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Speak (and may the world come undone)

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It had begun during that strange see-saw year. His sixth at Hogwarts. Harry’s mind was a maze of grief, his heart a drum of fear every time he woke expecting to see the world through Voldemort’s eyes. His chest was a snapping monster, his body aching and coiled tight.

Harry spent his time torn between the daily reports of terror and danger haunting the country, and the flip of Ginny’s skirt as she leaned into Dean Thomas. Hermione and Ron were orbiting each other, firing shots over the schisms of Lavender Brown and the Slug Club. And amongst it all, Malfoy. A pale and glittering constant, a sliver of broken glass under Harry’s skin, itching and ingrown, never painful enough to risk excision, always causing enough hurt to irritate, and leaving the faintest trace of blood in his wake.

Harry had known Malfoy was Marked. Known he was working on something. Known that some evil had nurtured the thoughtless cruelty of the boy into the calculated violence of a man. Every time Harry watched him across the hall, his mouth twisted with the phantom pain of his nose crunching beneath Malfoy’s well-heeled boot, the memory of slickness in his throat, and the hot-penny taste of blood.

Harry had known that despite the whirl of Quidditch try-outs, homework, and ever more enthusiastic attempts from his apparent admirers to catch him naked in the shower, his own duty was to find out what Malfoy was doing, and stop him. His secret meetings with Dumbledore were enough to prove that to him. People had ignored the warning signs when Tom Riddle was at Hogwarts, and look where that got them all. Harry wouldn’t be making the same error of judgement.

It was only after the water that flooded Myrtle’s bathroom had flowered crimson around Malfoy’s gasping body that Harry realised. Only after it diluted cherry-blossom pink and filled the room as Snape incanted furiously over open wounds in pale flesh; only after blood he had spilled crept towards his cringing toes that Harry came to understand. He, too, could make mistakes.

He vomited, after. Cried and heaved and shut his eyes against the visions of red, the carved open flesh of a weeping boy; evidence of his own thoughtless fury, the proof of his own hubris. He bore the weight of Hermione and Ron’s heavy gazes—worried, disappointed—Ginny’s raging invective, and his own crushing regret. For weeks his nightmares shifted, even Voldemort’s marauding mind couldn’t break through the cinematic loop of Sectumsempra shouted angry and ignorant, the guttural sound of agony it had ripped from Malfoy that had hit Harry like a sucker-punch, the exposed inside. Pale skin, red flesh, white bone beneath. Crucio would have been easier to bear than the memory of his own grievous misstep.

All year he had followed Malfoy. Watched his name on the map, footsteps pacing in the Slytherin dormitory, disappearing into the Room of Requirement. Listened around corners, in class, and ignored his own meals in favour of analysing what Malfoy did or didn’t eat. He had ignored his friend’s protests, McGonnagall’s disapproving glare, and even Dumbledore’s quietly censorious statements about ‘good faith’ and ‘difficult choices’.

But then came the last day of July. The cave. The Locket. The Horcrux. And with it Dumbledore’s assertion of faith. ‘I am not worried Harry...I am with you’. Pride and responsibility settled with equal weight on his shoulders along with the realisation that Dumbledore—even Dumbledore—looked to him as a saviour. Even while Harry knowingly force-fed him poison, while he faltered with horror when he was confronted by the maggot-pale Inferi. Even while in his heart he felt as much the boy in the cupboard afraid of the dark as he had ever been; Dumbledore believed in him.

With that belief crumbled the last of Harry’s ability to pretend that this wasn’t his war. That he wasn’t really the one responsible for fixing things, that every year of his life since Voldemort marked him with lightning and grief was anything other than the countdown to the inevitable moment that they would finally meet again. For the last time.

Neither can live whilst the other survives.

That night, hidden under his Invisibility Cloak, Harry stared as Dumbledore’s wand flew to Malfoy’s hand. An Expelliarmus too easy and effective for Harry to believe, until the crashing realisation that with his last moment of freedom the headmaster had cast a Binding at Harry to keep him to his promise of staying hidden. To protect him.

So Harry could do nothing but stare. Even as Dumbledore held out his good hand to Malfoy on the tower, beseeching; even as he fell at Snape’s hand, heavy rain guiding him down. Harry stared even as he struggled against the magical binding that kept him still until the end—until the impact—when he fell as still as the Headmaster, when the subtle magic wrapped around him winked out of existence, replaced by grief that took hold of his limbs like ice. Even as tears blurred his vision, Harry couldn’t help but stare at the faint traces of Malfoy’s Sectumsempra wounds, still evident even in the gloaming. The scars were silver-white and clean-edged. Like Harry had used a scalpel, not a wand.

Malfoy’s own wand rested, unused, at his side in a hand limp with shock. That scowling, arrogant face had crumpled with horror unhidden in the flare of green light as Snape cast, and Dumbledore fell, and Bellatrix danced. His bottom lip trembled, and sharp grey eyes shone wet; naked terror and despair clear there for all to see.

But the other Death Eaters didn’t seem interested in looking at Malfoy. They were too preoccupied with jeering over the tower edge, making their way down the winding spiral stairs into the heart of Hogwarts, hooting and howling and loving every moment of their desecration. They were already out of earshot, Malfoy dragged along by Snape’s firm grip on his shoulder, by the time Harry’s body finally obeyed his will to move.

The first message had found him in the woods; another one of Hermione’s childhood holidays revisited. Harry sometimes wondered if their flits from one place to another since escaping from the wedding were slowly eroding Hermione’s memories as thoroughly as her Obliviate had erased her parents’. Every happy recollection of her life so far was being replaced with the hunt for the Horcrux, every moment of nostalgia overlaid with fear and hiding.

It came when Harry was sitting alone on watch by the tiny fire they had built before dark fell; like a will-’o-the-wisp, a shimmering curl of light. It passed with a glimmer through Hermione’s fortress of wards, swirling and fluttering like an oversized butterfly, before sidling towards him.

Harry had drawn his wand at first, suspicious and confused, not quite sure how he would fend it off but ready to try. As it drew closer, though, he recognised what he was seeing, and lowered his wand. It looked, and felt, just like a Patronus; benign, and safe, and gently soothing. It drew near, dancing through the air to his shoulder, settled near his ear. And then it whispered:

“Fenrir suspects Lupin, warn him.”

Harry recognised the voice immediately. Of course he did. It had been the bane of his life for the last seven years. That cold, aristocratic drawl had delivered insults and taunts every day of his school career. And now it was whispering secrets no-one should know into Harry’s ear.

His blood ran cold. Remus had been living amongst Voldemort’s werewolf supporters for months now. How did Malfoy know? Was Voldemort tormenting Harry again, with false visions and carefully crafted lies intended to draw him out?

He agonised for all of five minutes before deciding he wouldn’t, he couldn’t ignore this. Not if there was a chance—not if it meant risking Remus. The final Marauder. His father’s last, loyal friend.

Harry used Sirius’ old mirror, that shard of clever magic and heartbreak, and told Aberforth he’d had a nightmare; asked him to check on Remus. Two days later he heard back, Aberforth’s rumbling voice full of relief and approval. Remus had slipped away into the night mere moments before Fenrir and his rabid pack tore through the shack he had been sleeping in, ravening and furious. Their howls of frustrated rage had been reported in Muggle newspapers.

Malfoy had been right. Harry told no-one.

In Bathilda Bagshot’s creaking, stinking cottage, the now familiar sliver of pale magic whisked up the stairs behind him. Settled in the curls behind Harry’s ear to accompany his own growing unease as he followed her through the dark rooms. Whispered with all the urgency of a scream:

“It’s a trap. Go! He is coming!”

Harry didn’t have time to shout for Hermione—barely enough to gasp in horror—before the old lady’s body crumpled, and fell to the floor in front him like discarded clothes. Nagini lashed out of the cast-off folds of wrinkled flesh, a nightmare made real. All coiling scales and dead eyes, hissing rage and fury as she lunged and spat at Harry. Her dripping fangs glinted in the scant light of the moon that filtered through grimy windows as she struck at him again, and again.

And then Hermione was there, blasting Nagini away with a desperate, screamed incantation before dragging Harry into a wildly spinning Disapparition as smoky darkness blossomed in that tiny room. The last sight of Godric’s Hollow Harry glimpsed was serpentine eyes filled with hate, and a wave of fear and malice strong enough to crack his head open with screaming agony. A ripple of malignant magic that unlocked the knife-sharp memory of green light carving into infant skin, the distant wheeze of his mother’s last breath, his own desperate wails in an empty house.

Harry landed on his knees, shuddering and gasping, with Hermione’s hand still gripping his arm painfully tight. Fear, and disgust, and the stretching swirl of Apparition churned in his stomach, and bile rose hot and acidic in his throat. He swallowed it down.

Harry could barely hear Hermione’s trembling apology for his broken wand over the rush of blood in his ears, the upswell of confused gratitude for Malfoy’s whispered warnings, and the stark realisation that he hadn’t for one moment even questioned if he should trust that cut-glass articulation. It was the last thought that circled his mind like water going down the drain before his vision went grey, and he tumbled into unconsciousness, grateful with his last moment of cognisance for the incoming reprieve.

The next morning he was roused by a damp cloth at his brow, and Harry opened his eyes to the blurry figure of Hermione sitting next to him, a bowl in her lap. His forehead stung, but the cool rag she was gently patting his scar with soothed the burn.

“Morning, Hermione.”

“Oh, Harry,” her voice cracked. “I’m so—I’m so sorry. Your wand. I—I just knew we needed to get out of there and I can’t believe I—I broke your wand!”

Harry sat up, scrabbled at the bedside table for his glasses, and put them on. All the better to see Hermione’s mournful expression, and the blood on the cloth she was wringing into the bowl of water.

The knowledge that his wand really was broken settled in his stomach like a stone, heavy and painful. The realisation that he wouldn’t feel the familiar glow of magic, that sense of rightness that had lit up his heart from the very first moment his wand chose him in Ollivander’s shop all those years ago, was almost too much to bear. He felt stripped bare, vulnerable and defenceless, useless.

“It’s alright.” He reached out, stilled her hands. “Hermione. It’s alright. You saved me.”

“I know, but—”

“No ‘but’. You saved me. And set all of—” he gestured around them at the tent, the ever-present wards beyond. “All of this up. And now you’re looking after me still. It’s okay, I can borrow your wand when I need it and we’ll just—we’ll just work something permanent out later. Maybe someone can fix it.”

She remained quiet, eyes down, and Harry knew that meant any chances of mending his wand were slim to none. Still, he cast about for something to distract her with. His eyes caught on the open book beside her, she must have been sitting at the end of his bed all night, keeping an eye on him. Gratitude and embarrassment warred for primacy within him at the knowledge of it. But at least he could rely on reading to bring Hermione out of this spiral of guilt, even as he cursed and raged internally that his wand was broken.

“Is that it, then? Skeeter’s book on Dumbledore?” He couldn’t help the frustrated tone to his voice, but tried to subdue it, even though his mounting anger at Dumbledore and the futility of their aimless search for Horcruxes roiled inside him.

Hermione immediately brightened. She put the bowl on the floor by her feet and picked up the book, still open on the page she had been reading, already turning to show him.

“It is, I picked it up at Bathilda Bagshot’s cottage before...well. Anyway, I was reading it—I know she’s a bloody beast but I had to know what she’d written about him. Look at this; he knew Grindelwald, Harry.”

“Grindelwald?” He leaned forward, and as he looked at the pages Hermione was pointing at, the young face watching him from a black and white wizarding photograph was startlingly familiar. In Harry’s vision of Voldemort’s visit to him, he might have been an old man, but the echoes of this youthful face had still been there. Fair hair had greyed, but the eyes had been the same, and the jawline beneath the ageing jowls too.

He and Hermione read the chapter together, and the tumult of rage and disbelief that warred in the wake of revelations of Dumbledore’s youth and beliefs nearly struck Harry dumb. Hermione was solemn faced and serious. But Harry kept looking at that photograph of the two of them; ‘Albus and Gellert’ it had written below it, in Bagshot’s cursive handwriting.

Albus and Gellert.

The book called them friends. But as Harry watched them on the page—their subtle movements and micro-expressions, hints of personality and emotion preserved with magic—he saw something else. Something in the way their eyes met, glanced away, came back to each other. There was a kind of gravity between them, an intensity. Their bodies were angled towards each other even when they looked out of the frame, or stared boldy back at Harry. They weren’t friends.

Harry ground his teeth as Hermione slipped away to put together breakfast, his eyes glued to the stark features of the young Gellert Grindelwald. He was handsome, in an unusual way. Nothing of the dark good looks that Tom Riddle boasted in his own youth. But compelling.

He wondered, if Dumbledore had already thought that wizards should be in charge of the world before he met Gellert. Or had that direct gaze and quiet charisma drawn the headmaster down a road he might never have wandered alone?

He wondered, what had Grindelwald sounded like? Was he fiery and impassioned? Was he cold and arrogant, like Voldemort? The memory of Malfoy’s warning from the night before rose, unbidden, in Harry’s mind. Maybe all Grindelwald had needed to do was whisper.

He wondered, had Dumbledore been receptive because it felt like Gridelwald was offering him help? Had he been a light in the shadows left in Dumbledore’s heart after the death of his mother?

Malfoy might not be a budding Dark Lord, but he bore the Mark of one, and had been raised with the dogma of Pureblood superiority since he was born. Every silver flicker of magic that had curled into Harry, warm and soft, had brought the truth. Every warning had paid off. Saved his loved ones. Saved Harry himself. But what if he was simply biding his time?

Malfoy knew him, loath as Harry was to admit it, better than Voldemort could ever hope to—even with the benefit of Legilimency. He could be lulling Harry into a false sense of security, ready to reveal the hidden blade of betrayal at the worst moment, ready to stamp down on him again.

He had been worrying about it since the very beginning, since that first wisp of magic, and his reluctant gamble to pass the warning to Remus; what if the next whisper was the lie, the lie that gave them away, the lie that lost him Hermione, or Remus, or the Order itself. But a long play at betrayal made more sense to Harry than the alternative. Because the fact was that for some reason known only to himself, Malfoy had decided to support Harry.

That night, Harry dreamed of him. Of Malfoy sitting in a corner of the tent; pale, and sharp, and perfectly neat against the well-worn canvas and battered furniture that Harry felt himself beginning to blend into.

It didn’t feel like a dream—everything was clear and crisp, he could even smell the woodsmoke from their watch-fire outside the tent. Still, Harry knew. He had to be dreaming. Because even though Malfoy made the fold-up chair look like a throne, and his eyebrow was raised in silent judgement at the distinctly run-down surroundings, there was a strange softness in his face. He was still all angles, and sharp awareness, and the coiled tension of a well-trained body ready to act at a moment's notice. But his mouth, the muscles in his jaw, his eyes; they were bare of their usual hardness, the sneer that appeared as soon as he looked at Harry. He didn’t look kind. Or warm. But tame—no, not tame—attentive. Vigilant.

Dream-Malfoy didn’t speak. There was no whispered message; he gave no advice to hide, or run, or warn. He simply sat, watchful and calm, and the wand in his hand somehow failed to make Harry wary. Dream-Harry simply lay back on the lumpy mattress, and glanced around the tent to see Hermione sleeping peacefully on her bed, then back to the spot where Malfoy sat patiently, the faintest curl of Patronus-silver swirling around his wand hand. Dream-Harry turned onto his side and lay quietly, exhaustion-heavy eyes still focused on Malfoy’s pale figure in the corner, statue-still and watchful. As deeper sleep stole even this lucidity, Dream-Harry sank into soft blackness, buoyed by the sense of being guarded.

Harry woke in the dark with his glasses digging into his nose. He had fallen asleep with them still on; tired from his continued reassurances to Hermione not to worry about his broken wand (it’s just a wand, I can find another, I can use yours, we’re okay, you saved me), all while stifling the rising tide of grief in his chest (my wand, my wand, I can’t do magic, what will I do?), and wondering endlessly what to do about Malfoy.

