Actions

Work Header

Stain of Silence

Work Text:

It's silent in the cave, everything muffled by dampness and decay until a commotion stirs, far away at first, and coming closer. Draco is too frightened already to dread the sounds as they near. Of course it's Potter who finds him, sees the tear-tracks streaked through the dirt on his face and the way he clutches at his dead mother's hand, limp and heavy, her skin already grey. He does not know how long he has been there in that cave with her, only that it has been more than long enough for her to bleed to death, and for himself to become so weak with hunger and fear that even the sight of Potter's face draws nothing from him but a weak stab of something that is more shame than resentment.

Potter takes one look at him, his features twisting into something unrecognisable for an instant, then smoothing out into an expressionless mask. Draco has just enough curiosity left in him to wonder what about Potter has changed in the nearly eighteen months since they last saw each other. The Potter Draco knew was never unreadable; this one merely purses his lips and turns around, calling for Kingsley Shacklebolt.

Draco forgets all about Potter, though, when he feels his arms drawn together and metal cuffs materialising on his wrists. Two Aurors take hold of him and he is Apparated to the Ministry. Within two hours he finds himself deposited in a cell in Azkaban, and only then can he muster some kind of resentment – but only for the fact that the war has robbed him of anything he could feel as the bars close in on him other than a profound sense of relief.

*

His only visitor is the guard who delivers food that he has no desire to eat. Draco reads the continued absence of the Dementors as an indication that the war has not ended. A small part of him is grateful that no one seems to remember him, and the days bleed together within the sound-proofed stone walls of his cell. Silence, again. Aside from the forced exercise, Draco spends his time lying on his hard bed, facing the wall and willing his memories to fade enough to make the silence peaceful.

It is after his first night of a sleep uninterrupted by nightmares that Potter comes to visit him. The sound of two sets of footsteps instead of one is enough to make him turn his head, and he hears Potter say, "No, it's alright, just leave us."

Draco turns back to the wall.

*

"Are you eating? You look the same as you did when I found you."

Draco manages to roll his eyes at the wall, but remains silent.

"Your trial is coming up. Have they told you?" The chair creaks; Potter must be leaning forward. "Malfoy?"

Draco wills his voice to work. He wants to snap at Potter, ask him why he is here, why he feels the need to gloat like this, what he wants, but it's as if a vise has closed around his throat, and no sound comes.

"I want to help you."

Has Potter become a Legilimens?

"They've cremated your mother. I'm sorry, Malfoy." Potter sighs. "They want to give you the Kiss."

Draco wonders how that would be accomplished with no Dementors around.

"Scrimgeour thinks the Dementors will be rounded up and brought back to the side of Light."

In spite of himself, Draco feels a small spark of interest at the sarcastic tone of Harry's words.

"Fucking Ministry." There is a shuffling sound, and Potter's voice now seems to be turned away from him. "I want you to know that this wasn't my idea. Hermione made me come. I told them what happened. On the Tower that night. She thinks...well, you probably don't care what a Mudblood thinks, do you?" And there is a bit of the old venom in his voice.

He clears his throat. "Anyway. I've thought about it a lot. I'll testify. But you have to tell me you want it."

Anger, hot and sudden, surges through Draco, and he pushes himself up off the bed and turns around.

"You want me to beg, is that it?" His voice is hoarse and unwieldy. "You want me to be grateful to you and Granger, grateful that my mother is dead, that my home is destroyed, that the only thing to be gained from avoiding a Dementor's Kiss is a world full of you and your deluded heroics, and I get by because people know I'm too scared to actually do anything to them. You're a twat, Potter, and you are mistaken—" Oh, his voice is shaking! "—you are mistaken if you believe that I will ever stop regretting that I didn't give that pathetic old man what he deserved 'on the Tower that night.'"

Potter looks shocked for a moment before anger descends onto his features, and Draco watches the familiar transformation with a sense of satisfaction. It is short-lived, however, as Potter seems to rein in his temper, albeit with difficulty.

"I'm going to come back tomorrow," he grinds out, "when I don't feel like strangling you."

Exeunt Potter, Draco thinks, and turns back to the wall, trying not to feel like Potter is, indeed, giving him something of his old life back.

*

Potter doesn't come back, not for another two weeks. Draco blames Potter for the fact that he isn't even crying for his dead parents anymore, at least not three times a day, and tries to avoid the unpleasant realisation that, with one visit, Potter has ensured his place as anchor in Draco's world. He starts to count time "since Potter visited" rather than "since mum died" or "since I was arrested." He wakes every morning with the involuntary hope that he would visit, if only to interrupt the unsettling silence of his cell.

He curses Potter for somehow managing to awaken him from his acquiescent stupor. He could have faced the Kiss, if not with indifference, at least without fear; despair had been enough to squelch that. Potter has inexplicably lessened the despair, and now he can only look upon the prospect of his trial with dread.

He realizes that he isn't ready to die.

And then one day, as he sits rocking nervously on his bed, he hears the scraping of the door opening, and Potter shuffles in. He looks very tired and more rumpled than usual, his glasses failing to hide the dark smudges around his eyes, frown lines etched around his mouth. He looks vaguely surprised that Draco is sitting up.

"You're up," Potter says stupidly.

"Well spotted," Draco replies, his voice sullen.

"You're to appear before the Wizengamot next week."

"You look like shit, Potter."

"Well spotted," Potter echoes sourly. "Hermione's written a short speech for me to give—"

"And in return, I have to stop calling her Mu—"

"Kingsley thinks you have a good chance of getting off," Potter continues loudly. "On condition, of course."

Draco feels the slight adrenaline rush that had coursed through him when Potter came in begin to wane.

"He thinks you need to be under surveillance. They all do."

"If you mean house arrest," Draco says coldly, "it cannot have escaped the notice of the Side of Light that I have no home in which to be arrested, since they're the ones who seized it." His nervous energy drains out of him; he turns away from Potter.

"Er. Er. No, that's not what I meant," Potter says, reddening slightly. Draco almost smiles at the wall in front of him; is Potter feeling apologetic?

He continues. "They've sort of settled that, well, maybe if I were allowed to keep an eye on you—only temporarily, of course."

"Why you? You're an expert at keeping an eye on me already, is that it?"

"Well—well, they think that, I mean, only because this week—even though Ginny thinks—I'm the only one—that is to say, I killed Voldemort," Potter finishes in a rush.

Draco sits bolt upright. He realizes that he has to look up at Potter's face from where he is sitting on the bed. Potter looks uncomfortable.

"He's dead?" he croaks, his voice almost a whisper.

Potter simply nods, pursing his lips. Then he opens his mouth as if to speak, finally managing a harsh, "And I won't say I'm sorry, just because of your father, because it's the thing to say."

"Is my—is Lucius dead too?"

"Yeah."

"So—you killed Voldemort, and my father, hence you're the most qualified to watch me?"

"Well, there's that, and…"

"And what?"

"And no one else is willing to," Potter says, almost defiantly, as if he were a small child determined to say a bad word, even though he had been forbidden from so doing.

Draco feels himself smile; it seems the only thing to do, but he can feel a lump forming in his throat that twists the corners of his mouth and forces him to bark out, "Why are you willing? What changed? Or is everyone hoping I'll end up sliced to ribbons like last time, drowning in my own blood?"

Potter looks as if he has been slapped. "About that—I'm really sorry, Malfoy. I didn't mean to, I didn't know—"

There is something in Draco that wants to forgive Potter, and another that wants to rip him to shreds. "It's no use, looking like that. I don't—You're the one—I was already so tired, and it wasn't any use—I don't regret trying to Crucio you—You almost killed me!" He is breathing hard; does Potter have to keep staring at him, eyes blinking in that inane way? Oh, it had all been for nothing! His parents are both dead.

Draco drops his head, and his fingers play with the coarse blanket on the bed. "Maybe," he says, and he almost chokes on his own voice, "Maybe it would have been better if you had. Killed me. That day."

He looks up. Potter is obviously at a loss; he seems to be making up his mind about something, and it would be amusing to Draco, to watch Potter get up the courage to say what he wants to say, if he weren't preoccupied with trying not to give in to the heaving in his chest; the sobs are pulling at his throat, he has to resist them.

"Look here, Malfoy," Potter's voice is too loud, "I—it wasn't just Hermione. I mean, she's not the only reason I came. And it's not just because you didn't—didn't kill Dumbledore," he says in a rush. "First I came because, well, when I saw you, in the cave that day, I knew. What it must have been like. If I had had parents, I—I probably would have done the same. I know I would have," and his voice grows firmer on the last words.

"Saint Potter," Draco murmurs automatically, but the words are hollow.

"Mostly, it's because of the way you were holding her hand. It was slimy and disgusting, and you wouldn't let go."

It is a losing battle; his breathing hitches and he can't stop the sound he makes.

Potter looks alarmed. "Malfoy?"

"It's alright for you—to stand there—and talk about how her hand—But—she's my mother—Oh god, I hate this, I hate you, go away—"

"Malfoy—"

Potter takes a hesitant step toward him, but Draco has to stop him, or he really truly won't have anything left, and then he realizes, suddenly, that he still feels like he possesses some dignity in Potter's eyes, and how was that possible, after all that has happened?

But it is too late: the sobs came, gigantic, wracking coughs that rip at his throat, different from all the other times. In the Prefect's bathroom where Potter found him, he had cried like a child, helpless; in the cave, the tears had come quietly; those first days in the cell they had come with something like finality; now they are desperate, heaving things, and they can't be stopped.

Potter stares at him, and he takes another step, his hand coming forward slowly—

But it drops, and then he says, gruffly, "I'm sorry, Malfoy. I'll come back tomorrow."

Draco turns away and squeezes his eyes shut.

*

Potter keeps his word, this time, and arrives looking much the same as he had the day before; he is probably wearing the same shirt. Draco has composed himself and is determined not to repeat the events of the day before.

"Malfoy."

"Potter."

"So. You alright?"

"No, I'm not alright."

Potter sighs and drops into the wooden chair. "Look, I'm sorry I made you cry yesterday—"

"It wasn't you, you arse," Draco says coldly.

"Right." Potter shifts in the chair, apparently unable to sit in silence without fidgeting.

As he scuffs the floor with his shoe for the fourth time, Draco decides to intervene.

"So. You're to keep watch over me."

Potter sits up a bit straighter. "Well," he says, scrubbing at his hair so that it sticks straight up on top, "Yeah."

"I am compelled to inquire as to how this is to be accomplished."

"You'd be at Grimmauld Place."

The name sounds vaguely familiar. "What's Grimmauld Place?"

"A house," Potter says flatly. "My house, I mean."

"Well! I am honoured, certainly—"

"And you have to work," Potter interrupts, with emphasis.

Shock keeps Draco silent.

"We have to get it ready, it's a pile of rot right now." He pauses. "You would be paid, of course."

"What are you saying?" Draco asks finally, after he has found his voice. "That I'm to do manual labour? Like – like a builder?"

"I wouldn't trust you with anything like that," Potter says dampingly. "No, I was thinking more along the lines of cleaning."

Draco knows the answer to his question before he even asks it. "Without—without my wand, I assume."

Potter looks at him as if he were crazy. "Do you know any paroled wizards with wands?"

"So – you. You want to get me out of here to be – to be your house elf?"

Potter glowers at him. "You can look at it any way you want. The fact is, they're willing to let you out on the condition that you work for me, or you can stay in here and rot like your mum did, I don't care."

Draco's vision blurs. He turns back around, moving blindly back toward his bed, and he sinks down on it, curling up. What a choice.

There is a sigh behind him. "Malfoy. I'm – I'm sorry, I shouldn't have said that about your mum."

Draco waits until he can trust his voice not to waver. "Your mum is dead too. At least I knew mine, and I don't need some freakish scar to know that she loved me."

The silence is deafening, and then it is broken by a strange sound, like a snort and a cough. "It's nice to know you haven't changed," Potter says, and his voice is raw, but Draco can hear the laugh in it.

He doesn't turn around, but for the first time since he'd heard his mother's last rasping breath, he thinks that maybe things will be alright. Maybe. In twenty years. Or forty.

"I'll let you think about it. Anyway, it won't be so bad. Nothing you're used to, I'm sure, but you'll have your own room and everything." Servants' quarters, probably, Draco thinks. "I'm sure there's lots about that house that you would understand, because I don't. And I'll be doing a lot of the same work right alongside you."

"Well if that isn't an incentive, I don't know what is," Draco says sarcastically, but his voice is weak.

"Just think about it. I'll see you tomorrow."

He walks away, but Draco knows the decision has already been made. Everyone is a prisoner, after all, he reflects. But some cells have windows.

*

There is a small balcony off of Draco's third-floor bedroom that looks out onto the quiet, narrow yard behind Potter's home - Potter's house, it would be difficult to call this heap of decay any kind of home - and he sits there during every noon hour on an overturned bucket, the coarse material of his work robes making him itch everywhere. He often looks down at his hands and burns with resentment, or maybe despair. His hands remind him of what he used to be, what he could have been. He pointedly avoids the mirrors in Potter's mouldering old pile; they taunt him for his stringy hair, his sallow face and hollow cheeks, and there is no wand anymore to silence them. He can avoid his own face, but using his hands every minute of every day forces him to look. They have become dry and rough, reddened from cold and soap, nails cracked and palms splitting in strange ways along the creases. His knuckles look bigger, he observes, the space between them thinner – little knobs, then, through which his fingers connect the dots.

It was terrible, at first.

On Draco's first day, he had been appalled at the state of the house and the apparently endless duties Potter had laid out for him as they ate dinner together for the first time that night. The wage Potter was to pay him was generous, but Draco had never done this kind of work in his life, and the very notion was repugnant to him. Potter seemed to think the fact that they would be sharing a lot of the work made everything okay. Draco longed to disabuse him of the notion, but the memory of Azkaban was a bit too fresh, and he kept silent. After they'd eaten, Draco got up and awkwardly began trying to clear away the dishes, unsure of his place in the house, and Potter told him that Draco wasn't expected to clean up after him.

Nevertheless, Draco wanted to cry every night at the indignity he was suffering, he wanted to rage at Potter and curse him. A few weeks later, though, he read a terrible account in the Prophet of the fate of Alecto Carrow and Rodolphus Lestrange, who had been stripped of their magic and exiled. It's awful to have to be grateful to Potter, to be grateful when he's been reduced to a house elf, but there's something about being safe, at least, that makes the monotony of his days a rhythm rather than an unbearable punishment.

It's been almost six months since his trial – a trial he has almost no memory of, since he did not speak at all other than to give his name, and he did not want to hear what Potter was going to say. He does remember a few faces. Potter's had been blank and hard when he gave his testimony. Granger had sat near the back, looking as pious as anyone on the winning side of a war could be. She sat next to Ginny Weasley, whose face was so white her freckles stood out in sharp relief, her lips pursed in a thin line.

He has heard Potter fighting with Ginny about him many times. They always say the same thing.

"How can you trust him with that, Harry?"

"You don't even live here yet, so don't worry about it. Don't you think I can handle him? He doesn't even have a wand. They took it from him."

"I want him gone before I move in. I refuse to have our home occupied by—"

"Let's just wait and see, okay?"

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"It means what it means, alright? How many times do we have to have this conversation? ...I have to go—Ron said he needed help fixing their Floo. I don't understand why they don't just move in here, it's not like I don't have plenty of space. That flat should be condemned."

"Our place isn't much better, is it? Even with all your extra help," Ginny would shout at his back, her voice going a bit shrill.

Draco laughs softly to himself at their disparate possessive pronoun usage when it comes to the house, and how unsubtle Potter is at fobbing her off, and how Ginny is careful never to be alone with Draco, as if she is afraid for her virtue. (What virtue, Draco wants to ask. He snickers at that, and sometimes feels a pressing urge to tell her that she needn't flatter herself.) These small amusements are not quite enough, however, to make up for knowing that he has nowhere else to go.

But he can't help noticing that they never talk to each other, only at each other – or Ginny does most of the talking, and Potter does most of the walking away. Draco wonders what Potter gets out of it all, even after he walked in on them once and Potter had one hand down her blouse and one hand up her skirt. Draco had curled his lip in distaste even as Potter pushed her away and went very red. Draco doesn't remember what Ginny did – he left the room before she had a chance to start yelling at him.

There is the baby, though.

