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Five Little Things

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At half one in the morning on the third night Teddy sleeps over, the weight in Harry’s lungs tips from heavy to suffocating. A plaster slapped over his nose and mouth, shaped out of his own fear. Harry makes himself breathe through it. He looks around the room and counts: five little things. And again. Eventually his dizziness abates.

He’s gotten better at managing himself — not that he’s had much choice in the matter — but it’s a close call. The closest he’s had in a while. And it worries him that he can still feel it circling the fringes of his psyche, like a predator feigning abandonment of the hunt. But it’s fine. It will be fine. All he has to do is fix things. After, of course, he figures out what he’s done wrong, which is turning into a bit of a problem. He was supposed to be a natural at this.

Evidently, he’s not. He’d been so stupidly confident that even the dubious, “It’s like flying a broom,” Andromeda had murmured to herself before Floo-ing away, hadn’t fazed him. Harry hadn’t been worried. With few exceptions, Teddy’s always been a pretty easy kid, and Harry loves him more than life itself — would die or kill for him, if need be. And Harry had been prepared, he’s been babysitting for years: he’s handled his share of diapers, and temper tantrums, and endless repetitions of Teddy’s favourite stories; he knows what sorts of things to cook and when to hold out for another bite of carrots before giving Teddy a biscuit. He spared no cost decorating Teddy’s room to Teddy’s tastes, hunting through wizarding London for the perfect Unicorn cuddly toy, and Muggle London for a four-year-old sized Blue’s Clues Thinking chair, for days on end; Teddy’s bed is cosy, his decor not too stimulating, and his nighttime charms are all in place. Tonight, Harry even remembered to have him use the bathroom right before bed.

But none of that changes the fact that Teddy’s wet the bed for the third time in a row, or that he’s been sobbing like his heart is broken ever since.

The last two nights have been simple in comparison, a quick dunk in the bath, a change of sheets, a new set of pyjamas. A bit of sympathy and a few hugs, a promise of funny pancakes in the morning. Now Teddy won’t even respond to a bribe for sweets, and Harry’s suggestion of popping out for some GoodNights only resulted in fresh waves of tears and a wailed ’m not a baby!

Rubbing circles over Teddy’s back, Harry ignores the terrifying frustration he feels and continues to murmur variations of reassuring things, which fortunately have the advantage of being true — it isn’t a big deal, and almost all kids do wet the bed on occasion — but they don’t help either. He can’t remember the last time he felt this shaken. Why on earth did he think he could parent someone so small, in anything, when he’d had to figure so many things out on his own?

The curlicues on the curtains, Teddy’s toy wand. His trainers, left in the middle of the floor. His tiny socks, stuffed into them. And Teddy.

Slow and controlled, Harry breathes.

Andromeda’s never going to let him take Teddy on overnights again.

Harry’s t-shirt is wet, rubbing unpleasantly against his torso as he paces back and forth with Teddy in his arms. And if he’s uncomfortable, Teddy’s got to be, as well. He wonders if he should forcibly unwind Teddy’s clinging limbs from around him and plunk him down to draw a bath. Some parents are able to make themselves do that — overlook their kid’s tears. Are supposed to, at least according to the books. For others it’s probably instinctive, and Merlin knows there are some who don’t even care. Apparently Harry fits none of those moulds, because he obviously doesn’t have the instincts he was sure would materialise when he needed them. Just the idea of pretending he doesn’t care closes his airways tight, makes him feel helpless. He hates feeling helpless.

Come to think of it, Teddy likely does too.

“Hey, mate?” he asks, hushed and treading carefully. “What— What would make you feel better? What do you need?”

Teddy sobs again and Harry’s heart starts to fall. But then Teddy hiccups, sniffles, and wipes his wet face against Harry’s wet neck again. Chest hitching almost soundlessly, he relaxes a little in Harry’s arms and mumbles, “Draco punk-anshoo?”

Harry stops in place, vision tunnelling dark. Teddy wants Malfoy. Christ.

The riding unicorn, a set of building blocks, the shaggy rug, Goodnight Moon, the stars moving across the ceiling.

And Teddy, Teddy, Teddy.