He woke, and found himself glancing to the corner as he dragged himself from his blankets. Once, twice, again. Looking for that wisp of magic. Looking for him.

He wasn’t there. Of course he wasn’t. How could he be? But the half-a-heartbeat of hope that filled his chest as he swam into consciousness was enough to startle Harry with the leaden weight of disappointment when all he found around him was the empty night.

No Ron. No Malfoy. Just Hermione’s quiet breaths, the deadened silence of snow outside the tent, and the pulse of Harry’s heart pounding in his ears. At least he knew—he hoped—he would hear Malfoy’s voice again. Tears pricked the corner of his eyes, and he held his breath, swallowing down the sob that threatened to escape and break the night’s silence. A gnawing fear that Ron would never come back to them had been growing in his gut, and the guilt for believing in Malfoy more than his oldest friend—even in the dream-depths of his subconscious—was knife-sharp and inescapable.

Another message had come after Ron returned to them. After the silver doe, and the glint of gold and rubies in the depths of the frozen pond. After the cruel bite of the locket’s chain brought Harry to his knees; alone, gasping and choking, his vision blurring as the Horcrux defended itself to the death. After Ron destroyed the locket, and welcomed Hermione’s rejection-fuelled anger like a familiar balm soothing the raw-edged hurt of the locket’s last, desperate attempts to sway him with his own darkest fears made real. After Harry had felt something crucial settle in his chest along with the knowledge he had both of his best friends back with him, the ground beneath his feet stable and steady once more.

The forest was days behind them now, and the relief and jubilation of another Horcrux destroyed was already waning in the face of the task of finding the next one. They were camped on the edge of a moor. It was bleak and empty of any sign of human life; no trees, or houses, or roads. A constant wind whipped the grasses that spread as far as Harry could see into fluid waves and ripples—a dun-green ocean—their tent an island in a vast isolation.

Harry was huddled alone under a blanket a short distance from the tent where Hermione and Ron rested. They were finally talking properly again, even if Hermione seemed to be taking great pains to remind Ron of his misdeed at every opportunity. Harry didn’t mind being outside, he was just glad to be able to take his turn on watch and not have to spend it listening to the sound of Hermione attempting to stifle shuddering sobs like he’d had to for the duration of Ron’s absence.

He leaned against a boulder that sapped the warmth from his body and dug uncomfortably into his spine. But it meant he could sit back without having to hold himself up, and it sheltered him from the worst of the cutting gusts of wind that flew across the barren landscape he found himself in. He stared out at the great scale of it, and for a moment he felt tiny in the shadow of boulders that had been softened by eons and ice-ages; anonymous amongst the uncountable blades of grass so dense he could imagine lying down amongst them and hiding. He felt so small, and the moors so big, that maybe even Voldemort himself wouldn’t be able to wade through all of them in his hunt for Harry, if only he sat still enough.

It was still light, even though grey clouds scudded across the sky, so Harry didn’t see the incoming magic until it was already upon him. Delicate, silver-shimmering, and soft-focus. He recognised it immediately and every muscle in his body tensed, ready for a blow, as it swam close enough for him to hear over the wind. What would this message be? Would Harry be quick enough to rouse the others if it was another, desperate, instruction to run? But the whisper, when it came, was quiet and softly satisfied even with its tone of warning.

“He is angry. Whatever you have done has worked. But be careful. He is looking for you.”

Harry knew he should tell Ron and Hermione that he was receiving these messages, listening to them, acting on them. Listening to Malfoy. Secrets were dangerous things and whispers in the silence were suspect. He, of all people, knew that. Even now he could close his eyes and remember with cutting accuracy the sibilant voices in the Hall of Prophecy, the distant murmurs from beyond The Veil as Sirius fell.

But they wouldn’t understand. They hadn’t seen Malfoy’s face that night on the tower, or the way he had lowered his wand, the desperation of a child forced to protect their parents, and failing even that. They hadn’t heard the frantic tone of his voice in Bathilda Bagshot’s house. The steady whisper of his messages to Harry that kept helping them. Kept saving them. They hadn’t felt the touch of his magic, those fragments of Patronus that brushed the vulnerable skin beneath Harry’s ear—soft as smoke—a balm in the cold, and the wet, and the dark that Harry felt in his heart as much as the night sky.

Harry still questioned his decision, whenever he thought about it. But Malfoy wasn’t asking for anything in return, and Harry wasn’t ready to defend the gut instinct telling him that—for now—he could believe Malfoy, he could trust this strange communion. So he stayed quiet, listened to the whisper, and closed his eyes against the disappearance of that small glimmer of magic. He didn’t want to think about the reasons why, but the notion of seeing it wink out of existence made his chest ache, made the wind that little bit colder, the rock he leaned against that little bit harder where it pressed into the space between his shoulder blades.

He dreamed that night, of soaring freedom.

He was flying, his Firebolt whole and perfect under him. Wind whipped his hair about him, and his cheeks were cold, but a wool jumper kept him warm, and the sun shone on his face, and the wind was as crisp as an apple, only serving to urge him onward. He was high up, so high houses looked like toys, higher still, and they were only specks in the patchwork of green below him.

He wasn’t alone. The omniscience of the dreamer told him that, even in an empty sky. And then beside him, appearing like the sun from behind a cloud, was blonde hair, and grey eyes, and sleek lines. Malfoy, a grin on his face, and the familiar expression of focus and exhilaration he always had when he flew against Harry in the Quidditch pitch.

There were no stands here. Not up so high. Not out here with no school, and no Quidditch pitch. No Black Lake or Forbidden Forest. Just a rolling blanket of green below them. And endless blue above. And there—there—the golden glint of the Snitch in front of them.

Harry laughed, reaching forward. Felt Malfoy mirror him. Heard his twin joy. He raced ahead, ever-reaching, never-ceasing, and loved it with every wild thump of his pounding heart. He flew onward, towards the Snitch, towards the horizon., bathed in summer sunlight and exhilaration.

Harry woke, cold, and listened to the thunder of rain against the tent canvas above him. There had been no flying, there would be no flying. He took his blanket and stepped up to the door of the tent to hide his face lest Hermione or Ron see him, to press it into the rain as an excuse for the burning in his eyes. He didn’t want them to see his bitten lip, or the wobble of his chin, at the sudden distress of consciousness. His chest ached, his feet manacled to the ground, to the path ahead of him. He stood, wrapped in scratchy wool, and looked up at the grey sky above him with a heavy heart.

It occured to Harry that on this desperate hunt he was seeing more of the country he than he ever had before. Forests and moors, beaches and fields, rocky coastal cliffs and tiny villages; even the one he had been born in. All tainted with fear and frustration, but still new to him. And yet everywhere they went, he felt removed. His world was reduced to the bubble of safety afforded by Hermione’s clever enchantments—Salvia Hexia, Protego Totalum, Muffliato, Cave Inimicum—they were as cut off from their friends and family as a boat adrift and anchorless.

There had been no silver whispers since the moor. It had been weeks with only the buzz of static and the familiar voices of Fred, and Remus, and Lee on the radio, updating the wizarding world on what was really happening; The Prophet and The Quibbler both lost to Death Eater control.

Harry didn’t know if Malfoy’s silence was because there were no warnings to give, or because he had given up out of fear, or if it meant the worst. In the silence, he couldn’t help but wonder—incessantly and painfully, like tonguing a split lip—if he had done the right thing by keeping quiet.

He trusted Ron and Hermione with his life, and they trusted him; they had followed him into every predicament since they were eleven. They had followed him even into this, before they even knew what the Horcrux hunt would entail. But this journey had already shattered them once, and he was scared. Scared that he had been wrong to trust Malfoy’s messages, scared that he was right to listen to them, but gravely mistaken to have kept them a secret. What if he told Ron and Hermione now, and it was the final straw? What if it was the flaw that made them finally realise he wasn’t worth risking their lives for? He was just a scared boy, alone, with nothing more than the desperate need to protect the people he loved fuelling him. He was nothing special, or powerful, or clever.

He kept remembering Arthur Weasley’s admonishment to Ginny back in second year. Never trust anything that can think for itself if you can’t see where it keeps its brain. Harry knew exactly where Malfoy kept his brain, even though he had never imagined that he might ever use it to think for himself. But Harry realised that perhaps the more pertinent question he should really be asking himself was; where did Malfoy keep his heart?

Hermione’s sudden announcement that they needed to visit Xenophilius Lovegood had come out of nowhere one morning. But with Ron back, supporting Hermione’s every suggestion in his ongoing period of repentance, and Harry disinclined to interfere with the newfound peace, it was inevitable that they all ended up knocking on the colourfully painted door to Luna’s house.

Her home was full of murals and windchimes and strange fruit, cups of bitter tea and a strange tension in the air made Harry’s skin crawl with unease. It was Luna’s dad—he was wild about the eyes, exhausted but frenetic—but he’d always been weird. So Harry tried to soothe his own raised hackles as he sat and listened to his rambling explanations of the doomed brothers and their Deathly Hallows, all while eyeing the nearest exit.

Hermione was flicking through the pages of Dumbledore’s well-thumbed copy of the Tales of Beedle the Bard, stunned understanding dawning on her face while Harry stood examining the carefully painted faces Luna had traced onto the smooth plaster of the walls. Through a ringlet of portrait-Hermione’s dark hair, the familiar glimmer of silver appeared, and flashed to Harry’s ear as if in a rush. The whisper was urgent this time, just like in Bathilda Bagshot’s house.

“Someone has betrayed you! They know where you are!”

A heartbeat later, the crack of Apparition shook the windows. There were shouts from men below and Lovegood turned to scream Stupefy at Harry’s face, his maddened voice drowning out the delicate song of Luna’s windchimes. His poorly aimed curse landed on the Erumpent horn behind Harry, and the resulting explosion blew cracks across the paintings that carried Luna’s touch to every corner of the building. It broke the golden chain of friends-friends-friends she had laced throughout them.

Impotent rage and terror had Harry trembling where he hid, hunched low and leaning into Ron and Hermione, as they listened to the Death Eaters try to curse the truth out of Luna’s father after he had run back downstairs to give them up. His wailing exhortations were unrestrained, all shame and dignity lost in the urge to get his daughter back. Harry was frozen in horror.

But Hermione was as quick and as ruthless as a whip. She wasted no time with emotion or sentiment as she dragged Lovegood’s memory out of him when he raced up the stairs to drag them outside, and then blew the side of his house apart without a moment’s hesitation. They scrambled out across the rubble, grabbed onto each other, and Hermione whisked the three of them into a hasty Disapparition.

They were away, they were safe. But Lovegood’s words echoed in Harry’s ears—They took my Luna—and dredged up the lightning-fractured memory of Malfoy’s broken voice the night Dumbledore died—My parents.

Voldemort had never felt love. Harry was sure of it. But he understood it. He used it as a tool, as a weapon; he took people’s love and wove it into a chain to bind them, a whip to beat them, a cross to nail them to.

Their brief sojourn into the world of friends and family had been disastrous, just like Godric’s Hollow all over again. It seemed like every time they left the safety of wilderness, of isolation, it blew up in their face. They could only trust each other. But Harry knew that he trusted someone else, too. Malfoy had warned him. Again.

They were in another dense patch of woodland. Hermione had brought them straight there, leaving Lovegood’s burning home behind them. Ron had tuned into Potterwatch after lunch, they had sat solemnly through the moment of silence for the dead, and shared gallows-humour grins at the sarcastic jibes against the ‘Chief Death Eater’ reported by Fred’s alter-ego’ Rapier’.

Then Harry broke the Taboo on Voldemort’s name, and Hermione’s carefully cast wards popped audibly like a burst balloon. One moment of unthinking conversation and then Harry’s world collapsed into a blur of panic, of Ron and Hermione’s horrified faces, of panting and running, of leaves and branches slapping his face, of frenzied glances towards his friends as the Snatchers howled with triumph, and then the shocking pain of Hermione’s Stinging jinx.

Malfoy Manor was cold and echoing, ancient tapestries and intricate rugs ineffectual against the chill mass of stone, or the shiver of fear that climbed Harry’s spine as the Snatchers marched them into the huge parlor after Narcissa Malfoy.

Greyback kept a proprietary hand on Hermione’s neck as he forced her to her knees, and the hungry look on his face along with his filthy clawed nails resting in the soft hollow of her throat lit something wild and angry in Harry’s chest. Though it was nothing compared to how Ron felt, if his growl of rage and the sound of his furious struggles against the two Snatchers holding him in place behind Harry was anything to go by.

Narcissa Malfoy’s face was cool and detached as she called for her son, Lucius stood behind her, his bloodshot eyes lit up with horrible excitement. For all his former elegance and ostentation, in that moment he reminded Harry of Wormtail, sycophantic and abject in his fearful loyalty, his servile self-interest eroding every ounce of pride and self-possession.

Harry held his breath as Malfoy came into the room. It was the first time he had seen him in months. Since he had stood, a black silhouette against the fire of Hagrid’s home burning in the darkness on the night Dumbledore fell, silent and hunched as Harry raged futilely at Snape. This was the first time Harry had seen him since the whispers started. Since Malfoy began their one-way stream of life-saving secrets; silver magic and urgent messages inexplicable but so quickly essential to Harry.

He was pale, wan and tired-looking. His face was impassive, neatly swept clean of any hint of emotion or opinion. But his eyes were intense, taking in the room at a glance, though he kept his face apparently unaffected by the sight of his former schoolmates restrained and terrified in his drawing room. He stood silently by his mother’s side, and looked down his nose at them kneeling before him. Harry looked up, watching his face intently, and realised he had no idea what Malfoy was going to do. His next whisper could be their death sentence.

Malfoy recognised them all, of course. Ron and Hermione were undeniably themselves, he would have known immediately they had spun a fiction for the Snatchers. He recognised Harry, too, even with his battered face and swollen eye. Harry could tell at his first glance. After nearly a decade of watching Malfoy daily—catching the exact moment he was going to throw a curse, or a punch—Harry realised in that moment he could understand almost everything that crossed his pale, angular face. He recognised the look in grey eyes, it was knowing. Malfoy had every ounce of panic and emotion well-suppressed, but not the knowing, not from Harry.

Malfoy knew, and yet he hesitated.

Even though he would tell his parents the truth—of course he would tell them—Harry felt a rush of warmth for that moment of hesitation. A fraction of bitter joy that Malfoy might at least pause and think, if only for the space of a heartbeat, of lying for him. And then Malfoy spoke, and that spark of warmth drained away into shocked confusion as sudden and breathtaking as a fall from height.

“I can’t—I can’t be sure.”’

It was like all the oxygen had been sucked out of the room. Malfoy’s parents looked grey and bloodless, Bellatrix was trembling with fury beside him, and Harry could only imagine his own face had fallen into stunned bewilderment. For a moment, time stood still, everyone in the room reeling—a tableau of shock—and then Bellatrix spotted Godric’s sword in the coarse sack the Snatchers had stowed it in and promptly exploded into frenzied action.

The Snatchers fell to the floor, Stunned with a fierce twist of her wrist. Lucius cowered away from her spittle-flecked screaming, tugged his sleeve down to cover his Mark, and went to stand by an ornate chair, like it could defend him from her rage, rearing within her as quick and wild as a viper. At her snarled instruction, Greyback reluctantly drew his clawed grip from Hermione’s throat, leaving her swaying on her knees, alone. Then he grabbed Harry and Ron with preternatural strength, and dragged them shouting and fighting from the room, down into the cold darkness of the dungeons beneath the Manor.

It would have been easier to bear the torture himself, than to listen to Hermione scream in pain, alone. Forced into inaction, all Harry could do was beg into the fragment of Sirius’s mirror for help, bite his tongue as Malfoy came to retrieve Griphook with ashen cheeks and shaking hands, and hope, and hope, and hope for deliverance.