It turns out that when Potter said they were going to be getting his house ready, it was because he had just found out that Ginny was pregnant. An accident, he said, as Draco raised an eyebrow. We were just so relieved after everything, he said, and then got defensive and told Draco that it was none of his business.

"I couldn't care less, Potter. We all knew you'd be starting your own litter of weasels as soon as you could, since you never knew what it was like to have a family. Though a family of weasels isn't quite the same thing," he added reflectively. And Potter didn't run at him, or cuff him across his ear, or punch his face, he just looked bemused.

"Yeah, well, I don't want any child of mine growing up in dark, dusty rooms full of spiders." Potter's voice was vehement. Draco hasn't seen all that many spiders, but he supposes Potter has an irrational aversion to them.

So Draco scrubs and scrapes and mops and dusts and sweeps and polishes, all the Muggle way, while Harry uses magic to knock down walls and put shelves in and figure out how to unstick Mrs Black's portrait. Harry brings home a vacuum for Draco to use after he works out a magic/electricity adapter with Arthur Weasley, but it gets very hot after a while and starts to emit a nasty smell, and Potter comes running, telling Draco to turn it off.

"Stupid Muggle thing," Draco yells angrily over the racket it's making. He kicks at it, and dust particles explode out of it in a large cloud.

"You have to change the bag when it fills up, you idiot," Potter says angrily, after unplugging it.

"I don't have to do anything!" Draco shouts, momentarily forgetting himself. And then he braces himself for the inevitable reminder that he does, in fact, have to do everything Potter says.

Something must show on his face, because Potter's expression softens slightly. "I'm just trying to make things easier for you."

Draco just picks up the bucket of dirty water and the mop and stalks out of the room.

Potter also installs a modified Muggle dishwasher. He shows Draco how to load it and press the button that starts the cleaning charm; they're to take turns doing the washing up every day. It's Draco's turn the next day, and he fills it with the wrong kind of soap and comes into the kitchen an hour later to find it foaming, water and soap bubbles running down the front and pooling in a giant mess on the floor.

Then there was the time when the tap in the kitchen sink came off while he was using it, and it started spewing water in his face. And the time he was polishing what looked like a perfectly normal candelabra until it started lengthening and turned into a giant coiled snake in his hands. He'd screamed, and Potter had come running, and Draco was breathless even after Potter had stopped it from hissing and lunging by hissing a bit himself. And the time sewage began coming up out of the drain in one of the showers. And the time he was bitten by a swarm of doxies hiding in the curtains of an unused room and he didn't have any Doxycide with him. By the time Potter came home that day both his arms were swollen and painful, and Draco was feeling murderous. Even after the antidote, the bites itched for days afterward. And there was the time a fire started on the range when he was trying to cook (Draco! Cooking! Potter had been out and he'd been hungry) and pouring water on it had made it worse. When he'd finally managed to put it out, the kitchen had been covered in soot and the smell was godawful. Potter had looked a little grim when he saw the damage, but he merely pursed his lips and asked if Draco was alright. Then he healed Draco's burnt fingers and helped get rid of the smell.

Sometimes, when he's covered in filth and his arms hurt from scrubbing and the house looks as black and miserable as ever and the tracking bracelet on his arm feels too heavy even to lift, Draco thinks it might have been better to choose Azkaban and his lonely cell, despite the cold and the darkness and the eerie wailing of those who'd been driven mad by their years there. At night he lies in his bed, staring at the ceiling, and has elaborate fantasies of death. If he died, lying there, he pictures the way his eyes would stare, unseeing, until the sun rose and light poured into the room. And maybe Potter would come looking for him, and be angry that he was oversleeping, but would check at the door in shock when he saw Draco's still form in the bed. And maybe he would recoil, and a grimace would pass over his face, and he'd summon the Aurors, who would take his body to the morgue and do a cursory "investigation." And Draco would be cremated, like his mother, and be nothing more than a distasteful afterthought in the minds of those whose lives he failed to impact in any significant way.

But it's different during the day, when he goes to sit on his little balcony, and he looks at the sky, and feels the quiet, and thinks about what Potter will bring home for dinner, and the library in the back of the house from which he can choose a book to read before he goes to sleep. It's bearable. There is the loneliness, though, which must be why he catches himself smiling when he hears the door open and Potter's familiar step in the hall.

They've got a routine, now. After the fire incident, Potter taught Draco the basics of cooking and what the directions meant in the one Muggle cookbook (Meals in Minutes!) he owned. Draco has learnt how to make breakfast and he brings it to Potter in the study, where Potter spends each morning answering the mountain of correspondence that seems to get bigger, rather than smaller, every day. Draco sits down in the green armchair and always says something cutting about Potter's fan mail, and Potter glares at him and bites viciously into his toast, but he thanks Draco for the breakfast and they eat together, mostly in silence. Breakfast is usually broken up by the crack of Apparition that signals Ginny's arrival, and Draco leaves the study ("You don't need to flee every time you hear her coming," Potter says one day, and Draco says that he does not flee, and anyway it's weasels that have fleas, and so on), picks out his chosen weapons for the day out of the cleaning supplies, and makes his way upstairs to continue the crusade.

He avoids the lower rooms after the initial cleaning because they are Ginny Weasley's domain. Potter is letting Ginny decorate. She picks out wallpaper (so tacky, Draco thinks), curtains, and fills up the bedroom with furniture. She seems to love picking out and buying furniture, and soon three bedrooms are crammed and cluttered, including a nursery. She and Potter spend the mornings arguing about how to decorate, and Draco has seen Potter grudgingly help her hang lacy curtains and apply wallpaper with hideous floral patterns. Draco does his best to avoid what he calls these revolting nesting displays and climbs higher and higher in the house, working as quickly as he can to get away from their petty domestic squabbling.

His favourite thing is opening a door to a room (the house sometimes reveals new rooms to him, rooms he swears weren't there the day before; even Potter doesn't know how big the house really is) that looks as if it has been untouched for a hundred years. Sometimes they feel hostile, and sometimes they are just sad, but it is always fascinating to see, under the layers of dust and neglect, what seems to be a preserved slice of someone's life. He has found stiff crinoline petticoats that almost crumble under his fingers, pewter that has turned black with age, old photographs faded and made slow from the dust, clocks stopped at some long-forgotten hour, ivory combs that have swelled and cracked, magnificently embroidered pillows that have made nests for puffskeins. It's a beautiful decay, and Draco is loath to touch it. The moment he does, the beauty disappears, leaving only the decay behind.

Several times he's come upon boggarts. Draco had always had a vague idea that what he feared most would be the same throughout his life, and it surprised him that the boggarts showed him something different each time. Once it was Dumbledore looming tall and terrible before him, and he had to run out of the room, breathing hard. Another time it was his father calling him terrible names, spitting the venom with cool ease that made Draco want to shrivel up. And once it had been his mother's corpse, the eyes eaten out by maggots, her dead skin crawling with worms, and he began screaming, screamed himself hoarse as he stared at it, and finally, finally Potter came running into the room and banished it. From then on he told Draco not to open any cupboards or wardrobes or drawers unless he was home.

For lunch he is usually on his own, which means he doesn't eat anything. Potter goes out to run errands, get supplies, have lunch with his friends. Draco always sits on his balcony, at least for a few minutes, where he can let the open silence of the outside envelop him. If the cold makes his teeth chatter too much, he goes inside to sit in the armchair in his bedroom. Potter did give him a nice room. It was stripped down and scoured before he arrived, the walls whitewashed and the floor covered by a very large rug that, though not new, is not dirty or ugly. The walls remain plain – Draco finds he is not much for decorating, and thank god Ginny Weasley hasn't been allowed to put up some gaudy paper. He's got an old canopy bed, almost as big as the one he had at the Manor, and the armchair, and Potter even got him a desk. Of course, he has no studying to do, no letters to write or accounts to manage, but he leaves things on it – books and things he finds up in the abandoned rooms. It's his family, after all, and sometimes he'll find jewellery or letters or photographs that belonged to his ancestors. Potter doesn't seem to want any of it, and Draco has stopped asking permission to take things that will probably be thrown out or shut away in the attic. Sometimes Draco gets angry at how unfair it is that Potter owns what's left of his mother's family, that all of this has gone to someone who has no idea, no notion of what any of these things mean, but it makes his own work very careful, almost reverent.

The afternoon is spent in more cleaning – sometimes Potter and Ginny Weasley are also in the house working, and sometimes they aren't. Either way, the work always seems to go faster in the afternoon, and as the days go by he starts to look forward to evenings. When he first arrived, Potter would make sure he had something to eat and then go out with his friends, or with Ginny, and not come back until late, if at all. But as the weeks go by, he seems to spend less and less time out, and if he is out, he is always sure to tell Draco in the morning that he will be late coming in.

And then he usually hears a door slam, and Potter shouts, "Malfoy!" and Draco always takes his time coming down the stairs to the kitchen.

They eat in relative silence. Sometimes Potter asks him about his day, and what he's found, and even though Draco hates that every day he has to say the same thing, he'll inventory whatever strange things he's encountered, or had trouble with. Draco doesn't ask Potter about his day, but Potter doesn't seem to mind. When he's in a good mood – and Draco can tell the good moods, now, because the air around Potter doesn't crackle - he'll talk all on his own. But those are rare.

Ginny Weasley eats with them less and less. Draco is privately gleeful; he knows that she hates his pronounced sneer more than she wants to have dinner with Potter – and Potter never seems to be in a good mood anymore when she's around. He just gets more and more silent in her presence.

Potter used to take her out after dinner, but she is always tired now, because of the baby. Draco goes to the sitting room, which is the only one with a television. He turns it on without sound and opens a book. Sometimes Potter and Ginny join him, sometimes it's just Potter, and sometimes he is all alone. He tells himself he likes that best.

At 11 o'clock he shuts his book. If Potter is in the room, he switches off the television with a wave of his hand and follows Draco out of the room and up the stairs. Potter says "Goodnight, Malfoy" outside of Draco's bedroom. Draco nods briefly and goes in, shutting the door behind him, and Potter always watches it happen. At first Draco loved shutting the door in Potter's face, but now he does it quietly, almost gently, and waits until he hears Potter's footsteps moving away, down the hall toward his own bedroom.

He's usually very tired. His sleep is mostly dreamless, and it all begins again the next day.

*

Potter has been very quiet. He seems on edge; several times he has yelled at Draco for startling him. Draco catches Potter staring at him a lot more. He stared at Draco from a window as Draco was hanging sheets on the line in the yard, stared as Draco reached up to put some dishes away on the top shelf, stared from the doorway as Draco sat on the floor sorting through a mountain of old papers left in one of the studies. Sometimes when Draco meets his eye Potter looks away, and sometimes Draco says, "What do you want, Potter?" and Potter says, blandly, "Keep it up, Malfoy." On one particularly memorable afternoon, Draco is arranging his great-great grandfather Cygnus's collection of antique chess pieces, which have been collecting dust on a bookshelf. They come alive at his touch, and he has a devil of a time herding them and persuading them to sit in any kind of order. After telling off an immoral bishop for offending a queen with his suggestive leers, and banishing a belligerent knight to a box for trying to take one too many heads, he looks up to find Potter in the doorway watching, the hint of a smile pulling at one corner of his mouth.

Draco begins to wonder if maybe Potter suspects him of something and is keeping a closer eye on him now. Maybe Ginny Weasley's continued insinuations and accusations about his treachery and the lurking evil in him have finally taken too firm a hold for Potter to shrug off. But Potter should know better. Potter does know better.

Potter knows he's a coward.

Anyway, it doesn't make any sense. Ginny seems to know, now, that it's useless to argue with Potter about Draco, because Potter always changes the subject, or leaves the house, or even begins to raise his voice, which he almost never does otherwise (Draco knows he himself has changed since school, so he doesn't know why he finds it so odd that Potter has, too). Which is why it surprises Draco, one day, to hear her start another argument. From her first words, he knows this one will be different.

He's passing by the room on his way downstairs to the kitchen when he hears her say his name.

"...Malfoy. It's strange, that's all."

A long silence ensues. Draco grips his bucket more tightly and wills the floor not to creak beneath him as he shifts his weight.

"Well?" she prompts.

"Well what?"

"Aren't you going to answer me?"

"I don't think such a ridiculous accusation warrants any kind of response."

Ginny suspects me of something, then, Draco thinks.

"Ridiculous? Harry, I've seen it with my own eyes."

What could she possibly have seen? Draco feels some kind of panic in his chest, a cold, fluttering sensation. He hadn't thought Ginny hated him enough to make up lies about what he's doing, lies big enough to get him out of Potter's house forever, big enough to get him thrown back in Azkaban or worse.

"I don't know what you think you've seen, but it's nothing like that," Potter answers coldly.

"Harry." Draco hears the way she's trying to modulate her voice to something resembling calm. "I've tried to be patient. I've tried to give him a chance, come to terms with him here in our house, but I think he's driving us apart."

"I think you're doing that just fine without any help from him."

"How can you say that? When I've seen – I've seen you just staring at him like he's—and you leave me alone all the time to come back here—"

"You're the one who wanted me to watch him more closely."

"This is not what I meant, Harry. Why must you always—God, you are so difficult, sometimes—"

Draco is confused now.

"We're having a baby, Harry. Do you understand? Do you know what that means? Do you have any idea?"

"Are you making cracks about me being an orphan?" Harry's voice is flat. "Because I think you have about as much idea of what all this means as I do. I'm doing the best I can."

Ginny makes a frustrated sound. "Harry. You've changed so much. I don't know what happened to you, you're so different from before—before—"

"Before I killed Voldemort, you mean? Yeah, I don't know why being destined to kill a Dark Lord changed me like it did."

There is another long silence before Ginny finally speaks. "I'm going to tell you one last time. If he's not gone before the baby is born, I'm not going to move here, and I'm going to do everything I can to keep you from ever bringing the baby here."

"You have no right to hold that over my head." And now Potter sounds angry. "He's got nowhere else to go. Have you forgotten what happened to Carrow and Lestrange?"

"You're the one who's forgotten! You've forgotten that he let Death Eaters into a school. He set a deranged werewolf on us. He tried to kill Dumbledore, and you're defending him and helping him as if... I just don't understand. No, that's a lie, I do understand, it's taken me a long time, but now I understand—"

"Stop before you say something idiotic," Potter says harshly.

"I understand perfectly, Harry. And don't think I'm the only one. Ron and Hermione have seen it too, the way you talk about him and are always rushing to get away from us and come back here."

"Ginny. Shut. Up."

"No!" Ginny says shrilly. "You're making your choice, Harry, and I think it's sick, sick and twisted, that you would choose Draco Malfoy over your own child."

"You're talking a load of rubbish! Stop making it about choices, because I've never had any choice, have I? I'm trying to make the best of this situation, but I suggest you let it drop before I say something I'm going to regret later."

"But—"

"I'm serious, Ginny."

"God, you don't even care enough to try to talk to me, do you? You don't, you don't care about anything except—"

"I'm leaving."

"If you walk away from me now, Harry, I swear to god—"

And Draco hears angry footsteps approaching the doorway. He shrinks back, but he's not quite quick enough, and Potter turns the corner. Draco involuntarily takes another step backward. Potter's eyes are blazing, and the air is definitely crackling—snapping around him.

"Get out of my way!" Potter snarls, and Draco does, because he is afraid of Potter like this; he's never seen him quite this angry.

He listens to Ginny crying for a few moments, then tries to make his way downstairs as quietly as possible.

*

He knows now that it's not some nefarious Death Eater activity that Ginny suspects him of. Maybe it was, at first, but now she is afraid of something much more threatening to her happiness. Draco doesn't know whether to laugh at her suspicions or be wary of them. He knows they aren't true. The idea of Potter looking at him with that in mind—it's inconceivable.

Nevertheless, he risks a glance in a mirror, the one in the bathroom that he took off the wall. He puts it back up and takes a long look at his face. It's more sharp and narrow than ever, smudges around his eyes, and his hair is dull. It's grown too long; he hasn't cut it since before the disastrous end of sixth year, and it's much longer than it's ever been before, falling in his eyes at the front. He's been pulling it back tightly, hating the way it tickles at his face when it's in the way. But now he tugs at the band holding it, and he winces as it pulls a few hairs out with it. Then his hair falls in his face and down past his chin.

