“It just doesn’t make sense,” Harry said, feeling more than a little out of place. For one thing, though he’d never want to admit it, it felt a bit odd to be the only person scowling in a room full of revellers. For another, the case file had said “Muggle dress,” not “Muggle dress of the chic, fashionable, posh twat variety,” and feeling underdressed was doing nothing for his mood.
“Then why’d you sign off on it, mate?” Ron asked, around a mouthful of tiny little cheese cubes. Unlike Harry, he was off duty, and availing himself of wine and snacks accordingly.
“Not that. The plan makes sense.” Harry sighed. “It’s…all of this.”
Luna’s dreamy hum only made Harry feel like an even bigger stick in the mud. “Modern art is meant to be open to interpretation. Perhaps it’s your point of view?”
“Not the art.” Though that didn’t make sense to him either.
“Somehow,” Hermione piped up from behind him, “I suspect that Harry means Malfoy’s involvement in the procurement and display of Muggle art, particularly as intended for a mixed Muggle and wizarding audience and requiring quite a lot of unusual security.”
“Ah.” Luna nodded sagely. “Then tilting your head probably won’t help.”
“Not after he almost lost it over the paperwork.” Ron laughed, washing down a cracker with a tiny plastic glass of red, onto the side of which Malfoy had had the gallery’s name inscribed for the occasion: Illuminate in a loping script, with a Muggle lightbulb standing in for the dot over the second ‘i.’ “Took weeks, this.”
“It certainly was an unusual request,” Hermione mused.
“Yeah,” Harry said. That was an understatement. Malfoy had wanted a Muggle entrance opening on to a Muggle street, charms to block Apparition, unusually heavy security charms on the outside of the building, a long and particular list of charms on specific rooms and stairwells, and all of it while refusing standard Muggle-repelling Charms and requiring specific charm placement to avoid interference with an electronic Muggle security system. His application for a Muggle-accessible magical space was so intricate that Hermione, as head of the Department of Muggle Relations, had had to personally sign off on it twice. Once it came to the Department of Magical Law Enforcement Robards had, on Hermione’s advice, required unusually precise Muggle-repelling and Disillusionment Charms for all entrances and exits to magical areas, which had led to several lengthy and increasingly irritable rounds of bureaucratic back and forth, and the ultimate determination that a specialist would have to come out and do it. It had taken two Unspeakables the better part of a day, which struck Harry as a colossal waste of Ministry resources. It had also required an Auror to come out for the opening of the blasted show, to stand by with an Obliviate at the ready if the Statute of Secrecy was broken—a job which had fallen to Harry, whom Robards thought was especially good at blending in with Muggles, and which Harry thought was a colossal waste of both Ministry resources and his own Friday night.
“And,” Hermione added, “I will admit, while he certainly made an earnest case in our meetings, it was a bit unexpected, all things considered.”
Ron snorted. “To say the least.”
“I don’t know,” Luna said, and Harry wasn’t sure at first whether she was speaking to them or to a nearby photograph. “He’s given away rather a lot of money.”
“Lots of money for the rest of us.” Bitterness crept into Ron’s voice. “Probably tuppence to Malfoy.”
“He certainly can’t have given away that much,” Hermione agreed, albeit with a bit more politesse, “if he’s able to buy a space like this on Diagon Alley with a storefront on Charing Cross Road.”
Luna hummed again.
Across the room, Malfoy flitted from group to group, laughing and chattering and making introductions. He was tall and lean and impeccably dressed in a slim grey suit over a pale blue jumper that looked soft even a dozen yards away, and loafers shined to such a luster that they seemed to reflect each individual track light as Malfoy zigged and zagged across the wooden floor.
Harry loathed him on so many principles he could barely keep them straight.
Ron was helpful enough on all the ones about Malfoy being generally a prick. A rich, spoiled, entitled arsehole who had inherited his mother’s upturned nose and his father’s snobbish expectation of deference, even if he had taken to directing them towards Muggles and wizards in equal measure.
Hermione was equally helpful on the ones about Malfoy’s role in the war. He’d apologised with a full-page ad in the Prophet; it had made plenty of waves but, Hermione was quick to point out, had done very little to improve much of anything at all. Or at least she had been quick to point that out before whatever Malfoy’d had to say in their gallery-related meetings. And while Malfoy and friends made periodic shows of repentance, Harry was never able to bring himself round to seeing them as anything more than that. Particularly when they involved displays of wealth and influence.
Luna was mostly mysterious, and Harry wasn’t even really sure how or why she was in attendance. Mostly, he was glad for the company, except that Luna seemed much more sanguine about the whole thing than Harry would’ve expected for someone who’d been tortured in the Malfoy dungeons. That only fueled Harry’s sense that something was afoot.
And it was a sense he just couldn’t shake. He was grateful that his friends were there, that they’d given up their Fridays to keep him company while he was stuck on an unwanted assignment, but even their presence couldn’t entirely assuage his sense that Malfoy was up to something. It ate at him, buzzing under his skin, making his usual restlessness all the more pressing. It wasn’t any one thing, but all of them combined. And as combinations of factors went, he couldn’t help feeling—as Malfoy swanned about the room, drinking wine and laughing—like his ire was unusually well-justified.
Draco felt like he might vibrate out of his skin. In fact, he was fairly certain that only the occasional calming touch from Blaise or Pansy kept him from shattering under the strain of the evening.
It had, like so many things in his life, seemed like a good idea at the time. An avant garde, creative approach to building Muggle-wizarding ties. A way to bring people together, to change hearts and minds.
The reality was another story. Making introductions across Muggle and wizarding lines was harrowing at best, particularly when some of the involved parties had to be left in the dark as to what was happening. The artists were brilliant and he was grateful to every one of them, and he still hadn’t expected to feel this badly about bald-facedly lying to each and every one as he introduced them to “eccentric collectors” and “reclusive devotees” and prayed that those descriptors were enough to account for an array of odd sartorial choices that would have made Issie Blow herself raise an eyebrow. Nor had he expected to be quite so concerned about the damned Statute of Secrecy, but with Potter and company glowering across the room it was difficult to set aside the very real fact that it was his hide on the line if some easily offended society wizard turned someone into a frog. At least, he supposed, they’d managed to blend; Potter seemed to be a master of lo-fi artist chic, with his scuffed leather boots and perfectly worn jeans and vintage leather jacket, though he supposed odds were even that Potter hadn’t put in any effort at all and had just got stupidly lucky, as usual. But none of that changed the likelihood that they were waiting for the first glimpse of a wand as a pretext for throwing his afterparty in a Ministry holding cell.
He tried to take a calming breath. It did absolutely nothing.
Twenty feet off, Finch-Fletchley weaved his way towards Draco, who did his level best not to flinch at the way Finch-Fletchley’s tendency towards grandiose gesticulation had his wine sloshing nearly over the rim of his glass.
“Malfoy! I say, old bean, this is a roaring success!”
“With all thanks to you.” Malfoy had never thought he’d owe genuine thanks to a Hufflepuff; life was, if nothing else, full of surprises. But Finch-Fletchley’s promise to deliver a cadre of Etonians and the like to diffuse the crowd, and his assistance in mediating between the Muggle and magical attendees, had been almost as invaluable as the painting he was threatening to splatter with Cab Sauv.
Pansy appeared as if out of nowhere and linked her arm with Finch-Fletchley’s, on the wine-holding side. Draco mouthed a, “Thank you,” at her.
She nodded at him, and leaned into Finch-Fletchley’s ear. “Have you seen, Rosabelle Ollivander is flirting shamelessly with Chris Ofili? Isn’t he married?”
“No,” Finch-Fletchley half-gasped, half-slurred. “He is!”
Draco let Pansy’s voice wash over him.
“He is,” she agreed, tucking Finch-Fletchley’s elbow more securely into her side. “But dreadfully handsome and has the Turner Prize. Who could blame her?”
Leave it to Pansy to have learned the names and biographies of every wealthy, famous, and titled Muggle in attendance. He did love her dearly.
“We ought to find her someone eligible! Someone Etonian! Or—” Finch-Fletchley paused, looking querulous. “Hogwartsian? Beauxbatonian? Malfoy, did you invite the French?”
“He most certainly did,” Pansy interrupted. “Shall I introduce you?”
If he weren’t thoroughly homosexual, and she wasn’t completely preoccupied with Blaise, Draco would’ve gladly offered to sire her firstborn, complete with rights to any remaining Malfoy trusts.
Except that she was leaving to make introductions, the bint, which meant he had to circulate.
He resisted the urge to make a beeline directly for Blaise. Instead, he made a meandering sort of loop through Damien and Rachel’s conversation with an enraptured Olive Pucey-Wildsmith, then to visit a slightly wobbly Tracey (who he would have sworn was slightly less clothed than she had been at the beginning of the evening, and who was deeply ensconced in conversation with Graham Jorkins, who seemed not the least bit deterred by her déshabillé), and then to discuss framing and lighting with Stuart, who was entirely focused on the technical possibilities of the space—a rather unnerving line of questioning for Draco, who had conceded to having both a fax machine and the internet installed for the sake of business, but who wasn’t entirely sure he could explain even the most rudimentary functioning of either.
It was a wonder, he thought, that he strolled up to Blaise twenty minutes after setting out across the reception, rather than staggering exhaustedly into his arms.
Blaise didn’t pause in his conversation with an older witch, whom Draco didn’t recognise but whose magical heritage was indicated by the choice of a gold lamé waistcoat over a ballgown that could’ve come directly out of the Black family mausoleum.
He felt Blaise press a firm hand to his shoulder and heard him bid the witch adieu, with the excuse of getting the gallerist a drink. Draco was more soothed by the comforting touch than he’d ever been by the sort of cheap Cab that was de rigueur at these sorts of events—it was difficult to justify quality when artists and guests alike enjoyed such quantity—but he let Blaise steer him to the bar regardless.
Blaise’s chatter was a pleasant hum, until Draco heard him drop his voice. “Hope you’re keeping a bit of an eye on the Gryffindors.”
“Why?” Draco barely resisted the urge to turn and look for them.
“Precedent,” Blaise said. “Principle.”
Draco wished Blaise weren’t quite so correct, or that he wasn’t so unnerved at the prospect of Potter’s—all of their, really—disapproval. “Is Luna Lovegood still with them?”
Blaise peered over Draco’s shoulder. “Yes?”
“Okay.” Draco felt himself relax just a bit. “Good.”
“That Lovegood is involved?”
Blaise quirked an eyebrow and left it at that, for a moment. “Regardless, do be careful. This is—well, really quite magnificent work you’ve done. I’d rather do ten detentions with Snape than see it undermined by a bit of red-and-gold righteousness.”
Draco resisted the urge to hug him, and wished he wasn’t quite so likely to be correct.
“Tilting your head might not be the answer, but it can’t hurt.”
Harry jumped. Luna had been gazing so contentedly at a photograph of grass, and Harry had been staring so determinedly at Malfoy, that he’d almost forgotten they were meant to be conversing. But they were; Ron’s sixth tiny plastic glass of red wine and Hermione’s fourth had seemed to serve as a cue to them both that it was time to head for bed, and it was just Luna left. Harry was grateful for the company, if unsure of how to reply.
“Er. I don’t know that art is going to be my thing, even sideways.”
“All sorts of angles can make a difference.”
“Can’t hurt to try.”
“Ninety degrees to the left?” He held his hand out and turned it.
Luna chuckled. “You could always give it a go. The alarm system would add a certain je ne sais quoi to the soundscape, don’t you think?”
Harry smiled in spite of himself. “Can’t hurt to try.”
“I’ll leave you to it, then. Arresting oneself for attempted burglary can be quite time-consuming, and I’ve got to get home to tend my Blibbering Humdingers. I’ve got them a new aviary, but if the Flutterby Bushes aren’t watered and heated on a regular schedule, it can get a bit messy.”
“And leave me to the wolves?”
“Blibbering Humdingers are just as ferocious under the right circumstances. Though they do manage to fly in a straight line”—she leaned in conspiratorially—“which is more than I can say for Justin Finch-Fletchley and Pansy Parkinson at the moment.”
Harry laughed, saw Malfoy cast a sharp glance in his direction, and bit his lip to keep from losing all professionalism. “Can’t disagree with your assessment. Too bad I have to stay until they’ve weaved their way out of the building.”
Luna patted his shoulder gently. “If it gets to be a bit too much, you can always come visit the Humdingers. Just remember a Shield Charm. Better safe than sorry!”
He laughed and gave her a parting hug. “How do you put up with them?”
“The Humdingers are really quite rewarding.”
He nodded across the room at their former schoolmates. “Them. You’re so calm about it. Is that a bit of head-tilting, too?”
She smiled gently and squeezed his hand. “All is not what it seems. Sometimes it’s a matter of knowledge, rather than perspective.” She tilted her head, then. “Though Pansy really is a bit sloshed, isn’t she?”
“I’m sure the Humdingers would be thrilled to see you. And between us, they might be a bit easier to manage.” She squeezed his hand again and let go, and he smiled as she headed towards the magical exit, neatly concealed behind a floating grey wall bearing a picture of Merlin only knew what.
He watched her leave, and sighed.
Draco hoped neither panic nor wistfulness showed on his face as Blaise brought a pile of coats towards the last remaining cluster of guests.
Blaise’s deep voice echoed through the increasingly empty space. “Shall we, then? Into the cold night air?” He held up the coats with one hand, and hooked an arm around Pansy’s waist to lift her off the floor with the other.
“No, no!” Pansy shrieked, laughing and kicking at the air, and Draco’s heart ached. He longed to go with them, to get a bit sloshed and wile away the wee hours until his anxiety was replaced by the sense of optimism and accomplishment that Blaise and Pansy seemed to think ought to be the evening’s ending note.
Blaise passed out coats and, while artists and a few remaining wizards shrugged into them, beckoned Draco over. He spoke quietly, his arm still draped around a decidedly distracted-looking Pansy. “We figured we’d get them out of here so you could close up. Join us when you’re done?” He paused. “Will you be alright?”
“Yes,” Draco said. He knew it lacked conviction.
“Really?” Pansy asked, her voice far more sober than he would’ve expected. “Even with Potter skulking about?”
“He’s not wrong to be sceptical,” Draco said. “No one is. Much as I wish I could change the past, if that’s what he’s going off…”
She hesitated. “That was another time. You were a different person.”
“I know. But Potter doesn’t. If he’s going off the evidence, he’s got every reason to think this is all some grand deception. Or worse.”
“And I know you’ll let him rant and rail, if that’s what he needs to do.”
“It’s a miracle no one else has,” Draco interrupted. He’d been expecting it. Prepared for it.
“I suppose.” Pansy pursed her lips. “But promise you won’t let him walk all over you, or misinterpret? Cook things up for the Ministry?”
“I won’t. Not with the gallery.” Draco paused. “With the rest, though…”
They shared a heavy silence.
“It’s hard to know, isn’t it?” Draco said. “If it’s enough?”
Pansy looked at the floor. Blaise’s affability flickered. Pansy looked around furtively, then spoke first. “It never can be, can it?”
Draco shook his head. The ache deepened. “No.”
She looked up, catching his eye. “Doesn’t mean it’s not progress though. That’s what you’re always saying, anyway.”
Blaise chimed in. “Best to take your own advice.”
“Rarely if ever.” Draco laughed, or tried to.
“In this instance, then.” Blaise paused, looking over his shoulder to see that the remaining guests were still arranging themselves. “It really is an accomplishment, you know. This much of wizarding society, mingling with Muggles? Admiringly? Spending money on Muggle art?”
Draco shifted uneasily. “It’s worth it. Right?”
“We’ve discussed this endlessly, darling. For good reason,” Pansy added, forestalling Draco’s complaint. “After everything…it won’t ever be enough, and that’s no reason not to do what one can to make amends. Besides which, being mortgaged up to the eyeballs is practically its own aristocratic tradition, and doing it for this is a fair sight better than Quintis Selwyn’s attempt to sell the Ministry on Muggle locomotion, or Temperance Urquart’s quest to clone Snidgets.”
Draco glanced to Blaise.
“It’s true. Mother’s trying to get husband number eleven to buy the old Selwyn estate. It’s in absolute disrepair, with nothing to show for it but a cellar full of Muggle railroad ties. This has already accomplished more than entire generations of wizarding families have done.”
“Seems like rather an overstatement to me.”
“Don’t be daft,” Pansy said. “This would’ve been unimaginable five years ago.” She deepened her voice, then, putting on the affect they all recognised as her Draco voice. “Pansy, really, don’t be dim, these things take time, Manor houses aren’t built in a day, it’s years, generations of work! All we can do is lay the bricks and hope for the best!”
Draco felt the corner of his mouth quirk upwards in spite of his best efforts. “I do so hate it when I’m right.”
Blaise chuckled. Pansy grinned, back to her own voice. “Truly, unthinkable even five years ago!”
Looking quickly at his guests to make sure they were preoccupied—and around the room for Potter, lest he spot anything he shouldn’t—Draco pulled them in for a quick hug. “Thank you,” he whispered, and hoped the crack in his voice could be written off as a result of volume rather than emotion.
“It matters,” Pansy whispered back. Blaise squeezed them both tighter.
“Alright?” Blaise repeated.
“Yes,” Draco said, and sounded a bit firmer about it, if he did say so himself.
“Okay, then.” Blaise squeezed his shoulder.
“Congratulations, darling.” Pansy slipped in for another quick hug, then turned to face the assembled crowd. “To The Golden Heart!”
“Oi oi!!” “Onwards!” “To drink and be merry!” The raucousness built and echoed through the room, and a refreshingly brisk chill seeped in from the open front door. Then quiet fell sharply as the last of them made their way through the door and it clicked shut behind them.
He steeled himself against a wave of emotion. There were still caterers to see too, and sales to process, and a million other tasks that had to be done before he could call the night over. He suspected it would be much longer before he could call it a success, regardless of his friends’ encouragement.
Without his friends’ company, the only thing left for Harry to do was patrol. Which wasn’t even technically what he’d been assigned to do, but who knew where witches and wizards might be casting ill-advised spells? And anyway, the alternative was standing alone with Malfoy, periodically staring at him and periodically trying not to.
He made his way through room after room, growing ever more restless. Each one seemed just like the last, with their bright white walls and polished floors and track lighting. It smelled like floor polish and sterility.
The art wasn’t much better. In one room, canvases with big blocks of colour. In another, a geometric mishmash that he could make neither heads nor tails of, except to say that it came off as vaguely aggressive. In another, a collection of bulbous sculptures that left him feeling unsure as to whether he was meant to be relaxed or afraid. In another, pictures of a man covered in black latex crawling across a bench with a whip in his mouth, then lying across the rough-hewn plank languorously, and Harry was on to the next room before he could feel anything he’d quite like to avoid feeling while sharing a building with Malfoy.
The excuse of patrol grew thinner and thinner. The sound emanating from the party downstairs was growing ever quieter, and there wasn’t anyone left in the galleries.
Reluctantly, he made his way back towards the reception hall, where he was rather sorry to learn how right he’d been.
As he stood in the entrance, Malfoy waved his thanks to the caterers as they wheeled out the last of the tables. When Malfoy turned around, it was just the two of them.
