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Such Great Heights

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Harry woke up around five to Ginny coming to bed and an owl, rattling frantically against the window. He yawned. “How did it go?”

Ginny was wild-eyed and grinning. She kneewalked across the bed. Seamus yelped when her knee hit his stomach and Neville let out a gentle snore. It had been Seamus and Lavender when Harry had come to bed. He wondered when Neville had replaced her, scrubbing at his eyes, sleepily confused, but Ginny leaned down and bit the end of his nose and said, “Lav came down when she heard me come in. It went fine. Didn’t manage to get Scabior but we found the latest hideout and lit it up, he’s on the run again.”

Harry yawned again, jaw cracking. The owl outside the window threw itself thumping and disgruntled against the frame with a new burst of energy. Ginny leaned over Harry, a moment where her cool skin was pressed up against him; she smelled like sweat and ash and he tucked his sleep-warm face against her neck, pursed his lips and blew to make her laugh. The window racketed down as she unlatched it, and the owl zoomed in so fast it bumped against the opposite wall.

Harry and Ginny were both laughing now, hands covering each other’s mouths to keep quiet. Ginny’s eyes were bright and wicked. She’d been up for about thirty hours straight, Harry reckoned, but she didn’t look as though she’d be able to sleep yet.

The owl picked itself up with unsteady dignity and flew back over to Harry, dropping a letter in Harry’s lap. Harry slid his thumb under Kingsley Shacklebolt’s seal, exchanging a quick, wary glance with Ginny.

The letter started: Harry: I thought you might be interested to know—

Ginny blew her breath out, annoyed. “So you’re not going to keep me company then, huh?”

“Sorry,” Harry said. He was awake now. He felt suddenly self-conscious of how to touch her; it didn’t seem as natural as when he was mostly asleep and she tumbled cold from the outside and heavy with adrenaline and magic into his lap, when it was the easiest thing in the world to reach out and grab her.

“It’s okay,” she said. She was already slipping away from him. “I’ll wake Nev up.”

Half out of bed, half-dressed, Harry turned back to look at her, eyebrows raised and then drawn down as he pulled his jumper over his head. He wasn’t sure what to do, or what to think, and the ten months since the end of everything - Voldemort and all - had been, so far, not particularly like an ending at all. Which meant not happy, but maybe not bad. He lingered in the door for a moment, watched Ginny settle down into the warm gap of mattress and covers that he’d left for her, reaching out to shake Neville awake.

She looked up at him and smiled and Harry settled, leaning against the doorframe and grinning back at her.

“Go on,” she said, all dark eyes and bright hair, “go slay me a dragon.”

-

Harry couldn’t help feeling partially responsible for the dragon.

The first reports of it had been dismissed as hysteria after the war. Three months after the Battle of Hogwarts, people had still been liable to jump at shadows and the hastily assembled new Ministry were trying to assess the possibility of treating a nation at wide, including a fair amount of Muggles, for PTSD.

The dragon was reported variously as: a shadow, a rainbow of glorious danger, kind of stupid, viciously intelligent, and always, always hungry. Some people thought it was red, others green, though most of the reports agreed that it was black and ashy. Harry, Ron, and Hermione exchanged queasy glances, but the varying accounts made it easy to dismiss the dragon as people looking desperately for a new concrete enemy, opposed to the troublesome albeit pathetic remnants of the Death Eaters. The fact that after about a month all sightings seemed to come to an abrupt stop helped.

But then in the last few weeks rumours had sprung up in the south west. A Muggle farmer was overheard by a wizard neighbour complaining about the sheer amount of sheep that had gone missing lately. Ministry officials investigated and found a rash of articles in Muggle newspapers about cattle thieves, with belligerent Somerset dairy farmers stomping about and complaining that this wasn’t the Wild West. And a few wizards had visited the Ministry in person to deliver reports of sightings of a murky beast: an alpha dragon, they said, clearly been in more than a few fights judging by the state of it, maybe driven off its land. And not red, or green, or even black: a flinty grey.

Harry wasn’t altogether sure at what point he and Hermione and Ron had been pulled into the discussion. It seemed to happen more often than not. Though they weren’t official members of the Ministry - weren’t official members of anything, to Harry’s occasional frustration and occasional relief - Grimmauld Place still functioned as an unofficial headquarters for the Order of the Phoenix, and Dumbledore’s Army now as well. Shacklebolt had been sitting with Hestia Jones one evening while Harry and Hermione took their turn on the dishes talking about new reports of the dragon, and Harry and Hermione had turned and looked at each other with a slow dawning guilty consciences.

“You said it’d be fine,” Harry hissed.

“I didn’t,” Hermione retorted. “Ron said it’d look after itself -- anyway, for all we know it could be another--”

“Oh, yeah, another great horrible scarred dragon flying about the place,” Harry said, a little too loudly, and Shacklebolt looked up.

“Anything to add, Mr Potter?” he said mildly, and Harry and Hermione stared helplessly at him.

“We might know the dragon,” Hermione said, slow and grudging. She didn’t like giving up information anymore, not to just anyone. She and Ron had had a furious debate about Kingsley stepping in as interim Minister - “I’m just saying, he’s decent, he’s a good guy,” Ron had said, shrugging, “We all know him,” and Hermione said, bristling, “Oh yes, we all know him, guess there’s no point worrying that he hasn’t actually been elected yet, then!” Now she seemed to regard most of the adults from the Order with the same steely suspicion. Harry didn’t mind. He got it.

“Hmm,” Kingsley said. “Well. Maybe I’ll keep you informed, then.”

“Thanks,” Harry said, and reached for his dish towel.

All of it added up to Kingsley’s letter in the early morning about a new, confirmed sighting, this time by a Ministry wizard, and why Harry was now trudging over soggy Welsh fields at six in the morning. The sun wasn’t even up: the light was hazy blue. He yawned furiously, jaw cracking, and hoped that the Ministry themselves didn’t show up anytime soon.

I am not expecting you to do anything with this information, Shacklebolt had written. Please remember that dragons are officially protected creatures. It’s best to keep an eye on the situation until we can afford to bring over some qualified dragon trainers from Romania to help resettle the poor creature. Gringotts may also be involved.

Harry didn’t need to show that to Hermione to know how she’d react. He also knew that the Gringotts dragon wasn’t any regular sort of dragon: it was traumatised and unpredictable. He wouldn’t be surprised if it squashed a couple of villages by accident. And he knew whose fault it would be if anyone got in its way.

He should have worn wellies. The mud splattered well up to mid-thigh as he climbed his fourth fence, rubbing sleep out of his eyes and wondering if he was even slightly going in the right direction. The dragon had been spotted in this area less than forty minutes ago, but he knew from experience that it covered ground fast. He wished he knew what it was after.

There was a hill ahead. Harry climbed it, slipping on damp ground and rocky slopes, and when he got to the top he was grimly rewarded: there was a dark mass crouching low by the ground below, tearing into a horribly dead carcass - he couldn’t tell, this far away, what it was. His stomach rolled. He gripped his wand tighter.

Keep an eye on the situation, he thought, creeping down the slope, but he was already thinking of spells - rope spells wouldn’t hold, he didn’t think an Immobilius would work well enough on a creature this size, maybe if he just wanted it bad enough, sometimes when he wanted things--

A rock slipped out from under his foot and he fell forward, startled, and into a cascade of rocks that tumbled and clattered their way down the slope. The dragon raised its half-blind, scarred head, and roared, half shrinking backward from the clatter, wings out and beating at the air like a swan.

Harry yelped a curse, leaped back to his feet - awkwardly, that ankle had gone wrong, damn it - and hurtled and limped his way down the slope while the dragon reared up at him. He was nearly at the bottom, his own momentum propelling him dangerously forward, when he saw him.

Draco Malfoy, wide-eyed and pale and in a decidedly ragged shirt, was crouched next to the pile of whatever the dragon had been eating.

Maybe Lucius Malfoy, if Harry was lucky.

Harry threw himself to a halt, heart hammering and out of breath, and yelled, “Merlin, how many times do I have to save your life?”

Draco Malfoy stared back at him, and then jolted into movement. He had a broom, Harry realised, slow with disbelief, and instead of using it he gripped it tightly in one hand and threw himself back against the dragon’s breast, knocking his head backward and yelling something that Harry couldn’t catch under a new dragon’s roar.

Harry pointed his wand. “Stupefy!” he cried, and red sparks shot out, hit the dragon’s armoured leg, bounced back. He ducked. “Stupefy!”

“Don’t you dare,” Draco screamed, and Harry blinked. Malfoy didn’t think Harry’s aim was that bad, surely. Then the dragon raised creaking ancient wings and hauled itself into the air, shaking out its leg and directing a bout of somewhat weak fire in Harry’s direction. He jumped out of the way anyway, tripped and landed sprawling again.

The dragon was cumbersome in the air, hovering and uncertain, feet dragging against the ground. Harry hauled himself up and made a lunge to grab Draco and drag him out of danger, but Draco preempted him; he jumped up and into the air on his broom, considerably quicker about it than the dragon. Then Harry stopped and stared, mouth open: instead of bolting, Draco flung himself, now mid-air, against the dragon again, half-sobbing, “Come on, come on,” until the dragon reared up into the air and flew, up and up and up.

Harry stayed where he was, frozen and staring, watching the dragon sweep its ungainly way across the sky, with Draco Malfoy hovering under the beat of each massive wing.

-

Ron took a disbelieving gulp of his tea. “So what you’re trying to say,” he said, “is that Draco Malfoy’s stolen a dragon?”

“He couldn’t steal it, Ron,” Hermione said, pulling her hair back from her face wearily. There was a dark smudge running down her cheek; she and Ron had had better luck with the group of Snatchers they’d been after, with three now in custody, but they’d been given a fight for it. All the bleeding had stopped by the time Harry got home, still disbelieving and covered in mud, anyway, and Ron had waved away the story as not half so interesting as Malfoy and a dragon. “It didn’t belong to anyone. And I doubt he owns it.”

“He’s a Malfoy,” Ron said, “I’m sure he thinks he owns it.”

“I think Gringotts still own it, technically,” Harry said, avoiding Hermione’s glare. “We were the ones who stole it - anyway, I think you’re missing the point! Draco Malfoy! On the loose! With a dragon!”

“Well, he’s hardly being very nefarious about it, is he?” Hermione pointed out. “What’s he done, stolen a few sheep?”

“See,” Ron said, turning his attention back to his tea. “Told you the Malfoys were thieves. You’re right, though. What’s it matter what Malfoy’s doing, Harry? We all had the discussion - we don’t need to worry about them--”

“I know,” Harry said, though he was starting to regret that conversation. It had been easy to decide with the rest of the Order that the Malfoys weren’t a threat worth pursuing, way back in November with the memory of Draco Malfoy’s terrified face lit up by flames still clear in his mind. A couple of people mentioned having seen the three Malfoys stumble desperately over the bridge away from the battle before Voldemort was even killed. And everyone who’d seen Lucius Malfoy in the months before the end of the war agreed that he was no threat to anyone, even if he managed to survive the year.

Ron yawned. “Tell Kingsley. Maybe knowing Draco was about will help him find the bugger. Though I think that dragon deserves to steal a few sheep, after everything.”

“I just think that the fact that Draco Malfoy has a - a dragon changes things,” Harry said, running his hands through his hair.

“Harry, I honestly don’t think that’s what this is,” Hermione said. “You don’t know what you saw. What, do you think he’s adopted that thing like a pet? It was wild. It was feral. He was probably actually scared of you.”

“Yeah,” Ron said, nodding, tucking a piece of Hermione’s hair back behind her ear. Hermione darted a quick look at him. “I bet that’s what it was! The dragon was just some weird coincidence.” Ron started laughing. “Poor Malfoy - already freaked out by finding a dragon in the middle of Wales, and then you show up and start throwing stunning spells at him--”

“That’s not what it was,” Harry said, stubborn. “He was trying to get the dragon away from me. They flew off together.”

“Well, maybe he’s made a friend at last,” Ron said, and then laughed for so long that Harry gave up and went to find breakfast.

-

He ate breakfast outside; the first early days of March were bringing tentative warmth, and Harry had been thinking about the garden at Grimmauld Place lately. He’d never liked this house much, but Hogwarts was at least six months away from anyone being able to sit their final year, the Auror camps weren’t around at the moment to take Harry even if they would, and it seemed likely that the next six months would pass much the same as the last: with a ragtag group of ex-students and Dumbledore’s Army lounging around in Grimmauld Place and having fun that Harry still wasn’t all too sure about and occasionally, as Seamus put it, sallying forth to defeat bad guys.

If they did stay, Harry thought, he’d like to clean up the garden a bit. He wanted it to be like the garden at the Burrow, where Ginny still spent half her time. Sitting outside in the summer at long tables, eating and drinking and talking late into the evening: fireflies about. Music drifting in from the radio in the kitchen. He liked the idea of it so much, but he wasn’t sure how to approach it, especially not with Grimmauld Place: its garden was wild and dark and deep, and there was an orchard of sorts, crammed somehow into London, with trees that didn’t grow fruit anymore, just loomed and cast shadows.

He sighed, rubbed his face, scalded his tongue on tea.

Draco had looked terrified, the same way he had in the war; he’d looked, more than anyone Harry had seen in the last ten months, like he was still in the war. He’d been grey and ashen, he’d looked exhausted, deep circles under his eyes, and he’d been wearing clothes Harry had never imagined he’d see Draco Malfoy in: threadbare stuff, kind of grimy, certainly not warm enough for dawn in early spring. And over all that, the crisp veneer of terror. It unsettled Harry.

He was starting to think Ron was right: that it had been Harry who had frightened Draco. But not for the reasons Ron thought. Draco had thrown himself in front of that dragon, had urged it up into the air before he ran away himself. He’d been frightened for himself, maybe, but certainly for the dragon, too. He hadn’t run away without it, and Harry knew that Draco was fundamentally a coward. Harry thought again of the Malfoys, stumbling together over the bridge.

After a while the door creaked open. Ginny came and sat next to him, dangling bare toes off the porch into the long grass. “So,” she said. “Dragon?”

“Yep,” Harry said. “And Malfoy.”

“There’s a pun there somewhere,” Ginny said calmly, which meant Ron had probably already told her. It was odd that both of them were in the same house: usually at least one was off with their parents and George. Harry saw them sometimes, having low conferences late at night as they changed over their shifts. He always hurried on his way, pretending he hadn’t spotted them, trying to get out of the way.

Harry turned and kissed her shoulder. There was a hickey there that he hadn’t left. Ginny grinned at him and gave him an over the top wink.

“You worry about things too much,” she said, and took his hand.

“You want to come with me to chase a dragon?” he asked.

“Nah,” she said. “But have fun.”

-

He didn’t end up chasing any dragons that day. He got a call from Shacklebolt about new Death Eater interrogations - usually he got a bit of notice, but they came thick and fast these days, and he and Luna were called in to witness whether or not they’d seen certain people at Malfoy Manor, back when Luna had been captive. It was getting harder and harder to testify: most of the real Death Eaters that Harry had known had been killed in the Battle of Hogwarts or rounded up very swiftly afterwards. He’d been in hiding for a year - the people they were capturing now were relatively new recruits to the Death Eaters, ones he hadn’t come across. The Mark went an awful long way, but Shacklebolt was trying to be fair -- “See, Hermione?” Ron had said, and Hermione had sniffed and said, “Not elected” - and call in as many firsthand witnesses as possible.

Harry didn’t recognise the two men in chains. They looked miserable and greasy, they were young, acne-riddled and shivering. They insisted they hadn’t been near Malfoy Manor, and they looked at Harry with blind fear. There’d been rather too much of that lately. Harry stared and stared but shook his head, told Kingsley, “Sorry.”

Luna was more help. “Yes,” she said, “they brought us food sometimes. They weren’t very kind.” Her expression was impenetrable. Afterward she and Harry went back via a kebab shop for a newspaper wrapped parcel of fish and chips. They ate their food on the street, perched on the edge of the pavement and taking turns dipping chips in ketchup, until some reporters got wind of them and they had to make a hasty escape.

Luna mostly lived at Grimmauld Place now, too. Harry wasn’t sure what had happened to her strange old house after he and Hermione and Ron escaped it; he didn’t want to ask. They didn’t discuss her father much. They still sat up, the two of them, sharing a bottle of red wine in the kitchen and listening to Dean and Neville trying to teach Seamus how to waltz in the next room, with Susan playing an extravagant march on the old, untuned piano. Every now and then he heard the distant howl of Walburga’s portrait as people passed her, shrieking insults. Walburga was essentially background noise, these days; Harry barely heard her anymore.

Harry went up to bed after a while and he wasn’t alone - there weren’t enough bedrooms in Grimmauld Place for all of them, really, and apparently Dumbledore’s Army had gotten used to camping out in the Room of Requirement and liked to sleep, like piles of puppies, curled up with one another - but there was no sign of Ginny, and he couldn’t sleep. He kept thinking about Draco Malfoy’s pale, pointed face. Maybe Draco had been trying to save the dragon; it would still probably kill him, or attempt to, for his trouble. Wild creatures had never liked him. Harry thought tiredly that he should have tried harder to stop them.

Eventually he climbed over a snoring Justin Finch-Fletchley and Hannah Abbott and stepped over where Terry Boot was curled up on the floor, a Gryffindor sweater used as his pillow. He slipped down the dark hallways and paused outside Ron and Hermione’s room, usually undisturbed by virtue of being claimed early on by a couple. It was quiet inside. After a moment Harry opened the door and went in, footsteps soft on the old carpet.

Ron opened his eyes when Harry climbed up onto the bed, yawning and scruffing his hand through his hair. “All right, mate?” he said, voice rough with sleep, and Harry nodded and curled up on Hermione’s free side. The quilt in here was warmer.

“Harry?” Hermione whispered, and Harry said, low, “Yeah, it’s just me, go back to sleep.”

“It’s late,” Ron said, yawning again. “You should have gone to bed ages ago--”

“I did, couldn’t sleep,” Harry said. “It’s fine.”

Ron closed his eyes, head falling back onto the pillow, but lifted one arm over Hermione and groped around until he felt for Harry’s wrist. He took it warm and secure in a broom-callused hand, and Harry fell asleep like that, with Ron’s rough fingertips against his steadying pulse.

-

The next morning he went back to Wales.

He went to the hillside where he’d seen Draco and the dragon, but without much hope, and he wasn’t rewarded. The only thing left was the half-eaten carcass, and Harry had examined that yesterday: it was nothing more suspect than a sheep. He poked around the hillside anyway for about half an hour before giving up and going to the closest town, and then the one after that, and the one after that, and the one after that.

He smiled at the lady who brought him his coffee in his fourth tiny bakery, rumpling his hand through his hair. “And do you have any bread that I can - tear, like?” he asked. “I was thinking about going on a picnic?”

“Oh, my love, it’s far too cold to be doing that!” she said. “You’re just like my boys, first hint of sun and they’re off swimming -- no, no, you keep yourself warm for now.”

“Well, just the bread, maybe,” Harry said, and smiled at her, his most hopeful one, looking down at her nametag. Maggie. “Do your kids live here?”

“Not that you’d know it anymore,” Maggie said. “They’re all off around the country at uni - my eldest, he’s in London, we see him now and then. The other two went to Edinburgh, just to spite me, I’m sure. Makes the town seem empty. But they all go away now, if not for uni then for one thing or another.”

“I bet,” Harry said, leaning on the table, thinking about the way Ginny talked to strangers, easy and sure. “That’s what my town was like. I’m the only one left, ‘cept for when the others come back on holiday, it’s lonely. Do you see any young people about?”

“You poor lamb,” she said, pulling down a loaf of bread for him and dropping it into a paper bag. She twisted the corners neatly. “Well, sure, there’s always one or two who stay to help with their parents - Emma, her Ma and Da own the newsagent and she’s a right help to them, lovely thing, and then there’s Ben, he lives just round the corner, I’m not sure he’s ever going to leave even though it wouldn’t be a bad thing if he did, if I’m honest with you. Oh, and there’s Draco, of course.”

Harry went still. Maggie didn’t seem to notice.

He’s mad just like you,” Maggie said, nodding at him. “Always running about without enough warm things on him. Swear I didn’t see him in a coat once this winter!”

Harry swallowed hard. After a moment he said, carefully, “Draco’s a funny name.”

“Isn’t it just,” she said, laughing. “Poor darling. Not that you should say anything about it - Ben tried once and Draco nearly bit the head off him, Ben didn’t know what’d hit him. Oh, he’s awful proud, but it’s not his fault, anyway, he didn’t name himself and I don’t blame him for not taking kindly to it - the amount of jokes you must hear. Draco. Honestly.”

“Were his parents - hippies or something?” Harry asked.

“Don’t know his parents, my sweet,” Maggie said. “He’s new in town himself, only shown up a couple of months ago. I hope he has someone looking after him but he’s private, in any case, won’t talk to me much, ‘spose he guesses I’m not so good at keeping my mouth shut.” She laughed again, with no malice. “But of course I see enough of him to slip him a scone now and then, try and get some meat on those bones. Not that it makes much difference! That’s £2.25, my love.”

Harry counted the change out from his pocket carefully, trying not to look too eager. “You see him a lot, then?” It was a strange question, a stupid one, not one that a stranger would be asking, but Maggie didn’t seem to notice.

“Well, sure I do,” she said, handing him his bag. “He only works over the road, at the butchers.”

Harry smiled at her, lit up suddenly with pleasure. “Thank you so much,” he said, taking the bread. “It’s been lovely talking to you.”

“Oh!” Maggie said, beaming at him. “Well, aren’t you a sweetheart. Sure, you come on by anytime you’re after an ill-advised picnic.”

“I will,” Harry said. “Thank you.”

He went back outside onto the street and shoved the bag of bread into his backpack. Then he waited until Maggie was serving a new customer and went into the butcher’s, leaning on the counter with easy irrelevance.

“Hiya,” he said. The butcher turned and looked at him, another woman, less friendly this time, a severe dark plait with her hair pulled tight, her brows heavy and drawn together. She was probably younger than Maggie, but she looked older. Harry tried to stay unaffected. “I’m looking for Draco?”

“He’s not in,” she said. “I can help you.”

“Oh, no, we’re - friends,” he said, resisting the urge to make a face. “From school. He told me he was working here, I thought I’d drop by and surprise him.”

She shook her head again. “Draco doesn’t work on Tuesdays.”

“Will he be in tomorrow?”

Her gaze was steely. “If you’re friends, why don’t you run along to his house?”

“Oh, I would,” Harry said, “but I forgot to get his address. We usually talk on email, you know.”

“Hmm. I’m not on that,” she said. “It doesn’t tell you his address?”

“Um,” Harry said. He wasn’t actually sure. Hermione had told him about email. “No.” He hesitated, then said, “Do you have his address?”

“You best be getting on,” she said. “If there’s nothing you want to buy.”

“Is Draco in tomorrow?”

“I’ll tell him you called by,” she said.

“Oh, I’d rather you didn’t. The - the surprise, you know,” Harry said lamely, and tried to meet her gaze.

“Mm,” she said. “Have a nice day.”

Harry sighed and went out the shop and round the corner, where he sat at a bus stop and fretted idly. She would tell Malfoy that his “friend” had stopped by, that was certain, and Malfoy would be able to work out who he was with a little description - Harry’s hair was in the way of his scar, but even so. Malfoy would panic, knowing Malfoy, and flee, or at least never return to this little town, and Harry would be back to having to fruitlessly trail up and down the south west coast, on the off chance that Malfoy had stayed in the area. Or wait for someone to see the dragon again, he supposed, but that seemed too uncertain.

After a little while he noticed it was getting dark. He sent a Patronus to Ron and Hermione telling them not to worry, and that he might be a little later. Then he went to the town’s pub to have a pint and eat a fairly good chowder.

When he came out it was eight o’clock and dark and most of the main street had closed. He went quietly down a back alley, unlocked the back window of the butchers with his wand, and clambered in.

The butchers at night was cold and clinical and smelled like frozen blood. Harry didn’t like it: it reminded him of the war, of camping, but he crept out of the coldroom he’d ended up in and went to rummage behind the counter, looking for books, records. Surely Malfoy had to give her something; she was stern enough, Harry expected her to be by the books and regimented. Malfoy must have given her an address, and even if it wasn’t the right one maybe it could lead Harry on--

There was a rustle in the back. Harry went still, and the light on the end of his wand died without a word. Quietly, barely breathing, he slipped toward a back corner, hidden from the view of the streetlights out the main window. There was another rustle in the back, and then a clunk. A heavy, definite sound; a cleaver hitting a board.

Harry stayed perfectly still a moment longer, and then started to move again, towards the backroom, towards the coldroom, the door of which he’d left very slightly ajar.

When he peered through it was lit up electronically, a Muggle torch lying carelessly on a workbench, beams spilling across the room. Embalmed in its light, Draco Malfoy was carving apart a pig.

Harry leaned in the doorway. The pig was one taken from the store, frozen and half carved apart already, its limbs straight up in the air. Draco looked not quite disgusted; he was making an odd face, but it looked as though it was by instinct, his hair lit golden, biting at his lip. He worked calmly and methodically, his hands steady, long fingers curled around the handle of the cleaver, the other picking bits apart. Every now and then he dropped a detached piece of meat into an odd cloth sack of sorts; then Harry recognised it, and nearly laughed: a pillowcase.

Instead of laughing he toed open the door and said gently, “I wouldn’t want to steal stuff from your boss. She’s frightening,” and kept his hand tight on his wand as Draco jumped and spun around.

“Merlin,” Draco said, scrambling backward. His voice was tight and unhappy. “I don’t - what are you -- how did you find me?”

Harry moved in slowly, keeping a wary eye out for the knife. It wasn’t that he really thought Malfoy would go mad and attack him with a meat cleaver - but Malfoy did have a touch of the histrionic about him, sort of like a very angry Victorian heroine. “I looked,” he said. “It wasn’t that hard. I wouldn’t have thought you’d use your real name.”

“It was an accident,” Draco said. He licked his lips. “Are you going to arrest me?”

“Not without your dragon,” Harry said, and Malfoy’s face shut down.

“Oh,” he said, and suddenly sounded very calm. “Okay.”

“Okay? Ready to show me that dragon?”

“No,” Draco said. “I don’t know what dragon you’re talking about.”

“Fly around with a lot of dragons, do you?”

“Sure,” Draco said, tilting his chin up, defiant. His eyes glittered in the dim light. Harry took a frustrated step forward, and watched Draco flinch.

“Come on, Malfoy,” Harry said. “It’s hurting people.”

“She hasn’t hurt anyone,” Draco snarled. “She’s stolen a few sheep but I’m - I’m stopping that, I’m--”

“By stealing from Muggles?” Harry said. “I thought you said you didn’t know any dragon, anyway.”

Draco shoved the rest of the pig into the pillowcase, threw it over his shoulder and said, voice high, “If you’re not going to arrest me, I’m going to leave, thanks.”

“Cool,” Harry said. “I’ll come with. We’ve been looking for your parents.”

Draco stood still. His chest heaved, breath coming quickly. He said, “Go away, Potter.”

“Don’t think I will, thanks,” Harry said. He nodded at Draco’s left forearm. “Keep your sleeves rolled down when you’re working for the Muggles, do you?”

Draco dropped the cleaver with a clatter that made both of them jump, but only Draco skittered backward, clutching his arms protectively across his chest. “I don’t know what you expect to happen,” he said after a moment, “but I’m not taking you to the dragon and I’m not taking you h-- to my parents.”

“I could make you,” Harry said.

Malfoy swallowed hard. “All right, then,” he said. “Make me.”

Harry stared at him, thinking about it. He could use the Imperius Curse. He knew that he was strong enough, and Malfoy was weak enough. After a moment he said, “What’s your plan, with the dragon?”

“Oh, I’m going to take over the world,” Malfoy said bitterly, “and put myself on a Dark Throne, and everyone will fear and obey me.”

Harry waited.

“She’s hurt,” Draco said. He swallowed hard. “I can’t believe I have to justify myself to you. She’s hurt! Isn’t that the kind of shit you Gryffindors love? She couldn’t - she was starving when I found her, she couldn’t hunt, she’s half-blind, she was going to get killed or Muggles were going to find her, I’m just, I’m just - I’m keeping an eye on her--”

“Fine,” Harry said, suddenly. “Fine. Okay. I want to meet it. Her.”

“Fun as this little reunion has been,” Draco spat, “I really think I’d rather pass--”

“Malfoy,” Harry said, “what do you think your options are right now?”

Draco stood white-faced and very alone in the artificial light. The torch was harsher than a lumos, cold and unfamiliar and not of Draco’s world. Its beam split him in half.

“Do you want to see her now?” Draco said.

Harry thought about it. “No.”

“I could promise you,” Draco said, “and then run away, and quit this job, and never meet you again, I could - are you going to make me do an Unbreakable Vow?”

“Draco,” Harry said, as gently as he could, “you know I’ll find you again.”

There were two high spots of colour on Draco’s cheeks. “I finish work at seven tomorrow,” he said. “I’ll meet you here. Outside the shop, Potter,” he stressed. “You can’t just wander around breaking in everywhere you like.”

“Okay,” Harry said. He tried to look Draco in the eyes, but Draco flushed and glared and looked away. “You promise?”

“Sure,” Draco said, bitter. “On my word as a Malfoy.”

-

Harry followed him home, of course.

He ducked around the corner and picked a large fallen branch off the ground to snap in half, fake the Apparition sound, and then got out his Invisibility Cloak from the bottom of his backpack, swung it around his shoulders, and ran after Malfoy’s shadow disappearing down the long main street. He was half worried that Malfoy would Apparate himself, or would have a broom, would take off where Harry couldn’t follow, but instead Malfoy walked the long, cold way home.

Draco Malfoy lived nearly an hour’s walk out of the town, so far that Harry suspected several times that Draco knew Harry was following him and was leading him on a malicious merry goose chase. But Draco seemed wrapped up in his own thoughts, arms wrapped round himself, trudging further and further into the cold - and it was strange, Harry agreed with Maggie, it was strange that Draco didn’t have a coat; it was nearly midnight and freezing out on the Welsh open hills, why wasn’t Draco rugged up in one of those sleek coats Harry remembered from school, buttoned up to the throat and gleaming. Harry tried to remember what had happened to Malfoy Manor, and everything in it, but couldn’t. The Malfoys had seemed very unimportant in the immediate aftermath of the war: now, Harry couldn’t understand why.

Draco spotted the light tucked under a hill before Harry did. Harry saw his shoulder slump and his head tilt up, somehow relaxed and eager at once, and then looked forward to see the little house - barely a house, barely more than a hut, a cabin if Harry was being generous - nestled under the hills, with bright windows and trees about it. Draco started down the hill quickly, not quite a jog, and Harry followed, slower now that he knew where Malfoy was going.

By the time he got there, Draco had already disappeared inside, the door swinging open for a moment to reveal a tall silhouette. Harry’s hand tightened around his wand, and he thought of Lucius Malfoy in the final battle as Harry had last seen him, desperate and casting blindly.

He slowed, crept up on the window slowly, but before he got close enough to see the sound of music startled him. Not just music: Muggle music. The kind of music he and Hermione had found on the radio sometimes in the cold, lonely weeks after Ron had left them. It was old, sweet music with a crackle to it. It sung out warm in the cold hills.

Harry snuck up and peered in a window. Draco had taken off his shoes and sprawled sideways in an armchair, legs hooked over an arm. The sight of his socked feet swinging lightly in the air threw Harry, startled him unaccountably. He stared. Draco looked calmer now than he had back in the town; he was talking with a bored expression, half gesturing. There was no sign of the pillowcase.

And it wasn’t Lucius Harry had seen at the door; in fact, there was no sign of Lucius, just Narcissa Malfoy standing tall and pitiless at the mantelpiece. She looked older than when Harry had last seen her, and for a moment he shuddered and took a step back, slammed with an image of Narcissa leaning over him, her whisper low in his ear, his heart thumping too solidly, too real.

He stared down at the crooked windowframe he was holding onto. It had been painted green a long time ago; he could see splashes of white on it now, and places where the paint was peeling. His hand was shaking on it, but his hand was invisible, he didn’t have to pay attention to that. He looked at the splinters instead, the thin grain of the wood under the paint, until he could look up again.

The record had come to a scratching halt. Narcissa changed the side, set the needle back again, careful cool movements. She looked like Draco had with the cleaver, but when Draco said something she laughed, quick and warm, with a glowing, pleased look at him.

Harry tried to pay attention to the house beside the Malfoys: it was shabbily furnished, the armchair that Draco was in didn’t match the ugly floral couch, and there was a small round dining table with chairs shoved into a corner to make room. He wondered if they brought that out, if they didn’t have another room to eat in. There was a tatty carpet laid down over floorboards that looked swollen with damp, but a fire crackled merrily in the hearth and the mantelpiece over it had the record player, and an exuberant bouquet of wildflowers shoved into a glass, and several dirty mugs. It looked about as un-Malfoy-like as Harry could imagine, but Draco’s mother was smiling at him and Draco looked perfectly at home.

It was only when Narcissa left the room that Draco’s face fell. He tilted his head back, eyes closed, and he looked exhausted and frightened and ill again. Harry looked at him a moment later and then turned, ready to leave. He’d have plenty of time to watch Draco being frightened of him tomorrow.

Now that he wasn’t so focused on the house, he caught sight of the structure set a little back from the house; big and looming stone, half of it fallen down. Harry came around carefully, not wanting to make any sound that would let them know he was outside. Draco knew about the Invisibility Cloak; Harry had to be careful.

It was an old barn, Harry thought, or perhaps something older than that: most of it was stone, with a few rotting timbers still making some attempt at a roof, stretched overhead with hay and stuffing hanging askance. It would have been a storeroom, perhaps; Harry could see the markings of old fields around here - he thought perhaps the Malfoys had taken over a farmer’s hut, or shepherd’s. He hoped they hadn’t expelled the previous occupant. He’d have to look into that, he thought idly, even though he knew that the house had the untidy look of something that had not been properly lived in for many years.

This had all been abandoned, he thought, and wondered what the Malfoys did on their old farm. He came up closer to the barn. The windows were high, with big broad sills of slate. He hoisted his arms on one and pushed up with a grunt, the Invisibility Cloak’s hood falling back.

Inside all was dark and gloom. Then a slit of yellow. Then a pupil. Harry and the dragon stared at each other.

The dragon opened its mouth and spurted fire and a hideous, squealing roar, and Harry fell backward, Apparating as he did so that he landed, heavily and out of breath, on the doorstep of Grimmauld Place.

Hermione opened the door and looked down at his head floating disembodied. She made a disapproving noise. “Oh, Harry,” she said. “What have you been doing now?”

-

“I don’t really remember,” Ginny said, scratching her nose, lying sprawled on the carpet in front of the hearth. Ron had gone back to the Burrow, and now she, Harry, Hermione, Neville, and Luna sat about Grimmauld’s huge, warm living room with a couple of bottles of Butterbeer. Neville and Hermione were drinking pixie wine out of long-stemmed glasses. All of the lights in Grimmauld Place had, inexplicably, stopped working, and their candles kept going out, so they were illuminated by the flickering light of the fire. There was no point in using magic. When Grimmauld Place was in a mood like tonight, magic tended to backfire. “There was a - lot going on.”

“I know,” Harry said, frustrated. “I didn’t think it was important now, but--”

“That’s just like them, isn’t it,” Neville said, looking displeased. “Slip out while we’ve got better things to think about. They’re cowards, the lot of them.”

“Malfoy Manor was confiscated, certainly,” Hermione said. “It was also - studied, I think, for some time. There were a lot of remnants of dark spells, I think there was some concern that there might have been booby traps, of sorts, magical bombs in effect. Things that could go off long after Voldemort’s defeat. They wanted to know what the Death Eaters had been up to, and Malfoy Manor was a fairly well known headquarters.” She and Luna exchanged a look. “In any case, Malfoy Manor was full of the Order and the - better bits of the Ministry, for a while there. They’d have been fools to go back there.”

“They’d have a few other properties, I bet,” Ginny said. “All those rich old families do. But the Order have probably checked in on all of them.”

“I don’t think they’ve gone anywhere they used to have,” Harry said. “I told you, it looks like they’ve set up shop there. In Wales.”

Hermione laughed, then looked guilty. Ginny didn’t look guilty at all, grinning at him. “What’s it like?”

“Bit of a shithole,” Harry said. “It looks like it’s about to fall down around them. And it’s tiny. I don’t understand why they don’t fix it up a bit - like your dad’s tents, you know? Surely they could make it bigger.”

“Draco probably doesn’t know how,” Ginny said. “That’s quite advanced charms.”

“Narcissa would know,” Hermione said. “She’s a -- talented witch, by all accounts. But it doesn’t matter. They wouldn’t dare do any magic, would they?”

Harry stared at her, dumbfounded. He thought about Draco’s bizarre job, his threadbare Muggle clothes.

“There’s many kinds of natural magic which is harder to track,” Luna chipped in. “They could have learned to harness some Elven Power, for example--”

“Yes, Luna, all right,” Hermione said, looking annoyed. “Let’s assume they haven’t, though. Their wands will all be traced. Even though no one’s been bothering to actively pursue them, there’s a warrant out for their arrests - they must know that they’d be taken to Azkaban quick smart if any Aurors got their hands on them. They can’t have used any magic since the Battle of Hogwarts.”

Everyone was silent for a moment. Neville looked grimly pleased, but Hermione and Luna looked sad and sympathetic, and even Ginny bit nervously at her lip.

“How would they even know how to do anything,” Hermione murmured after a moment, half to herself. “They’re the most Pureblood family I’ve ever known - they wouldn’t know anything about electricity, or - god, how to wash your clothes, how to rent a house, how to get a job, how to get money.”

“Well, Draco’s managed it,” Harry said. “I told you, he’s working at a local butchers.”

Ginny snorted, and Neville laughed. “Much as I’d like to see that,” he said. “I think you should get Shacklebolt, Harry. There’s not actively pursuing someone and then there’s knowingly leaving them to live their lives in peace. The Malfoys need to get what they deserve.”

“I’m not sure I’d call what Harry’s described peace,” Hermione said, and Harry shook his head, slowly.

“No,” he said, then clarified: “No, Neville. I - I know they’re bastards, but there’s the dragon to think about. I want to see what’s going on there, what Malfoy’s plan with it is. And I can’t - I--”

He stopped, looking at Hermione helplessly, and Hermione nodded. “I don’t know what the Ministry will do with the dragon, either,” she said. “I know Shacklebolt would like to see it resettled in Romania with some experienced dragon trainers. But Gringotts have a claim to it. And it could also be conceivably declared a risk to the population, due to -- trauma and feralness. I think if we brought it to the Ministry’s attention, there’s a good chance the dragon could end up in some trouble.”

“Exactly,” Harry said.

Neville rubbed his face with his hands. “So what, you want to just leave them where they are?”

“No,” Harry said. “I’m going to work out what’s going on myself. I’ll keep an eye on them.”

“I think that’s a good idea,” Luna piped up. “Draco must be very lonely, on his own with just his parents and no magic. It’s very nice of you to befriend him, Harry.”

Harry laughed. “Not sure I’d go that far, Luna,” he said. “But yeah, let’s just hold fire. I’ll sort it out, whatever’s going on.”

Neville looked unconvinced.

“Really, Nev,” Harry said.

“Lighten up, Neville,” Ginny said, jumping up and switching on a record. Trumpets exploded through the dark room, making Harry laugh. “Come dance with me.”

Neville shot a look at Harry, and Harry lay back on the carpet in the spot Ginny had left and stretched, lazy and warm. “Go on,” he said.

He didn’t particularly feel like dancing, anyway.

-

Draco stood him up the next evening, of course.

The butchers was locked up, dark and empty, though Harry checked inside just in case. The main street was clearing out, too, night coming on dark and heavy, and it was raining on and off, a steady miserable drizzle. Harry stuck around despite that for nearly an hour, before in fury he Apparated as close to the Malfoys’ hut as he could with only a vague memory of where it was and started storming down the dark hillside to that bright little window.

“That’s close enough, Potter,” Draco said, cold, and Harry spun about wildly and found Draco leaning under the shelter of a great yew tree, wearing an incongruous and flimsy yellow raincoat.

“You were meant to meet me,” Harry snarled. “I let you off home yesterday because you promised you would - do you really need me to remind you how much shit you’d be in if I brought the Ministry here--”

“I wouldn’t bother with blackmail if I were you,” Draco said, “you haven’t got the right finesse for it, you’re like a bull blundering about. Speaking of which, did you really think I was going to hang about like some schoolgirl waiting for you to show up after you followed me home and spied on my family and scared my dragon?” His voice rose, fierce and demanding and a little histrionic. Harry glared at him.

“I followed you because you can’t be trusted,” he said, “as you just proved.”

“I don’t think that’s how a logical sequence works, Potter,” Draco snapped, “but nice try. Leave me alone!”

“Fine, I’ll just leave you and your Death Eater mum and your Death Eater dad and your great crazy dragon to sit here and hatch whatever new evil shit you’ve got planned--”

Draco surged forward and shoved Harry hard, unexpectedly, enough that Harry took a few steps backward. “Leave my family alone!” Draco bawled, over the sound of the increasing storm. The rain was thundering down now, and Harry saw lightning flash overhead. “We haven’t done anything to you! We got out the way, wasn’t that enough? Can’t you just leave me be?”

“You killed people--”

“I never!”

“Your dad did!” Harry yelled. “Your mum did! You’re so precious about your family but she - she killed my family, did you know that? You’re - I can’t believe how full of it you are, I can’t believe you think you’ve earned what, being left alone? You were Death Eaters. You picked the wrong side, you have to pay for that!”

“I know,” Draco screamed back at him, and shoved him again. “I know that! I know!” Harry stared at him, panting, and Draco’s hands were on his chest again, alarmingly solid, pushing him back. Harry couldn’t remember the last time he’d actually scuffled with Malfoy, properly scuffled, not the occasional desperate encounters in the war - maybe fifth year, on the pitch. Draco aimed a punch at him and Harry grabbed his wrists, held them so tight he could feel the delicate bones underneath pale skin. He stared at Draco, open-mouthed, and Draco said, half-yelling over the storm, “I know all of that, you stupid -- I -- you have to look after the dragon!”

“What?” Harry said, completely baffled.

Draco’s shoulders rose and fell and he said, panting and ruined, eyes darting about his pale face, “The Ministry will - she’s the Gringotts dragon, isn’t she? I heard the rumours and - the D-Dark Lord w-was furious, and my dad told me there’d been a dragon at Gringotts and she - she’s all the wrong colouring, she was kept underground and, and tortured, she’s been - she freaks out at loud noises, she -- you have to look after her!”

Harry stared at him. “Why?”

“Because! That’s the kind of shit you do! It was you, wasn’t it, you and Weasley and the - and Granger, you got that hippogriff away. In third year. You’re a Gryffindor,” he said, sneering, “and she hasn’t done anything wrong, she must have helped you once. Somehow. Didn’t she?”

Harry could barely see Draco now, the rain sluicing over his glasses. He released Draco’s wrists belatedly, smudged his sleeve over his glasses. It helped, a little. He said, “Yes.”

“So,” Draco said, shoulders slumped, thin face terrified and sure. “So. You owe her, then. You - you can’t let them take her back to Gringotts or, or k-kill her. You owe her.”

Harry swallowed hard. “Is she in the barn?”

“Yes,” Draco said, miserable. Thunder cracked overhead. “She hates storms.”

“Okay,” Harry said. “Let’s go see her.”

Draco looked like he was going to argue for a moment, and then he snapped his mouth shut and turned and headed through the storm, a thin, straight-backed figure leading the way down the hill. Harry stuck his cold hands in his pockets and followed.

At the entranceway to the barn, Draco hesitated. “Come slowly,” he said, and then added grudgingly, “Please. She doesn’t - she doesn’t like strangers much. Just - give her some time to get used to you.”

“Okay,” said Harry, who was in no particular hurry to get up close and personal with a crazy dragon anyway.

Draco nodded tightly and then pushed open the door - half-beaten in itself, Harry wasn’t sure how it was still standing - and lingered for a moment in the doorway before he bowed his head and went into the room.

“Hey,” he said, and for a moment Harry startled, because Malfoy’s voice had dropped low and warm and affectionate and Harry wanted to say what, before he realised that, of course, Draco wasn’t talking to him. “Hey, monster. Are you scared, you big baby?”

It took Harry’s eyes a moment to adjust to the dark, not even lit up by the lightning outside. Then he saw that the dragon, enormous as she was, had managed to huddle up in one corner of the large barn, shrinking in on herself, her eyes huge and yellow, pupils dilated where the blurry blind streaks didn’t cut across. She was growling, a low discomforting purr of unhappiness.

Draco came across the hay-strewn stone floor lightly, easily, as though he was approaching a stray puppy rather than a dangerous beast. He put his hand in his raincoat’s pocket and then came out with something that - Harry squinted, then made a low, disgusted noise - looked rather like half a dead squirrel.

“Here you go,” Draco said, “come on, stop whining, you know how it annoys me. Look what I’ve got for you, huh? You can go back to eating me out of house and home -- there you go, monster,” and Harry made a low disbelieving noise, because the dragon was eating the squirrel out of Draco’s hand like a tame pet.

Draco darted a look back at Harry in the dim light. It was hard to tell, but Harry thought he might be blushing.

The thunder cracked across the sky again and the dragon snarled, spikes twisting up, and Harry tensed, but Draco barely seemed to notice. He came in closer, instead, reaching up to pat soothingly at the dragon’s neck, murmuring, “That’s right, there you go. It’s all right, darling,” and the dragon, unbelievably, reached down again, this time to lay her huge head over Draco’s shoulder, drawing him in closer, so that Malfoy nearly vanished with the giant, scaly beast winding itself around him and making low, miserable noises.

“What the fuck,” Harry said.

The dragon lifted her head, yellow eyes darting about, and Harry shrank further back into the shadows. Malfoy kept patting at her, soothing and slow.

“There, there,” he said, and he kept his voice the same weird, warm tone when he talked to Harry, which gave Harry a bit of a shock, even if it was just to keep the dragon happy. The glare Draco shot him made Harry feel more comfortable. “There’s a bin over there on your left. If you look inside - there should be some meat, get a bit and bring it over.”

“I’m not really in the mood to feed a giant bloodthirsty dragon, thanks,” Harry said.

Malfoy’s pleasant tone was decidedly strained when he said, “She’s not great at sensory overload in weather like this. She gets confused. She hasn’t properly noticed you’re here yet. When she does, would you rather it be while you were standing up against a wall with your wand out, or when you’re giving her a treat?”

Harry stood still for a moment longer, loathe to take orders from Malfoy, and then made an annoyed noise and went to look in the giant compost bin. He opened it up and made a face; the meat was all fairly fresh, judging by the smell, but still. He reached down, pulled out a dangling dead rabbit.

“Oh, ugh,” he said. “Gross.”

The dragon huffed out a breath of flame in the corner; it licked across the stone wall and died out, briefly illuminating Draco’s strained, worried face.

“Gently, Potter,” he said, sing-song. “Pretend you were raised with some manners.”

“Learned all about the etiquette for feeding dragons, did you?” Harry asked, and started cautiously across the floor, toward the dragon and Malfoy.

“All right, sweetheart,” Draco was saying, scratching gently at the dragon’s breastplate. “So I’ve brought someone for you to meet, he’s a big lumbering oaf just like you so I’m sure you’ll get on fine. Don’t be scared, monster, everything’s going to be just fine. I’ve got you, I promise.”

Harry let out a breath. He was standing just behind Malfoy now; if he tilted his shoulder slightly, he’d be able to bump it against Malfoy’s. He wasn’t quite afraid, he didn’t think, not in the way he remembered fear, anyway, something grimy and miserable and lonely. His heart was beating fast, and he was very conscious of the dragon’s strength, of fairytales.

“He’s brought you a treat,” Draco crooned. “Yes, he has, you’re going to get nice and fat, how ‘bout that? Yes, he has - come on, Potter,” he added, a little strained, like even saying Harry’s name wore him out, “anytime you’re ready--”

Harry held the rabbit up, not sure whether he should be trying to make eye contact with the dragon or not. He settled for keeping a wary eye on her teeth, and refusing to let his hand shake.

The dragon was still for a moment, before she lunged in and snapped up the rabbit.

Harry and Draco let out a breath at the same time, and the dragon made pleased noises as she swallowed it down. Draco’s hands were shaking when he went back to stroking her neck, and he looked pale and relieved as he said, “That’s it, there you go, monster. You’re all right.”

“Worried it was going to eat me?” Harry said, not quite sure what to do now. He didn’t want to move back. There was something special about standing this close to the dragon. But he didn’t think he should start patting it the way Malfoy was, either.

“I’ve never introduced her to anyone before,” Draco said, low. The dragon was settling down again, curling up and resting her head on her leg, close to Draco. She was still as tall as both of them. Her head came up to Draco’s waist, and he grimaced, adjusting his weight when she leaned on him. “I wasn’t - sure how she would react. She doesn’t like strangers. But she’s worn out from the storm and she - she trusts me, I think.”

Harry watched Malfoy carefully, while Draco stared pointedly at the wall. “She doesn’t know your parents?”

“My mother’s not really an - animal person,” Draco said, with a distracted smile. It was similar to the way he’d looked last night, talking to her, and Harry stared. “I wasn’t even allowed a dog when I was a kid.”

Harry stared some more. “You wanted a dog?”

“Everybody wants a dog at some point,” Draco said, and reached out to stroke the dragon’s crest. “Not that it’s any of your business.”

“I just can’t really picture it.”

“Because you know me so well,” Malfoy said, mouth twisting bitterly. “Tell me more about how you pictured my life, Potter. Do I end up with the - the Kiss, or will chains do?”

Harry ignored him. “What about your dad? He doesn’t want to - use the dragon for something.”

Very calmly, Draco said, “My father’s not well.”

“Good,” Harry said.

Draco didn’t say anything.

Harry looked back at the dragon. After a moment, he reached out with a delicate finger and touched one cold scale. It felt rougher, more interesting now that he wasn’t clinging to her in desperation, trying to escape.

“Does she have a name?” he asked.

“I’ve been talking to her for ten minutes, Potter,” Draco said, annoyed.

“I - what? Wait, Monster?” Harry said. “You called her Monster? Didn’t Buckbeak teach you anything?”

“Dragons are much more intelligent than hippogriffs,” Draco said stiffly, “and I think Buckbeak was a particularly stupid hippogriff. Monster understands my wit.”

“There’s something so wrong with you,” Harry told him, and Draco shrugged and looked away. The dragon made a rough noise that startled Harry, made him grab for his wand, but Draco reached out absently and took hold of his wrist, stopping him.

“It’s fine,” he said. “She snores.”

“Oh,” Harry said, and laughed, a bit, because this whole night was surreal.

Draco wasn’t laughing. He breathed out and looked down and said, “If I come quietly, will you - will you leave my parents alone?”

“I can’t imagine your mum would let that happen,” Harry said automatically. He thought briefly of Narcissa, and the forest. Then he stopped.

Draco swallowed hard. “Right,” he said. “Right. I - my mum won’t come quietly, you, you have to tell your - the aurors not to - promise me you won’t hurt her. Please.”

Harry stared at him, disbelieving, Draco Malfoy shaking like a leaf and still trying to demand obedience. After a moment he said, “I haven’t called any aurors, Malfoy.”

“I don’t quite think you can take my mum down on your own,” Draco said, eyes darting up. “Don’t get me wrong, I know you’re the saviour of the wizarding world and slayer of the Dark Lord and all, but -- my mum’s--”

“I know your mum,” Harry said. That coldness curled in his gut again. “I just mean - I’m not calling any aurors, Malfoy. I don’t care about you or your parents. You can do what you want, as long as you don’t hurt anyone else.”

It wasn’t exactly true, but he didn’t know how else to keep Draco from tensing as though Kingsley and the rest of the Order would burst in any moment now to take him away to the Dementors. He was vaguely aware that Draco was looking at him, but he didn’t want to see whatever was on Draco’s face. He stared down at the sleeping dragon instead.

“Why?” Draco said eventually.

“I dunno,” Harry said. “I’m tired. I already won. I can’t really be bothered with you anymore.”

Draco made a strange noise, caught between a laugh and a curse.

“You think a lot of yourself,” Harry said, “but no one else does, really. Not anymore.”

“Fine,” Draco said. “Thanks. I’m worthless. I’ve got it.”

“Well, I don’t know,” Harry said, “you’ve got that dragon.”

Draco laughed again, shocked and real.

“I’m going to come back,” Harry said, not entirely sure how Draco would react. “I’m - the dragon knows me now, at least.”

After a moment, Malfoy said, “All right.” When Harry looked at him, his head was bowed, his face shadowed. Thunder thrummed through the air, but with Draco’s hand on her head, the dragon barely stirred.

-

It rained in London and the rest of the country for two days straight. Grimmauld Place immediately sprang about three different vindicative leaks.

Harry spent an afternoon with Ron, Hermione, and Shacklebolt trying to work out the best way to round up what was left of the Snatchers and then went with Hermione to meet with McGonagall and Flitwick about some of the Hogwarts rebuilding effort. After he stood there with a blank face trying to understand the spell theory they were talking about for half an hour, McGonagall shook her head and said fondly, “Go home, Mr Potter,” and he had a strange moment where he thought about going to Wales, but instead he went back to Grimmauld Place and met an excited Ginny, Seamus, Dean, Susan, and Neville, who all wanted to go out to one of the London wizarding clubs that night.

The clubs had been a new discovery for Harry, but he liked there, being in a group with his friends, dancing and drinking and sheltered in a crowd too wrapped up in themselves to pay much attention to him. It was one of the few times Ginny and Dean didn’t get all awkward with each other too, which was nice, and that night he and Dean spun Ginny between each other, Dean’s expression complicated but happy, Ginny laughing and bright between them. Harry was laughing, too. He smiled at Dean, up close.

They spent the next day, all of them, trying to recover from hangovers, with Ginny and Neville brewing more and more unlikely potions to try and help.

“There definitely is a hangover potion,” Ginny said, “Dad has them hidden away, I’m sure it can’t be that hard--”

“I don’t know why the two people worst at potions are attempting it,” Seamus said, and Harry laughed and groaned, lying on the couch with a cushion on his face.

“We could just go buy some,” Dean said.

“There’d be no fun in that,” Neville said, looking pale and determined, but Ginny said, “Oh, all right then. Coming, Harry?”

“Really not,” Harry said, muffled through the cushion, but he lifted it aside to smile at Ginny and Dean as they stepped lightly out the door together, Ginny’s hand on Dean’s hip. Then he left the room quickly, because Neville and Hannah Abbott were making shy eyes at each other.

He went up to bed and slept away the afternoon and evening instead. At some point Hermione crawled into bed with him, spooned up behind him, and Harry reached for her hand and held it close. He only half-dozed through the early hours of the morning, not able to fall asleep again properly, but it was nice to lie there in the dimness, aware of Padma and Parvati Patil talking in low whispers on the floor, and Hermione’s soft hair in his face. It was like being back in the tent, only cleaner, and without any fear.

He got up bright and early the next morning, anyway, awake at six again, and Apparated to Wales. It was still drizzling, but prettily now, the grass green and the air blue and misty. When he poked his head in the doorway of the barn, Draco and Monster were already in there, having their separate breakfasts.

“Hello,” Draco said, wary.

“Hiya,” Harry said. “I brought some bacon.”

“Is that for me or Monster?”

“For me,” Harry said, but he fished out a piece from his bacon sandwich and threw it up in the air, laughing at the way Monster snapped it up.

“Big greedy lump,” Draco mumbled, rubbing the dragon’s flank and eyeing Harry balefully over his own bowl of porridge. It looked like a pretty small portion, but Harry didn’t know how long Draco had been eating, and he didn’t care, anyway.

“You’re not working today?” Harry asked, after a moment.

“Later,” Draco said shortly.

“What’s the plan, then?”

“Are you asking me what I do with my daily life, Potter?”

“I’m asking what you do with the great dirty dragon,” Harry said, nodding at Monster, who gave him a suspicious look.

Malfoy sighed. “Lots of stuff. I don’t know. We’ll probably go out in a bit.”

“Doesn’t she attract attention?” Harry wondered. “We’re not that far away from a Muggle town.”

Draco gave him a snooty look. “Lots of dragons have magic built into their scales,” he said. “They’re quite hard to spot, and harder still for Muggles. Sort of like an Unplottable Charm, only on something living. That’s why there’s not many reported dragon sightings in the world, even though there’s quite a lot of them, really. That’s very basic Magical Creatures theory, Potter, honestly. You’d think you were taught by an imbecile. Oh, wait--”

“Funny,” Harry said, anger building in his chest but voice light, “I didn’t see Hagrid running away during the Battle of Hogwarts. Oh, wait.”

Draco snapped his mouth shut, looked away, face white and furious.

“Anyway,” Harry said, after a moment. “There were lots of reported sightings of her. Right after the war ended.”

“She was confused,” Draco said, voice low. “She didn’t know what to do. She kept blundering through towns. Obviously the charms aren’t impenetrable - if a dragon flies down a main street, someone’s going to see them. She got freaked out. Then I found her.”

“How long have you been - looking after her?” Harry said, and Draco shot him a cool look, didn’t answer. Frustrated, Harry said, “Draco.”

“Don’t call me that,” Draco said automatically. “About six months now, I guess. She nearly fell on the house.”

“And you charmed her?”

Draco stayed silent.

“Fine,” Harry said. “Don’t tell me.”

“Thanks,” Draco said. “I won’t.”

They stared at each other for a moment, and then Harry stood up and took a step toward the dragon. Monster growled, eyes suddenly fixed on him, her teeth on display, and Harry hesitated. Draco watched him, face unreadable. After a moment he said, “The bin.”

“Right.” Monster had a pile of meat in front of her - Harry was trying not to look too closely at it - but he went back to the bin again and retrieved another rabbit before making his careful way forward again. Monster watched him closely, distrustful, her attention split now between him and the rabbit. When he was a bare metre away, he tossed it forward, and she caught and gulped it down in one motion.

“Easy does it,” Draco said conversationally, reaching out to pat Monster’s leg. “Nothing to worry about, he’s just the nasty smelly one who shows up to annoy us once in a while. You can always eat him if he gets too boring, huh, how’s that? Special treat?”

“Very funny,” Harry said, feeling a little dry-mouthed being this close to the dragon. He kept forgetting how massive she was; every time he went away he downsized her in his head. “Did you say you were going to take her for a walk?”

“Yes,” Draco said, and that was how they ended up climbing out over the rubble at the other end of the barn and walking up a hill, away from the little house in front of the barn. Draco was very carefully not looking at it, but Harry was pretty sure Draco was leading him in the opposite direction on purpose.

The rain was mostly eased up, though Harry still put his hood up and Malfoy was wearing his funny little raincoat again. After a few tentative feet, the dragon eased herself up into the air, gentler this time, and flew up ahead. Draco kept his eyes on her. She didn’t go that high.

“Aren’t you worried she’ll run away?” Harry asked.

“I was,” Draco said, after a minute’s reluctant silence. “But it’s - she’s had plenty of opportunities now. I don’t think she’ll leave me if she doesn’t have to.”

He and Harry exchanged a quick look, and Harry frowned at the ground, unsettled somehow by meeting Draco’s gaze.

“I was talking to Shacklebolt,” Harry said, and Draco tensed. Harry sighed, qualified: “Not recently. But he was talking about dragon trainers - even though that’s their name, they don’t really train dragons. Dragons aren’t pets. They’re wild things. You - you can’t train them.”

Draco scowled. “What’s your point?”