It shocks him for a moment, what he sees. He's often been told that he looks like his mother, but the long hair makes the resemblance almost uncanny. She was beautiful, though, and he is decidedly not. It's ridiculous to suppose that Potter would see anything different from what he sees now. He takes the mirror off the wall again.

*

Potter hasn't spoken to him since the last argument with Ginny. Draco has found his study locked in the morning, and at night there is food for him on the table but no sign of Potter anywhere. He thought he saw Potter's face in a window for a moment when he was cutting back the grass in the garden, but when he looked back, there was nothing there. Ginny hasn't been back to the house at all.

Draco is worried about the ramifications of Ginny's ultimatum and her accusations. No matter what Potter says, he knows it will come down to a choice, and Potter will choose his child, of course. No judge in a custody hearing would think a house with a (former!) Death Eater a safe place for a child, even if the child's father is Harry bloody Potter, Saviour of the Wizarding World. Does that mean he will go back to Azkaban? Be sent to some halfway house? Or, worst of all, be thrown out to make his own way and hope he won't be lynched?

He's read stories in the Daily Prophet. There are some Death Eaters still at large and they've been taking advantage of the chaos in the Ministry after Scrimgeour's murder and Voldemort's subsequent defeat to perpetrate attacks on blood traitors and a few Muggles and Muggleborn. As a result, several vigilante justice groups have formed, and they've been targeting Purebloods who had or were suspected of having Death Eater sympathies. They call themselves splinter groups of Dumbledore's Army, which became famous after the final battle. Draco knows that the real DA has nothing to do with it, though, because he's heard Potter rage at their antics, which, he says, always result in the deaths of innocent people, people who are easy to get to, and never the people who should truly be held accountable. Though Potter seems to have lost interest in becoming an Auror himself, he serves as a sort of consultant. His eighteen months spent studying and tracking Death Eaters have made him some kind of expert, and he is often called to sit in on strategy meetings and advise operations to arrest people involved in either purpose. Draco knows that several attempts have been made on Potter's life by people who either hate him for killing the Dark Lord or who hate him for not killing the remaining Death Eaters. Having Draco under house arrest at his home has not endeared him to either side.

But Potter hasn't said anything. Draco is angry at Potter for keeping him guessing about his fate. And sometimes, especially at night, when he can't hear any familiar sounds – doesn't hear Potter moving about, doesn't even hear the ghoul in the attic anymore, since Potter got rid of it months ago – he starts to wonder how safe the house really is, despite still being under Fidelius. He has trouble sleeping, because every bump and creak wakes him.

It's during one such night that he decides to get up, convinced he is alone in this giant house and unable to calm himself enough to sleep. He makes his way up to a room he found several weeks ago. It isn't one of the hostile ones, the ones that seem to want to terrify him with presences that aren't really there, or push him out with the force of their horrible histories. It's a lovely room, and from the effects piled in the closet and left on the vanity he has found that it was last inhabited by a very, very far-removed cousin named Columba. She must have been very happy; though the patterns on her clothes have faded and the trinkets in her jewellery box have dulled, they still seem to want to glitter, and call and whisper to Draco to be worn, to be used again. He knows from the family tree that she died young, a great tragedy, which is probably why her room is untouched. Her youthful presence must never have left it, unaware as it must have been that its time had come.

He lights a few candles in front of her mirror and sits down at the vanity.

It's a fear that has been lurking at the back of his mind, that he would forget what his mother looked like. Ever since he saw her face in his own in the mirror, he's thought about looking for it again, looking even harder.

There's a hair brush in one of her drawers, and he can tell it's charmed. The magic in it feels old, but still functional, and he pulls it through his hair, watching it start to gleam and fall into place, looking softer and more lustrous, and he stares at his reflection, mesmerised. She's there, in his face, looking back at him.

Draco hears the house creak and looks over his shoulder, but everything is silent again and there is nothing at the door. He turns back to the mirror and opens a pot of old rouge, dusting a tiny bit over his cheekbones. He's always had very fine bones in his face; his mother used to tell him that it was not just blood that mattered, but bones too, and she was very proud of his delicate nose, his high forehead, his perfect jaw. Draco bites at his lips until they look dark and swollen, full. He never remembers seeing his mother without colour on her lips.

He gets up to open the wardrobe. There are some very old-fashioned robes, some of them stiff and prim, some of them bright and extravagant. He finally chooses what must be an old nightgown. It's sheer and white, very long, and still very soft despite its age. Draco sheds his own nightshirt and puts the gown on. It's a bit tight across the shoulders and smells a bit musty, though underneath he thinks he can detect some strange old perfume. Fashionable smells seem to change as much as clothes, he reflects, wrinkling his nose. He ties the gown shut at the waist and looks at his reflection. It's just like her, the narrow waist, the long legs, the thin face. The shadowy light from the candles does even more to soften the differences, to erase the strain in his face, the unhappiness, the weariness, and it could be a woman standing there, it could be her, and Draco is transfixed.

"What are you doing?"

Draco whirls around. It's Potter, standing in the doorway again. The flickering of the candle lights makes his eyes oddly bright, sharp.

"How long have you been standing there?" Draco says angrily. He's embarrassed to be caught like this. Thoughts of his mother fade away and the whole venture takes on a sordid, humiliating aspect.

"Does it matter?" Potter answers, and steps farther into the room. Draco can't read Potter's voice; it sounds tight, almost strained, as if Potter were angry, but there isn't any crackling air this time.

"I—I—" Draco swallows. "No one uses these rooms. I thought. I stopped asking permission, I'm not in your way, surely—"

"I don't care about that," Potter says impatiently.

"Then why are you standing there accusing me like I'm some kind of thief—I would have put it back—I would have put everything back."

"Jesus, Malfoy, you could take the whole house and I wouldn't care." Potter steps even closer. "Your hair," he says slowly. "I didn't know it was so long."

It's like the world slows down as Draco watches Potter's hand reach out toward him and twist a lock of his hair around two fingers. "You look like a girl, Malfoy," is his insightful conclusion.

Draco feels frozen. He's starting to recognise the look in Potter's eyes, and he thinks, rather hysterically, that maybe Ginny had something to be worried about after all.

"That—that was sort of the point, Potter," he says, trying to keep his breathing even and his voice normal.

"Why?" Potter asks softly, still playing with the lock of hair.

Nothing is straight in Draco's head any more. It's the middle of the night, he thinks. I'm in a woman's nightdress, he thinks. Potter—Potter's hand is moving, it's on my neck, oh god. "I—I don't know," he chokes out, not even remembering the question he's supposed to be answering. Potter's finger is stroking up and down his neck, slowly, lightly. And then it's not just his finger, it's his whole hand, palm flush against Draco's skin, and the hand is trailing down the neckline, down farther, his fingers slipping underneath the material until it rests where a breast would be, if Draco had them. Instead it's just his nipple, and he can feel it hardening, straining to meet the skin of Potter's hand, and oh, it's been so long since anyone touched him. He can't help it, he arches his back a little and makes a tiny sound, half stifled in his throat. Potter's eyes snap up from where they had rested on Draco's chest, and he looks into Draco's eyes.

They stand there for a moment that feels like forever, Draco's chest rising and falling underneath Potter's hand, Potter looking wild. Then, suddenly, his expression turns into something like horror, and he snatches his hand away.

"I'm sorry, Malfoy," he blurts. "Don't—just. Please forget about this. I swear it won't happen again."

Draco is shocked. His brain is still lingering somewhere in the vicinity of Potter had his hands on me, and he doesn't know, yet, what he's being asked to forgive.

And then it's too late; Potter has turned around and is walking away from him. "Do whatever you want up here. I don't care," he repeats, throwing the words over his shoulder, and then he's gone.

Draco realises his hands are shaking. He makes his way unsteadily to the chair and sits down. When his breathing returns to normal, he carefully peels the nightgown off and hangs it up. The strangeness of the situation makes him uneasy. He wonders at himself, what he was thinking when he came up here, and how the night makes bizarre ideas seem so rational, how it closes in on him and makes him feel as if no one else exists to watch him, how it makes everything so private, but does nothing to hide him or protect him when he is discovered.

But then, he learned that long ago, in the cave with his mother.

*

Of course Draco can't forget about it. Potter seems to have forgotten already. He has unlocked the door to his study and Draco has started bringing him breakfast again. Potter is usually out of the house fairly soon, however; with Ginny or with the Aurors, Draco has no idea which.

He knows that Ginny has about two more months until the baby is born. He's overheard bits of heated Floo conversations between Potter and Ron Weasley, and sometimes with Granger, but nothing seems to change and Potter doesn't ask—or tell—him to leave. In fact, Potter doesn’t say much of anything to him. They were never great conversationalists, but now he's lucky to get two words out of Potter. He gets a thank you for the breakfast, and sometimes Potter tells him he won't be back for a few days.

Draco has often wondered what will happen if he steps off the perimeter of Potter's property, but he's never considered testing it until now. It's early spring; everything is starting to turn green. It gets more and more tempting to step over the invisible boundary into the street. Not to run away, of course; it's not as if he has anywhere he wants to go or anyone he wants to see – most of his family are dead, and he doesn't think he can face his former friends. He just wants to step on the pavement, to see around the street corner.

Maybe it will alert a team of Aurors, or maybe it will just alert Potter.

Draco finally admitted to himself, sometime in the last few days, that he wants Potter's attention.

He steps closer and closer to the edge of the front walkway. There's no clear delineation, nothing that shows him where the property line ends, but he guesses it's right where the walk meets the pavement. He gets to the edge, trying to think of an excuse if it's the Aurors and not Potter. If it's Potter, he won't bother to excuse himself. Maybe Potter will be angry. Maybe—

Draco raises his arm so that the bracelet is held out over the pavement. He feels something ripple across his arm. His heart is beating so fast, it's going to be any moment now, someone is going to show up and break up his loneliness.

But nothing happens, though Draco waits and waits. He stands there for a long time, and it gets darker. The transition from grey sky to black sky is hard to see, and it always seems to happen more quickly than it does. He feels forgotten, redundant, alone.

Suddenly there is a loud crack behind him, and he thinks Finally, Potter has come, and he turns around.

It is Potter standing there, but something is horribly wrong. He has Ginny Weasley in his arms; he's dirty and there are waves of magic cracking brokenly around him. Her eyes are open, and she's bleeding from her mouth, but she's very still. Potter drops to his knees right there in the front yard and says, "Malfoy," hoarsely. "I felt it, but you're here—"

"What happened?" Draco cries, starting forward.

Potter looks down at Ginny as if he can't understand what he's looking at. "I think she's dead, and I wasn't watching, I turned around, I was walking away from her, the baby—" He props her up. "I had to get her out of there, those fucking Death Eater maniacs—it should have been me—No, Ginny, please wake up, please—"

Draco is appalled. Why isn't Potter at St Mungo's? "For god's sake, Potter," he says, finding his voice at last, "get her to St Mungo's."

Potter's eyes snap up to him, and they clear a little bit. "Right." He gets to his feet and Apparates with Ginny's body.

The yard is silent. Draco goes back inside.

*

He's sitting at the kitchen table waiting. It's almost 2am, but he can't sleep, and he hasn't heard Potter come in yet.

What does it mean if Ginny is really dead? Draco doesn't pretend to feel any great loss; he's never been one to be overly sentimental about anyone except himself. And maybe his mother.

The clock ticks on and on. He's very tired, and the chairs in the kitchen are very hard.

Then he hears the door creak open, and footsteps. Potter appears in the doorway, still dirty, and looking very weary. He checks himself when he sees Draco sitting there, but then his eyes slide away and he moves to get a glass of water.

Draco doesn't know what to say. Maybe he shouldn't say anything. But maybe he should ask. He is dying to know, after all.

Potter drops into a chair at the end of the table and rests his head in his hands, fingers tangling up in the mess of his hair. Finally he speaks.

"She's dead." His voice sounds very distant, though he is close enough for Draco to reach out and touch him.

"I saw."

Potter looks up. "Well it took two healers and a gaggle of assistants at St Mungo's to make the official pronouncement," he says.

"I'm sorry."

Potter laughs harshly. "Never thought I'd hear you say that."

"I suppose it's easier to say when I really have nothing to apologize for."

Potter throws him a look of contempt. "You're such an arse. You always were."

"Well, I am sorry she's dead, if she meant so much to you."

"Thank you," Potter whispers. "She did."

"...Though no one would have known, the way you two carried on these last few months."

Potter makes a terrible sound and pushes himself up, pacing around the kitchen. "Maybe I always hated you because of how honest you are. You've never cared about saying something nice, have you? You just always said exactly what was in your head, no filter between your brain and your mouth. I grew up in a cupboard and I have more tact than you ever will."

"We're talking about the Weas—Ginny Weasley. Not me."

He stops pacing and looks at Draco briefly before his gaze falls to the floor. "It's my fault, of course. It always is."

"What happened, Potter?" Draco asks, trying to make his voice soft.

Potter takes his time about answering. "We were in a Muggle restaurant," he croaks, finally. "We'd met because we needed to sort some things out, things about what to do once the baby was born. She didn't want it to be anywhere where we'd be overheard, or where someone would take our picture, or write it up in the Prophet. I don't know how they knew—how they found out. And, well, we got into it, like we always do, and— I should have been nicer—I—I've been awful to her. And then you triggered the bracelet."

Potter touches the thin strip of metal at his wrist. Draco gapes; he'd only ever seen Potter wearing a watch, but it must have been a Glamour.

"I got up to go—and I was angry, what were you trying to do, Malfoy?" But Potter didn't wait for an answer. "I was walking away, and she followed me out into the alley behind the restaurant. I was going to Apparate, and she was screaming something at me, something about you running away from me—and I turned back and shouted at her to just get back to the Burrow and that we would talk later, and out of nowhere a whole pack of Death Eaters in masks surrounded us and threw some kind of...I don't know, a disabling spell, it felt like it was trying to seal me up, and keep me from being able to channel my magic. But when it hit me—it sort of—rebounded, and the air was so thick, and I could feel my magic sort of—imploding, and Ginny screamed, but it was so bright, I couldn't see—and then there were a bunch of bodies just lying there, including hers. And I didn't know what to do, I just had to get her out of there, so I Apparated back here."

Potter looks so tired. "If I'd just—I got so impatient with her, every time, and she didn't deserve that. She couldn't protect herself because of the baby. And now—" He looks up at Draco. "They saved it. The baby."

This is a shock. Draco had forgotten all about it. "Well?" he says. "Is it a boy or a girl?"

Potter gives him a strange look. "A boy."

Draco recalls all of the rot his father used to talk, about sons and keeping a family name alive and powerful, and he shoves it away. Potter is continuing, anyway.

"He's very quiet, it was too early, but they've got him in some sort of bubble, and I'm supposed to bring him home in a few weeks." He rubs at his eyes. "A baby. Good god. I don't know what to do with a baby."

"Can't her mother take it? Or one of the other Weasleys?"

Potter glares at him. "Of course not. It's mine."

"Right," Draco says. "If you say so."

"Well I do. So there's going to be a baby here. And we're both going to have to learn how to take care of it."

"What!"

"I can't do it on my own, Malfoy!"

"But—that isn't part of the arrangement. Get Granger or the Weasel to help you. I don't know the first thing about babies."

"Neither do I," Potter says. "You have something in common with him, though. His mother is dead."

Draco flushes. "So is yours!"

"But you know what it really means."

Draco swallows. "That is not any kind of advantage, Potter."

Potter is looking at him a bit oddly. "I didn't mean it, earlier. You've changed. You're not an arse any more."

"I am too," Draco says sullenly.

"Don't worry, I won't tell anybody," Potter says wryly. He glances at the bracelet on his wrist and it turns back into a watch. "I told Ron I'd go back to the Burrow. You alright here?"

"Leaving me alone has never been an issue before."

"But you never triggered the bracelet before," Potter points out.

"I just wanted to see what would happen," Draco says. "I was rather hoping..." But Draco thinks better of finishing that sentence.

"I'm sorry you're alone so much," Potter says, his voice very low. "That will probably change."

"I'm not holding my breath," Draco snaps.

"Malfoy," Potter says, his tired eyes strangely bright, "Are you saying you enjoy my company?"

Try as he might, Draco can't think of a good retort, so he says nothing.

"I'll be back some time tomorrow," Potter says. He smiles weakly at Draco and then he's gone.