The room was massive and, Harry felt, rather too bright. With its cavernous ceilings and glaringly white walls and sparkling floor and rows and rows of lights, there was nowhere to hide. Nowhere to look, even.
Something passed over Malfoy’s face. When he cleared his throat, it seemed to echo.
The last time Harry had seen him they had almost come to blows. It had been just the two of them, outside on the terrace at a fundraiser for something or other. Malfoy had said his name—“Potter”—and it had seemed so snide, so dismissive, that Harry couldn’t resist a retort, and then Malfoy couldn’t resist one back, and it had all been downhill from there. They hadn’t spoken since. Harry thought that was for the best.
But the consequences of fisticuffs while on the job—particularly when unprovoked and directed at the person he’d been sent to help—weren’t worth it. Besides which, he was an adult. He knew better.
He did remember, then. “Erm. Yes.”
He didn’t have anything else to say. Malfoy didn’t seem to, either.
Draco had meant to defuse the situation. As soon as the words were out of his mouth, and as soon as that look passed over Potter’s face, he knew he’d done the opposite. But then, if their past record was anything to go by, there wasn’t anything he could’ve safely said, not even Potter’s name, without being misunderstood to the point of near-blows.
Though with Potter standing there with his arms crossed, looking like a gathering storm, he was fairly certain he needed to try something. “Did you enjoy the show?”
Potter furrowed his brow. The effect of his lightning-bolt scar creasing and moving downwards only enhanced the general effect; Draco half expected to hear a thunderbolt. “Do you care?”
Draco grit his teeth. “Just trying to be polite.”
Potter snorted. “Are we done for the evening?”
“An answer after all. I suppose the prospect of culture has always been aversive to you.”
“You have no idea what’s aversive to me.”
“Other than manners, clearly.” Merlin, it felt good to say it. After hours of holding in any thought that wasn’t entirely politic, after days stewing in his own nerves, it felt as good as anything. Even if Potter’s clenched fist suggested that it was as ill-advised as it was cathartic.
“Didn’t realise making assumptions was considered good manners nowadays.” Potter swiped back.
It was more thrilling than Draco cared to admit. “Didn’t realise you knew much of anything about good manners. Or perhaps caring about them is simply beneath you? That must be the case, if all you can think to ask is whether you can escape your loathsome, onerous evening of standing around eating crudités amongst Britain’s most well-regarded artists.”
“It’s my job, Malfoy. It’s Friday night, it’s late, I’m still on the clock, and it’s perfectly bloody reasonable to want to go home. Who wouldn’t want to do that?”
It wasn’t that Potter was wrong, per se. It was that Draco had clearly got under his skin, and it was just as exciting as it had always been. “Anyone with the least capacity for art, erudition, taste, style, or British history. Though I suppose that disqualifies you entirely.”
“It’s my fucking job,” Potter repeated. “The only thing I’m here to do is make sure the art doesn’t get Transfigured in front of Muggles.”
“Of course that’s all you’d be able to imagine.” Draco knew he should de-escalate; he could see Potter’s fist relaxing and tightening, relaxing and tightening. It just felt so fucking good to let something out, anything at all.
“Imagination?” Potter sputtered, the sound of his outrage resonating beautifully through the room. “What the bloody hell do you want from an Auror patrol?”
“A bit of intelligence is never a bad start.” Draco could see colour gathering in Potter’s cheeks.
“You’ve got no idea what you’re on about.”
“No?” Malfoy said, “I—” He heard a click.
He thought—then, a split second later, prayed—that it had been Potter’s anger culminating into some sort of actual, magically-fuelled storm cloud.
He looked to the clock, and the electric energy of picking at Potter flowed completely out of his body.
“What is it?” Harry knew Malfoy well enough to know he wasn’t easily struck silent, yet he seemed completely frozen. Harry’s shoulders tensed. “Malfoy?”
Malfoy stood stock still, staring at the wall over the reception desk.
“Malfoy,” Harry tried again, his tone sharper.
It seemed to work. Malfoy turned to him, slowly, his face ashen. “You should know.” He nodded towards the wall. “You did the paperwork.”
Harry scanned the wall. Some posters, a sign at the end of the wall pointing towards the loos, a clock.
Fuck. The clock. It read 12:05. Five minutes after midnight.
Five minutes after the strictest security charms cycled into place.
Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. He tried to keep his breathing even, but it was an uphill battle.
Fuck. There had to be an out. He couldn’t be trapped here. Not without an escape.
He scanned the room.
No windows other than at the street entrance to Charing Cross Road, which bore a massive, stencilled version of Illuminate’s name in that same scrolling typography. Those were built to be shatter-resistant and bulletproof. He knew from unfortunate experience that the combination of thick security glass and a Confringo wasn’t likely to end well for anyone.
Closed ductwork. No escape there even if he had been able to get that close to the twelve-foot ceilings without a boost from Malfoy, who he rather doubted would respond favorably to such a request. It would probably just get him yet more snide commentary, probably on the comparative quality of Harry’s scuffed work boots to Malfoy’s pristine suit.
No hidden stairwells that the Unspeakables hadn’t accounted for.
No fireplaces, and they couldn’t have been connected to the Floo for a Muggle event even if they’d been present.
None of the toilets were made to act as back-up transport. Harry didn’t know why. Probably Malfoy was too stuck-up to be willing to entertain the thought in his hoity-toity gallery.
The exit from the gallery to Diagon Alley had sealed itself at midnight.
The only way out was the most obvious one, and he had the sinking feeling it was too obvious for Malfoy to have missed it. “What about the Muggle entrance?”
Malfoy shook his head, still pale, and looking wary to boot. “Muggle security system.”
“Locks?” He felt a glimmer of hope. George had taught him to pick them the Christmas after Hogwarts, after he kept having nightmares about being locked in the Room of Requirement. Maybe Malfoy had the same fear, the same instinct to escape.
“No,” Malfoy said. “Well, yes. But—”
“Do you have the key?”
“Yes.” Malfoy’s irritation radiated. “Right here.” He patted the pocket of his suit jacket. “But it only works during the day. The night-time security locks are electromagnetic and set on a timer. Nothing in or out between midnight and 7am.”
“Why would you do that?” Harry couldn’t help it, it burst out before he could even really consider the question.
Malfoy looked at him like he was stupid, and it took real effort to unclench his fists again. “The combined value of the works on display is upwards of 25 million pounds, Potter. Most of the artists wouldn’t show their work in the first place if it wasn’t protected by a top-of-the line security system. A Muggle security system, of the sort they’d understand.”
Money and fame. Of course. Harry felt almost as stupid as Malfoy seemed to think he was; of course that’s what would have motivated Malfoy.
Harry forced himself to unclench his fist again; he didn’t even know when it had re-formed. He tried to make himself breathe, to relax his jaw, to loosen his shoulders, to run through every subtle calming technique they’d learned in training, and a few of the more unusual ones he’d learned from Luna and Hermione. He had to remember that not every little bump in the road was a dark lord. Not every obstacle was a potentially deadly one. Not everything was trying to kill him. The war was over. There was no reason to think he was unsafe.
But fuck if being trapped inside with Malfoy didn’t feel like a bit of the war all over again.
The alternative to finding Potter’s ire thrilling was finding it utterly exhausting. The more Potter gnashed his teeth, the more Draco felt waves of fatigue lapping at his toes.
“Look,” he tried. “The worst case scenario is that we’re locked in. We can send a Patronus for help and someone can come get us.”
“We can’t,” Potter said. His anger seemed to be tinged with panic.
Draco found it unsettling in the extreme. Anger was one thing; Potter specialised in that. The combination of Potter and fear, on the other hand, traditionally foretold such great misfortune that Draco was half-tempted to run for cover. “Why not?”
“The security charms make it impossible. Nothing corporeal in or out.”
“A Patronus is not corporeal.”
Potter spoke through gritted teeth. “Anything that would look corporeal to a Muggle.”
“Oh.” That did present a more complicated problem.
“Yes,” Potter agreed. “The doors are locked from both sides?”
It took Draco a moment to understand the question. “As in, inside and outside?”
“Weren’t you the one raised by Muggles? That is generally standard practice.”
“Fuck off,” Potter said, so low under his breath that Draco could elect to ignore it. Then, louder, “Who knows how you arranged things, with your stupid bespoke security plans? Maybe the door opens out!”
“No,” Draco replied. “It’s standard practice. And anyway, if the charms failed and a wizard Apparated in, they’d be able to just walk out with the art.”
“Yeah, as if wizards want to steal, what, a couple of splotches and a picture of grass?”
That rankled. “Perhaps you can’t see the value of Muggle art. That doesn’t mean no one else can.”
“I didn’t mean Muggle, I meant bad.”
“It’s not—” Draco stopped. It wasn’t worth the argument. “Look, Potter. Usually in wizarding museums and galleries, curators and gallerists rely on the paintings themselves to report back in case of theft. The artist paints a small replica or extension of the original, which remains in a locked vault until the work is purchased, in which case it goes with the new owner. If the original contains a person, the replica doesn’t need to; in case of a landscape or still life, the replica will extend the subject of the original and include some sort of portrait. If the painting is stolen, the person who’s been painted into the world of the work can travel to and from the replica to tell the owner or, in the case of a public institution, a designated steward, who has stolen the work and where it’s being kept.”
“And what, that won’t work with all these blobby monstrosities?”
It was Draco’s turn to grit his teeth. “Even wizarding abstracts have that feature, just as they would with a landscape. These, in case you’ve forgotten, are Muggle. Which makes that rather impossible.”
Potter scowled and looked away.
“And which also,” Draco continued, “required a bit of inventiveness. I had to be able to protect everything the Muggle way and the magical way. Which means the doors are locked and the phone is cut off by the electromagnetic system, the cameras are closed-circuit—that means there’s no one to see the footage—the magical entrance is closed, we can’t Apparate out, and we can’t send a Patronus.” His heart sank as he heard himself run through the list. “We could send a fax? But there’s no one to receive it past midnight on Friday night. Don’t suppose you left any openings on the roof?”
Potter shook his head without bothering to look back. “Completely sealed in with security and anti-Apparition charms.”
“That’s one word for it.”
“Then…” Draco knew it, really knew it, for the first time. “We’re stuck.”
“Fuck,” Potter said.
Draco couldn’t disagree.
Once, when he was on the edge of a panic attack, Luna had told Harry to try pressing his tongue to the roof of his mouth, with the tip just above his two front teeth and the top tucked up against the ridges, and breathing in for four, holding for four, and exhaling for four. It usually worked. It was sort of working. It was working at least insofar as he was pretty sure Malfoy couldn’t tell what he was doing, and he felt a bit less like climbing the walls, and a bit less like screaming. He supposed that counted as working.
It wasn’t that Malfoy was wrong. It was that he was right. They were stuck. Harry knew it, deep in his bones. Which was, coincidentally, about how deeply it chilled him—to the bone.
He breathed. In four, hold four, out four.
Malfoy was looking around uneasily. Harry thought he might’ve been trying to avoid making eye contact. At least they were on the same page about that.
He’d been through worse. This wasn’t the Forest of Dean. It was climate-controlled and well-lit, and he’d bet that Malfoy had a bottle of wine tucked away somewhere if things got really desperate. And there was no genocidal maniac trying to kill him, which was a distinct plus.
Though there was a genocidal maniac’s former disciple trying to defend modern art, which was its own unique kind of torture.
But he’d been through worse non-mortal peril, as well, he told himself. He’d been on stakeouts where he couldn’t leave his post for hours on end. He’d been on plenty of overnight stakeouts. He’d been on overnight stakeouts with Senior Aurors who smelled like cheese and took their shoes off in tight spaces and burped up Kingfisher and Curry while they were sharing Omnioculars.
He’d grown up in a musty cupboard, for goodness sake.
It was all temporary. He knew that. He knew that this would be too. They had to make it seven hours. That was nothing! Blink of an eye!
He breathed in again. In four, hold four, out four. And again.
Malfoy was mumbling something, which made it rather more difficult to focus on breathing calmly.
He gave up. “What?”
Malfoy scowled at him. “Walking through the options again, while you’re off on your little meditation retreat.”
Just like that, the urge to scream returned. His jaw tightened. “We’ve walked through all the options.”
“Maybe you missed something.”
“Maybe you missed something.”
Malfoy narrowed his eyes.
It wasn’t useful. Harry knew it wasn’t useful. Third rule of a stakeout (after ‘don’t fall asleep’ and ‘don’t lose focus’) was to put up with your partner’s weird foibles without saying anything that would compromise the integrity of the mission, including by pissing them off. “Why the fuck did you do this, anyway?”
Okay, maybe the “fuck” wasn’t quite in line with the mission, but he was fairly certain it was still an improvement.
Malfoy didn’t exactly move, but it looked to Harry like his narrowed eyes were less in line with a scowl and more in line with a squint. “What?”
“Why did you do this?” Harry said, managing to omit the profanity on the second go.
“This.” Harry gestured around the room. “All of this. The paint blobs, the Muggle security. The Muggle artists.”
Malfoy frowned. “It’s good for Muggle-wizarding relations.”
Harry tried not to gape, though his disbelief was hard to contain.
Malfoy continued smoothly, as though this was a speech he had rehearsed. “It’s a useful contribution that I am uniquely poised to make towards the improvement of wizarding ideology with regard to Muggles and their contributions. It seemed a useful thing to do, to build bridges and reduce cultural divides. I like the works and their artists. It is a way of expanding their audience.”
Harry didn’t gape, but he did goggle a bit. Surely it had to be a lie. Muggle-wizarding relations? Building bridges?
“You like the art?” he said. Rule number three.
Draco blinked, trying very hard to look neither stupid nor stunned. He hadn’t been sure an honest answer was advisable. He still wasn’t sure it had been. But of all of the things for Potter to pick up on…
And to sound so disbelieving about. ‘You like the art?’ As though it was impossible to love art that required a bit of thought. A bit of context.
Maybe it was, for Potter.
“Yes, Potter.” He thought he managed to sound reasonable. Civil. “I like the art.”
“But it’s blobs! And weeds and things!”
Did Potter ever think before he spoke? “If you’re going to be literal about it.”
“That’s literally what it is! Blobs of paint and pictures of dirt and runty little weeds.”
“If you’re going to completely abandon all context, history, conceptual underpinning, advancement through medium, and meta-analysis, sure, Potter, that’s what it is.”
“Oh, of course.” Potter laughed bitterly. “It’s fancy art that only fancy people can understand. Too good for the rest of us. It all makes sense now. Perfectly on brand. Malfoy: Exclusive Poshness Limited.”
Merlin, but Potter was bloody exhausting. That wasn’t it at all. Draco hadn’t had a clue when he’d stumbled into a Muggle museum the first time. Hadn’t known anything about art except that it meant cantankerous old relatives with terrible politics who managed to take pleasure in judging every aspect of one’s life even from beyond the grave. Wizarding art was so invested in portraiture, plus the occasional landscape meant to provide the bored portraits with a bit of a holiday, that he’d never considered what art could be.
He’d been stunned the first time he’d seen an irregular canvas; had stood, agog, in front of a trapezoid so bursting with colour that he couldn’t have any reaction to it that wasn’t purely grounded in emotion.
He’d barely slept the night after he’d seen the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern, when he’d walked in from the dreary London weather and found himself blinded by the sun, only to learn that it was Muggle-made. That it wasn’t only wizards who could change the world around them, wasn’t only magic that could leave him humbled and overcome. That their art could move him to lie down among the Muggles and feel what they were feeling. And then he’d seen behind the sun, the intricate mechanics of its creation, and realised he could make something of his own, and he’d lain awake all night wondering how to capture it.
He’d thought his heart might beat out of his chest the first time he saw a video installation, and then a performance. He was bowled over at learning that Muggles created their canvases and photographs with dyes and chemicals and a careful hand and a discerning eye. How much they had to love it, how much they had to devote themselves to it, to capture their world without the help of magic.
The blobs thrilled him. The pictures of weeds made him rethink every mundane bit of pavement. The conceptual works gave him more to puzzle through than wizard chess had ever done. Even the Muggle portraiture outshone anything he’d seen before. It might not move, but it was still far more thought-provoking than Sir Cadogan.
There was no way Potter would understand any of that. Or wouldn’t willfully misunderstand it, even if he did.
He sighed. “If that’s what you want to think.”
Potter snorted. “Bit hard to see anything else in the blobs and weeds.”
“Have you even tried?” It was ill-advised, so ill-advised, he knew it as soon as it was out of his mouth.
“Tried what? Tilting my head? Counting the paint specks?”
“Looking at the art. Really looking.”
Potter squinted at him. “What are you on about? I was looking at the art all night.”
“No, Potter. Looking. I—” He pointed to the wall. “Those blobs. What do you see?”
Potter turned to the wall, incredulous. “Those? The faces with the window at the end?”
Draco felt something that felt like a glimmer of hope. “Faces?”
“Yeah,” Potter said. He tilted his head without seeming to realise it. “With the window at the end.”
“It’s called Four Doors (1).”
“Doors?” Potter squinted. “The one at the end, maybe, but those are definitely faces. Look, the red dots are eyes, and the blue lines are a mouth. Maybe the one at the end is a door.”
“A door to where?”
Potter tilted his head the other way. “A garden, maybe? I don’t know it’s—” He cut himself off.
“That’s the thing, isn’t it? It could be a door, or a window, or a face. And if it’s a door, it could be a door to anywhere. It’s what you make of it.”
Potter didn’t say anything, which Draco found fairly remarkable compared to the condescension he’d expected.
“What about this one?” He directed Potter’s attention to the next one, which Gary had done about the same time.
“If those were doors, these definitely are.”
“This one’s called Girl Boy, Boy Girl.”
“Are you telling me these are meant to be faces? They look exactly like the doors.”
“I’m not telling you anything about what they’re meant to be. That’s the purpose of them.”
“That’s a pretty dodgy purpose.”
Potter seemed to think about the question. Or maybe he was just confused by the existential mystery of the paint blobs. Draco wasn’t sure which would’ve been more shocking. Either way, he was feeling a bit unnerved by Potter’s reaction, which involved about a thousand percent less mocking or antagonism than he’d expected. It might have been the most confusing thing to happen all evening, though it was still better than the alternative.
“Isn’t it?” Potter finally said.
Malfoy was infuriating. That wasn’t news to Harry, but it was to an altogether new level when adding a layer of enigmatic art aficionado to “posh twat” and “fucking Death Eater” (“former,” he thought Luna might add, but then the enigmatic shit probably wouldn’t do her head in, either). It was a bunch of blobs which mostly looked like faces and, sure, maybe a couple of doors, not a bloody riddle. Yet Malfoy insisted on making it out to be the key to the universe.
Served Harry right for indulging the conversation. Getting curious about it all. He knew what lay behind mysterious doors: Basilisks, Boggarts and, once or twice, Ron and Hermione in situations that they’d all rather not acknowledge. Some doors were best left unopened, and Harry didn’t think his life would be too diminished by ignoring the mystery of the blobs.
And anyway, Malfoy was acting like he was thick, which was just not on. Not when Malfoy’s whole explanation of the whys was basically beyond comprehension. Besides which, Harry thought, it was pretty dodgy to put together a bunch of random shapes and colours and then expect someone to add their own meaning.
Though rule number three made that the clearly preferable conversational choice. “Come off it, Malfoy. It’s not doing anything. What kind of art is it if it expects the viewer to do all the work?
