let's face it, that would have been the most logical outcome after all, and where I still believe I truly belong.) Then there were times, on those few more optimistic delusional moments, when I dared hope to be able to return to the Manor after this whole ordeal was over and done with. But this? No, never this.

Because, if you can believe it, I ’m in a pub in Glastonbury, Somerset. A dingy muggle pub called Beckets Inn, where they apparently serve neither firewhisky nor butterbeer, but some horrendous muggle drivel called “real ale” which they seem to be ridiculously proud of. Fortunately, since it’s a fairly warm evening, most patrons have chosen to socialise outside in the back garden, which means I am currently left alone in my quiet corner by the front window.

When I last left you, I jokingly told you “only a miracle can save me now”.

Well, what do you know! Turns out a miracle actually could save me. And its name? Harry Effing Potter, of course! Who else? (Yes, I know. I can almost feel your pages trembling with laughter at the irony. Kindly stop it, will you?) I guess I shouldn ’t be surprised — if anyone ever had a saving-people compulsion, it’s him — and yet, here I am; baffled by the notion of him saving my life yet again, without even bothering to ask for repayment or gratification. Stupid annoying git.

Why?

He doesn ’t even like me, so why the hell does he keep doing this to me?

Doesn ’t he know what his benevolent actions do to me? That, for each good deed he executes for my benefit without even thinking, my debt to him just keeps on increasing, up to the point where I will no longer be able to consider myself a free man — even with the probation I was miraculously bestowed today.

It doesn ’t matter if he’d never bother to collect on this debt either. (And knowing him, I honestly don’t think he ever would.) Even if I never hear from him again, I will always be burdened by the knowledge of what he did, of how many times he’s saved my life, and I will have to live the rest of my days with this unwanted gratitude from which I will never be exonerated.

The Chief Warlock wasn ’t even going to let forth his testimony, certain that everything was all in the bag — and likely eager to get to the voting and finish our case in time for his afternoon tea — but as he was about to wrap it up, he was reminded by none other than Minister Shacklebolt himself.

They called Potter a character witness, and I was so certain anything he ever had to say about any one of us would only make our sentences worse.

Potter has seen me at my worst, has watched me fairly close for several years, and of all the people I have ever met in my life, he is probably the one who has witnessed and/or suffered most of all the terrible things I ’ve ever done. If you had asked me 24 hours ago if I could name anyone willing or able to defend my case before the Wizengamot, Potter would have been the last person on my mind. My subconscious may have hoped for it — hasn’t it always dreamt of Potter rescuing me from my fate? — but my rational brain is usually a little more realistic than that.

So, as the shape of my former nemesis rose from the pensieve and lit up the room like a magnificent patronus, I tried to brace myself for any and all eventualities. He has hated me, just as much as I have hated him, from the first time we ever met; and those scars on my chest are a constant reminder of that time when he almost killed me. Still, my heart couldn ’t help reminding me of how he also once pulled me out from a raging fiendfyre, saving my life. Potter is unpredictable like that, and there was no way to know…

Oh, you should have seen him … the sight took my breath away. Seeing him after all this time, appearing before me looking like a guardian angel about to rescue me in my darkest despair. He looked haunted but determined, and his voice rang out in the silence, strong and sure, and all I could think was, “I’m dreaming. This isn’t happening.”

But it did happen. Just like that, my parents ’ Azkaban sentences turned into wandless house arrest — ten years for Father and three for Mother — and a hefty sum of galleons in reparations.

And what about me, you ask?

Well, it looks like you won ’t be rid of me after all. Because, here I am — sentenced only to three years of probation, stripped of my wand and with a brand new tracking bracelet shining from the wrist of my right arm. I’m prohibited to practice magic, but I’m free to go wherever I want within the borders of the country and if that doesn’t feel like a victory, I don’t know if anything ever will.

All thanks to him. Stupid git.

— ¤ O ¤ —

Andromeda has been gone for nearly two hours when Harry finally hears the distinct crack of Apparition. Feeling his unconscious worry for her dissipate, he sighs and pours steaming water over the teabag already waiting in his favourite Falcons mug.

While evening tea with Andromeda is a ritual of want, something Harry really appreciates and enjoys, his night cup before bed is a ritual of need, something he can’t manage without. Imbibed here in the kitchen — Harry usually leaning against the counter looking out over the tranquil back garden — it serves mostly as a nonprescription Dreamless Sleep, and these days Harry never goes to bed without it.

Nightmares are still a regular occurrence, waking him up in a cold sweat almost daily, but with this last cup before bedtime, he usually manages at least a couple of hours sleep before it happens.

Harry hears the front door open and is just about to call out his greeting as he realises she’s not alone.

“Please, do come in and make yourself at home,” she says, her voice obscured by the sound of clothes rustling and the door being pulled shut. Is this the guest she mentioned earlier? Wary, Harry stays in the kitchen, shamelessly eavesdropping. No matter how close they are to Andromeda, Harry is not about to greet a perfect stranger half-naked, wearing only his threadbare pyjama bottoms. “I’ll give you the tour tomorrow. It’s not much, not compared to what you’re used to, but—”

“It’s perfect. Honestly, Mrs Tonks.”

The muffled male voice is low and smooth, reminding Harry of melted chocolate.

“I’m just grateful you agreed to meet with me, not even mentioning letting me into your home. I’d never assume as much, considering…”

“I can see why you’d think that, dear. But you are family. And believe it or not, I’m happy to have you. Just as long as you behave like a decent human being and watch your language in front of the baby, you can stay as long as you want. And don’t worry, I said the same thing to—”

Potter?

The crash and splash of a tea mug meeting floor tiles accompany Harry’s incredulous gasp of “Malfoy?

Impossible.

There in the doorway, right in front of him, stands Draco Malfoy, looking possibly even more thunderstruck than Harry feels. He is paler than Harry’s ever seen him; even more haggard and drained than he looked a few months ago when Harry last saw him. His high cheekbones stand out almost ghostly in the soft light from the pendant over the table, and the dark shadows under his eyes speak of innumerable sleepless nights.

For a moment that feels like an eternity, they just stand there, looking at each other. Were his eyes always this stormy grey? Harry catches himself thinking before he finally manages to shake himself out of his stupor.

“What the hell are you doing here?”

Harry’s words come out harsher than intended and elicit the patent Malfoy sneer to graze those tight rosy lips.

“I could say the same to you,” Malfoy drawls, an unapologetic glint in his eyes as they drop to take in Harry’s naked torso. “Don’t you have a burrow of weasels to cuddle up with somewhere?”

Harry is much too tired for this. All he wanted was to have his cup of tea before heading to bed, and suddenly his peaceful trouble-free evening is invaded by this insufferable git who seems to have made it his life’s purpose to tease and taunt him any chance he gets.

“Don’t you have a comfy bed in Azkaban waiting for you?” Harry growls, eyes narrowing to better focus his stare on the blond’s sharp features. Turns out a well-tailored Muggle suit can be quite distracting on the wrong person when you’re tired enough to let your mind dawdle.

“No, actually. Turns out I don’t,” Malfoy sneers. “Thanks to you, oh Almighty Saviour.”

“Interesting way to express your gratitude, Malfoy.” Not for the first time, Harry questions his own sanity for ever giving those bloody statements. “You’re welcome by the way, oh Ungrateful Villain.”

Malfoy’s eyebrow twitches at the comeback, as if trying but not really managing to hide his amusement, and this prompts Harry to impulsively add, “Or would you rather Damsel in Distress?”

Malfoy’s whole body tenses, as if preparing to pounce, and Harry feels a familiar rush of adrenalin flicker in his chest.

“So,” Andromeda interrupts, clearing her throat and startling them both out of the impending fistfight. Circe. For one moment there Harry had even forgotten she was present. “I guess she forgot to mention Harry’s living here?” she chuckles.

Malfoy reluctantly tears his eyes away from Harry to face his aunt.

“I’m sorry, Mrs Tonks, I should go. I can’t—”

“Nonsense, Draco,” Andromeda smiles, much to Harry’s chagrin. “The guest room has already been prepared for you, and it’s much too late for young wizards like you to be wandering alone in the dark without a wand.”

Harry can’t help smirking as he takes in the mischievous twinkle in her eyes. The low growl coming from Malfoy is easily drowned out by Andromeda’s cheerful voice.

“Come on, now. Up the stairs and first door to the right.”

Somehow she’s able to redirect Malfoy’s focus enough to make him follow her towards the stairs. “Do you want me to help you with the bag or can you mana— Alright, suit yourself.”

Just before disappearing from Harry’s view, Malfoy looks back over his shoulder, catching Harry staring at his retreating back before sending him another incredulous stare. Harry is barely able to breathe as he watches those long, black-trousered legs climbing up the stairs, each step muffled by the cream coloured carpet runner.

What the hell just happened?

— ¤ O ¤ —

Five minutes later, Andromeda finds Harry in the same spot as she left him, eyes still transfixed on the stairs. Before even addressing him, she waves her wand to clean up the spilt tea and repair the blue Falcons mug.

“I hope this won’t be a problem, Harry,” she says gently as she refills the kettle and prepares Harry’s mug with another teabag.

Gaze lowered in defeat, Harry slumps against the counter behind him and shakes his head as he folds his arms protectively across his chest. He has no say in this, he knows that. If he wants to stay here in his sacred haven — which he desperately wants to do — he’ll have to accept the fact that he’s going to be sharing it with Malfoy. Malfoy, of all people.

Desperately racking his brain for other alternatives, the only one that comes up is Grimmauld Place. Harry doesn’t want to live at Grimmauld Place. It’s murky and dark and depressing, and it harbours so many painful memories… Harry feels the unease crawling in his gut just thinking about it.

Furthermore, he doesn’t want to abandon his godson. He wants to be here for Teddy; like Sirius was never able to be there for him. He wants to be here to see the baby grow and witness all his firsts. Like the other day when Harry made him laugh for the very first time. A real laugh. It was amazing — just like every single day with him is amazing. He doesn’t want to give that up just because of some terribly annoying git. Harry was here first, damn it. If anyone should go, it should be Malfoy.

“Why is he here?” Harry murmurs.

“Because I invited him,” Andromeda says in that calm voice that contains an ocean of patience. “He’s family. Narcissa asked for my help, and I wasn’t able to reject her plea. Our fighting days are over, Harry. They must be, or the war would have been for nothing. And I won’t let my daughter and son-in-law’s deaths be for nothing.”

A pang of grief and guilt catches Harry unawares at the mention of Remus and his wife.

“Do you…” Harry is barely able to get the question past the heavy lump in his throat. “Do you w-want me to leave?”

Please, say no.

“Oh, Harry, why would you ever think I’d want that?”

He doesn’t look up, but he can still hear the concerned frown drawing her neat eyebrows together.

“Because having us both living under the same roof is just asking for trouble. You know that. I know that. He knows that.” Harry sighs. “Come on, you saw what just happened. We’ll be at each other’s throats in no time.”

“Please, Harry. I know you two have somewhat of a ruffled past—” At this, Harry can’t help huffing a laugh. “—and even though I’m not aware of all the twists and turns of your long-term animosity, I do know that both of you are trying really hard to put the past behind you.”

Harry blinks.

“He said that? And you believed him?”

“Yes, Harry. I do believe him. Did you think I just dragged him home without knowing anything about him?” Harry shrugs noncommittally. “Seriously, Harry. Why do you think I was gone for nearly two hours? I talked to him. I got to know him. I asked him what I wanted to know, and he answered me. You might not know of the concept, but it’s called conversation. Communication. Maybe you should try it with him sometime. Because I think you never have, have you?”

“I’ve…”

No, you haven’t. Not really.

Harry stops his impulsive retort before lying straight to Andromeda’s face. He feels like a chastised eleven-year-old, and for the second time tonight he finds himself thinking about Andromeda as if she could have been his mother.

He takes a ragged breath. Merlin, he’s too tired for this.

“Why is he here?” he sighs, “What happened?”

“I think he’d better tell you himself,” Andromeda says, her voice soft and composed once more. “Just know that this is where he chose to go.”

“And you think he’d have chosen to come here if he’d known about me?” Harry blurts incredulous.

“Yes, I do Harry. You might not believe me when I say it, dear, but he has literally nowhere else to go.”

“Okay.” Harry sighs, defeated. “I’ll try my best to make this work. For your sake, and for Teddy’s — not for him. But, I swear on my wand, if he doesn’t…”

“He will. I promise you, he will.”

“If you say so.” Harry pushes away from the counter and heads for the door. “I still think you’re just asking for a disaster to happen,” he adds without turning around to face her, “but I do hope I’m wrong.”

Reaching the landing, Harry’s gaze is inevitably drawn to the door leading to the guest room. Malfoy’s room. Harry still can’t believe he is here, the one and only constant tormentor of his entire schooldays, sleeping only a few feet away.

This is madness, total fucking lunacy.

Harry can’t even say what it is about the git that makes him so annoying; what makes him able to always get under Harry’s skin so easily. After months of feeling nearly nothing at all, about anything, it took but a couple of minutes and a handful of words for Malfoy to rile him up to the verge of fisticuffs. This arrangement can’t be healthy, not for any of us, Harry thinks as he closes the door to his room, just across the landing from Malfoy’s.

It isn’t until he’s lying in his bed staring at the ceiling that he realises he never got to drink his Dreamless Sleep cup of tea.

— ¤ O ¤ —

Chapter Text

A glooming peace this morning with it brings.
— Prince Escalus (Romeo and Juliet)

— ¤ O ¤ —

Friday, 28 August 1998

I finally got a reply from Mother today. Guess what she had to say about the Potter issue? She actually has the nerve to claim she ’d “totally forgot” about Andromeda mentioning him staying here. “You must know that I’m deeply sorry if my failing memory has been a cause of any inconvenience for you, my dear son. Please forgive me, but I totally forgot.” As if! No, I know my mother; and I’m willing to bet my best broom that when she wrote that owl to Andromeda, she knew full well about Potter.

Yes, she knew, alright. And yet she sent me here anyway. Despite the fact that she knows just how I feel about him. Yes, I ’m quite sure she does by now. She has always been intuitive like that. I swear, sometimes I get the feeling she can read me like an open book, sans legilimency. And obviously, she thought it would be funny to throw me into the lion’s den. I bet she has been wearing a smug look on her face ever since that portkey whisked me away.

Anyway. She also says Father is still furious of the way I behaved towards him. Well, no surprise there. Knowing him, I would guess he probably won ’t calm down before the new year. Apparently, he demands I come back home and “start behaving like a responsible adult” — which, of course, is his way of saying “come back here, you insufferable excuse of a son, so I can chastise you properly for defying me; and then you’d better effing submit to your destiny already so I can marry you away and get me my heir”.

Oh, dear Merlin, I need to find something else to occupy my mind soon, or I ’ll go mental.

No, she hasn ’t replied yet, and no, I try not to speculate too much on what this may indicate. I tell myself that she’ll respond sooner or later and that as long as she hasn’t, there is still hope. Right? Right. I mean, we’re only talking theory here. What harm could it possibly do?

Keep the faith, dear. We survived the war, didn ’t we? We’ll get through this too, one way or the other, even if we’re stuck here. With Potter.

— ¤ O ¤ —

“But Harry, if you don’t want to go back with us, and you don’t want to go into Auror training, what are you going to do? You can’t just sit around moping all day, or you’ll go nuts.”

“Come on, ‘Mione,” Ron says as he reaches out for the bowl of mash. “Can’t you see he’s not listening?”

Harry is, though — just not consciously. Ever since Harry told them he’d decided not to join the Aurors, this argument has been the same every time they meet; Hermione stressing the importance of a proper education while Ron sulks for Harry crushing his Auror Partners Dream.

It’s not as if he wants to abandon Ron and their joint Auror aspirations, or as if he doesn’t want to spend time with Hermione and Ginny and the others going back to Hogwarts. It’s just that… It’s like there’s no energy left in his body. If he can barely get through a couple of hours here at the Burrow once a week surrounded by friends, how would he ever survive endless days of chaos at Hogwarts or the Ministry?

Helping himself to another mountain of potatoes, Ron glances over at Harry who’s barely touched the food on his plate. “Hey? Are you alright, mate?”

“Yeah,” Harry manages, forcing his mind back to the present.

Him zoning out from time to time is nothing unusual these days. The constant chattering of a near dozen Weasleys is just too much for Harry to be able to concentrate for more than a couple of minutes at a time. He looks over at his best friend, registering the worry in his eyes.

“Yeah,” he says again, mustering up a faint smile. “I’m alright. Just a lot on my mind, I guess.”

“More than usual, it seems,” Hermione says with a concerned frown. “Something happened?”

“No, nothing special. Just…” Malfoy moved in.

Only, Harry can’t utter the words. He knows mentioning the git would cause more attention and questions than he’s willing to battle right now. Maybe if it was only the three of them, but… No, not even then. Ron would probably freak out; if anyone hates the git more than Harry does it’s him. And Hermione would most certainly want Harry to talk about it at length — to dissect every aspect of his feelings about the situation — before letting this turn of events become yet another argument for joining her return to Hogwarts.

Also — and this is likely the main reason for his increased need for contemplation — as it turns out, living with Malfoy this past week hasn’t actually been all that dramatic as Harry had first thought. In fact, after that first evening, they’ve hardly spoken more than a handful of words to each other, both insistent on keeping a fair distance so as not to disturb the peace of the cottage more than necessary.

Most of the time, Harry can actually pretend Malfoy’s not even there. Since his arrival, Malfoy has barely left his room, only venturing downstairs on the occasional odd hour to grab something to eat in the kitchen before sneaking back to whatever he’s doing in there all day. Harry tries not to speculate about it too much, but old habits die hard and, by this point, Harry’s rather certain Malfoy must be up to something in there.

“Harry, what do you think?”

“Huh?” Harry blinks owlishly as George elbows him in the ribs.

He feels a faint blush spreading over his cheeks as he notices all eyes on him. Apparently, everyone’s now aware of his more than usually distracted mood. Great. He can only hope no one decides to try to gouge the reason for his current state out of him. He really doesn’t want to talk about anything Malfoy related tonight; it’s enough that he has to put up with the git 24/7 as it is.

“Well, I was just saying I ought to go back to the shop soon. I can hardly expect Lee and Angelina to look after it forever, you know.”

Harry frowns. George’s former classmates have stepped in and taken over the management of the joke shop after Fred…

Harry’s still unable to finish that thought. George had been so devastated by the loss of his twin brother he’d barely been able to put two words together, much less being able to run a well-frequented shop all by himself. The nature of the business is not helping any either as it expects a cheerful and mischievous approach from all staff at all times. Harry can’t imagine even entering that shop anytime soon — how can George contemplate going back already?

“You sure that’s a good idea?”

“No, but…” George falters before shaking his head to stave off his doubts. “Well… Quidditch season’s coming up, so Angelina needs to go back to her team in a couple of weeks anyhow. And Lee just got an offer to join the WWN full-time after what he did with Potterwatch, so if I don’t want to close down entirely, I’ll need to get my shit together somehow and rejoin the world of the living.”

“And you really think you’re ready to do that?” Ginny asks gently, voicing the concern of everyone around the table.

“Honestly? I don’t have a clue, but it’s not like I have a bunch of other options lying around waiting to be picked. I just wish I didn’t have to do it alone, you know.”

Harry feels the tendrils of needing to help a beloved friend start to work its way through his gut. He really doesn’t want to — doesn’t think he’d be able to even if he tried — but the urge is there nonetheless, all but forcing him to offer up his services. He is a silent partner in the business after all, so maybe he should step up and help George out, right?

“Well, that sucks, mate,” Ron offers from across the table and Harry turns to look at him. Harry can see he’s conflicted, worry and sympathy warring with admiration for his brother’s tenacity after all he’s been through. A thought strikes Harry then, but he refrains from voicing it until the kitchen is filled with the hustling and bustling of collecting the dishes and prepare for pudding.

“Hey, Ron?” Harry all but whispers across the table.

Ron, who’s about to rise from his chair to help clearing the table, stops in his tracks and slumps down in his chair again, sending Harry a questioning look.

“Yeah, mate?” he says, a curious smirk on his face. Curious… and surprised, Harry notices.

Has it really been that long since I last initiated a conversation between us?

“I know you’re still planning on going into the Aurors…” Harry tries, smiling faintly at Ron’s affirmative nod, “…but… I don’t know, I just… I get the feeling you don’t really want to go either.” A barely-there wince clouds Ron’s face for a moment, encouraging Harry to go on. “Am I wrong?”

Ron shrugs, noncommittally. “Well, I don’t know. I…” He trails off, trying to find the right words while gesturing vaguely with his hand. “I guess… I always saw it as something we’d do together, you know; becoming Auror partners and fighting evil side by side, as we’ve always done. I just don’t think it’ll be the same without you there with me.”

Harry squashes his sudden urge to assure his friend they could still do that, if not now, maybe in a year or… But, no. He really shouldn’t give Ron any false hopes to cling to. Considering the relief he’d felt after he’d finally made the decision not to join the force, Harry can’t imagine he’ll be changing his mind about it anytime soon.

“So, why do it?” Harry says instead. “It’s not like you have an obligation to or anything?”

Ron huffs, amused and a little incredulous.

“And allowing for ‘Mione’s incessant nagging of ‘you have to do something with your life, Ronald’ and ‘you have to think about the future, Ronald’?”

Ron’s got Hermione’s whiny voice down to an art, and Harry can’t help smiling despite the death glare aimed his way.

“Have you noticed how she always calls me Ronald when she’s annoyed with me? Bloody infuriating, innit? Besides, I don’t want to go back to school, so…”

“What if there was another option?”

“There is no other— What are you talking about?” Ron frowns, bewildered.

Seriously? Hasn ’t the idea even grazed his mind? Surely, it must have?

Harry sighs. “Why don’t you join George in the shop? He’s clearly in need of a supportive partner to manage the business, and who’d be better doing it than another Weasley brother? After all, the shop’s called Weasleys Wizard Wheezes.”

At Harry’s suggestion, Ron’s face lights up, a broad smile taking over his features as the idea sinks in.

“Brilliant,” he says, then, “But… do you really think George…”

Harry smiles. “Yeah, mate. I think he’d be happy to have you.”

“Really? But, ‘Mione…”

“What about ‘Mione?” Harry frowns.

“Well,” Ron hesitates, “she’s never been particularly fond of their jokes and stuff. I don’t think she’d like…”

“Hey,” Harry breaks off Ron’s argument as soon as he realises where this is going. “This isn’t about her, okay. It’s about you; about you allowing yourself to be happy. Besides, I’m sure she’d prefer having you happy in the shop to having you miserable as an Auror.”

“True,” Ron concedes, still looking doubtful.

“Just think about it, okay?”

“Okay.”

Ron stands and reaches for Harry’s plate, stacking it upon his own before lifting them both off the table. “Thanks, mate.”

“Anytime, Ron. I just want you to be happy, you know.”

“Likewise,” Ron murmurs. “Likewise.”

— ¤ O ¤ —

Harry guesses he should have seen it coming, and yet the thought hasn’t even crossed his mind. But seeing as the Malfoy trials has probably been the most discussed topic in wizarding Britain this week — if not this whole month — he should have been prepared for it to come up sometime during the evening.

He isn’t even sure what initiates it, just that he’s somehow drawn from his distracted musings by the mentioning of the blonds’ family name.

“I still can’t believe it,” someone at the other end of the table says. “House arrest? They belong in Azkaban, for Circe’s sake. All three of them.”

Murmurs of support waft around the table at the statement.

Bill clears his throat. “The Prophet says that’s where they’d all be if it weren’t for the testimony of one still unnamed — but apparently very influential — character witness.”

Harry swallows uncomfortably and keeps his gaze fixed on his plate. It’s still occupied by a barely touched apple crumble in a sea of custard.

“What?” Ginny exclaims. “You’re telling me someone was willing to testify on their behalf? After what they’ve done? Surely they must be bought or blackmailed or something?”

“And how come they haven’t revealed the name of the witness? Don’t they know?”

Harry knows why. He was the one insisting on placing the modified Secrecy Charm on the courtroom, preventing all attending from revealing the details of his testimony after leaving the place.

He chances a quick glance at Ron and Hermione. Ron is completely drawn into the conversation, but Hermione meets his gaze with a questioning frown. He’s told them he decided to contribute his witness statements for the trial. However, he’s refrained from telling them what he planned to say.

“And the brat’s left the Manor?” George asks, steering Harry attention back to the conversation.

“That’s what the rumours say,” Percy scowls. “Says he left just hours after the verdict had been announced.”

“I bet he’s gone into hiding with his precious Death Eater friends,” Ron sneers.

“Bet he’s sitting on a tropical beach somewhere as we speak,” Ginny chips in, “sipping champagne and laughing about the Wizengamot’s gullible members.”

Harry can feel the agitation bloom in his gut over the sudden antagonistic ambience in the room. This isn’t how it’s supposed to be. The war is over, for Godric’s sake. Why must everyone keep holding on to all this hostility?

Exasperated, Harry groans and plants his forehead in his hands; elbows resting on the hard surface of the table either side of his plate. He’s too tired for this, too tired of listening to people holding grudges, questioning, mistrusting, speculating, slandering.

“Bet he’s having the time of his life.”

Oh, come on.

It’s not until he notices the whole room turning silent Harry becomes aware he’s been speaking out loud. Slowly carding his fingers through his unruly hair, Harry lifts his head to look around, meeting questioning eyes all around the table.

“What?” he blurts, inexplicably frustrated at their sceptical silence. “He’s monitored by a tracking spell. He’s wandless, he’s not allowed to use magic and he’s prohibited to leave the country. He’s seen as a traitor in Death Eater circles, is loathed by the Wizarding society and he knows nothing about the Muggle world. Where would he even go?”

The sudden rant leaves him a little short of breath, and as the others avert their eyes from his irritated glare Harry wills his heart to slow down. It doesn’t matter what they think. It doesn’t matter if that’s the most he’s ever talked since the war. Sometimes enough is enough.

— ¤ O ¤ —

No, Malfoy’s most definitely not sitting on a tropical beach laughing and sipping champagne. Quite the contrary, really.

In fact, Harry can’t remember ever seeing Malfoy look worse, not even in sixth year. It’s as if all life has abandoned his slender body, leaving him an empty shell. He looks defeated, broken, and the dark shadows under his eyes suggest he hasn’t been able to sleep properly for days; weeks.

While they, to Andromeda’s great discontent, persist in studiously avoiding any form of interaction, Harry can’t help looking in Malfoy’s direction anytime he’s within eyeshot. It’s still strange seeing him in the cottage, and even though Harry is unconsciously aware of Malfoy’s presence at all times — a force of habit by now, knowing your enemies’ whereabouts and all that — it still startles him every time his eye catches that platinum blond head of hair.

About a week after his arrival, Andromeda has apparently had enough of Malfoy’s self-induced isolation and demands him to join them for dinner. It’s the most awkward meal Harry’s ever sat through, the air thick as jelly between them as they silently eat the meat stew Harry cooked while Teddy napped. Harry keeps his eyes on the food, stealing furtive glances Malfoy’s way more often than he cares to admit. He’s quite sure Malfoy does the same, at least if the prickling at the nape of Harry’s neck is anything to go by.

Later, when Harry notices Malfoy distractedly scratching the ever-growing blond stubble on his jaw, he briefly wonders what brought on the bloke’s desire to suddenly grow a beard. It’s hardly like he’s got the genes for it, sparse and uneven as it seems to grow. Then, Harry’s eyes are drawn to the silver bracelet on Malfoy’s wrist and he realises his mistake.

That evening as they sit before the fire with their cups of tea, Malfoy as absent as ever during their daily ritual, Harry casually asks Andromeda if she still has her husband’s shaver lying around somewhere.

A similar conversation about a week later brings about Andromeda showing Malfoy the workings of the washing machine and the art of ironing. The session is followed by an entire afternoon of grumbling and swearing from the laundry room in the basement and a subsequent hushed discussion between Malfoy and Andromeda after dinner when Harry leaves to put Teddy to sleep.

The next morning, Harry fights to suppress an amused smile when Malfoy descends for breakfast wearing tight black jeans and a worn-out t-shirt that most certainly once belonged to Andromeda’s daughter Dora. (Harry is almost used to calling Tonks Dora by now; the last name always too confusing to use in conversations with her namesake  Andromeda.) The smile only fights back for a short moment though, before Harry notices how the soft cotton stretches over Malfoy’s chest and the way the denim hugs his well-defined seeker’s thighs. Thankfully, Teddy’s almost always around to dote on in times like this.

After asking permission from Andromeda, Malfoy starts occupying the study from breakfast till dinner every day without exception. Harry itches to ask Andromeda what he’s using it for, but he manages to restrain his curiosity enough to keep his mouth shut. Malfoy’s doings aren’t Harry’s concern, after all. As long as Andromeda trusts the bloke, Harry has no reason to question it, right? At least that’s what Harry’s trying to tell himself.

— ¤ O ¤ —

Saturday, 19 September 1998

There ’s a certain kind of hopelessness that comes with the knowledge that everything you once believed to be true has to be brought into question and challenged. That every value, opinion and judgement you’ve ever carried within you must be taken into your mental laboratory to be tested, scrutinised and possibly reevaluated before you can give yourself permission to move on.

For most of my eighteen years, I ’ve lived with the misconception that my father was someone to look up to and admire, to listen to and believe in. During my childhood, I was never exposed to any signs of the contrary, always seeing my father being treated with reverence and respect whenever we ventured outside the safe haven of the Manor.

Growing up in my father ’s shadow — expected to follow in his footsteps and inherit not only his name and assets but also all the values and traditions that come with it — often felt like an impossible undertaking. While always praising my potential, he was never late to point out any of my inadequacies or failures. And even though I never once doubted his love for me, no one else has ever been able to make me feel smaller or weaker than he did whenever I failed to live up to his expectations.

I realise that this recurrent expression of disappointment was meant to trigger me into increasing my efforts, to always do better, be better, and to help me reach my full potential as a worthy Heir of the honourable Malfoy bloodline. And I ’m not saying that it didn’t work — oh, how I once lived for those few precious moments of praise when he complimented me on a job well done — just that now, looking back, I’m acknowledging how much this has affected me and my worldview.

I ’m aware this reasoning may read as me deflecting all blame for my many fallacies and misdeeds, but that’s not my intention. I’m most certainly to blame — at least for not questioning and challenging our values and opinions earlier in life — but I also need to stress the innocence of that little boy, coming into this world with no means with which to fend off those beliefs and values that was thrust upon him from birth.

One of these beliefs was the conviction that my aunt, the younger of my mother ’s two sisters, was unworthy of our respect and recognition after having the audacity to defy her family’s beliefs by marrying a muggle-born. As you already know, it wasn’t even until a few years ago (when I happened upon that photo of the three sisters and asked Mother about it) that I was informed of her existence. She was said to be a blood traitor, a recreant, and someone not even worth mentioning.

And here I am now, living in her house, taken under her wing, and cared for — regardless of who I am, regardless of how my family has always treated her. Even after all I ’ve done, and even though she has no obligation to, she has offered me a place to stay, a space for reflection and a chance to start over. I’m not sure I’m worth it — honestly, I’m pretty sure that I’m not — but I’m a fool if I don’t accept her generosity and at least try to make the most of it. After all, I am a Slytherin, and we tend to be all about ambition and self-preservation.

Now, if only Potter wasn ’t always around to darken my day.

— ¤ O ¤ —

The smell is what first alerts Harry. He notices it as soon as he exits the bathroom, hair still damp from the shower. From the open window at the end of the landing, he can hear Teddy’s giggles from outside, Andromeda probably entertaining him with that bubble charm he loves so much.

Rushing towards the stairs, Harry absently summons his wand from his nightstand as he passes the open door to his room. With adrenaline spiking in his veins, he feels his heart slam against his ribcage as he tries not to inhale too much of the toxic air.

He takes the stairs two steps at a time, wand at the ready, almost missing the target about halfway down and stumbling frantically the rest of the way towards the floor.

Holy shit.

“What the fuck, Malfoy,” he yells as soon as he sees the blond standing next to the stove, hunching over the hob with a box of matches in his hand. At Harry’s words, Malfoy immediately straightens his posture and sends Harry an irritated glare. Panting heavily, Harry takes in the scene, barely able to grasp the implications of it due to the blood rushing too hot and too fast through his body.

Harry’s hand is remarkably steady as he aims his wand at Malfoy, his eyes firmly locked on Malfoy’s stormy grey as he growls, “Drop the matches and step away from the stove.” Malfoy just stands there, all but petrified, a whirlwind of emotions swirling in his eyes. “Now!”

Startled out of his stupor by Harry’s panicked cry, Malfoy finally does as he’s told. The box of matches bounces under the table as he quickly moves towards the far wall.

Git out of the way, Harry holds his breath and reaches out to turn off the gas. With a flick of his wand, he mutters a Colouring Charm to make the leaked gas visible and enabling him to assess the danger.

“Godric, save us,” Harry breathes, wide-eyed, as half the house is suddenly covered by a light blue cloud.

Not even letting himself think about how any use of magic may or may not be dangerous this close to such an awful amount of explosives, Harry quickly conjures a shield bubble and starts gathering the toxic fumes in it.

He works silently, gritting his teeth. He can feel Malfoy’s wary eyes on him, but he refuses to look his way even for a second; too scared of losing his temper over the sodding idiot before the imminent danger is nullified.

Once the last whiff of blue is concealed in the protective bubble, Harry takes a moment to look at it. Although the colour of a bright summer sky; as it moves restlessly in its floating cage, the gas very much resembles the picture of the Obscurus Hermione once showed him in a book on dark magic.

Malfoy clears his throat and Harry finally allows himself to look his way. His face is completely drained of all colour and Harry can see his body trembling as he stares transfixed at the blue cloud between them. If it wasn’t for the wall supporting him, Harry thinks, the man would probably have crumbled to the floor a long time ago.

“Stay here.” Harry’s words feel rough as they pass his throat. “I’m not through with you yet.”

Malfoy nods hesitantly and Harry has no other choice but to trust him as he backs out of the kitchen, levitating the gas bubble in front of him and towards the back door. Andromeda’s eyes widen in surprise as Harry moves out into the garden following the confined cloud that is straining agitatedly against the barriers of the conjured shield.

“What’s—”

“What? That fucking tosser was about to blow your house up, that’s what!” Harry yells, no longer able to hold back his boiling anger.

“What are you—”

“I swear on my wand, Andromeda, he’s a fucking menace. You may think of him what you want, but I know him. I’ve known him for seven fucking years, and this is what he does. He fucks up. Every. Fucking. Time.”

Harry can feel his magic crackling over his skin and he takes a deep breath; trying to calm himself down. He still has to take care of the gas, preferably before it explodes right there in the back garden. Absently, he registers Teddy wailing and Andromeda rushing over to comfort him.

Focus, Harry.

With difficulty, Harry manages to calm down enough to vanish the bubble along with its content. After it’s done, a rush of relief engulfs him, making the tension in his body melt away. Panting and suddenly dizzy from the lingering adrenalin, Harry feels his knees go weak and he staggers to the edge of the porch just in time to sit down before the strength leaves his shaking limbs completely.

Fuck.

Has it always been this exhausting living with mortal peril looming over his head? For nearly seven years, Harry was used to living with the threat of Voldemort following him around like a shadow; used to live in constant danger, always aware, always vigilant, always on the lookout for anything that may be out to harm him or any of his loved ones. If it had been anything like this, it’s no wonder he succumbed to near-death exhaustion once he, at last, allowed himself to relax after the final battle.

Harry looks down at his trembling hands resting between his knees. How had he ever thought he was cut out to be an Auror? To live the rest of his life like this; battling danger after danger, day after day? He takes a steadying breath, willing his heartbeat to slow down. Another. Another.

It’s hard to give up a childhood dream — hard to grow up and realise your limitations — but that’s what Harry does in this very moment; accepts the fact that he’ll never become an Auror.

“Do you want me to talk to him?” Andromeda asks softly.

She’s standing right next to him with Teddy on her hip. Harry looks up at them and shakes his head.

“No, you take care of Teddy. I’ll handle Malfoy.”

“Are you sure? I don’t want a fight in my house.”

“Yeah, I’ll handle it. Don’t worry.”

“Alright,” she says hesitantly. “But I trust you to be an adult about this, Harry.”

“Yeah, sure.” He gives her a faint smile. “I promise.”

“Good. Then I’ll take this little cutie upstairs for a while, while you sort things out, alright?”

“Thanks, Andromeda. Don’t worry, it’ll be okay.”

As she goes inside, Harry’s thoughts return to the bright blue cloud; to the sight of Malfoy hunching over the stove; and to the alarmed, horror-struck expression on the git’s face as Harry left the kitchen. Harry knows he needs to go back in there, needs to confront Malfoy about what happened. Oh, how he wishes he didn’t.

But there’s nothing to it. Straightening his back and slapping his palms on his knees, he stands and heads for the kitchen.

Even though he told Malfoy to stay put, Harry’s still surprised to actually find him waiting when he returns. He expected the git to scurry away into hiding at the first possible moment, locking himself into his room or the study and sulking like the lily-livered little coward he is.

Instead, Malfoy is seated at the table, hands clasped in front of him. The blond locks of his fringe have escaped his usually neatly-combed hairdo, and with his head bowed in surrender they’re falling loosely in front of his face.

Fully prepared for another Potter-Malfoy patented row, Harry’s opening line is already on his tongue as he reaches the doorway. At the sight of him though, all agitation and anger leave Harry’s body in an instant, and strangely enough, instead of lashing out as planned, Harry finds himself saying, “Tea?”

Malfoy makes no sign of noticing the offer, or even Harry’s existence to be honest. However, since Harry finds his own craving for a cuppa start to twitch in his stomach, he doesn’t wait for an answer but goes over to the counter and starts filling up the kettle from the tap.

Malfoy sits silent and motionless by the table while the water boils, his presence prickling restlessly down Harry’s spine as he prepares the cups. Distracted by an endless stream of thoughts, Harry goes through his habitual motions and so doesn’t even register the plate of chocolate biscuits he’s put together until it’s already sitting there on the counter, next to the sugar bowl and the creamer of milk.

Much too soon, everything is set and Harry’s not able to avoid it any longer. Even though the tea preparations have given him plenty of extra minutes to sort out his thoughts, Harry feels no more ready for this than he did before. But what good is Gryffindor courage if not for being reckless enough to take the Erumpent by the horn?

So, with a deep breath meant to be calming, Harry seats himself at the table across from his once school nemesis. The shock of blond hair in front of him doesn’t stir until Harry places a teacup next to those pale, delicate hands. With his long elegant fingers still firmly clasped together, Malfoy slowly looks up at Harry through his fringe. Shiny grey eyes, molten as quicksilver, seek out Harry’s from behind a veil of white-blond strands, and all of a sudden Harry feels strangely discombobulated.

“What the hell was that?” Harry asks as soon as he manages to regain his equilibrium.

The words might be harsh but his voice is soft; as if talking to a cornered animal, careful not to provoke it.

Well, that may be a first, Harry’s mind supplies helpfully. Aren’t provocations usually the one and only mode of communication between you two?

Malfoy breaks their intense eye contact and lowers his gaze back to his hands. “I…” he whispers, almost inaudibly, with a slight shake of his head. “I don’t…”

“You what?” Harry bristles when Malfoy falls silent again, his outburst causing the blond to wince. “It’s an easy enough question, with several possible answers. Just pick one. Preferably the truth.”

“I…” Malfoy falters again before murmuring something under his breath, too quiet for anyone but himself to hear.

“Come again?”

Another furtive glance from behind that distracting fringe is Malfoy’s only answer this time.

“Okay, I’ll tell you what. Let me give you some possible answers to choose from, alright?” Harry has tried to put together a mental list of possible reasons anyway, might as well use it. “One, you’re sent here by your Death Eater buddies on a suicide mission to kill me off, not caring if anyone else — like your generous aunt or your newborn cousin — dies in the process?”

The horrified expression in Malfoy’s cartoon-worthy widened eyes relieves Harry somewhat. It’s not like anyone wants to be the target of an attempted assassination, after all.

“No? Two, you’re so ungrateful for evading Azkaban that you’re attempting your own suicide, ridding yourself from the life that I literary flew through fire to save not even six months ago?”

“No… No, I…”

“Then what is it?” Harry grits, voice low and cold as ice.

Malfoy narrows his eyes and sends Harry a resentful glare. The shiny silver is long gone, substituted for a stormy grey reminding Harry of incoming thunder clouds. Have his eyes always been this expressive?

“You said it yourself,” Malfoy finally offers, the sound of his voice fragile and rough, hardly recognisable. “I fuck up. Every fucking time.”

Upon hearing his own words quoted back to him, Harry winces at their brusqueness.

“You heard that, did you?”

“Of course I did,” Malfoy sighs. “I think the whole valley heard you praising my exceptional capability of fucking things up.”

“So… What were you doing then, if not trying to blow the house to smithereens?”

“Tea,” Malfoy whispers, a self-deprecating hint of a smile grazing the left corner of his mouth.

At that, Harry’s eyebrows rise significantly. “Tea?”

“Yeah,” Malfoy breathes, head lowering in embarrassment as he fails to keep their eye contact any longer, “I was trying to make… a decent cup of tea.”

Incredulous, Harry just looks at him, unable to grasp the meaning of Malfoy’s words. “Tea?”

“Yes,” Malfoy growls, clearly irritated now. Merlin, this bloke is volatile. “That tepid Muggle tea tastes bloody awful, and since I’ve seen you using that thing…” He motions to his left with a flick of his head, making the blond strands wave in front of his face.

“The stove?” Harry offers.

“Yeah,” Malfoy sighs, still avoiding Harry’s questing eyes like the plague. “Since I’ve seen you using it to heat food, I figured I might try to…”

“Malfoy…?” Harry says, trying his best to hold back a smirk. He’s slowly beginning to understand what Malfoy’s trying to say. “How do you usually prepare your tea?”

“What do you think?” Malfoy snaps, finally meeting Harry’s gaze again, thunder now rumbling wildly in those striking eyes of his. “I use the water from the tap, just like you do. It’s not my fault it’s not hot enough for brewing tea. I’m wandless, remember?” he sneers, “I can’t do Heating Charms anymore. And don’t smirk at me like that. You think this is funny?”

“Yeah, a bit,” Harry concedes, letting his smirk widen as he watches Malfoy narrowing his eyes with a scowl.

And suddenly, Malfoy’s back. The good-old Malfoy, cocky and indignant, his eyes glinting defiantly. The spark is there, dancing in those turbulent eyes, and Harry realises he’s missed this. Missed him. Missed the constant challenge and never-ceasing verbal sparring between them.

“It never occurred to you that you could have, I don’t know, maybe… asked for help?”

“I don’t need your fucking help,” Malfoy growls petulantly.

“Clearly,” Harry chuckles, earning himself a scoff and another death-glare from Malfoy. The exchange is familiar, yet different for some reason Harry’s unable to identify, and he feels himself relaxing into the comforting regularity of it.

Before letting things go too far though, Harry straightens his face and clears his throat. It wouldn’t do to be the cause of a full-out row between them here in Andromeda’s kitchen.

“How about this?” he says instead, extending a figurative olive branch. “There’s a freshly brewed cup of tea standing right there. Why don’t you drink it in peace, and I’ll drink mine, and then I’ll show you how the kettle works after that, okay?”

There’s a couple of seconds’ silence before Malfoy nods. “Okay,” he says, finally unclasping his hands and taking his cup to cradle it between his palms. As he reaches for the sugar bowl Harry catches himself smiling — of course, the irremediable sweet-tooth takes sugar in his tea. Feigning nonchalance, Harry pours milk in his own tea while surreptitiously casting a wordless Heating Charm over both their cups.

His hand is halfway to the plate of biscuits as it stops in its tracks by the sound of a soft moan. Harry instinctively looks up, catching Malfoy with his eyes closed and his lips curved into a soft smile. In all the years watching the blond, he’s never seen such an expression of pure bliss on his face, so unguarded and seemingly unaware of the world around him.

Mouth suddenly dry, Harry hastens to tear his eyes away before he’s caught staring, taking a sip of his own tea to quell his inner turmoil. Malfoy’s whispered Thank you is almost too soft to reach Harry’s ears, but when it does, Harry can’t help smirking behind his cup.

— ¤ O ¤ —

“So, now I’m standing there…” Ron motions vividly with his hands as he always does when he’s just this side of drunk. “…with a bushel’s worth of frantic Pygmy Puffs scurrying around all over the floor…”

“…don’t forget the miniature Quidditch players circling around your head…” George laughs.

“…and this bloody kid just stands there, right in front of me, and blinks innocently… as if any of it was my fault!”

At Ron’s pouted indignation, Lee and Angelina burst into hysterics and not even Harry can help smiling at the thought of Ron and that kid in the shop.

They’re in the Leaky. It’s crowded and noisy, and Harry has no idea why he agreed to come. Except that it’s all Ron’s fault. Apparently, Leaky Wednesdays are ‘an institution’ which is too good to miss out on. Harry has no idea what constitutes an institution, but he’s pretty sure it takes more than a handful of repeated outings to make one.

It’s been five weeks since Malfoy moved in, and three weeks since Ron quit Auror training to join George in the shop. This is the fourth consecutive Leaky Wednesday and Ron’s been nagging Harry to join them for weeks now, claiming a night out with the guys would do him good. Harry’s not sure he agrees. The only thing he’s gotten so far tonight is a bloody headache.

“Guess what she says?” George eventually breathes between subsiding fits of giggles. “She says…” He stops himself to take a calming breath before continuing. “In this perfectly serious five-year-old manner, she says, ‘Mr Weasley, how come you’re so weird?’”

That sets the whole giggle-fest going again, and Harry just smiles and shakes his head at his friends before taking another sip of ale.

“Oh, good Godric, that’s fucking priceless!” Angelina finally manages. Her eyes sparkle with mirth and Harry realises this is the first time since the war he’s seen someone looking perfectly happy. Not that she is. Not that any of them really are. The absence of Fred is still painfully real, especially when seated with the three of them; his girlfriend, his twin brother and his best mate.

But they’re all trying. Trying to come alive. Trying to move on. Alcohol apparently helps. At least for them. For Harry, it rather seems like the beer is dragging him even lower into the abyss. Deeper into the pain. Further down the black hole of grief.

“Anyone up for another round?” Lee offers.

“Weren’t you supposed to take an early night?” Angelina asks with a fond smile on her lips.

“Yeah, I know. But then I thought I’d better seize the day. You know, once my morning show goes on the air I’ll probably have nothing but early nights.” He extends his bottom lip in a jokey pout, before, “Hey, I forgot. We finally decided on a name for the show.”

The dramatic pause quickly gains the wanted anticipation and impatient hand gestures.

“Wait for it…” Lee’s hands pause in midair, reminding Harry of a conductor in front of his orchestra, and George offers a supportive finger drum-roll. Finally, “The Riverside of the Story.

“Perfect!”

“Cause you’re the famous River from Potterwatch, right? That’s awesome, man.”

“Yes, and very fitting, seeing as you always tend to speak your mind.”

“Bloody brilliant,” Ron exclaims, raising his glass and nearly pouring its remaining content all over himself. He probably shouldn’t have any more to drink tonight, but Harry’s too preoccupied with minding his own alcohol intake to be bothered.

“So, how about that round?” Angelina asks. “No, no, Lee-love, just you stay where you are. I got this one.” She stands and takes a look around the table. “So, anybody out or everybody in?”

“Just bring it, baby,” George grins at her and waves her off towards the bar before Harry has time to reject another refill.

She’s apparently the reason they settled on Wednesdays. According to Ron, Thursdays are her only days off, so if she ever wanted to have a lie in to recover after a night like this, Wednesdays were the only option. She’s only on the reserves team yet, but she’s still required to show up to practice and matches just like everyone else.

The guys start discussing ordering something to eat — arguing the pros and cons of chips versus crisps versus nachos — and Harry zones out again. He really should be heading home soon.

He’s been here about two hours already, and that’s more than he ever thought he’d manage in this bustling environment. Imagine, not long ago he used to enjoy outings like this, and now he just longs for another quiet evening in. Merlin, when did he get so old and boring?

Absently dragging his thumb over the condensation on his near-empty glass, Harry reminds himself of why he finally did decide to come along. Andromeda’s cottage is the only place he wants to be, but for one teeny tiny detail. Malfoy.

And it’s gotten worse too, since that day when the gas leak happened. (Or as Harry privately refers to it, the kitchen debacle.) Because, after the ensuing kettle tutorial, Harry has felt obliged to endure several similar interactions with the git.

Just this morning, for example, he showed him how to use the toaster. Like, how hard can it be? There’s only one lever to push, for Circe’s sake. But it’s like, Malfoy was afraid to use it — or unwilling, or whatever — just because the thing’s a ‘fricking Muggle contraption’. His sceptical reluctance to everything Muggle is almost as annoying as his haughty ponciness ever was.

And it’s not like Harry only has to put up with the git when they’re in the same room, either. Lately, it’s like Malfoy’s everywhere, even when he actually isn’t. He can be hiding away in the study, and Harry would happen upon one of his books lying around in the sitting room. Or Harry could be out playing with Teddy and he’d spot Malfoy in his bedroom window daydreaming about Godric knows what.

And the other day, when Harry decided to take a nap, he could hear the sound of rushing water against tiles, telling him Malfoy was showering next door. The unsettling images that incident brought to mind still haunt him several times a day. Like now. Fuck. Harry groans inwardly and curses his twisted brain for its insistent non-cooperation.

“Harry?”

“Huh?” he blinks, shaking himself mentally.

“You wandered off again, mate,” Lee chuckles, playfully elbowing him in the side. “Watch out or you’ll end up in Janus Thickey with Professor Lockhart.”

Harry just rolls his eyes as the others start snickering.

“You sure you’re alright, mate?” Ron says, his eyebrows creased in a concerned frown.

“Yeah, sure,” Harry says, the lie coming naturally now after months of practise.

“Then how come I don’t believe you?”

“I don’t know,” Harry sighs. “Maybe it’s the beer messing with your mind, mate.”

“No, I’ve known you long enough to notice when something’s up.”

“I’m telling you, it’s nothing.” Except for this thing with Malfoy.

Maybe he should just tell them about Malfoy. Yeah, he probably should. He’s been staving it off for far too long already, but there was never the right moment. Maybe tonight’s the night he’ll finally do it. But, what will they say when they find out he’s been holding back the truth from them for so long?

Harry takes another swig of ale to ease the increasing pressure on his temples.

“Come on,” Ron prods, “I haven’t seen you this distracted since your Malfoy-obsession days.”

Choking, Harry barely manages to keep his mouthful of beer from spraying all over the table. “I don—” A serious coughing fit later, he finally croaks, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Like you don’t know?” Ron snickers and waggles his eyebrows so vividly Harry nearly gets seasick from watching it.

“Wait,” George grins, “please do tell, little brother. Malfoy-obsession days? Why have I never heard of it?”

“Oh yeah,” Ron grins. “It was during sixth year, you were already long gone from Hogwarts by then.” Harry groans and sends his best mate a scathing glare. “Oh, you should have seen him. Always seeking him out in public, always an eye on him in classes. Every night with that map in hand, watching Malfoy’s name move through the corridors. Always speculating on his whereabouts and any nefarious plans he might be up to.”

“And I was right, wasn’t I?” Harry retorts, not being given any attention as Ron simply continues talking over him.

Not that any of it isn’t true, just Ron’s wording makes it all sound so… suggestive? Ambiguous? Harry doesn’t really know what it sounds like, but he hopes the dim light hides the sudden blush on his cheeks. Or maybe he could blame it on the alcohol? Fuck, it’s hot in here, isn’t it?

“Drove us half insane, he did, what with that constant nagging.”

George’s grin is almost reaching to the back of his head now. “Wow, that sounds serious, mate. Such a shame we weren’t there to witness it.”

“You should be glad you missed it,” Ron grunts and scrunches his nose. “It was bloody annoying.”

“Yeah, I can imagine,” Lee snickers, putting an arm around Harry’s shoulders and squeezing teasingly. “But then again, didn’t our little Harry always have some kind of Malfoy-obsession going on?”

“Yeah,” Angelina nods, eyes sparkling, “I remember that time when—”

Harry groans. “Hey, come on. I’m sitting right here.”

“Sorry, mate, but it’s true.” Lee’s hand leaves Harry’s shoulder to ruffle his hair. Not that it makes much of a difference to his unruly locks, but it makes Harry feel like he’s about six years old. Harry bats his hand away but Lee merely ducks and laughs. “That rivalry you had going on over the pitch was waaay beyond ordinary.”

“Yeah, I know! Stuff of legends!” George exclaims. “You know, Fred always insists that…”

And just like that, the mood changes and everyone around the table goes quiet. George just stares absentmindedly at the glass in his hands while Lee and Ron occupy themselves by taking another swig from their drinks. Harry feels his chest constrict painfully and glances over at George, noticing Angelina’s consoling hand resting on the lone twin’s wrist.

“How about a whiff of fresh air?” she suggests, clearly wanting to help give George a chance to compose himself.

For a moment, George just sits there, staring, until he nods. “Yeah,” he sighs, broken. “Yeah.”

As Harry watches them head for the courtyard, Lee leans in close and murmurs, “I bet they’ll be snogging before Christmas.”

“You think?” Harry hears himself say, startled by the offhand subject change. “But she went out with his brother? Isn’t that kinda creepy?”

“Why should it be?” Lee shakes his head, making his dreadlocks sway. “No, just you wait. They’ll bond over their mutual loss and find solace in each other’s arms.”

“I always thought you fancied her?” Harry frowns. “Shouldn’t you be the one comforting her and trying to win her over?”

“No, I’d never be able to give her what she needs,” Lee sighs. “I accepted that a long time ago, and I’ve settled for being her friend.”

“That sucks, man.”

“No, it really doesn’t,” Lee smiles, “Being her friend is actually pretty awesome.”

“Bet it is,” Harry says. “Bet it is.”

“Are you gonna drink that, or wot?” Ron suddenly blurts from Harry’s other side, indicating Harry’s ale with a wave of his hand.

“No,” Harry says distractedly, “you can have it if you want.”

“Thanks, mate,” Ron cheers and takes a hearty swig. “So, you ever gonna tell me what’s bothering you, or wot?”

Harry glances up at Ron, prepared with a defensive glare. At the sight of that concerned frown though, he concedes. Maybe he should just say it.

Taking a deep breath to steel himself for the onslaught, Harry turns to look Ron straight in the eye. He can’t just say it outright. Harry knows he needs to ease his friend into it somehow, or Ron will most definitely lose his shit.

Finally, he settles for, “You remember the rumours about Malfoy leaving the Manor after the trials?”

“Yeah,” Ron frowns, clearly flummoxed by the question. “Dad says the Auror department has more or less confirmed it. They still haven’t figured out where he went, tho’.”

“Malfoy Junior?” Lee cuts in, leaning over the sticky table to obtain eye contact with Ron. “I swear he’s hiding somewhere with the remaining Death Eaters they haven’t been able to catch yet.”

Really?

“You think?” Ron says. “I still think he’s lounging on the fancy porch of some poncy vineyard in France. His last name is French, innit?”

Have you forgotten about him not being permitted to leave the country?

“Yeah, I think so,” Lee says. “I heard that Zabini guy moved to Italy with his mum. Maybe he’s with them? They used to be friends, right?”

“Right,” Ron perks up, “or he’s with that daft cow Parkinson at Durmstrang?”

You must be kidding me? How do you even know about the whereabouts of all these Slytherins?

Harry sits bemused between them, unable to intercede in their speculations. Their back and forth is slowly making him nauseous. He came here to get away from the annoying git, if only for a couple of hours. Why did he have to bring him up again, now that they just left the subject a minute ago?

“What have we missed?” George suddenly interrupts, standing by the table with fresh beers in his hands, Angelina right behind him.

Great. Let ’s all join in on the fun.

“We’re talking about Ferret Face. Thanks,” Ron says as he accepts the glass Angelina offers him. “Of where he might’ve scurried into hiding.”

“Malfoy?” George smirks sitting down, catching Harry’s eye across the table and winking. “You’re back on Malfoy already?”

Please kill me now.

“How did this happen?” Angelina raises an amused eyebrow in Lee’s direction.

“Ehm,” Lee ponders, “I believe Harry was about to finally tell us what’s gotten him so out of sorts lately.” He frowns. “Although, I don’t know how that turned into Malfoy leaving the Manor…”

“Harry,” Angelina says gently, cutting Lee off. “Why don’t you start from the beginning?”

Because I don ’t want to.

Harry sighs. This is it. It’s time. “Malfoy is staying with his aunt.”

“With Bellatrix?” Ron snaps, wide-eyed. “But, isn’t she—”

“No, his other aunt,” Harry grits, giving Ron a pointed look.

“Who?” Angelina frowns, confused, at the same time as George says, “Andromeda? But isn’t that where…”

Harry turns to him with a levelled gaze. “Yes.”

“Oh,” George blinks owlishly.

“Oh,” Lee and Angelina echoes.

Yes, exactly. Oh.

“Wot?” Ron frowns. He’s clearly had enough to drink. Harry sighs and just looks at him, waiting for his friend to connect the dots. As he does, his face transforms almost comically, eyebrows raising in slow motion towards his hairline as his mouth falls open and his eyes widen to the size of saucers.

“He’s… You’re…” he blinks. Multiple times.

Harry is tired. He misses the peace and quiet of Teddy’s nursery. He wants to go home. Scratch that. He wants to already be home, lying in his bed, not having this conversation. Maybe this whole night is just a dream? That’d be nice.

Ron clears his throat. “H-how long?”

And… this is when the chiding will begin. Harry should have known better than to keep this secret, this bombshell, from his best mate for so long. He braces himself.

“Since the trials.”

“And you haven’t killed each other yet?” George blurts, incredulous.

“Man, I’m impressed,” Lee grins. “Maybe there’s hope for you two yet.”

Harry frowns at the man beside him. “And what’s that supposed to mean?”