*

Potter walks around with a white face and dark circles under his eyes for the next few weeks. He's at the hospital a lot, watching the baby, apparently. And then there is the day of Ginny's funeral. He hears Potter come in afterward, stomping around and slamming doors, and then a giant crash. Draco runs downstairs to find that a whole cupboard full of dishes seems to have exploded, everything in shards on the floor, and Potter looks very upset, his face blotchy and red from crying.

"Can't you go have hysterics outside or something?" Draco says, before he can think better of it.

Potter begins to look murderous. "This is my house, Malfoy! I'll explode anything I want, if it's all the same to you," he shouts, putting bizarre emphasis on certain words.

"But it's not the same," Draco says, unsure why he is so irritated at Potter's outburst, only it seemed like Potter had been so contained, up to now – he showed a controlled anger, and irritation, certainly, but this kind of raw emotion harks back to a different time, and Draco doesn't like it. "Because I'm the one who's going to have to clean it all up."

"Well maybe you shouldn't have fucking got yourself put in Azkaban, should you? Then you wouldn't BE here, and I wouldn't have been FIGHTING with her, and I wouldn't have TURNED AROUND in that FUCKING ALLEY and she'd be ALIVE and we'd be HAPPY."

Draco narrows his eyes. "What is that supposed to mean, Potter?" he says through his teeth. "Surely you aren't going to blame your failures as a boyfriend on me."

"It seems like everything awful in my life can be traced to Voldemort, you, or your family, and I hate that you're here, I hate that you're always just—in my life, like I can't stop—" Potter breaks off abruptly, looking bitter.

The words hurt Draco. They dig deep inside him and claw at his heart, and he's nearly breathless with the anger that surges up in him. This conversation is escalating too quickly, but he can't stop himself from saying the first words that come into his head, heated accusations that come too readily. "You—you—how can you say that, when you're the one who ruined my life! You and everything your stupid Order stood for, my life is nothing because of you, I've been forced to—forced to like it, to be grateful for—"

"You deserve everything you got, you worthless, useless—I don't know why I—"

"Send me back, then! I'd rather have my soul sucked out than spend another minute in this stupid house with you! Everything you do is an offence to me, your stupid ugly face, the way you desecrate the memory of my family in this house every day, I hate you and I hate what you've made me and I hope I die before you ever speak to me again—"

"What have I made you?" Harry interrupts. "You never change, you're the same nasty git you always were, you even look the same, except for your hair—"

Draco feels his face heat up, and he has a sudden vivid flashback to that strange night in Columba's room. "Leave my hair out of it!" he practically screams. This argument is so confusing and strange and Draco doesn't understand why it's sprawling in so many directions—

And then he can see Harry remembering that night too. Though embarrassment makes Draco feel like he's going to fly apart, it seems to help Harry collect himself, and the tension surrounding him dissipates.

Draco turns around; he wants to flee, to never see Potter again after the things they've said—

"Draco!" Potter's voice cracks. "Please—don't go."

Draco stops, but does not turn around. He doesn't want to look at Potter. But Potter has just said his name. His name, not his father's.

"I—I'm sorry. Again. I—you know I didn't mean—any of that, don't you? Please."

Draco turns a little at that, and Potter continues. "I shouldn’t have said it. I'm just mad at myself, but that's no excuse. I don't know what I'd do if...if I had to come back here and be all alone. I'm." Potter clears his throat. "I'm glad you're here."

"Are you?" Draco asks.

"Yeah. I mean, yes."

"Then I—I probably said some things I didn't exactly mean."

"I—"

"Let's just forget it, Potter."

Potter blinks at him. "Of course. If you want." He takes a step forward, but steps on a shard of broken glass. "Er. I'll clean this up."

"Good, since it was your fault."

Potter laughs mirthlessly. "I know."

"Potter."

"Yeah?"

"You can. You know. Cry. If you want. I promise not to laugh."

Potter smiles then. "Thanks."

*

"Today is the day."

Potter is picking at his breakfast. He looks like he hasn't slept in weeks. He probably hasn't. Draco has been woken several times by the noises Potter makes when he's shuffling around the house late at night and his anger at himself gets the better of him and his damaged magic.

"What day?" Draco says, though he knows already; Potter has talked of nothing else since he found out a few days ago.

"I'm bringing him home today."

Draco chews his toast.

"Mr and Mrs Weasley and Ron and Hermione are going to help bring him over."

"Really, Potter. Surely even your child isn't strange enough to need five people to make the journey with him."

"No, but I want them here just the same. He's so tiny, Malfoy, you wouldn't believe."

"Babies generally are."

"What if I drop him? What if the Apparation crushes him or dislocates one of his limbs? Sometimes I'm too forceful, I can't help it."

"Then you'll just have to take him back to the hospital."

Potter groans. "I'm going to be a terrible father, I can tell."

Draco dusts some crumbs off of his lap. "If you are expecting me to reassure you on that point, I fear you will be disappointed."

"You sound a lot like Snape sometimes, did you know that?"

"Thank you," Draco says, feeling a little smug.

"That wasn't a compliment."

"Your particular brand of charm only works when it's unintentional," Draco points out.

"I wish Ginny were here."

Draco keeps silent. He can't echo the sentiment, but he's trying to be more sympathetic.

"We've decided on a name."

"I was hoping to keep calling it 'the baby,'" Draco remarks.

"Well you can't. His name is James," Potter says firmly.

"How original," Draco murmurs.

"Mrs Weasley was pushing for Septimus. I'm not going to saddle my kid with a ridiculous name. Like yours." Potter smirks.

"My name reflects generations of splendour and tradition," Draco says haughtily.

"Yeah, well, it makes you sound like a total ponce."

"Seeing as how I am a ponce, it's quite appropriate, don't you think?" Draco says coldly.

That makes Potter look a bit uncomfortable. "I reckon."

After a brief silence, during which Potter does nothing but push his food around with his fork in one hand while the other hand props his cheek up, Draco gets up to clear the dishes away.

"When will the baby and its entourage be arriving?"

"Probably in an hour or two. Could you check that...that there aren't any spiders in his bedroom? I don't want him to be afraid."

"Unless he's a precocious genius, which, seeing as it's your child, I highly doubt, the likelihood that it would even recognize one, or know to be afraid of it, is rather remote."

"No one told me to be afraid of spiders, but I was," Potter mutters darkly.

The cupboard. Potter makes brief reference to it only once in a while, and usually only when he is agitated.

"Alright then. I'll check."

"Right. Well. Wish me luck."

"You don't need luck, Potter. He's your son. He wants more than anything to love you, and for you to love him back." Draco knows his voice sounds a bit funny, so he turns away.

"I hope you're right," Potter says dubiously.

"Of course I am. You've never had a father; you don't know what they're like. That's why I'm telling you," Draco says, smiling sweetly.

It's easy enough to be confident when it comes to other people's problems.

*

The sound of their arrival is unmistakeable. Draco is always a bit nervous in the presence of Granger and Weasley, but Mr and Mrs Weasley make him uncomfortable in a completely different way. Draco hopes he can stay upstairs until they leave, but Potter's voice shouts for him imperiously, and he slowly makes his way to the nursery, where they have all congregated.

When he enters, there are eight pairs of eyes directed at him instead of five. Almost the entire Weasley family seems to be present. The sneer on Bill Weasley's scarred face makes it twist unpleasantly, and Draco wishes he could run out of the room.

Potter steps forward; there is a bundle in his arms and he looks uncomfortable. "You alright?"

Draco nods, putting his chin up.

"Here he is," Potter says, and for some inexplicable reason, he holds the bundle out toward Draco.

He can't help it; he looks around at the other faces in the room in a panic. They all look disapproving, if not downright angry. Mrs Weasley has her lips pursed tightly together; Ron, the twins, and Bill look furious, Granger looks sad, and Mr Weasley looks doubtful.

Potter is still holding the baby out toward Draco. Draco wipes his palms down his robe—they're sweaty, a baby would slide right through them—and lets Potter put the baby in his arms.

It feels awkward and precarious. Draco looks down at the baby's face, which is very red and scrunched, with a shock of ugly black hair sprouting out the top. "I suspect being so early is what makes it so hideous," he finds himself saying.

Granger gasps and Potter gives a bark of laughter.

The noise makes the baby squirm and he starts to fuss. Alarmed, Draco quickly holds it out to Potter. "Take it back. I knew it wouldn't like me."

"That's no surprise, is it?" Ron mutters as Mrs Weasley snatches the baby away from Draco.

"Shh," she says, rocking and cooing at it. Revolting, Draco thinks, how this monster of fertility flaunts her baby-soothing skills in everyone's faces.

But everyone looks relieved that the baby is out of Draco's hands. It makes Draco feel oddly defiant, as if he wants to prove to these low people that he is just as capable of handling a baby as any of them. Then he catches himself, disgusted. Since when is child-rearing something at which a Malfoy need excel?

"Maybe he needs something to eat," Potter suggests.

"I'll show you how to fix a bottle for him," Mrs Weasley says eagerly.

"I'll come with you," Granger adds, looking like she can't wait to have her own baby.

"I'll just go home and pick up the pram," says Mr Weasley.

They leave, and Draco is left with a room full of Weasley brothers.

"I'll just be getting back to work, then," Draco mutters, backing toward the door.

"Just a minute, Malfoy." Ron's voice is loud. "You stay away from that kid, you hear?"

"I have no intention of coming anywhere near it, I assure you," Draco replies stiffly.

"If anything goes wrong—" Fred begins.

"—We'll know it was you," George finishes.

"As if I want anything to do with weasel spawn," Draco hisses, his nervousness making him nasty.

"See," Bill says, and his tone would be pleasant but for the look on his face, "it's words like 'weasel spawn' that are less than reassuring. We all know what you are, Malfoy. You put one toe out of line and we'll come down on you. Keep it in mind."

Draco glares at them. What can he possibly say that will placate them? And god knows it's useless to try to put a Weasley in his place. The family has no sense of proper humility.

"Harry doesn't think you'll be any trouble," Ron continues, "but none of us believe that. In fact, we think—"

"What's going on in here?" a voice demands from the doorway. Everyone turns to look; it's Potter, and he looks angry.

The Weasleys are silent, but they all look angry too. The tension in the room is palpable.

It's Ron who finally speaks. "Are you sure about this, Harry? You know mum would be happy to take him."

"Of course I'm sure. He's mine."

"Ginny wouldn't have wanted this," George says.

"Ginny is dead," Potter states flatly.

They all look at him with faint traces of shock. Four freckled faces. Draco feels a mad desire to laugh.

"Look," Potter elaborates, and his voice is softer, "I loved Ginny. I won't say I loved her like you all did, because I'm not her brother and I didn't grow up with her. But I did love her. That doesn't mean I think that she had perfect judgement. Frankly, her concerns about my...living situation were ridiculous. He's mine, and I want him here, and you should know I wouldn't let anything happen to him."

Bill coughs and Ron looks sceptical.

"If you say so, Harry," Fred says.

"We'll drop by a lot," George adds.

"You just be careful," Ron says. "And keep on eye on this one." His eyes slide to Draco, who can't help jutting his chin out defiantly. It would serve them all right if he did have designs on the child.

"I will, thanks," Harry says loudly.

"May I be excused now?" Draco asks stiffly.

"Of course," Harry answers. "I think I'm going to need your help in here later, though."

"You heard them, Potter. I'm not allowed near this infant."

"Well I say you are, and I need your help, so that's that." Potter looks challengingly at the others.

Draco rolls his eyes at all of them and walks out of the room, glad to escape.

*

Later, Potter calls Draco into the baby's room and Draco expects he's going to be told to put away all the baby supplies Mrs Weasley has left with Potter, or fold baby clothes, or something. Instead, Potter is standing gingerly over the baby, who is fussing and uncomfortable, emitting weak, mewling little cries.

"God almighty, it smells terrible in here," Draco says, holding his nose.

"Help me change him, Draco. He's dirtied his nappy."

Draco abruptly halts his progress into the room. Not that he'd made it very far. "You must be joking."

"No, I’m not," Potter retorts. "She didn't show me, we forgot, and I was in such a hurry to get them out of here..."

"Well, there's got to be some sort of spell."

"I don't know it."

"Then look it up! There's no way I'm going within ten feet of a dirty nappy."

"Don't be so prissy." Potter undoes one side of the nappy. "Quick, can you fetch a bin?"

"What bin?"

"ANY bin, I need something to throw this in!"

"Am I going to have to empty this bin?"

"Christ, just get me a fucking bin! I'll banish it later!"

"Watch your language, Potter. That's a baby, there." Draco saunters to the bathroom and picks up the bin.

When he comes back, Potter is holding the dirty nappy in one hand and trying to reach for the box of wipes with the other.

"It smells worse than before," Draco remarks, setting the bin down next to Potter.

"Just hand me the wipes."

"Don't just throw it in! Wrap it up or something, you're going to get baby poo all over the inside. Oh, this is revolting."

"Do you want to wrap or wipe?"

"Potter, someone ought to award you the comedian of the century award, because the mere fact that you would joke about something like this—"

"Just shut up and wrap it up."

"You shut up," Draco mutters sullenly, and takes the dirty nappy with the tips of his fingers. It's disgusting. Still warm from...ugh. "Ugh," he says.

Potter is gingerly wiping, looking like he's concentrating more than he probably did for his O.W.L.s.

"Right," he says, after finishing and throwing the wipes into the bin. "Now we need a new one."

He rifles through a few of the bags on the floor before finding them. After opening the bag and taking one out, he blinks at it for a moment.

"What the fuck?" he says. "This doesn't look anything like the other one."

"Maybe you have to unfold it," Draco suggests.

"Right."

The baby is waving its arms, and Potter looks like he's about to break out into a sweat.

Draco can't help it. "Heh."

"You'd better not be laughing, Malfoy."

"Of course I'm not. Hehehe."

Potter shoots him an angry look. "Which side is the front? Does it matter? Read me the instructions on the bag!"

"Calm down, Potter. This is nothing to killing the Dark Lord," Draco says, his voice still quivering unhelpfully. But he reaches for the bag.

"Just shows how much you know about it."

Finally they are able to get the thing on. Potter sets the baby down in its cot and then sits down in a chair, looking overwhelmed. "How am I going to do this, Malfoy?"

Draco knows he should say something like, "I'm sure it gets easier," or "You're doing as well as could be expected." Instead he says, "Should have thought about that before you got your girlfriend up the duff."

But Potter doesn't have an angry response. "I didn't do it on purpose," Potter says quietly. "And I certainly didn't think I'd ever be doing something like this on my own." He looks defeated.

Which just isn't right, Draco reflects. Potter never looks defeated, no matter what Draco or anyone else says. "You're not doing it on your own, you berk. I'm helping you."

And then Potter—Potter's face changes, just a little bit.

"Yeah. You're helping me." He smiles. It lights something up inside Draco, something warm.

Potter looks around at the walls. "I want to take down this ridiculous wallpaper," he announces. It is truly hideous, teddy bears and various other stuffed animals sitting in patterns, charmed to dance in their little squares. He takes out his wand and waves it at the paper, which peels off neatly and rolls up on the floor. Next come the curtains, and then Potter transfigures the furniture to look a bit less ornate.

The ease with which he does it all—it's effortless, really—takes Draco's breath away, because he's impressed or because Potter's magic is thrumming in the small room and makes him miss his own terribly. He turns his face away, saying, "You have better taste than I thought."

Potter grins again, but he's saved the best for last. Pointing his wand at the ceiling, he mutters a spell under his breath, the first time he's had to use his voice, Draco notes, and a silvery mist wends its way up to the ceiling, diffusing and settling until it's a perfect replication of the sky.

Draco remembers the ceiling in his own nursery, and how he loved it when his mother pointed out his constellation at night, before he went to sleep.

He snaps his gaze back down from the ceiling to Potter, who is watching him.

"Well done," he says, wishing very hard that he had his own wand.

"Do you want one in your room?" Potter asks.

"I'm not a child, Potter," Draco says sharply.

"I know that," Potter says. "You just seemed to like it so I thought I would offer, that's all."

Draco does want one, actually. "Well, if it makes you feel better about keeping me as a prisoner here and making me change soiled nappies, you can if you want."

"Right," Potter says. They stand there for a moment, just looking at each other, both half smiling. Draco begins to feel like—like maybe there is someone in the world who could understand him, the way he is.