“Okay,” he says, wondering how long he’s been standing there when he realises Teddy’s begun tensing once more in his arms. Harry pivots and heads downstairs to the Floo, and adds a hasty, “No, no, it’s fine, that’s good, yes, we’ll get Draco and— and punk-anshoo,” for effect. He doesn’t love the idea and it’s a hit to the remnants of his pride, but his pride can get fucked for all he cares if it brings Teddy any comfort.

And it really might; he and Malfoy may not have been able to form any sort of friendship over the last couple of years — and Malfoy’s made it rather clear he never wants to, so dismissive once Teddy’s out of the room, he often won’t even look at Harry, not that Harry craves his good opinion or anything (except…) — but Harry’s got no doubt Malfoy cares about Teddy. He’s seen proof of it too many times to pretend otherwise. Has unthinkingly responded to it himself, on more than one occasion; yet another reason he’s not looking forward to this.

Shifting Teddy onto his hip and lowering onto his knees, Harry grabs a handful of powder and throws it against the grates, then sticks his head into the flames that erupt and calls out Malfoy’s address. He’s got one of those fancy call-signalling chimes Harry keeps meaning to invest in, and Harry listens to it ringing faintly in the background of Malfoy’s empty study. Bouncing Teddy on his hip, he resigns himself to either a long wait, or an incredibly cross Malfoy spewing venom his way for being woken up.

To his surprise, he’s wrong on both counts. After only a few seconds, Malfoy strolls in, still fully dressed in smart grey trousers and a white shirt, a slightly puzzled look on his face. He’s missing his ever-present tie, and has folded his sleeves back to the elbow, but if Malfoy was on his way to bed, it’s clear he was only just. Harry opens his mouth to apologise for the hour when Malfoy falters with recognition, but Malfoy recovers too quickly and strides closer, a small frown checked between his eyebrows, and kneels down..

“Potter? What in the name of Godric’s flaming ar—”

“Teddy,” Harry blurts, and Malfoy’s teeth click closed. Harry steadies himself with a deep, relieved breath, and nods. “It’s Teddy.”

“What about him?” Malfoy says with a suspicious downward twist of his lips. “Did something happen?”

“Well, um. Sort of? I’ve got him. With me,” Harry says, forcing as much cheer into his tone as can for Teddy’s benefit while simultaneously trying to convey the seriousness of the situation to Malfoy with his eyes. Teddy shifts against his side and sniffles, and Harry jiggles him a bit to… he’s not even sure why, actually, but Teddy stops sniffling, so.

“Alright, and?” Malfoy’s frown deepens. “Potter, are you aware that you look positively mad right now?”

Harry sighs. “No, but I’m not surprised. Anyway, Teddy was asking....” The words already taste horrible. Despite that, Harry makes himself deliver more of them: “He was asking for you. Just a minute ago.”

“Why have you let him stay up so late?” Malfoy says. “Is Andromeda aware that you—?”

Leaning further into the flames, Harry lowers and hardens his voice. “Malfoy,” he says pointedly. “Why don’t you come over? And say goodnight to your cousin. Right. Now. I know he would love to see you.”

Malfoy blinks several times, then adopts the same cheerful tone Harry attempted; Harry tries not to feel sour when Malfoy pulls it off better. “Of course! You know, I’m rather glad you let me know he was with you, I haven’t spoken to him in a few days. I nearly firecalled him at home tonight. I’d certainly have felt silly then, wouldn’t I? Move aside, Potter, and I’ll come right through.”

Harry edges back, and remembers at the last second. “Oh, wait!” he says, shoving forward only to knock heads with Malfoy. “Crap, sorry!” Malfoy rubs at his forehead, glaring, and Harry apologises again with a grimace and says, “He also wants you to bring your, uh. Punk-anshoo?”

“Punk-an-what?” Malfoy starts to shake his head, but pauses midway into it. His glare dims a little. “Oh. Yes, that’s fine.” His tone is a little more piqued than before when he says, “Now get out of my way, Potter,” and since Harry nearly brained him, he doesn’t object.

He scoots back, levering to his feet with a small grunt, and checks Teddy. His hair is still navy, too dark a hue to indicate he’s feeling better, though Harry’s glad to see he’s no longer actively distraught. “You doing okay, mate?”