Shell Cottage creaked in the wind blowing off the waves, and Harry tasted salt. He couldn’t tell if it was sea-water, or tears, or the pervading grief heavy on the air.

There was room for them all. A dozen cosy bedrooms tucked into wizarding space, all floral bed covers, and knitted blankets, and the faintest trace of Fleur’s perfume in every room. But Harry was lying on the edge of the biggest double in the house, the small of his back exposed to the night where the duvet failed to cover him. Hermione lay next to him, Ron on her other side, the three of them tucked into one bed like puppies abandoned by their mother, blindly seeking heat and contact, safety from the storm. Harry thought he might lose himself, without the tactile warmth and base relief of skin and soft cotton, the smell of family in all but blood, the bonds of trust and love forged in fire again, again, again, until they were unbreakable.

Hermione had cried for hours before finally slipping under, her face pressed into Ron’s t-shirt. Harry’s own eyes hurt from tears for Dobby’s tiny, still body; for Luna and Dean’s bruise-dark eyes; for every moment of agony Hermione endured under Bellatrix’s wand; for the scab already forming, dark and jagged, on the curve of her throat.

She had noticed the bloody mark left by Greyback’s filthy claws on her neck when they had bathed, the three of them squeezed into a tiny bathroom together like children; none of them ready to be alone, none of them ready to let the others out of sight, not even now they were safe. Bill had looked on gravely when they emerged, clean and sombre, Hermione fussing with her collar as it rubbed against the small wound. His silence spoke volumes; there was no assurance to give. Only time would tell.

Harry and Ron bracketed her small frame, their arms wrapped around her, three heads bent together on one pillow. Ron was the tallest of them all, and if he could have bundled them both up under each arm Harry thinks he might have. His blue eyes had been tormented since they escaped the Manor, even though Hermione had managed to stop his mumbled ‘What if I hadn’t come back—’ before he could drag himself into imagining them caught without him.

But eventually even Ron’s grip on Harry’s forearm loosened with sleep. And despite the warmth of their bodies, the steady rhythm of their breathing beside him, Harry was alone in the dark. Awake and unable to stop reliving the horrors of the day. The shrill horror of Hermione’s screams, Ron’s pale face and shaking rage, the blood on Dean’s lip, the dirt on Luna’s silver hair, the sound Wormtail had made as his own silver hand had choked the life from him, and the feel of Dobby’s tiny body in his arms—heavy, limp, cold. He couldn’t forget the look on Malfoy’s face as they had all disappeared in a swirl of elf-magic and the sparkling glint of shattering glass, wandless and wide-eyed, with blood streaked across his face.

Harry lay waiting for the relief of sleep. Guilty. Aching. Hoping, in some small and secret place inside himself, for a whisper of silver to tell him what happened when they escaped. Instead, he fell into a fitful sleep. Between one blink and the next, he drifted into dream.

He was at Hogwarts. Walking well-loved halls and laughing in golden light, he passed someone with white-blonde hair and broad shoulders and felt the tug of recognition in the centre of his chest. But there was no rush. No rush at all, he walked and he laughed, and the scent of roast potatoes and treacle tart led him on.

No. He was flying. A clear sky with soft summer sun, no glare in his eyes, and a breeze that pushed his hair from his face. He was flying and laughing, and the blonde boy was next to him, a sleek line in the sky. Eyes like a thunderstorm on a summer’s day. They raced, faster and wilder, spinning and diving. They raced for the Snitch and never caught it, laughing and flying and racing towards the sun.

No. He was in bed. A solid four-poster, familiar and comfortable, red and gold curtains around him—green and silver—red and gold. White sheets around him, soft dawn light, and pale, pale skin. Gentle touches and quiet murmurs, indistinct but fond. He knew he didn’t have anywhere to go. He could lie here all day, bask in light, lie in warmth, listen to the soft voice. Safe.

Harry woke and for one moment believed it. Believed he would open his eyes to sunlight and Hogwarts. Just a moment, one beat of his heart, and then he was truly awake. The draught at his back was cold, he could hear Hermione crying in the bathroom, could see Ron’s red hair through the crack in the door. His eyes stung with the lack of it all, with the dream-taste of safety, of freedom, evaporating in the daylight. With the painful truth of consciousness. Nightmares would have been better.

The whisper came that morning, after Harry had finished burying Dobby. It snaked through the sand-grass to where he sat alone on the dunes, so much like the sea-mist that had seeped into Harry’s clothes that he didn’t see it at first. Quiet but firm, no hint of Malfoy’s state of mind, and no clue to his well being.

“We need to speak. In person. There’s a Muggle garden near the Leaky. Tonight. After dark.”

Harry sat up, the sudden rush of adrenaline provoked by Malfoy’s declaration tingling in his fingers, ringing in his ears. He had no way of responding. No way to question Malfoy, to argue against the risk, to interrogate him, to find out why now?

This would change everything. This was asking Harry to step beyond the passivity of simply listening. This was asking equal exposure. This was dangerous.

Harry stood, lurking in the shadows of St Dunstan-in-the-East—empty arched windows filled with ivy, bullet- and bomb-pitted walls, the shell of a sanctuary destroyed by war, always war—waiting for Malfoy. The last he had seen of him was in the echoing expanse of the drawing room of the Manor. Harry’s skin still crawled at the memory of Bellatrix’s scream of inarticulate rage, of Malfoy’s eyes shock-wide, and the lines of scarlet blooming on his pale, staring face as the vast crystal chandelier exploded on impact with the ground in front of him.

Dobby was dead. Hermione had woken screaming. And Ron couldn’t rest unless they were all in a room together, where he could hear their breaths, reach out to touch when he woke, terrified he had left them behind again. But they were alive. They were alive and Malfoy had risked so much. It would have been so easy for him to simply say ‘yes’—to have exposed them at the Manor—so easy for him to have told the truth, for once. Harry never thought he would have been grateful for a lie to slip from Malfoy’s lips, like a drop of Felix Felicis. A lie like a lifeline.

Harry had left Shell Cottage with sand still gritty under his fingernails, Hermione still inspecting the scratch left on her throat by Fenrir Greyback, and Ron still quiet and watchful. He had left the thin veneer of safety afforded there, told them he needed space, and hurled himself into a frenzy of back-to-back Apparition to end up here amongst the dark green foliage of the public garden, hiding against the old stone of the bombed-out church. Close enough to the Leaky that Malfoy could slip out and find him, Muggle enough to be as near as invisible to any other passing witch or wizard.

Harry would thank him. This time. He would thank him. If he came.

He stifled the terrified voice in his head wondering if this was what lost him his inside man. What if Voldemort had already seen and understood? What if he had wriggled into Harry’s mind already, a blade digging into soft and secret places. What if he had already cut Malfoy down like fallen wheat, so much chaff on the wind of his lunatic violence.

A whisper of movement caught his eye, and then there Malfoy was. In the flesh, but looking so much like a ghost Harry almost reached out to touch him, just to make sure he was real. There were new scars on his face, from the falling chandelier. No-one in that house had healed the cuts. Not even his mother. The knowledge was bitter in Harry’s mouth, bloody and sharp like glass against his tongue.

“Malfoy. You made it.”

“Yes, well—” Malfoy’s mouth twisted, dark, wry, “—I rather think the point is that you made it, no?”

Harry swallowed hard around the lump of grief in his throat at the memory of digging that tiny grave in the dunes, at the litany of names listed in that morning’s Potterwatch, at the hollow look in Malfoy’s eyes. At any other time he would have been railing against the surreality of having a civil conversation with Malfoy, but now he only felt an ache in his chest. They should be allowed to fight, to snarl and snap and throw meaningless hexes at each other in well-loved Hogwarts halls. Not to be brought to this; midnight meetings and the cool-headed pragmatism of soldiers.

“No, Malfoy, the point is that everyone makes it.”

Malfoy shrugged, as though they were discussing the outcome of homework rather than war, then gestured to the wand clasped loosely in Harry’s hand. Malfoy’s wand. Finely carved hawthorn, pale and slender like its owner. Comfortable in his grip. Strangely compliant, and unexpectedly helpful.

“Is it working for you then?”

Malfoy’s voice was carefully level. Harry wasn’t sure he could be so calm if he was watching another wizard handle his wand like that—like they had a right to it. He felt a brief pang of guilt, that he had left Malfoy unarmed in the wake of their escape, in the rush of falling glass and the whirl of house else apparition. But only brief.

It wouldn’t have mattered whether Draco had a wand. Not if Voldemort had decided to punish him. And he must have punished him.

“I—um—yeah. It is actually.”

Malfoy hummed agreeably, like he wasn’t surprised. Like he expected it.

“How did you—” Harry paused, unsure whether he ought to ask.

Draco shrugged, with all the appearance of carelessness. “I’ve been using my Mother’s old wand. It’s serviceable.”


“And you haven’t told your friends messages.” It wasn’t a question.

“No. I haven't.” Harry paused, took a breath, steeled himself to be persuasive. “But they would understand. And if I tell the rest of the Order they could—”

“Stop it.” Malfoy interrupted, slicing his hand through the air as if to physically dam the words spilling from Harry’s lips. “Just—stop. A spy is only useful if nobody knows he is one, Potter.”

He was right, of course. And Harry was all too aware that he wasn’t going to tell Malfoy about Snape, about his reluctant alliance with the Order, about his betrayal on the tower. But he couldn’t help but try, because Draco wasn’t Snape, he wasn’t an adult who had chosen freely to chain himself to Voldemort. He was one of them, too young to decide, too young to swim against the current that had been rushing inexorably towards them since their first year at Hogwarts.

“They could help you,” Harry continued, mulish.

“I don’t need help, Potter. Not the kind anyone in the world could give. But you do. Hence my breaking rank and whispering in your ear, the snake that spills the secrets.” He gestured at himself, and at the garden around them, his wry smile implying an understanding of Muggle religion that Harry couldn’t quite believe. “I’ve even come to see you face to face, that’s how much help you need.”

“Alright, and what’s the help you’re giving me tonight?”

Malfoy cast his eyes over him, raking his gaze from Harry’s feet to his face, sizing him up. Harry fought the urge to stand straight, look taller, and felt himself scowling.

“I’m giving you Aunt Bella’s vault number. And warning you that there are definitely some nasty curses in there. Along with something she very much doesn’t want to lose, so you should probably take it.”

It was his old drawl, arrogant and haughty. The dissonance of it all was enough to make Harry’s head spin.

“And what do you want in return?” Harry asked.

“I want two things, Potter. One is easy, the other isn’t.”

Harry nodded, waited for him to continue, to ask the impossible.

“I want you to keep this a secret. I mean it. Tell no-one. Not now, and not...after. I won’t ask you to make an Unbreakable Vow, but I am asking you to promise, which works out the same. However this ends, I don’t want you to tell anyone what I’ve done for you.” He shrugged. “That’s the easy one. I know what you’re like with promises, like a duck to water and all that.”


“Don’t want the glory, Malfoy? They would respect you for this, they’d be grateful.”

Malfoy’s mouth twisted with disgust, with anger, and though his voice was low, it was as sharp as a knife in the cold night air.

“There is no glory in anything I’ve ever done. Don’t be a fool.”

Chastened, Harry tipped his head in acceptance. “And what’s your other request?”

“That one I’ll ask another time. But remember you owe me it.”

“Alright,” Harry sighed. “And now all I’ve got to do is rob a bank.”

“Scared, Potter?”

Malfoy’s voice didn’t shake. His posture didn’t falter. But Harry could see the tremor of lingering Crucio damage in the fine muscles of his hands, the hollows beneath carved cheekbones, shadows under moon-bright eyes.

This was no schoolboy competition, no midnight duel with best friends as back-up, no game. But still Malfoy arched his eyebrow, dredged up old phrases, talked like they were still rivals, not the strange compatriots they had found themselves to be.

The Order couldn’t know he was meeting Malfoy. Harry wouldn’t risk the information spilling out, bleeding into another catastrophe of secrets revealed, of loss. Couldn’t risk Malfoy’s life.

He was scared. But he couldn’t risk Malfoy’s courage either.

“Not on your life, Malfoy.”

He got back to Shell Cottage before dawn. Fleur silently nodded to him as he came through the back door, her exquisite face a study in exhaustion. Harry sat down opposite her at the kitchen table, saying nothing as he watched her pour a cup of herbal tea for him.

“I know eet’s you ‘Arry, I can tell by those eyes.” She sighed. “But you know I have to ask.”

He nodded, used to the security protocols the Order had been using since the disastrous night they rescued him from the Dursleys. The sting of mistrust had faded since the necessity of it all had become so painfully clear in the wake of Mad-Eye’s death. Sitting here, in the warm glow of a single candle between them, Harry thought he might even already know what she would ask him.

“What was it that I told to you on my wedding day?”

Harry’s whole body tensed. Even though he had suspected she would bring it up, somehow the reminder still made him feel like he was in one of the Ministry’s elevators, dropping like a stone, his heart in his mouth. He swallowed, and licked his lips before answering, his voice coming out rough.

“You said—you said that—” he broke off, suddenly, unaccountably feeling like he might cry. He swallowed again, took a shuddering breath, and continued. “You told me that the Weasleys loved me. That it wouldn’t take a wedding for them to think of me as their son.”

Fleur’s ocean-blue eyes were grave as she regarded him, and she reached across the table to touch his hand. The rush of adrenaline he’d been riding since he received Malfoy’s message, only heightened after arriving in the garden of St Dunstan-In-The-East, was running out, replaced by fear and now the wrench of his emotional life being so accurately dissected.

“Do you understand why, now?” Fleur’s voice was as gentle as her words were brutal.

Harry nodded, and to his horror felt the tremble of tears on his lashes. “I do. I understand—” he dashed away the wetness with his sleeve. “You meant. You meant Ginny.”

“I did. You know, I did not inherit much of my Grandmother’s Veela magic.” She grinned, quick and sharp at Harry’s quiet scoff. “No, I didn’t, truly. But enough to be a nuisance, I think? It made me learn as a young girl to watch people, to see what their eyes would tell that their mouths kept silent.”

For a moment, Harry imagined Fleur as a little girl, beautiful and already glowing with the allure that her Veela heritage bestowed on her. Already the object of grown wizards’ appreciation. And he understood her meaning.

“So,” she continued. “Now I still watch, I still see, even though I do not worry so much about myself these days. I saw you and Ginny together, beautiful and young, and both searching for something. I saw love. But not love like I have for William.” She arched her brow, conspiratorial. “You didn’t have that look in your eyes that Ron has when he watches ‘Ermione, yes?”

“I—no. I didn’t.”

Her delicate fingers curled around his hand, cradling his clenched fist. “I do not say this to make you sad ‘Arry. Only to loosen the yoke you have made for yourself. We ‘ave only this one life, even you, and we must be honest with ourselves. Even more so in times like these, no? But do not be sad, ‘Arry, because there is still love. She is like your sister, and that is a beautiful thing.”

The tears that had been threatening spilled then, burning a trail down his cheeks, hot in his throat. Harry dropped his head, hiding behind the messy curls of his over-long fringe. Fleur’s footsteps as she rounded the table were light, quiet, and the embrace she leant down to give him was gentle and lavender-scented. He drew in a tremulous breath, swallowing down the urge to sob, and tried to focus on the hard wood of the table beneath his elbows, the heat of the tea in his mug, the cool brush of Fleur’s hand against his shoulder.

“We all ‘ave our reasons for fighting ‘Arry. Most of us do it for our family. Even vengeance is born when love is lost, yes?” She sighed, and Harry leaned into her. “I don’t know where you were, ‘Arry, not with Ron and ‘Ermione, but not alone tonight. But I know why you do it.” She drew back, crouched beside his chair, and cupped his tear-streaked cheek with one cool hand, stroking away moisture with her thumb. “I wanted to remind you that you are my brother too, now, but I ‘ave believed in you since long before I even met William. You are zee boy that saved my Gabrielle, that is the man you are, and that is why I will fight beside you.”