“Nothing,” Lee beams innocently, quickly raising his hands in surrender, “absolutely nothing.”

“But…” Ron starts, still bewildered, and Harry turns back to look at his mate. George and Angelina are snickering about something, but Harry can’t be bothered to find out why right now. “But, that’s like a month ago?”

“Yes,” Harry sighs. “Five weeks and a day to be exact.”

“And you never said anything?” Harry winces. “No wonder you’ve been so out of sorts lately, mate. That oughta suck.”

“Yeah, it does,” Harry says, even though he’s not sure he actually agrees. “It really does.”

Agreeing on how much Malfoy sucks is one of the things the two of them have always been able to bond over. And if he can help Ron focus on this part of the problem, maybe Harry can turn Ron’s attention away from the keeping secrets issue and instead win Ron over through sympathy.

“Blimey,” Ron breathes, shaking his head. “I’m so sorry, mate. I can’t even imagine what that’d be like… living with that stupid git.”

It ’s not all that bad, once you get used to it.

Oh, come on. It ’s a fucking nightmare.

Okay, you just tell yourself that, mate. You know it ’s not true.

It is, too.

“Hey,” Ron exclaims, tearing Harry away from the debate in his schizophrenic mind. “Why don’t you just move back home to us? I know you liked living with Andromeda and Teddy, but anything must be better than living with Ferret Face, right?”

No.

Even with Malfoy there, Harry knows nothing could ever be better than living with Teddy. Harry can’t even imagine living one day away from his godson. He needs the baby to ground him. And besides, Andromeda had said he’s part of the family.

“Ron,” George says quietly, briefly meeting Harry’s gaze as Harry looks over at him. There’s a flicker of understanding there, although Harry’s not quite sure what it entails. “If Harry had wanted to get away he surely would have moved out already, don’t you think?”

“Yeah, I guess,” Ron frowns, unconvinced. “I just don’t…”

“It’s okay,” Harry says, patting Ron gently on the back. “Really. But thanks for your concern.”

“Of course, mate. Just promise me to send a Patronus before he murders you in your sleep or something.”

Harry can’t help chuckling at that. “I’m sure it’ll never come to that, but yeah, of course, I will.”

“Good,” Ron nods. “That’s good.”

They decide to call it a night not much later, but not before Harry makes them all promise not to tell anyone about Malfoy’s whereabouts. Not that he doesn’t trust them, he does, he just wants to make sure Andromeda’s cottage isn’t suddenly invaded by an angry anti-Death-Eater mob — or a pack of ravenous journalists — just because someone accidentally says the wrong thing at the wrong time.

Harry knows Hermione will find out sooner or later, Ron won’t be able to keep his mouth shut in front of her. And if Harry’s lucky, maybe she won’t send him a howler belting out her disappointment when she finds out. Just imagine what Malfoy would think. Or, what if she starts yelling about Malfoy and Malfoy hears it… Shit. Maybe it’d just be better if he makes sure to send her an owl telling her before Ron does…

Yeah, surely that’d be better.

— ¤ O ¤ —

The nursery is calm and quiet, Teddy’s relaxed breathing the only sound to be heard. Harry sits in the window, looking out over the peaceful valley. The bright autumn colours, so vivid during the daytime, have all but disappeared in the soft light of the waxing moon.

The sky is clear, twinkling with a million stars, and Harry absently wonders what it’d be like to go flying on a night like this. The windowpane is cold against his shoulder, the early October air seeping through the glass and getting absorbed by his warm skin. Harry doesn’t mind. The chill keeps him awake, helps him avoid the nightmares. Which is just as it should be. That’s why he always ends up in here.

Harry’s thankful for his woollen socks though, he’s always hated it when his toes become frozen stiff. Molly made them for him, knitted of enchanted yarn meant to always keep the wearer warm. They hadn’t been able to stave away the cold in the tent last year though, the chill always creeping up his calves in the middle of the night as the enchantment wore off. Apparently, they weren’t made to stay on for days on end.

Maybe he should be used to them by now, the nightmares. They’ve been with him as long as he can remember, his only loyal bed companion. Their content may have altered over time, but their impact on his life has always been the same. True, those Voldemort visions were always the worst; but then again, they turned out not to be any ordinary nightmares.

Harry shudders at the thought, glancing over at the crib to remind himself again that that part of his life is really truly over. Teddy is the only one who can remind him of that. Teddy is the only one he never met before the war ended. Seeing him sleeping peacefully makes Harry remember that this little boy may never have to live through a war. He’ll be able to grow up not knowing what running from your enemy or fighting for your life is like.

Yet, he’ll always have to live with the repercussions of war, have to grow up without knowing his parents — just like Harry himself had. The difference between them is that Harry will always be here for him, telling him about his brave parents and how truly amazing they both were. Remus, the kind, caring werewolf — a loyal friend, an esteemed father figure and a brilliant Professor. Dora, the warm, quirky Metamorphmagus — a loyal Order member, a fierce Auror and the most courageous Hufflepuff Harry’s ever met. A Gryffinpuff and a Huffledor; the perfect match.

Harry smiles as Teddy stirs in his bed, closing his tiny fist around the blanket by his side. What will become of you, my little Moony bug?

An owl hoots outside and Harry’s gaze is drawn back to the window. A gust of wind stirs the leaves of the big maple tree and Harry watches as some of them fall away from the branches and drift towards the ground.

It’s less than a month until Halloween. He’s already decided he’ll go visit their grave this year. Hermione’s already offered to go with him, she did in her last letter, but Harry knows he needs to go alone. He’ll bring a wreath of lilies, not the conjured kind, but a real Muggle one. Maybe he should bring a lantern too? It might be nice to know they’ll have a light to brighten up the dark.

Harry wants to visit the remnants of their house as well, their home — his home — but he’s not sure he’ll be able to do it just yet. The memories of his parents’ deaths are still haunting him, that bright flash of green light appearing almost every night, regardless of which nightmare is currently tormenting him.

Tonight it was the veil again. This time Andromeda the one disappearing through it. Harry always reaches out to grab them, always too late, always brushing outstretched fingertips against the back of a hand before watching them fall into the dark. Harry always wakes up hoarse after those dreams, vocal cords raw after screaming and crying. Thank the stars for good Silencing Charms.

The soft creak of a door opening reaches him from the landing, followed by muffled footfalls as someone moves towards the bathroom. Harry doesn’t have to wonder who’s making the sounds, he can already tell by the direction of the footsteps that it’s Malfoy.

I wonder how he ’s doing. Surely, he must be lonely sitting around in this house all day every day.

Yeah, Harry does it too; but at least he goes to the Burrow every Sunday. And he even went to the Leaky last week. Furthermore, Harry’s never minded being alone. Might even say he quite likes it from time to time. So much so, that going to Hogwarts and being roomed together with four other boys was quite a challenge, truth be told.

Malfoy, on the other hand, has never struck Harry as one to willingly seek out solitude. Maybe that’s what first alerted Harry to Malfoy’s changed demeanour in sixth year. Before then, Harry can’t remember ever seeing him without company. Not just Crabbe and Goyle, but there were others as well. Zabini. Nott. Parkinson. Bulstrode. A whole entourage following it’s revered Ice Prince, a royal court hanging on his every word.

At the Slytherin table, he always used to be the centre of attention, even in the eyes of his older peers. He had wit and charisma enough for at least three people, and he always turned heads when he walked into a room.

Long before Harry himself realised he wasn’t only attracted to girls — which honestly wasn’t all that long ago, mere months to be exact — he’d heard people talking about Malfoy’s handsome features. He knew girls used to fancy him, that was blatant enough by the way they always batted their eyelashes his way, and he also knew of many boys envying his striking appearance and popularity.

Thinking back to that younger, animated version of Malfoy, Harry can’t deny that watching his older, sombre self is disconcerting. Whatever happened to that happy, vibrant boy? Is he still in there somewhere, or did the war kill him too, along with all the others?

Malfoy still acts so strangely around him, even after they started speaking to each other. It’s like he doesn’t know how to approach Harry anymore, now that the circumstances don’t allow them to fight like they used to. Harry guesses the same goes for him, but at least he’s trying. Malfoy still avoids him like the plague, shies away behind a closed door whenever he gets the chance, and Harry has yet to witness him initiating one conversation between them, be it only an acknowledging Hello in passing.

Malfoy hasn’t stopped watching him though. Harry can feel his eyes on him like the tickle of a quill every time it happens, which is easily several times a day. Sometimes Harry manages to catch him staring, only to see him look away before their eyes meet. Harry often wishes he was a skilled Legilimens so he could find out what’s going on in the blond’s head; but then again, Malfoy’s said to be good at Occlumency so that wish may be for nought.

The bathroom door opens and the footfalls start traipsing back over the landing towards Malfoy’s room. Before they reach their destination though, they hesitate, as if considering a plan of action. With bated breath, Harry feels his heartbeat pick up speed as he listens to the sound of Malfoy’s feet steering towards the nursery; towards him.

Anxious, but mostly curious about Malfoy’s intentions, Harry turns his gaze to the window, feigning unawareness in an attempt to put Malfoy at ease. Shifting his focus, Harry’s pleased to find he’ll still be able to observe Malfoy’s reaction through the reflection in the pane.

A soft beam of warm amber light slips into the room as the door silently opens. It’s coming from the night lamp outside on the landing and slowly extends across the carpet, caressing the crib on its way to the opposite wall. Malfoy’s shadow paints a stark silhouette in its centre, magnifying his sharp features over the wall, and for a second Harry forgets how to breathe.

With his attention on the sleeping baby in the crib, it takes another moment before Malfoy notices Harry in the window. Harry can feel it immediately when he does, would have known in an instant even without any visuals. It’s like the world suddenly stops, holding its breath in anticipation for what may happen next. It feels like time has slowed to a halt, tension crackling in the air between them; much like the gathering of magic in your core just before a spell is cast.

Harry knows Malfoy can feel it too, can hear his breathing hitch as his gaze lands on Harry’s slouched figure in the window. For what feels like an eternity, Malfoy just stands there, hand still on the doorknob, and Harry itches to turn around and look at him. But he restrains himself, trying to focus on breathing evenly.

Then Malfoy moves — into the room, closing the door behind him. In the reflection on the windowpane, Harry watches as Malfoy walks over to the crib, leans over its side and looks down at the baby boy resting peacefully there. Harry gives them a private moment before allowing himself to turn his eyes to take in the sight.

Malfoy is resting his chin on his crossed forearms, elbows leaning on the frame of the crib. He’s looking pensive, seemingly unaware of the long strands of blond hair falling in front of his eyes. They glow like silver in the moonlight, and Harry tries to remember if he’s ever seen the man with hair this long before. It’s hard to tell, considering he always used to comb it back. It looks better loose like this. It makes him look more human, more approachable.

Malfoy doesn’t notice Harry’s eyes on him — or if he does, he doesn’t seem to mind — so Harry lets himself look. Even in this informal environment, slanting over the edge of the crib, Malfoy retains his stately posture. Harry figures it probably comes with his aristocratic upbringing, that keeping his back straight at all times is second nature to him by now. The thin fabric of his black silk pyjamas clings to his back and thighs, exposing the rounded curves of his buttocks.

Harry can feel his cheeks flush and averts his eyes, leaning in closer to the cold glass at his side. As much as he’s always been aware of Malfoy, always been observing him, Harry has never looked at him quite like this before — or any other man for that matter. For all the years he’s been watching the blond, studying him; all of a sudden it’s like he’s never really seen him before. Harry doesn’t quite know what to make of it.

Eventually, Malfoy straightens and stretches his arms up over his head, In the silence, Harry can hear the soft cracking of bones realigning somewhere along the lithe limbs of Malfoy’s body. He chances a glance his way, only to catch Malfoy’s bright grey eyes glancing back at him. Harry gives Malfoy a slight nod of greeting — much long overdue considering the significant amount of time they’ve already spent in the room together — and feels the flicker of a smile teasing the corner of his mouth as Malfoy nods back.

Harry remains seated in the window as Malfoy walks over to occupy the chair. As Malfoy lifts up his bare feet to fold his legs by his side, Harry realises they’re probably cold as ice. Shuddering, Harry sends another grateful thought Molly’s way and turns his gaze back to the peaceful landscape outside.

Malfoy retires just as the first glimpse of dawn creeps over the horizon, leaving Harry alone to watch the sunrise paint the sky in pinks and yellows, the pale October light bringing back the vibrant colours of autumn to the awakening valley.

— ¤ O ¤ —

It happens again, after that first encounter. Nearly every night. Most of the time Harry’s already there when Malfoy arrives, but occasionally it’s the other way around. Malfoy seems to prefer the chair so Harry usually sticks to the window sill, but there are times when Malfoy settles on the floor by the crib, back resting against the wall. He’s still barefoot, and Harry can’t for the life of him understand why.

Sometimes they talk, sometimes they don’t. It takes some time before it first happens, and when it does it’s only briefly, a sporadic exchange of words, spoken in hushed tones as to not disturb the sleeping baby.

“Nightmare?”

“Yes. You?”

“Yeah.” … “Fiendfyre?”

“Yes.”

“Dementors.”

“Ah.” … “Tough.”

“Yeah.”

Harry can’t help finding their nocturnal interactions quite strange. Mostly because this new tentative connection between them only seems to exist within those four walls of the nursery when the rest of the world is asleep. As soon as the sun rises in the east, they’re back to avoidance and clipped retorts, glares and sneers. It’s oddly discomforting, and the longer it goes on like this, the more unsettled Harry becomes.

“What’re you reading?”

“None of your business, Potter.”

Advanced Rune Translation? Really, Malfoy?”

“Yes, so?”

“No, nothing.”

“So why are you still standing there? Sod off.”

“Seriously, Potter?”

“Okay. Okay, I’m going.” … “Bloody wanker.”

“I heard that.”

As much as this duality bothers him, though, Harry realises he has started to look forward to their nightly encounters. The tranquillity of the nursery seems to make them both more honest — as if the absence of daylight doesn’t only wash away the colours of the world but their mutual animosity and deprecation as well. Harry has no idea why this makes him feel heartened, it just does.

“D’you miss them?”

“Huh?”

“Your parents.”

“Of course.” … “You?”

“Never knew them, but… yeah.”

“Sorry.”

“Not your fault.”

“Still.”

“Thanks.”

The first time Malfoy decides to be the first to talk, it’s so sudden Harry nearly jumps in surprise where he’s slouching in the chair with both legs thrown over the armrest. For at least three-quarters of an hour, Malfoy has been seated in the same position in front of the crib, his back towards Harry straight as an arrow, and his legs crossed. It looks like he’s meditating and Harry wasn’t even sure he was awake. If anyone could pull off sleeping sitting upright in that position, it’d be Malfoy.

“I never liked children.”

“No?”

“No. Never can tell what they’re thinking.”

“They’re quite narrow-minded, you know? Eat, sleep, poo, repeat. Easy.”

“Easy? For you, maybe.”

“Didn’t know anything about babies till I came here.”

“No?”

“No. Had to learn the hard way.” … “Good thing he’s so adorable.”

“Yeah, that he is.”

“Makes me want to have my own one day.”

“Father wants me to marry and produce an heir…”

“Yeah?”

“Told him the Malfoy line will end with me.”

“Really?”

“Mm-hmm.”

“What did he say?”

“Didn’t stay around long enough to find out.”

“Huh?”

“I just left.”

“Where did you go?”

“Here.”

“Oh.”

“He really is adorable though.”

“Yeah.”

“Especially while sleeping.”

“Awake too.” … “You should spend more time with him, you know.”

“I wouldn’t know what to do.”

“It’ll come to you.”

“You think?”

“Yeah. You should get to know him. He is your cousin.”

“I know. Maybe.”

“Good.”

Harry’s started to notice how they never use each other’s names during these nighttime conversations. He’s not sure why that is, but he’s beginning to think it’s one of the reasons they manage to get on so unexpectedly well here in the nursery. That, and the fact that Teddy’s presence compels them to only talk in those soft, hushed tones.

During the daytime, there’s no such reason to keep calm and quiet, and so, when they talk, they mostly argue. About everything really. Malfoy is regaining a little bit more of his old snarky self every day, and while it’s annoying as all that, it’s also familiar and — Harry surprisingly finds himself thinking — a little comforting.

While the sun is up, they both excel in the art of passive-aggressiveness, snide comments flying, over-enunciated consonants sprayed all over the place. And, if there’s any skill they’ve both perfected over the years, it’s the art of making each other’s surnames sound utterly abhorrent.

“Merlin, Potter. Have you never read a proper book?”

“Course I have, you sodding git.”

“Apart from regulatory curricular textbooks?”

“I can see why this may be surprising for you, but yes, Malfoy, I have.”

“Like what?”

“Like, I don’t know — Shakespeare?”

“You’ve read Shakespeare?”

“Think I’m lying, Malfoy?”

“Yes, Potter. I’m pretty certain that you are.”

“Try me.”

“Hamlet’s homeland?”

“Really, Malfoy? We’re doing this?”

“Yes, Potter.”

“Okay, suit yourself. Hamlet’s from Helsingør, Denmark.”

“Othello’s wife?”

“Desdemona.”

“The wizard in The Tempest?”

“The wiz—? Ah, you mean Prospero.”

“Yes. How many sonnets?”

“One-hundred-and-fifty-four. Malfoy, why—”

“The history plays?”

“Let’s see… two, three, six, seven, eight… I’d say, eleven?”

“Name them.”

“You’re kidding me now, right?”

“Does it look like I’m kidding?”

“Yeah, now that you mention it, that scowl makes you look rather ludicrous. Especially once you add your terrifying death-glare. Bingo! That’s the one.”

“You better wipe that smug grin off of your face, Potter, or—”

“Or, what?”

“Or I’ll— You’re deflecting from the subject of this conversation. Now, Shakespeare…”

“Oh, for Godric’s sake. I thought we were over this.”

“Scared to crack, Potter?”

“You wish.”

“Alright. So, how many witches—”

“Three. Just as many as the daughters of King Lear. And in Verona, Romeo’s friend Mercutio is killed by Tybalt, Juliet’s cousin, who then, in turn, gets killed by Romeo. And Antonio, the Venice merchant, borrows a shit-load of money from Shylock just to lend it to Bassanio, getting himself stuck in a debt involving a pound of his flesh. Shall I go on, or are we done yet?”

“Yes, alright. I guess you may possess some rudimentary knowledge of the works of Will—”

“Have you by any chance read The Taming of the Shrew?”

“Can’t say that I have. No.”

“I can strongly recommend it. I think you’d find it highly entertaining.”

“You think I’d…”

“Yes, most definitely. You can probably find it in the study. Andromeda’s quite fond of Shakespeare herself. Has almost all his works in that bookcase, if you haven’t noticed.”

“Right.”

“So, pop quiz over? Am I allowed to go back to my Quidditch Weekly now, or do you have a lecture prepared as well?”

“Argh. Sod off, Potter.”

“Cheers, Malfoy.”

They always keep it low-key enough for Andromeda not to notice, and sometimes Harry feels it’s become less like their old spiteful school rivalry and more of a game. Like an intricate dance. As if every daytime interaction between them is but another round in a never-ending Seekers’ game. Another competition. Another challenge. And if there’s anything their old rivalry was ever famous for, it’s that none of them ever had been able to back down from a challenge.

And maybe that’s why their nursery encounters work. Because, if every daytime spat is a part of their game, every nighttime exchange is a well-needed time out.

The night leading up to 31 October is a silent one. Harry’s much to preoccupied in his own contemplation and Malfoy doesn’t seem keen on talking either. Or, maybe he just notices Harry’s sombre mood and chooses not to. Whatever the reason, Harry is thankful for the peace and quiet which lets his thoughts run freely. At the same time, he longs for any distraction that may make him forget, if only for a moment, the day yet hiding behind those eastern hills, awaiting its fast approaching morning. Ultimately, distraction prevails.

“Hungry?”

“Yeah, a little.”

“Come on then.”

And that’s how they end up in the kitchen together making breakfast at five in the morning on the seventeenth anniversary of the deaths of James and Lily Potter.

— ¤ O ¤ —

Saturday, 31 October 1998

It ’s odd how this house now feels so quiet when Potter isn’t here. It’s not like he really makes that much noise (even though I often like to hint to the contrary), and when he does, it’s not that I actually mind anymore. Funny that; it used to bother me so much every time I was reminded of his presence, but recently I’ve come to realise it’s rather… comforting, in a way, listening to the sounds of him pottering around (no pun intended) about the house.

Andromeda said he ’ll probably be gone all day. I don’t know where he is, but I hope everything is alright. As long as I’ve been here, he has never gone away for more than a couple of hours at a time. Not even on Granger’s birthday. Well, it is Halloween, after all — maybe he had a party to go to? Considering who he is, and what his friends are like (boisterous sodding Gryffindors), he surely must have plenty of party options to choose from on a night like this. Everyone wants to celebrate with the hero, right?

It didn ’t seem like he was in any kind of party mood when he left though. Rather the opposite, to be honest. Now I come to think about it, he’s been acting even more subdued lately than he did only a week or two ago. But what do I know? It’s not that I know him or anything — I mean, really know him — or that we actually talk all that much, even now. It’s just that… I thought he was doing better. He looked like he was doing better; less melancholy and more like his old self.

Teddy just stirred in his sleep. Ah well, I should probably wake him up soon anyway, or he won ’t be able to fall asleep tonight. Yes, I’m on baby duty today. Potter left, and all of a sudden Andromeda decided it would be a good idea to have me take care of her grandson for the day. Said it would be a good opportunity for me to get to know my cousin better. As if I had the faintest clue how to go about this.

I don ’t. But somehow I manage anyway. And Potter is right (oh, how it irks me to combine those two words in the same sentence), it does help that Teddy is adorable. I tell you; when I take him in my arms and his dark hair changes to match my platinum blond — I’m reduced to a bloody Hufflepuff when he does that.

It ’s almost like It ’s not that I want to Alright, yes maybe I do. Damn you and this honesty rule we ’ve got going. Yes, I said to Father that the Malfoy bloodline will end with me. And I do still mean that. I don’t want to please him by giving him what he wants, and I don’t want to “produce an heir” with the aid of an unfortunate woman whose parents thought it would be a good idea to marry her off to a queerdo who will never be able to love her as much as she deserves.

But yes, maybe I am starting to like the idea of having a kid or two of my own someday. Just that, if I ever do, I would like it to be on my own terms; with a man of my choosing, and because the two of us agree that we both want it. Any child of mine will be a child of love, not by duty or obligation. Not because it ’s expected of me, but because I want a baby to shower with love and adoration.

My child would never be expected to obey my every word without question, never commanded to follow in my footsteps without having their say. My child will be encouraged to find their own truths, conjure their own dreams and live the life they themselves choose to live. And my child will not grow up to be the next Malfoy heir. Never would I have them live in this world tainted with the reminder of the misdeeds of previous generations.

Dear Merlin. I ’ve told you you need to stop me when I begin to ramble too much. I’m clearly getting way ahead of myself here, and you just lay there, most definitely snickering about my passionate Gryffinpuffishness. I thought you were supposed to be my friend?

Anyhow. It ’s not like I have any high hopes of finding someone to raise a child with anyway (Who would ever, in this day and age, even consider getting tangled up with an ex death eater?), so I don’t even know why I allow myself to get carried away like this. I blame Teddy. He’s just too sweet not to adore to the moon and back again.

Listen to me, I ’m turning into a bloody sap. Enough. You better not let me ramble on like this again anytime soon, or I’ll… something. I don’t know what, but something. Just you wait, I’ll think of something.

— ¤ O ¤ —

Pain. Physical pain. Like vicious claws constricting… everything. Heart. Lungs. Chest.

Ache. Unbearable ache. Like caustic acid spreading… everywhere. Veins. Nerves. Bones.

Void. Nothingness. A black hole of grief absorbing all life. Hopes. Dreams. Purpose.

Distress. Despair. Desolation.

The fire in the hearth is slowly dwindling, the flames gradually diminishing and withdrawing into the glowing embers. Harry’s burning eyes — left painfully dry after an endless stream of tears — stare unseeingly into the flickering light.

The house is quiet, wrapped in darkness, the only sound his ragged breathing and the occasional muted crack from the fireplace as the embers succumb to the laws of gravity.

His legs are numb, without sensation after remaining in the same position for much too long, and his hunching back is stiff and aching for a stretch. He has no idea how long it’s been since he sat down, doesn’t even remember doing it. He probably didn’t even do it on his own, most likely aided to the sofa by Andromeda after his return. Harry doesn’t know.

His forearms are resting on his ankles, legs crossed in front of him in an attempt to save his socked feet from the cold draft of the hardwood floor. The blanket draped over his shoulders isn’t large enough to reach his freezing toes, but at least it manages to protect his bare arms from the chilly October night.

Angst. Agony. Anguish.

He’d thought he was prepared for the inevitable onslaught of emotions, had expected it to overwhelm him once he was there. This day always brings him sorrow and grief, along with that desperate futile yearning for the parents he never had the chance to get to know. And the more he learnt about them — from all of those who once knew them — the more pain the anniversary of the deaths of James and Lily Potter brought.

So Harry was prepared when he left for Godric’s Hollow this morning, weighed down by an aching heart and an abundant wreath of white lilies. Only, as it turned out when he arrived at their grave, it wasn’t just his parents’ deaths that had decided to torment him this year, but all the others’ as well. Sirius. Remus. Fred. Hedwig. Dobby. Dumbledore. Cedric. Tonks. Moody. Snape. Lavender. And Colin Creevey. Even Crabbe.

One after the other, they overtook him, attacking him with memories as vivid as anything else around him — the sight of Sirius falling; the sound of roaring Fiendfyre; the scent of acrid curses; the taste of coppery blood; the feel of a house-elf’s body relaxing in his arms — and all he could do was crumble down on the ground and let the emotions engulf him.

Grief. Heartache. Heartbreak.

The soft sound of movement reaches Harry from above, and if Harry wasn’t so preoccupied with his core disintegrating, he’d perceive that someone is making their way down the stairs. Harry presumes he should probably head to bed soon, surrender to sleep and the inescapable nightmares awaiting him there, but exhaustion and trepidation are keeping him from leaving the silent comfort of this sofa in front of the dying fire.

The cushion shifts under Harry as he sits down next to him. Harry doesn’t need to look to know it’s him, he recognises the crisp heady scent of Malfoy’s hair potion before the man even reaches the sofa. He doesn’t say anything, doesn’t ask or prod or try to cheer him up. He just places his hands in his lap and leans back beside Harry, watching the glowing embers in silence.

Malfoy is close enough for Harry to sense his body heat grazing his arm, Harry’s knee mere inches from touching Malfoy’s thigh. Harry doesn’t make any gesture of acknowledging him. However, he feels comforted by his presence, and grateful for his considerate silence. Slowly, Harry can feel the tension start to subside in his stiff shoulders.

He doesn’t know how long they’ve been seated like this when there’s a shift in the air between them and Harry suddenly feels a warm hand touching his back. It’s unexpected — it has to be; since it’s the first time any of them touches the other deliberately without the intent of causing pain — and yet, Harry isn’t startled or surprised by the action. Rather, it feels oddly natural. Like he’s been waiting for it to happen, hoping for it even.

The hand doesn’t move. It just stays there, resting lightly between Harry’s shoulder blades, seeping warmth and comfort into Harry’s pained body. Little by little, Malfoy’s touch gently eases the excruciating pain away, and for the first time in what feels like an eternity, it slowly gets a little easier to breathe again.

Tiredness. Lethargy. Exhaustion.

It isn’t a deliberate action; when Harry leans into Malfoy’s touch. Rather, it’s an instinctive thing, a spontaneous reaction born deep in his unconscious. As natural as an autumn leaf is drawn towards the ground, Harry feels himself being drawn towards Malfoy. And just as Harry didn’t jump from the touch of Malfoy’s hand, Malfoy doesn’t flinch now when Harry shifts to place his head on Malfoy’s shoulder. It takes another moment before Malfoy responds, and when he does, Harry closes his eyes as he feels a cheek relax against his head and Malfoy’s slender fingers move to curl around his upper arm.

Peace. Silence. Serenity.

— ¤ O ¤ —

Chapter Text

I am not bound to please thee with my answers.
— Shylock (The Merchant of Venice)

— ¤ O ¤ —

Sunday, 1 November 1998

I hope you will excuse me if this entry turns out illegible, but I need to get this off my chest and my hands are still shaking so you will just have to bear with me this morning.

How is it possible that merely a couple of hours can have the ability to turn a person into such an emotional wreck? Is that what ’s supposed to happen when the Chosen One puts the weight of his world on your shoulders? (Literally.)

Never in my life did I see him looking so wretched, so defeated — not even at that moment when Hagrid carried his lifeless body in his arms and the Da Voldemort proclaimed him dead. Then, he only looked dead, relaxed, finally at peace. (Don ’t get me wrong, it was a horrible sight to behold, and I honestly don’t think I have ever been more afraid in my life than I was at that very moment.) But last night it looked like he was about to crumble into pieces, disintegrating from the inside by the emotions tearing him apart.

It is highly possible that, if I hadn ’t come downstairs, he would be sitting there still, staring into the hearth with unseeing eyes. I wasn’t even planning to, had told myself I would leave him alone to his troubling thoughts, but when he never came to the nursery (as he usually does sooner or later) I simply had to go looking for him.

I probably shouldn ’t have — that would have certainly spared me the heartache that is tormenting me right now — but honestly, I will never be able to regret what happened last night. Even if it will haunt me for the rest of my miserable life, I would never want it undone.

He let me hold him. He let me comfort him. I have no idea why and I have no idea if it helped him any, but at least he fell asleep. On my shoulder. While I was holding him.

Oh, Merlin, he was so close. You can ’t imagine the feeling of having him so close to me, his body pressed against mine. After all this time. I’ve never dared hope for anything remotely like it, and yet…

You know, I can still smell his scent on my jumper. It ’s the most amazing thing… and the worst kind of torture. How will I ever be able to act normal around him again, now that I’ve held him in my arms?

And to see him so grief-stricken … Oh, Salazar, it broke my heart. Seriously, my poor lonely heart shattered in a million pieces and I don’t know if it will ever be able to recover after this. Not that my heart was all that pure and good to begin with — far from it — but you still need one to be able to consider yourself human, don’t you?

I wish I knew what caused him this pain; so that I could figure out how to help him feel better; so that I could find a way to save him from its source — or fight it; be it by magic, threats, bribes, or pure strength.

I really hope none of his precious friends are to blame, because I would hate to be the one to hurt anyone he loves. But I will do it if I have to. I wouldn ’t hesitate one moment.

Not now, after he let me hold him in my arms and lull him to sleep.

Not ever.

— ¤ O ¤ —

The soft autumn sunlight finds its way through the large front window by mid-morning, caressing Harry’s closed eyelids and gently prodding him awake. The surface supporting him feels comforting, soft and warm against his cheek and the side of his curled-up body. If it weren’t for the bright light showering his face, he could’ve easily thought he was resting in his own bed.

In his newly awakened state, Harry doesn’t remember either lying down or falling asleep — or pretty much anything, really, from the day before. Blinking sleepily, Harry tries to focus his gaze enough to assess his surroundings without having to put on his glasses.

The ashy remnants of yesterday’s fire are the first thing he registers, followed by the small sofa table and the rich moss green carpet he recognises from the sitting room. He’s lying on the small sofa, wrapped in a warm blanket large enough to cover him all the way from his toes to the nape of his neck.

Harry glances over to the window, squinting as the bright rays of sunshine greet him from a clear blue sky. Judging by its high position over the hills, it’s at least half nine already. Harry can’t even remember when he last woke up this late. And even more surprising; for the first time in what feels like an eternity, he can’t recall having had any nightmares at all.

Rolling over on his back and leisurely stretching out his limbs, Harry briefly lets himself enjoy the unusual feeling of being well-rested for once. He grins towards the ceiling, rubbing his gritty eyes before looking around in search for his glasses.

He finds them on the table in front of him, neatly folded and placed next to his wand and… something else?

Frowning, he sits up straight and reaches for the glasses, putting them on while crossing his legs in front of him.

And that’s when he remembers.

Halloween. Visiting the grave. Breaking down on the cold ground in front of a wreath of white lilies. Crying, so much crying. And afterwards, sitting here, staring into the fire. And…

Malfoy.

Sitting on the sofa with Malfoy. Being devastated, and Malfoy comforting him. Being held by Malfoy. Falling asleep on Malfoy’s shoulder.

Holy hell. That means… The glasses, the wand, the blanket… Oh, Godric. Malfoy must have taken care of him after he fell asleep, helping him to lie down and tucking him in like a child. How embarrassing.

Harry glances over at the table again, his eyes drawn to the something else lying there next to his wand. A bar of chocolate. The universal remedy for a troubled soul. Harry can’t help a small smile from curving his lips as he thinks about Malfoy leaving it there for him. A wordless Hope you feel better in the morning.

— ¤ O ¤ —

Harry goes through the rest of the day a nervous wreck, jittery, anticipating his next run-in with Malfoy. Mostly because he has absolutely no idea what he’ll do once it happens, torn between wanting to thank him and just acting like last night never happened. Malfoy’s nowhere to be seen, though, staying away in his room and not even coming down for dinner.

It’s not the first time Malfoy hasn’t joined them for a meal, and usually, Harry thinks nothing of it. Maybe it’s because of what happened the day before, but tonight after he and Andromeda finish the meal Harry finds himself ladling a healthy helping of the remaining bouillabaisse in a bowl and placing it on a tray together with a spoon, a piece of levain and a small pot of aioli. Without commenting on Harry’s actions, Andromeda comes up behind him and completes the meal with a glass of white wine.

Harry leaves Andromeda in the kitchen with an unreadable expression on her face, taking Teddy upstairs for the night. He levitates the tray in front of him and sets it down outside Malfoy’s room.

“Malfoy?” he asks, knocking tentatively on the door. “Malfoy, are you alright?”

When no answer comes, he adds, “I brought dinner for you if you want it. Bouillabaisse. It’s right outside, okay?”

Shifting Teddy in his arms, Harry casts a warming charm on the soup before proceeding to the nursery. When he passes again half an hour later to join Andromeda for their evening tea, Harry feels a spur of contentment when he notices the tray is gone.

— ¤ O ¤ —

Tonight, Harry doesn’t even consider attempting to sleep in his own bed. Yesterday’s emotional breakdown has revived too many painful memories, and Harry can feel them lurking now, there in the shadows of his mind, patiently waiting for him to just close his eyes. He knows being near Teddy and listening to the baby sleeping peacefully is the only thing that can quell his anxiety on a night like this, and so he takes his refuge in the nursery.

Certain Malfoy won’t show up — Why would he, considering his adamant avoidance earlier in the day? — Harry heads for the high-backed armchair usually occupied by the blond. Before sitting down though, he gives in to a sudden whim and transfigures the chair into a comfy sofa, just big enough for him to lie down on.

And that’s where Malfoy finds him about an hour later when he unexpectedly walks into the room. Harry isn’t exactly sleeping, but it’s close, and so he hasn’t noticed Malfoy approaching the nursery before the man turns the doorknob. Suddenly wide awake, Harry tries to surreptitiously scramble to an upright position while Malfoy leans over the crib to check on Teddy.

To fight the cooler autumn air, Malfoy’s black silk pyjamas have long since been replaced by Slytherin green fleece bottoms paired with a long-sleeved t-shirt. The way the new outfit clings to Malfoy’s body has turned out to be awfully distracting lately and the day Malfoy started to top it off with that sleek black dressing-gown Harry was torn between relief and disappointment. Malfoy’s pale feet are still, inexplicably, bare.

Harry curls up in a corner of the sofa, watching Malfoy watching Teddy. Something tells him he shouldn’t be doing it, a voice in his head sounding very much like Hermione, but Harry just can’t help it; as always, his eyes are drawn to Malfoy’s elegant figure like moths to a flame.

Eventually, Malfoy straightens and Harry is glad to find himself conscious enough to tear his gaze away before the blond turns around to walk over and join Harry on the sofa. He settles in the opposite corner, bringing his feet up to rest beside him as he folds his legs in a graceful pose.

The silence stretches out between them as they sit, Malfoy with his gaze turned to the crib and Harry staring out the window. It’s not unusual in any way, the silence. Sometimes they can go through a whole night without either of them uttering a single word. Yet, somehow, the silence is different tonight. Charged. It’s prickling on his nerves and Harry doesn’t quite know what to make of it.

He is tempted to break the silence but has no idea what to say. Should he thank Malfoy for last night? He probably should. But that would mean bringing up yesterday’s strange cuddle incident and, honestly, that’s not something Harry wants to do. Ever.

Maybe he should at least thank Malfoy for the chocolate? Acknowledging the friendly gesture. But how to do that without reminding Malfoy of the rest of it? No, better to just ignore the whole thing and hope Malfoy is inclined to do the same. Just act as if it never happened. After all, Harry brought up dinner this evening so maybe they can both agree they’re even and leave it at that?

Fortunately, it seems like Malfoy has come to the same conclusion, for when he clears his throat to speak, what comes out is something else entirely.

“I read the play.”

The play? The play? Harry frantically rattles his brain until— Ah, “The Taming of the Shrew?”

“Obviously.”

Obviously? That exchange was literally weeks ago, and at the time Harry had just blurted out the title in a fit of pique, never really thinking Malfoy would take the recommendation seriously. The fact that he did makes the corners of Harry’s mouth itch to curve into a smile.

“So?” Harry prods when Malfoy refrains from elaborating, chancing a quick glance his way from the corner of his eye. “What did you think?”

“Fine, I guess,” Malfoy shrugs. “Funnier than I thought.”

Harry smirks. “Good.”

They lapse into another stretch of that strange silence. Harry wants to say something, but he fails to find anything in his disorderly brain useful enough to be let past his lips.

“So, I’m the shrew, right?” Malfoy says eventually, glancing over at Harry with a self-deprecating smirk.

Harry nearly chokes on his breath, managing to stop himself just in time to avoid waking up the baby with a sudden burst of laughter.

“No,” he grins, shaking his head, “not necessarily, no.”

“Really?” Malfoy says incredulous, turning his head to look at Harry. “Because I’m positive that’s exactly what you were implying when you recommended it to me.”

“Maybe,” Harry shrugs noncommittally.

“Well, you should know you’ll never be able to tame me like Petruchio did Katherina.”

There’s a dangerous glint in Malfoy’s pale grey eyes, and the sight makes something fluttery stir deep in Harry’s gut. “Wouldn’t dream of it,” he manages, his voice coming out a little breathless.

“Good.”

Harry might be wrong, but he thinks Malfoy sounds a little breathless too.

Fumbling for something — anything — to say before the silence takes over again, Harry finally settles for, “So, I’m taking it you’re one of those boring people who’ve only read the serious plays?”

“I’m not boring,” Malfoy scoffs, sending Harry a defiant glare. “I’m just…”

“Pretentious?” Harry offers, smirking. “Haughty?”

He just can’t help it, it’s too easy; goading Malfoy. It feels familiar and comforting, and… a little thrilling.

“Decorous,” Malfoy retorts. “Refined.”

“Prudish.”

A huff and another glare is Malfoy’s only response this time.

“Telling me you’re not?” Harry raises a questioning eyebrow in his direction. “Then how many of his comedies have you actually read? Any at all, before the Shrew?”

Even in the pale moonlight, Harry notices the shadow of a blush spreading over Malfoy’s sharp cheekbones. “No, I…”

“That’s what I thought,” Harry says, then adding in a lower voice, as if to himself but intending to tease, “So predictable.” He watches Malfoy’s brows furrow and relishes the notion that he’s still capable of ruffling Malfoy’s perfect feathers. “And I’m guessing your favourite sonnet is Shall I Compare Thee too, right?”

“No,” Malfoy says smirking, clearly pleased to be able to deny Harry his assumption. “Although it is undoubtedly a masterpiece, as a matter of fact, it’s not my favourite.”

“Then, if not number eighteen, which one is?” Harry finds himself oddly curious to know.

Malfoy turns to Harry again, searching his face for something Harry can’t figure out. “If you must know, it’s number 116; Let me not to the marriage of true minds.”

“Ah, the other one,” Harry grins, greatly pleased by Malfoy’s predictable answer.

“The other one?”

“Yes, the other one,” Harry chuckles softly, rolling his eyes. “If it isn’t number eighteen, it’s always number 116; the wedding sonnet. Infallible. As if no one even knew any of the others.” He returns his gaze to Malfoy, quirking an eyebrow in his direction. “Must say though, I never took you for a romantic, Malfoy?”

“Romantic? I’m not…” Malfoy falters, the faint blush from before now spreading intriguingly across his pale cheeks.

Harry is brought back to the present as Malfoy clears his throat. “So, which one’s your favourite then?”

My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun.”

Malfoy’s eyebrows rise in surprise, wrinkling his forehead. “The one where he mocks his lover incessantly and lists all her imperfections? I thought you Gryffindors were supposed to be more chivalrous than that?”

“But then you’re missing the point. It’s all there in the end; that he loves her in spite of all those imperfections. That’s the beauty of it, the love that goes beyond the superficial. That’s the love that can last a lifetime.”

“Alright, I concede. When you put it like that, it does actually sound terribly Gryffindorish.”

Malfoy’s lips curl into one of his patented sneers, but for some reason, this one looks more amused than scornful. Harry just rolls his eyes and rises from the sofa to walk over to the crib.

Teddy is still sleeping peacefully, clutching his plush Hufflepuff badger with his tiny little fist. Harry finds it amazing how he’s been able to sleep through their bickering voices, albeit still hushed in the quiet of nighttime.

He frowns as a thought strikes him. Usually, they stick to subdued talking here in the nursery, leaving the petty bickering for their daytime exchanges. Tonight is different though, bordering on the surreal. They’ve just had a somewhat civil conversation for Godric’s sake, lasting for several minutes — on Shakespeare of all things. And even though they’d argued, it hadn’t felt like their usual bickering. More like… banter? Yes, playful banter.

Huh.

Harry stands by the crib for several minutes, letting the sound of Teddy’s even breathing sooth his jittery nerves. He can’t put his finger on what it is, but somehow the events of last night have seemingly caused something to shift between them, something pivotal, and just like that, it’s like Harry’s world has tilted on its axis. It’s all very confusing.

For seven years, he’s known this bloke, and according to his friends, he’s apparently been studying him almost obsessively. He thought he knew everything about his former school rival and yet, despite all the information he’d gathered over the years, Harry suddenly gets the feeling he doesn’t know Malfoy at all. And what’s even more confusing; now the thought struck him, Harry’s itching to know more — to get to know Malfoy for real.

“Can I ask you something?” Harry says before he’s able to stop himself. He’s still leaning over the crib with his back to Malfoy, a little anxious to turn around and face him.

“Well, that depends,” Malfoy drawls, “a Slytherin never gives up his secrets willingly.”

Harry can hear the shrewdness in his voice, the wordless challenge. What’s in it for me?

Alright, challenge accepted. Harry turns around and leans back against the crib, hoping to look casual as he crosses his arms in front of his chest.

“How about a trade?”

Malfoy smirks and raises one of his neat eyebrows. “I’m listening.”

“For every question I ask you, I’ll answer one of yours.”

The smirk transforms into a sceptical sneer and, instantly guarded, Malfoy leans back and crosses his own arms in front of him. “As if you’ll give up any of your secrets willingly?”

“I will,” Harry shrugs, “under the right conditions.”

Wary, Malfoy narrows his eyes. “Which are?”

Harry knew it wouldn’t be easy, earning Malfoy’s trust, but now that he has made up his mind he is dead set on making this work. And Harry is nothing if not stubborn. Taking a fortifying breath he pushes back from the crib and walks over to the sofa, collecting his thoughts as he sits down in what’s already his corner.

“One, everything said stays in this room. No going around telling each other’s secrets to anyone.”

“Anyone?” Malfoy frowns, “Not even the rest of your Golden Trio?”

Harry can’t help scowling at the annoying epithet. “No,” he sighs, “anyone means anyone.”

“But, I thought you guys told each other everything?”

Malfoy draws out the last word in the most mocking way possible, sending a prickling of irritation crawling over Harry’s spine. What is it with this bloke that makes it so easy for him to always get under Harry’s skin?

Fighting for control, Harry grits his teeth. “I can assure you there’s a lot they don’t know about me.”

Malfoy seems to think this over for a moment before answering.

“Alright,” he nods, “secrets stay in here. Sounds fair.”

“Good,” Harry says, feeling his shoulders relax a fraction. Now to the tricky part.

“Two, I want honesty or nothing. Either we tell each other the truth, or we refuse to answer altogether. No lies.”

“No lies?” Malfoy echoes, guarded.

Harry feels those silvery eyes watching him and turns to meet them with a determined gaze. “No lies.”

There’s a flicker of something in Malfoy’s eyes before he averts them to look over at the crib. “Anything else?”

“No, that’s it. You want to add something?”

Malfoy frowns and sends Harry another glance from the corner of his eye.

“How do I know you won’t just ask me your question and then refuse to answer any of mine?”

Harry can’t help chuckling at Malfoy’s scepticism.

“You really are a Slytherin, aren’t you?” he grins. “Well, how about I offer you a secret of my own first? That way you’ll always have one up on me.”

Malfoy’s eyes widen in disbelief, his brows nearly meeting his hairline. “You’ll just give me one of your famously coveted secrets? Me? Your loathed arch-nemesis?”

“Oh, don’t be such a drama queen,” Harry laughs, earning himself a priceless scowl from Malfoy. “We might not have been friends, but you were never my arch-nemesis.”

“No?” Malfoy is actually looking surprised.

“No,” Harry sighs. “Have you already forgotten the noseless megalomaniac?”

Shaking his head, Malfoy winces. “No.”

“So,” Harry says, eager to get away from the subject, “do you want to know a secret or not?”

Malfoy smirks and turns towards Harry, propping himself up with an elbow on the back of the sofa. “I always want to know a secret.”

“That’s what I thought.”

“Something no one else knows?”

“Sure.”

Harry thinks for a moment before deciding what to say.

“Ah, how about this one?” he smirks, shifting in his seat to turn fully towards Malfoy, settling in a position with his back against the armrest and his socked feet on the cushion, hugging his knees in front of him. “The Sorting Hat wanted to put me in Slytherin.”

“What?” Malfoy blinks, most satisfactory. “No,” he decides, huffing a laugh, “you’re having me on.”

“No, I promise,” Harry grins. “It said I’d do well in Slytherin.”

“And yet you ended up a Gryffindor?” Malfoy says, frowning. “How?”

Harry shrugs. “I asked it not to.”

“Why?”

“Honestly? Because of you.”

“Because of me?”

“Yes,” Harry chuckles. “You were such an annoying prat that day, and I didn’t want anything to do with you. So — since you already went to Slytherin, I asked the hat to put me anywhere but.”

“Wait. I was an annoying prat? How about you, snubbing me for no reason when I was just offering my friendship?”

Harry blinks.

“For no reason?” He sighs, exasperated. “Please. You had just insulted the first friend I ever met, just days after degrading the first adult who’d ever been nice to me. Whatever made you think I’d take you up on that offer?”

“I— What?” Malfoy exclaims, a little too loud, and immediately glances over to the crib to check if he’s disturbed Teddy in his sleep. Satisfied that doesn’t seem to be the case, he turns back to Harry, whispering, “What? Your first friend? You mean the Weasel?”

Keep calm, Harry. Breathe. You ’re the one who wanted this.

“His name is Ron, and yes. You acted like a total wanker, so I decided I didn’t want to be your friend. So what?” Harry shrugs. “I still don’t get it. You had plenty of other friends, why would you get so miffed by me turning you down?”

“Seriously?” Malfoy sighs, rolling his eyes. “And here I’d just started to think you weren’t absolutely clueless after all.” Harry raises a questioning eyebrow. “Come on, you were the famous Harry Potter — of course, I wanted to be friends with you, everybody did. I’d been looking forward to it all summer, and then you just— What?”

Harry quickly closes his mouth at Malfoy’s glare. “You’d been looking forward to…” Harry frowns, trying to understand. “You just assumed I’d jump at the chance of becoming your friend, didn’t you?”

Malfoy averts his eyes, looking out the window at the hills bathed in moonlight. “No, not jump, exactly, but… I don’t know, I…” He sighs and shakes his head before turning back to Harry, grimacing. “Would you believe me if I told you that… that was the first time I was ever denied something I wanted?”

The Really? is at the tip of Harry’s tongue before he knows it, but he manages to hold it back at the last moment because… he actually can believe it — can imagine it quite clearly even. The spoiled little boy who’s always gotten anything he’s ever wished for, anything he’s ever set his eyes upon; the Prince of Malfoy Manor.

“Yeah?” he frowns.

“Yes. All my life I’d been told I was special, that I deserved to be treated as such and that the world was there for the taking. That, if there was anything I ever wanted, I should just go out there and get it. That I, as the Malfoy Heir, was entitled to have all my dreams realised.

“The friends I’d had up until then were the ones my parents had chosen for me, the children of their acquaintances. They were terribly boring, most of them, and just like all other children of our generation, I’ve grown up with the tales of the Boy Who Lived, the baby hero with the unimaginable powers to vanquish the greatest dark wizard in centuries. I knew you were my age, and that if you were still alive we’d enter Hogwarts the same year, and so I let myself dream of us becoming friends. It actually never struck my mind that you might say no.”

Huh.

“And then you rejected me — and in front of my friends, too — and I just…” Malfoy falters, looking down at his hands clasped tightly in his lap. “And now you’re telling me you might have ended up in Slytherin if it weren’t for how I treated you that day? That, if I hadn’t approached you and offered my friendship, we could have been housemates? Maybe friends even?” The white-blond strands of his hair fall in front of his eyes as Malfoy shakes his head again, huffing a dry self-deprecating laugh. “Oh, the irony.”

Harry can’t help a small smile from curving his lips, strangely sympathetic for that young deluded boy whose only mistake had been to trust his parents’ word.

“You know,” he says, a vague idea of how to distract Malfoy out of his mood flickering alive in his mind. “maybe it’s best what happened. I don’t think I would have liked it much in Slytherin anyway, what with all those freaky underwater windows and the creepy creatures swimming about looking in whenever you least expect it.” Harry shivers from the mere memory of it. “I’d have felt trapped down there without being able to see the sky.”

“Well, it wasn’t all that bad,” Malfoy says, reverting back to defending mode in a heartbeat. Right on target. And “Wait? How do you know what the Slytherin dorms look like?” …Mission accomplished.

Harry smirks. “Well, that’s a whole other story, so why don’t you save that question for later, eh?”

When Malfoy doesn’t respond, Harry stretches out his leg, prodding Malfoy’s calf with his toes. The unexpected physical contact surprises Malfoy out of his stupor, earning Harry a heated glare which does strange things to Harry’s gut.

“So, was my secret acceptable to you? Do we have a deal?”

On a whim, Harry leans forward and extends his right hand, waiting for Malfoy to take it. He has no idea if Malfoy makes the same connection Harry does, but to Harry, it feels strangely like an apology for not accepting Malfoy’s outstretched hand all those years ago — like the possibility of a new beginning.

For what feels like minutes, Malfoy just looks at it, frowning, then he shifts his gaze up to meet Harry’s eyes, searching for something. Harry gives him a faint, encouraging smile, waiting patiently while Malfoy seems to take aeons to make his decision. He’s just about to retract his hand, oddly disappointed, when Malfoy finally reacts and tentatively wraps his pale slender fingers around it. The hand is cool and smooth against Harry’s, the grip firm but gentle.

Swallowing hard, Harry lets go — maybe just a second or two later than necessary — and leans back against the armrest.

“Good,” he says, his voice a little rougher than usual but not enough for Malfoy to notice, Harry hopes.

Still a little hesitant but otherwise seemingly unaffected, Malfoy shifts in his corner and turns towards Harry. “So, what did you want to ask me?”

Harry has several questions on his mental list already, all of them begging for his attention now. Leaning his forearms on his bent knees, he rests his chin on top of his wrists and settles for, “What are you really doing in the study every day?”

The question has been taunting his mind for two months now, and even though there’s so much else he wants to know about this man, Harry knows he’ll never be able to ask anything else until he’s sated his curiosity about the mystery of the study.

Malfoy lets out a surprised snort of disbelief. “That’s what you want to ask me? I thought you…”

Harry smirks. Surprised Malfoy is really a sight to behold.

“I want to ask you a lot of things, just as I’m sure you want to know a lot of stuff about me. Now, what are you up to in there?”

“I’m studying,” Malfoy says, quirking an eyebrow.

“Studying?” Harry echoes, incredulous.

“Yes, you berk,” Malfoy sighs. “It’s a study, what did you think I was doing?”

“Well, I don’t know, just…” Harry frowns, “Why?”

There’s an annoyed glint in Malfoy’s silver-grey eyes. “I’m reading up on my N.E.W.T.s. You know, not everyone is a privileged war hero who is offered any job opportunity they want without proper qualifications.”

Harry glares at Malfoy with narrowed eyes, not caring much for the jibe at his unwanted hero privileges. He’d much rather get a position for his qualifications and skills rather than for his undeserved reputation and idol status.

“That’s not what I meant,” he sighs. “I just didn’t think you aspired to a life of labour, that’s all. Certainly, your Gringotts vault contains enough galleons for you not to have to?”

“No, I may not have to — which is fortunate since I’m not sure anyone will ever be interested in hiring an ex Death Eater — but I don’t think I’d care much for doing nothing all day. I like the feeling of accomplishing things.

“Also, as it happens, I like to study and learn new things. And I fancy myself rather good at it too. Did you know my marks were always second best in our year?”

“They were?”

“Yes, beaten only by your precious Granger — as my father was always quick to point out at the end of each term. He never let me live down the embarrassment of a pure-blood being beaten by a Muggle-born.”

No, Harry isn’t at all impressed by Malfoy’s word choice. Not using the old slur is just common sense, not something to cause special attention. Nevertheless, Harry’s mind registers it as an interesting observation in the ever-growing list of Malfoy related trivia.

“Well, it’s not like I can pass the exams anytime soon anyway, considering I’m limited to theory as long as…” Malfoy raises his right arm indicating the silver bracelet. He looks so miserable all of a sudden, and Harry fights down a flare of innate urge to help. “But it would have been nice if I at least had been able to brew.”

“You were always good at Potions,” Harry murmurs.

“Yes, I was — unlike some people,” Malfoy smirks. “But also, I always liked brewing. Always made me calm down when I was upset and cheer me up when I was feeling low.”

Harry chuckles. “That’s so not what happens whenever I brew. Rather the opposite really.”

A vision of their old murky Potions classroom comes to mind, the sound of simmering concoctions in cauldrons and the pungent smell of Potions ingredients invading his brain. When the image of Snape suddenly appears in front of his inner eye, Harry hastily suppresses the memories by sheer force of will.

“So, you’re… what? Reading textbooks all day? Taking notes?”

“Oh, well, I have an agreement with Headmistress McGonagall.”

“You do?”

“Yes, in fact, she has been most accommodating and supportive. Every Monday she owls me the week’s reading instructions and assignments for all my subjects, and in return I send her my essays and completed quizzes to forward to the Professors.”

“Oh, that’s…” Harry frowns, “that’s really nice of her. Not that I’m all that surprised. She really is a remarkable woman.”

“Yes, I’m starting to realise that now.”

A pang of guilt flares briefly in Harry’s chest at the mention of his old Head of House. He hasn’t been in touch with her since… well, since the final battle, really. And to think that Malfoy has weekly contact with her… Harry should probably send her an owl soon.

Malfoy clears his throat, bringing Harry’s mind back to the nursery. “Alright, question answered. Your turn.”

“Shoot.”

“You already know what I want to ask. The Slytherin dorms?”

“Ah,” Harry grins. This should be fun.

“Who the hell let you in?”

“As a matter of fact — you.”

Me?

Harry laughs at Malfoy’s confused look.

“Yes, you,” he says, bracing himself to tell the story of when he and Ron got Polyjuiced in second year in an attempt to spy on the suspected Heir of Slytherin.

— ¤ O ¤ —

“So, what do you want to do?” Harry asks Malfoy the next night. “For a living I mean. You said you wanted to find work.”

Harry’s curled up on the sofa, lying with his head on the armrest and watching Teddy’s back move with his relaxed breathing. Malfoy shifts beside him and Harry looks up only to meet Malfoy’s eyes over his thigh. It’s the first time any of them has spoken since last night, and if it weren’t for the faint trace of amusement in Malfoy’s face now, Harry would still doubt that conversation to be more than a figment of his own imagination.

“I don’t know. Something in Potions probably, if anyone would ever trust a draught brewed by someone like me.”

“A Slytherin?”

“No, you daft prick,” Malfoy sneers, slapping Harry’s foot not too gently. “An ex Death Eater, of course.”

Harry grins and kicks Malfoy’s thigh teasingly. “How would I know what’s going on in that big head of yours?” Malfoy only grunts in reply. “So, Potions?”

“Yes. Or maybe something to do with writing.”

“Yeah?” Harry doesn’t look over to the blond but raises a questioning eyebrow anyway. “Like what?”

“Like… a journalist maybe? Or an author?”

“Writing books and stuff?” Harry looks up and Malfoy nods. “What kind of books?”

“I don’t know. Novels. Biographies. Textbooks. That History of Magic textbook surely could do with a rewrite, don’t you think? It still doesn’t cover anything after the 19th century.”

“Yeah, I know. Crazy, right?” Harry says. “Do you write a lot?”

“No, not too much. Mostly in my diary.”

“You have a diary?”

“Yes, so?” Malfoy grits, suddenly guarded. Apparently, keeping a diary isn’t something you freely admit doing in Slytherin House.

“So, Potions or writing, then,” Harry quickly blurts. “Is that what you always wanted to do?”

“No,” Malfoy drawls, clearly relieved by Harry’s change of subject. “When I was younger I dreamt about becoming a professional Seeker.”

“You don’t anymore?”

“No, I grew up and realised my limitations. I’m never going to be good enough to play in any professional capacity.”