"Lead the way," Potter prompts, finally, and turns to cast the charm over the cot that will alert him if the baby wakes or stops breathing.

They make their way up to the stairs together.

*

The rest of the afternoon passes uneventfully. Several times Draco passes by the study and sees Potter inside, lying on his stomach on the floor in front of the fireplace, the baby sleeping on a blanket next to him. Potter seems to be trying to wade through the books on parenting and raising babies that he and Granger bought a few days earlier—books on fatherhood, single fatherhood, the first year, the first two years, terrible twos, magic in the nursery, raising a child in the Wizarding World for wizards raised by Muggles, etc.

Late in the afternoon Draco walks by and sees Potter curled up next to the baby, both of them asleep.

The next crisis comes during bath time. Draco hears Potter shout, "Malfoy!" from the bathroom upstairs, and has to put his book down.

He arrives to find Potter awkwardly holding a naked, crying baby over a tub of water.

"I can't do it!" he says over the crying, looking distressed. "He won't stop moving, and it's so slippery—"

"It's a baby, Potter, not a mandrake. You don't have to be afraid of making it cry a little."

"I'm not afraid! But I know I'm going to drop him, and what if he drowns?"

"Well what am I supposed to do about it?"

"Can you...um...hold him while I wash?" He looks at Draco hopefully.

Heaving a great sigh, Draco rolls up his sleeves. "You don't pay me enough."

 

"Yeah, I know."

It is slippery, and Draco doesn't know how hard to grip. His fingers are bony and dig into the soft flesh. He hopes there won't be bruises. The baby won't stop crying.

"Why is he crying? Is the water too cold? Too hot? Do you think I'm hurting him?" Potter looks anguished. "The mediwitch said it was okay to give him a bath today."

"Then it's fine, just get on it with it. The sooner you finish, the sooner it will stop crying." Draco looks down at the red little face. "The resemblance to a drowned rodent is striking," he observes.

"Shut up."

The tip of Potter's tongue sticks out a little between his teeth as he tries to find his way into all the little folds and creases with the sponge. They're very close, and it's hard not to notice the way Potter's shirt stretches across his shoulders, the way the muscles in his arm move, the faint smell of the laundry soap in his clothes. Draco doesn't know why it smells so different on Potter than on himself.

"My arms are getting tired," Draco announces.

"I'm almost done," Potter says, dabbing at the baby a few more times. "Okay, I'll take him now."

"Careful with the head! You have to hold it up, Potter."

"I know. Since when are you the expert?" Potter sets the baby down on a towel and it quiets down a little.

"Oh, I forgot the powder. Can you go get it for me while I dry him off? I left it in one of the bags in his room."

Draco glares at Potter. "I think maybe you need a little page boy to run your errands for you." But he goes, and after looking through three bags, locates the talcum powder.

"Here you go."

Potter has the baby all dry and takes the bottle of powder, shaking it violently.

"That's far too much," Draco remarks. Before he can think about it, he reaches down and scoops some up in fingers and flings it in Potter's face. Potter begins sputtering and coughing a little.

"Thanks, Malfoy, I always enjoy snorting fine white powders," he says, waving his hand to clear the air and brushing powder out of his hair. But he seems more amused than irritated.

"You've still got some in front," Draco says. He reaches out to brush it away before he realises that they're standing in front of a mirror, and Potter could see for himself to brush it out. But it's too late, as if he can't stop himself; first it's just the tips, and then his fingers slide into the thick mess, and he's surprised by how nice it feels, the way it sticks up in between.

The baby gurgles and kicks a little. Draco snatches his hand away, wanting to leave, and Potter looks a little flushed, but he ducks his head and doesn't say anything for a moment.

The baby looks slightly mollified now that it is no longer wet. Potter gets a nappy on it and Draco hands him a hideous green footie with a giant letter J on the chest (Mrs Weasley's creation, of course), that Potter has sitting on the counter. Despite all the wiggling, Potter is finally able to button it up.

"Could you watch him while I'm in the shower?" Potter asks.

"I was reading," Draco replies shortly. He's still feeling a bit uncomfortable with his impulsive hair-petting a few moments earlier.

"Well you could read with James next to you," Potter suggests.

"You know," Draco observes to the baby, who is watching him intently, "it's rather ironic that the man who decided that I need a babysitter is now asking me to be one."

"I didn't decide that, Malfoy."

"Oh, that's right, I forgot that you always let Granger do the thinking for you."

"Please don't be a git, not now. I'm already tired, and I'm probably going to be up nights for the next few months at least. It'll just be for a few minutes, I swear."

Potter's eyes are very green when they are beseeching.

"If it cries," Draco says, "I'm not picking it up, or anything."

"Just make sure he's not choking or suffocating." Potter picks the baby up and swaddles it in a blanket, then holds it out to Draco, who receives it warily.

"It's so squirmy."

"Stop calling him 'it.' He's going to grow up with a complex," Potter says.

"I think, being your son, that's an unavoidable fate." Draco shifts the baby so that it's resting against one shoulder.

Potter's face falls. "You're right, aren't you?"

Draco is surprised at the twinge of remorse he feels. "I was joking, Potter. The truth is, every door will be open to him and he'll grow up an insufferable, entitled prig."

Potter perks up immediately. "Sounds like someone else I know."

"Who on earth can you mean?" Draco says blankly, and then sweeps out of the room with the baby before Potter can answer.

*

Potter looks like shit. Draco's sure he probably doesn't look much better. He can hear the baby wailing every few hours through the night, and sometimes he hears Potter pacing up and down the hallway outside his bedroom door, the baby crying and hiccoughing on his shoulder. Potter sleeps through breakfast. In fact, he dozes through most meals, and Draco is a bit reluctant to admit to himself that he resents the fact that even this small attention Potter paid to him has been taken away. Draco himself sneaks naps in during the day and knows Potter won't mind. Even the portraits seem to look tired and irritable—or at least more irritable than usual; his ancestors were a very solemn lot. The only person whose looks are improving is the baby, but his face is scrunched up so much with crying that Draco thinks it's hard to tell.

Sometimes he wants to snatch it—him, Draco reminds himself—away from Potter and shake him until he stops making such an ungodly racket (how can such small lungs be so powerful already?). But Potter, so famous for his irascible temper at school, a temper on which Draco had often relied to get a rise out of him, seems to have infinite patience where his son is concerned. Once he gets the hang of the nappies, the bottles, the baths, he asks for Draco's help less and less.

Potter doesn't have many shirts, and all of them soon have stains on the shoulders and down the front that require a great deal of Draco's unenthusiastic scrubbing to eradicate. The entire downstairs begins to smell of baby formula and talcum powder.

Granger and the Weasleys stop by often, but Draco always shuts himself up in the upper rooms of the house until they leave. They bring lots of things, little toys and books and clothes, all very cheap and crude, Draco thinks. He has found a chest of child's things in the attic. There's a very old and delicate ivory rattle with a silver bell on the end. Draco doesn't think it's appropriate for Ginny Weasley's child, who would probably prefer a garish stuffed clown, but he sets it aside to give to James later.

Potter has to go out a lot, for food or supplies or things for the baby that he forgot to buy. On these occasions he always leaves the baby with Draco, who has to push around a tiny bassinet that Potter got for him around so that he is never left alone.

Try as he might, Draco cannot see the baby as a person, and finds it difficult to refer to him as "James." It seems more like some kind of very large parasite, wriggling around in its bassinet and leeching strength and resources from them both. Draco tries talking to it—no, him, he reminds himself for the thousandth time—and finds that, rather than bringing out some kind of intelligent response in James, such as a gurgle, or a wide-eyed stare, the sound of Draco's voice seems to put him immediately to sleep. Draco doesn't know whether to be pleased or offended; on the one hand, it is an extremely useful skill, and Draco hasn't had many people to talk to for a long time, and on the other, well, knowing that the powers of one's conversation are all of a soporific nature is rather lowering.

One evening after dinner Draco is watching the telly. The baby is crying in the background, but that's such a normal sound that it is easily blocked out. However, as the crying goes on and on, Draco begins to wonder. He is about to switch off the television and go see what bizarre secret torture Potter is perpetrating on his own child when Potter bursts into the room, baby in his arms.

"I don't know what to do," he says, sounding anguished. "He just won't stop crying and Mrs Weasley says it's pro'ly just colic but look at him, Malfoy."

Draco looks, and it is rather alarming. James' face is a very dark shade of red, and he is writhing as if in acute discomfort, a vein bulging alarmingly in his forehead, his mouth open in a continuous scream and his eyes watering profusely.

"That does appear to be a rather extreme unhappiness, even for someone who's realised you are his father."

"This is no time to be flippant," Potter snaps, his worry about James turning into anger at Draco. "I'm taking him to St Mungo's." He says it firmly, but makes no move toward the door.

"Well, what are you waiting for, my permission?"

"Of course not. But." Potter hesitates.

It's so hard to have a conversation over a screaming baby.

"I think you should," Draco says, glancing once more at James' tortured expression.

"Right," Potter says, and then he is gone, full of purpose.

Draco resigns himself to another night of waiting up for Potter to return from the hospital.

*

A few months ago, Potter began subscribing to a Potions journal at Draco's request. He's gotten behind in his reading lately on account of always wanting to nap during his free time, but he finds he's strangely unable to sleep with the knowledge of James' condition and Potter's worry going round in his head.

He gets through three and a half issues before he hears Potter come in. The baby is making sounds too, sort of a wretched, hoarse little gasping noise, as if he still wants to cry but has no voice left.

Draco gets up and comes down to the kitchen. Potter seems dead on his feet, but he also looks relieved, still holding James tightly.

"So?" Draco prods.

"She was right, it's just colic."

Draco wonders how it's possible to feel relief when he didn't even know he was anxious.

"They don't have much they can do for that," Potter continues. "Apparently it looks much worse than it really is." He bounces James a little bit, up and down, up and down, and the hoarse gasping lessens for a few moments before returning. "I thought the whole waiting room was going to murder us." Potter yawns widely. "Fortunately some little boy recognised me—by the way, remind me to get in touch with whoever makes the chocolate frog cards, they've picked one of the most embarrassing pictures and I can't believe no one ever TOLD me about it—and their hate miraculously turned to sympathy. The fame is not all bad."

Draco feels his lip curling in a smile. "Don't pretend like this is the first time you've used it to your advantage."

"No," Potter says, giving Draco a slanted look. And then he turns his gaze back to James. "I had to use it for you, too."

It's as if he can feel the smile slide off his face onto the floor. How like Potter, he reflects bitterly, to wait so long after sticking the knife in before twisting it, just a little bit, reminding Draco that he can really gouge out his entrails if he wants to. Just when he'd thought—when he'd begun to—when they'd both begun to move past—

Well, it doesn't matter what he'd thought.

"Goodnight, Potter," he says, as icily as he can manage when he feels like his face is burning with the humiliation of being reminded of his place, and what he owes. "I honestly hope the lack of sleep ends up killing you."

Potter looks startled. "What—"

But Draco turns and walks out of the kitchen. As he makes his way down the hall toward the staircase he can hear that the baby seems to have gathered up his strength for another assault, and begins crying again in earnest.

"Malfoy!" Potter shouts above the crying. "I didn't mean—oh, no, just, please stop crying, haven't you cried enough today—Malfoy! Come back, let me explain—I wasn't trying to—Malfoy! God, you're so touchy—MALFOY! Fuck."

And the baby is screaming.

Draco takes perverse satisfaction in the fact that though all he can do is slam his bedroom door, the baby is going to be punishing Potter for him all night. At least.

*

Draco purposely burns the toast the next morning. He stalks into the study and shoves it down in front of Potter, whose face is a bit grey, his eyes very bloodshot. Draco feels no pity, and slams the study door shut behind him. Potter wrenches it open again.

"Malfoy! Are you still in a strop about what I said last night? I’m sorry, I’m sorry I said it, I don't even know why it upset you so much! Come back, where are you going?"

But Draco has decided not to speak to Potter.

All day he can hear the baby fussing intermittently, and hears Potter pleading with him and trying to distract him. Granger shows up after lunch and brings a strange harness with a sling; Draco is the one to let her in, but he doesn't hang around to see what it does. Later, he catches a glimpse of Potter wearing the sling with James inside, pacing up and down the hallway, going outside, coming back in.

Draco wishes, again, that he had his wand. He plays a game with himself, sometimes, asking himself at different points in the day which spell he would choose if he could choose to do just one. So far, all day it's been a muffling charm. Before last night there were several involving Potter that were in the running to take permanent first place, but Draco vows never to even think about those spells ever again, at least not in reference to Potter. A muffling charm definitely wins, now.

By the third day of this Diabolical Colic, however, Draco begins to think that alternatives have to be considered. Potter has been trying to apologise to him at least five times every day, and Draco feels himself relenting in spite of everything. On top of the baby, the Aurors have been calling on him to discuss the investigation into the group of people who attacked Potter and Ginny Weasley. He hears Potter yelling at Kingsley Shacklebolt through the Floo with the baby screaming in the background.

"I don't give a fuck about them right now, I've got more important things to be worrying about! Get someone else. No, I don't care. ...No, I don't need any help! I'm handling things here, so you handle things there, it's your job!"

Draco has to admit that he is impressed at Potter's ability to speak to Kingsley Shacklebolt like that. He would never dare.

The Daily Prophet has been running articles almost every day on the search for the murderer of Harry Potter's true love. Almost the entire Wizarding world is up in arms on his behalf, imagining Potter's happiness snatched away from him just when it was about to become complete, and pitying Potter's poor motherless son. There are several editorials that criticise Potter for allowing his altruism to endanger his son by housing a Death Eater under his roof. Others paint a truly pathetic portrait of a grieving, newly-single father who has cut himself off from friends and society. Sometimes an enterprising photographer will have snapped a photograph of Potter when he'd taken the baby out, and Potter is either a blurry form in the distance pushing a pram, or he is clutching James protectively to his chest and snarling something awful at the camera. Draco has seen the hundreds of letters from witches hoping to ease Potter's pain. They'd dropped off for a while, but after the hospital visit another article appeared that depicted the martyred life of Harry Potter, Paragon of Fatherhood, and the letters are back full force. Potter hasn't had time even to throw them out, and they pile up in the study, unopened.

The Paragon of Fatherhood looks like his nerves are shot. Because Draco isn't speaking to him, he takes the baby with him when he goes out or drops him off at the Burrow, but it's never for very long. It seems to be a point of pride for Potter; after declaring that he didn't need anyone's help (except maybe Draco's, but Draco has been ignoring that part since the other night), he seems to be seeking to prove it.

He's gone that afternoon and Draco is enjoying a nice nap when someone triggers the wards. Draco makes his way cautiously downstairs to open the door.

It's Granger.

"Hello, Draco," she says briskly, stepping past him into the house. "This house is so cool. Have you been outside today? It's sweltering."

Draco glares at her, because he always glares at Granger, it's some kind of rule. And he's grumpy from being woken up. "Potter is out."

"I know that, Draco."

Is she going to say his name every time she speaks?

"Then why are you here, Granger?"

"I want to talk to you, Draco." She walks to the sitting room and then turns around. "Are you coming?"

"I'm afraid I have other things I need to be doing," he says politely.

"Draco, your cheek is all wrinkled. I can tell you've been sleeping."

"I suppose I should have said I have things I'd rather be doing."

Granger doesn't look deterred in the least. "I know sleep is a scarce commodity in this house, but I promise this will only take a few moments."

Draco reluctantly follows her into the sitting room, where she quickly situates herself in a wing chair. He remains standing.

"You've really made a difference in this house, Draco. It's a much brighter, more comfortable place, now."

"Flattery will get you nowhere," Draco says flatly. "Anyway, complimenting me on my indentured servitude is hardly going to endear you to me."

Granger sighs. "I just ran into Harry at the Burrow. He looks terrible."

"And you imagine I have anything to do with that? I don't give facials, Granger."

"It's not just the lack of sleep. He's very upset, Draco, and I think you know what he's upset about."

"Well I don't." Privately, he thinks Potter has some nerve, whinging to Granger about being upset when Draco is the injured party.

"He told me what happened."

"Oh, did he? Well, let's have it. What imaginative piece of fiction did he concoct about me this time?"