“This isn’t - I’ve met Charlie Weasley,” Harry said. “He’s really cool. He talks about working with dragons and he’s got tons of burns, and he’s really good at it. Really good. He’s been working for years. But it doesn’t seem like it’s - like this. How did you train a dragon in six months? It’s like she’s your pet.”

“She’s not my pet,” Draco said, startled, “she’s my friend.”

Harry stared at him, and then started to laugh.

“I mean - that’s not what I mean,” Malfoy said. “Shut up!”

“I’m - that is exactly what Ron said,” Harry said, wheezing with laughter, and Draco scowled and stormed ahead, making Harry have to run to catch up with him. “Come on, calm down, you’ve gotta admit that was pretty funny--”

“Whatever,” Draco said coolly. “I misspoke. Anyway, my point is she’s not my pet but - she’s not a normal dragon, a wild dragon.”

“No?”

“No, Potter. She was kept underground for a long time. I’m guessing a couple of decades, at least. She’s traumatised. But she can’t fend for herself, she doesn’t know how to be wild.” He gave Harry a quick, cross look. “There’s no point asking me for information and then being a prick when I tell you, but - look, dragons are social creatures. They live in small family groups. She doesn’t want to be alone. I think other dragons would - kill her, probably, she couldn’t live up to their mating rituals, plus who knows where her family is, she’d be infringing on territory. But she has me.” He swallowed hard, staring straight ahead at where Monster was doing lazy loops up in the sky. “I don’t think she’s going to run away.”

“Oh,” Harry said. He thought about Hermione’s face, tear-stained, Ron grim and afraid, the three of them making their way across the Gringotts floor clattering and shouting, and the way the dragon had screamed. She didn’t seem to recognise him at all. He wondered if he should be glad. “Okay.”

“It’s criminal, really,” Draco complained, apparently to himself. “You’re meant to be going into seventh year and you don’t know the slightest thing about dragons. That’s fourth year level theory, that is.”

“Yes,” Harry said dryly, “the two of us here, and that’s what’s criminal.”

Draco shot him a look. After a moment he smiled, very slightly.

-

He came back to Grimmauld Place at lunchtime to find Ginny on her way out the door. “Hey!” she said, and kissed him. “You smell nice. All outdoorsy.”

“I’m all damp,” Harry said, ruefully taking off his sweater. “Where are you going?”

“Back to the Burrow,” Ginny said. “Mum’s made a big turkey lunch, apparently, and Percy’s finally gotten away from the Ministry.”

“Oh,” Harry said, suddenly hopeful. For a moment he thought, bizarrely, of the way Malfoy and the dragon had looked like this morning, leaning on each other and eating their breakfasts. “Can I come?”

Ginny made a face.

“Come on,” Harry said. “It’ll be fine.”

“I just don’t think Mum gets it yet,” she said. “And I don’t want to confuse her again.”

Harry sighed, looked away. “Right.”

“Oh, come on, Harry, don’t get all miserable on me,” Ginny said. “You wanted this too, remember?”

“I don’t know,” Harry said, tense again the way he hadn’t been in months. “I don’t really know what - what I want--”

“Harry, come on,” Ginny said, and he took her in his arms, and they leaned up against the wall, heads bent together.

He’d been so sure, all through the war, that this was what he wanted, just him and Ginny. But the war had finished and after two frightening months of unsteadiness and clinging to each other, they’d moved into Grimmauld Place with everyone else, and things had gotten, if not bad, strange. Ginny and Neville danced close together and instead of feeling jealous the way he remembered, Harry had just sort of wanted to join, for all of them to join, the strange brave group of people who’d scraped through. He and Ginny had sex, clumsy and tender and perfect, but half the time Harry panicked waking up in the middle of the night not knowing where Ron and Hermione were and would go and climb into bed with them. He spent a night getting drunk with Luna that ended with them kissing, slow and strange, and the next day he walked in on Dean and Ginny clutching each other, half in tears, and then barely able to look at each other for days.

“I just don’t know,” Ginny had said, after a few weeks of this, “if - if maybe we’re meant to do the whole… Happily ever after, boyfriend-girlfriend thing at the moment.”

“Ron and Hermione are doing it,” Harry had said, but Ginny shook her head. She looked confused, but not unhappy.

“I want to kiss you,” she said, “all the time, but I - I want to kiss other people, too. I don’t know if that means that - this is a good idea--”

“We could - have exceptions,” Harry tried.

Ginny had looked at him, eyes dark and worried. “Are you in love with me?” she asked.

Harry had licked his lips. “I love you,” he said.

“Yes,” Ginny said. “I know. I love you, too. I think the problem is we all - everyone who lived through that, we all love each other. Too much. Or something.”

Harry tried talking to Hermione about it the next day, and Hermione shrugged.

“I don’t know, Harry, I’m not a psychologist,” she said, but then added, “It makes sense to me, though. We’re all trauma victims, in a way. I think the idea that neither of you might not be in a place for a relationship right now makes perfect sense. Or that you want a different kind of relationship. Or lots of relationships.”

“Petunia used to say people like that were ruining the fabric of society,” Harry told her, and Hermione had laughed.

“Well, then,” she said. “You’re probably fine, if she’s against it.”

Now, Harry sighed, and shook his head. “Okay,” he said. “But I want to see your mum soon, too.”

“She’ll be over the disappointment that we’re not getting married and settling down to have lots of babies any day now, I promise,” Ginny said, grinning and patting him on the cheek. “As soon as she does, I’ll let you know.”

“Cool,” Harry said, and then tried, a little nervously because it was strange, but determined nonetheless: “Have you and Dean been hanging out more lately? That was -- nice, the other night.”

“A bit,” Ginny said. “I don’t know. It’s weird. I still feel a bit bad for the way I ended things, in school. But that seems like such a long time ago. I was a different person.”

“Yeah,” Harry said, voice rough, and swung Ginny up to kiss him again, ten minutes pressed into the corner before she laughingly extracted herself and went off to the Burrow.

“Disgusting,” Walburga Black said, hanging on the wall and eyeing him coldly. “Halfblood filth! Blood traitors!”

“Just because you’re not getting any,” Harry said, and went on into the kitchen.

Luna said, “Ah, Harry! Seamus and I are baking a cake. We’re going to be putting quite a lot of whiskey in it, do you want to help?”

“Sure,” Harry said.

“Go get the bottles down from the pantry then, there’s a good fellow,” Seamus said. “You’re taller than me, you’ll have to manage it.”

He winked at Harry. Surprised and faintly pleased, Harry winked back.

-

The next time Harry went to Wales, neither the dragon nor Draco were by the little house: there was no sign of anyone in the house, though Harry didn’t hang around long, in no great hurry to meet Narcissa. He’d had a suspicion something like this might happen, anyway, and brought his broom, and the day was beautiful: warm and still, blue skies with a golden sun that bathed everything in sweet yellow light. Harry flew away from the town, swooping around the skies with no real direction, until at last he caught sight of water below, and a massive shape that he thought at first might be a boulder outcropping until it moved, stretched out.

Then he swooped down.

“Hello,” Draco said, eyeing him with distaste as he dismounted. Draco was sitting on an actual rock that hung over the lake, wearing dark jeans and a turquoise t-shirt. He looked very strange. “I was wondering when you’d show up again. Thought we might have shaken you off.”

“No such luck,” Harry said cheerfully. “Why are you wearing those clothes?”

Draco flushed. “They were all the store had in my size,” he muttered, and Harry was about to ask what kind of bizarre store only had one outfit in a perfectly normal albeit scrawny size, before he realised with a start that Draco and his family must be shopping at charity shops. They couldn’t have very much money at all, not on a butcher’s assistant’s salary, and the idea of the Malfoys as being, perhaps, poor was so baffling and bizarre that Harry didn’t know what to do.

His immediate instinct was to say something nasty about how perhaps they could borrow the Weasleys’ hand-me-downs, but Draco’s face was tight and proud and Harry wasn’t in school anymore. It was payback enough that it had happened, he supposed, he didn’t need to rub Draco’s nose in it.

“What are you two doing?” he asked instead, and Draco looked at Monster, amused and pleased, easily distracted.

“She likes water, the weirdo,” he said. “I can’t - I don’t have my books anymore, but I’m pretty sure she’s a Ukranian Ironbelt, and they’re not particularly known for it, so I don’t know what that’s about. She’s just weird.”

“Your books?” Harry echoed, and Malfoy flushed again. Harry had forgotten how easily he did: all that aristocratic inbreeding working against him, he supposed. Harry himself had stayed brown even all through the cold winter. He’d spent most of last summer outside, unable to believe that he was alive, that his friends were alive.

“I have quite a lot of books about dragons,” he said. “I - I liked them when I was a kid.”

“When you were a kid,” Harry said. “Oh, of course. Grew right out of that one, didn’t you?”

The corners of Malfoy’s mouth were twitching again, Harry noticed, but he didn’t dignify Harry with a response, just kicked his toe into the water, splashing water up against Monster. His feet were bare, Harry noticed. It was still weird.

“You are weird,” Draco told Monster. “Oi, ugly! I’m talking to you!”

Monster looked up, apparently distracted from where she’d been nosing around in the lake, silver fish darting away from her.

“That’s right,” Draco said, leaning forward with his arms resting against his drawn up knees. “No wonder you’re such a reject. What self-respecting dragon would go splashing around in the shallows, huh? You’re a disgrace to your kind.”

Very lazily, Monster flicked her long, barbed tail around and knocked Draco off his rock and into the water.

Harry cracked up laughing, had to sit down on the grass, unable to hold himself upright. Draco surfaced, spluttering and pink-faced, shaking his head like a dog and sending water arcing across the surface of the lake.

“You’ll pay for that,” he said, and hurled himself at the dragon, throwing himself up to grab at Monster’s leg, hauling himself up and - in a kind of impressive jump, not that Harry wanted to admit it - launching himself at her neck, hanging from around it. Monster yawned, baring enormous teeth that made Harry flinch, but Draco just said, outraged, “You’re a big bully and I’ll--”

Harry never found out what Draco would do, because Monster ducked her head and shrugged Draco off, batting him into the water again like a child’s toy.

Merlin,” Draco gasped, surfacing again. Harry was crying, he was laughing so hard. Draco struck out for the shore, hauled himself out shivering and shaking his hair.

“I thought,” Harry gasped, “I thought you were - going to - pay her back--”

“Oh, you shut up,” Draco said, scowling, a little pink. “I’m retreating with dignity. Merlin. Every time.”

To Harry’s astonishment, he picked up a towel that Harry hadn’t noticed lying on the grass, and started towelling himself off. He made a face, banging at his ear and shaking water out.

“That really happens every time?” Harry said.

“She’s like a big dog,” Draco grumbled, and Harry started laughing again, helpless, clutching his sides.

“I’d like to see you try and go up against her,” Draco said, as Harry fell back on the grass breathless, staring up at the sky.

“Oh, god,” he said. “I wish I’d known that one day I’d see that when I was in school. I don’t think you would have ever annoyed me again.”

Draco made an odd face, mouth twisting. “Good to know you’re that easily appeased.”

“Well, you know,” Harry said, distracted. Malfoy was stretching and his wet shirt clung to him, made Harry suddenly notice the sharp line of his ribs, his flat stomach. Harry stared, half-frowning, and then Draco made a low, unhappy noise and reached suddenly for a green jumper that lay in the grass too, pulling it on. He clamped his hand around his forearm, even covered, and Harry realised abruptly what Malfoy thought he’d been looking at.

He shook his head, clearing it, and - not really in the mood to go down another Death Eater line of thought - said, “How do you keep her fed, anyway?”

“Monster?” Draco said, taking a moment to catch up.

“Yeah,” Harry said. “She’s huge. How many sheep are you stealing?”

Draco swallowed, then tilted his chin up and admitted, “Quite a lot. We try to spread it out, though, we’ve been flying all over the south west. I’ve got some rabbit traps set up around the place, too, they usually do all right.”

“And you steal from your boss,” Harry said.

“I try not to,” Draco said, voice low. “That time you saw - I was worried, ‘cos of you, and because I think a Ministry person saw her earlier that week, trying to carry off a cow. I didn’t want to risk us going somewhere else and she was - she was really hungry. I’ve only done it once before that. I don’t - I mean, she’d notice, anyway, Lucie would, if I kept stealing. I’ve only done it once before.”

“Okay,” Harry said, begrudging, and Malfoy ducked his head.

“Anyway it’s not really enough,” he said. “I know that. I’m trying to work out a way - she’s older, and she doesn’t have the biggest appetite, but this winter was -- hard. I’m trying to work out a way to manage the next one.”

“Move to India or something,” Harry suggested. “You need a place with big game. Elephants would do the trick.”

“Yeah,” Draco said. “I’ll get right on that.” He shifted, grimacing at his damp jeans, and without thinking Harry pulled out his wand and pointed a drying charm at him. Draco jumped like he’d had an electric shock.

“Sorry,” Harry said, awkward. “Didn’t mean to startle you.”

“No, it’s fine, I just hadn’t - in a - whatever, Potter,” Draco said, looking abruptly frustrated, and stopped talking.

“There you go,” Harry said encouragingly, “that was almost polite.”

“You’re the only one wizard I see aside from my parents,” Draco grumbled. “It’s clearly addling my brains.”

Harry laughed, stretched out in the grass again, and closed his eyes, listening to Draco and the dragon whistle at each other.

-

He thought about it again that night, heading home to Grimmauld at around ten after meeting Ron for dinner at the Burrow - no Ginny, and Mrs Weasley restrained herself to sad looks in Harry’s direction and no questions. He brushed his teeth and ignored the mirror’s hissed insults, staring at himself thoughtfully and wondering what it would be like to live only with your parents, and not be able to tell anyone you met the truth about yourself.

At least Malfoy liked his parents, he figured. Malfoy and his mum were thick as thieves, anyway, clearly.

Still: it would be weird, he thought, and went into his room. Ginny and Seamus were each stretched out on a side of his bed, leaving an inviting space in the middle. Luna was curled up in the armchair, reading by the light of a candle.

Harry blinked at her. “Are we out of beds?” he whispered.

“No,” she said, dreamy and serene. “I just like it in here. I’ll go to bed in a while.”

Harry shrugged, and went and climbed into bed, pulling the covers up around him. Ginny and Seamus made sleepy noises and rolled in closer to him. He could, very faintly through the floorboards, hear Neville and Dean listening to the Wizarding Wireless in the room below, and somewhere in the house someone had sent Mrs Black off on a rampage, muffled and familiar. He didn’t like Grimmauld Place but he liked living here with all these people, so that it was the house versus them, and not just the house versus him. And it was big, and comfortable, and Kreacher kept them well-fed, and Harry hadn’t been able to feel his own ribs in months.

“Did you have a nice day, Harry?” Luna asked.

“It was good,” Harry said. “I’m glad I’m back here, though.”

“The Burrow is a little too cramped for my liking,” Luna agreed, which made Harry laugh softly, looking over at Luna tucked up in her rocking chair. She peered back at him. “What’s so funny?”

“You know,” Harry said, “I think Seamus is flirting with me.”

Eyes closed tight, Seamus grinned.

“That’s nice,” Luna said.

The next night Harry went to visit Draco and the dragon late, after everyone at Grimmauld Place had already eaten. He brought the remains - not much, it had to be said - of the roast turkey with him. Sunday lunch (inevitably Sunday dinner, because nobody could get anything cooked in time and Kreacher had gone wandering off again) had become a strange house tradition, and Harry had had a few glasses of wine, too, and why not visit a dragon, now, when there was a dragon he could visit. The war was over and all that remained of magic was good and exciting and true, like he was eleven years old all over again.

When he got there, though, the barn was dark and the only light in the valley came from the one little window. He slipped up to the window, nervous about getting caught again, but he didn’t think he needed to worry: Draco was distracted.

He was kneeling in front of the armchair; tonight, it was Lucius sitting in it. Lucius looked -- half-dead, really. His hair was limp and greying and dirty, he had a mangy, untamed beard, his eyes were dark and shuttered. Draco had his father’s hands in his and his back to the window, and Harry could see him leaning again, the strain in his shoulders, but he couldn’t hear or see what Draco was saying, just the way Lucius shook his head, slow and bewildered, and the look in his eyes, as though he wasn’t entirely sure who Draco was.

Harry left, went back to Grimmauld Place.

-

“Aren’t you afraid of Death Eaters?” Harry asked, a couple of days later.

He’d done some reading on the subject of dragons, hiding the books away from a suspicious Hermione and Ron, and found out that dragons, though they didn’t prefer it, were technically omnivorous: he and Draco had just spent the afternoon hauling in bales of green hay that Harry had levitated an awfully long way. Now Draco lay flat on the floor, dishevelled and out of breath; Harry had somehow ended up on top of one of the hay bale towers, and he leaned over it, peering down at Draco. Monster herself was perturbed by all their shifting and swearing and shouting at each other to get out of the way and had gone for a lazy afternoon flight.

Draco opened his eyes, peered up at Harry. “I thought you saved the world for me,” he said, and clasped his hands to his chest. “Our saviour. What a lucky little wizard I am--”

“Shut up,” Harry said, turfing a loose pile of hay at him. It got him right in the face. Draco wheezed and spat bits out. “I mean, you know, there are still some on the loose. Mostly people who used to be part of the Snatchers team. We’re rounding them up, but you’ve all turned on each other, half of them are killing each other off - I mean, it’s not like you were particularly popular by the end of the war, is it?”

“No,” Draco admitted, and closed his eyes again. “Yes, they probably would kill us if they found us. What’s your point?”

“Aren’t you afraid?” Harry said.

Draco yawned. “Potter, at this point I’m terrified of everything. At a certain point it gets too exhausting to keep actually worrying about it.”

Harry frowned down at him. After a moment he said, “I’ll put up anti-Apparation wards around your place if you like.”

Draco didn’t move. Voice strange, he said, “Why would you do that?”

“I guess it counts as protecting you,” Harry said. “From Death Eaters and all. Which is sort of my job.”

“Do you have a job?”

“Not officially,” Harry said. “I’m meant to be going back to school this year.”

Draco snorted lightly.

“I would know where you were,” Harry said, after Draco didn’t say anything else, uncomfortable. “Don’t take this as like - me hiding you from the Ministry or aurors or whatever. It’s more for the dragon than anything else.”

Very quietly, Draco said, “Wouldn’t magic like that draw attention to us?”

“Not if I did it a certain way,” Harry said. “I can add wards to it like the ones Hermione and Ron and I used in - in the war. And there’s lots of areas around the UK that have anti-Apparation wards in them from old families or houses that are long gone. I don’t think anyone would think anything of it. I’d only do a little area, anyway, just so no one can - can storm in on you out of nowhere.” He paused. “There’s like a - shimmer when someone tries to break through the wards, anyway. You’d have some warning.”

“I know there is,” Draco said.

“Okay,” Harry said. “Well. If you want, I will.”

“Okay,” Draco said. “Yes. That’d be good.”

“All right,” Harry said, and then, after feeling weird and awkward for a moment, he jumped off his hay bale pile and went to do it.

He didn’t really think about much while he did, out in the cool afternoon air. It was grey again today. It was easy to fall into the numb, blank headspace that he’d put the wards up in when he and Hermione had been on their own together, concentrating on the magic, feeling it unfurl around him, making sure that he hadn’t missed anything. He was sure Kingsley would probably agree that it was the right thing to do. It wasn’t as though the Ministry would want the Death Eaters tearing the Malfoys up into shreds, not before the Ministry had the chance to decide what they wanted to do with the Malfoys.

Lucius Malfoy had looked completely mad, that night through the window. If Draco and Narcissa had to escape he would slow them down. It was right to give them a little warning. It didn’t count as helping Lucius.

When he went back to the barn, Draco was right where he’d left him, but he had a plate with a handful of sandwiches on them and he was very deliberately not looking at Harry.

“It’s lunchtime,” he said, staring up at the half missing ceiling.

“Right,” Harry said. “Thanks,” and dug in, hungrier than he’d thought after the spellwork. Draco’s cheeks were pink. The sandwiches were good, even though the bread tasted a bit old. After a while he said, “Do you want one?”

“Okay,” Draco said, and after that they ate in silence, flicking bits of lettuce at Monster every now and then and grinning at her disapproving glare.

-

He came back just once more at night. The barn was dark and music rang through the valley. When he got up to the cottage window, Lucius was slumped in his chair, but Draco was laughing and grinning, holding his mother in a light, easy grip, and the two of them were waltzing around the tiny room to Muggle Motown music.

Harry stayed longer than he meant to. Narcissa’s face was pleased and calm, and the grey in her hair looked more like silver in the candlelight. Every now and then Draco would make a ridiculous face, or sing along, or act out some new tremulous 60s girl group romance, and Narcissa laughed, slow and sure.

He kept out of sight, and then he thought suddenly of Draco’s fierce privacy around his parents and his home and he stepped away quickly, ducking out of the anti-Apparation borders and heading home.

After that he took to sending an owl to Draco to check that he was available when Harry wanted to come visit. He never sealed or signed it, just wrote Thought that I would pop round about four if you’re not working? and Draco would send back, neat underneath Harry’s own handwriting, that would be fine, Potter. The ink Draco used was unfamiliar, thin and blue. It took Harry several weeks to finally recognise it as a Muggle biro.

-

“Pass the gravy,” Ron said, and then, “Oh, Harry, I’ve been meaning to ask - did you ever find out what was going on with Malfoy and the dragon?”

Half the table went silent, and Harry tried not to gape. “Uh,” he said. “I guess, sort of.”

“I forgot about that,” Neville said, looking briefly annoyed. “Did they run away after you found them there?”

“No,” Harry said. He cleared his throat. Malfoy hadn’t looked as though he’d even tried to get his family on the run again after Harry found him, it occurred to him now. That was kind of stupid. After a moment, when the whole table was staring at him, he said, “It’s fine, it’s all sorted. The dragon’s not really a threat.”

“Is it the - the Gringotts one, then?” Hermione said. “For sure?”

Harry nodded, grim, and Ron sighed. “Poor thing,” he said. “Hope it’s okay.”

“I think she’s - I think it’s doing better,” Harry tried.

“And what happened to Malfoy?” Neville said. “What was he doing with the dragon?”

“Oh, nothing really,” Harry said. “It’s - it’s all under control.”

“Harry,” Ginny said, slowly, mouth twitching, “have you been hanging out with Malfoy?”

“I thought you were off working with Shacklebolt,” Seamus said, leaning in and looking intrigued. “Is that where you’ve been all month?”

“I’ve been here all month,” Harry said defensively. “Mostly.”

“Really, Harry?” Ron said, eyebrows high. “With Draco Malfoy? I - are you that bored?”

“Not with Malfoy,” Harry said. “Just - I like the dragon.”

“He and the dragon are still together?” Hermione said, looking immediately interested. “Gosh, I wonder how he’s handling that. He never seemed to like Care of Magical Creatures - that might have just been Hagrid, but - he’s not hurting it, is he, Harry?”

“No,” Harry said. “He’s. I don’t know. They like each other. It’s weird.”

“Malfoy fucks dragons?” Ginny said, looking almost incandescent with happiness, and about half the table collapsed into hysterics. Harry rolled his eyes, mouth twitching.

“No, I don’t know,” he said. “It’s like - she’s not his pet or anything. They just hang out together. I guess he looks after her. It’s weird.” It wasn’t weird, he thought: it didn’t seem weird at all, when he was with them. But he wasn’t entirely sure how to explain it now.

Neville still looked unhappy. “What do you do together?” he asked. “What’s Malfoy even up to, now? Harry, you need to tell Shacklebolt--”

“No,” Harry said, a little too loudly. Everyone stared at him, and he sighed. “Look, the Malfoys are a wreck. Or - they’re harmless, now. They’re living in this shitty little cottage, I’ve seen Lucius from a distance, he’s basically catatonic by the looks of it. They’re staying out of the way. They’re not going to get in any trouble, or get anyone else in trouble, and actually, I think Draco’s doing an all right thing, you know, looking after this dragon. It’s traumatised and scarred and - and hurt. If they stay out of the way, if Draco tries to - do a tiny bit of good, I don’t know what the point would be in going after them. They’re not even using magic anymore.”

Ron shrugged. “Doesn’t bother me,” he said. “I’d be happy if I never saw another Malfoy in my life.”

“They still did things that were wrong,” Neville said, face hard. “I don’t get how all of you have just - given up on them--”

“Nev, mate,” Ron said gently, “I saw Draco in the final battle. That kid was a mess.”

“He cried a lot,” Luna said introspectively, “when I was at the Manor.”

“I’m not saying let’s forgive him or pretend he’s anything less than pondscum, you know,” Ron said. “But I don’t have the energy to spend time rounding up and testifying against Malfoys. Live and let live, whatever.”

Hermione went very pink. She kissed Ron’s cheek primly. Ron beamed.

“Harry,” Neville said, staring at him, “what about Dumbledore?”

Harry swallowed hard. “Draco didn’t kill Dumbledore,” he said, voice low. “Snape did. And look how wrong we all were about him.”

“You weren’t there in final year,” Neville said. “Malfoy’s cronies were. Crabbe and Goyle hurt a lot - a lot of people, Harry. Pansy Parkinson wanted to give you up to Voldemort.”

“Crabbe’s dead,” Harry said. “And Malfoy wasn’t there in final year, either.”

“Neville, come on,” Ginny said, and kicked him under the table. “This is boring. Leave it. We didn’t all save the world to have to end up worrying about Malfoys.”

Ron pointed at her. “That is my point exactly.”

“Oh, Harry,” Susan said, “by the way, McGonagall was looking for you today - she dropped by, actually, it was frightening -- you don’t think she wants anything to do with Malfoy, do you?”

“No,” Harry said shortly. McGonagall had sent him several letters. “That’s fine, don’t worry about it.”

“Anyway,” Seamus said, “now that we’ve finished deciding it’s okay for Harry to hang out with Malfoy.” He looked about the room, grinning. “Where are we going tonight?”

Later, in the club, hot lights and dark everywhere, a beat pulsing through Harry’s bones like any minute then it would blow him away, Seamus slung an arm around Harry’s shoulders and kissed him. They ended up tucked in a corner, Harry’s hand on Seamus’s hip, his glasses pushed up to the top of his head like sunglasses.

Harry said, “Luna told me you were dating Dean.”

Actually, Luna had said, Dean and Seamus have very nice energies around each other. Very romantic, but Harry thought that was what she meant.

“I thought Dean was dating Ginny,” Seamus said.

“I thought Ginny was dating me,” Harry said.

Seamus laughed, and kissed him again.

-

Draco was climbing a tree, the next time Harry found him. Harry stood underneath, grinning. “All right?” he called up, and Draco jumped, the branches shaking.

“Merlin,” he said. “What are you doing?”

“I told you I was coming over.”

“That doesn’t mean you have to sneak up on me,” Draco said, peering out, cross face framed with greenery.

“What the hell are you doing?”

“There’s apples growing,” Draco said, and threw one down to prove his point. It hit Harry in the head. Draco laughed, not very nicely.

“Bit early for that, isn’t it?” Harry asked, picking up the offending apple and rubbing it on his sleeve. He took a bite, then made a face. It was sour. “These are no good.”

“It’s past mid-April,” Draco said. “And of course they’re no good if you eat them like that, like an absolute savage. My mother will cook them.”

“Ah yes, the savagery of biting into an apple,” Harry said. He pointed his wand and added, “Accio ripe apples,” and a little swarm of them flew to neatly pile themselves at his feet.

Draco squinted down, scowling. He looked somewhat sunburned. “Well, now you’re just cheating,” he said, and climbed down, faster about it than Harry would have reckoned. He was quick, feet sure, and he started collecting the apples that Harry had magicked down without properly acknowledging Harry’s presence.

He had a basket. Harry was, despite himself, a little bit charmed.

“What does your mother do?” Harry asked, keeping hold of his bitten apple and throwing it lightly in the air. “With the apples?”

“Stews them,” Draco said, after giving him a suspicious look.

“What does she do during the day?” Harry said. “When you’re looking after the dragon, or at work? Just stews fruit?”

“None of your business,” Draco said promptly.

“I could make it my business,” Harry said.

Draco startled, head jerking up. He was suddenly pale, and shocked, and something weird twisted in Harry’s stomach: he realised that Draco was surprised, caught off guard by an attack he hadn’t seen coming. Harry didn’t want to feel guilty. He didn’t. He stared at Draco, and Draco stared back, pale and pinched and proud.

After a moment, Harry said, “Does she know I come here?”

“Yes,” Draco said.

“What does she think of that?”

Draco was silent, angry and wild-eyed.

Harry let out a breath. “Fine,” he said, and then added reluctantly, grudgingly, “Sorry.”

Draco looked away. After a moment he said, “Like I said. Savage,” and Harry tossed the apple in the air, didn’t argue.

He stayed overlong, even though it was awkward and Draco was twitchy and cold, like he was certain Harry was about to turn on him again. Monster liked the sour apples and Harry fed some to her when Draco’s back was turned, fairly sure that most of Draco’s indignation about it was put on. He stayed until Draco stopped looking so pinched about the month, until Draco started rambling on about how untidy and awful Harry’s hair looked, until the weird tight vise in his chest eased up.

“All right,” he said. The sun had gone down a while ago; he hadn’t been paying attention, busy lobbing apples at Malfoy. It turned out Draco could juggle. Harry wasn’t sure why he was so fascinated by it, but he was alternately in fits of laughter and just staring at Draco’s hands, the easy looping throws.

“All right?” Draco echoed, looking up at him.

“I’m heading off,” he said. “I’ll see you around, I guess.”

“You’ll see me right here,” Draco said, lazily throwing an apple up and down, just the one now, switching it from hand to hand. “The next time you show up uninvited and rude.”

“I guess that’s right,” Harry said, and kicked at Draco’s ankle. Draco promptly kicked back, and Harry laughed again. He said, without really thinking about it, “You could show up to London sometime, if you wanted.”

Draco fumbled with the apple, then laughed. “I don’t think that’s such a good idea.”

“No,” Harry said, embarrassed. “I guess not.”

“I don’t even - what would I do,” Draco said. “When I wasn’t avoiding arrest, I mean. Obviously.”

“I’ve got a house in London,” Harry said. “Me and like - a lot of people from school live there.”

“Ah,” Draco said. “So I’d get to hang out with a bunch of Gryffindors who hate me. What an excellent and fun time for me.”

Harry said, helpless and a little annoyed, “You don’t have to hang out with them if you really don’t want--”

“Who else would I be spending time with?” Draco snapped. “You? I don’t - you’re just here because you like Monster!”

“Right,” Harry said. “Yes. Obviously.” He paused, and then said, with the air of a new idea, “You could bring the dragon to London. It’d be cool if - if Ron and Hermione could meet her, properly, I mean--”

“Don’t be stupid,” Draco said. “Don’t - we couldn’t put her in that danger.”

“It wouldn’t be danger,” Harry insisted, warming to the idea. “We’d be able to hide her at my place -- it’d be good for her, she should get more used to other people--”

“She’s a dragon! She doesn’t need to socialise!”

“She could come with us,” Harry said, “and then you’d have someone else to talk to--”

Draco jumped to his feet in one fluid motion. “I don’t need your stupid friends, Potter,” he snarled. “I don’t need you, I’m just saddled with you and not stupid enough to piss you off, but don’t think for one moment that I like you. I can’t fucking wait until you get bored of this and don’t ever come back!”

“All right, Malfoy,” Harry said quietly. Draco turned on his heel and stormed away, and when he was in the doorway, Harry raised his voice and said, “I am coming back, though.”

Draco stood still in the frame for a moment longer, putting one hand out to lean against the solid stone. Then he said, voice tight, “I wish you wouldn’t,” and walked away.

Harry went home, crawled into bed with Ron and Hermione, ignored the letter from McGonagall on the table and Walburga screaming at him from downstairs. He couldn’t sleep. Neville was right, he thought, or at the very least Ron was right, and it was stupid to keep hanging out with Draco Malfoy, especially when Malfoy made it this clear that he didn’t want Harry around. Harry had plenty of friends, and he didn’t want to be friends with Malfoy, anyway. He’d never wanted Malfoy for a friend, not even when he was eleven. Malfoy was a terrible person, even if he did have a dragon.

A bit before dawn he got up and Apparated back to Wales. There was a light in the barn. He went toward it, and then stood in the doorway, throat tight and head heavy with lack of sleep. Malfoy was lying tucked in between the paws of the dragon, both of them asleep, Malfoy’s face pale and strained and tucked in against the crook of the dragon’s leg.

This was stupid and intrusive and weird. Harry took a step backward. His foot rolled over a stone. Malfoy lifted his head.

“Oh,” Malfoy said, sleepy and half-slurring. He looked younger like this, only half-awake. “Oh, Potter, good,” and he beckoned.

“What,” Harry said, uneasy.

“Come on,” Malfoy said, “come here,” and Harry went over, slow and uncertain. Malfoy grabbed at his ankle and Harry said, “What?” but Malfoy just tugged grumpily at his trousers until Harry got the hint and folded down onto the floor.

“You’re back,” Malfoy said.

“Do you sleep in here often?” Harry said, looking about.

“Not very often,” Draco said, and took Harry’s wrist in his hand. Harry looked down at him, and Draco looked back up, sleepy-eyed.

“Hi,” Harry said, feeling uneasy.

“You’re sitting up,” Draco said.

“What do you want me to do?” Harry was pretty used to Monster these days, but it still felt strange, sitting between her giant clawed feet. She blinked open one eye, stared balefully at him, then snorted out a breath and went back to sleep.

Draco sat up, too, struggling a bit, clearly still mostly asleep. He put one hand out on Harry’s shoulder, catching himself, and Harry put the hand that wasn’t currently being held onto on Draco’s elbow, steadying him.

“Is it morning?” Draco murmured. His hair hung dishevelled, all over his face. Harry stared at him. Malfoy’s eyes were sweet and grave, this close.

“Not yet,” Harry said, and swallowed. “Sorry.”

“Mm?”

“For - waking you up,” Harry said. “I don’t know. I’m sorry, I don’t know why I came back--”

“I’m glad you did,” Draco mumbled, and put his head against Harry’s shoulder. Harry went very still. “I thought maybe you’d finally buggered off.”

“Are you always like this in the mornings?” Harry said, overly jocular. “I - maybe I should come by more often--”

“Mm,” Draco said, yawning, breath warm against Harry’s neck. “If you like.”

“Okay,” Harry said, and shook his head. “Okay, then.” He shifted, until he was half sprawled back against the dragon’s leg, and Draco followed him, holding onto his wrist, until he was lying next to Harry. Then he rolled and rested his cheek against Harry’s shoulder again, and Harry closed his eyes. He hadn’t slept yet tonight. It was cold in the barn, but Malfoy was warm, half-resting on him.

“Are you going back to sleep?” Harry mumbled, shy, and Draco made a quiet, agreeable noise. Something like gravity sunk into Harry’s chest, inevitable and aching. He turned his head; he opened his eyes. Malfoy made a tiny noise and shifted up, and their mouths brushed, light and cool with the dark valley quiet outside.

Harry’s breath came short, and Draco mumbled something he couldn’t catch, patted clumsily at Harry’s chest.

“Sleep,” he said, “it’s still dark out.”

“Yeah,” Harry said. After a moment he brought his arm up around Draco’s shoulders, holding him there. “Okay.”

-

Draco woke him up a couple of hours later, the sun climbing slowly. He thwacked at Harry’s arm. They’d slipped off the dragon in the night; Harry was lying on cold stone and hay.

“Potter,” Draco said. “Potter, wake up.”

“Mrgh. Ow.”

“Potter,” Draco said. “I have to go to work. You can’t stay here, my parents are about.”

Harry blinked up at him. “Okay,” he said, and Draco stared down at him for a moment, expression unreadable, then nodded and walked away.

-

When he got home, Hermione was waiting for him, disapproving on the couch. “Oh, Harry,” she said.

“What,” he said, panicked. “What!”

“McGonagall wrote to me,” she said, and Harry let out a breath, turned and rolled his eyes. “Don’t you think you should reconsider? At least talk to her!”

“I really think she’s making too big a deal out of it,” Harry said. “Don’t you start now, too.”

“Seriously, ‘Mione,” Ron said from the other couch, where he was sprawled out and playing an elaborate game of peekaboo with Neville’s new toad. “If Harry doesn’t want to go, I think he’s earned that.”

“It’s not about whether you have to or not,” Hermione said. “I just think you should. It’s important to mark stuff like this.”

“Hermione, I remember the war is over every day,” Harry said impatiently. He was distracted, and not in the mood for the fight. He kept remembering Malfoy’s hair falling in his eyes. “I don’t need a special day to do it.”

“That’s not what this is,” Hermione said. “Besides, you haven’t been back to Hogwarts properly in months - the repairs are going really well, don’t you want to come and have a look?”

“Only thing, mate,” Ron said, “I reckon it’d mean a lot to people if you were there. Like, I reckon Mum’d love it and all. Not that you have to for her sake, or anyone’s sake,” he added hastily. “You don’t owe anyone anything. But it’d probably be nice.”

“I’ve had enough of being nice to everyone for a while, thanks,” Harry said shortly.

“Harry,” Hermione started, and Harry said,

“Actually, I slept really badly, so I’m just gonna--”

“All right, mate,” Ron said, overly comfortable, and Harry was all too aware of the exasperated noise Hermione made when she turned to Ron as he left the room, of Ron’s low murmur. He went upstairs, looking for Ginny, but she was back at the Burrow. In the end he went to bed on his own, in the little bed up in the top attic where no one ever slept because it was too cold, and lay grumpily until he drifted into uncomfortable sleep. When he woke up Grimmauld Place had showered little bits of plaster onto his pillow, into his hair.

-

It wasn’t weird and he wasn’t going to do anything differently. He was busy for two days then sent an owl, asking doing anything tomorrow? and got Draco’s reply, brief as ever: no, come after midday.

When he arrived, Draco was leaning against the barn, looking up to where Monster was looping lazy circles in the sky. He watched Harry come down the hill, face blank, then said, “It’s hot - I was going to take her to the lake again, if you want to come.”

Harry raised his eyebrows. “Are you and Monster going to wrestle again?”

Draco rolled his eyes. “Come on.”

Harry started off with Draco by his side. He said, “Will she come?”

“Yeah,” Draco said. “She keeps an eye on me, normally. Yesterday she tried to follow me to work.”

“What?” Harry turned, grinning. “You’re making that up.”

Draco shook his head, disdainful and amused at once. “I had to talk at her for like - half an hour to try and convince her to go back. I was so late.”

“Do you think she can understand you?”

Draco shrugged. “She can understand enough.”

Harry nodded, and looked up. She was following them, falling behind and then sweeping ahead, a deep shadow that fell over them. Harry took an awkward step, jumping over a rock, and his shoulder bumped against Malfoy’s. They leaned in together, and Malfoy’s hand went up, fingers brushing lightly against Harry’s elbow before he stepped away quickly. They exchanged a brief glance. Malfoy’s eyes were wide.

Harry swallowed hard and said, “You know what the date is this weekend?”

“Yes,” Draco said. His hands were in his pockets, but he’d shoved the sleeve on his right arm up so it hung just above his elbow, and Harry could see a few distracting freckles. Nothing like Ron or Ginny: just a handful, scattered delicately down pale skin, and then Malfoy’s bony wrist. “One year anniversary of the end of the war.”

Harry smiled grimly. “Will you be celebrating?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” Draco said. “Maybe my father will throw one of his raving fits. Or maybe he’ll just sit and mumble to himself in the corner of the room. Either way I’m sure it’ll be a festive air.”

“Is he--”

“Crazy?” Draco shrugged. “I don’t know. I mean, yes, almost certainly, but the Dark Lord and his entourage lived in my house for a year, my bar has gone up.”

“Oh, of course,” Harry said, and laughed sort of wildly. He shoved at Draco, reckless and wanting to get his hands on him, and Draco turned and shoved him back, eyes bright, but when Harry went at him again Draco burst into a run.

They raced like that to the lake, Harry’s feet pounding on the ground, heart hammering in his chest, breathless and hot and happy. Every now and then he caught at the back of Draco’s shirt, twisting it around, yanking him back; Draco shoved his palm into Harry’s face, grabbed at his hair, pulled, and they both panted and nearly tripped before one or the other broke free and started running again.

Draco beat Harry to the lake, but only just, and only because he’d engaged in a particularly Slytherin method of tripping Harry up when Harry was about to pull ahead. “Cheat,” Harry bellowed, but Draco threw himself on the ground with a triumphant cry, breathing hard, and Harry collapsed down on the hot grass too, head near Draco’s feet. He wasn’t sure he trusted himself to lie any closer just now.

He did reach, though, and curl his fingers around Draco’s ankle. Draco kicked his foot up, just once, then lay still. Harry stroked at Draco’s ankle bone. When he looked up, Draco was staring down at him, gaze hot and soft.

But, Harry thought: Draco had been on his own for a long time out here, with only his parents and a Muggle shopkeeper for company. And Harry could sleep with Seamus Finnegan, and his ex-girlfriend and her ex-boyfriend, and maybe even Luna Lovegood, but there were lines to be drawn and things to be sure of. He closed his eyes and let his fingers twitch against Draco’s warm, bony skin, and listened to the crash of Monster diving into the lake.

“McGonagall wants me to go to a memorial service,” he said.

“At Hogwarts?” Draco said, and he said Hogwarts not in the way he had when he’d been at school, the way Harry remembered, with disdain and casual assurance and like it could be compared to Durmstrang and come up lacking. He said it the way Harry had, when Harry was twelve.

“Yeah,” Harry said. “For the - one year since the battle, you know.”

“Yes,” Draco said. “Will you go?”

“I don’t know,” Harry said. “No. I don’t want to. Everyone else is going, but -- would you go?”

“I--”

“I’m not inviting you,” Harry said. His fingers twitched against Draco’s skin. “I’m just saying, like, if you could come, if you weren’t - on the wrong side or even if no one would care, would you want to go?”

“I don’t know,” Draco said. “Probably not. Maybe.”

“Ah, thanks,” Harry said. “That’s all clear. Excellent advice.”

“I wouldn’t go if I was you,” Draco said. “There. Is that advice clear enough?”

Harry rolled onto his stomach, propped himself up on one elbow. “Why?”

“Because,” Draco drawled, eyes closed, “you just said you didn’t want to. Which means that whatever reason you’re still considering going is undoubtedly some insufferably boring Gryffindor one, and I don’t have to hear it to tell you that it’s stupid.”

Harry laughed. “Ah, well, that’s all sorted, then,” he said. “Thanks.” After a moment, he said, “I really could get you in, if you wanted.”

“To the memorial?”

“Yes,” Harry said. “I - you know I have that Invisibility Cloak.”

“I don’t want to,” Draco said. “I don’t - it’s just a day.”

“Yes,” Harry said, immediate and relieved. “Yes.”

“Every day is terrible,” Draco continued. “I don’t get why we have to pretend that one is any better or worse, when it’s just the same as all the ones before it, and all the ones after it.”

Harry paused. “Well, that was a bit more depressing than my reasoning.”

“Oh, yeah?” Draco was smiling, eyes still closed. “What’s your reasoning?”

“I’m over it,” Harry told him. “It’s done. Things are better now. I - I miss -- but it’s still better now.”

“Typical Gryffindor,” Draco said, and opened his eyes. Harry wasn’t sure how, but he’d sat up at some point, and his hand was on Draco’s knee, and he was leaning over him. Draco looked at him, and the afternoon was very hot and very still.

“Come for a swim with me,” Harry demanded, and Draco shook his head slowly. Harry let out a breath and said, “I want to go flying or something.”

“Did you bring your broom?” Draco asked, as if that was a perfectly natural thing for Harry to demand.

“No,” Harry said. “I suppose I could nip back and get it - you’ve got a broom, haven’t you? Where did you get it?”

Draco gave him an odd look. “You gave it to me.”

“What? I--” Harry remembered, suddenly: flames and ash and Malfoy’s grip on his waist. His cheeks felt hot. “Oh. Yeah. You kept that?”

“I think I half thought I might fly away on it,” Draco said, “but I had to find Mum and Dad. So I just hung onto it.”

“Right,” Harry said. “Well, I s’pose I could go back quickly -- oh, wait. Draco. Have you - have you ever tried--”

Draco sat up so fast they nearly bumped foreheads. He was grinning, boyish and strange on his face. “No. We couldn’t.”

“I have,” Harry argued. “And you sleep on her - she’s basically always trying to cuddle you, what about when you’re mucking about in the lake - I bet she’d let us--”

“Harry,” Draco started, shaking his head, and Harry reached out, grabbed Draco’s wrist.

“I want it,” he said.

-

He’d forgotten: it wasn’t anything like flying a broom.

Monster had been fine about letting Draco climb on her, had barely seemed to notice, but when Harry tried to follow she snarled and roared until Draco got off, stood in front of her stroking her jaw and soothing her, murmuring in his warm, low voice. Harry climbed up her tail and she let him as long as Draco stayed in front of her chatting, eye rolling back in her head suspiciously but happy enough, and then he stretched out his hand and Draco took it, vaulted up lightly, reaching out to pat Monster’s head and say, “Sorry, sweetheart, it’s that oaf, he’s too giant and cumbersome, I know--”

“You’re taller than me,” Harry had said, frustrated, and Draco smirked at him.

“Nice you’re admitting it,” he said, shoving at Harry’s head, and Harry had been ready to launch into a new scuffle but then Draco palmed almost idly over the tufty little horns on Monster’s head and said, “Come on, then, darling,” and she heaved herself up into the sky.

Harry spent the first five minutes gasping, clutching at Monster and Draco both, both of them trying to hold on. It was cold, this high up, and the dragon moved in low, heavy swoops, jagged through the air. Harry turned to Draco, and shouted over the wind, “Have you done this before?”

Draco shook his head, eyes wide, cheeks pink. “I never thought--”

“You’ve been wasting so much time,” Harry yelled, and Draco laughed, clutching onto his shoulder. Harry looked at Draco’s hair, wind-wrecked, his flushed cheeks, and thought suddenly that this had been a terrible idea, a truly awful one. He reached over and palmed at Draco’s hair, and Draco leaned into his hand, eyes closing.

Harry swallowed hard. He said it out loud, and Draco yelled, “What?” over the wind.

Harry tried again, shouting. “I’m gonna go home!”

Draco met his eyes, hesitated, then nodded. He touched Monster’s horn again, said, “Come on, you big brute, down you go,” and pushed very lightly. She moved anyway, like a dream.

When they landed, Harry’s legs felt a little wobbly as he slid off. They stood and looked at each other for a moment.

“I’m - I just think I should go,” Harry said. It was warm down here, but he couldn’t feel it anymore.

“Yes,” Draco said. He made a distracted attempt at a sneer. “Who wants you here, anyway? Go on.”

“All right,” Harry said, and reached out, but Malfoy said,

“Don’t.”

“Right,” Harry said. He grinned, a little crookedly. “This is weird. And dumb.”

“You’re dumb,” Draco said.

“Right,” Harry repeated. “Okay. I guess I’ll - I’ll see you around sometime.”

“Or not,” Draco said, already turning away.

“Or not,” Harry agreed.

-

He had a migraine building by the time he got home, white spots dancing in the corner of his eye. He grimaced, rubbing his forehead. Fucking Malfoy.

The first time he’d had a migraine, two months after the Battle of Hogwarts, he, Ron, and Hermione had panicked, been about ready to charge out and work out what the fuck was happening, before Fleur arrived in the floo, shoved Harry into a chair and murmured cool diagnostic spells, her wand at his temple.

“‘eadache potions,” she declared eventually. “Zey will help. And bed, ‘arry. Until you stop throwing up.”

They didn’t show up that often, but he could feel one coming on now and was almost grateful; a proper excuse to not have to go to the stupid memorial event. He went and lay in the - thankfully deserted - living room, head on the hard leather arm of a too fancy couch. He should replace it. Sirius had hated it. The curtains and rugs seemed to stir very slightly, sending up tiny malevolent clouds of dust.

Harry squeezed his eyes shut. His skin still felt battered from the wind up high. His hands were prickling.

“Harry?” Ginny’s footsteps paused in the doorway. “Is that you? Everything okay?”

“Yeah, fine,” Harry said, and sat up with an effort. “What are you doing?”

“Just got back,” Ginny said. “We were thinking about going to the pub, you coming?”

It wouldn’t help his head at all. Harry looked around the room, dark and smaller than it usually was, and said, “Yeah, yeah, I’m coming.”

Only the pub was miserable too. They went to one of the London bars, a wizarding one even though Harry preferred the Muggle ones, where no one stared and no one came up to shake his hand and especially no one cried. Neville, Seamus, and Susan formed a protective sort of guard blocking him from view and Ginny went up and got his drinks from the bar -- “Don’t worry, sugar, I’ve got it,” she said, with a bad American accent and a delighted grin -- and even so Harry was too aware of everyone’s eyes on him. An old woman came up to Neville with trembling hands and thanked him for his service, said she’d known his parents, which threw Neville into that horrible awkward mood where gloom and pride banged up against each other, and Harry spent the whole time twitching and getting progressively drunker and more pissed off.

He’d never gotten drunk with Draco: he wondered what Malfoy would be like, what kind of drunk he would be. He wanted, suddenly, to go home and get a couple of bottles of the Irish beer Seamus ordered in bulk and head back to Wales. It would be a bad idea. He was already drunk, and he was already having trouble concentrating on conversation, between the low throb in the corner of his head and the way he kept thinking about Malfoy’s mouth, never a mouth that had inspired much thought in him before, and certainly not anything he wanted to examine details of now. He wasn’t thinking anything particularly interesting, he just couldn’t turn his mind away, the constant image of Malfoy’s mouth quirking up slightly, of his sleepy lips parted. It was like a strange, boring tic of his mind, and every time he tried to join in conversation his brain clicked back to it: yes, yes, interesting stuff, but have you considered Malfoy’s mouth?

Maybe, with a bit of luck, Draco would be an angry drunk, a boisterous drunk, and Harry would just get punched. But it was probably best not to test it.

“Harry,” Ginny said, hand on his elbow, and Harry looked over at her. She sighed. “What’s up with you?”

“Nothing,” he said. “Sorry.”

“Hmm,” she said, and, “Switch places with me,” and then Harry got to sit in the corner of the booth, head resting against wood, and Ginny got to sit next to Dean, so Harry supposed they both won.

They went home at midnight. Harry crawled into bed with Luna and Seamus and his head exploded, sharp searing pain that left him pressing his face into the pillow to muffle his gasps. After a while he got up to go to the bathroom and throw up. The bathroom was cold, and he sat there on the floor, in front of the toilet, cheek pressed to cool tiles.

When he could stand he went and found parchment in the kitchen, wrote a note to Draco that said, you sure you don’t want to go to the memorial? We really could sort it out. No one would need to know, and picked the first owl he saw to send it. He’d never gotten around to replacing Hedwig. He lived with enough people now that there was usually at least one or two owls free for him to borrow.

It was mid-morning by the time the owl got back, and everyone was at breakfast around him, fighting over the last of the eggs, bacon sizzling on the stove. The stove had sent fat flying more energetically than usual, Grimmauld Place in a bad mood with the repeated thud of branches against windows and Walburga howling in the hall. Someone handed him a cup of tea and Harry took it without thinking. His head throbbed dull and constant.

Harry’s own letter, Draco Malfoy printed across the front in his crooked capitals. He wasn’t sure if anyone noticed. Ginny gave him a questioning look, but when Harry shrugged she didn’t press, just went back to her argument with Neville about whether or not using magic to dry dishes was efficient, considering how many of them they tended to break.

Underneath Harry’s scrawl, Draco had written: Very sure. Go to sleep, Potter.

Harry folded the letter up in his pocket, went up to the attic, and tried.

-

His dreams were fragmented, hot spikes of light. At one point he lay awake, he thought, white pulsing so that it was all he could see, head so painful it didn’t even feel like pain anymore, and more than anything else it was like being back at King’s Cross Station: but he didn’t want to see Dumbledore, not this time. When darkness and the dim room crept back into his vision, he lay panting, grateful and exhausted.

Hermione appeared a little while after that, cool hands and a headache potion. He drank it down, but it didn’t do much at this point, the migraine burrowing down into him. It was nearly done, he thought. Just another night to get through.

“Come downstairs,” Hermione said, low and anxious. “Come sleep with me and Ron, we can keep an eye on you--”

Harry shook his head. He was sweating, fevered, he wanted to stay up in the cool attic. He wanted to be somewhere else: walls crumbling, roof only half there, a dragon standing guard. He closed his eyes, and after a while Hermione must have left, and then Harry dreamed of Cedric dying the way he hadn’t in years. In his dream, he could see for the first time how young Cedric had been, nearly two years younger than Harry was now. Cedric died curious and investigative, like a boy on a treasure hunt and Harry yelled the house down, but Grimmauld Place was deep and dark in the night, and the house blanketed the sound, and kept him on his own.

He woke up on the morning of May 2nd with most of the migraine gone: the pain, at any rate. He was left with the odd, exhausted trembly feeling, the way light seemed both too bright and unstable, faintly wavy.

He went downstairs anyway. People were making breakfast, but the kitchen was already half-empty: Neville was gone to his grandmother’s, to accompany her to Hogwarts; Ron and Ginny were already at the Burrow. Hannah and Susan were gone, too, probably back to their families. Dean and Seamus were sitting together for the first time in a while, Dean yawning while Seamus talked quietly and quickly in his ear; he looked up and smiled at Harry when Harry came in, but didn’t make a move towards him. Lavender was reading a long letter, leaning up against the sink. She gave Harry a distracted nod.

Harry got some toast and scraped a little butter on it before he went to sit with Hermione and Luna.

Hermione pushed a glass of water across the table to him. “You should stay hydrated,” she said. “How’s your head?”

“Better,” Harry said.

Hermione looked at him, chin resting on her fist. “You could still come today, you know,” she said. “I think it’ll be okay. Probably even nice, in some ways. You wouldn’t have to make a speech if you didn’t want to.”

Harry shook his head.

“Harry’s already won the war,” Luna said, clear voice lilting. “He doesn’t need to come talk about it if he doesn’t want to.”

“Thanks, Luna,” Harry said.

Hermione eyed him up, then nodded. “I’m getting dressed at the Burrow,” she said. “I think Ginny’s meant to be doing my hair.” She looked dubious. “What are you going to do all day?”

“Not much,” Harry said. “Sleep a bit more, maybe. Make Kreacher make me some food.” He offered up a grin, but Hermione mostly just looked worried.

“Okay,” she said, “well, even if you don’t want to come to the formal ceremony, come afterward. I think everyone’s going to the Three Broomsticks.”

 

“All right,” Harry said, lying and peaceable. “I’ll see you there, then.”

Hermione rolled her eyes. “All right, Harry,” she said, bending to kiss him on the cheek. “I’ll see you then.”

Harry reached up and grabbed her hand as she went to walk away, squeezed it for a moment. Hermione looked back at him, eyes soft.

“Good year,” he said, and Hermione made a rough noise and flung her arms around him.

“Harry,” she said, “please come. I don’t want to do this without you.”

“I -- really, really don’t want to, ‘Mione,” Harry said, vaguely aware of Luna and Seamus watching him. “Sorry. But it’ll be fine, I’ll see you later.”

“Yes,” Hermione said. “Oh, you’re such a boy. Okay, fine. Have a nice day. Feel better.”

“I feel great,” Harry told her seriously, and she gave him a watery laugh and hurried away to the Floo.

The house emptied out pretty fast after that. Harry was glad. No one looked quite like the people Harry had gotten used to over the last year: Seamus and Dean were serious, and looked at Harry with something old, like they didn’t get drunk and mess about, something younger and sharper, their cheekbones showing, their gazes hungry the way they’d been when Harry had pushed through that portrait. Lavender was quiet again, leaning in shadows, her scars somehow more vivid. Even Luna had been more alert than she had in months, her eyes quick and sure, her movements calculated. Harry didn’t want to see any of it. The war was over. He was done with it. He was glad they left, if they weren’t going to be done with it too.

Only the house seemed very big and empty after that. The day refused to brighten into May sunshine; it stayed gloomy and dark, and Harry poked around in the garden for a bit and then just wandered up and down the halls. The house elf heads leered down at him, frozen and cruel. The portraits were silent and watchful. Harry couldn’t remember, just then, why they stayed in this house. Sometimes the weird side effects of living in a house that hated them felt funny, like pranks, but not today.

According to McGonagall, the ceremony was going to be quiet and lowkey: a speech from Kingsley, a speech from her. A representative of the students - she’d offered it to him, but he’d declined hastily; he suspected she’d have Hermione talk instead, or maybe Neville. There would be a minute’s silence, or maybe more, or maybe less. They would read the names. There were some photos, McGonagall had said, not of the battle but of the days and months before, photos that captured the bravery and fear that had clouded Hogwarts in that year. Most of them were by Colin Creevey.

Harry ended up outside Sirius’s room without knowing how. He hadn’t been inside for months. He thought Dean might sleep in there - maybe the Hufflepuff girls sometimes, too. He drifted away without touching the door.

As dark fell, he found himself standing on the back porch. Grimmauld Place had a large garden, a big open space and the orchard, space for Quidditch, space for stuffy Pureblood garden parties. Sirius had told him. As much as he liked anything at Grimmauld Place, he liked the garden.

But tonight it wasn’t as open as he remembered. The trees were crowding in. Clouds rolled overhead. Light kept flashing in the corners of Harry’s vision; he wasn’t sure if it was the remainders of his migraine or lightning. The trees were closer and closer. Harry’s breathing came loud and harsh, loud as the thunder he heard for the first time, thunder in the distance, something dreadful and inevitable about it. Only a few days ago he’d been at the lake in Wales, basking in heat, sweltering with it, and now Harry was shuddering with cold and having trouble catching his breath.

It looked like the forest: it was the Forbidden Forest, come back for him.

Harry reeled around, gasping, breath coming painful in a dry mouth. He half-ran through the house, stumbling, lurching against corridors that seemed too small and turned around, like the whole house was trying to force him back around, back out, back into the garden, into the trees, where Harry would walk like he knew the way. He didn’t want to go again. He tumbled out the front door of Grimmauld Place and fell onto the street heavily, tearing his trousers, skinning his knee. Blood prickled up to the surface and Harry drew in a terrible breath and Apparated.

The storm that had been threatening in London descended in Wales as he appeared on the top of the hill. Thunder boomed, masking the noise of his Apparition, and the skies opened up. Harry gasped for a moment, the cold shock of rain pressing against him. It hadn’t rained in the Battle. Or - he didn’t remember, now. He couldn’t remember. Maybe it had.

He stumbled down the hill. He wondered if Draco was with Monster, soothing her in the storm, but he didn’t get to the barn. There was light in the window of the Malfoys’ little house. Harry tripped and caught himself on the windowsill.

Inside, Narcissa Malfoy looked back at him, her eyes calm and serious, as though she’d been expecting him. Harry stood frozen and stared back at her. He’d never looked her full in the face this long before. The last time they’d been this close, his eyes had been shut. He remembered, more than anything, her voice, low in his ear, and the faint touch of her hair against his cheek, the first thing he’d felt after he died.

Narcissa Malfoy tilted her head to the side. She turned away, and walked out of the room. Harry let out a shuddering, compulsive gasp, his fingers twitching around the windowsill. Then the little door opened. Harry’s heart was hammering against his chest, bruising him. He couldn’t catch his breath properly.

“Potter?” Draco said. “Is this you?”

Harry’s fingers twitched on the windowsill again, and Draco came forward and put his hand over Harry’s. He uncurled Harry’s fingers carefully and lifted Harry’s hand away, holding it between both of his. Harry looked up, met Draco’s eyes, blind and thoughtless.

“You’re freezing,” Draco said. He looked like a small, shocked child. “The storm, is it you?”

“I don’t know,” Harry said.