Malfoy’s eyebrows popped up. Harry resisted any outward sign of victory.
Of course, Malfoy didn’t actually miss a beat. “What kind of art is it if it serves its meaning up on a platter and doesn’t engage with the viewer at all? If it exists simply as a passive object?”
“The pretty kind? The historical kind?”
“You can’t tell me that the old portrait of Walburga Black has you convinced that art is meant to be pretty and historical.”
Of course Malfoy would know the inside of his house. The bastard. “She certainly won’t let go of the past. And if you’re such an expert, you can’t tell me she exists as a passive object.”
“That’s a vast oversimplif—” Malfoy stopped.
The lights went out.
“Fuck,” Malfoy said.
Harry’s back tensed and he fell into defensive position, the art completely forgotten. “What is it? Unauthorised entry?”
“No, no. Untwist your knickers, Potter. It’s the bloody security system.”
“Your security system turns off the lights?”
“It dims them automatically at one if no one’s turned them off manually. It makes the art less visible from the street. Wait a moment.”
“Wait a moment? For what?” As Harry spoke, a set of recessed lights flickered.
“For that,” Malfoy said.
The lights came on, casting a dim glow over the room, plus a few spotlights cast at paintings without any rhyme or reason that Harry could discern.
He dropped his fists; no use in Malfoy seeing him ready for battle over a change in the lighting. He’d heard enough ‘scared of the dark, boy?’ jokes in his first eleven years to last him a lifetime and then some.
“Well,” Malfoy said. “I suppose that means you’re saved from the blobs, then.”
Half a dozen biting retorts leapt to Harry’s tongue. He knew all of them were ill-advised.
He just had to treat it like a stakeout. “Look, it’s late anyway.” He thought Malfoy had said one am, though he had no idea how they’d passed an hour. “If the security system is as air-tight as it seems to be, we should try to get some rest. Are there blankets? Cots? Giant stuffed beds of lettuce? Anything like that?”
They just had to get through the night.
There was no way Draco was going to be able to sleep. It would’ve been impossible before he was locked in with Potter—thus the idea of a good old-fashioned all-night piss-up—but the idea of closing his eyes on someone so determined to find him in the wrong was…not exactly restful.
If Potter wanted to, though, so much the better.
“There’s a sofa in my office. Come on.” He turned towards the office and heard Potter following behind him as they crossed through the massive front gallery, through a smaller room, and to the office tucked behind a plain white door. He flipped the lights on. “Voilà.”
He blinked, trying to adjust to the light, and was satisfied when he turned around to see Potter doing the same. He nodded towards the sofa. “It’s perfectly comfortable for an afternoon nap, should be serviceable for the night.”
Draco couldn’t tell whether Potter was squinting from the lights or narrowing his eyes. “Tell me you’re going to Transfigure that.”
“It’s Mies Van Der Rohe, Potter, that’s completely out of question.”
“You can’t mean for us to share it. Malfoy, it’s hardly big enough for one.”
“No.” Draco rolled his eyes. “I have work left to do. You take it.”
“You’re working? Now?”
“It’s not on my dark, evil plans to conquer wizardkind, if that’s your concern.”
Potter took a turn at eye-rolling. Of course he was never too tired for disdain where Draco was concerned. “I thought the blobs kept you on the straight and narrow.”
“No, Potter, it’s the paperwork about blob sales that perform that particular public service.”
“And here I thought they lacked purpose.”
“Of course melodramatic world-saving is the only worthwhile purpose you’re able to discern.”
“Whereas you’re engaged in, what, conceptual, abstract world-saving via wine and cheese nights?”
“Something like that.”
Potter blinked at him. “Whatever, Malfoy. Is this thing going to eat me or something?” He perched gingerly on the edge of the sofa, seeming to test it out.
“No, we left all the carnivorous furniture with Walburga in the old Black residence. Besides which”—he cut off Potter’s riposte—“the Statute of Secrecy is rather a concern, what with all the Muggles about.”
Potter looked suitably befuddled at that. He tested the cushion again. “Fine, Malfoy. I’ll just…be here, I guess. And I swear to Merlin, if any funny pictures of me sleeping end up in the Prophet…”
“Please, Potter. If anyone despises that rag as much as you do, it’s me. I wouldn’t give them the satisfaction, even if it is you.”
“I suppose shared hostility makes for as good a promise as one can get from a Slytherin.”
“What are you, twelve?”
“You’re the one collecting blobs. They do look a bit like Gobstones, come to think of it.”
Draco collected a pile of papers from his desk, looking down quickly in a hopefully subtle attempt to ensure he had everything he needed, or didn’t want Potter to discover. “I’ll be in the reception area out front.”
Potter started unlacing his boots. “Right. Night then, I guess.”
“Yes, well. Sweet dreams, I suppose.” Draco looked at Potter, who stared back inscrutably.
Draco nodded, stepped through the door, and pulled it shut behind him.
He crossed back through to the front gallery and tried to settle himself at the reception desk. There had been sales. More sales than he’d dared to expect. Sales to people he’d never dared hope would come, let alone buy things. Jay Jopling, on the Muggle side, and he’d heard there’d been a representative from Saatchi. And on the wizarding side, Isadora Flint, a distant Yaxley cousin twice removed, and he’d seen Augusta Longbottom, of all people, eyeing one of Jenny Saville’s nudes.
He thought it should have felt like more of a success. He’d sold Muggle works to wizards, to society wizards, to wizards on the Wizengamot, to wizards who ran the most elite wizarding social circuits. Some of the same wizards who had been complicit in or right out in favour of Voldemort’s mission. It had gone well. He knew, intellectually, that Pansy and Blaise were right. It had been worth the risk. It was worth all of the effort that had gone into it.
But Draco could barely sit still. He shuffled papers into one stack and then another, and then back to the first again. He couldn’t make himself focus on the words on the order forms, or fill out the Gringotts transaction requests. He couldn’t even make himself alphabetise it all, so the paperwork would be ready when he felt less like an Exploding Snap card about to blow.
Sleep would’ve been entirely out of the question even if there’d been anywhere to do it.
He’d always secretly loved that the gallery was so vast, that it gave him so much space to walk. There were worse ways to pass the night.
The sofa had seemed comfortable enough when Harry was testing it, but lying down was another matter. It was all tufted leather and he felt like his elbows or his ears or his backside were sinking into the divots. It left him feeling a bit uneven and off-kilter.
He tried rolling over again, facing out into the office with his knees pulled up and his side wedged into the crack between the seat and the back. It felt like he was slowly pressing his hip into concrete.
He sighed and sat up, ruffling his fingers through his hair. He certainly should have been tired enough to sleep. It was late. He’d spent a full shift catching up on paperwork before Malfoy’s event. He’d fallen asleep on harder surfaces—on pavement, on wood pallets, in Muggle tents, maybe even in a pub booth or two. It wasn’t like he’d spent a lifetime growing accustomed to creature comforts. But he hadn’t always felt this electric restlessness then, this totally inability to settle.
And Malfoy’s sofa was probably “supportive,” and it probably cost thousands of pounds, but it was hard as a bloody rock.
He leaned back and let his head hit the wall. There was absolutely no way he was falling asleep.
He glanced around for a clock. The one Malfoy’s desk told him it was 2:30.
There was absolutely no way he was falling asleep, and absolutely no way he was going to make it through four and a half more hours of tossing and turning.
He reached down to put his work boots back on. If Malfoy was working at the front desk, he’d just go in the other direction.
He slipped out of the office quietly, pulling the door shut behind him, and then stopped. It wasn’t like there were all that many places to go.
But he reckoned even the blobs were better than hours of interminable tossing and turning.
He turned right, and made his way down a long, dim hallway.
Without so many people in the building, it smelled better to him. Less like sterility and money, more like wood and a faint, oily sort of scent that reminded him of Mr Weasley’s shed. His shoulders relaxed a bit as he breathed it in and kept walking.
The end of the hallway opened up into a gallery he hadn’t seen before, and he almost stumbled into a massive block of white.
He walked its borders, trying to get his head around it. It was the size of a normal room, and it didn’t feel any smaller for being set within one of Illuminate’s massive galleries. If anything, it felt even larger, as though it towered over him.
It took several long moments of study before he noticed a window—or at least he thought it was a window; it looked just like the ones at Grimmauld Place, except that it seemed to be inside-out. Then he saw a door, similarly inverted, with the door handle appearing as an indent in the plaster. It showed him where he might reach out and enter, in another world, or at another time. As he walked, he saw an indent where a switch plate might have been, but that, too, was only the suggestion of something that might have been. He could never turn the lights on. He couldn’t go inside.
Something welled up in his chest. He could imagine that the room might have been full, once. People might have had merry dinners around the sort of table that could’ve fit inside. They, whoever they were, might’ve filled the room with light and sound and warmth. But all of it was gone; it was a room he couldn’t enter.
He couldn’t look away, and then he had to.
There was a room with more blobs, and maybe it was his own distraction, or that they seemed so flat compared to the room, but Harry didn’t know how so many artists could be so preoccupied with painting lumps and splatters. There was a room with more blobby statues. The idea of carving the blobs seemed even more absurd to Harry than did the idea of painting them. A room full of pictures that seemed like they were supposed to be visual puns caught his attention for a while, but he couldn’t help feeling a bit furtive about it; he was pretty sure that fine art wasn’t meant to be taken as a dirty joke.
Just as he was contemplating making his way to another floor, he spotted a door. It was plain and white and solid, and he didn’t recognise it from the security plans. Those had been meant to show every entry and egress route in and out of the building and to account for all the toilets and utility closets. An unmarked, unmapped door wasn’t a great sign, in Harry’s experience. People tended to store crates of illegal potions behind those, or forbidden ingredients, or illegally traded XXXXX-classified beasts, and once, memorably, a three-headed dog, and ultimately Voldemort all wrapped up in Quirrell’s head.
Harry would admit that he wasn’t great at leaving unmarked doors alone, but in his defense, opening them had usually worked out pretty well for the rest of the wizarding world, so who could blame him?
He drew his wand, ready with both a Lumos and an Expelliarmus, slipped into the room, and almost fell over.
The room expanded endlessly before him, millions of flickering lights seeming to stretch into infinity. For a gut-wrenching moment it reminded him of the Hall of Prophecy, with its glowing orbs stretching towards vaulted ceilings and down never-ending aisles until their luminescence faded into the distant darkness.
But as his eyes adjusted he could see that there weren’t any aisles, nor were there any prophecies. These were lights, glimmering in gold and blue. He reached out a hand to touch one. It was glass, warm to the touch.
He backed away and tried to get his bearings, and found it almost impossible. Some of the lights were constant, some seemed to shimmer and strobe, others winked on and off. They looked less like lights than like the fairies that took over the meadow behind the Burrow in mid-July, but this wasn’t a meadow and these couldn’t be fairies. The lights stretched on forever, boundless. Some hung over his head, others right in front of him, and there were others he had to weave around to avoid walking into them. Each was contained within a warm glass bulb.
It looked like Wizard Space, Harry thought. It had to be. But it didn’t feel like it. The only magic he could feel thrumming through the air was his own. The rest felt like cool air and warm light and electricity.
An echo sounded through the room as he took a tentative step. Harry reached out for another light, and then another, and another, and another, and then another, and startled when his fingers touched icy glass. A split second later he realised he was seeing his own hand reflected back to him. A mirror.
He turned and looked around. Now that he was searching for them, he could see the seams of mirrored panels lining the room. He traced the one nearest him with his fingertips, walking along the wall until he reached the corners of the room. When he focused, he could see the same pattern of mirrors on the opposite wall, and more of them on the floor and ceiling, each reflecting the others reflecting the others reflecting the others until they became an infinity.
Mirrors. It made sense, now he could see it.
It didn’t make him feel any less like he was falling, or like he might ascend into the sky, or like he might be able to run for endless miles, even though he knew he’d collide with glass if he tried. He felt like he could scream, or exhale. He wanted to know what would happen if he did. It seemed incredible that this space could exist, and even more fantastical that it could feel like that without magic.
He held his hand up in front of the mirror and saw the never-ending field of lights surround it. They seemed to hold his hand in their warmth, making it into something new, something as infinite as they were. He crooked a finger, and a thousand other hands did the same.
He lifted his wand and whispered, “Lumos.” He gasped.
The light at the tip of his wand—so familiar, even occasionally taken for granted after all these years—became a glowing ball, and then it became a thousand glowing balls, and then a thousand thousand. He laughed, delighted, and moved his wand. It trailed light through the air, through the glowing orbs, seeming to paint the whole infinite vista with light. He wanted to try an Aguamenti, or an atmospheric charm, or Transfiguration. He wanted to fill the room with light.
Behind him, he heard the door creak open, and a sliver of foreign light invaded the room. He whispered “Nox” before he even realised he had done it.
The infinity room always felt like a breath of fresh air to Draco. He hadn’t expected Potter to be there. He certainly hadn’t expected Potter to look amazed by it. He really, really hadn’t expected to see things he’d never seen before written across Potter’s face, to open the door and illuminate Potter’s guileless grin.
In the long seconds it took him to realise what he was seeing, the joy vanished from Potter’s face, replaced first with guilt, then anger.
If he couldn’t have expected Potter’s delight, he also couldn’t have expected Potter’s embarrassment. Yet he was fairly certain that was what it was. The light in Potter’s eyes had practically exceeded his wandlight, but as soon as he’d seen Draco he’d looked like a child with his hand caught in the cookie jar, like he was expecting to be punished. That had quickly been replaced with his familiar scowl and a white-knuckled tightening of his fist around his wand. Potter’s familiar anger, back again. And then they’d been plunged into relative darkness with Potter’s Nox.
It took Draco’s eyes a moment to adjust, looking into the darkness with the light of the adjacent gallery still behind him. He thought, though, that he might have done a quicker job of it than Potter; Draco doubted that he was meant to see the look of sadness that crossed over Potter’s features.
He almost felt for him. He wasn’t sure why. Potter had been an arse to him all night, not to mention every other time they’d crossed paths. Potter’s sadness was the sort of thing his adolescent self might have fantasised about. Maybe a touch of sympathy was unavoidable; maybe he would’ve felt the same thing at seeing anyone revert from jubilation to anger to sadness as quickly as Potter had done. But the thing that tugged at his chest didn’t feel generic. It was Potter’s sadness that bothered him.
Merlin. These rooms were known to distort one’s perception, but Draco was fairly certain that was supposed to be literal.
Potter blinked, opened his mouth, and closed it again.
Draco had rarely found that encouraging Potter to talk worked out well for anyone involved. So, he didn’t.
They stood there, Potter looking at him and Draco looking back. Draco wondered if he should leave. Abandon ship before it took an inevitable turn for the worse. Leave Potter to his private joy.
The thing that tugged at his chest pulled harder. He took another step into the room and let the door shut behind him.
Without the light spilling in from the doorway, the effect of the room was redoubled. He knew the space was small; only one person was meant to be allowed in at a time, strictly speaking, and that was how he preferred it for himself. With the two of them, it was…disorienting. Potter was a million miles away, and so close Draco could feel the fading traces of his magic.
Draco knew the room was designed for an echo, to make it sound as vast as it looked. He’d made good use of it on more than one occasion, jumping or stomping or sliding across the mirrored floors to hear the sound of his own movement reverberating around him. There had been times he’d been so nervous he felt as though he might float out of his body, and that sound had always brought him back.
It had always been a sound, though. He hadn’t expected silence to echo.
Potter cleared his throat.
“I thought—” Draco said. It was an instinct to cut Potter off, but it didn’t feel like it had before. It didn’t feel like he didn’t want to hear Potter speak. It was more that he didn’t want him to say anything that would…he wasn’t sure. Didn’t want to argue, maybe. Didn’t want to see Potter slide further into misery. “I thought you were going to sleep.”
At one point in his life, Harry had seen Malfoy so often that he had become a bit like the wallpaper. Or like a tear in the wallpaper—troublesome and a reminder that things were out of sorts, but so much a part of daily life that it began to fade into the background.
At another point, Harry had been so certain that Malfoy was a danger that he’d felt as though he had to watch him constantly. He hadn’t been wrong. Afterwards, he’d wondered if he should’ve been watching even more vigilantly, how things might have gone if he’d paid more attention to the scraps of parchment Malfoy shuffled around during classes or if he’d gone further out of his way to eavesdrop on Malfoy’s conversations.
And then Malfoy had more or less disappeared from view, reduced to the occasional photo in the Prophet or encounter at a charity event.
And then Malfoy had walked into the room and Harry couldn’t help but look.
In the mirrors, Malfoy was reflected back to him at a million different angles. In some ways he seemed to be fractured into a million splinters of Malfoy. Malfoy’s ear in one mirror. Malfoy’s elbow in another. The lights glinted off Malfoy’s white-blond hair and refracted into thousands of astigmatic stars, replicating themselves until they disappeared into the illusory horizon. Sometimes he looked like the boy Harry had hated. Sometimes he looked like a stranger. Sometimes he looked so familiar that being surrounded by him felt something like normal, felt like going back to a former home, however beloved or hated, and knowing how to find every light and avoid every creaky stair, even in the pitch black middle of the night.
However he looked, Malfoy was everywhere. When he inhaled and exhaled, a million versions of his chest rose and fell. When he shifted his weight all Harry could see, everywhere he cast his eyes, was the curve of Malfoy’s back. His silhouette became Harry’s anchor in an ever-shifting sea of light. Malfoy was real when everything else was an illusion, yet Malfoy was an illusion himself. Harry wasn’t sure he’d be able to find the real one even if he tried. If he reached out for Malfoy, he wondered if he’d find the warmth of another body or the cold rebuff of glass.
Panic rose in his chest at the thought. He needed Malfoy to be real. He wanted to reach out and be certain that Malfoy was there. That was its own disorientation.
He tried breathing in for four, hold for four, out for four. His throat caught. He cleared it. Hold for four, out for four, and his attention focused entirely on Malfoy. The Malfoy in the mirrors was a shadow. Harry knew the promises of shadows were always lies, meant to pull one further from what was real and alive. It had taken him time to learn to want those things, the real and alive things. To learn how to identify them.
Mirror-Malfoy was just a silhouette, just a gleaming refraction. Real Malfoy would be more than that.
He looked around and focused. The mirror-Malfoys were all dark outlines. Parts of them were ever so slightly too long and too lean, distorted slightly by concavity. They didn’t have features, or when they did they were fragmented or cast in shadow.
The real Malfoy would be flesh and blood, would have detail. His eyes landed on one of the Malfoys and saw that the lights were casting shadows under his cheekbones and at his collar. He saw that a strand of hair had fallen onto this Malfoy's forehead and that his eyebrows were a darker blond than his hair. He saw that this Malfoy’s fingers were long and defined, and that there was a dark smudge of ink on the pad of his thumb, stark against Malfoy’s pale skin even in the lights’ dim glow. He saw the way the ridge of Malfoy’s nose ran down towards his mouth, ending in a perfectly parallel indentation above his top lip. He saw the way Malfoy looked at him, the wariness of it. Then, a spark of hope, or concern, or something. Harry felt himself spinning, thought he must have been wrong, that he must have found another mirror version after all. But no. The skin under this Malfoy’s eyes was dark and purplish, the way it had been in sixth year when exhaustion had overtaken them both. The mirrors couldn’t show that. This Malfoy was leaning towards his right ever so slightly, the way he had done when they’d sat in Hogwarts classrooms. The mirrors would have inverted that. This was Malfoy.