“Don’t say that,” Harry frowns, “I remember you to be a rather brilliant flyer.”

“Says the man who always beat me to the Snitch,” Malfoy scoffs.

“Says the only man who ever gave me a run for the money.” Harry bumps Malfoy’s thigh with his foot again. “Come on, you could do it if you wanted to.”

“Nah, I think I’ll stay on the ground from now on.”

Harry gets the feeling there’s something Malfoy’s holding back, but he refrains from further prodding.

“I used to want to be an Auror,” he offers instead.

“Used to?” Harry can hear Malfoy’s brow rising without even looking.

“Yeah, pretty sure I don’t want that anymore.”

“How come? Isn’t that the perfect career for a hero who’s hunted dark wizards for most of his life?”

“Will you stop calling me a hero?” Another kick, followed by a satisfying Ow!

“I can try, but I won’t promise anything,” Malfoy smirks and Harry sends him a scathing glare.

“I’m just a regular bloke with a stupid scar on my forehead, okay.”

“Won’t hear me deny that.” Malfoy’s low chuckle is most distracting.

Harry clears his throat. “And no, as it turns out, you can get tired of hunting dark wizards when they’ve been after you your whole life.”

“So, what do you want to do?”

“I have no idea. That’s what I’m trying to figure out. Teaching maybe?”

“Not Quidditch?”

“No, wouldn’t want to play without knowing I got the position for my skills and not for my… fame. I guess most teams would jump at the chance of signing me just for the PR value.” Harry winces at the thought. “Besides, I’d hate the attention.”

“Really?” Malfoy turns to look him straight in the eye. “I always thought you loved the attention.”

“No, you pillock, never did.” Harry shakes his head, grinning. “If anyone was the attention seeker, it was you.”

“Right,” Malfoy says, averting his gaze. Apparently, something terribly interesting has caught his eye outside.

“So, your turn,” Harry says looking over at Teddy, decidedly not noticing the faint blush rising on Malfoy’s cheek. “Ask me something.”

There’s a stretch of silence as Malfoy considers his options, and Harry struggles to keep his eyes away from the blond.

“What’s your favourite childhood memory? Before Hogwarts, I mean.”

“Er,” Harry frowns.

There aren’t many good memories to choose from, but Malfoy doesn’t need to know that. Not yet, at least. He figures his life with the Dursleys will come up sooner or later, but Harry would honestly prefer to wait as long as possible before plunging into that murky pond. However, they had agreed on honesty so he has to say something.

“I guess that’d be when Hagrid barged through the door on my eleventh birthday and told me I was a wizard.”

“Hagr—? What? You didn’t know before then?”

Malfoy’s eyes are comically wide as they turn to Harry in disbelief.

“No, that was the first time I even heard wizards and witches talked about as anything else than characters in a fairy tale.”

“But,” Malfoy frowns, “didn’t you live with your relatives? Didn’t they know?”

“Yeah… but they never told me.”

“What kind of crazy-arsed Muggles were they, keeping your heritage from you like that?”

“Basically, I guess they were scared. Ignorance has a tendency to do that to people, Muggles and wizards alike.”

“True.”

Malfoy seems to ponder that for a moment, and Harry lets him. When Malfoy glances over at him, there’s amusement sparkling in his eyes. “So, Hagrid just barged in, eh? That must have been quite a sight.”

Harry chuckles at the memory. “Yeah, to say the least. Brought down the door and everything. He even brought a cake he’d baked himself.”

Malfoy gives him a sceptical sneer. “Can’t imagine that tasting very good?”

“I wouldn’t know about that. Never got a chance to taste it before my cousin ate it all.”

“You didn’t get to taste your own birthday cake?”

“I didn’t mind. I’d just learnt I was a wizard.”

Malfoy gets lost in his thoughts again, shaking his head slowly.

“Oh, Merlin, I can’t believe you didn’t know you were a wizard. You; the Almighty Saviour of the— Ow!” Malfoy exclaims as Harry kicks him again, shooting his hand out to catch Harry’s foot in a firm grip.

Even through his woollen socks, Harry can feel the heat from Malfoy’s slender fingers sink into his body, sending a tingling sensation up his leg and along his spine to ignite something strange deep in his chest. Harry struggles to keep his heart from racing as he meets Malfoy’s bright eyes, almost forgetting how to breathe during the eternity it takes until he finally manages to avert his gaze.

Air suddenly thick around them, the silence deafening, Harry fixes his eyes on Teddy and tries to disregard the long slim fingers still embracing his foot.

When Malfoy’s grip eventually loosens around him the hand lingers, a warm palm resting gently on Harry’s foot for a long time as they both get lost in thoughts.

— ¤ O ¤ —

Harry has no explanation for what’s happening between them. After over seven years of avid enmity and constant rivalry, they’re suddenly talking, having actual conversations about such normal things as Shakespeare and Quidditch. It’s as if a solid Protego has just blinked out of existence between them, for the first time allowing them to interact with each other like any normal people.

Except, Harry’s quite sure Malfoy will never be just any normal person to him. How could he, after everything they’ve been through? After all they’ve said and done to each other through the years? Harry’s not even sure he wants him to be.

But, it’s not like they’ve suddenly become friends either. There are still nights when they don’t talk at all, and just as before, the tentative truce ends as soon as the sun starts painting the eastern sky in shades of blue and orange.

It’s all very confusing.

And then, a few days later, something even stranger happens.

— ¤ O ¤ —

“Oh, for Salazar’s sake…”

“Huh?” Harry offers noncommittally with his head still deep in the pantry. He’s trying to decide what to make for supper and really doesn’t care what has made Malfoy mutter to himself by the kitchen table for the past fifteen minutes.

To be honest, Harry doesn’t even know what Malfoy’s doing in the kitchen in the first place. He’s usually wrapped up in his studies all afternoon, but for some unknown reason, today Harry found him seated here with the Prophet and a cup of tea when he came down from putting Teddy down for his nap.

“This flimsy newsprint… How are you supposed to write on it? Either you press too hard and the quill tears it, or you press too gently and the ink bleeds all over the place.”

“Why don’t you use a pen instead?” Harry says, considering the benefits of kidney beans if added to the minced beef Andromeda said she’d bought the other day.

“A pen?” Malfoy echoes. “What in Salazar’s name is a pen? Is it another one of your crazy Muggle contraptions?”

At that, Harry can’t help laughing and extracting his head from the pantry to look over at the blond wizard sitting by the window.

“Yeah,” he says, “it’s a very dangerous and insane contraption. Muggles usually use them to write with. Much like a quill, only more convenient and easier to use. Here…” Harry goes over to a drawer by the door and picks up a standard Bic pen. “Try this one.”

Still holding his quill, Malfoy looks at the pen suspiciously when Harry offers it for him to take. Harry glances over at the paper where Malfoy apparently has tried to fill in a crossword puzzle. There are small blotches of ink strewn all over the boxes and the newsprint is indeed torn in several places.

“Come on, it won’t bite you,” Harry teases when Malfoy hesitates. Reluctantly, Malfoy puts down the quill and takes the pen from Harry’s outstretched hand. Harry probably imagines it, but it’s possible their fingers touch for longer than necessary to make the transaction. Malfoy removes the lid and looks at the tip, frowning.

“Here, let me help you,” Harry says, drawing his wand to siphon the ink blotches from the paper and mending the ripped newsprint. “No, you’re not supposed to…”

Malfoy stops his hand just over the ink pot, looking up at Harry with a glare. “What?”

“You don’t have to dip it in ink, you just… write.”

Malfoy looks at Harry as if he’s suddenly sprouted horns on his forehead.

“I just… write?”

“Yes, the ink’s already inside.”

“Huh,” Malfoy mutters dubiously, still frowning but lowering the pen to the paper and supplying Bagshot for three down.

“There you go,” Harry smirks and leaves Malfoy with the mortal perils of Muggle innovation to return to his supper plans. Maybe pasta? Harry takes another inventory of the pantry. “You want lasagna or spaghetti bolognese?”

“Huh?”

Harry extracts his head from the pantry again, a package of spaghetti in one hand and a box of lasagna noodles in the other.

“We have minced beef so I thought I’d do something with pasta. You prefer lasagna or spaghetti bolognese?”

Malfoy blinks, his pale grey eyes narrowed in confusion as he takes in the items in Harry’s hands.

“I have absolutely no idea,” he says.

“Okaaay,” Harry says, starting to think that Malfoy really doesn’t have a clue what he’s talking about. Granted, the food at Hogwarts tended to stick to the traditional British cuisine but surely pure-blood families must eat other types of food as well? “Well then, let’s have lasagna.”

As Harry gathers the ingredients and heats the frying pan for the meat, Malfoy returns to his crossword.

Maybe he shouldn’t like this so much — cooking, that is. Those of his friends who know about his life with the Dursleys certainly find it weird, but Harry just can’t help it. As long as he’s standing in front of the stove or working on the counter, the stirring and chopping and pouring and mixing offer him an escape from the rest of the world.

Soon the kitchen is infused with the delicious smells of cooking and if it weren’t for the occasional grunt or muttering from the window, Harry could almost imagine being alone in the kitchen as usual.

He’s just about to add the tomatoes when he feels the now familiar prickling at the nape of his neck. Malfoy is watching him. Harry tries to ignore it, focusing on the meat sauce coming together in front of him. But the feeling won’t leave him alone and Harry almost swears out loud when he realises he just straightened his posture under the imagined scrutiny.

“How’s it going?” he says, almost able to convince himself his voice sounds perfectly casual.

Behind him, Harry hears Malfoy clear his throat.

“Fine… perfectly fine.”

No, Malfoy’s voice doesn’t sound strained or husky either.

“Anything I can help you with?” Harry asks. Why? — He doesn’t know.

“No,” comes the reflex response. Then, a moment later, “Well, maybe…”

Harry chances a glance over his shoulder, finding Malfoy looking at him curiously.

“Let’s hear it, then.”

“Muggle entertainment.”

“How many letters?”

“Five. Should start with an M, and the second to last is an I.”

Magic? No, that’d be weird. Hmm? “Movie?”

“What?”

“A Movie. With an E at the end.”

“What’s that?”

“Er,” Harry tries to find the right words to explain the concept. “It’s like our moving pictures… but longer, and with sound. Either you can watch it on the telly or you can go to the movie theatre where they show it on a big screen.”

“Sounds ridiculous,” Malfoy snorts, “Why would anyone want to do that?”

“As your crossword suggests, it’s entertainment. Usually, they tell a story.”

“Like a book read out loud?”

“Nah, more like… Hmm…” Harry turns to lean against the counter, meeting Malfoy’s questioning eyes. “Like… acted out, in front of cameras. By actors in costumes, and with special effects. Kind of like Shakespeare’s plays, but pre-recorded.” Malfoy frowns and gives a slow nod, seemingly trying to comprehend what Harry’s telling him. “If you want, I can show you someday.”

“I don’t know…”

Harry can’t help chuckling at the cautious look on Malfoy’s face.

“Oh, don’t be such a poncy pure-blood. Trust me, you’ll love it.”

“I will?”

That pale neat eyebrow really shouldn’t be allowed to venture that high on its own.

“Yes, I promise.” Harry grins as he turns back to the stove, stirring the sauce and lowering the temperature to let it simmer. “So, you’re finished?”

“Yes,” Malfoy says, accompanied by the rustling of the paper being folded.

“Wanna help?” Harry blurts before he can stop himself.

“Help?” Malfoy echoes. “With what? I don’t…”

“You can…” Harry purses his lips, thinking quickly, “…be in charge of the salad.”

“Er…”

“Come on, it’s easy. Just rinsing and chopping, really,” Harry shrugs, adding, “Pretend it’s Potions ingredients and you’ll be fine.”

“Alright…”

Malfoy still sounds hesitant but Harry ignores it and produces a knife and a cutting board before going over to the fridge and taking out an assortment of vegetables.

“Start with rinsing those under the tap, then cut them into appropriate pieces and put them in…” Harry looks around, finding what he’s searching for on the shelf above the plates, “…this bowl.”

Leaving Malfoy to deal with the veg, Harry returns to his lasagna, searching a cabinet for a suitable saucepan to prepare the bechamel. By the time the milk is simmering, Malfoy is silently slicing and dicing by the counter next to Harry.

And that’s how Andromeda finds them twenty minutes later. When Harry turns to greet her, she’s standing in the doorway watching them with an inscrutable look on her face.

— ¤ O ¤ —

Being of age while studying at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry apparently has its advantages. One of them is the privilege of not having to keep to official Hogsmeade weekends to visit the Scottish wizarding village.

As the enamoured couple they are, Ron and Hermione have taken advantage of this, meeting up at The Three Broomsticks every Saturday without fail ever since the term started. Harry finds it rather cute, although, he nervously anticipates the day when Hermione will undoubtedly turn her boyfriend down in favour of her usual study craze before the upcoming N.E.W.T. exams.

As for now though, their Broomsticks Saturdays are all but sacred, and just as reliable as they’ve become, just as persistently Ron has taken to invite Harry to accompany him up there with him every time they meet. Hermione has been just as adamant in her owls, and yet it’s already the first weekend of November when Harry finally ventures up north to join them.

It’s not really a proper drizzle that meets him as he Apparates into the alley next to Scrivenshaft's, but rather that sensation of the air being wet, unique for late autumn days like this when you just want to curl up in front of the fire with a nice cup of tea. Shivering as a gust of wind sneaks under the collar of his jacket, Harry sets his shoulders and hurries down the nearly empty High Street to the pub and his awaiting friends.

The little bell on the door jingles merrily to welcome him as he enters the pub, the warmth immediately fogging up Harry’s glasses and making him stand there owlishly for some long seconds before he’s able to take in the place. It’s been over two years since he last was inside, the last time being that fateful day when Katie Bell was handed the cursed necklace which nearly took her life.

Today the pub is less crowded than Harry’s ever seen it, only a handful of parties scattered at different tables around the place, their pleasant chatter low enough not to assault Harry’s eardrums as violently as the loud racket he recalls from his school days. Despite it being only a few hours since breakfast, the scents from the kitchen make Harry’s stomach rumble and he is just about to head for the bar to greet Rosmerta when he hears a familiar voice from the far corner of the room.

“Harry!” Hermione squeals, hastily manoeuvring between the tables to wrap her arms around him, squeezing him tightly in a warm embrace. They haven’t seen each other in over two months, and it isn’t until he inhales the flowery scent of her shampoo that he realises how much he’s really missed her.

“Hi, ‘Mione,” he murmurs, holding her close another moment before finally letting go. He pulls back, meeting her vibrant hazel eyes. “I’m sorry I haven’t—”

“Don’t worry, Harry. I’m just glad you’re here.” She smiles and takes him by the hand. “Now, come on, let’s join the others.”

“The others?” Harry frowns as he lets himself be dragged deeper into the room.

The others turn out to be Ginny, Neville and Luna, all of them jumping up from their chairs to hug Harry as he approaches the table they’ve occupied for the afternoon. As Hermione sinks down beside Ron, instinctively leaning in to let him wrap a strong arm over her shoulders, Harry takes the vacant chair across from them, sitting down next to Neville.

Before they’re even settled Rosmerta comes over with a tray of Butterbeers, handling them out while taking their food orders.

“So, how are things back at the castle?” Harry blurts as soon as she’s gone.

He knows he won’t be able to deflect his friends’ attention forever, but he figures any respite to get re-accustomed to their company before their questioning starts can only be beneficial.

He lets them talk, humming along and nodding in all the right places as Hermione tells him about all the changes that have been made since McGonagall took over as Headmistress. The food arrives and Harry digs into his Shepherd’s pie as he listens absentmindedly to the others talking about the new Professors, the new extra-curricular initiatives to promote inter-house unity and the upcoming Yule Ball. Neville gives him an update on how the repairs on the war-damaged castle are proceeding and Luna’s face lights up as she speaks about the newly founded students’ union.

Harry’s attention is brought back to the conversation as Ginny starts talking about Quidditch. As the new Gryffindor captain, she’s been racing against time ever since the start of term to be able to whip the new team into shape before next weekend’s opening match against Slytherin. Since the pitch was destroyed during the final battle and the repairs were completed only recently, there hasn’t been much time to conduct any productive practice.

“Okay, I’m just gonna pop away to…” Ron says as he stands up and waves a hand towards the loos. “Another round of Butterbeer?”

“Sure,” Harry nods, joining the choir from the rest of the table. As Ron leaves, Hermione slides over to his chair, throwing herself into a whispered conversation with the other girls. Harry takes a swig of his drink before glancing over at Neville.

“So, what’s new with you?” he asks. “Have you had any chance at enjoying the regular carefree teenage life this time around?”

“Yeah,” Neville says. His voice sounds a little strained and he clears his throat before continuing. “Yeah, as carefree as a N.E.W.T. student’s life can ever be, I s’pose.”

They share a smile, and as Harry looks over he notices the way Neville’s clutching his bottle of Butterbeer hard enough to make the usually tanned knuckles turn white. The man is obviously nervous about something, and Harry has no idea why.

“There’s something troubling you, though?” Harry murmurs, wanting to give Neville a chance to say what’s on his mind without sharing it with the rest of the table.

“Yeah, it’s…” Neville falters, fixing his gaze on the bottle as he absently starts picking at its label. “It’s…”

“Neville,” Harry prods, “whatever it is, you can say it. Just…” rip the band-aid off. Pretty sure the Muggle reference won’t be of any use, he instead settles for, “Just do it.”

Neville doesn’t seem particularly convinced by Harry’s words. As Harry waits for him to muster up his courage, he watches Neville share a brief look with Ginny. Not noticing Harry’s eyes on her, she gives Neville an encouraging smile before turning back to her conversation with Hermione and Luna.

“Well,” Neville says eventually, his eyes flickering over to the door from which Ron just re-entered the room and watching as he heads over to the bar to put in their order. “I was wondering how things are between you and Ginny? I know you haven’t seen each other that much lately, but do you think you’ll get back together or…”

“No,” Harry frowns, wondering why Neville suddenly seems so interested in his love life. “I’m sorry, I know everyone expected us to, but I’m afraid we’re gonna have to let the world down on that one.”

He glances over to where Ginny’s sitting, her long sleek hair shining a coppery red in the candlelight. She’s so beautiful. Her brown eyes sparkle as she giggles at something Luna says, just as gorgeous and lively and just… not desirable to him anymore. Not in the way he always wished. Not like Mal— Harry takes a deep breath and wills the random thought away.

“I do still love her,” he says, ignoring the rough note in his voice, “like a friend and a sister, but… No, we’re not destined to be together the way I once thought we were.”

At Harry’s words, the tension seeps from Neville’s shoulders, leaving them to drop at least an inch before Harry’s eyes. “So, if she finds someone else, you’d not…”

“I’d be thrilled if she met someone who can make her happy. Really.” He watches Neville share another smile with Ginny and finally catches up on what Neville’s trying to say. Of course. He’s not concerned about Harry’s love life, he’s asking permission to date his ex.

As Ron reappears at the table and starts handing out fresh bottles of Butterbeer, Harry leans in to whisper in Neville’s ear. “You’ve got my blessing, mate. Just make her happy, okay?” As Harry draws back, he catches Ginny’s gaze and gives her an encouraging wink.

With Ron back beside her, Hermione is immediately drawn to him as if he were a magnet, settling herself against his side and kissing his cheek as he wraps his arm around her again. They are so right for each other, their love and affection so natural it’s almost impossible to understand why it took them almost seven years to finally get together. Harry’s heart swells as he watches his two best friends together, so happy for what they’ve found in each other — and not at all jealous. Not even a little bit. Alright, maybe a little bit. But it doesn’t matter. They’re happy, and that’s all that matters.

“So, how’s Teddy?” Hermione eventually asks, her head resting on Ron’s shoulder.

It takes a second for Harry to comprehend she’s talking to him, and another to recall her words.

“He’s adorable,” he grins, thinking of how he’d watched the boy crawling halfway across the sitting room just hours before. To think he could barely roll over only a few weeks ago… “I’m so happy to be there for him, ‘Mione, I can’t even… You know, I think he might just be the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”

Hermione beams at his words, lifting her head to look at him properly. “I can see that, Harry. I haven’t seen you so alive since you first got together with Ginny in sixth year. Isn’t that right, Ron?” she asks, prodding her boyfriend gently in the ribs. “Doesn’t he look vibrant?”

“Er,” Ron frowns, studying Harry uncertainly, “I guess…”

“Yes,” Ginny chimes in, “it’s almost as if he were…”

“…in love,” Luna supplies when Ginny hesitates.

“Yes! Exactly!” Ginny grins, waggling her eyebrows in Harry’s direction. “So, who’s the lucky girl?”

The glare Harry aims her way does nothing to stop the mirth dancing in her eyes.

“What? Who?” Ron exclaims, looking back and forth over the table trying to grasp what’s going on. “There’s a girl?”

“No,” Harry sighs, shaking his head pointedly to catch Ron’s attention. “There’s no girl. Ginny’s just taking the piss.”

“Oh?”

“Come on, mate. When would I even meet a girl? You know I’m only ever leaving Andromeda’s for Sunday dinners at the Burrow.”

“Still?” Hermione asks.

Harry gives her a levelled stare that he hopes conveys all the reasons for her not to start nagging him about his self-imposed isolation again. Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to stop her.

“Oh, Harry. You really should get out more, meet new people. Hiding away like this can’t be healthy.”

“I’m not hiding. I just don’t want to be run down by fans or chased by the press.” Or having to interact with people I don’t know. Or people I do know, for that matter.

“Then go somewhere Muggle where they don’t know who you are,” Hermione pleads. “Just don’t let yourself become a stranger, alright?”

“I’m here now, aren’t I?”

“Yes, you are,” she grins, “and it’s lovely to see you. I just thought you’d come sooner, what with… You know, as an escape from… How’s that going, by the way? With him, I mean?”

“What the hell are you talking about?” Ginny frowns bemused, looking curiously between Harry and Hermione.

Harry meets Hermione’s eyes over the table. They haven’t been able to talk about it yet, but at least he managed to send her that owl. Since then, Malfoy hasn’t been mentioned in their correspondence at all, and Harry still has no idea what Hermione thinks about any of it.

She raises a questioning eyebrow and Harry gives her an affirming nod in response. It’d be futile to try to keep this a secret from the others much longer anyway.

“Andromeda’s nephew is currently staying with them,” she says, her warm eyes never leaving Harry’s.

“Who?” Neville says, drowning out gasps of surprise from Ginny and Luna.

“Ferret Face,” Ron grits, his agitation sharp enough to draw Harry’s attention away from the amused smirk forming on Hermione’s lips.

Malfoy’s living with you?”

Ginny’s shriek is just this side of telling the whole pub.

“Shhh,” Harry glares at her, “keep it down, will you? And yes, he is.”

“For how long?” Neville says.

“Since his trial.”

“But… that’s over two months ago?” Ginny breathes. “I remember talking about it at home before school started. He was already living with you then?”

Harry nods, his verbal reply stuck in his throat as Ron growls.

“I still don’t understand how you can put up with that annoying tosser around all the time. If it were me, I would’ve moved back to the Burrow in a heartbeat.”

“Well,” Harry says, the memory of the two of them preparing dinner the other day fresh in his mind. “He’s not that bad, once you get used to him.”

“But why would you ever want to get used to him? That’s what I wanna know,” Ron insists.

“Yes, Harry,” Ginny adds, “that guy has never given us anything but trouble.”

“He saved my life once,” Harry feels inclined to point out.

“And you saved his right back,” Ron retorts. “Twice!”

“Well, yeah!” Harry says, agitation crawling through his limbs, making him clench his fists tightly. “We couldn’t just very well leave them to burn in the Fiendfyre, could we?”

“Why not?”

“Oh, don’t be crude,” Hermione cuts in, placing a hand on Ron’s forearm. “Of course we couldn’t. That’s not who we are.”

Ron frowns at her. “Have you forgotten he almost killed me once?”

“No, honey, but that mead wasn’t even meant for you, was it? And even if it were, why should it allow for you to stoop down to his level? We’re better than that, right?”

“Yeah, I guess,” Ron scowls. “Still…”

“So, Harry,” Luna says, her soft voice easily interrupting Ron’s train of thought. “What do you do when you’re together?”

“Er… We… talk, mostly.”

“You talk?” Ron scoffs, incredulous. “About what?”

“Well, I don’t know… Anything, really. Quidditch, Shakespeare…”

“You and the Ferret talk about Shakespeare?”

“Well, yeah,” Harry shrugs. “It’s not like I can talk about his plays with you, right? And he’s got a name, you know.”

“Don’t even start. He’ll always be Ferret Face to me.”

“And me,” Ginny says. “Godric, he was always such a poncy git. Bet he just sits around and expects to be treated like royalty, right?”

“No, he doesn’t.”

“No? Then what does he do?”

“Studies, mostly,” Harry shrugs, “and helps take care of Teddy.”

“You’re kidding me.”

“No, he’s actually really sweet with him. And Teddy seems to like him too. You know, he always goes blond when he hears Malfoy’s voice nearby.”

“Aw, that’s adorable,” Luna beams, her big blue eyes meeting Harry’s when he turns to her in surprise.

“Sorry?” Ginny says, eyes wide with disbelief. “You know you’re talking about the insufferable twat who had you locked in his cellar?”

“Well, technically he wasn’t the one holding us prisoner. He wasn’t even at home most of the time I was there. But when he was, he always made sure to come by and sneak us extra food and things. He even lent me a book once, when he thought I was bored. Quite thoughtful of him, actually.”

Her comment is followed by a long silence, everyone around the table trying to match Luna’s words with their own memories of the annoying boy they all used to loathe with a vengeance. Considering that even Harry — who’s recently started to get to know a new side of the man — has a hard time combining the two, the rest of them must be even worse off in their attempts.

“Well, I still think you’re crazy, mate,” Ron says eventually, shaking his head as he draws his wand to cast a Tempus.

“What time is it?” Neville asks, raising his bottle to take one last swig before it’s empty.

“Almost three,” Ron says, “I’d better be off. George asked me to cover for him tonight; he and Lee are catching the Wasps-Puddlemere match.”

“We’d better head back too,” Hermione says, kissing his cheek before reaching for her bag.

Harry stands up and puts on his jacket. “I’ll come with you, ‘Mione.”

“Well, I guess I’ll see you at the Burrow tomorrow then,” Ron says, extending his hand for Harry to shake.

“Yeah, absolutely,” Harry says, his smile just a little bit forced.

Even with close friends like these, an afternoon of socialising has taken its toll on him. He’s not used to it anymore and he feels like his head is about to explode from all the impressions and exchange of information. He’d rather go straight back home, but he’s had this idea prodding at the back of his mind for days and he can’t seem to shake it off.

They wait patiently out on the street while Ron and Hermione say their goodbyes, fiercely kissing while holding each other in a tight embrace.

No, Harry isn’t at all jealous. He’s merely stating the improbability of ever finding anyone for himself to have the same connection with. They’ve known each other for so long, the three of them, and they’ve been through so much together. Surely, no one will ever be able to know and accept Harry the way Ron and Hermione do each other.

When they finally head back to the castle, Ginny, Neville and Luna take the lead, leaving Harry and Hermione a few steps behind. The drizzle has abated and left the ground wet. The air is fresh and invigorating and Harry breathes it in hungrily. There’s a special scent to the Scottish air that he’s never experienced anywhere else, and it soothes him as he walks there in silence, the only sound the faint chatter from his friends ahead and the gravel crunching under his trainers.

“So, what are you doing back at the castle?” Hermione says when they reach the bend that offers them the first sight of the imposing building.

“I’m thinking I’ll pay a visit to McGonagall if she’s available. I haven’t really spoken to her since the end of the war… plus, someone just told me to not be a stranger.”

Harry glances over at his friend who’s walking beside him, exchanging a fond smile with her. She takes his hand and squeezes it affectionately, not letting go as their gazes return to the road before them.

“’Mione,” Harry says after another while, “do you happen to know of any spell that can connect two doors in different locations, making it easy for you to walk between one place and another?”

“Hmmm,” Hermione frowns, “I’m not sure, but I think I read something similar somewhere. Can’t remember where right now, but I can try to find it again if you want.”

“Thanks, ‘Mione. That’d be great.”

“No problem, I’ll look into it tomorrow right after I’ve finished my Transfigurations essay. What do you need it for anyway?”

“Nothing special. Just an idea I had.”

“Alright. I’ll owl you as soon as I find anything.”

“You’re the best, ‘Mione. You know that, right?”

“Yes, I know,” she smiles, squeezing his hand again before releasing it and quickening her steps to catch up with the others. As Harry looks their way, he can’t help smiling at the sight of Ginny and Neville’s joined hands.

— ¤ O ¤ —

Monday, 9 November 1998

How is this my life?

I guess I had it coming — karma and all that — but why? Why?

Why this torture of living under the same roof as that maddening, cheeky git? You would think I got to suffer enough of him during my Hogwarts years, but noooo.

It doesn ’t matter how much I try to avoid him, this cottage is much too small to make any attempt of avoidance successful for any longer period of time. Just now, for instance, when I was headed for my room to collect a textbook I had accidentally left on my dresser. Who walks out of the bathroom just as I was coming up the stairs? Yes, you guessed it; Harry Effing Potter. He didn’t even notice me at first — almost ran into me, the stupid tosser — busy as he was towelling his impossible mop of hair.

Lucky for me, at least this time he had remembered to put on one of his hideous muggle t-shirts. Unfortunately, it wasn ’t one of those old tent-sized garments he once used to wear, but rather a tight-fitting one that insisted on creeping up his torso as he flexed his arms, working the towel over his head. And if my eyes were drawn to that glimpse of flat tanned stomach he blatantly flashed in front of me? Well, I’m certainly not the one to blame, right?

Isn ’t my life miserable enough as it is?

I miss Blaise. I miss Theo. I even miss Pansy, insufferable bitch as she is. I miss Millie, and Daphne, and Greg, and … Vince.

No, I know I wasn ’t always the best of friends — I’m quite aware of how poorly I treated them from time to time, thank you. Please, don’t remind me — but they were still my friends.

I know I only have myself to blame for how things went between us, I was the one who distanced myself from them, after all. But I only did it to protect them. I know how I bragged about my close relationship with the Dark Lo Voldemort, how I feigned arrogance and entitlement to keep them at arm ’s length. Truth is, I just didn’t want them to get trapped in the same sticky mess I had found myself in.

I wonder what they would say if they found out I live with Potter now? They would probably expire from laughter. Yes, I can hear them now, their cackles echoing off the walls of the Slytherin common room. Ha-ha, very funny. Not.

Remind me again, how is this my life?

— ¤ O ¤ —

Malfoy’s bare feet really are as ice-cold as Harry suspected. This he learns in the harshest way possible the next Tuesday night.

The weather has been awful the whole day, rain pouring down and cold winds seeping through every possible cranny. When Malfoy joins Harry in the nursery just before midnight, Harry’s sitting sideways on the sofa, his back against the armrest and his legs stretched out under a blanket.

Malfoy stops in front of the sofa, silently glaring at Harry’s covered feet until Harry caves and retracts his legs to make room for Malfoy to sit down. When he does, he turns to sit facing Harry, lifting his feet up on the cushion between them and snaking them underneath the blanket.

“Fuck!” Harry exclaims as Malfoy’s toes accidentally graze his shins through his thin pyjama bottoms. “Your feet are bloody freezing!”

“You think I don’t know that?” Malfoy spits, looking pointedly towards the crib. Harry feels his cheeks heat up as he is reminded of Teddy’s presence and realises the much too high volume of his outburst.

“Sorry, I…”

“It’s not my fault the floors are cold enough to skate on.”

“No, but…” Harry says, deciding this is the perfect moment to ask the question that’s been lingering in his mind for ages. “What’s with the bare feet? Don’t you have any socks to put on if you’re feeling cold?”

“Salazar, give me strength…” Malfoy mutters. “No, you can’t wear socks with pyjamas, you imbecile, you just… But of course, you don’t know anything about that. Your fashion sense has never been anything but atrocious.”

Malfoy’s sneer is forcing Harry to fight back the burst of laughter threatening to escape his throat.

“You’ll let your toes turn into icicles for the sake of some nonsensical fashion rule?”

“Nonsensical fash…?” Malfoy sighs and shakes his head, exasperated. “Well, I left my slippers at the Manor and I’m not inclined to the idea of going back there to retrieve them.”

“So, socks are taboo but slippers are okay? Good to know,” Harry grins. “It’s amazing how much I can learn from you.”

Instead of answering, Malfoy just huffs and presses his feet firmly to Harry’s shins, the icy touch making Harry flinch.

“Okay, here’s what we’ll do,” Harry says, lifting the blanket away to the sound of Malfoy whining. His pout and puppy dog eyes are awfully distracting. “You’re gonna borrow my socks,” Harry says as he starts taking them off his own feet, “and then we’ll cover them with the blanket so no one can see you breaking that poncy pyjama dress code of yours.”

“No, you can’t possibly…” Malfoy starts, but Harry is already slipping one of his socks on Malfoy’s right foot and the built-in Warming Charm promptly shuts him up. Harry can feel Malfoy’s eyes on him but refuses to look up, focusing instead on getting the Gryffindor red woollen socks on those pale sinewy feet. Malfoy’s toes are nearly blue from the cold.

“There,” he says as he places Malfoy’s feet between the backrest and his own thighs, stretching out his own legs next to Malfoy’s and covering them both with the blanket. Only after he settles back against the armrest does he allow himself to look up to meet Malfoy’s incredulous stare.

“You alright?” Harry asks with a smirk when Malfoy still seems incapable of speaking several moments later.

“Eh, yes…” Malfoy frowns.

His confused look conveys another truth which Harry chooses to ignore for now.

“Good. Then I believe it’s my turn tonight, right?”

“Nice try,” Malfoy says, bumping his foot against Harry’s hip, “I believe you just had your go.”

Harry rolls his eyes and lets his head fall back, sighing as he sends a silent plea for patience towards the ceiling. “Fine.”

Malfoy waits for him to meet his gaze before he asks tonight’s question.

“Why did you decide to testify at the trial?”

“Because it was the right thing to do.”

“No, you can’t possibly mean that. My family’s been nothing but horrible to you, we deserved what was coming for us.”

“Would you rather have gone to Azkaban?”

“No, of course not, you annoying prat. I’m just saying you didn’t have to do it. So why did you?”

Harry shrugs, thinking of his godfather. “I know how that place can affect you. I saw Sirius after he got out. No one deserves that fate, not even your father.”

Harry looks over to the crib where Teddy is sleeping peacefully.

“Also, family is very important to me. I’m sure you feel the same, or you wouldn’t have done what you did during the war. I looked at this little boy, not even a month old and already an orphan. I’ve been there. I’ve been him. I can’t give him his parents back, but if I could give him a chance at a family, I wouldn’t hesitate.”

Harry sighs and shifts his gaze back to the blond man in front of him.

“Sure, I’m his godfather, but you’re his cousin. You and your mother are his family. I couldn’t bear the thought of depriving him of what little family he has left.”

“So, you did it for Teddy.”

It’s not a question, but Harry feels the need to reassure Malfoy anyway.

“Not just for Teddy.”

The corner of Malfoy’s mouth curves into an amused smirk.

“You know, Father had this idea that I’d managed to force you into witnessing on our behalf. That I’d somehow been able to blackmail you or something.”

“What? You’re kidding!” Harry says, slapping Malfoy’s shin teasingly without thinking.

“Ow!” Malfoy chuckles as he retaliates by bumping his foot into Harry’s hip again. “No, really. When we came back from the trial he literally wanted to thank me for helping him stay out of Azkaban. I haven’t seen him so impressed by anything I’ve done in years.”

Malfoy is practically preening and Harry’s got a pretty good idea of how much Malfoy always craved his father’s praise and attention. Surely, he’d jump at the chance of basking in Lucius’ appreciation.

“But, you didn’t…”

“No, I didn’t do it.” Malfoy rolls his eyes. “And that’s what I told him.”

Wait?

“You didn’t just let him believe that and take credit for it? It surely sounds like something you’d do.”

Malfoy’s eyes, steel grey in the bright moonlight, narrow to slits. He grits his teeth and averts his gaze to look out the window.

“I can see why you’d think that I would, but no, I didn’t.”

Just a few months ago Harry thought he knew all there was to know about this man. He had been studying him for years, analysing his every action, reading his every facial expression. He had been able to spot every trace of deception and detect any signs of malicious plotting. Now though, the more they talk, Harry gets the unsettling feeling there’s a lot more to this man that he needs to discover if he ever wants to know who the real Draco Malfoy is.

And however much of an enigma the younger Malfoy is, his father has always been an even trickier one to solve.

“But… How could he even think that I’d ever let myself be—”

“Don’t you know anything about us Slytherins?” Malfoy sighs, training his vibrant eyes on Harry with an accusatory glare. “Alright, listen. According to my father, no person is ever willing to do something nice or thoughtful for someone else without either having an ulterior motive or unless they’re bought. So, when trying to understand why you did what you did, this was the only explanation he could come up with that made any sense to him. Me manipulating you was the perfect answer. Not only did it solve his problem, but at the same time it made his son into a cunning mastermind — someone he could finally be proud of.”

In some twisted way, Malfoy’s words made sense, at least more sense than Malfoy refusing to accept his father’s praise.

“But you told him he was wrong?”

“Yes,” Malfoy smirks, his already straight posture somehow managing to radiate even more pride than usual. “First time I’ve ever spoken up to him since my temper tantrum toddler days.”

An image of a spoiled three-year-old Malfoy lying on the floor howling enters Harry’s mind and he can’t help grinning at the sight.

“Wow, I’m impressed.”

The shy smile grazing Malfoy’s lips is something Harry’s never seen before — and paired with the rosy blush spreading over his high cheekbones it’s downright mesmerising. Mouth suddenly dry, Harry clears his throat and prods Malfoy’s hip with his bare toes under the blanket.

“So, you told him off because of me?”

“Oh, come off it,” Malfoy retorts, his harsh words belied by the humour glittering in his eyes. “Not everything is about you.”

“You sure make it sound like it,” Harry snickers and waggles his eyebrows in Malfoy’s direction, earning himself an amused glare.

“No, you cocky git, you were just the last straw. I had been saving up for that fight for years.”

“Years?”

“Yes. Years.”

— ¤ O ¤ —

Every Friday evening after dinner, Andromeda leaves the cottage for the newly founded war orphans’ charity, Lumos. Considering they’ve only been around for less than a handful of months, it’s impressive what they’ve already been able to achieve together. Their first priority at the beginning was obviously to locate and arrange new homes to those orphans left without parents after the dust settled. Pretty soon though, Lumos’ mission expanded to also include counselling and social events for those witches and wizards who’ve lost children and other relatives in the war.

Harry supports the charity, of course, pouring more Galleons in its coffers than anyone ever dare ask for. One day he might be able to offer his own time and commitment too, as Andromeda does, but for now, his only contribution to Lumos’ volunteer work consists of taking care of Teddy on Friday nights so Andromeda can join the weekly get-togethers Lumos arrange in their Diagon Alley headquarters for grieving survivors in need of company and support.

Until now, Harry and Malfoy have preferred to stay away from each other on these Friday evenings, alternating Teddy-care between them every other week while the other hides away in another part of the house. Tonight though, Harry has another plan for the both of them and he hopes Malfoy will be willing to participate since Harry is quite sure his attendance will make the evening so much more entertaining.

“Any plans for tonight?” Harry asks as soon as Andromeda’s out the door.

He’s on the floor with Teddy, watching him try to crawl his way towards the armchair in which Malfoy is sitting with a book in his lap.

“Nothing special. Why?”

Harry can hear the frown furrowing Malfoy’s brows even though he keeps his eyes firmly on the baby.

“I was thinking we could watch a movie if you want to.”

“A what?”

“A movie. Remember we talked about it last week when you were doing that crossword?”

“Yes, I do remember. Long photos with sound, right?”

“Yes,” Harry chuckles, “long photos with sound.”

“Why?”

“Why not? I thought you maybe wanted to try it.”

“And what is this story you want us to watch?”

Harry shrugs, trying to act casual even though he’s fairly sure he has no idea what he’s doing, much less why.

“You can choose if you like. I went by the video store the other day and picked up a whole bunch of them. Asked for Shakespeare related ones since I thought you’d like that. Got a pretty decent spread, I think.”

Malfoy chooses Othello, the newest version with Laurence Fishburne in the title role. As Malfoy takes Teddy upstairs for the night, Harry prepares the VCR and goes into the kitchen to make some popcorn. ‘You can’t have movie night without popcorn,’ the salesgirl in the video store had said. Harry doesn’t know if that’s true, he’s never been to a movie night before, but he remembers making popcorn for Dudley every Friday before being sent to bed so Harry guesses she’s probably right.

The maize seeds have been popping merrily for a couple of minutes when Malfoy comes barging down the stairs.

“What the fuck are you doing, Potter?” he cries, stopping in the doorway, panting, his silver-grey eyes wide and his cheeks rosy.

“I’m popping popcorn,” Harry says, unable to take his eyes off of the shaken man before him. There are blond locks astray from his usual hairdo, falling in front of his face, and Harry wants to run his fingers through them and tuck them behind his ear. In the light from the kitchen lamp, they look soft as silk.

“Po-pi-pop-corn?” Malfoy echoes, his shrill voice making Harry blink. “Potter, you make no sense at all. And stop that fucking noise, for Salazar’s sake. I can’t think with this incessant cracking going on.”

“Oh, come off it, Malfoy. I’m making popcorn. They’ll be ready in just a few minutes.”

“Popcorn?”

“Yeees? You’ve had popcorn before, haven’t you?”

“Of course,” Malfoy spats. “I didn’t know you had to kill them first, though.”

Harry laughs at what he hopes is a witty joke and not a sign of complete ignorance.

“Here, come have a look if you want. It’s nothing dangerous.”

He waves Malfoy over to the stove so he can look down through the glass lid at the mass of white fluffy popcorn making their way up towards the brim. Malfoy approaches reluctantly, too curious and proud to refuse Harry’s challenging invitation.

“So, they just… pop? From the heat?” Malfoy frowns while leaning over Harry’s shoulder watching as Harry pours the popcorn into a big bowl.

“Yeah, basically,” Harry shrugs, reaching for the salt shaker. “If you want, we can do it together next week.”

“N-next week?”

“Yeah, if you want to see how it works.”

“Oh. Alright.”

“So,” Harry says, taking the bowl in both hands and turning around to face the blond. He’s standing so close Harry nearly shoves the bowl straight into Malfoy’s chest before the man reacts and takes a quick step back. “Are you ready to watch your first movie?”

“As ready as I’ll ever be, I suppose,” Malfoy says, a hint of that enticing blush back on his cheeks again. Harry does his best to ignore it.

“Good. Then, let’s do this.”

— ¤ O ¤ —

Watching Malfoy watching his first-ever movie is way more fascinating than watching the movie itself. Harry finds his eyes drawn to the man beside him almost as often as his hand reaches for another handful of popcorn from the bowl seated between them, i.e. often. Harry suspects he’s slowly becoming addicted. To popcorn, that is. Nothing else.

While Harry slouches with his feet propped up on the sofa table, head low enough to lean against the top of the backrest, Malfoy is sitting at rapt attention, his feet firmly on the floor and his back straight as an arrow. At times, Harry’s sorely tempted to remind the man to breathe, immersed as he is in the story unfolding before his eyes.

Most intriguing is watching Malfoy’s facial expressions, how all those tiny muscles in his features are constantly reacting to everything happening on the screen. The flinches at any high or unexpected sound; the frowns, scowls and smirks induced by the movie’s changing moods; and amongst all that, those captivating lips moving subtly in sync with the characters’ as soon as they utter any line Malfoy has memorised from his previous readings of the play.

Harry supposes he should be used to this by now, sharing a sofa with Malfoy. Yet, sitting next to Malfoy on the sofa here by the telly is nothing like sitting with him on their sofa upstairs. Especially when the main character of the film you’re watching together suddenly finds himself in bed with his wife, and Harry’s body starts to suggest crazy things.

— ¤ O ¤ —

“Didn’t that man who played Iago look a lot like Professor Lockhart?”

Movie over, they’ve moved to the kitchen. Harry still needs his night cup if he wants to catch any sleep at all, and Malfoy has apparently, for some unknown reason, decided to keep him company while it steeps. Granted, not without his usual nagging about the idiocy of drinking tea just before going to bed. According to him, all scientific studies show tea has prominent energising qualities, even more so than caffeine. Harry doesn’t care, he just needs it.

Malfoy’s chattering has slowly been melting Harry’s brain, and now he wants to talk about Lockhart?

“He did? I didn’t notice.”

“Yes, he did. Come on, just imagine Iago with longer hair? Blonder, wavier? Flamboyant clothes in atrocious colours?”

“Yeah, maybe. Huh, I’d nearly forgotten about Lockhart.”

“You know what we used to call him?”

There’s a mischievous sparkle in Malfoy’s silvery eyes, and Harry wants to… Harry has no idea what he wants to do.

“No. But please, do tell.”

“Cockfart,” Malfoy sniggers, and Harry can’t stop the laugh bursting out of him. “Not within earshot from the girls, of course, but… You know, Blaise almost slipped once, in class. Caught himself just in time not to say it straight to his face.”

“Oh, Godric! You’re kidding me,” Harry pants as soon as the laughter subsides.

“I most certainly am not.”

That amused smirk and those glittering eyes… Tea! Yes. That’s why we’re here. Okay focus, Harry.

Harry’s hands don’t shake at all while he pours his tea. Not enough to notice anyway. He avoids looking at Malfoy as he walks over to the table, sitting down with his eyes firmly fixed on the garden outside. It’s not like he’s oblivious or anything. He knows he’s attracted to Malfoy, has been for quite some time, if truth be told. He also knows his attraction is futile, that he’d better try to get over it before he’s in too deep, but he can’t help it. It’s just—

“You know he was a Ravenclaw, right?” Malfoy murmurs from across the table.

“Huh? Lockhart?”

“Well, yes, but… no, Shakespeare.”

Harry blinks. Shakespeare was a wizard?

“Really?” he says, turning to face Malfoy.

“You didn’t know?” Malfoy smirks, awfully pleased to have been able to surprise Harry with this new piece of Shakespeare trivia. “There’s even a very persistent rumour he’s the one who came up with their house motto.”

Wit beyond measure is man’s greatest treasure?”

“That’s the one.”

Oh, Merlin, that’s priceless.

The laughter rushing out of Harry’s mouth is neither cute nor dignified. Rather, it’s actually more of a snorting outburst the kind of which you only produce when you’re really tired and therefore unable to avoid embarrassing yourself.

At least, he’s just swallowed his mouthful of tea or he’d be spraying it all over Malfoy… And the mental image that thought provokes — Malfoy scowling, drenched in tea, drops of liquid dripping from the tip of his nose — sends Harry into another fit of giggles that causes a stitch in his side.

“That sounds like something he’d write alright,” he pants as soon as his lungs allow. “Oh, William, you filthy bastard.”

Malfoy just looks at him, his expression clearly stating Harry just crossed the line to complete lunatic.

Doesn ’t he know? How can he not know? Oh, good Godric…

“You know, wit was a pretty well-used euphemism in those days?”

Malfoy frowns. “No? For what?”

“Er…” Cock? Prick? Penis? “Willy?”

“No!” Malfoy’s eyes go comically wide as his jaw drops. “You’re having me on, right?”

“No.” Harry shakes his head and snickers, still short of breath from before. “Wish I was, but no.”

Wit beyond measure is man’s greatest treasure… Holy hell, suddenly that phrase takes on a whole new meaning.”

“Doesn’t it?”

Malfoy’s laughter is warm and deep, the sound of it making Harry’s whole body tingle.

— ¤ O ¤ —

“May I ask?” Malfoy inquires one night.

It’s raining outside, the merciless downpour smattering against the windowpanes nearly drowning Malfoy’s voice. Harry has brought up tea for them tonight, and up until now, they’ve both been sipping it in silence.

“Sure,” Harry says, cradling his cup in his hands as he watches the wind wrenching the last leaves from the maple. “I believe it was your turn anyway.”

“At the trial… In your testimony, you said… You told them about that night in the Astronomy Tower.” Harry nods, trying to figure out where this is going. “How… How did you know? Who told you what happened?”

Ah.

“No one did,” Harry says, glancing over at Malfoy when he feels those grey eyes watching him. “I was there.”

“You were…? No,” Malfoy shakes his head, “you were not. I would have noticed.”

“I was under the Invisibility Cloak. You couldn’t have seen me.”

“But…” Malfoy frowns, “If you were, then why didn’t you try to stop us?”

“Believe me, I would have, if…” Harry grits his teeth at the memory, he can still feel the frustration crawling through his limbs whenever he thinks about that night. “Well, I was petrified.”

“Fear hasn’t stopped you before?”

It takes a second for Harry to catch on.

“No, not scared, petrified — Petrificus Totalus, petrified.”

“By whom?”

“By Dumbledore.” Malfoy’s eyes widen in surprise. “He didn’t want me to interfere.”

Malfoy shakes his head in disbelief. “You make it sound like he knew what was going to happen.”

“He did. He’d planned it for months.”

“No,” Malfoy breathes. “He couldn’t have. No one plans his own death. That’s absurd.”

“They can; if they know it’s coming anyway.”

“What do you mean?”

“When it happened, Dumbledore had already been sick for months, affected by a curse that couldn’t be cured. And instead of withering away, as the pragmatic strategist he was, he chose to use his own death for a higher cause.”

“I don’t…” Malfoy’s pale brows furrow over pained eyes the same colour as the stormy sky outside. “How?”

Harry shifts on the sofa, turning towards Malfoy and crossing his legs in front of him. “You know Snape was a spy, right?”

“Yes,” Malfoy grits out. “I still can’t believe how Dumbledore didn’t see through him.”

Harry can’t help smirking. “No, the other way around. Snape was a spy for the Order of the Phoenix. He was on our side.”

“What?” Malfoy gasps, turning towards Harry, eyes wide as saucers. “No. He couldn’t be. What makes you say that?”

“I watched his memories,” Harry says, willing Malfoy to understand. “The night he died, Snape gave me his memories for me to watch. He wanted me to know the truth.”

“And the truth was…”

“…that he was a spy. Dumbledore’s spy. And that Dumbledore’s death was a set-up, orchestrated by himself to serve the cause.”

“A set-up? You mean, he didn’t die?”

“Oh, yes, he died alright,” Harry sighs, his gaze wandering over to the crib as he fights off the impending tears. “But, he asked Snape to do it. Or rather, ordered him to. Snape didn’t want to, but Dumbledore made him.”

“Why?” Malfoy whispers.

“To help Snape gain Voldemort’s unquestioned trust.” From the corner of his eye, Harry sees Malfoy’s chest heave with a sudden inhale. “After Voldemort’s return, some Death Eaters, like your aunt Bellatrix, had started to doubt Snape’s allegiances. By killing Dumbledore, he proved to Voldemort that he was still a loyal follower.”

In the following silence, for the first time since the war, Harry allows his mind to dwell on Snape. Before, the mere thought of his old Potions Professor has always come with a flood of conflicted feelings, but now, in Malfoy’s company, Harry forces himself to ponder Snape’s fate and his role in the war objectively.

Imagining himself in Snape’s place is nearly impossible, dedicating his whole life to a fight in which those he always remained loyal to were never willing or able to trust him. He must have felt so alone, so estranged — no wonder he always appeared so bitter and resentful.

“But…?” Malfoy says eventually, “Snape was a Death Eater, already in the first war. If he joined Dumbledore… what made him switch sides? Do you know?”

“Yes,” Harry says, closing his eyes as he wonders how Malfoy will take his next words. “He switched sides because of my mother.”

“Your mother?” Malfoy’s high-pitched question compels Harry to open his eyes and turn his gaze back to the blond man before him.

“Yes, my mother.” Harry’s lips curve into a sad smile at the thought of Snape’s memories of the young Lily Evans. “They were friends once, years before Hogwarts, and as they got older she became the object of his eternal and unrequited love.”

“Snape loved your mother?”

The sceptical frown is back, creating a deep line between Malfoy’s neat eyebrows.

“Yes, apparently he did,” Harry says. “Did you ever see his Patronus?”

“The doe?”

“Yes, the doe. Same as my mother’s.” Harry clears his throat and takes a sip of his tea before continuing. “I don’t know how much you know about Patronuses, but they’re said to take the form of your true inner self. They also say that true love can affect your Patronus, making it change to reflect the one of your beloved.”

“I-I didn’t know that.”

“Didn’t think you did,” Harry smiles and looks over to the window, noticing the heavy rainfall seems to have abated into a light drizzle.

“Thank you for telling me,” Malfoy murmurs after another moment of silence.

“Well, it’s only fair,” Harry shrugs. “After what happened, you should know the truth.”

“Did you know he was my godfather?”

“No.” The corner of Harry’s mouth curves before he adds, “Did you know your cousin was mine?”

“Only by rumour.”

“Well, he was.”

“And now you’re Teddy’s.”

“Yeah.” Harry smiles and watches the sleeping baby in the crib. “And you’re his cousin.”

“Yes, I am.”

Harry doesn’t need to look at Malfoy to know that he’s smiling too.

— ¤ O ¤ —

Hermione’s owl arrives the next day and Harry groans out loud when he reads her letter.

Of course! That ’s the obvious solution, isn’t it? How utterly ironic.

It takes almost two whole days and innumerable back and forth Apparitions to set it up and make sure everything works properly. It’s tedious work — not to mention, highly frustrating at times — but triggered by his self-imposed mission, Harry plunges into his task with abandon, driven by more purpose and motivation than he has experienced in a very long time. He has always loved a good challenge, and when it’s for a good cause, even more so.

When Harry goes to fetch him, Malfoy is on all fours on the sitting room floor. Below him, Teddy is laying on his back, giggling merrily to the faces Malfoy’s making. At the unexpected sight, Harry stops abruptly in his tracks, bracing himself with a hand on the doorframe as he takes in the two of them. Malfoy’s cheeks are rosy with excitement and he’s giggling, a light sparkling sound Harry’s never heard before and is most enthralling. Those blond locks have fallen in front of his face again, so long now they’re actually grazing Teddy’s forehead as Malfoy leans over the baby.

Harry’s mouth goes dry as Malfoy reaches down to blow a raspberry on Teddy’s tummy, those tight jeans leaving little to the imagination as they stretch against the man’s well-rounded arse. Swallowing hard, Harry forces his gaze back to the currently platinum blond baby who’s waving his tiny little hands in an attempt to grab at Malfoy’s fringe.

Someone clears their throat and it’s only then that Harry notices Andromeda sitting in her armchair just a few feet away from the unusual scene on the floor. Her eyes are glittering as they meet Harry’s and he blushes as an amused smile curves her lips.

From the corner of his eye, Harry watches Malfoy tilting his head to look up at Andromeda and as Malfoy follows her gaze, Harry wills his features into a somewhat casual expression.

“Having fun?”

“What do you want, Potter?” Malfoy sneers.

Only a few months ago, Harry would’ve read it as animosity. Now, however, he can easily detect the insecurity and embarrassment Malfoy’s hostile reaction is trying to hide.

Has this always been the secret to Malfoy ’s malicious behaviour? How could I’ve been so blind not to realise it before?

Harry shrugs, noncommittally. “Just wanted to show you something. But since you’re busy, I might as well…”

Malfoy narrows his eyes, clearly suspicious. “What did you want to show me?”

“Oh, nothing special. Just something for you that I’ve been working on.”

“For me?” One blond eyebrow creases his forehead.

“Yeah, but if you don’t—”

“Andromeda?”

“Yes, Draco?” the woman says, hiding a suppressed smile behind her teacup.

“Would you mind keeping an eye on Teddy for a moment?”

“Of course not. Have fun,” she says, waving him away with an elegant flick of her wrist.

As Malfoy stands and turns his back towards her, she gives Harry a wink. She knows about Harry’s project and she supports it fully, even agreeing to let him empty the cupboard under the stairs for him to use as one of the focal points.

Malfoy follows Harry out into the hallway, his curious gaze prickling at the nape of Harry’s neck. As Harry stops in front of the narrow white door and turns to face him, he is met by a questioning frown.

Harry reaches for the handle and opens the door. “Okay, so just allow me a couple of minutes to adjust the wards to let you in.”

“And then what?”

“Then, go into the cupboard and close the door behind you.”

“You want me to hide in a cupboard with you?” Malfoy says, his voice a little strained. “I sincerely hope this isn’t some weird version of Seven Minutes in Heaven, Potter, cause I’m not about to kiss you however much you beg.”

Oh holy fuck, why are you doing this to me?

Harry can feel his cheeks burning, a flush creeping up his throat as he fights the enticing images Malfoy’s words provoke.

“No, of course not,” he says, his voice faint as he turns abruptly before Malfoy notices his awkwardness. “When you go in, the cupboard will be empty, I promise.” He enters the cupboard and turns around to close the door. “Just give me five minutes, okay?”

“Alright…” Malfoy says, still dubious.

The cupboard is dark and cramped, the air inside still dusty despite all the Cleaning Charms he’s cast. Harry tries not to think about his old cupboard at the Dursleys, focusing instead on why he’s doing this, and for whom.

After only a few seconds, the air shifts around him and one cupboard is replaced with another. As soon as the world stabilises again Harry bursts out the door into the murky hallway of 12 Grimmauld Place.

Fixing the wards to allow Malfoy through will not take more than a minute, but Harry is in dire need of some time alone to compose himself before Malfoy joins him. The sight of Malfoy on his hands and knees, giggling and flaunting his arse like that, was more than enough to get him half hard. And then Malfoy had started talking about kissing… Fuck.

Not now, Harry, focus. You ’ve got a job to do.

— ¤ O ¤ —

“What the fuck, Potter?” Malfoy cries even before he opens the black cupboard door.

Harry, who is waiting for Malfoy on the other side, flinches from his sudden outburst.