“You’re freezing,” Draco repeated, and reached for Harry’s other hand, but Harry evaded his grasp, reached out for a handful of Draco’s thin sweater instead and dragged him in.

Their mouths hit awkwardly, tooth and blood and rain.

Draco made an odd sound, half a gasp, just audible under the pounding rain. Harry grabbed at him, frustrated, and this time Draco moved just right, slipped in against Harry and let Harry kiss him properly, Draco’s mouth sweet and slick under his, Draco’s chest pressed tight against him. Harry stumbled a few steps and held Draco up against the wooden slats of the hut, and Draco wound his arms around Harry’s shoulders, kissed him fiercely.

The rain thundered down around them. Draco was shivering but Harry felt warmth for the first time all day, just the touch of it with Draco’s tentative hand against the back of his neck. Harry wanted to tell him that there was no need for it, that Draco could touch him wherever he wanted, but he didn’t want to talk and he didn’t want to leave off kissing Draco, gasping bruising kisses that had both of them shuddering and pushing their faces awkwardly close, clumsy and rough, not interested in kissing well or kindly. He tried to show Draco instead, and he did it by claiming Draco’s skin as his, shoving his hands up underneath Draco’s shirt, grabbing at his narrow waist, sliding up his spine. He hooked his hands over Draco’s shoulder blades and pulled Draco in tight against him, as if he could somehow subsume Draco that way.

Draco felt fragile and cold under his hands, but he tilted his head back and moaned, hands scrabbling at Harry’s back. Harry bit at Draco’s jawline, that sweet sharp line, let his mouth trail down, hot on Draco’s throat. He bit at Draco, desperate, not sure what he wanted except to climb out of his skin and into Draco’s.

“I - I--” Draco was saying, stuttering, and Harry raised his head, took off his glasses, they were only getting in the way. He kissed Draco again. There was no need for talking. He liked this valley better than Grimmauld Place but there were still trees, too many trees, and wild things about, and Narcissa Malfoy just within, and it was better if Harry could rub up close against Draco and just think about that instead.

Potter,” Draco moaned, and it was pleasure and complaint at once.

“What,” Harry managed, slightly surprised at the sound of his own voice, rough and cracking. He hadn’t spoken since this morning, but it felt like he hadn’t spoken in years.

“I - it’s pouring, you’re freezing,” Draco said, “come with me--”

“I’m not, I’m not going inside--”

“No, the barn,” Draco said, a little desperately, like this much conversation was an effort, and Harry settled for that, his glasses still in one hand, the other arm wrapped tight around Draco. He let Draco lead the way, stumbling backwards while Harry kissed him vaguely in the direction of the barn, and Draco Malfoy’s mouth was all he could think about: the hot curve of it, the way it felt pressed against him, hot open-mouthed kisses that left Harry panting. He hadn’t kissed anyone like this in a long while. He wasn’t sure he liked it, but like and dislike seemed very small things just then.

They got into the barn, where Monster was growling to herself, that distressed purr. Draco flicked on a torch, the light spilling across hay and stone. He said, distracted, between kisses, “Sweetheart, it’s all right, just a storm -- sweetheart, sweetheart,” and his hands were on Harry’s face, framing him, and this close without Harry’s glasses, Draco was just a pretty, intent blur.

Harry swallowed. He put his glasses back on. Draco stared back at him, rumpled and out of breath. They were still touching, Draco’s fingers curled against his chin, the other hand falling down to grab hold of Harry’s collar, Harry’s hand up under Draco’s shirt, still stroking the line of his back. Draco was very thin. Harry was only properly realising it now, with Draco this close to grab and have.

“Over - over here,” Harry said, and shoved Draco in the direction of a tower of hay bales, a little enclosed space between them and the wall.

“I - what?” Draco sounded dazed, like he’d been hit by something.

“I’m not having sex with you in front of your dragon,” Harry said, and tumbled to the ground, and pulled Draco down on top of him.

Draco sat in his lap, straddling him. “Is that what’s happening?”

Harry craned his head up and Draco leaned down and kissed him again, arms slung over Harry’s shoulder, hands resting over the knob at the top of Harry’s spine. Harry wrapped his arms around Draco’s waist, pulling him in tighter, grinding up against him, and Draco gasped, whined into his mouth.

“Harry,” Draco said, and then again, and again, muffled against his mouth, and at first Harry didn’t recognise his own name in Draco’s voice. He pulled back, stared blearily up at him, and Draco said, “You’re - what’s happened? Is the storm you?”

“Why do you keep saying that?” Harry said.

“It only showed up when you did,” Draco told him. “It was warm before then.”

“Sorry,” Harry said, voice rough.

“Is this because of - what day it is--”

“No,” Harry ground out, and Draco shoved him down against the ground and let him stop talking again, for the most part, for which Harry was grateful.

At one point, voice rough, lying between Harry’s spread legs, Draco said, “There’s - there’s a spell you’re meant to but I don’t, I don’t know it--”

“I do,” Harry said, and Draco kissed him again. Harry hadn’t meant to do this, he remembered very clearly thinking that he didn’t want to do it, that it was stupid, but he was doing it and Malfoy didn’t want to stop kissing him, either. Then Draco was shoving into him and Harry yelled aloud, Malfoy’s thin shirt hanging between them, both of them barely half-undressed. Draco’s eyes were huge and shocked, and Harry twisted, bucked, until Draco pressed his face against Harry’s neck and fucked him rough and halting, Harry’s arms clasped around him.

The storm stopped sometime in there, Harry didn’t know. When it was over and Draco was panting on top of him, face buried against Harry’s shoulder, Harry listened for the rain and realised it was gone, that all he could hear was Monster snoring.

Draco rolled off him, lay next to him, their shoulders pressed together. Harry was shivering a little. It was still cold, and the clothes left on him were damp from the rain. Belatedly, he pulled up his trousers. Draco made a small sound, embarrassment or laughter, Harry couldn’t tell.

He’d thought, a moment ago, that he could sleep like this, but he was awake now, staring up through the roof at the stars just starting to be visible through clearing clouds.

“Sorry,” he said eventually. “About the storm.”

Draco said faintly, “I’m all - my clothes are all wet.”

“Yeah,” Harry said.

“It’s okay,” Draco said. He licked his lips. “I think Monster’s getting better at handling them. Storms.”

Harry turned his head, looked at Draco, and Draco peered back at him, still looking somewhat dumbstruck.

“Come back to London with me,” Harry said.

Draco licked his lips.

“Please,” Harry said. “Draco.”

“I hate it when you call me that,” Draco murmured. “It’s so condescending.”

“It’s your name.”

“I don’t think you’ve realised how dispiriting it is to have your archenemy get sick of you and realise you’re not worth hating anymore. I’m not done hating you, Potter.”

Harry leaned over, kissed Draco again, hand on Draco’s cheek. “Come to London with me.”

“For how long?”

“A little while,” Harry said. “A week. Stay a week and if it’s awful you can leave.”

“And if I get arrested?”

“I won’t let you get arrested,” Harry said.

Draco said, “This isn’t going to be fun for me at all, you know.”

“I know,” Harry said. “But you owe me. And I want you to come back and fuck me when we’re not in a barn.”

Draco let out a shocked, breathless laugh.

“There’s one thing,” he said. “I can’t leave Monster alone for a week.”

Harry pushed himself up on his elbows. He felt as if he was recovering from a long, strange illness. He grinned.

-

It was cold on dragonback in the middle of the night, even with the jumper Draco got for him -- too tight, straining across his shoulders -- and they couldn’t really talk above the roar of the wind, so Harry kept his arm circled tight round Draco’s waist. Draco looked worn out and exhausted in the dark, and Harry was starting to feel exhaustion roll in, the lack of proper sleep in days and days catching up with him.

The night was very clear, as though the storm had never been there. The lights of cities below seemed like toys, or like something Harry was looking at through many fathoms of water.

Flying over London at night was difficult, with Monster restless and clearly aware of civilisation underneath her, and Draco tense and frightened. It took Harry a while to work out how best to get to Grimmauld Place from the air, and for a while he wasn’t sure how the spell would work, but as they zoomed down he pointed his wand and thought of home and it just sort of exploded into being, the same as always, only this time from a bird’s eye view. Draco’s grasp on his wrist was tight, almost painful. They landed with an hour or so left before dawn. Monster crushed a few trees. Harry was glad.

A dragon, secreted into London with no one the wiser. Harry breathed in the cool air. The house looked warm and still, just like any other house.

Draco looked at him, solemn and nervous in the dim light.

“Come on,” Harry said.

They slipped in quietly through the back door and into the kitchen. Harry scribbled a note that said: Hope all good. Don’t worry about the dragon in the backyard. Will explain tomorrow. Best not to approach tho, and turned around to see Draco looking around himself, eyes wide, taking everything in.

“This is Grimmauld Place,” Draco said, voice low.

“You know it?” Harry said, surprised.

Draco looked around like he couldn’t believe where he was, like he was expecting it to be snatched away from him. He said, so soft Harry could barely hear it, “I’ve been here before.”

“Come on,” Harry repeated.

He could hear the sound of music coming from the living room, faintly through a shut door. People would probably be awake, ready to talk, but Harry wasn’t interested. Somehow he reached out and Draco slipped his hand into Harry’s and it didn’t seem strange at all, just the extension of a long night. Harry led him through the dark halls and up through the levels of the house, up and up past Harry’s bedroom and Ron and Hermione’s and Sirius’s, up to the little attic room. It didn’t feel cold tonight: it felt remarkably cozy.

“Do you want something to sleep in?” Harry asked, but Draco shook his head, just took off his trousers and his jumper, and got under the covers. It was a small bed, though not quite single. Harry stripped down to his underwear and climbed in.

Draco yawned. Harry could hear the little click of his jaw cracking.

“Will Monster be all right?” Harry asked. His eyes were adjusting to the gloom. Draco made the room brighter, some trick of pale skin and blond hair. They lay sharing a pillow, facing each other, gaze held. Draco was tripping his fingers up and down Harry’s ribs almost absently. Harry doubted he’d realised he was doing it.

“For a while, yes,” Draco said. “We can take her on flights at night, keep her from getting too restless.”

Harry nodded. “Change of scenery will probably be good for her.”

After a moment, Draco said, hesitant, “Don’t take this as a sign that I care or anything, Potter.”

“Noted,” Harry said.

“Did something happen tonight?”

Harry kept his gaze level. “Nothing ever happens, remember? Nothing is ever better or worse. Isn’t that what you said?”

“Well,” Draco said. He dropped his hand and closed his eyes, pressing down into the pillow. After a moment, awkward, he rolled over. Harry reached out and pressed his hand against Draco’s back for a moment, warm through his shirt. “I’m glad you’re finally listening to someone sensible.”

Chapter Text

Harry woke slowly to the first sunlight in weeks slanting through the little room’s windows across the white sheets, and Malfoy nearly vibrating in the corner of the room.

He pushed up on one elbow, yawning and scruffing his hair. “Oh, you’re here.”

Draco looked outraged. “Did you forget? Wait, were you drunk?”

Harry rolled his eyes. “Yes. Very drunk. What are you doing?”

“Waiting for you to get up,” Draco said. “I want to - I need to check on Monster--”

“Oh,” Harry said. That was probably a good idea, now he thought about it. He got up and pulled on a t-shirt and sweatpants. “Why do you need me for that?”

Draco gave him a disdainful look. “I’m in a house full, I assume, of Gryffindors,” he said. “I’d rather not risk heading into the middle of them and telling them that you brought me here last night because you were having a breakdown and wanted a shag. Convincing as that story is.”

“I wouldn’t say a breakdown,” Harry said.

Potter,” Draco ground out, “my dragon--”

“Okay, right,” Harry said, “come on, then,” and he pushed past Draco, leading the way downstairs.

Monster had attracted quite an audience, albeit one who were standing firmly back. Luna and Lavender were holding hands, exchanging worried looks. Neville was standing with Seamus and Dean; Seamus looked beyond excited, and Dean was basically hanging onto the back of his shirt to keep him in place, but Neville was scowling, arms folded. Ginny was right in the back doorway, bouncing on her toes.

“Harry!” Ginny said, whirling around as he came down the stairs. “There you are!”

“And Malfoy,” Neville said, face cold and hard. “I thought something like this might have happened.”

“Excuse me,” Draco said brusquely, and shoved past the group of them, hurrying outside. Harry followed slowly, leaning in the doorway with Ginny. Monster had been swinging her tail in a nasty way, and there were several scorch marks over the grass, but when Draco came across the grass in bare feet, shirt too big and slipping to reveal one pale shoulder, she calmed down and laid her head down, let Draco grab at her snout and start talking to her, low and intent.

“Is that why you weren’t at the memorial yesterday, Harry?” Neville asked. “Busy hanging out with a Death Eater?”

“Amongst other things,” Harry said.

Ginny said, low and curious, “Is that a hickey on Draco Malfoy’s shoulder?”

He looked at her. Ginny’s lips quirked; she shrugged.

“Wicked dragon, anyway,” she said.

“She’s pretty cool,” Harry agreed.

“She seemed a bit fretful,” Luna said from behind him. Harry turned, and Luna pressed a mug of tea into his hands.

“Thanks,” he said, surprised.

“She looks better now, though,” Luna continued. “She seems to like Draco a lot.”

Harry looked back to the dragon. Draco was still stubbornly ignoring his audience, even though Monster was considerably calmed.

“Yeah,” Harry said. “I think they imprinted on each other.”

“Potter,” Draco called imperiously, and Harry looked back to him. “We need to get her some food.”

Harry raised his cup, took a sip. “All right,” he said.

-

Draco in Grimmauld Place was a strange beast. He stuck close to Harry without wanting to admit it, ordering him about and then trailing after him, glaring like a cornered animal. After they’d organised Monster’s breakfast - several cartons of mince, dumped into a bucket, while Ginny said happily, “Gross,” and hung over Harry’s shoulder to look - Draco said, “Well, now I’m hungry,” and somehow Harry ended up in charge of frying up eggs and bacon for everyone who hadn’t eaten already.

He would have made Kreacher do it, but Kreacher, to everyone’s disgust, had caught sight of Draco and burst into tears. “Mr Malfoy has returned! So handsome,” he’d croaked, and Harry had hastily banished him before Neville could kill him.

Malfoy sat perched on the counter next to the stovetop, trying to look regal. Mostly he looked a little rabbitty, and like he was seconds away from throwing a curse.

“So you came back with Harry last night, did you?” Neville asked, glaring. “Snuck in while everyone was still out?”

“Gosh, what a keen observer you are, Longbottom,” Draco said brightly. “Tell me some more things about times of day. I’m in the kitchen now, so - Draco came into the kitchen in--” He paused, eyes wide, waiting.

“Weren’t at the memorial yesterday, I noticed,” Neville said. “Scared to come back? Or just don’t give a toss about the fact that your lot murdered some of the best witches and wizards we had?”

Draco swallowed, throat clicking dryly. “‘The morning’ was the answer I was looking for,” he murmured, “but nice try. Times of day are hard. I’m sure you’ll get it someday soon.”

Neville snorted, turning aside. “Harry, I’m writing to Kingsley.”

“No, you’re not,” Harry said, reaching for a plate. “Here, have some bacon.”

“Potter,” Draco said, “I would like some bacon too.” Harry turned in time to catch him making a nasty face at Neville.

“Would you,” Harry said, annoyed, but Draco looked up and met Harry’s gaze, and he was all sharp and bright with dislike, and Harry felt himself tense. He was conscious suddenly of the other people in the room: of Ginny and Luna conversing in low voices at the table, of Dean looking torn between glaring at Draco and glaring at The Daily Prophet, of Neville scowling next to him. He licked his lips, and Draco’s gaze dropped abruptly to his mouth.

Voice low, Draco said, “Yes.” Harry shook his head, fumbled clumsily for a plate and scooped a helping of bacon and eggs onto it.

“Bread on the table,” he said, handing the plate over without looking properly at Draco, and he watched out of the corner of his eye as Draco almost tripped on the way to the table. Neville snorted. Ginny laughed.

Harry brought his own breakfast round to sit with Ginny and Luna, a bit of space between him and Draco. Draco was plowing into his breakfast like he hadn’t eaten in a week, and Harry was struck suddenly by the similarity between Draco and Monster. He almost laughed, except he’d been struck by the sight of Malfoy’s ankle under the table, Malfoy’s trousers too short when he sat down. Harry regretted sitting this far away. There was no easy way to discreetly knock his foot against Malfoy’s.

“So, Malfoy,” Ginny said, in a friendly, mean sort of way, “what’ve you been up to the last year?”

Draco looked wary. “Oh,” he said, “this and that. What about you?”

“Chasing leftover Death Eaters,” Ginny said, and grinned at him, baring her teeth.

“Fun,” Draco said, a very slight waver in his voice.

“Isn’t it,” Dean said cheerfully, opposite Ginny. “We’re pretty good at it.”

“Well,” Draco said, with some attempt at bravado, “you haven’t caught me.”

“Haven’t we, though?” Ginny said, and winked at him.

Draco stared at his plate and hissed out a breath through his teeth. “Potter said,” he began darkly, and Harry sighed.

“Yes, I did,” he said. “Everyone shut up. Draco, shut up.”

“Why me especially?” Draco said, outraged. “I didn’t even--”

“Shh, run and hide behind Harry again,” Neville said.

Neville,” Harry said, laughing a bit despite himself. The whole morning was too bizarre. He wanted Draco gone, to be able to just have a normal breakfast with his friends. Except he didn’t really want that at all, if he was honest; he wanted them gone, he wanted to haul Draco to his feet and pull him out of the room without it being commented on. He didn’t like this, the weird hunger gnawing away at his chest. Malfoy wasn’t that good a lay.

Draco kept looking at Dean, too, in a strange, greedy way. Harry flicked a glance between them, scowling, and Draco looked over at him, clearly baffled. Harry frowned, turned back to his breakfast.

“Ginny, Mum wants to see you,” Ron said, walking into the kitchen. “Oh, hiya Harry, I - oh.”

“What?” Hermione said, following him. “Harry, did you know that there’s a tree that’s fallen down over the street--”

She stopped, trailing off, staring at Malfoy in silence.

“Oh, that was us,” Harry said, grimacing. “The tree. I forgot. Sorry.”

Draco turned to him, unsure look falling away as his attention zeroed in on Harry. “We didn’t knock over a tree, did we?”

“I reckon she kicked it,” Harry told him, “on her way down--”

“Oh, fuck, yeah, I heard that,” Draco said, swinging one leg over the bench so he was facing Harry. “I thought it might have been her landing - it all got a bit muddled up there.”

“Just a bit before, though,” Harry said. “Could have been worse.”

Draco nodded. “She didn’t knock any of those - what do you call them. The Muggle things. Eleckety--”

“Electricity lines?” Harry guessed, smiling, and Draco made a dismissive gesture.

“Them, yeah,” he said. “I was worried, but--”

“Dragons are actually fairly intuitive of other power sources,” Hermione said faintly. “Even things you wouldn’t recognise as power, like Muggle artificial power sources. I’m sorry, Harry. Is that Draco Malfoy? You guys aren’t doing some weird sort of Polyjuice thing?”

“You can be doing a weird Polyjuice thing,” Ron added hastily. “I would accept that. I wouldn’t even question that. I would be really, really happy if that was some sort of Polyjuice - Seamus, is that you?”

“Seamus? Finnegan?” Draco said. “The - wait, the Irish one? Oh, ugh, don’t make me be sick.”

“What’s wrong with Seamus?” Neville said, bristling. “He’s twice the man you are--”

“His face is basically flat,” Draco said. “How many times has his nose been broken? He looks positively misshapen--”

“I think Seamus has a nice face,” Harry said mildly, and Draco swung around to look at him, eyes narrowing.

Harry,” Hermione said.

“Oh, I brought Draco back for a bit,” Harry said. “We flew the dragon here last night.”

The kitchen exploded in noise for a minute there. Ron said, shocked and delighted, “What?” and Ginny crowed, and Luna said, “How very interesting - did you happen to see any wind spirits up there, dragons are very communicative with--” and Hermione went white and said, “Oh, God, Harry - you weren’t seen, were you?”

“No,” Draco said, and it took everyone a moment to realise he was talking to Hermione. He met her gaze, looking a little embarrassed but certain. “No, I would have - I made sure. We flew up high. And dragons--”

“Have a version of an Unplottable Charm built into their scales, I know,” Hermione said. “It’s just that it would be very dangerous for - for the Ministry to know.”

“I know,” Draco said. “I won’t let them.”

“Well,” Hermione said, and looked away, letting out a breath. “Well. Good, then.”

“Harry,” Ron said plaintively, “remember the bit where I said I couldn’t care less what the Malfoys do with their lives as long as I never have to see them again?” He looked at Draco. “No offense.”

“Uhm,” Draco said. “None taken?”

“I do remember,” Harry said, solemn. “I’m sorry, Ron.”

“Wait, actually,” Draco said. “Lots taken--”

“And I did mean offense,” Ron said. “So we’re fine.”

“Doesn’t anyone else,” Neville said, voice hard, “think we should call Shacklebolt?”

“No,” Harry said immediately.

Ron shrugged. “I’ve already said, mate. There’s no point in telling off frightened kids.”

Hey,” Draco said. Harry kicked him under the table. He didn’t care if anyone saw that.

“Besides,” Ginny said, picking up her plate and carrying it over to the sink, turning to give the room a malevolent grin. “If we turn him over to the Ministry they’ll be all preoccupied with a fair trial and all. Think what we can do here.” She twirled her wand between her fingers. Draco looked a little pale.

“Ginny, we’re still not lifting the house ban on the Bat Bogey Hex,” Dean said, without looking up from his paper. “You know you get too carried away.”

“You get awfully excited about the whole thing,” Luna agreed. “One time you threatened to hex me because I ate the last pancake.” She looked over at Draco through her enormous glasses and added, “I don’t mind if Draco stays. It’ll be like we’re roomies again. Only nicer this time.”

Draco was still pale, gone ashy and ill like when Harry first saw him at the butchers.

“I just don’t understand why he’s here,” Ron said. “I mean, no, I’m not going to go running to Kingsley or whatever, but--”

“We wanted to test the dragon out,” Harry said. He used Luna getting up as an excuse to shuffle in closer to Draco, making room for her to climb out. “Plus Draco’s only been living with his family. He wanted to hang out with other people our age. Normal people, too, not Death Eaters. And have a chance to apologise.” He glanced carelessly at Draco, who had been making choking noises throughout this and looked more and more furious, and quietly dropped his hand on Draco’s thigh under the table, sliding it up high. Draco went abruptly still. “Isn’t that right?”

“Yes,” Draco ground out. “I’m very sorry. Terribly sorry.”

Neville rolled his eyes. “He’s got to be up to something.”

“Don’t worry,” Ron said, shrugging and heading over to where the kettle was whistling. “If he is, Harry’s sure to get fixated on him until he works out whatever it is.”

“That’s right,” Harry agreed, and smiled brightly.

“Actually, Potter,” Draco said, “about the dragon -- if I could just have a word--”

“Sure,” Harry said, and pushed away his plate. He stood up and headed for the door, Draco trailing behind him. He looked back and added, “I’ll be back in a bit,” to the group, who said goodbye with varying levels of enthusiasm. Ginny raised one hand in a wave, that sweet smirk crooking up the corner of her mouth.

Draco pushed past him and led the way up the stairs, then paused in the quiet dim hallway. “Which way to--”

“The dragon?” Harry asked, drawing slowly closer. “Back downstairs and outside. I didn’t think you were that lost--”

Draco snarled. “I told you this was a bad idea,” he said. “Longbottom’s about ready to turn me in, the big lump--”

“Don’t talk about him like that,” Harry said. “He was incredible, last year. He’s been incredible for eight years, but even you must have noticed what he was like--”

“Of course I know,” Draco said, face twisting up. “Fuck you, Potter. You think I don’t know that - that everyone in that goddamn room was instrumental in ending the war? That everyone there was brave and good and noble and I was - I was--”

“Oh, shut up,” Harry said, “I’m not going to pity you for the bad choices you made - people died because of those choices, I can guarantee you, even if you didn’t kill anyone, and you’re so busy feeling so fucking sorry for yourself--”

“I know,” Malfoy said, low and rough in the shadows. “Fuck you, I know that, why did you bring me here, why are you--”

“You know why I brought you here,” Harry said, and Draco made an agonised noise and reached out, grabbed Harry by the shirt and reeled him in. Their mouths caught, hot and sure. Harry felt Draco gasp against him, and he knew the instinct, felt the same, this time around. Everything felt less obvious, less desperate, and he’d thought that maybe he just wanted Draco when he was half out of his mind, but that wasn’t true. He was back in Grimmauld Place; he was settled as he ever got in this house, and he still wanted to get his hands on every inch of Draco.

They pressed up against the wall, bodies straining together. Harry tensed for a moment, ready for the usual wail of portraits whenever anyone thumped against anything too loudly, but the house stayed quiet and warm around them.

Draco mumbled, low, “Your room, I was going to ask where your room was,” and Harry didn’t bother to correct him on what the tiny attic room was, just angled them towards the staircase and pushed Draco forward, still kissing him.

He had Draco’s trousers unbuttoned and half pushed down by the time they got through the door, Draco nearly tripping except that Harry had his arms around him. He went for Draco’s shirt, tried to yank it off, but Draco grabbed at his wrists and said, “No, leave it,” and Harry didn’t care about the Dark Mark, didn’t think it would put him off that much if the simple fact that he was kissing Malfoy didn’t put him off, but he didn’t fight Draco on it.

Instead he dropped down to his knees, nuzzled in at Draco’s hip. Draco’s hand touched his hair, caught in it for a moment, and then skimmed away like he couldn’t believe his own daring. Harry pressed his lips against the hard length of Draco’s cock through his underwear, and Draco jerked and said, low, disbelieving, “What are you -- what are you doing?”

“Sorry, do you mind?” Harry said, low and teasing, and Draco laughed disbelievingly, grabbed at his hair again.

“By all means, go ahead,” Draco said, voice higher than usual, and Harry did. He was good at this and he liked it, maybe too much, but it was hot without being distracting, and he liked getting to focus, and he liked the feeling of someone’s hand - Draco’s hand - resting on his head, holding him there.

Draco came pretty quickly, all flushed and embarrassed when Harry pulled off, licking his lips. Harry grinned up at him and Draco said, “Shut up,” and grabbed at his shirt, trying to drag him up. Harry half-tripped as he came up and they staggered and fell on the bed, Draco pinned beneath him. Draco made a surprised, breathless noise, and Harry tucked his face against Draco’s neck.

“All right,” Draco said, still wheezing a bit. “You’re heavy. I - let me--”

He fumbled, palming at Harry’s cock, and Harry twitched forward into his hand and shook his head, said, “No, I wanna,” and kissed Draco. He got off like that, Draco’s eager mouth, Draco nipping at his bottom lip, holding Draco down and grinding against his hand.

“Fuck,” Draco said, and laughed a little shakily. “All right. you’re easy, too.”

Harry yawned. “You want to have a nap?”

“I - no, Potter,” Draco said. “What’s wrong with you?”

Harry propped himself up on one elbow, blinked sleepily down at Draco. Draco looked nervous, not wanting to meet Harry’s eyes, gaze darting about. “I always get tired after.”

“How original of you,” Draco snapped. “I want - I want - I want a shower.”

“Oh,” Harry said. “Okay. There’s towels in the bathroom.”

“Good. I - show me where it is,” Draco commanded, and Harry shrugged and got up, led the way. Draco darted in and locked the door firmly, and Harry went on to his room to get changed, because his clothes were fairly grim at this point, and all the sex hadn’t really helped. Harry was still feeling too lazy to shower, though, bones heavy, skin warm, so he just pointed a couple of discreet cleaning spells and went down to make more tea.

The only one left in the kitchen was Dean, still reading the Prophet. He raised his eyebrows as Harry came in. “You and Malfoy end up killing each other?”

“Not yet,” Harry said cheerfully. “Any news in that rag?”

Dean held up the gossip pages. “Apparently you’re being pre-selected to go straight into a very dangerous auror training course in Istanbul. That’s why you weren’t at the memorial.”

“Ah, of course,” Harry said.

“Funny Kingsley hadn’t mentioned it to you yet,” Dean said, “but I’m sure it’s on his mind.”

“He’ll get around to it eventually,” Harry said, and glanced at the clock - Draco had been in the shower for twenty minutes, and Harry hadn’t heard any of the shrieks that usually started up when the shower decided to go freezing cold with no warning. Maybe it was a good day. Harry sat down at a bench and said, “How was the memorial, anyway?”

“Nice,” Dean said. “I don’t know.” He gave Harry an awkward, apologetic look, and Harry returned it - the two of them didn’t talk much one on one these days. “Sad. How you’d expect.”

“Did Hermione speak?”

“A little bit,” Dean said. “She was good. She and McGonagall have some new theory about protective wards - I think that’s where she and Ron have gone again this morning, back up to Hogwarts.”

“Oh,” Harry said, weirdly relieved. “Okay. Cool.”

“I think everyone’s waiting for you to get rid of Malfoy,” Dean told him, and looked up at the sound of pipes clanking. “Is he in the shower? Did you warn him about the ghost?”

“It’s not a ghost,” Harry said, although the fact that the mirror, when fogged up, had picked up a habit of growling low threats at them had certainly freaked them all out for the first few months. “Anyway, bit of a scare would be good for him.”

Dean rolled his eyes. “Would it.”

Harry looked at him for a moment, then said, “You don’t mind him being here?”

Dean shrugged. “Sometimes it’s like twenty people live here. Sometimes thirty. Sometimes I don’t see you for days. I reckon I can avoid Draco Malfoy.”

“Cool,” Harry said. “Me too,” and reached for the Quibbler.

Dean said, “Do you really like that?”

“Honestly, it’s weird the stuff it gets right,” Harry told him, and kept reading.

About twenty minutes later, the pipes clanged again and Dean looked up and frowned. “Is Malfoy still in there?”

Harry shrugged. “Apparently.”

“You don’t think - he’s all right, isn’t he? The house hasn’t decided to drown him?”

Harry paused, then said, “It probably hasn’t. It - oh, Jesus.”

“If Draco Malfoy is dead and naked in our bathroom,” Dean said, shaking out the paper, “bags not dealing with it.”

“Fine,” Harry grumbled, and stood up, stomping upstairs. He banged on the bathroom door. “You all right in there, Malfoy?”

“Potter?” Draco shouted back through the door. “What is it?”

“You’ve been in there nearly an hour!”

“Oh, for - one minute,” Draco yelled, and the water switched off. Harry listened to Draco scuffling about inside and a cut off yelp that had him tensing, wondering if the bath had tried to eat Draco or something, before Draco flung open the door, dressed again, hair damp, cheeks flushed with warmth. “What?”

“You were in the shower for like, an hour,” Harry said, rolling his eyes. “I was just checking you hadn’t drowned or something.”

“I could have definitely drowned in there,” Draco said. “I don’t know why you waited so long. At this point, if I was dead there’d be nothing you could do, and as it was you ruined my shower.”

“Your hour long shower,” Harry repeated.

“Hot water,” Draco said, almost dreamily, “I hadn’t - anyway, whatever,” he said, sharpening, “sorry, I didn’t realise there was a time limit on showers here. It must be all the Weasleys.”

Harry opened his mouth, furious, and then thought about the little hut in Wales and abruptly shut it again.

“What?” Malfoy said, scowling.

“Honestly,” Harry said, “I’m just amazed that the hot water lasted as long as it did.”

“Oh,” Draco said. He looked a little surprised. “It was fine. The paint job in there is awful, though. I think it’s over marble. That’s a crime.”

“Sirius did it,” Harry said uncomfortably, “he wanted to repaint a lot of it - make it more cheerful, but--”

“Yellow is not cheerful,” Draco told him. “Yellow is like - I felt like I was in some sort of psychiatric ward.”

“Ah,” Harry said. “Of course. Logical conclusion.”

Draco stared at him, and Harry looked back, not sure where to go from there. Draco looked all soft and clean. Harry wanted to rough him up again.

Draco cleared his throat, nodded at Harry’s tea, and said, “I want one of them.”

“Please.”

“You’re welcome,” Draco said smugly, and started off toward the kitchen. Harry trailed after him, gave Dean a helpless look when they came in.

“The shower didn’t kill you then,” Dean said, voice unreadable.

“I don’t know why everyone here is so weird about the shower,” Draco complained. “It’s a perfectly normal shower. Very nice.”

“On a good day I can get ten minutes of hot water,” Dean said. “That’s using magic and everything.”

“I’m sorry your plumbing spells are so incompetent,” Draco said. “Not that I found them necessary. Ha-- Potter, where are your mugs?”

“All over the place, really,” Harry said, sitting down at the table. “Have a look.” Malfoy kept darting little looks at Dean when he thought Harry and Dean weren’t paying attention. Harry wanted to grab him by the hips, shake him.

Dean maybe got it too, because he stood up, shoving a hand through his hair. “All right, I’m off,” he said. “See you later, Harry. Malfoy.”

Draco nodded at him, but he kept giving those furtive little looks to where Dean had been sitting. After a moment, Harry stood up and went to put the kettle on, and with studied casualness, Draco went and sat in Dean’s place and picked up the Prophet.

He leant over it, face tilting down, hungry.

“Didn’t get the Prophet delivered to Wales, did you?” Harry asked.

Draco looked up, cheeks going all thin and pinched again. “Astonishingly, no, Potter, I didn’t have it ordered to the place me and my parents were hiding from the magical world.”

“Right,” Harry said. “Well. I think there’s a stack of them in the corner if you want to catch up.”

Draco didn’t dignify this with a response, but his fingers twitched around the paper. Harry quietly made him a cup of tea, brought it over.

-

After Draco had spent nearly three hours reading through the last few weeks worth of papers, occasionally mumbling to himself or making shocked noises, Monster started making restless noises, and then they set Walburga off, who yelped about the endless noise in the house, how disrespectful it was.

Draco looked up, eyebrows raised. “Who is that?”

“I think she’s a relative of yours,” Harry said. “Surprising as that is.”

“What?” Draco frowned, and then headed out into the hallway, following the shrieks until he found the portrait. “Aunt Walburga!”

Walburga stared at him, eyes narrowed and suspicious before her whole horrible face smoothed out in surprise. “That’s never little Draco,” she said, and Harry nearly jumped; like that, speaking neutrally and not shrieking, her voice was surprisingly warm and deep. She sounded, horrifyingly, quite like Sirius.

“Hello!” Draco said. He was practically beaming, the little toad. “I’m sorry, I forgot you were here - I haven’t been in this house since I was four.”

“No, no,” Walburga murmured, eyes darting around. “Have you taken over the place then, my boy? It’s about time someone decent lived here!”

Draco shook his head. “I’m - visiting,” he said, with a hesitant glance over his shoulder. “I’m sorry. It’s - how are you?” and then, to Harry’s disgust, he folded himself up to sit cross-legged on the floor while Walburga gave him her litany of hatred and outrage about the occupants of the house, Mudbloods and blood traitors and nasty Gryffindors, and Draco just nodded along and made sympathetic noises.

Harry cleared his throat loudly several times, but it wasn’t until Monster screeched again that Draco sighed and stood up.

“I should go, I’m sorry,” he said. “I’ve - there’s a dragon in the backyard.”

“Is that what it is?” Walburga said, clearly not sure how she felt about that. “Well - I suppose boys will be boys, at your age. Regulus was always off befriending the neighbourhood cats.”

“Very similar,” Draco agreed gravely, and when he bid her goodbye Walburga leaned back in her portrait and closed her eyes, sinking into what looked like a nap. It was strange, having her completely silent. Harry’s ears were ringing.

He fell into step beside Draco and said, as they walked outside, “Should have known you’d get along with her. Two of a kind, huh?”

“Oh, for - she’s a portrait, Potter, not a person,” Draco said, giving him an exasperated look.

“Still. You and your aunt, a very pretty picture--”

“She’s my great aunt, really,” Draco said, but he was already distracted, getting outside and heading for where Monster was shifting restlessly on the grass. Draco stroked at her ruff, worried. “Normally we’d go out. She’s not used to being cooped up -- I don’t know if it’s good for her--”

“It can’t be bad for her,” Harry argued. “She’s just bored. We’ll take her out tonight, when it’s dark - we can fly up high enough--”

“Yeah,” Draco said, and gave him an eager little look. Harry swallowed. “Okay, but it’s not going to be dark for hours yet. What now?”

Which was how they invented Fireball, which mostly consisted of Draco throwing old quaffles at Harry, Harry pitching them up into the air with a Muggle tennis racquet they’d found lying around, and Monster setting them on fire. Harry wasn’t entirely sure why it appealed to her so much, but undeniably it did, and it kept Draco in stitches of laughter, so he didn’t mind all that much, even though Harry’s reparos were having less and less effect on the small sad little pile of charred quaffles.

Draco chucked another quaffle at him and said, “You only have those newspapers, right? Nothing - nothing further back?”

“You mean like - right after the war?” Harry guessed, and Draco shrugged. “Oh, I guess you don’t really know anything that happened, huh?”

“Not really,” Draco said.

“I don’t know,” Harry said. “It’s been like - a lot. But I wasn’t paying attention. And it doesn’t seem like that big a deal.” He paused, frustrated. “Hermione would be better at explaining it.”

“I think Monster would be better at explaining it,” Draco said, staring in disbelief. “Potter, do you honestly have no idea what’s happening around you?”

“I know bits,” Harry said defensively. “I’ve been busy! And when I wasn’t busy I was - taking a well-deserved break. That’s what Mrs Weasley said. Anyway.”

Draco rolled his eyes. “Well, I hope you’ve enjoyed your year long holiday,” he said. “What do you know? I assume Shacklebolt’s Head Auror, the way your lot keep talking about him?”

“No, he’s interim Minister for Magic,” Harry said. “They’ve been talking about holding real elections soon, maybe in the next month or so. The Ministry was a bit of a mess after the war - it was taken over, you know, so it’s been taking ages to work out who was acting under Voldemort’s orders because they wanted to, and who was afraid, and who was under Imperius, and who was actually rebelling and who just said they were.”

“Right,” Draco said. “How are they - how are they sorting that out?”

Harry shrugged. “Lots of interviews, I think,” he said. “There’s been some stuff passed about the use of Veritaserum in special cases - Hermione was furious - and then testimony on others. A lot of times I think we’ve just had to take people’s word for it that they were scared, you know. Can’t arrest everyone, there were thousands of people there.”

Draco nodded.

“What else,” Harry said. “Well, yeah, there were quite a few Death Eaters left after the Battle of Hogwarts - hard as it is for you to imagine, I’m sure,” he added dryly, and Draco made a face at him. Harry put his back into it, whacked a quaffle up high. Monster leapt at it joyously and the ground shook a little when she landed. “Most of the - the ringleaders, they were captured or killed at Hogwarts - the Lestranges, Rookwood. That lot. Most of the people who got away ran when you did.”

Draco’s mouth twisted.

“Good time to do it,” Harry said. “A lot of them have disappeared. Mainly the ones we’ve found are people who kept doing shit - killing Muggles, attacking wizards. They’re sort of desperate. We got most of them rounded up in the first three months or so. Then there’s people like you lot, you disappeared and didn’t really - I don’t know, it’s just not a priority.” Draco’s face was unreadable. Harry shrugged, continued, “The last ones that are left are Snatchers - they’re still pretty vicious. They hurt people if they can. But they’re good at hiding, they spent the whole war on the move, so they’re used to it by now.”

“I know,” Draco said faintly, “I - I met a few--”

“Right,” Harry said. “They brought us to Malfoy Manor. Yeah.”

Draco met his eyes and they both stood still for a moment. Harry thought about Draco peering into his face, shaking his head. I don’t know. I can’t be sure. Then Draco threw another quaffle at him.

“So Hogwarts closed for the last year,” Harry said, hitting it away. “For repairs. We broke that castle pretty good.” He said it lightly, the way he’d been practicing, like he didn’t feel weird and twisted every time he thought about the mess they’d made of his first home, his only home. “Everyone who completed the year - the ones who didn’t have to go on the run, like Dean or - you, I guess,” and Draco made a face, “got to take their NEWTS in some Ministry building. But for everyone else, McGonagall says that she thinks it can open this September. There’ll be bits of it still roped off, but, you know. The plan is to go back and do seventh year, me and Ron and Hermione and Dean. And Ginny, of course. I don’t know how they’re going to fit everyone in dorms.”

“I wonder if they’ll have to use some sort of magic,” Draco said, rolling his eyes. “I wouldn’t have thought you’d bother going back to school.”

“Well, Hermione says we need it for jobs,” Harry said. “Ron reckons we could use our names to work anywhere we liked, and he might be right, but Hermione says we can’t be accused of special treatment. And I think Ron hasn’t completely made up his mind yet what he wants to do, after school, so he’s okay with putting that decision off for a while.”

Draco was watching him intently. “And you? You’re happy to go back to school and have to wear a uniform and go to classes and get detentions and lose points and be told off by teachers like you didn’t, didn’t.” He paused and laughed, mean and a little bitter. “Kill the Dark Lord? Save the wizarding world?”

“You keep going on about that. I’m starting to think you’ve got a complex about it.” Harry grinned. “It’s all right if you admire me, Malfoy. I know I’m pretty cool.”

“Fuck you,” Draco said, and threw two quaffles, one after the other, right at Harry’s head. Harry hit the first one and ducked the second one, laughing.

“I’m trying to think of what else has happened,” he told Draco. “Most of Dumbledore’s Army have moved in here, but I expect you’ve worked that out.”

“I don’t care about you or any of your stupid friends and your personal lives,” Draco said. “That’s not news.” He hesitated. “But. I don’t suppose you know about - about any of the. The Slytherins.”

Harry eyed him with dislike. “I haven’t really cared,” he said.

“Of course not,” Draco said.

“I don’t see why I should care,” Harry said. “Proved your worth, didn’t you, the whole lot of you? Ran or joined Voldemort, two very noble choices--”

“I completely understand,” Draco said. “I shouldn’t have asked.” But his face had gone all glassy and smooth, the way it went when he was looking at Harry but wished he didn’t have to, and Harry was starting to hate that expression.

“Goyle’s in Azkaban,” Harry said. He knew his voice was too rough, too abrupt. He couldn’t bring himself to correct it. “He got a reduced sentence because he was underage but there were a lot of witnesses. A lot. He was in Hogwarts all that year. So--”

“Yes,” Draco said, cracked and wild. “Yes, yes--”

“Parkinson - I don’t know where she is,” Harry said. “She didn’t do anything illegal. Technically. Her parents were arrested, though, I know that. They’re in Azkaban too, I think. Maybe her - did she have an older sister?”

“Brother,” Draco said faintly.

Harry nodded. “Him as well. Let me think. Blaise Zabini joined the Ministry - he graduated and was never linked to Death Eaters, so.” There’d been outrage in Grimmauld Place the night that was announced, all the same. “Marcus Flint’s in Azkaban, I saw that. Millicent Bullstrode was found dead after the Battle, I think some Death Eaters saw her trying to run in the dark and got confused about her robes.”

Draco made a small noise.

“Theodore Knott - he ran away,” Harry said. “As far as I know. I think he disappeared. Ginny was saying that a lot of Slytherins and old pureblood families went to France, he might have been with them. That’s everyone I remember.”

“Right,” Draco said. “I. Thank you.”

Harry picked up one of the burnt quaffles and chucked it hard at Malfoy; Draco caught it, stumbling a few feet backward. “Anything else you’re curious about,” Harry snapped, “just let me know.”

He turned on his heel, went inside.

-

He only went out on the dragon with Malfoy that night because he didn’t want to risk Monster getting caught, and she’d be screwed if she was found by the Ministry alone except for Draco Malfoy. They flew up as high as they could into the dark and then did low circles around the night. It was pretty miserable. Monster clearly wanted to swoop and loop about and twist, and they wouldn’t let her, it was too risky, and Harry and Draco sat as far apart as they could, flinching every time they brushed up against each other.

When Monster started to tire and make her grumbling hungry noise, Draco said, “I think I should go home.”

“No,” Harry said immediately.

Draco glared at him, grey eyes in the moonlight. “I don’t know what the fuck your problem is, Potter,” he said, enunciating each word clearly, nearly spitting with hatred. “You clearly don’t want me here. I don’t know what sort of weird break-up you and the Girl Weasley have gone through--”

“Don’t talk about Ginny,” Harry said. “You don’t know anything about her--”

“I don’t care,” Draco said. “I didn’t care about any of this shit, you brought me here, you - you--”

“Fine!” Harry said. “Go home tomorrow! See if I care!”

“I’ll go home now,” Draco said, “I’ll - you can just shove off--”

“Monster can’t fly to Wales tonight,” Harry said scathingly. “Look at her, she’s knackered. Why would you make her--”

“Don’t tell me what to do with Monster,” Draco snarled. “We’re doing fine, me and her, I don’t know where the fuck you get off -- Monster, down.”

“Shut up,” Harry said, low and determined. “Just shut up.”

“Fine. You too.”

“Fine!”

Monster made a low keening noise, and Draco grabbed at her ruff, stroking over it and then dipping her head down, and she drifted down in low circles, back down and down and into Grimmauld Place’s backgarden.

She seemed to have more space this time. Harry squinted about, confused, and then hurried to catch up with where Malfoy was already storming ahead into the house. Harry ran, but the door slammed in his face and then stuck and by the time he got it open, Malfoy had already disappeared up the stairs.

Harry threw himself onto the sofa and let out a breath. “Fuck,” he said, mostly to himself, and the door to the living room creaked open.

“Hiya, Harry,” Ginny said. “Thought that was you. Fancy a drink?”

“Yes,” Harry said. “Very much,” and he slipped in to find Ginny with several bottles of wine, and also Luna, Seamus, Dean and Hermione. Harry accepted the chipped mug half full of red wine and said, “Ron back at the Burrow?”

“Yeah,” Ginny said. “I might head back in an hour or two. Mum’s a bit - a bit upset.”

There was that strange, solemn look on her face, the one that she’d never had until after the war, after Fred. Harry reached out and took her hand without thinking.

“Have you been out flying the dragon?” Hermione asked. “I’m not sure it’s good for her to be cooped up in the backgarden--”

“Me either,” Harry said, “but we took her out, she’s sleeping now. And it’s only been a day. And she’s a weird dragon, anyway, I think she’s not as - as active as most dragons are.”

Hermione looked miserable. “She wouldn’t be, would she,” she murmured. “God, I can’t believe Gringotts were allowed to do that. She’s a living creature. They’re very intelligent, dragons. It should be a crime.”

“It is a crime,” Luna piped in. “Just not one that’s recognised by British Wizarding Law, more’s the pity.”

“Right,” Harry said, not very interested in finding out where exactly it was a crime.

“Give it a couple of years and I’m sure Hermione’ll take care of that, anyway,” Ginny said, laughing. “You could move it up your list of things to do.”

Hermione rolled her eyes, shaking her head. “There’s no way I’ll ever be able to get anything done on that list,” she said, “the Ministry is a mess,” but she looked secretly pleased, and Harry rather thought she knew that she was wrong.

Ginny squeezed Harry’s hand and said, “Oi. Where’s Malfoy?”

“Did he fall off the dragon?” Seamus asked, looking hopeful.

“I don’t know,” Harry said. “He’s stormed off. He’s being a prick.”

“Malfoy, a prick?” Ginny said. “Well, that I just can’t believe. No, Harry, you take that back - that boy is the light of my life. The light of everyone’s life. The sweetest, kindest--”

“All right, all right,” Harry said, laughing, slouching down and leaning his head against her shoulder. “Shut up. He’s leaving tomorrow.”

“Oh, good,” Hermione said, looking relieved. “I mean, it’s your house, you can bring whoever you like back to it. It was a bit weird, Harry, that’s all.”

“It’s not my house,” Harry said, rubbing his nose with his sleeve, awkward. “Not really. It’s - I should have checked with you guys, sorry--”

“But it was such a lovely surprise,” Ginny said, and laughed. Harry rolled his eyes and gave up on pretending he wasn’t leaning on her, slumped completely onto the floor and put his head in her lap. He exchanged an awkward look with Dean, then closed his eyes. Ginny carded her fingers through his hair.

“Pass me my cup,” Harry said, and lay there with his eyes closed sipping from it, being touched, warm and comfortable and surrounded by his friends. After a while Ginny had to get up and leave, heading for the Burrow, but Harry stayed down there, until he was pleasantly drunk and pleasantly tired, and Seamus made eyes at him and then declared that he was off, and Luna and Hermione were giggling, and Harry was sure that he could go upstairs into his room and be kissed.

He went upstairs. He brushed his teeth. The mirror hissed at him, and then fell quiet. In a sulky little voice, it said, “Sorry.” Harry blinked at it.

He stood outside his bedroom door for a little while.

Then he figured that might as well go up and check on Malfoy, make sure that he hadn’t run off or wasn’t doing god knows what sort of nefarious deed. Harry really shouldn’t have brought him here. It was dangerous. Malfoy was a coward, but he was always out to protect his own skin, and who knew what he’d do.

He stopped in the door of the little attic. It still wasn’t cold; it was as warm as downstairs, though there was no fire in this room and Harry had been sleeping, even in May, under several duvets. Malfoy was sitting up in bed, wearing that ragged old sweater, white quilt pooled at his waist, knees up, arms hooked around his knees. Harry took it all in, weird snapshots of Malfoy. When he first pushed open the door Malfoy had been staring out the slanted skylight that functioned as a window, but his gaze snapped to Harry, slate grey and furious.

“I don’t know what the fuck you want,” he said, cold, “but I’m--”

“All right, Malfoy,” Harry said, “I know you are,” and he walked over to the bed, tugging off his shirt. Malfoy made a rough noise and reached for him, and Harry vaulted up onto the bed like it was easy, like he was flying. Malfoy grabbed him by the hair and rolled Harry underneath him and Harry sank down onto the mattress, let Malfoy kiss Harry with his cruel, needy mouth.

-

They didn’t sleep much that night. Every time Harry thought he might be ready, Draco would boss him about, a low harsh whisper, or just slip up against him again, Draco’s hands, Draco grabbing at him. Even when any more sex was a definite impossibility and Draco was nodding off, sleepy-eyed and soft the way he’d been that night in the barn, Harry shook him a little, kissed him, said, “Hey, hey.”

“Mm,” Draco said. “M’awake.”

Harry thought for a moment and then said, “There’s no dementors at Azkaban anymore, you know.”

“Merlin.” Draco went tense, then groaned and relaxed. He rubbed his nose against Harry’s shoulder. “You’re not so great at the pillow talk, huh?”

“You want pillow talk?” Harry asked, tired and bewildered. “I don’t - I thought you might like to know. They’re in prison but it’s not so awful - it’s the bad they deserve, not--”

“Okay, Potter,” Draco said, almost gentle, which was unbelievable except that Harry had watched Draco with his dragon, Harry had watched Draco reach out for Harry, half-asleep and happy. “Yes. I am - I am glad to know. Thank you. Find another conversation.”

Harry yawned. He pressed his face against Draco’s stomach. The stupid sweater was in the way, even though Harry was naked, Draco definitely should be naked. Harry tried pushing it up, but Draco let him get as far as kissing Draco’s stomach before he pushed him away, laughing a bit.

“Enough,” he said. “You’re insatiable.”

“M’not,” Harry said. “You know I’m not scared of a Dark Mark, right? I’ve seen a few before.”

Draco shuddered, but his voice was light when he said, “Not everything’s about you, Potter.”

Harry grumbled and shifted up, flopping onto his back. The effect was a little ruined by the way Draco promptly rolled on top of him, peering down at him.

“You’re such a baby,” he said, satisfied. “I always said at school that you kicked tantrums whenever you didn’t get something you wanted and now I’ve been proven right. Maybe I should go back to Hogwarts, let everyone know.”

Harry eyed him. “Are you going to go back to Hogwarts?”

Draco laughed. “What? Potter, have you gone completely mad?”

“Well, you didn’t finish your final year either,” Harry said. “Not properly. Everyone says you were hardly there after the Easter break, and you didn’t take your NEWTS.”

“Because I was a Death Eater,” Draco said patiently, only sounding a little strained. “I was off with the Death Eaters. And now I’m a fugitive, but I think even if I wasn’t, McGonagall would hardly be welcoming me back with open arms.”

“All right,” Harry said. Malfoy put his head down, and Harry sneezed on his hair.

“Ugh,” Draco said. “You’re disgusting,” and didn’t move.

“I’m going back,” Harry said.

“I know. You told me.”

“Shut up. I’m telling you why.”

 

“Mmm?”

“Because I think it’ll be fun,” Harry whispered. “Because - I only ever wanted to go to Hogwarts. And now they’ve given me another year. Of course I’m going back.”

“Oh, Potter,” Draco mumbled. “You’re so sad.”

I’m sad,” Harry said, affronted. “You’re the one who’s planning to just - what, live in a hut in Wales with your parents for the rest of your life? Working at a butchers?”

“Which part of my glamorous fugitive lifestyle are you struggling with there,” Draco said, voice thick with amusement and sleep.

“Wait,” Harry said, thinking about it, “what about the butchers? Are you just not going to show up for a week?”

“Potter,” Draco whined, “I’m tired, will you please just go to sleep--”

“You know she might get mad at you,” Harry said. “That lady seemed scary.”

Draco made an exasperated noise. “I got fired a week and a half ago, Potter, she already got mad. Go to sleep.”

Harry propped himself up on his elbows, making Draco slip off him with an outraged yelp. “You got fired?”

“Oh my god,” Draco moaned. “I’m never going to sleep. This is torture, Potter. Sleep deprivation is a legitimate form of--”

“Draco,” Harry said, annoyed, and Draco scowled up at him.

“Yes, I got fired,” he said. “I had to steal some more - I stole another pig. For Monster. She’d put weird Muggle things in, she could see it, I don’t know, I don’t understand, it took me a month to work out the cash register. Whatever. Very exciting.”

“Why were you stealing more stuff?” Harry said, bewildered. “Why didn’t you just ask me to bring some for Monster?”

Draco gave him a cold look. “Like I’d ask you for anything.”

“You could if your dragon was starving,” Harry said. “You know that. What are you going to do, now, you and your - your parents?”

“I’ll sort something out,” Draco said, white-faced. “Mum and I will - we’ll work it out. I don’t need you to pity us, Potter, I’ve done perfectly well this far without you--”

“Yes, you’ve done so well,” Harry said, and Draco went to hit him, but Harry caught his wrist and Draco didn’t seem very determined, anyway, just rolled in and grumpily kissed Harry again.

“I’m going to sleep,” he said. “You shut up. You annoy me.”

“You annoy me, too,” Harry said.

Harry woke Draco up the next morning, said, “Come on, I can hear your dragon grumbling,” and Draco groaned, hauled himself upright in bed. He raised an arm and sniffed at his own shoulder, made a face.

“This is gross,” he said. “Lend me a shirt.”

Harry yawned, fumbled around in the pile of his own clothes that had somehow migrated up here over the last week and chucked a shirt at Draco before heading down the stairs.

“And put the kettle on!” Draco yelled after him.

Harry had just gotten back from feeding Monster - three turkeys, which Hermione pointed out to him proudly - when Draco stumbled into the kitchen, still bleary-eyed and yawning. He rubbed his arm over his face and lurched blindly toward the cup of tea Harry held out for him.

Dean looked up and let out a startled burst of laughter. Seamus said, “Jesus,” and turned away, shaking his head sadly.

“What?” Malfoy said.

“What?” Harry said.

Neville came in and looked as though he was about to die of horror. Finally he said, cold, “Nice shirt, Malfoy.”

Draco looked down. “Oh, gross,” he said. “Potter!”

 

“Er, right,” Harry said. “Whoops.”

The worst of it was that Malfoy looked pretty good in red, even with the Gryffindor crest emblazoned across his chest.

“I hate you,” Draco told him. “I always have and I always will, and the only reason I suffer to exist on the same planet as you is that one day I hope to be the cause of your long and painful death.”

He whirled around and stalked out of the room to go find Monster, an effect that was a little ruined by the fact that POTTER 17 was stamped on the back of his shirt. Harry rubbed his hand over his face, concealing his mouth, which was twitching.

When he looked up, Hermione sighed. “So I suppose Malfoy isn’t leaving today after all, then,” she said.

They hadn’t discussed it at all. Harry stood up, wandered over to the kitchen window and peered out to where Draco was clearly delivering a highly irritated monologue to a mostly uninterested dragon.

“No,” Harry said. “I don’t think so.”

-

“Harry,” Ron said, later that afternoon, “do you want to talk about how you and Malfoy are sleeping together?”

Harry considered. “Not particularly,” he said. “Do you want to talk about it?”

“Nope,” Ron said. He patted him on the back and stood up, giving Hermione a thumbs up from across the room. “Job done!” he called. Hermione rolled her eyes.

-

Harry got called out, a breathless tip about Scabior and he barely stopped to say goodbye to Draco before he, Ginny, Ron and Hermione were whirling out of the house and to the last place he was seen. They thundered down the hill together, fanning out, wands drawning and throwing spells, and Harry’s heart pounded pleasantly in his chest. This was better than being cooped up in a house that at best really didn’t like them and at at worst was semi trying to kill them; better than the tiny needling arguments with Malfoy; better even than going out in London and being recognised or not recognised and getting drunk enough that it didn’t matter. And it was better than the war, too.

It was like being on dragonback, really, Harry thought distantly, and threw the curse that brought Scabior down.

When he got back his body was still thrumming all over with tension and exhileration, and he half wanted to find Malfoy and drag him upstairs, but when they opened the door and set down the hall they all ended up pausing, staring at each other. Prickling unease crawled over Harry. He wasn’t sure what was wrong.

Ron was. “Why’s it so quiet?” he asked, frowning.

“It’s Mrs Black,” Hermione said, “normally she yells the house down as soon as the door opens.”

Seamus appeared at the end of the hall, smiling sort of weirdly. “Oh, yeah, she’s not going to say a word,” he said, “come see,” and they went down to join him.

Walburga Black scowled out of her portrait, her eyes black with hatred as they peered at her. But she kept her lips pressed firmly shut, and next to her, propped up with his long legs falling off the windowsill and his cheek against the glass, Draco Malfoy dozed on.

“Well,” Ginny said. “I suppose that’s one good thing we can get out of him.”

“Mm,” Harry said, non-commital. He reached out and skimmed his knuckles along Draco’s jawline. For a moment everyone was quiet, and then Draco stirred and sighed, blinking up at Harry curiously.

“Traitors!” Walburga shrieked, furious. “How dare you lay hands on a Pureblood wizard of good breeding and moral character! You should all be hung, hung, drawn and quartered--”

“Ugh, Harry, now you’ve done it,” Ginny said, turning and walking away, followed by Hermione and Ron. Harry stayed where he was, watching Draco.

“I like her,” Draco said sleepily. “She’s nice to me.”

Harry rolled his eyes.

-

“So I suppose you and Weasley had a fairly pleasant break up,” Draco said that night, voice strained and tight. “Given how, ah - how friendly you are--”

Harry stared up at him in disbelief. “This is really what you want to talk about right now?” he said, pressing his knees tighter against Draco’s hips. Draco rocked into him again and Harry gasped, fingers scrabbling at Draco’s back. “God. I - do you have a thing for Ginny or something?”

“Don’t be foul,” Draco said, and Harry pushed himself up and toppled them round, Draco flat on his back and panting so Harry could prop himself up, ride Draco slow and hard, the way he wanted it.

“Shut up and do your job,” he said, and Draco laughed breathlessly, hips twitching, and caught Harry’s hand to press his mouth against Harry’s wrist. He did things like that sometimes, sweet and unexpected. Harry wasn’t entirely used to them. Or - he supposed he was amongst an affectionate enough group of people, but they all actually liked him. He didn’t know what to make of it when Malfoy did it.