Malfoy’s mouth moved. Harry heard the words Malfoy said, his question—was it even a question?—and felt it fly right past him. His ears were buzzing. He wondered if it was the effect of so many lights, but they’d been quiet before. Everything had been quiet before.
Harry blinked, trying to clear his head. “What?”
Malfoy raised an eyebrow, and Harry saw how it moved. “Sleep?”
“Oh.” Harry tried to remember; it felt like time had stopped moving and now he had to catch up again. “Yeah.”
“I take it that didn’t work out for you.”
Malfoy’s dry tone threatened to pull Harry from his reverie. Of course this was the real Malfoy; no mirror could capture that note of condescension. But it felt dissonant. He knew that voice like the back of his hand, but it was a million miles away.
“No,” Harry said. He felt as though he was trying to fight his way up from underwater.
“So you went wandering,” Malfoy said.
Retorts floated to the surface alongside Harry. Something about the sofa, or the temperature. He could say any of those things and put Malfoy back where he made sense.
Harry nodded. “Yeah. Um. Clearly.”
“Of course you did.”
The surface was in sight, and this was muscle memory. They could fight; he’d catch up to a fight. “Problem?”
“No.” Malfoy tilted his head to the right, just like he always had; the mirror Malfoys seemed to lag a fraction of a thousandth of a second behind. “Just didn’t expect to find you here.”
The prospect of an argument seemed to evaporate, and Harry was set off-kilter all over again. “Oh.”
It didn’t make sense. None of it did. Not when everything went on forever, not when Harry wasn’t sure whether he was standing or floating, not when Malfoy was real like this, not when there was no way to fight through it. He didn’t understand.
He wanted to. “Why are you here?”
Everywhere he looked, Harry could see Malfoy’s posture straighten. The ease disappeared from every mirror-Malfoy, and from the real one too.
“Why are you doing this?”
Draco hated the question. As a general rule, and especially because it meant Potter had disregarded his previous answer. Either he’d forgotten it or thought Draco was a liar. Both felt awful, and the awfulness itself was a unique sort of ache. He’d have preferred to be untouched by it.
Though Pansy was always quick to remind him that a lifetime’s training in apathetic disdain hadn’t done much good for either of them.
“I told you,” he said. “Earlier.”
“That you want to…” Potter trailed off. He looked unmoored in a way that Draco couldn’t place.
“Make things right,” Draco finished. “Not—I can never make things right. I know that. There’s no undoing what was done. But, well.”
Potter’s face was a question.
Draco felt the urge to sag against something. Mirrors were not conducive. He held himself straight. “I want to try. If I had known what I know now, who I know now, I never would’ve believed any of it. If I had known what Muggles were capable of—the good things, not just the destruction—it never would’ve made sense. It would have seemed ridiculous when my father said what he did, or when the—when other people did. I could never believe that now. They amaze me.”
“Yes. They…the work they do, their devotion to it. I had no idea. I’d only ever learned that they were useless and selfish and noxious and violent. I grew up hearing stories about how they’d tried to burn us and hang us and drown us, and how they’d done all those things to each other in the process. I’d…It should have, but it never occurred to me that they could do this, too, or that they’d want to.” He’d said these things, thought these things, often enough that the words organised themselves easily. “After the war—during the war—I started to wonder why anyone would fight to defend them, would be willing to die to defend them, if those stories were true. And I thought—I heard, and it was easiest to believe—that maybe their defenders were just like they were. That the Order, that everyone on that side, was as stupid and violent and selfish as Muggles.
“After the war, the stories stopped. And no one came to burn us at the stake, or take our magic. The trials…” This part was always harder for him. He missed his parents. He wished he didn’t. He swallowed. “The trials were fair.”
Potter made a sound Draco’d never heard from him before. Surprise, maybe.
“After all they’d done, my parents deserved what they got. They deserved more, frankly. They would have done it all again, if they were given the chance, and they would have done everything they could to create that chance.”
“Really?” Potter didn’t sound like he disagreed, just like he didn’t expect Draco to say it.
“Yes. I— The Wizengamot was right. When I think back on it, I didn’t entirely understand what it meant at the time, but I saw them do it before the Second Wizarding War. Setting things up, moving the pieces into place. Whether they were true believers or as greedy and power-hungry as they assumed everyone else was, they would have gladly fought a third war if it meant they got to continue on as they were.”
“Both of them?” This time it did sound like a question.
“Both of them,” Draco said, and Potter did look surprised then. Draco could imagine why. He’d read the stories in the press, assuming his father was cold and heartless but his mother was a secretly kind, loving, impartial casualty. He’d wished on more than one occasion that he’d had the mother he read about in the Prophet. A mother he could forgive. “They went about it differently. He was all violence and political manipulation. Easy for people to see. But she was just as involved. For her, it was money—making it, moving it around, using gifts to turn the right blind eyes—and social pressure, to get other families to fall in line. But she loved the power of it, and she thrilled at the stories of torture and war. She wanted me to follow in those footsteps.” He looked Potter in the eye. His mother had told him, full of pride, how she’d manipulated both sides at once to save his life. “She wanted me to live, even if it meant saving you, so that I would follow in those footsteps.”
Potter made a strangled noise.
“They deserved what they got. They deserved worse; the only reason they didn’t get it was the ban on the Kiss. Then they were in Azkaban, and it was because the same people they’d said all of these terrible things about were merciful in a way that my parents would never have been. Even to me. That I wasn’t in Azkaban for longer than a year, that the Ministry didn’t break my wand or take all of the money, or the only home I’d ever known…” Draco’s throat tightened. He couldn’t go down that road with Potter, even if it felt like cowardice.
“Anyway. The stories stopped,” he continued, “and I saw that there was mercy where I’d expected violence. If you weren’t what I’d been taught, what else had I been wrong about?
“I had time to think, in Azkaban. That was a lot of what I thought about.” He’d told his father that once, when they’d run into each other in the yard. If his father had had a wand, Draco doubted he would have made it out of the conversation alive. He remembered that every time he remembered them; that the last time he’d seen each of them they’d been gaunt and grey and utterly sure of the same convictions that had got them all there. “When I got out, I thought I should find out for myself.”
“Art, though?” Potter sounded…entranced, maybe? Or confused? His face was cast in shadow. Draco wished it wasn’t.
“Art,” Draco said. “It was like magic, only I knew they couldn’t do magic. And they tried so hard, and did so much, to make it anyway. Like this.” He gestured around the room. “This took weeks for the artist to build. Every pane and every light is painstakingly placed in just the right place. She thinks about every colour and every angle, and spends days upon days on ladders and floors, contorted and in the dark, to make it possible for other Muggles to see the world the way she does, and to feel something this vast and impossible.
“This is magic. I just didn’t know it.”
“It is.” Potter’s voice was so quiet Draco had to strain to hear him. Even then, he wasn’t sure he could believe the words.
“It is?” Draco realised he was feeling as off-kilter as Potter looked. The way Potter was looking at him didn’t make sense. There was curiosity in it. Maybe sympathy, or some shared wonder. It felt like the first time Draco had walked into the finished room and felt as though the floor had fallen out from under him.
“This is…yeah. This is.”
Potter was looking at him, just looking, without any anger at all. It felt like the room was tilting on its axis, and he had the sudden urge to flee to firmer ground.
He couldn’t think of anything to say.
“Well,” he finally began. He straightened up; he hadn’t realised he’d started slouching. “I agree, clearly.” His voice sounded too sharp even to his own ears.
Potter furrowed his brow.
“Though I’d really just meant to go for a walk. I ought to continue onwards.” He hesitated. “If you’d like to join?”
Draco immediately regretted the question. It was a terrible idea for at least a dozen reasons.
“Yes,” said Potter.
Harry felt like he might not ever have left the room if Malfoy hadn’t led the way. He had that sort of history with mirrors.
Leaving the room was almost as shocking as entering it had been. Even though it had been dimmed, the light was blinding and loud by comparison and he wanted to shrink away from it.
Plus, there was only one Malfoy, and he wasn’t sure how to put the million pieces he’d just seen back together into one coherent person. Part of him wanted to ask him, but it didn’t seem like the sort of question anyone would be able to answer, and anyway, Malfoy was already off and walking.
The Malfoy in front of Harry bore very little resemblance to any of the ones he’d just seen. He stood ramrod straight, his suit was crisp, his gait was sharp, and when he turned his head towards Harry his features were all edges and no shadow.
Neither of them said anything. Certainly not anything like what Malfoy had said in the room.
Harry couldn’t decide whether to keep up with Malfoy or wander off on his own. Malfoy didn’t seem bothered either way. Harry was, though; no matter what he chose, he felt itchy and restless and unsure of what was up or down. It had all seemed…soft, somehow. Intimate. That was confusing enough. To have it disappear through a doorway was like finding himself on the receiving end of a Levicorpus.
He veered away from Malfoy in search of a foothold. It didn’t make sense. Malfoy didn’t make sense. He hadn’t made sense before the conversation, and he made even less sense since.
Everything Malfoy had said had to be rubbish. Didn’t it? He loved Muggle art? He wanted to help Muggles? He had been wrong about everything? He knew he was wrong about everything and admitted it out loud? When there wasn’t any press around?
Once, in the middle of a case, a suspect had aimed a Confundus at Harry and it had refracted off a Foe-Glass. It had been split into four pieces, each magnified by at least a power of seven. Three weeks afterwards, Harry had still been addled enough to confuse his pumpkin juice with his Colour-Change Ink and he’d spent two weeks with a colour-change mouth, which had been so hilariously perplexing to everyone around him that he’d spent the entirety of the fortnight on desk duty.
He was pretty certain he felt more confused by Malfoy than he had by any of that.
He tried to focus on what was in front of him. The floor. The dim spotlights cast randomly about. The paintings, though they registered more as shapes than as works of art. Malfoy.
He tried to remind himself of the things he knew for sure. Ron had tuna fish sandwiches every Tuesday. The vein on Hermione’s forehead still throbbed every time someone mentioned Rita Skeeter. Luna had a mysterious standing engagement every Wednesday and came up with a more fantastical story every time he asked about it. On Fridays, they all went to the pub with Dean and Seamus and Neville and Hannah, and sometimes Angelina and Lavender and Padma and Parvati and George and Lee, and whoever arrived last had to buy a round of Firewhisky for the group. When he got to work in the morning, he had to duck when he walked past Williamson’s desk, because Williamson had upset the wizard in charge of Interdepartmental Memos and there was a higher than average chance of walking away with a nasty paper cut if you got near Williamson’s memos. Malfoy was a selfish liar who had never done anything that wasn’t self-interested in one way or another.
That made more sense.
If he thought about it that way, it all started to make a lot more sense. Malfoy wasn’t trying to help Muggles. He was trying to restore his name and get even richer along the way. He’d said that there was 25 million pounds worth of art in the show; surely he was making more than pocket change off of that. And he was making it by throwing parties and rubbing elbows with the rich and powerful. He’d said it himself, about his mother; money and reputation were just softer forms of power. Malfoy had always wanted power.
He felt as though the world was clicking back into place, as though it was getting a little easier to breathe.
In front of him, Malfoy passed across one of the gallery’s cavernous archways.
Malfoy stopped and turned to face him.
Harry closed the distance between them. “It’s still a bunch of posh arseholes.”
“What?” Malfoy looked confused.
“This. The parties, the art. All of it.”
Malfoy frowned and took a step back.
“You have plenty to say about doing good, but it’s just more of the same, isn’t it? Parties and influence and money and getting in with the right sort.”
Malfoy’s frown deepened. “I—”
Harry didn’t let him get a word in. “It could’ve been volunteering with war orphans. It could’ve been a donation to the Ministry’s Muggle Integration Initiative. Or the Hogwarts Muggle Studies Certificate. Or the primary school extension. Or the Memorial to the Fallen. Or—”
“I get the point.”
“It could have been any of those. You’ve come up with the one thing that lets you spend your time making money and hobnobbing with posh arseholes.”
Malfoy’s lips were pressed together so tightly Harry could barely see them. “Posh arseholes make the world go round.”
Harry spluttered. “But they shouldn’t!”
“Maybe not. But they do.”
“So, what? Your great penance is to spend time with powerful Muggles as well as powerful wizards? Because they’re powerful?” He hoped he sounded half as incredulous as he felt.
“No. Yes. I—” Malfoy closed his mouth for a moment.
Harry crossed his arms and waited.
“The damage wasn’t done by war orphans,” Malfoy said. “The damage was done by posh arseholes.”
Harry didn’t disagree; he thought that was rather the point.
“The damage was done by posh arseholes because they had the means to do it. My parents, Crabbe’s, Goyle’s, Nott’s…they could do it because, well, because they could. They had the money and the connections to pull those levers. What they believed mattered. Changing what those sorts of people believe matters.”
Harry felt agitation creeping along his skin. He wanted to burst out of it altogether. He wasn’t sure if that was because Malfoy was wrong or because Malfoy was right, but he knew which he would prefer. “Or you’re doing exactly what you were raised to do. A wolf in sheep’s clothing is still a fucking wolf, Malfoy.”
Draco found himself feeling a certain nostalgia for the days when Potter would have gone for a good old-fashioned punch to the jaw. It would’ve hurt less.
“Is that what you think?” he asked. “That I’ve done all of this work to dress myself up as a Muggle-lover in order to, what, feed Muggle artists to the pure-blood wolves?”
“Work?” Potter raised an eyebrow sceptically.
“Work. Years of work.” Draco’s throat tightened. “To learn everything I possibly can. To re-learn everything I thought I knew.”
Potter snorted under his breath and walked across the room.
Draco turned towards Potter’s back. “I’m not saying it’s not work I shouldn’t have to do, or that I shouldn’t have done more. I could have done something different.”
Potter shook his head and walked to another corner.
Draco followed him. “But if it had been donations, it would’ve just been money. If it had been war orphans, it wouldn’t have been something else. I’m not even good with children, Potter, at least with this—”
“You can do what you’re good at?” Potter turned to face him, backing away all the while. “You can keep doing exactly what you like and call it something else?”
That possibility had kept Draco awake through so many nights he’d lost count. He’d imagined it printed across the front page of the Prophet, multiplied across every newsstand in the wizarding world: Notoriously self-serving pure-blood heir and former Death Eater Draco Malfoy convinces self, friends, that drinking with Muggle artists is an act of public service. Turn to page 10 for more on how Malfoy profits from his supposed good deeds! In his imaginings, it ran under a picture of him laughing into a glass of wine, just over the fold from an article about how a collective of Muggle-born Ravenclaws were making great advances in providing free magically-infused prosthetics for curse-damaged survivors of the Battle of Hogwarts.
He had to remind himself of what Pansy had said to him, and of how many times he’d repeated it to himself before he began to think it might be true. “It’s not that it’s what I’m good at. It’s that it’s what no one else can do.”
“Merlin’s fucking pants.” Potter laughed and turned away again, walking across the room as he couldn’t stand being within a dozen feet of Draco. “It’s not that you’re great at it, it’s just that you’re better than everyone else?”
“That’s not what I—Fuck. That’s not what I meant!” Potter’s inability to stand still was driving Draco mad, not least of all because it felt like the embodiment of Potter’s unwillingness to listen. “I meant that there’s no one else who was doing this, or who could. I know it’s not what you want to hear. It’s not what anyone wants to hear. But these people—these posh arseholes—don’t listen to the Ministry! They don’t listen to Hogwarts! I promise you, Potter, I speak from experience. You can require all the Muggle Studies classes you want. Those who still believe in pure-blood supremacy will use every Floo call, every letter, every visit, and every meal at hols to teach their children that it’s a bunch of weak-minded propaganda for weak-minded wizards who need to be ‘guided’ by the old pure-blood families. You have to get through to the posh arseholes before anything else will really change and for Circe’s sake will you stand still for one bloody damnable minute?”
Potter glanced over, but didn’t stop pacing back and forth on the opposite side of the room. Of course he wouldn’t know how to behave in a gallery. Not enough of a posh arsehole for the basic rules of decorum.
Draco felt desperation mounting in his chest. He wanted to run, and knew he would never forgive himself if he did. “At least there’s a Freezing Charm’s chance in Fiendfyre that they’ll listen to me. That’s what I mean about no one else being able to do this. It’s not that I have talent or that I’m better than anyone else.” He heard his voice crack and tried to will it away. “It’s that I’m— It’s that I was one of them. I was one of them, and they’ll come to my show because their social rules say that they should. These huge old families have lots of branches, and some of them will still come. They did come. You don’t know what goes on behind those closed doors, or what it means that a Flint and a Yaxley came to this show.”
Potter’s head snapped up. “Are you seriously arguing that having Death Eaters’ relatives show up at your party is good for society?”
“No!” Draco yelled. It echoed through the room. He tried to lower his voice. “I’m saying that if they start to believe that knowing Muggles, that treating Muggles with even a modicum of respect, is the thing to do, that’s how you avoid another war.”
“That’s how you make a boatload of Galleons while reclaiming the family name.”
“Are you being thick intentionally, or are you naturally this dense?”
“You’re calling me dense? Are you hearing anything coming out of your mouth?”
“Yes, I’m calling you dense! You’re so bloody focused on doing things the way you like them that you refuse to see anything else! It’s not always black and white! It’s not always the kind of battle where you get to slay the villain and save the day! There’s a problem that runs deeper than anyone’s willing to admit, and no one in your precious Order could do anything about it even if they wanted to. I’m just about the only person who can!”
“You’re so bloody full of yourself!”
“And you’re so bloody myopic it’s a wonder you can find your own backside! It’s not always going to be the kind of battle where you get to draw a big sword and save the day! If the only kind of evil you’re willing to acknowledge involves villainous monologues and drawn wands, the wizarding world will be no better off in ten years than it was a decade ago!”
“It’ll be loads better, because you and your pack of pure-blood snobs aren’t in charge of anything!” Potter’s fists were clenched and Draco saw colour rising in his cheeks.
He felt heat rising in his own as well. Merlin, but it felt good to say it all out loud. “You’re so bloody naive, it’s absurd.”
“No. How long do you think it will stay that way? Hmm? How long do you think it will be before new members of the same old families start making their way back in? And when they do, what is it that you want them to come in believing? That Muggles are animals and playthings? That it’s kill or be killed? Or that having Muggle art on their walls, that having Muggle social contacts, is completely de rigeur? Tell me, Golden Boy, which of those scenarios ends well?”
“I can think of plenty of other scenarios that are a fair sight better than either of those.” Potter took a step towards him.
Draco wished he’d throw a punch.
Auror rules strictly forbade punching Malfoy in the face. That was the only thing keeping Harry from decking him, and even that was hanging on by a thread. It had been absurd to think Malfoy might change, that he was even capable of it. Malfoy was just as selfish and deluded as he’d always been.
“Tell me,” Malfoy repeated. “Tell me how well your plan works out.”
“You don’t even know what our plan is! You don’t know anything about it!”
“You’re not even listening!”