“Shhh…” he hisses with a racing heart, “keep it down, will you? Or you’ll wake up Walburga.”

“Who?” Malfoy asks sharply as he steps out in the dimly lit hallway, a deep frown on his face and his grey eyes sharp as needles as they fixate on Harry.

“Walburga, the malicious portrait down the hall,” Harry whispers. “We don’t want to set her off, believe me.”

“Okay…?” Malfoy says, not even trying to hide his opinion of Harry’s dubious mental state.

Malfoy closes his eyes and inhales deeply, most likely counting down mentally before letting out a long slow sigh while giving Harry a pained look of forced patience. With a cool voice and crisp enunciation he continues.

“Two things, Potter. Firstly, would you please be so kind as to inform me of where the hell you’ve brought me? And secondly, in which fucked up reality did you think it a good idea to let me step into a bloody Vanishing Cabinet?”

That voice… Oh, dear Merlin It sends fucking shivers down Harry’s spine.

“Okay, so just… please, hear me out, okay?” Harry says. “We’re at 12 Grimmauld Place, the former residence of the Black family — your ancestors — and I brought you here to show you something I’ve been working on. Something I think you’ll like.”

“Well, I guess we’ll see about that. And?”

“And, I’m sorry if I had you enter the cupboard without telling you about its special features. But honestly, would you have come voluntarily if I’d told you beforehand?”

“Of course not, you stupid wanker. I thought you knew that I’ve had enough of Vanishing Cabinets to last me a lifetime.”

“In all fairness, isn’t this more like a Vanishing Cupboard?” Harry winks with a lopsided grin, aiming for cute innocence.

“Muggle, No-Maj. Same shit, different name,” Malfoy grumbles.

“Anywaaay… Now that you’re here, will you at least let me show you—”

“But, why—”

“I promise, when you see it, you’ll understand why I…” Harry trails off, gesturing vaguely towards the black-polished cupboard door.

“Ah, well… It can’t hurt, I guess. Just get on with it, will you? I have other things I need to do today.”

“Of course,” Harry says, certainly not thinking about what Malfoy had been doing when Harry walked in on him and Teddy on the floor just minutes ago. “Follow me.”

Harry takes Malfoy upstairs, towards the room he’s secretly been putting together for over a week. He knows Malfoy will like it — of course, he will — and yet Harry’s strangely nervous about how the man will react. And apparently, a nervous Harry equals a babbling Harry.

“I inherited the house from my godfather when he died. It used to be the Order’s headquarters during the war, but now it’s just… And I can’t really stand the place, to be honest… Too many memories, you know… Yeah, of course you know, I’m sorry, I just… Well, Sirius and his brother grew up here, so… I guess Andromeda and your mother used to visit here when they were younger… Since they’re cousins, I mean… Well, here we are…”

Harry stops in front of the door, uncertain about how to proceed. As he turns to look at Malfoy, the man looks more bewildered than anything else and Harry chooses to take this as a good sign. At least he’s not angry anymore.

“Why don’t you just…” Harry says, moving aside and gesturing towards the door. “I think I’ve thought of everything, but if there’s anything missing just let me know, okay?”

Harry offers an awkward smile which only serves to deepen Malfoy’s confused frown.

“Alright, I’ll just shut up now, just… go inside, will you?”

Malfoy approaches the door with caution, sending Harry a dubious glance as he takes the doorknob and turns it. As soon as the door is open, Malfoy stops in his tracks and lets out a gasp, his eyes widening to take in the sight before him.

The fading autumn sun lights up the room from two large windows in the opposite wall, its rays making the polish gleam on the workbenches that line the room. Against the wall to the left, three huge glass-fronted cabinets stand side by side, jam-packed with Potions ingredients of every possible kind, and in the middle of the floor, a big work table for brewing offers space for at least six cauldrons to be used side by side. Over the workbench opposite the windows, a long shelf in stainless steel hangs on the wall, weighed down by a wide range of cauldrons, scales and mortars in various sizes and materials.

“What the ever-loving fuck…” Malfoy eventually breathes, and Harry needs to bite his bottom lip and stuff his hands in his pockets to keep himself from jumping with joy, the satisfaction of rendering Malfoy speechless making it almost impossible not to.

Malfoy has yet to enter the room though, still standing in the doorway shaking his head, incredulous. Harry walks up to him and places his palm lightly on the small of Malfoy’s back, gently pushing him through the door and into the lab.

“You said you wished you were able to brew, so… I just thought…”

“Potter…? You can’t be serious…” Malfoy murmurs as he starts walking through the room, taking everything in.

“Why not?” Harry shrugs, even though Malfoy doesn’t see it. “I have all this space. I don’t use it. Thought I might as well…”

Stopping in front of the ingredients’ cabinets, Malfoy turns around and trains his grey eyes on Harry’s. They’re filled with emotion and shining in the evening sun, almost as if tears were threatening to roll down his cheeks any second. “And you’d let me come here to…?”

“Yes, Malfoy,” Harry says with a reassuring smile. “I mean, why else would I set it up? It’s not like I’m gonna be using it myself anytime soon, right?”

“Right.” Malfoy returns to his inspection, closely examining a set of silver knives hanging on a wall next to a jar of stirring rods.

“Anyway,” Harry says a couple of minutes later when the silence has been gnawing at him for far too long, “that’s why I set up the Vanishing Cupboard. So you would be able to go back and forth despite your bracelet. And now the wards are set to allow you, you can come here whenever you like.”

“You’d trust me to come here alone?”

“Yeah, why shouldn’t I?”

“Why should you? I’ve never given you any reason to trust me.”

“Well, I do.”

“Er… alright.”

Malfoy picks a blue glass rod from the jar and holds it up to the light.

“So, who else has access to this place, anyway? I figure most people in your crowd wouldn’t take it too lightly if they happened to run into me unexpectedly.”

His demeanour is casual, as are his words, but Harry senses the caution in his question.

“You don’t have to worry about that. This house is under a Fidelius Charm, with me as the Secret-Keeper. Apart from the ancient house-elf Kreacher, you and I are the only ones who can reach it, so… You should be safe.”

Malfoy closes his eyes and turns his back to Harry, leaning against the bench with both hands gripping the edge.

“Potter, I…” His head falls forward, the blond locks swaying as he shakes it slowly. “I-I don’t know what to say.”

The corners of Harry’s mouth curl into a pleased smile. “How about ‘Thank you?”

Malfoy’s shoulders twitch and Harry thinks it might be a sign the man is amused by his answer.

“Alright, Potter.” Malfoy takes a deep breath and straightens up, turning around to meet Harry’s eyes once more. “Thank you. Honestly, you don’t know how much—”

“You’re welcome,” Harry says, cutting Malfoy off before the lump stuck in his throat grows any bigger. “Now come on, I have a dinner to prepare and I could really use some help with the potatoes if you don’t mind.”

— ¤ O ¤ —

Chapter Text

I would not wish, Any companion in the world but you.
— Miranda (The Tempest)

— ¤ O ¤ —

Thursday, 19 November 1998

I tortured myself today, going back and rereading bits and pieces of all the seven and a half years ’ worth of drivel I have bothered you with since that day when you came into my life.

It is embarrassing really, just how much of it that seems to be dedicated to him. I wonder if there is even one entry written between your covers that doesn ’t mention him at all? (There probably is, but there sure as hell aren’t many.) I’m utterly mortified by this blatant evidence of how entirely my life has revolved around him — since before I even met him that first time.

It hasn ’t always felt like it does now, of course not. In the beginning, it was mostly curiosity for the boy I had heard so much about, and a strong desire to be his friend. Then, those years of resentment and loathing, and I still can’t say what it was that eventually made that turn into… this. It just did. And there was no way for me to help it — much less, stop it.

And, oh, how I ’ve tried to stop it. To resist it. To deny it. To overcome it. To quell it. I know it’s futile, pining for a man I could never have, but there’s nothing to it. I can tell myself I don’t like him. I can tell myself I don’t care. And then he gives me one of those quirky smiles, and I’m gone.

I ’m fully aware he is straight. And I know that even if he wasn’t he would never look at me that way. I’m his school nemesis, his arch-rival. We fought on different sides of the war, for Salazar’s sake. And I have done so many horrible things whilst he is the Golden Hero — the epitome of goodness and greatness.

Why does he have to be so adorable when he smiles? Why does he have to be so sweet with Teddy? Why does he have to be so frustratingly forgiving? Why does he have to be so funny? And caring? And humble? And so effing fit? Why does he have to be so perfect?

My life would be so much easier if he wasn ’t. It would be so much easier to fall out of love with resist him if he wasn ’t. Oh Merlin, I don’t even know how much longer I can keep this up without succumbing.

But I have to. I can ’t give this up. Even if the yearning nips at my heart with every minute in his presence, I can never give it up. Not now, when I have been invited into his life. Not now, when he has finally offered me that precious olive branch and gifted me with a chance to get to know him. For real, this time.

I would never risk the chance of his friendship for the safety of my own sanity. Maybe, I should. I just don ’t think I would be capable of doing it, even if I wanted to.

— ¤ O ¤ —

As December draws closer, Harry and Malfoy fall into a strange routine of dinner preparations, cordial interactions, heated daytime bickering and sincere nighttime conversations. Granted, their bickering has turned less vitriolic lately, more resembling teasing banter than anything else.

“Golden Boy?”

“No!”

“But—”

“No!”

“Alright… So how about The Chosen One?”

“Please don’t. Why are you even—”

“The Boy Who Lived?”

“Do you want me to smother you?”

“Maybe?” … “Oh, relax, will you? I’m just kidding.” … “Scarhead?”

“Why, Malfoy? What’s wrong with Potter?”

“Oh, I know! Pot-head!”

“Again, what’s wrong with Potter?”

“Potter’s getting old.”

“You know, people also call me Harry on occasion.”

“Oh, now you’re just being silly. As if I’d ever call you that.”

“Why not? It is my name, after all.”

“As if you’d ever call me Draco?”

“I could call you Draco.”

“Don’t.”

“Why not? Would you rather I call you Dray?”

“No!”

“Your Highness?” … “Princess Malfoy?” … “Ferret Face?”

“Don’t you dare! Fine! Potter it is.”

“Alright, Malfoy. Glad we had this talk.”

As the days go on, Harry soon realises he wants to learn everything about Malfoy; every tiny little secret, every quirk and penchant, every weakness and insecurity. And the more Harry learns, the harder it gets to keep from imagining the two of them together in a… let’s say, less platonic way.

Which is really confusing. Surely, it isn’t normal to suddenly find yourself attracted to someone who’s hated you forever? Harry can’t help it, though. Just as he craves to explore every unknown fact about Malfoy’s life and personality, he has started to crave for a chance to also explore every enticing part of Malfoy’s gorgeous body; every sharp angle, every smooth curve, every lithe limb, and every inch of that perfect porcelain skin.

But — seeing as his infatuation is most certainly futile considering the identity of the man he’s lusting for — Harry has settled for the chance of becoming his friend, of gaining his trust and confidence. And with every night, Harry comes closer to knowing the real Malfoy; the intriguing and complex person that, for all Harry knows, may actually have been hiding behind that arrogant exterior the whole time.

Harry’s pretty sure they still withhold certain things from one another, that both of them have things they’re not ready to share yet — Harry certainly has — but at the same time he’s equally sure they both honour their agreed truth or nothing rule. They’ve just become really good at walking that tightrope of giving each other truthful answers without exposing too much of those delicate topics of which they’re still too hesitant to share.

“When did you learn how to cook?”

“I… I don’t know… four or five I think?”

Five years old?

“Yes, Aunt Petunia taught me. Could cook pretty much anything she requested once I was old enough to go to Hogwarts.”

“Really? That’s ambitious.”

“Well, I guess… Didn’t like it that much, though… until I started helping Molly in the kitchen.”

“Molly? You mean Mrs Weasley?”

“Yeah. She’s a fabulous cook.” … “You should come with me for Sunday dinner sometime.”

“Don’t think so.”

“Why not? I’m sure you’d be welcome if I asked.”

“Sure. And I’m a purple Hippogriff.”

“Oh, come on. They’re practically my family.”

“As if my family would be overjoyed if I invited you for dinner at the Manor?”

“Point taken.”

“Well, I’m glad you enjoy it.”

“What?”

“Cooking.”

“You like my food?”

“Oh, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I like…“

“You like my food.”

“Ah, shut up. And do wipe that grin off your face, it doesn’t suit you.”

“You like my food.”

“Oh, for Salazar’s sake…”

Harry wants to say that they’re just conducting some kind of casual friendly teasing, but if he’s honest, it’s starting to feel more and more like flirting. Although, since Harry hasn’t had too much experience with those kinds of things, he can’t be sure if that’s really the case or if he’s just imagining it. And before he’s sure, Harry’s not willing to jeopardise the tentative friendship that’s slowly forming between them.

To make Harry’s dilemma even worse, there’s also this other thing. A new insight that Harry’s gained during their past few weeks together; Malfoy’s apparently a very tactile person.

After that time when Harry let Malfoy borrow his socks, Malfoy’s taken to seating himself in a position that allows for body contact between them almost every night. With his cold feet as an excuse, he seeks out Harry’s body heat, more often than not ending up with his bare toes pressing against Harry’s hip or thigh. Or, as on one occasion, even wedged between the sofa cushion and Harry’s arse.

It gets even more alarming once this new Malfoy trait starts to express itself not only in the nursery but in other parts of the cottage as well, like the kitchen. A lightly placed hand on Harry’s back as Malfoy stretches out around him for something out of reach; a chin on Harry’s shoulder as he leans over to inspect a sauce simmering in its pan; a teasing bump of hip against hip to shove Harry aside and make room to open the cutlery drawer.

These incidents are never mentioned between them, but the goosebumps Malfoy’s casual touches evoke on Harry’s skin, or the electric tendrils they trigger along his spine, makes Harry want to… argh, he doesn’t know what, exactly, but something. He wants to do something. Something drastic. And little by little, Harry’s starting to fear that one day he won’t be able to resist.

To distract himself, he focuses on savouring all those precious tidbits of information Malfoy treats him with during their nighttime sessions in the nursery. They’re not always pleasant memories and tales of humorous pranks. More often than not, even the most lighthearted conversation contains little hints and glimpses of a more sombre truth.

“So, how was it growing up at the Manor? I bet it was—”

“Lonely… mostly.”

“Oh?”

“No, don’t get me wrong. My parents loved me and always made sure I had everything I ever wanted. But living on that large estate, in the middle of nowhere — it’s not like I had a lot of other children to play with. I think the first child I ever met was Theo — Theodore Nott? — when he came over with his parents one day.”

“And how old were you then?”

“I remember I’d just gotten my first broom, so… about five?”

“What? You never met another child until you were five?”

“Yes, you twat. I believe that’s what I said.”

“So, before that, you only played with your parents?”

“My parents? Play? No, of course not.”

“They left you to play by yourself?”

“Not all by myself. I usually had Mipsy or Dobby watching over me.”

“Oh…” … “Dobby?”

“Yes. Until someone set him free.”

“Well, yeah. Can’t really say I’m sorry about that.”

“Didn’t expect you to. Just saying I missed him when he left.”

“I get that. He was special, that one.” … “I buried him you know — after Bellatrix killed him. If you want to, I can take you to visit his grave someday. It’s in Cornwall, close to the sea.”

“I think I’d like that.”

“Well then.”

And after that first Friday evening, by unspoken agreement, they continue their weekly movie nights. On the second occasion, true to his word, Harry lets Malfoy assist in the popcorn making. And as a fascinated Malfoy watches the hard kernels transform into fluffy cloud-like popcorn, Harry watches Malfoy’s riveting facial expressions with equal fascination.

Harry always lets Malfoy choose the movie from the stack of Shakespeare related tapes Harry purchased during his trip into Muggle London. That second Friday, he chooses a light-hearted costume piece rendition of Much Ado About Nothing starring that same Iago bloke from Othello.

It’s a cheerful comedy, filled with love, humour and intrigue. Harry’s read it more than once so he should have been prepared. Yet, it’s not until the plot unfolds before his eyes Harry realises just how much Benedick’s and Beatrice’s love-hate relationship resembles his and Malfoy’s. If Malfoy makes the same connection, he doesn’t show any sign of it.

— ¤ O ¤ —

“Oi, Malfoy. You finished soon?”

“No, Potter, go away and stop disturbing me.”

“But you’ve been in there for over an hour. What can possibly take you so long?”

“Just drop it, Potter. Seeing as you always look a fright, you’ll never be able to understand.”

“Understand what, exactly?”

“What it takes to look this gorgeous, obviously.”

“Yeah, sure. Whatever.” … “So, Pretty Boy? Finished soon?”

“Pretty Boy?”

“Oh, for Circe’s sake, Malfoy, come on. I need to shower before I’m off to the Burrow.”

“Tough luck, Potter.”

“Argh… You’re such an insufferable prat!”

“Whatever happened to Pretty Boy?”

“Liked that, didn’t you? You vain wanker.”

“Hmpf.”

“So what are you even doing in there?”

“Waiting for my hair to dry.”

“Ever heard of a hairdryer?”

“That vicious Muggle thing? Why would I ever use that bloody monster? It only makes my hair all static and horrible and—”

“So use a towel. Just be done already.”

“A towel? Is that what you do?”

“Yeah. Works perfectly fine.”

“Fine? Have you ever looked in a mirror, Potter? Your hair is a fucking menace.”

“At least it’s dry.” … “Now, come on. I won’t take more than five minutes, tops.”

“Ah, alright, alright. Fine, I’ll let you—”

“Woah!”

“Shit!”

“Easy there.”

“Well, don’t blame me. You’re the one standing close enough for the door to hit you.”

“Whatever, Malfoy. Just get out of the way. What?”

“You forgot something.”

“What?”

“That little word in the end that makes all the difference.”

“What word?”

“Oh, Potter, where are your manners? Just get out of the way hmm?”

“Wanker? Stupid prat? Come on, Malfoy, I don’t have time for this.”

“Not my problem, Potter.”

“Ah, you fucking… Why don’t you just… Please, Malfoy, I—”

“There you are! I knew you could do it, Potter. You’re such a good boy.”

“I swear, Malfoy. One day I’ll—”

“What, Potter? What will you do?”

“Oh, just shut up, will you?”

“Hey! No reason to slam the door in my face!” … “Potter…?”

“Yeees?”

“You called me Pretty Boy.”

“Yeah, so?”

“So, you think I’m pretty?”

You think you’re pretty.”

“Well, yeah, but—”

“Now, leave me alone, Malfoy.”

“Not until you say you think I’m pretty.”

“What?”

“You heard me.”

“Okay, fine. You’re very pretty, Malfoy. Now go away.”

That particular exchange — or rather, Malfoy’s close proximity as he blocked the door — easily tripled Harry’s estimated shower time. Especially since Malfoy left the bathroom warm and steamy, and infused with the unnecessarily addictive scent of his bloody hair potion. But if you have to choose between arriving at the Burrow late or aroused, it’s kind of an easy choice to make.

On their third movie night Harry has to sit through the fairly new production of Romeo and Juliet; a frightfully modern rendition of the classic tragic love story between two young lovers trapped on either side of a generations’ long family feud.

Again, Harry can’t help making the connections between the couple on the screen and his own history with the blond man beside him; the man whose hand keeps accidentally grazing Harry’s as they both reach for more popcorn in the bowl between them. Every time it happens, Harry’s heart skips a beat and after a while, he needs to deliberately fold his hands in his lap to keep it from happening again.

Harry squirms and nearly groans out loud as the couple on the screen starts kissing in the swimming pool — Who the hell even thinks of relocating the iconic balcony scene to a pool? — and for the first time since they started these movie nights, Harry can suddenly feel Malfoy’s eyes on him. Heart racing, Harry keeps his gaze firmly on the screen, helplessly trying to control his strained breathing as he watches the two actors snogging passionately in the water.

It takes over a month until Malfoy finally takes the opportunity to ask the question Harry has been anticipating ever since his break-down.

“Potter?”

“Yeah?”

“If you don’t want to tell me it’s fine, but… I have to ask…”

“Sure.”

“Halloween?”

“Yeah.”

“What happened?”

“I…”

“You don’t have to if you don’t want…”

“No. No, I want to. I just… Well, it’s hard, okay. Um… 31 October was the day my parents were killed. I went to their grave.”

“Oh… I… I’m sorry, I didn’t know. I shouldn’t have brought it up.”

“No, it’s alright. It’s only fair that you know.”

“Thanks for telling me.”

“Thanks for asking.”

As the weeks go by, Harry starts to regret ever introducing Malfoy to the telly, not to mention his reckless movie night initiative. Just as with so much else in his life, Harry apparently did not think this through before he ran head-first into danger; never once considering the evident perils of sitting next to his former school rival watching Shakespeare plays in the dark.

The fourth movie night offers another version of the same play as the week before, this time in the form of the sixties’ musical West Side Story. At least, this version is more innocent and light-hearted, and it certainly contains less erotic connotations. Yet, the tragic love story between those two lovers trapped on each side of the Jets-Sharks rivalry is the same — as is the heart-breaking ending when Tony and Maria lay sprawled on the asphalt surrounded by their respective friends and family.

Though, Harry gleefully learns, watching West Side Story also offers an unexpected and highly entertaining side effect which lingers for nearly a week afterwards; Malfoy absentmindedly humming jolly musical tunes wherever he goes. The most popular ones seem to be I Like To Be In America — to which Malfoy usually shoulder—dances in sync with the Amer-i-ca beat — and I Feel Pretty — for which Malfoy usually applies the most adorable falsetto, the sound of it always prompting Harry to stifle hysterical laughter.

And just as with Malfoy’s question about Halloween, Harry has been holding back several questions in the nursery as well. One of them is finally voiced later that same weekend.

“Why are you here?”

“Because I can’t sleep. Or rather, don’t particularly want to.”

“No, I mean… Why did you choose to come here? Why didn’t you stay at the Manor?”

“Ah. No, I will never be able to live there again. You know, after he moved in… You can’t even imagine what that was like. And now, everything in that house reminds me of him.”

“Yeah, I can imagine that. Must be awful to have to feel that way about your family home, though.”

“Yes. Being forced to stay there all summer was… so dreadful, I can’t even… I just had to leave. If I hadn’t, I would’ve gone mad.

“I’m concerned about Mother, though. Wish she didn’t have to stay there. The isolation is not good for her — she’s used to having people around; always having friends over for tea or visiting acquaintances. Now, all she has for the next three years is my bitter and delusional father.”

“And you’re not concerned about him?”

“Honestly, I couldn’t care less about him right now.”

“Really?”

“After all he’s done… I think he should be nothing but grateful for not having to go back to Azkaban. Although, I know he’s just feeling humiliated.”

“Humiliated? For what?”

“Mostly, I think, for the fact that it was your testimony that kept him out of prison. Being saved by a magnanimous enemy can cut a huge dent in a proud ego.”

“I…”

“And then, of course, his undignified sentence.”

“What? Surely, house arrest must be more dignified than going to Azkaban?”

“You may think that, but then you’re forgetting the mandatory Mind Healer treatment—”

“They sentenced him to therapy?”

“Yes, thanks to your testimony.”

“Really? For how long?”

“The duration of the house arrest; ten years.”

“Huh. I didn’t think—”

“But also — and this is the charming cherry on top — Did you know they force him to undergo ten years of Muggle Studies as well?”

“No! Oh, gosh… You’re actually serious?”

“Yes.”

“Wow… Can’t imagine he liked that very much.”

“Not much, no.”

“Shit. I’m so sorry.”

“No, you’re not.”

“No, I’m really not.”

“Me neither.”

“You sure?”

“Yes, I’m sure.”

— ¤ O ¤ —

The eighth of December brings about the first frost, the autumn leaves scattered on the lawn crunching under Harry’s trainers as he crosses the garden to fetch the rake from the shed. Andromeda has asked him to gather up the leaves and use them to cover the flower beds for the winter. He could do it with magic, of course — it’d take but a few minutes — but he’s aching for some manual labour to distract his jumbled mind.

The air is crisp and cool, tinting Harry’s cheeks a healthy rose, and his breathing gives off visible clouds of steam with every exhale. All migrating birds are already long gone, leaving an eerie silence in the garden usually so blessed with birdsong during the summer. A couple of squirrels work diligently over by the hazels, eager to top up their reserves before the first snowfall.

It’s only a few weeks until Christmas and, for once, Harry feels prepared for the upcoming holiday. Maybe not emotionally — who knows what a Christmas at the Burrow without Fred will be like? — but at least practically. At Hogwarts, these last few weeks of term are usually cramped with tests and reviews, leaving you almost no time to plan — much less execute — your gift shopping. And last year… Merlin, he and Hermione hadn’t even been aware it was Christmas Eve until they heard that carol from inside the church in Godric’s Hollow. Was it really only a year ago?

This year though, for the first time in his life, Harry’s actually rather pleased with all the gifts he’s put together for his near and dear ones. There’s still some bits and pieces left to arrange — things that will hopefully be taken care of next week during his scheduled meeting with Shacklebolt — but other than that, he’s all set.

— ¤ O ¤ —

That night, the moon is shining brightly from a clear sky, its light making the frost glisten exquisitely on the bare branches of the maple. Harry is sore and aching all over, blissfully worn out from a day of hard work outside. If he went back to bed, he might even be able to fall asleep, but instead, he chooses to stay here in the nursery with Teddy. And Malfoy.

No, he has no idea why. Maybe it’s his pathetic recklessness showing again? Or his morbid curiosity? Whatever it is, it’s certainly not self-preservation. That’s blatantly clear at this point. Harry’s not sure if he ever possessed even a faint trace of that particular trait, but he’s starting to think the answer to that question might be no. Maybe, one of these days, he should try to acquire some? It surely couldn’t hurt, considering Harry’s current situation.

Because… Thanks to his languorous state, Harry couldn’t be bothered to put up a fight when Malfoy dared to lay down on the sofa with his head in Harry’s lap. At the time, Harry was leaning back, resting his head on the backrest and training his gaze on the ceiling above, when a warm weight landed unexpectedly on his leg. Harry’s reaction nearly caused him a whiplash injury as his head lurched forward to find out what had happened, and he instantly became wide awake at the sight of Malfoy’s blond head resting on his thigh.

Since then, Malfoy hasn’t moved a muscle; still laying in the same position curled up on his side next to Harry facing the sleeping baby in its crib, his body wrapped up in the usual blanket. It’s been at least half an hour and Harry’s hands are itching to run their fingers through those platinum blond locks which look softer than silk in the pale moonlight.

Swallowing hard and averting his gaze for the gazillionth time, Harry decides to be the first to break the silence tonight.

“Where are your friends?”

“Scattered. Blaise is in Italy somewhere, he has family there. Greg’s in… Germany, I think? Pansy’s at Durmstrang and Theo… honestly, I have no idea where he is.”

“You don’t have any contact with them?”

“No, they disappeared as soon as Voldemort was gone. Haven’t heard from any of them since.”

“Doesn’t sound like really good friends.”

“Well, I don’t blame them. Thinking about me would mean thinking about the war, and I know they’re all desperate to forget it all and move on. Besides, it’s not like I was that close with any of them lately.”

“You pushed them away, didn’t you?”

“Yes, I did. Didn’t want them to get caught up in my sticky mess. Reckoned they’d be better off without me.”

Harry recalls all the times over the years when he’d tried to push his friends away, how they’d repeatedly refused to leave him alone. He’d always been so annoyed by their incessant stubbornness in those moments, but in hindsight, them always insisting to stand by him no matter what — no matter what he said, no matter what was at stake — that was the evidence of true friendship, the kind that would last for a lifetime.

“I can’t imagine what that’d be like,” he sighs, “having no one to share your thoughts and feelings with. And with everything you went through during the war, it must have been…”

“I managed. I’m a Slytherin, remember? We don’t usually share the way you Gryffindors do.”

“Just because we’re Gryffindors doesn’t mean we share everything with everyone — far from it. But keeping all of that shit inside you for so long, never having anyone to talk to about it… How did you even survive?”

“I…”

When Malfoy trails off, seemingly unwilling to go on, Harry comes to think of something Malfoy’s said one of those first nights over a month ago.

“Of course. You said you kept a diary, right?”

Malfoy nods in Harry’s lap but makes no further comment.

“Guess that makes sense. Have you done it for long?”

“Since before I came to Hogwarts. Mother gave her to me for my eleventh birthday, saying all Slytherins could use a diary to sort out their private stuff.”

“She’s a very clever woman, your mother. She— Wait… You said ‘her? The diary is a she?”

“Well…”

Harry’s thankful Malfoy can’t see the fond smile curving his lips.

“It is, isn’t it?”

Another silent nod sends a tendril of heat up Harry’s leg to pool in his gut. Harry does his best to ignore it.

“Does she have a name too?”

Malfoy doesn’t respond to this and Harry decides to lay off the teasing for now.

“Well, I’m glad you at least had someone, even if it was a book.”

And that’s no lie. Sure, it does sound rather strange to have an inanimate object as one’s best friend, the only one to confide one’s thoughts and secrets to. But, if you had no one else to trust — which Harry assumes is a valid case for all students residing in Slytherin. (Who can you trust when everyone around you is driven by cunning, ambition and self-preservation?) — maybe confiding in a diary isn’t such a bad idea at all.

“Wow, I don’t know what my life would’ve been like without Ron and ‘Mione.” Harry sighs closing his eyes as he tilts his head back to lean against the backrest again. “To tell the truth, I’d probably not even be alive today if it weren’t for them. They’ve saved my life so many times over the years…”

Malfoy lets out a muffled laugh.

“I always knew you were completely incapable of taking care of yourself. Just recklessly rushing into danger without thinking—”

“Oh, shut up, you wanker,” Harry retorts, slapping Malfoy’s shoulder without thinking. “I’ve been there for them too. That’s what friends do, you know; are there for each other and save each other’s lives.”

“Sounds marvellous, and not at all sentimental.”

“Don’t be like that. We’ve saved each other’s lives too, remember?”

“Doesn’t mean we’re friends, though.”

“No, maybe not. But we’re getting there.”

Harry’s hand is suddenly on Malfoy’s arm, squeezing reassuringly, and he has no idea why. Malfoy turns to look up at Harry from the corner of his eye, meeting his gaze with a confused look.

“We are?”

“Yes, you berk,” Harry scoffs, trying to ease up the strange mood. “What did you think we were doing here?”

Malfoy frowns, silently heaving himself up to standing and moving over to the crib. From the sofa, Harry is helpless against his allure; unable to resist following Malfoy’s every graceful movement with hungry eyes. As usual, Malfoy bends over to lean on the frame of the crib, looking down at the sleeping boy and his plush badger, and all Harry can see is how fabulous that arse looks whe—

“Your turn,” Harry says, desperate for a distraction.

Malfoy makes no sign of hearing him, and after a couple of minutes, Harry starts to wonder if he even spoke the words out loud or if he just imagined it. He’s just about to repeat himself when Malfoy discretely clears his throat.

“What happened with the Weaslette?” he says, his voice low and his back still turned to Harry. “You never mention her. I thought you two would enjoy your Happily Ever After by now?”

The question is unexpected; but then again, aren’t they almost every night? Maybe he should have expected it — granted, it was bound to come up sooner or later — and yet Harry’s strangely startled by Malfoy’s mention of his former girlfriend. How long has it been since he last thought of her? Days. Maybe even weeks.

Now he does, Harry can still detect those same feelings of regret and sorrow that always seem to accompany his memories of Ginny these days; that irrational longing for a shared future that was never meant to be. Thankfully, the feeling is less intense than usual, just a simmer in his chest, and his voice is only a little hoarse as he replies.

“Seems like everybody did, but no. As it turns out, the war changed us both, and when it was finally over, we just… we just didn’t want the same things any more.”

“How so?”

“Well, Ginny wants to travel, explore the world. I think she felt trapped last year, being kept safe and not allowed to join the fight like the rest of us.” Harry smiles fondly as he thinks of her. “She’s a fierce one, Ginny, full of energy and optimism in spite of everything. I guess she just found me too boring in the end.”

“Boring?” Malfoy snorts in amusement. “You?”

“Believe me, I am — or haven’t you noticed?” Harry shakes his head, even though Malfoy can’t see him from where he stands. “No, after these last years, I… Honestly, I think I’ve had enough adventures to last me a lifetime. I just want to… settle down, I guess… Eventually having a family… Be able to enjoy the peace I’ve spent half my life fighting for.”

“Understandable.”

Malfoy’s comment sounds sincere, and Harry briefly wonders if Malfoy ever feels the same or if he’s longing to see the world. Not that he could, even if he wanted to — not in the next few years at least.

“So, how about you and Parkinson? I thought you—”

Pansy?

Malfoy bursts into a peal of sudden laughter, his shoulders shaking violently as he straightens up and turns around to come back to the sofa. He is still chuckling helplessly as he sits down next to Harry, resting his forearms on his knees and shaking his head over his folded hands.

“What?” Harry says, impatient and not a little confused as Malfoy’s laughter finally recedes.

“Oh, sweet Salazar, wouldn’t that be something?” Malfoy says, still out of breath. “No, we were never anything more than friends.”

Harry frowns. “No? But you always seemed so close.”

Malfoy briefly glances up at Harry, his grey eyes twinkling with amusement before they’re lowered again to rest on his hands.

“Let’s just say we didn’t want the same things. Or rather… we did. Actually, that was kind of the problem.”

“I don’t… You say you wanted the same things? Wouldn’t that be a positive thing in a relationship?”

This time, Malfoy’s smirk looks far from amused as he turns to face Harry. The best description Harry can come up with is self-deprecating.

“No, Potter. Not if what you both want — is cock.”

Choking on his own breath, Harry is promptly sent into a severe coughing fit.

Shit.

It’s not so much the unexpected revelation but rather Malfoy’s crude bluntness that takes Harry by surprise. Hearing him say that word in his posh accent, and so casually… It’s… By Godric, thinking is hard when you can’t breathe properly. Harry fights to regain his equilibrium, panting for air as he wishes he could stop his eyes from watering and his cheeks from flushing.

“Shocked you, didn’t I?” Malfoy says calmly as Harry’s outburst subsides. “Yes, I’m bent. Do you have any problem with that?”

“No, no. Absolutely not,” Harry gasps between faint coughs, shaking his head to emphasise his words. The last thing Harry wants is for Malfoy to think he’s homophobic or something, especially if—

“Good,” Malfoy grits, returning his determined gaze to the crib. “Cause I’m done pretending.”

“Pretending? Why would you ever have to… Who would expect you to pretend to be something you’re not?”

Malfoy sighs and drops his head forward, the blond locks of his fringe almost touching his clasped hands.

“For Circe’s sake, Potter. You’re so naive sometimes it makes me want to curse you into next week,” he groans exasperatedly before clenching his jaw and continuing in a matter of fact tone. “When you’re the only child in a pure-blood family, it’s kind of expected that you marry and produce new heirs to continue the bloodline.”

“Your father,” Harry murmurs. “Of course.”

He leans his head back and covers his face with his hands, berating himself for his tendency to always speak without thinking. Of course, Lucius Malfoy wouldn’t approve of his son being bent.

Malfoy shifts beside him and before Harry knows it Malfoy’s head is back on his thigh. Harry wants to object, not sure he can handle the proximity right now — Merlin, Malfoy’s gay — but if he does, Malfoy will surely interpret it as Harry freaking out about him being bent, and… So, Harry lets him lie down and even helps to cover his curled up body with the blanket.

“So, that’s why you told your father you didn’t want children? Because you’re gay?”

“No. I told him that because I refuse to do anything else that would benefit him and his pathetic pride. I said it because I can’t think of a worse reason to set a child into this world — I mean, ‘produce an heir? It sounds like a fucking breeding factory, another task to be completed in your never-ending list of obligations.

“You know, as a pure-blood heir, you’re expected to wed a suitable partner and have children, regardless of your feelings and sexual preferences. If you happen to be bent it just means you’ll have to be a little bit more discreet with your lovers.”

“But that’s…”

“Yes, it is. But it’s also the reality.”

Malfoy sounds so defeated and Harry feels something clutching at his heart.

“So, your father wanted you to marry?”

“Still does. He even has someone in mind for me.”

Shit.

“A-a woman?”

“Of course,” Malfoy scoffs, self-deprecatingly. “Mother wrote and told me the other week. Apparently, Father is in the middle of negotiations with her parents and is positive everything will be ready to announce our engagement in time for her seventeenth birthday in April.”

“But, that’s…”

“Yes. Yes, it is.”

“Do you at least know her?”

“Well, I know of her. She’s the younger sister of one of my old classmates. I’m sure she’s very pretty and sweet.”

“Bet she is.”

Harry is grateful Malfoy isn’t able to see the tears pooling in his eyes. Turning his gaze to the moonlit branches of the maple, he contemplates his strong emotional reaction. It’s astounding how quickly your hopes can rise, just to be crushed barely minutes later. Because, if he’s honest, there had been a moment when Harry had let himself hope for the impossible. And it wasn’t until Malfoy’s words shattered his foolish daydream Harry even realised it had been there.

Swallowing hard, Harry wills the tears away before clearing his throat.

“So, when did you realise you were gay?”

Malfoy frowns and takes his time before answering.

“Fourth year.”

That early?

“What happened?”

“Nothing happened. I developed a crush on someone.”

His interest piqued, Harry can’t help asking, “And…?”

“And nothing.”

“He didn’t like you back?”

“No. He didn’t like me back.”

“Wanna tell me who it was?”

“No.”

— ¤ O ¤ —

The next morning, there’s not a trace of last night’s vulnerability to be seen in Malfoy features, nothing but confidence in his actions and words. Harry knows Malfoy’s an expert at hiding his emotions behind a mask of steel — something that most likely comes with the Malfoy blood, and no doubt strengthened by seven years in Slytherin — but still, it’s… unnerving, to say the least.

Harry tries to stay casual around him, tries to remember how he used to act around Malfoy before the man decided to turn his world upside down. But it’s hard when all he can think about is Malfoy’s confession and the images Harry’s brain insists on conjuring; images of Malfoy together with some gorgeous girl.

Yet, Harry does his best to keep up appearances, regardless of his pining heart, because… Malfoy had thought that Harry was homophobic. And even though Harry had been quick to deny it, if he changes his demeanour towards him now, Malfoy may still think Harry disapproves of his sexuality. Which is so far from the truth, Harry can’t even…

And what’s even more unnerving; Malfoy’s apparently realised he’s found a new weakness of Harry’s that he wants to address at every possible moment. This becomes obvious the next few days when Malfoy starts to jokingly charge their usual banter with more or less subtle innuendos.

“What happened to you, Potter? You look positively ghastly.”

“What? I just…”

“Looks like you just fought a ghoul or something.”

“No, I…”

“Or a pack of garden gnomes.”

“I just came from outside…”

“Yes, I can see that. You know there’s a rainstorm out there?”

“No, but thanks for telling me, Malfoy. Now, will you just let me…”

“What in Salazar’s name were you doing?”

“…go upstairs and have a shower?”

“Not until you tell me what— Ow! That hurt.”

“Good!”

“Don’t walk away from me in the middle of a conversation, Potter. Just—”

“Let go of me, Malfoy, or—”

“Just tell me, alright?”

“Circe’s sake… I had to secure the patio roof, okay? It was about to be taken by the storm.”

“And that made you want to roll around in the mud? Seriously, Potter, I— Hey! I just told you not to walk away in the mid—”

“Malfoy, you know what?”

“What?”

“You can just kiss my arse.”

“Can I? When? Aww… Potter, are you blushing? No, Potter, come back here…”

Harry can definitely see how him blushing profusely at Malfoy’s casually thrown comments must be highly entertaining for the insufferable prat. Good Godric, Malfoy must think him a total prude for reacting so violently to every suggestive line he makes. If he only knew…

And it doesn’t matter that Harry knows Malfoy’s only teasing him, delighted to have found a new way to fluster Harry so severely — Harry’s mind still goes absolutely wild with steamy visuals every time Malfoy brings out one of those lines. It’s like the worst kind of torture, and never in his life has Harry wanked so often as he does these days.

It doesn’t matter the subject or circumstance either — as soon as Andromeda isn’t around, one of those lines can strike at any time. There’s no way for Harry to be prepared for it, constant vigilance having nothing on Malfoy’s verbal taunting, and so he walks straight into the trap every time.

“You sure that’s what it should look like?”

“Yeah, Malfoy. This is exactly what it’s supposed to look like.”

“Doesn’t look particularly tasty.”

“It will be, I assure you. Now, let me do this and you worry about the salad, okay?”

“There’s nothing to worry about here, I’ve got it perfectly under control. Which is more than can be said about you…”

“Oh, shut up. I know what I’m doing.”

“Doesn’t look like it. You sure—”

“Yes, I’m sure.”

“Because… I remember that time you attempted that souffle and—”

“Don’t remind me, I—”

“Just don’t want you to mess it up again, is all.”

“I won’t mess this up, now tend to your veg.”

“I mean, It would be such a shame if you—”

“As if you cared about if I messed up or not.”

“Of course I do, when I’m the one who has to eat your disaster.”

“It’s not gonna be a disaster, alright?”

“Cocky are you, Potter?”

“Fuck you, Malfoy.”

“Yes, please do. Oh, dear Merlin. Something got stuck in your throat? Here, let me help you. A firm slap in the back should—”

“Ow! What the f—”

“There, all better. Isn’t choking just the worst? No, no need to blush, Potter. Even the Saviour can need a little help sometimes. Nothing to be ashamed of.”

Harry doesn’t know if he imagines it or not (his mind isn’t really all that reliable these days) but he thinks that Malfoy’s casual touches have become more deliberate as well. As if Malfoy revels in making Harry flinch — which Harry certainly does. Every time. The reaction always prompts Malfoy’s amused snigger and causes those silver-grey eyes to twinkle with mischief.

Come Friday Harry decides it’s his turn to choose the movie, trying for the safe route by introducing Malfoy to the magical world of Muggle animation. He was surprised when the salesgirl added Lion King to his pile but, apparently, the Disney classic is based on Hamlet, so…

Harry hasn’t seen it before, but honestly… A bunch of colourful drawn animals singing cheerful tunes? How bad can it possibly get?

As it turns out — very.

“So, I’m supposed to be a hyena, huh?”

“What?”

“A hyena. They’re the Death Eaters, right?”

What?

“And Scar is Voldemort?”

“Circe’s sake, what the hell are you on about?”

“Come on, Potter. You have us watch a movie called the Lion King — of course, it has to be about you.”

“What? No! Why would you assume—”

“You’re the Gryffindor lion, right? The precious and innocent little Simba. Your father — Mufasa — was killed by Voldemort — Scar — before you were forced to leave the kingdom — that’d be the wizarding world — to hide in the Muggle world. While you grow up, Voldemort plans to take over the kingdom with a little help from his Death Eaters, but the all-knowing Dumbledore — the shaman, Rafiki — finds you and makes sure you come back. With a little help from Granger and Weasley — that’s Timon and Pumbaa, right? — you come back and take down the evil villain. Now the world is only waiting for you to marry your Nala and continue the royal bloodline.”

What the ever-loving fuck?

“No, I—”

“And I’m the hyena — Shenzi, was it? And I guess her two buffoons are supposed to be Greg and Vince, right?”

“No, Malfoy… This movie isn’t about us. It’s supposed to be Hamlet. The uncle killing the father, Hamlet coming back to revenge him, et cetera. Timon and Pumbaa aren’t ‘Mione and Ron, they’re Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.”

“But if it were Hamlet, they’d all die in the end?”

“Malfoy, this is a children’s movie. Of course, they won’t kill off everyone in the end.”

“But that’s ridiculous. Why would you make a movie about Hamlet where everyone survives?”

“Because it’s a children’s movie. Now, come on, I’m tired.”

“But, why would they even consider making a children’s movie of Hamlet?”

“I don’t know, Malfoy. They just did, alright?” … “Well, I’m going upstairs. Are you coming?”

“Not yet. But maybe if you’d like to help?”

“Huh?”

“Well, I’m not thirteen anymore, I’ll need a little more… stimulation before…” … “No? Too bad.”

“Night, Malfoy.”

“Hey, why the sudden haste? Wait…”

“Night.”

“Alright, I’m coming, I’m coming.”

“Still not convinced that movie wasn’t about you, though.”

“Just drop it, will you?”

“So, who’s your Nala then? I thought it was the Weaslette, but—”

“Her name is Ginny.”

“Your Nala? But you said you broke up…?”

“No, Ginny’s not my Nala. I don’t know who my Nala is, but— Why are we even having this conversation?”

“Because I want to know who your Nala is.”

“Maybe I don’t have a Nala.”

“Of course you have a Nala. Every Simba has their Nala.”

“But I’m not Simba.”

“So you say.”

“Whatever, I’m going to bed.”

“Oh, you’re no fun.”

“Goodnight, Malfoy.”

“Night, Simba.”

— ¤ O ¤ —

Harry’s late.

There’s no real reason for it, other than good old procrastination. But apparently, just because you avoid thinking about something doesn’t mean it’ll suddenly go away. And even though Harry’s been dreading this day for several weeks now, it still arrived — and now he’s going to be late for his appointment.

Harry reminds himself that this was his own initiative, that he’s the one who asked for this meeting in the first place. He reminds himself of why, and that gives him a little more resolve to power through.

He grabs his wand from the nightstand and reaches into the wardrobe to take out the blazer Hermione once talked him into buying. It’s quite nice actually, dark charcoal with a stylish fit, and yet it’s been hanging there neglected in the far back since the day he got it. When would he ever have a reason to use it?

Harry doesn’t like wearing this kind of formal clothes. It always makes him feel like a fool; like a child dressed up for a masquerade, pretending to be an adult. He grunts a muffled curse and wills himself to put on the damn thing while walking up to the full-length mirror.

Regardless of what he feels about wearing it, Harry must admit the blazer does make him look rather smart. And paired with his nicest dark blue jeans and a tight white t-shirt it doesn’t look too pretentious either. Harry rakes his fingers through his unruly hair and gives his reflection a determined stare.

Okay, come on, Harry. You can do this.

He has already decided to bring his Invisibility Cloak so he won’t get accosted the second he enters the Ministry atrium. Still, it’s a regular Wednesday afternoon and that place will most likely be crowded with more people and flying memos than he’d even care to think about. And somehow he’s supposed to make it all the way up to the first level where Shacklebolt will be awaiting him in his office in… fifteen minutes. Shit.

His bedroom door bangs into the wall — Fuck — as Harry barges through and all but tumbles downstairs.

“Andromeda?”

“In the study, dear,” her voice comes from below.

“Hey,” Harry pants as he stops in the doorway. “I’m off now, but there’s a casserole prepped in the oven for you. Just heat it up for like fifteen minutes and you’ll be all set.”

“Alright Harry, don’t worry, I’m sure we’ll manage a couple of hours without you. But thanks, you didn’t have to.”

“Yeah, I…”

“Relax, dear. And tell Kingsley hi from me, alright?”

“Okay, thanks. Bye.”

Her Bye, Harry and amused giggle follow him as he rushes for the front door.

“Potter?” Malfoy’s voice calls him from the sitting room.

“Yeah?” Harry hesitates on his way past, finding Malfoy seated in one of the green armchairs, book and quill in hand. Teddy is on his back on the floor in front of him, giggling as he tries to catch the bubbles Andromeda has conjured for him. Harry wishes he could join them, but he’s already late and—

Why is Malfoy staring at him?

“Malfoy, I’m late. Did you want something, or…?”

“Yes, sorry,” he blinks. “Where are you going?”

“To the Ministry. Have a meeting.”

“Ah, so that’s why…” Malfoy trails off, waving a distracted hand Harry’s way, “The outfit, I mean.”

“Yeah,” Harry says, looking down at his clothes suddenly self-conscious. “You think it’s okay?”

“Turn around.”

Malfoy gestures with an elegant index finger and Harry turns, straightening his posture as he fights an embarrassed blush.

“So? Do I have your approval?”

“Well, alright, it’s passable,” Malfoy shrugs casually, but Harry can see he’s fighting a smirk and there’s amusement glittering his eyes.

“Wow. Coming from you, I’ll choose to take that as a compliment.”

“You should,” Malfoy says, turning back to his book. “Don’t get used to it.”

Harry follows Malfoy’s gaze, his eyes landing on the book in his lap.

“Is that…”

“Hmm?” Malfoy looks up to meet Harry’s gaze.

“Is that… her?”

“Well, I…”

Malfoy falters, but the rosy tinge creeping over his pale porcelain cheekbones answers for him. Harry can’t help smiling at the sight.

“Tell her I said hi,” he winks, turning to leave. He really is unfashionably late.

“I…”

Harry’s already on his way out the front door when Malfoy calls out his name.

“Potter?”

“Yeah?”

“Her name is DeeDee.”

Oh. Well, shit. Definitely didn ’t see that one coming.

“So… Er… tell DeeDee I said hi, okay?”

“Oh, alright. Will do.”

The front door slams closed behind him as Harry rushes down the path to the road from where he’ll be able to Apparate into London.

— ¤ O ¤ —

Wednesday, 16 December 1998

Well, I ’m pleased to tell you Mother owled over her contribution to the album today. This means I can finally start to put it all together tonight. Which is perfect timing, since I know Potter is going into town to meet his friends this evening and therefore won’t be able to sneak a peek. I can’t wait. I have it all planned out, and I’m pretty confident it’s going to be perfect.

I really hope he will like it.

Well, I ’m pretty sure he will. But if there’s anything I have ever learnt it’s that you should never take anything for granted. Especially with him.

Oh, dear. The one-man stampede is apparently on the run. Merlin, why can ’t he even walk down a regular staircase like a normal person? Surely, it cannot be that hard?

What am I saying? Of course, he can ’t. Seeing as he is the least normal person on the face of the earth, of course, he can’t do anything the normal way. Like that time, when he was…

Hold on.

So, er … Potter says ‘hi’.

To you, that is. And … Oh, sweet Salazar, I told him your name. Why did I do that? Why? He just started talking about you, and the words simply jumped out of my mouth. I’m so gone.

And how he looked just now. Circe, is he trying to kill me? Oh, DeeDee, you should have seen him — he even wore a blazer. And that tight white t-shirt clinging to his torso like a second skin, I can ’t even… And now my mouth is watering again, just thinking about it. Great.

I hope he didn ’t catch me staring. I think I did a rather decent job of covering it up, but still. He’s more observant than you would think, unfortunately.

Shit. I sincerely hope he is dressed up for going to the ministry and not for some date he has planned afterwards. I know he said he was to meet up with some friends, but … And why should I care if he has a date anyway? It’s not like it would help me become friends with him if I suddenly started to act jealous or possessive or something. That would be really ugly.

No, in fact, if I want to keep socialising with him I ’d probably better start to get used to the thought of him together with a girlfriend as soon as possible. Because let’s face it, it will happen sooner or later. If not with the Weaslette, then with some other witch. Or even a muggle. He is much too great a catch to stay single for too long. And when the word gets out that he is, I bet every girl, woman, lass and lady in the country will be standing in line for their chance with the Golden Boy.

If only he wasn ’t straight. Then maybe I would have a chan Ha, as if!

No, you know what I really should do? Try to picture myself with someone else. Nothing good will ever come from keeping daydreaming about him and me together like that. I ’ve done it for four effing years already and I should really make an effort not to. If I don’t, it will only bring me more pain and heartache.

But, who would ever be able to measure up to him? He is the love of my life unique. Perfect.

I ’m so gone.

— ¤ O ¤ —

“Okay, so hear me out,” Lee says before he even sits down at their table.

With just a week to go until Christmas the Leaky is a little quieter than normal, its usual patrons too busy with gift shopping and holiday preparations to have time to sit down and have a pint on a Wednesday evening. Ron and George look about to fall over from exhaustion, weary as they are from the high intensity back at the shop.

Harry wasn’t really in the mood for a pub night, but since he was already in town… Plus, Ron would probably kill him if he ever found out Harry had been in London on a Wednesday and didn’t join them. At least Harry can celebrate that the meeting he’d been dreading is finally over and done with, and that Shacklebolt generously decided to grant his requests. If he hadn’t, Harry would have needed to rethink those Christmas gifts and that wouldn’t have been an easy feat with only one week to go. So yes, it’s been a successful day, and maybe a couple of pints with his friends is just the right way to finish it off.

Lee and Angelina are both in high spirits and do their best to keep the conversation and the Butterbeer flowing. Angelina has just announced she’s been promised a permanent position on the team after the holidays and now Lee’s all but jumping in his seat in excitement to share this new feature on his WWN show.

“We’ll do a daily challenge thing. I’ll present three random things, just any stuff really, and then the listeners are invited to call in and have a guess on how they’re related to each other.”

“Any random things?” Ron says, frowning cross-eyed at Lee from above the rim of his glass.

“Yeah. It’s brilliant. Like… Let’s say, hmm, a crossword, a bowl of popcorn and a pair of woollen socks. What’s the connection?”

Malfoy, Harry’s brain instantly supplies.

Oh, for Godric ’s sake, shut it.

“I have absolutely no idea,” Ron says before taking a long sip of beer.

“But it’s easy, Ron. It’s—”

“Wait, I wanna guess,” George interrupts as Lee is about to give up the answer.

“Sure, mate. Hit me.”

“Hmm… Something my mum can make?”

“Good guess, but no,” Lee chuckles. “Anyone else? Harry?”

Since Harry’s brain is still stuck in Malfoy mode, he can do nothing else but shake his head and conceal his awkwardness with a swig from his glass.

“Okay, so the right answer in that scenario should be things to enjoy by the fire.”

“But… that’s surely not a valid answer,” Ron blurts.

“Of course it is,” Lee grins. “It’s my game, and my rules, so I get to decide what the correct answer is.”

“Yeah, you do,” George exclaims, patting Lee’s back hard enough to wobble the glass Lee is holding and make him spill beer all over the table. Harry and Angelina burst out laughing while Ron just grunts disapprovingly.

“And you know what the best part is?” Lee continues, training his mischievous eyes on Harry.

“No, but I’m guessing you’re dying to tell us?” Harry smiles.

“The name.”

Angelina, who’s been distracted by spelling away the spilt beer from the tabletop, instantly perks up.

“Oh! What’s the name?”

“Well… You know how everyone still links me to Potterwatch, right?”

“Yeah, I’m afraid you’ll have to live with that rep for the rest of your life, mate,” George grins. “So, what’s the name of the game?”

“It’ll be called… Wait for it…” There’s that dramatic silence again. Harry cannot really decide if he finds it annoying or endearing. “…Wot-the-potch”.

“Bloody brilliant,” George cries at the same time as Angelina says, “Awesome!”

“Yeah, perfect!” Harry laughs. It is a rather good pun, actually.

“Catchy…” Ron mumbles, then frowns. “What does it mean?”

Lee chuckles. “Wot-the-potch? It’s like, ‘What’s the potch’? You know, like a hotchpotch?”

“Ahh, right,” Ron says, looking even more confused, before finishing his near-empty glass. “Another round?”

The rest of them still have plenty left in their glasses, but they all nod in agreement anyway. Ron isn’t even three feet away towards the bar before George leans in to catch Harry’s attention over the table.

“So, how are things with Malfoy?”

“Er… What?”

“Haven’t killed each other yet?”

“Er… No…?”

Harry shifts in his seat, feeling his cheeks heat up from having the expectant eyes of all three of them trained on him. Maybe he should tell them?

If Harry’s honest with himself — and he likes to think that he is — he’s been dying to tell someone for months now. Most days it feels like he’s about to explode from all the feelings he’s hiding, and maybe if he told someone it’d ease the pressure? Maybe it’d become easier to deal with it all? But, how do you tell…?

“I…”

“Something wrong, Harry?” Angelina says with a concerned frown.

“No. No, I just…”

Maybe if he just told them some of it? Yeah, that’d be easier. Doesn’t need to mention Malfoy at all, really. Just…

Alright, I ’m a Gryffindor. I can do this.

“I… I need to tell you something.”

“Oh?” George’s ginger eyebrows rise at least an inch. Smirking, he glances left and right to signal something cryptic to both his friends before continuing. “Is it a secret? Because we love secrets, don’t we?” His blue eyes sparkle with excitement as Lee and Angelina nod their agreements. “Don’t worry, mate. We won’t tell anyone. Not even Ron, if you don’t want him to know.”

Harry glances over at the bar where Ron is still struggling to get Tom’s attention.

“I don’t know, I… I’m pretty sure he’d freak out if he knew.”

“Okay then, so tell us quick before he comes back.”

“Oh, okay…”

Harry takes a deep steadying breath.

Alright, here goes nothing.

“I think I might be bisexual,” he murmurs, his gaze fixed on his glass, not daring to meet the others’ eyes.

“Well, there you go!” George chuckles, “Took you long enough.”

What?

Bewildered, Harry chances a look at the three of them, finding them all smiling broadly.

“Yeah, congratulations, mate,” Lee says, patting his shoulder. “Must feel nice to finally get it off your chest.”

“Oh, stop it you two,” Angelina says, glaring at the two of them while still smiling. She turns to Harry, shaking her head lightly. “What these two berks mean to say is… Thank you for telling us. We really appreciate your trust and if there’s anything we can do to help… we’re here for you, okay?”

“Really? You… You’re okay with it? With me being…”

“Yeah, of course, mate,” Lee says. “Why shouldn’t we be?”

“I don’t… Why did you say…”

“Oh, we’re only teasing you,” George smirks. “Sorry, mate, but… we’ve waited so long for this.”

“Uh… You have?”

“Yeah, mate. How long have you known?”

“Er… For a couple of months, I guess?”

“Only?” Lee says, eyes widening.

“Well, yeah. I…”

Harry shrugs uncomfortably, glancing up at George, wondering how he’ll take his next words.

“Someone kinda… opened my eyes this summer — on my birthday. Hadn’t even considered blokes before then.”

“On your birthday? At the Burrow?” George gasps. “Who?”

“Er… Charlie?” Harry winces, but George only nods at his admission.

“Oh. Yeah, that makes sense.”

“It does?”