Harry had no words in the face of that pronouncement, blindsided by her words. She didn’t wait for him to speak, simply dropped a kiss on his forehead as she stood up and collected their cups to put into the sink.

“Goodnight, ‘Arry, try not to stay up too late. I feel tomorrow will be eventful.”

And then she was gone. Leaving Harry to gather himself and climb the stairs to the bedroom at the end of the first landing he shared with Ron and Hermione. He opened the door slowly, intensely grateful for the well-oiled hinges, and groped around in the dark for his pyjamas. He hadn’t quite reckoned on following his clandestine meeting with Malfoy with a heart-to-heart with Fleur, and the two mingled uncomfortably in his mind as he changed.

He slipped into bed with Ron and Hermione as quiet as a ghost, relieved when their sleeping breaths didn’t alter as he shifted onto his side and faced out into the shafts of moonlight breaking through the curtains. Ron’s back was a solid line of warmth and stability behind him, grounding and welcome after the cold of the London night, and the sting of tears and truth in the kitchen.

He wondered how long it had taken them to fall asleep, just the two of them, not knowing where he had gone. He had told them to expect him back that night, but kept hold of the reason why he had to go out alone. They had argued at first, but he’d lied. Told them he needed to take a walk by himself, to think, to stretch his legs. It was Ron that had relented first. Muttering about space, and processing. Harry had caught Hermione’s hand, and promised he’d send a Patronus if anything happened, and even though she was still frowning, she agreed to stay back.

He felt sick, sometimes, when he thought about the gravity of the secret he was keeping from them both, when it was a risk, when it was a boon they might be able to use better than he could. But at other times he felt a strange, protective urge towards it, cradling it in his thoughts. This secret was his. Malfoy had chosen Harry as the one to trust, the one to tell, the one to turn for; not because of friendship, or loyalty, or obligation. He had some other reason to betray Voldemort, some other reason to spy for Harry. This secret was as much a treasure as it was a blade, and Harry had to work out how to be comfortable with the blood it drew even as he held it close to his heart.

Harry closed his eyes, willing himself to sleep, but his mind simply fed him an endless reel of images from the previous hours. Malfoy; pale, and proud, and trembling. Fleur; kind, and brutal, and insightful. Fleur willing to fight by his side, believing in him. Malfoy risking everything to feed him information. What had he done to make Draco Malfoy take that chance? What had he done to make Malfoy believe in him?

Sleep was a long time coming, and when it did, he dreamed.

Just like before, Malfoy was in the room with him. He looked odd, against the white-washed walls and simple furniture, out of place with his sharply tailored robes and angled jaw. He stood by the window, with the blue-white glow of the moon catching in his hair, and setting grey eyes alight like a pre-dawn glow.

Harry lay on the bed, empty of other bodies in this dreamscape, and faced Dream-Malfoy. The room was heavy and quiet as they silently watched one another.


Malfoy had his wand in his hand, the silver trail of Patronus coiling out of it like smoke, settling on the floor like the shimmering fall of Harry’s Invisibility Cloak. Harry knew it was a dream, so he didn’t allow himself to think before giving in to the instinct to shift back on the bed. To make room for another.

Dream-Malfoy’s eyes were unreadable across the room as Harry waited to see if his unspoken invitation would be taken, if he would move to take the space left by the curve of Harry’s body. Then Malfoy crossed the room, three long strides, and he was next to the bed. His knees pressed against the hand-embroidered quilt before he turned and sat sideways, facing Harry, his thigh pressed against Harry’s knees. Harry knew it was a dream, because just like last time there was something unfamiliar in Malfoy’s face.

Harry had never seen this expression on him, not in real life. He quietly watched as Dream-Malfoy carefully placed his wand on the bedside table, next to Harry’s glasses. It continued to spill shimmering magic, warm and gentle, even after Malfoy released it. Harry looked away from the wand to find Dream-Malfoy watching him; sharp eyes intent, a slight furrow between his brows, a peculiar softness in his mouth.

Dream-Harry broke the silence. “What is it?”

“I’m looking for what I found before.” Dream-Malfoy even sounded different here, the timbre of his voice untouched by hostility or fear.

Maybe this is what Malfoy sounded like to his friends, before the war and impossible choices. Dream-Harry rolled his head on the pillow, held eye contact with Dream-Malfoy. This Malfoy with his searching eyes, his protective magic, his sense of coiled restraint; this Malfoy who felt safe despite all evidence to the contrary.

“Do you see it?” Harry dared to ask, strangely hopeful, strangely scared to be found lacking.

Dream-Malfoy reached out and touched Harry’s jaw. His fingertips were gentle, tracing from his cheekbone to his chin, but the shock of the contact still hit harder than a punch, settling somewhere in Harry’s chest, sinking deeper, to his belly.

Malfoy’s voice was low, almost a whisper, but it was all Harry could hear.

“I see it.” Dream-Malfoy’s fingers hesitated, then traced the corner of Harry’s mouth, the curve of his bottom lip.

Dream-Harry didn’t hesitate, he just parted his lips and breathed out as the pressure of Malfoy’s thumb increased. Dream-Harry raised one hand to grasp at Malfoy’s arm, feeling the fine bones of his wrist, the firm muscle of his forearm, holding him close as he gentled his touch at Harry’s mouth with a sigh.

“What do you see?”

Grey eyes roved over Dream-Harry’s face, lingering, intent as any student, sharp as a bird of prey. Desperate.

“I can’t describe it.” Dream-Malfoy’s eyes were dark. “But I believe it.”

Harry woke with a start to the sound of the bedroom door snicking shut. He could see a sliver of blue sky through the gap in the curtains, and there was only his weight in the bed. Ron and Hermione must have just gone down for breakfast, he could hear the sound of plates and cutlery from the kitchen below.

He closed his eyes, his dream as tangible and present in his memory as the feel of the cotton pillowcase beneath his cheek. Every detail was clear in his mind, like it had really happened. But it was just a dream.

He could still feel the lingering touch of fingers against his face. In his dream, Malfoy had touched his face, just like Fleur had the night before. Maybe his brain was just blurring the two together.

But Harry couldn’t follow that train of thought, he couldn’t try to pretend to himself that the two were anything alike. Dream-Malfoy’s touch hadn’t been anything like Fleur’s. There had been no brotherly love in the dream, no familial comfort. There was an intimacy to it, unlike anything he had experienced before. It had been exploratory, and undeniably erotic; the tangled heat low in his belly and the weight of his half-hard cock against his thigh were proof enough of that.

Hermione’s face was her own again, Bellatrix cleansed from her features like grime. Her curls were dripping wet and her Transfigured clothes sodden as they scrambled up and out of the frigid lake water. Ron’s hair was red again and the ridiculous beard was gone. Being able to see their faces, knowing they were themselves, settled something in Harry that had been sick and raging since the first sip of Polyjuice Hermione had gagged through that morning. When she had first walked towards him across the sand wearing Bellatrix’s body that morning, for one brief moment Harry had wanted to hit her—and worse—before she had spoken and Hermione’s familiar voice broke the mirage.

Harry shook himself from the recollection, watching the pale and battered dragon fly out of sight, still roaring its freedom to the skies. A dragon. They had stolen a dragon. They’d done it. Helga Hufflepuff’s Cup was safely stashed in Hermione’s magical bag, another Horcrux wrested away from the safety of Voldemort’s hiding places. Hermione had already pulled a bottle of Dittany from her bag and was busy daubing it onto the burns on Ron’s exposed skin, then her own. Harry held out his hands for her to pour some of the tincture for him.

“That bloody blighter!” Ron cursed. “Took the sword, left us to get caught in that curse.”

Hermione frowned. Ron was right, Griphook had betrayed them, too eager to recover his payment to see the deal through to the end. Harry had known the Goblin harboured no warmth for them, regardless of the fact they had rescued him from Malfoy Manor. And they had, of course, planned to double-cross him anyway. Harry might have felt like he had the moral high ground in doing so, but he wasn’t stupid enough to think Griphook should think so too.

“It’s done.” Harry sighed, rubbing the last of his dose of Dittany into the stinging burns along his neck. “We’ll figure it out. There’s more than one way to destroy a Horcrux. We know that. And there’s two more to track down now anyway.”

Ron looked mutinous, and Hermione was frowning even harder.

“I just—I just mean it’s alright. We’ll work it out, and make a plan, and keep going. We just need to rest, now, I think.”

That seemed to mollify them both, and with all three of them healed from the curse-burns together they set up for the night. Hermione raised the wards, Ron put up the tent, and Harry started the fire and made the others yelp with several well-aimed drying spells.

“Your turn to cook tonight Harry,” Ron grinned, and for a moment the dark circles under his eyes seemed to lighten. “I’ve got the rota memorised, mate.”

By unspoken agreement they all dragged their fold-up beds to the centre of the tent, pressed together so that once they lay down to sleep, they could still reach out and touch. Harry was in the middle this time, Ron’s low snores on his left, Hermione’s soft breath on his right. He lay, staring at the peak of the canvas above him, waiting for sleep. Between one leaden blink and the next, he drifted away from consciousness. But he didn't dream, he only slipped from the pain of waking memories to visions of red-tinged madness.

The flagstones were slick, elaborately woven rugs sodden and shiny, and blood pooled sticky and wet across the room. Fenrir stood in the corner, head bowed to the side, neck exposed in submission to the greater beast before him. Fierce rage and pleasure coursed through his body. They had failed him, but look at them now.

Goblins, and the guards from Gringotts—half-blood and witless, filthy and contorted—lay in pieces on the floor around him. Sectumsempra was one of his favourites of all Severus’ contributions to the cause; that clever mind was so inclined to cruelty.

He looked down as he walked across the room—his wand held firm as Bellatrix still howled under his sustained Cruciatus Curse—he had stepped on the bony fingers of a severed arm. The pale skin of his toes against the ruddy gore was stark, and as lovely as the way her voice cracked and broke under the unrelenting agony of his magic, gurgling with madness and fervour even as blood painted her lips.

Lucius cowered by the mantle looking away from the spectacle, his body still wracked with tremors in the aftermath of his own turn under his Lord’s wand. He was a pathetic, useless man. All his life loyal only to his own best interests, now finally required to fulfill the promises that he had made with no expectation of personal cost. And look at him now; wandless and spineless. His only worth was the house he surrendered to the cause, and the pure blood that blessed his veins. And his son…

And then a flicker, a memory rising from murky depths dragged up by the hook of fear; Hogwarts, blue and bronze, an eagle sweeping through the sky above the Black Lake, its cry a fierce scream, the glint of diamonds, sapphires, blood.


Harry woke with a cry, gasping and wet with sweat, Voldemort’s furious shout ringing in his ears. He groped in the darkness for something to steady himself against the rising nausea and horror of his glimpse into the wake of their robbery, his head pounding in agony.

Hermione mumbled sleepily beside him as she came to, then reached out to hold his hand, and leaned across him to shake Ron awake. Harry lay back, his hand clammy in hers, panting as his heartbeat slowed incrementally. Not a dream. Another moment of terrifying connection with Voldemort, another sight of the madness, another clue.

His stomach turned. Griphook. Those Goblins, those guards. Dead because of Harry’s hunt for the Horcruxes. Even Bellatrix, Voldemort’s most loyal dog, Crucioed to within an inch of her life. What would he do to someone who really had betrayed him? What had he been thinking about Lucius’ son?

Harry cut off that thought with brutal efficiency. He hadn’t seen Malfoy. He hadn’t seen him.

He had to hope.

“He knows, he knows we found the cup. He killed Griphook. He’s angry, he’s so angry. I—he’s going to check on them all. There’s one at Hogwarts. He thinks that one’s safe.”

“Bloody hell, Harry, are you sure?” Ron’s cheek had a pillow-crease on it, but his eyes were alert. “It’s not...he’s not trying to trick you again is he?”

“No. No this is—this is real. He’s not just angry, he’s scared. He didn’t think anyone knew about the Horcruxes, never mind us.”

Hermione sat up, rubbed at her face, and swung her legs over the side of her bed.

“We’d better pack up and figure out how we’ll get into Hogwarts then, it won’t take him long to realise the other Horcruxes are gone.” She paused as she pulled her jumper on. “And I was thinking, the only other method we know to destroy a Horcrux, in the absence of Gryffindor’s sword, is Basilisk venom. So we need to go to Hogwarts anyway, unless you know of somewhere else with a bloody great snake in its basement?”

“How are we going to get in?” Ron asked, already half dressed behind Harry.

“Hogsmeade, I reckon,” Harry answered. “We’ll Apparate in, I want us all under the cloak. We’re sticking together.”

Luna had led him to Ravenclaw tower, shown him what he should be looking for. A diadem, archaic but beautiful, nestled into the dark, carved tresses of Rowena Ravenclaw’s statue like something a princess would wear. Voldemort already knew he was there, Alecto Carrow had gleefully summoned him at the first sight of Harry’s face. For all her fanciful ideas and dreamy eyes, Luna had been quick as a whip to Stun her. Almost as quick as Harry had been to lash out with Crucio, successful with the curse for the first time as he rode the tidal rush of rage that surged within him when Amycus had dared to spit in McGonagall’s face. It was the second Unforgivable he’d used in as many days. Harry wondered, for a moment, if it would be his last.

Harry had left Luna and McGonagall behind him, had abandoned a confused and tearful Helena Ravenclaw to her haunt, and was racing to the Room of Requirement when the familiar streak of silver magic shot to his side, and nestled on his shoulder. Malfoy’s voice was strained and rushed.

“He is coming. But don’t forget the Vanishing Cabinet. We are already inside the walls.”

Panting, Harry closed his eyes and searched for a memory sweet and deep enough to muster a Patronus. Unbidden, an echo of his dreams from Shell Cottage came to him; pale skin and moonlight, flying and laughter. They weren’t even memories of something real, just imagined moments of solace and something unfurling in his chest, a kind of contentment he wasn’t familiar with, a feeling that had no place in a war. He paused for a moment, shocked, as the familiar Stag erupted from his wand and nudged at the fading wisp of silver at his ear.

“Go and tell McGonagall. Voldemort is nearly here. And there are Death Eaters inside the castle—inside the castle—we have to defend from the inside too.”

And then he was running again, racing against the inevitability of Voldemort breaking through Hogwarts’ defences, obliterating the last bastion of safety the wizarding world had left. Racing to find the diadem—then there would only be one more, only one more Horcrux—and then Voldemort would stand alone. Racing to meet his own destiny, the end of his own story.

He found Ron and Hermione waiting for him in the corridor, both grinning and smeared with dirt. His eyes dropped to Hermione’s arms, holding...holding a pile of white bones.

“Basilisk teeth, Harry, the venom—Ron was just—he was just brilliant!”

“How did you get in?” Harry asked.

“You, er, you talk a bit in your sleep, mate.” Ron shrugged awkwardly. “And you did it with the locket, didn’t you. I practiced a bit, and did it for the tap. It only bloody worked. I figured Hermione should do the cup, she hadn’t done one yet.”

Hermione’s face was open and shining. “You were brilliant, Ron!” And then she threw her arms around him.

He could see the blush on Ron’s cheeks, and the way both of them struggled to kiss because they were smiling so widely. He couldn’t help but be grateful that they got this moment, that he got to be here for this moment. Fleur had said love was what made them fight. Maybe this would give them both the strength to get through what was coming. Even if a part of Harry wanted to stamp his feet, and scream, and cry, and ask why he didn’t get that—not even a moment of it—when he had been fighting all his life.

But they were also his best friends. It was Ron and Hermione, finally admitting to that dance they had been engaged in since their first year, and Harry couldn’t help but tease them for it.

“Is this really the time?” Harry asked the empty corridor.

They broke apart, both flushed and bashful, and nodded to Harry. He followed their unspoken instruction and strode in front of the blank wall three times—wishing for the room of lost things, wishing for the diadem, wishing for one last favour from this castle that had become his home—and the Room of Requirement’s familiar archway appeared before him. He slipped into the room of lost things, piled high with teetering stacks of chairs, dangling cages, and planets drifting loose from an abandoned orrery. He passed a trunk full of what looked to be exclusively single socks, cases full of old school books and personal journals, and boxes of mismatched jewellery.