Teddy, lower lip wobbling, nods. Then his damp purple gaze slides over Harry’s shoulder, and he takes a shuddering breath — and begins to cry again.

Harry cuddles him closer and twirls to pin Malfoy with a threatening look. “What did you do!”

He feels stupid as soon as he’s said it but Malfoy doesn’t respond as he silently takes in the scene: Harry’s messy living room, and Harry and Teddy, both exhausted and covered in cold pee. He drops calm eyes to Teddy’s red, tear-streaked face, and a startlingly gentle smile replaces the irritated crease at the corner of his lips.

“Hello, Edward,” he says. He holds out his arms and Teddy almost throws himself from Harry’s to the floor trying to get into them.

A Quidditch magazine, Teddy’s purple plastic cup, the Wireless, and Teddy, and Malfoy.

Harry redistributes Teddy’s weight in his arms, then carefully passes him over. Malfoy glances down when he seems to notice that his shirt is getting wet, and he turns a curious look to Harry, but he doesn’t seem bothered at all.

“He just started crying harder when I reached for my wand to dry him,” Harry explains, spreading his hands wide. “He wouldn’t let me change his sheets, either.”

“I see.” Malfoy ducks his head a bit, pressing a light kiss to Teddy’s temple, and Teddy clings to him harder, wracked with sobs. Harry isn’t sure how to feel about the fact that he’s still crying; he doesn’t want Teddy to be sad anymore, but he likes that Malfoy’s presence isn’t an immediate fix-it, and that makes him feel even worse. Malfoy runs a practiced gaze over him, smirks, and says, “Haven’t got much sleep, have you?”

Harry can’t even bring himself to take offence. “He woke up at five this morning,” he says, his shoulders going heavy with the realisation. “And the last couple of nights have been… interrupted too. I’d just gone to bed when he woke up. Not that I mind,” he adds quickly, in case Teddy can hear him over the sound of his tears. “Not at all. It’s normal, I keep telling him that.”

“Yes, alright.” Grey eyes thoughtful, Malfoy surveys him for a few more seconds, and says, “That’s certainly true.”

A weird riot of flutters rock through Harry’s stomach — similar to the one he felt after Teddy’s birthday party last month, walking out of Andromeda’s kitchen to see Malfoy fast asleep on the sofa with a snoring Teddy sprawled over his chest. His throat tightens, and he forces himself not to look away.

“Okay.” Malfoy nods. “This is what’s going to happen: Edward and I are going to get cleaned up— yes, we are,” he says firmly, shifting to Teddy when Teddy lets out another tired sob, “and Harry is going to get cleaned up, and change your sheets, and I’ll tell you about the pumpkin and the shoes, how does that sound?”

Harry braces himself. Teddy’s whimpers slow and soften. He hiccups, wipes his nose against Malfoy’s neck, and then, muffled, Harry hears him say, “‘kay.”

Malfoy shoots Harry a wry smile. The flutters in Harry’s stomach apparently like it, because they multiply, and a contingent of them pop down to his knees as Malfoy steps nearer. Voice low, he says, “You’ve got two bathrooms, right?”

“I— Yeah.”

“Which is bigger?”

“The, uh. Mine, I guess, and it’s got a separate tub.” It takes Harry a second to understand why Malfoy is looking at him so patiently. “Oh. Yeah. Upstairs, second door on the right. Towels and things in the cabinet next to the shower.”

“Thanks. Mind fetching something clean for Edward to wear?” he throws over his shoulder, already leading the way up the stairs.

Harry follows him, bewildered and relieved and fucking exhausted, his shoulders drooping further with each upward step he takes. “Yeah, no problem.”

The shower is refreshing, and by the time Harry dries off with his wand and dresses in a clean t-shirt and flannel bottoms, his own looming darkness feels more like a pressing question than a foregone conclusion. He heads into his room to see if Malfoy needs any help with Teddy in the bath, but the sound of the shower makes him hesitate as he approaches the cracked door of his ensuite. Uncertain, he lingers in place for a moment, listening to Teddy’s laughter bounce off the tiles, under the spray of water. Harry pushes the door open a couple more inches. In the half-fogged mirror, he can see the shape of Malfoy in his shower stall, and Teddy’s too, tall enough standing on the built-in shower seat that he just about reaches Malfoy’s armpit height. Keeping his eyes determinedly upward, Harry watches Malfoy detach the showerhead to aim the spray at Teddy’s foamy, cobalt hair.