“Well, yeah,” George shrugs before smirking and giving Harry a wink. “So, is he the one you…?”

“The one who I, what?”

Harry looks between the three of them, all smiling conspiratorially. This conversation is so confusing. What the hell are they aiming at?

“The one you’ve got your eyes on, of course?”

“Who says I’ve got my…?”

“Well, it’s obviously someone. Or how could you suddenly be sure now if you didn’t know before?”

“Still not getting how you didn’t know before,” Lee frowns. “I mean, we’ve known for at least… how long, would you say?”

George and Angelina look at each other, their thinking faces on display. George’s the first to speak.

“Well, I’d say about—”

“—four years?” Angelina finishes.

FOUR YEARS!?

Harry can’t control the volume of his exclamation. Lucky they always cast a Muffiliato on their table or the whole pub would be looking at them right now.

“Yeah, give or take,” Angelina shrugs, as if this was the most obvious thing in the world. How in Merlin’s—

“So, can’t you just tell us who it is?” Lee says. “Before Ron comes back?”

“Or would you rather he found out?” George smirks.

“NO!” Oh, why don’t you just try to calm down, Harry? You’re panicking. “Please, don’t…”

“Just say it, Harry,” Angelina prods, toeing Harry’s shin lightly under the table. “I know you want to…”

“Yeah, mate,” George says. “Not that we don’t already know, but it’d be nice to hear it from you.”

“Y-you… You know?” Harry breathes, his heart beating a hundred miles an hour.

“Well, at least we think we do,” George smirks.

“Yeah, we do,” Lee grins.

“Oh, shut it, the both of you,” Angelina says, “Show some respect, guys, or he’ll never pluck up the courage to spill the tea.”

“Thanks, Angie,” Harry says, giving her a faint smile. “Well, if you already know, I guess…”

Just say it.

“It’s… Malfoy, but—”

“Yes,” George and Lee cry in unison, giving each other a loud high-five.

“—it’s not like—”

“Sorry about them,” Angelina says, rolling her eyes at the guys. “So, still not Draco, huh?”

“Still not—? What?”

“Shame. Thought you’d be passed that surname business by know.”

“No, I think it’s sweet,” George smirks.

What?

“Me too,” Lee says.

“Well, yeah guys, obviously. But what about the naming issue? I don’t want to get back to those names we’ve already dropped.”

“True.”

What?

Flicking his gaze back and forth between the three of them is apparently not the right method for Harry to get the drift. “What the hell are you on about? Naming issue?”

“Yeah, we’ve been trying to decide on a ship name for the two of you.”

“A ship name?” Can this conversation get any weirder? “What the hell is a ship name?”

“A combination of two lovebirds names to name the relationship — the ship.” Lovebirds? Geez “Like, I don’t know…”

“—Bleur,” George supplies, “…for Bill and Fleur. Or Romione for your BFFs.”

Oh.

Harry’s starting to feel dizzy, and it’s not because of the beer.

“And… and you’ve been…” Seriously? “You’ve been discussing a… a ship name for…” Us? “…me?”

“Yeah, obviously.”

Obviously?

Harry swallows before asking the question he’s pretty sure he doesn’t want to know the answer to.

“So, what’s the…”

“Well, here’s the thing…” Angelina says, dead serious despite the surreal topic. “We were hoping you’d overcome that surname thing, because—”

“—we really, really didn’t like either Malter or Potfoy,” George finishes, his former grin morphing into a disgusted sneer.

“P-Potfoy?” Harry gasps.

Oh, dear Merlin, this must be a dream. It can ’t be happening. Potfoy? Really?

“Yeah, does sound awful, doesn’t it?” Lee scowls.

“Well, yeah,” Harry says faintly, silently praying for this whole conversation to be over — preferably half an hour ago.

“Exactly,” Angelina continues. “So, we’re left with either Harco or Drarry—”

“Dra…?”

Oh, Godric Harry can’t breathe.

“—and, I don’t know, Harco just feels so—”

“—so harsh, right?” George says.

“Yeah,” Lee says, “but isn’t that kinda how they’ve always been together, though? The constant fighting? The challenges? The bickering?”

“Yeah, I still vote Drarry, though,” Angelina says.

“Me too,” says George, turning to Harry. “What do you think, mate?”

“Er…”

Harry doesn’t really know what to say. He’s still stunned by where this bizarre conversation has gone. Confusion still steering his brain, he ends up shrugging, “I… Whatever you say…”

“Great! Drarry it is.” George grins, raising his glass. “Cheers!”

“Cheers,” echoes the others. Harry rolls his eyes but lifts his beer to toast with the rest of them.

“What’s all the fuss about?” Ron says just then, coming up to the table from behind Harry, balancing five glasses of beer in his hands.

Harry nearly chokes on his drink, sending a pleading look over the table to George.

“Oh, nothing much,” George shrugs, taking a glass from his brother as Ron sits down next to Harry. “Just, you know…”

“Uh…” Ron says distractedly while handing out the rest of the beers. “What?”

“Well…” says George, earning himself a death-glare from Harry. “Relax, mate. It’ll be alright, I promise,” he winks at Harry who can only sigh and hope for the best as George turns back to Ron. “Dear brother, how do you feel about bisexuals?”

“Bisexuals? Who’s bisexual?”

“Doesn’t matter. Just tell us what you think, okay.”

Ron frowns, taking a sip of his beer.

“Well, I don’t know… I guess it’s fine. I mean, why shouldn’t it be fine? Everyone’s free to love whoever they love, right?”

“Really?” Harry can’t stop himself, it just jumps out.

“Yeah, why wouldn’t they be?” Ron says, looking over at Harry. “Don’t tell me you don’t agree, cause—”

“No. I mean, yes… I agree,” Harry stumbles. “I just didn’t know that’s how you feel, ‘s all.”

“Well, that’s how I feel,” Ron says defiantly, a hurt look in his eyes.

“Good, that’s… good. I…”

Ron turns back to George. “So, who’s bi?”

“Well, it isn’t really my place to say,” George says.

“I am,” Harry says before he’s able to persuade himself not to.

“You are?” Ron says, tired blue eyes widening in surprise.

“Yeah, I am,” Harry says.

“Does Hermione know?”

That ’s the first reaction you get? You’re a strange, strange man.

“No, she doesn’t. The four of you are the first to know.”

“Really? You mean to tell me you told me before you told her? That’s awesome, mate!”

“Okay…?” Harry frowns. “So, will you tell her?”

“Not if you don’t want me to,” Ron says, biting his lip.

“It’s okay, mate. You can tell her if you want.”

“You sure? Brilliant!”

Ron’s excitement at knowing something his girlfriend doesn’t is terribly endearing and Harry can’t help smiling at the sight. For some reason, Harry’s quite sure Ron wouldn’t be as excited if he knew just who Harry is pining for.

— ¤ O ¤ —

The next night it’s almost completely dark in the nursery when Malfoy arrives. The sky outside is covered by clouds and the only source lighting up the room is the dim amber night light sphere hovering over the crib. Just as always, Malfoy goes straight for the crib, not even acknowledging Harry as he walks by.

Harry attempts to not watch him as Malfoy stands with his back to the sofa, but the soft light reflecting off of that silver blond hair draws his attention, and Harry finds himself unable to look away.

It feels so much more real now, after last night, and the feelings he’d thought would be easier to bear after telling his friends is all but driving him insane. He’s still pretty sure Ron would freak out if he knew, but to think the others had accepted it so quickly… even waited for it, from the sound of it…

Even now, more than twenty-four hours later, Harry’s unable to wrap his head around that fact. They didn’t address the topic any further after Ron came back, so Harry’s still not really sure about what the others had been on about. But if he’d read the signs correctly, they all apparently believed Harry has been crushing on Malfoy since fourth year.

Has he?

Harry doesn’t know. It does feel all kinds of crazy when he tries to imagine it; him being interested in Malfoy this way already so long ago. And yet, he can’t deny that there’s always been something about this man that’s piqued his interest more than anyone else ever has. Something that always made it impossible not to notice him, to observe him, to obsess about him. What if it was this all along? This… crush…?

Unable to do anything about the swarm of pixies in his stomach, Harry takes a sip of tea from the mug he’s cradling in his hands. His heart is still beating hard when Malfoy turns around and Harry quickly averts his gaze before Malfoy comes over to sit down on the sofa.

Harry’s already propped up in his corner, turned sideways towards Malfoy’s end with his legs crossed in front of him. As Malfoy sits down on his end, mirroring Harry’s position, Harry silently levitates a mug of tea his way.

Malfoy’s eyes widen in surprise as the tea comes sailing through the air by a wave from Harry’s hand. Harry left his wand in his bedroom, not seeing any need for carrying it around all the time when he can do many of the basic spells wandlessly. Furthermore, Harry feels it uncalled for to brandish it in front of Malfoy more than necessary since he has to live without.

“Two sugars, right?”

“Yes,” Malfoy murmurs warily before taking a sip. “Thanks.”

The corner of Harry’s mouth curves into an involuntary smile.

“You’re welcome… and I believe it’s your turn.”

“Oh. Well…”

Malfoy takes another mouthful of tea while collecting his thoughts.

Keeping his eyes on the mug, he says, “Yes, I have one. That night in the forest when you… Mother told me you didn’t even raise your wand? How on earth did you manage to survive?”

“I didn’t.”

Harry’s words instantly draw Malfoy’s attention, his face ghostly pale as he looks Harry directly in the eye and gasps.

“You… What?”

“I didn’t survive. I died.”

Harry’s aware he is speaking too matter-of-factly for the secret he’s revealing. But it’s the truth. There’s no point in trying to sugar-coat it.

“No, you’re… I don’t understand…”

Malfoy frowns and Harry almost feels bad for him.

“He killed me. I died. I came back.”

Malfoy raises his neat brows, both of them this time, wrinkling his forehead, incredulous.

“You just… came back?”

Harry shrugs. “Basically, yeah.”

“H-how?”

“Oh… I don’t know, really…”

Harry takes a sip of his tea, trying to find the right words.

“Okay, so… When I arrived Dumbledore was there to greet me. We talked for a while, and then he asked if I wanted to go back. I said yes, and the next thing I know, I’m lying on the ground and your mother is kneeling beside me.”

He chances a quick glance Malfoy’s way before turning his gaze to the window.

“There are days when I’m still not sure if I made the right choice.”

“But, I don’t…” Malfoy falters, grasping for a way to understand what Harry’s saying. “Why didn’t you fight back? Why did you just stand there and let him do it? Did you really want to die so fervently?”

Harry looks at him, shaking his head, willing Malfoy to understand.

“No, I didn’t want to die,” he sighs. “But I had to.”

“You had to?”

“Yeah, I had to.”

Malfoy frowns, his eyes narrowing. “Has this something to do with that Prophecy?”

“Well, yes… and no. It’s complicated.”

“I don’t mind, we’ve got all night. And just because you’re dense doesn’t mean I won’t be able to follow the plot.”

Malfoy’s smirk is so tantalising, Harry has to bite his lip to keep from launching himself at the man. Instead, he reigns himself in and rolls his eyes.

“Oh, shut it, you. It’s just… I don’t know if I really should tell you…”

“Aw, come on. I won’t tell anyone.”

“Ha! Says the man who fed Skeeter bullshit about me for a whole year?”

“Exactly!” Malfoy grins, throwing Harry completely off balance with his ready affirmation. “That’s the thing — Bullshit. If you told me the truth I’d never tell a soul.”

“Really…?” Harry says slowly, raising him a sceptical brow.

“Yes, of course. What kind of half-arsed Slytherin would I be if I just gave away blackmail material that could last me a lifetime?” Malfoy winks and Harry has to look away.

“You insufferable twat,” he smiles. “Ah… alright. Promise not to tell?”

“I already did, remember, that first night? We even shook on it.”

“Right. So… Have you ever heard of Horcruxes?”

“Horcruxes?” Malfoy’s eyes narrow slightly as he seems to skim through his mental directory. “No, what’s that?”

“It’s kinda like the darkest magic ever. To create it you split your soul and confine one of the parts into an object. That way, if you get killed you can never truly die since a piece of you will live on inside that object; the Horcrux.”

“What?” Malfoy gasps. “That’s what you did? You made a Horcrux that kept you alive?”

“No!” Harry exclaims, horrified by the thought of anyone thinking that of him. “Fuck’s sake, Malfoy! No, I didn’t…” Harry inhales deeply to calm himself down. “Sorry, I… Just let me tell you about Voldemort’s Horcruxes, alright?”

“Horcruxes? As in plural?”

“Yeah. Okay, so… Well, he had Horcruxes made, and these were what made it possible for him to come back.”

“How many?” Malfoy breathes, hanging on Harry’s every word.

“Six. Well, he thought he made six. I guess he figured splitting your soul into seven pieces would make a great statement of his ‘immense power and determination’ or something.”

“And they’re still out there?”

“No, they’re all gone now. That’s what we were doing all of seventh year; trying to find them and destroy them. If we hadn’t, he would still be immortal.”

“Good to know,” Malfoy says, his shoulders lowering a fraction in relief. “What kind of objects were they?”

“Well, the first one you might remember. It was the diary your father gave to Ginny in second year. The one who persuaded her to open the Chamber of Secrets?”

“Oh, shit. That was a Horcrux? With The Dar— Vo-ldemort’s soul in it?”

“Mm-hmm,” Harry confirms. “And the second one was the ring that got Dumbledore cursed.”

Harry waits for Malfoy’s nod before continuing.

“The third was a locket, the one we’d been out searching for when you confronted Dumbledore in the Astronomy Tower.”

Malfoy winces at the memory but nods for Harry to go on.

“And I believe you’ve heard of the time when we broke into Gringotts and escaped on a dragon? Everyone seems to have heard about that…”

“Yes, I still can’t believe you actually did that,” Malfoy huffs amused, a smirk curling his lips as he shakes his head.

“That’s when we tracked down the fourth, in Bellatrix’s vault. The fifth was the diadem we found in the Room of Requirement that night when…”

“Yes, I remember the diadem. I’ve been wondering about that one.” Malfoy blinks slowly and Harry guesses he fights to stave off the memory of the raging Fiendfyre. “So, what was the last one?”

“It was Nagini, the snake.”

“…which Longbottom killed,” Malfoy says. “So… six Horcruxes, all found and destroyed. But that doesn’t explain why you didn’t try to kill him when he raised his wand against you.”

Harry smirks.

“Thought you said you’d be able to follow the plot. What happened to your observational skills?”

Harry winks at him playfully and his heart skips a beat when he sees Malfoy’s cheeks darken.

“Wha…? Wait… You said…” Malfoy’s really cute when he’s thinking frantically, Harry decides, all determined and frustrated. “You said he thought he made six. He made another one?”

“Yeah, he made another one. By accident. The night he died.”

Malfoy frowns, searching for an answer in Harry’s face. Harry silently points at himself and watches as Malfoy’s eyes widen.

“You?” he breathes, incredulous. “You were a Horcrux? Oh, holy fucking Merlin…”

“Yeah,” Harry concedes, smiling faintly. “So, that’s why I…”

“…had to die. To destroy the Horcrux.”

Harry nods.

“Well, fuck.”

Harry takes another swallow of his tea and turns his gaze towards the crib as he lets Malfoy process everything in silence. There are at least ten minutes before Malfoy breaks the silence in the room again.

“For what it’s worth, I’m glad you decided to come back.”

Harry looks at him, surprised. “You are?”

“You kidding me? Of course, I am. I’ll choose you over him any day of the week.”

“Really?” Harry can’t help a dry laugh from escaping his throat. “You saying that between me and the epitome of evil, I’d come out on top? Wow, Malfoy, I’m flattered.”

Harry brings a palm to his heart and flutters his eyelashes coyly. He has no idea why. Probably to break the uneasy tension that all the talk about death and Horcruxes has created between them.

Malfoy huffs a laugh, stretching out a foot to kick Harry’s leg lightly. “Don’t get used to it.”

“Wouldn’t dream of it,” Harry grins.

It has started to rain outside, a gentle patter on the windowsill breaking the silence as they both drift off, wrapped up as they are in their own thoughts. It’s only a week until Christmas, and yet they still haven’t seen a single snowflake fall from the sky. Maybe they never have snow here in Somerset at Christmas? Harry has no idea, but he guesses he’s been spoiled during his winters up north in Scotland.

It’s awfully dark out there, though, now the moon isn’t shining through the clouds. Maybe he should offer to put up some fairy lights in the garden this weekend? It’d brighten the place up a bit.

Malfoy shifts in his seat, re-wrapping the blanket around him before speaking.

“So, your turn.”

“Er, okay. Um, well…”

He knows exactly what he wants to ask Malfoy tonight, just…

“I don’t even know if I really want to know the answer to this one, but…”

“Should I be worried?”

Harry gives him a faint smile, shaking his head.

“No, not as long as you don’t care about my stifling guilt.”

“Alright then,” Malfoy shrugs, trying to look nonchalant and only failing slightly. “Come on, just ask, will you? You know, I might not feel inclined to answer anyway, so…”

“Okay… um…” Harry hesitates. Even though he knows what to ask, he has no idea how to phrase his words. “The Sec… Sectumsempra… that day in the bathroom… I…”

He falters as he is attacked by the image of Malfoy lying in a pool of blood on the cold tile floor. Tears are welling up in his eyes as he turns a pleading look at the man before him. “I’m so, so sorry for that, by the way…”

Malfoy swallows, and Harry watches his Adam’s apple move up and down that pale slender neck.

“Don’t, alright? I was about to Crucio you… and Snape saved the day, so…”

“Still…” Harry frowns.

“Hey…” Malfoy says softly, “I forgave you for that a long time ago, just… What did you want to ask?”

Harry has to close his eyes to force the words from his mouth.

“That… What I did to you…” Inhaling deeply, he wills himself to look at Malfoy. “…did it scar?”

Malfoy nods. “Yes, it did.”

“It did?” Harry winces at the thought of having caused an ugly permanent scar on the man who looks as perfect as an angel fallen from heaven. “How bad is it?”

“It’s a few lines crisscrossed over my chest, from here…” Malfoy places a hand right next to his collarbone, “to here…” he says as he slides those long slim fingers down to his right hipbone. Harry follows the movement with widened eyes. “Good thing I’m so pale, or they’d be more noticeable than they are.”

“Can I… Can I see them?”

Harry has no idea why he’s being such a masochist.

Malfoy gives him a strange look. “I guess…”

He leans over to place his tea on the floor, then shimmies out of his dressing-gown before grabbing the hem of his long-sleeved t-shirt and dragging it over his head unceremoniously.

Oh, Merlin

All that pale smooth skin… It’s practically glowing in the darkness and… Harry swallows, moving closer, watching Malfoy’s broad chest heave slightly with every inhale.

The blond is definitely not a scrawny teenager anymore; like he was in sixth year when fear and anxiety ruled his life. Seems a few months here, with healthy comfort food in peaceful surroundings, have made all the difference.

With bated breath Harry allows his gaze to follow the faint lines running down Malfoy’s torso, from his well-defined collarbones, down the middle between his dark nipples…

By Godric, don ’t look too closely, Harry. And swallow down that excess saliva before you start drooling, damn it!

When his eyes reach Malfoy’s flat stomach Harry’s gaze is diverted from the scars by a tantalising navel… and that golden blond trail of hair that disappears down the waistline of—

Woah, don ’t even go there. The scars, Harry! You’re supposed to be looking at his scars!

The expanse of perfect porcelain skin is mesmerising, and Harry wants to touch, wants to feel that gorgeous body under his fingers. It isn’t until Malfoy clears his throat that Harry realises his hand is already halfway on its way to—

Harry looks up, snatching his hand back, and he swallows hard as his eyes fall on the tousled hair on Malfoy’s head. It must have been messed up when Malfoy took off his shirt, and Harry can only stare as he takes in Malfoy’s deliciously dishevelled state.

Fuck.

Blushing fiercely, Harry panics and lowers his gaze again, only to have it fall directly on Malfoy’s crotch…

Wait, is he …? No, he can’t be… But… It certainly looks like—

Oh for fuck ’s sake, Harry, get a grip.

Mortified, Harry averts his eyes as fast as he’s able, zeroing in on the black ink on his left arm.

Well, that ’s better. At least it doesn’t make me wanna pounce and devour him on the spot. At least, not as desperately.

Malfoy starts to turn his forearm inward, trying to hide it from Harry’s eyes when he notices him watching the mark. Before he manages though, Harry grabs Malfoy’s wrist and pulls it towards him. Silently, he turns Malfoy’s arm around to expose the faded image and with his other hand, Harry reaches out to trace his fingertips over the mark. Malfoy’s arm twitches as Harry’s fingers move over his skin, but he doesn’t try to pull it free from Harry’s loose grip.

“Did it hurt?” Harry whispers.

“More than anything I’ve ever felt.”

Harry thinks of the Sectumsempra and the feeling of a well-cast Crucio and shudders.

“Why did you choose to do it?”

“There was no choice.”

“You always have a choi—”

“No, I didn…” Malfoy stops himself and sighs. “Well, maybe I did, but… You see, Father had been sent to Azkaban and the— Voldemort demanded me, being the heir, to replace him. Said it was my duty.”

Harry looks up at Malfoy, meeting his bright grey eyes.

“Father told me to see it as an honour to be offered the mark before I even was of age, but honestly… The mark — and the task I was given — was, in fact, just my Father’s punishment for failing to retrieve the Prophecy from the Ministry.”

Eyes widening, Harry stops breathing completely as Malfoy shakes his head slightly and continues.

“I was never expected to succeed. I was expected to fail, to become a disgrace to the family and then punished in front of my parents’ eyes, possibly with an agonising death.”

“No, but…” Harry can’t even fathom the… “that’s just cru—”

“—Cruel? Yes, of course, it is,” Malfoy bites back, indignant. “Have you forgotten who we’re talking about here?”

“No,” Harry whispers, lowering his gaze back to the mark. “So, you didn’t want it?”

“Not at the time, no. I had already started doubting the cause, but by then it was too late to break away.”

Malfoy gently pulls his arm from Harry’s grasp and starts putting his t-shirt back on. Harry takes that as his cue to retreat to his own end of the sofa, securing his half-hard prick from view under his blanket.

“But I’m not going to lie to you,” Malfoy grits, regret clearly visible in his tense features, “there was a time when I did want it. There was a time when I aspired to be just like them. You should never forget that.”

“I won’t,” Harry whispers.

Remembering that — and how much you ’ve changed since then — is what makes me like you so much more.

— ¤ O ¤ —

“Potter?”

“Mm-hmm,” Harry answers distractedly.

It’s Friday evening again, and Harry is standing by the sink doing the washing-up. Malfoy still refuses to help him with the drying, saying Harry can very well do it himself if he’s so stupid as to insist on doing it the Muggle way. Instead, he’s seated by the table, skimming through a newspaper by the sound of it.

“Isn’t this the bloke who played Romeo in that movie we saw the other week?”

“Who?”

“The man in this picture.”

“Malfoy, how can you possibly think I’d be able to answer that? I’m over here, the picture you’re talking about is all the way over there.”

“Well, come over here and have a look then.”

“But my hands are all dripping wet… And I want this done before Andromeda comes down with Teddy.”

Andromeda had insisted on giving Teddy his bath tonight, eager to spend some extra time with him before leaving for her charity work. Since it’s the last Friday before Christmas, they have some kind of crafts workshop planned, chatting and drinking tea while making ornaments together.

“What does the caption under the picture say?”

“Oh, let’s see…” Malfoy clears his throat and Harry can hear the rustle of newsprint. “Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet in last year’s box office wonder Titanic. Watch it on Friday 18 November at 20.00 on BSkyB, channel BBC One.”

“DiCaprio?” Harry frowns, placing another plate in the drainer. “Yeah, I believe that’s his name.”

“Alright, hmm… According to the article, this movie is supposed to be good. Most expensive movie ever made… and most successful movie ever, they say.”

“Yeah? Cool. Haven’t heard of it.” Harry places the last glass on the drainer before emptying the sink and reaching for the towel. “You wanna watch it?”

“Would that even be possible?” Malfoy looks down at the paper again, furrowing his brow in that cute way he does when he’s confused enough not to remember hiding it. “Do we have a… BSkyB? — whatever that is?”

“Yeah, I think we do.” Harry shrugs and glances over to the kitchen clock. “It’s only half seven, we can still catch it if you want.”

“If you don’t mind. From what I can tell by this picture, it seems like they’re on a boat of some sort out on the ocean. I’ve never been on a boat, but I’ve always wanted to go.”

Harry fights a smile.

“Well, it’s called Titanic so, yeah… I’m guessing there’ll definitely be a boat.”

“How would you know? You said you hadn’t heard of this movie?”

Malfoy looks at him suspiciously, pursing his lips.

“Well, Titanic’s a pretty famous ship, so…”

Harry shrugs and grabs another plate from the drainer.

“It is? Never heard of it.”

In his mental archive, Harry takes a moment to note that this is possibly the first time he’s ever heard this notorious know-it-all readily admitting any lack of knowledge.

“No? Well, then I guess you’ll be able to learn something new tonight,” Harry winks and places the last dry plate on top of his pile. “So, will you take over this or would you rather make the popcorn?”

It’s a rhetorical question. Harry knows perfectly well which alternative Malfoy will choose. It doesn’t matter. Harry just wants Malfoy to join him by the counter, pathetically craving any minute of domestic bliss this man is willing to give him.

“Why don’t you just continue with what you’re doing, Potter. I’ll take care of the popcorn if it’s all the same to you.”

“Be my guest,” Harry smiles, grabbing the pile of plates and carrying it over to the china cabinet.

He argues with himself whether to tell Malfoy of Titanic’s tragic fate or not. Maybe he should have, but how was he supposed to know the movie would turn out to be so bloody emotional?

— ¤ O ¤ —

“Oh, holy fucking Merlin, it’s huge! Are all Muggle boats that huge?”

“No, silly.”

“Muggles really built that thing?”

“Yeah, and in 1912. Just… shut up and watch the movie, alright.”

“Oh, thank you, Molly! Godric, that man’s an insufferable twat!”

“Oh, calm down, Potter. He’s just—”

“As if she couldn’t speak for herself… Yes! Good one, Rose. Haha, told him off, alright.”

“Who’s Freud?”

“Oh, I’ll tell you later. Now look, there she comes…”

“You okay?”

“Mm-hmm, just…”

“Just…?”

“Just… I know the feeling…”

“Yeah? Did you ever try…”

“No, was never brave enough to… Oh, look, Potter, he’s just like you.”

“Just like… What are you—”

“That fucking saviour complex of yours — he’s got it too.”

“Nah, he’s a sneaky bloody Slytherin, that’s what he is.”

“No, not in a million—”

“He is! Don’t you see how he’s just manipulating her to get her to climb back over? There you go, good girl… Shit!”

“Woah! No! She can’t—”

“Come on, Malfoy, calm down. We know she’ll survive…”

“We do?”

“Well, yeah! She’s the one telling the story decades later, right.”

“Right. Guess I forgot that for a moment.”

“Well then.” … “It’ll be alright, don’t worry.”

“I’m not…”

“Wow! Godric, they’re rude.”

“Are they?”

“Well, yeah! That man’s the most passive-aggressive shit I’ve ever seen.”

“Clearly you’ve never attended a dinner at Malfoy Manor.”

“Oh, you bloody wanker, you know I haven’t. And if that’s the way you’re treated there, I don’t think I’d like to go either.”

“Well, I’m not going to force you to.”

“Thanks, Malfoy. Appreciate it.”

“You’re welcome.”

“You think she’s beautiful?”

“Well, yeah. Obviously.”

“Obviously?”

“Yeah, she’s like… an ideal beauty, I guess?”

“I suppose…”

“So, what d’you think of him, then?”

“Oh, well… he’s rather cute. Quite charming. Totally unrefined, though.”

“Oh, you haughty ponce. Of course, you’d say that.”

“Well, you asked.” … “Wish I could draw like that.”

“So, I guess it’s happening now.”

“What?”

“There’s the iceberg.”

“Oh, fuck…”

“Yeah, fuck…”

“Holy shit, she’s gonna jump back!” … “What the fuck, Cal? Give it up already. Don’t you see she doesn’t want you?”

“What is he—”

“No! Why the fuck are you shooting at them? Run, damn it.”

“Sodding Salazar. His fiancée just escaped, and he cares about the bloody diamond? He doesn’t deserve her.”

“Sure doesn’t.”

“Fuck, I hate being cold.”

“Yeah, me too. That water must be freezing.”

“I wonder how long it takes before you die in that?”

“Honestly? Don’t wanna know.”

“Salazar, my teeth are practically chattering just by looking at them.”

“Want another blanket?”

“No, but thanks.”

“Okay. Just let me know if you change your mind.”

“Oh, shit. He’s going to die, right?”

“Yeah, looks like it.”

“And she’s going to survive because of him.”

“Yeah…”

“He’s going to make her promise, and then he’ll die.”

“Well, fuck…”

— ¤ O ¤ —

They don’t say anything else after that, both of them clearly too emotional to speak without giving away how close to tears they really are. Because they both are, Harry’s sure he’s not the only one about to cry as they watch Jack and Rose waiting for a lifeboat that cannot come back soon enough.

And then it happens, just as Rose finally notices the boat coming and starts pleading for Jack to wake up. Her fragile voice breaks, and that’s when Harry feels Malfoy wrapping his slender fingers around his hand. It feels like the most natural thing in the world, and yet, as Harry takes the offered hand and squeezes it reassuringly, his heart starts racing, pumping hot adrenaline-spiked blood through his body at a record pace.

They stay like that, fingers entwined and eyes fixed on the screen until Rose reunites with Jack by the clock and the credits start rolling. Malfoy clears his throat and Harry reluctantly lets go when the man pulls his hand back and stands up. Grabbing the empty popcorn bowl from the sofa table, Malfoy quickly takes his refuge in the kitchen, leaving Harry seated in front of the telly watching the credits absentmindedly.

Harry’s hand feels empty without Malfoy’s there to hold him, cold without Malfoy’s body heat to warm him. His chest is still heaving, working together with his lungs to take in enough oxygen to feed his speeding heart. There’s no way to know how to interpret what just happened. No matter how well Harry’s gotten to know Malfoy these last few months, he’s still an inscrutable enigma.

Shaking his head to get rid of his jumbled thoughts, Harry rises from his seat and walks over to the window overlooking the garden. He has a vague memory of Andromeda returning sometime just after the ship started tilting, and since that was easily over an hour ago it must be close to midnight by now.

The moon is just a sliver of silver in the clear sky, for once allowing the stars to shine as bright as Lumos in the dark. They look like a million diamonds sprinkled over rich black velvet, and the sight takes Harry’s breath away.

“What are you thinking?”

Malfoy’s murmur is soft and gentle from over by the doorway, and yet it’s easily carried by the silence to where Harry’s standing.

“I’m thinking… I wanna go flying.”

“Flying? Now? In the middle of the night?”

“Well, yeah. It’s beautiful out there.”

Harry turns around to face Malfoy, his instinctual whim changing into full-fledged idea as he takes in the man before him. “Come with me?”

Malfoy frowns.

Please, say yes.

“Er… I don’t have a broom…”

That ’s not a no.

“I’m sure you can borrow Dora’s if—”

“…and… if you’ve forgotten, I have this…” Malfoy holds out his right arm, showing off his magic-repressing bracelet, “…which will make it hard for me to use a magical vehicle like—”

“Ride with me,” Harry blurts, stopping himself just before adding We’ve done it before.

Malfoy stares at him with widened eyes.

“I haven’t…” He blinks, swallowing hard. “I haven’t been on a broom since… Since you…”

“…Since the Fiendfyre,” Harry finishes for him in a gentle voice. “Me neither.”

Harry doesn’t know why it suddenly feels so important to go for a fly in the middle of the night, much less why it’d be so urgent to have Malfoy come with him. It just is. Right here, right now, in the middle of the night, it feels like the most important thing in the world. Harry’s gut feeling tells him they need to do this, and if there’s anything he’s learnt in his life it’s to trust his gut feeling.

“Come on, Malfoy, it’ll be amazing.”

Harry leaves the window to approach Malfoy still standing by the door. He lets his mouth curve into a challenging smirk.

“Don’t be scared.”

“I’m not scared,” Malfoy retorts, tightening his jaw as his eyes narrow defiantly.

“Then come with me,” Harry says. “Please…”

“We’re going to freeze our bollocks off.”

Harry chuckles and slaps him gently on the arm as he passes him on his way out of the room.

“No, you twat, that’s what warming charms are for. Now get your cloak and put on your warmest boots. I’ll meet you outside in a bit.”

“Bossy, aren’t we?”

When Harry turns to look at him, he’s met by an elegantly raised eyebrow over glittering grey eyes.

“Not bossy, just excited,” he grins and heads upstairs to fetch his broom.

Malfoy groans but follows him.

“Oh, Potter. You’ll be the death of me.”

Five minutes later they’re standing in the middle of the frosty lawn, the chilly night air biting at their cheeks, tinting them a healthy rose. The night is calm, eerie silent — as if the world is holding its breath in anticipation for something unknown about to happen.

Harry casts a strong wandless Warming Charm over them both before pulling on his woollen mittens. Malfoy’s looking much too gorgeous in his black cloak, his blond locks hidden under a Slytherin green knitted hat and a matching scarf wrapped in several layers around his neck. The tip of his nose is already pink from the cold but the excitement twinkling in his eyes is something Harry hasn’t seen Malfoy expressing in several years.

Harry can feel a swarm of pixies start stirring in his belly and averts his gaze to mount the Firebolt already hovering beside him. It was a birthday gift from the Weasleys who had hoped a flight on a new broom could ease his depressed state. It had been a nice thought, they all know how much Harry loves flying, and yet he hasn’t felt any desire to use it — until now.

Behind him, Malfoy throws his leg over the stick, and Harry’s heartbeat quickens as a warm broad chest moves in to brush against his back. As Malfoy wraps his arms loosely around Harry’s waist, wary leather-gloved hands sliding over his torso, Harry swallows and clears his throat.

“Where to, then?”

Harry trembles from the sensation of Malfoy’s warm breath grazing the side of his neck as he leans forward to whisper in Harry’s ear.

“To the stars.”

It’s a good thing Harry is already sitting on the broom, or his knees would have given out and sent him straight to the ground in a mortifying heap.

Oh, dear Merlin. Did Malfoy just quote Rose from that scene in the car? The words she said just before they

Pixies now fluttering wildly in his belly, Harry blinks the dizziness from his eyes and takes in a deep breath of cool winter air to clear his mind.

“Okay, hold tight.”

And then they’re off, soaring through the endless sky. Harry can’t help a broad grin from splitting his face. Malfoy’s arms hug him tighter, pressing their bodies together, and Harry gasps as Malfoy leans forward and his cheek grazes Harry’s jaw.

“Level out,” he says, the muscles of his face moving against Harry’s skin.

Harry readily complies, pushing down on the broom to have them sail through the peaceful night in parallel with the ground way down below.

“Good. Now hold her steady.”

Harry nods, just to nearly lose control of the broom a second later as Malfoy’s arms start to draw back from around his body.

Shit. What the hell is he doing?

Malfoy pauses his movements behind him. “Trust me.”

Gritting his teeth, Harry takes a steadying breath and tightens his grip on the broom handle. His stomach lurches as Malfoy lets go and straightens up behind him.

Nothing but open air in front of them, Harry dares to turn his head around to watch what Malfoy’s up to. The blond is sitting behind him, his posture as proud and regal as ever before, his arms stretched out wide. He looks happier than Harry’s ever seen him, eyes closed in contentment and an open smile adorning his stunning features. Harry swallows hard, his mouth suddenly dry, as Malfoy wets his lips with the tip of his rosy tongue.

“I’m the king of the world!”

Malfoy’s jubilant voice echoes through the night, breaking the eerie silence. Harry can only stare at him in amazement, meeting his gaze with a fond smile as Malfoy opens his eyes to look straight at him. Malfoy lets out an exhilarated howl before leaning in to wrap his arms around Harry again.

Harry howls with him, steering the broom into a spin as soon as he can feel Malfoy’s body securely pressed against him once more.

— ¤ O ¤ —

They’re both laughing and high on adrenalin as they finally touch ground half an hour later. Harry stumbles as he puts his weight on his feet, his legs barely holding him up as they tremble from exhaustion.

Harry is unsure which of them loses his balance first as they’re getting off the broom, but whoever it is he’s taking the other down with him and before they know it they’re tumbling together on the frozen ground. Being the competitive wizards they are, the innocent fall quickly turns into a playful challenge and soon they’re both laughing helplessly as they fight for dominance over the other.

Harry eventually manages to get on top of Malfoy, pressing him down chest to chest against the ground while struggling to get a hold of Malfoy’s flailing arms. Malfoy reaches down to tickle Harry in the ribs and as Harry tries to fight him off his wrists are suddenly grasped by Malfoy’s strong hands and pulled over his head.

There’s nothing Harry can do when Malfoy wraps his legs around Harry’s waist and rolls him over, straddling him securely and holding his arms firmly down against the ground above Harry’s head.

They’re both panting heavily as they still, Harry totally losing his will to fight as their laughter dies down and he finds himself looking into those bright silvery eyes. The energy shifts around them, all playfulness gone from one moment to the next, and then the world stops in its tracks as Harry drowns in Malfoy’s heated gaze. Heart beating wildly, Harry succumbs to the inevitable and lifts his head to reach up and graze his lips against Malfoy’s.

They’re cool and dry, tasting sweet as honey and so soft to the touch Harry never wants to let go. Malfoy doesn’t pull back, but he doesn’t respond either so Harry reluctantly forces himself to draw back slightly, holding his breath as he searches Malfoy’s eyes. They are deep with emotion, pupils blown wide, and Harry can feel Malfoy’s hot breath against his lips as he tries to determine what the man is thinking.

Hoping to Merlin he hasn’t read the signals wrong, Harry plucks up another dose of his hastily weakened Gryffindor courage. Wetting his trembling lips he reaches up to close the distance between them again.

As their lips meet for the second time, Harry watches Malfoy slowly closing his eyes before he gives in and meets Harry’s kiss with a soft sigh.

It’s the most exquisite thing Harry’s ever experienced; Malfoy’s lips against his, gently pressing back as Harry strains his neck to move as close to Malfoy as humanly possible. Malfoy’s grip is firm around his wrists, detecting every beat of Harry’s racing heart.

Harry whimpers helplessly as Malfoy leans in to suck on Harry’s bottom lip, and he arches his back from the cold ground in an attempt to get closer to Malfoy. The weight of Malfoy’s body is pinning him down, and suddenly Harry is acutely aware of strong muscled thighs against his sides and Malfoy’s groin pressed against his stomach. As Harry thrusts against him his half-hard cock grazes the crease of Malfoy’s arse, and even though there are several layers of clothing between them Harry nearly comes from the mere notion of their close proximity.

Moaning desperately, Harry takes Malfoy’s cool delicious lips in another fervent kiss. He wants to stay like this forever, kissing Malfoy until the end of time. There can be nothing in this world able to compete with the sensation of Malfoy’s mouth against his, sending him soaring in a whirlwind of ecstasy and bliss. Why haven’t they done this before? Why did they ever waste a single day fighting when they could’ve done this instead?

Malfoy releases one of his wrists, and Harry instantly reaches up to pull off Malfoy’s hat and rake his fingers through those silky blond locks. They’re every bit as soft and smooth as Harry has imagined, and the feel of them against his skin sends Harry into another bout of desperate want.

Then there’s a palm on Harry’s chest, pinning him down, and before he knows it Malfoy’s lips are gone and Harry finds himself staring up into tormented eyes. Chest heaving heavily under Malfoy’s hand, he watches as Malfoy pulls away and straightens his back. Harry can’t keep his cock from twitching under the pressure of Malfoy’s arse against his groin, his hardness eagerly prodding Malfoy’s crotch.

Something’s clearly not okay, and Harry fears he’s the one who has somehow caused the pain that seems to be tearing Malfoy apart from within. Trembling, Harry reaches out with his free hand to graze Malfoy’s cheek, frowning in concern as Malfoy leans away from his touch.

Malfoy tightens his jaw and grits, “No. Don’t.”

Harry tries to reach for him again but lowers his arm to the ground as Malfoy shies away from his touch for a second time. Harry watches powerless as Malfoy’s features shutter closed and his voice quavers when he speaks softly.

“Hey, what’s wrong? I thought—”

“No,” Malfoy says, his voice suddenly cold and steady. “Just because I’m bent doesn’t mean you can just… use me for your experiments.”

His eyes are steel-grey now, completely void of emotion, and Harry blinks from the sudden pain as his heart clenches violently.

Experiments? He thinks I just want to play with him? Doesn ’t he know how much…?

“No, that’s not… I want…”

“Go find yourself another bloke,” Malfoy says, anger seething from his very being as he rises from the ground to look down at Harry from above. “I’m not available.”

Malfoy turns on his heel and walks towards the cottage. Harry watches his retreating back feeling tears pooling in his eyes.

“But I…” he calls after him, his voice breaking. “Malfoy?”

“Stay away from me, Potter,” Malfoy growls, and just like that, all those vicious consonants are back, sharp as daggers as they pierce Harry’s heart.

The sound of the back door slamming closed echoes through the valley in the still winter night. Left alone on the cold ground, Harry watches the stars twinkling at him from the velvety black sky. They’re just as beautiful as they were one hour ago, just as bright and enticing, and Harry wishes he could turn back time to that moment when he was standing by the window in the sitting room; wishes for a chance to make this last hour of his life undone; wishes for another chance to not screw everything up.

Harry takes a ragged breath and closes his eyes as he lets the tears fall.

— ¤ O ¤ —

Chapter Text

The miserable have no other medicine but only hope.
- Claudio (Measure for Measure)

— ¤ O ¤ —

Saturday, 19 December 1998

I can ’t do this anymore. I need to get out of here. I need to get away from him before it’s too late.

What am I saying? It ’s already too late.

And where would I go? I have nowhere to go but back to the Manor, and I can ’t… No, DeeDee, I can’t do that. I’m stuck here, and I don’t know how to survive this.

Last night was perfect. Up until that very last moment, it was effing perfect.

I still don ’t know how he was able to persuade me to get on that broom. (Oh, who am I kidding? Of course, I do. I’m pretty sure that man could persuade me into anything he wanted with nothing but a mischievous wink. Or one of his radiant smiles. But still — An Effing Broom-ride!?)

I ’m glad he did, though, no matter how it all turned out in the end. I can’t believe how I ever thought I could live without flying, without the feeling of freedom and endless possibilities that comes from sailing through the open air a hundred feet above the ground. I can’t even remember the last time I felt so alive as I did last night.

When he first suggested it, I honestly thought he had gone completely barmy. Why would he even think I ’d consider going up in the air again after that time in the Room of Requirement? And on his broom too?

The mere memory of that night — with the heat scorching my lungs and the smoke watering my eyes — still has the power to trigger anxiety attacks whenever it manages to invade my conscious mind. I will forever remember the scent of him as I clung desperately to his firm body, my heart beating wildly as he steered our way through the inferno towards safety.

And there I was last night, willingly mounting a broom together with him again, willingly wrapping my arms around his torso and letting him take me up in the air. It should have been enough to make me panic, but it didn ’t. Because flying with him last night was nothing like the last time. The heat from the fire was substituted by the cool winter air, the stifling smoke replaced with invigorating freshness. Instead of the blinding brightness of the flames, we were surrounded by serene darkness, and the sound of crackling fire was exchanged with peaceful silence.

It was perfection. It was happiness. It was elation, euphoria, bliss.

And then he kissed me. He kissed me, DeeDee — and due to my exhilarated state, for a moment I let myself believe that it was real. That the possibility of us together like that wasn ’t just a hopeless fantasy of mine but something that could actually happen in real life. For a moment, I allowed him to turn my futile dreams into reality and I have no idea how I will ever recover from this.

Because I know he doesn ’t really want me. How could he? He’s not even gay. He is just lonely and miserable and desperate for love and tenderness. Desperate enough to resort to someone like me when he could have anyone in the world. Just because I was foolish enough to tell him about my sexuality, it deluded him into thinking that he could get what he longed for with me. Not because he likes me, not because he cares about me, but just because I’m here. Because it would be convenient.

My rational self-preservation eventually managed to quell my opportunistic desire. But before it did, I got to experience his lips against mine, his hot breath mingled with mine, and sweet Salazar … those fingers entangled in my hair. And I will now live the rest of my life with the knowledge of how it feels to kiss the man of your dreams, only to never be able to do it again.

Because I can never allow it to happen again, no matter how much my aching heart yearns for it. If I do, it will only turn into disaster the day he realises his mistake, and he will leave me a crushed wreck, a devastated puddle on the floor, as he walks out to find the woman who will give him the perfect family he so longs for.

We could have been friends. After all this time and everything that has transpired between us, these past few months had finally got me thinking we could.

And now he has ruined it all.

Why did he have to do that, DeeDee? Why?

And great. Now I ’m pathetically wetting your pages with my tears.

I need to get out of here. Can ’t stand the risk of running into him unprepared when I’m in this state. I need to get him out of my mind. I need to give up this stupid infatuation before it destroys me completely.

You know what? I could really use the calming effect of Potions brewing right now. I wonder if I can set foot in that place without constantly being reminded of just who took their time to set it all up for me? But at least I would be out of here for a while. It ’s certainly worth a try.

— ¤ O ¤ —

The next day Malfoy is nowhere to be seen. According to Andromeda, he’s taken his refuge in the Potions lab at Grimmauld Place and Harry’s grateful for his absence. He can’t help worrying, though, when Malfoy doesn’t show up for dinner, but since he’d told him to stay away, Harry honours his request and refrains from bothering him even though he’s dying to make sure that the man is alright.

Because, he was in quite a state when he fled the garden last night — they both were — and who knows what’s going on in that head of his now. Harry had thought he knew; had thought he’d seen his own attraction mirrored back in Malfoy’s eyes. But apparently, he’d been wrong. Malfoy isn’t interested in him that way. All those moments between them that Harry had interpreted as flirting… As it appears, it was really only teasing after all.

And Harry is surprised by how much Malfoy’s rejection hurts. Sure, he knew he was attracted to the man, but that’s not reason enough to react as strongly as he did when Malfoy pushed him away and told him to stay away. Harry can understand feeling mortified or embarrassed for misreading the situation; he can get wanting to turn back time and have the moment undone. But this isn’t only just that. This is something more, something Harry can’t put his finger on. And it hurts.

Fuck, how it hurts.

Harry can feel Andromeda’s concerned eyes on him. But even though she can clearly see something’s wrong, she doesn’t say anything. And since Harry isn’t really in the mood to share either, they both act as if nothing’s happened; going through the day as usual without any mention of Malfoy or his worrying absence.

When the evening comes, Harry hides away up in his room. He has left a plate of the Shepherd’s Pie he made for dinner on the counter under a Warming Charm and he hopes Malfoy isn’t too proud to leave it untouched. Malfoy’s such a stubborn git sometimes, and that pride of his has never done him any good as far as Harry knows.

Laying curled up on his bed, Harry longs for the peacefulness of the nursery. He knows Teddy’s proximity is the only thing that would be able to make him feel better, but there’s no way he’d risk running into Malfoy in there right now. What they had in there — those magical moments of trust and honesty — feels much too precious in Harry’s eyes for him to taint with any confrontation that would surely arise between them if he did.

So he stays in his room, wide awake and haunted by feelings of regret and longing, of desire and sorrow — until the pale light of Sunday morning sneaks its way into the room through the narrow gap between his plum-coloured curtains.

Not in the mood to face anyone at all, Harry sends Molly an owl apologising for not being able to make it to Sunday dinner this week. He considers breakfast, but the nausea hitting him as soon as he thinks of a piece of toast makes him retreat to his room, telling Andromeda he’s not feeling well.

Cora returns an hour later, pecking on his bedroom window with Molly’s reply attached to her leg. She’s one of the most adorable owls Harry’s ever come upon, and she coos joyfully as he relieves her of the envelope and an attached parcel wrapped in sturdy brown paper.

*

Dear Harry,

I ’m so sorry to hear you won’t be able to come home today. We all hope you feel better soon, at least in time for Christmas Day on Friday.

Just so you know, Ginny will bring Neville on Friday, and last thing I heard George wanted to ask Angelina over as well. (Since her father is still in St Mungo ’s he didn’t want her to spend the day alone.) If there’s anyone you’d like to bring as well, please do. Anyone you want to take home for Christmas will, of course, be most welcome to join us.

I do hope I got the size right on these. I ’m unsure if any resizing charms may interfere with the built-in enchantments so if they don’t fit I’d rather you let me have another go, alright?

Please, give my regards to Andromeda and sweet little Teddy.

Love,
Molly

*

Harry’s first instinct when reading the letter is to venture downstairs to show Malfoy the evidence of Molly welcoming him to the Burrow. They’d talked about it once; him being accepted by the Weasleys if Malfoy was ever to join him there.

A moment later, Harry’s chest tightens painfully as he remembers their argument, remembers that Malfoy most likely never will accompany him to the Burrow, and it’s only then that he realises how much he’d been looking forward to taking Malfoy there one day, to have him seated beside him at the friendly kitchen table and make him taste the wonders of Molly’s cooking.

The fact that Malfoy was the first and only one who entered his mind while reading about bringing someone over for Christmas doesn’t strike him until several minutes later.

Sometime around midday Harry falls into a restless sleep, too tired to stay awake but with a mind too preoccupied with jumbled thoughts to come to rest. George’s owl has to peck on his window for quite some time before Harry realises the incessant sound isn’t a part of his nonsensical dream but a sound from the real world.

This letter is also accompanied by a parcel, a rectangular box enfolded in the bright orange wrapping paper they use in the shop for any and all products they’re asked to gift-wrap for their customers. Intrigued, Harry sets down the box on the bed and tears the envelope to read the message inside.

*

Hi mate,

We hope you ’re okay, and that you “not feeling very well” was only an excuse for you to get out of dinner and be able to do something (or someone?) else instead.

I was planning to give you this today, but since you didn ’t show up, I thought I’d better send it over to you. If things are as we hope they are, we figured you might need it.

Stay safe, and never underestimate the importance of a thorough prep.

Cheers,
Team Drarry

*

Harry groans. Team Drarry? Really?

Frowning at the cryptic note, Harry reaches out to unwrap the box. Something is rattling inside, something sounding vaguely like glass containers of some kind. Curious, Harry lifts off the lid to find two round jars on top of a rainbow-coloured book.

The jars aren’t labelled, but for a sticker on top of each lid, one with a picture of a treacle tart and the other displaying a green apple. The content in both jars look the same, some kind of clear gel, silky and cool to the touch, the scent and taste corresponding well to the pictures on their lids. Harry has a vague idea of what they are, but it isn’t until he picks up the book and reads its title that he accepts the fact that George has indeed sent him lube.

A Gay Guy ’s Guide to Glorious Goodness

Well, fuck. They can’t be serious?

Harry reads the note again, mortification rushing over him as he finally realises George and his two accomplices actually think he skipped out of Sunday dinner at the Burrow to do filthy things with Malfoy.

Oh, dear Merlin.

Cheeks flushing from embarrassment, Harry can’t resist opening the book to have a look inside — just a quick peek, to better judge its undoubtedly salacious content. Skimming the table of contents, Harry quickly deduces it really is what the title had him believe; some kind of beginners guide to gay sex.

There are many words in there he’s never heard before and have absolutely no idea of what they mean — like rimming and edging and docking — and a whole bunch of others whose meaning he can easily envision without further knowledge — words like fingering, deepthroating and fisting. The book seems to include instructions for everything from kissing to bondage, and when riffling through the pages Harry’s heartbeat quickens as he finds the instructions are also illustrated with glossy and sinfully erotic pictures — moving wizarding pictures — of men performing the techniques mentioned in their respective associated texts.

Fuck.

The book bounces on the mattress as Harry slams it shut and throws it down on the bed in front of him. Wide-eyed, he stares at it as it lies there on the dove-grey bedspread, trying and completely failing to look innocent despite its cheerful rainbow-coloured cover. Practically panting, Harry wills his half-hard cock to calm down by means of imagining Uncle Vernon stripping for Petunia.

Good Godric.

Only a few days ago Harry had probably thought it a pretty good joke, and considering his previous almost constant arousal from living in such close proximity to Malfoy he probably would have explored the contents of the book with much interest. Now though, after what happened Friday night, Harry can’t bear the thought of looking at gorgeous men doing sexy things to each other without breaking into tears.

Not trusting himself to touch the book again, Harry levitates it to his nightstand and drops it next to his water glass. The jars of lube go in the nightstand drawer together with George’s note. Seriously? Team Drarry!?

Harry guesses he should be thankful for their support and acceptance. After all, for all they know, everything is still fine and dandy between him and Malfoy. They don’t know anything about that fateful kiss they shared in the dead of night under a starry sky.

Taking one last look at the book, Harry persuades himself to go downstairs and prepare some dinner. He doesn’t think he’ll be able to eat anything, his appetite long gone, but that’s no reason to let Andromeda starve.

Harry’s proud to say the book lays untouched on his nightstand for over 48 hours.

— ¤ O ¤ —

Come Monday morning Harry reluctantly forces himself out of his funk, aware that Andromeda will surely need his help this week since it’s just a few days left until Christmas. She’s the kind of woman who stubbornly refuses to start decorating and preparing for the holiday even one minute before it’s decent, i.e. the week before Christmas, apparently.

Harry’s been itching to start in on the preparations for the longest time. Christmas is without a doubt his favourite holiday of the year and if he’d been allowed, he probably would’ve begun the decorating in early November. Granted, thanks to his current situation with Malfoy, he’s less enthused about bringing out the Christmas cheer than he was a week ago. But seeing it as a possible distraction from his current state of devastation, he throws himself into his task. Regardless of his discord with Malfoy, Harry decides this will be a merry Christmas if it kills him.

So he sets to baking mince pies and Yorkshire puddings, he conjures Christmas ornaments and brings in sprigs of holly and ivy from the forest on the other side of the valley. He even owls Hermione to ask her for the incantation to produce that snowfall charm that they always use in Hogwarts’ Great Hall, only to spell it to the ceiling of the nursery as soon as Cora returns from Scotland with her reply.

Being outside of his bedroom, though, turns out to be more difficult than he’d thought. Everywhere he goes he’s reminded of memories of him and Malfoy; bickering together, cooking together, watching movies together, sitting up talking together all through the night about things trivial and deadly serious, sitting together in peaceful silence for hours on end without any discomfort or awkwardness at all.

Harry finds he misses the prat, more than he ever thought possible. And not just his captivating features and gorgeous body or the mischievous glint in his silvery eyes, but all the rest of him too. His snarky comments, his haughty ponciness, his sharp wit and even his damned innuendos. Harry misses his amused smirk and his ice-cold feet. He misses his smile — especially that bright open smile he let show that night on the broom — and those precious moments of honest vulnerability Malfoy gifted him with on a few rare occasions.

While working to make the cottage ready for Christmas, Harry catches a glimpse of the blond from time to time. Harry’s aching to approach him, to ask him if he’s alright, to ask for another chance at friendship despite everything. But he manages to stay out of the way, reluctantly honouring Malfoy’s request of giving him space.

Getting through the nights without the option of visiting the nursery is almost unbearable. He has started to rely on his time in there with Teddy to soothe his soul, and without the sleeping baby close enough to hear his peaceful breathing, it’s almost impossible to stave off the grief and anxiety that washes over him as soon as darkness comes and he’s left alone with his thoughts.

But saying that Teddy’s presence is the only thing about the nursery that used to ease his mind would be lying. Harry has started to realise how much Malfoy’s proximity has come to mean to him. Though, seeing as he most likely won’t get it back again, at least not in the foreseeable future, Harry does his best to stop dreaming of the impossible. As it turns out, Harry’s best isn’t nearly enough to achieve the desired result.

And this is why Harry finally succumbs to the allure of that colourful book by his bedside late on Tuesday night — in search for any distraction that can help him get his futile yearning for Malfoy out of his mind, if only for a fleeting moment. Bracing himself for the onslaught of emotions he dives in headfirst, dead set on being open-minded and learning as much as possible — and not think of Malfoy, for at least one minute at a time. In this, he’s only partially successful, and he blames the models in the pictures for that. Especially that blond one whose flawless skin is almost as pale and enticing as Malfoy’s.

— ¤ O ¤ —

The vivid images of writhing bodies, leaking cocks and eager tongues are still dancing tantalisingly before Harry’s inner eye as he wakes up in a sweat on Wednesday morning. Despite last night’s satisfactory wank, he comes to consciousness with a raging hard-on throbbing painfully where it lies whining for attention, pressed between his stomach and the mattress.

Harry doesn’t even try to imagine anyone else when Malfoy enters his fantasy, and the orgasm hits him almost immediately as the imaginary blond turns his heated gaze to look at him from under those silky smooth locks of his dishevelled fringe.

Of course, and in perfect line with Harry’s usual fucked-up life, this is the day Malfoy finally decides to reappear in Harry’s life.

Fortunately, Harry at least had the energy to take a real shower this morning, opting for the calming feeling of water against his skin to a Cleansing Charm after his intense awakening. And if he got off again there, spraying his come over the tiles to the image of Malfoy sucking him off, it’s nobody’s business but his own.

But coming twice within thirty minutes while thinking of Malfoy isn’t exactly helping Harry to keep his cool when he enters the kitchen ten minutes later to find Malfoy seated at the breakfast table next to Andromeda. There have been several days since the man last sat down with them for a meal, or even occupied the same room as Harry for longer than thirty seconds at a time.

Seeing Malfoy in the kitchen does strange things to Harry’s belly. Not only because of his naughty morning activities, but also thanks to the fluttery feeling of nerves and excitement that hits him unawares as soon as his eyes fall on the man. The pale sunshine of winter dawn catches in the locks of his platinum-blond hair, the halo effect making him look even more like an angel than usual.