He moved deeper into the room, and there—a glint of sparkling diamond, of sapphire—the diadem lay on its side as though it had just been taken off its owner's head and carelessly cast aside. It was on a small table, draped in blue, half-hidden by the collar of a deep bronze satin cloak that was thrown over the top. Harry was about to reach out and grab it when a sudden shout made him pause and look up.

It was Malfoy. Flanked on each side by Crabbe and Goyle. All three of their wands were pointed right at Harry, but he ignored the others—he couldn’t look away from Malfoy’s face. His jaw was clenched, his brow furrowed, and his eyes were desperate.

“Why aren’t you three with Voldemort?” Harry dared to ask, watching Malfoy’s expression for any clue. Whispers and secrets were one thing, but Voldemort was at the gate and the battle was on. Was that last whisper all Malfoy would risk?

“We hung back, Potter,” Crabbe snarled, his face twisted with hate. “Decided to get you for ourselves, we’re going to be rewarded when we bring you to The Dark Lord.”

Harry could have screamed, he was so close, and now this.

“Great plan,” he snapped back, frustration boiling over.

Crabbe raised his wand to cast at Harry, but Malfoy’s hand shot out to stop him. “Don’t. You saw him trying to get that tiara, it must mean—”

“Fuck off Malfoy, it doesn’t matter what you think ‘it must mean’. And take your hand off me, I don’t take no orders from you anymore, you and your stuck-up dad are over. I tell you what to do now. Get ‘im!” Crabbe growled, before he glanced sideways at Malfoy’s face and sneered.

Malfoy was silent, staring. Goyle elbowed him, but he stayed still, apparently frozen in indecision. Harry took advantage of the stand off, and closed his fingers around the diadem, the metal and precious stones were cold against his fingers, and despite its delicate beauty it throbbed with the malignant intent Voldemort’s dark magic had imbued it with. Crabbe saw the movement and pushed in front of his friends, shoving them roughly out of the way and brandishing his wand at Harry with a muttered incantation.

Gouts of red flame shot from his wand, sparking and flaring wildly, twisting as they fell to the ground and spread like spilled water. From behind him, Harry heard Ron shout his name, and he looked over his shoulder to see him and Hermione gesturing for him to run. He glanced back at Malfoy, only to find him already running from Crabbe’s out of control spell. The flames were racing up the stacks of old books, licking along the heavy curtains looped over rafters, and the heat stung Harry’s face.

Harry turned and ran, the diadem clutched in his hand as he followed Ron and Hermione through the pall of grey smoke filling the room towards what he hoped was the exit. A bolt of green light shot past him, and he fought not to look back as he heard a scuffle, Malfoy cursing and shouting ‘No!’.

Whatever spell Crabbe had attempted to cast was clearly beyond his meagre skills. The flames were eating up everything they touched, contorting into shapes; dragons, snakes, lions, all with hungry, gaping maws. They swept around Harry, flanking him and his friends as they ran for the door, still distant in the vastness of the magical space. But then Ron was throwing a broom to him. It was dusty and old, but still functional; Harry leapt onto it and was airborne, darting and dodging away from the tongues and tentacles of fire that reached for him.

From height, he looked down and saw Malfoy, Crabbe and Goyle marooned in the centre of the maelstrom, climbing the tower of chairs he had passed earlier. Crabbe was still waving his wand, scowling, as he tried to end whatever curse he had cast and succeeded only in spreading fresh sparks and flames. His angry jabbing disturbed his balance, and after one horrible moment of windmilling arms and a look of terror on his face he fell, disappearing with a shriek into the swirling mass of red and orange. Malfoy had his arms around Goyle, who looked to be unconscious, and screamed as he watched his friend fall to his death.

“Ron!” Harry screamed, pulling back on his broom, already turning to go back. “RON!”

He dived down, grasped at Malfoy’s outreached hand with sweaty fingers, and tried to lift him, swearing furiously as their hands slipped apart. Beside him, Ron and Hermione reached out to grab at Goyle’s unresponsive body.

“If we die here, Harry, I am going to KILL YOU!” Ron roared over the sound of the flames devouring the room around them.

Hermione must have used a charm because in moments they were lifting up and away, with Goyle’s unmoving body slung below them. Harry wiped his hand on his jeans and reached out once more towards Malfoy.

“Hold on!” He demanded. “Come on, come on!”

Finally, Malfoy wrapped his fingers around Harry’s forearm, his grip strong. Harry lifted him free and steered away from the collapsing tower, using the momentum of his broom to swing Malfoy up behind him. Through the smoke he could just make out a pale rectangle that he prayed was the door, and flew using every trick and instinct he had to evade the ravenous fiery jaws chasing them tirelessly. Malfoy’s weight on the broom was just another calculation for Harry’s body to adjust to, but his tight grip was grounding.

For months now, nearly a year, Malfoy had come to him in whispers, soft magic in the darkness; Harry’s mind had conjured dreams full of him. But he had been intangible, a shadow Harry couldn’t reach out to touch. Even when they met just days ago in London he had seemed like a ghost, somehow unsubstantial even with all his bravado, even with the proof of his frail body traced out in scars and cuts across his face and neck, in the tremble of tortured hands. But here in the room of lost things, Malfoy was a solid weight. His fingers were bruising as he grabbed at Harry’s sides, his pointy chin dug into Harry’s shoulder as he screamed in his ear, his thighs were firm brackets outside Harry’s, helping him manoeuvre as they flew wildly—desperately—for their lives.

They shot out into the cool corridor, crashing into the wall opposite and rolling across the floor. He and Malfoy both fell to their knees, robes faintly smoking, coughing and gasping in the fresh air. Malfoy immediately rolled away, up onto his feet as he hacked and panted. Ron grabbed Harry’s hand, hauled him to his feet, and ruffled his singed hair.

“The diadem, Harry, look at it.” Hermione’s voice was shrill, disgusted.

Harry was still holding onto it, the diamonds cutting into his palm, but they were no longer sparkling and bright. Blood so dark it looked black, oleaginous and slick, dripped from the delicate filigree of metal and stone. A charnel-house stink rose from it, and he dropped it to the floor, gagging at the scent. It cracked and broke into pieces on contact with the ground, and Hermione gasped beside him, reaching out to nudge the still-oozing pieces with the toe of her boot.

“I’d read about this, I didn’t want us to risk trying it because it's a notoriously difficult to control curse. It was too dangerous. Crabbe must have used Fiendfyre in there, it destroyed the Horcrux.”

“So. Only one more then…” Ron trailed off as the sound of shouts and the blast of curses neared them.

It was Fred and Percy, duelling two masked Death Eaters, fighting fiercely side by side. Harry could hardly believe it when Percy deftly counter-cursed with a spell that seemed to turn one of them into something resembling a slug. More Death Eaters rounded the corner and Ron and Hermione were in the fray, Harry shot a Stunner at one—satisfaction roaring inside him as the man slumped to the floor—and then there was a shuddering boom from the outside wall. Dust rained down from the ceiling, and Harry looked around in confusion before Malfoy roughly shoved him to the floor and strode towards the window.

“Get back!” Malfoy shouted, his voice hoarse from smoke-inhalation.

And then the air exploded. Harry was thrown where he lay back into the wall, holding onto his wand desperately, trying to shield his face from flying rubble. The silence of the aftermath rang in his ears, his cheek was hot with blood, and as he struggled out from the dust and the stone around him, Harry blinked into the light flooding the corridor. The outside wall had been torn open, cold air swirled around him, and he couldn’t see the others.

Fear, worse than he’d ever felt before, paralysed him where he lay. Ron—Hermione—Malfoy—what if they were all—what if? A hysterical sob threatened to escape, swelling like a balloon in his chest. But then there was movement, a shift in the pile of rubble, and Hermione struggled to her feet. Then Ron. Then white blond hair emerged, along with Percy’s pinched face, and between them they dragged Fred to his feet. He was bleeding from a deep gouge on his temple, but his eyes were bright.

“Harry!” Hermione rushed to him, dropping to her knees and casting at the cut on his cheek. “Are you okay? Is there anything else—are you hurt?”

“No, no, I’m okay. I’m okay. Malfoy—” he stopped, looked up at where Malfoy had stepped away, leaving Fred with his brothers.

Hermione’s voice was a low whisper as she turned his head to right and left, inspecting his face for injuries. “I think he—Harry he cast a Shield charm. I don’t think we’d all be—I think he helped.”

“I know,” he murmured back. “I know, Hermione. Let me up, I need to—”

He stood, tested his tender right leg, and bypassed the trio of emotional Weasley brothers all gripping each other’s shoulders and muttering between themselves. Malfoy stood apart, waiting.

“Malfoy, you just saved them. You saved me. What—”

“Stop, Potter,” Malfoy interrupted, and even smoke-choked his voice was sharp and incisive. “I haven’t come this far to let a bloody Bombarda be the end of things.”

“But Ron, Fred—”

Malfoy darted a look over his shoulder, the distant shouts of fighting coming closer. “I said stop, Potter. Merlin, you’ve no sense of timing have you? I have to go. But before I do, I want to remind you of your promises.”


“Yes, you fucking arsehole. Promises. Plural.” Even ash-streaked and tear-stained Malfoy somehow dredged up a scowl. “I think I’ve held up my end of the bargain we made, haven't I?”

Harry nodded, mute. He remembered his promise of secrecy, and dreaded what Malfoy might ask of him now.

“I still expect you to keep your mouth shut about all of this,” Malfoy muttered. And then he grabbed Harry’s collar, dragged him close. They were nose to nose and Harry could smell the smoke of Malfoy’s singed clothes, taste the mortar dust shaking loose from his hair, feel his breath as he sighed before speaking. “This is my second request. You must survive, Potter. You must live. Do you hear me?”

“I—I don’t—I can’t—” Harry stuttered, reeling from Malfoy’s demand.

“No.” Malfoy shook him, his knuckles white where they gripped at Harry’s bloody shirt. “No. You promised me in that sad shell of a church. You promised you would give me what I asked if I helped you. And this is what I’m asking. Promise me. Now.


For a moment Harry wanted to argue, wanted to explain the impossibility of Malfoy’s demand. Wanted to scream at him how fucking childish it was of him, as if what Malfoy wanted would do a damn thing in the face of Voldemort’s singular desire to wipe Harry from the face of the Earth. He wanted to shake him back, shout in his face and ask why. Why was this what he asked for? Why would he risk everything and then only ask for secrecy and this? But between one heartbeat and the next, the will to fight drained out of him. Harry knew what lay before him, but he didn’t have the time to argue, and he didn’t need to throw the burden of understanding across Malfoy’s shoulders. He still wasn’t even sure if the knowledge would be safe with him.

“Okay. Okay, I promise.”

The sound of duelling was coming closer, and Harry could feel Hermione and Ron waiting behind him.

“Malfoy, you can get out. There’s a door in—”

“Don’t tell me. I’m not using it.” Malfoy cut him off, again. “I’m not leaving. My mother is—I’m not leaving my mother behind, Potter. I’m sure you understand.”

With one last shove, Malfoy drew back, nodded over Harry’s shoulder at the others, and disappeared around the corner.

Harry stared after him for a moment, before turning back to meet his friends’ questioning eyes. He shook his head and strode in the direction of the Great Hall, Ron and Hermione on his heels, as they fought their way past giant spiders and Death Eaters. One Horcrux left, the snake, and then it would be the end.

They were all in the Great Hall when they heard the voice. Most were confused at first, unfamiliar with Voldemort’s sibilant speech, his arrogant, frigid tone.

But Harry knew immediately. He had known the sound of Voldemort’s voice since he was an infant, and only grown more intimately familiar with it since he was eleven. The dawning horror on the faces around him reminded Harry of the paintings he had once seen on a school trip. Renaissance depictions of the end of days, faces and bodies twisted into grimaces and expressions of torment. Hogwarts, invaded and embattled by Death Eaters and dark creatures was as close to any notion of hell on Earth that Harry could imagine, and now he saw that sentiment reflected back to him in hundreds of faces.

“I know that you are preparing to fight. You think there is the chance of victory. I must assure you, this is a delusion. Your attempts are futile, you cannot fight me and my forces. I do not want to kill you. Every drop of magical blood spilled today is an abomination to me. I only want Harry Potter. Give me Harry Potter and I will call my forces back. Give me Harry Potter and I will reward you beyond your wildest imaginings. You have until midnight.”

Harry had watched the ripple of fear throughout the collected teachers and students. Had snuck out of the building down to the boat shed and watched Nagini strike Snape, one, twice, three times. Had pressed desperate fingers against the gushing wound in his jugular, collected pearly tears of memory, and gifted eye contact to a man he had despised for seven years. And he had sat, alone in Dumbledore’s office with the truth swirling vivid and unassailable in the Pensieve.

Now he walked into the cool embrace of the Dark Forest, the Resurrection Stone clasped in his left hand, the voices of his parents echoing in his ears, the soft loamy earth beneath his feet. It wouldn’t be so bad, to fall to that earth, it wouldn’t hurt. It would yield to his weight, cradle his limbs, welcome the heaviness of his body. It was quicker than falling asleep, Sirius had said.

Harry was tired.

Narcissa’s cold voice echoed in Harry’s head, a repeating refrain.

“He is dead, my Lord.”

Another lie that served to save. Another mother whose love might turn the tide.

Hagrid’s chest heaved as he carried Harry’s body from the Forest, great shuddering sobs breaking out of him. Hot tears dropped onto Harry’s face and it took everything in him not to reach out and console his first friend. But he couldn’t falter now. He had to wait for the perfect moment. Had to figure out what he would do with no wand. He had dropped Malfoy’s in the forest. When he died. When he died. Narcissa must have scooped it up when she knelt next to him.

He could tell they were nearing the courtyard, the sound of the boots marching behind them changing from soft thuds on grass to the sharp clack of leather on cobblestone. And then they were there. He heard McGonagall’s scream. Ron, Hermione, and Ginny shouting and crying. The Malfoys pleading with their son. He cracked one eye open to see. Neville, Body-bound and burning under Voldermort’s watchful eye, an object lesson designed to prove the folly of resistance.

He couldn’t wait, not a heartbeat longer, and tumbled from Hagrid’s arms. For a moment, shock froze every watcher, even Voldemort himself was seized with appalled surprise. But not Malfoy. He darted from his mother’s side and threw something at Harry, shouting his name.

His wand.

Harry ran to the arches beside the assembled forces, as Neville threw off Voldemort’s waning Body-Bind and in one fluid movement drew the silver and ruby-encrusted sword of Gryffindor from the smoking remains of the Sorting Hat and swung it. Nagini’s head flew through the air, while her massive scaled body writhed and twitched in its death throes. Voldemort's scream of rage erupted like a bomb, and around them the battle exploded into action.

Arrows shot from behind into the assembled Death Eater ranks, heralded by the thunder of the Centaurs' hooves. House Elves and the remains of Hogwarts' defenders boiled out into the courtyard, kitchen knives and wands wreaking equal havoc amongst silver-masked invaders. Some were already turning to run. As Harry shot curse and counter-curse over his shoulders he spotted Lucius Malfoy trying to drag his son toward the causeway, away from the battle. But Malfoy pulled back, and ran into the fray, throwing spells that made Death Eaters crumple to the floor and stay down.

Harry ran desperately in the direction Voldemort had strode, leaving bodies in his wake, searching out familiar faces as he went. Ron and Hermione fought back to back, McGonagall was directing an army of gargoyles, he spotted Molly Weasley duelling Bellatrix and prayed with all of his heart that each of them would still be standing by the end of this.

Then they were face to face, Voldemort’s red eyes wide with rage and fear, and before Harry could cast he was caught up in the swirl of Voldemort’s magic. They tumbled from the tower, the black smoke of almost-Apparition spinning them into a frenzied tussle. Wrestling and grappling, they flew down to earth.