“You’re doing it for me,” Draco said, pushing himself up on his elbows, and Harry grinned, let himself fall down closer. Draco was stronger than he looked, helping keep Harry upright, their foreheads leaning on each other, and when Harry bit down on Draco’s neck, Draco only pulled at his hair.

“Ginny and I didn’t break up, really,” Harry said, when they were done.

“What?” Draco said, startled. “Merlin, Potter, give me a minute to recover--”

“I’m just saying, you asked,” Harry said.

“I did not ask!”

“Well, you made snide remarks while looking for information,” Harry said. He draped himself over Malfoy. Draco bit his ear. Harry swatted him in the side. He wished Malfoy would take his damn shirt off. It was getting ridiculous. “That’s your usual way of going about things, isn’t it?”

“So you’re cheating on Weasley with me?” Draco said. “That’s very sordid. How exciting for me. I have to say, you’re not being particularly subtle about it.”

“It’s not - she’s not my girlfriend,” Harry said. “But like. We still mess around. Sometimes.” It was weird, telling Malfoy about it. Harry tried not to squirm. “Anyway, it’s fine. I know she’s - sleeping with other people too, so.”

Draco was quiet for a moment and then he said, slowly, “How many people are you sleeping with, Potter?”

“Why do you care?”

“I don’t know,” Draco said, cheeks hot with anger, “maybe because whatever you get from sleeping around you’re going to pass onto me too?”

“Oh, don’t be ridiculous,” Harry said. “I told you, I know that charm.”

“Forgive me if I have a little less faith in your charmwork than you’d like,” Draco said, sneering. “I did sit behind you in class for several years.”

“Malfoy,” Harry said, bored of this, nosing at Draco’s neck, “will you take your shirt off, please? It’s itchy--”

Draco said, “Seriously, I - how many?”

“Oh, I don’t know. You. Ginny. Seamus, sometimes. Luna, once. Dean, I think, I dunno, it depends what you count as sex, I guess--”

Potter,” Draco said, looking horrified. “That’s - I refuse to believe that that many people are in love with you.”

Harry laughed. “I didn’t say anything about in love,” he said. “Why, are you in love with me?”

Draco hit him across the back of the head, a little too hard. “I’m obviously mad from all the war trauma,” he said, “and an outlier in this sordid set. I just don’t get--”

“It’s not love,” Harry said. “It’s just - we’re all friends, it’s nice to mess around with your friends. It’s not like they’re not doing it too--”

“Oh my god,” Draco said, and fell back onto his back, covering his eyes with his palm and moaning theatrically. Harry was a little disturbed by how he liked it. “I’m trapped in the house of Gryffindor orgies. What’s happening to me, my father would be so disappointed--”

“Would he,” Harry said, a little cold.

Draco peeked a look at him and said, “Lighten up, Potter.”

Reluctant, Harry smiled at him.

“It’s very disturbing,” Draco continued. “I’m sure you can see that. I’m sure you can see why I’m so scarred.”

“What I’m getting from this conversation is that you’re an enormous prude,” Harry said. “Was everyone in Slytherin very sweet and chaste and faithful?”

“Ha ha,” Draco said, voice flat. “You’ve already given me the litany of Slytherin house and what happened to everyone, remember?”

“Well,” Harry said, a little uncomfortable, “I meant before the war, I-- wait.” He paused, pushed up on one elbow, staring down at Draco. “Do you mean none of you did anything before the war?”

“I did plenty of things!” Draco said indignantly. “But I was a child, I didn’t really, I was a child and a gentleman - and then sixth year was so--” He stopped, licked his lips, then laughed a little bitterly. “I didn’t have much of a sex drive that year, sorry to tell you, what between trying to figure out how to kill the most powerful wizard of our age and trying to stop the other most powerful wizard killing my family, I didn’t quite get round to the heights of sex stardom you so clearly climbed.”

“Right. So when did you--” He laughed, feeling ridiculous, and shook his head. “Come on, Malfoy,” he said, clasping his hands under his chin and fluttering his eyelashes, “tell me about your first time.”

Draco looked at him for a moment, unreadable, and then rolled his eyes. “Not much to tell,” he said. “You were there. Speccy git in the rain. Bit hard on the knees. Not bad, not great.”

Harry stopped, frowned. He licked his lips. “Come on, quit messing round.”

“I’m not messing round,” Draco hissed, starting to look a bit embarrassed. “I’ve already told you, I’m not some sort of depraved Gryffindor in that fashion, I don’t see why you -- it was sixth year and then I was in a war and then I was on the run with my parents, I don’t know exactly when you imagined all these exciting liaisons of mine would have taken place, but I’m afraid I’ll have to disappoint you--”

“Why didn’t you tell me?” Harry demanded. “That was - I don’t know, it should--”

His first time with Ginny had been nice. Clumsy, a little embarrassing, and she’d hissed and said, “Ow, ow, ow, wait a minute, damn,” and he’d been humiliatingly fast. But it’d been nice. Afterward they’d lain next to each other giggling, and then had an argument about who had to get up to get the ice cream.

Draco was watching him, an odd gentleness in his expression. “Come on, Potter,” he said. “You weren’t really in a place to have a conversation about the tender state of my virginity.”

“I would have stopped, if you--”

“I obviously didn’t want you to stop,” Draco said. “You’re being very ridiculous and - and Gryffindor-y about this. Especially as someone who just admitted he’s shagging basically half the house. Can we go to sleep? I’m bored of this conversation.”

“It’s weird,” Harry grumbled.

“You’re going to give me a complex,” Draco said, dry. “Go to sleep, Potter.”

It was weird, though. It was weird thinking about - Harry didn’t really think about sex as that big a deal anymore, but it had been once, he remembered. He wondered, suddenly, how Malfoy thought about it, what Malfoy thought they were doing.

He touched Malfoy’s shoulder. “Not bad, not great?” he echoed.

“Sleep.”

Harry considered this, and said, “Take your shirt off.”

“Oh, for--” Draco sat up in bed, pulled off his shirt in one fluid movement, and then rolled over, pressed himself up close to Harry, chest against Harry’s, head tucked under Harry’s chin. “Now go to sleep.”

“Thank you,” Harry said, satisfied. He ran his hands down Draco’s back, a warm, lovely expanse of pale skin. He wanted to sleep like this every night; Malfoy was so hot and peaceful, coiled around him like this. All the same: “I just, I didn’t think you were--”

“Shut up, Potter,” Draco said, muffled against Harry’s throat. “It was great. Very great. You know that. You were there.”

Harry yawned against Draco’s head, satisfied. “Yes,” he said. “I was.”

-

Draco was gone by the time Harry woke up the next morning, but Harry wasn’t particularly worried. The spot next to him was still warm, and Draco was always racing to go and see Monster in the mornings. Harry yawned and got up himself; he could smell pancakes, the warmth of them rising up through the house.

When he came downstairs, Draco was frozen in the hallway outside the kitchen, pressed back against the wall like he was trying to melt into it. Harry looked at him, bewildered.

“What’s up with you?” he said. “Was Neville mean to you?”

Draco stared at him, face pale. “I,” he said, so low Harry could barely hear him.

“Come on, chin up,” Harry said, something uneasy stirring in his chest. “You’re going to give Slytherins a bad rep--”

Draco’s hand shot out, grabbed his wrist. “Harry,” he whispered, so quiet Harry was straining to hear him, “please, I--”

“Harry! Is that you?”

Shacklebolt’s warm voice rang out and Harry went still, too. He broke his wrist free, grabbed Draco’s hand instead. Malfoy’s palms were clammy with fear. Harry said, low, “Go upstairs.”

“Potter, I c-can’t--” Draco’s teeth were nearly chattering; he looked like he was going to be sick, he looked like the wall was the only thing holding him up.

“Harry?” Hermione called, a thin veener of friendliness over her obvious nerves.

“One minute!” Harry yelled, and then, soft, “Go upstairs. I won’t - go wait, I won’t let him--”

“Monster,” Draco whispered. “She’s - you can see her from the kitchen window--”

“Hermione will have sorted it out,” Harry told him, with absolute faith. “Please, Draco, I can’t, I can’t think if you’re right here--”

But Draco shook his head again and again, eyes closing, skin pale enough that Harry really thought for a moment he might faint.

Furious, he shook Draco’s shoulders briefly, then kissed the corner of his mouth. “I’m not going to let him take you,” he hissed. “Just shut up and get upstairs.”

He drew in a breath and headed for the kitchen, plastering one of the more obviously fake smiles on his face. “Kingsley!” he said, and Shacklebolt smiled at him and came over to shake his hand. Harry darted a look at the kitchen window.

“I know,” Hermione said, catching his gaze. “Ron and Ginny broke it with a game of one-on-one Quidditch this morning, the idiots. It’s special glass so I’ve put some cardboard up until I can get to Diagon Alley.”

“Right,” Harry said, looking at the flimsy cardboard hastily pinned up in the window. It didn’t seem much protection against spotting a dragon. “Good on you, Hermione. I - what can we do for you, Kingsley?”

“Just a social call, really,” Kingsley said. “Seeing as I didn’t see you at the memorial service.”

“Oh,” Harry said, uncomfortable and too conscious of Malfoy just outside. He wished the bloody git would get some guts and move. He’d thought Malfoy was quite good at running away. “Yeah, I didn’t really - it didn’t really--”

“Of course everyone understands, Harry,” Kingsley said gently. “I just thought I’d stop by. See how everything was.”

“Right,” Harry said, relaxing a little.

“You’ll be glad to know we haven’t had any recent sightings of that dragon,” Kingsley said, and Harry tensed right back up again.

“Oh,” he said. “Right. Cool. Good.”

“You never found it, did you?”

Hermione shrieked with laughter, a little too hysterical. “Oh, honestly, sir, Harry and a dragon -- it’s not as though he has the best track record of dealing with them, does he?”

“Well, he has more of a track record than some,” Kingsley said, with an easy smile, and then Neville walked in. Harry and Hermione froze.

“Oh,” Neville said. “Hi Kingsley.”

He looked almost relieved. Harry caught his eye and gave Neville a tiny, tiny shake of the head. Neville’s mouth tightened.

“What are you doing here?” Neville asked.

“Social call,” Kingsley repeated breezily.

“Very nice of you, I’m sure,” Hermione said. “Considering how busy you must be, Minister--”

“Interim Minister, as I know you know,” Kingsley corrected, and smiled. “Harry, though. That dragon. I thought you might like to know - one of the last reports we had of it was about three weeks ago. It was sighted with someone our informant believed to be Draco Malfoy.”

Harry’s throat was dry. The kitchen was silent. After a moment he said, “Really.”

“As you know, we made the decision to put the Malfoys on the no danger list,” Kingsley said. “We aren’t expecting any particular problems from them. But if Draco Malfoy has shown up with a dragon -- well, that’s slightly more concerning.”

“Why - why’s that?” Hermione asked. Harry wished to god Ginny was here, who could actually act, or Luna, who was mad enough that no one noticed any specific weirdness, or even Seamus, who could talk enough to distract Kingsley from the cool, frozen atmosphere of the kitchen. And then Harry realised with an agonised twist in his gut that who he actually wanted was Malfoy: the Malfoy of the last week, stuttering furious Malfoy willing to show his face anyway, faking it until he made it. Harry’s fingers twitched.

“Well, who knows what he’s going to get up to with it?” Kingsley said, in his deep, reasonable voice. “And there was never any official word on the Malfoys after the war - Lucius was certainly a Death Eater. Draco had the Mark, and Narcissa was a known associate. Technically they’re all still considered criminals.”

Harry drew in a breath. “Kingsley,” he said.

Kingsley Shacklebolt looked at him, calm and patient. “Yes, lad?”

“If I gave testimony on the Malfoys -- on Draco and Narcissa, I mean, I think -- I have enough evidence. I think they should be cleared.”

Harry,” Neville said.

“New interest of yours?” Kingsley said. “Clearing the names of the Malfoys?”

“Not all of them,” Harry said. “Just - I’ve told people, anyway, people know how Narcissa saved me. How she lied for me.” For Draco. “It’s wrong that that hasn’t been made an official part of her record, but her being a - an associate of Death Eaters is. I hate Narcissa,” he added, gathering steam. “She did terrible things. But I’d be dead if it wasn’t for her, and Voldemort would have won.”

Kingsley regarded him steadily. “I see.”

“And Draco,” Harry said, “Draco saved me, too. At the Manor. He recognised me and he didn’t turn me in. He was - he was a fucking idiot. He was a stupid kid. But I don’t think he was a Death Eater, not really, not in the ways that matter.”

“Took the Mark, didn’t he?” Neville said bitterly. “Tortured people?”

“He was forced to,” Harry said. “He’s a coward. And he was stupid. But I don’t think he should be put in prison. I don’t even think he should be arrested. Even - even Dumbledore wanted to give him another chance, that night on the tower.”

“Harry,” Neville said, “you’re just saying that because--”

“Oh, Neville, I’m saying it too,” Hermione said tiredly. “Malfoy was sixteen when he chose to follow the Dark Lord, and he had a father and a crazy aunt pushing him to. It’s an awful choice, and not a particularly brave or smart one, certainly not a moral one, but - Neville, you got lucky with your family. Malfoy didn’t.”

“I’m not sure lucky is the word I’d use,” Neville said.

“Isn’t it?” Harry said, and thought about the photo of the first Order of the Phoenix: the utter certainty he’d had walking into the forest, his parents flanking him on either side. “Sometimes?”

“This concern is very touching,” Kingsley said. “What brought about the change of heart?”

“Oh, I’ve had - had time to think,” Harry said, “I guess, time to--”

“Harry,” Kingsley said, “is Draco Malfoy here now?”

Harry went silent. He snapped his mouth shut, stony. Hermione started to sidle toward the door leading back into the hall.

“You were spotted with him and the dragon, my dear boy,” Kingsley said, looking a little exasperated. “I waited for you to come to me, but I’ve hidden that evidence as much as I can, something has to be done, at this point--”

“I won’t,” Harry said, voice steady. “I’m really sorry, Kingsley, but I just won’t, I won’t let you have him, I can’t. It’s wrong.”

“Harry, I quite agree with you,” Kingsley said, looking suddenly very adult. “I fought in the war, too. I saw who the enemy was. I don’t for a second think we’re at any risk from a weak schoolboy. But I wish you’d come to me sooner, and the dragon complicates things.”

“The dragon was tortured,” Hermione put in hotly. “She should never have been locked up like that. Draco’s given her another chance, he’s helped her - I think she would have died without him, Minister, honestly!”

“You agree with me?” Harry said, bewildered.

“You know I don’t want to give the dragon back to Gringotts, Hermione,” Kingsley said, “but I’m saying it complicates young Mr Malfoy’s case. He could be hated but harmless as he was, but with a dragon -- well, I think it makes him a threat.”

“He won’t give her up,” Neville said unexpectedly. Harry looked at him, surprised, and Neville shrugged. “Well, he won’t. He’s obsessed with that dragon. The dragon and Harry. And being a prick.”

“Malfoy’s not - not obsessed--”

“I’m not sure the interdynamics of this house are the real issue at the moment,” Kingsley said, and Harry went red. “Harry, the best thing you can do from a political point of view right now is get Draco Malfoy’s name cleared as soon as possible. Let me - leave the dragon, for now. I don’t want to know where it is--” He looked at the cardboard window pointedly, and Hermione flushed, “-but let’s get this solved now. Come with me and we’ll go to the Ministry.”

“I can come, too,” Hermione said. “I was at the Manor. And I saw Malfoy in the Battle of Hogwarts - he didn’t kill anyone.”

“Very well,” Kingsley said. “Both of you, then. Neville, I assume you won’t be testifying to Mr Malfoy’s innocence?”

Neville made a face. “I’d really rather not.”

“Fine,” Kingsley said, and smiled dryly at Harry. “Like it or not, your word still carries a fair amount of weight around the Ministry. I’d suggest you use it while you can. Politics is a tricky business.”

“All right,” Harry said, determined, still surprised. “Let’s go now then. I’ll just - let me just--” and he started edging toward the doorway, but Hermione said, “Harry,” and Kingsley gave him a long-suffering look and Harry flushed. “All right,” he repeated. “Let’s go. Neville, will you--”

“I’m off,” Neville said, standing up and grabbing his backpack. “I’m going to Hogwarts, there’s help needed in the greenhouses still. I’m not sticking round here if you lot are going to be out all day.”

“Someone has to, um--”

“I’m sure he’ll work it out, Harry,” Kingsley said, and Harry sighed with a final look flung back at the hallway door, and then followed Kingsley and Hermione to the Floo.

-

It took hours, it was exhausting, and it still felt too short, too simple. Harry gave his testimony over and over, produced memories for a Pensieve to prove his point, answered a long series of questions about Malfoy and his intentions and his actions in sixth year. He tried to leave the incidents with Ron and Katie Bell out of it - he had no doubt the Ministry knew, but they were still in enough of a muddle that he thought they might pass under the radar, or at least not be linked immediately to Dumbledore’s death and the mess Malfoy had made of sixth year.

When the Inquisitorial Wizard said, “And Lucius Malfoy?” Harry hesitated, thinking of Lucius as he’d last seen him, the crumpled wreck in Draco’s armchair. Then he thought of Ginny, and Dobby, and fourth year, and all the years since.

He shook his head. “As far as I’m concerned, he’s a Death Eater, through and through.”

“Thank you, Mr Potter,” the Inquisitorial Wizard murmured, writing it down.

When he was finally released, Hermione came and found him. She looked tired, hair gone limp.

“Well, I think Kingsley’s gone back to his office,” she said. “Come on. Shall we go back to the house?”

“That can’t be it,” Harry said. “That was so--”

“Simple?” Hermione said. “Straightforward? Don’t, Harry, my head hurts from answering all those questions.”

“I just can’t believe - I don’t know, it’s Malfoy,” Harry said. “Surely he must be harder to get -- innocent than that.”

“Get innocent?” Hermione echoed. She laughed. “Oh, Harry, I know Malfoy was the be all end all villain when we were in school, but look at it from their perspective, he’s a minor who barely participated in the war. Narcissa, I’m surprised at, I would have expected them to fight that more, but I really think the internal circles of the Ministry are a mess at the moment, and their law enforcement offices had a lot of Death Eaters in them by the end, they’re still struggling to recover. They must be happy for anything that takes a load off their plates. They seemed frankly disappointed when I told them that Lucius Malfoy was a criminal and should be in Azkaban.”

“I told them that, too,” Harry said.

Hermione glanced at him. “I wondered if you would. You’ve seemed very - forgiving of the Malfoys lately.”

“It’s not really forgiving,” Harry said, uncomfortable. “I dunno, Hermione. It’s like Ron said - that last year of the war, it just, it didn’t even occur to me to hate Malfoy anymore. He felt so pointless, compared to everything else.” He thought of Malfoy in the barn, that first night, still breathless: I don’t think you’ve realised how dispiriting it is to have your archenemy get sick of you.

“I’m with you,” Hermione said calmly, “but that’s not really what’s been going on lately, is it?”

Harry shrugged. “The dragon’s interesting. And he’s all right in bed.”

Hermione laughed, startled, and said, “Oh, I wish I could tell fifteen year old you that you’d say that one day.”

“Fifteen year old me did a lot of yelling,” Harry told her, “I think that would be misguided of you. God, I’m starved. Let’s get home.”

They’d missed dinner by the time they got home, but Kreacher had covered up a couple of plates of leftovers and left them in the oven, and he and Hermione grabbed them and went into the living room, where Ron was holding court with Neville, Ginny, Dean, Seamus and Luna. Most of the Hufflepuffs, Harry noticed idly, seemed to have buggered off around the same time as Malfoy showed up. He didn’t think it was a coincidence.

Draco was sitting in an armchair by the fire, coiled up on himself, turned away from the rest of the group.

When he didn’t look up as Harry said hi to everyone else, Harry hesitated then went over to the chair. He touched Draco’s shoulder, a little self-conscious in front of everyone. “Hey.”

Draco didn’t look at him, still staring into the fire. “You’re too late to break the news,” he said. “The owl got here about an hour ago.”

Harry realised that there was a crumpled letter in Malfoy’s lap. A weird little jolt of fear went through him. “They haven’t,” he said, stumbling a bit, “they didn’t seem like they were going to--”

“I’m cleared,” Draco said, and handed him the letter. “Of all charges.” His voice sounded distant; Harry wanted to shake him again. He’d spent all day with Draco’s white, terrified face in his head, and now he wanted something to replace it. “I’ll have to report for probationary meetings four times a year, and that’s it. They wish me well and--” his voice wavered, but only slightly, “--apologise for any inconvenience caused.”

Harry opened the letter. It said as much in there. “Okay,” he said. “Why are you acting like someone’s died?”

Draco looked up at him. His face was very thin. All of Draco was very thin, and it struck Harry now as it hadn’t before, and for a moment all he could think was a dizzying whirl of relief: maybe Draco could get a wizarding job now, maybe he wouldn’t starve this winter. “How did you do this?”

“I gave some testimony,” Harry said, still confused. He shrugged. “Hermione helped.”

Draco’s gaze darted past Harry, over to where Hermione was leaning against Ron’s shoulder as she ate. She shrugged. “Don’t look at me. It was his idea.”

“Malfoy, you are certifiable,” Ron said comfortably. “I can’t believe you’ve found a way to mope about this. This is a good thing. You remember those, right? I think we should do shots.”

“You just like an excuse to do shots,” Neville said.

But Draco raised his head and said slowly, “Yes. Yes, I would like a drink.”

Harry nodded to the mantelpiece, where they tended to keep their spirits. “Take your pick,” he said, and Draco stood up, moving slowly, like someone who’d been hurt. He uncapped the Firewhiskey and sloshed it into a mug, a big enough serve that Harry raised his eyebrows. “All right there?”

Draco looked at him, unreadable, and said, “Potter, do you want a drink?”

“Yes,” Harry said.

“Malfoy,” Neville said, “we all want drinks.”

Harry shot Neville a grateful grin. Neville rolled his eyes.

Luna jumped up. “I’ll go get the glasses,” she said, and then it was a party.

They dragged out the gramophone from its corner and Ron set up camp as DJ, shooing away anyone else who tried to come near and put a record on - nobody was really concerned, as it was widely known that Ron would get bored as soon as he’d had enough to drink. Draco shifted from the chair to the floor, and sat with his back to the fire, cross-legged and straight-backed, taking gulp after gulp from the Firewhiskey. Harry sat next to him, trying to feel casual about it and not really succeeding, even (or perhaps especially) with Ginny making funny faces at him across the impromptu circle that formed.

“Are you moving in then, Malfoy,” Neville said finally, with a glum and resigned look that, actually, Harry thought was a pretty positive step forward.

Draco made a face. He’d loosened up a bit, and was on his second mug of whiskey. He still wasn’t really looking at Harry, though, annoyingly. “Merlin, no. For one thing I think Monster would go mad. For another, I definitely would. This is like the Gryffindor Common Room only worse.”

“Better,” Ginny challenged. “It’s bigger. And there’s no issue about anyone getting into anyone else’s dormitory.”

Ugh,” Malfoy said. “I promised Potter a week, that’s all. A week to prove - whatever the fuck he wants to prove.”

“And all I’ve done is made your innocence public,” Harry said, and mimicked Draco’s posh, precise way of speaking: “Ugh. What a waste of time.”

Draco shot him a look, half under his eyelashes. Harry wasn’t sure what it meant. His spine prickled.

“We should do something fun,” Seamus said. “Everything’s always about Malfoy now, it’s so boring.”

“Already done, too,” Ron agreed. “You guys just be thankful you weren’t friends with him in sixth year.”

“I wasn’t that bad,” Harry said, embarrassed. “Anyway, I was right.”

“Don’t worry, Potter,” Draco said. “You were also extremely unsubtle. I’m well aware of your stalkerish tendencies.”

Harry grinned at him, pleased and tipsy. Draco rolled his eyes back. Harry would be more sick of that, except he was starting to have the suspicion that that was how Draco interacted with people he liked, as opposed to sneering.

“Something fun,” Seamus insisted. “Let’s play a drinking game. Oh, let’s play Spin the Bottle!”

“Hard no,” Draco said.

“You can go outside and pet your dragon, Malfoy,” Ginny said, making most of the circle collapse into giggles.

“What?” Draco said, staring around suspiciously. “Maybe I will. What? Potter, why are you laughing--”

“Do you think,” Ron said, gasping, “do you think the dragon wants to play Spin the Bottle too--”

“No, she’ll get jealous,” Ginny said, and had to lie down, she was laughing so hard.

They didn’t play spin the bottle: they did play an abortive round of truth or dare that fizzled out before it got to Draco, for which Harry was privately thankful. Draco stood up, went to the bathroom, and then came back to sit on the piano bench, instead of next to Harry. That annoyed Harry enough that he started chucking things at Draco’s head - a ball of scrunched up parchment, a teacup - but Draco quietly caught them and started juggling, much to the delight of everyone else in the room.

“What the fuck,” Neville said, shaking his head and staring at Draco. “What the fuck.”

“That’s pretty cool, actually,” Ginny said, and rummaged in her pocket before she came up with a bouncy ball, the kind Dudley used to get from vending machines. “Catch, Malfoy!” and he folded the new ball into the round without missing a beat, smirking over at Harry.

“What else can you do?” Ron wondered. “Can you do like - knives and shit?”

“Please don’t start throwing knives at me,” Draco said.

“Much as we’d all understand the temptation,” Harry chipped in. Draco threw the ball at his head. Harry ducked, and it went into the fire.

“Aw, Harry, you’re ruining the game,” Ginny said.

I’m ruining the game,” he said, outraged, and lunged at her, but Ginny was up on her feet and dashing round the room, and Harry followed her, vaulting over Seamus’s head - “Ow!” - and catching her up in his arms just as she tried to feint and double back.

Ginny laughed, kicking and yelling, elbowing Harry in the stomach. “Lemme down, lemme down, brute--” and then, “Oh, I love this song.”

“Me too,” Luna said, getting up and starting to determinedly dance in her weird, shimmery way in the middle of the room. Harry let Ginny down so she could join Luna, and went to go sit on the bench next to Malfoy, who was scowling.

“Still annoyed you’re free?” he asked conversationally, and plunked his elbow down on the piano keys by accident. They chimed out, and Draco winced.

“That’s so horrifically out of tune,” he said. “God, Potter. You’re useless.”

“You can do magic again now,” Harry pointed out. “Now that you don’t have to worry about people tracking you.”

Draco met his gaze evenly. “I know.”

“Okay,” Harry said. “Just checking you hadn’t mistaken this whole thing as, you know, something bad.”

“Harry,” Ginny demanded, and Harry got up to dance with her. She was quick and vivid in his arms, and a better dancer than him, but Harry didn’t mind being made fun of by her, and he didn’t mind her using him to show off, so they worked well together. He wasn’t a very good dancer at all, but he liked it, even liked when Hermione came rocking and grinning into his arms, so much like the tent that cold night in the war that it made his breath catch. He liked it all the same, liked that he’d had Hermione then and had her now, and they bent their heads together and danced clumsily, tripping over each other’s feet.

Neville and Luna waltzed daintily around the carpet. Seamus and Ron were conducting an enthusiastic jig, arms around each other’s shoulders. Dean hung back, but every now and then Ginny would whirl in to kiss his cheek, and he grinned and did a little shimmy for her.

Harry danced with Hermione and Ginny, letting people laugh at him. Draco was rolling his eyes a lot, but he was just a small and annoyed blot on the night, and Harry mostly ignored him.

Until finally he was properly drunk and Ginny and Ron were arguing about who was the better lead between the two of them, and Harry let Hermione fall back exhausted onto a chair and went over to Malfoy. Draco looked golden in the firelight. He looked lovely and tired and cross. Harry leaned over the piano, looking down at him.

Draco shook his head firmly. “No.”

“Can Malfoy even dance?” Ron wondered, looking over at him. “All I remember about the Yule Ball is the awful dress robes.”

“I was fourteen,” Draco said, agonised. “Mostly I think it was a triumph I didn’t dye my hair, I really wanted a black streak for a while--”

“Why?” Harry said, momentarily thrown off course.

Draco gave him a dark look. “I thought it would be edgy,” he said. “I was fourteen. That’s what you do when you’re fourteen.”

“When I was fourteen I faced Voldemort for the first time,” Harry said thoughtfully.

“Show off,” Draco said. “Stop looking at me like that. I’m not and I won’t.”

“He can dance,” Harry told Ron. “I’ve seen him.”

“Look at me, not being surprised,” Draco said.

“Stalkerish tendencies,” Harry agreed.

“I think it’s very sweet that he’s shy,” Ginny said, breathless, spinning in under Dean’s arm and then out again. “Poor shy Malfoy.”

“I’m not shy,” Draco said, “just because I don’t want to--”

Harry took his hand. “Come on,” he said, and Draco looked down at Harry’s hand numbly, as if not quite sure what to do with it. Harry repeated, “Come on.”

Draco licked his lips.

“Don’t be sad,” Harry said, lowering his voice. “I don’t know what you’re sad about, just - don’t, please. Come dance with me.”

Malfoy stood up. He put his hand on Harry’s shoulder and they moved in slow, slightly off-beat circles by the piano. Harry didn’t feel particularly like showing off, or having Draco show off, now that he had him up. Draco’s waist was under Harry’s hand, Draco’s bony hip. Harry tugged him in a little closer.

Draco’s lips twisted. “I thought you were busy dancing with Weasley. Girl Weasley.”

“I was,” Harry said, “now I’m busy with you. Why, are you jealous?”

Draco scoffed. “Hardly. Though you’re clearly trying to make her jealous, I don’t know what else that little performance was about--”

“It wasn’t a performance,” Harry said. “It’s not my fault you make everything difficult. Anyway, Gin and I don’t really do jealousy.”

“Of course you don’t,” Draco said. He raised his arm and, surprised, Harry turned under it. “Saint Potter. Even when it comes to sleeping around you’re still above normal human reactions.”

Harry raised his hand from Draco’s waist, brushed his knuckles against Draco’s jawline. The evening was falling apart, Ron and Hermione quietly sneaking out, Neville dozing on the couch with Luna sitting on the floor by his feet, leaning against his knees. Ginny and Dean were perched on the wide windowsill doing shots. Draco looked pretty. Harry couldn’t stop thinking about it like that, slow and wondering. Draco Malfoy wasn’t that attractive: he was too pointy, too pale, he got all splotchy and flushed when he was upset, which was nearly all the time. But Harry kept looking at Draco’s eyes, grey and unhappy, and the sweet downward curve of his mouth.

He wanted to keep dancing with Malfoy, just like this. They turned round and round. Harry said, “Sometimes I have normal reactions.”

Malfoy looked at him, frowning and far away. Then he said, “Can we - let’s go to bed, come on,” and something in Harry’s stomach went happy and warm.

Upstairs, Harry hovered over Draco on the little bed, kissing him slowly, enjoying the arched tension of Draco’s body as he pushed up, trying to make Harry touch him properly. Harry touched him slowly, hand skimming over Draco’s side, up under his shirt and over his ribs. Draco sucked in a breath. Harry went for the hem of his shirt.

Draco grabbed his wrist, stopping him, and Harry stared down at him. “Oh, come on,” he said. “Again? You took it off last night--”

“I just don’t,” Draco said, stammering a bit, “I don’t really - I don’t look that nice--”

“Oh, stop fishing for compliments,” Harry said, and kissed him again soundly. He didn’t feel very drunk anymore: just focused. “You can’t be that insecure. Lots of people like ‘em scrawny.”

“I just--”

Harry shoved up Draco’s left sleeve, stroked over the Dark Mark. “It’s faded now,” he said, low. It was grey and shadowy, a blur in the darkness. “Soon you won’t be able to see it at all.”

Draco swallowed. “I - maybe.”

“Come on,” Harry said.

“Fine, whatever,” Draco said, and half sat up, scrambling out of his shirt while Harry sat back on his haunches, watching Draco, grinning.

Then he froze. Draco yawned, ran his fingers through his hair, and tossed the shirt aside. He turned back to Harry saying, “All right, there you go, you always get what you want--”

“What,” Harry said, reaching out, and Draco went very still. Harry’s fingers hit the edge of the scar. It started thin, so thin it was almost unnoticeable under Draco’s chin, but it snaked down, deepened, spreading out, a web of hurt across Draco’s chest, much worse than the Dark Mark, much worse than anything else enacted upon Draco’s skinny body.

“I told you,” Draco said, voice trembling a little, “I told you I don’t look good, I don’t know what you--”

“Draco,” Harry said, voice raw, and pressed his hand against the centre of the web, the point the spell had hit.

After a moment, Draco said, voice funny and stilted, “Did you forget, Potter?”

“No,” Harry said, but if he was honest he had forgotten; he hadn’t remembered this properly, it had faded into the background of everything that happened before Dumbledore’s death, before Harry’s world fractured into grief and fear and fighting. He’d thought of the fight in the bathroom as something that had happened a million years ago, something that had no consequences, something from school.

Now he remembered, with sudden clarity, Malfoy sobbing in the bathroom, his shoulders jerking. He thought with an odd numbness that if he saw Malfoy doing that now, crying like that now, he wasn’t sure what he would do. Try and kill whatever had caused it, maybe. He didn’t even like Malfoy, not really, but--

“Well, you had a busy year,” Malfoy said, sounding tense and pissed off. “Can’t expect you to remember all the Death Eaters you carved up.”

“Draco,” Harry said again, helpless, and Draco paused. For a moment he was perfectly still, gaze distant as though he wasn’t even aware of where he was. Then he nodded like he’d made a decision, lifted his head and put his hand on Harry’s cheek, gently tilted Harry up to kiss him.

“Don’t worry about it,” he said. “It was a long time ago. I did try to Crucio you.”

“I didn’t - I didn’t know it was that bad,” Harry said, but that was a lie too, Malfoy twitching and gasping on the floor, blood and water. “I didn’t - fuck, I--”

“Oh, Potter, you’re useless,” Draco said, and kissed him again. He wound his arms around Harry’s shoulders, straightened them up so he could crawl into Harry’s lap. “Merlin. I don’t know how you do anything.”

“Did it hurt?” Harry said, voice low.

Draco hesitated, then nodded.

“I’m sorry,” Harry said. “I’m really, really -- were you scared?”

“Very scared,” Draco said, low. “But I - I’m scared of everything. You know that, Potter,” and Harry wondered how much Draco had heard this morning, standing out in the corridor.

“I just - I can’t believe,” Harry started.

“It’s okay,” Draco said. He scratched lightly against his chest. “See? Doesn’t hurt anymore. And it saved me, once.”

“What?” Harry looked up sharply. “How?”

“When you escaped the Manor,” Draco said. “The Dark Lord came. He was - unhappy. He thought maybe I’d been lying, that I had recognised you, that I was stalling, and he looked into my mind and I - I thought about that fight, that bathroom fight, and how you’d tried to kill me, and how much I hated you. And he didn’t see anything else.”

“What else was there?” Harry said, a little lost.

Draco kissed him. “I wanted you to win,” he said, voice low. “I knew that was the only way out. I wanted to survive and I wanted my parents to survive and I didn’t want the Dark Lord in control, he was terrifying, I would have hated him if he’d seemed like someone you could hate, but - I knew there wasn’t anything I could do. I figured you could.” He made a wry face and said, “How ‘bout that, Potter? You were my only hope.”

Harry laughed hollowly. He couldn’t stop looking at the scar.

“And I was right,” Draco said, a little fiercely. “I was right. You won and I’m alive and my parents are alive and now - now me and my mum are going to be - I hate you, Potter, how do you do something like that, so easily, so obviously, it’s -- but I was right.”

Harry looked at him, and Draco shifted and pushed him down against the blankets.

“I was right,” he repeated, proud and disbelieving at once. “So stop worrying about things you did when you were sixteen. You don’t care what I did when I was sixteen. Stop being such a fucking Gryffindor martyr.”

“I care about what you did when you were sixteen,” Harry said, “a bit.”

“So do I, a bit,” Draco said, and smiled at him. “Go to sleep.”

Harry didn’t. He gathered Draco in against him, instead, and they lay like that for a while, both of them awake and quiet, Draco’s hand smoothing down Harry’s back, Harry clutching him tight.

In the morning, Draco said crossly, “I should have known it would kill your sex drive, I’m never taking my shirt off again,” and Harry shoved him down into the nest of blankets, got him naked and sucked him off, slowly, drawing it out, basking in it, while Malfoy got louder and louder, crying out, sweet surprised sounds of pleasure and the warmth of his blush spreading down his face, over his chest, until he was pink and lovely and all Harry’s.

-

The kitchen seemed busier than usual that morning. Draco hung back, looking harried, and Harry felt oddly protective, like he didn’t want anyone to look at Draco except him. That was stupid, Harry knew: of all of them in the room, Harry had hurt Malfoy the worst, the most obviously. He still hung in front of Draco, frowning, until Draco tapped his shoulder and said hesitantly, “Do you want to eat outside?”

So they had toast and porridge each perched on one of Monster’s feet, with Monster tucking into her trough of what looked like several pounds of raw liver this morning. Harry wrinkled his nose, but Draco only looked slightly interested.

“Where is all this meat coming from, Potter?” he asked, and Harry shrugged.

“I dunno, really,” he said. “Sometimes Kreacher just produces stuff. Mostly we take turns on the grocery shopping, but there’s so many of us it hasn’t been my turn in about six weeks. But there’s usually quite a bit of meat hanging about. Ron and Ginny eat more than you could believe, I swear, and, uhm. Lavender likes meat.”

Draco blanched and looked away, and Harry hurried on, not interested in ending up in another one of their fraught, strange conversations, where Harry got angry without even noticing it happening. “So, yeah,” he said. “I don’t remember whose turn it is right now? But they probably just upped the meat supply.”

“Right,” Draco said, and cleared his throat. “I will, uh - I’ll pay you back, of course.”

“Malfoy,” Harry said, uncomfortable, palming at the back of his neck, “don’t worry about it--”

“I’m not worried about it,” Draco said crisply, “I’m just telling you, I’ll pay you back.”

“Most of us got an Order of Merlin after the war,” Harry said. “It comes with a pretty decent cash prize. We’re all doing fine.”

“I’m doing fine, too,” Draco said. “And now I can - can get a wizarding job, so--”

“Oh, Draco, just please don’t worry about it,” Harry said. “It would be weird if you started dumping giant cartons of raw meat on our doorstep, and I promise no one’s keeping track of the money. Do you get any of the, the Malfoy money back?”

“No,” Draco said. “It’s tied up in my father’s name, and the Manor is still - it’s been confiscated as a Dark Lord headquarters, so--”

“So, exactly,” Harry said. “Don’t worry about it.”

Draco said, low, “I’m not taking your pity.”

“It’s not pity,” Harry said. “It’s - look, Malfoy, you’re the one who’s always been obsessed with money.”

“I beg your pardon.”

“Obsessed with being rich, now you’re obsessed with not being rich,” Harry said. “It’s boring. Leave it. You can buy a round at the pub one time.”

“I’m not going to go to the pub with you and a bunch of Gryffindors,” Draco said. “I honestly can’t think of anything worse.”

“All right,” Harry said diffidently, “buy me a drink sometime.”

Draco chewed his mouthful of toast. “Okay,” he said, after a minute, and Harry grinned up at him, sprawled back on Monster’s foreleg in the morning sunshine. He closed his eyes, sleepy and content, just out in the garden with Draco and the dragon. Even Monster seemed more content, swishing her tail happily in the grass.

Harry opened his eyes, and frowned. “I swear this garden is getting bigger,” he said.

“Mm?” Draco looked vaguely interested. “Maybe Monster’s just knocked down a few trees.”

“Maybe,” Harry said, doubtful, and then thought of something Draco had said: “So you know that - that your father’s not cleared.”

“Yes,” Draco said, soft.

“But your mum is.”

“Yes,” Draco said. “I don’t think she would have gotten the letter. They wouldn’t have known where to send it. But I wrote to her last night.”

Harry stared. “You did?”

Draco gave him a small, secretive grin.

“How did you do that?”

“I borrowed an owl,” Draco said. “Same as I have every day.”

“What?” Harry shook his head, confused. “You’ve been writing to your mum?”

“I was hardly going to just disappear, was I, Potter,” Draco drawled, bored. “Do you think my mother wouldn’t have already burned down most of London if I’d disappeared after she saw me go off with you in a strop? Forget facing the Dark Lord, that would be a challenge.”

“Fair call,” Harry said after a minute, though he still felt a little stunned. “I can’t believe you managed to keep that secret.”

“You’re not very observant,” Draco said. “I don’t know if you’ve noticed. Oh, wait, obviously not,” and then Harry had to wait while Draco cackled to himself for a minute or two.

When he was done, Harry had had another idea.

“Hey,” he said. “About that drink?”

“I’m all out, Potter,” Draco said. “Although, you know what, this is your hoodie,” and he rummaged around in the pocket for a moment before rolling his eyes and saying, “Aha,” and producing two sickles.

“Well, that’s what I mean,” Harry said. “We could go out now. If you wanted. We could go to Diagon Alley. Your name’s cleared. You don’t need to worry about being seen or anything.”

Draco’s face darkened and then cleared, too fast for Harry to follow properly. “Really,” he said, voice casual.

“If you like,” Harry said, watching him carefully. “Don’t you miss magic? Don’t you miss being around magic?”

“I’ve got a dragon,” Draco said, and stretched out. He wasn’t looking at Harry when he said, “But if you’re bored, I don’t suppose I’ve got anything better to do.”

-

People stared in Diagon Alley. Harry was a little worried, that Malfoy was going to get all flustered and upset again, or that he’d shut down, become the fearful, unmoving creature from the hallway yesterday. But Malfoy, no longer faced with the threat of Azkaban, rather seemed to be enjoying himself. He sauntered along next to Harry, clearly pretending that he hadn’t noticed the stares and whispers, but with a definite new swagger in his step.

He’d stolen another of Harry’s shirts, a black ribbed long-sleeved one that made him look sort of unfairly good, in Harry’s opinion, but after a while he turned to Harry and said, “Potter, I’m cold.”

“I - okay?” Harry said. “I’m not sure what you want me to do with that, but sure--”

Draco made a regal gesture at him.

“Oh, fuck off,” Harry said, laughing. “You can’t--”

“You’re wearing that hideous jumper,” Draco said. “I don’t see the need for that and a coat.”

“Mrs Weasley made this jumper for me,” Harry said. “I like it.”

“I wouldn’t expect anything less of you,” Draco said with faux kindness. “And given that it has your initials on it, I’m sure that it’s very useful for your spelling practice. All the same. Gimme.”

“Draco,” Harry said, laughing, and Draco widened his eyes.

“Potter,” he said, right back, and then folded his arms across his chest and faked a shiver.

It was such an obvious fake. It was so obvious.

Harry had told Malfoy to bring his jacket.

After a moment, Harry took off his coat and handed it over.

“Thanks ever so,” Draco said smugly, and turned the collar up, too, so he looked like a proper pillock, swinging along in the heavy grey coat with his hands tucked in the pockets. Harry laughed at him, rolling his eyes.

“You look ridiculous,” he said.

“Are you going to buy me a drink?” Draco asked, eyes wide.

“You’re such a dick,” Harry told him, but they ended up sitting at one of the outside tables for a little Diagon Alley bar - Harry wanted to go to the Leaky Cauldron, but Draco refused, and then he made Harry order butterscotch rum, which made Harry feel a little ridiculous - all the same.

“Thank you, Potter,” Draco said grandly, when Harry had given it to him. He settled in and took a sip. “Perhaps now I shall buy you two drinks. One day.”

“One day,” Harry agreed, amused despite himself. “What are you going to do, anyway?”

“What?” Draco said. “When?”

“Now, I guess,” Harry said. “Are you and your mum going to - what about...”

He trailed off. Draco eyed him a little uncertainly and then said, rough and abrupt, “My dad’s not well.”

“Right,” Harry said, thinking of Lucius slumped in his seat. “I knew that. But they’ll still arrest him if they can--”

“I mean,” Draco said, voice very level, “I mean, we think he’s dying.”

He raised his glass, took a careful sip from it. When he put it back down, he left his hands curled around the tumbler, but Harry could still see that his fingers were shaking, very slightly.

“Okay,” Harry said. He wasn’t sure how to respond. He didn’t know how to say sorry that Lucius Malfoy would be dead soon; all he could feel was a tired sort of resigned that was closer to being glad than anything else. Not a very enjoyable glad, but still.

“So,” Draco said, and took another sharp little sip. “I think you probably don’t need to worry about handing him in.”

“I wasn’t going to hand him in,” Harry said. “I just wasn’t going to proclaim his innocence.”

“I know,” Draco said. “That’s fair.” He looked exhausted suddenly. “More - more fair than he deserves.”

Harry didn’t say anything. He felt very sure that he was on dangerous ground just now.

“I have to,” Draco said, slow enough that he sounded bored, “I have to - we have to get through the next year. I don’t. I don’t think it will be much longer than a year.”

Impulsively, Harry kicked his foot against Draco’s under the table. “I’m sorry,” he said.

Draco laughed bitterly. “Even I’m not sure if I’m properly sorry, Potter,” he said. “Not in a - not in a good way. So you’re definitely not.”

“No,” Harry said, trying to make sense of it, trying to make Draco understand, trying to understand himself, “I mean - I’m sorry your dad is sick. That’s all.”

“Oh.” Draco looked up, eyes wide and shocked. “Oh. Yes. Me too.”

Harry said, “I’ll buy you another drink, if you like.”

“That would be nice,” Draco said, and drained his tumbler, coughing and grimacing when he was done.

Harry raised his eyebrows. “Easy, Malfoy,” he said, low, and reached quickly across the table to touch Malfoy’s cheek before he went inside for more drinks.

He couldn’t have said why he did that. He couldn’t - he shoved his hand in his pocket.

When he brought the drink out, Malfoy looked up at him, face clear, and said, “Cursebreaker, I think.”

“What?”

“That’s what I wanted to be, the last time I thought about it,” Malfoy said, and made a face. “Which was fifth year. For a couple of months. Before that I thought I wanted to be an auror, but then word got around that was what you wanted to do and so I was damned if I was going to do that. Before that I wanted to be a dragon tamer, and before that a Potions Master, and before that I wanted to be Lockhart, and before that Minister for Magic, and before that a dragon tamer again--”

“Wait, what?” Harry said.

“Well, I gave up the dragon tamer thing for a while,” Draco said, “I thought it was immature. Then I decided it was mature again. Then the auror thing.”

“No,” Harry said, “you wanted to be Lockhart?”

“Oh, come on, Lockhart was cool!” Draco said, face lighting up. “He’d done all that cool shit! Not such a great professor, all right, but he was used to being out battling stuff--”

“Oh my god, I knew I hated you,” Harry said. “You know that was all fake, right?”

“What? No.”

“He would take the stories of real people and then Obliviate them,” Harry said. “He didn’t actually do any of it himself.”

Draco made a doubtful face. “I think you’re probably wrong. You’re just getting mixed up, ‘cos of what happened when he got some sort of memory damage somehow, it was really sad, actually--”

“I was there when that happened,” Harry said. “In second year. He was trying to Obliviate me and Ron so he could say that he slayed the basilisk or something--”

“Harry,” Draco said, very condescending, “I know you’re very special and all, but I hardly think Professor Lockhart was going to Obliviate two twelve year olds. I’ve told you the world doesn’t revolve around you.”

“Merlin,” Harry said. “You’re so fucking weird. Please don’t become Professor Lockhart.”

“Well, he slipped down the list,” Draco said, tasting his drink and making a satisfied noise. “I told you, I think the last plan was cursebreaker. But I - well.”

“What?” Harry said. “Why not?”

“I don’t know,” Draco said. “I was fifteen. I didn’t really - I didn’t think about anything, after - after that. I didn’t--” He swallowed, and Harry stared at him, not really thinking. Malfoy rubbed his hand through his hair and said, “I didn’t know what I was going to - I thought I was going to die, for two years. So I didn’t really sort out career plans.”

“Right,” Harry said. “But you - you could do it now.”

“Yeah,” Draco said. “I’ll probably go down Knockturn Alley, see if anyone there is hiring. They’re - they sort of know me, so.”

“And your dream is to become a shopkeeper?” Harry said, disappointed.

Draco shrugged, looking away. “I built up a certain finesse,” he said. “And it’d probably pay more in a wizarding store. What about you, Potter? Still going to be an auror?”

“I don’t know,” Harry said. “I think so. I’m going to - I’m going to think about things properly this year. But yeah, I think so. I like the idea. And I’m good at it.”

“Know that already, do you?” Malfoy said, rolling his eyes.

Harry leaned back in his chair. “Yeah,” he said, “I do,” and then startled, smiling, when Draco’s eyes dropped quickly to his mouth and then back up again.

“Shut up,” Malfoy said, flushing.

“Didn’t say anything,” Harry said, laughing, holding his hands up.

Draco rolled his eyes. “There’s been cameras by the way,” he said. “Hope you’re aware of that.”

“Yeah,” Harry said. “I noticed a while ago.”

“They’re going to think you’ve gone over to the dark side,” Draco said.

“Mm,” Harry said. “Maybe. What drink do you want next?”

-

The photos were in the Evening Prophet that night. Seamus chucked them at his head, laughing, and Harry ducked, looked at them once and rolled his eyes. It was the same stuff as normal, the Prophet being way too obsessed with his life, but when Malfoy came in after taking Monster up for her evening flight, he poured over it, delighted and cackling.

“Your hair looks particularly awful in this one, Potter, look,” he said, and Harry leaned over his shoulder obediently. His hair looked just the same as ever, but he noticed this time the way he was looking at Draco, laughing and indulgent. Their photographed figures were half swinging down the street together, sometimes metres apart, sometimes swerving in to bump shoulders, and the photographed Malfoy was clearly showing off Harry’s coat, doing an overly dramatic spin every now and then, the material swinging out.

The headline said: HARRY POTTER’S NEW BESTIE: CLEARED DEATH EATER DRACO MALFOY.

“I don’t think you can be a cleared Death Eater,” Hermione said, looking over at it on her way through. “You either are one or you’re not, aren’t you?”

“I don’t know,” Draco said, looking a little pinched and unhappy.

Harry pointed at the photo of Draco tipping lazily back in his chair at the bar. “You’re about to fall off, you berk.”

“Am not,” Draco said. “I have perfect, catlike balance. I’m elegant and cool.”

“Oh, of course,” Harry said. “I think that was the coolest thing I ever heard.”

Draco leaned over the column and murmured, “This paragraph calls me a bad boy - I think I like this paragraph best, I’m going to clip it out--”

“You’re not a bad boy,” Harry said, rolling his eyes. “You’re a wet blanket.”

“Shut up, Potter,” Draco said. “The Daily Prophet disagrees with you.”

“Okay, whatever,” Harry said. He looked up to where Hermione was rustling around in the fridge and made a face, plucking lightly at Draco’s sleeve.

“I should send this to my mother,” Draco continued, mostly to himself, thoughtful. “She would like to see that I’m looking well.”

“Draco,” Harry said.

Draco flipped from one page to the other. Harry still didn’t get why the Prophet wanted to fill up two pages of him out having a drink. “This coat really does look much better on me than on you,” Draco said. “I think I’ll keep it. You don’t have the right panache. You always look so rumpled. The coat deserves better. I -- oh, Potter, stop pinching at me, what is it?”

Hermione looked back, eyebrows raised, and Harry went red.

“Oh,” Draco said, looking up at him, and then he stood up, an easy stretch, smiling. “All right, then.”

Hermione made a face at Harry. Harry made a sheepish face back at her and followed Draco out of the kitchen, up the stairs.

-

They had breakfast with the others the next day. Harry felt more settled, a good day yesterday, and a good night, too, Draco shoving Harry around, holding him down, biting into Harry’s shoulder as he pushed into him with a whine. Harry had bruises on his hips from Draco’s hands, the mark on his shoulder, and he knew he should spell them off, but he liked the feeling of them, the ache, like a quiet reminder under his clothes.

Draco looked settled, too. He was kind of distracting, actually, still sleepy and moving slow and languorous, a long stretch that left Harry eyeing the little bare stretch of stomach it revealed with a venomous eye, wanting to get Draco back upstairs already. Draco wasn’t paying enough attention, hadn’t sparred with Neville yet this morning, wasn’t even giving Seamus the usual mean little looks he did when he thought Harry wasn’t paying attention.

It probably annoyed Seamus more; after a while he rolled his eyes and stood up, announced that he was heading out. Draco barely looked up, and Harry only managed a half-focused, “Bye.” Most of his attention was on Draco’s bare foot, which was idly poking at Harry’s ankle, then sliding up under his sweatpants, patting along Harry’s shin. His shin wasn’t even meant to be a sensitive spot.

Ron said plaintively, “Harry, mate,” and Harry looked up.

“What?” he said, and Hermione elbowed Ron. Ron shook his head, let out a breath.

“Nothing,” he said.

“I think he means if you could look a bit less like you want to eat Malfoy alive, it’d be a more comfortable breakfast for everyone,” Neville offered. “Just, you know. If that’s something you feel like doing.”

Harry could feel himself going red. Draco looked up from his paper, distracted.

“Mm?” he said. “Is Potter being a boor again? You mustn’t take it to heart, he was raised by Muggles--”

“I was raised by Muggles,” Hermione said.

“Me too,” Dean said.

“Well,” Draco said, looking a little discomforted, “but Potter is also very stupid.”

Harry rolled his eyes. “Are you finished eating?”

“No,” Draco said, and Harry hauled him up anyway. “I said no! No! Get your hands off me, you--” but he was laughing and grinning up at Harry, face all bright and warm, and the rest of the breakfast table were making gagging noises, and Harry didn’t feel too bad about dragging Draco out of there, kissing him out in the hall.

“Honestly, you’re always making such a scene,” Draco murmured, but his arm was around Harry’s neck and he was kissing Harry back, glad and eager, pressing up against him. “It’s embarrassing, it really is, I had no idea Gryffindors conducted themselves with so little decorum - I mean, I did know, but--”

“Do you ever shut up?” Harry asked. “Really, I mean--”

“You like it when I talk, Potter,” Draco said, face so close that he sort of blurred, and Harry’s glasses were pushed back uncomfortably tight against his nose, but he didn’t want to take them off. He wanted to keep looking. “You think I haven’t noticed, but I have.”

“You’re a deeply selfish person,” Harry said. “And self-obsessed, too. I know you noticed.”

Draco laughed, and nuzzled at Harry’s ear.

“Come on,” Harry said, voice dropping low, “let’s go back upstairs -- I don’t know why we came down, it was stupid--”

“We were hungry,” Draco said, already moving backward towards the stairs.

“Stupid,” Harry repeated. “Let’s not do that again -- let’s--”

The knock at the door came heavy and sudden, startling them apart by instinct. For a moment Harry felt frozen, as though something terrible had appeared, some portent of doom. Then Seamus called, “Hello? I forgot my keys!” and Draco made an exasperated noise and the moment broke.

“Honestly,” Draco said. “Gryffindors. Useless, I swear,” and he went and threw open the door.

Seamus wasn’t alone on the doorstep. He didn’t look normal, either. He looked very pale, like he was going to faint, even with Blaise Zabini standing behind him, a heavy hand on Seamus’s shoulder holding him up, a wand pointed at Seamus’s head. When Seamus saw Harry lingering behind Draco he croaked, “Harry, I’m so sorry--”

But Pansy Parkinson was already moving. She swept past Seamus and went for Draco like a hurricane, her wand out. Draco’s exasperated look was still fading, not having any time to transition, when she shoved him up against the wall, her wand at his throat.

Harry grabbed for his wand instinctively, but it was upstairs, discarded on the floor of the little attic by the bed Draco had held him down in - and Parkinson’s parents and brother were all in Azkaban, all Death Eaters, and--

“Pans?” Draco said, like he didn’t understand what was happening.

“Where’s your wand?” Parkinson said, face white with fury.

“I don’t have it,” Draco said. “Pansy, I--”

“Right,” Parkinson said decisively. She threw her wand to the side, and drew back her fist, and punched Draco in the face.

Draco went down solidly with a yelp. Harry surged forward, but Zabini flicked his wand at Harry, said, “I wouldn’t,” and sent Harry sliding back to the wall. Parkinson launched herself at Draco on the floor, and for a moment the two were a blur of limbs, kicking.

Hermione appeared in the doorway. “What on earth is going on -- Seamus!” and Harry felt his fury build and snapped free of Blaise’s spell, sending Blaise’s wand clattering across the floor. Seamus whirled around on Blaise, his own wand out, and Harry went for Parkinson and Draco.

“Get off him,” he snapped, still not sure what to do, what was happening, and then Parkinson aimed up a startlingly high kick and got him right in the stomach. “Oof,” he said, staggering back.

“Stay out of this, Potter!” she shrieked. “I’m going to kill you--”

“Pansy, Pans,” Draco was saying, gasping for breath, and the two of them wrestled on the floor while Harry yelled, “What are you all looking at? Stop her, stun her!”

Seamus looked about ready to, but Hermione shook her head. “Why did she throw her wand aside?” she said, puzzled. “Harry, what’s going on -- I thought they were friends--”

Draco and Parkinson rolled over on the floor, and over again. Parkinson ended up on top of him, flailing wildly, aiming punches at his chest and cheek and Draco struggled until he finally worked his way out from her, grabbing her wrists and pulling them tight to his cheek.

“Pans,” he repeated, panting for breath, “Pansy, hey, hey--”

“The Daily Prophet?” she yelled. “That’s how I find out you’re alive? I fucking hope you enjoyed your return from the dead because it’s over now, I’m going to kill you myself--”

“Pansy,” Draco said again, like it was the only word left to him: unbelievably, he was smiling, nose bloody and hair mussed, flushed and breathless and smiling at Pansy Parkinson like she was the best thing he’d ever seen.

Harry was frozen again, rage and something deep and cold holding him down. Hermione, on the other hand, was smiling, almost fondly. He couldn’t understand how.

“I’d say your goodbyes, Malfoy,” Zabini drawled, apparently unconcerned that his hostage situation had backfired on him very quickly. “She’s very determined.”

Pansy,” Draco repeated. He was laughing now, and as Harry watched he leaned in and kissed Pansy Parkinson’s ugly pug nose: he kissed her cheeks, the corner of her mouth, covering her in a flurry of sweet, anxious kisses while she struggled and thumped her hands against her chest. “Hey, hey, calm down--”

“I swear to Merlin I’ll kill you, Draco,” Pansy Parkinson said, and burst into tears.

Harry turned around and demanded, “What is going on?”

Hermione, Luna, and Neville shrugged back at him. Behind him, Blaise Zabini’s horrible aristocratic drawl said, “Calm down, Potter. None of this needs to affect you. We’re just here to rescue Malfoy.”

“He doesn’t need rescuing,” Harry said, “he--”

“A whole fucking year,” Parkinson spat, “and you couldn’t drop me a note, you couldn’t--”

“Sweetheart,” Draco said, stroking her hair roughly, like he couldn’t believe she was real. “I know, I know, I’m sorry, I wanted to find you but I couldn’t - I couldn’t, what if they decided you were a Death Eater because of me? What if - and I would have come anyway, if it was just me, but my parents, and - and - I couldn’t risk it, I couldn’t, I’m so sorry--”

“And then you’re in the papers,” Parkinson said, still crying angrily, frighteningly like Hermione, “gallivanting around with Potter!”

“I’ve been looking for you,” Draco said urgently, “I was only cleared two days ago - I promise, it’s all I’ve been thinking about--”

“All?” Harry said coldly, but Draco barely looked up.