Malfoy doesn’t look up when Harry walks into the kitchen, nor does he acknowledge his presence as Harry sits down across from him by the table and helps himself to a cup of steaming hot tea and a piece of toast.

Exchanging a look with Andromeda, Harry is met with a faint smile. Her eyes are filled with concern and Harry forces his face to form into a smile of his own. They both know it’s fake, but at least he’s trying. Harry regards it as a success considering the circumstances.

The silence between them is all but comfortable, and if it wasn’t for the happily cooing baby in Andromeda’s lap Harry would start to think he’d gone deaf. Inside though, his heart is pleading for Harry to make things right between them again, to fix whatever needs to be fixed before it breaks into too many pieces to ever have a chance of being put back together again.

When Malfoy stands and carries his plate and empty teacup over to the sink, Harry feels desperation start clawing in his chest. Watching Malfoy’s retreating back, Harry forces his vocal cords to obey him, only quivering slightly as he says his first words to Malfoy since the man left him there on the cold ground nearly a week before.

“Malfoy, please—”

“No, Potter,” Malfoy grits without turning to face him, not even a trace of hesitation in his step as he walks out the door.

Harry turns his gaze to Andromeda, wondering what she makes of this new development between them, only to find her frowning as she searches his face for clues. Still reluctant to share the emotional turmoil tormenting him, Harry averts his eyes to look out the window at the frosty lawn outside. A moment later the soft sound of the study door closing reaches them from the hallway.

“How do you put up with the two of us?” Harry asks some minutes later. “If I were you, I’d have bristled and thrown us out of here ages ago.”

“Honestly? I need you around, both of you.”

“Why? Surely, your life would be easier without the two of us here to turn every new day into another episode of the never-ending drama that is the Potter-Malfoy Discord.”

“No, Harry,” Andromeda smiles fondly, “I need you here to distract me from breaking apart. Granted, I’d much prefer it if you found a way to get along, but even with all the ‘drama’, I’d rather you stayed here than leaving me in solitude.”

Harry senses she’s got more to say so he waits patiently as she takes a sip of her tea and closes her eyes as she swallows it down.

“I try to be strong for Teddy — I don’t want him to grow up in a home riddled with grief — but there are times when the absence of Ted… and my darling Dora… becomes almost too much to bear. I don’t even want to think about what would happen if you weren’t here to distract me when that feeling strikes.”

Her voice gets frail and rough when she talks about her late husband and daughter, her eyes bright with unshed tears as she silently pleads for him to understand how much she appreciates them both being around.

“Oh, Andromeda, I didn’t know…”

“Why should you? My dear Harry, you have your own grief to carry — we all do — and putting my misery on your shoulders wouldn’t be fair to any one of us.”

“Don’t they say a trouble shared is a trouble halved?”

“Oh, you Gryffindors and your naive optimism.” Andromeda sighs pointedly, rolling her eyes as she shakes her head.

“For some reason, I have a really hard time seeing myself as a naive optimist,” Harry says, his mouth curving into an amused smile.

“Alright then, let’s test your theory, shall we?”

Andromeda smirks and the expression suddenly makes her look so much like her nephew that Harry’s heart skips a beat.

“How?” he frowns, suddenly guarded as he reminds himself he’s in the company of another unpredictable Slytherin.

“Why don’t you share some of your troubles with me and let’s see if it helps you ease your mind? Tell me what happened between you and Draco. I thought you were on good terms these days?”

Without meaning to, her considerate question throws a dagger of pain and regret straight to Harry’s chest. Forcing down a deep inhale to his screaming lungs Harry turns his gaze out the window, not willing to show the tears threatening to fall from his eyes. When he speaks, his voice is weak and ragged as it breaks the silence in the room.

“We were. Or at least, I thought we were. It felt like we were. But…”

There’s a moment when Harry considers the possibility of not telling her. But they all live under the same roof, and no matter how much Harry wishes he could spare her from their conflicts, Andromeda is affected by them.

“But I… I fucked it all up.” Harry’s voice breaks and he swallows around the lump in his throat.

“Harry, whatever you did, I’m sure there’s a way to fix it.”

“No,” Harry sighs and shakes his head slightly, watching with unseeing eyes as the two squirrels play around outside in a pile of leaves. “However much I want it, I’m not sure there is.”

“Oh, my dear…” Her concerned frown is evident in her voice. “What did you do?”

“I… I kissed him.” Harry closes his eyes as the first tear falls down his cheek. “I kissed him, and he…”

Harry falters and tightens his grip on his teacup. Andromeda stays silent but lays a reassuring hand on his arm. Calmed by her touch, Harry heaves a sigh and clears his throat.

“…he told me to… to stay away. I-I thought he liked me too, but he said…” Harry swallows hard. “He said he was unavailable… a-and that I should find someone else.”

His words echo in his mind during the following silence and he lowers his gaze to look at the hand resting on his arm. Andromeda gives him a gentle squeeze, her slender fingers pale against his tanned skin.

“It’s just…”

Suddenly determined, Harry wills himself to look up and meet Andromeda’s warm eyes.

“I-I don’t want to find someone else, Andromeda. How could I, when all I can think about is him?”

“You need to talk to him, Harry. You need to figure this out and find your way back to each other. You’re not the only one suffering from this, dear — you both are — and I know that he cares deeply about you.”

“But…”

“Figure it out, Harry. Talk to him. After all, Christmas is a time for reconciliation.”

Andromeda stands and walks around the table to hand over Teddy into Harry’s care. Free of her load, she wraps her arms around Harry.

“You and Draco are as dear to me as if you were my own sons, and I really hate seeing the two of you hurting like this.”

Moved by her emotional words, so unlike her usual controlled poise, Harry can but sit and watch her as she clears the table and casts a Washing-up Charm on the dishes. Teddy reaches for his hand, smiling joyfully as Harry lets him wrap his tiny fist around his thumb.

Figure it out, Harry

For the thousandth time, Harry repeats Malfoy’s words in his mind.

He’d said he wasn’t available, that Harry should find himself someone else to… what was the word he’d used? Experiment with? Yes, Malfoy had said something about experimenting, something that had been swept out of Harry’s conscious mind only a moment later when Malfoy had uttered the words that had been stuck on repeat in his head ever since — that Harry should find someone else and that he wasn’t available…

What if?

No. That can ’t be it.

But, what if it is? What if Malfoy had just meant he wasn ’t available… for experimenting?

Harry takes a deep breath, trying to calm down the suddenly racing beat of his heart. What if Malfoy actually does like him but thought Harry was only fooling around… Oh, Merlin That could actually be the reason Malfoy rejected him.

Harry feels a glimmer of hope spark off deep in his chest and he fights to hold it back before it ignites his whole being. Because, Harry realises, if Malfoy actually likes him that way Harry needs to be very sure about his own feelings before he does anything reckless. He owes Malfoy that much at least.

And in the meantime, Harry needs to get Malfoy to talk to him again. For regardless of how deep his feelings for Malfoy truly are, Harry knows enough to know he can’t imagine a life without Malfoy in it anymore.

— ¤ O ¤ —

“Malfoy?”

It’s an hour before dinner and Harry is standing outside the door to the study. It has taken him the whole day to ponder what to say to Malfoy, only knowing he must say something before he explodes from frazzled nerves. He’s still not sure how he’s going to go about it, but the Gryffindor in him won’t let him stall any longer.

“Malfoy, can I talk to you for a moment?”

Harry stands with his cheek pressed against the smooth wood, listening for any signs of life in there. At least he knows Malfoy’s not able to cast a Silencing Charm so if the man is in there, he’ll hear him.

“Malfoy?”

There’s an annoyed grunt from the other side of the door, followed by muted footfalls, and Harry is just alert enough to step away from the door the moment before it opens to reveal a scowling Malfoy.

“Which part of ‘stay away from me’ was too hard to understand, Potter?”

He is even paler than usual, almost translucent, and the dark circles under his eyes are making him look nearly as worn as he used to do in sixth year.

“Please…? I just wanted to—”

“Fine. Just spit it out. I have an essay to finish.”

“Okay, I…”

Come on, Harry, you can do this.

“You weren’t the first man I kissed.”

“And why would you think I care?”

“I kissed Charlie Weasley last summer, and—”

“Again, why should I care?”

“Because, you should—”

“Don’t tell me what I should or shouldn’t do, Potter. I have no interest in knowing anything about your pathetic love life. If you want to experiment, then do it. I couldn’t care less. We both know you’re straight as an arrow, but if you need to play around before realising that yourself, feel free. I won’t judge you. Just keep me out of it, alright.”

“But I’m not…” straight as an arrow

“Now scram, Potter. I need to finish this and you need to be somewhere else.”

“But, Malfo—”

Harry is cut off by the door slamming shut.

Fuck.

How the hell is he supposed to make nice if he can’t even get Malfoy to listen to him when he tries to explain? Harry clenches his fists tightly, letting out a frustrated growl before heading off to the kitchen. Thank the stars he’s got dinner preparations to occupy his mind.

— ¤ O ¤ —

Wednesday, 23 December 1998

Why did he have to tell me that?

As if I wanted the image of him and the effing Dragon-Weasel kissing etched in my mind for the rest of my miserable life?

Just for the record, I didn ’t. And yet, here I am.

Not that I would want to imagine him with anyone else either, despite what I said to him a moment ago. Yes, I am selfish like that. And no, I ’m not delusional enough to think he would ever actually care for me that way. I just don’t want him seeing anyone else for the rest of his life — is that too much to ask for?

It is, isn ’t it?

Maybe if I just get out of this house I ’ll be able to forget him with time?

As if … I bet I will be pining for him until the day I die, pathetically browsing the Prophet every day in search for news about him just as all of his frenzied fans. Maybe I should take up my pathetic teenage crush scrapbooking again, too? Wouldn’t that be something? I wonder what my future wife would say if she ever laid eyes on those?

Do you think he would let me move in at Grimmauld Place if I asked him?

— ¤ O ¤ —

Surviving a sleepless night in the nursery with Teddy (and Malfoy) is very much not the same as keeping oneself preoccupied in one’s own bedroom. Especially not when doing it in the company of A Gay Guy’s Guide to Glorious Goodness. The guilty bashfulness Harry felt last night when he first let himself open the book has easily given way to inordinate curiosity. He had no idea there were so many possibilities to the male body, and he’s learning new things with every page he turns.

Like the location and function of the prostate; it’s quite hard to reach on yourself but so worth it when you do. And the theory behind a successful deepthroating. Yes, he has learnt what that means and he’s dying to try it. That, and rimming. Harry is quite sure he would love being rimmed, but if he’s honest he’s more eager to experience it the other way around. Realising he’d like to stick his tongue up someone else’s arse was rather disturbing at first, but the book says it’s nothing unusual so Harry tries not to berate himself too much for wanting it.

Harry has also tried the lube — both flavours — and got up to three fingers inside before he couldn’t stave off the orgasm any longer. Additionally, he’s found out that lube does not only possess look, feel, taste and scent, but also sound; a filthy squelching sound that shouldn’t be arousing in the least but definitely is.

When Christmas Eve arrives, Harry can safely say he’s learnt more about the wonders of gay sex in two days than he ever learnt about Divination in four years with Professor Trelawney. Harry can’t be sure, but he thinks it’s probably due to the former’s advantage of instant gratification.

— ¤ O ¤ —

Christmas Eve means finally (!) being allowed to bring in the Christmas Tree. If it had been up to Harry, he’d done it way earlier, but in Andromeda’s frustratingly rigid book that would’ve been an outright blasphemy, so he has waited. Impatiently. But now the day has come, there’s nothing that can stop him from heading for the forest and cutting it down at the break of dawn.

He’s found the perfect tree already — picked it out several weeks earlier — so it doesn’t take him long to get it back to the cottage. Especially not since he’s able to use magic both to cut it down and to carry it back over the field. The air is cold to his cheeks and carries the scent of snow. However, the sky above is clear, a bright blue canvas stretched between the hills, and the rays of the sun are making the frosty ground sparkle beautifully.

The little spark of hope residing in his chest is fuelled by the fair weather, and even though Malfoy still refuses to talk to him, Harry can’t help but feel positive about the future. Maybe it’s just that Christmas is finally upon them, but even if that’s the case, Harry is determined not to give up this optimistic spirit anytime soon.

The tree goes in the corner of the sitting room and Harry spends well over an hour decorating it to his heart’s content. It’s the first time he’s ever had the opportunity to dress a Christmas Tree of his own, and he wants to get it just right. Reminding himself he’s living with two very proper and refined Slytherins, he forgoes the kinds of garish ornaments usually found in the Weasley tree and settles for subtlety and elegance; silver tinsel, golden fairy lights and red baubles. Combined with the green of the fir the colours represent both Slytherin and Gryffindor and Harry is ridiculously pleased by the result.

Gift wrapping is next on the schedule, and apart from Neville’s — which, as it turns out, gives Harry quite a lot of trouble before it’s finally good enough to be considered a present — they all turn out pretty decent this year despite the wizard holding the wand.

After lunch, Harry takes over Teddy from Andromeda so she can attend to her last-minute preparations. Malfoy is nowhere to be seen and Harry gets to spend a pleasant afternoon with his godson. They play an endless game of peekaboo — Teddy’s favourite pastime these days — and Harry can’t get enough of the boy’s delighted giggles or the attempts at clapping his chubby little hands together as he tries for the occasional applause.

Malfoy finally emerges from his hideout in time for dinner, still looking awfully troubled and refusing to meet Harry’s gaze. Harry, on the other hand, doesn’t seem able to take his eyes off the man, repeatedly catching himself glancing across the table to revel in his stunning features.

Andromeda shows no signs of noticing any part of their awkwardness, drawing on her inbred aristocratic manners to keep up a pleasant conversation at the table despite Harry’s absentmindedness and Malfoy’s obvious reluctance. Harry is positive that if it weren’t for Malfoy’s strict upbringing, the man would have ignored them both completely. Andromeda keeps including him, though, slowly but surely warming him up. Harry doesn’t even notice it at first — her subtle Slytherin cunning working its wonders on the brooding man’s mental shutters — but once he realises what she’s doing Harry can’t help admiring her tactics.

By smoothly steering the conversation to the topic of Christmas traditions she eventually gets his attention when she offers some light-hearted anecdotes from her childhood. It seems her tales about the young Black sisters are as irresistible to Malfoy as any and all trivia about Harry’s parents are to him, and after some sharing and cleverly posed questions, Andromeda finally gets Malfoy to join the conversation just as Harry starts clearing the table.

“I remember, we had this beautiful candle lantern that always stood on the mantelpiece during Christmas time. Its panes were frosted glass, decorated with tiny silver stars, and its frames were shiny black.”

“Yes, I know of it,” Malfoy says, smiling fondly.

Harry almost misses it on his way to the sink with the empty plates — the first smile he’s seen on Malfoy’s face since just before they kissed — but the spark of hope in Harry’s chest starts crackling merrily as he catches a glimpse of it.

“Mother has it now, and she’s always very adamant that it shall not be lit until after the sun has set on Christmas Eve.”

“That was our mother’s tradition as well,” Andromeda says. “No one was allowed to touch it but her, and the lighting of it marked the true beginning of Christmas.”

“Yes, I think that’s one of the things I’ve always loved most about the whole holiday — that moment when the three of us are gathered in the drawing-room and Mother lights the lantern.”

Not presents?

Harry bites his lip before saying anything, but it’s close. He could’ve bet big money on Malfoy being as gift greedy as Dudley ever was.

“I’m pleased to hear Narcissa still has it and is keeping the tradition alive.”

“Did you also read Robin Goodfellow the same evening?”

From his position by over by the sink, Harry doesn’t catch Andromeda’s answer.

“Father used to read it to us once the lantern was lit. I remember always sitting on the sofa next to Mother as he did, watching how the dancing flame made the tiny stars twinkle.”

“Yes, I believe your mother must have talked Lucius into doing it,” Andromeda smiles. “Our father did the same thing. But before the reading, of course; the wishes.”

“Of course.”

Somewhere along the line Malfoy’s eyes have gone from stormy grey to glimmering silver, and Harry isn’t even the least bit embarrassed when those eyes suddenly turn on him and Malfoy catches him staring. Meeting his frown with a — hopefully cute and not all too goofy — smile, Harry says, “That sounds lovely. Really.”

He returns to his seat opposite Malfoy and only hesitates for a second before continuing.

“The Dursleys never did anything like that. In their house, you always watched the telly on Christmas Eve while stuffing yourself with mince pies and brandy.”

“Oh, that’s nice,” Andromeda says, deftly drawing Harry’s attention away from Malfoy’s appalled sneer.

She only knows fragments of how the Dursleys used to treat him and always does her best to steer clear of the subject when Harry doesn’t bring it up himself. When he does, though, she’s always interested to know whatever tidbits he has to offer.

“Did you watch any particular program?”

Harry could easily lie, just say anything really, but suddenly it feels important to share some of those uncomfortable truths he never allows himself to think about anymore. Maybe it’s because he misses those moments of honesty he and Malfoy used to share in the nursery. Maybe he has even become addicted to sharing his deepest darkest secrets with someone (aka Malfoy). It doesn’t really matter the reason, really; Harry just needs to do it.

“Honestly, I don’t know,” Harry swallows, chancing a quick glance Malfoy’s way before continuing. “I was always stuck in the kitchen making the Christmas Cake and preparing everything for the next day’s feast.”

And that’s when Malfoy finally decides to address him for the first time since their row the day before, with his brows raised high and his voice strained and a little breathless.

“They had you work in the kitchen on Christmas Eve? Like a bloody house-elf? While they slouched in front of the telly?”

“Well, yeah,” Harry shrugs. “I wouldn’t have been allowed to join them anyway, so it was either the kitchen or the cupboard. And since I’ve never really minded the cooking, it was kind of an easy choice.”

Harry can feel Andromeda’s concern from over the table, but he keeps his gaze steady on Malfoy. He wants Malfoy to know these things about him, even though it’s still painful to talk about, and if it’ll also help Harry show Malfoy that he still trusts the man enough to confide in him, all the better.

“The kitchen o-or the… cupboard?” Malfoy has got confusion written all over his face, and honestly, who could really blame him? Nearly no one knows about the cupboard. “They used to lock you in a cupboard?”

“No, not usually. They only turned the lock when they wanted to punish me. I…”

Harry stops himself in his tracks. He knows his upbringing with the Dursleys had been rather… unusual, to say the least, and he knows he has a tendency to come off as indifferent and even flippant whenever he mentions any of it to anyone. Harry guesses it’s some kind of self-precaution, treating it as something trivial to keep his distance from the memories and the seriousness of it all. But if he wants Malfoy to take him seriously, to really understand what Harry’s gone through, he needs to say this right.

Harry darts a glance at Andromeda, knowing she doesn’t know any of this either. She looks concerned but supportive, clearly aware of how hard this is for him, and when she offers him a reassuring hand over the table, he takes it without question. She squeezes his hand gently and gives him a faint smile before Harry turns his gaze back to Malfoy.

“Okay, so… Listen. I know what I’m about to tell you will sound rather crazy — I really do — but please try to understand that for me, growing up, I didn’t know my life to be anything but normal. It was just the way things were. I never questioned any of it before that day when Hagrid showed up and I got to see that none of it was really how it was supposed to be.”

“What do you mean?” Malfoy says.

Under his blond furrowed brows, those silver-grey eyes look almost desperate to understand what Harry’s talking about.

“I used to live in the cupboard under the stairs. Until I got my Hogwarts letter, it was my room.”

“Your house was so small you didn’t even have your own room?”

“Well, no, not really. They had a guest room, and my cousin Dudley actually used to have two bedrooms before my aunt and uncle had him leave one of them to me.”

“But… why?”

“Remember how I once told you about them being scared of magic? That’s basically it. They were afraid I would turn out to be a ‘freak’ just like my parents were, and whenever I happened to set off any accidental magic they locked me in the cupboard as punishment, trying to teach me not to do it again.”

“For accidental magic? But that’s not something you can control as a child — that’s why it’s called accidental, for Salazar’s sake. How could they think…”

Harry recognises the anger in his former rival all too well, but it’s unfamiliar to see it directed not at him, but someone else — and on Harry’s behalf, too.

“They didn’t know any better, and they just did what they thought—”

“And why do you defend them, Potter? I—”

“I don’t defend them, Malfoy,” Harry says calmly, “but I’ve made my peace with it and it doesn’t really bother me anymore. Yes, they were horrible to me. They used to lock me in for days at a time for something I couldn’t help, they used to bring me food through a cat flap and had me cook for them almost daily. I never got enough to eat and the only clothes I ever owned were much too large hand-me-downs from my obese cousin. My aunt and uncle never told me I was a wizard and when I was sent my Hogwarts letter they tried to keep it from me.”

It just pours out of him, all at once, and Harry does nothing to stop it, knowing if he doesn’t say this now he probably never will. It’s still hard to bring it all to the surface, but at the same time, it feels oddly right to let Malfoy know — as if Harry’s been wanting to tell him this for a very long time.

Malfoy only stares at him, looking more distraught for every word, and after Harry falls silent it takes him a full minute before he finally regains his composure enough to clear his throat and respond.

“Holy fuck, I had no idea…”

The fact that Andromeda doesn’t chide him for his inappropriate language is evidence enough that she’s just as startled as her nephew by Harry’s revelations. Harry doesn’t look at her, doesn’t want to look away from the blond before him, but he squeezes her hand, wordlessly telling her he’s okay.

“Nearly no one does. As you can imagine, it’s not something I tend to talk about.”

“And to think, all this time I thought… Holy hell, I’m so sorry you…”

The pain showing in Malfoy’s eyes is enough for Harry to want to take him in his arms and hold him while assuring him everything’s gonna be alright. If it wasn’t for the table between them, he probably would.

“Malfoy, it doesn’t matter. It’s all behind me now and I try not to let it affect my life too much.”

“Would you mind if I hunted them down and punished them for what they did to you?”

The fiery glint in Malfoy’s eyes evokes an amused smile on Harry’s lips.

“Yeah, please don’t. You’ll only land yourself back in that courtroom, and I really don’t want to have to testify on your behalf again anytime soon.”

“Alright, then. I won’t,” Malfoy chuckles.

Oh, dear Merlin, he actually chuckles. Malfoy talks to him and he wants to punish the Dursleys for him — and he bloody chuckles.

The amazing sound causes the spark in Harry’s chest to flare and grow into a small but steady flame. The sudden heat of it is distracting enough for Harry to nearly miss Malfoy’s next words.

“Would you judge me if I still wanted to, though?”

Good Godric.

Harry wants to kiss him again, so badly. But now’s not the time. Instead, Harry curves his lips into a smirk.

“Would you judge me if I wanted to hunt down your father and punish him for what he did to you?”

It’s almost imperceptible and doesn’t last for more than a split second, but Harry can’t help but notice Malfoy’s eyes widening in surprise. His reaction belies the casualness of his light-hearted answer.

“No, not as long as you won’t.”

“And let him miss out on ten years of Muggle Studies? Never.”

They both laugh at that, and for a moment Harry almost forgets their falling-out. Andromeda brings him back to reality, giving his hand another squeeze to draw his attention. Shit. Harry had forgotten she was even there. He looks at her and they exchange a smile before she puts an end to the conversation in that pleasant and considerate way of hers.

“Why don’t you go get Teddy ready for bed?” Harry nods and stands to lift the boy out of his highchair. “I suggest when you’re ready, you bring him to the sitting room and we’ll have our own little family gathering there as soon as I’ve finished up in here. Draco, would you mind giving me a hand?”

“Absolutely. How can I help?”

Harry doesn’t find out what Andromeda has Malfoy do, he’s already on his way upstairs to bathe Teddy and change him into his pyjamas.

— ¤ O ¤ —

Harry takes a seat on the sofa by the fireplace and lights the yule log already waiting in the hearth. The fairy lights adorning the Christmas tree are already glowing cheerfully, giving the room a cosy feel, and Teddy seems entranced by their allure.

Harry conjures some floating bubbles for the boy to grab for, smiling fondly at his attempts to catch them as they hover just out of reach. He looks so adorable in his new pyjamas, a brown one-piece with white patterns designed to make him look like a perfect little gingerbread man.

As always, Teddy’s hair turns blond as he hears Malfoy’s voice approaching from the kitchen. Harry turns around to greet him and Andromeda over the back of the sofa as they enter the sitting room, hands full.

Andromeda is carrying a tray with a large wooden goblet in its centre surrounded by three smaller cups, a ladle and Teddy’s evening formula. Whatever’s in the goblet is steaming hot, and it smells absolutely divine as she passes Harry to sit down in her usual armchair and put down the tray on the sofa table. Malfoy follows Andromeda with a plate of mince pies and places it right next to the tray before taking a seat in the chair opposite.

“What’s this?” Harry asks curiously.

He’s never seen anything quite like what’s in that goblet before, neither at the Dursleys nor at the Burrow.

“It’s wassail,” Andromeda says, “a traditional mulled wine.”

“Why haven’t I heard of it before?” Malfoy says, leaning forward to take a whiff of its spicy scent.

“Probably because it’s Muggle,” Andromeda says. “It’s one of the traditions Ted brought with him when we got married. It’s said that all quarrels stop when people drink it together.”

She says it lightly — as if it was just another piece of insignificant trivia — but Harry knows well enough that’s not the case. Again, she lets her Slytherin colours show as she says something casually while communicating something else entirely. And this comment is clearly her way of asking them both to make peace with each other — or at least agree on a truce over the holidays.

Harry glances over at Malfoy, only to meet his grey eyes as the man glances back at him. The nod Harry gets from him is almost too infinitesimal to notice, and he answers it with a tiny smile.

Andromeda takes the goblet in both hands and lifts it to her mouth, taking a sip from its content before offering it to Harry with outstretched arms. Harry places Teddy on the cushion beside him and leans forward to relieve her of it. The dark carved wood is warm to the touch, but not too hot to hold comfortably in his hands. The wassail within is a dark ruby red and Harry breathes in its scent, closing his eyes to take in the sweet tones of heated wine, nutmeg and raisins. It smells like Christmas, and together with the soft crackling sound from the fire, it makes for a perfect moment in time.

Rising the goblet to his mouth he takes a cautious sip, relaxing a little when he finds the drink not hot enough to burn his tongue. It tastes sweet and spicy, its warmth heightening the delicious flavours, and Harry’s sorely tempted to moan with pleasure as the wassail meets his palate.

When Harry looks up again he finds his glasses all fogged up from the steaming beverage. Tilting his head down to meet Malfoy’s watchful eyes over the rim, he extends the goblet for Malfoy to take.

Compared to the warm wood under his palms, Malfoy’s slender fingers feel pleasantly cool against Harry’s skin as they brush over his hands. Harry’s heart is pounding as Malfoy accepts the goblet, that fluttery feeling in the pit of his stomach fanning the flame growing steadily in his chest. Malfoy doesn’t break their intense eye contact as he brings the goblet to his lips and drinks from it, those silvery grey eyes glittering in the glow from the Christmas Tree’s fairy lights.

Harry’s mouth goes dry as he watches Malfoy savouring the wassail. The ruby drink leaves Malfoy’s lips wet and tinted a soft pink, and Harry aches to kiss him more than ever before. Taking a ragged breath, Harry licks his own lips absentmindedly, still tasting the spicy flavours of the mulled wine on them. He tries not to dwell too much on the thought of how Malfoy’s lips are now carrying the same taste.

The discreet clearing of a throat is what brings them both back to the here and now. Malfoy blinks, looking almost dazed as he turns towards the table and sets the goblet down on its tray. Andromeda doesn’t look at any of them, but there’s a hint of an amused smirk curving her lips as she leans forward to ladle wassail into the small cups.

Harry can feel his cheeks burning, trying not to let it affect him as he accepts one of the cups with a murmured Thank you. He kindly declines as Andromeda offers him the plate of mince pies, the pixies in his stomach much too enthusiastic to leave any room for anything else to digest.

“So, my boys, what do you say? Shall I light our lantern?”

Harry glances up at the mantelpiece, indeed finding a candle lantern standing proudly in the middle flanked by elegantly tinselled spruce twigs. It looks much like the one Harry imagined as he listened to them talking earlier, only framed in silver and with small snowflakes adorning the frosted panes instead of stars.

“By all means,” Malfoy says, his voice a little rough.

Andromeda points her wand at the lantern and ignites the wick of the candle behind the glass.

“Merry Christmas,” she says, turning first to Malfoy and then to Harry to give them both a grateful smile. Harry returns it and echoes her words as he turns to exchange a look with Malfoy. Teddy gurgles happily beside him and Harry lifts the boy up in his lap.

“And Merry Christmas to you, Moony bug,” he says, ruffling his currently raven-black locks and chuckling lightly as Teddy tries to grab hold of his sleeve.

“Do you want to do the wishes as well, or are you too old for that now?”

“The wishes?” Harry says, frowning as he looks up at Andromeda.

“Yes, didn’t you ever do the wishes?”

Harry shakes his head, absolutely clueless as to what the woman’s talking about.

“You write down your wish on a piece of parchment and throw it into the fire. They say any wish offered to the yule log may be granted.”

“Well, you can never get too old for wishing, can you?” Harry smiles. “If you don’t mind, I think I’d really like to do that.”

“Then let’s,” Andromeda says, raising her wand to summon some parchment and a quill from the side table by the telly. “Draco, do you want to participate as well?”

“Yes, please,” Malfoy says and accepts a piece of parchment from her outstretched hand. “Not that I’ve had much luck with them lately, but I guess it couldn’t hurt.”

Harry ponders what to write as he awaits his turn with the quill. There isn’t really any question about what it is that he wants, rather it’s about how to phrase it. When Andromeda hands him the quill he decides to settle for simplicity.

Draco Malfoy.

That’s really all he wants; in any way, shape or form that life is willing to give it to him. The two words stare back at him, the black ink prominent against the cream coloured parchment. The name looks strange written in his messy hand; as if his scribbly letters should be unworthy of being used to refer to such a posh and graceful man as—

“You about done?”

Malfoy’s voice shakes Harry out of his stupor. He blinks and looks up to find those grey eyes searching him curiously. Malfoy sighs exasperated and holds out a hand, his slender fingers waggling impatiently, urging Harry to pass him the quill.

Harry leans forward to hand it over, struggling to reach Malfoy’s outstretched fingers while still holding the baby in his lap and trying not to show the very private note he’s clutching in his other fist. The subtle grazing of fingertips against fingertips sends white-hot tendrils of desire up his arm.

Harry rises from the sofa, carrying Teddy on his hip as he walks up to the fireplace to submit his wishing parchment to the burning yule log. Squatting before the hearth, he manages to keep his balance as he throws the note into the fire, holding Teddy out of reach from the heat as he watches his wish surrender to the flames.

When his parchment is nothing but smoke and ashes Harry stands to stretch his legs. Teddy shifts in his arms, reaching out for something, and when Harry follows the boy’s excited gaze his eyes fall on the merrily flickering lantern on the mantelpiece. Harry moves away to avoid any accident and returns to his seat just in time to witness Malfoy on his knees in front of the hearth.

His stately posture still manages to take Harry’s breath away at every turn; those broad muscular shoulders stretching the fabric of his dark blue jumper, that straight spine running from the tips of his white-blond hair down his long elegant neck and all the way down to— Dear Merlin. With an arse like that, Malfoy really shouldn’t be allowed to wear those trousers.

Saving himself from an embarrassing situation, Harry forces his gaze away from Malfoy’s arse and turns his eyes back on the lantern. Just as Malfoy said earlier, its flickering flame really makes it look like the small snowflakes on the frosted glass panes are twinkling at him.

“Andromeda?” he says on a whim. “You don’t happen to have that poem you talked about earlier? That Robin fellow?”

Malfoy turns to look at Harry, a disdainful sneer on his face as he prepares to say something. Andromeda, however, beats him to it.

Robin Goodfellow? Well, yes, it’s on the poetry shelf in the study. Ted always used to read it to us…”

She hesitates, and Harry is quick to steer her thoughts away from her late husband.

“Why don’t we take it out and read it?” Harry can feel those grey eyes watching him as Malfoy stands to move back to his chair. “You both said it’s tradition, right?”

Andromeda’s eyes light up at Harry’s suggestion.

“Why, Harry, that’s a lovely idea. I didn’t think of it since Ted’s not here, but of course… I’ll go get it right away.”

She stands from her chair and smooths out her robes before heading out the door towards the study. In her absence, Harry can instantly feel the tension rising in the room, the charged silence between him and Malfoy sucking the air from his lungs.

Searching for a distraction, Harry extends his hand and summons the formula from the table. He’s not sure if the sound of a faint gasp coming from Malfoy’s direction is something real or only a figment of his own imagination. Instead of figuring that out, Harry helps Teddy lie down against his arm and offers him the bottle.

“So, what did you wish for?” Harry asks when the silence gets too much and he’s not able to keep quiet any longer.

He focuses on the baby in his lap but can’t resist chancing a quick glance at Malfoy who’s staring unseeingly at the dancing flames in the hearth.

“Same thing I’ve been wishing for for the last four years — a miracle.”

“Oh. Well, miracles can happen, I guess.”

Harry shrugs, flicking his eyes up at Malfoy who’s now looking at him with one raised eyebrow.

“You think?”

“Yeah, why not?”

Malfoy doesn’t respond to that so Harry turns his focus back to the drinking baby. He’s dying to know what was written on Malfoy’s parchment, soppily imagining his own name in Malfoy’s elegant cursive.

The time it takes for Andromeda to return can’t be much more than a minute, maybe two, but sitting so close to Malfoy and feeling those intense grey eyes repeatedly glancing his way makes it feel like half an eternity. Once seated, she opens the slim book to find the poem in question before offering it to Malfoy.

“Draco, would you do the honours?”

“Me?” Malfoy says surprised, “I thought you—”

“No, Draco. You’re the oldest gentleman in the family. You should do it.”

Harry watches Malfoy closely as the man takes in what his aunt is saying. There’s a faint blush rising on his high cheekbones and his silver-grey eyes are suddenly bright with emotion. Swallowing hard, Malfoy nods and accepts the book from Andromeda’s hand.

“I… Thank you,” he says softly, turning the book around and placing it in his lap.

While Malfoy skims the text before his eyes, Harry exchanges a fond smile with Andromeda and gives her a nod of approval. As Malfoy clears his throat, they both turn their eyes to him, leaning back in wait for him to begin the reading.

Midwinter’s nightly frost is hard —
  Brightly the stars are beaming;
Fast asleep is the lonely Yard,
  All, at midnight, are dreaming.
Clear is the moon, and the snow-drifts shine,
  Glistening white, on fir and pine,
Covers on rooflets making.
  None but Robin is waking
.”

Malfoy’s voice is calm and assured as he recites the many stanzas of the poem, his warm baritone like sweet music to Harry’s ears as it pours over him and caresses his soul with the gentlest of touches. The flickering light from the lantern dances over Malfoy’s graceful features, making his platinum-blond hair shimmer like the silvery residue from a dispatched Patronus. In the hearth, the fire crackles softly and the air is still infused with the spicy scent of the wassail.

Harry cradles Teddy in his arms and smiles, feeling his heart full to bursting. It isn’t even Christmas Day yet, and Harry already knows this is going to be his best Christmas yet.

— ¤ O ¤ —

Chapter Text

Hear my soul speak.
— Ferdinand (The Tempest)

— ¤ O ¤ —

Friday, 25 December 1998

I ’m sorry I didn’t get back to you last night, but things happened and I completely forgot. Although seeing as it’s Christmas, I hope you can forgive me my blunder.

You see, when I finally returned to my room yesterday, there was so much going on in my mind I wouldn ’t have been able to put any of it into words even if I had tried. Not that I feel much more clear-headed now, mind you, but at least I have had a little time to come to terms with some of it since then.

Like the mind-boggling fact that Harry Potter, the worshipped Almighty Saviour, grew up practically a house-elf. How he didn ’t procure a life-long hatred for all things muggle after experiencing that kind of childhood is beyond me. But I guess that’s just who he is, isn’t it? That’s what makes him the unique and extraordinary person that he is. His ability to forgive. To offer second chances to people who shouldn’t be worthy of them. People like me.

And he did it again last night. I don ’t know why it still manages to surprise me every time it happens, but it does. After last week, I thought that would be it; that there would be no chance of our fragile friendship recovering after those fateful minutes out on the lawn. And yet…

Last night, it felt like a future friendship between us may still be a possibility. To tell the truth, it almost felt like it did before. Before the kiss, I mean, not before, before. I can ’t really say what did it, but probably it’s a combination of several things. Like his show of trust and raw naked honesty as he told us about his life before Hogwarts. Or that unspoken agreement of truce we made when Andromeda had us share the wassail. Maybe it was that content little smile on his face as he listened to my reading of the poem while cradling a sleepy child in his arms.

Yes, that ’s another thing from last night I have to tell you about; Andromeda had me do the Robin Goodfellow reading. Can you imagine? Since I am “the oldest gentleman in the family,” she said. And she did it so casually too; as if it was the most natural thing in the world. As if we actually were our very own family, a united entity, despite our different backgrounds and the fact that we all carry four different surnames. I’m still amazed by how much that thought affected me. In a positive way, mind you.

And yes, I also have a sort of confession to make. I know we had agreed on me not doing it again this year, that it would be nothing but foolish to do so, but I ’m afraid to say that when the moment came, I did it anyway. I just couldn’t resist.

I don ’t know how many times I have to tell myself to stop wishing for the impossible and actually make an effort to give up and move on. Apparently, a million times aren’t enough, because — as the hopeless romantic pathetic loser I am — his was the name I threw into the fire again last night.

He will be going to the Weasleys today, celebrating with his beloved redheaded family and assorted friends. Of course, he will. Why shouldn ’t he? He loves them, and they will always be his first priority in times like these.

It doesn ’t change the fact that I would prefer him staying here with us, though. I am selfish like that (as you well know) and if I’d have my say, he would never be allowed to leave the house, especially not for seeing other people. Especially not for seeing other people who may or may not try to kiss him. Like the Dragon-Weasel.

But, if I aspire to actually continue this friendship (Which I do, I really do. I would be crazy if I didn ’t, right?) I have to start accepting that it will happen sooner or later. I can’t just keep on dreaming of him as permanently single. He is much too lovable — not to mention deserving of love — to be denied a happy and loving relationship. What kind of friend would I be if I denied him that?

I ’m still undecided as to what to do with this second gift I have for him, the one Aunt Andromeda helped me purchase. I still want to give it to him, especially after last night, but what if he thinks…? I never should have bought them. Why did I? It was a foolish idea, made by a foolish man.

I propose you hold on to them for now, and we ’ll see how the day goes. We still have that other gift for him, so if he doesn’t get these he’ll never be the wiser.

— ¤ O ¤ —

Malfoy may be a humbug sort of brooding git at times, but apparently not when it comes to Christmas. When Harry finds him in the sitting room early on Christmas morning, he is seated in the same chair as the night before. The book in his lap seems all but forgotten as Malfoy contemplates the Christmas Tree with a hint of a smile grazing his lips.

“You like it?” Harry asks softly as he approaches, not wanting to startle him if he wasn’t already aware of Harry’s presence.

“Hmm, well… It’s alright, I guess,” Malfoy says, his gaze never leaving the tree. “Don’t care too much for the Gryffindor red, though.”

Harry detects the familiar teasing tone to his voice, the one he once used to interpret as disdain but now knows to read as something else entirely. With a smirk curving his lips, Harry sits down on the sofa, propping himself up in the corner closest to Malfoy and stretching out his legs on the cushions.

“Well, I had to do something about the fact that the whole bloody tree is Slytherin green.”

Malfoy huffs theatrically, like the sodding drama queen he is.

“You got silver tinsel though,” Harry tries. “You can pretend they’re nasty snakes if you want.”

That finally breaks Malfoy’s disapproving act, earning Harry an amused smile. As those silvery eyes turn to look at him, they sparkle enticingly.

“Happy Christmas,” Harry says, holding back the goofy grin that threatens to take over his face.

“Happy Christmas, Potter.”

Several seconds go by as neither of them seems able to break their intense eye contact. Malfoy’s cheeks turn an adorable shade of pink and Harry has to bite his lip to keep himself from leaning over and kiss him. His heart is beating so fast it’s dizzying, and Harry strongly suspects he’s blushing as well.

Oh, Merlin, those eyes.

Harry could easily drown in those eyes. The swirl of emotions they contain seems to flow straight into Harry’s soul, further feeding the ever-growing flame in his chest. Harry has no idea how long they sit like this before they’re released from their trance by the sound of Andromeda’s footfalls on the stairs.

“Happy Christmas,” she says joyfully as she enters the room with Teddy on her hip.

Harry doesn’t think the roughness in his voice is too noticeable as he and Malfoy greet her in unison.

“Did you sleep alright?”

“Not worse than usual,” Malfoy says, “and you?”

“Very well, thank you,” she says. “I think it might be thanks to the wassail. It always leaves me pleasantly relaxed. How about you, Harry?”

“Alright, I guess.”

Harry shrugs and gives her a faint smile, struggling to keep the memories of his latest session with The Guide at bay. Last night’s chapter was about something called edging — a seemingly glorious torture if The Guide is to be trusted — and Harry came twice in the span of forty minutes to the mental image of trying it out on Malf-

No! Restrain yourself, Harry. It wouldn ’t do to grow a full-blown hard-on this early on Christmas morning. The half-hard cock twitching in your pants is already quite enough, thank you very much.

Harry shifts in his seat, trying to conceal his predicament as Andromeda sets Teddy down on the floor and takes a seat in her chair across from Malfoy.

“So, what do you want to do first,” she says, “breakfast or presents?”

“It doesn’t really matter. Whatever you want is fine with me,” Malfoy says politely. “We usually exchanged gifts first, but—”

“Then let’s do presents,” Harry says, much too eager to wait a minute longer than absolutely necessary.

It’s not so much the excitement of receiving and opening presents of his own — although that can surely be brilliant too — but rather the thrill of finally getting to know whether the gifts he has prepared for the others will be as appreciated as he hopes.

And Malfoy may pretend he doesn’t care too much about any presents; Harry still thinks there’s at least a part of him that’s been looking forward to it just as much as Harry has. When they were at Hogwarts, Malfoy always seemed childishly pleased whenever his owl arrived with a new parcel from the Manor, and even though this Malfoy is far from the young spoiled brat he once was, Harry reckons the grown-up version still appreciates being given nice things. At least, Harry thinks he can see excitement glimmering in those grey eyes now as they turn to meet his gaze.

“Alright,” Andromeda says, “presents it is.”

Three of the presents waiting under the tree are ones Harry has placed there the evening before; a big soft yellow one for Teddy; a smaller but equally soft one for Malfoy, wrapped in silver with a neat green bow; and a small box in blue wrapping for Andromeda.

Lifting Teddy up on the sofa beside him, Harry helps the boy open his present. The plush wolf inside is nearly as big as the child and Teddy instantly hugs it close as soon as it’s released from its paper prison.

“A wolf?” Malfoy frowns.

“Yeah,” Harry says defiantly. “Can’t hurt for him to have a positive connection to wolves the day he learns the truth about his father, don’t you think?”

“True,” Malfoy concedes, even offering a small smile as he watches Teddy struggling to handle the big toy without losing his balance.

“That’s really thoughtful of you, Harry,” Andromeda says, exchanging gifts with Malfoy.

Malfoy has apparently made good use of the lab at Grimmauld Place, seeing as his gift to Andromeda is an Apothecary’s worth of potions stored in a beautifully carved wooden box.

“Mother found me the box at the Manor. According to her, it used to belong to your grandmother. It carries an Extension Charm, so if you lift the handle there in the middle — yes, that one — there are several more layers underneath.”

Andromeda lifts a rack filled with rows and rows of potion vials, all neatly labelled in Malfoy’s precise handwriting.

“That first layer is healing potions, the second is hair and skin potions. Underneath you also have different brews for cleaning, cooking, gardening et cetera. If there’s anything you miss that I haven’t thought of, please let me know and I will brew it for you.”

“Oh, dear Merlin… And this box… It’s so beautiful,” There’s a hint of impending tears in her voice as Andromeda replaces the rack before closing the box and stroking its ornamented lid affectionately. “This is much too much, Draco.”

“Not at all, Aunt Andromeda. It’s the least I could do after everything you’ve done for me.”

“Oh, don’t be silly, dear. Now open your present.”

He does, reverently unwrapping a big box from its pale blue paper. His eyes widen as he lifts the lid, looking down at something that from Harry’s angle seems to be some kind of garment.

“What is it?” Malfoy asks, brushing gentle fingertips over the midnight blue fabric.

“It’s a Muggle suit. Thought you would find it useful someday.” She winks, and Harry’s intrigued as he catches a hint of a blush on Malfoy’s cheeks. “I had it tailored for you and I believe it’ll fit you properly, but if you just try it on later I can help you with any minor adjustments that may be needed.”

“Well, thank you,” Malfoy murmurs, “I don’t know what to say.”

Thank you is quite enough, Draco dear,” Andromeda smiles fondly. “Now why don’t you give someone else a present?”

“Alright, this one’s for Teddy,” Malfoy says, handing Harry a thin square present wrapped in pale yellow paper with multicoloured polka dots. “Why don’t you open it for him?”

“Look, Teddy, you’ve got another present,” Harry says, showing the boy his gift. “You wanna help me open it?”

Together they rip off the wrapping, Teddy seemingly more excited by the paper itself than the book hidden within. Harry turns it around to read the title, gasping slightly as he recognises Malfoy’s penmanship on the cover.

“Malfoy, have you…”

“Yes,” Malfoy murmurs, eyes trained on the folded hands in his lap as Harry looks up to stare at him.

“What is it?” Andromeda asks, looking curiously between them.

“Malfoy has written Teddy a book,” Harry says, turning his gaze back to the book in his hand.

Archie, the Curious Badger.

The title is written in green ink and below the words is a drawing of a cute little badger sniffing on a big yellow flower. At the bottom of the page is the author’s name, Draco L. Malfoy.

“You did?” Andromeda says, incredulous. “May I have a look?”

“Sure,” Harry says, swallowing as he takes another eyeful of the cover and reluctantly hands the book over for Andromeda to take.

“Oh, Draco, this is marvellous,” she breathes as she studies the front cover and starts scanning the pages.

“Yes, Malfoy, that’s amazing,” Harry can’t help saying, remembering how Malfoy once told him he dreamt of one day becoming a writer.

“How do you know? You haven’t read it yet,” Malfoy says, a little flustered from the praise and attention.

“I just know,” Harry says, smiling. “Now, would you like to open another present?”

Harry hands over his silver-wrapped gift, studying Malfoy closely as he opens the present to find the dark green socks Harry had persuaded Molly to knit for him.

“They carry the same charms as mine,” he says as he watches Malfoy swallow and bite his lower lip. The sight is nearly hypnotic and Harry can’t decide if he’d rather be the one biting Malfoy’s lip or having Malfoy nibble on his.

“Thank you,” Malfoy says, looking up at Harry before he has a chance to avert his hungry eyes.

“Y-you’re welcome,” Harry murmurs, distracting himself with gathering up the wrapping paper Teddy has ripped and spread all over his half of the sofa. He has another gift for Malfoy hidden away up in his room, one he wants to give him in private later.

“Harry,” Andromeda says, drawing his attention. Harry looks up to see her clutching another present in her hands. “This one is for you. It’s from both of us, and also from Narcissa.”

The present is wrapped in dark plum paper and decorated with an elaborate bow of broad bronze ribbon. It’s so beautiful Harry almost doesn’t want to open it.

Harry lets Teddy help to untie the ribbon, giving it to the boy to play with as he unfolds the wrapping paper to find a square-shaped photo album inside. The binding is black leather and on the front cover, Malfoy’s elegant cursive forms the words Brothers Black.

Carefully, Harry opens the album and starts turning the pages, marvelling in its content; pictures of Sirius and Regulus as children, accompanied by longer and shorter paragraphs of text describing the situations in which they were taken, or cute anecdotes and funny tidbits about the brothers. The Black sisters are there as well from time to time, especially the youngest, Narcissa, who was closest to the boys in age.

For every page Harry turns, the lump in his throat grows a little bigger. To see these adoring boys together, carefree and happy, and to skim the captions for clues of who they once were… Ever since the day Sirius died, Harry has lived with sorrow for never being given the chance to get to know his godfather better. And now…

“H-how did you… Where…” Harry murmurs as he lets his fingertips graze a photo of Sirius carrying his younger brother on his back across a lawn.

“The pictures are from mine and Narcissa’s family albums, but Draco is the one who has put it all together. It was his idea to begin with.”

Harry has already recognised Malfoy as the writer of the many captions, his neat penmanship unmistakable as it flows effortlessly in dark green ink over cream-coloured parchment. To realise Malfoy’s also the one who initiated the album, though…

“It was?” Harry says a little breathless as he looks up to meet silver-grey eyes staring back at him. “You… But… How did…” he stumbles, feeling his cheeks heat as he tries to regain control of his jumbled mind. “This is amazing, Malfoy. Really. I love it. I love—”

“I’m glad you like it,” Malfoy says, a pleased smirk forming on his rosy lips. “Now, stop behaving like a soppy sod and look at the last page.”

Harry does as he’s told and nearly stops breathing altogether as he takes in the large picture on the last page of the album. It’s a photo of the four marauders smiling broadly, seated on a broad sofa, two on each side of a laughing Lily Evans in the middle.

“H-how…” Harry falters, swallowing hard around the lump in his throat.

“I took that picture,” Andromeda says. “They came to visit us once after they finished school. Sirius looked me up after he ran away from home.”

“He did? I never knew…”

“Yes. He said he’d always wondered what became of me after I was burnt off the family tapestry. When he met the same fate I guess he wanted to reconnect with a relative who knew what he’d gone through.”

Harry looks up from the photo. “Did you keep in touch?”

“Yes, we owled each other from time to time. Not as regularly once he went to Azkaban, though.”

“I’m glad to hear that,” Harry says, returning his gaze to the photo and taking in the smiling faces once more before closing the album in his lap. “Thank you so very much for this, both of you. It’s a truly wonderful gift.”

“You’re welcome, Harry. I’m glad Draco came up with the idea.”

“So am I,” Harry says, sending Malfoy a smile, not even bothering to try to hide his affection for the man.

There’s one gift left to be given, and that’s the small box Harry now offers Andromeda. As she unwraps the present and opens the box she frowns at the item lying inside.

“What is it?” Malfoy asks, leaning over the table trying to sneak a peek over the rim of the box.

“A seal stamp,” Andromeda says, lifting the rosewood stamp out of the box to peruse the seal design. “A Black family seal stamp.”

“Well, yeah,” Harry says, “I found it at Grimmauld Place and thought you might like to have it. But… also, it’s a Portkey.”

“A Portkey?” Andromeda says, eyes going wide as she quickly puts the stamp back into the box. “Where are you sending me?”

“Don’t worry, you can touch it however much you want. It won’t activate before it’s time.”

“And when is that?” Andromeda frowns, searching Harry’s face for clues.

Harry gives her a reassuring smile.

“It’s preset to activate at 4 pm tonight. If you choose to use it, it will take you to Malfoy Manor where Narcissa will be waiting for you. You have been granted four hours, after which the Portkey will bring you back home again.”

“You’ve arranged for me to visit my sister?”

“Yes,” Harry grins, “I have to make use of my celebrity status somehow. Why not use it for this?”

“But that’s… I don’t know what to say. Does she know?”

“Not yet, I didn’t want to get her hopes up if you decided not to go. I was planning on owling her—”

“No, please, let me do that. Of course I want to go. I… Thank you, Harry. This is so very kind of you.”

“I’d do anything for you, you know that,” Harry says. “Although, I’m afraid I couldn’t get them to allow you to bring Teddy.”

“Well, that’s quite understandable.”

“I figured I could take him with me to—”

“I’ll watch him,” Malfoy says, cutting Harry off mid-sentence.

Harry frowns, bemused at the determination showing in Malfoy’s features.

“But… I thought you wanted to go with her? The permission does cover both of you.”

“No, you go,” Malfoy says, “I’ll stay here with Teddy.”

“You want to be alone here on Christmas?”

“Rather that than there.”

Harry knows Malfoy doesn’t like it at the Manor these days, but he’d thought a visit to his mother would be reason enough to go back, at least for a few hours. Seeing those steel-grey eyes staring back at him now, though, Harry knows not to push it any further. Still, he doesn’t like the thought of Malfoy being alone on Christmas…

“You can come with me?” he tries, a cautious smile on his lips.

Malfoy huffs and raises a neat brow halfway to his hairline.

“To the Burrow?”

“Well, yeah,” Harry shrugs, “why not?”

“Oh, don’t be ridiculous, Potter.”

Shaking his head, Malfoy gathers his things and stands to carry his gifts upstairs.

“Alright, suit yourself.”

Harry sighs, watching his retreating back before lifting Teddy from the sea of wrapping paper on the floor.

“How about some breakfast, Moony bug?”

— ¤ O ¤ —

The rest of Christmas morning is a quiet affair in their cottage. Harry isn’t expected at the Burrow until noon, and so he has plenty of time to relax and enjoy the calm before the storm. Harry loves the Weasleys and the Burrow with all his heart, but the boisterous chaos, however friendly, is still a lot to take when you’re not used to it. And Harry’s pretty sure by now that he’ll never really get used to it.

After breakfast, Harry indulges in his new photo album, taking his time to have a closer look at all the photos and reading the stories and random pieces of information Andromeda and Narcissa have gathered for him. Settled by the fire in his favourite chair, Harry can’t stop smiling as he turns the pages.

To learn about how a young Sirius talked their house-elves into playing tag in the garden of the Blacks’ summer residence, or that Regulus loved to sit on the piano bench next to Narcissa every time she practised her etudes and arpeggios — Harry just can’t get enough of all those trivial things that must seem inconsequential to anyone else.

Harry’s known all about the tragic endings both Sirius and his baby brother had met later in life. But to learn that they also had a happy childhood once… It gives Harry a heart-warming sense of contentment he never knew he’d been longing for. It’s as if seeing the pictures of them as smiling children somehow makes the grief easier to cope.

Before leaving, Harry spends some quality time with Teddy, playing with his building blocks and trying to keep him away from the Christmas Tree. The tinsel appears to be especially interesting, but the baubles also seem to be coveted prey.

There’s so much energy in the boy, Harry sometimes has a hard time keeping up. Just the other day, Teddy tried to stand up for the first time, supported by the low sofa table, and it’s only a matter of time before this little boy will start walking. Merlin, it’s a wonder how fast time flies when you share your life with a growing baby.

Malfoy’s in the sitting room when Harry gets ready to leave. Harry has left Teddy with Andromeda out in the garden, soaking up the pale rays of sunshine before dusk falls.

“Okay, so I guess I’m off.”

“All dressed up, are we?”

Self-conscious, Harry looks down to check his outfit. He hadn’t planned to dress up — no one usually does for a Christmas feast at the Burrow — but then he’d caught a glimpse of the blazer in the wardrobe and decided to put it on. He’s only ever worn it the once, but seeing as Hermione was the one who talked him into buying it in the first place, Harry thought it’d be nice to wear it today, for her.

This time, he has paired it with black jeans and a dark green t-shirt, and once again he was quite pleased with his appearance when he consulted the mirror before heading downstairs.

“Yeah. I figured, since it’s Christmas…”

“Right.”

Malfoy averts his gaze, looking out the window as Harry takes in the sharp angle of his clenched jaw.

“Hey, what’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” Malfoy grits, clearly lying.

Harry already knows what the answer’s going to be, but he asks anyway.

“You sure you don’t wanna come?”

“Yes, Potter. I’m sure.”

Malfoy’s words are accompanied with an indignant glare, frosty enough to send a shiver down Harry’s spine.

Harry doesn’t like the idea of leaving Malfoy like this, alone and clearly upset on Christmas Day. But there are people waiting for him at the Burrow, and he doesn’t have the time to try to figure out what’s troubling Malfoy right now.

“Well then, I guess I’ll see you later.”

“Later.”

Harry reluctantly leaves the blond sitting there, staring unseeingly out the window. It unsettles him more than he cares to admit, seeing Malfoy like that, and the sight won’t leave Harry alone for several hours afterwards.

— ¤ O ¤ —

Harry may be the master of determination when it comes to fighting dark wizards and saving the world, but when it comes to saving his own heart from misery… not so much.

Like how he hasn’t been able to stop thinking about Malfoy after their kiss last week, even though Malfoy had said, in no uncertain terms, that he isn’t available. Or like how he can’t stop noticing that everyone else at the Burrow is paired up and all lovey-dovey with each other, no matter which way Harry looks.

Everyone, except Charlie. Charlie, who Harry hasn’t seen since… since the birthday party. Charlie, who was the first bloke Harry ever kissed. Charlie, who smiles at him from the other end of the room. Charlie, who is perfectly lovable… and kind… and sweet… and not at all like Malfoy.

To think that there was a time when that trait used to mean something positive.

They eat until they’re all full to bursting, then they move to the sitting room and exchange presents while eating some more. (‘It’s only mince pies, Harry dear. Surely, you can make room for at least one. I know just how much you like them.’) Ron and Hermione seem very happy for the weekend trip to a Bed & Breakfast in Ireland that Harry has arranged for them come Easter, and thankfully — considering how much effort it took to wrap it — Neville seems equally thrilled with his gift; a bespoke figurine of a beheaded snake that can also be used as a flowerpot — complete with a mini replica of the Gryffindor sword to act as a stake. It’s rather tasteless really, but a good laugh and Neville promises he’ll place it on his mantelpiece as soon as he finds his own flat. Judging by Ginny’s sceptical expression, Harry guesses that decision will not go over unchallenged.

It’s nearly half five when George stands from his seat next to Angelina and clears his throat. Gesturing for Ron to join him, he announces, “Since you all know us both quite well, it should come as no surprise to you that we — as the managers of Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes — have arranged a little something for the evening. If you’d all be so kind as to relocate to the garden…”

Before George has even finished the sentence, everyone is on the move, searching for cloaks, hats, shoes, gloves and scarves to battle the cold winter night. Harry hangs back, not especially eager to join the hustle and bustle of a dozen people fighting their way out to the hallway at once.