Then they were back in the courtyard. Both of them scrabbling in the blood-churned dirt for their wands. Over his own harsh pants, Harry realised a hush had fallen around them. Death Eaters and students alike, all paused in their own private battles to watch as Voldemort finally faced The Boy Who Lived.

They circled each other, like wolves, waiting for the moment to strike. But Harry knew exactly where Voldemort’s soft spots were, knew exactly what his Achilles heel was. Somebody cried out, ‘Harry’s alive!’, but the crowd hushed immediately.

“Stay back!” Harry shouted. “Let me do this! It has to be me!”

Voldemort sneered. “No? Not going to use your little friends as shields, Potter?”

“I don’t need to, Tom. It’s just you and me now. No more Horcruxes. You can’t even kill anyone else here. I died for them, and that protects them.”

Love? You still believe in Dumbledore’s crackpot theories? Did love save him on the tower? Did love spare your filthy Mudblood mother? Does anyone here love you enough to risk their pathetic necks and take my curse for you?”

“Love, and magic. Didn’t you see your own curse slide off Neville? You can’t even hold a simple first-year hex over their heads now.” Harry continued, relentless, as Voldemort stared at him. “You’re so stupid you can’t even see it. You didn’t deliver Dumbledore’s death to him, he chose it months before, and Severus Snape was his man. You thought he was your servant, but he wasn’t, not all these years. Didn’t you ever see his Patronus?”

“It matters not!” Voldemort shrieked, his composure evaporating before Harry’s eyes. “Not Snape’s perverted lust for your mother, not Dumbledore’s lies—all to keep you from the truth of the Elder Wand. Because I am its Master now.”

Harry grit his teeth, he had goaded Voldemort for long enough.

“No. You’re not, Tom. You sent a boy to murder the most powerful Wizard in the land, and you didn’t stop to think what would happen when Draco Malfoy succeeded in disarming him. And you didn’t think about what might happen when I met Malfoy next.”

Apoplectic rage and a terrible fear stole over Voldemort’s skeletal features. This was the moment. Harry felt as present in his body as never before, and yet like he had a hovering overview of every step they took, still stalking each other, waiting for the first sign of a strike from the enemy.

They raised their wand arms in unison, two puppets pulled by the same string of fate, and the bursts of light from their wands—one green, one red—collided with all the force of a bomb going off. Where they met, a golden glow burst into life, almost blinding in its intensity. The Elder Wand flew from Voldemort’s clawed grip, ripped by its own loyalty to its true master, and spun through the air until Harry caught it, Seeker’s instinct as sharp as ever.

Voldemort fell to his knees, his mouth silent and open, his skin peeling and blistering away in the light of the dawning sun. His very atoms spun away from each other, all gravity of soul and life and magic unravelling without the tether of his Horcruxes to hold him together. At the end he was wandless, remorseless, and wretched in his last tormented moments. Harry watched, heart soaring with relief, heavy with grief.

The first glowing shards of sunlight hit his face, and Harry closed his eyes.

Ron and Hermione had been the first to reach him. Embraces so tight they hurt, tears and grins and the staggering relief of the three of them; still alive. Then the others came. His friends, his family, then hundreds more, eager even to touch his hand, his jacket. Shouts rose, hands grasped, and around him the cries of jubilation and of harrowing loss mingled into a wall of noise he could not understand.

It might have been hours later. Or minutes. Or days. Harry had shaken hands, had accepted thanks and given sympathies in equal measures. He had visited the wounded, held firm onto Ron and Hermione’s hands as he stood by Remus and Tonk’s still bodies. He had washed his face in cold water, his hands with it hot enough to hurt. And still people milled around him.

It was Luna who came to his side, slipped his Invisibility cloak into his fingers, and distracted them all, allowing him to escape.

He took his time with Ron and Hermione, their climb to Dumbledore’s old office. And then he left them in a quiet corridor, slipped away as they bent their heads close together, and found himself back outside. Beyond the chaos and destruction of the courtyard, to the grass. Still green under Harry’s feet. Birds, still singing in the early-morning light. The air, still fresh and crisp in his lungs as he breathed deep.

Harry heard footfalls approaching. He waited, he breathed. When the footsteps ceased, he turned to look, and there was Malfoy, his aristocratic profile limned in golden sunlight. He had a bloody gash across one eye, a cut on his lip, ash and dust and scorch-marks on his clothes. He was silent, staring out across the landscape, his mouth a firm line, his eyes fixed on the distance.

Harry ached for just one more whisper. All he could hear was the wind.

The trials began a month after the Battle of Hogwarts. That’s what they were calling it, capital letters and everything. Just a month for an official national mourning period. A month of The Prophet publishing the names and pictures of those lost, of the low quietude that came after the initial frenzied celebration of the war finally ending, and for the hasty political reshuffle to ‘cleanse the Ministry’ of the Death Eater’s war-time interference. Then the slow gears of the justice system began to grind again.

Harry had wanted to leave the country, at first. Escape. Hermione had caught him packing, one night just days after the battle, just before they all piled into the bed the three of them shared at the Burrow. She had sat with him, listened as he ranted, then as he sobbed. Ron had come upstairs at some point and joined them; leaned on Harry’s other side, wrapped his heavy arm around him, and spoke with wisdom far beyond his years after Harry told them everything. Everything. After every secret was spilled, Ron was silent for long moments, and then he told Harry that whatever he decided, he and Hermione would be there, with him for every step.

The next morning Harry had held both of their hands as daylight crept across the blanket. He had whispered into the quiet of the Burrow, promised he would stay. Promised he would stand with them, to make sure that there would be no Sirius this time, no innocent swept up in the fervour of politicians keen to impress the public; to make sure not one guilty party escaped punishment, no slipping the net with clever lies or leverage over the powerful. He promised to see it through.

They moved to Grimmauld Place, the week before the trials started. It was more convenient. Quieter than the Burrow, too. All three of them struggled around groups now, so used to their mutual isolation over the last year. They busied themselves stripping the whole house back to bare plaster and hardwood floorboards, and burned every stick of furniture that held the Black family crest. Kreacher had already disappeared to Hogwarts, to be nursed through his mourning by his own kind. But occasionally a House Elf from Hogwarts would pop into the kitchen with a delivery of sandwiches, or cakes, and on several afternoons an entire Sunday roast. But otherwise, Harry and Ron cooked, and Hermione washed the dishes.

By the third week of the trials they decided to try sleeping in separate rooms, all on the same corridor. Though Harry was sure he heard the creak of footsteps between Ron and Hermione’s doors more nights than not. They had dug out old linens, crisp and white despite the years of disuse, and Harry covered his quilt with one of Molly Weasley’s knitted blankets he had snuck out of the Burrow when they left. It took him a week to get used to the soft give of a mattress again, after months of canvas walls and fold-up bunks.

He still dreamed of the battle, but not once had his scar hurt, not once had he glimpsed the world through Voldemort’s eyes. He found himself still waiting for the penny to drop, for the screaming night terrors and the inevitable unfurling of every stifled loss and agony he had lived through. But for now, most nights, he slept.

Hermione had taken them all shopping in Muggle London their first weekend in Grimmauld. They used Harry’s money to outfit them all.

‘We’re not giving them a bloody inch, Harry, and that means looking the part,’ she had announced as she marched into an intimidating-looking shop full of sharply-dressed men.

He and Ron had both accepted the prodding and poking, the pins and the posing, as they had suits tailored. Hermione didn’t show her nerves like they did, not with outbursts like Harry, or queasy mornings like Ron; she organised, she planned. And they let her, with only the occasional eye roll between themselves.

The first day he walked into the packed Wizengamot courtroom, Harry thanked his lucky stars he hadn’t argued with her. The last time he had been here, scared and confused and overawed, he had been wearing jeans and a knitted jumper and he had felt every bit of the out of place child he had been. He was only eighteen now, but he felt an old man, even if his experience and pain was hidden behind smooth skin and a straight spine. If it weren’t for the crisp cut of his trousers, the tailored weight of fine wool across his shoulders, and the fall of the elegant green robes Hermione had ordered from Twilfitt and Tattings, it might have been easier for the wrinkled old witches and wizards across from him to make him feel small.

He might be The Boy Who Lived Twice, but there were still agendas at play that relied on his silence. A taste for revenge, a race to the pinnacle of self-righteous piety, and the strong urge to shift blame onto the few who acted so as to protect the system that had festered and stuck its head in the sand when confronted with its own ugliest side. Hermione had been right to wrap him in strong lines and stark contrasts; to armour him with a formality and sharpness that was unfamiliar to him, but drew an unmistakeable line in the sand between Harry Potter and Harry.

With the clothes she had encouraged him to wear, she wove a different sort of protection than the wards she had so diligently raised every night on their hunt. He could dress in the morning, and with each delicate pearl button he fastened, he slipped into the character he knew he needed to be to survive the day. By the time he swung his robes over the suit, he was ready. He looked into the mirror and saw rich black and green, wild hair and simple glasses, the fractal brightness of his scar against his forehead. Every element amplified the face that had stared out from every front page every day since Voldemort fell.

The trials were tedious and tortuous in equal measure. The droning voice of the court scribe, the endless shifting of parchment, the formulaic terms of address. Each witness was forced to divulge their own personal horrors, the depths of the taint on their lives left by Voldemort and his followers. Harry sat through it all, stoic, flanked by Ron and Hermione, and confirmed the identities of Death Eaters and sympathisers he had seen in person and in his visions through Voldemort’s eyes. Not all of them had the Mark, and those that did fell back on the old excuse of Imperio. Nobody questioned Harry’s statements, and he was relieved, even though it made his stomach turn to think of the liberties he could take.

One after another; Dolohov, Macnair, Yaxley. It took weeks to hear each witness's testimony, to give them their time to purge their trauma. The Malfoys. Lucius first. Then Narcissa, Unmarked, but unmistakably involved. She was as proud and icy as he remembered, even sitting in the dock, with the entire Wizengamot jeering down at her, hungry for a taste of her downfall. He had told Ron and Hermione about what she did in the Dark Forest, had told them what he was going to do. They didn’t like it, but they understood. With them at his back it was easy to stand in the witness box, to shout out into the rising noise of hungry accusations.

“Narcissa Malfoy was uniquely responsible for my leaving the Forbidden Forest alive on the morning of May the second.” Harry’s voice burst out into sudden, ringing, silence. He looked back at Ron, received a reassuring nod, and continued. “She is Unmarked, is not implicated in any direct or attempted attacks and appears to be guilty only of poor choice in husbands and an intolerable amount of elitism.”

He sat, heavily, in the wake of his speech. The court scribe was staring at him, open-mouthed, even his infernal host of Veritas Quills finally ceased their twitching and fell still. It seemed that not a single member of the Wizengamot, the assembled press, or the packed public gallery, had been expecting this. Even Narcissa herself sat, wide-eyed and leaning backward, as if from a blow.

The silence lasted for nearly a full minute, before the noise erupted around him.

Harry landed in the small gated park in front of Grimmauld Place. It had been an exhausting week and he hadn’t waited in the Ministry to debrief with Shacklebolt. The Carrows were standing trial, and he had sat each day watching a parade of Hogwarts students arrive to give witness. Neville, standing tall, steel-spined and proud. Gryffindors, Ravenclaws, Hufflepuffs, and Slytherins too. Little first years, allowed one parent to join them in the witness box, their voices small but firm in the face of their tormentors.

He closed his eyes, breathed deep. Inhaled the smell of greenery around him, the night air rich with the sound of London on a Friday night. Imagined, for one blissful moment, the day he would be able to pack these clothes away and never visit the courtroom again.

It was late, the sun dipping below the horizon in a tardy summer sunset, casting the sky into a rich wash of vivid reds, pinks, and purples. The air was heavy, the kind of evening heat that weighed down on his shoulders, pressure that promised a midnight deluge. Thunder waited in the distant clouds to roll across the city later and drown out the noise of everything but the pulse in his ears.

Harry passed through the municipal-green gate and crossed the silent street to the house, already unfolded and patiently waiting for him. He paused as he slipped between two parked cars and caught sight of the steps to the front door. They were occupied.

Draco Malfoy was sitting on his front step. He glanced up. Harry’s footsteps were loud in the quiet of the square, and their eyes held. Harry couldn’t look away, couldn’t summon words.

Malfoy looked tired. But better than he had the last time Harry had seen him, in the glow of the first day after the end of the war. He sat with his elbows on his knees, pale hands dangling in front of him, elegant in their idleness. He was smartly dressed, as always, but his top button was undone. His hair was neatly trimmed, but dishevelled; he must have been running his hands through it, to leave it so uncharacteristically messy. Harry fought the sudden but overpowering urge to brush it back into place. He could handle war and its aftermath, it seemed, but not the notion of Malfoy with untidy hair.

He waited, each of them watching the other in the dying glow of the sunset, not sure what to say, but positive this moment would be defining. It was Malfoy, as ever, who took the first shot.

“You kept your promises.” His voice was quiet, contemplative.

Harry nodded, scuffed his shoe against the stone path. “You told the truth.”

“To you.” Malfoy reminded him, his eyes fixed and sharp. “There was plenty of lying to everyone else.”

“Even your mother?” Harry didn’t know where the question came from. It was out in the open before he had thought it through.

“Everyone, Potter. Everyone but you.”

His tone was grave, and Harry couldn’t help but think about what it meant. To be the sole recipient of Malfoy’s truth. To be the dice he gambled everything on. The only beneficiary of his trust. His loyalty?

For a moment Harry thought about letting it go. But they were talking about honesty, and Harry had already died, so what was risk, really? He tried to keep his tone light, but his voice came out as grave as Malfoy’s.

“I dreamed of you,” he admitted to the night.


Malfoy’s eyes widened, fractionally, the only sign of his surprise. If Harry hadn’t spent the last six years watching him—intently, obsessively—he might not have caught it. As it was, Harry swayed where he stood, caught in the urge to step back to give him space, and the growing desire to stride forward and close the distance between them. Unbidden, the dream-touch of Malfoy’s fingers at his mouth came to mind, and his lips tingled.

The silence dragged on, so he continued, inelegant and unsubtle. “How did you do it? The messages, I mean.”

“Oh.” Malfoy blinked at the change of subject, rubbed his thumbs against his forefingers, a restless gesture he hadn’t had in school, then cast a wry look at Harry. “It’s my sad excuse for a Patronus Charm. I’ve never been able to muster a corporeal form. But I had to learn to make do once the Dark Lord decided to infest my home. I’ve become surprisingly adept at making those little wisps work hard for me. All the rest of my energy went to Legilimency and...enduring.”

Harry bit his tongue, before he asked something stupid like ‘what happy memory did you use?’ or ‘how did you resist his mind?’ or ‘what did he do to you?’. Those were questions for another time, perhaps. He cast about for something appropriate, but then they both spoke at once.

“I thought it felt like a Patro—”

“How many times did—”


They both broke off, waited for the other to continue, snorted at the stand-off. Harry waved his hand, an invitation.

Malfoy swallowed, and the bob of his Adam's apple caught Harry’s eye before he focused on his words. “How many—Did you dream of me once?”

“Oh. No. More than once, I’m afraid.”

“And were they—were they good dreams?”

Harry did step forward then, the urge to reassure welling up. “Yes, they were good dreams. Better than others I was having.”

“Good.” Malfoy nodded, looking down at his feet. “That’s good.”

“Look, Malfoy. Do you want to come in?”

Malfoy looked up, surprise opening up the youth of his face. “I’m sorry, I’m keeping you. I came because I wanted to ask how you did it. Why you did it. Your promise, I mean.”

“I thought as much,” Harry replied. He rubbed at the back of his neck. “Still. Come in. And then ask me. I think I might drop if I don’t have a cup of tea.”