“Come on, Harry,” Hermione said. “I don’t think we need to be here for this--”

“I disagree,” Harry said. “They just broke into our house, and her whole family is a nest of Death Eaters--”

“They did just jump me,” Seamus said. “I’m sorry, Harry, I figured if I knocked maybe you would open the door--”

“Oh, I think you can all stop being dramatic now, you’ve clearly got the situation under control,” Blaise said, exasperated. “It was the only way we could think of to maybe get to Draco and it obviously wasn’t very well thought out but it’s worked, so I might just head off now and leave them to it--”

“You’re not going anywhere,” Harry said. “I have questions for - for both of you -- Parkinson, you hear me?”

But Draco and Pansy weren’t listening to anyone, their hands folded into each other’s hair, half in each other’s laps, foreheads bent together and talking low and quiet as if there wasn’t anyone else in the world.

-

Eventually they got everyone into the kitchen. Harry tried to take Draco’s wrist and steer him gently along to sit with Harry, but Draco just gave him a puzzled look, pulled his wrist free and said, “Why are you being so grabby, Potter?” Then he fell back in step with Parkinson, tentatively putting his arm around her shoulders, and Parkinson glared at him but didn’t step away. They sat down together.

“Right,” Neville said, looking as though he’d resigned himself to having to deal with too many Slytherins on a regular basis now. “Okay. What the fuck happened with Seamus?”

“I was only halfway down the street and they jumped me,” Seamus said, groaning. “It’s embarrassing, I’m sorry, but I didn’t know what else to do, and I figured, there’s enough of them, we can take them down--”

“You did the right thing, Seamus,” Hermione said. “And look, it’s all under control now. But why on earth,” she continued, glaring at Parkinson and Zabini, “did you think it was a good idea to do that?”

Parkinson ignored her. “Draco,” she said, low, “your mum and dad, are they--”

“Yeah,” Draco said, and then he leaned in and started whispering in her ear. She bent her head forward, hair falling as some long, dark curtain to hide them from view. Harry stared at her, hating her. He was pretty sure she and Draco were holding hands.

“Merlin,” Zabini said. “All right then, I’ll explain. Pansy saw the photos of Draco with Potter in the paper yesterday - I mean, obviously, it wasn’t particularly subtle. And most of London knows that Potter lives around here with his weird rabble of hanger-on and adorers and flings--”

“Hey,” Harry said, affronted, but he wasn’t paying proper attention; Draco had just laughed, that easy, warm one that Harry hardly ever got. Parkinson wasn’t even that good looking. And she still looked really pissed off, eyes bright and furious and mean little mouth whispering at Draco. Harry didn’t see the appeal, personally.

“But of course we didn’t know where, exactly,” Zabini said, sighing. “So we’ve been wandering the neighbourhood since five in the bloody morning. Looked a sight, I’m sure. I wanted to just wait for Draco to come out - I figured he would, eventually, but Pansy saw Finnegan and said he’d know how to get in, insisted we use him.”

Draco appeared to have heard something besides Parkinson for the first time. “Five in the morning,” he echoed, and grinned at Parkinson, face open and uncomplicatedly happy. “You’re completely mad, you know that?”

“I’m not done telling you off,” Parkinson said. “I can’t believe, I--”

“I really was going to find you,” Draco said, pushing his hands into Parkinson’s thick, black hair again, holding it back from her face and gazing earnestly at her.

“Ugh,” Harry said. “I think I’m going to be sick.”

Zabini said, almost fondly, “Pansy, you’ve got him, already. Can you calm down?”

“I really,” Parkinson said, and shook her head, laughing. It was a horrible laugh, stilted and gulpy. “I really thought you were dead, you know. No one would tell me anything - I met so many people, I kept trying to find someone who would know, even if you were arrested--”

“I know,” Draco said. “I know. But I’m okay. I’m all right. And there’s - there’s someone you should meet.”

Harry slammed his mug down on the table. Draco looked up, startled, catching his eye for the first time.

“She doesn’t like strangers,” Harry said loudly.

Draco narrowed his eyes. “That didn’t stop you from bring her here and making her meet your bunch of Gryffindors.”

“The Gryffindors are feeding her,” Harry said, and felt a vague moment of guilt when Draco’s mouth twisted sharply down, but plowed on nonetheless. “And I’m sorry, but Parkinson is a known Death Eater consort and I don’t want her anywhere near--”

“I’m sorry, more than me?” Draco said, disbelieving, and Harry shook his head.

“You’re different,” he said. “I - I know you, I know what you’re - no one’s seen her in a year!”

“Actually, Potter, the Ministry have had regular meetings with me every month for the last six,” Parkinson said with a sneer. “And I’m sure as the wizarding world’s golden boy you’d only have to click your fingers and they’ll happily bring you my file.” She looked at Draco, frowning, and said, “What on earth are you talking about?”

“I’ve got,” Draco started, and Harry couldn’t bear it, not Draco talking like this to her, like Harry had just been someone he’d been putting up with until his actual friends came back. Harry and Draco weren’t even friends. Harry couldn’t think, fizzing with anger.

“Draco,” he said, fierce, “can I have a word?”

Draco,” Parkinson echoed, frowning. “What the fuck. Since when are you on - actually, Draco, since when are you palling round, swapping coats with Potter--”

“Oh, it’s,” Draco said, and looked uncomfortable. “I don’t know, it just sort of happened, then he went and testified for me at the Ministry and - when you meet Monster, you’ll understand.”

“Monster?” Parkinson said, and at the same time Harry snarled, “You’re not showing her off to a bunch of--”

“She’s not yours, Potter!” Draco snarled. “You don’t get to decide--”

“Oh, so she’s yours?”

“Shut up,” Draco yelled. “Why are you being such an utter berk? Why won’t you--”

“You shut up,” Harry yelled back, and shoved at the table because he couldn’t shove at Draco. “This isn’t some fucking - this is my house, you can’t bring Death Eaters round--”

“They’re not Death Eaters!” Draco’s voice rose high and upset, and he was all blotchy again, and Harry hated him, had hated him for eight years now and had no intention of stopping anytime soon. “I didn’t realise I was under some sort of house arrest where I was only allowed to talk to people approved by you!”

“Harry,” Hermione said, low and urgent. “Maybe you should--”

“No!” Harry said. “I don’t get why - your friends just attacked Seamus, how can you think that is okay?”

“Mate,” Ron said, low, “let’s leave them to it for a bit, huh? Leave Slytherins on their own.”

“Maybe no one else is going to take you seriously,” Harry told Parkinson, “but I remember. You might not have been a Death Eater but you sure as hell wanted to hand me over to them, didn’t you?”

“What?” Draco looked a little lost. Parkinson blanched.

“I was - I was frightened,” she said, “and you’re fine, so--”

“Yeah,” Harry said, low and venomous. “Thanks for your concern about my welfare.”

Draco looked pale and shocked, eyes big in his thin face, and Harry’s chest did something painful and strange when he met Harry’s gaze, but after a moment Draco reached out and gathered Parkinson to his side.

“You couldn’t have been half as frightened as me,” he told her, voice dropping warm and tender. “Come on. I want you to meet my dragon.”

“Your what?” Parkinson said, and Harry took a step back and went to stand at the kitchen window. Monster was stretched out on her side, snoozing in the sun.

Ron came over and clapped his hand on Harry’s shoulder. “All right, mate? Want to come over to the Burrow with me? Mum’s doing a roast lunch. I think Ginny’s there, you and her can take turns soothing my mum’s lost hopes of grandchildren--”

“I’m not leaving the Slytherins alone here,” Harry said.

Ron sighed. “All right. Figured you wouldn’t.”

Harry trailed after them outside, resenting the way Draco wasn’t looking at him, was keeping all his attention on Parkinson. Zabini looked kind of bored but went with them, and Parkinson clung to Draco’s arm, in the same grabby, faintly nauseating way she had in Fourth Year.

She didn’t look particularly pleased by the dragon, anyway. She made a face and said, “Oh, Draco. What have you done?”

“What?” Draco said, face shining. “Isn’t she great? If you come a bit closer you can touch her -- it’s okay--”

“I don’t really want to touch her,” Parkinson said. “Sorry, Draco, just - what on earth are you doing with a dragon? You know they’re really dangerous, right? I’m pretty sure this is illegal.”

“Is that thing safe?” Zabini said, screwing up his face.

“She was hurt,” Draco said, voice low. “She’s the Gringotts Dragon.” Zabini whistled, low and impressed, and Harry scowled at the back of their heads. “I found her, or - she found me, me and my parents, we had this - this house. She was near it. But I could hear her like, stumbling around, and she was clearly starving, and so I started leaving bits of food out for her.”

Draco,” Parkinson said.

“I don’t know, I wasn’t thinking,” Draco said. “I half thought she might eat us, otherwise. And I was - I kind of thought I might even be imagining it, so I wanted to see her - I wanted the food to be gone.”

Harry hadn’t known any of this. He’d never properly thought to ask. He didn’t want Draco to be telling the story now, like this, with these people, he wanted to be upstairs in the attic the way Draco told him everything, crooked in under Harry’s arm and pinching at him.

“Merlin,” she said, low. “God, I wish you’d found me. I should have found you. Should have come and--”

“What, moved into a tiny Welsh shithole with me and my mum and my crazy dad?” Draco said, with a rough laugh. “Somehow I can’t picture you there.”

“You haven’t seen where I’m living now,” Parkinson said. “Speaking of shitholes.”

“It really is,” Zabini said. “It’s the worst.”

“That’s why I’m hanging out with him again,” Parkinson said, gesturing brusquely at Zabini. “He’s actually got a nice apartment.”

Zabini made a contented noise. “It’s my mother’s.”

“She does have a lot of nice property,” Draco said, and the three of them giggled, like conspiring schoolkids. Harry hated them all.

“Don’t you have a job or something?” he asked Parkinson, scowling, and she turned and scowled right back.

Zabini just looked politely disbelieving. “It’s Saturday, Potter,” he said. “Merlin. Draco always said you were stupid but I figured you would have worked out the days of the week--”

“Shut up,” Harry said.

“Oh, a cutting insult,” Zabini said. “You sure showed me.” He pressed his hand to his chest, fluttering his eyelashes. “But I forgot - Pansy, we’ve talked about this, Potter does nothing now, he’s spent the last year lazing about and kissing people for tabloids -- a demanding lifestyle, I’m sure it has no time to properly remember the days of the week, especially when you don’t contribute anything to society--”

“Blaise, you clerk for someone your mother knows,” Draco said, looking distracted for a moment. Then Zabini gaped at him and Harry perked up a bit, wondering if Draco was getting over the whole Slytherin Stockholm Syndrome, and Draco looked a bit embarrassed. “Obviously Potter has spent the last year drinking and sleeping, as far as I can tell, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. You’re hardly as enterprising as my girl, here.”

He hugged Parkinson in tighter to his side, and Harry wanted to break something, but Parkinson looked upset and exhausted. “Oh, Draco, honestly,” she said.

“I mean it,” Draco said, low and determined, turning back to her. “That was - you’re brilliant, I was worried but I knew you’d be okay, I knew it--”

“Making coffees,” she said. “Occasionally carrying a file from one thing to another. I spend most of my time in owleries, my work robes are all covered in bird shit--”

“Well, you can’t expect to be running it yet,” Draco said. “Give it another couple of years or so.”

Voice low, Parkinson said, “Come on, Draco. You know neither of us are going to get real jobs.”

“You’ve got your NEWTS, at least,” Draco said. “You’ll work it out--”

“My family--”

“Oh my god, it’s all so sad,” Harry declared. “I just don’t know what to feel saddest about, Slytherins making coffee or Slytherins posting letters, it’s just such a colossal unfair tragedy--”

“Why are you here, Potter?” Parkinson snapped. Zabini looked bored, examining his nails. “Why don’t you just go?”

“This is my house,” Harry repeated. “If you think I’m going to--”

“Fine! Fine,” Parkinson said, and whirled on Draco. “Why don’t we go? It’s not like you can’t, anymore -- let’s go out and get some breakfast or something, get away from him.”

“He’s had breakfast,” Harry said, and Parkinson gave him a disbelieving look.

Draco’s mouth had gone all tight and pinched and after a moment he said, “I - not yet, Pans.”

“Why not?” she demanded. “What is going on here? How haven’t you killed him yet?”

Draco looked across at Harry, and Harry stared back at him, wishing with all his might: Please. Tell them to go. Tell them to go.

After a moment, Draco shook his head. “I can’t,” he said. “Look, it’s different going out with him. No one’s going to attack me if I’m with him. But the three of us...”

Parkinson went a little pale and nodded.

“Let’s stay here,” Draco said. “Potter’s harmless, really. Just a big oaf. It’ll be fine.”

Harry licked his lips and said, voice rough, “Fuck you, Malfoy,” and stalked out of the room.

-

He went upstairs to the attic, first, but then was overcome with the horror of Draco giving Parkinson and Zabini a tour and finding him upstairs sulking, so he retreated to his bedroom. He suspected the bed had been stolen out from under him and there would be no space for him at night now, but it was mid-morning and the house had mostly cleared out except for Luna, still curled up in her favourite armchair and dozing.

Harry flopped back on his bed and stared furiously at the ceiling. He was already antsy about leaving the room; he should have stayed, should have kept Parkinson uncomfortable, should have made it clear that he had his eye on the whole bastard lot of them, but he was damned if he’d skulk back in now. He tossed about a bit, restless, wide awake and angry.

There was any number of things he could go and do. He used to have lots of ways to fill up his time. He could go and see what Shacklebolt wanted help with, or head over to the Burrow to avoid Mrs Weasley’s questions and eat her food and spend as much energy as the rest of the Weasley siblings in trying to distract George from the empty place at the table, or find Luna and go wandering about London. He’d loved it at first, the long stretches of days free for him to choose what he wanted from them, free for him to do nothing, or only whatever he liked. But the idle, directionless feeling that had once been so comfortable felt as though it would drive him mad now. And he wasn’t used to not getting what he wanted: it made him feel suddenly as though he was back in the war, tense and anxious and left alone with the panicky beat of his heart.

Harry thought, very quietly: Except I was better at being this person when I was in the war.

It had been a year. He needed to get back to Hogwarts. He needed to stop thinking about Draco Malfoy.

“Harry,” Luna murmured from the chair, “you’re brooding very loudly.”

“Sorry,” Harry said, and got up, headed downstairs. He’d go to the Burrow. He could go and sulk somewhere where there weren’t Slytherins. Maybe they would get up to something terrible, but Harry wasn’t particularly worried; he was pretty capable of handling Malfoy and his cronies, after all this time.

He could hear laughter coming from the living room, but he passed it without putting his head in, and went straight for the Floo.

When he stepped out, Ginny was just walking past. She raised her eyebrows and said, “Harry! Where’ve you been lately?”

“I saw you the other night,” Harry said, but he went and put his arm around her anyway, hugged her affectionately to his side. Ginny made a face up at him.

“Not where Mum could see,” she said. “Anyway, Dean’s here. I’m phasing you out.”

Harry made an attempt at a smile. “Harsh.”

“Well,” Ginny said, and winked at him. She squeezed his hand for a moment and then darted ahead into the kitchen.

He followed her and was greeted by a warm cheer and tumult of Harry!s and it was nice, it was great, it was good to feel appreciated. He sat down next to Ron who said, “Mate! Where’s your shadow?” and then looked guilty when Hermione elbowed him and Harry scowled.

“Sorry,” Ron said. “All okay with the Slytherins?”

“Nothing’s ever okay with Slytherins,” Harry said. Across the table, Neville nodded approvingly; he and Dean were flanking Ginny, who looked quietly smug. “Pass me some pumpkin juice.”

-

The Burrow was always wonderful: warm and full of people and noise, even if there were things missing, no longer the home quite as untouched by unhappiness as Harry had first seen it when he was twelve. The clock on the wall had been taken away, and the dinner table was always too crammed with guests, Mrs Weasley trying to invite as many people as possible so there were no empty spaces. George was seldom there, which helped, sometimes; it was easier to pretend Fred was off with him somewhere when Harry wasn’t looking at George’s strained face, the empty space beside him. The first few months after the war it had felt like an open wound, with everyone flinching away from each other, and even Grimmauld Place had been awful: Harry kept expecting to see Remus and Tonks sitting around the table conferring, even woke up one night with the ghost of Sirius slouching in some dark corner. But the end of the war was bizarre, and sometimes Harry went days pretending he’d never heard of a war or Voldemort at all: he liked it, now, at the Burrow, where the war had passed and left its marks and gone all the same. It was a much better memorial than the stone figures at Hogwarts he had refused to go and see.

He spent the afternoon there, eating and then sitting around and playing wizarding chess and laughing as Ginny scandalised her mother by dancing first with Dean, then Neville, and then Angelina Johnson, who showed up after lunch. Hermione caught his eye and smiled at him from where she was leaning up against Ron on the couch, and Harry smiled back. He loved the Burrow. He’d always loved the Burrow. It was a place to be calm and comfortable, and he wished his belly would stop rolling with anxiety, his chest tight with anger.

Mrs Weasley invited them all on to stay for dinner, and Ginny acquiesced along with Dean and Neville, but Ron shook his head and said, “I’m gonna get back, Mum, I’m still stuffed from lunch.”

“Yeah,” Harry said. “Me too,” and he waited behind Hermione and Ron to use the Floo.

When he whirled into Grimmauld Place, flames flickering around him and smoke in his mouth, it was to hear Ron saying, easy and bewildered, “He’s coming, Malfoy, honestly, what’s the big deal--”

He stepped out of the fireplace and Draco stared back at him, pale, shoulders tight. For a moment Harry’s chest went all funny, and he looked at Draco’s hands twisting at his shirt and said, worried, “What is it? What’s happened?”

Draco dropped his hands, expression clearing. “Nothing,” he said. “Obviously. Except I was going to take Monster up and Pansy--”

“What the fuck,” Harry said, staring. “No. You can’t take her.”

There was silence in the kitchen for a moment. Ron and Hermione exchanged an uneasy glance and started to sidle away.

“Sorry,” Draco said icily, “why’s that?”

“She’s - for all I know she could try and fly Monster to Azkaban or something,” Harry said, “try and break out her family--”

“Oh yes, Potter,” Draco said. “All those dragon jailbreaks. Merlin, the Ministry can hardly keep up, it’s the number one tactic for getting people out of high security prisons, fly a dirty great dragon--”

“I don’t know!” Harry said. “I don’t know what she wants!”

“So clearly she’s a Death Eater!” Draco said. “Clearly because she was seventeen and didn’t want to fight in a war she’s a terrible person! Clearly--”

“I was seventeen,” Harry snarled. “She wanted to give me and my friends up to die! That’s different from not wanting to fight in a war--”

“Not everyone can be Harry Potter!” Draco screamed, and Hermione and Ron darted out the door. Harry stared at Draco, and Draco drew in a breath and looked away, almost panting. When he spoke again his voice was very low, and rough. “I don’t think you realise what - what - she doesn’t want to fly up with Monster. That’s what I was going to say. I was going to ask if you wanted to - to come with me.”

Harry swallowed hard. “Okay,” he said.

“But I’ve - I’ve rather changed my mind, Potter,” Draco said. “I think I’d rather just take her up on my own and get a bit of - a bit of fresh air--”

“Going to leave me to entertain your guests, are you?” Harry said bitterly, as another burst of laughter came from the living room.

“Fine then,” Draco said. “You take her. See if I care.”

“Great,” Harry said. “I will.”

“Great.”

“Why don’t you just - go off with her and Zabini,” Harry said. “If they’re so much fun--”

“I’m not leaving Monster,” Draco said. “If you want me to leave, I’ll go back to Wales.”

“Don’t pretend what I want has anything to do with it,” Harry told him, and Draco looked very tired.

“Most of the time it has everything to do with it,” he said, and turned on his heel. “Be nice to my dragon, Potter.”

-

Monster flew in low, sad circles; Harry had trouble keeping her up above cloud level.

“Quit pining,” he said. “You’re making a scene,” and Monster turned her head to peer at him with her milky, fierce eyes. Harry stroked her ruff the way he’d seen Malfoy do it. “Yeah, yeah. I get it.”

When he got back down, the noise from the living room had exponentially increased, laughter and chatter and above it all, something truly awful happening to the piano. Harry went and fixed himself a large glass of firewhiskey and then went to peek in the ajar door.

The room was cheery. Someone had lit a fire, even though it was really too warm for that now. Zabini and Parkinson were still there, but at least Ron and Hermione were there too now, with Luna and Seamus and Susan Bones and Zacharias Smith, of all people, and they were laughing and cheering as Malfoy sat at the piano and played a very out of tune and very melodramatic jig.

The piano was awful. Weirdly, Harry thought the playing might be quite precise.

“Hurrah!” Luna called when Draco finished with a flourish, and Parkinson whooped too, rolling around with laughter in her chair. Zacharias looked haughtily amused and even Ron and Hermione were smiling. Harry thought about leaving. Malfoy looked happy enough.

Then Draco looked up and caught his eye and, unaccountably, flushed pink. He stood up rather hurriedly. “Your piano is out of tune,” he said.

“Harry!” Hermione said. “Did you know Draco can play the piano? He’s really quite good.”

“Malfoy, play that Celestina Warbeck song again,” Seamus said, “go on, it was brilliant all out of tune--”

“I don’t know how to tune a piano,” Harry said.

“There’s a spell,” Draco told him.

Harry shrugged. “You do it, then.”

Draco went white. He stood up and stalked away, sitting down on the floor by Parkinson’s chair with his head against her knees. Harry resisted the urge to yell at Malfoy again, because his moods were stupid and childish and incomprehensible, and went to sit on the couch with Ron and Hermione instead.

“Now you’ve ruined the music, Potter,” Zabini said. “Such as it was. Do any of you have a record player?”

“Yeah, over there,” Ron said, flapping his hand lazily. “Go on, Zabini. See if you can put something that doesn’t have too much Pureblood pride.”

“Actually, my mother listens to mostly Muggle opera,” Zabini said, rolling his eyes. “Her third husband was a Muggle. She says it fits her aesthetic.”

“Narcissa basically only listens to Muggle music,” Parkinson piped up unexpectedly. “She and Lucius used to have the funniest fights about it. She had such a good record collection, though - Draco, do you still--”

Draco shook his head.

Hermione looked unwillingly intrigued. She said, “I wouldn’t have picked that from your mother, Malfoy.”

“It was her and her sister,” Draco said, not making eye contact with anything. “My aunt who - the one who got disowned. She and Mum worked out that it pissed, uhm--” He cast a nervous glance at Hermione and said, “--my other aunt off, and also my grandma. I don’t know. They were sixteen and fifteen, I think they thought it was funny. But then my mum never really stopped listening, and she got me and Pansy into it, and - anyway.”

“The Slytherin Common Room had to listen to a lot of bug music for a couple of years,” Zabini drawled. “Buggy music. What did you call them again?”

Parkinson looked amused. “The Beatles,” she said, and Draco nodded. Harry thought about Narcissa and Draco in their tiny living room, dancing round in gleeful circles to The Supremes. He’d gone home and found the song, lying alone in his bedroom. He didn’t want to admit it now.

“Well,” Hermione said begrudgingly, “I suppose that’s very -- open-minded of her.”

Draco shot her an odd glance and said, “My mum mostly does what she wants. I don’t know if I’d call her, uhm. Open-minded.”

Anyway,” Zabini said, and flourished a record above his head, “here we go, let’s have a repeat of the Yule Ball after party--” and Parkinson cackled.

Harry realised, slowly, that he’d spent quite a lot of time up on the dragon, and everyone else was two or three drinks in. Zacharias looked distinctly pink-cheeked and Susan Bones’s glasses were askew; she was humming along to the music, foot pointing merrily up in the air.

“Not a complete repeat of the Yule Ball afterparty,” Parkinson said, “eh, Draco? Unless we all want to hear a stunning improvised sonnet to Fleur Delacour--”

Draco rolled his eyes. “Shut up,” he said. “It was fourth year. And she was a Veela. Everyone had a crush on her.”

“Well, yeah,” Seamus agreed, laughing, “Ron, remember when you asked her out--”

“Oi,” Ron said. “Stop it. You’ll make Hermione jealous.”

“I don’t think you will,” Hermione said, smiling. “Go on, Seamus, tell the story again--” and Seamus acted out Ron’s horror, the way he’d swooned into his chair, his gulping breaths as he related asking Fleur out that were alarmingly close to sobs. The Slytherins cackled, Zacharias Smith roared with laughter, and Ron gave the finger in an amused way to the majority of the room.

“Fourth year was almost boring, actually,” Parkinson agreed. “Everyone was so in love with her. That was when Daphne went through her bisexual phase, Draco, do you remember--”

“That worked out rather well for you, as I recall,” Draco said lazily, and there was a general chorus of oohs. Parkinson went red. Harry rolled his eyes. He didn’t know why anyone cared about Slytherin romantic liaisons. It was kind of gross, honestly.

“Anyway, I’m just saying, it wasn’t as entertaining as third year,” Parkinson countered, a little cruelly. “When Draco was absolutely obsessed with Gemma Farley--”

“She was a glamorous older woman,” Draco said. “And she was Head Girl. She gave me a sweet, once.”

“And a pat on the head,” Zabini said, sotto voce.

Parkinson continued, “Or what about the great fifth year crush on--”

Draco launched himself up and into Parkinson’s lap, slapping his hand over her mouth.

“What?” Zacharias said, looking greatly entertained. “Who was it in fifth year?”

“No one,” Draco said, pink-cheeked. “Someone you don’t know. A teacher or something. No one!”

A teacher or something,” Ron echoed, laughing. “Yeah, very convincing, Malfoy. Was it Ernie Macmillan?”

“Don’t make me be sick,” Draco said frostily. “Although, you know, speaking of teachers - Blaise made out with Professor Trelawney once--” and the room exploded into shouts and laughter.

Zabini looked unruffled. “She was lonely,” he said, “and I was very friendly and tender.”

“You are the worst, Blaise,” Parkinson said, shaking her head, and Harry slumped further in his chair, drinking his Firewhiskey. “Come on, Gryffindors. Share your gossip.”

“Everyone knows our gossip,” Seamus said, grinning at her. “It’s all in the papers. Given that we’re war heroes, and all.”

Parkinson rolled her eyes. “You’re a bunch of teenage prats,” she said. “And I wouldn’t really value being featured in gossip rags that highly--”

 

“I like gossip rags,” Draco said, almost reminiscently. “I was great friends with Rita Skeeter for a while there, until you lot stole her from me.” He squinted at Hermione and Ron. He kept not looking at Harry. Harry was going to kill him. “I don’t know what you did, but you did something.”

“Something,” Hermione agreed pleasantly, and refilled her glass.

“Rita writes for my father quite often,” Luna said. “She’s got a very interesting style.”

“That’s the word for it,” Susan agreed.

Harry nudged Hermione. “Pass me the bottle--”

“I liked Skeeter better a couple of years ago,” Zacharias proclaimed. “She’s lost her touch lately. Even her biography on Dumbledore was appallingly soft - I heard--”

“Shut up, Smith,” Harry said, tired, and Zacharias Smith sneered at him.

“Sorry, Potter,” he said. “Forgot about the whole mentor-inspiration thing. Say, why weren’t you at the Battle of Hogwarts memorial the other week? Something better come up?”

Unwillingly, Harry’s gaze flicked to Draco. Draco was studiously gazing at his feet. Harry said, “Didn’t feel like it.”

“Ah, of course,” Zacharias said. “And as the famous Harry Potter there’s no better explanation than that--”

“Smith, give it a rest,” Ron said, annoyed. “Why are you here, anyway?”

“I was invited,” Zacharias said sniffily. “Susan brought me.”

“Susan looks as though she rather regrets it,” Draco drawled, earning himself a rather flushed look from Susan. Harry glared. “But I completely understand your point, Smith. Must have been a relief to see the memorial of the Battle of Hogwarts - good chance for you to catch up on it, hmm, as I hear you rather missed the actual event--”

Zacharias went red. “Better to miss it than fight for the wrong side.”

“Very true,” Draco said. “And I’m so glad you and I are here to pull Potter up on his mistakes. The perfect team.” He bared his teeth in a smile, and Zacharias snorted and looked away, busying himself with his drink.

Harry sunk further into the couch, glaring at nothing.

“Pass me another drink,” Draco said, and Harry closed his eyes and listened to the splash of liquid under the music.

“Yeah,” Seamus said, uneasy, “let’s all have another drink,” and round the bottle went again.

Harry didn’t understand how the others could be so easy, so unbothered by the three Slytherins in their presence - by Zabini and Parkinson, whom none of them knew, who could be up to anything. Draco had never gotten off Parkinson’s chair and the two of them sat together, half in each other’s laps with their heads tilted together like some awful cheesy painting, and they joined in the conversation and shared the alcohol along with everyone else, like they weren’t enemies. Harry knew that technically he was at fault, that he’d been the one to bring Draco into their midst, but Draco was different and anyway, Draco had betrayed him in the end, Harry should have known.

The firewhiskey was going down a treat.

The music got louder: Seamus and Susan got up to dance, Zacharias left in a huff, and Luna went and sat next to Draco on the piano. It turned out she knew how to tune it, and when she did the two of them launched into a duet that sounded faintly familiar to Harry, shoulders pressed together and faces intent while everyone around them laughed and clapped.

Draco shook his head when he looked up. “I’m out of practice,” he told Luna. “Sorry.”

She patted him on the back. “You were lovely,” she said. “Here, dance with me,” and Draco did, with no hesitation or coaxing needed, unlike when he’d danced with Harry that night - it felt like years ago - and then he danced with Parkinson to three songs in a row, and then Susan, and then a very drunk Seamus, and then Parkinson again.

Ron and Hermione went to bed. Zabini rolled his eyes and disappeared - Harry hoped he’d gone home. Ginny appeared, breathless and happy, and danced excitedly with Dean who accompanied her before she, too, left, clutching Dean, probably not for bed.

Parkinson and Draco danced again.

Draco leaned against the arm of the sofa Harry’s head was on. Harry kept his eyes determinedly closed, faking sleep. Draco was out of breath and laughing a little at something Parkinson and Seamus were doing.

He said, “Passed out, Potter? That’s not very heroic of you.”

“What do you want,” Harry said flatly.

Draco touched his hair, so lightly Harry thought he might be imagining it. “Come dance with me.”

“No,” Harry said, opening his eyes.

Draco wasn’t even looking at him. “Fine,” Draco said. “Have it your way. You’re a sulk, you know that?”

Harry didn’t say anything.

Grim-faced, Draco went back across to Seamus and Parkinson and then was all smiles again, taking Parkinson’s hand and saying grandly, “I’ll have my girl back, if you don’t mind.”

Harry stood up and went to bed. He went up to the little attic room and it was colder than it’d been in a week, which was just stupid for mid-May. It shocked away what was left of the firewhiskey and he lay there unmoving, listening to the music coming up through the floors, and then going still when it went off. There was the sound of footsteps, of Luna calling a cheery goodnight to Susan, of Seamus stumbling off to bed; he even heard Parkinson say, “Yes, yes, good night!” though he wasn’t sure to whom. They were all being very loud. It was rude, really.

A tap ran in the bathroom. A toilet flushed. Footsteps. Harry lay still and waiting.

No one came. Less than twenty-four hours ago he and Malfoy had been pressed close together, Harry’s arms around Draco’s shoulders holding him down against Harry, panting, Malfoy’s rough thrusts and the way he said, “Potter,” with such bewildered astonishment on his face that Harry had laughed. It seemed impossible to believe now.

He lay quiet and awake. After a while he dozed, but he woke almost immediately, startling out from something black and awful with Voldemort’s high laugh in his ears. He let out a shuddering breath. Everything in the house was quiet and dark.

Harry slipped out of bed and tiptoed down two flights of stairs to Ron and Hermione’s room. He knocked gently and then, when there was no reply, slipped inside. They were both asleep.

He tiptoed over to the bed and climbed in. Hermione woke up at the dip of the mattress, blinking blearily at him. “Harry?”

“Hi,” Harry said. “Sorry. Go back to sleep.”

“Did you have a nightmare?”

Harry nodded, getting under the blankets and curling up behind her. He pressed his face against her back. If he stayed small and close enough, it was like they were back in the tent, just the three of them, when everything was terrible and simple.

“Bad luck,” she murmured, already falling back asleep. “Guess you’ve had a break for a while, though, they’re getting better. That’s good.”

Harry didn’t want to think about it. He squeezed his eyes tight.

-

Around four AM he gave up sleeping as a lost cause. Some nights it didn’t happen. That was okay. He stood up and crept out of the room, went downstairs and drank some water, not bothering to turn on any lights in the dim kitchen.

The house seemed empty and sad. Even Monster looked barely there, disappearing in the dark outside. Harry wandered through the rooms aimless as a ghost, pausing and feeling weirdly guilty outside the living room. The fire was still crackling in there, though, and he poked his head round the door though he knew he shouldn’t.

Pansy Parkinson was fast asleep on the sofa. On the other end of the sofa, with her feet in his lap, Draco was sitting up, cheek propped up on his fist. Harry backed away hurriedly, but not before he banged awkwardly against the door and Draco looked straight at him.

Furious and embarrassed and not sure why, Harry bustled quietly around the kitchen, making himself a cup of tea. It was his house. He was allowed to look in rooms if he wanted.

The kitchen door swung open and Draco padded in. “I’ll have a cup too, if you’re making them,” he said, voice low and unreadable, and Harry bristled but didn’t want to talk to Draco, just angrily banged out another cup and teabag.

He brought them over to the table and then sat down opposite Draco, not sure where to look, settling for staring out the window. The garden was quiet.

“Was she all right,” Draco said. “On the flight tonight, I mean.”

“Fine,” Harry said brusquely.

Draco swallowed, throat pale and cool in the pale moonlight filtering through the window. He wasn’t wearing enough clothes: just his jeans and a thin jersey of Harry’s. He had to be cold.

“Zabini’s gone,” he said after a moment. “I doubt he’ll be back. So you can stop freaking out about Death Eaters in your house now, if you like. He didn’t do anything terrible, anyway. It’s just me left.”

She’s still here,” Harry said, furious and upset.

“What - Pansy?” Draco looked surprised. “But I mean - she really wasn’t involved in anything. The Ministry have her file. Her family kept her completely in the dark. Zabini wasn’t properly involved with the Dark Lord, he wasn’t, wasn’t a Death Eater, but he and his mum did pretty well, and he hates blood traitors--”

“Does he?” Harry said, momentarily distracted. “I thought he was working for the Ministry?”

Draco was staring at him. “Well, that’s hardly been a mark of neutrality in the past, Potter. Anyway, I - what are you so pissed off about, if it’s not him?”

Her,” Harry said, staring back. “Obviously!”

“But she wasn’t even a Death Eater!”

“She’s still a Slytherin,” Harry said. “She wanted me to be given up to Voldemort to save her skin! She ran!”

“So did Zacharias Smith!” Draco spat. “But he was round tonight and you barely looked at him! Why can’t you just ignore her, if you think she’s so worthless -- it’s not like she’s a threat--”

“She broke into my house just to get to you,” Harry snarled, leaning forward. “She’s been all over you all day -- I don’t know what the fuck she wants, but she sure did a good job of ingratiating herself in here--”

Draco stared at him like he was crazy. “She’s my best friend,” he said.

“Crabbe and Goyle are your best friends,” Harry said. “Were your best friends. Whatever! She’s up to something, I’m sure--”

“Fuck,” Draco said softly. “Fuck, I - I hate you so much, Potter, you have no idea.” He stood up, leaving his cup where it was, pushing out from the table.

“Yeah, all right,” Harry said, bitter. “Go back and cuddle with her on the sofa some more -- let her into everything, show her the dragon, who cares what she’ll do with it--”

But Draco wasn’t walking back to the living room; he came around the table instead and pushed Harry back along the bench, sat down next to him, straddling the bench so he could look straight at Harry. He looked very young in the dim light.

“I thought you said,” Draco said, mouth twisting a bit, “you said that you don’t do the jealousy thing.”

Harry gaped at him. “I’m not jealous of Pansy Parkinson.”

“You drive me so fucking crazy,” Draco said, speaking very low, very tired, not looking at Harry properly. He hadn’t looked at Harry properly all day. “I - you’re such a dick. You know you’re really lucky you saved the world that time, otherwise no one would like you.”

“Okay,” Harry said, tired of being insulted by Malfoy today. “Whatever.”

“Merlin,” Draco said, and pressed his face against Harry’s neck. It was so unexpected that Harry didn’t know what to react, or what to do; Draco wasn’t kissing or biting him, wasn’t doing anything, had just tucked his face against the curve of Harry’s neck and, as Harry stared down at his soft hair, he slowly shuffled in, hooking one leg over Harry’s knees, one hand tiredly resting on Harry’s thigh.

“What do you want,” Harry said uncertainly.

“What do you want, Potter,” Draco said.

Harry thought about it for a moment. He wanted Pansy to go, but he didn’t think that was a good thing to say out loud. He raised his hand and touched Draco’s hair tentatively; when Draco didn’t stir, he let himself clasp his hand against Draco’s head, holding him where he was. “Nothing.”

Draco laughed, tired and hoarse against Harry’s skin. “Okay.”

Harry hardly dared to breathe, with Malfoy this close. He put his other arm around Draco’s shoulders, and Draco shivered and tucked himself in closer. Harry said, low, “I couldn’t sleep.”

“Yeah,” Draco said. “Me either. I was thinking about going outside with the dragon.”

“Don’t do that,” Harry said. “It’s - it’s cold. And there’s no barn.”

“The barn wasn’t that warm.”

“Still,” Harry said. “Come up to bed with me, please.”

Draco raised his head. “You’re the worst,” he said, watching Harry very closely.

Harry shifted, uncomfortable. “I’m not.”

“You have to be nice to my friends.”

“I don’t.”

“Yes, Potter,” Draco said. “You do. Merlin. I’m such an idiot. Come on, then.”

“Why are you an idiot?” Harry tried a grin, added, “I mean, I know you’re an idiot, but why - why do you think you are--”

“Don’t,” Draco said. He looked exhausted. “Fuck, I’m so - I should go home.”

“No,” Harry said, and grabbed at Draco, holding him closer. “No, you - you said you were coming up to bed--”

“Tomorrow, maybe,” Draco said. “I should… My father’s not well. And I miss my mum.”

“Don’t be a baby, Malfoy,” Harry said heartlessly. “It’s only been five days. You said you’d stay a week.”

“Five days,” Draco repeated, looking dazed. Harry privately concurred. It felt a lot longer than that. It had only really been two months since he first saw Draco running for his life with Monster beside him: that seemed truly impossible.

“Exactly,” Harry said. “You promised.”

“I didn’t.”

“Well, at the very least, you’re not going to abandon Parkinson,” Harry said, screwing his nose up. “So stop being so melodramatic and just - come upstairs.”

Draco looked away. “I did, you know,” he said. “You weren’t there. I figured you were off sleeping with Lovegood or someone.”

Harry shook his head, slow and wondering. “Ron and Hermione.”

Draco raised his eyebrows. “Well, there’s a little triad no one would expect. I bet if I told Skeeter that she’d have a glorious return to the golden days--”

“Don’t be gross, Malfoy,” Harry said, and nudged him up, pushing him off the bench and then quickly standing up with him, hands on Draco’s hips. It was nice that Draco was taller than him, though he couldn’t say why.

“Ah,” Draco said. “So you’re not sleeping with everyone you know.”

“Come on,” Harry said. “Come on, please.” They shuffled backward, slow in the dark, and Draco’s back hit the wall. Harry took the opportunity it offered and leaned in to kiss him, slow and aching. His chest was hurting again. Malfoy took gentle hold of Harry’s jaw and tilted him up, fingers light and sweet on Harry’s skin.

“You have to be nice to Pansy,” Draco said. “Please. Please, I - she’s my best friend.”

“Are you secretly in love with her or something? I’m pretty sure she’d go out with you if you asked--”

“Merlin, shut up,” Draco moaned, and pressed his mouth untidily against Harry’s. “Come on. I know she’s a - a bad person by your standards but she’s, she’s important, please just--”

“I’ll try,” Harry said, shocked into honesty in the early hours of the morning. “Okay? I’ll try. For you,” and Draco let out a shivery little breath and pressed himself in closer against Harry’s body, like they could fold into each other and into the shadow and just stay like this forever.

“You drive me crazy,” Malfoy mumbled again. “You always have.”

“I know,” Harry said. “I know. Come on,” and they went upstairs together, slow and tired, pressing into every corner they found to kiss.

-

Harry woke late the next day, feeling hungover even though he didn’t think he’d been that drunk. Draco was still draped over him, face tucked against Harry’s neck, hips snug against Harry’s arse. Harry yawned. It was stupid to feel content - he’d felt content yesterday morning and look where that had got him - but there was something warm and sweet in his chest all the same. He threw his hand out, patting about, and Draco made a low grumpy noise and took it, threading their fingers together.

“I’m so tired,” Draco mumbled. “Go back to sleep.”

“Your girlfriend’s probably downstairs wondering where you are,” Harry said.

Draco bit his shoulder. “Shut up.”

Harry grinned into the pillow.

Draco yawned, loud in his ear. His breath smelled. “Where did you go yesterday?”

“Lunch at the Burrow,” Harry said.

“Mmrgh.”

“Are you even awake?”

“No.”

“Wake up, then.”

“Potter,” Draco started, vaguely threatening, but the rest of the threat was drowned in an enormous yawn. Harry laughed and rolled them over, trapping Draco underneath him. Draco peered up at him, sleepy-eyed and hair mussed. “What.”

“Do you wanna fuck me?” Harry asked, and Draco closed his eyes, and then pushed up on his elbows to kiss Harry.

-

When he went downstairs, Pansy Parkinson was flicking through a magazine at the table as though she belonged there. Nobody was paying much attention to her except Ginny, who was giving her funny looks, eyes narrowed. Harry set about making himself some toast.

“We already fed the dragon,” Ginny told him, coming over to kiss him on the cheek. Harry grinned at her. “I reckon she’s getting used to me. She barely breathed fire at all. You look cheerier.”

“What?” Harry said. “That was a - a lot of information, I only just woke up.”

“Hmm,” Ginny said, and nodded towards Pansy. “She wants to know where Draco is.”

“Why do you all call him Draco all of a sudden?” Pansy said crisply. “It’s strange. He doesn’t like any of you.”

“That was before he joined my band,” Ginny told her.

Harry laughed, but Pansy’s eyes widened and she said, “He what?”

Ginny rolled her eyes. “Come on, Parkinson, I’m joking. Do Slytherins have a sense of humour?”

“You weren’t there in fifth year,” Pansy said darkly. “We had to take turns gently encouraging him to find a career other than rockstar. He wrote a lot of bad love songs.”

“Ah yes,” Seamus said. “To the teacher we don’t know. Did everyone in Slytherin have a thing for Professor Trelawney?”

Pansy sipped her coffee and said, “Something like that.”

“He didn’t say anything about that,” Harry said suspiciously, “about the rockstar thing. He was telling me what he wanted to be when he grew up--”

“Ah, yes, because that sounds like a conversation Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy were destined to have,” Pansy said. “Is that what happened, you decided to share personal histories and become besties and call each other by your first names?”

“He doesn’t call me by my first name,” Harry grumbled, which was mostly true: Draco had, once or twice. And sometimes in bed, when it stuttered out of him like he couldn’t help it.

“There were too many Malfoys in the war,” Neville said from over his newspaper. “We had to start keeping track of them somehow.”

“Hmm,” Pansy said, and then looked at Harry. “They said you’d know where he is.”

All of the Gryffindors very studiously looked in directions that weren’t either Pansy or Harry.

“He’s in the shower,” Harry said, and then added, “er, I think. He sleeps - there’s an attic room he’s been crashing in.”

“Right,” Pansy said and then stared at Harry, face hard. “What are you doing with him?”

“What?” Harry said, tensing up. Ginny struck up a forcibly cheerful conversation with Seamus in the corner.

“You spend the whole time stalking around him,” Pansy said. “He said you brought him here. And you cleared his name. And - you hate each other. What are you doing? What’s your plan?”

“Nothing,” Harry said.

Pansy laughed, disbelieving. “Oh, all right, Potter. You’ve just decided to befriend your arch enemy.”

“You’re both very melodramatic about that,” Harry said. “Voldemort was my arch enemy.”

“Because that’s not melodramatic,” Pansy said. “I don’t know what’s going on, Potter, but I intend to find out. You hate him.”

“Come on, Pansy,” Draco said, strolling in, all flushed from the warmth of the shower. His hair was a little fluffy, hastily dried. Harry turned slightly to hide his twitching mouth. “It was only a matter of time before Potter succumbed to my charms.”

“Oh yes, all of your many charms,” Pansy said. “You come on, Draco. Why are you two pretending you’re friends or whatever this is?”

“I wouldn’t say friends,” Harry said, a little uncomfortably. Neville looked relieved, and then a bit sick. “We’re -- friendly.”

Malfoy gave Harry a quick, amused look that went right through him. Then he turned back to Parkinson. “Honestly, Parkinson, you’re such a gossip these days. I know that’s not how you were raised--”

“If you’re so friendly,” Pansy said, clear and cool, “and you’ve gone to such great efforts to get Draco cleared and all that, why won’t you give him his wand back?”

Harry blinked, bewildered. “What?” he said, and then turned to look at Draco, who had gone white and was staring at the floor as though he hoped it would open up.

“Shut up, Pansy,” Draco said, low. “I didn’t -- it’s got nothing to do with -- obviously there are lots of reasons why--”

“Oh, Harry, I completely forgot about that,” Ginny said. “Do you still have it?”

Harry scrubbed his hand through his hair. “I - yeah. I completely forgot about it too. I - for fuck’s sake, Draco, why didn’t you just ask?”

Draco slanted a glance up at him. “I didn’t - you didn’t know?”

“I just figured you weren’t using magic because of the Ministry,” Harry said, exasperated. “I didn’t think about the whole wand thing, that was a year ago.”

“I’m sure Ollivanders was the first stop for Draco and his parents when they went on the run,” Pansy said snidely. “Potter, you suck.”

“Shut up,” Harry told her, though without much venom. “Draco. Why didn’t you ask?”

Draco stared at him, disbelieving. “I thought you were keeping it on purpose. You - I asked you once before for it.”

“In the Battle of Hogwarts,” Harry pointed out. “When I didn’t have another wand, and when you were still a Death Eater. Draco, honestly, you’re absolutely mad--”

Draco folded his arms across his chest, looking a little bit less frightened out of his wits and a little bit more like a sulky child. “I thought you didn’t want to give it back to me.”

Harry reached out and gave him an affectionate shove, and Draco took a few quick little steps back and then smiled almost shyly at Harry. “Idiot,” Harry said. “Ugh. Now I have to go dig it up.”

“Yeah, good luck with that,” Ginny said, from where she and Seamus had been watching the whole exchange with interest. “Our room is a tip.”

“I’ll work it out,” Harry said. “Do summoning charms work on wands?”

Potter,” Draco said. “That’s third year charms, honestly--”

“Hey, do you want your wand back or not?” Harry asked, and unbelievably, Draco laughed a little.

“Yes,” he said. He was almost glowing. “Yes, they work on wands, if you’re specific enough and they’re close enough. Don’t go and try to summon the Elder Wand or anything.”

“Yeah, I’ll try to avoid that,” Harry said. “Right. Wait here.”

He found it in the third room he tried, in the end; it had been rattling around the bottom of his old school trunk. When he came downstairs, Draco took it almost reverently, looking at Harry with his eyes gone huge and dark, and Harry would have almost felt guilty except that Malfoy was such an idiot. Harry didn’t get why it had to be all weird games and things let unsaid the whole time. If Draco could just tell Harry what he wanted, that would be awesome.

Pansy, annoyingly enough, looked quite pleased. She sipped her coffee and gave Harry an approving look.

“Well,” she said, while Draco gave his wand an experimental flick and nearly set fire to Harry’s hair, “there’s a start.”

Harry said, “Oh, I’m so glad you approve.”

“Hmm,” Pansy said. “What’s the plan for today, then, Potter? More following us around and yelling? Or are you going to disappear again and make Draco all twitchy and anxious--”

“I wasn’t anxious,” Draco said, but he seemed more interested in his wand, sitting down and twirling it between his fingers. Harry kept glancing over. It was distracting.

“What’s your plan, Parkinson?” he countered. “You just going to keep hanging around my house and pretending like we don’t all hate you?”

“Oi,” Draco said mildly.

“I’m hanging out with Draco,” Parkinson said. “You’re just an unhappy side effect. He’s been missing for a year--”

“He hasn’t been missing, I found him,” Harry said. “Anyway, why don’t you take him to your place if you’re so desperate to get rid of me? Oh, wait, what did Zabini call it? A shithole?”

“Fine,” Parkinson said. “We’ll go there, then. Draco--”

“No, you won’t,” Harry said immediately, regretting his stupid big mouth. Fucking Slytherins. “There’s no room for the dragon there, I bet. You leave, and me and Draco can--”

“Oh, I do declare, my dance card is all full up,” Draaco said, looking up, and then he pointed his wand at Harry’s chest, right at his heart, and said, “Scourgify.”

Harry’s jumper did a little shiver and then settled down, suddenly starchy and cold with clean. He looked down at it and then back up, eyebrows raised.

“Thank Merlin,” Draco sighed. “I’ve wanted to do that for days. You’re disgusting, Potter, you know that?”

“I can’t believe the first spell you used was a cleaning one,” Harry said. “That’s very prissy of you.”

Parkinson looked disappointed, too. “Way to conform to stereotypes, Draco.”

“Shut up,” Draco said cheerfully. “I’ve decided what I want to do.”

“Who said you were in charge of choosing?” Harry said.

“I mean, fun as sitting around listening to you two squabble all day sounds,” Draco drawled. “If you don’t mind. I want to go outside and play two-on-one Quidditch.”

Harry perked up. “Who’s the one?”

“You are,” Draco said. “Obviously.”

Harry said, “Well, that might mean I can pretend there’s some competition,” and Draco made an irritated face and said,

“Come on, Pans.”

“Oh, Draco,” Pansy said, “you know I find Quidditch pointless,” and Harry was kind of expecting another Hermione, uncertain and downright disapproving on a broom, but it turned out Pansy was pretty good; she darted around the Grimmauld Place sky like she belonged there, and swerved past Harry fast enough that she almost knocked him off balance for a moment.

Draco grinned nastily at Harry. “She finds Quidditch boring,” he said.

“The pace is just too slow,” Pansy said, and dived in against Harry, sending him into a spiralling competition for the Snitch that ended in both of their toes scraping along the ground as they desperately pulled up, the Snitch lost to sight.

Harry eyed Pansy, considering, and Draco laughed, whirling past him. “Well,” Draco said, “who do you think taught me to play Quidditch? My mum’s not exactly a sports fan.”

“I thought your dad,” Harry said, vaguely considering, but all Lucius had done was buy brooms: he’d never seemed like a particularly hands on father, and Pansy and Draco were already exchanging amused looks and zooming away, like a perfectly synchronised team. If Pansy had been on the Slytherin Quidditch Team, maybe they’d have had a chance.

Not a particularly good one, Harry thought, throwing his attention into the game properly. But still: a chance.

Draco tried to go sailing past Harry with a quaffle, but Harry grabbed him around the waist and sent their brooms swerving down, ignoring Draco’s outraged screams of foul. He was taking on the two properly when Monster woke up, delightedly decided it was a game and tried to first join in and then drag Draco down to play with her.

Luckily, she grabbed the tail of his broom with her giant vicious teeth, rather than his leg, but it was still a bit of a fright.

“Okay,” Harry said, while Pansy stood pale and out of reach of Monster and Draco clucked at Monster, stroking her head and murmuring, “You big spoilt brute - you ruin all the fun, don’t you, huh? That’s cheating, anyway, you and Potter are two of a kind.”

“See, this is why we invented Fireball,” Harry said.

“That’s true,” Draco said, and stroked Monster’s big, awful jaw. “He’s dumb, but he comes up with good ideas sometimes, doesn’t he? Or maybe just ideas you like. I knew the two of you were alike--”

“Draco, please stop sweet talking the dragon,” Pansy called. “And come away. It tried to eat you.”

“Nah, she never,” Draco called back. “She’s a big ’fraidey-cat. Aren’t you? Yes, you are. Yes, you are.”

Harry regarded him for a moment then said, “You’re not really anything like I thought you’d be, you know.” Draco turned away, but Harry could see the bright corner of his smile anyway.

-

Pansy had a wicked serve when it came to Fireball, but Draco was right: her attention span was barely existent, and after a bare half hour she said, “Ugh, okay, this is dumb. Is it late enough to start drinking?”

“There’s nothing dumb about Fireball,” Harry said. “Monster likes it.”

“Those are two contradictary statements, Potter,” Pansy said. “Ugh, boys are dumb too and all sports are pointless. Do you have any wine?”

“I wouldn’t bother arguing with her, Potter,” Draco said smoothly. “She’s always like this.”

“Throw a ball, catch a ball,” Pansy said, leading the way inside. “No wonder boys are so stupid. Potter, your wine!”

Draco followed Pansy inside as though there was no other option, so Harry trailed after both of them reluctantly. It was only a bit after one in the afternoon but Pansy went back into the living room and found some of the goblin wine they’d been drinking last night, pouring generous serves for herself and Draco and, after a moment and a put-upon sigh, Harry. Harry sat a little cautiously in the armchair, trying not to pay too much attention to the fact that Pansy sat on the couch and made obvious room for Draco.

Draco took his glass and went to sit on the piano bench, leaning back against the keys. Harry relaxed.

“Are you going to give us another performance, Malfoy?” he said, nodding at the piano. “Any more secret talents?”

“It’s not a secret that I’m talented,” Draco said, sipping his wine and making an interested face. “I can’t help it if no one outside Slytherin ever recognised it.”

“You had a piano in Slytherin?”

“In the common room, yes,” Draco said. “But we had one at home, too. My mum’s quite musical. I’m not really - I’m not as good as her, but she taught me, you know,” and he ran a quick scale up and down. Harry stared, fascinated. He’d never really known anyone who could play music. When he was younger, before Hogwarts, before magic, he’d wanted to be a drummer for a while, and Dudley had a drumkit for a year or two but Harry was obviously never allowed to touch it.

“Word has it,” Pansy said dryly, “that Salazaar was quite the dandy.”

“Ugh,” Harry said. “Gross. Don’t say that, you didn’t see the massive statue of him in the Chamber of Secrets. He’s creepy.”

“The Chamber,” Draco said, arching his eyebrows in a disturbing way, “of his Secrets--”

“Oh my god,” Harry said, shaking his head, while Draco and Pansy collapsed into laughter.

“What’s going on in here?” Ginny asked, appearing curiously in the doorway, and then: “Oooh, are you drinking already? Wait, let me grab a glass--”

“You missed the Quidditch,” Harry said, when she returned.

“No! Let’s go back out--”

“We can’t, the dragon’s too possessive,” Harry said, and Draco shrugged. “You missed a good game, though. Malfoy’s useless as ever but Parkinson’s not bad.”

“Hey,” Draco said, but it was relatively mild, and he gave Harry a look that Harry was almost sure counted as approving. It was hard, trying to be nice to Parkinson, but Draco clearly wanted it so badly that Harry was almost sure he was keeping track of how many times he smiled at each of them to make sure it was fair. Draco was a ridiculous person. Harry could try and appease him a little.

Ginny went and threw herself on the other end of the couch in the spot Pansy had left for Draco, apparently unaware of the dirty looks they gave her. Harry grinned at her, reached out to poke his socked foot at her shoulder, and she grabbed it and squeezed it absently.

“You’re pregaming early,” she said.

“What does that mean?” Draco said, wrinkling his nose.

Harry raised his eyebrows. “We going out tonight?”

“That’s the plan,” Ginny said.

“It’s a Sunday,” Pansy said, looking horrifed. “You people are animals.”

Ginny winked at her. “Only if you’re into that stuff.”

-

Draco looked different under the hot lights of the club. The bright play of colour changed his face, made him sharp rather than pointy, made his skinny ribs stand out like they were meant to be there. People were looking at him. Even Seamus laughed and whistled when Draco and Pansy danced, swinging each other around like they were only extensions of themselves.

Harry was used to looking at Draco; he wasn’t used to having to share.

But it didn’t feel as terrible as it had the other night with Pansy. Partly it was the way Draco’s attention kept flashing back to him, the way Harry could dance with his hands on Seamus’s hips and shout into Seamus’s ear and know that Draco was watching him. Partly it was because Draco looked simply and uncomplicatedly happy.

He wanted to dance with Draco but didn’t, with Pansy sticking so close. He wasn’t sure what was going on with Draco and Pansy but he’d promised, so he was trying his best to be nice. He and Ginny went out to get some fresh air, though, and as he went, holding Ginny’s hand, he felt Draco stumble up against his side, grabbing at his shirt.

Harry slung his arm around Draco’s shoulder and leaned against him, their foreheads together, Ginny with her fingers laced through his smiling at him indulgently, and Harry knew as the flashes went off that this would be the photo on the front page of tomorrow’s gossip section. He didn’t care. Draco was laughing and whispering in Harry’s ear, and Ginny was still half-dancing in delight.

“You’re drunk,” she told Draco.

“Not nearly drunk enough,” Draco said. “Shall we do some shots?”

Ginny laughed and said, “Man, it’s a pity you were so racist in school.”

Draco made a face at her, and Ginny made a face back.

“Also,” she said, “I hate your dad.”

“That must be nice,” Draco said, smiling faintly, “being able to do that.”

“I’m not joining your pity party, Malfoy,” Ginny said. “Especially not when you’ve got Harry so completely won over. Come on! Shots!”

She led the way back inside, and Harry followed, dragging Malfoy in along under his arm. Draco looked at him uncertainly.

“Don’t worry,” Harry said comfortably. “You haven’t won me over. I’m the one who wins.”

“I know that,” Draco said, and raced to catch up with Ginny through the press of the crowd. He danced with her after that, and Harry watched the two of them and felt awfully, grotesquely content.

He’d hoped as they all stumbled home that Pansy would be one of those people who crashed immediately, or, better, that she’d go home, but instead she sat up on the couch wide awake and chattering, while Draco sat next to her and Harry sprawled out at their feet, passing a bottle back and forth to Ginny and Seamus, who’d come with them.

“You’re going to be so tired for work tomorrow,” Draco said fondly, and Pansy shook her head.

“I pre-emptively Owled in sick,” she said. “I’m all yours, Malfoy. Well, until Tuesday, at least.”

“I think I was meant to be going home tomorrow,” Draco said, and Harry reached out and silently caught Draco’s ankle, holding it close, rubbing his thumb lightly over Draco’s ankle bone. Draco let his head drop back against the couch, closed his eyes, and said, “But I’ll probably stick around for a while.”

“Ugh,” Ginny said. “You’re all right I guess, Malfoy, but you’ve been driving most of the house away all week.”

“Have I?”

“Usually there’s about fifteen people who live here,” Ginny said. “Lately we’ve been lucky if there’s five of us. Right, Harry?”

“I hadn’t really noticed,” Harry said idly. He couldn’t pay attention, too busy thinking: go to sleep, go to sleep, go to sleep at Pansy, or at least wanting her to look away, or wander off. He wanted to fold Malfoy down into his lap. He wanted to go upstairs and fuck him.

Draco looked down at him, corner of his mouth twitching. Harry jerked his head backward. Draco shook his head. Harry sighed loudly.

“Go to bed, Potter,” Pansy commanded. “You’re yawning.”

“I’ll wait up a bit,” Harry said, taking the bottle back again, and he did, lying back on the hard floor, watching Draco fall asleep slowly on Pansy’s shoulder, eventually falling asleep himself. He woke up once in the night from the remnants of a bad dream, something jerking him up, but he gasped and tightened his hand around Draco’s ankle and remembered where he was. He closed his eyes. He went back to sleep.