When Harry exits the back door everyone’s already outside, spread out on the lawn in clusters of three and four. Ron and George are nowhere to be seen, undoubtedly setting up the ‘little something Harry strongly suspects will be another splendid display of WWW patented fireworks. Hermione is chatting with Angelina, laughing at something she just said, and Ginny and Neville stand off to the side, so close together you couldn’t even fit a piece of parchment between them.

Feeling a little like the odd one out, despite being among friends and family, Harry decides not to join them. Instead, he opts for sitting down on the edge of the porch, watching the others and smiling as he reminds himself of how much has changed in the past year. The war is over. Voldemort is gone. Yes, many people died — and those people will forever be missed — but there are also many people who survived, who made it through. Life goes on, and for every day it gets a little bit easier to breathe.

Wrapped up in thoughts, Harry doesn’t notice Charlie approaching until the man is already sitting down beside him.

“You alright?”

“Yeah, I will be.”

“At least you’re not crying today,” Charlie says, teasingly bumping Harry’s shoulder with his own.

Harry had been, the last time Charlie found him here in the same spot. Needing a break from the cheerful birthday party inside, Harry had sought out the solitude of the back garden, and when he’d sat down the tears had just started to fall. Thinking back now, Harry doesn’t even know the reason why — he’d been crying so often those days it could have been about anything, really.

Charlie had found him, had sat himself down beside him and laid an arm around his back. Harry had cried against Charlie’s shoulder and then Charlie had placed a gentle finger under his chin, tilted his head up and kissed him. It had been a friendly kiss, an I-care-about-you-and-I-don’t-like-to-see-you-in-pain kind of kiss. It had been nice, comforting and soothing — and nothing at all like those desperate heated kisses he shared with Malfoy a week ago.

Harry’s lips curve into a faint smile and he glances over at the man beside him. Before he’s able to say anything, though, the first rocket shoots up in the air with a bang and soon the sky is lit up by explosions of red and green and silver and blue.

It’s just as brilliant and impressive as always, animals leaping and flowers blooming, until the last bang goes off and there’s a collective gasp from the gathered crowd as Fred’s grinning face winks down at them from above.

The image of the fallen brother, son and friend lingers in the sky for several moments until it finally fades away and leaves the garden in darkness.

The following silence lasts for over a full minute, everyone taken by the unexpected reminder of the forever smiling and joking boy who left them all much too soon. Even with the melancholy gripping him, Harry can’t hold back the smile on his lips after seeing Fred’s mischievous grin again.

Ginny is the first one to break the silence, lifting her wand into the air and exclaiming, “To Fred!” before conjuring her majestic horse Patronus.

“To Fred!” George yells, letting his silvery magpie join Ginny’s horse on the field beyond the garden.

Their spirit guardians are soon followed by many more; Ron’s Jack Russell, Hermione’s otter, Angelina’s swallow, Arthur’s weasel, Molly’s elephant, Bill’s crow, Neville’s beaver and several more.

Charlie stands up, freeing his own dolphin Patronus before looking back at Harry expectantly.

“Come on, let’s see your stag.”

“I-I don’t know if I can. I haven’t conjured it since the war.”

“Please? I’ve never seen it,” Charlie pleads. “It’s for Fred.”

“I can try,” Harry says, rising to his feet while trying to think of a suitable memory to latch on to.

The first thing that comes to mind is a scene from just this morning, Malfoy seated with Teddy in his lap, reading him his new book, Archie, the Curious Badger. They’d looked so adorable together, none of them aware of Harry watching them. Malfoy always lets down his guard when he’s with Teddy, especially when he thinks no one’s watching; and the open loving man he becomes when he does that… Harry is yearning for Malfoy to look at him like that, yearning for him to open up to him like that.

Harry tries to shake the memory off and find another one to use, anything not related to Malfoy, but the image is stuck in his mind as if fastened with Spellotape and eventually he gives in and raises his wand.

“Expecto Patronum.”

“Wow,” Charlie gasps, “that’s no…”

“No…” Harry breathes, wide-eyed. “No, it’s not.”

Ron’s surprised voice reaches him from the lawn. “Harry, mate? What the fuck happened to your stag?”

Harry shrugs, unable to look away from the shimmering silver animal that has sprung from the tip of his wand. It’s beautiful. It’s mesmerising. And… it’s definitely not a stag.

“What does it mean?” Neville asks.

George’s shit-eating grin can easily be heard in his voice. “It means he’s in love.”

“And not any other love either,” Hermione says. “A Patronus will only change for an eternal, unchanging love.”

Oh.

Startled by her words, Harry finally manages to draw his eyes away from the evidence of his apparently rather serious feelings. George and Angelina are grinning at him like loons, hugging each other tightly, and Hermione has a fond smile on her face. The rest of them look like they just found out Harry is an alien or something.

Eternal, unchanging love? Well, fuck.

“B-but…” Ron stammers, “I thought you said there was no girl?”

“Ron, it’s not a girl,” Hermione says slowly, taking her boyfriend’s hand and squeezing it gently. Thank the stars for Hermione. Hopefully, she’ll be able to hold Ron back when he finds out.

“Then who is it?” Ginny frowns, looking between Hermione and George expectantly.

“Do you want to tell them, mate, or can I?” George says, giddy with excitement, earning himself an elbow in the ribs from his new girlfriend. “Please, Harry? I want to—”

“Shut up, you insufferable idiot,” Angelina chides. “If he doesn’t want to tell, it’s up to him, right? And you are not telling anybody anything!”

Harry is thankful for her support — she really is an amazing friend — but at some point during the last minute, he’s already made his decision to tell them. What would really be the use of hiding it? If it is indeed ‘eternal, unchanging love’, like Hermione says, they will all find out sooner or later anyway, won’t they?

“Yes, yes, of course, Angie. I won’t tell, you know I won’t. I just thought—”

“It’s Draco. Draco Malfoy.”

— ¤ O ¤ —

WHAT? Are you bloody insane?”

Ron’s high-pitched panicky voice echoes through the valley, and Harry forces himself to look at him even though it’s about the last thing he wants to do right now. What he wants to do is go home, to Malfoy — Draco…? Oh, Merlin, Draco!? — and take him in his arms and kiss him senseless until all his securely built up defences wither away and crumble to dust.

But before he can do that, Harry needs to take care of this. Because, if he doesn’t— Harry won’t even let himself think about what’d happen if he can’t get Ron to understand and accept this.

Harry’s vaguely aware of the rest of them coming out of their stupor, murmurs of ‘He must be kidding and ‘Did he say Malfoy?’ and ‘Oh, dear Merlin…’ reaching him as he meets Ron’s confused stare. Harry can feel all eyes on him, but he focuses on Ron, approaching him slowly and carefully as if his best mate was a caged animal ready to bolt — or attack.

“Ron, please,” he says, his voice calm and gentle and his eyes pleading. “I’m not insane. I’m just…”

…in love!?” Ron scoffs, his bushy eyebrows halfway to his hairline. “With the fucking Ferret? Don’t you hear how bloody stupid it sounds, mate?”

“Ron…” Hermione says, holding him back with a firm hand on his arm. She sounds restrained, maybe even a little annoyed, and the warning tone in her voice seems to have a slightly disarming effect on the man. “Ron, please, calm down.”

Calm down!? How could I possibly calm down when our friend here has so obviously gone round the twist?”

“But, darling… You can’t be serious? How could you not have seen this coming?”

Harry and Ron both turn to look at her at that; the former grateful, the latter incredulous; both surprised.

And you did!?

Ron’s accusing tone is accompanied by a deep frown; as if he’s contemplating if Hermione may just be as insane as Harry.

“Of course I did,” Hermione says, “I thought we all did.”

You did?

With his mind on overdrive, Harry’s not really capable of taking in what Hermione is saying — other than, she’s not surprised. She’s not surprised, and she even seems supportive. Blimey.

“Yeah, mate.” George comes up from behind Harry, placing a supporting hand on Harry’s shoulder. “How could you possibly have missed it? He just told you last week that—”

“…that he’s bi,” Ron whispers, realisation dawning on him, finally. “But…”

“And we’ve already established Harry’s been obsessed with the blond brat for years. What else is there even to add…”

“…except he has been living with the bloke for like, four months,” Angelina chimes in, approaching Harry from his other side, “and they obviously get along well together now.”

“But… maybe he’s just confused?” Ron suggests, looking between them almost desperately. “Maybe the Ferret has put a spell on him or something? Or tricked him with a bloody love potion?”

No. Surely he couldn ’t have…

“That wouldn’t explain the Patronus, though,” Hermione says. “A spell or a potion would never go so deep as to change your Patronus like that.”

“A-and you’re all just… okay with this?” Ron frowns.

“Can’t say that I am,” Ginny says from out of nowhere. Harry hasn’t even been aware she’s been listening in, but come to think of it, probably they all have. “But who are we to judge? If Harry wants to be with the Ferret it’s his choice. We all know it’ll go up in flames sooner or later, but if that’s what Harry wants…”

Well, thanks for the … support?

“Actually, I’m not sure it will,” Neville says, surprising them all as he comes up to stand beside his girlfriend. “Thinking about it, I’m actually starting to think they may just be perfect for each other.”

Neville? Wow.

“Oh, no. Not you too,” Ron groans, looking a little like he wants to fall to his knees and vomit right there on his parents’ garden lawn. “What have I ever done to you?”

“Ron, seriously,” Neville says. “Think about it. They’ve been ogling each other for years. They’ve always had this intensity between them, drawing them together like magnetism. Malfoy is the only one who has never treated Harry like he was something special — and you know how much Harry has always hated being treated like a hero. They complement each other, they challenge each other. Do you think Harry would’ve been even half as good a Seeker without Malfoy there to challenge him at every turn?”

Huh. Hadn ’t even thought of that. What if it’s true?

“And, you said it yourself,” Hermione adds, “just the other day. How much better Harry’s doing nowadays. How much happier he seems. How much more alive he is. What if Malfoy’s the one who’s making him happy?”

Yes, what if? Oh, Merlin, he is, isn ’t he?

“But…” Ron says, addressing Harry again for the first time in minutes. “I still don’t get it, mate. He’s so fucking annoying. And we’ve always hated the twat…”

Harry sighs.

“Honestly, Ron, I don’t think I’ve hated him for a really long time. And yes, he’s still fucking annoying at times. But he’s also very sweet, and caring, and smart, and funny…”

“…and very handsome,” Angelina supplies.

“Yes, that too,” Harry says, glancing over at her. He can’t help the smirk from curving his lips despite the faint blush rising on his cheeks. Malfoy is, indeed, a very very handsome man.

When Harry returns his gaze to Ron, the man looks nearly nauseous, a sickly green tint to his skin. Harry doesn’t even want to ponder the images currently going through his best mate’s head, although he’s fairly sure that if he did, they’d have a more… arousing effect on him.

“Ron. Look, mate,” Harry says instead. “I’m not saying you have to love him. I’m not saying you even have to like him — even though I think that you would if you ever actually gave him a chance.” He ignores the disdainful sneer on Ron’s face and goes on. “I’m just saying I’d really like for you to accept that I do like him, very much, and that nothing you say will ever change that.”

The moonlit garden is overtaken by an expectant silence as everyone seems to hold their breaths, awaiting Ron’s response.

“Yeah, I hear you, mate,” Ron grumbles eventually. He swallows hard and fixes Harry with a defiant stare. “But if he ever hurts you, I swear, I’ll hunt him down and kick his arse so thoroughly he’ll never be able to sit down again.”

Harry knows Ron is as serious as he’s ever been, but he still can’t help the grin from splitting his face. “Thanks, mate, I really appreciate it.”

They exchange an awkward handshake and before Harry even lets go of Ron’s hand, he’s wrapped up in Hermione’s warm embrace.

“You okay?” she murmurs.

“Yeah, thanks,” Harry says, struggling not to get too much of her floral-scented hair in his mouth.

“He’ll come around, don’t worry.”

“I know.”

She draws back and smiles at him. Harry feels another blush growing on his cheeks and gives her a sheepish smile.

“It’s not like I can help it, you know. It just happened.”

“I know. You don’t have to apologise for your feelings, Harry. They are what they are.”

“Thanks, ‘Mione. It really means a lot.”

“So, tell me. Does he feel the same way about you?”

“I-I don’t know. I mean, I think so… or I hope so, at least, but… it’s not like we’ve ever talked about it or anything…”

“But you’re…?”

“No, not really. Well, we kissed once… and it was amazing, but… then he freaked out, and… It’s so confusing, ‘Mione… Sometimes it feels like he wants it just as much as I do, and then… Like, just before I left today, he gets so weird and distant, you know… Like he can’t even stand the sight of me…”

Hermione frowns. “And does he know how you feel about him?”

“Well, I thought it was rather obvious, but…”

The last week, Harry has constantly felt like he’s the most obvious soppy love-fool in history. And, if he’s honest, he probably behaved just the same for several weeks before that, too, but…

Malfoy’s voice echoes through Harry’s mind. ‘Just because I’m bent doesn’t mean you can just— use me for your experiments.’ ‘We both know you’re straight as an arrow…’

“But you’ve never really told him, have you?”

Harry shakes his head, his mind reeling as Hermione continues.

“What if… What if he’s just scared? If he feels the way you do… and doesn’t know that you…”

Oh, Merlin. The flame in his chest suddenly flares larger than ever before.

“And you left him upset on Christmas Day?”

“Well, I invited him to join, but he didn’t want to…”

“Oh, Harry… What are you even doing here? Go home. Talk to him. Straighten this out.”

“Right. Okay…” Harry’s heart is pounding so hard, and the fluttering in his stomach is back with a vengeance. “Yes, you’re right. I… I have to… I need to…”

“Go, Harry. And Merry Christmas.”

“Merry Christmas, ‘Mione.”

— ¤ O ¤ —

“Potter?” comes Malfoy’s voice from the sitting room as soon as the front door closes behind him.

It had taken Harry another twenty minutes to say goodbye to everyone after he’d talked to Hermione, and all he could think about during this time was Malfoy sitting alone at home. Harry’s body, mind and soul had all ached for him to get back, had pleaded with him to return to the man he lo—

His mind has already conjured up a broad variety of different scenarios of how this evening’s gonna go, and he hopes to Merlin that it’s not gonna end in disaster. Before he left, Harry had gotten himself a good chat with Charlie, an encouraging pep talk from Neville and even his foster parents’ blessing. After various handshakes and hugs from the rest of the family — and awkward nods from Ron and Ginny — George and Angelina had wrapped him in their arms and said, “You’ve got this, Harry. Go get him.”

And that’s what he intends to do. But he has to do it right, or he’s pretty sure he’ll scare Malfoy away again.

“Yeah, it’s me,” Harry says as he hangs up his jacket and toes off his shoes. He follows Malfoy’s voice towards the sitting room. “I got back early and—

Holy smokes! He’s wearing the fucking suit. Malfoy’s wearing a perfectly fitted three-piece Muggle suit, and Harry has never seen the man — any man — look more stunning in his entire life.

It’s like he can’t breathe, his heart is hammering so hard in his chest. Oh, good Godric, he loves this man. He loves

“What are you doing here? I thought you’d be gone all day.”

Malfoy is looking at him strangely. Okay, don’t freak him out. Stay with the plan.

“Changed my mind,” Harry shrugs, walking over to Teddy who’s sleeping on the sofa by the telly. “Hi there, Moony bug. Missed you.”

Harry can feel the familiar prickling at the nape of his neck that tells him Malfoy’s watching him. It’s hard to stay casual knowing the man’s eyes are on him, but he manages.

“So, what have you two been up to?”

“Nothing much. Some playing, some reading. Having dinner. You know, the usual.”

Harry can hear the caution in his voice, as if he suspects Harry’s up to something — which, to be fair, he is — and is trying to figure out what. Trying his best to keep his nerves in check, Harry schools his features and turns to face Malfoy. He nearly drops the act altogether, though, when he notices the green knitted socks on Malfoy’s feet.

“Everyone says hi, by the way.”

Malfoy frowns. “Surely not to me?”

“Yeah, to you, silly.”

“Who are you calling sil—”

“You look nice in that suit. It really suits you.”

“Ha-ha, very funny,” Malfoy sneers.

“No, honestly. It looks really good on you.”

The flash of surprise ghosting over Malfoy’s features is almost undetectable, gone in the blink of an eye as a pleased little smile curves his lips.

“It does, doesn’t it?”

“Definitely,” Harry says, just a little distracted by the sexy confidence suddenly radiating from the man before him. Just a little. Not enough to steer him off course or anything. Rather, it spurs him on.

Harry lets on his most annoying smirk, looking Malfoy up and down as he drawls, “You gotta tell me one thing, though… Do your poncy fashion rules really allow those socks to be worn with an outfit like that?”

The reaction is instant as a blush explodes on those high pale cheekbones.

“I…” Malfoy splutters and moves to take off the socks.

“No. No, keep them on. I know you want to. Besides, it’s cute.”

Malfoy raises one of those haughty eyebrows of his, clearly judging Harry insane. “You think it’s cu—?”

“You want some hot chocolate?” Harry cuts him off, heading for the kitchen. Merlin, his heart is pounding.

“Sure?” Malfoy says slowly, even more suspicious now thanks to Harry’s non sequitur.

“Then take Teddy up to the nursery and I’ll have it ready for us when you get back down.”

Harry doesn’t turn to look at him, even though his whole body is itching to. Instead, he leaves Malfoy hanging, standing in the middle of the sitting room floor. Let him think what he wants. He’ll find out soon enough.

When Harry enters the kitchen, the pixies are having a rave party in his belly, and the flame burning in his chest is fuelled by the adrenalin pumping through his veins. It might have been healthier for Harry’s body — and sanity — to just say the words. But he knows if he does, Malfoy won’t believe him.

Plus, Harry’s still got that other present he wants to give him first. And he’s really looking forward to seeing Malfoy’s reaction to it.

It doesn’t matter that he saw Draco just minutes before. When the blond enters the sitting room in all his midnight blue three-piece suit glory, Harry can’t take his eyes off of him. The sight makes Harry weak in the knees, and if he wasn’t already seated, he’d been lying in a mortifying heap on the floor right about now. Harry’s fully aware that he’s staring, but he can’t help it. Fortunately, Malfoy’s too self-conscious to meet his eyes, keeping his gaze on the fire as he sits down in the chair across from Harry.

They drink their chocolate in silence, Malfoy staring into the fire and Harry doing his best to keep his eyes away from the man for more than mere seconds at a time. The dark blue colour of the suit is absolutely stunning on the blond, and the crisp white button-down he wears underneath is adorned with elegant silver cufflinks and finished off with a sapphire blue silk tie. You would think he was on his way to a photoshoot or a lauded fashion designer’s runway — if it weren’t for the socks on his feet.

Harry wants to pounce on him, he wants to ravage him. Harry wants to rip that perfect suit off his perfect body and mess up his perfect hair and taste every perfect inch of the man — wants to fucking devour him. Harry swallows hard and urges his cock to calm down before he comes untouched in his pants right there in the middle of Andromeda’s sitting room.

“I have another gift for you,” Harry says when his cup is empty and his newly refilled sugar levels are denying him another beat of silence.

“You do?” Malfoy says, looking directly at him for the first time in twenty minutes.

“Yeah, I do.”

Harry smirks, just because he’s feeling too giddy not to. “Do you want it?”

He is fairly sure that the hint of a smile grazing Malfoy’s lips isn’t just his own imagination talking.

“What kind of crazy-arsed question is that, Potter? Of course, I want it.”

“Okay, hold on a sec.”

Harry stretches out his hand towards the hallway and summons the gift from upstairs, and this time Malfoy’s sharp intake of breath is not only in Harry’s head, but clearly audible. Hmm, interesting.

The long narrow box flies into his hand, wrapped in emerald green and with a neat golden bow on top. The accompanying parchment scroll arrives only an instant later and Harry barely manages to catch it before it crashes into the sofa table.

He lets out a nervous chuckle as he fumbles to grab hold of the two items, probably even blushing a little when he finally regains enough control to offer them both for Malfoy to take. Malfoy raises a questioning eyebrow towards his perfectly combed hair and smirks.

“Whatever happened to your renowned Seeker reflexes, Potter?”

“Shut up, you prat. I caught them, didn’t I? Now, be nice or I’ll take them back.”

“You wouldn’t!” Malfoy gasps, pressing a palm to his chest and widening his eyes in fake surprise.

“Oh, just open them, you bloody drama queen!” Harry chuckles. “And Merry Christmas.”

Malfoy accepts both items from Harry’s hand and places the box in his lap as he peruses the scroll. His brows furrow as he lays eyes on the seal, obviously noticing the Hogwarts crest stamped into the wax. Malfoy looks up at Harry, searching his face for clues, but when Harry remains silent he returns his gaze to the scroll, carefully breaking the seal with his long elegant fingers.

“What is this?” he breathes as he scans the list in his hands.

Harry hasn’t seen it himself yet, but he knows what it contains.

“What does it look like?”

“A list of spells?”

Harry nods when those questioning eyes land on him once more.

“And… it looks like Headmistress McGonagall’s handwriting?”

“That is correct,” Harry says. The fluttering pixies are back in his belly and Harry has a hard time keeping his breathing slow and steady.

“Then why don’t you tell me why you’re giving me a list of spells for Christmas? I already know nearly all of these, and it’s not like I can use them anyway. Are you just doing it for a laugh, Potter? Because I can tell you, it surely isn’t funny in the least.”

“No, Malfoy,” Harry says, conjuring forth his most sincere and amicable self. “I’m not doing it for a laugh, I promise. That parchment is enchanted, issued by the Ministry and specifically linked to McGonagall’s official quill. It is also specifically linked to your bracelet.”

Harry raises his brow, waiting for Malfoy to catch on. When he doesn’t and all Harry can detect in his grey eyes is a whirlwind of jumbled emotions, Harry continues.

“Those spells are all the spells found in Hogwarts official syllabus. By letting McGonagall write them down on this particular parchment, the Ministry issues you permission to use them within the regulation of your probation. This parchment overrules the restraining magic on your bracelet.”

Malfoy’s eyes have grown wider with every sentence of Harry’s explanation, and when he finally goes silent they are bright with tears.

“Y-you’re giving me my… my magic back?”

“Yes, well…  Not all of it, unfortunately, but at least I got them to see how you would need it for your studies. They do support your ambition to finish your N.E.W.T.s, you know — I’d say they’re even quite impressed with your determination. And so, with a little help from McGonagall and my ridiculously overrated fame…”

Harry falters as he watches Malfoy look down at the wrapped box in his lap. Chest heaving, Malfoy leans forward to put the scroll down on the table before taking the present in his slightly shaking hands.

“Oh, Merlin…”

“Malfoy. I know you already know what’s inside. Just open it, will you?”

Malfoy does what he’s told, reverently pulling the wrapping paper aside and opening the box.

The Ministry had wanted to confiscate the hawthorn wand after the final battle, claiming it belonged in a museum for being the wand that brought down Voldemort. Harry had refused, though, always knowing he’d want to give the wand back to its rightful owner one day.

“Come on,” Harry says softly when he can’t hold back his enthusiasm any longer. “Try it.”

Malfoy wraps those pale slender fingers around his long-lost wand, smiling faintly as he weighs it in his hand. It’s been nine months since Harry took it from him, that day in the Manor when Malfoy had saved his life.

“What do you think I should do?”

“Whatever you want,” Harry smiles.

He has no idea what spell he’d decide to try first after five months without being allowed to do any magic at all. Something nice and simple probably, since he’d most certainly be too jittery and emotional for anything more complex.

Malfoy settles on a perfectly cast Leviosa, his eyes sparkling with joy as he watches his diary float through the air from the table and into his hand.

With a hint of a smile, Malfoy carefully puts the wand back in its box while fighting back impending tears. He leans forward and places the box on the table next to the scroll.

“Thank you,” he murmurs, his voice close to breaking. “Thank you so much.”

“You’re welcome.” Harry smiles, reaching his foot out to toe Malfoy’s shin under the table. “Hey, cheer up, will you? It won’t do to sit here crying in your nicest clothes on Christmas Day. Now, come on, give me a real smile.”

Malfoy’s rosy lips actually curve into an adorable smile at that, and Harry’s heart melts.

“I…” Malfoy hesitates, clearing his throat before starting over. “I actually have something for you as well.”

“You do?” Harry says, perking up at the thought.

“Yes.” Malfoy takes out a small white envelope from his diary and hands it over to Harry with a shy smile. “Merry Christmas.”

“Thank you,” Harry says, turning the unmarked envelope in his hands, trying to guess what’s inside.

As he opens it, Harry’s eyes widen as they fall on the light yellow piece of paper and the words printed on its glossy surface.

Shakespeare’s Globe
Twelfth Night
Thursday 31 December 1998 4:00 PM

“You’re giving me tickets to a Shakespeare play?”

“Er… yes,” Malfoy says, a faint blush rising on his cheeks as Harry glances up at him. “I heard about the production and figured it might be nice to go. I thought maybe you’d want to come with me… but if you’d rather not, maybe Andromeda would like to—”

Harry stops him mid-sentence. “No. No, I want to come. Of course, I’ll come with you. It’s—”

“Good,” Malfoy says, averting his gaze to look at his hands fiddling nervously with the book in his lap. “I thought maybe we could have dinner after… at some Muggle place obviously… Wouldn’t want all the attention of Diagon Alley, right? Or, er… if you prefer, we could go to Claridge’s before the show… Have high tea or something… I don’t know…”

Malfoy’s nervous rambling is about the cutest thing Harry’s ever seen.

“Malfoy…?” he says, gently cutting him off. “Are you giving me a date for Christmas?”

“No!” Malfoy says, his voice strained and his gaze almost panicked. “No, of course not! Just a friends thing, nothing else. Don’t be silly, Potter.”

His words are dismissive, but his wandering eyes and the way his cheeks are blushing tells Harry the truth. Malfoy licks his lips nervously and Harry’s stomach flips. He loves flustered Malfoy. He loves

“Come on, I want to show you something.”

— ¤ O ¤ —

Harry grabs a couple of blankets and recommends Malfoy put on his shoes. On his way out to the hallway, Malfoy changes his mind, though — instead, taking his wand from its box and casting an Impervius on his toasty-warm socks with a pleased grin. Harry can only smirk and shake his head at his obvious glee; it’s like watching a child being let loose in a candy factory.

Two minutes later they’re seated outside on the steps of the porch, a folded blanket under their bums and another one wrapped over their legs. The sky is clear, just as clear as that night a week ago when they went flying, but since the moon is half-full this time, its bright light drowns out many of the fainter stars that were visible then.

“See that bright star over there, just over the hill?”

Malfoy points to the right, where Harry can indeed see a bright star shining just over the roof of the shed. What direction might that be? West? Northwest?

“Yeah. That’s Vega, right?”

“Yes,” Malfoy says, sounding nearly impressed and Harry secretly preens. Finally a reason why he ever bothered to listen to Professor Sinistra’s lectures. “And if you just look a little further to the left there’s a cluster of stars, you see it?”

“Yeah,” Harry smiles. He knows exactly what constellation it is Malfoy’s about to show him. If there was one thing he was never strong enough to resist taking notice of in those late-night Astronomy lessons it was—

“That’s the head of the dragon, or—”

“—Draco,” Harry murmurs. “Yeah, I know.”

He doesn’t even try to find Sirius up there, already knowing he will not be visible until later on in the evening.

Malfoy clears his throat and turns to look at him, but Harry — despite his fearless Gryffindor hero reputation — hasn’t got the nerve to face him right now. He’s starting to wonder if the fluttering in his stomach will ever leave him alone again. Probably not. At least not as long as Malfoy is close. Harry swallows, staring towards the horizon.

“Have you ever been able to conjure a Patronus?”

“No, never tried. Never knew how.”

“Have you ever wondered what form it would take?”

“Of course,” Malfoy sighs. “I’m not really sure if I want to know, though. I mean, what if it turns out to be something really embarrassing? Like a Flobberworm or something?”

Malfoy lets out a dry self-deprecating laugh, trying to ease the mood, but Harry can sense the bitterness in his voice.

“I know they’re supposed to reflect the caster’s innermost personality, and since I’m apparently a coward and a pathetic loser I don’t hold up much hope for my Patronus being anything grand or anything. Not like your stag.”

“You know about my stag?”

“Oh, Potter… Of course, I know about your stag. Everyone knows about your stag.”

Oh.

“So you don’t want to know? About your Patronus?”

“Well, I’m not even sure if I’ll ever be able to conjure one. Severus was the only Death Eater who ever could, and I’m not…”

Malfoy trails off, and Harry can’t blame him. Thinking about the sacrifices Snape made during the war always stings Harry right in the gut. And if that’s what thinking about the man does to Harry, it must be so much harder for Malfoy…

Malfoy clears his throat, but as he speaks, the strained quality to his voice lets on there’s still a lump stuck in his throat.

“So, you said you had something you wanted to show me?”

“Yeah.”

Suddenly it feels as if Harry’s heart is about to leap out of his chest. This is it. He can’t stop his arm from shaking as he aims his wand towards the horizon and casts the spell.

“Expecto Patronum.”

It doesn’t matter that he’s seen it before. The silvery-white animal leaping from the tip of his wand is just as magnificent and mesmerising as it was an hour ago. Her head alone is bigger than Ron’s Jack Russell terrier, and with the long slender neck and equally long tail, Harry thinks she might even be close to 40 feet in length. The most amazing thing about her, though, is the enormous wing-span, stretching almost as wide as she is long when the dragon spreads her wings and graciously takes flight over the field before them.

She lights up the entire valley with her gorgeous silver shape and the shimmering mist she leaves in her wake like a trail across the sky. Harry’s heart is beating like crazy, and his breath catches in his throat as he notices Malfoy’s incredulous gasp beside him.

“I… I don’t understand?” Malfoy breathes.

Harry still can’t look at him, but right now it doesn’t matter because Malfoy’s eyes are glued to the Patronus soaring above the field in front of them.

“Y-you don’t?”

Merlin, when did his voice get so hoarse? Harry swallows hard, trying to wet his strained vocal cords.

“How could I possibly…” Malfoy trails off, not able to finish the sentence when the lucent dragon leaps over an imagined obstacle, flaps her wings and releases a huge cloud of silver dust all around her.

“Do you remember me telling you about Snape? About his doe?”

Harry can’t resist glancing at Malfoy’s elegant profile as he says the last words, too anxious not to witness Malfoy’s reaction when he realises…

There’s another agonising moment before it finally clicks, and then a whole cascade of emotions is flickering over Malfoy’s features in rapid succession. Eyes widening in realisation, brows furrowing in confusion, a lot of other things going on that Harry’s not able to grasp before Malfoy clenches his jaw and his lips tighten into a thin line.

“Are… are you telling me you’re in love?” he grits.

Of all the reactions Harry had imagined getting, this was definitely not one. Suddenly there’s a black emptiness in his gut, sucking the warmth and light from his insides like a greedy little Dementor, and the flame of hope in his chest is flickering wildly, fighting for its life against the unexpected threat.

“Er, I don’t know. Maybe…? I mean… Yeah, I think I might be…”

“With whom? With Charlie?”

Charlie? Why would Malfoy think that he’d be in love with— Wait… Is he jealous? Is that why he— Harry fights back his inner Dementor and takes a deep breath.

“No, not with Charlie,” he says gently, turning slightly towards Malfoy. Malfoy casts a suspicious glance at Harry who can’t hold back a fond smile when those neat blond brows furrow over stormy-grey eyes.

Oh, Merlin, he really is jealous.

“Then who? I can’t imagine anyone else who’d have a dragon for their Patronus.”

“No?” Harry raises a questioning eyebrow. “Have you noticed which breed it is?”

“No, not really. Does it matter?”

“Yeah, I believe it does. At least in this case.”

Harry turns to his Patronus and summons it back to the garden, gasping in awe as she races towards them and touches down on the lawn just a few feet in front of them. Maybe he should address Malfoy face to face for this, but it’s the first time Harry sees his dragon up close and he just can’t take his eyes off of her. The newly resumed fluttering in his stomach has absolutely nothing to do with it.

“It’s an Antipodean Opaleye.”

“Yes, I can see that now. I don’t know much about them, though, other than they live in Australia.”

Harry nods. “And New Zealand. I didn’t know anything about them either — until today when I asked Charlie about them.”

“And…?” Malfoy says through clenched teeth.

Yup, Charlie’s definitely a sore spot. Harry decides to take this as a good sign and hopes to Merlin his intuition is as reliable as usual. Malfoy did give him those theatre tickets just moments ago, and even though he claimed it not to be seen as a date, it sounded very much like one. Harry inhales a lungful of cool winter air and tries to remember what Charlie had told him about the breed.

“And… they’re fiercely loyal. They mate for life and their family is everything. When threatened, they never hesitate to fight for their loved ones, and yet they’re the only species among dragons who are known for their reluctance towards violence and only kill when they absolutely have to. They’re also quite famous for their unrivalled beauty and grace.”

When Harry turns to look at him, there’s a faint smile grazing Malfoy’s lips.

“Yeah, sounds like you. Apart from the grace, obviously.”

Malfoy huffs a dry laugh, and can it be that he’s actually fighting back a smirk as well? Harry thinks so.

“Now you mention it, maybe it does.”

Okay, he can’t hold it back any longer now. Harry’s got to do this, or the suspense is going to kill him. He steels himself and turns fully to the man beside him, drinking in his gorgeous features and allowing himself to finally admit how much he really wants him.

Strengthened by the desire running through his veins, Harry murmurs, “Although, you’re forgetting something.”

“I am?”

Malfoy turns to finally meet Harry’s gaze. Under his elegant suit, Malfoy’s chest is heaving from his shallow breathing and his unfathomable eyes are a captivating moulted silver as they look into Harry’s.

“Yeah, you are,” Harry breathes. “You’re forgetting this is not mine. It’s only a replica of another one’s Patronus.”

Harry knows he has to say it out loud, or Malfoy won’t allow himself to believe it. But the words get stuck in his throat and it’s almost that he doesn’t manage it. His stomach flips as they finally come.

“It’s yours… Draco.”

— ¤ O ¤ —

It ’s yours, Draco.

…yours, Draco.

…Draco.

The admission echoes in Harry’s mind as time stretches impossibly long in the ensuing silence, long enough for Harry to start wondering if he’s accidentally stunned Malfoy — Draco — with his words.

“Please, say something…”

Harry’s plea is but a whisper, strained from being forced past the lump forming in his throat. Draco just looks at him, those expressive grey eyes widened and filled with conflicting emotions. His features are drained of all colour, nearly as white as his pristine button-down shirt, and his rosy lips are slightly parted, releasing small puffs of steam into the cool winter air with every exhale.

Eventually, Draco blinks slowly and draws a ragged breath. There’s a line forming between those neat blond eyebrows and Harry watches transfixed as the tip of a pink tongue darts out to wet those tantalising lips. The memory of their heated kisses a week ago flashes before his eyes, the intensity nearly overwhelming him, and Harry has to bite down on his own bottom lip to keep from leaning in and kiss him.

“But…?” Draco breathes. The slight shake of his head is almost as desperate as his pleading eyes. I… You… I don’t…?”

“Draco, please… I-I’m aware this is all probably too much too fast, but… I need you to know that this…” Harry gestures with his hand between them, “…this, is real. No experiments. No uncertainty. I want this, Draco. I want you. So much. And if you don’t want me like that, just tell me… Just, don’t say no on the assumption that you think I don…”

“Shhh…”

Draco’s fingertips are cool as they graze Harry’s lips, the light touch sending a shock wave of desire through Harry’s body. There’s a hint of a smile twitching at the corners of Draco’s mouth and Harry’s heart misses a beat at the sight.

Harry knows he’s been rambling, and when he goes over his words in his mind he wants to melt into the ground — or at least close his eyes shut in embarrassment. But he can’t. Harry simply can’t stop staring into those wide-blown pupils encircled by thin frames of glittering silver-grey. Draco is so close it’s making him dizzy.

“It’s not that I don’t want you…” Draco says softly, moving his hand to stroke his cool fingertips over Harry’s flaming hot cheek. The dry pad of a thumb brushes the length of Harry’s lower lip and Harry fights down the urge to open his mouth and lick it with the tip of his tongue.

He stops breathing altogether as Draco leans in next to him, close enough for his blond silky locks to brush against Harry’s temple. Draco’s crisp heady scent is intoxicating and Harry’s eyelashes flutter as it invades his mind and crushes all rational thought. A warm breath ghosts over the shell of Harry’s ear, the sensation so erotic it sends a shiver down his spine.

Draco’s whisper is nearly drowned out by the blood rushing through Harry’s veins.

“…it’s that I want you so much, it’s driving me fucking mental.”

Fireworks. Fucking fireworks — more spectacular than anything ever created by the famous Weasley brothers. That’s what it feels like when Draco’s breathless words pour into him and reach the flame in Harry’s chest. Sparks of all shapes and colours shoot out from his core, igniting every nerve ending and setting his whole body aflame.

He wants to pounce, wants to throw Draco to the ground and devour him. But after what happened last time, Harry has promised himself to hold back, to let Draco take the initiative. Harry never made any such promise regarding provocations, though… Smirking, he whispers, “Scared, Malfoy?”

“You wish.”

Draco’s answer is practically a growl, so raw and intense it’s making Harry gasp. Harry’s heart is pounding so hard he can barely breathe as he draws back to look Draco in the eye, the tip of his nose only a hair’s breadth from Draco’s.

His mouth dry as parchment, Harry licks his lips and murmurs, “Then, what are you waiting for?”

And then finally, finally, Draco closes the distance between them and presses those sweet soft lips against Harry’s. They’re cool from the winter evening, but the ragged puffs of air coming from Draco’s mouth are all heat — much like the fire-breathing Opaleye who evidently represents Draco’s innermost personality.

The hand on his cheek has snaked its way to the nape of Harry’s neck, those nimble fingertips no longer feather-light but clutching the back of Harry’s head tightly. Draco’s lips taste of hot chocolate, and when Harry cards his fingers through Draco’s silky-soft hair and Draco lets out that keening sound — Fuck — Harry’s already half-hard cock swells even further and stretches eagerly against the cotton of his pants.

Craving to get closer, Harry tilts his head slightly and nibbles hungrily on Draco’s lower lip. He should probably let himself breathe, but other things are more important right now and there’s just not enough time for both. After some fumbling, Harry’s right hand eventually finds its way in under that fancy suit jacket, at long last able to trail the length of Draco’s striking spine through the smooth silk of his waistcoat.

Draco shivers at the touch, moaning softly as his hot wet tongue sneaks out to lick Harry’s lips, to beg for entry. The tip of Harry’s tongue meets him halfway, teasingly fighting for dominance, and Draco huffs a breathy laugh before Harry obediently opens his mouth to let him in.

Being invited into the secret cave of Draco’s mouth entails a new thrill all of its own. The chocolatey taste is even stronger inside, and Harry wants to lick every reachable surface until all he can taste is Draco. It’s hot and wet and kinda sloppy, both of them too eager to care about any level of modesty. Their teeth clash together but it doesn’t matter — Harry is soaring on a gust of emotions, charged by a rush of want so intense his entire body is trembling from it.

Suddenly there’s a tentative hand sliding up Harry’s thigh, seeping warmth through his jeans and heating the tingling skin underneath. The touch sends a flash of desire straight to Harry’s core, and in his surprise, Harry is powerless to stop the raunchy moan rising from deep down his throat.

The unexpected sound of Harry’s apparent arousal seems to ignite something almost desperate within Draco, a new hunger overpowering him and triggering him into action. With one hand still wrapped around the nape Harry’s neck, Draco braces himself with his other palm against the weathered planks of the porch. Never breaking their kiss, he guides Harry down to lie on his back on the unyielding wood.

Harry’s shoulders aren’t even touching the rough surface before Draco is straddling him, and — oh — all at once, Harry becomes acutely aware of Draco’s captivating nearness. Even through several layers of clothing, Harry can feel Draco’s body heat reaching out for him, caressing him and making his cock twitch and his whole body ache for Draco’s touch. Draco is so close, so fucking close; the proximity sends Harry’s mind reeling.

With Harry’s head safely lowered to the floor, Draco strokes his now free hand teasingly slowly along Harry’s neck and down his chest, sneaking curious fingers under his open blazer. The long strands of Draco’s blond fringe fall down to graze Harry’s forehead and Harry reaches up to brush his fingers through those smooth silky locks.

Harry’s heart is beating like crazy against his ribs; as if fighting to get as close to Draco’s questing hand as humanly possible. Draco’s breath catches in his throat as he happens upon a hardened nipple, eliciting a husky groan from the depths of Harry’s being as he — Fuck — pinches it through the thin fabric of Harry’s t-shirt. The nipple is more sensitive than Harry remembers it ever being before, and his body arches involuntary from Draco’s not-too-gentle touch, his back rising from the chilly floor of the porch, making his hips thrust up to — ahh — graze Draco’s raging erection with his own equally hard cock.

The sudden touch causes them both to gasp and as they break their kiss Harry’s head falls back, exposing his neck to the starry sky above them. Without missing a beat, Draco’s mouth latches on to that soft spot just under Harry’s ear, kissing and licking and sucking his way down the taut muscles of Harry’s neck until his hot lips and scorching tongue reaches the collarbone peeking out from the V-neck of Harry’s shirt.

Harry is panting so hard, his chest heaving so erratically that Draco nearly misses his target as he leans down to lick and nibble at Harry’s other nipple through the soft cotton. His breath is flaming hot against Harry’s skin, the sensation even sharper due to the dampness created by Draco’s wet tongue.

Somewhere close there’s an incessant buzzing slowly filtering its way through the haze in Harry’s preoccupied mind. Something’s telling him he should tend to it, but it’s hard to focus on anything else when Draco is trailing his hand down Harry’s side and — holy fuck — palms Harry’s weeping cock. If Draco could just — ahh — s-stop that, just for a moment, and maybe ease up a little on the nipple-sucking, Harry might be able to

Harry cards his trembling fingers through Draco’s impossibly soft hair, grabbing it and tugging gently. Draco reluctantly abandons the nipple to look up and meet Harry’s gaze, his expressive eyes ablaze with lust. Before Harry’s able to react, Draco’s kiss-swollen lips are back on Harry’s mouth, breathing fire over Harry’s skin and plunging his delicious tongue inside.

Unfortunately — or thankfully, depending on how you decide to look at it — Draco seems to think he’s in need of both hands to steady himself for the attack, thus leaving Harry’s body writhing and craving for his touch. However, the absence of Draco’s hot palm against his crotch allows Harry’s brain to reactivate and eventually he is once again reminded of that pesky buzzing sound.

It hasn’t stopped — rather the opposite, in fact — and now Harry’s listening for it, there might actually be some kind of rattling going on as well. He doesn’t want to, he wants to keep kissing Draco for all eternity, but he does it anyway — just to figure out how to stop the annoying sound from bothering him.

Tugging on Draco’s blond hair once more, Harry urges him to draw back from their heated kiss. Harry’s mouth feels empty without Draco’s tongue there to occupy it, his lips cold and abandoned without Draco’s there to cover them, and Harry nearly whimpers at his self-induced loss. He’s got half a mind to pull Draco’s mouth back where it belongs, but the buzzing starts up again and this time Harry actually registers what’s going on.

“Draco…”

At Harry’s feeble attempt at talking, Draco lets out a disgruntled moan and tries to resume their snogging, getting as far as to grazing his lips against Harry’s and licking them with the tip of his tongue.

“Draco… Wait…” Harry pants between tiny kisses, “Buzzing… Teddy…”

“Mmmm,” Draco hums, still fully focused on getting his lips as close to Harry’s as possible. “Want to…”

“Yes, Draco — mmm — me too, but — nnngh — we need to…”

“We need to…” Draco mumbles, slipping his hand underneath the hem of Harry’s t-shirt and forcing an undignified groan from Harry’s lips as those cool exploring fingers come in contact with bare skin.

“No… Draco…” Harry sighs, even though he wants nothing more than for Draco to keep doing what he’s currently doing. “We need to… Teddy… The Mo— nnngh — Monitor Charm… Please…”

“Fuck…” Draco breathes, stilling and squeezing his eyes shut as he tries to reign in his frantic desire.

“Yeah…” Harry says, huffing a wry laugh, “…maybe later.”

At Harry’s words, Draco’s eyes snap open. The hunger burning in them fuels the fire still raging in Harry’s core, and — Circe — Harry has a hard time fighting it down as his mind very unhelpfully points out the probability of them actually doing just that sometime in the very near future.

Smirking at the thought, Harry winks and reaches out to summon his vibrating wand. With his eyes fixed on Draco, this time around there’s no denying the man’s instant reactions to Harry’s wandless wordless magic. As the wand sails into Harry’s open hand, he watches in awe as Draco’s eyes widen and marvels in the sound of a breath catching in Draco’s throat.

“Come on, we need to get upstairs,” Harry says, pushing Draco up to sitting with a gentle hand on his shoulder.

“Why?” Draco pouts, looking for all the world like the most adorable puppy ever.

“Because Teddy’s awake,” Harry says patiently, cursing the fact that there’s nobody else at home to tend to the baby when this is finally happening.

That thought evokes another, though. “And besides, shouldn’t your aunt be home soon? I don’t know what time it is.”

“Shit. I completely forgot,” Draco says, alarmed.

Harry chuckles at his distressed expression.

“Me too. And even though I’m pretty sure she’s all for us getting together, I have a hard time picturing her pleased by walking in on us shagging on her porch.”

“I must concede that you may have a point,” Draco smirks, the bright blush on his cheeks doing nothing to help his attempt at casualness.

“Then, come on.”

They raise to their feet on wobbly legs and Harry picks up the blankets while trying not to watch too closely as Draco smooths out the wrinkles from his clothes and adjusts the snug waistcoat. No matter how much he tries, though, Harry can’t help noticing the impressive bulge in those trousers, as well as his own yearning to feel that same bulge pressed firmly against him. On a whim, Harry reaches out and takes Draco’s hand, earning himself a surprised little smile from Draco’s lips. Harry squeezes it gently, tugging Draco close to place a quick peck on that sweet smile before leading him inside.

Compared to the chilly air in the garden, the cottage feels warm and toasty. Everything is silent but for the muted crackling from the fire in the hearth, its warm light pouring out from the sitting room to illuminate the otherwise unlit hallway. The unmistakable scent of the holiday wafts to greet them — smelling of mince pies, chocolate and the freshly cut Christmas tree.

Stopping by the stairway, Harry turns to look at the man still holding his hand. Merlin, will he ever get used to how gorgeous Draco is? No, not likely. At least not as long as he’s dressed in a posh suit like that. Or fancy dress robes. Or those devilishly snug jeans he wore the other day. Or anything really. (Or nothing at all, for that matter.) Especially when combined with his usually so immaculate hair in this dishevelled state. That — and the bright flush on his usually so pale cheeks — make him look like he’s just gotten himself a really good shag. It makes him look positively edible.

Draco takes another step towards him, bringing him close enough for Harry to catch the specks of blue in his mesmerising grey eyes. For all his obsession through the years it’s quite remarkable that Harry hasn’t pondered their difference in height before. But standing so close, it suddenly strikes him that Draco must have at least an inch on him. Even more surprising is the notion of how aroused Harry apparently gets by this fact.

Leaning in, Draco rests his forehead against Harry’s, bumping Harry’s nose teasingly with the tip of his own. His breath is hot as it ghosts over Harry’s lips and the realisation that Harry’s actually being allowed to look and touch and smell and taste this gorgeous man is— Fuck. Harry swallows hard and clears his throat.

“W-why don’t you go check on Teddy while I do a quick tidy-up down here?”

“Alright…”

Draco’s voice is low and rough and impossibly sexy. Suddenly feeling shy, Harry tries his best to copy it as he slides his fingertips along the lapel of Draco’s suit jacket and murmurs, “Can I… come to your room later?”

The minuscule fluttering of Draco’s long golden eyelashes is his only reaction to Harry’s words. That, and the feral tint to his answering whisper.

“If you don’t, I’ll hunt you down and ravage you wherever I may find you.”

The low growl Harry makes before placing a hot kiss on Draco’s lips sounds barely human.

It takes an incredible amount of determination to step out of Draco’s personal space; as if the invisible bubble isn’t quite willing to let him go. Harry stills to watch Draco swallow, his eyes following the bob of his Adam’s apple along his slender neck. When Draco reaches up and starts to loosen his sapphire tie, though, Harry snaps awake and catches his wrist in a firm grip.

“Don’t you dare start undressing without me,” he says, his voice suddenly so firm it’s making Draco blink. “I’m fairly sure this is the most precious Christmas gift I’ll ever get. There’s no way I’ll let you deny me the pleasure of unwrapping it myself.”

A faint gasp escapes Draco’s lips as he nods his consent.

“As you wish… Harry.”

Oh, holy— Fuck

Harry has no idea if it’s Draco’s unexpected submission that makes him weak in the knees, or if it’s the sound of his own first name spoken by the man he loves for the very first time. It sounds almost like a prayer; as if Draco is savouring it as it passes through his mouth, the syllables rolling slowly over his tongue as if too delicious to let go of. It’s so far from all the spitting consonants of his surname, Harry can barely believe they’re pronounced by the same person. And yet, they are.

Harry grabs Draco by the tie and hauls him in for one last kiss, sucking greedily on his lower lip before finally letting go.

“Thank you… Draco.”

Harry releases him and moves towards the sitting room, turning around in the doorway to watch Draco’s retreating back as he glides smoothly up the stairs towards the nursery.

— ¤ O ¤ —

When Harry knocks on Draco’s door ten minutes later, Draco answers it almost immediately. Harry is delighted by the thought of an impatient Draco standing just inside waiting for him, maybe even with an ear pressed against the door, listening for Harry’s footsteps.

The man opening the door is Draco’s usual pristine and perfect self; features poised, cheeks pale as porcelain and every item of clothing back in its proper place. If it weren’t for his still kiss-swollen rosy lips, Harry would’ve been inclined to believe that what happened between them earlier was only Harry’s wild imagination talking.

Even Draco’s blond hair is back in its immaculate state and Harry decides to see this as a positive thing since it will now give him the pleasure of dishevelling it all over again. Hopefully. If Draco hasn’t decided to change his mind. When it comes to this man, Harry knows, there’s no possibility of ever taking anything for granted. If he wants Draco, he’s going to have to work for it every single day.

Well, that sounds an awful lot like a challenge. A challenge Harry has no qualms about accepting. Still, this uncertainty is unnerving, and Harry’s not used to feeling this insecure and self-conscious. Considering what he’s just said and done to this man not even half an hour ago, Harry feels awkwardly shy and hesitant now as he gives Draco a bashful smile and looks up at him from underneath his long dark eyelashes.

“Hi.”

The warmth in those silver-grey eyes and the amused smirk on Draco’s lips eases Harry’s nerves somewhat — instead, igniting the dormant desire residing in the pit of his stomach.

“Hello there,” Draco drawls, pointedly looking down at him with his head held high.

Harry has no idea why he ever thought this would be any different from what they had before. Yes, their relationship has suddenly evolved into this new exciting phase, but at the same time, nothing pivotal has really changed between them. Not really. They will always be the same two people, always with the same strong pull towards the other. They’ll probably never stop bickering and teasing, riling each other up and telling each other off. What is happening between them now feels only natural, inevitable — like the next logical step — and suddenly Harry isn’t all that shy anymore.

“I was told you might enjoy some company?” he says, his voice low and seductive and his eyes meeting Draco’s with a heavy-lidded stare.

Even with his gaze fixed on Draco’s heated eyes, Harry notices the bobbing motion in his peripheral vision as Draco swallows. Thrilled by the sight, Harry can’t help smirking. The man may seem haughty and confident, but Harry’s fairly certain Draco is just as nervous as Harry himself is, if not more. Draco’s just better at hiding it, that’s all.

“Is that so?” Draco says, raising a neat blond eyebrow. The way that perfect annoying eyebrow has always taunted him— Harry wants to suck it into his mouth and bite it. “Alright, why don’t you come in then.”

Draco looks at him expectantly and steps aside to let Harry in. Fighting down the incessant fluttering in his belly, Harry crosses the threshold and lays half of what he’s carrying in Draco’s hand as he passes the blond.

“I brought these for you. Thought you’d prefer having them up here instead of down in the sitting room.”

“Well, thank you. That’s very considerate of you.”

Draco closes the door behind Harry and glances down at the items in his hand — the wand box, his spell scroll, and DeeDee.

Harry watches as the man walks over to the desk to put the things down, discreetly placing two nondescript glass jars on Draco’s nightstand. He’s just a little embarrassed about bringing them, not really fancying the risk of coming off as presumptuous, but if they’re actually going to do any of the things Harry has going on in his salacious mind— Well, Harry just likes to be forethoughtful, is all.

Draco stills in front of his desk, his straight back turned to Harry as he seems to stare into the wall in front of him. From the looks of it, Harry would say it’s Draco’s nerves talking, the anticipation and pent up tension finally starting to get the best of him. Strangely enough, this notion only makes Harry more assured. If Draco hadn’t cared about him — about them — he’d be all over Harry right now, taking whatever he wanted without bothering about the consequences. By seeing him hesitate, though, Harry is more certain than ever before that Draco might just be as crazy about Harry as Harry is about him.

“Draco? You okay?”

Even when spoken in hushed tones Harry’s words seem to startle Draco out of whatever thoughts he’d been lost in. Draco clears his throat and nods.

“Yes. I’m very well, thank you.”

His confident words are belied by the excessive politeness and his even-posher-than-usual accent — not to mention the fact that Draco still hasn’t turned around to face him. If Harry hadn’t detected Draco’s nervousness before, these would’ve all been obvious signs of its existence.

Hoping to boost Draco’s self-esteem and make him feel reassured and desired — Merlin, who knew this confident bloke would ever need any help in that department? — Harry keeps his voice deep and even as he says, “Then why don’t you come over here… Pretty Boy?”

Draco finally turns around, smirking but at the same time looking more self-conscious than Harry’s ever seen him. His grey eyes flicker all over the place, seemingly wanting to look everywhere at once but at Harry. There’s a faint blush adorning his high cheekbones and— Good Godric, he’s even biting his lip.

And here I thought I ’d be able to restrain myself and prolong this as much as possible. Fuck, but that’ll be hard.

“Merlin, you’re gorgeous,” Harry breathes, taking a step to meet him as Draco starts moving towards him.

“You think?” Draco murmurs, the amused smirk curving his lips still not entirely concealing the insecurity hiding underneath.

“Oh fuck, yes,” Harry all but growls, letting his gaze roam freely over Draco’s flawless body. He’s been secretly yearning to do so for such a long time, and why resist now when it may even help Draco regain some of his sexy confidence?

And, hell— That suit really is a work of art — well done, Andromeda — and it fits its wearer like nothing else ever has. Which says a lot when the wearer in question happens to be Draco Malfoy. It’s form-fitted to perfection and brings out all of Draco’s best features, from his long neck and broad shoulders to his narrow waist and fucking spectacular arse. The midnight blue complements his own colours amazingly well, and together with that sapphire tie—

“Well, the suit is rather nice, I guess…” Draco says, looking down and fidgeting with the hem of his jacket.

“Are you kidding me? You look like a fucking supermodel.”

Harry takes another step towards him and reaches out a hand to graze Draco’s shoulder. Finally close enough to touch, Harry realises it’s highly unlikely he’ll be able to hold back much longer. Watching his fingers stroke over the rich fabric, surreptitiously closing in on their target, Harry murmurs, “But you know what?”

“What?” Draco says, his voice sounding deliciously husky and breathless.

Snaking his fingers under Draco’s tie, Harry takes one final step and leans in close enough for their lips to touch as he whispers, “I bet my best broom you’re even more gorgeous underneath.”

Draco parts his lips to let in a dazed gasp and Harry takes the opportunity to close the distance between them and capture those lips in a fervent kiss.

Harry wants to take it slow, wants to savour every detail and sensation of this moment. But he also wants Draco, naked, preferably yesterday. He wants to touch him, to smell him, to taste him. He wants to explore every last inch of him and there isn’t a snowball’s chance in hell Harry will be able to take this slow anymore. He’s been pining for Draco for months — maybe even years — and he’s been dreaming and wishing for this moment for so long he’s nearly forgotten what his body feels like when not aroused.

Clinging to Draco’s mouth for dear life, Harry walks him back to pin him against the wall, all the while tugging the silk tie loose from Draco’s neck. Who says blokes aren’t able to multitask? Draco doesn’t taste like chocolate anymore, his own unique flavour now mixed with a fresh hint of peppermint. Harry absently wonders if Draco has used his newly regained magic or if he’s cleaned his teeth Muggle-style. Not that it matters, he’s just as delicious either way.

Draco huffs as his back collides with the wall behind him, stilling for a fleeting moment before attacking Harry’s mouth with even more eagerness than before. His hands find their way under Harry’s blazer, one of them stroking up Harry’s back while the other slides into one of the back pockets of Harry’s jeans.

It’s awfully hard to concentrate on unbuttoning a fancy dress shirt while someone grabs your arse and pulls you flush against them. Especially when you’re Harry Potter and the man doing the grabbing is Draco Malfoy. And especially when both of you are aching hard and so aroused you can barely breathe. Granted, the trouble breathing may also be caused by all the desperate kissing — it’s hard to tell when your brain isn’t really fully functioning.

Oh, holy fuck.

Harry abandons the tiny fucking buttons to brace himself, palms flat, against the wall. Draco’s hard erection feels hot and fucking glorious as it presses up against him, the heady sensation making Harry’s back arch and forcing him to break their kiss as his head rolls back. Before he has any chance of holding it in, a guttural cry raises from the depth of Harry’s core and escapes his throat. It sounds primal, barely even human, and Draco whimpers at the sound of it.

“Fuck,” he gasps, “fucking hell.”