Malfoy wasn’t entirely wrong. Half of what he’d said had washed over Harry, drowned out by the edgy tension that had been building back up in him since they’d walked out of the mirrored room. The other half…he wasn’t sure what to do with any of it. It was smug and elitist and everything he’d always hated about Malfoy, and the worst part of all was that he didn’t think Malfoy was entirely wrong.
Malfoy’s voice grew cool and his eyes narrowed. “You really aren’t listening, are you? You asked a question, I’ve done you the courtesy of answering, and you can’t even be bothered to pay attention. What is it, Potter? Too busy disregarding those wizards whom you think are beneath you? Where have I heard that logic before?”
Harry’s energy snapped back into focus, all of it squarely trained on Malfoy. “You couldn’t be more wrong.”
“I assure you, I’ve spent most of my life being profoundly wrong. I am an expert in being wrong. Nothing I’ve said to you is the least bit incorrect. Whether or not you deign to hear it is another story.”
Harry turned his back on Malfoy again. His blood was boiling, and he couldn’t lose his temper. “You’re so full of shit.”
“So you keep saying.” Malfoy’s voice was fire and ice. “Very creative. And perhaps you’ll notice it’s completely unsupported. Either you’re not listening or you know I’m right. Which is to say, either you’ve replaced our elitism with your own or you’re wrong and you might even know it.”
Harry whirled on him. “And you’re still preoccupied with being a smug little arsehole who’s better than everyone.”
“I find it preferable to being a sanctimonious former Golden Boy who’s incapable of nuance.”
Harry’s fist sang with the urge to strike out. The desire for impact rang through him and he took a step towards Malfoy without thinking about it.
His body reverberated with a jolt. He felt something solid and hard at his back, something tight and warm on his biceps.
Malfoy had slammed him into the wall.
“What the fuck,” Harry spat.
“You will not do this.” Malfoy’s voice was a knife. “You will not come in here and start throwing your fists around. You will not destroy the building. You will not destroy the art. Listen or don’t, agree or don’t. I have worked too long and too hard to let your bullheaded barbarity destroy any of it.”
The charge that had been building beneath Harry’s skin skittered through him. It felt like sparring, like the moment before an ambush or a thunderstorm.
It felt good, which was the worst thing of all.
Draco had done it without thinking. He had acted impulsively—which never led to his wisest decisions—and he hadn’t anticipated a situation in which he’d slammed Harry Potter into a wall and had wound up holding him there, entirely unsure of what to do next.
The urge to hurt Potter rose up again, insistent and ugly. The wave of disgust that followed a second later was a visceral relief. He’d broken Potter’s nose once before. The whole point of this—all of this, everything he had done and wanted to do—was to dismantle those instincts. To refuse them any quarry, to suffocate them until they burned out completely. The revulsion was a reminder that he could do that. It wasn’t just words; the refusal to be who he’d once been had become instinctive.
He loosened his grip and stepped away slowly in hopes that Potter wouldn’t retaliate.
Potter looked at him, eyes wide. “What the fuck, Malfoy?”
“I—” He shook his head. He had no idea what to say, and saying things had proven to be a pointless exercise anyway.
“Did you really just do that?” Potter bit out, leaning back against the wall and rubbing his arm. “For, what, for your precious Muggle art?”
Draco stared, unable to believe his ears. “What?”
“Did you really just throw me into a bloody wall for your precious Muggle blobs?”
Draco gaped. He was certain it was an unbecoming look, but he couldn’t help it; his jaw dropped of its own accord.
“What?” Potter sounded suspicious, which was enough to jar Draco into action.
“Do you hear yourself?”
“What?” Potter repeated.
“‘My precious Muggle art’? Did you really—Are we really—Who would’ve thought, who would’ve believed—?”
“You—Harry Potter, defeater of Voldemort, defender of Muggles, champion of Muggle-borns, righteous and just destroyer of banks, schools, and government buildings—are telling me that I—Draco Malfoy, former Death Eater, former torturer of Muggles and Muggle-borns—am going too far to protect Muggle art.”
Potter’s scowl deepened.
“You have to admit there’s a certain poetry to it. Not even Ludo Bagman would’ve put odds on this particular role reversal.”
“You slammed me into a wall!”
“That’s even—” Draco shook his head, half-convinced he’d entered an enchantment or an alternate universe and needed to clear away some sort of potions vapor. “You once broke into a bank, stole a priceless artefact, stole a dragon, destroyed a thousand-year old trolley system, and tore up a wizarding heritage building, and that was just the first act.”
“To kill Voldemort!” Potter rubbed his arm. Draco would’ve bet money that it was a show.
“To make the world safe for Muggles and their creations, which is, I’ll point out, exactly what I’m trying to do here.
“No one is trying to kill your bloody art, Malfoy.”
“No, just whinge on about it disdainfully all night and then start fights in the general vicinity.”
Potter gave him a look that could’ve decimated a Nundu. “Disdain and random violence are more your department.”
“You really have no sense of irony at all, do you? It’s all black and white, good guys and bad guys. I was once a bad guy, so that’s all I’ll ever be. I’m—what? Rich? Hobnobbing with well-respected artists? And therefore must be incapable of anything remotely worthwhile. Merlin.” Draco sank back against the wall next to Potter. “That’s it, isn’t it? Once and future evil. That’s all I’ll ever be to you.”
Harry was startled by Malfoy’s sudden proximity, and absolutely determined not to show it.
He was also left a bit speechless; that was harder to conceal.
“No,” he said. Malfoy’s hands were hanging next to him, close enough that he could’ve reached out and taken one in his own. He could still feel the places where they’d squeezed his arms, and the odd electric aftertouch where his fingers had been. It was the strongest single sensation he’d felt in years, and it didn’t make any sense to him at all.
“No?” Malfoy repeated. He turned his head to raise an eyebrow at Harry. “No?”
“It’s not—” He tried to make sense of what Malfoy had said. He’d heard so many speeches of self-declared redemption during the trials that it had all dulled to a low buzz. He didn’t need to hear it any more to know that it was rubbish. “You’re not exactly the first Death Eater to declare yourself a new man.”
“The first Death Eater.” Malfoy leaned his head back against the wall. The light reflected off his pale throat. “Death Eater.”
“Or the first rich arsehole.” And that was it, too, if Harry was honest. He’d never known anyone who loved money and posh stuff as much as Malfoy did and could make any sort of claim to being worth half a Sickle in any of the ways that mattered. The Dursleys had loved money, and Aunt Marge, and all the cruel boys who came round from Smeltings, and the Slytherins. All the Death Eaters who had lurked in their old manors. Even Voldemort had made his Horcruxes out of priceless artefacts. Then there had been Hagrid, and the Weasleys, and Lupin, and Sirius, who had been willing to walk away from all of his money in order to do what was right. The differences were clear, in his experience, and it wasn’t his fault that Malfoy was determined to ally himself with the morally dubious, sometimes genuinely evil, wankers, in so many different ways.
Malfoy shook his head slowly. “What’s the point?”
“I don’t know,” Harry said, trying to add some bite in it. “If you’re trying to prove something to me—” He didn’t know how to finish.
Malfoy laughed, low and a bit bitter. “You know, Potter, I think I am. What a fool’s errand, eh?”
Harry didn’t know what to say. He felt a bit queasy.
“I think,” Malfoy went on, “that I really thought you might be persuaded. I shouldn’t care. I know I shouldn’t care. Merlin.” He bumped the back of his head against the wall. “I’ve tried so hard to do better. I suppose I thought that if you were convinced of that, it was a sign it was working. But you can’t see anything new, can you? It’s not just an act. We’ll be locked in at seventeen forever.”
“We’re not seventeen.” Harry knew Malfoy was insulting him. At least it sat like an insult, like Malfoy found him lacking. He didn’t want to care any more than it sounded like Malfoy did. But the feeling of Malfoy’s disappointment squirmed uncomfortably in his stomach.
“No, but we’ll never leave it, either, will we?”
“It’s not that simple.”
“Are you capable of complexity?”
He knew that was an insult. “Yes,” he bit back, and that, the biting, felt good, felt more familiar.
“Just not with me, then.”
He went with the familiar. “What’s there to see?”
Malfoy laughed again. “All of this.” He waved an arm at the room, then dropped it back to his side with a thud as his arm hit the wall. “Everything I’ve told you. If you even heard it.” He shook his head and turned his eyes towards the ceiling.
Harry hadn’t entirely been listening; that much was true. He’d been distracted by seeing the million Malfoys, by the realisation that he knew the real one. By the buzzing blur of yet another redemption speech, though…when he thought back through it…those speeches were always missing the same thing. There was never any humility or appreciation or love. Never any capacity for love, it seemed, in most of them. And never any action. Just lists of grievances and justifications and wretched, melodramatic pleas for total forgiveness.
Malfoy’s story had been full of love. And humility. And appreciation. Awe, even. He hadn’t asked for anything, not directly. It sounded like he’d hoped, but he hadn’t asked. He’d told the story and left it in Harry’s hands, left it up to him to decide what to do with it.
And Harry would admit, however begrudgingly, that Malfoy had done something. And he’d been right, that it was more personal than giving money.
Harry rolled up onto his side and looked at him. Malfoy’s eyes were closed. He shook his head back and forth slowly, rocking the crown of it across the plaster. He was pale and there were dark circles coming out beneath his eyes. He still didn’t ask for anything.
Malfoy turned his head towards Harry and opened his eyes, then seemed to startle.
Harry felt it too. They were close now, their faces barely ten inches apart. The odd electricity kicked up again, compelling him to move closer.
Their noses were almost touching, and when Harry said “Malfoy,” again, he could feel the heat of his breath in the space between them.
He leaned in and pressed his lips to Malfoy’s.
Draco was stunned. He felt the press of Potter’s lips against his own. He felt pressure. He felt the damp warmth of Potter’s mouth. His brain stalled out completely, though, at the idea of a kiss. It was impossible. Potter would never, never, never, not with him.
Potter had just said that Draco would never be good, at least in Potter’s eyes.
He had just said that Draco was a Death Eater and a rich arsehole and that there was nothing to see, no possibility of change.
Pity, Draco’s brain offered. That made sense. Potter might pity him. Or maybe he had the hero’s urge to rescue, and it overrode all sense. Maybe this was the sort of thing Potter did, maybe he just ran around pressing his mouth to other people’s.
Potter’s mouth moved against his, and he felt as though he should move in return. That was what one generally did. Kiss back. But this couldn’t be a kiss. It was impossible.
When Potter pulled back, Draco felt the cold air rush in between them like a wave of cold water.
Potter had been kissing him. It had been a kiss.
He opened and closed his mouth, but there was nothing against it any longer.
Potter looked shocked. Potter looked stricken.
Potter backed up, wiped the back of his hand against his mouth, stared at Draco for a long, silent moment, and ran.
Draco watched him go and couldn’t find anything to say to that, either.
Mouth. Kiss. Mouth. Pity. Lips. Kiss?
There was nothing, no juxtaposition of words or ideas, that made it make sense.
If there was anything Harry knew how to do, it was this.
He had run from bullies since he could walk. He had run away from the Dursleys as soon as he could. He had run from Voldemort, until the time came to face him. He had run from criminals whose names he couldn’t remember, until he could best them. Running had always kept him safe. Running had kept him free and alive.
He could do this, this simple mechanical task. One step after another. Lift a knee, twist at the waist, extend, push off. Repeat. Repeat.
His feet echoed over the hardwood, through the galleries. Each step reverberated. The rooms were empty, save the art on the walls.
He ran through them, and his footsteps rang and rang.
When he reached the stairwell, he kept going.
His pounding steps reverberated down the shaft like pennies falling into a well, sounding smaller and smaller as he left them behind him, and eventually vanishing into soundless nothing.
Up, he went, and up and up. Warmth crept into his muscles, into his bones, through every vein that cycled through his beating, bounding heart.
When he came to the top, to the end of a dead-end staircase, to a plain white door on one side and blank concrete on two more and the prospect of stillness all around him, he turned around and reversed his path.
This made sense. He could do this. This made sense, and he didn’t have to think. His body moved and his mind was blank, and he didn’t have to think about Malfoy.
Not about his shocked eyes, not about his still mouth, not about his cold lips, not about his slack arms held down at his sides, not about his stillness, not about his silence. Not about his words, not about his story, or his stupid art, or his jaw refracted through the mirror a million times over. Not about his money, or his abundant love of his stupid, stupid art. Not about his past, or the way he talked about it. Not about “I had time to think” or “I can never make things right” or “I want to try” or “this is magic.” Not about the past at all.
His footsteps got louder, it seemed, the closer he came to the bottom. There was nowhere for them to fall away to, no chance of them fading into silence.
His mind got louder too. The thoughts he could not think were a cacophony.
When he came to the bottom, to a fire exit on one side and cinderblocks on two others, he turned around and started over.
Potter really was like an Erumpent in a potions shop.
Draco could hear him running, pounding through the building like the physical embodiment of the worst headaches Draco had ever had. The sound was as all-encompassing, too. It was impossible to think, to get even a moment’s peace.
Though he would concede that that could be the aftershock of the…he still couldn’t get his head around it. Kiss.
Potter had done that. Had pressed his mouth against Draco’s own. Had come within the range of Draco’s hands, had trusted him? That seemed more impossible than the kiss. Potter was an Auror. Surely he had the reflexes and the training, surely he didn’t need to worry about trust in that sort of intimacy.
Intimacy. That word tripped him up as much as the others. Had it been intimate?
What had it been to Potter?
The heavy thud of Potter’s boots punctuated every thought that came to him. He needed it to stop, needed to be able to clear his head.
Muggle law had required that he install a lift. He crossed three rooms silently, took it to the top of the building, found the stairwell, and waited.
Potter didn’t notice him until he was almost at the top of the stairs. When he did, he stumbled.
Draco reached out for him. He came up empty.
Potter had gripped the bannister and righted himself. He stared up at him, and Draco couldn’t tell if it was shock on his face, or anger, or something else, or what the something else might be. Potter took a step upwards. Closer. And another, and another, until they were on a level.
It felt to Draco like the air between them was crackling, or maybe it was that Potter was a summer storm, filling the air with an expectant restlessness.
Draco’s fingers itched to touch. He held himself still. “Aren’t you tired of running?” He almost wished he hadn’t spoken. His voice had felt like thunder, roiling the quiet. Inviting the deluge.
Potter didn’t say anything.
The weight of Draco’s exhaustion had hung heavy off his shoulders. It seemed to fall away as he took a step closer. “I am.”
Another crack in the stillness as Potter inhaled deeply. “I got so tired of running.” It looked like Potter was holding his breath.
“Don’t you want to be still?”
“Can’t,” Potter said.
Draco believed it. Potter sizzled with energy. Lightning to Draco’s thunder, even without a sky between them.
He reached for Potter’s hand. “Can too.”
The side of Potter’s mouth quirked up. “Cannot.”
“Can too.” He took Potter’s fingers between his own.
Potter frowned down at their interlaced fingers. “I can’t, sometimes. Sometimes running is the only thing I know how to do.”
“Can too.” Draco pulled their hands closer to him and Potter followed. He’d needed Potter to be still. Still did, in order to think. But the silence was as loud, now, as Potter’s boots had been.
Draco leaned in. He saw confusion flit across Potter’s face, but damn it all, Potter had started it, Potter was the thunderstorm, Potter was the one seeding the skies with unnamable ideas, Potter was the one kissing—kissing!—him and running off without giving him even a moment to figure out what had happened, and it wasn’t unreasonable that it should take a moment when the only ways they’d touched each other before had been about fists and curses.
He leaned in and pulled Potter closer and kissed him.
Harry’s chest surged at the feeling of Malfoy pressing back against him. It was an entirely different thing, this time, with Malfoy’s mouth moving against his. The charge of it skittered over his skin, urged him closer.
If he hadn’t been able to believe Malfoy before, something in his kiss spoke to the reality of his passion. There wasn’t anything cold or calculating about it. It was open. It sought him out. It had depth. He felt it. From the way Malfoy exhaled a moan into his mouth, he thought Malfoy felt it too.
He twisted his fist into Malfoy’s jumper and pulled Malfoy closer. They stumbled into the bannister. The clang of metal ricocheted down the stairwell and Harry barely noticed; Malfoy had moaned into his ear and caught his earlobe between his teeth. The sensation ran down his arms and he grabbed for Malfoy.
Malfoy pulled back, twisted them together, until Harry was pressed between the wall and the warm weight of Malfoy’s body. Held between the two, there was nothing to do but focus.
Malfoy’s teeth against his neck. Malfoy’s arms in his hands. The search for Malfoy’s lips. Finding them open, and the thrill of Malfoy’s tongue against his own. The taste of him. The shocking satin of the skin just above his waistband.
He wanted more. The single thin strip of Malfoy’s skin wasn’t enough. He wanted it pressed against him, wanted to be consumed by it.
He ducked his head and caught Malfoy’s lips. He kissed him and kissed him and kissed him.
It wasn’t stillness. Potter kissed like he fought, surging forward and weaving back. Like he played Quidditch, with his whole body, gasping and rolling his hips. His fingers were curious and nimble. His mouth was voracious. His fingernails raised gooseflesh up Draco’s sides and sent his blood surging downwards.
It was stillness after all. There was nothing beyond the kiss. The existence of anything else was impossible.
He knew this sort of stillness. He’d learned this from the Muggles, too, in their queer bar back rooms where the body was allowed to be more than a vessel for pure-blood inheritances. Where the body was its own end, and he’d learned to feel things that had never been allowed. Things his parents would have thought beneath him, and which were so celestially beautiful that they'd brought him to his knees in more ways than one.
He knew this script, knew it could break the storm and bring the rain. Knew, too, that it usually didn’t. That more often than not, it was sticky hard floors and sweaty bollocks and the mechanics of in and out. That this soaring charge was one in a million.
He still knew what to do with it.
He pressed his mouth into Potter’s, his shoulder into Potter’s, and slid his hand between them. Potter’s flies opened easily, and he arched when Draco slipped his fingers beneath the waistband of his pants, helping him along.
Potter was thick and firm and hot in his hand. Perfectly weighty, shockingly soft. Potter dug his fingers into Draco’s arms and gasped, panting and rocking his hips in time with Draco’s strokes. Draco almost moaned at the sound of Potter’s pleasure gasped out into his neck.
He almost didn’t notice when one of Potter’s hands loosened its grip. But then it was at his waistband, the fingers were sliding the top button through its fastening, and then the next, and then Potter—always impatient—was plunging his hand downwards. The solidity of fine wool held Potter’s hand close, and his strokes were firm and strong. It was almost too much and entirely too little.
Potter’s hand followed easily when Draco rolled his hips into Potter’s. He could feel his own hand, through Potter’s jeans and his own trousers, as he pulled Potter off. Could feel the delicious friction of Potter’s cock in his hand, and Potter’s hand around his cock, and his teeth at Potter’s neck, and Potter’s hand grasping at his hair, pulling back until their mouths met.
Hot and open and relentless, Potter kissed him and kissed him and kissed him, and he kissed back. Tongues and teeth, and the breathy gasps Potter let loose when Draco twisted his fist around the head of Potter’s cock.