Everything about the scene is sweet. Innocent. Yet Harry can’t help the knot that forms in his throat, looking at the two of them; the disappointed kind that forms every time he’s confronted with a new example of parenting so obvious he doesn’t know why he didn’t figure it out on his own. He always feels like he should have, though in this case he’d been basing his assumptions on the fact that Andromeda still gives Teddy baths — at least as much as on his memories of having to use Dudley’s leftover, lukewarm water after Petunia’s nighttime scuffles to get him clean, before toweling up the splashy floor Dudley left behind so Harry didn’t end up catching the blame.

The mirror, the steam, and Teddy and Teddy and Teddy (and Malfoy’s wet shoulders, and Malfoy’s wet back), and Malfoy.

Harry should have considered that maybe Teddy didn’t like the bath at his place — or he could have just asked, like when he asked Teddy what he wanted during his meltdown.

Turning away, he gathers up Teddy’s soiled pyjamas from the floor — Malfoy’s clothes are nowhere in sight — and trudges back out. He detours to Teddy’s room to strip the bed and remake it with clean linens, then carries the laundry downstairs to put in the wash, delaying the inevitable just a little bit longer. As glad as he is Teddy has so many people who care about him, there’s something about seeing someone else meet his needs so easily that throws Harry’s inabilities into stark contrast. Something about it that makes him ache, deep inside.

Maybe Andromeda was right. She’s been saying for years that Teddy wasn’t ready for overnights, but never really verbalised why, when Harry asked. I just know, she would say, which felt as unfair to hear as an adult as it ever had as a child, but in retrospect was maybe her way of being kind. She wouldn’t have even left Teddy with him now, he knows, if she could’ve taken him with her.

No longer able to stall if he wants to say goodnight before Teddy falls back to sleep, Harry heads back upstairs but finds Teddy’s room empty. Worried, he goes back into the hallway and hears Malfoy’s soft voice, coming from his room. Harry feels a bit creepy, but can’t resist pausing once more outside the door, this time to eavesdrop.

“—stood holding the ruins of the dress she had so diligently crafted with her tired magic, and watched from the Manor steps she had scrubbed that very morning as the carriage rolled away to the ball with her stepmother and stepsisters in it, and then she sat down and put her face in her hands, and began to cry.”

“‘cause iss o-ay?” Harry hears Teddy mumble, probably around his thumb.

“Yes, precisely,” Malfoy says. “Crying is always okay when you need to, no matter what anyone else ever tells you, and especially when you feel disappointed after having worked so hard to master something and finding that you haven’t yet, or when you’re scared, or for any reason at all if it might make you feel better.”

The brass doorknob, the door, the wall—


“All right, where was I?” Malfoy says. “Ah, yes. She began to cry, and then felt a soft touch on her hand and looked up to see a very beautiful witch standing before her, cloaked in immaculate, glowing robes. ‘Despair not, sweet child,’ said she, ‘for I am your magical godmother—’”

“Harry,” Teddy says, clearly this time, and Harry closes his eyes against the sting in them.

“—Yes, very much like Harry, although I feel confident in saying he doesn’t dress anywhere near as well. Anyway—”

Harry pushes the door open. Teddy’s in the fresh pyjamas Harry left at the foot of the bed, purple footies with a funny alien print, and Malfoy’s made the concession to leave off his shoes but is otherwise fully dressed in the clothes he arrived wearing, his stained white shirt pristine once more. Curled against Malfoy in the middle of Harry’s bed — though Malfoy’s on top of the covers, and Teddy’s tucked under them — Teddy looks at Harry and sticks his thumb back in his mouth, a wary kind of reaction that makes Harry swallow hard.

The alarm clock.

The wardrobe.

A stack of books on the bedside stand.