He climbed the steps, and Malfoy’s shoulder brushed his robes as he rose to his feet to follow Harry into the house. The walls of the hallway were still bare plaster, dusty pink and white, with the occasional strip of ancient wallpaper still sticking stubbornly despite the peeling charms shot at them on a regular basis. Harry expected a jibe, a sarcastic dig at the state of the place, but when he glanced over his shoulder he saw Malfoy running his fingertips over the smooth softness of the plaster with a ghost of a smile on his face.

“We’re, um. We’re redecorating.” He explained as he brought Malfoy to the sitting room, awkwardly gesturing around the sparse furniture they had kept.

“No need to make excuses, Potter, the Manor looks quite the same right now. Sometimes the only option is to...excavate. Back to something untainted. I understand.”

Harry didn’t know how to answer that, without admitting that he thought perhaps burning the entire Manor down might be the only suitable way to eradicate the touch of Voldemort from the place. So he asked if Malfoy wanted biscuits with his tea instead.

“I used an Unbreakable Vow. I had to tell some people about your involvement.” Harry ignored the frown Malfoy shot at him. “I wasn’t about to sit quietly while you were carted off to Azkaban, was I. There’s four of them. Do you want to know who they are?”

“I think I can guess for myself, Potter. Merlin. Who demands the Minister for Magic submit to an Unbreakable Vow. Who gets him to agree to it?” He sipped his tea, and slouched where he sat, shaking his head as he put aside his mug. “Only you.”

Harry shrugged, suddenly self-conscious. “It seemed like the sensible thing to do. And it worked for your mum, didn’t it.”

“Ah.” Malfoy turned to him, once again rubbing his thumb and forefinger. Nervous. “That was another thing I wanted to talk to you about. That night. On the tower. I didn’t—”

“I know.” Harry interrupted. “I was there. Hidden.”

Malfoy looked horrified, his face drained of what little colour he had. “Well. What must you think of me? Witness to every misdeed and moment of cowardice. Every single one. A coward, and betrayer to everyone. Even to my parents. Even though I knew what He would do to them.”

For a moment, Harry couldn’t bring his scattered thoughts together quickly enough to form words. He hadn’t expected Malfoy to respond like this, to self-castigate instead of bluster and make excuses, or attempt to explain himself. Hadn’t expected his own sudden surge of frustration in the face of Malfoy’s self perception.

“That was a moment of bravery, Malfoy. You wouldn’t kill him. You couldn’t. And I know what Voldemort was threatening you with.”

Malfoy shook his head angrily, even as he twitched at Harry’s use of Voldemort’s name. Old habits.

“No. No, you know what I did.” He pierced Harry with a gaze so sharp it felt like steel. “I used Imperio, I used Crucio. I tried to use it on you. They’re called Unforgivables for a reason. I let them into Hogwarts. Twice they used my Vanishing Cabinet. I am a coward, and a betrayer. To both sides.”

Harry leaned forward, hot anger sparking, reacting as always to Malfoy’s cruel remarks, shocked that this time he had to defend Malfoy from himself.

“Yes,” he hissed. “I do know what you did. Do you think any of us were spared from lowering ourselves? I used Imperio too. And Crucio. I nearly gutted you. And I know Voldemort used the same curse, right in your fucking house.”

Sudden tears stood in Harry’s eyes. It should all be over. It should be over but he knew, he knew that all of them—every single one of them that survived—would be carrying these burdens of shame and indignity for the rest of their lives. The means of survival were ugly, and they scarred. All of them would forever see the marks of it in their own faces.

“You didn’t betray me, Malfoy,” he continued. “You didn’t. I don’t know why. And I won’t ask—I won’t ask why. You could have, easily, but you didn’t betray me. So don’t you dare assume what I think of you.”

“Tell me then.” Malfoy demanded, his chin lifted. “Tell me what you think of me.”

Harry opened his mouth to reply, and the fireplace roared to life before them. Green flames sparked and danced before first Hermione, then Ron, came through the Floo. He shut his mouth with a snap, and from the corner of his eye watched Malfoy’s entire body tense where he sat. He looked back to his friends, waiting for their response. It was one thing to know, in theory, that Harry had developed this...connection. It might be another thing entirely to see Malfoy sitting in their living room.

Ron recovered first, his old rash heat still tempered from his time away from Harry and Hermione, more inclined to think first than he used to be. He looked from Harry to Malfoy, back again, and nodded his head imperceptibly.

“Alright, Harry. Alright, Malfoy.”

In his peripheral vision, Harry spotted Malfoy straighten under the observation, and heard him inhale.

“Hello, Weasley.” His voice softened, “Hello, Granger. Apologies for intruding in your home.”

Harry waited, despite his urge to mediate. It took a moment, but Hermione dredged up a small smile as she looked at him, before she nodded towards Malfoy.

“It’s Harry’s house too. And I prefer to be called Hermione, when I’m at home.”

Ron put his arm around her shoulders and they crossed the room, toward the door. Hermione stopped beside Harry and dropped a kiss to the top of his head, brushed his cheek with her palm, more tactile since the first full moon after their time at the Manor than she had ever been. And then they were gone, their footsteps audible as they climbed the stairs.

Malfoy sighed heavily beside him in the ensuing silence. “I presume that they are two of the four?”

“No. No need for an Unbreakable with them.”

“Fair point. Still.” Malfoy paused. “That was...remarkably understated.”

“I think we’re all a little tired of confrontation.” Harry watched Malfoy’s hands, his fine fingers were still but for the way he smoothed his trousers down. Harry reached out and touched the back of his knuckles, soft skin, smooth bone. “They aren’t shaking anymore.”

Malfoy flexed his fingers underneath Harry’s palm, but made no move to shift his hand away from the touch.

“It wasn’t permanent, the Crucio damage. It faded, once it all...stopped. Just the occasional tremor now, mostly stress-related.”

Malfoy’s hand settled, and in its new position Harry’s fingertips slotted between his, rested in the soft valleys of his knuckles. If Harry moved his own fingers, curled them around, they would be holding hands.

“I’m glad that it wasn’t permanent.” Harry looked up from their hands, to Malfoy’s face, eyes catching on the fine scars that now marred his pale skin. “These scars, though, they’re for keeps?”

Malfoy brought his other hand to his face, to the thin scars that bisected his eyebrow, touched the corner of his eyelid, his cheek, kissed the edge of his bottom lip before tracing under his chin.

“They are,” he admitted. “There was no healing permitted on those that failed to perform to his satisfaction—and even when it was allowed, the spells never worked as well as they ought to. Thanks to his presence, no doubt. Mine are not quite as artful as yours, I fear.”

Harry bit his lip, struggling with the sudden desire to tell Malfoy quite how artful he thought his face was. Even with the addition of scars. Maybe because of them. Worse still, struggling with the sudden desire to reach out and touch them.

“Do you—?” Harry stopped, chewed his lip. “Would you—?”

He wasn’t sure how to say it. How to articulate the strange place Malfoy had come to occupy in his mind. How to explain, here, in the flesh, that every shimmering wisp of his magic had been a light in the dark when Harry was marching blind. How his whispers had been a line of thread in the labyrinth of war. How dreams filled with soft skin and simple touches had buoyed him in shadowed nights. How could he explain a connection that might be imagined? That might have no place now, after.

Malfoy studied him, storm-grey eyes taking Harry in. His expression was inquisitive, searching. Harry didn’t know what his own face showed, but Malfoy must have been able to parse it. He turned his hand over, under Harry’s, and clasped their fingers together.

“What did you dream about, Potter?”

Harry’s palm felt clammy, and nerves suddenly burst to life in his stomach. He would tell Malfoy. He thought he must have already decided that, when he invited him inside.

“Call me Harry?”

Malfoy swallowed, and again Harry’s gaze dropped to the movement of his throat. It occurred to him that he might be making an error of judgement, he might be misreading the tension that had been simmering between them since he found Malfoy on his doorstep. Since Malfoy found him on the break of day on the third of May. Since St Dunstan-In-The-East. Since that first whisper. It also occurred to him that he’d never done this before. Not with another boy. Hardly even with Ginny.

“What did you dream about...Harry.” Malfoy whispered his name like a secret.

Harry closed his eyes. Maybe the butterflies swirling in his stomach would subside if he couldn’t see the way Malfoy watched him. Maybe if he just focused on the feeling of Malfoy’s fingers against his own, the warmth of their palms pressed together, the sound of his voice, he wouldn’t spiral into wondering what would happen next.

“I dreamed of flying. I dreamed of Hogwarts. I dreamed that you were with me. Sometimes it felt so real I—”

He tailed off, and opened his eyes. Malfoy had shifted closer, their thighs now pressed together, and the look on his face was a kind of wanting that Harry had never had directed at him before. It felt heavy, like the sultry summer air outside, ripening to a peal of thunder, a flash of lightning.

“This is real now, Harry. If you want it to be.”

“I haven’t—I’ve never—” Harry stopped himself. Focused on the question at hand. “I do want it to be real.”

“Alright. Then, do you want to go to your room? I don’t think Weasley and Granger’s tolerance needs to be stretched any further than it already has.” Malfoy paused, squeezed a little at Harry’s hand. “If you’ve never, before, then we ought to do this properly.”

Harry stood first, and still holding onto Malfoy’s hand, pulled him up from the sofa. He towed him along behind him, out of the sitting room, up the stairs, and into his bedroom. He was acutely aware of his unmade bed, of the open curtains, the homely knitted blanket slung over his trunk, and his own glaring inexperience. Malfoy closed the door behind them, and came to stand in front of him.

“I don’t want to call you Malfoy anymore.”

Malfoy stepped closer, close enough that Harry felt his breath on his face.

“You don’t—you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to anymore.”

“Okay. Draco.”

It was just a name. A simple familiarity, insignificant to anyone else. But between them, in Harry’s bedroom, after everything that led them to this moment, it felt like a flag being planted in newly discovered land. And it wasn’t just him, Malfoy sucked in a breath, like his name in Harry’s mouth was a surprise even though he’d given his permission. After a moment, he brought his hand up to cup Harry’s cheek. His thumb stroked across Harry’s cheekbone.

Harry knew what came next, he knew what Draco’s eyes dropping downward meant, and a shiver of confidence streaked through him. Kissing, he could do. Even if Draco was almost the same height as him—a little taller even, and as different from Ginny’s petite frame as night was to day—the tilt of their heads was the same, and the first tentative brush of their lips felt easy. Dry, soft, and gentle but for the rush of adrenaline and desire it sowed in Harry’s body.

Draco was the one to pull back, to pause, then lean back in; to slot his mouth to Harry’s, to take his bottom lip between his own and kiss it, suck it gently. He was the one to trace the sensitive skin at the seam of Harry’s lips, and to chase the gasp it provoked. The first touch of their tongues was slick, and hot, and Harry had to reach out and grab onto Draco’s jacket to hold himself steady. Draco tasted of tea, of the chocolate biscuit he had nibbled; bitter, and sweet, and nothing like Harry ever imagined.

With one last press, Draco pulled back and looked at Harry. He stroked his fingers down his cheek, tracing Harry’s bottom lip with delicate fingers , and for a moment Harry wondered if this, too, was a dream. But then there was a creak on the landing, the familiar movement between Ron and Hermione’s rooms, and Draco grinned, impish. There had been no laughter in his dreams.

“Maybe this is the moment for some privacy charms?” Draco kept his voice low, conspiratorial. “I’ll leave it to you.”

Harry silently cast a wandless silencing charm, privately pleased with the look of grudging surprise that flickered across Draco’s face, and let himself be led to bed. They stayed standing, Draco backed up against the bed, and Harry leaned in to kiss him again. Each lingering brush of their tongues stroked his confidence, drew arousal further into his core, and set a tingling pleasure throughout his body.

Draco slipped his hands under the deep green robe Harry still wore, and pushed it off his shoulders, then unbuttoned his jacket before repeating the process. Another sucking kiss to Harry’s bottom lip, and Harry reached out with shaking hands to strip Draco of his jacket, too. Draco toed out of his shoes, and the movement brought their bodies into even closer contact. Harry felt Draco’s cock, hard and hot against his hip, even through their trousers.

He looked down, first at the bulge pressing against him, and then at the sight of Draco’s socked feet. It struck him, suddenly, what they were about to do. He’d never seen Draco’s feet, never mind the strange intimacy of his toes curling within the confines of fine green socks.

Draco put a finger to his chin and raised his head. “Alright?”

Harry simply nodded, and moved around Draco to lie down on the bed, his heart pounding as Draco followed suit. But no amount of nerves could stop him from reaching out to pull Draco close, to line their bodies up, two brackets curving towards each other, and meet him in another kiss.

It was different now, full of intent. Not the furtive snogging behind tapestries or pubic kisses Harry had experienced with Ginny. There was no class to get to, no teasing from friends, just the two of them. Together, in bed, deliberate. Gentle brushes of lips had been abandoned in favour of slow, languorous open-mouthed slides of tongue. Harry’s cock throbbed, trapped in his trousers and underwear, and his hips rolled reflexively towards Draco. He didn’t know which of them moaned first, but he definitely moaned the loudest when Draco sucked on his tongue and dragged Harry’s hips against his own to grind them artlessly together.

Harry threw his head back, panting. He was already hot all over, sweat prickled under his arms, and along his hairline. They were both still dressed. But it felt so good.

“Draco, I want to—” he reached down to Draco’s trousers, his fingers already fumbling at the buttons. “Can I?”

Draco was panting too. “Yeah, yeah you can.”

His hands were in Harry’s hair, touching his face, gripping at his bicep once Harry got his trousers undone and shoved his hand boldly into Draco’s pants, wrapping his fingers around his cock. Harry didn’t fumble, even though it was the first time he’d ever touched someone else’s prick, even though the feel of Draco’s pulse throbbing against his palm made him want to shout, or sob, or shamelessly moan. He moved his wrist, loosely wanking Draco’s cock, thumbing at his foreskin, and swiping at the wetness he found there. But it was an awkward angle, and Draco’s twitching thrusts kept knocking his hand away, and his wrist already ached, and he couldn’t see even though he kept looking down between them.

Draco gripped his wrist, halting his movement. “Stop, Harry, wait.” Some part of the sudden panic that he’d fucked this up must have shown on his face, because then Draco ducked his head close to drop another lush kiss to Harry’s mouth. “Not ‘stop’, just, let’s get more comfortable, yeah?”

And then he rolled onto his back, and started to wriggle out of his trousers, shoving his pants down along with them, and Harry was momentarily blindsided by the sight of Draco’s cock lying heavy and flushed in the cut of his hip. He had touched that cock, his fingers were still sticky with Draco’s precome, and he was going to get to touch it again. He struggled out of his own trousers, cursing the fine tailoring for hindering his speed, and simply undid the first few buttons of his shirt before shrugging out of it.

Harry paused in the act of pulling his socks off, as he caught sight of Draco’s chest, slowly revealed as he unbuttoned his shirt. Pale skin, and scars. Bigger than those on his face, thicker, silver-white and faintly translucent, the scarred skin thin like the winter discs of honesty still lingering in the remnants of Grimmauld’s once great garden. Scars that Harry gave him. Indelible marks of Harry’s own capacity for rage.

He didn’t say anything. Neither of them did, even though they both knew why he was transfixed, why he’d bitten his lip. So when Draco finally cast his shirt aside, completely naked, Harry pushed him to his back and leaned over him. He traced the scars with his fingertips first, still Quidditch-calloused and rough from building fires, and pitching tents, and fighting. He started with the one that split Draco’s left eyebrow, followed its path down across the delicate skin of his eyelid, his arched cheekbone. Touched the scar that licked his lip, white against the soft pink flesh, pressed down until Draco opened his mouth and touched his tongue to the pad of his thumb.