Granger ignores his sarcasm. "He said that he got back from the hospital that night and was talking to you about it, and then you flew into a rage and haven't spoken to him since."

"How like Potter to give such a one-sided account. He hardly ever surprises me, and though I might abhor it, there is something to be said for consistency."

"As much as I'm enjoying these witticisms, I suggest you tell me what's got you so angry, and we can do something to mitigate this unfortunate domestic drama."

"Domestic drama!" Draco says, thunderstruck. Domestic drama?

"It seems to me," Granger continues airily, "that you are acting like an affronted housewife."

"I...I don't even have the words to describe my feelings at this moment," Draco says through his teeth, and he can feel his face flushing.

"Good, then you can tell me what it is he said."

"He said—he said—he—" Draco takes a breath in an effort to hold in his outrage. He doubts the Ministry will be content with house arrest if he murders Granger. "It's ridiculous that you would imply that I am at all wifely, not only because, oh, I don't know, I'm not Potter's wife, nor am I a girl, but also because the reason I'm not speaking to the git is that he constantly feels a need to reiterate to both of us the magnitude of my debt to him, how much he has put himself out for me, how grateful I should be that I'm here cleaning a house that should be mine for him, how, if it weren't for him and his inexhaustible beneficence," and Draco is gaining momentum, "I would still be locked up in Azkaban, how the light of these golden days spent with him in this magnificent house would thus be but a dim hope in a mind almost certain to be deranged with want of freedom—"

Granger cuts him off, her brow furrowing. "That doesn't sound like Harry."

"Only because he can't string a full sentence together even in his wildest dreams," Draco retorts.

"What did he really say?" Granger looks reproachful.

Draco bites the inside of his cheek before answering. "He was mentioning that people in the waiting room were ready to murder him because of James' crying. And then they noticed who he was, and the fame wasn't all bad. And I said that can't have been the first time he'd used it to his advantage. And he said no, that he'd used it for me, and he looked at me like he was irritated at having to remind me how much he's done for me."

Granger frowns. "I think you've misunderstood him, Draco."

"Which just shows how much you know, Granger," Draco says contemptuously. "Potter never misses an opportunity to remind me of what I owe him."

"You're too sensitive."

Draco wants to hurt her for that. He wants to lash out and say something that will tear her apart. But the need to be understood supersedes it. He has to make someone understand. "What do you know of it?" he hisses. "What do you know of being completely at someone's mercy, of having nothing in the world but what he chooses to give you? My world begins and ends with Potter, not because I have chosen him, but because I have had no choice at all. What do you think that means for me?"

He's close to crying, and in front of Granger, of all people. He could die from the humiliation.

And then Granger does something really unforgivable. She starts to look pitying. "I think it means that you have more in common than you think," she says softly.

God, it's unbearable. "Please, just go," Draco says quietly.

Granger sits there for what feels like a long time, the clock in the room ticking loudly as she just looks at him. "Well, I will," she says finally as she stands up. "But please give Harry a chance. Believe it or not, he is trying very hard to understand how you must feel, and he's trying to make it easier for you. You could make it easier for him, too."

Draco doesn't trust himself to answer.

*

Potter comes in a few hours later. Draco has made dinner, and he's sitting with it at the table when Potter walks into the kitchen, the baby fussing as usual in his harness.

Potter checks himself in the doorway and stares at Draco, then at the table, then back at Draco.

"Are you speaking to me, then?" he says, his voice low.

Draco glares at Potter. "Not really. But I'm cooking for you, apparently."

Potter purses his lips. He transfigures one of the chairs into a bassinet and sets James down in it. James doesn't like this, and voices his displeasure accordingly, but Potter just absentmindedly rocks it a little with one hand and sits down himself, as if he can't even hear the noise any more.

"It's not poisoned, is it?" he asks, gesturing at the food.

"Unfortunately not. My supply of arsenic was depleted weeks ago."

Neither of them speaks for the rest of the meal.

James, however, continues to cry and cry. It's been almost four days now. Later that night Draco shuts the door to his room and stops up the cracks, and still he can't block out the sounds of crying or of Potter trying to get him to stop, and the air is stifling, even with the window open. The noise and the heat make everything seem more unbearable.

It's early morning. Finally, Draco can't stand it any longer; he flings his door open and marches down to Potter's room. Potter has dozed off, still in his clothes, his hand resting on the little baby cot he's put next to his bed. His face looks worn, even in sleep.

Draco reaches down into the cot and picks James up. He hasn't touched the baby since before the colic started, and his little body is trembling. Draco holds him up and rests him on one shoulder, and James hiccoughs a little, but his cries lessen a little bit.

"Shh," Draco says softly, and walks out into the hallway.

They pace a while up and down, and Draco whispers a lot of nonsense to the baby, about his family, about school, about what he read in the potions journal, about Potter. Gradually James stops crying and seems to settle in his arms, and then he's quiet, sleeping, his only movement the tiny expansion and contraction of his chest in Draco's arms. He is not inconsolable after all.

Very quietly, still murmuring, Draco walks to his room, not bothering to shut the door in case it disturbs James. He lies down on the bed, lowering James carefully beside him, and though James' eyes open a little bit, he just reaches his arms out toward Draco's body. Draco curls up around him, whispering, and they fall asleep like that under the sky ceiling Potter made for them, quiet at last.

*

The slant of the sun informs Draco immediately that it must be past midmorning when he wakes up. He has a moment of panic when he realizes that he fell asleep last night with a baby in his bed, maybe he's been smothered! he thinks frantically, but he looks down, and James is still sleeping peacefully, his chest rising and falling evenly, no doubt exhausted from his extended bout of crying. Draco touches the tips of his fingers to the fuzz on James' head, which is considerably finer than the coarse black bristle that disappeared after the first few weeks he was home.

Suddenly Draco realises that they're not alone in the room, and he pushes himself up on one arm, turning his head.

Potter is sitting in the armchair next to the bed, watching them, still in yesterday's rumpled clothes. His face is inscrutable.

Draco doesn't know whether to be angry or embarrassed. He had shed his shirt the night before because of the heat, and Potter has been watching Draco sleep next to his son, the sheet bunched up at his waist. He's sure his hair is probably sticking up at all kinds of strange angles. Anger is a lost cause; it's going to have to be embarrassment.

"He wouldn't stop crying and I couldn't sleep," Draco says. "Sometimes when I talk to him he goes to sleep."

Potter leans forward, resting his elbows on his knees. "Thank you. I've been trying for days."

The silence settles around them; Draco has to break it. "I'm sorry I slept so late. I—"

"It's okay. The way things have been, I think we should sleep for the next week at least."

Draco still doesn't know where to look.

"Listen," Potter says, clearing his throat. "I talked to Hermione yesterday." He's fiddling with the frayed knee of his denims. "She said you thought I said what I did because I wanted you to remember that you owed me, or some such rubbish."

Draco makes a disbelieving noise, but Potter ignores it.

"What I was trying to say—and I can't believe it came out so wrong—was—well, I was comparing what I was willing to do for James with what I'm willing to do for you, too. But I didn't know it, back then. When we talked in your cell."

Suddenly, Draco feels very empty, as if Potter has gouged him out after all. He's surprised to find that it doesn't hurt.

"Malfoy, I—"

Draco looks up into Potter's eyes. They're so green, even though he's sitting with the sun behind him, and he should be all darkness, like a silhouette, but he isn't.

"What?"

Potter stands up and walks the few steps between the chair and the bed. And then he sits down.

"What are you—Potter..."

"Can you call me Harry, please?"

"I—H-Harry—"

Potter closes his eyes. "Say it again."

"Harry," Draco says more firmly.

And then those eyes are open again, and Harry's lips are parted, just a little, and he says, "Can I? Draco—" and he's leaning forward. Draco is overwhelmed with Harry's presence; it overpowers him and makes him weak, he feels something clench inside his chest, and his breaths are coming faster.

"Harry," he whispers, the third time he's said it, and then Harry leans in all the way and kisses him, there in Draco's bed, with his son asleep next to them and the sun shining through the window.

Harry's hand reaches up to tangle in Draco's hair and their mouths slide together wetly. Draco forgets about everything except getting closer, closer, as close as he can, and he presses up against Harry, wrapping his arms around Harry's shoulders as Harry leans forward even more, and very carefully, so as not to disturb the baby, Draco drops back onto the pillows, Harry following eagerly.

It feels like forever that they lie there, Harry running his hands gently, almost reverently, over Draco's body, and for some reason Draco doesn't mind that he's wearing next to nothing while Harry is fully clothed. He'll never tire of this, he doesn't want it to stop, and Harry kisses him and kisses him, on his mouth, his cheek, his neck, under his ear, his shoulder, the hollow of his elbow, the palm of his hand, and then back to his mouth. In this moment, it's all he's ever wanted and all he will ever need.

But then James wakes up, and Harry breaks away, resting his forehead on Draco's for a moment, and then he kisses him once more before reaching over to pick James up and take him downstairs.

"Do you want breakfast?" he says, smiling.

Draco is still lying back, and he feels a little dazed, his mouth raw and tingling from being scratched by Harry's stubble.

"Well, I'll bring you something, anyway," Harry smirks, looking very pleased with himself.

Draco stretches and smirks back. He's pleased too.

*

"I've wanted to be able to do this for—ever," Harry is saying. It's much later, and the baby is sleeping in its cot beside the bed, and Harry is biting his way down Draco's side, stopping at the place right above his hip that tickles and makes his abdomen cave involuntarily. "I've wanted to—and then I saw you in that dress—"

Draco hisses and grips Potter's hair tighter. "Do you wish I had tits, Potter?"

Harry bites the skin at his hip. "Harry," he orders.

"Harry! Well? Do you?"

"No. But I want you to wear it again. I want to rip it off, I want to tear it up, I want you, I want you—"

Draco finds his legs parting, and Harry is right there, between his thighs. Harry mouths gently at the fabric there, and Draco is so aroused he can hardly stand it.

"Shhh, don't wake him, I don't want him to wake up now," Harry murmurs, and slides up to silence Draco with his mouth. He reaches down with his hand, then, and pushes at Draco's underwear just enough to expose his cock, then reaches to unzip his own trousers. Draco likes the way Harry's weight is pressing down on him, and he arches up as they align. Harry bends his neck to lick at Draco's clavicle, and moves to that spot behind his ear.

They're moving together, Draco's knees coming up to grip Harry tighter between his legs, and Harry thrusts up against him. Draco can't help it; it's not long before he breaks away from Harry's mouth and turns his head to the side so he can concentrate solely on how it feels down there, and Harry's head drops and he's frotting purposefully and the pressure builds and builds until Draco can't stand it any more and cries, "Harry!" with his release. Harry is looking down at him, and there's a sheen of sweat on his forehead and he's panting, and he groans, and Draco feels the damp stickiness pooling between them.

"Disgusting," Draco remarks lazily, and Harry chuckles, deep vibrations that Draco can feel in his chest, as he banishes the mess.

"I never thought you'd let me," Harry says softly, after he turns to one side and runs his fingers up and down Draco's chest.

"You always get what you want, don't you?"

Harry looks away at that. "No. I don't. Not exactly."

Draco thinks he knows what Harry means by that. If Harry did get whatever he wanted, it probably wouldn't be Draco here in his bed, it would be the mother of his child, maybe not Ginny but someone he really loved, and married, and with whom he would be living the perfect happily-ever-after life of a world-saver. Instead Harry has found a woman-substitute in Draco, and he's added altruism to lust and come up with something novel and exciting. But Draco isn't going to think about any of that, about how soon novelty wears off. At least, not for now.

Harry is watching him closely. "Why do you do this?" Harry asks quietly.

Draco turns his head to look at Harry. "Do what?"

Harry looks like he's trying to choose his words very carefully. "You're so prickly sometimes, but there's this part of you—I have to be so careful, what I say, it's as if you're a little deer, and I've got a salt lick, and every time I can get you to come a little closer I say something that makes you run away again."

A deer? "Setting aside the cervine analogy completely, because it's ridiculous, I don't run away just because of the thoughtless things you say. We wouldn't be here now if I did."

"There are lots of ways you can run away. You get very...prickly."

"There's that word again. I prefer 'dignified.'"

"Well it's not," Harry says flatly. "It's bloody frustrating. You can say anything hurtful to me that you want, and the minute I say something slightly less than one hundred percent polite, you go into a towering rage and sulk for days." He lowers his head and buries his face in Draco's neck, so his voice comes out muffled. "I can't bear it when you do that, Draco." He presses a few kisses to the skin there. Draco's neck is so sensitive. He shivers.

Harry continues, still muffled. "I want to be able to say what I'm thinking to you without worrying if you're going to get all stroppy."

"Then you have to make it impossible for me to question your motives," Draco says.

Harry raises his head and shoots a penetrating glance at Draco. He looks troubled, and he's no longer stroking his hand over Draco's chest.

Draco decides the conversation has taken too serious a turn. "I’m going to sleep now," he says.

"D'you want me to leave?"

Draco wonders if he has the courage to say what he wants. Apparently he doesn't. He turns his back to Harry and says only, "No," very quietly.

Harry spoons up behind Draco and wraps an arm around his waist. "Thank you," he says into the back of Draco's neck.

Before he falls asleep, he notices that they're breathing in sync.

*

For the next few weeks—months, actually, Draco realises—their time is spent doing much of the same. As James begins to sleep for longer periods, Harry's sex drive seems to get more and more voracious, and Draco revels in it. The first time they have real sex is in the middle of the day, after Harry had come back from a meeting with the Aurors and was thrumming with something—anger, frustration, or just excess energy and magic—and he'd dragged Draco up to the bedroom within moments. (Thank god the baby was with Mrs Weasley.)

"Potter—Harry! I'm all dusty."

"Take off your clothes, then," Harry snarls, and before Draco can even think, he's naked, on his hands and knees, and Potter is rimming him, and it's dirty and disgusting and Draco wants it so much. He pants and keens and feels the pleasure spreading through his body, and he loves it, being so wanton and exposed. And after Harry's made him an incoherent mess, he pushes in, gently but ruthlessly, and Draco feels completely owned, and can only say Harry's name over and over until he feels like he's been torn apart and is lying in pieces all over the bed sheets. Harry punctuates every thrust with declarations of possession, things like, "No one else can have you, you're mine, mine, mine," and then he comes and Draco finally becomes aware of their position, their legs tangled, Harry draped over him, trapping him, and his back hurts.

It's glorious.

They fuck everywhere after that, on sofas, on the floor, on countertops, in Harry's chair in the study over the breakfast. James is never far away, but after his bout of colic he is much more docile. If they finish in bed, at night, Draco or Harry will pick him up out of his cot to sleep with them. Harry's parenting books say they shouldn't, but James always wakes up less when Harry or Draco or both are close by.

Draco starts to feel like he's hidden away here for a reason; not just a punishment, but because Harry wants him there, wants him shut up in this house and kept only for this purpose. This shames him less than it should, being a kept man. Before, he was there to do Potter's menial labour, but now Potter seems to need him, need him for things he can't do with a cleaning charm.

One time Granger and the Weasel show up while they're...occupied. Harry feels the wards tripped and curses; Draco's wearing, or half-wearing, a shift that is in tatters, the result of Harry's somewhat violent reaction to seeing it. They're in a sitting room upstairs and Potter quickly waves his hand at Draco, transfiguring the dress into a work robe and picking up the baby, who is chewing a stuffed toy on a blanket on the floor a few feet away. In moments, Granger and Weasley step into the room.

"We're just trying to decide how to get rid of this hideous armoire," Harry says casually.

Granger looks at Draco keenly, but he doesn't meet her eyes and soon finds an excuse to leave the room, taking James with him.

"They'd ruin everything if they knew," he murmurs to James, and that does something to erase the tiny twinge of regret that Harry can't tell the whole world what Draco is to him. James gurgles and grabs at his nose.

Draco has begun to feel less like James is some strange alien life form. It helps that James smiles at him and loves to grab at his blond hair. "It's the brightness," Harry says. "Infants always like shiny things." And then his voice gets very low. "I like it too." And Draco shivers, because he knows what that voice means.

It's hard not to start liking the baby, especially now that he doesn't cry so much. Draco reads to James when Harry is out, and plays little games. He's old enough now to enjoy the rattle Draco found and is delighted by the noise the bell makes. Draco is astonished to discover the day when he can distinguish James' hunger cries from his dirty nappy cries and his wanting attention cries. He is more adept at identifying what James needs than Harry is.