Harry returns his gaze to Draco just in time to see him send a nervous glance at the bedroom door. His face is flushed, his eyes dark and heavy, beads of perspiration are glistening on his forehead and catching hold of the blond strands that’s escaped his formerly neat hairdo. The usually so immaculate man looks positively debauched, and it’s the hottest thing Harry’s ever seen — even in his wildest dreams.

Taking Draco’s earlobe in his mouth, nibbling and sucking greedily, Harry heeds Draco’s unspoken apprehension and flicks his wrist to send a wordless charm at the door. As the lock clicks shut, Draco all but shudders against him, so turned on by Harry’s magic his ragged breathing catches in his throat.

“Sound P-proofing Charm?” he asks, a hint of pleading in his broken voice.

“But—” Harry groans against Draco’s neck, “she’s not home yet. What about Teddy?”

“Then m-make it one-sided,” Draco says, moaning as Harry strokes a firm hand along Draco’s side, curling his fingers around Draco’s hip as he reaches the waistband of those posh trousers. “O-or do you want him to — ahh — to hear you, you deviant—”

“Shut up,” Harry growls, reluctantly releasing his hold on Draco’s hip to flick another charm towards the door. Draco quivers and tries to stifle a delectable whimper.

“Like that, eh?” Harry smirks against Draco’s ear, “My magic?”

“Mm-hmm,” Draco nods.

“My wandless magic?” Harry whispers as his hand glides over the smooth fabric of Draco’s trousers to fondle Draco’s arse.

“Yesss,” Draco groans.

“My wordless… wandless… magic?” Harry whispers, emphasising every word with a teasing grind of his hips.

“Fuck yes,” Draco growls, gripping Harry’s arse with both hands and thrusting up against him.

“Fu-uck,” Harry whines, most undignified, and meets Draco’s thrust with a desperate jerk of his hips. He claims Draco’s delicious mouth in another breath-taking kiss and abandons any further attempt at making this last. With one hand still against the wall and the other gripping tightly around Draco’s hip, Harry marvels at the sensation of Draco’s body so close to his; his intoxicating scent, the rapid heaves of his chest, his eager tongue ravaging Harry’s mouth, those ragged moans tugging at Harry’s heartstrings and the dizzying feeling of Draco’s hard throbbing cock rubbing against his own.

Harry is on the brink, fighting for purchase. It would be so easy to — ahh — let go, but he wants it to last, just— just a little bit longer. The heat that’s been pooling near the bottom of Harry’s spine is rapidly spreading, sending its excited tendrils of desire through his chest, down his thighs, over the puckered rim of his entrance and to his leaking cock. Draco’s hands are fiery hot on his arse, gripping hard enough for Harry to feel the press of every single fingertip against his skin, even through the denim of his jeans. It feels fucking fabulous and Harry really doesn’t want to break the kiss, but— Fuck! he has to. There are gasps to let loose, groans to make heard… and, yeah, maybe even some oxygen to inhale.

Panting heavily and never letting up on their — nnngh — desperate thrusting, Harry rests his forehead on Draco’s suit-clad shoulder and breathes in the rich smell of wool and detergent. Why didn’t we have the patience to undress properly before? There must be at least three layers of clothing between his face and Draco’s skin, and Harry wouldn’t have minded in the least if he’d had a broad shoulder of pale naked skin to nuzzle and lick and suck and bite into right now.

Suddenly Draco moves with a growl and Harry’s stomach flips as the man pushes away from the wall and spins them both around to slam Harry back against the hard, unrelenting surface. Shit! The unexpected impact snaps Harry out of his daze but he — whoa! — isn’t given any time to react before his wrists are pinned above his head, kept firmly in place by Draco’s strong hands.

Eyes widened, Harry meets Draco’s heated gaze; pupils blown wide, fathomless, and surrounded by moulted silver. The intense look sends a shiver of anticipation through Harry’s body; from under impossibly long golden lashes, it muddles his mind and melts his bones to butter.

Oh, good Godric.

Harry has never been one to voluntary relinquish control, but right now, backed against a wall and arms trapped in a vice-like grip, it feels like the most natural thing in the world. It’s not logical in the least — normally he’d be fighting for his life to get out of any vulnerable situation like this — and the irony of it hasn’t escaped him either; the irony that the one who makes him feel this way, makes him feel safe enough to submit, is Draco Malfoy.

There was a time when the thought of being vulnerable in front of Draco Malfoy had been about the worst thing imaginable, something to prevent and avoid at all costs. Now, though, Harry can’t imagine anyone he’d rather open up to, no one he’d rather show his true colours. Draco makes him want to surrender.

So he does.

And it feels so fucking good, just relaxing his arms and leaning back against the wall, letting Draco’s muscled body hold him up as Harry goes weak in the knees from the desire burning in Draco’s eyes.

Draco crashes their lips together and thrusts against him, pressing his hard bulge against Harry’s and — fuck — creating delicious friction. Harry meets him thrust for thrust, letting the sensations rush over him as he revels in the breathy noises Draco probably isn’t even aware he’s making.

Draco’s hair is falling in front of Harry’s eyes, tickling his lids and clinging to the beads of sweat on Harry’s forehead. Just as Harry blinks to chase the strands away, Draco does some kind of — ahh — wicked swivelling motion with his hips, triggering Harry to reflexively arch his back off the wall and expose his neck as his gaze hits the ceiling.

Harry’s heavy gasps echo loud in the silent room, creating a strange kind of erotic duet when mixed with Draco’s low animalistic groans.

“Oh, fuck… Draco… Please… I’m gonna…”

“Yes… Me too, I…” Draco murmurs into the sensitive spot just below Harry’s ear. “Fuck, I’m so close…”

“Close…” Harry whimpers. “So f-fucking close…”

“Come, Harry… Come for me…”

And Harry does. Harry comes to the sound of his own name on Draco’s lips. He comes so hard his whole body shudders with the force of it. And then he shudders some more as Draco lets out a strangled cry and follows him over the edge.

It’s a good thing he’s leaning against the wall, or his legs would never have been able to hold him upright. Harry lets his head fall back, blinking away the stars swimming before his eyes as he waits for his heart to slow down.

Draco hums contentedly and drops his forehead to Harry’s shoulder, resting his body flush against him as Harry becomes aware of the warm, sticky wetness in his pants. He should probably do something about it — if nothing else, then at least a Cleaning Charm on Draco’s posh suit trousers — but his mind is still too muddled to risk any kind of spell-casting yet.

Draco eventually releases his hold on Harry’s wrists, stroking his hands along Harry’s arms and down his sides to rest near the waistband of his jeans. Harry’s arms prickle from being held high for so long, begging for fresh oxygenating blood and nearly falling limp on his head as soon as they’re set free from Draco’s grip. He manages to take control of them, though, lowering them slowly to card his fingers through Draco’s silky-soft hair.

“Oh, sweet… Salazar,” Draco pants, his breath hot through the thick fabric of Harry’s blazer.

“Yeah… Wow…”

With a gentle tug on his platinum-blond locks, Harry persuades Draco to lift his head and meet Harry’s gaze. His bright grey eyes are glazed and warm, emitting a new sparkling kind of joy Harry has never seen Draco express before. It suits him.

Harry brushes the fringe away from Draco’s face and leans in to place a soft kiss on his rosy lips.

“That… was… amazing,” Harry murmurs between kisses, never drawing back enough to leave Draco’s lips completely. “Although… not quite… what I had… in mind…”

“No?” Draco says. This time Harry can feel the movement of that eyebrow rising against his forehead, can feel the curl of that smirk against his lips. “I’m not complaining.”

“Me neither,” Harry is quick to assure him, “not in the least.”

And he’s not lying. That was, without a doubt, the most incredible orgasm Harry’s ever experienced. It’s just… he’d wanted so much more. Still does.

“Dare I ask what you did have in mind?”

Harry slides his hands underneath Draco’s suit jacket, following the seams of his waistcoat up to his protruding shoulder blades. Placing feather-light kisses along Draco’s jaw, he murmurs, “Fewer clothes… More skin… More time…”

He’s fairly sure he doesn’t imagine Draco’s quickened breath or the tightened grip on his hips.

“Well…” Draco stops and clears the hoarseness from his throat. With a soft sigh, he tilts his head to accommodate Harry’s quest for exposed skin. “The night is still young… and so are we…”

Harry draws back — as much as the wall behind him allows — searching Draco’s eyes as his hands move under the suit jacket to stroke up Draco’s front. The light rise and fall of Draco’s chest feel strangely intimate against his palms, the hint of sharp collarbones nearly erotic against his fingertips.

Harry can feel the muscles tensing under his hands as he gives Draco a slight nudge. He wants to look at him properly, wants to make sure Draco really wants this too. He’s just asking for some space — just a few inches to be able to focus his dazed vision — but when he is finally able to look Draco in the eye, he realises that Draco must have interpreted his nudging quite differently.

Pain, disappointment, betrayal… even a hint of anger lurking there in the back. As if he thinks Harry’s just played him, used him. As if he thinks Harry’s had enough and wants to leave. As if he’s already forgotten all about the dragon Patronus and—

How can he be so unsure? How can he be so insecure? He, who has always been so confident and self-assured — how can he not know?

Instead of trying to talk him out of his mood, Harry decides to take them down another, more hands-on, route this time. He’s never been that good with his words anyway, especially not when it comes to feelings and stuff. And besides, he’s already given the verbal version once tonight. If that didn’t get the message through, maybe his actions will.

“Then I hope you won’t mind if I do this?” Harry says, smirking as he glides his hands up over Draco’s collarbones and pushes the suit jacket off of his shoulders.

It pools at Draco’s elbows, not able to move any further until Draco releases his hold on Harry’s hips. Which he doesn’t. If anything, his grip tightens even further. Feeling some of the tension dissolve under his hands, Harry holds Draco’s gaze while letting his fingertips graze the edge of Draco’s waistcoat, aiming for the four small buttons holding it together over a flat lean stomach.

“May I?”

Harry’s questioning eyebrow is met with a minute widening of Draco’s eyes, a twitch at the corner of his mouth, and — oh, yes — a faint blush spreading over his already flushed cheeks.

“If you insist,” Draco says, trying (and failing) to hide his insecurities and doubts behind a mask of feigned bravado.

“No, Draco,” Harry says, his most sincere look in place. Draco frowns and opens his mouth to reply, but Harry beats him to it. “I won’t do anything you don’t want me to do. I’ll take the lead if you want — I’d be happy to — but if I do, I need to know you’ll tell me to stop if there’s anything you don’t want; or anything you don’t like, okay?”

Draco nods slowly, his blush deepening and creeping under the crisp white collar of his shirt.

“Okay.”

Harry watches as Draco swallows to ease the roughness in his voice, noticing his dilated pupils and shallow breaths.

“Yeah?” Harry says, smiling smugly as he tries to temper the fluttering in his belly. He curls a finger inside Draco’s waistcoat and pulls him in for a kiss. Against Draco’s lips, he murmurs, “What do you want?”

“You.”

Draco’s whisper, that single sincere word, goes straight to Harry’s heart. Soft warm pliant lips meet him as Harry leans in for another kiss.

“You’ve got me, love — for as long as you’ll have me.”

The endearment isn’t intentional, it just escapes Harry’s mouth without permission, but there’s no way he’ll ever regret it once he registers Draco’s ragged inhale. Trying not to make too much of it, Harry quickly adds, “Now, what do you want?”

“Everything,” Draco breathes. “Anything.”

“Okay.” Harry smiles against Draco’s lips. “Then, let’s start with something.”

“Like?”

“Like relieving you of this frustratingly perfect suit,” Harry says. He starts unbuttoning the waistcoat, trying to focus on his task as he continues. “I’ve wanted to rip it off of you ever since I walked through the door and saw you wearing it.”

“Really?” Draco murmurs, smirking, the smug look on his face unable to hide the slight tremble in his voice.

“Yeah, really,” Harry says, releasing the last button and sliding his hands under the now open garment, gliding over the rich fabric of Draco’s white button-down shirt. As he moves to let the waistcoat join the jacket still hanging from Draco’s elbows, Draco reluctantly lets go of Harry’s hips to let both items fall to the floor.

Harry reaches for the top button of Draco’s shirt, only to once again find his wrists encircled by long elegant fingers.

“Well—” Draco says as he pushes Harry’s hands down to his sides. He gives Harry a pointed look, silently ordering Harry to stay still before he releases his hold and places both his palms on Harry’s stomach. They’re impossibly warm, and with only the thin cotton of his t-shirt between them, it’s almost as if he were touching Harry’s bare skin. The hands glide slowly over his chest, triggering goosebumps to run down Harry’s arms. “—I’ve wanted to take this irritatingly sharp blazer off of you ever since the moment I first laid eyes on it.”

“Is that so?” Harry smirks, pushing away from the wall to help Draco shuck the blazer off his shoulders.

“Draco…?” he says as he makes another go of unbuttoning Draco’s shirt, this time without interference. “Did you just compliment an item of my clothing?”

“No,” Draco says, mirth glittering in his grey eyes. “I believe I said irritating.”

“Nice try,” Harry chuckles. “You said irritating-ly sharp.”

Harry looks up at Draco with a raised brow, pausing his unbuttoning to untuck the shirt from Draco’s trousers.

“Well…”

Draco lowers his gaze to remove his cufflinks. Or rather, as Harry suspects, using the cufflinks as an excuse to avert his eyes. Harry doesn’t mind, he’s never gotten the hang of those poncy things anyway and is quite relieved to not having to take care of them. Shaking his head slightly, Harry turns back to his task with a fond smile on his lips.

There’s a wet stain on the crisp white fabric of Draco’s shirt and as it catches his eye, Harry is reminded of his earlier thought. Hoping not to ruin the posh Muggle suit with his magic, he sends Draco into another full-body shudder as he casts a gentle spell to clean them both.

With the last button of the shirt finally undone, Harry straightens just as the silver cufflinks land on the carpet with a soft thud. He can’t stop his hands from trembling as he reaches out to remove the shirt from Draco’s body. Trying his best to ignore it, he looks Draco straight in the eye as he exposes Draco’s pale skin and peels the luxurious fabric off his long sinewy arms.

Seven days and twenty hours.

That’s how long it’s been since Harry last saw this tantalising expanse of gorgeous skin before his eyes. Not that he kept count or anything, he just… can’t help remembering. Last time, it had been dark; too dark to see anything but shadows really… although everything he did see has been etched in his memory ever since. Last time, he hadn’t been allowed to touch.

This time, there are sconces lighting up the room well enough for Harry to see every inch of it clearly; the pink pebbled nipples, the curled golden strands of hair, the shape of his well-defined muscles, and… the silvery lines of his scars. This time, he’s allowed to touch.

“Oh, Merlin…” Harry breathes.

Draco squirms under Harry’s heated gaze, his eyes fixed on the floor as Harry watches his chest move with every shallow breath.

“I know I’m not…”

Draco quietens as Harry places a curled index finger under his chin and tilts his head upwards to look him in the eye.

“So. Fucking. Beautiful.”

The tender kiss soon deepens and becomes more desperate, Harry wanting to quell Draco’s every doubt and Draco craving Harry’s reassurance. Harry is reluctant to break it, but yields when Draco grabs the hem of his t-shirt and moves to shuck it off of him. The collar gets caught in Harry’s glasses and takes them with it when Draco’s impatience gets the best of him. Shirt and glasses fall to the floor unnoticed as Harry and Draco resume their heated kiss, both moaning at the sensation of skin against skin as their naked chests finally collide.

And then they’re moving, mouths never parting as they stumble over discarded clothes towards the bed. Draco hesitates as he backs into it, but Harry places a knee on the mattress next to Draco’s thigh and lowers him to lie on his back on top of the steel-blue duvet.

Still kissing, Harry follows, crawling on all fours until he’s leaning over him with one hand on either side of Draco’s head and his knees bracketing Draco’s slender hips. Draco’s eager hands roam over Harry’s back, igniting Harry’s nerve endings wherever they go. Harry is half-hard again, his cock straining against the tight denim and twitching every time Draco’s fingers venture anywhere near the waistband of his jeans.

Draco’s hips buck against the mattress, his crotch begging for friction but unable to reach Harry’s body. His legs are dangling over the edge of the bed, refusing him the leverage he needs, and his frustration is easily heard in the whimpers escaping his mouth between kisses. Harry takes Draco’s lower lip between his own and sucks greedily before raising up on his arms and looking into those glazed unfathomable silver eyes.

Draco looks back at him, pouting adorably at the loss of lip-contact.

Reaching out a hand, Harry summons his glasses from where they’ve fallen on the floor. For the first time in his life, he wishes he had followed Hermione’s advice and sought out an Eye Healer to correct his lousy eyesight. Despite all scathing remarks he’s gotten for his glasses through the years, he has actually never minded wearing them. Not until now, when they suddenly feel awfully hindering and impractical. But Harry wants to be able to see properly, wants to drink in every detail of this gorgeous man, and so he has no other option but to replace them on the bridge of his nose.

With his vision once again clear and focused, Harry looks back down on the man lying beneath him. Looking rather impatient, Draco frowns and reaches down to caress Harry’s arse, squeezing his cheeks tightly and — oh, Godric — prompting Harry’s wild imagination.

“What?” Draco says, his voice faint and gravelly in the silent room.

“I want to…”

Harry knows exactly what he wants, but the words get stuck in his throat. They’re words he’s never spoken before, dirty words, words he’s suddenly embarrassed about ever considering. Feeling the flush darkening his neck and cheeks, Harry swallows. What if Draco will think him crude, or obscene? He’s such a posh snob after all…

“What do you want?” Draco murmurs, searching Harry’s eyes for clues.

“I want…” Harry tries again, biting his lip as the words just won’t come.

“Scared, Potter?” Draco’s smirk is so familiar, it sets Harry’s heart racing.

“You wish,” he says, a little too breathless for his own liking.

“Then tell me… Harry,” Draco says softly, cupping Harry’s jaw and brushing a gentle thumb across his cheek. “Whatever it is, I’m pretty sure I’ll like it.”

Harry swallows again, blinking slowly to regain some of that famous Gryffindor courage everyone says he possesses. Thinking it might be easier to word his thoughts if not meeting Draco’s eyes, Harry leans in to place a trail of butterfly kisses along Draco’s neck, starting from the soft spot behind his ear and working his way down towards that alluring expanse of bare skin stretching out over Draco’s slightly heaving chest.

“I want to… strip you…” he murmurs. “I want to… see you naked… I want to…”

Draco groans loudly and arches off the bed as Harry bites down and sucks on the pulse point right where Draco’s neck meets his shoulder. Encouraged by the reaction, Harry places a soft kiss on the spot before continuing his exploration, following the faint lines of Draco’s scar as he kisses his way further down Draco’s chest.

“I want to… s-suck you…” Can’t believe I just said that.

“Oh, Merlin,” Draco pants as he writhes under Harry’s lips.

“I want to… take you… in my mouth… and suck you down… all the way…”

“Fu-uck…” Draco groans, inspiring Harry to take a detour to suck a pink hardened nipple into his mouth and nibble on it until Draco gasps.

“I want to… open you up… with my fingers… a-and with…” Good Godric, I’m filthy… “w-with my tongue…”

“Oh, holy…” Draco props himself up on his elbows to look down at him. Harry can feel Draco’s eyes on him but refuses to meet his gaze. “You want to…? With your…?”

Harry hides his fierce blush against scarred porcelain-smooth skin, sucking Draco’s navel and flicking his tongue inside the shallow dip at the centre of Draco’s flat stomach.

“Yeah…,” he says, trying not to get too distracted by the feeling of Draco’s warm eager cock twitching against his chest, “Please, don’t judge me… but I do…”

“Oh, sweet Salazar…” Draco groans, falling back against the mattress with a heavy thud. Strangely enough, Draco sounds more aroused than appalled, a notion that makes Harry brave enough to lift his head and chance a glance at him. Draco is hiding his face in his hands, his neck and chest flushed a bright pink and his ribcage heaving from his ragged breathing.

Noticing Harry’s mouth leaving his skin, Draco eventually rakes his hands through his hair and looks up, meeting Harry’s shy gaze with lust-blown eyes. His voice is deep and husky as he asks, “What else?”

Harry blinks. Draco wants him to go on? Wants to hear him say these filthy things?

He sits back on his heels and looks down at the man before him. Draco is so bloody gorgeous, even with his chest flushed like this and those kiss-swollen lips. Harry’s mouth waters at the sight of him lying there, sprawled out the bed, his platinum blond hair spread around his head like a fucking halo; as if he were Harry’s own perfect angel.

Palms flat and fingers splayed, Harry lets his hands glide over the soft planes of Draco’s chest and ribs and stomach, following his movements with hungry eyes until he reaches the clasp in the waistband of Draco’s trousers. Harry’s questioning eyebrow is met with a slow nod, accompanied by the bob of Draco’s Adam’s apple along his pale slender neck as Draco swallows in anticipation.

Harry returns his focus to Draco’s trousers, opening clasp and button and zip as he continues.

“I want to open you up… I want to take you apart…”

Harry climbs off the bed to kneel on the floor, curling his fingers around the waistband of Draco’s trousers. Draco lifts his hips to help him slide the soft fabric down his long elegant legs, lean and strong from years on a broom, and all but sparkling as the light from the sconces catches in their pale golden hair.

“I want to make you writhe… I want to make you whine…”

To the sound of Draco’s laboured breathing, the posh trousers pool around his ankles, hindered by green woollen socks, and Harry smiles fondly when he reaches down to take them off Draco’s feet.

“I want to make you beg… and gasp… and moan… and cry as I finally enter you…”

“Oh, holy fuck…” Draco whimpers as his hips arch off the bed, seemingly on their own volition.

Socks and trousers discarded on the floor, Harry strokes his hands down Draco’s calves, circling his ankles before continuing up his shins, over his knees and further along the front of Draco’s thighs as he stands on slightly shaky legs and takes in the view.

Glorious. Fucking Glorious.

There’s only one piece of clothing left on Draco’s otherwise naked body, a tight pair of black silk boxers which is currently straining against the hard cock hiding underneath. Reminding himself he’s a courageous Gryffindor, Harry swallows his self-consciousness and looks Draco squarely in the eye as he starts to take off his jeans, accompanied by his own murmured words and Draco’s ragged gasps.

“I want to fuck you… Draco… so deep you’ll never forget the feeling of having me inside you… so slowly you’ll beg me to go faster… and so fast and hard you’ll never want it to end…”

He bends down to relieve himself of his jeans and socks, struggling to stay upright on his trembling legs. Mission accomplished, he steps up to the bed to stand in the welcoming space between Draco’s knees. Draco’s eyes are dark and bright as they look up at him, his lips slightly parted and his hands clenching the duvet in a tight grip. Harry motions for him to back up against the mountain of pillows, and when he does Harry crawls after him on hands and knees, peppering kisses along his legs and torso as he moves, slowly; like a predator towards its prey.

“I want to make you come… Draco… harder than you’ve ever come before… hard enough for you to see stars… I want to feel you shuddering underneath me as you do… want to feel you contracting around my cock…”

Harry stops as he reaches the hem of Draco’s pants, looking up at Draco from underneath his heavy eyelashes and holding his gaze as he bends down to mouth his erection through the smooth silky fabric. Draco’s thighs shiver under Harry’s palms as Harry exhales a hot stream of air over his prick, and as Harry places a wet open-mouthed kiss at its base Draco squeezes his eyes shut and lets out a wanton moan as he arches off the bed.

Draco smells of soap and sweat and sex, and no book in the world could ever have prepared Harry for the dizzying sensation of being so close to another man’s cock for the very first time. It is hard and hot, long and slender just as Draco himself, and it twitches under Harry’s lips as he slowly kisses his way up the length of it. The sensation of Draco’s keen erection rising up to meet his touch spikes Harry’s craving of experiencing the feeling of it pressed flush against him, pressed deep inside of him.

Despite the previous Cleaning Charm, the black silk is damp near the waistband, wetted by fresh pre-come and tasting salty-sweet as Harry presses his tongue against the spot and closes his lips around Draco’s leaking head.

“I want to come…” Harry continues as he works his way up Draco’s torso, closing in on Draco’s panting mouth. “Want to come inside you… want to fill you up until you’re dripping…” Harry reaches a nipple and covers it with his mouth, sucking greedily while pinching the other one none-too-gently, making Draco whimper.

Lifting himself up on his hands and knees, Harry finally finds himself leaning over Draco again, meeting his gaze and giving him a satisfied smirk. Looking him straight in the eye, Harry listens to Draco’s panting as he murmurs, “And then I want to eat you out… want to suck and lick my come from your arse…” He leans down to nibble Draco’s earlobe, heart beating wildly as he whispers in Draco’s ear. “And then… Draco…” Draco’s hips jerk beneath him at the sound of the name. “…I want to do it all again.”

Oh, Merlin

Harry is practically trembling with arousal, pretty sure he could come untouched at any moment just from the thrill of putting his desire into words and voice them out loud. Draco doesn’t seem to fare any better, his breaths hot and shaky as they ghost over Harry’s cheek.

“Fuck, Harry…” he gasps, “Are you t-trying to kill me here?”

Harry can’t help chuckling. “You saying it’s working?”

“Oh, shut up, you annoying prat.”

Harry grins and draws back to meet his eyes. Draco is scowling, but there’s mirth twinkling in his warm grey eyes and Harry places a light kiss on the tip of his nose before winking at him.

“Oh, my dear Draco. If I’d only known this was the way to take you down…”

“Harry,” Draco says, a suddenly stern tone to his voice.

“Yeees?”

“Shut up and kiss me already.”

“Getting bossy, eh?” Harry chuckles, placing a heated kiss on Draco’s lips without further persuasion.

“What if I am?” Draco growls, carding his fingers through Harry’s unruly locks and holding him down to secure easy access to his mouth.

“Wouldn’t mind at all,” Harry says honestly, remembering the dominant version of the man that had pinned him to the wall earlier. Hopefully, Draco won’t have any qualms about letting him out to play again sometime soon.

“Good,” Draco says, giving Harry another kiss before tugging hard on his hair to pull Harry far enough away to look him in the eye. “Then get with the program, Potter. I believe you have a cock to suck.”

“Yes, sir,” Harry smirks, waggling his eyebrows as he backs down the bed to free Draco’s raging erection.

“Don’t get cheeky with me,” Draco huffs, a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth.

“No, sir,” Harry winks, curling his fingers under the elastic of Draco’s boxers and pulling them down those long shapely legs.

“You’re an insufferable wanker, that’s what you are.”

“And you love me for it,” Harry grins as he throws the boxers on the floor and nudges Draco’s legs apart to kneel between them.

Despite, Harry — despite.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Harry says, choosing not to comment on the fact that Draco never denied the ‘love me’ part. “Now if you would please lay back and let me focus on my very important task here,” he says instead, sliding his hands along the insides of Draco’s thighs, pushing them further apart.

“Don’t let me stop you,” Draco smirks and props himself up on his elbows to watch.

Harry gives a slight shake of his head and smiles, lowering his gaze to have a first proper look at Draco’s uncovered cock. It looks even longer now where it rests heavily against Draco’s stomach, long enough for Harry to almost gag as he imagines taking it down his throat. He wants it, though, wants to see how far he can make it. The Guide had said it could take some time to get used to it, but Harry’s never been one to back down from a challenge.

The cock twitches under Harry’s perusing eyes; as if beckoning him to come closer. The sight of it sends sharp tendrils of desire and anticipation through his body, waking up the fluttering in his belly again. Just, the fluttering doesn’t bother him anymore. Harry’s been living with it for so long that it almost feels natural by now, just another thing to get used to when being close to Draco.

Not wasting another moment, Harry heeds the beckoning and leans forward to brace himself with one hand on each of Draco’s hips. Not going straight for the prize — the flushed head, glistening with pre-come — Harry instead nuzzles the base, dragging his nose through the coarse golden hairs surrounding it. He inhales the warm intoxicating scent of aroused Draco and imagines what it would feel like to get this close again while having Draco’s cock in his mouth.

Still in a teasing mood, Harry takes his time kissing and sucking Draco’s balls before pressing his tongue against the base of the cock and licking a broad stripe up to the leaking head. Draco’s pre-come tastes just as salty-sweet as it smells, a taste Harry’s pretty sure he’ll soon become addicted to if given half the chance. Swirling his tongue over the tip, making sure to lick it clean of every drop, Harry finally wraps his lips around the smooth head and gives a gentle suck.

Draco bucks under his hands and Harry is thankful for The Guide’s warning to keep his partner’s hips down. Not that he’s averse to try a proper face-fucking some other time, but… Harry figures he should probably get used to the sensation of Draco’s cock deep down his throat first.

It feels bigger in his mouth than he’d imagined, filling him up like nothing ever has. It’s weird, a little uncomfortable, and so arousing Harry nearly comes in his pants for the second time in less than twenty minutes. Hollowing his cheeks, he lowers his head and lets Draco’s cock glide against his palate and down to the back of his throat.

He gags — of course, he does. It’s just to be expected. But he prides himself for reaching over halfway towards Draco’s golden curls already on his first try and is pretty sure he’ll manage to take all of it in no time if he’s only allowed some practice. And judging by his growly moan and those frantically clenching hands in the duvet, Draco shouldn’t be too hard to persuade into volunteering as his sparring partner.

Harry loses himself in the moment, revelling in the feeling of Draco’s cock twitching, the sound of his strangled moans, the scent of his arousal and the sight of his glazed eyes watching him as Harry peeks up at Draco’s flushed face. It’s hot, it’s delicious, it’s fucking brilliant — and even though his jaw starts to ache and there’s saliva dribbling unattractively from the corners of his mouth, Harry never wants to stop what he’s doing. But…

With all his senses on high alert, Harry notices it even though it’s got nothing to do with their current activities — the muted sound of Andromeda’s footfalls on the stairs.

Harry stills, mid-bob, looking up at Draco who’s stopped breathing altogether. His eyes are wide, his lips parted and Harry can feel the muscles under his palms tense up. Slowly, without breaking eye contact, Harry lifts off Draco’s cock, swirling his tongue around it to savour every drop before letting go of the head with a soft pop.

A discreet knocking, followed by, “Draco?”

Andromeda’s voice sounds hesitant and concerned from the other side of the door. Draco blanches and squeezes his eyes shut for a moment before clearing his throat. Harry doesn’t even consider hiding his amused smirk as he winks and wraps a hand around Draco’s still rock-hard cock.

“Y-yes Andromeda?” Draco’s belated answer comes out husky and a little faint. “Did you have a nice time wh—”

“Draco…? Are you in there?”

Draco’s confused frown dissolves as soon as their eyes meet and realisation strikes them both simultaneously. The Sound Proofing Charm. Of course.

Harry reaches out his free hand towards the door and raises a questioning eyebrow in Draco’s direction. At Draco’s hesitant nod, Harry drops the Charm and rejoices inwardly as Draco’s cock jerks violently in his fist. He gives it a light squeeze and is instantly rewarded with a stern glare.

“Yes Andromeda,” Draco tries again, sounding a little bit more like himself but still deliciously strained. “I’m here. How was your evening?”

His eyes widen most satisfactory as Harry leans down over Draco’s cock and blows a warm puff of air over the damp head just as Andromeda starts speaking.

“It was lovely, really. It was so nice to see your mother again after all this time.”

Draco stifles an involuntary moan as Harry can’t resist licking a fresh drop of pre-come from his slit. Wouldn’t do to let such a treat go to waste, would it?

“G-good,” Draco manages eventually.

“Draco, are you quite alright?”

“Yes, I’m — ahh — just fine, t-thank you.”

Harry doesn’t mind Draco’s death-glare. He figures he’d also have a hard time sounding casual if he was the one with a hot wet mouth wrapped around his cock.

“You usually don’t retire this early.”

“No, I… I’m just ahh a bit tired…”

Harry chuckles silently around Draco’s cock, sucking leisurely at the head as he answers Draco’s mouthed Fuck you with a teasing brow-waggle.

“Hasn’t Harry come home yet?”

At the mentioning of his name, Harry reluctantly lifts his head from Draco’s erection, meeting Draco’s panicked look with a smirk and a wink.

“Er… He…”

“I wanted to thank him but I can’t find him anywhere.”

“He… He’s…” Draco falters.

“I’m in here,” Harry says, his eyes fixed on Draco’s, trying without words to reassure the alarmed man everything will be okay. Draco just gapes at him. “I came home about an hour and a half ago.”

Harry can practically hear Andromeda’s surprised look through the door. It takes quite a lot to render that level-headed woman speechless.

“Oh… Well… That’s good, then…”

Harry snickers quietly, startling Draco out of his stupor with a deliberate pull on his cock. As it turns out, teasing Draco sexually with Andromeda within earshot is more thrilling than Harry could’ve ever imagined. It’s so clearly scandalous and indecent, but… he just can’t help it. Apparently, he’s even kinkier than he’d thought.

Feeling strangely grounded by Draco’s increasing loss of control, Harry keeps his voice calm and steady as he starts wanking Draco’s cock with slow even strokes.

“I’m happy to hear you’ve had a good time,” Harry says casually, ignoring Draco’s incredulous look.

“Yes, most definitely. Narcissa sends her warmest regards as well.”

“Oh, how kind of her. I’d better make sure to owl her tomorrow and thank her myself for her generous contribution to the photo album.”

“Yes, I’m sure that would be most appreciated, Harry.”

Draco looks like he’s about to explode from pent up frustration any minute, his chest flushed and heaving and his lust-blown silvery eyes firmly locked on Harry’s with a pointed stare. He clearly wants this conversation over about five minutes ago, and since Harry apparently is a fucking tease with a penchant for riling Draco up to incoherence, Harry chooses to ignore him.

“Molly says hi, by the way. They all do.”

“Oh, thank you, Harry. I trust it you had a lovely time at the Burrow today?”

“Absolutely. You know it’s impossible not to with Molly in charge of the kitchen.”

“Yes, I know.”

Draco’s gaze has gone from frustrated to nearly desperate, and Harry takes pity on him by easing up on his strokes and staving off his impending release with a firm grip at the base of his cock. Gently fondling Draco’s balls with his other hand, Harry winks at Draco and chuckles silently as the man falls back against the pillows and covers his face with his hands.

“Well, anyway, now that I’m home, I guess you’re off Teddy-duty for the night.”

“Thank you, Andromeda, that’s most kind of you.”

“I figure it’d be redundant to wish you both a pleasant evening…” Draco’s head jerks off the bed and his eyes snap open to reveal a jumbled mix of surprise and mortification. Harry nearly bursts into a fit of giggles at the sight. “…but I recommend you try for at least a little bit of sleep during the night since I expect you awake and alert in the kitchen for breakfast at eight as usual, alright?”

“Yes, absolutely, Andromeda,” Harry says, his entire body shaking from suppressed laughter. “We’ll see you then.”

“You too, Draco,” Andromeda says.

“Y-yes, Aunt Andromeda,” Draco croaks, closing his eyes shut in surrender as the back of his head hits the pillows with a soft thud.

“Goodnight,” Harry blurts, waiting for Andromeda to echo his words before resetting the Sound Proofing Charm on the door with a flick of his wrist.

“Are you fucking insane?” Draco groans as soon as they’re alone again.

“Maybe,” Harry chuckles, leaning forward to kiss the tip of Draco’s nose. “But at least it seems like we have her endorsement, eh?”

“Right,” Draco grumbles and reluctantly returns the tender kiss Harry places on his lips. He doesn’t stay grumpy for long, though, not after Harry deepens the kiss and teases him with his tongue until Draco kisses him back just as fervently as before.

They lose themselves in the kiss for several moments before Harry lets his hand wander down to Draco’s cock again, gathering the fresh beads of pre-come at the slit before continuing down to cup Draco’s balls. Draco moans into Harry’s mouth and Harry breaks their kiss to look into his warm grey eyes.

“What do you want?” he murmurs.

“I want… I want you to… do what you said before… I want you to… to f-fuck me.”

Oh, Merlin.

Draco’s shaky voice reaches deep into Harry’s core and grabs hold of the source of his every desire. The steady fluttering in his belly intensifies and its ripples reverberate through Harry’s limbs, making him tremble with anticipation. For all his bravado earlier, Harry can’t help feeling nervous when suddenly trusted with something like this.

“O-okay,” he breathes, kissing Draco’s irresistible lips once more before sitting back on his heels in the space between Draco’s parted legs. “Okay.”

Stroking his palms over the insides of Draco’s thighs, he motions for Draco to spread them further apart. Draco willingly obliges, gasping in surprise as Harry summons one of the glass jars from the nightstand.

“What?” Draco frowns, looking confused between Harry, the jar and the nightstand.

“Lube… I-I don’t wanna hurt you.”

“But…? How…? Where did…?”

“Well, er… That’s a funny story, really,” Harry smirks, trying to ignore the way his hands tremble as he unscrews the lid of the jar and dips his fingers in the cool silky substance.

“Then, by all means, do tell,” Draco says suspiciously, “I’m dying to know how… two?… jars of lube suddenly ended up in my bedroom.”

“Oh, the funny part starts long before that,” Harry chuckles. He leans down to take Draco’s cock in his mouth again, figuring it’ll help as a distraction from the weird feeling of his lube-slicked fingers gliding slowly over Draco’s balls and perineum towards his puckered hole.

Oh, Godric, I ’m gonna… I’m actua… Fuck…

As predicted, Draco gasps and flinches at the sensation of Harry’s fingertips circling his tight entrance. Harry takes it slow and gentle, letting Draco get accustomed to the feeling as he continues the bobbing and licking and sucking of his cock. When Draco relaxes and lets out an impatient groan, Harry pushes the tip of his forefinger inside Draco’s feverish heat.

This is … It’s really… It’s h-happening… Oh, holy—

Harry shivers from the surreal notion of entering Draco’s body, of actually being inside him. Be it only with a tiny fingertip. For now Fuck…! Soon I’ll be—

No. He can’t let himself think about that right now, can’t let himself imagine what it will feel like to press his cock inside this same tight hole in just a little while. He needs to focus on the here and now, needs to focus on Draco, on what he’s currently doing with—

With a greedy suck and a swirl of his tongue, Harry releases Draco’s cock only to wrap his free hand around it instead. He needs to look, needs to see, needs to witness his own glistening forefinger gradually penetrate Draco’s arse. He’s done it to himself, he knows how it feels, but this— Fuck This is something else entirely.

Draco’s tight muscle spasms around Harry’s knuckle, instinctively wanting to dismiss the intruder. And as he watches it happening, Harry feels his own arse quiver in anticipation, yearning to be stretched and filled the same way Draco’s arse is currently being stretched and filled before his eyes.

Draco moans, a strained whiny moan, and the sound tears Harry’s gaze away from the riveting sight to look up at him, noticing the silent pain in his tense features, his clenched fists and the taut muscles of Draco’s stomach and chest.

“You need to relax, love,” Harry says, “relax and let me in. I know it feels strange but I promise you, Draco, it will be worth it.”

Draco nods and does as he’s told, letting the tension seep out of him one breath at a time.

“Good,” Harry murmurs, “now, keep breathing and try to relax for me, okay?”

“O-okay,” Draco says, his voice rough and trembling.

Harry pushes his finger further, watching entranced as it slowly disappears into Draco’s gorgeous body. Draco’s arse is so impossibly tight, the inner walls hot and pliant all around him. If Harry hadn’t experimented with his own arse these last few days he’d never think anything as large as his own cock could ever fit in there. But thanks to The Guide Harry knows how to stretch Draco open; knows how to prepare him with a little patience, a few more fingers, and plenty of silky sweet-smelling lube.

Draco is soon relaxed enough for Harry to start moving, pumping and twisting his finger slowly in and out of Draco’s mesmerising hole. Draco pants faintly, clenching his fists in the duvet and biting his lower lip as a ragged groan escapes his throat.

“Harry…?”

“Yeah?”

“Since when… are you s-such an — ahh — expert at t-this?”

Harry briefly contemplates pointing out the astonishing fact that Draco Malfoy just paid him a compliment but soon decides to play nice for now and answer the question. After all, Draco is about to let Harry fuck him — Fuck, Harry’s mind is still reeling at the thought — and that’s not an opportunity Harry is willing to throw out the window anytime soon. And besides, this conversation has the potential to become quite entertaining too.

“Since… Tuesday,” Harry answers truthfully.

“T-Tuesday?”

“Yeah.”

Harry draws out and watches in awe as Draco’s arse clenches around thin air; as if searching blindly for whatever glorious thing that was once there but now seems to be missing. Harry quickly takes pity on the poor muscle and pushes back in, with two fingers this time.

“W-who?”

“Well,” Harry says absentmindedly, trying to keep at least half a mind on their conversation despite their current activities. Draco’s hole is taking his fingers greedily now, the soft wet sound of lube-coated arse all but hypnotic, repeatedly stealing his attention from Draco’s breathless words. Suspecting Draco needs their verbal exchange to take his mind off any unease and stay relaxed, Harry forces his mind to come up with an answer to Draco’s latest question. “I guess we have George to thank for that…”

“George!?” Draco exclaims, rising up from his reclined position fast enough for Harry to flinch. Draco’s eyes are ablaze, piercing Harry with an edge sharp enough to cut through steel, and the grip around Harry’s fingers tightens almost painfully. “Another Weasley? How many fucking Weasels—”

“Hey, take it easy, okay. It’s not like that. Will you fucking relax?”

With eyes narrowed to slits, Draco grits, “Pretty hard to, when you—”

“Calm down, Draco, for fuck’s sake…”

Reluctantly, Draco falls silent and lays back against the pillows, his dubious gaze watching Harry warily. Harry offers him an affectionate smile.

“I’ve never been with George — never will,” he says sincerely, allowing himself to relax somewhat as he watches the tension slowly fade from Draco’s features. With a quirk to his lips, Harry resumes the gentle movements of his fingers still buried deep in Draco’s arse as he continues. “And Charlie was just one single kiss five months ago so you can ease off on the jealousy, okay?”

“I’m not jeal—”

“Sure, you’re not,” Harry says, smirking as he leans down to place a fond kiss on the tip of his nose. “Not at all.”

“’M not,” Draco pouts, looking more adorable than an innocent puppy ever could.

“Whatever you say, love.”

The endearment flows effortlessly over Harry’s tongue already, and to Harry’s delight, it seems to work wonders on Draco’s petulant mood. Harry twists his fingers inside Draco’s tight heat, scissoring them and revelling in the stifled moan escaping Draco’s parted lips. He does it again and again — thrusting, twisting, scissoring — and leans down to capture Draco’s next moan in a heated kiss.

With his tongue deep inside Draco’s mouth and his fingers deep inside Draco’s arse, Harry fucks him steadily, opening him up a little more for each deliberate thrust.

Suddenly, Draco’s brilliant hands are no longer clutching the duvet but carding roughly through Harry’s hair, their slender fingers brushing through Harry’s unduly locks and sending shivers down his spine.

“So… why did you — nnngh — say we should t-thank…?”

“Well, George and his friends, really. You know, Lee and Angelina?” Draco frowns but gives him a hesitant nod before Harry averts his gaze, no longer able to meet Draco’s eyes as he continues. “They gave me a book… as some kind of… Good Luck present, I guess?”

A book?

“Yeah,” Harry says, swallowing as he watches his slick fingers draw out from Draco’s arse only to be sucked back inside as soon as Draco relaxes.

“What book?”

Flicking his eyes to Draco’s and back, Harry feels his cheeks blushing. Why? — He doesn’t know. Or, well

The Gay Guy’s Guide to Glorious Goodness.”

The Gay Guy’s…? Holy Merlin,” Draco breathes.

“Yeah.”

Harry chews his lower lip as he pulls out and reaches for the jar. He applies more lube and moves to prod Draco’s entrance again, with three fingertips this time.

Draco winces from the sudden coolness against his hot skin, eventually relaxing again to let Harry’s fingers back inside. Hot and pliant yields to cool and firm, and Draco stifles a groan that eventually morphs into, “H-Harry…?”

“Yes…?”

“Why did… these people g-give you a book on — mmm — gay sex?”

“Er… Because… I told them, that…”

“That you’re — mmm — gay?”

“Bi, actually, but yes. That. And…”

And…?

And… about you… my crush on you…”

“Y-You… You told them…?” Draco sounds faint. “You t-told them about me… and they — ahh — g-gave you a b-book on gay sex?”

“Yeah…” Harry smirks, “…and lube.”

“And… lube…?

“Yeah. Right…” Harry looks up, levitating the other jar from the nightstand towards Draco, “I guess this was meant for you.”

F-for me?

“Yeah,” Harry chuckles at Draco’s incredulous features. “Hey, don’t look so surprised. I told you they’d accept you, didn’t I?”

Draco grumbles and occupies himself with opening the jar and peeking inside to sniff the content.

“Apples?”

“Yeah. Or would you rather have the treacle tart flavoured one?”

“No, apple’s good,” Draco frowns, giving the lube another sniff before replacing the lid and dropping the jar on the bed beside him. “But… why? That’s what I can’t… Why would they…?”

“Apparently — and don’t freak out again, okay, but — apparently we have a little… er… fan club.”

“We have… a fan club?”

“Yeah,” Harry chuckles. “They call themselves Team Drarry.”

Draco eyes widen significantly at the mention of the name, staring back at Harry with his neat pale brows raised sky-high. Another slow gentle thrust and a twist of Harry’s fingers inside his tight heat bring Draco back to the here and now with a soft groan.

Team… Drarry…? As in…?”

“As in Draco and Harry, yes.”

“But…” Draco falters, pausing to — oh, yesss — lift his hips to meet Harry’s never-stilling fingers. “…Drarry? That sounds — ahh — r-ridiculous.”

“Yeah, it really does. But it’s way better than any of the alternatives, believe me.”

“Do I even want to know?”

“Probably not,” Harry smirks, leaning over to place a fervent kiss on Draco’s delicious lips. “Now, too much talking and too little action, don’t you think?”

“Yeah,” Draco nods, eyes glazed and unfocused.

Harry pumps his three fingers into Draco’s arse, curving them to reach for that secret spot that should be somewhere right… “Holy fu-uck!” …there.

Harry massages Draco’s prostate, eliciting a brilliant stream of moans and expletives from Draco’s lips as he bends down to take Draco’s cock in his mouth again. Harry feels Draco’s fingers weave into his tangled curls and obliges when Draco tugs on his hair, guiding him up.

“That’s enough,” he growls. “If you don’t stop that right this minute, I’ll come in your mouth.”

“I wouldn’t mind if you did,” Harry says with a cheeky smile.

“Sweet Salazar, you fucking tease. Now, fuck me before I decide to hex you.”

“Ah, there’s the bossy twat we all know and love!”

Harry chuckles as he retracts his fingers, leaving Draco’s arse empty and panting. He sits back on his heels, licking his lips absently as he looks down at the tantalising entrance. There’s just one more thing to take care of before he can dive into its dark sucking heat.

“Draco? Do you want to… or shall I?” Harry looks pointedly down at his own pants, the dark green cotton stained with pre-come and tenting obscenely to accommodate his raging erection. He has managed to ignore it so far, focusing instead on Draco’s perfect anatomy and marvellous responsiveness. But now he lets himself acknowledge it’s there, he’s nearly blinded by the intensity of his own arousal.

Draco’s eyes darken as they take in the sight of Harry’s still hidden cock. Shifting on the unsteady mattress, he rises carefully to kneel in front of Harry. He steadies himself with his hands on Harry’s hips and leans in to steal a kiss from Harry’s lips before tucking his fingers under the waistband of the boxers and pulling the fabric down his muscular thighs.

Harry’s cock slaps happily against his stomach as it’s finally freed from its confinement. Harry finds it rather corny and embarrassing, most tempted to laugh at the silliness of it, but the feeling soon ebbs away as Draco leans down to suck it into his mouth.

Oh, Go— “Fuuuck…” Harry groans, not at all prepared for the lightheaded sensation of having his cock sucked by another person’s eager mouth. “Fuck, Draco… Please… Oh, Godric… I can’t… I’m gonna… Draco, stop… Please…”

Draco finally releases him and sits back on his heels with a pleased smirk on his face.

“I really like to hear you beg. It’s like music to my ears.”

“Oh, Fuck you, Malfoy.”

“Yes. As a matter of fact, that’s exactly what we’re gonna do,” Draco chuckles. Mirth is dancing in those bright silvery eyes and for some reason, Harry’s heart skips a beat.

“So… how d’you wanna— do it? They say it’s easier if you’re on all fours.”

“No, that’s not an option.” Draco shakes his head, making his white-blond fringe sway in front of his eyes as Harry frowns.

“It isn’t?”

“No. I want to be able to look at you, want to be able to kiss you.”

“Oh… okay,” Harry swallows. “Then I guess you’d better lay down on your back again.”

Draco moves to do just that, watching avidly as Harry lubes up his cock with a trembling hand. When both jars are safe and secure on the nightstand, Harry summons a pillow and props it under Draco’s hips. Spreading Draco’s legs to part his pale cheeks, Harry takes in that enticing puckered hole, wet and glistening from sweet-smelling lube and clenching in anticipation under Harry’s hungry gaze. Harry blinks slowly and takes a steadying breath.

“Okay, this might hurt a bit at first, but try to relax and keep on breathing. I’ll try to be gentle, but… just tell me if you want me to stop, alright?”

“Alright.” Draco looks up at him, searching his face. “It’s okay, Harry. I trust you. I know you don’t want to hurt me anymore.”

“O-okay,” Harry breathes, struck with a certain kind of fondness he’s never felt before. “Okay.”

Harry leans down for a kiss, one hand on the mattress supporting him, the other stroking its way up Draco’s torso in reverent awe. His cock jerks as its blunt slick head comes in contact with Draco’s bare skin, sliding along the crease of Draco’s exposed arse and teasing the loosened muscle encircling his quivering entrance. Draco’s strong hands move over Harry’s back, stroking down his spine and over his hips to finally come to rest on Harry’s thighs. With his lips close enough to brush against Harry’s, Draco whispers.

“Fuck me, Harry. Fuck me now.”

— ¤ O ¤ —

Want. Insatiable want. Like starving maws devouring… everything. Heart. Lungs. Chest.

Heat. Scorching heat. Like raging fire spreading… everywhere. Veins. Nerves. Bones.

Lust. Addiction. A bright sun of passion feeding all life. Hopes. Dreams. Purpose.

Desperation. Delirium. Desire.

Draco’s body is so tight, so fucking tight, as Harry sits back on his heels and slowly sinks into him. Fighting his primal urge to thrust hard and deep, Harry wills himself to go slow, excruciatingly slow, and pausing every time Draco’s body clenches around him; waiting for him to relax before continuing. He stills as his heavy balls brush against Draco’s skin, lowering his gaze to take in the sight of his own erection buried deep inside Draco’s body.

Staving off his imminent orgasm is nearly impossible, but Harry concentrates on Draco’s warm eyes and his pained frown and that plump lip he’s clutching between his teeth. As Harry waits for Draco’s tight heat to accommodate him, he eases his grip on Draco’s thighs and leans forward to brush a stray blond lock from Draco’s forehead, caressing his damp smooth skin with tender fingertips.

Draco wants him to move, and so he does, drawing out and gently thrusting into his heat again; going further inside, into the deep unknown where no one but him has ever been before. Draco wraps his legs around Harry’s shoulders, allowing for Harry to reach even further, the silky-smooth walls of Draco’s arse clamping down on him and begging him to stay, trying to keep him close — sucking him in each time he tries to pull out, welcoming him back every time he pushes back inside.

Intimate. Irresistible. Intoxicating.

Draco’s hands are hot on Harry’s shoulders, holding him close, fingers pressing into his flesh and fighting for purchase on Harry’s sweat-slicked skin. Harry leans in to take Draco’s mouth in a passionate kiss, shifting his weight to support himself on shaky arms, anything to be able to come closer to Draco’s writhing body. Draco’s cock is throbbing between them, rock-hard against Harry’s stomach and leaking pre-come on them both.

Harry wants to melt into him, wants to come even closer than the laws of nature permit. He swallows Draco’s desperate moans and makes desperate moans of his own. Draco’s scent is fresh and heady, as always, now mixed with smells of salty sweat and musky arousal. His lips taste of Draco, of Draco and treacle tart, and Harry never ever wants to be anywhere else ever again.

Wincing. Whining. Whimpering.

Their lungs’ irrational craving for oxygen demands they break their kiss, and as they do they pant in sync, their breaths mingling in the tiny space between their parted lips. There are murmurs of love and affection, whispers of fondness and adoration, their desperation deep and yearning and all-consuming.

Harry comes with a strangled cry, deep inside Draco’s heat, filling him up with his hot come. The sensation is like nothing else, urging him to let go and soar to the stars — but Draco keeps him grounded, his expressive grey eyes tethering him securely, his body anchoring him as Harry resumes his thrusts and urges Draco to follow him over the edge.

As he does, aided by Harry’s tight fist wrapped around his hardness, his orgasm is accompanied by a ragged moan, his hot slick walls tightening around Harry as he arches off the bed, shuddering from the intensity of his release. And Harry keeps him grounded, his sincere gaze tethering him securely, his body anchoring him as Draco rides on the waves of his bliss.

Debauched. Dishevelled. Drained.

They collapse in a tangled heap, panting and gasping and cursing, dripping with sweat and come and perfectly elated. They’re sleepy and exhausted, content and satisfied — and they kiss and caress and cuddle and nuzzle until they’re not anymore. Harry absently fingers Draco’s leaking arse, revelling in the notion of it dripping with come — his come — and that’s when he realises he can’t wait a second longer.

With Draco moaning and whimpering in the most erotic of ways, Harry holds Draco’s thighs up and apart as he eats him out. Meeting his heated gaze over Draco’s spent cock, Harry licks up the drops escaping Draco’s open hole, sucks the come from inside his arse, and cleans out every trace of his orgasm from Draco’s delectable pucker.

Touching. Tasting. Trembling.

Harry has no chance of escaping — not that he’d ever want to — as a ravenous Draco pounces on him, pins him down on the bed and sucks him dry. Devoured by Draco’s hot hungry mouth, it doesn’t take long for Harry’s already aching cock to come for the third time — not when Draco hollows his cheeks and takes him deep and swallows around his head.

When Draco enters Harry not even an hour later, Harry braces himself against the headboard and arches his back most shamelessly. Draco takes him rough and hard, fast and furiously, both of them grunting and groaning, almost more animalistic than human. Draco’s hands roam over Harry’s back, scratching his nails along his spine, creating bright red marks of desire on his skin. He leans over Harry’s body and bites down on the taut flesh of his shoulder, sucking hard as Harry moans his consent.

Strong hands glide under Harry’s armpits, gripping his shoulders from behind and lifting him up to straddle Draco’s lap. Never easing up on their brutal thrusts, Harry leans his head against Draco’s shoulder, moaning wantonly as he fucks himself on Draco’s fabulous cock. Draco pinches Harry’s protruding nipples, roaring wildly next to Harry’s ear as Harry whimpers from his rough touch.

Gasping. Groaning. Growling.

They try to kiss in spite of the awkward angle, biting, sucking, licking. Harry’s right hand is grabbing Draco’s thigh, supporting him, the other clutching the back of Draco’s head, holding him in place. Draco’s left hand is spread over Harry’s chest, steadying him, the other wrapped around Harry’s leaking cock, wanking him frantically. There are murmurs of filth and naughtiness, whispers of lewdness and indecency, their desperation raw and craving and all-consuming.

Harry comes just seconds before Draco, spraying his seed over Draco’s fist and the rumpled duvet to the sound of a breathy moan. Draco comes with Harry’s arse pulsing around him, milking him of his orgasm and drawing a hoarse howl from his sore throat.

Depraved. Decadent. Divine.

There’s more kissing, more caressing, more cuddling and nuzzling and murmuring and teasing. It is gentleness, reassurance and vulnerability. It is tenderness, encouragement and care. There’s warmth and affection and fondness and awe. And love.

They fall asleep, Draco’s warm chest pressed against Harry’s back, his arm wrapped tightly over Harry’s chest, his nose buried in Harry’s neck and his spent cock flush against Harry’s sore arse. Draco places a soft kiss on Harry’s shoulder, wishing him pleasant dreams. Harry kisses the back of Draco’s hand, wishing him a Merry Christmas. They’re both smiling when the sandman comes and brings them to sleep.

Elation. Serenity. Bliss.

— ¤ O ¤ —

Saturday, 26 December 1998

There ’s a man in my bed. A sleeping man. A naked sleeping man.

His name is Potter — Harry James Potter — and I ’m fairly sure this is all just a dream. Or a miracle. A Christmas miracle.

He ’s been in here for nearly twelve hours, and I’m sore and tired and utterly amazed. My pale skin is bruised and speckled with dark love bites. I’m marked by him, claimed by him, and I’ve never felt better in my entire life.

It surely must be a dream, right? Because what happened yesterday can ’t very well be true, can it? He practically told me he loved me, for Circe’s sake — that he wanted to be with me, that he wanted me to be with him. He even showed me his patronus to validate it — a magnificent dragon patronus, can you imagine? — and I still can’t believe it’s true.

I ’ve never dared hope for anything like this. No matter what I’ve written on that piece of parchment every Christmas Eve, I’ve never dared imagine it actually coming true. Granted, seeing that it’s us — the most avid school rivals in centuries — I’m quite sure it will all crash and burn soon enough. And Merlin, help me, but I still want to try.

As if there were ever a choice. When Harry is calling, I ’m coming. That’s how it’s always been, how it is, and always will be. I am his. And, astoundingly, he is mine.

He is mine. And he ’s lying in my bed. He is marked as well, by my lips, by my mouth. He looks so peaceful when he is asleep, so content and happy with a hint of a smile on his lips. He is stirring, reaching out for something. Excuse me for a moment…

He says ‘hi’ — to you, again. He wants me to abandon you and… Oh, you should see him, DeeDee, lying there, pouting adorably. Those impossibly green eyes pleading so…

I ’m sorry, DeeDee, but I’m afraid I have to leave you now. There’s somewhere else I need to be.

I ’ve got a life to start living.

— ¤ O ¤ —