(And Teddy and Teddy and Teddy and Teddy, looking at him like he thinks— No, and Malfoy.)

Putting on a smile, Harry walks up to the bed. “So, you, er, wanted a sleepover?” he ventures, and exhales deeply at Teddy’s solemn nod.

Malfoy glances from Harry’s face to Teddy’s and back, frowning just a touch. “I hope that’s alright, Potter.”

“Of course it is!” Harry says, cringing inside because fuck it’s hard to be proven so clueless so many times in one night. He touches the folded edge of the coverlet on the empty side of the bed. “Should, uh, is it— Um, can I listen to the story too?”

“It’s your bed, isn’t it?” Malfoy says, with an enigmatic stare as heat continues to rise in Harry’s cheeks.

Harry forces a laugh and climbs in, reaching out to gently ruffle Teddy’s hair. Teddy smiles around his thumb and nestles his torso and head little more comfortably against Malfoy’s side while simultaneously sticking out a foot to wedge under Harry’s hip, before stretching his free hand in Harry’s direction. Harry takes it with another small gulp; he lifts it to kiss the backs of Teddy’s delicately pudgy little fingers — he loves Teddy so much it hurts, sometimes — and then folds his own fingers around them.

“If everyone is finally situated?” Malfoy asks drily, eyebrows raised and amusement clear in his gaze when he lifts it from Teddy’s expansive sprawl between their bodies to Harry’s face. Teddy grunts an affirmative and closes his eyes, and Malfoy says, “Very well, so, uh— oh, yes.”

He recommences telling the story. Though Harry’s always found Cinderella more than a little depressing, there are a lot of adventure elements in Malfoy’s version once Cinderella gets to the ball — a side quest she’s got to complete, to steal back the magic her stepmother has been siphoning from her and selling to the villainous king — and they’re entertaining enough to keep Harry distracted, right through Cinderella’s rescue of the prince who’s been Imperiused to never stop dancing. Cinderella and the prince are just making a getaway in the pumpkin coach with the king’s wizards hot on their trail when Malfoy stops and says, “He’s asleep.”

“Oh.” Harry glances at Teddy. His rosebud mouth is sagged open and wild strands of his hair are turquoise once more; he’s got the arm he tugged from Harry, at some point in the story, stretched over Malfoy’s midriff.

“Don’t worry,” Malfoy says, voice slipping back into its familiar, clipped tones so unexpectedly that Harry startles. Looking up, he sees Malfoy watching him, an unpleasant shadow on his face. “I’m not planning on staying — though you obviously need more help than Andromeda realised, or else she never would have allowed him to stay with you.”

Harry doesn’t quite manage to hide his flinch. Teddy and Teddy and Teddy and— “The, uh. She found out last minute that the Icelandic conference about magical people with latent Creature characteristics didn’t allow children under eleven.”

“Still,” Malfoy says, sniffing. “There were more suitable volunteers to take care of Edward, if she needed—”

“Like you?” Harry snaps, voice rising, but then Teddy shifts again and he and Malfoy both have to freeze.

After a moment, Malfoy says, “Yes. Like me,” softly, with a downward gaze at Teddy that makes all traces of his sneer fade away. “At least I wouldn’t have expected him to sleep on his own, the very first time he was away from his grandmother the whole night.”

Green coverlet, purple pyjamas. White sheets, and white pillows. Silver-white hair fanned out atop them.

Suddenly Harry’s heart is more exhausted than the rest of his body. He rubs his chest with the heel of his hand. “Yeah. She should have left him with you.”

“Right, because I would have— What?”

“You seem to know what to do,” Harry says, “and I didn’t even suspect he was scared. Not— not until I heard you say it, when he asked about crying. I didn’t know.” The laugh that breaks loose from his throat is at least dulled enough with regret that it doesn’t disturb Teddy again. He pushes his glasses onto his forehead and rests a hand over them. Thickly, he says, “I just… I didn’t know.”