He kissed that scar, once, gentle. Then the others. The ones Harry carved into his skin himself. He kissed the long line of shiny-smooth skin that cut from Draco’s clavicle all the way down to the crest of his hip. He opened his mouth against them and dragged his tongue across, and he was still hard, and under him Draco was breathing heavily, his body still and tense with restraint beneath Harry’s hands and mouth. And it wasn’t an apology, both of them knew there was no use for that. But it was an acknowledgement. It was both of them aware, both of them admitting to the path they had walked to this moment, every falter, every fuck up. Both of them admitting to wanting this anyway. Needing it, maybe.

Draco tangled his fingers in Harry’s hair, and it occurred to Harry that Draco’s cock was right next to his face. He wrapped his fingers around it again, felt his own length throb in sympathy, stared at the contrast of his own dark skin against the pale pinkness of Draco. He was right to take clothes out of the equation, and any lingering insecurities about his own scars and lean body evaporated in the face of the ease with which he could see Draco now, could touch him now.

Before he could overthink it, he ducked his head down and tentatively licked at the head of Draco’s cock, tasting the salty slick that shone there. Above him, Draco let out a throaty groan, and his grip in Harry’s hair tightened.

“Fuck, Harry, come here.”

Harry allowed Draco to guide him back up alongside him, and fell happily into another kiss. Then Draco rolled them, coming to rest up on his elbows over Harry, and their hips lined up together, and their legs tangled, and Draco’s body was a broad weight above him as they moved against each other. Harry gasped and grabbed at Draco’s sides as he ground down against him, overwhelmed but still chasing contact, his head spinning but still intent on seeing this through. Draco must have seen something in his face though, or felt the nervous energy suddenly making Harry’s movements jerky and awkward, because he pushed up onto his knees, leaving space between them.

“Draco—” Harry panted into the quiet of the room.

“What do you want, Harry?” Draco’s voice was low, and Harry could tell he was trying to be reassuring but there was a note of urgency in his tone now, of need.

What did he want, Harry wondered. What did he want? Had anyone ever asked him that before? He wanted to feel good, he thought. He wanted to make another body feel good. He wanted to experience what everyone in the Gryffindor dorm talked about, how it was just different, how it was better. He wanted to understand what they all meant. About hot, and tight, and about the things the other boys fell silent over, blushed or leered. But he wanted to be the done-to, not the doing. He wanted to learn. He wanted to feel at home in his body. He wanted to be looked after. He wanted to feel.

“I don’t know.” Harry said, but his hands held tight to Draco’s hips because he did know he didn’t want him to move any further away.

Draco’s mouth softened, not quite a smile, but a gentling of that sharp face. “That’s okay,” he murmured. “We can work it out together.”

He had never thought of Draco as kind—even when he was helping Harry it had been a kind of brutality—but Harry felt like he might cry in the face of the tenderness he was touching him with, the unexpected sweetness he brought into Harry’s bed along with the hot rush of want. Harry nodded, unsure what to say without spilling his tangled confusion out between them.

“We’ll try it this way,” Draco started, lowering himself back down until their hips aligned, and Harry gasped at the pressure against his cock, at the feel of Draco’s muscles flexing as he settled. Still, for now. “And if you don’t like it, we stop. And if you do like it, we can try it another time. If you want.”

Harry couldn’t imagine not liking anything that they were about to do, even if it daunted him, couldn’t imagine not wanting a ‘next time’ either. The nervous fluttering in his stomach was replaced by a soaring relief that Draco was thinking of this as a first rather than an only. Harry’s shoulders relaxed at the reassurance, at the space for ‘no’ that Draco had created when Harry hadn’t even thought of it, and at the implicit lead Draco had willingly taken. But then Draco didn’t move, and after a moment Harry realised he was waiting for permission.

“Yes,” he said, sliding his leg along Draco’s, running his hands up and down Draco’s flanks. “Show me?”

Those three words were like some kind of spell, spurring Draco into sudden movement. With a groan he rolled his hips against Harry’s, and dropped down into a crashing kiss, his mouth hot, and hard, and forceful. Harry grasped at him, feeling each movement telegraphed in sleek muscles under soft skin, and his own body helplessly responded; meeting each downward press with his own desperate thrusts.

Then Draco broke away from Harry’s mouth, panting, his own lips lush and swollen, his chin slightly pink from Harry’s stubble. He moved to drop kisses along Harry’s jaw, nipped at his Adam's apple, tongued and sucked at the side of his throat until Harry felt a tenderness, and suspected a bruise would blossom there.

Harry let his hands stay on Draco’s shoulders, the simple contact grounding him, stopping the anxious spiral of nerves from seizing up his body. He focused instead on the way his palms cupped the ridge of muscle along the top of Draco’s shoulders, on the faint freckles he could see there, on the heat and softness of Draco’s mouth at the thin skin of his collarbone, the bright sting of a bite to his pectoral.

Draco paused, breathing heavily over Harry’s chest. He knew, before looking down, that it was his newest scar that had distracted Draco. Another fractal lightning bolt that stood out, bright white, against his tawny brown skin. The second Avada Kedavra he took. For a moment, he thought Draco might say something, wondered if this is what might put him off. Might break the mood sufficiently to soften the hardness currently pressing against Harry’s leg. But no. One kiss, dropped with all the artful appearance of carelessness, onto the skin above his heart. And then Draco wrapped his lips around his nipple, and proceeded to lavish it with sucking kisses.

Harry had never realised his own nipples might be capable of feeling that good, and the revelation was enough to make him throw his head back on a moan. Draco moved lower still, and Harry slipped his hands into that silver-blonde hair; wished that keeping a grip on his own mounting arousal was so easy. But any sense of control over his body was disappearing with each brush of Draco’s lips, every kiss and bite eroding his grip on restraint. And when Harry felt hot breath against the head of his throbbing cock, slim fingers holding the base, he wondered if this all might finish sooner than he had hoped.

He looked down, just in time to catch Draco’s reverent expression as he closed his eyes, and opened his mouth, and directed Harry’s length past his lips in a slow, luxuriant slide along his tongue. No dormitory gossip or imagined fantasies could compare to the sensation of this, of his cock in someone’s mouth, his cock in Draco’s mouth, and Harry couldn’t think—he couldn’t breathe—the heat, and the scorching pleasure was pooling in his belly, making his thighs shake and he was moaning. He knew he was moaning—loudly—but he couldn’t stop because Draco was sucking, and licking, and then he slid his mouth even further down, and Harry thought that might be his throat, and then he swallowed, and Harry cried out because he was going to come, he was going to come.

“Draco! Stop—ah—fuck!”

When Draco pulled back, his mouth was wet and there was a glistening strand of what could be saliva or precome still connecting his lip and Harry’s cockhead and for a moment Harry thought that sight alone was going to make him lose it.

“Okay?” Draco asked.

“Yeah, yeah, just. I want—” More. He thought. More, even though he was scared. More, even though he didn’t know exactly what it meant. More of everything Draco was giving him. Everything. If Draco would give him that, too. “I didn’t want it over too soon.”

A wicked grin was Draco’s first response, then one more sucking kiss at the sensitive spot where Harry’s foreskin was pulled back.


Draco’s voice was slightly hoarse when he asked, and Harry wondered if his throat hurt, or if it felt good, and suddenly wanted to know for himself, wanted viscerally to know. Maybe next time, he could find out for himself.

He gathered his scattered wits enough to Summon the half-empty bottle from his bedside table and handed it to Draco with a blush; because he knew what happened next, if only in theory, but he wasn’t sure what he should do. But then Draco groped over the side of the bed for his wand, and cast at Harry—and when did Harry lose the last remnant of the old suspicion that would have made him flinch at being on this end of Draco’s wand? He clenched down around the magic as it worked, intimate and low.

“Protective charm,” Draco explained, as he dripped lube onto his forefingers. “And Cleansing, comfortable, I hope?”

Harry swallowed and nodded, and then Draco reached down between them. Slick fingers trailed across Harry’s balls, and he knew they were sensitive but someone else’s touch really was different. Then, between one breath and the next, Draco slid his finger lower still, and rubbed against Harry’s hole.

“Yes?” Draco asked, his eyes fixed on Harry’s.

“Yes,” Harry whispered.

Just admitting that he wanted this, that he wanted Draco’s fingers. That he wanted to lie back and receive. It felt like diving wildly after the Snitch when no-one else could see it. It felt like falling with intention. Dangerously revealing, his wants open, on show. This—this was more intimate even than his cock in Draco’s mouth. Harry closed his eyes against the exposure.

Then, with a gentle probing pressure, Draco’s finger was inside him, and it didn’t hurt. It felt strange, but not bad. The slightest stretch, the pressure of bony knuckles against the tenderest bit of him, and the knowledge that part of Draco was inside him. Harry realised he was holding his breath, and when Draco skimmed his free hand up the inside of this thigh, across his belly, soothing and smoothing, he let it go with a sigh and dared to open his eyes.

Draco was watching his face, hawk-like and hungry, and Harry could see his cock still standing proud from the nest of dark golden curls in the cradle of his hips. This was turning Draco on. Fingering Harry made him hard. Dragging his eyes away from the ruddy head of Draco’s cock, he once again found himself snared in his grey gaze, and saw the unspoken question there. He nodded, and immediately, another slick finger pressed into him. It was more of a stretch now, and a heat built where Draco’s fingers stretched his rim. It was strange, and his heart was pounding, and he didn’t know what to do with his hands—uselessly curled them into his duvet—but his cock throbbed in response and he realised he liked this. It felt good.

The flex of Draco’s arm as he worked his hand was all Harry could focus on as he tried to centre himself around this new self-knowledge. All he could do to stave off the rush of fear and wanting anticipation that they weren’t going to stop here.

The slow drag of Draco’s fingers out of him was an aching delight, the lingering hook of his middle finger, pulling him open, was excruciating and delicious. But the way Draco moved with purpose now didn’t give Harry the time for blushes. He shuffled forward on his knees to settle close between Harry’s legs, slicking his cock with more lube, making it shine and twitch in his elegant grip. He pointed it down slightly, glancing up at Harry again as he lined up, paused with the blunt head of his length kissing against Harry’s hole.

“Are you ready?” he asked, and his voice was thin, stretched out with want and waiting. “Do you want—”

And Harry thought about whispers in the dark, and trust, and risk. He thought about connections, and how love, and war, and fairness intersected. He thought about how his body had carried him through trials, and fights, and battles, and through the veil and back again, and how little of it was what he would have chosen if not for necessity. He thought about how everything he’d done to bring him to this point had been personal—about who he loved and who he would risk everything for—and he thought maybe that is what brought Draco here too. He thought about how this wasn’t necessary. How neither of them were here because they had to be. How this might be the first choice they’d made for themselves since they were born. And Harry suddenly wondered if he was the only one who needed reassuring.

“Yes.” He said. “I want you.” Firm, and resolute. “I’m ready.”

He reached out again, and touched Draco’s face, traced his cheek, and his lips, and spread his legs easily when Draco gripped them with trembling fingers. He clutched at Draco’s hips as he pressed forward, slow, and careful, and inexorable. And he watched Draco’s face collapse in pleasure, and he felt a fierce joy even as the burn of being filled for the first time sang up his spine. It felt like Harry had been carving out this space for Draco for the last year, and finally, finally he was yielding it, to be replaced with something hot and urgent, and deep and encompassing, and his cock might have softened a little against his belly but he didn't care because the look on Draco’s face felt like a prize, and something in his chest was cracking open and shouting in victory.

Draco’s first thrust seated him deeper, settled Harry’s arse into the cradle of his hips, and Harry gasped at the sensation of being so full, of the ache in his belly, of the feel of Draco’s crisp pubic hair against the sensitive skin of his balls. His second thrust faltered, spasmodic and jerky, and he nudged something inside Harry that dragged a hoarse shout from him, set up a quiver in his thighs that he couldn’t control. And then they were moving against each other, and it took a few minutes for them to settle into a mutual rhythm, but when they did it felt seismic. It felt like something Harry had learned a lifetime ago and was just now remembering, of instinct flaring to life in his muscles, and somewhere deeper too.

“Fuck—Harry—I’m close, fuck, I’m sorry I’m close—” Draco’s voice was tight and he broke off into a ragged groan as he rutted deeper, faster, into Harry.

It was hard to speak, Harry’s breath was being punched out of him on every forward stroke of Draco’s hips. “No I want—I want it—I want you to come, Draco, I want you to come in me, please.”

He didn’t know he wanted it until he asked for it. Until the idea of Draco’s come inside of him lit a fuse low in his belly, until it sparked like flint in tinder and exploded along every nerve ending in his body. Until he was ready to beg for it.


Draco let go of Harry’s thighs and threw himself down to lie over him, joined at the crux of their hips, their bellies and chests sticking with sweat, breastbone to breastbone, his mouth open and wet and panting right against Harry’s. It wasn’t a kiss. It was shared breath, and muttered oaths, and eye-contact that pinned Harry to the bed as effectively as Draco’s weight, that penetrated him as surely as his cock.

And then Draco’s mouth dropped open, a perfect O of pink lips and shocked pleasure, his hips twitched against Harry and then pressed forward, driving his cock as deep as it could go while he orgasmed. Harry could feel Draco’s balls pulsing against his arse, and the idea of that; of Harry’s body bringing him to that height, of being the one responsible for the bliss etched in every muscle straining against him, for the agonising pleasure transforming Draco’s controlled formality into this storm of movement, and breath, and the salt-sweet of saliva and sweat. The knowledge of that folded into a swelling upsurge of primal connection that drew Harry along with Draco, toward the edge of his own experience, and over into shaking, shuddering, screaming release.

Harry had never come like this, with something inside him, something hot and hard for his body to clench against, around. It dragged the sensations out, the physical reality of being opened up and full, the heavy understanding of being taken, of giving, of receiving. Harry’s thighs wouldn’t stop shaking, even as he wrapped them around Draco’s hips, unwilling to allow an inch of distance, far more than just his body bare and open here in his bed. He needed that weight over him, that cover, he needed the broad curve of Draco’s shoulders above, the warm comfort of Draco’s breath bathing his neck in heat and satisfaction.

Within the confines of Harry’s tangled limbs, Draco tilted his hips, let his still-hard cock fall free from the clasp of Harry’s body, swallowed his confused moan with a kiss. Still hot, still wet, but gentler now. Sated. Soothing and languid in the aftermath of the frenzy.


“C’mere,” he murmured against the shell of Harry’s ear, and even now, with aftershocks still making him twitch, and the strange raw emptiness in his hole making him clench his muscles, even now Draco’s voice made want tingle in his lips.

Draco rolled them, still embracing, onto their sides. Not two brackets now—a tangle, a knot. Two bodies coiled together, sweat cooling, limbs trembling, and lips still brushing with each breath as they recovered themselves.

Here, like this, with his forehead resting against Draco’s, their chests brushing with every inhalation, Harry could understand why Ron and Hermione couldn’t keep away from each other each night. It wasn’t the child-like comfort they all took from each other as a trio in the wake of nightmares, both real and imagined.

Having this one person, here, just for him, this intimately. It was a heady thing. It felt different. Being chosen—like this—felt special. It made Harry feel alive. And then Draco carded his fingers into Harry’s hair, gentle in the sweat-tangled curls, and ducked his head down again to kiss over the lightning scar fractured in the skin above his heart. He let his mouth rest there for a moment, lingering. He must be able to feel Harry’s heartbeat against his lips, Harry thought.

Harry slid his own hand into Draco’s hair, stroked strands between his fingers, as silky as his invisibility cloak, and waited for the words he could tell were building between them. Draco kept his face pressed against Harry’s chest, his eyes closed. And his voice, when it came, was a whisper in the violet-tinged darkness that had crept into Harry’s bedroom while they weren’t looking.

“I know you said you wouldn’t ask. Why, I mean. But you can. You could. If you wanted to. And I would tell you.”

Draco was telling the truth, right to his heart. Harry could tell, he’d had a year to learn the sound of honesty in Draco’s voice, and would recognise its presence forever now. He wrapped his arms around Draco’s shoulders, held him close, pressed a kiss to the silver crown of his head, and breathed him in.

“I know, Draco.”