"He likes you better," Harry says slowly one afternoon, after James wouldn't stop crying until Draco picks him up and gives him his dummy.

"Of course he does. Most people do," Draco replies airily, but something warm feels like it's glowing in his chest.

It doesn't take long for Draco to notice that Harry likes to see Draco and James together. Potter seems to be delighted every time he walks into a room and Draco is rocking James in his lap, or feeding him, or talking to him. He often just sits by and watches, looking thoughtful, and then when Draco is finished or James is asleep, he kisses Draco and seems to want his turn being the centre of Draco's attention.

The other Weasleys keep their promise, or threat, as Draco calls it, and drop by often at first. Several times they come when Harry is out. On one of these occasions Draco is reading Quidditch through the Ages out loud while James wriggles around on his blanket and sucks on the ear of a stuffed bear. He puts the book down as Fred and George walk in. They look almost disappointed to find that Draco is not strangling James, and make excuses to stick around until Harry is back, doing some kind of inspection and criticising Draco's housekeeping skills. Draco takes malicious satisfaction out of the fact that when they try to play with him, James begins to cry loudly. They sneer and call Draco Harry's little woman. Draco delivers a scathing rejoinder, but some secret part of him is just a tiny bit pleased.

Gradually their suspicion drops off and they realise Draco is not, in fact, dangerous. They come by much less often after that, a fact that seems to relieve Harry as much as Draco.

On Draco's birthday Harry brings a visitor.

"Professor!" Draco gasps, going pale. The last time he saw Professor Snape, he had shoved a Portkey into Narcissa Malfoy's hands and promised that the Dark Lord would never hear of their whereabouts. He'd heard that Snape, also, had enjoyed a brief stint in Azkaban, but Potter had Remus Lupin had been able to clear the charges, since it came to light that Snape had been a spy for the Order. Snape had disappeared after that, and no one seemed to miss him except Draco, who had resigned himself to possibly never seeing him again. And here he was; Potter had brought him.

"Draco. I rejoice to see that you are not wasting away." His tone is bored, but for Snape this is practically an ecstatic reunion.

Potter looks dubiously at both of them. "I'll just leave you two, then."

"Yes, I believe we can dispense with your illustrious company," Snape says, not even looking at Potter.

"Right." And Potter shuffles out of the room.

Draco struggles with shame, and Snape's eyes are as canny as ever, but in the end he is just glad, glad that they both lived through the war, that there is someone alive in the world who cares about him. Because Potter doesn't count.

Snape is a regular visitor after that, bringing Draco textbooks and journals and several things of Narcissa's that he was able to salvage before the Ministry had Malfoy Manor boarded up and warded against visitors; it hasn’t been torn down, but Snape tells Draco to expect to hear of a Ministry-run estate sale of sorts any day. He also provides Draco with news of people Harry doesn't remember or doesn't care about. Blaise Zabini is in Switzerland with his family; Pansy is back in London after being sent away by her parents, and Crabbe and Goyle are still missing, though there have been mentions of sightings in Scotland.

Though Harry's brow darkens every time he sees Snape, he doesn't begrudge Draco his only visitor.

A few days before Potter's birthday, Draco listens in on Potter making a series of fire calls, first to Mrs Weasley, asking if she can take the baby for the whole day, and then to Granger, who demands to know why he doesn't want to see them on his birthday.

"What have you got planned, Harry? You're asking Molly to watch James, aren't you?"

"Yes. It's nothing. I just need a day to myself. No calls from the Ministry or the Aurors or anything. It's what I want."

"But Harry, everyone wants to see you."

"They see me all the time."

"But Harry—"

"Please, Hermione."

"Well, if that's really what you want."

"It is."

"Okay."

"Are you angry?"

"Of course not. If you want to spend the day with Draco, that's fine."

"That's not what—Hermione!"

"It's okay, Harry. Just...be careful."

"You and Ron are always saying that. What's there to be careful of?"

"Of him, of what people will say if they find out—"

"Find what out?"

"You don't have to pretend with me, Harry."

"You don’t know anything about it."

"Funny, Draco said the same thing to me. I'm just going to say it one more time. Be careful."

There's something just—wonderful about Harry going to these lengths to keep whatever it is they have between them. That he's flying in the face of so many expectations. Draco dreads the day when Harry starts to attach more importance to these expectations, but it hasn't happened yet, and Draco hopes he will be gone before it does.

They spend the day of his birthday mostly in bed, with no interruptions, just like Harry wanted. Draco wants to laugh, that this is what Harry wanted for his birthday, a day in bed with him, but he's not complaining. Draco sucks him off no fewer than four times, and he himself probably won't be able to walk for the next week, but Harry seems to be enjoying all the attention he's paying to Draco as much as Draco is enjoying being the centre of it, with no distractions.

The weeks pass quickly, and soon it is late autumn. Harry comes home one night with a huge grin on his face.

"Draco! Guess what."

Draco is trying to spoon-feed James a mashed-up banana; it's all over his face and his bib.

"Your son dislikes bananas," he informs Harry.

"I do too. You, on the other hand..." Harry's eyebrows contort in some terrible attempt at being suggestive.

Draco makes a face. "Penis jokes are so pedestrian."

"Never mind that." James is reaching his arms out to Harry, and Harry picks him up, resting him on one hip. "I have some news."

Draco raises an eyebrow as he gets up to clear the remains of his own dinner off the table.

"I hope you like it," Harry says, a frown descending onto his brow. "I would think you would. It's just that I never know how you are going to take these things..."

"Just tell me," Draco demands.

"Well I've been trying for months, and finally Williamson, who is in Corrections, now, agreed to look over your file, and, well, the bottom line is you can leave the house if you want to, for short trips, I mean."

Draco stands stock still for a few moments.

Harry looks worried. "I was afraid maybe you wouldn't like it. But just think, Draco, you could go visit Snape if you wanted. You could go shopping, you could come to the park with us, you can even come flying with me."

"Oh," Draco says.

Harry is deflating quickly. "I—why does that upset you?"

"I'm not upset," Draco returns sharply.

"Well obviously you don't have to go out if you don't want to."

"Of course not."

Harry sits down with James at the table and holds out an index finger for him to grab. James is smiling widely, all gums.

"Thank you, Potter," Draco says abruptly, and his voice is rough.

Harry looks up at him. "You're welcome."

*

He should be glad of it, but he isn't. After Harry falls asleep that night, he thinks about what it means.

It means there's a light at the end of the tunnel, that his debt to Wizarding society is almost paid in full, at least officially. It's depressing rather than exciting. Draco doesn't know what the world is beyond this house, not anymore, and he doesn't know what he will do when it's time to leave. In the span of not quite a year, he's managed to cut himself off from everything. He remembers telling Granger that his world began and ended with Harry. He didn't have a choice then, but somewhere along the way he's become glad of the fact.

He wonders where he would go and what he would do. Snape would help him, probably, but. It feels safe here, with Harry a buffer between him and the world, a world that took everything away from him. Harry has given him something back, but this little freedom is paradoxically taking it away again. He'll have nothing when he leaves this house. And he will have to leave, because Harry can't keep him hidden away here forever. He probably wouldn't want to.

But the next day, they go out. Harry dresses James, puts a little cap on his head, and straps him into his pram. Draco puts on a scarf (he hasn't worn a scarf in a long time) and slings a bag full of nappies and baby food over his shoulder, and they step out into the street.

Draco thought everything would look different, the colours brighter and the sounds sharper, but they're not. Things look pretty much the same. It's blustery, but not unpleasant.

After strolling around the park for a few hours, they decide to get lunch.

"Would you like to go to Diagon Alley?" Harry says, without looking at Draco.

Draco is startled by the question; he would have thought Harry would want to avoid any Wizarding areas at all costs, but apparently he was wrong. There is a small part of him that longs to set foot there again, but he's also afraid of being recognised, of having every witch and wizard they pass looking at him knowingly, with disgust or derision.

"I—can you Apparate all three of us and the pram?" he asks, stalling, because he knows Harry is perfectly able to do so.

"Yeah."

He does need a new robe; perhaps they can visit Madam Malkin's. And anyway, it's midday on a Monday; hardly anyone is going to be about.

"Alright."

They make their way behind a thick hedge. Harry picks James up out of the pram and holds him at his hip with one hand, while Draco steps into the crook of Harry's other arm and holds on to the pram with one hand. It's all done without discussion or ceremony, and it occurs to Draco that they really do resemble a family, whether or not they actually are. He rather wishes they were.

*

There is lots of pointing and whispering, of course, and Draco thinks he was foolish to believe there wouldn't be. Potter pushes the pram, but Draco is carrying the diaper bag. From Malfoy scion to porter; it's a long way to fall, and everyone seems to be aware of it.

They eat at the Leaky Cauldron, and it doesn't take long for an enterprising reporter to realise what he's seeing.

"Mr Potter! And Mr Malfoy, isn't it? How are you both today?"

"Fine, thanks," Harry says. "We're just enjoying our lunch, so now's not the best time."

"Just a few questions! It's a well-known fact that—"

"No, I’m not answering any questions. I can't stop you from photographing us but I won't be making any statements at this time."

Despite his discomfort, Draco is rather impressed by Harry's obviously practiced handling of this reporter.

"But you obviously trust a Death Eater not to make attempts on the life of your son, despite the fact that Death Eaters are thought to be behind the murder of your wife—"

"She wasn't my wife," Harry says curtly. "I think it's time to go, Draco."

He wonders if Harry wanted to make an appearance here on purpose.

They pick up and make their way outside, where a crowd of people have gathered to gawk at them. Several intrepid fans ask for autographs, but one man shouts an obscenity at Draco and the air around Harry starts to crackle a little bit and he looks forbidding. James begins to cry.

"Let's go," Draco says, putting his hand on Harry's arm.

Cameras are flashing as Harry gathers them up and Apparates them out of there.

*

The next day, they're a front page item in the Daily Prophet. Draco can't stop reading—there's a debate about who's exploiting who, one columnist arguing that Harry is taking advantage of a prisoner, while another argues that Draco is using Harry to re-establish some semblance of a good reputation in the eyes of the Wizarding World.

"I'm sorry, Draco," Harry says. "I thought—"

"You thought what?"

"I thought it would be good thing, maybe. That I could—things have been pretty bad, there are all kinds of factions forming. The War didn't alleviate anything except Voldemort himself; it just seems to have made tensions worse. And, I don’t know, if people could see that you aren't—that I'm not... I should have known." He pauses. "Lots of people at the Ministry have been after me to set an example. I don't know why they think I have any sort of influence, because I don't, people write whatever rubbish they want about me."

"And me," Draco remarks, after glancing back at the Prophet, where he is referred to as 1) exploited and unfortunate victim of a Harry Potter's campaign of homogeneity, 2) a lesson to those who subscribe too closely to notions of blood status, and 3) Harry Potter's sex slave (though they use a slightly more family-friendly term).

There is also a morally outraged article decrying James Potter's bastard status. But then that is nothing new.

"I'm sorry," Harry says again.

"Whatever," Draco says. "Let's not talk about it. I won't be going back to Diagon Alley any time soon."

*

Harry doesn't sleep in Draco's bed that night or the next. Draco wants to ask what Harry thinks he's doing, picking such a time to pull away, when Draco is getting more and more scared of what lies beyond this house and his time left in it. But he doesn't.

On the third, Harry announces that Susan Bones is going to be staying with them for a few days.

"What?" Draco says, a rushing sound in his ears.

"Hermione asked if we could put her up. She's going through a bad break-up. Apparently her boyfriend is scaring her and she needs a place to stay until she can find a flat. We have so many rooms here."

Draco knows, then. Is it truly over? It must be. Everything is going to change. It had already begun changing, when Potter announced that Draco could take the first step toward his freedom, and if he could have imagined that he would hate the very idea of it this much six months ago—well, he would have hated himself for it, but he hated himself anyway, and what difference would it have made? Even then he craved Potter's attention—had always craved it, though he didn't know why.

He decides he wants to see Potter as little as possible. He locks his bedroom door, though he knows Potter probably won't try to open it. During the day he is back to his old routine, though he stops eating breakfast with Potter. Draco also decides that it's best to wean himself from James' company. He knows that none of it would be so easy if Potter weren't also trying to avoid him, but as he seems to be, they hardly see each other. There's no one to see him cry about it, for which he is grateful.

Draco takes the opportunity of Susan Bones' arrival to visit Professor Snape. Though he would never confide problems of this nature to this dour and bitter man, he nevertheless seems to convey the profound depression that has settled on him, because Snape gives him several treatises on uses of deadly poisons. It's his way of showing support.

When he arrives back at the house, he walks through the kitchen and sees Susan bouncing James in her lap as she and Potter chat amicably in the sitting room. They both look up when Draco appears in the doorway.

"Hi, Draco. You remember Susan."

"Hello, Draco." Her voice is soft and cultured, and it's grating.

"Hello, Susan," he says, his own voice as pleasant as he can manage.

Potter frowns; he seems to know that Draco's most pleasant voice is often precursor to something of a different nature entirely.

"Can I speak to you later?" Potter asks.

"I'll see if I can fit you in between dusting the bookshelves in the library and cleaning the bathroom mirrors," Draco says sarcastically. He sweeps out of the room, hoping his cloak billows even half as much as Professor Snape's used to.

*

"We can't do this anymore, Draco," Potter says, closing the door behind him.

Draco is reading in the television room after an excruciating dinner during which he said nothing at all and watched Susan cooing over James and feeding him things he shouldn't be eating and laughing loudly at every stupid joke Potter made.

"Oh? What is it that we can't do?"

Potter sighs. "If anyone were to find out that I was interfering with you..."

"Interfering with me!" Draco repeats incredulously. "And what exactly does that mean?"

Potter merely frowns. "I should never have started. Why didn't you stop me?"

"Stop you? How in the world was I to stop you?" Draco means, I wanted you too much, but he can't say that.

"You—you probably never would have let me if you weren't forced to be here. If there had been anyone else." Potter looks stricken.

Draco clenches his jaw and does not speak.

"What happened—in the Prophet—it's always going to be like that, with me." Potter runs his hand through his hair. "We just can't."

What happened to 'no one else can have you,' Draco wants to scream. What happened to all those times when Potter said he wanted to keep Draco forever, to never let him go? Draco knew it would end, but not so soon, he's not ready, he's not ready. He's biting at the insides of his cheeks to keep from shouting, or pleading, or acting in any way like he cares too much. But that's a lost cause. Everyone knows that all Draco has in his life to care about anymore is Harry Potter. He read it himself in the Prophet a few days ago.

"Just remember, Potter," Draco spits the name, "that no one is making you do this, so don't imagine you are doing something kind for me, or martyring yourself for my sake. Your altruism has found a new outlet; okay, I knew it would happen. But don't think for a moment that you're fooling anyone with this kind of fatuous selflessness."

"I have no idea what you're talking about," Potter says, and his voice is cold. "It's like Ginny all over again; I have no idea what you're thinking most of the time and you seem to do your best to block all my efforts to try and understand."

"I'm sorry to say that I won't follow her example and get myself killed for your convenience."

Potter goes white and Draco can feel the way the magic in the room begins to swirl and collect around him. "You are such a fucking tosser," he hisses. "I'll murder you myself if I have to."

Draco laughs derisively, narrowing his eyes. "I'd like to see you try."

Potter is furious, and almost before Draco finishes speaking he makes a sweeping motion with his hand, causing a chair in front of Draco to fly across the room and smash into the wall in splinters.

"You'll have to do better than that," Draco says impassively, though his own rage is making him tremble. "I am unmoved by your savage displays of brutality."

"You don't know half of what you think you do, Malfoy, about me or anything else," Potter says bitterly. He turns and walks out of the room before Draco can think of an answer.

*

A few nights later Draco gets up after midnight to get himself a glass of water and sees Potter walking down the hall from the direction of Susan Bones' room. Any regrets he feels about the way things are between them are immediately smothered. Potter has the grace (ha) to look a bit sheepish, and says, "It's not what it looks like," but Draco sweeps past him without a word. Her stay extends beyond the forecasted few days and it's easy to see how she is beginning to fit so perfectly into Potter's life. Potter takes James to the Burrow almost every day, and he is spending more and more time with the Aurors. Susan also works for the Auror Division, and they often Floo to the Ministry together.