-

The morning was slow and warm, one of the first properly warm days of the year: not a spring day but summer early approaching, with heat lingering in the air. They passed around mugs of hangover potion and Kreacher handed out sandwiches.

Harry and Draco sat outside, basking in the heat, watching Monster feed, Pansy napping underneath a tree.

“I feel bad,” Draco said, stroking a giant claw. “She likes flying in the sun. We should take her out more.”

“Maybe we could work on some sort of - giant invisibility thing,” Harry said. “There’s got to be a charm. Then that way she could stay in London.”

“Potter, I’m not moving into your hedonistic Gryffindor orgy house.”

“I didn’t ask you to!” Harry said, outraged. “I’m just saying, you’re not going to live in Wales for the rest of your life--”

“You’re very strange about Wales,” Draco informed him. “You know it’s the origin for a lot of the greatest witches and wizards of all time? Lots of magic in Wales.”

“My aunt hated Wales,” Harry said, then stopped, realised what he’d said, and gave Draco a horrified face.

“Know a lot, did she, your aunt?”

“Not at all,” Harry said, and Draco laughed at him. Harry licked his lips, and Draco’s gaze flicked quickly to Pansy in the shade and then back to Harry. He shook his head. Harry made a frustrated noise.

“Easy, Potter,” Draco said.

“What,” Harry said, voice low. “Doesn’t she - doesn’t she know that you, uh. Like boys?”

“Yes. In fact, Pansy, uh, likes girls,” Draco said mockingly, and Harry stared at him.

“What?”

“You know it does happen the other way round.”

“Of course,” Harry said, shocked, “I just thought that - she and you--”

“No,” Draco said, shaking his head. “Not really - either of each other’s types.”

“Oh,” Harry said, staring. “I figured you - I thought you must like girls--”

“I mean, maybe,” Draco said, looking very pink and uncomfortable about the whole thing. “I haven’t really - I haven’t really had a chance to work it out yet -- we can’t all be sluttish bisexuals like you--”

“Hey,” Harry said.

“--but maybe,” Draco said. “I don’t know. Maybe.”

“I guess you’ve got plenty of time to find out,” Harry said, a little awkward. He wasn’t sure how to talk about sexuality with Draco Malfoy, of all people, even if they were sleeping together. He didn’t really know how to talk about sexuality with anyone. He and Ginny had slept with Dean and Harry had been a little more involved than he’d always imagined he would in that situation, and he’d gone from there. He couldn’t really be bothered to think about it.

Malfoy looked away. “Yes,” he said. “Yeah. Obviously.”

“Anyway,” Harry said, remembering his original point, “if she knows you’d sleep with boys, why does it matter if--”

“Knowing I sleep with boys is one thing, Potter,” Draco said. “Knowing I’m sleeping with you is a whole other crisis.”

Harry made a face and threw a bit of grass at him. Draco rolled his eyes, stretching out on his back in the sunshine. He was wearing one of Harry’s t-shirts again, having apparently got bored of repeatedly scourgifying the two sets of clothes he’d come with. It meant his Dark Mark was on display, but Harry had been right: it really was faded, almost grey. It looked like a shadow on Draco’s skin, the same way the ghost of hunger looked on Draco now. He’d filled out in only a week. Harry wouldn’t have noticed it if he hadn’t been up so close, but he was and he had. He liked it, the way Draco didn’t look so ghoulish in certain lights now, the slight, slim muscle of his arms.

“Come on, Draco,” Pansy called from her shady spot, “I’m bored, let’s make some cocktails or something--”

“It’s ten in the morning,” Harry yelled back.

“Live a little, Potter!”

“I don’t understand how you stayed a virgin that long around her,” Harry told Draco in an undertone, and Draco laughed, lazy and warm.

“Well, I’m not anymore,” he said, stretching a bit. Harry eyed the strip of skin at his waist.

“No,” Harry murmured, half reaching out despite Pansy, “you’re not,” and Draco slapped his hand away lightly.

“Easy, Potter,” he repeated, and then opened his eyes. “I think she’s meant to be having lunch with Blaise. Maybe you and me can--”

“You don’t want to have lunch with Zabini?”

Draco shrugged. “We were never that close. Anyway, I want--”

“Yeah,” Harry said. Their faces were very close. “Yeah.”

“Harry!” Neville and Hermione burst through the garden doors together, breathless. “Harry, you have to--”

“What?” Harry looked up. “What’s going on?”

“The dragon,” Hermione said, “the Ministry are coming right now, you have to get her out of here!”

Draco was on his feet at once, looking white and sick. Harry jumped up with him, reached out and grabbed Draco’s hand instinctively. “How?”

“I don’t know, I don’t know,” Hermione said. “Kingsley wrote a letter warning us but said he couldn’t do anything about it - he said in the next half hour--”

Fuck,” Harry said, and turned: Draco was already tucking his wand in his pocket, kicking the bucket of leftovers away from a disgruntled Monster. “You have to--”

“I know,” Draco said. Harry had thought for a horrible second that Draco might be frozen in fear again, but Draco was trembling, nearly vibrating in his urge to get away. “Do they know about Wales?”

“I don’t think so, not yet,” Harry said. “Go there - she knows it and it’s covered and the anti-Apparation wards -- it’s safest, for now, I’ll write to you as soon as I can. But you can’t stay there long.”

“No,” Draco agreed. He turned toward Pansy, who came stumbling to him, apparently unafraid now of the dragon. Draco hugged her tight, his fingers digging into her back.

“You can’t disappear again,” she said, sounding terrible and old. “Why don’t you just send the dragon off? Dragons are smart, they won’t catch it.”

“I can’t, sweetheart,” he said. “You know I can’t, you know I would if I could but - I promise I’ll write to you, stick with Potter, he’ll make sure, he’ll keep you in the loop.” He shot Harry a furious look over the top of Pansy’s head and Harry nodded.

Pansy kissed Draco’s cheek clumsily. “Then hurry up,” she said, looking a little as though she was going to cry again. “Go on, quick! If the Ministry catches you with a dragon they want it doesn’t matter how clean your record is--”

Draco squeezed her tight again and then she broke away, hurrying backward as though Monster were about to seize both of them up and fly away like something out of a storybook.

The great booming knock of Grimmauld Place’s front door echoed through the house.

“Malfoy,” Neville said grimly, “you have to go.”

“I’m going,” Draco said, but he didn’t; he turned to Harry and Harry caught him tight in his arms, and Draco clung to him. Draco was shaking hard, and he kissed Harry over and over, Draco’s hard, angry mouth, so Harry’s lips felt swollen and buzzing and he didn’t care, wanted to shove himself against Draco again, wanted them close enough that they could blur into one. “Potter--”

“I could come with you,” Harry said, rough against Malfoy’s mouth.

“You can’t, you know you can’t, you know you’re the only one with a chance of holding them off--”

“I know,” Harry said.

“Don’t - don’t forget,” Draco said, voice shaking. “Don’t not show up again--”

“Draco,” Harry said, horrified.

“I know, I know you’re only interested in things when they’re right in front of you,” Draco said, “but please, for Monster--”

“No,” Harry said, “That’s not what I--”

The knock again.

“Fuck,” Draco said, and he shook Harry, hands so tight on Harry’s shoulders they hurt. “I mean it! You have to, you have to--”

“I’ll find you,” Harry said. “I did it before. I’ll do it again. Go, go--” and Draco did, vaulting up lightly onto Monster’s back with the benefit of a month’s practice and pointing a jet of sparks at her foot that sent her soaring up into the air much faster than usual.

Harry stood, mouth dry and hands shaking, staring up at them, the dark shadow falling over his house, but Hermione said, frightened, “Harry, the door!” and Harry had to turn away, to turn his back on Pansy Parkinson who was staring at him in disbelief, and on the fading spot of the dragon, high up in that bright blue.

Chapter Text

Harry didn’t know the Ministry officials at the door. There were two of them, men in dark robes and slicked back hair. They looked at him like they were sizing him up. Harry leaned in the doorframe and tried to let his shoulders slump, tried not to act as though his whole body was thrumming with tension and anxiety, as though Malfoy’s kiss didn’t feel branded on him.

“Hi,” he said. “Can I help?”

“Mr Potter,” the first man said, a thick silver streak through dark hair and a face that seemed bored and blank as a piece of paper. “My name is Jaggers. This is my colleague, Mr Fawley.”

“Great pleasure, Mr Potter,” Fawley said. His hair was blonde: yellowish and too bright. Harry didn’t like it.

“We were wondering if we could step inside,” Jaggers said. “Have a chat with you. We won’t take up much of your time.”

“What’s this about?” Harry asked. He didn’t have to hide his bristling dislike. His general dislike for most Ministry employees was fairly well broadcast at this point.

Jaggers smiled at him, friendly. It didn’t suit him. “Just a few bits and pieces. Couple of unusual things.”

Harry folded his arms over his chest, leaned unmoved in the doorway.

“There’s some rumours about a dragon on the loose,” Fawley said in his nasal voice, fussing with his robes. “We’ve been told you’re aware of them.”

“Yes,” Harry said coolly. “Kingsley told me. He thought it might be the dragon that Hermion, Ron, and I used to get out of Gringotts.”

“Exactly so,” Jaggers said. “And while it’s been decided that that -- ahem, acquisition of the dragon was simply part of your brave war effort, I’m sure you realise that it’s quite a high priority to get the dragon back now.”

“Funny,” Harry said. “That’s not the impression Kingsley gave me.”

“Perhaps we could come inside,” Fawley said, “and discuss all of this then.”

“Maybe I could come to your office,” Harry said. “This is my home. You could have just sent an owl.”

Jaggers laughed coldly. “I’m afraid the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures is simply overrun at the moment,” he said. “An unfortunate incident with some Erklings. All will be sorted, I’m assured, but the Department is not quite in a state for visitors at the moment. And, Mr Potter, we have had some unusual reports about Grimmauld Place.”

“I don’t mind waiting,” Harry said.

“We rather do,” Jaggers said. Fawley smiled faintly down at the ground.

Harry stood still and angry for a moment, then stepped back, opening the door for them. He led them into the parlour, a particularly creepy room that they didn’t use for the most part. There were no windows and the wallpaper was a sickly shade of green and there was a painting of one of Sirius’s ancestors who stared down from his frame, stroking his bushy beard, trying to make eye contact and licking his lips. Harry sat down on an uncomfortable black leather and emerald cushioned chaise-longue and smiled at the two officials.

“Well,” he said. “What can I do for you?”

“We’ve had it from Minister Shacklebolt that you were informed and interested about the dragon sightings that came in intermittedly over the past few months,” Fawley said. “You were chasing them up.”

“I wouldn’t say chasing them up,” Harry said. “I asked Kingsley to keep me involved.”

“Why’s that?”

“Guilt, I suppose. I felt bad for the old thing. We sort of used it and sent it on its way, we didn’t think about what would happen to it after that. Or what would happen to other people. The - the war, you know.”

“Quite,” Fawley said. “And what did you discover?”

Harry kept his face stony. He couldn’t act, the way Ginny could, he couldn’t even do Ron’s easy-going attitude that lulled people into complacancy, but everyone knew that Harry Potter had had bad experiences with Ministry officials, everyone knew that he wasn’t a huge fan of most of them, everyone knew that he was, as a bitter Daily Prophet columnist had once put it, a sullen and unintelligent young man, despite his capacity for brute force. Fawley and Jaggers needn’t guess the real reason he hated them this morning.

“Nothing,” he said. “I went out a few times, when Kingsley told me there were reports of a sighting, but I never saw anything but a dead sheep. Could have been anything. I gave up on it. There haven’t been any sightings in months, anyway.”

“Perhaps none that have been fed to you,” Fawley said, with a polite smile.

Harry smiled back, not so politely.

“As a matter of fact, there have been some sightings,” Jaggers said. “In this very neighbourhood, actually. Not keeping a dragon in your backyard, are you, Mr Potter?”

Harry laughed shortly. “No. This is a Muggle neighbourhood, anyway.”

“There are always witches and wizards about,” Jaggers said softly. “The dragon was seen in the air, descending. This is the only wizarding household in the area, though, you’re right. Do you think perhaps some Muggles have adopted the dragon? Mistaken it for one of their large lizards?”

“I couldn’t possibly say. But it’s not here.”

“And has it been here?”

“No,” Harry said. “I didn’t realise I was a suspect in a stolen dragon case.”

Jaggers laughed, clapping his hands together. “Oh, my dear Mr Potter, of course you’re not! Of course, of course - who would suggest such a thing to the boy we all owe our lives to - the boy who saved the wizarding world, not once but twice - I would never suggest such a thing! Unfortunately, as we know, not everyone has your - moral character. And I’m afraid the dragon has been sighted in the presence of another wizard.”

Harry didn’t say anything, impassive and waiting.

“Draco Malfoy’s been staying at Grimmauld Place,” Fawley put in. “Has he not?”

Harry licked his lips. “For a few days.”

“Yes,” Jaggers said. “It was in the Prophet, the photos of you together. After you cleared his name. A very strange friendship, Mr Potter, if you don’t mind me saying. An unexpected one.”

“I do mind you saying, actually,” Harry said. “I don’t see what this has to do with me. So some people have gotten convinced they’ve seen Malfoy with a dragon -- he doesn’t have one. He was here for a few days and now he’s gone. I don’t know what else you want from me.”

“Where has he gone?”

“Home,” Harry said, and then, before they could ask: “I’m not sure where. I think you’ll find the Prophet has vastly overexaggerated our -- friendship. Malfoy was in trouble, he showed up here, I guess he figured I was the only one who could help him. I thought he had a point, I went to the Ministry, I took him out for a drink. That’s all we’ve really had to do with each other. It’s not like I like him. You can ask anyone that.”

“You seemed very friendly in the Prophet,” Fawley said.

Harry stared incredulously at him.

“Yes, yes, I see your point, Mr Potter,” Jaggers said. “You can’t trust the Prophet. What sort of trouble was Draco Malfoy in?”

Harry met his gaze levelly. “He lost his job,” he said. “He was working for a Muggle. He kept messing things up, because of course he didn’t know how anything worked. But he couldn’t get a wizarding job because he was a fugitive, of course. So he was starving.”

“Mm,” Jaggers said. “This would be the Muggle job he worked at in Wales. For a butcher. He was fired for stealing several large dead animals.”

Harry leaned back. He said, “Well, he didn’t tell me that. Trust a Malfoy to be a thief, I suppose.”

Fawley made a quiet, indignant noise, but Jaggers said, “Quite. You don’t think he might have been stealing dead animals to - perhaps - feed a dragon?”

Harry snorted. “You know people eat dead animals too, right? I’m not sure if you could tell from the photos, but Malfoy looked pretty close to starvation himself. Muggles don’t pay that much. I reckon he’d be too greedy to feed any animal before he fed himself.”

Somewhere, a quiet twinge of guilt panged in him, even though there was no way Draco could hear, and Harry was only using select bits of truth anyway. He thought about Malfoy’s scrawny build, the pinched, tired look of his face. He’d fed the dragon too much, really.

“Of course,” Jaggers said smoothly. “So you think any reports of a dragon with young Mr Malfoy are completely unfounded, then?”

Harry shrugged. “I think people probably saw someone they could pretend was a Malfoy with a dragon and leapt to the obvious conclusion. It’s not like the Malfoys are particularly popular these days.”

“A very tidy explanation,” Jaggers said cheerfully, and slapped his hands on his thighs. “Well! Let’s hope you’re right. I don’t suppose I could trouble you for a quick tour of your garden, Mr Potter?”

“Ah,” Harry said. “So I’m back to being a suspect, is that right?”

“Not at all,” Jaggers said. “It’s just easier for us if we can tick all the boxes. Less chance of us having to show up and bother you again someday.”

Harry stood up. “Fine,” he said shortly, and led the way through the hall and out into the back garden. He wasn’t particularly worried: Hermione and Neville would have handled it, and sure enough they were sitting out on the back porch, drinking cups of tea and looking as sleepy-eyed as though they’d just woken up. Harry suspected Neville had given Hermione something to smoke to calm her down.

“Hiya, Harry,” Neville said, looking up, half-smiling. He raised his eyebrows. “Who’re your friends?”

“Jaggers and Fawley,” Harry said brusquely. “From the Ministry. They think we’ve got a secret dragon.”

“Goodness,” Hermione said. “What a secret.”

“We’re very sneaky people, I guess,” Neville said. “Remember the last time you were on a dragon, Harry? Didn’t you half-destroy Gringotts? That was pretty sneaky.”

“Right,” Harry agreed, and jerked his head toward the garden. “Go on. Tick your boxes.”

“Thank you,” Jaggers said, all smiles, and went down the steps with his wand outstretched and Fawley trailing behind him.

The grass looked as though it had never been stepped on, let alone had a dragon stretched out on it for a week; the broken trees were gone, and the orchard was straight and dense as it had ever been. Harry leaned against the porchrail next to Neville and Hermione and murmured under his breath, “Pansy?”

“We’ve tucked her in a cupboard out of the way, she’ll be right,” Neville said, voice low, smile pleasant.

“All right,” Harry said, and watched Fawley and Jaggers cast spells and make notes.

After ten minutes they turned around and came back up the steps.

“Sorry to waste your time, Mr Potter,” Jaggers said, practically beaming at him now. “All clear here, obviously. We’ll be off now.”

“Great,” Harry said. “Thanks for stopping by.”

Fawley and Jaggers nodded politely at him as they passed. Harry turned to watch them leave, and flicked his wand to send the entrance door slamming shut the moment they were out of it.

“They didn’t believe a word you said,” Hermione said.

Harry rubbed his eyes. “I know.”

-

Pansy Parkinson came whirling out of the quite literal cupboard Neville and Hermione had shoved her in like a demon out of hell.

“What did they say?” she demanded. “What - do they know it’s Draco? I heard them saying his name. Where’s he gone? Is he going to be safe? What are you two doing?”

Harry decided to ignore the questions he didn’t like. “They think it’s Draco, yeah,” he said. “There were some sightings of him with the dragon, apparently. Kingsley knows, too, must do, but he’s covering for us I think. Draco will have - he’ll have gone back to Wales, with his parents.”

“I’ll go there, then--”

“No,” Harry said, scowling. “It’s not safe. And I think they’ll be tracking us, at least for the day, if we all go whirling off to Wales we’ll lead them right to him. I’ve got to find a way to - I’ll write. I could try and Firecall but - no, the Floo won’t be connected to his house. Fuck.”

“Send a Patronus,” Neville suggested. “They’re normally pretty good at going unseen.”

“It’s a long way to go, though,” Harry said, and then swallowed, rubbing his face with his hands. “Fuck. Can Draco even -- can he do a Patronus? He’s got his wand--”

“He was - a bit shaky with them,” Pansy said, looking as though it was killing her to admit it. “We were meant to learn them in seventh year but he was barely there. Don’t you have any other way of getting in touch?”

“Owls are too easy to track,” Harry said. “I can go there, but - but not for a couple of days. He needs to get out of there, really, if they know about his job -- it’s too close. He needs to go.”

“Yes,” Hermione said calmly, and Harry looked at her and nodded.

“All right,” he said, “I’ll send the Patronus,” and he did, looking into the stag’s silver eyes and thinking: run, run. He wasn’t sure if he was telling the stag or Draco. It galloped away anyway, fading into mist between London houses.

Pansy Parkinson was still staring at him, her mouth all twisted up and her eyes bright and nasty. “Draco thinks you’re a twat,” she said.

“I know that, thanks,” Harry said. “There’s no reason for you to still be here, you know.”

“I’m waiting for news about Draco,” she snapped. “You won’t tell me, otherwise. Don’t think I trust you for a second to keep me up to date.”

“Yeah, sorry it’s not super high on my priority list,” Harry said, rounding on her, voice rising. “Much as I do like to have you updated on everything that’s happening in my life--”

“It’s not your life, it’s his life! And he’s my best friend! And you’re just - I don’t know what the fuck you’re doing with him but it - it’s weird and fucked up and everyone knows that you’ve been fucking your way round London for the last year but you should leave Draco out of it!”

“Oh my god, this is so funny!” Harry yelled. “Because when I said that keeping you updated isn’t high on my priority list, I of course meant about everything except who I’m fucking, because that’s all shit I’m super keen to get your approval on! Thanks for bringing that to my attention!”

“No worries, Potter!” Pansy shrieked back. “Obviously the fact that you kept Draco here, where the dragon has about a thousand more chances of being spotted and getting him into trouble, just so that you can have someone to make out with when you’re bored of whatever Weasley you’re shagging at the moment isn’t of any relevance whatsoever! I’m so sorry for being so intrusive, when Draco could be out there, being hunted down--”

“Sorry, but what have you done to keep him from being hunted down in the past?” Harry demanded, furious. “Hidden? Ran away? Kept your fat mouth shut? Yeah, it’s all been really useful to him, thank god you were there! I fucking know he’s in trouble, I’m going to sort it, I just need you to shut up.”

“Guys,” Hermione said, looking worried. “The dragon--”

“Who gives a fuck about the dragon,” Harry and Pansy yelled at the same time, and then shared an aghast look with one another.

Neville and Hermione stared at them.

“I mean - obviously I care about the dragon,” Harry said, softer. “Obviously. Just, um, Draco will have the dragon under control, he’s good with her, so we just have to worry about - about--”

“About Draco,” Hermione said.

“Fuck,” Pansy said. “I can’t believe we’ve ended up having to trust Gryffindors.”

“Meanwhile, I don’t trust you at all,” Harry told her, cold. “So you can just - leave. Really.”

Pansy gave him a long, angry look, and for a moment Harry thought they were going to start screaming at each other again, but then she shook her head and said, quiet and firm, “No, Potter,” and Harry let it be at that.

He ran his hand through his hair, messing it up further, and said, “Okay, well I should - I should write to Kingsley--” but Hermione shook her head.

“If anyone sees you send an owl to Shacklebolt immediately, they’ll know you’re worried about something,” she said. “Leave it for a couple of hours. Shacklebolt got in touch with us first, he’ll get back in touch again. Just wait.”

“Right,” Harry said, “okay,” and they waited.

Pansy Parkinson was like an unfriendly poltergeist in the corner, silent but occasionally getting up to stomp around. Neville and Hermione periodically disappeared and reappeared throughout the day, and so did the rest of the house, while Harry stretched himself out on the sofa, twirling his wand between his fingers, trying not to feel as though he was holding some sort of sickbed vigil.

The afternoon shifted and changed through the house, long golden hours going sullen. Harry felt himself disliking the oncoming summer for the first time. He wanted it to be dark. There was no letter from Kingsley, and nothing from Draco.

“I should go to Wales,” he said, standing up.

“Sit down,” Pansy said, and a little while after that Seamus came in and threw himself onto the couch, legs over Harry’s lap.

“Parkinson,” Seamus said, nodding at her in a friendly sort of way. Pansy looked confused. “Harry. Did you know there’s some people watching the house?”

Harry stared at him. “What?”

Pansy laughed tiredly. “Told you.”

“Couple of fellas,” Seamus said. “Nice guys. They pretended they were out walking their dog, but.”

“Fuck.” Harry rubbed his face. “Okay. Jesus.”

Seamus looked at Pansy and said, “You all right, then?”

“Hey,” Harry said, clicking his fingers in front of Seamus’s face. “None of that.”

“Oh, Harry, it’s too difficult to keep track of which Slytherins you want us to be nice to and which ones you don’t,” Seamus said, getting up and leaning down to kiss Harry’s cheek, startlingly reassuring. Harry smiled up at him. “Give me a shout if there’s anything I can do. Me and Ginny and some of the other Weasleys are playing Quidditch outside, you want to come with?”

Harry shook his head.

“Suit yourself,” Seamus said, and went out, and in the low dusk Harry and Pansy sat silently in their dim room and listened to the shouts and laughter coming from outside.

Dinner came and went without a letter from Shacklebolt. Around ten PM, a ragged silver creature came into the room. It took Harry a moment to realise what it was, thin streams of silver misting off it, its paws blurring like it was hardly there, snout morphing into shapelessness when Harry blinked. But it was recognisable, if poorly executed and exhausted: a fox, the kind Harry saw out on London streets some times rummaging through the garbage, ragged and crafty.

Harry and Pansy both sat up very straight.

“Safe,” Draco’s voice said from the fox’s mouth. He sounded exhausted. “Got your message, didn’t go home. We’re up north. Tell Pansy.”

The fox looked like it was going to say something else then, mouth open and a soft hiss coming from the back of its throat, but it shivered and broke apart, coalascing into steam. Harry stared at it, feeling oddly empty. Draco and the dragon were safe, apparently, which was all that really mattered. Everything else, he supposed, could wait until morning. There was nothing Harry could do right now.

He turned and looked at Pansy. She looked stricken, as well, but when she saw Harry looking she cleared her throat and stood up.

“Okay,” she said. “I’m going home. I have to work tomorrow. I’m going to write down the address for you so you can get in touch with me as soon as you know anything. And I will be stopping by tomorrow evening. And if you keep anything from me, Potter, I swear--”

Harry nodded. “Okay. I won’t.”

“Good,” Pansy said, and left.

-

Kingsley’s owl came the next morning.

Harry, he wrote. Jaggers has pushed through paperwork allowing him to keep a watch on Grimmauld Place. It is about the dragon, not about you, which is why it’s successful. I must warn you that I cannot give you any further information. I would tell you, though, that a watch order can be easily extended from a house to its inhabitants. I would advise you to be careful. Jaggers has associates within Gringotts. They are all very keen to get the dragon back.

He hadn’t signed it. Harry swallowed hard, then got Seamus to place a Floo call to Pansy’s workplace and hand the message on. He paced back and forth. He went out grocery shopping, keeping a wary eye over his shoulder for spies he couldn’t see. It was Malfoy’s fault, he thought bitterly, Malfoy had brought him back to this, made him feel like he was back in the war, and then he froze over the vegetable section, realised that Malfoy didn’t have any money, wondered what he and Monster would be eating. Harry should have given him some, before he left.

He sent another Patronus, discreetly as he could. It came back to him after an hour, shaking its great horned head.

“He’s probably in the air, mate,” Ron said.

“It’s hard to find someone if you don’t know where they are,” Hermione told him. “Don’t worry. It’s only been a day.”

But a day turned into two, and then three, and Harry hadn’t heard anything, hadn’t received any owl from Draco or from the Ministry. He slept up alone in the little attic room because for some reason the idea of sleeping back in his own bed left him jittery and restless. Sometimes he would go and slip into bed with Ron and Hermione. Sometimes he stayed up most of the night, pacing and waiting.

The house grew darker again. The shower stopped working. Every floorboard creaked ominously. Ginny said, annoyed, “I wish Malfoy would come back and put it in a good mood again,” and Harry said nothing.

On Friday afternoon Pansy Parkinson came by after work, as she had most nights; this time, she stayed for dinner. She looked at Harry and said, low, “I think perhaps we should think about going out looking.”

Harry licked his lips. “We’ll have to be careful.” He didn’t think about arguing that he didn’t want to take her. He knew it would be pointless.

“I think travel by - Muggle ways,” Pansy said. “They have trains, don’t they? It’ll be harder for wizards to follow us. If we don’t use magic we can hide in crowds.”

Harry nodded, slowly. Hermione said, “Harry, you’ve absolutely no idea where he is. Up north covers a lot of land, you know? Especially if you’re not using magic.”

“Right,” Harry said, “right, but still--”

The owl flew through the window then, dropping the letter into his lap. For a moment Harry’s heart startled, skipped a beat then beat faster to make up for it at the sight of the familiar spiky handwriting, but when he picked it up he realised it was different: it curled slightly more, it was less legible.

Mr Harry Potter, it said on the front, and when Harry opened it up he half expected it to scream.

Mr Potter,

It has been four days since I’ve had any word from my son. He is not responding to my letters. This is most unlike him. Please either have Draco write to me as soon as possible, or rest assured that if you are in any way responsible for any harm that has come to him, I will have the great pleasure of tearing you limb from limb myself.

With best regards,
Narcissa Malfoy

Harry’s vision felt a little grey. He handed the letter over wordlessly to Hermione, and then Pansy.

“Well,” Hermione said, sounding torn between worried and touched. “What are you going to write to her?”

Pansy shook her head. “Don’t write,” she said. “The Ministry can intercept. We’ll have to visit. Draco said there was a town nearby - we can catch a train.”

“We?” Harry echoed hollowly, his heartbeat echoing in his ears.

“Well,” Pansy said, slanting a glance at him. “Did you really want to visit Draco’s parents on your own?”

“No,” Harry admitted. “Not particularly.”

“Good,” Pansy said. “Let’s leave first thing tomorrow, then. Potter, I’ll need somewhere to sleep.”

-

It took a long time to get to Wales the next morning, longer than Harry would have thought. He wasn’t used to not using magic, even during the war - anyway. It was a four and a half hour train ride from Paddington to Clunderwen, and then they had to get two buses to the little village that Draco used to work in. Pansy trailed a step behind Harry the whole time; Harry half thought she was trying not to be seen with him before he realised that she was watching every interaction he had with any Muggle or Muggle machinery before copying him exactly. He still had to help her with the ticket machine when she tried to pay with a £50 note; for a moment she looked terrified that she wasn’t going to get any change, and he wondered just how much of her money she’d transferred over, but he didn’t mention it and neither did she.

They didn’t speak, for the most part. Harry read a newspaper, pretending that any of the Muggle politics makes sense to him. It was weird, how he had to think for a moment to recognise the name of the Muggle Prime Minister. Hermione tried to keep up with it properly. But it was hard, sometimes, to remember that it was important.

At least the Queen hadn’t changed.

Parkinson sat almost silent the entire way, freakishly silent, unnervingly silent. She’d not put on make-up this morning and she looks exhausted and washed out, sickly. Harry darted sideways glances at her. He’d never thought she was pretty. He supposed she had a certain sort of air to her, if you liked that sort of thing.

When they got to the village and started walking out over the green hills, Harry asked, “Do you know -- his parents that well?”

“Quite well,” Pansy said. “Our mothers were friends. I think they fell out a few years ago, but the damage was done by then. We used to spend a lot of summers with each other.”

“Right,” Harry said, and felt, for a stupid moment, jealous. It wasn’t as though he’d have liked to hang out with Malfoy when he was thirteen, he reminded himself. It was just odd, how well Pansy knew Draco. Harry had gotten used to be Draco’s defender amongst the Hogwarts lot back at Grimmauld Place. He’d gotten used to thinking he knew Draco best. That he saw the things no one else did.

“You don’t have to go in, if you don’t want,” Pansy said.

Harry bristled. “Of course I’m going in.”

“Well.” Pansy shrugged. “If you like.”

Harry got a bit lost, hadn’t had to actually walk to Draco’s house since the first few times, but after a while he got his bearings and they found the way. It was strange, coming over that hill and looking down at the little hut cradled in the valley below. It looked smaller. The barn looked more ruinous. It had only been two weeks since Harry had been here. It seemed much more.

Pansy stood stricken for a moment, then set off down the hill.

Harry followed her reluctantly, not wanting to push in front but resenting being the one lingering behind her when Pansy rapped on the door. He didn’t have time to work himself into a proper sulk, not even time really to acknowledge the anxiety brewing in his chest, before the door was flung open and Narcissa said, in her crisp, hard voice, “Pansy?”

“Oh, Mrs Malfoy,” Pansy said, and threw herself into Narcissa’s arms.

Narcissa clutched at her and the two of them hugged tightly for a moment, almost exactly of a height, dark and blonde heads bent together. Harry’s heart was rabbitting in his chest.

“You haven’t called me that since you were a girl,” Narcissa murmured, and then raised her head. Her eyes caught Harry’s. Harry’s breath was coming shallow and rapid; he threw out a hand, clasping the wooden windowsill jutting out.

“I’m sorry,” Pansy said. “Narcissa, I just - it’s really, really good to see you.”

“My dear girl,” Narcissa murmured, and stroked Pansy’s head. She kept looking back at Harry. Harry’s throat felt dry. He wished she would stop looking at him. “I’m - I’m so glad, but - Draco, is he--”

“He’s alive,” Harry said, voice rough.

Pansy stepped back, effectively getting in the way of Narcissa’s gaze. Harry had never thought he’d be grateful to Pansy Parkinson.

“It’s the dragon, of course,” Pansy said, almost brisk now, though she kept her hands out, clasping Narcissa’s hand between both of hers, like a child refusing to let go. “The fucking Ministry found out about it. They’re trying to hunt it down, and Draco won’t let them--”

Why,” Narcissa hissed. “Why doesn’t he give it up? He’ll get himself - he’s only just gotten himself out of trouble, how can he be so foolish?”

Pansy shrugged. “You know what Draco’s like when he loves something,” she said, and Narcissa nodded coolly.

She looked at Harry. “You’re very brave, Mr Potter,” she said. “Coming with Pansy like this, after my letter. Just to keep me updated? Draco isn’t exactly what I’d call out of harm’s way. Did you not realise how terribly serious I was?”

Harry’s palms were sweating. He shoved them in his pockets. He thought about Ron and Hermione, asleep and happy, and the way it felt to crawl in beside them and have their solidity weighing him down. He thought about Draco knocking past him on a broom. He picked a spot next to Narcissa’s hair and stared at that and did not, did not, did not think about the forest.

“I think I’ll manage,” he said. “I’ve done all right against Death Eaters in the past.”

“But surely you must have heard that I’m not a Death Eater,” Narcissa said, silky smooth. “After all, Draco gave me the impression that that’s what you told the Ministry.”

“Yes,” Harry said. “That’s right. I think I told the Ministry something about how cowardly the Malfoys were.”

Narcissa laughed softly, and turned aside. “Pansy, dear,” she said, “won’t you come in?”

“Yes,” Pansy said, “but Narcissa, I know he’s a twat and all, but he’s been hanging out with Draco, he should probably--”

“Oh, of course,” Narcissa said. “After your services rendered, Mr Potter, please do come in. My home is yours.”

Harry followed Pansy in, eyes on his shoes. He thought: Draco lived here. Until very recently, Draco was here, and the thought of Draco moving in his lazy way about the rooms, of Draco eating dinner with his sleeves rolled up and his bony wrists on show, of Draco getting undressed, all narrow hips and long legs, made Harry feel a bit better. He looked up, enough that he could survey the room and see no sight of Lucius Malfoy.

As though reading his mind, Pansy said, hushed, “Is Lucius--”

Narcissa’s mouth tightened. “Not well.”

“Draco told me.”

“I’m afraid Lucius was a very - very foolish man, for a few years there,” Narcissa said, voice brittle and strained. “He is now paying for it. A little late, if you ask me, but he never did.”

“I’m - I’m sorry.” Pansy looked confused, not sure how to react. Very similar to how Draco had looked every time he talked about his father.

Narcissa Malfoy only looked cold and regretful, like a coach looking over a sports match that hadn’t gone as well as planned. “Well. Tell me about Draco.”

Pansy did: explained almost the whole story of Draco as she’d seen him since she first crashed into Grimmauld Place, though she left out the clubbing, and the way Draco had kissed Harry goodbye. She told Narcissa about the Ministry officials and what she’d overheard from the cupboard and the letter from Kingsley and the watch on Grimmauld Place; she told her about how they’d come down here today, with Muggle money and no magic, refusing to let themselves be tracked.

Narcissa stayed still and quiet throughout, reacted only twice: when Pansy first said Grimmauld Place and Narcissa shook her head like a dog climbing out of water, and when Pansy mentioned the names of the Ministry officials.

“I know Jaggers,” Narcissa said, low. “He worked with McNair on the Hippogriff case at Hogwarts - when was that, five, six years ago? He wanted to have the giant arrested. He wanted to charge him as liable for the hippogriff’s brutality.”

Normally, Harry would roll his eyes very obviously at this. But he was having trouble concentrating. There was a ringing in his ears. He kept trying to look at anything other than Narcissa, but he was having trouble with that, eyes sliding back to her, her long hair, her cool, calculating eyes.

“So you’re saying,” Narcissa said, when Pansy was done, “you have no idea where he is? You came all this way to tell me that?”

“We couldn’t write to you,” Pansy said, looking exhausted. She took the cup of tea Narcissa had given her gratefully. “And I wanted to ask if there’s anywhere - anywhere up north you think he’d go?”

Narcissa shook her head slowly. “My mother had a house in Yorkshire,” she said. “We grew up in London, but it was - her property, an old property. It had some large grounds. Draco went there a few times when he was a child, with Lucius and me, but I don’t know if it even - I assume it was confiscated with most of our property.”

“It’s worth checking,” Pansy said. “If you could give me the address?”

“Of course,” Narcissa said. “And anything else you need--”

“I’ll be outside, Parkinson,” Harry said, and got up, stumbled out of the house. He turned and went half round the corner before he had to brace himself on a wall and throw up. He hadn’t eaten much. It was mostly clear and stringy bile and it hurt his throat. He leaned against the wall, panting, wiping his sleeve across his mouth.

When he looked up, Lucius Malfoy was at the window. He made a horrified face when he saw Harry looking and disappeared. Harry felt strangely calmed. He closed his eyes, head pounding, and willed away the migraine that threatened.

Pansy and Narcissa came out a few minutes later, holding hands. Narcissa pressed Pansy’s hand and said, “Anything else -- anything else I can do.”

“Of course,” Pansy said. “I’ll keep you updated. I’ll try and find a way to write, but if not--”

“Do your best,” Narcissa said, and abruptly cupped Pansy’s cheek in her palm. “You’re doing very well, Pansy. Your mother must be very proud.”

Harry laughed hollowly, and then regretted it when Narcissa looked at him, her eyes sharp.

“Mr Potter,” she acknowledged, dipping her head. “You’re looking better than when I last saw you.”

Harry licked his lips. He wasn’t sure which time she meant: the night of the storm when he’d come down and taken Draco away, or the forest.

“We’ll be in touch,” Pansy said. “Come on, Potter,” and he turned and followed her, still a little dizzy, ready for the long journey home.

-

On the train back to London, hands folded in her lap, Pansy turned to look at Harry. “Are you frightened of Narcissa?”

Harry kept his eyes closed, pretended to be asleep.

-

They got in late, past midnight, and Harry was exhausted and drained and miserable, no closer to finding Draco than before. Pansy said, “I’ll come back with you to Grimmauld Place, see if there’s any news,” and when they got back there wasn’t, but Pansy slumped onto the couch anyway and fell asleep.

Harry went upstairs. Then he thought of Draco, came back downstairs, and covered her with a blanket. Then he went and got into bed with Ron and Hermione and slept badly, restlessly, and Hermione was having nightmares, too, so they both got up at six in the morning and went to sit on the front steps of Grimmauld Place drinking tea and not talking, heads resting together.

The Muggle postman came past. He looked at their house, shook his head, looked again.

“Fidelius Charm’s almost worn off completely,” Hermione murmured. “Now even people who aren’t neighbours can see it.”

“Do you think we should cast another one?”

Hermione shook her head. “There’s too many of us coming and going all the time -- too many visitors, as well. The Fidelius Charm is designed for safehouses, places where people are hiding. We don’t need to hide anymore.”

Harry looked at her and raised his eyebrows.

“Though it would be nice,” Hermione agreed, “if we could. Look, we’ve made a friend.”

The Muggle postman had doubled back, was coming hesitantly through the gate towards them. Harry raised his eyebrows, stood up.

“So strange,” the man said, shaking his head. “I’ve been working this block for years - swear I’ve never seen this place before.”

“We’ve repainted,” Hermione said, voice level. The paint was peeling and faded, but the postman didn’t say anything, just stared at her in confusion.

“We don’t get a lot of mail,” Harry said. “It’s been empty for a few years.” The postman was holding something out to him. Harry took it. “Thank you.”

“Have a good day then,” the postman said, and tucked his head down, turning and stumbling down the short path.

“Too much magic here for him,” Hermione said quietly. “Poor man. I feel bad. What have you got there, Harry?”

Harry held it carefully, almost reverantly, the shiny little postcard with Greetings from Perfect Pocklington! on the front. There was a picture of a birdhouse and a lake on it, captioned Burnby Hall Gardens.

On the back, in straight awkward handwriting it said: Hello Harry. We’re having such a lovely time up here, touring farms and enjoying the lakes in the summer. We’ve found a very nice camping place that we’ve got mostly to ourselves, but there’s plenty of friendly people in Pocklington and we usually stop by The Plough Inn around lunchtime to have a chat. Do stop by if you change your mind about coming with us. From Cousin Mon xxx

Hermione read over his shoulder and let out a breath of laughter. “Not bad,” she said.

“I have to go wake Pansy up,” Harry said.

-

It was another six hour trip up, and Harry had been worried they wouldn’t make it in time for lunch, especially with Pansy so jittery and anxious next to him that he kept being tempted to stop and send her home. It was only the knowledge of the fight this would cause that kept him from doing it, and he gritted his teeth and kept the postcard folded tight in his coat pocket, holding onto it, ignoring Pansy when she asked to see it.

The Plough Inn was very - Yorkshire. Just very, very Yorkshire, and Harry didn’t know what Malfoy had meant by the friendly people comment because there was no one here who didn’t stare at them as though they were trespassers, and Harry wondered how on earth Draco - let alone the damn dragon - had been coming here every lunchtime, if that’s what he had been doing.

He ordered a pint for himself and Pansy to draw less attention to them, and then followed Pansy through a warren of back rooms and back out to the front bar.

“It’s half one,” Pansy said, voice low and tight with distress. “Do you think we missed him?”

“I don’t know,” Harry said. “What do you think his dumb idea of lunchtime is? At Hogwarts we ate at one.”

“Keep your voice down, Potter,” Pansy hissed, “there’s Muggles everywhere!”

“Yeah, and you jumping a foot into the air every time the cash register goes off, that’s much subtler.”

An older woman passed by their bench and smiled at them. “You two make a very handsome couple,” she said, and Pansy and Harry smiled weakly up at her.

“Tourist,” Harry mumbled when she was gone, “bet you anything.”

“I know. Everyone else in here hates us.”

Harry made a face. “I wish we could have brought Ginny - she charms people but she’s no good with Muggles, she’s too much like her dad.”

Pansy shook her head. “I don’t want to bring a crowd, anyway. We don’t know what he wants - better we can just call for help if we need it.”

“Right,” Harry agreed, a little reluctant, and they took silent sips of their beers.

After another moment, Pansy said, voice low, “If he doesn’t show up in the next little while we should think about going to find him, somehow.”

“He said something about lakes,” Harry said. “I bet you that’s where they’re camping. We’ll get a map, check out the ones in the area - we can probably rent bikes somewhere around here.”

Pansy nodded. “And those gardens - the ones on the front of the postcard, they’re worth checking. I think they’re a tourist destination but a lot of ones like that have hidden magical places in them -- I don’t think Draco would risk casting any hiding spells but he might find some old ones that he could stumble into.”

“They don’t know about his wand, though, the Ministry,” Harry said. “They think I have it. I mean - it’s an old wand, it hasn’t been used in ages.”

Pansy shook her head. “Too risky. We don’t know who’s monitoring it or why or from when. I don’t think he’d have tried it.”

“Right,” Harry said, “well, he’s still got magic--”

“You’re both too old to be talking about fairytales,” Draco said, slipping into the booth next to Pansy.

Draco,” Pansy said, and Draco reached out and very casually put a hand on her shoulder.

“Let’s not make a scene,” he murmured, smiling pleasantly. “I’ve been trying not to draw any attention -- nice and easy. Hi, Pansy. Hello, Potter.”

Pansy leaned against Draco’s side, almost casual except that she was trembling. “Hi,” she said, and Harry nodded at Draco, staring, trying to notice everything about Draco now that he was back.

Malfoy looked thinner again, tireder, his skin pale and deep black shadows under his eyes. He was wearing his ragged old jeans again and Harry’s jumper, a tightly knitted red one that Harry hadn’t even noticed Draco taking. He looked sure, though, determined, not the waxy ill look he got when things were really bad. When Harry met his gaze Draco looked back at him, steady and sure, and something flipped over in Harry’s stomach.

He smiled. Under the table his knee knocked against Draco’s. “How’s Cousin Mon?” he asked.

“Fine,” Draco said casually. “Touring the Burnby Hall Gardens again. They’re her favourite place.”

“She doesn’t mind the crowds?”

Pansy made a tiny, amused noise, grabbing onto Draco’s elbow and holding it tightly.

“She’s found some of the less visited areas,” Draco said. “She’s okay. Bit hungry, but.”

“I brought cash,” Harry said, keeping his voice low. “I’m sorry, I didn’t think about it when you were leaving but - I’ve got a couple of hundred pounds, it should keep you going for a little bit.”

Draco bit his lip. He looked embarrassed but his eyes were bright, almost shiny. “I’ll pay you back,” he said.

“No rush,” Harry said. “Are - are you okay?”

“Sure,” Draco said. “I like camping.”

Pansy whispered, “Have you been sleeping outside, Draco? You need a tent or something.”

“It’s okay,” Draco said. “I’ve got Monster. It’s only rained one night, we’ve been okay.”

“Is she - can we see her?” Harry said.

“Of course,” Draco said immediately. “Let’s go now, I want to hear all the news,” and Harry drained his pint and shuffled out after Pansy and Draco, who had linked their arms together.

He walked on Draco’s other side. Every now and then their shoulders bumped.

“So the Ministry are after you, of course,” Pansy said, the moment they were out of earshot of passerbys, and proceeded to fill Draco in on everything that had happened, the same way she had for Narcissa. Harry took over for the bit about the conversation with Jaggers and Fawley, reciting it as best as he could remember, while Draco looked at him with his steady grey gaze and nodded.

His stomach felt settled for the first time in days, that low thrum of anxiety gone. The sun was out again, and Draco had the sleeves of Harry’s jumper rolled up to his elbows, and the dragon was up ahead and safe. Harry tucked his own hands in his pockets and smiled down at the dusty road.

“It’s a bit of a walk,” Draco said, and they kept going on. “You saw my mother?”

“Yeah,” Pansy said, “me and Potter--”

Draco laughed, smiling at Harry. “You went to visit my mother?”

Harry shrugged.

“Well,” Pansy said with a withering look, “he came in with me, anyway. He said about two words, acted like a complete freak the whole time and then threw up afterward like a total psycho, but yes, I guess you could say he visited your mother.”

Draco raised his eyebrows. Harry mumbled, “Think I ate something a bit funny.”

“Hmm,” Draco said, and turned back to Pansy. “Go on.”

“That’s about it, really,” she said. “Then we got your postcard and came straight here this morning. What have you been doing?”

Draco sighed. “Your Patronus found me in the air,” he told Harry, with an annoyed look. “Show off. There was no call for that.”

“How was that showing off?” Harry said, bewildered. “I just needed it to find you--”

“Oh, all right already, Potter, we get it,” Pansy said, and she and Draco both laughed, though Draco’s laugh was nicer, fonder, and he darted another quick look at Harry, something warm and approving there that made Harry smile back instinctively.

“So I turned around, I went north,” Draco said. “We slept in Delamere Forest for two nights but it was tricky, there were too many trees and Monster kept knocking them down trying to hunt squirrels, so I went for farmland - I’ve been trying to keep her on the move but I don’t know what to do, people are going to realise there’s a pattern of missing farm animals again soon. And there’s keeping her hidden - there’s a little grotto in Burnby Hall Gardens that’s magic, we’ve been hiding out there the last few days, but she’s getting restless again and it’s - harder to know when I keep her safely hidden. I’m trying not to use magic - I had to use a warming charm once at night, it was too cold, I think we might have - anyway, aside from that. I’m going to avoid using my wand at all, if I can help it.”

Pansy gave Harry a triumphant told you so look. Harry ignored her.

“We’ll sort stuff out,” he said. “I bet I can get Kingsley to help - we’ll find a way, somehow, we’ll call off the hunt. I - I haven’t done much,” he admitted, guilty now, “I was - I wanted to know what happened to you, I was worried, but now I know you’re okay I can get started properly. We’ll fix it.”

Pansy and Draco were both staring at him. Harry frowned back at them. “What?”

“Nothing,” Draco said, voice strange.

“Okay,” Harry said, rolling his eyes. “Anyway. I brought you this.”

He took his hand out of his pocket, handed Draco the Galleon.

“Uh,” Draco said. “You’ve already given me some money, but thanks, I guess?”

Harry sighed loudly and took another Galleon out of his pocket. He raised it to his mouth. “Tell Draco he’s a prat,” he said, and the Galleon in Draco’s palm shivered slightly before flipping over, gold letters rising cheerfully to the service: You’re a prat!

“Ah, brilliant,” Draco said. “A new way for you to insult me.”

“It’s so we can--”

“I know,” Draco said. “Good idea. Easier than Muggle post.”

Harry shrugged. “We should have thought of it when you were leaving, really,” he said. “Communication and money and food, maybe. But it was -- all such a rush--”

“I know,” Draco repeated. “There wasn’t time.”

“Just enough time to say goodbye,” Pansy said, overemphasising, and Draco’s cheeks went pink and he stared straight ahead of him for a few moments. Harry glared at Pansy, annoyed.

Pansy had been all right this week, Harry supposed, but there was no point to her being here now, she was just in the way, she was just the reason Harry couldn’t grab at Malfoy and reassure himself properly that Malfoy was okay, run his hands over Draco and maybe kiss him for a bit before they went to see Monster.

It was fine. It was just annoying.

“Tell me about work, Pansy,” Draco said. “Were they okay with you missing that day earlier this week?”

“Oh, fine, like they give a shit whether I turn up or not,” Pansy said, and then launched into a somewhat contradictary rant about how much her boss hated her. Draco’s hand bumped against Harry’s pocket, once, twice, and then Harry took his hand out and clasped Draco’s, linking their fingers together. Draco kept his gaze on Pansy and Harry kept staring straight down the road.

It was good to have Draco there, solid. It was better, anyway. Harry had gotten too used to having things the way he wanted them over the last year: to being able to simply reach out and take.

Draco dropped his hand after a while, led them round a back way into the Gardens, past the carefully manicured guest gardens and round a twisting road and some sheds that looked like they belonged to gardening staff.

Then they rounded another corner and Harry felt the familiar prickle of magic. A long blue lake stretched below, and there was some aspect of the air that lay gleaming. Draco reached out and grabbed each of their sleeves and pulled them forward, and the air shimmered like a heatwave and Harry half-stumbled and caught himself with a hand against Monster’s flank.

Monster tilted her head down, curious. Pansy let out a short shriek. Harry said, “Hi, girlie. How you doing?”

Draco looked pleased. “It’s good, isn’t it,” he said. “Rumours were that Merlin had some hide outs up in Yorkshire.”

Pansy rolled her eyes, looking warily at Monster. “You are not hiding out in Merlin’s old territory, Draco, you need to stop this aggrandising.” She paused, then added reluctantly, “It is good, though,” and Draco practically beamed.

“It’s all right,” he conceded. “But it doesn’t go on very far. It’s smaller than the Grimmauld Place backyard. And there’s still the whole food issue.”

“We’ll sort it,” Pansy said. “There must be some sort of -- appeal.”

Draco looked tense. “I can’t think of any,” he said, and reached up while Monster pressed her enormous head down, thumping it against his palm.

“But Potter has the whole world in love with him, don’t forget,” Pansy said. “I’m sure he’s got the Minister in his pocket too--”

“The Minister for Magic doesn’t have much say about the Care and Regulation of Magical Creatures, actually,” a sunny, slimy voice said behind them, and Harry’s heartnearly stopped. “Much as it must be nice, having him on your side.”

Harry turned, slowly. Jaggers and Fawley smiled at him.

“Good work, Mr Fawley,” Jaggers said. “A very good tail, if I do say so myself.”

“Thank you, sir,” Fawley said.

“Draco,” Harry whispered, “Draco, get on Monster and--”

“No, Mr Malfoy, I would do no such thing, if I were you,” Jaggers said.

Draco, looking suddenly haggard and old, made an abortive move toward Monster, but Jaggers raised his wand and Harry grabbed Draco and pulled him down, out of the way, calling, “Protego!” as he did so and as Jaggers shouted an unfamiliar spell.

He hadn’t thought to shield the dragon.

The golden bubble hit her like a burst of liquid gold, but Monster screamed, arching her neck up and trying to launch herself into the sky, breathing fire the way Harry hadn’t seen her do in weeks, panicked spurts of it licking over the blue sky. Draco was screaming, too, clawing his way out from under Harry and reaching for her, but the golden bubble shrank, trapping Monster inside, vibrating heavily, and then snapped into nothingness.

No!” Draco’s voice sounded like it had been torn out of him, rough and hiccoughing and desperate. “No! What have you done with her, I’ll kill you, I’ll kill you--” and across the lawn, some Muggles started screaming.

“Didn’t think that would keep within the magicked area,” Jaggers commented. “Fawley, you’ll have to go see about Memory Charms in a moment -- oh, do please stop being so melodramatic.”

“Draco,” Harry said, clutching at him, trying to hold him back. Draco had his wand out, hand shaking almost too violently to hold it, and Harry pulled Draco back against him and clasped his hand over Draco’s mouth to prevent any spells. Draco bit him immediately and started struggling, but Harry only tightened his hold.

Pansy said, voice shaking, “Have you - is she dead?”

“Is who - oh, the dragon?” Jaggers looked supremely unconcerned. “Goodness no, that would be a waste, and Gringotts are still clamouring to have it back. Not that they’ll get her, its clearly a menace, but I’m sure we can appease them with some of its teeth and scales and a few pints of its blood. And they’re all much more potent if we harvest them while its alive, of course; no, I shouldn’t expect her to be culled for, oh, perhaps another few weeks?”

Draco picked up his struggling, nearly breaking free of Harry. Harry hugged his arms around Draco tighter and said, low in his ear, “Shut up, shut up, I’ll fix this--”

“You’ve certainly been most helpful so far, Mr Potter,” Jaggers said. “But if you’ll let go of Mr Malfoy - I have to arrest him, see, it’s illegal to keep a dragon--”

Draco elbowed Harry hard in the stomach and Harry dropped him, wheezing, winded. Draco snarled, “I’m going to kill you,” and launched himself forward, wand out, but he hadn’t used magic properly in a year and Jaggers was a Ministry official; he disarmed Draco with a flick of his wand and another murmured spell sent bright chains of light around Draco’s wrists, binding them together.

“Yes, Mr Malfoy, I’m sure you’re very cross,” Jaggers said, smiling coolly. “Plan foiled, huh? Once a Death Eater, always--”

Harry straightened, still panting. “You’ll have to arrest me too,” he said. “For keeping a dragon. I kept it, it was mine, Malfoy just helped--”

Draco didn’t say anything. He was swaying back and forth, pale and wrecked looking, staring down at the magical links around his wrists.

Jaggers looked briefly annoyed. “Is that so? And this young lady--”

“Just came with me today because she’s a schoolfriend of Draco’s,” Harry said hastily. “She didn’t even know there was a dragon.”

Pansy let out a shivering sob. “Please, sir, if I could just go home--”

“We’ll bring you in for questioning soon,” Jaggers told her, menancing, but nodded and Pansy Apparated away. Jaggers stared at Harry. “You’re sure you’re confessing to this, Mr Potter?”

“It’s my dragon,” Harry said, holding his wrists out, stubborn. “I’m the one who broke her out of Gringotts, remember?”

Jaggers stared at Harry, a bright gleam of hatred in his dark eyes, and then tapped his wand again, and the magical handcuffs shot out and caught Harry in them tight. Harry breathed out, ignoring the instictive urge to struggle. Draco looked as though he was about to fall over; Harry tried to position himself just slightly so Malfoy could lean back against his shoulder.

“All right, then,” Jaggers said, “let’s get the likely lads back to the Ministry holding cells.”

It took half an hour for them to be led through a series of gloomy corridors and ugly offices before they ended up in the Ministry Justice Processing Hall, which was as depressing as it sounded. Harry and Draco were both readily admitted into a cell with a bunk bed and not much else, and Draco leaned up against the wall and closed his eyes.

“I’m going to sort this out,” Harry said, going up to Draco and putting his hands on Draco’s shoulders. Both of their wands had been confiscated, but the magical handcuffs had been taken off at least. “That guy’s a - a prick, but I’ll sort it out, I promise. He’s not in charge of everything round here.”

Draco didn’t say anything.

“I’m sure she’s okay,” Harry said. He cupped Draco’s pale cheek in his hand. “Draco? Are you listening to me? I’m sure she’s okay.”

“How are you sure,” Draco said, voice unreadable.

“Because it hasn’t even been an hour yet,” Harry said. “Because - because things take forever in the Ministry, Mr Weasley is always complaining about it. Don’t worry. It’s not over yet.”

“They followed you,” Draco said.

“Yes,” Harry admitted, shame spiralling through him. “I’m - I’m sorry. I thought we were being clever.”

Draco shook his head. He looked shellshocked. “I should never have written to you,” he said.

Harry grabbed him tighter. “You should have. You absolutely should have.”

“No,” Draco said, and looked down. He looked exhausted and alone. “No. We were fine on our own. We were always better off on our own.”

“Draco,” Harry said, but Draco didn’t talk anymore, and for the next two hours they sat in silence.

Harry wasn’t sure what would happen first, the interrogation or Hermione. As it was, Hermione happened: a low-level Ministry employee appeared yawning to let them out, saying, “You’ve been released on bail. You must stay in London. You must not--”

He continued on, reading a long list of instructions. Harry barely listened, holding onto Draco’s elbow and trying to keep him upright, leading him along with the Ministry man into the brightly lit waiting room. Draco lifted his head, then and only then, when Harry breathed in sharply. Hermione and Pansy were standing together, twin expressions of anxiety.

Narcissa Malfoy was standing just behind them.

“M-mum?” Draco breathed, sounding like he couldn’t believe it, and Narcissa’s head twisted sharply.

“Draco,” she said, coming forward quickly, and Draco launched himself into her arms.

The two Malfoys clung to each other, Draco hooked around his mother like she was the answer to everything, Narcissa’s hands digging into Draco’s back so hard her knuckles turned white. Harry was struck with an uncomfortable balance of not wanting to look away from Draco and not wanting to look at Narcissa. He felt queasy, even with the way Hermione sidled up to him and said, “All right, Harry?”

Harry looked at her and said honestly, “I’m glad you’re here.”

“Pansy came and got me right away, of course,” Hermione said. “I’m only sorry it took so long. Ron’s upstairs with his dad, they’re yelling at Jaggers together. Not that it’s doing much good. Did you really confess?”

“They’ll crucify him, if he takes the blame alone,” Harry said, nodding to Draco. “At least if they’ve got me they have to pretend to hold us to the same standard. I - what’s Narcissa doing here?”

Hermione’s face fell. “Oh, Harry,” she said. “She came just after Pansy did. It - it looks like the Ministry have been following you for days and--”

“What?” Draco said, clear, breaking free of his mother’s hold to stare at Hermione. “What do you mean, for days? Do you--”

“Draco,” Narcissa said gently, “they came to our house a few hours ago. They’ve taken Lucius directly to Azkaban.”

-

For lack of any other ideas, they all went back to Grimmauld Place.

The light in the house fell the same way it did on Draco on Narcissa: carressing and golden, almost loving, the very air in the house seeming to hum with pleasure at the return of Narcissa and Draco together. It made Narcissa look even more like some storybook queen, cold and untouched by elements, beautiful and terrible, but it just made Draco look sick and miserable, a child trying to escape a spotlight he hadn’t chosen. Harry wanted to pull him away, more than anything, but Draco had a tight hold on Narcissa’s hand and Narcissa was just -- there. In Harry’s house. Right there, with him. Harry’s heart was hammering.