There’s a long silence. Harry braces himself, but there’s an air of caution to Malfoy’s sarcasm when he next speaks. “Ah, yes, because of course you were too brave a child to ever relate; you never got scared enough to seek comfort from—”

“From who?” Harry removes his hand from his eyes and lifts his head from the pillow, glasses falling in place as he stares incredulously at Malfoy. His blurt feels like a confession squatting ugly between them, and one he didn’t mean to make. One he wouldn’t have, if he’d given it any thought, because it sounds like an excuse and isn’t one, and ultimately doesn’t matter anyway.

Finally, Malfoy scoffs. “You weren’t exactly raised by wolves, Potter, your Muggles—” Blinking, he breaks off, gaze burning into Harry and going distant at the same time. Harry’s ears grow hot; he looks at Teddy’s sweet, sleeping face, and breathes.

Teddy and—

There’s been exactly one accurate article about his childhood in the papers, cobbled together with notes stolen from Luna’s bag the only time Harry had ever considered letting someone write about it, and an interview Dudley hadn’t even realised he was giving. No one had paid much attention to it, though, for which Harry had been grateful; the press that published it was like most of the others that tried to establish themselves in the first six months after the Battle: Out of business faster than they’d opened.


“I just didn’t know,” Harry says again, and firms his chin even as Malfoy’s advice to Teddy — for any reason at all if it might make you feel better — replays in his mind. When he looks up, there’s an expression on Malfoy’s face that he’s never seen before, though it’s gone with Malfoy’s next blink, leaving Harry to wonder if he imagined it. “But it’s fine. I mean. I’ll,” Teddy smiling in his sleep, and TeddyTeddyTeddyTeddy, “put in a long-distance Firecall to Andromeda in the morning and let her know he wants to stay with you.”

“But he doesn’t,” Malfoy says slowly, and apparently Harry didn’t imagine the expression, because it’s back on Malfoy’s face, similar enough to his smile at Teddy earlier that Harry can’t keep looking at it. He watches Malfoy run a soothing hand over Teddy’s back, then lift it to brush his own hair off his face. “Edward— Well, he wouldn’t shut up about how much fun it is to stay with you, when I was getting him cleaned up,” he says, grimacing. “And I’m…” The exasperation in his sigh lends truth to his words. “He practically worships you, that’s why he was so upset tonight. You know that, don’t you? Because you helped him quit training pants and he was afraid to disappoint you.”

That part, Harry’s figured out on his own; it hurts, regardless. He presses his lips together, his jaw going painfully hard with the effort it takes to control himself.

Fine,” he hisses. “I know, okay? He’s never seen me mad and he was scared I’d, I don’t know, hit him when he calmed down, or make him sit in it for days, or lock him in the bathroom without something to eat, whatever,” not in control at all apparently, because his voice is clogged and cracking, and he thinks he’s going to sick up, horrible images filling his mind on a loop, Teddy’s features transposed over his own, and nononononoNotHimNotTeddy, “but I don’t know what I’ve ever done to make him think I’d— I love him, I would never—

The rest of whatever Harry’s saying chokes off when Malfoy reaches out and wraps tight fingers around his wrist; the touch drags his attention elsewhere, back outside of himself. Shaking, he locks his gaze on Malfoy’s hand: the jut of bent knuckles, a silver signet ring on his pinky, an emerald stud in its centre, a tiny scar in just below it, and Malfoy’s fingers (onetwothreefourfive), steady and tight, and holding on. And Malfoy, and Malfoy, and Malfoy.

“Tell me five things you can feel,” Malfoy orders. “Any five things.”

Harry says no, or tries to, but the word won’t come out. He doesn’t like that one. Has never been good at it. Malfoy gives his wrist a little shake.

“He just wants you to be proud of him,” Malfoy says, low and steady. Harry can feel the fast throb of his own pulse under the pressure of Malfoy’s thumb. “Potter, that boy loves you more than most people have ever been loved, and looks up to you more than anyone else, much to my chagrin. He knows you would never hurt him. Everyone knows that. I can be a jealous, bitter arsehole at times, but even I can admit that. Are you listening to me? Give me a sign you can hear me, please.”

Harry nods, haltingly and hears Malfoy blow out a breath. Feels it, breezing warm over his face.

“Now. Five things you can feel. Or smell, or see, or— Whatever, give me a list.”

“Turquoise,” Harry manages to say, kind of, so quiet Malfoy leans in, “blond, red and brown and black.”