They kissed, and that’s how he felt Potter coming first; his jaw fell open, his shoulders strained against Draco’s, he threw his head back and for a moment, Draco felt bereft of it. Then Potter went entirely still and Draco realised what he was witnessing, and his own cock jerked at the thought of it, that it was Potter in his hand, Potter he could feel spilling hot and sticky in his palm. It was Potter draped limply between him and the wall, still gasping, still stroking him.
The charge of Potter’s tapering storm gathered in his hips and held his thighs taut, and then he was coming too, his view of Potter’s red lips replaced with stars as his eyes fluttered shut and everything in his body released, dizzy and glorious.
Light-headedness lingered. He felt tethered not so much to the earth as he was to Potter’s breathing and the rough fabric of his jeans.
But when Potter tensed, he did the same instinctively.
It meant trouble. He’d known Potter’s body in enough contexts to know that much.
He felt Potter push himself to standing, could tell when Potter locked his knees. The rigidity seemed to erase anything else that might have been.
Draco screwed his eyes shut and pushed himself to standing. He tucked himself away. It was as good an excuse as any to look away. The air was cold. His hand was sticky.
Potter cleared his throat.
Draco knew that sound. It was universal code for “thanks for the orgasm, have a great life, let’s not exchange numbers.” Fine enough—welcome, even—when he wanted to slip away and charm the knees of his trousers clean, have a nightcap, and go to bed alone.
He’d never wanted to admit that Potter’s opinion meant more to him than a random stranger’s might. He’d never wanted to admit that less than he did with Potter’s orgasm still tacky between his fingers.
He had the distinct suspicion that Potter would start talking if he didn’t, and that nothing good could come of it.
He brushed a bit of imaginary lint off his placket. “There’s a shower off the office, through a trick panel behind the desk. If you want it.”
From the corner of his eye, Draco saw something pass over Potter’s face. He couldn’t risk a close enough look to figure out what it was.
“Right,” Potter said. “Um. Thanks.”
“Certainly.” He tugged his suit jacket into place and straightened his cuffs. “You know the way?”
“Yeah.” Potter nodded, and didn’t move.
Draco felt something tangle in his chest. He risked a glance up. Their eyes almost met and Potter was, it seemed, startled into action. He nodded once more and turned down the stairs. His footsteps were almost silent against the concrete, and even the bare, unavoidable scuff of his boots soon faded into nothing.
The office was right where Harry remembered, though he felt more disoriented than he would have if he’d been trying to find somewhere entirely new. The gallery felt like a maze and he found himself unsure of how anything connected to anything else, and he was pretty sure that wasn’t the product of a confusing layout. He hadn’t had any trouble before, after all.
Before— No. It was too much to think about.
Trick panel, Malfoy had said. He pressed both hands to the wall, and then quickly pulled one of them back. His fingers were still coated in Malfoy. It had gone clear, but the light reflected, and his mind flashed back to the moment when—
Trick panel. He pressed one hand to the wall, feeling his way across, until he felt something click. When he pulled back, the panel popped out just enough for him to pry it open with his fingertips.
Behind it, just as Malfoy had promised, was a full washroom, sterile white and glass from floor to ceiling.
He glanced around—out of habit, he promised himself—and didn’t find anything that seemed to be amiss. No recording devices, no suspect items on the counters. He didn’t feel a single brush of magic anywhere in the room. That was exactly what Malfoy had promised the Ministry; it still surprised him.
He stripped off, folding his clothes neatly next to the sink and laying his holster and wand on top of them. He’d long since learned that putting the same clothes back on again was easier if he folded them while they were off. The taps were tricky—of course they were—but he kept himself out of the spray until he figured it out, and when the warm water washed over him he melted as easily as he had when Malfoy—
He reached for the bottle of shampoo, opened it, and put it back. If he used it, he’d smell like Malfoy and that was…too close, somehow. But they’d just been so close. Or had they? Had they been close, or bodies pressed closely together?
He didn’t know. The water pressure was miraculous, and it pounded into his shoulders and sluiced down his back. He felt quieter than he had before. Shakier, too.
The soap was an easier decision to make. He’d got sweaty running up and down, and then— He knew it was a good idea. Scrubbed it into himself, into so many places Malfoy hadn’t seen. How could it have been anything like closeness when Malfoy didn’t know about the raised scar on his sternum from the Horcrux, or the welt on his right thigh from a creature smuggling bust gone wrong? These simple facts of his life, his body—things any of his friends wouldn’t have looked at twice, after summers playing Quidditch and weeding the Burrow gardens and Neville’s greenhouses in shorts—were mysteries to Malfoy. Malfoy would’ve been a mystery to him, in the same ways. Maybe other ways, too.
He hadn’t expected the electricity between them. He hadn’t expected Malfoy to intuit him so well. He still wasn’t sure how he had. He hadn’t expected to be caught up in the moment; he couldn’t remember the last time he’d felt that spark.
It was undeniable, though. He had felt it. It had shades of the tension that had always been there between them. That wasn’t really a surprise, not truly. It made a certain sort of sense that their enmity would engender a certain sort of understanding.
The surprise was in his own reaction to it. He felt as though he should’ve been nauseated, maybe. Repelled by Malfoy’s history, by the things his hands had done. The surprise was that he wasn’t.
He turned the water off and inhaled the steam. It filled his lungs with heat, and when he exhaled he felt fresh and cool. There was nothing like a real shower.
He wondered why Malfoy hadn’t taken it. Maybe there was another one, somewhere else.
His wand flew to his fingers when he reached for it. He dried himself and stepped out of the shower.
The stairwell always felt chilly; it was too much metal and concrete to feel truly warm, even when the temperature was perfectly reasonable. But it rarely felt as freezing as it did to Draco after Potter disappeared down the stairs. He was sticky and cold and he couldn’t figure out what to do with himself—how to stand, where to go, whether it mattered that he appear nonchalant if no one was there to see it. But what if Potter comes back?, he thought, and tried to push the thought from his head as quickly as it had arrived.
He turned his back to the stairwell—just in case, his mind suggested, in spite of his protestations—and reached for his wand. A quick Tergeo resolved the stickiness, though it made his skin feel just a bit too tight; spells were never as good as real showers. He didn’t want to think about why he’d given Potter his own. Several helpful suggestions sprang to mind; he overrode them with the reminder that he’d just needed to give Potter somewhere else to go, lest his inevitably awkward post-coital explanations and excuses make the situation even worse.
That had been his logic at the time, he reminded himself, even if it didn’t ring as true as he would’ve liked.
Regardless, Potter was gone, off to shower and do whatever else he was going to do. Sleep through the rest of their Merlin-forsaken night together, maybe. He could leave on his own whenever he woke, and they’d never have to see each other again.
A shiver worked its way up his spine.
At least he knew what to do when he was this kind of cold, and Potter had unwittingly made it an even easier and more obvious solution than it usually was.
He turned the handle of the plain white door at the top of the stairs and stepped inside.
Hosting this part of the show had been the easiest decision Draco had made since the Dark Lord crossed the threshold of his childhood home. He’d courted the artists’ collective for half a year before they’d agreed, and once they did he’d had the paperwork drawn up within the day. He’d badly wanted a garden somewhere on the property, but having an open roof had been out of the question; the odds were too high that wizarding types would appear there out of nowhere, stranded and possibly splinched by the anti-Apparition charms the Ministry had put in place.
This was the next best thing. The artists had covered three rooms in thick mats of artificial grass. They’d brought in silk-leaved trees with trunks found washed up on northern shorelines. They’d made false rocks from foam and painted them with lichen. They’d arranged luxuriant bushes with draping stems of silk flowers. They’d painted the walls with trompe l’oeil forests or lined them with trellised ivy. Then they’d installed a four-tiered birdbath fountain and a shallow reflecting pool surrounded by fallen leaves. The finishing touches were another round of miniature boulders, though instead of focusing on veracity these were filled with soft material that welcomed visitors to lie back against them, and a smattering of wooden benches and wrought-iron tables and chairs. The sun lamps had been Draco’s suggestion; he’d never forgotten the feeling of walking into the Turbine Hall’s artificial daylight, and thought everyone who wanted the experience should have it. The collective had loved the idea.
Visitors would as well, he was sure of it. Already, in the soft open, it had been a massive success and he knew that word was quickly making its way amongst students and parents and professionals alike that if they came to Illuminate and made their way to the top story, they could spend a precious hour lying in the grass and soaking up sunlight, even on London’s greyest, rainiest, chilliest days.
It was his favourite exhibit, too, though he wouldn’t be sharing that particular thought with the celebrated artists whose work adorned the main galleries. He didn’t miss the Manor—he hadn’t been able to bear the thought of keeping it after everything that had happened there and, when a trustworthy buyer failed to emerge, only Pansy’s insistence that the mortgage would be worth something had kept him from burning the house to the ground—but he did miss the feeling of being able to wander outdoors uninterrupted. He missed the fields and the woods and the gardens and the orchards and the Quidditch pitch. He missed lying in the grass and feeling the sunbaked earth warm his calves and shoulders. He missed the smell of the seasons changing, and settling into his body. He missed the feeling of home—the parts of it Voldemort hadn’t destroyed, anyway.
When these rooms had been completed, he’d felt something like that for the first time in years. Public parks, though wonderful, weren’t the same at all, and anywhere else he went, he went as a guest; he couldn’t very well leave Damien’s dinner parties to go lie out in the garden, or tell Pansy he’d rather skip tea, thanks, he was really there for the lawns. But this was his own, once the doors were closed.
A little bit of after-hours Transfiguration made it even better.
With a few waves of his wand, the grass softened and began to smell of fresh spring days; the orange tree blossoms began to emit the most delicious smell; the driftwood cracks in the tree trunks sealed themselves over and the wood lost its ashy grey tint in favour of rich browns and ambers; and a soft breeze began to move through the rooms
Draco’s favourite spot was set back from the door, tucked behind a formerly-artificial hedgerow. A row of butterfly bushes lined the wall, behind which a grove of trompe l'oeil silver birch appeared to extend to the horizon, and Draco could roll up his suit jacket and rest his head at the base of an orange tree. The air smelled like honey and spice and the grass was soft beneath him. He could always settle here.
Except Potter’s words kept coming back to him; “You’ve come up with the one thing that lets you spend your time making money and hobnobbing with posh arseholes” and “You can keep doing exactly what you like and call it something else” and “A wolf in sheep’s clothing is still a fucking wolf, Malfoy.” Potter had always had a talent for putting a finger on Draco’s worst fears.
He had told himself a million times that his fears weren’t realities. That he was doing good, that he was doing all of this in order to do good.
Late at night, alone, he sometimes still wondered.
It did make his life more comfortable. It did come with influence. It did involve parties and hobnobbing and the sorts of circles Potter was so quick to write off as chock full of posh arseholes. It did make him money, if not as much as he’d spent. And while he didn’t care about losing the Manor—let the Goblins take the damn thing, he’d be glad to be rid of it—that did rather seem to underscore Potter’s point, if he really thought about it. Aside from his own fear of failure, it wasn’t costing him much at all. It wasn’t the sort of sacrifice redemption stories usually seemed to require.
He reminded himself that no one else had stepped into this particular void, even as the years had piled up after the war. That he did know what went on behind pure-blood doors, and that it needed changing. That he’d grown up seeing parts of the wizarding world that were too cloistered for Potter to ever really know them, and that he had good reason to trust his own judgment when it came to those things that Potter and his ilk wouldn’t, couldn’t know. That people were starting to come to his events who had never, would never, attend the Ministry’s.
He wished he could know whether it would matter, in the end.
He knew that he couldn’t. All he could do was try. Even if Potter never believed him, he had to keep trying.
He pressed his shoulder blades into the grass, tilted his head back, tried to breathe deeply, and tried to focus on the smell of orange blossoms instead of thinking about Potter.
Harry finished lacing up his boots, though he lingered on the last knot. The question of what to do next loomed large.
Malfoy had offered his shower, but hadn’t said anything about what to do afterwards. He’d offered the couch as a bed earlier, too, so presumably he wouldn’t mind if Harry slept there. But Harry knew he’d toss and turn; sleep felt even further away than it had the last time he’d tried.
The office was a logical next step. He stepped over the threshold, cast one last cleaning spell at the washroom, and closed the panel.
Malfoy’s clock told him it was just past four. The desk was still clean. There was nothing to see, and Harry knew he shouldn’t look even if there was. He could pace, he supposed. The idea of wearing a hole in the rug left him feeling caged.
Back out into the gallery, then. The blobs and the weeds still hung in the dim light. They didn’t make any more sense to him than they had earlier.
Instead of a right, into the galleries, he turned left, towards the front desk.
The front room was still cavernous. It took a minor eternity to cross it, which was something of a balm; at least it took up time.
At the very front, the reception desk sat facing the door. It was curved, like a C, and though it had sat empty for most of the night Harry imagined an eager young staffer might sit there and welcome all of Malfoy’s rich, famous patrons.
Then he wondered if it might be an eager young Muggle. It seemed possible.
The desk itself was a gleaming white with a waterfall edge all the way around, so it seemed to pour out of itself like water. The top of it was decorated with tidy piles of pamphlets.
Sales brochures, probably. He picked one up and unfolded it.
There was a weekly calendar inside, which seemed odd. Then he caught a familiar name and did a double take. Holding it close to his face, he squinted, unsure that his eyes weren’t playing tricks on him. But it was there, plain as day in unmoving Muggle ink. Wednesdays, 10am: Beautiful Beasts with Luna Lovegood..
Harry turned the pamphlet over. There were summaries on the back. Beautiful Beasts with Luna Lovegood: All aspiring artists are invited to join our resident zoologist for weekly life drawing classes with a twist! Come study the lines and learn the wonders of Britain’s most beautiful beasts. Free, Ages 3-99. .
Beneath that, Harry read a summary for a Thursday afternoon writing group for those who were first learning English and looking to practice their descriptive skills. On Friday morning, there was watercolour for seniors. Friday evening, a wine and cheese reception for students, with talks by the artists.
At the very bottom, the directions seemed to shimmer. When he looked at them straight on they read Take the tube to Leicester Square, then due north to #60 1/2 Charing Cross Road, or follow Charing Cross Road to Q-Park Chinatown; discounted rates available with validation. When he tapped them with his wand, the text rearranged itself to read For wizarding entry, follow Diagon Alley to number #173. For Muggle entry, take the tube to Leicester Square then walk due north to #60 1/2 Charing Cross Road, or cast a Point Me to Illuminate; due to the Statute of Secrecy, please ensure discretion with any directional spell-casting and refrain from using magic inside the galleries.
Harry blinked, and started from the top again. There were children’s programmes in the mornings, adult education and senior programmes in the afternoons, events for students and artists at night. All of it was free. There was no way Malfoy was making money off of any of it. Given the number of programmes that offered free food and childcare, he must have been losing a mint.
The chair on the opposite side of the desk beckoned. Harry walked around and sank into it gratefully. He set the brochure down and reached for another. It was the same thing but in what looked to be Bengali. Another version was in Arabic. He set them in front of him, all three in a row, and stared.
Eventually, he picked the English-language version up again. Luna’s name had appeared twice, he noticed. Once with beautiful beasts, once with a children’s dance circle. He had so many questions he didn’t know where to begin, and he wished again—if for entirely different reasons—that he could send a Patronus.
Next to the Arabic version of the pamphlet, he noticed a folder with the gallery’s logo stamped on the front. With a bit of a furtive glance around, and a touch of guilt, he lifted the front of the folder.
A letter sat on top, in what he recognised as Malfoy’s lilting hand. Dear Mr Thomas— Thank you for your kind reply. You have my deepest gratitude for your undeserved (and much appreciated) generosity of spirit. Showing your work would be my honour, and I would like to extend an invitation, as well. As you may know (in which case please forgive this explanation) Mr Jay Jopling is the proprietor of White Cube, one of the best-known Muggle galleries in London, and he is always looking for promising new artists. He is also my colleague and friend, and will join me for dinner at Nobu on the 28th. If it would suit you to join us as my guest, I would be pleased to introduce you. If so, please let me know and I will make arrangements accordingly. Sincerely yours, D. Malfoy
Beneath it, there was an envelope addressed to a Mr D Thomas in Brighton. Harry couldn’t imagine his first instinct could be correct, and yet… He shifted through the pile and at the bottom, in a familiar script, was a note from Dean.
Harry felt lightheaded. He moved to close the folder.
As he did an invoice flashed past, not with the gallery’s logo, but with Gringotts’. LIEN in re MALFOY MANOR was printed in large bold letters across the top.
Harry slammed the folder shut before he could see anything more.
Malfoy hadn’t told him about any of this. Not a word. His fingers itched to re-open the folder. Had Malfoy really mortgaged Malfoy Manor? Was that really a letter to Dean Thomas, offering him the kind of exposure Harry knew he’d been working towards for years? Were those really pamphlets for every sort of programming Harry could imagine and then some, available to wizards and Muggles alike, together, at the same time, free of any sort of cost?
Harry wondered if he’d got stuck in a gallery or fallen through the looking glass. Maybe all those mirrors had really been the latter, and this was some sort of upside-down world where only unimaginably fantastical things were allowed to happen.
It was, he thought, the explanation he would’ve been most likely to believe at the beginning of the evening. Now he wasn’t sure what to think.
His first instinct was to ask Malfoy to explain, but Malfoy already had. He’d explained more than once and, in spite of Harry’s doubts, he’d not only told the truth, but undersold his efforts. Harry couldn’t think of anything more he could ask. When he sat back and lined the pamphlets up side by side in front of him, it didn’t seem like a question of asking at all. It was a question of whether or not he could believe what Malfoy had told him.
The voice that had so clearly screamed “NO!” at the beginning of the night was noticeably silent on that point, replaced with a tentative curiosity and the return of the same low charge he’d felt before.
He pushed back from the desk, returned two of the three pamphlets to their piles, and set off in search of Malfoy.
His legs felt heavier than they had before. Still, he took to the stairs, climbing storeys and peeking into room after room after room. He made it all the way to the top before tentativeness overtook curiosity. He had to take a deep breath before he could look up to the landing where he and Malfoy had been just an hour or so before.
When he did, a strip of light caught his eye. The plain white door at the top of the staircase was ajar.
He crept up the stairs as quietly as he could. When he smelled fresh grass the possibility of a looking glass crossed his mind again, but he wasn’t imagining it. As he drew closer, he smelled orange blossom, and the air started to feel humid and warm.
After a moment’s hesitation, he pushed the door open. “Malfoy?” It sounded like a whisper. He cleared his throat and called out again. “Malfoy?”
It was so faint at first, Draco thought it was his own imagination, his mind turning over old conversations or dreaming up new ones. But then it came again, and a third time. His eyes blinked open with a start when he realised it was accompanied by heavy footsteps drawing ever nearer.
Having Potter find him like this—dishevelled, unguarded—would be far more intimate than anything they’d done with their hands or mouths. Engaging his limbs felt like moving through treacle. He struggled to sit up, to make himself stand.
Once upright, his head spun. He tried to focus on pulling his cuffs straight and raking his hair into place before he stepped out from behind the tree.
Potter was still half a room away, standing by the reflecting pool on the other side of the hedge. Draco breathed a sigh of relief. Even a short walk towards Potter, and away from his own private spot, was a chance to regain his equilibrium.
“Malfoy?” Potter called again.
“Yes?” Draco stepped around the hedge. “You rang?”