It seems as if this new life of Potter's is slowly and surely edging Draco out. He's not discovered any new rooms for months; even the house seems to be done with him. There's nothing for him here, and it's incredible to remember a time when he had really felt like he belonged. He hardly ever sees James anymore; it's hard to admit to himself that he is saddened by the fact, but he is.

Draco visits Professor Snape more and more—as much as he is allowed by the terms of his parole. He begins assisting in brewing for a Potions supplier that has contracted Snape's services, and has hopes of being able to make a wage from it when his term is up.

There is an article in the Prophet linking Potter and Susan Bones romantically, and it talks about how wonderful it is that, after what is termed a strange "aberration" involving Draco, Harry Potter seems to be settling down. Susan Bones is painted as the perfect mother for Potter's child, and an unnamed source "close" to Potter is quoted as saying, "It's wonderful to see Harry happy at last."

Draco feels sick after reading it, sick and angry and desperately unhappy.

Finally, eighteen months after he first came to Potter's house, the time has come for his release. He gets a letter from the Ministry one week prior to his official release date telling him that he is expected to appear at his hearing with Potter promptly at 9 o'clock on the appointed day, when, after he and Potter give testimony and the board approves his release, his wand will be returned to him. He's going to stay with Snape afterward until he is able to find a place to live on his own.

Draco can't sleep the night before his hearing, and finally gets up the next morning and runs to the loo, convinced he has to throw up. After heaving a few times, however, his eyes watering and his hands shaking, he doesn't. The light filtering in through the blinds is grey and dark; it's raining outside and the floorboards are cold and the water in his shower is tepid. Draco keeps shivering. His hands—they're grey from the cold, ruined from eighteen months of Muggle housework. He puts on the only robe he has that Potter didn't buy for him, which is frayed and torn, the one he was wearing when he was arrested.

It's too early, so Draco goes out to sit on his balcony for the last time. He remembers the few times he and Harry sat here together, when Harry transfigured Draco's overturned bucket into a loveseat, and Draco sat in Harry's lap while the baby slept and the sun shone on them. He had a few moments of happiness in this house. As a child he had always been fighting to stay afloat amidst his father's expectations. As an adolescent he had fought for his life and those of his parents. Here, there had been nothing to fight except Harry, who, for a few short months, shut everything else out for him, and the world outside didn't matter, not the ghosts of his parents and his failure to his family, not the Ministry and its notions of justice, not even Potter's friends who disapproved of Draco so much. He had felt completely protected from everything he couldn't be and couldn't do.

It's foggy this morning, the penetrating kind that seeps damp and cold into Draco's clothes and settles next to his skin.

There's a knock on the door. "Malfoy? Are you ready?" It's Potter.

Draco picks up the old carpet bag full of his only effects and opens the door.

Potter looks tired, as if he didn't get enough sleep either, but probably for entirely different reasons. "Do you want to eat before we go?" Potter asks.

"No, I’m not hungry," Draco says, his voice slightly hoarse.

"Okay."

They walk to the fireplace and Floo to the Ministry.

The hearing is brief and relatively painless. Potter says all the right things, and Draco is hardly questioned at all. There's no audience this time. They vote and agree not to extend Draco's sentence, so he's declared free. Williamson, the Chairman, opens an elongated box and pushes it out to Draco. He steps forward and lays his hand on his wand for the first time since he'd dropped it next to his dead mother.

It feels very large in his hand, but the magic is familiar and comforting. The board dismisses him, and he walks out into the hallway.

"Malfoy," Potter says.

Draco turns. Potter is holding a sealed packet out to him. "This is for you."

Draco accepts it silently.

"I—I'm happy for you, Draco. And. We'll both miss you."

Draco finds his voice at last. "I doubt that," he says.

Potter reaches out as if he wants to touch Draco's arm, but Draco shies away, and Potter's arm drops.

"Take care of yourself," Potter says.

Draco can't quite believe that this is happening. He wants Potter to say, "I can't let you go," or "Come back with me," or "I can't live without you," but of course he says nothing of the sort.

"Goodbye," Draco says. And he turns and walks away from Potter without looking back.

*

It isn't until much later that he opens the packet; Snape has gone to bed and Draco is settled on his couch. Inside he finds the deed to Malfoy Manor with several papers that proclaim him the rightful owner, and an inventory of items "of a Dark nature" that have been removed for destruction or further study.

There's a note from Potter, too, and Draco unfolds it with hands that tremble.

Draco,

I would apologise about the fact that your home isn't completely intact, but some of those things are definitely better off destroyed. The Ministry was pretty adamant about that, anyway, and I didn't fight them very hard on that point.

I'm sorry for the way things turned out. If you ever want to visit I'll miss you. Thanks for all your help with James.

Love
Harry

And there's a smudged little fingerprint next to Harry's name that must be James'.

Draco realises that his cheeks are wet.

*

There is a lot to clean up at the Manor. Potter may have got the house back for him, but most of his father's assets were seized by the Ministry and not returned. Draco finds that the wage Potter paid him was more than generous, but not nearly enough for the upkeep of this gigantic pile of stones, even with magic.

Besides, there are too many terrible memories. Draco thinks he needs to start over.

He spends months sorting through the things left in the house, then contacts a few distant Malfoy relatives about the possibility of selling it to them, to keep it in the family, at least, though Draco himself doesn't want it.

His estranged great-uncle Croesus Malfoy, who made his own fortune in some kind of bourgeois business venture, decides that he wants, and can afford, the Manor.

The regret does burn a little when he walks away. Croesus had assured him that he would always be a welcome visitor, but Draco doesn't want to be a visitor in his own home. He'll leave it behind, and the selling price was more than enough to buy himself a neat little flat in London, with lots left over.

He and Snape work together, developing and refining a wide range of potions that sell well enough to provide them both with an excellent wage. Draco has begun to take correspondence courses to earn his Potions Master designation, with Snape's help. He'll sit the exams after completing his apprenticeship, but he rather likes being told what to do and wonders if he has the true ingenuity required to invent really important potions like Snape does.

He is finding that, as the months pass, people forget what he was, what he did, and even Diagon Alley isn't the treacherous cesspool of derision and prejudice it was for a while.

Draco even starts dating. He meets a very nice wizard named Praetor Bowman at a Brewers of Britain convention, where he is representing their company's new line of products. Of course, Draco breaks up with him a mere two months later, but he is getting out and meeting people, and eventually that has to lead somewhere good. Somewhere other than wanking to a memory of Harry sucking him off while he fucks Draco with his fingers, his other hand clutching the satin slip that's rucked up around Draco's waist.

It's not a life he would have chosen for himself, but it's bearable. And if he spends too much time thinking about Harry Potter, well, that has to pass eventually. Everything does.

*

The Wizarding World is a small one, really, so it's inevitable that he comes across Susan Bones at Flourish & Blotts one afternoon.

Well, he doesn't really come across her, it's more like he sees her walk in and then waits until she's occupied at a bookshelf before sneaking to the door, hoping she won't see him.

"Draco?"

Too late. He turns around and looks at her friendly face. His own smile probably looks more like a grimace.

"Draco! I thought it was you. How are you? You look wonderful," she says, holding out her hand, which Draco takes reluctantly.

"Fine, thanks," he replies, his face feeling frozen. "And you?"

"Wonderful. I've just been promoted; I'm a senior analyst now."

"Congratulations," Draco murmurs. "Is Potter with you?" He hopes fervently that he isn't.

She looks confused. "No, Harry works mainly with field officers and strategists; I doubt he even reads my reports," and she laughs a little.

Is it possible that she is purposely misunderstanding him in some misguided effort at sparing his feelings? "No, I meant is Potter with you today. Here."

She looks at him strangely. "No, why would he be?"

It's Draco's turn to be confused. "But—I thought—aren't you living with him anymore?" he blurts, and immediately curses himself for leaping to conclusions. But his heart is beating strangely. Of course she is, he tells himself. She just thinks it odd that I would assume he's with her all the time, can't she walk into a bookstore without her boyfriend? His mind is going in all kinds of directions.

"No, I moved out right after you did, of course."

Draco's mouth is very dry. He licks his lips. "Why 'of course?'"

"I'm confused," she says. "I thought the whole reason I was there was because of you."

"He said it was your break-up—you needed a place to stay—"

"Well, that's partially true, but he asked me to come because of all that rot in the Prophet about you two. Didn't you know that?" she asks, looking shocked.

"No," Draco manages. He wants to laugh, and his legs feel weak. "No, I didn't."

"That's strange," she says. She puts her hand on Draco's arm. "I know he would like to see you. He was so worried about you."

"Really," Draco says, instead of I want to see him too, I need to, I've needed to every day since the day I left—

"I heard you're working with Professor Snape?" she continues politely.

This is no time for small talk, he wants to shout, but he forces himself to calm down and speak to her for a few minutes.

Finally she says the stock words, "Well, it was lovely running into you, Draco," and he can barely manage a vague iteration in his impatience.

But she's not finished; she says, again, "I know Harry would love to see you," and looks at him meaningfully.

He says, "I'd like to see him too. I should pay a visit."

They shake hands, parting amicably.

*

The doorstep at 12 Grimmauld Place is not as well-swept as it used to be when he was living here, Draco notes. He takes in the grim façade of the house, the house that was his home for so long, and despite its gloominess, he has missed it.

He rings the bell before he can think better of it, but immediately after the bell peal sounds through the house, he wishes he hadn't, and begins to think of a thousand terrible things that could come of this.

And then the door swings open, and Potter is standing there with James on his hip.

"Draco," Potter whispers, looking stunned. And then the hint of a smile tugs at the corners of his mouth. James' face lights up, as if he recognises Draco. Maybe he does. He reaches both of his arms out and says something that sounds like "Dado," and squeals delightedly.

"He's grown a lot," Draco says, reaching out to take him from Potter. As soon as the transfer is complete, James grabs at Draco's hair, tugging at it with amazing strength.

"You've been gone a long time," Potter says. "Do you want to come in?" He steps back from the door.

Draco follows Potter into the kitchen, James still in his arms.

"I'm so glad you came," Potter says as he sort of flutters around the kitchen, clearing a big stack of parchment off the table, shoving dirty dishes in the sink, sweeping toast crumbs onto the floor. "I'm sorry it's such a bloody mess. I haven't got 'round to hiring a housekeeper, and I'm so busy with James and work and everything—"

"It's nice to know I was actually doing something useful when I was here," Draco says. He can't resist; he blows a raspberry on James' neck like he used to do, and James shrieks with laughter.

Potter is grinning at them.

It's almost as if he never left, and things are as they were before that horrible trip to Diagon Alley.

"Can you stay for dinner?"

"I...I don't know," Draco says uncertainly.

"Please," Potter says. "I mean, it won't be anything special, in fact I was going to get takeaway."

"Just like old times, then," Draco remarks, allowing James to grab at his nose and his ears and his hair.

"Yeah," Potter says, and smiles even wider.

It's absolutely wonderful, to be sitting there talking to Potter, with James happily cooing over his pureed carrots next to them. Potter asks all about his life, and Draco answers cautiously, but he can't stop the happiness that is seeping through him. Just being in Potter's presence again after so long is...almost overwhelming, and Draco can't help smiling.

There are pauses in the conversation, but then Draco looks up and sees Potter just gazing at him steadily, as if he can't look away.

"I know you were never socialised properly, but it's rude to stare," he says acerbically, after catching Potter at it several times.

"I just can't believe you're here," Potter says quietly. "I kept hoping you'd come back."

"Potter..."

"I'm sorry, I know you probably don't—"

Draco pushes a chip around and decides he can't stand not knowing any longer. "Why didn't you tell me? About Susan Bones? Why she was here?"

The smile fades a bit. "I wanted to, but that night she came, I was going to try to explain—and you did what you always do and didn’t even give me a chance, and then I was so angry that I thought, fine, let him think whatever he wants to think."

"I don't know what you thought you were doing for me," Draco says, so low that he doesn't know whether he wants Potter to be able to hear or not. "I was so happy, and then all of a sudden—"

"It wasn't just for you," Potter says, cutting him off. "I mean, it was, I didn’t want people to think that about you, but also..." He leans his elbows on the table and grips two handfuls of his hair. "I couldn’t know that you were really...really with me, like that. I thought you did it just because I had you in this house and you had nothing else. That first time I touched you—I promised myself I wouldn't do anything after that, but I couldn't help it. And when you said...you asked me how you were supposed to stop me, and that made me feel absolutely wretched."

He looks up at Draco again, his eyes very bright. "I wanted you to come back to me when you had a choice. Do you understand?"

Draco doesn't know what to say.

"I know," Harry continues, "that maybe you aren't back the way I want you to be back. And that has to be enough for me, whatever you choose. But I want you, Draco, I want you here with me, with us, and I didn't ever feel like I could tell you that. Before."

"You're so thick, Potter," Draco whispers. "Did you think, all those times, that I wore a dress for you because I thought I had to?"

Potter's eyes seem to smoulder behind his glasses.

And then James begins to fret, because he's being neglected. Harry immediately gets up to take him out of the high chair.

"Will you stay? For a few more hours, at least?"

Draco nods.

They go up to the sitting room upstairs, and Potter deposits James in a playpen next to the sofa and turns on the television.

It's a bit awkward. Draco doesn't know how to sit next to Potter on the sofa, not after all this time. Before long, though, he feels Potter's hand clasping his. The silence is companionable, but Draco's heart is thrumming, wondering where they will go from here.

Finally, Potter gets up to give James a bath before putting him to bed.

"I'll come too," Draco says. "If neither of you mind."

Of course Potter doesn't mind, and James smiles benignly. Draco thinks maybe he and Potter are both remembering those first attempts at changing James' dirty nappy and giving him a bath. Bathing a fussy toddler is much different from bathing a newborn baby, but Potter is very practiced, and by the time James is clean and dry and tucked in, he falls asleep almost immediately.

Draco strokes his head softly. "I think perhaps I missed James more than I missed you, Potter," he informs Harry in a whisper.

Harry smiles and catches hold of Draco's other hand, dragging him out of the bedroom and across the hall and pushing Draco up against his own bedroom door.

"Sometimes," he breathes, lips very close to Draco's, "I would pretend that you were his mother. Like when I saw him curled up next to you that morning—next to your skin, you looked so soft and beautiful."

Draco's own breathing hitches as Potter presses into him. "What are you saying, Potter?" he gasps. "Do you imagine I'm a woman when you fuck me?"

"No," Potter says adamantly. "No, I don't, you're more beautiful than any woman."

He reaches behind Draco to open the door, and then they're in the bed, Potter leaning over him and stroking his face.

"God, Draco," he groans, and then he lowers his mouth and they're kissing, Harry's tongue delving deep into his mouth. Draco can't help the sounds he's making, they're silly and embarrassing but he's so glad, so desperate, and he clutches Harry closer.

Harry breaks away to follow their pattern and make passionate love to the spot on Draco's neck below his ear, and Draco loves being with someone who knows him so well.

"You infuriate me," Harry is saying, punctuating his words with bites and licks. "You drive me—mad—but Christ, I can't live without you," and he parts Draco's robe, exposing his chest and running his hands over the skin there. His fingers find that scar, the Sectumsempra scar, so familiar to both of them.

"You once said that you didn't need a scar like mine to know that your mother loved you," Harry says. "But you needed a scar to know that I love you, though I didn't know the difference between love and hate, then."

Draco laughs at that and strokes Harry's hair. "How can you love me when I bring out the worst in you, Harry Potter?"

"Because I do the same to you," he replies. "And I want to always be there, afterward, to right my wrongs, and to keep the rest of the world from crushing you, like...like it almost did before."

"So only you are allowed to hex me and insult me and hurt me?"

"Do I really hurt you?" Harry looks worried.

Draco takes Harry's hand and traces it along the scar on his chest, up and down. "You can only hurt me because I love you," he says.

Harry kisses him again. And again, and again. "You mustn't ever leave me again. You belong here with me, to say terrible things that infuriate me and make me love you more."

"Harry," Draco pants, and Harry is there, will always be there; Draco might doubt it some other time, in some other place, but right now, at this moment, he knows.

And it's true, Draco reflects, that love hurts, and the pain is almost unbearable. But it isn't nearly as painful as silence. Harry breathes very loudly, after all.

 

end