“Teddy, and you, and the bed, and the window, and the thestral painting,” Harry croaks, breathing easier, his nausea subsiding. Malfoy nods and gives his wrist another prompting sort of shake, so Harry clears his throat, inhales, and goes again: “The ficus. My— My chair, and jacket, the curtains, you.”

Malfoy waits as the world knits itself back together around Harry. The process seems to take forever and brings a huge flood of embarrassment with it. Harry stares at the sharp curve of Malfoy’s widening smile, and breathes.

“Very good,” Malfoy says at length. There’s a rough note to his voice that skitters confusingly over Harry’s skin and leaves chills rising in its wake. “Now, am I wrong to assume there might have been a time — inconceivable though it seems — when you disappointed… um, a professor you admired, once you came to Hogwarts?” he asks, injecting a drawl into his voice, just the faintest hint of tease; it manages to break through Harry’s self-consciousness, and he puts forth another nod, easier this time, oh-so-many examples on the tip of his tongue. But Malfoy only squeezes his wrist in a warm, approving way, and says, “So it’s like that. The idea he might have disappointed you made him feel bad. Okay?”

“Okay,” Harry says. Perspective. He knows his is more than a little skewed, sometimes, but he usually doesn’t have anyone around who can paint him a different one. He nods. “Okay.”

“Are you all right now?”

Harry makes himself think about it before answering. “Yeah. Sorry.”

Malfoy gives his wrist another squeeze. Releasing it, he slumps against the pillows at his back, silent for a few measures as Harry studiously pays attention to the tension bleeding out of his own muscles, barely able to believe Teddy hasn’t woken up. Then Malfoy says, “Fuck, Potter.”

For some reason, that clears away the embarrassment still shimmering on the edges of Harry’s mind, and startles him into a soft laugh. “Yeah, I... I forgot just how bad they felt. I’m, well. They used to be a lot worse,” he volunteers — carefully, quietly, feeling his way now that the encroaching darkness has receded. Curious how Malfoy will respond to information like that, when it’s given freely.

Malfoy passes a hand over his face. “Yes, well. You should have been there for some of mine.”

“Wow, you’re just going to compete with me over everything, aren’t you?”

“A long-held habit you shouldn’t expect me to stop,” Malfoy says, “just because you happen to be as fucked up as I am.” He scoffs, but not meanly. “I used to get them over you, you know.”

“What?” Harry pushes up onto his elbow.

“They went away, mostly, but. When Andromeda invited me to Edward’s second birthday, and I got to meet him, they started again. I knew how much you hated even seeing me, and I haven’t been around a lot of children, and I was sure you would find a way to use that to take him away from—” Malfoy breaks off, his cheeks going rosy. “For months, even after I figured it didn’t matter to you who was making him happy so long as he was, I still... Anyway.”

Harry can’t really think of much to say to that except, “You know how mad Teddy is for you too, right?”

“Well,” Malfoy says after a small pause, “he’s an extremely brilliant child in some respects.”

Harry snorts. “And I stopped hating you a long time ago.”

Another smile teases the corners of Malfoy’s mouth, and when he turns his head to the side to look at Harry, his eyes are warm enough to change the quality of Harry’s own rising blush.

Rolling onto his back, Harry breathes in and out for an entirely different reason, mentally timing it. When he’s sure he can speak without his voice cracking like a twelve-year-old’s, he says, “I was going to take him to the cinema tom— this afternoon. Do you, uh. I mean, it’s Muggle, and animated, I don’t suppose—”

“Yes,” Malfoy says, then coughs and adds, “That is, I do Muggle things with Teddy too, I know what animation is.”

“Right. Well, you could come with us. If you wanted.”

“I— haven’t got any other plans,” Malfoy says. “And, I like spending time with Teddy. Yes, alright.”

“What Muggle things do you do with him?” Harry asks.

“I take him to the playground,” Malfoy says righteously, and even though Harry’s willing to bet his entire vault that Malfoy’s referring to that posh, disillusioned Wizarding playground near his flat in Kensington, he doesn’t press the point.

“Got it. Uh, Malfoy?”