Potter whirled on the spot and Draco saw him reach for his wand instinctively, then drop his hand to his side. “Hi.”
Draco tried to arch an eyebrow. “Hello.”
“I was looking for you.”
“Oh?” That could have meant so many things that Draco’s already-frayed nerves couldn’t figure out whether to run towards fear or hope. They settled into a jittery buzzing that avoided either.
“Before.” Potter looked uneasy. “What was that?”
Erumpent in a potions shop. Merlin. “Before,” Draco repeated.
“Are you looking for the technical terms?”
Potter was halfway to rolling his eyes when he seemed to think better of it. “No. I— Before. What did it mean?”
“Must everything be dissected?”
“Says the artist.”
“Does it matter?”
The question of the hour. It certainly hadn’t seemed to where Potter was concerned. He pinched the bridge of his nose. “Does anything?”
Of course Potter would think that way. Potter, with his righteous optimism. “You’re the one asking.”
“Because I want to know.”
“It’s not entirely up to me.”
“Some things are.”
Potter stuffed his hands into his jacket pockets. “Why are you doing this? All of this?”
He shouldn’t have got up. He should’ve Transfigured the orange tree into a bodhi tree and stayed there until he became one with it, until the concerns that plagued his every waking moment drifted off into some cosmic sea. Nothing he’d said or done would convince Potter in that reality, either, but at least it wouldn’t sting quite so sharply.
But then, he couldn’t run the gallery from a state of transcendental nothingness, and it would take far more than Potter’s stubbornness to keep him from that.
“I’ve told you,” Draco said. He didn’t try to keep the weariness out of his voice. “More than once. It’s clear that nothing I say will convince you.”
“Since when do you care what I think?”
Merlin, Draco didn’t want to. He hadn’t wanted to care at eleven years old, standing in front of Potter with his hand outstretched. Hadn’t wanted to care at twelve, when he thought he’d bested Potter at duelling, only to have Potter become the talk of Hogwarts. Hadn’t wanted to care at sixteen, when he lay awake in the hospital wing feeling his skin knit itself back together after Potter’s Sectumsempra. Hadn’t wanted to care at seventeen, when Potter had been marched into the drawing room and Draco had lied to save him, or maybe to try to save himself—or when Potter had pulled him from the Fiendfyre, or when Potter had looked at him across the Great Hall when it was all over and then looked away like he wasn’t any more interesting than the furniture. He hadn’t wanted to care at eighteen, when Potter's testimony had shortened his stay in Azkaban considerably. Hadn’t wanted to care when he didn’t see Potter again for years after that or when, once he did, it ended in fisticuffs. He certainly hadn’t wanted to care tonight, and he didn’t want to care now.
But he did. Even alongside the firmest conviction in what he was trying to do, he did. He had at every turn.
Harry found Malfoy’s silence unnerving. He tried again, urged on by the same electricity that had pushed him to every sort of edge since he and Malfoy had been locked in together. “C’mon, Malfoy. Caring isn’t exactly your thing.”
Malfoy barked a single laugh. “No. But that seems to have been rather a problem, historically. That or caring about the wrong things.”
“So, what? This is you trying to care about the right things?”
“I suppose you could put it that way.”
“And caring will fix it all. Trying will fix it all.” With his hands in his jacket, Harry could feel the glossy paper of Malfoy’s brochure rubbing against his knuckles.
“No. Of course not. I can never fix it all.”
“No, you can’t.” The words felt cruel coming out of his mouth, and crueller still when he saw Malfoy wince, but he needed to say it. Needed to ask again. Maybe Malfoy was right that he liked things to be in black and white. “So why?”
Malfoy sighed. “Potter…”
“What is this?” He held out the brochure, now creased down the middle from its stay in his pocket.
“I found it downstairs,” Harry went on. “If you can never fix it, why are you doing this?
“Where did you get that?”
“The front desk,” Harry said. “Why?”
Malfoy shook his head, never taking his eyes from the glossy brochure. “I’ve told you already.”
“You said you wanted to try.”
“To…make things better, I suppose. I’ve told you this.”
“Yes,” Harry said. “To try to keep other pure-bloods from believing the things you believed. To improve Muggle-wizarding relations. To change the things people say and do behind closed doors.”
“Yes,” Draco said, and Harry thought he looked surprised. “I know there’s no making it better. There’s no bringing anyone back to life, there’s no way to undo torture or grief. But I want to go to sleep at night knowing I’ve done something to keep it from happening again.”
The “why?” was on the tip of Harry’s tongue when he stopped talking. Malfoy had already told him why. Malfoy had said, too, that repeating it didn’t matter unless he, Harry, believed what he was told.
He stood silently.
“You don’t have to believe me,” Malfoy said. “But the answer hasn’t changed.”
Harry looked at him. Looked at the one single, real version of Malfoy, standing across a fresh green lawn off a staircase in a gallery in a building in Central London, with his one sharp jaw and his one pair of stormy grey eyes and his one pale brow knit together in thought. Malfoy had already answered. The question was whether Harry could believe him.
He wished for birdsong, or a gust of wind to rustle the leaves. All he found was silence.
The quiet was almost overwhelming.
Draco had expected Potter to keep going in his clumsy, relentless way. The stillness was far more unnerving. Potter was almost never still. Draco didn’t know what to make of it.
Nor did he know what to make of the glossy paper that Potter still held out to him. He hadn’t planned for Potter to find it, but he hadn’t thought to hide it, either. The gallery was a public-facing establishment, and the brochures and the programmes they described were meant to serve the public. Besides which, he’d never imagined Potter would have that sort of curiosity, unless it was investigative. Draco’s blood threatened to run cold at the thought, but when he looked up at Potter’s face he didn’t find an accusation. Potter looked confused, and strangely open, and unsure.
The quiet was becoming oppressive. Draco needed to break it. “Why did you come back here?”
Potter didn’t say anything. He folded the brochure, though, and slid it back into his pocket.
“I’ve heard it all before, you know. I’ve thought it all before, far more frequently. I know it every second of every day.”
Potter just looked at him. He tried not to feel like a specimen under glass, though the power of Potter’s scrutiny was intense.
Draco refused to shrivel beneath it, even if he wanted to. “I’ve spent more time than you’ll ever know wondering if it’s selfishness. If it’s exactly what you’ve said—an excuse for parties and power and all of that. Or if I’ve let myself be persuaded that it’s good because that’s the easiest thing to believe. If the reason no one’s done this yet is that it’s not worth doing.”
Still, Potter looked at him. Studied him.
It raised gooseflesh across the nape of his neck. But he’d thought he might regret saying anything more and he didn’t. It felt good to say it. To know that he’d know, after the fact, that at least he’d said it, whether or not Potter believed him. Maybe that was selfish, too, but Potter had asked. Though maybe that was childish, but still, Potter had asked so many times and Draco, if he was honest with himself, wanted to answer.
“You’re right that there are other things I could do. You’re right that I like this one more. I don’t know if it’s wrong to choose an easier path than I might. The people I’ve hurt certainly didn’t have that kind of choice. I don’t see that there’s any reason why I should.
“But I’m here, all the same, and I do. Maybe suffering would be better. Purer. Ironically enough…purer. Maybe it shouldn’t be possible—maybe it shouldn’t be allowed—for someone who’s done what I’ve done to love something as much as I love all of this.” He waved a hand to show Potter the trees and the murals and everything that lay beyond. “I do, you know. Love it. Maybe it’s simply wrong, maybe it’s profoundly unjust, that I should get to love something this much and make it my life’s work. My daily work. But I know what suffering does, what stories of suffering do, and this feels… That always felt bitter and violent and full of rage, and that’s what it created. I want to be done with that. I don’t want to feel that way anymore. I don’t want anyone else to feel that way. And I think, sometimes, when I look at the paintings and when I lie in the grass, that no one who feels the way I do when I see a new work of art for the first time could ever do the things I did at seventeen. I think maybe that feeling, especially if wizards get it from Muggles and share it with Muggles, could keep other people from doing what I did, or believing what I did. I do think this can do something good. Truly, I do, Potter.” As he said it, he was reassured to find that his body was settling. There was no nausea, nothing unsettled skittering through his stomach, no tension banded around his lungs. It felt like telling the truth.
“When you ask why I’ve done this… I’ve told the truth, whether or not you believe it. I can’t tell you that I’m always certain it’s unselfish. I can say, though, that it feels different to want peace. That what I want now, what I’m working for now—it feels different than anything before it ever has.”
“Peace.” Potter sounded raw.
“Peace,” Draco said again. That, too, felt true, though he’d never said it before. Redemption, setting things right…those had always seemed like the sorts of things a person could fight for, could talk about fighting for. But this was true too, and it settled, easy and light, into his bones.
Potter tilted his head to the side, but his focus never waned.
The intensity of it edged at Draco’s calm. “I’ve answered your questions.” When Potter didn’t speak, he continued. “Why did you come back here?
Of all the things he’d never expected, this wouldn’t have made Harry’s top ten. It wouldn’t have made his list at all; it was too unthinkable for him to have imagined it in the first place.
But he stood across from Draco Malfoy, and he heard him talk about work, and art, and love, and suffering, and peace, and he believed him.
He believed him, and he felt rearranged.
Malfoy’s question hung in the air. Harry wasn’t sure how to answer it. There were reasons why he’d come looking for Malfoy originally, and reasons why he was glad he had, but they weren’t the same reasons.
Silence hung between them and clouds began to cross Malfoy’s face. Harry knew he had to answer if he didn’t want that old storm to kick back up between them.
“I came looking for you,” he said, just to buy time. “I wanted—” He racked his brain for any sequence of words that might make sense. He knew how to diffuse a situation, but he didn’t want to placate Malfoy. He wanted… He wished he knew what he wanted. “I wanted to ask you, I guess. After I saw…” He nodded towards his pocket.
Malfoy opened his mouth to speak, but closed it again without saying anything.
Harry supposed that was its own sort of question. “I’m not sure why else. I wanted you to explain something you’d already explained. You’re right about that.”
A second, just a split second, of shock flashed across Malfoy’s face.
“About suffering, too.”
Another, longer, flash of shock.
“And that I didn’t believe you.”
“Didn’t?” Malfoy asked, his voice unsteady.
Harry looked him in the eye. “Didn’t.”
“Yes,” Harry said.
Malfoy’s face told a million stories at once. Neither of them said any of them aloud, but Harry thought they might be thinking of the same ones.
“I can see how this is peaceful,” he said, and he could. The air was warm and sweet. It felt like sunlight. Harry would never have imagined that, either, that he would feel sunlight indoors in the early hours of the morning without magic. It was wonderful.
“I—” Malfoy began. “Yes. It—it matters a lot, some days. Maybe that’s selfish too.”
Harry had worried about the same thing once or twice, when he’d shut his Floo and spent whole days at a time alone after the war, out of reach for anyone but Hermione and Ron. He’d needed that, though. That peace. “Maybe. It isn’t that easy to find, though.”
“No,” Malfoy said. “It isn’t.”
“But sometimes hoping for it is the only way to get through the night.” Harry knew that all too well.
“Yes.” Malfoy hadn’t stopped looking at him, but the quality of his looking seemed to shift.
Harry felt warm under Malfoy’s gaze. It was inquisitive, but not only. It looked like Malfoy knew the question and the answer. Yes.
Harry took a step towards him. “Maybe that’s why I came back here, too.”
He took another step, and then another, until they were face to face. “Trying to find it.”
Draco didn’t know who kissed whom first, just that they were kissing. It was enough—it was more than enough with Potter’s “Didn’t” ringing in his ears.
Not just his ears. It rang through his chest, through his veins. He had cared what Potter thought, but the possibility of that mattering had never been real enough to motivate his work. He had taught himself to believe in other things, and he had done it for other reasons. It mattered to him for other reasons. That Potter believed it was incidental—but Merlin, it was blissful all the same.
Blissful like Potter’s mouth against his own. Blissful like Potter’s plump bottom lip between his teeth. Like Potter moaning against his mouth.
He’d known what to do before. He knew how to bring another man off in a stairwell.
This felt like something entirely different. Going off instinct was the only possible option.
So he did.
He cupped Potter’s jaw and pulled him in and kissed him hard. Potter opened up to him, parting his lips and returning Draco’s every volley. He let Draco pull his body closer, and his hands wandered over Draco’s back.
Bodies, Draco thought, the word barely taking shape in his mind for all that it was full of Potter. He wanted their bodies together, this time.
He pushed Potter’s jacket off his shoulders, and Potter rolled his arms back to drop it to the floor. He had a thin t-shirt on underneath. When Draco looked down he could see the faint outline of Potter’s nipples, and then he was pulling at the hem of the shirt, pulling it up and over Potter’s head. He ran his hands over Potter’s bare arms and kissed him fiercely, thrilling when Potter moaned at his touch.
He’d been so focused on touching Potter that he almost startled when Potter’s warm fingers reached for the bottom of his jumper. He’d left his suit jacket behind the tree and the realisation that one layer stood between his skin and Potter’s hit him like an avalanche. He’d never taken something off so quickly.
Potter’s hands were as curious as his mouth. His rough callouses were a thrill as they glanced over the curve of Draco’s back and around to his chest. Draco was almost sorry to push them aside.
But when he did, Merlin, Potter’s skin was everything he hadn’t known he’d needed. The roughness of it, the strength just underneath. He wanted to study every inch of him. It seemed like there must be a hundred stories to learn just from the planes of Potter’s chest.
When he tugged on Potter’s hand, pointing down towards the grass, Potter took the hint. He pulled Draco down with him, and the pressure of his hands was second only to the pressure of their bodies together.
Draco wanted to take his time. He kissed Potter’s mouth, and then the spot at the base of his neck that seemed guaranteed to elicit a gasp. He ran his hands over Potter’s arms, over the curve of his biceps and up to his clavicle. He traced his fingers down Potter’s sternum, stopping at a rough, raised circular scar. He glanced up; Potter shrugged it off, but watched him intently. Holding Potter’s eye, he laid a kiss to the centre of it. He felt Potter’s breath hitch under his lips.
He continued onwards. Potter’s ribs, his sides. He placed a kiss at the top of his hip bone. Potter arched. His heart had pounded since their lips first touched, but the look of Potter rolling his hips was something else altogether. He met Potter’s moan with one of his own.
That seemed to spur Potter to action. Draco felt Potter’s hands pulling him upwards, bringing him close. Potter rolled them over and pinned them to the ground, and Draco bit at his shoulder just to keep from moaning. It was incredible. Potter was incredible. Rough and firm and exactly right.
Malfoy looked almost exactly how Harry had always imagined a posh arsehole would look: smooth and pale and softer than silk. He’d never worked the beat in Diagon Alley, walking up and down endlessly in the sun, or spent weekends weeding a garden. He’d never handled tools until his fingertips built up callouses. For a moment, it reminded him of everything he’d thought he should hate about Malfoy.
But he didn’t feel any of that. He wasn’t repelled. Malfoy was softer than anything Harry thought he’d ever touched, and he didn’t want to stop. He ran his hands over Malfoy’s arms, around to his back to pull him close. He kissed Malfoy’s neck, and when Malfoy ducked his head, Harry arched back, making way for Malfoy’s tongue to trace an electric line down his neck.
The feeling of Malfoy pressing up into him was perfect, and utterly unsatisfying. He reached for the top button on Malfoy’s trousers. He’d been surprised, last time, at the row of tiny buttons. This time he made quick work of them and tugged at Malfoy’s waistband. Malfoy lifted his hips and let Harry push them over his knees, and Malfoy kicked them and his pants and his loafers off together, and then he was under Harry, naked, and the smooth planes of his skin seemed to go on forever. Except for his cock, his hard, pink, perfect cock. Harry wanted to feel Malfoy’s legs intertwined with his own, wanted to wrap himself around them. He wanted to be so close to Malfoy that everything fell away.
His jeans were too thick, too constricting. He wanted them off. He took Malfoy’s hand and put it on his top button.
Malfoy paused, waiting for guidance. His pupils were dilated. His lips were full. His pale skin was flushed. His chest rose and fell, his breath heavy with want.
“Malfoy?” Harry said. He barely recognised his own voice. It was a low growl, half whisper, half demand.
Malfoy hummed, even as his eyes turned to Harry’s waistband, even as his hand ventured lower to skim the outline of Harry’s cock through his jeans.
Harry thought he might lose all speech if Malfoy touched him. He held Malfoy’s wrist. “Fuck me.”
Malfoy’s eyes snapped to his face, and he felt more naked then than he had all evening. But he knew he wanted it.
If the look on Malfoy’s face was anything to go by, he wasn’t the only one.
Draco couldn’t look away. He couldn’t have looked away if he’d been blindfolded and put under an Imperius. There was no power on earth, Muggle or wizarding, that could have compelled him to look anywhere else.
Potter’s lips were slightly parted, his chest was heaving, and he’d just asked Draco to fuck him.
He had to be sure it wasn’t some trick of his ears, or the hour, or his own imagination. “Fuck you?”
“Yes,” Potter said. “Please.”
Draco didn’t bother suppressing the low whine that came from the depths of his chest.
Potter was flushed and desperate and he wanted Draco. He wanted Draco inside him.
Draco’s cock throbbed at the thought of it.
“Merlin,” Draco said. “Yes, fuck.”
“Yeah?” Potter breathed.
Draco popped open the top button of Potter’s flies. “Yeah.” He pulled down the zipper and saw Potter’s hips buck towards his hand. Fuck, but he wanted to touch. He was going to touch. He wanted to touch Potter so well that everything else slipped away, so that it was all that existed in the world. “How…?”
Potter eyes fluttered shut. He whined and bucked his hips again.
Draco wasn’t sure if it was an answer, but he was willing to try. He rolled the bottom of his palm up against the bulge in Potter’s jeans, made his touch firm and certain. Potter groaned.
Okay, then. That was answer enough.
Potter whimpered when he did it again, and when Draco pushed against his shoulder, he rolled over easily. It was quick work, then, to pull his jeans down. Slower work to unlace his boots and pull them off, though he barely noticed. He still couldn’t look away. Not from Potter, spread naked before him, his erection thick and full, his thighs muscled and dusted with dark hair save for a long welt across his right thigh—another story, Draco guessed, maybe even for another time.
But it would have to wait. Potter was laid out in the grass in front of him, one knee cocked and his legs spread just enough to show the promising cleft of his arse.
It was all Draco could do not to dive in and suck him. He wanted Potter in his mouth, wanted to taste him.
But Potter had asked for something else. Something so unbelievable that Draco still couldn’t entirely wrap his head around it, even if his cock was fully prepared.
He knelt over Potter and held there, for a moment. Potter’s body emanated heat and Draco longed to press himself against it. He gave in for a moment, lowering himself to kiss Potter, to rub himself against Potter’s hips. He wasn’t expecting Potter’s hands to come up to his back and hold him there, wasn’t expecting Potter to roll his hips in encouragement, or to speed up when Draco moaned. He couldn’t help moaning; it was bliss, being pressed against Potter like this.
But Potter had asked, and he was determined to give.
Pulling himself away was a minor agony. He dug through his clothes for his wand and cast at his own fingers. When he knelt over Potter again, Potter spread his legs. A whimper rose from deep in Draco’s lungs.
“Okay?” he asked.