Hermione held furious court at the table. “If you ask me,” she said, “this has simply gone on long enough -- that dragon was abused. Harry, I apologise, I think I didn’t take it seriously at first because it was all mixed up with Malfoy but the Ministry cannot be allowed to simply kill it! Especially when Malfoy’s carved out a perfectly happy little relationship with it--”

In the corner, very discreetly, Ginny started giggling. Neville said, low, “Maybe not the time, mate,” but he was grinning too. Harry wanted to find it funny, but he couldn’t, not with Draco looking the way he did, and not with Narcissa Malfoy so close Harry could smell her faint, rosewater perfume.

“Does Dad have a trial date yet?” Draco asked, voice low, staring at the table.

“Not yet,” Narcissa said. “Probably not for some weeks. Thank you, Kreacher.”

“It is a pleasure, Miss Cissy!” Kreacher croaked, nearly trembling with joy as he brought dinner plates around. Harry wanted to roll his eyes. He wanted to find this stupid or funny or sad, but he couldn’t think about anything at all. His head had fogged up. His hands trembled on the wooden dinner table.

The owls swooped through the window then, dropping a tumbling pile of letters. For a moment Harry thought they were Ministry summons; but then he saw the crest on the seal and his heart leapt, some moment of joy breaking through the grey.

“Oh, brill,” Ron said, mouth full with dinner, and started handing them out. “Harry Potter, Attic Room - didn’t know you’d switched rooms, mate - here’s yours, Hermione, and yours, Dean--”

Harry broke his open, hands trembling. Dear Mr Potter, I am pleased to welcome you back to complete your seventh and final year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry this September. Please be advised--

Something to be happy about, something to be properly, straightforwardly happy about. Hogwarts. Harry had dreamed about this.

Harry looked up. Draco was on his feet. He was holding an envelope in his hands, too, mouth twisting down.

“Oh, yeah,” Ron said, looking at him. “I forgot you missed most of last year. Bad luck, you’ll have to repeat first term.”

“Excuse me,” Draco said, low, and hurried out of the room.

Narcissa and Pansy both stood up, but Harry climbed out from the table first and said, without making eye contact with anyone, “No, I’ll - I’ll go,” and went after Draco.

Draco had gone outside. He sat folded down on the bottom porch step, arms hugged tight around his knees and face buried against his knees. His shoulders were shaking.

“Draco,” Harry said, and Draco said, voice loud and rough, “Just - just give me a minute. Fuck. Fuck.”

Harry waited, until Malfoy lifted his face, let out a shuddering breath. There were no tears but his eyes were very bright and he swallowed over and over, compulsively. Very carefully, Harry came down and sat beside him.

Draco’s letter was addressed to: Mr Draco Malfoy, Perhaps in Wales or Yorkshire, Probably in the Attic Room, Grimmauld Place, London.

Harry reached, slowly, and put an arm around Draco’s shoulders. Draco said, almost hysterical, “Don’t touch, don’t touch me!” but he didn’t move and neither did Harry. They sat still in the dying light. Draco was shivering hard.

“Do you want my coat?” Harry asked, low, and Draco laughed, wrecked and humourless.

“Fuck,” he said, and looked at the letter again. He opened it with a savage motion, started reading - Harry caught the same opening line that his own letter had - and then crumpled the parchment into a ball and threw it away.

“Hey,” Harry said, and pointed his wand, returned to him at the Ministry. The paper flew up into his hand. “You’ll need that. It has the supply list.”

Draco let out another awful, watery laugh.

“At least one good thing happened today,” Harry said, nudging at Draco. “Eh?”

“Oh, yes,” Draco said, voice oddly hollow. “Yes, certainly. Thank you for pointing that out.”

“Come on,” Harry said. “You’re going back to Hogwarts! You get to do your NEWTS and then you can go on and be a cursebreaker or whatever the hell you want, and, and I’ll sort the other stuff out, I’ve told you, and Hermione’s on the case now, you won’t believe what she can do--”

“I’m not going back to Hogwarts, Potter!” Draco shouted. Harry went silent, and Draco shivered again and continued, softer this time, “You’re such an idiot. I hate you so much, I hate you so much--”

“Of course you’re going back to Hogwarts,” Harry said. “Don’t be stupid. What’s the alternative, you’re just going to work as a shop assistant for the rest of your life and feel sorry for yourself?”

Draco shoved Harry back and jumped up, pacing down the steps and into the big, open garden. The trees cast weird shadows at this time of day. Harry tried to keep his breathing steady, focusing on Draco and not the trees or Narcissa Malfoy inside.

“I’m not going back,” Draco said, shoulders rigid, back to Harry. “I - I can’t go back there. Everyone there knows who I am, what I did--”

“Draco, no one cares anymore,” Harry said patiently. “No one--”

“No, you don’t care anymore,” Draco said, whirling around. “But not everyone is as - not everyone is like you! Not everyone can decide their dick is more important than their morality!”

“Wow,” Harry said, raising his eyebrows.

“Not everyone just - picks and chooses what they want,” Draco continued, sounding agonised, “you don’t know what it’s like, you just want things and they turn out the way you like or you ignore them if they don’t or you just storm in and demand that they get fixed and it’s fucking exhausting, Potter, and normal people don’t live like that! Of course they’ll hate me! They’re not the magnaminous saviour of the wizarding world!”

Harry said, teeth gritted, “So let them hate you. Who cares. You’ve got the offer, stop being a coward and come back--”

“I can’t,” Draco said. “I can’t, don’t you see, it’s - it’s just me, that’s all that’s left of the Slytherins in that year, and I can’t stop, you know I can’t. Fuck. You drive me crazy, I told you!”

“You’re being ridiculous.”

“Why do you even want me back?” Draco demanded. “Why do you even care? So that you can watch me, what, make something of myself and feel proud, another smug Gryffindor victory? So that you can cure me of Death Eater? Or just so you can fuck me when you feel like it?”

Harry laughed, startled, and got up, coming towards Draco, grabbing for his wrists. Draco struggled, pulling free, and Harry said, “What’s wrong with that? Stop being so stupid, you know I don’t want to - what, fix you? You’ve gotten yourself all worked up about something that doesn’t matter! That’s the problem with you, you think everything is high stakes and - and it’s bad, stuff’s bad, but you just have to deal with it normally and not think the answer to everything is going on the run!”

Draco stared down at him, wild-eyed in the dusk, and Harry tilted his head up and kissed Draco the way he’d wanted to all day, swift, soft kisses, with Draco’s fingers trembling on Harry’s shoulders.

“I can’t do it anymore,” Draco said, in an odd, rigid little voice. He stepped away. “I can’t, Potter. I’m sorry. I thought I could live up to your - your strange Gryffindor orgy lifestyle but I just can’t, it’s not in me, I can’t do it, I’m no good at sharing--”

“What?” Harry said, startled. “What are you talking about?”

Draco turned away. “I need to - to go back to my mother,” he said dully. “We have to work out what’s going on with my dad, I need to see him, we’ll have to sort out a way.”

“What do you mean,” Harry said, feeling profoundly changed, as though the entire world had shifted to the left when he wasn’t looking. “What do you mean, you don’t like sharing?”

“Potter, I cannot possibly be anymore embarrassing and obvious than I already have,” Draco said, sounding almost hysterical again. “I can’t. I have reached my capacity. I’m going to - we’ll go stay with Pansy, that’ll do.” Relief tinged his voice. “Okay. Yes. And if - if you could tell me what’s going to happen with, with Monster, I would very much appreciate it. Thank you.”

“Stop talking like that,” Harry snarled. “Say what you mean, for fuck’s sake -- you are a coward, I hate it, it’s the very worst thing about you--”

 

“I always say what I mean!” Draco shrieked. “You never listen! You’re so stupid, you’re the most unobservant - obviously I’m in love with you, you prick! It’s the most wildly awful thing that’s ever happened to me, it’s fucked everything up, now it’s getting my dragon killed. But don’t - just go on your way, I’m sure you’ll replace me soon enough with someone else, maybe Zacharias Smith if you feel like another fight, add him to your roster and just - just--” Horrifically, his voice wavered, and he shut up, gulping for air.

Harry didn’t know what to say, or think, or feel. He started, voice grating, “We could--”

“I don’t want to know the end to that sentence,” Draco said immediately. “It’s going to be another awful idea. Even if you think you could keep it in your pants, which you can’t, it’s - you think you being you and just charging headfirst at a problem can solve everything. Well, it can’t. It can’t solve that Monster’s going to be k-killed and that my dad’s in Azkaban which he, he cannot possibly survive, and that I’m - I’m afraid, I can’t go back to Hogwarts, I won’t, and it - honestly, Potter, you have a panic attack everytime you even look at my mother. You think I haven’t noticed that? You think we’re just going to ignore all of that shit and live happily ever after?”

Harry stared at Draco. He opened his mouth and then shut it again.

“Also,” Draco said, and started towards Harry; Harry flinched backward and Draco laughed, weary and unsurprised. He went on past Harry, up the steps. “Also, you don’t love me. So.”

Harry waited, but that was it, it seemed, as Draco carefully picked up his wand, left the screwed up ball of his letter, and went inside.

Harry didn’t move. A little while later, he heard the tell tale roar of the Floo, but he still didn’t move.

-

Harry woke the next morning with the blankets tangled into a nest around him and Ron’s head on his stomach and someone knocking on the door. Harry yawned and sleepily disentangled himself, pushing Ron’s head until Ron shifted back up onto the pillow. Harry’s head had a dull throb; not a proper hangover, just a reminder that last night he’d had three glasses of Firewhiskey in a row, standing at the kitchen sink with his back to the room, to make sure he’d be able to sleep.

The knock again.

“Come in,” Hermione murmured, on Ron’s other side, and Harry raised his voice and echoed her. Hermione had a pillow crease running down her face. Harry didn’t want to get out of bed, wanted to stay just the three of them in here all day with the curtains closed and the world locked away. But the door opened.

“Hiya,” Ginny said, coming in followed by a couple of floating mugs of tea and a plate of toast. “I had to get away from the Burrow, Bill was driving me mad. Sorry to wake you.”

Ron yawned, jaw cracking loudly. “Time s’it?”

“Bit after eight,” Ginny said, and flicked her wand: the mugs of tea zoomed unsteadily through the room and hovered over Ron, Harry, and Hermione’s heads. Harry sat up and grabbed for his. Ginny caught her own and the plate of toast and came to climb into bed next to Harry. She was wearing soft jersey shorts that left miles of creamy, freckled legs, and she put those over Harry’s lap, under the blankets, her legs cool with morning air, refreshing.

“Ow,” Ron said, and Ginny grinned and, by the looks of it, dug her toes into his ribs again. Ron rolled over grumpily, buried his face against Hermione’s shoulder, who was only just coming blearily awake.

“What’s Bill doing to annoy you this early?” Harry asked, leaning against Ginny’s side and feeling a little more fortified about everything now that he had some tea. He still didn’t want to get up.

“Picking up where he left off last night,” Ginny grumbled. “Harrassing me about career choices. Oh, Ginny, Quidditch player and then auror isn’t a realistic set of goals - you need a safe back-up option - besides, the infrastructure of the Ministry and the Quidditch League are both in a shambles after the war - like that’s my fault! It’s not like there’s not going to be Quidditch.”

“Isn’t Bill a Cursebreaker?” Harry said, bemused. “I didn’t think he’d be one to talk about stable careers.”

“Cursebreakers have a fairly good graduate scheme,” Hermione said, rubbing her face and sitting up. “Oh, Ron, quit moaning,” as he clutched at her waist.

Ginny bit into her toast. “Whatever. It’s all ridiculous, I had to escape. What’s going on here? Did the Malfoys come back?”

Harry tried not to tense. Hermione said, “No, they went to stay at Pansy Parkinson’s. Poor Draco,” she added unexpectedly. “I felt quite sorry for him.”

“It’s nothing Lucius doesn’t deserve,” Ginny said, narrow-eyed. “But yeah, he looked pretty wrecked. I don’t mind Malfoy, I’ve decided. He’s good fun when he’s drunk.”

“So is Kreacher, I bet,” Harry mumbled, staring devotedly at his tea.

Hermione and Ginny both gave him startled looks. Ron groaned, raising his head, and said, “Oh, don’t start again. I can’t be bothered to do another round of is-or-is-not-Malfoy-evil.”

“He’s not evil,” Harry said, “he’s just--” and the three of them waited, but Harry realised he had no idea what he wanted to say, or what he even meant. He shook his head. “Nothing. Sorry.”

“You’re so cranky in the mornings, Harry,” Ginny remarked. “It’s well boring. Anyway. What’s happening with the dragon?”

“Yes,” Hermione said, looking grim. “I had an idea about that. Malfoy gave it to me, actually.”

“When?” Ron said. “I don’t think I heard him speak last night. He looked catatonic. You went outside with him, right, Harry? Did he speak then?”

“Not really,” Harry said.

“No, not last night,” Hermione said. “Earlier than that. We were talking about old friends and I - I was thinking, we’ve been trying to keep this too secret.”

“You’re right, Hermione,” Harry said. “Definitely keeping it secret was what got us in trouble. Every time Monster gets seen things get so much better.”

Hermione rolled her eyes. “You’re not showing her very well, though, are you? The occasional sighting of a great frightening dragon, with a suspected Death Eater accompanying her to boot? She’s terrifying. But no one knows what Gringotts were doing to her, and no one knows how hurt and upset she is, and no one knows what a good job Draco was doing of looking after her--”

“Hermione, I’m pretty sure Jaggers and his lot do know all of that,” Harry said. “They just don’t give a shot.”

“I’m not talking about Jaggers,” Hermione said. “I’m talking about everyone.”

-

“I need photos,” Rita Skeeter said briskly. “There’s nothing I can do without photos.”

“We don’t have photos,” Hermione said.

“The Ministry does,” Harry said abruptly, remembering the first shot Kingsley had sent to him. “But it’s pretty blurry--”

“Obviously that won’t do,” Rita said. “I need photos. Preferably of the thing in a cage. Can you make it look sad? It would be good if it looked sad.”

Harry glared at her. “We don’t know where she is. There’s no way they’d let us see her.”

“Great,” Rita said, and snapped her notebook closed, standing up. “Then there’s nothing I can do.”

“Sit down,” Hermione said, looking impatient. “You know exactly what we’ll do if you don’t.”

Rita pinched her bright lips together, eyeing Harry and Hermione beadily. “I don’t think you will,” she said. “Who knows when you’re going to need me again? This isn’t my fault. I need pictures for something like this.”

Hermione said, “Try without.”

Rita shook her head. “Won’t work.”

“Try without,” Hermione said, “and Harry will give you an interview.”

“What,” Harry said, and Rita’s head shot up. “No!”

“Yes,” Hermione said calmly. “And we’ll try and get you pictures. But I don’t know how much time we’ve got. You’ve got to get started now.”

“Pictures within the week,” Rita said, “and an interview with Harry about his sexuality.”

No,” Harry yelped.

“Come on, we’ve all seen those photos with Dean Thomas,” Rita said, “and you’ve been looking awfully chummy with Draco Malfoy recently - not to mention you and Granger and the Weasley boy shacking up together, hmm?”

“Still no,” Harry ground out.

“Okay,” Rita said, “then an update on your relationship with Ginevera Weasley. Are you two still an item? How can romance flourish in the ruin of war? Perhaps some excerpts from the love letters you wrote one another last year when you were apart--”

“No,” Hermione said. “You can have a Q&A about his favourite books and ideal career path.”

Rita looked disappointed. “It’s been Quidditch Through The Ages since he was about twelve,” she said. “Everyone knows that. Don’t you read?” she added, peering disapprovingly at Harry over her glasses.

Harry bristled. “Sure. Lots.”

“I’ll make up a new favourite for you,” Hermione said. “And you can ask what it means to be going back to Hogwarts. And you can have a detail about me and Ron. One detail. If you publish something about the dragon in the next edition. And I want a full page spread.”

“I need pictures for that,” Rita said.

“No,” Hermione disagreed, “you’ll need pictures for the cover. We’ll have that for you soon.”

Rita and Hermione stared at each other for a moment longer, both pairs of eyes narrowed and intent, and then Rita nodded and stood up again, notebook flapping shut.

“Good,” she said. “It’ll be in tomorrow’s morning Prophet.”

Harry stared at her. “Don’t you need some information about Monster?”

“She’s the dragon who was kept in Gringotts for seventy years or so?” Rita said, and Harry nodded. “Okay. Got it.”

“You don’t need--”

“Harry,” Hermione said, looking amused, “she’s got it.”

-

Harry wasn’t entirely sure what it was that Rita had, but reading over the Daily Prophet article for the third time that day he couldn’t deny that she had something. Lacking photos, she’d made do with a couple of sad illustrations of happy dragons and children and a reprint of the photo of Harry and Draco at the club the other night, with Ginny handily cut out of it. Harry tried not to make eye contact with it. The first time he had he’d ended up staring aghast at the easy, pleased look on Draco’s face, the way he looked past Harry but with this sweet grin, something happy and young, and what was worse was the way photo-Harry was staring fixedly at photo-Draco, his fingers stroking at the nape of Draco’s neck, half-frowning as though Draco was a puzzle Harry had almost figured out.

Anyway, the article had more than enough to keep him occupied: Rita Skeeter had somehow come up with a past both melodramatic and eloquent (Torn away from her family before she even knew how to hunt for herself, the three year old dragon was slammed into a grim prison of darkness that would be her home for the next seventy years), and a dragon who was somehow both pitiable and a war hero (Without her daring flight and escape from the Death Eaters and Gringotts, it is very likely that Harry Potter would have died that day). Harry was the hero who didn’t leave a single soldier behind, not even a dragon, and Draco was the ally who had redeemed himself by trying to save the dragon from her cruel Ministry hunters. Harry was reluctantly impressed.

Pansy Parkinson, who arrived at six in the evening like a plague, was volubly more impressed.

“This is brilliant,” she said, waving her copy of the paper over her head, bringing the total number of copies in the Grimmauld Place kitchen up to seven. “Potter, did you do this? I could kiss you.”

“Please don’t,” Harry said. “Hermione did it.”

“I should have known,” Pansy said. “I’m glad, Potter, I don’t want to kiss you, I’ve heard how you get around. Granger, though--”

“That’s fine,” Hermione said, though she was smiling like she was amused, which was bizarre. “Your appreciation is good enough for me.”

Harry said, “Sorry, what have you heard?”

“What next?” Pansy said. “This is going to keep going, right? I’m going to write a letter to the editor to throw my support behind it - I’ll have to use a fake name, though, or--”

“Oh, give the letter to me,” Ginny said, from her perch on a kitchen cabinet. “I’d write something but I can’t be bothered and I’m not really that good at essays, but you can put it under my name if you like.”

“Brilliant,” Pansy said again. She was almost glowing. It was very discomforting.

“Who’d you hear what from?” Harry asked, frowning.

“What we really need is pictures,” Hermione said. “I wanted to ask - you don’t suppose Draco has any, do you?”

“No,” Pansy said, shaking her head. “I thought of that the moment I saw the article, but he doesn’t, I asked. He doesn’t have a camera, but I don’t think he’d have taken them, even if he did. He wanted to keep her hidden, you know.”

“Why does everyone keep ignoring me?” Harry asked.

“Because you’re asking stupid questions,” Ginny told him kindly. “Look, Hermione, I’ve told you what I think--”

“Yes, I’m starting to think you might be right,” Hermione said. “But I don’t know how we can find out where she is.”

“Who, the dragon?” Pansy said. “I know where she is. I had a summer job clearing out hippogriff manure when I was fifteen for the Ministry. They’ll have her in the Dangerous Creatures Regulation Pens.”

“You had a job doing what?” Harry echoed, sneering at her. “I thought Slytherins were all rich snobs.”

Pansy gave him the same quick, dismissive look she’d been giving him for the past half hour, like she could be barely bothered to look at him. “Once again your insight into Slytherin House is both cutting and keen, Potter. Daphne Greengrass is from a very old and magical family but she’s the oldest of eight, her family were always just scraping by, but yes, fine, my parents were comfortably middle class. Or they were before - anyway. Lots of people take summer jobs. And Ministry jobs look good on my record. Anyway, it was mostly just confiscated hippogriffs from people keeping illegal farms but I remember there was a Chimaera once, it was kept roped off from everyone else and was only there a week before it disappeared. It’s just outside of Colchester. I’m sure that’s where they’re keeping her.”

“Great,” Ginny said, and jumped off the bench. “We’ll go there tonight, then, Harry can bring his Invisibility Cloak. How long does it take to develop pictures - what, a week, maybe a bit less? We could have it in time for next week’s Friday Prophet. That’d be a hit.”

Pansy nodded. “In the meantime, let’s try and get people to write a letter to the editor a day, keep it alive.”

“Skeeter’s said she’ll try and do another one,” Hermione said. “I imagine there’ll be call for some comments from the Ministry soon. She didn’t bother with it this time, she said we should just get the story out there so they have to take it seriously.”

“Good,” Pansy said. She checked her watch. “I’ve got to go home, I said I’d be there for dinner, but - what time will you go there tonight?”

“Early morning’s probably safest,” Ginny said. “Say two?”

Pansy nodded. “I’ll be back at midnight then.”

“Hang on,” Harry said. “Who said you were coming?”

Ginny gave him a fond but condescending look, and Hermione said, “Come on, Harry. She just said she knows the way.”

“You really are an idiot, Potter,” Pansy said, winding her scarf around her neck. “I’ll be back at--”

“Wait,” Harry said, and his voice scraped out of him, strange, his stomach suddenly churning. “Will you bring--”

“No,” Pansy said, very cold, not looking at him. “I don’t think he’ll want to come. Bye now, Granger, Weasley. See you soon.”

“Bye Pansy,” Ginny said, and Hermione waved a hand, already pulling down a map of Apparation portals in the UK and leaning over it. Harry sat back at the table, feeling chilled and alone. Ginny gave him a sympathetic look, came over to sit next to him. “Buck up, champ. Ready to break into a magic zoo?”

“I don’t think it’s a zoo,” Harry said, voice low. “It sounds awful.”

“I know,” Ginny said. “I’m going to go to the Burrow, I think Percy had a camera, it must be somewhere about there. I’ll tell Ron he’ll have to stay for the evening, too. Hermione, are you coming with us?”

“I don’t think I’d better,” Hermione said. “Only three of you will fit under the Invisibility Cloak - but I’ll stay here in case you need me in a hurry.”

“I’ll let him know,” Ginny said, and kissed Harry’s cheek. “Okay. See you soon.”

Harry stared at Hermione pleadingly. “Can’t you come? Can’t Parkinson just show us the way?”

“Harry,” Hermione murmured, “you’re being silly again,” and Harry let out a loud breath and tried to resign himself to the whole thing.

It was harder when he was sneaking around a field outside of Colchester in the middle of the night, with Ginny’s hair tickling his nose and Pansy stepping on his foot every two minutes, hard enough that it had to be on purpose. Harry gritted his teeth and kept creeping forward while Pansy whispered, “This way - oh, drat it, left, come on,” and Ginny held the camera awkwardly, though not quite well enough to stop it from banging into Harry’s ribs every few minutes.

Harry kept thinking about how much easier this would be with Malfoy, who was always sort of light and neat against Harry’s side and had an instinct for not tripping over Harry, and usually kept a hand on him somewhere so that Harry didn’t trip over him. He sighed, glaring at Pansy, vaguely miserable.

Ginny made an annoyed noise. “Merlin, you are so pathetic,” she hissed at him.

“What?” Harry hissed back, and Pansy commanded, “Silence, Gryffindors!” as they had to double back into the woods and sneak past yet another Ministry official looking bored. That was the third one, though, so Harry was reluctantly sure that Pansy hadn’t taken them to the wrong place.

After they’d crept about in silence for a bit more, Ginny murmured, “How are the Malfoys, Pansy?”

“What?” Pansy said, sounding uneasy and on edge. “Fine. Why?”

“I felt a bit bad for them,” Ginny said. “They’re staying with you, right?”

“Yes,” Pansy said.

“Has the Ministry set a date for Lucius’s trial yet?”

“Not yet,” Pansy said. “Narcissa’s trying to wrangle them into letting her and Draco see him, but it’s taking forever. A lot of paperwork, a lot of queueing. She hopes maybe next week.”

“So they haven’t heard from him?”

“They had a letter,” Pansy said. “It wasn’t. Great.”

“Oh,” Ginny said. “That sucks.”

“Yeah,” Pansy said, and Ginny gave Harry a look.

Harry wasn’t sure how to read it, so he said awkwardly, “How’s - how’s Draco?”

Ginny sighed loudly at the same time Pansy spat, “None of your business, Potter.”

“He is,” Harry whispered furiously, “he is my business--”

“You’re a creep,” Pansy said. “Shut up,” and a Ministry official shouted “Who’s there?”

“Damn it,” Pansy said. Harry sighed and stupifyed him, and they snuck in through the gate that had, annoyingly, been just where Pansy promised.

The plan was to just get close enough to Monster that they could take some photos and then get out of the magical pen and Apparate away, but when Harry caught sight of her his heart twisted. She was curled up as small as she could get in the corner of a cage that was too small for her anyway, a gleaming magical muzzle bound around her snout, great rake marks down her wings - Harry wasn’t sure whether they were from Ministry handlers or self-inflicted. She was visible shaking and making a queer, low noise that wasn’t quite a growl but made all of Harry’s hair stand up and set his teeth on edge. Ginny said, low, “Oh, the poor thing,” and Harry didn’t hesitate, slipped out from under the Invisibility Cloak and dashed up to her cage.

“Monster, Monster, hey,” he said, and Monster crowded forward eagerly and then stopped short, peering down at him. Harry didn’t think he was imagining the disappointment in her milky eyes, but he reached up anwyay and she pressed her great head against the bars, let him stroke raggedly at her scales.

“I know, I’m sorry,” he said. “I wanted to bring him. He misses you too, I bet.”

Monster made a terrible keening noise, too loud, but Harry couldn’t bring himself to care. Pansy and Ginny were edging closer; he could see the tread of their feet in the grass, and then the camera went off with a blinding flash and Monster shrieked.

There were shouts in the distance. Pansy hissed, “Potter, come on,” but Harry couldn’t bring himself to leave just yet. He stroked Monster again.

Ginny took another picture. Monster was crying.

“Sorry,” Harry said, “I know you don’t like bright lights, it’ll help, though, I promise. I’m going to get you back to him, I swear I will. It’s going to be okay. Let’s - let’s--”

Potter!” Pansy yelled, and Harry turned and saw two men running towards them.

“Fuck,” he said, and bolted. Ginny appeared, half-falling out from under the Invisibility Cloak, and then Pansy too, clutching it in one hand, and the three of them raced for the gate like the hounds of hell were after them, dodging curses and throwing stunning spells back over their shoulder with little effect. When they reached the gate Ginny vaulted to the top and then stretched a hand down, and Harry impatiently shoved Pansy up and then followed after them.

A hand caught around his ankle. Harry yelped and kicked back, aiming his wand, but before he could say anything the Ministry official looked up and said, in tones of great surprise, “Merlin’s beard, it’s Harry Potter!”

Harry kicked again and the official let go in sheer fright. Harry practically fell over the edge of the gate but he Apparated before he’d even landed, the moment he felt the anti-Apparation zone dissipate. He landed on Grimmauld Place’s doorstep panting, with Pansy and Ginny beside him.

Ginny was still clutching the camera. She looked delighted.

“That,” she said, “was fun.”

“Fuck,” Harry said, panting and laughing now despite himself. He ran his hands through his hair. “That’s one word for it.”

Pansy didn’t look convinced. She was shaking and pale. “You’re mental,” she said. “Both of you are mental.”

“That was quite a nice Wednesday night,” Ginny said. “Normally we have more people trying to kill us.”

Harry grinned at her, brief and pleased.

“Anyway,” Ginny said, and held the camera aloft like a prize. “We got what we needed.”

“Yes,” Harry said, “but we have to hurry. Monster looked terrible.”

“I don’t think they’d done anything to her yet,” Ginny said. “Nothing about her - teeth or blood, like they said. It would have been more obvious.”

“Maybe not,” Harry said. “But she’s miserable.” Pansy gave him a long, thoughtful look. Harry scowled at her. “What?”

“Nothing,” Pansy said. She stood up, throwing the Invisibility Cloak at Harry. “I should be getting back. Weasley, I’ve nearly finished that letter, do you want to look at it?”

“Yes,” Ginny said, smiling faintly. “I’ve got to make sure you’re not putting a secret anti-Muggle call in there somehow. Send it to me and I’ll send it to the Prophet.”

“Fine,” Pansy said, snippily, but she looked kind of amused. “Well. I’m sure I’ll see you soon, Gryffindors.”

“Will you?” Harry said. “Will--”

“Oh, Potter, give it a rest,” Pansy said, and stalked away into the dark London street.

Ginny was still admiring her camera. “I think that went very well,” she said, and Harry sighed and leaned back against the door, tilting his head up to the stars, trying not to think about anything.

-

The next day the Daily Prophet had one letter to the editor from Ginny Weasley professing complete and utter outrage and absolute dismay in this, the system that I fought to save, which cracked most of the house up, and seven letters from absolute strangers professing complete and utter outrage all of their own. Harry and Hermione read them over and over, gaping, and Ron came to lean over their shoulders and said, “Oh, yeah, people love dragons. We should have seen this coming.”

“We absolutely should have,” Hermione said, beaming dementedly, and then the next day the Prophet had a little token thing that you could cut out and send into the Ministry with your signature and address campaigning to save the dragon. They had to go out and buy an extra ten copies just so that everyone in the house could send one in, and Hermione made cynical remarks about how this was so clearly a marketing stunt for the Prophet, while looking pleased as punch.

Harry mostly thought about how full Grimmauld Place was again these days, and how nice it was, and how silly and sad it was that he hadn’t noticed it emptying out. He was glad it had filled up again. It was nicer.

He slept up in the attic bed, still, but mostly because people seemed to have claimed his room as though he’d never been in it. Most nights he ended up creeping in with Ron and Hermione at least for a couple of hours, anyway.

The day after that there was an article buried on the nineteenth page of the Prophet about a trial date being announced a month from now for Lucius Malfoy, one of the last Death Eater ringleaders to be caught. Harry swallowed hard, staring down at it. That was an upgrade for Lucius, he thought, who’d been declared a non-dangerous fugitive only twelve months ago.

There was a picture, too, of Draco and Narcissa coming back on the boat from Azkaban where, according to the caption, they’d just been visiting. The picture was too small and far off for Harry to see their faces properly, but he bent to it anyway, stared until his vision went blurry and his head hurt.

Then he said, “Fuck it,” and went and got parchment and a quill, scribbled without thinking: Draco - saw about your dad in the paper. Are you okay? Do you need anything? Don’t be such a prick. You should come back to Grimmauld Place. Are you happy about the Monster stuff? I think we’re doing well. I saw her the other day, she was upset but OK. Maybe we could sneak back in and talk to her again. Let me know. Don’t be so stupid about everything. Pansy is v annoying, you should come with her next time. He stared down at the letter, wrote, I miss you, then scribbled it out. Then he wrote it again. Then he scribbled it out again. He ended up signing it just Harry and sending it off with an overly excited Pigwidgeon.

He didn’t miss Malfoy, not really. He was just used to him. It was strange. It wasn’t anything to be worried about, though, and the more he thought about it the more he was sure that the last night had just been Draco being histronic and dramatic, the way he got when he was frightened and upset. It was such an impossible thing to believe, anyway, everything that had happened and Draco would somehow - but he didn’t, Harry knew, he just took everything far too seriously. He’d been on his own for a long time, that was all.

Harry didn’t have to be on his own anymore. Not ever again, he thought, and thought about going to bed that night with Seamus, but he was tired and pissed and Malfoy hadn’t written back to him, so he went in with Ron and Hermione at the same time they went to bed, and the three of them lay there murmuring back and forth in the growing dark until they fell asleep, one by one with Harry awake last of all. He curled up at Ron’s back. Ron was tall, too. Harry liked it when people were taller than him, even if Ron was kind of clumsy as well.

He closed his eyes, and after a while he did sleep. He woke up screaming, though, with Hermione and Ron frightened and clutching at him, and after that he felt bad so he slept the next night alone in the attic where he couldn’t wake or hurt anyone.

There was still no owl the next morning, and Harry was pissed off and petulant so he sent another one that said: What, you’re not talking to me now? You’re pathetic, and there wasn’t a reply to that, either, but he hadn’t really expected there to be.

Pansy Parkinson came round, now and then, mostly to get updates on the progress of Rita Skeeter and Monster, but Harry didn’t want to talk to her, didn’t want to beg her for hints about what Draco was doing, what he was thinking, if he was okay. There was enough to talk about, anyway, with the letter campaign ongoing, and the short, snippy statement that Jaggers had put out saying he was following regulation to the letter with regard to an ongoing threat to the wizarding population (“Stupid,” Hermione said, shaking her head, “in the face of public outcry you have to be really explicit about what’s going on and why you’re right, being vague isn’t going to help him at all”). Pansy looked tense and annoyed every time talk even went near the Malfoys, anyway, Harry doubted she would be much use at all.

Harry had half convinced himself he’d never see Draco again when a letter showed up from the Ministry from Jaggers, of all people, instructing him and Draco Malfoy to report for questioning at nine in the morning the following day.

-

Harry was worried that Draco would bring Pansy or, worse, Narcissa, but he came on his own and he came early: he was already waiting in the cold little Ministry processing room when Harry arrived. Harry stood in the doorway for a moment without moving. He couldn’t say why. All the breath had casually been punched out of his lungs.

Draco looked up and saw him and scowled. It was both strange and very familiar. Harry didn’t know what to do with his face back, and Draco’s eyebrows shot up, so it had probably been something ridiculous.

“Hi,” Harry said, and came and sat down next to Draco. Draco inched away, turning his face away. Harry let out a loud breath. “Oh, so you’re ignoring me?”

“Wasn’t that what your letter said?” Draco said, keeping his voice low. “Something about me being pathetic, I remember.”

“So you are reading my letters,” Harry said. “I wasn’t sure.”

Draco folded his arms tightly around his chest and went back to scowling, staring straight ahead of himself and refusing to look at Harry. Harry took advantage of the fact to study Draco; he was wearing Muggle clothes again, a crisp white shirt and a pair of dark green trousers. They looked quite nice but Harry looked down and realised the trousers were too long, they’d been rolled up and pinned at the hems, little glowing magical darts. All the same, Draco wasn’t as pale and exhausted as Harry had last seen him, and he’d clearly been eating properly again. He’d had a wash, too, his hair not limp or dirty anymore. He looked sort of - polished. Harry’s throat felt dry.

“You look - better,” he said.

Draco swung his head around, outraged. “What?”

“I just mean--”

“What did I look like before?” Draco said, furious. “Oh, thanks, Potter, you’re ever so kind, I’m glad I cleaned up enough that you’re not hideously ashamed to be seen with me!”

“You look good,” Harry said hastily. “Come on, Draco, that’s what I meant, you know--”

“I hate you so much,” Draco hissed. “So much, you’re the worst person I know--”

“That’s not what you said last time,” Harry blurted out, and Draco snapped his mouth shut and looked away. His hands were folded in his lap, trembling. Harry’s heart sank. That wasn’t what he’d meant to say, or not like that; he’d planned it in his head, some way to gently make Draco realise that of course he’d just been overreacting the way he always did, because Draco was nothing if not a drama queen. Hermione would be able to do it. Harry just didn’t know how. He’d never known how to talk to Draco. Only one thing had ever come instinctively. “I meant--”

“Mr Potter,” Jaggers said, appearing in the doorway. “Mr Malfoy. Wonderful. If you could just step this way.”

“Draco,” Harry said, low, “you have to listen to me.”

Draco ignored him, standing up and marching into the room Jaggers indicated with his back stiff, head up like he was going to his own execution. Harry trailed behind him, slouching, hands shoved in his pockets. He hated Jaggers, he thought suddenly, hated him more than he’d hated anyone since the end of the war.

When they sat down, Jaggers switched on a little blue orb with his wand and read out the time and date, then smiled horribly at both of them. “If you could just say your names, your age, and occupations.”

“Er,” Harry said. “Harry Potter. Eighteen years old. I’m a… student. I guess.”

“Draco Malfoy,” Draco said crisply. “Eighteen years old. I work as an assistant seller at Borgin and Burkes in Knockturn Alley.”

Harry swivelled in his chair to look at Draco, blindsided. “You work where?”

“Mr Potter,” Jaggers said, “if you don’t mind, I’d like to conduct this interview myself. Mr Malfoy’s employment is of no interest to me. You, on the other hand, broke into private Ministry property last Friday.”

Harry turned reluctantly away from Draco and leaned back in his chair. “Did I,” he said, unimpressed.

“There were two reports from eyewitness encounters,” Jaggers said.

“People often report they’ve seen me,” Harry said. “I’m quite famous.”

“There was a sighting of the Invisibility Cloak,” Jaggers said, which was one thing Harry didn’t like at all post-war: everyone seemed to know about the damn Invisibility Cloak. It barely lived up to its name.

“You can’t really sight an Invisibility Cloak,” Harry said. Draco made a small noise but when Harry peered at him he was blank-faced, silent, resolutely ignoring Harry. Harry tried touching his foot against Draco’s, under the table. Draco twitched it away.

“Mr Potter,” Jaggers said. He was trying to hide his pissed off voice with that silky tone; Harry wasn’t fooled. He’d grown up being taught by Snape. “We all know the hero of the wizarding world for his daring and acumen. But surely you didn’t really think you could break a dragon out of a Ministry holding pen. That would be foolish indeed.”

“Well,” Harry said, “I like to think I’m not foolish.”

“What were you doing?”

Harry shrugged. “You don’t even know I was there. I think you just had some excitable guards.”

Mr Potter,” Jaggers said, through gritted teeth. “Believe me, I will find out what your little plan was.”

Harry grinned at him. “Oh, yes,” he said. “I have all the faith in the world that you will.”

Next to him, Draco was still and silent as the grave.

Jaggers shuffled his notes. “Mr Potter,” he said, “why don’t you tell me how you first got this dragon. As apparently it was you who got it.”

“Sure,” Harry said, and recited as closely as he could remember Draco’s story to Pansy about taming the dragon, bringing it in. After that he had to experiment a bit, and went on a long and detailed fantasy about roaming the country for weeks between his appointments with Shacklebolt and rounding up Death Eaters, flights with Monster around the south west. He ended up quite enjoying himself. He tried to say particularly dumb things, for the pleasure of Jagger’s mouth twisting down and in the vague hope that finally, somehow, he’d make Draco laugh.

Draco had laughed quite a bit at Grimmauld Place. Harry wanted it to happen again.

After an hour or so, Jaggers said, “Mr Malfoy, anything to say for yourself?”

Draco shrugged. “I think Potter’s covered it.”

“You do realise that what you did - aiding and abetting in the illegal keeping of a dangerous beast - is still very much illegal? That it is quite likely you will serve some jail time?”

Draco said softly, “What’s your point?”

“That if you were in any way tempted to tell the truth about this situation, it might very well reduce your sentence.” Jaggers surveyed Draco intently and then added, soft and cruel, “Or perhaps you’re hoping for a cell next to your father’s.”

“That’s uncalled for,” Harry said, sitting forward. “Do your fucking job--”

Draco smiled crookedly and said, “Sir, with due respect, if you think my father’s going to be in Azkaban for very long you’re out of your mind.”

Jaggers made a disgusted noise. “The Malfoy pride has always been their downfall,” he remarked to Harry, who stared at him incredulously. “Very well, boys. This has been a collossal waste of time. I expect you’ll receive your summons to the Wizengamot in the next fortnight or so.”

Draco stood up. Out of the corner of his eye, Harry saw Malfoy’s hands clench into fists. “Monster,” he said, “is she--”

Harry reached out to touch Draco’s hand, but Draco yanked it away.

Jaggers smiled nastily. “She’s very healthy, very healthy indeed,” he said. “We’re all extremely pleased. We believe we’ll be able to start the blood letting this week.”

Draco went white, then turned on his heel and stormed out of the room. Harry ran after him, not bothering to glare at Jaggers, chased him down the hall until he could catch up and grab Draco, pulling him around by the wrist, fingers digging into Draco’s skin.

“Let go of me,” Draco said in a hissed, furious whisper. His face had gone all blotchy and upset. “Don’t touch me, what gives you the right to - Potter!”

“He’s just trying to wind you up,” Harry told him in his own harsh whisper. “Of course he’s going to say that, what do you think he’s going to tell you, that she’s fine? You don’t know what they’re doing, but you’ve seen the papers - and I’ve got photos, Draco, we’re going to make the public love her so much the Ministry don’t dare to do anything!”

Draco shook his head over and over, lips pressed tight together. “They won’t,” he said. “They’ll kill her. That’s what they do.”

“You’re a fucking weirdo with a trust complex,” Harry said, and Draco glared down at him and shot back, “What, and you aren’t?” and for a moment they just stared at each other.

Then Harry smiled, awkward and pleased. “Right,” he said. “Right. Okay, so from one weirdo to another, calm down. I’ve got this shit under control.”

 

“Perfect Potter,” Draco said bitterly. “I’m sure this must be really hard for you, not being able to just click your fingers and have everything turn out the way you want.”

Harry’s eyes narrowed. “Yeah, that’s exactly what’s happened in my life so far.”

Draco scoffed.

“You’re a terrible person,” Harry said, and gave Draco’s wrists a gentle shake, to compound his point. “Hey. Is your dad really getting out soon?”

In a distant voice, Draco said, “Merlin, Potter, you don’t know anything.”

Harry resisted the familiar urge to get angry. “Maybe. So tell me. I - come home with me. I miss you.”

Draco made a weird noise, almost like a choked sob, except his eyes had gone all glazed and far away again, and Harry felt abruptly embarrassed. It was like Draco didn’t even know he was there.

He tried all the same, said, “I don’t think you’re being pathetic. It - it pisses me off when you don’t talk to me. I hate it.”

Draco’s gaze focused, narrowing in on him. “Oh, yes?”

“Yeah,” Harry said, and offered him a rueful grin. “I guess I got used to you being around. So I’m the pathetic one.”

“Aha,” Draco said, and pulled his wrists free. “Aha. Yes. Great. Okay. Thanks, Potter, I’ll see you - never, I hope,” he said, and turned, and walked away, that same proud straight-backed walk, and Harry leaned against the wall and watched him go.

-

When Harry got home it was to find that the Hufflepuffs had arrived, all of them and Zacharias Smith in tow. He wasn’t really in the mood for a Hufflepuff reunion, even if Luna and Seamus and Dean were all there, so he slouched off through the house, trying to find someone else to talk to.

He paused by the bathroom door when he heard bad singing, then knocked. “Ginny?”

“Harry?” Ginny called. “Is that you?”

“Yes,” Harry said. “What are you doing?”

“Having a bath,” Ginny said. “You can come in, if you like.”

Harry pushed open the door and was hit in the face by a cloud of steam. He pulled his glasses off, rubbing them on his t-shirt, and shuffled through, closing the door behind him. When he could see again Ginny was grinning at him from the hot water, legs pulled up and arms around her knees. Her wet hair fell in a tangle down her freckly back.

“Hello,” she said, and Harry, for lack of any better ideas, folded down to sit cross-legged next to the bath on the wet tiles. Ginny laughed, delighted, and Harry grinned at her. “Where have you been?”

“The Ministry,” he said, and told her about the interview with Jaggers and how weird and miserable Malfoy was, while Ginny listened and laughed at the right bits and shaved her legs.

When he was finished, Ginny said, “The photos are going to be ready tonight. We can send them to Rita then - she’ll get them out as soon as possible. I think she’s kind of enjoying herself.”

“Yeah,” Harry said, “yeah, I know. I just…” He trailed off, shaking his head.

“You’re worrying about this too much,” Ginny said.

Harry hesitated, then said, “Draco’s not speaking to me.”

Ginny eyed him, a little uncertainly. “Yes,” she said. “I noticed.”

“I don’t know,” Harry mumbled, staring at the bathroom floor. “It’s weird. It’s not like it really matters, it’s just Malfoy, but he - he said some stuff, before he left, and... I just got used to him being around.”

“Did you?” Ginny said. “I didn’t. He’s a nightmare. It’s not really as though he lets you forget that he’s there, is it. He never stops being abrasive.”

“No,” Harry said. “I guess not. I don’t really know what I’m talking about.”

“Me either,” Ginny said, and handed him one of her strange fuzzy sponges. “Here. Scrub my back.”

She turned around, pulling her hair round to the side so it dripped down one shoulder, and Harry obliged, while Ginny laughed and wriggled when he hit her ticklish spots. Harry loved Ginny’s back, the long creamy line of it, and he leaned forward when he was done and kissed the knob at the top of her spine. Ginny sighed, then laughed and swatted at his head.

“Quit that.”

“Why?” Harry asked, and kissed it again.

Ginny turned around and made a face at him. “Harry. Don’t make it weird.”

“You’re having a bath in front of me,” Harry pointed out. “I mean, you’re - quite naked.” He was being a gentleman and trying not to look too obviously, but it didn’t seem as if Ginny minded that much, and Harry had seen her naked quite often, after all. “How is that bit weird?”

“Because,” Ginny said, “we’re not messing around anymore.”

Harry blinked. That was news to him. “We’re not?”

Harry,” Ginny said, laughing. “Honestly, you’re useless. We haven’t even really kissed in a month!”

“I don’t know,” Harry said, palming the back of his neck. “Just because we haven’t in a while doesn’t mean - doesn’t mean we won’t ever again--”

“I mean, no,” Ginny said reasonably, “but it does… sort of also mean exactly that. I don’t know, Harry, I just - things are going pretty well with Dean at the moment, I think I wanna see where that goes.”

“I thought you’d already seen where that went,” Harry said, a little jealous.

“Well, now after I’ve seen all the incredible Harry Potter loving there is to be had,” Ginny said, rolling her eyes. “Maybe I’ll be a bit less distracted once I realise it’s mostly, you know, you falling asleep on top of me in weird places.”

“Hey,” Harry said, and Ginny laughed again.

“Anyway,” she said, “I thought you were all hung up on Draco Malfoy.”

Harry started backward. “I’m not.”

“Oh, okay,” Ginny said, and rolled her eyes.

“I’m not!”

“Sure, okay,” Ginny said. She was smiling at him, though, this indulgent little quirk of her mouth like she was laughing at him.

“It’s just because there’s a lot of stuff going on,” Harry said. “With the dragon and - his parents, I guess, and--”

“Harry, honestly, you don’t have to explain yourself to me,” she said, and beckoned for a towel. Harry stood up and went to get it, holding it up while Ginny pulled out the plug and then carefully stepped out of the bath, balancing with a hand on his shoulder while he wrapped the towel around her. “It’s fine, I don’t mind, be hung up on Malfoy if you like--”

“I’m not,” Harry repeated, and Ginny laughed at him out loud this time.

“You’re sweet,” she said, and then she did kiss him, warm and friendly with her wet hair hanging in his face. “There you go, don’t go into a sulk. You look like a little kid.”

“What was that for?” Harry asked.

“Old time’s sake,” Ginny said. “Let me go get dressed and then we can go play some one-on-one Quidditch, if you like.”

“Oh,” Harry said, brightening. “Okay.”

“But by the way,” Ginny called over her shoulder as she headed towards her bedroom, “you might want to let everyone else know if you’re not actually, like, seeing Malfoy exclusively or whatever. We’ve all presumed you were off the market for weeks.”

Harry groaned, trotting downstairs to get his broom and wait out for Ginny on the backsteps. His whole house was clearly just full of gossips, he decided. It was stupid that just because it had - been a while, they all assumed - and anyway, Draco had been living with them for a week and Harry was the only one who actually spent time with him, it would have been a bit strange if Harry had gone off and fucked somebody else. Though he supposed there had been that time when Malfoy had hung out with Blaise and Pansy all day - and afterward, when Draco left, but Harry had been busy. He’d been trying to save the dragon. He’d been trying to find Draco.

There was something uneasy in his gut.

Harry had spent the whole war counting on a romance with Ginny, on some sort of love story that would leave everything clear and keep him from wanting anything else, but it hadn’t worked like that. Real life didn’t work like that, Harry got distracted, or he was too strange and messed up and needed Ron and Hermione.

Except when Draco was here. The thought came clear as a bell, and seemingly untouched by him.

Then Ginny came clattering out with her broom and they launched themselves into the sky and Harry could stop thinking about the whole thing. The Hufflepuffs caught sight of them soaring past the living room window and came out to join, and it was a good, rousing game of Quidditch in the end, one that stopped only because it was too dark to see properly, and not because there was a dragon there to ruin everything and drag them out of the sky.

A little after dinner Hermione appeared glowing with a paper folder full of the photos of Monster. Harry’s throat felt all tight looking at them - he was in them, his shock of messy hair covering his face, but the focus of the pictures were his hands, reaching up, tenderly stroking at a miserable looking dragon. Monster looked frightened and upset, but also quite undeniably harmless. She pressed herself up against the photo bars like she was trying more than anything to nuzzle against Harry. Harry half-wondered what the photos would be like if Draco was there; she would be nothing more, he bet, than a great indulgent pet of a thing.

“They’re so sad,” Hermione said, and she looked fiercely angry and fiercely pleased at once. “I’ve already sent copies to Rita. They’ll be on the front page of the Prophet tomorrow.”

They were - along with a three page spread about the terrible treatment of Monster, the unfair prosecution of Harry and Draco, and an announcement from a Magical Animal Rights group that they would be converging into a mass protest in the Ministry of Magic that evening for the dragon’s release.

Also, buried on page thirty-two, was a half-column reporting that Lucius Malfoy had died in custody last night.

-

It took Harry about an hour to dig up Pansy Parkinson’s address - he sent an owl out to everyone he could think of, Ministry contacts and McGonagall and Mrs Weasley alike, and the moment he got the first response back he left. Pansy lived in a wizarding apartment building with a door that was broken and clicked open the moment Harry shoved himself against it. He ran up the six flights of stairs it took to get to her place; they half started moving, but reluctant and slow, and it was faster to just run.

When he reached Pansy’s door, he pounded on it without stopping for a minute before he realised that that probably wasn’t proper behaviour for a family that was -- grieving, or whatever Draco and Narcissa would be doing about Lucius. Harry wasn’t sure. He dropped his hand and stepped back uncertainly, wondered if maybe he should push a note under the door, but he didn’t have to worry about it for too long before Pansy threw the door open, hair messy, eyes red, and furious.

“Get out,” she hissed. “Go away.”

“Let me see him,” Harry said. “You have to let me see him.”

“No,” Pansy said. “Absolutely not. I don’t know what you’re thinking, coming here.”

“Pansy,” Harry snarled, “I swear to god, I’ll kill you myself - let me in, I have to see him,” and he reached for the door handle but Pansy held the door tightly closed against herself, wedged herself into the crack of the entranaceway so firmly Harry couldn’t see anything past her.

“You’re mad,” she said, voice wavering a little, “you’re totally crazy, you’re a brute, we always said that about you! I’m not letting you in. Go away, Potter.”

Harry turned away with a curse and threw the force of his anger in the opposite direction to Pansy. A window shattered. He turned back, breathing heavily.

“Is he okay?”

“Of course he’s not okay,” Pansy snapped. She was white and shaking. “But seeing you isn’t going to make him any better.”

“I can help,” Harry said. “I can. He said he - please, Pansy, I can help, let me try.”

Pansy shook her head. “He told me he doesn’t want to see you.”

“It’s not fair!” Harry said, horrified to hear his voice break. “You know what he’s like, you know he’s the most - infuriating, stupid person, he always has to have the last word, he’s so fucking proud but it’s so pointless, it’s like schoolboy pride, he just never wants to be seen as weak--”

“He’s my best friend,” Pansy said coldly.

“I know!” Harry yelled. “I know he is! That’s why you should know this shit and not listen to it and let me in.”

Pansy stepped outside and closed the door behind her. “You should go, Potter.”

“What if he decided he was pissed at you and didn’t want to see you?” Harry demanded. “You’d just go along with that, would you?”

“It’s not the same,” Pansy said, arms folded tight across her chest. “You’ve hated each other forever. You’re bad for him.”

Harry shook his head wildly. “I don’t care,” he said. “I don’t care, he’s being stupid about this, you have to let me in. You have to let me see him. I - I need to see him.”

“No one cares about your guilt complex, Potter--”

“It’s not guilt,” Harry said, and laughed harshly. “Like I care if Lucius Malfoy dies. Like I give a shit. I care about him!”

Pansy stared at him for a long moment, coolly assessing. Harry tilted his chin up, stared back, refusing to give in to Slytherins, of all people. His hands were trembling. He had no idea what was going on inside the quiet, shitty little apartment, what Narcissa was doing, but it didn’t matter. The only thought he could hold onto with any sort of certainty was that he needed to see Draco: that what he wanted, more than anything, was to kneel at Draco’s feet the way he’d once seen Draco do for Lucius, and hold Draco’s hands in his.

“Go home, Potter,” Pansy said quietly, and went and let herself back into the apartment.

Harry waited another hour before he did.

When he got back, cold and exhausted and head strangely numb, he went up to his room and sat on the bed without really thinking about anything at all until Seamus stuck his head around the door and came to sit on the bed next to him.

“Harry,” Seamus said, and slung a cheery arm around Harry’s shoulders. He leaned against Harry’s side, grinning up at him, eyes bright and merry. “Ginny tells me we don’t have to fight with Slytherins for your affections anymore. Want to come out dancing with me tonight?”

Harry licked his lips. He was so cold. The attic room wasn’t warm anymore but he couldn’t bring himself to leave it completely. He said, slow, thoughts moving very sluggishly, “Ginny said what?”

Seamus gave him an amused look. “That you’re not all taken up by Malfoy anymore.”

“Oh,” Harry said. The fog in his head was clearing. “Oh, no. I am. I can’t. I mean - I am taken. By.” He let out a weird breath, wheezing in his chest. “So.”

Seamus stared at him. “You all right, mate?”

“Not really,” Harry said, and it was then that the owl flew down through the skylight and dropped a note on his lap. It had the time and date of a funeral service. In Pansy Parkinson’s handwriting, it said, Don’t be late.

-

Ron and Hermione went with him to the funeral.

Hermione said, “It’s not about paying any respect to Lucius, it’s about - who’s left,” and Ron shrugged and said, “Mum always said it was important,” and Harry said, “Thank you. Thanks.”

The chapel was small and cold and in Wiltshire. Harry couldn’t remember exactly where, but he thought Malfoy Manor was close by. Despite the size, the church still looked empty: just Draco and Narcissa in the front row, and Blaise and Pansy behind them, and he, Ron, and Hermione stood at the very back.

Draco didn’t react when he saw them arrive. Harry supposed Pansy must have told him. He stared at the back of Draco’s head, not sure if he wanted Draco to turn around or not.

The service was short, the bare bones of some sort of memorial. There were no readings or eulogies; the wizard officiating it didn’t say anything about Lucius Malfoy’s character. He said dust to dust and Harry reached out and took Hermione’s hand. They hadn’t been to a funeral in about six months. He didn’t like breaking the streak.

After the service, they shuffled through the little church and out into the graveyard, where Harry stood opposite Draco, separated by the grave. Narcissa stood tall and calm by Draco’s side, their hands clasped, and Pansy was on his other side, her arm linked through his, holding tight. Draco looked tired. He was wearing dress robes and his eyes were red-rimmed but mostly he just looked tired; not even the waxy exhaustion Harry had seen before but something smaller, absurdly normal, like he needed to be taken home and fed and gently put to bed. Harry’s hands twitched in his pockets.

“Thank you,” Narcissa said to the officiant when it was done, and the dark mud covered the coffin. It was too warm; Harry was sweating, and he thought, suddenly, of Godrics Hollow, of that dreadful Christmas on his knees in the snow. At least that had felt appropriate. Narcissa looked around the small group, icy and vacant, and repeated, “Thank you.”

Draco looked up from the grave. He met Harry’s gaze, and didn’t look away. Harry’s heart was pounding.

“Come along, Draco,” Narcissa murmured, and tugged his hand, and Draco turned with her. He, Narcissa, and Pansy started walking away, one line together with Blaise trailing after them, and Harry was left looking at Draco’s back.

“Come on, mate,” Ron said. “We should get going, too.”

“Right,” Harry said, and they started walking. Harry stuck his hands in his pockets, stared at the ground, moving slowly.

Then Pansy said, voice high and worried, “Draco--” and Harry looked up.

Draco had broken away from his group and pushed past Blaise, was coming toward Harry in a tripping hurry, half stumbling on the gravel path and the length of his dress robes. Harry darted forward and caught him at the elbows instinctively, and Draco tilted down against him, almost panting, resting his cheek for a moment against Harry’s forehead. Harry clutched him close.

“Do you want to go somewhere?” Draco said, in a dreadful voice, words tumbling into each other and voice creaky and frightened, like he expected any moment now to be ripped away. “We could go--”

“Yes,” Harry said, “yes, yes--”

“Go dancing,” Draco said. His eyes were wild; he slid one hand into Harry’s hair, twisting it almost painfully between his knuckles. “Let’s go out and go dancing and get drunk or something, please--”

“Yes,” Harry repeated; it felt like the only word left to him. He pushed up and their mouths brushed awkwardly, a brief jolt of electricity, and then again, catching properly, and Harry mumbled, “Yeah, whatever you want, yes--”

“Okay, good,” Draco said, “let’s just do that and then - then it’s fine, Monster and my d-dad and - and you--”

“You’ve got me,” Harry said, “I’m right here.”

Draco,” Pansy said. She was crying a little, Harry thought. He felt bewildered and stumbling, and then Draco was being pulled away from him. Pansy said, “Let me take you home. Come on, Draco.”

“Right,” Draco said. He sounded as confused as Harry felt. He looked back over his shoulder at Harry even as Pansy dragged him away and said, “Sorry,” and Harry wasn’t sure who he was talking to.

“Come on,” Pansy said again. She was crying. “Let’s just go home.”

Harry stood still, hands shoved in his pockets, shivering. Hermione and Ron were just behind him. Hermione said, quiet, “We should do that, too, Harry.”

“Right,” Harry said, and stood and watched Draco go.

-

At home Hermione said, “Do you want to talk about it?” and Harry shook his head.

“Okay,” Ron said, and all three of them went to sit out on the back steps of the porch. Harry missed Monster suddenly, in a way he hadn’t before; he’d been worried about her, worried about Malfoy, determined to get her back, but just then all he wanted was the simple magic of a dragon in Wales that he got to visit, Monster all messed up and tragic and content. He shouldn’t have brought her to Grimmauld Place. He shouldn’t have brought either of them to Grimmauld Place.

“They looked very - alone, today,” Hermione said, leaning on Ron’s shoulder, Ron’s arm around her waist. “Perhaps we should have invited them back here.” She didn’t sound very sure about the notion.

“I don’t think they’d have come,” Harry said. “I don’t think Draco really wants to see me.”

“Doesn’t look much that way, mate,” Ron said. “What with all the - you know. That’s still weird, by the way.” He grinned at Harry, and Harry smiled back with only a little effort.

“Well,” Hermione said. “I just - at least they’re still staying with Parkinson, right?”

“Yeah,” Harry said. “I think they’ll probably be okay with her. It’s - I get the feeling it wasn’t unexpected.”

Hermione frowned. “I hope the Ministry have told them what happened,” she said. “That was a very vague article in the Prophet.”

“He wasn’t well,” Harry said. “Draco told me.”

Draco had said something else, too: my dad’s in Azkaban, which he cannot possibly survive. Harry hadn’t thought about it. It hadn’t mattered as much to him. He smoothed his hands over his robes.

“Merlin, it’s depressing,” Ron said. “Never thought I’d be depressed about Lucius Malfoy dying. Thanks a bunch, Harry.”

“Yeah,” Harry said, with a short laugh. “Sorry.”

“Open that letter that came from Kingsley this morning,” Ron suggested, “maybe there’s something cheery in that,” and Harry nodded and summoned it. It had arrived this morning, when they were on their way out the door; Harry hadn’t been in the mood to stop.