“Yes,” Malfoy says, sighing, “he’s still attached to me like a growth.”

Harry tries to bite back his grin. “No, just— what happens with Cinderella?”

“Don’t you rem—? Oh, well, yes, Binns was awful at telling it, wasn’t he? I always tuned him out, too.” Malfoy clicks his tongue and doesn’t give Harry time to comment before adding, “All right, the middle has the best parts, and I haven’t even got to it yet.”

He launches back into the story. There’s a fantastical chase with curses flying to and fro, and the Prince’s shoes have been made of poisoned glass so it looks as though he’s going to die, Cinderella discovers when she tries to remove them, and Harry drifts, falling asleep to Malfoy’s rendition of the prince telling her she must go on without him, and promising that he’ll love her forever, and yet still ever after.

Harry dreams of lifting Teddy onto his shoulders. He’s sturdy and warm and laughing; squirming, he reaches for the sky, and Harry wants more than anything to be happy with him. Only he can’t keep a firm grasp on Teddy’s shins, and Teddy is so unsteady, and Harry is so, so afraid. He looks to the cushioning charms spread out around the playground, but they’re all twisted as thorns and wickedly sharp, not a single soft landing among them, the playground nowhere near as safe as it’s supposed to be. Harry clutches desperately at Teddy, unable to move for fear of killing them both, and then he spots Malfoy sitting on a nearby bench, and everything stills.

Malfoy is watching them with dark eyes, a small smile etched over his face. He unfolds himself from his seat and prowls over, all fanged angles, just like the thorns, but when Harry’s eyes find his, they seem like a soft place to land. Malfoy reaches them and sends a grin upward that secures Teddy on Harry’s shoulders and bursts Harry’s heart open wide.

“Having fun?” he asks. Looking to Harry, his grin takes on the gleam of a smirk, which sends those flutters in Harry positively everywhere. “You really should have brought me, you know.” He leans in to touch Harry’s temple, breath warm and sweet against Harry’s lips. Harry’s heart turns over and he steals a kiss without thinking.

“Oh,” Malfoy breathes, in a rather different tone.

Harry opens his eyes, suddenly back in his bedroom and wide awake to find Malfoy’s face only an inch away — hovering over his. They gaze at each other, and Malfoy, and Malfoy, and Malfoy, and Malfoy…

Wetting his lips, Malfoy whispers, “I thought— Your glasses—” He’s got them clutched in one hand, his arm stretched half-across Harry as if he’d been about to deposit them on Harry’s bedside table. Unmoving, Malfoy says, “He’s still asleep, and I got him wrapped around a pillow, and—” His eyes fall to Harry’s mouth.

Harry wonders briefly what he should do. Nothing, probably.

Instead, Harry simply goes with his instincts, relieved to find he does have some after all, and lifts his head that scant inch to kiss Malfoy again. He exhales a shiver when Malfoy’s lips move against his own.

The kiss is unassuming and sweet and arousing as hell, and Harry wishes he weren’t so tired, that he could explore it a little more. He can’t find his breath when Malfoy pulls back — White-silver-cream-pink-grey-dark as they were in the dream.— and for once Harry doesn’t miss it.

“What time is the film?” Malfoy asks.


“I’ll be here by one,” Malfoy says. He hesitates. Brushes his lips once more over Harry’s. “Get some sleep.”

Harry hears his glasses drop onto the table. Malfoy eases back, skirts around a snoring Teddy, and rolls out of Harry’s bed. Harry watches him through lowered lashes as he stands there for a moment, pressing the back of his hand to one cheek. Then Malfoy gives himself a little shake, swoops to gather his shoes, and strides out the door.

Turning on his side, Harry studies Teddy. Malfoy wasn’t exaggerating; all four of Teddy’s limbs are wrapped around one of Harry’s pillows. He’s so little, a fresh burst of fear almost sucks Harry down again. He makes himself breathe. He touches Teddy’s back and walks fingers up five delicate knobs of his spine. Teddy sighs, his back curving against the pads of Harry’s fingers, and it reassures Harry — that Teddy feels safe, and that he knows how much he’s loved.

Harry lets his hand fall away and stops counting. Smiling, he closes his eyes.