Potter spread his legs further. “Yes.”
“Fuck,” Draco murmured. He stroked Potter’s cock just once, and a thin line of white fluid spilled over the head of it. Draco ran the tip of his finger through it, adding it to the slick liquid in his hand. Potter bucked at that, seeking more pressure from his fist, and Draco was tempted to give it to him.
But Potter had asked.
He pulled himself back, loosened his grip in spite of Potter’s thin whine, and trailed his hand down over Potter’s shaft, over his bollocks, and to his cleft. He arched beautifully, and Draco’s cock jerked at the sight of it. Potter bucked his hips again and if that wasn’t a request…Draco cast again, making sure his fingers were slick, and then trailed one towards Potter’s entrance.
Potter’s knees fell open entirely, then, and fuck but Draco wanted to plunge inside him. He knew he had to wait, had to make it good for Potter—for both of them, together.
Slowly, so slowly, he trailed his index finger around and over Potter’s hole. When he slipped inside, it was Potter who took him there, who canted his hips so that Draco’s finger slipped into his rim, and Potter who pushed down until his fingertip was inside. He didn’t need more of an invitation. He slid halfway in and, at Potter’s moan, all the way.
Potter’s breath grew shallow, but his eyes were clear and full of desires. He rolled his hips. Draco slid his finger out, and then in again, slowly, firmly.
“More,” Potter whispered.
Fuck. Draco’s cock jerked against the empty air. He wanted Potter so much he could barely see straight.
He added another finger first, letting Potter adjust; which he did quickly, readily. Eagerly.
“More,” Potter rasped, rocking back and forth on Draco’s fingers. “Please.”
Draco’s determined patience was hanging on by a string. It broke at the sound of Potter’s pleading. “Ready?” He asked. He had to hear it again.
“Yes.” Potter hooked his heel around Draco’s back and pulled him forward. “Fuck me.”
If Draco lived to be two hundred, he thought he’d never forget the sound of that.
He knew he’d never forget the first hint of Potter’s tightness. He’d made sure everything was slick enough for them both, but the power of Potter’s body was all his own. Draco tried to wait, tried to let Potter adjust, but when Potter rocked his hips Draco’s vision went white and stars danced across the reflecting pool. He had to brace himself on both arms to keep going.
When he did—when he found a way to move, when he struck up a rhythm, when he kept it as firm and strong as Potter liked, when he found himself thrusting even just a bit harder than he’d meant to, thanks to the exquisite heat of Potter’s body—Potter’s first deep moan almost threw him over the edge. He had to make it last. Usually, that meant distraction, but he couldn’t stand to look away.
Instead, he looked. At the slim ring of emerald green around Potter’s pupils; at his arched throat working to swallow; at the flush rising on his chest. He felt, too: Potter’s heels in his back, the musculature of Potter’s arse when Draco’s hips met it, the pleasure shooting through his cock, radiating through his legs and up his spine.
He rocked into Potter, and he felt it all, saw it all, and the world faded into white-hot pleasure.
There were no words. He had no words for it. Some came to mind now and again—heat and yes and there and more—but they couldn’t capture it. Moans came closer, Malfoy’s moans especially. But nothing was the feeling of Malfoy inside him.
Full. Another word came, and that one stuck longer. Full. Merlin, he was full. Full to bursting. Malfoy moved inside of him with conviction, rolling his hips hard, setting off the deepest sparks of pleasure every time. Malfoy drove forward and Harry could give back, Malfoy liked it when he gave back—liked it when he pushed up, when he urged Malfoy deeper, when he met Malfoy thrust for thrust. When he spread his legs, when he hooked them over Malfoy’s shoulders; Malfoy’s guttural cry at that had run through Harry's spine, left his cock dripping.
Cock, came next, and please. Malfoy thrust into him and everything else fell away but the pure need growing in him. He was full of Malfoy, and still wanted more, wanted Malfoy’s hand on him again. Wanted to come like this, when there was nothing in the world but this.
This, this nameless thing, was what he’d been looking for. He hadn’t known it. Had never expected to find it here. But something had fallen away, had fallen off his shoulders, over the hours they’d passed together. Some weight he’d been carrying around. Something like a shadow of the bitterness Malfoy had been so quick to name. Something about Malfoy himself had loosened something in Harry’s chest. The monster that had so often raged there, fed by suspicion and injustice, was quelled by it. By…forgiveness, Harry supposed it was. By letting go. By Malfoy showing him that he could perhaps, in this way, in this instance, let go.
Let go. That was it. Let go. A command, a plea. Between his body and Malfoy’s, his cock was full and aching with want. He stilled his hips. Malfoy followed immediately. He wrapped his legs around Malfoy and levered himself up, until they were face to face, Malfoy still deep inside him. The grey of Malfoy’s eyes was barely visible around his pupils; he started to ask, “Wh—?”
Harry showed him. He pulled Malfoy’s hand to his cock and wrapped his own hand around it, giving himself a loose stroke, showing Malfoy what he wanted. He braced his thighs around Malfoy’s, and lifted his hips, and sank down again. Malfoy’s moan shot through him. He did it again, and again, faster, firmer. Malfoy’s hand was slick around his erection, and perfectly firm. He draped an arm over Malfoy’s shoulders, around the back of his neck, and rode him, nothing but the sound of their bodies and the feel of Malfoy in him and around him, and sweat, and the smell of fresh grass.
It might’ve been a minute, or an hour, or a year. There was nothing but Malfoy’s body under and over and inside his own. Everything else faded back, back, back, until it came together in a molten rush, through his thighs, from the deepest places inside of him, gathering to a point and then, when Malfoy cried out and his body went still and tense, it poured through him. He saw stars, millions of them against the blackest sky.
He saw stars, and he felt the weight of Malfoy’s body against him as they tumbled, spent, to the ground. He felt softness below him, and warmth, and his every last muscle, every last cell, was quiet.
Peace, he thought, and then the deep black sky and its million stars overtook him.
There was a crick in his neck and the unmistakable stickiness of sweat. Before he’d fully returned to consciousness, he had reason to be cross.
There was something about that sweaty heat that pulled him back towards it, something languorous and still. He reached out towards it, letting his muscles stretch, feeling the unfamiliar weight on his arm.
Potter. His eyes were open. Sleep was a distant memory. Potter was on his shoulder.
The night before rushed back in. Potter, his intimations, their intimacies. He closed his eyes against it. How had he got here? What were they doing?
When he opened his eyes, Potter was looking back at him. Potter, with one cheek flushed where he’d rested it against Draco’s shoulder. Potter, with his curious green eyes. His low, creaky voice saying, “Morning.”
“Morning,” Draco replied, automatically. Then it hit him that it might really be the morning. He shifted his weight to stand and immediately regretted it. Potter’s features had flashed with confusion as he moved to get out of Draco’s way.
There was no going back, though. No way to say “actually, former-and-possibly-current-mortal-enemy whose status as a possible lover remains deeply unclear, let’s have a bit of a cuddle.”
Instead, he reached for his trousers and fished out a pocket watch. The clock read ten minutes till seven.
Seven, when the Muggle security system would flip its locks to manual control. Seven, when they would be free to leave.
Next to him, Potter began a languid stretch. From the corner of his eye, he retraced his path—Potter’s neck, his nipples, the line trailing down his stomach.
Suddenly, halfway through, Potter tensed.
Draco turned his focus entirely to the watch. Perhaps that was it, then. Potter had remembered last night, too. He felt Potter sit up and pull his knees up in front of him. It was a double jolt: Potter concealing himself from view, and Draco’s realisation that he didn’t know Potter well enough to know whether he sat like that as a matter of habit, or whether he’d adopted the position as a matter of belated modesty.
Potter cleared his throat. His voice was still raspy anyway. “That was…”
Draco’s stomach plummeted. His heart froze. Hope rose along his spine. There were too many contradictory feelings for him to have any chance of understanding them, let alone saying them.
Next to him, Potter raked his fingers through his hair. “Quite a night.”
“Yes,” Draco said. What to say? What to do? He had no idea.
“Is that…” Potter nodded at the watch, his tone a question.
“Nine minutes to seven.”
“Oh.” Potter’s tone was inscrutable. “Well.”
The second hand ticked towards the 12; the minute hand tocked towards the 11. “Eight.”
Potter drew his knees up closer. “Guess we should probably…”
“Yes,” Draco agreed. He reached for his trousers and pulled his pants out of them.
Behind him, he heard Potter rustling around. He couldn’t bring himself to look. If he never saw Potter again, or if Potter reverted to form, the memory of him getting ready for the day would be… Draco didn’t know what it would be. Painful? Heartbreaking? Blackmail material? Wanking material? The image that drove him permanently away from his favourite room in the gallery, or had him sending late-night owls to an enemy-turned-unresponsive-one-night-stand?
The alternative—that Potter might want him to look, that this might be the first time instead of the only—was incomprehensible. It seemed impossible, in spite of everything.
He slipped on his pants, and then his trousers and jumper. He stuffed the watch into his pocket. He didn’t want to look at the time. It took a moment to locate his wand; it had rolled into the leaves piled at the edge of the reflecting pool. He retrieved it and cast quiet de-wrinkling and toothbrushing charms, and then an Accio to retrieve his suit jacket from underneath the orange tree.
When it came zooming past the hedgerow and into his hand, he heard Potter turn towards him. His t-shirt hung unevenly and he held his jacket in his hands.
Draco folded his own jacket neatly over his arm. “Well.”
“It’s good,” Potter said.
Draco must’ve looked as confused as he felt.
“All of this,” Potter went on. “This. The art.”
“The blobs?” Draco asked.
“That you’re trying,” Potter said.
Draco’s heart skipped a beat. “Oh.”
“You were right about…well. Not everything, obviously.”
Draco wasn’t sure how to take that.
“But some things. The things you said. I…yeah.”
“Thank you,” Draco said. He meant it, though he wasn’t sure what it was for. “I am. I am trying. I think I can do some good.”
“Yeah,” Harry said. “Yeah, I think…yeah.”
Warmth bloomed in Draco’s chest. He wondered if it was the sun lamps, or the cashmere. He knew it wasn’t either. He put his hands in his pockets.
Of course they collided with the cold metal of his watch. Of course. It was probably seven already.
Harry hadn’t wanted to leave without saying it.
When he’d woken, the night had hit him like a thunderbolt. Images tumbled into his mind, and sounds, and sensations. Back to that fullness, to Malfoy’s skin, to the crack of light in the stairwell, to what he’d read, the pamphlets, the shower, the staircase—it had been almost a different Malfoy—and before that, running up and down the stairs. Malfoy’s unmoving lips. A million mirrors; a million Malfoys. Back to the blobs, to the locks, to the end of the party, to Luna telling him to tilt his head and try to see things from a different angle, telling him to try. Her words sat differently now that he knew she’d done it herself. The thought sat differently now that he knew so much more about Malfoy.
He’d wanted to say it, or at least to try.
He wasn’t sure whether he’d succeeded. Malfoy had seemed to close up more and more with every passing minute. Harry reminded himself that even if Malfoy reverted to his reserved posh-arsehole self, the things he’d learned were still true. The things Malfoy was doing, had decided to do before Harry had ever crossed the threshold of Illuminate.
He wanted Draco to know that he saw it.
Part of him felt as though he should investigate that urge. Make sure it wasn’t the desire to prove Malfoy wrong, to prove that he didn’t just deal in black and white. But Malfoy hadn’t been entirely wrong about that, Harry was a bit chagrined to admit. And it had taken Malfoy to show him why it mattered.
It wasn’t all that Malfoy had done. When he’d reached out his arms and stretched, he’d been startled by the absence of a small, bitter, angry knot behind his ribs. He’d never noticed that it was there, though its absence made it obvious in retrospect. It had burrowed into his chest, the reflexive defensiveness of a life spent fighting things off. He’d always had to. He’d always been right to. But being wrong about Malfoy…that was something new.
Of course, he hadn’t come anywhere close to saying all of that. His half-sentences felt woefully inadequate.
That didn’t move him any closer to finding the words, though. He wished he didn’t have to rely on words. He could fight off a dragon about it, no problem, or chase down a thief about it. He could feel what he wanted to say, too. But the words… He sighed.
Malfoy frowned down at the grass. “It’s probably seven,” he said. “Or it will be in the time it takes to get downstairs.
“Oh.” Harry said. He felt himself match Malfoy’s frown, but the words he wanted were still only half-formed, swirling around in the back of his head. “I guess we should go, then.”
“Yes. I suppose we should.” Malfoy started towards the door.
“Okay, well.” Harry didn’t follow him.
Malfoy looked back.
“I…” Harry scrambled. “Are you sure?”
Malfoy lifted the watch from his pocket, held it aloft, and then tucked it away, as if to say “yes, obviously.”
Harry groped through his mind. “Aren’t you hungry?”
Malfoy looked confused. “What?”
“It’s morning, aren’t you hungry?”
“I…” Malfoy’s face softened, and Harry felt something warm in his chest. “There’s a café down the street. On the Muggle side,” Malfoy said. “They open early.”
“Do they? Every day?” His own favourite coffee shop didn’t open till ten at the weekend.
“They—” Malfoy stopped short. “Oh. Probably not on a Saturday.”
“Okay, well.” Harry couldn’t find any of the words he wanted. “That’s okay. Should probably go home and sleep a bit anyway.”
“Right.” Malfoy looked at the door, and away from Harry. “Same, really. Shall we?”
Malfoy held the door open and Harry stepped through. He looked back to see Malfoy say a quiet “Finite.” The tree trunks turned ashy and fissures split the wood; the soft, fresh grass stiffened into plastic; the smell of recirculated air began to overtake the fresh grass. Malfoy leaned in and Harry heard him hit a switch. The lights blinked out.
The magic of the park already seemed like a distant memory. The stairwell was cold concrete. The light was fluorescent. Something tugged at Harry, keeping him glued to the spot. It didn’t feel like it was over, like it should be over.
Malfoy walked past him, to the head of the stairs. He glanced back halfway over his shoulder, not quite far enough for Harry to catch his eye, then started walking. Harry followed, still searching for the words with every step.
Draco knew the gallery like the back of his hand. He was especially glad of that now, when it let him move on autopilot.
He let the stairs echo behind him. Down past the galleries, past the plain white door to the infinity room, to the ground floor. They walked past his office—the thought that Potter might have left something of himself behind twisted at his stomach; he wasn’t sure if it was better or worse to have to leave that for another day—and towards the front room. Aside from the occasional scuff of heavy leather boots, Potter might have been Eurydice, floating silently behind him, daring him to look back.
He didn’t look back. Potter wanted to go home and sleep, and that was that. It was clearly the sensible thing to do on a number of levels.
That didn’t explain why the silence felt so heavy. But maybe, Draco thought as he walked towards the front door, he was the only one feeling it.
He shrugged his suit jacket on, the better to retrieve the key from its pocket. Holding his breath, he slid it into the lock and turned.
There was no resistance. It clicked open easily. The door was heavy—he thought, for one heart-stopping moment, that it might be stuck—but that was all. He leaned into it, and it opened onto the pavement.
He held the door for Potter, then shut it behind him and turned the key once more, locking the gallery behind them.
It was late enough in the year that the sun was just peaking over the buildings. It spun a thin golden light, which was amplified by gleaming storefronts and filled the street with a pale, rosy glow. Draco heard lorries unloading up by the Tesco Express and the curry house. He saw Mrs Hughes across the way readying the till. A cyclist was taking advantage of the relatively empty streets for a morning ride.
And there was Potter, hands stuffed in his jacket pockets, looking uncharacteristically tentative.
Draco couldn’t stand the idea of Potter trying to let him down easy. He’d rather rip the plaster off. “Well then—”
“I know a place,” Potter said.
Draco stopped. Swallowed. Repeated the words back to himself. “Pardon?”
“I know a place. They open early, I bet even on Saturdays.”
After so many years spent worrying that his instincts were evil, Draco wasn’t sure he could trust the fluttering seed of hope behind his sternum.
But his instincts about the opening had been right. His instincts about the gallery seemed like they might be. And Potter…with Potter he’d given over to instincts he usually refused. He’d pushed and prodded and antagonised and made his case, and then he’d felt his way across Potter’s body. And in the end, Potter had believed him. If he’d understood what had had between them, Potter had trusted him, a bit.
“A place?” Draco repeated.
“From stakeouts and such. Late nights, early mornings.” Potter shrugged. “Bit of a greasy spoon.”
“Perfect,” Draco said.
Potter looked up at him, surprised.
“I’m hungry as well. Crudités and cubes of cheese can only hold someone over for so long.”
Potter smiled. “That’s what I’m always saying. But every time, the Ministry trots out those little carrot sticks.”
“You’d think they’d managed something more substantial.”
“Rumour is that Robards’ wife is deeply devoted to root vegetables.”
“Ah. Internal politics.”
“Something like that.” Potter smiled tentatively. “You’re game, then?”
“Could eat an Erumpent, I believe the saying goes.”
“Or an omelette?” Potter smiled.
Draco returned it with a quick grin. “Perhaps.”
“It’s not too far.”
“I could do with a walk.”
“They’ve got excellent coffee.”
“I’d heard you needed sleep.”
“It can wait.” Potter paused, seeming to search for the right words. “I— I was thinking of what someone said to me last night, at the party. It was something about trying things, being willing to see things in a new light. I didn’t want to do that at first, but…I think they were right.”
Draco’s heart swelled. The hopeful seed burst into bloom, winding through his veins, making its way to his fingertips. “Were they?”
“Yes,” Potter said. The sunrise lit his features. “It’s easy to think that things have worked the way they’ve always been. That doesn’t mean it’s correct, or that it isn’t good for me to look again. To be willing to see how they’ve changed.”
Draco thought his heart might burst through his chest. “That’s a lot to put on a cup of coffee.”
Potter grinned. “I was thinking about the blobs, actually.”
“Were you?” Draco quirked an eyebrow.
“No,” Potter said. “Not at all.”
“That’s a shame. I thought I’d convinced you about them.”
“Not about them, per se.”
“Not about them?”
“No,” Potter said. “Not about them.”
Draco saw curiosity on Potter’s face, and hope, probably reflecting his own. It was overwhelming, he was almost overwhelmed. But hoping and trying were all he’d had for so long that he’d become an expert. If Potter was hopeful, if Potter wanted to try…
“That’s too bad. I’ll have to try harder.” There it was: a plan. A hint at the future. The idea that they might not part ways outside the gallery, or after breakfast.
“It'll take more than an omelette.”
“An omelette and toast?”
“No.” Potter paused. “But isn’t it worth a shot?
The sun climbed higher in the sky and glinted off the pavement, picking up a shimmer that was usually invisible. But it was still London, late in the year; Draco didn’t think it was the sun warming him.
“Yes,” Draco said. “It is. It always is.”
“Let’s give it a try, then.” Potter reached out and Draco met him.
Potter’s hand was warm and firm, and he followed Potter’s lead as they started down the street. There was no reason to keep holding on, except that he wanted to, and Potter seemed to want to let him. It might’ve been Potter’s warm palm, or the exhaustion of a night with very little sleep, but the city felt quieter than usual. Brighter. Full of promise.
“Good,” Draco said, making his way down Charing Cross Road, hand in hand with Potter as they walked further into Muggle London. “Let’s do.”