It started in a fairly exasperated tone: Well, Harry, you and Hermione and Rita Skeeter have caused quite a stir at the Ministry - I congratulate you. If young Mr Malfoy and yourself could find the time to see me tomorrow morning at ten I would be appreciative.

“I’ll write to Draco,” Harry said, after he’d read it through twice in case he’d missed by the way, Monster is fine and on her way back to you now. “In a minute, I’ll tell him--”

“Tell me what?” Draco said, and came lightly down the stairs to sit next to Harry.

“Shit! Bit of warning next time, Malfoy,” Ron said, jumping, and Harry turned slowly, barely daring to look.

Draco raised his eyebrows and gave Harry a cup of tea.

“Stop staring,” he said. He’d changed out of his dress robes, was wearing his scrappy old jeans again and a t-shirt, and Harry felt awkwardly over-dressed next to him. He wasn’t entirely convinced Draco was real. He wanted to reach out and touch, but he didn’t want to frighten Draco away.

“How did you get in?” he asked, for lack of any better ideas. Draco had a cup of tea, too. There was something reassuring about the idea of Draco in Grimmauld Place, Draco moving around the kitchen. Harry’s heart was beating fast.

“Loony Lovegood let me in,” Draco said. “Oh, don’t give me that look, I’m kidding.”

“Uhm,” Hermione said. “We might just--”

“Right, yes,” Ron said, scrambling up after her. “We’ll see you, Harry - Malfoy, um, sorry about your - your loss-”

“Thank you,” Draco said, and looked up, gaze clear and intent. “Thanks for coming, earlier. That was nice. And thank you for - for everything with Monster.”

“I’d do that for anyone,” Hermione said severely. “The way the Ministry have been allowed to treat her is absolutely--”

“Yes, ’Mione, we all know, come on,” Ron said, and dragged her back into the house. Draco looked cautiously amused.

Harry said, “You seem--” and then stopped, stricken.

Draco looked at him, mouth twitching. “Are you going to tell me I look better again?”

“Maybe,” Harry said. “But I meant--”

“I know,” Draco said. “I’m starting to work it out.” Their knees bumped. “Thank you. Merlin, saying thank you is exhausting, and I’ve had to do it about eighty million times in the last few days. All the practice is good, I suppose. I think I’m getting more convincing.”

“Do you think you’ve grown as a person?”

“I hope not,” Draco said, and put his head on Harry’s shoulder. Harry stayed very still. “What were you going to tell me?”

“Oh.” Harry looked down at the letter, scrunched up and forgotten in one hand. “It’s from Kingsley. He wants to meet us tomorrow morning. About Monster, I assume.”

“Do you think he’s going to let us down gently?”

“No,” Harry said. “I don’t know what to expect, really.” He took a breath. “Where’s your mum?”

“She has an appointment to look at a flat,” Draco said, and laughed awkwardly. “It’s all very strange.”

“A flat for you two?”

“We can’t stay on Pansy’s floor forever,” Draco said. “Mum’s been meeting with the Ministry to see if we can salvage anything from the Manor - we won’t ever get that back, I don’t think, but they might let us have some of the stuff in it. Our clothes, and some of the books, and Mum’s hoping enough furniture that we can sell quite a bit of it.” He sounded absolutely matter-of-fact, unconcerned. Harry didn’t dare move an inch. “But anyway, I get my first payslip from Borgin and Burkes this week and I’ve converted the last of the Muggle money into Galleons, and Blaise is lending us some money too, so we think we might be able to put a deposit down on a flat soon and get out of Pansy’s hair.”

Tentatively, Harry said, “I can give you some too. If you need. It could be a loan, if you want.”

Draco smirked at him. “I’ve already used that Muggle money you gave me. Thanks.” He raised his eyebrows and added, “See how good I’m getting?”

“Very impressive,” Harry said.

“You’re being very nice to me,” Draco remarked. “You must feel really sorry for me. Guess what else?”

“What?” Harry said, and Draco smiled, crooked and shy.

“Today’s my birthday,” he said. “There. How bad do you feel for me now?”

Harry’s head hurt. He leaned in and kissed Draco, one hand on Draco’s jaw, and Draco leaned into him and kissed him back, their knees bumping, the afternoon hot and still. When they broke apart, Harry stayed where he was, and Draco smiled again, all eyelashes and a pretty mouth this close.

“I knew it,” Draco said, and shifted back.

“Happy birthday,” Harry told him. “I’m sorry about your dad. Do you really want to go dancing?”

“No, I’m over that,” Draco said. “My gross hysteria has faded and I am ready to remember how utterly useless he’s been for the last year, and what a fucking mess he made of everything for the three years before that, and--” He stopped suddenly, throat working, and then tried to grin. It was a shaky effort. “How am I doing?”

Harry took a sip of his tea. “Pretty well,” he said, “but I’ll still take you dancing if you like. It doesn’t have to be about hysteria. It’s your birthday.”

“I’m too tired,” Draco said, and Harry remembered that instinct back at the grave, to grab Draco and get him out of there and keep him safe.

He drew in a breath and said, “Will you stay here tonight?”

“Maybe,” Draco said, and Harry’s heart leapt. “I’ll have to check with Mum.”

“What, if you’re allowed out?”

“No,” Draco said, rolling his eyes. “If she’s all right.”

“Oh,” Harry said, feeling a little bad. “Right. Sorry.”

“Mum’s weird,” Draco said, and slanted an odd glance at him. “Don’t worry, I know that.”

“Okay,” Harry said. Carefully he reached for Draco’s hand, and slipped their fingers together. He risked a glance at Draco. Draco was staring down at his lap, expression unreadable. Harry’s hand felt a bit clammy and hot. The whole thing was so stupid, he thought, but he asked anyway, “Are you done being pissed at me?”

“I told you I was never done with that, Potter,” Draco said.

“You tell me a lot of things,” Harry said, and Draco nodded, fingers tightening on Harry’s. “What do you want to do today?”

“Nothing,” Draco said. He sounded exhausted. “Just this is nice.”

“Okay,” Harry said, and they stayed where they were, tea going cold.

-

Draco left a bit before dinner, but with the promise that he’d come back at least briefly to let Harry know what was happening. Harry tried not to be too fretful about it, just hung out in the kitchen and talked to the people who came in and out, keeping himself busy. Hermione and Ron kept looking like they wanted to tackle him and demand that he explain everything, but Harry didn’t know what he’d say. He ignored them, measuring out flour.

“All right, Harry?” Ginny said, on a quick stopover for dinner before she went back to the Burrow, and Harry nodded and sat next to her, leaning tiredly on her shoulder. It was a strange mix of anxiety and exhaustion, but Ginny didn’t ask him to explain, just patted his head and passed the gravy.

When Draco came back, Harry was on his own in the kitchen, washing the dishes. He looked up but didn’t make a move towards Draco, just watched Draco toe off his boots and cross the floor in his socked feet, yawning.

“Don’t you have a House Elf for that stuff?” he asked.

“Kreacher’s a bit mad these days,” Harry said. “He was always mad, but you know. He disappears a lot.”

“You know you can use magic though, right?” Draco said, leaning on the counter. “You remember you’re a wizard, don’t you, Potter?”

Harry rolled his eyes. “I don’t mind doing them,” he said. “It’s distracting. It’s something to do while I wait.”

Draco gave him a smarmy look, rolling up the sleeves of the sweater he’d put on. “For me?”

“Yeah,” Harry admitted, “and--”

The oven timer went off. Harry went and opened it.

“What have you got there?” Draco asked, craning his head down. He was almost slurring with exhaustion; Harry half-wondered if he’d had a drink or two. “What are you doing, Potter, what new weirdness is this--”

“You have to wait for it to cool before we put the icing on,” Harry said, getting it out of the oven. “And then - I think there’s a couple of candles around here somewhere.” Draco was silent. Harry threw a nervous look at him. “What?”

“Did you bake me a birthday cake?” Draco asked, voice strange.

“Yes,” Harry said, a little awkward. It had seemed an obvious thing to do; it was only just now that he was realising that it was maybe a bit weird. “Er. I just - I had some free time. And it’s your birthday.”

Draco didn’t say anything.

“It’s chocolate,” Harry tried. “I figured everyone likes chocolate.”

“Untrue,” Draco murmured, and moved forward, pressing up close against Harry’s back. He hooked his chin over Harry’s head and looped his arms lazily around Harry’s waist. Harry stood rigidly, not sure if he could or should relax. Malfoy was just flaunting his height anyway, the bastard. “I quite like chocolate, though.” Draco drew in a breath and added, “Potter, that’s one of the worst cakes I’ve ever seen.”

Harry poked at it glumly. “It’s burned a bit,” he admitted.

“It’s all - lumpy, sort of,” Draco said. “What did you do to it?”

“I don’t know! I followed the recipe. Why does it have that weird slope?”

Draco was laughing, breathy and giddy in Harry’s ear. “Why are you so bad at this? Who is this bad at baking a cake?”

“As if you’ve ever baked in your life,” Harry said.

“Well, if I did, I’d be better than that,” Draco told him, and then pressed his face against Harry’s shoulder, letting out a shuddering breath. Harry reached back, grabbed at his hair.

“Hey,” he said, “hey, are you--”

“Fine!” Draco said, too high-pitched. “Come on. Let’s eat this thing. Let’s see if we survive.”

The cake tasted fine, anyway: a bit burnt and with a vague lingering aftertaste of baking powder, but still fine and there was no reason for Draco to laugh as much as he did about it. They couldn’t be bothered waiting for it to cool, so Harry got the bowl of icing he’d made out of the fridge and they ate that with spoons alongside the cake. They shared a bottle of beer, passing it back and forth. Draco had slung his legs over Harry’s lap.

Halfway down the bottle and most of the cake gone, Harry dared to ask, “Are you staying?”

Draco took another enormous mouthful of the cake. “I figure I might as well,” he said thickly, “seeing as we have to go see Shacklebolt tomorrow anyway.”

“Okay,” Harry said, and tried not to let his relief show. He wasn’t sure how successful he was, but Draco didn’t say anything, just watched him steadily and then pretended to gag on a particularly burnt patch of cake.

When they’d finished, it was only nine o’clock. Harry could hear music coming from the living room. He said, awkward, “We could go join in there, if you liked. Or I think some people might have gone to the pub, if you wanted to go out for a drink. You could invite Pansy.”

Draco shook his head and said, putting on a bit of a silly voice that Harry thought was meant to be some sort of commanding leader parody, “Take me to bed, Potter.”

“Right,” Harry said, relieved, and did.

-

The attic room was smaller and warmer again, the old magic of Draco back in Grimmauld Place. Harry kicked off the duvet and they lay pressed up close in the bed with just the sheet pulled over them. They’d gotten into bed in some weird sort of pyjama set up, t-shirts and underwear, but after nearly an hour of langorous necking Harry had Draco naked and warm underneath him, legs curled around Harry’s and yawning into Harry’s mouth.

“This is so sexy,” Harry said, the third time Draco did it.

Draco made a face and said, “I’m not having sex with you, Potter. I refuse to turn today into - into some sort of cheesy celebration of life, no matter what you and your dumb cake would like.”

“Okay,” Harry said, smiling down at him. “I’m just saying you should go to sleep.”

“I know,” Draco said. “Stop bossing me around. Just because you’ve decided I’m your latest project--”

“Draco,” Harry said.

“Sorry,” Draco said. “Monster’s the project. I suppose I’m more of the sympathetic add-on - add a bit of a drama to the whole thing--”

“Draco.” Harry put his hand over Draco’s mouth and Draco widened his eyes, feigning some sort of outrage, but when Harry took his hand away Draco stayed quiet and waiting. Harry’s stomach was twisting and queasy and his throat felt tight, but he tried all the same. “You know you’re -- that that’s not what you are.”

“Isn’t it,” Draco said.

Harry let out a breath and rolled over onto his back, still half on top of Draco. He stared at the ceiling and said quickly, “I haven’t slept with anyone else since I started sleeping with you.”

“But you said--”

“I didn’t really think about it,” Harry said. “When you said - all that stuff, I don’t know, I was confused, but I haven’t, it’s only been you for - for months. I didn’t want anyone else. I’m - I’m sorry I made you think that I did. I thought I did but I was wrong. So.”

“So,” Draco echoed, sounding a bit shocked.

“You can ask people,” Harry said, a little defensive. “If you don’t believe me, you could ask Ginny or - or Seamus or--”

“Fun as that conversation sounds, I might pass.”

“I just mean - you said I couldn’t keep it in my pants,” Harry said. “But I can. I have.”

“And you - you--”

“I really missed you,” Harry said, low. His cheeks were burning. He couldn’t look at Draco. “I really, really missed you, and it’s not about just being used to you, it’s not about Monster, it’s - I just want you. Here. All the time.”

Draco made a rough noise, like someone had hurt him, and Harry flinched.

“Anyway,” he said. “I know you were upset, that night. And you’re - you’re upset now. Sorry. I guess this isn’t a great time. But I thought you should know.”

“That you want me,” Draco said, low and disbelieving, “here.”

“Yeah,” Harry said. “Or at Hogwarts. Or - everywhere.”

“You want me to just follow you around for the rest of my life?”

“Well,” Harry said, and risked a very quick glance, “we can take turns, maybe.”

Draco let out a low, disbelieving laugh. He rolled onto his side, stretching an arm out over Harry’s chest and curling in against him, face against Harry’s shoulder. Harry hesitated, and then took hold of him, rearranging them until they were curled together nicely. Draco bit Harry’s shoulder, just lightly.

“I’m so tired,” Draco said, low and wondering.

“Okay,” Harry said. “All right. I just wanted you to know.”

Draco slid his hand down Harry’s body, searching, until he caught Harry’s hand. “I know,” he said.

Harry nodded, and pressed his face into Draco’s hair. Abruptly he was exhausted too, the weeks of fractured sleep catching up with him. He knew already that he wasn’t going to have nightmares tonight.

“I - I knew when I heard you outside Pansy’s flat,” Draco murmured, so low Harry almost didn’t catch it. “Bellowing. Lumbering about like an elephant. You’re very ill-mannered.”

“I wanted to see you,” Harry said.

“Here I am,” Draco said. He reached up and pushed Harry’s hair away from his face, and Harry pressed into the touch. He wasn’t sure how he hadn’t thought about this before, how he’d been so stupid. Malfoy’s long fingers on his skin was somehow the best feeling in the world. Then Draco said, low, “You’re very sweet. In your clumsy, stupid way.”

“I’m not,” Harry tried. “I just--”

“You are,” Draco said. “You’re very sweet. It’s not - it’s not going to work, but I appreciate the thought.”

Harry pushed up on his elbows. “Draco,” he said. “I’ve told you I’m not--”

“It’s not about that,” Draco said, and pushed Harry down. “Come on, please. I’m so tired. I really appreciate it, Potter. You know how I - I just do, it’s very nice of you to say, but. Anyway, it’s fine. Kiss me again, please.”

“It will work,” Harry said, stubborn, but did what Draco asked. Draco smiled faintly up at him.

“Again,” he said, and Harry kissed him, and Draco sighed into it and then put his head back down on Harry’s shoulder.

“It will work,” Harry said. “Don’t be a git.”

“Night, Potter,” Draco said, and curled up on him.

It was a good night’s sleep, one of the best, and Draco didn’t run out on him in the morning. But Harry did have nightmares, after all.

-

“Well,” Kingsley said. Jaggers was standing just behind him, looking like he’d swallowed a lemon, and Rita Skeeter was in the corner, wearing a particularly bright outfit. It was giving Harry a bit of a headache just to look at her. “You two have certainly been keeping yourselves busy.”

“Due respect, sir,” Draco said, because apparently even weird romantic feelings or whatever they were weren’t enough to keep Draco from throwing Harry under the bus the moment an authority figure appeared, “I haven’t done anything. I’ve been working nearly non-stop the past few weeks - you can ask Mr Borgin--”

“Yes, I’m aware that this whole mess has a particular look of Potter Mischief about it,” Kingsley said. “Harry. Can you stop breaking into Ministry property and then lying about it?”

Harry considered. He liked Kingsley, but: “Can you stop fucking with me and my friends?”

Mr Potter,” Jaggers began, furious, but Kingsley held up one hand for silence and used the other to pinch between his brows.

“Mr Potter, Mr Malfoy,” he said, “in light of the serious concern both within and without the Ministry we have reevaluated the case of the stolen Gringotts dragon. We have undertaken serious negotiations with Gringotts Bank to ensure that all parties are satisfied. In this instance, we have decided that the treatment of the dragon by Gringotts Bank was unsatisfactory, and future legislation will look into creating a precedent for such cases. Gringotts Bank have renounced their claim to the dragon. The Ministry has reevaluated what is the best interest for both the dragon, the public, and the individuals involved, and decided that the dragon will not be put down, and will not have any magical substances harvested from it.”

Draco let out a shivery breath. Harry said, “Good.”

“Furthermore,” Kingsley continued, looking weary, “the dragon will be sent to Romania.”

“Wait,” Harry said, “what?”

“Where it will be looked after in the best suitable situation by trained dragon taming professionals. Attempts will be made to reintroduce it to its own kind--”

“No,” Draco said, panicked, “she wouldn’t stand a chance - you’ll kill her doing that!”

“Mr Malfoy, let me repeat: by trained dragon taming professionals,” Kingsley said.

Harry said, “Why can’t you just - you know, give her back to Draco?”

Kingsley stared at him.

“I have a very small flat, Potter,” Draco said. “I understand. Can we see her, before she goes?”

“Wait,” Harry said, “we’ll be able to see her after she goes, won’t we?”

Draco was staring out the window as though his life depended upon it, and blinking a lot. Kingsley said, almost gently, “They’re very protected areas in Romania, Harry. It’s for the dragons’ own safety. I’m afraid we don’t allow visitors.”

“No,” Harry said immediately. “That’s not fair. She loves Draco, you can’t take him away from her--”

“Potter,” Draco said. “Shut up. Minister, can I see her before she goes?”

“I’ll do my best to make that happen,” Kingsley said. He looked over his shoulder. “I’m sure Jaggers will do his best to help, too.”

“Of course, sir,” Jaggers said, practically spitting it.

“Kingsley,” Harry said, “this is ridiculous--”

Mr Potter,” Kingsley said, and Harry stared at him and then shut up, seething about it. Kingsley nodded sharply. “Thank you,” he said. “Now. You will pay a 300 Galleon fine for breaking into Ministry property. Additionally, you and Mr Malfoy will both pay 500 Galleon fines for deliberately concealing a dangerous beast from the Ministry and the community, as is against Regulation 473B.”

“That’s not fair,” Harry started again, but Draco reached out and grabbed his wrist.

“It’s law,” Kingsley said. “I’m sure your friend here will enjoy writing an op-ed about it.”

Rita smiled brightly at them all from where she was busily taking notes.

“Any other complaints, Mr Potter,” Kingsley continued, with a warning look, “I’ll advise you to direct to the proper department. I believe there is an office you can write to.”

Sir,” Harry said, but Draco’s grasp on his wrist tightened.

“We’re very pleased,” he said. “Thank you, Minister. We really appreciate you taking the time to meet with us. Thank you, Mr Jaggers.”

“You’re such a smarmy little prick,” Harry hissed, not quite quietly enough; Draco glared at him, and practically dragged him out of the room. Harry continued, louder now, “I don’t know why you had to just take that! We’ll set up another complaint -- you should get that dragon, she’s yours--”

“You’re being stupid,” Draco said quietly. He dropped Harry’s wrist and started walking towards the Floo Ports. “She’s not mine. Obviously. And what was I going to do? Mum and I have left the place in Wales, we couldn’t keep living there, it was falling down around our ears. Not to mention it’s a Muggle area - we can’t keep using magic there, and a dragon was going to be spotted sooner or later. And I need to be here for work. There’s nowhere in London we can keep her.”

“She was okay in Grimmauld Place--”

“She wasn’t, Potter, not permanently,” Draco said. “London’s too crowded, there’s too many Muggles, it wouldn’t work. She’s - she’ll be able to fly properly out there. And it’s good that there’ll be people who know how to look after her.”

“Draco,” Harry said, “they won’t be able to do it like you did.”

Draco went a little pink, which would have been more charming if he still didn’t look miserable enough that it made Harry’s throat sore.

“What were you expecting?” Draco said. “They were just going to give her to us? Say, ‘sorry, our mistake, on your way’? Potter, come on. Even you don’t get to have a dragon.”

Harry said, “I still think it’s unfair. I think we should do something - maybe Rita could write another article about it--”

But Draco wasn’t listening. He looked distant again, sad in an untouchable way. As they stepped into the Floo Portals, Harry heard him say almost dreamily, “I hope they let me see her again. Just once.”

“Anyway,” Harry said, spilling into the Grimmauld Place kitchen, “I’ll sort the fines out, don’t worry about that--” and then he stopped, thrown up short.

Draco stood awkward and shy, rigid by the kitchen table, where Hermione, Ron, Neville, and Ginny were sitting with, of all people, Professor McGonagall.

“Professor,” Harry said, surprised. “I didn’t know you were coming around.”

“Hello, Potter,” McGonagall said. “Mr Malfoy. I wanted to come by and see you.”

“Sorry,” Harry said. “I was at the Ministry. There’s this whole thing happening with the dragon.”

“Yes,” McGonagall said, “I’ve seen.”

“Harry,” Hermione said urgently, “the dragon--”

“They’re taking her away,” Harry said bitterly. “They’re taking her to Romania. They reckon me and Draco can’t keep her.”

“Mr Potter,” McGonagall said. “I came to remind you of something. I was surprised you did not come and talk to me sooner. Help will always be given at Hogwarts to those who ask for it.”

Chapter Text

The summer rain made Diagon Alley look charming, but Knockturn Alley transformed it into a hazy murkiness, something that managed to be hot and damp and gloomy all at once as Harry hurried down the street. He whirled round a corner and into Borgin and Burkes, pushing down his hood as he did, breathless.

Draco looked over, raised his eyebrows, and said, “I’ll be with you in a minute, sir.” Then he went back to talking to the creepy looking woman in robes that were much too heavy for the weather. Harry thought she looked a bit green, though it was hard to tell in the horrible light in the shop.

He poked around a bit while he was waiting, until one jewellery box snapped menacingly at him and he decided it’d be better for his fingers if he just put his hands in his pockets and waited until Draco was free.

Draco turned to him after he’d finished ringing up the woman’s purchase and said, “Well?”

“Come over here,” Harry said pleasantly.

Draco ground his teeth.

“Please,” Harry said. “I’m just interested in this lovely table, here--”

“Fine,” Draco said, and came slowly towards Harry, as the green woman ducked back out into Knockturn Alley with a jingle of the bell. Harry moved fast, grabbing Draco’s shirt and dragging him in and they kissed, the tightness in Harry’s chest easing up, Draco making a muffled sound and then sinking against Harry, arms draped over Harry’s shoulders, mouth sweet and hot.

Then Draco pulled away and said crossly, “I’m at work.”

“Mm,” Harry said. “I thought you were coming with me to visit Monster yesterday.”

Draco looked at him, blank-faced and polite, which meant he was preparing to lie. “I got called into a last minute shift,” he said. “Sorry. I need the money. I’ve got to pay you back for that fine.”

“I’ve told you, you don’t,” Harry said, but Draco looked at him with that infuriating blank look. Harry sighed. “Okay, sure. Anyway, I know that, I stopped by your flat. Narcissa told me.”

He was getting better at saying Narcissa’s name without flinching; better, too, at seeing Narcissa without having to throw up or feel as though the Forbidden Forest was closing in on him again. The sight of her still made him taste something metallic and bitter in his mouth, set his bones buzzing as though with a drill, but still. He was getting better. He wanted Draco to know it.

“Mm,” Draco said. “She mentioned.”

“Here,” Harry said, and pulled out a polaroid Hagrid had taken, a grumpy looking Monster with Harry slinging his arm cheesily around her neck and pulling a face. “She misses you, I think.”

Draco looked away. “I’m visiting as often as I can. I’m very busy.” After a moment, he reached out and took the photo.

“I know,” Harry said. “I’ve hardly seen you in weeks.”

“Harry,” Draco said, low, which was also not a good sign. The tension in Harry’s chest amped back up again.

“I had tea with McGonagall while I was there, too,” Harry said. He looked Draco in the face steadily. “She said that you’d written back to say you weren’t returning to Hogwarts this year.”

Draco turned away, slipping the polaroid into his pocket. “You already knew that,” he said, moving over to rearrange some things that very clearly did not need rearranging.

“I thought you’d changed your mind,” Harry said.

“Why would you think that? Because you changed your mind about me? Because you’ve decided that you can handle monogamy, that just means everything in the world is going to form perfectly around you?” Draco sneered at him. “You’re good in bed, Potter, but I don’t want to be your boyfriend.”

“You’re such a fucking liar,” Harry said, rolling his eyes and hopping up onto the desk. “You were the one who got all dramatic and--”

“Potter,” Draco interrupted, “I really don’t - I think you’re mistaking me for someone else again.”

“Don’t be an idiot,” Harry said.

“You are,” Draco said. “This is what you do. You decide you don’t like someone, so they must be evil, or you do like them, so they must be wonderful people. That’s not how the world works.”

“I really don’t think you’re a wonderful person, Malfoy,” Harry said dryly. “You’re quite annoying, to start with.”

Draco ignored him. “I’m - I do, you know how I,” and his voice had almost dried up, it was so thin and quiet, “how I feel about you. But it doesn’t - it doesn’t change anything, just like the fact that you’ve decided you could bring yourself to - to date me or whatever new madness you’ve got in mind--”

“What,” Harry said, too loud in the dim shop. His heart was beating hard; he was pissed off again. He’d come here with such good intentions. “You mean how I - how I care about you, is that what you’re talking about? Is that what you mean, with all this shit?”

Draco had gone very pale again. Harry didn’t think he’d said it out loud before, and he felt stupid and embarrassed and unsure, but he plowed on. “I think that does change things,” he said. “I think both of us - both of us wanting - that does change things!”

“The media will crucify us,” Draco said, and Harry made an incredulous noise but Draco kept going, voice rising. “They will! And people will hate us - they’ll hate me for obvious reasons and they’ll hate you because you’ll have forgotten about all the shit I’ve done--”

“I haven’t forgotten.”

“Well, it’ll be hard to prove you remember when I’m fucking you,” Draco said, and Harry felt himself go red, hot with embarrassment and a tug in his stomach that made him want to reach out. It had been far, far too long. “We’ll be loathed, Potter, and it will be awful, and I can’t stand it and even you will realise eventually that hey, this ex-Death Eater isn’t that great after all--”

“I won’t,” Harry said, walking forward, making a grab for Draco. Draco darted out of reach. “You’re being -- first of all, I think you’re overestimating your own importance. People’ll be interested for a week. I’ve had the media be interested in me before, remember? I know what it’s like. It’ll be kind of annoying and then it will be over--”

Draco shook his head, white-faced and tight-lipped.

“I can’t believe you’re doing this,” Harry said, raising his voice. “It’s like you want to be miserable. How long are you going to keep martyring yourself about the war?”

“That depends! How long are you going to pretend that because you killed the Dark Lord you get a free pass for the rest of your life, and everything you ever want will fall into your lap?”

Harry stared at him. Draco was breathing hard, blotches of angry red on his cheek, and Harry ran his hand through his hair and said, “What do you - what do you want, then? What was the point of telling me everything if you’re just going to work here and refuse to be seen with me and not come back to Hogwarts--”

“There’s no point to anything, Potter,” Draco said. “What’s the point to my, my dad dying, or your friends dying, or - I told you, nothing’s ever better or worse, it’s just going to be--”

“That’s a load of shit,” Harry said. “You know it is. You’re just being a coward again.”

Draco tilted his chin up, defiant and upset. “I don’t know why you expected me to ever be anything else.”

“Draco,” Harry said, and came forward again; this time he caught Draco’s hand, tried to pull Draco toward him, wrapped an arm around Draco’s reluctant shoulders and pressed his face against Draco’s neck. He felt useless, heavy with fury and exhaustion. There was no way to fight with Draco properly, not in a way that made sense. They were too fundamentally different. Harry didn’t think they could ever live in the same way, even though some days he wanted to, more than anything. He breathed in. Draco always smelled good, like soap and fresh rain. “Listen. Just - just come back to school. Just try it. Please. For me.”

Draco was quiet for a long time. Harry closed his eyes, gave up pretending he was doing anything but holding onto Draco, and after a moment Draco’s hand came up to his hair, petting at him, soothing as though Harry was the dragon caught in a storm.

Draco said, voice distant, “I think we should stop seeing each other.”

-

The summer passed slowly. Harry spent a lot of it lying around in flowerbeds eavesdropping on his friends.

Unsurprisingly, they were worried about him.

“It makes a nice change,” he told Ginny, who’d stopped by his flowerbed to lie down and take a nap next to him, ladybirds landing in her hair.

“What, you being full of yourself?” she murmured. “Mm. Very nice. Wake me up when you want to go flying.”

In many ways, it was like the six months before he met Draco. Every now and then he got rounded up to help catch some of the Snatchers, although they were less and less frequent. They went out dancing, and to pubs, and he had meals at the Burrow, and played games of Quidditch. It was all fine. It was dull, and the days crawled by, and Harry was almost constantly sexually frustrated, but it was fine.

He thought about sleeping with Seamus again, or maybe Luna, or even just picking someone up in the club. It wouldn’t be hard, and all those options were nice enough. But he never really mustered the energy.

He saw Draco twice. Once, Draco came around, wild-eyed, and shoved Harry up against a wall, and Harry only just managed to get them stumbling up the stairs and into a bedroom - he wasn’t sure whose, but it was empty, which was all that mattered - before Draco was shoving him down and unbuttoning his trousers. Harry had been - not happy, exactly, but more awake than he had been in weeks, and afterward he’d clung to Draco, kissed him exactly as fiercely as he’d wanted to.

“What - what happened?” he asked, but Draco shook his head and wouldn’t speak, and after a while he got up and left, and the next day Harry got a letter that said: I’m very sorry. It won’t happen again.

There was no reply to the letter Harry sent back, which read only it can.

The next time was the last time he went around to Borgin and Burkes. Draco had discovered a new and annoying sixth sense for when Harry was about to arrive and most of the times Harry tried to drop in on him at work it was to be treated to a flash of Draco’s hair as he ducked into a back room.

Except one Wednesday, when he found Draco leaning against the counter. He looked exhausted. Narcissa was standing in front of him, and when the bell jingled with Harry’s arrival she turned around, annoyed.

“Oh,” Harry said. “Sorry. I just - I wanted to talk to Draco.”

“Yes,” Narcissa said. “It’s fine. I’m done. I’ll see you at home, Draco.” Draco gave her a sulky look, and Narcissa walked past Harry and said, “Good luck, Potter.” Harry prided himself on not jumping.

He said instead, “Are you fighting with your mum?”

“Oh, Potter, I’m fighting with everyone,” Draco said. “It would be rude to leave my mum out of things.”

He leaned on the counter, rubbing his eyes, and Harry resolutely did not let himself soften, even though Draco looked tired and sad again. Instead he said, “You’ve done a pretty good job of avoiding me lately.”

“Well,” Draco said, and looked away. “I just - I think it’s for the best.”

“That’s a bit shit of you, isn’t it,” Harry said, trying to keep his voice level. “Have a massive go at me that night like it’s my fault we can’t - we’re not - and then the moment I turn back, you, what, run away again?”

Draco didn’t say anything, staring at the countertop. It was gleaming, polished. Everying in this store was bright and organised and clean, a weird contrast to the gloomy lighting and dismal colour scheme. Draco looked fidgety.

“You must be going out of your mind with boredom,” Harry said thoughtlessly, looking about, and Draco glared at him.

“If you’ve just come to criticise me and my career choices--”

“Your career choices?” Harry echoed, disbelieving. “Draco! You tamed a dragon, what are you doing here? You’re just going to play shop for the rest of your life? This is mad!”

“I didn’t tame her,” Draco mumbled. “She was just lonely, it was - it’s fine, whatever, I wish you’d leave me alone.”

“No, you don’t,” Harry said, feeling himself lose his temper. “You don’t, you’re just being a coward, you’re--”

“People get over crushes all the time, Potter,” Draco said sharply. “I’m sorry if I got your little hopes up, but it was a very stressful time and the whole getting laid thing was new and exciting and I got a bit carried away! I wish you’d stop throwing it in my face like we were - what, the great romance of the century? Fuck off.”

Harry stared at him. Draco stared back, flushed and angry, almost panting for air, and then Harry whirled around and left.

He didn’t go back. Draco had made it more than clear - and if he’d gotten over it, Harry would, too, eventually, he was sure. He went out clubbing that night and kissed a blonde girl under the lights, long curly hair tumbling down her back, but after a while he wandered off to get a drink and never really wandered back.

The summer was too hot now for the attic room to be cold, though Grimmauld Place did its very best to remain as gloomy as ever.

What Harry didn’t really understand was how there were still Slytherins in his life, even after Draco had made it so very clear what he thought of Harry. Pansy Parkinson just kept on dropping round, having formed a weird sort of friendship with Ginny where she sat and complained about things and Ginny listened and then demanded that Pansy play Quidditch with her. Pansy traded half an hour of Quidditch for an hour of complaining and Ginny seemed bizarely satisfied with the whole thing, and sometimes Hermione and Neville would sit in and talk wizarding law with her as well.

It was all very strange.

Plus Pansy would bring various people hanging on, a boy once who stared at her like she’d hung the moon - Pansy seemed fairly oblivious to his presence, and Harry half wondered if he’d followed her home without her noticing - and every now and then with a bored looking Blaise Zabini. Once - to Harry’s horror - she came with Narcissa.

“What are you doing here?” he asked, stopping cold in the doorway. Normally he managed to avoid Pansy when she was here, but with Narcissa there he felt suddenly conscious of how small the house was. His hands were trembling. Annoyed, he stuck them in his pockets.

Narcissa gave him a cool look. “Hello, Potter,” she said, with a slight sneer. Harry wasn’t sure when she’d dropped the Mr. He couldn’t decide whether or not it was worse. “Pansy mentioned to me that this house had been having some problems with my aunt. I thought I’d come along and take her away.”

“With - wait, with Mrs Black?” Harry said, astonished.

“Unless you’re very attached to her, of course,” Narcissa said.

Harry held his hands up. “Be my guest.”

He trailed behind her in the hall, uneasy and wanting to watch, as Pansy led her chattering up to Walburga’s portrait. Walburga - rarely quiet these days, she’d never really gotten over the shock of Draco leaving - ceased her grumpy mumbling to stare at Narcissa in disbelief and say, “Why, my dear. You’re looking old.”

“Hello, Aunty,” Narcissa said, smiling. “I hope you don’t mind but I’ve come with a proposition that you come back with me. I live in London, now, with Draco - you remember Draco?”

“That darling boy,” Walburga said, and the portrait fell neatly down off the wall and into Narcissa’s waiting hands.

Harry gaped. “You’re fucking kidding me. We tried to get her off the wall for ages.”

“Portrait magic’s quite tricky, Potter,” Pansy said. “What were you going to do with her?”

“I think Sirius wanted to burn her.”

“There you go, then,” Pansy said, rolling her eyes. “Ready, Narcissa?”

“I can’t believe you want to take her home,” Harry said, shaking his head. “What are you going to do?”

“We’ll put her up,” Narcissa said, and then gave him a look that felt weirdly pointed. “The house gets lonely, with just Draco and I. I think we could both do with some company.”

Pansy made a face. “Seeya, Potter,” she said, and strolled away.

But she was back a week later, arguing with Hermione over dinner about the finer points of a law Harry didn’t even understand. Harry bolted his food down and then went to sit outside and drink with Dean and Seamus, and counted himself as having done well for having avoided her, except that after a while she followed him out.

“Hello, Potter,” she said, and Harry stared at her.

“What do you want?”

“I’m catching up,” she said, “I’m being polite. What have you been doing this summer?”

“Nothing,” Harry said reluctantly. “What have you been doing?”

“Working. We can’t all be layabouts.”

“Yeah,” Harry said. “You and Draco, you’re both pillars of society. The world would crumble without you.”

Pansy raised her eyebrows. “You’ve been seeing Draco, then.”

Harry’s stomach felt weird, twisting and defeated. “I’m sure you know I haven’t.”

“Actually,” Pansy said, “he’s become remarkably close-mouthed. It’s very annoying for me, I’m sure you can imagine.”

Harry folded his arms over his chest. “What a hard life you lead, Parkinson. Sorry I can’t help more, but he dumped me, so. I haven’t been having lots of great talks with him since.”

Dean and Seamus started up a bright conversation a few metres away, cheerfully pretending they weren’t listening.

“I always thought you were an idiot, Potter,” Pansy said, turning on her heel, “and it’s good to be proved right.”

“Wait,” Harry said, standing up. “What are you - why don’t you just tell me whatever it is you want? Instead of lounging around dropping hints all the time?”

Pansy didn’t say anything, mouth tight.

“Yeah, see,” Harry said, and knuckled at his eyes. “Look, I - I can’t do anything. He seems fairly over me, anyway, so, you know--”

“Potter,” Pansy said, very quickly, “you never asked me who Draco had a crush on in 5th year.”

“What?”

“I’m just saying. You never asked.”

It took Harry a moment to remember. “What - I thought it was a teacher.”

“Yes,” Pansy said. “He recovered quite well, didn’t he?”

She turned on her heel and rattled up the steps.

-

Harry went to tea with Monster and Hagrid.

“Well, ’s good ter see yeh, anyway, Harry,” Hagrid said, leaning against the wooden fence while Harry stood and talked to Monster, feeding her sardines. She seemed warier of him than normal. Harry rubbed her head, and she peered down at him, those strange pale eyes glowing in the oncoming dusk. It was getting darker earlier again. The summer was dying around them.

Harry was glad. He wanted to be back at school. He felt tired all the time, and lonely.

“She doesn’ let me get too close, most days,” Hagrid told him. “Yeh’re good fer her. Doesn’ do, a creature that lon’ly all the time. S’hard ter watch.”

“I would have thought she’d love you,” Harry said. He stroked her neck. She made a strange noise. “She’s normally all right with people, once she realises they’re feeding her and not going to hurt her. I suppose the Ministry messed her up a bit.”

“Aye, they did that,” Hagrid said. He sighed heavily. “But - it was a good thing that Malfoy boy did. Lookin’ after ‘er and all. But he doesn’ come by much these days.”

Harry made a face, furious and defensive at once. “He works a lot, I think. But he’s also - I don’t know, he’s got some thing about Hogwarts.”

“Lotsa kids do,” Hagrid said knowledgably. “McGonagall’s offerin’ counsellin’ sessions this term, did y’know? Lots of the little ‘uns are rarin’ to come back, but the older ones - the sixteen year olds, y’know, the ones who saw what happened, the ones who understood. She’s been out visitin’ them and their families, tryin’ to convince them that it’s safe now. But it’s awful hard to come back somewhere yeh thought yeh were gonna die.”

Harry kept his hand on Monster’s neck, soothing while she gobbled down the fish. He didn’t turn. The weight of the Forbidden Forest’s shadow hung heavy over him.

“Doesn’t mean you shouldn’t,” Harry said.

“Course,” Hagrid said comfortably. “Well, tha’s what she’s tellin’ em, anyway.”

“Yeah,” Harry said. “Good for her.” He stroked Monster’s neck. “Monster’ll get used to you.”

“I know,” Hagrid said. “She’s a beauty. I’m glad to ‘ave ‘er. And he did a good thing, lookin’ aft’r her. I think she’d be dead otherwise, or worse. Still, it’s a hard thing ter do, make somethin’ love you an’ turn it away.”

-

“Maybe we should just sell this place,” Harry said, storming down the hall. “Sell it and get ourselves something nice - another big place, maybe somewhere in the country - this place is fucking cursed--” and a House Elf head fell down off the wall, narrowly missing him, as if to prove his point.

Harry turned around and it burst into flame.

“All right, mate,” Ron said, making a nervous face over Harry’s shoulder at Hermione that Harry clearly wasn’t meant to see. “It’s been a bit temperemental for the past few weeks but that’s not - I really think it was settling down before, maybe it just doesn’t like summer.”

“It was settling down because of him,” Harry said, furious, “it was him, it just likes fucking Pureblood bastards, that’s all this house wants, listen to it shaking--”

“Harry,” Hermione said. “I think that’s you.”

Harry stood very still and drew in a breath, and the house quietened down around him. He looked out the window. He closed his eyes.

-

His birthday happened in there somewhere. Harry went out with his friends and got very drunk and had a wonderful time. He got some excellent presents. He told them that no, he didn’t really feel like a cake.

-

It was a wet August, dreary and humid. Harry spent most of it slouching around and feeling sorry for himself. He went with Ron and Hermione to Diagon Alley to get their supplies for school, which sent Hermione into fits of excitement and Ron into fits of misery (“Do you realise we signed up for more homework? Voluntarily, Harry! Why did this seem like a good idea? Let’s go find some more horcruxes again, instead”). Harry couldn’t work up much of a feeling about it at all. He kept looking at the corner that would lead him around and into Knockturn Alley, but he didn’t think it was much of a good idea.

Pansy Parkinson could talk all she wanted, but Draco had been pretty clear. The whole thing still felt vaguely impossible, anyway. The idea of them managing something real, something true, some sort of relationship was like a fever dream conjured out of Lucius’s death and the worry about Monster and Harry’s inability to just let things go. What Harry really wanted, suddenly, was to go back to April: those early spring days, the two of them out in Wales, alone with the dragon. He wanted to go back there and pull Draco into his lap and hide them away, untouched, where Draco couldn’t get frightened, where Harry wouldn’t get angry.

He was pretty sure, thinking about it, that he’d spent a lot of that April angry and Draco had spent a lot of it frightened. But it felt easier to deal with: less complicated, less messy, less about the queer ache he carried around all day.

He didn’t go down Knockturn Alley. He went with Hermione and Ron to Florean Foretscue’s instead, and sat in the window, and didn’t sulk.

A few nights later Professor McGonagall came around for tea again, which always made Harry feel faintly nervous, like he was thirteen again. McGonagall had long, in depth conversations with Hermione about career paths and slipped up fairly frequently by calling Harry by his first name, but she still felt like the terrifying Head of Gryffindor, about to dock points any minute.

He loved her, though, secretly and a little embarrassedly. It was stupid, to love a teacher, but every time he saw her grim face as she looked around their dirty kitchen he was relieved that she’d survived. He couldn’t think of any other person who could sit in Dumbledore’s office.

“Mr Potter,” she said that night, “I’m going to ask you another favour. Or the same favour, really.”

“What’s that?”

“I’m not sure if you know, but the Great Hall is still fairly unstable,” she said. “It was hit worst in the battle and it’s proving the most difficult to repair. I am certain we will get there - perhaps even within the next year or so - but it’s delicate work and in any case, we want to open the school up to students. We’ve created a couple of makeshift dining halls for use throughout the year but it will be impossible to fit the whole school in one.”

Harry raised his eyebrows. “I’m still not entirely sure what you’re asking me to do, Professor.”

“You’ve gotten very forthcoming, Harry,” McGonagall said severely. “I think you’ve become rather too used to bossing around the Ministry. Shut up and listen to me.”

Harry’s mouth twitched. “Yes, Professor. Sorry.”

“That’s all very well and good for the year, but we’ve decided it would be nice to have the whole school together at least for the first night,” she continued. “And for the Sorting Ceremony. So Flitwick and I have been working on creating a nice little outdoor setting, out the front of the castle, near the bridge. We’ll have some tables and some weather protection charms and we’ve decided to invite parents along, for the first night, if they wish to come. Quite a lot of families are still feeling a bit - clingy. We think it would be nice. The parents can come along for the Sorting and the dinner and we’ll have a nice little welcome for them.”

Harry was uneasy. “What sort of welcome?”

“Nothing too frightening, Mr Potter, don’t grimace at me. I’ll say a few words. And, if you’d like, you could say a few words, too.”

Harry rubbed the back of his neck. “Professor--”

“Not to mark the end of the war, Harry,” McGonagall said, voice soft. “Not even to remember anyone’s death. Just to welcome you, and your classmates, back to school.”

“I’ll.” Harry let out a breath. “I’ll think about it.”

“Thank you, Mr Potter,” McGonagall said. “That’s all I ask.”

Harry did think about it, late at night. He didn’t want to make speeches, he didn’t want to be famous, he’d never wanted any of it. But he thought about Draco by the lake, his eyes closed, the hot still air of what Harry had thought was the beginning of a promising summer: Nothing is better or worse. Every day is terrible.

He’d been wrong, Harry thought. Draco was wrong about a lot of things, but that was one of them, one of the big ones. Harry was going to tell everyone so.

He wrote back to McGonagall: Yes, I’ll do it, and she wrote back: I’m delighted. Perhaps a little less swearing than usual, Mr Potter.

-

For reasons known only to herself, Pansy Parkinson decided to show up on the 31st of August to have dinner with them and, apparently, lord it over them that she personally didn’t have to go to any stupid old school for the next year.

“You’re an intern, Pansy,” Ron said, laughing. Harry really wasn’t sure when Ron had started getting on with Pansy. It was somehow even more disturbing than Ginny. The next thing she’d be wearing one of Mrs Weasley’s jumpers. “Forgive us if we don’t envy your glamorous lifestyle too much.”

“I’m getting there,” Pansy said, helping herself to Harry’s glass of red. He stared at her incredulously. She smiled politely back. “Another couple of months and I’ll have my boss completely helpless without me. Then I’ll leave. Then I’ll come back on the promise that she’ll give me a promotion.”

“That’s quite manipulative of you,” Ginny said, sounding interested, and Pansy smiled, showing all her teeth.

“It’s okay,” she said. “My boss quite likes being manipulated.”

“Oh ho ho,” Seamus said, who now seemed to think of Pansy’s attempt to kidnap him as some hilarious prank.

“I’m looking forward to going back,” Dean said, adding to Seamus, “Going to be weird with you, though. Are you sure you don’t want to repeat?”

“I don’t know,” Seamus said. “It would be nice to do seventh year without worrying about being tortured. But also - exams.”

“Don’t worry,” Ginny said, smiling slyly at Dean. “I’ll keep you company.”

Lavender shook her head. “It feels like cheating, to go back,” she said, in the same quiet voice that always gave Harry a shock when he heard her speak now. “It feels like forgetting what happened. What we did, what we made it through.” She shrugged. “Also the exams thing.”

“Did you know our year got the worst NEWTS results ever?” Pansy put in. “Well, worst median score, but also best pass rate. Go team trauma!”

She pumped her first. Several people joined in, including Neville. Harry didn’t understand what had happened to the Gryffindors.

“You weren’t traumatised,” he told Pansy. “Far as I remember you were on the side of all the torturers.”

“Oh, Harry,” Neville said, and rolled his eyes. “Come on. At least pretend to be consistent.”

“What,” Harry said, annoyed.

“It’s okay,” Pansy said, grinning meanly. “I know all about Potter’s pitfalls.”

“Shut up,” Harry told her, and Pansy laughed and changed the subject.

The worst of it all was that if Harry was honest, he could tell why the Weasleys liked her. It was the same reason Draco had liked her: she was smart and mean and quick, and she had a streak of sarcasm that always made people do a double take. She was funny. Even Harry had to bite his cheek to keep from laughing at her jokes sometimes. But Harry liked her best as part of a pair, with Draco in their weird best friend vaudeville double act playing dumb tunes on the piano and blithely sharing each other’s secrets.

He excused himself after dinner, said he was going to get an early night, and went upstairs to sit on the top step outside the attic room, not quite ready for bed yet. His hands twitched in his lap. He missed Monster. He missed Hedwig.

A creak on the stairs made him look up, and he made an annoyed face at Pansy putting her head around the stairs cautiously.

“What,” he said, and she said, “Don’t take that tone with me. I grew up in Slytherin, I know how to handle tantrums.”

“Fine,” Harry said, and Pansy sat down on the step below him.

“What’s the school going to do about the bloody dragon?” she asked. “Honestly, do you think they have a clause? Must be at least one thing that can kill students at all times?”

Harry bit his cheek again. “Monster’s fine,” he said. “Hagrid’s looking after her. She’s going to be out of bounds.”

“Ah yes, that always worked well in the past, as I recall,” Pansy said, and laughed. “Don’t glare at me, Potter. I know it’ll be fine. I’m making pleasant conversation with you.”

“I wish you wouldn’t.”

“You’re very grumpy,” she said. “I can see why you and Draco get on. He’s very grumpy, too.”

Harry stiffened. “Don’t,” he said. “Look, just - don’t.”

“I just wanted you to know,” Pansy started, and then stopped. She huffed out a breath, looking pissed off. “Look. I wanted to apologise. For everything, after - after I first found out. I think I reacted too quickly. It’s just that you’re a very annoying person, Potter. But I’m sorry if I - made things worse, for you two.”

Harry laughed incredulously. “Who’s the arrogant one now?”

Pansy shrugged, and Harry turned his face away.

“Whatever,” he said. “I think he can make things worse all on his own.”

“He’s stubborn,” she said. “And he’s been frightened for a long time. A really, really long time. You don’t get it, Potter, everyone in the world knows how brave you are--”

“Being brave doesn’t mean you’re not scared,” Harry said, voice strained. “I wish you two would stop acting like the fact that he hasn’t been brave means he doesn’t ever have to. It’s not a Gryffindor badge that they just give you and then it’s easy! It’s - it’s--”

“I know,” Pansy said.

“I miss him,” Harry said, and then doubled over, horrified, hiding his face. His voice had cracked. After a moment, he felt a light touch to his hair. He shuddered. “Don’t. Don’t.”

“Okay,” Pansy said. “All right, Potter. I’m leaving now. I’m sorry.”

Harry stayed where he was, hunched with his face buried against his knees, long after her footsteps trailed away.

-

The Hogwarts Express had been freshly repainted: it fairly gleamed at Platform Nine and Three Quarters.

Despite himself, Harry’s heart lifted at the sight. No Hedwig to put on the train, and the platform looked emptier than usual, the smallest school year in decades to return, but it was still Hogwarts, the beginning of the return home. Harry leaned back against the wall.

“All right, mate?” Ron asked, grinning at him, and Harry nodded.

“Yeah,” he said. “I’m ready.”

Harry thought it was rather a good idea of McGonagall’s to invite the parents along. Though not all of them were coming, it was enough that it filled out the Express, and they sat up one end of the carriage talking while students ran riot up and down the aisles. Harry, Ron, Hermione, Ginny, Luna, and Dean found a carriage for themselves, and sat looking at each other in silence for a few moments while outside two fifth years had a rather passionate reunion.

“All right, then,” Ginny said, “no one cry,” and Dean laughed and slung a comfortable arm around her shoulders and Luna started reading to them from the latest edition of the Quibbler. Harry leaned against the window and watched the countryside whir by, the familiar flat green fields giving way to the slow rising land, outcrops of hills, ragged forests spreading their way beneath the train.

He’d looked, on the platform. He hadn’t meant to but he had anyway, craning his neck at every flash of blond hair, startled and annoyed every time it turned out, inevitably, not to be him. But it was okay, now. He was on the train.

Maybe in a few months, when he felt less painfully rejected, he’d try and write to Draco. He could send him some photos of Monster. Or maybe in a few months Draco wouldn’t feel like anything at all; a fleeting memory, a weird couple of weeks. Very probably Harry wasn’t - what this felt like. He’d thought he’d been in love with Ginny; he’d been wrong then.

“Harry,” Hermione said, and Harry looked back at her.

Hermione reached out her hand. He took it.

“Okay,” she said, and went back to napping with her head on Ron’s shoulder.

Everything was close enough to the same to make Harry’s chest feel tight, and he saw students crying on the platform as they climbed out in the dark. The thestrals were waiting: this time, nearly everyone could see them, and some students screamed but others came forward, curious, and Harry saw Luna teaching a bunch of fourth years the way they liked their ragged manes stroked. Harry waited to spot Hagrid and wave to him before he got into his own carriage, the four of them sleepily chatting as they made their ragged, rocking way up towards the school.

Harry had been imagining some strange, dark picnic from what McGonagall had told him, but as they crossed the bridge he startled, half hanging out the side of the carriage to better see, and Ron said, “Blimey.”

The castle was lit up, hundreds and thousands of fairy lights around long tables, and a warming charm that made it feel, more than anything, like the end of a long summer evening with the pink of sunrise still lingering in the sky. House banners hung from the stone walls above the entranceway, and there were the four house tables and the great table at the front, just the same as always, only now there was another table at the back for parents; Peeves was currently swooshing through it and making faces, shrieking, “I can see right through that Hair-Gro-Glow, sir!”

“Gosh,” Hermione said, looking pleased, “they’ve really outdone themselves, haven’t they,” and they went to reserve places at the Gryffindor table, throwing their cloaks down on the spots. It was too warm to wear them.

McGonagall came bearing down on them, looking a bit like a harried bat in her enormous robes and hat, and Harry said cheerfully, “Hello Professor! I decided I was going to talk about how important it is to blow off classes in order to celebrate being alive, is that okay?”

“Mr Potter, I don’t know who has been flattering you about your wit but rest assured they are merely trying to impress a so-called hero of the wizarding world,” McGonagall said, with an annoyed look at Ron, currently laughing helplessly and holding himself up against the table. “Meanwhile, you are distracting the first years, if I could ask you to just stand over here while everyone’s getting settled--”

And she herded them away from the tables, flapping her hands, until the three of them were standing just behind the parents’ table, tucked half out of sight, or at least not taking space up at the Gryffindor table.

“Well, Harry,” Hermione said. She smiled at him, a little tremulously. “Do you know what you’re going to say?”

“I’ll work something out,” he said. He had a vague idea. He’d tried writing something down, but it kept coming out depressing. He was sure it would be all right.

“One more year, huh,” Ron said, looking over at the castle. “You ready?”

“I think so,” Harry said. “How hard can it be?”

“Harry,” Hermione said.

“We know, Hermione,” Ron said, putting his arm around her and hugging her close affectionately. “Lots of hard work. Piles and piles of homework, Harry, you’ll hardly have the time to be sad--”

“I’m not sad!”

“Of course not, how could you be, with this much homework,” Ron said solemnly. “And when you do need to pine you can go out and do it with that bloody great dragon.”

McGongagall said, “Good evening, students, teachers, parents, friends.” She paused and then said, briskly and only a little huskily, “I must say, it’s very nice to see you all back here at last.”

“I’m not pining, either,” Harry whispered. “Pining for who, anyway? Malfoy? I’ve had more than enough of Malfoys, honestly--”

Harry,” Hermione repeated, a little impatient, and Harry turned to her and realised for the first time that Hermione wasn’t looking up at the castle with him and Ron; she wasn’t looking at McGonagall, either, standing up the front and welcoming everyone. She was looking back, back towards the bridge, where the light from the makeshift tents outside reflected off the lake and up, the whole night blue and pink and pretty. But she wasn’t looking at the lights, either.

Draco Malfoy and his mother were walking over the bridge.

The world shifted again, quietly falling away and then building itself back up around Harry. Harry stood still, frozen; behind him McGonagall was saying his name but he’d turned his back on the castle and on everyone waiting at their long tables, and even Ron and Hermione had fallen back behind him, so that it was just Draco there, coming towards him.

Narcissa looked almost bored, as though she did this every day, but Draco’s face was peaked and nervous, and as he drew closer Harry could see his eyes darting around, the white knuckled grip he had on his own wand. There were whispers behind Harry, the first terrible murmurs of people catching sight of the Malfoys. Harry took a step forward.

Draco’s foot hit solid ground, and he looked suddenly very young, and very frightened. He turned to look back over his shoulder.

Everything left Harry’s head in a rush and he half flew to Draco, except that Draco took the last stumbling step forward and they reached for each other at the same time.

Harry pressed his face against Draco’s neck and Draco clutched at him, so hard it hurt, almost desperate, his hands fisted in the back of Harry’s robes. Harry ran his hands up Draco’s side, over his neck, his hair, and said, “Oh, thank God. Thank God.”

“All right, Potter?” Draco said.

“Yes,” Harry said. He nipped at Draco’s neck and Draco squawked and hit the back of his head. Harry laughed, lifted his head enough that he could see Draco’s face. Draco still looked terrified. Harry didn’t mind, this time.

“You’re making a scene,” Draco told him.

“You can talk,” Harry said. “For someone who didn’t want to come back to school, you made a hell of an entrance.”

“How d’you know I’ve come back to school?” Draco said. “I heard you were making a speech. Obviously since I’m such a Potter fan I thought, well, this can’t be missed--”

But Harry clenched his hands in Draco’s robes, shook him lightly. “You are,” he said. “Right? You are. Draco.”

“All right, calm down,” Draco said, though he looked pleased. His eyes were all bright and shiny again. Harry couldn’t believe what an awful liar Draco was. He couldn’t believe he’d been tricked. “Yes. Obviously. I missed the damn train and we had to walk past the Apparation border--”

“Idiot,” Harry said, and cupped Draco’s face in his hand, looking up at him. Draco stared back at him, all hazy. “What - why did you change your mind?”

“Everyone kept yelling at me,” Draco said. He sounded distracted, gaze flickering down to Harry’s mouth. “And - and my dragon’s here.”

“Ah,” Harry said. “Your dragon. Yes.”

He drew in a breath, stroked his thumb over Draco’s cheek, catching the corner of his mouth. Draco’s chest hitched. Harry told him, “You look good. Really, really good.”

“You’re learning,” Draco said.

“Uhm,” Ron said. “Harry. Mate.”

“Right,” Harry said, and turned around, keeping one hand holding tight onto Draco’s robes. Quite a large proportion of the school was watching him. “Right, okay. That speech.”

“If you don’t mind, Mr Potter,” Professor McGonagall said, looking very pinched at the mouth indeed. “Mr Malfoy, you’re late, that’s five points from Slytherin. Mrs Malfoy, the parents table is there.”

“Thank you, Minerva,” Narcissa said, with perfect grace. She nodded meaningfully at Harry and went to sit down at the parents table. Several people shuffled away from her. She didn’t appear to notice.

“Five points,” Draco began, looking outraged. “School hasn’t even started yet! That’s favouritism, that’d never happen to a Gryff--”

“Sit down,” Harry said, giving him a little shove. “Shut up. I’ll come find you in a minute.”

“Don’t want to miss your speech,” Draco muttered, as he stalked off to his seat. “Probably get fifty points for making such a wonderful speech, even though you can’t string two words together, Merlin, this year’s going to be awful--”

Harry was fully aware that he had probably a demented beam as he went up to take McGonagall’s place at the podium. He tried clearing his expression, but wasn’t sure how well it had worked. Ginny was in hysterics, hanging onto Dean’s shoulder to keep from laughing so hard she fell off the bench. Seamus and Neville had identical expressions of tragic resignation. Luna gave him a thumbs up.

Ron and Hermione were smiling at him.

The Slytherin table was very empty this year. Of all the houses, the fewest students had returned to Slytherin. Draco sat alone at the end of the table, with those who remained in Slytherin whispering and darting uneasy glances at him. At the parents table, too, a wide berth had formed around Narcissa. Narcissa looked as though she hadn’t noticed it all. Draco looked as though he could notice almost nothing else.

Almost nothing else -- when Harry stared, Draco looked up and met his gaze. He nodded once, curtly, but his cheeks had gone pink again.

Harry leaned into the voice magnification spell. “Hi,” he said, “sorry,” and there was an appreciative laugh around the room. Across the grounds, he could almost feel the presence of Monster, something wild here nestled in the safe circle of Hogwarts.

Harry rubbed a hand through his hair, making it, probably, worse than ever. His heart was hammering hard in his chest. He said, “Narcissa Malfoy is a war hero.”